Gloating and Gluttony Then and Now
by pattrice jones
Originally published 2004 on various IndyMedia sites.
Revises 2003 essay originally published by Press Action.
Thanksgiving, 2003 — Bush the executioner grins and pardons a turkey before flying to Iraq. He’s earned that self-satisfied smirk. All over his United States, citizens celebrate conquest over platters of flesh. Too full of turkey to think and too full of themselves to question, they let out their belts and watch TV. Tomorrow they go shopping!
November, 2004 – Homophobia hands GWB four more years. Seizing the day, he orders his Conquistadors to take Falluja. US troops blockade the city, announcing that any man under 45 who remains will be presumed hostile and that no man under 45 will be permitted to leave. Any man having the audacity to have been born in a city the Americans want to occupy is about to discover what the original inhabitants of the Americas learned long ago.
“Body parts are everywhere!” That’s what one US soldier had to say about the saddest city in Iraq, according to an AFP report. It’s also an apt description of the state of US dinner tables during the festival of gloating and gluttony known as Thanksgiving.
This year, the United States celebrates Thanksgiving in the wake of the taking of Falluja. Waving “drumsticks” and fighting for “wishbones,” complacent Christians will gorge themselves without fear, safe from the threats of gay marriage and Iraqi self-determination. Stuffing themselves beyond satiation, they and their children will partake of the proud Puritanical tradition of ruthless, reckless expansion.
Colonization is nothing to crow about. When Columbus blundered into a hemisphere populated by 70-100 million people and countless unique species of flora and fauna, he set into motion a chain reaction of repression and rebellion that continues to this day. The ongoing European occupation of the Americas was accomplished by both intentional and collateral genocide and ecocide. Neither the human communities nor the ecosystems that were here before the Europeans have ever fully recovered.
The Pilgrims honored on Thanksgiving day continued the conquest begun by Columbus, imposing both technologies and ideologies on the people, plants, and animals who were here first. Like the geographic displacements that cleared the way for European occupation, cultural dislocations were induced through both coercion and deception. The resulting changes warped every aspect of Native American life, including public gender roles and private sexual relations.
According to Gay American Indians (GAI) cofounder Randy Burns, “for centuries before and after the arrival of the Europeans, gay and lesbian American Indians were recognized and valued members of tribal communities” (1). However, over time, cultural disruption combined with the imposition of European notions about sex and gender led many communities that had previously integrated homosexual and cross-gendered individuals into the fabric of community life to begin, like Europeans, to disparage and shun their gay, lesbian, and transgendered family members.
“Today was a day like TB
you cough & cough trying to get it out
all that comes up is blood & spit”
- Chrystos (2)
Over 25,000 people in the United States, most of them gay men, were allowed to perish before the federal government took concerted action against AIDS. Today, more than half of all new AIDS diagnoses are among people of color while government action remains relatively minimal and often misplaced. Worldwide, more than 46 million people are struggling against HIV while drug companies use trade agreements and friends in high places to keep drug prices profitably high.
Many vendors of patented pharmaceuticals also make and market the pesticides, fertilizers, and biotech seeds that pollute and pervert the ecosystems within which we must sustain ourselves. These corporations manipulate the world food system, continuing the process of agricultural imperialism wherein unique and self-sustaining farming communities were converted into interchangeable cogs in a profit machine.
Today, most farmers are so entangled in the world economy that they are vulnerable to every market manipulation by the agribusiness corporations. Farm families in Asia and Africa have to worry about going hungry because of price fluctuations caused by US farm aid. Several countries export corn, wheat, and soy to the USA even as their children starve. The agribusiness companies that buy up the majority of those crops as feed for animals use their market power and influence with governments to keep prices below the cost of production. Thus, for the cash crop farmer, a good harvest is no guarantee of a full belly.
In colonial days, firearms and tax collectors were the agents of agricultural change, forcing subsistence farmers to switch to cash-crop agriculture to supply Europeans with cheap raw materials. In these allegedly post-colonial days, the World Bank and the USA use economic threats and incentives to control agricultural policies in developing countries, ensuring that US and European consumers will always have absurdly cheap meat. While Americans make their own children sick with 99 cent cheeseburgers, the children of the farmers who grew the corn that fed the cows go hungry.
The cows themselves, of course, are dead. Both animals and people have been and continue to be hurt by the historic and ongoing European fetish for flesh as food. Farmed animals were the unlucky agents of ecological and cultural change in the course of the conquest of the Americas. Historian Alfred Crosby wryly notes that “one who watched the Caribbean islands from outer space during the years 1492 to 1550 or so might have surmised that the object of the game going on there was to replace the people with pigs, dogs, and cattle” (3).
The importation of animals to be exploited as food or tools probably caused more ecological and social disruption than any other single aspect of the European occupation of the Americas. There were no cattle or horses or pigs in the Americas prior to the invasion. Imported animals ravaged grasslands, displaced indigenous animals, and trampled the carefully tended vegetable plots of Native American agriculturalists. For people subsisting on a predominantly plant-based diet, the destruction of crops was tantamount to theft of scarce food. Different communities reacted in different ways. Some fought back in defense of their fields; others gave up agriculture for hunting and pastoralism. All were themselves changed by the changes in local flora and fauna due to the arrival of the Europeans and their captive animals.
The turkey typifies the destructive impact of the historical process of colonization celebrated on Thanksgiving. Like so many animals native to the Americas, wild turkey populations were decimated by the combination of relentless hunting and reckless habitat destruction wrought by the European colonizers. Turkeys were also subjected to a process of ‘domestication’ that led directly to the factory farmed turkeys of today — distressed and disabled birds who go to painful and terrifying deaths having never seen the sun or breathed fresh air. Wild turkeys nest in trees and raise their chicks to be free. Domesticated turkeys cannot reproduce on their own; human “farm hands” masturbate male turkeys and then inject the collected semen into turkey hens who have been “broken” by being shoved to the ground with their legs in the air (4).
Just as domestication has perverted the bodies of turkeys, colonization of the Americas corrupted the eating habits of both European and Native Americans. That process of diet change led directly to the typical US diet of today, which is marked by heavy consumption of meat and other animal products. The average US carnivore gobbles up enough resources to feed 20 people a balanced vegetarian diet. As a result, 826 million people in the world are living with hunger and malnutrition while the US struggles with heath care costs and productivity losses due to the heart disease, diabetes, obesity and cancers associated with meat consumption (5).
“What was the familiar name
Of that young girl who danced so gracefully
That everyone in the village sang with her -
Before Cortez’ sword hacked off her arms…?”
-Jimmie Durham (6)
“Please circulate the name of Ali… Two houses were hit by a Bush missile and the fires burned alive 12 members of his family… He is fully conscious. He has no more arms, and a black burned belly…”
-Marinella Correggia reporting from Baghdad (7)
“from Alaska, loved flowers and wanted to open a flower shop but he managed a bank instead (you know how life can be) well he was positive (?HIV?) and full of love, then his health slipped and he met a blond …”
- panel from the AIDS quilt (6)
“Chickweed never recovered his sunny personality after his sister Violet died. Over time, he became less angry but he was never quite the same. When Chickweed died and we buried him, we felt compelled to add a few trinkets to his grave. We imagined future archeologists digging up our property. We wanted them to know: This chicken wasn’t anybody’s dinner. This chicken was somebody’s brother. This chicken was somebody’s friend.” (9)
Numbers can be numbing: The last of five billion passenger pigeons died in captivity in 1914. On the peninsula where I live, 12 million more chickens are dead by the end of every week. 24,000 people, most of them under the age of five, die every day due to hunger and malnutrition. The Taino people were reduced from three million to 200 within 50 years of the arrival of Columbus. Three million people will die of AIDS-related illness this year. And the USA just bought enough bullets to shoot each remaining Iraqi citizen 58 times.
These sad statistics, these litanies of loss, are all related. There are causal connections, like the link between meat consumption in the USA and hunger in Argentina, where 20 percent of the children are malnourished even as the country exports corn and soy to be used as animal feed. There are financial and motivational entanglements like those among drug profiteers, meat producers, and the Bush administration. There are ideological connections, like the identical stereotypes applied to both subjugated animals and subjugated peoples. And then there is the simple fact that every number represents a unique individual, once alive with joy and pain, now dead with all hope extinguished and only mourners left behind.
“Same as it ever was… same as it ever was… same as it ever was…”
- Talking Heads, Once in a Lifetime
The causal role of religion in all of this may be uncomfortable to face but cannot be ignored. Since their inception, the Abrahamic faiths have justified enslavement, oppression, and exploitation of women, animals, and people of other faiths. Just as Judaism mandated the conquest of Canaan and Islam excused the enslavement of African pagans, Christianity has been a guiding force in European and American expansionism.
The change in Native American attitudes towards homosexuality was but one outcome of the Christian crusade against Native American religious practices and but one battle in the ongoing religious war against gay men and lesbians. If George W. Bush really did win the election, it’s because Christians of all classes and colors came out to smite their gay neighbors. And, quiet as it’s kept, some of the Christian support for Bush is because, rather than in spite of, the inquisition at Abu Ghairb.
Now that men who believe themselves to be the agents of the Christian God are even more firmly in control of the United States government, we can expect the processes of conquest and cultural change to become more extreme and explicit. The Pentagon backed General William G. Boykin when he declared the United States to be a Christian nation and asserted that “our God” is “a real God” who is “bigger than” Allah (10). George W. Bush took time out from fighting evil to tell the Cattle Industry Annual Convention and Trade Show that “we want people in China eating US beef,” (11) even though the groundbreaking China-Cornell-Oxford Project has decisively demonstrated that increased meat consumption has already harmed Chinese health (12).
US soldiers use depleted uranium bombs in Iraq even as the US government forces unwanted uranium mines into Navajo lands (13). Thus the conquest continues. But resistance has been as persistent as poke weed, surviving underground when apparently uprooted, coming back every spring to torment those who would fence it, and feeding the wild birds in the wintertime.
The Lakota people on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota have struggled to rid themselves of a massive pork production facility at which both abuses of animals and abuses of Native American workers have been alleged. Environmental activist Rosalie Little Thunder has condemned the facility because pigs are not native to the region, because the animals are kept in inhumane conditions, because the plant spews pollution, and because the original agreement between the corporate owners of the facility and the tribal council was not approved by the people. Native American workers at the facility have come forward with allegations of racial discrimination and tales of animal abuse above and beyond the mistreatment built into the confinement system (14).
The Rosebud resistance is a struggle where the connections between the oppression of land, animals, and people are perfectly clear. If we want to support every sort of resistance against illegitimate power, then we must teach ourselves to recognize those kinds of connections even when they are not so easy to see.
It wasn’t so long ago that leftists laughed at gay liberationists, considering their struggles at best silly and at worst distractions from real problems like racism. Now, most feminists understand heterosexism as an element of sexism as well as a significant problem in its own right. We understand how racism and homophobia have combined to jeopardize the lives of all people with AIDS. We know that both the roots and the branches of the different kinds of oppression among humans are so entangled that we can’t hope to end one without ending them all.
Today, it’s the animal liberationists who are the targets of sneers and jeers from the left even as we struggle mightily against the same foes. Feminists are still in the process of articulating all of the connections between speciesism and sexism while concepts like dietary racism have only just begun to be explored. We’re on the cusp of change and, if history is any guide, we can look forward to hours of anguished argument as the animal and social justice movements struggle to integrate each other’s analyses.
The Spaniards hacked the arms off of any ‘Indian’ who did not supply them with the requisite tribute of gold. Cluster bombs blow the limbs off of boys and girls in Afghanistan and Iraq. We teach the boys and girls here in the USA to eat the wings of baby birds as snacks. All of these dismemberments are symptoms of the same disease: violent alienation from ourselves, each other, other animals, and the rest of the natural world.
While all of our problems are connected, estrangement, or separation, is both cause and consequence of those problems. We are cut off from the earth, other animals, each other, and ourselves. Those disconnections allow us to do terrible things to the earth, other animals, each other, and ourselves. Doing those terrible things increases the estrangement. And the cycle of violation and separation continues…
George Bush’s Americans seek solace at the shopping mall, too disconnected from their own desires to imagine an alternative. Dissidents seek comfort in numbers, arranging countless identical demonstrations that have no impact on the military-industrial complex but at least allow them to feel less alone. They, too, seem unable to even imagine a world in which effective collective direct action might actually make a difference. Thus they remain content with symbolic shows of dissent.
Remembering, in the truest sense of the word, is the cure for this malaise. We must connect the dots from the slaughterhouse to the dinner plate, from rape at the fraternity house to rape on the dairy farm, from torture in the vivisection lab to torture in iraq, and from meat consumption in the United States to hunger in Argentina. We must recognize and cultivate our relationships with each other, with other animals, and with the ecosystems in which we are enmeshed. And we must make sure that our own hearts, minds, and hands are always connected. We must work to ensure our own basic integrity, so that what we think and feel and do are always consistent with one another.
If we remember hard enough, we can envision the freedom, integrity, and attachments that have been stolen from us all. If we work hard enough, we can bring them back.
“because the moon remembers
because so does the sun
because the stars
and the persistent stubborn grass
of the earth”
- Paula Gunn Allen (15)
(1) See Living the Spirit: A Gay American Indian Anthology, edited by Will Roscoe (1988) St. Martin’s Press
(2) From her book Not Vanishing (1988) Press Gang.
(3) See “The Biological Consequences of 1492” by Alfred W. Crosby, Jr.; in Report on the Americas, 25.2 (1991) 6-13
(4) See “My Job at the Turkey Breeding Factory” by Jim Mason, presented in Norfolk, VA in September of 2004 and available on videotape via United Poultry Concerns and in text via Compassion Over Killing
(5) See Global Hunger Alliance for more information about the connections between meat consumption and world hunger
(6) From Living the Spirit
(7) Personal communication, 04 April 2003
(8) Information about the AIDS Memorial Quilt may be found at AIDSQuilt.org
(9) See Meet the Chickens on the Eastern Shore Sanctuary website.
(10) “REBUILDING IRAQ — CONTROVERSIAL REMARKS. Pentagon defends general”
By Matt Kelley, Associated Press, 10/17/2003
(11) Transcript: President Bush on Terrorism, Farm Bill, Trade Bill (February 8, 2002) at http://hongkong.usconsulate.gov/uscn/wh/2002/020801.htm
(12) Visit the China-Cornell-Oxford Project for more information about diet change and health in China
(13) See the Depleted Uranium Education Projectand Energy bill is omnicide by Brenda Norrell in Indian Country Today (12/03/2003)
(14) See Hog Farm at the Dakota-Lakota-Nakota Coalition website
(15) From Living the Spirit