reviews

Book Review: Animals as Persons

Animals as Persons: Essays on on the Abolition of Animal Exploitation¬†was released May 23rd, but it has taken me a while to finish reading Gary L. Francione’s latest book because I’m perpetually swamped lately. However, working it into my ridiculous schedule was relatively easy, in part because the book is comprised of individual, self-contained essays that allowed me to conveniently break my reading up into manageable sessions as time permitted. You might find this helpful as well. While the essays range in length, none of them are terribly long (particularly after the first two), and together they all provide an excellent and highly readable introduction to Professor Francione’s abolitionist theory of animal rights. If you are one of those people who have put off reading his earlier books due to time constraints or for any other reason, this might be an ideal place to start.

I recommend not skipping over the introduction, particularly if you’ve never read Francione before. In it, he gets right to the pivotal assertion that the animal advocacy movement is, in effect, two very different movements: one that seeks to abolish animal exploitation by eradicating the property status of animals, and the other a movement that seeks the regulation of animal-using industries while failing to effectively challenge the property status of animals.

He expands on the core concepts of abolitionism in the first chapter, “Animals as Persons.” That essay is itself a relatively brief but thorough presentation of Francione’s theory as developed more fully in Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog? (ITAR) While it is not a substitute for reading that book, “Animals as Persons” is a very clear essay that will quickly have you up to speed on the basic concepts.

The next chapter is an essay called “Reflections on Animals, Property, and the Law and Rain Without Thunder.” In it, Francione responds to various critics who have argued that the property status of animals does not necessarily prevent advocates from improving animal welfare, and that animal welfare regulation is an effective way of moving incrementally toward recognition that animals have more than the value that we assign to them.

You don’t necessarily need to have read the two books to appreciate “Reflections,” though I’m sure I got more out of it because I had. I found the essay particularly interesting because Francione deconstructs real-world legislation such as Florida’s gestation crate ban and California’s foie gras ban. While he frequently deconstructs current events on his blog, as he did with the announcement that KFC Canada would adopt a controlled-atmosphere killing policy, these case studies offer new readers relevant and useful applications of his abolitionist theory.

In his third essay, “Taking Sentience Seriously,” Francione focuses on flaws in the “similar-minds” theory, a critical analysis all the more relevant in light of news that Spain’s parliament plans to extend legal rights to life and freedom for great apes. Based as it is on cognitive abilities rather than sentience, this pending legislation is a case in point for Francione, so you’ll definitely want to read chapter 3 if you don’t know why this seemingly good news is a bad precedent for animal rights.

Returning to his critics, chapter four’s essay, “Equal Consideration,” focuses specifically on Cass Sunstein’s review of ITAR, in which he claims that Francione fails to justify why animal advocates should not focus on regulating human treatment of animals rather than abolishing animal use. This gives Francione an excellent opportunity to point out some fatal flaws in Sunstein’s thinking, along with that of Jeremy Bentham and Peter Singer, who seem to believe that some sentient beings have no interest in continuing to live, despite the logical implication that their very sentience gives these animals an interest in continued existence.

Francione’s fifth essay examines the justifications for vivisection, which he also covers in IATR (along with descriptions of numerous specific experiments). Here, too, he observes that even if there is some plausible empirical claim for necessity, this form of animal use cannot be morally justified. “The Use of Nonhuman Animals” is one of the clearest, most concise critiques of vivisection I have read, from both the empirical and moral points of view. While the empirical section should be sufficient in and of itself to clear up any confusion as to whether vivisection is as valuable as is usually claimed, Francione footnotes our way to additional resources, and of course he follows this up with a moral critique that is impossible to refute without engaging in hypocrisy.

His next essay, “Ecofeminism and Animal Rights,” is actually a 1996 review of Beyond Animal Rights: A Feminist Caring Ethic for the Treatment of Animals, in which he examines arguments made against animal rights and for an “ethic of care.” Like Cass Sunstein’s review of IATR, essays in Beyond Animal Rights suggest that we do not need to end the institutionalized exploitation of nonhuman animals in order to include them within the moral community, and even go as far as to actually legitimize that exploitation, ironically perpetuating speciesist hierarchy at the same time that they condemn the rights view as hierarchical. Francione swiftly and effectively counters these views.

Finally, Francione turns his attention to perhaps the world’s best-known animal rights author and philosopher, Tom Regan, who in his seminal The Case for Animal Rights makes a sustained, comprehensive, and complex philosophical argument for animal rights. In the course of his argument, which can be seen as a case for which criteria are valid for inclusion in the moral community, he presents the “lifeboat case” as an example of a conflict between rightholders. The lifeboat case is a hypothetical scenario Regan resolves in part by claiming that death is a greater harm to humans than it is to nonhumans such as dogs. Francione critiques this view with “Comparable Harm and Equal Inherent Value,” a 1995 essay updated with a 2008 postscript to respond to the new preface Regan wrote in 2004 for the second edition of The Case for Animal Rights, in which he responded to critics of his lifeboat example.

One of the few drawbacks of gathering together all these different essays is that, even though the case studies and responses to specific criticisms may prompt you to understand Francione’s abolitionist theory more clearly, you frequently end up reading the same thing you’ve read elsewhere in his work, including other essays in this book, and sometimes nearly even verbatim. However, it is that very deja vu experience that reminds you how so many supposedly different debates always come back to the fundamentals, which we would do well to learn… and that may just be the reason Francione keeps repeating them.

In recapping his abolitionist animal rights theory and defending it with such precision, clarity, and authority, Gary Francione successfully reasserts the view that nonhuman animals will not be meaningfully protected from unnecessary harm so long as they are considered human property, and that welfare reforms or variations on the theme are incapable of leading to their emancipation. Animals as Persons is a must-read for anyone claiming to support or to even simply be interested in animal rights. Right now you can purchase it and all Columbia University Press animal studies titles at a steep 50% off until August 1st.

While you await your copy, you can read the publisher’s interview with Francione and listen to his most recent interview (part 1) on Vegan Freak Radio (part 2).

I like to hear from you. Comment below or email me.

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Thanking the Monkey

For today’s entry, I originally set out to review Thanking the Monkey: Rethinking the Way We Treat Animals (Harper Collins, 4/29/08, $19.95), a forthcoming book written by my friend, Karen Dawn, but I ended up churning out a somewhat rambling essay instead, which some of you faithful readers may have come to expect from me anyway. At this rate, publishers are going to stop sending me books.

Karen’s activism was influential at a certain point in life when I found myself getting involved in animal rights activism (and it’s clear from this book that she intends for a great many other people to get involved in some form of animal activism as well). While we certainly share a number of opinions, and she has written plenty with which I can agree, Thanking the Monkey illuminates various ways in which I have come to see animal rights and AR activism differently from Karen.

Despite her efforts to remain as accessible to as many potential readers as possible–and, for the most part, I think she succeeds here–there are many who will likely reject the book out of hand due to a fundamental difference between her “loose” definition of animal rights and those who take animal rights very much to heart as an ethical matter. It’s no surprise, then, that Karen specifically addresses abolitionism very early on (page 5, “Anti-Welfare Warriors”), though it may be more surprising to some that elsewhere in the book she quotes one of the more outspoken proponents for the abolitionist approach, lawyer, philosopher and professor Gary L. Francione. For those just arriving to the party, abolitionism is summarized by Francione as “a nonviolent approach to animal rights that (1) requires the abolition of animal exploitation; (2) is based only on sentience and no other cognitive characteristic, and (3) regards veganism as the moral baseline of the abolitionist approach.”

I’m not implying that self-described abolitionists will reject this book or be concerned about the impact it might have on readers solely because of this particular passage, thought it does unfairly and incorrectly suggest to readers that abolitionist animal rights activists (ARAs) are “anti-welfare” (not to mention “warriors”, which belies the peaceful foundation of abolitionist ideology). After all, I don’t know any animal activist actually opposed to a meaningful reduction in suffering for any being. Abolitionist advocacy is at odds with welfare advocacy not because it’s “easier to persuade people to stop eating veal while calves are crept in crates and deprived of iron,” as Karen puts it, but because pursuing husbandry reforms as an animal rights activist is defective on both empirical and ethical grounds.

It may well be the case that animal products with “humane certified” labels are more likely to be perceived as ethically acceptable food choices by the public, which may indeed make it more difficult to convince people on certain grounds that animals are harmed when we use them as a means to our ends. But that does not dissuade the abolitionist who knows that, as long as animals are subjected to commodity status by humans, they will continue to be harmed. No, the point is not that husbandry reforms make the job of ARAs harder, or any similar such dubious claim. That point is that husbandry reforms implicitly and explicitly claim that animal use can actually be made humane and, thus, animal rights is rendered moot. For an ARA, it simply makes no logical or ethical sense to promote a “gentler” use of animals that reinforces their status as human property while simultaneously claiming to oppose their use.

So here we have the primary reason most abolitionist ARAs are likely to dismiss Thanking the Monkey. In taking a relatively “loose” view of animal rights, Karen and others in the field of animal protection have stopped advocating animal rights altogether. As she writes, if the world were to go vegan, like Matthew Scully (author of Dominion), “would it matter, at least to the animals, whether or not he spoke about rights?”

Certainly animals don’t have any idea what a moral or legal right is, at least as far as we know. I’m certain, if they could answer us, they would ask us to simply leave them alone. But isn’t that the point of animal rights? It isn’t about their perceptions. It’s about their liberation. If everyone went vegan, of course there would be no profit in commodifying animals. And, certainly in such a world it would likely be easier to pass a law actually granting animals the right not to be used instrumentally. But, how can we ever expect the whole world to go vegan when the “animal rights movement” itself plays down the importance of veganism, and when the majority of activism centers around modifying the treatment of animals, rather than opposing their use altogether?

This “humane movement” has turned the animal rights movement into a loud call to reduce suffering, an honorable cause to be sure, but one which does not ask that people go vegan, and which does not even challenge the use that makes their suffering inevitable. Yet animal exploitation will not be abolished while all our attention is focused on how they are treated, and as long as the assumption that their use is justified goes unchallenged. It is this very assumption that is at the root of the problem that ARAs seek to address.

Over the past year or so, AAFL has made more of an effort to focus better on the roots of animal exploitation, which has led me to a greater awareness of what “animal rights” really means. At least two years of my life as an animal rights activist was spent doing work that, as I later understood, had nothing to do with animal rights. Sure I was raising awareness of institutionalized animal cruelty and promoting veganism, but I didn’t even fully understand or express the concept of “animal rights” until just over a year ago. You can imagine how floored I was once I actually “got it”, when I realized that “animal rights” activism as I had previously understood it was actually welfare activism, the pursuit of husbandry reforms within animal agribusiness, not advocating the basic moral right of animals to be free of unnecessary and harmful human domination.

Unsurprisingly, many activists within the “animal rights movement” are caught up in the welfare paradigm of “animal rights”. So many of us became vegan and got interested in helping animals due to the efforts of organizations that conduct these husbandry reform campaigns, which seems to have led to a type of circular thinking along the lines of “That’s how I went vegan, so it must work. Why fix something that isn’t broken?” The problem is that, while some people are disgusted enough by institutionalized cruelty toward animals that they go vegan as a result of husbandry reform campaigns, the actual animal rights message is left out, and activists end up spinning their wheels chasing after the myriad forms of suffering caused to animals that will continue so long as their use goes unchallenged.

I know that, when I went vegan, I didn’t have any real clue about animal rights, and part of the reason is because no one seemed to be talking about it. I figured, like so many others, that if the people at “animal rights” organizations call themselves animal rights activists, what they do must be what ARAs do, so I followed the recommendations of those who had been around for a long time and surely knew better than myself what I should be doing. And, hey, who doesn’t want to end animal suffering?

I didn’t understand the root causes of all this animal suffering until later on. Like other new activists, I was under the impression for a time that the best and most “pragmatic” way to help animals now was to pursue an agenda that focuses on means-to-an end tactics and panders to public sentiment, whether it be the health argument, the environment or reducing animal suffering. I’ve even been at a demonstration where one activist got in everyone’s face and loudly claimed that they’d never need Viagra if they only went vegan. It was offensive and embarrassing. All these approaches ignore the issue of animals’ rights altogether, apparently out of fear that the public will not relate or will tune them out. Of course, I saw a lot of people tuning out the Viagra message, too.

It’s a little like a popularity contest, isn’t it? Don’t challenge the status quo if you want people to like you. Dilute yourself to the point where you won’t offend anyone’s sensibilities–play down any differences you might have–and you will find more people accepting you. By pandering to the public and keeping sights aimed so low, this conformist strategy appears to have worked for the humane movement, at least in terms of mainstream acceptance.

Animal welfare organizations have grown rather prominent and–dare I say?–influential, prompting a lot of back-patting and general sentiment that animals are being taken more seriously than ever, but in what way? And to what effect? We’ve seen no discernible shift toward a world that understands animal rights, much less one that embraces its ideals. The number of vegans in our society is still statistically insignificant–a rounding error, if you will. I do see a lot more attention around “conscientious omnivorism” and “humane” labeling, but certainly an ARA shouldn’t be promoting or otherwise endorsing the exploitation and consumption of the very animals they seek to protect.

Unfortunately, animal rights ideals have been misappropriated and misrepresented in the course of compromising “the message” to connect with a wider audience. As some in the “animal rights movement” will tell you, “animal rights” is a really just a catch-all term that doesn’t necessarily refer to the moral or legal rights of animals at all. Ironically, the so-called “father” of the animal rights movement, Peter Singer, does not even accept the concept of rights (Karen also points this out in Thanking the Monkey). Like many in the humane movement, Singer prefers to use the term “animal rights” as a handy rhetorical device, or a banner under which to operate dramatically in the public eye, which is a clear misrepresentation.

When polls indicate that a majority of the public agrees with certain AR views, what we are seeing is merely an agreement with the diluted, “loose” perception of animal “rights” as being anything meant to improve the conditions of animals exploited for human benefit. In effect, that sympathetic portion of the public associates AR with improvements in animal treatment, not the abolition of their use altogether (though traditional welfare advocates are doing their best to make sure that their constituencies are clear on what both abolitionists and new welfarists[1] ultimately want). Of course, the only people I’ve come across that disagree with improving conditions for animals are those primarily concerned with keeping the cost of their hamburgers, burritos and pizza low, no matter what the cost is to the animals.

Perhaps it’s these very people that have convinced many would-be animal rights activists that we shouldn’t be focusing on spreading abolition of animal use by promoting veganism and animal rights. After all, people like those described above will “never” go vegan, or so the story goes. Instead, we’re told we should be seeking to engage a broader population that agrees that factory farming is horrible and will support efforts to make animal agribusiness more “humane”. In this way, we will at least reduce the amount of suffering encountered by billions of animals every year. If, in the meantime, our campaigns manage to shock some of the more sensitive types into going vegan altogether, then so much the better.

But isn’t this backward? Shouldn’t animal rights activists be promoting veganism and, you know, animal rights? Shouldn’t husbandry reforms be a “side effect” of our work, as the industry responds to the inroads we’re making with veganism and AR, instead of veganism (and more often vegetarianism or “conscientious omnivorism”) being a side effect of “animal rights” activists promoting the consumption of less-cruelly-treated animals and their secretions?

Why would animal rights activists behave like traditional or “classical” welfarists when their end goal is abolition? New welfarists are doing the sort of work that you would think should be done by traditional welfarists and the industry or, in other words, by the very people who believe it’s acceptable to harm animals by using and killing them, so long as they lead “happy” lives in the span between their artificially-induced births and prematurely-induced deaths.

The ethically consistent stance of an ARA, on the other hand, is that it is never acceptable to harm sentient beings unnecessarily, and that our means should resemble our ends. We should not be partnering or otherwise aiding animal exploiters in profiting off the bodies and deaths of animals. We should clearly, consistently and rationally–even emotionally–promote veganism and animal rights together as inseparable concepts.

Surely if we lead unwaveringly with this stance, a society that is already horrified by a variety of unnecessary animal uses will eventually follow. By focusing consistently on veganism and AR as moral imperatives, we push the envelope, dragging everyone else behind us (despite some kicking and screaming), thus sparking reactionary husbandry reforms as the animal use industries vainly struggle to salvage their profits. This can be done without having to compromise our own vision and ethics in the process, and without resorting to the same “ends justify the means” mentality people use to rationalize animal use and consumption.

Just because it’s conceivable that a welfarist approach may someday meaningfully reduce some of the most egregious suffering caused to animals does not make it animal rights work. It’s welfarism, plain and simple. Now, new welfarists are obviously different from traditional welfarists in that, unlike the classical welfarists, new welfarists claim to seek abolition, but they do believe that continuing the centuries-long welfare tradition of attempting to reduce the suffering of institutionally exploited animals will somehow inexorably lead to animal liberation, or will at least pave the way for a world that accepts that animals ought to have rights.

This view has led people who once sought the complete abolition of animal use to pursue activism that is inconsistent with their belief that it is wrong to use animals, typically in order to achieve apparent compromises from industry. But this assumes that any sort of gain in the negotiations between animal exploiters and reform advocates results in progress for animal rights, which is simply not the case. These compromises are only accepted by the industry when they are good for PR or otherwise improve the bottom line, with very little exception.

The animal use industries will, of course, fight with every last dollar any action meant to totally abolish its use of animals. There are obvious, deep-rooted reasons of self-interest for this, not to mention fundamental ideological differences, and that is precisely why any “victory” claimed by “animal rights” advocates in this situation cannot be said to be a victory for animal rights. The only regulations with any chance of being approved are those which merely specify how animals may be used, not whether animals may be used for a given purpose in the first place.

What’s more, much new welfarist activism actually supports the efforts of classical welfarists and even the animal use industries itself. Examples include partnering with or applauding “humane” label certification programs, generating reports to demonstrate how certain husbandry reforms are more efficient and profitable, publicly honoring slaughterhouse designers, and promoting companies like Wolfgang Puck and Burger King, which traffick almost exclusively in the flesh and secretions of sentient beings. These campaigns make it rather hard to tell the difference between the new welfarist and the traditional welfarist.

Now, this isn’t to say that those working at organizations who partner with agribusiness don’t personally believe in abolishing animal exploitation. Clearly many of them believe that, somehow, by engaging in these compromises and trade-offs that keep animals entrenched as property in an exploitative system, they will someday get them out of it. But it just doesn’t add up, logically, nor in terms of moral consistency. I don’t write these things to belittle or otherwise denigrate anyone’s beliefs or the work they have done and continue to do to try to help animals. However, I think it is vitally important for all of us to think very critically about our activism, and how we go about living animal-friendly lives, and that is why I am asking you to strongly consider my words.

Regulating animal enterprise’s treatment of animals does not address the fact that they are being used in the first place, which is of course the root of the problem. We cannot solve the problem without addressing it directly. Using the closest human example of slavery as an analogy, requiring slave owners to exploit their property more gently would have done nothing to get slaves out of servitude. While slaves might have welcomed a gentler whip, or a cap on the number of lashings they might have received per day, they would still have remained the property of other human beings and, as property, their interests in pretty much anything would have remained necessarily subservient to those who owned them, even the most “humane” masters.

Similarly, despite all the cries of victory when a husbandry reform is approved to phase out a particular method of animal treatment in, say, 10 or 20 years, such regulations (assuming they are not overturned or circumvented) do not lead to the abolition of animal use. Animal rights is not even on the table, and most welfare-oriented organizations–craving “legitimacy”–are eager to keep actual rights for animals away from the table, out of concern that AR is simply too radical a position to put forward for mainstream acceptance.

Of course, animal rights won’t come at the legislative level any time soon, and that will continue to be the case until a much larger percentage of the population accepts the moral right of all animals not to be treated as a means to our ends. But this doesn’t mean that ARAs are doomed to fail, or that we should set our sights on a completely different kind of activism. Laws are passed in response to voter demand, which of course changes over time. One day the public will be as outraged over the use of animals for unnecessary purposes like food, clothing and entertainment as they currently are about dog- and cock-fighting, but only if we convince people that such uses are morally similar, not if we give them the impression that certain uses are acceptable as long as they do not involve the most egregious cruelties.

The effect of demand holds true for the corporations that exploit animals as well, for obvious reasons. Some day, animal enterprises will either have to shift to a vegan model in response to evolving market pressures or fold. Of course, neither the laws nor the industry is going to move away from our current paradigm unless voters and consumers do. But public demand will not shift away from animal use as long as we settle for “Humane Meat,” “Free Range” eggs, etc. These labels, and other public relations “carrots” offered to animal exploiters, have the effect of promoting “gentle” animal use, which has lead to a rather profitable market segment characterized by people (including former vegans) who believe that it is acceptable to use and consume animals as long as they are not being treated certain ways. How can we say that this leads us to a vegan world?

In effect, the activism of some very outspoken (former) animal rights advocates has, on the surface anyway, become nearly indistinguishable from the traditional welfarism that existed in Western culture for hundreds of years before animal rights rose to prominence in the 1970s. A movement that once sought to banish the use of animals for any purpose now trades away the lives of some animals in expectation of reducing the suffering of others, figuring that those sacrificed for gains today can be addressed when the winds of change are more favorable to them. Such an approach may be expedient, but it assumes that this “pragmatic” trade-off will succeed in achieving narrowly defined goals, and it tramples all over the moral rights we claim to accept for all animals.

For instance, in order to help end the annual Canadian seal slaughter, the humane movement has traded away the interests of other sea animals who are considerably less cute and, thus, less popular with donors who want to keep eating animals and their secretions, but don’t see the value in killing baby seals. People are told quite plainly by animal activists (frequently called animal rights activists by the media) that, if they boycott Canadian “seafood”, but eat “seafood” from other regions, they will help save seals from being massacred.

Someday, this campaign may actually generate enough support to pressure Canada’s government into abolishing the seal hunt, but history has shown that to be fairly unlikely. In the meantime, “animal rights” activists are trading away the interests of fishes and other sea creatures to benefit seals, which is just fine by “cuddlytarian” supporters, who have nothing to lose. They don’t benefit from the exploitation of baby seals, so ending their slaughter doesn’t negatively impact them. But asking them not to eat any animals from the sea does, so that campaign is swept under a rug, presumably for a later day.

But if ARAs don’t stand up for animal rights and veganism now, who will? How will AR and veganism ever be widely accepted if we are constantly downplaying their importance or backing away from them? If we don’t fully embrace AR and veganism and “own” their ideals unapologetically, then we have given up before we ever started, and that’s a great way to sell ourselves, the animals, and our fellow humans short. When we tell people that the only obligation they have to animals is to reduce their suffering, when we tell them that veganism is too hard or even optional, and when we distance ourselves from the idea that using animals as a means to our ends is unnecessary and harmful to animals, we “give away the store”. What a pessimistic approach.

There is no way that path will ever lead to animal rights. It leads away from the abolition of animal exploitation, and we would do well to pull out our compass right now and reorient ourselves. To use another metaphor, we cannot build an abolitionist house on a foundation that views unnecessary animal use as potentially ethical.

So how do we build an abolitionist foundation?

Start by first understanding that animals will never be free from unnecessary harm so long as they are dominated by humans, regardless of how they are treated by some. Recognize that animals must be granted the right to not be treated instrumentally by humans if they are ever to be free from this subjugation. Our use of animals must simply be abolished. Of course, this means abolishing animal use in your own life by going vegan, if you haven’t already. This is very much living the idea of being the change you wish to see in the world.

Next, learn to discuss with others how their behavior is inconsistent with their belief that it is wrong to unnecessarily harm animals, and encourage them to also go vegan. Promote the view that using animals as a means to our ends violates their basic interests as sentient beings and that, as fellow sentient beings, we cannot tolerate this lack of respect and consideration.

Spread these views throughout your circle of influence as far as you can, as intelligently as you can, and with as much confidence as you are capable of mustering. You will be taken more seriously and, consequently, so will the animals for whom you advocate. A movement grounded in this level of respect, clarity and consistency is the only long-term path to abolition.

[1]Defined by Gary L. Francione as “animal advocates … who claim to embrace abolition as the long-term goal, but who argue that welfarist regulation in the short term is the only thing that we can, as a practical matter, do now to help animals.”

Review: Striking at the Roots

Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism
by Mark Hawthorne
O Books, $19.95 (Jan. 25, 2008)
282 pages

I recently started a three-part column over at TasteBetter.com, called “Opportunities for Activism.” What occurred to me after writing that column is that it’s not enough to simply outline various types of activism; you need to inform that activism with education, despite the “just do something” mentality that pervades the animal protection movement. It’s precisely that approach that keeps animal activists from focusing on the actual cause of all this suffering and cruelty that so many of us work so hard to fight.

As I was already working on my follow-up column, Mark Hawthorne’s new book, Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism, arrived in the mail. With a name like “Striking at the Roots,” you’d certainly expect that what lies between these covers will help activists better understand the basis for animal exploitation and eradicate it. Unfortunately, SatR does not fulfill these expectations.

Toward the end of the book, Hawthorne offers a quote from pattrice jones–an articulate, thoughtful activist whom I admire–in which jones discusses the value of multiple approaches in any given movement. The problem I have with using that quote in this book is that the animal welfare movement and the animal rights movement are distinctly different. The first focuses on improving the welfare of animals, while the second focuses on advocating moral rights for animals and one day securing their legal right not to be treated as a means for human ends (i.e., as property, entertainment, food, etc.).

An animal rights movement with a diversity of approaches applied toward securing rights for animals (i.e., tabling, leafleting, writing letters, demonstrations, public speaking, and so on) is indeed stronger than an AR movement that focuses only on, say, writing letters. What is missing, though, is the background required to know whether one is leafletting or demonstrating on behalf of animal rights or animal welfare. Despite the fact that most, if not all, of the various types of grassroots activism catalogued in SatR could be employed in the service of improving animal welfare or animal rights, there is virtually no discussion of the forces that perpetuate and encourage animal exploitation or how to address these forces, and therefore the book fails from the start to help animal activists truly strike at the roots of animal oppression.

Instead, the book relies heavily on long-time activists to make its recommendations, many of whom work for various national organizations. One such recommendation is for grassroots activists to focus on welfare campaigns while simultaneously downplaying the importance of animal rights rhetoric and education. Suggesting, for instance, that leafleting requires almost no background in the issues makes no sense. If an activist is confronted by a member of the public and does not have a strong grasp of animal rights, then there is very little that activist will do to advance the cause of animal rights in that moment. After all, the activist with no background in the issues doesn’t even really understand the concept of animal rights. Also, by not understanding whether the literature s/he is distributing addresses the use or the treatment of animals, s/he may not realize that s/he is doing little to expose or condemn the roots of animal exploitation, either.

Now, in his introduction, Hawthorne does draw a distinction between the animal rights and animal welfare movements, and notes that he is well aware of the divisions within the animal protection community over the appropriate path(s) to animal liberation. He understands that animals are “sentient individuals with their own interests” and “an intrinsic right to exist on their own terms, free from any human exploitation,” but he ends his intro with a call for reform. So despite this brief preamble, SatR winds up focusing on the symptoms of animal exploitation and avoids the root causes, an approach which could well harm the animal rights movement. The last thing animals need are more animal rights activists who don’t think about what they are doing and why. Too many animal rights supporters out there already have no idea that, in promoting welfare reforms, they are not doing anything substantatively proactive to help secure the rights of animals.

So, while Hawthorne has come up with a very practical guide to specific activities that could well be put into service of animal liberation–HSUS’s Paul Shapiro offers some tips on leafleting, for example, that are quite valuable, despite an earlier assertion that we should downplay animal rights rhetoric and instead focus on systemic abuses–a reader following SatR‘s suggestions to the letter would be promoting the interests of a humane or welfare movement, not the animal rights movement. Any successes activists have promoting veganism to reduce suffering or promoting legislation to reduce the most egregious forms of animal abuse in factory farming operations will leave the roots of oppression completely untouched.

Despite the assertions of many of the book’s participants, animal rights activists simply cannot afford to devote so many of our resources to reforming what are basically the symptoms of animal exploitation. It is the job of a humane reform movement to leverage society’s disapproval of animal abuse so that it can improve conditions for animals, certainly. But, if we are indeed concerned with the widespread adoption of animal rights principles, activists need to focus on shifting the perception of animals as things to be used in the first place, and that won’t happen as long as we do nothing to challenge this assumption. If we do address the roots of our society’s justifications for animal use–targeting its “might makes right” mentality and its sense of entitlement–animal abuse will necessarily be addressed. So it makes logical sense that animal rights activists ought to be striking quite literally at the roots of the oppression that allows cruelty to occur in the first place, rather than striking at the symptoms, and there are many ways to do that. It is important to recognize this, since we all have different interests and gifts that we can bring to bear on the problem.

So, go on: read the book. Get inspired with ideas for the types of activities in which you may want to participate on behalf of animal liberation, but be skeptical about suggestions you will find to limit rhetoric about animal rights or to focus heavily on welfare campaigns. If you really want to strike at the roots of animal oppression, you will thoroughly educate yourself about animal rights, you will seek to understand with greater clarity the forces that keep animals in abusive situations, and you will start to consider just what you ought to be doing and saying to raise this awareness in others, and how best to be doing it and saying it, in order to maximize your contribution to the wholesale shift in our society that we are going to need if we truly want to see an end to animal suffering.

For example–just to reference a handful of chapters–there’s no reason why, when leafleting, you can’t make a concise, sensible and accessible case for animal rights if you educate yourself well on the matter, rather than dwelling merely on reducing animal cruelty. There is no reason why your letters can’t take an opportunity to present animals as sentient beings with interests that matter. Tabling is an excellent opportunity to talk about animal rights in a coherent fashion, rather than simply glossing over the subject of use and focusing instead on the treatment of animals. Even demonstrations and protests can take a singular act or area of animal cruelty and use it as an opportunity to educate people about the root causes of this treatment, exposing the power dynamic of oppression that makes cruelty to other sentient beings possible, and why it is wrong. The section on food outreach is practical, and fairly agnostic, frankly, so there is much to be learned there.

You get the idea. I’m not one to throw the baby out with the bath water, as they say, but (despite my own participation in the book) I simply couldn’t have recommended Striking at the Roots for its practical aspects without first offering my opinion on how best to apply its suggestions, all the more so because I very much do believe that the most important activism we can perform is that which strikes at the roots.

Review: Making a Killing

Making a Killing: The Political Economy of Animal Rights
by Bob Torres
AK Press, $17.95
153 pages

A lot of animal activists like to say they want to address the root causes of animal exploitation, but few see past the symptoms (i.e., suffering). Even fewer see through the hierarchical justifications for using animals as commodities. But, with Making a Killing, Bob Torres has synthesized abolitionist animal rights theory and social anarchy to expose the commonalities of oppression (such as privilege and “might makes right”), to recommend an integrative, anti-speciesist approach to advocacy that eschews “lifestyle politicking” and narrowly focused approaches to animal (much less human) liberation, and to explain why–unlike so much other activism–promoting veganism as a means to the abolition of animal exploitation is actually consistent with that end.

The book is written accessibly for the most part (I found myself re-reading only a handful of paragraphs) and, at 153 pages, it’s a fairly quick read. As someone with almost no background in anarchism of any sort, a relatively solid foundation in abolitionist animal rights, and a real itch to undermine the root causes of oppression, I found Making a Killing to be a useful starting point for understanding the application of anarchist theory to animal rights. It builds solidly on the notion that the enslavement of nonhuman animals is made possible because of the hierarchical structures in our society that lead to the domination of animals and their exploitation as commodities, and it prescribes a change in our approach to social relations that undermines these structures and actively presents an alternate vision for the world that we can start living right now.

Though I don’t know many anarchists (at least, I don’t think I do), I got the sense that this would be a solid intro to animal rights for those already steeped in anarchist theory on the Left, but who have not yet given animals due consideration. For those unfamiliar with Bookchin, Kropotkin or even Chomsky, this may be a relatively simple introduction to how their ideas lend themselves to animal rights. For still others, this may represent their first occasion to grasp a theoretical foundation for why veganism makes so much sense, beyond the common knee-jerk response to animal suffering. For those unconvinced that capitalism itself is the crux of the problem, you will find yourself challenged by a scathing critique that indicts a system built on exploitation.

In addition to capitalism, Torres takes to task some rather sacred cows in the animal rights establishment, along with corporations that promote veganism as a consumerist, “ecosexual” lifestyle. Though some in the animal rights movement might well be taken aback, assuming they have missed out on much of the recent to-do over abolition versus what Gary L. Francione called new welfarism in Rain Without Thunder, I have yet to see any heated responses on this front. Please do share your comments with links below if you have come across any of this. I’m curious to read those reactions, as well as any other reactions to Making a Killing.

eat, drink & be vegan

As our vegan cookbook selection expands–for that matter, as the selection of vegan cookbooks on the market expands–my wife and I find ourselves using certain cookbooks more and some less… or not at all. As with vegan restaurants in cities like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, simply existing isn’t good enough anymore. You’ve got to be good to be competitive. This development is good for consumers and for veganism, since there’s no tolerance for lousy, difficult vegan food when there is plenty of good eating to be had.

eat, drink & be vegan, Dreena Burton’s latest cookbook, tops even her own first two books, The Everyday Vegan and Vive Le Vegan!. Dreena excels at concocting practical recipes that taste satisfying and–oh, by the way–happen to be pretty darn healthy. Bonus!

ED&BV is attractively designed and, like her previous books, focused on the practical, featuring dozens of helpful tips on getting your kitchen equipped (hint: none of these are fancy-schmancy Williams Sonoma items, and will serve you well no matter what book you’re cooking from), food preparation, and cooking and baking notes. Most of the recipes come with helpful tips and recommendations on pairing with other recipes in the book, as well as serving suggestions. Dreena will have you putting meals together like a pro.

While some ingredients may not be available in just any store (quinoa, agave nectar, arrowroot powder, etc.), overall ED&BV is one of the more accessible vegan cookbooks out there. The book doesn’t rely heavily on ingredients like these and, besides, most can be found at Whole Foods Markets, which are more ubiquitous than ever.

What I liked most about the recipes I read through and tried was how healthy the focus was. Dreena keeps it simple and focused on feeding yourself well without too much fuss. Even the sauces and gravies recommended to season things up rely on maple syrup instead of refined sugar, for instance. I feel like I could eat anything from this book and not have to worry that I’m splurging all the time.

My wife and tried a few entrees, including the Quinoa Chickpea Confetti Casserole (p. 140) with Balsamic Maple Sauce (p. 76). All I can say about that sauce is, move over teriyaki! It really made the dish. While the casserole itself is hearty and filling, it was relatively plain, but the recommended sauce knocked it out of the park.

I also really enjoyed the Roasted Red Kuri Squash with Gnocchi (p. 141). We did have one hiccup on this one, as the directions offer a range of 1-3 pounds of squash without adjusting the recipe according to the amount you have on hand. For people as literal as my wife and I, this meant that our 1 pound of squash was slightly overwhelmed by the rest of the recipe, particularly the lemon. However, it was still really good (we used linguine instead of gnocchi), and the Back to Basics Balsamic Vinaigrette (p. 77) we had with our side salad was the best I’ve ever had from a recipe, so I think we’re finally ready to stop buying bottles of dressing.

[UPDATE: Dreena has posted some helpful ED&BV edits to her cooking blog, including an explanation for the squash confusion. The publisher is already getting ready to do a second printing, so future editions will incorporate these corrections.]

ED&BV is definitely another everyday classic. I know my wife and I will be exploring this book from cover to cover for a long time to come, and I recommend it to anyone who wants to develop his or her repertoire of tasty, wholesome dishes you can feel good about, both for the animals and for your health.

With the recent release also of Veganomicon and The Joy of Vegan Baking, 2007 has proven to be a watershed year for vegan cookbooks. And, hey, just in time for the holidays!