Animal & Social Justice Fundamentals: What We Included And What We Left Out
Today marks the release of the latest edition in our Fundamentals series, perhaps the most difficult one we’ve tackled thus far: Animal & Social Justice. Creating these resources is often a process that starts with broad brush strokes and a blue sky scope, which is then funneled down to the most important topics that we feel best represent the larger issues. In the past, in dealing with farmed animals, research animals, companion animals, wild animals, zoonoses, and ocean life, making these editorial decisions has been difficult, as we try to strike a balance between covering the biggest or most impactful issues and exploring lesser-known areas where there may be knowledge gaps among advocates.
The biggest difference in the process for this edition has been shifting perspective. Here, we shift our focus from looking strictly at animal outcomes to looking at how humans are affected by agriculture and other animal issues; we shift from looking outward at animal oppression to looking inward at the animal advocacy movement itself, with a critical eye turned towards equity shortfalls; we shift from looking at one issue at a time to considering how issues overlap and intersect. To help with these shifts, the editorial process for this edition involved the whole Faunalytics team as well as outside advisors to ensure that we were thinking through different questions and angles, and producing something that would serve the animal advocacy community as well as possible.
With all of that in mind, the Faunalytics team is excited to bring forward our Animal & Social Justice Fundamentals. With the launch of each new edition in our Fundamentals series, we publish a blog that examines what we were able to cover, as well as some of the issues we were not able to include. Read on for more.
What We Included
If you’re looking for an overview of some of the key overlaps of animal and social justice, our latest Fundamental looks at
- the exploitation of migrant labor in vegetable agriculture in the United States
- the exploitation of slaughterhouse workers in the United States and slavery in the global fishing industry
- factory farming and environmental racism
- the sexualization and objectification of women in both advocacy and advertising of animal products
- issues of sexism and gender inequity in animal advocacy
- the role of whiteness in animal advocacy
- homegrown animal advocacy in South America, Asia, and Africa
- groups who are changemakers when it comes to equity and social justice in the animal advocacy movement.
When you’re ready, you can click through to check out the full resource.
What We Left Out
Considering the vastness and depth of issues like race, gender, labor, and more, it was inevitable that we would have to focus on certain topics and areas while not focusing on others.
Firstly, perhaps the biggest missing piece in our new Fundamental is a deeper discussion of colonialism. Though we do bring forward a small discussion of the way a “colonial mindset” manifests in animal advocacy, virtually every subject we covered could have included connections to colonialism. Indeed, colonialism has been crucial to the development of animal agriculture (and monocrop agriculture more broadly). We also see vestiges of colonialism in migrant labor, in the use of refugees and vulnerable populations in slaughterhouses, slave labor in fishing, in environmental racism — and we see it reflected in the issues of inequity that persist in the animal advocacy movement. Furthermore, there is plenty to say about how colonialism is bound up in diets: in the words of David M. Peña-Guzman, “intersectional food politics begins from the insight that one cannot combat colonialism without combatting what colonialism brings to the table.” It’s worth noting that the discussion about colonialism and its effect on the present day can be hard to quantify or put into a neat dataset — of course, we have historical records of genocides and atrocities, but as many imperialist nations have transitioned away from official colonial policies and begun to move towards “reconciliation” efforts, the ongoing effects of colonialism often get ignored. There is much more here for us to explore as a movement.
Secondly, though we talk around the subject in various ways throughout the resource, a more focused discussion of class and classism within animal advocacy would be fruitful. It seems to be a subject that animal advocates can find particularly challenging, especially when it comes to discussions around food: fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans are generally cheaper (though there is debate about this) than meat, dairy, and prepared foods — unless you live in a food desert. However, preparing meals from scratch takes time and effort, two precious commodities that working people often do not have in abundance. Meanwhile, prepared vegan foods are notably expensive, which then feeds back into a cycle of looking for cheaper alternatives, which require greater time and preparation. You might think that these are relatively uncontroversial ideas, but they twist some advocates in knots and inspire loads of debate in online forums. Unfortunately, the classism present in animal advocacy doesn’t end there, and occasionally extends into discussions of other privileged options like buying a new wardrobe after going vegan, something that is obviously out of reach for many people.
Finally, considering the sometimes disturbing history of ableism in animal rights theory — most notably including some rather troubling statements from Peter Singer in Animal Liberation — and considering the emergence of vital scholarship in this area, a deeper discussion of how ableism overlaps with animal exploitation and animal advocacy would be warranted. Advocating on behalf of animals can often lean on assumptions and arguments about their cognitive ability, assigning a peak value to “normal” human cognition, and measuring animals’ worth by how much they are able to perform in a framework of human intelligence. Meanwhile, these arguments tend to ignore other aspects of animal cognition and intelligence where they vastly outperform humans, because able-bodied humans are the normative standard against which all others are judged. This is just one of the ways that ableism can creep into animal advocacy, and there are many more to explore and be aware of.
Throughout the process of putting this together, some editorial decisions were made for us by a lack of data to support a substantive discussion. It’s telling that there is such a big data gap around migrant labor, slave labor, and environmental racism, to say nothing of data for the animal advocacy movement itself. Without crucial resources from Encompass, Food Empowerment Project, and others we could not have completed this work. It underscored for us the crucial role that these organizations play in our movement. That is just one of the reasons why we’ve included donation links for them at the bottom of our Fundamental. Additionally, we’ll explore the issue of data gaps as they relate to issues of animal and social justice in a forthcoming blog.
We hope you find our Animal & Social Justice Fundamentals useful for your own education, and in your advocacy. As always, get in touch with us if you have suggestions for how we can improve this resource, or if you have ideas for future editions of our Fundamentals series.