As you might remember, I march and speak at the NYC Veggie Pride Parade event annually and would normally be up in NYC this weekend! Well, now everyone can be present for the live, online event. Kudos to Maggie Sargent, with support from Joel Mittentag, for producing the event online. NEW DATE! To attend live online this Sunday, 19 April 2020, go here:
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.
For a vegan, caring for a cat is no easy feat. Dogs have broader diets, so the case seems easier. Many vegans buy or make vegetarian dog food.
But how do we feed our cats? Products have been created and called vegan cat food, but are they safe?
Christina M. Gray, et al. published “Nutritional Adequacy of Two Vegan Diets for Cats” in 2004 in the Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association. The study tested two products, which proved nutritionally inadequate. The study also discussed in biological terms why cats are strict carnivores.
(The makers of the tested cat foods later vowed to improve quality control.)
Thousands of cats may be fed plant-based foods (although the product makers run into complications applying the nutritional rules), but comprehensive nutritional data attesting to safety continues to be lacking. And there’s an ethical problem in trying to make that data sufficient. Frankly, it’s testing on cats, which itself is not vegan.
We Can Apply the Vegan Principle to Our Diets, and Cats Can’t
Imagine we’re feeding a child. When asked if the vegan meals we serve are safe and nutritious, we confidently quote the Position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada: “Well-planned vegan and other types of vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle including during pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence.”
Now, what about the animals in our homes? Shouldn’t we be able to confirm we’re ensuring appropriate nourishment for them as well?
The most current and comprehensive study of the daily dietary needs of dogs and cats is Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats, National Research Council (2006), published by the National Academies Press. Here are two excerpts, from page 313:
Dogs differ from cats in that they are not strict carnivores but fall more into the omnivorous category. This fact allows a great deal more latitude in ingredient selection and formulation. It is entirely feasible to formulate an adequate dog diet using no animal tissue-based ingredients.
Generally speaking, strict vegetarian diets, when fed alone, are not nutritionally adequate for cats, even though such diets can be made sufficiently palatable to be readily consumed.
What’s in Your Cat Food? Maybe That’s Not the Real Vegan Issue
Cats and dogs have been changed from wildcats and wolves. Selective breeding separated them from their potential to evolve in nature. It also made them dependent on human care. These are the unpleasant facts.
The vegan principle—and honest love—calls on us to end the selective breeding of other animals. Not to assume wildcats and wolves should be ours to have and hold, or that they must participate in a vegan ideal.
We go to great lengths for the animals we know and love, yet many people will not or cannot. That’s why dogs, cats, and other animals raised as pets are steered to shelters by the millions annually—and many don’t come out.
Furthermore, no dog or cat is vegan, as veganism is an anti-domination principle—not simply a list of allowed ingredients.
Social justice is elusive in human relations; but we strive for it. We need to also strive to be fair members of the community of life on Earth.
Selective breeding and forced dependence aren’t fair, nor can they be.
What Can We Do, Then?
Let’s understand pet breeding for what it really is. Until the 1800s, keeping animals as pets was an aristocrat’s hobby. Relatively recently, it exploded into a multi-billion-dollar industry. How can vegans deal with this situation? Rather than try to make cats eat plants, we can consider:
Talking about pets. Calling out the custom. Defending the life and freedom of undomesticated cats and dogs, including the wildcats and bobcats, the wolves and coyotes. They are the ones being erased as selective breeding becomes the norm.
Speaking out against pet breeding—whether done through high-volume companies, local businesses, or someone’s home.
Supporting local trap-neuter-return (TNR) groups that care for, while gradually phasing out, groups of cats outdoors.
Some will say this challenge could ultimately lead to a society without “companion” animals.
Is that so bad? I’m not asking a glib question.
Can’t we care about other animals, and derive joy from their presence on this Earth, without controlling, having and holding them? Doesn’t the feeling that we could do that make us empathetic—and vegan—in the deepest sense?
My friend Lois Baum recently gave an invited sermon at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Rochester, NY. In the sermon, Lois quoted a statement attributed to an animal liberation summit, circa 2010:
Veganism is a moral and ethical way of living; the practice of non-cooperation and non-participation in anything that exploits nonhuman animals, humans, or the environment. It is a moral baseline for our conduct and how we are revealed to the world.
A spot-on description, I think, of the connected ethic of a vegan life.
Making Others Do Disgraceful Work
And it leads me to think again about the humans who do the disgraceful work of killing living animals and turning their bodies into commodities for human consumption.
I do not believe vegans should invest in undercover investigations of these employees’ actions. Some people disagree. Here is my logic.
Time and time again, the “successful” undercover investigation means:
Workers get caught, punished, and driven out (and many if not all of them are leading the most exhausted, marginal, and fragmented of lives already).
The company increases surveillance of the workers who remain.
If regulators do suspend the company’s business, the business usually tidies up and reopens.
The case against the company involves employees’ failure to follow regulations. It is never about real caring, real fairness, and it’s definitely never about justice. (Injustice is heaped on, as workers’ precarious lives slide into worse ruin.)
Arguments resume on whether “ag gag” laws should tighten up to prevent undercover investigations, as the company swears up and down that it is now adequately self-monitored.
One of the points made by early vegans is that we shouldn’t expect other human beings to do disgraceful work for us, work which we’d avoid doing ourselves.
That, I think, invokes an empathy and fairness principle. It does not assume that we should blame these employees for doing what they do…badly.
Animal agribusiness is all unfair, and so many humans are implicated. Only a few people are vulnerable enough to be cast out of society for the way they do it.
Mongolian dignitaries made an Eastertime pilgrimage to see the Trumps at Mar-a-Lago. And whoosh…By September, Donald Trump Jr. had a Mongolian permit to kill one of the world’s few remaining argali sheep.
On this day, I’d like to return to a memory related to Vegan Society co-founder Donald Watson. How interesting to find that the most well-known founder of veganism knew, and said, that the movement would be essential to any future on Earth that includes humanity.
I think it’s also very interesting to learn, as I did from Patricia Fairey, that the name “vegan” was proposed for this movement not by Donald Watson, as we often hear, but by Dorothy Morgan Watson.
For some time after visiting Donald’s and Dorothy’s gravesites, I thought it would be a nice gesture if the vegan community could come together and order headstones, and I should work on that project. Yet I’m ever more keenly aware that I’m only here for a little while. And I can imagine Donald saying, “That’s a nice thought. But go out, speak, write for the vegan cause. The churchyard will always be here. What happens to keep this work in the forefront of peoples’ conversations is the priority.”