Thoughts on Animal Lib and Critical Theory

In Animal Liberation and Critical Theory, an interview by Marco Maurizi, John Sanbonmatsu makes some great points, alongside some dismal ones, on which I comment below.

As an essentially liberal outlook, moreover, it sets out from a distorted view of society too, treating questions of power, authority, the state, capitalism, etc., as peripheral to the problem of ethics, which it cordons off from the messiness of the world in order to better clarify its own conceptual questions. The idea that comes from this is that we can work changes in society by educating the public, appealing to “reason.” But where is this reason that we are supposed to be appealing to? I am not suggesting that reason isn’t important, or that reason should not be a normative ideal—something to strive for as individuals and as a society. But there are reasons why speciesism has survived for over ten thousand years, and not all of them have to do with people being “misinformed” or somehow in the dark about the facts. One of my recent projects has indeed been on the role of “bad faith” in the psychology of speciesism.

Great point but cognitive dissonance rather than bad faith is the issue, I’d think.

Speciesism is not merely public ignorance, or the absence of proper moral frameworks, but a material system, a totalizing ideology, and an existential structure—or, to use another term, a mode of production. It is also a patriarchal system. Feminist critics like Carol Adams and Josephine Donovan have drawn attention to some of the problems with the masculinist nature of the analytic tradition. Singer, Regan, and others essentially bracket feeling and empathy, treating the “animal question” as a problem of analytic reasoning alone. This displacement of compassion and care cannot help but reinforce a patriarchal order that thrives on disconnection and on denigration of traditionally “unmanly” virtues. Adams has also shown that the domination of animals by human beings is intimately tied up with the domination of women by men. Etc. Analytical critiques tend to miss these key the social and affective dimensions of the problem.

Isn’t that a broad generalisation about women’s, or rather female-assigned-at-birth persons’ (Carol Adams would put all the rest in the other basket, let’s go with that), psychological make-up as if there’s only one type? If women were all identical and indeed capable of compassion and care as it is claimed, there would be more of an allyship with the intersex movement and so on? Female-assigned-at-birth persons do share struggles and are one of many groups likely to be less insensitive to the plight of animals as John describes he was as a person of mixed ethnicity:

There’s an interesting moment in the animal rights film, The Witness, in this regard, in which the man at the center of the film, Eddie Lama, describes being severely beaten on the streets one night, and feeling completely isolated and alone with his trauma. Lama then draws a connection between that experience and his empathy for the animals we traumatize as a society. In a similar vein, I think my own traumas growing up, particularly the racism and violence I experienced as the only Asian American in my school […]

Now is it an emotional connection or a logical deduction that one makes from human struggles and applies to animal-human struggles. What I find lacking in many of the connectionist discourses is while we draw parallels between animal struggles and ours (or others), we can only be animal allies and they suffer.

My allyship was forged partly from logical stances and emotional ones I assume. I don’t know to what extent it had been emotional to stand up with people darker than I or for ethnicities more marginalised than mine, both when I was very young and before I was bullied or discriminated against for similar reasons. I’ve been subject to sexism practically all my life, and constantly, there’s no particular point or person marking the start of my feminism other than the myriad instances of abuse or objectification. A young cat rescued me once, and my parents had him taken away while I was at school. They are renown cat haters and had no good reason, although I had said the cat can be vegetarian too (and he had started eating home-made veg food) and they disagreed. While they pass themselves as cat-hating ethical vegetarians, they wear leather very proudly and now I know there is no such thing as an ethical vegetarian. I came across the word vegan, that alone was reason enough to want to be a dietary vegan. I failed for alleged medical reasons until later when the parallel between not using women as slaves and not using cows as milk-providers strengthened my resolve. I often acknowledge the artist who made the photo with a cow, milk and a woman that was my aha-moment, although she admitted it was accidental, based on the model’s fooling around. She is vegetarian, as was I, and I think my emails to her on the subject made her uncomfortable in the end.

Many theorists and philosophers are bad allies to marginalised humans, I’m writing this because Sanbonmatsu’s words offended me (rather, made me contemptuous) Could academics not pretend to be an ally to and offend dis-abled folks in the same interview? There is a spectrum of ableism in the AR/AL movement and Singer and Sabonmatsu aren’t far from each other seemingly.

Hearing Singer in Utrecht speak calmly and matter of factly about killing sheep painfully by shooting them in the head—not that he was advocating that, merely saying that animals can be killed painlessly—I felt that I was listening to someone with a dissociative condition. […]

No, just no! How does one write books on morality without learning the difference between life-impairing mental conditions and the condition/s that arise from being a privileged white male academic? How?! He goes on to say (I’m pasting more of the context here for ease of reading):

And in a way I was: analytic moral philosophy sets out from a Cartesian perspective that places the philosopher behind the Iron Curtain of his intellect, from which he peers out at the living world as through the wrong end of a telescope, distantly. On the one hand, as paradigms, ways of seeing, utilitarianism and Kantianism are powerful tools for focusing our gaze on minute questions and concepts relating to our moral lives. However, as Thomas Kuhn showed, to do this, to focus our gaze, paradigms also “screen” or filter out most of the phenomenal realm. We see only what the paradigm allows us to see. In Singer’s case, I fear that the very power of his utilitarian system has led him to embrace a correspondingly blinkered view of nonhuman consciousness, agency, and subjectivity. As I say, when I heard him speak, Singer went further than I had heard him before in suggesting that other animals have no strong preference to live. This, I thought, was a staggering thing to assert, for several reasons. First of all, what Singer has inadvertently done by devaluing the lives of animals is to open the floodgates for every abusive institution, every practice, that humans already subject nonhuman beings to. […] I don’t want to make Singer out to be some kind of speciesist. He has never wavered from his conviction that other animals experience their worlds and have a capacity for pain and suffering. Yet owing to his philosophical predilections, I believe, he ends up embracing a reductionistic and alienated conception of nonhuman consciousness, seeing other beings as essentially empty vessels that “contain” experiences like pleasure and pain, rather than as persons whose being in the world is constituted through their experiences. […] In Utrecht, Singer seemed to suggest that nonhuman beings are averse to pain, not to death.

Sanbonmatsu has to justify how Singer’s manipulation is identical to a dissociative disordered person’s character and behaviour, or apologise to all people with mental or dissociative disorders. I expect logic-based justification not emotional statements. I don’t want to take away from the value of emotions but there is a hierarchy of emotions, that we all seem to accept to some extent, the emotions of nonhumans being of no importance to Singer; or those of the dissociative condition sufferers’ being less important to Sabonmatsu. If this hierarchy cannot be reversed or questioned, then we need to have logic-based discussions to end discrimination and abuse.

There seems to be an issue at the core of discrimination and abuse: the difficulty of summoning empathy or respect towards the ‘other’, whether the other is nonhuman or human. In prevailing discourses of any nature, there is a lack of thought, or of lived experience, or of shared/witnessed experience – I don’t know, but it bothers me because this is the prevailing discourse shaping thoughts in general.


Resonance – ecology, disability and access

A note for those who read this recently: links updated Nov ’13.

Do you care about the bees, the birds and perhaps about humans? Here’s a film (88min41, no captions or subtitles yet) that may interest you:

RESONANCE – BEINGS OF FREQUENCY from james russell on Vimeo.

Also on youtube if the embed doesn’t work or in James Russell’s group where you’ll see the documentary link along with the trailer and another film, the description and the facebook page link are provided.

There is a recent article (I recommend pages 8-10 in particular) and this blog post is short and to the point. I’ll use the word Electromagnetic Intolerance (EI) too, not interchangeably. With EI the access document linked below may not even apply but I wonder if it may to an EI sufferer with special clothing*.

Thinking about accessibility is not that controversial but Making Events More Accessible for People with EMS would be met with much resistance. This entry has a coupla worthwhile points and links but I’m looking for resources like what scientists elaborate on in Resonance which I find more compelling – such as a German study mentioned in a CBS insert concluding that EMFs are co-carcinogenic, in other words, like a stressor or a catalyst, e.g. scientists interviewed in Resonance explain a melatonin-inhibiting mechanism. Medical science is not expected to be hard science, except in this case seemingly.

One can’t imagine there will ever be a time EMFs are seen like tobacco smoke and regulations or negotiations made around their use? Non-corporate research suggests it would be long overdue and for some it’ll be too late. Forget convenience, leisure and work, picture not being able to get an ambulance and go to a hospital for treatment because one’s health would deteriorate more just by going there.

Thus far, only Sweden is providing accomodations for EI sufferers, which they recognise as disabled and a French political candidate is advocating for a zone such as ‘refugee camps‘ being set up around the world. There is a fiction film which I’m yet to see on the topic.

Gluten-free sugar-free recipes

A post featuring, among others, an original KVARM curry recipe with two of my favourite ingredients – kohlrabi (AKA knolkhol, jiddra, nookal, rutabaga, chou-navet(?) ) and depodded broad beans.

Recipes are something I *hardly post, read or follow (edit: *used to, I’m thinking of a separate recipe blog now, when I have time). I keep a list of basics and links to refer folks to (end of page). Aside from unfamiliar cuisine foreign to me, I personally only need recipes for baking but there are good bakers in Capetown (like Jen) and soon bake, I will have to import grain, other ingredients and grind my own flour maybe !! I’m used to having many food options in spite of allergies, and eating organic and seasonal here.

Long ago, I’d start my day with baked sugar-laden foods or muesli with loads of sugar and drugs (yoghurt) then I became allergic to sugar and sweeteners, affordable flours, etc. Some healthy sweet stuff and perhaps less weird ones: is not me-friendly but complies with the title. (needs to be sugar-free but the caramel is, yay for you anyway 😦 because I can’t eat agave too.)

Then I’d snack, as I still do, I can’t afford time for 3 fresh meals from scratch. I no longer snack on junk foods but I don’t make such fancy snacks:

I prefer to only spend time cooking once a day and often not more than 15 minutes because I also need to wash dishes and do a zillion things. I’ll make a post with quick recipes one day if ever others are worth posting. I’ve compiled links below and directions for two staples follow.

Desserts: ice lollies and ice cream because summer (take that, Northern Hemisphere!)


Jen’s porridge (above) is different from my usual polenta. Mine (gets firm when cold) goes 1:2x water and a bit of soy milk or 1.5 water and more milk. Soak polenta for 30min. Add plant milk when soaked, add salt or sweeten. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and stir continuously until it sticks to the spoon quite a lot. Pour in mould, with sesame seeds, grated coconut, almonds or whatever you wish at the bottom of mould to make pretty and nutritious polenta squares. This is a Mauritian favourite you’d find sold in the streets or markets, albeit with dairy and sugar.

Sassy Knutson‘s super easy rice-cooking technique:
First, soak your rice in fresh water for 6-8 hours (or overnight), pour off the water, rinse, and add the rice to a pot with a lid (a medium-sized pot works best for this method).
Then turn your thumb upside down and touch the tip to the very top of the rice layer as you pour in water or veggie broth until the liquid reaches the first knuckle of your thumb (yes, the one just past your nail). Cover, bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer.
Try not to lift the lid while it’s simmering, but after about 30 minutes start peeking in. When the water/broth is absorbed and you see holes beginning to appear on the top of the rice, your rice is done (cooking time should be about 30-45 minutes depending on the rice you’re using). Remove the pot from heat and let sit with the lid on it for 10 minutes. Fluff.
Let me know how it turns out because I’m so ‘lazy’ I use kettle-boiled water so the rice would hurry up.

Here’s a quickcurry recipe let me know how it compares to what’s in the curry bible (free book) because local fresh organic produce have me biased. That and the organic curry powder makes it the best curry I’ve had ever (I had many Indian aunts and grannies who make their own, so I’m an expert, ok!).

A purple kohlrabi courtesy of

Kohlrabi-Fava curry (serves 2)

  • 1 large potato, parboiled and diced
    1-2 peeled and chopped kohlrabi
    1 cup depodded broad (fava) beans (or canned fava beans/cannelini)
    1 onion chopped, or dried onion flakes, or pickled onions, chopped.
    1 clove garlic, finely grated/ crushed
    1 teaspoon fresh ground ginger or 1/2 tsp of dried ginger
    1-2 peeled and chopped kohlrabi
    2 tbs cooking oil (not olive or sesame)
    1 tbs Good life Organics curry powder (because it’s better than your or my mum’s home-made)
    1 tsp turmeric powder
    1 tsp each cumin, coriander powder
    1 piece of dried chilli
    1-3 curry leaves.
    A pinch of mustard or cumin seeds maybe (then less cumin powder),
    Himalayan salt or salt, to taste.
    Ground pepper can replace chilli.
    *1 small tomato, some tamarind pulp in water OR 1 tsp lemon juice or

Heat oil in a pot. Saute onions and curry leaves/chilli (then mustard). Add curry powder, spices and kohlrabi together with broad beans (if fresh) followed by potatoes [or canned beans go here]. Saute for a couple of minutes on low-medium heat. Then add enough water to cover all veggies and add last ingredient*, reduce heat to lowest, cover and simmer until potatoes are tender or soft – depending on desired thickness. Occasionally check that the liquid does not simmer away. Add water accordingly. Once the kohlrabi is done, spoon-mash a few potato pieces to make the sauce creamy. Stir, remove from heat and enjoy hot with basmati rice or whatever you’d replace couscous with or cold with polenta sticks or some such. Kohlrabi is also excellent in stir-frys, just dis the fibrous centre if it is too fibrous like green or big ones tend to be.

NB use only one of the last-mentioned* ingredients, lemon and tamarind lower blood pressure so when I don’t have a tomato, I sometimes use Bragg liquid aminos. The latter two would add umami to the dish.

Pretty broad beans courtesy of

Here’s some basics and links (plant-based), more extensive list on Ovnivores (in note and comments):

Sweet condensed milk: (can be completely local and ethical!) In sauce pan, combine 2 cans coconut milk and 1/2 cup agave nectar. Warm mixture over medium-low heat until mix begins to bubble. Continue to cook over low heat, mixing continuously until sauce is reduced to ½ , is slightly golden and is the consistency of a light syrup. Cool to room temperature. Store refrigerated in glass jelly jar until ready to use.

Vegannaise : Makes one cup – 1 x 12oz block soft tofu, 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice,1 teaspoon prepared mustard, 1 1/2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar, 1 teaspoon sugar, pinch of Saffron or Turmeric powder for colour…optional, 3/4 teaspoon onion powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 cup sunflower or canola oil. METHOD: Process all ingredients in blender EXCEPT the oil. At high speed TRICKLE the oil into the mix until smooth and creamy looking. CHILL for an hour before serving to allow flavour to “rise”. (Add 1 tbs good quality Tomato Sauce if you want 1000 Island dressing!)

Soy yoghurt (soghurt?):
500ml sweetened soya milk – 4 vegan acidophilus capsules (like Solgar) – or 2 tablespoons live soy yogurt (unpasteurised)
1. Sterilize the soya milk by heating to just below boiling point. Let it cool a bit.
2. rinse a large glass jar or vacuum flask with boiling water to sterilize it.
3. Once the milk has cooled to lukewarm, pour it into the glass and stir in the yogurt or break the capsules open and empty the powder into the glass. Put the lid on.
4. Place container near a contant souirce of low heat, e.g. an airing cupboard (?? in the sun or in warm water, keep it at about 40degrees by pouring in hot water every so often), or wrap in a towel or newspaper and put it on a hot water bottle (but you do have to keep changing the hot water!). The yogurt should set within 12 hours. (If the temp. drops too low, process stops or takes longer. If the temp too high, the bacteria will be killed).
5. Once set refrigerate and use within 4-5 days. Keep 2 tbsp for next batch!

Whipped cream:

‘Cheese’ sauce 1/2 cup nutritional yeast flakes – 1/2 cup unbleached flour – 1 tsp salt – 1/2 tsp garlic powder – 2 cups water – 1/4 cup oil – 1 tsp prepared mustard. Mix nutritional yeast flakes, flour, salt, and garlic powder in a 2-quart saucepan. Whisk in water. Cook over medium heat, whisking, until mixture thickens and bubbles. Cook 30 seconds more, then remove from heat and whisk in oil and mustard. Sauce will thicken as it cools but will thin when heated.


Debbie’s Chocolate tofu mousse: 2 packages soft tofu (regular or silken) – 16 ounces bag of semi-sweet choc chips – 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Let tofu sit on the counter until it’s at room temperature. This is VERY important. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or saucepan over medium-low heat. Place the room-temperature tofu in blender or food processor and blend until creamy. Add chocolate mixture and vanilla to tofu, and mix thoroughly. Chill 1 hour, and serve. Variation: Slice bananas and layer with chocolate mixture in either pudding cups or pie crust.

Raw vegans make choc mousse with avo (in Go Further). Avo is so versatile:
as mayonnaise
or cream cheese what it says more cashew cheese and yet more
or in South Africa you can buy some amazing cashew cheese and other nut cheeses in Capetown or via overnight courrier. Gluten-free Just the title is mouth-watering! has some interesting ones, not only fat-free. for a list of egg substitutes – free recipe book for picnic and party food

et en français: