April 30, 2007

Social Support, Dating, and Veganism

Posted in vegan at 6:45 pm by nevavegan

When Freeman Wicklund and I were leafleting UMD we had a little while when not many people were walking by, during which time we could just talk about veganism. We both sadly noted we’d known a lot of temporary vegans, people who’d tried it for a little while, sometimes even years, and then quit.

Freeman felt that perhaps the most common reason for giving up on veganism is the social dynamic. It’s easier to be vegan when you have vegan friends, a vegan significant other, vegan family even. It’s a lot harder to navigate when you’re a relatively inexperienced vegan trying to date non-vegans and hang out with your old non-vegan friends (who are likely giving you a really hard time about it).

I too have known a number of vegans who quit because they thought being vegan limited their dating options too much. Strange, but true.

I’ve also known vegans who have quit because they suddenly found religion (someone explain that one to me, please) and others who felt that their lives had just become too stressful and hectic, either due to work or kids.

I’d like to invite comments on how other vegans deal with the social dynamics of being vegan in a non-vegan world.

I, myself, I’m married to a vegan. I can imagine being married to a non-vegan and theorize that I’m strong enough in my beliefs to stick with veganism, but that’s not the same as many of you out there who are living that one and encountering all the pitfalls.

Ok, but on a deeper level we all know that it’s true that if someone begins a relationship with a desire to change something about you, it’s probably not going to work out in the long run. People change, but the control issues don’t. So the person who says “You’d be perfect except for the vegan thing” probably is not a good bet. The person who says “huh? I’ve never met a vegan before. Why is that important to you” might have some hope.

Of course I’ve heard stories of married couples where one suddenly converted to veganism mid-relationship and they had to work out how to handle the differences. In some cases the other partner followed suit, if sometimes reluctantly. In other cases people might have a vegan household, but one spouse is pretty sure the other isn’t vegan at work.

The hardest aspect of the mixed relationship has to be knowing that you care deeply about animals and the environment and somehow your spouse just isn’t there. Maybe he or she just doesn’t really care about animals, or maybe they do, but they just aren’t getting it on some level. I dated non-vegans and I remember the frustration of realizing someone I cared about was fine with slicing and dicing a sentient creature that wanted very much to stay alive. But like I said, I married a vegan. We have enough disagreements anyway, because we don’t share a brain, but I love that he loves animals just as much (maybe more) than I do and that he loves my vegan cooking. I love that on Saturday I ran home from walking the dogs and told him I’d found a turtle who was in trouble but I was unable to reach and he rushed out to help me save the turtle, even though he’d just put in a long day at work (yes, on the weekend too).

Anyway, I had a very close friend in college who was vegetarian and into animal rights and bought vegetarian shoes, and I had hopes he’d eventually jump on the vegan bandwagon. Instead right after college he quit being vegetarian and went on a McDonald’s bender. His explanation: being vegetarian was limiting his dating options too much. And this is a guy who sat on the ground with me, tears in his eyes, after we broke into the back of the circus to photograph the elephants.

I’d like to tell everyone to be strong. If you ask someone out and they don’t like your veganism, then they clearly are not a good match for you. But I know human nature isn’t always so strong. So what are some strategies that get people through? Is this going to turn into another entry about figuring out who we really are and finding our bliss?

Do we need to urge vegans to try harder to be nice, friendly, and supportive of new vegans? Should we support “adopt a vegan” programs? Hey, if there’s a new vegan in my area who wants to get together and cook and hang out, I’m here.

I want people to like and accept me as much as anyone does. In fact sometimes when I think about it, it’s downright stupid how much I want people to like me. I have to keep repeating this mantra “Out of every 10 people I meet 2 might like me, 2 might hate me, but most won’t even notice me at all.” Maybe it helps.

Maybe it also helped that though the vast majority of people I meet aren’t vegan, most aren’t really that weird about it. There are always the ones who want to start fights, or make the same stupid cracks I’ve been hearing constantly since I was 16, but for the most part, people just ask questions. They ask questions because it’s strange to them, and some actually do want to understand, and some are just looking for a quick explanation. Maybe we really fear that this vegan thing will totally change everything in our lives, and then years on, looking back maybe it didn’t change things all that much after all.


April 29, 2007

Survivors: Does Recovery Change How We Communicate

Posted in abuse, recovery, survivors at 3:07 pm by nevavegan

I was late with last week’s writing assignment from Survivors and hopefully I’m early with this one.

This week’s topic is language and how our perspective on it has changed.

The first part asks if I’ve noticed a change in the language I use. To some extent this is true. I don’t like to use certain words except in their correct context, and when I use analogies I like to be certain they carry enough weight for me. I’m uncomfortable when someone uses the word rape for purposes other than to describe rape, as evidenced in prior entries. I also, though this might not be related, really hate to see terrorism used out of context. It irks me to see it applied to anything except, well, violent terrorists. I recall an acquaintance saying his ex was an “emotional terrorist” because she dumped him, refused to tell him why, and immediately started seeing someone else. No, she hurt you, but she doesn’t appear to killing people and spreading mass panic, so back off the T-word already.

But more than casual use of the language, the thing that really bothers me are the assumptions and misinformation that so often underlie this careless speech. When the office manager screams that he’s being raped because the paper supplier is raising the prices again, you get the impression that he actually has no idea what rape is, or the long-term effects of violent crime. Even with rising paper prices I think he’ll probably get to sleep tonight.

Specific words aside I think the biggest change in me that I notice when it comes to words and communication is that I’m a lot less tolerant of the little word games people play. Because abusers use word games to both abuse and discredit their victims at the same time. The prime example of a stupid word game is that whole Clinton thing with “I did not have sex with that woman,” etc. though I don’t mean to classify that in with verbal abuse. It’s just an example of someone trying to pick apart and manipulate speech to his advantage despite the clarity with which anyone, even a 10 year old, would be able to tell you exactly what that statement meant.

The abuse aspect of word games comes in when the person appears to be “gaslighting” you. You know what you heard, you’re pretty sure you know what was meant, but the other person denies it. I’m wondering how wise it is to give out too many personal details here, but I can’t think of any other way to illustrate this point. When I was growing up my mother was frequently extremely critical of my weight and general appearance. At the same time she would reminisce about her glory days, when she was in college and her nickname was “Miss Petite” (even though she was tall, at least two inches taller than I am, it was in reference to her very low weight), when she did some modeling, when people kept asking her to do more modeling but she turned them down to concentrate on school, when all the boys were so enamored of her beauty that they brought her present after present. Then one day when I was washing dishes she came into the kitchen and made a face like she was smelling something really distasteful and said “Sometimes I just can’t believe that someone who looks like I do could have a daughter that looks like you.”

Now I was pretty sure I knew exactly what she meant by that, with the tone of voice, the look on her face everything. But when I got upset she denied any ill intent. “I’m not being critical of how you look,” she insisted, “I’m just saying that sometimes I can’t believe that MY daughter looks the way you look.”

And then the onus is pushed back on the listener—“It’s not that I said anything wrong, it’s that you listened wrong.”

As I came to realize just how often in my childhood and adolescence these kinds of word games were played at my expense, I now come to a point in my life where I don’t want to play word games anymore. I lose my patience. I want people to say what they mean. I’m probably overly sensitive at this point to any attempt to manipulate me through words.

This brings us to the next aspect of the Survivors writing assignment. Does this new view of words change the way I communicate with others?

Maybe. My tendency is to keep certain things to myself, and while I definitely would prefer to keep damaging, insulting, or hurtful comments to myself, there are times where I should speak up. I’m trying to learn to do that more and to do it more effectively.

Writing about my issues with the rape analogies was part of that. I don’t really know how relevant or valuable my own thoughts are on that issue, but I give myself permission to express my concerns so long as I try to do it in a respectful way. Communicating more doesn’t have to mean just unloading emotions onto other people, but trusting my instincts to the point that I can say something simply because I want to. I don’t need to wait for the perfect opportunity, I don’t need to worry so much that someone will misinterpret what I say, because I can and should communicate.

This also means that I can try to call people on their word games. Sometimes people do things like that without any real clue they’re doing it, it’s just a habit they’ve fallen into. But that doesn’t mean I need to be intimidated or silenced by word games. If I’m dealing with someone who is otherwise well-intentioned, sometimes all it takes to end a word game is to ask “What are you actually trying to say to me?” Because that pushes the other person to be mindful of their words and if they must rephrase their statement sometimes the manipulative aspect of it will necessarily fall away. But if I’m dealing with a pro-manipulator/abuser, the answer to that question will always be an attempt to put the blame back on me. This is still a positive though, because at least the intent is more in the open and I have a better idea of just what I’m dealing with.

And this leads me to some tips on being mindful of our own speech and how to derail manipulative speech from others.

Mindful Speech:
*Say what you mean. This is very difficult for most of us, because we’re really socialized to not say what we mean. A lot of psychological studies show that people will say they agree with statements they clearly know are false (such as calling a red car green or agreeing with a wrong answer on a simple math equation) if everyone else in the room is agreeing with the false statement. We’re smarter than this. We know that speaking with integrity is always the right answer, it’s just some deep instinctive fear in us that urges us to go along with the pack, even when we know the pack is wrong. Say it politely, say it kindly, but say what you mean.
*Try to stick to “I” statements rather than accusing other people
*Be mindful of your mood and try not to push your mood onto others through harsh or loaded words.
*Sometimes mindful speech does mean just walking away from a non-productive discussion.

Stop Playing Games You Don’t Want to Play
*If someone says something inappropriate to you try to call their attention to that without escalating the battle (often people say inappropriate things because they are hoping for a fight). *Examples of this include “Why would you say/ask something like that?” “I think I must be misunderstanding you. What are you really trying to say?” or even “I’m sensing some hostility here, so I have to go now.”
*Don’t take the bait. Sometimes people want to avoid addressing the real issues at hand, so they change the topic to something about you, or just engage in insults. Don’t fall for it. Try to bring the topic back to the appropriate topic and if that fails, simply remove yourself from the situation.
*Don’t always assume. Sometimes people say things that sound loaded, but that wasn’t their intent. Give them a chance to clarify and correct any misstatements.

April 28, 2007

Fetishization of the Artist: Nonvegan post

Posted in art, happiness, recovery at 3:04 pm by nevavegan

I had this really cool discussion with the ever honest and daring Angie Reed Garner (full time artist) about her recent trip to the outsider artist show. For those of you outside the outsider artist scene, outsider art is roughly defined as art by people without formal art training, often encompassing various types of folk art, as well as art by the mentally, terminally ill, disabled, etc.

When Angie talked about the fetishization of the artist, she spoke of a situation where a collector may take more pride in the stories surrounding the artist than in a particular work of art. So in fact they are not collecting art as much as they’re collecting artists in a symbolic manner. This becomes especially true with the more unfortunate stories. This leaves with some sort of creepy vision of some shadowy figure rubbing his hands together saying “Mmmm, child abuse and cancer? I’ll take it!”

While it’s impossible to know what people will do with or think of our art after it leaves our hands, I imagine most artists want people to buy or collect their art because they love it. My ideal situation would be someone buying my art because they think it’s beautiful or it speaks to them. They would display it lovingly and develop their own stories around it through the years. My worst nightmare is someone getting a painting of mine only to toss it out with the garbage a year later because they changed the colors in their living room. But that’s a different entry.

Buying and collecting original art is a practice something apart from interior decorating. Anyone can buy a print, in fact a lot of discount stores are full of framed, matted, very lovely prints of well-known art. So what motivates someone to buy original art? For me the most obvious motivation is a desire to support and encourage creativity and originality. We invest in the world we want to live in, so if you want people to keep painting, pay them to do it. The second obvious reason people buy original art is as a unique keepsake of a time and place—this is the reason why people who are more the framed and matted print type buy an original watercolor from a street artist while on their honeymoon. They want a reminder of that time and place that is solely theirs, not the standard souvenir. People buy original art because they love it too of course. They see an image that speaks to them and are willing to pay for it. Some people prefer to decorate only with originals because, while they probably love each image, they prefer their decor to be unique. Some people buy original art as an investment too, hoping they’re one of the first buyers from someone whose work will later be worth a fortune.

But I don’t think that we can deny fetishization of the artist as a motive. When I think about myself and some of the criticisms that have been leveled at my work, I have to wonder if that’s a particular issue with my work. I keep this blog apart from my art blog for several reasons and prime among them is that I don’t want people reading what I have to say here about abuse and violence in particular and viewing my art through that lens. Which is strange, because why shouldn’t they? It just bothers me on some level.

The stupidest thing is that all through school I was accused of making art that was “too pretty” or “too cute” (and was even referred to as “neo Rococo” which is only an insult if you understand Rococo, the ‘90’s art scene and the point of reference of everyone in the room). For Ms Reed Garner the assumptions are all opposite—she refuses to compromise her aesthetic and her message just to make images that please others. I admire that, but I’m actually not compromising my aesthetic or message either.

I never set out to do anything like that, I just do what I do and I let the chips fall where they may. In my opinion it works out to roughly 9 out of 10 things I make are going to be cute or pretty or whatever, and 1 out of 10 will be deeply disturbing, if you really think about it, and if you don’t think about it, you can lump it in with the “pretty.” But the catch is, that’s really honestly who I am. I’m a hippy who really does run barefoot through fields of flowers and hugs trees. I like to wear lacey dresses with my hair down and hug baby animals. I don’t think if my heart screams “cute” I need to stifle that so I can also appear serious to others. Of course I actually am serious, dead serious in what I do, but the other aspects of my personality always come through as well.

As I said in a previous post, much of my art is about joy in so many ways, that being vegan makes me really happy, that seeing animals and being nice to animals makes me happy, that love and sharing and togetherness and dancing make me happy. It’s not a bad message in my opinion.

So what happens when that message gets all tangled up in someone else’s stereotype of who I am, what I’ve been through, where I’ve been, and what they feel I ought to be? Who out there sees me as little girl lost, in need of rescue? Who is thrilled by picturing me being hurt? Strangeness all of it, and so the two blogs remain apart.

April 27, 2007

Survivors: Hypervigilance

Posted in recovery, therapy at 12:03 pm by nevavegan

Without further ado, this week’s writing assignment from the survivors’s forum.

Many people who have been abused or lived through an attack experience hypervigilance, a situation where we startle easily, we are always looking out for danger, and we find it hard to trust others. The forum asks us this week to consider ways in which hypervigilance might be a gift. Does it allow us to be more aware of the situations around us? Do we read other people’s intents and emotions? Does it help keep us out of future situations which might be dangerous.

This is a strange one for me to answer. I am hypervigilant in some situations and not so much in others. I got specific therapy for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which was extremely helpful in limiting the hypervigilance as well as other issues like intrusive memories/flashbacks. So I don’t at present consider hypervigilance to be a huge issue for me.

I wonder though, if I asked my husband if I was hypervigilant what his answer would be. Would he bring up how nervous I get when strangers try to talk to me in public, or my tendency to startle pretty badly? Maybe I’m not so well off as I thought, just significantly better. Though to be fair to me, why are people (actually only men) always trying to talk to me when I’m going to the grocery store, walking my dogs, trying to get from the parking lot into my building at work, etc. And what do they expect except that I’m going to freak out if they try to touch me. Seriously people, it’s not ok to touch me, not on my hand, not on my arm, definitely not on my face. Keep a decent distance will you? Otherwise I will consider you a threat and act accordingly. You’ve all been warned.

Um, what was that topic again? Hypervigilance. Yeah, maybe there are some issues here.
To the moderator’s question if the hypervigilance allows me to read people’s emotions better, the answer is somewhat. I think I’m pretty good at telling when someone is happy or sad or angry, at least in person, at least with some people. The downside is that I often read stong emotions, such as anger or competitiveness as a potential threat to me. Not always a good thing, but sometimes it is protective.

There was this incident, several years ago, not related or connected to anything else in my life. I had moved to Maryland, moved in with my husband, and I liked to walk from our apartment to the grocery store, because I liked walking and I liked getting the exercise. And this man pulled his car up to me and started off with some line about needing directions and opened up his car door and was asking me to get in and I was getting a bad feeling and started backing away. And then he growled (and growl is the only word I can use to describe this because it was very aggressive but not shouting, intended for nobody else to hear “Just get in the car!” And he lunged at me. I started dashing away, but I also shouted “Get away from me you psycho!” People were starting to notice and stare so he jumped in the car and sped away. But the thing that always gets me is there was this moment where I looked at his face and while I could be wrong I don’t think I am, I saw nothing human there. I really think that had things gone differently he would have killed me without remorse or hestitation. If I picked up any emotion off of him it was incredible malice and strange joy. He was excited and happy, and then incredibly frustrated.

You would think that after such an incident the chances of me ever getting into a car with a stranger would be zero. But then I found myself and my dogs stranded in our current neighborhood but about a 10 minute walk from our house, in a sudden thunderstorm. Lightening struck a tree close to us and I could smell the sulfur. My dogs were cowering and I was wondering if I’d be able to drag them all the way home. Then a man pulled up in front of his house in a pick-up truck. The only emotion I could read in him was some concern but a little humor at the sight of a soaking wet me with two skulking soaking wet dogs. So I asked if he could give us a ride home. I got into the bed of the truck with the dogs, so if anything had gone wrong I could have jumped out. But I just knew it would be fine. He rushed us home and let us off safely. Of course for about a month after that my husband asked me every day “Did you get into any trucks with stranger men today?”

My adopted dog is also a case study in hypervigilance. Actually I adopted two dogs, but it’s really just the first dog I’m talking about here. Kyra is a dog who was mistreated before we adopted her and as a result she has fear aggression. When I watch how Kyra reacts to the world and how she reads emotions, I’m reminded so much of my own issues. And it makes me realize I need to do better.

Kyra’s strategy is to size up everyone and everything around her and try to decide split second if there’s some kind of threat to her. If she feels there’s a threat, her first response is to try to run away. But should she feel she can’t run away, or doesn’t feel she has enough time, she immediately tries to put on a show of being the scariest doggie on the whole planet. Her goal is to try to intimidate said threat into backing off.

When I’m the one holding the leash this can be difficult to deal with. Kyra has gotten really good about looking to my husband for guidance when they’re out together. It’s like she turns and looks at him as if to ask “Is this a bad person? Do I need to go nuts?” I try to use the same reassuring techniques he does, and it works some of the time, but sometimes I’ve left trying to hold a maniac dog so she doesn’t leap on someone.

Kyra’s method of threat assessment is pretty interesting, at least to me (everyone else could be bored to tears). People wearing hats are automatically suspect—I can only assume that whoever abused Kyra wore a hat. Men are more suspect than women, but not all men. And women don’t get a free pass either. People who make sudden moves toward us are always considered dangerous. I live in a neighborhood where a fair percentage of the male population seems to choose to walk around with a “tough” stance and a snarl on their faces. I’m used to this at this point. Someone can be walking toward me with the meanest look and I know they’re just going to walk right past. Kyra doesn’t realize this. If a guy is walking toward us with an aggressive stance, she starts lunging and growling.

Generally if someone tries to talk to me beyond just a wave and hello, Kyra doesn’t like that. They need a good growling out to let them know that’s not ok. It took me a long time to realize that in many of these situations Kyra was picking up on my emotions. I would tense up. “Why is this guy talking to me… If I need to run what’s the best direction.” So Kyra saw that these situations made me uncomfortable and it fueled her own fears.

But there was one occasion where I realized just how much Kyra picks up on intent, and may even disregard the signals from me if she thinks she has a good grasp on the situation. One day I was walking my dogs down the street and this older man practically fell out his front door, still clutching his empty 40, and shouted “what pretty dogs! I love dogs!” and stumbled over to us to pet the dogs. This wasn’t really a stress-free encounter to me, I never know what an intoxicated person might do. But Kyra was wagging her tail and letting this man pet her. She only picked up happiness and affection from him and that’s what she was responding to.

And that’s how I know that reading emotions is not always the best way to feel safe. That angry person might not be angry at me, that happy person could change in an instance. This could be one of the worst lasting side effects of being hurt by people we know and care about—we come to believe that anyone is capable of anything, that a quiet moment can turn into a storm with very little warning. I realize as an adult that this is not true of everyone, but the underlying fear remains. I do look for that change brewing in people, but then again I don’t really see it all that often anymore because I try not to be around people who are like that.

Finally the survivors forum asked how we can turn this around into a positive. If we are better at reading emotions, can we use that to help others? I think I use it more in animal work actually. I find that I’m good at picking up on the fear or hurt in animals and finding ways to reassure them and put them at ease. I notice quickly when they respond to something, so I’m able to keep doing what is working.

With people it’s a lot harder. I used to somehow collect a whole bunch of friends with many problems. Actually they say this is pretty common for abuse survivors: we wind up with caseloads not friendships. It got to the point that I thought everyone in the whole world was depressed. Then I figured out that I pick up quickly on it when I meet sad people, and then I try to be nice to them or help them feel better. But it ended up that I had a lot of people in my life who were bottomless wells of negativity. They didn’t want to feel better, or if they did want to feel better they didn’t want to take the necessary steps to get there. So in that respect my empathy was working against me. I certainly don’t want to be unfair to people who are depressed or in trouble. But I also had to realize that if every time I saw someone I was left feeling drained, exhausted, and worried, and this pattern held over a long period of time then that friendship was unhealthy for me.

Actually I see empathy and caretaking in Kyra too, though since she’s a dog this is less harmful to her. That’s one reason why her fear aggression is lessened when she’s out with my husband. She senses a vulnerability in me and thinks it means she needs to step up and defend both of us. She’s wonderful with rescued kittens, very gentle and careful with them. One evening I was walking her after dark in a cold rain and she leaned over and picked something up off of the side of the street. She’d found an injured bird which she gently lifted in her mouth. We took the bird to a wildlife rehabber who said “Are you sure your dog had this bird? His beak is bent from flying into a car, but there isn’t a single tooth mark on him.” Kyra likes to take care of the smaller and the injuried, but she wants to bite drug dealers. It could be worse.

April 26, 2007

Small Harms and What Matters

Posted in animal advocacy, vegan at 4:27 pm by nevavegan

On Earth Day I observed a man dumping his fast food trash out on a median strip, and then pulling his SUV into a gas station, where there were at least five trash cans. Ugghhh, moment of hopelessness. But observing littering reminded me of something I meant to blog last month but never got around to.

I recently had a discussion with someone about veganism. This person was aligned with veganism from an animal-loving standpoint, but was having a lot of trouble sticking with veganism in the face of social pressures or when sitting down at the family table and facing a big plate of her favorite non-vegan food.

As we discussed my own early vegan efforts and what helped me personally and what had tripped me up, we stumbled into a whole different issue, which kind of fascinated me.

This young woman felt that veganism was “a good thing to do” but also said that sometimes she felt she put so much effort into other efforts, like feminism, and tutoring underprivileged students, that she didn’t feel she had energy left over to worry about making a vegan dinner or ask the waiter if there was butter on the pasta.

While I always think it’s wonderful when people put a lot of energy into any cause, this comment did kind of get my back up because a) I feel like I do things for other causes too, and b) to me veganism really encompasses many causes in one action, and so helps the environment, the animals, and other people.

My acquaintance told me that she was very troubled by Francione’s rape analogy, and was also put off by sayings like “meat is murder.” She said that she’d seen the effect first hand of rape and murder and she was uncomfortable saying that anything done to animals was as wrong as these harms done to people. It’s just much worse to hurt or kill people, she insisted.

Yes, I know, that’s the definition of speciesism, right? But I didn’t say that. Instead I listened some and talked further. I tried to remind her of the terrible conditions that animals are kept in, all the many shades of wrong and suffering that befall them. Still, she said, in the scheme of things, as kids kill each other, people die from hunger, and an unjust war rages abroad, butter on pasta or a few slices of cheese are pretty insignificant.

And then something really weird happened. Someone tossed his still-burning cigarette onto the grass and walked away. We both looked at each other with disgust. How could someone be so selfish, so careless, so inconsiderate? Why, there’s a trash can just a short walk away.

Then this hit me. My acquaintance would never toss her cigarette on the ground. Ok, she doesn’t smoke, so it doesn’t really apply. She wouldn’t litter. She recycles her bottles. She wouldn’t cheat on a quiz, even if it means she’ll get a bad grade. She doesn’t cut in line. Those are all small things, but important, because they demonstrate intent and integrity. Because small things still matter, and the effect of many people doing small things is huge.

And how much more important than not cutting in line, or a tossed cigarette is the suffering of untold dairy cows, or chickens (even cage free chickens) who are hidden out of our sight? How much more important is the life of an animal than a dropped bag of trash? It doesn’t have to be the worst thing you can conceive of to be wrong, to still be worth worrying about.

I don’t know how to address the whole issue of speciesism. It’s hard to escape, and I myself have been accused a few time of being speciesist. I’d like to live in a world where animals really matter (ok, I’d also like to live in a world where women matter, and minorities and people living on other continents matter too). But I’m not convinced that we have to root out every speciesist thought in our head to understand why veganism is important.

It’s just an issue of awareness, of understanding the cumulative effect of all of our actions. The philosophy or the theory might be the least important aspect. Just start doing it, and get in the habit. It’s a little inconvenient to pick up our own trash, but hopefully most of learned that lesson early (clearly not everyone). So once we get used to being vegan it will just be another good thing we do.

Just pictures

Posted in animal advocacy, rabbits, vegan at 1:40 am by nevavegan

As I mentioned I went out leafleting for Vegan Outreach on Monday. Jon Camp from Vegan Outreach came and so did Freeman Wicklund. Freeman already blogged this event quite well and you can read his thoughts here.

I was going to write an entire post about it, but I’m kind of tired right now, so I’ll just share some of the pictures that Jon sent me.

Here’s Freeman getting the word out.

Here’s Jon educating the public.

And here are a couple of me looking very pale and silly (hey, my sunscreen was white, white, white, but then so am I).

And now, by request, photos of Sherman, the bunny who passed away two years ago, but is still missed.

April 25, 2007

Accident postpones real blogging

Posted in real life at 1:45 pm by nevavegan

I had so many good things I wanted to blog, like about how watercress is the best food ever, how there was the most adorable baby snake in my flower bed, and how I handed out brochures for Vegan Outreach on Monday. However, I was in a fender bender this morning and I’m a little too shaken to write.

A woman hit me from behind while I was at a stoplight. No big deal except that I’m totally panicked. Last September someone hit me from behind, really messed up the car, and then, long story short, after I got out of my car they drove their van into my body as they fled the scene of the accident. We were supposed to go to trial in February, but it’s been postponed until late May as the psycho who hit me managed to get himself thrown into prison down in Virginia, thus not making it to trial in February.

That’s the condensed version. The longer version includes said psycho following me around to try to intimidate me into dropping the charges and the police failing to be competent in every possible way. The guy who hit me has a long record of violent offenses and also drugs and burglary. Most people who run across his bad side end up hurt far worse than I was, so in that sense I was lucky.

Um, also, score one for vegan bones. I’ve been vegan over 13 years, vegetarian with a milk allergy far longer than that, and apparently I’ve got great bones. I can get hit by a van and get up with a few bruises and nothing broken. NOTHING.

My accident this morning has none of those elements. The woman was perfectly nice and apologetic and hey, accidents happen, that’s why we call them “accidents.” But there’s a part of me waiting for something terrible to happen.

Yeah, I get that I’m apparently a walking disaster area. There’s a part of that story where I’m pretty sure that if it had been my husband driving last September, or heaven forbid, my father, none of that ever would have happened. But I send out signals of “I’m easy to push around.” So I guess they really thought they’d get away with it. I’ve got to learn to send out the “I’m tough, don’t mess with me” vibes.

April 19, 2007

I have nothing good to say today, so instead I’ll try out this picture function

Posted in animal advocacy, rabbits, rescue at 4:58 pm by nevavegan

These are our adopted bunnies. Please ignore the mess, they get really excited about their dinner. We swept that up a few minutes later.
Clockwise from top left is Josephine, Jasper, and then finally Jasmine.
We’ve been through a lot of bunny loss. Sherman, my beloved, gigantic albino bunny, who was handed to me by a homeless man in NYC died nearly two years ago. The man had found Sherman as a stray that morning and had been pushing him around in a grocery cart all day. Then the other homeless men were threatening to eat Sherman, so he came to ask for my help. Sherman was so starved, but he recovered nicely. Anyway, after some unsuccessful attempts to find a friend for Sherman we finally adopted Juniper from the House Rabbit Society. They had many happy long years together. But Sherman died and Juniper was alone. We asked Bunny Magic if they had any bunnies who’d been waiting a really long time for a home, and we wound up with Jasper, who is essentially a feral bunny, but he’s getting calmer and more trusting now. Then pretty much exactly a year after Sherman passed away, Juniper passed away too. She was very elderly, so it was a shock, but not unexpected. Rather than keep adopting one bunny at a time, Bunny Magic encouraged us to adopt two, so if Jasper, who was an older bunny when we adopted him should pass away the surviving bunny would not be all alone. We adopted Josephine and Jasmine (formerly named Casey and Sugar, but we have this J thing going) who were seized from cruelty cases. Bunny Magic said that most people don’t like albinos because of their pink eyes, but how could I not love albinos after sharing my life with Sherman. So here we are, one big happy bunny family now.
The bunnies live in a big fenced area with hide-aways and ramps constructed by Sean. They eat some fresh veggies twice a day and get all the hay they want. However they only get dry food in a measured amount at night, because the vet said they were getting a little too chubby. Hence the excitement over dinner.

April 12, 2007

My own pin-hole camera on the world

Posted in art, happiness, stupid me, vegan at 1:55 pm by nevavegan

It has come to my attention that a link to my blog was posted on a list of commentaries about the Marcus/Francione debate podcast. This was sort of an “uh oh” moment for me. I didn’t try to editorialize the entire debate because it seemed to me that many other people had done that sufficiently elsewhere. For what it’s worth I felt the Erik Marcus was ill-prepared for the debate, failed to respond to most of Gary Francione’s points, and I was shocked that Marcus admitted that he didn’t read Francione’s books because he “disagreed with them.” But those points were all made in many other blogs and forums, and made pretty well.

My two blog entries were just fairly personal comments regarding just one comment Gary Francione made and my response to that comment.

I sometimes think it’s relevant though in the way that for me the personal is always relevant. I think it’s worthwhile to consider how our words (not just our intentions) affect others. But sometimes I wonder if I have anything to say worth saying.

I get these days of intense self doubt sometimes. I don’t post because I don’t trust my own voice. I become so aware that I’m only seeing the world through this tiny little pin-hole of my own perception. Suddenly everything seems so much bigger than I am. I wonder if I’m even entitled to speak up.

It helps in times like these to remember that while life is tenuous, it is also forgiving. I have every right to make a complete idiot out of myself if so choose. I don’t have to be perfect every second.

The topic on the survivors forum this week was flaws: how our abusers used pointing out our flaws (real or imagined) to control or subdue us. Essentially to convince us we had no right to our own voices.

But everyone has a right to their voice. You don’t have to be clever. I hope you will be kind, but it’s actually not required, as evidenced all around us.

Now, of course you knew I’d eventually bring this back to veganism, right?

People who don’t want to hear about veganism use fault-finding as excuse to not listen, in fact to shut us down and shut out our voices. There is the nit-picking over and over on certain facts. The afore-mentioned “I knew a rude vegan” tactic, or accusing us of attacking tradition. How many times has someone accused me of not doing enough for human issues when I say I’m vegan?

But I don’t have to be right about everything, that’s the fallacy. I can be wrong about nearly everything; I can be offensive, I can be stupid, and I can still be right about veganism being the best way to try to live in this world of ours.

When someone disputes the total number of animals slaughtered in the US, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a dizzyingly large, completely incomprehensible number. Wondering if the diet of cavemen was really primarily meat doesn’t change the situation we face today.

I don’t think I’m so good with theory or philosophy. Maybe my brain just doesn’t bend that way. I tend to think in practicalities; which for me is different from utilitarianism. I’m not following the teachings of Singer. I just want to take things apart, figure out how they work, and then make them work better.

When I talk about the limits of my own perspective, there is the undercurrent where I’m always pushing for decent research. Because research could presumably help all of us get around the issue of putting too much emphasis on our personal experience. This means finding out what kinds of outreach on veganism get the most favorable results. What messages resonate with the public, what gets people thinking and more importantly acting?

Until I have the research in hand, I’m forced to just weigh stuff in my own head, against my own experience. It’s what everyone does, but of course it’s limiting.

I’m dismayed by so much I see around me, and I try to think of what I have to offer in response to it. So much of my life has been filled with people telling me I’m not good enough. That’s my fear, the thing that keeps me quiet so much of the time. Maybe I’m just a moron spouting off things that make no sense. Maybe I am just hopelessly self-indulgent and self-centered. I try to remind myself that the world is full of idiots, so maybe there isn’t that much harm in my being my own special brand of idiot.

So what do I offer up? I offer up that I’m a flawed person coming from a flawed place with a messed up background, and I’m still a vegan and I do ok with that. I offer up that I’ve been through some things and some days it seems to take tremendous energy on my part just to be normal (whatever normal means) and I still have energy to be vegan. I offer up that I care about many things, and I still care about veganism. I offer up that I’m an artist (I don’t have to be a good artist to claim that), and my art isn’t just pretty pictures, it’s a message of the joy and beauty in life and all that is good, and I still find and see those things even though I don’t eat bacon. Seriously, becoming vegan didn’t turn me into a dour humorless person. I offer up that I’ve made some mistakes and really bad decisions and after all these years I still look on becoming vegan as one of the best decisions I ever managed to make.

Yeah, it ain’t theory. I don’t know what you can do with all that. It’s what I have at the moment and it’s what I want to share.

April 6, 2007

Getting along with deer

Posted in animal advocacy, deer, science, vegan at 4:03 pm by nevavegan

I’m a little steamed right now because in the area where I live there have been articles in the paper and public meetings to talk about “the deer problem.” Most solutions that have been suggested are lethal solutions. I did write a letter to the editor (fingers crossed that they take it).

NOTE: It seems some people read my letter to the editor and are coming here for more information on tick control.

Here are some links to help with tick control:


Now, more on getting along with deer.

First I guess I’d better explain the “deer problem.” I lived in this area all through high school and moved back in 1999. When I was younger, the area where my parents live, Reston, VA (about an hour drive from where I am now, but still part of the same metropolitan area) was largely wooded. It still had farms: family farms, truck farms (my dad grew up nearby on a truck farm—they grow table produce, drive to a crowded area and sell it out of the back of the truck, it’s not a farm for trucks), and Christmas tree farms. There were acres and acres of undeveloped land. My parents’ house backed up to a huge wooded area full of horse-riding paths. Likewise, when Sean and I moved to our most recent place in Maryland, we were told by all of the older residents that our street used to back up to 20 acres of woods. Now every possible inch of Reston is crammed with McMansions, shopping centers and high end condos, and my house backs up to row after row of cookie cutter houses.

So in short, once there was plentiful deer habitat, now we’re a sprawling metropolis where everyone drives everywhere and it’s just suburb to exburb with everything paved over. Well, if you build your house on deer territory, where do you think the deer are going to go?

Here are some point/counterpoints on the deer:

1. The anti-deer contingent claims that the deer population has exploded since hunting was banned in much of the region (hunting was banned not for animal concerns but because it creates issues to fire a gun in such a heavily populated area). They claim the deer population has increased by pointing to extremely questionable studies that estimate previous deer populations. However, the deer were once endangered in this area, so it’s hard to say if the population increase is just normalizing or really is an issue. I find the studies estimating deer population prior to European settlement to be so ludicrous that I can’t even discuss them. Further, hunting never reduced the deer population as hunting was of male deer only, and all it takes is one male to impregnate 20 females and return the deer population to prior levels. The deer were endangered before because when there were a lot of farms here, farmers saw the deer as a threat to their crops and competition for grazing land for livestock, so they systematically exterminated the deer.

2. The anti-deer voices cite the risk of traffic accidents involving deer as grounds to resume hunting them. Well, duh… When you look at rural regions and their suggestions for reducing deer related accidents they all say that deer accidents increase during hunting season as the hunters in the woods chase deer onto the roads. Additionally, who causes more accidents and more serious accidents, deer or other human drivers? Seriously. Also, no matter how small you reduce the deer population, short of endangering them again, you’re still going to have deer/car collisions until they put better barricades on the highways, get people to slow down (everyone here speeds), and teach people accident-avoidance techniques. People don’t know the silliest things about deer, such as they travel in groups, so if you see a deer in the road, don’t speed up and try to swerve around her, or you’ll hit the other deer following behind. You need to stop, scan the roadsides for more deer and proceed with caution. And there are lots of other tips for avoiding deer. Many accidents occur in areas with posted deer crossing signs and the drivers still speed, yet everyone blames the deer.

3. Next, people want to exterminate the deer because of Lyme disease. Lyme disease is carried by deer ticks, tiny little ticks that are sometimes hard to find and remove from people and companion animals. The ticks tend to end their life cycle on deer, which means as adult ticks they attach to deer, or to people, or dogs, or any warm blooded creature in their paths. The adult tick feeds until she becomes engorged, then drops off the host animal, lays her eggs in the ground, and finally dies. For this reason, the deer do help in the final stage of the tick’s life, as the deer are in the woods nearly all of the time, which allows the tick to drop off and lay eggs there.

However, the tick doesn’t begin her life on deer, instead this tiny tick after hatching feeds on deer mice. Once they are carrying the Lyme infection the ticks may bite humans and transmit the disease.

Killing deer won’t protect people from Lyme disease; it will just mean the ticks will go after more people, companion animals, squirrels and any other available animal.

Scientists have determined that the best way to reduce the threat of Lyme disease is to kill the ticks in their larval and nymph phases (the first stages of their life). To this end an amazingly simple solution has been found. Using miticide (a chemical much like the Frontline we can use on our companion animals to kill parasites) can kill ticks in all stages of their life and even prevent tick eggs from hatching. However it wouldn’t be healthy or environmentally sound to spray down wooded areas with chemicals. To get the maximum use from the smallest amount of miticide, it should be placed in the nests of the deer mice. How do we do that? This is so clever: we let the mice do it!

In experimental trials scientists treated cotton balls with the miticide and then put the cotton balls into cardboard tubes, like from toilet paper or paper towel roles, and put them into areas where mice are known to nest. The tubes keep the cotton safe and dry and prevent birds from carrying it off. When the mice go looking for nesting materials they find the softest cotton, and the mice are small enough to crawl into the tubes and get it. The mice carry the cotton back to their nests. The miticide is harmless to the mice but kills the ticks in the nest. Some miticide also gets in the fur of the mice and kills ticks that might bite them outside of the nest.

This method greatly reduces the tick population and disrupts the spread of Lyme disease. Best of all it doesn’t involve any misguided efforts to hurt deer or mice.

4. People want to kill deer because the deer are eating their landscaping plants. I don’t know why anyone is surprised. Um, you move to an area with a heavy deer population and then tear down the woods, pave over the fields where they used to graze, and then plant lots of decorative plants. What did anyone expect?

Still there are tons of publications on deer-resistant landscaping, and nothing beats investing in a really good, properly designed fence. Sigh, the mindset of killing these beautiful animals over landscaping is just so alien to me.

So that’s it, there’s my deer rant.

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