Finding Common Ground on the Battlefield: Veganism in the Capitalist Game
Veganism, a multi-tiered battle, is itself a tier in the fight against Capitalism, a system perpetuated by those with power exploiting those with less. With the keystone argument behind veganism being the pathos support, it is easy to see the similarities between the exploitation of animals and the use-abuse relationship that Capitalist America has with its consumer populations.These abuses include, but are not limited to the peasant class laborers in South America that the US has funded wars to keep in servitude, the trans folks that must participate in sex work to make a living, the people of color that were all too recently second class citizens in legislature, and the women that must fight the inherited sexist measures of their value. Through this lens, going vegan is an explicit statement to not endorse a system that uses cold-blooded oppression and abuse to support its elite.
Capitalism exploits us all.
Animals are just the last to move towards inclusion within humanity’s moral barriers. Not the first to draw this comparison, Alexander Cockburn summarizes Jeremy Bentham’s criticism of society’s conceptualization of animal rights, drawing “comparisons between the rights of animals and the rights of slaves”. Women, once viewed as the property of their husband, went through the same process of being deemed human enough to be of moral concern and awarded the freedom of autonomy. The most recent to be fully included as complete beings, African Americans, have endured centuries of propaganda claiming they are too ethically numb to comprehend mistreatment, and countless other denigrations to justify their enslavement. LGBTQ+ individuals are currently being included within the boundaries of both political and social acceptance, and are still being subjected to dehumanizing treatment by others. When it comes down to it, the common ground all of these human animals share with non-human animals is an ability to suffer. Genitalia, skin color, and other identity markers will never obscure that fact; animals are no different and the world is just beginning to wake up to the holocaust that has been occurring under its nose.
Susie Coston, the National Shelter Director of Farm Sanctuary, comments “all social justice movements over arch…they’re fighting because there’s a group, no matter how large, that is superior over another group…and because that being is being exploited, or injured, or treated horribly or not allowed to have a life …and those are the things that we’re all fighting for”. Whereas the identity politics front is mainly battling for recognition by Congress and straight white people, animals are dying at the hands of an economy that everyone participates in — oftentimes by necessity. Millions of Americans below the poverty line live in food deserts where access to vegan options is too restricted to ever be a possibility, much less a consideration for a struggling family. Big businesses concerned only with profit don’t speak in compassion, which is probably why the American economy relies on overseas slave labor for its hard materials, produce, and resources. These corporations operate on stereotypical consumer demographics that perpetuate discrimination in our societal hierarchy. From the enslaved four-footed to the abused bipedal, “the biggest connection is the exploiters.” (Coston)
The Multi-Tiered Approach
Essentially, we’re all battling the big businesses that profit off of oppression; because Vegans and Plant Based proponents are working directly against big-business corporations, they constitute a tine amongst the identity politics fighters. According to Coston, “the big dairy farms are untouchable,” legally speaking. Currently, tax payer money (approx. $20 million) goes to subsidies that buy excesses of dairy products - “we subsidize the dairy industry… to dump their product, like when they’re not making enough money, they can dump millions of gallons of milk” to keep the costs of dairy products as they are, rather than mirror the surplus supply by lowering costs. In translation, even if the consumer basis for dairy products dramatically decreases, these conglomerates will continue to survive on taxpayer dollars, because they are backed up by the government. Coston elaborates, “there has to be groups that focus on the legal end, because if you don’t change those subsidies, the rest of the movement doesn’t matter. If you get a strong backing of people that stop consuming meat/eggs/dairy for environmental, ethical and health reasons, but the government still bails out these big corporations for their excesses, the industries still survive.” This is why a multi-tiered approach is required. There needs to be allies on the legal side, as well as on the many concerns of animal consumption: what’s best for the environment and for human health, as well as what’s ethically responsible for the animals.
Within the vegan movement, however, there is dissent — just as there is within the identity politics movement and the feminist movement — which holds back progress towards mutual goals. “We have a tendency in the movement to say ‘that’s a compromise, f*** that’,” comments Coston, on the tensions that arise between different approaches. As the director of a sanctuary for animals rescued from factory farms and backyard butchers, to endorse a team of lawyers fighting for legislative baby steps towards cage-free animals that will still be exploited for their bodies is a major compromise. Yet, on the flip side of the coin, Coston mentions that these legal teams are the first to retort that “sanctuaries are a waste of money.” Farm Sanctuary, for example, has a connection-oriented approach to the collective goal of shutting down factory farms, in which visitors can interact with the residents — “‘get to know the animal, tell their story, meet them, see them as sentient’,” in Coston’s words. From the Farm Sanctuary perspective, because they have this specific pathos approach, its easy to displace the anger associated with the meat industry on the people championing cage-free rather than a corporation, like Tyson. “Even if you don’t agree with one of those tiers…and it is a compromise. Somebody else in another group can do that [push only consumption of cage-free meat & eggs, for example] and it might be very effective,” says Coston, “we need to be multi tiered and just really need to stop obsessing over each other”.
Time for Reflection
Wherever you fit into this ongoing battle, it’s worth taking into account those that you are fighting among. How do you refer to those around you who are oppressed differently? Do you support them, or grapple for the spotlight? Identifying similarities between oppressed groups has been shown to promote cohesion, and when it comes down to it, whether you’re a vegan or a carnist, your ultimate goals may look very similar to that of your neighbor. Marginalized groups, facing internal intersectional struggles, are all fighting the boundaries of capitalism and the exploitation of the powerless. Every injured voice that can be heard is shouting for inclusion; open your ears and see the bleating.