And an ever-changing one at that. A family situation has come up that will require even more of my time and attention, so I'll be taking a brief blogging break. Hope to be back by no later than the end of summer -- yikes, only about four more weeks! In the meantime, keep cool, keep calm, and vegan on.
Oh, a couple of thoughts, and one more it's-a-strange-world-indeed graphic. Enjoy, and see you soon.
Every successful social-change movement has involved a multiplicity of people using a multiplicity of tactics to approach a problem from a multiplicity of angles. Some people push against the bad things while others pull for the good alternatives. Some people work to undermine destructive systems from within while others are knocking down the walls from without. We all need to recognize that and find our place within a multifaceted struggle, being sure to be generous and appreciative of those who are working towards the same goal using different tactics. -- pattrice jones
Because I’ve discovered the secret to the best kind of activism – it’s whatever kind you actually do. -- Cassandra Greenwald
p.s. one last strange, sad and cautionary tale of how even some vegans can get it all wrong...
Because if you don't see how seemingly different types of oppression are similar and interconnected (that is, the roots are the same but the affected party may be different), then you won't be as effective in whatever advocacy work you're doing.
The above is part of a comment I left on a previous privilege post back in January, and is something that has fascinated me for a long time. That is, how folk can recognize their own particular form of oppression well enough, yet be seemingly privilege-blind when it comes to other forms. Before I continue though, I found an excellent article recently on what privilege really means, which I would encourage you to read because privilege by its very essence can be so damn hard to see, especially when we're the ones reaping its benefits.
(pausing while you finish reading)
While it may be tempting to think that once we recognize one form of oppression all the other ones are instantly easier to see, unfortunately, that's not the case. While some well-meaning vegans, for example, have been quick to point out that "all lives matter" when they see #BlackLivesMatter, do we really have the right to do this if we don't understand white privilege better, and recognize how we're complicit in a racist system? And how do you deal with or prioritize multiple oppressions when all of them have an impact?
Privilege and oppression can seem almost limitless, and perhaps they are. Are we all endowed with privilege blinders? I'm beginning to think so. Let me illustrate with a few more examples. One of the first labels I adopted and still wear is that of feminist. Considered a dirty and threatening word by far too many, feminism as its basic goal seeks gender equality. That's it in a nutshell. So why every single person isn't in favour of this concept baffles me. Wouldn't allowing everyone to be their true selves instead of conforming to rigid and outdated gender stereotypes be a win-win for all? (I'm not being naive here, as I realize that many individuals and institutions benefit greatly from inequality despite its high price.)
And while you would think that those who identify as feminist would seek equality for all women, this isn't always the case. Women of colour have often argued that feminism doesn't include them. Same for those who aren't middle or upper class. Some women who are sex workers say that feminists too often portray all of them as victimized prostitutes, rather than women who are choosing how they earn their income. There are also those who dispute that all pornography is automatically bad or demeaning. They would argue that it is sexism, not sex that should be demonized, and some feminists are making their own pornography. Then there are feminists who are accused of being transphobic, a claim that's difficult to refute when some of them insist that only women-born-women qualify as real women, and that only they should be granted access to women's and feminist spaces.
Another group that vegans often lament for not seeing the oppression of other animals are members of the LGBT community. And it IS frustrating when folk who legitimately fight for the ending of oppression based on sexual orientation don't feel there's anything wrong with oppressing beings who happen not to be born human, even though they have desires and relationships just like we do. But is it that surprising? Because you would think that those who are discriminated against because of orientation are more likely to support all other orientations. Not always.
While it may be better now, there was a time when identifying as bisexual would get you a lot more flak from those who didn't identify as straight, as from those who did. And while neither group particularly liked "fence sitters", it wasn't heterosexuals who were more committed to kicking you off. But even today biphobia is alive and well. How many bisexual characters are there on TV? How many have there ever been? And how many of those characters are misidentified, like Piper (on Orange Is The New Black) who's called ex-lesbian instead of bi? Notice also how most people think almost exclusively in terms of gay or straight, male or female, black or white. We're addicted to binary thinking, and don't seem to like anything in between. Gosh, how many times haven't you heard the phrase, you're either vegan, or you're not? ;)
As you can see, privilege and oppression are not simple at all. Certainly not as simple to understand and combat as just using words like sexism, racism and speciesism. And while everyone is likely marginalized in some way, please do realize your privilege if you can put check marks in front of white, straight, middle-class, cis (those who identify as the gender they were assigned at birth) or male. Just sayin'.
Of course not. It not only sounds ridiculous, it IS ridiculous. But that's how I often feel about the term non-human animals too, even though I understand why it's used, and use it on occasion myself. So this post is about how we name the beings we care about and fight for, because after seven years of being vegan it's something I still haven't been able to resolve. Obviously I'm not alone in this what-to-name-other-animals quandary, as the more-than-qualified Vegan Feminist Agitator herself wrote a brilliant post on this very topic not so long ago. And I considered linking to her post and leaving it at that because I really don't want to repeat her many good points, but, my need to muddle through this in writing with you in the hopes of finally solving this maddening linguistic conundrum proved to be stronger. Ready?
So, what do we (what do you?) call other animals when you're trying to convey that humans are animals too? Because sadly, we often forget or even actively squash our own animalness when trying to differentiate ourselves. Specifically, how do you refer to other beings who* are animals but not human animals? And how can we do this without implying that human animals are somehow superior, or the norm? Because as we know, naming is crucial in how we identify and interact with others. Naming is not neutral, is not objective, but determines from the outset how something or someone (or whether something is in fact someone) will be treated. [* Spelling and grammar check suggested who should be that. Naturally I disagreed.]
The problem of course with the term "non-male humans" is that it posits male humans as the norm and places female humans in the category of Other. (Now I would argue that in practice we still act as if women deviate from the norm, but at least our language reflects an ideal of treating men and women as equals.) Unfortunately, the term "non-human animals" does the same thing (in this case positing human animals as the norm), except that it doesn't sound as ludicrous. Perhaps this is because we're so used to the term, or because speciesism is ingrained enough that even vegans haven't quite outgrown our outmoded language.
Back to the question: How do we refer to other animals?
humans and other animals
insert your term here
Of those eight terms I try to avoid using animals as much as possible because for most folk that word excludes humans. I also try (but often fail) to avoid non-human animals for the reasons discussed above. Humans and other animals is a bit cumbersome so I tend to shorten it to other animals. I like sentient beings quite a lot, and will often use that, in addition to beings or other beings. The only term that I haven't really used even though I see it a fair bit is earthlings, not because I don't think it appropriate, but because for some odd reason (maybe I've read or watched too much sci-fi?) the word always makes me think of Martians. And I mean always, snort.
Sadly, I slip and sometimes find myself using animals (see how ubiquitous animal use really is?) when I don't actually mean to, so I wish I could settle on one term once and for all. One term that is clear, compact, and sounds just right.
What about you? How have you solved the problem of what to call those not called Maria? ;)
I've written a number of posts over the years (257 to be exact), but there's one I wrote over three years ago that still receives the most views (next in line to the not-kept-up-to-date Vegan Slogans page), and the occasional snarky comment.
Any idea which one it is? I'll give you a clue: It has the word carnist in its title.
Yep, it's the top ten carnist phrases/excuses that drive me crazy post, and apparently it drives some readers bonkers as well. Which surprises me a bit as it's not a long post and I don't go into detail other than listing my top ten most annoying excuses, but I guess it's enough to rankle those among its ranks. I mean, I'm assuming that those offended by the post are also the ones using phrases 1-10.
And while I'm not exactly proud of how I responded to at least two of the last three comments, I also don't believe in editing my first reactions. I don't moderate my blog, which means that any viewer can say whatever they want before I'll notice their comment, but I also reserve the right to be pissed off and respond accordingly. That said, as vegans we do have more of a responsibility to react reasonably and politely to any venom spewed our way.
I must say that I find the reaction of meat-eaters to that post most interesting. Seems like it hit a nerve more than anything else I've written, and that's fine too, but let's hope at least one offended reader actually thinks about what they're doing (and why) after they've gotten some of the anger off their chest.
Now, to round off this not-quite-Thursday-yet-so-can't-really-call-it-a-TBT-post, here's the one that followed the "who knew 10 phrases would get such a reaction?" post and still one of my faves to date: top ten reasons to go vegan. Hell yeah!
p.s. please don't feel you need to respond to any of the jerky comments left on the carnist phrases post as hopefully I've got it covered... ;)
And if the answer is yes, then why are we working so hard to achieve exactly that?
The graphic in a previous post shows how different species will gradually disappear (or not so gradually given that nearly 1000 species have gone extinct in the past 500 years already) if we don't change our ways soon. Because while past mass extinctions occurred primarily due to natural causes, one species in large part is causing the current ecosystem crisis. Poaching, habitat destruction, global warming and excessive use of water (even if you're not ethically opposed to eating other animals, from a water use point of view alone animal agriculture needs to be scraped off our plates already) all contribute to the demise of fellow species.
Now let's say you actually don't care about other species dying off and are only concerned with human survival. Then wouldn't it be ironic if the species thought to be the most intelligent became extinct due to its own stupidity? Because that's exactly the driving force (that, and greed) threatening to drive us off this planet.
What's fascinating though is that while other species could function just fine or even better without Homo sapiens, our species is fragile enough that our very existence depends on the beings we consider vastly inferior to ourselves. Like bees. And bats. Imagine that! We need bees and bats (among others) to survive, so perhaps it's time to put aside our smug superiority complex and realize we're not only risking the extinction of other species, but of ourselves as well. Let's be clear: humans need this earth if they want to survive, Earth does not need us.
Going back to the title question, I have to admit there are times when I feel human extinction would be an overall gain for the rest of the species co-habiting our lovely planet. That sentiment could certainly be construed as misanthropic, but our species is so anthropocentric that overall we don't seem to give a damn about how much cruelty and death we inflict on others, and on darker days I feel it would serve us exactly right to get a taste of our own bitter medicine. So, let's get our collective act together and behave in ways that would make human extinction a true tragedy for all species. Agreed?
Note: Watched the 2007 documentary The 11th Hour after drafting this post, and even though the many experts offered excellent ideas, it was striking that none of them mentioned animal consumption. To be fair there were two images of factory farming in the film, but no one actually said, let's stop eating animals. Disappointing, but not surprising. Guess I'll have to watch Cowspiracy for that!
You see, last summer I devoured Karen Joy Fowler's We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, only to reluctantly return it to the library after renewing it twice. I knew I would have to get my own copy someday (in itself telling as I rarely reread books), so was delighted when I won a signed copy from the ALDF book club a few weeks ago. Since I don't enjoy writing book reviews (and would prefer not to give away the storyline) I won't do one here, but if you MUST read a review first, you can read the excellent one (beware of spoiler!) posted at Our Hen House.
What I will say though is that reading this book left me severely conflicted -- race through it as quickly as I can because I can't wait to find out what happens next, or savour it slowly and delay finishing so that the pleasure lasts as long as possible? Usually what happens in this case is that I'll race along for three-quarters of the book, and then slow down to a crawl that can last for weeks on end.
What I will also say is that I found this book gripping, riveting, and suspenseful. And while this book made me angry at times (as it will anyone who cares about animals), what I wasn't as prepared for was feeling so bereft, drained, and utterly sad. Like many readers I cried at the end, although wept might be a better word, which surprised me a little as I'm generally not much of a crier or weeper. (If anything, frustration is more likely to get my tear-ducts going.) I also enjoyed the real-life case histories thrown in, and the scientific details woven throughout.
This book is also good for anyone who hasn't given much thought to animal use, but who might be scared off by books more overtly vegan. The author herself, sadly, isn't vegan, but don't let that stop you from reading or recommending this compelling tale. After all, it isn't other vegans we have to convince.
About Washoe [cross-fostered chimp 1965-2007], Roger Fouts has said, she taught him that in the phrase human being, the word being is much more important than the word human. p158
Confession: found this half-started post in my drafts folder dated 09/13, so if that ain't proof of laziness...
We all know that kale is good for us, right? But the stuff can taste a tad bitter, and worse, take a bit of work to prepare from scratch. And who wants to work just to eat? Well, many people don't seem to mind, but not this lazy vegan. So I thought I'd share the two ways yours truly gets her kale. And no, chips are not involved. ;)
The first tip is illustrated in the photo above, but before I start I want to tell you about a recent realization I find quite amusing: apparently I've been eating kale my whole life without even knowing it! You see, kale has been a staple of Dutch cuisine for, well, almost forever, but I never connected the Dutch name boerenkool (literally translated as "farmer's cabbage") to the English word kale until I started buying the canned version.
The dish in the photo is a variation of the traditional Dutch boerenkool stamppot recipe, without of course, cruelty to animals, and the easy lazy part is the canned kale. Yep, available in any Dutch store (oodles of them in Ontario, Canada), all you have to do is heat. No chopping, no washing, no rinsing, no resentment of the time involved, just heat and go. For the dish itself I just boil a whole bunch of potatoes, mash them using a bit of vegan Becel, mash in the warmed up can of kale, and vegan beef crumbles if I have them. Oh, add a bit of Bragg liquid soy seasoning for more flavour, and you're good to go. The nutrient label on the can indicates that per 1/2 cup you get 100% daily value of vitamin A, 45% daily value of vitamin C, 20% calcium and 8% iron. That's a lot of value methinks. Another way to add value is to make enough in one go so that you don't have to cook again for a few days. :)
The other easy lazy way I eat more kale is by adding it to a smoothie. Now I can hear you protesting already that you do that as well, but I bet you're not as lazy about it as I am. Remember those Dutch stores I mentioned? Well, the one I go to sells kale in dry form, so there's no muss and fuss in chopping your own. Sprinkle in as many flakes as you want, and presto, you're kaling yourself to better health.
Update #1: am reading a book right now called "Xenophobe's Guide to the Dutch: a frank and funny look at what makes the Dutch DUTCH" and have to admit that the author hit the nail on the head when he observed that:
The Belgians fry, the Germans pickle, the English boil, and the Dutch mash -- cabbages and potatoes especially, but also endives and peas all end up pounded together in a stolid stamppot. Usually greyish-white in hue, with green flecks and the consistency of partially set concrete.... Not even salads escape the masher. A Dutch salad is 90% potato and mayonnaise, and 10% something else that gives it a name rather than a flavour. pp. 56-7
Ha ha, guilty as charged! We Dutchies DO like to mash (but think how ready we'll be if all we can eat as incapacitated seniors is purees) and I myself have mashed in spinach, broccoli, endives, red cabbage, kale, and sauerkraut with pineapple. The latter this very week in fact.
Update #2: just found an even more sneering (but funny) take on the Dutch love affair with mashing, but all scoffing aside, it's a hearty and not too unhealthy way to get your veggies I say, so mash away!
p.s. I've noticed in the past year that many food stores now sell kale pre-chopped, so there's no excuse anymore for anyone to be kale-shy :)
Can't believe it's been nearly a year already since my dad passed away, and that he won't be around this Father's Day. Although, to be honest, he wasn't around much period while his five kids were growing up, and made no secret of the fact that he had zero interest in parenting. (In case you think I'm exaggerating, each one of my siblings grew up being told that he would leave as soon as they turned 16, and he finally made good on his promise when my turn as the youngest came around.) In spite of this, three of my siblings and I had made some sort of peace with him before he died, and accepted his lack of involvement in our lives as something that wasn't to be taken too personally. A good role model for being a father he wasn't, but it could have been worse.
So with Father's Day around the corner (tomorrow!), and my post on mothering just behind me, I thought I'd take some time and continue talking about parenting. If, as I argued in my previous post, mothering is a role we don't really value, then fathering is a role valued even less. Sure, we pay lip service to the idea of celebrating the role of fatherhood, but even the holiday itself isn't emphasized as much as its counterpart.
Understandable, as regrettably, raising the next generation is still often thought of as women's work. Consider again that most men won't have to figure out how they'll combine work with child rearing, won't get asked how they'll accomplish that feat, and won't have to deal with the consequences of taking time out of the labour force to raise their kids if that's their choice. But that career comes first for men is still a given for most.
As I also stated in the mothering post, the qualities of being a good parent -- nurturing, protecting, guiding, etc., are not, in my opinion, gender specific, and I think it's a shame that we've allowed outdated stereotypes to determine parenting roles. I've long felt that a mature and healthy adult is, for example, strong and sensitive, caring and assertive, rational and warm, empathetic and independent, and to label any of those traits as either masculine or feminine is both silly and limiting.
In that sense, I don't think a child needs both a mother and a father as claimed by those who champion traditional family values, as much as they need an adult in their lives who has the full range of qualities that every grown-up should have. Where it's helpful to have two adults involved in child-rearing is that it lessens the load, and hopefully provides a role model of what a positive relationship can look like. But whether those two adults are of the same gender or not is irrelevant, and I can tell you from personal experience that my own particular family would have been much better off if it had been "broken" far sooner.
And if mothering and fathering doesn't get the status it deserves among humans, then the industrial agricultural complex pretty much strips any status for other species. No respect is given to the natural bonds of motherhood and fatherhood, and parenthood is only valued if it benefits humans. Think puppy mills, zoos, aquariums, and of course all the victims considered food animals. A depressing thought indeed.
So once again I want to end with a reference to two of my favourite human dads, who daily give me hope, and who beautifully illustrate what fatherhood could and should be all about. :)
I miss you. I miss you terribly (it's been more than a month), and can't believe I haven't written in so long. You're my creative outlet, a place to collect my thoughts and discover how I really feel, a way to retain (and sometimes reclaim) my sanity, and perhaps in a tiny way a small contribution to vegan consciousness.
So why have I neglected you?
Time is part of the answer. My paid job, online shop, declining in physical health kitty, declining in physical and mental health mom, and those pesky never-ending chores of running a household all are guilty of stealing precious time. And sometimes I'm just too tired, or stressed, or too downbeat to let my fingers do the talking, and it becomes easier to flip on the TV or DVD player instead.
Another part of the answer is that writing sometimes feels frivolous, especially when almost all of your readers are part of the vegan choir. Because while I certainly identify as vegan, the term activist doesn't always seem to apply given the little action I actually do (which is why I try to donate financially when I can to those more worthy of the title), and you know what they say about action beating the crap out of words. Or something to that effect, snort.
Also, writing is more play than work for me, and the Calvinist work-before-play ethic drummed into me as a kid still rears its ugly head even when not applicable. Besides, why have such narrow definitions? Reading, for example, could also be considered play, but I've successfully convinced myself that reading is about on par with breathing, and that 30-60+ minutes of reading is an essential daily task. So, with the help of Leo Babauta's Zen Habits: Mastering the Art of Change, I'm going to try and implement blog writing (though not necessarily posting) as a daily habit.
In short, I hope to be back here (and visiting your blogs) much more often soon! :)