Author: Roxie Xie; Translator: Riley Peng @Animal Dialogue
First published on Animal Dialogue, 04/05/2016
Interviewee Profile: Roxie
Roxie Xie got a degree in Economics and Animal Studies from NYU, and currently works at an American environmental policy think-tank called Brighter Green. She is also one of Animal Dialogue’s core members and columnist for “vegan lifestyle.” In her spare time, she is a vegan fashion blogger, and A Green Beauty —a lifestyle magazine focusing on sustainable living—’s contributing editor. She has worked at companion animal shelters, supported China’s anti-abuse legislation, and protected wolverines, sharks, and killer whales. Recently, she started caring more about farm animal protection.
Childhood memories: red gem and “cumin rabbit meat”
When she was around 6, her grandfather bought a bunny, named by Roxie as “red gem.” Red gem is big, chubby, and very friendly towards humans, always gently jumping up and down near people’s feet. With reasons unknown to Roxie, her family suddenly stopped letting Roxie pet “red gem.” A confused Roxie followed her father to the suburbs, reluctantly released red gem into the forest. Red gem was chasing Roxie and her dad for a long time, and they couldn’t seem to be able to get rid of her. Her dad pressed the accelerator hard, and the car sped up until red gem finally disappeared from their sight.
After that, whenever her grandma enthusiastically made her “cumin rabbit meat,” she no longer desired to eat this dish. Although she was still a primary school student, she already felt quite uncomfortable with the idea of eating an animal that was previously her companion. Then, she had dogs, birds, and other animals as pets at her grandmother’s house. The time she spent with these animals enabled her to build up an empathy for them.
Upon first arriving in New York: no one can convince me to become a vegetarian
12 years later, Roxie came to NYU, where she unintentionally discovered a class called “Animal Ethics.” According to the course description, this class examines the nature of animal rights, the relationship between humans and animals, and the truth behind eating animals. This description immediately captivated Roxie, an avid animal lover. Roxie observed that, from rescuing stray animals to boycotting wildlife products, from refusing cat and dog meat to refusing shark’s fin, humans always perceive animals as something they can “eat” or “use.” She was especially intrigued by this relationship between humans and animals and eager to learn more about it from an academic perspective. Thus, without hesitation, she chose to take this class.
It was precisely this class that transformed Roxie’s ethical principles. “I refuse to be influenced by this First World sentimentality. Although I’m curious about why humans eat animals, no one can succeed in converting me into a vegetarian!” With this thought in mind, she enrolled in this class, stepping into a world she’s never imagined before. She still remembers her first essay in this class, when she wrote about the nature of “the survival of the fittest,” and stated her opinion that humans’ act of eating animals is a natural part of the food chain. However, when actually formulating an argument from a philosophical, ethical, and biological perspective, she realized that this opinion is actually an ideology, not a scientifically-based, logical argument.
What really made Roxie start rethinking her own logic was a video of “standardized animal slaughtering process” she saw in class. Growing up in an urban environment, she seldom spent time with farm animals, and thereby did not learn about the industrialization of modern agriculture. Nevertheless, the screaming animals and cold, swift production process made her reflect: on the one hand, she opposed bear bile farming, mink skin, and cruelly throwing the sharks into the ocean bottom after taking away their fins; on the other hand, she avoided the reality of chicklets being ground, pregnant pigs confined in cages, and cattle electrocuted. At that exact moment, she suddenly realized— both eating animals and wearing mink skin is rooted in classism and violence.
After coming to this recognition, Roxie was profoundly taken aback, and spent a long time wrestling with her own thoughts. She didn’t wish to perpetuate this violence and become an accomplice. However, while she found purchasing wild animal products, not eating cats and dogs, and not using leather easy, she found changing her deeply entrenched beliefs and refusing other animal products quite difficult.
Minoring in Animal Studies: breaking her misreading of animal rights
In order to further ascertain the relationship between humans and animals, Roxie chose Animals Studies as her minor at NYU, the very first college in the U.S. to offer a program that focuses on animal ethics. Industrialized farming, animal rights, civil rights, speciesism, and environmental impacts are the core topics for this minor. Through her studies, she learned for the first time how much damage livestock agriculture does to the environment, and how much cruelty animals in laboratories suffer. She also recognized the intricate ties among animal liberation, the LGBT movement, and feminism. Philosopher Peter Singer comments in Practical Ethics that giving a being special rights just because it belongs to the same species as we do is no different from racism. In this speciest classification, humans not only hold special rights, but also impose completely unnecessary violence on other species; this is also an issue in the equal rights movement that should not be ignored.
As an ideology, carnism has a relationship with vegetarianism that is analogous to that between masculism and feminism. “Because I’ve been submerged in this ideology for the past few decades, I couldn’t see any other options, and as a result lost the right to choose.” However, the Roxie now doesn’t want to define herself as just a vegan. She’s more inclined to call her current lifestyle non-violent. This attitude of non-violence, which entails avoiding violence towards all sentient beings (including both humans and non-human animals) and the environment. She seeks to avoid using any products—whether cosmetics, apparel, furniture, or food—that involve the exploitation of animals, whether or not they’re wildlife, companion animals, farm animals, or entertainment animals. As a consumer living above the poverty line who doesn’t have to worry about hunger and war, she thinks that she should choose the non-violent option whenever she can.
Etymology: The word “non-violence” comes from the Sanskrit word “ahimsa,” which means “hope not to hurt or kill.” It indicates that we can’t commit violent acts to ourselves or others under any circumstance. It stems from this ideology: it is unnecessary to achieve an end by harming humans, animals, and the environment. This is also a branch of philosophy based on ethical, religious, and spiritual principles that promote non-violence.
Q&A with Roxie
Q: Can you describe to us your non-violent lifestyle?
A: In my diet, I avoid meat and other animal products; that is, I eat a vegan diet. As to clothes and other accessories, I avoid fur, leather, and animal products and byproducts. I encourage reusing old clothes and buying second-hand in order to minimize waste. I also try my best to avoid buying from factories that exploit their workers, as such a lifestyle not only harms the health and rights of the workers but also causes damages to the environment. When on the road, I mostly choose public transportation. In addition, I will avoid purchasing cosmetics and daily essentials that tested on animals.
Q: Are people vegetarian because of their over-sentimentality and religion?
A: Vegetarianism is a diet, which people choose to adopt based on many different reasons. Some become vegetarian for the animals, some for the environment, some for health, and some for religious reasons. Everyone has a distinct story behind why he or she has chosen this diet. At first, people in China tend to associate vegetarianism with Buddhism. However, the Chinese vegetarian population has now increasingly diversified. Those who became vegetarian because of their religion is only one part of China’s vegetarian population.
Q: What’s the relationship between animal protection and veganism?
A: Wild animals, companion animals, entertainment animals, farm animals, and experimental animals are all animals. The nature of animal protection is for humans to avoid unnecessary exploitation of and violence towards them. Veganism is a non-violent diet that minimizes the amount of human-caused suffering and pain for animals.
Besides, industrialized agriculture occupies vast areas of agricultural lands. 80% of America’s farmlands are used for the livestock industry. As a result, forests and ecosystems are destroyed, wild animals are deprived of their habitats, and biodiversity is threatened. Thus, not supporting the livestock industry and industrialized agriculture indirectly helps the wild animals who have lost their homes.
Q: What’s the relationship between environmental protection and veganism?
A: The meat and dairy industry produces 51% of global greenhouse gases, which include animal methane, as well as greenhouse gases from transportation, the production of livestock feed, etc. In addition, the meat and dairy industry occupies 80% of the world’s agricultural lands, clearing forests—such as the Amazon forest— for its usage. Therefore, not supporting the livestock industry and industrialized agriculture to instead support organic agriculture is the best way to decrease your carbon footprint and deforestation.
Q: Is a vegan diet nutritious?
A: Without balance, any kind of diet can be lacking in nutrients.
We don’t rely on meat and dairy products to sustain us. Instead, we depend on carbohydrates, proteins, and vitamins to offer us nutrients and keep us healthy. Many plant-based products also contain these nutrients, especially protein, a nutrient most people seem to be concerned about. Many non-animal products are also rich in protein. The key is how to properly balance your diet. Currently, I plan to lower my body fat percentage to below 15% with a plant-based diet.
Q: Any recommendations for books on animal rights?
A: Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation and Practical Ethics
Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals
Cass R. Sunstein’s Animal Rights: Current Debates and New Directions
Tom Reagan’s The Case of Animal Rights
The documentaries Cowspiracy and Earthlings