Friday, August 28, 2015

Would You Knowingly Cause Fear?



I haven’t been inspired to write lately.  Doesn’t really make sense when writing is one of my joys.  But, one of the earth’s tiny creatures inspired me today when I was doing the dishes.  There was a spider hiding behind our dish sponge.  When I picked up the sponge, he ran under an upside down bowl and hid.  He was peeking out from under the bowl and I saw he was too frightened to come out while I was staring at him.  I moved back and he came out from under the bowl looking around to make sure the giant threat (me) wasn’t there.  I came back to the sink a little later thinking he was gone.  I started the dishes again and he ran out from under the dish drainer.  It was unmistakable that what he was feeling was fear.  I am not anthropomorphizing here.  When a living being runs away from a threat, it is a desire to live and a fear of being hurt that motivates them. 

During the spider incident, I felt how strong my desire was to not cause fear in another being.  When we are working as a voice for other living beings we often try to get people to examine the suffering their actions may be supporting.  Those wanting to discount the suffering of other beings often argue that we don’t really know if these beings are suffering or we are told that they were treated “humanely” before their “one bad day”. 

If I did a random sampling and asked people, “Would you want to cause fear in someone else?”  Most reasonable humans would answer “No”.  If I asked if they would be willing to cause fear in someone else if they were different physically or culturally, again a reasonably kind human would answer “No”.

But, everyday, otherwise caring humans around the globe are directly or indirectly causing fear in other individuals because they are different physically and/or culturally.

In a recently released film called Unity there is footage from France of two steers (?) in a concrete chute about to be slaughtered.  You don’t see the actual slaughter in this footage.  What you see is one of them being forced to move forward and a sliding metal door separating the one waiting from the one being killed.  The one waiting knows what’s coming and begins panicking and trying to escape.  The fear in his actions and his eyes is unmistakable.  He tries to pull his enormous body over the top of the concrete chute.  Everyone I have talked to who saw this film with all of its graphic and violent footage says that the scene with the frightened steer is the most difficult and heartbreaking.  Why?  Could it be because they can feel the fear in that animal and relate to feeling absolutely terror and helplessness? When I first saw this footage I felt like I was inside that terrified being and I was sick with fear and sadness.

Here is a link to the 2 minutes of footage:

Last week I visited my old stomping grounds in Maine.  I was surprised and saddened to learn that many of the folks who were once ethical vegans are now eating meat.  When asked why they went back to eating meat and other animal products, their answer is about wanting to eat locally.  I know some of these ex-vegans.  These are caring people who try to do the right thing.  A few of them have worked in animal rights and education work.  Some ran sanctuaries.  Somehow the justification of “eating locally” has over-ridden their knowledge of the issues and their compassionate choices. 

What I know about these folks is that if I asked them if they would knowingly cause fear in someone else, they would say “no”.  I also know that they, like many people who use the “eating locally” reasoning, will eat meat and other animal products that are not actually locally sourced.  Once they open that door to supporting animal agriculture, I am guessing that they stop questioning the reality of what they are doing. 

I can guarantee that each of these ex-vegans would never do anything to knowingly cause fear in another human, a dog, a cat, a monkey or any being whom they do not think of as “food”.  If they saw a cowering dog being threatened by a human, they would step in to help that dog.  But the same fear in a being who will be their meal and they choose not to intervene.  And, in fact, they choose to slaughter that being or pay someone else to slaughter that being. 

So, how do we re-connect people with their most compassionate empathetic selves?  These are not people who are unaware of the realities.  They have turned their backs on the realities and on the fear and violence they are now supporting.  I don’t know the answer.  I want to be able to sit with them and ask them if they would knowingly cause fear in someone else’s life. 

No matter the size of that someone…from the smallest insect to the largest mammal….we all want to live and we all feel fear in the face of a threat.

I know that there is no way to open up someone else’s heart.  Mostly, what I want, is to understand what makes someone’s perceptions change to the point of turning away from a choice that was once at their core. Thinking back on my visit to Maine last week, I wish I had visited with some of the ex-vegans there.  I wish I had some slow mindful time with them to ask questions and to understand more of their process and path.  My next visit, I will do that.  In the mean time, if you know of someone who was once practicing ethical veganism and is now eating animal products, can you inquire for me?  Can you send me their response?  Please do this in a non-judgmental way. 

For every being, large and small, I want to thank you for helping me gain some insight into this.  And to that kitchen sink spider, thank you for starting my thought process around fear. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Love ‘Em and Eat ‘Em..... You Can BBQ The “Sweetest Companion in the Whole World”

If you haven’t seen the magazine: Modern Farmer, you have missed out on seeing bright cheeked thirty-somethings…who care WHERE their food comes FROM, but, apparently, do not care about WHO their food IS.

Modern Farmer magazine has been around about a year.  Here is how the editor describes their target audience:  “You are thoughtful and conscientious about what you consume, you are looking for the story behind what you eat and drink, you are willing to pay more for organic food, humanely raised meat and locally made products.”

(I added the italics for every what that should have been a who.)

You know this demographic.  They want their locally brewed beer, locally raised meat, dairy and eggs, and they compost and garden.    We have such a large population of these folks here in Santa Fe, that a new enormous butcher shop and cafe has popped up next to our food co-op.  

You can probably find Issue 4/Spring 2014 of Modern Farmer at your local natural foods store.  The cover stories include: Is Milk Humane?  And, The Next Pig Thing.  There is a photo of a pig’s face on the cover. Please don’t buy the magazine.

The article The Next Pig Thing has 7 beautiful photos of adorable pigs taken in a studio.  The article is divided into 2 categories, just like the author’s heart and mind are divided:  PETS is the first category and FOOD is the second.  Here is an excerpt from that article:
“You can feel better about eating bacon from a pig who had the best possible life and death, and second, lovingly farmed pigs provide some of the sweetest companionship in the world.” 

I could not have made this up.  That is exactly what is written in the article.

One pig farmer was quoted as saying, “They can wreck 200 acres overnight, but they are gregarious, chatty, smart, a joy.”

And, the article goes on to say “Pigs raised for bacon are usually slaughtered at around 6 months old, if you can bear it.  If you are planning to raise pigs for bacon, be ready for the messy business of slaughter.  If you are wanting to sell your meat, or are feeling squeamish, find a USDA-certified slaughterhouse near you.”

The article on the dairy industry is mostly a promotion of “local, organic, sustainable and artisan dairy products.”    There is no mention, of course, of the fact that we do not need to consume milk as adults and we certainly should not be consuming the milk of another species.  There is recognition in the article that no matter how small and supposedly conscious the dairy farm is,  it is not economically feasible to meet the psychological needs of the cows.  From the article, “the economic reality is that if a calf was free to suckle on her mother for a few months, as nature intended, the cow could well be happier and the calf healthier, but most farmers would lose what little profit there was from their farms. “
One farmer in the article lets his cows stay with their calves for months.  The author of the article doubts that this is economically sustainable and writes the following: “ In between the extreme of Gibson’s animal-centered dairy and larger high-volume organics, Ronnybrook is a farm that has found a healthy compromise.” 
The owner of Ronnybrook farm says, “Cows are like dogs, if you are nice to them, they are nice to you.”

Not once in this 7-page article does anyone mention the fate of the male calves.  By choosing adorable pictures of pigs, cows, sheep and chickens, this magazine perpetuates the myth of the happy farm animal. The disconnect is obvious and the happy guilt-free consumers are all too willing to ignore the truth:  Any animal who is used as a commodity in animal agriculture has their most important needs ignored if those interfere with profit.  

We love to romanticize the relationship between a farmer and "their" animals.  We love to think that the meal we just ate supported nothing but blissful times on the farm.  The popular book Pigs and Papa is a photo journey into the life of Toshiteru Yamaji and the 1200 pigs he loves. Japanese pig farmer Toshiteru does apparently care deeply about the pigs...but that doesn't stop him from sending them off to slaughter at a young age.  I am glad he is not my papa.  

The photos of animals in Modern Farmer Magazine and in Toshiteru Yamaji's book
are some of the most intimate and beautiful I have ever seen.  This makes it all the more disturbing.  The bottom line is this:  Look in their eyes, love them, treat them as well as you can without cutting into your profits,  and then kill them in their prime. 

Two related articles on my Happy Cow Blog postings:

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Answer the Door

Many people who no longer consume dairy products from cows, still consume dairy from sheep or goat’s milk.  Many assume this is a more humane process because they also assume that it is more small-scale and humane.  They picture pastoral scenes of happy sheep grazing on green hills under the sun. 

I am in the Middle East.  The area where I am staying is famous for it’s sheep’s milk and sheep’s milk yogurt.  I was taking a walk today and saw the same event I see each day.  Young boys with sticks guiding the sheep from rocky pasture to rocky pasture.  They whip the sticks at the sheep to get them to stay together in a flock.

Today, I witnessed a mother sheep who had only moments earlier given birth while they were moving along next to me.  Blood was still coming out of her and her back legs were soaked with blood.  A little boy was ordered to take the little lamb, who could not even stand up yet.  He picked up the lamb and started toward home, dropping the lamb many times along the way.  While this was going on, the mother was trying to leave the flock and get to her baby.  She cried loudly and the baby cried for her, but the boys whipped her to keep her from leaving the flock.  Her udders were tightly swollen with dripping milk.  While forced to join the flock, she never took her eyes off the lamb, until the boy and lamb were out of sight.  She cried constantly.  A man on the small dirt road translated and told me that the shepherd boys said she would be with her lamb in an hour when they finished grazing and returned to the farm.  I wasn’t comforted by this.  I wanted to be relieved, but I wasn’t.  That hour would be a long hour for a mother separated from her new born and for this tiny lamb just born, looking for comfort. 

Later in the day, I was walking and saw the mother again.  She was separated from the lamb by two fenced areas.  All night I could hear the mother crying for the baby and the baby crying for the mother.  Their voices got weaker and weaker.  By 5 am the baby’s voice sounded like a whisper and the mother’s pain was not only in her voice, but in my heart.

There are times I wonder why I come here.  I ask myself what the point is.  Why travel to a place and plant seeds of compassion in a society that embraces violence as a righteous part of its heritage?   My answer to myself is that while I am on earth, I will make every effort to not turn away from an open door.  If there is a door, wide open in front of me, inviting me in and beyond that door is some form of suffering asking to be addresses, why would I not walk thru that door?

Yesterday, the security cameras on the streets of East Jerusalem filmed a group of very young boys dragging a medium sized white dog on a rope and beating the her with sticks as they dragged and kicked her.  She tried to hide under a car and they dragged her out and continued to beat her.  An older boy appeared and grabbed the rope and swung it and the dog was flung over a concrete wall.  The rest of the saga for this dog was not caught on camera.  Eyewitnesses reported that the severely wounded dog crawled to a concrete pipe and hid inside.  Then the boys stuff material in the end of the pipe and set the pipe on fire to kill the dog.  Adults and families walked by and did nothing.  The door was open and they chose to look the other way.  These doors open around us all the time.  What we witness in our days is presented to us as an opportunity.  How we respond is our work while on the planet. 

We are not powerless to make a difference in the world unless we choose to be powerless.  We are all leaders when we choose to be.  There is no reason to walk by that open door.  Turn and face it and walk right in.  You have nothing to lose and potentially a full meaningful life to gain.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Sun is Cooking Our Meals!

I have been "warming up" to our solar cooker.  We have had it for years and I just never got friendly with it.  Then, this week, with every day in the 90's and 100's, it was time to develop a relationship with that thing.  Now I am completely in love!
We have made lentils, brown basmati rice, yukon gold potatoes, sweet potatoes, and organic beets that became the food of the gods with very little time in the sun cooker!  Why have I waited this long to get the solar cooking bug?
We are moving toward eating more and more raw foods....which were made by the sun in their own way.  But, when we get a hankering for something cooked, nothing is better than sun cooking!

Brown Basmati Cooking in the Sun


I am not really big on celebrating holidays. The word HOLIDAY comes from holy day.  One of the most sacred holidays for me is Earth Day.  The only change I would make to the date of the celebration is to make it 365 days of the year.  I also love Mother’s Day, but for me it is also every day of the year and it focuses on non-human and human mothers who routinely have their young taken away.  This callous separation of close-knit families is always done for greed/profit.  Whether it is a human child sold as a slave to pay a family debt, a calf torn away from his or her mother so that humans can steal her milk, a young elephant stolen so he or she can be trained to do unnatural acts for human entertainment, an adult chimp killed and her baby stolen for invasive experimentation and a life of imprisonment or a puppy sold by a puppy mill while still at an age where he should be with his mother….all cause intense emotional pain for both mother and child.
Most holidays have completely lost their meaning.  Very few people know that most holidays mean more than an extra day or two off work.  We are trained from early on in our lives that it is OK to have major inconsistencies in what we say we care about and how we actually choose to live our lives.  When the Be Kind To Animals Week banner is stretched across the same wall at the school where the hamburgers are listed on the school lunch menu or we hear “peace on earth” repeatedly for a holiday that consists of buying a bunch of stuff and eating animals, we learn that holidays are not about their original intention.
I tabled at three large events for Earth Day week.  Our table had outreach material for compassionate environmentally responsible and healthy food choices.  We were the vegan table.  Two of the events included people selling or displaying baby goats, piglets and young chicks.  The food sold at these two events was 95% animal products.  The smell of grilling flesh permeated the air for both full days.  One person came up to our booth and said, “You may have the only booth that is appropriate for Earthday.”  I actually found a few other booths that sold appropriate items like organic local seedlings and solar cookers and some trying to preserve wild lands and care for animals.  But, for the most part, the events were just parties and most people attending were not giving earth-friendly choices much attention.
My third tabling was at a local college.  Most people zoomed by the table not wanting to know about anything that may change their consumer habits.  One man was wearing a t-shirt that had the word PRIVILEGE with the red cross-out over it.  He was telling his friend that he would never even consider being vegetarian.  I piped in that he may not want to wear that shirt while saying that.  He was very quiet from that point on.
An older woman came by the table and quietly watched the Farm to Fridge film I had running continuously throughout the day.  This incredible Mercy for Animals compilation includes a look at the violent realities of food animal industries.  This woman said to me, “We would never do it this way.  This is terrible.  We do it the traditional way, the kind way.”  I asked her what the kind way was.  “We just shoot them in the head,” she responded proudly.  Then she continued, “They send the women into the house and then shoot them in the head.  It is very quick.”  I asked her, “If it is a kind way, why do they send the women into the house?”  She got a distant look and then just kept repeating, “This is awful, we do it the kind way….this is awful, we do it the kind way.”  I told her that in my family we decided that the kind way was to not unnecessarily kill any living being. She grabbed a little literature and then wandered off, still saying “We do it the kind way, we do it the kind way.”
I would love to see Earth Day not only celebrated everyday, but to see it celebrated with some actual mindfulness about how our personal choices affect the earth and all her inhabitants.  We can all work to make our local Earth Day celebrations retain some of the integrity they were meant to have.  Go ahead and get your face painted, dance to some good music, celebrate with friends, and make sure that every booth, product and message is consistent with caring for the Earth.
Tabling is not my favorite form of outreach, but on my most sacred of holidays, Earth Day, I am more than willing to give my time and energy to at least trying to preserve a little bit of the original intention of the day and be a voice for the voiceless.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

"We Send Them Off"

Rescued goats at Sasha Farm Sanctuary

The local food movement folks often think they have a very different philosophy from the compassionate vegan folks.  The reality is that our intentions are very much the same.  We want to do the right thing.
The problem is that everyone I know who claims to just eat locally, doesn’t.  They often buy non-local products and eat out at restaurants that use non-local ingredients.  I have also found that most of the people who are trying so hard to eat locally, haven’t done their homework about the real affects of their choices. 

When judging the carbon footprint of a particular food, it is important to take into account the water and energy required to produce the product, not just the transportation of the item.  It turns out that transportation is a very small part of the ecological impact of our food.  A study in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology found that switching just two meals a week from meat and dairy products to vegan choices reduces more greenhouse gasses than buying all local food. 

The local food trend is very popular in the USA.  As a part of this local food movement, many people are buying chickens and goats and plopping them in their backyards to produce their own meat, eggs and dairy.  Most of the people doing this do not have a clue how to really meet all the needs of the animals they are raising.  Craigslist here is full of listings from people who did not know what they were getting into and now have animals they will give away free to anyone. 

I recently led a compassionate living program at a week-long camp for teens.  I arrived at the camp just as the program before mine was in full swing.  A local woman who has goats in her yard was letting the campers milk her four goats. I sat in on the session. Many of the campers would not taste the milk because they saw the source and it grossed them out.  I asked them if they would drink it if it was in the store in a plastic jug.  They all said they probably would.   The goat woman was talking about her spiritual connection with the goats. I asked her if she keeps the goats pregnant so they will keep producing milk. I wanted the campers to have the full story of the reality of dairy.  When she shared that she does keep them pregnant, I asked her what happens if a male kid is born?  She said, “We send them off. We cannot keep them around because they have a strong smell and it affects the milk.”  When I asked her where she sends them off to, she slid away from the question.  The director of the camp was also in the session.  He said, “Well, it is all part of the cycle of life, isn’t it?  They are learning about the cycle of life..”  “Yes,” I replied, “they are learning about the cycle of life and the cycle of unnecessary premature death.”

Possibly the best part of the local food movement is that people have a bit more of a connection to where their food comes from.  The worst part is that, when animals are involved, the glossy wholesome image that goes along with it covers up what it really means for the individual animals and the environment.  Mothers and babies torn apart so we can steal their milk, males sent to slaughter and mothers who are no longer producing large quantities of milk also sent to slaughter, buying baby chicks shipped from hatcheries who kill off the males in often barbaric ways, chickens kept in small boxes in backyards (common in our community), non-local feed often fed to the animals on farms marketing products as “local”, trucking and non-local slaughter of many of the animals whose flesh is sold as “local”, and the use of large quantities of water for each animal (in many areas, water is a very scarce commodity). 
 The cost of buying chicks at a hatchery or feed store that gets them from a hatchery-dead and dying male chicks in dumpster behind hatchery.

I know that death is part of life.  I also know that we can make choices that support our own health, the environment and all beings and thrive on compassionate vegan choices.  We cannot live a life that does no harm, but we can make choices that cause the least harm. 

I am all for eating locally and growing our own food whenever possible.  Imagine the double positive of choosing local and plant-based foods!  So, when you are looking at what to do with that backyard of yours, plant fruits and veggies. Health, compassion and environmental responsibility can all be part of your local food plan!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Blogs Everywhere!

I just found out that I can continue to post the blogs I write for Happy Cow here .....after they have been on Happy Cow for a bit.  So they will start popping up here again.  Coming Next: The Sacred Heart of T. Colin Campbell or Campbell Saves....Repent.  Stay tuned for that one.....