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Unbound: Women on the Front Lines of Animal Advocacy

Today is the launch of a new project I am working on with Jo-Anne McArthur (We Animals). We have been talking, dreaming, planning, and meeting (often in delicious vegan restaurants like Crossroads, Hogtown Vegan, and Rise Above) about this project for several months.

Unbound: Women on the Front Lines of Animal Advocacy is a project intended to celebrate the many women who have worked tirelessly to make the world a better place for animals. It is a multimedia, multi-faceted, social media-driven project, and the plan is to have a richly illustrated book filled with stories and photographs of featured women in the coming years. We will be focusing on women who are currently working for animals, but a large part of the project will also be historical. I’m excited to share some of my research on women activists from previous generations.

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Conference Travel and Some Amazing Vegan Food

I can’t believe it is mid-April! The weeks have been flying by. I’ve been working away on the book manuscript, but I also have been doing some travelling.

First I went to the 2nd instalment of the “Living With Animals” conference at Eastern Kentucky University. I went to this conference two years ago, the first time it was held, and just loved it. It was such a great mix of people–a truly interdisciplinary gathering of people who shared common interests. The second version of the conference was just as good. I heard some excellent papers and especially enjoyed hearing Julia Schlosser’s keynote presentation about her artwork.

One of the things I really like about this conference is that there is a good amount of the program dedicated to teaching animal studies, so there were great presentations about pedagogy (I especially liked Jeannette Vaught’s presentation called “Animal Infiltrations: Teaching Animal Studies in Traditional Courses”) and a roundtable discussion focusing on ideas for setting up animal studies courses and programs (both Human-Animal Studies and Critical Animal Studies) at the post-secondary level. As was the case two years ago, we had some excellent discussions!

I also travelled down to Denton, Texas to attend the “Moral Cultures of Food” conference at the University of North Texas. When I saw the call for papers for this conference I knew it was one I wanted to go to. Not only did the topic appeal to me and relate to my current project, but I also knew that the University of North Texas was home to “Mean Greens,” the first all vegan dining hall. Ever since I first heard about Mean Greens I was trying to find an excuse to go to UNT, so this seemed like a conference I had to attend! The conference was great and, like the “Living With Animals” conference, it featured scholars from a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds.

Both conferences had such a good, collegial atmosphere–when people asked questions you got the sense that they were genuinely curious and interested to know the answers. (sadly, not at all the norm at most academic conferences) I met some really interesting people and came home feeling enthusiastic and energetic about working in this area. The “Moral Cultures of Food” conference also included excellent keynote presentations by James McWilliams and Carol J. Adams. (sadly I had to miss David Kaplan‘s closing keynote presentation due to an early morning flight)

I had the honour of being Carol Adams’s houseguest while I was in Texas, and it was there I discovered the recipe for the world’s most delicious vegan mac and cheese recipe. Honestly. This stuff is out of this world. It is a recipe that Carol veganized from a cookbook that her family used. She promises to do a blog post with the recipe, so I don’t feel comfortable sharing it here, but keep an eye out for it on her site. [Update: here is the recipe!] It is so ridiculously good. I’ve made it twice since returning home. In fact, all the food she served was incredible–she even cooked up a full vegan version of a Texas barbecue.  Amazing!

And speaking of amazing food in Texas, “Mean Greens” at UNT absolutely exceeded my expectations. I was excited about the fact that there was such a thing as a vegan dining hall on a university campus. I hadn’t stopped to think much about what precisely that would mean, but figured it was the novelty of the experience, not necessarily the quality of the food that I was going for. Let me tell you, the food was incredible! And it was really affordable too! I went with a group of conference attendees at lunch and it was $7.50 for as much food as you wanted to eat. There was a breakfast bar, hot dishes, a salad bar, a dessert tray, and even a ice cream sundae bar. And the food was really, really good! I also loved the environment. It was bright and cheery, and had quotes about veganism and compassion for all species painted on the walls of the dining room. There was even a sign on the door declaring it an “meat free zone.” This was full on, unapologetic veganism gone mainstream, and the place was packed! We even got to talk to one of the chefs who told us how popular the initiative has been and how it is, in fact, saving UNT money when compared to other meal options. I hope to see more campuses following this lead!

Mean Greens was a "Meat Free Zone"
Mean Greens was a “Meat Free Zone”
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No animal products used in this kitchen!
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There was even a sundae bar!

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The Art of Animal Activism: Critical Parameters

I am really pleased to be co-chairing a session with Alan C. Braddock on animal advocacy and the arts at the next College Art Association Conference in Washington D.C. I’ve included the call for papers for our session below. More details on the conference and how to apply can be found on the College Art Association’s Official Call for Participation. Please share widely.

The Art of Animal Activism: Critical Parameters
Alan C. Braddock, College of William and Mary; and Keri Cronin, Brock University. Email: acbraddock@wm.edu and keri.cronin@brocku.ca

Today nonhuman animals figure more prominently in cultural, ethical, and scientific inquiry than ever before, thanks to recent research that has forced a significant reassessment of human exceptionalism, or speciesism. Lately some art historians have begun to consider these issues as well. All of this has taken place amid growing popular fascination with animals and backlash against their egregious, often concealed abuse in factory farming, entertainment, laboratories, and other areas. Animals have become subjects of vision, imagination, and activism—but also exploitation—like never before. This session examines the critical parameters of animal activism and advocacy in art since the eighteenth century. Papers should address important landmarks and historical contours of such art, assessing creative techniques used to advance particular goals. Consideration of why the discipline of art history has been slow to map this tradition and challenges involved in visualizing the interests of other beings are also encouraged.

 

Tom and Ollie

Tom and Ollie are two of the cats we brought in off the street last year. Ollie is a small, spry tuxedo cat who seems to think the world is a giant game. She is clever and silly and loves to play. She is about a year and a half old and still acts like a kitten. Tom is a very fluffy orange and white cat who is quite a bit older than Ollie, although we don’t know exactly how old he is. He was in pretty rough shape when we rescued him, and it turns out he has kidney disease. He is a kind, gentle giant and he is Ollie’s best friend.

In my study I have a reading chair with a quilt folded over the back of it. About a month ago I noticed that Ollie had figured out how to cover herself with the quilt when she took a nap on the chair. She stands on the seat of the chair, reaches up and pulls the quilt down over her. It is pretty cute–sometimes all you can see are her toes or the tip of her tail. She clearly knows how to deal with winter!

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Lately Tom has been feeling a little under the weather. We are working with the kind people at Martindale Animal Clinic to help Tom manage the kidney disease. This past week hasn’t been a good week for him. He stopped eating and did what cats often do when they are sick, he started hiding. He is normally very social, but we started finding him hiding behind the chair that Ollie likes to sleep on in recent days.

Yesterday Ollie went up on the chair and I saw her going up to reach for the blanket, but instead of pulling it on herself as she normally does, she pushed it off the back of the chair on to the floor where Tom was. I am absolutely convinced that she knew what she was doing, that she was giving her friend some comfort.

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These two are the best of friends!

The Bored and Brilliant Challenge

One of the many things I like about sabbatical is that it allows for some mental clarity, time to figure things out, to get organized, to think. It is no coincidence that I went vegan on my first sabbatical. I think I’d been moving in that direction for a while, but having the time to think about it, plan for it, learn to cook from vegan cookbooks, etc. certainly helped the process along!

I’m hoping that the mental space that sabbatical provides will also help me develop some better habits. On that note, I’ve signed up for the “Bored and Brilliant” challenge this week. Essentially, this challenge asks participants to think about how much time we spend on our smartphones each day, how automatic it has become to whip out our phones at the first sign of a lull. Standing in line at the grocery store? Check your phone! Commercial on TV? Pull out that phone! Waiting for a friend to show up? Squeeze in a game of Two Dots. The organizers of this challenge argue that by rushing to fill any downtime with whatever app catches our fancy, we are forgetting how to daydream, we aren’t taking advantage of the imaginative potential of those duller moments in life.

This challenge has certainly helped me to think about my daily habits, and in just a few short days I’m quite a bit more mindful about my screen time. Will these habits last? Only time will tell!

Leisure Sickness

It took me a little while to find my sabbatical groove, but by about mid-January I felt like I’d found a routine that worked for me, one that included writing, reading, exercise, a decent amount of sleep, and healthy food. I was feeling good, things were ticking along. I was getting caught up on things that had been sitting on my “to do” list for far too long. And then…

…major illness. I was knocked flat out (and even spent some time in Emergency – fun, fun!) for the last part of January. Ugh. So not what I wanted to be doing on my sabbatical. The silver lining, I guess, is that it did happen while I was on sabbatical so I didn’t have to reschedule meetings or classes. But still! What a waste of time! I’m still not 100%, but am well enough that I’m trying to get back in to that sabbatical groove again. It is slow going, but each day is getting better. I’m still waiting to hear back on some test results to get a better idea of what happened. Not fun.

This whole incident got me thinking about how often it is that we get sick when we are able to relax a bit. I was feeling good, I had established a healthy routine, and BAM! Sick. Why? I would have expected this when I was not maintaining such good habits. Turns out there is a whole phenomenon out there called “leisure sickness.” Who knew? Anecdotally I’ve known of many people who get sick when their stress lets up a bit, but I didn’t know this phenomenon had a name.

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Time Machine

I’ve been spending some time in the library, working with old newspapers on microfilm. It has been many years since I’ve used a microfilm reader and it took me longer than I care to admit to get the thing up and running the first time. In my defence, there was a bit of a connectivity issue between the reader and the computer that scans and saves pdf versions of the pages. (I don’t recall this additional bit of technology from the last time I used a microfilm reader!) I was very grateful to the staff at the James A. Gibson library at Brock for helping me get this sorted.

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I love reading old newspapers. They are so interesting and so bizarre. I often get distracted by the ads and articles other than the ones I am trying to track down. In some ways it is kind of like I’m playing with a time machine!