Mylène Ouellet – Abolitionist on Fire

One of the blogs I find myself returning to again and again is My Face Is on Fire. Mylène Ouellet is the force behind its creation – she states, “I like to poke around and see how much of the issues surrounding (the ethics of consumerism) are (mis)represented in the mainstream media.”  Watch out, media, you are being scrutinized!  A recent post blasted yet another celeb for promoting a non-vegan burger that she admitted to eating. Not only is Mylène a tremendous worker for the cause of abolitionism, she is an intelligent and dedicated human being that has deep respect for animal life as is in evidence in the following interview:

What is your vegan history?  Your abolitionist history?

I spent too, too many years — around a dozen — as a lacto-vegetarian participating in various online “veg*an” discussion forums before going vegan. Although I actually spent many of those years living animal-product-free, I only consider myself to have been vegan a little short of three years, since just after my father died.

Sometime in early 2007, I’d started listening to Bob and Jenna Torres’ Vegan Freak Radio podcast and unlearned a lot of what I’d had drilled into me about veganism the years I’d spent as a non-vegan shuffling various animal products in and out of my diet while convincing myself that I was making ethical choices. Bob and Jenna were the first two vegans I’d ever heard discussing veganism as anything other than a “personal choice.” I’d spent years hearing vegans being dismissed as “extremist” in these online communities where vegans having the audacity to talk about veganism were often chided for hurting others’ feelings by suggesting that consuming dairy or eggs (or using any other animal product) was wrong. Hearing Bob and Jenna’s podcast was an absolute relief.  It was the first time I’d ever heard anyone presenting veganism as the absolute least we can do if we’re serious about the rights and interests of nonhuman animals, and they did it in this matter-of-fact way that made veganism sound normal and the consumption and use of nonhuman animals sound extremist.

Vegan Freak Radio and the Vegan Freak Forums were also where I first learned about Gary L. Francione.  His abolitionist approach to animal rights had the sort of clarity that left me sorry that I’d spent so many years with such muddled thinking. Reading Prof. Francione’s work is what cemented my decision to go — and stay! — vegan and it convinced me that I needed to take things one step further by using my blog to talk to others about veganism.

Do you live with any companion animals? History with nonhuman animals?

I currently live with three cats.  Zeus and Sophie were adopted as kittens almost 10 years ago.  Friends were fostering them for a local shelter, along with their mother, who’d been abandoned pregnant in an apartment by tenants who’d skipped out on their rent. I had been thinking of introducing another cat to the household and when I met the kittens, I fell in love with both.  I had only planned to adopt one, but Sophie had problems with her eyes and I had been told that there was a chance that she would be killed, since it decreased the likelihood of her adoption (her eyes teared constantly — something eventually misdiagnosed as fused tear ducts).

A little over a year later, Sammy was rescued from a neglectful neighbor in my building who’d left him outside 24/7 for several months.  I spent a lot of time in my vegetable garden and he decided to starting hanging out with me.  After I’d spent an entire summer feeding him and treating his abscessed bite wounds from all of the scraps he’d get into — and after failing miserably at getting the local SPCA to do anything — I approached the neighbor about him and she told me that she’d been hoping he’d just “go away.” I’d intended to rehome him, since I was living with four cats at the time, but he was nervous and tended to snap and I was worried that I’d be unable to find someone willing to be patient with him.  As it turns out, he’s just such a really sensitive and intuitive guy and I can’t imagine not having spent the last several years sharing my home with him.

I’ve been rescuing, fostering and rehoming cats for over 20 years now.  Every single one of them was a person to me and has had an impact on my life.  I’m grateful to have had a chance to get to know each one and to have been able to help each one.  Some, like Tarwater who came to live with me in 1994 and died just last summer, I still mourn.  So many people have this unfortunate notion that cats are aloof, and they view them as being sort of generic, when nothing could be further from the truth.  You need to get to know them, to establish relationships with them — as you would with anyone. They’re incredible individuals. I agree with what Vincent Guihan says of them.  He calls them refugees.  These cats, dogs and all the rest of the animals bred into existence to be our so-called pets and then abandoned to shelters — we need to give them homes, to let them live our their lives. People go on about open rescue — busting animals out of factory farms — when there are over 3-4 million cats and dogs (and rabbits, mice, rats, et al.) killed in shelters every year in the US alone. And why?  Because they were bred into existence for human pleasure and then tossed aside when those humans were done with them.  If you have the space, please adopt a non-human refugee from your local shelter.

Is there a viable vegan community where your live?

I live in a really small city in a tiny Canadian province that is mostly rural.  Hunting and fishing are favourite pastimes and animal agriculture is everywhere.  Veganism has entered the mainsteam and more and more people I encounter are familiar with the idea of it, however, speciesism is such a part of the culture here that I’ve only ever so briefly met one other vegan in this city (and our politics were significantly different). She very much believed that veganism was a personal choice and that it didn’t matter whether or not other people used animals.  To me, that’s like saying that you’re against child slavery so won’t enslave children personally, but that you don’t care whether or not others do. I think that some vegans, although refraining from using animals themselves, still very much need to come to terms with their own speciesism in this sense.

The very first time I was ever knowingly in a room with vegans was when I met Prof. Francione and his partner Anna Charlton early last September.  They’re absolutely wonderful people, both of them.

Is your family supportive of your veganism?

I grew up in a very small town in a working class family.  Both of my parents had been raised on farms and had been taught to view animals as existing for human use. I was the sort of kid who’d bring home every single stray I encountered, but my mother believed quite strongly that non-humans either belonged in the woods or in barns — certainly not inside houses.  I’d already been living away and on my own when I started changing my consumption habits, and my parents respected my choices as personal choices, but for the most part, my family members had it in their heads that I had stopped eating animals because I was a big old softy — that it was an emotional thing. My father used to say that he could relate to it since although hunting season was a very big deal when I was growing up, he refused to hunt, stating that he couldn’t bring himself to kill another living being. During his last few years, he asked me a lot of questions about my actual reasons and the ethics behind it, though, and soon expressed an interest in reducing his own consumption of animal products and in having me cook some vegan dishes for him, but he had so many dietary restrictions at the time that my mother — who did all of his cooking — was opposed to it. I’m convinced, based on our conversations, that had circumstances been different, my father would have eventually gone vegan.

Any advice for budding activists?

Read all that you can get your hands on and think critically about everything that you read and about any information you’re given by anyone.  A lot of people get into animal advocacy thinking that there’s immediate gratification to be had from it and get disappointed when they realize that we have a lot of work to do to change the status quo significantly and permanently. Part of changing this status quo involves informing yourself of the issues and arguments so that you can be a better advocate.  Part of it also involves staying focused on what we owe non-human animals and to talk to people about going vegan and about rejecting the commodification of non-human animals.   Read Gary L. Francione’s Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog to gain a better understanding of animal rights and Rain Without Thunder to learn why it is that anything other than an abolitionist rights-based approach falls so incredibly short in helping non-human animals. Focusing on regulating their use accomplishes nothing except to make people more comfortable with using them. Is that what we really want?

It’s also important to get to know other vegans — other animal rights activists.  Start an abolitionist vegan group in your school or city.  Start an animal rights book club.  There’s a great discussion forum online called Animal Emancipation where abolitionists come together to discuss everything from advocacy to animal ingredients — come join in the discussion.

Mylène posts frequently on Facebook, and you can follow her on Twitter, too (MFIoF).  Be sure to check out her new podcast, either on her blog (My Face Is on Fire) or on iTunes.  Her passion for ethical consumerism, abolitionist animal rights, and simple fairness are all apparent in her writings and podcasts.