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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
With Part I, I posted an overview of Tesla as a car company, from a vegan perspective. Here, in Part II, let me share what I’ve found while exploring one of Musk’s other holdings and perhaps the most ambitious one: SpaceX. Tesla cars and SpaceX spacecraft companies are both owned by Elon Musk and their R&D personnel overlap at least informally as they create materials for electric vehicles, renewable energy products, spacecraft and rockets.
This series of articles is meant to go deeper than the question of whether Tesla cars (or SpaceX spaceships) have non-leather seats. Because there’s a lot more to veganism than that. The way we think about Earth as habitat, and humans as actors in a bio-community, brings us to a more expansive view of veganism.
There’s an interesting video clip of Jack Ma speaking to Elon Musk (embedded in this article), suggesting that Musk’s talents and brand would be better applied to the needs of life on Earth than to staking out real estate in the great beyond. With “great respect” Ma tells Musk:
We need heroes like you, but we need more heroes like us working hard on the Earth, improving things every day. That’s what I want.
To be fair, I believe Musk earnestly seeks to improve human life here on Earth. Still, Musk is engaged in the billionaires’ anti-social habit of paying a pittance in income taxes. And in any case, good intentions do not obviate the consequences of redirecting humanity’s future and I do believe Musk’s imprint is going to be profound. That’s why I’m taking some time with this. I hope you’re with me so far.
Rocket Projects and Mining Rights
Humanity is fragmented. We have yet to take the necessary steps to treat each other kindly as a global norm on Earth. How, then, could we possibly act in concert for a supposedly greater collective future beyond Earth?
And while Musk’s work transcends borders (Musk appears more focused on advancing companies than countries), competitive national aspects are evident in some of the projects SpaceX has taken on. The proposed 2022 budget for the U.S. Air Force includes millions for SpaceX reusable Starship rockets. The Pentagon thinks they could bring people or gear from one side of the Earth to the other within an hour, a CNBC article suggests. And for what purposes does the U.S. military usually bring things and people from one side of the Earth to the other?
Meanwhile, the government of China is developing competing space travel. India and Russia have their own space stations in the works. Israel is planning lunar experiments. NASA’s Artemis Accords allow for extraterrestrial mining. The European Space Administration has been talking about creating a lunar village, and the Japanese carmaker Toyota is working on Lunar Cruisers.
These projects are not only reaching extraterrestrial destinations; they are also prospecting for energy and resources. And as Dr. Namrata Goswami writes in Trans-Asia Inc.’s The Diplomat, “space capacity is a surrogate indicator of military power.”
Internet for All… At What Cost?
SpaceX is also establishing Starlink broadband by sending hundreds and potentially tens of thousands of satellites up into space. The point of crowding space with the dizzying array of orbiting objects? To supply internet to the areas of Earth the telecoms, fibre and 5G cannot reach. Under the header Governing Law, Starlink states that its service will be controlled by the laws of California, USA. Additionally (I’m adding the bold here):
For Services provided on Mars, or in transit to Mars via Starship or other colonization spacecraft, the parties recognize Mars as a free planet and that no Earth-based government has authority or sovereignty over Martian activities. Accordingly, Disputes will be settled through self-governing principles, established in good faith, at the time of Martian settlement.
SpaceX thus acknowledges that it’s engaged in the colonization of Mars by a U.S. entity. Surely, designating California as the legal jurisdiction does put an “earth-based government” in authority!
Is There Any Limit to This Extraterrestrial Acquisitiveness?
In the 1967 Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (the “Outer Space Treaty”), the United States, the Russian Federation, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland meant to prevent the spread of a global arms race into space. The UN-sponsored treaty declares that space and extraterrestrial scientific findings are not subject to national appropriation. Yet there’s no language that bars private ownership. Apparently, grabs by companies registered with certain nations was not how the parties anticipated dominance in 1967.
In 1979, the Outer Space Treaty was augmented by an Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (the “Moon Agreement”). The agreement regards the moon as the “common heritage of mankind” (Article 11).
Should a “common heritage” be the subject of corporate takings? The question seems already obsolete. Elon Musk is defying the spirit of the treaties, while paying lip service to a “free planet” concept.
Overall, Tesla’s founder aims to transcend environmentally harmful human tendencies with innovative technology. Yet these tendencies stand to be greatly intensified by the goal of a multi-planetary humanity. Isn’t it likely that a post-Earth afterlife is the ultimate escape from responsibility to our own native habitat and our greater biological community?
SpaceX could allow a new jet set to nuture a fantasy of escaping a beaten-down planet. A fantasy starring Musk as the one who can save those able and willing to be saved. Nonhuman life, alas, does not count for much in this fantasy. This is its ultimate flaw.
In the third and final post of this series I’ll explore Elon Musk’s underground tunnel company, solar power and sustainable town concepts, Neuralink, and plans for a restaurant chain (spoiler: it won’t be vegan).
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.
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.
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.
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 thisprinciple.
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.