How Vegan-Friendly Is Tesla?

Tesla. So far, only a few can afford it, but that may change. Elon Musk says the Model Y will become the biggest-selling car in the world (overtaking the Toyota Corolla) by 2023. And Tesla aims to produce $25K cars within a few years. 

This is all good news for many working folks who have wistfully admired Tesla’s cars from afar. Is it good news for vegans? 

You can get a Tesla with a non-leather interior. In the past, Tesla has made the explicit connection from its seat material selection to cows. The Model Y has seats made of synthetic leather.

Based on these facts, some vegans consider Tesla cars vegan. But veganism has to be environmentally aware. The reason is crystal-clear. Without habitat, animal liberation is meaningless. So we have to consider Tesla from the whole ecological standpoint.

At This Time, Tesla Is an Ecological Tossup.

Why?

Maybe There’s Some Relief for Deer. 

Tesla’s cars come with pedestrian detection. This should be helpful for deer, squirrels, owls, and the occasional lost cat—as well as distracted human beings—on or beside roads. Tesla’s vision tech could prevent drivers from running over other living beings. 

Still, it’s better to focus on mass transit, which reduces our overall reliance on roadbuilding. 

I mean, just imagine all the boomers and the 16-year-olds getting excited about cars they can use without worrying about accidents. Imagine all the pleasure trips to be taken in Teslas because it’s so easy to let the car do the driving. Full self-driving sounds great, until we consider all the extra car making and car use. Isn’t this a major countereffect to the emissions savings of (even a solar-powered) Tesla?

If Tesla Isn’t Vegan, Is It “Vegan-Friendly”?

Vegan-friendly is an imprecise term, and I have no precise answer. I started exploring this question because I’m considering getting a used Tesla in a few years, after wearing out my 2013 Nissan. I could use Tesla vision tech for night driving. But I must be honest with myself. Driving is a concession to our car-centric consumer culture. Arguably, the best I can do is keep a strict cap on my mileage.

At the end of the day, we must focus on simplicity in response to climate crisis. On low-tech answers like walkable towns, reductions in discretionary travel, and divestment from animal agribusiness.

Follow-up coming… Stay tuned.

Tesla photo: David Nuescheler, via Unsplash.

The Whole Hog

Earlier this month, an artist I met in a Patreon Zoom call checked out my work and then asked:

Do you have a plan for how you speak to nonvegans? Are you welcoming to everyone? I’m sure many potential supporters are interested in the vegan idea but maybe they don’t want to go the whole hog.

My intent is inclusive, I said. And many members of the audiences I meet (at congregations, schools, conferences and fairs) are not vegan.

Most of the people I meet do know something about habitat loss, rainforest devastation, and climate disruption. And I explain how these issues are directly connected to veganism. 

I make my best effort to relate to people straightforwardly, explaining what I know, what’s connected to their concerns, my own thought process. But I never sugar-coat the subjugation. I can’t speak about it in a clinical way. I can’t distance myself from oppression in order to feel welcoming to everyone.

It’s always up to people to change themselves. They can take what they need from me, and leave the rest. And I do hope they might be moved, either at the moment or down the road, to become vegan.

I never suggest half-measures. I think it’s only fair to liberate the whole hog! So I tell them.

“For Africa and Other Poor Countries…”

Bill Gates: “Now I’ve said I can actually see a path. But you’re right that saying to people, “You can’t have cows anymore”—talk about a politically unpopular approach to things.

James Temple (interviewer): Do you think plant-based and lab-grown meats could be the full solution to the protein problem globally, even in poor nations? Or do you think it’s going to be some fraction because of the things you’re talking about, the cultural love of a hamburger and the way livestock is so central to economies around the world?

Bill Gates: For Africa and other poor countries, we’ll have to use animal genetics to dramatically raise the amount of beef per emissions for them. Weirdly, the US livestock, because they’re so productive, the emissions per pound of beef are dramatically less than emissions per pound in Africa. And as part of the [Bill and Melinda Gates] Foundation’s work, we’re taking the benefit of the African livestock, which means they can survive in heat, and crossing in the monstrous productivity both on the meat side and the milk side of the elite US beef lines.

Full source: Interview dated 14 Feb. 2021 in the MIT Technology Review.

Yes, Gates said to the interviewer: “For Africa and other poor countries [sic], we’ll have to use animal genetics to dramatically raise the amount of beef per emissions…” 

But Bill Gates! There is a richness in the culinary arts of simpler cultures. 

There is so much for us to learn about the traditions of cooking with lentils, peas and beans—which need very little water and energy to produce, which can survive droughts, and are the most environmentally responsible proteins on Earth. Instead we find ways to fix other cultures’ problems (often introducing or reinforcing their dependence on the global corporate grain market).

Sometimes, when looking at these big “solution” plans, I wonder if we’d be better to consider the need to heal ourselves rather than the need to fix others. 

Dang, Gates has such a massive platform. Some technology (WordPress included) seems so helpful, but the above quotes show the other side of what the money and status can bring. I’ve never met Bill Gates, but this sounds like a person who values complexity, and things that make a splash in the stock market, and therefore misses some clear answers to life’s most important challenges.

Why pick the side of manipulating animals even further? 

Each of us can make a very big emissions difference—generally halving our overall emissions!—with a dietary commitment. And that difference isn’t about spending more money on changing infrastructure or re-engineering the genetics of cattle. Without genetically forcing more “monstrous productivity” on the animals.

Opting out of animal agribusiness is as simple and as cost-effective as a commitment can be. And it can happen more quickly than the big solutions. In fact, it’s always been accepted. People have always had a cultural love for fruits and vegetables, from potato pancakes to falafel to pasta marinara.

Let’s also be sure to notice what’s happening around us now, right where we are, in addition to what will happen in ten years or 12 or 20 or 30 years globally. Climate disruption is right now causing loss of bird communities in our area, shifting planting zones in our area, flooding homes in our area, and posing risks to the most vulnerable of us.

There are two forms of divestment that matter in addressing our climate disruption. 

One is divestment from fossil fuels. Many people already know this.

The other is dietary divestment. Many people still need to receive the information on food impact, but when they do, the shift can happen quite quickly.

A $40 billion foundation and a crowd of genomics experts cannot tell us how to start. 

_____________________________


The banner image is a work of the U.S. federal government, found in the public domain.

Dominion Is a Funny Thing

And now, we’re officially into the Year of the Aurochs. My mind keeps wandering back to the day when, courtesy of Theresa Sarzynski in New Jersey, I met Herbie, a bovine refugee at a sanctuary for rescued farm animals.

It’s odd how we have this sort of meme image of the happy cow, instilled in us from childhood. Herbie and friends were as happy as cows can be, but they were some of the scant few to receive protection from what nearly always happens to cows. So, what’s up with the whole happy-cow concept? 

We take their milk. Notoriously, after farmers pull their infants away, they bellow for days. They mourn as their offspring are prepared to become the veal special on a diner’s menu. Ultimately, all the dairy cows, like the beef cattle before them, wind up in slotted trucks, bound for slaughter. These are not secrets. It takes very little effort to put two and two together. Why don’t we?

Dairy production is marketed as hilarious. (That’s a leather sofa, too, right? Such wit!)

And oh! The irony: “I poured myself into this commercial!”

Why do we play this collective game?  

How would we feel if the laugh were on us?

I keep talking about the aurochs because… 

Most people have no idea about that part. They never knew cows came from animals, now extinct, called aurochs, who lived on their terms until humans hunted them down to the very last one. They didn’t learn about the selective breeding that deprived cows of their freedom, one generation at a time, so that dependence on the human environment is now etched into their DNA.

In fact, many vegans don’t know.  I’ve been told by a number of vegans that the ideal “vegan world” includes happy cows, and looks like a sanctuary. We’d learn to pet cows and not eat them.

When I was preparing The Year of the Aurochs for publication at CounterPunch, Harold Brown pointed out that dairy cows are the most docile. They were bred to be as gentle as pets, so they could be walked and milked. The ones who chase people across fields are the beef cattle. They don’t need to be completely docile, Harold said. They only need to be driven. 

Purpose-breeding gradually transformed the aurochs into sources of edible substances which humans could have just as well done without. We can make burgers from beetroot and ice cream from oats. Why didn’t we simply do that all along? Why did we cultivate a taste for blood and for the liquid produced by other animals’ mammary glands? And how could we laugh?

I think we must answer these questions.

Love and liberation,

Lee.

The Year of the Aurochs

Groups of aurochs could trample us. Cows still can. This, I found out on a walk across a pasture with friends.

Suddenly, as though alerted by some silent signal, a group of cows stampeded in our direction. We panicked, but managed to slip through a fence. That day we glimpsed an ancient law of nature…

Read the full piece at CounterPunch.

Photo by Helena Lopes, via Unsplash.

Straight Talk: Why Horse Slaughter Continues

Late December, for some people, is the perfect time for a carriage horse ride, or even for giving children Christmas ponies

Meanwhile, the unthinkable continues.

Whenever the U.S. agriculture department drops its horse slaughter oversight role, live horses are shipped off to die in Mexico or Canada. Charities suggest that enough donations and clicks and letters could eventually be effective. As though the practice really could be turned off like a faucet by humane and enlightened laws.

The op-ed or donation request frames the argument against horse slaughter as an affront to our equine companions. Horses, the campaigner says, deserve better treatment, given their service to humankind. We’re so used to being served, that the question of whether horses could consent to carrying us isn’t asked. 

I Rode. I Regret It.

As a young person, I rode horses. I even helped to train horses for events. For the most part, I enjoyed these activities. My mother thought I might become a jockey. “See, there’s a reason you’re short!”

I had twinges. I saw horses maltreated. It troubled me deeply; but my own, more caring handling of horses seemed OK. Surely, mine was the norm.

I did witness horses being broken, and it scared me, but I only saw one person do it, and I thought that one person was an aberration, too. Breaking didn’t have to mean bullying, I thought. 

The Week I Became Vegan, I Reassessed Horseback Riding. 

It was a long week. I understood myself in a whole new light. By the week’s end, I’d resolved to never, ever handle horses again.

The transformation of horses into vehicles of war, objects of commerce and sport, playthings and police tools, has made them available for slaughter. A bettor’s excitement leads hundreds of horses to death on the tracks each year. And the racing industry funds research on horses in order to investigate potential speeds…and injury recovery. 

The plight of ex-racing horses, and any owned horses who pass their primes (or the primes of their owners’ attention spans), is all too often a chain of sale, resale or donation, neglect, and the ultimate handover to the killer buyer.

But no one campaigns against riders and trainers. No humane charity wants to trouble the conscience of the donor on horseback. It took a vegan epiphany for me to trouble my own.

What Ever Happened to Those Horses I Rode? 

I doubt any died of old age under the gentle care of a sanctuary. Out of the 9-million-plus horses in the United States, how many do? So, was my conduct any less “barbaric” than that of an Italian diner who orders horseflesh from the menu? 

The young Charles Darwin observed: “Animals, whom we have made our slaves, we do not like to consider our equal.”* One way we justify enslavement is through the “humane” perspective. Caring and rescue keep us in control.

Don’t get me wrong; I support rescue groups. I appreciate anyone who helps animals with nowhere else to turn. But can we kindly acknowledge the dependent state that we put them in? Only a few, by luck, are scooped up by a decent, sympathetic human who has the means and the will to look after them. 

The point of advocacy can’t be to slather euphemistic language over human dominance. Nor to exclaim how much we love specific animals, ignoring the overall unfairness in training animals to live in our buildings and paddocks — for just as long as we say they may.

Once They Were Free.

Human beings selectively bred horses from free-living communities who lived in their own spaces. The banner image above shows Takh horses (Equus ferus przewalskii). Human hunting, farming, and war wiped the Takh out.

But one small group has been re-established in Mongolia’s Hustai National Park, an area where their ancestors co-evolved with wolves of the steppe. To defend themselves and to thrive, the Takh horses developed complex social patterns, which they have followed and perfected since the dawn of their being, and long before the dawn of ours.

*CHARLES DARWIN, METAPHYSICS, MATERIALISM, AND THE EVOLUTION OF MIND: EARLY WRITINGS OF CHARLES DARWIN 187 (1974, University of Chicago Press; from notes kept in and about 1838, transcribed and annotated by Paul H. Barrett; with a commentary by Howard E. Gruber).

BANNER ART CREDIT: Przewalski-Pferd, c.1920 (public domain), from The Wonderful Paleo Art of Heinrich Harder

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.

A Feral Thanksgiving

This is the year we’re not supposed to gather for Thanksgiving. Of course, many of us revamped this celebration years ago. It was uncomfortable at the outset for those whose families glossed over a lot to create a show of togetherness. Then we became vegan, and the fetishistic rituals focused on giant bird bodies looked sadder and more grotesque every year.

Uttering our regrets came as a multi-layered relief, even if we felt vaguely guilty or guilted by relatives who clung to tradition.

We regained a sense of normality by meeting at vegan tables. And yet, for us too, there would be much more to acknowledge. What was the Thanksgiving message for the people dragged against their will to this continent? Or for those who lived here long before it became the “New World”?

Since 1970, Native Americans have gathered for a day of mourning every Thanksgiving at Plymouth Rock, recalling the Pequot people and their fate in the place now called Mystic, Connecticut. At the 1637 Pequot massacre, as many as 700 indigenous adults and kids were slain and their village burnt to the ground, clearing the land for European expansion. The Puritans outlawed the name Pequot, and began giving thanks annually for having so quickly exterminated the native community. We’ve got a walk-in closet full of skeletons here.

The Covid-19 stay-at-home guidance offers us time for a deep, collective breath — and for deep and collective regrets. 

Last Thanksgiving…

Colin Kaepernick spoke at the Indigenous People’s Sunrise Ceremony, in recognition of an Indigenous occupation of the former federal prison on Alcatraz Island. “Thank you to my Indigenous family,” Kaepernick said on Thanksgiving 2019. “I’m with you today and always.”

Kaepernick told Twitter followers that the U.S. has stolen 1.5 billion acres of Indigenous land.

It seems fitting to question the domestication of our historical memories into Thanksgiving. And maybe that’s harder to do as we decorate our doors and our tables in crimson and amber hues, and gather in kitchens to bake root vegetables and cashew roasts.

Maybe we need a long autumn weekend amidst the bare trees and chilly air to consider Plymouth Rock, to hear Colin Kaepernick’s words, to remember those who were never at the table, and to think about how, on such a busy planet, a human family would gather, and what it would say when it did.

Love and liberation,

Lee.