“Why Love One Animal and Eat the Other?” Is an Incomplete Question

Many advocates point out the unfairness in loving some animals and eating or wearing others. Who, though, is highlighting the unfairness in insisting on having other animals—whether to love them or to eat or wear them?

And yet we must recognize dominion in all of its forms: an imposed vulnerability to human control, no matter how adorable the dependent animal might appear to us.

Most of us have a hard time looking beyond “cute” and perceiving vulnerability and how our kind has systematically created it. We were so often taught that having animals meant learning to appreciate life, to take responsibility, even to love.

But questioning the existence of pets is not uncaring, cold, or unloving. Striving for a society that seeks, as far as possible, to respect other animals’ own ways of being on Earth is to care and love profoundly.

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Excerpt from On Their Own Terms: Animal Liberation for the 21st Century (Ch. 1, RIGHTS AND CARE: HITS AND MISSES).

Photo by Nishant Aneja via Pexels.

Interdependence Day

As we war amongst ourselves, our artificially created groups, deploying hazards across constructed borders, impeding the natural movement of humanity and nonhumanity alike, 

We also war on others 

In our great biological communities.

Industry celebrates our independence from nature 

Or dominance over it.

This is our decision. We could, instead, celebrate interdependence with our world. 

I write, just before noon, attuned to the distant calls of mourning doves.

Those who stalk mourning doves in the United States and Canada often use the singular term “hunting dove” thereby erasing the individuality of these birds. They know the birds will come for seeds. To get more targets to shoot, the hunters plant wheat, sorghum, corn and poppies, millet and sunflowers.

Is there anything sweeter than the thought of a dove eating sunflower seeds?

I heard fireworks last night, the 3rd of July. I heard the resident geese call out when the noise started.

There will be more explosions tonight.  

Photo by John Duncan, via Unsplash.

Harold’s Journey Home

They say “free range” and “pasture raised” is better. Try telling that to Harold Brown.

Harold grew up on a spacious family farm in Michigan, raising cows, pigs, goats and rabbits for their flesh. Like any farm kid, Harold learned to relate to farm animals in the expected way. Parents and family, church, Future Farmers of America, the local 4-H Club, ag courses at land-grant colleges and TV commercials all told kids the same thing. Eating animals and animal products is normal. Animal flesh, dairy and eggs are basic human wants and needs.

Yet as a child, Harold knew cow herds as communities, and cows as individuals who mourned when one of the group was shot by a deer hunter, or when cows were separated from their calves. Harold also saw them play.

“And I watched a lot of kids cry when they auctioned off their animals at the county fairs,” says Harold. Growing up involved putting away childish feelings. In adulthood, Harold went on occasional hunting trips and took a three-year job at a dairy.

At 18, Harold had a heart attack. A few years later, after an injury at the dairy, a connection clicked. The union doctor went over Harold’s blood work and predicted bypass surgery.

A Low-Key Advocate and Long-Term Friend

After studying the literature on diet and disease, Harold resolved to stop eating animal flesh and ice cream by the tub. And that’s when a form of post-traumatic stress seeped into the ex-farmer’s mind—a sudden horror at having driven and castrated and dehorned and butchered bulls and cows. Switching to plants for protein and nutrients had tripped a new switch—from a health quest to a journey of awareness, of caring, of love cut short in childhood. 

It’s painful to begin the vegan journey, and perhaps that’s why many don’t. To become aware of having done harm is to take a difficult step. Harm to other animals. Harm to human beings who were forced to repress their empathy and inflict such harm.

I think of the activism that aims to punish slaughter workers. Harold could have been interchangeable with the killing floor worker dismissed from a job, or possibly subjected to criminal charges or deportation. Punishment is not an epiphany. Those who think slaughterers and stalkers of animals are beyond redemption must not know Harold Brown.

Now, as a vegan, Harold makes connections by telling others what the younger Harold had needed to hear. It starts with taking a walk with another person. Befriending another person. Planting seeds, and cultivating them. Harold is a low-key advocate and a long-term friend.

“What Do You Have to Lose?” 

Some say they could never become vegan. “What do you have to lose?” Harold asks. “Try eating this way for one year. Let me help.” Harold bets their bodies will flourish and they’ll stick with it.  

But Harold adds: “We cannot expect these things from other people or society unless we sow the seeds and nurture them.” I like this a lot. The point of vegan advocacy, I think, is neither to shame nor intimidate others, nor to manipulate emotions, but to learn and to inform, to be open and receptive and trustworthy. We’re all in this together.

Harold thinks the animal protection movement (Harold now wryly refers to it as the animal husbandry reform movement) is too focused on scoring minor victories in the world of animal ag, and not enough on nurturing people and helping them change their lives. As for those so-called victories, Harold flatly states: “There is no such thing as a humane animal product or farming practice, humane transport or humane slaughter.” Those are marketing taglines.

Wherever animal products are made, what needs to be reformed is the farmer, not the farm.

The Kingdom Within

Harold appeared in Tribe of Heart’s film Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home. It’s about Harold and other farmers and rescue workers who came to share an understanding. And Harold has found that we create the peaceable kingdom in our inner lives.

Veganism is an ethic of unlimited empathy, Harold says, an ethic of unconditional caring and love. It encompasses our health and our mental being. It leads to respect for all elements of Earth’s intricate biological community. It is our journey home. Read further.

A very happy birthday to Harold on June 28th, and many more.

Banner photo: Harold Brown (L) with Vinnie Straub and the Self Love Vegan food truck at the American Vegan Society in Malaga, New Jersey. 

Vaccine-Hesitant: My Vegan Version

Though I’m vaccinated, I freely admit to vaccine hesitance. I’m not very interested in the conflicting Covid vaccine theories. But I am concerned about the trafficking of primates, mice, and other nonhuman animals to be used in vaccine testing.

Seems we’re using dogs to detect Covid now, too. Researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Durham University worked with a business called Medical Detection Dogs to learn whether dogs can sniff out Covid-19 infections. According to media sources, the preliminary results of “using dogs as a tool” for diagnosis are encouraging. Labrador, Golden Retriever and Cocker Spaniel breeds have been selected to detect Covid and might be used to dissuade infected people from going into in high-traffic spaces.

Unless new vaccines are approved and marketed for dogs, the virus endangers the sniffing dogs, too.

Remember what Tom Regan said? Other animals are not our tasters; we are not their kings.

We use dogs to perform a lot of work; I object to all of it. So the dog issue isn’t really a vaccine-specific thing. But canine Covid-sniffing is an example of exploitation of animals to address a disease we got from… exploiting animals. Our interference with other animals created the virus. This is so, whether Covid developed in lab bats, bat soup, or animals confined at food markets. 

Do we really think vaccines will free us from the infections that perennially plague us? I’m not saying the vaccine doesn’t work; it does. But it only deals with one group of viruses: Covid-19 and some variants. There will be others.

Infections change with the climate. Zoonotic diseases arise as we invade and exploit untamed areas of the Earth. Knowing the habits of human apes, the next catastrophe awaits us any day now. Fights over where the virus emerged or who is using it for political gain are not as important as the root cause: our incessant refusal to live as respectful Homo sapiens within an interconnected biological community.

Let me be clear. We need to stop invading nature. We need to let the oceans and forests be. We need to end the “habituation” of nonhuman animals to attract eco-tourists. We need to stop nosing into the lives and spaces of other living communities. We as vegans need to be communicating from this principle.

I had a two-way conversation with my doctor about vaccination ethics.

I explained that I oppose animal experimentation; this is part of my vegan ethic. The doctor pointed out that vaccination, as a public health matter, cannot be understood as strictly individual. Vaccinated people can protect others who might be more vulnerable to the worst ravages of the illness.

The decision, for me, was hard. I told the doctor that as vegans we must abstain from animal use as far as possible and practicable. This public health crisis would be one of the rare instances when I’d need to accept my failure to apply the principle. 

I felt a little better because my first jab was a leftover dose. (A nurse who had extra vaccines at the end of a Saturday came out of a medical building and pulled me off a running trail.) But I’d have taken the vaccine ultimately, in any case.

I carried out a duty to other human beings. On another level I ignored the mice and monkeys. Knowingly, I acted for self-protection and the protection of my tribe. After my second jab, I felt relieved and disoriented. Lucky and privileged. Ambivalent. I was glad my friends and I could be safe. A part of me was lonelier than usual. 

My conviction is high that pharmaceutical interventions would be less central to our lives if we’d just let other animals be. 

Given the way we act now, I suppose we’ll keep needing vaccines until diseases learn to beat us. And one day they might, if our unhinged climate doesn’t beat us first. And to be deep-down honest maybe they ought to, because we can’t seem to get our act together and treat our Earth and its living beings with r-e-s-p-e-c-t. 

I’ll keep striving, asking: Can we ever transcend our sense of human superiority and entitlement? Do we want to learn how?

Because lasting resilience in the face of health and environmental crises must involve asking deep questions, ethical questions among them, about why these crises emerge.

Love and liberation,

Lee.

Photo by Corinne Sleeking on Unsplash. This piece is dedicated to Chris Kelly, Lois Baum and Deb Thompson.

This Fancy Fence Is One More Peril for Deer

Every time I see one of these spear-style fences, I remember Mary Ann Baron first telling me how treacherous they can be.

Deer on the run can, and sometimes do, get stuck on fences when trying to clear them or pass through them. Often, several deer run together into the danger, and the harm befalls them all.

Some time ago, I joined Mary Ann and our friend Bridget of Philadelphia Advocates for the Deer to try to prevent a local deer shoot. Of course, we opposed it because the ethical thing to do is to simply let deer be. One of the many other reasons shooting deer is a bad idea, we explained, is that the deer would be running in fear, across roads and into unfamiliar territory.

Startled deer can run into unexpected perils. Photo of running White-tailed deer by Jeff Houdret.

And when they do run from unusual dangers, deer can run into unexpected perils. A Radnor Township police official mentioned that being called to the scene of a deer impaled on a fence is an unforgettable horror. Why would Radnor Township allow these fences, then? And how many of us really need a fence — let alone one with spikes, or posts that deer can be caught between? 

We Can Take Action.

Some animal advocates have worked on physical remedies. One of my Patreon subscribers remembers doing this at a cemetery in Williamsville, near Buffalo, New York. The protective action was to top individual fence spikes so the deer wouldn’t be impaled. The advocates raised money for the new metalwork. Check out the story and picture here.

Small actions can prevent tragic accidents and spare lives. We can ask our town governments, churchyards and botanical gardens, clubs and multi-unit properties to rule out dangerous fences.

An online search for local fencing companies typically brings up these types of fences for sale. We can address the companies on social media, engage them in discussion, and ask if they’d consider discontinuing fences that pose dangers to deer. 

Thanks to Maureen Schiener and Mary Ann Baron for contributing to my awareness. I hope this article helps other readers explain the issue for property managers. No one wants to wake up and find an impaled deer on a fence; so please, ask people to prevent it in the first place.

Thanks for Going Out of Your Way to Care.

If you have any reports on engagement in your community, kindly share! Readers beyond the eastern U.S. region: Do you know of other animals in your area who are similarly at risk? Please post a note in the comment section below.



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Banner photo: Melisa Valentin, via Pexels.

Beefmongers

I couldn’t help making a biting comment about National Beef Burger Day, which this Friday supposedly is. 

How long will the USDA tout animal products that contribute heavily to climate crisis and mess up our health? 

How long can the extinction of the untamed, ancestral cows be ignored, as we “celebrate” the “iconic foods” we take from the purpose-bred ones? 

Published today, at CounterPunch: National Beef Burger Day Is a Shame.

How Vegan-Friendly Is Tesla?

Tesla. So far, only a few can afford it, but that may change. Elon Musk says the Model Y will become the biggest-selling car in the world (overtaking the Toyota Corolla) by 2023. And Tesla aims to produce $25K cars within a few years. 

This is all good news for many working folks who have wistfully admired Tesla’s cars from afar. Is it good news for vegans? 

You can get a Tesla with a non-leather interior. In the past, Tesla has made the explicit connection from its seat material selection to cows. The Model Y has seats made of synthetic leather.

Based on these facts, some vegans consider Tesla cars vegan. But veganism has to be environmentally aware. The reason is crystal-clear. Without habitat, animal liberation is meaningless. So we have to consider Tesla from the whole ecological standpoint.

At This Time, Tesla Is an Ecological Tossup.

Why?

Maybe There’s Some Relief for Deer. 

Tesla’s cars come with pedestrian detection. This should be helpful for deer, squirrels, owls, and the occasional lost cat—as well as distracted human beings—on or beside roads. Tesla’s vision tech could prevent drivers from running over other living beings. 

Still, it’s better to focus on mass transit, which reduces our overall reliance on roadbuilding. 

I mean, just imagine all the boomers and the 16-year-olds getting excited about cars they can use without worrying about accidents. Imagine all the pleasure trips to be taken in Teslas because it’s so easy to let the car do the driving. Full self-driving sounds great, until we consider all the extra car making and car use. Isn’t this a major countereffect to the emissions savings of (even a solar-powered) Tesla?

If Tesla Isn’t Vegan, Is It “Vegan-Friendly”?

Vegan-friendly is an imprecise term, and I have no precise answer. I started exploring this question because I’m considering getting a used Tesla in a few years, after wearing out my 2013 Nissan. I could use Tesla vision tech for night driving. But I must be honest with myself. Driving is a concession to our car-centric consumer culture. Arguably, the best I can do is keep a strict cap on my mileage.

At the end of the day, we must focus on simplicity in response to climate crisis. On low-tech answers like walkable towns, reductions in discretionary travel, and divestment from animal agribusiness.

Follow-up coming… Stay tuned.

Tesla photo: David Nuescheler, via Unsplash.

The Whole Hog

Earlier this month, an artist I met in a Patreon Zoom call checked out my work and then asked:

Do you have a plan for how you speak to nonvegans? Are you welcoming to everyone? I’m sure many potential supporters are interested in the vegan idea but maybe they don’t want to go the whole hog.

My intent is inclusive, I said. And many members of the audiences I meet (at congregations, schools, conferences and fairs) are not vegan.

Most of the people I meet do know something about habitat loss, rainforest devastation, and climate disruption. And I explain how these issues are directly connected to veganism. 

I make my best effort to relate to people straightforwardly, explaining what I know, what’s connected to their concerns, my own thought process. But I never sugar-coat the subjugation. I can’t speak about it in a clinical way. I can’t distance myself from oppression in order to feel welcoming to everyone.

It’s always up to people to change themselves. They can take what they need from me, and leave the rest. And I do hope they might be moved, either at the moment or down the road, to become vegan.

I never suggest half-measures. I think it’s only fair to liberate the whole hog! So I tell them.

“For Africa and Other Poor Countries…”

Bill Gates: “Now I’ve said I can actually see a path. But you’re right that saying to people, “You can’t have cows anymore”—talk about a politically unpopular approach to things.

James Temple (interviewer): Do you think plant-based and lab-grown meats could be the full solution to the protein problem globally, even in poor nations? Or do you think it’s going to be some fraction because of the things you’re talking about, the cultural love of a hamburger and the way livestock is so central to economies around the world?

Bill Gates: For Africa and other poor countries, we’ll have to use animal genetics to dramatically raise the amount of beef per emissions for them. Weirdly, the US livestock, because they’re so productive, the emissions per pound of beef are dramatically less than emissions per pound in Africa. And as part of the [Bill and Melinda Gates] Foundation’s work, we’re taking the benefit of the African livestock, which means they can survive in heat, and crossing in the monstrous productivity both on the meat side and the milk side of the elite US beef lines.

Full source: Interview dated 14 Feb. 2021 in the MIT Technology Review.

Yes, Gates said to the interviewer: “For Africa and other poor countries [sic], we’ll have to use animal genetics to dramatically raise the amount of beef per emissions…” 

But Bill Gates! There is a richness in the culinary arts of simpler cultures. 

There is so much for us to learn about the traditions of cooking with lentils, peas and beans—which need very little water and energy to produce, which can survive droughts, and are the most environmentally responsible proteins on Earth. Instead we find ways to fix other cultures’ problems (often introducing or reinforcing their dependence on the global corporate grain market).

Sometimes, when looking at these big “solution” plans, I wonder if we’d be better to consider the need to heal ourselves rather than the need to fix others. 

Dang, Gates has such a massive platform. Some technology (WordPress included) seems so helpful, but the above quotes show the other side of what the money and status can bring. I’ve never met Bill Gates, but this sounds like a person who values complexity, and things that make a splash in the stock market, and therefore misses some clear answers to life’s most important challenges.

Why pick the side of manipulating animals even further? 

Each of us can make a very big emissions difference—generally halving our overall emissions!—with a dietary commitment. And that difference isn’t about spending more money on changing infrastructure or re-engineering the genetics of cattle. Without genetically forcing more “monstrous productivity” on the animals.

Opting out of animal agribusiness is as simple and as cost-effective as a commitment can be. And it can happen more quickly than the big solutions. In fact, it’s always been accepted. People have always had a cultural love for fruits and vegetables, from potato pancakes to falafel to pasta marinara.

Let’s also be sure to notice what’s happening around us now, right where we are, in addition to what will happen in ten years or 12 or 20 or 30 years globally. Climate disruption is right now causing loss of bird communities in our area, shifting planting zones in our area, flooding homes in our area, and posing risks to the most vulnerable of us.

There are two forms of divestment that matter in addressing our climate disruption. 

One is divestment from fossil fuels. Many people already know this.

The other is dietary divestment. Many people still need to receive the information on food impact, but when they do, the shift can happen quite quickly.

A $40 billion foundation and a crowd of genomics experts cannot tell us how to start. 

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The banner image is a work of the U.S. federal government, found in the public domain.