Only speciesists believe in hierarchies of suffering

When will people stop weighing one social justice issue against another, as though there were only room for so much justice in the world and helping one cause automatically hurt another?

I guess it was only a matter of time before someone uses the refugee crisis as a pretense to badmouth veganism, as if the two demanded juxtaposition. This week, in the German newspaper DIE ZEIT, Elisabeth Raether opined that the ongoing refugee crisis and its increasing visibility in Europe really forbade veganism and other such indulgences. Caring about non-human animals while humans are suffering is a moral extravagance of the West, an insult to the ongoing human suffering in the world.

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Another’s Life

As anti-speciesists, we want physical liberty for all animals. But for some animals, physical liberty is not possible without suffering. How can we reconcile another’s right not to suffer with her right to her own body?

In August, my cat Evi became ill. We called the emergency vet late one night, because Evi was panting and hiding from us. The vet examined her on the kitchen table, and Evi, who never let strangers touch her, was very still and did not protest. When the vet’s syringe punctured her chest and drew blood, I knew this wasn’t good news, but I thought that it was just a matter of agreeing to whatever help Evi needed. Vets tend to look at you in a way that is supposed to prepare you: Be warned, this will get expensive. I would simply give my usual signal that I didn’t need this warning and that whatever the cost, it was fine.

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Blind Spots

Within a year, but independently of each other, two professors of mine have ventured the guess that anti-speciesism might soon become mainstream. One, a professor of journalism, thought aloud that liberals were perhaps always expanding their circle of compassion by a few more ambits to include ever-more „others“: other races, other sexes, other genders, other sexualities, and, at some point, other species. Maybe animal rights, he said, was the next logical step in this universalist progression. A few weeks ago, a sociology professor said something similar: After the seminar had been up in arms all semester about the racist, sexist, and overall -ist writings by otherwise seemingly smart, thoughtful, and pioneering scholars from three, two or even only one hundred years ago, she pointed out that we probably had similar „blind spots.“ Chances are, she said, that our descendants will be offended by some of the things we think, say, and write in good faith. By their very nature, such historic blind spots are difficult to predict, but, she said, if she had to prognosticate one, it would be our treatment of non-human animals. In fifty years we’d likely think we were wrong to treat them the way we do now.

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Should we be violent?

A few months ago, I had an interesting email exchange with a reader.

He asked me how vegans can simultaneously call the killing of animals ‚murder‘ yet largely object to violence as a means of stopping it. He wrote: „I find it difficult to understand why some vegans find violence generally unjustified, if they indeed think animals deserve personhood. If I can only stop a murderer by killing him, I would do it. Why does this conclusion not apply to the ‚murder‘ of animals?“

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The Rising Appetite for Anti-Veganism

More German mainstream media outlets are debating veganism. This is a good thing because it means that vegans have become more numerous and louder and that their arguments are too good to ignore. I love a spirited debate—it advances the movement and hones our persuasive powers. In the last couple of weeks, however, several articles on veganism have been written whose arguments are so primitive that addressing them is hardly fun. Eckhard Fuhr’s article „A vegan world would be cultural eradication“ in today’s issue of the German newspaper Welt is a case in point.

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All lives matter - but now is not the time to say so

Monday in Grand Central. A group of protesters stands in a semi-circle shouting „Black lives matter! Black lives matter!“ A white middle-aged commuter mutters: „All lives matter,“ as he passes the group. The protesters who have heard him are visibly annoyed, and a woman calls to the group: „Just ignore him.“

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Staying positive as a vegan activist

Ironically, many activists spend much of their day viewing the images and trying to assess the magnitude of the suffering they so hate. My Twitter feed is filled with beaten animals. I’m being sent articles about slaughter. And the south side of Central Park seems to stretch on forever, when I’m just trying to walk past the horses without losing hope in the species that sells their power.

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Pets Eating Animals

Can vegans have pets? Doesn’t confining an animal express just the speciesist domination vegans reject? To me, pets and vegans are—for the most part—indeed irreconcilable; there’s nothing vegan about breeding an animal, buying an animal, or choosing an animal based on its cuteness. And yet I live with two cats, because I believe that those pets already alive deserve a home. I think it is relatively more „vegan“ to adopt a pet than to ignore the abundance of animals living in shelters because „vegans shouldn’t have pets.“

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Why I Won’t Demonstrate Against Factory Farming

This Saturday, January 17 is the 5th annual „We’re fed up!“ demonstration in Berlin. Its organizers demand an „agricultural turnaround“ including putting an end to factory farming. Animal rights organizations are among those sponsoring the demonstration, and, as in past years, vegans will be among those marching. I won’t be there, precisely because I am vegan.

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Why Consistency Matters

Even those sympathetic to my veganism think I should make exceptions on rare occasions. What difference would it make, they ask, if I consumed a little dairy a few times a year, when travel, a family gathering, or other social events make sticking to my vegan guns inconvenient or awkward? Practically speaking, they may be right. A few spoonfuls of my aunt’s creamy soup won’t really contribute to the exploitation of animals. The crème fraîche has already been produced and bought and mixed in. The soup will be finished with or without my help. No harm done, they argue.

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No such thing as a preachy vegan

Two weeks ago I wrote about the times I don’t speak up loudly enough for veganism and how I feel lame afterwards. Some readers commented that they don’t understand why I feel this way and that they think vegans should stop being preachy: „To each his own.“ I hear this objection often, from vegans and non-vegans. And I disagree completely.

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Why this is not a food blog

Food is a weapon. From food inflation, subsidies, and government-induced scarcities to fights over regulations, labels, and genetic engineering, governments wield food against other nations, political opponents, or their constituents. Hitler and Stalin both used food shortages to control their own people, and Soviet and Eastern Bloc nomenklatura lured and rewarded camp followers with food.

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I hate when I’m a timid vegan

As an ethical vegan, your philosophy and way of life are so at odds with the world around you that you must constantly choose between confrontation and hiding. To reveal that you’re vegan is to hazard discussions and accusations. To keep it to yourself is to hide an essential part of your identity.

The times I’m disappointed in myself as a vegan are the times I hide. I’m naturally reserved, but sometimes I’m also tired or elsewhere with my thoughts or simply not in the mood for discussion. Those are the times I’d rather say nothing than elicit debates.

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Not a Question of Either/Or

A news story: Someone called the police on their neighbor’s unleashed pit bull. The pit bull bared his teeth at the arriving police officer, and the officer shot him. The community, angry about the dog’s death, successfully rallied for the police officer to be fired.

A prominent community activist concluded that in America, a dog’s life was more highly valued than a black man’s life. In the wake of Ferguson, she found white communities were more likely to be up in arms because of a dog’s death than a black boy’s.

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Please stop saying veganism makes your skin glow

As a vegan—especially a vegan woman—you’re sure to come across other vegans touting the health and beauty benefits of veganism. A vegan diet, they say, cleared up their skin, helped them lose weight, healed their hitherto unexplained ailments. Their stomach is now flat, their hair shiny, and friends keep commenting how they look 10 years younger. The internet is full of accordingly named vegan websites, from Oh She Glows to Skinny Bitch, and vegan cookbooks are titled Raw Vegan Radiance or Appetite for Reduction. When celebrities talk about how their dabbling into veganism gave them „much more energy“ (Bill Clinton) or “their body back“ (Beyoncé), this only adds to the public misunderstanding of veganism as the latest wellness fad.

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Admitting You and Everyone you Love have been Wrong

Many reasons keep otherwise kind people from going vegan, even when pro-vegan arguments resonate with them on some level. One of the most powerful reasons is that acknowledging the evil behind the seeming normalcy means admitting that you and everyone you love have been wrong all along. It means admitting you are culpable of having fostered cruelty, and that you will have to live with some regret and guilt for the rest of your life. It also means conceding that your parents, your romantic partners, your friends—in short, all the people you love and perhaps admire for traits like kindness and intelligence—are implicated in a moral crime completely at odds with how you previously perceived them.

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Vegans have a right to say the world will never be vegan

I have no greater wish than for every single person in the world to be vegan and for animal exploitation of any kind to end. But it will never come true. Veganism will never be the norm.

Sometimes I feel that as a vegan I’m not allowed to voice my pessimism about our cause. I feel pressure to second all those vegans who proclaim that „the future is vegan“ and encourage others to be on „the right side of history.“ A fellow vegan once looked at me appalled when I said that I did not expect the future to be vegan. „Why would you say that?“ she cringed, as if to be a real vegan I had to also believe in the mainstream potential of our cause—or at least pretend to.

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Thanks, Nestle, for demonstrating the absurdity of animal welfarism

This week, food giant Nestle announced „a major pledge to improve the welfare of the farm animals in its supply chain“ to ensure they are „well cared for“ (Nestle’s words). In short, Nestle is asking its suppliers to stop certain cruel practices, such as the amputation of cows’ tails.

Now, this is the kind of announcement that people who vaguely know I „care about animals“ would report to me with a comment like „See, things are looking up.“ In truth, however, Nestle’s announcement is not an actual improvement for animals. It’s an example of the absurdity of the concept of animal welfare and its farcical application to capitalist exploitation. Nestle’s move allows for exactly two winners: Nestle, who will improve its image and perhaps sales, and consumers, who will be able to feel better about themselves and their „mindful“ consumption. Animals are not among those profiting.

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