Animals as food


The TPP, or Trans-Pacific Partnership, is the newest trade agreement being proposed and “fast-tracked” here in the U.S. The TPP is an agreement with 11 countries in Asia and Latin America that proposes major changes in property rights of intellectual property and the enforcement of infractions regarding them. It appears to be quite complicated (at least to me who is a non-attorney) and basically requires the signatory countries “to adopt heightened copyright protection that advances the agenda of the US entertainment and pharmaceutical industries agendas, but omits the flexibilities and exceptions that protect Internet users and technology innovators.”

Now that alone is concerning to me, but as this is an animal rights blog, I will leave it to others to explain why the TPP is bad for jobs and for anyone trying to make a decent wage.

So what DOES the TPP have to do with animals?

Well for one thing, the other signatory countries present issues regarding their treatment of animals. The other countries are Japan, Australia, Peru, Malaysia, Vietnam, New Zealand, Chile, Singapore, Canada, Mexico, and Brunei Darussalam. Some of these countries have abysmal records of animal abuse on a systemic level, particularly in the food and research areas (not that the U.S. necessarily has a lot to be proud of). We only have to look at the world outrage over the confinement, torture, and slaughter in Taiji, Japan, of hundreds (it will be thousands before the season is over) of dolphins and whales so that the captive marine mammal entertainment industry can have more victims for their grotesque “theme parks.” In addition, as stated above, this agreement is a financial blockbuster for the pharmaceutical industry, a major abuser and killer of animals worldwide. The TPP does not appear to deal with either of these major issues as a condition of passage.

The other major concern with the TPP regarding animals is the disgusting crime of shark finning. As many know, shark finning is the obscene practice of removing a live shark from the water, slicing off its fins WHILE STILL ALIVE AND CONSCIOUS, and tossing its tortured, disfigured body back into the ocean (shark “meat” is not nearly as profitable as the fins). These sharks, of course, will not survive, dying by asphyxiation (since they cannot swim and move water over their gills to breathe), blood loss, or predation. No doubt the suffering of these sharks is unimaginable. Currently, it is estimated that 100 million sharks each year are killed in this horrific fashion. Shark fin soup is a delicacy in some places, which is responsible for much of the demand.

Sharks are vertebrates. They have the same basic nervous system and limb structure (in their case fins) as any other vertebrate. Their capacity to feel pain and suffering is the same as any vertebrate. The horrific suffering that they endure before their deaths is almost unimaginable. In addition to the massive suffering inflicted on the individual sharks, there is the issue of their conservation and ability to continue living in their environments. There are 18 species of sharks listed as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). At the rate of killing, sharks could be eliminated from the oceans in 10-20 years.

So back to the TPP. In March of 2013, some steps had been taken at a meeting in Bangkok to outlaw this brutal practice. A positive step to be sure. And some countries and cities are taking it upon themselves to ban shark fin products in their jurisdictions. But the news regarding the TPP is not good. The latest draft of the TPP does not include any language to ban shark finning. It merely “acknowledges commitments” previously made. In other words, nice-sounding phrasing which essentially does nothing to bind any of the participating countries to any prohibition on finning. To put in perspective, according to Michael Brune of the Sierra Club, “If the environment chapter is finalized as written in this leaked document, President Obama’s environmental trade record would be worse than George W. Bush’s.”

So what can we do?

1. If in the U.S., write to your congressional representatives and senators and voice your disapproval with this blatant pandering to international niceness and urge them NOT to put their seal of approval on any agreement which doesn’t include specific and enforceable prohibitions on shark finning (or, urge them not to approve it at all if that is your position). If in another of the signatory countries, follow the normal protocol for expressing disapproval with your government’s decisions, where appropriate.

2. Get the word out in whatever way you do – social media, email, telling your friends, families, and coworkers, however you choose to – speak out and inform as many people as possible of this travesty against our environment and its inhabitants.

3. Sign and share a petition to ban shark finning.

The omission of any clearly worded shark protection from the TPP is part of the attempt to fast-track it – bickering over wording and dealing with countries that do not want to stop this hideous practice would take time, and apparently time is not something the administration or congress want. They want to move this along as quickly as possible. But this appeasement of a brutal and obscene crime against sharks and the environment cannot be allowed to pass. It will be yet another blow to environmental conservation efforts and humane treatment of animals and another win for powerful, environment-killing corporate power.

Let’s try and stop it.

Photo of great white shark from


Due to various life events, it has been a while since I have put up any new content (apologies for that). I normally like to address one topic in depth, but since there are about a million topics swirling around in my head, I will mention a few of them now. Some I might go into in a later post, some maybe not. But here’s a bit of what I’ve been thinking about:

1. What are the ethics of giving and receiving gifts (especially food gifts) between vegans and non-vegans? I try and give only vegan and/or cruelty free gifts even when I know the recipient might really enjoy a sausage from Hickory Farms, for example. But I always keep the recipient in mind and try and get a gift that they will really like, just not something based on an animal’s death. When I receive a gift, I have no problem returning/exchanging it (a wool sweater, for example), or passing it along to someone else if it is a food item. I wonder how much this is an issue in families, particularly at holiday time.

2. Speaking of gifts, I saw an article in a local paper about giving live animals as gifts. It was a syndicated article, and I have no memory of where it came from. But the gist of the article was that it is not a good idea to give live animals as gifts, a premise I wholeheartedly support. But it was the beginning paragraph of the article that appalled me. The author was talking about being out shopping and seeing a dog/cat in a pet store and being inclined to an impulse purchase. Is he/she kidding me?? Millions of healthy animals are still being killed in shelters because of a lack of space and homes, and there are still people BUYING animals from pet stores? I didn’t think you could even sell live animals at pet stores anymore (and that needs to stop forthwith). Hey folks, how about adopting? Saving a life? And that goes for breeders, too. They still want to sell their $500 puppies to a person with that much to spend, meanwhile perfectly nice, sweet shepherds, goldies, and too many cats to count are being killed. Shame on all of them.

3. A 12 year old girl was among those arrested at the US Thanksgiving day parade. A group of protesters wanted to stop the Sea World float – understandable. To me it’s akin to having a slaughterhouse float or a vivisection lab float. What was interesting to me is that shortly afterwards, Sea World put out a letter calling the protesters “extremists” and basically attempting to portray them as fringe lunatics. As many others have written and as I have on this blog and on twitter, it appears the days of Sea World and other such institutions are numbered. Word is out about the appalling tactics of capture, abuse, and, in the case of Taiji (which rounds up dolphins for marine mammal parks), slaughter. Sea World is losing its grip on this because the facts are coming out, so they are attempting to portray anyone speaking the truth as a non-mainstream wacko. I guess it sucks to be them as people realize that captivity, exploitation, and abuse are not very entertaining.

4. There have been too many cases lately of cows being left out in the elements and dying of exposure. The most recent one was a local case of a farmer who had left newly born calves out at night – in the high winds, blowing snow, and below zero wind chills that have plagued much of the northern US in recent days. If this had been done to a dog or cat, criminal charges might be pending. But since someone has decided that animals to be killed for food do not get the same protection, nothing will happen. Let’s all remember though that cows have the same nervous system, sensitivity, and capability of suffering as dogs. I guess it is easier for those who profit off of their deaths to imagine that somehow the rules of science get suspended when it is for something that they want. Or perhaps they simply don’t care.

Photo: National Archives (NARA)
Former President of the United States Bill Clinton speaks to attendees at The U.S. Conference of Mayors in Seattle
Bill Clinton is now following a vegan diet, and according to this article, he has been doing so for about three years. How many of us remember the Clinton years – the jokes about all the fried food, not to mention the stories of how he would stop at a burger joint during his jogging sessions! Not anymore. After enduring a quadruple bypass surgery in 2004 and a more recent heart-health scare in 2010, Clinton, with encouragement from his friend (and heart specialist) Dr. Dean Ornish, adopted a diet free of all meat, dairy, and eggs. He has lost 30 pounds and says he feels great.

Although he admits the transition was difficult, Clinton says he was motivated by his desire to “live to be a grandfather.” That is certainly a strong reason for wanting to improve health. And a plant based diet tends to do that – not just for Bill Clinton, but for pretty much everyone who follows it. In my other blog, I recently wrote about some of the many health benefits of adopting a vegan (or plant-based, or animal-product free) diet, and a while ago on this blog about the possible effects on lifestyle advice now that obesity is considered a disease by the AMA. The health benefits of vegan diets range from improved heart health, to a lower risk for many cancers, less chance of type 2 diabetes, and a lower BMI, among others. Bill Clinton has said he is worried about the obesity epidemic in the U.S. and believes that collectively changing what we eat could go a long way towards improving health and reducing the overwhelming health care costs in the U.S.

Most interestingly, to me though, was this comment: “So I decided to pick the diet that I thought would maximize my chances of long-term survival.” Many people adopt a vegan diet because of concerns about the horrific animal suffering, environmental devastation, and potential food shortages which result from raising animals for the express purpose of killing and eating them. And for many of us who would like to see widespread veganism become the norm, it would be really emotionally satisfying if people were more aware of the suffering of sentient beings and acted accordingly. But what if people became vegan to save themselves? Would that be so bad? It certainly would be better for the suffering creatures, the environment, and the world’s food supply. Maybe we need to more strongly emphasize the health benefits of becoming vegan in diet and the consequences of not doing so (which is not to say we should ignore the other compelling reasons to become vegan). But for all beings, including those who cruelly and sadly end up in slaughterhouses, the drive towards self-preservation is great. Most people want to live long, healthy, active lives. And if Bill Clinton, a man who had a reputation for reveling in the consumption of cholesterol-filled, deep-fried, saturated-fat-laden heart-poison, is happily promoting a vegan diet and using his own story as an example, then there is definitely hope that anyone else can do it too. So keep talking up veganism, Mr. President!

Finally, since we are on the subject of veganism, I’d like to mention one of my newest-discovered vegan blogs: Have Gone Vegan. We ran into each other in the blogosphere, and HGV is another voice in the effort to promote a healthy and humane vegan lifestyle, so take a look if you like. A permanent link is over in the blogroll for future reference.

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?


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….

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

veganism4182898562_cfcf720592_b_wide The recent news that obesity is now going to be considered a disease by the U.S. American Medical Association could have very far reaching consequences – for individuals, doctors, insurance companies, the food and pharmaceutical industries – and animals? Maybe. There are many concerns about how this new classification of obesity is going to affect the practice of medicine, the distribution of health care dollars, and the personal investment of individuals trying to lose weight. Since this blog is about animal rights, though, I am going to let others sort out the economic and policy issues of this decision. But in terms of animal rights, this decision could make a difference. IF the focus becomes lifestyle over medicine and food choices over the latest-greatest weight loss pill, it COULD make a difference. If a vegan diet is seen as a real treatment option rather than just the choice of a few people who are concerned about animals, it COULD make a difference.

Excluding weight issues in those for whom weight gain is due to a primary medical condition (and there are some), most medical and weight-loss experts agree that weight management has to do with diet more than any other lifestyle feature. Sure, exercise is important for creating a calorie deficit and building muscle, and getting enough sleep is important for hormone balance. There are many important aspects to losing weight, but the most important by far, is WHAT WE EAT – day in, day out, month after month, year after year. And on this point, the science is clear. Individuals who consume a plant-based diet have lower body fat and cholesterol, lower bmi and blood pressure, and are at reduced risk for cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes. It has even been shown to create conditions that may slow the human aging process. The very visible physical transformations of high profile plant eaters, such as President Bill Clinton, who is now following a diet that is very close to vegan (reports are that he occasionally eats fish), only drive home the point that eating a plant based diet is healthier. It is more conducive to weight loss and maintenance. It lowers risk for a variety of diseases that are weight related, as well as diseases that are a result of too much salt, cholesterol, or pesticide or hormone intake. No matter how much the farmed animal industry might wish to deny it, it is healthier.

The question is, with this new classification of obesity as a disease, will the patients trying to lose weight be treated differently? Will there be more of a focus on a healthier diet? Will physicians educate their patients on the benefits of a plant based diet? – assuming, of course, that they physicians are themselves educated on the issue. Will the interests of science and medicine be able to stand up to the farm and pharm lobbies, who will be only too happy to try and breed a lower fat cow or whip up a new weight-loss drug?

IF the emphasis can be focused on individual lifestyle choices, IF people are willing to see the reality which is supported by science, and IF the desire of people to lose weight and be healthier is stronger than the influence of the groups who do not want to hear about the benefits of a plant based diet because it hurts their bottom line, then yes, there is a chance that this latest reclassification of obesity as a disease could not only end up helping many people, but many animals as well.


Ag-Gag laws made news on The Daily Show – it may not seem like much, but it means something. TDS has a large and demographically young audience – people who may be making decisions about not only policy, but who often re-evaulate their personal dietary practices. On Wednesday, June 12, The Daily Show did a video piece about pending bills and already-passed laws in several states which were crafted and supported by big agriculture – bills/laws that are designed to criminalize videotaping of animal cruelty in slaughterhouses. These laws are known as Ag-Gag laws. Naturally, the facilitators of this systemic cruelty don’t want people to see what really happens to the animals that are going to be neatly packaged and sold as a food option at a supermarket near you. In the piece, the spokesperson for the Animal Agriculture Alliance (i.e., the animal slaughter industry) had plenty to say about Ag-Gag laws. I think it is important to look at the primary arguments made by the industry, because they are arguments and tactics that clearly do not have staying power in an environment where people are fed up with being patronized and lied to by large corporations only interested in making a profit.

First, she claimed that the organizations making these videotapes were showing them “…with a false narrative.” Really? So what is the true narrative behind footage of people beating animals with tools, torturing them with cattle prods, and tossing them around as they would a football? She never did explain what a true narrative of those circumstances might be. Translation: Even though the videos are of actual events, the people making them are somehow lying about the (clearly visible) content. Again, she was unable to explain in any way how this phenomenon of altering a witnessed reality occurred.

Second, the spokesperson for the big ag PR group claimed that what we were witnessing were “standard industry practices” and went on to explain that if she saw a video of someone doing surgery, she would have no way of knowing whether that surgeon was a hack or a gifted practitioner. Translation: the public is too stupid to know the difference between an effort to conduct a more humane kill and someone laughing while they torture a defenseless creature. Not to mention the very long list of legal industry practices (castration, tail docking, debeaking, all without anesthesia, just to name a few) which, although legally allowed, are hardly humane and which would shock and horrify the average person even if shown as is. In fact, there were many “industry practices” throughout history which today would be seen as indefensible. Mentally ill people used to be kept in confining cages, often drugged or restrained, in deplorable conditions. At the time, it was the industry practice. In the United States, people used to be legally owned by others as slaves and were at the total mercy of their captors. They were routinely beaten, separated from their families, and raped. It was standard industry practice at the time until a war which claimed over 600,000 lives was fought to pave the way for human freedom. So calling something “standard industry practice” hardly qualifies it as being acceptable, humane, or ethical.

The final attempt by the slaughter industry to appear to have a legitimate response to these undercover videos came in the ploy of the desperate: attacking the messenger. The spokesperson tried to denigrate the activist featured in the story by wondering what name he might go by next – the attempted implication being that he is somehow shady, deceitful, an evil interloper who can’t be trusted. This truly is an indication that nothing substantive could be offered by the spokesperson as a response to the content of the videos. When one has to resort to insulting the messenger, one clearly has no justifiable response to the message.

So what can we take away from this video piece on a show which is often comedic while simultaneously targeted in its analysis of the facts? TDS has an average audience of 2.3 million viewers (2011 statistic). Many of them are young and likely to be very tuned in to the issues of veganism, animal rights, and corporate greed. These images and messages are getting out, and they are getting out to the very people who will be poised to make significant changes for these suffering animals. And that is a reason to be hopeful.


Where to start? Well, several others, including SuperVegan and James McWilliams, have already begun the conversation with excellent commentaries. In case you have been really busy lately and haven’t been able to get online, Mark Bittman is a food writer who has caused a firestorm in the vegan community with his new book “VB6″ (Vegan Before Six), which advocates a reduced meat vegan-style (I refuse to call it vegan) diet during the day as a way to lose weight and improve health. He has been doing quite a few interviews lately and it appears his own words have come back to bite him (oh the irony).

One of the primary things that has (rightly so) really torqued off the vegan community is his colossal misuse of the term vegan. He could have used the term veggie-style, or vegetable based, or reduced-meat, or any number of other terms to describe his new diet and made the same points about how healthy a plant based diet really is. Instead, he usurped a term that has a deep meaning for the people who follow the lifestyle with heart and soul. Vegans do not just avoid eating any products that came from animals, unless they are vegan in diet only (usually for health reasons). But vegans, true to the core vegans, will live a life that tries in every way possible to avoid being part of the economic and cultural machinery that exploits, tortures, and kills billions of sentient beings. Vegans, of course, do not consume food products that came from animals. But we also do not wear the skin of other beings or products that were manufactured using them. We do not buy personal care products or household cleaners that were tested on defenseless, captive, suffering creatures. We do not contribute to charities that do their so-called research by torturing and killing animals. And so on. It is not just a diet, although for the health conscious, it can be (President Bill Clinton is an example). So for Mr. Bittman to casually refer to himself as a vegan during the day is insulting and infuriating to many of us who live it 24/7/365.

The other major flaw in Mr. Bittman’s philosophy is that while he tries to justify his continuance of eating animals, he highlights just about every major reason not to. He readily acknowledges the suffering that goes on in producing food for humans that involves killing animals and then goes on to say that since humans still enjoy eating them, it’s ok–sometimes (does he think he should get to be the arbiter of how often that is?) In his own words, “We produce most animal products in deplorable conditions, and some of our health and environmental problems can be traced both to dominant production methods and our overconsumption.” And then immediately says “But we like to eat them…” He believes that this strategy of eating vegan-like some of the time “…can move us toward better health.” It is in this last point that he once again shows his true colors on this issue – it’s all about HIM. HE likes to eat animals, so therefore everyone should be able to, even though the suffering of sentient creatures is immeasurable and the environmental toll devastating. Even his choice not to eat animals some of the time is for his OWN benefit.

Finally, Bittman describes three scenarios where true veganism would be appropriate in his opinion – one of them is “…the emerging dominance of a morality that asserts that we have no right to “exploit” our fellow animals for our own benefit.” He closes that train of thought with “All seem unlikely.” Really?? So humans are NOT currently exploiting other creatures? What a relief that will be to the billions of land animals (and even more sea creatures) who are confined, tortured, skinned, dismembered (in many cases while still conscious) and slaughtered so he can have a burger after 6 pm. He clearly needs a new dictionary – According to Merriam Webster, to exploit is “to make use of meanly or unfairly for one’s own advantage.” Can Mr. Bittman explain how the mass-scale captivity, torture, and death of animals so that he can enjoy his dinner is NOT exploitation? I’d like to see him try. Oh, that’s right he did – and made a great case for veganism in the process.

Source article from the New York Times
photo: Jon Sullivan via Public-domain-photos.dom

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Swamp people. Duck Dynasty. Hillbilly handfishin’. American Hoggers. Chasing tail. There’s a theme here, and it seems to be growing. The number of “reality” shows that focus on, even celebrate, the killing of animals has exploded in recent years. The killing and/or eating of animals has been shown on television for many years, of course, from cooking shows to “sports” programs. And as long as cable channels have existed, there have always been semi-documentary programs that followed hunters in the field or people out on the water fishing. But those shows, at least in the limited viewing I have had of them, seem to be straight forward and attempt to be instructive (not that I am a fan, just pointing out a difference). The present crop of programs however, seems to have a disturbing celebratory glee attached to them. And again, I have only seen (and been able to stomach) small snippets of these programs. But the people on them seem to really enjoy their “work” or “recreation” and do not seem to have any compunction at all about the violent and often cruel deaths they are inflicting on sentient, frightened creatures.

The knowledge that these things are take place is upsetting, but the fact is, people do hunt and fish and design products to make hunting and fishing more efficient for those who engage in it. Regarding hunting and fishing, again, not a fan, but it exists whether or not I like it. What is much more disturbing to me is that, by the millions, people are spending time out of what is for many a precious small allotment of free time, WATCHING these killings as a form of entertainment. I understand fatigue. I understand the need to unwind with some relatively mindless occupation after a long day. But to watch the suffering and death of animals as a way to unwind? I don’t get it. And for many people, work and family responsibilities consume many if not most of the waking hours of most days. So that leaves precious few hours for entertainment and relaxing. That these shows attract enough viewers to stay on the air makes me very sad.

I will admit to watching the first couple of seasons of Billy The Exterminator. But despite the program title, Billy and his company actually attempted (and almost always accomplished) relocation of the animals caught. When he had a bat infested attic, he rigged a net to force the bats out of the building while not harming them. He seemed to care about the local ecosystems and wanted to release the “nuisance” animals to live out their lives in a remote setting. It was actually somewhat uplifting. I did eventually stop viewing because there were some instances of actual extermination – wasp nests (although he did relocate a bee hive once) and rats in various locations. I just can’t watch that. But I am glad he rescued and released many of the animals he was called to remove.

But these current programs are about killing, hunting, shooting, and death. I don’t care if the animals killed are later harvested for food. Or if the people in them think they are performing a “necessary” removal of “dangerous” animals. The programs are ultimately about the hunt and the kill. And people are watching. Sad.

photo: Gary M. Stolz, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via