Eyes Wide Open


goat rescue
(“Lamb with Igualdad Animal Activist” –photo by Jo-Anne McArthur)

Why am I vegan and an animal rights activist? Because I abhor violence. Because I am sickened by suffering, appalled by cruelty, horrified by killing–and I don’t want to contribute to it.  It is really that simple. And yet the moral imperative that is at the core of my veganism is not easily understood by many; perhaps they think that acknowledging their own culpability in supporting violence towards animals, in their food (as well as clothing, entertainment and medical) choices–and then doing something about it by going vegan– is too complicated, too much of an effort.

I feel that there is something  else at play, however; something larger that is left unspoken and yet at some level is recognized by many people when they refuse to open their eyes to the plight of farmed animals.  When we  open our eyes to the violence humans do to these animals, we also open a door that leads to actively opposing that violence and influencing others to do the same. And that door leads to more and more doors. And all those open doors, while affording a vision of social justice for all beings, also offer a view of the world that is often bleak and troubling and confusing and overwhelming.

And there is so much that overwhelms us, so many images of suffering with which we are confronted, so much violence over which we have no control. One image in particular has, in the past few day, elicited feelings of  grief and outrage worldwide: the image of little Omran of Aleppo, Syria. How can you not view that image of a soot and blood covered little boy looking so small and dazed as he sits in the back of the ambulance, and not gasp at  what has just happened to him and his hometown? How can you not decry the ravages of a conflict which has caused so much suffering and death and has destroyed the childhood of children like Omran? How can anyone remain indifferent to such horrors?

When I saw that picture and then the video of Omran’s rescue from the rubble of his house, tears came to my eyes. Of course. But what to do with that feeling of grief? We see these images, we react as any caring human being should react but what then? I am outraged that such violence exists. But what to do with that outrage? Do I write a letter to the president? Do I take to the street in protest?  I confess, I do not have enough understanding of the Syrian conflict and I certainly don’t know what I personally could do to help bring it to an end. And so I cry tears of impotent rage.

Another captivating image graces my living room wall: a framed 30″ x 40″ print of an amazing photo by the Canadian photographer and animal right’s activist Jo-Anne McArthur; a lamb is cradled in the arms of a member of Igualdad Animal (Animal Equalityduring an open rescue of farmed animals destined for slaughter. What drew me inexorably to this photo and compelled me to purchase it at a showing of some of McArthur’s photos benefitting The National Museum of Animals and Society (now under the name of simply The Animal Museum in downtown Los Angeles) was that lamb’s eye staring out at us; unlike Omran’s stunned and hollow-eyed gaze, we can read in this lamb’s face hopeful anticipation, curiosity, relief. It’s an image that fills me with delight and also a sense of urgency. That lamb’s gaze never fails to remind me why I chose to become a vegan and why I  became an animal rights activist.

Those of us who care, those of us whose eyes and hearts are open to the suffering of others, we cry. But we also cry out — we cry out against domination; we cry out against social injustice;  we cry out against the exploitation and brutalization of sentient beings. We decry violence and we especially decry the violence of the powerful over the powerless. We come together to publicly denounce that violence, we do not cry out alone.

Sometimes we know exactly what to do, such as choosing to go vegan as a personal rejection of violence to farmed animals, or by rescuing animals from suffering and slaughter. Other times we are not so sure of what to do, especially when the problem seems far beyond our ability to solve it.

But we choose to keep our eyes open. We choose to not only be aggrieved  by the violence we see but also to be outraged. So outraged that we look for ways to turn that feeling into action. We choose to see and we choose to hope and we choose to act. We don’t always know what to do, that’s true. But we know that as painful as it is, we must keep our eyes wide open, always looking for that glimmer of hope on the horizon.

A Case for Cannibalism


Editor’s Note: The following essay by one “Isaac Bickerstaff”  (a likely pseudonym) found it’s way to me last week and though you will no doubt find the author’s viewpoint repugnant, manner pompous and conclusions horrific, there is value in the connections Bickerstaff makes. All comments to the author can be left here and I will make sure that they are made available to him.   –R.C.


Anthropophagy Redeemed


Isaac Bickerstaff


  “Cannibalism? Who is not a cannibal?”    

                               –Herman Melville


I had dinner the other night with an old friend, a vegan of many years yet not so staunch as to abjure an invitation to dine with an unrepentant omnivore. We ate at a restaurant that boasted a menu with vegetarian and vegan options and yet catered to my own culinary tastes quite nicely. I had a succulent sirloin with glazed Brussels sprouts, while she dined on a Portobello mushroom “steak” topped with caramelized onions (which she claimed was quite toothsome and happily offered me a bite, but I politely declined, preferring the real thing.)

We had not seen each other for some time and our conversation ranged far and wide, the flow of words commensurate with the flow of a nicely complex pinot. The topic inevitably turned to diet; perhaps it was the wine, but as she talked about her veganism, my friend became increasingly agitated. I took pains to assure her that I respected her choice to munch only on plants and I asked that she respect my choice to not limit my diet in such a way. Then, apparently at a loss for a more substantive argument, she asked, “What if you found out that human flesh was tasty? Would you declare cannibalism an acceptable option?” She awaited my reply, little expecting and ill-prepared for my retort, to wit:

It can be. And yes, I do.

She stared at me, uncomprehending, or perhaps wondering if I were merely being snarky. So I elaborated:

During a trip several years ago to Papua New Guinea, I had the rare opportunity to spend some time with the Korowai people, primitives who in obeisance to cultural norms passed down throughout the ages, still practiced cannibalism. They had just battled an enemy tribe and invited me to witness a ritual during which various raw and cooked parts of the slain foe were consumed by the assembled. I was surprised and honored when suddenly one of the Korowai proffered a piece of dark brown flesh – I was being invited to join in the feast! Before I could give it much thought, I had bitten into the meat, torn off a morsel and ate it. It had a texture and flavor not unlike veal (no, not every exotic meat tastes like chicken!)

“My god!” gasped my devoutly atheist dining companion. “How sickening! And you approve of this practice?” To which I retorted, “I thought you vegans liked ‘foe’ meat.” Ha Ha.

Well, that, as they say, was that. Quicker than you could shout, “Zombie Apocalypse!” my erstwhile friend bolted up from her chair, threw a crumpled twenty-dollar bill onto the table and left in a proverbial snit. A vegan snit, the kind that eschews rational discourse in favor of emotional outbursts. Ah well. Had she stayed, I would have made the case for cannibalism delineated below. Given that you have arrived this far, dear reader, you will, no doubt, do me the courtesy of considering this, sans snit, on its own merits.

Before we launch into the, ahem, meat of the matter let me hasten to clarify: I am in no way advocating for acts of murder such as those committed by the likes of Albert Fish or Jeffrey Dahmer. To equate all incidents of human flesh consumption with the depravity of such psychologically twisted individuals is just the sort of hysterical thinking which is antithetical to understanding and rationality.

What I am hoping for is that I will be able to persuade you to acknowledge, firstly, that cannibalism is not, a priori, inconceivably abnormal, unnatural and wrong. In support of this, I wish to show that the eating of the recently deceased in certain situations has proved necessary for survival. So-called cannibalism has also been the norm in numerous cultures around the world as it is amongst the aforementioned Korowai. Secondly, I intend to open your eyes to the benefits of including humanely harvested, healthy human-based protein in your diet. Lastly, I’d like to offer a modest proposal for obtaining a steady supply of such meat which I humbly submit could very well offer a creative solution to pressing societal problems.

There are a number of historical incidences of necrocannibalism (eating the corpse of someone who is already dead) as an extraordinary means of survival. People who have been shipwrecked, stranded or victims of famine have, as a last resort, engaged in this practice. One of the most famous examples is that of the Donner party in the winter of 1846-1847. Here we have pioneers on their way to California trapped in the Sierra Nevada with no other means of sustenance than the consumption of the flesh of those who had recently died due to the privations of their desperate situation. Though many might find such actions disgusting and transgressing a societal taboo, who but the most callous would condemn the survivors for merely trying to stay alive by consuming inanimate human flesh? The fact that a number of those who did so were haunted for the rest of their lives by their actions speaks to a tragic internalization of shame foisted by society on those who veer from acceptable food choices.

Cannibalism has been well documented throughout the world; the Amazon Basin, Congo, Fiji, Melanesia, New Guinea, New Hebrides, New Zealand among other places have all historically been home to people who have, as a part of their culture, at one time or another consumed the flesh of other people. The Leopard Society cannibals were active in West Africa, particularly Sierra Leon, Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire, in the mid-1900’s. In the 1980’s ritualized cannibal feasts among participants in Liberia’s internecine strife were documented. Who are we to decry a certain culture’s rituals and way of life? Just because we might prefer a leg of lamb to a leg of man, that does not give us the right to impose our preferences on others. Seriously, how would you like it if a cannibal exclaimed, “You eat the meat of a baby cow and drink the milk that was meant for him? How gross! Shame on you! “ Oh wait, those pesky vegans already do that!

What it boils down to is, if you have no taste for human flesh, for goodness sake don’t eat it. Nobody is forcing you to engage in anthropophagy if you find the very thought of it repulsive. To each, his own. But consider this: many who have tried it, such as myself, have come to appreciate the cannibal experience as a wonderful culinary adventure. And those folks in other parts of the world who regularly partake in the eating of cadaver meat, such as the Aghoris, ascetics of India, claim that it confers spiritual and physical benefits and helps to prevent aging. I have just learned, as well, that a study, not yet published, has caused researchers to speculate that a certain protein found only in human flesh might possibly prove to be a sort of super-food which may be crucial for superior cognitive functioning, cell repair, enhanced athletic performance and as a treatment for erectile dysfunction (ED). Exciting news, indeed!


Given its deeply ingrained taboo nature in our society, human meat may never be more than a specialty market. But there will always be those who are able to move beyond old prejudices and embrace the many benefits to be found in the consumption of this nutritious food. Surely you must see how wrong it would be to restrict their choices. Shouldn’t we strive to offer as many options as possible? Shouldn’t cannibals have a place at the table alongside the rest of us (yes, even those darn vegetarians and vegans)? Though I don’t suppose we will have a Mrs. Lovett’s Meat Pie Shop in every city any time soon, it is not outside the realm of possibility that a mass market will one day develop. Maybe through word of mouth, social media and widespread advertising, cannibalism will lose its stigma and an anthropophagous diet will be widely adopted.

So how indeed should we go about catering to cannibalism?  We don’t need a Sweeney Todd to dispatch our meat in his “tonsorial parlor,” his trusty razor slashing the throats of “gentlemen who never thereafter were heard from again” but we do need to come up with some creative solutions. I would like to offer my own, if I may, within the contexts of the pressing social problems of our day.

This land of ours, this generous country, is teeming with the poor: immigrants, the homeless,  the wretched refuse of foreign shores, as well as our home-grown huddled masses yearning everywhere you look.  One estimate puts the current number of illegal immigrants living in our country at around 30 million! And if that’s not bad enough, they continue to breed at an alarming rate. All sorts of well-meaning people have offered all sorts of unworkable solutions, from walls to welfare. I say, let them come. Let them breed. And let us eat them.

Now, before I’m publicly pilloried, or excoriated on Twitter and Facebook, consider for a minute that these are not happy souls; to be quite blunt, many would be better off dead.  I’m not saying to do away with them all, heaven forbid. It is their progeny I am most concerned with. And as to the continued production of choice offspring which would benefit from some sort of informed husbandry, we need look no further than  non-human animal agriculture. Here we have  a model of feeding operations  designed for maximized production at minimal cost,  We learn from such operations, for instance, that immediately after weaning, it is best to separate the young from its mother as she is likely to do it harm (I might add here that if the human mother is still lactating, her milk should not go to waste and can be a delicious substitute for cow’s milk). And so it would be incumbent upon us to remove the children of the poor and house them in facilities which will provide them shelter and protection. It would be in their best interests to do so, don’t you agree? There we can quickly fatten them up;  some might be ready for harvesting at less than a year old while others may take more time to mature and develop a more nuanced flavor. Then off to the packing house for quick, efficient processing!

I do recognize that some of you might take issue with so-called factory farms and I am not immune to calls for more humane techniques for raising meat. Certainly in the early stages of any anthropophagic operation, there would be no need for intensive systems and we can happily make use of farms with welfare standards like the ones which supply “happy meat” to such grocery giants as Whole Foods. With these standards in place we can rest assured that our meat will be treated with kindness and compassion through every step of the process.

I hope that this little article has dispelled any qualms you might have had about anthropophagy and has whetted your appetite for the delicious and nutritious benefits of  human-based meat.  Keep in mind, the introduction of cannibalism does not have to mean a diminishment in non-human meat consumption. The more meat and animal products (human and non-human)  the better, that’s what I say. Just remember, when you sit down to those baby back ribs, say a little prayer and give thanks to the baby who gladly gave them to you.

Bon appetit!




Close All Slaughterhouses

march photo

The following is a speech I had the honor of delivering today during the Los Angeles International March to Close All Slaughterhouses:

Slaughterhouse. Abattoir. Killing floor. These names have served as bloody metaphor, analogies of annihilation put to use to describe and decry human carnage. Because we have always understood how terrible it is to slaughter another sentient being. Of course the slaughterhouse is not just a metaphor. It is an all too real entity, unseen by most of us but the last place seen, smelled and experienced by every terrified animal who, as Robert Grillo of Free from Harm puts it was “a beautiful someone brutalized into no one.”

Sir Paul McCartney, among other things, is famous for saying, “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian.” I’ve always found that rather naïve. I have long held the opinion that there are people, perhaps many, who would readily plunk themselves down before the glass wall of a slaughterhouse, watch the process of violence and brutality that turns someone into something and then happily consume the product of that violence. And I have, unfortunately been proved prescient in supposing such a scenario; I’ve recently read about—and perhaps you have as well — two slaughterhouses, or “packinghouses” as they are euphemistically called, catering to meat-loving hipsters, one in Minnesota and one in Vermont, where viewing windows have been installed; any one who calls in advance can witness the process: from the captive bolt shot to the head, to the hoisting up by the legs and the splitting of the carcass, to the removal of the hide and the insides. Parents have even brought their children, in order for them to learn “the whole story of where their food comes from.” The owner of the Vermont Packinghouse was quoted as saying that the window was installed to “spark greater respect for animals, for meat and for meat industry workers.”

It’s a brave new carnist world. In this world, the world of meat loving hipsters, locovores and urban farmers, the trend is knowing all the details – “knowing” your food: knowing where “it” comes from, knowing how “it” was raised, knowing how “it” was killed. Because, well, it’s so important to know, you know. Not that that knowledge will lead you to end the violence and the slaughter and become vegan. No, the trend is towards “humane” confinement, “humane” ownership, “humane” mutilation, “humane” slaughter – and an Orwellian perversion of the language.

In 1906 Upton Sinclair’s novel, The Jungle was published. It remains, over a hundred years later, a powerful work of socialist agitprop, a fictional yet fact based account portraying the harsh conditions and exploited lives of immigrants toiling in Chicago’s meat packing plants. Slaughterhouse work today, still dependent upon immigrant labor, is the most dangerous job in the United States. Safety measures are routinely ignored. The animals keep coming, hundreds every hour, and the production line, or chain, must never stop. More and more, faster and faster. In the midst of the bloody chaos, workers slip, fall, lacerate themselves and others. And those innocent beings the knives were meant for are relentlessly herded in with no escape, no way to turn back. And nothing designed by Temple Grandin can diminish the horrors awaiting them. Because they know. They know.

And those meat loving hipsters, they can talk all they want about greater respect for animals and for those whose job it is to take their lives; they may be devoted to their uber-transparency; they may believe that a model of smaller scale, local operations is the way to go; but as long as demand for animal flesh and animal secretions continues unabated in this country and around the world, the big slaughterhouses, those without viewing windows, will stay in business to meet that demand.

They continue to do animals violence because they can, because animals’ lives do not matter to them, except as they serve their own desires. Non-human animals are viewed as less than us because they are different from us. They suffer, they die because of our speciesism. Slaughterhouses are physical manifestations of that speciesism in service to the profit motive of capitalism. The slaughterhouse is a human constructed place that is best viewed as just one manifestation of an ideological construct. Within this larger context we are compelled to look at all places of non-human animal exploitation and abuse and not just those connected with animal agriculture: circuses, marine parks, vivisection labs, – the list goes on. Anywhere, any place where humans break the bodies and kill the spirits of sentient beings, those are places of violence – violence sanctioned by speciesism.

Perhaps Paul McCartney simply overstated his case. Let us hope that there are many who would be so repulsed, so horrified, so sickened by the view inside the slaughterhouse that they would be compelled to declare, “Enough! I will no longer be an accomplice to this. I will no longer pay others to do what I could never do! My eyes have been opened and I can see my own reflection staring back at me in the glass.”

When we march to close all slaughterhouses we march to open eyes, to confront our fellow humans with the terrible truth of the violence inherent in what they eat, what they wear, how they entertain themselves, what medical research they support. We march to open hearts and to encourage others to fit their actions to their professed ideals of kindness and compassion. We march to open minds to imagine a time when slaughterhouses will be a horrible thing of the past.

Our march is just a small part of a big fight, a continuing struggle against systems of oppression and exploitation; against commodification; against corporate greed. We fight for the liberation of all animals, human and non-human alike; and we struggle against those who use their power to deny that liberation. Through this struggle, as we fight together to bring about a kinder and more just world, we find our own strength, our own power. We must never lose sight of this. We must never give up hope of reaching a critical mass of people ready to take non-violent action, who refuse to cede power to the powerful; who refuse to say, “This is just the way it is. There is nothing much I can do about it except to order the vegan burrito.”

Do we march our aspirations for liberation into their own slaughterhouse? No, we must fight on, until we close down all slaughterhouses for good!

Vegan Is Not The Answer

For several months, fully cognizant  of the fact that I have  long neglected this, my poor pet project, I have tried to write a new blog post. Several times I’ve generated in my head essays that have promised so much but failed to fully evolve. Nothing seemed right. All seemed superfluous and inconsequential. Why? What was the answer? I didn’t know. I don’t often have the answer.  I often struggle with doubt, usually doubting my own abilities. The older I get, the more I find that much of the meaning that might be gleaned from my life eludes me. Don’t get me wrong,  I am guided by some strong principles and ethics. Though I will go to my grave with many unanswered questions and many doubts, I feel confident that I will go to my grave staunchly believing in veganism and animal rights.

Asking the Important Questions

So why do I say that “vegan is not the answer?” Because I believe that for veganism to be not just a dietary option but a vital force for social change, a paradigm shifting, revolutionary, world changing state of being, it must, above all else, pose the important questions. Veganism asks, Why do we eat animals?  Why must we view animals as commodities? Do we really need to consume animal flesh and animal secretions to be healthy, or is there a better way? In identifying ourselves as vegan, we ask the rest of the world, Can you see the violence inherent in animal agriculture? Can you imagine a world free of that violence? Won’t you join with us in realizing that world?

But we vegans need to ask much more — of the world and of ourselves. Questions that don’t necessarily have easy answers. Questions which may necessarily lead to other questions. We might begin by asking the following:

Is veganism informed by the concept of social justice?  Can social justice be informed by the concept of veganism? And . . . How can vegans/animal rights activists build alliances with other social justice movements?


Can you be a vegan and yet not advocate for veganism? Can you be vegan and not advocate for animal rights? Should we concentrate on creating more vegans or more animal rights activists? Is a focus on vegan consumerism counterproductive to advancing animal liberation?  And. . . Is veganism necessarily a critique of capitalism?

One Struggle

One question I’ve struggled with for some time is, How do we counter the image of veganism as the bastion of  white privilege? How do we get more non-whites (African-Americans, Latinos, Asians, etc.) involved in vegan activism?  I now realize that the better question isHow can we connect with those folks in non-white communities who are already vegan and are already advocating for veganism and even animal rights in their own ways in their own communities? How can we start truly listening to others all around the world who have their own particular reasons for being vegan and have their own particular stories to tell?  And how can we better tie our vegan activism to food empowerment? Concomitantly, should we stop telling everyone that it is “easy” to go vegan? Are we making this statement from a place of privilege which  fails to recognize that many people in low income areas live in “food deserts” without easy access to healthy plant-based food?

I do believe that veganism, particularly as an essential component of animal liberation, must be viewed in the context of — to use the academic word du jour — “intersectionalism,” which describes interconnections of oppression, domination and discrimination. Racism, sexism, speciesism — they should not be examined separate from one another. As the chant goes, it’s “one struggle, one fight: human freedom and animal rights!” Informed by this intersectionalism and within the contexts of liberation, non-violence and social justice,  racists, sexists, anti-semites, Islamaphobes, homophobes, transphobes, etc. would, de facto, have no place at the vegan table; their words and deeds would be antithetical to veganism.

I would hope that everyone reading this would agree that racism is morally repugnant and should never be tolerated.  But if a white supremacist were to take up the cudgel of animal liberation and work tirelessly to promote a vegan world, should that person’s efforts, though morally inconsistent, be completely discounted?  Should we excommunicate the vegan activist whose religious convictions tells him that gays will burn in hell? Even if his work is successfully bringing people to veganism? And what about the relationship between religion and our treatment of non-human animals? Should interpretations of religious texts which seem to support compassionate treatment of  animals, if not liberation, be used? Here’s what professor Kim Socha has to say in her powerful (and very readable!) book, Animal Liberation and Atheism: Dismantling the Procrustean Bed:

Just because positive change has occurred due to the hearts and minds of religious activists  does not mean there is a divine force at play and that the same spirit of progress cannot exist without religious belief [. . .] My point here is that the divine is not necessary– and often counterproductive — when seeking the end of oppression and hierarchy because the divine is part of the problem to begin with.

There are some who would argue that we must welcome any and all who promote veganism/animal rights, whether from a secular or from a religious world-view. But should we  try to force fit religious texts into arguments for veganism when those religions perpetuate oppression through patriarchal  hierarchy?

Outreach or Confrontation?

My preferred form of vegan activism has been vegan outreach leafleting. I am one of the few people who have eagerly participated in this; first, because I truly believe  that vegan outreach is the best way to promote veganism and to ultimately facilitate an end to the suffering of our sentient non-human fellow earthlings. I have also relished the opportunity to challenge myself, to push past my comfort zone and connect with other human beings openly and non-judgmentally. And many a time I’ve been surprised when someone I initially saw as potentially unreceptive to my offer of information on “helping animals” proved quite open and ready to make a change in their life. Of course, there have always been many more who are either unresponsive, defensive or actively hostile to the vegan message. They may or may not someday be receptive to veganism; I have heard time and again about stalwart vegans who once mercilessly ridiculed veganism. Also, I always welcome those people who are full of questions. Those questions, though challenging, are often genuine and a way for “pre-vegans” to sort things out so that they can proceed to veganism.

But I have recently wondered, Are “X” number of animals indeed “saved” because someone has decided to become vegan? Is this form of vegan advocacy, which focuses primarily on factory farmed animals, the best way to help animals?  And I ask myself, Do I support the “utilitarian” philosophical position inherent in Vegan Outreach that sees, as Jeremy Bentham put it, the measure of right and wrong as the “greatest happiness of the greatest number?”

Outreach or confrontation? I have not given up on trying to bring others into the vegan camp through outreach efforts but I have also participated in numerous Direct Action Everywhere actions designed not to win people over to veganism, per se, but to disrupt business as usual at places which normalize the killing and consumption of sentient beings, especially at Chipotle restaurants and Wholefoods stores, corporations which cloak themselves in a mantle of “humanely raised meat” and lie about the actual treatment of the animals they use. These DxE campaigns are based on a model of non-violent direct action which has historical precedence–i.e during the American civil rights movement especially as influenced by the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Dr. King wrote, “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.”  If this is true, shouldn’t it behoove us to “dramatize the issue” the way DxE has been doing with it’s store disruptions and subsequent video dissemination? Or could it be that these actions are perceived by most people as off-putting and strident and turn people away from veganism rather than toward it, as some have suggested? I am not convinced at this time that this is the case and I find employing the DxE direct action model worthwhile. But for me, at least, this is not a matter of unquestioning faith, unswerving adherence to dogma. At least I hope it is not.

Must Veganism Be the Non-Negotiable Moral Baseline?

I’ve written elsewhere about the moral imperative of veganism.  Gary Francione sees veganism as the  unequivocal moral baseline of  “anything that deserves to be called an ‘animal rights’ movement.”  But is the fundamentalist abolitionist approach practiced by Francione and his (ahem) avid followers too dogmatic?

David Sztybel, in a post, “Veganism as a Moral Baseline for Animal Rights: Two Different Senses” on his On the Road to Liberation  blog agrees that veganism must be the baseline but thinks that “the form that baseline should take is crucial. Some conceptions of veganism as the moral baseline of animal rights are better and more accurate than others.”

Ian Erik Smith in a post to his Uncivilized Animals, which led to heated discussion in the comments section, entitled “Is There No Room for Rod Coronado in the Animal Rights Movement? The Problem with Veganism as the Moral Baseline” says that “‘veganism as the moral baseline’ dogma effectively eliminates the possibility of the animal rights movement building meaningful alliances with other social justice movements even ones as closely related to its aims as earth liberation and indigenous resistance.”  He questions the wisdom of discounting the legendary accomplishments of Rod Coronado merely because he is no longer vegan (it seems he has consumed road kill and non-vegan food from dumpster dives).

While I would question why Coronado felt it necessary to engage in such practices and there is the “yuck factor” to contend with, I, too, cannot see why we should condemn him when he has done and continues to do so much for animal liberation.

Is the mere act of consuming animal flesh or animal secretions the problem, even when done in a way — such as eating road kill–that does not contribute to violence?  Do we risk fetishizing veganism rather than viewing it within a larger ethical context which makes room for others who are not yet vegan but are potential allies?

Questioning Ourselves

I realize that many of the questions posed here may seem rhetorical or suggestive, implying a certain answer is already in mind. Yes, I do have some definite leanings.  I cannot conceive of anything shaking those core values. But I would like to think I will always be open to questions. I do not have an unreasoning  faith in veganism. My strong belief in veganism and animal rights, though not without passion and emotion, is based on well-reasoned ethical arguments.  Those ethical arguments long ago caused me to question my use of animals. They caused me to question my own speciesism. I believe we always must question things “as they are.” We must question what is deemed “normal, natural and necessary” as Melanie Joy puts it.

I do not want to see veganism become entrenched as dogma, for then it would become moribund. To keep veganism and our vegan activism  alive and vital, we must confront ourselves with vital questions, among them, perhaps, the following:

How does veganism truly express my values? Do I fully understand the values inherent in veganism?  Moral values of  non-violence, justice, kindness and compassion?  Am I truly living those values or just smug behind a vegan facade? 



Written after a visit to Farm Sanctuary’s Animal Acres

Under the fervid sun
Out in the desert heat
There, on that parched patch
Of compassion off highway fourteen,
Midst the bald mountains, the Sierra Pelona
Our guide, comprehensive to a fault
Shepherded her mob.

Some of us strayed, or rather
Overstayed our time
In the shaded barns,
Finding it better spent
Amongst the animals we’d come to see –
No, not just see -to truly be with.

I’d always had a fondness for the goats,
Capra hircus,
The horned and bearded browsers
With those alien eyes,
That inquisitive nature
And playful mien,
But now I found myself amongst the sheep,
Ovis airies,
Close cousins, long skulled fellow ruminants,
Gregarious herbivores,
Icons of pastoralism,
Populating poetry and prose
And minds deprived of sleep.

Several sheep were in their house as I crept in
Calm and quiet
In the presence of these timid souls.
I approached a ewe, hoping she would know
I meant no harm
And I seemed to see on her bald face
A look of trust.

Whispering endearments, I reached out
And felt the luxuriance of her crimped coat.
I drew closer, not meaning to impose
But needing — was it communion?

What can I say that won’t sound trite or strange?
I met a sheep that day and fell in love?
I can’t pretend I came to know that gentle beast
Any more than I could come to know
Anyone that I’d just met.

But I did come to know more about myself.
I found that my capacity for compassion
Was even more commodious than I’d thought.
I came to see how right it felt to be, truly be,
With my new ovine friends,
To be gentle, quiet, kind,
Taking time, taking care . . .

There, in the sheep barn,
My left hand gently still upon her lovely neck,
My whispered words an aural caress,
I dared lean in closer
And pressed my cheek against her side.

And as I did, two other sheep drew close
And for one moment, one serene, lovely moment —
A moment that will stay with me
Through all my travails,
Through times of feeling disconnected
From my own species,
I felt I was a member of the flock.