Monday, April 27, 2009

The successful activist isn't even active?

photo courtesy of

The vegan cats blog inspired some interesting comments on a completely different topic. I thought I would make this the subject of today's blog:

Basically it comes down to this question: Just how active should an activist be? Or perhaps its better put as: What kind of activity best suits an activist?

I'm curious as to others thoughts on the subject.

I've never considered myself an activist. But we're all activists to an extent just by doing whatever we do and serving as some sort of example to whomever we interact with. I started thinking about this after reading a comment that was left by an anonymous vegan reader in the comments section of last week's blog (I've reprinted this comment below so you'll read it shortly). They left this comment in response to another vegan reader and myself. We were debating an issue and both agreed that we don't like imposing our views on other people. This anonymous vegan reader then criticized this viewpoint as being apathetic and falling short of our "moral imperative". Basically the reader was saying "you must do more you lazy schmucks" in so many words :-). I welcome criticism and want to hear whatever anyone has to say, its just that i'm not sure I fully agree with this particular criticism. I do feel its an important question.

Here's the comment in question:

This is very sad! BILLIONS of animals are living in hell, tortured and suffering and dying every day around the world and people can't spend one hour a week of their lives to be the animals' voice. There is so much apathy in the world. This is why animal cruelty will never end. It's not enough to just go vegan. It is our moral imperative to actively campaign to end the suffering of these precious souls. If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem!

Not too long ago in this country it was perfectly acceptable to keep another human being as a slave. Do you think slavery would have ended if people just sat on their butts and said, "I'd have a hard time imposing my beliefs on a slave owner. I'd like to live in a world where other human beings aren't beaten and tortured, but I'm not one to put pressure on anyone"


And here is my response:

Hey Anonymous. I respect your ultimate goal very much. However, I wonder if you would consider the merits of our approach as well. Your basic message in your first paragraph comes down to where you say, "if you're not part of the solution you're part of the problem". This is similar to George Bush's thinking when he said "You're either with us or against us" when referring to the iraq war, the terrorists, etc. I disagree with this thinking. This is the language of war. This is drawing up battle lines where they do not need to be drawn. By waging a war to end a war we're just adding one more war in a long line of wars. I don't believe we need to do that. After all, each of us can only do what we can and feel able to. We can celebrate this fact rather than condemn it. We don't have to attack or try to guilt others into doing more. This will only hurt a cause not help it. People are less likely to listen if they feel attacked and more likely to just tell the person to screw off and deem what they're saying as worthless. And if you do guilt them into doing more with this tactic, it won't be coming from a genuine place. I'm not sure if you were attacking me or the person who wrote the comment specifically or not, but after all, that person is a vegan and is doing tremendous amounts to save those animals you mention. That is not apathy. Even if they're not doing all they could do (which is debatable), what they're doing is still important to this cause. And even if the person feels uncomfortable telling others what to do, this person is still influencing others simply by being a living example. What could be better than that? A living example who is happy rather than angry and isn't trying to stuff their views down your throat? That's someone I'd like to listen to! In fact this person has helped me and I know serves as a living example to many others just through everyday people interaction. Why not celebrate what people are doing and inspire others to do more by example rather than point and condemn? This doesn't mean that you yourself can't still do what you do for the cause which may indeed be much more than us.

You question whether slavery would have ended if people hadn't gotten up off their asses and done something about it. True. But what did people really "do". How did slavery end? How did this huge behemoth of an entrenched way of life whose victims were quite powerless ever even begin to change? Most people would say Lincoln. But if you asked Lincoln he'd say the single biggest single reason was Harriet Beecher Stowe and her book "Uncle Tom's Cabin"'s effect on the country. Though I haven't read it yet myself, people say that the success of the book was that it awakened people's compassion. It looked at both the slave and the slave master as human beings. She didn't win hearts by saying "what a bunch of apathetic wimps people are!" or saying "WAKE UP PEOPLE, get off your lazy asses and do your moral imperative!" She simply told a story and let people come to that themselves. (and it became the 2nd best selling book at the time behind the bible). And of course slavery didn't just end all of a sudden. It slowly eroded. It remained long after Lincoln and even long after the 13th amendment. When it did finally stop outright as a practice in the 1930's, racism endured and still does. If we want animal abuse to end, treating everyone with compassion is the place to start (animals, meat eaters, apathetic vegans, and high functioning activist vegans). Because that's what they all deserve. Were you ever a meat or milk eater? Can you relate to what it was like to not know enough to give a shit about where your meat or milk came from? I can. And so how can I judge someone who is thinking that way now? Better that we understand where they are coming from by seeing it in ourselves and love them as such. We can still be activists and make sure the information is out there, and give people the resources and information when they ask and do what we can in our own lives to further the cause and be living examples. That's using compassion to inspire compassion rather than war to stop war. It feels right, and is not driven by guilt and stress or hate and violence. For me currently, it feels good to focus on what feels right for me and not concern myself with what others "should" do. How do I know what's right for you? I know what's right for me. It feels wrong and stressful to be trying to impose beliefs on others (as if we could). Yes billions of animals are dying, but even by not "doing" anything other than being living examples we are certainly furthering the cause. Perhaps even more so than by being "in your face" activists?

If you are able to accomplish more than me, then I salute you! And by all means, show me how! Tell me how you are doing it! Be my living example! Is it by scolding people? If so I can't help you there, but good luck! A system I can scold, but for people I'd like to have only compassion. If we want change then we need to "win hearts and minds" as they say. What's the best way to do that?

Sometimes when i'm waiting at a bus stop for a bus, I get kinda fidgety. I just hate standing still feeling helpless, like i'm wasting time getting nowhere. So I decide to walk and catch the bus at one of the next stops. Inevitably, the bus passes me while i'm walking in between stops and I end up waiting anyway.

Maybe "doing" nothing as an activist is the same. Maybe "doing nothing" by waiting at the proverbial bus stop accomplishes more than "doing something" and missing the proverbial bus... Even though we may feel helpless by just standing there in the face of such unimaginable cruelty to so many beings, we may actually be doing more for them.

Please don't misunderstand, I'm not saying to do nothing as an activist of course. By all means do anything and everything you can. This is more about the general attitudes and motivations behind whatever it is that you do as an "activist". In other words, take care not to become an oppressor yourself in your crusade against the oppressors.

What do others think about this? What is the best way to effect change? Should we even be trying to effect change? Is it best to do as Ghandi said and just change ourselves? Not concern ourselves with what others do if they aren't looking for advice? Or should we be yelling from the rafters to any who'll listen and even those who won't? Somewhere in between? Leave a comment if you'd like...


photo ©2009 Eric M

Monday, April 20, 2009

VEGAN CATS? Ok, its official...I've now heard everything.

Yes, its true. Today's blog is about trying to feed your cats veggies alone. Before you start throwing things however, i'd like to point out that this Wednesday is Earth Day! The most helpful thing you could do for the Earth on that day is to stop eating meat and meat by products for the day. Here's Ecorazzi's coverage of Farm Sanctuary's "Vegan for a Day Challenge". Give it a try! Another great Earth Day activity would be to watch The Meatrix videos. Very entertaining AND enlightening!

Ok you may now start throwing things.

But seriously brave blog reader...

Today I challenge you to join me on a little journey...

A journey to a land where Sports Illustrated calls a dude who eats only veggies the "Olympian of the Century" (not enough protein my ass :). A world where the highest paid tight-end in the NFL and the lead singer of the raddest band in the land, both turn their noses up at brie and take no cream in their coffee. And a place where the oldest dog is a vegan???

Yes its true folks. And actually, you don't have to travel very far to get to this land since you live there already.

But ok, vegan cats? At least dogs are said to be omnivores (can survive on meat or veggies). Cats are believed to be obligate carnivores which means though they likely need some vegetable matter, they must eat meat in order to survive and would eat primarily meat in their natural habitat. So, there you go, case closed, right? (if you've been reading the blog, you must know by now that the case is not closed :).

I am going to basically focus on cats in the blog today (being a cat owner) but the same basic arguments apply to dogs (just switch the words in your mind as you read). Let me also offer full disclosure and say that upon first thought, I was completely against the idea of this diet myself. I am now interested in trying this diet out on my cuties, but have not done so as of yet.

In fact the thought of putting the critters on such a diet had not even crossed the ole noggin until one day, a month or so ago whilst searching the internets, I came across an article on the topic. There have been a bunch of media reports of late about a growing trend to feed dogs and cats vegan diets. The backlash to the trend has been extraordinary. Just look at the comments section of any of these articles and you'll see an impassioned outcry against said activity. This one on the Huffington Post's website elicited 11 PAGES of highly heated back and forth (mostly back. very little forth actually). The perpetrators of the diet are denounced as incredibly cruel for imposing their beliefs on these poor animals. How could these owners deprive their cats of their natural nutritional needs not to mention tastes? Are they crazy? Who are these freakish animal "activists" who would impose their weirdo morals on a CAT. 'What's next???' they cry. 'Are these freaks going to go to the Serengeti and start picketing the lions with "SAVE THE GAZELLES" posters???'. In fact, I even noticed there were several vegans and vegetarians who chimed in on the merits of maintaining the natural, meat based diet of a cat and that to do anything else was simply cruel.

Diane Sawyer and Good Morning America did a segment on the diet last week. I found the link through vegan fashionista, blogger and all around hot chick Chloé Jo Berman who makes a cameo appearence in the clip with her vegan doggies. (visit Chloé's amazing blog The Girlie Girl Army). They interview several owners who swear by the vegan pet diet and then counter with many "people on the street" and experts who are not so sure the diet is the cat's meow. There is a pet store owner who says something to the effect of "human philosophy should play no part in the animal kingdom. In the wild, dogs wouldn't think twice about eating a chicken". A veterinarian says something like, "Yes its possible for a cat to be vegan, but that's like saying its possible for a human to live on the south pole. Its true but very few of us would choose to do it". They finish off the segment with Diane Sawyer conducting a little uncontrolled experiment where they bring a dog on set and offer him both a vegan and a meat based treat to see which one he goes for (he doesn't like either, and then ends up eating both).

Ok, I'll get straight to my bottom line folks (after which i'll attempt to pick the above arguments to pieces). If you do your research, and if you let down your guard for a second and listen to what the vegan pet owners are saying, you'll hear them saying one thing clearly. "My cat is doing great". "They love the food". Yes, i've heard now of many people who say that they have tried this diet for their cats, and that the cats not only live long healthy lives, but also thrive. To be sure, there are also stories of where it did not seem to work to the complete exclusion of meat. There seem to be a small percentage of cats that require some extra attention. Having done the research, however and having contacted owners, I am convinced that there definitely are many cats living long happy, healthy lives on it with no special magic. The magic is that the missing nutrients are added to the vegan cat food that would normally be found in the meat.

• "Cats should eat their natural diet".
• "These people are depriving cats of how they would be eating in the natural environment".
• "Human philosophy has no place in the animal kingdom"

If we take a moment to look closer, these end up being pretty hilarious. Simply through the act of keeping a pet in our home, our pets are far from being "natural". They are in our living rooms. If we care so much about our pets being natural, then why don't we set them free into nature? That pet store owner may be right that human philosophy should play no role in the animal kingdom, but its quite laughable at this point in human history to think that it hasn't. If the pet store owner is so concerned about dogs living according to their natural ways then why does she own a PET STORE??? (pet stores being perhaps the thing that MOST prevents animals from living according to their most natural selves. no actually that would be the factory farm. in any case...) So are we just going to pick and choose which unnatural things are ok for us to impose on our pets based on what's convenient??? Are we??? We are? Ok. Well then that brings me to my next point.

The food. This natural food that we're feeding our pets that so closely mimics their natural diet. Have you looked at the list of ingredients in your pet food? It is one of the most processed foods on the planet. Most brands of pet food contain "downed" or diseased meats. And even if you feed your cat the most organic, pure ingredients, how often in nature do you think a cat eats a cow? The thought of my kitty Huck trying to take down a Holstein is a pretty funny image actually :). Are cats going into the water to hunt fish? (Have you tried giving your cat a bath?) And even if they could catch a few sardines in the shallows, do you know how big a tuna is? (hint: chicken of the sea is something of a misnomer here... cow of the sea would be closer). Are we going to just say "meat is meat" here for convenience's sake and its basically all the same to a cat anyway??? Are we??? We are? Ok. Well then that brings me to my next point.

Vets say that the reason cats must eat meat is mainly because of their requirement for the amino acid Taurine found only in meat (or synthesized in a lab). This is why vegan cat food is supplemented with Taurine and minerals like it. What I found interesting was that each of the many meat based cat brands that I buy, ALL have "Taurine" on their labels as an added ingredient! I found this quite interesting... So we're to believe that cats need Taurine to survive, that only meat can provide it, yet we also have to supplement their meat with it? I was pretty sure that cats didn't get Taurine added to their "natural" diets when they lived in the wild centuries ago. I was also sure that a pet food company wouldn't be adding expense to their product without a reason... so I investigated further. I found that Taurine is added to canned cat food because Taurine is destroyed during the cooking process! Cats can't survive on a vegetable diet any more than they can survive on a diet of cooked meat!!! So either way, we're feeding cats a bunch of stuff that's unnatural and inadequate nutritionally and we're throwing in a bunch of vitamins and supplements to make it ok. Hmmm.

Ok, fine, so we've established that inherently as a pet owner we're not even close to helping our animals live "naturally". They live in our homes not the forest. We are feeding them foods which they would not normally eat or need to be supplemented for their survival. We dress them up for Halloween. We have no leg to stand on.

Which brings me to my last point. I will say that one thing we can glean from all these impassioned pro-meat commenters and interviewees is that they certainly do seem to care about animals. Their impassioned attacks, however venomous, are directed toward preserving the welfare of their pets. They decry these vegan fundamentalists only because they feel that the welfare of a beloved, sentient pet is at stake. Interesting how both parties actually seem to be on the same side. The side of preventing cruelty to animals. So where's the problem? What these obviously well meaning people are missing is that it is the vegan owners who are allowing themselves to pull back the proverbial wool from their eyes and take into account ALL the animals in our scenario rather than only their own beloved pet. They are taking into account the thousands of animals tortured and killed each day to make that pet food. They are choosing to not support our backward factory farming system. And they are looking past their biases to allow themselves to at least consider the possibility that the cats actually might like the stuff!

I can only speak for myself, but I have no desire to stop nature. I don't want to go to the Serengeti and filibuster a pride of lions. But the ability to ponder whether a fleeting pleasure such as meat eating is worth another's suffering is a natural ability of a human. And apparently the ability to survive and thrive on a diet of supplemented vegetables is a natural ability of his pet cat.

Will the cats enjoy the food less? I have no clue. I have heard stories from some people saying that their cats seem to enjoy the food very much and live long healthy lives. I am going to look past my biases and try actually believing them for a minute. Who knows? I can say that I have 4 cats of my own who jump all over me while i'm eating food (vegan food) and beg for a morsel.

I also have no idea whether the diet will ultimately work for my cats. I've read that thousands of cats have done it successfully, but that a small percentage require more careful monitoring and adjustments of nutrients to thrive. This is true of any diet though (many dogs, cats and humans have food allergies and require special considerations). I would call it a success even if I could feed them just a little less of the factory farm stuff. In any case, the reasons that people give to not even TRY the diet just fall short. And even if cats do enjoy it less than a meat based diet... Is a pampered, warm, safe, beloved cat's full enjoyment of his meals a justification for me to kill and torture so many of his peers? I think not.

Is a human's?

This concludes the philosophical portion of the blog. However, a helpful reader's comment made me realize that it would be great if I delved further into some of the cautionary and practical aspects of the topic:

With dogs it seems a healthy animal on a vegan diet is a no brainer. Cats are a different story. I'm convinced it can happen without too much effort, but i'm also convinced that this is not necessarily the case. Very serious health problems and death can occur if we are not paying close attention and if we're not willing to adapt whenever necessary. Therefore, one should consider very carefully before trying a diet such as this one. Because it is such an unpopular concept, there are very few companies to support it, and fewer scientific studies about it. This makes it difficult for us as pioneers and we must therefore be extra vigilant. It would be a shame if the diet is actually perfectly healthy when implemented correctly yet gets a bad name simply because the proper methods are not being used. And of course, its possible that some cats simply can't tolerate it. I've heard mixed things about one of the company's products (not all bad things, mixed things) and its made me to decide to go with one over the other. Being such small operations with not a lot of customers, it must be hard for them to insure consistency in the nutritional content of their products. I've heard that the nutritional analysis that is done by most cat suppliers to insure consistency is prohibitively expensive for these vegan cat companies. All this in mind, I would say you should make sure you are committed to the following before trying this diet out on your cat:

1. Do research and talk to other owners to gain from their experience. Join a group like so you are part of a supportive community.
2. Recognize that you are not certain it will work.
3. Recognize that even taking away some factory farmed stuff is a good thing and you don't have to go all vegan.
4. Commit to carefully monitoring your cat for symptoms, and be prepared to test the pH of its urine at least every few months.
5. I've read that plenty of water, and NO dry food are helpful in keeping a vegan cat healthy. One of those electric water things is a good option to encourage water drinking since cats often like their water moving (maybe just turn it on when you leave the house and overnight to save electricity).
6. See if you can find a vet that is supportive of the diet (They do exist! ask people for recs). But take what any vet says with a grain of salt. (take what I say with a grain of salt as well).
7. If you have an outdoor cat, consider letting them hunt for their own food as much as possible.
8. Support more humane meat options in our food system. Sadly, there's incredibly few options out there (organic and "free range" most often say nothing about the horrid conditions an animal must live under unfortunately due to lack of regulation). Go see FRESH to see the exciting things that are possible in this area with our support. Maybe someday soon there will be a properly regulated "humane" seal so you'll know your catfood came from a better place.
9. Most of all, don't take my word for it. After all, I haven't even tried it yet! I may talk a good game, but I don't know the answer here. It sounds very possible for a cat to both enjoy and thrive on the diet and i'm going to give it a try, but do your own research and draw your own conclusions. Consult with an open minded, knowledgeable vet throughout.

Much Love,

• An article about a cat who prefers the veggie diet!

• Big name brand "Pedigree" dog food just released a line of vegetarian dog food (only currently available in India). Thanks to VEGdaily for that link.

• Here is the "Facebook" for vegan cat owners!
Great tips and advice and like minded people to trade stories and advice with.

• The pet food that i'm going to try is called "vegekit" found here:
Also has great information on the site. is a reseller with slightly discounted products and also offers starter packs for cheap so you can give it a low risk trial.

• other vegan cat foods include evolution brand (don't confuse with "evolve" brand) and ami treats.

p.s. - All pictures on the blog to date have been taken with my own camera. The two in today's blog were snagged off the web.

p.p.s Also, here are some excellent interviews with two great authors about our favorite topic here at the blog:

Peter Singer interview on

Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson interview on

Saturday, April 11, 2009

"Dude, I hear ya..."

"Dude, I hear ya, it must be awful what goes on in those factory farms. But I just love the taste of meat too much. I could never make it."

This is one i've heard MANY times now, and I always find myself saying one thing.

"I love the taste of meat too!"

No, really! Jesus, give me a philly cheese steak (especially from Espresso's, the pizza joint near my alma mater) and i'm in freaking heaven. I swear if I could eat meat with a side of meat all day long i'd be positively gleeful. In heaven I tell you! Well, sheesh, while i'm at it i'm going to think about what else might put a person into "heaven". A guy also might feel in "heaven" if he could take home every attractive woman he met on the street in this city. He also might feel in "heaven" if instead of work he stayed in bed and watched "Intervention" and "The Price is Right" reruns all day. He also might feel in "heaven" if he smoked pot, ate meat, took women home and watched tv in bed all day long! (ah memories...) No, but seriously folks, sorry to have gotten so crude so quick in today's blog but I swear there is a point i'm trying to make here (especially sorry to you mom! Argument's sake only I swear!)

What happens after an extended bout of consistently doing any one of these things? After staying in bed for a week, heaven becomes hell real quickly doesn't it? No sunlight, no exercise, no paycheck, too much "Price is Right" and things soon get pretty dreary. (although to me, A&E's "Intervention" could never get old). And after a while of taking a different attractive person home everyday, one would start feeling pretty skeezy pretty quick as well. With all the messy physical and emotional interactions going on, it wouldn't be long before you started catching things and headed down into that abyss of feeling low about yourself. And y'know, pot all day long is great and all, but the next day isn't so great, and after a few days, one starts forgetting things and feeling and acting stupid among other things. And who knows what long term damage you are doing to your body. Feel free to substitute your drug or activity of choice here... say heroin or ice cream or ice cream whilst on heroin or what have you. (um, eric, you're not going to seriously compare meat to heroin are you?). Well, yes actually! I'd say a double bacon cheese burger has more in common with heroin than it doesn't. Pleasure is pleasure. Its all the same circuits.

So, as per the old cliché, everything in moderation right? Is that what we're getting at? Nothing wrong with a day in bed and some Bob Barker every once in a while is there? Nothing wrong with taking the occasional pretty person home is there? (when you're single of course). And why not celebrate that one time back in college when you did heroin all week? Ok, i'm exaggerating again, of course, so let me get to my point. Why not a bit of meat once in a while? Well, let's discuss the one thing that each of the previous examples have in common. They all have some negative consequences when done repeatedly. These negative consequences are all far removed from the present moment. That is to say that in the moment, doing these things feels wonderful. Stupendous. Breathtaking. But if we partake in them to excess on a regular basis, we sooner or later find ourselves being made unhappy by the very thing which had brought us such bliss. This is the sinister thing about addiction. This is the constant bait and switch that catches us with our pants down over and over throughout our lives if we let it. When we allow ourselves to slide down the path of excess, the addictive path, we find ourselves as deer in headlights or as the butt of the Universe's cruel joke.

"Ha Ha! What you once thought was so awesome isn't so awesome anymore!!! LOL!!!" says the Universe.

(Yes, the Universe is hip to "LOL" and uses it regularly).

I think eating meat, milk or eggs on a regular basis is the same (especially to the extent we consume in this country). However, in the case of meat eating, the negative consequences are particularly and sinisterly divorced from the present moment. We could speak of the negative health consequences meat eating has that I mentioned in my march blog. These, much like smoking's consequences, may not arrive for years if not decades. We could talk about the environmental destruction meat consumption wreaks (also in march blog) which appear to be particularly slow in arising and may only affect our children or grandchildren. And we could talk about animal cruelty. Are there negative consequences to that? (negative to us directly I mean). In the March blog I wrote about how eating meat without careful consideration of where it comes from keeps us out of touch with our innate compassion. When we are not fully in touch with our compassion, we act without it and I would argue this can negatively affect many aspects of our lives.

It is difficult for us to empathize with the animals we eat because the killing itself is so far removed from the eating. Much like the killing of people is so far removed from the spoils we gain after waging a war. Few of us play any role in the act of killing any longer. We simply find our meat, eggs, cheese (or spoils of war) sitting on our plate. Steaming and succulent and bearing little resemblance to the sentient beings it once was. How many of us would perform the killing and torture that brings meat to our plates ourselves? Let's take the egg industry as an example. Male chicks are considered waste since they cannot produce eggs and are of a breed which is useless for human consumption. How many of us would toss thousands of screeching male chicks into a dumpster each day to slowly suffocate to death as is common in the industry? Or do the alternative common procedure which is to toss them live into a meat grinder for animal feed? Well, unfortunately, when we buy an egg we support the chicks being tossed in there whether we are the ones doing the tossing or whether we are paying someone else to do it for us. That is fact. This happens whether the eggs are "free range", organic or conventionally produced. It is the rare farmer big or small that is in the business of being a shelter for "useless" chickens. The same goes for the fact that whenever we drink a glass of milk, we are supporting the horrid conditions found in both the dairy and the veal industry. In order to make milk, a dairy cow must be kept pregnant and always birthing children (some of these children are male, non-milk producers of course). These male calves inevitably become veal, subject to some of the worst treatment.

So in truth, when we say,

"why not eggs, milk or meat once in a while? They're tasty!"

under the current system we are actually saying,

"why not support a system that snatches baby chicks from their mommies and tosses them living by the bucket load into a wood chipper among countless other atrocities while simultaneously being one of the largest contributors to environmental destruction on the planet, one of the causes of the obesity epidemic and a cause of shorter, less healthy lives for the human race...once in a while?"

Well, I dunno, when you put it like that, doesn't once in a while seem like once too many? That is, when you actually allow yourself to take in the full picture? Visual aids help bring it to life so check my links above or just google the internets.

I would think it might be better to say,

"why don't we support alternatives to this system once in a while?"

Alternatives include demanding that livestock be treated humanely once in a while, or eating a vegetarian meal once in a while. What's really sad is that there are so few humane alternatives out there that we can say they basically do not exist. "Free Range" is such an unregulated term as to basically be meaningless. Maybe that will be next week's blog. In the mean time, use your google to learn more.

I've heard it said,
"why be so focused on animal rights when there are so many human rights issues to be addressed in the world?"

I believe that being focused on animal rights IS being focused on human rights! Again, Pythagoras said

“For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love."

In fact, an animal is often easier for us to feel compassion for when we let ourselves go there. Think of your cat or dog who gives you unconditional love and displays such innocence and trust. At times it can be harder for us to show respect to a human than to a pet because it is a human that can REALLY push our buttons. A human can insult us, steal from us, belittle us, share radically different beliefs from us, and generally HURT us. And even though he is a human being, who like us, had his own hardships and abuses done to him in his life which may have caused him to be hurtful in that moment, it becomes real easy to ignore our compassion, get defensive and to want to HURT HIM BACK!

And so, allowing ourselves to feel respect for an animal is actually a great place to start a quest for human rights. A quest to get the world back in touch with its compassion. Feeling compassion for all animals is a starting point in the removal of our own hypocrisies. How can we expect people to be kind to each other when we can't even be kind to a helpless, defenseless, feeling, intelligent, sentient being such as a pig? An animal that is often compared to a dog in terms of intelligence and playfulness and which many people keep as pets.

When we become people who won't think about a thousand innocent chicks being taken from their mothers and thrown into a grinder alive, then make no mistake, we've become a people who won't think about a lot of things. We are creatures of habit and we can't easily pick and choose what we are and aren't going to consider carefully. We get good at whatever it is that we are practicing, and if we're practicing not thinking about consequences and focusing on pleasures, then we're gonna get reeeeeeeal good at it. What ends up happening is we become a people focused on maintaining our pleasures. Especially when the consequences are far removed from our moment of indulgence. But make no mistake, the consequences still come. We become a nation of addicts. People addicted to foods, drugs, and pleasures. We are willing to run over (or simply ignore) who or whatever stands in front of our objects of desire. Regardless of whatever rationalizations we may appease ourselves with.

So people say, "How can you do that, how can you give all that up?" Well, i've given lots of pleasurable things up. Haven't you? (smoking cigarettes, schtooping exes, sniffing glue, etc...) The irony is that, in my experience, i've only found myself happier and with more pleasure for having done it. And so long as the addictive side of it is truly given up, maybe the once in a while part isn't so awful? That is for each person to decide. If you're interested in giving it a try, read my first blog entry or go here to have a daily tip emailed to you from the wonderful folks at Vegan At Heart which is a great way to ease in. Start off slow to see what you're comfy with and above all be compassionate to yourself! (which, in our interconnected universe, is often ultimately the same as being compassionate to others. And vice versa).

much love,e

p.s. "According to a 2006 United Nations report, animal agriculture is “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.”

p.p.s. Speaking of baby chicks, a recent study showed that they are intelligent enough to do do basic math. They prove it using the inborn trait that scientists call "imprinting" whereby a baby chick tries to stay close to objects they are reared with (usually a mommy bird). Call it "imprinting" if you like, but i'd call it love. Makes me sad to think about what baby chicks in the slaughterhouse become imprinted with (cage bars, rotting dead neighbors, etc). Thanks to the awesome blog The Girlie Girl Army for that one!

Both photos in todays blog are ©2009 Eric M

Sunday, April 5, 2009

I Love Honey Enough To Not Eat It!

A good friend said to me, "I saw that "Maxine the cow" video you posted on your last blog about that cow who escaped from a slaughterhouse onto the streets of NYC. Wow, it really moved me! She was like a dog! I could really see the soul in that cow's eyes. I honestly now think twice when eating a hamburger. But what do you think about chickens?" the person said. "I mean... aren't they just stupid?"

Stupid. Well. Yes. I think the answer is "yes, chickens are stupid". That is to say dumb as doorknobs, not going to be terribly enlightening in conversation and terrible math tutors. The question is, is that really the point? Isn't a mentally handicapped person (and there are some who are quite severely so) also "stupid"? What of people in comas or otherwise vegetative? Are they not also "stupid" to put it far too bluntly? Is it ok to treat them without respect? Do we discard people once they have reached a certain level of "stupidity"? Isn't "stupid" just a way of saying that they're not going to do so hot on the LSATs but says nothing about their ability to feel or do? So then what does it matter that a chicken is stupid? Does our superior intellect give us a right to dominate another or a responsibilty to protect them? Of course animals do not have our intelligence nor our ability to reason but as Princeton bioethics prof Peter Singer said,

"All the arguments to prove human superiority cannot shatter this hard fact: in suffering, animals are our equals."

And I believe it. A recent study suggested that even crabs "feel and remember pain". I believe it. That's what nervous systems do, they feel pain! I'll even go you a step further down to an insect. Will a bumblebee feel stress if it is made to continuously replenish its honey stores (used to feed its young) its entire life because its human beekeepers are constantly depleting it for their own use? Yes. I think it will. Stress is nature's way of showing us that something's wrong here and you need to do something about it (i.e. dammit, the honey's gone AGAIN (day 364), gotta go back out...). And I believe that bees experience stress in a surprisingly similar way to how we do because we've all evolved along the same path. There's a reason why you can implant a jellyfish's genes into a human and have it work as perfectly as it did in the jellyfish. Its because we've all evolved along the same path. The things that we do have in common with other species, we really have quite literally IN COMMON. As humans, we've got a whole load of extra features no doubt, but these things are built on top of the basics, not instead of. The basics remain intact throughout the chain. The basics do not include our human thoughts and rational reasoning. So what's left? Feelings. Basic feelings are quite universal I believe and are what drive animals and humans to be and do what they do. Love and lust drive them to mate and care for young. The instinct to love is strong enough that animals will even occasionally care for young across species! Fear and pain drive them to seek safety from the dangers of the wild. Jealousy, greed, altruism can all be found in nature. What makes us so arrogant to say that our love is somehow different or "better" than that of the animals in the cross species mothering video? What's different is that our love also has thoughts mixed in, but the underlying feeling is the same.

Does this mean we shouldn't eat honey? I think that is up to each person of course. "God" put compassion and reasoning into human nature. "He" did not give this in any abundance to the shark or the tiger (nor even my cute little kitty carnivores). So let's at least give our compassion and reasoning a chance to do their thing rather than ignoring them and pushing them away (they don't go away anyway, ignoring them makes it come back as stress). Not eating honey is where my compassion and reason lead me but its no more a "right" answer than anyone else's. I believe a honey bee is a conscious being (they can be knocked unconscious can't they? remember knocking out drosophila flies in science lab?). Therefore, as a human with compassion I can relate in someway to being a honey bee through knowing what it feels like to be conscious. There are vast differences between myself and a honeybee to be sure, but like Mr. Singer says, I believe, "in suffering they are our equals." And so it comes down to love. If I were a honey bee, how might I feel if day after day I found my honey gone after working all day, flying flower to flower to collect pollen? I might not have thoughts about this as a bee, but it would certainly be a more difficult existence. And so why would I inflict this suffering on another being just because honey tastes good and because a bee might not "know" what's happening in the same way I do? If you have an answer, please tell me because i do love the taste of honey. But until I hear a better argument, I love honey enough to not eat it.

much love,

ps for more info on bees and why they like to keep their honey, and other interesting vegan tidbits, go to this recent NY Times blog. A 3 part series of q & a from the public regarding the facts, myths and history of a vegan diet.
(and agave nectar is a sweet alternative to honey).

The photo in today's blog is ©2009 Eric M