Author Archives: BethShepherd

About BethShepherd

I am a visual artist, art history student, volunteer and business owner. Through my art I advocate for farm animal rights, protection of the environment, and social justice. Always active in the community, I try to "leave the campsite cleaner," a motto I learned in my childhood.

The Pig and the Overseer

The Pig and the Overseer is about the loss of food security and self-direction for the 370 million people that identify as members of indigenous communities and nations in the world today (1).

I created this piece in for a group show at the RIA Artist Project Room January 2019. The theme of the show is DADA-Dinges!!! drawing inspiration from the Dadaist art movement. Emerging during the destruction of World War I, Dada sought to undermine the fundamental structures of a rational, ordered society, which they blamed for the unimaginable horrors of war. The absurd and bizarre certainly come to mind in today’s world too, as we move closer than ever to annihilation.

About the work:

The work comprises two prints surrounded by collaged poetic text, resembling a Dadaist poem. At first I tried to follow Tristan Tzara’s instructions for making a Dadaist poem, which in short requires one to cut a newspaper article into its words, which are thrown in a paper bag, shook up and pulled out one at a time to be reassembled in that order. Certainly the results can be amuzingly absurd. But as I did my research into indigenous agriculture, I decided to create my own poem that hopefully makes sense! Click below to download the poem.

The overseer, modelled after Alfred Jarry’s noxious Ubu Roi, a character from his scatological play of the same name, represents the presence of the transnational corporations and world powers imposing Western technologized agricultural models of monoculture of water-intensive commodity crops requiring specialized seeds and constant application of fertilizers and toxic pesticides. I made this print a number of years ago when I was saddened to learn of the murders of indigenous protesters defending their traditional lands from a transnational corporation, sold from under them by their government.

The pig is my “poster child” for industrialized and highly technologized agriculture and is there as a reminder that the production of animal food products (meat, dairy, eggs and aquaculture) takes 83% of the world’s agricultural land while providing only 37% of protein and 18% of calories (2). The “Green Revolution” of the 1960s and the demands of globalization are now widely recognized as environmental and social failures and major contributors to climate change, acidification, eutrophication, other pollution, disease, diminishing fresh water supply, and loss of habitat, biodiversity and a wealth of indigenous cultural knowledge.


(1) UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), State of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, 14 January 2010, ST/ESA/328, available at: [accessed 30 December 2018]
(2) J. Poore and T. Nemeek, “Reducing Food’s Environmental impacts through Producers and Consumers,” in Science 360, 987-992 (June 2018).



For a couple of years I have been working on a series of prints where I did linocuts of farm animlas and printed them on photographs of the places where they spend their meagre lives in industrialized agricultural settings. I have chosen five animal species to represent all the animals humans exploit for food — cow, hen, sheep, goat and pig.

My intent is that  viewers see food animals as individual beings. I want them to look into the eye of the animal who is saying I am not meat but an individual being with feelings, who wants a life and to live the way nature intended.  To add a three dimensional effect I also created five sculptures.

I presented these works at a booth at the Nepean Fine Arts League Fall sale in 2017.

Animals in the Room Both
Me at my Animals in the Room Booth

Please click here to get the printable handout from the exhibition.

Road Trip!

I dread seeing animals being transported to slaughter. Fortunately, living in Ottawa we rarely see animals being transported through the city. Several years ago I remember being struck breathless and feeling disoriented seeing a big flat-bed truck filled with wire cages packed with what were probably spent laying hens travelling along the 401 on their way to slaughter. It was a nice day with a clear blue sky. I thought this would be the only time those poor creatures would ever experience the fresh air or feel sunshine and a warm breeze.

I finally got around to painting my rendition of the road trip.

Road Trip
Road Trip!

The Intertwining of Sexism and Meat-Eating in Visual Culture

The feature image, my painting Girls on the Grass presents females of different species free from the pressures of a patriarchal society enjoying lunch on the lawn. To convey the idea of sanctuary where humans and non-human animals alike can find a safe haven, I have drawn on Édouard Manet’s Déjeuner sur l’Herbe (1863) as a source of inspiration. While painting I realized there must be a strong link between the animal advocacy and feminism movements. First most of the grass-roots animal activists seemed to be women. More importantly, animal food comes from females – either directly as their flesh or the flesh of their children, their secretions (dairy) or their eggs. This inspired me to take a feminism course.

One of the assignments for the “Activism, Feminism and Social Justice” I am taking at Carleton University, was to make a video. Never having taken a feminism course before I used the assignment as an opportunity to read Carol J. Adams’ landmark book, The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory (1990, 2000). I used Adams’ critical theory as the framework for much of the video, linking feminism, farm animal advocacy and veganism. Because I am an artist, I concentrated on Adams’ discussions of the visual tropes of sex, animals and meat that are widespread in visual culture, which she suggests are both evidence and reinforcements of sexism, speciesism and meat-eating as cultural norms within our Western society.

In her book, Adams builds a straight-forward case for vegan-feminism based on both women and other-than-human animals being positioned as objects rather than subjects within the Western patriarchal society, which still privileges men over women and humans over animals. Despite human rights advances, remnants of sexism and speciesism (as well as racism, homophobia, ableism, colonialism, etc.) are imbedded in our culture, largely unseen and unchallenged. Dominant ideologies are invisible because they are “the norm.” These norms are reinforced by institutions, cultural expectations and the common tropes found in visual culture.

Adams describes patriarchy is a gender-based system of privilege, power and oppression that is implicit in human/animal relationships. Adams says “A feminist-vegetarian critical theory begins…with the perception that women and animals are similarly positioned in a patriarchal world, as objects rather than subjects” (Adams, 2000, 180). In defining a critical theory she identifies four key components, which are explained below.

Meat and Virility
The first component of Adams’ feminist-vegan critical theory is that in Western culture, men should eat meat and women should serve it. Meat is the focal point of most meals, especially festive events, highlighting the normality of eating carcasses of animals. Meat-eating is a one way men can continue to assert their manliness in an aggressive and domineering performance. Adams notes that she has witnessed women being abused by husbands when they failed to serve meat for dinner (Adams, 2000, 48). These behaviours are imbedded in cultural expectations for manliness and the good wife and mother and reinforced by magazines, books, cookbooks, family and social experiences, advertising and media.

The Absent Referent
The second component of Carol Adams’ critical theory is “the absent referent.” An absent referent refers to something that is non-existent, undefined or paradoxical.

"Break the Dull Steak Habit" Poster
Figure1: “Break the Dull Steak Habit” Poster

Adams argues that both women and animals are linked in that they both function as absent referents in the process of objectification, fragmentation, and consumption (Adams, 2000, 14 & 2010, 304). Women are compared with animals through metaphors and visual images that liken them to animals or meat. The “Break the Dull Steak Habit” poster (Figure 1) was used by feminists to protest against the 1968 Miss America Pageant, liking it to a cattle auction. The woman’s body is marked with meat cuts ready for fragmentation. Similarly, an abused women saying “I felt like a piece of meat” or Lady Gaga’s meat dress are metaphors for the female body as meat and an object of male consumption. The animal is the absent referent.

Other–than-human animals are also made absent by language when we talk about meat instead of corpses of dead animals; processing instead of slaughter and butchering. The absent referent cloaks the violence inherent in industrial agriculture and makes it easier for otherwise compassionate people to keep eating animals. Slaughter separates the meat-eater from the animal and the animal from the end product.

Feminized Protein
The third component of Adams’ theory is Feminized Protein, referring to eggs and milk, which are animal foods produced by manipulating the reproductive capacities of living females. The animals are oppressed by their femaleness into a “sexual slavery” on factory farms. “Even though the animals are alive, dairy products and eggs are not victimless foods” (Adams, 2010, 305). Feminized protein serves two functions in that it makes a link with feminism through the exploitation of the female reproductive system and motherhood, and also makes the case for veganism vs. ovo-lacto vegetarianism.

Sex Sells
The fourth and final component of Adams’ critical theory is that sex sells just about everything. Common visual tropes of sex, animals and meat are used widely in advertising. “Make it sexy” or “add some sizzle” are ways of saying make something more appealing. Although commercial advertisements are clearly rich in suggestive tropes so are the visuals for promoting both feminist and animal rights causes.

I hope you enjoy the video!


Adams, Carol J. 1990 & 2000. The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory, Tenth Anniversary Edition. New York: Continuum Publishing Company.

Adams, Carol J. 2010. “Why feminist-vegan now?” In Feminism and Psychology 20(3): 302-317.

Bad Cat! Cats are the #1 Killer of Birds in Canada and the US

Bad Cat is a reductive relief print, 5 X 7 inches, in two colours. The image of a dead bird with lettering spelling “Bad Cat” was inspired by finding a dead sparrow on my back patio. My cat, Dora, is a beautiful animal who I love dearly but I hate that she kills birds. I know hunting is instinctive since she would never eat her prey and is not even amenable to eating wet cat food. Dora is not alone in her ways, at least in terms of killing birds.

Conservationists estimate that each year domestic and feral cats kill over 200 million birds in Canada and over a billion in the United States. Predation would be expected by feral cats who are seeking their next meal but the largest and growing threat is from the house cat population, instinctually hunting rather than seeking entertainment or food. According to the respective veterinary associations, approximately 37% of households in both the US and Canada have at least one cat.

The American Bird Conservancy says that predation by domestic cats is the number one direct, human-caused threat to birds in the United States and Canada and has already contributed to the extinction of 33 species with another 87 bird species are on the endangered species list. As more households are experiencing the joys of cat custodianship, the threat to the bird population increases, especially when other factors like climate change, pollution and poisoning of food sources by pesticides are considered.

We love having birds in our backyard and don’t want to contribute to this mass destruction of the local bird population. Experts urge cat owners to keep cats indoors but keeping Dora in the house would be cruel to her at 12 years of age. So I keep close watch and scold bad behaviour.

Cat lovers can really be nature lovers? I hope this image will remind other cat custodians of their wider responsibilities to other animals in the natural world.




CBC News, Cats, the No. 1 killer of birds in Canada, June 27, 2015

American Bird Conservancy Website


CARNISM-A Keyword for Change

Most North Americans believe that eating meat is part of a healthy diet. Until last year, I too consumed meat, albeit “humane” or “ethically” raised. My art practice has focused on farm animal advocacy for many years, particularly against factory farming. Most people, even the coldest of hearts, would be shaken by any video of what goes on in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs, another name for factory farms), or in transport or at slaughter facilities where living animals are turned into meat. In June of last year I decided enough was enough. I could no longer call myself an animal lover and continue to be party to the death of any animal – no matter how ethical or humane it was purported to be. I went vegan and I felt at home in the world. The decision was prompted by Dr. Melanie Joy’s work on carnism in the form of her TEDx presentation and her book Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism. Carnism, as she explains it, is an oppressive ideology of violence that legitimizes the killing and eating of certain species of animals but not others. Its antonym is veganism.

That we choose to continue to kill and eat animals is a set of behaviours and customs driven by an ideology, not a biological need. The fact that we have made companion animals members of our families while ignoring the torture, mutilation and slaughter of other select species equally as intelligent and sentient highlights the absurdity.

My work, Carnism – a Keyword for Change — was created using a photograph of my own painting entitled Eye and Mind with a definition of carnism digitally superinscribed. Its purpose is to put a name on the slaughter of 60 billion land animals killed for food every year. Like the animals we consume, we can survive and thrive on a plant-based diet.

The inspiration for my painting came while reading another book — Amy Fitzgerald’s Animals as Food: (Re)connecting Production, Processing, Consumption, and Impacts — a quote from an interview with a slaughterhouse worker describing how the pressure to increase the speed of production in U.S. (and Canadian?) slaughterhouses was leading to animals not being properly stunned or killed before being “disassembled.” The worker, identified as Moreno, said he kept cutting even though animals were clearly still conscious. “They blink. They make noises. … The head moves, the eyes are wide and looking around.”

According to Maurice Merleau-Ponty, the artist’s role is to project what is making itself visible within them. Although a canvas, unlike film, cannot capture movement per se, it can suggest a change of place, a transition, a glimpse of a living thing “unstably suspended between a before and an after” (Maurice Merleau-Ponty, “Eye and Mind,” 1961). I knew I had to paint the animal’s end of life experience so others would see.

I will end this post with a quote from Adrienne Rich, an American Feminist Poet:

Whatever is unnamed, undepicted in images…whatever is buried in the memory or collapse of meaning under an inadequate or lying language—this will become, not merely unspoken, but unspeakable.

Which goes first, the Chicken or the egg?

Many people transitioning away from a meat-based diet opt for an ovo-vegetarian diet. In this post I explore Which goes first, the chicken (meat) or the egg?

Based on genomic studies, scientists can now conclude that chickens (Gallus gallus domesticus) became domesticated from wild junglefowl in Southeast Asia nearly 10,000 years ago.[1] Today chickens are an important food source on all continents and currently provide over 30% of global animal protein. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) the use of chicken as a source of protein continues to grow rapidly due to its social acceptability, high feed-to-food conversion efficiency, and comparatively low (8%) greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. [2]

As part of my ongoing research related to farm animals I have come to believe that laying hens kept in battery cages and chickens raised industrially for meat are among the most horrendously treated animals in the world.[3] At the same time chickens are increasingly an important global food source that create relatively low GHG emissions compared with ruminants. While decreasing GHGs would benefit the Earth as a whole, meeting the world’s animal protein demands solely through poultry and eggs would increase the pain and suffering of billions upon billions of chickens every year. [4]

This creates a dilemma for me personally as I transition away from meat to a plant-based diet. I question whether eggs, even “free-range and organic,” are something I want to consume, even in a transitional state.

I frequently use my art and my essay-writing as the means to work through these kinds of dilemmas. Fittingly, I developed two different pieces of art: the first a near life-size clay sculpture of a laying hen I call Hen; the second a mixed media linocut of a chicken printed on top of a typical factory setting of hens in battery cages. I call this piece – Look me in the Eye (290 is too many).

Most of the chicken and eggs we consume come from factory farms. Even free-range and organic are misleading terms since the animals are still subject to over-crowing and the stresses of over-production. In Canada alone, over 27 million laying hens spend their short pain-ridden lives. Due to selective breeding and the use of environmental controls, each hen lays an average 290 eggs per year,[5] double what hens produced in 1900. That is the reference in the print: 290 – to many!

So in response to my question “Which goes first, the chicken or the egg?” I have to say both. Giving up eggs “cold turkey” (sorry) can be challenging since eggs are not only part of a traditional breakfast for many of Anglo-Saxon lineage but are imbedded in cooking and baking. I have been adapting my recipes for cookies, cakes and casseroles with positive results using either “flax eggs” or egg replacer available at wholes foods stores. For helpful hints check out the abundance of vegan recipes on the web. I think you will find that eggs can be replaced quite easily.

I invite you to do your own research into the treatment of food animals and SAY NO! TO FACTORY FARMED FOOD. Food is one area where individuals can have a powerful and immediate impact. We, as consumers, have the power to make change happen – for animals welfare, for the environment and for our health – through the choices we make three times every day!

Look Me In the Eye (290 is Too Many) hanging as part of this year’s Carleton Community Art Exhibition

Hen in the display case at the Carleton University Art Galley in January 2017

[1] Sawai H, Kim HL, Kuno K, Suzuki S, Gotoh H, Takada M, et al. 2010. The Origin and Genetic Variation of Domestic Chickens with Special Reference to Junglefowls Gallus g. gallus and G. varius. PLoS ONE 5(5): e10639. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0010639, 1.

[2] MacLeod, M., Gerber, P., Mottet, A., Tempio, G., Falcucci, A., Opio, C., Vellinga, T., Henderson, B. & Steinfeld, H. 2013. Greenhouse gas emissions from pig and chicken supply chains – A global life cycle assessment. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome. Retrieved from, xvii.

[3] This is just one readily accessible research sources. Shields, Sara and Duncan, Ian J.H., “An HSUS Report: A Comparison of the Welfare of Hens in Battery Cages and Alternative Systems” (2009). IIA.

[4] Some more figures: In 2010 the global chicken population was estimated at 19.4 billion animals, 6 billion of which were layers, producing over 1.2 trillion eggs. Summarized from MacLeod, et al (FAO), 5.

[5] Statistics Canada. 2012. Poultry and Egg Statistics, April to June 2012. 
Catalogue no. 23-015-X, vol. 9, no. 2
ISSN 1710-3525. Retrieved from , 14-16.

More than Meatless Mondays

In my last blog post, “Is Beef-Eating a Sacred Cow?,” I suggested that eating less meat, especially beef, would be a good thing for the planet and our health as well as for the farm animals that would not suffer and die. According to the FAO, humans consume over 312,000,000,000 KG of meat annually — that is 43 KG for every man, woman and child on the planet–with some people eating a lot more meat than others. That 312 million metric tonnes of meat comes from over 30 billion of animals produced and slaughtered annually. Continued global growth in consumption, driven by population growth and the increased desire to consume meat in developing countries, is pushing agricultural limits, putting demands on fresh water supply and emitting more greenhouse gases than the entire transportation system. The solution is to stem demand for meat by putting more vegetarian and vegan options in everyone’s diet.

For years, I heard about “Meatless Mondays.” The idea got its start during war years to conserve resources for the war effort. Due to concern for health and the environment, Meatless Mondays was revived in 2003 by Sid Lerner, in association with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for a Livable Future, advocating promoting a more sustainable and healthy diet. It is now a global movement embraced widely by environmental and animal rights organizations, schools, communities and governments. In Canada Meatless Mondays is promoted by a number of organizations, including Meatless Mondays Canada, Earthsave Canada, the Vancouver Humane Society and the Animal Defence League.

It would be great if more Canadian restaurants, food services, schools and institutions took Meatless Mondays to heart by offering more vegetarian and vegan menu selections – on Mondays and every day. This would benefit vegetarians and vegans who would find it easier to eat out. It would benefit food providers by having the potential of more customers. It would benefit every diner who would have more healthy choices.

Please take a moment to check out the information provided in the various links found in this post; then take the Meatless Mondays Pledge and challenge others to do the same. And please encourage places where you eat — restaurants, cafeterias, clubs, schools, etc. — to provide tasty and nutritious vegetarian and vegan alternatives on their menus. We will all benefit.

I am not a vegetarian but am selective about the meat I eat. I support local farmers who practice sustainable and ethical farming practices. One such place is Mariposa Farms, a producing duck farm and restaurant east of Ottawa. Since this is an art blog, here are some paintings inspired by a trip to Mariposa Farms where I belief that the animals live the best lives possible for food animals.

Rooster and Hens, by Beth Shepherd, 2015

Rooster and Hens, by Beth Shepherd, 2015

Mother and Calf, by Beth Shepherd, 2015
Mother and Calf, by Beth Shepherd, 2015

Ducks, by Beth Shepherd, 2015
Ducks, by Beth Shepherd, 2015

Is Beef-Eating a Sacred Cow?

On Earth Day (April 22, 2016) leaders from over 160 countries officially signed the Paris Climate Agreement vowing to stem global warming by reducing greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels. Although this is an important step, world leaders and even environmental protection organizations seem to be forgetting that the meat and dairy industries make a significant contribution to climate change. I have no doubt that many of the leaders, while patting each other on the back about this historic signing, also tucked into some great filet mignon or blanquette de veau and savoured some of France’s more than 350 varieties of cheese.

Why is no one talking about the need to shift to more sustainable diets? Many credible studies have concluded that food animal production is a major source of green house gas emissions and an inefficient source of food for a growing global population. I ask myself why are so few citizens aware of these facts? Are the meat and dairy industries so powerful that they can suppress this damming information? Or is it more about us — the consumers, voters and donors — who don’t want to change our diets, even if it could save the Earth? Is it a “cowspiracy”?

Ok. I watched Cowspiracy recently on Netflix. It puts the message into a much more entertaining form than I can and certainly asked some disturbing questions I had not even thought about. It is clear that the bottom-line of the film is “go vegan.” I know that message is hard to swallow for many, including me. I even wonder if going vegan would result in a truly sustainable agriculture system.

Over the last year and a half I have read a number of research documents on sustainable agriculture produced by reputable research organizations and think tanks. There can be no debate that we need to reduce the growing global demand for animal-based food, especially beef and dairy. Cattle are inefficient sources of calories and protein with only a 1% and 4% conversion rate to human edible calories and protein, respectively.

Animal-based foods are more resource intensive and environmentally impactful than vegetable-based foods. Currently three-quarters of global agricultural lands are tied up in producing animal-based food, which in total produces only 37% of the overall protein consumed by humans. Turning this around, only 25% of the agricultural land currently produces 63% of the protein consumed by humans. This indicates that we have capacity to produce more food within the current agricultural footprint if we switch to more vegetable-based protein sources in our diets.

According to a 2012 UN study, the livestock sector is also a major factor in climate change, contributing approximately 15-25% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, an amount equal to the whole transportation sector. A family eating a kilogram of grocery-store beef is equivalent to driving the average car 160 kilometres. Switching from beef to chicken would not only increase the efficiency of agriculture but could reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions by 90%. Changing to a vegetarian diet could reduce the greenhouse gas emissions by 99%.

According to United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s food demand projections, the demand for a Western-style meat and dairy-rich diet is expected to increase by 80% by 2050 due to the expanding “global middle class.” In the same timeframe the world’s population is expected to reach 10 billion. At the same 1 in 9 ratio as today, 1.1 billion people will be hungry or undernourished. The number may be even higher, given the challenges presented by climate change and constrainsts on agricultural expansion.

Global think tanks have been struggling with the dilemma of food sustainability while coping with environmental crises of climate change and associated droughts, floods, destructive weather patterns, and warming temperatures on land and in the oceans. Although industrial intensification of food production has been one avenue of investigation to increase food supplies, it has resulted in conditions of raising livestock that are neither ethical nor sustainable. Clearly dramatic changes are needed.

The World Resources Institute has recently produced a paper 
“Shifting Diets for a Sustainable Food Future” (2016) ” in which the authors recommend three avenues towards sustainable food production aimed at the consumer end of the food value chain:

  1. Reduce overconsumption of calories. While over half the world’s population are consuming more calories than they need, thereby heading towards overweight and obesity, 795 million people (1 in 9) do not have enough food to lead healthy active lives, according to United Nations World Food Programme statistics.
  1. Reduce overconsumption of protein by reducing consumption of animal-based foods. Much of the over consumption of calories seems to be in excess protein, especially animal protein, which is a very resource intensive and inefficient source of protein.
  1. Reduce consumption of beef specifically. Stemming demand for beef is likely the most important factor. Beef has the most inefficient conversion “feed input to food output ratio” and its consumption is on a trajectory to grow 95% by 2050 due to the global spread of the Western style diet.

These recommendations do not require abstinence of a vegan or vegetarian diet for all but would require major reductions in consumption of meat and dairy on a global scale. This might be through adopting of the old style Mediterranean diet or other vegetable-protein centric ethnic diets, or simply by extending Meatless Mondays to more days of the week.

In my home we cut our meat consumption by more than half by eating local free-range meat no more than every other day with vegan or vegetarian meals in between. When we do eat meat we stick to the recommended portion size of no more than 4 ounces, not the honking 8 to 12 ounce sirloin you get at restaurants.

While changing our eating habits at home is relatively easy, eating out is not. In Ottawa where I live, there are few restaurants that offer healthy satisfying vegan or even vegetarian options. I think consumers need to have more choice. Even meat eaters might want to have more meatless choices—we need to demand it. Every time you go out ask for a vegan or vegetarian choice. Share the results. Help build a grass-roots movement for more non-meat and dairy choices.

And also ask your politicians and any environmental organizations you may support to consider these issues.

Individuals can make a difference. As consumers, voters and donors we have the power to make change happen—Let’s use it!




Ranganathan, J. et al. 2016.
“Shifting Diets for a Sustainable Food Future.” Working Paper, Installment 11 of Creating a Sustainable Food Future. Washington, DC: World Resources Institute. Accessible at

Schwarzer, Stefan. “Growing Greenhouse Gas Emissions Due to Meat Production,” United Nations Environmental Program (2012),

Godfray, Charles and Tara Garnett. “Food Security and Sustainable Intensification.” Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 369 (2014): 1-10. Online at