Thursday, August 27, 2015

Neo-Marxism, Capitalism and Animal Exploitation

by Bethany Cortale

The story of capitalism universally has been one of the oppressor versus the oppressed. While an analysis of the history of capitalism has taken a decidedly anthropocentric focus over the centuries, the recognition of nonhuman animals as one of those subjugated groups—and the significance of animal rights and the ethical vegan movement in actively working to end this oppression and raise human consciousness—has been garnering more attention, specifically by Neo-Marxists.

For centuries, capitalism has justified abusive labor practices and the destruction of nature and nonhuman animals in the pursuit of wealth. With the added aid of technology, nature and animals are being destroyed at alarming rates as modes of production, and the use of distance and concealment, encourage indifference towards them as nothing more than inanimate commodities.

Hundreds of live male chicks thrown out in plastic bags every day.

For example, male chicks are deemed worthless and costly to the egg industry because they don't produce eggs. Hatcheries breed chickens and then divide the newly born males from the females along an assembly belt. Once separated, the males are then quickly disposed of in one of three ways: they are gassed, suffocated in plastic bags (above), or tossed into a grinding machine and ground up alive—all within 72 hours of birth. This happens to 150,000 male chicks every single day at just one facility; some 260 million are killed this way every year.

"Cattle were the original capital," explained Pattrice Jones in her book, The Oxen at the Intersection. "The Latin capitalis comes from the term caput (head) and the habit of referring to a group of captive cows as however-many 'head of cattle.' As a form of wealth that was both moveable and tradable, captive cows featured prominently in the development of both agricultural capitalism and mercantilism, each of which contributed to the growth of industrial and consumer capitalism."

Capitalism exploits labor, nature, and animals but has successfully conditioned labor (people) not to turn their frustration and angst against those who warrant it—the capitalists—but on those who have no power. Many slaughterhouse workers have few options and are treated less than human, and bear out their grievances on the least among them and those who can’t fight back—the animals which society has tasked them with needlessly killing for consumption.

Here are some quotes from slaughterhouse workers taken from Dr. Melanie Joy's book, Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: 
“You’re going to lose hogs in a semitrailer no matter what. . . . During the time I worked in rendering, there was large piles of dead hogs every day. . . When they come off the truck, they’re solid as a block of ice. . . . I went to pick up some hogs one day for chainsawing from a pile of about thirty frozen hogs, and I found two [that were] . . . frozen but still alive. . . I could tell they were alive because they raised their heads up like, ‘Help me.’ . . . I took my ax-chopper and chopped them to death.”
“When the hogs smell blood, they don’t want to go [to the killing floor]. I’ve seen hogs beaten, whipped, kicked in the head to get them up to the restrainer. One night I saw a driver get so angry at a hog he broke its back with a piece of board. I’ve seen hog drivers take their prod and shove it up the hog’s ass to get them to move.”
“I saw an employee kick a chicken off the floor fan and routinely saw chickens being thrown around the room. . . . While one of the workers was talking about football, he “spiked” a chicken onto the conveyor belt, pretending he had scored a touchdown.”
While the choices of some workers may be limited, at least they still have one. Animals, on the other hand, have none. Nevertheless, both serve as inputs in the capitalist’s acquisition of riches. From the Neo-Marxist perspective, both groups are exploited, however, capitalist exploitation is rooted in animal exploitation. "Speciesism prepares the ground for and provides the building blocks with which other forms of discrimination, exploitation, and displacement are constructed," continued Ms. Jones.

In 1933, Max Horkheimer, a famous German philosopher and sociologist, came up with the skyscraper metaphor to illustrate the foundation of a capitalist society built on animal oppression:
From the upper cathedral windowed floors rule the feuding tycoons of the various capitalist power constellations. Below them, the lesser magnates, the large landowners and the entire staff of important co-workers. Below that . . . the large numbers of professionals, smaller employees, political stooges, the military and the professors, the engineers and heads of office down to the typists; even further down what is left of the independent, small existences, craftsmen, grocers, farmers . . . then the proletarian, from the most highly paid, skilled workers down to the unskilled and the permanently unemployed, the poor, the aged and the sick. It is only below these that we encounter the actual foundation of misery on which this structure rises. . . . Below . . . the indescribable, unimaginable suffering of the animals, the animal hell in human society . . . the sweat, blood, despair of the animals. . . .The basement of that house is a slaughterhouse . . .”
The exploitation of nonhuman animals and nature is fostered through culturally-driven consumer choices alongside corporate and government agendas. For example, despite the "happy cows" commercials, dairy cows are anything but; and in spite of marketing suggesting that "milk does a body good," dairy consumption is a leading factor in diabetes, obesity, and cancer, yet dairy is continually promoted by taxpayer financed programs and advertising supported by both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the dairy industry. 

The demand for fish and fish meal are depleting oceans so fast that scientists believe there will be no more fish by 2050, while increasing amounts of plastic and pollution fill their void. Forests are being cleared and plundered, and waterways polluted in BRIC and other economically developing nations to make way for more cattle and cheap beef while doing so directly starves the very poor in those same countries. And all of this is done on the backs of billions of animals who are bred and killed every year to fill false needs for dairy, meat, eggs, and other animal products.

Like most people, left-leaning groups disregard animal rights and liberation at their own peril; they also don't take veganism seriously enough because to do so would require a change in mindset and daily living for both themselves and their supporters. Regardless of ideology, people are lax to give up their addictions to animal foods, even going out of their way to defend animal enslavement and cruelty because it’s easier to change one’s beliefs than one’s behaviors. Moreover, society at large gives its overwhelming stamp of approval.

“We know that suffering is something that humans share with animals and that we have the possibility to abolish it. . . .” said Christin Bernhold of Association Dawn in the Weekly Worker. “There can be no social liberation if the liberation of animals does not factor into it both theoretically and politically.”

The commercialization of animals is a mainstay of the capitalist economy and to undo this manipulation and oppression requires systemic change. As Will Potter stated in his book, Green is the New Red
“The animal rights and environmental movements, more than any other social movements, directly threaten corporate interests. They do so every time activists encourage people to go vegan, stop driving, consume fewer resources and live simply. They do not advocate boycotts so much as life changes, and the changed lives they envision do not include some of the most powerful industries on the planet. . . . the perceived threat of these movements is much bigger than a threat to corporate pocketbooks. More than money is at stake.”
Massive misery is caused by three-fold exploitation: of humans by other humans, of nature and animals by humans, and the exploitation of our own selves whereby we repress our own humanity in order to function in a dysfunctional capitalist society dominated by cruel social norms that encourage consumerism at all costs, even at the expense of our lives and the lives of others. This repression of morality literally consumes our world and is especially prevalent during meal times when we are more than happy to ignore the victims on our plates.

Vegan Starter Kit

Sunday, July 12, 2015

It's Time to Be Veganized!

The Vegan Vine
Julie, Santos, Chef Ron, Annie and EL during a Saturday brunch. 
Photo from

by Bethany Cortale

For years I've been asking the same question over and over again: when will there be a vegan restaurant in New Brunswick, New Jersey?

I spent my late teens and early twenties in New Brunswick as a Rutgers University undergrad. While I was a student, I was also a member of the local George Street Co-op, a natural foods market started by vegetarian Rutgers students in 1973. I've visited New Brunswick often throughout the last twenty years and yet, despite the spirited and diverse city life and the collegiate atmosphere, there has not been one bona fide vegan restaurant within the city's walls...until now!

The Vegan Vine
Veganized is a friendly, clean and inviting establishment located in the heart of New Brunswick. It beckons to you before you even walk through the door with its vibrant logo and rainbow of colors, which are reflected in every dish.

You can tell that Chef Ron and General Manager EL, brothers who opened Veganized earlier this year, take pride in their new restaurant. The service at Veganized is impeccable. I am not one who likes to be constantly interrupted while dining, however, the servers at Veganized seem to strike just the right balance between letting you enjoy your meal and conversation, and knowing exactly what you need and when you need it.

If you haven't already guessed by the name, all the fare at Veganized is completely vegan, but what you may not have expected is that it is also 95 percent Organic. Furthermore, the brothers use local, seasonal, and Fair Trade ingredients whenever possible. Even the table water is not your average water, but deliciously infused with real, organic fruit. They pay attention to every detail.

The Vegan Vine
Photo by Laura Kogan
Veganized's modern vegan menu is robust and varied. Strike out with a salad, like the Quinoa Salad of mixed greens, sherry vinaigrette, tricolor quinoa, roasted beets, edamame, goji berries, and toasted pine nuts. Or start with an appetizer like the Timbale (left) consisting of black beans, sweet potato, guacamole, cashew sour cream, and tortilla chips.

I couldn't decide between the Falafull, a twist on the standard falafel wrap incorporating baked chickpea patties, hummus, cucumber tomato salad, pickle, and a side of tahini, and the Mex-I-Can, made up of brown rice, black beans, charred corn, cucumber salsa, guacamole, and cashew sour cream. In the end, I chose the delicious Falafull and made a mental note to order the Mex-I-Can during my next visit.

The food at Veganized has been described as rich and hearty, without being heavy. The restaurant also offers flatbreads, sandwiches, burgers, sides, and even a veganized version of mac 'n' cheese with pasta, sweet potato cashew cream, smoked shiitake mushrooms, broccoli rabe, and bread crumbs.

And don't forget dessert! How can you with offerings like Chocolate Peanut Butter Torte, 14 Karat Cake, and Vanilla Cheese Cake, a strawberry compote with an oat coconut crust?

The Vegan Vine
Chocolate Peanut Butter Torte
Photo by Laura Kogan
Veganized is a little pricey, but worth every dollar spent. I'm thrilled that the New Brunswick area and Rutgers University community finally have a vegan restaurant to call their own!

Veganized is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. and serves brunch on the weekends. They are located at 9 Spring Street in downtown New Brunswick, just a block from the train station. For more information, visit their website at

Vegan Starter Kit

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Cows Have Vaginas, Too!

by Bethany Cortale
Vegan Feminist Network, The Vegan Vine
Forcible insemination (rape) of a dairy cow.
When I tell people new to animal activism that veganism is also a feminist issue, I usually get some quizzical looks. Did you say feminism? What do women have to do with farm animals? This typical response is reflective of speciesism. When we think of animals as others, we are acting speciesist.

There are female nonhuman animals just as there are female human animals. And yes, cows have vaginas, too!

Is it really that incredible to believe that a cow loves her calf as much as any human loves her baby, or that the calf with whom she also spent nine months nurturing in her womb is just as precious to her as any infant to its human mother? Sadly, our anthropocentric society conditions us to dismiss the lives and feelings of nonhuman animals in order to justify the horrendous acts committed against them. We don't want to hear about mothers bellowing for their calves for days on end after having them ripped away after birth or their desperate attempts to jump fences and evade captors to reunite with them. Wouldn't any human mother do the same for her child?

The majority of animals exploited for human consumption are females for their feminized protein: milk and eggs. Dairy cows are inseminated against their will using what the industry candidly calls a rape rack. “Rape rack is a term that makes no apologies,” said Talia of the Vegan Feminist. A rape rack restrains a cow while a human violates her by forcibly and violently penetrating her vagina with an object or device in order to impregnate her. The rape rack is utilized to make it easy and efficient for humans to inseminate cows in order to produce more animals for milk and meat.

In a recent exposé, the New York Times reported on taxpayer-financed experiments on farm animals for the meat industry in which re-engineered cows were bred to have twins and triplets, often resulting in weak and deformed calves, and operations on the ovaries and brains of pigs to make them more fertile. One grisly incident involved a young female cow who was put into a rape rack and left with six bulls. Dr. James Keen, a scientist and veterinarian who worked at the facility said "The bulls were being studied for their sexual libido and normally you would do that by putting a single bull in with a cow for 15 minutes. But these bulls had been in there for hours mounting her . . . her back legs were broken. Her body was just torn up." Too much for her to bear, she died a few hours later.

As with humans, cows cannot produce milk without having babies, however none of their milk goes to their calves. Instead, their milk is given to humans—the only mammals on earth who voluntarily ingest milk from another mammal.

Calves are taken from their mothers usually within 24 hours of birth—newly born females will be raped just like their mothers before them, and males will be prepped to become veal or cheap beef (hamburgers). And when dairy cows have outgrown their usefulness and their (re)productiveness ends, they will be slaughtered just like the others. This is the suffering contained in a glass of milk, a block of cheese, and a pint of ice-cream. 

The raping of animals to produce more animals so people can consume the products of their reproduction is prevalent among female animals, particularly those whose bodies and secretions are deemed food. The sexual assault of both male and female nonhuman animals is viewed as an economic necessity for those industries that profit off their mass production and exploitation.

A breeding pig spends most of her life in a metal crate so small that she literally cannot turn around and can barely move her legs. After giving birth, she is locked in a 2 foot by 7 foot gestation crate for a month. Her piglets are deprived of maternal comfort as they nurse through metal bars. After three or four years of these repeated cycles of giving birth only to watch helplessly as her piglets are taken from her one by one, is she then killed. 

Feminism, Cows Have Vaginas, Too
Turkeys have been genetically manipulated to grow so abnormally large in order to sell more of their flesh to consumers (larger breasts) that it is impossible for their reproductive organs to naturally come in contact; therefore, workers are paid to masturbate male turkeys (toms) and forcibly insert the toms’ semen into the females’ vaginas using a rubber tube.

Rape is a crime of power. This is no exception for the animal industrial complex in which humans wield their dominance over other sentient beings simply because they can. To wit: animals are sexually assaulted even when it has no bearing on production. In “Does Eating Meat Support Bestiality?” Bruce Friedrich shows just how routine sexual abuse is in the meat industry:
  • At a Hormel supplier, a supervisor rammed canes and gate rods into the vaginas and anuses of pigs while another employee told a PETA investigator to beat a pig and compared the pig to a "voluptuous little fucking girl." He also urged the supervisor to expose his genitals to the pigs.
  • At the world's leading poultry breeding company, a worker pinned a female turkey to the ground and pretended to rape her. He told police he'd done the same thing to dozens of other turkeys.
  • At a Butterball slaughterhouse in Arkansas, a worker repeatedly jammed his finger into a turkey's vagina, and another worker simulated the rape of a bird whose legs and head he had secured in metal shackles.
Similarly to human females, nonhuman females are an oppressed group controlled and dominated by a system that uses sexual abuse and violence as common practices to promote animal consumption. Carol Adams illuminated this more than twenty years ago in her landmark book The Sexual Politics of Meat: "Whereas women may feel like pieces of meat, and be treated like pieces of meatemotionally butchered and physically batteredanimals actually are made into pieces of meat (p. 57). . . . When asked about their sexual fantasies, many men describe 'pornographic scenes of disembodied, faceless, impersonal body parts: breasts, legs, vaginas, buttocks.' Meat for the average consumer has been reduced to exactly that: faceless body parts, breasts, legs, udders, buttocks. Frank Perdue plays with the images of sexual butchering in a poster encouraging chicken consumption: 'Are you a breast or a leg man?'" (p. 69).

Our social structure maintains its power through the literal and figurative consumption and commercialization of female animals—both human and nonhuman. This reality was clearly illustrated in a recent episode of Undercover Boss featuring a sports bar named Bikinis. When asked about his business of employing women in scantily clad bathing suits, Bikinis CEO Doug Guller said “We’re a breastaurant. It’s obvious what gets our fans in the door. It’s our breasts. Not necessarily our chicken breasts.”

When people purchase and eat animal products, they’re not only condoning violence and the taking of lives for something so unnecessary as meat, dairy and eggs, but they’re also excusing and contributing to a repressive, patriarchal establishment that gives others the right to sexually abuse and rape females and get away with it.

Bodies are not property! Women, more than any other group, should not be participants in their own denigration and commodification or that of any other female, irrespective of species.

"As a feminist, I couldn't hide from the fact that what we do to animals to fulfill our consumer demands is profoundly un-feminist," wrote Marla Rose in "Becoming a Vegan Feminist Agitator." "We impregnate the animals against their will, breeding them into captivity, we imprison them, we control and violate their reproductive sovereignty and organs so we can take what we want out of them, and, when they have given us most of what they have, we toss them out to make room for more fertile ones. This is what feminists approve of and directly cause when we consume animals' stolen milk and eggs. We take the babies we have forced into them so we can have the products we want. . . . Even in the rare cases where babies and mothers aren't separated and are allowed something resembling a decent life, we still decide how they live as well as how and when they will die. None of this challenges the status quo of ownership, of our 'right' to their very physical bodies. How can an avowed feminist [or any woman] accept these terms imposed on another female?" 

Veganism and animal rights are not about women verses men or males verses females, but of right versus wrong. The victimization of any powerless group is unjust; therefore, we must awaken our own consciousness and that of others to the knowledge that no animal, under any circumstance, is property. It’s that simple and it begins with a commitment to veganism.

Photo courtesy of Vegan Feminist Network.

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Saturday, May 9, 2015

Vegan Discrimination and the Workplace

Vegan Discrimination
by Bethany Cortale

Last year a dilemma had presented itself. I had accepted a new job offer but before my employer made it official, my new boss had requested my “friendship” on Facebook. What should I do?

I primarily utilize Facebook, Twitter and social media for animal activism. Almost daily, I post images and share information intent on educating people and encouraging them to go vegan. I promote legislation, petitions, and ask others to act on behalf of animals. I am sometimes confrontational, challenging people's cruel complacency and unconscious exploitation of animals. As a source of engagement, these sites also provide me with an online community of vegan support as a majority of my contacts are vegan.

Such being the case, I was reticent to accept my new boss’s friendship on Facebook, however, both options seemed fraught with risk: accepting my boss's friendship chanced bias, and not accepting her friendship could result in awkward feelings and the appearance of having something to hide. I have nothing to be ashamed of and sooner or later my vegan beliefs were bound to surface in workplace conversations and interactions. Still, I didn’t want to jeopardize my new job before I even started, so after waiting a week I approved it.

Unfortunately, my experience and similar ones involving the workplace are not unusual and present conflicts for vegans every day.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission prohibits the discrimination of any job applicant or employee based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age and disability. Discriminating against a person for any of these reasons is illegal, but that doesn’t mean discrimination doesn’t take place. Sometimes it’s difficult to prove and other times individuals aren’t aware of their rights. Nevertheless, vegans are not a protected group in the United States, at least not now.

In 2010, the United Kingdom acknowledged the beliefs of vegans on par with religion. The UK Equality Bill offered protection against workplace discrimination and required that public authorities, including schools, consider the impact of all their policies on vegans and other minority groups. The Equalities and Human Rights Commission noted that the “ethical commitment” of vegans to animal welfare is “central to who they are. A belief need not include faith or worship of a god or gods, but must affect how a person lives their life.” Likewise, Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, an international treaty, also protects the philosophical beliefs of vegans.

Some may think government laws protecting vegans are gratuitous, but while most people will claim to be against animal cruelty, those very same people are more than happy to engage in said cruelties, ignoring the harm they themselves inflict on animals when they eat flesh, dairy and eggs. Furthermore, workplaces are replete with employees who make insensitive and uninformed remarks and crack jokes at the expense of vegans and animals, yet they would hesitate to publicly make similar statements if the topic were about women, minorities or the disabled.

Recently during a vegan book club meeting, a member expressed concern about a recent job interview she had during which company employees took her out to lunch. She tried not to discuss her veganism but the interviewers’ confusion over why she wouldn’t eat what they were eating or what they had suggested she eat, made this difficult for her. In response to their barrage of questions, which made her feel uncomfortable and put on the spot, she finally disclosed that she was vegan. Over the course of lunch she noticed that the demeanor of those interviewing her had quickly changed. In the end, despite her being highly qualified for the job, she didn’t get it and the company didn’t tell her why she didn’t get it. She said the worst part was not knowing whether she had been discriminated against simply for being vegan.

In Nick Cooney’s book, Change of Heart, he discussed the importance of social norms in shaping beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. “People view an attitude as correct to the degree they see others holding it," he said. "What those around a person are saying and doing at that moment also have a significant impact on people’s judgments. . . . Humans have a natural tendency to greatly value their own social group and ignore and denigrate those not in it.”

As soon as someone declares their veganism, all kinds of assumptions and stereotypes are made. Likening it to a kind of Scarlet Letter, vegans are often negatively branded because they don’t subscribe to the violent dictates of the status quo.

Generally speaking, folks don’t want to be challenged by their peers or made to feel as though their values and behaviors are in question or—worse—immoral and unjust; they want to feel as though they are behaving in ways that are justifiable merely because they reflect what everyone else is doing. More often than not, a vegan doesn’t have to say or do anything to make a nonvegan defensive or uncomfortable; their presence alone speaks volumes because they are not conforming to widely accepted standards and customs.

Our book club members collectively concluded that the employers acted inappropriately, perhaps even illegally, when they interrogated our member about her veganism during the interview over lunch, and that they most likely sought a new employee who shared their own ideas and conduct, however egregious, because of their propensity for conformity and homogeny.

Discrimination against vegans is wrong, however, the majority of those who exploit animals and consume animal products also control political, economic, and social institutions, just as prejudiced whites once did and, in some places, still do. It is unfair, but it is a reality. Therefore, it is our duty as vegans to work for systemic change by creating more vegans and emboldening others to question the animal industrial complex so that animal exploitation and injustice will become a thing of the past.

It is a sad state of affairs when those who care about promoting a way of life that strives to end institutionalized animal abuse, environmental degradation, failing healthcare, violence, and global hunger are met with resistance and obstinacy; when those who present an ideal way to coexist that’s mutually beneficial to all living beings are made to feel silly and unwelcome; when those trying to make the world a better place for everyone are deemed a threat to the selfish and depraved hankerings of those who seek to maintain power, money and control.

In the end, we vegans must remain committed and not be discouraged. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.”

During my last job search I often worried whether potential employers had passed me up because they had looked me up online and found this here blog which you are now reading. I worried that this medium—which affords me the opportunity to express my beliefs and concerns and advocate for animals through the written word—inhibited my chances of securing employment. It is certainly a real possibility, but I refuse to be silent. Too many lives are at stake. And if a company chooses not to hire me because of my vegan activism, despite all the valuable skills, talents, and experience that I can bring to it, then it is probably for the best.

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