Ethical veganism has an exploitation problem

Veganism
image credit: care2.com

 “The crux of the matter is, veganism is a consumer activity. It is ultimately an attempt to change capitalism and human civilization through the exercise of one’s privileges as a consumer” argues Peter Gelderloos. And although I agree with this argument, I wanted to explore the anti-blackness entangled within veganism. It’s easy to look at PETA and argue that their anti-black, they do not try to hide it. What I want to do in this article is unpack the “well meaning” ethical vegans and how even that brand of veganism buttresses Black/Brown exploitation.

December time in South Africa is migration time, large numbers of people pack up their city/urban lives and head to their rural homes to celebrate and meditate on the passing year. It is also a time people commit to performing various ancestral ceremonies and coming-off-age rituals. It is also a time of slaughtering, from chickens, sheep and cows. However there is a consumption value system which is rarely acknowledged; ecosustainable consumption. Ecosustainabale consumption is consumption based on sustainable environmental interaction between animals and humans.

In other words, outside of slaughtering for cultural ceremonies and other rituals of ancestral acknowledgement and communication, livestock is more useful alive than in our stomachs. Speaking and reading on vegetariansm/veganism there is a lot of emphasis placed on the exploitative nature of the meat industry/consumption. However the arguments do not acknowledge that their understanding of meat consumption is framed through a western-capitalist paradigm. A paradigm taken as existing in every society and context without an examination of indigenous practices which have existed, often alongside colonially enforced capitalist value systems. This is why vegans can argue their dietary choices as ethically and healthy sound  whilst ignoring the often exploitative effects of the “health food” industry

PRODUCT OF MEXICO | Day 1 | Labor camps
image credit: Don Bartletti 

And this is my fundamental grip with ethical veganism/vegetarianism, that for all its ethical arguments, it remains fundamentally a mechanism of capitalist modification. In other words, there is no interrogation and a drive to dismantle the exploitative consumption values that under-gird consumption within a capitalist system in general. Rather veganism/vegetarianism further legitimises capitalist exploitation by seeking to modify and mitigate its impact on animals.

Ethical vegetarianism assumes that there is a hierarchy between humans – who are imagined to be of equal ability and dignity – and animals who are imagined as an exploited under-class. Within this hierarchy the systems and relations of power which in fact make us unequal are invisibilised and rendered non-consequential compared to the plight of animals. This is seen in vegan/vegetarian community slogans which rap the slogan of “cruelity free consumption” over our collective knuckles.

“Another consequence of its complicity with capitalist consumption is that it colludes with “state-sanctioned or extra-legal production of [Black/Brown] vulnerability to premature death.”

This hierarchirasation – of equal humans and non-equal non-humans – makes it possible for vegans and vegetarians to ignore some of the harmful consequences of their dietary choices. Like for example the increase in quinoa prices which resulted in native peoples of Peru and Bolivia, who relied on the plant as a dietary staple, being unable to afford consuming the plant and resorting to less healthy but cheaper alternatives. Vietnam, one of the largest exporters of cashews uses forced labour in what can be described as drug internment camps.

Human Rights Watch reported on the forcible incarceration of drug-users in drug internment camps. This incarceration could last for up to four years and “patients” lost all manner of “human rights” including the rights to a fair hearing, legal representation. “These patients – without access to a lawyer, a hearing in front of a judge or a formal sentence – are subject to long hours of monotonous labor, physical abuse and torture. There is no drug “treatment” or “rehabilitation” in any meaningful sense of the words, and very little health care of any kind.”

Vegans/Vegetariansm is often touted as the “ethical” choice and the healthy choice. However as this VegansofColour blog post notes, veganism has an intersectionality problem. In veganist discourse, veganism as a moral imperative is often situated within white bodies, making the overt implicit narrative that Black/Brown bodies are incapable of being vegan thus being enemies of veganism. Try googling “veganism/vegetarian” and see which race is predominantly associated with the movement.

This implicit narrative plugs into a variety of anti-black technologies of discourse. In an article exploring the “minor partners” of white supremacy, Dean Spade argues that often, rights movements outside the black rights movement – the feminists, the LGBTI (and now I argue the vegans/vegetarians) – often rely on black death/annihilation in order to stake a claim against capitalist dehumanization/exploitation.

NowthatIcantplanawedding
A poster made by Femme Sharks and carried in the 2009 SF Dyke March.

Simply put, anti-blackness becomes the “condition of possibility”. In other words in order for movements to be recognised as having legitimate claims they often stake their claims of their humanity on the degradation of black bodies. This is often done through “re-inscription” of anti-black discourse and narratives which affirm white supremacy and black annihilation.

Consequently, the technics of advocacy espoused by the vegan/animal rights community negate the discriminatory and exploitative capitalist practices which shore up veganism and affirm black exploitation. For example one of the pivotal arguments against meat consumption is the argument of inter-specist discrimination, i.e meat consumption constitutes discrimination against other species on par with racism and sexism. “just because animals have a lower intellectual capabilities doesn’t justify their slaughter” is a typical argument. The argument is flawed and anti-black because it assumes an “equal human race” – that all humans interact on levelled playground and that there is an equal co-recognition of the inherent humanity of ALL human beings. Another consequence of its complicity with capitalist consumption is that it colludes with “state-sanctioned or extra-legal production of [Black/Brown] vulnerability to premature death.”

Wider Image: Fruits Of Wrath
Fruit pickers picking strawberrys – notice the lack of protective gear? {image credit: Edgard Garrido for Reuters]

This argument – and its assumptions– negate the fact that there are human beings who are still regarded as less than human, either regarded as property – prisoners – or regarded as “legitimately disposable” – i.e., LGBTI persons and black trans* womxn Thus the argument on inter-species discrimination misrecognises the problem – it is not about “discrimination” but how patterns of discrimination render those discriminated against as “Other” and therefore legitimately disposable and bound to legitimate, state-assisted death and annihilation.

Veganism is complicit in other ways in the maintenance of black annihilation is the lack of an intersectional understanding of ways in which the food consumption – consumption of any kind – has become inherently exploitative particularly of black/brown lives. This is because in a capitalist-white-supremacist-heteropatriarchal-cisnormative world Black/Brown bodies being necessarily disposable and thus legitimately exploitable. Veganism’s argument against meat consumption doesn’t acknowledge the exploitation of black bodies – in fact it thrives on their continued exploitation. This is seen in the lack of interrogation of the exploitation within the farming sector from the vegetable to the fruit farming industries exploitable black and brown labour is rendered extraordinarily exploitative to the point of indentured servitude.

In short, veganism, particularly ethical veganism is directly implicated in the sustenance of systems of maldistribution of in/security to black/brown people. Thus whilst the claims of “ethical consumption” ignore the interconnected/intersectional impact of capitalist consumption on Black/Brown bodies.

 

BlackVegansROck
Image credit: BlackVegansRock (follow the intext link)

Perhaps as a last word, I must make it clear that in critiquing veganism I am not critiquing animal rights activists. There are many Black animal rights activists and vegan communities who center an intersectional understanding of how meat consumption and its corollary, animal exploitation and abuse are founded in capitalist exploitative loved, rooted in anti-blackness. Aph Ko makes the distinction between vegans who care about their health and animal rights activists who care about animal welfare but still consume meat and other animal products. Another distinct vegan/vegetarian can be identified, ethical vegans who are against animal exploitation but fail to understand that veganism/vegetariansm itself is rooted in exploitative labour and anti-blackness.

 

Because ngithembekile, here are my sources:

“Queer Politics and anti-blackness” – Morgan Bassichis and Dean Spade in  Haritaworn, Jin; Kuntsman, Adi; Posocco, Silvia Queer Necropolitics (Taylor and Francis 2014)

“3 Reasons Black Folks Don’t Join the Animal Rights Movement – And why We Should” by Aph Ko

http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/09/black-folks-animal-rights-mvmt/

Intersectional Veganism by VegansofColor

https://veganvoicesofcolor.org/2017/01/29/intersectional-veganism/

Veganism is a consumer activity by AnarchistLibrary

https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/peter-gelderloos-veganism-is-a-consumer-activity

Hardship on Mexico’s Farms, a bounty on U.S. Tables by Richard Marosi and Don Bartletti 

http://graphics.latimes.com/product-of-mexico-camps/

Other important reading:

Fruits of labor: sunny California is no paradise for farm workers

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/aug/15/california-farms-pick-your-own-fruit-vegetables-working-conditions-jobs

Exploitation and agribusiness – Guardian Newspaper

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/jan/31/agribusiness-exploitation-undocumented-labor

Exploited labour: Migrant Workers in Italy’s Agricultural Sector – Amnesty International

https://www.amnestyusa.org/files/exploited_labour._italy_migrants_report_web.pdf

Farm Workers Walk a Fine Line Between Exploitation and Forced Labour

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/beate-andrees/farm-workers-walk-fine-line-between-exploitation-and-forced-labor_b_6653190.html

The moral imperative on South African farms

http://africasacountry.com/2017/05/the-moral-imperative-on-south-african-farms/

Can Vegans stomach the unpalatable truth about quinoa?

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/jan/16/vegans-stomach-unpalatable-truth-quinoa

Here’s Why Black People Don’t Go Vegan By Nzinga Young

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nzinga-young/heres-why-black-people-do_b_10028678.html

Ruth Wilson Gilmore – “Racism, specifically, is the state-sanctioned or extra-legal production and exploitation of group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death.”