Posts Tagged ‘animal activism’

polarSometimes being an animal rights advocate is emotionally exhausting.  Today is one of those days.

Last night I was watching Animal Planet, as I often do, and the show was about polar bears in the wild.  There was a  mama polar bear and her 2 cubs who were not yet full grown, but also not tiny. Due to lack of food, a big male polar bear was following the threesome in the hopes that he could eat one of the cubs (apparently they will eat their own kind if they can’t find other food).  The mama and her cubs walked for hours trying to get away from him, but finally one of the cubs collapsed from exhaustion and hunger.   The mama bear was trying to get him back up but she couldn’t and eventually she had to leave him so that she could protect her other cub and herself.  I had to turn the channel before the big male bear got to the dying cub.  And then I cried.  Yes, I cried at the cruelty of nature.

What immediately hit me after getting so emotional about this is how nature is kind in comparison to the horrible cruelties humans impose on non-human animals, especially “food” animals.  That cub probably lived just as long as any pig does on today’s factory farms…and he at least lived his short life FREE.  He knew the love of his mother, got to swim, play, and run around.  Chickens, turkeys, pigs and other farmed animals get nothing of the sort. They spend their lives cooped up in tiny cages, feeling pain and sorrow every day.

So then I got even sadder.  Then today I read a story about a man who broke into his ex-girlfriend’s house and put her 5 month old puppy in the oven and killed him, and I got EVEN SADDER.  I mean, how can a human being be so incredibly heartless? HOW?

Anyway, the thing about caring so much about animals is that it lends itself all too easily to sadness.  I still have not figured out how to completely combat this.  How do you find the energy sometimes to go about your every day life when you know how much suffering there is in the world around you – human and non-human?  And how do we ever know if we’re doing enough?  The truth is that I never feel like I’m doing enough.  I’m vegan, and I educate others about veganism; I write this blog; I volunteer for an animal rights organization doing office work and event planning; and I have a dog and a cat whom I love dearly….but none of it really feels like enough.  Will it ever?  Will I ever hear a story about animal cruelty and not feel like surely I’m NOT doing enough if things like that are still happening?  I don’t know.  Anyone have any thoughts/advice?

(Sorry this post is such a downer….I guess it’s just one of those days.)

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What’s for dinner?  This, which can be seen in a recent PETA undercover video:

[The video shows] stomach-turning brutality. Workers are seen smashing birds into loading cages like basketballs, stomping heads and breaking necks, apparently for fun, even pretending to rape one.

On the tape, one worker describes losing his temper at a tom who pecked him, marking its head with a pen so he could find it again, fetching a broomstick, ramming it down the bird’s gullet and holding it up in the air while shouting “Let this be a lesson to y’all” at the rest of the flock.

His supervisor later excuses such behavior by saying, “Every once and a while, everybody gets agitated and has to kill a bird.” Noting that only two of his crew “really like to do it,” he says they are otherwise steady workers and adds: “As long as they don’t do it a lot, I don’t really say too much about it.”

Well, that sounds DELICIOUS, doesn’t it?!  Um, yeah, I think I’ll stick to my Field Roast Celebration Roast. What about you?

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So, I still have a lot more to say about the Midwest Animal Advocacy Conference I attended last month, “Their Lives, Our Voices“. I have all these notes I took during the speeches and in the workshops just staring at me waiting to be written. The guilt! Okay, guilt is a little strong, but I really have meant to say a lot more. So, let’s start with one of the discussion groups I attended: Dealing with Grief & Stress.

Let’s face it, we animal rights activists aren’t dealing with super-duper-happy-topics every day. It’s incredibly difficult to see pictures or watch videos of humans abusing and killing non-human animals. It’s depressing to think about how many animals are killed every second while I sit here in my comfy chair writing a blog post. It can get a person feeling down and out, let me tell you. Lucky for those of us who attended TLOV, the coordinators planned a discussion session on how to handle grief and stress so that we can be the most effective activists possible.

The discussion was moderated by the very down-to-earth, smart, and thoughtful activist/author/blogger/eco-feminist Pattrice Jones. I’m not gonna lie: things got a little emotional. We all talked about the things that hurt us the most–sometimes it was how our veganism and our passion for animals had affected our personal relationships. Often it was about how our efforts sometimes feel futile and hopeless, like no one is listening and no one cares. Yet there we all were, sitting in a room full of people who do care and who keep trying to get people to listen despite what feels like the many failures. There was something that was just incredibly comforting about being in that room and knowing that we had a lot in common, and it was so nice to have an outlet to be able to talk about how we felt with people who really wanted to listen. I think Pattrice summed it up nicely in her blog about this session:

Activists do hard work that brings up hard feelings and have the tendency to subordinate self-care to what always seem to be more pressing goals. Over time, pent-up feelings build up, so much so that sometimes people start to cry even before the discussion gets going, just from the feeling of being in a place where it might be safe to say anything. Once it does get going, people have different things they want to hear, different things they want to say, but almost everybody learns the same thing: I’m not alone.

Speaking of not being alone, this weekend I hung out with the vegan women’s group again, and we were discussing this very issue–how nice it is to be surrounded by people who don’t think we’re crazy! That is seriously one of the best things about hanging out with all of them, in addition to the fact that they’re just a solid group of people. I think we all agreed though: it is nice knowing we are not alone!

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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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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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I’m happy to report that it looks like Oprah is still doing her 3 week vegan cleanse.  She didn’t blog about it for a couple days (what on earth could be more important?!), but she’s been pretty good the last few days.  In Monday’s blog this week, she said this:

I’ve had no cravings or food issues—I’m in harmony with life. The rest of the group is doing better, no headaches this week from caffeine or sugar withdrawal.

I love it!  People ask me if I ever crave things, and honestly, I really don’t anymore.  I think once you start to look at things like cheese (something I used to LOVE) as bad for your health, or cruel to animals, it’s not that hard to let it go.  It just takes a shift in your perception, I think.  In Oprah’s case, I think it’s probably more an experiment to see if she feels healthier, but I like that she has already acknowledged that there is a lot of cruelty involved in raising animals for food.  I am hopeful it will make a difference in her long-term eating habits, and possibly affect others.

I know people have claimed that it’s only easy for Oprah because she has a chef.  I don’t deny that having a professional chef on the payroll would make eating a healthy vegan diet much easier – of course it would. But I think saying it’s too hard to eat vegan UNLESS you have a chef is kind of a cop-out. It just takes a little planning, and any average person can do it. Trust me, I am exceedingly average when it comes to cooking – just ask my sisters!


I blogged about this once before, but in case you missed it, I need to mention it again.  Tomorrow night kicks off the Midwest Animal Advocacy Conference that has been organized by Compassionate Action for Animals.  It promises to be informative, interesting, and fun.  I’m really excited about it.  Check out my old post for more information – or go straight to the conference’s site.  There’s still room for more attendees, too, if you’re interested in joining – and you should!

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Ask the experimenters why they experiment on animals, and the answer is: “Because the animals are like us.” Ask the experimenters why it is morally okay to experiment on animals, and the answer is: “Because the animals are not like us.” Animal experimentation rests on a logical contradiction.
~Charles R. Magel

Did you know that the United States is the largest user of chimpanzees in biomedical research in the entire world? New Zealand, England, Sweden, Austria, and a number of others have either banned or limited such use, and yet we continue to subject our closest living relatives to painful and unnecessary medical testing. And guess what? It’s our tax dollars funding this research. “The cost to U.S. taxpayers for chimpanzee research and maintenance is estimated at $20 – 25 million per year, money that many in the scientific community believe could be allocated to more effective research.”* Based on how little information scientists have obtained by subjecting so many innocent animals to unnecessary tests, the bar for “more effective research” isn’t very high. So if chimps are such good substitutes for humans, why is it that we’ve gotten so little information? The reason is that there are substantial differences between chimpanzees and humans when it comes to diseases like HIV/AIDS:Chimp in research

  • Humans become immunodeficient and do not maintain normal levels of critical immune factors, CD4 and Tlymphocytes. Chronically infected chimpanzees maintain normal levels and do not become immunodeficient.
  • In contrast to humans, HIV does not reproduce well in chimpanzees.
  • HIV infected humans contain the virus in their blood cells and plasma. Chimpanzees contain the virus only in their blood cells.
  • Virus particles are found in human saliva and spinal fluid. In chimpanzees they are not.
  • Humans develop opportunistic infections and cancers associated with HIV. Chimpanzees do not.
  • Humans drop their antibody count prior to systemic illness; chimpanzees do not.**

So, what a great use of our tax dollars! I mean, remember when the scientists found the cure for AIDS from all this research? No? Oh, that’s right BECAUSE THEY DIDN’T.

But, there’s potentially good news. The Great Ape Protection Act (H.R. 5852) could end all the suffering for chimpanzees currently in labs. It would put an end to invasive research and testing on an estimated 1,200 chimpanzees remaining in U.S. laboratories. “The bill would also retire approximately 600 federally owned chimpanzees currently in laboratories — many for more than 40 years already — to permanent sanctuary.”*** Doesn’t that sound like a good idea? I know I’d rather have my tax dollars go toward almost anything else than the pointless use of these poor animals.

So, what can you do? Go to the HSUS website here and find out who your local representatives are. Then, make a quick phone call (or send an email), tell them you strongly support H.R. 5852 and tell all your friends to do the same! These chimps deserve better – help them live out the rest of their lives in sanctuaries.

Also, if you’d like to know more about alternatives to animal testing, check out this website. It has some great information and frequently asked questions and answers.
*Humane Society of the United States.
**Johnston MI. The role of nonhuman primate models in AIDS vaccine development. Mol Med Today. 2000 Jul;6(7):267-70 (as cited here).
***Humane Society of the United States.

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Lately I’ve been thinking about how differently I viewed the world only 2 years ago. I have always, always loved my dog and my cat and other people’s pets and therefore considered myself an animal lover, but at the same time, I never really thought much about farmed animals. I ate them and I wore them, but I never really thought about the real-life animal that the food on my plate and leather on my shoes once was.

My boyfriend a while back was not much of an animal person at all, but when he saw how much I loved my pets, he said to me, “I am surprised that you eat animals with how much you love them.” That got the ball rolling. He had a point. Still, I continued to eat them, putting cats and dogs into a different category than sheep, pigs, cows, and chickens.

I honestly don’t really know what else it was that prompted me to really, really think about farmed animals. I know I had some down time at work and would sometimes peruse various websites about animal welfare issues, and I suppose that kept nagging at me, but I can’t point to one specific event that made me flip the switch to become an animal rights person.

Yesterday, I spent much of the afternoon reading Tom Regan’s book Empty Cages: Facing the Challenge of Animal Rights. It is one of the most influential books of the animal rights movement, and being only a third of the way through, I can already see why. One chapter of the book is titled “How did you get that way?” and reading it kind of made everything come together for me; I now realize that I’m really not THAT weird –at least not when it comes to making the transition from omnivore to vegan, or from pet lover to animal rights activist.

According to Regan, there are 3 primary ways people come to the movement:

1. They are born with an animal consciousness, meaning they just kind of “get” animals from an early age. They can empathize with them, understand when they’re upset or happy, and they form bonds with animals that most other people can’t or just don’t. He calls these people Davincians.

2. Damascans, on the other hand, have a change in perception at some point in their lives, usually triggered by a noteworthy event–many times that event is witnessing a particularly brutal act toward a helpless animal. “One minute [Damascans] accept the cultural paradigm; the next minute they do not” (Regan, 2004, p 24).

3. Lastly, and most commonly, there are the Muddlers. “…Most people who become [Animal Rights Activists] just muddle along in life, first learning one thing, then another; experiencing this, then that; asking some questions, finding some answers; making one decision, then a second, then a third” (Regan, 2004, p. 25).

This all made a lot of sense to me, and when I look at who I’ve become, I think I am a mixture of a Davincian and a Muddler. I think I’ve always had a powerfully compassionate side to me. When I was a kid, I loved animals so much. Not just that, but I assigned emotions and personalities to my dolls and could play with them for hours on end. To this day, I still sort of imagine that my plush toys have feelings – because, really, what 27 year old woman doesn’t still imagine that? Right? No? Oh…

At any rate, I fully admit that I lost my Davincian ways over the years, and came to the movement as a Muddler. I struggled a lot with making the changes I made in my diet and other consumption patterns – rejecting 27 years of such cultural norms isn’t easy, I know that. It was almost like I just got to a point (much like Regan says he did) where I had no choice anymore: There I was, an animal rights activist, in all my glory and confusion. Looking back over the whole process, I don’t think I’d change a thing. I mean, sure, I wish I had come to this place earlier in life, but at the same time, I think we all need to do it when it’s right for us. I sure am glad I did, because I know now that it’s the right decision – no second guesses, no doubt – and that’s a pretty good feeling.

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I am so excited about an upcoming animal advocacy event scheduled to take place here in the Twin Cities from June 6 – June 8. It’s called Their Lives, Our Voices:

Their Lives, Our Voices 2008 seeks to bring together individuals from across the region for a hands-on, high-quality conference focused on helping animals. Our goal is to make the conference as inclusive and accessible as possible for both new and veteran activists in the Midwest region, with a focus on farmed animal advocacy efforts.

There will be some amazing speakers, including Gene Baur from Farm Sanctuary, baby lambsCarol Adams, author of Beyond Animal Rights: A Feminist Caring Ethic for the Treatment of Animals, and Paul Shapiro from the Humane Society of the United States (just to name a few). I went to see Gene Baur speak once, and was able to visit with him afterwards and I have to say that he is truly inspiring. I left that evening feeling so much more positive about my ability to effect change for farmed animals. What amazes me about him is that despite all the horrible things he’s seen, he is still so optimistic and determined. For me it is all too easy to get depressed when I read about or watch a video on factory farming cruelty ….but somehow he manages to keep a positive attitude, and is such a great example for the rest of us. I can’t wait to hear the other speakers as well, all of whom I imagine will be just as energizing as Gene Baur.

If you live in the Midwest or feel like visiting, you should totally register for this conference. You can find all the details here. I am really looking forward to it!

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