Veganism, as it was originally intended to be, is dead.
Maybe it never existed in the first place.

Post-veganism is a reflection about what it means to be a vegan,
now that the word has completely lost its meaning in the dominant culture.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Rethinking and Revisioning the Idea of the Wild Animal

After my first few classes in a course entitled Sex, Gender and Pop Culture I found myself wondering if feminism had anything to say about animals other than humans. I strongly believe that feminism is very relevant and necessary today, but I wondered if it wasn't being self reflective enough. Surely enough my professor Alyson Mitchell, you should google her she's fantastic, had the answer. She directed me to a few blogs and books. Being in university, playing mommy to my refugee animal friends, and trying to coordinate a vegan club keep me busy – so let's just say I'm listing off unacceptable reasons for procrastinating and putting off the reading until 'the summer', whenever that comes, if it even does at all – because summer to me has come to mean this utopian ideal of sunshine, lounging by the pond and having loads of spare time. At any rate I did read one of the recommended books and was left both inspired and confused.

The Sexual Politics of Meat by Carol Adams is fantastic, but I'll come right out and say that it left me feeling frustrated. It is a 'Critical Feminist-Vegetarian Theory' according to the cover. On one page Adams says we live in a meat-culture and on another point blank talks about how horrific the cow milk and chicken egg industry is. So I thought, well this book looks pretty old. Maybe she means vegan when she writes vegetarian, like a pure vegetarian before the word came to mean many different things to many different people. No such luck of course, as Adams goes on to talk about how she went out to eat ice cream. It's nuanced so well into the book that I almost wonder if she doesn't realizes where her ice cream comes from, or even hope she means soy ice cream and she's just forgetting to add it. So while I love the book I need to say it's a great step in the direction of eliminating non-human animal suffering, but it by no means is all the way there.

One section of the book talks about liberating your vocabulary. Instead of saying animal you should say other animal, to directly imply that you yourself are an animal and you do not mean human animals. Most of the time the word animal says all on its own that humans are not included in the animal category, which is problematic. I am beginning to try and say and type other animal when possible, but when it sounds just wrong I use non-human animal which works almost as well I think. This is just an example of the type of suggestions this section of the book makes.

The book suggests that instead of saying wild animal we should say free animal. It doesn't really explain why, but my understanding is that the word wild has a negative connotation. Wild sounds untamed, savage, uncivilized, and like someone in need of domination. Not everyone sees this when they see the word wild, but the alternative isn't much better. To some wild is a romantic notion, an idea of purity that has not been tampered with by the human species. That is also problematic, because it prioritizes saving wild animals like one pack of wolves over dogs who die in the thousands every day because shelters are overflowing with strays.

The book suggests that we say free instead of wild. Free implies however a freedom from the human species, that they are only free when we do not interact with them. Should we turn out cats and dogs from our homes into the streets so they can be free? Do we still need to protect animals that are free? When we use the word free are we labeling them in a human engineered way, as if we ourselves are not free in our cities? I have some idea about the answers to these questions, but I've decided I don't quite like these questions. So yes, free is definitely better than wild – but free is I hope not the best word we can come up with.

So I looked beyond the book and began to think what can I call these animals in the woods, in the ponds, and in the skies? My next thought was natural animals. That raised other questions. Are the animals in our homes unnatural, have we tainted them? Does that imply humans are unnatural? Does that strengthen the human nature divide? The word sounded nice and romantic, but no it wouldn't do because it implied some horrible things.

The next word I came up with was original. It is a privileged word though, as if these animals are special and have some unique value. I suppose that's not far off from the fact though – as they are original and living in their intended ecosystems. They are the original model for our 'domestic' non-human animals, while our 'pets' are copies of a copy of a copy (thank you Beaudrillard for that idea!). They are modeled after an ideal that wasn't real in the first place, because how we view 'wild' animals isn't real at all – it is our anthropocentric projection. Thus 'domestic' animals are a copy of something fake, and that original fake is what we would call the 'wild' animal. The word original seems flawed though, as I'm sure anyone would be quick to point out that evolution can in fact prove that they are not original. They too are copies.

The word original is so far from the word wild that it would be a difficult transition. I can just imagine in lecture responding to a question about 'wild' animals and referring to them as original animals, only to completely confuse the lecturer and everyone else in the class. Confusion is never the intention, and since there often isn't time to explain to why I am using the word original I think confusion would come readily. It's too difficult a word, I think wild needs to be replaced by something obvious. We can replace meat with flesh and it's obvious (to most people in at least some way) what the word we are replacing is.

So I've come up with more questions now, but I guess that because I'm so used to wild it's difficult to find a replacement so easily. What would you say instead?

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