Thursday, July 14, 2016

Vegan Feminist Network on Maine Public Radio

Dr. Corey Lee Wrenn appeared on Maine public radio, Animal Sounds on WMPG 90.9FM on July 13th. In this program, Dr. Wrenn unpacks intersections of oppressive language that activists would do well to acknowledge and avoid. You can listen by clicking here.  

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Academic Abolitionist Vegan is no more

Dear readers,
Due to the extreme abuse and harassment of women (particularly women of color) promoted by the abolitionist faction (and the appropriative nature of the abolitionist approach in general), I have decided to change the name of this blog to The Academic Activist Vegan. As I stated in earlier posts, the abolitionist faction has entrenched and systemic issues with racism and sexism, issues that it seems to have no interest in addressing. I feel it is necessary as a personal and a professional matter to distance myself from the abolitionist project.

It is of my opinion that pro-intersectional feminism is the most constructive, respectful, encompassing, just, and effective approach to dismantling oppression. Any approach that fails to take intersecting injustices seriously and insists on promoting wealthy white male elites as the gatekeepers of social change is an approach that simply won't get the job done.

There are likely to be technical problems with the page until I can update links. It is likely that I will be removing this page entirely in the near future and hosting some of the more important essays published here on my personal website.

All the best,
Corey L. Wrenn
Professor of Gender Studies

Thursday, November 19, 2015

'It is Anything But': Sarah K. Woodcock Comments on Equality in Abolitionist Spaces

Dear colleagues,

I share this important letter that was today posted publicly on a social media page by my good friend Sarah K. Woodcock, founder of The Abolitionist Vegan Society (TAVS). This is the first time she has responded publicly to the racist microaggressions and harassment that the abolitionist movement has directed at her and other "intersectionalists" (a slur used by some abolitionists to describe abolitionist vegans who take a pro-intersectional approach) since the recent movement disruption documented on Vegan Trove (an anti-intersectional abolitionist platform that has been rejected by but still promotes Francione, a prominent abolitionist icon).

The concern over in-fighting and intra-movement violence in abolitionist spaces is nothing new. In Woodcock's case, she was forced to the center of this turmoil just over a year ago (TAVS has issued a public statement on the matter here and here). Woodcock and others have been upsetting the privilege and white-centrism of the abolitionist faction, only to be met with considerable hostility and limited support. Indeed, many white abolitionists remained silent on the matter of her victimization, or, worse, joined in it.

The message published here remains pertinent today as the pro-intersectional abolitionist community's commitment to nonviolence continues to encourage negative (and sometimes aggressive) responses from abolitionist leaders. I have omitted the names of those for whom the letter is specifically addressed, as the content of the letter actually speaks to a systemic issue. It is shared here with her permission.

[ . . . ] The abolitionist movement is racist and hostile to people of color. While it spouts off great ideas about being “against all forms of oppression,” its actions are not aligned with its words. It is *uncannily* similar to how nonvegans spout off great ideas about being “against animal cruelty” but live nonvegan. That is why I coined the term badgeally (Corey’s essay with examples, not just accusations here). The abolitionist movement is rampant with badgeallies.

And before you or anyone say this “This isn’t about race,” remember that saying that is a privilege only white people have. Please check your privilege.

Because society is systemically racist, the abolitionist movement replicates that system of inequality. White abolitionists have a responsibility to make the movement safe and inclusive for people of color. It is anything but. This is what Corey and I speak up about, and if you [...] and others have a problem with that, that should tell all of you something. I have been experiencing marginalization and microaggressions from white abolitionists since day 1 of my entering the movement. I have been and continue to be invisibilized, which is a classic racist tactic, by white abolitionists since day 1. In the beginning, when I na├»vely thought white abolitionists would be concerned about this because they claim to be “against racism,” I raised my concerns to several white abolitionists. I was met with denial, more marginalization, more microaggressions, and more invisibilization.

One of the greatest things that happened since I split with Francione & Co. was that I came to the harsh realization that the abolitionist movement is not actually against racism. Of course, it and everyone in it claims to be against racism. But people of color don’t have the privilege or luxury of not seeing the truth behind those claims.

As for reconciliation, it is just like the abolitionist/nonabolitionist movements. There are fundamental ethical issues at stake here. Just as the abolitionist movement cannot “reconcile” with the nonabolitionist movement because it would mean compromising on fundamental ethical issues, the anti-racist abolitionist movement cannot “reconcile” with the racist abolitionist movement because it would mean compromising on fundamental ethical issues. To me, as a person of color, denying the racism in the abolitionist movement is as unacceptable as denying the speciesism in the vegan movement. For those who want to learn more about the racism (as well as the other forms of oppression) in the abolitionist movement, I recommend checking out The Academic Abolitionist Vegan. Wrenn has written extensively on these topics.

That is one of the things that makes TAVS different from the rest of the abolitionist movement. We refuse to deny and be silent about the racism in the abolitionist movement. We are building a movement that is safe (or safer) for people of color.

Well, as I wrote in my recent post on the TAVS page, I rarely post about drama in the abolitionist vegan movement because my time and energy is better spent on building the movement I want, not having exchanges like this, so I will be turning off notifications now. Take care, everyone.


If you take anti-oppression seriously, it must extend beyond Nonhuman Animals to include all beings who are vulnerable to systemic violence. It's not only the just and moral approach; it simply makes good sense as a strategic matter.

Allies are requested to please show their support for Woodcock and The Abolitionist Vegan Society by getting involved with one or more of the many amazing ongoing non-violent, vegan, pro-intersectional campaigns that TAVS is currently running. Readers can join TAVS by visiting the website or link up by visiting TAVS on Facebook.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Effective Messaging: Is Appealing to Social Justice, Environment, or Efficient, More Profitable Exploitation More Effective?

If abolitionists conducted research like welfarists....

The Humane League's "labs" recently conducted a "study" inappropriately framing abolitionism as a matter of "purity" in its bid to prove that welfarism (THL's approach) was most effective. This "purity" label, as I have explained in previous writings, sets up an immediate bias. First, what abolitionist frames their work as a matter of purity? Really? Second, given the choice between "cruelty" and "purity," what participant would ever look fondly on this fictional stickler? The study was rigged, specifically designed to fail abolitionists.

Just today, Faunalytics (a non-profit that benefits from grants supplied by elite-run foundations which profit from status-quo inequality) was promoting the "study" with a title that reflects THL's biased framework: "Effective Messaging: Is Appealing to Purity, Environment, or Cruelty More Effective?" When assessing self-produced, self-serving research, it is important to think structurally. Like Faunalytics, THL also remains "in business" by appealing to speciesism. Speciesism is where the money is.

It should go without saying, but abolitionism isn't about purity. Abolitionism uses the frame of social justice and liberation, and this frame that is threatening to elites. This is why non-profits like Faunalytics, THL, etc. do the work of speciesists in regularly mischaracterizing abolitionist activism. They must distance themselves from this threat in order to protect their income.

The sharp increase in "science" used to support corrupted approaches is a theme I explore in my new book, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights. It is available for purchase through Palgrave Macmillan.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Everyday Vegan Racism: Cinco de Meow

I'm not a betting woman, but if I were, I believe it would be a safe bet that this adoption promotion was designed by a white-identified person:

Adoption promotion that reads, "Cinco de Meow! $5 adoptions all day. Una Gran Fiesta" Shows a cat wearing a sombrero and a moustache while smoking a cigarello

And what are the odds that No Kill Learning, the website that promoted this image as a positive example, is operated by someone who is white-identified? Pretty good, I think.

The author writes:
[...] fun, creative adoption promotions, like the one [featuring the racialized cat], engage people, dramatically increase adoptions and save lives [...]
And finally, what are the odds that non-white people would be interested in adopting or joining a movement when their culture is stereotyped and mocked?

Place your bets.

The author continues:
As I have previously written, Engaging the Public is one of the most important aspects of animal sheltering and rescue. Without doing that, you basically can't do anything else. 
What public exactly?

This is a brilliant example of how white-centrism in animal advocacy creates significant disconnects, disconnects that disempower our message and aggravate the very social inequality we seek to dismantle.

Unfortunately, Google reaffirms that companion animal "shelters" are white spaces intended for white visitors:

And, no, just in case you were wondering, slapping a mustache and a sombrero on a cat is not "honoring" Mexican culture. It's stereotyping Mexican culture to appeal to a perceived white audience and nothing more.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Why Do Vegans Love Non-Vegan Companies So Much?

For some years now, I have been outspoken in my criticism against LUSH Cosmetics, a non-vegan company that regularly engages misogynistic stunts to promote its products. Among other things, LUSH sexually objectifies female employees, blames women for speciesism (although the forms of speciesism LUSH concerns itself with are male-led industries), and uses women's bodies as stand-ins for graphic displays of speciesist violence, drawing on clear scripts of violence against women for the stunts to "make sense."

But, with every renewed complaint about the company, I can expect a number of LUSH devotees to come to the company's defense. This has always been rather curious to me, as LUSH isn't even a vegan company. Indeed, LUSH not only profits from the exploitation of women, but it also profits from the exploitation of other animals.

By way of an example, one anti-speciesism non-profit leader who was familiar with my work approached me seeking advice as to whether or not to solicit a grant from LUSH. They were unsure about the decision given LUSH's treatment of women. I suggested they try their luck with The Body Shop, a similar company that doesn't advertise with misogyny. I was told that their non-profit would never consider The Body Shop because it is owned by a company that engages vivisection. So, this non-profit was completely writing off The Body Shop, a non-misogynist, almost vegan company that does not test its own products on animals, in favor of LUSH, a clearly sexist company that is nowhere near vegan.

What's the disconnect here? Why are vegans so committed?

In a nutshell, companies invest quite a lot of time and expertise into facilitating consumer trust and brand loyalty. There's a neuroscience to it.

First, we can form actual, physical relationships with a brand. When researchers measured participant skin response to pictures of beloved brands in comparison to their response to images of good friends:
They found no significant differences in skin arousal. It is, of course, true that this is just a physiological response, which a number of things can elicit. But the researchers argue that, if we don't quite fall in love with brands, we are at least capable of falling in deep like with some of them. 
Relatedly, brands can also become tied to people's own identity:
The authors of one recent paper in the Journal of Consumer Research argue that people feel ashamed and insecure when a company betrayal is discovered, much like what would happen when trust is broken in an interpersonal relationship, precisely because of the fact that their self-concept has been tied up with their products. 

So it's no wonder that folks become so adamant about their Karma soap and LUSH bath bombs. There's a serious psychological relationship here.

Certainly, this research will also have implications for other vegan outreach. Strong consumer relationships with "meat" and dairy brands like Oscar Meyer, Jimmy Dean, Carnation, and Cadbury's will certainly complicate activist efforts.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Buyer Beware: Animals WERE Harmed In the Making of Desert Essence

A disturbing trend among "natural" companies in an increasingly competitive market is the use of "animal-friendly" labeling to describe decidedly unfriendly ingredients.

While shopping on Lucky Vitamin, I almost bought a product from Desert Essence marked as vegetarian and "cruelty-free," until I carefully read the ingredients:
Desert Essence - Exfoliating Shea Butter Body Scrub
Water (Aqua), Sodium Coco-Sulfate, Coco-Glucoside, Pumice, Hydrogenated Jojoba Oil, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter, Juglans Regia (Walnut) Shell Powder, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Wax, Cereus Grandiflorus (Vanilla Cactus) Extract, Opuntia Vulgaris Leaf Extract (Prickly Pear Cactus), Camellia Oleifera Leaf Extract (Green Tea), Limnanthes Alba (Meadowfoam) Seed Oil, Royal Jelly, Honey, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract*, Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Extract*, Citric Acid, Citrus Grandis (Grapefruit) Peel Oil, Citrus Grandis (Grapefruit) Peel Extract, Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil, Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein, Glycerin, Glyceryl Oleate, Glyceryl Caprylate, Hydroxypropyl Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride, Sodium Magnesium Silicate, Sodium Chloride, Xanthan Gum, Sodium Benzoate, Natural Fragrance (Parfum)
*Certified Organic 
Animals were harmed to obtain ingredients
Animal Testing
Artificial Fragrances/Dyes
Petroleum compounds including mineral oil, petrolatum and paraffin
Parabens, glycols or phthalates 
Recyclable, biodegradable and renewable resources
Cruelty free
This item contains at least two animal products, and yet it is falsely marketed as non-harmful to Nonhuman Animals and "Cruelty free."

I decided to investigate further. From the Desert Essence website:
Are all your products Vegan? 
While all our products are 100% vegetarian, not all are vegan. The Organics line, excluding the new Mineral Sunscreen which contains beeswax, is 100% vegan. Although several of our products have small amounts of beeswax and honey in their formulas, no animals are ever harmed to get these ingredients.
But honey and bees' wax is not cruelty-free; these products do harm animals.

What's going on here?

First, animal ingredients are cheap. Second, animal-friendly/cruelty-free labeling offers a competitive advantage, an added value for which more can be charged. Instead of switching to vegan ingredients which can be more expensive in a world where animal agriculture is heavily subsidized and animal industries are keen to push their byproducts into the marketplace, "natural" companies simply change their labeling to appease concerned customers. I documented a similar phenomenon with LUSH Cosmetics and The Body Shop. This is a tactic also used by the "meat" and dairy industries. Animal flesh and other products inherently entail exploitation and suffering to be obtained, but clever labeling can disguise the process. It can also help a company to stand out  justify a higher markup.

Post-speciesism is a profitable illusion.