About Lee Hall

A commitment to a great cause is a solid foundation to build our inner lives upon, and also one virtually guaranteed to bring turbulence into the course of our lives. This is an experimental diary. If things go well, it'll help myself and others on a parallel course. See you at veganplace.wordpress.com

Dominion Is a Funny Thing

And now, we’re officially into the Year of the Aurochs. My mind keeps wandering back to the day when, courtesy of Theresa Sarzynski in New Jersey, I met Herbie, a bovine refugee at a sanctuary for rescued farm animals.

It’s odd how we have this sort of meme image of the happy cow, instilled in us from childhood. Herbie and friends were as happy as cows can be, but they were some of the scant few to receive protection from what nearly always happens to cows. So, what’s up with the whole happy-cow concept? 

We take their milk. Notoriously, after farmers pull their infants away, they bellow for days. They mourn as their offspring are prepared to become the veal special on a diner’s menu. Ultimately, all the dairy cows, like the beef cattle before them, wind up in slotted trucks, bound for slaughter. These are not secrets. It takes very little effort to put two and two together. Why don’t we?

Dairy production is marketed as hilarious. (That’s a leather sofa, too, right? Such wit!)

And oh! The irony: “I poured myself into this commercial!”

Why do we play this collective game?  

How would we feel if the laugh were on us?

I keep talking about the aurochs because… 

Most people have no idea about that part. They never knew cows came from animals, now extinct, called aurochs, who lived on their terms until humans hunted them down to the very last one. They didn’t learn about the selective breeding that deprived cows of their freedom, one generation at a time, so that dependence on the human environment is now etched into their DNA.

In fact, many vegans don’t know.  I’ve been told by a number of vegans that the ideal “vegan world” includes happy cows, and looks like a sanctuary. We’d learn to pet cows and not eat them.

When I was preparing The Year of the Aurochs for publication at CounterPunch, Harold Brown pointed out that dairy cows are the most docile. They were bred to be as gentle as pets, so they could be walked and milked. The ones who chase people across fields are the beef cattle. They don’t need to be completely docile, Harold said. They only need to be driven. 

Purpose-breeding gradually transformed the aurochs into sources of edible substances which humans could have just as well done without. We can make burgers from beetroot and ice cream from oats. Why didn’t we simply do that all along? Why did we cultivate a taste for blood and for the liquid produced by other animals’ mammary glands? And how could we laugh?

I think we must answer these questions.

Love and liberation,

Lee.

The Year of the Aurochs

Groups of aurochs could trample us. Cows still can. This, I found out on a walk across a pasture with friends.

Suddenly, as though alerted by some silent signal, a group of cows stampeded in our direction. We panicked, but managed to slip through a fence. That day we glimpsed an ancient law of nature…

Read the full piece at CounterPunch.

Photo by Helena Lopes, via Unsplash.

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.