vegansaurus!

11/14/2013

Awesome vegan non-profit needs your help, STAT!  »

Just last week, your Vegansaurs were kind enough to post a blurb I wrote encouraging everyone to come out to Food Empowerment Project’s first official event. It was a smashing success and I hope some readers were in the crowd.

BUT! I’ve returned with an even more important request.

For many years, folks have rightly bemoaned  the lack of accessible resources and support for new vegans. Sure, there’s a constant push to “make new vegans,” to educate folks on the issues and encourage them to move away from consuming animals. That important work is going strong, and it’s part of what F.E.P. strives to do, too. But what about folks who come to agree but find themselves struggling, for whatever reason, a month or two in?

To plug this kind of gap, F.E.P. is trying to launch Food Chain, a vegan retention newsletter.  In 12 monthly installments, it will provide new vegans with a booster of information, ideas, and encouragement to keep them in the fold. Our goal is to make Food Chain freely available to individuals who are considering veganism, or who’ve recently decided to pursue a more healthful and compassionate way of life. 

The content’s already prepared and the layout done (and they look awesome – F.E.P. founder lauren Ornelas shows them in the linked video), but we need funds for broader production and distribution to make this work. The campaign is just past its halfway point and we’re  more than halfway to our target, but we desperately need some help pushing it across the finish line.

I’m very aware that times are tough for a lot of us,  but if you could chip in anything, it would be supremely appreciated. (You also get cool shit, so there’s that.) Maybe skip that last beer/coffee/ill-advised delivery order and donate instead? Hit up your friends/family/neighborhood tech billionaires? Share this on your networks, especially?

Anything would help, for real. This could be a rad thing that helps new vegans stay vegan, while drawing attention to a whole range of issues. It would be nice if F.E.P. could pull it off for free (like basically everything else we do), but we can’t on this one.*

So, HELP OUT IF YOU CAN is the point. And spread the word, please and thank you.

* (Unless you run a pro bono union print shop that uses recycled materials and environmentally safe ink, and also have a really profound in with USPS – in which case, call me!)

Guest post by Rick Kelley!! 

02/19/2013

Guest post: Support Food Empowerment Project by eating vegan food at Saturn Cafe. It’s easy!  »

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Hey, Bay Area vegans! Come on out to Saturn Café in Berkeley on Wednesday, Feb. 20, and 10 percent of your (vegan) meal will go to help fund the all-volunteer Food Empowerment Project.

If you aren’t familiar with Vegansaurus favorite FEP, we’re a vegan food justice organization focused on issues like food access, environmental racism, and workers’ rights. Here are the event details:

Come any time between 11 a.m. and midnight with the printable flyer on the page and Saturn will donate 10 percent of the cost of your vegan meal to help fund our efforts to create a more just and equitable food systems.

Volunteers will be hanging out from 6 to 10 p.m. if you want to learn more about how to get involved. 

There will also be flyers up front assuring your 10 percent, so don’t worry about printing. Just come hang out! FEP’s Lauren Ornelas will be there, and we’ll have literature and what have you, but mostly you should just eat some food and say hi. Saturn Café is located at 2175 Allston Way in Berkeley.

09/20/2012

New Poll: Oakland residents not terribly excited about neighbors raising and killing backyard animals  »

For over a year, controversy has surrounded Oakland’s plan to draft a new urban agriculture policy, and specifically whether or not it will encourage raising and slaughtering backyard animals like chickens, rabbits, pigs, and others.

A new poll of 1,158 residents of Oakland’s Districts 1 and 3 (where urban animal agriculture is most prevalent) strongly indicates that animals should be left out of the plan.

Sizeable majorities in both districts oppose it: 52 percent opposed to 28 percent supportive in District 1, and 55 percent opposed to 20 percent supportive in District 3, with the remainder undecided in both cases. These are the sort of numbers you want to see if you’re mounting a ballot initiative campaign; for a response to a proposed regulatory change, they’re basically a community mandate.

Here’s hoping that city officials, from the Planning Commission to the City Council itself, take note. Given that it’s an election year, there’s a good chance they might … but to be sure, if you live in Oakland, consider sending the link to the poll to your elected officials.

"Urban agriculture" shouldn’t and doesn’t have to mean “urban animal farms foisted on communities that don’t want them.”

Rick Kelley spends his days at an Oakland workers’ rights nonprofit and his evenings probably playing moderately accurate renditions of Propagandhi songs with his awesome partner and their rescued pups, Bandit and Emma. He’s currently active in organizing for an Oakland urban agriculture proposal that does not include animal exploitation, and both writes and serves on the advisory board for the Food Empowerment ProjectHe used to blog, and might do so again someday.

02/08/2012

PCRM defends their ridiculous cheese thighs campaign  »


We posted last week about PCRM’s* idiotic cheese campaign and just hoped it would go away, but they’re back this week with even more ridiculousness. Neal Barnard, founder and president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, wasn’t content with spreading crap on his own site; he wants to infest the rest of the internet with his rationalizations. Barnard’s piece on Crazy Sexy Life is super-disappointing and filled with hateful rhetoric disguised as caring. Moreover, so much of this shit is ludicrous coming from someone who is a PSYCHIATRIST—aren’t you supposed to care about the emotional wellbeing of others? I feel bad for anyone who was under his psychiatric care. BUT MOVING ON.

Here’s the deal with this campaign: If PCRM wanted to tackle the issue of clogged arteries from animal cholesterol, why not show that? Because people of ALL sizes deal with it, and it’s HONEST. Oh, yes, but it’s not as provocative as the big belly.

What REALLY sucks about this campaign is that it sounds reasonable and supportive, but it’s actually the same old crap (“I’m not racist, but…”). The hypocrisy of Barnard’s “of course fat people shouldn’t be shamed because they’re HELPLESS VICTIMS OF THE FOOD INDUSTRY but we should totally SHAME FAT PEOPLE SO THEY STOP BEING HELPLESS VICTIMS OF THE FOOD INDUSTRY” approach — it’s so twisted! I’ll leave you with this bit of business that reader/occasional contributor/great person Rick Kelley left in the comments on our last post. It’s outstanding, and helps to explain exactly what’s so fucked about this tactic:

The “angle” these ads use — namely, “fat bodies are disgusting, so go vegan” — is shared with countless advertising campaigns selling every sort of bullshit imaginable, to all of our detriment. They posit a particular kind of “desirable body” and shame those who fail to attain it. Branding veganism as a weight loss strategy doesn’t do anyone any favors, and it doesn’t make new vegans (unless week-long fad dieters count). These ads have nothing to do with health, not anymore than some soap or deodorant company is committed to health (and a garden-fresh scent). No one is disputing the health benefits of a plant-based diet — Forks Over Knives is routinely embraced, recommended, and celebrated throughout vegan circles, most definitely on this site — but rather rejecting the notion that a “vegan brand” to sell “ethical eating” by way of a “stop being so fucking fat, fatties” campaign is anything but mean-spirited and counter-productive.

Here are a few reasons why, from the practical to the ethical:

(1) More than anything else, this resembles diet ads, and constructs veganism as a diet. Diets are by their nature temporary and end-goal oriented. If someone goes vegan to lose weight and they don’t, it seems unlikely they’d continue. If they do, it seems likely they’ll stop after they’ve attained their goal.

(2) Whether or not someone loses weight, the use and property-status of nonhumans isn’t remotely addressed, because there is no framework or analysis to understand it. You can go through a two-week vegan diet weight loss plan cloaked in fur and leather, occasionally shooting a dog, as easily as not.

(3) It’s alienating and reinforces notions of vegan exclusivity, superiority, and contempt for human animals.

(4) By playing into normative ideals of the human body, it reinforces patriarchal notions of beauty. Despite the inclusion of a male-presenting body in the ad, no one being at all serious would argue that advertising (including this one) primarily targets men. The idea here, as FUCKING EVERYWHERE, is that female-presenting bodies are by definition thin; if not, they are gross and in need of recuperation (i.e. shaming).

(5) By focusing on isolated, individual bodies (and certainly not whole bodies) outside of any world they might inhabit, it erases people’s lived experiences. It erases the fact that different cultures view bodies in different ways; it erases the realities of people’s access to healthy foods, which are enormously pre-determined by class structures; and it erases the most basic fact of all, which is that we live in these bodies we find ourselves in, the social value of which is determined by things often outside of our control (like fucking PCRM ads, apparently).

To end this manifesto/comment, I’d just point out that one thing a “vegan movement” (should it ever arrive) needs to do is to link nonhuman animal oppression with all the other oppressive structures that dominate our lives (like patriarchy, class oppression, racism, rigid systems of normative ideals, capitalist marketing as a means of social change, etc.). Damaging nonsense like this hurts that future effort.

SING IT!

I encourage PCRM (and really everyone ever) to read Health at Every Size, learn about our so-called “Obesity Epidemic,” and read up on the big business of fat hate. I wrote this same shit to PETA last year but you know, since PETA and PCRM are literally in bed together (UGH MY EYES! Seriously, picturing that just sent shivers down my spine), it can’t hurt to remind them. Show compassion for everyone and work on effective campaigns that breed love and respect for all. THE END.

*PCRM has such great campaigns, why are they focusing energy and money on this one? My experience is that Animal Rights groups that focus on too many campaigns just do them all poorly. Why not work on one thing and do it really, really well?

09/22/2011

Guest Post: Oakland’s animal slaughter proposal meets the national audience  »

And locals aren’t the only ones appalled

The Oakland planning proposal to deregulate animal slaughter and officially sanction backyard “husbandry” is the focus of James McWilliams’ blistering critique in the Atlantic. It turns out that reconstructing the city’s yards and vacant lots as “sustainable” animal farms and urban “homesteads” is a bit problematic. (Warning: some descriptions are graphic.) 

Judging from the comments, the proposal is just as contentious outside the East Bay. And to absolutely no one’s surprise, vegan perspectives expressed online are greeted with frenzied blathering and digital tantrums. 

The article, on the other hand, is great!

Framing the local issue for a wider audience, McWilliams makes an important point early on:

As matters now stand, Oakland could very well alter its urban agriculture code in order to allow virtually any urban homesteader not only to raise goats, chickens, rabbits, and ducks, but to slaughter them on site. And what happens in Oakland — a test case of sorts — is bound to be replicated elsewhere.

This point is important for a number of reasons. For better and for worse, the locavores of the Bay (and the East Bay, in particular) have positioned themselves as the leading voices and public representatives of Urban Homesteading and Sustainability (TM). They and those deeply influenced by their thinking would like to see this proposal put into practice, and replicated elsewhere.

For better because it’s enormously important to encourage local, organic food production, address the lack of access to fruits and vegetables in urban food deserts and schools, and foster community self-sufficiency and empowerment. These are all issues that have been championed by the likes of Alice Waters, Michael Pollan, and their acolytes. They deserve credit for bringing them somewhat into the mainstream.

But it’s most definitely for worse: interwoven with this vision, and sometimes eclipsing the original goals, there’s a creepy fixation on the necessity of killing animals, despite such killing being less necessary now than at any time in recorded history. What’s more, the killing is meant to be somehow virtuous and right, a matter of social justice and cultural reclamation. Even if the amateur butchers themselves are not always particularly skillful and humane at the killing part; even if it means more inputs and less land to grow food on; even it means expensive animal products rather than the fruits and vegetables basically everyone agrees need to be made cheaper and much more accessible; and even if the push for deregulated animal slaughter is coming less from those most screwed over by the broken food system than from best-selling authors, upper-middle class hobbyists, and, bizarrely, young, usually white progressives and radicals.  

The backyard slaughtering vision is wrong on multiple levels. It aspires to be an alternative to factory farming but really only offers an addition to it. And alongside the egregious and predictably “excessive” violence against animals, there’s also a crucial insight that’s been hijacked: Our food system really is in bad shape. We really could be feeding ourselves in ways that make much more sense, while also not destroying the world. Addressing food security and access were the original, stated reasons for initiating the food policy discussion in Oakland in the first place, prior to the sudden emphasis on killing animals.  

A key point of McWilliams’ piece is its first paragraph, which has gone totally unremarked in 201 comments and counting (as of the time of this writing):

Over the past ten years the United States has undergone a revolution in the way we eat. Communities throughout the country have localized food systems, placed power back in the hands of local farmers, and shortened the distance between farm and fork. The benefits of this trend have been considerable. Consumers have become more critical of overly processed food, better aware of the connection between diet and health, and more appreciative of eating seasonally. I’ve been critical of this movement from the start, but I admit it has been a cultural achievement of historical significance.

This is absolutely true, and something to be recognized and appreciated. 

But what we strive to put in place of the broken and ultimately self-destructive food system shouldn’t replicate its cruelties, desensitization, and inherent inequalities of access. There is at least a bit of common ground to meet on – specifically, how we need to grow hella food as much as we can – and we should take advantage of those points of agreement.   

Locavores certainly need to stop being so fixated on the virtues of “honest slaughter,” for starters, not to mention on fictitious “closed systems” that ignore the existence of the rest of the world, to all of our detriment. 

And vegans need to engage with these policy debates, because they’re happening with or without us. In our absence, we should probably expect a bunch more proposals like Oakland’s.

Rick Kelley is a recent transplant to the Bay, having fled the brutal Minnesota winters for warmer climes. He spends his days at a Oakland workers’ rights nonprofit and his evenings probably playing moderately accurate renditions of Propagandhi songs with his awesome partner and their rescued pup, Bandit. He’s also currently active in organizing against Oakland’s “Let’s All Kill Some Chickens in Our Yards For Fun” proposal. He used to blog, and might do so again someday. The adorable chickens above were rescued by Animal Place and they’re not for eating, they’re for feeding grapes to! And hugging maybe if you’re lucky.

06/15/2011

Guest post: Food accessibility is a vegan issue  »

I was sitting at my desk, staring at my coffee, when my co-worker walked in with a bag of cherries and said, “God, organic fruit at the farmers’ market is fucking expensive.”

At least we have a farmers’ market nearby selling local, organic fruit and vegetables, I thought, and my co-worker has the resources to buy some. When discussions of veganism and privilege come up–as they seem to be doing with increased frequency—there’s some understandable defensiveness from vegans, and some valid concerns that the “veganism is for rich white people” trope is both wrong and insulting to anyone not rich or white. But there remain striking differences food access across communities. This should concern everyone, but especially us veganism advocates.

A recent survey [pdf] by the very rad Food Empowerment Project (FEP) lays out the data. Looking at Santa Clara County specifically, they found that:

“On average, higher-income areas have twice as many locations with fresh fruits and vegetables compared to the lower-income areas…14 times more locations with frozen fruit and six times more locations with frozen vegetables.… In addition to being generally less available in lower-income areas, the variety of produce is also limited in these locations.”

Some of these findings are helpfully laid out in chart form:

Other sections point out things that should be obvious to those of us who live, work, or generally exist in urban cores, but are worth stating plainly: there are fundamental differences between supermarkets and small corner groceries; meat and dairy alternatives are virtually nonexistent in many communities, despite high levels of lactose-intolerance in some of those populations; that, along with being “cash-poor,” many providers in low-income communities and communities of color are “time-poor,” way too overstretched by multiple jobs and responsibilities to travel to a distant shop for decent produce, return home, and prepare dinner. The FEP study calls this “environmental racism.” Check out the full thing, along with their recommendations, here [pdf].

Your ability to make healthy food choices shouldn’t depend on your address or income, and lack of access to fruits and vegetables amounts to a public health crisis in many places. The growing trend of farmers’ markets accepting food stamps is a welcome development: by expanding access to good food rather than restricting access to junk, it’s also a much smarter, and less paternalistic and classist way to encourage people to eat well. (Another option would be to eat all the locavores, provided they were humanely put down, with reverence for all that they would provide us, but that’s a topic for another post.)

As vegans, it should matter to us especially. When we tell others to go vegan–which we should–it’s crucial to consider what barriers might stand in their way. Some are ideological, reflective of long-standing habits and assumptions, but some are more practical, like whether they can get to a market that sells non-gross apples. The ability to do so does mark a sort of privilege that needs to be recognized and dismantled, even if anti-vegan internet goofballs like to cite it for their own purposes.

And finally, concern about food security and access shouldn’t be the domain of a borderline-sociopathic “locavore” community that seems to raise these issues only to argue that we need to kill chickens in our yards. We shouldn’t cede that ground (sign a petition against at-home chicken-slaughter right now!). Everyone deserves decent food, produced sustainably, locally, and without poisons, and vegan advocates should be on the frontlines of that push. The FEP’s work is a good place to start.

Rick Kelley is a recent transplant to the Bay, having fled the brutal Minnesota winters for warmer climes. He spends his days at a Oakland workers’ rights nonprofit and his evenings probably playing moderately accurate renditions of Propagandhi songs with his awesome partner and their rescued pup, Bandit. He’s also currently active in organizing against Oakland’s “Let’s All Kill Some Chickens in Our Yards For Fun” proposal. He used to blog, and might do so again someday.

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