September 25, 2007

Plants Feel Pain: The Psychopath Test

Posted in debate, veganism at 3:27 pm by nevavegan

I was apparently born loving plants. My parents said I had a green thumb from about age two. I loved to garden. I loved to start my seedlings for vegetables and flowers in flats every February, an activity I shared with my dad.

There are pictures of me as a baby grinning stupidly over flowers in the garden, and as a young child sitting on my Dad’s shoulders showing off a sunflower I grew. Although my home is more animal sanctuary than designers’ showcase, much of my art which decorates the place and any objects like bed spreads, etc that I’ve brought in are green, reflecting my love of verdant plant life.

I love plants. I don’t know what kinds of consciousness if any plants have, but I’ve read that they react to noxious stimuli by growing in other directions or producing chemicals that deter pests. They’re pretty amazing really.

So I don’t think I’d like the idea of someone needless torturing plants and people cutting down trees upsets me.

Still, there is the omnivore argument that vegans focus too much on alleviating animal suffering and this is wrong because “plants feel pain too.”

I’m not sure that we can necessarily draw the conclusion that what plants feel is really close to the kind of pain vertebrate and maybe even invertebrate animals experience. Many plants have developed symbiotic relationships with the animals who eat them. For example, anyone who has ever tried to garden without doing any pruning knows that this is not always to the benefit of the plant. Further, animals serve a reproductive function for plants when they eat the fruits and berries and later distribute the seeds through their droppings into new prime areas to grow.

Secondly, if one is actually concerned about plant exploitation, then we use more plants when we feed them first to animals, and later eat the flesh of the animals.

Still I have the following question for the “plants feel pain” crowd, and I urge a secondary usage of this as a psychopath test.

If you were running at full tilt down a narrow path and realized when it’s too late to stop that a tiny helpless kitten and a very nice potted plant were both directly in your path and you could not avoid stepping on one or the other (and lets assume at your weight and rate of speed the impact would be fatal to both), which do you step on and which do you avoid? I see only one reasonable answer to such an annoying hypothetical question.

Still, should you ask this question and get any of the following answers, please consider avoiding that person in the future.
*”I’d step on the kitten because the potted plant would get my brand new shoes dirty.”
*”I’d step on the kitten because she would make a funny sound.”
*”I’d step on the kitten because she’s weak and helpless and doesn’t deserve to live.”
*”I’d step on the kitten because she’s stray and helpless and what kind of life would she have anyway.”
*”I’d step on the kitten because I want to take the plant home with me and put it in my apartment.”

None of those answers is acceptable obviously. But in this scenario, hopefully your “plants feel pain” antagonist must admit placing a higher value on animals. And if so, how does he justify not acting on that in terms of his diet?


September 23, 2007

Anyone in the DC area want to give a cat a second chance?

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:46 pm by nevavegan

We are trying to get the huge feral colony in our neighborhood under control, but it’s become apparent that some of the cats living in the colony are tame abandoned cats.

First we set out to get Buddy, who has an appointment with the vet today. We took these pictures of him while he was still outside to demonstrate how tame and dog-friendly he is.

Today we went to pick Buddy up and he showed up with Melissa who is pretty small and also very tame.

I’m hoping the clinic will just agree to see Melissa tomorrow too, and then hopefully they’ll be ready for new homes soon. You have no idea how crowded we are over here, so they are crammed into a tiny space and all the full time residents here are upset and crowded.

Edit on 9/25/07: Both Buddy and Melissa tested negative for disease, got a rabies vaccination, and underwent their sterilization surgeries yesterday. They are recovering quickly and should be ready for new homes in just a few days.

September 21, 2007

Human Concerns Are Also Reasons for Veganism

Posted in environment, vegan, veganism at 5:36 pm by nevavegan

Sometimes people will tell me that they think veganism is a good idea, but they’re more concerned with helping people. Of course I’m concerned with helping people too, and have volunteered and donated through the years to many human causes as well.

But I resent the idea that veganism is all about helping animals at the expense of people. Instead I see it as holistic, an approach to life that helps animals and people.

When I first became vegan I was motivated by concern over animal cruelty, animal use, and the environment. But I also made the change because I believe that it’s easier for us to feed the world when we concentrate on a plant-based diet. With an unprecedented human population we need to start thinking seriously about how we utilize our food and water resources.

I was in late elementary school when we were bombarded by TV images of a famine in Ethiopia. There are few things sadder to witness than footage of starving babies, who are so innocent and helpless. When I saw these images I thought famine must be a huge problem that’s almost impossible to solve. Then I learned how simple the needs of these people were. They wanted grain, any grain would do. Wheat or corn would be nice, but hominy grits could keep them alive. They wanted dried beans, and they needed clean water. How could people be dying of hunger when it would take so little to save them?

Yet, year after year the location may have changed, but we still saw babies starving, or lying dead next to their emaciated mothers. We saw lines of starving people marching away from their homes, sometimes trying to carry others who were too weak to walk, sometimes forced to abandon loved ones because they themselves were too weak to help them. We saw the people who lived so simply that they hardly harmed the environment at all destroyed by starvation while people in the US struggled with an epidemic of obesity.

I later learned that while people starved worldwide, the US feeds most of the grain and soybeans we grow to livestock to fatten them up, and because we want to eat more animals than we have grazing lands to feed them. We use much of our clean water to water these animals and to periodically clean out their housing. In addition many people lack access to clean water because the water is being polluted with animal waste from farming or ranching.

Even more shocking, our government subsidizes meat with our tax money to keep it cheap, while people elsewhere starve, while even some children in the US go hungry, and while so many people in our country lack basic health care. So the poor can afford burgers, but they can’t afford greens or dental care. This sadly means that we don’t see the true price of animal products, but we pay these intensive farmers to pollute and over-consume resources.

Growing up in a sparsely populated area, where our chickens pecked at bugs and spent all day outdoors, and cows from neighboring farms sometimes went feral and hid in our woods, I never knew what it took to create the huge amounts of meat Americans ate. It was a stunning revelation. I thought that if we continued to grow grain and soy in the same amounts as before, but ate it ourselves and exported the remainder (rather than feeding it to farm animals) nobody would ever have to starve again.

Of course as I got older and made friends with people who’d survived the Ethiopian famine, I learned more about political systems and came to understand that world hunger is a more complex problem, often fueled by war and political unrest. Still I think cutting down on the wasteful process of feeding most of our plant-based foods to animals bred for food is a big step in the right direction. We need both, more available food and a more peaceful world. One of those things I hope to affect primarily via the voting booth and letter writing, but the other I support every day through what I choose to put on my plate.

Also, let’s not forget that the environmental crisis is about to become a human crisis as well. Changing climate will produce more famines world wide. Rising ocean waters threaten unique human cultures. The poorest people in the world will bear the brunt of global warming, but none of us will be immune from it. When the UN says that animal agriculture is the single largest contributor to global warming, and we know global warming is already killing people across the world, we have an obligation to change.

September 19, 2007

There’s Laziness and Then There’s Laziness

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:42 pm by nevavegan

I think that I might at times describe myself as a fairly lazy person. My home could be cleaner than it is. I don’t cook every single night. I like to sleep in on weekends. I recently went to the herb store to get some more of a tincture I take and when they didn’t have it they suggested to me that I buy the dry herb and tincture it myself. My response was (SIGH) “that sounds like so much work.”

So when I start feeling that way I have to kick myself in the butt and tell myself to wake up and start doing. So yes, my plans for later include tincturing an herb. Wish me luck.

Considering that this is where I often find it difficult to understand complete and utter inertia.

I’ve been following the blog (I won’t link because it’s her personal, every day activity blog, not a philosophical blog) of a young vegetarian who recently made the switch to veganism. After some resistance she managed to convince her husband (they’re newly weds of about one month) to become vegan as well. Obviously she’s written about her reasons for going vegan and the difficulties and joys she’s encountered.

This is where laziness and inertia come in. I’ve been amazed by the number of comments people have left on her blog that don’t seem opposed to veganism, but just seem hugely lethargic. People say things like “I love animals too, but not enough to change my diet” or “I feel bad for the cows, but I love cheese burgers so much” (this is lazy because the person won’t even bother to see if they also like veggie burgers or it there’s an alternative out there) and “that sounds like so much work, I can’t bother to think that hard about what I eat.”

I do hope that all these people, through continued exposure to the idea of veganism will start to wake up a little.

I shouldn’t be that surprised that there are such lazy people in the world. After all, lots of people seem to just throw all their trash into my flower bed because they can’t be bothered to carry it to a trash can.

Of course laziness alone does not stop people from being vegan. I actually had a friend in college who tried to organize all his classes close together so he could minimize walking, and cut across grassy areas every single time, rather than staying on the sidewalk, because those short cuts saved him ten or fifteen steps. Sometimes he couldn’t be bothered to walk to the dining hall to eat dinner, so he just ate crackers or dry cereal he kept in his room. But he was still vegan, because it mattered to him. He cared about animals and the environment enough to go vegan. Of course also the lazy person should probably do their best to be good to the environment because if the whole globe floods due to global warming that’s going to eliminate most opportunities to be lazy.

Still I personally feel like shaking lazy people and yelling “don’t you know how much you’re missing out on!! Get out of bed!!”

Going with the path of least resistance though (which is always the lazy thing to do) I guess we ought to just figure in some degree of laziness into our vegan outreach efforts, by making vegan foods easier to find, explaining veganism in easy terms, and handing out more information so the recipients of leaflets need not go look anything up.

I also thought about what a friend who recently visited Israel told me. He said there are falafel joints and falafel carts everywhere—he said it’s as if every McDonalds and every hot dog cart here was suddenly transformed into hot spots of vegan goodness. If only we could do such a thing. My neighborhood must have 20 fried chicken places and wouldn’t it be wonderful if through some invasion of the body snatchers scheme, suddenly we got up one day and they were all falafel joints. True, people seem to want to buy endless fried chicken. But theses are also the people who throw their chicken bones all over the sidewalk and toss their bags and wrappers onto my flowers. I totally see those people saying “I really wanted fried chicken, but it’s so far away, I guess I’ll just eat this falafel.” Maybe I’m overly optimistic.

In any case I’ve apparently transformed into a cranky old woman overnight. I’m now going to complain about how kids today are lazy (note to world: the lazy have always been among us), and then I’m going to tell you stories about how back in the day I had to walk ten miles to the dingy little health food store to buy a box of “nature burger mix” and then go home and mix up that glop with water and try to fry it to make a veggie burger, and they always fell apart. You kids today don’t know how good you have it. Most grocery stores sell the Boca Vegan Burgers in the frozen food section. You don’t even have to turn on a stove, just pop it in the microwave. (moan, groan, creek…)

But I gotta go, all this talk about laziness has me wanting to run a few laps around the pond on my lunch break. Zoom, zoom.

Edit: I wrote most of this up last night, but how on topic when I saw that Taste Better today reported a study from the UK showing most people would rather die than exercise. Eeek. People did seem more motivated when looking better was the goal. Of course the part people don’t get is that energy and time aren’t actually set amounts. When you exercise you get more energy and more alertness. Physical exercise helps your brain as well. Thus “being too tired to exercise” actually makes you more tired. And when you can perform tasks more quickly, then voila, more time. But wow, yes, there is some laziness out there.

September 18, 2007

Moral Superiority: A Recheck

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:59 pm by nevavegan

It occurs to me that the primary problem with feeling we are morally superior to others based on some of our choices is that the feeling of self-satisfaction might deter us from re-examining our lives and trying to do better.

As I said previously, given the preponderance of the evidence I believe veganism to be the best choice available to me now. Through the years I have questioned this many times and always try to learn more and understand more. I do listen to opposing viewpoints. However, study after study pours in supporting veganism, like the UN study on climate change. And when it comes to ethics, we always come back to doing less harm, and that always seems to beat out arguments for doing more harm.

This doesn’t of course mean that I can just rest on my laurels and stop trying. There are still areas of my life I can improve and hope to keep trying to improve.

I think most vegans feel this way: that trying to do better in all aspects of our lives is an ongoing process. We learn more, and we try to do more, do it more efficiently, and do it better.

When one enters the discussion from the viewpoint that it isn’t possible for them to do wrong, true learning and true understanding is completely prevented.

In the recent discussions with hunters over on Mary Martin’s blog they were entering the debate from the standpoint that because they enjoy hunting and they view themselves as good people, then hunting must be a good thing to do. And the ego (which we all posses) resists any suggestion that we might ever had done anything wrong. Likewise, the hunters instead of being able to look objectively at arguments for and against hunting and then debate those things logically must resort to a cry of “you think you’re better than I am!” and “stop judging me; my morals are perfectly valid.”

I think most of us would agree that not all values are created equal. Ok, some will disagree with this. But for example when I was taking my African History and Culture class in college the teacher touched on ceremonies surrounding “female circumcision.” Now any time I talk to males about this topic they always say “but we circumcise males!” So most of us prefer to use the term “female genital mutilation.” Most of the time the procedure involves removing all external female genitalia, and leaving only a small opening for both urination and menstruation. This is typically done using rough, even dirty instruments in unsanitary conditions by people with no medical training. This procedure is done to eliminate all physical sexual arousal in women and to make it physically impossible for them to engage in premarital sex. My teacher defended this as a part of these people’s culture. For most feminists this is seen as not a legitimate part of culture, but as a grievous human rights abuse.

Am I wrong or culturalist or elitist to oppose this practice that is not part of my culture? I don’t know. I just know that the female children subjected to this suffer terribly. I try to look at my own culture first and correct those aspect that are harmful in my own world first. That doesn’t mean I can’t clearly when something is very wrong elsewhere.

Of course luckily when I criticize hunting I’m not talking about somebody else’s culture, I’m talking about my own culture, the culture I grew up in, the culture where I still live and work, and I’m talking about trying to improve my own culture. That really makes things less treacherous I think.

There are hunters who say that hunting is part of their culture and we shouldn’t criticize it. Of course for some, sexism is also a part of their culture, and they will defend hiring male candidates over female, paying men more, and making horrible sexist jokes with the same vehemence with which they defend hunting. Then there are hunters who claim that they love and care about animals, and that hunting is compatible with caring about animals. In that case I’m reminded of some rather ugly incidents of sexism I’ve encountered from men who claim to care about women and women’s issues. There is this subset of fairly liberal males, who will claim to hold feminist values or claim to support feminist causes, but still continue to practice sexism. But should you point out that their actions harm women, they will deny this. They couldn’t possibly do anything to harm women because they care so much about women.

If anyone watches the American version of “The Office,” then you’ll recognize this type in the blatantly sexist boss who proclaims often how great he is to women. Yes, that’s incredibly funny to me because it’s really true to life. It’s exaggerated, but it’s true.

Which brings me back to my original point—if you believe from the outset that there is not anything wrong with anything you do, then you set yourself up to continually harm others. If you won’t listen to anyone else’s viewpoint, and believe that because you’re a nice person, or because you have a degree, or because your kids like you, that this means you’re incapable of ever doing anything harmful, then you will continue to do harmful things all of your life. Some issues are legitimate questions of culture. Some issues reasonable people may reasonably disagree. In other cases culture is just a red herring thrown in to excuse and cover up the irreparable harm being done.

None of us should ever be so smug in their values and practices to completely tune out other views. And it’s not that I’m tuning out the views of the hunters over on Animal Person either. It’s just that none of them is saying anything I haven’t heard at least 500 times before.

Maybe that’s something that derails discussions sometimes between ethical vegans and people who know nothing about veganism. To the person who really doesn’t understand veganism and has done no significant research on the topic, they generally feel the first thing that pops into their head is not only incredibly clever, but also the clincher argument that no vegan can refute. In this case it was “I didn’t claw my way to the top of the food chain to be a vegetarian.” Ha ha. I’ve heard this or some version of it pretty much continuously since I was 16 years old. Trust me, not only was it not funny then, it’s even less funny now. And it’s hard to respond to it, because I’ve gone over it so many times, and it’s not a value or culture or belief, it’s a stupid quip coming from a place of true ignorance. Who is being disrespectful of whose values here? I suppose the way to respond is a) there’s no such thing as a top of a food chain, in a true food chain everything goes in a cycle, you eat something, something eats you., b) what does that have to do with the way we live in the modern world with houses, cars, airplanes, a huge population, and intensive animal agriculture?

But sometimes I can’t muster up that kind of energy, so I just stop responding. I usually feel like I’ve already typed or said everything that’s relevant and it quickly becomes clear that the other person has not listened at all. I’d rather talk to people who are listening.

But God Told Me To Do It

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:55 pm by nevavegan

A little while ago I posted on vegevangelism and maybe permanently offended the wonderful and inspiring Bazu of “Where’s the Revolution.” She objected not just to the term but to the entire concept as a person who has been burned by proselytizing of the religious sort before.

I tried to clarify that I actually meant only that I thought Animalblawg had a point about borrowing a page from the born again Christians in terms of their success in community building and support systems. We’re already out there talking to people about veganism, but we need to provide support systems for them as well.

I was also sort of making fun of myself for smiling so much when I leaflet. Did I ever tell you the story about when I was working at this stupid warehouse store and I just smiled and smiled all day long, every single day? I actually got in trouble because this man was having a terrible day and was mad about waiting in line and he complained to my manager that it was insulting that I was smiling so much when the lines were so long. I didn’t even remember him, but he wrote in the complaint that I saw him getting more and more upset and smiled at him, and he felt I smiled at him purposefully in order to make him even angrier. He also said that he believed the lines would have moved faster is I hadn’t smiled and said nice things to the customers. Anyway, that’s a side track—I’m just saying that smiling is a dangerous business and you should all watch out.

In any case I find myself somewhat perplexed by recent arguments elsewhere in the blogsosphere that veganism is wrong because God put the animals on this earth for us to eat. I mean, I know carnivorous animals eat other animals, and I also had the unpleasant experience of watching some feral cats in my neighborhood the other day eating a road-killed animal that was pretty much, well, not newly killed or even close to it, but really incredibly rank. But this does not mean that I think it’s ok for me to kill and eat animals, nor do I plan to emulate the cats and chow down on decaying corpses killed accidentally by cars that I find on the side of the road.

But I just have to ask, if God intended us to eat animals, then why would God endow us with empathy and compassion, and give us the intelligence to both make tofu and figure out how complex and meaningful other animals are? Why would God give us the ability to love and cherish non-human animals if our purpose is just to destroy them? If God intended us to eat animals, then why give them personalities or let them feel pain? Is it some kind of cruel joke where God designs people to actually flinch with empathetic pain when we see another hurt, but then send us out with the intention that we spend our entire lives hurting others?

If animals truly had no other purpose than to be food for humans, then why give them so many variations? Why make carnivorous animals at all? And why not just grow animals on trees? Or if there is some spiritual requirement that life cannot be so easy as eating what grows on trees, then perhaps make us dig them up out of the ground, or give them particularly tough husks. If animals have no purpose but to feed us, then why create complex and fragile ecosystems in parts of the world where humans have not traditionally lived? Why create species that need particular environments or food or reproduce slowly? If animals have no purpose except to be our food why create great apes or cheetahs? Why create bees that speak through dance and birds that solve puzzles? And why create species delicate enough that we can rapidly drive them into extinction?

You know because it seems to me that you can look at all of this and think “Wow, God created something incredibly beautiful and complex and I’m not totally sure what all of it means, but I probably ought to try to protect and cherish it.” Or you can look at the world and say “God, schmod, this is one giant buffet table and I intend to eat everything I can stuff down my throat, waste and destroy the rest, and throw my trash everywhere. God wouldn’t have created all this for any other reason except so I can destroy it all.”

I probably over-simplify everything, but sometimes I see a certain value in dumb analogies. I wouldn’t go over to my neighbor’s house and then upend their aquarium and eat all the fish, throw trash everywhere, track mud on the carpets, burn all their house plants, kill their cat, and toss raw sewage onto their bed. So why should I go out into the world and burn forests to raise cattle, pollute the ground water and oceans with animal waste and chemicals running off from farms, kill irreplaceable species either to consume or wear them or just because I want to build factories where they live. How does that make any sense?

I’ve encountered a lot of evangelists in my life, some scarier than others actually. I really don’t find much ground to compare myself to them most of the time. I don’t, for example, corner people on train cars and tell them they’re going to hell. I don’t appear on TV asking for money. I’m always a little suspicious of people who say that they’ve got a direct line to God. I’m even more suspicious when they claim that God tells them to keep doing the things they want to do, even when faced with evidence of the harm caused by those actions. I don’t have the direct line, so I have to muddle through life like an ordinary human being trying to decide the best course using the tools I have, intelligence, empathy, kindness. That was what I was given and I don’t have much else to work with.

September 14, 2007

Every Excuse In The Book

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:14 pm by nevavegan

Let me tell you yet another childhood story. I know I do it too often, but that’s me, talky, talky, talky…

When I was very small my older brother and I played together every single day. We were isolated in many ways, and we didn’t have a lot of other children close by. So we were really best friends and did everything together, and at some point during this we made a pact that we would spend the rest of our lives together and never be apart for even one day.

Note: we definitely did not stick to that one!

Anyway, we made various plans for how we would arrange our lives to never be apart from planning out huge family homes with courtyards where we would someday live, with me and my future husband and all our kids on one side, and him, his future wife, and all their kids on the other side. Then it was sailboats and we were going to take off and sail around the world together on a big sailboat he designed with plenty of room for family, kids, and dogs.

I bring this up because though much of this planning and dreaming relied on drawings and popsicle stick models, food was a very big part of our planning. I have this vivid memory of my brother pointing to a square on one drawing and saying “this is the big freezer where we can keep all the steaks and eat steak every night.” And I agreed that this was a very good idea. When it came to sailboat design he mentioned we’d have to go to shore periodically to buy our steaks, but we’d fish and learn to catch lobsters, and so we’d eat very well all the time.

That was our idea of eating well as children. We didn’t want plates of noodle casseroles, we wanted to eat meat every single meal, because to us that was the good life, the way wealthy, happy people lived. That’s what we wanted.

So it was a long road for me, from the little girl who believed eating meat constantly was the key to being happy to becoming an ethical vegan, because my respect for the environment and my love and empathy for animals over-rode my taste buds.

As an adult who is vegan and talks to a lot of people about veganism, I hear a lot of funny things. One thing I hear over and over is “I like meat too much to ever give it up.” I still try to engage with people who say that because honestly if you’d asked me even two months before I became a vegetarian I also would have said “I like meat too much to give it up.” Everyone thinks that, I guess. We think it’s the food we put on our plates that defines us and defines our lives, and we think if it’s not our favorite food we’ll be miserable. We think if the food we eat doesn’t convey status that this will somehow make us less. Strange but true.

Another thing I hear a lot is “I’m just not a vegan.” I’m not even sure what the means actually. People say it definitively, as if they’re saying “I’m just not four feet tall” or “I’m just not Chinese.” But those would be statements of fact, you’re either from a certain country, or you’re not. If you’re taller than four feet tall, you’re not likely to shrink back to four feet any time soon.

But I was just not a vegan until the day I was. I wasn’t born wearing a label. I always liked animals, but aside from that there was nothing particular about me that made veganism my special destiny. Nearly all my friends loved animals just as much. I’m sure every vivisector who one day said “what am I doing, this is wrong” and eventually became an ethical vegan never saw it coming while they pursued their degrees or applied for jobs where they would experiment on animals. Every ex-hunter, ex-rancher, ex-slaughterhouse worker who is now vegan would have answered in years prior “I’m just not a vegan.”

There are other excuses, thousands really, but aside from a few odd ones that I don’t even necessarily buy like “my religion requires that I eat meat exactly two hours before services, “ and “my blood type can’t be vegetarian,” pretty much every other excuse applied to me at some point in my life. Killing animals is part of my culture, it’s a family tradition. I liked eating animal products. I associated animal products with wealth and status. I didn’t want to seem like a radical. I wanted my friends and family to like me and hated that they reacted so badly when I became vegetarian and later vegan. But excuses aside, I still did it, and have done it a long time now. I’m fine, I feel great. I don’t feel deprived. I don’t feel poor. I don’t feel that I’m missing out or dishonoring my family. None of those excuses stopped me.

But I don’t say “I’m just a vegan.” When I introduce myself to people I say “Hi, I’m Neva” not “Hi, I’m vegan.”

A Word from the Self-Righteous Morally Superior Dogmatic Fundamentalist

Posted in vegan, veganism at 2:27 pm by nevavegan

I’ve been following a thread on the Animal Person blog (Mary Martin) about whether vegans condsider themselves morally superior to non-vegans. Then there is the secondary question of: if we do consider ourselves morally superior, are we judging people on subjective matters (analogous to judging members or other relgions) or are we basing this in some kind of solid area, like ethics or science.

What a sticky mess to step into! But I’ll give you my take.

I wouldn’t be vegan if I didn’t think it was better for the animals, better for the environment, and better for human survival, kindness and culture. I don’t find it very hard to be vegan, but why would I put any effort in if I didn’t think it was the best choice available to me?

Do I think that makes me morally superior? That’s harder. I work with and am related to and friends with a whole bunch of non-vegans. I know they are kind and caring people. I know they help others. I know they think and read and debate and engage with the culture of ideas around them. And nearly all of them hold practically the same ethics I do. They are almost all deeply troubled by our relationship with animals and the unprecedented exploitation of animals, and all the new Frankenstein-like ways we make animals suffer in our culture.

Nearly all of them are in fact more upset than I am by this stuff, because I read about it and keep up with it, and most of my friends who eat meat will turn off the tv if something comes on about cruelty to animals. If I try to show them an article on factory farming they’ll say they can’t face it or they’ll be crying all day. But the downside of hiding from the information, since they won’t watch it or read it, and have never seen it firsthand, is that I think it takes the urgency out of the equation for them. Not seeing it allows them to believe we should treat animals better, but without feeling compelled to make an immediate change in their own lives.

Most of them are also deeply concerned about the environment too.

They care, they have ethics. The difference is that I keep trying to act on my ethics and my friends, for whatever reason aren’t there yet. Maybe they are still turning stuff over in their heads, maybe they’ll announce they’re going vegan next year, maybe they never will. But I do think we have the same values.

When it comes down to someone who just really has no capacity for empathy and tortures and kills animals and just doesn’t care? Yes, I would think I’m morally superior to them, at least right now. I know it’s unpopular to say such things and I’m not supposed to judge others, but if I’m really honest about it, that is how I feel. I hope that those people will change of course, but I’m not holding my breath.

Am I basing this on solid ground, or is it all about religious differences? I personally think it’s solid. I think our study of animals has demonstrated that non-human animals are more like us than we ever imagined. They have emotions, they are more intelligent than we ever gave them credit for, and they suffer and feel pain in the same ways that we do. The evidence is overwhelming that veganism helps the environment, which in turn saves the lives of disadvantaged humans all across the globe who are at the mercy of the climate. Again, I think most people care about animals and care about the environment and want to help other people. It’s not that I live in some ivory tower thinking I’m better than everyone else. I did everything wrong that you can think of, then I woke up one day and decided to start making changes for the greater good. Anyone can do it.

September 13, 2007

Nathan Winograd

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:37 pm by nevavegan

Last night Sean and I went to see Nathan Winograd speak at the George Washington University Law School. It was a wonderful presentation and I’m looking forward to digging into his latest book Redemption soon.

For first thoughts I found it interesting that he pointed out the utter failure of legislation to make a significant difference in companion animal kill rates at shelters. To me this a particularly important point because I cannot say how many times my efforts to save animals may have violated local ordinances and laws, from feeding feral cats to help me trap and alter them, to keeping rescued rabbits in my home or apartment in areas that banned “livestock” and listed rabbits as “livestock.” Nathan Winograd spoke of enlisting the compassion and energy of people like me who want to help animals to transform the entire system. As opposed to the way things are now where many compassionate people and even organized rescues are at odds with animal control and even in violation of the law.

Further, many of the people we hope to control with all our legislation regarding companion animals simply don’t follow the law. You can pass a mandatory spay/neuter law, but if you’re talking about the guy who never followed the leash law, didn’t follow the liscening law, and ignored all prior animal regulations, what are the chances he’ll obey a neuter law? Passing the law fails to solve the underlying problem.

Next, Mr. Winograd spoke about the overwhelming philosophy of punishment in our approach to animal control. I totally understand that we don’t want to reward people for poor behavior, for being totally irresponsible. But imagine the pay-off if we stopped saying that people who won’t pay vet bills they could afford don’t deserve access to low-cost spay/neuter? Sure, they don’t deserve it. But the animals DO deserve it. And if we pay for Mr. Cheapskate to have his dog spayed for free, then even if he doesn’t deserve it, we’ve hopefully stemmed the tide of many of that dog’s puppies coming into the shelter. We’ve hopefully stopped him from dumping those puppies in rural areas to either die or become feral or tax the resources of another shelter. We’ve hopefully stopped the literally hundreds of unwanted puppies from from all the puppies of the original dog.

So let’s stop punishing the animals in our effort to punish people and start doing the work that will pay us back hugely within just a few years.

Mr. Winograd’s talk was so humorous, so touching, and ultimately so inspiring. It’s rare to leave a lecture on sheltering issues feeling hopeful and inspired, but that’s how I felt. I will let you all know what I think of the book shortly.

September 10, 2007

Hunting Stories

Posted in animal advocacy, animal rights, real life at 7:13 pm by nevavegan

A little while back I made a statement that I was going to try to get more into the narrative, and that answers and theories live within the narrative. So that’s where I’m going today.

I grew up in a family that hunted. I can’t tell you how many dead animals of various types were stacked up in our kitchen, or hung in bunches in our car port. Later, when I was vegan and rescuing abandoned rabbits, my mother liked to remind me many times that I ate rabbits as a child, as if this was some moral failing on my part. She said that she herself couldn’t bear to eat them, but she cooked them and fed them to us. It makes me sad actually, to think of eating animals that I later learned were so intelligent and loving. But at the same time, I feel terrible for having eaten chickens and ducks that I raised and loved. And one animal death that I felt horrible about strangley enough was when my father killed a very large rattlesnake. He pulled the dead snake out from the underbrush to show him off, and he was huge, five feet or longer and fat. I just sat there thinking how long that snake must have lived to get to be that size and how quickly his life ended just because he crossed the wrong person’s path one afternoon. My great uncle always told me about the ancient wisdom snakes carried and I hated to see one so old die for nothing like that.

All through all this hunting and carnage I held on to certain myths. The first myth was the idea of a perfect life and quick painless death, that these things made it ok for us to kill young animals for our own purposes.

The second myth is that hunting maintains some kind of natural order, controlling population and ensuring the health of the herd. Only much later did I realize that human hunting runs counter to “survival of the fittest.” Human hunters use guns or bows to kill the healthiest and strongest animals because they make the best trophies. Nobody killed the weak or sick animals. I also finally figured out that human hunting doesn’t control populations. For one thing, the hunters tried to only kill male animals, again for trophies I suppose. But leaving all the females meant that the populations actually continued to grow, which hunters like because it means they get to claim that deer over-population is a problem to justify longer hunting seasons or relaxing the limits on how many animals they can kill.

When my father killed a buck with impressive antlers (I don’t remember the exact number of points) he brought the dead deer into our kitchen and set him on the floor. I sat next to him, petting his fur, holding his head. He seemed so perfect because my father had killed him with one shot, and the wound was facing downward, so I couldn’t understand why this animal was dead. I begged my father to just let him go, but of course it was too late.

My father told this story of killing the buck. He said he was sitting out in the woods, enjoying the crisp fall weather, when the buck stepped into a clearing. My father said that he was at first frozen in admiration of the magnificent deer. Then the deer turned and looked at him. My father is big into the idea of psychic connections and empaths, so he explained it this way: the deer felt my father’s admiration and love for him, and so he felt safe and showed off, tossing his antlers, which gave my father time to raise his gun and shoot him through the heart. This made me so sad because the lesson I took away from it was that some people see beauty and long to destroy it.

Because my father had such a high sharpshooter rating in Vietnam, he always bragged that he never had to shoot an animal more than once. He said he never even attempted a shot unless he knew it would be instantly fatal. This was at the heart of the idea that hunting is “a gentleman’s sport.” That is the second myth. While I have no doubt that there are some hunters that try to be good people, my experience has largely been that hunters drink a great deal, are violent over all, and are not exactly law-abiding or kind. In fact, practicing violence year after year likely hardens them to the suffering of others.

Hunters used to over-run my great uncle’s property and the adjoining park, illegally hunting bears and deer. It was illegal to hunt in the park, and my great uncle posted his land all over with “no trespassing” and “no hunting” signs. However, the hunters did not care about the law, and sometimes if my father found them illegally hunting on our land, it came down to armed confrontations. We had gotten to the point that if we thought a person was on our land my father would not leave the house without his gun, that’s how rough these individuals were. I think we frightened a number of campers who drifted over from the park or day trippers who took a wrong turn though.

One of my hunter encounters which still chills me to this day happened one afternoon when I had my friend from school over. She got bored playing near our house and insisted we walk over to the pond which was on my great uncle’s property. I told her my parents would never give us permission to go that far alone, but she convinced me to go with her, and she, I, and my dog Khaki set out for the pond. It was a nice fall day and I was proudly wearing my new plaid poncho my aunt had just given me. The poncho was huge on me and the plaid was in shades of olive green and rust brown, matching the fall foliage.

My friend started singing and I happily joined in, and so we were singing pretty loudly when we neared the pond. Unfortunately there was a group of illegal hunters at the pond, waiting to shoot deer when they came to drink. We were just one turn away from the pond when I heard a man’s voice echoing up “Do you hear that? Girls! Let’s get them!” And then I heard the engines of their ATVs starting up.

I started running, but I looked back and my friend was stumbling along slowly, so I had to turn around and grab her and drag her into the woods. My dog stayed with me. I knew we didn’t have much time, but then I saw a tree surrounded by fallen leaves with a slight hollow in the roots on the Southern side. I shoved my friend down into the hollow, then my dog. I threw my poncho over them and began heaping leaves on top, and finally slipped under it myself.

For fifteen minutes we huddled there while the hunters drove their ATVs up and down the road shouting to each other “Where are they?” and “They couldn’t get far!” So easily they switched gears from hunting deer to hunting little girls. Finally they became convinced that we must have gotten much further down the road. One shouted “It’s how sound is up high like this, it carries a long ways, I bet they’re down near the church!” So they turned their ATVs and raced toward the church. Only when they were completely out of sight did we start trying to get home. I made sure we didn’t walk along any roads or large paths, so we picked our way through thorns and trees, keeping under cover the whole way.

Things like that made me understand why the old couple that maintained the church hid whenever a car or truck went by. We could go to services and they’d be friendly as anything, but drive by on a weekday when they were out weeding the cemetery and they’d dive behind a headstone and keep down.

Other than that encounter my family found slaughtered animals so often. Heaps of deer that had been shot and then only their antlers sawed off, etc. When there was a story in the news about a hunter who killed animals on his remote property until he got bored and started kidnapping women, raping and torturing them, then setting them loose on his land so he could hunt them down and kill them, it didn’t surprise me. I’ve seen it. I heard it in the voices of those hunters on the ATVs. That is not to say that all hunters hurt people. But I do believe that hurting and killing animals as a form of entertainment makes it easier to hurt people. I do believe that people who like to hurt people often also hurt animals. I think in a kind culture we have an aversion to bloodshed, but hunting teaches that bloodshed is admirable. In a kind culture we feel the shock of empathy when someone is hurt right in front of us. For a moment we envision the pain they feel, it’s what spurs us to rush in and help them, because we identify with their pain and know it is not right to turn away from them. Hunting teaches people to take pleasure in the suffering and death of other living feeling beings. Is it such a jump from there to not caring about others at all, or to being able to hurt people?

I do have to note also that all the hunters in my family were war veterans. These were men who had been trained to kill other people and in some cases had actually had to use that training and take human life. Some managed to kill their human enemies from a distance. Others had to fight at close range and watch their friends and enemies alike die terrible deaths. Once someone has reached a point where they’re able to do that easily, I can understand how they could easily hunt and kill animals. But I’d prefer to live in a culture where all life is valued.

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