Posts Tagged ‘Veganism’

I’m Vegan and I’m Not Vegan

Friday, January 14th, 2011

A recent conversation with my five year old grandson went something like this:

“I’m vegan and I’m not vegan.”

“How is that possible?”

“Well, I am vegan at your house, but when I go home….. my parents won’t be vegan.”

“Your father is trying but finds it difficult with all the family having different views. And your mommy said she would eat whatever is delicious.”

“But she won’t. She won’t even try. And I don’t know why my daddy won’t be vegan.”

Not wishing to alienate family members nor confuse my grandson, I found this a troubling conversation. Obviously, this five year old is thinking about the underlying reasons people make the choices they do. He’s figuring out how he fits in. I paused for a minute, then went on….

“Maybe you are always vegan. Being vegan means doing the least harm (ahimsa). It is not really just how you eat. You have no choice what to eat when you are five years old, but if you care about other beings and how they feel, maybe you are still vegan.”

“No, I am only allowed to be vegan here.”

Making Sense in a Nonsensical World

I try to listen and not interpret things too much. For a five year old, most things are pretty cut and dried. One day he had asked me why I care so much about animals. Another day he is admonishing me to be careful when I am removing a bug from the house. Some days he rails against me for not having his favorite nonvegan fare available. For him, it is all part of growing up and trying to make sense of things.

I am still trying to do that even now, as a grandmother. Sometimes it feels like I am trapped in someone else’s nightmare. I live in a nation that seems in love with violence and guns, with politicians even using them in their political ads, with violent rhetoric ongoing without pause, even when another shooting claims the life or lives of innocent people. Veganism is my stand for world peace, and for the animals that live in this world, too — at least for a little while, until they are hunted, or vivisected, or led away to the abattoir. It is an era of denial, whether giving tax breaks to the wealthy while running up massive debts or denying any climate change problems even as the physical evidence mounts.  It is also an era of alienation. People are on edge.

Satyagraha: Holding Firmly and Letting Go

According to Gandhi, a part of Satyagraha (holding firmly to truth) or resistance to injustice means letting go of results, doing what you believe to be right without concern for where that might lead. Gandhi believed in a strong moral force that came from nonviolence, from refusing to participate in systems that were unjust. He also believed that it was important  not only to do no harm to those with whom you are in opposition, but to wish them no ill will. One has to be willing to suffer.

I think I will be able to protect my friend Skitter the cat for her whole life, since she is getting on in years right now. For my grandson, I have less assurance that he will have a safe or peaceful life. The principles of Satyagraha give me some small comfort; I try not to become invested in results. I am working to create a more peaceful world for the beings on earth, but all I can really do is refuse to participate, to the best of my ability, in the injustice that is going on around me. I can try to reach out and educate others. And I can make sure that, at least when he is with me, my grandson always has a place to be vegan. As he ties on his shoes to go out in the world, I am left wondering what kind of world he will inherit. But I know that is not for me to realize. It is enough that today, he is talking about veganism.

Diet for a Hot Planet by Anna Lappé

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

Since Anna Lappé used the title and celebrity of her mother’s book of the seventies, Diet for a Small Planet, for the basis for her own book title, it seems fair to make a comparison. I used her mother’s book, a small well-worn paperback introducing the idea of a meat-free life, for many years.  Living in the Russian River area during the post-Woodstock era, I found it to be heaven on earth in so many ways, and Francis Moore Lappé was part of the pro-earth movement that made it so.  With that in mind, it was with great anticipation I plunged into this newer volume by Ms. Lappé’s daughter: Diet for a Hot Planet. The title seemed to suggest the author was well-versed in what was leading us into a hotter planet and how our dietary habits would impact our environment.  The tag line reads: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About It. Logically, it would seem that this must be a pro-vegan book, with all the information we have about animal agriculture and its dire consequences for the environment, for our health, and for feeding all humans, too.  Or so I thought; but I was wrong.

Anna Lappé’s Book Delivers Good Information

There is a plethora of good information in Ms. Lappé’s book. It discusses the real overpopulation problem – in animals used for food (but humans are at the root). She looks at food transportation,biotech, the increase in polluting by-products like nitrogen, how the food industry denies global warming and greenwashing. She uses clever titles like, “What’s at Steak?” and “Eat These Words” while looking at hard data, such as these alarming statistics: (p.154)

  • We are losing topsoil seventeen times faster than we are replacing it.
  • More than 1/4 million people die from pesticide poisoning annually.
  • There are over 400 dead zones worldwide from agricultural chemical runoff.

Diet for A Hot Planet: Light on Logical Conclusions

After all that good research, Ms. Lappé then runs completely off the rails, and begins promoting “happy meat.” She suggests (p. 207) that we “Support Real Meat and Dairy Farmers” and that we “Go for Grass Fed.”  She says we should “Not Panic, Go Organic.”  There are some very good suggestions, such as doing a waste inventory, cutting down on packaging-intensive products, and even a few good bits of encouraging news (Costa Rica is reforesting). But “Go Vegan?” Not to be found. Even if the world could be sustained by these type of practices, our souls could not.  After this review, Hot Planet will go to the back of the bookshelf for future reference; but Small Planet will always have a special place in this writer’s heart.

Diet for a Hot Planet by Anna Lappé, copyright 2010, Bloomsbury USA, New York. Available on Amazon.

The Myth of Magical Meat

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

Whenever someone leaves the fold of vegans and joins the mainstream of omnivores, it causes a lot of reaction on both sides of the vegan/omni divide.  How does one quit believing that animals feel and want to live? How does taste or even an orgiastic eating experience dim the knowledge, once one has attained it, of what the animals must endure to end up on your plate?

Letting go of one’s principles is no small thing to undertake.  I could imagine having one’s doctor tell you that veganism is ruining your health. I was often told running was not good for me when I was younger, so I searched out a doctor who actually ran — most of the physicians who were naysaying my running were a good deal overweight and not exactly the picture of health themselves. Physicians in general are not noted for their nutritional education [see articles below]. Constant hunger that was part of the difficulty for some while eating a plant-based diet.  With such abundant plant food, it is hard to envision. Perhaps all hunger is not for food, but for something else missing in one’s life.

Ingesting Death and Deception

Some seem to find returning to eating flesh a miraculous experience. Pretty amazing since, according to Registered Dietitian Ginny Messina of the Vegan RD blog, “…you have to actually digest and absorb the nutrients in food before you’ll feel any of its effects. And if you are consuming nutrients to reverse a deficiency, it will take weeks to feel the benefits.”  Yet for Tasha, over at Voracious “I had only eaten a small piece of cow flesh, and yet I felt totally full, but light and refreshed all at once.” She states:

The world receded to a blank nothingness and I just ate, and ate, and ate. I cried in grief and anger, while moaning with pleasure and joy.

Brings to mind the scene in When Harry Met Sally, “I’ll have what she’s having” – only, no, I do not want what she is having. An ethical stance means eating with the least harm to others.

Even more miraculously, Tasha’s hair completely changed in a few weeks, despite the fact that it takes months for hair to grow from the roots.

The changes that I experienced were manifold and occurred so quickly and decisively I almost couldn’t believe it. ……..(after) 4 weeks I noticed three very strange things: my mysterious lower back pain that had been bothering me for nearly a year had vanished, even though I hadn’t changed my shoes or done any physical therapy; the skin on my face was plump and full and the fine lines that I had figured were just a sign of being nearly 30 had faded so much they were barely discernible, even though I had not changed anything about my skin care routine; and finally, I noticed my hair was thicker, shinier, and much fuller than it had been in years, even though I hadn’t changed anything about my hair care routine.

Sound familiar?  Sounds like the miracles promised in Dairy Deception, right? Lustrous hair, amazing strength, improved general health – even better mental health. Sounds like the Media Mavens have run a successful campaign, with the medical community in compliance with the deception. But after years of indoctrination into the myth that meat means strength, it is not all that hard to understand. Despite the recent spate of information decrying the harmful effects of animal products, some of these misguided souls have found it wonderful to embrace the imagined magical qualities inherent in the death of animals and their body parts. Lierre Keith stated in her book The Vegetarian Myth*, that upon eating a cream cheese topped bagel:

Oh, God, something in my brain woke and moaned. I couldn’t stop.

Who is the One with the Myth?

I am sure that is how Ms. Keith felt, but honestly, I have never had that reaction to a bagel or any other food product. Ms. Keith relates in her book that her spine was ruined by a vegan diet,  but fails to explain exactly how this happened. And she had been unable to sustain a vegan diet, admitted to eating a “dairy orgy” dip well into her supposed veganism.

Then Jennifer of Vegan Lunchbox went through personal changes. I applaud all the above for being honest about what they were undergoing — if only they would. It strains credibility when instant cures happen and one claims they can feel meat “pulsing through every cell” after ingesting carrion, as did Ms. Keith.  The only thing actually pulsing was the blood of the animal through his heart while he lived. And that pulsing is precisely what these folks stopped. Jennifer now is a self-proclaimed “nutritarian,” no longer identifying with veganism.

My own experiences are so opposite these folks that it makes it difficult for me to imagine their plight.  I actually got much healthier and gained weight as a vegan. I turned on to food for the first time. There was so much variety and, no longer on a strict diet for genetically high cholesterol, I was free to indulge. My cholesterol went down to a healthy level – not overnight, but after six months, when it was tested. And it has remained so.  Slowly, I was able to breathe better, as allergies disappeared without my even realizing it.  I live in an area with high incidence of diabetes and obesity; many very young people are enchanted by my stories of healing through veganism. They have tried eating animals products; for them, it has been deadly. And so far, all the men in my father’s family have died from heart disease and clogged arteries due to their ingestion of animal products. But the real reason for my veganism was not improved health – it was finding out what the animals were asked to endure for something not only non-essential, but harmful to all concerned. No, thank you.

Honest Appraisal of Health

This year has been a tough one for me personally.  I had health issues for the first time in many years. Luckily, no one suggested it was due to my veganism, most likely because I was taking care of a preschooler who was catching every bug that showed up in his new preschool life.  I spoke to the school administrator, who told me that even very young new teachers often have a  lot of absences the first year, until they build up immunity for the usual host of preschooler-infecting bugs.

Like Tasha at Voracious, my mental outlook was not as sharp, either. I thought briefly about my veganism — could it be why I was catching the bugs from my grandson? Why I was not as cheerful as usual? Why I was not sleeping so well? I always was very proud of my resistance to illness and my general health — what else could it be? I had a momentary sinking thought – what would I do if my health was on the line? I knew of vegans who are healthier by far than any omnivore I know and have remained healthy and high energy for decades.  Soon a quick search into my life caused me to face a few realities:

  • I was not exercising as much as I had all my life
  • I was not paying much attention to eating a balanced diet
  • Above all, I was undergoing some internal stress due to the illness and events surrounding my father’s death earlier in the year.
  • I was not taking care of myself
  • My life was completely out of balance

Constantly researching all the horrors going on in the world today, especially towards innocent beings, can be exhausting, especially if there is no counterweight towards the positive.  Listening to informative but rather distressing podcasts all day long can leave one feeling drained. Handling personal attacks for the work one does is difficult and disturbing. I knew I needed to get moving, start paying attention to self-care (see Vegan Survival Kit), and setting some limits with child care and other assorted duties. You have to learn to set limits on the amount you take in on behalf of others; it does them nor you any good to go over that line. Good reminder for working in the field of animal rights, too.

You Can Still Be Vegan if You Want

Dan Cudahy, in his recent article, On Ex-Vegans, asks why some of the ex-vegans did not take the vegan path, whether due to their health or other issues, which is to do the least harm.  If you are having health issues due to your diet, that diet is not your veganism — your attitude towards other living beings is where the veganism lives. Why not research the minimum you need to be healthy, confer with vegan dietitians such as Ms. Messina, and then do the least harm, in keeping with your principles?  But instead, some of these folks toss out their veganism with seeming relief and virtually roll in their new blood-soaked, mainstream diets. Tired of being on the margins of society, these animal consumers find the pressures of the mob mighty refreshing.

Whatever one decides, it is their decision, but it does impact other living beings.  I am always sorrowed to hear of vegans threatening other people for leaving a life of non-violence; I guess they cannot see the irony there. I am not terribly interested in ex-vegans, because it would seem they were not really vegan in the first place. A recent article by Kye Martin over at Chicago Now drove this point home, Why I hate telling people I’m Vegan. In that article, Kye relates:

Raise the beef, cut it up… sell it.  Fine by me.  I have no problem with what you’re doing, I simply choose not to partake.

Really? You have no problem with slaughtering animals? Raise the BEEF? Don’t you mean the steer, the cow, the animals, the living being? Oh, no — here I go being preachy and everything that makes people so uncomfortable. But it is not really about me and my comfort or you and yours. It is about the animals. And I DO have a problem with people who kill them for no reason but their own tradition and pleasure. It is madness.

Focus on the Ex-Omnivores!

Good news for Kye. She no longer has to announce she is vegan! She is not. If you limit yourself to a plant-based diet, that is not veganism. If you really don’t care about people harming animals, that is not veganism. So no, I am not too interested in those who once called themselves vegans or hate to announce they are vegans. I would prefer to pay attention to a much larger, more dynamic, world-changing and ever growing category: ex-omnivores!

Keith, Lierre, The Vegetarian Myth, Flashpoint Press – available on Amazon


American Journal of Clinical Nutrition – lack of medical nutrition in medical schools

New York TimesTeaching Doctors About Nutrition

Ginny Messina’s article, Do Ex-Vegans’ Stories Make the Case Against Vegan Diets?

Dan Cudahy’s article, On Ex-Vegans

Read more:

Do the Math

Monday, December 27th, 2010

It has been conservatively estimated that every human being that consumes animals takes about  90-100 lives each year. That is a carnage of immense proportions. If each vegan advocate on average reaches a person by mid-life, that would still be the saving of about 4,000-5,000 animal lives. Is there any form of activism that can save that many lives? However you spread the word about veganism, remember those thousands of lives that hang in the balance.

If every vegan can convince one other human to embrace a philosophy of veganism, the vegan population would double. And doubling begins to gain momentum until, after just a few years, the numbers become huge.

If 1% of the world’s population is indeed vegan, as estimated, that means there are over sixty-seven million of us. In only four years, there would be a billion of us.

As billions of animals are slaughtered each year, their combined energy usage drawn from the earth’s resources will soon deplete what is left alive on earth.

As thousands of acres of forests are cut down and used for animal grazing, less land is available for animal habitat and for creating the oxygen we require to breathe. There are only so many acres of land on the planet.

Human population is estimated to reach 9 billion in short order.

Do the math.


140 Billion Animals Slaughtered Every Year

World Population Clock

Animals Slaughtered  2003 – from UN stats

Vegan Survival Kit

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

Vegan Survival Kit

Anyone who has been a vegan in an isolated environment knows the challenge of maintaining one’s equilibrium in the face of being a minority of one.  Even with online support, it can become tedious to deal with the daily onslaught of questions, queries and putdowns.  Worse yet are the criticisms from within the movement, from people who are a bit ahead (or a bit behind, depending on your perspective) on their vegan, human journey. Then there is the constant barrage of reality checks that come from listening to podcasts and reading articles about the dismal state of the human-nonhuman alliance in the world today.  Global warming, ocean destruction, factory farming, animal extinction, human overpopulation, deforestation, hunger, desertification, exploitation scream out from every corner of the world. And then, don’t forget to smile and radiate health when you go out in the community -  you have to represent a healthy veganism, don’t forget!

When undergoing clinical training as a psychotherapist in graduate school, we were taught not to “bleed out” for our clients, not to take their tragedies inside of us, or we would not live to help that client or any other in the future. First priority was learning self-care.  As a manager working with forensic mental health clients, I was told that stress was the number one enemy – be sure to take time for renewal, massages,meditation and other healing arts.  Now that I am working in animal advocacy, I know I have dropped some of these ideas from my daily regiment with disastrous results.  This has been one tough year. It is time to build a vegan survival kit; want to come along?

Build Your Own Vegan Survival Kit

How can vegans and especially vegan activists maintain a positive attitude and high energy with such draining endeavors going on?  This podcast is going to look at how to get your bounce back and keep it there. It is terribly important to learn these skills so you will not burn out.

  1. Connection. First of all, do a real lifestyle assessment. Is your work and play in balance? Are you getting emotionally nourished while you give of yourself to others?  Do you have a healthy support system? Do you have others with whom you can talk and share? Are you around positive people who understand you and value you? If the answer is no to any of these questions, please consider what you can do to change the social dynamics in your life. No local vegan groups? Start one of your own. Yahoo meetups are available most anywhere. You need to take good care of yourself or you won’t be of any use to anyone else, and that includes the animals.
  2. Time.  Are you setting limits on how long  you work? On how much time you spend doing outreach? On the computer? On taking on new projects?  Are there things you can let go of? Put off for awhile? Setting goals may help you to focus, not waste time, and limit how much time you spend spinning your wheels or going into overdrive.  Some times you just need to slow down; other times you just need to focus. Look realistically at how much time you spend on activism and veganism and determine if it is a reasonable amount of time for a mere mortal. Time management skills definitely belong in the vegan survival kit.
  3. Body. Are you eating a healthy, balanced vegan diet consisting primarily of fresh fruits, vegetables and legumes or grains? Are you actually cooking most of your meals or eating them raw? Are you exercising daily, and working up a sweat at least three times a week? Do you stretch, do yoga, meditate, or practice any other stress reduction techniques? Are you getting out on your bicycle, going for a run or walk, and using your body enough to keep it fit and healthy? Do you sit in a comfortable chair at work or at home when you are blogging, writing, or podcasting? Do you take breaks and stretch, move, breathe? Do you walk barefoot on the earth occasionally? Do you take time to feel the sun, wind, or rain on your face and body? Don’t neglect your body; keep it healthy.
  4. Spirit. Are you nourishing your soul? If you love music, are you taking time to play, dance, sing, listen to music? If silence heals you, how often do you get to enjoy it?  If there are birds outside your window, do you watch them, listen to their song? The earth, for all her scars and troubles, is still a beautiful place. Join her and be part of her healing process. Lay on the grass.  Listen to a waterfall. Watch a bug crawl along the sidewalk. In your own way, give thanks for participating, even during these difficult times.  Be glad you can make a contribution; she needs us every one. And so do the animals.
  5. Humor. Maintaining a good sense of humor is critical for keeping your head above those treacherous waters that bring you down. If you want to retain that bounce in your step, you have to develop a good sense of humor. Try keeping a file of those cartoons that you find humorous, and foster friendships with people who know how to laugh.  Try not to take yourself too seriously; keep things in perspective.  Instead of that action film, try a comedy. Laugh every chance you get; it is really healing and, while I am not a doctor, I have heard that it is good for the immune system.
  6. Joy. There is a book called, The Artist’s Way, which is all about renewal to keep creative juices flowing. When I remember to follow the simple dictates, it works well. Here is one of the suggestions: schedule weekly blocks of time to do something that you enjoy. That simple; you determine how much time and you figure out the details. If you love photography, spend four hours a week walking about seeing what you might capture on your camera.  If you love to swim, take a dive in the ocean.  Sit in a cafe and savor every drop of coffee. You need to schedule this block of time each and every week, though.  Think of it as a date with yourself. It is really worth it in the renewed energy and creativity that you will gain. Find something you enjoy, and don’t let a week go by without it.
  7. Explore. Maybe you need a vacation, a change of scenery. If you cannot jet off to Paris or sail to the Bahamas, perhaps you can check out something local you have always wanted to see. Do you really know the backroads nearby, or that little winery up the road? Isn’t there an old thrift shop or antique store you have always wanted to visit?  Something you have always wanted to try? Pick up that drum at the thrift store and start down a new road. Begin a journal, learn to paint, volunteer at the animal shelter. If time is short right now, think about the trip you want to take someday; then make someday happen. Make a list of local outings you might take — then start taking them!
  8. Breathe. One of the best stress relievers is to breathe deeply, letting go of your stress as you exhale.  Remembering to breathe deeply throughout the day is very rejuvenating. Stick reminders on your computer, your bathroom mirror, wherever you might notice them.  When you see them, stop and inhale deeply, fully….then slowly exhale. Stretching, too, can help you recover and get you through a tough day. Stress accumulates, so that is why it is important to take deep breaths periodically throughout the day. Remember to breathe!
  9. Simplify. Life can get pretty hectic these days, with demands for work, finances, time, and energy.  Remember, this is the life you are creating; make sure that it is the one you want.  Simplifying life does not mean creating an empty life, but rather one that emphasizes what you value.  Things can often own us more than we realize, with maintenance and upkeep, cleaning and insuring, taking the joy out of the original acquisition.  Sometimes letting go can create a vacuum that can then be filled. Overscheduling activities is another way we often distract ourselves from what we really love.  If you find yourself scurrying from one appointment to the next, stop and rethink your priorities.
  10. Attitude. The old saying about an attitude of gratitude has some wisdom within it. Keeping a positive outlook is good for the soul and the body, too, as well as the mind. Make certain that you are around positive people where you have choice, and trim out those that bring you down, or limit their access to your heart and mind. Finding things for which to be grateful keeps you focused on the positive. It is important when doing the difficult work of trying to educate people about how their choices are impacting others and working towards social justice.

That very old tape admonishes us, “Don’t eat meat.”  Beware of “bootleg hooch” too. When making changes, integrate one change at a time. Find out what works for you; then make that change second nature before you take on another change. Even positive change can be a form of stress, so take steps slowly and incrementally. It takes a while to develop new habits, so expect some backsliding. Don’t let it defeat you, just know it is part of the process.

Activists and Caregivers Must Be Vigilant About Self-Care

Taking good care of yourself is doubly important if you are a caregiver, whether of a child or an animal.  Children tend to pattern their own self-care based on what they experience as a child, so do not think by martyring yourself you are teaching your child what he needs to learn.  If you are responsible for the well being of a nonhuman animal or animals, it is important that you stay healthy so these beings can survive, too. Remember that you are the role model for your children; if you want them to learn to care for themselves, you need to demonstrate good self care. That is what you want them to learn, right?

There is important work ahead. Taking good care of yourself can help you go the distance. Disclaimer: this is not professional advice, it is what I use in my Vegan Survival Kit. I hope they will be helpful in your survival kit, too. As for me, I am heading out to have some fun. Why don’t you do the same?


  • Take Good Care of Yourself by Wardell Quezergue
  • On and On by Stephen Bishop
  • I’m Yours by Jason Mraz
  • Moon Dance by Van Morrison
  • Make ‘em Laugh by Donald O’Connor
  • Who’s Taking Care of You? by Sheila E and the E-Train
  • My Father’s Eyes by Eric Clapton
  • Peaceful Easy Feeling by the Eagles
  • Blue Skies by Karrin Allyson
  • Button Up Your Overcoat by Annette Hanshaw
  • What A Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong

World Vegan Day

Monday, November 1st, 2010

We advocate peace, ahimsa, non-violence.

We believe that veganism is a philosophy, not a diet.

We believe in the interconnectedness of all living beings.

We believe in the right of sentient beings to be treated with respect, not be property, and be allowed to live their lives.

We believe that the domestication of animals has created misery and death for most domesticates. We believe we have a responsibility to domesticates as far as we are able to help them, since we created them.

We believe that the current use and abuse of animals is not only morally wrong but unsustainable; it must stop.

We believe that respect for all living beings will help heal the earth.

We believe in doing the least harm towards others.

We believe that treating all sentient beings with respect is the morally right thing to do.

We believe that veganism will help heal the individual person; feeding upon death and suffering is in no way healthy.

We believe that human animals must control their own population.

We believe that we must allow natural areas for animal habitat, where nonhuman animals may live unmolested by human intervention.

We believe in a vegan world, in its possibilities, in its potentials.

Please, join us.  Please, go vegan!

What’s for Dinner? Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

Every night, millions of children are called to the dinner table to eat dead animals, their body parts, and their secretions. Most of those children have no idea what has been done to these animals, though older children at least have some idea that animals are killed for food. Some do not think about it, a few are a bothered by it but shut it out of their minds (with much cultural encouragement). If a young child asks why we eat animals, they are quickly set onto another topic.  Everything in the macro-culture reinforces the normalcy of eating animals. There are “Got Milk?” posters in the schools. There are advertisements on television and fast food gimmicks that assault kids regularly.  Even their cartoons are filled with food imagery — Sponge Bob and Crabby Patties are a happy twosome. When I am present and a child asks those questions, I often get that look, warning me not to answer. It is as if really discovering what is on the dinner table is forbidden; we all know but no one is willing to really talk about it. The truth is that all too often, it is who is for dinner, not what.

Denial at the Dinner Table and In the Military Maintains the Status Quo

In the military, where homosexuals have served with honor for decades, it serves the status quo to allow them to serve but to deny recognition of who they are — that homosexuals are honorable members of the armed services — because to admit who they are would challenge members of the public who are uncomfortable with that reality. The animals that are to be killed that day, and the next, and the next, must not be seen; the denial at the dinner table must exist for the status quo to be effective in keeping a lid on reality. What’s for dinner? Don’t ask, don’t tell.

Heterosexism, speciesism, racism, misogyny and racial intolerance all share traits in common:

  1. There is a separation from the designated group of Other.
  2. There is a reduction in value assigned to the designated group of Other.
  3. There is a fear of the designated group of Other or what they represent.
  4. There is disparagement of the designated group of Other that causes compartmentalization.
  5. There is a use of demeaning terms and stereotypes onto the group of Other.

When I was in graduate school, we were shown an entire film that documented the way African Americans were seen in earlier times. It was horribly demeaning, with bizarre caricatures, cartoons, drawings and cruel imagery. It devastated me to know that adults could behave so stupidly and so cruelly to other beings; it impacted me viscerally. That racism met all five criteria, yet it is still quizzical to me that human beings can so exploit other beings and then vilify those very beings. Who has the right to outrage here? Of course, I realize the disparagement allows those who perpetrate crimes of bondage against another group to rationalize their behavior in some way. Yet here we are, once again denying an entire group of citizens their civil rights due to prejudice and misunderstanding, while using them in ways that endanger their very lives as they serve us  in the twenty-first century. And the speciesist talk about animals goes on so continually it is hard not to notice how we refuse to acknowledge the individuality of animals, too — another group denied personhood and disallowed into the moral community.

Fighting to Reboard the Titanic

It is like we are swimming to get back on board the Titanic even as the hull is beginning to disappear in the ocean.  But those parties! Those elegant dining events! We cling to a past this is already lost. I see some of us swimming for dear life to get back on the sinking ship, fearing the loss it represents and unwilling to accept the inevitability of change. Yes, the water might be cold for awhile but getting off the sinking ship is the only way to save our hides. Our “isms” aren’t working very well for us, yet we cling to them for dear life. We desperately need the very personnel in the military that we are expelling, and we are expelling some of the very best. Recent polls show that most Americans want DADT repealed, but some of the Old Guard are too prejudiced to realize what is going on in the world around them; they would not even let it be discussed in Congress. In an era of crass fear-mongering and the destruction it has wrought, it is time to start noticing the downward trend of the ship we once believed in and start looking for alternatives. Reality is a good starting point.

So here we are, refusing to see the animals we exploit, refusing to talk about the reality of their lives, refusing to acknowledge anything that might cause us to have to change from traditional patterns of behavior. Every night, we subject our children to the lies about their food, silent lies that omit the truth. It is past time to allow people to tell the truth. And for the animals, who have no voice, it is imperative that animal advocates tell their truth loud and long. Let’s make Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell be a thing of the past for all of us, both human and nonhuman animals. There are lives that depend upon us for justice.

Why I Am NOT a Veg*n

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

Recently, on a vegan forum, I commented on the use of the term “vegetarian”  or “veg*n” rather than “vegan” while promoting animal rights.  It seemed to unleash a storm of criticism and ad hominem attacks: “Someone is VERY NEW….,”  ”so fundamentalist in nature,”  ”is there ANY evidence base whatsoever…? ”  My comment was in response to the posting of a Huffington Post article by Bruce Friederich, Vice President of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), as well as a suggestion to develop the inclusive “veg*n” culture on the same forum.  Mr. Friederich has stated before that he no longer advocates in vegan tee shirts, because people respond better to the vegetarian message. That may be, but it is not a message that will help animals. In fact, it may even create more suffering for the animals. How can an animal advocate promote the dairy industry?  I think of the abuse of babies, little newborn calves; and mothers who are forced into servitude of being milk machines, with distended udders, infected and dragging the ground.  Then there are all those newborn chicks ground alive in massive machines because they cannot lay eggs.  THAT is something for animal advocates to support?

The message Mr. Friederich was giving was that it is indefensible to eat meat. Unfortunately, his last  line reads,

Put another way: If we believe that people should try to protect the environment, OR we believe that we should try not to cause people to starve OR we oppose cruelty to animals, the only ethical diet is a vegetarian one.

Wrong. This following many salient points in Friederich’s article is so disappointing.  Why is there such a great fear of the word “veganism?”  It is a simple word, much more simple and clear than “vegetarianism.”  There is so much ambiguity in the term vegetarian that it leaves people thinking giving up meat for dairy products will somehow be less cruel. Even if one is focusing solely on the dietary aspects of veganism, then why not support incremental veganism? At least doing so would leave a clear impression in the minds of the audience that veganism is the goal, not vegetarianism.

Mr. Friederich has another contradiction or two on his hands. It is difficult to be accepted as someone who values animal life while working for an organization that kills a higher proportion of animals in their “shelter” than most other shelters. It is also an organization that owns stock and profits from animal agriculture, gives awards to slaughter house designers, and uses some questionable tactics which diminishes the level of dialogue regarding the significance of animal rights.  Again, so disappointing. One young animal rights advocate, Beckah Sheeler, recently posted on the site Animal Writes an article titled, PETA: A Hurdle for Vegan Advocacy:

What we are faced with is the split between abolitionists and welfarists, and this will always exist; however, (as cliche the saying as it may be) with the amount of power Peta has, comes a great amount of responsibility, meaning the lives and welfare of animals, the planet, and the indirect meals able to be fed to the hungry due to this lifestyle, are resting in its hands. Bruce Friedrich, VP of Peta, also has stated in a recent post that being an absolutist is the worst way to attract people to this cause. The members of Peta should, of course, not give up their strong convictions of remaining not only meat free, but egg and dairy free, but being that Peta is so big, I believe that it is the organization’s responsibility, with all of its money, resources, and recognition, to advocate in such a way that helps the most amount of animals being that this is its perceived cause.

Ms. Sheeler then goes on to support widening the appeal rather than clarifying the message that PETA spreads.  However, Dan Cudahy, on his blog Unpopular Vegan Essays, reports on the failure of such tactics that are contradictory at the root (from the article PETA: A Corporate Tangle of Contradictions):

PETA’s contradictions in philosophy, rhetoric, and activities – which have led to profound public confusion and fortification of the utilitarian-welfarist status quo that has been in existence since Jeremy Bentham – have been a barrier to progress in advancing animal rights, and will continue to be a barrier as long as they continue as an animal welfare organization.

For a clear look at the problematic nature of the confusion in such welfarist rhetoric, Professor Gary Francione states in a post on his blog, Animal Rights: The Abolionist Approach (Some Comments on Vegetarianism as a Gateway to Veganism):

It is clear: if you explain that there is no distinction between flesh and other animal products and why we should go vegan, and the person with whom you are talking cares about the issue, she will either (1) go vegan immediately; or (2) go vegan in stages; or (3) not go vegan and adopt some version of vegetarianism (or “happy” meat/product consumption). But she will at least understand that veganism is the aspiration toward which to work. She will understand that the line between flesh and other products is entirely arbitrary. If you maintain that going vegetarian is morally meaningful and that there is a distinction between flesh and other animal products, then you increase the chances that her progress toward veganism will be impeded.

In other words, you do not need to advocate vegetarianism. It is completely unnecessary, morally meaningless, and, as a practical matter, it impedes transition to veganism.

While I appreciate the sincere motives of individuals like Mr. Friederich and do not challenge them, it does seem important to continue looking at the tactics of the animal rights movement. This is very different than disparaging individuals.  I fully admit to many shortcomings and work on them; I have my own blind spots. Assuming that all animal advocates sincerely want what is in the best interest of nonhuman animals rather than promotion of their individual animal organizations, then looking critically at tactics and contradictions that may become barriers (Dan Cudahy) or hurdles (Beckah Sheeler) or impediments (Gary Francione) would seem a positive way of helping advocates learn to help animals achieve true rights as living, feeling beings. While listening to a podcast today, I heard someone interrupt a speaker discussing vegetarianism and interject “a lacto-ovo vegetarian — that is pretty much the same thing as a vegan.”  No, no, no.

Another way of stating this was posted by Tim Gier in an article titled, Is Half A Loaf Better Than None?

If you do intentionally participate in the subjugation of nonhuman animals, it does not matter that your participation is infrequent, or irregular, or occasional. Whenever you eat the flesh of a nonhuman animal, a life is ended for your pleasure, and for nothing else. The same is true whenever you wear the skin of another as clothing, or you patronize the zoos and circuses that cage others for life, or you support the medical, scientific or commercial experimentation on others as well.  Cutting back on those things, while better than not, still amounts to participating in them. There is no “half loaf.”

By spreading vegetarian education rather than vegan education, we collaborate in the subjugation (however unintentionally) of nonhuman animals.  The baseline is veganism. The fact that it is not immediately appealing for 100% of all people everywhere is not the point.  Veganism is the goal. It can be incrementally achieved, but it remains the goal. To ask for anything less, anything with wider appeal, anything that appears to be a more popular message, is to sell out the rights of animals. Want to make veganism more popular? Start by talking about it.

Oh Yes We Can! Just Watch Us.

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

To reach a goal, you have to believe — believe you can achieve the goal, envision reaching the goal, then take a step towards the goal. Imagine if you did not believe you could make it through school — you would not attend the first class. All those classes between entering school and graduation may seem overwhelming at times, but it is only by taking them one class at a time that you finally reach your goal. You have to step out in faith and believe before you can make it happen.

I just read a commentary on a vegan forum that said no, we cannot, no we will not. That person believed that human beings were incapable of making significant change, that we were so mired in our traditional approaches that we would mess it all up and miss all cosmic deadlines. We would not fix global warming; we would not find cleaner energy. We would not go vegan. We would not make significant change.  In short, we are doomed.

Maybe, but maybe not. Lately I have been mired in lassitude, but even while mired, I knew it was transitory. So will we as a movement overcome; our collective lassitude is just our denial, not wanting to change, not wanting to deal with reality. War, recession, budget deficits, unemployment, oil spills, energy crisis, solar tsunamis, deforestation, overpopulation — it all seems too much to handle.  So some days, we pull the covers over our heads. It may take a crisis for some of us to get out of bed and make a change, but other people are continuing changing every day. Someone on Twitter just tweeted me that they had gone vegan – one more vegan!  Lassitude leaves, energy returns, and the movement gains momentum.

To all the nay sayers, Oh, Yes We Can and Yes We Will. The vegan movement is having an impact and it is growing every day.  How many teenagers were vegan a generation ago? Look at what is happening among  young people, those with the biggest stake in our future – they are still flexible, open, and inquisitive and many are learning about veganism and supporting the movement forward. And there are others of every agen, including elders, too, who prove daily that it is never too late to become educated about what is happening to animals.  We will abolish the commodification of animals. We must. There are a hundred billion reasons every year to do so.