Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Problem Vegans and Nonvegans Don't Want to Acknowledge

The Vegan Vine
Surrealist painting of industrialized human, artist unknown
Here are some frightening statistics from Population Matters:
  • There are now more than 7.5 billion humans on Earth. 
  • It took until the early 1800s for the human population to reach one billion. Now we add a billion humans every 12-15 years.
  • 10,000 years ago, humans made up 1% of vertebrate land animals. Today, free-living nonhumans make up just 1%. The other 99% are humans, our food-industry captives, and our domesecrated pets.
  • Populations of free-living nonhumans have halved since 1970, whereas the human population has doubled.

The human population crisis can be a contentious subject for many people. I touched briefly on it in a Facebook post a couple of years ago and managed to release all kinds of vitriol. I had noted that the best way to help the planet is to adopt a vegan diet and not have children. Some folks lost their minds and inferred that I was condemning them for the children they already had. My mere intention was to encourage people to rethink their future eating and breeding habits.

Last month a group of more than 15,000 world scientists concurred and issued a Second Warning to Humanity (since we didn't heed the first alarm back in 1992). They report that we are failing greatly to restrict human population and economic growth, among other threats, and that we must "re-examine and change our individual behaviors including limiting our own reproduction (ideally to replacement level at most) and drastically diminishing our per capita ­consumption of fossil fuels, meat [flesh], and other resources."

Some 20 years ago a college friend pointed out that choosing to procreate is a selfish and egocentric act. Like most human-centered speciesists, I didn't give it much thought, but it made a lot of sense. "Therefore because the [parent] has enjoyed sensual pleasure, the [child] must live, suffer, and die," scribed 19th century philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer.

People will go to great lengths to create mini-mes. The wealthier among us opt for technological extremes like In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), uterus transplants, or pay poorer surrogates to carry their children. And still—much like homeless nonhuman companions—the ranks of homeless human children in need of forever loving homes never seem to wane.

Humans are often no less prejudiced about their own species than they are about their own skin color, religion, or nationality. Self-interest and self-justification are huge drivers in everything we do. As a human in a human-extremist world, I didn't always think about how my living and doing afflicted other animals, but now I make a point of reassessing everything.

Being an ethical vegan, I'm very concerned about my intrusion on innocent nonhumans and their environments, therefore, my activism extends to my reproductive choices, no less so than any other choice I make. My purpose is to reduce suffering, not increase it. As such, I feel a responsibility not to bring any more humans into an already overburdened world.

The impact humans have had on Earth has been so colossal, even in such a short amount of time (200,000 years), that scientists have dubbed this the Anthropocene Period—age of humans. In their second warning, scientists marked that "we have unleashed a mass extinction event, the sixth in roughly 540 million years, wherein many current life forms could be annihilated or at least committed to extinction by the end of this century."

In her Pulitzer Prize winning book The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, Elizabeth Kolbert details our entry into the Anthropocene Period and the Sixth Extinction. "David Wake, of the University of California-Berkeley, and Vance Vredenburg, of San Francisco State, noted that there 'have been five great mass extinctions during the history of life on this planet.'. . . Those of us alive today not only are witnessing one of the rarest events in life's history, we are also causing it. 'One weedy species,' the pair observed, 'has unwittingly achieved the ability to affect its own fate and that of most of the other species on this planet.' " Kolbert uses each chapter to focus on a particular species encompassing millions of individuals who are either dead or dying because of human omnipresence, speciesism, and the mass slaughter and consumption of other animals and nature.

According to "Meat India" by Sangamithra Iyer, India alone has seen a jump of 340 million humans in only 22 years. In that time 300 McDonald's and 288 Kentucky Fried Chicken stores have opened in India. Land and water resources are strained, and greenhouse gas emissions have multiplied. Universally confined in crowded, dark, and ammonia-saturated factories with no windows; frightened and despairing hens are forced to produce 56 billion more eggs in India alone. Free-living nonhumans can't escape human severity either. A recent photo, “Hell Is Here”, shows two elephants, a mother and her child, screaming and running for their lives after being set on fire by an angry mob of encroaching humans.

And the problem of human population is not relegated to India, but it just may be more visible there because most of the "developed" world is just that—"developed" over. Human expansion, as well as economic interests (read: greed), have simply wiped out most free-living nonhumans and their habitats in other parts of the world like the United States. The raging fires out West have killed and/or displaced thousands, perhaps millions of nonhumans and destroyed their homes, but the speciesist media avoids reporting on their suffering unless humans are involved. The cumulative effect of all this destruction is what David Cantor of Responsible Policies for Animals has coined the Biocaust.

Colony Collapse Disorder, which has been attributed to toxic pesticides, climate change, and other human factors, has caused billions of bees to die and disappear. According to expert entomologists, overall insect populations have declined by 75 percent in the last 25 years, also leading to the deaths of many insect-eating birds. When asked if all insects would perish considering such alarming rates, Martin Sorg, a longstanding member of the Entomological Society in Krefeld, Germany, told a reporter not to worry. “All the vertebrates will die before that,” he said.

There are many reasons why people have children. Sometimes it's mindless and they do it just because that's what everyone else does or because they think that's what they're supposed to do after they find the right job, the right home, and the right spouse. Sometimes people have children to recreate and relive their own childhoods, to save their marriages, as an additional source of labor, or to have someone to take care of them as they age. In the end, people are always consuming even through their children, buying borrowed time.

Aren't there other ways for us to offer love without confining it to the next of kin? We demand motherhood and reproductive rights for ourselves but we deny it to other animals whose reproduction we control and exploit for more of their own babies, flesh, milk, and eggs. We breed countless numbers of nonhumans for pet consumption and then decry their homelessness and euphemistically call their murders "euthanasia." Each time we create, we destroy. We act as though we care, but our actions say otherwise.

"Zoos readily sacrifice individuals to the supposed eventual good of species. Of course, the sacrificed individuals never include humans, even though human population causes environmental devastation and humans are the primary destroyers of species and ecosystems," discerned Joan Dunayer in Animal Equality: Language and Liberation. "Like all other speciesists, zoo professionals apply a double standard. Zoo apologists contend that nonhuman rights would accelerate the extinction of species. The opposite is true. Humans' presumed right to kill nonhumans and take their land has caused the widespread extinction that zoos publicly bewail. In a society that respected nonhuman rights, it would be illegal to kill nonhuman animals . . . Their habitats would be off-limits to further 'development.' Instead of manipulating nonhuman reproduction, humans would curtail their own."

Humans are not entitled to everything in nature. Nonhumans are not inferior, and they should not have to suffer and endure proliferating and abusive industries, policies, cultures, and practices created and maintained by humans with superiority complexes.

"By the legal standards of human democratic societies, nonhumans are innocent. Yet, the law fails to protect them. . . . We're guilty if we participate in needless, unjust practices that cause suffering or death. Most humans are guilty. Yet, the law fails to punish them," continued Dunayer.

Human population growth adversely affects both nonhumans and humans. More humans mean more violence, war, and competition for land and diminishing clean water; more hunger, poverty, and economic inequality, lower wages and higher unemployment; more devastating floods, fires, and storms; more disease, pollution, and rising temperatures, and on and on. All of our pain and suffering is self-inflicted.

To abide on the current path is not only unsustainable, inequitable, and unethical—it is insane! Unfortunately, we will most likely carry on just as we have been until our collective hand is forced and it will be too late. The innocent will be punished along with the guilty. Perhaps we have "Until the year 2100, maybe, surely no longer than that," wrote Stephen King in The Stand. "Maybe not that long. Time enough for poor old Mother Earth to recycle herself a little. A season of rest."

Vegan Starter Kit

Monday, November 13, 2017

Book Reviews: Two Tales on Eating the Unthinkable

Under the Skin by Michel Faber and Animals by Don LePan couldn't be more different as far as stories go, but both authors have managed to spin two unique and compelling narratives from one identical, unimaginable act.

The Vegan Vine; Animals by Don LePanAnimals is a thought-provoking tale that takes place in the twenty-second century, long after the mass extinction of most nonhuman animals.

The novel follows a human child named Sam who is disabled and therefore, is considered inferior and deemed a mongrel. We follow Sam from his original family and his loving, but working poor, single mother's home to his newly adopted home with Naomi, a brave, young girl who sees Sam as more than just the family pet and takes him under her wing.

Animals is a great achievement as it intricately combines two fictional manuscripts written in the future by Naomi and Broderick Clark, Sam's oldest brother. Clark interjects throughout to explain how things used to be before there were mongrels.

Even though Animals is a work of fiction, LePan shows what life is really like for billions of nonhumans today by skillfully illustrating, via a futuristic lens, similar experiences through another species.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Vegans Are the Furthest Thing from Elite

The Vegan Vine; The New Yorker
I endeavor to live a simple life. I reside in a cozy, one bedroom apartment of 673 square feet. I earn a modest salary and rarely dine out, and I prefer to rent movies for free from the library. I don't subscribe to the latest fashions or fads, and last year I spent zero dollars on clothing, shoes, and accessories. In an effort to limit my impact on the planet and other animals, I try to curtail my consumption of goods and limit my travel. Those who know me and are familiar with my minimalist habits and vegan ways would not label me an elitist, yet that is often how vegans are mischaracterized.

By definition alone ethical vegans are not elitist for the simple fact that they hold little to no power or influence in the overarching animal-industrial complex that controls everything from communication and government to universities and major corporations. In fact, our efforts often run counter to and challenge the existing system of oppression upheld by the elite.

It's all too easy for non-vegans to bully and belittle minority vegans as elitist while defending and excusing their own unjust choices, which is ironic considering the forced labor of animals and the consumption of their murdered bodies, milk, and eggs elevate and sustain the upper classes. Here are some brief examples of interconnected scourges linked to financial interests in animal oppression:

Violence: Animal industries are inherently violent operations that function by remaining invisible. Animal products can only be consumed when animals are treated as merchandise—things. Supported by non-vegan dollars; the meat, dairy, fish, and egg industries profit from the forced breeding and killing of billions of beings every year. In addition, slaughterhouse workers have few options and do the revolting work of killing for those who won't do it themselves. In "Vegan in the Dairy State" Cori Mattli noted that "there is a high correlation with slaughterhouse work and post-traumatic stress disorder, severe anxiety, drug and alcohol abuse, and domestic violence." Workers often become desensitized to the violence they are paid to inflict on other animals and society pays a steep price for accepting such unnecessary violence as routine. Towns harboring slaughterhouses have higher rates of domestic violence and violent crimes, including murder and rape.

War/Genocide: In his groundbreaking book, Animal Oppression and Human Violence, David A. Nibert expounded how the need for more resources to maintain nomadic herds of animals for food and labor has resulted in centuries of war and conflict. From Genghis Khan to today's commercial cattle ranching operations, the upper echelon continue to expand their capitalist interests through the manipulation and exploitation of land and animals. Nonhumans are continually used as sources of food, tools, and labor to support conflicts and conquests. The influx of cattle, sheep, horses, and other animals to North, Central, and South America from European explorers through the Columbian Exchange helped fuel military expeditions, warfare between native tribes, and genocide.  As the demand for beef (and land and water for sustaining cattle) increases—even now—so too do conflicts with indigenous groups (e.g. Darfur).

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Feeding Desires, Appetites for Destruction

The Vegan Vine; The Sexual Politics of Meat
From the cover of
The Sexual Politics of Meat
In my never-ending quest for self-improvement I've been working on not succumbing to cultural notions of femininity. As a straight, cisgendered woman, I've had to unlearn decades of programming, which has not been easy. Perhaps, just as difficult as for those attempting to unlearn cultural notions of what is—and who is not—food.

I spent 20 years eating what I had been instructed to eat and another 15 years doing all those things women have been trained to do—consciously and subconsciously—to be appealing to the opposite sex. Like most females, I've been objectified, but I've also treated other animals as objects. 

It’s been a slow but deliberate process in which I’ve unburdened myself from the lies and the liars, from being the consumer and the consumed, transitioning from the non-vegan oppressor to the vegan liberator of my own life and the lives of others. I still have a long way to go, but I'm on the potter's wheel.

At the age of 20 I began eliminating the bodies of animals from my intake. After learning about the dairy and egg industries, I aspired to remove the use of all animal products from every area of my life and home. I committed myself to ethical veganism, which had a snowball effect on my psyche. I became acutely aware of how animal enslavement impacts the environment, buoys economic inequality and capitalism, intersects sexism and racism, and affects my perception of myself, other animals, and institutions I had once revered. I discovered that being an ethical vegan is not merely about food, but about campaigning for animal rights and defending truth and social justice.

I began to see things anew after adopting a cat named Max from a local shelter. I abruptly quit smoking cigarettes having realized the hypocrisy in caring for other animals but not caring about my own animal self. I read Zoe Weil’s Most Good, Least Harm and rethought our concept of possessions and how the deleterious effects of consumerism and development are depleting our planet’s resources, and destroying lives and habitats. I have strived to void my home of meaningless things that rob me of time, energy, and money, and I seek to minimize the buying of new things that require still more resources. While doing so, I have also managed to end fruitless and corruptible relationships which have similarly stole my time, energy, and self-respect. When a boyfriend angrily demanded sex, insisting that I owed it to him because it was his birthday, I knew I had been reduced to a body with serviceable parts.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Should Ethical Vegans Invest in the Stock Market?

The Vegan Vine
Many people invest for retirement, often blindly, focusing on returns and not knowing what they're really investing in.

There was a time when I invested, too—before the economy tanked and before I saw Michael Moore’s documentary, Capitalism: A Love Story. But is investing conducive to ethical veganism?

As with all big purchases, before investing I did my due diligence. I started my financial education by subscribing to Money magazine, I read Suze Orman’s Money Book for the Young, Fabulous & Broke, and subsequently researched various companies and funds.

I chose Vanguard to manage my investments after I learned they charge the lowest fees, but I was disappointed with the choices available to me. While I was able to find mutual funds that offered solid returns, they weren’t ethically agreeable since they included companies like Exxon Mobil, Johnson & Johnson, and Procter & Gamble, which are neither environmentally-friendly nor vegan. So I began to look into something called Socially Responsible Investing (SRI), an approach that considers social issues in addition to financial returns.

For centuries, people have been practicing consumer activism and have been making conscientious decisions about how to spend their money. The Quakers prohibited their members from participating in the buying and selling of humans through the slave trade; during the Civil Rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King advocated the boycott of businesses and corporations promoting segregation, and many peace activists protested against companies profiting off the war in Vietnam. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Media is No Friend to Animals

The Vegan VinePresidents tend to have a love-hate relationship when it comes to the press. After becoming President, Donald Trump declared that the media is the "enemy of the American people!" In reply, Presidential historian Michael Beschloss noted that Richard Nixon secretly told Henry Kissinger, his Secretary of State, that "the press is the enemy, the establishment is the enemy, the professors are the enemy."

Now, let me be clear. I am not a Trump supporter, nor do I agree with the President's belittlement of journalists and the press, but for very different reasons, I connected with both his and Nixon's statements through my vegan frame of reference.

In Inventing Reality: The Politics of News Media, Michael Parenti wrote "[T]he single most common form of media misrepresentation is omission." I notice this every day where animals are concerned. The local news station airs a story lamenting the closing of a famous New York City deli but fails to mourn for the myriad nonhuman animals whose bodies had been served up there as food; so-called environmental correspondents report on algae blooms and dead fish washing ashore but never connect it to factory farms and our meat- and dairy-centric diets; raging fires and floods attributable to human-induced climate change kill countless wild animals and ravage their natural habitats but all we ever hear about is the number of humans impacted and human homes destroyed, and while cute videos of black bears and cubs climbing trees and jumping into kiddie pools abound during the summer, gruesome photos of hunters smiling over their dead bodies during New Jersey's annual bear hunt rarely seem to make it on TV in the fall.

In an article in The Nation, "Progressives Need to Build Their Own Media," Mark Hertsgaard addressed the enormous power the media have in defining reality. "The journalistic choices of news organizations send a message, consciously or not, about what is—and isn't—important at any given moment and who should—and shouldn't—be listened to. . . . Such decisions shape the ideological air we breathe and the . . . actions we take."

The roots of our cruel and manipulative animal abuse culture run deep. Animal abuse is built in to our infrastructures, and packaged and sold through the media in everything from entertainment, news, and advertising, to sports and weather. Sure, the word vegan is thrown around in the media much more today than ever before, but the net gain to these shout-outs have been marginal at best because the ethics of veganism is rarely broached and being vegan is still seen as a personal lifestyle choice, not a rightful necessity. In the media's eyes, veganism is about restriction, turning mushrooms into burgers, and mocking tofu, purposefully devoid of any genuine discussion on animal rights and social justice.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Taking on the Angry Vegan Stereotype

The Vegan Vine
When I was in my early twenties I was obsessed with the original Star Trek series. I was even somewhat of a Trekkie, having attended a Star Trek Convention in New York City (sans costume). My fascination with the show centered on Spock. While I admit I found his pointy ears and Vulcan eyebrows irresistible, there was something else about Spock that enamored me to him. After much consideration, I realized that I envied Spock for being my paradox: a measured and unemotional being who keeps his human passions from overwhelming him. While human rage and pain have always been part of Spock's makeup, he mostly kept them well-contained and controlled.

For a passionate and emotional person like myself, keeping my feelings even and steady when discussing dire social issues is not my strong suit. After all, it is my zealous spirit along with my desire to eradicate social inequities that have brought me to veganism and have allowed me to channel my emotions more productively through animal advocacy.

Most ethical vegans are continuously looking for opportunities to strike up conversations in order to educate others on how their decisions affect the lives of other animals. For many of us, we may be the only vegans our friends, coworkers, and family members know, so they look to us to be a model of veganism. Because there are so few committed, ethical vegans, there is a lot of pressure to present well to others. For example, my friend worries about the way she looks and fears being overweight gives a misleading reflection of what it means to be vegan. I agonize over my interactions with unconscious defenders of animal ab(use) since I want to be as effective as I can be for animals. 

What a vegan looks or acts like can vary greatly because we are all unique. Furthermore, considering the colossal, entangled system of animal abuse and the insidious nature with which the animal-industrial complex is promoted and permeates every area of life, it's difficult not to show anger or frustration, especially when people respond crassly and defensively to facts. 

In Aftershock: Confronting Trauma in a Violent World, A Guide for Activists and their Allies, Pattrice Jones reminds us that—first and foremost—we are animals and to be effective we must embrace our animal emotions, not suppress them. As vegans, it is understandable to feel shame for the methodical suffering we recognize and often witness as a result of daily human activities; we are permitted to feel isolated and lonely when we can't find other vegans with whom to share our grief; we are justified in feeling mournful because of the sweeping violence and death needlessly inflicted on animals, and we are certainly within our right to feel enraged at the levels of human greed and indifference.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Driving Animals to Their Deaths

The Vegan Vine; Squirrel crossing the road
I was driving from Pennsylvania to New Jersey to visit my family for Thanksgiving. I drove cautiously while following the 35 mph speed limit. Suddenly, from the far corner of my eye I saw a squirrel dart onto the road toward my car. With no time to think (brake or speed up?), I moved to get away. I screamed "NO!" when I felt the thump of the squirrel's body under my car. I slowed down and looked into my rear-view mirror, eager not to see him. I hoped against hope that he managed to get away with minor scratches, but then I saw his little body lying in the road. I quickly turned the car around and parked alongside him, blocking the right lane to keep us both from passing cars. I crouched down next to him. He was alive but barely, and he had a little bit of blood near his mouth. He was looking up at me from one side and breathing heavily, his body heaving. I ran to my trunk to put on gloves and grab a cardboard carrier that I kept for animal emergencies. As I did so, a woman pulled up next to my car and asked if I was okay. I said yes and thanked her. She wanted to know if I was sure. Yes, I assured her, thanking her once again. I closed my trunk and quickly went back to the squirrel but it was too late. His breathing stopped and his eyes were closed. I put gentle pressure by the corner of his eye to see if there was a reflex but there was none. I felt awful; the poor creature suffered and died all alone. I gently picked him up, his body still warm, and moved him to the side of the road. I kept telling him how sorry I was over and over and over again as tears streamed down my face. In between gasping sobs I gave voice to a short prayer my mother taught me when I was a child during trips to my grandfather's grave. Feeling incredibly helpless and grief stricken, I stayed with him for a few moments before getting back in the car.

The ramifications of powering machines that can maim and kill, which was drilled in to many of us when we first learned to drive, often diminishes over time. Driving can seem so routine that we lose touch with the gravity of getting behind the wheel. Driver's education teaches us to respect pedestrians and other drivers but rarely, if ever, are we taught measures to revere the lives and habitats of other animals.

Vegans take great pains to make mindful choices that reduce and eliminate our impact on other beings. Our advocacy for animals requires us rethink every sector of society and our own actions continuously. We should not, therefore, overlook our modes of transportation or driving habits.

Incidents of road rage are on the rise. We feel cocooned and removed in our cars, which allows us to act self-importantly. We're generally self-absorbed with our own agendas and heavily distracted by music, technology, passengers, drinking, eating, etc. More often than not, we're simply focused on getting to wherever it is we're going and as fast as we can.

The rise of car culture grew out of the post WWII boom and the network of interstate highways developed under the Eisenhower administration. The expansion of roads led to the growth of suburbs, large housing developments, shopping centers, and strip malls, simultaneously promoting capitalism, cars, and consumption so humans could drive and devour farther, faster, and more frequently. Combined with a growing populace, car culture made us more mobile and helped fuel the Biocaust—the destruction of animals, habitats, and ecosystems.