Philosophy

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There has been a fascinating and lively conversation over at The Pitchfork which started from the issue of Starbucks having a pumpkin spice latte drink that appears to be dairy free but is in fact not vegan. As often happens, many other discussions grew out of the initial one. A reader and frequent commenter at The Pitchfork suggested that, while the current situation in Syria might be much more serious than the issue of a non-vegan drink at an expensive coffee shop, we might actually have more input on the Starbucks issue than the awful situation in Syria.

This got me to thinking about local vs. global activism on matters of animal cruelty and exploitation. Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that I have been rather preoccupied (obsessed, perhaps?) with the horrible and vile killings and kidnappings of bottlenose dolphins and pilot whales in Taiji, Japan. In a recent post I discussed it and listed a few things that one could do in terms of activism. But even with a list of things that we could do (boycott marine parks such as Seaworld that benefit from the capture and killing of these creatures, donating to organizations such as Sea Shepherd which have people on the ground, etc.), most of us are not there and are not in a position to do any direct action or feel like we are actually saving lives. It is easy to become depressed, disillusioned, and discouraged when faced with the reality that there is much cruelty and exploitation going on of sentient nonhuman animals and that we are not able to stop it. This often leads to much heartache and a feeling of helplessness. One of the unfortunate outcomes of having these feelings is that we may just give up and drop out of activism altogether. While that is a completely predictable and understandable result, there may be something we can do to avoid giving up on our ideals.

Somewhere in between giving up in despair and burning ourselves out by trying to do all things for all creatures all the time, is, I believe, a place where we can put our ideals and ethics into everyday action. Here are a few thoughts:

Our food choices – taking in nutrients is one of the few truly necessary activities we must engage in to survive. Most of us eat every day, multiples times per day, and it is in this simple and frequent act where we have immense power to effect change. Every time we buy groceries, patronize a restaurant, sit down to a meal, get together with friends, grab a snack, or seek out a morning coffee, we have the ability to vote with our dollars and to make the choice to consume only the products we feel are ethically appropriate. For many of us it will be vegan choices-for others it may be only locally grown food, organic food grown by small farms, or avoiding certain restaurants. In addition, every time we sit down to a meal with friends or family, there may be an opportunity to educate others about the issues of animal cruelty and environmental devastation which result from a meat-based diet. No other single choice we make in our daily lives has as much power as this one to put our ethics into action.

Non-food purchases and donations – our clothing, shampoo, shoes, choices of entertainment (as in avoiding the aforementioned Seaworld for example), and where we donate our money if we are able to do so also can have a tremendous effect, especially when combined with the efforts of others. Many non-food purchases are done quite frequently, and if we continue to purchase only cruelty free health and beauty items, this action, along with others doing the same thing, can have a large cumulative effect. Seaworld, for example, is experiencing a downturn in ticket sales, perhaps as a result of the movie Blackfish and the light being shed on the inhumane treatment of orcas in captivity.

Our time – we have options here, too. We can choose to donate our time to local organizations that help animals – whether a farmed animal sanctuary, wildlife, or companion animals, we can do direct activism and rescue work. We can also table or do fundraising for these organizations. Some of us might choose to adopt an animal from a local shelter. Some of us might become wildlife rehabilitators. Some of us might table for a local vegan group to educate people about their food options.

While participating in online petitions, tweeting, writing, blogging, or writing to people in positions of power to try and stop animal abuse and exploitation are all worthwhile activities, we can combine these globally oriented actions with local activism which may help us to feel more capable of enacting change. Hopefully, this can help us be encouraged to continue the fight for all animals.

photo: publicdomainpictures.net

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?

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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.

funerals-296-1226348580VH2IThere is a series of television commercials for a particular vacation destination in the U.S. One of them starts out with a number – the number of mornings each of us gets in life based on the average number of days in a person’s lifetime. I was at a funeral today – not as a mourner but as a volunteer helping at the service. I had a chance during a relatively quiet moment to think of all the animals killed every minute of every day – in slaughterhouses, in laboratories, in the wild, on fur farms, by individuals in acts of cruelty, in shelters, and everywhere else they die – mostly unseen and unknown by the vast majority of people. The sadness that overcame me was crushing and nearly took my breath away. I started thinking what would the world look like if we honored every one of those lives the way we try and honor the lives of people who have passed? How many funerals would we have to have? And how much of an impact would it have on our lives if we all had to witness and work around the acknowledgement of all of the lives taken?

To use one country as an example, the number of animals killed in the United States each year by humans for the reasons stated above is in excess of 60 – 70 billion per year – and that is probably a very conservative estimate (breakdown at the end of post). A little math determines the rest. If each of the approximately 30,000 incorporated cities and towns in the U.S. hosted funerals for the animals killed, that would mean that each city and town in the U.S. would have to conduct 5,479 funerals EVERY DAY for the entire year. Think about how just one funeral or two in a town can be noticed – lines of cars, pedestrians crossing the street to get to their cars – sometimes traffic jams resulting – not to mention the emotional toll. And that is from one funeral. There would have to be over 5,000 funerals every day in every town in the country to honor the lives taken each year – lives taken intentionally and unnecessarily. Obviously, that number of funerals, for whatever species, would overwhelm the resources of any town or city – and that is the point. The volume is overwhelming, and the suffering is unknowable. The number of animals killed by humans for voluntary reasons is almost too high for the mind to truly comprehend, which is one of the reasons I did this mathematical exercise. I wanted to present a concrete image of the amount of death that is really involved due to the human choices for food, clothing, entertainment, scientific curiosity, and neglect of companion animals. And the image, at least for me, is horrifying.

Estimated number of animals killed in the U.S. per year:
Land animals killed for food: 10 billion
Sea animals: 51 billion
Shelters: 4 million
Laboratories: 20-70 million
Fur slaughter facilities: 4 million (mink only – more if other species are included)
Hunted on land: 200 million
Hunted in sea – non commercial (also referred to as sport fishing): up to 25% of fish catch of some species
Killed as “bycatch”: almost uncountable – millions upon millions

Sources:
ASA
ASPCA
Free From Harm
Greenpeace
IDA USA
Science Daily
Vivisection Info

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Newton, Massachusetts – a suburban town in the greater Boston area which has a reputation for being a nice place to live and work. But not if you are a young, lost, frightened bear. On Sunday, Environmental Police shot and killed a young black bear who was stranded in a tree (not the bear in the photo). The report claims that tranquilizers were used and that they did not subdue the bear. Perhaps a young, healthy bear needs a larger dose so that it could be safely removed? Just a thought. The other glaring discrepancy about this story is that the reason given for killing the bear was a concern for public safety – that they were concerned that it would fall out of the tree onto the highway, causing injury. So what is their solution? To shoot the bear, CAUSING IT TO FALL which is what they were trying to avoid in the first place. Fortunately for them, the poor creature fell on nearby train tracks and not on the highway, but no thanks to the officials on the scene.

I have to say I am getting fed up with people living in suburban or rural areas who think the approach to wildlife is to kill them. To be fair, most of the discussions I have seen show a majority of people critical of this particular decision. But it speaks to a larger issue. That being, of course, our behavior. WE decide to move farther and farther out into areas populated by a variety of wild creatures, and then when those creatures behave in a way that is consistent with their nature, or, out of disorientation or loss of habitat, make more appearances in our backyards and parks, we feel the need to remove them. So the timeline goes like this: humans move into and develop areas where a variety of indigenous species live and have lived for a long time. Humans decide that they are afraid of these creatures, annoyed at them searching for food or mates (in other words, acting naturally), and then humans decide that the only reasonable action is to remove the creature from its own habitat, often times by killing it.

It’s Mark Bittman all over again. I recently expressed my displeasure at Bittman’s use of the term “vegan” to describe himself, even on a part time basis. Although he admits that terrible, horrific things happen to animals as they are being killed to become human food, he feels that it’s ok to eat them sometimes because people like to. Very different circumstances, same attitude. The animals are here for US. The environment is here for US. And when it is convenient or pleasurable to kill, consume, or manipulate the world and creatures around us, it is completely justified, as long as it is for something WE want. It has been almost 500 years since Nicolaus Copernicus figured out that Earth was not the center of the universe but rather is a tiny participant in a complex system embedded within other complex systems. I think we need another Copernicus, this time to remind the human species that we are not the center of the universe, or even the planet. We are a player in a system of life and ecosystems, and, if not for advances in technology, would be only a small player in that arena. That many use our advanced technology and knowledge to control, kill, and manipulate rather than to prosper, grow, and nurture the life around us is deeply, deeply sad. But there is still time to reverse the course – if humans have the will to do so.
Photo: Jon Sullivan via Public-Domain-Photos.com

beef

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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Ok, the title certainly suggests that I recently saw the new Star Trek movie–which I did (and liked). But it wasn’t just the movie that got me to thinking about neutrality, or the lack of it, when it comes to animal rights and proper treatment of our fellow beings. A recent tweet by @VeganSmythe, someone I follow on twitter, expressed my thoughts well: “There’s no neutrality. Whether you realize it or not, you’ve taken a side: either for or against the exploitation of animals.” Nicely put.

When I was in graduate school studying evolutionary biology, one of the discussions we had was as to whether or not there are any truly neutral mutations. Many mutations are believed to be neutral, resulting in characteristics neither helpful nor detrimental to the organism. These mutations often become either helpful or hurtful as environmental conditions change, and thus are either selected for or against in the population. But what about during the time they are “neutral?” Are they truly such? One argument made is that a mutation can never be truly neutral because every characteristic takes up space and requires caloric energy to maintain, even at the molecular level. So the argument goes, if a mutation is not helping, it is in effect, hurting. No neutrality.

And so it seems to be as we consider how we individually and collectively treat our nonhuman co-inhabitants of this planet. Sure, not everyone is able to work in an occupation that directly assists animals. In fact, many individuals who help on the front lines every day are not doing it as part of their paid work, but rather as part of their mission, their life’s work. But there are, for all of us, numerous individual decisions that are made every day, every week, every month, that can have a huge impact on the well being of our fellow creatures. What we eat (the biggie). What we wear. What kind of car we drive. What brands of personal care and housecleaning products we use. What companies we purchase from. What organizations we donate our time and money to. Where we invest our money if we do so. There are so many ways we can help animals just in the course of living our daily lives that, if done consistently and by a number of us, have an effect on the lives of animals all around us.

So for people who don’t think you can really make a difference: you can. For people who think that your day to day decisions don’t matter: they do. For people who ask “how can it really help anyway since I am just one person?”: you are not. You are part of a collective and growing effort along with millions of others who care as much as you do.

No neutrality. But we can make a difference. We can make progress. We can effect change. And we must.

invitro-burger

It’s coming. The roll out date for mass public consumption of laboratory grown meat may be some time away, but lab-grown meat, also known as synthetic meat or in vitro meat, will be here soon enough. It’s a product whose time is long overdue. The current meat demand worldwide is growing. It is estimated that by the year 2050, meat production will be double what it is now. Already, much of the world’s arable land, as well as water resources, are consumed for food animal growth. Beef alone accounts for nearly 60% of the world’s agricultural land, and 22% of the global freshwater supply is used for meat production. Add in the devastating environmental effects of the mass growing and killing of land animals for food, and it is clear that this is not a sustainable path for the long (or even short or medium) term. Recent food safety issues, such as the discovery of antibiotic resistant bacteria and fecal bacteria in ground turkey and the public’s increasing awareness of the cruelty of this industry make the idea of sterile, non-death causing meat even more appealing.

Will it appeal to everyone? Of course not. For example, after (basically no) consideration, I know that I will not be a consumer of these products. I have not eaten meat in almost 30 years and have no desire to return to it, even if an animal didn’t die to produce it. For me, it is still an animal derived product. I put it in the same category as dairy, an animal derived product where the animal was not killed, but still required. For me, it does not fit with the vegan path I have chosen for my life. Plus, one of the many reasons I stopped eating meat is that I simply don’t like it – it grosses me out. I won’t even eat many of the tvp-based alternatives because they are too authentic in taste and texture. And for people who try and avoid food that is highly processed, it may not be an appealing option. But for much of the meat-eating world, people who like meat and want to continue eating it, this may be the best solution the world will see for a very long time. Does it still exploit animals? Yes, in that the starter material will be taken from an animal and it will still be cultured animal tissue. Does it conform to an abolitionist world view in which nonhuman animals are appreciated for their sentient nature and not viewed as a means to an end? Absolutely not. But will it save billions of land animals from being born, only to live in confinement, have painful procedures such as debeaking and castration (usually without the benefit of anesthesia), be pumped full of dangerous hormones and antibiotics, and die ghastly, tortured deaths? Yes, indeed it will. And who knows – it may even change a few minds about what it really means to eat the flesh of another. It’s not nirvana, but I’ll happily take it when it comes.

photo: Jon Sullivan via public-domain-photos.com