Eating Flesh: How Do We Frame The Question?

A debate is running about what humans will eat when we stop eating meat.

Why? Our most sustainable protein on Earth is the bean. Beans, lentils, and peas grow in harsh climates with little water, in financially poor regions. They self-fertilize, capturing nitrogen from the air and fixing it in the soil, so they don’t need the synthetic fertilizers that are running off the land and killing the ocean.

Yet some vegans, of all people, are promoting “clean meat” that is actual flesh, made in the lab from real animal cells. No doubt most readers will have heard some self-identified vegans touting this new future of food.

Do they have a point? This is a matter of question framing. And I think we need to lay out what the questions are.

Read on…


Banner photo credit: Niklas Rhöse, via Unsplash.

A Job to Do

The laws of New York City permit renters to have guide dogs or service dogs despite no-pet clauses in their leases. And New York City renters with chronic mental illnesses may have emotional assistance animals. (NY Civil Rights Law § 47-b.)

What does this say about our failure to find ways, even in the densest of human communities, to look after each other?

And what does it say about our regard for animals we claim to breed as “a member of the family”?

Ellie Moffat of the Vegan Justice League says:

I have told another vegan, about dogs used as K-9 or seeing-eye dogs, that I think it’s wrong. He said that a dog is happiest who has a job to do. But it must be awful for dogs who sit around all day inside the house in the suburbs waiting for their owner to get home.

Step back and regard the pattern here. We human beings have every sort of justification for breeding domestic animals onto this planet in ever greater numbers. Animals not just to eat, but also to herd the animals we eat, or clear our lawns of geese, or guard us, or amuse us, or lend us emotional assistance. These animals who perform “assistance” roles for us embody the hijacked genetic lineage of the free-living animal communities. The cats and the wolves who once walked over deserts and tundras on their terms.

We’d never personally hunt wolves or undomesticated cats. Shall we, though, agree to the trapping of their wild hearts, trophy-like, into living beings whose purpose is to amuse, guard, or console us?

Ellie continues:

I feel like a service pet has a sad life. I’ve seen service dogs with signs on them that say Do not pet me or Ignore me. I’ve also seen service dogs whose owners couldn’t possibly ever play with them. I live by the Family Court building. When I walk by the K-9 unit cop car, the dog in there is always alone in the parked car viciously barking. Happy dogs don’t act like that.

They don’t.

To the deeper point, animals were not put on this planet to come to our physical or emotional rescue—whether we classify it as crime prevention, services for disabilities, or a broader, often more “happy” companionship role that pets typically serve.

Veganism is offended by support for the concept of service pets. This is clear, given the vegan principle’s opposition to human dominion, of which domestication of the wolves and the forest cats are harrowing examples.

If we’re asked what we think of dogs who perform any specific services, vegans need to offer cogent answers.

And we probably need to think a lot more thinking about how we ourselves can create safety, companionship, and emotional assistance in our human communities.


Banner image: Gabriel Forsberg via Unsplash.

What to Do on Kentucky Derby Day

We humans excel at making use of other animals, extracting wealth through that use, exhausting them, disposing of them. This week, the 145th Kentucky Derby will showcase these habits.

Frivolous, frenzied pressure surrounds the horse called Omaha Beach, who is dubbed most likely to win. Because the racing industry is all about ROI, this horse and the others will run so hard their lungs bleed. Racetracks use a diuretic called Lasix to stop the horses from bleeding through their noses.

UPDATE: Just three days before the 2019 Kentucky Derby, Omaha Beach was removed from the race, having come down with breathing problems associated with a trapped epiglottis. Inflammation of airway structures can cause a horse’s epiglottis to get stuck in folds of tissue, according to Equus Magazine.

Trainer Richard Mandella calls Omaha Beach “a kind horse. A horse that’s easy to be around.” Evidently we are just sensitive enough to perceive kindness in the other animals—even as we amuse ourselves at their expense. Even as horses continue to die in professional racing. Fatalities include Kentucky Derby horses Barbaro (April 29, 2003 – January 29, 2007) and Eight Belles (February 23, 2005 – May 3, 2008)…

And as long as the horse breeding business exists, so will the auctions and the killer buyers. Tens of thousands of horses, including racehorses, go to slaughter each year. With horse slaughter disallowed in the United States (it stopped in 2006), the unwanted animals just get a longer, more excruciating journey over the Canadian and Mexican borders for a slaughter. Don’t kid yourself about this. That $3 million purse isn’t buying sanctuaries for four-year old horses, either.

The racetrack industry is under scrutiny for drugging horses in the Triple Crown events. HR 1754, the Horse Racing Integrity Act, would create a nationwide standard for testing in racing horses, implemented by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

Churchill Downs, Inc. opposes the Horse Racing Integrity Act. The major animal-advocacy groups back the bill.

Given the temptation to push boundaries to win, the racing industry will keep tormenting horses—drugs or no drugs. If we’d ask serious questions, we’d find no integrity exists in horse racing.

And this Saturday’s Derby would be the last.

This Saturday, let’s all refuse to don bonnets. Let’s decline to stick mint leaves in glasses. Let’s stop making light of this event, making bets on this event, and allowing its realities to go unmentioned. Let’s act upon a baseline of decency, speak up in our social circles, and start treating horse racing as the blood sport it is.

On Embracing the Term “Animal Liberation”

I have found compelling reasons to embrace the term animal liberation. Liberation of other animals from human dominion is the clearest expression of animal-rights advocacy. A genuine liberation philosophy—as distinct from a goal of reducing the suffering within industries—champions respect for animals in the places they’ve evolved to inhabit, and requires that we stop fouling, commandeering, and destabilizing our environment.

It’s tempting to immediately add: And this will ensure our own survival, too! True, yet a genuine liberation principle makes clear that we are one community among many, not the very point of Earth’s existence.

We seem to be scurrying about, suddenly aware that the atmosphere is coming undone, hoping to clean up our act just enough to manage to keep our sense of entitlement over Earth. The point of a genuine liberation theory is a deeper cultivation, a way-finding principle for living among many groups of beings, within the whole of Earth’s living community, with decency and respect.

We rush through our days in a society fixated on business, while a civilization-changing crisis unfolds in slow motion. Humans have been pushing Earth’s limits for a long time, and now there are massive infrastructures and administrations pushing at the most hectic possible pace.

“What can one person do now?” we think, as we post the latest re-cap from Science Daily and then go out the door to drive to work. Like the waxy wings of a high-flying Icarus, our cleverly manufactured means of support are coming apart.

Government representatives hold conventions to debate what must be done to slow the atmospheric effects of our industries. The stakes are immense. Earth’s poles, with their great shelves of ice, are important to Earth’s gravity. If warming water seeps under the Antarctic ice and weakens that gravitational pull, the surface of our planet could be inundated with water. And should global temperatures continue rising at the current rate, tiny undersea plant life could fail to achieve photosynthesis. What most of us haven’t considered before is our reliance on that undersea plant life to supply most of the oxygen in our atmosphere.

In short: Earth as a whole ecosystem, with all its splendid biological communities, is straining under the pressure exerted by more than 7 billion humans.

It’s impossible to really think about animal liberation without challenging human population growth. The Earth is finite. And it does not belong to the Homo sapiens at the expense of everyone else.


Photo by Jiri Sifalda via Unsplash

This Flood Is Your Flood

To my fellow human being:

If you are still eating cows (flesh or dairy) and other farm animals, it’s incumbent upon you to understand why they are drowning in the midwestern United States…and baking to death in Australia.

It’s up to you to understand your part in it, and end at least your part in it.

It’s your responsibility to look behind the curtain, and deal with these unnatural disasters connected with the unnatural sprawl that produces those unnatural groceries you so easily toss into your shopping cart.

It’s never too late to learn. And you won’t be alone on the journey.

This is what I want the average New Yorker on the street to hear on Sunday 14 April.

On the day of the Veggie Pride Parade, I’ll have a mic for a few minutes, and dang! Do I know how precious a few minutes of someone’s attention can be!

In 1983, Robin Lane, a vegan, left a pamphlet on my seat (and all the other seats) in a concert hall. The leaflet took just a few minutes to read. It changed the world for me. That night I made the commitment to become vegan. The day before, I’d never even heard the word.

Leaflets are sacred.

I appreciate the call to be an audible leaflet for just a few minutes.

To my fellow vegan:

I share your anguish as we witness what animal agribusiness is doing to the animals in it. What the massive plundering of fossil fuels, former forests, and natural sierras and plains has wrought. The ecocide. The coming apart of the climate.

And each day we get up and go out into the world. Kind of, but not quite, like that person who said they’d plant a tree today even if the world would end tomorrow.

Sparing the tree that’s already there, we know, is better.

Love & liberation,

Lee.


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Year of the Boar

On 5 February we enter the Year of the Pig in the Chinese Lunar calendar.

Now, Wikipedia tells us, the Japanese zodiac and the Tibetan zodiac do not have a pig; they have a boar.

I’m going with the Year of the Boar.

Because if we want to get to animal liberation, the ideal to keep in mind is a community of free-living beings. Not beings who were selectively bred to be controlled by the apes known (to ourselves) as Homo sapiens.

Decide for yourself. Would you want advocates to represent you this way?

Sure, the cut-paper caricature seems happy, but there’s no joy in being born dependent on, and ultimately killed by, a controlling owner.

Very few purpose-bred pigs make it to refuges. Those so-called lucky ones wouldn’t need luck if we humans would just stop breeding away their independence.

So much for the happy pig motif. Let’s get real.

Now look at the banner photo. Free-living boars live and move together, in groups. If the image of young sibling boars evokes a happy feeling in the viewer, it happens in a more respectful context: freedom.

Representing pigs as adorably happy in a pet-like state isn’t the best we can do. But it’s what a lot of vegan advocacy does.

Here it is, at the most extreme, with this cute little lonely pig. 

Yes, lonely.

Undomesticated boars live in groups. Babies stick together. So, this image should trouble us and make us question whether what seems “cute” to most human eyes is a profoundly sad state for the animal who’s displayed.

And now, are we really going to share a video clip of a helpless baby pig in a bidet for “National Dog Day”?

OK, yeah, I’m gonna get preachy here.

In the Year of the Pig Boar, how about we focus on these beings’ ancestral, free communities?

Most people don’t know what young boars look like, or where they live. We, as vegans, should know. Because veganism is not about making selective breeding seem adorable. Veganism is about challenging it and refusing to obscure the reality of where animal communities come from and who they really are.

Best wishes to everyone in the Year of the Boar. Let these images of boars interacting set the tone for a new year in vegan outreach.