• Home

RR2

1

All Animals Are Equal (1974)*
PETER SINGER

*Adapted from the original version in Peter Singer’s 1974 “All Animals Are
Equal,” Philosophic Exchange: Vol. 5: No. 1, Article 6. Note that the current
version has been updated to replace antiquated language around mental
disability and references to “blacks and whites” used in the 1974 version.

* * *

In recent years a number of oppressed groups have campaigned vigorously for
equality. The classic instance is the Black Liberation movement, which
demands an end to the prejudice and discrimination that has made Black
people second-class citizens. The immediate appeal of the Black Liberation
movement and its initial, if limited, success made it a model for other
oppressed groups to follow. We became familiar with liberation movements for
Latinos, gay people, and a variety of other minorities. When a majority group—
women—began their campaign, some thought we had come to the end of the
road. Discrimination on the basis of sex, it has been said, is the last universally
accepted form of discrimination, practiced without secrecy or pretense even in
those liberal circles that have long prided themselves on their freedom from
prejudice against racial minorities. One should always be wary of talking of “the
last remaining form of discrimination.” If we have learnt anything from the
liberation movements, we should have learnt how difficult it is to be aware of
latent prejudice in our attitudes to particular groups until this prejudice is
forcefully pointed out.

A liberation movement demands an expansion of our moral horizons and an
extension or reinterpretation of the basic moral principle of equality. Practices
that were previously regarded as natural and inevitable come to be seen as the
result of an unjustifiable prejudice. Who can say with confidence that all his or
her attitudes and practices are beyond criticism? If we wish to avoid being
numbered amongst the oppressors, we must be prepared to re-think even our
most fundamental attitudes. We need to consider them from the point of view of
those most disadvantaged by our attitudes, and the practices that follow from
these attitudes. If we can make this unaccustomed mental switch we may
discover a pattern in our attitudes and practices that consistently operates so
as to benefit one group—usually the one to which we ourselves belong—at the
expense of another. In this way we may come to see that there is a case for a
new liberation movement. My aim is to advocate that we make this mental
switch in respect of our attitudes and practices towards a very large group of
beings: members of species other than our own—or, as we popularly though
misleadingly call them, animals. In other words, I am urging that we extend to
other species the basic principle of equality that most of us recognize should be
extended to all members of our own species.

2

All this may sound a little far-fetched, more like a parody of other liberation
movements than a serious objective. In fact, in the past the idea of “The Rights
of Animals” really has been used to parody the case for women’s rights. When
Mary Wollstonecraft, a forerunner of later feminists, published her Vindication
of the Rights of Women in 1792, her ideas were widely regarded as absurd,
and they were satirized in an anonymous publication entitled A Vindication of
the Rights of Brutes. The author of this satire (actually Thomas Taylor, a
distinguished Cambridge philosopher) tried to refute Wollstonecraft’s
reasonings by showing that they could be carried one stage further. If sound
when applied to women, why should the arguments not be applied to dogs,
cats, and horses? They seemed to hold equally well for these “brutes”; yet to
hold that brutes had rights was manifestly absurd; therefore the reasoning by
which this conclusion had been reached must be unsound, and if unsound
when applied to brutes, it must also be unsound when applied to women, since
the very same arguments had been used in each case.

One way in which we might reply to this argument is by saying that the case for
equality between men and women cannot validly be extended to nonhuman
animals. Women have a right to vote, for instance, because they are just as
capable of making rational decisions as men are; dogs, on the other hand, are
incapable of understanding the significance of voting, so they cannot have the
right to vote. There are many other obvious ways in which men and women
resemble each other closely, while humans and other animals differ greatly.
So, it might be said, men and women are similar beings and should have equal
rights, while humans and nonhumans are different and should not have equal
rights.

The thought behind this reply to Taylor’s analogy is correct up to a point, but it
does not go far enough. There are important differences between humans and
other animals, and these differences must give rise to some differences in the
rights that each have. Recognizing this obvious fact, however, is no barrier to
the case for extending the basic principle of equality to nonhuman animals. The
differences that exist between men and women are equally undeniable, and the
supporters of Women’s Liberation are aware that these differences may give
rise to different rights. Many feminists hold that women have the right to an
abortion on request. It does not follow that since these same people are
campaigning for equality between men and women they must support the right
of men to have abortions too. Since a man cannot have an abortion, it is
meaningless to talk of his right to have one. Since a pig can’t vote, it is
meaningless to talk of its right to vote. There is no reason why either Women’s
Liberation or Animal Liberation should get involved in such nonsense. The
extension of the basic principle of equality from one group to another does not
imply that we must treat both groups in exactly the same way, or grant exactly
the same rights to both groups. Whether we should do so will depend on the
nature of the members of the two groups. The basic principle of equality, I shall

3

argue, is equality of consideration; and equal consideration for different beings
may lead to different treatment and different rights.

So there is a different way of replying to Taylor’s attempt to parody
Wollstonecraft’s arguments, a way which does not deny the differences
between humans and nonhumans, but goes more deeply into the question of
equality and concludes by finding nothing absurd in the idea that the basic
principle of equality applies to so-called “brutes.” I believe that we reach this
conclusion if we examine the basis on which our opposition to discrimination on
grounds of race or sex ultimately rests. We will then see that we would be on
shaky ground if we were to demand equality for Black people, women, and
other groups of oppressed humans while denying equal consideration to
nonhumans.

When we say that all human beings, whatever their race, creed, or sex, are
equal, what is it that we are asserting? Those who wish to defend a
hierarchical, inegalitarian society have often pointed out that by whatever test
we choose, it simply is not true that all humans are equal. Like it or not, we
must face the fact that humans come in different shapes and sizes; they come
with differing moral capacities, differing intellectual abilities, differing amounts
of benevolent feeling and sensitivity to the needs of others, differing abilities to
communicate effectively, and differing capacities to experience pleasure and
pain. In short, if the demand for equality were based on the actual equality of all
human beings, we would have to stop demanding equality. It would be an
unjustifiable demand.

Still, one might cling to the view that the demand for equality among human
beings is based on the actual equality of the different races and sexes.
Although humans differ as individuals in various ways, there are no differences
between the races and sexes as such. From the mere fact that a person is
Black, or a woman, we cannot infer anything else about that person. This, it
may be said, is what is wrong with racism and sexism. The white racist claims
that white people are superior to Black people, but this is false—although there
are differences between individuals, some Black people are superior to some
white people in all of the capacities and abilities that could conceivably be
relevant. The opponent of sexism would say the same: a person’s sex is no
guide to his or her abilities, and this is why it is unjustifiable to discriminate on
the basis of sex.

This is a possible line of objection to racial and sexual discrimination. It is not,
however, the way that someone really concerned about equality would choose,
because taking this line could, in some circumstances, force one to accept a
most inegalitarian society. The fact that humans differ as individuals, rather
than as races or sexes, is a valid reply to someone who defends a hierarchical
society like, say, South Africa, in which all white people are deemed superior in

4

status to all Black people.1 The existence of individual variations that cut across
the lines of race or sex, however, provides us with no defense at all against a
more sophisticated opponent of equality, one who proposes that, say, the
interests of those with I.Q. ratings above 100 be preferred to the interests of
those with I.Q.s below 100. Would a hierarchical society of this sort really be so
much better than one based on race or sex? I think not. But if we tie the moral
principle of equality to the factual equality of the different races or sexes, taken
as a whole, our opposition to racism and sexism does not provide us with any
basis for objecting to this kind of inegalitarianism.

There is a second important reason why we ought not to base our opposition to
racism and sexism on any kind of factual equality, even the limited kind which
asserts that variations in capacities and abilities are spread evenly between the
different races and sexes: we can have no absolute guarantee that these
abilities and capacities really are distributed evenly, without regard to race or
sex, among human beings. So far as actual abilities are concerned, there do
seem to be certain measurable differences between both races and sexes.
These differences do not, of course, appear in each case, but only when
averages are taken. More important still, we do not yet know how much of
these differences is really due to [biological differences among] various races
and sexes, and how much is due to social/environmental differences that are
the result of past and continuing discrimination. Perhaps all of the important
differences will eventually prove to be social/environmental rather than genetic.
Anyone opposed to racism and sexism will certainly hope that this will be so,
for it will make the task of ending discrimination a lot easier; nevertheless it
would be dangerous to rest the case against racism and sexism on the belief
that all significant differences are environmental in origin. The opponent of, say,
racism who takes this line will be unable to avoid conceding that if differences
in ability did after all prove to have some genetic connection with race, racism
would in some way be defensible.

It would be folly for the opponent of racism to stake [their] whole case on a
dogmatic commitment to one particular outcome of a difficult scientific issue
which is still a long way from being settled. While attempts to prove that
differences in certain selected abilities between races and sexes are primarily
genetic in origin have certainly not been conclusive, the same must be said of
attempts to prove that these differences are largely the result of environment.
At this stage of the investigation we cannot be certain which view is correct,
however much we may hope it is the latter.

Fortunately, there is no need to pin the case for equality to one particular
outcome of this scientific investigation. The appropriate response to those who
claim to have found evidence of genetically-based differences in ability
between the races or sexes is not to stick to the belief that the genetic

1 Apartheid remained in effect in South Africa when this essay was published in 1974.

5

explanation must be wrong, whatever evidence to the contrary may turn up:
instead we should make it quite clear that the claim to equality does not
depend on intelligence, moral capacity, physical strength, or similar matters of
fact. Equality is a moral ideal, not a simple assertion of fact. There is no
logically compelling reason for assuming that a factual difference in ability
between two people justifies any difference in the amount of consideration we
give to satisfying their needs and interests. The principle of the equality of
human beings is not a description of an alleged actual equality among humans:
it is a prescription of how we should treat humans.

Jeremy Bentham incorporated the essential basis of moral equality into his
utilitarian system of ethics in the formula: “Each to count for one and none for
more than one.” In other words, the interests of every being affected by an
action are to be taken into account and given the same weight as the like
interests of any other being. A later utilitarian, Henry Sidgwick, put the point in
this way: “The good of any one individual is of no more importance, from the
point of view (if I may say so) of the Universe, than the good of any other”.2
More recently, the leading figures in contemporary moral philosophy have
shown a great deal of agreement in specifying as a fundamental presupposition
of their moral theories some similar requirement which operates so as to give
everyone’s interests equal consideration—although they cannot agree on how
this requirement is best formulated.3

It is an implication of this principle of equality that our concern for others ought
not to depend on what they are like, or what abilities they possess—although
precisely what this concern requires us to do may vary according to the
characteristics of those affected by what we do. It is on this basis that the case
against racism and the case against sexism must both ultimately rest; and it is
in accordance with this principle that speciesism is also to be condemned. If
possessing a higher degree of intelligence does not entitle one human to use
another for his own ends, how can it entitle humans to exploit nonhumans?

Many philosophers have proposed the principle of equal consideration of
interests, in some form or other, as a basic moral principle; but, as we shall see
in more detail shortly, not many of them have recognized that this principle
applies to members of other species as well as to our own. Bentham was one
of the few who did realize this. In a forward-looking passage, written at a time
when Black slaves in the British dominions were still being treated much as we
now treat nonhuman animals, Bentham wrote:

The day may come when the rest of the animal creation may acquire
those rights which never could have been witholden from them but by

2 The Methods of Ethics (7th Ed.), p. 382.
3 For example, R. M. Hare, Freedom and Reason (Oxford, 1963) and J. Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Harvard, 1972);
for a brief account of the essential agreement on this issue between these and other positions, see R. M. Hare,
“Rules of War and Moral Reasoning,” Philosophy and Public Affairs, vol. 1, no. 2 (1972).

6

the hand of tyranny. The French have already discovered that the
blackness of the skin is no reason why a human being should be
abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor. It may one
day come to be recognized that the number of the legs, the villosity of
the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum, are reasons equally
insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate. What
else is it that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of
reason, or perhaps the faculty of discourse? But a full-grown horse or
dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more
conversable animal, than an infant of a day, or a week, or even a
month, old. But suppose they were otherwise, what would it avail? The
question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they
suffer?4

In this passage Bentham points to the capacity for suffering as the vital
characteristic that gives a being the right to equal consideration. The capacity
for suffering—or more strictly, for suffering and/or enjoyment or happiness—is
not just another characteristic like the capacity for language, or for higher
mathematics. Bentham is not saying that those who try to mark “the
insuperable line” that determines whether the interests of a being should be
considered happen to have selected the wrong characteristic. The capacity for
suffering and enjoying things is a prerequisite for having interests at all, a
condition that must be satisfied before we can speak of interests in any
meaningful way. It would be nonsense to say that it was not in the interests of a
stone to be kicked along the road by a schoolboy. A stone does not have
interests because it cannot suffer. Nothing that we can do to it could possibly
make any difference to its welfare. A mouse, on the other hand, does have an
interest in not being tormented, because it will suffer if it is.

If a being suffers, there can be no moral justification for refusing to take that
suffering into consideration. No matter what the nature of the being, the
principle of equality requires that its suffering be counted equally with the like
suffering—in so far as rough comparisons can be made—of any other being. If
a being is not capable of suffering, or of experiencing enjoyment or happiness,
there is nothing to be taken into account. This is why the limit of sentience
(using the term as a convenient, if not strictly accurate, shorthand for the
capacity to suffer or experience enjoyment or happiness) is the only defensible
boundary of concern for the interests of others. To mark this boundary by some
characteristic like intelligence or rationality would be to mark it in an arbitrary
way. Why not choose some other characteristic, like skin color?

The racist violates the principle of equality by giving greater weight to the
interests of members of his own race, when there is a clash between their
interests and the interests of those of another race. Similarly the speciesist

4 Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, ch. XVII

7

allows the interests of his own species to override the greater interests of
members of other species.5 The pattern is the same in each case. Most human
beings are speciesists. l shall now very briefly describe some of the practices
that show this.

For the great majority of human beings, especially in urban, industrialized
societies, the most direct form of contact with members of other species is at
mealtimes: we eat them. In doing so we treat them purely as means to our
ends. We regard their life and well-being as subordinate to our taste for a
particular kind of dish. l say “taste” deliberately—this is purely a matter of
pleasing our palate. There can be no defense of eating flesh in terms of
satisfying nutritional needs, since it has been established beyond doubt that we
could satisfy our need for protein and other essential nutrients far more
efficiently with a diet that replaced animal flesh by soy beans, or products
derived from soy beans, and other high-protein vegetable products.6

It is not merely the act of killing that indicates what we are ready to do to other
species in order to gratify our tastes. The suffering we inflict on the animals
while they are alive is perhaps an even clearer indication of our speciesism
than the fact that we are prepared to kill them.7 In order to have meat on the
table at a price that people can afford, our society tolerates methods of meat
production that confine sentient animals in cramped, unsuitable conditions for
the entire durations of their lives. Animals are treated like machines that
convert fodder into flesh, and any innovation that results in a higher
“conversion ratio” is liable to be adopted. As one authority on the subject has
said, “cruelty is acknowledged only when profitability ceases.”8 . . .

Since, as l have said, none of these practices cater for anything more than our
pleasures of taste, our practice of rearing and killing other animals in order to
eat them is a clear instance of the sacrifice of the most important interests of
other beings in order to satisfy trivial interests of our own. To avoid speciesism
we must stop this practice, and each of us has a moral obligation to cease
supporting the practice. Our custom is all the support that the meat industry

5 I owe the term speciesism to Richard Ryder.
6 In order to produce 1 lb. of protein in the form of beef or veal, we must feed 21 Ibs. of protein to the animal. Other
forms of livestock are slightly less inefficient, but the average ratio in the United States is still 1:8. It has been
estimated that the amount of protein lost to humans in this way is equivalent to 90 percent of the annual world protein
deficit. For a brief account, see Frances Moore Lappe, Diet for a Small Planet (Friends of The Earth/Ballantine, New
York 1971), pp. 4—11
7 Although one might think that killing a being is obviously the ultimate wrong one can do to it, l think that the infliction
of suffering is a clearer indication of speciesism because it might be argued that at least part of what is wrong with
killing a human is that most humans are conscious of their existence over time and have desires and purposes that
extend into the future see, for instance, M. Tooley, “Abortion and Infanticide,” Philosophy and Public Affairs, vol . 2,
no. I (1972). Of course, if one took this view one would have to hold—as Tooley does—that killing a human infant or
mental defective is not in itself wrong and is less serious than killing certain higher mammals that probably do have a
sense of their own existence over time
8 Ruth Harrison, Animal Machines (Stuart, London, 1964). For an account of farming conditions, see my Animal
Liberation (New York Review Company, 1975) from which “Down on the Factory Farm,” is reprinted in this volume
[Animal Rights and Human Obligations].

8

needs. The decision to cease giving it that support may be difficult, but it is no
more difficult than it would have been for a white Southerner to go against the
traditions of his society and free his slaves: if we do not change our dietary
habits, how can we censure those slaveholders who would not change their
own way of living?

The same form of discrimination may be observed in the widespread practice
of experimenting on other species in order to see if certain substances are safe
for human beings, or to test some psychological theory about the effect of
severe punishment on learning, or to try out various new compounds just in
case something turns up….

In the past, argument about vivisection has often missed the point, because it
has been put in absolutist terms: Would the abolitionist be prepared to let
thousands die if they could be saved by experimenting on a single animal? The
way to reply to this purely hypothetical question is to pose another: Would the
experimenter be prepared to perform his experiment on an orphaned human
infant, if that were the only way to save many lives? (I say “orphan” to avoid the
complication of parental feelings, although in doing so l am being overfair to the
experimenter, since the nonhuman subjects of experiments are not orphans.) If
the experimenter is not prepared to use an orphaned human infant, then his
readiness to use nonhumans is simple discrimination, since adult apes, cats,
mice, and other mammals are more aware of what is happening to them, more
self-directing and, so far as we can tell, at least as sensitive to pain, as any
human infant. There seems to be no relevant characteristic that human infants
possess that adult mammals do not have to the same or a higher degree.
(Someone might try to argue that what makes it wrong to experiment on a
human infant is that the infant will, in time and if left alone, develop into more
than the nonhuman, but one would then, to be consistent, have to oppose
abortion, since the fetus has the same potential as the infant—indeed, even
contraception and abstinence might be wrong on this ground, since the egg
and sperm, considered jointly, also have the same potential. In any case, this
argument still gives us no reason for selecting a nonhuman, rather than a
human with severe and irreversible brain damage, as the subject for our
experiments).

The experimenter, then, shows a bias in favor of his own species whenever he
carries out an experiment on a nonhuman for a purpose that he would not think
justified him in using a human being at an equal or lower level of sentience,
awareness, ability to be self-directing, etc. No one familiar with the kind of
results yielded by most experiments on animals can have the slightest doubt
that if this bias were eliminated the number of experiments performed would be
a minute fraction of the number performed today.

Experimenting on animals, and eating their flesh, are perhaps the two major
forms of speciesism in our society. By comparison, the third and last form of

9

speciesism is so minor as to be insignificant, but it is perhaps of some special
interest to those for whom this article was written. I am referring to speciesism
in contemporary philosophy.

Philosophy ought to question the basic assumptions of the age. Thinking
through, critically and carefully, what most people take for granted is, I believe,
the chief task of philosophy, and it is this task that makes philosophy a
worthwhile activity. Regrettably, philosophy does not always live up to its
historic role. Philosophers are human beings, and they are subject to all the
preconceptions of the society to which they belong. Sometimes they succeed in
breaking free of the prevailing ideology: more often they become its most
sophisticated defenders. So, in this case, philosophy as practiced in the
universities today does not challenge anyone’s preconceptions about our
relations with other species. By their writings, those philosophers who tackle
problems that touch upon the issue reveal that they make the same
unquestioned assumptions as most other humans, and what they say tends to
confirm the reader in his or her comfortable speciesist habits.

I could illustrate this claim by referring to the writings of philosophers in various
fields—for instance, the attempts that have been made by those interested in
rights to draw the boundary of the sphere of rights so that it runs parallel to the
biological boundaries of the species homo sapiens, including infants and even
mental defectives, but excluding those other beings of equal or greater capacity
who are so useful to us at mealtimes and in our laboratories. l think it would be
a more appropriate conclusion to this article, however, if I concentrated on the
problem with which we have been centrally concerned, the problem of equality.

It is significant that the problem of equality, in moral and political philosophy, is
invariably formulated in terms of human equality. The effect of this is that the
question of the equality of other animals does not confront the philosopher, or
student, as an issue itself—and this is already an indication of the failure of
philosophy to challenge accepted beliefs. Still, philosophers have found it
difficult to discuss the issue of human equality without raising, in a paragraph or
two, the question of the status of other animals. The reason for this, which
should be apparent from what I have said already, is that if humans are to be
regarded as equal to one another, we need some sense of “equal” that does
not require any actual, descriptive equality of capacities, talents or other
qualities. If equality is to be related to any actual characteristics of humans,
these characteristics must be some lowest common denominator, pitched so
low that no human lacks them—but then the philosopher comes up against the
catch that any such set of characteristics which covers all humans will not be
possessed only by humans. In other words, it turns out that in the only sense in
which we can truly say, as an assertion of fact, that all humans are equal, at
least some members of other species are also equal—equal, that is, to each
other and to humans. If, on the other hand, we regard the statement “All
humans are equal” in some non-factual way, perhaps as a prescription, then,

10

as I have already argued, it is even more difficult to exclude non-humans from
the sphere of equality.

This result is not what the egalitarian philosopher originally intended to assert.
Instead of accepting the radical outcome to which their own reasonings
naturally point, however, most philosophers try to reconcile their beliefs in
human equality and animal inequality by arguments that can only be described
as devious.

As a first example, I take William Frankena’s well-known article “The Concept
of Social Justice.” Frankena opposes the idea of basing justice on merit,
because he sees that this could lead to highly inegalitarian results. Instead he
proposes the principle that:

all men are to be treated as equals, not because they are equal, in any
respect, but simply because they are human. They are human because
they have emotions and desires, and are able to think, and hence are
capable of enjoying a good life in a sense in which other animals are
not.9

But what is this capacity to enjoy the good life which all humans have, but no
other animals? Other animals have emotions and desires and appear to be
capable of enjoying a good life. We may doubt that they can think—although
the behavior of some apes, dolphins, and even dogs suggests that some of
them can—but what is the relevance of thinking? Frankena goes on to admit
that by “the good life” he means “not so much the morally good life as the
happy or satisfactory life,” so thought would appear to be unnecessary for
enjoying the good life; in fact to emphasize the need for thought would make
difficulties for the egalitarian since only some people are capable of leading
intellectually satisfying lives, or morally good lives. This makes it difficult to see
what Frankena’s principle of equality has to do with simply being human.
Surely every sentient being is capable of leading a life that is happier or less
miserable than some alternative life, and hence has a claim to be taken into
account. In this respect the distinction between humans and nonhumans is not
a sharp division, but rather a continuum along which we move gradually, and
with overlaps between the species, from simple capacities for enjoyment and
satisfaction, or pain and suffering, to more complex ones.

Faced with a situation in which they see a need for some basis for the moral
gulf that is commonly thought to separate humans and animals, but can find no
concrete difference that will do the job without undermining the equality of
humans, philosophers tend to waffle. They resort to highs sounding phrases
like “the intrinsic dignity of the human individual”;10 they talk of the “intrinsic

9 In R. Brandt (ed.), Social Justice (Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, 1962), p. 19
10 Frankena, op. cit. p. 23

11

worth of all men” as if men (humans?) had some worth that other beings did.
not,11 or they say that humans, and only humans, are “ends in themselves,”
while “everything other than a person can only have value for a person.”12

This idea of a distin

RR2

12/14/2017 eds.a.ebscohost.com.offcampus.lib.washington.edu/ehost/ebookdelivery/EbookPrint/bmxlYmtfXzgwMTA1MV9fQU41?sid=66ea4b76-e059-4f60-9f73-…

http://eds.a.ebscohost.com.offcampus.lib.washington.edu/ehost/ebookdelivery/EbookPrint/bmxlYmtfXzgwMTA1MV9fQU41?sid=66ea4b76-e059-4f60-9f73-94… 1/5

12/14/2017 eds.a.ebscohost.com.offcampus.lib.washington.edu/ehost/ebookdelivery/EbookPrint/bmxlYmtfXzgwMTA1MV9fQU41?sid=66ea4b76-e059-4f60-9f73-…

http://eds.a.ebscohost.com.offcampus.lib.washington.edu/ehost/ebookdelivery/EbookPrint/bmxlYmtfXzgwMTA1MV9fQU41?sid=66ea4b76-e059-4f60-9f73-94… 2/5

12/14/2017 eds.a.ebscohost.com.offcampus.lib.washington.edu/ehost/ebookdelivery/EbookPrint/bmxlYmtfXzgwMTA1MV9fQU41?sid=66ea4b76-e059-4f60-9f73-…

http://eds.a.ebscohost.com.offcampus.lib.washington.edu/ehost/ebookdelivery/EbookPrint/bmxlYmtfXzgwMTA1MV9fQU41?sid=66ea4b76-e059-4f60-9f73-94… 3/5

12/14/2017 eds.a.ebscohost.com.offcampus.lib.washington.edu/ehost/ebookdelivery/EbookPrint/bmxlYmtfXzgwMTA1MV9fQU41?sid=66ea4b76-e059-4f60-9f73-…

http://eds.a.ebscohost.com.offcampus.lib.washington.edu/ehost/ebookdelivery/EbookPrint/bmxlYmtfXzgwMTA1MV9fQU41?sid=66ea4b76-e059-4f60-9f73-94… 4/5

23

3

SOCIAL JUSTICE BELIEFS AND ADDICTION TO UNCOMPASSIONATE
CONSUMPTION

F TOOD FOR HOUGHT

A. Breeze Harper

I grew up working class in a blue-collar town. Since my teenage years, I have been a fervent literary activist
when it comes to antiracism, anticlassism, and antisexism. However, I was never able to understand how
eco-sustainability, animal rights, and plant-based diets could be integral to my work. I honestly thought that
these issues were the domain of the privileged, white, middle- and upper-class people of America. Sure, it

, I had thought with ignorance and prejudice. was easy for them Race and class struggle is not a reality for
them, so they can “waste” their time on saving dolphins, whining about recycling cans, and preserving
Redwood trees while my Black and brown brothas continue to be denied “human rights” because of the

.color of our skin
It has been only in the past several years that I realized that eco-sustainability, nonhuman animal rights,

plant-based diets, and human rights inextricably linked. Unfortunately, in my opinion, it has been the are
of the message—via the white, class-privileged perspective—that has been offensive to atone and delivery

majority of people of color and working-class people in America. Though there are many factors that prevent
people of color and working-class people from practicing plant-based diets, eco-sustainability, and more
(such as environmental racism, financial stability, connections food has to ethnic solidarity, and so on), this
chapter focuses largely on why people of color engaged in antiracism and antipoverty social justice work can
strengthen their understanding of social justice by taking a critical and often difficult look at how our
consumption choices—dietary and nondietary—may actually be hindering our social justice activism.

I know that health problems due to improper nutrition and knowledge about food are not specific to
“ethnic diets,” such as postindustrialist Soul Food among Black people. A significant number of people in
the U.S. are suffering from improper nutrition and inadequate health care. My research interests are specific
to the intersections of health disparities, and perceptions of social justice, animal rights, environmental
racism, and critical race theory as it pertains to Black- and brown-identified people in North America.

I have experienced personally over the past few years how a purity of diet and thought are interrelated. And
when Americans become truly concerned with the purity of the food that enters their own personal systems,
when they learn to eat properly, we can expect to see profound changes effected in the social and political
system of this nation. The two systems are inseparable.1

The above quote is by Dick Gregory, civil rights activist, comedian, and nutritional liberationist, who has
spent much of his adult life advocating that people in America—particularly African-Americans—cannot
obtain social justice until we begin to question our postindustrial, unhealthy dietary practices and foodtrue
beliefs. Gregory believes that the sugar-laden, meaty-dairy, high-fat-saturated, junk-food diet of Black2

America is at the root of many of our social justice problems. Gregory’s concerns, voiced decades ago, ring3
especially true for today’s Black population in the U.S., whose health has been compromised due to our diets
and inadequate health care. Gregory states:4

I personally would say that the quickest way to wipe out a group of people is to put them on a Soul Food
diet. One of the tragedies is that the very folks in the Black community who are most sophisticated in terms

Co
py
ri
gh
t
©
2
01
0.
L
an

te
rn
B
oo
ks
.
Al
l
ri
gh
ts
r
es
er
ve
d.
M
ay
n
ot
b
e
re
pr
od
uc
ed
i
n
an
y
fo
rm
w
it
ho
ut
p
er
mi
ss
io
n
fr
om
t
he
p
ub
li
sh
er
,
ex
ce
pt
f
ai
r
us
es
p
er
mi
tt
ed
u
nd
er
U
.S
.
or
a
pp
li
ca
bl
e

co
py
ri
gh
t
la
w.

EBSCO Publishing : eBook Collection (EBSCOhost) – printed on 12/15/2017 1:25 PM via UNIV OF WASHINGTON
AN: 801051 ; Harper, A. Breeze.; Sistah Vegan : Black Female Vegans Speak on Food, Identity, Health, and Society
Account: s3432366

Jennifer Atkinson
Jennifer Atkinson

24

of the political realities in this country are nonetheless advocates of “Soul Food.” They will lay down a
heavy rap on genocide in America with regard to Black folks, then walk into a Soul Food restaurant and
help the genocide along.5

The implications of this brotha’s words are profound and unsettling—especially since Soul Food has been
rooted in how many Black-identified people embrace or define their “Blackness.” However, it is with6
Gregory’s words that I feel I must scrutinize how collectively our health and consumption practices (food as
well as nondietary) are frequently contradictory to our social justice beliefs, in the Black community as well
as other communities engaged in antiracist and antipoverty social justice work in the U.S.

Let me start with our overconsumption of sugar products. The Dunkin Donuts slogan “America runs on
Dunkin” scares the hell out of me. The suggestion that a country prides itself on being “nourished” on donuts
and lattés is rather curious. Since entering the workforce in 1994, I’ve witnessed my friends and colleagues
become depressed, restless, and irritable when they don’t get their coffee and pastry in the morning. Wait a
minute! Aren’t these the same traits shown by a heroin or cocaine addict in need of a fix? I’m mesmerized by
the American work culture. These sugar- and caffeine-induced mood swings are deemed normal. What
would a colleague do if their officemate displayed these characteristics, then excused himself with “I’ll be
fine once I snort some cocaine”? He or she would most likely be reported, fired, or arrested. Isn’t it
hypocritical to respond differently to illegal drugs or alcohol as opposed to our addictions to legal drugs and
health-decaying junk food on the job?

I used to eat at least three donuts per work day. When I first moved to Boston in 2000, twenty-three years
old, thin, and exercising religiously, I naively thought that as long as I exercised four times a week I could
load up on as many sweets as I wanted. Simultaneously, I’d wonder why I was experiencingmysteriously
highs and lows, apathy, paranoia, depression, and insomnia. I was a sugar addict! I was going nuts and didn’t
even realize it was my addiction to sugar-drenched foods that was causing severe disharmony within my
brain chemistry.7

William Dufty, author of , is convinced that yearly increases in sucrose (refined cane sugar)Sugar Blues
and beet sugar consumption are the reason why emotional disharmony—such as depression—has drastically
risen within the United States. Likewise, from historical times to the present, the First World initiated civil8

unrest and legalized slavery—starting in the 1700s—to get our fix of sugar products. In addition, we’ve9
taken fertile land and used it to grow a plant of which the end product for a majority of people in the United
States is a nutritionally deficient substance. Sugar consumption in the U.S. has gone from ten pounds per
year per person in 1821 to 150 pounds per person. In addition, an estimated one hundred million people10 11

in the United States drink coffee in the morning, “a total of two cups of java every single day.”billion 12
What happens to an entire nation if a majority of the population goes from taking crack or heroin a few days
per year to every day and in high quantities? Dufty argues that sugar might as well be “dope”:

On summer vacation, I hitchhiked thousands of miles and lived on Pepsi Cola in those large,
economy-sized nickel bottles. It was not until I visited the South for the first time that a girl turned me onto
something called “dope.” They served it at soda fountains with lots of crushed ice, vanilla flavoring, syrup,
and soda. Up North it was called Coca-Cola.13

So, how does this tie into social injustices such as exploitation, classism, and racism? Well, authors such
as William Dufty and Sidney Mintz both theorize that the African slave trade started because of sugar. I14
argue that slavery manifested itself in multifaceted ways, too: the obvious one is the enslavement of Africans
and other indigenous populations. However, addiction is another form of slavery. As Derrick Jensen notes,
“to be addicted is to be a slave. To be a slave is to be addicted.” What happens if a significant number of15
people in the world’s “most powerful” nation are sugar-addicted slaves? Are sugar and caffeine addictions
truly the reason why the British Empire fell?

A majority of Americans are dependent on sucrose, bleached flour, high fructose corn syrup, flesh food,
and caffeine. Therefore, what does it mean that “America runs on Dunkin”? Who and what are we hurting,
deceiving, and stealing from to bring us our powdered-sugar donut, that Coolatta, or that ham, egg, andCo

py
ri
gh
t
©
2
01
0.
L
an

te
rn
B
oo
ks
.
Al
l
ri
gh
ts
r
es
er
ve
d.
M
ay
n
ot
b
e
re
pr
od
uc
ed
i
n
an
y
fo
rm
w
it
ho
ut
p
er
mi
ss
io
n
fr
om
t
he
p
ub
li
sh
er
,
ex
ce
pt
f
ai
r
us
es
p
er
mi
tt
ed
u
nd
er
U
.S
.
or
a
pp
li
ca
bl
e

co
py
ri
gh
t
la
w.

EBSCO Publishing : eBook Collection (EBSCOhost) – printed on 12/15/2017 1:25 PM via UNIV OF WASHINGTON
AN: 801051 ; Harper, A. Breeze.; Sistah Vegan : Black Female Vegans Speak on Food, Identity, Health, and Society
Account: s3432366

Jennifer Atkinson

25

cheese English muffin? Recent research shows that we’re hurting ourselves and exploiting and enslaving
others—nonhuman animals and humans—in a way that is similar to colonialism; similar to when many of
our African ancestors were torn from their communities and shipped to the Caribbean and Americas to chop
cane for the production of sucrose and rum for addicted Europeans: an entire nation whose civilization rested
on the shoulders of the savage African and indigenous American slaves to harvest their drug.16

It is 2009, and sugar consumption continues to increase globally. Sucrose is a toxin and has no nutritional
value to the human body. Particularly, since sugar cane is grown upon thousands17 Isn’t that a little strange?
of acres of land to produce sucrose. Eight hundred and thirty million people in the world are undernourished,
and 791 million of them live in so-called developing countries. Hence, what nourishing foods could these18
acres potentially grow if (a) sugar cane were no longer in high demand from the U.S. (as well as the rest of
the top consumers—Brazil, Australia, and the EU) and (b) the land was used specifically to grow nourishing
foods for the population in the global South?

Back to breakfast in the United States . . . a Dunkin Donuts meaty dairy breakfast meal, such as the
Supreme Omelet on a Croissant, not only has 38g of fat, 590 calories, hydrogenated oils, sugar, and bleached
flour, but the production of this food encompasses multiple layers of suffering. Production of addictive
“civilized” substances such as refined sugar, processed flesh foods, chocolate, and coffee take away and
often pollute land that could be used to grow whole foods that can feed the malnourished and starving human
beings of this planet. Even more important, human beings nonhuman animals and the ecosystem sufferand
greatly because of our First World addiction to unmindful human, egocentric consumption.

Many people do not know this (I include myself, when I used to eat meat), but the pig that had been
enslaved and eventually killed, mutilated, and processed to become part of America’s Dunkin Donuts
breakfast sandwich (or any other pig-filled meal) required a lot of water to be raised and eventually
slaughtered. Pig farming—along with all nonorganic meat and dairy farming production—is overconsuming
and contaminating the world’s water supply. “Farm animals directly consume about 2.3 billion gallons of19
water per day, or over 800 billion gallons per year. Another 200 billion gallons are used to cool the animals
and wash down their facilities, bringing the total to about 1 trillion gallons.”20

This cannot be taken lightly. You like clean drinking water, right? Every single being on this planet
requires water for survival. Yes, this includes , your grandbaby, your family cat, your best friend, theyou
turnips in your garden, and the physician that you may seek medical services from. I recently learned that the
World Resources Institute predicts that at least 3.5 billion people—that’s more than half of us—will be
struggling with water shortages by 2025. Water is likely to join oil as a primary cause of armed conflicts.
Already, multinational corporations have used their power within donor nations to force indebted nations to
privatize some water resources. This is just one example of how, yet again, those who are already oppressed
will be hurt the most by environmental crises. Around the world, women and girls are those mostly
responsible for obtaining household water.21

Yes, my brothas and sistahs in the United States, even if you’re one of the many human beings on the
planet who aren’t concerned with nonhuman animals rights at this point in your antiracism and antipoverty
praxis and spiritual path, your consumption of unsustainably produced animal products may not only be
increasing your chances for cancer, obesity, and heart disease, you may be (in)directly oppressing and22
causing suffering to people who . I was astounded to learn that the poor and people of colorlook just like you
have a much higher chance and likelihood of suffering and dying simply because they don’t have rightful
access to clean water, water that has been polluted and/or misused for our American addiction to flesh foods.
To give you some more perspective on how much water is used in animal farming, here are some statistics:

Five times as much water is used for irrigation to grow animal feed grains compared to fruits and
vegetables.
4,500 gallons of water are needed to produce a quarter pound of raw beef.
8,500 square miles is the size of the dead zone created in the Gulf of Mexico by fertilizer runoff carried
by the Mississippi River from the upper Midwest.
17 trillion gallons is the amount of irrigation water used annually to produce feed for U.S. livestock.23

Co
py
ri
gh
t
©
2
01
0.
L
an

te
rn
B
oo
ks
.
Al
l
ri
gh
ts
r
es
er
ve
d.
M
ay
n
ot
b
e
re
pr
od
uc
ed
i
n
an
y
fo
rm
w
it
ho
ut
p
er
mi
ss
io
n
fr
om
t
he
p
ub
li
sh
er
,
ex
ce
pt
f
ai
r
us
es
p
er
mi
tt
ed
u
nd
er
U
.S
.
or
a
pp
li
ca
bl
e

co
py
ri
gh
t
la
w.

EBSCO Publishing : eBook Collection (EBSCOhost) – printed on 12/15/2017 1:25 PM via UNIV OF WASHINGTON
AN: 801051 ; Harper, A. Breeze.; Sistah Vegan : Black Female Vegans Speak on Food, Identity, Health, and Society
Account: s3432366

Jennifer Atkinson

26

I must elaborate once again that those who will potentially suffer and/or die from lack of clean water
access will be the poor and people of color. My brothas and sistahs in the struggle, that could be .you

There was a time when I didn’t realize how much is at stake if we continue to overconsume animal
products, which have been proven to be not only unnecessary in the diets of most people, but a threat to24
our personal health because of our overconsumption of them. This is no small matter; a majority of
Americans—especially Black, brown, and indigenous people—suffer from obesity, diabetes, heart disease,
reproductive ailments, and colon cancer at rates higher than the white population. Health is suffering in the25
United States:

50 percent: how much less dietary fiber Americans consume than recommended (note: animal products
contain no fiber, which is necessary for prevention of diabetes and colon cancer).
$37 billion: the annual cost of drugs to treat high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.
$50 billion: the annual cost of coronary bypass operations and angioplasties (just imagine what we
could do with that money if it hadn’t been spent on diseases that stem significantly from unhealthy
meat, dairy, and junk-food diets).
24 percent: how much lower the rate of fatal heart attacks is in vegetarians compared to
nonvegetarians.26

If nonorganic and nonsustainable animal farming is causing this much pollution and jeopardizing the
water supply to the point that 3.5 billion people will be struggling to find clean water, why should we stand
for such environmental racism, degradation, and pollution in communities of color and working-class
communities in the U.S. and abroad? We all know too well what happens to the economically poor and
people of color during environmental disasters . . . we get the sh*t end of the sh*t stick first.

When Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans in 2005, the consensus among Black Americans was that
the Bush administration’s less-than-stellar response indicated just how pervasive institutional as well as overt
racism and classism still are in the United States. Black America and our antiracist allies cheered when
hip-hop artist Kanye West bravely said on live television, “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people.”27
However, if the Bush administration’s lack of quick and effective rescue actions indicate that he “doesn’t care
about Black people,” what do the consequences of our own unmindful, uncompassionate, and/or
overconsumptive dietary practices say about how we care about ourselves? About the plethora of people in
the global South who are starving and dehydrating, enslaved for our American addictions? About our own
Black and brown communities here?

Let’s reflect on how our own overconsumption, unhealthy, and environmentally unsustainable
patterns—indoctrinated as normal—are collectively contributing to the suffering of ourselves, nonhuman
animals, and the ecosystem. We speak of how addictions to illegal drugs and alcohol can ruin entire families
and neighborhoods within households and communities in the U.S. However, let’s look deeper into ourselves
and ask how flesh food products, cane sugar, caffeine addiction, and overconsumption in general are not
only destroying our beautiful bodies, but Black and brown families, neighborhoods, and communities,
locally and globally, along with the global ecosystem.

Interestingly, such consumption may be linked to how many of us, from the past to the present, have dealt
with institutionalized racism. bell hooks writes:

We deal with White supremacist assault by buying something to compensate for feelings of wounded pride
and self-esteem. . . . We also don’t talk enough about food addiction alone or as a prelude to drug and
alcohol addiction. Yet, many of us are growing up daily in homes where food is another way in which we
comfort ourselves.

Think about the proliferation of junk food in Black communities. You can go to any Black community
and see Black folks of all ages gobbling up junk food morning, noon, and night. I would like to suggest that
the feeling those kids are getting when they’re stuffing Big Macs, Pepsi, and barbecue potato chips down
their throats is similar to the ecstatic, blissful moment of the narcotics addict.28

Why is she bashing Big Macs? Well, in addition to contributing to our collective health ailments,C
op
yr
ig
ht
©

2
01
0.
L
an

te
rn
B
oo
ks
.
Al
l
ri
gh
ts
r
es
er
ve
d.
M
ay
n
ot
b
e
re
pr
od
uc
ed
i
n
an
y
fo
rm
w
it
ho
ut
p
er
mi
ss
io
n
fr
om
t
he
p
ub
li
sh
er
,
ex
ce
pt
f
ai
r
us
es
p
er
mi
tt
ed
u
nd
er
U
.S
.
or
a
pp
li
ca
bl
e

co
py
ri
gh
t
la
w.

EBSCO Publishing : eBook Collection (EBSCOhost) – printed on 12/15/2017 1:25 PM via UNIV OF WASHINGTON
AN: 801051 ; Harper, A. Breeze.; Sistah Vegan : Black Female Vegans Speak on Food, Identity, Health, and Society
Account: s3432366

27

American fast-food, flesh-based meals actually mean that land must be deforested for grazing cattle that are
slaughtered primarily for fast-food hamburgers in the United States. Forests also recycle and purify our29
water. Tropical forests actually produce a substantial amount of the earth’s oxygen supply:

An ever-increasing amount of beef eaten in the United States is imported from Central and South America.
To provide pasture for cattle, these countries have been clearing their priceless tropical rainforests. It
stretches the imagination to conceive how fast the timeless rainforests of Central America are being
destroyed so Americans can have seemingly cheap hamburgers. In 1960, when the U.S. first began to
import beef, Central America was blessed with 130,000 square miles of virgin rainforest. But now, only 25
years later, less than 80,000 square miles remain. At this rate, the entire tropical rainforests of Central
America will be gone in another forty years.30

Many human communities indigenous to tropical forests are starving to death; native rainforest tribes are
being wiped out. I was startled and saddened to realize that America’s addictions and overconsumption are31
in collusion with environmental racism and cultural genocide of our own brown and Black indigenous
brothas and sistahs as well as the working poor, locally and globally. Once I learned these truths about the
fast-food industries, I felt betrayed by restaurants such as McDonald’s and Burger King. McDonald’s was
always promoting its food through this “happy-go-lucky-I-care-about-kids” clown (a.k.a. Ronald
McDonald). However, it seems they only cared (in terms of profit) about the kids whose parents supported
this “death foods” industry by treating their children to Happy Meals—foods not only produced without
eco-sustainability in mind, but also contributing to today’s diabetes and obesity crisis among children. Brain
nutrition specialist Carol Simontacchi wrote in 2000, “according to the McDonald’s Nutrition Facts, the
child’s soft-drink portion is twelve ounces, and the small size is sixteen ounces. The child’s serving of
Coca-Cola Classic contains nearly ten teaspoons of sugar.”32

Our unmindful consumption is not only harming our own health in the U.S.; we are supporting the pain,
suffering, and cultural genocide of those whose land and people we have enslaved and/or exploited for meat
as well as sucrose, coffee, black tea, and chocolate, too. Unless your addictive substances are labeled “fair
trade” and “certified organic,” they are most likely supporting a company that pays people less than they
need to live off, to work on plantations that use toxic pesticides and/or prohibit the right to organize for their
own human rights.

Take a look at your diet and the ingredients of everything you put in your mouth. Is your health suffering
because of your addiction to sugar? Is your addiction causing suffering and exploitation thousands of miles
away on a sugar-cane plantation, near a town that suffers from high rates of poverty and undernourishment
simply because that land grows our “dope” instead of local grains and produce for them? I wonder, has
America confused our addictive consumption habits with being “civilized”? The British who sipped their
sugary teas considered themselves civilized, despite the torture and slavery it took to get that white sugar
into their tea cups, along with the cotton and tobacco they used.

Collectively, maybe we in the U.S are too addicted to see clearly, to see past the next fix. This addictive
behavior has occurred for centuries. Sadly, those who were originally enslaved to harvest sugar cane
(Africans and indigenous Americans) are now enslaved in multiple ways: as consumers of sucrose,
hormone-injected processed meat and dairy products, and junk food. This enslaved palate—along with other
nutritionally dead foods such as bleached white flour and partially hydrogenated oil—has helped to foster an
astronomical rise in health disparities (obesity, heart disease, diabetes) in African-American communities
that far exceed the health statistics of white America.33

Statistically, Black folk are far sicker than white Americans. Unfortunately, institutionalized racism and
the slave health-deficit, which are manifestations of the inequities of Black slavery in America, are key
reasons why so many Black people struggle daily to get access to proper health information, food, and
resources to maintain optimal wellness. Health disparities between Black and white Americans are one of34
the worst legacies of slavery and colonialism.

This is why compassionate and environmentally sustainable health and nutritional practices be partmust
of our antiracist and antipoverty praxis in our own fight against the continued colonization of our Black and
brown bodies and the ecosystem. If in Black America, health and nutrition are still suffering because ofC

op
yr
ig
ht
©

2
01
0.
L
an

te
rn
B
oo
ks
.
Al
l
ri
gh
ts
r
es
er
ve
d.
M
ay
n
ot
b
e
re
pr
od
uc
ed
i
n
an
y
fo
rm
w
it
ho
ut
p
er
mi
ss
io
n
fr
om
t
he
p
ub
li
sh
er
,
ex
ce
pt
f
ai
r
us
es
p
er
mi
tt
ed
u
nd
er
U
.S
.
or
a
pp
li
ca
bl
e

co
py
ri
gh
t
la
w.

EBSCO Publishing : eBook Collection (EBSCOhost) – printed on 12/15/2017 1:25 PM via UNIV OF WASHINGTON
AN: 801051 ; Harper, A. Breeze.; Sistah Vegan : Black Female Vegans Speak on Food, Identity, Health, and Society
Account: s3432366

28

institutional racism and colonialism, we should be the first people to want to prevent this from happening to
anyone else who is now on the receiving end of American addiction and materialism-induced
neocolonialism, neo-slavery, and neo-imperialism in the developing world. This means supporting our
indigenous cousins in the tropical forest, Coca-Cola factory workers in Latin America, and exploited and
abused cane sugar harvesters in the Dominican Republic, because, yes, we Black, brown, and working poor
American folk were in similar positions when we were enslaved for European sugar, spice, and cotton
addictions, as they are now.

I ask you to envision that you are a slave in the 1700s, on an American plantation. How would you feel,
after your wife or son had just been sold and you’re suffering from emotional and physical trauma, when
those who benefit from your slave labor tell you that they don’t care about your pain and agony because their
addiction to sugar, cheap cotton, and tobacco is worth more than you? This is a serious question, because the
same can be applied today, except now would be asked the same question by a plantation worker in theyou
global South harvesting sugar, cocoa, coffee, or cotton for .you

The time is now. We must extend our antiracist and antipoverty beliefs to all people, nonhuman animals,
and Mother Gaia. Yes, unless the cane sugar you are consuming is labeled “organic” (as well as “fair trade”),
our collective overconsumption of and addiction to cane sugar also helps destroy—not nurture—Mother
Gaia’s ecosystem. Phosphorus-laden fertilizers that run off the sugar fields destroy the land and water.35

Let’s talk about soda. In the U.S., addiction to sodas such as Coca-Cola not only loads the body with empty
calories and nutritionally dead substances, such as refined sugars and caffeine, but consumers who support
Coca-Cola may unknowingly encourage a corporation that supports torture, kidnapping, and murder of the
workers to ensure that people in the U.S. will never be without their effervescent drug. Murder? Torture?
Kidnapping? Weren’t these the same methods used in European imperialism to create an African and
indigenous-based slave economy?

The SINALTRAINAL, the Colombian food and beverage workers unions, have attempted to organize the
[Coca-Cola] bottling plants. But the bottling companies, in response, have contracted Colombian
paramilitaries to do their dirty work—meaning the murder, kidnapping and torture of hundreds of union
organizers, forcing many to live under 24-hour death threat. . . . [T]echnically, neither Coca-Cola USA nor
Coca-Cola Inc. own the bottling plants. They intentionally maintain less than 49 percent of ownership for
the purpose of distancing themselves from these activities. That said, they maintain control of the board in
terms of voting rights and membership. And more importantly, the bottling plants exist only because of
Coca-Cola.36

Also, in terms of clean water rights, how much water in soda production, such as Coca-Cola, is being
used, just for the taste of it? It’s striking to me that racially and socioeconomically oppressed minorities in
America, who continue to experience institutionalized and overt classism and racism, are collectively
complicit—and usually unknowingly—in being oppressors to our brothas and sistahs of color and the poor
from afar because we buy without knowing how it got to the store. I ask you to envision this: You are an
employee at your local plant. You have fought long and hard to finally have the opportunity to organize.
This is incredibly important to you, because you firmly believe that everyone at your plant has the right to
organize. Now that I have familiarized you with Coca-Cola’s practices, how would you feel about drinking a
can of Coke like you usually do? Is it okay to support Coca-Cola now? Another scenario: If you’re an activist
in the eco-sustainability movement, ask yourself how many times you and/or your peers have had a meeting
about environmentalism while drinking Coca-Cola. Crazy, no? This isn’t judgment on my part. I’m simply
asking you to rethink your perceptions of activism by reflecting on how and what we consume in America
connects to suffering and lack of human rights far away.

Coca-Cola is one example; our addictive dependence on sugar from the Dominican Republic is another:

Each year, approximately 20,000 Haitians cross the border into the Dominican Republic to work on sugar
cane plantations, whereupon they are subject to forced labor, restrictions of freedom, inadequate livingC

op
yr
ig
ht
©

2
01
0.
L
an

te
rn
B
oo
ks
.
Al
l
ri
gh
ts
r
es
er
ve
d.
M
ay
n
ot
b
e
re
pr
od
uc
ed
i
n
an
y
fo
rm
w
it
ho
ut
p
er
mi
ss
io
n
fr
om
t
he
p
ub
li
sh
er
,
ex
ce
pt
f
ai
r
us
es
p
er
mi
tt
ed
u
nd
er
U
.S
.
or
a
pp
li
ca
bl
e

co
py
ri
gh
t
la
w.

EBSCO Publishing : eBook Collection (EBSCOhost) – printed on 12/15/2017 1:25 PM via UNIV OF WASHINGTON
AN: 801051 ; Harper, A. Breeze.; Sistah Vegan : Black Female Vegans Speak on Food, Identity, Health, and Society
Account: s3432366

Jennifer Atkinson

29

e

RR2

B R A I D I N G

S W E E T G R A S S

R O B I N WA L L K I M M E R E R

Indigenous Wisdom, Scientif ic Knowledge,

and the Teachings of Plants

A h y m n o f l o v e t o t h e w o r l d .
— E L I Z A B E T H G I L B E R T

K
IM

M
E

R
E

R
B

R
A

ID
IN

G
S

W
E

E
T

G
R

A
S

S

n a t u r e / e s s a y s $ 1 8

As a botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer has been trained to ask questions of nature with
the tools of science. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces
the notion that plants and animals are our oldest teachers. In Braiding Sweetgrass,
Kimmerer brings these lenses of knowledge together to show that the awakening of
a wider ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgment and celebration of
our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. For only when we can
hear the languages of other beings are we capable of understanding the generosity
of the earth, and learning to give our own gifts in return.

“Robin Wall Kimmerer writes about the natural world from a place of such abun-
dant passion that one can never quite see the world the same way after having seen
it through her eyes. In Braiding Sweetgrass, she takes us on a journey that is every
bit as mystical as it is scientific, as sacred as it is historical, as clever as it is wise.”

—Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and The Signature of All Things

“Robin Wall Kimmerer shows how the factual, objective approach of science can be
enriched by the ancient knowledge of the indigenous people. It is the way she captures
beauty that I love the most—the images of giant cedars and wild strawberries, a forest
in the rain and a meadow of fragrant sweetgrass will stay with you long after you read
the last page.”

—Jane Goodall, author of Seeds of Hope and My Life with the Chimpanzees

“Everyone who cares about the environment—and everyone else, period—should
have Braiding Sweetgrass on their table. It captures the true reverence between Native
Americans and the earth, the relationship that we need to survive.”
—Oren Lyons, Faithkeeper, Onondaga Nation and Indigenous Environmental Leader

Ro b i n Wa l l K i m m e r e r is a mother, scientist, decorated
professor, and enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi
Nation. Her first book, Gathering Moss, was awarded the John
Burroughs Medal for outstanding nature writing. Her writings
have appeared in Orion, O Magazine, and numerous scientific
journals. She lives in Fabius, New York, where she is SUNY
Distinguished Teaching Professor of Environmental Biology,
and the founder and director of the Center for Native Peoples
and the Environment.

Author photo © Dale Kakkak
Cover design by Mary Austin Speaker

www.milkweed.org �&))”.”.���+�&*���.�&!&*$��3″”0$.�//�
��*!&$”*+1/��&/!+)��� &”*0&#& ��*+3(“!$”��*!�0%”��”� %&*$/�+#��(�*0/�
����������&(‘3″”!��!&0&+*/����� ���.+�1″/0���++’��”*0.�(��%00,
��”�++’ “*0.�(�,.+-1″/0� +)�(&��3�/%&*$0+*�!”0�&(�� 0&+*�!+ ��������
��
�.”�0”!�#.+)�3�/%&*$0+*�+*������� ������


+,

4.
&$
%0
�5

��
��


��

&(‘
3
“”

!�

!&
0&+

*/
���

((�
.&$

%0
/�
.”
/”

.2
“!

© 2013, Text by Robin Wall Kimmerer
All rights reserved. Except for brief quotations in critical articles or reviews, no part of this book
may be reproduced in any manner without prior written permission from the publisher: Milkweed
Editions, 1011 Washington Avenue South, Suite 300, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55415.
(800) 520- 6455
www.milkweed.org

Published 2013 by Milkweed Editions
Printed in Canada
Cover design by Mary Austin Speaker
Cover photo © Cindy Hughes
Author photo by Dale Kakkak
14 15 16 17 18 5 4 3 2 1
First Paperback Edition

978-1-57131-356-0

Milkweed Editions, an independent nonprofit publisher, gratefully acknowledges sustaining sup-
port from the Bush Foundation; the Jerome Foundation; the Lindquist & Vennum Foundation; the
McKnight Foundation; the National Endowment for the Arts; the Target Foundation; and other
generous contributions from foundations, corporations, and individuals. Also, this activity is made
possible by the voters of Minnesota through a Minnesota State Arts Board Operating Support grant,
thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund, and a grant from the
Wells Fargo Foundation Minnesota. For a full listing of Milkweed Editions supporters, please visit
www.milkweed.org.

Library of Congress Cataloging- in- Publication Data

Kimmerer, Robin Wall.
Braiding sweetgrass : indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge and the teachings of plants /

Robin Wall Kimmerer. — First edition.
pages cm
Summary: “As a leading researcher in the field of biology, Robin Wall Kimmerer under stands

the delicate state of our world. But as an active member of the Potawatomi nation, she senses and
relates to the world through a way of knowing far older than any science. In Braiding Sweetgrass,
she intertwines these two modes of awareness— the analytic and the emotional, the scientific and
the cultural— to ultimately reveal a path toward healing the rift that grows between people and
nature. The woven essays that construct this book bring people back into conversation with all that
is green and growing; a universe that never stopped speaking to us, even when we forgot how to
listen”— Provided by publisher.

ISBN 978-1-57131-335-5 (hardback : alkaline paper)
1. Indian philosophy. 2. Indigenous peoples—Ecology. 3. Philosophy of nature.

4. Human ecology— Philosophy. 5. Nature— Effect of human beings on. 6. Human-plant
relationships. 7. Botany— Philosophy. 8. Kimmerer, Robin Wall. 9. Potawatomi
Indians— Biography. 10. Potawatomi Indians— Social life and customs. I. Title.

E98.P5K56 2013
305.597— dc23

2013012563

Milkweed Editions is committed to ecological stewardship. We strive to align our book production
practices with this principle, and to reduce the impact of our operations in the environment. We are a
member of the Green Press Initiative, a nonprofit coalition of publishers, manufacturers, and authors
working to protect the world’s endangered forests and conserve natural resources. Braiding Sweetgrass
was printed on acid- free 100% postconsumer- waste paper by Friesens Corporation.

�&))”.”.���+�&*���.�&!&*$��3″”0$.�//�
��*!&$”*+1/��&/!+)��� &”*0&#& ��*+3(“!$”��*!�0%”��”� %&*$/�+#��(�*0/�
����������&(‘3″”!��!&0&+*/����� ���.+�1″/0���++’��”*0.�(��%00,
��”�++’ “*0.�(�,.+-1″/0� +)�(&��3�/%&*$0+*�!”0�&(�� 0&+*�!+ ��������
��
�.”�0”!�#.+)�3�/%&*$0+*�+*������� ������


+,

4.
&$
%0
�5

��
��


��

&(‘
3
“”

!�

!&
0&+

*/
���

((�
.&$

%0
/�
.”
/”

.2
“!

For all the Keepers of the Fire
my parents

my daughters
and my grandchildren

yet to join us in this beautiful place

�&))”.”.���+�&*���.�&!&*$��3″”0$.�//�
��*!&$”*+1/��&/!+)��� &”*0&#& ��*+3(“!$”��*!�0%”��”� %&*$/�+#��(�*0/�
����������&(‘3″”!��!&0&+*/����� ���.+�1″/0���++’��”*0.�(��%00,
��”�++’ “*0.�(�,.+-1″/0� +)�(&��3�/%&*$0+*�!”0�&(�� 0&+*�!+ ��������
��
�.”�0”!�#.+)�3�/%&*$0+*�+*������� ������


+,

4.
&$
%0
�5

��
��


��

&(‘
3
“”

!�

!&
0&+

*/
���

((�
.&$

%0
/�
.”
/”

.2
“!

Skywoman Falling

In winter, when the green earth lies resting beneath a blanket of snow, this
is the time for storytelling. The storytellers begin by calling upon those who
came before who passed the stories down to us, for we are only messengers.

In the beginning there was the Skyworld.

She fell like a maple seed, pirouetting on an autumn breeze.* A column
of light streamed from a hole in the Skyworld, marking her path where
only darkness had been before. It took her a long time to fall. In fear, or
maybe hope, she clutched a bundle tightly in her hand.

Hurtling downward, she saw only dark water below. But in that
emptiness there were many eyes gazing up at the sudden shaft of light.
They saw there a small object, a mere dust mote in the beam. As it grew
closer, they could see that it was a woman, arms outstretched, long black
hair billowing behind as she spiraled toward them.

The geese nodded at one another and rose together from the water
in a wave of goose music. She felt the beat of their wings as they flew
beneath to break her fall. Far from the only home she’d ever known,
she caught her breath at the warm embrace of soft feathers as they gently
carried her downward. And so it began.

The geese could not hold the woman above the water for much
longer, so they called a council to decide what to do. Resting on their
wings, she saw them all gather: loons, otters, swans, beavers, fish of all
kinds. A great turtle floated in their midst and offered his back for her

* Adapted from oral tradition and Shenandoah and George, 1988.

�’**#/#/�������
�����/�'”‘+%�04##1%/�00����+”‘%#+,20�4’0″,*��0!’#+1’$’!�(+,4)#”%#��+”�1&#�1#�!&’+%0�,$�-)�+10�
����������/,�2#01�� ,,(��#+1/�)����,+!)’!(�4’+”,4�,-#+��&11-���# ,,(!#+1/�)�-/,.2#01�!,*���� )�+(���&/#$��&11-���# ,,(!#+1/�)�-/,.2#01�!,*��1�/%#1��� )�+(��015)#��!2/0,/��-,’+1#/���&11-���# ,,(!#+1/�)�-/,.2#01�!,*����
�/#�1#”�$/,*�4�0&’+%1,+�,+�� �
� �����

��
��


,-
5/
‘%
&1
�6
��

��
��
‘)(
4
##
“�

“‘
1’,
+0
���

))�
/’%
&1
0�
/#
0#
/3
#”

4 Planting Sweetgrass

to rest upon. Gratefully, she stepped from the goose wings onto the
dome of his shell. The others understood that she needed land for her
home and discussed how they might serve her need. The deep divers
among them had heard of mud at the bottom of the water and agreed
to go find some.

Loon dove first, but the distance was too far and after a long while
he surfaced with nothing to show for his efforts. One by one, the other
animals offered to help— Otter, Beaver, Sturgeon— but the depth, the
darkness, and the pressures were too great for even the strongest of
swimmers. They returned gasping for air with their heads ringing.
Some did not return at all. Soon only little Muskrat was left, the weak-
est diver of all. He volunteered to go while the others looked on doubt-
fully. His small legs flailed as he worked his way downward and he
was gone a very long time.

They waited and waited for him to return, fearing the worst for
their relative, and, before long, a stream of bubbles rose with the small,
limp body of the muskrat. He had given his life to aid this helpless
human. But then the others noticed that his paw was tightly clenched
and, when they opened it, there was a small handful of mud. Turtle said,
“Here, put it on my back and I will hold it.”

Skywoman bent and spread the mud with her hands across the
shell of the turtle. Moved by the extraordinary gifts of the animals,
she sang in thanksgiving and then began to dance, her feet caressing
the earth. The land grew and grew as she danced her thanks, from
the dab of mud on Turtle’s back until the whole earth was made. Not
by Skywoman alone, but from the alchemy of all the animals’ gifts
coupled with her deep gratitude. Together they formed what we know
today as Turtle Island, our home.

Like any good guest, Skywoman had not come empty- handed.
The bundle was still clutched in her hand. When she toppled from
the hole in the Skyworld she had reached out to grab onto the Tree
of Life that grew there. In her grasp were branches— fruits and seeds
of all kinds of plants. These she scattered onto the new ground and
carefully tended each one until the world turned from brown to green.

�’**#/#/�������
�����/�'”‘+%�04##1%/�00����+”‘%#+,20�4’0″,*��0!’#+1’$’!�(+,4)#”%#��+”�1&#�1#�!&’+%0�,$�-)�+10�
����������/,�2#01�� ,,(��#+1/�)����,+!)’!(�4’+”,4�,-#+��&11-���# ,,(!#+1/�)�-/,.2#01�!,*���� )�+(���&/#$��&11-���# ,,(!#+1/�)�-/,.2#01�!,*��1�/%#1��� )�+(��015)#��!2/0,/��-,’+1#/���&11-���# ,,(!#+1/�)�-/,.2#01�!,*����
�/#�1#”�$/,*�4�0&’+%1,+�,+�� �
� �����

��
��


,-
5/
‘%
&1
�6
��

��
��
‘)(
4
##
“�

“‘
1’,
+0
���

))�
/’%
&1
0�
/#
0#
/3
#”

5skywoman falling

Sunlight streamed through the hole from the Skyworld, allowing the
seeds to flourish. Wild grasses, flowers, trees, and medicines spread
everywhere. And now that the animals, too, had plenty to eat, many
came to live with her on Turtle Island.

Our stories say that of all the plants, wiingaashk, or sweetgrass, was
the very first to grow on the earth, its fragrance a sweet memory of
Skywoman’s hand. Accordingly, it is honored as one of the four sacred
plants of my people. Breathe in its scent and you start to remember
things you didn’t know you’d forgotten. Our elders say that ceremonies
are the way we “remember to remember,” and so sweetgrass is a power-
ful ceremonial plant cherished by many indigenous nations. It is also
used to make beautiful baskets. Both medicine and a relative, its value
is both material and spiritual.

There is such tenderness in braiding the hair of someone you
love. Kindness and something more flow between the braider and the
braided, the two connected by the cord of the plait. Wiingaashk waves
in strands, long and shining like a woman’s freshly washed hair. And
so we say it is the flowing hair of Mother Earth. When we braid sweet-
grass, we are braiding the hair of Mother Earth, showing her our loving
attention, our care for her beauty and well- being, in gratitude for all she
has given us. Children hearing the Skywoman story from birth know in
their bones the responsibility that flows between humans and the earth.

The story of Skywoman’s journey is so rich and glittering it feels to
me like a deep bowl of celestial blue from which I could drink again
and again. It holds our beliefs, our history, our relationships. Looking
into that starry bowl, I see images swirling so fluidly that the past and
the present become as one. Images of Skywoman speak not just of
where we came from, but also of how we can go forward.

I have Bruce King’s portrait of Skywoman, Moment in Flight, hanging
in my lab. Floating to earth with her handful of seeds and flowers, she

�’**#/#/�������
�����/�'”‘+%�04##1%/�00����+”‘%#+,20�4’0″,*��0!’#+1’$’!�(+,4)#”%#��+”�1&#�1#�!&’+%0�,$�-)�+10�
����������/,�2#01�� ,,(��#+1/�)����,+!)’!(�4’+”,4�,-#+��&11-���# ,,(!#+1/�)�-/,.2#01�!,*���� )�+(���&/#$��&11-���# ,,(!#+1/�)�-/,.2#01�!,*��1�/%#1��� )�+(��015)#��!2/0,/��-,’+1#/���&11-���# ,,(!#+1/�)�-/,.2#01�!,*����
�/#�1#”�$/,*�4�0&’+%1,+�,+�� �
� �����

��
��


,-
5/
‘%
&1
�6
��

��
��
‘)(
4
##
“�

“‘
1’,
+0
���

))�
/’%
&1
0�
/#
0#
/3
#”

6 Planting Sweetgrass

looks down on my microscopes and data loggers. It might seem an
odd juxtaposition, but to me she belongs there. As a writer, a scientist,
and a carrier of Skywoman’s story, I sit at the feet of my elder teachers
listening for their songs.

On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 9:35 a.m., I am usu-
ally in a lecture hall at the university, expounding about botany and
ecology— trying, in short, to explain to my students how Skywoman’s
gardens, known by some as “global ecosystems,” function. One other-
wise unremarkable morning I gave the students in my General
Ecology class a survey. Among other things, they were asked to rate
their understanding of the negative interactions between humans
and the environment. Nearly every one of the two hundred students
said confidently that humans and nature are a bad mix. These were
third- year students who had selected a career in environmental pro-
tection, so the response was, in a way, not very surprising. They
were well schooled in the mechanics of climate change, toxins in the
land and water, and the crisis of habitat loss. Later in the survey, they
were asked to rate their knowledge of positive interactions between
people and land. The median response was “none.”

I was stunned. How is it possible that in twenty years of education
they cannot think of any beneficial relationships between people and
the environment? Perhaps the negative examples they see every day—
brownfields, factory farms, suburban sprawl— truncated their ability
to see some good between humans and the earth. As the land becomes
impoverished, so too does the scope of their vision. When we talked
about this after class, I realized that they could not even imagine what
beneficial relations between their species and others might look like.
How can we begin to move toward ecological and cultural sustain-
ability if we cannot even imagine what the path feels like? If we can’t
imagine the generosity of geese? These students were not raised on the
story of Skywoman.

On one side of the world were people whose relationship with the liv-
ing world was shaped by Skywoman, who created a garden for the

�’**#/#/�������
�����/�'”‘+%�04##1%/�00����+”‘%#+,20�4’0″,*��0!’#+1’$’!�(+,4)#”%#��+”�1&#�1#�!&’+%0�,$�-)�+10�
����������/,�2#01�� ,,(��#+1/�)����,+!)’!(�4’+”,4�,-#+��&11-���# ,,(!#+1/�)�-/,.2#01�!,*���� )�+(���&/#$��&11-���# ,,(!#+1/�)�-/,.2#01�!,*��1�/%#1��� )�+(��015)#��!2/0,/��-,’+1#/���&11-���# ,,(!#+1/�)�-/,.2#01�!,*����
�/#�1#”�$/,*�4�0&’+%1,+�,+�� �
� �����

��
��


,-
5/
‘%
&1
�6
��

��
��
‘)(
4
##
“�

“‘
1’,
+0
���

))�
/’%
&1
0�
/#
0#
/3
#”

7skywoman falling

well- being of all. On the other side was another woman with a garden
and a tree. But for tasting its fruit, she was banished from the garden
and the gates clanged shut behind her. That mother of men was made
to wander in the wilderness and earn her bread by the sweat of her
brow, not by filling her mouth with the sweet juicy fruits that bend the
branches low. In order to eat, she was instructed to subdue the wilder-
ness into which she was cast.

Same species, same earth, different stories. Like Creation stories
every where, cosmologies are a source of identity and orientation to the
world. They tell us who we are. We are inevitably shaped by them
no matter how distant they may be from our consciousness. One story
leads to the generous embrace of the living world, the other to banish-
ment. One woman is our ancestral gardener, a cocreator of the good
green world that would be the home of her descendants. The other
was an exile, just passing through an alien world on a rough road to
her real home in heaven.

And then they met— the offspring of Skywoman and the children
of Eve— and the land around us bears the scars of that meeting, the
echoes of our stories. They say that hell hath no fury like a woman
scorned, and I can only imagine the conversation between Eve and
Skywoman: “Sister, you got the short end of the stick . . .”

The Skywoman story, shared by the original peoples throughout the
Great Lakes, is a constant star in the constellation of teachings we call
the Original Instructions. These are not “instructions” like command-
ments, though, or rules; rather, they are like a compass: they provide
an orientation but not a map. The work of living is creating that map
for yourself. How to follow the Original Instructions will be different
for each of us and different for every era.

In their time, Skywoman’s first people lived by their understand-
ing of the Original Instructions, with ethical prescriptions for respect-
ful hunting, family life, ceremonies that made sense for their world.
Those measures for caring might not seem to fit in today’s urban
world, where “green” means an advertising slogan, not a meadow. The

�’**#/#/�������
�����/�'”‘+%�04##1%/�00����+”‘%#+,20�4’0″,*��0!’#+1’$’!�(+,4)#”%#��+”�1&#�1#�!&’+%0�,$�-)�+10�
����������/,�2#01�� ,,(��#+1/�)����,+!)’!(�4’+”,4�,-#+��&11-���# ,,(!#+1/�)�-/,.2#01�!,*���� )�+(���&/#$��&11-���# ,,(!#+1/�)�-/,.2#01�!,*��1�/%#1��� )�+(��015)#��!2/0,/��-,’+1#/���&11-���# ,,(!#+1/�)�-/,.2#01�!,*����
�/#�1#”�$/,*�4�0&’+%1,+�,+�� �
� �����

��
��


,-
5/
‘%
&1
�6
��

��
��
‘)(
4
##
“�

“‘
1’,
+0
���

))�
/’%
&1
0�
/#
0#
/3
#”

8 Planting Sweetgrass

buffalo are gone and the world has moved on. I can’t return salmon
to the river, and my neighbors would raise the alarm if I set fire to my
yard to produce pasture for elk.

The earth was new then, when it welcomed the first human. It’s
old now, and some suspect that we have worn out our welcome by
casting the Original Instructions aside. From the very beginning of
the world, the other species were a lifeboat for the people. Now, we
must be theirs. But the stories that might guide us, if they are told at
all, grow dim in the memory. What meaning would they have today?
How can we translate from the stories at the world’s beginning to this
hour so much closer to its end? The landscape has changed, but the
story remains. And as I turn it over again and again, Skywoman seems
to look me in the eye and ask, in return for this gift of a world on
Turtle’s back, what will I give in return?

It is good to remember that the original woman was herself an
immigrant. She fell a long way from her home in the Skyworld, leav-
ing behind all who knew her and who held her dear. She could never
go back. Since 1492, most here are immigrants as well, perhaps ar-
riving on Ellis Island without even knowing that Turtle Island rested
beneath their feet. Some of my ancestors are Skywoman’s people, and
I belong to them. Some of my ancestors were the newer kind of im-
migrants, too: a French fur trader, an Irish carpenter, a Welsh farmer.
And here we all are, on Turtle Island, trying to make a home. Their
stories, of arrivals with empty pockets and nothing but hope, resonate
with Skywoman’s. She came here with nothing but a handful of seeds
and the slimmest of instructions to “use your gifts and dreams for
good,” the same instructions we all carry. She accepted the gifts from
the other beings with open hands and used them honorably. She shared
the gifts she brought from Skyworld as she set herself about the business
of flourishing, of making a home.

Perhaps the Skywoman story endures because we too are always
falling. Our lives, both personal and collective, share her trajectory.
Whether we jump or are pushed, or the edge of the known world
just crumbles at our feet, we fall, spinning into someplace new and

�’**#/#/�������
�����/�'”‘+%�04##1%/�00����+”‘%#+,20�4’0″,*��0!’#+1’$’!�(+,4)#”%#��+”�1&#�1#�!&’+%0�,$�-)�+10�
����������/,�2#01�� ,,(��#+1/�)����,+!)’!(�4’+”,4�,-#+��&11-���# ,,(!#+1/�)�-/,.2#01�!,*���� )�+(���&/#$��&11-���# ,,(!#+1/�)�-/,.2#01�!,*��1�/%#1��� )�+(��015)#��!2/0,/��-,’+1#/���&11-���# ,,(!#+1/�)�-/,.2#01�!,*����
�/#�1#”�$/,*�4�0&’+%1,+�,+�� �
� �����

��
��


,-
5/
‘%
&1
�6
��

��
��
‘)(
4
##
“�

“‘
1’,
+0
���

))�
/’%
&1
0�
/#
0#
/3
#”

9skywoman falling

unexpected. Despite our fears of falling, the gifts of the world stand by
to catch us.

As we consider these instructions, it is also good to recall that, when
Skywoman arrived here, she did not come alone. She was pregnant.
Knowing her grandchildren would inherit the world she left behind,
she did not work for flourishing in her time only. It was through her
actions of reciprocity, the give and take with the land, that the original
immigrant became indigenous. For all of us, becoming indigenous to
a place means living as if your children’s future mattered, to take care
of the land as if our lives, both material and spiritual, depended on it.

In the public arena, I’ve heard the Skywoman story told as a bauble of
colorful “folklore.” But, even when it is misunderstood, there is power
in the telling. Most of my students have never heard the origin story of
this land where they were born, but when I tell them, something be-
gins to kindle behind their eyes. Can they, can we all, understand the
Skywoman story not as an artifact from the past but as instructions for
the future? Can a nation of immigrants once again follow her example
to become native, to make a home?

Look at the legacy of poor Eve’s exile from Eden: the land shows
the bruises of an abusive relationship. It’s not just land that is broken,
but more importantly, our relationship to land. As Gary Nabhan has
written, we can’t meaningfully proceed with healing, with restoration,
without “re- story- ation.” In other words, our relationship with land
cannot heal until we hear its stories. But who will tell them?

In the Western tradition there is a recognized hierarchy of beings,
with, of course, the human being on top— the pinnacle of evolution,
the darling of Creation— and the plants at the bottom. But in Native
ways of knowing, human people are often referred to as “the younger
brothers of Creation.” We say that humans have the least experience
with how to live and thus the most to learn— we must look to our
teachers among the other species for guidance. Their wisdom is appar-
ent in the way that they live. They teach us by example. They’ve been
on the earth far longer than we have been, and have had time to figure
things out. They live both above and below ground, joining Skyworld

�’**#/#/�������
�����/�'”‘+%�04##1%/�00����+”‘%#+,20�4’0″,*��0!’#+1’$’!�(+,4)#”%#��+”�1&#�1#�!&’+%0�,$�-)�+10�
����������/,�2#01�� ,,(��#+1/�)����,+!)’!(�4’+”,4�,-#+��&11-���# ,,(!#+1/�)�-/,.2#01�!,*���� )�+(���&/#$��&11-���# ,,(!#+1/�)�-/,.2#01�!,*��1�/%#1��� )�+(��015)#��!2/0,/��-,’+1#/���&11-���# ,,(!#+1/�)�-/,.2#01�!,*����
�/#�1#”�$/,*�4�0&’+%1,+�,+�� �
� �����

��
��


,-
5/
‘%
&1
�6
��

��
��
‘)(
4
##
“�

“‘
1’,
+0
���

))�
/’%
&1
0�
/#
0#
/3
#”

10 Planting Sweetgrass

to the earth. Plants know how to make food and medicine from light
and water, and then they give it away.

I like to imagine that when Skywoman scattered her handful of
seeds across Turtle Island, she was sowing sustenance for the body and
also for the mind, emotion, and spirit: she was leaving us teachers. The
plants can tell us her story; we need to learn to listen.

�’**#/#/�������
�����/�'”‘+%�04##1%/�00����+”‘%#+,20�4’0″,*��0!’#+1’$’!�(+,4)#”%#��+”�1&#�1#�!&’+%0�,$�-)�+10�
����������/,�2#01�� ,,(��#+1/�)����,+!)’!(�4’+”,4�,-#+��&11-���# ,,(!#+1/�)�-/,.2#01�!,*���� )�+(���&/#$��&11-���# ,,(!#+1/�)�-/,.2#01�!,*��1�/%#1��� )�+(��015)#��!2/0,/��-,’+1#/���&11-���# ,,(!#+1/�)�-/,.2#01�!,*����
�/#�1#”�$/,*�4�0&’+%1,+�,+�� �
� �����

��
��


,-
5/
‘%
&1
�6
��

��
��
‘)(
4
##
“�

“‘
1’,
+0
���

))�
/’%
&1
0�
/#
0#
/3
#”

The Gift of Strawberries

I once heard Evon Peter—a Gwich’in man, a father, a husband, an
environmental activist, and Chief of Arctic Village, a small village in
northeastern Alaska— introduce himself simply as “a boy who was
raised by a river.” A description as smooth and slippery as a river rock.
Did he mean only that he grew up near its banks? Or was the river
responsible for rearing him, for teaching him the things he needed to
live? Did it feed him, body and soul? Raised by a river: I suppose both
meanings are true— you can hardly have one without the other.

In a way, I was raised by strawberries, fields of them. Not to ex-
clude the maples, hemlocks, white pines, goldenrod, asters, violets, and
mosses of upstate New York, but it was the wild strawberries, beneath
dewy leaves on an almost- summer morning, who gave me my sense
of the world, my place in it. Behind our house were miles of old hay
fields divided by stone walls, long abandoned from farming but not yet
grown up to forest. After the school bus chugged up our hill, I’d throw
down my red plaid book bag, change my clothes before my mother
could think of a chore, and jump across the crick to go wandering
in the goldenrod. Our mental maps had all the landmarks we kids
needed: the fort under the sumacs, the rock pile, the river, the big pine
with branches so evenly spaced you could climb to the top as if it were
a ladder— and the strawberry patches.

White petals with a yellow center— like a little wild rose— they dot-
ted the acres of curl grass in May during the Flower Moon, waabigwani-
giizis. We kept good track of them, peeking under the trifoliate leaves

Kimmerer, Robin. Braiding Sweetgrass : Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants,
Milkweed Editions, 2013. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/washington/detail.action?docID=1212658.
Created from washington on 2021-03-28 11:37:47.

C
op

yr
ig

ht
©

2
01

3.
M

ilk
w

ee
d

E
di

tio
ns

. A
ll

rig
ht

s
re

se
rv

ed
.

23the gift of strawberries

to check their progress as we ran through on our way to catch frogs.
After the flower finally dropped its petals, a tiny green nub appeared
in its place, and as the days got longer and warmer it swelled to a small
white berry. These were sour but we ate them anyway, impatient for
the real thing.

You could smell ripe strawberries before you saw them, the fra-
grance mingling with the smell of sun on damp ground. It was the
smell of June, the last day of school, when we were set free, and the
Strawberry Moon, ode’mini- giizis. I’d lie on my stomach in my fa-
vorite patches, watching the berries grow sweeter and bigger under
the leaves. Each tiny wild berry was scarcely bigger than a rain-
drop, dimpled with seeds under the cap of leaves. From that vantage
point I could pick only the reddest of the red, leaving the pink ones
for tomorrow.

Even now, after more than fifty Strawberry Moons, finding a patch
of wild strawberries still touches me with a sensation of surprise, a feel-
ing of unworthiness and gratitude for the generosity and kindness that
comes with an unexpected gift all wrapped in red and green. “Really?
For me? Oh, you shouldn’t have.” After fifty years they still raise the
question of how to respond to their generosity. Sometimes it feels like a
silly question with a very simple answer: eat them.

But I know that someone else has wondered these same things. In
our Creation stories the origin of strawberries is important. Skywoman’s
beautiful daughter, whom she carried in her womb from Skyworld,
grew on the good green earth, loving and loved by all the other beings.
But tragedy befell her when she died giving birth to her twins, Flint
and Sapling. Heartbroken, Skywoman buried her beloved daughter in
the earth. Her final gifts, our most revered plants, grew from her body.
The strawberry arose from her heart. In Potawatomi, the strawberry is
ode min, the heart berry. We recognize them as the leaders of the ber-
ries, the first to bear fruit.

Strawberries first shaped my view of a world full of gifts simply
scattered at your feet. A gift comes to you through no action of your
own, free, having moved toward you without your beckoning. It is not

Kimmerer, Robin. Braiding Sweetgrass : Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants,
Milkweed Editions, 2013.

RR2

kjohnson
Sticky Note
Text deleted per faculty request
kjohnson
Sticky Note
Pages 280-282 were deleted per faculty request.
kjohnson
Sticky Note
Text deleted per faculty request
kjohnson
Sticky Note
Text deleted per faculty request
  • bis393fleopold_Page_01
  • bis393fleopold_Page_02
  • bis393fleopold_Page_03
  • bis393fleopold_Page_04
  • bis393fleopold_Page_05
  • bis393fleopold_Page_06
  • bis393fleopold_Page_07
  • bis393fleopold_Page_08
  • bis393fleopold_Page_09
  • bis393fleopold_Page_11
  • bis393fleopold_Page_12
  • bis393fleopold_Page_13
  • bis393fleopold_Page_14
  • bis393fleopold_Page_15
  • bis393fleopold_Page_16
  • bis393fleopold_Page_17

RR2

READ

First read

· Harper, Breeze Sistah Vegan: Black Female Vegans Speak

· Actions (you may skip over the crossed out sections [like this] within the text)

· Ko, Aph. 5 Reasons Why Animal Rights Are A Feminist Issue Link:https://everydayfeminism.com/2014/12/animal-rights-feminist-issue/

Second read

(please read IN ORDER listed below; the 2nd essay is a response to the 1st!)

1. Singer*, All Animals are Equal”

2. Pollan, “An Animal’s Place” Link: https://michaelpollan.com/articles-archive/an-animals-place/

(note that this 20-year old essay uses outdated language for mental disabilities) 

*Note: I urge you to read Peter Singer especially carefully, as we will consult it throughout the quarter. Singer’s essay is the most well-known piece on animal rights, so you should know it inside and out!

Third read

1) Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, length: 19 pages (or less if you only read one of the two chapters here. Both are great, but if you must chose one to save time, that’s ok)

2) Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac (length: 24 pages)


About the Authors (please read this for context!!!)

Robin Wall Kimmerer is a member of the Potawatomi tribe and combines her Native heritage with scientific training and environmental passions throughout her publications. She is a Professor of Environmental and Forest Biology at the State University of New York, and author of books including Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants (2013) and Gathering Moss (2003).

Kimmerer is a proponent of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK), which Kimmerer describes as a “way of knowing.” TEK is a deeply empirical scientific approach and is based on long-term observation. However, it also involves cultural and spiritual considerations, which have often been marginalized by the mainstream scientific community. Wider use of TEK by scholars has begun to lend credence to it. Kimmerer’s efforts are motivated in part by her family history. Her grandfather was a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, but received colonist schooling at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The school set out to “civilize” Native children,  forbidding residents from speaking their language, and effectively erasing their Native culture. Knowing how important it is to maintain the traditional language of the Potawatomi, Kimmerer studies and continues to speak traditional language because “when a language dies, so much more than words are lost.”

Her current work spans traditional ecological knowledge, moss ecology, outreach to tribal communities, and creative writing.

Aldo Leopold (born 1887) is often credited as the founder of modern ecology. When he published The 
Sand County Almanac
 in 1949 (you’re about to read a few chapters from the book), it became one of the manifestos of 20th century ecology.  Beyond its scientific distinction, the work is also recognized as a classic piece of American nature literature.

Leopold is one of the first American scientists to develop an ethical theory that includes non-human entities and nature itself in the purview of morals. As we’ve already discussed, his predecessors had claimed that moral consideration only applied to creatures capable or rationality, or possessing a soul, or belonging to a privileged species (eg humans), or having sentience or a telos, or because they are alive (biocentrism). Yet Leopold argued that membership in Earth’s community should be our ultimate criteria for extending moral consideration. And since everything is part of the community, everything should be valued and treated with reverence.  In this way, Leopold’s environmental ethics enlarged the boundaries of what ecologists mean by “community” to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land. (This becomes the foundation of Leopold’s “Land Ethic”). You will notice how this perspective (based in science and ethical philosophy) also aligns with Indigenous wisdom (or TEK) like the views of Robin Wall Kimmerer … an example of the “convergence” at the heart of David Suzuki’s book as well! 

COMPREHENSION QUESTIONS*

* you are NOT required to submit responses to these questions, but you SHOULD take notes for yourself and be able to answer these after completing each reading. You will use your notes and insights from these questions to develop your 



Reading Responses



 

(due every 2 weeks in the quarter), so it’s important to take notes as you work through the readings. 

First read

1. What connections does Harper draw between anti-racist/anti-classist beliefs on the one hand, and “compassionate consumption” practices on the other? Give some specific examples of how she connects oppression of different groups (both human and nonhuman) within both contemporary and historical systems.

2. Why does Harper argue that mainstream “healthy consumption” and “eco-sustainable” messages are embedded in systems of white privilege? How does she work to overturn this in her own advocacy for compassionate consumption practices? 

3. Review Aph Ko’s “5 Reasons Why Animal Rights Are a Feminist Issue.” Are any of her 5 arguments particularly convincing, or unconvincing, to you? Explain your position.  

Second read

1. What does Singer mean by the term “Speciesist”?

2. According to Singer, what characteristic qualifies a being for moral standing? Explain his reasoning.

3. Does Pollan think that animals can feel pain or suffer? What distinction does he draw between “pain” and “suffering”?

4. Discuss Pollan’s views on the domestication of animals. Does he consider it exploitation/enslavement? Why or why not?

5. Some critics argue that the graphic images and shock tactics used in Animal Rights campaigns (footage like you viewed in these documentaries) is counterproductive, driving much of the public away from learning more about livestock production and laboratory practices.  Did you find the approach in these films effective? Or would you be more responsive to the “rational and tempered argument” Peter Singer promotes? What are the ethics of “witnessing” versus refusing to look?

Third Read

1. What kind of ethical philosophy does the story “Skywoman Falling” communicate? How is this Indigenous “creation story” different from other creation stories you might be familiar with (Judeo-Christian, Islamic, etc)?  

2. On page 9 Kimmerer states that in Native ways of knowing, human people are often referred to as “the younger brothers of Creation.” How can humans learn from plants and animals? How can we humble ourselves to “listen” to the wisdom of plants or other creatures?

3. The ‘Gift of Strawberries’ (pp. 22-32) introduces the reader to the concept of “the essence of a gift economy is, at its root, reciprocity.” (p. 28) How can “the relationship of gratitude and reciprocity that has been developed increase the evolutionary fitness of both plant and animal”? (p. 30)

4. Why does Leopold include the anecdote from Homer’s ancient tale “The Odyssey”? How is his strategy similar to Peter Singer’s in using broad historical trends in human ethics to tell the story about our changing views towards nature and non-humans?

5. Re-read the last full paragraph of 266 thru the second-to-last paragraph of 267. Here, Leopold describes cranes more like a poet or philosopher than an ornithologist. Why does Leopold include this passage at the beginning of this reading? If Leopold simply wanted readers to care about conservation, why didn’t he just explain the scientific principles (rather than telling stories about these birds?)  What strategy is being used here, and what effect does it have on your as a reader?

6. What is Leopold’s critique of applying economic analysis to environmental thinking, practice and policy? Analyze his argument in detail. (see 283- 5)

Students will write a response to the assigned readings, films and other course materials covered since the last reading response. This is a place for you to record your thoughts about what we’re learning, and further develop the methods of philosophical analysis we will practice in class.  Assessment will be based on evidence that you have remained engaged in class and used each entry to develop your critical thinking, philosophic and ethical perspectives, and understanding of the issues and debates.

INSTRUCTIONS

Review the materials assigned since your last submission (2 weeks ago) and write a ~650 word response (longer entries are OK) that touches on the most important ideas/points from *EACH* day. High-scoring responses will integrate concepts from most or ALL assigned materials (although there may be some occasional discussions where you don’t incorporate the smaller/secondary readings or media if you already thoroughly covered the concepts in analyzing the primary/first reading from that day). At a minimum you must address the “main” reading or video (the first one listed in the module) for each day. And to earn an especially high score, you should also touch on the smaller/secondary pieces on the list for that day as well.

What do I write about?

Reading responses should record your thoughts and interpretations about what we’re reading, and further develop the methods of *PHILOSOPHIC* and *ETHICAL* analysis we’re practicing in class. What you choose to focus on is ultimately up to you, but it should be based on the assigned material, and ideally trace connections (or contrasts) between those materials. Please go beyond just summarizing the readings to really dig into the implications and philosophic dimensions of the issue. Assessment will be based on evidence that you have remained engaged in class and used each entry to develop your critical thinking, philosophic and ethical perspectives, and understanding of the issues and debates.  

Before writing your entry, you can consult the reading comprehension questions (on the daily Canvas modules); however, while these may be helpful to take into consideration, the idea is *NOT* to just answer a list of Canvas questions verbatim, but rather expand on the issues you find interesting, trace connections, and share your unique perspective on them. Also keep in mind that strong philosophic writing often does NOT reduce an issue down to simpler terms, but rather expands on its complexity and ambiguity, revealing additional perspectives, philosophical insights, and possibilities within that work. Responses that engage complexity and nuance in these debates will generally earn a higher score.


REQUIREMENTS 
(grades will be based on these elements)

· Length: ~650 words (longer entries are OK too!)

· Include materials covered in the last 2 weeks. Choose as least the “primary” reading (the first one listed in the module) for EACH day. This means there will be a minimum of 4 items included if we’ve had 4 full class modules since your last submission. 
High-scoring responses will integrate concepts from most or ALL assigned materials (although there may be some occasional discussions where you don’t incorporate the smaller/secondary readings or media if you already thoroughly covered the concepts in analyzing the primary/”main” reading from that day). 

· Take a philosophic or ethical approach to analyzing the material, rather than just summarizing it or focusing on scientific/technical aspects. Remember this is a class on ETHICS, so you should think and write like a philosopher!

· Try to trace connections (or contrasts) between the different materials, rather than discussing different issues for each reading/film featured in your essay.

· Posts should give specific evidence that you completed and understood the week’s assigned materials. This means directly responding to details from the reading (or podcast or film) so I know you completed it. Entries that do not specifically refer to points, arguments, quotes or scenes in the material, but simply lapse into generalizations or personal opinions, will receive a low score.

· You may include personal reflections & experiences related to the topic, but these should not displace the assigned reading.

· Demonstrate that you have remained engaged in class discussions but also developed your own, original thoughts