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

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.

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