Statement of Support for the Vegan Justice League

“We may not pay to kill animals, but our taxes still do. It’s time to end animal agribusiness subsidies. We need to lobby.”

— Vegan Justice League

The Vegan Justice League intends to effect change in the U.S. Farm Bill, which encourages farmers to produce meat and dairy. Taxpayer-funded subsidies, the League observes, let animal agribusinesses produce a surplus well above market demand.

Of course, a vegan would say all animal products are “surplus”; and, as a vegan, that’s what I say. That’s what the League thinks, too.

Why focus a campaign simply on the subsidies in animal agribusiness? Because the subsidies essentially force us to undo our work. Vegans are funding the damned farms. Or the farms that would be damned if only vegans had a level playing field. 

Plant- and nut-derived dairy replacements and flesh-food analogues, together with the vegan culinary scene, are the financial success story of the decade. U.S. residents want artisan cashew-based cheese. We’re replacing barbequed flesh with vegetable kebabs. Thanks to the vegan movement, the population now knows:

Dairy’s not necessary.

Meat’s no treat.

Still, animals are bred, managed, and killed in droves every second. The industry evades normal supply-and-demand dynamics by way of bailouts and subsidies under the guise of insurance extended to animal husbandry corporations.

The Vegan Justice League intends to deploy billboards and professional lobbyists, and to call politicians out for accepting funds from animal agribusiness—focusing on ag-heavy North Carolina, Texas, and Washington state.

Authentic Sustainability

Behind the much-vaunted term “sustainability” is a growing awareness that we’re depleting the Earth’s water and forestland. This is not just about us and what we’ll have left to use. Other animals in natural bio-communities must have viable habitats to survive and thrive. That vital space is lost to deforestation for feed and grazing, and it’s eroded exponentially on a heated Earth.

Animal agribusiness can make no authentic sustainability claims. It’s nothing more and nothing less than a worldwide traffic in introduced species—yet it gets a pass because we presumably need to consume animals. That presumption no longer stands. 

As for the argument that farmers need to make a living, that is an argument for redirecting their business to growing food—not feed. Staying stuck in an unsustainable model is not the way businesses and their people will thrive.

Shifting from animal flesh to a plant-powered humanity stops massive ecological harm, and offers a way to stop deforesting, and to make space for re-wilding proposals.

A recent study carried out at Oxford University reports on one of the most thorough examinations ever undertaken on the impact of agribusiness on the environment. It involved nearly 40,000 farms, and 119 countries. And it showed that by becoming vegan, we could shrink our individual carbon footprints by as much as 73%, and reduce land use by 75%, saving an area equivalent to the size of the U.S., the E.U. and China combined.

Understood in this context, veganism is not extreme. It is a rational commitment to stop greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss now.

Moreover, while leaders of struggling people hope for food aid for millions, animal agribusiness is a massive funnel of feed crops to billions of cows, chickens, and aquatic animals who are bred to be eaten. Consumption of flesh, fish, dairy and eggs takes a massive toll on the environment, the climate, and a finite Earth on which everyone in the world depends.

It is also a frivolous use of our talents to exert systematic dominance over other conscious beings.

Veganism appropriately responds to urgent human safety, social justice, and environmental ethics questions. Veganism understands that our most powerful stance is:

  • The permanent boycott of flesh and dairy products.
  • Conscientious objection to industries that displace, capture, breed, buy, sell, control and exploit beings who, as we do, have an experience of life.

We hold the ethical, environmental, and health-conscious high ground. Yet we are undermined every day by the misdirection of our own dollars.

We do have the power to change our relationship with the rest of our bio-community. Active objection to the investment of our tax money in animal agribusiness is one element of our power.


Banner credit: Architect of the Capitol. Images within text: Allie Smith and Alexander Mils, via Unsplash.

Summerfest Schedule Now Posted

Are you coming to the North American Vegetarian Summerfest this year? If so, please find me so we can get some time in person! I’ll be in the hallway near the main Living Learning lobby a lot. Watermelon shows up there frequently and, from time to time, so does  Miyoko Schinner’s artisan nut cheese. 
As for presentations, I’ll be offering:
  • The Environmental Impact of Eating Sea Life. Current status of Earth’s aquatic habitats and communities. Is the “sustainable seafood” concept helping or making things harder for sea life to survive and thrive?
  • Why Vegan? Vegan for Your Health, for Environmental Healing, for Fair Food Sources, for Animal Liberation. (Maureen and Vance: You are quoted in this one.)

Photo credit: Jason Pompilius

  • Climate Change: Is It More a Fossil Fuel Problem, or a Diet Issue? Comparing these emissions sources. Of course there is a lot of overlap between animal agribusiness and fossil fuels. This session will offer information on the science basics, plus a few less discussed aspects of the dichotomy. It will conclude with a call for a movement of Dietary Divestment for the Climate.
This is an event I can recommend. It draws more than 700 attendees from all over the continent. It offers a positive, refreshing atmosphere with endless conversation (I mean that in a good way!) and several days of really fabulous food that will inspire you and tune up your support network for the coming year.

Nursing the Bio-Community

The International Council of Nurses represents 16 million nurses.icn code of ethics for nurses Recently my friend Brenda Trerice, a retired RN, directed my attention to their Code of Ethics—a guide for action based on social values and needs.The Code has served as the standard for nurses worldwide since its first adoption in 1953.

Its Point #3 (on page 4) states:

The nurse practices to sustain and protect the natural environment and is aware of its consequences on health.

Brenda senses a connection between this ethical tenet and animal-liberation philosophy; but explains:

Yet articulating it requires such subtlety so that one discovers then starts to make more connections on their own via their own psyche (memories, experiences, observations, resolution of dilemmas) so the choice is made in full consciousness for all time. Of all the health professionals, I think it is nurses who could grasp this philosophy easier than most others.

Why nurses? Because the nursing orientation is holistic. The individual is perceived as an integrated whole having biological, psychological, social, and, depending on the individual, spiritual aspects—not simply a disease or body part.  It is a mere leap across a gap, the connecting of a nerve synapse, to understand whole and health in the larger sense: the Earth and all inhabitants. Veganism is holistic.   

Earth’s atmosphere sustains all living beings within it. No animal is meant to live forever, nor to escape pain. Yet all require nurturing, nourishment, and balance. All of our lives are placed in danger by the degradation of Earth’s surface features, by mass extinction events, by climate disruption. Each factor alone will unravel life; it’s a matter of time.

So to step back and regard the big picture means to understand human health as existing within the sanity of nature.

Animal agribusiness work as a health risk

A porcine pairBreeding animals and keeping them in confinement (shooing away predators and taking up land for feed crops as we do it) constitutes a practice in opposition to the natural world.

And the placements of animal confinement, and slaughter sites as workplaces, affects vulnerable human populations.

At Vegstock in September, I noted a Johns Hopkins public health study cited by Dr. Ana Negrón indicating that half of the population of slaughter workers test positive for campylobacter. And then there’s the rate of amputations in the industry. While nonhuman lives are commodified completely in animal agribusiness, the arena is and will always be inhumane to humans who must work in it.

Animal farming’s climate impact as a health risk

Everything depends on climate. Plants are losing the conditions that support them. By 2100, some tropical regions are predicted to have 200 fewer growing days a year. The health and nutrition impacts remain to be seen, but how could they not be harrowing?

And consider what’s happening to untamed animal communities as climate zones shift and native plants stop growing in their habitats.

Climate change is complex; but the major role played by animal agribusiness is now well known, and it is connected to massive fossil fuel use. We keep releasing stored carbon dioxide (through transport and electric refrigeration) and disrupting Earth’s capacity to Slide22store it (by cutting down trees to enable both grazing and growing feed crops). We’re releasing methane into the atmosphere (in significant part, though our domesticated animals, mostly cows).

Animal manure is a major source of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide too.

More to explore

I’m making the connection with animal agribusiness, the health risks plaguing people in animal husbandry and slaughter, and the health of our biosphere. I haven’t made any eating-related health claims; I’ll leave that to the people in the medical field.

There is still much more to explore: the ethic that addresses our duty of care for the animals we domesticated, and to the untamed Earth that’s habitat for animals who could still live free; and how we would nurture a developing humanity that sustains and protects the natural environment and the conscious lives moving within it.

But to start: Should the International Council of Nurses take a broad view of health—situating it in its actual context, which is the planet’s whole biological community? Tokyo Ariake University on Slideshare.net - International Council of Nurses and the Contribution of Nursing Students

Here (PDF) is the International Council of Nurses 2014-2018 Strategic Plan. Those who implement such plans are not guided here, at least not in any concrete ways, to come to grips with the Council’s longtime ethical commitment to sustain and protect the natural environment and promote awareness of its consequences on health. Can the Council, in a time of environmental crises, neglect these issues?

Climate and Vegetarian Summerfest 2016

On Thursday 7 July in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, I’ll be offering a talk named Climate Change: How the Public Conversation Is Shifting and How Vegetarian Voices Can Be Heard. (The North American Vegetarian Society presentation summary includes a description: “This session will provide updates on farming and climate, and also involve some easy, memorable, and valid points to raise—whether in ordinary conversations or at the policy level. Attorney Lee Hall holds a specialist’s degree in environmental law with a focus on climate change, and will facilitate discussion, including new findings and vital points not raised in most discussions of climate and diet.”)

Some VeganPlace readers might ask: Wait—vegetarian voices should be heard? Don’t vegetarians consume cow products, which are obviously connected to methane and general climate-wrecking?

No. Real vegetarians don’t eat dairy. The ovo-lacto take on vegetarianism has been ruled out by the North American Vegetarian Society for twenty years. The five-day menu at Summerfest is not ovo-lacto-; it’s pure vegetarian. Sometimes vegans rail against the shortfalls of vegetarians, but in my opinion the vegan movement needs to tip its hat to vegetarians taking their mission seriously. Respect to NAVS for encouraging its membership to strive for an authentic vegetarianism and to learn why animal agribusiness is not climate-friendly.

And now, yes, the public conversation about climate change has shifted. It has to. We’re not stronger than the climate system. It’s having the last word in every debate. No lifestyle, no matter how rich or famous, is exempt.

Nor is any place on Earth untouched; we now know that levels of Antarctic CO2 have reached 400 parts per million. For the first time in 4 million years.

The roadways on which we burn so much fossil-fuel energy seem to be bucking us off.

And yet a poll six months ago showed half of U.S. society thinking climate change isn’t a very serious problem.

2014-summerfest-patreon-cropNothing could be more serious. Everything depends on climate. Plants are losing the conditions that support them. By 2100, some tropical regions are predicted to have 200 fewer growing days a year. Let that sink in.

And then think about what is happening to untamed animal communities when native plants stop growing where they live.

We keep on releasing stored carbon dioxide (by burning oil and gas) and disrupting Earth’s capacity to store it (by cutting down trees). We’re releasing methane into the atmosphere from our landfills, through fracking, and from domesticated animals, mostly cows. We’re polluting the atmosphere with nitrous oxide through our use of manure too.

And getting our proteins though animals raises costs. If your shopping bag is loaded with flesh products, including the bodies of marine animals, your receipt total is going to come out pretty high, compared to that of the shopper with a bag full of horseradish hummus, red and green cabbage, red pepper and ciabatta, sweet potatoes, etc. When we use cows, pigs, goats, rabbits, birds and other animals to funnel our protein through, we are not advancing culture so much as advancing business. I will use the term animal agribusiness when talking about animal farming and its attendant feed industries, and reserve the word agriculture for the growers who produce food.

Free-range is really another form of sprawl

It’s been ten years since the United Nations published Livestock’s Long Shadow, explaining the enormity of damage done through animal agribusiness. But the U.N. never suggested we stop farming animals or consuming the products (which many of us could do overnight). Its key recommendation? Greater intensification. In other words, consolidate and contain animals into high-volume operations. In situations of intense confinement, animals (along with their emissions and waste) can be more strictly contained; and with animals not moving as much, less feed is consumed.

What we learn from environmental science does not lead us to support any of this:Slide44

The above scenes are evidence of a spreading-out of the environmental problems we need to move beyond.

And the warmer the planet gets, the more intensively animals will be raised, for reasons such as temperature control. Overheated dairy cows aren’t efficient producers of milk. When the Union of Concerned Scientists, in their booklet Climate Change in Pennsylvania: Impacts and Solutions for the Keystone State, say that cows are going to need fans and water sprays to cool them as the hot days multiply (cows drink four times as much liquid as they produce in summertime), they too are indicating that factory-style farming is the way of the future. (Look at page 8 in this PDF.)

Nowadays it’s popular to say that “factory farming” is inhumane. Yet we have environmental scientists communicating some important realities about how “cage-free” systems just spread the emissions around and use up more feed to raise roaming animals. With animal agribusiness, you can’t win.

A better recommendation comes Vegan Environmental Party of Ontario when it calls on the government to divest from animal agribusiness by halting the subsidies.

Consider that we reserve about 20 million acres of land for alfalfa alone. (And it must be irrigated.) Virtually all of it is used as feed.

That is in addition to the imposition of the domesticated animals themselves on the land. We need not continue this overbearing way of living on our planet.

For reasons that are many and interconnected, we need to be creating animal-free meals. Seekers of pure vegetarian cuisine miss nothing and conserve so much.

Make reservations at Vedge in Philadelphia or Plant in Asheville if you want to go gourmet. Most cities now have such offerings. Want to learn to prepare food like a pro in your own kitchen? You can learn. Try a subscription to a home delivery service with recipes and instructions from a professional chef such as Trish Sebben-Krupka at VegTable.

“But I just eat fish!”

That’s another sector of animal agribusiness, and not a sustainable one. The people at Greenpeace say “sustainable seafood” is within reach. They want us to demand better labels on the bodies of marine animals in the grocery aisle so we can tell if codfish are being scraped off the Norwegian Arctic seafloor with massive trawlers. Why do they take this position when they could do better? If we can afford to get food from a grocery store, we can get pure vegetarian food and make it great. And for the climate’s sake, we should.

The personal and political 

Recently a study was published in the journal Climatic Change involving 60,000 “meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians, and vegans” in Britain. Remarkably, the study found dietary greenhouse gas emissions from the participating omnivores about twice as high as those from vegans. If we have the power to bring our emissions down so low, but we decline to use it, aren’t we committing malpractice as human beings?

By being vegan we can also alleviate social stress. The 2007-2010 Syrian drought, which forced rural people to move in droves to urban areas, culminating in one of the most severe conflicts of today, for example, was driven by climate factors.

What’s to come? We all know, if we read the papers, that 2016 has already shown record global temperatures, month after month after month. The New York Times offers regular reports on this, accompanied by  simplistic, incomplete advice. The Times acknowledges that the problem is complex and can feel overwhelming: “We get it.” 

But they don’t.

They mention “reducing meat” as one item in a list of things to do. They do point to animal agribusiness as the worst segment of agribusiness for the climate. The science would back the Times up on that one.  Slide36

The Times tells us in particular that “some methods of cattle production” demand a lot of land. Now, wait. “Some”? All of it does, and all cows create manure and methane, whether out on the range or within walls.

The Times urges “switching from beef to pork and chicken” and suggests that chicken farming is the least harmful kind.

Let’s not even get into the harmful health ramifications of the “eat pork” advice. Pig manure is still manure and what the world needs now isn’t more of it. And you don’t help the climate even by buying local eggs and chicken or pig flesh. To do so means you’re really relying on a massive feed industry—a serious fuel guzzler. “Local” animal farming isn’t local—because animal feed is routinely shipped many miles for mixing and packaging, and shipped again in distribution.

The huge feed requirements arise in fish farming too. Farmed fish really are “chickens of the sea”; aquaculture is tied into the global grain and feed market and it’s expected to double in size by 2050. Why contribute to that?

Instead, groups such as WWF should be funding vegan festivals.

Slide40

 

WWF’s so-called sustainable seafood standards are pressing small, family businesses, which once used by-products as feed, to enter the global feed market.

Before the pressure to adopt environmental standards like those of WWF’s Aquaculture Stewardship Council, catfish farmers used home-made feeds that included farm by-products. No more. Now the local farmers of the world have to vie for the labels that the affluent populations want to see in the grocery store.

Slide42Is it the height of irony that WWF would expose the “hidden soy” in animal products after pushing this same market?

People listen to the WWF and the New York Times when what they really need is no-nonsense information, and a key part of that information needs to come from those of us who’ve already divested from animal agribusiness in our own lives and can help others to do it.

This is not to say that being vegan is all we need to do. I’m starting to notice a lot of people picking out one kind of change that they like and claiming it as their part. I’ve heard people who bring their own bags back to the supermarket overstate the goodness of this good deed by claiming to be “saving the world, one bag at a time” (regardless of what products are in their re-used bags). Vegans need to be careful that we don’t fall into the trap of thinking we’re doing so much by being vegan that we ourselves needn’t make deep changes in our mindsets and actions.

I’ll also talk about the influence of religious doctrine and of education on people’s attitudes and understanding of climate change. I expect a lot of informed comments and feedback at Summerfest on Thursday the 7th. Join us in the Scholar’s Room if you can.

Meanwhile I’d like to conclude with a thought question. Should we use “the war on” language when we talk about climate? This language is meant to indicate a serious approach to climate change, which of course is well past due.

Slide50

But are we really in combat?

And should we be “arming” ourselves against the hordes of invaders coming in when climatic zones shift because of our own conduct?

Is warring against a natural system’s response to overload what we need to be doing? Is this the best mindset for the work we must do to put ourselves in good stead with our planet?

Let’s talk about this.

Vegstock: A Moving Vegan Festival

Vegstock: A Moving Vegan Festival is a concept developed by Eric Nyman of Wildflower, a restaurant in southern New Jersey. There’s an ethical oomph when the word vegan appears in a festival name, and Eric set out to make ethics central to the first South Jersey vegan festival, which will span a portion of a street in Millville, host cooking demos, and collaborate with a number of businesses along the same street.

When asked to speak I said: Count me in. I teach environmental law; I write law review articles about advocacy, bio-communities, and climate change. Yet here is Wildflower, offering a super-accessible educational opportunity related to some of these same topics.

People need no advanced degrees to understand how we got this human-dominated, climate-compromised planet, and how to live differently. But we do need ways to focus our attention and exchange ideas and inspiration locally. What kind of Saturday could be more enjoyably worthwhile than this? What’s cooler than a vegetable restaurant dedicating itself to the cultivation of community? And the inclusion of artists, chefs and events throughout the day in various local spots in the Glasstown Arts District’s High Street makes it uniquely exciting.

Before I go, I want to put three nutshells on Vegan Place describing the topics I’ll open at Vegstock this Saturday.

The impacts of `free-range` on the free-living. For years, animal advocates have operated under the belief that pasture-based or organic ranching, while not perfect, represents a step in the humane direction—but only looking at how domesticated animals seem to be affected. The best case scenario for achieving an advocacy victory involves the business that agrees to “give” the animals space and conditions that the advocates deem “natural” for the animals.

A general return to the family farm is implausible on an Earth with 7-billion-plus humans. And the more of Earth’s finite space and resources “given” to our domesticated animals, the less is available to communities of undomesticated animals who live in their own spaces, on their own terms.

The weight (mass) of the cows we breed to consume adds up to more than that of all free-living land mammals combined. Does it make any ethical sense to say we’re doing the most good when we focus on improving animal husbandry? Is it fair and accurate to claim more space or “natural” conditions for farm-raised animals constitute some form of animal rights or “a step in the right direction”?

I’ll also bring marine animals into the discussion, and the roles of the World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace in assuring people that “sustainable seafood” exists while promoting the international commerce in fish raised on the mass corn and soy markets.

The current climate situation and the importance of dietary divestment from animal agribusiness. Halve your intake of animal flesh, and you could cut your carbon footprint by more than 35%, current research shows. Go vegan, and the difference could be 60%.

How important is commitment to veganism? Notice what climate change is doing to our planet and our prospects for living on it, for one thing. Overall, because of global warming, the planet could see about an 11% reduction in the number of days with suitable climates for plant growth, with some tropical regions facing a reduction of up to 200 days per year by 2100. That’s frightening stuff. If there ever was a time for half-measures, that time is over.

Internet memes in a social movement. This is going to be the hardest to do, as it’s an AV presentation addressing issues of sex, race, and class as well as other-than-human interests, and it’s important to do it without misappropriating perspectives and circumstances even as it explores them.

Is it respectful to rely on graphic images of beings whose lives we don’t know, of individuals who cannot give us permission, in order to make social statements?

Does the regular picturing of abuse prevent us from appropriately processing “adorable” interactions and “cute” Internet memes? Is it vulnerability we are often looking at when we look at these? Is it a vulnerability of our own making?

Overall, the impact of social media on knowledge-sharing can’t be denied. Listicles, buzzwords and memes (oh, my!) are ever-present for the half of the human population with access to a computer. How are we affected by the built-in convenience of these communication devices—whether as receivers or communicators?

I do not know if any of the above segments will be taped, though Eric Nyman has put a call out for someone with AV gear to handle that. If you’re reading and planning to attend, I hope you’ll let me know of any specific aspect of the above you’d find especially interesting, or something relevant that I might have overlooked.


Vegstock Moving Vegan Festival

Sat 12 September, 11 AM · Hosted by Wildflower earthly vegan fare · Millville, NJ