A Guide for Going Cruelty-Free (Minus the Shame & Privilege)

natalie and thelma

Thelma loves being scratched behind her ears–just like your dog.

“Feminism goes hand in hand with veganism–the liberation of all beings. Feminism isn’t just about women–it is about everyone being equals” -Jessica Davies, owner of Passion Flour Patisserie

Most folks with a feminist ideology look back at their early days of activism and see glaring holes in their theory and practice, but fortunately for us, feminism isn’t concrete, and it usually evolves for the better. I think my feminist ideology is on the move, and I’ve reached out to my dear friend, feminist, and brilliant animal rights activist, Natalie Blanton to share with you some of her perspectives on living life as an ecofeminist. Check it out!


 

Animal rights is a feminist issue.

And I need you to know this. This is my truth. And, as we all know, there are many different feminist camps–but this is one I am particularly passionate about. I’m from Heber, UT  (damn near Vernal) where hyper-masculinity, wrestling, hunting, and rodeo are the only “sports” people get excited about. I spent much of my youth on horse-back, in rodeo culture, and yes, eating the occasional deer jerky. I discovered feminism as I was leaving the Mormon church in my early teenage years, this faith-based conservative cocktail was also inextricably tied in with my rural upbringing, and the normalized exploitation of animals [and women] that I was raised within.

It was from this unexpected space that I began to realize the vital connections between humans and animals, and the complex systems and institutions that continually try to wedge and sever those ties. We live in a world where everything that we buy, cook, ingest, clean our homes with, put on our faces, in our hair, and on our children, is filled with animal by-products. This might not shock or disturb you at this point, but I ask you to look deeper at what is on your plate, or in your makeup — and where it came from — because it is a feminist issue.

What is veganism?

Veganism is the deliberate aversion and opposition to a system built upon animal exploitation. Vegan feminists or Feminists for Animal Rights take the personal is political ideology beyond an “abstract respect for animals” and embody that respect in their daily lives and choices. I am not here to preach about veganism, and how you must “convert” or else — but I do write to educate and enlighten — because I believe in the words of Paul McCartney that, “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian.” Ignorance isn’t ever bliss, and especially not in this case. Not only do animal lives depend on it, but our health, and the sustainability of this planet we call home depends on us making a change.

On Animal “Production”

I strive to foster this human/animal connection, and remind humans that animals are not ours to use, eat, exploit, or experiment on. We are all earthlings. And that matters. I believe animal rights is a feminist issue because living, sentient bodies are not on this earth for the capitalist patriarchy to perpetually profit from. We all know slaughterhouses are horrific. But, in this industrialized nation of ours, dairy, eggs, and pork industries are very much tied to the productive capabilities of a female cow, chicken, or pig, and the systemic control over that body, her life chances, and the offspring she is forced to bear, repeatedly, but will never be able to raise naturally.

A few months back, I had the opportunity to interview Marie and Butterfly, two vegan feminists who founded Solfood Catering in Little Rock, Arkansas. Their answers to my questions were powerful and poignant:

NB: How do you equate feminism with veganism?

Marie: Read The Sexual Politics of Meat by Carol J Adams—once you have read that, you cannot forget it. People think that dairy products are “so humane,” but this could not be less true. Kept constantly pregnant and lactating sounds worse to me than death. By making a slave of the cow and then killing the body once it can no longer produce—that is how you get your dairy.

Patriarchy couldn’t survive without this enslavement and co-opting of female bodies. People no longer have to do that work—these creatures are simply fed into the machine and forgotten.

NB: What do you want to say to feminists who are not vegan, or who refuse to equate animal rights with human rights?

Butterfly: I have two words for these people: Rape Racks.

Marie: Yeah, tell them about the Rape Racks—the dairy farmer slang for the mechanism used to artificially inseminate and perpetually impregnate mother cows. Also, encourage them to read The Sexual Politics of Meat and then see where they stand. Simply observe your environment. Where did that milk and cheese come from? How do we have this constant supply of milk? Why are we the only animals that drink milk into our later life? We also need to encourage empathy for all animals. If you can have empathy for your dog or your cat, you can have it for a cow or a chicken.

It is vital to think about the processes of production and the animals behind much of what we use, buy, and wear. Within the dairy industry, not only are these rape racks a horrific “industry standard,” but further still, newborn cows are ripped from their mother immediately after birth. Male calves go directly into the veal industry and the females begin growing so that they can produce offspring and milk as quick as possible. Today, factory farmed dairy cows produce 100 pounds of milk per day–10 times that of cows a few decades ago. The increase is due to bovine growth hormones and constant breeding to increase milk production. Imagine being chemically induced to produce more milk for the financial benefit of another being, against your will, all while having your baby stripped from you and taken to their own horrific fate.

The egg industry is equally as vile, what with hens crammed into tiny cages and forced to grow and lay multiple eggs daily via hormones. Male chicks are simply thrown in a grinder while alive — viewed as worthless in their inability to lay eggs or produce breast meat. “Breeding sows” or pigs in the “pork” industry are kept in gestation crates for their entire life–not allowed to move, simply be a fuel station for their piglets and kept pregnant, lactating, and miserable. And these are just the cows, pigs, and chickens of the animal agriculture system — the unfortunate truth is that this fate happens to these and millions of other animals for human “need” and “benefit” every single day. By choosing not to take part in these systems of torture, suffering, and exploitation, you are making a deliberate and powerful, and, I would argue, feminist statement.

Tips n’ Tricks to going as cruelty-free as possible

Okay, so now you know what it veganism means, and you know a little bit more about the horrors of animal production, but what are you going to do about it? The good news is, you don’t have to declare yourself a vegan tomorrow. There are smaller steps you can take to live a cruelty-free existence:

  1. Visit your local Farm Animal Sanctuary. Animal sanctuaries are where you can get up close and personal with animals you only viewed as food in the past. We are fortunate to have a couple of amazing rescue and education spaces here in Utah: Ching Farm Rescue & Sanctuary and the up-and-coming Sage Mountain.I will never forget the moment I encountered my first “breeding sow,” or a 1,000+ pound female pig, at Ching Farm.
  2. Veganize your favorites.This is easier than you think, y’all. I have been busy veganizing my favorite classical Utah-Mormon casserole recipes through the simplest of substitutions. Coconut oil in place of butter? It is a no-brainer quick fix. Butterfly of Solfood says, “Take things step by step [I like this crowd out not cut out method], seek out a cooking class and a vegan group, read the labels at the grocery store, drink lots of water and do cleanses, eat lots of kale [it’s the beef of plants], and use Happy Cow when traveling or looking for vegan restaurants  in your area, eat starch in moderation, learn to cook using YouTube and vegan cookbooks or blogs.
  3. Try dairy-free milk alternatives: you have so many to pick from: almond, cashew, hemp, rice, soy, coconut, etc. — and they are delicious, and severely lacking any animal cruelty.
  4. Start with Meatless Mondays. By simply switching to a vegan diet (no meat, dairy or eggs) you save more carbon emissions than driving a Prius — or not driving at all. With that knowledge, maybe you will move right on to Tofu Tuesdays, eh?
  5. Keep researching & stay connected. It has never been more easy, affordable, sustainable, or accessible to be vegan as it is right now. There are countless resources both on and offline, and lucky for us? SLC has an incredibly vibrant vegan community — tap into one of the SLC Vegan groups on Facebook and take part in some fascinating local conversations. Some of my favorite online spaces for Vegan Feminists:
    1. Everyday Feminism on why Animal Rights is a Feminist Issue
    2. For intersectionality, environment, and empowerment, I encourage you to look into the Food Empowerment Project
    3. The Vegan Feminist Network
    4. The Academic Abolitionist Vegan

It’s up to all of us to take care of our planet, and I hope that you start to see your relationship with animals as an integral part of that care. Remember, you don’t have to drop everything and become a vegan tomorrow (though that’s the end goal). Take your time, because long-term moderation is better than short-term fanaticism. Checkout the additional resources below to help you on your journey, and remember to reach out to vegan, ecofeminists in your life, they’ll give you as much support as you need.

Additional Resources

Films

Books:

  • Animal Liberation by Peter Singer
  • Ecological Hoofprint by Tony Weis
  • The China Study by T. Colin Campbell, Jacob Gould Schurman Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University, and his son Thomas M. Campbell II, a physician.
  • Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
  • The Sexual Politics of Meat by Carol J Adams
  • Ishmael by Daniel Quinn
  • Skinny Bitchby Rory Freedman

Tell us about your journey abandoning animal products in the comments!

Comments

  1. I watched Forks Over Knives and Cowspiracy and went vegan overnight!

  2. Vivienne Davies says:

    Very will done Natalie!

Share Your Thoughts