“Friends, Not Food”? Let’s Take Veganism Deeper

Many advocates point out the unfairness in loving some animals, while eating or wearing others.

Why do we eat pigs and love dogs?

In veganism, that question is a sort of red herring. The real question is why we’ve bred either from their once-free ancestors: boars and wolves. Imagine the evolution and history the animals could have had, if we had let them be.

The early vegans were appalled that humanity had cut off other animals’ evolutionary paths—and to a “stupendous” extent. They wrote this into their founding definition of vegan.

And now here we are, living in the time of the Sixth Great Extinction. Here we are, living in a time in which our bodies and the bodies of our vast entourage of purpose-bred animals (both “food” and “friends”) is crushing the natural evolution of communities on this Earth.

Domestication Is a Multi-Layered Injustice

Animals ought to be entitled to lead their lives on their terms. Our regard for them shouldn’t hinge on whether or not we think they could be loveable to us. Whether or not they tend to tolerate us. Whether or not holding and possessing them might please or benefit us.

So, then, why would we need to make them into “friends” in order to champion their interests?

The ancestors of the small being in the banner photo were wolves. We robbed that dog and billions of other dogs of their evolution. With friends like Homo sapiens

A liberation movement does the simple thing. It points to the unfairness in insisting on having other animals—whether to eat them or wear them or cuddle them. It asks us to simply acknowledge imposed vulnerability to human control when we see it.

Then it acknowledges that no matter how dear our animals are to us…

Domestication layers injustice upon injustice. It’s unfair to those who are placed into systems of vulnerability and commodification. And it’s unfair to the ancestral groups we stamp out in the process of our ruthless expansion over the planet.

Every pet shop stands on territory that once was the habitat of the wolves and the free-living cats. Earth is finite, so domestication really is a zero-sum game, and it’s anything but friendly. This should not be so hard for us to admit. Going to the root of something is the simplest thing we can do. What’s complicated? The justifications for every unjust system we sustain.

Love and liberation,

Lee.

With thanks to Chris Kelly for thoughts that expanded and enriched this blog entry.

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Photo credit: Rafael Guajardo, via Pexels.

As the Solstice Approaches

It’s Winter Solstice week in North America. Overbooked U.S. and Canadian hospitals have turned children away. #BringBackMasks is a current hashtag. (In my circles, masks never left.)

An endless parade of vaccines seems inescapable, but the jabs can’t address the root causes of virus outbreaks. To the best of our knowledge, Covid 19 exists because of systematic animal trafficking and confinement. Are we really surprised that our domineering tendencies create fear and chaos? Humans are to Earth what Elon Musk is to Twitter.

As for the Climate…

The pattern is clear. Summer wildfires, strong storms, flooding, sea level rise, loss of our own habitat and the habitat of other beings. Major imbalances in biological communities. Extinctions. Social unrest. Mass migration.

As vegans, many of us act to avert these emergencies. Even committing to try is radical. At the end of the day, being vegan means to reject the belief that other life on Earth’s surface is here for Homo sapiens to move and manipulate. Our capitalist system is not set up to offer anything but demerits for our position.

Notice Who Profits

Even as humans keep selectively breeding other animals, we can sense that we are domesticating the life out of ourselves. Rather than evolving, we might well have triggered the law of diminishing returns. Look at those who succeed best in this system: how desperately immature they are, how destructive. Notice who profits with our money, our attention, and our data.

We in technologically connected worlds can reclaim our time and live defiantly. Gaze into the night sky on the eve of the Solstice. Reject the belief that other life on Earth’s surface is here so Homo sapiens may extract profits.

Tech’s Two Edges

“Kill Your Television” dates from 1979, when Ed Zucca and G. Leslie Sweetnam started printing the stickers. Zucca thought televisions were “transforming humanity into some kind of monster” and I’ve read that Zucca detests computers even more.

Critiques of popular technology, it seems, are an eternal component of the high-tech world. But our screen fixations are symptoms. Like chemicals in food, regimented childhoods, obsessive work hours, and climate chaos. What’s at the root? Ursula Le Guin regarded the very act of naming beings as a mind trap.

The same channels that keep us affixed to our devices also offer us the ability to announce and explore critical issues, and to organize. To preserve and promote empathetic values. You and I are engaged in idea-sharing now.

The other side of the techno coin? We are the primates who will wire our own brains to computers. In seven to ten years from now, Musk’s company Neuralink says, our brains will be synched with our devices—making it more convenient to summon our Teslas.

Roots of the Anthropocene

The flaw in our predominant values can be traced through every age of innovation—back through the age of oil, of steel, of bronze, of spears. The roots of the Anthropocene can be traced back to our earliest weapons, our thirst for dominion.

Vegans defy this quest. To emancipate other animals, the initial vegans set out to “renounce absolutely their traditional and conceited attitude that they had the right to use them to serve their needs.” They said, without embarrassment or hesitation or a lot of surplus words, that the absence of exploitation is the presence of love.

Some think we’ll colonize Mars to escape the present mess we’ve made of Earth’s surface. If something so elaborate is on the table, then rejecting human exceptionalism and supremacy seems, alternatively, possible too. Maybe it’s our only chance.

We’re Still Primates

We are not superior to the big cats. Instead of supressing them, could we live with the risk their existence presents? This is not everyone’s thought when Eden is invoked! Some would call us traitors to humanity for suggesting it.

The struggle was real for our ancestors, I get that. Other animals kept us on the run. Most people think of locked doors and fenced yards and genetically subdued animals and processed foods and pharmaceuticals as the bases of modern safety. Yet here we are, mere mortals, new and improved, embroiled in conflicts and self-inflicted dangers and surrounded by quality-of-life questions to answer.

Is it weird to say I should prefer to die by tooth and claw than on a gurney with tubes in my arms and a legal mess on someone’s desk? I suspect the final release came more quickly in the course of nature’s trophic conversion than it does for most of us primates today, when medical ethics oblige our caregivers to keep us contained in the mortal coil for as long as they possibly can via modern technology, which is now advancing through gene editing.

Essential Workers

Though the biblical Eden story is widely understood as the ideal, I consider it a warning to a humanity that exerts dominion, that climbs on top, that redirects the evolution of others, that refuses to heed nature’s messages that all is intertwined and interdependent. Social media and Web 3.0 can funnel our creative powers into an ever-deeper state of domestication (likely), or they can offer us new ways to challenge ourselves, and our thoughts, and the pathway of our species (but we’ll need to make this work our vocation, and do it without any pats on the head from our capitalist culture).

So, as the Solstice approaches, may we take the rugged road. Technology will not spare us—and it certainly won’t spare every other biological community on Earth—from a string of gradually or abruptly worsening emergencies. Connecting wealth with virtue, and promoting buzzword alibis for wealth accumulation (“effective altruism”) is trying to push a camel through the needle’s eye. Nothing less than love will do, and by love I mean a transformation of our human identity. Love takes courage, not wealth. It’s about renouncing our traditional and conceited attitude that we had the right to use other living, feeling beings to serve our needs.

Guided by love, vegan advocates become essential workers in the planetary context. And we unite.


Supporting references: Baltimore Sun: A radical solution, but one that’s stuck; FOR THE RECORD (Apr. 23, 2000). Photo source: Pixabay, via Pexels.

Those Cute Lambs

Vegan leaflets often include cute, vulnerable animals like lambs. How could you eat an innocent lamb, the leaflet asks? 

I agree with the sentiment; it strikes me as cruel indifference to imagine a young sheep and think, So what? I’ll have the rack of lamb.

And yet every time we see a cute lamb, vulnerability is further embedded in our collective psyche…

Read the full article here.


Banner photo source.

On Their Own Terms: Eighteen Nutshell Narratives

This is a narration of the 2016 book On Their Own Terms: Animal Liberation for the 21st Century, abridged and adapted for audio, and read by author Lee Hall in 2022.

Although quotations are left as they were written, this work is created with a commitment to gender-free language as far as possible.


Here’s One Audio File With the Combined Nutshell Narratives


And below is an index of links for each of the 18 nutshell narratives making up On Their Own Terms: Animal Liberation for the 21st Century in audio form. 

Feedback (positive, building-on, or critique) welcome. I’ll be listening to the combined, 1-hour-and-52-minute audio file now that it’s posted as one piece. If you find anything that could be clearer, let me know. The beauty of indy-publishing this is that glitches can be fixed!

NUTSHELL NARRATIVES (2022)

  • ABOUT THIS BOOK: “About This Book” lays out the book’s context and why it needs to exist. This is the first of a series of nutshell narratives putting each chapter into audible form.
  • FOREWORD by Dr. Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson: “Finding out about others without desiring to use or have them, intimidate or subordinate them may be the hardest thing of all for humans to do.”

PART ONE: TO CARE, AND TO BE FAIR

~* AN INTERLUDE OF GRATITUDE *~

PART TWO: TO LIBERATE 

APPENDICES

  • Appendix 1: A Liberation Workshop. If you believe the work of radical change starts with a written plan, here is a possible template.
  • Appendix 2: Making Vegan Guides and Leaflets. Thoughts on creating an intro to veganism for the vegan-curious.
  • Appendix 3: Veganism Defined. Updated language for the classic 1951 pledge of allegiance to our planetmates.

Zombie Chickens and Silent Lambs: Managing Suffering Is NOT Animal Liberation

Will activists ever let go of the popular “reduce the suffering” model of animal activism, and their corresponding campaigns to score “humane farming” victories?

Some states and nations are banning crates for veal calves and for laying hens. Does this make veal or eggs better?

No! There is no good animal agribusiness.

When “crate-free veal” calves are wrenched from the dairy cows who gave birth to them and kept in groups of calves, the bewildered young animals frequently mount or suck each other, or fight. Site managers use restraints on the “bully calves.” As for the egg factories, where hens have more space, there’s pecking and manure-borne disease. And for calcium-depleted laying hens, normal movements can break bones.

Commercial animals just can’t win. And then we slaughter them.

We Have the Power to Opt Out of the System.

In 1944, Donald Watson and a small group of like-minded people founded The Vegan Society. In a 2002 interview with the chair of the Society, Watson, then aged 92, said: “One of my earliest recollections in life was being taken for holidays to the little farm where my father had been born.” With the joy of being “surrounded by interesting animals” at this family farm, Watson’s “first impression of those holidays was one of heaven.”

One morning, a pig was killed. “And I still have vivid recollections of the whole process from start to finish,” Donald told the interviewer, “including all the screams of course, which were only feet away from where this pig’s companion still lived…And it followed that this idyllic scene was nothing more than Death Row. A Death Row where every creature’s days were numbered by the point at which it was no longer of service to human beings.”

That morning, Donald Watson saw the inevitable horror in keeping other animals for our own ends—even if their situation, up until their last moments, is largely pain-free.

The Vegan Society therefore defined “veganism” as:

…not so much welfare as liberation, for the creatures and for the mind and heart of man; not so much an effort to make the present relationship bearable, as an uncompromising recognition that because it is in the main one of master and slave, it has to be abolished before something better and finer can be built.

Why Do Advocates Sideline the Vegan Call? Humans Love Our Luxuries.

For decades, Peter Singer, a professor at Princeton University and the author of Animal Liberation, has convinced activists to pursue husbandry adjustments for commercial hens and other commercially owned animals. The model keeps activists both busy and frustrated with the politically impossible work of making the treatment, transportation and slaughter of “livestock” bearable, while agribusiness expands and becomes more intensive as demand expands.

In 2006, Singer told an interviewer at The Vegan Society that “we need to cut down drastically on the animal products we consume.” Singer continued:

But does that mean a vegan world? That’s one solution, but not necessarily the only one. If it is the infliction of suffering that we are concerned about, rather than killing, then I can imagine a world in which people mostly eat plant foods, but occasionally treat themselves to the luxury of free-range eggs, or possibly even meat from animals who live good lives under conditions natural for their species, and then are humanely killed on the farm.

By calling the situation of purpose-bred animals “natural” and associating “luxury” with animal products, Singer further undermined veganism and weakened advocates.

Engineering Chickens Out of Their Feelings? Peter Singer Has Approved.

Paul Waters and Steven Pete were born with a life-threatening inability to feel pain. They described their experiences publicly. As children, they would chew their tongues, hit their heads, crash through glass, burn and cut themselves, and unwittingly injure other children. Children with this condition need constant protection to survive; some die from their injuries or resultant infections. The experiences of painless people (and the generosity of Waters and Pete in sharing their stories) helped us understand our need for pain sensitivity.

But Peter Singer is focuses on suppressing it, even if that means no feelings are left at all. In a 2006 interview for Salon.com, when Oliver Broudy asked for an opinion on bio-engineering chickens without brains, Singer answered:

It would be an ethical improvement on the present system, because it would eliminate the suffering that these birds are feeling. That’s the huge plus to me.

To believe zombie chickens are “an ethical improvement” is to promote a deep disrespect for the living beings who evolved here on Earth.

Meanwhile, as for commercial hens who have passed their laying prime, Singer told Salon

Those hens have been producing eggs for you for a year or 18 months. You have a responsibility to make sure they are killed humanely.

Killed humanely?

Not that Singer’s use of that term should surprise us. Singer’s concern has always been about managing suffering and not the profound unfairness of systematic oppression.

Vegans Need to Reclaim Animal Liberation.

We need to use our precious time defending animals’ interests in living untamed, on their terms. A leading reason for the planet’s lack of untamed space is the sheer vastness of our animal farming operations. And yet Singer also accepts animal breeding, including for farming. Singer, with Jim Mason in The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter (Rodale, 2006) wrote:

Raising lambs in the Welsh hills, for example, is a traditional form of husbandry that has existed for many centuries and makes use of land that could not otherwise provide food for humans. If the lives of the sheep are, on the whole, good ones, and they would not exist at all if the lambs were not killed and eaten, it can be argued that doing so has benefits, on the whole, for both human and animals.

Former animal farmer Harold Brown has said:

When someone portrays animal farming on any scale as a harmonious balance of natural forces, they are either delusional or lying.

I agree, Harold. Animals aren’t benefited when we purpose-breed them. In doing so, we take away from their communities all that made them free. Moreover, the whole issue for the Welsh Hills isn’t whether they can feed humans. There were other biological communities there before our sheep farms cleared them off.

Isn’t it finally time we stopped tinkering with dominion and reclaimed the term animal liberation for the vegan platform?

Photo credit: Pete Birkinshaw VIA FLICKR.com CC BY 2.0

Ego, Eco, and More Ego?

I’ve being seeing a lot of this graphic👇of a pyramid and circle, each full of silhouettes of living beings, superimposed on a grassy landscape and blue sky:

Note the difference between the grassy version above and 👇 this image, spotted on the One Terrene International website:

Given the language on its website, One Terrene International could be the origin of the EGO->ECO design concept.

OK, back to the bright-blue-sky-and-green-grass version of the graphic. Why does it include cows and other domesticated animals—not just in the hierarchical EGO-pyramid, but even on the ECO-circle side of the graphic?

The One Terrene (natural, muted design) version appears to show ECO as free-living, not controlled. (There’s a cat, but it could be Felis silvestris lybica, a member of the small wildcat communities of Africa, India, and China).

Darach Croft: Animal Husbandry as Preservation

I found Darach Croft, the possible source of the grass-and-sky graphic design, on Twitter.

I tweeted:

I see your EGO-ECO graphic (and other versions) often, @DarachCroft. I don’t understand your version placing dogs and farm animals on the ECO side of the image. Purpose-breeding strikes me as a clear case of EGO.

Darach Croft responded:

Hiya, I think the point is there are exactly the same animals and plants on both sides of the image and that it is the way that we interact with the animals that differentiates the EGO-ECO relationship. But certainly purpose breeding that is detrimental to animals would be EGO.

And I replied:

I’ll include your answer and I appreciate it. I’d say purpose-breeding is detrimental per se. It twists and thwarts evolution, takes land and water that could have been the habitat of free-living wildcats and wolves et al., respected, living on their terms, not chased off on ours.

Darach Croft is a Scottish animal farm (a croft is a sort of micro farm) based on regenerative animal farming methods, whose members sell flesh, eggs, honey, wool, and wool fat soaps.

That would explain the placement of human-controlled, purpose-bred animals in an image supposedly telling us how to subvert our egos for the sake of the planet. This is a subtle form of hogwash—suggesting that exploiting the other beings of the Earth can be sustainable, eco-friendly, and exemplary.

Questioning the Stewardship Trope

To my mind, it’s hugely important to question this suggestion—when we find it in public presentations, and when we find it in our own minds. For example, if we are committed to animal liberation, respecting our rescued pet or farm animals involves questioning their position of dependence on Homo sapiens—a dependence the other animals cannot outgrow, a dependence we engraved in their Earthly experience through selective breeding, a dependence that made them individually vulnerable to lifelong use and abuse of just about every imaginable kind.

And no matter how gently treated these animals might be, we are not bestowing a benefit on animals by bringing them into an exploitive system that need not exist. 

Some people will avoid a vegan commitment if, at least from time to time, they can find animal products marketed as natural, humane, biodynamic, local, sustainable, or the now-popular regenerative. We can understand the psychology here. Haven’t we all, at some point back in the day, asked: Is there anything wrong with eating eggs if the chickens are allowed to live natural lives? If I look for the free-range label? If the farmers are good stewards of the land? Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. I’m not “calling out” anyone in any way I haven’t called myself out. 

The Power to Change This Structure

An enormous segment of the human economy is based on taking advantage of conscious life, yet each one of us has the power to change this structure, and we constantly encounter other people with this same potential. We’re all in this together.

When ego gives into an eco-aware human identity, we won’t be “stewards” who justify breeding others for our own ends. We’ll have regained our lost sense of awe and excitement in living among the members of Earth’s great biological community—not according to some ideal we imagine. Not by some process we control. But as they evolve, on their terms.

Love and liberation,

Lee.


Banner photo: People’s Climate March, Melbourne, Australia (21 Sep. 2014). Originally posted by John Englart (Takver) at https://flickr.com/photos/81043308@N00/15120960559 (archive) and licensed under cc-by-sa-2.0; via Wikimedia Commons.

The Year of the Tiger

…In my nearby national park at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, white-tailed deer have been baited and shot for many winters. A decent policy would call us to respect both the deer and the area’s free-living predators. They are the Eastern coyotes—animals trying to fill the vacuum we created by extirpating the wolves—and the bobcats. Long ago, bigger cats roamed this same land.

Beneath Valley Forge National Historical Park, in an ancient fissure, is a trove of fossils. In Pleistocene times, the land was home to Miracinonyx inexpectatus, or American cheetahs, and Smilodon gracilis—sometimes called sabre-toothed tigers.

These cats died out in a major extinction event some 12,000 years ago. The event is sometimes attributed to climatic change and the cats’ narrow range of prey. But some researchers believe the die-off resulted from the pressure of Homo sapiens, who arrived on the continent around then, and likely dreaded the trouble and risk of competing with these apex carnivores. We are not at the top of the food chain, except through artifice, deliberate cruelty, and sprawl.

Unlike the sabre-toothed cats, the tigers of the world are still with us. Barely.

Continue reading on CounterPunch.


Image source: Alekvelez.

(Every Day Is) World Vegan Day

Today, the First of November, is World Vegan Day. And isn’t it great to watch the word getting out? Since the term was coined in 1944, much has unfolded.

The people who started things off first called themselves the non-dairy vegetarians. They weren’t breaking away from the vegetarian movement that arose in Britain and the United States in the 1800s. They were taking its mission seriously.

Veganism Is No Mean Feat. 

To emancipate other animals, vegans set out to “renounce absolutely their traditional and conceited attitude that they had the right to use them to serve their needs.”

Free-range farming was never a step in the right direction for them. The founding members considered the animal farms of England unacceptable—no matter that these farms were free-range and familiar features on the landscape. Why? For one thing, the grazing animals would be killed when they outlived their use to their owners. For another, covering the land with purpose-bred animals had ruined ages of natural evolution of animal life in untamed habitat.

So, what would they use in their recipes? “Fruits, nuts, vegetables, grains and other wholesome, non-animal products.” They would opt out of “flesh, fish, fowl, eggs, honey and animal milk and its derivatives.” Vegans drew this line in their effort to create honestly humane agriculture. 

It’s a Call for Liberation.

Defining veganism in 1951, the Vegan Society asserted:

“[V]eganism is not so much welfare as liberation, for the creatures and for the mind and heart of man; not so much an effort to make the present relationship bearable, as an uncompromising recognition that because it is in the main one of master and slave, it has to be abolished before something better and finer can be built.”

So these agitators explicitly connected their vegetarianism with a liberation call, based on a stated conviction that humanity has no right to exploit other aware beings for our ends. 

Society co-founder Donald Watson, who pointed to the Essenes as one example of a group that had conscientiously avoided animal exploitation, must have also been inspired by Frances Power Cobbe, founder of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection. Present, too, at the time of the Vegan Society’s formation were opponents of “cruel sport”; the vegans merged these anti-exploitation initiatives into an animal liberation platform with personal commitment as its basis, and an emphasis on continuous public outreach to raise awareness of, and challenge, humanity’s ordinary uses of animals.

Why November?

When people at The Vegan Society resolved to set aside day to celebrate the movement, they first considered the 2nd of September. That was the birthday of Donald Watson, who put together and sent out the first copy of Vegan News—and many copies to follow—and was the best known of the Society’s founders. But Watson wanted nothing to do with the “great person” narrative. So the group settled on November, the month Vegan News was first printed.

Good call. The vegan principle has a long history and doesn’t need to be credited to any one person. 

It’s up to every vegan to be veganism’s representative.

Donald Watson in the garden—like every other vegan.

Why the Word Vegan?

The term vegan was adopted in the 1940s by Vegan Society founding members Donald Watson and Elsie Shrigley. Dorothy (Morgan) Watson had first offered the word to Donald—at a dance they both attended. (Thanks to Patricia Fairey and George D. Rodger of The Vegan Society for this intriguing piece of information.) The word came from the first three and last two letters of vegetarian—“because veganism starts with vegetarianism and carries it through to its logical conclusion.”

To be a vegetarian means having a certain diet. To be a vegan means making a commitment to respect. 

Vegans know animal agribusiness is hazardous to our health and to our environment, and that animal husbandry involves unjust treatment of other conscious beings. We won’t participate. Nor do we want to be at war with free-living animals. 

As World Vegan Month Begins, Don’t Make a Wish. Make a Commitment.

And for those of us who have already committed, what’s left to do? In our time ahead, as the word vegan spreads through the grocery aisles, let’s think about the meaning of vegan as a movement. The way it encompasses kindness, solidarity, and respect. We won’t always agree, but we can we figure out how to disagree without hurting, and to agree without competing. We can strive, with integrity, to work through our differences and cultivate community.

Here’s one thing we should be able to agree on from the start. Turning animals into our things is a ruthless habit, regardless of whether the results strike us as cruel or cute, and it’s a habit humanity can break. 

Of course, the vast scale of animal use presents a major challenge, now as ever. But here’s the key. We “consumers” can make our own decisions about what sorts of consumption we’ll accept.

Veganism is direct action.


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Image sources: The Vegan Society (Birmingham, England).

“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.

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.