Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Hunters: No Respect for Life

Far be it for me to stereotype people, make sweeping generalizations or paint everyone with the same brush, but hunters are a despicable lot (despicable, adj. deserving to be despised; contemptible; morally reprehensible; vile).*

Case in point: I’m hiking out at Rockway Conservation Area last Sunday and I notice these two guys in the parking lot of the Rockway Community Centre doing something out of the back of one of their trucks. I didn’t think too much about it as I figured they were getting ready to go for hike as well.

When I returned a few hours later, they were still there, getting ready to leave. I also noticed something in the grass directly behind their trucks so I went over to investigate. Turns out it was a deer carcass, freshly killed and cleaned. The head was severed, the flesh removed and the innards stuffed into two garbage bags along with a rolled up sheet of plastic dripping blood.

The two guys jumped in their vehicles and took off as I went over to take pictures of the gruesome scene (and snapped a couple license plates in the process). One of the men drove slowly, smiled and gave me a little wave before pulling out of the parking lot.

I called the police when I got home, who suggested I contact the Ministry of Natural Resources. A very nice girl up in Sault Ste. Marie (who handles all hunting violation issues for Ontario) explained that although what these two men did was “unethical” and “not smart”, they did not violate any laws (providing they have a tag to hunt deer).

If anything they are guilty of littering, which, I was told, will be addressed by the local municipal bylaw office. However, killing a deer, stripping the flesh off his body and tossing his remains in a parking lot where people go hiking, walk their dogs and take their children to experience nature, is perfectly legal, if not “smart”.

According to the MNR, if these two Bungalow Bills had littered on Crown property, like a provincial park, then charges would be laid, but only for the garbage bags and the sheet of plastic. The nice girl on the phone explained that if a hunter dumps the bones or body of a deer back in the woods it’s a good thing, because he’s returning the animal to nature where other animals can benefit from it.

I wanted to ask her what was so natural about two weekend warriors, armed with high-powered weapons and driving a Hummer and an SUV, going in the forest (not exactly man’s natural habitat anymore) and taking down a healthy young buck when natural predators take down the sick and old, but fought the urge, knowing I would be wasting my time and hers.

The day before this happened I had taken a number of people to Short Hills Provincial Park - just down the road from Rockway - to do some nature photography. While we were on the trail, we spotted half-a-dozen deer, almost completely camouflaged in the tall grasses. We tried to get closer to take some pictures but they bolted across the field, their white tails flapping as they ran away.

No wonder they’re so afraid of us. Some people respect life, and feel lucky if they just get a glimpse of these beautiful and graceful animals in their natural environment. Others get their rocks off by destroying life. It makes them feel big and powerful to take down a helpless, innocent animal and kill it. I’m told it’s the way of the world. Maybe it is. But does it have to be?

* My apologies to all you despicable hunters who slaughter animals “responsibly” and “sustainably” and other such garbage like that, as if that makes it okay or means anything to the animal being killed. My advice? Get a life, instead of taking someone else’s.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Veganish: It's Okay to Hurt Animals Once in a While

There’s a new fad strutting its stuff these days. It’s called veganishism. It’s also known as half-assed veganism, lazy veganism or veganism-for-people-who-think-it’s-cool-to-say-they’re-vegan-when-they-really-aren’t. It refers to people who are “mostly” vegan but still eat animal products now and then.

The Urban Dictionary ( defines it as “An eating practice for people who kinda want to be vegan, but sometimes just need to eat some cheese or chicken.” It is also described as “guilt free veganism”.

Surprisingly, a number of vegans are promoting the idea of “veganish” so as to, if I understand correctly, make people who care about animal suffering and exploitation, but can’t quite adhere to a 100% vegan diet* feel less guilty if they “fall off the wagon” from time to time.

Other advocates of occasional veganism are motivated by personal health or a cleaner, more sustainable environment, rather than violence to other animals. As noted above, many, if not most advocates for “veganishism” only focus on food issues and don’t address the other aspects of veganism, such as clothing, animal experimentation, hunting and fishing, and all other areas of animal oppression. explains veganish this way:

“If someone smokes a pack of cigarettes a day, they’re clearly a smoker; but if, once or twice a year, they get drunk at a party and smoke a cigar, then they’re a non-smoker who smokes every once in a while. We propose a similar way of thinking for veganism: if 95%’ish of the time you’re vegan, you’re vegan or veganish.”

Advocates for veganishism argue that as long as people are trying to be vegan, they should be referred to as vegans, or veganishes (?) because in spirit, if not actually in practice, they are vegans. They also contend that more people would be willing to try veganism if they didn’t have to be 100% vegan at the get-go, and if they weren’t attacked for not living up to some vegans’ perfect, yet “impossible” standards.

From an animal rights point of view, promoters of veganishism believe fewer “food” animals would suffer and die because given the choice between vegan and veganish, more people would choose the latter because it’s easier.

Now to me, veganish is no different from occasional vegetarianism or occasional carnism. I have no problem with the word vegan, its definition or adhering to its principles. But the bastardization or watering down of the word to make it more appealing to people troubles me.

To be vegan is to eliminate, as much as possible, ALL forms of cruelty towards other animals. And, I might add, ALL the time. Not whenever you feel like and not whenever it’s convenient. It’s a moral position (and a stand against violence), not one that you can ignore when it suits you and not one that changes day to day.

I have some friends who consider themselves "vegetarians in principle" because they say they love animals and they feel bad for them when they’re killed for food - but they still eat them. I think veganish is the same thing: you don't have to be vegan in practice, just in principle, kinda like Mark Bittman's Vegan Until Six program or the Conscientious Carnivores. If you cause suffering to animals once in a while, that's okay, because you're not really vegan - you're veganish!

Let’s look at it another way. If I reduced the amount of beatings I inflicted on my child by 95% I would still be a child abuser. If I was pulled over for speeding I could argue that since I go the speed limit 95%-ish of the time I really wasn’t speeding at all. The police officer would then tear up the ticket, tell me to have a nice day and let me go own my way - yeah right!

My point is that if you reduce your cruelty to animals, even by 80, 90 or 95%, but intentionally cause their suffering and death once in a while, you’re still causing their suffering and death. This is not something to celebrate.

Would we applaud the person who goes 364 days a year without sexually molesting a child or murdering another human being but “falls off the wagon” and destroys someone else’s life just that one time? How is this any different from “veganishism”? I’ll tell you: it’s no different because it still causes someone else to suffer.

And if you’re saying to yourself, “But he can’t compare the murder of a human being with the use of animals,” then you aren’t really an animal rights activist. That’s because equal consideration is at the heart of the animal rights movement. If you wouldn’t want someone to use, imprison, torture or slaughter you, then you don’t do it to someone else, whether that someone has two legs, four legs, wings or gills.

It’s easy to fall off the wagon if you’re vegetarian or vegan for health reasons or to reduce your carbon footprint. You can always assure yourself that, if you slip up, cheat or cave in one day, you can just make up for it the next day. What’s the harm?

We all consume things that aren’t 100% healthy for us, but we believe that “anything in moderation” is okay, or if we eat something bad “once in a while” it’s not going to kill us. After all, we’re not perfect and we all impact the planet negatively, to some degree, each and every day. In this context, falling off the wagon occasionally is no big deal.

But if you’re vegan for ethical reasons, because you believe that using and slaughtering animals are forms of violence and morally WRONG, then falling off the wagon occasionally becomes a BIG DEAL, because every time you consume animal products, you’re contributing to the suffering, exploitation and killing of other animals.

The whole idea of “veganish” seems to want to pat people on the back who aren’t fully committed to a lifestyle of compassion, and to make people feel good when they do eat animals. I think this is a mistake (and imagine how confusing it is to non-vegans!).

None of us are perfect and there's no such thing as a 100% consciously or unconsciously aware vegan - your car alone most likely contains animal by-products of one kind or another and we all support animal exploitation to a degree, even if it's buying vegan food at a grocery store that sells animal products - but the goal is to eliminate, as much as humanly possible, those products from your life.

If you want to cut down on your animal consumption for health, the environment or the animals, great! But making up a word to make people feel good about the occasional suffering and death they’re causing doesn’t change the fact that unless you’re vegan, you’re still part of the problem, just as you’re part of the problem if you murder, rape and steal (even if it’s only 5, 4, 3, 2 or 1% of the time).

I don't think anyone should be shamed or ridiculed because they're trying to be vegan, but stumble once in a while. If you’re vegan in every other aspect of your life but just can’t give up cheese, then you’re definitely reducing the amount of suffering in the world.

My advice to them is to do your best to be vegan. Don’t beat yourself up if you slip up once in a while, just get back on the wagon and move forward. Seek out vegan organizations to help you find cruelty-free alternatives and to reassure you that you’re doing the right thing when you’re feeling weak. You’ll find that other vegans will be more than happy to share their experiences and expertise with you!

But if you're “okay” with causing the suffering, exploitation and slaughter of other sentient beings, even once in a while, you're NOT vegan, and all the variations in the world (veganish, veganesque, etc.) won’t change the fact that until you DO go vegan, you’re still part of the problem, not the solution.

Does the individual cow, chicken or pig suffer any less if someone is veganish? As long as there is a demand for animal products - any amount of animal products - animals will continue to suffer and die. There’s no such thing as slaughter-lite, death-free death or exploitation-ish. The idea of veganish is just as absurd.

*According to Donald Watson, co-founder of the British Vegan Society and creator of the word, veganism “denotes a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude - as far as is possible and practical - all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment."

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Bridge Too Far

"No! No different! Only different in your mind. You must unlearn what you have learned." – Yoda to Luke, The Empire Strikes Back

I have this friend. He’s a great guy, concerned about the environment, social justice issues, local and international politics, sustainable living, heritage preservation and so on. He has so much integrity, passion and commitment that he started an online newspaper, devoting most of his free time and energy to inform and educate the masses (and he doesn’t even get paid for it!).

He’s also a huge animal lover. For as long as I can remember he’s written about issues concerning animals. He’s always condemned local and national acts of animal cruelty. He’s called for stronger laws to protect animals we call pets from abuse. He’s written against the insidious past-time known as sport hunting. And he’s been a relentless pain in the butt towards those who keep whales in captivity.

He supports local animal rights groups when they hold their protests and vigils, advertises and covers various lectures and symposiums to enlighten the public on animal issues, and even features animal adoptions on his website.

Yet despite all his concern and compassion for other living beings, he still supports the exploitation, suffering and slaughter of animals for food. He still EATS animals and animal products.

We’ve talked about it a lot, and I’ve even offered to take him out and treat him to a delicious vegan meal at a restaurant just down the street from his house. So far he hasn’t taken me up on it.

In a recent email, my friend wrote:

“please don't ask me if I am vegan yet .... as much as I share your passion for all creatures great and small on this planet, that probably ain't going to happen for me. .... not eating an egg is a bridge too far.”

It’s not the first time I’ve heard this. Many people I’ve spoken with over the years have expressed the same sentiments. But does this make my friend a hypocrite? Is it hypocritical to condemn those who exploit and kill animals for commercial gain or personal satisfaction, only to support other forms of violence towards animals?

What’s the difference between stealing whales from the wild (or breeding them in captivity) to live as slaves for human entertainment, and breeding cows, pigs and chickens to live as slaves destined for slaughter (yes, cows and chickens are slaughtered when they can’t produce any more milk or eggs) because people enjoy the taste of their flesh and secretions?

And what’s the difference between the family who buys a season’s pass to the marine park and the family who buys a ham for Easter?

I can picture my friend interviewing someone who kills animals for their fur. “Isn’t it cruel to kill an animal just to make someone else look good?” he asks. The fur trapper then replies:

“please don't ask me if I am going to give up killing animals for the fur industry .... as much as I share your passion for all creatures great and small on this planet, that probably ain't going to happen for me. .... not trapping animals is a bridge too far.”

Or how about the person who keeps whales in tiny concrete tanks?

“please don't ask me if I am going to stop displaying whales .... as much as I share your passion for all creatures great and small on this planet, that probably ain't going to happen for me. .... not displaying whales (and jeopardizing the success of my business) is a bridge too far.”

Cruelty is cruelty, and suffering is suffering. It is no less so just because it’s being done to a different kind of animal. That doesn’t mean I think my friend is a cold-blooded killer or cruel animal collector, but in regards to reducing animal suffering and ultimately the amount of unnecessary violence in the world, if you’re not part of the solution…

So what IS the solution for my friend? Put your money where your mouth is. Like Gandhi said, be the change you want to see in the world. If you’re against animal exploitation, slavery and cruelty, go vegan. Can’t give up eggs yet? Then give up everything except eggs. A little bit is better than nothing at all. But don’t write it all off because you’re too old or too set in your ways.

Or as Yoda would say, only in your mind is the bridge too far…