Triggers and Lions and Vegans, Oh My!: From a Comment War to a Conversation about Cecil and the Ethics of Eating

27 Aug

By Will Stockton and Karen Tongson

[A little disclaimer from your friendly neighborhood Bullies: We don’t usually host debates on this site, but when we do, they always involve tofu! Read on.] 

Will:

On July 1 2015, an American dentist and big game hunter named Walter Palmer killed a lion named Cecil in the Hwange National Park in Matabeleland North, Zimbabwe. According to widely disseminated reports, Palmer and his guide  lured Cecil out of the sanctuary, wounded him with an arrow, tracked him for the next 40 hours, shot him with a rifle, and then skinned and beheaded him. The killing of Cecil sparked outrage across much the world, with Palmer and his guides accused of grossly poaching an animal who was well known to park visitors and not aggressive towards humans.

In the middle of this wave of outrage, much of it on social media, I posted a question – or, honestly, more of a declarative statement – on my Facebook page. “Remind me,” I wrote, “what the difference is between killing a lion named Cecil and killing any cow, chicken, pig, or fish?” I had in mind animal rights philosopher and law professor Gary Francione’s 2007 suggestion that there is no significant moral difference between the actions of Michael Vick, the widely condemned NFL player found guilty of dogfighting, and anyone who barbeques a pig.[1] In both cases, animals die for the sake of human pleasure, be it the pleasure of sport or the pleasure of taste. What ensued in response to my post was nonetheless not the discussion about the ethics of veganism in which I often engage. Whereas I am accustomed to arguments about the relative immorality of killing legally protected animals and animals one does not eat, Karen Tongson averred that there is a crucial ethical difference between illegal ecotourist hunting and the consumption of animals for cultural purpose. “Eating meat,” she wrote, “actually brings people more than ‘pleasure.’ For some it is a deep expression of their cultural heritage and belonging; a spiritual homage to our families, tribes, regions; a ritualistic celebration of a time when we couldn’t afford protein, or were deprived of it in times of war, occupation and conflict.” Debate ensured regarding the presumptive white universalism underwriting my advocacy of veganism.

Because Facebook and similar social media forums do not always lend themselves to the most considered and sustained dialogue, Karen and I decided to engage in this exchange again over email. We did so because we both believe much as it stake: for myself, the status of animals, and indeed of all sentient creatures, as ends in themselves; and for Karen, the need to preserve cultural traditions, especially minority cultural traditions, against blanket assertions that the killing of animals is wrong.

Karen

I’d like to begin by thanking Will for transferring our exchange from the hot-button, quick-trigger setting of social media to a format more akin to an old-fashioned, analog correspondence between thinkers. That said, I’d like to begin by exploring how—in the quick-take environment of social media—we each had to address some pretty sweeping, starkly defined opinions amongst a motley assortment of our Face friends, not all of whom share the same codes, references and systems of understanding.

When the Cecil news broke, I shared the story on my own Facebook page with a one-word remark about Palmer, the dentist by day, big game hunter on vacay: “Asshole.” Like many lesbians, I am a stereotypical pet lover, more specifically, a lover of cats, so commenting on the big cat-related viral news of the day wasn’t out of character. When I noticed Will’s post, and some of the commentary afterwards, I felt hailed. I decided to enter the fray after Bully Blogging editrix extraordinaire, Lisa Duggan, appeared to be taking fire for suggesting that there might be a difference between Palmer’s arrogant display of killing for sport, and the indisputable horrors of mass meat production. I posted the comment Will mentioned above about the different cultural reasons people consume meat, to try to break us out of what felt to me like a closed discourse about the morality of veganism vs. other practices of eating. A slew of dismissals and comments came as a result of my remarks, many from people I didn’t know. I won’t reproduce those comments here. Suffice it to say that the comments on Will’s initial thread ranged from the simply dismissive, to a casually racist quip about not eating meat because it gives us fond memories of “living under thatched roofs.”

Sure, I understood some of the contradictions and conundrums in my defense of my right to “grieve the lion,” given that I’m a notorious carnivore who likes to post pictures of the meat I make and consume. My careful preparations of this meat, the amount of time I’ve spent learning how to prepare it properly, and to use as much of it without waste, combined with my efforts to learn and teach courses about foodways and the heinous practices of Big Ag, is, I believe a way of honoring my food and my cultural and familial relationship to eating. My efforts to purchase more ethically cultivated and produced meat (once I attained a certain level of economic solvency), are also part and parcel of “honoring” the meat.”

More broadly, my Filipino upbringing informs my relationship to food. We are a food-obsessed culture, if largely because of the ways in which we learned to subsist and survive through over half a millennium of colonialism at the hands of Spain and the United States. I was born in the Philippines and lived there for most of my childhood until I turned 10, when my family immigrated to the U.S. At our home in Manila, which had a little bit of land attached to it, we always kept chickens and the occasional goat. I recall we even had a pig at one point, though not for very long, since it was brought over for the sole purposes of prepping it for a large, celebratory feast. Unlike most urbanites in my age range raised in the United States, I don’t have a purely mediated relationship to my food from farm to package. I’ve spent time with animals killed for my consumption. I’ve seen them slaughtered right before my eyes, even if I didn’t participate in killing them myself. And I still ate them.

Given this experience that might seem unique to many Americans, but certainly isn’t on a global scale, especially amongst those of us who are from, or were raised in the so-called “developing” world, I got pretty pissed off when my efforts to make a simple statement about cultural differences determining our food practices was characterized as ignorant, naïve and merely compensatory. This is why I continued to participate in the thread on Will’s page, getting into a conversation about ethics, morality and veganism that is, for the most part, “beyond my pay grade,” as they say. Much of what I had to contribute did, however, come from my extensive reading in scholarship about race, foodways and food culture (most of it for my own edification, or for my teaching, but not for my research). While I comprehend the philosophical nature of the debate—i.e. the need to inhabit “strategic essentialisms” around moral claims of what food-practices are “right” vs. “wrong,” as one commenter remarked in a sub-thread—I just can’t endorse the way this framing of the debate forecloses anything that contradicts the moral superiority of vegan practices.

Perhaps this is why we were talking across but not to one another.

Will

Although it probably won’t shield me from charges of self-righteousness, let me go ahead and own “the moral superiority of vegan practices.” But let me qualify for whom I think they are morally superior. Let me also clarify that I understand “superior” as a synonym for “best” rather than “perfect.” I am not going to claim that veganism abolishes all violence against animals. Rather, I argue that going vegan is the least most people can do.

For most people, too, food has emotional and familial connections. We bond with family and friends around a shared meal. We learn to cook by having our parents teach us. Cultural differences also help determine food consumption – the kinds of food we eat and the way we prepare it. I grew up in Atlanta, and although most of my meat came from factory farms, I would suggest that my southern culture is no less food obsessed than your Filipino one.  I’ve hunted, fished, and crabbed. I’ve killed, gutted, cleaned, cooked, and eaten animals in an effort to both bond with friends and family and “know” my food. Now I’m a dog-rescuing queer with a menagerie that rivals Michael Vick’s pre-fight barn, but with no need to differentiate the rights of my pit bulls from the rights of a chicken or a cow. The choice to make no such differentiation accordingly causes minor strains with friends and family. People worry about how to cook for me. I am routinely teased for not eating the Thanksgiving turkey or the Fourth of July barbeque. Some of this teasing is passive aggressive; some of it stems from a sense of loss about my refusal to participate fully in a norm; and some it is defensive, coming from people who are uncomfortable with their own consumption of animal products. But bonding over a meal or participating in cultural rituals need not cease because someone tries to make that meal or ritual less violent. Diminishing violence against animals more than justifies amending our cultural and familial relationships to eating.

I also want to clarify why I’m a vegan as opposed to someone who eats “humanly raised” meat. Maltreatment is one kind of violence against animals. Death is another. Because both violate an animal’s interests, I pause over your claim that you are “honoring” your meat by making sure it’s ethically sourced. More precisely, I worry that you are romanticizing brutality. There’s no honoring an animal in a slaughterhouse – especially not when that animal is being slaughtered well in advance of its natural end-of-life to feed people who don’t need to eat it. You and I are two of those people. As tenured professors, we are both people of considerable privilege. We have the financial means to eat vegan (which the latest economic research shows to not be prohibitively expensive[3]) and the ready availability of vegan food. Every time we chose not to eat vegan – as I did for many years – we are choosing to prioritize our pleasure or convenience over an animal’s life.

 Karen

I’ve always been very clear about respecting people’s chosen food practices, if largely because, as you acknowledge in your own comments our region, race, religion, class, politics etc. determines our relationship to food. And I appreciate you clarifying that what you see as the “moral superiority” of vegan practices is as much about what you personally construe as the “best” practices for eating and consuming amongst the classes and communities who are afforded choice—i.e. whose “choices” might actually be ascribed the attributes of “morality” and “consciousness.”

But this is where I think our priorities diverge, especially when it comes to discussing the status and sanctity of “the animal” while underscoring the moral failings of the humans who continue to consume them. This is when we start getting into the irksome (at its most benign), and fascistic (at its worst) neoliberal rhetoric about choice and consumption in veganism gussied up as the only acceptable set of practices if we strive to for ethical and moral relationships to eating. I personally don’t aspire to any practices or systems of belief framed through the discourses of “ethics” or “morality,” where there is little room to express alternate foundations for our systems of belief. To me veganism, as a chosen lifestyle in the name of the animal (at least as it manifests in the Anglo-American-Euro context), has come to assume the status of a moral imperative to the detriment of other peoples, nations and classes even though it purports to reduce harm in general.

Much of what chafes me about the “superiorities” of veganism are the hypocrisies covered over in keeping its “bestness” in place as a moral directive. For example, in another thread related to the one you and I began on FB, some of us questioned how we could even begin to hierarchize the harms caused by our practices of consumption, and our global foodways, since most global farming and agricultural practices are unquestionably brutal: brutal for the environment, brutal upon laborers, brutal towards the communities—animal and human—in its immediate geographical radius, etc.

I think about the numerous ways the same standards of “suffering” applied to animals, and righteously trotted out in debates about veganism might also be usefully applied to the horrendous labor practices and indentured human servitude inherent in nearly all forms of Big Ag, whether or not its at the slaughterhouse, or at the vegetable processing facility. I visited one of these vegetable facilities in Ventura County with my class on food cultures last year. Its carbon footprint and the political orientation of its proprietors were both horrifying, yet they remain one of the largest and most profitable distributers of organic produce nationally, for retailers popular with vegans like Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and even local co-ops.

All vegans, in other words, aren’t consuming “consciously” or ethically, or even reducing harm to animals, let alone humans who are caught in the radius of these violent, profit-driven food ecologies. Many vegans happily support odious, unethical businesses like Whole Foods, or “craft” quinoa importers who have reinforced class divisions in the Andean region, or Big Ag almond growers who have wreaked just as much havoc on the ecosystem—animal, vegetable, mineral—as some so-called “ethical” meat producers who participate in the same artisanal and creative economic production models that source vegan lifestyles.

In fact, this rather thoughtfully considered piece on the quinoa controversy of a couple of years ago does an excellent job of highlighting what I would characterize as the narcissism of small differences between say, your practices of creative class consumption (though I don’t purport to know exactly what they are beyond what you’ve shared with me here), and my own.[4] (hyperlink to URL in footnote)

One of the marked differences is that your eating practices boasts its “superiority” (through the ethos of “bestness” you described above): it’s “the least most people could do.” You seem, in that remark, to be arguing that the rest of us should follow those practices. I, meanwhile, am inclined to concede how fucked up it is to feed humans on a large scale, while remaining disinclined to assume that any one set of practices is fundamentally more “moral” than another. We all consume plenty of things we don’t need and which cause tremendous harm in this world.

I hope some of what I’ve said also addresses your question about whether or not I’m “romanticizing” the brutality of processing and eating meat in my earlier remarks. To the contrary: I acknowledge the brutality that inheres in feeding humans on a mass scale in general. Indeed, I would propose modifying the last line of your previous comments to say that every time we choose to eat, we are choosing to prioritize our pleasure or convenience over others’ lives, both human and animal. Unless one is proceeding with some of the same painstaking precautions certain Buddhist sects use to minimize harm to all other lifeforms; unless you are growing your own vegetables in a sustainable manner, and subsisting entirely on what you have cultivated; unless you have given up quinoa and almond milk, and have forsaken the pleather shoes or car seat covers you’ve bought from a company that outsources its production to child laborers in the developing world, I cannot abide by the notion that my non-vegan practices are fundamentally more destructive, or driven only by “pleasure” and “convenience.”

Finally, my position would be to encourage us to learn more and to find approaches to our foodways and consumption based upon an expansive set of criteria, including the economic, ecological, cultural, spiritual, and healthful; in other words, a holistic approach.  I would eschew “the moral” altogether as a fundament for how we should imagine our relationship to eating unless we have an orthodox relationship to our religion and are proscribed to do so.

At base, Will, we are obviously not invested in the same things. I see no need to persuade others to eat in the manner I do, and have engaged in this dialogue, because I felt I was “shut down” (as they say) from expressing a dissenting opinion in a vegan-centric conversation about ethical priorities and contradictions. Personally, I am much more committed to seeking out justice for, and the ethical treatment of, our brethren whose brutalization continues to be ignored because of their race, class, gender or sexual status.

I’m curious what you think of our conversation in light of the #IfCecilWasBlack meme? I felt like I was sucked into the frenzy of all this—into a lot of anthropomorphic rhetoric about the protection of animals in our conversation and beyond—while failing to engage in some of the concerns members of our community in the #BlackLivesMatter movement have about the social media mobilization and uproar (pardon the pun), over Cecil the lion vs. the relative silence about brutality towards African-Americans in the U.S.

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Will

Let me take your closing question first, as I think it encapsulates what you perceive as one of the difference between us – that difference being that my concern for “the animal” trumps my concern for my fellow human animals. I understand the #IfCecilWasBlack movement probably much like you do: as a keen identification of how fucked up it is to mourn the death of one lion in a world where black bodies are brutalized on a mass scale without a similar outpouring of collective anger. I agree that this lack of perspective is entirely fucked up. I just think it’s equally fucked up to focus one’s outrage on the death of one lion when we kill 56 billion animals (excluding fish and other aquatic animals) annually for food.[5] So much about the outrage over Cecil’s death was wrong. To point out the latter wrong is not to endorse the silence over racial violence; nor is it to prioritize animal lives over human ones. It is possible to be both anti-racist and pro-animal at the same time. These stances – ethical and political – are deeply intersectional, as both stem from an opposition to oppressing sentient creatures on the basis of irrelevant criteria: skin color, ethnicity, and species.

Cecil the Black Lion

The real difference between us begins to emerge, I believe, when you state that you “don’t aspire to any practices or systems of belief framed through the discourses of ‘ethics’ or ‘morality,’ where there is little room to express dissenting opinions,”

Your comma after “morality” suggests that you find all discourses of ethics and morality equally forbidding. But you clearly haven’t abandoned these discourses or ceased to develop ethical/moral sets of practices or systems of belief. You object to “unethical businesses” like Whole Foods. And you state your commitment to “the ethical treatment of our brethren.” In both cases, the discourse of ethics is perfectly conducive to protesting brutalization against humans. On what grounds do you believe Whole Foods to be unethical in its treatment of humans if not an ethical one?[6] How can you measure “ethical treatment,” or even determine what constitutes “brutalization,” without a sense that some sets of practices – economic, cultural, political, etc. – are more or less ethical? I’m not just trying to catch you in contradictions; I’m trying to suggest that this kind of aversion to ethics only tends to crop up when one’s personal practices regarding and beliefs about non-human animals are called into question.[7] Indeed, I presume that you would have no problem terming human slavery unethical, no matter how deeply human slavery is ingrained in cultural practice or belief, and no matter how thin the line sometimes is between slavery and “ordinary” employment in a capitalist economy.[8] I’m also fairly sure you’d agree that rape is unethical, no matter how much the rapist dissents, no matter how much the victim believes that she deserved it, and no mater how much consensual sex is itself imbued with power differentials. I realize these comparisons to rape and slavery are potentially inflammatory, but I make them for the sake of pointing out that what we disagree on, most fundamentally, is the ethical status of the animal – whether the animal “counts” or not, or to what degree. Hence my reason for asking you whether you believe animals have an interest in not being harmed – a question you did not answer.

In any case, without a discourse of ethics or morality, the “holistic” approach for which you advocate approaching food consumption falls apart. Never mind that veganism goes a long way towards addressing many of the problems you raise, given that most of the food we currently grow, and the land we grow it on, goes to feed the animals we raise to kill.[9] How will you convince me, as you seek to do in the first part of your response, to even consider the injustices done to human workers, cultures, or the environment unless you presume, like me, that there are better and worse ways of relating to people and the planet? How will I determine what constitutes injustice? And how can I begin to set up this “expansive set of criteria” if I don’t know what goal or ideal those criteria are helping me measure?

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I know that you are trying to characterize my veganism as a forbiddingly ethical practice or set of beliefs, but I would hope that this exchange testifies to my investment in not shutting you down. Looking back, I would argue that much of what went on during our initial Facebook discussion was just plain disagreement. Before it descended into red-herring charges of cultural imperialism and, far more bizarrely, mansplaining (this latter one not from Lisa Duggan, not you), this disagreement turned on the fact that you and I both hold that not all opinions or systems of belief or structures of reasoning are equally compelling. And, indeed, it ensued because we approached Cecil’s death with different ethical frameworks – mine, a framework that condemns violence against animals for reasons of pleasure, amusement, convenience, or cultural difference; and yours, to quote, a framework that condemns “paying thousands of dollars, destroying someone else’s ecosystem (economic, social, spiritual) with your crass tourism, and taking prideful photos of yourself slaying a physically superior beast with a weapon for actually NO reason at all.”  Although I would point out that Dr. Palmer did have a reason, and a very simple one – pleasure, he wanted to kill a lion – I otherwise don’t disagree at all with your framework. I was simply trying, and still am, to expand it.

When I claim that veganism is the “least one can do,” I hope I’m clear that I mean exactly that. Once could do far more to address the injustices within food production. You are right to point to the myriad forms of violence against animals and humans involved in food production.  You are right to point out that “we all consume plenty of things we don’t need and that cause tremendous harm in this world.” But it’s fallacious to jump from the bad employment and environmental practices of an organic produce manufacturer to the claim that vegans are not “even reducing harm to animals, let alone humans.” (You seem to equate “reducing” with “eliminating,” when I am not arguing that veganism is a panacea. Otherwise, it’s hard to argue that a vegan diet doesn’t reduce harm to animals when there’s no animal on a vegan’s plate.) It’s fallacious to respond to my claim that we shouldn’t eat animal products by claiming that veganism works to the “detriment of other peoples, nations and classes even though it purports to reduce harm in general.” (As noted above, the evidence is overwhelming that veganism does reduce harm in general, and while peoples, nations, and classes still do suffer new and various detriments related to increased consumption of plant foods, those detriments are not themselves arguments against going vegan.)  Finally, it’s fallacious to jump from my point that you have a choice about what to eat to impugning that choice as so much neoliberal rhetoric when your position on diet is essentially a libertarian one that maximizes such choices as personal or cultural.

To respond to the other Facebook thread you mentioned, I would hazard that we can begin “to hierarchize the harms caused by our practices of consumption, and our global foodways.” It’s important that we do so if we are to have any hope of diminishing these harms. At least we can hazard that one of the roots of all those harms within our foodways is our excision of the animal from the sphere of ethical concern. It is very easy to exploit human labor, adult and child, when you regard the laborer as less than human. That’s why it’s not enough to protest rampant dehumanization; we must ask ourselves why it’s somehow right to exploit, use, kill, and enslave sentient creatures just because they are not human.[10] That’s the debate we should be having.

Karen

Will, I hope you know that I’m not in any way suggesting that I know how you move through the world as a consumer, or that I have my own little window on your personal practices with craft quinoa, almond milk and Banana Republic button-downs. Nor am I suggesting that veganism as a philosophy or practice is necessarily hypocritical, though I’ve encountered more than my fair share of vegan individuals who are incredibly aggressive and ‘splainy about their viewpoints, while neglecting the other conundrums and dilemmas that arise in relation to all “first world” forms of consumption—including some of the ones I mentioned above.  In short, all I’ve tried to say here, and all I really tried to say by extension on that FB thread, is that non-vegans are NOT all stupid, ill-informed people who haven’t taken the time to learn about animals, industrial food production, the rhetorics of animacy, and the vicissitudes of ethics and morality.

I think you overstate the extent to which I, and others, were “focusing” all of our outrage on the Cecil the Lion incident. Again, what intensified this particular debate is the aggression, some of it rather masculine, scolding and ‘splainy, that was directed at myself and a few others who suggested that it might be OK to register the heinousness of that act, despite having different perspectives on food and eating.

I appreciate that you decided we should take the conversation elsewhere, though I do still feel like the moral universe you are advocating is an absolutist and narrow one. I don’t think, for example, that appealing to one’s cultural heritage or explaining (in short form, mind you) some of the socio-cultural foundations for my own diet necessarily equates to a “neoliberal logic” or the advocacy of personal choice. In fact, what I tried to explain is that how one eats for most of his or her life is rarely a personal or individual choice: there are entire affective, economic, spiritual, historical, (post)colonial systems that undergird what we perceive as “choice,” and many of them actually have nothing to do with “pleasure,” as you keep referring to non-vegan ways of eating with a tone of dismissal. Though honestly—and I say this as a hedonistic Wildean maenadic type—what would be so wrong with using pleasure as our guide? Unfortunately, as an uptight Virgo, I don’t always live up to that aspiration.

But seriously: I have no investment in telling people NOT to go vegan. If you are committed to the practice, then more power to you. I have no interest in convincing you or anyone else to eat meat, dairy or the things that you have excised from your diet for political and moral reasons. Nor would I say you are “missing out” on anything. What I’ve made an effort to do in this exchange is to point out some of the hypocrisies that have fueled certain expressions of vegan vehemence, especially those that manifest in as moral directive and rhetorical aggression towards others who do not share the same priorities. I have also tried to reject the evangelical nature of veganism, at least as I encountered it in that thread and in other situations (I actually co-exist rather peacefully with plenty of vegans and vegetarians in my life—I’m a lesbian after all).

tumblr_miifpqwa7P1qgrxobo1_500Neither have I tried to suggest that you or other vegans are “prioritizing” the animal over human animals, and that we should focus our political efforts on “people” above all else, though I have tried to underscore the fact that for some vocal vegans, other political commitments to racial justice, reproductive rights, you name it, tend to fall by the wayside when “the animal” becomes the vector of projection and anthropomorphism—much as you and others have described happened with Cecil. I’m not saying you individually participate in this. I’m speaking from some of my other encounters with evangelical vegans who are capable of advocating so passionately on behalf of animals, but who refuse to acknowledge the racism and brutality of some of their other practices of consumption, or in their attitudes towards others who don’t share their principles of eating and being.

To finally answer the question you keep trying to get me to answer in this exchange: “Do animals have an interest in not being harmed?”

I really don’t know. I wouldn’t purport to understand how animal consciousness works. Nor do I think it would be the same across the board for all animals. Nor do I think it would in any way resemble human consciousness or affect. Some animals seem to be driven by a survival instinct, whereas others do not. But ultimately, who am I to know this? How am I to know this? I assume my cats have a whole range of feelings, many of which I understand are my own projections upon them. Do they avoid pain and hurt? In most circumstances they do, but in other circumstances they actually seem to seek it out. But I could be wrong because I have no real access to animal sentience except for lay-knowledge from articles in magazines at the vet, Nat Geo documentaries about the “secret lives of cats,” or 99 cent Reader’s Digest booklets on “how to communicate with your cat.” Mostly, I have to assume that whatever I’m interpreting about my cats’ behaviors is being generated by my own desires.

I want to close with a final note about morality and ethics. You might not know this, but I actually wrote my dissertation on ethics and excess in Victorian non-fiction prose, so I have a very specific take on ethics, morality, the differences between them, and their applicability to styles of living, and the cultivation of the subject.  This is a much longer, and separate conversation, but I want to clarify that I do not see ethics and morality as the same thing. To put it simply: morality denotes a set of imperatives and actions governed alternately by law, religion and culture. Ethics, meanwhile, describes the theoretical inquiry into these actions and helps us interpret the articulations that compel moral behavior and practice.  To assess the ethics of something is, from my standpoint, as much about assessing the form and style of articulation meant to incite moral behavior than it is to describe whether or not a point of view is “good” or “bad.” As I already said above, I am loathe to subscribe to a world view that is driven by moralism, precisely because moral claims cannot, by definition, be challenged. They are unassailable imperatives to behavior that—as the long history of the world has shown us—don’t always come from a good or righteous place.

Morality, for example, has been used to persecute and prosecute most of my “behaviors” as a queer person. It has been used to challenge my reproductive rights as a woman. And, by way of a response to your remark in footnote 5: the discourses of morality were also used to advocate on behalf of slavery, not merely to speak against it. Many scholars of African-American literature have argued that some abolitionist writings have a sentimental, patronizing and moralizing tone about slavery, and reject that kind of advocacy. W.E.B. DuBois himself rejects this manner of being spoken “about” and “for” by moral grandstanders who were allies. Personally, I am more interested in a Deleuzean “ethics after morality,” and in an encounter with ethics as a as a practice of reading and understanding the expressions that compel behavior. This is probably why much of what I’ve had to say in this exchange is hung up on the style and rhetoric of our disagreements and hostilities, and the manner of address that offended my sensibilities.

In the end, I hope that you feel you’ve derived something from this exchange, if merely that it strengthened your own resolve! I, meanwhile, will return to my brutal, savage, heathenistic, hedonistic and hypocritical ways (and I say this with a wink, and a smile, since tone is obviously very important to me).

Will

Do I note the irony of being called an evangelical on “the queer bully pulpit” that is Bully Bloggers?  I’m already an evangelical faggot, so I’m happy to accept the “evangelical vegan” label, too. Most of us in academia, especially in the humanities, are evangelists for something. We just tend to give it a different name: activism. We also tend not to our arguments “’splaining,” We call it criticism.

In any case, I am glad we engaged in this exchange. Talking to people about veganism is important to me, and not as a means to strengthen my own resolve. As I said in my first round of remarks, much more is at stake: the many millions of animal lives we humans unnecessarily take each year in the name of what I will continue to “reduce” to pleasure. Honestly, I just get frustrated that efforts to engage in argument so often get hung up on questions of tone. But if there’s a more tonally appropriate way to persuade you to go vegan, please let me know! I’d happily re-engage.

Footnotes

[1] Gary Francione, “We’re All Michael Vick.”

[2] According to Jonathan Safran Foer, “96 percent of Americans say that animals deserve legal protection, 76 percent say that animal welfare is more important to them than low meat prices, and nearly two-thirds advocate passing not only laws but ‘strict laws concerning the treatment of farmed animals. You’d be hard-pressed to find any other issue on which so many people see eye to eye.” See Eating Animals (New York: Little Brown 2009), 73.

[3] Jayson L. Lusk and F. Bailey Norwood, “Some Economic Benefits and Costs of Vegetarianism,” Agricultural and Resource Economics Review 38.2 (2009): 109-24.

[4] Tim Philpott, “Quinoa: Good, Evil, or Just Really Complicated.”

[5] The Animal Kill Counter, which takes marine animals into account, sets the number much higher, at more than 150 billion. http://www.adaptt.org/killcounter.html.

[6] You will not find me defending Whole Foods, one of the leading purveyors of “happy meat.”

[7] There’s a larger philosophical issue here regarding the Derridean provenance of animal studies, but that’s beyond the scope of this one response to explore. See Gary Steiner, Animals and the Limits of Postmodernism (Columbia: University of Columbia Press, 2013).

[8] I’m hard-pressed to imagine anyone on the Left agreeing that arguments for the abolition of slavery in US were too extreme or crassly moralizing or fascistic/absolutist, deafened by their own self-righteousness to complications that would ensure from abolition – mass unemployment, starvation, vagrancy, unchecked violence, etc.

[9] These figures are widely available, as is abundant evidence regarding the outsized impacts of meat consumption on environment, wealth inequality, and personal health. See, for starters, the 2010 UN report “Assessing Environment Impacts of Consumption and Production“; and their 2006 report “Livestock’s Long Shadow.”

[10] I am reminded of Sunaura Taylor’s anecdote about the mother of an intellectually disabled child who objects to Taylor’s comparison of her own disabled self to an animal. For this mother, the animal deserves to be treated worse than a human, notwithstanding Taylor’s point that disabled “people and non-human animals . . . are often oppressed by similar forces” (762). See “Vegans, Freaks, and Animals: Toward a New Table Fellowship,” American Quarterly 65.3 (2013), 757-64.

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