May 19 2020
CfHAS Leverhulme ECR Fellow Dr. Paula Arcari reflects on the current pandemic in light of its overlaps with human/animal relations
COVID-19 shows why we need to stop commodifying animals.
For many thousands of people worldwide, the Covid-19 pandemic is providing painful proof of the inadequacies and failings of a profit-based capitalist world economy. However, thousands of nonhuman lives are equally vulnerable under this system but have fewer, if any, legal protections.
Animals are part of vast, globally connected industries that commodify their bodies not only for food, but also entertainment, research, and companionship. Now that the systems of exchange that provide for their daily maintenance are dissolving, they face the possibility of mass extermination.
Some zoos are coming to terms with the possibility of having to kill some ‘if not all’ of their animals, feed some of their animals to others, or shut down permanently. This is in addition to the thousands of healthy animals that zoos cull every year due to being unwanted surplus or to maintain genetic integrity. As Sam Threadgill of Freedom for Animals explains, “without breeding and maintaining stocks of captive animals for people to look at, the animals wouldn’t be in this even more dire situation.”
Racehorses and greyhounds are already at high risk in industries that rely on large numbers of animals being born to make them financially viable, with consequent over-supply and high annual ‘wastage’. With racing suspended, UK advocacy organisations are anticipating a spike in welfare issues and potential widespread culling. After the 2008–2009 financial crisis, the number of racehorses sent to abattoirs in Britain and Ireland doubled and the IMF predicts that the Covid-19 recession will be “way worse”.
There are also hundreds of thousands of animals that are part of struggling tourist operations (for example elephants in Thailand); millions of laboratory animals who have become surplus to requirements and face mass culling; and many thousands more in rescue centres which are struggling through lack of funds, have had to suspend intake, or are facing closure. While there are reports of increased adoptions, charities warn of the consequences for these animals post-pandemic when people regain their social/work lives, and also note that the number of pets being abandoned has increased.
Essentially, animals are highly expendable commodities when it comes to an economic crisis and associated shifts in values. Unlike humans, they have no legal status, and they also don’t have second homes, pension schemes, insurance, savings, or social services to rely on. That the animal-industrial complex is so directly implicated in the Covid-19 pandemic and the climate crisis, with myriad animals being substantial victims of both, only emphasises the cycles of violence that result from capitalist commodification.
To avoid future, perhaps worse, risks to global health and nonhuman lives, and also make greater inroads towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the commodification of animals’ lives and bodies needs to stop. There are ways this can be done with compassion and respect, helping those currently dependent on these systems transition to alternative livelihoods, as is happening in farming.
If it seems insensitive or irrelevant to speak of animal exploitation at this time, it is important to understand that all human oppressions — based on ‘race’, ethnicity, gender, class, age, religion, ability or other perceived difference — operate through the same mechanisms, and all are super-charged under capitalism. Human and nonhuman oppression cannot be treated separately.
November 25 2018
Recent CfHAS Post-doc Dr. Naomi Griffin reflects upon her involvement in the Pathways to Veganism Project
I recently completed a 4 month contract as a Post-Doctoral Researcher supporting the ‘Pathways to Veganism’ project with Professor Claire Parkinson and Dr Richard Twine. I joined the project at a particularly interesting time as the ethics had just been approved for the fieldwork so we could get started immediately. I started by disseminating a survey (the 1st phase of fieldwork) which aimed to gather attitudes and perceptions of non-vegans towards vegans and veganism. This was followed by the team putting together an interim report for the Vegan Society, as external funders for the project. This report gave me the opportunity to immerse myself in recent literature on veganism, attitudes towards veg*nism, theories and concepts around animal consumption, and human/animal relations more generally, an opportunity that I am very grateful for. Once the report was submitted we could focus on the 2nd phase of data collection (interviews).
For the interviews I went to people’s homes and spoke to them about their food purchasing habits, attitudes, opinions, preferences, and how they understand and perceive vegans and veganism. I have to admit I was a little apprehensive about starting this phase as I’ve had many difficult conversations about my own veganism with non-vegans in the past, so the thought of approaching such discussions in a professional context was a little daunting. However, I loved it. I found people were very talkative and the interviews generated really interesting data. Participants knew they would be committing around an hour of their time to a discussion about veganism, and this meant there was a willingness to engage in in-depth discussions about veganism. I am curious as to the extent to which the research setting and topic impacted on what individuals said/wished to say, (a bit early to say at the moment). Overall, I had some fascinating conversations and many of the participants thanked me for my time and for how interesting the conversations were. Some engaging conversations around methodology will come out of this project I’m sure, as the first project of this focus, as well as the data itself, and I very much look forward to being part of the project, albeit from a distance, as it progresses.
Working at Edge Hill University was an absolute pleasure, my team and others I worked with, briefly or with more regular contact, were so welcoming, helpful and supportive. I am delighted to have had the opportunity to work for such an incredible centre which aligns with my personal ethics and experience so well.’
Dr. Naomi Griffin, November 2018.
January 4 2018
CfHAS PhD candidate Abi Masefield (UK) offers a review of the recent Fifth European Conference for Critical Animal Studies, held at the Pufendorf Institute, Lund University, Sweden 26-28th October 2017
Nonhuman animals in society: Exploring new pathways for resistance, change and accommodation.
This was my first Critical Animal Studies (CAS) Conference and set against the backdrop of bright Autumnal Lund I was certainly not disappointed. The stated aim of this conference was to ‘display how scholarly work can contribute to eliminate the domination and oppression of all animals’. It was very much an international event with over 125 people attending from over 19 countries spanning five continents, and the event was impressively managed by the six strong organizing committee (The full programme can be found on the conference website.
Spread over three full days, the skeleton of the conference was structured around a quartet of key note presentations by Zipporah Weisberg; Jo-Anne McArthur; Erika Cudworth and Matthew Cole; and Volker Sommer. In between these deep-dives, the classical conference structure of parallel panel presentations prevailed to flesh out the content and provide an abundance of opportunities for researchers to both share their work and digest the rich offerings of others. Personally, I had not anticipated just how important the feedback I received following a presentation of my own research (at Edge Hill University – exploring the intersections of coloniality and speciesism in development discourse around tackling hunger and malnutrition and ‘the right to food’ with ‘the right to not be food’) would be in terms of helping me to prioritise the relative significance of certain messages as well as to fire up my motivation.
Coffee breaks (known as ‘fika’ in Swedish and sometimes accompanied by a delicious sweet treat to energise participants) often felt too short to continue conversations and a delicious dinner at Kao’s vegan restaurant in Malmo provided a much needed breathing space for further discussion.
Of course, a conference is experienced from specific vantage points. Looking back, this one was nothing less than a richly orchestrated three-day firework display of explosive ideas, sparking questions and colourful interactions. As a researcher embarking on the daunting adventure of a PhD the overall effect was both dazzling and inspiring.
The key note presentations were each fascinating in their own way. However, one in particular stood out by resonating with my own research and introducing me to a key thinker who I had somehow failed to register so far in the wanderings of my literature review. So I am especially grateful to Lund for acquainting me with Erika Cudworth and her insights into the ‘theoretical and political challenges to exclusive humanism’ and the animalization inherent not only in colonialism, but in the entire ‘civilizing process’ in which we are all caught up and thereby alienated from our animal selves. Erika’s paper setting out a ‘posthumanist manifesto’ and call for a ‘strategy of terraism’ starts from both the ‘bodied nature of the human’ and the ‘shrinking of the idea of the human as we know it.’ Needless to say, I have been hungrily exploring her writing in the weeks since the conference.
So many other ideas have continued to resonate through my thinking long since the conference ended. Zipporah Weisberg’s discussion of animals’ capacity to care as an additional confirmation of their agency has opened my awareness (as a Terran) in reconnecting with animals. Jo-Anne McArthur’s powerful images have reinforced my appreciation of the requirement to resist the urge to turn away. David Pederson’s ‘Meat-a-Physics’ has made me more determined than ever to better understand meat as a core identifier of humanism. Iselin Gambert and Tobias Linne’s exploration of the entanglement of milk with colonial power and white supremacy drew important connections. And whenever I hear ‘the news’ before long I am reminded of Terry Hurtado’s examination of the connection between dehumanisation and animal suffering in times of war and the characterisation of war as the animalisation of humans (the exclusion of the human enemy from the moral community).
The conference also pushed participants to think more about the potential value of Marxist perspectives for critical animal studies (particularly Adorno with reference to the human’s forgotten ‘likeness to animals’) and invited participants into urban spaces as well as among camel and chimpanzee communities.
With the conference drawing to a close, inevitably, and just like every delicious feast, satiation began to set in and I started to realise that my mind was getting tired. But as my youngest daughter always reminds me, no matter how full we may feel, there is always a room for a dessert. So, it was with EvaMarie Lindahl’s innovative and deeply moving performance piece, set in the Bishops House gallery and evolving from her practice based doctoral project in which she rewrites art from the perspective of the non-human animals who are standing inside the frame. EvaMarie is a Malmo based artist and doctoral student with the Centre for Human Animal Studies at Edge Hill University. This unexpected experience, transporting those present to an entirely different realm, made the perfect closure for a weary brain, as it spoke to somewhere entirely different – perhaps more embedded in my animal self.
As thoughts turn to the next CAS Conference – Barcelona in 2019 – EvaMarie’s performance also lights up the tremendous creative possibilities presented by the opportunity to go bolder, re-imagine and further de-civilize the very institution of the Conference (carnference?) – one that remains so firmly rooted in the ‘civilizing’ project. To harness the performance itself to contribute to destabilising the classical divides of human and animal, mind and body, theory and practice, academic and activist that gave rise to the birth of Critical Animal Studies in the first place.
But before time moves on, what remains to be said is one final and truly heartfelt THANK YOU to Lund for making possible an unforgettable exchange with such wonderful people. This conference was a special moment – the sort that occur only occasionally in life, but will be treasured for long after.
Abi Masefield (PhD Candidate, Centre for Human-Animal Studies, Edge Hill University, UK)
November 1 2017
Karynn Capilé (Brazil) reflects upon her time as a visiting PhD student at CfHAS
I’m a PhD student in Bioethics, Applied Ethics and Public Health (PPGBIOS) at Federal Fluminense University (UFF) of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I have an undergraduate degree in Philosophy as well as one in Veterinary Medicine and a Master’s degree in Veterinary Medicine. I’ve been focusing my studies on animal welfare, animal ethics and neighbouring fields. My current research is about cows in dairy products marketing. In a broader sense, I’m interested in understanding how popular media collaborate with societal views and attitudes toward non-human animals. I am also interested in the cognitive mechanism behind certain moral beliefs according to which exploiting animals remains justifiable even in the face of increasing scientific evidence supporting the discontinuation of animal use.
In Brazil, PhD students can apply for a “sandwich PhD scholarship” granted by CAPES – the main Brazilian academic funding agency – to study abroad for a period ranging from 4 to 12 months, with the purpose of improving the research and to foster cultural and academic exchange with other post-graduate programs. Last year, I made contact with Professor Claire Parkinson and asked her about the possibility of joining the CfHAS team for a period of four months. After reading my PhD proposal, Professor Parkinson and Dr Richard Twine agreed to supervise me. I then applied and fortunately was awarded the scholarship from CAPES to enrol in CfHAS from April to July of 2017. And then my extraordinary experience started. Everything was challenging and new, since the first e-mails I exchanged with Claire and Richard and the International Office team, to the moment I arrived at my accommodation at Edge Hill University.
Claire and Richard were always kind and supportive and also patient with my difficulty regarding the English language especially in our first meetings. They contributed a lot to the development of my thesis, suggested excellent readings and helped me to narrow down the subject (focusing on dairy products packages). They also helped me improve the methodology. I really learned a lot from the exchanges I had with Claire and Richard in our periodic meetings, and with Mariana Andrade, who presented me some basic concepts from marketing, whilst suggesting many readings, and with PhD students Andrea Wren and Abi Masefield with whom I had very interesting chats. I also had the opportunity to meet CfHAS Visiting Professor Jody Berland (from Canada) in my first week at Edge Hill. In June, I took part in the CfHAS Conference in Liverpool. It was a fantastic experience for me to meet and talk with so many brilliant people, to hear their considerations and share my doubts and concerns with them.
I came to know about CfHAS when reading Professor Parkinson’s book Popular Media and Animals on the occasion of writing my PhD proposal. That made me even more interested on this subject. Before contacting Claire, I was not aware of Dr Twine’s work and I became very impressed with so many interesting discussions and writings he was involved in. I was especially glad about his writing on Bioethics and his papers also helped me to improve my understanding of Critical Animal Studies, which is not a well-known area in Brazil. (The main studies, groups and programs focused on ethical and political aspects of human-animal relations are the bioethics and animal or environmental ethics centres and labs.)
Visiting CfHAS contributed a lot to my work, from improving my understanding of the English language to contacting authors and discussions I had no awareness of. I take this occasion to thank all the CfHAS team, as well as the other students, for providing me with the chance of learning and discussing issues of non-human animal conditions in our society. This experience was essential for developing my thesis because my academic background does not provide enough knowledge in media studies and I had to start from the beginning in many aspects.
Professor Claire Parkinson was particularly understanding of the gaps in my media knowledge and very perceptive noticing the aspects I was lacking. I’m sure this period was a landmark in my academic and personal development. Beside the CfHAS and the Edge Hill University staff, I’m also grateful to CAPES, to the PPGBIOS’ Coordination, to my supervisor in Brazil, Professor Rita Leal Paixão, and to everyone who supported me somehow and contributed to making this happen. I strongly encourage other students to visit CfHAS and I’ll be happy to provide more information that could help. Don’t hesitate to send an email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also, I would like to leave an open pathway for everyone who is interested in being a visiting student in a Bioethics post-graduate program in Brazil, in any animal ethics studies centre, or even for people who are just interested in animal protection movements and veganism in Brazil.
April 18 2017
How marketing represents animals in animal products packages in Brazil and in the United Kingdom
People usually have deficient knowledge about how animals are raised for food production as well as the conditions and features of livestock and animal exploitation. For this reason, what is said, suggested or even hinted about animals in animal products marketing matters: the images and messages of animal products displayed in packages and on a brand’s website might be an important criterion in the consumer’s attitude and understanding of the animals they consume. However, the purpose of the package or website design is to promote the product, regardless of whether it matches the reality of the animal lives used to make it.
From a critical perspective, consuming animals implies damage for the animals as subjects and for anyone potentially affected by the environmental conditions, when it could be replaced by plant-based food sources, and this is something to take seriously as a social problem. The objective of this broader study is to analyse how marketing represents animals in packaging, and in due course to discuss how it might intervene in the consumer attitude toward animal consumption. In a preliminary analysis of the animal product packages at popular supermarket chains from Brazil and in the United Kingdom*, it was observed that milk and dairy product packages and websites from both countries usually display bucolic landscapes with funny and childish styles where cows graze freely. There is usually an intensely colored blue sky and green grass, evoking the sense that animals live in a very pleasant place. There are often elements suggesting that those animals are manually milked, as in Kelly’s of Cornwall ice cream, from the UK, which pictures an old-style milk bucket or Elegê milk, from Brazil, which depicts a peasant woman milking a glad cow in a romanticized style. Also, in both countries, the recurring cowbell collar calls forth the imagery of small and extensive familial production, as it used to be almost a hundred years ago, alluding to traditionalism as synonymous with quality. In the Brazilian case, there is a clear reference to the colonial period, and there is also a recurring pattern on packages of smaller Brazilian brands where the cows appear as caricatures with feminine stereotypes, showing highlighted eyelashes and also wearing the cowbell collar.
Examples of packages of popular brands from Brazil:
Examples of packages of popular brands from the United Kingdom:
Regarding meat, Brazilian brands often use anthropomorphized mascots. One of the most popular brands has this very famous mascot named Lek Trek, a chicken actually who many times appears offering or eating chicken, a type of representation that Grossblatt coined as suicide food.1
Examples of animal representation in meat packages from Brazil:
On the other hand, in the UK, anthropomorphized animals are uncommon in meat packages, and the illustrations of the animals from whom the meat comes from are smaller and more discrete compared to the Brazilian examples. The differences between colours and designs is also remarkable; the Brazilian brands often use bright yellow and red, while in the UK the vintage style is in vogue and the colours are more soft and opaque. This might be related to a current trend of political correctness and sustainable consumption discourses in the UK. According to a recent critical analysis, in addition to the consumer lack of critical attitude, these discourses maintain an illusion of animal welfare.2 Despite the recurrent references to animal good practices and sustainability, the discrete illustrations resemble much more an object (sometimes with the body divided in pieces of meat) than a sentient being. The use of symbols as caricatures and illustrations in media is a common way to attenuate or domesticate a controversial or delicate theme, or also to not address the real thing i.e., in this case, the real animal3.
Examples of animal representations on meat packages from the UK:
Packages from both countries often display cooked or even raw meat images, which is also an attenuation as it has already passed through the transformation process of cleaning and fragmentation in pieces of meat, and is presented to the consumer just as food as any other. This is what Carol Adams calls making the animals absent from the products from which they are actually referenced. That is, objectification and fragmentation are processes which turn animals into mere things that can be consumed4, and that includes giving these products food names as beef, hamburger, sausage, rib, nuggets, pepperoni, ham, barbecue, for example. The very animal is avoided and replaced by the iconic pictures that again mask the sentience of these beings, disguising their subjectivity even if they don’t appear literally fragmented.
Marketing strategies distract the consumers, pulling them away from the reality behind livestock practices. They avoid bringing the real animal image to the consumer through the use of metaphors or iconic representations. In Brazil, the mascot Lek Trek and others above, illustrated for instance, look a lot more like a human friend or relative who would probably enjoy cooking, eating meat and a football game than a chicken who instead would prefer scratching, eating small invertebrates and exploring the environment. In the UK, the animal presence also seems absent when they look like objects, pieces of meat, simplistic illustrations highlighting parts of the body, or nutritional features and images of savory delights. And so, the animals – as a real sentient individual who can experience pain or pleasure -remain missing.
The study is still in an initial stage, but these first findings indicate that meat packaging discourse in Brazil tends to be more aggressive and indifferent to ethical and environmental concerns than in the UK. However, milk and dairy marketing in both countries disseminate an ideology according to which exploiting animals is not an issue, and consuming them or their product is something to be promoted. Real, serious and relevant information needs to be provided to consumers about the animals they consume, as a means to engage them in a conscious choice. This could promote consumer reflexivity on the importance of food choices for animal ethics, environmental sustainability and global health.
Karynn Capilé, visiting PhD student at CfHAS.
- Grossblatt B. Suicide Food. http://suicidefood.blogspot.com. Published 2011. Accessed October 6, 2016.
- Bjørkdahl K, Gjerris M. Closer to Nature ? A Critical Discussion of the Marketing of “‘ Ethical ’” Animal Products. 2015:1053-1073. doi:10.1007/s10806-015-9577-4.
- Matheson D. Media Discourses: Analysing Media Texts. Berkshire: Open university press; 2005.
- Adams CJ. The Sexual Politics of Meat. A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory. 20th ed. London: continuum; 2010.
*Supermarkets and food stores visited:
In Brazil: Campeão, Prix, Pão de Açúcar, Extra, Guanabara, Mundial, Prezunic, Zona Sul.
In the UK: Iceland foods, McColl’s, Tesco, Morrison, Aldi, B &M Stores, Poundland, Mark & Spencer.
March 28 2017
Remembering Tom Regan (1938 – 2017)
In 2007 whilst a research associate at Lancaster University I was fortunate to be selected as a Visiting Research Fellow at North Carolina State University (NCSU) in Raleigh, USA. This was part of the inaugural Animals and Society Institute (ASI) fellowship scheme and I was one of 7 fellows to pass through the first intake of the annual scheme. It involved a 6-week residency in Raleigh in the sweltering heat of June and July. It was an unforgettable opportunity to meet peers from the field of animal studies. Those alongside me included the sociologist Liz Cherry (Manhattanville), the historian Zeb Tortorici (NYU) and philosopher Tom Tyler (Leeds). Furthermore, we were privileged to benefit from the close connection between the Animals and Society Institute and the philosopher Tom Regan who had lived in Raleigh for some time.
Tom was involved from the beginning, attending our meetings, our presentations and having one to one meetings with all the fellows. It was incredible to have the world’s most famous animal rights philosopher as part of the fellowship. The NCSU library was home to an archive of Tom’s books, articles and other materials gathered throughout his career, and was made available to all the fellows. As part of one of the meetings we had a reading group focused on a key chapter from Tom’s The Case for Animal Rights, published 24 years previously, in 1983. He was very interested in all our projects, which were either future articles, PhD projects or in my case a chapter in a book on Animal Biotechnology I was writing at the time. The fellowship also benefitted from weekly visitors from the field, including Mylan Engel, Piers Beirne, Clifton Flynn, Cary Wolfe, Kathie Jenni and Julie Urbanik.
Tom Regan’s presence and contribution added considerable gravitas to the fellowship, a scheme launched by Ken Shapiro of the ASI. Situated in context Regan’s work represented the first concerted attempt to construct a philosophy of animal rights by anyone! To be clear, he was the first human being to methodically consider a case for animal rights. Although there had been previous moments of Western philosophical deliberation on the question of the animal, the emergence in the 1970s and 1980s of animal ethics can be seen in retrospect as associated with a new reflexivity toward the human treatment of other animals, and inspired the growth of the animal rights movement generally. Tom Regan’s The Case for Animal Rights and his subsequent body of work have become go to classics in the field of animal studies.
However, Animal Ethics continues to receive insufficient attention from academic philosophy departments and our cultures at large, despite the question of the animal being fundamental to anthropocentric concerns of human health, environmental quality and climate change.
During the fellowship we were all invited to a social gathering at Tom’s house amongst the beautifully wooded suburbs of Raleigh and he’d often join us in the evenings for dinner. Memorable times included at a pizzeria serving vegan pizza (a novel experience for a British vegan in 2007) and a meal at a local Ethiopian restaurant (see photo below) to mark the end of the fellowship. In meeting him personally he conveyed depth, kindness, humility and openness.
A couple of years ago we’d heard that Tom had been unwell and Zeb, Tom (Tyler) and myself organised a delivery of artisan vegan cheese to be sent over to him, he thanked us personally. It was with great sadness that we heard about Tom’s passing in February 2017. Understandably it evoked those great memories of the summer of 2007, when we got to spend time in the company of Tom, who I described on twitter, following the news, as a revolutionary philosopher, a humble and kind man.
Richard Twine, Co-Director Centre for Human-Animal Studies (CfHAS)