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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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After a 7 month hiatus from this blog, I wonder: is anyone still out there?  Anyone waiting for me to post?  I bet you are just beside yourself with curiosity about where I’ve been.  Answer: first I was trying to get a new job, then I got a new job, and now I’m BUSY as heck.  The truth of the matter is that while I was in the midst of my job search, I felt the need to make this blog private.  I didn’t want potential employers to be able to find it and not hire me on the basis of my ethics as they pertain to food.  And yes, I realize that sounds strange because you’d think any employer would appreciate someone with such strong ethics, but that’s not exactly how things always work in the conservative finance industry.  Sigh.

At any rate, I wanted to discuss veganism in the work place a bit.  I wish I were lucky enough to be able to work somewhere where being vegan was the norm.  Or at least where telling someone you were vegan didn’t result in very shocked stares and a million questions about how it is even possible to not eat animal products.  I had been at my last job for 7.5 years, during which I made the transition from meat-loving omnivore to vegetarian to vegan.  My bosses thought I was a little nutty, and one of them asked me every day if I was having tofu for lunch.  Because that’s all vegans eat, you know.

Coming to this new job, I am interacting with a much larger group of people.  Of the other 24 people in my department not one of them is even vegetarian, much less vegan.  This presents both an opportunity for education and sometimes awkwardness.  I’m probably not making the situation any better by having an 8×10 framed picture of a rooster in my office – this picture to be exact:

Roscoe the Rooster, Kindred Spirits Sanctuary

This was a Valentine’s Day gift from my boyfriend.  I took this picture when I was visiting Kindred Spirits Sanctuary and he thought it was so great he framed it and said I should bring it to work.  This is the largest picture I have in my office.  It prompts a fair number of questions and/or reactions.

One man said “you like chickens?”.  I said “yeah, I do.”  He replied, “oh you should have grown up on my farm then. We had 400 of them.  Slaughtered them ourselves!”  Um….not exactly what I meant when I said I like chickens.

Other than that, so far no one has really been insensitive.  They’ve mostly just been sort of curious or confused.  I’m okay with that. I don’t mind being the “weirdo”, and I figure as they get to know me, they maybe won’t think being vegan is so strange after all (that’s the goal anyway).  I don’t expect anyone to convert or anything, but it’s kind of nice to be able to show them that being vegan isn’t some big sacrifice or something.

I’d be interested in hearing about other people’s experiences in the work place.  Is your work place vegan friendly?  Are you the only vegan?  If so, how do you handle that?

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Source: NY Times online

Source: NY Times online

The pig you see here being dangled by the leg is still just a baby, and by now he is already dead and thrown away for absolutely no reason, as are the rest of the 300,000 pigs in Egypt.  According to the New York Times, “Egypt ordered the pig slaughter even though there hasn’t been a single case of swine flu there and no evidence that pigs have spread the disease.” I find this so frustrating.  How typical that we humans blame this epidemic on pigs, and kill them without a second thought!  Because they’re expendable!

How can people be so ignorant?  This virus was created by HUMANS when we put thousands and thousands of pigs into small quarters (breeding grounds for disease), it is spreading human to human, and we are killing pigs?  Does this make sense? It seems to me that we are being shown a giant, flashing sign that is begging us to stop factory farming, and instead of listening, we are killing sentient beings who have nothing to do with this disease beyond being innocent victims of it.  I don’t have the words to describe my shock, anger, and frustration with this whole situation. All I know is that if humans don’t wake up soon and smell the tempeh-bacon, we’re all going to be dead, and we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves.

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This is one of my favorite responses from omnivores when they find out that I would love it if the whole world stopped eating animals. “But what would we do with all the animals that are currently on farms? They’d have to die–we can’t possibly keep them all around if they’re going to serve no purpose.*  Is that what you want? You want all the farm animals to just die?”

Um…okay, really?  Yes, that is why I’m vegan – because I’d like all the farm animals to DIE!  Does that even make sense?

First of all, people aren’t going to go vegan over night – at least not the entire population. These kinds of things don’t just happen like that.  If they did, I guess I’d have to give some pretty serious thought to what would happen to the billions upon billions of animals that are currently suffering on farms everywhere.  Until that’s a real possibility, I’m not really going to stress too much about what we’d do with all the now “useless” animals.

Secondly, the fact of the matter is that many farmed animals could likely survive if they were left to their own devices.  Those that couldn’t – like “broiler” chickens – would only find it difficult because of human intervention in their breeding.  Chickens who are bred for meat grow so large so quickly that even with the best of care, they do not live long.  My sister lives in Tampa, FL and she sees wild chickens all the time.  They live like any other normal wild bird, and are happy and free. Many farmed animals would be able to do the same if given the opportunity.

The last thing I’d say on this issue is that sometimes people say that these animals wouldn’t even exist if we didn’t breed them and eat them, and isn’t it better to have existed just for a little while than to never be born at all?  To that I’d like to say a BIG FAT NO.  If an animal never existed, s/he would never know s/he never existed, but when an animal lives in pain and fear every day of his/her short life, and then is brutally slaughtered at the hands of humans, s/he knows it.  That’s no way to live.  So, do I want pigs, cows, and chickens to exist?  Of course I do – but I want their existences to be ones of joy and comfort. And I don’t want them to die just because humans like the way they taste!

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* Someone actually told me that animals would “serve no purpose” if humans didn’t use them for food, clothing, etc. I did not do a very good job of hiding my shock.

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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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Earlier this week  a Connecticut woman was attacked by a 200 pound chimpanzee named Travis who had been kept as a pet for 14 years.  The woman was friends with the chimp’s “owner”, and was called to help coax him back indoors after he escaped using a key to unlock the front door.  Sandra Herold, the woman who kept Travis, seemed surprised by this attack on her friend because “He could eat at the table, drink wine from a stemmed glass, use the toilet, and dress and bathe himself.  He brushed his teeth with a Water Pik, logged on to a computer to look at photos and channel-surfed television with the remote control.”  The thing is, those abilities make him very intelligent, but they still do not make him a domesticated pet.  Travis, like all other chimps, no matter how many amazing “human-like” behaviors they exhibit, are still wild animals who do not belong to anybody else, and who will undoubtedly revert back to their instincts eventually.  In addition, chimpanzees have about 5 times the strength of a human male, so if and when they attack, it is going to be brutal – as it was for Herold’s friend, Charla Nash, who is still in critical condition in the hospital.

During the attack, Herold called police, and pleaded with them to help her friend.  In the end, police shot Travis, killing him instantly.  Now, of course I feel awful that Ms. Nash was   attacked so brutally….but it also makes me extremely angry that this poor chimpanzee was killed simply for being a chimpanzee.  Sandra Herold’s ignorance about what Travis needed – i.e. to not be kept as a prisoner, basically – led to this attack, and I blame her, not Travis, for her friend’s injuries.  What’s more is that the state of Connecticut (and the US as a whole) needs to take some of the responsibility for this.  Herold was legally issued a permit to keep Travis as a pet.   I am hopeful that animal advocates will rise to the call and try to make some legislative changes, as one has already begun to do:

A chimpanzee is not a domestic pet,” said Pricilla Feral, president of the international animal advocacy group Friends of Animals, based in Darien. “Keeping an animal like that as a pet and force-training it goes against all of its natural instincts. For an attack like this to happen should be expected.”

Feral said she was appalled to hear the state issues permits to homeowners for primates such as chimpanzees. In the wake of Monday’s incident, Feral is calling on the state to adopt new legislation that would make primate pet ownership illegal. She is also requesting that existing permits for primates be exposed and revoked.

“The state has no business issuing permits to people to keep these animals as pets,” said Feral. “The fact that Stamford allowed this to occur in its own backyard is astonishing.”

I couldn’t agree more.

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All too often even the most egregious cases of animal abuse go without any substantial punishment. This seems even more true when the victim is a “food” animal.  However, I saw some good news today that gives me some hope that times may be changing (slowly, but changing nonetheless).

Around Thanksgiving last year, People for the Ethical Treatement of Animals (PETA) released undercover video footage of Aviagen Turkeys Inc. slaughterhouse employees abusing live turkeys.   I am happy to report that last week three of those workers were indicted on  19 counts of animal abuse, 11 of them felony charges that could carry significant jail time.  According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “Each felony charge is punishable by up to five years in jail and up to a $5,000 fine. The misdemeanor charges carry possible sentences of six months and up to $2,000 in fines.”  These punishments are unusually harsh in a farm animal abuse case, but given the severity of the abuse, I think they are totally appropriate.  Until people like this are held accountable for their actions and severe punishments are the norm, the abuse will continue.  Companies engaged in any kind of animal production or handling need to make it painfully clear that this kind of behavior will not be tolerated and our legal system  needs to punish people accordingly when such cases do arise.  I am glad that in this case it seems that the courts are taking this abuse seriously.

I met a few turkeys when I visited Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen.  Having heard my whole life how stupid turkeys are, I was surprised to see that they’re actually quite bright animals, and that they, like pigs, cows, dogs, and other animals, have rich emotional lives.  They are sweet, kind animals, and I am so happy I got to meet some of them. It reinforced even more why I choose not to eat them.  Look at how beautiful they are!

Turkey being petp5094349p5094317

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