Tag Archives: veganism

Presenting at Vegan Soul Wellness Festival

[Image: A poster reading (in part): “Welcoming Gender Diversity – An open conversation with keynote speaker Pax Ahimsa Gethen”]

On September 24, I’ll be one of the keynote speakers at the Vegan Soul Wellness festival in Oakland. I’ll be presenting an updated and expanded version of the talk I gave at the Intersectional Justice Conference earlier this year: Welcoming Gender Diversity: Trans, non-binary, and intersex inclusion in activist spaces. I’ll be representing Black Vegans Rock and discussing the intersections of racism and cissexism as part of my talk.

The other keynote speakers are David Carter, aka The 300 Pound Vegan, and his wife, photographer and activist Paige Carter. The festival will include workshops, cooking demos, food vendors, and more. If you’re in the SF Bay Area, come check it out!

ETA: My talk is currently scheduled for noon. The final schedule should be posted closer to the date of the event.

Black Vegans Rock and effective activism

[Image: Black Vegans Rock poster, designed by EastRand Studios.]

As I mentioned in a recent entry, I’ve been managing the Instagram page for Black Vegans Rock for the last month. Since Aph Ko launched the BVR web site in January, I’ve enjoyed reading the diverse stories and experiences of black vegans from all over the world. To date, we’ve featured over 130 individuals from all walks of life: Students, doctors, musicians, scholars, athletes, chefs, and more.

Working with Aph on Black Vegans Rock (I’m on the advisory board) has changed my thoughts about animal rights activism. I see a common theme in many of the stories we feature: The individual adopts a vegan diet initially for health reasons, and then later comes to appreciate the inherent worth of our fellow animals for their own sake. Not all follow this path, of course; some go vegan for ethical reasons from the start. But many black folks do adopt a vegan diet to address health problems.

While a vegan diet is definitely not a cure-all and no one should be  shamed for illness, I believe we do need to acknowledge and address health issues in a non-oppressive way as part of our activism. Dairy products, for example, are particularly damaging to the health of black folks, the vast majority of whom are lactose intolerant. This is one of the many reasons why I will not promote vegetarian, “flexitarian”, or “reducetarian” diets. We only feature vegans on Black Vegans Rock.

Proper education about nutrition is so important and so lacking in a society dominated by advertising and lobbying groups from the animal slaughter industries. I recently watched a TV show that featured black vegan weightlifter Kendrick Farris, the only male weightlifter representing the USA in the 2016 Olympics. He and the interviewer went to a restaurant in Rio de Janeiro, and the interviewer, having apparently never been to a salad bar, said “So this is like ‘Build-A-Bear’ with vegetables!” After the segment, the host marveled that Farris could get enough protein without eating “beef and chicken”, also saying “You learn something new every day.”

Most of the episodes of this show about the Olympics have featured restaurants that serve copious amounts of animal flesh. Of course, there’s been no mention of the decimation of the Brazilian rainforest by animal agriculture, nor of the 1000+ activists killed in that country over the issue.* Veganism as decolonialism is another approach relevant to blacks and other people of color, and has also been a part of the story of several of those featured on Black Vegans Rock.

Discussing the health or environmental benefits of veganism does not preclude talking about ethics, or engaging in demonstrations or (in some cases) direct action. Many different types of non-oppressive activism have a rightful place in the animal rights movement. But no vegan should feel pressured or shamed into compromising their health or safety “for the animals”.

My own philosophy remains that animals are people, not property, and I approach animal rights activism primarily from that perspective. But Black Vegans Rock has helped me understand that other approaches still have a lot of value, particularly when it comes to marginalized communities.

* See the Cowspiracy facts page for more information.

Black lives matter on Wikipedia

[Image: Dr. A. Breeze Harper speaks at the Intersectional Justice Conference.]

Black vegan feminist writers Aph and Syl Ko have explained that it’s important to celebrate black life, not just mourn black death. This is part of the motivation behind Black Vegans Rock. While Aph has been updating the web site, Facebook page, and Twitter on a daily basis since we launched in January, I’ve been updating our Instagram page for the last few weeks. It’s great amidst all the violence and anger in the world to see positive, photographic representation of black folks celebrating food, animals, and each other.

Another way I’ve been helping celebrate living black people is to improve coverage of us on Wikipedia. While anyone can create a profile on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter easily, Wikipedia has higher standards and barriers to entry and participation. I’ve written before about issues concerning sexism, racism, and cissexism on that platform. On Wikipedia and in this blog, I am focusing my writing and photography on people other than cisgender white men.

So in the last two months, I have created new articles for the following black folks:

I’ve also made significant improvements to the existing articles for:

I’ve also contributed images to Wikimedia Commons for Harper and Rhue, as well as opera singer Breanna Sinclairé and several other black LGBT and anti-racist activists.

On Ajamu Baraka: When I read last night that he had accepted Jill Stein’s offer to be her running mate, I immediately searched for his name. I found a brand-new Wikipedia page with about five sentences on it. This is a man who has been campaigning actively for human rights for decades, and served on the boards of numerous organizations, including Amnesty International. Why did he not have a Wikipedia page before now?

The collaborative—and sometimes combative—nature of editing Wikipedia can be a frustrating experience, but it’s very important to me because Wikipedia entries figure so prominently in Google and other search engine results. Just as I don’t want a young non-binary trans person to search for information about their gender and find a vandalized page stating that they are mentally ill, I don’t want journalists and voters to search for information on the new Green Party VP candidate and find inaccurate, misleading, or outright racist content.

If you have the time, you too can help improve Wikipedia. There are numerous local meetups and edit-a-thons that welcome and teach new editors. Help make this online encyclopedia more truly representative of the diverse world we live in.

Racism and “cosmetic diversity” at the Republican convention

[Image: The Washington Monument at the National Mall, Washington D.C.]

I have not watched the Republican national convention since 1988. This year I decided I needed to watch at least some of it to know how scared I should be about the future of this country. I’m following The Guardian’s coverage rather than watching a livestream, so I’m not tempted to throw a brick through my TV set. This is not fun popcorn-time entertainment for me; the outcome of the election affects my health and safety.

I was nauseated, though not surprised, at the racism displayed by speakers at the convention. Rudy Giuliani’s blatantly false assertion that police save lives without caring whether they are white or black infuriated me. And then they put an Uncle Tom sheriff at the podium to talk about BlueLivesMatter. My friend and fellow black vegan social justice advocate Aph Ko brilliantly dissected this scene in a Facebook post:

Sheriff David Clarke was invited to speak at the Republican National Convention. This is a great example of cosmetic diversity. Black bodies are welcome so long as they recite knowledge from the dominant class. We need to abandon the idea that “representation” is the *only* problem we have in our movements. The reality is, black knowledge isn’t welcome. This is why when we superficially scream about diversity (in terms of skin alone), we need to be careful because it doesn’t necessarily mean we’re getting a diversity of knowledges and perspectives. When diversity is viewed as a skin-deep thing, Clarke’s presence at the RNC is viewed as “progressive.”

I wish folks would talk more about this subject rather than the apparent plagiarism of Michelle Obama’s speech by Melania Trump’s speechwriters. I don’t support plagiarism by anyone, but I don’t like the inevitable slut-shaming and accent-mocking that accompanies criticism of her. I’ve read that the woman is fluent in five languages; that’s four more than I am. Regardless, she didn’t write the speech, and she’s not a politician.

My horror at the Republican convention should be in no way taken as support for the Democrats. As I’ve repeated frequently in this blog, I am registered with no political party and endorse no presidential candidates at this time. The only candidates I’m remotely considering voting for are Clifton Roberts and Breeze Harper of the Humane Party, and Jill Stein (VP candidate yet to be announced) of the Green Party.

I understand that Stein is picking up a lot of support from former Bernie Sanders supporters who were actually surprised that he endorsed Hillary Clinton (I was not). I did vote for her in 2012, but left the Green Party subsequently, and am not thrilled with her statement about her part-time “veganism” that includes fish and dairy. I am far from a single-issue voter, but cannot ignore speciesism or the watering-down of veganism.

I’m still convinced that the only way to fix this country is a non-violent revolution. I wish I knew how to help make that happen. I really do.

ETA: I made the mistake of tuning into live coverage of the RNC briefly this afternoon, just before the California delegation came up for the roll call. Four black (as far as I could tell) folks gathered at the mic, the woman from the group gleefully announced my state’s 172 votes for Trump (see video clip from 0:13 to 0:33), and led the delegation in a “We want Trump” chant.  To say it made me sick would be an understatement.

ETA 2, July 20: The black women near the beginning and end of this video clip say they’re voting for Trump because he’s not a politician, they’re sick of “crooked Hillary Clinton” and “political correctness”, and just because they’re black doesn’t mean they have to vote Democratic. (I definitely agree on that last point…)

Speciesism and security theater

[Image: A Muscovy duck stands on a path next to a lake.]

Content note: Description of violence against animals.

Yesterday, I needed to get out of the apartment. The management was turning off water in the building for repairs, as they’ve done an uncomfortable number of times lately. I can deal with no hot water, but with no running water at all, and noise from construction on the vacant units, I figured I should stop being a hermit and get outside for a few hours, as difficult as it is for me to be around people nowadays.

I ended up going to Golden Gate Park, wanting to visit Stow Lake to look at the birds. I’d run around that lake several times when I was in marathon training three years ago, but I was usually too tired and in too much pain by that point in the run (especially on the return leg) to appreciate the views. I wanted to go there now with no agenda, no time limit, and no heavy camera (the snapshot at the top of this post was taken with my cell phone).

As I set out, it was a typical “summer” morning in San Francisco: weather in the mid-50s and overcast. Though this weather is ideal for running, it wasn’t so good for casual strolling, especially as I was feeling very depressed.

Once I arrived at the lake, I enjoyed watching various geese, ducks, and other birds. Some approached me, then wandered off, probably because I didn’t offer any food. But I won’t pretend to know their thoughts; I’m not an expert in animal behavior, and I’m sometimes uncomfortable seeing animal advocates ascribing emotions to our fellow animals to “humanize” them. The only things I know for sure is that they want to live, don’t want to be imprisoned, don’t want their bodies manipulated, and don’t want their children taken away from them. For me, that—lack of consent—is reason enough to leave them alone, regardless of their feelings or intelligence.

I watched one duck, the one pictured at the top, for awhile, as he (I believe he was a male) preened his feathers. I felt very sad, thinking about the billions of birds we kill for their eggs and flesh every year. I remembered a scene in Cowspiracy where a backyard farmer selected a duck from his flock of prisoners to kill, and chopped their head off with an axe. I’ve watched that film three times, and every time I’ve closed my eyes just before the axe came down. I cannot bring myself to watch that scene. I think that the people who need to watch that scene are the ones who have no problem eating the flesh or eggs of “humanely-raised” animals, not me.

After leaving the lake, I wandered the park and came upon the de Young Museum. I knew that being the first Tuesday of the month, the museums were all offering free admission, but I didn’t particularly want to see the exhibits; I was just hoping to find a restroom. As I approached the building, before I got within twenty feet of one of the side doors, a security guard came out and demanded that I open my backpack. As these were the first words anyone had spoken directly to me in over two days (as I’m a hermit, and Ziggy has been out of town), I just stood there in mild shock.

I soon recovered and complied. He looked in my (mostly-empty) backpack, then said that I would have to hold it in my hand, not on my back. I decided I didn’t really want to go in the building at that point, so I just wandered around the sculpture garden, holding the backpack in my hand as instructed. I felt shaken, though relieved he had at least addressed me as “Sir” instead of “Ma’am.” I didn’t think he was racially profiling, as I saw him asking the same of white visitors, and he was a black man himself. I just wondered whether this policy was actually making a real difference to the safety of park visitors, or if it was another example of security theater.

I worry that we are going to devolve into more and more of a police state, without any true reduction in violence. I believe that our culture of killing that allows us to breed and slaughter billions of our fellow animals every year extends to how we treat our fellow human beings. This is not to say that vegans are necessarily less violent than non-vegans; I’ve seen terribly oppressive behavior from vegans since becoming active in animal rights, which I’ve documented on numerous occasions. But just as our US-American “Independence Day” really only celebrates the liberation of a select few, I believe we cannot have true peace and liberation as long as we continue to dominate every other species on the planet.

I don’t have all the answers to how to eradicate violence. It will never be possible to do so completely; we cannot exist without destroying life. But we can certainly do a better job at co-existing with others than we are doing right now. Veganism is one part of how we can evolve into a truly peaceful species.

One year blogiversary

[Image: Partial headshot of Pax with the words: Pax Ahimsa Gethen | queer * black * trans * vegan * atheist | blogger * photographer | gender & animal liberation | pronouns: they * them * their]

Tomorrow will be the one-year anniversary of this blog. Though I later imported and backdated a couple of entries from my old blog, my first official post was on July 2, 2015. Since then, I’ve posted 187 entries, and my blog has had over 19,000 visitors and over 30,000 views.

Wordpress blog post stats[Image: A screenshot with the title “All-time posts, views, and visitors” and the text “Posts: 187; Views: 30,066; Visitors: 19,104; Best views ever: 1,859, June 3, 2016.”]

Google Analytics for funcrunch.org[Image: A screenshot with the title “Google Analytics Dashboard” and a list of page titles and numbers.]

As with my Flickr photos, my most popular entries do not necessarily correspond with what I consider to be my best work. My most popular entry to date was about the expanded gender customization options in The Sims video game. This got a large number of hits solely because I shared it with popular vlogger Kat Blaque on her Facebook page, and she shared it with her readers. I need to write a follow-up entry now that I’ve played with the updated game more, as in my initial excitement I failed to realize that the game does still enforce the gender binary in significantly problematic ways.

My second most popular post, on Prince’s vegan diet (or lack thereof), was posted the day after his death, and continues to get a steady trickle of hits and occasional comments. I’ve added updates to that post as I’ve learned new information, which I’ve also helped incorporate into Prince’s Wikipedia page. But really, part of my point in the post was that we shouldn’t focus on vegan celebrities so much, so I’d rather people read my other posts about speciesism and animal rights.

My third and fourth most popular entries were on the important theme of oppression, especially anti-black racism, in the vegan movement: “White vegans need to check their privileges” and “Dear marginalized vegans: You are enough.” Both received a larger number of comments than usual for my entries, including several negative for the former, all of which I published (I generally publish all comments that are not obvious spam or trolling). I got a fair amount of praise and thanks for the latter, which Sarah K. Woodcock of The Advocacy of Veganism Society also invited me to read aloud for her podcast.

For more of what I consider to be my most important blog posts, see my “Best of 2015” round-ups of animal rights and gender-related posts. Too soon to do a round-up for 2016, but I think “Dear marginalized vegans” will make the list.

If my words or pictures have educated, entertained, or moved you in any way, please consider supporting me with a Patreon sponsorship or one-time tip. Free photography isn’t free to produce, and writing takes time and effort as well. So if you like my work and have the means, any amount you can give would be appreciated. Thank you to my sponsors, past and present, whether you’ve contributed one dollar or over a hundred.

Animal liberation begins at home

[Image: Side-by-side close-ups of the faces of a chicken and a dog. Underneath is the phrase “People, not property.”]

Content note: Violent anti-Chinese racism.

Every year during the Lychee and Dog Meat Festival in Yulin, Guangxi, China, the same predictable racist and speciesist comments flourish on social media. This year is no exception:

Chinese so barbaric[Image: Screenshot of a comment reading “What makes the Chinese so barbaric. Why can’t they eat chicken and rice. They are miserable bastards that should rot in hell. I would love to see those people tortured and killed and then feed their flesh to all those starving dogs.”]

Barbaric dog meat trade[Image: Screenshot of a comment reading “This Yulin barbaric dog meat trade is beyond a nigthmare, horrific. I hope all those responsible die.”]

Scumbag goblins[Image: Screenshot of a comment reading “I loathe those scumbags, they’re not even “people” but forevermore goblins.”]

Chinese eating themselves[Image: Screenshot of a comment reading “The Chinese should start eating themself……..many problems solved!!”]

I’ll keep my responses brief.

Non-vegans who are criticizing this festival: What Western farmers do to chickens, cows, pigs, and other animals is absolutely no different from what some Chinese people do to dogs. Even on so-called “humane” and free-range farms, our fellow animals are separated from their families, subjected to painful procedures, suffer from numerous ailments as a result of being bred for rapid growth, and are slaughtered at a young age. This includes laying hens and dairy cows, so lacto-ovo vegetarians are not exempt from participation in this violent system. The Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary has literature exposing the truth about animal agriculture in the USA.

Western vegans who are criticizing this festival: Stick to your own backyard. There are many vegans and animal rights activists in China who can protest dog slaughter without colonialist intervention. Call out racism and speciesism if you see comments like the ones in the above screenshots. Emphasize that all of our fellow animals—not just cute, cuddly, or “intelligent” individuals—are people, not property.

Animal liberation begins—and belongs—at home. Please go vegan, and do your part to help end speciesism, racism, and xenophobia.

LGBTQ vegans on the Orlando massacre

[Image: Activists in the Castro, San Francisco, hold three rainbow flags aloft. One includes the stars of the United States flag, and another includes the words “We Have One Pulse.”]

Last week I was contacted by Richard Bowie of VegNews magazine for my thoughts, as a queer vegan, on the Orlando massacre. Today, the magazine published the responses from myself and several other LGBTQ vegans, including my friend and fellow Black Vegans Rock advisory board member Christopher Sebastian, and my friend Saryta Rodriguez who I interviewed earlier this year.

I was aware my remarks would be edited, and I am glad they included what I said about erasure of the Latinx community, which I also posted about this weekend. I said a lot more though, so I’m including my full responses below (the questions themselves are paraphrased). I’ve added links to relevant blog posts and articles. Thanks to Richard Bowie and VegNews for reaching out to queer vegans, and particularly to queer vegans of color, on this issue.

On my initial reaction to the news

My initial reaction was muted, because, sadly, I’d become so accustomed to reports of gun violence that I was somewhat jaded and numb. It took a few hours of reading and absorbing what had happened for the horror to really sink in. I’ve had feelings of anger, fear, and hopelessness; feelings I experience daily as a queer black trans person who suffers from depression, but now even more magnified. These feelings have been tempered only by the privilege of living in a very LGBTQ-friendly community; thousands of San Franciscans came out to hold space at Harvey Milk Plaza in a vigil for the dead.

On drawing a connection between the queer community and ethical veganism

As a person who identifies as agender, I have seen and been personally affected by the false binaries humans have erected of gay and straight, male and female, masculine and feminine. Anyone who strays outside of the charmed circle of cisgender heteronormativity loses the privilege of being treated as a full human being. Gay or trans “panic” is still a legal defense for murder in 49 out of 50 U.S. states.

The human/animal divide is another false binary. We needlessly exploit and kill billions of our fellow animals every year for no reason other than that they are members of different species. We cite arbitrary traits like intelligence or the ability to speak a recognizable language as justification for deciding who is a person and who is food. But just as straight-passing and cis-passing queer people who practice “respectability politics” enjoy greater privileges, animals who remind us more of ourselves – apes, dogs, elephants – are afforded greater protections and recognition as individuals in society.

Regardless of intelligence or abilities, every animal, human or otherwise, wants to live. Until animals are treated as people instead of property, we will never have a fair and just society for all.

On the media diminishing or ignoring the queer context of the tragedy

It’s grossly irresponsible, though not at all surprising, of the mainstream news outlets to erase queer and Latinx people and focus solely or primarily on terrorism (which also breeds Islamophobia). This shooting took place in a gay nightclub on Latin night. Latina and black trans women were featured performers that evening. The vast majority of the victims were Latinx. This was not a mere coincidence.

As a queer person of color, I am tired of our communities being erased and tokenized. The hashtag “#WeAreOrlando” is wrong. We are not all Orlando, and cishet white people should be amplifying the voices of the queer and Latinx people whose communities were specifically targeted by this attack.

Anything else to add?

Going through a gender transition has made me even more sensitive to speciesism and the vast scope of unnecessary, avoidable harm we inflict upon others. We live in a culture of sanctioned, accepted violence, in the streets, in our homes, and on our plates. To achieve true peace we need to stop treating our fellow beings as inferior or disposable, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, race, or even species. We should recognize and celebrate our differences, not erase them or use them as excuses for violence.

Addendum, June 22: Saryta Rodriguez has now also posted her full responses to the interview questions.

Black vegans rock the White House: A. Breeze Harper for Vice President

[Image: A. Breeze Harper speaks at the Intersectional Justice Conference.]

Some exciting news: Dr. A. Breeze Harper, my fellow Black Vegans Rock advisory board member, is now the official nominee for vice president of the Humane Party, the only political party in the USA to have veganism and animal liberation in its platform. The announcement was made yesterday:

I’ve written about Dr. Harper numerous times in this blog, most recently for International Women’s Day and the Intersectional Justice Conference. She’s one of the people I’m supporting on Patreon. Harper is not only a vegan and anti-speciesist, but also an anti-racism activist, critical race theorist, and diversity trainer. Her candidacy alongside presidential nominee Clifton Roberts makes it clear that the Humane Party is not running a single-issue campaign.

While I remain politically unaffiliated at this time, I am excited by this news, and will be following the Humane Party with great interest.

Respecting sea life for World Oceans Day

[Image: Head-on view of a large fish swimming in an aquarium.]

Thanks to a post from the Food Empowerment Project, I learned that today, June 8, is World Oceans Day. Respecting our oceans— sometimes referred to as the “lungs” of the Earth— is crucial, but often centers on a “sustainability” that is entirely human-focused. Our planet’s oceans, rivers, and other bodies of water are home to trillions of animals, but most humans consider them mere “seafood,” or living art pieces to be imprisoned and admired from the outside of a glass aquarium.

I’m not speaking here of subsistence fishing by indigenous people. Although I do not condone the unnecessary and avoidable killing of any animal, in some communities survival on plants alone is very difficult. It is for this reason, and not out of respect for “traditions,” that I confine my comments here to the killing of fishes and other sea animals by humans who have plentiful access to plant-based foods.

Even before I went vegan, it always bothered me that many people considered the eating of fishes to be appropriate for vegetarians. Fishes and other sea animals are sentient beings who feel pain and experience fear. Fish Feel* has more information on these misunderstood animals. There are perpetual arguments even among vegans about whether certain animals such as oysters should be considered sentient, but the vast majority of the animals we kill for food certainly are.

I eventually realized that part of why many self-described vegetarians eat fishes is not because they don’t consider them to be animals, but because they are vegetarian for health reasons. Many consider the flesh of sea animals to be healthier for humans than the flesh of land animals. I could cite many resources to the contrary, but I would rather focus on the ethical arguments here, because veganism is not a diet.

I use the word “flesh” deliberately, because referring to our fellow animals with such terms as “meat,” “poultry,” and “seafood” reduces them to objects. Objects are exactly how most humans view members of other species; property to be owned, used, and discarded as we see fit. This mindset is especially prominent in Western cultures, but exists worldwide. Regardless, “respecting” animals—whether from the land or sea—means nothing to them if they are dead.

I recall several times when my desire to speak up for fishes was suppressed by social expectations. About twenty years ago, when I was gathering quotes from caterers for my first wedding, I made it clear we wanted the food to be all vegetarian. One of the caterers offered a menu that included the bodies of sea animals. I explained to her that this food was not appropriate for vegetarians. She responded, “So the others will have nothing, then?” (As if a flesh-eating human could not go four hours without eating the body of another animal.) I didn’t argue; I simply went with another caterer, even though her quoted price was higher.

Another incident around that time: I was at a restaurant with my grandparents and my then-partner. The restaurant had fish bodies lying on ice in a display case. My grandmother expressed how beautiful one of the fishes was. All I could think was how much more beautiful that animal would be if they were still alive and swimming freely in the ocean. But I was sitting at a table with three non-vegetarians, so I said nothing.

In a more recent incident, after I had gone vegan, I was at a party when an acquaintance came up to me and a friend (both of whom knew I was vegan). She excitedly exclaimed how during a recent vacation, a local had killed and prepared a fish especially for her birthday. Shen then paused and said something to the effect that I wouldn’t appreciate this, which was true. But I really didn’t know how or whether to express my disapproval, so I was silent.

I regret that my social awkwardness and other factors have prevented me from speaking out more for my fellow animals, but this blog is one way that I can do that from the relative safety of my home. It really does bother me when humans treat other animals as objects, whether for consumption, clothing, entertainment, or any other purpose. That applies to fishes as much as anyone else.

So on this World Oceans Day, please respect sea life by going vegan. Animals are people, not property, and like us, they just want to live.

* Linking for information only; I do not endorse this organization.