Connecting Animal Advocacy To Food Justice
About Stray Dog Institute: Stray Dog Institute is a private operating foundation cultivating dignity, justice, and sustainability in the food system. Our philanthropic priority is to support and strengthen the movement for food systems transformation, with a central focus on farmed animals and industrial animal agriculture. We recognize that other issues are inextricably linked to animal protection, including climate change, biodiversity, human health, social justice, and rural economies. This systems view is foundational to all our work.
Food system advocacy comes in many forms, from individual voices to large, well-organized collective campaigns, and from anti-factory-farming outreach on university campuses to investigative work highlighting the myriad injustices faced by slaughterhouse workers. No matter its entry point or guiding values, activism focused on correcting problems within the local, national, or global agrifood system forms part of the broader food systems transformation movement.
Yet despite a shared focus on creating a better food system, the farmed animal protection movement has historically remained separate from advocacy guided by the principles of food justice. Vibrant communities of vegan and animal advocacy have gradually achieved visibility in mainstream political debate, while food justice advocacy has brought national recognition to community responses to labor abuses affecting farmworkers. Too often, farmed animal protection and food justice activism have built momentum separately and traced mutually exclusive paths, approaching common systemic problems from different — sometimes strongly opposed — viewpoints.
Unfortunately, the movement to transform our food system faces an uphill battle against a powerful opponent, and division can only stand to weaken us in the fight for change. The dominant industrial food system is immensely profitable and enjoys default normative status after decades of promotion by public and private messaging. Food commodity markets and the farming and distribution networks that bring food to our tables operate out of sight of many people’s everyday lives, building the myth of the industrial food system as an unquestionable monolith with no distinct center. High-input, chemical-intensive monocultures support intensive animal confinement operations, normalized despite generating simultaneous harms for food system workers, farmed animals, farming communities, food consumers, and agricultural environments. These diverse harms create consequences that advocates seek to address, in a wide range of contexts and from an equally diverse set of values.
The commonality of these widespread harms offers an opportunity for cross-movement cooperation on behalf of the common good. Deepening cross-issue awareness and learning between advocates, and strengthening alignment on common concerns can pay dividends for both farmed animals and people. Greater cohesion can offer stronger movements, solutions more suited to the complexity of the food system, and more diverse and equitable public engagement. Greater cohesion between advocacy for human and animal liberation within the food system is an untapped resource in our efforts to dismantle the industrial food system’s control over land, labor, animals, and our dinner tables.
Common Roots Between Food Justice Advocacy And Animal Advocacy
Deep commonalities run through the farmed animal movement and the food justice movement. Both forms of advocacy are concerned with correcting ethical failures in the food system and alleviating suffering that the dominant forms of food production and distribution render invisible. Both movements hold justice as a core motivation, giving voice to injustices that the dominant food system hides or ignores.
Most importantly, both movements use justice narratives to seek deep, systemic changes in food and farming, engaging with not only the end results and negative impacts of the dominant industrial food system, but also with the underlying supply chain structures, economic systems, and biases that create negative outcomes for people and farmed animals.
Our movements’ respective abilities to think systemically and envision a transformed food system are powerful skills that can illuminate the path toward productive ways to collaborate. But to realize the potential of an animal movement rooted in transformational justice for animals, people, and environments, animal advocates will need to recognize and welcome justice narratives articulated by voices outside of the farmed animal movement.
Historical Divisions Reveal The Path Toward Stronger, More Equitable Animal Advocacy
The differences in values and approaches that have historically divided farmed animal and food justice advocacy appear to reflect each movement’s relative prioritization of justice for human or non-human animals. However, this apparent difference in advocacy focus is only the end result of an underlying difference in experience and values. Rather than justifying continued separation between the two movements or reinforcing division, these deeper differences can point the way toward healing and unifying our movements for systemic change.
The development of the environmental movement offers helpful lessons. After decades of progress and visibility by the environmental movement, environmental justice narratives emerged, highlighting underrecognized racial and class disparities of environmental harm, seeking to correct the exclusion of non-white perspectives from environmental organizations and discussions. These themes had been overlooked—and, at times, actively silenced—by mainstream environmental activism and by white activists for whom lived experiences of racially-influenced environmental injustice were not an everyday reality. The potential remedy presented by the environmental justice movement was for white environmental advocates to engage with communities of color voicing their experience of environmental harms, and to make sure that environmental protection in the future did not reproduce the biases of the environmentalism of the past.
Like early environmental advocacy, animal advocacy has historically been led primarily by white advocates with economic and educational privilege relative to advocates from different backgrounds. The food justice movement, like the environmental justice movement, has traditionally been championed primarily by people of color, marginalized urban communities denied equitable food access, and low-income farm and food workers exploited by the food system. This difference in perspective has grounded the food justice movement in grassroots organizing to achieve benefits for workers and disadvantaged food consumers, by fighting structural inequalities in the food system
The animal protection movement has been historically white-dominated, due to the failure to include or recognize BIPOC individuals, and the unintentional creation of spaces unwelcoming to BIPOC participants and their experiences. Throughout its history, the animal protection movement has been shaped by and reproduced systemic institutional racism and white privilege, affecting how movement priorities were set and how advocates interacted with each other and the wider society. This unequal history continues despite increasing recognition and ongoing efforts by animal advocates to root out unconscious bias in the animal rights and farmed animal protection movements.
Food justice advocacy brings different priorities to food system work because it is shaped and motivated by activists’ lived experiences of exclusion, and the need for community-based self-protection. It focuses on human wellbeing because that wellbeing is continually, violently under threat, making self-advocacy a foremost priority for advocates’ survival. By being free from the weight of pervasive racial and cultural oppression, most white advocates in the farmed animal protection movement experience a privilege not available to advocates of color.
In settings where this privilege goes unnoticed, it may be tempting to think that advocacy power is a zero-sum game of time and funding, and that resources can either be used to advocate for animals or for people. In an organizational landscape marked by funding scarcity, advocates and organizations may also choose to emphasize highly focused campaigns as a way to appeal to mission-driven funders. It is here where the food justice movement can offer the most valuable reframe: Without changing or sacrificing our animal protection focus, it is possible for animal advocates to change how we approach our work, whom we seek out as thought leaders, and whom we regard as potential allies. By listening to and learning from food justice advocates and people of color leading work in the food system and deepening our knowledge of relevant systemic food problems and solutions, we can do our work with a broader awareness and a renewed commitment to achieving lasting, systemic change.
Food Justice Concerns Linked To Animal Farming
Human and non-human suffering in the food system are deeply entwined. The threads of injustice that harm farmed animals in the food system are driven by many of the same production systems and food consumption norms that also exploit and harm human beings, particularly people of color.
The dominant industrial food system is based on the simultaneous exploitation of animals farmed as property, environments used extractively, and long-term, systematic exploitation of BIPOC and socially disadvantaged workers throughout the food chain.
Injustice to animals and injustice to people are inseparable within industrial agriculture. Wherever animals are confined, human workers are tasked with performing the emotionally and physically harmful work of slaughter and processing, experiencing negative mental health outcomes.
Large industrial farms persist by exploiting the labor of BIPOC individuals and other communities facing social and economic exclusion. Industrial crop farming exploits farmworkers through substandard wages and living conditions and frequent exposure to toxic agrichemicals. Even alternative food system jobs that challenge some aspects of industrial agriculture offer limited upward mobility and uncompetitive pay for workers. Patterns of both human and animal exploitation of the industrial system are kept in place in part by food access disparities created by economic exclusion of people of color. Food choice is further shaped by deeply inequitable patterns of food distribution, including the deliberate targeting of predominantly Black and brown neighborhoods with marketing for highly processed, nutritionally lower-quality foods.
Industrial animal agriculture depends on industrial field agriculture for the production of cheap, standardized feed crops. Slaughterhouse work is extraordinarily dangerous, exploitative, and poorly compensated. The meat processing industry, in turn, exploits the economic vulnerability of low-income rural residents to carry out dangerous work under unsafe conditions, with a workforce composed largely of people of color, recent immigrants, and the undocumented.
The change that animal advocates wish to see in the shift to a plant-based food system will bring sweeping changes to the lives of people at all stages of food production and consumption. For animal advocates, this means that achieving justice for farmed animals will require engaging and collaborating with frontline food system workers and marginalized communities as impacted populations, and as necessary allies in the collaborative work of food systems transformation. We must, as animal advocates, work hard to find common ground with all forms of food justice advocacy if we are to build the social and political will for large-scale food systems change.
Awareness of food justice and underlying racial equity movements presents animal advocates an opportunity to fully apply our commitment to justice, and the potential for greater systemic impact if we can succeed in doing so. For the sake of justice, we cannot forget, discount, or overlook the people that this food system harms as it exploits animals. For the sake of animals, the animal protection movement cannot afford to leave this potential untapped. We must become more aware of food justice narratives and motivations, examine our own biases, learn from one another’s work, and work to enhance one another’s fight for systemic change rather than focusing on our differences.
With our advocacy strengthened by mutual understanding, animal advocates and food justice advocates can build a food movement and a food system free from all forms of injustice and exploitation, of animals, of people, and of the environment we all call home.