Why We Need to Talk about Ableism, Ageism, and Speciesism. Interview with Geertrui Cazaux.
Updated: Sep 22
Geertrui Cazaux is a criminology and environmental sciences graduate, who explored the sociology of human-animal relations during her PhD on anthropocentrism and speciesism in contemporary criminology which she finished in 2002. She later worked in youth care, and as a policy advisor. She now stays at home full-time due to chronic disease and enjoys gardening, taking care of other animals as well as blogging on her blogs Graswortels and Brugesvegan. She also recently started a new blog Crip HumAnimal, which explores the interconnections between ableism and speciesism.
In this interview she talks about why it is important to speak about the interconnections between ableism, ageism and speciesism in animal rights circles, how her chronic disease has shaped her and her activism, and how gardening can reconnect us to our own food whilst also helping to build a more sustainable future.
Q: When did you first come across interconnections of oppression with respect to animal rights?
I graduated in criminology, and during my education several courses studied Critical Criminology, which focuses on inequality, injustice, oppression and domination. Sadly, only with respect to humans. After I graduated (mid-nineties), I started my doctoral research on anthropocentrism and speciesism in criminology, thus expanding the scope to other animals. At that point I had read some of the classics on animal rights and animal liberation, but then I also started reading works from ecofeminists. I read books like The Sexual Politics of Meat (Carol Adams), Animals and Women (Adams & Donovan, eds) and The Dreaded Comparison (Marjorie Spiegel). Although I intuitively made the connection between human rights and animal rights, those works provided me with a framework and a deeper understanding of the interconnections between all oppressions. Fighting for animal rights and against speciesism is not a separate struggle, but in line with the fight against other oppressions. It all seemed to fall in place.
Q: How did your work (in academia, later in youth care, and as a policy advisor) shape your outlook on veganism and activism?
My academic background gave me a better understanding of the theory. Working as an educator with (sometimes nearly) illiterate minor girls, made me more aware of the importance of clear and comprehensible communication and education. It also helped me to understand how and why campaigns come and get across (or don’t get across). Know your audience. And also: academic output is often very intellectually elite and inaccessible for many people. Ironically often for those being the victims of the very oppressions being discussed and theorised or researched.
Finally, working as a policy advisor provided me with a better understanding of the world of politics and the power structures that shape legislation.
Photo credit: Geertrui Cazaux.
[Image description: Geertrui standing in front of the camera holding a brown chicken in her arms.
Three sheep and one donkey are running around in the background.]
Q: How does being chronically ill - especially being full-time at home now - influence your activism?
Although I was diagnosed almost three decades ago, and had several really bad flares in the early years, I kept on going like a train. I graduated, I was always full time professionally involved and was really active. Then a couple of years ago, my train hit a brick wall and I had to stop working altogether. For me, being chronically ill now feels like living part-time. There is the pain and the psychological struggle, but there is also the chronic fatigue. Although I am full-time at home now, my time to actually do things, to be active, to just ‘live’ is very limited.
I have to be very selective in choosing the activities I want to participate in, because I need a lot of time to recuperate from attending a conference, taking part in a demonstration, giving a lecture, or just travelling to get there. This is one of the reasons why I hardly participate in street activism anymore. Unpredictability or uncertainty regarding my day to day health status is another frustrating ‘side effect’ of being chronically ill. I have ‘good’ weeks and bad weeks, but it can also shift unexpectedly from day to day. As such I find it very difficult to make commitments, because I cannot guarantee whether I will be able to ‘deliver’. That’s why I try to spend my time as efficiently as I can, doing things I think I am good at and that I like doing: reading and writing, gardening, and taking care of animals. I like to work at my own pace, with no (or little) pressure from deadlines or social or organisational compliances, although those are sometimes inevitable.
Q: In your recent talks you focused on ableism, ageism, body-shaming and fat-shaming. Why is it so important to talk about this at vegan events and conferences?
First of all, it is a matter of effectiveness. We want as many people as possible to recognise that animals have rights and to go vegan, to become a stronger movement, and to have more impact on the lives of other animals. By insulting people, discriminating against people on the basis of age or abilities, a whole group of people are excluded from the movement. Body-shaming and health shaming not only makes certain people feel unwelcome, but are also bad motivators for changing behaviour. They can even lead to reduced self-esteem, eating disorders and depression.
But the most important factor is that it is a matter of justice. Justice is indivisible. All oppressions are connected. Just focusing on combatting one oppression (e.g. speciesism), while colluding with the system – i.e. being oppressive on other fronts - will not work.
Q: How are ableism and ageism related to speciesism?
Speciesism in itself can be seen as a form of ableism: discrimination on the basis of not possessing certain abilities, which are deemed only reserved to humans. Age or disability can also add another layer to the oppression of animals. Other animals do not only experience speciesism, but can also be discriminated against because of their disabilities or age. Think for example of older or disabled animal companions. They have a lesser chance of getting adopted. This also applies to the entertainment industry, agricultural-industry, experimental settings, where disabled animals are often killed immediately after birth. In addition, drawing a demarcation line between humans and other animals, on the basis of certain abilities, also had and has repercussions for how disabled people - who do not possess these abilities - are categorised and treated. They were or are animalised, and seen as less than human. I have only recently started digging into the connections and intersections between speciesism and ableism, and hope to explore them on Crip HumAnimal, a new platform I just created on this topic.
Q: How is the vegan movement itself ableist and ageist?
By organising events that are not accessible (and it’s not just about wheelchair accessibility!). By using ageist and ableist language and throwing in microaggressions. By consolidating the dominant stereotypical image of young and skinny healthy vegans as best suited to ‘sell’ the vegan message. By shaming and blaming vegans for taking medication, being fat, or not being healthy. By presenting a vegan diet as a magical bullet for all diseases and portraying vegans as automatically being thin and non-vegans as fat. And then there’s also a lot of pseudoscientific mumbo jumbo doing the rounds in the movement.
Although I have recently ‘come out’ as being chronically ill, I still don’t feel comfortable about opening up about my diseases, not in society in general, but also not in the vegan community.
Photo credit: Geertrui Cazaux.
[Image description: Geertrui sitting on a bench surrounded by five goats in a field. Geertrui is
stroking one of them who seems to be most interested in the sunglasses in Geertrui's hand.]
Q: You also blog about gardening, cooking, and your non-human companions. Could you tell us a bit about what it is that you enjoy so much about gardening and which foods are your favourite ones to cook and eat, and the animal companions you share your space with?
I love getting my hands in the soil. I am always amazed how those tiny little seedlings grow and produce an abundance of beautiful vegetables! Many people have lost the connection with growing food, cultivating vegetables. Even just a small plot in a front or back yard can produce so much food! And not only growing it, but the skills of how to preserve vegetables and fruits have been lost. Stocking foods in the freezer is generally well-known, but I also do a lot of canning and drying. I wish all the money spent on researching and developing lab meat, would be spent on campaigns to encourage urban agriculture, getting people to grow their own food again, reconnecting them with the soil, their environment and the origins of food.
And I really can’t think of any foods that I don’t like! With respect to home-grown vegetables, I think sweetcorn and haricots are very rewarding: they are so easy to grow and I like adding them to one-pot meals. We also regularly eat out, and I also blog about our dining out experiences, to show that the options for vegans are increasing. We share our home and garden with several other animals: donkeys, sheep, cats and chickens. As long as there are animals looking for a home, and we have the facilities and abilities to adopt them and care for them, we will happily welcome them into our family.
Q: Is there anything else that you would like to share with us at this point?
I feel it’s more than ever necessary to centre justice, animal rights and veganism, in our activism and campaigns. Although I applaud steps in the right direction, justice is indivisible. I agree that the world will not go vegan overnight, but that does not mean we should water down or dilute the message of justice. We also don’t do that with respect to the fight against other oppressions (racism, sexism, ableism, …). From an ethical, and also a pragmatic point of view, it is important that vegans put veganism and animal rights on the forefront and build bridges with other social justice movements. Animal rights and human rights go hand in hand.
You can also listen to and watch the video recordings of her recent talks on Ableism, Bodyshaming and Healthshaming at VegfestUK 2018 as well as on Ableism, Ageism and Speciesism at the International Animal Rights Conference 2018 in Luxembourg by following the links.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this interview are prepared to the interviewee’s and the interviewer’s best capacity and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of The Vegan Rainbow Project itself. Please also not that people change and so do their opinions. We kindly ask you to be mindful of that when reading past articles and/ or statements that are referenced in this interview.
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