I’ve gone through cycles of carnivorous, veggie, and veganism throughout my life as I’ve struggled to learn what it means to live causing the least harm possible.
Right now I’m on what I believe to be a vegan renaissance coming into my life as my food tastes are undergoing a dramatic shift as I just got a taste bud upgrade and the new software is unprecedentedly sharp. This might have to do with quitting smoking as well. Nevertheless, I’m aware that there is a mental changing of the guards taking place and I’m letting my body lead the process in the new twists my paradigms of food and eating twirl once again.
This would be well and good but PETA has a brick and mortar location in my city of Oakland in a neighborhood that I frequent. Every time my eyes fall on their sign, I have a moment of frustration. PETA dedicates themselves to making as many people feel bad about their food choices, bodies, identities, class, gender, and pretty much anything else they can think of and their huge media reach means that lots of people have felt very bad at their hands. It’s created a view that food ethics are solely about self-righteous white people.
Oakland is a city with a lot of social justice movements inside of it. PETA may have the overwhelming share of global attention, budgeting, and common knowledge but they comprise a sliver of food justice actions taking place within the city and there is no clear reason why they have a branch office in Oakland, especially with a perpetually offensive stream of ads with unquestioned jerkwadded thinking and the quick defense that they’re just trying to raise awareness by being “provocative.”
There are a lot of critiques of PETA and its white supremacy, racism, sexism, homophobia, body shaming, and more. I don’t think I could write anything better than the overall amount of criticism on the web about them. I have presented images here to illustrate these claims.
Nobody is inviting PETA to the party but PETA seems to have enough money to end poverty but they spend it on celebrity endorsements. I am so often shocked by the individuals I assumed were otherwise more sane than the PETA message get sudden amnesia when there is an offer to do a PETA advertisement. What are they offering that suddenly people see the situation from PETA’s perspective and not everybody else saying, “ENOUGH.” PETA’s pocket is clear with the sheer number of celebrities in their ads and we know that a lot of them do not come cheap. Sir Paul McCartney posed for PETA campaigns. While I am not privy to the business negotiations, my wager is that it came in at a bit more than $50-100 an hour which is close to standard industry rate.
But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe someone needs to think about why we need more posters and marketing rather than tangible food solutions that can be implemented by people living in poverty or anywhere under the upper middle class tax brackets.
PETA has an office in Oakland in a very quaint part of town by the lake. I’m sure they make a few editorial decisions about which campaigns they run near the office. Those little klan hood shenanigans might not play to this audience the same way. For the most part they keep a low profile only occasionally hosting a vegan bake sale for animal rights. Still, when I walk past them, I always get riled up. Are they in Oakland because of the cheap real estate where they can have this gorgeous view of the lake in a retail district for a fraction of the cost because it’s Oakland.
It is so fucking insulting to see a company drop as much money as they have on racist advertising clearly aiming for the Tucker Max crowd (“I Hope They Serve Celery In Hell”) and then move into Oakland because you can get an office in as awesome as a spot as where they’re at dirt cheap. Hahaha, this is because racism impacts property value and the Möbius strip of power and money and whiteness protect themselves and their interests endlessly.
It calls for a Jurassic Park showdown.
I want you to think of the climax of Jurassic Park. Our human protagonists are in the visitors center and things have gone disastrously wrong and they are surrounded by the raptors and about to become lunch. HOLY DEUS EX MACHINASAURUS REX, BATMAN! The organized team spirit evil of the raptors is defeated by the more amoral lumbering unorganized evil that is the T-Rex. We cheer for the T-Rex and relish in that dependable Spielberg shot that picks you up and makes you feel good about the narrative and your cinematic experience where the living breathing dinosaur replaces the fossilized skeleton and the banner, “When dinosaurs ruled the earth” triumphantly falls around her as she tips her head back and roars.
So what I’m saying is, where are the vegan manarachists and why aren’t they crawling all over this spot yet? Are the powers of cupcakes and advertising more compelling than solidarity? (Answer: Solidarity is harder to come by than cupcakes.)
White privilege is so insidious, it can even ruin animal rights. Totally unquestioned privilege that flaunts its wealth with really damaging advertising and then moves to a town seriously impacted by incredible challenges of poverty and racism is really disgusting.
Oakland does have many people of color working hard on issues of food justice and sovereignty. Veganism isn’t white the same way riding a bike to work isn’t white. The people with the self-righteous advertising campaigns with glossy photos are often full of privilege but that doesn’t mean they own the issues they are working on. I think of Sistah Vegan, Food Empowerment, Eco Soul Food (Oakland’s Bryant Terry), Urban Organic, People’s Grocery, Oakland Based Urban Gardens, and other programs that are more or less covert that could do so much with the cash that PETA puts into one celebrity advertisement.
A lot of social justice programs have white faces when there have been people working on them for a long time. It’s frustrating because until racism and sexism are acknowledged, what happens is that actions that are on the ground and working for the betterment of the people get segregated by white supremacist organizations like PETA who concentrate 100% on flashy marketing rather than substantive activism. They wind up displacing many of the truly radical organizations that are actively working for changes and supporting people along the way.
In order to be a white ally with People’s Grocery, you are asked to go through specific allyship and anti-racist training and to take on the grunt work so that the voices and faces of people of color take the stage. I think this is awesome and it’s something that I would like to see with other organizations as well. For anyone annoyed who wants to debate “reverse racism” with me, you will be ignored and also you can review all of these PETA ads as some of the many reasons why white activists might be viewed with an amount of caution from justice activists.
PETA pisses me off and I am working on taking that energy to consider the internalized racism I still embody and working on embodying justice in a way that moves towards reducing my harm footprint on earth. You cannot assign yourself the title of ally. All I can think about are the actions and words I want to use and work towards. Ally is not an identity, it is a series of behaviors that demonstrate solidarity. That’s what I want to do and it’s a process that doesn’t end. It’s something I will be working on all of my life because humans are predisposed to taking the easy route and I have been endowed with privileges that make more of these shortcuts apparent to me.
On top of that, no one likes PETA and they seriously need to check themselves and why they’re sitting in my community and what they’re doing for it.
As for my own choices, I still struggle with how to have a diet that creates less harm. In general, we need to have a framework that maintains the dignity of earth and its resources, animals, and humans alike. Agriculture is often an agent of extreme evil and abuses so broad they are horrible for animals (with pesticides and totally gutting their food and environments), humans who work on the farm, humans who eat the food, and anyone else who accidentally gets their satanic patented seeds.
I know that behavior change comes in steps and food sovereignty gave me a better understanding of food ethics and how they support justice. It’s unlikely I’ll ever take on the identity of “vegan” per se. I do think I’ll continue to work on defining and embodying food ethics and reducing my reliance on destructive patterns of eating. I think there’s a world of difference of maintaining a small farm where one would forge symbiotic relationships with chickens, goats, cows, and other domestic farm animals. I just don’t think that mass production of anything has come without a substantial price we have yet to fully comprehend. I don’t think we can mass produce life the way we are without tipping balances and resources. It means that things are developing in isolation rather than as part of environments and ecosystems.
It’s just not as simple as GO VEGAN CUZ HOT CHICKS. WANT ONE OR BE ONE! LOL! We do a disservice to everyone if that’s the only manner of teaching and considering these issues.