Find Me at the Vegan Climate Summit

FRIDAY, 22 JULY 2022, 8-11 PM (EDT: the New York/Toronto time zone).

Let’s converse about the diet-climate connection and go deeper still. Why do we assign ourselves the right to displace habitat with systems that are not only massive emitters, but also massively aggressive to the natural web of life?

Human domination of the planet is the big issue we need to address. It’s also the most entrenched problem humanity has ever had to face.

But we cannot go on living as we are. We need to rethink our identity as a species on a living planet.

Please come to the Second Annual Vegan Climate Summit if you can. It would be great to see you there.

To register, tap “Going” on this event page.

Event co-ordinator Kyle Luzynski of Project Animal Freedom is a patron of the Art of Animal Liberation. Project Animal Freedom has a very gutsy goal: cultivating a fully vegan Midwestern U.S. by 2056 through a strategic, chapter-based system. 

Elon Musk’s Twitter Takeover Drama: A Hand Overplayed?

Tesla’s “semi-sentient” cars cannot replace the sentient life their infrastructure overruns. Animals can’t defend themselves from lithium extractionFragile ecosystems have little recourse against Tesla—or “green” tech’s cheap access to sensitive lands in general.

Meanwhile, Musk continues to craft ecological and social justifications to burrow into key facets of modern life. Now the Teslaspreading is taking up all of Twitter. 

Read more on CounterPunch today.

About Being Vegan: Praise for the Little Things

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.”

Right on!

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.


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Photo credit: Kabir Cheema, on Unsplash.

Harold’s Journey Home

They say “free range” and “pasture raised” is better. Try telling that to Harold Brown.

Harold grew up on a spacious family farm in Michigan, raising cows, pigs, goats and rabbits for their flesh. Like any farm kid, Harold learned to relate to farm animals in the expected way. Parents and family, church, Future Farmers of America, the local 4-H Club, ag courses at land-grant colleges and TV commercials all told kids the same thing. Eating animals and animal products is normal. Animal flesh, dairy and eggs are basic human wants and needs.

Yet as a child, Harold knew cow herds as communities, and cows as individuals who mourned when one of the group was shot by a deer hunter, or when cows were separated from their calves. Harold also saw them play.

“And I watched a lot of kids cry when they auctioned off their animals at the county fairs,” says Harold. Growing up involved putting away childish feelings. In adulthood, Harold went on occasional hunting trips and took a three-year job at a dairy.

At 18, Harold had a heart attack. A few years later, after an injury at the dairy, a connection clicked. The union doctor went over Harold’s blood work and predicted bypass surgery.

A Low-Key Advocate and Long-Term Friend

After studying the literature on diet and disease, Harold resolved to stop eating animal flesh and ice cream by the tub. And that’s when a form of post-traumatic stress seeped into the ex-farmer’s mind—a sudden horror at having driven and castrated and dehorned and butchered bulls and cows. Switching to plants for protein and nutrients had tripped a new switch—from a health quest to a journey of awareness, of caring, of love cut short in childhood. 

It’s painful to begin the vegan journey, and perhaps that’s why many don’t. To become aware of having done harm is to take a difficult step. Harm to other animals. Harm to human beings who were forced to repress their empathy and inflict such harm.

I think of the activism that aims to punish slaughter workers. Harold could have been interchangeable with the killing floor worker dismissed from a job, or possibly subjected to criminal charges or deportation. Punishment is not an epiphany. Those who think slaughterers and stalkers of animals are beyond redemption must not know Harold Brown.

Now, as a vegan, Harold makes connections by telling others what the younger Harold had needed to hear. It starts with taking a walk with another person. Befriending another person. Planting seeds, and cultivating them. Harold is a low-key advocate and a long-term friend.

“What Do You Have to Lose?” 

Some say they could never become vegan. “What do you have to lose?” Harold asks. “Try eating this way for one year. Let me help.” Harold bets their bodies will flourish and they’ll stick with it.  

But Harold adds: “We cannot expect these things from other people or society unless we sow the seeds and nurture them.” I like this a lot. The point of vegan advocacy, I think, is neither to shame nor intimidate others, nor to manipulate emotions, but to learn and to inform, to be open and receptive and trustworthy. We’re all in this together.

Harold thinks the animal protection movement (Harold now wryly refers to it as the animal husbandry reform movement) is too focused on scoring minor victories in the world of animal ag, and not enough on nurturing people and helping them change their lives. As for those so-called victories, Harold flatly states: “There is no such thing as a humane animal product or farming practice, humane transport or humane slaughter.” Those are marketing taglines.

Wherever animal products are made, what needs to be reformed is the farmer, not the farm.

The Kingdom Within

Harold appeared in Tribe of Heart’s film Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home. It’s about Harold and other farmers and rescue workers who came to share an understanding. And Harold has found that we create the peaceable kingdom in our inner lives.

Veganism is an ethic of unlimited empathy, Harold says, an ethic of unconditional caring and love. It encompasses our health and our mental being. It leads to respect for all elements of Earth’s intricate biological community. It is our journey home. Read further.

A very happy birthday to Harold on June 28th, and many more.

Banner photo: Harold Brown (L) with Vinnie Straub and the Self Love Vegan food truck at the American Vegan Society in Malaga, New Jersey. 

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.

Self-Love and Liberation

It’s the night of the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. Joe Biden just got vaccinated, and Britain is on the verge of increased lockdown measures because of a new Covid-19 variant discovered in London.

Vaccines will curb Covid-19, but they clearly can’t end it, as they do not address its root causes. And we face still more pervasive emergencies: 

  • New virus vectors, on account of the continued mass confinement of animals and a destabilized climate.
  • Summer wildfires, strong storms, flooding, sea level rise, loss of our own habitat and the habitat of other beings. 
  • Social unrest due to climate-driven migration.
  • Imbalances in biological communities, including extinctions. 

Vegans stepped up to avert these emergencies well before Covid-19. To be vegan is to reject the belief that other life on the surface of this planet is suitable for Homo sapiens to move or manipulate. Without systematic animal confinement, Covid wouldn’t exist.

To quote Kirsti and Vinnie of SelfLoveVegan, once we begin to love all sentient beings, we begin to love ourselves. Nothing less will spare us, and every other biological community on Earth, from an endless string of gradually or abruptly worsening emergencies.

Nothing less than love will do, and love means a transformation of our human identity. Instead of feeling entitled to control other life, we find ourselves compelled to respect it. In a profound sense, vegan advocacy might just be the most essential work in the human world.


Special solstice post inspired by patrons and supporters. Photo: Harold and Vinnie beside the SelfLoveVegan food truck at the 2018 American Vegan Society annual general meeting and garden party, by Lee.

Vegans Coping With COVID-19

So, how is everybody this weekend?

My freezer is jammed with vegan Indian dinners that I got at Trader Joe’s before Friday the 13th, when a declared national state of emergency sunk in (and Tom Hanks got COVID-19: that was a big yikes! moment for the jetsetters of the Philly burbs). Suddenly, frozen items started selling out as fast as staffers could stock the freezers.

Starting yesterday our local vegan restaurant SuTao closed its doors for two weeks.

Vegan restaurants are generally small, independent businesses, and will be hit hard. Their staffers are unlikely to receive any of the federal government’s weirdly patchy emergency paid leave. (The bill, just passed, guarantees sick leave only to about 20% of workers. Staffers of big corporations including McDonald’s and Amazon are left out. Staffers of companies with fewer than 50 people will be left out because of exemptions. And the bill simply wasn’t drafted with independent businesses, tip-earning workers, high-turnover sectors, or artists and educators in mind.) Point is, most vegan-run businesses are taking a heavy hit. Kindly support them when they reopen.

I’ve had to stop work on planned public presentations as the college events aren’t happening. But I’m not the worst-off here. People who sell their goods where people meet – vegan festivals or physical stores – could go out of business.

So, on top of fear of the virus itself, vegan craftspeople, vendors, educators, writers, and creators have the agony of watching event after event get cancelled around the arrival of Spring and the month of Earth Day and we have to find the ability to connect with people through videos, Zoom interviews, or the written word. The people at Patreon, which now enables all my vegan advocacy to happen, have been wonderfully supportive and caring. I mean the people running it as well as my patrons. If you are a vegan educator, writer, or artist I recommend Patreon not only for its platform but also for its efforts in creating a sense of community.

What COVID-19 TELLS US ABOUT OUR COLLECTIVE FUTURE
Speaking of community, we human apes need to find ways to share our prosperity, or we’ll share our inability to survive. Real “resilience” in the face of changes in climate, and land and ocean health, must mean we become capable of widely empathetic responses. And real resilience must involve asking deep questions about why the climate, the land, and the waters are changing.

We can’t simply conquer the coronavirus threat. Consider our interconnected, sprawling population, and the way infections will evolve with the climate crisis. There will be more of this. What are we going to do about it?

Well, veganism will help, insofar as it means:

  • Living a low-carbon, resource-frugal life.
  • Stopping the farm run-off that compromises the oceans and kills off marine bio-communities.
  • Halting deforestation and human incursions into the space of the free-living beings (i.e., staying out of the way of “wildlife”).

I think we have to think of self-isolation in terms of letting up on our continual invasions of nature. Have we given some thought to this?

Stay well if you can, live simply if you’re not already forced to, and keep up your outreach.

Love and liberation,

Lee.

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Banner image: [Friday 13 March 2020 1700 local time] at Trader Joe’s grocery in Wayne, Pennsylvania. Restaurants are shut, and vegan Indian dinners are getting hard to find!

Apocalypse Fatigue: How Do You Cope?

We’ve been hearing a lot about what will happen in 2050 if humans don’t change our ways.

Make that 2021.

As far as our abilities and circumstances permit, we must change the way we think and live.

The change must be radical — root-level.

The change must encompass deep empathy and awareness.

This is our challenge if we live on Earth now.

‘Unprecedented’: more than 100 Arctic wildfires burn in worst ever season

After posting an update similar to this on Facebook, I took a look at my vegan friends’ replies: It’s already too late.

It’s True, of Course. We Can’t Go Back.

For so many aspects of the Anthropocene, it is — quite suddenly — way too late to turn back the clock.

Still, I want to live by that adage about planting the tree even if we know the world will end tomorrow.

In fact, better than planting the tree is leaving the trees where they are in the first place. As vegans, that’s essentially what we do.

Even if the world as we know it will end tomorrow.

Ethics Count Anyway.

There are reasons, I suspect, that we have an ethical faculty, and we strive to heed its guidance.

We are, at the end of the day, embodied energy in the universe. We’d do well to represent what we most respect — flawed and confounded though we might be.

Never before has a generation faced what we’re facing now. Sure, the Anthropocene was put in motion long ago. But here we are, the late-20th and early 21st century people, witnessing the results.

Let me ask. How are you coping, as an aware vegan on the edge of the human-driven bio/geological breakdown?

While there is still so much to love, protect, respect, admire, enjoy, adore. While it is never too late to love.

Of Course, Vegans Felt the Trauma All Along.

We knew we’d lost the aurochs forever, while purpose-bred cattle cover the world.

We saw pet shops and pet supply stores smother the land that was once the home of the wolves and wildcats — free-living forebears of pets.

We knew the cattle, the calves, the pigs, the birds, and sometimes horses too, were passing by, a stone’s throw away on the ever-widened roadways, en route to their death at the hands of tired and injured workers.

We knew about the animals caged in university labs. We knew the zoos had captured polar bears and orcas, the federal government was killing free-living carnivores by the hundreds of thousands, and dolphins were forced into everything from TV acting to “assisted therapy” to fancy dinner entertainment. We knew we’d exhausted the bees.

We Became Aware of Our Membership in the Master Class.

So, some time ago, our unconscious allegiance to our own kind turned into conscious critique.

And the pain of a conscious and critical mind, we knew, is nothing like the pain the animals feel. We came to know survivor’s guilt as an unspoken element of the vegan experience.

After the fabulous vegan food was cleared off the table, we went home and thought to ourselves: The most vital nourishment is understanding, support, and love from another who knows.

It still is.

A few years ago I wrote:

Consider that a transformation of our human identity will spare us, and every other biological community on Earth, from enduring an endless string of gradually or abruptly worsening emergencies whose roots we fail to address. Consider, if you will, relinquishing the human assumption that the Earth is ours.

That’s new territory. We’re going to need skills. We’re going to need each other.


Banner photo: Jacqueline Godany, via Unsplash. Chart: U.S. Department of Energy via NOAA. Not sure who deserves credit for the term “apocalypse fatigue”; but the term’s been around at least a decade.

Why Vegan Enterprises Should Get Your Support

To some extent, we’re all caught up in the machine of exploitation. Sometimes I think the financially poor are most likely to work for people without compunctions about selling animals and substances taken from animals, or delivering these items. Fewer resources mean less decision-making power at work.

But in most any job, and regardless of our level of education or income, the tension arises, because the dominator paradigm is everywhere humans operate.
Professional rescuers deal with it too. I know people who take cast-off primates from labs. Often, if the animals are monkeys, a lab will prevent the refuge from naming the lab or talking about what happened there as conditions of the primates’ release. The rescuers acknowledge, and suffer with, their inescapable enabling role.
Every kind of rescue situation (from a household sanctuary to a large nonprofit) has its daily dilemmas. We’re all expected to get used to them. Even though veganism is gaining social recognition, very few roles exist that leave an animal advocate’s ethics unscathed.

 

Turbulence and Refuge

James LaVeck once told me 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. Our stress may be endless; but at least it’s explicable.
One thing that would help not just manage our tension but actually relieve it would be safety. The refuge of knowing that when we speak out or when we walk away based on principle, we won’t lose the ability to keep a roof overhead or struggle to pay vet bills.
And that brings me to the key reason why vegans need to support vegans.
Sure, vegans need to be in the world and visible in all kinds of regular contexts. No worries. We are, all the time.
But the more identifiable spaces vegans can make for vegan-run work, the more opportunities vegans will have to find surroundings that celebrate our veganism and sustain us not just as producers, but as vegans.

 

Vegan-Focused Enterprises Matter. So Do Vegan-Run Enterprises

If a vegan-owned cleaning service succeeds, for example, the benefits will be several:
  • A vegan-run enterprise will seek ways to avoid toxic chemicals (tested on animals; harsh on the environment; unhealthful for living beings indoors).

  • As the vegan-run undertaking succeeds, it can make increasingly stronger decisions on fair trade and fair compensation for work.

  • The entity could sustain one or more vegans, in a decent work environment, where mutual support and even co-operative work relationships can flourish.

We live in a critical time. Weighed down by humanity’s sheer mass, the human obsession for domesticating other life, and people’s addiction-like consumerism, the biosphere faces climate crisis. It faces an ever-worsening extinction period. Humanity’s prints on Earth saturate the water, seep into the rock sediment, and shrink the horns, antlers, and tusks. The only biosphere we’ve ever known is trapped in the new Anthropocene geological era. We cannot afford to just shut up and sell. We never could.
Many vegans know, but are financially forced to work in places where authentic respect is sidelined, or be economically isolated. Support for vegan-run work is essential. It can diminish our daily fears and tensions, and reinforce our lifetime commitment. It can clear room to enable thought and advocacy from an ever-growing community of vegans.

 

Feel free to link a vegan-run enterprise, including your own, in the comment section.


Image: boat’s lifesaver ring. Found at Wikimedia Commons. Original source: CSIRO