Friederike Schmitz, Animal Ethics. Friederike Schmitz is an assistant professor of philosophy at the Humboldt University in Berlin. She wrote her PhD on philosophical methodology in Hume and Wittgenstein and is now working primarily on topics in ethics and political philosophy. Also, she is the editor of a German anthology on animal ethics that was published in January 2014. Outside of academia, Friederike is active in several animal liberation groups. (photo: Hannes Jung)
Caryn Hartglass: Hello everybody! I’m Caryn Hartglass. You’re listening to It’s All About Food. Welcome, it’s July 15th, 2014. It’s kind of hot, sprinkly here in New York City. You know, I talk about the weather a lot and it’s kind of cliché a little bit to talk about the weather, but I love the weather. Especially today, it’s that fresh, tropical storm feeling where everybody gets caught by surprise – I was going into the subway today with my umbrella and no one coming out of the subway had an umbrella so they were in for a wet surprise. It’s always very refreshing and rejuvenating somehow when we have these changes. It’s almost like with rain we’re cleansed and we have an opportunity to start over one more time. And we really need to start over with a lot of things, don’t we? But we’re going to start with this show, right now. I’m going to bring on my first guest, Friederike Schmitz. She’s an assistant professor of philosophy at the Humbolt University in Berlin. She wrote her PhD on philosophical methodology in, I don’t even know what this is, in Hume and Wittgenstein and is now working primarily on topics in ethics and political philosophy. Also, she’s the editor of a German anthology on animal ethics that was published in January. Outside of academia Friederike is active in several animal liberation groups. So, welcome to It’s All About Food Friederike.
Friederike Schmitz: Thank you, hello.
Caryn Hartglass: Hi, I’m really glad to have you. You are actually my first in a series – I’ve been looking for people outside of the United States to find out about what’s going on in the animal movement and see what’s happening, what else is going on, and create a community where we can all learn from each other, work with each other and move this thing forward, and I found you!
Friederike Schmitz: (laughs)
Caryn Hartglass: Ok, so first I just want to know a little bit more about you and how you came to believe in the philosophy that you have about life on Earth.
Friederike Schmitz: Yeah, that’s a very big question! I was interested in animal welfare and things like that in school already and then I forgot about it during my philosophy studies, and I came back to it mainly from the private side. I became a vegetarian and then a vegan, and then I found out that it’s also very interesting to look into the ethical questions from a philosophical point of view, which I didn’t do before in my philosophy studies. I was mainly interested in theoretical philosophy before. So that really interested me theoretically and ethically as well, and that I could combine my interest for abstract philosophical questions with my wish to do something more relevant than what I did before in philosophy.
Caryn Hartglass: Sehr gut! So the first thing you mentioned was that you learned about animal welfare in school?
Friederike Schmitz: Not really in school, at the time I was in school and I perceived news about animal abuse and factory farms.
Caryn Hartglass: From other students maybe?
Friederike Schmitz: Yeah, and the media and discussions with my parents and so on. In the nineties I think there was the first wave of criticism of factory farms.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, because we don’t see any learning or any study about animal welfare in our schools today. Maybe in the universities there are some animal law classes and they’re starting to but you don’t see it in public schools or private schools for children unfortunately.
Friederike Schmitz: No, I’m not sure actually I think in Germany I don’t think its in the regular curriculum or so but I think there are several possibilities for teachers to bring it up. For example, one time a friend of mine who is a philosophy and ethics teacher in a school invited me to come talk to the students (or pupils) there on the topic so if there are teachers who are interested in it and want to do it, it happens, but not on a regular basis.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s good, and what about your parents – you mentioned your parents – so did they think like you do in terms of the treatment of animals today?
Friederike Schmitz: Now they understand, I think but they don’t have a real animal rights liberation perspective, but they’re critical of factory farming and but I don’t think they quite believe in the same radical positions that I have.
Caryn Hartglass: Right, it’s not radical! Everyone else is radical.
Friederike Schmitz: Radical in a good way.
Caryn Hartglass: Now when you’re teaching, do you get an opportunity to talk about animal ethics in philosophy?
Friederike Schmitz: Yeah definitely. At the moment I am teaching a class on animal ethics and one on environmental ethics, as part of the philosophy study. And people from other subjects can attend the course as well.
Caryn Hartglass: Do the students know what they’re going to hear about when they sign up for your class?
Friederike Schmitz: There’s not really a signing up, it’s sort of open so they don’t have to sign up in advance. They come to the first session and they stay or they don’t stay, but many stay, although they hear in the first session.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, so you called yourself “radical”, so what is the general public feeling about vegans and people fighting for animals in Germany?
Friederike Schmitz: I think it’s definitely changing so I think that veganism, at least, is becoming more and more popular and less and less feared or less and less seen as something totally away from mainstream or so. But still, the political animal rights or animal liberation position is far away from mainstream I think and there is still the perception that these ideas are quite extreme and not realistic have strange values and stuff like that.
Caryn Hartglass: Is factory farming popular in Germany?
Friederike Schmitz: No, nobody likes it and everybody criticizes it.
Caryn Hartglass: But are there factory farms inside Germany?
Friederike Schmitz: Yes, of course, many many many, and still growing. It’s popular in reality but in the public opinion it’s very not popular.
Caryn Hartglass: Part of the problem, other than the cruelty is it effects the environment in a dramatic way, and I know people in Europe tend to care a little more than the people in the United States about the environment, so are there regulations that are involved with factory farms? I know we have a handful in the United States, and whenever the farms don’t follow them and they pollute and they have their piles of manure leak into the waters, they don’t pay their fines and there’s not a lot of follow-up on the regulations that we have. What happens in Germany, do you know?
Friederike Schmitz: Yeah, I think there are several regulations. Also if you want to open or build a new factory farm, then there are many regulations that you have to meet. In one of the groups that I’m active in at the moment, we’re trying to prevent new factory farms from being built. Also by somehow getting to the official approval procedure, they have to be approved by the authorities and they have to show that they will meet a lot of regulations concerning which chemicals go out of the factory farms and where they get the water for it and where the water goes afterwards and all this stuff. It’s quite hard so they have to prove a lot of things but they can do it of course, they just invest more money and get the right people to write the documents.
Caryn Hartglass: One of the things I always liked when I was traveling through Germany, in almost every town there was a small health food store. Reform is it called?
Friederike Schmitz: Yes, Reformhouse.
Caryn Hartglass: Even back in the nineties when I started visiting quite frequently, there were some wonderful vegan pates and sausages and all kinds of great food so I never had a hard time eating over there. I imagine there’s a lot more going on today.
Friederike Schmitz: Yeah, in regular supermarkets they also have soy milk and soy yogurt and everything and the organic supermarkets a lot more, normally big shelves just vegan special things. And also a couple of purely vegan supermarkets opened.
Caryn Hartglass: Really?
Friederike Schmitz: In the last one or two years, yeah.
Caryn Hartglass: What’s it called?
Friederike Schmitz: There’s one chain that’s called Veganz, like vegan with a “z” at the end.
Caryn Hartglass: Wow!
Friederike Schmitz: And then some small shops apart from the chain. For example in my neighborhood very close to me is a very nice, small, collectively organized vegan shop that’s nice.
Caryn Hartglass: I love that idea. I had some friends who tried to create an all vegan supermarket here in New York maybe 10-15 years ago and it just didn’t work. Unfortunately people weren’t ready for it so that’s exciting to hear and I was talking earlier, this is sort of off subject, but I received an email actually about boycotting certain products because people didn’t support the politics behind the country that were supplying those products. My response back was why don’t we boycott all the stores that sell tortured animal products? And boycott all the stores that sell food that has toxic residues?
Friederike Schmitz: Yeah, let’s only do dumpster diving.
Caryn Hartglass: That can actually happen with a chain like Veganz.
Friederike Schmitz: Yeah.
Caryn Hartglass: We have a store that we can go to.
Friederike Schmitz: Yeah but, yes it’s all vegan but of course it’s not all like totally environmentally-friendly and without exploitation still like a capital store with lots of problems. It’s better than others though.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, it’s hard to have any kind of business and be as true to all of your beliefs and survive. It’s really really complicated. Okay, so let’s just talk about some fun things. What are some of the good vegan restaurants in Germany and some of your favorite dishes?
Friederike Schmitz: There are many in Berlin actually, there’s one great pizza place for example, only vegan pizza – I like those. And all kinds of Asian food actually is always very –
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah that’s always easier. I remember I spent a lot of time in Munich and there was the – Prinz Myshkin was a vegetarian restaurant there, it wasn’t vegan, but what was frustrating was that it was filled with cigarette smoke. Are people still smoking a lot over there?
Friederike Schmitz: Yeah, but it’s also getting less.
Caryn Hartglass: Very good. So, I’m curious, you’re going to be involved in an animal rights conference coming up in Luxemburg, is that where it is?
Friederike Schmitz: Yeah. That’s right.
Caryn Hartglass: Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Friederike Schmitz: It’s a conference that I think has been going on for a couple of years – I think three or four years maybe. I’ve been there twice I think and it’s always very nice, very international and also people from academia and activism are taking part. It’s always very interesting and always has a very clear animal rights perspective. Also it’s called the International Animal Rights Conference, so always very interesting but also very nice to meet people from other disciplines and other countries that share the same goals.
Caryn Hartglass: Now we’re going to be talking a lot more in the second part of this program about the environment and climate change. I know Germany is doing a lot of interesting things with sustainable energy, is anybody making the connection between animal agriculture and the damage it’s doing on the environment? Do you hear much about that?
Friederike Schmitz: Yeah definitely. I would say the local environmental issues but also the climate environmental issues are very known by now. There is a lot in the media and two big organizations have published a so-called Fleischatlas, “meat atlas”, last year and this year which shows all the global and environmental impacts of meat consumption which is great in a very accessible way, like nice graphics and pictures and so. They don’t talk about the animals so much, that’s a bit unfortunate.
Caryn Hartglass: That was my question – are they talking about the animals?
Friederike Schmitz: In this publication, that’s really a disadvantage and criticized.
Caryn Hartglass: Nobody wants to talk about the animals. I know unfortunately more people are enjoying eating more meat, and Germany like the United States has always been a big meat-eating culture.
Friederike Schmitz: I think in Germany the meat consumption is actually stagnating or even going down a bit.
Caryn Hartglass: Why do you think that is?
Friederike Schmitz: hard to say actually – I don’t know any studies. I think there’s some vegetarian/vegan movement plays some part and also that for example some cities and public eating places have introduced the veggie day and don’t serve meat on Sundays. And for example at many universities – what’s the eating place in universities called again?
Caryn Hartglass: The cafeteria?
Friederike Schmitz: Yeah, the cafeteria. They serve vegan meals regularly so it’s a change like more vegetarianism, more veganism and less meat but I think also like scandal and health reasons.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah people realize that eating less meat is better for their health. You mentioned “veggie day”? There’s something called veggie day?
Friederike Schmitz: Yeah.
Caryn Hartglass: What is that?
Friederike Schmitz: That just means in cafeterias for example there’s one day each week in which there’s only vegetarian options, which is also much discussed because people go against it and say its against freedom of choice and people want to force their opinions on us, although it’s in public cafeterias which are publically financed.
Caryn Hartglass: But I do want to force my opinion on everyone because I am right! And it’s really for their betterment. Oh dear, its such a complicated problem. Well, when you’re at the conference coming up, the animal rights conference, you’re going to be speaking about animal ethics.
Friederike Schmitz: Yeah.
Caryn Hartglass: And what does that mean?
Friederike Schmitz: In general you mean?
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah in general to you.
Friederike Schmitz: In general animal ethics means discussing the question of how we should deal with animals from an ethical perspective, like what is justifiable, what is not justifiable, with which reasons and for what argument can be brought forward for certain kinds of principles or so. And in the talk I’ll be giving I’ll try to show that several people that have contributed to animal ethics, several people who have renowned positions on the treatment of animals should actually have an abolitionist position and not only an undecided or a welfare position, although those people do not themselves explicitly say that they have an abolitionist perspective. So, for example Christine Korsgaard, who recently presented a kantian approach to animal ethics, she has a very interesting theory I think, and if that theory is taken seriously its actually an abolitionist position I think but she herself says ‘I’m not quite sure what follows practically from this, maybe we can still have dairy farming, for example, we can still have this and that’ and I think that’s a mistake.
Caryn Hartglass: I wish I could be there and hear all of the talks. I just have one last question. Here in the United States a lot of the activists that are working towards animal rights are treated as terrorists – I’m not sure if you’re aware of that but –
Friederike Schmitz: Yeah I know, I’ve read the Will Potter book.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, Will Potter. Is there anything like that in Germany?
Friederike Schmitz: Not yet.
Caryn Hartglass: Don’t say ‘yet’, just say ‘no’! We don’t want that to happen.
Friederike Schmitz: There has been, I’m not sure if you’ve heard about it, a very big case in Austria, a big law/criminal case against animal activists in Austria that started in 2008 and went on for two or three years. That was very bad.
Caryn Hartglass: Were they arrested?
Friederike Schmitz: In Germany of course there’s criminalization of several activities but it’s not comparable to what’s going on in the US at the moment, although there have been some arsons on empty factory farm buildings in Germany and they’re of course trying to find the people who did it but of course they didn’t succeed in that. But there’s no kind of general criminalization or calling people terrorists which is good.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s very good. Okay, well Frederike I’m glad you were able to join me, it was really a pleasure talking to you and im so glad to hear that over there there are some good things happening for humans, animals, non-human animals and the planet.
Friederike Schmitz: Yeah, thank you.
Caryn Hartglass: Thank you so much. Danke schön and guten abend.
Friederike Schmitz: Bye bye.
Caryn Hartglass: Well that was nice wasn’t it. Before I take a break I just want to remind you to visit my website www.responsibleeatingandliving.com . Some of you may know that we are celebrating our third anniversary – we’re three years old now – woohoo! – just this month in July and I’m celebrating being 7 years cancer free. That’s always a good thing to celebrate, right? And part of what we’re doing is having a summer fund drive because we can’t do anything without funds and anything that you can do to help would be gratefully appreciated. We have a lovely donate button on our website. If you haven’t watched The Lone Vegan: Preaching to the Fire, that needs to be on your watch list. It’s seventy minutes, sit back, make some nice popcorn – we have some great recipes on our website for popcorn – and watch it. And then let me know! Now I’ve gotten some wonderful responses but I can’t – there’s never enough. I can never get enough wonderful responses. And even some not wonderful responses, I want to hear from you. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. All right, let’s take a little break and then we will be back with J. Morris Hicks and we’re going to get into some very heavy conversation about the future of our species.
Transcribed by Alyssa Moody, 9/4/2014