November 14, 2023
Anti-specieism, veganism and capitalism. A conversation with Alice Pomiato
The voice of Alice Pomiato, inerviewed by Michela Grasso, SPAGHETTIPOLITICS
Anti-speciesism is defined by the Treccani Enciclopedia as "Thought, movement, attitude which opposes the belief, considered prejudicial, according to which the human species is superior to other animal species and maintains that the human being cannot dispose of the life and freedom of beings belonging to other species”.
Q: Hi Alice, can you tell us what you do?
A: I define myself as a content creator and trainer on topics related to sustainability. In this period I am focusing on working with schools and private companies: I create training courses to give people the tools to approach sustainability. In my work, I start by explaining why we are experiencing a climate crisis, and then focus on what we can do at an individual, collective, working level, and how we can become agents of change in the world. I often realize that people don't know what we're talking about when we talk about sustainability, they feel discouraged by what they see and hear, but they don't know where to start to change their lives.
Q: On social media you talk about sustainability, and you often discuss the topic of anti-speciesism. How did you approach this philosophy of thought?
A: When I started my Instagram channel, Aliceful, in 2020, I wanted to share my personal journey towards a more sustainable life. At the time I was omnivorous, I ate everything, and as the community grew, more and more vegan and anti-speciesist people followed me, and began to point out inconsistencies in my way of thinking. From there I became interested in the topic, following various pages that dealt with anti-speciesism, veganism, ecology and the environment. My path towards anti-speciesism started from nutrition because everything that concerns the exploitation of animals often concerns the industry aimed at transforming them into food. Animal exploitation is everywhere: in experimentation, in zoos, in the workforce, in entertainment, in the pet trade; our planet has been transformed into a prison for animals and these reflections have led me on the anti-speciesist path.
Q: Why do so many people struggle to set out on this path?
A: I think everyone has a very different way of thinking and approaching the world. I consider myself a very curious person, who can question herself. I like to think of myself as someone who doesn't hold the truth in her hands. But in the diversity of the world, there are also many people who are comfortable as they are, comfortable in a certain type of thoughts and habits, this can make it difficult to question oneself. If we add to this the total normalization and institutionalization of violent practices in the food production process, it is almost obvious that changing one's way of thinking becomes even more complicated. Going against the stream requires a lot of energy and awareness.
Q: In Italy vegans are often misjudged, where do you think this perception comes from?
A: The discussion is complex; in the public space, the vegan is often identified with the term "Nazi-vegan". This is because the vegan community has become known for being verbally abusive, and the public doesn't like how some battles have been waged. I recognize this, but I have to add, if I were talking about human beings, would the reaction be considered equally violent? When faced with an injustice against a human population, violent reactions, demonstrations and condemnations are seen in a completely different way than the same reaction against a violence that sees 90 billion animals killed every year. Animals are forced to live and die in terrifying conditions, and when in the world it happens that people are forced to live in the same conditions, it is (rightly) considered correct to oppose it. However, the moment I vocally oppose animal slaughter, public opinion identifies me as an extremist, crazy, Nazi-vegan. I believe this comes from the loss of connection we have with the world around us, animals are seen as things, objects at our service to dispose of. I recognize that as a community we have to work differently, violent communication doesn't work, it makes no sense to lash out at individuals: I know that when my grandmother makes ragù, she is not a sadistic, violent or bad person. She is a person who lives within a society that has normalized, legalized and institutionalized animal violence. Anti-speciesism is a real cultural revolution in the Western world, it completely changes our way of thinking. If it is estimated that gender equality in Italy will be achieved in more than 130 years, how many years will it take to respect the lives of animals? I don't think we will ever see this moment, maybe not even our grandchildren.
Q: Alice, I ask you to comment on this dilemma. In Italy, a country with a huge vegetarian and vegan culinary tradition, it is often difficult to eat without animal derivatives. On the contrary, in a country like the Netherlands, with a culinary tradition based almost entirely on meat, being vegan is much simpler. Why do you think this is?
A: This reflection reminds me of DOI podcast, which explains how everything we consider Italian gastronomic culture is actually the result of a huge marketing operation on which we have built an empire. The Nordic countries, however, followed a different process. Basically, they were countries where growing crops could be difficult, especially in winter, and consequently there was no alternative to meat. Today, however, they seem to have realized the enormous damage that the meat and animal derivatives industries cause to the planet, and are putting a lot of effort into offering and creating alternatives. For example, the Netherlands itself is trying to convince farmers to reconvert their farms, obviously facing strong opposition. But why does this opposition exist? Farming is a profession that is passed from generation to generation, a family job, and often those who do it have no alternatives. The farmer is a figure linked to the land, and when the State tells you that you must stop farming your cows because they pollute, it is normal to react badly. This is why we must change our way of communicating, it is not the fault of the individual, but of the system. And it is this system that must help us change.
Q: How do you see the growing phenomenon of young Italians "returning to work the land"?
A: I know many people who have done what is known as "climate quitting": they left their office jobs to go and work the land, to have a different impact on the world. Many of us were sold the false idea that being a farmer was a bad, inferior and ignorant job. Yet, producing food is one of the most important jobs for our society. They convinced us that by working the land we would be ruined, but they didn't tell us that by spending 8 hours a day in the office for years we would be ruining our bodies and minds. I used to work in an advertising agency, some nights we couldn't sleep, we worked like crazy, as if we were saving human lives, it's absurd. The State must encourage agricultural companies, push for work on the land. We need to create realities capable of feeding the local community and preserving the territories and the ecosystem, but to do so we need to have the right conditions.
Q: How do you imagine a different future?
A: For me the most important thing we need to enjoy a different future is to address the big elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about: our economic system. It's time to question capitalism, we've now realized that it doesn't work. It is not possible that even in environmental economics there is talk of making capitalism "green". We cannot continue to believe in infinite growth and expansion. For example, let's pretend we can have nuclear energy everywhere, zero fossil emissions. This doesn't mean stopping pollution or halting the destruction of the planet. Even with zero emissions, resource extraction does not stop, and these resources do not regenerate at the same rate as they are extracted. In the future I imagine, those who study economics must also study biology and have a very precise idea of how the world works and the logic of extracting resources from natural environments. A huge amount of cultural and educational work is needed to create an economy aimed at the common good, at the community. A good example is that of bioregionalism, i.e. a government system based on the idea that each region, province or city can govern itself in an autonomous and different way based on its own natural and social characteristics.
Q: Earlier you mentioned how human beings in the West see themselves as separated from nature, would you like to talk about it?
A: An example of this theme is the phenomenon of ecophobia: the disgust or fear that a person feels towards natural environments. Multiple researches have shown how after COVID, ecophobia has increased especially among children, who have gotten used to living in closed and controlled environments. In a world like the Western one, where we live increasingly detached from nature, it is normal to grow up afraid of the natural environment, even perceiving it as a threat. This is a problem, because if you don't love nature, don't recognize its power, or if it disgusts you, you will never be able to work to protect it. And there would be a great discussion to be had about children, because we often don't realize how much more open-minded they are than us when it comes to respecting the environment. I recently went to an animal shelter, which supports itself with voluntary donations, and it came naturally to me to ask them why they didn't do educational farms for school groups, to see how animals can live freely, without being exploited. And they told me that this is absolutely not possible, because this creates a short circuit in the child: if at home the parents have normalized eating animals, and don't want to question this habit, and then you tell the child that the meatballs they are eating come from the calf, you risk sending the child into a tailspin. And this happens precisely because the younger you are, the more you are able to see things from another perspective.
Q: What would you say to all those people who say that if you don't eat animals, then you shouldn't eat plants either since they "suffer" too?
A: Last year I did the "futuro vegetale" master's degree with Stefano Mancuso, one of the world's greatest experts in plant neurobiology, the very one who wrote all those books from which people draw their comments on the suffering of plants. And I asked him, "Prof, do plants suffer?". And he replied by telling me that plants do not suffer as we understand it, having a central nervous system completely different from that of mammals, birds, etc. Plants are very intelligent, evolved, adaptable and different forms of life from us. Usually the purpose of the fruit or vegetable plant is to produce seeds that will be eaten, that must be eaten. Why? Because being digested by other living beings helps these plants to carry on their species, to proliferate, this is their intelligence. Anti-speciesism and veganism are ethical choices, and clearly must not lead to suicide, but cause as little suffering as possible. And then Mancuso added another thing: if these people really cared about plants then they wouldn't eat meat. In fact, 70% of the world's cultivated lands are cultivated to feed the animals that end up on our plates.