In this video, I am giving you a re-make of the talk I gave at VegFest Brighton last March during the Intersectional Vegan Conference. I was honored to speak alongside four other amazing speakers: Laura Shleifer, Eshe Zuri, Ruby Hamad, and Christopher Sebastian (also the conference organizer).
Table of Contents
- Confronting Capitalism: The New Politics of Animal Liberation
- Who / What Is Responsible?
- Wealth Accumulation At ALL Costs
- What Does “Capitalism” Have To Do With Animals?
- Questioning Vegan Consumer Culture
- Veganism – Radical, Political, Pro-Intersectional
So yeah, what can I say about VegFest, it was so incredible and it was a pro-intersectional vegan summit that was organized by Christopher Sebastian and I want to give a huge, huge thank you to Christopher Sebastian for inviting me, he’s one of my favorite animal rights activists, I’m literally so honored that he chose me and also so honored to speak with the other amazing people who spoke on the panel, all of whose information will be linked in the description box and I definitely especially recommend checking out Eschys talk and their talk was on how, was titled ‘How whiteness became the norm in Veganism and why this is harmful’, something along those lines and someone filmed their talk with like a smartphone or something like that and so that will be like in the description box. I really encourage you to check it out it was amazing.
So all the talks were around a common theme and we were sort of given the challenge to give a talk that addressed how times are changing and how like what this means for the vegan movement. My talk was all about capitalism, it was called confronting capitalism – the new politics of animal liberation and it’s about I really try to give people a basic explanation of what capitalism is and sort of provide, like try to provide a framework that was helpful for thinking about veganism and agriculture and animal liberation within that understanding of capitalism.
Hopefully it’ll be enjoyable and insightful to watch it you’ve thought a lot about this subject or even if you haven’t thought about it at all and you need a sort of basic understanding of how capitalism works and what that really means.
So I’m going to be reading most of my speech today, actually all of my speech today, because I read it at veg fest and I usually make an effort like not to look like I’m reading on my videos but today is going to be a little bit different so do bear with me and let’s get started.
Confronting Capitalism: The New Politics of Animal Liberation
I think that it’s pretty obvious to everyone that we are in the midst of a deep political social and economic crisis, the first statistic that I want to share with you is a statistic that was released by Oxfam last January which estimates that eight men in the entire world have as much wealth as the bottom half of the population.
And meanwhile one in ten people are living under two dollars a day and hundreds of millions of people are trapped into hunger and poverty.
Our climate is also collapsing,  temperatures are breaking record around the world and experts are now saying that the earth might warm up to six degrees by the end of the century, so if that happens like we’re really really screwed. Glaciers all around the world are retreating and global flooding could triple by 2030, we’re also looking at the greatest migration in history, considering that climate change will displace 250 million people by 2050.  So yeah if Europe thinks it’s refugee crisis is bad now they really have no idea what is coming and sadly things aren’t looking good for animals either.
Due to human created climate change species are going extinct at a rate of 10 in 1000 species each year. We are killing more animals today than we ever have before in history by a far cry and this number is expected to keep growing, meat production is expected to nearly double from 70 billion land animals killed in two thousand ten to a hundred and twenty billion land animals killed in 2050, and this number has already tripled in the past 40 years.
Understandably these crises have led to deep political unrest as well, in the UK we saw that Brexit happened, in the United States there is the election of Donald Trump I’m not telling you anything new here and then we felt the rise of far right-wing populism all over Europe like the alternative for Germany party, the National Front party in France, the Sweden Democrats, the party for freedom in the Netherlands and the freedom party for Austria. Although these movements surely do have their you know distinct national particularities, they also have in common that they largely blame Islam and the refugee crisis for people’s loss of status and offer ethnocentric nationalism as a solution. And furthermore these movements are united by a common vision of the future which advocates for freedom from government interference, freedom from the establishment and freedom from the invasion of non-whites.
When Brexit past for example Marine Le Pen from the National Front party in France declared it an act of freedom and Donald Trump praised the outcome as a brave and brilliant vote and even declared that people will soon called him Mr.Brexit.
So nationalism and right-wing populism really put an emphasis on offering a freedom from all the constraints of this status quo that so many people are feeling trapped in.
Who / What Is Responsible?
So there are a lot of different explanations for what is happening and who is really to blame for you know this crisis and everything going wrong. I would argue as many other people have argued – this is first and foremost a crisis of capitalism, at the root there is nothing new or particularly different about this crisis although to be sure that’s not to undermine its severity in any way. However capitalism has produced crises of various lengths and intensities and will continue to do so as long as it exists this is because structurally capitalism contradicts itself and eventually it will always catch up to itself and collapse. This is because capitalism is never able to fix its inherent contradiction and it only creates the illusion of recovery, the main problem lies in the contentious relationship between production and wealth accumulation.
Simply put this system is designed to respond to one thing and one thing only and that thing is profit and since profit can only be achieved through growth, a capitalist must always push production farther and farther, however production requires the use of goods that are not infinite like labor and natural resources. Since capitalism cannot administer a limit it will always eventually crush, in other words capitalism always ends up destroying the hand that feeds it.
Labor and Overproduction
Right let’s take the example of labor, on the one hand you have a majority of people who work aka the laborers and on the other you have a small group of people who make the profit aka the capitalists, to remain competitive capitalists are always trying to increase profit by producing more goods and producing them faster and cheaper. At the same time however they are trying to keep the wages of the workers as low as possible to make the highest profit margin when they sell their goods on the market.
Keep in mind that all other capitalists are trying to do the same thing, which inevitably creates a downward pressure on labor and on wages. Eventually you will run into a situation whereby the capitalists produce too many goods, which the masses of people who are now in poverty can’t afford to buy back. And as you know when there is no purchasing power there is a recession aka a crisis of capitalism.
Overproduction and The Environment
The second major problem that results from this inevitability of overproduction is environmental crisis, meaning a corporation will run out of resources to use or that pollution will start to be so great that it will start to affect the cost of production this is the natural outcome from a system that seeks to produce the most amount of goods for the least amount of money possible capitalism is a system that needs to perpetually grow and perpetual growth on a finite planet with finite resources is impossible.
So really what’s important to take away is that capitalism creates the market and destroys the market at the same time and because of this feature crisis is an inevitable part of capitalism and it’s ongoing. That’s why we’re always in one so the environmental crisis, the unemployment crisis, the debt crisis, the refugee crisis, the financial crisis, the housing crisis, the fact that these crises have different names makes them appear as though they are disconnected but really they are all just different manifestations of the unsustainability and the failure of capitalism.
Wealth Accumulation At ALL Costs
Capitalism is remarkably adaptive ¬though and it will always find new ways to accumulate wealth and it’s going to do this no matter how much inequality it creates or no matter how bad the trail of destruction is that it has to leave behind. When the system hit a new limit in the 1970s it responded by introducing neo-liberal doctrine which deregulated banks and integrated the economies of the world this was the start of market fundamentalism which was said to simulate healthy competition in the system, however it did just the opposite by essentially giving capitalists free rein to take wealth and economically depressed parts of the globe that didn’t stand a chance to resist its takeover.
It weakened unions at home and global labor such that labor could no longer demand its fair share of productivity because well the corporations can just move your job elsewhere. It also allowed capitalists to circumvent animal and environmental protection laws in the Western world by relocating to poorer less regulated countries. And for the next 30 years neoliberalism worked, at least in terms of increasing profit, actually this period was characterized by an almost unprecedented level of growth, the problem is that barely anyone benefited and most if not all the wealth went to the very top. This is obviously unsustainable and so we had you know the most severe crisis of this period hit in 2008 where you know the economic conditions of the purchasing power were so low and so unequal at this point that the market crashed.
And you know the course this persists today – a CEO makes on average four hundred seventy five times what one of his workers make and again it’s not some unusual number this is an average.  So in all the ways that I outlined in the beginning of this talk you know you can see that the ship of neoliberal capitalism is really breaking down in the crux can’t be fixed fast enough to keep it from sinking this is hurting a lot of people and people are generally very angry and desperate and whenever a crisis like this hits the systems justification for existing need to become stronger and more radical.
As economist Richard Wolff said:
When capitalism is in crisis, it needs to come up with an explanation to its problems that can lead to actions to be taken that will leave the system out of the conversation.
And this is the moment when toxic ideologies like right-wing populism are able to spread and thrive, they are able to tap into people’s pain and their fear of lost status whether it is racial, gender or economic and blame the refugees and immigrants for the failure of the system. That’s when ideologies that seem unacceptable when times were good suddenly become acceptable and even desirable when times are bad.
That’s what happened for example in Germany when Hitler rose to power in 1929, Hitler didn’t start off by killing 6 million Jews, it took him over 13 years to get there, he started in Munich leading a tiny fringe movement of dissatisfied War veterans after World War 1. His ideas were seen as absurd by most people until he began to gain power in 1929 and 1930 after the Great Depression hit and left tens of millions of people unemployed. Hitler was able to tap into people’s fear and anger and turn it into ethnocentric nationalist pride. We are seeing a similar version of this play out today, fascism and racism are truly the underbelly of capitalism, as these forces play a key role in preserving the material conditions of capitalism. Rather than blaming the system itself it redirects people’s revolutionary anger towards the victims of the machine who have absolutely nothing to do with its technical ineptitude.
What Does “Capitalism” Have To Do With Animals?
Alright so now that we have a sort of broad overview of capitalism and how it works, hopefully the vegan movement can leverage this knowledge to design a new politics of animal liberation that will be particularly responsive to dealing with this current crisis. So first of all in case you couldn’t tell from the first half of this talk, I think that ending capitalism especially in its present deregulated form would be the single most important thing for animal liberation.
So I talked a good amount about my anti-capitalist views on this channel and I get a fair amount of pushback especially from vegans about this, that tell me that you know veganism has nothing to do with capitalism and to leave my politics out of this. A big channel even recently called my channel a conspiracy against capitalism. So yeah I mean, how anyone can look at the current system and genuinely think that it’s working out pretty well for the animals is sort of mind boggling to me, but yeah I thought that I would mention that because it is something that I mentioned in my talk, so even though it seems sort of a place here, because this videos on my channel, I did say that.
So in order to be effective animal rights activists, we need to be aware that this capitalist system has been extremely harmful to animals, they don’t stand to win anything from the salvation of this economic system. Regardless of how many nut milks and tofu burgers are sold on the market as compared to you know the amount that was sold 30 years ago. Actually 30 years ago there were around seventy-five percent less animals slaughtered for food than there are today, so I worry that they would not see vegan consumerism as this big sign of progress.
The truth is it is literally impossible to separate the history of animal agriculture, from the history of capitalism and from the history of capital accumulation. I mean if you think about it in a sick and twisted way, which is actually what the system requires us to do, animal agriculture is the perfect tool to colonize and control the globe. It allows me to take up a huge amount of resources and mandates the privatization of land, water and the displacement of entire communities.
For example the history of Europe settler colonialism in North America would not have been possible without animal agriculture as hard as it is to believe 500 years ago there were no domesticated species of pigs, cows and chickens on the continent of North America. Breeding animals and setting up a centralized agriculture system was a way to displace Native Americans and destroy the food sovereignty of anyone who tried to live outside of the colonial state. Centralizing and controlling food is still a domination tactic used today for profit accumulation and animal agriculture plays a vital role in that.
I mean today one third of the Earth’s land is devoted to animal agriculture, since virtually all the earth’s resources are privatized it makes sense that anyone who wants to survive needs to go and purchase food now with money at the supermarket and that exchange makes money for the capitalists. Hands down animal agriculture could have never reach the levels that it has today if our system wasn’t governed by profit, which is distributed amongst a small handful of corporate monopolies, and this endless quest for profit has led to overproduction.
Today we kill so many animals that over one-fourth – 26.2% to be exact of all meats that enters the United States retail market ends up in landfills. Based on the data provided by the USDA this corresponds to over 25 billion fish, 15 billion shellfish, 1 billion chickens and 100 million other land animals just chucked in the garbage. 
So there are so many animals that are bred and slaughtered not even to respond to people’s appetite for meat but because their existence in the “production chain” somehow response to profit. And its regard as profitable basically according to some number that exists on a screen somewhere that totally divorced from any sense of reality and that’s pretty much corresponds to nothing.
Questioning Vegan Consumer Culture
So now the vegan movement, what does this mean for us, I think that henceforth the vegan movement can gain a tremendous amount by working more closely with other social justice movements who also resist capitalism because their very own oppression is tied to the same economic system as the oppression responsible for animal slaughter.
These groups shouldn’t be hard for us to find today, as most movements for social justice are anti-capitalist, especially with everything that’s happened in the past year. However in order to do thatm, we need to be ready ourselves to shift away from the vegan consumer culture that dominates the mainstream vegan movement, as long vegans believe that animal liberation can be achieved by buying vegan products, they won’t be taken very seriously by other activists engaging in a systematic and intersectional critique of how capitalism works.
So to be clear, by vegan consumer culture I’m not talking about boycotting animal products and buying vegan goods in their place. As a vegan I of course do that and I understand the importance of doing that. By vegan consumer culture, I’m referring to a particular type of ideology that embraces consumerism as a form of pseudo market activism, it advocates that equality would come about if we just created the right kind of demand. However any type of consumerism runs counter to activism because of the exploitation inherent in the capitalist production chain, so hopefully now you understand this from the first part of this talk, here I’m not just talking about a fringe ideology in the vegan movement, I’m talking about a belief that is very, very prevalent. Like the fact that we can all vote with our dollars even though a lot of people don’t have dollars to vote with or can’t choose what to eat. I’m also talking about the idea that everything that we buy that is vegan is automatically cruelty-free, even though so much of that food is produced by exploited labor, if you’d like to hear more about that definitely check out food empowerment projects which I’ll link in the description box.
I’m also talking about the mass exodus of vegans moving to poorer countries and claiming to promote veganism by stimulating the local fruit economy, while not understanding the colonial politics of the fact that their wealth dwarfs the income of the local black and brown population.
So I’m really not trying to shame anyone who has engaged in any of these practices, I totally understand the logic behind them and you know I was definitely, definitely there at the start of you know my vegan journey. However we need to understand that this belief comes from an incredibly privileged place, vegan consumer culture is dangerous because it obscures how industrial production requires the exploitation of workers and non-human animals as well as the displacement of their communities and the destruction of natural resources.
If you’re interested in learning more about this I also made an entire video where I go into more detail which I’ll link in the description.  But you know let’s face it vegan consumer culture makes privileged vegans like myself lazy and complacent and for people who don’t have enough money painting veganism as a consumer lifestyle rather than an ethical stance makes it seem like something that’s inaccessible and not for them.
Another way that vegans essentially become mass propagandists for capitalism is by furthering the idea that we can solve climate change by replacing meat products with plant-based alternatives on our shopping list.  Again I’m not trying to shame anyone who has framed vegan consumer culture as a sort of panacea for climate change like I certainly did a lot, a lot of that when I first went vegan.
Even though it’s absolutely true that animal agriculture is one of the most polluting industries on the planet we need to get away from the idea that this industry can be considered on its own and taken down while leaving all the other ones unchallenged. It’ll never happen, too many powerful industries are in bed with animal agriculture to ever let that occur, most often vegans even bring attention to animal agriculture by pitting it against other oil dependence economies like fracking, tar sands and transportation. Side note but interestingly the military which is by far the biggest threat to climate change never gets mentioned in in this,
but you know I don’t have a problem with comparing the relative impact of these industries, but if they are to be compared, they should also be connected and put into context,
for example when we dismiss pipelines as relatively unimportant for our struggle against climate change, we also fail Native Americans and animals by making it seem like climate change is primarily due to un-strategic activism rather than due to the fossil fuel economy itself. Dennis Sheba explains in ‘Soil not oil’ – our entire industrialized agriculture is a “recipe for eating oil.”
Vegan or not, fossil fuels are at the heart of our industrial food system, oil is used for fertilizers that pollute the soil and water. It is used to replace small farmers with giant roboticized harvesters, it’s used to industrially process and package food and it’s used to transport that food farther and farther away, all over the world.
We can’t talk about the unsustainability of our food system without first talking about capitalism, which has eroded soil fertility worldwide and colonized nature by allowing the privatization of its resources by a handful of huge corporations. Unfortunately substituting our diets from one that is reliant on capitalist animals to capitalist plants will not suffice to end the destruction of the planet.
All this to say that reversing climate change and achieving animal liberation is going to take a heck of a lot more than changing our grocery lists. In order to maximize our impact it’s quite urgent for vegans to understand that consumerist vegan culture will not yield the outcomes that many people claim that it will.
Veganism – Radical, Political, Pro-Intersectional
So now that I hopefully convincingly showed that the crisis we find ourselves in is a crisis of capitalism and two that capitalism is bad for animals and therefore so is vegan consumer culture. I want to finish my talk on a more optimistic note hopefully, which is that I really truly believe that the vegan movement right now has an unprecedented chance at politicizing animal rights and becoming highly relevant in other social justice circles.
The rise of right-wing populism only tells one side of the story, leftist movements are also rising up and demanding an end to capitalism. I recently saw a poll that said that 51 percent of Millennials don’t believe in capitalism and want another economic system, that number is huge. In the U.S. too the Bernie Sanders campaign, the native lead movement at Standing Rock, the movement for immigrant rights and LGBTQ rights and the black lives matter movement are all clear indicators that demands for economic, environmental and gender and racial justice are getting louder and louder and it’s also due to the fact that a lot of these movements are linking arms and that they’re becoming that much more difficult to ignore.
Sure Donald Trump won the presidency, but the largest crowd in US history showed up to protest his inauguration. In Europe there are also similar movements that have gained a lot of traction in recent years and you know beyond any analysis of these movements in and of themselves, they show is that a lot of people want an end to capitalism and they are looking for other solutions. My dream and my hope is that veganism an animal liberation starts to be seen as part of that solution by more and more people, by everyone really and that it starts to be seen as a really inextricable part of dismantling capitalism. As animal allies we need to realize that this is really the smartest move and the only route that we can take, that if animals could talk, they wouldn’t be asking us to cheer on capitalism by voting with our dollars and then sitting back and hoping that the rest will take care of itself.
We need to realize that animals also have a stake in fighting for native rights to land and water, they have a stake in dismantling the prison industrial complex, they have a stake in opposing militarism and oil extraction, environmental racism and LGBT discrimination. Because animals stand to benefit literally from all movements that challenge and weaken white hetero capitalist patriarchy. Because this is the same system that they themselves are oppressed by, so as vegans we need to show our solidarity with these movements and this isn’t just about feigning interest in other oppressions to get everyone to “go vegan”. It’s about starting from the understanding that human liberation and animal liberation are intimately tied and that only by building allieship on this basis can we really hope to see movements for social justice succeed.
Of course other social justice movements must also realize that ending animal exploitation is urgent and it’s crucial for the success of their fight as well and you know for the sake of animals and yes that information is out there and a lot of that education is on them and for them to do. However there are also definitely a few things we can do to make that connection more obvious, for starters we need to understand that connection ourselves and as a results stop promoting consumerism as the main method of activism for veganism, we also need to stop using tactics that are racist, sexist, classist or ablest, so many ists aha. Anyway, all these tactics that make marginalized voices feel like veganism is not for them and doesn’t have their best interests at heart.
There’s also an increasing presence of an anti social justice warrior movement in the vegan community that really harass people who fight for social justice and there is also an alarming rise of neo-nazis who advocate pro white supremacist and anti-semitic views. We need to be clear that these people don’t have their place in the vegan movement and not hold back from you know standing up to them for fear that we’re being divisive, which is something that I hear all the time, being divisive isn’t challenging bigoted behavior, it’s not challenging those bigoted behaviors that is making it unsafe for anyone to join the movement who isn’t privileged, white, cis etcetera.
We can’t effectively argue for and expect other people to make the connection between their oppression and the oppression of animals if we don’t understand the nature of oppression and how it works as a system ourselves. We need to be willing to highlight how capitalism and white supremacy uses the mass exploitation of animals and people in their quest for profit, there are countless examples of this, starting with corporations funneling disease inducing food into communities of color, exploiting vulnerable people to work in slaughterhouses or placing CAFOs which are concentrated animal feeding operations in POC neighborhoods.
I’m at veg fest, – let’s pretend – so I presume that a lot of us are intimately convinced that veganism is crucial for helping animals, the environment and our health. That’s why this talk isn’t devoted to going over those points, although they’re so, so important that’s why I’m here and why I’m vegan. This talk is more aimed at giving people a framework for some of the many reasons why capitalism and other systems that require an exploited under class, like white supremacy, patriarchy and speciesism are inherently contradictory to veganism.
The future of animal liberation depends on the end of these oppressive hierarchies and really the future of our movement depends on us understanding that fact, if we hope to deliver all the promises that we have made, it’s what’s going to make the difference between animal liberation just being commodified as some other fringe consumers trend for a little while and animal liberation being seen as an inextricable part of all anti-oppression struggles.
But you know it’s not like anti-capitalist pro intersectional veganism is something new or something you know that I’m telling you we can only attain in the distant future, there are a lot of people already doing this, if you’d like to find those people, I want to shout out a page that collectively free just made on their website. If you don’t know who collectively free are, they’re an amazing organization that you should definitely check out, they just put together a page of a list of so many people doing this type of pro intersectional vegan work. And so it’s amazing to have sort of everyone in one place so that we all find each other more easily. I’ll link it in the description box below, I really hope that you’ll check it out, there are endless things to learn and people to be inspired by and I really hope that for those of you who hadn’t really thought about this yet, this talk with a good introduction into you wanting to learn more, definitely check out the resources that I linked in the description box below. Let me know if you enjoyed it and what your thoughts are in the comments section.
Eshe Zuri’s talk “How Whiteness became the norm in Veganism and why this is harmful”:
Pannel discussion moderated by Christopher Sebastian with me, Laura Shleifer, and Eshe Zuri:
Oxfam report “Just 8 men own the same wealth as half the world”:
Climate change may be escalating so fast it could be ‘game over’, scientists warn
Statistic from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
India’s rich to quadruple wealth in four years as ranks of multimillionaires grow
Raw data source: Economic Research Service, USDA
Vegan Organizations that kick anti-capitalist butt:
The Food Empowerment Project
Food Not Bombs
A Well-Fed World
Palestinian Animal League
(more suggestions welcome!!)
“‘Cowspiracy’ isn’t causing the climate crisis, capitalism is”:
Collectively Free’s page on intersectional resources:
Additional Resources that are highly relevant to this video:
“Consumerist Veganism” by the Vegan Warrior Princesses Attack Podcast:
“Anti-Colonialism & Animal Liberation” by Dylan Powell (Which Side Podcast)
“Intersections of Justice: Building an Inclusive Animal Rights Movement” by Christopher Sebastian:
“Nationalism and Scapegoating Foreigners” by Richard Wolff:
“Crises of Capitalism” by David Harvey:
“The rise of populism: Should we be worried?” Al Jazeera:
“Your Dollar is Your Vote!… is it though??”:
“Veganism and world hunger”:
“Why Vegans Should Oppose the TPP and Capitalism”: