Vegan Entanglements – Book Review – Part 2 – The Evidence

In the previous blog, we reviewed the key concepts contained within the seminal book Vegan Entanglements: Dismantling Racial and Carceral Capitalism. The book starts out by defining the problem of carceral veganism, placing it in its wider context. The core strength of the book is its relentless insistence on the intersectionality and entangled nature of all forms of oppression. It highlights this through the presentation of evidence, mostly through first-hand accounts of people with lived experience of working in an animal welfare or animal rights setting. The chapters offer insightful and theoretically informed accounts of the problems created by carceral veganism. We have selected here a few that stand out.

The Vampire’s Bacon

This chapter explores the entanglements between ‘meat work’, empire and abolition. Accounting for the harm caused to both human and non-human animals in the meatpacking industry and other forms of industrial animal agriculture, links are made between the profits of what Horne calls the ‘meat elites’ – who are central to the system of capital accumulation – and the exploitation of the inferiorized bodies of marginalised, undocumented workers. Workers who who are mostly situated in the black, indigenous and people of colour ( BIPOC ) community, and who can be easily manipulated through threats of incarceration or deportation. The ‘animal industry’ is at the very heart of the system of capitalist exploitation, which is one of the reasons why animal rights activists have long been a key target for the police state and the criminal legal system on both sides of the Atlantic.

Spies, Lies and Empty Cages

This chapter deals with the issue of ‘intimate’ state surveillance in the UK, characterised by the fact that hundreds of undercover police officers infiltrated activist groups, including animal rights and animal welfare groups. Many of these undercover police tricked women activists into sexual relations, a practice that has continued since the 1960s. The on-going Undercover Policing Inquiry has emerged from the growing evidence that a number of undercover police officers also acted as agents provocateur, promoting direct action that often led to activists being prosecuted and, in some cases, imprisoned. What is most remarkable is the degree to which animal rights groups, environmentalist groups, left wing political activists, trade union organisers, as well as anti-nuclear and anti-war campaigners, were, for decades, subjected to an invasive, violent and unlawful regime of undercover policing.

The extent to which the security state targeted animal rights groups and those involved in promoting animal welfare, is a direct indication of the absolute centrality of the animal industrial complex, within the system of capital accumulation through exploitation. That the state spent, and continues to spend so much time, effort and resources on suppressing dissenting voices and maintaining the status quo, highlights the importance of grasping the truly intersectional political entanglements that keep both people and animals in cages.

Abuse Makes News

This chapter looks at the proliferation of welfarist and carceral logics in The Guardian’s “Animals Farmed” series. It brilliantly highlights the contradictions contained within carceral veganism by exposing the ways in which the ‘welfare’ of animals is upheld by a process that does nothing to help animals and increases the very social conditions for the proliferation of violence and punishment. The ‘Stories’ all have roughly the same format. Firstly, the RSPCA seek out and film farm workers kicking and/or otherwise ‘abusing’ animals. Secondly, the police and the criminal legal system bring them to justice – which always means some form of punishment, including prison. Thirdly, the farm owner, projecting his disgust at how such cruelty could possibly take place on their farm, publicly dismisses the criminalised worker from their position of employment. The problem with these stories is that they reinforce a deeply flawed political logic – that farmed animals should be treated better, and that we should punish and imprison ‘criminals’.  The ‘Animals Farmed’ stories in this chapter, presented in this way, also hide from view the oppression and violence toward both non-human animals and human animals. They normalise and indeed valorise some forms of violence, because they prioritise the rights of some animals, human and non-human, over the rights of other animals. Carceral veganism, through the prioritisation of some forms of life over others, shows the extent to which the intersectional entanglements of authoritarian structures connect speciesism and ableism, racism and white supremacy, toxic masculinity and misogyny, as well a range of other class-based forms of oppression.

In the first part of this review we defined the concepts that are central to understanding Vegan Entanglements

Humanewashing of Israel’s Human and Animal Rights Abuses

This insightful chapter exposes much of the mythology surrounding Israel’s adoption of veganism and its desire to be seen as a ‘torchbearer of progress on animal rights’. The state of Israel has constructed itself as the ‘vegan nation’ in such a way that it is intended to deflect attention away from its own atrocities against Palestinians. The vegan washing of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) has to some extent, successfully re-branded one of the world’s most brutal and oppressive armies by focusing on the extent to which its growing ranks of vegan soldiers represent a caring, ethical and ultimately humane military force. The shameless vegan washing of the IDF has facilitated a juxtaposition with the Palestinians who are portrayed as barbaric, unethical, and cruel. Another aspect of Humanewashing Israel’s human and animal rights abuses is obfuscated by the booming industry in vegan tourism which has been a relatively successful means through which Israel has been able to begin the process of laundering its reputation as an oppressive apartheid regime. As Yulia Gilich points out in this chapter, despite an increase in vegan tourism in line with the appearance of a growing number of vegan friendly restaurants, meat consumption continues to rise among the general population of Israel.

This book does an excellent job of highlighting the problems of carceral veganism. It does so by combining the lived experience of the authors, their theoretical insights and their visions for a better future. In Part 3, we will take a look at some of these visions.