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“The Art of Defiance”: Ellen Kanner Interviews Jasmin Singer (PART I)

By Jasmin and Mariann — October 01, 2015
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Standing room only at the recent NYC book reading of Defiant Daughters.

Remember when that small, purple book burst into the animal rights literary canon in a big, purple way? (We’re talking about Lantern’s Defiant Daughters, here.) We like to relive that moment as much as possible, so #ThrowbackThursdays seem like a great time to do so!

This articles originally appeared on Our Hen House on April 17, 2013. If you’d like to see a certain OHH article resurrected, email us at info [at] ourhenhouse [dot] org.

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This past Monday [Editor’s Note: …and two years ago…], Jasmin was featured on The Huffington Post, in an interview called “Our Hen House’s Jasmin Singer and the Art of Defiance.” Her interview was part of the Meatless Monday column, written by Ellen Kanner. If Ellen’s name sounds familiar, it may be because Our Hen House’s Carrie Forrest recently interviewed her [Editor’s Note: well, not that recently anymore. And Carrie is no longer with OHH] about her book, Feeding the Hungry Ghost: Life, Faith, and What to Eat for Dinner. But this time around, the tables were turned, and Ellen’s interview with Jasmin resulted in a truly beautiful article that sensitively explores the connections between veganism and feminism. That connection is the central theme of Defiant Daughters: 21 Women on Art, Activism, Animals, and the Sexual Politics of Meat, the new [Editor’s Note: not so new anymore!] anthology to which Jasmin is a contributor. We are thrilled that the royalties of Defiant Daughters benefit Our Hen House. If you haven’t already, you might want to listen to an audio excerpt of Jasmin reading from her chapter, “Found Art, Found Hope,” watch a short video interview with her about the book, or read an excerpt.

But I digress. My real point is that Ellen’s interview with Jasmin, as published on HuffPo, was terrific, but abbreviated. The extended version is even better! Ellen’s questions were so thought-provoking, and Jasmin’s answers really shed light on her take on everything from activism to the changing shape of the world of social justice. Frankly, I felt they had to be read in full. So here it is. I hope you’re as inspired by it as I am.

We will publish half of the interview for all of you to read (below), and the rest of it will be available exclusively to our darling flock. (That’s because the flock receives exclusive content, access to contests, fabulous giveaways and discount codes, you name it. And our favorite anthology and our favorite documentary.) So sit back, relax, and enjoy Ellen Kanner’s intimate look at what makes Jasmin tick. (Special thanks to Ellen, of course.)

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PART I: Interview with Jasmin Singer (JS) by Ellen Kanner of Huffington Post’s Meatless Monday (HPMM) column.

HUFFINGTON POST’S MEATLESS MONDAY: Congratulations on “Found Art, Found Hope.” I was really struck by the broad range of Defiant Daughters’ contributors, yet you all have something in common — you were all inspired by Carol Adams’s The Pornography of Meat and The Sexual Politics of Meat. What do you see as her legacy?

Jasmin at the recent NYC book reading of Defiant Daughters, held at Bluestockings Bookstore.

Jasmin at the recent NYC book reading of Defiant Daughters, held at Bluestockings Bookstore.

JASMIN SINGER: Thank you so much, Ellen. Carol’s work was instrumental in opening my eyes – and the eyes of countless other feminists and activists – to the plight of animals and the exploitation of both women and animals, and in pointing out the commonalities between these two kinds of oppression. The idea that insert-marginalized-group-here (women, animals, gays, etc.) are something to be consumed (sometimes literally, sometimes not) is rooted in the same mindset that “I am better than you and I therefore can do whatever I want to you.” It is that mindset that is destroying the planet, literally. Carol’s groundbreaking work exposing The Sexual Politics of Meat was seminal in pointing out the connections between eating animals and supporting a patriarchal society in which women are “less than.” Beyond just shedding light on the problem though, Carol was, and remains, instrumental in offering solutions. These solutions start on an individual level, with a personal boycott of the meat industrial complex.

HPMM: What avenues and opportunities do you have that Carol didn’t when she wrote The Sexual Politics of Meat over 20 years ago? What do you want for the next generation of activists?

JS: My partner, Mariann Sullivan – who is a generation older than I – has seen great strides in the past couple of decades, both in terms of animal rights and feminism. Both movements have progressed – in some ways, quite dramatically – but there are, of course, still dire inequalities, and our society has a lot further to go in terms of even nearing social justice. On the positive side, speaking in terms of animal rights, even since I became involved ten years ago, the issue has begun to reach the mainstream, the media, the voting booth, and public consciousness – in previously unfathomable ways. And, regarding women’s rights, issues like gender violence, reproductive rights, rape, and equal opportunity in the workplace have all received a more prominent focus. I hope that the next generation of activists builds on the work that has been done – both for women and for animals – and takes that much further. I think it’s important that the rights of animals are taken much more seriously than they are today; in so many ways, we’re just at the beginning of this fight. I hope that the next generation continues to extend social justice to reach animals. That is vital work, even if we ourselves don’t directly benefit from these efforts – although, of course, we do anyway, since ceasing the commodification of animals will, in turn, also be the best thing for our own health, and for the sustainability of our shared planet. And I hope that the feminist movement continues to extend to the trans community, since, in that realm, there is still a very long (but completely necessary) way to go. By the time my 2-year-old niece is in her mid-thirties, as I am today, I hope that a lot of these hopes become a no-brainer.

HPMM: It was not so long ago that being vegan or a lesbian meant you were a pariah. Now we have Ellen, who’s happily publicly both. We have amazing activist websites like Our Hen House. What changed? What still needs to change?

JS: As has been evidenced lately, some aspects of gay rights are getting international attention, and things like same-sex marriage are finally being taken seriously. At the same time, people are beginning to wake up to the plight of animals, as is evidenced by animal welfare reforms on the ballot, as well as the huge upsurge in vegan restaurants and vegan options throughout the country (and not just in big, progressive cities). Movement has been seen in both areas – gay rights and animal rights. And just maybe vegan lesbians like me aren’t typed into the category of “humorless headaches” so quickly. But you’re right; things still need to change in a lot of ways. For one, even though certain farmed animal issues are starting to reach voters, the changes that are being made – though historic – are infinitesimal, and not nearly good enough. These include reforms such as phasing out some of the cruelest confinement systems in which animals are kept (like gestation crates, veal crates, and battery cages). Though I’m glad to see these kinds of monumental shifts – and thrilled that campaigns banning confining animals so that they can’t ever turn around or sit down comfortably – much bigger steps need to be taken in order to even begin to recognize the inherent rights of animals, such as their right to live their lives. As for the LGBT community, I’m also elated to see gay rights permeating the mainstream! My partner Mariann and I just got married here in New York two months ago, and I strongly believe that everyone should be able to get married (with the full legal privileges that are given to married straight people). But gay marriage is by no means the be all and end all of social justice for the LGBT community. There’s still a frightening amount of violence targeted at this group: there’s still workplace inequality, there are many places in the world where homosexuality is punishable by death, and here in the U.S., there’s countless numbers of queer youth on the streets because there is a fundamental and dangerous lack of support for them in their community. Beyond that, the trans community is seriously maligned, and laws to protect them are desperately needed, as is education and awareness.

HPMM: How that change needs to happen is matter of fierce debate. Some say it has to come from government policy. No, we have to build a grassroots involvement. No, it has to come from educating people. What’s your answer?

JS: My answer is yes! What I mean is, just like advocating for animals, there is no one right way. In order to create social change in any realm, we need a multi-pronged approach, because different tactics will undoubtedly speak to different demographics. Grassroots is a key part of any successful campaign, since it usually involves being on the ground, face to face, talking to (and listening to!) the very people we need in our corner. But in order to create a massive shift in society – which is necessary to mainstream LGBT rights and animal rights – we need to add more, and larger, components to grassroots campaigns. That’s usually where the media comes in, or should come in. By adding video and audio to old-fashioned grassroots tactics, by creating independent media and doing some multimedia rabble-rousing, we can reach a few thousand people, rather than a few dozen. And legislative reform is an important tactic, too, since those who are marginalized need laws in their favor. But the laws don’t change without public support, and public support doesn’t happen without that initial conversation. It’s a synergy.

HPMM: How do you define activism?

JS: Broadly. At Our Hen House, we cast a wide net over that word. People frequently feel that they’re not an activist because they’ve never screamed into a bullhorn or been arrested for civil disobedience. Yet some of those same people regularly write letters to the editor in response to an unfair story. Or they spend their lunch breaks leafleting. Or they regularly bake vegan cupcakes for their co-workers, handing them out with a “Why Vegan?” brochure and a copy of the recipe. Or think about the law student who chooses to write a term paper on ag-gag laws, which makes whistleblowing in undercover investigations of factory farms illegal. Or the artists who paint scenes of animal oppression, or animal liberation, and donate the proceeds of the sale to local shelters or sanctuaries. These are all different forms of activism, and that’s just the beginning. If you disagree with our definition, then so be it; call it what you will, but just do something to change the world for animals.

HPMM: Doing Meatless Monday lets me approach what we eat from all different angles, and sometimes it feels like I’ve been delivering the same message over and over again — yet it hits different people in different ways and at different times. What do you find resonates with people? What gets through to people? I know Vegucated’s Marisa Miller Wolfson said she needed those PETA videos to really bring home the message for her before she went vegan.

JS: I can relate to sometimes feeling like I’m saying the same thing over and over. Mariann and I give workshops on veganism and activism throughout the country. Before each talk, we make sure to remind one another that this might be the very first time someone is hearing about the plight of animals, or, on the flip side, learning about how delicious, affordable, accessible, and mind-blowing vegan food is! So we always try to approach everything from a place of new possibilities. As far as what reaches people, I have found that it is frequently the eighth or ninth piece of information they receive that ultimately gets in. So perhaps someone will look at your Meatless Monday column and think it looks too foreign to them, too difficult – yet they are intrigued. The next day or week or month they are given a “Go Vegan” leaflet on their way to work, which they put in their pocket and read later. Then they catch a story on Nightline about factory farming, and they seriously consider changing their diet and lifestyle. They visit your column again and decide to give it a go. They find that going vegan is a lot easier than they anticipated. Their vegan cousin sends them some homemade cupcakes, and they’re sold. This way of looking at it actually makes difficult conversations easier for me to palate. Sometimes it’s the most seemingly resistant people who eventually make the most passionate vegans. Finally, I try to remind myself that compassion goes a long way – not just for animals, but for the people we are trying to reach with our message. Even those who aren’t on the same page as we are are good people who, just like us, are trying to do the right thing. They just need guidance, a gentle nudge, and perhaps a wickedly delicious vegan cupcake.

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