Sistah Vegan: A Review

(Image is from Wishing Well Sanctuary)

I finished Sistah Vegan this month and decided it was worth its own post so here are my very inexpert thoughts on intersectional veganism and the book that compiles some essays dealing with the topic.

sistah vegan

**Disclaimer: am white person whiting it up over here.

Prologue: The Uncomfortable Reality of Racism in Animal Rights

Here are a couple of comments I stumbled upon recently, in response to an animal advocacy group sharing an article that said Canada was badly ranked for it’s treatment of animals (unsurprising).

halal comment

The first comment is frustratingly ignorant. The SPCA can only do so much, guys, because the laws suck and need to be updated. Pay attention to who you’re voting for. The laws also require law enforcement officers who are actually interested in enforcing the laws in order to be effective. Pay attention to who isn’t doing the enforcing and give them hassle when they fail to act. Don’t break into people’s houses and steal animals and ruin animal cruelty cases that the SPCA are building up legally. Come on, now.

The second comment is, you know, racist.

It’s ignorant, too, because, really. What is the SPCA supposed to do about an industry practice that is entirely legal and defined as “not animal cruelty” and instead one of the acceptable methods of slaughter?

I should expand on the “racist” thing though because I happen to know some people IRL who would take issue with that label, annoyingly. “It can’t be racist if it’s about a religion” OK Brent, best case scenario you’re a bigot, congrats, but I’m still going to call it racism because Islamaphobia gets directed at anyone who looks vaguely brown.

Why is it a problem that people are against Halal? Well – it’s not. Halal is not a great thing where animals are concerned. It requires animals being slaughtered for food to be alert during slaughter whereas otherwise the animal would be stunned first. Personally I think it’s not the biggest difference because animals slaughtered for food tend to be at least somewhat aware of what they’re heading for before they get stunned, especially if the slaughterhouse is badly designed or not following the top guidelines, but it makes enough of a difference to the individual animals that really that sort of practice shouldn’t be allowed.

But why single out Halal? Kosher is exactly the same. Also, why single out either Halal or Kosher? Why not single out the industry standard practice of grinding up male chicks while they’re still alert? That is not done because of religious laws, just for, I don’t know, expedience, maybe. Or what about gestation crates for pig mothers, which is a practice that causes immense suffering for years on end rather than for just a split second at slaughter? How about going after gigantic quotas that lead to massive stress among the already stressed-out workers, which of course leads to physical abuse of the animals, either as a necessity for reaching quota or as an outlet for frustration?

How I deal with Halal and Kosher is that I’ve just resigned myself to being mostly silent about it, because there are, in fact, animal advocates of both the Muslim and Jewish persuasions who are having these conversations within their own communities and it isn’t my place as some rando Catholic to butt in. Why not allow them to take care of their own cultural practices, particularly these days, when their communities are under quite a bit of stress because of certain unmentionable somehow elected officials? Really, ever since September 11, 2001, it hasn’t been the opportune moment to start browbeating Muslim people about one of their cultural practices that isn’t good for animals. Especially when non-Muslim Canadians aren’t exactly lining up to tidy up our own garbage practices.

Canada has plenty of animal rights issues to tackle that are not specific to our Muslim communities. Like the seal hunt. Like all of those other meat industry standard practices I mentioned. How about the transportation of pigs for slaughter? That was kind of a big deal a while ago.

Also, Islam is in many ways a pretty animal-friendly religion. Sure, Halal requires animals to be alert for slaughter and there are the sacrificial animals during Eid, but Muslims are technically not supposed to eat pork ever (good for pigs), and a lot of their fasting rituals require them to abstain from meat for lengthy time periods each year (good for food animals in general). Christianity could learn a thing or two.

I don’t know this commenter and for all I know “Halal” was just the first thing that popped into their head when it occurred to them to email the SPCA. But probably not. I think it’s more than safe to say that this is an example of someone who probably does care about animals, but who also is upset about Muslim people existing nearby and has decided to kill two birds with one stone and join the two pet causes.

I’m ashamed to say I didn’t speak up here. I seriously considered it. I think things like this hurt everyone, because first of all, it’s racist, which is never good, and then there’s the fact that there easily could be a Muslim person scrolling through these comments, and animal rights needs allies, and to have allies we need to make people feel welcome, and not make them feel like they do anywhere people enthusiastically voted for Stephen Harper and his low key Islamaphobia. Finally, it does delegitimize us a bit. People are looking for any excuse to dismiss animal rights as a thing worth discussing, and if you’re using it as a platform to be racist, you’ve basically handed them a perfect reason to stop listening forever.

The reason I didn’t speak up is sort of complicated. The first problem is that Facebook will then plaster that conversation on the walls of my friends, some of whom are my coworkers, and I didn’t want them to see me calling a stranger an Islamaphobe. And that’s basically what it would have been, because the second problem was that I couldn’t come up with anything calm and reasonable to say.

I still think the right thing to do was to think about it for a while and then post something along the lines of, “Hi there – Islam is a pretty animal-friendly religion, actually, considering the fasting and such, and there are lots of other, non-Islamic and totally legal industry practices that cause a lot of suffering to food animals, none of which the SPCA is capable of ending on its own. We need to vote smarter and put pressure on our elected officials so that they know we want animal welfare improvements. Have a LOVELY non-Muslim-hating day!”

Alas. Next time.

And that said…

The Actual Review

The book is a collection of personal essays about the broad experience of black women vegans. A lot of the essays focus on health veganism. Health veganism is cool and all but for my part, I’m not really interested in hearing about the health benefits of being vegan these days. What I actually want to hear about are the pitfalls. I’d like in depth examinations of B12 deficiencies and where to get calcium, vitamin A, omega 3s, iron, and zinc, because although I do have vague ideas about all of those things, being nutritious is really tricky and I think it can only help to be honest about how complex it is. My sister has talked about some of that before but I’d like to see more of that from vegans regularly because it’s helpful stuff. (HERE’S THE PART WHERE I UNSUBTLY SHOUT OUT TO THREE TO WRITE MORE NUTRITION STUFF.)

Health veganism, from the perspective of all of the essayists is especially beneficial for black Americans, however, and that’s where my own perspective is limited. I may not be all that excited about how useful a vegan diet can be for combating obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, but because black Americans are disproportionately more likely to die from these health problems than other races in America, it’s clearly worth more discussion.

There was also a really intriguing conversation near the end of the book between women discussing being fat, black, and vegan/vegetarian, and that was one of my favourite parts. Fellow vegans: FAT SHAMING. IS NEVER. OK. FAT SHAMING. ONLY. DOES HARM. THANKS.

Perhaps my favourite essay was “Being a Sistah at PETA” because I’m a PETA apologist. I love PETA criticism and here was some really well thought out criticism written by a former employee. She says she wanted to apply the intersectional message of a vegan diet being good for black Americans’ health considering they are more likely to face certain health problems made worse by animal consumption, but PETA wanted to focus on fur-wearing in hip hop and getting various black celebrities to be publicly anti-fur. It seems clear from this essay that their goals were really short-sighted and, like, extremely white. Outreach to any community that focuses on “what animal rights can do for you” would probably be more effective in the long run than patronizing “let’s get celebrity role models to say stuff for us and that’ll do it.” Sigh, PETA. While you may like your bad publicity and your celebrity partnerships, sometimes maybe try reaching out in a thoughtful manner. Cover your bases, is all I’m suggesting.

Finally, we arrive at “the dreaded comparison.” The biggest takeaway I got from this collection was that it’s really, really important to be thoughtful about rhetoric. Comparing animal exploitation to human atrocities is important, and probably essential, both for understanding how animal exploitation works AND for understanding how human exploitation works, but, especially if we’re white, we need to think carefully about when and why we’re doing it. Mainly, we need to not scream all day about how the meat industry is just like slavery or the Holocaust, because in doing so we may be hurting marginalized people. There are several accounts of hearing black people say they were viscerally disgusted by “meat is like slavery” rhetoric and never gave the issue more careful thought afterwards. If someone has observed throughout our culture that animals are worth far less consideration than humans, and also that their own humanity will always be up for debate because of systemic white supremacy, this sort of rhetoric will never help animals, and instead will always hurt people. If we’re doing comparison, it needs to be in specific contexts only, thoughtful, studious ones, looking at the similarities and differences between human and animal exploitation. We can still ask people to begin to value animals more and to consider their suffering when they make decisions, and we can absolutely use strong rhetoric to do so, but I think white animal rights activists especially need to take several steps back if we’re going to use human atrocities that didn’t affect our ancestors and don’t affect us currently as easy rhetorical devices, and, like, not do that.

Sistah Vegan is good reading for anyone who wants to help make the animal rights community less racist and therefore much, much better. We need to be accommodating and intersectional. It’s the only way forward.

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The Saga of the Terrible St Catharines Vet

… has come to a close, for now.

To summarize, there’s this vet who was (and still is) practicing in St Catharines (a city in southern Ontario that has a really good vegan doughnut place). He is not a very good vet. His staff members took covert video footage of his particular brand of veterinary medicine, which included slamming animals, choking them, and punching them.

The College of Veterinarians of Ontario disciplined the vet by suspending him for ten months, slapping him with a fine, and are requiring that he gets retrained on how to restrain animals.

So, here’s the thing about that.

There’s already quite a lot of mistrust of veterinarians and vet medicine in general. When a doctor or an RVT takes your pet to the back to do a few procedures out of sight, pretty much their most important job is to ensure that the human client trusts them to be kind, gentle, humane. While it’s true that restraint is usually required to get procedures done safely, and that even minimal restraint can be upsetting for doting humans to see, for the most part the staff at the back are good at what they do and are doing it right because to do it wrong would go against their entire being.

Now people have seen this footage of a vet slamming animals around, and of course every time they drop off their pet for surgery or even just to get a vaccine done they’re going to worry on some level about what’s going on back there. They also know that the CVO didn’t revoke his license, which is absolutely what they should have done, if only to protect the profession. But also because, yeah, dude needs to not be practicing medicine. It’s going to be hard to convince people to trust veterinary medicine as a whole when the CVO won’t even suspend someone who is on camera punching a chihuahua.

Earlier this week this story somehow got worse, because the Crown decided to drop all sixteen charges of animal cruelty against the vet filed by the OSPCA. They decided to do this because the CVO had already investigated and disciplined the vet.

There was also something about the OSPCA officer investigating without a proper complaint being filed. The officer says he was responding to the video footage that had been released to the public and was widely viewed.

Laws are complicated, but for animal cruelty laws in Canada and Ontario specifically, it really does come down to whether you have sympathetic law enforcement on your side or not. And precedent. Precedent is key.

The crown could have pursued the animal cruelty charges. There was evidence. Crimes had clearly been committed. There are lots of precedent-setting cases of dogs and cats being struck and the abuser being found guilty of animal cruelty. And as for the CVO, well, it isn’t the CVO’s job to prosecute veterinarians for animal cruelty. That task is left to the OSPCA and cooperative prosecution. Alas.

Everything went wrong here. The CVO should have taken a more decisive stance, and law enforcement should have actually enforced laws. By not doing so, the next case of an abusive vet (and it’s coming) will be harder to prosecute, not easier. It will be harder, not easier, to obtain justice for the animals who are abused next, and it will be harder, not easier, to prevent something like this from happening again without demonstrating that there are tangible and appropriate consequences.

The vet in question and his family have received death threats, so I guess I should add that that’s never cool. The dude is garbage and he should find a job that doesn’t involve animals, or humans, really, but no death threats, thanks.

Also, his clinic is still open and people are still going there. Hint: don’t. There are vet clinics everywhere; find a new one.

Further reading on this depressing case of maximum apathy: St Kits, CBC, OSPCA.

Don’t watch the video, though. Instead, watch this.

Things I Saw Last Week

Specifically, things that are mostly related to Canadian (and, directly or indirectly, American) politics.

Groan. 

I know.

In the animal rights arena, some new proposed changes to humane transport of animals used in the meat industry, open for public comment until this Wednesday. I haven’t done it yet. Even sending emails makes me uncomfortable. (But obviously I’m going to, it just needs thinking about for an unnecessarily long period of time.)

As for refugees and immigrants, I learned this week about the Canadian Centre for Refugee and Immigrant Health Care, which provides necessary care for those who are in health coverage limbo while they’re waiting for citizenship. The context of learning about it was this article about the increase in refugees fleeing into Canada from the States and 45. The article was amazing, profiling the heroism of Dr. Caulford as well as the courage of refugees, many of whom require treatment for frostbite. I mean. This isn’t good news, and obviously Canada could be doing a lot more here, to say nothing of the nonsense happening south of the border. But this organization seems like a really useful local thing I can support so I guess that’s something.

In unsettling self care news, I bought The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood because some nice fascist dystopia seems like just the thing for these times. While I paid, two staff members were laughing about how they were shipped a huge box and all it had inside was one copy of Animal Farm, when they had actually ordered a bunch of copies of 1984. So. I guess we’re all reading fascist dystopia now. Cool.

There is a trustee a couple of municipalities over who called a parent a racial slur a while back and she hasn’t resigned yet. Also she claims she isn’t racist. What’s all the fuss about, guys? Who needs decent upstanding people – or who, at the very least, don’t call people racial slurs – in charge of school systems, am I right?

This article about Justin Trudeau and the electoral reform promise made me laugh, a lot, and then I felt better about the whole thing.

Propane Jane told a bunch of progressives ranging from slightly annoying to actively harmful to “mount [their] damn unicorns already” and I’m dead. Please serve only cake at the funeral.

Unrelated to politics, Paul wrote nice things about Paperman again.

And. The US rounded up a bunch of people and deported them, and they abandoned the federal government’s attempt to protect civil rights for trans students (that stupid bathroom thing again, yes).

All right. Let’s start the new week.

sansaweary

Guest Blogger: Fantastic Mr Fox – A Fable for Our Times?

Good morning all, and happy Friday.

Today we bring you a guest post from one of our favourite like-minded wordpress bloggers, Animalista Untamed. Be sure to click on that link for some un-censored yet beautifully-articulated animal rights blogging goodness. We promise you’ll learn something!

Animalista was kind enough to enter our realm of analyzing children’s lit, with a fabulous animal welfare tie-in. We hope you enjoy the result as much as we did.

– erm & three

Subversive is the word for Roald Dahl. That’s what he is. His stories’allure for kids (and for us adults of a more rebellious inclination) lies in his demolition of accepted social norms with a few deft flicks of the pen. His fiction inhabits a realm that the ‘acceptable’, ‘normal’ grownup world frowns upon, but a realm we wish real life resembled and into which we can momentarily escape. That’s why kids love him. He’s the merry Lord of Misrule.

Continue reading “Guest Blogger: Fantastic Mr Fox – A Fable for Our Times?”

The Never-Ending Saga of Canada’s Terrible Animal Rights Lesgislation

This article sums up this mess going on in parliament currently.

Just to add my (erm’s) two five cents: these arguments against passing a bill, which is a bill that would only criminalize the worst animal abuse, and only when committed against pets, are kind of like that refrain we hear time and time again whenever someone’s complaining about some awful animal cruelty: “Are any of you who are complaining about this vegan? Because if not you should shut up.”

As a vegan, can I just say that anyone is allowed to be outraged by animal cruelty. Anyone. Yes, it would be lovely if that outrage were followed by even small attempts to limit meat/dairy/egg consumption, but if it isn’t, I’ll still take your outrage. We don’t live in a perfect world, everyone isn’t going vegan tomorrow. I don’t think we need to wait until we’re all eating tofu kebabs to start to chip away at the kinds of animal abuse that EVERYONE agrees are heinous. EVERYONE thinks we need harsher laws when we’re talking about abusing cats and dogs. Everyone, of course, except people listening to the animal exploitation brigade’s lobbyists.

I’m almost positive this bill, which isn’t good enough but it’s something and therefore I support it, is not going to pass. Bills like it won’t be passing anytime soon. Not in Canada, at least. But even with my defeatist attitude, I know that the lobbyists are right to be scared. The day that all animal exploitation is criminalized is coming, though it may be far away. They can fight it all they want, but they simply don’t have it in them to fight as long or as hard as we do, because it’s a 9-5 job for them. It’s our hearts and souls. And that means, we’ll win. It’ll take forever, of course, but there’s no stopping us.

A Whale’s Tale – SeaWorld & The Humane Economy

The take-down of Sea World is a cause very near to our hearts (three owns a BOYCOTT SEAWORLD long-sleeve tee which she wears in public too often). As children we used to visit Sea World almost every year, because we, like everyone else it seems, were enchanted with the beauty of the whales, dolphins, and other creatures we saw there. Like everyone else, we had to be taught better. Humanity is drawn to these animals, and we suppose it is ‘natural’ to want to contain them and view them at all times – this is why people comment on videos of wild animals saying things like “I want one” and “literally getting one of these as a pet”. No. No. No. It is possible to love something without trapping and abusing it for life, and this is what all animal lovers need to strive for.

Sea World ending its breeding program is a big victory, but there’s a lot of work to be done. If you don’t follow Animalista Untamed, we recommend you do, if you are interested in learning more.

Animalista Untamed

Did you hear that tremendous wave of sound reverberating around the planet on Thursday March 17th? You can’t have missed it because I swear it could be heard on the moon! It was the shout of joy from the global band of animal advocates when SeaWorld finally bowed to public pressure and made the momentous announcement that they would no longer breed orcas in captivity.

On that memorable day emails were pinging into my Inbox in rapid succession from different organisations all proclaiming “Victory!” Facebook and Twitter were ablaze. This was an historic moment in animal protection, worthy of celebration. On that same day writing in his blog, Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the Humane Society of the US, called it “a game changer for our movement”. The orcas still at SeaWorld will be the last generation to suffer in confinement at their facilities.

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HSUS played a prominent role in bringing SeaWorld to this…

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Lobsters at Longo’s

erm

 

 

I like food, so it sort of hesitantly follows that I should like grocery stores. And I do, actually. I even like having to go to multiple stores to get everything I need, because then I figure we really do end up with the best stuff, and the best deals. I have been particularly fond of a few grocery stores throughout my grocery-shopping years, and one of them that was held high in my estimation was Longo’s. It has nice-looking produce, it’s a local business, it’s a prolific business with 24 stores in the GTA now, and its produce is good enough that I have to mention it twice. Seriously, more grocery stores need to amp up their produce game.

Anyway, I thought Longo’s was pretty great.

But then, this happened.

lobster at longoa

Kind of a misleading picture. When we were there, that tank was stuffed with them. It was more lobster than tank.

Not cool, Longo’s. Continue reading “Lobsters at Longo’s”

Round Gobies and the amazingness that is Canadian governance of animals

ermThe last thing I posted was a little essay thing about Round Gobies which I had originally written for my family’s cottage log. When I was done, I posted the new and improved version to my family’s digital cottage log, and there it was commented upon by my brother who really likes to pick things apart.

Okay so I was already a bit annoyed by my lack of decent research, because way back when I said that OFAH were the ones encouraging people to kill Round Gobies. When I tried to go about updating it for a blog post I was unable to find evidence that OFAH had actually ever encouraged such spiteful, useless cruelty. And I was all, “Ooooh, I did so much research, what happened, where’d that post go, did I misunderstand and was it just some commenter?”

ontario goby

Follow the link, page 17. “If you catch a round goby it should be destroyed and not released back into any waters.”

My brother helpfully pointed me to the proof that the Ontario Government DOES actually encourage people to kill Round Gobies if they catch them. So bang goes the theory that I am in any way capable of research, and also of course that the province isn’t bloodthirsty. Continue reading “Round Gobies and the amazingness that is Canadian governance of animals”

In Defense of the Round Goby

ermI wrote this very snarky editorial to add to my family’s Cottage Log, an informal publication which all guests are encouraged to add to each time they visit, a couple of years ago. I had several specific readers in mind while writing it. They have all argued with me pretty much nonstop since, but despite threats of writing answering editorials of their own about how angry a four-inch long fish makes them, my entry remains, triumphant and unchallenged. I’ve edited it just a tad here.

Also note that while I’m accusing OFAH of encouraging people to kill individual fish for basically no productive purpose, at this point in time I can’t find any evidence that OFAH ever actually encouraged that crap. The only people saying you should kill a Goby if you catch one are randoms with blogs, such as myself, although I’m saying the opposite. See the end of this post for more details.

Though some believe that the Ontario Government called for amateur anglers to kill any Round Gobies that they catch, the province has actually encouraged no such thing. It was in fact the OFAH***, the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, who bugled forth this obnoxious call to arms. Let us examine their statement in detail. Continue reading “In Defense of the Round Goby”