What is veganism?

Thanks to my vegan agent, Lynn Pauly, the co-director of Alliance for Animals, I’ve given two talks on veganism over the past month. Of course, I talk about veganism non-stop, so it wasn’t hard to find material for the talks. It is great practice for my future advocacy to give these formal presentations, but the most valuable part was that organizing this information into a powerpoint and speech gave me an opportunity to clarify and question my understanding of veganism.

Until the first talk, I had never looked up a definition of veganism. I’d never really felt the need. And given how much we (advocates) talk about veganism, I’m amazed that so many of the vegan advocates I read have just created an individual definition based on their own views, or a generic definition based on dietary restrictions. Has it occurred the vegan world that we may not all be selling the same thing?

Of course it has, in (seemingly minor) matters like whether veganism excludes honey. And there are many people concerned with, the divorce of “dietary veganism” (eating plant foods) from the philosophical ideals underlying “veganism.” But aside from that, the vegan world was not as concerned as I was.

So, in preparation for my first presentation, I went to (where else?) the wikipedia page on veganism to find a definition. The definitive sources cited were the Vegan Society and American Vegan Society. This is from the Vegan Society articles of association:

In this Memorandum the word "veganism" denotes a philosophy and way of living
which seeks to exclude — as far as is possible and practicable— all forms of
exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and
by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for
the benefit of humans, animals and the environment.
In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived
wholly or partly from animals.

The American Vegan Society definition is here. It is significantly longer, but I suppose it can be summed up with this sentence:

Veganism is compassion in action. It is a philosophy, diet, and lifestyle.

Beautiful. I have no problem with that. I fully endorse that. But I find both definitions of veganism (the full AVS version, not just that snippet) unsatisfactory. Before I explain why, let me detail the research with my other talk.

So, with my other talk, I was supposed to talk about the vegan movement objectively – especially sharing any issues I saw. The class for which I was a guest speaker was called “Contemporary Food Movements,” and looked at slow food (local and organic, esp.) and sustainable agriculture from a sociological perspective. One of the articles the students read viewed the vegetarian movement in terms of the unity or disunity of three things: its accepted beliefs (e.g. animal suffering should be prevented), specific aims (e.g. promote a plant based diet), and organizational methods (e.g. pamphleting). Using this model, I drew a picture that I was super proud of – The Tree of Veganism. (If I remember, I’ll upload it so you can marvel at my fabulous drawing skills, but the content is kind of moot, as you will see.) My issue with the sociological model is that there was no mention given to the origin of the movement – the roots in my tree. At that point, I thought veganism started as an animal rights movement. But, since I was giving this information to a formal audience, I figured I should do some research. So I read the full transcript of the famous Donald Watson interview, since who could tell me more about the roots of veganism than the “father of veganism” himself?

What I found was not what I expected. I think what best sums up my findings is Watson’s extraordinarily simple quote:

“And, quite early in life, I came to the conclusion that, if I was to report on Man’s progress, I had to settle for the comment beloved of schoolteachers: ‘Could do better.’ And from that, The Vegan Society was formed.”

Side note: Donald Watson is an extraordinary individual, and the full transcript is well worth reading. (How many nonagenarians have you met who have NEVER used medicine and commuted everywhere on a bike until the age of 50? He’s a mensch.) However, I realize that not everyone has the luxury of devoting 90% of their day to learning about veganism the way I do right now, so I’d be happy to post my favorite bits in another post. Also, if you’re a vegan history geek like me, you should read the first issue of The Vegan News

Here is what I concluded from that interview: Watson’s v eganism was not obviously founded in the idea of animal rights, or even in the idea of animal welfare. It was founded in the idea that the way we were living was fundamentally flawed and could, and should, be improved. Throughout the interview, Watson mentions health, animal suffering, moral right, the scientific evidence for a vegan diet, and notions of “natural” and “pure” – all ideas connected with modern vegan advocacy. There are notable absences in his interview: animal exploitation in any realm other than food, environment, human welfare, the taste of vegan food, et al. But the range of what he says is so broad that it’s hard to conclude that veganism was an idea born solely out of preventing animal cruelty.

So let me combine these two discoveries for you. 1. Veganism does not have a definitive definition. 2. Veganism is not definitively associated with any ideology or philosophical movement; it is an ambiguous call to a morally evolved way of life.

Okay, so I had just discovered I didn’t actually know what veganism meant, now, or when it first started, and I was slated to give two talks on veganism. Excellent timing. I just used the vegan society definition for the first talk, and for the second talk, the kids already knew quite a bit about veganism. But the issue has continued to bug me. As a vegan advocate, I’d kind of like to know what I’m advocating for. And though I found a number of definitions of veganism, ranging from practical to poetic, there is just not a consensus on exactly what is included.

So, following in the footprints of my vegan idols, here is my personal definition of veganism. A visual representation is available at the top fo the teach humane website: the interconnection of animal protection, environmental ethics, and human rights. The actual language used (protection, rights, etc.) is debatable, but the core concept is that my veganism cares about non-human AND human animals AND the environment. It makes perfect sense: humans are animals as well, and protecting the environment is in the best interests of human and non human animals.

The rammifications of that are important. I believe that feminism is a vegan issue; I believe that racial and class equality movements, prison reform, LGBTQ rights, human trafficking, and human health are vegan issues. Similarly, habitat destruction, water and air pollution, deforestation, and overuse of pesticides are vegan issues. In my limited research, this intersectionality has never been renounced, but it has never been overtly accepted as part of the vegan manifesto. The closest thing I’ve seen is ecofeminism (see, my name!), but I find the term problematic because it privileges feminism over any other human injustice.

The future of veganism is accepting these issues as part of our cause and working with environment and human rights groups on their issues and on issues that intersect with animal rights. Let’s work with environmental groups to plant community gardens! Let’s work with human rights groups to fix worker conditions at slaughterhouses, factory farms, and other areas of industrial agriculture. Let’s work with both environmental and human rights groups to come up with a vegan alternative to leather, the producing of which endangers the health of numerous employees in poor countries and releases harmful chemicals into the environment.

There are two motivations behind the incorporation of human rights and environmental action into the name of veganism. The first, as I mentioned, is that if you care about animals, you care about human animals and the environment. It’s logical. The second is best expressed by Mercy For Animals’ banner that they carry in the Chicago Gay Pride Parade “No one is free when others are oppressed.” Their cause is our cause, and our cause is theirs.

So what is this new veganism? It means partnering with other social justice groups, expanding our message, and including human health (individual health and wellbeing) and exploitation of consumers as ethical motivations. This does not mean that animal rights groups have to spend their limited funds on human rights initiatives, or the other way around. It just means that veganism is our meeting place, our common ground. It’s less a clarification for special interest groups than it is for vegans and and vegan advocates. For those advocates who came to veganism through a different social justice issue (as I did, with child slavery), it is a beautiful relief that human and environmental issues are vegan issues too. (What this really means is that I can post feminist articles on my vegan twitter and not feel guilty about them having nothing to do with veganism!)

I spent quite a long time this morning working on a new, comprehensive definition of veganism. I did not succeed. Did not get even close. But, just as the research for my talks made me start to refine my beliefs of what veganism does and should stand for, maybe my attempt will help you with yours. So here is my clumsily worded new definition of the principle of veganism – drawing on the main parts of the VS and AVS definitions, my own opinion (veganism=love!), and my limited experience with vegans and the vegan literature.

Veganism is: an individual commitment to conscious consumption within one’s abilities and means with the intent of one’s money going towards practices in accordance with one’s principles, rather than blindly subsidizing exploitation of, and violence towards, sentient creatures and the environment. This commitment is often paired with a reverence for life, a belief that a world of non-violence, non-oppression, compassion, and ahimsa is achievable, that one person can make a difference, and an understanding that, to create that world, we must seek to become aware of the exploitation and violence in our way of life and way of thinking, share our ideals and knowledge, and strive to be an example to others of the beauty and ease of compassionate living.

Dietary veganism – the consumption of plant based foods, especially those fairly traded, locally grown, and sustainably produced – is a main focus of veganism, and is often confused with veganism itself in the mainstream media.

As you can see, at no point did I say “not buying anything containing animal ingredients or tested on animals.” This could never really be a definition of veganism without clarification of specifics. But it’s a different definition than I’ve seen before, and it covers a couple of things that (again, in my limited research) have been lacking: 1. Equal and overt inclusion of animal, human, and environmental issues; 2. Reconciliation of veganism as an individual choice and the desire for a vegan world; 3. The inclusion of a reverence for life; 4. Recognition that living an admirable life while being vegan is a form of activism; 5. Acknowledgement that our primary power in changing the world is in changing our spending habits and trying to get others to change theirs.

Problems with the definition: 1. Lack of specifics due to inclusion of all social justice issues. To what degree can you mandate not buying products that exploit humans, or that damage the environment? And if you say that veganism is absolutely no animal products, but that you can still be vegan and buy vegetables picked by migrant workers (as I almost certainly do, during the winter when there are no farmers’ markets), then isn’t that privileging one cause over another? Perhaps we can consider all social justice issues vegan issues, but not all part of veganism? Or that animal rights is primary and other causes are secondary? I don’t know, and it’s a serious problem that must be worked out if my new form of veganism can exist. 2. Not a clear philosophical or moral motivation. In the VS definition, veganism is a philosophy fundamentally opposed to exploitation and cruelty. That doesn’t come across as well here. 3. Language choices. Why “violence” over “cruelty” or “compassion” over “kindness?” No good reason, just because they were the words that best describe my personal philosophy.

Anyways, something for the three or four (mostly vegan) people who read this blog to consider. Keep in mind that I did not comprehensively search for a definition of veganism before crafting mine, I really just looked at the most obvious and official definitions. Please post any other definitions that speak to you, suggest ways to improve mine, and let me know what you think of my new paradigm of veganism.

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Activism and the internet

I joined twitter yesterday. I thought I’d hate it, but actually I love it – what a wonderful way to share a ton of links quickly and easily! Between twitter, facebook, wordpress, and my new tumblr, I have a lot of activist tools at my disposal.

But last night, I ran into a problem that I’ve had again and again – reading something online (this and this), being overwhelmed with rage and sadness, deciding to comment, and then not knowing what to say. Commenting in a meaningful way on such an anti-animal rights piece is tricky. And preventing myself from commenting until I’d cooled down and taken a step back was even trickier – I started writing how it made me sick to read this article, how it was so frustrating to see a feminist dismiss another marginalized group, and loading the comment with facts and statistics about pitbulls. But I realized it does no good to send an angry comment, especially to someone who thinks in such a starkly different way.

So I took a step back. And I called on that timeless core of activism – seek to understand, rather than to be understood. And so I started to think about it from her point of view. Sure, she cited mostly individual stories about pitbull attacks as her resource for pitbulls being violent, but she must have just started searching “pitbull attacks” and seen story after story in the same vein. One story certainly isn’t enough to justify the logic that pitbulls are violent, but if I were to see a pattern of story after story, then I would distrust professional statistics about pitbull temperament as well.

That, I think is the first difference in our approach to the issue. She holds personal testimony as paramount, where I would rely largely on statistics. But here is where I have to quibble – she only holds personal testimony paramount when it serves her case. She says multiple times things in this vein:

Advocates are so desperate to prove it to you and me that they do things like flood youtube with videos of their pit bulls being friendly with their kids, titling them things like “pit bull attacks child” or “vicious pit bull” so that it is difficult to find videos about actual attacks that occurred.

(emphasis mine)

I’m not actually sure what “it” refers to there, but I gather she’s talking about how pitbulls are a worthy cause and/or the kind temperament of pitbulls. She disregards individual accounts of kind pitbulls, even multiple accounts, but bases her argument around individual accounts of violent pitbulls.

She does use some statistical sources. One links to the Injury Prevention journal, but it’s not that useful of a source – the site talks about dog bites being a problem, but doesn’t list breeds. The site also says:

Controlled investigations of further risk and protective factors, and validated methods of breed identification, are needed.

(emphasis mine)

This seems to match what was said on the pitbull advocacy page I linked to before:

Rarely do the writers perform actual research. One obvious question they could investigate: Was the dog actually a Pit Bull? It’s impossible to determine breed by appearance alone. And given that the CDC non-fatal bite statistics come from counting newspaper reports of attacks claiming it was a “pit-bull type” dog, there are bound to be gross inaccuracies.

No DNA tests were ever done, which are required to determine breed.

(emphasis mine)

She also links to this and this – medical reports of dog bites which do list breeds. They’re pretty damning evidence for pitbulls, but only if you trust that the dog breed was reported correctly. If I saw a ton of personal accounts about violent pitbulls and then saw that a link like that one corroborated it, I would disregard what it said about “impossible to determine breed by appearance alone,” as propaganda. I get that. But at the bottom of the second link, it says this:

Although fatal attacks on humans appear to be a breed-specific problem (pit bull-type dogs and Rottweilers), other breeds may bite and cause fatalities at higher rates. Because of difficulties inherent in determining a dog’s breed with certainty, enforcement of breed-specific ordinances raises constitutional and practical issues. Fatal attacks represent a small proportion of dog bite injuries to humans and, therefore, should not be the primary factor driving public policy concerning dangerous dogs. Many practical alternatives to breed-specific ordinances exist and hold promise for prevention of dog bites.

(emphasis mine)

She also links to this study from Animal People (I guess it’s a magazine? Never heard of it). The statistics are troubling, but again, only if you assume that all the dogs are identified correctly.

Compiled by the editor of ANIMAL PEOPLE from press accounts since 1982,  this table covers only attacks by dogs of clearly identified breed type or ancestry,  as designated by animal control officers or others with evident expertise,  who have been kept as pets.

(emphasis mine)

I would be wary of using media accounts as a source. And so is this author, but she must not have looked at the source of these statistics:

I agree, but the figures are supported by other studies which use non-media based methods of gathering data for both serious maulings and fatal attacks.

the “other” link is to that study I just cited. And her links in this sentence:

These dogs kill animals much larger than they are, including many horsesand cows.

are from pretty biased sources. Warning, the “and cows” link is really graphic. I would trust information on those as much as she would trust information from the link I looked at, pitbulls.org. The rest of the links in that paragraph are from dogsbite.org. Towards the end of the article, she links to something disproving the idea the pitbulls are “nanny dogs.” I’ve never heard this before, so I have no comment. In the final paragraph, she links to a couple of threads where pro-pitbull people don’t express any concern for the victim, and are more focused on proving it wasn’t a pitbull. I could only link to two of the three. Those two are web forums specifically aimed at pitbull lovers. Not that shocking that people commenting were anxious to disprove it was a pitbull in the attack. It is absolutely so sad that these people failed to mention any regard for the victim. As me, I understand that when you’re so deeply immersed in an issue regarding the suffering of one (pro-pitbull groups), you can forget to acknowledge the suffering of others (dog bite victims). That is single issue activism and it is my LEAST favorite thing in the world. But if I had come from a research session of reading accounts of multiple pitbull attacks, seeing statistics that proved pitbulls were dangerous and trusting those statistics as valid, and then saw these comment threads, I would be furious at pro-pitbull groups.

And that combination of stories, statistics, and actions of pro-pitbull groups is what I think could lead me to make the argument that pro-pitbull groups are prioritizing a dog breed over protecting human lives. That’s really what this post is about. If I were to believe that pitbulls are dangerous and to believe that pro-pitbull groups don’t care about human health and safety, it is logical to draw that conclusion. Again, as myself, I find any argument that people don’t care about other peoples’ health and safety suspicious, because we care about people more than we care about anything else. I assume that the pro-pitbull groups have family and friends whose health and safety concerns them.

I’ve never heard of this site before. I was linked to it through another blogger’s shared items through google reader. I don’t know how many people will see this blog. I don’t know how many people will be swayed by what it says. But in a larger picture view, there are probably hundreds of blogs out there with similar anti-animal rights sentiment. And because I read many things that don’t fall under the most obvious description of veganism (Really, race, class, and gender inequality are issues that vegans should care about as well – humans are animals, too), I’m sure to come across things like this again and again. If I were having a conversation with someone who expressed this view, I would ask questions. I would ask her to explain why she feels this way.

In other words, I would seek to understand. But on the internet, I can’t ask questions. I can only comment. I can only seek to be understood. And when I tried to put myself in her shoes, that me was so convinced I was right that nothing anyone told me would have made a difference. So where can you go from there?

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Five things on my mind

In backwards order:

5. Secretly non-vegan items. I just read today that cigarettes might not be vegan. I don’t smoke, but it’s just another example of how much our society depends on animal exploitation. I remember how amazed I was when I found out about some alcohol not being vegan, tattoo ink, jewelry, ivory soap, and until recently, Lipton iced tea. Anything else that readers want to bring to my attention?

4. Vegan at heart. Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard this line: “Oh, I care about animals, but I could never go vegan.” Each time I hear it, I calmly remind myself that ethical living is a journey and everyone is at a different place in that journey – but, I mean, I’ve been vegan for five years, and there are very, very few people that I actually believe “could never” do it. Do you have a soy allergy? A gluten allergy? I eat soy products infrequently and recently haven’t eaten any gluten. Are you allergic to all plants? Okay, that might be a problem. What? No allergies at all? You just like the taste of animal products too much? …

Fortunately, I have a new plan of action. I signed up for this 30 day email coaching program, vegan at heart. Every day, you get a 5 – 10 minute task that shows you how easy being vegan is. I’m only a few days into the program, but here are the tasks I’ve been assigned so far:

1. Make a shopping list. 2. Read sample vegan menus. 3. Drink water and take your vitamins. 4. Read about vegan convenience foods. 5. Add vegan “dairy” and “meat” products to your shopping list. 6. Read about vegan options at restaurants that serve international fare. 7. Get rid of seven food items that you don’t need or use.

At first it was difficult to see the forest for the trees (make a shopping list? drink water?), but by my sixth mission, I was a convert. Okay, I’m vegan, so not the most reliable voice speaking, but try it for yourself. No other article or starter guide or blog post I’ve found on the internet has made veganism so straightforward and achievable. So the next time you talk to someone who has the will to be vegan, direct them to vegan at heart, and hopefully it will show them the way.

3. Vegan diets for companion animals. I’ve recently talked to quite a few people with vegan dogs who are thriving on their new diet. And my non vegan friend who is majoring in vet sci corroborated what they said – a vegan diet is great for dogs. Well, a lot of dog food has corn and other grains as the bulk of its content. And you know that conventional dog food tests, right? Anyways, aside from a few foods that dogs can’t eat (mushrooms, onions, garlic, macadamia nuts, etc.) they seem like they’d be fine with a vegan diet. I don’t know as much about vegan cats. The tension gets high when you talk about veganizing “obligate carnivores.” My brother and his girlfriend have their cat on a vegan diet, and she seems fine. Thoughts?

2. Republican majority. I’ve voted in every election since I was of legal age, but I never really believed that it made a difference who was elected. Well, it’s only February, and already I stand corrected. In the past two weeks, they’ve trotted out H.R. 3, The Protect Life Act, and the Georgia bill to call rape victims rape “accusers.” I’ve never felt my reproductive rights so much in jeopardy. I also got some alert today about how they’re potentially zeroing out funding for PBS and NPR. Hopefully it’s a lot of threats that won’t go through, but boy, will I be a much stronger campaigner for democratic candidates in the next election.

1. Do no evil, see no evil. I’ve never seen Earthlings. I’ve never seen Meet Your Meat. I’ve never watched the MFA Conklin Dairies footage; I’ve never seen behind the scenes circus footage; I’ve never even seen The Cove. Should I? My argument has been that the people who should watch that footage are the ones financially supporting such atrocity – in other words, non-vegans. But I recently talked to an animal rights activist who makes herself sit through those kinds of videos. “I can’t watch for long and I always end up crying, but it just makes me more motivated to get my activism in gear.” To compound that motivation, I was reading a vegan.com post today that said “Animal advocates should recognize that every animal who ends up in the slaughterhouse represents a failure on our part.”

If I watched those videos and I woke up every day thinking that the death of billions of animals was my fault, I would certainly feel motivated. But I would also get severely depressed. I always believed that there are people who can watch those sorts of movies without falling apart, and there are people like me. I read about what happens in those videos – terrible things that make me cry – but I’ve never watched them. Not only would I never be able to get the images out of my head, but I fear becoming hardened to depictions of such violence. But maybe I’m just making up the kind of excuses that I hate to hear from anyone else. MFA has a new twelve minute video called Farm to Fridge. I’ll make you a deal – if you watch it, then I’ll watch it. Or, at least, I’ll do my best.

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December 10th is Human Rights Day

A day to reflect on how fragile and unevenly distributed the rights that we take for granted really are.

I’d never read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights before. I don’t think I’d even heard of it. And after I read it, I was unsure of what it really meant. So I watched “The Story of Human Rights” at youthforhumanrights.org. The movie has three segments. The first part shows how little the average person knows about their rights. The second is a quick history of the origin of human rights. I don’t know how accurate it is, and it’s directed at children, so it probably simplifies a lot, but it was fun to watch. The third section explains what the UDHR really is – a piece of paper. It has no power. So people are the ones who have to protect the rights of other people – not the law. It was really sobering to watch that segment.

After that, I watched all 30 of the PSAs – one for each human right listed. They are each a minute or less, but some are better done than others. I would recommend these ones first:

#4 no slavery (this was chilling, trigger warning)
#6 universal rights (very powerful, trigger warning)
#8 protected by law
#11 innocent until proven guilty (really well done. brings in a racial aspect.)
#14 right to asylum (sad)
#19 freedom of expression (beautiful)
#21 right to democracy (cute)
#22 social security (I guess I never knew what social security was until I watched this)
#25 food and shelter for all (this is ridiculously good)
#26 the right to education (beautiful)
#28 fair and free world (a little girl says a rhyme about the kind of world she imagines. it just pulls at the heartstrings)
#29 responsibility (more children, more pulling at heartstrings)

I also watched videos on rights I’d never even thought about: a right to play, a right to democracy, copyright, freedom to move, right to ownership.

In honor of human rights day, I’m making donations to iabolish and vday. Iabolish is the anti-slavery organization that first showed me modern slavery exists. It is because of them that I ever became interested in human rights, and through that, animal rights. Vday calls itself “A global organization to end violence against women and girls.” Donations go towards “City of Joy,” an oasis for sexual assault survivors that they are building in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo. If you don’t know about the gender violence occurring in the DRC, you should watch this interview with activist Christine Deschryver. Serious trigger warning.

If you can’t donate (to these or other human rights charities), consider not eating meat for a day. Human Rights Watch calls slaughterhouse work the most dangerous work in the US.

Feel free to comment and say what you did this human rights day.

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12/10 Armchair activism

Here are some online petitions! All you have to do is fill out your name and email (and address for a few of them, but that’s kept confidential). If you have a change.org login, it automatically fills out all your personal information. Couldn’t be any easier.

Justice for dogs neglected at Ohio dog pound

Stop the New Jersey Bear Hunt

Stop Iceland Whale Slaughter

Sea Otter Recovery Research

Prevent next oil disaster

Pass the primate safety act

Update child nutrition standards (the standards used are from 1966)

Help children with learning disabilities

Switch McDonald’s to cage free eggs

Ask Nordstrom’s to stop selling fur

Tell Israel to stop using battery cages

Tell New Jersey to make it a crime to commit animal cruelty in front of kids (it isn’t already?)

Ban wildlife pens in Indiana (a form of canned hunting)

Protest anti-wolf legislation (for the millionth time)

Don’t let US tax dollars fund child sex slavery in Afghanistan (disgusting)

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I never thought I would side with Sarah Palin on anything

Apparently, Sarah Palin shot a caribou on her show, and now everybody is outraged. There is reason for outrage, of course, against any act of violence towards animals. And it’s reassuring to know that people do, sometimes, care about animals other than their own dog or cat. There is also reason to be outraged that the caribou was killed as a tactical move – to raise ratings, get the show more noticed, and of course, as campaigning for 2012, which as Jezebel points out, is pretty much the reason for the show’s existence.

But here is the thing to get most outraged about: Sarah Palin actually has something she can hold over the American public. Here is Palin’s tweet:

“Unless you’ve never worn leather shoes, sat upon a leather couch or eaten a piece of meat, save your condemnation of tonight’s episode. I remain proudly intolerant of anti-hunting hypocrisy. :)”

She’s right. Factory farming is, by far, the most systematic and widest reaching animal cruelty in our world right now. (Actually, it’s possible that if you combined scientific animal testing and cosmetic animal testing, the numbers would be pretty close.) If you eat factory farmed meat, you don’t have much of an ethical leg to stand on when it comes to any other animal rights (or welfare) issue. Matthew Scully explores that point at great length in his book, Dominion. So, what animal rights pioneer of our time has responded to Palin’s statement?

…Aaron Sorkin? The guy who wrote The Social Network? Really?

Anyways, Sorkin writes,

Like 95% of the people I know, I don’t have a visceral (look it up) problem eating meat or wearing a belt. But like absolutely everybody I know, I don’t relish the idea of torturing animals. I don’t enjoy the fact that they’re dead and I certainly don’t want to volunteer to be the one to kill them and if I were picked to be the one to kill them in some kind of Lottery-from-Hell, I wouldn’t do a little dance of joy while I was slicing the animal apart.

This is pretty incensing stuff, but I’ll try to analyze the response with a minimum of cattiness.

1. He begins his argument with ‘everybody else does it.’ (“Like 95% of people I know”)

2. If that “look it up” is directed at me and not Sarah Palin, I’m kind of offended. Regardless, does he not see the awful irony in describing his response as “visceral,” given that the etymological origin of viscera is a Latin word meaning “entrails?” That’s just bad taste.

3. Use of the word “relish,” instead of “agree with” or some other ethical/moral response. To me, that says ‘It makes me sick to think about hurting animals, but it doesn’t make me sick to think about eating meat, so that makes it okay.’ Although, in his (sort of) defense, he may have been too busy being angry to really think about his word choice, in which case, points 2 and 3 are void.

4. What exactly constitutes “torturing animals?” Any pain inflicted? Any pain inflicted for hedonistic purposes? Any pain inflicted for hedonistic purposes rather than to create a product for consumption? I seriously have no idea what he’s talking about. Is he naive enough to think that his meat and leather come from animals who haven’t suffered in some way? Or is he privileging the suffering of the animals who are his dinner over the suffering of the caribou who is Sarah Palin’s dinner, and making an arbitrary distinction that one is justified? Is it the idea of having one on tv while one is behind closed doors?

5. Alternatively, it is totally possible that he just is not aware that they planned on eating the moose. He may think that it was just a joy kill. If that is the case, the first two sentences of this quote would still be totally reprehensible, but the last part would make more sense.

There is reason to worry about something like this being on tv. If Palin’s popularity rises, the popularity of hunting could potentially rise. The most recent statistic I read is that 5% of Americans consider themselves hunters. (I’m fairly certain that those 5% are spread out between northern Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.) If those numbers continue to decrease, it is possible that hunting may become the exception rather than the rule in a few generations. If Palin ushers in a new era of hunting vogue, that would be awful. (Unless the hunting was for meat, and intended to be as painless as possible, and replaced factory farming. Then it would be okay.)

I don’t need meat to survive, and I believe that is the case for many people. So it’s not that I laud Sarah Palin for killing a caribou. It’s just that at least she acknowledges the violence involved in eating animals. My aunt once told that she just pretends that the meat she buys in the grocery store comes from the meat fairy. Palin doesn’t pretend. Furthermore, she recognizes connections in our exploitation of animals: factory farmed meat and wearing leather are not that separate from hunting. Finally, she doesn’t make arbitrary distinctions about one that is right and one that is wrong.

Here is what I take away from this debacle: If Sarah Palin can recognize the hypocrisy that is our treatment of non-human animals, then what excuse does the rest of America have?

Related: PETA’s response, NY Daily News

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Farewell for now, Powered by Produce

One of my favorite bloggers (Angie, from Powered by Produce) just signed off, and I was so touched by her farewell message. I included the most moving parts below. Read the message in its entirety here.

* * *

I recently heard (though I can’t for the life of me remember where… maybe it was just a voice inside my head?):

“You don’t choose the cause. The cause chooses you. You have a purpose.”

I like to imagine that this is what happened to me. That it was fate which led me to that book that day. That the cause chose me because I had something to offer, some way of bringing this darkness into light, some chance at actually making a difference that matters.

And I tried. I really tried.

But I’m tired now.

I can only tell people so many times that they are eating cancer-causing, artery-clogging, environmentally-destructive, tortured, abused, mutilated, drug-filled, mass-produced, painfully-slaughtered, fellow creatures, then watch them continue to stuff their faces with it, before becoming emotionally and mentally exhausted.

It is difficult for me to describe in words (though some screams or tears might help), the immense frustration and sadness I feel from knowing, without a doubt, that the way we treat these animals is wrong, then watching those I know and love continue to support this heinous system.

I do realize that, sometimes, people don’t know the extent of the abuse, and I’d love to inform each and every single person. But to my extreme bewilderment and dismay, I’ve found that even when people become informed about what is happening, they still support it.

And I simply can not wrap my feeble little mind around this.

How can people knowingly pay for tortured animals? How can people who claim to be animal lovers not see how they are directly fueling some of the worst animal abuse imaginable? How can those who claim to care about the environment support an industry creating more greenhouse gasses than the entire transportation industry combined? How can people say they want to lose weight, lower their cholesterol, lower their blood pressure, and reduce their risk of cancer, then shove their mouths full of the ONLY THING that has cholesterol, the ONLY source of saturated fat, the thing that the American Institute for Cancer Research advises against in SIX OUT OF EIGHT of their tips to reduce your risk of cancer?


Not only is my sense of helplessness growing exponentially, but the toxic information overload is eating away at my soul (how many times can I read about humans intentionally shoving sharp objects up animals’ rectums before becoming completely jaded), and my trust in humanity is quickly fading.

So I sign off today not knowing where this blog will head. No, it’s not over, but until I find a renewed sense of faith in people to respond to cruelty and destruction by not supporting it, I can’t continue to pour out my bleeding heart day after day only to have it crushed again and again… it’s just too overwhelming.

* * *

In her honor, I just purchased “Slaughterhouse” by Gail Eisnitz – the book that turned her vegetarian. The book contains first hand accounts of slaughterhouse workers, so I’m expecting really gruesome and depressing descriptions that would turn me veg (if I weren’t already). Will let you know my thoughts once I start reading it.

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