Tim Barford from VegfestUK reviews ‘Circles of Compassion’

23rd January 2016

Having taken up reading again after a 15 year gap, here is the 2nd in a series of book reviews around the issues of veganism. As mentioned in my first review, these reflections are an attempt to help stimulate interest in these issues, and especially to encourage people to take an interest in and get themselves educated about issues of oppression, justice and veganism. You don’t need an education to get yourself an education in these areas, apart from an ability to read,  and books like these help make this possible. And as many of us know too, the personal challenge of reviewing and commenting on what one has read is a very valuable tool in helping deepen one’s own understanding of the issues at hand.

This book is called ‘Circles of Compassion’ and it is a collection of essays by 29 different authors, edited by Will Tuttle and published by Vegan Publishers. Before going any further, I must mention Vegan Publishers and especially their Co – founder Casey Taft as being a great source of inspiration and education for me recently, and how thrilled that he is coming over from Boston USA to our event in Brighton in February (VegfestUK Brighton Feb 27th 28th 2016). Casey is exceptionally well thought out and a VERY interesting dude. Looking forward to meeting you Casey! Likewise editor Will Tuttle is also visiting our event and I look forward to meeting Will too – a former zen monk and a composer, Will is highly regarded by many and a very welcome guest.

Circles of Compassion describes itself as ‘a collection of essays connecting issues of justice’ and as such a great introduction to pro intersectional vegan advocacy. I have to admit that this is new territory for me, and therefore I will refrain from saying too much, as it’s an area about which I have a lot to learn. But it may be helpful to people even less familiar with pro intersectionality to get an introduction to some of these ideas –and for this, I recommend ‘Circles of Compassion’ as highly enjoyable and useful for anyone interested in these issues.

Of course with a book containing no less than 29 different authors, it would be impossible to agree with everything everyone says. But rather than dwell on anything potentially problematical, I’m going to briefly look at 6 standout essays that I found especially helpful in expanding my own circles of compassion and understanding. And of course that’s not to say there aren’t other outstanding essays within this gem of a compilation – they are all standout in their own rights, but it would take a whole book in itself to do them all ‘justice’ – so respect in advance for anyone left out of my  ‘top 6’, or indeed to anyone who objects to the inclusion to one of these 6. The intent and attitude is to stimulate respectful debate and education on essential issues for the 21st century global member of the moral community, and on some these areas, some of us may still disagree.

Looking through all those authors though – wow! An incredible collection of inspirational beings one way or another, and even if we don’t all agree (obviously) nevertheless a considerable selection of writers nonetheless.

Rita Laws – Mother Corn, Father Pumpkin, Sister Bean….

This one is emotional, Truly. Rita is a Choktaw Indian living in the USA and writes about American Indians and the different tribes, cultural habits and especially their food sources and cultivation. Her own people the Chocktaw Indians of Mississippi enjoyed a range of vegetables as their mainstay diet – and especially corn, which was included in just about everything. They were essentially farmers, and even their clothes were plant based. She goes on to look at those tribes that depend on animal exploitation, like the Sioux, Apaches and Comanches, all of whom ‘lost the corn’ , gave up agriculture and became dependent on the buffalo. And of course, the white man profited.  Rita Laws calls for a return for her people to ‘return to the corn’ as we face the challenges of the 21st century, and reflects on how the tribes that chose the ‘peaceful path’ of agriculture and diversity rather than exploitation, were able to survive. The same could not be truer of today.

I found Rita’s short essay incredibly dynamic, relevant and moving. As I write, I am holding back emotion. She has touched a chord deep within. I have no idea about the rest of Rita Law’s work but this essay touched me deeply and I hope others get to read it. It’s literally 9 pages long.

Dr. Anteneh Roba – Injustice Everywhere

We had the pleasure of meeting Anteneh at VegfestUK Brighton in 2015 – but reading his essay was a real eye opener. Much of his work is centred around Ethiopia, working with children to improve health care in rural areas, and also with homeless dogs and ‘working’ animals, as well as promoting a plant based diet. Dr Roba’s essay opens with an incredibly powerful description of a visit to a former slave castle on the Gold Coast of Ghana – likening the experience to those of so many enslaved animals today, and relating the deep sadness that he felt at this point. Dr Roba goes on to explore some of the ‘traditional’ oppression in Africa today, much of which stems from colonialism, and now ‘neo – colonialism’ and explores especially the hierarchy that exists today and how it evolved, and the connection with animal oppression, and the violence involved. He also joins up some of the dots between ‘human suffering’ and ‘animal suffering’ and how they are inextricably linked – and how the key to ending human suffering is to end animal suffering. I always knew that we used developing countries like Ethiopia to grow cattle fodder – but I didn’t know about ‘land leasing’ and the damage that ensues, the abuse of rights of indigenous people and animals, and the eco destruction involved. Roba quotes Dr King at the end ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere’ and this essay is a must read for those who want to make a few connections and understand what is happening all over the world with neo colonialism.

Dawn Moncrief – Hunger, Meat, and the Banality of Evil

Dawn is a particular fave amongst our team following her visit to the UK in 2015 and it was a pure joy to discover her compact but bijoux contribution to this collection. Dawn founded A Well-Fed World and I have huge admiration for her and respect for her achievements. Her essay is some 15 pages but neatly broken in manageable chunks as she tackles the immense issues of world hunger and the link with animal agriculture and oppression, demonstrating clearly their entwined existence – and yet another compelling reason to go vegan and stay vegan. On a personal note, that’s partly why I went vegan back in 1984, at the time of Live Aid, as the link between the use and abuse of land to grow cattle fodder in developing countries coupled with the ‘land leasing’ referred to by Dr. Roba became apparent. Dawn is a wonderful person and her essay is easy to read (a common theme throughout this book) and simple to understand, and although seeped with sadness and the stark reality of the situation, nevertheless positive and uplifting in the solutions provided.

Richard A Oppenlander – Our Lifetime Revealed Through the Eye of Justice

Researcher Dr. Oppenlander is an expert in the environmental effects of food choice, sustainability and hunger. Once more , this excellent short essay focuses on the need to change – and soon – and how issues of justice are drawn together, and both linked and solved by seeking justice everywhere. And especially regarding injustice to animals. I love his easy style packed full of information and references but in an absorbable way with clear conclusions and solutions. In fact from memory, all the 29 essays within this compilation have a very positive side to them – partly in respect of the fact that the vegan solution is so far reaching in regards to all injustice.

Christopher–Sebastian McJeffers – Slavery. It’s Still a Thing

A dynamic essay looking at African American slavery by Sebastian, who works with Vegan Publishers and help promote intersectional veganism as well as other social justice movements, especially the LGBT community and people of colour. He asks the question – and discusses appropriate replies. A very interesting introduction to this controversial area as Sebastian draws comparisons  between the history of 250 years previous with the present day. Of course human slavery goes way back with origins recorded around 2000BC of slaves, and slavery was common in the UK from the 1600’s onwards, and some find it challenging to make comparisons between human slavery and animal slavery – but this essay asks a lot and answers plenty. As a resident of Bristol in the UK especially, I find the history of the abolition of slavery very relevant. For not only did Bristol ‘lead’ the way in terms of profiteering from slavery (an average on one ship every two weeks left Bristol to sail the slave triangle in the 1700’s – that’s around 2,200 ships), but it was also the place where the abolition of slavery movement began in 1787, when Thomas Clarkson came to Bristol to start a petition, begin a fund raising collection and form a  committee- which eventually led to the abolition of slavery in 1833, some 46 years after Clarkson raised the flag for the abolition of slavery.  It’s not easy reading – and indeed, many of these issues are of course by nature highly sensitive and highly challenging – but that is exactly what any successful social justice movements will do and I welcome this contribution to the debate.

Katrina Fox – Why Compassion is Essential to Social Justice

Katrina came over to our London event last October ‘15 to launch her new book Vegan Ventures, which I will be having the pleasure of reviewing in the weeks to come. The essay here is very short, and looks at her own experiences of growing up with racism, sexism and homophobia, and animal abuse. Katrina is a massive inspiration and I felt I got to know her so well in a very few pages – a real skill  and a real insight into some of these complex issues. Her recent work is especially compelling as it looks at vegan businesses and their growth in relation to spreading the vegan ‘message’ in a highly pragmatic and effective sustainable fashion and I look forward very much to seeing Katrina at our events in the future, and thank her for her excellent contribution in this area especially.

As mentioned, there are many more standout essay and authors that haven’t been mentioned in this review. What can I say? get a copy and read it!

I have learnt a lot through reading this book – the importance of expanding one’s circles of understanding of oppression and injustice, of listening, and learning……and seeing how important it is to avoid any trace of ‘isms’ within one’s own vegan advocacy, or advocacy on other Social Justice issues. It appears sometimes that animals are left off the agenda as having ‘equal’ rights when it comes to ‘justice’ and ‘oppression’, or relegated to having ‘less’ rights than humans, whilst still being recognised as rights holders. These concepts are challenging but also exciting as we learn to overcome all forms of oppression. I have also come to recognise and accept my own privileges, something that we should all be aware of, and also to recognise the areas in which I am, or have been, oppressed. This inner reflection has helped resolved some deeper inner issues and in doing so helped extend whole circles of compassion within, as well as to those around. Books are not always perfect, but they can help  trigger the most perfect thoughts and realisations. Which is why reading a book like this is of such value.

Since reading ‘Circles of Compassion’ during the first week of 2016, there has been some lively discussion on issues in Essentialism and Intersectionality between various members of the vegan and animal rights community. Of particular interest is the in depth essay by Professor Gary L. Francione published in early January 2016, which has been widely read, prompting quite a few discussions. You may want to read it here.


xxx Tm Barford Jan 2016

You can get a copy of ‘Circles of Compassion’ here: