On the possibility of human extinction

I’ve been contemplating the question of how I might present a brief introduction on what, as a critique on our system of social organization, is really a rather large topic: vegetarian ecofeminism. I’m due to present this at a scholarly conference in September, so it’s not too early to begin thinking about it.

In the abstract, among other things, I say “that our relations of domination among humans are inseparable from our domination of the environment and of non-human animals.” And, as written, I think the abstract illustrates that there are a lot of handles on this topic.[1] So the obvious question is, which one shall I use? Continue reading On the possibility of human extinction

  1. [1] David Benfell, “I will be presenting on vegetarian ecofeminism at the Human Science Institute conference this September,” I Am My Cat’s Human, July 6, 2016, https://vegan.parts-unknown.org/?p=326

I will be presenting on vegetarian ecofeminism at the Human Science Institute conference this September

I will be presenting on the topic of vegetarian ecofeminism at the Human Science Institute conference this September. The approved abstract follows:

Vegetarian ecofeminism is a scholarly approach to an idea also expressed by animal rights activists, that our relations of domination among humans are inseparable from our domination of the environment and of non-human animals.

Among humans, a social system of organization that relies heavily on power relationships of domination has prevailed since the Neolithic. Its failure appears in the failure of elites to address numerous existential threats to humanity, some of which are cited by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists in keeping the Doomsday Clock. These include climate change and various nuclear-related threats. This failure also appears with social inequality, physical violence, and in deprivations that David Barash and Charles Webel label structural violence. Riane Eisler points to a devaluing of and even the absence of remuneration for ‘caring’ jobs often filled by women.

With the environment, a relationship of domination has proven to be devastating. Even as our population now exceeds by thirty times the number the earth is estimated to have been able to support in hunter-gatherer societies, it continues to grow. Even as people go without enough to eat, we rely on grossly inefficient—in food and water consumption by farmed animals—livestock production that significantly contributes to climate change and water pollution.

Our power relationship with animals combines the ills of the other two. Factory farms and slaughterhouses are environmentally disastrous and require us to suspend compassion for non-human animals. Vegetarian ecofeminists (among others) connect dairy practices with crimes against women, including sexual assault and rape. More broadly, one might connect the reduction of living bodies to units of production with slavery and other abusive labor practices among humans.

This presentation will point to a more egalitarian end, for humans, animals, and the environment, as a goal for social change.

I expect this to be a rather brief introduction. I’m allotted twenty minutes including discussion.

Turning human survival into a partisan contest

I wound up tagging along with my mother and a couple of her friends to a concert benefiting the Occidental Center for the Arts tonight. We got dinner at the Union Hotel, where I was fortunate our server was vegetarian and well-prepared to help me through to getting a vegan meal at a decidedly non-vegan place when it turned out the menu I had downloaded that made me think I could eat there was out of date.

The first thing I want to say about these performers is that they are wonderful musicians. Holly Near is an amazing vocalist, Barbara Higbie is supremely talented on multiple instruments, and Jan Martinelli could have been given a bit more volume on bass—she also occasionally played an acoustic guitar. Continue reading Turning human survival into a partisan contest

Animal ‘welfare’ is harmful, explained

In a New York Times op-ed, Bob Fischer and James McWilliams visit a question that has, at least as long as I’ve been vegetarian ecofeminist, roiled vegans, the question of abolitionism versus welfarism. Abolitionism entails

the same inference that slavery abolitionists made in the 19th century. They claimed, as many animal activists do now, that it was pointless to call for the reform of an unjust institution. You don’t fix unjust institutions; you dismantle them. Entirely. Now.[1]

Continue reading Animal ‘welfare’ is harmful, explained

  1. [1] Bob Fischer and James McWilliams, “When Vegans Won’t Compromise,” New York Times, August 16, 2015, http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/08/16/when-vegans-wont-compromise/

Masculinity defined as cowardice and bullying

Non Sequitur, by Wiley Miller, Sacramento Bee, July 25, 2015, fair use.

Fig. 1. Non Sequitur, by Wiley Miller, Sacramento Bee, July 25, 2015, fair use.

I have to admit that when I first became vegetarian ecofeminist—I then called myself vegan—I had no idea that eating meat was somehow connected with masculinity (figure 1). I’ve since become acquainted with the view, mainly from comments I have seen from vegans. Continue reading Masculinity defined as cowardice and bullying


Facebook, June 13, 2015, fair use.

Fig. 1. Facebook, June 13, 2015, fair use.

The boy is saying goodbye to his calf, who is apparently about to be slaughtered. We can see that the calf responds to the boy’s affection, that whatever else, there is a relationship between them (figure 1). This is a sentient creature who is about to experience violence and a boy who is experiencing loss. Continue reading Excuses

‘Vegan’ apparently doesn’t mean what it’s supposed to mean

It’s just short of my seventh anniversary as a vegan. And I have decided to stop identifying as such. Henceforth, I will identify as vegetarian ecofeminist except in restaurants where the term ‘vegan’ is more often understood.

I’ve previously observed that a great many vegans lack the consciousness that makes the ethics of their views coherent. I left Facebook vegan singles groups that tolerated sexism and seemed entirely too much like “meat markets.” Someone identifying himself (yes, he identifies as male) as veganelder responded by suggesting a Vegan Feminists group.[1] Continue reading ‘Vegan’ apparently doesn’t mean what it’s supposed to mean

  1. [1] David Benfell, “Yes, ‘vegan’ is a useful word. Here’s why I might stop identifying as such,” So I’m Vegetarian Ecofeminist… Now, What? October 19, 2014, https://vegan.parts-unknown.org/?p=200

Animal liberation and the problem of speaking for others

Cross-posted from my Research Journal.

I suppose I should begin this post, in proper feminist tradition, by acknowledging my social location. I am white and male, thus associated with the oppressor; and poor, thus associated with the oppressed. I am highly educated, thus mistakenly associated with the elite;[1] and, it seems, permanently unemployed, thus increasingly associated with the ‘undeserving’ poor.[2] As a scholar, I work as a critical theorist, and I am increasingly troubled that, just as standpoint theory would predict,[3] I am inadequately able to recognize social injustice that others—in both senses, “others” as people in different social locations and as other people generally—face. Continue reading Animal liberation and the problem of speaking for others

  1. [1] Thomas Frank, What’s the Matter with Kansas? (New York: Henry Holt, 2005); Thomas Frank, Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right (New York: Metropolitan, 2012).
  2. [2] see Kristina Cooke, David Rohde, and Ryan McNeill, “The Undeserving Poor,” Atlantic, December 20, 2012, http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/12/the-undeserving-poor/266507/; Herbert J. Gans, The War Against The Poor: The Underclass And Antipoverty Policy (New York: Basic, 1995); Michael B. Katz, “How America abandoned its ‘undeserving’ poor,” Salon, December 21, 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/12/21/how_america_abandoned_its_undeserving_poor/
  3. [3] Virginia L. Oleson, “Early Millennial Feminist Qualitative Research: Challenges and Contours,” in Landscape of Qualitative Research, eds. Norman K. Denzin and Yvonna S. Lincoln, 3rd ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2008), 311-370.

Answers for carnivores

Into each vegan’s life, a little of this must, I guess, fall. Inevitably, people around a vegan insist that they cannot go vegan or seem oblivious to the ethical considerations of blithely eating animal flesh.

The first thing to understand is that humans evolved from primates who were mostly vegetarians. We are able to digest meat because we have evolved gut bacteria that do this work.[1] These gut bacteria, by the way, also produce “a little-studied chemical . . . after people eat red meat. It is quickly converted by the liver into yet another little-studied chemical called TMAO that gets into the blood and increases the risk of heart disease.” TMAO may be more dangerous than saturated fat or cholesterol.[2] But as a dietary requirement, there are an awful lot of vegans who are alive, healthy, and who prove that humans do not require animal products for good nutrition. Continue reading Answers for carnivores

  1. [1] Rob Dunn, “Human Ancestors Were Nearly All Vegetarians,” Scientific American, July 23, 2012, http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2012/07/23/human-ancestors-were-nearly-all-vegetarians/
  2. [2] Gina Kolata, “Culprit in Heart Disease Goes Beyond Meat’s Fat,” New York Times, April 7, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/08/health/study-points-to-new-culprit-in-heart-disease.html