BY CHLOE JENSEN ’20
Last Thursday, the Animal Welfare Association drew chalk signs with messages such as “#PlannedPetParenthood” and “Animal liberation = human liberation.” These messages imply that somehow, if we collectively stop mistreating livestock in factory farms and pets in animal shelters, that humans too will be free of the many inequalities among us.
In many ways, the comparison of animal suffering to human suffering relies on a toxic rhetoric that often equates people of color with animals. For example, many animal rights activists will compare keeping animals in small capacity shelters to slavery. This is because the metaphor to slavery is one that grabs attention and evokes emotion. And while sometimes using a powerful analogy to enhance your argument is necessary and just, it is important to remember the historical context of such a metaphor. In the United States and in most European colonies, people of color were the targets of slavery; often to justify their oppression, white people compared them to animals, which still affects people today. If your argument relies on reinstating that in some way, it is invalid.
While many vegans and animal rights activists mean well with their activism, their ideas often rely on and ignore the oppression of other marginalized identities, in particular people of color.
Although this week’s chalk message did not include anything specifically about veganism, the Animal Welfare Association has urged and continues to urge students to go vegan. While promoting veganism is not inherently bad, it does often rely on an idea that veganism is ethically superior to meat eating.
If you’re eating vegan, you are probably eating food that low-wage migrant workers harvested from agricultural fields. This unfortunately leads to many deaths every year, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Meat eaters and vegetarians alike also participate in eating foods from the low-wage farming industry, but it’s vegans who ultimately, even if unintentionally, mistake animal justice with social justice. By eating vegan, they argue, they are not participating in eating unjustly. However, unless you purchase every bean you eat from a local farm stand, there is no absolute way to avoid it.
My argument is not to say that people should not care about animals or their mistreatment, it is merely to understand that injustice does not only exist in the backyard of a kill-shelter or in the pigsty of a factory farm. Many Americans, especially white Americans, are under the impression that humans are all treated equally, and our liberation depends on the liberation of dogs.
If eating vegan is motivating and helpful for you, then by all means, eat vegan. If your passion is fighting for cats and chickens, then continue fighting for them and educating your friends on the issues of animal rights. But do not pretend that human suffering will cease to exist if we make animals more of a priority when you are not prioritizing inequality among humans.