Book Review: Beasts of Burden by Sunaura Taylor

This book was an eye-opener. This is, so far, the only Disability Liberation work I’ve ever read. I brought a lot of biases and assumptions to the table and am leaving with a greater understanding of my ableism–including within how I conducted my animal rights advocacy. Ableism and carnism and patriarchy and racism and sexism and speciesism are linked. I knew that. But they are linked in such a way that even fighting against one can undermine the fight against another. It will take careful practice and awareness on my part moving forward.

I’ve already posted once about this book with some quotes I archived here so that I can refer back to them. Below are some more of my favorite quotes from this book.

One thing that Taylor did well–the main thing I got out of this book personally–is what ableism is and how to spot it in my actions and in the world around me. When she recounts her interaction with Peter Singer and he asks her (and others) “If you could take a pill that would cure you, wouldn’t you?” and how some disabled persons would say no… That shocked me. That made me stop and think. This book made me realize that the question itself is wrong to be asked. That’s like asking a black person “If you could turn white, would you?” Or homosexual person “If you could be turned straight, wouldn’t you want that?” Or a woman “Don’t you wish you had been born a man?” It assumes that there is a “perfect” state of existence. It assumes that there is something wrong with the individual, rather than the world and that there is something wrong with the person. A person should not have to change in order to fit in. The world should be accepting of the being as they already are. If a world cannot accept someone as they are, perhaps there is something wrong with the world (news flash: there is). That is what this book taught me–what I did not already understand about disability going into it.

The only thing I thought Sunaura Taylor didn’t argue well enough to my satisfaction is her critique of those who think that many domesticated animals simply should not exist (they are pro-extinction). I am one of those. Here is a quote for more context:

“The reasoning behind an abolitionist argument for extinction is on one level very simple: if we stop bringing domesticated animals into existence, then humans won’t be able to exploit them and make them suffer. This is pretty much the opposite of Temple Grandin’s argument. Where Grandin sees animals’ ongoing existence as enough of a justification to continue to use and kill them, many animal activists see the suffering and exploitation of domesticated animals as enough of a justification for their extinction. These animal advocates believe that we have a deep responsibility to treat the animals who currently exist with compassion and dignity while they are alive, as well as a responsibility to stop breeding millions of these animals every year—after all, so many animals exist only because humans breed them. Nonetheless, at a certain point a decision will have to be made about whether remaining animals are sterilized or kept from breeding on their own.”

She states the above, and then goes on to say that this is glazing over issues. But I cannot seem to put her official stance on it in my own words. At best I think she says that we cannot see it as so black and white, because this assumes that there is something wrong with the animals and therefore those with disability; that there is something wrong with dependence and co-dependence. She does make a good case for showing that dependence does not mean weakness, etc. But I don’t think that everyone who calls for farm animals’ immediate steps toward peaceful extinction actually argues from that “they’re dependent, so they must go” place as she seems to think. As an anti-natalist and supporter of VHEMT, I think that most living creatures are better off to never have lived–abled or disabled. I wish she had, maybe, used (what I will now call) her “co-evolution” argument  (that we are responsible for these domesticated animals but that calling for extinction is ableist) for something like…feral cats. Many feral cats are round up and killed because they are said to be a threat to wild bird populations, never mind that our buildings, pollution, and habitat destruction are the real threat. Instead we blame feral cats and so they are murdered. I wish she had used clearer examples like that–where we have caused a problem and are trying to fix it but fixing it in an evil way–to make her point. I can see it working better there than with the domesticated farm animals because I’m still unclear in how she thinks calling for farm animals’ peaceful extinction, at least for those animals who cannot even breed or give birth without us, is ableist. I can see how it would be for those farm animals that don’t require us for breeding. Or perhaps that is her point all along–that the definition of dependence shouldn’t encompass even those that don’t need us for breeding. As you can see, I wish she had expounded this point.

More quotes from Beasts of Burden are below.

“Dependency has been used to justify slavery, patriarchy, imperialism, colonization, and disability oppression. The language of dependency is a brilliant rhetorical tool, allowing those who use it to sound compassionate and caring while continuing to exploit those they are supposedly concerned about.

In many ways the thinking behind the humane meat movement is a philosophy built on the idea of independence. Domesticated animals and human being shave evolved together to be interdependent—animals help human beings, and we in turn help the animals—or so the argument goes… Instead a disability perspective on interdependence recognizes that we are all vulnerable and receive care (more often than not doing both at once) over meat conversation is a much-needed analysis of what it means to be accountable to beings who are vulnerable.”

 

“I agree with those who support sustainable animal farming about the horrors of factory farms snad the importance of environmentally sustainable agricultural practices. But commodifying and slaughtering animals for food is not natural or righteous—even if it’s done on a small family farm or in a factory system designed to minimize cruelty. There are better ways to be humane.”

 

“People also justify it through ableist conceptions of the natural and of dependency, which suggest that there is a depoliticized thing called ‘nature’ that determines what kinds of bodies and minds are exploitable and killable, and that excuses uses those who are weaker and dependent for our own benefit. When animal commodification and slaughter is justified through ableist positions, veganism becomes a radical anti-ableist position that corporeality—socially, politically, environmentally, and in what we consume. In other words, veganism is not just about food-it is an embodied practice of challenging ableism through what we eat, wear, and use and a political position that takes justice for animals as integral to justice for disabled people… Veganism is an embodied act of resistance to objectification and exploitation across difference—a corporeal way of enacting one’s political and ethical beliefs daily.”

 

“Domesticated animals are similarly understood as utterly dependent, and unfit for the wild. Environmentalists, animal welfarists, and animal advocates have all portrayed domesticated animals as tragically, even grotesquely, dependent. Disabled people and domesticated animals are among those who have to content with society’s stereotypes about what it is to be unnatural and abnormal, as well as assumptions about the indignity of dependency. In many ways we have been presented as beasts and as burdens.”

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TBR: Beasts of Burden: Animal Disability and Liberation by Sunaura Taylor

A beautifully written, deeply provocative inquiry into the intersection of animal and disability liberation—and the debut of an important new social critic

How much of what we understand of ourselves as “human” depends on our physical and mental abilities—how we move (or cannot move) in and interact with the world? And how much of our definition of “human” depends on its difference from “animal”?
Drawing on her own experiences as a disabled person, a disability activist, and an animal advocate, author Sunaura Taylor persuades us to think deeply, and sometimes uncomfortably, about what divides the human from the animal, the disabled from the nondisabled—and what it might mean to break down those divisions, to claim the animal and the vulnerable in ourselves, in a process she calls “cripping animal ethics.”

Beasts of Burden suggests that issues of disability and animal justice—which have heretofore primarily been presented in opposition—are in fact deeply entangled. Fusing philosophy, memoir, science, and the radical truths these disciplines can bring—whether about factory farming, disability oppression, or our assumptions of human superiority over animals—Taylor draws attention to new worlds of experience and empathy that can open up important avenues of solidarity across species and ability. Beasts of Burden is a wonderfully engaging and elegantly written work, both philosophical and personal, by a brilliant new voice.

Read more of Sunaura Taylor’s work online for free, like here.

See also: Are Disability Rights and Animal Rights Connected?

Buy on Amazon. 

TBR: Aphro-ism: Essays on Pop Culture, Feminism, and Black Veganism from Two Sisters

In this lively, accessible, and provocative collection, Aph and Syl Ko provide new theoretical frameworks on race, advocacy for nonhuman animals, and feminism. Using popular culture as a point of reference for their critiques, the Ko sisters engage in groundbreaking analysis of the compartmentalized nature of contemporary social movements, present new ways of understanding interconnected oppressions, and offer conceptual ways of moving forward expressive of Afrofuturism and black veganism.

Aph and Syl Ko s work has deeply changed my views on activism for the animals. Every time, their work is eye-opening, revisiting the connections between animal liberation and human liberation in a way that is as much critical as constructive and inspiring. Frederic Cote-Boudreau, Quebec-based activist, scholar, and blogger

Aphro-ism is an important read for anyone who is interested in thinking critically and wants to help to not only challenge but change the current dynamic of race and animals in our society. Thanks to these brilliant women of color, I ve gained a new understanding of systems of oppression and feel less alone in the fight for social justice. lauren Ornelas, Founder/Executive Director, Food Empowerment Project

The Ko sisters are miles ahead of even the most progressive thinkers, with Aphro-ism establishing a theoretical framework and #BlackVegansRock demonstrating its practicability. There s no better metaphor for the failures of white supremacist capitalism than mortar, since it is the white slime that holds stone together. When the mortar cracks the whole building falls apart. Aph and Syl Ko are the stone. Crack them a thousand times and they remain unbroken. Rich Goldstein, Producer, The Daily Beast

Aph and Syl s anti-racist and anti-speciesist framework shifts the paradigm of nonhuman and human liberation. Aphro-ism is a revolutionary tool for holistic anti-oppression work that can benefit both grassroots activists and academic scholars. Raffaella Ciavatta, Cofounder, Collectively Free, and activist

Aph and Syl Ko are incredible activists and revolutionary thinkers who have influenced the way we approach animal rights and anti-racist activism. Aphro-ism has taught us to view oppression and liberation through a much clearer lens. David and Paige Carter, Co-CEOs and Cofounders, The 300-Pound Vegan

Syl Ko provides a crucial perspective to the movements seeking to secure rights for humans and nonhumans alike. As she so eloquently demonstrates, we should not treat human beings like animals any more than we should treat animals like animals. Syl s scholarship challenges us to reassess the standing social order and work toward a more just world. Steven M. Wise, Founder and President, The Nonhuman Rights Project

Aphro-ism is a groundbreaking suite of original essays on the entanglements of race, empire, gender, and species. In their analyses of human and animal oppression, Aph and Syl Ko deliver the trifecta: scholarship that is rigorous, accessible, and deeply important. Jason Wyckoff, PhD

Aph and Syl s brilliant work is laying the groundwork for an exciting new millennial generation of deeply critical and compassionate thinkers, feminists, and activists. Aphro-ism is helping countless young, hungry critical thinkers navigate through a world of isms, make sense of endless contradictions, and come out the other side as more well-equipped, effective, woke activists. Richard Bowie, editor at VegNews magazine

 

I’ve requested we purchase this for the library where I work. I really want to get my hands on a copy!

Buy on Amazon.

To Speak

I have decided to publish my past and future poems to this tag, accompanied by a picture I think will give it (sub)context. I’m hoping for feedback and to spark conversation about each poem’s topic, as they’re clearly important to me. Sending good vibes and art out into the world. Please share your thoughts and inspirations with me in return. 

TO SPEAK

Some defend us
Saying even their deaf
Can communicate without words
But they still believe
Despite the evidence
That we’re the lesser
Most of all
Because we do not
Use unspoken signs
That they call letters
They think it means
We have no language
Forgetting that our bodies
Contain all the symbols
Ever needed

 

On Animal Sacrifice:

Similarly, ritual animal sacrifice, which may at first seem unrelated to interspecies sexual assault, is not unrelated. Ritual transference of transgressions to a sacrificial animal victim is, in my view, a kind of rape. Just as nonhuman animals are deemed fit receptacles for the depositing of human diseases in biomedical research’s quest for health, so they are deemed suitable receptacles for human sin in the quest for spiritual cleansing. In both cases, the animal victim is made to appear as an aspect of the victimizer’s identity, even a willing participant in being used as a depository for human diseases, sins and vices. Humans, by virtue of a shared verbal language, can challenge the profanation and misappropriation of their bodies, identity and will. A nonhuman animal, such as a hen, is powerless, short of human intercession, to protect herself from being besmirched, as when she is represented by her abusers as an “egg-laying machine” or as a symbolic uterus for the deposition of human spiritual filth.

Read the rest.

My tips on how to go and stay vegan:

I have been asked multiple times recently about “how I went vegan” and if I have any tips about things I “wish I had known” beforehand–which is awesome! But, when I was first asked, I wasn’t as prepared to answer this question as I had thought I should have been. I have a whole list, obviously, but it just wasn’t in front of me. Thus, I’m making a list that I can refer to in the future. I hope it’s helpful to you too!

  1. Don’t make it about you. Make it about the animals. About women. About marginal and oppressed persons. Never about health reasons or wanting to do it to make yourself feel better. (Read: Intersectionality). If you’re like me and some days don’t like yourself, you aren’t going to care if the food you eat is unhealthy (which non-vegan food is) or where it comes from. If you make it about you–your health, your body, your taste buds– you aren’t going to keep at it. Because you are autonomous and control your health, your body, your sensory pleasures. And you’re going to want to do what is easiest for you. What is more pleasurable to you.  You will slip back into old habits if it’s just about you. If it’s about more than me, though, I find that I’m more accountable. You aren’t just letting yourself down, you are letting down all those that carnism and speciesism oppresses (and it does oppress women and minorities on top of the animal lives). So, don’t do it to lose weight or to follow a fad. You just make real vegans look bad and we can see through you.
  2. Tie it into your morals/religion/spirituality/philosophy on life. If you can’t find a religious, spiritual, or philosophical basis for it, you aren’t going to be able to argue for your decisions when people ask you about it. And you will be asked about it. When I first started out as a vegetarian, I would always preface my identity with “but not for religious reasons.” As if that somehow separated me from, say, Hindus who don’t eat meat. As if that was necessary at all. But this was a subconscious acknowledgement of what we eat does have implications about what we believe. Deep down, I did have religious and spiritual opinions on the matter. I just couldn’t admit it at the time because I hadn’t found the system and language and theology to express it. But those views/beliefs have helped me stay the course. Veganism calls us to live compassion, and this is synonymous with my belief systems. My veganism cannot be separated from those beliefs. And if it could, I probably wouldn’t be vegan. Veganism has to bring you closer to God(s)/Enlightenment/Whatever you want to call it. Otherwise you won’t be able to be vegan. If you can’t find a religious basis for veganism within your current religion, perhaps it’s time to get a new religion, or perhaps you need to dig a little deeper into your religious understanding. I can’t give that understanding to you. This is something you have to find yourself.
  3. Watch as many pro-animal documentaries as you can. This will support you in your decision and give you solid reasoning as to why you should go and stay vegan.  My recommended list includes:
    1. Food, Inc.
    2. The Ghosts in Our Machine
    3. Cowspiracy
    4. Forks Over Knives
    5. Blackfish
    6. Earthlings
    7. Pedigree Dogs Exposed
    8. Videos on YouTube of animal agriculture abuse. (You may need to see the horrific abuse to make yourself never want to consume meat or dairy again).
  4. Read as many pro-veg books as you can. I recommend The Sexual Politics of Meat by Carol Adams for those who are already vegetarian and thinking of going vegan. Otherwise, maybe start elsewhere–like a vegan cookbook or something to show you some options of where you could start to make changes in your diet. Other books that might be relevant (doing a Google Book search will get you some good titles):
    1. Sister Species
    2. Confronting Animal Exploitation: Grassroots Essays on Liberation and Veganism
    3. The Pornography of Meat (and anything else by Carol Adams)
    4. Sistah Vegan
    5. My Vegan Dreams
  5. Like as many pro-vegan facebook pages, twitter profiles, etc. as you can. Start living in the Vegan community. There will be tips and support there. Click through the profiles and see what the pages are talking about. She what they are sharing. See what pages those pages have liked. Join facebook groups. Share the posts. Be engaged in the community. Some facebook pages I recommend:
    1. Sister Species https://www.facebook.com/Sister-Species-146918522078296/
    2. The Ghosts in Our Machine https://www.facebook.com/TheGhostsInOurMachine/
    3. Vegan Hip Hop Movement https://www.facebook.com/veganhiphopmovement/?hc_ref=PAGES_TIMELINE
    4. Disrupt Speciesism https://www.facebook.com/disruptspeciesism/
    5. Black Vegans Rock: https://www.facebook.com/BlackVegansRock/
    6. Earth in Transition: https://www.facebook.com/EarthInTransition/
    7. Zoo Check: https://www.facebook.com/canadazoocheck/
    8. Milk Hurts: https://www.facebook.com/MilkHurts/
    9. My Vegan Dreams: https://www.facebook.com/myvegandreams/
    10. Striving with Systems: https://www.facebook.com/StrivingWithSystems/?fref=mentions
  6. Announce your Veganism — at least, eventually. Make a facebook post. Make an announcement at family dinner. Go big, get it over with, and go from there. I wish I had. I wish I had recorded the date where I said “NOW I AM OFFICIALLY VEGAN.” Because I didn’t. I went to it over time. I was already vegetarian, and then I slowly phased out diary. I stopped buying milk. I started reading labels and avoiding products. Then one day I was like “I think I can do this vegan thing.” But I never recorded it. I regret that. Now all I have is a vague season in a year of when I decided to do it. And then I was shy about it. I didn’t tell my mom for a long time. She didn’t notice because I was already such a picky eater. I just didn’t want the debates and the arguing and the confrontation. It just never seemed to be the right time. But eventually, it did come up and I did have to argue. I still do. And if that’s what you end up doing too, that’s completely valid. But I will say that once I made my OFFICIAL ANNOUNCEMENT OF VEGANISM (actually, several, across many meetings with friends and social media platforms), it got easier to enact my veganism. It holds you accountable, too. If you say you are something aloud, then most honest people feel obligated to stay consistent with what they claimed. Nobody wants to be a liar.
  7. Wear your veganism. If you want to start putting your veganism into practice, start getting rid of your leather and furs and feathers. Donate them to Goodwill or animal shelters or animal rehabilitators. I don’t recommend throwing them away, because that is just wasteful. But looking the part of a vegan helps the inward part as well. You can google places that accept fur. Leather is a different story, but is most likely still wearable. If you wear makeup, start buying cruelty-free and vegan products.
  8. Vegan readymade meals are your friend. Amy’s brand is a godsend. I don’t cook, not because I’m terrible at it, but because I don’t have time. I do frozen vegan meals at least once a day.  If you have a family, I don’t know what to tell you (buy more than one?). Look for the V on the packaging, or Dairy-free or just the ingredients list. Brands that really work for me and my tastebuds and are conveniently found in my local stores (Wal-Mart, Target, Reasor’s, Wholefoods):
    1. Amy’s Kitchen 
    2. Sweet Earth Foods 
    3. Gardein
  9. Do it gradually. This may seem to conflict with #6, but I don’t mean for it to. You don’t have to claim you are vegan yet when you are experimenting. And, even when you claim you are vegan and accidentally buy something with an ingredient you didn’t know was non-vegan, you’re still vegan! You just made a mistake. There’s no way for you to know everything when you first start out. I’m constantly on my phone in the store, googling things–and I’ve been at this for years now! You learn what products are safe eventually. You are having to unlearn everything you’ve been taught, which is hard and frustrating and often very alienating. When you do make a mistake, don’t waste the animal suffering. Just do better next time. My advice is to gradually drop non-vegan things from your diet. Start with meat, of course. Then, drop milk. Instead of buying an actual jug of milk, buy almond milk (or coconut milk or soy milk or hemp milk — all so good!). Stop buying eggs. Then, start reading ingredients on the other things you buy and avoiding those when you see that they contain milk or eggs or this and that non-vegan ingredient. All the while, be venturing out and trying vegan-specific brands. When you are ready, do #6. Never go cold turkey (such a weird phrase).
  10. Know the places to eat out and the vegan options on the menus! Did you know the breadsticks at Olive Garden are vegan? You can make almost anything vegan at Taco Bell? You can get a veggie sub at Subway? You don’t have to stay home when your friends go out. You can always google the options or call the restaurant ahead of time. Also, it’s good for you to go out, as a vegan, and order the vegan options. There needs to be a market for us for real change to happen! Your dollar and data count.

I’ll update this list as I think of more. But I hope it gives you some perspective.

BOOK REVIEW: Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova promotes animal cruelty.

This book is a DNF for me because of the animal cruelty:

“I glued my fingers so many times that they were raw and bloody. I probably bled as much for her Deathday as the sacrificial dove. If I think on it, I can see Lula [her sister’s] slender hands holding the dove, red dots smattered all over her perfectly calm face.”

– Main character, Alejandra, on her sister’s coming of age brjua party.

Her sister, Lula, is a main character. A “good witch” — rather, bruja. The fact she would sacrifice a dove took me so aback…

It is sick and normalizes animal cruelty. How many teens are going to think that good brujas do that? Are going to try that? Blood magic is usually associated with dark magic — with evil. Sure, in the book there are jars of eyeballs and tongues but you never know where they come from. You can assume that the characters are carnists, which is the default across cultures, but to sacrifice just for the sake of death is beyond vile.

I was really looking forward to a LGBTQ positive YA read, but this just glazes over the topic of animal cruelty so offensively that I couldn’t respect it or read more.

Panda turds: Collected droppings to 12/10/16

Book Review: The Vegetarian by Han Kang

Before the nightmare, Yeong-hye and her husband lived an ordinary life. But when splintering, blood-soaked images start haunting her thoughts, Yeong-hye decides to purge her mind and renounce eating meat. In a country where societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye’s decision to embrace a more “plant-like” existence is a shocking act of subversion. And as her passive rebellion manifests in ever more extreme and frightening forms, scandal, abuse, and estrangement begin to send Yeong-hye spiraling deep into the spaces of her fantasy. In a complete metamorphosis of both mind and body, her now dangerous endeavor will take Yeong-hye—impossibly, ecstatically, tragically—far from her once-known self altogether.

A disturbing, yet beautifully composed narrative told in three parts, The Vegetarian is an allegorical novel about modern day South Korea, but also a story of obsession, choice, and our faltering attempts to understand others, from one imprisoned body to another.

OK. So, allegorical is a stretch, but perhaps I don’t know enough about South Korea to get said “allegory.” I think it may have something to do with the fact that women are treated like cattle, but I don’t know? Let me know if I’m in the right direction here, if you’ve also read the novel.

Also, I’ve heard this book called Kafka-esque and that’s just ridiculous for a number of reasons. She may want to be a plant. But she does not turn into one. This is not an “I’m suddenly a bug!” story. But I’ll not harp on it.

The reason I chose to read this book was because I, for one, have been a vegetarian/vegan going on 6 years now and am now quite interested in vegheads-as-characters because there aren’t many and, when there are, they are usually the butt of jokes, or not taken seriously.

That’s not to say that the main character in this novel, Yeong-hye, is really vegetarian. At times she seems more anorexic than someone with convictions about food (she kills and bites a bird at one point, so I don’t think animal welfare or rights are involved in her decision). She also eliminates eggs and dairy from her diet, so one could say she is vegan. Thus, the title is a bit of a lie for for me. However, her eating habits are something she refuses to apologize for, which make her the strongest, most interesting veg character I’ve ever read.  But that’s not saying much.

She arguably plays into cliches with her “vegetarianism” – she is seen as sickly and weak. And crazy. At one point, her obsession with plants as life plays into her brother-in-law’s obsession with plants as art, leading to an odd affair (fun fact: adultery was illegal in South Korea until 2015). She is the manic pixie dream girl on that level. She goes from scary “other” (refusing peer pressure from her family to eat meat) to the objectified piece of meat.

She cannot win.

It is because of her one choice (arguably the one thing that has ever made her odd or special — her whole life being built around mediocre normalcy) that her whole family falls apart. Her one choice shows their selfishness. The story left me wondering how might her life and their lives have been different if they had just accepted her choice to become vegetarian — had asked her about her dream (the reason she gives up meat). By the time her sister thinks to blame herself, she is too far gone.

Despite being such a short book, it took too long to reach this conclusion. That, coupled with the poor portrayal of vegetarianism, is why I can only give this one star. It would have been a better novella.

Other reviews I agree with:

 …
(However, piece of meat comment).
(Nah, I just don’t think Kang understands what vegetarianism is).
I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.