Appropriating Genocide in the Vegan Movement


NOTE: I am sorry for some of the typos in this piece! It was written very passionately and quickly, and I realize there are some grammar and spelling issues. I am trying to fix them as I go. 

This one is a little less light hearted than many of my other posts, but I felt it necessary to address the topic in a public forum.

Recently, vegan YouTuber Sorsha tweeted this image with a response video trying to justify it:



So where do I even begin with this? Recently, I posted about this topic in a vegan group and was pretty much slated as they mostly agree that this is acceptable behavior. It doesn't matter if humans are offended, because animals. But I think memes and posts like this are incredibly alienating.

As someone who has spent most of my life with Holocaust survivors and has two advanced degrees on the subject, and who is now a vegan, this is what I feel on the topic. (I do understand many people feel degrees and experiences are worthless because they can google...)

Firstly, comparing people to animals negatively may be inherently speciesist, but it is also one of the warning signs of genocide, as noted by noted genocide scholar Gregory Stanton. He states that among the 10  warning signs for genocide is the following, "One group denies the humanity of the other group. Members of it are equated with animals, vermin, insects or diseases. Dehumanization overcomes the normal human revulsion against murder."

But Anna, that's speciesist! True vegans don't mind being compared to animals. 


It may be true that "true vegans" don't mind a comparison to animals, but when you are close to a genocide or your people have suffered injustice where they have been compared to an animal, it isn't easy for people to see this as a "good thing." Historically, it has been meant as an insult, regardless of how "not speciesist" you are. And if your family or someone you are close to hasn't been compared to an animal because of their race, then it is probably pretty hard to get that through your head. 


It's also true that most people are speciesists. So, stating that people who don't want to be compared to animals are speciesist over and over and using that as an argument doesn't really mean much to the non-vegan, despite the fact that you think they should be seeing it your way. The point, I assume, is to spread your message, not piss people off. If you're trying to make a point that factory farming is pretty disgusting, perhaps not alienating most people who you are trying to reach is a good first step. And that includes "horrible speciesists." Even though it may be hard to believe, you probably once thought it was insulting to be compared to an animal. 


Also, is speciesism a preference of people of animals? Or is speciesism using any kind of justification that animals are below us as a reason to kill and torture them? If it is the latter, which I kind of agree, then how can you call a vegan outraged by the exploitation of history a speciesist if they also find it morally wrong to torture and kill animals? 

But I read this Internet quote that Chuck Palahniuk has said most Holocaust survivors are vegans because they know what it is like to be treated like animals so the comparison is valid!


Where did he get this data? Having worked with Holocaust survivors since I was 18, I have not met one vegan survivor. Do they exist? I'm sure a couple do. But you also have to understand that veganism is not necessarily very popular amongst older people in general. 


Before I went vegan, I wasn't very much into meat and usually ate a veggie alternative, even though I wasn't strictly vegetarian. Having been in the homes of survivors, going to several dinners with them, working at homes for survivors, etc. I can tell you that I've had a hard time finding even vegetarian options.


The Jews don't own the word Holocaust! Stop being such a victim! There were many Holocausts that happened throughout history!


This seems to be parroted in the vegan community quite a lot. The word is derived from the Greek word holokauston meaning to be consumed by fire. It has been used in other settings to discuss offerings or things "burnt whole," but was not really used to discuss genocide or mass killings until referring to the Nazi Holocaust. It was first recorded in 1957.  


The reason why I have trouble with this line of reasoning is that it is often used as an attempt to diminish the Holocaust. I have heard many Holocaust deniers and people who think we make "too big a deal" out of the Holocaust use as an excuse to belittle the genocide or act as though "all people have suffered a Holocaust" at one point or another (which is blatantly untrue). 


The fact that most people know its greatest connotation is to the German Holocaust, weakly attempt to justify it, and continue to use it despite its offensiveness, yet try and pass it off as okay with a dictionary definition is very grating to me. 


The same vegans who say that the Holocaust doesn't just describe the Nazi Holocaust also compare slaughterhouses to Auschwitz int he same breath, or say that Auschwitz was modeled after slaughterhouses (which is untrue and I may go into in a video). It should also be noted that factory farming wasn't like how it is now prior to the Holocaust, so it makes little sense to use this analogy. 

If this is the case, then why are you comparing it to the Nazi Holocaust and not "any of the other thousands of Holocausts"?

But Holocaust isn't even a word Jews use for themselves!


True, many Jews do find this word problematic because of the connotation that we were sacrificed voluntarily. As a result, the term Shoah is sometimes used. However, my degrees are in Holocaust and Genocide Studies, and all of the places I've worked, voluntarily or paid to do with this time period, use the word Holocaust. Shoah is only universally replaced in France where it is a more common word.


But during the Holocaust, Jewish people's bodies were used like animals, therefore it's totally the same. 


I'm really unsure what is meant by this. There is no evidence that the Nazis made soap from human corpses. Tattooed skins of inmates were not available for mass consumption the way animal products are, instead they were for very peculiar tastes, namely a woman working at the camps named Ilse Koch. 


Hair from murdered Jews was used to line soldiers' boots or to make work clothing. Again, it was not available for mass consumption.


Someone commented that personal effects were also stolen, but these are not parts of the human body. Personal effects were stolen to be sold, recycled to other camp prisoners or to be sent to German families who had been affected by bombings. However, your glasses or coat are a lot different than your flesh, so it is not necessarily comparable to factory farming.

But Israel is the most vegan country in the world because of the comparison!

4%-5% of Israelis are vegan. And Israelis are some of the biggest meat eaters in the world . Furthermore, for reasons I'd rather not discuss, let's not confuse Israel with the Jewish community at large.


Many Jews are also vegetarian in the first place because it makes eating kosher easier. It is no wonder there is a large population of vegetarians in Israel. 

But I read a quote by a Holocaust survivor saying it's okay to use this line of reasoning!
Stacey Dash also says blacks should get over slavery. I guess that means she's right because she is black! (sarcasm)

You will always find people who will agree with you and disagree with you no matter their race. The danger is when you decide to take one person's opinion of a particular race or religion and say it represents everyone just because it coincides with your own. I can almost guarantee most Jews are not okay with the comparison. In fact, I posed the question to an online Jewish community and the question was deemed offensive and reported. When I told t his to a few vegans who cease to see why the comparison is hurtful, they told me it is just because we're speciesist. Never mind that Jewish people do NOT appreciate this. 

It should also be noted that you will find Jews who feel we deserved the Holocaust because liberal Judaism exists and God was angry at us. That is not a pervasive thought, but it could be used by antisemites to justify a feeling that the Jews "deserved what they got." Hey, if you can get some Jews to agree, then it's right!

Gary Yourofsky is also brought up quite a bit as he is Jewish by birth (though I'm unsure what he would personally identify himself as), yet Gary says in a video quite clearly that he feels human rights are unimportant. He also goes on to state that the survivors of Katrina and the Nepal earthquake do not deserve help because some are meat eaters. Gary also has some pretty detailed and violent fantasies about what to do to humans who violate the law and general code of ethics (ie. rape). Does this sound like someone who really cares whom he offends?

Many Holocaust survivors are actually vegan or animal rights activists.

Oh? If it were a pervasive movement within the community, I kind of wonder why I haven't really met or heard of any until I went vegan. Then, I was told of approximately two--though really only one by name. I'm not doubting that a small minority exists, but I am doubting that it is a widespread movement, based on my experience working with survivors.


Again, most people who have starved (not necessarily former anorexics, but who have starved by circumstance) do not actually consider veganism an option, which is something that seems to be overlooked. It is rare that people who have been in that situation do not have issues around food, and they typically want food available at all times. It would be very uncharacteristic of people who had been in such a situation to cut out entire food groups from their diet. This is not even considered by many vegans, as they feel veganism should be something everyone thinks is a reasonable option, despite the movement not being that large in comparison to meat eaters. 

Animal slaughter is worse than the Holocaust.

Do you really think saying this to people who are offended by the example is going to further your cause? Turning around and saying if someone is offended by this statement, they are speciesist or have a superiority complex will further turn people off of veganism. The only people that will agree with this statement are other vegans, therefore it actually works against your activism. 


So Germany banned the comparison of animal slaughter to the Holocaust. That's because people are just speciesists and think that human suffering is better than animal suffering.


Yes, probably. But doesn't that mean that maybe you're alienating people who find it offensive by making the comparison? So maybe that means drop it? Just because you want to congratulate yourself for being "not speciesist" doesn't mean that line of reasoning is going to work well on others. Clearly an entire country's government does not see the comparison as not only not reasonable, but not ethical. Going further to insult and call names, again, does little to educate on veganism.


You're too close to the Holocaust to rationally see the comparison.

So, you don't ask the opinions of people who are close to the events being exploited if they're okay with it because they are "too close to the events"? I don't follow that line of reasoning. Isn't the point to educate people, even if they are close to the event? If someone is emotionally tied to the event being used as an example, maybe it isn't the best way to go about advocating for veganism.


You're speciesist, Anna! You have a wounded speciesist ego!

Am I a speciesist? By the definition of the white vegan who does not want to interact or engage with why this rhetoric is offensive, then likely so. However, I do not agree with causing unnecessary harm and suffering to any living being, people or animals, so that is something we agree upon. Obviously, I am vegan in part because of the moral implications of it. I don't see how this means you have to assign the same value to your parents as you do an ant. This does not mean advocation for the killing or torture of animals, it simply means that many humans simply identify more strongly with other humans and their experiences than that of an alligator or ant.


By saying that animals deserve the same rights as humans, you are implying that they should also have the right to do things like vote or marry. That is absurd. And it is not wrong to point that there are fundamental differences between us and our level of awareness. That doesn't mean it is okay to torture and kill them, it just means the human experience is much different that the experience of a chicken, for example. 

Calling someone speciesist is a convenient way to avoid the topic of conversation. It is a way to silence the conversation while then patting yourself on the back for being a more "ethical vegan," thus playing into racism and the racism of this discourse. You then are positioning yourself as somehow "better" than the person who finds fault in the exploitation of their history. Thus, you are effectively silencing them so you don't have to confront your own privilege and engage in a potentially uncomfortable discussion. And the cycle of the racist problem in the vegan movement continues.

I may discuss speciesism in another blog post or video, but it seems to me that in this context, it is simply a silencing tactic. If we're all vegan, then we all agree that you should not exploit or torture or kill animals. So, why are you accusing someone of valuing one life over another? 

But we have to use the comparison. 

Why? It has proven to already be ineffective by its banning in Germany and PETA's other exhibit on comparing slavery to animal rights also being banned after facing backlash in New Haven, CT.  This was shown to be so racist that even the Daily Show poked fun at veganism's own race problem and total lack of self-awareness when saying such statements. 

It seems the only people who want to continue the comparisons are a subset of white vegans to use shock tactics. Non-vegans find it shocking and many vegans, especially vegans whose history is being appropriated find it offensive. Do the animals need you to continue making this offensive comparison? Have they demanded their pain be compared to a human experience? No, they just want to stop being tortured and killed.

I bet you're not even vegan! You're just trolling!

Great defense for when someone says something you're not on board with.


I know you're not vegan. 

You better then get a Miss Cleo number, because you're pretty good at calling things out that aren't even true.


Your arguments are illogical. Good luck finishing your PhD.

Thanks.

The bottom line is that this is incredibly offensive to many people, except hardcore vegans. And if you are the only people who don't find it offensive, then why continue to make the comparison to try and "recruit" non-vegans? I have to say that this comparison made me feel very much like the vegan movement was full of white, non-Jewish, privileged people who have no real idea what the impact of genocide and slavery has been. I was very turned off by the whole movement for a long time due to the outrageous "Holocaust on Your Plate!" and "Stop the Genocide of Turkeys!" headlines. I found it crass and offensive. It wasn't until I researched factory farming without a connection to a human tragedy that it made any difference to me. I feel explaining the inhumanity of factory farming without constantly bringing up rape, slavery and the Holocaust is not only possible, but the way to help people understand without giving people a negative view of veganism.

The People in the Photos Are Humans with a Story

One thing I would also like to address is the nature of the photos used to make the point you're trying to make. The subjects in the photographs did not consent to having their pictures taken right before their rape or murder. They did not consent to have pictures of their dead, naked bodies blown up and put on show, especially next to farm chickens. I know these pictures are public domain, but that is problematic in itself. Many people have identified themselves or close family relatives in these photos, only to be told they have no right to have the photo or negative destroyed as it is part of history or someone holds the copyright.

How would you feel if that were your grandmother's dead, naked, bleeding body? Most people don't think about that.

Another comparison I can make is what if you or someone in your family were a rape victim and a photo was taken of you just after your rape. It is one of the worst days of your life, yet someone has taken the picture and blown it up, made a meme out of it, and passed it around to compare it to another rape, animal cruelty, etc. You've asked to have it removed, but you are told "tough shit" because they already have the rights to the photo.

When questioned whether this is right, people say, "Oh, you know, women are used as sex slaves in xyz country. Your rape and the picture of you is hardly as bad. Get over it." or "But animals are raped everyday and we need to get the point across, so your suffering is totally irrelevant. In fact, not only is it irrelevant, but it shows you have a superiority complex and are incredibly angry." 

Would that really not bother you?

I will update this if I have more to say later.

Interesting articles for further reading:

Privilege: The US Vegan Movement, Whiteness and Race Relations

White Human Guilt: [Some] Parallels Between How People Defend Racism and Speciesism

Dear Post-Racial White Vegans: All Lives Matter is a Racial Microagression Contributing to Our Daily Struggle with Racial Battle Ground Fatigue 

Veganism Has a Serious Race Problem

White Vegans Need to Check Their Privilege 

3 Reasons Black Folks Don't Join the Animal Rights Movement--And Why We Should

Dear White Vegans: Stop It 

That Awkward Moment When The Vegan Society Shared "100 Black Vegans"...





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5 comments

  1. the illusion that we humans are something other than animals is the true barrier (however, I do believe that there are those among us much likely closer related to plants... possibly even rocks)

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    1. But the point of my post in on appropriating history and possibly alienating other vegans or people who don't know about their food sources, not a debate on whether or not humans and animals are equal. There are 100 ways of discussing mistreatment of animals and people in the meat and dairy industry without constantly bringing up rape, slavery and the Holocaust...three things people are both uneducated and throw around casually as if it's not hurtful.

      If humans and animals are "equals" then spreading the vegan message shouldn't be done in a way that is potentially very hurtful and offensive...especially by people who do not share this history. So many vegans seem to be, "Screw people! I'm soooo vegan that idgaf about people's feelings on any subject and I don't care whose history I manipulate to get my point across."

      When I see vegans doing this, it both pisses me off and I can see about 10 other ways you can get the same point across without stealing someone's history, and usually it an uneducated and exploitative manner.

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  2. Hi - Thanks for linking to my blog (funcrunch.org). I was surprised given the topic of this post that this later blog entry of mine was not the one you linked to: http://funcrunch.org/blog/2016/04/03/humananimal-liberation-and-the-limits-of-comparison/ I'd welcome any comments on it.

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    1. This was really interesting as well! I think I was trying to point out that simply calling someone speciesist is a way to silence an argument while continuing white oppression so that's why that article was linked. I am really uncomfortable with speciesism as a concept (which I may go into later, which I'm sure will piss many off!), but I don't believe in torturing or causing suffering to animals, so I don't see why I have to see an ant and a human as equals. As long as I don't believe in unnecessary suffering, it should clear up the notion that im not coming at this from a place of superiority. Yet, it seems white vegans are able to raise themselves up as superior while simultaneously shutting off a conversation about race and it's really annoying.

      I don't understand why so many people cling to these ideas in general. Most non-vegans and many vegans find the comparison offensive. It doesn't help animal welfare to insist on using hurtful language, so what is the point other than smugly congratulating til yourself for being a better vegan.


      I agree with you about the Nazi thing. I do joke about being a grammar nazi, etc., but to call someone a a Nazi in earnest is just silly. Kimmy Schmidt did a parody of it where a social justice group had a list of their top 10 Hitlers.

      I definitely appreciate your views and speaking to you and I may do a video on this soon.

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    2. Thanks for the reply. Just after I read this, I got a message that Collectively Free decided to update and repost the article without the Nazi comparison: http://www.collectivelyfree.org/bernie-sanders-not-so-progressive-on-animal-rights/

      Delete

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