Category Archives: starvation

Liberation Veganism

Why not? Why not a veganism, not unlike liberation theology, that creates, marches, speaks and shakes with messages sparking hope for and actualization of human liberation? Why not conceive of a vegan movement and practice that is intermingled with human rights and sustainable development in “developing” countries and communities? Would it be possible, beneficial even, to expand the liberation aspect of veganism past animals alone? I think so.

In full disclosure, as an activist, much of my work has concerned African liberation and unity, third world internationalism, human rights, sustainable agronomy, complementary and natural medical practices, and at an earlier time, anti-war movements. As most broadly generalized without accepting any concrete labels, my operating socio-political ideology tends toward some manner of radical humanist anarcho-socialism. And aside from being vegan for eleven years, none of my work to date has directly concerned the animal rights movement; I’ve gone to the United Nations a few times, but not yet an animal rights conference. This is not said to remove wind from or disparage the animal rights movement, but just to be completely honest. At the same time, though, given that human rights are so frequently violated everywhere I go or look, whether my own rights as a black man in Gotham or the rights of people who look like me all over the world, as well as the rights of women, cultural/ethnic/religious/sexual minorities, children, the elderly, the landless, people with disabilities, and so on, I lose too much of my breath and tears on the miserable human condition, and find it almost impossible to apply myself to the animal liberation movement as it exists as an isolated campaign with that sole concern.

But enough about where I come from. I say that the development of the Liberation Veganism concept can easily give veganism an element of appeal towards more folks, especially people of color and youth whose thoughts are currently tending towards revolution. These proto-revolutionaries, on hearing about Liberation Veganism, just may consider incorporating veganism into their revolutionary practice because it makes so much sense as pertains to overall human liberation and racial and social justice.

Liberation Veganism understands and blamelessly trumpets the truths of how unsustainable meat production and animal husbandry are, even at pastoral or “artisanal” scales. It acknowledges and clarifies to others that the class war I spoke of earlier includes the conflict between humans and animals through the commodification of animals, as well as between humans who find themselves at odds as laborers or capitalist masters of an industry of blood, cruelty and violence. Liberation Veganism is in accord with those revolutionary thoughts that understand that if we simply want to feed more human beings and actually realize more and sustainable equity in the world, the actual possibility of making of our world “a garden and not a graveyard” suggests that more of us, worldwide, need to start to leave the meat alone.

Liberation Veganism is obviously not THE answer, but I strongly believe it is part of the arsenal of “better practices” in pursuit of revolution and human liberation, as well as animal liberation. I hope not to come off as blatantly speciesist (though I’m sure I already have and won’t try to make excuses for it after the fact), but I’m in the game largely in pursuit of my own better humanity and for human beings. When I went vegan at age 15, it was about both health and ecological issues, for the Earth at large. And now I am trying to think very deliberately about how veganism can relate to human rights. That is why I think Liberation Veganism may be a concept for proto-revolutionary proto-vegans to consider.

If a plant-based diet will both keep millions of tons of greenhouse gasses out of the atmosphere and feed many magnitudes more human beings, sustainably and consistently, than our current prevailing food regimes, especially since the world is getting hotter and harder on plants, than veganism has to by nature only be beneficial to the entire realm of human rights. This is simply because more abundance, and the dismantling of industries of inherent violence, will result in at least some reduction in the deadly competition over resources that imperil humanity, such as the feared immenent and current wars over water, food, and so on. If transition away from automobile culture, towards renewable energies, and towards composting and water recycling are part of the green movement that might buy us all more time on the world as we know it, than veganism – a veganism cognizant of the human and Earth liberation elements of its actualization – also must be part of that same movement. And it has to be about as many of us humans as possible.

Since we pursue those things which materially and otherwise most benefit us, as do all other creatures, then a veganism that appeals to our longevity and the leveling of the balance of power in human societies should theoretically find mass appeal. Veganism in explicit combination with human rights, or veganism plus human liberation, can be understood as Liberation Veganism. Liberation Veganism as I’ve struggled to define it here has its obvious ethical elements, ecological arguments, and social justice underpinnings, but as a liberation movement, it can and must include all the social capital of successful trends: propaganda, recipes indigenous to our cultures which veganize palates and minds from the grassroots, and the revolutionary gatherings, rallies and potlucks that find ways to intermix all manner of human rights and liberation issues with the way we eat.

So, Liberation Veganism. Maybe it’s a silly, corny idea, but I hope someone out there might be thinking similar thoughts and just might take this meme and run with it.

Rising Temperatures Mean Falling Plant Productivity Overall (via NASA TV)

This means we need more veganism. We need more blacks on bikes. We need to set examples of sustainability, wise land stewardship practices based on both traditional and scientific knowledge, and more cooperation with our planet instead of the prevailing attitude of dominion. Lest we forget, and I cited NASA here being a space nerd and science lover, but this is our only planet.

More veganism? Because if crop productivity is going to continue to drop with climate change – especially in Africa – then one of the biggest greenhouse gas emitters (responsible for 20-50% of greenhouse gasses by various enumerations and estimates), the meat industry, must be dismantled and collapsed by our consumer and advocacy power. Not only that, but we must really begin to beat into our collective skull that it makes no sense to have animals chew the land bare and then eat them, when we will feed ourselves so much better and more efficiently if we cultivate and chew of the land ourselves directly.

More blacks on bikes? Why not? Need to usurp and practice transportation modalities and other lifestyle choices that are of lowest impact, are healthiest, are closest to human scale, and are future proof for a hot planet. Talking about colored people composting. Talking about growing gardens instead of lawns. Talking about collective urban farming. Talking about more folks on the street conversant on the idea of a carbon footprint for every consumer choice they make. Talking about rain-water harvesting in the hood (it’s getting drier too). Talking about no-impact brown and black women and men.

Talking about planting trees as a revolutionary act.

This is serious and time-sensitive. Given that whole species are going extinct over this right now, we have it easy, and we have an opportunity. Thanks, NASA.

Veganism and the Class War

What follows is a thought exercise.

My own definition of a vegan is a human who eats fruits and vegetables [as well as whatever nuts, seeds or legumes he or she may desire], and never eats or uses animal products. For starts. For my purposes and for the purposes of this post, this vegan is not so heavily involved in extremely elaborate recipes, in highly-processed ingredients and additives, in soy and grains, etc. That can come later. I’m simplifying and scaling down for the purpose of understanding what this post wants to address, which is the skeletal basics (though in full disclosure I’m pretty much a fruitarian). A vegan, firstly, is someone anywhere in the world where fruits and vegetables are affordable and accessible who eats those items, eats produce. That sort of vegan, who isn’t strictly dependent on special products, mock meats, packaged goods, and so on, who could be just at home eating the fruits and veggies available in Kinshasa or Kisangani as are available in Karachi or Kansas City, might be said, for the purposes of this thought experiment, to be a universal vegan, or even a vehicular vegan, and I will use either term interchangebly going forward.

As for the class war, I define it as the conflict between workers and bosses, between capitalists and proletariats, between landlords and tenants, between elites and all us riff-raff, even between humans and animals, over access and claims of ownership over land, infrastructure, the means of production, the structure of our economy, the production of culture, and so on. It is the imperative of oppressors to oppress, to exploit, to profit, maintain ignorance, maintain illiteracy and food scarcity, maintain the divisions amongst working people, maintain ideological, religious, and political zeitgeists of constant histeria, and yet eat well and live comfortably all the while. It is the imperative of workers, of women, of ethnic or sexual minorities, of those rendered landless, to maintain unity in struggle, to vie for and claim power, land and freedom, to achieve self-determination and societies of fairness and justice, to collectivize resources, to build and practice pro-human cultures, and to, at a spiritual maximum as it were, prefer death to slavery. The class war is very real and it is everywhere and, whether or not we acknowledge it, we are all class warriors of some stripe, all over the world. If we find ourselves hating our banks and landlords and tiring of our bosses, that much makes us class warriors, just as a Naxalite Adivasi struggling against planned and perpetrated genocides and land thefts and who actually engages in armed struggle is a class warrior. The bosses that like exploiting and polluting and dominating – whether at Goldman Sachs or British Petroleum or Tyson Chicken or General Motors or Lockheed Martin or Uncle Sam himself – they’re all class warriors for their side.

So how can we mix veganism – as practiced by the universal vegan – with the class war? We start with the manner in which prestige is applied to certain objects to make them desirable, even when they aren’t healthy or necessary. Possession or consumption of these articles of prestige are then used to define who is of what class, or at least who aspires to more elevated social rankings. Yes, commodity fetishism includes propagating the meat prestige – look at the most extreme sorts of hamburgers the fast-food industry invents, or at the Heart Attack Grill.

So, all over the third world, even where meat is scarce or pastoralism is irrevocably destroying land, meat is a prestige. Automobile usage is another. The wealthiest eat the most meat and drive the most, and are often the most gorged and overweight, hence the typical gut of rich and powerful elites in Africa and elsewhere in the third world. (And thanks to the zombifying power of marketing and mass media, a million other useless, wasteful and dangerous products are rendered prestigious, and we must use our own voices and propaganda to fight this, but that is another topic.)

But if a society hedges closer to veganism, that means more calories will generally be available to its individual constituents, since growing plants is far more sustainable and efficient than growing animals which eat plants. So that society would naturally enable an environment of greater equity and less classism. On the other hand, if a society hankers hard after meat, that means fewer people will eat of the greater resultant scarcity in overall available calories. The meat-centric society will inevitably breed the conditions for less equality and for harsher stratification, just because of how much meat production usurps of limited environmental resources.

That’s macro-level. What about individual vehicular vegan class warriors?

Conscious vegan workers remove themselves partly from an equation of exploitation by striking animals from a hierarchy of exploitation and brutality from their own lives. They help keep the class war between humans and from involving non-humans, who have enough of their own struggles and class wars in the wild without having to worry about human consumption.

Conscientious vegan workers keep from supporting aspects of the elite apparatus and cash machine by non-participation in the meat-industrial complex and, should veganism keep them healthy, the medical-industrial complex. The industries of violence and slavery are among the largest which support class and caste structures worldwide. Not endorsing the meat prestige and engaging in veganism means one is using one’s own labor and consumer powers to directly disempower the most odious aspects of the system.

It could be observed that much of veganism, as it is known particularly in North America, is associated with upper classes and privileged populations, but veganism at the grassroots is actually potentially most revolutionary. In the US, poor communities of color are often bereft of access to fresh healthy foods, and disproportionately find themselves afflicted with the diseases of Western diets and lifestyles. This is part of class war, as I see it, keeping the most chronically impoverished from being able to be healthy, long-lived and highly functioning, and from excelling as human beings. The elites don’t really care to ameliorate this problem.

Thus it is up to grassroots universal vegan workers of color, aware that existence in a human society configured such as ours means lifelong class war, to promote healthy lifestyles, to strive and struggle to increase access to affordable fresh fruits and vegetables in our communities, and to speak loudly and widely on the benefits of non-meat consumption and the fallacies of the meat prestige and meat addiction.

Thoughtful vegans should make natural class warriors. Their veganism empowers them to escape relationships of oppression and violence with both humans and non-humans, while granting them the vitality and awareness to struggle for just power and representation for as long as necessary. The vehicular vegan revolutionary can be a revolutionary of stamina and substance, of vision and actualization, actually practicing diplomacy (with non-humans) and militancy (against industries and economies of subjugation).

And that is how, and why, veganism can relate to the class war, and why vegans, especially working-class vegans of color, should consider themselves class warriors. But it’s just one small open-source theory that still needs help (or refutation) from y’all.

Veganism can indeed be revolutionary, and we must make it so if we are serious about social change, food sovereignty, Earth and non-human justice, and human freedom and equity.

Poverty Contests

An article published in today’s New York Times reports on efforts in India to enshrine access to food as a constitutionally protected right, a law its proponents expect could enable the food-insecure to make their own market choices to purchase food with food coupons or cash, instead of waiting for monthly 77 pound bags of grain, sugar and kerosene under the current regime. The article also goes on to highlight statistics about how India’s poverty is more widespread and intense than Africa’s, despite the “Tiger” rebranding and annual economic growth rate. A report compiled in India Current Affairs in July also highlights these poverty rankings, comparing the one Indian state of Madhya Pradesh in the country’s center with the entire Democratic Republic of Congo, both of similar population (though the Congo’s size is more comparable to India in its entirety), and finding the same levels of deprivation, even with DRC’s wars (though Madhya Pradesh is not without Naxalites and other struggles for land and resources between communities and multi-national mining and other interests, not unlike DRC).

On the one hand, the expectation around the world seems to be of Africa as the world’s eternal poverty yardstick. This in spite of similar levels of conventionally measured economic growth in a number of Sub-Saharan countries that approach such activity as seen in India in recent years. By comparing favorably to Africa, a government should have license to claim progress in the war on poverty – that’s the ridiculous, racist assumption, an assumption of development stasis.

On the other more important hand, these rankings and contests, especially as presented in the links mentioned above, are patently absurd in themselves, ignoring the basic fact that most of the annual GDP growth measures the rise in income of mostly exclusive urban, male, elite high-end sectors which determine and direct mining, cash-crop, real estate (land displacement), and [cheapest] labor configurations which exclude vast rural populations, whether in India, Congo, or Colombia. Human beings are impoverishing other human beings – not continental geographies. And the story is similar in most geographies including those concerned in this essay – Adivasis in rural Chhattisgarh struggle to hold on to their land in the face of “Memoranda of Understanding” signed by illegitimate politicians to mining interests to violently displace the people from their land, similarly to how Niger Delta militants attack oil infrastructure and kidnap oil workers in response to land displacement and ecosystem destruction by a half century of oil exploitation by foreign corporations in happy concert with local state governments and the Federal Government of Nigeria.

Once you understand neo-colonialism and neoliberal market economics, these patterns can be easily understood as to how they determine poverty and struggle around the third world. Malnutrition and poverty propagate fastest and most consistently wherever governments fail to prioritize enabling peripheral population groups to exact their own capacity to cultivate, live and eat of the land. Changes in the environment, and dietary demands which may place undue stress on the ecosystem and reduce its carrying capacity, may further impede nutrition and food security, as predominates in Sahelian countries that currently suffer serious drought. But policy-makers in much of the third world more often than not do not care, since they do not share the same fate as those far beyond the capitals, the urban and privileged spaces where they bury their heads, forgetting what rural populations go through, forgetting they exist.

I think that in itself, that food security should become a constitutional and human right anywhere is excellent. But a shifting in societal priorities would be a more lasting solution, towards actually considering the plights of women, of agriculturalists, and enabling their self-determination while the wealth of the nation focuses first on human and ecological needs rather than profit for exploitative corporations and salaries for ministers and bureaucracies.

Why focus on these poverty contests, with Africa at level zero? These statistics only measure those who, already in positions of control over powerful economic interests, are getting richer as they exploit more underpaid, vulnerable workers, and the land those workers may have been displaced or evicted from. These statistics don’t measure women’s reproductive work, don’t measure broader levels of quality of life that get inflated by those at the very top, even while the masses at the bottom suffer more dispossession and malnutrition year after year.

Human solidarity is to be encouraged instead. The same problems in Nigeria or Congo are found in India, Bangladesh, Indonesia or Peru, the same exact identical types of fierce corruption, the same exact types of high-official sellouts, the same exact identical types of Western aspirationalism and mimicry, the same exact types of ideological and religious extremisms and hysterias which cripple the masses from thinking critically and boldly enough to challenge the regimes that cause their suffering, the same exact multinationals praying on their resources, human and natural, to be exploited to the lowest common denominator. The same exact types of ignorance forced upon the masses with the absence of schools and the tolerance of illiteracy, despite official claims to the contrary. The exact same types of oppression of labor activists and human-rights campaigners and journalists. The exact same types of classisms and casteisms that compel generations to accept their designated desperation. The same exact types of false democracies in which the people do not have choice or voice in the structural economic questions of society, only at best over the latest personality who says the prettiest things or just looks pretty, but in power does little to nothing of the good he or she promised.

Thus I reject poverty contests. Instead, I move towards human collaboration and solidarity in the third world in pursuit of revolution! Towards the African revolution, the South Asian revolution, the Latin American revolution, the world revolution! Towards human-based economics! Towards the end of rapacious capitalism, the end of the rush to privatize water, seeds and land! Towards human and community-level self-governance and self-determination! Towards the humanization of labor such that people are not reduced to pack mules to produce Wal-Mart products at competitively lower and lower wages in ever more dangerous workplaces!

Towards human development work which is interested in human development, not numbers nudging and statistics masturbating.

West Africa’s “slow-motion” famine

This is why Pan-Africanism or African Internationalism is the answer. And I don’t mean at the level of the institution of the nation state, as I’m an anti-fascist anarcho-syndicalist and ubuntuist (all useless labels). I’m talking about at the level of the grassroots in a situation where borders are erased and collective well-being is recognized as crucial for the prosperity of Africa. Africans in the regions of Niger or Chad don’t have to find themselves trapped inside those map boxes as food runs out in those countries over climatic and geological time and in the very near future and present. As climate changes, landlocked Sahel countries, whose existence was precarious to begin with, will only get drier, more arid and less agriculturally productive. It is all but inevitable, thanks to the profligate pollution of the stubborn West+China and their erstwhile refusal to arrive at a climate deal that would cap carbon levels in the atmosphere at 350 parts per billion, a threshold beyond which would essentially broil Africa in the long run. When, over the course of the coming months, years and decades, Sahel countries realize even more desperate climatic circumstances that are irreversible short of the construction of the great “Green Wall” of Africa which, given African corruption, will probably never happen, where will its people go if they are prevented from moving freely across borders? Will they be expected to starve into extinction due to the accident of their geographies of birth? That is why borders must be erased in Africa, borders imposed by imperialists at a conference in Germany 125 years ago at which not a single African was present.

Climate change is going to dry and fry the already delicate ecosystems of the Sahel especially, while rainfall may increase in other ecosystems. The same is true for dry savannah regions in other parts of the tropics/ third world such as parts of Mexico, Southwest Africa, India, the Middle East, and even some parts of the Mekong River delta in Southeast Asia which is reporting record drought and low river depth (to the point of unnavigability) this year. Each consecutive month this year since February has been the warmest on record.

Pastoralism is also a huge, HUGE part of the problem. I’m not a cultural relativist about this, in fact I’m not a cultural relativist about anything and I criticize everything that doesn’t work and is stupid, even if people have been doing it for centuries. It’s gotta go! Having animals browse the land and eat off every last speck of vegetation, only to slaughter and eat them, and then ask what happened to the arable land, is the mark of woefully uneducated and ignorant people. Education is the answer here, to demonstrate in no uncertain terms how destructive and unsustainable pastoralism is. This will prevent the inevitable and often violent conflicts that so frequently occur at the meeting of pastoralist nomad and settled agriculturalist (i.e. Darfur, Chad, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, etc.). So does this mean I am guilty of privileging the permanently settled farmer of vegetables, produce, fruits and so on? Hell yes! Especially when incorporating the best practices of sustainable, organic, high-yield agronomy and agroforestry. In the Americas, in countries like Brazil, we already know how rapidly we are losing the Amazon rain forest to giant cattle ranches that supply burgers to America and its fattening waistline. This is why veganism is part of the solution for humanity, considering how much more we can feed ourselves eating vegetables grown on the land instead of waiting for other non-human animals to eat them before slaughtering them mercilessly and consuming the most unhealthy products known to the human palate.

Will Africans use this opportunity, at the grassroots civil society level, to overturn centuries of top-down tyranny, capitalist division, unsustainable pastoralism, irrational meat prestige, and export-oriented cash-crop production to realize a borderless and human society of cooperation, collectivism, sustainability and food security first? Will the world? Humans have a lot of work to do on this planet, as we may be either its most inventive beings or its most destructive, selfish and irresponsible children.

Food Security and the Last Billion

atakpame-1983Yesterday, Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Administration, complained that this year, due to the global food crisis, an additional 40 million humans are joining the ranks of the chronically food insecure around the world, and the total for the seriously at-risk is now at least about 963 million. About 1 billion around the world are now at dire imminent risk of starvation and debilitating malnutrition. Needless to say, Afrikan countries, most run by anti-Afrikan, indeed anti-human kleptocrats and neo-colonialists, serve up some of the highest numbers. Likewise for India, China, and elsewhere in the third world.

Perhaps in the wake of the urgency with which Mr. Diouf testified to the UN’s food agency, now may be a time to muse about the implications of our individual eating habits on global ecology and food security. In what I’ve learned of agronomy, it seems vegetarianism is the most ecologically sustainable diet that human populations can pursue. Even in rural settings, runaway grazing eats up land and depletes its moisture carrying capacity far more quickly than even conventional mono-crop rearing. Eating fruits and using herbs from the forest – minimally invasive in practice – seems like the total opposite of grazing, factory farming, and other practices that have led to extreme deforestation and desertification, including the misguided steps being taken in Indonesia, Malaysia, and elsewhere to convert old-growth broad-leaf rainforest into vast groves of palm oil for bio-fuel export.

I think the Afrikan that moves away from meat is making a profound move. Not only is it in pursuit of the primal health colored folks will need to fight imperialism and neo-colonialism and establish a united Afrika serving and enriching the lives of Afrikans, but it is also an engagement with the carrying capacity of the Earth, and an acknowledgment of the delicate balance needed for the planet to replenish itself. It suggests we are willing to share and allow what the Earth can bountifully give to us, so long as we don’t take in excess and destroy the ecosystem in the process. It is well documented how much more water, land, food and fuel inputs are needed for even modest styles of animal husbandry to feed one individual, compared to inputs needed to feed one person through plant-based means only. At one extreme is factory farming and agribusiness that rapes the Earth without recourse to the least iota of moral restraint, and on the other, I think, the Afrikan moving towards serious raw veganism.

It is a move for the zealots, most will probably conclude. So be it. It tastes good and at least we know we are on Earth’s side, custodians of ecological sustainability and food security, because of our dietary choices. Already there is enough food to feed the world’s population, just that it’s concentrated in granaries in the West, and its potential to be utilized sensibly in Afrika is thwarted by cash-crop export economies, political instability, pollution, war, runaway urbanization, land privatization and land misuse. How much more could the ability to feed the world be expanded if less of us opt for the most wasteful land-use patterns by going for the meat, especially the factory-farmed meat?

Not that the millennium development goals are worth a damn beyond their pretty letters on conscience-appeasing paper, but if we want to take Mr. Diouff’s grievances seriously and consider how we can contribute to food security, even if rather indirectly, perhaps more of us should consider putting the meat down. This is just a microscopic baby-step into being a bit more mindful of the planet and all its resources we usurp to feed us, given the choices we make, even in diet. We haven’t even begun to discuss the fundamental problem of parasitic capitalism and its imposition of hunger, ignorance, land theft, and wretchedness on the “developing” world.

Don’t you get tired of it being the 21st century and black folks (and Asians, Indigenous folk and Latin Americans too) are still starving, still part of the last billion?