Book Review: Beasts of Burden

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An excellent book that explores the social and political connections between animals and disability (human and nonhuman). What is disability? What is the social and medical model of disability? What is an animal? How do our opinions on what is normal affect animals and humans alike? What are the views of the disability movement towards veganism? And what are the views of the vegan movement towards disability?

Sunaura Taylor is a vegan that was born with arthrogryposis and in about 200 pages covers a wide range of issues. As I did not know much about disability theory, I found the book’s knowledge shockingly interesting. To those more initiated, I believe that the book is a great analysis of issues they might already know about – under a vegan lens this time.

Inspiration porn, the narrative about disable people in mainstream culture, the relations between poverty and disability, the relations between racist and sexist views are just some of the issues that come up early in Beasts of Burden.

Disabled animals is another important issue and the researches and stories about their behavior and the behavior of the rest of their herd are particularly interesting. Moreover, the cows that now produce much more milk while suffer from mastitis a lot more often are they disabled or hyperabled?

Ableism is presented in a whole separate chapter and the author examines how it affects both humans and animals. Attention is also give to the expression “voice for the voiceless” which the disability movement generally finds very problematic. This is an expression that a vegan activist group uses as their name, an organization that often turns against disabled people.

A specific part of the book that I found very interesting is the disagreement between Sunaura Taylor and Peter Singer. To me, Singer has offered the theoretical basis to modern veganism. I am aware that many vegans disagree with him because of his welfarist views but what I did not know is that his theory has left some good space for ableism. What is even more interesting is that Taylor and Singer had this uncomfortable conversation in person.

Language is also examined. Just as Carol J. Adams did in The Sexual Politics of Meat to point out the relations between speciesism and sexism, Sunaura Taylor does something similar to present the relations between speciesism and anti-disability mentality.

Eugenics, environment and slaughterhouse workers are some of the issues that are discussed towards the end of the book.

Unlike other books that resort to easy solutions and theories, Beasts of Burden presents a wide range of sources and opinions. It asks difficult questions and does not claim to have all the answers.

A great vegan book that I would absolutely recommend to everyone.

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