Ghost Robotics trained the robot dogs near El Paso, where the conditions—oxygen depletion, dangerous heat—are known to overwhelm border guards. An announcement for the project from the Department of Homeland Security is peppered with inane dog jokes.
Consider the depths of this profanity. The borderlands once belonged to the indigenous people of Mexico, and to the coyotes and wolves, to the agave-feeding nectar bats. And to the pronghorn—antelope-like beings who cannot jump fences.
Is it any accident that the Real ID Act of 2005, by which the U.S. government imposes its authority over state identification cards, allows the waiving of federal, state, and local environmental laws on the borderlands?
“They are beautiful creatures. This planet is theirs as well as ours.”
— Roisin Gruner
I feel a sense of relief when March comes. The buds on the branches awaken and encourage me. I live on a multi-unit property, so I’m at odds with the management and its domineering relationship with nature. But managers can’t suppress everything.
The baby garter snakes are here. In a grand event that will not be widely reported, they’re rustling the leaves along the trails, tumbling down the hills, bursting from the Earth into their season in the sun.
Also this week, we have Saint Patrick’s Day. They say the “Enlightener of Ireland”—actually the bishop Patricius, a Romano-British missionary who went to Ireland to rough up the druids—drove the serpents from Ireland into the sea.
Ireland did not have snakes; the story is a myth. But in the Judeo-Christian scriptures, a snake signifies evil. The serpents’ exile is perhaps a metaphor for Christian conquest.
Patricius is celebrated in Irish enclaves the world over, with drinking, music, and vague nostalgia. Little is heard about how ancient wisdom was repressed. The druids, so highly respected in their time, were portrayed by Greco-Roman writers as “barbaric” by the invading Romans and their Christian converts. There were stories of druids performing human sacrifice. Some historians accepted those stories; others called them Roman tales. Druid teachings, like the Earthly wisdom and knowledge of snakes, had to be overcome.
But the snakes arise from their nests this week. And I, for one, am filled with joy to see them.
Inspired by Crystal Dicus. Rise in power!
Further reading: Miranda Jane Aldhouse-Green, Caesar’s Druids: Story of an Ancient Priesthood, Yale University Press (2010); Nora Chadwick, The Druids. Cardiff: University of Wales Press (1966). Photo: Eastern garter snakes. CC0; Pixabay via stockvault.net.
This is a guest post by Ben Wunderman, who writes:
This story is pretty much accurate as far as I could research—most of it is supported by a few sources. The biggest question is to what extent Donald Griffin was involved and at what stage, but he was involved. That was actually the element that surprised me the most.
Why talk about Mexican free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis)?
Because being “free-tailed” is a pretty cool thing, as is being identified as Mexican yet also being among the most widely distributed mammals of the Americas. They can “jam” the echolocation calls of a rival bat species using an ultrasonic vocalization. They are said to have the fastest horizontal speed of all animals – although they have resisted measurement.
They also have a weird military backstory that confirms their lack of interest in being subject to human interference.
An enterprising Pennsylvanian, Lytle Adams, went to Donald Griffin (or FDR went to Griffin; it is unclear) after Pearl Harbor with the idea to use Mexican free-tailed bats to carry and detonate incendiary payloads over Tokyo. Adams had visited Carlsbad Caverns National Park and had the bright and highly questionable idea there. Griffin didn’t seem too wild about it (hard to tell), but FDR approved it and the project was launched.
Most of the free-tailin’ bats escaped their confines (bombs attached) and exploded a fuel tank that burned down the Carlsbad Army Airfield Auxiliary Air Base in New Mexico and destroyed the test range.
The Plowshares ain’t got nothing on the Mexican free-tailed bat.
Photo credit: Ann Froschauer USFWS Public domain, via Pixnio / cc 0
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.
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).
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?
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.
Then There’s the Space Used for Tesla’s Giga Factories.A German court has allowed a forest to be cleared for Tesla’s new Berlin factory. Tesla points out that it was just a pine plantation for cardboard, not a natural forest. Still, Earth’s surface is limited. In short, new factories = sprawl. And tree cutting doesn’t sound like a carbon-reducing exercise.
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.
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.
Hi, Jesse! Thank you so much for offering your thoughts and inspiration today. To start, what does being vegan mean?
It’s really simple, and somewhat boring: to not exploit animals in any way, or at least to give it your best shot.
It’s not simply a diet, or a “food allergy” as it’s often categorized on menus and nutrition-info databases.
It’s also not easy: there are animal products in everything from tires to McDonald’s french fries. Seemingly unrelated things like commercial real-estate development can be construed as exploiting animals by depriving them of (or poisoning) part of their habitat. The needs of commerce and taxation–for a strip mall, or for strip mining, for instance –can trump their existence.
When did you become a vegan?
In 2010, when I began cooking more of my meals, I fell back on vegetarian recipes. I’d been vegetarian on and off since I was 16. But I also had a couple of vegan cookbooks, dating back to when I was experimenting with a gluten-free, casein-free diet, though still an omnivore at the time. Becoming vegan was simply a matter of combining vegetarianism with GFCF.(I would later drop the gluten-free part.)
A few months later I began to understand that it wasn’t simply about food or diet; until then I only had a vague sense that veganism was good in some larger context.
You know the DC/Baltimore area, which many people come to at some point. So, would you have any local vegan businesses to recommend?
Great Sage, in Clarksville, MD, between DC and Baltimore
There are also lots of good vegan-friendly fast-casual places – a particular favorite these days is Rice Bar – plus a couple of very vegan-friendly, regional natural-foods supermarket chains: Mom’s Organic Market and Roots Market (the owners of the latter also own Great Sage).
Beyond food, how have you changed by adopting a vegan perspective?
I have a better sense of the autonomy and sentience of animals. My previous experience of living with a dog with a very strong, colorful personality helped cement that.I’ve progressed beyond “animals should not be food or commodities” to “animals have lives, and that should be respected.”
Jesse, could you describe how veganism and culture intertwine, from your perspective? How does veganism fit in with human social and economic striving?
Your veganism doesn’t exist in a vacuum; there’s a whole world out there, where you should be applying that same compassion you have for animals, who exist solely to become part of someone’s meal or clothing or entertainment, to human animals, near or far, like factory or garment workers halfway around the world (or just a stone’s-throw away), working under difficult conditions for wages you likely wouldn’t wish upon yourself. Your choices, as a consumer or voter, may help reinforce or (better) tear down the bad aspects of the status quo.
There’s no need to overlay some elaborate belief system. Just apply the Golden Rule to all creatures on the planet, and to the planet itself.As one of my heroes, Wavy Gravy, puts it: We are all the same person trying to shake hands with our self.
Amazon took over CreateSpace, a platform for indy authors, and folded it into Kindle Direct Publishing. And Patreon, which sustains independent creators, relies on Amazon’s AWS platform to guard creators against fraud. There’s some weird irony here. We rely on this massive, famously exploitive company, with a CEO who has accumulated $147 billion, to carve out some measure of creative independence in our lives, maybe even escape gig work. Is the quest for living on our own terms an illusion?
This ties a little into not being able to avoid random animal products in your life; if you interface in some way with any kind of commercial entity–including many companies providing your vegan goods – you are going to find yourself at odds with what some CxO says or does, or what the company itself does.Your organic vegan milk may come from a company far more invested in factory farms than it is in some vegan niche.
My work in IT had been cloud-adjacent for the last few years, and my current job is more directly cloud-related, plus I have side projects that involve even more cloud work. I’ve made my peace with it for now, but would like to find (or even found) a right-sized cloud platform that isn’t owned by a massive, for-profit entity. What we now know as Linux has roots in earlier projects started to create a cooperative, non-commercial version of the expensive proprietary Unixes of the day.Maybe something similar will happen for cloud computing.
I try not to enrich some large corporation if there’s a good alternative. It’s also important to recognize that we’re enriching various oligarchs and modern-day robber barons (whether it’s Bezos, Zuck, Bill Gates, or some Walton or Koch family offspring) with our choices of how we spend our time and money, and they’re all quite happy to use the power that accompanies their wealth to do things that may not be in our best interests.
And maybe we should, as voters, also be more concerned about un-sexy things like antitrust law than we have been in the past.
What would you say to people who are curious about becoming vegan, and has anyone become a vegan because of your influence?
No one has ever done anything because of my influence 🙂
There are many different good reasons to go vegan — for animal rights, against animal cruelty, for health reasons, etc. But there’s also the negative effect on the planet that animal agriculture has. If we’re quietly careening toward a climate emergency, maybe the positive effect of reducing global warming could be an incentive in ways that other angles and rationales have not been.
I live in the US, which has long been beset with elected officials for whom gratuitous cruelty toward marginalized groups and individuals is a core part of their branding.That’s not sustainable for a country, and, additionally, things like war, and greed, and a host of other forms of human folly endanger humanity’s long-term existence.Earth will go on just fine without human life; the reverse isn’t true.So being vegan should be– or should be thought of as –one of many things in one’s toolkit that exist as a counterweight to our various destructive tendencies.
What is an example of what you like to eat at home, how do you make it?
I used to consume a lot of protein: I had a six-day-a-week yoga practice and also did a lot of powerlifting, and I had trouble keeping my weight up.So I would eat lots of tofu, tempeh, and seitan, and gulp down protein shakes. I’ve scaled back, partly due to the pandemic, but I still don’t eat enough actual vegetables sometimes. I try to fix that by grabbing a vegetable-centric cookbook, or an omnivore one with lots of vegetable recipes.
But I have a lot of fun improvising marinades for tofu/tempeh, and also like to incorporate various leftovers into batches of seitan–say, some unused beans, or wilting kale, or almost-forgotten mushrooms sitting in the back of the fridge.
1. Soak 1 cup Textured Vegetable Protein in 1-1.5 cups broth or marinade to rehydrate the TVP. Set aside the excess liquid
2. Coarsely puree about a cup’s worth of stuff — beans, mushrooms, greens….
This week I used 1 cup of cooked black beans that were sitting in the fridge; 2 tablespoons of nutritional yeast; 2 tablespoons of jerk seasoning (you could instead use salt/pepper, cumin, sage, smoked paprika, rehydrated hot peppers, etc., to taste).
3. Add enough liquid (maybe taken from the TVP soaking) to help puree all of this in a blender or food processor.
4. Combine 1 cup of Vital Wheat Gluten in a bowl with the above. Work it into a dough for a few minutes; it may take a little trial-and-error over several improvised batches to get a sense of how wet/dry/stretchy/firm the dough should feel before the next step.
5. Form into individual pieces–e.g., burgers, meatballs, cutlets– and wrap each in parchment paper, then in aluminum foil. Steam for approximately 90 minutes. Allow to cool, and put everything in the refrigerator overnight, to firm.
Then…fry up your burgers (or cutlets, or whatever), or crumble into a stir-fry or pasta sauce.
Mayo for Your Future Seitan Sandwich
1 box (likely 12.3 oz) silken tofu
1/4 cup white miso
1 dehydrated Chipotle or New Mexico pepper, rehydrated
1-2 cloves garlic
1-2 teaspoons dijon mustard
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup oil (e.g., olive, avocado, coconut, peanut… maybe in combination)
Combine the non-oil ingredients in a blender or food processor.If your blender/processor allows the dribbling-in of the oil, do that until everything is blended well, with something resembling the consistency of mayo. Some time in the fridge will likely help thicken a thin result.If you can’t incrementally add the oil, that’s fine — just add it all, and continue blending. Useas-isorasthebasisforasauce.
Thanks for sharing your recipe ideas, Jesse! It seems this creativity comes naturally to you. Do you consider everyday vegan life easy now?
Very easy for me, as a resident of an advanced industrialized country, with many options for cruelty-free food, clothes, and other products. Food-wise, it’s better now than ten years ago, when I started — more shopping options, more restaurant options. The hardest part might be for a newly-ex-omnivore to give up some favorite food(s). I’ve yet to find an adequate substitute for every situation that I might have, in the past, used cheese or eggs, though the situation is also much improved over the last decade.
Any ideas that may be helpful to others who might experience similar struggles?
One thing that worked for me, on the ex-omnivore front, was noticing that food tastes better when I’m hungry. That’s not much of a solution, I understand, but sometimes quibbles about some vegan dish not being “as good” as something you’ve given up are lost when your food is, in some way, simply good. It may take a little time, or a little work, to find or cook consistently good vegan meals.
Thank you for the gift of your thoughtful and thought-sparking writing, Jesse. Greatly appreciated.
When someone tells me they are vegan, my first thought is: “Really?”
Often, their next words will be: Except for fish. Or eggs. Or “CHEESE! I can’t live without cheese.”
To me, being vegan is the conscious decision to do my best to not exploit. I would rather like to be called an anti-exploitationist. It is an ideal I know I can’t achieve, but it’s there to remind me whenever I ask myself: “Is this OK to eat, wear, watch or tolerate without giving a speech?”
Could you say something about what you do for a living?
I am currently a tractor trailer driver, and have been since 1996. It is a far cry from the 12 years prior, when I worked at a pig slaughterhouse.
What is the hardest part of being vegan in your job?
Luckily working by myself doesn’t pose any ethical or logistical problems. There was a time when my job required me to stay on the road for a day or two. Then, finding places to eat presented minor problems.
Does your occupation inform your vegan perspective in any particular way?
Not that I can think of. I am sincerely happy that I don’t have to make the hard decisions that many ethical vegans do. My hat is off to the people working in retail, food service, pharmaceutical, or even transportation. Many have to face shelves of animal-tested products or animal flesh, or pull loads of cruelty—situations over which they have no control.
Allen, you are working through a major health crisis. Does being vegan offer you a unique perspective on this pandemic?
Only that I wonder how many diseases would be prevented if humanity had lived an animal-free life. All of the pandemics and epidemics and even the seasonal influenzas that I can think of have their origins linked to animal agriculture or exploitation.
So, food! What is an example of what you like to eat at home, and could you tell us how to get it or make it?
My wife and I love to work in the kitchen. I worked in restaurant kitchens when I was in high school and for a few years before I got married. I learned the basics and don’t have problems converting recipes and creating new items. Most of our dinners are stir-fries. Brussel sprouts and mushrooms are often featured. We forage a little bit. We just ate a bunch of fiddlehead ferns. They were excellent. Next month I’ll be picking wild raspberries. We always have a butternut squash on the counter waiting to be roasted. Kale, tomatoes, sweet potatoes and tomatoes don’t last long in the kitchen. Crock pot soups and chili sans carne are winter staples. I am not big on recipes. I use whatever I have. It is hard to make a bad meal when using lots of different fresh, whole ingredients.
What is an example of what you like to eat on the road, and could you tell us how to get it or make it?
I really don’t eat much during work. When I was a runner, I would make a fruit and kale recovery smoothie and fill a thermos. Now, a thermos of coffee and a couple of fig bars do the trick.
Other than eating, what do you do differently now that you’re vegan?
Do you mean besides looking down my nose at all the lower lifeforms that haven’t realized all the harm they are doing to the world yet? I don’t do that nearly as much as I used to.
I don’t wear animals. I don’t enjoy entertainment that exploits them. I try to be conscious of my actions, and what outcome I might have on the world, or the moment. Today I was digging from a pile of dirt on my driveway. I disturbed a hill of ants. I could have just dug in and done what I needed to do. The dirt will have to be moved. I moved to the other side of the pile and dug there. I came back a little later and tested the original dig, the ants had retreated some. I dug, and repeated the process. It may seem silly, but I felt better. I hope the ants felt better too with time to relocate. Stinkbugs and spiders get escorted out of the house. So, I guess, Do as little harm as possible is a directive evolved from my veganism.
Allen, when and why did you become vegan?
My wife Cissy and I made the journey into veganism together. In 2007 I was diagnosed with Hepatitis-C. I also had stage 3 liver disease as a result. I am fully recovered now. Cissy was reading an article and suggested, in an effort to get healthier, we try vegetarianism. I was 48 at the time. We continued dairy for a long time. About two years. Podcasts came into my world around 2009. I started learning about the harm we do to ourselves and our environment. But that pales in comparison to the cruelty we inflict on animals. One podcast introduced me to a documentary: Got the Facts on Milk? We left vegetarianism for veganism the next day. Mama cows crying for their babies still haunt me. We also watched Forks Over Knives and Vegucated. We read several books. There really isn’t a logical reason not to change.
What would you say to people who are curious about becoming vegan themselves?
I first ask them why they are curious. And thoroughly examine those reasons. While it can be healthy, I don’t think it is a reason that sticks. I tell them to examine their reasons for wanting a difference in their life. Information is everywhere.
Do you have thoughts on why some people go vegan and others don’t, although similar information is available to both?
I hate to think it, but I am more convinced every day that there are two types of people. There are people that care, and people that don’t. Subsets within these groups surely exist. Like people that hide from truths. And people that minimalize the things they know.
Conversely, people that care can be complacent, or lazy, or underestimate the effects they can have in society. I’m sure I fall into that group somewhere, at least at times.
Has anyone become a vegan because of your influence?
My mother saw the light after 78 years, and her health has benefited greatly! My daughter is carrying the tradition on and raising her daughter vegan as well. I hope I have an effect as part of the collective.
Allen, you once hunted. Vegans surely don’t think of hunters as low-hanging fruit when they look for communities to persuade. Are they right that hunters are unlikely candidates for becoming vegan?
I think hunting families have a tough tradition to crack. I didn’t have a close relationship with my father. I got interested in target shooting when I was around 12. I joined a shooting club and became pretty good. It wasn’t until I was around 30 that I started hunting with some friends from work. I didn’t have those family bonding moments and memories to overcome.
Do you think it is unusual for a hunter to become vegan?
While I think it is unusual, I see it as possible. I think people that live their lives with the desire to learn as many truths as possible can be reasoned into any true position. It all depends on the desire to be honest about your positions, and change when the information warrants it. Dairy farmers have changed. Pig farmers have changed. Doctors and lawyers have changed. Slaughterhouse workers have changed. Why not hunters? I fell into the last two categories.
Do you think vegan advocates spend enough time on the issue of hunting animals?
We must face the fact that very few wild animals would ever die of old age. Nature red in tooth and claw and all. Most hunters, but not nearly all, pride themselves on one-shot kills and dropping in his tracks. Seems gross now.
I haven’t met anyone who wants to inflict pain and suffering. While hunting is exploitation, and the same experience could be achieved with a camera, I think this is more of an ecological issue than a humane or cruelty issue. The turmoil we inflict on the earth and all its finely balanced systems, and creatures, including us humans, is just too sad.
Today, game has a different meaning for you. You are a board gamer who developed a farm animal refuge game. Do you think gaming can be influential in a vegan shift?
I don’t know about a shift. But I think every time we can say the word, or express the concepts of veganism, we should. Just to let anyone thinking about it know they are not alone. That someone else is doing it, and thriving.
Some of your game pieces represent foxes. Why did you include those in the refuge scene?
I include the foxes to let the players know that farmed animals aren’t the only animals that need to be considered. And foxes are beautiful.
Could you say a few words on what might be hardest for you, psychologically or otherwise, about living a vegan life?
That we know there is a better way to live. And then, to be incapable of conveying the principles of empathy and compassion to others. Even to the people we know already have empathy and compassion. Living every day, knowing the suffering continues with no end in sight, tends to make me nihilistic. Not in an anarchy type of way. More of a uselessness.
Any ideas that may be helpful to others who might experience similar struggles?
Knowing that any act of humanity I make has a positive influence on somebody, man or beast, makes it worthwhile. No one person will save the world. We all must find solace in knowing that we and our actions are less the problem, and more the cure.
In what direction do you hope the vegan community will go? What should be emphasized?
In every direction. Let everyone know you are vegan. People need to know who you are. Your position will not be taken seriously until it is a movement. People cannot change if they are not aware a viable option. Let everyone know that someone they know is happy and healthy in their decision to be compassionate. The word Vegan is in my Instagram moniker. I compete in bearding competitions all around the country. These competitions are now online, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but I still let everyone I meet know: I am Vegan Al. I wear the vegan message on hats, pins, and shirts.
And lest anyone think all vegans take themselves too seriously, here is a photo of your recent first-place beard win! (Congrats!) Anything else you’d like to leave us with, Vegan Al?
I think most people are compassionate. It’s all about where they draw their lines. It starts with one’s self. If you stop there, you are a sociopath. You could move the line to your companions and family. Your companion animals may have a position inside your line. Where to draw the line next? Does the line move to heritage? Social groups? Religion? Species, domestic or wild? I hope we all find a point when we can start removing lines and realize that we all suffer. We all deserve the right to live as we are without these artificial lines designed to separate. Help when you can. If you can’t, get out of the way so someone else can.
Remember, don’t let perfection get in the way of doing the best you can. Just be honest about what is your best. One of my favorite quotes is by Maya Angelou. Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.
Thank you, Lee, for approaching me for this interview, and the chance to open up and express my views. I hope my answers inspire somebody to look at their own reasons for the way they live.