Category Archives: veganism and animal rights

Animal welfare model, women’s welfare model: liberation is not the goal

The following is 5-step Animal Welfare Rating that is used by the Whole Foods Market.  Whole Foods uses this rating system so that customers can make informed decisions about animals they choose to eat.

Sitting in the Whole Foods cafeteria and working my way through an enormous vegan oatmeal currant muffin, I read through this chart, which was posted on the wall, and pondered the differences between the animal welfare model and the abolitionist or animal liberation model.  The animal welfare model assumes that humans will eat meat, and therefore the goal is to make the animals as comfortable as possible without compromising the end goal: reasonably-priced, reasonable-quality meat on the plate.

The animal liberation model would make at least two changes in the chart.  First, Step 5 would not be titled “animal centered.”  Step 5 is truly “human centered,” in that the animals are being raised to feed humans.  The animal liberation model would then have a Step 6, which would be genuinely animal centered:  animals would live out their entire lives for their own sake.  They would not be raised to be eaten.  The idea of “farm” would become archaic.

It was a really big muffin, so I had more thinking time.  I started to ponder how as a society we have also adopted a “women’s welfare” model, rather than a “women’s liberation” model for women’s rights.  We accept a similar set of five steps, and we also do not include the additional, ultimate ideal of women’s liberation.

5-Step Women’s Welfare Rating

Unlike Step Five + on the Animal Welfare Rating, Step Five +, on Women’s Welfare Rating denies moving forward to liberation.  Step 5+ is the work of the patriarchal mastermind.  It jams up and skews the progression towards liberation by not only convincing some women that abuse is liberation, but it also puts women in conflict with one another.  We are left arguing with each other, rather than united in the fight for true liberation.

Moreover, just as the Animal Welfare Rating is designed by humans from a human-centric perspective, the Women’s Welfare Rating is completely circumscribed by patriarchy.  At each point, women are allowed “freedoms” only in relationship to how many–or what kind of—“rights” patriarchy is willing to grant.


The lonely list or What is truly transformative vegan politics?

I haven’t written anything about veganism or ecofeminism since I started this blog three weeks ago.  Thanksgiving Day is an ideal day to do so.

I was doing my morning round of readings, checking out the blogs I follow and miscellaneous places deeper into the Internet where that process takes me, and I came a cross a vegan blog post that listed the author’s top ten vegan people.  I didn’t know all of the people on the list, but the descriptions indicated that many, along with one’s that I did know, wouldn’t be on my list.

The list included, for example, Dr. Neal Barnard, who is the head of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.  The typical privileged white guy, Dr. Barnard, among other things, gives talks along with one of the authors of Skinny Bitch.  Skinny Bitch is an egregious bit of writing that endorses a PETAphile vision of the world.  The benefits of a vegan diet for women, according to Skinny Bitch?  You’ll look so terrific that you can “prance around in a thong.”  The book is also heterocentric, sizeist, racist, and ageist.  (Gad, yes, I’ve read it.)

He also lists Robert Cheeke, who is a vegan body builder.  Although Robert Cheeke has clearly dispelled the idea of veganism = weakling, he is also into a hyper-masculine view of veganism.  This gives me a mixed review of Cheeke.  I fatigue from people’s constant worry that I’ll be unhealthy or weak because I am a vegan, even though I’ve been a vegan for a long, long time, and there’s no evidence to support my shriveling away into the ether.  But just as I find problematic the ultra-feminine endorsement for veganism found in Skinny Bitch, I find problematic the ultra-masculine endorsement for veganism found in the work of Robert Cheeke.

The author of the blog describes his veganism as “edgy and raw.”  This language to me speaks of an alliance with “transgressive” and “queer” politics.  These are not my vegan politics.  My list of important, current vegans would include writers and activists who grapple with the myriad current and historical masculinist underpinnings of food politics, incorporate woman-identified analyses into their work, and/or understand white supremacy and its tethers to racism, environmental destruction, and the abuse of animals.

The unfortunate thing is that I have to put “and/or” into the above criteria for my list.  At first, I put “and,” which meant all criteria needed to be met.  It was tough to come up with anyone for that list.  As it is, my list is still very, very short.

My list:

Breeze Harper.  Breeze Harper is the editor of the book, Sistah Vegan: Food, Identity, Health, and Society: Black Female Vegans Speak.  Her blog “focuses on how plant-based consumptive lifestyle is affected by factors of race, racisms, sexism, heterosexism, classism, and other social injustices within the lives of black females.”

pattrice jones.  pattrice jones identifies herself as an “eco-anarcha-feminist-animal.”  Although I can’t side with her on the anarchy part, I’ve heard her talk at a couple of conferences and she’s into weaving the whole “intersections of racism, sexism, speciesism, homophobia, and the exploitation of the environment” into her analysis.  She also tells a great love story about two male geese living in her animal sanctuary.  My conflict?  She identifies with “queer” theory, theory which is inherently masculinist.

Carol J. Adams.  Carol J. Adams is the author of The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory, which explores a relationship between “patriarchal values and meat eating by interweaving the insights of feminism, vegetarianism, animal defense, and literary theory.”  I was actually hesitant to put Adams on my list, but I am not sure why.  Probably just a personal bias–I don’t relate to the theological aspects of her work.  My own veganism is strictly political and not spiritual.  Also, quite a number of spiritual white ecofeminists have crossed over into problematic, racist appropriations of other spiritualities, and I do not know where Adams stands on this.  Or perhaps it’s because I see her work as kind of a light calorie version of radical feminism.  She doesn’t appear to incorporate—or critique—new, critical directions in radical feminism into her work.

I know, I know.  I’m a tough sell.  This is a very short list, but so many animal rights activists and vegans fall short, or very far from, understanding or even attempting to address the mesh of oppressions supporting, woven into, all messed up with animal oppression.  For example, I do like the academic, thoughtful writings of Norm Phelps, and that he has taken the Dalai Lama to task for his consumption of meat.  But, alas, he has a link to PETA on his website, under which he describes PETA as “the world’s premiere cutting edge animal rights group.”  This “premiere” group is preparing to launched its XXX porn site this December.  There’s something very important that Phelps doesn’t understand.

Marti Kheel, however, may well end up on my list.  I am reading her Animal Ethics right now, and think it is a strong bit of ecofeminist writing.

I would welcome recommendations for further authors and activists to add to my list—as well as critiques of the ones I did choose.  It is a pretty lonely list.

(For the conflicts between “queer” theory and lesbian/woman-identified politics see Sheila Jeffrey‘s Unpacking Queer Politics: A lesbian-feminist perspective.)