Archive for June, 2008

Last Wednesday night marked the inaugural meeting of a new group I’ve joined, a Minneapolis Vegan Women’s Club. For right now it’s a relatively small group of women who have been active in Compassionate Action for Animals in some way or another. There are about 10 of us, and our first meeting consisted of drinking wine and eating amazing food at Ecopolitan in uptown, an all vegan, all raw foods restaurant. The purpose of the group is essentially just a social outlet for women who don’t have many vegan girlfriends and are looking for other vegan women to hang out with. Dinner was great, “meeting” number 2 has already been scheduled, and I am optimistic that it’ll be a fun and supportive group.

There is something almost therapeutic about hanging out with a group of people who understand and share your values. Throughout our conversation that night, one of the common themes was feeling misunderstood. It got me thinking about what has been the most difficult thing about becoming vegan. Most people think it’s the actual food options/choices, but it’s not–that’s the easiest part, in fact. The most difficult thing is how other people react to you when you tell them you’re vegan, and how it affects your relationships. Each person at the table that night had at least one person (usually more) to whom they were close who didn’t understand or wasn’t supportive of her choice to be vegan. Some people lost friendships or relationships, while others just had short term clashes with parents, siblings, or friends. But each of us admitted that in some way, our personal relationships had been affected by our choice to be ethical vegans.

I have to say that, in general, I have been pretty lucky in this realm. Originally when I went vegetarian my family wasn’t thrilled, but by the time I decided to go vegan, it didn’t really even faze them, and they’ve been supportive overall. I will say that I have had some clashes with friends and acquaintances, and dating has been interesting, though. Making the choice to be an ethical vegan does sort of turn your life upside down – at least temporarily – and I think that should signal to the people in our lives how incredibly important it is to us. You don’t just wake up one day and say “Hm, I think I’ll be a vegan – what the heck!” In my experience, and from listening to other people’s experiences, it’s usually something that’s very well thought out, and isn’t taken lightly. Sure, some people DO decide in a split second, but it’s not random. I remember one guy telling me that he went vegan when he was stuck in traffic behind a truck full of pigs headed off to slaughter. He was eating a ham sandwich at the time, and when faced with the animal from which that ham came, he decided he couldn’t do it anymore. While his decision was made very quickly, it certainly wasn’t done on a whim or without thought behind it.

If you are friends with, related to, or in a relationship with a vegan, I guess I would just ask that you try to understand where that person is coming from. Understand that it’s not a decision s/he made lightly, and that it’s rooted in a value that s/he holds deeply. Think of one of your core values and imagine how hurtful it would be if your loved ones didn’t respect or accept that about you, and then try to treat the vegan in your life the way you would want him/her to treat you.

Anyway, I am excited about spending time with these women – for the support, the conversation, and just the feeling I get (however temporary) that I’m not some freak just because I don’t want to support the exploitation of non-human animals!

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The Humane Society of the United States has unfortunately uncovered more abuse of dairy cows. This time the abuse occurred at an auction house in New Mexico. The following video shows some of the offenses, including kicking a weak cow in the head, sticking cows in the eyes with pokers, dragging them by their legs with chains, and other egregious acts of cruelty. I urge you to watch it:

After release of the video, livestock industry officials immediately began spouting off excuses:

John McBride, spokesman for industry trade group the Livestock Marketing Association, disagreed with the Humane Society’s claim that the filmed incidents represented widespread practices in the industry…..”You have to put this in context of the number of cattle handled in markets annually,” McBride said.

I don’t care if there are eleventy billion cattle handled each year and only ONE endures this kind of abuse–even if only a small percentage of cows are tortured, that doesn’t make it acceptable, and it surely doesn’t mean anything to that one tormented cow. She still feels pain, even if billions others aren’t subjected to this same treatment.

“There were no downed cows that went into any packing house or into the food,” said Bouldin [owner of the Portales Livestock Auction]. “I don’t know where (HSUS) got their information. They are obviously misinformed.”

You know, this guy sounds a lot like the owner of the Westland/Hallmark Meat Packing Co in California, who SWORE up and down that downed cattle did not go into the food supply, despite the fact that the HSUS had video footage of that happening. Oh, and PS. They’re out of business now. Woohoo!

[Agriculture Secretary Ed] Schafer said USDA has asked the packing industry to voluntarily ban slaughtering downer cattle that go down after initial inspection. He also denounced any chance the animals shown in Wednesday’s HSUS video were ever slaughtered…..”These cattle were too weak to rise and walk on their own, and would not have been accepted upon delivery to a slaughterhouse,” said Schafer.

Really? I guess I am wondering if Mr. Schafer (a native of my home state of North Dakota) was there at the time these cows were being abused. How could he know so confidently that these animals weren’t slaughtered? Just because they should not have been accepted to a slaughterhouse doesn’t mean that they weren’t, as the Westland/Hallmark case showed us.

Lastly, if I hear one more time that this was an “isolated incident” I am going to have to unleash the Crazy on somebody, because SERIOUSLY? The HSUS has released videos taken at facilities in Maryland, Texas, California, Pennsylvania and now New Mexico. How many more videos will it take before people in the industry and people in our government stand up for these poor animals who are unable to do so for themselves? When is someone going to take responsibility for these appalling acts of cruelty?

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Just when you think you’ve heard it all, that there is no story about the cruelty humans inflict upon non-human animals that could possibly shock you, you learn something new.  Today, I learned about Chinese bear farms from Please Do Not Tap On the Glass, which is a great blog resource for anyone interested in animals, especially wildlife or species originating in Asia.  I’ve learned a lot over there!

Anyway, apparently a number of species of bears are being farmed for their bile, which is highly prized in Chinese traditional medicine (despite the fact that herbal substitutes are widely available).  This business is incredibly profitable and therefore an attractive venture to impoverished people in rural China.  As a consequence, these bears are seen as mere money making machines (no different than how we treat factory farmed animals, by the way) and their care and comfort are not taken into consideration.

Asiatic black bears, known as Moon Bears because of the golden crescents on their chests, can end up spending up to 25 years in coffin-sized cages where they are ‘milked’ daily for their bile, often through crude and filthy catheters causing the animals intense pain.

Just imagine the torture of being trapped in a COFFIN-SIZED cage for 25 years with a gaping hole in your abdomen.  It makes me sick with grief and anger.  Look at this:Bears rescued from bile farm in China

It is just awful what humans can do.

BUT, on a more positive note, it is also amazing what humans can do.  Since 1993, Jill Robinson, CEO and Founder of the Animals Asia Foundation (AAF), has been working to rescue and rehabilitate these beautiful animals.  She has also been working with the Chinese government to end bile farming, focusing on the welfare of the bears, but with an understanding of the economic issues faced by the people who operate these farms.  In exchange for releasing the bears to AAF, these individuals are given compensation to either retire or start up a new business that doesn’t harm non-human animals.  Attacking this issue from both sides, and understanding the human aspects of this problem, seems to me to be a powerful and effective way to go about this.  So far AAF has rescued 247 bears. You can read more about their rescue efforts here.

Despite my intense disgust at learning about this, I am so happy to see someone like Jill fighting for these animals, and giving them a voice.  Lately I have been trying to focus more on all of the wonderful things humans have been doing in fighting cruelty against animals.  We might not be as big of a voice as I would like, but we ARE a voice, and people like Jill just prove how much can be accomplished if only we try.

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This past weekend my youngest sister adopted an 8 month old puppy from the local Humane Society. She is a French bulldog/pug mix (the dog, not my sister – har har!) and has been named Ellie May. Ellie, silly

Ellie was rescued a couple weeks ago here in Minnesota: “They were in a barn in wire cages with cobwebs everywhere, sitting in their own feces,” [a Humane Society Rep] said. Don’t puppy mills sound lovely!? Yes, they sound lovely to me too. In case you’re wondering, no, that’s not her brains you see in that picture. She had a rather large cyst removed, and while it looks pretty awful right now, it’ll heal, and hopefully look like this eventually (thank you, amateur Photoshop skills):

Ellie without sore

Anyway, back to this puppy mill business: Ellie May has escaped quite a horrible fate, and stepped into the lap of luxury in joining our family. She doesn’t know it yet, and still thinks we might be trying to hurt her at any given moment, but when she figures it out, I imagine she’ll be quite happy about the whole thing. In the meantime, she is a big hot mess. Potty training has been interesting to say the least. Having been confined in a filthy kennel every day of her whole life, she hasn’t quite figured out that “we don’t go potty inside”. In general she just doesn’t act like a “normal” dog—for example, she is so submissive that she shimmies along the floor on her belly – she hardly stands up at all. Her tail stays firmly tucked between her legs except when she is playing with other dogs (something she is just learning how to do). She doesn’t want humans to touch her, and positions herself in a room so that she always has her back to a corner and her eyes on everyone in the room. It is really quite depressing, and makes me wonder what the dogs who were at this place for YEARS are like if she’s developed these behavioral issues in 8 short months.

And guess what? The woman who is responsible for treating Ellie May and hundreds of other animals this way is going to get some of the animals back. Thank you, Criminal Justice System, this is a great idea. Don’t worry, she is only getting a total of 43 of them back. FORTY-THREE. Let me just say that I have a hard enough time adequately caring for my (albeit very high-maintenance) dog and cat, and she’s going to get 43 animals back to provide such wonderful care for again. It makes me so angry that people can treat animals like this and get chance after chance after chance to do it again.

So, what can you do? First of all, if you want to adopt a dog, please do so from your local shelter or some other rescue group – do NOT go to pet stores or backyard breeders. Give dogs like Ellie a second chance at life. My dog Otis came from the Humane Society and I really couldn’t ask for a better dog. A less demanding dog? Sure–but not a better dog. He is such a sweetheart. Secondly, go to this site and educate yourself about how these dogs are raised, then take the pledge to help stop commercial breeding. Go watch this video and see for yourself how awful these places are, and then get involved!
On that note, I’d like to bring it back around to Ellie, a sweet little girl who has escaped that fate and will live the rest of her life with my sister, who will just love her to pieces forever – even if that potty training thing doesn’t go so well!

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I promised I would tell you more about The Midwest Animal Advocacy Conference at the University of Minnesota that took place from June 6th-8th. It’s time to make good on that promise.

I’d like to talk a little bit more about some of the things Colleen Patrick-Goudreau discussed in her “Being a Joyful Vegan” speech, and it’s especially relevant to me at the moment because someone recently asked me if I would compromise what I eat in order to be polite. Specifically, let’s say I’m at a wedding: would I eat what the couple served to avoid being an inconvenience? I didn’t even have to think about the answer: no. Does that mean I’m going to throw a big fit about it? No. I would just quietly excuse myself and find something more suitable to eat and/or plan ahead and bring something with me that I could eat. I don’t really care if people notice or if they think it’s rude. This brings me to what Colleen said (I’m paraphrasing here): “Don’t apologize for your values just to avoid making someone else uncomfortable. How people react to your values isn’t your problem, and someone else’s comfort level isn’t more important than your principles.” Sooooo true.

All I can control are my own actions, and the way I choose to live my life. I cannot control how others react to my choices. Living in a constant state of worry over how someone will perceive me or feel about my choices – my choices that don’t hurt anyone, to be exact – doesn’t seem like a very healthy way to go about life. I admit that I do sometimes worry about people having to accommodate me, and I try not to be a total pain in the butt, but at the same time, I know that I would sooner inconvenience other people than compromise my values.

Bottom line: stick to your guns! As Colleen said: There are no neutral actions. Kind of scary, isn’t it? Scary, but also incredibly powerful if you just stop and think about that for a minute.

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A couple weeks ago, I took my Boston Terrier Otis out to go potty in front of my house. He kept sniffing at this one place and would NOT go do his business. I tugged on his leash and said “Otis, let’s do a potty!” in my nicest voice, but he refused. Something just smelled too darn good. Finally, I decided to go see what all the fuss was about. I looked where he was sniffing and saw this:
OH MY GOD, have you ever seen anything so cute?!?! I couldn’t believe it! There in my front yard was a nest of baby bunnies, cute as little buttons. Otis licked one of them and she hopped up, eyes still shut, and then landed back on her siblings. That got Otis pretty interested (and not in the most gentle way), so I figured it was time to pull him away. After that, I checked on those bunnies several times a day. It was so fun to see how big they got from one day to the next, to see when their eyes opened and they started exploring life outside the nest. I felt like they were my little babies and they were growing up so fast!

Last Thursday, all four of them left the nest, but basically just relocated to another spot about 15 feet away from the original nest. This worried me, but apparently it’s normal (according to the internet, which is always accurate). I kept checking on them to make sure they were still growing and didn’t need saving. Friday afternoon I saw this and had to take a picture:

Okay – THAT is the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. Two of them are using the other one as a pillow! And look how big they got! Saturday they were around part of the day, and same with Sunday. This morning they were all gone. I imagine they are out on their own now. I hope they’re doing well for themselves, making it in this big, scary world where they don’t have some strange human looking over them at all hours of the day and terrifying the beejeebies out of them. Yep, I imagine it’s difficult without me around, but I have faith that they’ll be okay.

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In the past few weeks, I’ve had a series of interviews with a medical device company. The open position is incredibly interesting and would be seriously challenging – both of which I find appealing. I like the idea of working in a professional capacity to improve the lives of others, and working to bring life-saving medical devices to market would surely do that.

There’s just one problem: they do animal testing. I finally asked about this in my last interview. I knew that the answer would probably be yes, as I think (and I might be wrong on this) that the FDA requires animal testing prior to doing human clinical trials. Well, as my interviewer explained the reasoning behind why they do it, I got a sinking feeling in my stomach. Could I do this? Would this compromise my ethics? Would the good I could do outweigh the bad?

I got my answer when he said, “Part of your job would involve attending these animal tests, which are typically carried out on live pigs. After the device is tested, the animal is humanely euthanized and an autopsy is conducted.”

ATTEND an animal test?? I felt myself wanting to tear up – that feeling like there’s something caught in your throat, you know? I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it. As he finished up his speech about how they don’t take these tests lightly and they don’t do any more than they absolutely are required to, he asked me if I could handle doing this. I knew the answer, but just said, “You know, I am going to have to sit on that for a little bit and see if I can square it up with how I choose to live my life. But thank you for explaining it all to me and for being open about it – I appreciate it.”

I left there disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to pursue a job that, ethics aside (which I can’t do – put my ethics aside), I find really interesting.

Am I overreacting? If any other animal advocates/vegans have anything to say on this, I’d be very interested. I think I just feel too conflicted to be able to take this job and really give it my all, you know?

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I know I just wrote a post about being a joyful vegan, and while I really, really do plan to be as joyful as possible, when I hear that a dairy operation (it’s not a FARM, that’s for sure) in northern Minnesota caused local residents to evacuate their homes over the weekend due to unhealthy levels of hydrogen sulfide, I don’t feel very joyful. In fact, I feel pretty angry. When will the people who operate these dairies finally own up to how incredibly awful these facilities are – for the animals involved, the people who live nearby, the workers, and the environment?? This isn’t rocket science – it’s just common sense (trust me, I cannot do rocket science).

So, as I said, the people living near this facility actually had to EVACUATE their homes to avoid the negative health effects of breathing in the toxins, such as irritation to the eyes, nose, or throat, headaches, difficulty breathing, and if high enough, neurological and brain damage. Doesn’t that sound lovely? Brain damage! Especially in children! Apparently the residents have been complaining for years, and nothing gets done about it. Before I get in to talking about how the animals must be suffering, let’s talk about workers for a minute:

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), farm workers are risking their lives every time they enter a manure pit. The…atmosphere which can develop in a manure pit has claimed many lives.” The manure pits are so dangerous because of the gases produced by the animals during digestion:

  • Methane
  • Hydrogen sulfide
  • Carbon dioxide
  • Ammonia

The accumulation of these gases within the confined space of the manure pit can produce an oxygen-deficient, toxic, and/or explosive environment. Doesn’t that sound like a nice place to work? Check it out:

Modern Dairy Barn

I’ll never complain about my desk job again. Ever.

Worker deaths are real: in August of 1992, a 43-year-old dairy farm owner and his 23-year-old son died from asphyxiation after entering a manure pit; in July of 2007, 4 workers at a Virginia farm died of asphyxiation when they entered a manure pit. There is case after case after case just like that – sad, unnecessary, preventable deaths.

So, now let’s imagine what the animals are going through. Stuck indoors all day, every day, living in close quarters, standing in their own manure, unable to eat a natural diet of grass, these poor cows are impregnated year after year, and deprived of raising their babies so that humans can steal their milk. Just imagine how horrible that must be. Now imagine being pumped up with growth hormones so that you produce 10 times as much milk as you should, being milked for hours a day for several years, and then being sent to slaughter when you’re no longer “productive”.

How does any of this sound like a good thing? These money hungry corporate farms are destroying the land, polluting our water, forcing people out of their homes, creating unsafe workplaces, and torturing animals. And it’s all for profit. How these people can look at themselves in the mirror at night is beyond me. Maybe when you make all that money you can afford a special mirror that convinces you you’re not a terrible person no matter how many people and animals you hurt. I really can’t imagine how you could live with yourself otherwise.

Ok. Now it’s time to go back to being joyful. I swear.

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One of the highlights of the Midwest Animal Advocacy Conference this weekend was a standing ovation-worthy keynote address given by author and animal rights activist Colleen Patrick-Goudreau. It. was. amazing.

The speech titled “Being a Joyful Vegan in a Non-Vegan World” was inspiration, tips and tactics for doing just that. Let’s face it: it can be easy to lose steam or feel down and out about the animal rights movement. On top of it, vegans sometimes get a reputation for being negative – but Patrick-Goudreau’s approach emphasizes the importance of being a positive representative for the movement. That doesn’t mean we can’t talk about the horrors of the pervasive cruelty against animals—just the opposite, in fact. We can talk about that, but we can and should also show non-vegans that it truly is a joy to be vegan.

There has been nothing more powerful for me than adopting a vegan diet and removing myself from the violence committed against “food” animals. Contributing to the suffering of animals became such a source of crippling guilt in my life that I needed to make a change. As an example, I remember the moment I gave up eggs. I went to the grocery store to pick up ingredients to make cookies. MA rescued heny grocery list took me to the egg section—organic, cage-free, mind you, but eggs nonetheless—and there I stood. I stood there for several minutes just staring at the cartons of eggs. I put a half dozen in my basket, looked at them sitting there, and put them back. I did it again. And then again. I looked at them sitting back in the refrigerated case and asked myself if I could continue to support an industry that tortures so many hens (see right) and kills billions of “useless” male chicks each year. I just couldn’t do it—the guilt became too overwhelming. I gave up eggs in that moment and felt a huge wave of relief wash over me. Then I went home and made some vegan peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. Not only were they delicious, but I felt so happy for having removed myself from the violence of that industry.

Anyway, Colleen had a lot of really great things to say, and I’ll blog about more of them later, but this message really stuck with me. Showing people that being vegan isn’t about deprivation or negativity is important for the movement. If the only thing omnivores see when they meet a vegan is crankiness, they’ll never understand the joy we have in not exploiting animals for food, and they’ll never want to join us. I plan to remember this next time I’m feeling not-so-joyful, and I encourage other vegans out there to do so as well!

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Earlier this week, I read this article about a Minnesota farmer, Catherine Friend, who recently wrote a book called The Compassionate Carnivore. I haven’t read the book and don’t plan to, so my critique of it is based on her website and other book reviews I found, but I feel I have a decent idea of what she’s trying to argue (or rather, justify, as the case may be). One book reviewer said this:

Central to her argument is that vegetarians do nothing to help animals because by ‘leaving the table’ they do nothing to ensure that the inhumane, non-sustainable factory farming of the big meat producers can be ameliorated by small farmers like herself.

This infuriates me. Vegetarians don’t “leave the table”; we stay at the table and make a statement by not eating what everyone else is eating. We encourage others to think about their food choices. And more than anything else, I have to say that all the veg*ns I know are activists who work every day in some form or another to reduce the suffering of innocent animals. Furthermore, most veg*ns don’t just want factory farming abolished, they want the slaughter of all animals – factory farmed or “sustainably” farmed – to end. So no, I guess most of us aren’t acting as cheerleaders for small farmers–we’re acting as cheerleaders for the billions of cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys and other animals that are slaughtered each year in this country alone. I don’t think you can say that’s “doing nothing to help animals”.

Another reviewer wrote this:

The author writes a very touching chapter called “Letter To My Lambs,” in which she talks about their lives, her love for them, and her gratitude for their sacrifice. “I wish you a safe journey, and I honor your role in my life.”

“Their sacrifice”? That makes it sound like these lambs have a choice in the matter. I am assuming her farm is not so compassionate as to offer the lambs a choice between walking to slaughter or playing inLamb the pastures. I wonder which one they’d pick if they could! Also, “I wish you a safe journey”? To my plate? Yes, that will surely be safe – being held down against your will, getting “stunned”, being bled out, having your fleece [skin] torn from your flesh as you are still twitching, and then being eviscerated – yep, that sounds safe to me! I am sorry, but that is just laughable.

I can’t read this book because I would probably have to seek anger management treatment afterwards, and that doesn’t sound very fun or cheap to me. These reviews tell me enough: it just goes to show you that humans can justify anything if they really put their minds to it!

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