Archive for July 2013

piping plover Roadkill – we see it nearly every day: raccoons, rabbits, squirrels, frogs, and perhaps less frequently, deer, dogs, and cats. Most of the time, the poor creatures are already dead. Sometimes, rescues are possible, and even more rarely, survival and rehabilitation occurs. Over my thirty-plus years of driving, I have had the occasion to rescue two robins who had been hit by cars. I’ve also had the unfortunate experience of having hit and killed a raccoon, a chipmunk, and a bird (type unknown). The number of dead animals I see on any given day out on the roadways and highways I try not to think about.

After being particularly disturbed upon seeing an adult opossum dead today, I decided to look into this subject, which I had been intending to do for a while. As it turns out, accurate statistics (at least in the U.S.) are difficult to come by. Each state wildlife agency keeps its own statistics. Insurance companies keep their own statistics on reported collisions and damages, usually involving larger animals, such as deer and moose. Car enthusiasts as well as those concerned about disappearing endangered species both keep tabs as best they can. A few university researchers are attempting to collect data from the public. But information involving animals killed by motor vehicles is mostly available through a patchwork of surveys, insurance statistics, and observations of state wildlife officials.

Here is some of what we know. There are about four million miles of roads in the U.S., of which more than half is paved . There are 240 million cars and trucks registered in the U.S. And the estimated miles logged in the course of a year? three trillion.

That’s a lot of opportunities for death and injury causing collisions to occur. The best estimate I have come across as to how many animals we lose is approximately four hundred million vertebrate animals on U.S. roads every year. That of course, does not count the untold number of insects, such as moths and butterflies. And as others have pointed out, this figure only includes the counted and seen dead – it does not estimate how many collisions occur leaving an animal to die later alone in the woods, the total of which could be several times more than what we actually see and count. So basically, every day on US roads, at least one million vertebrate animals (and unknown numbers of invertebrates) lose their lives as a result of motor vehicles – a direct result of motor vehicles. If we also consider the losses due to dwindling habitat and pollution of habitat by motor vehicle exhaust as well as paving dust, pollution of nearby waterways, and disruption of feeding and breeding behavior due to the impact of major road construction, the numbers only climb higher.

Not only is this devastating to those who lose beloved companions in this manner, but there are also real concerns about the potential impact on wildlife populations, especially endangered or threatened species. There are over 1300 threatened or endangered animal species in the U.S. , including twenty two species of butterfly. While many of these species exist far away from developed areas, not all do, and individuals in search of food or mates may wander far enough away from their territory to become another statistic.

So what can we do besides feel a twinge every time we see a roadkill victim? There is much we can do collectively, if the will is there. The ecological toll of motor vehicle collisions on wildlife needs to be assessed and quantified in a more accessible fashion, which means it needs to be prioritized and funds need to be allocated for such an assessment. The effects of commandeering major swaths of land to be paved needs to be weighed heavily against the potential benefit of having yet another road in town which may not be very far from other existing roads. Public transportation needs to be given more attention (and yes, more funding). Public transportation infrastructure in the U.S. is dismally far behind many other industrialized nations. Such a network of transportation possibilities could cut down drastically on the number of vehicles on the roadways. Speed limits should not continue to be raised in response to public demand, and existing speed limits need to be enforced with fines meant to seriously discourage further infractions. Purchasing locally grown or manufactured goods (becoming increasingly more difficult) when possible can reduce the number of truck miles driven. Whistles for deer that are attached to vehicles and are quite inexpensive are available, but their effectiveness continues to be debated. Such whistles and other warning devices attached to vehicles could be improved upon and made more widely available to motorists (such as offering one when registering a vehicle, for example). And perhaps most importantly, the reality about the potential long term effects of building and driving more miles on more roadways needs to be told more widely and more emphatically to the driving public.

Roadkill is one of the unfortunate side effects of living in a fast-paced, consumer based, human centric society. There are things that we can do, both individually and collectively, to reduce the number of fatalities and the impacts on wildlife populations. But people need to have the information and the will to make such changes.

photo: Piping plover (endangered), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

vegan-activism-basket-of-clementinesFor many vegans, the question of how to best advocate and advance veganism is often a challenging one. For some, the daily choice to live a vegan life will be their statement. For others, a more active advocacy is best suited to their lives. This subject comes up often on blogs and discussion boards, and there is usually no consensus, even among committed vegans. However, one of the things that continues to rear its ugly head in the blogosphere is the accusation that vegans are holier-than-thou, uppity, intolerant snobs. One particular theme that came up recently got me particularly incensed – it was the suggestion that vegans somehow retreat into their cocoon of vegan life, not really understanding what life is like for others, and not even trying to identify with others’ chosen lifestyles-that we hang out in some kind of vegan retreat, excluding and scorning the nonbelievers. The image that came to my mind was of some hidden-away tree house where one needs a secret knock to get in; inside which vegans are sitting around drinking refreshments and high-fiving each other while looking down contemptuously at those who have not yet arrived.

For most, if not all vegans, nothing could be further from the truth. The idea that any vegan stays, literally or figuratively, safely ensconced inside of some kind of retreat or safe house is beyond ridiculous. Many of us, I would say even most of us, by the very act of walking out of our own doors, are leaving the gastronomic and emotional safety that omnivores often do not have to think about (although people with food intolerances or on medical diets can probably relate to the feeling of concern upon leaving home). As we leave our homes, many on a daily basis, we are entering a world of families, coworkers, and neighbors who do not understand us and often challenge our way of life like there is something we have to defend about it. We shop at stores and attempt to eat in restaurants that do not always (or ever) have food we can eat and even if they do, we are still surrounded by the products of suffering for others to consume. We are constantly challenged to scour ingredient lists, ask wait staff about what might be in a restaurant dish, and deal regularly with the confused and sometimes critical questions and comments from those who share our lives. Even those of us who choose not to take a more activist role are often unexpectedly pressed into service, explaining to someone the realities of factory farms or the cruelties of circuses and marine mammal parks that lie behind the happy advertising. For most of us, just the very act of being who we are publicly is an act of advocacy, a defiance of the status quo. Even the educational foundation and thought process often involved in the decision to become vegan has exposed us to the realities of immense animal suffering, the knowledge of which the vast majority of omnivores do not (or choose not) know, and the sadness of which we can never un-know or forget.

And that’s just those of us living regular lives. Add to that collective effort the subset of vegans and vegetarians who engage in hands-on, proactive, direct activism – tabling at events, volunteering at nonprofits, literally getting our hands dirty doing direct animal rescue, talking regularly with farmers, vivisectors, and hunters, writing, blogging, tweeting, and interacting with many on both sides of the issue. Those involved in direct activism are often exposed to even MORE knowledge of suffering, more criticism, and more emotional heartache.

But frankly, none of it sounds like a walk in the park. This is not say that vegans are looking for sympathy or some kind of award. But for anyone to suggest that vegans anywhere on the activist spectrum are hiding away in a vegan-only clubhouse, safe from the realities of real life, is to not know truly and intimately the life of a vegan (which is why I am particularly puzzled when such critical statements are made by other vegans). Veganism IS vegan activism – by its very nature, veganism is love in action. However we choose to express ourselves to others, we are ALL activists for our nonhuman kin and advocates for those who cannot advocate for themselves.

Woman-on-Grass__48744-150x150 Vegans and vegetarians in ads are being portrayed very interestingly to say the least– particularly in the newest batch of commercials for fast food. First it was Red Robin with their veggie burger “in case your teenage daughter is going through a phase” campaign, and now it is Subway advertising the “veggie eater:” a young woman with long hair and a beaded headband dressed in attire that is reminiscent of the 1960’s. Now, of course there is nothing wrong with being either a teenager in search of oneself OR a person who is not locked into current fashion dictates. But the attempts by fast food companies (who profit primarily by selling meat based dishes) to homogenize vegans as different are signaling something – my guess would be concern, perhaps even fear.

Whenever a group of people is threatened by another group of people, one of the tactics often used is to portray the other group as different, foreign, other, or, in worst case scenarios- dangerous, terrible, and to be feared. Either way, it is an attempt to set the disliked group apart, to disenfranchise them, declare them as not part of the mainstream. We have seen it too many times before. Whether with fixed traits (such as race or ethnicity, for example), or chosen ideologies (veganism, political leanings, etc.), the group whose very existence or growth is seen as threatening to another group is discredited, mocked, and marginalized -especially if the threatened group is or believes itself to be more entrenched and powerful. In the case of the “vegetarians are confused teenagers or hippies” ads, I don’t know the exact motivation of the advertising agencies that came up with the themes. But certainly, even if not intended (and my guess is that it IS intended), it is an attempt to stigmatize and differentiate vegetarians and vegans from the mainstream of society. It is an attempt to suggest that we are different in a significant way from “regular” people. It’s as if they are saying “Don’t worry about your teenage daughter – once she goes through her veggie-phase she will come around and eat what the rest of us eat and be ‘normal’ again.” Or, “If you are vegetarian or vegan, you come from a time when people rebelled against the establishment, the norm – join us in the present, where everyone eats dead animal flesh.” It is condescending and infuriating, but then again, that’s probably the point – to make us seem like we are different and abnormal.

To me, the reason for attempting to do so is clear. Vegetarians and vegans (as well as other AR activists) are mobilized and outspoken like never before. We are using blogs, social media, film documentaries, and best-selling books to make the point to the public that animal agriculture and meat consumption is damaging to animals, the environment, and human health. High profile vegans, such as Stella McCartney, and no-to- low-meat consumption/health oriented advocates, such as President Bill Clinton, only add to the growing conversation about moving society to a plant-based diet. The writing is on the wall. Meat consumption will have to be replaced with either cloned meat (in-vitro meat), plant based alternatives (such as “mock meats”), or a vegan whole foods diet, or the world as we know it will not survive. Human health is suffering in many places, either due to lack of food (such as in Africa) or an excess of the wrong kind of food (such as in Western countries). The stream of horrific cruelties coming out of the animal agribusiness industry, as well as the crushing environmental effects of a worldwide meat-based diet, are more and more evident to the general public. People are starting to pay attention. And some people, many people, are changing their dietary choices as a result. But the fast food companies, who make most of their money off of death products, are getting nervous. So their strategy, rather to embrace the changing tide, is to attempt to portray vegetarians and vegans as one-dimensional, different, strange – to further push them out of the mainstream where they are clearly starting to take hold and have an influence. Too bad for them though, because soon enough there will be more vegetarians and vegans looking to grab a quick meal somewhere, and they just might not want to eat at an establishment that insults and mocks them. Why would any of us want to eat somewhere that continues to insult us for living our convictions?

Geese-in-Winter_Goose-Snow__foie-gras53036-150x150

Foie gras is a human-consumed edible entity. It is the product of force feeding geese (such as the beautiful creatures shown) so that their livers become exceedingly large. The process of confining and force feeding these defenseless creatures is violent and is considered very cruel, even by many who are comfortable eating other animal species. Foie gras production and/or the force feeding of animals has actually been banned in a number of places around the world – including in at least seventeen countries. Some of these countries still allow the sale of foie gras, however. Israel bans the force feeding of geese, and a recent bill has been introduced to ban the trade of foie gras. In the United States, the State of California banned the production of foie gras beginning in 2012, and an effort is now underway by Mercy for Animals to get foie gras banned in the state of New York as well as to convince Amazon to stop selling it.

There is no viable argument that foie gras is important either for feeding the world’s hungry or as an important component of a healthy human diet. There are arguments for both in terms of conventional meat, although those arguments are generally put forward by those who profit from meat production and sales and by those who enjoy eating meat. And on both issues, the evidence is clear that a plant based diet is the way to go, both for conserving the resources needed to feed the world’s population and for maintaining and enhancing human health. But the meat producers have to try, I suppose, to convince consumers that the products they are buying are not disproportionately consuming the planet’s resources, are not contributing to vast suffering of sentient beings, and that they are a healthy lifestyle option.

But for foie gras, there is no such option to even try to put forth that kind of argument. Such an argument is ridiculous. Foie gras, simply put, is an extravagance. It is a luxury, a symbol of excess and opulence. It is a gastronomic treat for those who like it. It is completely obvious to pretty much everyone that the only reason it exists is because some people like to eat it. So if there is any type of edible product that could easily go away without even an attempt to justify its necessity on this earth, it is foie gras. So for this reason, among the previously stated others (including the inherent cruelty of its production), it is important that foie gras be banned more widely and in a swift fashion. After all, if we can’t even get this gratuitously self indulgent product to be recognized for what it is and banned for what it does, what chance do the other species have? If people are willing to stand by while geese are tortured for a spread on someone’s cracker, the billions of cows, pigs, and other land animals don’t have a chance for freedom from their suffering, not to mention all of the sea creatures killed as well.

So as foie gras goes, so goes the world? Perhaps. Foie gras is, in some ways, a combination of sentinel and prognosticator. It stands at the gate of animal cruelty, suffering all the while. But its disappearance will signal something critical in the effort to end animal exploitation for human consumption. The ability to ban it from being produced and sold is certainly an indicator as to where the world is going on animal rights and food production. If more people can get to a point where they say foie gras is wrong and should not be produced and sold because of its cruelty, then the argument that it is ok to continue to eat cows, pigs, and turkeys will ultimately fall. As disturbing as it is to think of force feeding geese in the manner in which it is done, the other atrocities that occur on any given day at any slaughterhouse are equally horrific. As sympathy for the victims of foie gras production increases and awareness of cruelties in all types of farmed animal systems emerges, the realities will become more widely known. And if the continued education as to the cruelties to those other species is able to be effected and sustained on a large scale, foie gras may just be the beginning of the end. It will not likely be a quick process, but as more people are educated about what really happens on factory farms and in slaughterhouses, it will become increasingly difficult to justify liberating one species while continuing to confine, torture, and kill other similar ones. Philosophically, there is no other outcome. Practically, it will be a very long road. So as foie gras goes,……maybe….


Sources
Care 2 re: foie gras in New York State
The Decanter re: Worldwide attempts to ban foie gras
The Examiner re: Mercy for Animals Amazon campaign
The Jerusalem Post re: foie gras in Israel

earth-2 I’ll admit, the inspiration for this post title came from watching a rerun of the Big Bang Theory pilot, in which Leonard tells Sheldon that they need to invite Penny over for dinner to “widen our circle.” While I don’t normally look to sitcoms to guide my writing and thought, it seemed particularly apt in light of a couple of experiences of the past week that have inspired me to try and widen my own circle a bit.

The first experience came via a blog which used to be one of my favorite daily reads. I say used to be, because the author of the blog decided to stop writing for now because of reasons having partly to do with a disrespectful, scolding, and very public series of tweets by another blogger. It’s always sad when a strong and respected voice in the AR movement becomes silent. It’s even sadder when that silence is precipitated by the blistering attacks of another AR advocate, which, again, took place not in private, but in the public sphere. I am not going to mention either of their names here partly due to wanting to maintain their privacy as best I can. I also don’t want to have to link to the very ugly exchanges that have transpired, not to mention attacks against the first blog’s readers, some of whom chose to disagree with the sentiments expressed by the second blogger. Some very cogent and insightful comments were proposed by the readers of the first blog, only to be summarily dismissed and mocked by the second blogger. While there were intense expressions of emotion coming from both sides, the whole thing might have been avoided if the second blogger had made a different decision as to how to approach the subject of disagreement. I’m not suggesting silence but rather a discussion with a more measured tone. The whole episode is a very sad example of what can happen even in a movement that is so dedicated to respecting the integrity and value of all beings.

The second experience came recently, after I had posted a series of admittedly snarky tweets about McDonald’s and their refusal to adopt the same standards of treatment (of chickens) in the US that they currently have in place in European countries. The treatment of chickens at McDonald’s’ US suppliers is hideous and deplorable, and I do not regret anything that I said or linked to. But what became even more interesting is a conversation I had with a cattle farmer in the UK who found and responded to one of my tweets about McDonald’s. What could have turned into a hate-filled, angry exchange of venom actually was a very peaceful conversation about healthy eating, locally grown food, our common concern about zoos, and, ironically enough, the vitriol that is already plentifully available on social media. We wished each other well and are now following each other on twitter.

I find the juxtaposition of these two events in the past week simultaneously inspiring, disappointing, and infuriating. On one hand, two people who disagree on a fundamental issue (eating other animals) were able to find some common ground, speak respectfully, and exchange ideas. On the other, two people who are strenuous advocates for veganism and the rights of all non-human animals have both been affected by an ugly disagreement – one having shut down a much-loved and influential blog, and one whose name-calling against another blogger has set up a chain reaction of upheaval in the AR community which has taken the focus off the main issue – the status and suffering of animals.

We all come to these issues from different backgrounds, cultures, and life experiences. But sadly enough, because two people are dedicated to animal rights does not mean that they will get along or even be able to work together towards their common goal. And people who may not even be on the same page about one aspect of animals rights (food, for example), may be able to agree and perhaps even co-advocate on another issue (conditions at zoos or supporting local farmers). Erik Marcus recently wrote about how dialogue and meeting people where they are is so important to increasing awareness about food issues.

So what does this all mean? For me, it means widening my circle and trying to learn from all of the people I encounter, whether or not we are in agreement on all the issues. It means I will also try and learn from the disappointing exchange that occurred elsewhere in the blogosphere this week, while encouraging those who disagree to try and find a mutually respectful way to work it out. It especially means that I will refocus my attention on the plight of suffering animals everywhere, which is, after all, why so many of us do this.

I have decided to add a page toplink to highlight the great work of animal rescue and advocacy organizations. There are so many wonderful organizations I am sure it will take the rest of my blogging career to cover them all, but I am going to try! Instead of placing it in an already crowded sidebar, I added it as a page on the top bar. For my first highlight I wrote a bit about the organization Animals Asia, which is doing great work in helping and saving moon bears from the horrific bile industry. If you look at the top bar, you will see a number of pages – it is the furthest on the right. I will periodically be changing the highlighted organization and hopefully will find a way to archive the previously highlighted ones. So please take a look and read about the hard work so many are doing for our fellow creatures. peace, Linda