Book Review: Confronting Animal Exploitation: Grassroots Essays on Liberation and Veganism, Kim Socha and Sarahjane Blum, eds. (2013)

June 17th, 2013 12:55 pm by Kelly Garbato

Abolitionist Vegan Voices from the Trenches of the Twin Cities

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: at my request, the publisher provided me with a free copy of this book for review.)

Born of a beautifully simple idea, Confronting Animal Exploitation: Grassroots Essays on Liberation and Veganism provides a platform for everyday, in-the-trenches animal activists to share their stories. More specifically, these author-activists all live in or around Minnesota’s Twin Cities and subscribe to the abolitionist vegan perspective (even if not all of the contributors label themselves as such). The result is a captivating, surprisingly diverse collection of essays that addresses myriad aspects of the animal liberation movement, from the obvious (welfare reform and “humane” meat; the problems with capitalist models of reform; the alienation of being a vegan in a non-vegan world) to connections seemingly obscure (animal-friendly themes in Stephen King’s oeuvre).

The essays in CAE are grouped into four themes: Theory for Praxis, Veganism in Action, Narratives of Change, and Moving Toward Revolution. Those already involved in the animal liberation movement will no doubt see a name or two that they recognize. Longtime activist Dallas Rising, for example, kicks off the anthology with an examination of why so many people actively choose to ignore the suffering of nonhuman animals (“Turning Our Heads: The ‘See No Evil’ Dilemma”). Perhaps the most frustrating roadblock encountered by activists, she attributes this willful ignorance to ethnocentrism, a fear of social ostracism, and the pain inherent in recognizing such traumas: we are at once perpetrators and victims of animal exploitation – an idea expertly grounded in Judith Herman’s classic text Trauma and Recovery. Rising’s second contribution – “Tales of an Animal Liberationist” – is at once inspiring and heartbreaking, and highlights the power of personal narratives in changing hearts and minds (and hopefully behavior as well).

In a community in which BBQ fundraisers and meat-based “Spay-ghetti and No Balls” dinners are the rule rather than the exception, vegans who work with companion animal rescue groups are no strangers to this disconnect. People who break their hearts and empty their bank accounts to save dogs and cats think nothing of selling the dead and dismembered bodies of cows and pigs to fund their efforts – and please their own palates. Melissa E. Masske makes a moving argument for sticking it out in such situations, both because animal rescue is a rewarding and effective form of direct action in and of itself – and to introduce “animal people” to the tenets of veganism (“Introducing Speciesism to the Rescue Community”).

Also enjoyable is Al Nowatzki’s “Vegan Parenting: Navigating and Negating Speciesist Media.” Nowatzki (of the family-oriented blog These Little Piggies Had Tofu) identifies three types of speciesism (overt, easygoing, and unintentional) in media aimed at children and offers practical advice for fellow parents and guardians trying to navigate these troubled waters. He includes a thoughtful critique of Roby Roth’s children’s book That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals, which illustrates how even well-intentioned media can sometimes prove problematic.

As a lifetime Stephen King fan (one of my earliest and most treasured childhood memories is of my father, reading to my younger brother and my 6-year-old self on a warm summer night in our family’s cabin in the Adirondacks, from the pages of Pet Sematary), I was pleasantly surprised by the mere existence of Patrick McAleer’s piece, “Literary Analysis for Animal Liberation: Stephen King’s Animal Kingdom.” It’s so liberating to know that I’m not alone in reading animal-friendly themes into SK novels! (Although I thought that a longer look at Under the Dome was warranted, especially given the upcoming mini-series. Not to give away the ending, but it touches upon a hypothetical long posed by animal rights activists, namely: if alien beings suddenly touched down on earth, would their superior intelligence grant them the right to oppress us?)

The major drawback with Confronting Animal Exploitation lies in its uniformity of contributors: not in their anti-welfare reform views, as proposed by pattrice jones in an otherwise-enjoyable afterward (for this was one of the prerequisites for inclusion, was it not?), but in their racial makeup. As editor Kim Socha notes in the introduction, “We are all white.” (Emphasis hers.) To their credit, Socha and co-editor Sarahjane Blum identify this lack of diversity as problematic from the outset, even if there “are no immediate answers.” Many of the essays contained within these pages have an intersectional bent, with the linking of feminism and animal liberation being the most common connection made.

To that end, if I were to recommend just one essay to my fellow activists, Kim Socha’s “The ‘Dreaded Comparisons’ and Speciesism: Leveling the Hierarchy of Suffering” would be it. Socha offers a thoughtful and nuanced critique of comparisons between human and non-human exploitation and suffering. Though she doesn’t always find such associations incorrect or even inherently offensive, she does caution activists against doing so – or rather doing so without careful consideration and an understanding of all the variables in the equation (*cough* PETA *cough*):

“In a speciesist culture, humans will always win the gold medal in the Oppression Olympics. Thus, loaded trans-species terminologies attempt to shed light on animals’ current woes without showing any understanding of the historical and contextual circumstances of other oppressed groups. I am not claiming the comparisons invalid in every situation, but acknowledging their limits and looking for ways to make those powerful associations more nuanced and productive.” (page 226)

In short: “Trans-species analogies are not fast food activism.” (page 237)


2013-04-30 - Kaylee's Reads - 0008

Wish you were here, baby girl.

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