Response to “Veganism in the Occupied Territories: Anti-Colonialism and Animal Liberation” has been great. Although far from the most read thing I’ve written – even on this site – what I wrote has been discussed and challenged broadly and already led to speaking events, zine offers, panels and public discussion.
Although I am happy with that initial response, there is still so much that just could not be covered and what has been lacking has been more and more apparent as I chart the critical reactions to it.
The enormity of Euro Settler Animal Agriculture is beyond my ability to convey. Even still, I shouldn’t write about it as an assumed system or structure which others accept or understand (on any level). That Europeans brought a different system of agriculture to this continent is not controversial or new, but thinking critically about what exactly that meant, and how that system continues to impact us is.
In this vein, it has been disheartening to see some continue to frame this issue of vegans vs. Onkwehon:we, but the more this happens the clearer it becomes just exactly where the break is – where people stop thinking about the issue critically.
In most of these instances other animal species – both captive populations and wild – and the physical land itself become invisible. The conflict is framed as between humans – divorced from the land or other animals – and typically prioritizes a narrative of “choice.” One side is intent on removing it, the other side intent on enacting it. These arguments are typical and the framing is recognizable to anyone who has given any thought to the issue or read anything written about it. Although there is clearly an assimilationist (and white supremacist bent) to mainstream vegan advocacy, there is no similar critical framing of how Euro Settler Animal Agriculture itself is a product of and perpetuates assimilation.
The issue then becomes about how we can break this framing by introducing other animals and the physical land itself into the discussion. Moving it from a conflict about “choice” and to a critical understanding of how the use of animals in our current system of captive animal agriculture (imported and handed down by European settlers) continues to impact wild animals, the land and colonization.
Angered recently by another article about “choice” I took to twitter (typical!) to rant about it. What came out was a detailed attempt to try and place Euro Settler Animal Agriculture as unique structure within this context. The first step – I took the numbers publicly available for reservation land in the United States and Canada and compared them to public statistics available for the amount of land for animal grazing within the countries respective agricultural system.
In the United States reservation land currently occupies 55 million acres, while the amount of land used for animal grazing is 613 million acres. 11+ times the amount of land in the United States is currently used just to graze captive animals than is available as reservation land. That 613 million acre amount also represents 1/4 of all the private owned land in the United States.
In the Canadian context reservation land represents 7.5 million acres, while livestock grazing takes up 50 million acres. This means 6.6 times the amount of land is used just for livestock grazing in Canada than is currently recognized as reservation land.
In both instances, these numbers represent just the use of land for “livestock grazing” – meaning neither represent the massive amount of land in both countries needed for resources to feed, water, house and turn these animals flesh and bodies into commodities.
From there I tried to make captive “farmed” animals present by delivering Stats Can amounts from 2011 – according to them in 2011 there were 12.7 million captive pigs, 961,726 captive dairy cows, 4.5 million captive beef cows, 12.8 million total captive cattle, and 38.6 million captive hens in Canada. Each one of these numbers represents an individual, while also begging the question of how – within the span of 500 years – did this “Country” of “Canada” come to confine 63+ million animals were previously none of these species existed? And what of the wild animals destroyed in order to take their place (bison, wolves) and the people who lived on this land?
Why do these numbers matter? They illustrate the physical land that these captive animals have to occupy in order to have their bodies turned into commodities for humans to consume. The scale of which is massive and typically unseen (especially by some leftists who have not grown up around or even seen industrial scale agriculture.) This all matters because framing these issues as one of “choice” continues to make this structure invisible – it assumes and invisibilizes processes of colonization and assimilation (destruction of land and traditional Onkwehon:we food systems and agriculture) while accepting this system of agriculture (and it’s use of animals, people and land) as given. How can we talk seriously about decolonization and returning land if we don’t specifically talk about the process by which land was stolen and the ways in which that same land is still being used?* Also, why do elements from both “sides” continue to focus on consumption instead of on animals and the land?
Deflections to this line of thinking that I have encountered range from substantive – “ALL European Agriculture should be looked at critically and not just Animal Ag” – to absurd – “well, QUINOA!” The critique cannot be divorced from capitalism, settler colonialism or racism and should never be an endpoint for people to assume that veganism = decolonization. There is nothing inherent within vegan, animal “rights” or animal liberation movements that critically looks at captive animal use from a perspective that charts European arrival on this continent and proactively looks towards the end of their use as something tied to physically returning land to Onkwehon:we (though it should!) The point here is instead to be able to understand Euro Settler Animal Agriculture as a clearly defined structure, with a beginning point on this continent, that has clear connections to upholding how settler colonialism is practiced. There is a “newness” to Euro Settler Animal Agriculture that can and should be exploited as a weakness. There are also endless pitfalls if we continue to attack this industry without tracing its origins – making our own complicity and privilege from genocide and land theft invisible (whether we eat other animals or not).
Thinking about this feels heavy, complicated and frustrating. Learning more about the enormity of horrific violence might make people more knowledgeable and capable of critique, but it is also overwhelming. The solace I take is that in understanding Euro Settler Animal Agriculture in these terms we can shake off the framing of “choice” and instead move towards understandings that allow us to chart the full history of how these animals came to be here – and most importantly – begin to visualize and work on strategies for the collapse of this system which steals land from people in order to enact violence on other animals. To that end, this series will continue.
*Cliven Bundy is just too low hanging fruit although that example could very easily be applied.