Sweets for the Season? Consider the Source

So Nestlé is wooing vegans with dairy-free versions of coffee creamers, ice creams, and Kit Kat bars. PETA says it’s excited about such products. Yet the very point of veganism, as defined by its originators, is to grow an anti-exploitation movement in “historical continuity with the movement that set free the human slaves.”

What’s the point of Nestlé’s few token vegan labels if the company relies on human trafficking for its cocoa? How can Hershey have the gall to sell their barkTHINS® with fair-trade labels when a rising number of youths are doing dangerous work on cocoa plantations to cater to their company?

Today, 1.56 million children are harvesting beans on cocoa plantations of Cote D’Ivoire and Ghana, the origin of more than 70% of the cocoa sold by big brands. Local traditions in which youths move among extended family circles have been exploited to facilitate human trafficking. And the major chocolate sellers are “not merely purchasers of cocoa from Côte D’Ivoire,” states a current lawsuit over chocolate slavery which names Nestlé, Mars, and Hershey. The big chocolare companies, says the lawsuit, are “the architects and defenders” of this degrading system.

Is There a Simple Way to Get Ethically Made Chocolate?

A number of U.S. grocery and drug chains stock chocolate-covered coconut cubes (the ones in the blue bags) from Ocho. While this company is new to me, its website does state:

We officially partner with Fair Trade USA to ensure all of our cocoa was produced according to rigorous fair trade standards that promote sustainable livelihoods and safe working conditions, protection of the environment, and strong, transparent supply chains.

It’s interesting to find this, too, in Ocho’s Frequently Asked QuestionsAre monkeys used in the harvesting of the coconut in the OCHO Coconut bar? Our suppliers do not use animals in the harvesting of coconut fruit. That said, not all Ocho items are vegan.

Divine Chocolate is also showing up in the retail chains now. The company has a long history of working with co-op farmers in Ghana. The company has a number of dairy-free offerings. The 85% Dark Chocolate Bar With Turmeric and Ginger is…divine.

When Elegance Matters, Choose a Small-Batch, Artisan Producer.

It’s the gifty time of year, so allow me to talk about an artisan chocolatier whose founder I actually know: Lagusta’s Luscious. Lagusta writes:

We believe the earth is a source of astonishing richness that must be respected, so we use good ingredients that are good to the earth. We believe animals are not on this planet for us to use, so we do not use animal products… We work closely with small farmers and producers in our beloved town of New Paltz, New York and across the country to source truly ethical ingredients.

Peanut Caramel Nougat Bar, by Lagusta’s Luscious

The source of the chocolate itself is República del Cacao, in Ecuador.

If we buy chocolate, it’s incumbent upon us to consider the source. Imports rise in winter months, so now is an excellent time to raise awareness, to shift away from any items sold by the multinationals, and to support businesses that respect our planet’s astonishing richness.

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This is an abridged version of a longer piece describing the trafficking of youths for chocolate plantations. Read more at CounterPunch.

Photos: Bonbon Assortment and Peanut Caramel Bar With Nougat, courtesy of Lagusta’s Luscious.

The Whole Thanksgiving Thing

So, what’s everyone doing for Thanksgiving?

For me, it’s a time to gather with local friends who affirmatively appreciate being vegan. This year, I’ll be the one to host a very small gathering of friends with a vegan feast from SuTao, our best local vegan spot.

The last time I accepted an invitation to a non-100% vegan holiday gathering was more than twenty years ago. I know what I’m missing and I couldn’t bear it. That’s me. Most vegans do have ties to relatives and things are complicated. That said, no vegan I know has ever been grateful to sit at a table focused on a big greasy stuffed dead animal.

Over the last decade, I have heard an increasing measure of honesty around this time of year, at least about the human misery in this holiday’s chain of title. The truth is seeping in about the Native Americans who mourn their lost ancestors on the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday. Heaven forbid anybody bring that up at the table! Never even heard about it for most of my life.

At the 1637 Pequot massacre, Europeans killed hundreds of indigenous adults and kids, burnt their village down, banned the word Pequot, and began giving thanks annually for having so quickly obliterated a community that had evolved over ten thousand years. It didn’t take the Puritans long to domesticate their violent memories into the official holiday called Thanksgiving. The place, now Mystic, Connecticut, is today packed with tourist draws, including an exhibit of trapped beluga whales.

My surroundings are similar in Chester County, just west of Phildelphia, where towns commemorate genocide. In the town of Wayne, a mural on the Post Office interior wall depicts General Anthony Wayne triumphantly standing over the body of an indigenous person. This sordid tribute to domination is highlighted by ceiling lights.

Also appearing in the mural, like props on a stage, are an eagle appearing to glorify the conquest, and a bridled horse, ready to be used in more of the same.

In nearby Valley Forge National Historical Park, too, there’s a statue of this same general. That’s the Park where the U.S. government annually baits and shoots deer, driving them off to ever-narrowing strips of greenery along the surburban roadways. Did I mention that the National Park Service puts out an education package about the Trail of Tears?

I live on a multi-unit property where the buildings have names that glorify the European settlement period: Kings, Patriots, Militia, Flintlock, Settlers, Puritan, Pilgrims, Colonial, etc. In that period, millions of acres were seized and granted to states for the land-grant colleges which, as Harold Brown tells us, etched animal husbandry into the development of the country. The descendants of displaced indigenous people have never received compensation. Their sacred ceremonial sites were pillaged, and the artifacts locked in museum displays.

Indigenous languages and ecological knowledge are nearly extinct. Everyone is harmed by the loss. In this time of climate crisis, much of what’s going or gone could be life-sustaining. We need thought, conversation, planning and action to restore what’s salvageable, to try to repair wrongs. We need to come together to create a mental shift in humanity.

Why is our task so hard? Because our cultural nomenclature is based on the dominator mentality and its much-vaunted exploits. Local leaders changed the name of the town Louella, Pennsylvania to Wayne, in tribute to the local “Indian fighter” general. You’d think they could have contemplated calling the place Sorry Does Not Cover It, Pennsylvania. Not yet.

So, the endless distractions just keep on not-ending. Preparations for traditional gatherings can be distractions when those traditions are just what we need to transcend. We need to reclaim our time, and focus on our potential…

To crowdsource

A refusal

To war any more on the bio-community

A refusal

To war against, or wall off, so-called other people.

This is a commitment worth celebrating.

Let me finish by quoting one of this blog’s readers, Lynn Kennedy, who works with Indigenous people in Canada in the area of mental wellness and substance use:

The effects of colonization continue to impact current generations. Across North America, more and more people are being awakened to the injustices being done to Indigenous peoples and people of colour and are speaking out against the injustices being wrought on these peoples. I hope this extends to the continued barbaric injustices to farmed animals, and the impact on our natural world and our collective futures.

With that hope, here is a recipe for Cashew Nut Roast that Robin Lane gave me when I was a new vegan. It’s a nutty roast I really love to make. It can stand for turning the unthinking celebration of false memories into a healthful insistence on telling the truth.

Cashew Nut Roast

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients (organic when you can):

½ pound cashew pieces 4 ounces of brown rice 6 ounces of rye toast crumbs—including caraway seeds, or a dash of celery seed. 1 medium onion, chopped 2 cloves garlic, minced 2 large, ripe tomatoes 4 tablespoons olive oil Up to ¼ cup vegetable broth (depends on the consistency you prefer) 2 teaspoons brewer’s yeast ½ teaspoon dried basil ½ teaspoon dried thyme A squeeze of lemon and a pinch of ground pepper

Preparation:

Cook rice until tender; grind cashews. (This can easily be done by hand by carefully running a rolling pin or jar over bagged nuts.)

Chop onion and garlic finely and heat in oil until they are slightly brown; chop and add one of the tomatoes; simmer until soft and add the broth.

Combine all of the above ingredients and press into two 9-by-5-by-2½-inch loaf pans or glass round pie baking dishes. Slice second tomato and use to decorate top, then bake for 30 minutes or a bit longer at 350 degrees F / 175 C.

Cut the Cashew Nut Roast into slices to serve as a main dish, or as a side dish as an alternative to bready stuffing.

May every reader feel the support of vegan friends this season.

Love and liberation,

Lee.

(Every Day Is) World Vegan Day

Today, the First of November, is World Vegan Day. And isn’t it great to watch the word getting out? Since the term was coined in 1944, much has unfolded.

The people who started things off first called themselves the non-dairy vegetarians. They weren’t breaking away from the vegetarian movement that arose in Britain and the United States in the 1800s. They were taking its mission seriously.

Veganism Is No Mean Feat. 

To emancipate other animals, vegans set out to “renounce absolutely their traditional and conceited attitude that they had the right to use them to serve their needs.”

Free-range farming was never a step in the right direction for them. The founding members considered the animal farms of England unacceptable—no matter that these farms were free-range and familiar features on the landscape. Why? For one thing, the grazing animals would be killed when they outlived their use to their owners. For another, covering the land with purpose-bred animals had ruined ages of natural evolution of animal life in untamed habitat.

So, what would they use in their recipes? “Fruits, nuts, vegetables, grains and other wholesome, non-animal products.” They would opt out of “flesh, fish, fowl, eggs, honey and animal milk and its derivatives.” Vegans drew this line in their effort to create honestly humane agriculture. 

It’s a Call for Liberation.

Defining veganism in 1951, the Vegan Society asserted:

“[V]eganism is not so much welfare as liberation, for the creatures and for the mind and heart of man; not so much an effort to make the present relationship bearable, as an uncompromising recognition that because it is in the main one of master and slave, it has to be abolished before something better and finer can be built.”

So these agitators explicitly connected their vegetarianism with a liberation call, based on a stated conviction that humanity has no right to exploit other aware beings for our ends. 

Society co-founder Donald Watson, who pointed to the Essenes as one example of a group that had conscientiously avoided animal exploitation, must have also been inspired by Frances Power Cobbe, founder of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection. Present, too, at the time of the Vegan Society’s formation were opponents of “cruel sport”; the vegans merged these anti-exploitation initiatives into an animal liberation platform with personal commitment as its basis, and an emphasis on continuous public outreach to raise awareness of, and challenge, humanity’s ordinary uses of animals.

Why November?

When people at The Vegan Society resolved to set aside day to celebrate the movement, they first considered the 2nd of September. That was the birthday of Donald Watson, who put together and sent out the first copy of Vegan News—and many copies to follow—and was the best known of the Society’s founders. But Watson wanted nothing to do with the “great person” narrative. So the group settled on November, the month Vegan News was first printed.

Good call. The vegan principle has a long history and doesn’t need to be credited to any one person. 

It’s up to every vegan to be veganism’s representative.

Donald Watson in the garden—like every other vegan.

Why the Word Vegan?

The term vegan was adopted in the 1940s by Vegan Society founding members Donald Watson and Elsie Shrigley. Dorothy (Morgan) Watson had first offered the word to Donald—at a dance they both attended. (Thanks to Patricia Fairey and George D. Rodger of The Vegan Society for this intriguing piece of information.) The word came from the first three and last two letters of vegetarian—“because veganism starts with vegetarianism and carries it through to its logical conclusion.”

To be a vegetarian means having a certain diet. To be a vegan means making a commitment to respect. 

Vegans know animal agribusiness is hazardous to our health and to our environment, and that animal husbandry involves unjust treatment of other conscious beings. We won’t participate. Nor do we want to be at war with free-living animals. 

As World Vegan Month Begins, Don’t Make a Wish. Make a Commitment.

And for those of us who have already committed, what’s left to do? In our time ahead, as the word vegan spreads through the grocery aisles, let’s think about the meaning of vegan as a movement. The way it encompasses kindness, solidarity, and respect. We won’t always agree, but we can we figure out how to disagree without hurting, and to agree without competing. We can strive, with integrity, to work through our differences and cultivate community.

Here’s one thing we should be able to agree on from the start. Turning animals into our things is a ruthless habit, regardless of whether the results strike us as cruel or cute, and it’s a habit humanity can break. 

Of course, the vast scale of animal use presents a major challenge, now as ever. But here’s the key. We “consumers” can make our own decisions about what sorts of consumption we’ll accept.

Veganism is direct action.


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Image sources: The Vegan Society (Birmingham, England).

World Vegan Day…

…the First of November, is just days away. Need a simple resource for World Vegan Month outreach in Novemberor any time? Vegan 101 is a free slideshow you can use. It includes 100% evergreen material suitable for general audiences. An extra slide provides notes for presenters.

Enjoy or download any time, from this page. And best wishes for World Vegan Month!

Liberation or Bust

For several years, I served on the board of Primarily Primates, a Texas primate refuge. During that time, I sponsored Lee, a Java (Long-tailed) macaque. Caged, tattooed, wearing a restraining collar, Lee had served as a model for toxic reactions to chemicals. The refuge removed the collar and sent it to me, together with this portrait photo.

A Java (Long-tailed) macaque who got out of the lab alive.

It’s not hard to imagine being a trapped macaque. Macaques are very much like us in their physical and mental responses. Should they have rights?

Arguably so. But several cases have been made for the personhood of great apes, and that line of advocacy has yet to pan out in any meaningful way. Imagine how long it would take to get to the case for macaque rights. And even if, by some miracle, we one day win rights for all of the primates of the planet, and even if those rights, by some miracle, receive international assent, what will the state of the biosphere be by then? Would our recognition of their personhood ensure that they, and the other beings of the edge of the forests, can live on their own terms?

It hardly seems possible. Respect is a tall order. In the literature of governments, Long-tailed macaques are called vertebrate pests. Translation: Humans dragged and dropped Java macaques around the world and now these primates pick crops out of our farms. 

In their native territories, Java macaques face continuing habitat loss. They are subjects of “culling due to human-macaque conflicts.” They are stalked to be eaten and for so-called sport. They are snatched and bred and sold into the international trade for research. They even have a laboratory trade name: cynomolgus monkey.

Restraining collar worn by macaques in the toxicology lab.

Because they gravitate to the edges of forests, they’re visible. In places such as Java, they’ve been presumed abundant. But everywhere they are, they’re stalked.

The late Ardith Eudey, who, with Shirley McGreal, founded the International Primate Protection League, and who for many years chaired the IUCN Primate Specialist Group’s Asia section, rang alarm bells about the severe threats to long-tailed macaques, including the trafficking of these primates to labs. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature did take note, reclassifying Macaca fascicularis from abundant to vulnerable. If we are entering a pandemic era, the quest for vaccines and treatments will continue to promote the lab primate trade, even as humans keep driving climate turmoil and expanding agribusiness, deforestation and sprawl. The primates of the forest’s edge do not have time to spare.

It’s All Connected: Earth Restoration; Animal Liberation; Human Rights.

And this is what animal liberation has to be about. Creating root-level sanctuaries: habitat where once-targeted beings are off-limits to exploitation and able to live where and as they’ve evolved to live. Every element of nature that sustains them carries ethical meaning. This is something our law, which has blessed our systematic exploitation of other animals, is not yet equipped to understand.

In 1805 the Supreme Court of New York, in Pierson vs. Post, addressed competing claims to the body of a hunted fox. When declaring that full physical control over an animal creates ownership, Pierson vs. Post cited legal influencers going back as far as the second century A.D. It’s time for something completely different: knowledge that respects natural biological communities as a whole, and for their own sake. Otherwise, “sustainability” dialogues will keep prioritizing humanity’s interest in extraction, excavation, and exploitation.

In 1972, Christopher D. Stone published an article titled Should Trees Have Standing? Law, Morality, and the Environment. The piece urged judges to consider the case law that reclassified human slaves as legal persons, asserting that progress for the classes of previously rightless humans could guide the evolution of rights for living beings. The debate made it to the U.S. Supreme Court. Justice William O. Douglas cited Stone’s piece in the 1972 case Sierra Club v. Morton, involving an effort to protect an undeveloped wilderness. Alas, Justice Douglas wrote for the dissent.

Still, the idea percolates. Pittsburgh in 2010 passed a rights-of-nature provision to stop a fracking project. People in the United States, Ecuador, and elsewhere have worked on ways to appoint legal guardians to represent biological communities in courtrooms, and to direct compensation for violations of nature’s rights into eco preservation and restoration. This sort of legal work has meaning, I think. Of course, I also think it has to be accompanied by a vegan commitment at the deepest level. Perhaps the synthesis between these quests can offer a comprehensive framework for respecting animals and nature on their own terms.

Banner photo: Long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis). Lake Gardens, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. By Gary Houston (Universal Public Domain CC0 1.0). Portrait photo: Primarily Primates, Inc.

A strategy for saving the world

Those trying to sell you aquatic animal products will tell you what persuades you to pay them. And yes, people need work. But don’t they need work that sustains our planetary life support system?

Thank you for your own vital work, Violet’s Vegan Comics.

Violet's Vegan Comics

Vegan children’s comic,The English Family Andersonchapter 4, concludes.

For the whole story, clickhere 🙂

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If you want to read this vegan children’s story from the beginning, click here.

A new story begins here on Monday. Have a great weekend! 😀

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About Being Vegan: Praise for the Little Things

Our challenges can seem overwhelming sometimes. Heather Steel, a vegan from Calgary, Alberta, notes that the little things make a day sweet.

“Of course, we are vegan because of our beliefs about animals”, Heather writes.

“But then there are these little side benefits which come out of it. Like an acquaintance who lives in a rural area was telling me last winter how glad he is to be vegan when we get snowed in, and the neighbours start panicking about running out of milk and meat, but he just goes and cooks some beans, makes some soymilk and tofu, bakes some bread etc.”

Right on!

For nearly five years, until December 2019, I worked in a grocery store. People practically stampede over themselves to clear out every last carton of milk and eggs when they hear a storm forecast. Some are outraged when all these sad items are gone. 

And I’d be saying: “Why don’t you bring home some delicious lentil soup? In fact, why don’t you bring home lentils? You can make tacos, or soup, or a delicious salad…” I was glad when some of these people would look at me like they’ve never considered a lentil before, but maybe this was the time.

Well, what are the little things to love about being vegan other than not getting into a milk and eggs frenzy before a storm?

Violife. Violife cheeses are so good. Miyoko’s and other vegan cheeses are now models for store-label plant-based cheeses. Stores that used to shun us are now trying to compete with us. But the point is, mm. These cheeses really are luxurious.

Back when I first became a vegan, in the last century,😂 there were none of the “vegan foods” we look for in grocery stores now. No non-animal cheeses or deli meats. No nut milks. There was stuff in a box you could mix and form sausages out of (called “Sosmix”)… dreadful stuff, but we’d eat it. And was anyone else here vegan back in the days of “Soymage”? I thought someone from animal ag was deliberately sabotaging our cause with that product!

Well, that was part of going vegan then. You had to make a serious dietary shift and a lot of people looked at it as deprivation. But I very quickly discovered Hindu food. I learned how to shop for it, and how to cook it. And it was very good.

Would I have sought out that experience if I weren’t a vegan? Probably not.

These days, vegans are whipping up aquafaba meringue, and fermenting their own cheeses. I find vegans really enjoy learning about and experimenting with a wide variety of culinary techniques. They are inventive, skilled, and generous with what they create.

Another great thing? Because vegans all share the same dietary perspective but have different tastes and interests, it can be fun getting together with other vegans and trying out something they like. I’ve enjoyed sitting around a table into the wee hours playing board games with my vegan friends. One even designed a game around a rescue theme, and made sure to include foxes on the landscape. ♡  

I also treasure the moment an animal in nature spots me. It’s a spark that connects a human soul to the whole universe. It’s the beauty in finding an animal free – and knowing we wouldn’t have things any other way.


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Photo credit: Kabir Cheema, on Unsplash.

“Veganism Is the Only Answer to Climate Change.”

I’ve been hearing some vegans say cutting transportation emissions won’t matter. That a plant-based diet is the answer to climate change. Here are my two main concerns:

  • These assertions run counter to a great deal of research, including research done by scientists who have spent many years examining agribusiness and climate and whose results provide strong cases for veganism. 
  • The assertions would position vegans as outliers. (I mean, more so than we already are.)

Will assertions like these put off some of the people already confronting emissions in the energy arena who might be amenable to join us in the climate work? If so, is there, nevertheless, some strong inherent reason for making these assertions?

To Start, What’s the Real Percentage of Greenhouse Gases Emitted By Animal Ag?

It’s hard to pin a number on the emissions factor of animal ag. Fossil fuels used for transportation and refigeration are highly intertwined with animal agribusiness. And much depends on how the land would be used (or not) if the animal farm weren’t there. But very roughly speaking, say the animal ag emission factor is somewhere in the area of 30 to 40%, as is accepted by a number of leading food and ag emissions researchers. Don’t those percentages look like a really huge problem? They are indeed.

I don’t think we have to prove animal ag accounts for some certain overwhelming percentage of emissions. There is a strong argument for divesting from animal ag with what’s in the peer-reviewed material today.

And it does not take the help of law and policy making and infrastructure replacement for us to divest. It’s just like the old question: What if there was a war and no one came? You just say no to the use of other animals: “I’m out, I’m a conscientious objector. Done.”

Here are some questions we might ask of ourselves as climate-aware vegans.

Why Do Vegans Focus on Food Exclusively When Discussing Greenhouse Gases?

It’s practically intuitive for vegans to argue for ditching animal agribusiness or some facets of it. Cows (and, by extension, all ruminants) are on most people’s radar screens; but aquaculture is also harmful, and so are the pig and chicken businesses and their connected elements like feed and waste. 

We vegans might understandably be keen to know the effects of animal ag and its satellite industries. We might be keen to read, write, and talk about them. 

And in any case, fossil fuel use already gets a lot of attention, whereas “our issue” is pitifully neglected and typically left to us to point out.

Why Shouldn’t Vegans Keep on Focusing on Food Exclusively When Discussing Greenhouse Gases?

I think the best vegan response to climate crisis is comprehensive. It’s aware of the interconnected impact of animal ag and fossil fuel energy. 

I also think we have to look out for our tendencies to stay within our comfort zones. On a personal note, to press outside of mine, I set a cap on my fuel use a few years back. The annual goal is to stay under 1,000 miles; but no penalty for public transit. It is uncomfortable, in the sense that I really need to be mindful. I guard my milage allowance. I avoid driving for a lot of reasons. (If I were treating this the way I treat diet, I’d say no use of petroleum is ever acceptable!) 

I don’t want to get caught in the trap of thinking a vegan approach exclusively involves dietary commitment. I’m used to my vegan commitment and I’m used to arguing for it, but I’m a more responsible advocate if I take into account everything we humans are doing to imperil our biosphere. 

What About the People on the Other Side of the Issue, Who Keep on Focusing on Cars, Carbon Taxes, and EV Incentives When Discussing Greenhouse Gases?

I expect the people who are working on the fossil fuel side of the issue to also be comprehensive. Even though it means going out of their comfort zone.

I expect them to renounce animal agribusiness, not just cap their consumption at a certain level. In other words, I am not going to urge anyone to eat less meat when simply rejecting animal products is so simple to do (where we are, in this time) and when animal confinement is so unfair, and so utterly atrocious from a land and resource use standpoint.

One of the most noted decarbonizers, Elon Musk, dismisses veganism, saying the greenhouse gas problem is chiefly about “moving billions of tons of hydrocarbons from deep underground into the atmosphere and oceans.” I think I detect a comfort zone challenge. How can Musk not concede that animal ag is a massive greenhouse gas emitter?

Marco Springmann, the University of Oxford’s senior researcher on environmental sustainability and public health, states:

There are lots of different sectors that have an impact on emissions and the food system is surely one of the most important ones as it is globally responsible for about a third of all greenhouse gas emissions.

Springmann adds that the overwhelming majority of those food-related emissions connect with flesh and dairy production, so without confronting animal agribusiness “it is hard to make progress.”

Both major forms of divestment matter, then, right? Divestment from hydrocarbon energy, and divestment from animal-derived protein. 

Elon Musk is more interested in electric vehicles than veganism. In contrast, vegans understandably put vegan climate answers first. But I am understanding from some vegans that fossil fuel use hardly matters at all, or to the extent that it does, we should avoid accounting for it in our climate conversations and presentations. That seems like Musk in reverse, and I’m uncomfortable with it.

As always, I’m open to persuasion. I’ll be looking into the arguments and connected information further, and likely reblogging this column when I’ve added substantial content.

Love and liberation,

Lee.

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Photo credit: Jan-Rune Smenes Reite, via Pexels.

Good to Know: Donald’s Blue Plaque

Donald and Dorothy aren’t among the notable people listed by the church where their bodies are buried. No headstones mark their graves.

But North Yorkshire vegan Patricia Fairey recently informed me that there is a blue plaque in memory of Donald. 

Round, blue plaques appear on the outer walls of British buildings where noted people lived or spent time. One has been placed at the former Doncaster Road School in South Yorkshire to celebrate Donald, who attended school there. It was placed in 2019, the 75th anniversary year of The Vegan Society.

Donald shines on as a core figure among the 25 original members of The Vegan Society. 

Find out more about how and when this plaque installation happened. I hope you’ll find the story as uplifting as I did. It’s a tribute to a key animal liberationist, and to the vegan commitment we ourselves have made.  

Love and liberation,

Lee.

How Vegan-Friendly Is Tesla? Part III: Teslaspreading

Teslaspreading. Has anyone coined that word? It seems apt, as Tesla-related undertakings encompass ever more space in the tech world, the popular imagination, and in space itself. 

Steering Tesla, SpaceX and other projects in the U.S. and beyond, Elon Musk is both a business leader and an engaged engineer — and, since March 2021, a self-crowned Technoking

While Bill Gates is the subject of conspiracy theories about microchips in vaccines, Elon Musk’s brain-chipping project isn’t a mere disinformation narrative. Musk really wants to put computer chips in our brains. Rest assured they’ll fit quite nicely in our skulls

Brain-Machine Connection: Neuralink

Musk co-founded Neuralink in 2016. Since then, the company has put coin-sized chips called Links into the brains of pigs. A live pig demo appears in this August 2020 video. Look out for Musk’s “three little pigs” quip and other wisecracks.

Here’s how Inverse describes the scene:

On August 28, Musk and his team unveiled the latest updates from secretive firm Neuralink with a demo featuring pigs implanted with their brain chip device. These chips are called Links, and they measure 0.9 inches wide by 0.3 inches tall. They connect to the brain via wires, and provide a battery life of 12 hours per charge, after which the user would need to wirelessly charge again. During the demo, a screen showed the real-time spikes of neurons firing in the brain of one pig, Gertrude, as she snuffed around her pen during the event.

Musk thinks brain-machine connections could be life-changing for people with disabilities. Would this technology connect with demand for Tesla cars, too? Seems so. During the pig spectacle a Twitter user submitted a question on the possibility of chipped car owners summoning their Teslas telepathically. Musk’s reply? “Of course.” Teslaspread strikes again. 

When Things Get Unstable or Weird

Elon Musk predicts artificial intelligence will be ahead of humans before 2025. In the hands of the wrong company, AI will become a menace. That, says Musk, will be when “things get unstable or weird.”  

Yet Musk’s company is the one wiring monkeys’ brains.

Musk says:

The primates “look totally happy.”

A USDA inspector called Neuralink “the nicest monkey facilities” around.

The Teslasplaining continues: “We went the extra mile for the monkeys.” 

And another thing:

One of the things we’re trying to figure out: can we have the monkeys playing mind Pong with each other? That would be pretty cool.”

Do we need artificial intelligence to tell us it’s uncool to toy with the brains of other aware beings? 

Do we need AI to tell us it’s uncool to toy with the brains of other aware beings?

And what’s the nicest monkey facility? A Thai seacoast. A mangrove forest… It would be really cool to leave primates in the spaces where they’ve evolved, rather than catching them, purpose-breeding them, confining them in prison for life.

EV Charging as Entertainment: The Tesla Restaurant Chain

The Tesla T logo appears in a recent patent filing for use in restaurant services. Why would Tesla get into food services? Perhaps to turn a battery charging wait into an entertaining experience, and another profit channel. Charging station restaurants would be open to other electric vehicle drivers — marketing Tesla cars to the curious.

With guidance from Kitchen Restaurant Group founder Kimbal Musk, Elon’s younger sibling, the new restaurants might be more nutrition-focused than standard convenience stores — but probably not vegan. Elon Musk has said veganism won’t solve global warming, because the greenhouse gas problem is chiefly about “moving billions of tons of hydrocarbons from deep underground into the atmosphere and oceans.”

So, Elon Musk evidently believes oil-extracting industries must be replaced, yet animal breeding for human consumption should be free to continue.

Both forms of divestment matter: divestment from hydrocarbon energy, and divestment from animal-derived protein. Animal agribusiness is a massive source of greenhouse gases. Musk’s restaurants ought to reject animal products or face urgent criticism. Those of us with the privilege to make the shift must divest from animal agribusiness.

Those of us with the privilege to make the shift must divest from animal agribusiness.

Habitat Busters: Sustainable Residential Communities

Tesla Energy is collaborating with Brookfield Asset Management and Dacra to create SunHouse in Austin, Texas. The developers call it “the nation’s most sustainable residential community” and an “energy-neutral” model for “sustainable large-scale housing projects around the world.” 

Can the widespread development of land to house a burgeoning human population accurately be called “sustainable”? In any case, we can assume the homes will be lucrative, especially if buyers sign up for Tesla energy subscriptions. As Elon Musk said:

The feedback we get from the solar and battery products used in this community will impact how we develop and launch new products.

Alset EHome International also works with Tesla. Home buyers at its Northpark development in Texas get Tesla battery storage and car charging equipment — and Tesla cars. Remember when we wanted the cereal with the toy in the box?

The point of the prizes is “to promote the use of electric vehicles for a sustainable lifestyle.” Teslaspread strikes again.

Tesla’s solar residential developments could supply electricity to surrounding areas. In some sense, this is about breaking through the utility companies’ hold on practices and pricing. It’s deregulation. It’s also development. It’s mining for electronic components. It’s the despoiling of habitat, and it will continue (as long as everyone’s using something other than coal or petroleum). 

Then There’s the Boring Company

Musk’s Boring Company is all about Teslas in tunnels. Tunnel-making means bulldozing the subterranean Earth, exposing carbon to oxygen and sending CO₂ into the atmosphere. Studies of tunnels note their heavy use of materials, equipment, and energy. And, of course, the soil is full of living beings. 

Florida groundnesting communities include native bees and birds already threatened by existing land use, floods and rising sea levels. Yet Fort Lauderdale sees the Boring Company as an answer to heavy coastal traffic. Building alternative traffic conduits will need road-building resources and places to park all the more cars.

Sure, underground trains use tunnels, too. But they carry a lot of people per car, reducing vehicle numbers rather than increasing them.

Is Any Car Culture a “Sustainable Lifestyle”?

For years, I’ve kept my driving below 1,000 miles (1600 km) each year. Not only for the sake of cutting emissions, but also because I’m just not keen on driving any more. Too much Earth is paved over for human convenience. In the era of remote work, I rarely need to drive, but a few good friends live in areas only a car can reach. 

Tesla will roll out $25,000 (€21,000) cars in a few years. They already sell used ones. Tesla’s driver-assist technology could enable me to drive at night, say, if one of the cats has a medical emergency, or if I do, or if I leave a friend’s home after sunset. I’d buy a Tesla for the reason I get prescription glasses: to better handle elements of living that matter to me. 

And yet, as Neuralink takes my sense of human “need” to its logical conclusion, I feel queasier than ever about my relationship with cars. I’m just one of many night-vision-challenged people who will drive after dark if technology allows it. Surely more 16-year-olds and partygoers will do the same, thanks to high-tech accident-prevention features. That’s a lot more driving, right?

Tesla’s slowly rolling out computer vision-based full-self-driving (FSD) subscriptions. Sometime in the future, cars will drive, so people can pay attention to other things. Yet another selling point for driving. Imagine a family taking a bucket-list national park trip every month. As Tesla encourages more people to drive more of the time, its sustainability credentials will become increasingly absurd.

As Tesla encourages more people to drive more of the time, its sustainability credentials will become increasingly absurd.

Morgan Stanley expects Tesla to produce flying cars by blending Tesla and SpaceX technology. It’s one reason an analyst at the investment firm speculates that Tesla stock will reach $1000 a share. Never mind asking why we might need cars that fly. Teslaspreading means consumer culture stays, whatever the climate does. Along with groups such as Virgin Orbit and Rocket Lab, it’s extending that culture through space commerce. (Heaven help any extraterrestrial beings out there. Musk might try to go the extra mile for them.)

Solar power and software subscriptions create income streams for Tesla. In business terms, that’s a successful turnaround of the climate narrative. Yet factories have to be built and materials have to be dug up for it all. Already, humans together with our domesticated animals consume more resources by summer than the can replenish in an entire year. Meanwhile, Earth’s untamed living communities are pushed aside and fading fast.

Writing this series is changing me. I wouldn’t say it’s unforgivable for any of us to buy a Tesla. But the uneasiness is gaining on me. What are we doing to cut resource use, create walkable towns, improve public transportation, and protect habitat? Innovation, without deep restorative principles, encourages humanity to take up ever more resources, and ever more space. That’s unsustainable.


Notes

Part I of this series (Tesla cars overview) is here. Part II of this series (SpaceX) is here.

Thanks to: Bill Drelles, Janine Bandcroft, Pam Page, Lydia and Mauro, Chris Kelly, and Charlotte Cressey. Each provided essential support, comments that improved this series, or both.

This blog generally benefits from the support of Jack McMillan, Justin and Rosemary, Aurora Cooney, Amanda Crow, Van Luong, Kay Connacher, Nancy Kogel, Lois Baum, Mary Ann Baron, Deb Thompson, Curtis Hinkle, Project Animal Freedom, the Vegan Justice League, Mary Jo Wenckus, Allen Eckert, Cecilia Eckert, Vance Lehmkuhl, Jesse Farrell, Michael Harren, Maureen Schiener, LouAnne and Michael, Sandie Sajner, Patricia Fairey, Laura Reese, Ellie Moffat, Catherine Burt, Catherine Podojil, Paula Franklin, Nelli Johnson, Meg Graney, and Jaime, Steve, and Jackson Mazurek.

Neuralink pig pen photo: LeijurvCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.