Wake Up Weekend Videos Now Online

Calvin College has posted the videos from this winter’s “Wake Up Weekend”–an annual celebration of animal advocacy–online. They are very much worth watching for anyone wanting to learn more about animal rights, animal advocacy, veganism, and factory farming.

The following video–just one of many–is of Nekeisha Alexis-Baker’s talk on “Speciesim, Sexism, and Racism: The Intertwining Oppressions.” We wrote about her talk over the winter and were quite impressed by it:

Speakers Deliver Compelling Talk on Race and Gender and their Relationship to Animal Advocacy

Vegan Speakers on Race and Gender at Calvin Animal Rights Event

Friday and Saturday, Calvin College held their third annual Wake Up Weekend! event hosted by the College’s Philosophy Department and a variety of student groups. The weekend featured a number of speakers addressing animal advocacy issues, including oft-neglected issues of race and gender and how those topics relate to animal rights. While the vegan brunch and chili cook-off was great, this talk was the highlight of the weekend for me!

Thinking and Eating at the Same Time: Reflections of a Sista Vegan

Michelle Lloyd-Page, Dean for Multicultural Affairs at Calvin College, shared stories of what it means to “eat like a vegan” as an African-American woman, and the stumbling blocks and victories she has faced in her own community and family.

Living in Muskegon Heights, a predominately Black community, Lloyd-Page spoke of not only the availability of vegan food and organic produce, but also what it means to make the choice of rejecting meat and dairy products. She explained that for many low income African-American families, like those in her neighborhood, being able to work enough to afford such a luxury as chicken, is a large step. When many families see this as a luxury, telling them what they can and can’t have is an action directly tied to race, privilege, and education.

She went on to explain that people of color often make the assumption that becoming vegan is just as simple as cutting something out of your diet and then replacing it with vegetables and other healthier plant-based alternatives. The problem with this approach, she has learned through experience, is that you are taking away their perceived “staples” and long-standing traditions associated with them such as various Soul Food dishes. This is problematic for white people to not only think it’s only a matter of simplicity associated with a vegan lifestyle, but also to deny the strong cultural and identity ties to meat eating, as well as saying “I’m telling you what you can and can not eat”, when African-Americans have been told that by white people for generations.

Beyond cultural associations to meat, Lloyd-Page also talked about what it means for her and how it feels to be a Black woman and be vegan. For example, popular conceptions of veganism almost always exclude people of color. She explained that if this movement wants to reach out to other people, we have to have these conversations about race and even gender, otherwise it will stay white. In turn, she spoke about her own experiences in her community of being accused of trying to be white, be better than everyone else, be perfect, and leaving her own traditions and roots – something that most white vegans may have not even considered before.

While race is often ignored by the animal rights movement, Lloyd-Page spoke with insistency that our approaches in engaging in conversations about veganism have to be careful but can be done successfully. She explained that we have a problem when “white college kids will save a chicken, but not a starving child.”

For example, telling someone they should eat something outlandish that they have never heard of and can’t find in their neighborhood, might not be as good of an approach as making traditional recipes vegan and talking about the many health benefits of becoming vegan.

Lloyd-Page concluded her portion of the panel by explaining that all oppressions are linked together and that we cannot just fight animal cruelty alone, we have to fight them all or else we are not acknowledging their connections, thus allowing them to continue.

“Speciesism, Sexism, and Racism: The Intertwining Oppressions”

The second panelist, Nekeisha Alexis-Baker, recent graduate of Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary and co-founder of Jesus Radicals, was segued nicely by Lloyd-Page’s closing remarks on the importance of recognizing the interconnectedness of the oppression of people and animals.

Alexis-Baker began her presentation by showing a projected picture of herself smiling and holding a baby raccoon, Edward, she had rescued and became friends with. She told of her own experience with Edward as teaching her how we treat non-human animals and what that implies of our society in general. She discussed the ideologies of racism, sexism, and speciesism, and how they all use a process of “othering” which not only allows for the mistreatment of animals and humans, but makes this classification socially acceptable.

During this discussion–through the lens of slavery–Alexis-Baker went on to incorporate the mistreatment of women as well. Through images she explained the level of desensitization our culture has adopted when it comes to cruelty, the many forms it takes and ways it is carried out, the legacy of the past, and how that has allowed us to glorify this mistreatment.

An example that was discussed was the comparison of African-American slaves to cattle. She explained the acceptability of shackling, branding, whipping, and breeding slaves was due to the fact that they were seen as the equivalent of cattle–solely raised for consumption by white people, particularly white males. This is especially true in the case of lactating Black women who continued to be wet due to nursing their own children and being forced to feed their “master’s” children as well. Alexis-Baker strongly stated that here there was no difference in the status of a Black woman, nor the status of a cow, because clearly they were both being bred and used to be subservient to their “master”.

In addition to this cattle/slave relationship, she also highlighted the fact that this “situation”, if it could even be simplified as such, of people of color who have been dominated by white men, could not even be considered oppression at the time, because only humans can be oppressed, and the status of a slave was below that–it was one of a non-human animal.

The link between slavery and the mistreatment of non-white humans today, to the mistreatment of animals was explained wonderfully and described in the most “easy to understand” terms when Alexis-Baker said, “They are desired, dismembered, and devoured, both figuratively and literally” they are both “…valuable in satisfying the male” as well as being “interchangeable bodies between non-human animals and women, both being objects.”

Sexism and Speciesism

She explained how this touches almost everything in our culture, even to the point of being incorporated in to the well intentioned animal rights movement at times. An example of this was a projected picture of a scantily, if not naked, clad woman in a suggestive pose with cuts of meat drawn all over her body.

The image, put out by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), was intended to invoke shock to the viewer by comparing the consumption and dismembering of animals and its acceptability, to the unacceptability of a person being treated in the same manner. While the intentions may have been good, in the end PETA chose to portray a young, thin, white woman to seduce the viewer into understanding their message.

Alexis-Baker emphasized the problems behind not noticing the intertwining of oppressions. In this situation women were being oppressed, while animals were trying to be freed. Her conclusion, along with Lloyd-Page’s, was that no one is free when others are oppressed. For Alexis-Baker, this means realizing that being vegan is one way to deal with these oppressions, and that as a Black woman, she has no choice but to strive for a liberation that involves everyone.

Annual Calvin College Animal Advocacy Event Planned

For the past couple of winters, one of my favorite things to happen in Grand Rapids has been Calvin College’s Wake Up Weekend event promoting animal rights, awareness, and advocacy. In the past, I’ve covered the event for MediaMouse.org, learned a lot, and enjoyed some great food.

The full schedule and announcement for the 2009 event follows:

Wake Up Weekend Animal Rights Event at Calvin College


*All events are free and open to the public (excluding the all-you-can-eat Saturday brunch, which is just $10.00 per person at the door). Donations to defray costs are cheerfully accepted. Questions? Write to wakeupweekend@gmail.com.

Our annual two-day celebration of animal-friendly food, art, education, and advocacy brought to you by Animals & Society Institute, Brick Road Pizza Company, ExtraVEGANza!, G-Rad, Not One Sparrow, Oven Mitt Bakery, and Students for Compassionate Living.


2:30 pm–Animal Advocacy: What, Why, Who, and How?

Commons Annex Lecture Hall, Calvin College

Stay on the cutting edge of the movement by learning from the people who are making it happen. From rights to welfare, from religion to politics, from the laws of the heart to the laws of the land, from grassroots to goliath, our nationally recognized panelists know the score. Join us for this workshop and you will too!

Harold Brown (President, Farm Kind, Hector, NY)

Ben DeVries (Founder, Not One Sparrow, Kenosha, WI)

Adam Durand (Campaign Director, Animal Rights International, Rochester, NY)

Bee Friedlander (Managing Director, Animals and Society Institute, Ann Arbor, MI)

Nathan Runkle (Executive Director, Mercy for Animals, Columbus, OH and Chicago, IL)

5:30 pm–“Compassionate Comestibles” Vegan Potluck*

Commons Annex Lecture Hall, Calvin College

*Hosted by Students for Compassionate Living

At an event where omnivores, vegetarians, and vegans are coming together in fellowship, a vegan bill of fare insures that everyone can enjoy what’s on the menu! What’s your favorite vegan recipe? Bring a dish to share and find out where others come down on this appetizing question! Need a few ideas? Vegan Yum Yum and Post Punk Kitchen never disappoint.

***Please help us to reduce waste and carbon emissions by bringing your own washable or recyclable dinnerware*** and perhaps an extra setting or two for our out-of-town guests and last-minute participants; a limited number of recyclables will be on hand for those without table service.

7:30 pm–Film Festival

Bytwerk Video Theater, DeVos Communications Center, Calvin College

Eating Mercifully

Fowl Play (A Film By Adam Durand)

Two great films by two great directors, one of whom–Adam Durand–will be on hand to introduce his work and take questions after the screening. Did you know that the idea for “Fowl Play” was hatched at Wake Up Weekend 2007 and that the original first-cut of the film was edited here in Grand Rapids for our sneak preview screening at Wake Up Weekend 2008? Now in 2009, the final version has been nominated for Best Documentary in a national film festival in Hollywood, but YOU get to see it first right here in Grand Rapids. Look for special mention of Wake Up Weekend in the credits!


11:00 am–Vegan Brunch at Brick Road Pizza

Tofu scramble, french toast sticks, vegan fried chikn, and all your favorite specialty pizzas and salads are on the menu at this $10.00 all-you-can-eat vegan juggernaut that Chef Ryan promises will be a day to remember! Whether you’re a Wake-up-Weekender or just a hungry Grand Rapidian, come on out! Everyone is welcome!

1:30–Spotlight Session: Animal Advocacy and Religion

(106), 106 S. Division, Grand Rapids

“Not One Sparrow is Forgotten: A Simply Christian Animal Advocacy”

Ben DeVries (Founder, Not One Sparrow)

3:00 pm–Panel: Animal Exploitation and Questions of Race and Gender

(106), 106 S. Division, Grand Rapids

“Thinking and Eating at the Same Time: Reflections of a Sista Vegan”

Michelle Loyd-Paige (Dean for Multicultural Affairs, Calvin College)

“Speciesism, Sexism, and Racism: The Intertwining Oppressions”

Nekeisha Alexis-Baker (Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary; Co-Founder, Jesus Radicals)

7:00 pm–Vegan Chili Cook-Off and Print Sale Benefit

(106), 106 S. Division, Grand Rapids

You know the drill on this one: Best. Vegan. Chili. Ever. (Made by YOU, if you’ve got the guts to compete, anyway.) Add vegan cornbread lovingly prepared by Oven Mitt Bakery, and a print sale that puts the artwork of Wake Up Weekend within everyone’s reach, and you simply can’t say no! Come on out and help us raise a few dollars for our participating animal charities, and we can show the world that compassion is recession-proof!

*If you plan to enter a chili into competition, please send an e-mail to wakeupweekend@gmail.com ASAP to request a registration form. Last year, we were a bit light on chili (and a bit heavy on chili-eaters), so let’s anticipate another big turnout and get as many of you to put your culinary prowess on display as possible!

See you at Wake Up Weekend 2009!

Animal Rights Activist Speaks at Calvin

Last night at Calvin College, renowned animal rights activist Gene Baur spoke on the abuse of animals by industrial agriculture and the need for people to change their relationship to animals.

Last night, Calvin College’s Students for Compassionate Living hosted renowned animal rights activist Gene Baur. Baur, who is a co-founder and president of Farm Sanctuary, delivered a lecture on the treatment of animals by industrial agriculture and the need for a change in how people think about animals.

Much of Baur’s talk focused on changing the relationship between people and animals and moving from seeing animals as food to individuals. Baur used a PowerPoint presentation with pictures of animals in slaughter houses and contrasted those to the rescued animals that live at the two Farm Sanctuary farms. Baur said that once animals are moved from abusive situations, they slowly regain trust and are able to show affection. He made compelling arguments against the abuse of animals and convincingly made the case that industrial agriculture is inherently exploitive.

During his talk, Baur explained some of the many ways in which animals in the United States are abused for food. He said that farm animals are excluded from the federal Animal Welfare Act and that agricultural practices considered “common” are excluded from most state animal cruelty laws. Consequently, “common” practices such as debeaking chickens and confining animals to small cages are rarely considered “cruelty” by law.

On dairy farms, Baur told the audience that animals are forced to give birth each year only to have their calves taken away from them. The female calves are raised to replace the milking cows–which have a “useful” life span of just three to four years–while the male cows are sold for veal.

On poultry farms, meat and egg chickens are both abused. Egg laying chickens are packed into “battery cages” inside warehouses–some containing as many as 100,000 birds–where they are confined to cramped cages where they can barely move. After the hens have outlived their usefulness to the factory farm owners, the so-called “spent hens” are put in grinders and turned into pellets that are fed to other chickens. The meat birds are bred to grow twice as big and twice as fast as normal due to selective breeding and have many problems due to this rapid rate of growth, including skeletal deficiencies. Male chickens born at poultry operations are routinely thrown away because they are not profitable.

Baur also argued that animal agriculture is just plain inefficient. He said that plant based diets use less resources and can support more people. He said that while people occasionally consider the health costs of eating meat–Baur said that the way people in the United States eat is in part responsible for rising healthcare costs–the environmental consequences of animal agriculture often go unconsidered. Baur said that livestock is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions and that it has an important role in land degradation, climate change, air pollution, water shortages, and water pollution. Similarly, as is the case with animal cruelty laws, animal agriculture is exempt from many environmental regulations.

Baur concluded by saying that people can work to improve the treatment of animals by making either a personal choice or getting involved in policy and legislative efforts. He urged the audience to make the personal decision to become vegan, stating that it would make a considerable impact on the treatment of animals. On the policy level, Baur encouraged people to get to know their representatives so that they can more effectively lobby them for legislation that protects animals.

The lecture was also recorded by G-Rad.org and can be listened to online.

Interview with Gene Baur of Farm Sanctuary

An interview with animal rights activist Gene Baur. Baur is the co-founder and president of Farm Sanctuary, the leading farm animal protection organization in the United States.

An interview with animal rights activist Gene Baur. Baur is the co-founder and president of Farm Sanctuary, the leading farm animal protection organization in the United States. In the interview, Baur talks about the treatment of animals in industrial agriculture and the need for a change in how people think about animals

Baur spoke at Calvin College at a lecture sponsored by Students for Compassionate Living.

Guide to Going Vegan in Grand Rapids Released

grand rapids vegan guide cover

Contributors to ExtraVeganza!–a blog on the Grand Rapids online community G-Rad.org–have produced the Non-Definitive Guide to Going Out Vegan in Grand Rapids. The guide offers a number of resources for people considering a vegan diet. Vegan diets have been increasing in popularity in recent years, with people choosing not to consume animal products for a range of reasons including health, the environment, and animal rights. In addition to listing a number restaurants and stores where folks can get vegan food, the guide contains seven reasons to go vegan and tips for those making the transition. The guide is available both in online and print format.

Aside from the this guide, folks considering going vegan should also checkout the Greater Grand Rapids Food Systems Council’s annual guide to purchasing locally produced food.

Speakers address a variety of issues during Calvin Animal Rights Forum

On Friday, four speakers from four different national animal rights groups gave talks at Calvin about animal rights activism and organizing as part of the Wake Up Weekend focusing on veganism and animal rights.

This was a collaborative event with Calvin Students for Compassionate Living, G-Rad, Farms Without Harm, Grand Rapids for Animals, and ExtraVEGANza.

Nathan Runkle with Mercy for Animals spoke first. Mercy for Animals believes that non-human animals have the right to live without suffering. Nathan shared a bit of his personal history about how he grew up and what influenced him to think about his relationship to animals. The question he posed is whether or not animals can suffer? He shared a story about piglet dissection at his high school, where the teacher who was a pig farmer, had killed piglets that morning, but one of the piglets was still alive. A student slammed it against a table to try and kill it and this led to a legal case against the teachers and student. The courts sided with the teacher/farmer, since “thumping” piglets is a normal practice.

He then gave examples of animal cruelty in the media, which focuses on treatment of cats and dogs. However, Runkle says that roughly 27 billion animals are abused each year in the US, with over 99% of the animals abused each year in the food industry. Fifty years ago most of the farms didn’t engage in abusive practices, but the industry still uses images of traditional farmers for slaughter houses/agribusiness farming. So why don’t we have laws that protect these animals? There is the US Animal Welfare Act, but that legislation does not considered farm animals as animals – so none of the violence done against them are considered animal cruelty. Mercy for Animals does grassroots work in Ohio and in Chicago, which includes leafleting, education, a library outreach campaign, marches, public demonstrations, and campaigns against the fur industry and circuses. They also run commercials on MTV, plus campaigns of animal rescue and civil disobedience. Nathan said the average person in the US eats about 2,174 land animals during their life. He concluded his talk with the importance of changing our diets.

Adam Durand with Compassionate Consumers spoke second. Compassionate Consumers is based out of Rochester, New York. They focus on chickens used for poultry and eggs. They documented the problem in their area in 2004 by going to egg farms owned by Wegman Food Markets. They did an animal rescue and produced a documentary to help educate the public. A local reporter got the documentary first and did a good story, according to Durand. The same day the story appeared, their new website was launched that had the video online. A month later the State Police began arresting and charging members who had participated in the animal rescue. They were charged with trespass, larceny and burglary. All of them were indicted by a Grand Jury and then offered plea deals, except Adam who went to trial. During the trial the State Police admitted that there was cruelty at the farm but that this was “not a problem as it was a business.” They got lots of media coverage and eventually Adam was sentenced to 6 months in jail plus fines. He then talked at length about his jail experience and how he had to compromise his ethical code while in jail, like serving eggs to the other prisoners. He mentioned the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), which considers animal rights activists as “terrorists” and how this act is really designed to intimidate activists from engaging in more substantive actions to stop animal cruelty.

Next on the panel was Nicole Matthews, with PETA. PETA has about 200 staff on the east coast. They spay and neuter dogs and cats, have a straw program that allows people to take bales of straw for outdoor dogs and a doghouse give-away program. Nicole then mentioned a recent court case that allowed chimpanzees to file a lawsuit against the industry, thus recognizing that these primates have rights as well. PETA does fundraising, education campaigns and a grassroots campaign, which is the area that gets most of the attention. They have had some recent victories. They also do PETA 2, which is a youth-based project. Nicole works on the KFC campaign and has been organizing to eliminate abuses including live scalding, life-long crippling, and debeaking. Chickens are not covered under legislation, like cows, for abuse during slaughter, so they have been doing demonstrations across the US and in many other countries to target KFC, the largest fast food chicken outlet. PETA also has a VegAdvantage campaign that tries to get restaurants to serve vegan options.

The last speaker was Harold Brown, with the Farm Sanctuary. Harold was a former cattle farmer. Harold says that all agriculture is a fallen structure, meaning that the way it is practiced is unsustainable. Humans have created mono-cultured animals to suit human needs. Harold says we see animals primarily as utility, not as living beings. Unlike the rest of the speakers, Harold addressed more philosophical aspects of the animal rights movement and larger policy issues that animal rights activists need to think about. He mentioned US trade policies such as NAFTA and CAFTA that have significant impact around agricultural practices. He cites the example of US corn being dumped in the Mexican market and how that causes displacement of small farmers many of which migrate to the US. He also said that these trade policies are resulting in companies exporting our factory farm practices around the world as well as foreign companies doing mega-farm projects in the US because the standards here are not as good as many European countries. Harold also addressed briefly that there are some successes in fighting CAFO (concentrated animal factory operations) construction around the country, but that much more needed to be done around these very fundamental issues.

The Environmental Ramifications of Meat and Dairy

Reprinted from The Rant (October 2002)

When vegan diets are discussed, the environmental impacts of meat and dairy production are often overlooked. Environmental concerns are generally at the periphery of an argument crafted on the basis of animal rights. While the argument for animal rights fits nicely within a critique of a capitalist system that reduces both human and non-human life to commodities that can be bought and sold in the market, it is often difficult for people to understand the somewhat abstract concept of animal rights. Few people see anything inherently wrong with raising animals for food or using them as research subjects, and thus many arguments in favor of vegan diets on the basis of animal rights are presented in a rather elitist manner where activists criticize those that are complicit with the mechanized slaughter millions of animals each year.

As the world population grows, food production and distribution is going to be an issue that affects everyone. Both governmental institutions and mainstream non-governmental organizations have recognized that one of the defining issues in this century is going to be the Earth’s ability to sustain a rapidly growing population. Population growth is going to put an unprecedented demand on the food resources and current production will not meet demand. Moreover, the growing world population is not content with mere survival, rather through the cultural influence of American-style capitalism, many people want to increase their consumption to the levels of the United States. Clearly, a planet with finite resources cannot sustain consumption of resources on the level of Americans and it is estimated that an additional two Earths would be need to sustain consumption at such a level. Multinational corporations have claimed that their technology, especially genetically modified food, will be able to overcome these issues of demand by dramatically increasing production. However the major bio-technology corporations have been resistant to giving their genetically modified seeds away for the benefit of humanity, rather they continue to charge exorbitant royalties and seek stringent copyright protections in global trade agreements. As a result, poor nations will be forced further into debt, if they are even able to purchase the technology. There are also legitimate concerns about the environmental and health consequences of genetically modified food with many nations having banned it for these reasons.

While a massive reorientation of industry from profit-based to need-based production is needed to reverse some of these patterns, changes in diet would have a major impact. The production of meat and diary is ecologically devastating. Fifty-six percent of agricultural land is used to produce beef and 260 million acres of forest have been clear-cut to support America’s meat consumption. Clear-cutting of rain forests is largely undertaken for the purpose of raising cattle, with much of the meat going to the United States. While urban sprawl is often cited as a major factor in the destruction of forested areas, for every acre of land clear-cut for this purpose seven are clear-cut for raising livestock. The industrial farming practices that now dominate the dairy and meat industries generate massive amounts of pollution in the form of animal waste with the average dairy cow producing one-hundred-and-twenty pounds of wet manure per day. In addition to the problem of disposal, manure contaminates water supplies around the world.

Topsoil loss also results from the meat-based agriculture with 85% of US topsoil lost directly as a result of livestock farming. Already 75% of the topsoil has been lost in the US and meat consumption perpetuates a system that causes more topsoil loss.

Furthermore, meat production is wasteful and is neither sustainable nor intelligent use of land. Ninety percent of the protein in grain is wasted by cycling it through livestock while one hundred percent of dietary fiber is wasted. Even the production of the least efficient plants is ten times more energy efficient than the most efficient animal-based foods. With the amount of land needed to feed one person eating a meat-based diet, twenty people eating a vegan diet could be fed. Eighty percent of the corn and ninety-five percent grown in the United States is eaten by livestock, food that could sustain many more humans. Much of the food that could go to feed other people is used feeding animals that require five to ten times more plant food than humans do. Land would be more effectively utilized if production were directed towards plant-based diets, with one acre of land producing one-hundred-and-sixty-five pounds of beef while that same acre could grow twenty thousand pounds of potatoes.

In a society where large corporations have a disproportionate influence on policy compared to individuals in politics, it is the responsibility of individuals concerned with the environment to act individually and collectively to improve the current situation. Corporations are not going to change existing food production policies on their own and indeed the only way they will ever change is if are citizens’ movements to hold them accountable. People need to realize that individual dietary choices are responsible for environmental destruction from meat and dairy product, just as choosing to drive a car contributes to wars for oil. While this article has focused on veganism, it is certainly hard for many people to maintain a vegan diet, especially in this area and within the financial constraints of a typical college student. For those who are unable to go vegan, vegetarian diets have ecological and health benefits. If US citizens collectively reduced their consumption of meat by ten percent, sixty million people could be fed with the grain that would be saved. The decision to eat meat involves more than personal preference, it is not about whether or not you like hamburgers—it is ultimately about the sustainability of life on the planet.