Thursday, July 14, 2016

Vegan Feminist Network on Maine Public Radio


Dr. Corey Lee Wrenn appeared on Maine public radio, Animal Sounds on WMPG 90.9FM on July 13th. In this program, Dr. Wrenn unpacks intersections of oppressive language that activists would do well to acknowledge and avoid. You can listen by clicking here.  




Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Academic Abolitionist Vegan is no more

Dear readers,
Due to the extreme abuse and harassment of women (particularly women of color) promoted by the abolitionist faction (and the appropriative nature of the abolitionist approach in general), I have decided to change the name of this blog to The Academic Activist Vegan. As I stated in earlier posts, the abolitionist faction has entrenched and systemic issues with racism and sexism, issues that it seems to have no interest in addressing. I feel it is necessary as a personal and a professional matter to distance myself from the abolitionist project.

It is of my opinion that pro-intersectional feminism is the most constructive, respectful, encompassing, just, and effective approach to dismantling oppression. Any approach that fails to take intersecting injustices seriously and insists on promoting wealthy white male elites as the gatekeepers of social change is an approach that simply won't get the job done.

There are likely to be technical problems with the page until I can update links. It is likely that I will be removing this page entirely in the near future and hosting some of the more important essays published here on my personal website.

All the best,
Corey L. Wrenn
Professor of Gender Studies

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Why This Vegan Doesn't Watch Nature Programs

I used to love Nature shows as a kid, but the older I get, the less patience I have for them. I boycott them because of those inevitable scenes of death and suffering--what film-makers sometimes spend months hoping to capture to give some "excitement" to their documentary--are just too traumatizing for me. 
Some of the most graphic and unsettling scenes I witnessed as a child I can still recount today. A wildebeest disemboweled by lions as they kick and scream for life; hyenas attacking a lioness, leaving her to die slowly from a broken jaw and thirst in the African heat; a pod of orcas drowning a baby humpback whale for fun after their mother struggles for hours to protect them, etc. Even March of the Penguins, rated G and presumably kid-friendly, was, to me, a deeply upsetting film that spotlighted families separated by predation and the cruel slow deaths from exposure and starvation sentenced to dependent partners and chicks.

When I was younger, I felt the need to toughen up and force myself to watch. After all, "that's how it really is," or so the mantra goes. But now I see it for what it is: the glorification of violence and a desperate attempt to frame nature (a generally peaceful space with coexistence and symbiosis) as a brutish, merciless world. These programs become an ideological justification for the violent society that humans have constructed.
"That's how it really is" encourages us as a society to stifle compassion, peace, and non-violence. I feel the same reaction when war movies come on television and we are expected to sit through graphic scenes of boys killing boys because "that's how it really is." I feel the same when I am exposed to relentless images of violence against women, which appear to be mandated in modern script-writing. But I'm told to sit and take it because, "that's how it really is." I feel the same when exposed to violence against Nonhuman Animals by humans, when the images are plastered across vegan social media spaces because "that's how it really is."
Media is a social construction--there is a particular narrative of violence, hierarchy, and patriarchal dominance that is being shoveled on us day in and day out. It absorbs into our subconscious and poisons our outlook on life.
I don't subject myself to it. I change the channel. I tune out. I don't have to punish myself to adhere to patriarchal norms that expect me to suppress my empathy and be ashamed of finding violence abhorrent. 
I don't find it "cool."
I don't find it "astonishing."
Or "magnificent."
Or even "humbling."
And I definitely don't find it "entertaining."


Friday, November 27, 2015

Sickos, Psychos, and Idiots: Is Your Activism Ableist?

Animal rights graphic of a fox, reads, "Fur is for animals not rich idiots"

What do you think? Are meat-eaters sick? Are animal abusers psychopaths? Do you think people who love some animals but eat other animals are morally schizophrenic?

There is an awful lot of ableist claimsmaking taking place in the American Nonhuman Animal rights movement. In my new article, published with the leading journal in disabilities studies, Disability & Society, I explored this issue quantitatively.

In addition to coding mainstream newspapers for comparison (as consistent with earlier studies, anti-speciesism activists were mostly portrayed negatively), I also coded 50 leading vegan and Nonhuman Animal rights blogs from across the spectrum.

Overall, about one fourth of the blogs in the study were using ableism enough to be coded as ableist or very ableist. The most frequently surfacing words among nonvegan newspapers were "crazy," "problem" (in the context of, say, 'this activist has a problem'), "loony," "nuts," "different" and "freak."

Although Vegan Sidekick was not included in the study, the memes it produces are excellent examples of the disability framework used to frame speciesism

And activists? A greater variety of disability stereotypes were used in addition to "crazy" and "different," such as "dumb," "depressed," "insane," "psycho," "sad," capable of "violence," and "schizophrenic."

It turned out that food blogs and non-profit blogs were less likely to frame speciesism as a symptom of mental illness, but theory-based blogs not associated with any organization were the real sites of ableist rabble-rousing. In fact, Gary Francione's Abolitionist Approach blog was the outlier in the study, averaging more than one ableist term for each essay included in the sample (in total, 319 hits were attributed to this blog, mostly the term "schizophrenic").

The problem is that using disability as a pejorative in a social movement framework to villainize or shame the audience into accepting the movement's claim actually banks on social inequality as a point of resonance. This should be problematic for any social movement that has egalitarianism as an end goal.

Unfortunately, the study has some limits. Some words like "problem" and "violent," that were included as disability stereotypes (I used list of terms used by disability researchers in another study) can muddy interpretation, as speciesism necessarily entails violence and any social movement is likely to frame its target as having a "problem." Coders were instructed to mark these terms as present only when a person or humans were specifically targeted, rather than abstract ideas ("Meat-eaters engage in violence" would be flagged, for instance, while, "Speciesism entails violence" would not). Some disability pejoratives like "stupid" or "idiotic" were not included, though these words are highly likely to have surfaced. Finally, I used VeganFeed to select the blog sample, as it provided a good variety of blog types. Unfortunately, it excluded some prominent non-profit organizations such as PETA. Additional studies could expand on these findings.

The first 50 visitors can download a copy free of charge by clicking here. Otherwise, you may access the research by visiting my Academia.edu profile.

Wonka meme, reads, "So you pay someone to kill for you and you eat the dead bodies, but you're not a psychopath?"


Abstract:
Nonhuman Animal rights activists are sometimes dismissed as ‘crazy’ or irrational by countermovements seeking to protect status quo social structures. Social movements themselves often utilize disability narratives in their claims-making as well. In this article, we argue that Nonhuman Animal exploitation and Nonhuman Animal rights activism are sometimes medicalized in frame disputes. The contestation over mental ability ultimately exploits humans with disabilities. The medicalization of Nonhuman Animal rights activism diminishes activists’ social justice claims, but the movement’s medicalization of Nonhuman Animal use unfairly otherizes its target population and treats disability identity as a pejorative. Utilizing a content analysis of major newspapers and anti-speciesist activist blogs published between 2009 and 2013, it is argued that disability has been incorporated into the tactical repertoires of the Nonhuman Animal rights movement and countermovements, becoming a site of frame contestation. The findings could have implications for a number of other social movements that also negatively utilize disability narratives.


Thursday, November 26, 2015

Is it Vegan to Eat Mock Meats?

Tofurky: Closer in relation to a bird or a football?

"Let me ask you a question," my mother queried to me one day, "If you are against eating meat because it comes from animals, why do you eat veggie dogs?" 

Ah, the ol' mock meat "gotcha" question. But let's give her some credit. My mother, whose diet is probably 80% plant-based, was genuinely curious, so I tried to offer a genuine response. 

To me, it boils down to this: what's a hot dog have to do with Nonhuman Animals anymore than a veggie dog? Both of them are just protein links heavily seasoned and artificially shaped for palate pleasure. Neither of them look, smell, or taste anything like a pig's corpse.

Theoretically, I see mock meats as culturally relevant in the way that pornography is to women. The mock meat industry and the pornography industry exist as symbolic representations of violence against the vulnerable (with the exception being that pornography entails the physical harm of actual women in its production process). I think we are right to be critical of mock meat as a cultural matter.

However, based on my observations in the vegan community over the years, mock meats do not seem to take up a huge part of the diet, and most people who stay vegan long enough transition off of them. Mock meats, while convenient, are frequently expensive and unhealthy. For those living in food deserts and underserved communities, they're also difficult to source for most.  

I also project that, in another few decades, mock meats probably won't even be associated with the Nonhuman Animals they are supposed to be mimicking. The objectification and commodification process is a sophisticated one that easily removes the "person" from the product.   

Allow me to explain what I mean by this. For most consumers who have not had their consciousness raised (which is true of most nonvegans), Nonhuman Animal products are already shaped and flavored in a way that removes them from the being they once were, and few are consciously aware of this absent referent (to use the language of Carol J. Adams). Sure, if you think about it, a hamburger or milkshake was once part of a living breathing person. But marketing works hard to eliminate that guilt-inducing, not so pleasurable reminder. Few people really, truly do think about it. Food consumption is socially constructed behavior--the system is structured in a way to encourage mindless eating and eliminate critical thinking and personal agency. If this happens so seamlessly for actual Nonhuman Animal products, then I predict that plant-based foods (those that are mocking animal-based foods, which are themselves pretending not to be animal-based) will probably absorb fully into unconscious consumption patterns. 

Mock
 meats, just like "real" meats, are shaped, flavored, and textured to encourage consumption. They no more resemble Nonhuman Animals than potato chips resemble potatoes, or fruit punch resembles fresh fruit. It's processed junk that appeals to the base nature of human desire: smells and tastes of fat, sugar, and carbohydrates.

I asked a colleague of mine for their thoughts, "I didn't go vegan because I reject certain shapes or flavors. And even as a nonvegan, I didn't sit there and relish the killing. I relished the flavors."  

And then there is my partner, also vegan for reasons of ethical concern, who just cannot bring himself to eat vegetables. Where would he be without smoked tofu? Would he live? Sure. Is it worth arguing over because it might be shaped and flavored like animal corpses sometimes are? I don't think so.


For that matter, where would Asian culture be without smoked tofu? Buddhists have been creating soy-based (and wheat-based) protein products for centuries. It is a practice also based in ethics, and mock "meats" are understood to be foundational to living non-violently. Western markets may have corporatized plant-based proteins (and The Vegan Society actually encourages the development of animal-free alternatives),1 but, long rooted in Asian traditions, their history is much older than that. To make sweeping claims about the inherent unethical nature of mock meats is to run the risk of ethnocentrism. 

So to answer your question, Mom, if we're talking about mock meats that strongly resemble the corpses of other animals, okay, this is problematic in the context of a deeply speciesist society. But if we are talking about chunks of protein that are shaped and flavored and don't resemble anyone, then these are foods I'm not especially worried about. I have more important concerns on my anti-speciesist agenda.


1. The definition of veganism according to The Vegan Society (emphasis added): "A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals."


Thursday, November 19, 2015

'It is Anything But': Sarah K. Woodcock Comments on Equality in Abolitionist Spaces

Dear colleagues,

I share this important letter that was today posted publicly on a social media page by my good friend Sarah K. Woodcock, founder of The Abolitionist Vegan Society (TAVS). This is the first time she has responded publicly to the racist microaggressions and harassment that the abolitionist movement has directed at her and other "intersectionalists" (a slur used by some abolitionists to describe abolitionist vegans who take a pro-intersectional approach) since the recent movement disruption documented on Vegan Trove (an anti-intersectional abolitionist platform that has been rejected by but still promotes Francione, a prominent abolitionist icon).

The concern over in-fighting and intra-movement violence in abolitionist spaces is nothing new. In Woodcock's case, she was forced to the center of this turmoil just over a year ago (TAVS has issued a public statement on the matter here and here). Woodcock and others have been upsetting the privilege and white-centrism of the abolitionist faction, only to be met with considerable hostility and limited support. Indeed, many white abolitionists remained silent on the matter of her victimization, or, worse, joined in it.

The message published here remains pertinent today as the pro-intersectional abolitionist community's commitment to nonviolence continues to encourage negative (and sometimes aggressive) responses from abolitionist leaders. I have omitted the names of those for whom the letter is specifically addressed, as the content of the letter actually speaks to a systemic issue. It is shared here with her permission.


[ . . . ] The abolitionist movement is racist and hostile to people of color. While it spouts off great ideas about being “against all forms of oppression,” its actions are not aligned with its words. It is *uncannily* similar to how nonvegans spout off great ideas about being “against animal cruelty” but live nonvegan. That is why I coined the term badgeally (Corey’s essay with examples, not just accusations here). The abolitionist movement is rampant with badgeallies.

And before you or anyone say this “This isn’t about race,” remember that saying that is a privilege only white people have. Please check your privilege.

Because society is systemically racist, the abolitionist movement replicates that system of inequality. White abolitionists have a responsibility to make the movement safe and inclusive for people of color. It is anything but. This is what Corey and I speak up about, and if you [...] and others have a problem with that, that should tell all of you something. I have been experiencing marginalization and microaggressions from white abolitionists since day 1 of my entering the movement. I have been and continue to be invisibilized, which is a classic racist tactic, by white abolitionists since day 1. In the beginning, when I na├»vely thought white abolitionists would be concerned about this because they claim to be “against racism,” I raised my concerns to several white abolitionists. I was met with denial, more marginalization, more microaggressions, and more invisibilization.

One of the greatest things that happened since I split with Francione & Co. was that I came to the harsh realization that the abolitionist movement is not actually against racism. Of course, it and everyone in it claims to be against racism. But people of color don’t have the privilege or luxury of not seeing the truth behind those claims.

As for reconciliation, it is just like the abolitionist/nonabolitionist movements. There are fundamental ethical issues at stake here. Just as the abolitionist movement cannot “reconcile” with the nonabolitionist movement because it would mean compromising on fundamental ethical issues, the anti-racist abolitionist movement cannot “reconcile” with the racist abolitionist movement because it would mean compromising on fundamental ethical issues. To me, as a person of color, denying the racism in the abolitionist movement is as unacceptable as denying the speciesism in the vegan movement. For those who want to learn more about the racism (as well as the other forms of oppression) in the abolitionist movement, I recommend checking out The Academic Abolitionist Vegan. Wrenn has written extensively on these topics.

That is one of the things that makes TAVS different from the rest of the abolitionist movement. We refuse to deny and be silent about the racism in the abolitionist movement. We are building a movement that is safe (or safer) for people of color.

Well, as I wrote in my recent post on the TAVS page, I rarely post about drama in the abolitionist vegan movement because my time and energy is better spent on building the movement I want, not having exchanges like this, so I will be turning off notifications now. Take care, everyone.

Sarah





If you take anti-oppression seriously, it must extend beyond Nonhuman Animals to include all beings who are vulnerable to systemic violence. It's not only the just and moral approach; it simply makes good sense as a strategic matter.

Allies are requested to please show their support for Woodcock and The Abolitionist Vegan Society by getting involved with one or more of the many amazing ongoing non-violent, vegan, pro-intersectional campaigns that TAVS is currently running. Readers can join TAVS by visiting the website or link up by visiting TAVS on Facebook.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Effective Messaging: Is Appealing to Social Justice, Environment, or Efficient, More Profitable Exploitation More Effective?


If abolitionists conducted research like welfarists....

The Humane League's "labs" recently conducted a "study" inappropriately framing abolitionism as a matter of "purity" in its bid to prove that welfarism (THL's approach) was most effective. This "purity" label, as I have explained in previous writings, sets up an immediate bias. First, what abolitionist frames their work as a matter of purity? Really? Second, given the choice between "cruelty" and "purity," what participant would ever look fondly on this fictional stickler? The study was rigged, specifically designed to fail abolitionists.

Just today, Faunalytics (a non-profit that benefits from grants supplied by elite-run foundations which profit from status-quo inequality) was promoting the "study" with a title that reflects THL's biased framework: "Effective Messaging: Is Appealing to Purity, Environment, or Cruelty More Effective?" When assessing self-produced, self-serving research, it is important to think structurally. Like Faunalytics, THL also remains "in business" by appealing to speciesism. Speciesism is where the money is.

It should go without saying, but abolitionism isn't about purity. Abolitionism uses the frame of social justice and liberation, and this frame that is threatening to elites. This is why non-profits like Faunalytics, THL, etc. do the work of speciesists in regularly mischaracterizing abolitionist activism. They must distance themselves from this threat in order to protect their income.

The sharp increase in "science" used to support corrupted approaches is a theme I explore in my new book, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights. It is available for purchase through Palgrave Macmillan.