The place that took their breath away

PGS7fd2_03gToday outside the slaughterhouse, I saw lungs on the ground. When the slaughterhouse workers saw those lungs, they saw trash. They saw something that could not be neatly packaged. They saw something that would reveal to shoppers that meat comes from someone who fought for every last breath, because they wanted to live, but whose life was stolen from them. They saw those lungs as trash and they tossed them outside, onto the grass. There were body parts everywhere, next to a river that was beautiful before it was poisoned by death.

Our first action when we are born is to inhale. This means that we are alive. We no longer depend on our mothers to give us everything (oxygen, food, water) through our umbilical cord, our lifeline. The last thing that we do when we die is exhale. Our lives are bracketed by breath.

Industry saw trash in those lungs. I saw theft. Vitality and life and hope stolen from someone who wanted to live just like us. We animals all breathe the same air, and we all need to be free.


guest posts, reflections

Guest Post by Tori Lion: On Disrupting Temple Grandin

Tori Lion is a committed vegan activist, artist, and academic living in Toronto, where she engages in community organizing with Toronto Pig Save and its sister organizations, Toronto Cow Save and Toronto Chicken Save. She identifies as part of the mad, autistic, and queer communities. She uses her creative works to instill ecological awareness and compassion for other animals.

Most parents of autistic girls hope that their daughters will grow up to be like Temple Grandin. Animals have enchanted me since before I remember anything, and I think that my mother must have imagined me politely shaking her hand one day, perhaps over hors d’oeuvres following a standing ovation in a crowded lecture hall. Among my presents for my twelfth birthday was one of her books, Animals in Translation. That was before I grew into who I am now, a lesbian who goes to slaughterhouses every week to lay my hands on the bodies of Dr. Grandin’s victims. I stroke their curls and watch as they struggle for the water bottles carried by my activist friends and I. My hands have been covered in the filth that coats every inch of their skin. In spite of their terror, they come to know me by running their catlike tongues over my fingers, by nibbling my mittens in the winter. The intimate senses have largely been maligned by Western philosophy, but I know the truth at least partly because of them.

Perhaps Dr. Grandin and I are similar because we both became who we are among the carnage of the stockyards. Traumatized and alienated from myself as a result of years of repression, I was invited to bear witness to cows awaiting the death machines one morning in January some time ago, and I never looked back. However, unlike Dr. Grandin, I knew that my community members and allies were those who looked out at me with bewilderment from behind metal slats, who mirrored my vulnerability and exchanged affectionate touch with me. The stench of their surroundings puts me in mind of skies blackened by ashes of bodies like mine gassed and incinerated as the culmination of eugenics projects; I wonder, do such thoughts ever occur to Dr. Grandin as she arrives at her places of work? She claims that she doesn’t have an unconscious, and she conveniently denies the animals she murders the ability to hear the screams from underground. I imagine that not being afflicted by the turmoil of the mind must make doing her job a lot easier. As someone cohabiting their location at the margins of normalcy and reason, I see my reflection in the wildness of animals; rather than acknowledging this, Dr. Grandin’s work is saturated with the language of eliminating resistance, of rendering her victims docile so that they can better fulfill their role as units of production. From her position on the catwalk, looking down with the gaze of mastery over nature, Dr. Grandin sees her victims blending smoothly into her machines. I am increasingly overcome with a burning desire to let Dr. Grandin know that she is wrong.

When Dr. Grandin makes a visit, I refuse to politely shake her hand. I take the stage with her, carrying a sign reading, “KILLING THE UNWILLING: NEVER HUMANE – GO VEGAN!”, which is promptly pulled from my hands. “Don’t believe the happy lie, animals do not want to die!”, I shout. “It’s not food, it’s violence!” I point at Dr. Grandin, yelling, “I’m autistic and I try to save animals from her every day!” Being dragged away by security, I’ve never felt simultaneously so ecstatic and so overwhelmed. Upon leaving the University of Guelph campus, I repeatedly yell, “I did it! I did it! I did it!”, out of breath. The release of energy is good and necessary.

The protesters occupying the lawn and sidewalk resume chanting, and I join them. Waiting within the walls of an academic institution built upon animal exploitation, the truth could be heard coming in from outside, much to the annoyance of Dr. Grandin, who ran outside to argue with my friends. A powerful feeling of joy had rushed through me. I knew that we were going to invade and crush down the walls of speciesism and crush down the walls of her slaughterhouses; she and her meatpacking audience could no longer be safe in there.

Dr. Grandin, I do not want to resemble you when I am an old woman. I look forward to further embracing my own animality, to use the words of pattrice jones, rather than learning to dispose of the animals who I claim to “love.” I don’t think that you could have predicted who I would become. I don’t think that you have been challenged before. Is that why you seemed so unsure of how to respond to me?

A large chalk drawing of Joshua the calf that Tori made on the sidewalk next to a Starbucks franchise in downtown Toronto as part of the International Day of Action Against Starbucks.


Radio Interview: “Love in abundance – on the intersections between queer human and non-human animal liberation”

AV logoA couple months ago, I did an hour-long radio interview on Animal Voices, a weekly animal liberation radio show that is focused on bringing critical perspectives to the animal rights and environmental justice movement. It was such a pleasure to speak with Dan and Vic (the co-hosts that day) and speak on such diverse topics as queer/trans/animal liberation, anti-racist animal rights organizing, prison abolition, and polyamory. I am including the questions they asked below, because I was so impressed by their thoughtfulness. Their questions enabled me to think through some ideas that I hadn’t even considered before.

Can you tell us about how you came into animal and queer activism?

Your direct action everywhere talk is called “trickle-up queer animal liberation” – in it, you refer to how trickle-down principles suggest that one must address the oppression of individuals closest related to the dominating group first, then move on to the next one. Trickle-up is the opposite, and claims that we must care about and help combat all forms of oppression, including/especially those furthest away from the “norm” – could you elaborate for us about why you advocate for trickle-up over trickle-down?

You refer to two types of messaging that is commonly repeated that says that some issues that non-human animals and queer individuals might encounter is that they might be seen as “cute”, which makes it so that only said “cute” animals are the ones that receive attention, and with the queer population, there are certain behaviours/identities that are maybe seen as more “digestible” to the mainstream heteronormative ideal – how does this homogenization harm liberation?

I really like what you said in the talk about not understanding queer and non-human animal lives as “tragic beings”. I’ve had conversations in the past about this, especially about NH animals, because when we see factory farm footage for example, there’s a tendency to perhaps see “the life as a chicken” as one of misery, but in the right conditions, a chicken could be very happy. Would you be able to unpack the idea of the “tragic being” a little more, and how is this view projected in queer individuals?

On a related note, when we do talk about violence, we often do fall into the pitfalls of the above two issues we just discussed about valuing certain lives over others, and/or focusing on the violence rather than the inherent value of the individual experiencing said violence. You are with the Colorado Anti-Violence Program – would you be able to speak on your strategies for addressing/working against violence?

What resources are out there for those who have either experienced, or witnessed violence, and are there ways we can perhaps reach out to those who are either perpetrators, or are hesitant to take a stand if they don’t necessarily feel personally affected (and of course it is possible that people can be on both sides of this issue as well)?

Let’s talk about the idea of bodily autonomy. As “property”, the bodies of non-human animals are owned, exploited, and destroyed by industry, but in human societies there is also a significant policing of women’s/queer/trans bodies. What is your response to policies, perspectives, and practices that attempt to control bodily autonomy, and how do you suggest we subvert that?

Liberationists, who seek empty cages for NH animals, often also advocate for prison reform/abolition – could you elaborate on the intersections here, and what might you advocate for in regards to alternative solutions?

On a lighter note, talking about understanding animal lives not just as “tragic beings”, can you tell us about working at a rooster sanctuary? What have you learned from the animals you work with, what are their lives like outside of factory conditions?

I was wondering if you’d also be interested in commenting on your work with combining anti-racism and anti-speciesism activism. I think it’s important that we all are constantly maintaining and increasing our awareness of words/behaviours/actions that might be oppressive to any individual or group. Last week on the show, we interviewed an activist who addressed fatphobia and thin privilege in the vegan community. Would you be able to speak to some ways that we should be aware of and fighting against xenophobia and white privilege in the vegan community as well?

Although I’ve noticed issues like racism and fatphobia in the vegan community, I feel like discrimination against queer individuals is perhaps not quite as pronounced – don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that vegans, just like anyone else, have internalized transphobia, biphobia, homophobia, polyphobia, etc. Would you be able to comment on how some of these forms of discrimination and oppression might have manifested themselves in vegan communities?

What about in the other direction, I have noticed that there are of course tons of queer individuals and communities that have embraced the speciesism and animal exploitation of the hegemonic class and human supremacy. For example, in Calgary around stampede time, there is what’s known as the “gay rodeo”, which is exactly what it sounds like – obviously a celebration of animal abuse/exploitation for the sake of “entertainment”. So when engaging with those who are potentially/probably involved in struggles for their own liberation, such as those in the queer lib movement, how do you incorporate bringing NH animals into their understanding of sexuality? Likewise for feminists, anti-racism activists, etc?

You mention non-monogamous relationships, I’m curious about how you see these identities and forms of relationships tying into queer and animal liberation. For me it seems like having autonomy is the common ground in liberation struggles, in the sense people can building their own identities and experiences rather than living in fixed ones.


Vegan Options Are Not Animal Liberation (for DxE)

Main post is on the Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) blog, which features pieces from many passionate and thoughtful animal liberationists living all over the world. 


A well-known animal advocacy organization recently produced and published a humorous video gently mocking vegan consumerism. Widely shared and discussed by members of the vegan community, the video could have functioned as a viral advertisement promoting Whole Foods, and might as well have been produced by Whole Foods’ own robust marketing department. While satirical, the video does highlight some real limitations of how the animal rights movement is often framed.

In the video, entitled “29 Thoughts Every Vegan Has at Whole Foods,” a young white man in his early thirties is shown on the telephone with his friend, saying that he is going to drop into Whole Foods to pick up some coffee. The next minute and a half of the video consists of him meandering about the grocery store, admiring produce and ogling various corporate goods. Mysteriously, he manages not to meander into any department that sells animal products— even though the chain generates $2.4 billion in meat sales and sells millions of animal bodies each year. He is so enthralled by the “vegan options” in the store that he selects and buys several products that he says he doesn’t even need.

The video succeeds in painting vegans as class-privileged, frivolous, shallow consumerist yuppies, rather than activists fighting for total animal liberation. This is a systemic problem in the animal rights movement, which tends to celebrate vegan options and treatment-centered reforms that in some cases strengthen industry by quelling criticism of animal slaughter. Judging by how he was depicted, the man in the video might not have been an ethical vegan or cared about animals at all. He gave no attention whatsoever to animal advocacy, only the consumer choices in front of him. The video did not educate about violence against animals, discourage buying animal products, or invite food justice activists who care about affordable healthy food access into our movement, which is often plagued by the myth that buying expensive specialty foods is necessary to eat a plant-based diet.

Some animal advocates will respond to these words with some feelings of frustration, saying that being vegan is taking direct action for animals. And while eschewing animal products is certainly the moral baseline, because eating animal products is not ethical, it is only the beginning. All we are doing, in being vegan, is preventing a few more dollars from going into the pockets of animal agriculture. Our impact on weakening the system is negligible. Each of our independent consumer choices little impact on animal agriculture.

This article isn’t about boycotting Whole Foods. Most people don’t live in an area that has an all-vegan grocery store, and vegan grocery stores, if they do exist where we live, often don’t have all of the staples that we need and often are more expensive than their not-exclusively-vegan counterparts. So while supporting all-vegan businesses is admirable, that’s not our request.

Vegans must always keep in mind that a corporation or restaurant that is “vegan-friendly” may not be “animal-friendly.” A steakhouse or a dairy ice cream parlor could be “vegan-friendly” if it offers a vegan meal or ice cream flavor that vegan humans can buy and eat. But just because a place has “vegan options” for your consumer pleasure doesn’t mean that it does not perform acts of tremendous violence and exploitation to nonhuman animals. Don’t let the halo effect of those swanky vegan options pacify you and prevent you, a human with a voice, from speaking out against violence and remembering that veganism is but one part of liberating animals.

Because we are only 2% of the population, our boycott has a limited impact and doesn’t even rescue animals from death. We must empower and educate others. Many of us have only begun to participate in the lifelong and multistep process of animal liberation:

  1. Boycott (refuse to financially support industries that exploit animals for food, clothing, entertainment, research).
  2. Disrupt speciesism (speak out to stop violence against animals).
  3. Save lives (by financially and physically supporting animal sanctuaries and fostering or adopting animals ourselves, so the survivors of these systems of exploitation can live lives free from violence).

Animal advocates should always center their actions and rhetoric around the plight of the animals, and their stories of both oppression and liberation. The video, though it was produced and published by an animal advocacy organization, did not even mention the exploitation of animals. Animal liberationists aren’t doing this work because the food is tastier or the clothes are more fashionable. We do this because nonhuman animal voices are silenced, and because we are liberationists fighting for human and nonhuman self-determination, bodily autonomy and justice.

Whole Foods, and other animalmongers that market themselves as green, ethical, compassionate companies, do not care about animals. Whole Foods cares about profit, whether the dollars they are generating come from vegans or animal eaters; so, they engage in expensive and complex humanewashing to deceive us all. We as a movement should be aware of how vegan consumerism and non-animal-centered messaging bolster Whole Foods’ reputation and play into their bloody hands.

Learn more about why DxE is targeting Whole Foods in our latest campaign.


Pro-choice is not anti-vegan

I submitted the below piece to the bimonthly zine, Sister Species Solidarity. I had never heard of the zine before, but it’s now on my feminist/animal liberationist reading list and I eagerly await the next issue. Creating knowledge and discussion outside of the realm of academia is important work, and I’m glad that the editors prioritize the voices of women and people targeted by sexism. There’s no pandering to male allies for the sake of “diversity and inclusion.” This issue’s theme was Bodily Autonomy, so I wrote about reproductive justice and abortion access. Enjoy! 

People often ask me, why are you pro-choice? (They will often ask me why I am pro-abortion, and why I care so much more about the lives of chickens, pigs, and cows than unborn humans.) They say that they are pro “all” life, that they don’t think terminating a fetus can possibly be consistent with vegan ethics of causing least harm.

First of all, I’m not pro-abortion. I’m pro-choice, which is an entirely separate framing of reproductive justice. If someone wants to carry a pregnancy to term, they should be able to do so. Every sentient being should be trusted to decide for themself when is the right time to start and build a family, and which kind of family they want to build. Single parents, teen parents, low-income parents, disabled parents, queer/trans parents, parents of color, etc. need support and resources that suit their families’ needs, not shaming.

The difference between a human uterus haver* and a hen is that the human can consent to having a fetus removed (one who is seeking an abortion is specifically asking for that), whereas the hen (lacking the ability to communicate with us humans) can’t consent to having her egg taken. The human and the hen both deserve the right to bodily autonomy and self-governance. Eggs aren’t just “lying around” – if you crack an egg open for a hen they will gobble it right up.

If you want to reduce abortion rates, which is a noble endeavor, the way to do that is comprehensive sexual education, accessible and affordable birth control and sexual health services, and resources and support such as parental leave and childcare support so that people feel like parenting is a feasible choice for them. Forcing a person to carry a child to term and then to keep that kiddo or give them up for adoption doesn’t sound like respecting someone’s bodily autonomy to me.

Also, it would be super if we could talk about not eating the bodies and secretions of other animals without being misogynist toward humans. Eating eggs (for instance) is wrong because taking something that belongs to someone else without their consent is wrong, not because women and periods (and therefore eggs) are gross.

*I am using the clunky phrase “uterus-haver” rather than “woman” because not all women have uteruses (think of trans women, or women who have had a hysterectomy) and not all people who have uteruses are women even though they may still be able to become pregnant (think of trans men or genderqueer or nonbinary female-assigned people.) Access to family planning care and abortions when needed is a reproductive justice issue for people of all genders.

**I will acknowledge one hole in my argument for reproductive justice. I do support spay/neuter programs for domesticated animals. I think it just to ask the question of why I would, when I absolutely oppose the control of reproduction for any human who is capable of consenting to their own reproductive decisions. The compromise with spay/neuter programs for domesticated animals is because we live in a world that is violent to nonhumans and that has exploited them at every turn for millenia. I believe that nonhuman animals are here for their own purposes and do not exist for us to use. At the same time, I wish to avoid causing them harm to the greatest extent that I can. I believe that on the grand scheme of things, not spaying/neutering animals (e.g. dogs and cats) will cause them to reproduce with one another which will ultimately cause more violence to their offspring in this speciesist society.

community, reflections

Paws and Think: Woof You Be a Foster (Dog) Parent?

Me in 1991, with my first doggy love, Maia Papaya. I miss her!

I’m really excited to become a dog foster parent. I haven’t lived with a dog full-time since I left my parents and hometown more than seven years ago to move to Colorado, and I think that living with a dog again will bring new joy and adventure into my life. My partners and I applied to foster through three different organizations, and we are ready to go as soon as one of those applications gets approved.

Fostering animals through any program is helpful and saves lives, so prospective foster parents shouldn’t stress too much over the particular program they support. Because I feel most comfortable working with no-kill animal shelters, we applied at MaxFund Animal Adoption Center, which also has an attached low-cost veterinary clinic. (On a somewhat related note, I’m encouraging MaxFund to plan increasingly vegan fundraising events, because a pro-animal organization should keep critters off the dinner table in addition to in our homes and hearts. I’m sure this will be a multi-year process of advocacy.) Folks who want to get involved with the no-kill advocacy scene should check out No Kill Colorado and the No Kill Advocacy Center’s No-Kill Equation.

Two other rescue organizations might be of special interest to Colorado-based animal rights activists. Kindness Ranch is three hours north of Denver and is the only animal sanctuary dedicated to rescuing and rehoming animals formerly used in research (particularly beagles, the dog breed most commonly used in research due to their size and docile nature.) The second group is the Colorado Springs-based National Mill Dog Rescue which rescues and rehomes dogs who were formerly part of the puppy mill industry. These excite me because they both provide ample opportunity for telling individual animals’ stories and advocacy to dismantle exploitative animal industries. Furthermore, dogs who have been caged and poorly treated for their entire lives require special attention, care, and socialization best delivered in a homey environment with foster parents. I hope that it goes without saying that vegans and animal rights activists should rescue animals rather than buy them, no matter how “reputable” a breeder a dog comes from. Ending breeding programs and rescuing individuals who are already here is, in my opinion, a key part of ending breedism and our relationship to non-human animals as commodities.

Alexis and I are excited to feed our foster dog a well-balanced vegan diet, since dogs are omnivores (unlike cats, who are obligate carnivores) and can thrive on many of the foods we do. There are various companies that make vegan kibbles for dogs, namely Nature’s Balance and V-Dog. We are probably going to go with V-Dog since they are a vegan-owned company, and we’ll add homemade veggie stew to the food to make meals a little more interesting. We are excited to make some homemade dog treats as well, which brings me way back to making dog treats with my dad in the early nineties.

41pP1taP0RLI plan to speak up about dog rescue and get our foster critters as much visibility as possible, even though I know it will be hard to let go of critters once they find a forever home. Bandanas like this one at right let members of the public know that a foster dog is available to go to a forever home, and merch from places like Project Blue Collar both signal a canine companion as a rescue and support rescue projects. We’ll be able to take advantage of free training classes for foster dogs through the Misha May Foundation. I’m excited that we live very close to the newly-opened Lowry Dog Park (find more Denver dog parks here) and the hilariously-named Watering Bowl, a dog- and human-friendly watering hole similar to northwest Denver’s Bark Bar. We plan to adopt a dog once we are more permanently established in jobs and housing, but I hope that even after that happens that we will keep fostering dogs. As my friend Hugo says, the next step after veganism is activism, not raw foodism or being gluten/oil/sugar/soy-free. I hope that fostering and storytelling can be a small part of my activism going forward.

P.S. Cats aren’t possible for us because of allergies, but there is a cat cafe opening in Denver in mid-November. Part of the goal is to find the cats good forever homes. Marc and I will definitely be checking this place out.


Guest Post by Liz Ross: Why I Protested Thug Kitchen

In light of the recent controversy over the duo who created the blog, Thug Kitchen (TK), and hid their identities until the launch of their vegan cookbook under the same name, members of Cali Vegans of Color collaborated with a diverse group of ethical vegans and launched a protest campaign at TK book tour events that were scheduled to take place in the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles. As a result, all three October events were cancelled.

Michelle Davis’ and Matt Holloway’s cookbook is a banal attempt at crafting “rapper” words by two white individuals who obviously don’t mingle with a diverse and progressive group – a book viewed as creative and funny by those who only get their exposure of people of color through Hollywood stereotypes and the sensational evening news. Their vegan recipes aren’t particularly creative and blend in with the other dime-a-dozen cookbooks that clutter bookstores. Notwithstanding, this obvious and poor attempt at appropriating negative stereotypes of black men has a serious side.

Clearly, the word “thug” can be used to refer to non-blacks, but the reality is, over the past few years, in this culture, thug is almost exclusively reserved for black males and the attacks are almost always by white males. The history of the criminalization of African Americans and racist coded language is no secret. One doesn’t need to have a PhD in sociology to recognize that this culture perpetuates associations with the image of a thug, a criminal and a black male. Unfortunately, too many are quick to dive into the deep end of the denial pool, even in light of the media’s attention to violent attacks by police officers and white vigilantes toward unarmed black men. Michael Dunn, the white man who murdered Jordan Davis, an unarmed black teenager, for playing loud music, called him a thug. Trayvon Martin’s name became synonymous with the word thug to justify that he “deserved” his unfortunate fate, and black athletes are labeled thugs while white athletes get a free pass. As Richard Sherman, cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks and Stanford graduate, said during a press conference, “[thug is] the accepted way of calling somebody the N-word nowadays”.

The City of Ferguson, MO, is under investigation by the FBI for racial profiling of its African American citizens after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown. State Trooper, Sean Groubert, shot Levar Jones several times as Mr. Jones reached for his driver’s license after Officer Groubert stopped Mr. Jones for a safety seatbelt violation and asked for his identification. But somehow these and many other stories do not seem to shake deeply held racist beliefs out from its unconscious abyss into self reflection. Even if one has been out of the loop on the new coded N-word, to deny that this culture criminalizes black people is to affirm one’s privilege, or speaks volumes to one’s lack of elementary critical thinking.

The authors’ decision to hide their identities until now clearly indicates culpability. Several activists in our group tried to engage in a critique on the TK Facebook page and blog and their comments were deleted and they were banned. So it became quite evident to us that the authors knew exactly what they were doing and didn’t give a damn about anyone’s objection to the book. The authors and publisher were clearly out to make a profit and avoid any real discussion.

No one was advocating a government ban on the book either, but a few bookstore owners who replied to my email tried to spin this into a free speech issue and encouraged a discussion at the book signing. This, in my opinion, was a cop-out and would have projected the false message that they were acting in the best interest of fairness and the community. I doubt they would have hosted a Jihadist in the name of free-speech and fair debate. In addition, inviting the authors (and their fans) and the protestors (us) to come together at their bookstore for a wonderful dialogue to build bridges is as unrealistic as when Michelle Obama got together with the big junk food corporations in her Let’s Move campaign to improve the health of our children.

For argument’s sake, let’s consider what could have happened if the book signing wasn’t cancelled and we were invited. First of all, why would I want to watch these clowns’ pathetic minstrel show of racist coded language as they play Mr. Thug and Ms. Thugette, in celebration of their dime-a-dozen cookbook, as they make fun of and stereotype my brothers while their mostly white fans join in the humor? It’s funny to them and their audience because they’re not the ones who fear that a police stop for a minor traffic violation could easily escalate to jail time, assault or death. They make fun of my brother, they make fun of me, and the very being of my black identity would not allow me to sit and become involved in self-negation. Then, during the “discussion” period, I’m supposed to voice my concerns under time constraints to an audience who are oblivious and indifferent to making the key connection that the mindset of the authors (and their fans) is no different from the mindset of the white vigilantes, law enforcement officers, district attorneys and judges who believe that black men and boys are a pariah, a problem to be dealt with, locked up or murdered. How can one deconstruct in a few sentences a mentality that believes, but will not vocalize, “Black men go to jail because they commit crimes, the police are just doing their jobs, black men call themselves thugs and act like thugs, so what’s the problem and what does this have to do with TK anyway?” Even if these questions were uttered, they could not have been addressed effectively in this space. Regardless, I suspect that the response to my voice would have been, “stop whining”.

There can be, and are, sincere spaces for debate and discussion about racism – racist coded language, cultural appropriation, terrorist attacks on black men by white men, and the erosion of families caused by police brutality and a biased and broken criminal justice system, but the book tour was not one of them. The purpose of our direct action was resistance. Our goal was to send the message that we would not tolerate their blackface theatrics, and that they are not welcome in our community. This was also about empowering ourselves through resistance. When one takes a stand to act in small ways (such as this protest) and in big ways (such as forming a community police watch) we are declaring our intolerance to racism.

Appropriating negative stereotypes of black people was just the vehicle. The fundamental problem, the driver behind the wheel, is the conscious and unconscious mindset that unfairly stereotypes and fears black people, particularly black men and boys, that cause people to act that is dangerous. This is why I protested TK.

Although this protest campaign included both vegans of color and white vegans, unfortunately, but not surprising, most of the pushback I observed overwhelmingly came from white vegans. If white ethical vegan activists continue to dismiss the importance of intersectionality and refuse to show solidarity with other social justice concerns, this movement will continue to be divided and its white privilege stigma, I believe, will continue to hinder progress.

Liz Ross is the co-founder of Cali Vegans of Color. She is an activist for both human and non-human animal rights.

[Editor’s note: I am happy to be able to host this piece by Liz Ross. Following the big reveal of the book, I was pleased to see many critical, intersectional vegans recognize that a vegan cookbook doesn’t get a pass on being oppressive. Here are some other black vegan/plant-based perspectives on Thug Kitchen

Culturally Appropriate Foodie Tuesday – A Rant About Thug Kitchen” by Ayinde Howell – 9/30/2014

On Ferguson, Thug Kitchen, and Trayvon Martin: Intersections of [Post]Race-Consciousness, Food Justice, and Hip Hop Vegan Ethics” by A. Breeze Harper (Sistah Vegan) – 10/9/2014

The problem with ‘thug’ cuisine” by Bryant Terry – 10/10/2014

‘Thug Racists’ and Coded Language” by Sensei Aishitemasu
*not sure whether this commentor is vegan, but an excellent analysis of how coded language is used to stand in for racial slurs


Celebrating our Cultural Traditions: A Souper Tutorial

One of my passions is organizing vegans of color in the animal rights movement, and incorporating an intersectional analysis of racism/sexism/homophobia/transphobia/classism/etc. into animal rights activism. It took me a number of years to understand myself as a person of color and to appreciate the importance of solidarity with other people of color. I am light skinned and also grew up in a community with a significant number of Asian-American families. I bought into the model minority myth. I lived primarily with my mom, spoke exclusively English, and to my understanding had a fairly assimilated upbringing. I didn’t understand myself as a racial “minority.”

Now, my mom, my sister Emma (who is also biracial), and I are all vegan and participate in animal rights activism. Over the last couple of years I’ve made a conscious effort to connect with other vegans of color (as well as queer and trans* people of color, but that’s another topic.) Intentionally elevating the voices of vegan POC is critically important. White vegans need to know that we are not going to tolerate racism in the movement, and omnivores from our communities of origin must be reassured that we don’t wish to abandon our cultural and familial traditions in being vegan. I see adapting our cherished traditions as an act of love and faithfulness, not betrayal. POC vegans speaking out helps to break up some of the largely monotonous white vegan noise. I like a vegan cheese pizza as much as the next guy, but vegan doesn’t have to mean colonized, commercially-produced foods. Our hotpot was made with simple, easily accessible, affordable ingredients (including four types of beautiful mushrooms!)

From left: my friend Amy, my partner Marc (also a tender genderqueer), and Deme (my hotpot cohost)

I’ve always thought that in Chinese culture, we have a very no-nonsense relationship with animals. When I was a child, I really liked to eat chicken feet for example. A chicken’s foot looks like nothing else but a foot. I think that there is a certain amount of cowardice in how many white Americans eat animals – heads and all other body parts detached, so that the flesh does not evoke a recently sentient, ambulatory critter. (Exception to this rule – hipster types personally slaughtering animals they raise in order to “get in touch” with their food. Still doesn’t make it better.)

Chinese and other Asian people are often targeted by white vegans (and white omnivores, for that matter) as more barbaric (“a subspecies” as Morrissey would say) for eating certain types of animals (e.g. dogs) that white Europeans/Americans are not accustomed to eating. And yet, the vegan population in China is the biggest in the world (>50 million, which is many times bigger than the vegan population in the U.S.) (Hear activist Wanqing Zhou talk more about vegan activism in China on Our Hen House.) Why is eating a pig, chicken, or cow so different from eating any other type of animal? Those critters are just as cuddly and smart as a dog or horse, but since we don’t keep them as companions it seems crueler. I’d like to see the mainstream animal rights movement addressing issues such as bear bile farming (a horrifically cruel practice, absolutely yes) without awful levels of racial targeting and generalizing.

Chinese hotpot is one of my favorite family traditions. It is a casual, social meal in the way that fondue or shabu-shabu is social, but is a much older tradition dating back hundreds of years. Our family would often eat it during the fall and winter holidays instead of a turkey or roast beef. And it’s a simple meal to prepare because the cooking is done at the table. If you are running chronically late (as I am, whoops) you can enlist your guests to help prepare some of the ingredients. Participation! This strategy also keeps the host from being trapped in the kitchen cooking during dinner parties, which seemed to happen to my mom a lot when I was growing up.

Finished soup!

Secret ingredients: shacha sauce, mushroom bouillon powder, and fried garlic. Look at the ingredients for the bouillon - you are sure to like it at yeast a little bit.

Secret ingredients: shacha sauce, mushroom bouillon powder, and fried garlic. Look at the ingredients for the bouillon – you are sure to like it at yeast a little bit.

This is a format, not a recipe! This is what we did, but add whatever you fancy. You’ll want to get your ingredients and equipment from the Asian grocery store. We got everything from H Mart, a superstore in Aurora, which has an excellent selection.

-Portable butane stove (can also use for camping; be sure to heat the broth over a stovetop to conserve butane. Open a window for proper ventilation!)
-Small mesh baskets (traditionally one per person but you can share)
-Soup bowls
-Tiny sauce bowls

Soup ingredients
-Vegetables for broth base (we used carrots, red peppers, onions, squash)
Vegetarian bouillon for a souper boost
-Bok choy
-Gai lan, or “Chinese broccoli”
-Mushrooms (we used enoki, shimeji, shiitake, and king oyster mushrooms)
**mushrooms are essential. You will find an excellent and cheap variety of mushrooms at the Asian market – stock up!
-Cubed firm tofu (cut to 3/4″ cubes)
-Noodles: bean thread or glass noodles, rice vermicelli noodles, udon noodles
-[vegetarian meat or fish balls – my family would usually pick up some of these but we didn’t and it was still great]

-Chopped scallions
-Bean sprouts
-Finely minced ginger
-Cilantro (Deme’s addition!)

Sriracha sauce
Hoisin sauce 
-Soy sauce
-Fried garlic oil (mince garlic finely and brown in vegetable oil)
-Vegetarian shacha sauce (BBQ sauce)

Dessert was red bean mochi, of course!

Marc and I – I’m quite proud of myself for successfully making hotpot without my family, and satisfying two white people and three omnivores!

Luckily, there are groups and communities available if one wants to start unlearning internalized racism and connect with other vegans of color.

Deconstructing Whiteness is a POC-led but white-inclusive anti-racist discussion group. It is not vegan or animal rights-focused.

Vegans of Color provides a space for ranting, discussing, organizing. White folks are asked to join other groups.

Anti-Racist Vegans (white and POC members included) addresses racism in the animal rights movement and organizes activism that does not target POC.

Animal Liberationists of Color seeks to examine why POC make up only 3% of animal rights activists but 37% of the population. They are closely tied to Direct Action Everywhere.

Our Hen House interviewed Wayne Hsiung, an outspoken Chinese activist and organizer for Direct Action Everywhere. Listen to the interview here or read the transcript here.

Duo Duo Animal Welfare Project – 多多 seeks to build strong relationships between animal-loving communities in the United States and animal advocates in Taiwan and mainland China through the provision of financial and other resources for on the ground projects. These projects include humane outreach and education, spaying and neutering, legislation and rehoming.

Animals Asia I have mixed feelings about, because it is white-led and occasionally problematic, but they do good work.

Individual authors and activists to follow include: A. Breeze Harper of the Sistah Vegan Project, Kevin Tillman of the vegan hip hop movement, fellow Denverite DJ Cavem, lauren Ornelas of Food Empowerment Project and Vegan Mexican Food, Ayinde Howell of ieatgrass, cookbook author/chef/speaker bryant terry, and chef Miyoko Schinner.

Thanks for reading!


On the Radio: An LGBTQ Intergenerational Mixtape

2in_cmyk_KGNU_PCI was recently a guest on KGNU’s Outsources, a weekly show focusing on LGBTQ issues and people in Denver and Boulder. My friend Sean Kenney hosted, and invited the three of us to each share a song that related to our queer identity, and to discuss sexual and gender identity and coming of age in different decades. The show was styled after the live intergenerational mixtapes assembled for the Warm Cookies of the Revolution, a “civic health club” in Denver. (As a side note, Warm Cookies manages to make topics as dry as taxes and housing policy engaging, and is definitely worth checking out.) I’m quite pleased with how the Outsources show turned out and hope you have a listen; it’s about half an hour long. Additionally, if you live in the Denver/Boulder area and think of an idea that would be great for a queer radio show, let me know and I’d be happy to get you in touch with the producers. I love reading, watching, and listening to queer-made media and like to do whatever I can to elevate queer and trans* voices and support us telling our own stories.


So many things are possible just as long as you don’t know they’re impossible.

Earlier today I was reading my sister’s college essay. She wanted to know what had written about eight years ago, so I looked through my email and found my own essay for Colorado College. I wrote it back in late 2006, before I became vegan, came out as queer or even realized I was nonbinary, became politicized as a person of color, and moved to beautiful Colorado which is now so near and dear to me. It’s pretty fun to think about the journeys we go on, and how we really have no idea where we will end up. (Though I’ll believe I’ll always be decidedly queer, vegan, a person of color, a bicyclist, a nerd…) So, here you go!

tockThe Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster affected me profoundly. I love children’s literature, and this story is a particularly delicious specimen. It opens in the most colorless possible way, describing the painful monotony of the protagonist’s existence. Milo, a child of ambiguous birthplace and age, represents every bored or uninspired person. He has every material want fulfilled — playthings of every variety clutter his room — but he is unsatisfied; his life has no joy, no purpose. He is not so much lost as completely directionless. I would not say that I see a caricature of myself in Milo; he and the characters he meets are too extreme, pure, and unfiltered to appear in the real world. Milo’s transformation, or epiphany, however, I see as completely honest, and analogous to my own. At some point along his enlightening journey, he realizes the value of a moment, the worth of one human life (his journey, in which he accomplishes so much and which stretches many weeks in his memory, takes only one hour in “real time.”) I’m not sure when I reached this same epiphany, but I know that it was sometime in my high school years. I realized that for me, experience and knowledge are more valuable than material goods, and that all I want to do is experience everything good and exciting and leave my mark of goodwill in the world, no matter how small. There are gems of wisdom scattered throughout the story, but one at the end strikes me as particularly true and potent: as Milo celebrates the end of his quest in the Kingdom of Wisdom, the Princesses of Rhyme and Reason tell him a secret about his task: it was impossible. Only after he is finished can he know this, for if they had “told you then [before you had started], you might not have gone – and, as you’ve discovered, so many things are possible just as long as you don’t know they’re impossible.”