Factory Farming, Farm Sprawl, or a Genuine Humane Response?

Conversation with Caryn Hartglass

Caryn Hartglass has given reprint permission for this 2014 interview with me on the show It’s All About Food. This transcript is proofed and edited for Vegan Place. Original podcast and transcript, titled Animals, Environment, and the Law, appears on the REAL Radio site.

INTRO:

Lee Hall speaking on climate

Lee Hall, an author who’s taken on subjects from anti-terrorism law to vegan cooking, wrote the “Vegetarianism” entry in the Encyclopedia of Activism and Social Justice. Lee has taught Animal Law and Immigration and Refugee Law, and is today working on a second law degree—a legal masters in Environmental Law with a focus on climate change from Vermont Law School. Lee’s work is a bridge between environmentalism and our personal relationships with agriculture, confronting the way animal farming usurps habitat. For years, animal-rights advocates have operated under the belief that at least pasture-based or organic ranching represents a “step” in the humane direction—but only looking at how domesticated animals seem to be affected. Lee champions the animal communities displaced by farm sprawl, and explains how our chosen cookbooks can offer a genuine humane response for all animals, reduce greenhouse emissions, and even stop extinctions.

TRANSCRIPTION:

Lee Hall, Welcome to It’s All About Food.

Lee Hall: Thank you, Caryn. It seems to be perfect timing given that you’re the Lone Vegan ready to speak with two hundred cattle ranchers.

Caryn Hartglass: I know, I was hoping that you would give me some really good tips for Saturday.

Lee Hall:  I am imagining that we are going to have quite a good conversation given that we are both studying the same thing right now.

Caryn Hartglass: I know. And the first thing I wanted to ask you, I’ve been following you and your work for a long time and it’s incredible and the thing that I know about you is your intensity, your passion, how principled you are.

Lee Hall:  Thank you.

Caryn Hartglass: And I wondered were you born that way, or was there something that happened in your life that made that happen, or was it a slow process, or none of the above.

Lee Hall: Well, I wasn’t born that way. I actually saw a bullfight when I was a child and it didn’t change me. I look back on it—and maybe it did, ultimately. I look back on it and I think why didn’t that change me, witnessing a bullfight; I mean, the bull was killed. This was in Mexico. My parents worked there they got free tickets from a business associate. Right, so we went and saw the novicios, who are the people that are learning to do bullfights. Which I understand is more difficult to watch. I wouldn’t know; I’ve only seen this particular instance. And I was—I hid myself in the bathroom for over a day. I wouldn’t come out after it. And what I guess I thought was weirdest—as terrible as this was, as traumatic as it was to see and hear people standing up and cheering for the slow death of an animal, not to mention what the horses were going through in the ring—of all of the horrific feelings of this the very worst was that I was surrounded by hundreds of people that were cheering.

Caryn Hartglass:  Yeah.

Lee Hall: And so here I am locking myself in the bathroom and I remember trying to make a soap carving for hours and I heard my mother trying to get me out of the bathroom, saying “It’s all right, the meat, the flesh of the bull will go to the poor children of Mexico.” My mother knew I was very concerned about poverty; I did have a feeling of social justice as a little kid, as I think most little kids do. But, I think back and the tie: right there, my mother telling me. Of course that didn’t help me feel better that they were going to eat the bull. But: why didn’t I connect as a child? What didn’t I connect? And I know people who do they see an animal killed and immediately they put it all together.

Caryn Hartglass:  Most don’t.

Lee Hall: Most don’t. It takes—I  don’t know what happens. I don’t know how. If I knew how to make this all work, I would tell you. But, I was 21 and I met Robin Lane who is now the co-facilitator/founder of the London Vegan Festival, the longest running vegan festival anywhere in the world. It is the one that inspired all the vegan festivals to come. This was long before that had been started.

Robin Lane in London had been vegan for 1 year and met me. As far we know, I am Robin’s longest running protégé.  It was a leaflet. It was all the ways we use animals. And I considered myself a feminist—it was one of the areas I was reading about myself; and something just clicked then and there. It was: How can I think about oppression and want to get over oppression and want to transcend that in my life and get over that in my life and be working so hard mentally to transcend differences and hierarchies—and how have I not noticed this before? Then of course the bullfight came back to me. But, I just said, that will be it! So I’m one of the weird people that did decide to go vegan all at once.

Caryn Hartglass:  Yeah, for the weird people. Let’s hear it for socially peculiar. Yeah! Making the world a better place.

Lee Hall:  So that was 31 years ago.

Caryn Hartglass:  Yeah. Good for you. I just wonder, because I want to think that we all have the potential to not exploit to not cause pain and suffering; I want to believe that. And I want to believe that we are not born with one kind of DNA that makes us more compassionate then others. I want to think that we are all flexible and once the veil is lifted we can move on and do better.

Lee Hall: Well, I think that is true, Caryn. I was that person until I was 21 and I knew and I didn’t change. So look at other people as people who could change any day.  You have had Harold Brown on the show?

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah.

Lee Hall: That is a wonderful example. Harold came from a dairy and beef farming family and would have been a successful dairy and beef farmer today and had been doing that for many, many years, and a light bulb—this is also somebody that had been hunting regularly.

Caryn Hartglass:  Yes. You are in environmental law now. I want to talk more about animals and the environment. And one of the things we are hearing about is people that care about the environment and seem to have more compassion for animals. They want to go for the—quote—more humane ways of raising animals for food, pasture grazing; and I am doing my studying for this climate change talk. There is this guy on the panel that believes in animal agriculture intensification because unfortunately we have learned that animal agriculture intensification is—quote—more efficient and produces less greenhouse gases when you are cramming this animals in small space and feeding them the wrong foods. But nobody talks about the things that are wrong with it. But it’s encouraging this horror instead of the other way around. And let’s just talk about how all these other things affect the environment.

Lee Hall: Let’s talk about that. It’s a very interesting sort of squeeze that you bring up. You mentioned that the intensify of farming can be controlled in a way that it is less of an emitter of greenhouse gases, that it takes up less space environmentally, these kinds of things. That is a very significant point to bring up. I think a lot of advocates want to think that everything about factory farms is wrong and that’s the answer and we just say that. Just say factory farms. We are saying something that of course everyone understands. Of course it is all kinds of animal farms, the problem we are dealing with. It’s animal farming; it’s not factory farming, certainly not factory farming per se.  It’s animal farming: any kind of animal farming has its problems. We, as animal advocates or environmental advocates, we understand sprawl. We understand sprawl and yet we don’t see it when it is happening with farms that are being spread out. We’ll say: `Well, that is a step in the right direction.` Well, how can that be, if we in the United States are outnumbered by farmland animals, 5 to 1? So, how could it be that the problem is intensive farming? That it is a step in the right direction to have the pasture-based farms when walking around, three hundred million of us in this country, and we are outnumbered 5 to 1, and that is just the land farm animals? So the problem isn’t the factory. The problem is both. If you have concentrated farms you have dense runoff, you have emissions—you do have emissions, and they may be controlling them to some extent but they are still there—you still have ruminant animals, and they are emitting methane. There is fine particulate matter that goes up to the air, and all the things that lead to acid rain.

Caryn Hartglass: And they still make manure, piles of it.

Lee Hall: No matter how they are raised. If you’ve got farm expansion…

Caryn Hartglass: The shit continues.

Lee Hall: It’s in either one. When you’ve got the expanded farms, the pasture-based, the grass-fed, you’ve got other situations. The destruction, and of course, with the intensive farm you have all the humane questions—the whole idea that humanity would treat animals as things to put into tiny boxes that is there—but when you have expansion, at the end we kill them, so it is a myth that it can be humane, because they are being slaughtered at the end. But there is more: when you expand the farm you are fragmenting habitat. You are setting the stage for systematic predator control, followed by a cascade of consequences.

Caryn Hartglass: Wait a minute, What is systematic predator control?

Felis silvestris

Bobcat. On pastures, “free-range” farm animals are captive targets of undomesticated predators; in turn, the predators become persecuted by your local animal farmers and their supporting agencies.

Lee Hall: Well, for example, coyotes and foxes are the animals who are normally targeted.With coyotes in pastures, they are irritating to farmers. Obviously. A coyote, bobcat, fox, a grizzly bear is going to be tempted, understandably, to eat an animal; so the more free-range the farm is, the more vulnerable they are…Shooting coyotes is legal in most places; coyotes can be shot from aircraft; there are forms of poison. The very first coyote synthetic attractant, a lure to attract and kill them, debuted in 1973 and was made from the fatty acids of rhesus monkeys’ vaginal secretions. Since then we have come up with all kinds of traps and lures to attract coyotes and foxes. One infamous one called Compound 1080 goes into predacide collars, and those are strapped to free-range goats and lambs. So here is this poison: it will not save the goat or the lamb; the point is the coyote goes to the animal and if the coyote bites the neck of that farm animal that coyote is about to enter Hell. The poison takes somewhere between 3 and 15 hours to kill. Then there are the traps, the snares, the M44—another lure.  Wildlife Services, our federal government, helps the ranchers. These poisons are often picked up by pets, bald eagles, turkey vultures, wolves—unintended animals. Migratory birds, porcupines, mountain lions. So all these things are happening out there with these free-range farms. To say “Well, stop factory farming” totally ignores that.

Caryn Hartglass:  Wow, and who thinks up these things,? Who thinks up these poisons and these traps? The thing I was wondering about is who are these scientists, these educated scientists that invent these incredible killing materials? The minds that come up with these things …Yes. So there are all these “compassionate” people, who want to get humanely-raised animals and go for pastures. But there are all these issues with that. Of course, there are the intensified farms and there are all animal farms and when we look at it from an environmental point of view the winner is the one no one is looking at, which is feeding plants to people directly.

Shirt created by nonviolenceunited.org

The winner. Design by nonviolenceunited.org

Lee Hall: Exactly. People are looking at it, just maybe not in a way that connects it directly to their plate. I am in school now studying with scientists and lawyers. I am seeing that the people in environment law course are aware. For example: There is a study by Christopher Weber and Scott Matthews at Carnegie Mellon and they have done calculations of greenhouse gas emissions and they have said a “protein shift”—and that is their word for it, when you get protein and nutrients directly from plants instead of feeding it to animals and getting all the nutrients through them—when you do this protein shift one day a week it would be like driving 1,160 miles less every year. What they are talking about is sort of like a vegan Monday. They are saying: Replace meat and dairy and this is what would happen 1,160 less miles a year. So that suggests that animal agribusiness per se is non-local…

If you cut it out even one day it would be more than a thousand miles saved driving so right there they are getting somewhere. So this is what I bring up when we are having these conversations: Wait a minute! That means a 7-day-a-week shift is more than eight thousand miles as though you were not driving every year, more than eight thousand miles. If you have that kind of power that a vegan diet can have, and anyone can have that kind of power, and they can have it a dinnertime, they could decide right now, why not? Being vegan in North America is not a real big difficulty, and it would decrease all of this harm all of these climate chaos caused by the taking away of habitat of other animals. It’s ranching: taking away the other animals’ habitat is what it does. In the last five hundred years more animals have gone extinct in the US, more than any other place; we are wrecking this land and water for ranching.

Caryn Hartglass: You know this show is called It’s All About Food but it’s really all about money, and the animal food industry is a 160-billion-dollar-a-year industry in the US, and I think I am going to be talking to these cattle producers and telling them we need to reduce or eliminate animal livestock, and I am getting right to the heart of their livelihood. What do we tell people like that?

Lee Hall: Right. There has always been forms of livelihood that the economy has depended on that we had to say: There is a problem with this. We need to transcend this, and start acting differently. You can think of three or four examples right now. The chocolate slavery is not okay. It comes from massive chocolate companies and they are selling loads and loads of chocolate at the expense of people on the Ivory Coast that are selling their children into slavery. It’s not okay.

Caryn Hartglass: It’s not okay. But you know most people don’t know about it. It has taken a long time to get Hershey’s Chocolate to budge.

Lee Hall:  Yes. And when you are out there talking to two hundred cattle ranchers, you have people that are talking to many, many more. … A lot of people, including  environmentalists, need to know this it is not just the cattle ranchers that you are informing, that you are having these conversations with; you are talking about getting to a tipping point. And because climate change is upon us, we may be right about at the tipping point.

Caryn Hartglass:  There are plenty of people, and there is one guy on the panel that I will be talking to is a climate change denier. And doesn’t believe it is happening.

Lee Hall: Yes. Who is now connected to the Food and Agriculture representing the UN.

Caryn Hartglass: And it is really hard to know. We live in a very complex world. There is a lot of information on the Internet but it takes a lot to figure out what is credible and what is not; I can’t go into every lab and see what they are doing. When I read things in a study, that I think are interesting. I will go to the original source and read all I can when the study was done and see if I think it was good or not if it is something that I want to repeat. Most people don’t do that. But still I can’t see everything….

Lee Hall: We do know that the carbon dioxide level in our atmosphere is at the highest point in more than 600 thousand years. We do know that global average temperatures, even though they fluctuate madly, are higher than they have been over ten thousand years.

Caryn Hartglass: There are people that do not believe that. I have seen that data and I believe it. But some people see it and still say they do not believe it.

Lee Hall: Well, it is becoming a part of policy.

Caryn Hartglass: There are—95% of climate change scientists that think the climate is changing.

Lee Hall: It becomes: how much it is from animal farming? And the consensus seems to be about 1/5 but as you know specialists from the world bank including Robert Goodland, who unfortunately passed away recently, had said more like 51% is attributable to animal agribusiness. So Mark Bittman invited Robert Goodland to do a blog on Mark Bittman’s column for the New York Times, and Robert Goodland wrote: One might expect the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations to work objectively to determine whether the true figure is 1/5 or 51%. Instead, Mittloehner, known for the claiming that the 1/5th is too big of a figure to use in the US, was announced as chair of a new partnership between the meat industry and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. So Mark Bittman titled that guest blog FAO Yields to Meat Industry Pressure on Climate Change; it is very frightening .

Caryn Hartglass: It is frightening. We are going to have to talk about this more another time because we are out of time. Can you believe it?

Lee Hall: No.

Caryn Hartglass: I know. I am going to have to have you back and dig more into this, especially after I am on this panel with Frank Mittloehner and see what he has to say.  Lee, thank you so much for joining us for this have hour as for all the work you are doing some time soon and we can have some delicious food vegan food the best.

Lee Hall:  Wonderful Idea. Meanwhile, I am rooting for the Lone Vegan.

Caryn Hartglass: We have come to the end of It’s All About Food.  Thank you for joining me.  I am Caryn, and remember: Please have a delicious week.


Caryn Hartglass

Caryn Hartglass

ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER: Cancer survivor and vegan activist Caryn Hartglass founded Responsible Eating And Living (REAL) as a 501(c)3 not-for-profit corporation. For 9 years Hartglass served as Executive Director of the nonprofit EarthSave International, founded by John Robbins. Hartglass has appeared on Dr. Oz, Geraldo At Large, 20-20 and CNN and is the host of It’s All About Food on the Progressive Radio Network. Caryn Hartglass can multitask, showing your group how to make healthy, delicious foods, while inspiring you to do so. Have Caryn Hartglass speak at your next event. For more information send email to info@RealMeals.org or call 657- I M 4 REAL (657-464-7325).

A Dozen Objections to Authentic Vegan Advocacy—Heard Out

Image“Our members are pronounced individualists, not easily scared by criticism, and filled with the spirit of pioneers.” – Donald Watson.

Suddenly this pioneer thing is catching on. Whether for health, for climate justice, or for animals, we’re hearing a lot about famous people going vegan. But do they know what they’re really getting into? Will they be able to face the criticism? Let’s see how scary their mission will be, should they choose to accept it.

Every vegan’s heard this criticism, so it’s first on the list:

1. “You’re a vegan? Fine; just don’t push your views on others.”

Yes, we know. People have the legal right to exploit other animals. Humans have spent centuries writing that into laws, regulations, constitutions, and judicial opinions. And most people, for much of our lives, can and do look away from the hurtful traps our laws create. Our capacity for wishing each other “peace on Earth” while allowing ourselves to be treated as consumers of institutionalized violence is remarkable.

But until vegans press the point, are people ever challenged to acknowledge that the hierarchy is a human creation—that we made it up? Anybody involved in any facet of social progress or justice, would, logically, do well to grapple with the question. (We vegans also make great cupcakes.)

2. “Traditional societies hunt; only modern privileges allow for vegan living.”

I’m for hearing people out. After all, none of us, except perhaps a few vegan-organic growers, can claim to essentially do no harm.

I’d also observe that animal use has been important to just about everyone’s culture and family history.

And some people in indigenous communities (homeless people as well) are vegan.

The significance of an elk’s death to an indigenous community is similar, at essence, to the importance of the body of a turkey (complete with its age- and gender-specific stuffing and carving customs, prayers and toasts) in an affluent suburb. Every one of us has a history flowing back through ancestors who, at some critical time, decided that their safety depended on subduing other animals, and our forebears killed off large carnivores en masse. Natural resources managers are still doing it.

We are all in this ethical question together: Is the group of primates known as Homo sapiens entitled to keep killing, or else dominating, selectively breeding, using and consuming the rest of the planet’s inhabitants?

3.  “People aren’t all going to go vegan, so why not get them to make some changes?”

What changes are they making? Do their baby steps allow companies to sustain animal agribusinesses through greenwash (or hogwash)? Cartons of organic milk are now adorned with pictures of farmers embracing their cows. And shoppers think they’re doing a good deed, given that these cartons look nothing like the latest undercover video at this or that horrible supplier, and they buy into the humane myth. 

The current issue of Rolling Stone reveals “the price we pay for cheap meat.” A professional advocacy spokesperson quoted in the article says investigators of factory handling and slaughter aren’t “trying to end meat or start a panic. But there’s a decent way to raise animals for food, and this is the farthest thing from it.”

Although advocates might hope some readers will consider going vegan because of the hideous corporate animal abuse they saw in the Rolling Stone, here’s what will most likely occur:

  • Some readers will donate to the advocacy group they noticed in Rolling Stone.
  • Husbandry standards may ultimately change because of the outcry. With dubious effect. After all, regulation has been going on since Upton Sinclair published The Jungle.
  • Those “decent” sources of animal products will advertise themselves and profit accordingly.
  • Husbandry adjustments will, problematically, be equated with animal advocacy the world over.

Admittedly, the vast scale of animal use can be overwhelming. Anxiety might lead us to ask whether pressing for industry reforms is the best we can do. But whether reforms are granted or not, suffering isn’t reduced when animals are unnecessarily bred or brought into an exploitive system.

Let’s be clear: Vegans wouldn’t disapprove of true husbandry improvements, if and where they might be possible. And in the human-rights sphere, it’s acceptable for serious activists to pursue reforms. For instance, prison abolitionist Angela Davis has stated that reforms are also necessary.

But in the case of animal agribusiness, ordinary food shoppers hold the prison keys. By divesting our kitchens from the system that commodifies other animals, and encouraging others to do so, we exercise direct power to spare animals from being brought into that commodified existence.

4.  “Won’t supporting both veganism and industrial concessions help us go further than we would if we said only one is worthwhile?”

The wealthy animal-protection charities will keep working with corporations for concessions no matter what we do. The big charities support the use of animals in human society, as long as some minimum standards of treatment are established. The people who are expected to propose these standards will get hired, and will produce them.

Jobs abound for those who promote state-of-the-art slaughter techniques or roomier sheds, but this will not raise the status of animals. It won’t enable us or free-living animals to survive on this precious planet.

The lure of compromise can be turned around—to start a conversation about why it takes so long for us Homo sapiens to give up our privileges, even the ones that are bad for us and that we could stop indulging in today.

5.  “Aren’t vegans anti-social scolds?”

Some might be born contrarians, but most vegans are socially engaged and learning from others every day. We tend to notice the red lights more than the green.

Some of the most helpful people I’ve met out hiking, for example, are vegans. They will speak their minds when necessary; yet they are, I’m glad to report, invariably quick to show to kindness to others of various experiences and opinions. To be vegan is to experience the pleasure of looking after our health, the planet, and every conscious being alive. Sure, there will always be a few people who mischaracterize social haters gonna hatemovements. Expect resistance, and stay kind.

6. “Your impossible standards are making it worse for animals.”

Ouch. Here’s the heavy artillery that comes out when we ask for accountability from a group that’s bargaining away other animals’ most basic interests. No: vegans make nothing worse for animals. Vegans live as though animal rights were a reality right now, and thereby bring animal rights into existence (enacting the central point of Gandhi’s famous recommendation that we ourselves be the change we wish to see in society).

In fact, just being vegan (not counting the talks, writing, rescuing, and public demonstrations or performances many vegans additionally carry out) makes a significant difference.

In a somewhat less accusatory appeal, some will insist, “If I were one of the animals involved, I would want this [bigger stall, better slaughter method, etc.].”  Now, surely it’s fair and logical to say the animals would not want to be slaughtered at all. We know they’d try to avoid being harmed; it’s manifestly obvious. By extension, it seems logical and fair to say on behalf of other animals that they would appreciate vegan campaigning—that is, they’d appreciate our not consuming them. Not agreeing to victimize them in any way. But to suggest that we are speaking for other animals when we compromise their interests (and in reality animals cannot come to the meetings to represent themselves) is troubling.

And as we know, wolves, foxes, bobcats, coyotes and others get killed to protect live animals in sprawling commerce—so we can’t limit the argument to what the given cow or chicken would say. What about the other animals who are pushed out of the way for the less concentrated, more  “humane” farming businesses? What would they want?

7. “Our event should be vegan? Oh, right. If you want to be some kind of ivory-tower idealist who makes the movement as small as possible.”

This one might be based on an intuition that excluding people is unwise. Yet insofar as it suggests that vegans aren’t offering a viable movement (or even helpful event planning), it frames vegan values as outlandish—and that’s a kind of exclusion too.

Granted, the advocate usually needs to cultivate allies in advance of suggesting vegan events. But even if you’re on your own, or one of a small group, preparing and passing out delicious desserts goes a long way. Good cooks are rarely mistaken for killjoys. (I’m serious about the cupcakes.)

8. “Vegans harm animals too.”  

Right. The gentlest gardener will likely displace some animals. When our homes were constructed, many mice and other small animals lost their spaces. Bike components and book glues are not always vegan; the list is long. It’s sensible to acknowledge this, but it doesn’t mean we all need to continue allowing the selective breeding and training and breaking and buying and selling and eating of animals.

Being vegan means we strive as diligently as possible to avoid harming and manipulating conscious life, and we do the best we can to ensure other living beings are enabled to thrive in their ways.

9. “You just don’t understand business.”  

Good try. No one understands business better than those who’ve soberly assessed corporate conduct and figured out that compromises will be rejected or co-opted according to how the shareholders’ return can be maximized.

Nor is it true that higher prices for animal products leads in the direction of animal rights. It leads to people seeing animal products as desirable items, even if fewer animals are sold.

We can’t know how many people are steered away from vegan living if they can obtain “humane” or “local” products (here we might recall our own journeys and the questions we asked: Do fish who swim freely suffer so badly? Is eating eggs better if I look for the free-range brand?).

When we resolve to simply opt out, we help liberate our culture from its psychological ties to animal use. This is entirely practical. On a planet of limited land and water, humanity breeds so many animals into existence as food and usurps so much arable land for animal feed that the free-living animals are pushed to the margins of the land and biodiversity is ruined. But through vegan movements, such as vegan-organic farming, we’re proposing a simpler, more sustainable, decentralized and life-affirming future for human and non-human beings alike.

10. “How popular will your materials be if you insist on promoting them as vegan?”

Just as some people avoid creating a vegan event because they genuinely think people won’t come, some vegan starter guides don’t use the word “vegan” and some people say “veg” or write veg*n—inching the word “vegan” back to a less specific vegetarian idea. Here’s a badge using the globally known vegan sunflower trademark—and imposing an asterisk on it. v[asterisk]ganism

It’s an understandable attempt at all-inclusive friendliness for an environmental cause. But applying the term vegan with the “a” blotted out, so that it becomes merely a short form of vegetarian, blurs some key points.

Figures applicable to the United States show that each vegan spares the atmosphere an equivalent of greenhouse gas emitted from 8,100 miles driven annually. Yes, go vegan and it’s like not driving your car more than 8,000 miles each year. Simply changing from some animal products to others won’t do this. Fish production goes right up with the flesh of cows to top the list of highest possible all-around energy uses. And milk products are derived from ruminant animals, who emit high amounts of methane—an especially potent greenhouse gas.

It’s important to prevent veganism from appearing as an optional variation within some apparently more popular position. Respecting the environment—just like respecting ethical principles—means more than cutting out steak and hamburgers. So the simple, powerful word vegan is more important than it’s ever been. It already respects vegetarian ideals: Taken from the first and last letters of the word, it brings vegetarian to its logical conclusion.

Grocers, restaurateurs, and ranchers claiming to sell humane animal products frequently attempt to sponsor rescue-related, vegetarian, and green events. Whole Foods Market has honed this into a major marketing technique. Animal-rights ideas get pushed aside as advocates sit down to business and give concession agreements their full and immediate attention. Then they call attention to their influence, and call the conscientious objector’s holdout stance divisive because, in effect, it’s not the view of the majority of society. Well, let’s face it: People who renounce dominion over other animals are outside the majority.  We regard a viable movement for a new ethic as having to resist the majority’s hydraulic pull. We can expect part of our work to involve persuading potential compromisers to commit instead to conscientious objection.

If we are not living according to the vegan principle and imparting to others this same principle, veganism doesn’t exist.  Objections will be many, and people will try to dilute the vegan principle and blur the word. Yet our example is generally accepted by the animal-advocacy community as positive, without drawbacks of any sort, except that it’s thought by some to be a slow approach. Although it might be slow, a lot of things are; and respect for animals clearly advances when people “renounce absolutely their traditional and conceited attitude that they had the right to use them to serve their needs.”

11. “It’s just too hard to be vegan.”

Given all that’s going on in climate science and ethics studies, I think we’re swimming with the tide—but yes, we’re swimming faster, and that takes stamina.

Yet I find it is easier for me to be vegan than not. My mind can rest easy at night. I used to be one of the humans who exerted dominion over other animals, but I no longer have to maintain that worldview. I can walk along the streams and through the woods knowing a real peace with other beings. I find it a wonderful relief to understand myself as a simple co-worker in this planet’s life and story.

12. “Come on, how can we possibly get up in the morning, with the human population growing daily by more than 211,000 people, drones flying, governments spying, polar bears drowning, 100 million people people living in the streets, and think this vegan stuff is going to work?”

Good question. The symbolic Doomsday Clock, maintained since 1947 through the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to represent minutes to the midnight of our destruction, weighs threats posed by nuclear weapons, new developments in life sciences, and climate change. It was first set at seven minutes before midnight, and as of this writing is set at five minutes to midnight. The clock can be, and has been, set back in time, too—in response to political decisions humans have made. The message? Human-induced global warming and war are no accidents. Nor are they foisted upon us by nature, fate, or God. They are the results of human decisions. As long as we’re here, we can decide in new ways, and help offer that power to others—balancing our sober discussions with good news, enjoyable walks and teas and great recipes, a sense of generosity and joy in being alive.

Cormac Cullinan, author of the book Wild Law, offers a sound reason to be optimistic about the future of human law and culture. Proposing it’s entirely possible to have ecologically respectful law, Cullinan reminds us of the paradigm shift; the term, as Thomas Kuhn introduced it in the 1960s, means a transformation in the scientific worldview. Consider the Copernican revolution: When it became clear that our planet revolves around the sun, we ceased to be the focal point of creation. What had once seemed obvious and eternal was something else entirely: an error of the past. Humanity’s perspective changed.

Likewise, the vegan principle challenges an old view that we’re central and that everyone and everything revolves, eternally, around us. Environmentalists have discovered how incorrect the all-for-us view is, from a biological perspective. Earthworms and bees and other supposedly insignificant beings are now understood as enormously influential in the bio-community.

Meanwhile, vegan advocates assert that all are entitled to live on their own terms, bees and earthworms included.

Note that the Copernican revolution wasn’t the result of change in increments to the old system. No one was asked to accept that the sun was a little closer to the central point over time. Astronomy charts didn’t show Earth moving gradually outward as new editions were printed. So let’s not say, “Well, OK, start with eggs from hens who were given more room.” No quest for a “decent way to raise animals for food” is necessary when each of us, and everyone we meet, has the power to commit to vegan principles right now. There is a bright-line psychological difference, and not a continuum, between accepting human dominion and rejecting it.

Vegans reject human dominion. It’s a radical idea; a paradigm shift is radical by definition. It will not happen overnight, and it will be met with resistance (Galileo’s books were banned, and the great scientist was placed under house arrest for having accepted the position of Copernicus, which was deemed contrary to biblical authority). But the cultural shift, once the new paradigm is presented and acknowledged, is unstoppable.

We don’t know the tipping point; it could be a small number of people who are working on a problem now, and the next generation could be the one for which everything falls into place. And that’s good. By most indications, we have little time to spare.

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Question marks: Oberazzi, on Flickr. Bee photographed by Steb1, published on Flickr. The source of information on food miles and emissions for this article is the study of greenhouse gas emissions by Christopher L. Weber and H. Scott Matthews,“Food Miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States” – 42 Environmental Science Technology, at 3508-13 (2008). High impacts of fish commerce was noted by Gidon Eshel and Pamela Martin (2006). Thanks to Victoria Hart for the term authentic vegan