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Vegan Entanglements: The Far-Reaching Webs of Speciesism

Zane McNeill and others open the door for scrutinizing wide-ranging topics.

Key points

  • Their book offers insights on the intersections of veganism with the prison-industrial complex, industrial animal agriculture, and justice.
  • The psychology of speciesism has deep, wide-ranging roots, and many people only see the superficial consequences of this narrow mindset.
  • Vegan ethics has wide-ranging effects that go way beyond people's meal plans in many surprising ways.
 Jan Koetsier/Pexels
Source: Jan Koetsier/Pexels

During the past few years, I've learned that veganism is not only about people's meal plans but also has far-reaching impacts on everyday life.1 Z. Zane McNeill's new book Vegan Entanglements: Dismantling Racial and Carceral Capitalism made me cast a wider net about the topics and areas that are entwined in the web of veganism, and I'm glad they could take the time to answer a few questions about their thought-provoking book.2

Marc Bekoff: Why did you edit Vegan Entanglements?

Zane McNeill: I have worked in the animal advocacy nonprofit movement for over a decade and was also surprised and upset with how many of the organizations I worked for engaged in carceral work. Many of the best-known nonprofits work very closely with police departments and prosecutors and lobby for increased felony charges for offenders of animal offenses. Additionally, I’ve been part of meetings where advocates considered espousing anti-immigrant rhetoric to better lobby for animal protections in red states.

 Courtesy of Lantern Publishing & Media
Source: Courtesy of Lantern Publishing & Media

I wanted to cultivate a collection that interrogated the historical reliance of the animal protection movement on the prison- and immigrant-industrial complexes and its entanglements with white supremacy, state surveillance, and capitalism. Vegan Entanglements invited activists, journalists, and academics to grapple with these issues and offer concrete tactics for abolition and collective liberation.

MB: How does your book relate to your background and general areas of interest?

ZM: Primarily, I consider myself an activist–scholar that explores social movements studies and power relations. In my research, I have found that those with access to power (usually because of whiteness) assimilate into normative power structures and become an extension of the oppressor that is weaponized against the most vulnerable and marginalized folks of their community. In the end, the answer is often white supremacy and capitalism, which is why Vegan Entanglements posits that animal liberation cannot be achieved without the dismantling of racial and carceral capitalism.

MB: Who is your intended audience?

ZM: Because of my background in the animal advocacy nonprofit space, this book was written primarily for staff, management, and funders at organizations like the ASPCA, HSUS, PETA, and ALDF. I hoped that Vegan Entanglements would act as an intervention, lead to a reevaluation of current strategies in the movement, and push the movement to shift toward a consistent anti-oppression approach to animal protection.

MB: How did you choose your contributors?

ZM: Some of the authors I’ve worked with in the past on writing projects, specifically for the edited collection on queer and animal liberation I worked with Julia Feliz and Sanctuary Publishers. I was fortunate to have the folks from the panel that started this collection be part of the project—Justin Marceau and Lori Gruen co-wrote the introduction, and William Horne has an amazing chapter called “The Vampire’s Bacon: Meat Work, Empire, and Abolition” in the collection. Other contributors I knew from my work with the Institute of Critical Animal Studies or my animal rights and abolitionist advocacy work.

MB: What are some of the topics woven into your book, and what are some of the major messages?

ZM: This collection posits that there is a schism between advocates who view connecting animal liberation to other issues of social justice as diluting the message of animal rights and animal advocates who argue that you can’t achieve animal liberation without also fighting against all intersecting oppressions against humans and nonhumans alike. One of the issues driving this conflict in animal advocacy, and animal law in particular, is animal welfare’s historic and contemporary embrace of carceral logics, both discursively in groups’ messaging as well as materially in objectives and goals behind groups’ campaigns.

Many organizations seem to think that assimilating into and utilizing the tools of the carceral state is a mark of progress, affording these groups a sort of respectability and authority. However, it is only progress insofar as it perpetuates the continued exploitation and treatment of marginalized communities as disposable by the white supremacist state. Carceral veganism relies on and perpetuates a surveillance and detention framework to “solve” systemic issues connected to animal cruelty. Instead of going after “Big Ag,” carceral vegans target marginalized workers in factory farms, collaborating with the police state and pushing for human confinement to relieve the confinement of chickens, pigs, cows, and other farmed animals.

The chapters in this collection illustrate the meat-processing industry (and American foodways more broadly) run on the carceral logic of racial capitalism and that, therefore, assimilating into the same logics will only exacerbate the harm done by industrialized agriculture.

MB: How does your book differ from others that are concerned with some of the same general topics?

ZM: While this topic has recently become more visible, which is so extremely needed, many of the texts published are done so by academic publishers for mainly an academic audience. Our main goal in this text was to bring arguments for animal liberation into conversations of abolition and bring abolition into conversation on animal liberation in an accessible and activist-oriented manner. Many of the chapters are written in first person with a mix of theory and praxis. We really wanted to have these highly complex topics be as digestible and actionable as possible to really make an impact on the animal advocacy space.

MB: Are you hopeful that as people learn more about veganism they will change their meal plans?

ZM: Most of my work desperately tries to persuade folks to be as consistent as possible in their advocacy work. This often translates to trying to get vegans to recognize that working with harmful and oppressive structures cannot lead to animal or human liberation and trying to get nonvegans to recognize that engaging with and supporting the industrial animal agriculture complex directly harms workers, local communities, and reifies structures that lead to our shared marginalization. In order to achieve shared liberation, we must dismantle racial and carceral capitalism and, to do this, we must abolish all oppressive logics, including speciesism.

References

In conversation with Z. Zane McNeil, a nonbinary activist-scholar, 10-year vegan, and co-editor of Queer and Trans Voices: Achieving Liberation Through Consistent Anti-Oppression (Sanctuary Publishers, 2020).

1. See, for example: "The Vegan Evolution: Transforming Diets and Agriculture" and "The Broad Relevance of Vegan Ethics in Everyday Life."

2. See "Human Imprisonment, Animal Captivity, Social Justice, and Law" and Carceral Logics: Human Incarceration and Animal Captivity.

Animal Minds and the Foible of Human Exceptionalism.

How to Be Animal: The Case Against Human Exceptionalism.

Clever Dogs, Happy Cats, and Myths of Human Exceptionalism.

Is Human Intelligence a Gift or a Burden?

Humans Aren't the Smartest Among Earth's Diverse Intelligences.

Hodge, Paul et al. (editors) Vegan Geographies: Spaces Beyond Violence, Ethics Beyond Species. Lantern Publishing & Media, 2022.

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