Cat Cafés: are they complementary or contradictory to veganism?
With news of another Cat Café opening, this time You and Meow in Bristol, there is an opportunity to consider some of the questions vegans might have for these spaces.
For a starting point, the café itself may be viewed as any other non-vegan café, though it happens to have cats, but what is the effect of having a constantly changing community of cats in a café space? What is it that would draw vegans and non-vegans into this particular café? In order to partly address these issues, a recent article from the Bristol Post stated there had been ‘widespread concern from animal rights groups over the past couple of years when it comes to cat cafés, but it seems [the owner has] taken all possible steps to ensure that when You & Meow does open, it will be the best possible environment for all of its cats.’
So, assuming this to be the case, we could say that from a perspective of the cats themselves, being in the cafe may lead to someone deciding to adopt them (over and above the opportunities from a shelter), so they would have a home. This would likely be a good thing for that cat, because remaining in a shelter or a café for that matter is a less than ideal situation, this is from a backdrop of human society where there are no ideal situations for cats because of the reality of domestication (or domesecration as David Nibert calls it).
Yet more broadly, why would a cafe serve non-vegan food (and I assume this one will) if they are concerned about the welfare of animals? The juxtaposition of bringing some animals into a café that we have decided to care for, whilst exploiting and harming others unnecessarily is, it would seem, absurd. Yet this reflects a general paradox in our ‘western’ society, we care for some animals which we consider companions or ‘pets’, and harm and eat others we consider to be food animals. Yet because of speciesism, both are exploited, but in different ways. The fact that cats need shelters also says that our caring capacity for cats is somewhat limited, whilst we allow dogs to be killed in shelters so that people can buy from breeders. Whilst all the time overlooking the fundamental problems of domestication and dependency, so it seems that as a society we just continue to primarily view cats and other animals in such a way as they have value to us.
Cat Cafés don’t seem to address any of the issues with speciesism, but neither do most standard cafés. However, do they exacerbate them and reinforce ideas about ‘caring’ for some and not others? I think this is arguably the case, though we could also suggest that people might connect the animals that died for the sandwich they chose to eat, to another living non-human animal in the room, and wonder about those issues. Though the café itself most likely wouldn’t be set up to encourage that line of thinking, instead the context is probably removed in a similar way to that found in most single issue campaigns. Whilst the idea of cats as objects of consumption has been maintained, rather than an alternative view presented of cats as actual persons whose rights (to freedom and autonomy) are systematically being violated.
But what if the café had a completely plant based menu? Maybe they also draw attention to various forms of exploitation, and the system of speciesism, whilst they also want to help cats find new homes. I think possibly this is something that could be supported, yet with most of these business ventures people want to focus on the positives and minimise negative aspects, or those issues that might impact levels of custom, so they could be reluctant to consider the issue of speciesism to avoid discomforting customers. It also isn’t something that mainstream society seems to consider to be an important issue, whilst the question of using cats to attract customers for a money making enterprise remains. This process continues to normalise the idea that animals are here for our use and entertainment, which we might consider to be little different from a petting zoo that we wouldn’t attend. Of course, we live far from an ideal world and we need to do the best we can from within that situation, yet the fact remains we can often do far better, and one thing we can start with is veganism. If the people running the Cat Cafés that rehomed cats embraced ideas of veganism and anti-speciesism I might at least consider going, otherwise they seem to play into cultural norms that reinforce speciesism and animal exploitation, that would be over and above a standard cafe where you might find a vegan menu alongside the animals they serve on plates. As it stands Cat Cafés seem to play into the idea that people can care about animals, even whilst they sit down to eat them.
Holly Hedge Animal Sanctuary not partnering with proposed cafe
Pet Sense – dog, cat & rabbit behaviour STATEMENT ABOUT CAT CAFES
NEW! Bristol cat cafe slammed by animal welfare charities:
Bristol & Wales Cat Rescue position on cate cafes:
An article covering an animal rights view of domestication:
An article discussing a Cat café in London:
An article discussing a Cat café in Manchester:
Cats Protection statement on Cat Cafés:
David Nibert discusses domesecration: