Prison Isn’t Vegan

Prison is a form of animal exploitation that is inconsistent with veganism.

Veganism particularly refers to the abstinence of consumption of animal products (i.e. meat, eggs, dairy), but the underlying philosophy is a belief in animal rights that opposes all forms of commodification of animals.  This position goes beyond diet to include any form of animal captivity that is used to benefit humans- such as zoos, rodeos, labs for animal experimentation, etc.

Prisons are institutions that hold humans in captivity. Those held in prisons have been arrested, charged and convicted of crimes. The forms of captivity vary significantly based on each specific institution and different categorization within the institution. Some are held in solitary confinement where they spend 23 or 24 hours a day in a cage, while some stay in general population where they engage with other inmates. However, in all situations, the prisoners are confined to the prison and their mobility and freedom is restricted by the prison and the guards that run it.

In the United states, an interconnected collection of political and economic forces are combined to establish what is referred to as the “Prison-Industrial Complex” or “PIC.” Critical Resistance describes the PIC this way:

Through its reach and impact, the PIC helps and maintains the authority of people who get their power through racial, economic and other privileges. There are many ways this power is collected and maintained through the PIC, including creating mass media images that keep alive stereotypes of people of color, poor people, queer people, immigrants, youth, and other oppressed communities as criminal, delinquent, or deviant. This power is also maintained by earning huge profits for private companies that deal with prisons and police forces; helping earn political gains for “tough on crime” politicians; increasing the influence of prison guard and police unions; and eliminating social and political dissent by oppressed communities that make demands for self-determination and reorganization of power in the US.

One of the defining features of the PIC is the profit motive, as mentioned by Critical Resistance. There are corporations that rely on massive numbers being held in captivity in order to make money for their shareholders. Because of the financial interest in prisons, these businesses also actively lobby politicians for increased incarceration. There are a myriad of ways that these corporations profit from humans being incarcerated. I will elaborate in future posts, but briefly- businesses have contracts with the prison where they provide materials (clothes, food, beds, etc.) and importantly, many businesses rely on compulsory prison labor. These businesses rely on the exploitation of human labor, with inmates getting paid next to nothing (literally pennies an hour) and the companies sell the products at a huge mark-up, making massive profit.

Let me restate that because it is a crucial point: Humans are kept in captivity and forced to work for the financial benefit of other humans.

Another crucial point is the scientific fact that humans, a mammal species, are animals. After acknowledging that humans are animals and recognizing that prisons are institutions that keep human animals in captivity for the economic benefit of other animals, it becomes clear that the Prison-Industrial Complex is inconsistent with veganism.

Prison is animal suffering. Prison is animal exploitation. Prison is not vegan.

A Different Kind of Vegan Blog

What’s Wrong With Vegans?

There is a problematic trend among animal rights activists to ignore or disregard how their activism intersects with other social movements. For many, the development of an animal rights position is intertwined with a broader political analysis incorporating other global issues. So it is surprising and disappointing to continue to see this trend manifested in the mainstream animal rights movement.

A significant example of this trend is animal welfare advocates utilizing the criminal legal system in an attempt to end animal cruelty. Animal welfare organizations work with legislatures to enact or expand animal cruelty statutes and collaborate with police and prosecutors to arrest, charge and incarcerate people they believe injury animals.

I am a long-time vegan and have always viewed animal liberation through a radical political analysis that is opposed to the state, capitalism and all forms of oppression. I also work in the legal field, primarily in criminal defense and police brutality. My work experience has allowed me to see the inherent flaws in the criminal legal system and the dangers of placing faith in police and prosecutors as a solution to social problems. In future posts on this site, I will explore how policing and the criminal legal system maintains and reinforces oppression, relying heavily on the writings primarily by women of color, that have articulated critiques of the Prison-Industrial Complex and calls for prison abolition.

There is also a problematic trend in social justice movements where activists reject, dismiss and even disparage animal rights, often without legitimate critique. There are many activists with a radical intersectional analysis who don’t include non-human animals into that analysis. Brilliant, radical people with a strong, developed critique refuse to take the criticism to a logical conclusion that could include non-human animals.

 

What this site will be

  • A critique of the mainstream animal rights movement and its failure to incorporate a stronger analysis around race, gender, class, disability and other forms of oppression.
  • A critique of mainstream social justice movements that dismiss animal rights as a legitimate issue worthy of discussion and consideration.
  • A resource on animal rights and intersectionality. There are people articulating this analysis and I plan to compile and highlight their voices here.
  • A space for deeper analysis of prison abolition and its relationship to animal liberation.

 

What this site won’t be

  • A source for single-issue arguments for animal rights that ignore any relation to other social, human and global issues.
  • A compilation of shocking and gruesome photos and videos of dead animals. There are plenty of other sites showing graphic and heartbreaking imagery of violent conditions on factory farms, animal testing labs and examples of other animal cruelty.
  • A lifestyle blog. Again, there are lots of blogs out there about what it’s like to be a vegan parent, student, traveler, etc. Part of the goal is to place animal liberation squarely in a radical social framework and shift the discourse away from individual diets or habits.
  • A promotional site for vegan products. As part of an anti-capitalism analysis with a critique of consumerism, I’m not interested in focusing on what company just came out with a new vegan product that’s up for sale.
  • A vegan cooking blog. There are a ton of great blogs with vegan recipes featuring photos of enticing home-cooked, plant-based meals. This just isn’t going to be one of them.

I may post links to other sites that address animal rights and veganism from these perspectives, but these won’t be prominent aspects of No Cages.