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Posts Tagged ‘make a difference’

This weekend I got into a rather passionate debate with some friends of friends about animal rights. One of them was pretty educated about the evils of factory farming, and said that she didn’t eat much meat because she had to know where it came from. Her husband on the other hand, didn’t know much about factory farming at all, though he was curious about what I had to say and was a good, respectful listener.

After a lot of back and forth about how animals are treated, how ethical meat consumption is, and why I’m vegan, we ended up with them stating that animals wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for humans to eat them – as in, they were put on this earth specifically for us to use as we see fit.  I said that I think animals exist for their own purposes, not for ours.  They exist to be pigs and cows and chickens and zebras and elephants.  I asked them why lions exist, since we don’t eat them (okay, maybe some humans eat lions, but I don’t think many).

“To eat zebras”, they replied.

“Um, ok, why do dogs exist?”

“To be our companions and protectors.”

“So why do humans exist?”

“To eat animals.”

“Wait – so everything on this earth exists to either eat other animals or to be

Here's my l'il doggy, just being his doggy self!

eaten by them? Or apparently, in the case of dogs, to be our buddies?”

They didn’t really have an answer to that.

It is kind of weird to think that we’re all just here to eat each other, isn’t it?  I mean, to be fair, I don’t know why the hell we’re all here either, but I certainly do not think it’s to eat or be eaten.

They also tried to tell me that veganism is no better because of all the animals that are killed in the process of harvesting vegetables and grains.  UGH. I am so tired of hearing that one.  Let’s walk through this: yes, small animals and insects are killed in modern agriculture in the planting and harvesting of various crops.  Those crops are then largely fed to “food animals”, which are then slaughtered and fed to humans.  So, logically speaking, we could kill significantly fewer animals by simply harvesting those crops and eating them directly, could we not?    And isn’t that better from an animal rights perspective than the alternative?  Yes, yes it is.  Plus, I don’t claim to be perfect – I step on ants and insects all the time, I’m sure. I hit them with my car.  I live my life trying to do the least harm possible, but I can’t claim I’ve done no harm to animals.

It gets exhausting fielding these same questions again and again to people, and yet I have to remind myself that I once thought that way, and if no one had ever explained things to me, I’d still be eating the standard American diet – SAD!  Do I think this couple is going to be vegan now?  Heck no, but at least I tried to explain my perspective to them, to show them that not everyone thinks that animals are here just for our selfish human purposes. Maybe eventually it will sink in, maybe it won’t, but I did what I could!

So, friends, why do we humans exist anyway?

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sadpigThe weekend of June 13th and 14th I went to an animal rights conference in the Twin Cities called Their Lives, Our Voices.  Much like last year, it was awesome.  I took notes and hope to write a few entries on what I learned there.   For now, I’m going to start with the very last presentation (because I forgot my notebook so I don’t have notes, but it’s still fresh in my memory!) which was given by pattrice jones.  It was called “In Defense of Actual Animals”, and it was fantastic.  This post won’t do it justice, but I’ll try anyway!

As I sit here writing this, animals across the world are being slaughtered by the thousands every second.  Sometimes I think about that and feel completely overwhelmed. As I’m sitting here in my comfy chair, chickens and pigs and cows and so many other kinds of animals are being strung up by their legs and getting their throats cut.  Right now, someone is beating a dog, or torturing a cat or a horse.  Someone is doing an experiment on a chimp or a rabbit or a rat. And here I sit.

Pattrice’s speech made me even more cognizant of these things when she said that “what matters to animals is what actually happens to them”.  Being vegan is helping and is necessary if we’re going to save future animals, but right now animals are still dying by the billions – and me being vegan doesn’t matter one iota to those animals right now.  Being vegan is vital…but it’s not enough.

Don’t get me wrong, I never thought that when I went vegan I would be saving the world or saving all the world’s animals or anything. I know that animals will still be dying for food every day. Being vegan, though, allows me to feel at peace with my own conscience when I look in the mirror every day because I’m staying true to my values.  That feel-good deed, though, isn’t important to the chickens whose throats are being slit right now.  What matters to them is what’s actually happening to them RIGHT NOW.

How very simple!  And yet…I had become somewhat complacent in my activism. I thought that if I could at least get the word out about veganism, or encourage people to reduce their animal products intake, I would be doing enough.  But it’s not enough if you’re a cow awaiting imminent death in the slaughter line.  To her, my veganism doesn’t mean a thing. She will still die today, and someone will eat her flesh tomorrow.

We need to do more. We need to help the animals who are currently suffering in the system.  What matters to them is that our actions SAVE THEM.

Now THAT seems even more overwhelming, doesn’t it?  I mean, I’d LOVE to start up a sanctuary right now, and open it up to those suffering animals tomorrow.  But there’s no way I can do that. So, what can we do?

Pattrice offered up some suggestions, after noting that the reason Big Ag is so powerful is because they have so much money – raising and killing animals for food is profitable business. We need to make it unprofitable. Part of that is decreasing demand – something that hasn’t worked so far (on a pure numbers basis) despite all the vegan converts. Meat consumption just keeps going up and up because they’re finding new markets and getting their current customers to eat event more meat.   We do need to continue to get the word out to help decrease desad_dog_by_anapires2mand, but we also need to increase their costs of doing business.  Passing animal welfare legislation (like the recent victory in CA) is a start, but there’s still a lot of work to do.

We also need to use our individual strengths to help animals as much as we can now. Saving one dog or goat or chicken matters a lot to that one dog or goat or chicken, and that is kind of a powerful thought. We may not be able to save them all, but if you can take in one dog off the street and find her a new home, you’ve made a huge difference to that one dog.

Given my current living situation – a condo association that dictates how many animals I can keep in my home – I’m at capacity and can’t really take in a bunch of strays.   Until my situation changes, I’m brainstorming of ways that I could help animals directly now.  If anyone has a suggestion, I’d love to hear it!  And, if you currently have the capacity or ability to take in foster animals or save animals in some other way, please consider how much your efforts would mean to those animals!

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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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At the moment our human world is based on the suffering and destruction of millions of non-humans. To perceive this and to do something to change it in personal and public ways is to undergo a change of perception akin to a religious conversion. Nothing can ever be seen in quite the same way again because once you have admitted the terror and pain of other species you will, unless you resist conversion, be always aware of the endless permutations of suffering that support our society.
~Arthur Conan Doyle

This quote kind of says it all, but because I’m a loud mouth, I’ll happily add my own two cents to it!

People often ask me why I made the decision to go vegan.   I can point to certain events leading up to that moment that are helpful in explaining how I got here, but at the same time, when I really think about it, it’s almost as if it wasn’t a choice at all. Of course I wasn’t forced to be vegan – that’s not what I mean. What I mean is that it was almost like I had been asleep before and suddenly I woke up and saw the cruelty and suffering around me; being vegan seemed like something I simply had to do. I couldn’t ignore the fact that I had been contributing to animal suffering for 26+ years. I couldn’t look the other way anymore and continue to act as though I hadn’t just had a complete change in perception.

One of my favorite parts of Doyle’s comment is when he states that “nothing can ever be seen in quite the same way again”. We all experience awakenings throughout our lives, whether it’s because we fall in love or get our hearts broken, find religion, have children or any number of other major life events. These things change us permanently and profoundly–just as my awakening changed me. You see, I had always considered myself to be an animal lover, and yet I ate some animal or animal product every single day. What I really was was a dog and cat lover. Then, somehow I opened up my eyes to the beauty and wonder of all non-human animals; I forced myself to imagine the pain and suffering that farmed animals must experience every single day on factory farms, how excruciating each day must be for them… For me, it was virtually impossible not to have a complete change in perception.

I believe that most humans have the capacity to connect with non-human animals, but that we are discouraged from doing so from a very young age. We are taught that dogs and cats are companions, and cows, chickens, pigs, sheep, turkeys, etc. are for eating and/or using in some other way.  It isn’t always easy and it can be scary (as change often is), but if you can open your heart up to the joy and beauty of other non-human animals, you will realize that they are not here to serve human purposes, and they most certainly are not here to endure senseless pain and cruelty only to be brutally killed for our dinner. They are here for their own reasons: to play in wide open pastures, to forage for food to nourish their own bodies, to create and nurture their families, and just to enjoy life. Who are we to take that from them?

My hope is that more people will allow themselves to see animals for the amazing individuals that they are; that more people will have their very own vegan awakening.

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First of all, Happy New Year!   My apologies for being such a terrible blogger as of late. I went on vacation and then the holidays hit and I got lazy, what can I say?!  I’ve definitely had some things to blog about though, so here we go:

Over Christmas I went home to my family’s farm in North Dakota.  I usually bring some food along when I know I’ll be there for that long (5 days), but this time I didn’t bring much because I had been sick and didn’t do the greatest job of preparing for the trip.  I figured I’d be able to find something to eat, even if it wasn’t ideal.

One night in particular I decided to make some black bean tacos.  I made enough for my parents to eat as well, because I think cooking good vegan food for people is one of the best ways to show them what veganism is all about – that we still eat great food, it just doesn’t have animal products in it.  Anyway, I cooked this meal but ended up eating alone – in this case, mostly just because my parents weren’t hungry.  But over the holidays I felt sort of left out whenever we sat down to eat.  I had my own “special” food, which was nice and all, but I couldn’t participate in the food traditions I grew up with, and it sort of made me feel isolated.  Sure, I was still there celebrating with my family, but it just wasn’t the same.  It made me realize how lonely it can feel sometimes to be vegan.

Lonely or not, though, I wouldn’t change my decision.  I don’t WANT to eat our traditional foods anymore: creamed corn, smoked sheep meat, beef meatballs, buttered potatoes, etc.  They make me nostalgic on the one hand, but basically just gross me out on the other.

I don’t have any major insight on this, really, I just was thinking about how even though being vegan can feel isolating or lonely sometimes, I still know it’s the right thing for me to do.  I guess that’s why they say doing the right thing is rarely the easy thing.  Plus, on the flip side of that loneliness is the fact that I’ve met a lot of really great, fun people because of my veganism. The community I’ve built here is great and feels anything but lonely!

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I heard this, or variations on this, a lot when I first went vegan. And you know what? Not long ago, I was saying the exact same thing – so I totally get it. I thought I could never, EVER give up my beloved cheese. I used to eat a LOT of cheese – mozzarella, cheddar, blue, pepper-jack, goat cheese – basically any kind of cheese I could find, I would eat. I loved it. Ask any of my friends and they will tell you that they can’t imagine me ever giving up my cheese. I mean, I used to have entire parties that were centered around wine and cheese.

Honestly, cheese was one of the reasons I didn’t think I would go vegan. Well, that and milk chocolate, but that’s another story. I thought “ok, maybe just being a really strict vegetarian who eats cheese here and there is enough”. And you know what? That surely would have made a difference. I lowered my carbon footprint significantly just by giving up meat, and in not eating animal flesh, I was saving the lives of countless animals. Awesome, right? Well, I felt pretty good about it, to be honest.

But the longer I kept eating dairy, the worse I felt about it. I was helping a lot of animals, sure, but I was still contributing to the suffering of countless, helpless, beautiful, individual “dairy” cows – cows that I didn’t NEED to harm for my own benefit. I ate cheese because I liked it, and possibly because I was addicted to it. According to research done by the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM):

Several scientific teams have shown that the principal protein in cheese, casein, breaks apart during digestion to produce abundant amounts of morphine-like compounds called casomorphins. Biologically, these opiates appear to be responsible for part of the mother-infant bond that occurs during nursing.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? Nature designed breast milk to be highly desirable (addictive, even) so that babies will want more of it and can keep growing big and strong. And humans continuing to consume casein in dairy products makes us big too – except we grow fatter, not stronger.

At any rate, the point is that I DID give up cheese. I broke the addiction and finally went vegan and I’ve never felt better. And eating vegan? It’s really not that hard. You just have to commit to it and do a little research and voila! You’re vegan! If you’re struggling to go vegan, just know that the cravings for animal products do go away, and please know that you CAN do it. If I can give up cheese, you can give up anything. Seriously.

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It feels like every time I turn around there’s a new story about animal cruelty surfacing, and each one seems more and more gruesome than the last.  The latest undercover investigation done by PETA on a pig farm in Iowa (a Hormel supplier) is no different.  Descriptions of the cruelty inflicted on the poor pigs at that farm made my stomach turn – I could not force myself to watch the video. I just couldn’t.  The picture at left of a sow that was sprayed in the face with blue paint for 30 seconds because she wouldn’t move was enough for me.  The look on her face just breaks my heart.  If I could go get her right this second, I would….

I honestly don’t know what to say about this.  I cannot fathom what would make a human do the kinds of things that were done to these pigs–

  • A supervisor shoved a cane into a sow’s vagina, struck her on the back about 17 times, and then struck another sow.
  • Multiple pigs were beaten with metal gate rods, and lacerations were found on more than 30 sows – which is probably evidence of more abuse.
  • A worker hit a young pig in the face four times with the edge of a herding board, and investigators witnessed dozens of similar incidents involving this worker and 11 other workers.
  • Two men – including a supervisor – were witnessed jabbing clothespins into pigs’ eyes and faces. A supervisor also poked two animals in the eyes with his fingers.
  • A supervisor kicked a young pig in the face, abdomen, and genitals to make her move and told PETA’s investigator, “You gotta beat on the bitch. Make her cry.”
  • A worker who weighed an estimated 315 lbs. punched a sow on the back three times and said that he sat on a sow’s head.

HOW does one DO these things?  I just don’t get it.

I had the pleasure of meeting a number of pigs at Farm Sanctuary when I visited this past May, and I can tell you that they are some of the sweetest , friendliest animals I have ever met.  I can’t imagine ever hurting them, and yet this is what happens on farms all across the country every single day.  Don’t get me wrong, I know that this level of violence isn’t everywhere, but the fact that it’s anywhere is enough to make me angry.

So, what can we do?  Go to PETA’s website and sign the petition demanding that Hormel follow PETA’s eight-point policy when governing future pig-farming operations.  And, if you’re not already vegan,  think about going vegan – it’s a simple way that you can help animals every single day and stop supporting the industries that inflict such tremendous pain on innocent animals!

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