This Idyllic Scene

The thing that shocked me, along with the chief impact of the whole setup, was that my Uncle George, of whom I thought very highly, was part of the crew, and I suppose at that point I decided that farms, and uncles, had to be re-assessed. They weren’t all they seemed to be, on the face of it, to a little, hitherto uninformed boy. 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.

—Donald Watson


Banner photo: Lee Hall. Inset photo: Peter Lloyd, via Unsplash.

What Is Veganism? [Audio Clip]

…is part of a collective offering, based on the definition of veganism from the people of The Vegan Society who set the movement in motion. I doubt I could improve upon that striking piece, nor need I try. Yet prompted by conversations with Will Anderson of GreenVegans.org, with James, Jenny, and Harold of HumaneMyth.org, with Bill Drelles and Jack McMillan of the Cleveland Animal Rights Alliance, Chris Kelly in Texas and many other thoughtful people, I enjoy revisiting the early definition to convey it in today’s words. Here, in an audio version.

Veganism Defined

Veganism is a social movement. It’s based on the principle that human beings should live without exploiting animals.

Vegans seek to end the use of other animals for food, commodities, work, hunting, vivisection—and all exploitation of animal life.

In the hope of achieving the ideal, vegans commit to living as closely to it as personal circumstances permit.

Karen Pearlman - bee on sunflowerWhile veganism is not a diet, vegans do apply the principle to their diets, committing to complete and consistent vegetarianism.

People become vegetarians for various reasons—humanitarian, ecological, health-based, etc. Veganism, though, is a principle—that we have no right to dominate and control other animals—so we follow a consistent, animal-free diet. Free of flesh, whether of mammals, birds, or sea animals, free of eggs, free of honey, free of animal milk and its derivatives, our culinary arts are plant-based, wholesome, and guided by fairness. We seek animal liberation—that is, reintegration of other animals within the balance and sanity of nature itself.

Our purpose is to redeem a great mistake, with the stupendous effect it has had upon the Karen Pearlman - windblown sunflowercourse of evolution. As veganism spreads, the conception of other animals as existing within Earth’s great bio-community for us to possess will begin to fade away.

The purpose of veganism transcends welfare; its goal is liberation—of other animals and of the human spirit.

It is not so much an effort to make the present relationship between ourselves and other animals bearable, as an uncompromising recognition that because it is basically one of master and slave, that relationship has to be abolished before something better and finer can be created.


EXPLANATORY note: this work is not mine; It’s part of a collective exercise. I’m a member of The Vegan Society, and I subscribe to THE DEFINITION OF VEGANISM OFFERED by its foundING MEMBERS. take a look at VEGANISM DEFINED FOR THEIR FULL DEFINITION, POSTED COURTESY OF THE INTERNATIONAL VEGETARIAN UNION. I DOUBT I COULD improve upon That striking piece, nor do I need to. But, prompted by conversations with Will Anderson of GreenVegans.org, Harold, James and Jenny of HumaneMyth.org, and other thoughtful people at the 2015 North American Vegetarian Society’s Summerfest conference, I’ve given my 21st-century language a go in conveying the basics of the definition originally published in 1951. Appreciation to PHOTOGRAPHER and friend KAREN BETH PEARLMAN.

In Memory and Celebration: Donald and Dorothy

Today is Spring Bank Holiday Monday, better known in the United States as Memorial Day. Lives of determined conscientious objection aren’t the kind most people laud today. But if they were, wouldn’t our culture be the healthier for it?

Donald Watson was a woodworker who spoke respectfully of those who went to fight in World War Two, including several close friends. Donald reprehended the vileness of Hitler’s designs, yet evidently rejected the concept that war is the way to end war, and sought the grant of an alternative position teaching young woodworkers. Donald couldn’t kill. No war horses were bred for or by Donald, nobody’s children physically or mentally maimed.

Keswick on the map, from keswick.org/

Keswick on the map, from Keswick.org

Donald Watson married Dorothy Morgan some time after the end of the war and the couple established their home in Keswick, Cumbria. The life partners—for they were more than spouses, it seems to me: they were partners in the fullest sense of that word—became active members of the Cumbrian Vegetarian Society. But by then, the pair, together with Elsie Shrigley and about two dozen like-minded people, had already launched the vegan movement.

When Donald Watson passed gently of old age in 2005, the BBC reported on the longtime advocate’s satisfaction in having achieved the key goal of that advocacy: “to feel that I was instrumental in starting a great new movement which could not only change the course of things for Humanity and the rest of Creation but alter Man’s expectation of surviving for much longer on this planet.” And the more we learn about the role of animal commodification in climate disruption, the more urgent Donald’s point has become to international policy-makers.  

casket - 2005 Nov.

Donald Watson’s casket was adorned with sunflowers—symbols of the vegan movement.

People worldwide are now asking what and how to “cut back” in order to curb climate change. But the vegans called for change at a much deeper level. They made the case against killing. They made the case for undoing the age-old concept that other conscious beings are inferior to us, and were put on Earth for our own conquests, uses, and whims.

Donald’s funeral was held on the morning of Monday 28 November 2005, at Crosthwaite Church, which is dedicated to Saint Kentigern. Following the service, guests gathered to eat at the Lyzzick Hall Hotel. The service was requested by Janet, the only child of Donald and Dorothy.

Crosthwaite Church in Keswick.

Donald self-identified as agnostic, but once said, “[I]f any priest of any denomination wants to distinguish himself—or, nowadays I must add `herself`—the opportunity is open for them to join the vegan movement and really express the core element of what they are professing to stand for.”

Speaking at Donald’s funeral, Janet mentioned a day that Dorothy and Donald both attended a dance. During the event the two started discussing the founding of a new society; and Dorothy came up with the word vegan as a possible name for it, on the basis that its letters are the beginning and conclusion of vegetarian.

I visited in North Yorkshire at the invitation of Patricia Tricker in 2011, and we planned a day trip to visit the final resting place of Donald and Dorothy. The Crosthwaite Church, near the River Greta, overlooks the beautiful Lake District mountains and the Newlands Valley. The name of the nearby fells Cat Bells may have come from “Cat Bields” – shelter of wildcats.

Donald Watson 242

A church has stood on this site since the sixth century A.D., and the present church architecture dates from 1523. The stained glass in the windows is mostly from the 19th century although some fragments of ancient glass remain.Donald Watson 342

The graves of Donald and Dorothy are not among the notable people listed by the church as buried there; nor are they marked with headstones. But a church representative, called by Patricia in advance, had offered key reminders of the spatial details that would enable us to find the spot. And after quite a bit of focused meandering, we found it.

Finding Donald Watson’s grave, and a surprise (for me): Dorothy is buried there too.

Finding Donald Watson’s grave, and a surprise (for me): Dorothy is buried there too.

Wanting to leave flowers on it, I recycled a few freshly discarded ones left by previous visitors.

Flowers: recently cut but discarded.

Flowers: recently cut but discarded; I pulled some out to place on Donald’s grave.

The November fog brought its natural beauty to the Keswick day. By mid-morning, the landscape appeared out of the rain in striking green; by midday, the fog and rain returned.

Not far from Crosthwaite is the Castlerigg Stone Circle, which we stopped to look at during one of our many brief walks in the area. A group of sheep grazed near the circle.

They were Swaledale sheep, used for the production of mutton (adult lamb flesh) and wool, and to maintain the landscape that’s so appealing to Cumbria’s visitors. Notes from tourists about the “happy sheep” of Keswick are frequently written and easy to find online. But Donald Watson wryly spoke of the custom of telling children about sheep who “gave” wool, without saying this “giving” would continue only until the sheep were killed because maintaining them alive no longer served the purposes of their human owners.

Castlerigg Stone Circle

Swaledale sheep grazing at Castlerigg Stone Circle.

The fog ultimately claimed the afternoon, and as a cold mist turned into rain, we visited the town square. Tucked between the Skiddaw, one of Britain’s highest mountains, and the smaller Latrigg, Keswick is a popular point of convergence for cyclists, kayakers, walkers and climbers.

Bell Close, Keswick Town Square.

Bell Close, Keswick Town Square.

It is the market village in the beautiful Lake District National Park in Cumbria. Canon Rawnsley, who served as vicar of Crosthwaite Church from 1883-1917, was one of the co-founders of Britain’s National Trust, which now owns much of the land in the area.

Off Lake Road, Keswick, Cumbria.

The vista off Lake Road, Keswick, Cumbria.

The Lakeland Pedlar

Two employees of the Lakeland Pedlar pose with Patricia.

At the close of the day we stopped for supper in a restaurant Patricia had visited some years ago, called The Lakeland Pedlar. There we warmed ourselves with apple and parsnip soup, served with fresh bread—and received a 10% discount as members of the Vegan Society.

 

 

 

Photo of Donald’s funeral casket taken Monday 28 November 2005, supplied courtesy of Patricia Tricker. Photos of Keswick taken on Sunday 27 Nov. 2011 published by Lee Hall. Link and share this memory freely (thank you!); but if using selected text or pictures, kindly communicate by e-mail to Lee via climatelaw[AT]me.com

 

Who Owns the Bees?

Honey, vegans have noticed, is a food made by bees for bees. When I first became vegan (back when we had to walk ten miles uphill, both ways, to get vegan ice cream only to find it wasn’t invented yet), I heard honey was left to the discretion of the individual vegan. Years later I’d be corrected on that point by a document from the really early days of the vegan movement, unequivocally declaring honey is not ours for the taking.

But what about products pollinated by bees? As bees have co-evolved with plants, so have we co-evolved with bees, who pollinate our tomatoes, berries, peppers, squashes and nuts. Can we have these foods without the deliberate exploitation of bees? It seems only vegan-organic growers can claim to produce food for human communities free from the commercial pollinator industry, which takes half its profits from almond production.

Skin cream from Lush.

An almond-based skin cream. Looks like there’s palm oil in there too, but I’ll leave that for a future blog entry…

Store-bought almond milk, almond-based skin-care products, and almonds themselves are vegan; but with such a large human population craving these nutrient-packed nuts, it would be no mean feat to find an almond-based item produced apart from commercial bee pollination. In the United States alone, pollination by honeybees and other insects facilitates $40 billion in commerce annually, according to the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign.

But in recent decades, in the shadows of our burgeoning population and the advent of mass-scale agribusiness, flat fields have stretched over habitable landscapes, wiping out hedges and flowering shrubs. Large, social bees such as honey bees and bumble bees have faced “colony collapse disorder”—entire bee colonies dying suddenly. Dairy and other animal farmers are becoming concerned about their stores of feed, including alfalfa. And note that farm animals are being fed seven times the grain that people eat directly, at least in the United States. All told, the overwhelming factor straining bees is animal agribusiness.

Varied reports of collapses have appeared out of about half of the United States, from the Mediterranean region, and from Britain, and from China and Australia as well. When we lose what insects do for us, we notice them.   Scientists are now urgently recommending conservation efforts for all kinds of insects, given their ecological role as pollinators and evolutionary significance in the web of life.

Beekeeping: Part of the Problem?

The Public Broadcasting System’s Nature webpage “How can you help the bees?” recommends leaving wild spaces in gardens and avoiding pesticides, and it counsels readers to “put pressure on politicians to reinstate laws that used to prevent importing bees into the country and transporting them across state borders.” Yet PBS displays concern for them only insofar as one species—the species in which we happen to identify ourselves as members—wants to keep taking advantage of bees’ work.

In 2007, PBS reported that genetic testing had shown a link between the collapses of bee colonies and a virus. The study was led by the U.S. and Pennsylvania agriculture departments and two universities: Penn State and Columbia. That virus was discovered in 2004, the same year U.S. beekeepers started importing packaged bees from Australia.

Thus it’s a bit odd that PBS urges viewers to take up home beekeeping. Beekeeping threatens other animals as well. Gorillas have had to deal with hundreds of bee farmers in Rwanda, Congo and Uganda who use the forestland of the Virunga Mountains to produce beeswax for candles and the cosmetic industry.

Meanwhile, a new area of vivisection has arisen, with the aforementioned U.S. government and Penn State researchers setting out to “stress bees in certain ways and evaluate the effect on their health” in order to determine whether the virus itself wipes out colonies or if instead the disorder is triggered by other pathogens and stresses. Israeli researchers have posited that virus-resistant bees can be bred, and initiated yet more experiments, injecting bees with viruses.

Overbearing keepers

The earliest pollinators were insects such as beetles, but bees became specialists—more efficient than beetles, butterflies, pollen wasps, or any other pollinating insect. Bees’ ancestors are the wasps—predators of insects. Some wasps, commonly known as beewolves, prey on bees themselves in order to supply food to their carnivorous larvae. Thus, to some beekeepers, predator control means targeting wasps.

Unlike bumble bees, who typically form small colonies of 50 to a few hundred members, honey bees might form groups of 30,000 or more, so they’re exploited as high-volume producers. Yet bumble bees can fly in cold temperatures and keep moving after dusk, and they’ve been used for those abilities. Plus, they can pollinate tomatoes by holding a flower while buzzing with their wings to vibrate and loosen the pollen. And as they survive indoors, they’ve been used extensively in greenhouses.

Worldwide, humans use bee colonies in the millions to obtain honey, pollen, royal jelly, novelties such as propolis lollipops, mead or honey wine, beeswax candles and cosmetics. To obtain these products, beekeepers regularly disturb the hives, crushing some bees in the process. Beekeepers will replace the bees’ honey with high-fructose corn syrup or cheap, refined sugar. Many beekeepers will clip the queen’s wings or use excluder cages to keep queens from moving hives; many will also kill queens when their egg production wanes. Some keepers smoke bees out of the hive to get to the honey, or torch whole colonies before winter.

In a natural environment the queen bee would locate the hive. The bees would gather nectar and pollen to feed their own communities. Do the bees themselves care that they have lost control over their lives? Probably. Bees have brains. And a large body of evidence (often noted as beginning with observations of Austrian zoologist Karl von Frisch) shows that bees exchange information, make group decisions, form abstract concepts and create intricate forms of nest architecture. They have life experiences, steering clear of dangers, and seeking out what appeals to them and sustains them.

Dubious Cures 

Honey can contain bacterial spores which reportedly cause botulism in human infants. And propolis, a gluey product of beehives, has caused allergic dermatitis in beekeepers and people who use it in cosmetics and medicines. Nevertheless, apitherapy, or the health-related use of honey and pollen, propolis, royal jelly and bee venom, is promoted by some as an arthritis cure. The American Apitherapy Society, in New York, admits bee venom treatments haven’t been adequately evaluated in the United States, and that no doctors use them; yet the group promotes the 1935 “classic” Bee Venom Therapy: Bee Venom, Its Nature, and Its Effect on Arthritic and Rheumatoid Conditions by Bodog F. Beck, M.D. In a foreword to a reprint of Beck’s book, Charles Mraz writes: 

One of the first duties I assumed when I met Dr. Beck was to take charge of his beehive on the window sill of his office. He had a five-frame hive, covered with a wire screen. The bees had an entrance through the window so they could fly outside and gather a surprising amount of honey from Central Park during the spring and summer months. He had a small metal door on the screen which could be opened easily and the bees removed with long forceps and the bee applied to the patient’s affected areas. This created a perpetual supply of a “self-activated, self-contained, sterile hypodermic needle.”

The usual treatment involved bees applied every other day, thrice weekly, over arthritic areas and the spine. Clients experienced large, hot, itchy swellings, pain and nausea. “During this reactive stage,” recounts Mraz, “the patient often felt worse and would become greatly discouraged about the treatment.” Mraz insists, though, that they would often later become well.

An association called the North American Apiotherapy Society began researching and promoting the use of bee venom, which has also been tested on mice as a failed medicine for multiple sclerosis. In the 1990s, Vespa Laboratories and the (U.S.) National Multiple Sclerosis Society gave a research grant to Fred D. Lublin, M.D. and colleagues at Allegheny University of the Health Sciences in Philadelphia to inject mice with doses replicating between four to 160 bee stings, then wait for symptoms such as limb paralysis. They reported no clinical benefit at any dosage level, but said the numbers of mice were too small, and went on to conduct additional studies. 

J. Muir: Bees for Peace

Bees for Peace, by J. Muir

Supportive gardening

There’s a good deal of emerging science on bees these days, but few expressions of how bees matter to themselves. Yet there’s something to be said for stepping outside our own skin some of the time. Our view that everyone else in the bio-community is around at our beck and call is a major underlying factor in Earth’s current biodiversity crisis. Probably the major underlying factor. Are we, at some point in our lives, able to see ourselves as cohabitants with other living communities, rather than the planet’s biggest user? It seems to me this is what vegan striving is about, all the time.

Anyone with some garden space can help bees to flourish on their terms. Bumble bees make nests in grass or holes in the ground, such as abandoned mouse nests, so it’s a good idea to leave a spot of unkempt garden space. Early spring flowers are particularly important to new bumble bee colonies, and bees especially appreciate blue, purple, and yellow flowers, planted in clusters. Gooseberry is an early bloomer, and the graceful camas lilies are perfect for bees in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia. Avoid ornamental types, as they can be short of nectar or pollen; native plants are best adapted to the life cycles of local animals including bees, and also provide key connections to remaining wildlands. Eastern waterleaf, a groundcover, is an example in the central or northeastern United States, where these herbs naturally bloom from May to August.  Large, lavender beardtongue blooms over the North American prairie in May and June. Deciduous azaleas are native across North America and so are rhododendrons.

Purple prairie clover is indigenous to the North American Great Plains. White clover is native to Europe and Asia, but has become naturalized in much of North America, and if you’ve got it in the summer, it will be a smorgasbord for bees and moreover it’s an edible plant, eaten raw, cooked, baked, or used in teas for its nutritional value. From British Columbia across the prairies and into western Ontario and the adjacent states, the anise hyssop (liquorice mint) blooms all summer, and the flowers also work for teas and traditional tea breads.

In the northeastern U.S., late October and early November is the time to collect milkweed seeds for planting in the spring; and native bee balm will attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds in early summer. The fragrant, dusky-green leaves may also be used in teas. Joe-pye weed, a perennial native from Maine to Michigan, south to central Florida and Texas, is beloved by moths and butterflies and bees.

And isn’t it the greatest feeling to walk or jog alongside patches of blooming goldenrod in late summer and see the bees buzzing around them? Asters too, hangouts for bees and butterflies alike, are native to the northern United States as well as Canada from British Columbia to Newfoundland. Aster alpinus is the kind native to North America. In Britain, Aster tripolium, or sea asters, are indigenous. And when autumn arrives in the Northern hemisphere (Europe and North America included), sedum is the bees’ knees, and its leaves are edible too.

The growers at the Vegan Organic Network advise us all to do some gardening, even a little, even inside. Like learning to prepare meals, it’s a basic life skill and a way of cultivating vital social networks. What will you grow this year? Would anyone care to add some pictures or pro-bee gardening information?

Artist J. Muir paints with vegan, cruelty-free, earth-based watercolors from Colors of Nature
Source of Lush skin cream photo: http://soloverly.blogspot.com/

Radically Kind: Rynn Berry

On the 29th of December 2013, a jogger collapsed in New York City, without identification, and lay in intensive care for a week as a photo was circulated with hopes that someone would recognize a face obstructed by a lattice of tubes.

“Sad update,” tweeted Leslie Albrecht of DNAinfo.com in New York City — ‏@ReporterLeslie on Twitter. “Rynn Berry, the #vegan author who collapsed while jogging in Prospect Park, has died.”

Rynn at Summerfest 2012

Rynn at Summerfest 2012

It’s hard to believe it was really Rynn.

There’s one redeeming element in it all: Rynn left happily, gently, jogging in the park. Rynn loved to run and had finished a marathon.

Yet trying, as human nature invariably prompts, to make sense of it all, I recalled those geese, targeted as municipal enemies and rounded up from Prospect Park, never to return, and imagined Rynn having gone to find them.

I can’t imagine the North American Vegetarian Society’s Summerfest without Rynn’s talks. Or lunchtime without the chance to sit down and go over ideas and PowerPoint features—three years ago, we both joined the century and started creating slideshows. Rynn would ask about people I’d seen recently: what they were writing, and how various people’s ideas differed or coalesced. Rynn had a sense of where discourse fit into a greater scheme, was fully present during conversations, and, in one-to-one discussions, listened more than talked.

Rynn Berry. Source: Veggie Pride Parade, New York City

Rynn Berry in New York City. Flickr: Veggie Pride Parade.

But Rynn did speak out, and embraced the role of a public activist. Many thousands of people heard Rynn speak in New York and other cities. And hundreds will miss Rynn on a personal level.

Vegan-organic advocate Harold Brown called Rynn “one of the most outstanding examples of kindness I have had the pleasure of experiencing.”

It’s true.  Rynn Berry carried great intelligence with ease and a quiet grace, and demonstrated the full measure of a human being which surfaces in support for others.

Hitler banned vegetarian groups in Germany and occupied territory.

Hitler banned vegetarian groups in Germany and occupied territory.

In conference workshops, Rynn could revive the thoughts of Leonardo DaVinci, the Buddha, or Pythagoras by offering scripts and inviting people to play their roles, so that within minutes, one really got a feel for the various ways they applied ethics within and beyond humanity. Questions would be answered in fabulous detail, for Rynn knew the languages of original works; thus, for example, when examining a biblical word, Rynn could explain its sense in Aramaic. Rynn’s love of languages came from an abiding interest in uncovering the truth of things. An author or contributor to several books, Rynn is perhaps best known for writing Hitler: Neither Vegetarian Nor Animal Lover (Pythagorean Books, 2004; introduction by Martin Rowe), which revealed that particular image of Hitler as propaganda.

Rynn died in the early afternoon of Thursday, 9 January.

Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.

Rynn would have been 69 on the 31st of this month.

A brief addition on 16 January 2014: Bob LeRoy, R.D., Nutrition Advisor to the North American Vegetarian Society and founder of the Plant-based Prevention Of Disease (P-POD) project, wrote a note on Rynn’s public obituary that speaks to me with special strength about Rynn, and with Bob’s permission, I post it here.

Our colleague & friend Rynn Berry taught us all a great deal about Ahimsa via how he conducted himself & communicated. His demeanor was always humble & gracious, & he never sought out the limelight. He continually throughout his lifetime built upon his unusually broad range & depth of scholarly knowledge as a historian. Though he very generously shared that fairly unique expertise on countless occasions, there was never a moment when he conveyed any sense of proud self-importance. His passing is a profoundly sad loss, & his kindness, activism & teaching will truly be missed by our extended community.

— Bob LeRoy, Asheville, North Carolina, January 2014

Book jacket source: VegSource.com. For Veggie Pride, see link. Quoted poem: William Cullen Bryant, ThanatopsisCorrection note:  This piece originally stated that Rynn collapsed on the last day of 2013. Chris Suzuki has pointed out that some reporters incorrectly provided that date.