Wednesday, August 26, 2015

If You Care About Animals, In Vitro Meat is Not the Answer

In vitro replications of Nonhuman Animal bodies ignore the problem of speciesism, exclude millions of species, and perpetuate prejudicial and violent attitudes.

On July 15, 2012 the Humane Research Council (now Faunalytics) posted the following on their Facebook promotional page:
If you care about animals and the environment, you should support in vitro meat. According to this interview with New Harvest (http://www.facebook.com/pages/NewHarvest/120523511144) [link is no longer valid], "Research at Oxford University looked at that question and estimated that mass production of cultured meat would reduce water and land use and CO2 emissions by 90% or more.
Animal advocates are often posed the question of in vitro meat. PETA has famously offered a one million dollar reward to the first scientist to create and market it. However, it is my stance, and the stance of many abolitionist advocates for that matter, that in vitro meat is not the answer.

Simply put, in vitro meat, while theoretically sparing millions of nonhumans the torture of agricultural industries, completely overlooks the millions of other nonhumans not directly raised and slaughtered for their flesh and those in non-"food" industries. The in vitro scheme overlooks speciesist attitudes in general.

In vitro meat purports to meet the supposedly insatiable public demand for Nonhuman Animal flesh (a demand that is, incidentally, artificially controlled by industry) without the guilty conscience of killing Nonhuman Animals and polluting the environment. But, only a portion of the nonhumans we exploit are specifically raised for "meat." In vitro schemes beg the question as to what will happen to nonhumans who are indirectly killed for flesh when their bodies become unproductive in other industries. Dairy cattle, veal calves, wool producing sheep, and layer hens, for example, all go to slaughter when their bodies become "spent" and they become a burden on the industry. In vitro schemes speaks nothing to their plight. Unless dairy and eggs become obsolete, these animals will still be sent to their deaths regardless of in vitro markets.

And what of leather and fur? In vitro meat does nothing to reduce the demand for animal flesh used for fashion. What of rodeos, horse racing, and circuses? In vitro is totally unrelated. And vivisection? Not only does in vitro fail to solve the problem of animal testing, but it will inevitably require considerable amounts of animal pain and death to create in vitro meat.

The in vitro meat scheme ignores speciesism. It ignores an ideology of oppression. Beyond excluding many other facets of animal exploitation, it also condones the consumption and oppression of Nonhuman Animals as a symbolic matter. To "okay" this behavior, even if it is not directly hurting the nonhumans represented, is hugely detrimental to the advancement of nonhuman rights. Consider a campaign to reduce sexual harassment and violence against women that provided blow up dolls for men to insult, beat, or otherwise have their way with. Surely, women directly benefit in having the wrongs usually inflicted upon them inflicted on their non-sentient representations. But, one must consider the symbolic consequences that will inevitably arise in a society that has normalized sexist and violent attitudes towards women. One could not expect that the position of women would be advanced to any significant extent if representations of women were made freely available for the privileged to dominate. Sexism and violence would (and do) continue against women. This happens because such a strategy only supports women's subjugated status and aggravates their objectification.

Face of a blowup doll, a woman with pig tails, blue eye makeup and a bright red mouth open wide.
Technology has provided a number of substitutes for women's bodies, but real women are still hurt at epidemic levels in a society that objectifies them and normalizes violence against representations of them.

If our job is to fight speciesism, then we have no business supporting in vitro meat. In vitro meat, as we see in the quote provided by the Humane Research Council, is really concerned with environmental issues. It's also concerned with assuaging human guilt with the unnecessary consumption of sentients. The environment and personal conscience are completely removed from the core issue: the rights we owe to Nonhuman Animals. (In vitro meat schemes also ignore the terrible damage that animal products inflict on the health of vulnerable human communities).

For this reason, in vitro meat is a manifestation of post-speciesism. Post-speciesism supposes that speciesism is a thing of the past, or is otherwise being attended to. Species difference is thus made irrelevant, and systemic discrimination is made invisible by the fantasy. It is an ideology that works to squelch political opposition and the potential for contentious action.

In vitro meat will reduce some violence against some nonhuman animals, but it will allow for many other forms of violence. It also reproduces the notion that Nonhuman Animals are "food" and the institutions slaughtering them for food will not realistically end simply because in vitro becomes available. So long as we leave the prejudices and violence against other animals unchallenged, the exploitation and death will continue indefinitely.

Considering the limited nature of our time and resources, I suggest we focus on promoting veganism and fighting speciesism. The results will be far more socially rewarding: environmental destruction will be reduced, human health will flourish, and, more importantly, the Nonhuman Animals we are representing will be afforded the equal consideration they deserve. In vitro science is only a display of domination and privilege.


This essay originally appeared on The Examiner, July 17, 2012.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Pro-Intersectionality Veganism is EASY!

Consider the following meme which displays the popular "veganism is easy," "no excuses" theme:

A muscular, bearded man identified as a "Strong Man" competitor from Germany looks directly at camera with arms folded. Quote attributed to him reads: "We must all do our part to make the world a better and more just place. Nowadays, everybody can easily be vegan - there are no excuses anymore!" Organization: Animal Equality

In considering the image, keep in mind that the quote is attributed to someone who appears to be a white able-bodied man living in a food secure nation.

Look, there is nothing wrong in trying to present veganism as accessible, but the privilege behind our framing must be acknowledged. It just had to be.

I have seen several abolitionist vegans complain about pro-intersectionality, annoyed that they are made to feel as though they must add a disclaimer to their outreach. Political correctness gone wild? Perhaps to some, but the reality is that political correctness (which is really just a fancy phrase for "treating people with respect") is what we need to do. If we want to grow a vegan movement beyond the borders of white, middle class society, that is what we need to do.

To put it in words they can relate to: "Pro-intersectional veganism is EASY!"

Really, it is not that hard to treat others with respect. Neither is it especially taxing to consider how the vegan message will be interpreted by others. It's simply a matter of being mindful of your social position and the social positions of those you are addressing. The advocate's experience in the world is not the universal experience. Good advocacy is advocacy that acknowledges difference and can adjust accordingly.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Students Think Vegan Food Tastes Better, Research Finds

Researchers suspect familiarity with veganism is increasing fondness for plant-based fare

A 2015 publication in Food Quality and Preference finds that college students are more receptive to veganism than non-profits and policy makers may be willing to admit.* The study suggests that foods that are similar will elicit similar responses, regardless of ingredients and origin.

Eighty students were provided a number of vegan and non-vegan food items, some were aware that the products were vegan or non-vegan, but others were not. The results?
Vegan products were not rated as less familiar than the animal-based equivalents. Even when people were told that they were eating vegan substitutes, their familiarity ratings were no different from those of subjects who were told they were eating foods of animal origin.  
[...]subjects did not indicate that they were less willing to try vegan products or foods they thought were vegan than the foods of animal origin or those they thought were of animal origin. 
[...]subjects also did not find the foods that were vegan or that they were told were vegan as more dangerous or disgusting than the foods that were of animal origin or that they were told were of animal origin.  
[...] there was no difference in expected liking for the taste of the foods [...] between the vegan and animal-based versions of the foods nor was there a difference in expected liking between subjects who were told they were rating vegan foods and those told they were rating animal-based foods.
Researchers also find that, for the most part, believing a food to be vegan actually increased how much the participants liked the taste. The only significant exception was vegan chocolate milk. The Daiya-based vegan macaroni and cheese even did well . . . until students were told it was vegan. Meatballs, both animal-based and plant-based, were the only items that were snubbed as disgusting, presumably because college students are not as familiar with meatballs as they are with the other foods in the study (chicken tenders, milkshakes, and macaroni & cheese).

Vegan or not? Students can't tell the difference.

Researchers suppose that this familiarity and openness to veganism could be a result of increased accessibility to vegan options for students of this particular campus. Their access is also increased by living in a metropolitan area (the study took place just outside of New York City). The New York/New Jersey/Pennsylvania area has a well-established vegan community with a number of restaurants and grocery stores offering vegan options.

What does this mean for non-profits that refuse to promote veganism?

Popularizing veganism increases positive associations for veganism, and folks seem to be quite receptive to trying vegan foods. They even like many of the vegan foods more than the non-vegan foods. So, it is suspicious that non-profits are so insistent that the public will not be receptive to veganism and we must "meet them where they are." Non-profits rely on elite- and corporate-run foundations for funding, and many of these elites and corporations have relied on speciesism and oppression to amass their wealth and have no interest in dismantling inequality. As a result, vegan advocacy tends to be ignored by foundations and high-dollar individual donors, thereby encouraging non-profits to diminish or even demonize veganism as a strategy of survival and growth.

This research supports the notion that the continued invisibility and stigmatization of veganism facilitated by non-profits will only inhibit progress for vulnerable humans and nonhumans that would benefit greatly from veganism.

*This study specifically explores veganism as a diet, though participants were aware of the ethical considerations behind the food choices to the extent that it shaped their responses.

Work Cited
S. Adise, I. Gavdanovich, & D. Zellner. 2015. "Looks Like Chicken: Exploring the Law of Similarity in Evaluation of Foods of Animal Origin and their Vegan Substitutes." Food Quality and Preference 41: 52-59.

What is Post-Speciesism?

Picture of white goat, reads "Atlantic Hogs HAPPY Goats"
Photo from Atlantic Hogs, a "free range" institution in Ireland

Speciesism  is institutional discrimination and, to a lesser extent, individual prejudice against Nonhuman Animals based on their species. Speciesism is violence against Nonhuman Animals that is perpetuated by the privileged human species,1 usually for the benefit of humans. It is conducted based on the belief that nonhuman species are lesser in some way. Speciesism relies on the understanding that there is an "us" and a "them," that humans are at the top, and other animals are below.2

Post-speciesism is an ideology which suggests that species does not matter and/or that speciesism is either a thing of the past or that it is currently being adequately attended to. Post-speciesism relies on the belief that we are "all one" and that we all have an equal place on earth or in the "circle of life." Violence against other animals continues on to the benefit of humans, but this is no longer interpreted as a form of oppression or of domination. In other words, differences in life opportunity that are based on species identification are erased from the narrative.

This erasure is essential to upholding oppression in a society where social justice ideology has been gaining momentum. For instance, Ireland's commitment to a "green" economy commodifies humanity's concern with speciesism, rebrands speciesist institutions, and sells essentially the same products for a much higher price because humans are paying for the symbolic value that has been attributed by post-speciesism. "Humane" labeling is the Nike swoosh that differentiates one t-shirt from the next and justifies the higher price. These labels denote quality and rely on consumer trust to extort the higher price. Post-speciesist ideology facilitates this trust.

Image of a smiling black and white piglet laying in grass. Top of image has a picture of a roasting pig carcass, red and charred. Reads, Atlantic Spit: Amazing Taste for Exciting Party. OUR MISSION is to breed and produce happy animals that will be mouth watering, when they reach the table...
Photo of Atlantic Hogs advertisement in Galway, Ireland

Post-speciesism obscures systems of oppression and relationships of domination. It makes human supremacy invisible. It allows a smiling piglet like the one above to be juxtaposed with a burned and bloodied dismembered corpse dripping body fluids and then interpreted as "mouth watering" for an "exciting party." Species doesn't matter here: we're all happy. This isn't like the old days of speciesism where violence was out, open, and celebrated. In the post-speciesist world, hurting other animals is a thing of the past because these are "happy animals" and the party is exciting.3

This post-speciesist rebranding helps speciesist industries to stand out in a heavily competitive marketplace. As with all capitalist endeavors, ideologies are necessary to obscure exploitation, to make consumption pleasurable, and to encourage the fetishization of the product. This fetishization process is especially poignant in Lush Cosmetic's consumer base. While the company relies heavily on the exploitation of Nonhuman Animals in its mostly non-vegan product line, it appeals to post-speciesist ideology to stand out among the thousands of bath & body chains and to create a strong customer loyalty. For instance, Lush enjoys a faithful following from the majority of the vegan community and even funds some advocacy projects, despite its continued commitment to violence against animals. Post-speciesism is a diversion.

LUSH website screencap of their "Fresh organic free range eggs" description. Explains that eggs are nutritious and that their animals are well cared for.
From the Lush website.

Consider Lush's ingredient description for eggs:
Our organic free range eggs come from a farm that's around 50 miles away from Lush headquarters in Poole. The farmers adhere to strict organic animal welfare standards, so the chickens are well looked after and are given plenty of space to roam outside. They eat quality organic food and are happy and stress-free in their sheds. These are the high standards of care that we expect, and demand, when animals are making such an important contribution to our products.
Notice that the inherent violence of domestication is obscured from the narrative, as is the fate of male chicks who will be killed as part of the process of egg production. The hens are also framed as consenting workers who "make contributions" to the corporation. Everyone is happy and has their place. No one is being hurt. Differences based on species identification are not relevant.

But we know that they are.

As with post-racism and post-feminism, post-speciesism is an ideology that obscures real differences in experience based on identity and the very real and very violent consequences of those differences. In doing so, systems of oppression are also obscured to the benefit of society's most privileged. Post-speciesism, as with many ideologies, is also integral to the smooth operation of the capitalist system, the system from which all oppression originates.

Notes
1. Violence here is used interchangeably with oppression. Practically all human uses of other animals involve violence. Importantly, domestication itself is an act of violence. This violence can also be indirect, such as human-created pollution and ecological destruction that threaten free-living species.
2. Just as women can engage sexism against other women, Nonhuman Animals can engage speciesism against other Nonhuman Animals. Importantly, this discrimination must take place within the context of a human institution for the ultimate benefit of anthroparchy. For instance, horses and dogs are often used by humans to hurt or kill other animals and women are sometimes used by men to traffic prostituted girls and women or to produce or cast pornography. Otherwise, violence engaged by Nonhuman Animals in the realm of individual, or group-level prejudice, often as a strategy of survival. Nonhuman Animals that are biologically carnivorous would not be said to engage speciesism, as this is relegated to survival. The actions of lions, wolves, dolphins, etc. do not occur within institutions of speciesism as that of humans do. Nonhuman Animals that harm humans are not engaging speciesism for this same reason. 
3. Atlantic Hogs further facilitates this non-violent idyll by informing customers that veterinarians are present in the abattoir. Of course, veterinarians are associated with healing, nurturing, and life, which obscures the reality of suffering and violence that is taking place for human benefit.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

What the Confederate Flag Controversy Can Offer Abolitionist Vegans


Trigger Warning: Post discusses racism, sexism, and a number of other discriminations as well as the movement's defense over attitudes and tactics that engage them.

I grew up in a small town in rural Virginia. The Confederate flag was constantly present in my life. Some people hang the flag on their porch. Lots of "good ol' boys" have them plastering their trucks. My classmates regularly wore t-shirts featuring the flag to school. Civil War heritage is a huge thing in Virginia as well, probably because most of the war was fought in our state. I am and always have been a history nerd, and I even participated in Civil War living history events and "reenactments."

In graduate school as a young woman, the flag came up in discussion in a sociology theory class. The professor was using it as an example of how symbols become socially constructed and can have different meanings. He asked us who in the room was not offended by the flag. I am embarrassed to say, I was the only one that raised my hand. I was also the only person from a rural and poor background in the class (poor people where I come from don't go to college, and they sure as hell don't go to graduate school). I was acutely aware of that. I think like many who defend the flag, when outsiders criticize it, it is taken as another attack on poor, working class Southerners who, to be fair, still live with a substantial amount of structural classism. I believe I said something along those very cliche lines of, "It doesn't mean what you think it means. I don't see it as racist."

Cringe.

That happened over 10 years ago and I still remember it vividly because I am mortified by it. I thought I was thinking critically, but I was really just thinking about myself. But it's not about me is it? It's about how others are hurt by it. It's about the systems of oppression that are still ongoing, still disadvantaging, still costing lives.

Deep down, Southerners are not ignorant of this meaning. We know it's not just about Southern culture and working class pride. I remember just a couple of summers ago I was tubing the river in my county. I got ahead of the group and while I waited on the banks for my party to catch up, two older men, strangers to me, came up to me and started a conversation having recognized me through their friendship with my late father. While we were shooting the breeze, one of them made an off-hand comment about how they used to have a rebel flag hanging up on a tree by the river entrance to keep n*****s away. We didn't know each other, but I was white, which made them feel comfortable acknowledging this implicit meaning.

South Carolina's state capitol building was flying a Confederate flag until protesters removed it and pressured lawmakers to eventually remove it permanently.

For those keeping an eye on the news, the terrorist attacks on Black churches have inspired renewed contention over the flag's use, which has, in turn, inspired white defensiveness and counter-mobilization.

This is where I believe the ongoing controversy over the flag speaks to vegan mobilization. With the growing attention paid to the role of intersectionality politics in anti-speciesism spaces, there has been a lot of push back. Beyond the excuses ("We have to focus!" "Animals are suffering more!"), much of the resistance has to do with advocates taking personal offense when their approach is criticized: "I'm not racist! This tactic doesn't make me racist!" "This has nothing to do with violence against women!" "Speciesism is just like the Holocaust, that's how it really is!" etc.

But here's the thing: 

When we engage tactics that simulate the rape of women or show images and sounds of cows being raped as a scare tactic, we look like sexist jerks.

When white activists publish cookbooks from a stereotyped "thug" perspective and keep pushing the book despite protesting, we look like racist jerks.

When we insist over and over that veganism is "easy" when for so many living under structural oppression it absolutely is not easy, we look like racist and classist jerks.

When we belittle transgender persons for advocating for transgender liberation instead of prioritizing speciesism, we look like anti-trans jerks.

When we criticize obesity and post billboards mocking women of size for looking like "whales" with the intention of shaming them toward veganism, we look like sizeist jerks.

Who wants to join ranks with jerks?

It doesn't mean what you think it means? Image from the Diane Jones food blog.

Importantly, many abolitionist vegans engaging these problematic tactics have been exposed to patient explanations from people actually living under the oppressions themselves as to why these tactics are problematic. Yet, these vegans continue to defend these tactics with gusto, insisting that they aren't sexist/racist/classist/sizeist/anti-trans for doing so. Instead, vegan feminists are accused of reading too much into it, taking it too seriously, or looking to start trouble.

Advocacy isn't about our interpretation, though, an interpretation that inevitably comes from a position of relative privilege for a movement that is largely white-identified and middle-class. It's about the interpretation of those who are being hurt by our rhetoric, attitudes, and behavior. It's about those living with the consequences of our ignorance. Furthermore, if our goal is to grow our movement, shouldn't we be more concerned with the interpretation of others rather than our own? Isn't that the point of a social movement, to resonate with our audience?

Back in the 80s, Tom Petty went on his "Southern Accents" tour with a huge Confederate Flag hung behind the stage. After South Carolina voted to remove the flag from its capitol building, Rolling Stone asked Petty for a comment on his past behavior. I think his response sums up the problem with privileged whites and their ignorant protection of hate (intentional or not) rather well:
...when they wave that flag, they aren't stopping to think how it looks to a black person. I blame myself for not doing that. I should have gone around the fence and taken a good look at it.
A number of abolitionist vegans might consider the same.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Clarification on Evolve Campaigns Misquote

Just a quick note of clarification:

Evolve Campaigns has created and shared the following internet meme without my permission. In doing so, it has unfortunately misquoted me. The quote it has attributed to me actually derives from a 2013 guest contribution by Colin Donoghue. I have recently moved away from using "enslavement" language and I also find sweeping statements about nonvegans as "uncaring" to be extremely problematic given the ubiquitousness of structural barriers that severely restrict choice and access for many. I firmly believe that shaming/blaming language which obscures social inequality does our movement a disservice. Our vegan outreach should be sensitive to the intersectionality of oppressions to remain effective and ethical.




Monday, April 13, 2015

Art Therapy and Temple Grandin: At the Crossroads

By Lee Ann


When I first read the announcement that the American Art Therapy Association had invited Temple Grandin to be this year’s keynote speaker at our annual conference, I was shocked. After about a week of trying to process this information, my bubbling rage drove me to social media, calling AATA out for inviting a woman who has built a career on designing slaughterhouses, and partnering with animal agribusiness to destroy the environment, deplete natural resources, undermine public health, and exploit animals.

Initially, AATA seemed concerned with my opposition, not so much because they recognized they had made an error in judgement by inviting Grandin, but because I was making noise about it. Representatives from AATA promptly reached out to me. They listened to my concerns, but stated the keynote invitation would not be rescinded. I was strongly encouraged to attend the conference, and was offered an opportunity to have an individual meeting with Grandin. Having read some of her writings, I have a handle on her belief that animals are here for people to “humanely” exploit, which means any conversation would end with a cordial agree-to-disagree. Everyone and their mother-in-law rationalize animal exploitation, so I don’t need to hear her version of that first hand.

I was also told I could express my concerns at the social justice working group breakout session, and I was invited to join said working group. I asked for an opportunity to present an opposing position to the larger conference audience, not just the small social justice session, and I was denied. It seemed that the AATA representatives were also quite keen to learn what actions I might take moving forward. My general impression was that they recognized my criticisms as valid, but due to their refusal to rescind the invitation to Grandin, they wanted to keep me contained, which frankly, just made me angrier.

In the midst of this, it’s important for me to express that I love being an art therapist. While I have not always fully supported all the actions of my professional organization, they have been a source of community, and generally, I think they are trying to protect the interests of all who offer or receive art therapy, as well as steer the profession into the future, despite a difficult socioeconomic-political climate. I wouldn’t be a member if I didn’t want to support them, or if I thought it wasn’t to my advantage. My belief in AATA and the art therapy profession has been greatly challenged by their partnership with Grandin though.

In the weeks following the initial announcement, and the phone conversations with AATA representatives that occurred shortly thereafter, I have continued to use social media in hopes of generating interest among colleagues, finding allies willing to speak out against AATA’s invitation to Grandin, and eliciting an apology from AATA to its members. Sadly, except for a couple of colleagues who I would say are supportive from the sidelines, my colleagues have remained silent, which I understand might be because people are unsure how to respond, but the net effect is that I feel bewildered and alone. To point at what seems such a clear injustice to me, and perceive everyone as remaining in the neutral position, has been unnerving. Since I’m the lone voice of dissent, it appears that AATA is content to ignore me. As such, I was compelled to write this essay, partly as an expressive outlet about an issue that has been emotionally unsettling, and partly with the intention of reaching both art therapy colleagues and fellow animal rights activists who might find a call to action in my words.

My efforts to gain clarity and articulate all that is wrong about AATA partnering with Grandin led me to start digging into intersectionality. One of the most disturbing aspects of Grandin’s narrative about animals is the role of disability, a term I use with the disclaimer that I have read conflicting opinions about whether it demeans or empowers those whose abilities are not represented by the majority. It likely goes without saying that she wasn’t invited to be keynote because she kills animals for a living; she was invited because she has autism, participates in autism advocacy, and can be called “successful” by majority standards due to her academic and professional accomplishments within the context of having autism, a description I use loosely since her work is contingent on killing animals. Since I’m new to intersectionality, my assessment might be a little rough around the edges, but Grandin asserts that her disability enables her to identify with cows, who are differently abled compared to humans. Ironically though, she plays the I’m-less-differently-abled-than-you-are power card to justify committing violence against them, rather than recognize them as beings with inherent rights, perpetuating the notion that it’s natural and justifiable to oppress beings whose abilities aren’t recognized as “normal” and consistent with the majority. The absurdity doesn’t stop there though.

Another point that has been alarming about AATA’s partnership with Grandin is the incoherent standards applied to individuals who commit violence against animals. If an individual presents to an art therapist with designs for slaughtering animals, this would be regarded as a red flag for psychopathology. The individual would be considered high risk for violence, not just towards animals, but also humans, and ongoing evaluation and treatment would be recommended. Grandin is an individual who does exactly that – develops designs for the systemic slaughter of animals – which undoubtedly requires a lot of creative thinking about how to “best” kill someone, yet, because she does it under the guise of “animal science,” in partnership with animal agribusiness, not only is her behavior deemed socially acceptable, but she’s welcomed with open arms to present to a group of mental health professionals, who would recommend treatment under different circumstances.


Aside from that matter of splitting hairs over pathological versus “acceptable” violence towards animals, the inconsistencies between what the art therapy profession should aspire to be, and how it presents itself in partnering with Grandin pile up. Animal product consumption is associated with several forms of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes, and the research linking it to health problems continues to amass. Art therapy is a well-regarded treatment for addressing the complex psychological issues of cancer patients. Inviting Grandin, partner with animal agribusiness, the products of which are associated with cancer, to speak to a group, some of whom treat cancer patients is a blatant conflict of interest. Additionally, research shows that slaughterhouse workers are at higher risk for substance abuse, and violent behavior, systemic mental health issues that the art therapy profession has a clear responsibility to alleviate, not perpetuate.

Another conflict of interest is evident when examining AATA’s document for standards of ethical practice. AATA delineates beneficence as one of art therapy’s ethical principles, yet they invited a keynote speaker whose entire career is devoted to violence towards animals, which inherently results in violence towards Earth, and violence towards humans. They reap what they sow, after all, but according to art therapy’s ethical guidelines, art therapists have a responsibility to not be complicit in causing harm.

This year’s conference theme, Bridging Cultural Terrain, is somewhat laughable when critically examined. Although terrain is used metaphorically, it behooves me to point out that our actual terrain is being utterly decimated by Grandin and her animal agribusiness partners. The lovely graphic representing the theme that illustrates conference-related materials even includes water under the bridge; it is widely known that California is in the midst of an unprecedented drought while 47% of their water supply goes towards animal agriculture. Furthermore, AATA’s complicity with carnism, the ideology that justifies the systemic oppression of animals, the lack of awareness of intersectionality, and their ease at dismissing my concerns as “not aligned with the majority of members” (paraphrased response from an AATA representative), completely contradicts AATA’s supposed efforts to advance a paradigm of inclusion, or as they like to say, Bridging Cultural Terrain.

I have ruminated over these ideas for weeks. I have lain awake at night trying to identify how to respond and affect change. I have cried, wondering how my professional organization and colleagues have seemingly shrugged off my concerns, leaving me feeling disregarded and marginalized for my belief system. Much like the cows who are victims of Grandin’s slaughterhouses, I am beside myself that my colleagues are calmly proceeding to their moral slaughter, blindly exacerbating multiple systems of oppression, unquestioningly led by AATA through the chutes of carnism, without being provided an updated, progressive, more inclusive view.

The AATA representatives were anxious to know my next move. I have a lot of ideas, but no specific plans. As the conference draws closer, I have amped up my social media protest, although AATA remains unresponsive. I’m wondering how to engage the animal rights community on this, not to challenge Grandin because she’s too invested in exploiting animals, but to challenge the art therapy community. Pardon my generalization, but art therapists aren’t exactly the Fox News watching crowd, so I think many could be open to broadening their circles of compassion. The profession requires creative, empathetic, sensitive, insightful, open-minded, critically thoughtful individuals, many of whom I hope will recognize the problems I have described. As far as I can tell, they haven’t been presented a coherent analysis, such as the one I’ve attempted to compose here, of why AATA should have a generous slice of vegan humble pie, and offer an apology to members. I hope that after considering the position I am presenting, people will begin to come forward to work with me to peacefully protest Grandin in the short term, but much more importantly, apply what can be learned from this debacle moving beyond the conference.

I’m guessing that the AATA representatives might be regretting that they encouraged me to attend the conference. I can’t say that’s not a fair response. Registration and related travel expenses are considerable, so that’s something I have to figure out, but aside from that practical matter, as much as I loathe the idea of giving them money so they can pay Grandin’s hefty fee, I feel like it could be my best opportunity to properly protest. The emails from AATA touting “record breaking registration” churn my stomach as I imagine my colleagues falling over themselves to be graced by the presence of the animal agribusiness’s golden girl with her ludicrous narrative that autism has given her magic powers to know how cows really want to die. On behalf of the environment, and human and nonhuman animals, I feel like I should be there.

Regardless of what I do next though, I’m reminded that art therapists, despite the unique qualities that led them to dedicate themselves to a career of service, are just like everyone else, myself included until I made the transition to veganism. Like everyone who isn’t raised vegan, they adhere to an unrecognized, unexamined carnist ideology, hungrily subscribing to devastatingly incoherent narratives, such as those offered by Grandin, as a means of silencing any emergent misgivings about slaughtering animals for pleasure. It’s an alluring fairy tale, but a fairy tale nonetheless, and we must subject it to critical examination.

If the art therapy community is truly dedicated to Bridging Cultural Terrain, we have a responsibility to do better, to live lives characterized by justice for all, to recognize that our choices affect others, and to act accordingly. I urge the art therapy community to be less star struck by Grandin, and more dumbstruck that she was invited without full consideration for how the harms she perpetrates contradict all we should aspire to be.

Note
This essay weaves together ideas that are clear to me, as well as ideas I’m still working through. Although my conscious intention was to use the crossroads as a metaphor for where the art therapy profession can go in response to the keynote speaker issue as described in the essay, I’m also deep in thought about my own place at the crossroads, trying to make sense of where I am going as an art therapist.


This essay was originally published by Avocados and Glitter on April 11, 2015.

Lee Ann is an artist, art therapist, vegan, doctoral student, type 1 diabetic, wife, and dog mom. She writes about veganism, creative pursuits, professional pursuits, recipes, social justice, intersectionality, feminism, life, and whatever feels blog-worthy.