6 June 2017

Are Disability Rights and Animal Rights Connected?

The provocative thinker Sunaura Taylor speaks out against the tyranny of ableism.

By Joshua Rothman, June 5, 2017 — The New Yorker

Here is an excerpt from this deeply engaging article. You can submit a letter to the editor here: themail@newyorker.com


Growing up, in Georgia, Taylor would often see “chicken trucks” on the highway: large, flatbed vehicles stacked with live chickens in cages. When one of these trucks sidled up to the Taylor family on the road, Sunaura and her siblings would hold their breaths, appalled, until it passed. “I was always an annoying, righteous vegetarian,” she said, laughing. “Even on that ADAPT march, I remember thinking, Ugh—these people want disability rights, but they’re eating meat.” In 2006, she convinced a worker at a poultry plant to let her take a photograph of a chicken truck; she spent a year making an eight-by-ten-foot painting of the truck, containing portraits of a hundred individual chickens. (After completing it, she became vegan.) She painted a watercolor in the style of a Greek frieze, “Sunnys in Chicken Cages,” in which she appears with the chickens behind bars.

Taylor began to read about the connections between animal rights and disability. She discovered that many factory-farmed animals are disabled in one way or another. In some cases, they’ve been injured through confinement; in others, their unusually shaped bodies make their lives harder. (She wondered if, in some sense, their man-made disabilities made killing them and eating them feel easier.) It seemed to her that there was an analogy between those factory farms and the environments in which many disabled people live. In “Beasts of Burden,” she writes that both farms and cities are built environments designed “to reward certain embodiments over others.” In a city, human-designed structures—curbs, stairs, doorknobs—make some kinds of bodies more difficult to have. In a similar way, Taylor argues, we build systems—of breeding, farming, slaughter, and thought—that diminish animals, then imagine their diminishment to be natural and inevitable.


Truck on highway loaded with hens in cages
Photo source: United Poultry Concerns