Sunday, November 7, 2010

Who Made Your Eggs Today?

It never ceases to amaze me how companies that exploit and slaughter other animals twist and bury the truth in order to sell their “products” or boost their public image. And they always get away with it.

Why is that? Oh right, because we let them. Otherwise, we’d be complaining and writing letters to those who regulate and guarantee truth in advertising.

If a billboard went up today advertising that cigarettes are good for you, or make you look cool, people would go ballistic. In fact, the ad would never get approved in the first place.

But when it comes to animal agriculture, we turn a blind eye. We allow false advertising, even encourage it, so we’re not reminded of how our meat and other animal products get to our table.

That’s why Ribfest uses a smiling pig in a chef’s hat (or coveralls) for its logo. That’s why milk and dairy products come in packages bearing pictures of happy heifers in idyllic fields. And that’s why the egg industry lies to its customers.

The question is: “Who Made Your Eggs Today?” And we have a picture of an egg farmer for the answer. Well my friends, the egg farmer didn’t make the eggs. He’s a man, a mammal, incapable of producing eggs. Chickens produce eggs, not humans.

If this billboard (one of many around the peninsula right now) was accurate, it would show a picture of six or seven birds, crammed into a battery cage, struggling to move around.

Their beaks would be cut off with a hot blade (and no pain-killers) so they can’t peck each other – a stress-induced behaviour – and risk damaging the production units (the industry’s term for chickens). And they might even be covered in fecal matter dripping down from the cages above them. Not a pretty picture.

So instead of the truth, we have a lie: a smiling farmer instead of a tortured little bird.

The truth is, the animals who make your eggs are sentient. That means they can feel pain, experience stress and terror, and suffer, just like your pet cat or dog. We shut down puppy mills that treat dogs in this manner, but support factory farms that treat chickens in this manner. Why?

I’d like to see some real truth in animal agriculture advertising. Maybe then people would consider going vegan.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Violent vegans

“Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.” - Isaac Asimov

This guy has a piece of celery in one ear, a carrot in the other ear and a zucchini up his nose. He goes to the doctor and asks him what’s wrong. The doctor tells him, “Well, for one thing, you're not eating right.”

Okay, maybe not the funniest joke in the world but I just wanted to show you that I do have a sense of humour. But what I read last week wasn’t funny to me at all. In fact, I thought it was quite appalling.

The incident I’m referring to is the pie-ing of Lierre Keith, former vegan and author of The Vegetarian Myth, by three hooded vegan extremists.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the assault took place at an anarchist book fair, where Keith was promoting her book, and the pies thrown at her were reportedly laced with chili peppers. For the complete story, click here:

A similar occurrence happened here in Canada a few months ago, when a pie-wielding PETA member attacked the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans because she supported the annual east coast seal slaughter. PETA claimed responsibility for the pie assault and the woman, an American from New York City, was charged. Here’s the link to that story:

Now there are a lot of things that people say and do that I disagree with, but I don’t go around throwing pies at them. It’s not only childish; it’s an act of violence. Veganism is supposed to be about NON-violence.

And while a number of people have applauded the pie-throwing episode in San Francisco, some vegans don’t even consider it an act of violence. According to a person who witnessed the assault:

“I was there and perhaps I should have snickered in silence, and I am the first one to condemn ‘violence’, but I firmly feel that this was not a violent act, but a clever and effective direct action. The only thing the pie throwing ninjas bruised was her ego. Lierre Keith's book is very dangerous to the vegan movement.”

For the record, hitting someone in the face with a pie IS a violent act. It’s a display of force meant to embarrass or humiliate someone else, and it’s doing something to someone else against their will - a violation. It doesn't matter that Keith wasn’t physically or seriously injured.

So what are these people trying to prove? Do they think they’re going to win the public over or be taken seriously by hitting people in the face with pies? What message do they hope to impart on society, other than if you support acts of violence against animals (or even write against vegetarianism/veganism), you will become the target of violence?

Some animal activists used to do the same thing to people who wore fur, but instead of throwing pies, they threw red paint (and apparently still do on occasion). But the tactics, and the message, are still the same: the use of violence to raise awareness of violence. It’s all pretty stupid if you ask me.

And it’s counter-productive. Throwing pies at people doesn’t make them think about animal suffering or animal rights. It will however, make them think that animal activists are a bunch of crazy idiots.

Since 99% of the population doesn’t see anything wrong with using or eating animals, a lot of people will use this stunt (and others like it) to denounce veganism, and label us all as angry, militant and irrational hypocrites, even though it's not true.

If these violent outbursts continue, the progress we’ve made as agents for peaceful change will suffer. We’ll be branded extremists and terrorists. Never mind Lierre Keith’s book; it’s the pie-throwings and other senseless acts of violence that could do the vegan movement the most harm.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

In defense of James Cameron and Avatar (sort of)

Stephanie Ernst over at Animal Rights & AntiOppression recently wrote that James Cameron’s new film Avatar, despite what the critics, or even some of the big animal rights organizations say, does NOT show respect for animals.

She takes particular offence to a scene in which the lead character forces himself onto (and into) another creature in order to control him. For Jake to become a full warrior, he must overpower and subdue an ikran, one of Pandora’s flying beasts. Stephanie writes:

“It is Jake’s duty, while the animal fights him off, to “bond” with the animal by overpowering him, tying him up, climbing on top of him, and inserting a part of his body into the body of the animal while his victim desperately fights him off.”

Click here for the full story:

Stephanie also has a problem with the film’s message that as long as you pray or pay your respects to other animals, it’s alright to kill them (although we don’t actually know why Jake kills the animal and we never see the Na’vi eat animal flesh).

I saw Avatar twice and I personally thought it was an amazing movie. I loved the computer graphics, the music and the way the film brought attention to the environment, capitalism, the use of the military and the way we’ve treated (and continue to treat) indigenous peoples.

Nevertheless, I too was bothered by the “rape” scenes. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it at the time but something about it made me uncomfortable. I was reminded of the way wild stallions or elephants are “broken” but I think I saw it more as some kind of mind control than rape. I’m grateful to Stephanie for making me see what it really was.

I also found it disturbing that PETA would honour a film that promotes the exploitation of other animals, awarding James Cameron with a Proggy (PETA’s progress award) because of the film’s compassion and understanding towards animals.

According to PETA Senior Vice-President Lisa Lange, “We hope viewers will come away from Avatar with a new way of looking at the world around them and the way we treat our fellow earthlings. For helping animals with the positive message of this film, James Cameron is PETA’s ‘King of the World.’”

What? Okay, whatever. I learned long ago that PETA will do or say just about anything (or ride on anybody’s coattails) to get a headline. Remember CloFu (George Clooney sweat-flavoured tofu)?

But I don’t blame Cameron for making a film that promotes the slaughter, subjugation and rape of other animals. After all, Cameron isn’t a vegan or an animal rights activist. If he was, then I’d take issue with him exploiting animals in his films. But he’s not.

A friend of mine was also concerned that the use of violence towards the creatures in Avatar was going to send a message to the public that it’s okay to exploit and kill animals.

I had to remind my friend that the public ALREADY thinks that it’s okay to exploit and kill animals. We live in a society where it’s commonplace and acceptable to use animals for any reason whatsoever.

We kill them for fun, we kill them for food, we kill them for scientific curiosity and we kill them because we think we look good wrapped in their skins. We rape cows, we torture primates, we drown rats and we grind baby chicks alive.

We bash in the heads of turtles with hammers to study their heart rates and drill holes into the heads of hamsters to analyze their sex drives! We even cook and eat animals while they’re still alive. I could go on and on.

Aside from vegans, who make up a whole 1% of the population, everybody else eats and uses and kills animals.

So Cameron wrote and produced a film that depicts animal exploitation. Why are people surprised? Why would he write anything else?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

We are not lions

In an attempt to defend meat-eating, there are those who say it’s perfectly natural for us to kill and consume other animals, and since we’re at the top of the food chain, everything and anything (or anyone) is on the menu.

These people often cite lions, tigers and bears (oh my) to back up their beliefs that humans are supposed to eat flesh, because other animals eat flesh. I can see where they’re coming from because I thought the very same thing when I was very young.

“Bears are omnivores and so are we,” I once told my then vegetarian sister. “Get the bears to stop eating meat and I’ll stop eating meat.” I thought I was so clever!

Lions kill antelopes, wolves kill deer and bears kill fish. They’re animals and we’re animals. So what’s the big deal? What’s the difference?

The difference is we are not lions, wolves or bears. We’re human beings: a different kind of animal; a MORAL animal. Lions and other carnivores don’t have morals, nor do they have a choice. If they don’t kill other animals they’ll die. They can’t survive on fruits, grains and vegetables. It’s the same for omnivores. But we can. We have other options.

Maybe once, a long time ago, we had to eat animals to survive (humans also ate other humans NOT so long ago) but we’ve learned so much since then. Today we work with lasers, communicate instantly with people on the other side of the planet and send robots to other planets. We’re in the 21st century now, not the Stone Age. We don’t need to eat animals anymore.

Some readers might say: “Yes, but we’re omnivores too!” Are we? I’m not so sure. Our physiology seems to indicate we are not, and the health implications (not to mention the environmental consequences) of consuming animal products suggest it would be wiser for all of us if we gave up meat.

And just because we can do something, like eating someone else’s flesh, doesn’t mean we should. Our bodies can also handle cocaine, heroine and crystal meth in moderate amounts, but I don’t know anyone promoting widespread psychoactive drug use.

So meat advocates can use predators to try and make their meat-eating arguments if they like but I’m more inspired by the gorillas, elephants and rhinoceroses. These amazing animals are just as strong as lions (if not stronger) and they’re all vegans. They manage to survive without killing and eating the bodies of other animals and they do just fine.

But I don’t object to predatory animals killing other animals (even though I feel bad for the victims) because, as I wrote earlier, they have no choice; it’s either do or die. Humans on the other hand do have a choice. And that’s what it all comes down to: a moral choice.

We know that killing, unless absolutely necessary, is wrong. We also know that causing unnecessary suffering to others is cruel. That’s why we have laws. If we didn’t, society couldn’t function. So we’re taught from an early age about right and wrong, do unto others, and so on for the betterment of society and the good of its members.

We’re praised when we perform acts of kindness and punished when we commit acts of violence. We’re also encouraged to work together to strengthen our communities, protect the weak and vulnerable, and help the sick and elderly. We don’t live by the law of the jungle because we don’t live in the jungle.

We can’t be part of a moral community, and reap the benefits of that community on one hand, and then justify killing and eating animals “because other animals do it.” There are no rules in nature; it’s survival of the fittest. But WE don’t live like that. If we did, there would be no law enforcement agencies, no hospitals, no charitable organizations, no social services, no mercy and no compassion.

If you want to reject civilized society and all its rules, living “red in claw and tooth” and killing what you eat go right ahead. But leave behind all the protections and benefits that come from living in a civilized society, including all those fancy gadgets. Wild animals don’t have cars, kerosene generators or high-powered rifles and neither should you.

Either we live like human beings, and accept all the rights and responsibilities that come with that, or we live like animals. It’s one or the other. We can’t have it both ways.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The sanctity of life

I’m reading the newspaper the other day when I come across the following headlines:

Innocent bystander shot in the head and killed while pumping gas.

12-year-old girl found raped, murdered.

I mention them to a number of people and their responses are typical:

What a shame. How could somebody do such a thing? What a waste of a life!

They all feel bad for the victims whose lives have ended so abruptly, brutally and needlessly, and their hearts go out to the grieving families, unable to imagine the suffering they’re going through.

They try their best to make sense out of such senseless violence. Some get angry. One person wonders how some people can have so little respect for another’s life. Another asks, “What’s wrong with this world?”

However, the one thing that nobody says, not even one of them, is, “Well, at least they had a good life up until then.” Could you imagine if someone did? What would the others think of that person? At best, he or she would be accused of being some kind of cold-blooded monster!

“How could you say such a horrible thing?” they’d ask. They’d be shocked, disgusted and angered. They’d probably find such a remark repugnant, offensive and insensitive. And rightly so.

That’s because most of us have a reverence for life; we believe it to be sacred. We also believe that everyone should have a chance to live out his or her life; to grow up into adulthood, get married, have children and pursue a career; whatever they want to do. To have that life cut short by an unnecessary act of violence is both terrible and tragic.

Yet people say this all the time when it comes to the animals, don’t they? “Well, at least they had a good life up until then,” as if a couple of months (or for cows, a couple of years) of not being tortured justifies a violent and horrific end.

But that’s the whole idea behind “free-range” and “certified humane” animal products; that it’s okay to butcher animals as long as they’ve had a good life (and it’s us humans, not the animals, who determines what a good life is and when it should end).

Thanks to the countless undercover investigations and You Tube videos, the public is now more aware than ever before of what happens in today’s factory farms. Still, most people see nothing wrong with eating other farmed animals as long as they’re treated “okay” (up until the time their throats are slit anyways). And this is exactly what the industry wants you to think.

“Free-range” and “certified humane” labels were invented for one reason: to sell animal flesh, eggs and milk products to so-called “conscientious” consumers. But make no mistake: this new breed of animal exploiter is no more concerned with animal welfare than the animal exploiters over at the factory farm.

They do understand one thing though. People care about animals, even if they won’t stop eating them (and of course, no animal farmer wants you to stop eating them), so they’ve come up with an innovative marketing strategy to relieve the customer’s guilt: free range and certified humane animal products.

The customer feels good because he thinks the animals aren’t suffering (or not suffering as much). The exploiters feel good because they’re able to sell their flesh, milk and eggs at a higher price. The only ones who aren’t feeling so good are the animals because, well, they’re dead!

These so-called “happy” animals (how else do you get happy meat?) are still mutilated, abused and slaughtered. Chickens still have their beaks burned off; cows still have their horns cut off and pigs still have their… well, they’re still castrated. All of this is done without anesthetic and in the end they are all mercilessly, painfully and brutally killed.

They’re still treated like machines (the industry prefers “production units”) instead of sentient beings who have interests of their own. These “happy” animals are slaves, plain and simple. Since when is slavery humane? Who ever heard of a happy slave?

Well, here’s a newsflash for you: there’s no such thing as happy meat and there’s no such thing as humane slaughter. If you wouldn’t do it to another human being, it’s not humane.

Approximately 145 million animals are slaughtered on a daily basis (that’s over 50 BILLION a year) because we like the taste of them. That’s the only reason. So we try to justify our eating habits and ease our guilt by convincing ourselves, or letting the exploiters do it for us, that certain kinds of slaughter are acceptable; even desirable. They are not.

Whether these animals are “humanely-raised” or reared in an intensive confinement facility, they are ALL OF THEM slaughtered. They don’t retire; they aren’t sent out to pasture; no old folks home for them. The only place they go to is the slaughterhouse.

Over 50 billion lives every year. What a waste of life. No wonder there’s so much violence in the world. Isn’t it about time we made the connection, that as long as we engage in any act of violence, we will never be free of violence?

The French poet, Alphonse Lamartine, said, “Do not raise your hand against your brother, and do not spill the blood of any living creatures who live on the earth, neither human beings nor pets nor wild animals nor birds. In the depth of your soul some divine voice stops you from spilling this blood. There is life in it. You cannot return this life.”

And that’s what we’re talking about here: life. Someone else’s life. In fact, 50 billion someone elses each and every year. Their lives are not ours to take. These animals, given the choice, would rather live than die. Their life has value to them just as yours does to you.

We need to start practicing what we preach. We need to start respecting the sanctity of life. We need to go vegan.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Great Separation

Thousands of years ago, man lived in harmony with the rest of the natural world. Through what we would call Telepathy, he communicated with animals, plants and other forms of life - none of which he considered "beneath" himself, only different, with different jobs to perform. He worked side by side with earth angels and nature spirits, with who he shared responsibility for taking care of the world.

The earth's atmosphere was very different from what it is now, with a great deal more vegetation-supporting moisture. A tremendous variety of vegetable, fruit, seed and grain food was available. Because of such a diet, and the lack of unnatural strain, human life span was many times longer than what it is today. The killing of animals for food or "sport" was unthinkable. Man lived at peace with himself and the various life forms, whom he considered his teachers and friends.

But gradually at first, and then with increasing intensity, man's Ego began to grow and assert itself. Finally, after it had caused many unpleasant incidents, the consensus was reached that man should go out into the world alone, to learn a necessary lesson. The connections were broken.

On his own, feeling alienated from the world he had been created from, cut off from the full extent of its abundance, man was no longer happy. He began to search for the happiness he had lost. When he found something that reminded him of it, he tried to possess it and accumulate more - thereby introducing Stress into his life. But searching for lasting happiness and accumulating temporary substitutes for it brought him no satisfaction.

As he was no longer able to hear what the other forms of life were saying, he could only try to understand them through their actions, which he often misinterpreted. Because he was no longer cooperating with the earth angels and nature spirits for the good of all, but was attempting to manipulate the earth forces for his benefit alone, plants began to shrivel and die. With less vegetation to draw up and give off moisture, the planet's atmosphere became drier and deserts appeared. A relatively small number of plant species survived, which grew smaller and tougher with passing time. Eventually they lost the radiant colors and abundant fruit of their ancestors.

Man's life span began to shorten accordingly, and diseases appeared and spread. Because of the decreasing variety of food available to him - and his growing insensitivity - man began to kill and eat his friends the animals. They soon learned to flee from his approach and become increasingly shy and suspicious of human motives and behavior. And so the separation grew. After several generations, few people had any idea of what life had once been like.

As man became more and more violent toward the earth, and as his social and spiritual world narrowed to that of the human race alone, he became more and more manipulative of and violent toward his own kind. Men began to kill and enslave each other, creating armies and empires, forcing those who looked, talked, thought and acted differently from them to submit to what they thought was best.

Life became so miserable for the human race that about two or three thousand years ago, perfected spirits began to be born on earth in human form, to teach the truths that had largely been forgotten. But by then humanity had grown so divided, and so insensitive to the universal laws operating in the natural world, that those truths were only partially understood.

As time passed, the teachings of the perfected spirits were changed, for what one might call political reasons, by the all-too-human organizations that inherited them. Those who came into prominence within the organizations wanted power over others. They downplayed the importance of non-human life forms and eliminated from the teachings statements claiming that those forms had souls, wisdom and divine presence - and that the heaven they were in touch with was a state of Unity with the Divine that could be attained by anyone who put aside his ego and followed the universal laws.

The power-hungry wanted their followers to believe that heaven was a place to which some people - and only people - went after death, a place that could be reached by those who had the approval of their organizations. So not even the perfected spirits were able to restore the wholeness of truth, because of interference of the human ego.

Down through the centuries, accounts of the Great Separation. and of the Golden Age that existed before it, have been passed on by the sensitive and wise. Today in the industrial West, they are merely classified as legends and myths - fantasies believed in by the credulous and unsophisticated, stories based only on imagination and emotion. And although colored and simplified accounts of the Great Separation can be found in the holy books of the world's religions, it is doubtful that many followers of those religions strongly believe them.

- Benjamin Hoff, The Te of Piglet

Monday, January 25, 2010

They're all good animals

Rusty died a few days ago.

She was my mother’s cat and she was 18 years old, although you’d never know it to look at her. She seemed a lot younger. Perhaps it’s because she was so little. Still, 18 years is a pretty long life for a cat. And I can assure you she had a good life.

Actually, she wasn’t my mother’s cat at all; she was my sister’s. But mom had agreed to take care of her when my sister moved away to Arizona more than 10 years ago. So even though Rusty wasn’t technically my mom’s cat, she was my mom’s cat.

My mother was crying when she phoned me to tell me that Rusty had passed away. She was heartbroken and she still is. She said Rusty had been a part of her and now that she was gone, she felt like a part of her was missing too.

She told me how she had been petting Rusty the night before she died and how Rusty had been purring. “Oh, how she purred,” my mother had said. Rusty was still warm when my mom found her lifeless body underneath the dining-room table the next morning.

“She was such a good cat,” mom said as she wept.

“I know she was,” I replied. I was tempted to add, they all are, but decided not to.

My mom loved Rusty; of that I have no doubt. And I know she’ll get over losing Rusty in time; the pain and sorrow replaced by fond memories of her. It’s just too bad that my mother couldn’t (or doesn’t) have the same empathy and love towards other animals.

You see, my mother loves some animals and eats others. When she hears of animal abuse on television, she’s appalled. Yet she refuses to make the connection when it comes to animals who are killed for food.

Perhaps if she was able to know the other animals, one from every species, the way she was able to know Rusty, she might feel differently. After all, the cow who was killed for her hamburger was such a good cow. The pig who was slaughtered for her bacon was such a good pig. And the little chicken whose throat was cut so my mom can enjoy her sweet and sour chicken balls was such a good chicken.

Maybe then she’d see that all animals are worthy of compassion; that they don’t need to die or deserve to die or want to die. She might come to the realization that they are all good animals, and the needless suffering and death of any of them is tragic; something to mourn and more importantly, something to stop.

The only way to do this is to go vegan.

Rest in peace Rusty.

And rest in peace all you other good animals.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Veganism is hard!

Of all the reasons not to go vegan, this is the one I hear the most. Now I’m not completely convinced that everyone who says it’s hard has ever tried it (or has ever really given it a chance), but I’m assuming they assume it is. I also think a lot of folks equate veganism with extremism and view vegans as uncompromising purists.

To some we’re seen as a special breed of humans with almost supernatural powers of self-control; strange beings who constantly deny ourselves all the good things in life and take pleasure in trying to make other people feel guilty all the time.

Not true. The vegans I know (including myself) lead rich and rewarding lives. They’re as normal (or abnormal) as anyone else and they enjoy and do many of the same things you do. They also respect life - all life - and have devoted themselves to peace, which just so happens to begin with what (or who) you put in your mouth.

And it’s not about trying to make people feel guilty; it’s about trying to make people feel something, anything! Because if they feel something for the animals, a connection, pity, something, maybe they’ll stop eating them.

Personally, I’ve never considered veganism hard and I’ve been vegan for 10 years now. I make almost all my own meals and when I do eat out, I go to places that have vegan selections. I’ve also found that most restaurants are willing to prepare your food the way you want it; all you have to do is ask (try ordering a vegan pizza in a restaurant and see how many people comment on how delicious it looks).

Instead of eating meat and other animal products, I enjoy a wide variety of plant-based foods I never dreamed of trying before becoming vegan. Chana masala (aka chick peas in a curry sauce) is now one of my favourite homemade dishes, although prior to going vegan I wouldn’t touch chick peas with a ten-foot pole. Oh how I’ve grown!

I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything or depriving myself but I feel good knowing that my diet isn’t contributing to the suffering of others. Veganism isn’t about depriving yourself of things, but it does provide you with an opportunity to expand your food choices as well as your circle of compassion.

I also have no desire to use or wear anything that resulted in animals being tortured and killed, nor do I wish to see animals confined (zoos and marine parks) or abused (circuses and rodeos) for human amusement (the other part of veganism). Once I knew the truth about how these animals are made to suffer there was no going back.

But let’s say for a minute that veganism is hard (but not impossible). So what? A lot of things are hard, like waking up early for work, going to school, doing the dishes, cleaning your room, dealing with your mother-in-law, obeying the speed limit, telling the truth, being faithful to your partner and helping others. Did I miss anything?

My point is there are things that a) we need to do to survive and get by in the world, and b) we should be doing because they make us better human beings and the world a better place. Sometimes it’s hard to do the right thing but it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do the right thing. And going vegan is the right thing. Not just for me or a select few but for everyone who believes in kindness, compassion and the golden rule.

Veganism is a commitment to peace and a stand against the exploitation of those who are weaker than us. Excluding animal products from your life is not the end of the world, but it might just be the beginning of the end to all the violence and unnecessary suffering in the world.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Reasons to go vegan

An article published by the Montreal Gazette yesterday commented on the growing popularity of veganism, stating that: "A novelty only 30 years ago, meat-free diets are rapidly becoming the fashion for people who care about their family's and their planet's health."

For the full story, click here: Vegans move into the mainstream

While I enjoy seeing stories like this in the newspapers, I wish the authors would also include the most important reason, and the number one reason most people go vegan: to stop the exploitation, suffering and slaughter of other animals.

I suppose right now it's trendy to reduce your meat consumption (or at least to say you do) but trendy or not, veganism is compassion in action. It's about recognizing how cruel and unnecessary it is to use, kill, wear, eat or experiment on other animals and then adjusting your lifestyle to reflect that awareness.