Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Big Meat's Scare Tactics

This is so cool! The meat industry is squirming and scaremongering over the Baltimore public school board's decision to introduce "Meatless Mondays" to their school cafeterias Meat lobby sinks teeth into local issue.

They're warning folks that students already aren't getting enough protein in their diets, and that if this insanity - one vegetarian meal a week - doesn't stop it'll turn America's youth into pasty-skinned, hardcore vegan animal rights terrorists (or something like that).

Sound ridiculous? Well my friends, it gets better. According to an earlier story http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/55355 the president of the American Meat Institute sent a letter to Andres A. Alonso, CEO of Baltimore City Schools, urging him to abandon "Meatless Mondays", as if mandating vegetarian chili and grilled cheese sandwiches were a violation of the First Amendment and infringing upon American's freedom to choose:

"Now you are removing a meat or poultry entrée on Mondays and depriving children and their parents of the ability to determine what is appropriate for their diets and their own personal circumstances." - J. Patrick Boyle, American Meat Institute

This from an industry that has successfully brainwashed people into believing that they can't survive without eating meat, and has infiltrated the school system with their dangerous and self-serving propaganda.

But I think the best part is this. In an attempt to convince Big Meat that he isn't some kind of new-age, tofu-eating health fanatic, Triple A has assured them that, "I have the world's worst eating habits. If the meat industry folks sat at my family dinners, we would be their poster family."

Okay, so is it just me or did Mr. Alonso, chief of Baltimore schools, just say that meat-eating is a bad habit? That's what it sounded like to me. Oh yes it did! Which leads me to my next question. Who you gonna believe, a greedy corporation that peddles in the death and dismemberment of innocent, defenceless animals, or the head of Baltimore's education system?

I love it!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

What about plants?

By Daniel K. Wilson

There are some people, in an attempt to discredit vegetarians and vegans, who argue that plants have feelings too and it’s just as cruel to eat them as it is to eat animals. Of course, these people don’t abstain from eating plants themselves; quite the opposite. They raise the issue to justify eating animals. In other words, it doesn’t matter what you eat because something had to die, so why worry about any of it?

It may sound ridiculous (or like something from a sci-fi movie) to say that plants are intelligent and cringe at the thought of being eaten but it’s worth remembering that not so long ago people scoffed at the idea of animal sentience, likening the screams of tortured dogs to a clock striking twelve. And while I’ve never heard of anyone protesting the mistreatment and slaughter of carrots (vegetable rights activists?), I’d still like to give them the benefit of a doubt.

The idea of plant sentience was first recorded in 1848 by Dr. Gustav Fechner, who believed plants were capable of emotions just like humans and animals, and would grow big and strong if only they were spoken to with love and affection. Even early Buddhists and some present-day Jains consider plants to be at least borderline beings, meaning they are partly sentient, and apply the principle of ahimsa, or non-violence, to them.

Perhaps the most famous advocate of plant sentience is Cleve Backster, a polygraph expert and founder of the FBI’s polygraph unit. In 1966, Backster decided to hook up a lie detector to his Dracaena Massangeana and measure the electrical impulses of the leaves. He thought to himself, “I am going to burn that plant leaf, that very leaf that's attached to the polygraph,” and immediately the machine “went into a wild agitation.” Backster was convinced that the plant was reading his mind and reacting to his intent to burn it.

His partner at the polygraph school was able to get the same results, so long as he intended to burn the plant leaf. If his partner only pretended to intend to burn the leaf, it wouldn't react, leading Backster to the conclusion that the plant could distinguish between real intentions and made-up ones.

Backster’s findings were published in the International Journal of Parapsychology in 1968 and he wrote a book on the subject called Primary Perception. He also believes the bacteria in yogurt are conscious and that plants can communicate with humans and other life forms.

Supporters claim that his experiments have been reproduced thousands of times with exactly the same results, thus “proving” that plants are sentient. Backster’s work was also the inspiration for the best-selling book, The Secret Life of Plants, which promotes the idea that plants are telepathic and experience emotions such as fear and love.

But Backster’s experiments were heavily criticized by the scientific community because he had not used proper controls during his research. When a group of scientists in the late 70’s conducted their own tests under controlled laboratory conditions, the plants did not react to thoughts or threats of violence and it was concluded that the readings Backster had recorded could have been the result of a number of factors including static electricity, movement in the room, changes in humidity, etc.

More recently, the idea of primary perception was put to the test on an episode of Mythbusters (to prove if plants are telepathic). A polygraph machine was connected to a number of plants, and then the “busters” inflicted both physical and imaginary harm to the plants, and other plants nearby. The polygraph recorded some kind of reaction, but it wasn’t consistent, occurring only about a third of the time. The researchers concluded that “if it’s not repeatable, it’s not science,” and plants are NOT telepathic.

As far as we know, all living beings need to have a brain to experience emotions and a central nervous system to feel pain. Plants have neither. A plant can react and respond to stimuli, such as light, gravity and touch, but whether they feel pain, are conscious and have interests is doubtful.

Some believers however, argue that just because plants don’t have brains, they may still be sentient, and note that animals need hearts to live but plants do not. They say that plants may be alive through different principles that we currently don’t know about and therefore could have senses that don’t rely on the same systems that animals do, including a brain. Plants may be conscious through different principles as well.

But if plants are sentient, their existence would be the cruelest joke of nature or God; beings capable of suffering yet possessing no means whatsoever of escaping that suffering. Animals have adapted to feel pain and fear to avoid dangerous situations, something plants are unable to do. It simply wouldn’t benefit plants to possess these characteristics.

So is it possible that plants are sentient? Sure, anything’s possible. Is it likely? No, I don’t believe it is. But if it turns out that vegetables are sentient, I guess I will have to become a fruitarian (someone who eats only raw fruits and seeds). I went vegan when I found out that animals, even dairy cows and egg-laying chickens, suffer and die simply because we like the taste of their flesh. If vegetables also suffer, then as a pacifist, I would have to stop eating them as well. Right now, there’s no convincing evidence that they do.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Are helper animals exploited animals?

I was shopping at Whole Foods the other day when the cashier at the checkout, a very friendly and cheerful young girl, asked if I’d be willing to donate to the Dog Guides, a program created by the Lion’s Club to train dogs and dog handlers, to help physically challenged Canadians “in the areas of mobility, safety, and independence.”

According to their website, http://www.dogguides.com/, the lives of over 1200 men, women and children across Canada have been enriched by the program, including people who are blind or visually impaired, and those with hearing and other medically and physically limiting disabilities, at absolutely no charge.

“Dedicated trainers spend six to eight rigorous months training the dog for its ultimate role as a working companion.”

Sounds like a noble cause, right? But is it animal exploitation?

A lot of veganism is focused on what we eat, and not what we do. But can vegans, who oppose animal exploitation of any kind, in good conscience support such programs?

Or is it going a bit too far to call the employment of dogs to assist the disabled (or helper monkeys, horse-assisted therapy, and the like) exploitation?

What are your thoughts?

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Vegans against veganism

Rant by Daniel K. Wilson

I recently attended a vegan potluck hosted by a local animal rights group who had a person from a national animal welfare organization speak about factory farming.

According to the speaker (a vegan), this national charity (consisting of a mostly vegan board of directors) is working to improve the conditions of farm animals by trying to eliminate battery cages, reduce transport times for animals on their way to slaughter, provide sick and injured animals with proper veterinary care, and generally make the lives of “food” animals better during their exploitation and as they’re killed.

Did I mention they also promote “certified organic, humane certified, free range or free-run” animal products? I thought I was dreaming, and pinched myself to make sure. Then I asked how a group of vegans can, in good conscience, promote the killing and consuming of animals in any way, shape or form, and suggested that it might be a better use of their time, energy and money to actually promote veganism instead.

That didn’t go over too well with a number of vegans in the room, who accused me of being too extreme. They also told me that vegan education and legislative reforms are not mutually exclusive and since everybody reacts differently to different approaches based on their life experiences, all forms of awareness need to be utilized, including happy meat campaigns, instead of just vegan outreach.

Someone said that people can’t just go vegan overnight because it’s too hard, so baby steps are necessary (baby steps in this case meaning animal welfare reforms and humane meat campaigns) to help the animals. Another said it would be counterproductive if all animal rights groups were only promoting veganism, because most people aren’t ready to embrace it yet.

I had to think about that one for a minute - all the animal rights organizations in the world only promoting veganism. Yeah, that would be horrible. And for the record, I’m so tired of animal rights people and vegans saying veganism is hard. It’s not, especially with all the meat and dairy alternatives available today.

One of the many problems, as I see it, with animal rights groups promoting animal welfare is that it’s dishonest. These groups don’t really want people to eat certified organic or humanely-raised animals at all but they’re afraid to say so out of fear of alienating people. So they lobby governments for more humane methods of confining, transporting and killing animals, hoping the public will jump on that bandwagon and pressure the government for reforms.

And if the government listens to them and passes legislation five or ten years down the road, then they can claim victory: the animals are now a little bit more comfortable and killed a little bit more humanely (whatever that means) and that’s great because it’s what these animal rights groups wanted all along, right? Wrong. What they really wanted was for people to stop killing and eating animals.

Still unsatisfied (even though it’s what they said they wanted), they’ll start a new campaign for even more humane treatment of animals being exploited and killed for their flesh, fluids and eggs, and if they get that, they’ll ask for even more reforms! This song and dance will go on and on until one day, perhaps a million years from now, they might actually get around to encouraging people to give up animal products altogether.

What a monumental waste of time, energy and animal lives! It’s also deceitful. If you want people to stop eating animal products, say so. If veganism is your end goal, then have the conviction to state it up front. If you don’t, the public will feel that they’ve been lied to and you’ll lose all credibility, with those you’re trying to educate, and with those fighting for animal liberation. Have a little bit of faith in the people you’re trying to educate. Not everyone is going to become vegan but a lot will. And we’re only going to find out how many are willing to embrace veganism when we start promoting it.

The other problem with these kinds of campaigns is that it confuses people. Upon hearing about the horrors of factory farms, a person at the potluck asked, “So you’re saying free-range is good, right?” And that’s when the “ums”, “wells” and “actuallys” started. The speaker said that um, well, she wasn’t actually personally endorsing free-range (but the group’s literature and website does) and um, well, they would actually prefer that people eat less, or no meat. These are mixed messages. People concerned about animal suffering are looking for leadership and direction. And young people are the next wave of vegan activists so we have to be clear about what we’re trying to do and teach them the right way from the start.

If you think that negotiating with the exploiters or petitioning the government to do the right thing is the way to go, you’re sadly mistaken. And tricking the public into believing you’re for one thing when you’re really for another is false advertising. The answer is vegan education, at the grass-roots level, one person at a time, one day at a time. As the number of vegans increase, the demand for animal products will decrease. It’s as simple as that.

But if vegans aren’t going to promote veganism, who will?