Straight Talk: Why Horse Slaughter Continues

Late December, for some people, is the perfect time for a carriage horse ride, or even for giving children Christmas ponies

Meanwhile, the unthinkable continues.

Whenever the U.S. agriculture department drops its horse slaughter oversight role, live horses are shipped off to die in Mexico or Canada. Charities suggest that enough donations and clicks and letters could eventually be effective. As though the practice really could be turned off like a faucet by humane and enlightened laws.

The op-ed or donation request frames the argument against horse slaughter as an affront to our equine companions. Horses, the campaigner says, deserve better treatment, given their service to humankind. We’re so used to being served, that the question of whether horses could consent to carrying us isn’t asked. 

I Rode. I Regret It.

As a young person, I rode horses. I even helped to train horses for events. For the most part, I enjoyed these activities. My mother thought I might become a jockey. “See, there’s a reason you’re short!”

I had twinges. I saw horses maltreated. It troubled me deeply; but my own, more caring handling of horses seemed OK. Surely, mine was the norm.

I did witness horses being broken, and it scared me, but I only saw one person do it, and I thought that one person was an aberration, too. Breaking didn’t have to mean bullying, I thought. 

The Week I Became Vegan, I Reassessed Horseback Riding. 

It was a long week. I understood myself in a whole new light. By the week’s end, I’d resolved to never, ever handle horses again.

The transformation of horses into vehicles of war, objects of commerce and sport, playthings and police tools, has made them available for slaughter. A bettor’s excitement leads hundreds of horses to death on the tracks each year. And the racing industry funds research on horses in order to investigate potential speeds…and injury recovery. 

The plight of ex-racing horses, and any owned horses who pass their primes (or the primes of their owners’ attention spans), is all too often a chain of sale, resale or donation, neglect, and the ultimate handover to the killer buyer.

But no one campaigns against riders and trainers. No humane charity wants to trouble the conscience of the donor on horseback. It took a vegan epiphany for me to trouble my own.

What Ever Happened to Those Horses I Rode? 

I doubt any died of old age under the gentle care of a sanctuary. Out of the 9-million-plus horses in the United States, how many do? So, was my conduct any less “barbaric” than that of an Italian diner who orders horseflesh from the menu? 

The young Charles Darwin observed: “Animals, whom we have made our slaves, we do not like to consider our equal.”* One way we justify enslavement is through the “humane” perspective. Caring and rescue keep us in control.

Don’t get me wrong; I support rescue groups. I appreciate anyone who helps animals with nowhere else to turn. But can we kindly acknowledge the dependent state that we put them in? Only a few, by luck, are scooped up by a decent, sympathetic human who has the means and the will to look after them. 

The point of advocacy can’t be to slather euphemistic language over human dominance. Nor to exclaim how much we love specific animals, ignoring the overall unfairness in training animals to live in our buildings and paddocks — for just as long as we say they may.

Once They Were Free.

Human beings selectively bred horses from free-living communities who lived in their own spaces. The banner image above shows Takh horses (Equus ferus przewalskii). Human hunting, farming, and war wiped the Takh out.

But one small group has been re-established in Mongolia’s Hustai National Park, an area where their ancestors co-evolved with wolves of the steppe. To defend themselves and to thrive, the Takh horses developed complex social patterns, which they have followed and perfected since the dawn of their being, and long before the dawn of ours.

*CHARLES DARWIN, METAPHYSICS, MATERIALISM, AND THE EVOLUTION OF MIND: EARLY WRITINGS OF CHARLES DARWIN 187 (1974, University of Chicago Press; from notes kept in and about 1838, transcribed and annotated by Paul H. Barrett; with a commentary by Howard E. Gruber).

BANNER ART CREDIT: Przewalski-Pferd, c.1920 (public domain), from The Wonderful Paleo Art of Heinrich Harder

Self-Love and Liberation

It’s the night of the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. Joe Biden just got vaccinated, and Britain is on the verge of increased lockdown measures because of a new Covid-19 variant discovered in London.

Vaccines will curb Covid-19, but they clearly can’t end it, as they do not address its root causes. And we face still more pervasive emergencies: 

  • New virus vectors, on account of the continued mass confinement of animals and a destabilized climate.
  • Summer wildfires, strong storms, flooding, sea level rise, loss of our own habitat and the habitat of other beings. 
  • Social unrest due to climate-driven migration.
  • Imbalances in biological communities, including extinctions. 

Vegans stepped up to avert these emergencies well before Covid-19. To be vegan is to reject the belief that other life on the surface of this planet is suitable for Homo sapiens to move or manipulate. Without systematic animal confinement, Covid wouldn’t exist.

To quote Kirsti and Vinnie of SelfLoveVegan, once we begin to love all sentient beings, we begin to love ourselves. Nothing less will spare us, and every other biological community on Earth, from an endless string of gradually or abruptly worsening emergencies.

Nothing less than love will do, and love means a transformation of our human identity. Instead of feeling entitled to control other life, we find ourselves compelled to respect it. In a profound sense, vegan advocacy might just be the most essential work in the human world.


Special solstice post inspired by patrons and supporters. Photo: Harold and Vinnie beside the SelfLoveVegan food truck at the 2018 American Vegan Society annual general meeting and garden party, by Lee.

A Feral Thanksgiving

This is the year we’re not supposed to gather for Thanksgiving. Of course, many of us revamped this celebration years ago. It was uncomfortable at the outset for those whose families glossed over a lot to create a show of togetherness. Then we became vegan, and the fetishistic rituals focused on giant bird bodies looked sadder and more grotesque every year.

Uttering our regrets came as a multi-layered relief, even if we felt vaguely guilty or guilted by relatives who clung to tradition.

We regained a sense of normality by meeting at vegan tables. And yet, for us too, there would be much more to acknowledge. What was the Thanksgiving message for the people dragged against their will to this continent? Or for those who lived here long before it became the “New World”?

Since 1970, Native Americans have gathered for a day of mourning every Thanksgiving at Plymouth Rock, recalling the Pequot people and their fate in the place now called Mystic, Connecticut. At the 1637 Pequot massacre, as many as 700 indigenous adults and kids were slain and their village burnt to the ground, clearing the land for European expansion. The Puritans outlawed the name Pequot, and began giving thanks annually for having so quickly exterminated the native community. We’ve got a walk-in closet full of skeletons here.

The Covid-19 stay-at-home guidance offers us time for a deep, collective breath — and for deep and collective regrets. 

Last Thanksgiving…

Colin Kaepernick spoke at the Indigenous People’s Sunrise Ceremony, in recognition of an Indigenous occupation of the former federal prison on Alcatraz Island. “Thank you to my Indigenous family,” Kaepernick said on Thanksgiving 2019. “I’m with you today and always.”

Kaepernick told Twitter followers that the U.S. has stolen 1.5 billion acres of Indigenous land.

It seems fitting to question the domestication of our historical memories into Thanksgiving. And maybe that’s harder to do as we decorate our doors and our tables in crimson and amber hues, and gather in kitchens to bake root vegetables and cashew roasts.

Maybe we need a long autumn weekend amidst the bare trees and chilly air to consider Plymouth Rock, to hear Colin Kaepernick’s words, to remember those who were never at the table, and to think about how, on such a busy planet, a human family would gather, and what it would say when it did.

Love and liberation,

Lee.

Happy World Vegan Day, Friends.

Much has changed in 2020. But what’s driving the virus crisis has been going on for ages: the animal use that causes zoonotic diseases. We can confidently and accurately say that a vegan humanity would never have known much of the pain we witnessed this year. Our resolve and our work continues. Love, strength, and best wishes on World Vegan Day and always.

Vegan Place

On this day, I’d like to return to a memory related to Vegan Society co-founder Donald Watson. How interesting to find that the most well-known founder of veganism knew, and said, that the movement would be essential to any future on Earth that includes humanity.

I think it’s also very interesting to learn, as I did from Patricia Fairey, that the name “vegan” was proposed for this movement not by Donald Watson, as we often hear, but by Dorothy Morgan Watson.

For some time after visiting Donald’s and Dorothy’s gravesites, I thought it would be a nice gesture if the vegan community could come together and order headstones, and I should work on that project. Yet I’m ever more keenly aware that I’m only here for a little while. And I can imagine Donald saying, “That’s a nice thought. But go out, speak, write for the vegan cause. The churchyard…

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Life Below Water

Humans like to achieve economic growth and the highest standard of living possible. And now we’ve pressed Earth’s biological systems beyond their safe limits. Aware of a dangerous conflict, the United Nations set forth 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

As a consultant (I contributed a chapter called “Nonhuman Rights and Human Sustainability”) for the Encyclopedia of UN Sustainability Goals, it occurred to me that all 17 Goals should be realigned to be compatible with, and informed by, the vegan ethic.

As you see here, the public conversation about Goal 14 – Life Below Water is mainly about how we should “support small fishers” and buy “sustainable seafood” to “conserve and sustainably use” the waters.

Life Below Water. This is the 14th focus of the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

A vegan humanity would stop talking about so-called sustainable seafood and simply get out of the water. Maybe we’d still harvest algae, but we’d put a halt to most of the looting and pillaging of the rivers, lakes, and seas.

Where do we start on the political scale? BAN SUBSIDIES.

The global fish catch has rapidly expanded in recent decades, supported by technology, commercial demand, and government subsidies. The fleets of Spain, South Korea and Japan can take catches throughout the Atlantic and tropical waters because the industry is so heavily subsidized. The Chinese bottom-trawling fleets would lack any viable existence without massive subsidies.

Sea turtles are trapped by the hundreds of thousands per year in shrimp nets, gill nets, and by longline hooks.  Photo credit: Jeremy Bishop, via Unsplash.

Where do we start on a community advocacy level? Asking people to commit to STOP EATING SEA ANIMALS.

This straightforward message should replace so-called sustainable seafood campaigns that so many nonprofit and for-profit groups push. From sea turtles to penguins, many non-target animals would be spared if humans would just…

Stop thinking of sea animals as food.

We also need to address the farming of sea animals, which is becoming a massive industry.

U.S. residents eat 100 billion+ fish and shellfish yearly.

  • Opt out, and people can individually spare more than 225 fishes each year — so many, because fish farming uses large number of sea animals as feed. 
  • Opt out, and we can individually spare more than 150 shrimp and other shellfish each year.

Fish farming is

the fastest growing

sector of agribusiness for the past 40 years.

Let’s turn this around.

As always, your input is welcome. This post is intended to offer blog readers a window into the ongoing Patreon studio project Veganizing the UN Sustainable Development Goals.


Big Oil’s Belated Conversion

And now, cheered on by the American Petroleum Institute, the Trump administration just signed its permission to let oil and gas developers despoil the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge—a biological wonderland, with its tundra bees and polar bears, black bears and grizzlies, Porcupine caribou and ancient musk oxen.

The Trump administration’s push to exploit the Arctic Refuge isn’t just obscene; it’s ludicrous. Who will be beating down the door to the Arctic? 

BP ditched Alaska in 2019 and is now selling off fossil fuel assets. The company is $41 billion in debt and now must spend much of what it has on its belated conversion to renewables.

Which brings up the bizarre scenario of BP becoming a world leader in green energy.

Read on, at CounterPunch.

A Chat With Green Vegan Grandma

Have some time to unwind? Listen to a conversation with Green Vegan Grandma Janine Bandcroft. The key topics in our conversation include: 

And so much more.

Janine calls our conversation `Animal Liberation — On Their Own Terms. Essential philosophy for a time of global zoonotic pandemic.` Works for me.

Vegan Food & Culture: Featuring Jesse Farrell

Hi, Jesse! Thank you so much for offering your thoughts and inspiration today. To start, what does being vegan mean?

It’s really simple, and somewhat boring: to not exploit animals in any way, or at least to give it your best shot. 

It’s not simply a diet, or a “food allergy” as it’s often categorized on menus and nutrition-info databases.

It’s also not easy: there are animal products in everything from tires to McDonald’s french fries. Seemingly unrelated things like commercial real-estate development can be construed as exploiting animals by depriving them of (or poisoning) part of their habitat. The needs of commerce and taxation for a strip mall, or for strip mining, for instance   can trump their existence.

When did you become a vegan?

In 2010, when I began cooking more of my meals, I fell back on vegetarian recipes. I’d been vegetarian on and off since I was 16. But I also had a couple of vegan cookbooks, dating back to when I was experimenting with a gluten-free, casein-free diet, though still an omnivore at the time. Becoming vegan was simply a matter of combining vegetarianism with GFCF. (I would later drop the gluten-free part.)

A few months later I began to understand that it wasn’t simply about food or diet; until then I only had a vague sense that veganism was good in some larger context.

You know the DC/Baltimore area, which many people come to at some point. So, would you have any local vegan businesses to recommend?

All food-related:

There are also lots of good vegan-friendly fast-casual places –  a particular favorite these days is Rice Bar – plus a couple of very vegan-friendly, regional natural-foods supermarket chains: Mom’s Organic Market and Roots Market (the owners of the latter also own Great Sage).

Beyond food, how have you changed by adopting a vegan perspective?

I have a better sense of the autonomy and sentience of animals. My previous experience of living with a dog with a very strong, colorful personality helped cement that. I’ve progressed beyond “animals should not be food or commodities” to “animals have lives, and that should be respected.”

Jesse, could you describe how veganism and culture intertwine, from your perspective? How does veganism fit in with human social and economic striving? 

Your veganism doesn’t exist in a vacuum; there’s a whole world out there, where you should be applying that same compassion you have for animals, who exist solely to become part of someone’s meal or clothing or entertainment, to human animals, near or far, like factory or garment workers halfway around the world (or just a stone’s-throw away), working under difficult conditions for wages you likely wouldn’t wish upon yourself. Your choices, as a consumer or voter, may help reinforce or (better) tear down the bad aspects of the status quo.

There’s no need to overlay some elaborate belief system. Just apply the Golden Rule to all creatures on the planet, and to the planet itself. As one of my heroes, Wavy Gravy, puts it: We are all the same person trying to shake hands with our self.

Amazon took over CreateSpace, a platform for indy authors, and folded it into Kindle Direct Publishing. And Patreon, which sustains independent creators, relies on Amazon’s AWS platform to guard creators against fraud. There’s some weird irony here. We rely on this massive, famously exploitive company, with a CEO who has accumulated $147 billion, to carve out some measure of creative independence in our lives, maybe even escape gig work. Is the quest for living on our own terms an illusion? 

This ties a little into not being able to avoid random animal products in your life; if you interface in some way with any kind of commercial entity including many companies providing your vegan goods –  you are going to find yourself at odds with what some CxO says or does, or what the company itself does. Your organic vegan milk may come from a company far more invested in factory farms than it is in some vegan niche.

My work in IT had been cloud-adjacent for the last few years, and my current job is more directly cloud-related, plus I have side projects that involve even more cloud work. I’ve made my peace with it for now, but would like to find (or even found) a right-sized cloud platform that isn’t owned by a massive, for-profit entity. What we now know as Linux has roots in earlier projects started to create a cooperative, non-commercial version of the expensive proprietary Unixes of the day. Maybe something similar will happen for cloud computing.

I try not to enrich some large corporation if there’s a good alternative. It’s also important to recognize that we’re enriching various oligarchs and modern-day robber barons (whether it’s Bezos, Zuck, Bill Gates, or some Walton or Koch family offspring) with our choices of how we spend our time and money, and they’re all quite happy to use the power that accompanies their wealth to do things that may not be in our best interests.

And maybe we should, as voters, also be more concerned about un-sexy things like antitrust law than we have been in the past. 

What would you say to people who are curious about becoming vegan, and has anyone become a vegan because of your influence?

No one has ever done anything because of my influence 🙂

There are many different good reasons to go vegan — for animal rights, against animal cruelty, for health reasons, etc. But there’s also the negative effect on the planet that animal agriculture has. If we’re quietly careening toward a climate emergency, maybe the positive effect of reducing global warming could be an incentive in ways that other angles and rationales have not been.

 I live in the US, which has long been beset with elected officials for whom gratuitous cruelty toward marginalized groups and individuals is a core part of their branding. That’s not sustainable for a country, and, additionally, things like war, and greed, and a host of other forms of human folly endanger humanity’s long-term existence. Earth will go on just fine without human life; the reverse isn’t true. So being vegan should be  or should be thought of as – one of many things in one’s toolkit that exist as a counterweight to our various destructive tendencies.

What is an example of what you like to eat at home, how do you make it? 

I used to consume a lot of protein: I had a six-day-a-week yoga practice and also did a lot of powerlifting, and I had trouble keeping my weight up. So I would eat lots of tofu, tempeh, and seitan, and gulp down protein shakes. I’ve scaled back, partly due to the pandemic, but I still don’t eat enough actual vegetables sometimes. I try to fix that by grabbing a vegetable-centric cookbook, or an omnivore one with lots of vegetable recipes.

But I have a lot of fun improvising marinades for tofu/tempeh, and also like to incorporate various leftovers into batches of seitan say, some unused beans, or wilting kale, or almost-forgotten mushrooms sitting in the back of the fridge.

Seitan Improv

1. Soak 1 cup Textured Vegetable Protein in 1-1.5 cups broth or marinade to rehydrate the TVP. Set aside the excess liquid

2. Coarsely puree about a cup’s worth of stuff — beans, mushrooms, greens….

This week I used 1 cup of cooked black beans that were sitting in the fridge; 2 tablespoons of nutritional yeast;  2 tablespoons of jerk seasoning (you could instead use salt/pepper, cumin, sage, smoked paprika, rehydrated hot peppers, etc., to taste).

3.  Add enough liquid (maybe taken from the TVP soaking) to help puree all of this in a blender or food processor.

4. Combine 1 cup of Vital Wheat Gluten in a bowl with the above. Work it into a dough for a few minutes; it may take a little trial-and-error over several improvised batches to get a sense of how wet/dry/stretchy/firm the dough should feel before the next step.

5. Form into individual pieces  e.g., burgers, meatballs, cutlets  and wrap each in parchment paper, then in aluminum foil. Steam for approximately 90 minutes. Allow to cool, and put everything in the refrigerator overnight, to firm.

Then…fry up your burgers (or cutlets, or whatever), or crumble into a stir-fry or pasta sauce.

Mayo for Your Future Seitan Sandwich

  • 1 box (likely 12.3 oz) silken tofu
  • 1/4 cup white miso
  • 1 dehydrated Chipotle or New Mexico pepper, rehydrated
  • 1-2 cloves garlic
  • 1-2 teaspoons dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup oil (e.g., olive, avocado, coconut, peanut… maybe in combination)

Combine the non-oil ingredients in a blender or food processor. If your blender/processor allows the dribbling-in of the oil, do that until everything is blended well, with something resembling the consistency of mayo. Some time in the fridge will likely help thicken a thin result. If you can’t incrementally add the oil, that’s fine — just add it all, and continue blending.  Use as-is or as the basis for a sauce.

Thanks for sharing your recipe ideas, Jesse! It seems this creativity comes naturally to you. Do you consider everyday vegan life easy now?

Very easy for me, as a resident of an advanced industrialized country, with many options for cruelty-free food, clothes, and other products. Food-wise, it’s better now than ten years ago, when I started — more shopping options, more restaurant options. The hardest part might be for a newly-ex-omnivore to give up some favorite food(s). I’ve yet to find an adequate substitute for every situation that I might have, in the past, used cheese or eggs, though the situation is also much improved over the last decade. 

Any ideas that may be helpful to others who might experience similar struggles?

One thing that worked for me, on the ex-omnivore front, was noticing that food tastes better when I’m hungry. That’s not much of a solution, I understand, but sometimes quibbles about some vegan dish not being “as good” as something you’ve given up are lost when your food is, in some way, simply good. It may take a little time, or a little work, to find or cook consistently good vegan meals.

Thank you for the gift of your thoughtful and thought-sparking writing, Jesse. Greatly appreciated.