If you are an ethical vegetarian, and you have already decided that animals are individuals who should not be subjected to unnecessary suffering, consider using this year’s World Vegetarian Awareness Month, which is celebrated each and every October, to question whether your vegetarianism is really an appropriate reflection of the values you believe in. If your conscience is no longer satisfied with your lacto-ovo status, then I have some good news: Veganism isn’t difficult, as you might have been led to believe… There are growing numbers of happy, healthy vegans who enjoy exciting, delicious food, improved health from eliminating all animal products from their diets, and a new lease on life as a result of ending their dependence on industries that cannot exist without consumers who continue to contribute money to support the slavery and abuse of our fellow beings.
October 9, 2010
April 19, 2010
Perhaps the rising breast cancer rates (and the subsequent findings as to the potential significance of diet in causing the disease) offer us an opportunity to look at who we are as women, and who we want to become. Do we want to continue consuming products that not only are killing us and our families, but also require the systematic exploitation of beings who, in their essence, are not that different from us?
February 6, 2010
“There is something almost primal about it,” gushes the former vegetarian, as though the word ‘primal’ is a noble quality to be embraced by virtuous people. It seems more likely though that the directors of the puppet show are aware that ‘primal’ is simply a concept that plays to the desires of the lowest parts of our selves, to our lust for blood. Let’s not forget that the word is almost synonymous with ‘primitive’, and could just as easily be used to describe cannibalism or rape.
October 29, 2009
In an attempt to provide some guidance for those who are genuinely attracted to the values of veganism, but are not sure of how to go about making what might appear on the surface to be a quantum leap in behavior, I would like to try and shine a light on some of the myths that contribute to the common misconception that being vegan is too difficult, or even impossible for certain individuals.
June 17, 2009
We Are The Living Graves of Murdered Beasts
~ George Bernard Shaw
We are the living graves of murdered beasts
Slaughtered to satisfy our appetites
We never pause to wonder at our feasts
If animals, like men, can possibly have rights
We pray on Sundays that we may have light
To guide our footsteps on the path we tread
We’re sick of war We do not want to fight
The thought of it now fills our hearts with dread
And yet we gorge ourselves upon the dead
Like carrion crows we live and feed on meat
Regardless of the suffering and pain
We cause by doing so. If thus we treat
Defenseless animals for sport or gain
How can we hope in this world to attain
the PEACE we say we are so anxious for
We pray for it o’er hecatombs of slain
To God, while outraging the moral law
Thus cruelty begets its offspring: war.
May 11, 2009
“We cannot win this battle to save species and environments without forging an emotional bond between ourselves and nature as well—for we will not fight to save what we do not love.”
—Stephen Jay Gould
The idea of the Earth at the center of the universe seems ludicrous to us today, but the fundamentally self-centered belief system that created that theory still exists. We still believe that all life revolves around human life, and that everything else should bend to our will.
Few people would argue against the assertion that humankind is critically separated from the natural world. It is becoming increasingly apparent that our way of living is at odds with nature, and is a severe threat to the natural systems that support us and the rest of life on this planet. In addition to this, many people are becoming aware that this separateness is causing us to feel an emotional and spiritual distance from nature, and from life itself.
How did we come to this point? How did humans, who are, in many ways, Nature’s most advanced species, come to be so very isolated, so completely cut off from our origins?
Out of a natural desire to protect our fragile selves from the dangerous and hostile elements of untamed nature, we have spent our time on the planet developing knowledge, skills and technology that have enabled us to escape the terrifying world of the predatory paradigm. By creating a safe distance between ourselves and the natural world, we have, for the most part, successfully removed from our reality the fears that wild animals live with constantly.
It is undeniable that this has served an important purpose – that of creating a sanctuary for humans where we have been able to further our evolution. The great accomplishments of human history, as well as the basic conveniences of living in our society are made possible by the fact that we have transcended the requirements of basic survival that the rest of the animal population must live according to – finding food and shelter, avoiding predators, and everything else that makes life in the wild so very tenuous.
But, as I said in an earlier article, rather than using our position of advantage to help our fellow animals, we, who claim to be creatures of moral conscience, have used it to exploit them, by forcing them into lives of even more fear, more pain, and more suffering.. It is for this reason that we feel guilty when we look at animals, because something inside us knows that we have betrayed them, and we continue to betray them, on a grand scale. What do we do in response to the guilt that nags at our conscience? We keep killing them, keep hurting them, keep terrorizing them, and keep oppressing them.
Caught up in this cycle of oppression, we forget that we are animals ourselves, who also rely on the mercy of those who have the power to harm us. It is the guilt we feel as a result of withholding our compassion from those who are at our mercy that makes it impossible for us to look more deeply into the true nature of animals, and the rest of the natural world that they rely on for survival.
For some time now we have been at war with the world of nature and animals, and increasingly, it seems that we are beginning to be on the losing side. We are beginning to learn that we are not, in fact, above the laws of nature. Thus, we now find ourselves on the receiving end of the violence we have inflicted, in our self-appointed role as the dictators of the future of all life on our planet.
The only way we will be able to change this perilous course, is to be willing to change the actions that created it. The choices of each individual, on every level from procreation to dietary practice, have to be examined, but not through the filter of one’s personal desires, rather through the filter of their impact on the rest of the planet. If we continue to stubbornly cling to the lifestyle that has led us to this point, we will find that we too are destroyed.
The global environmental crisis offers us a wealth of opportunities. They are opportunities for change, for conscious evolution of ourselves, which is something we humans collectively resist as much as anything. Changing oneself requires an admission that something in us needs to change, and that is a challenge for anyone.
All of us would like to see change occur on a global level, but first, we need to accept the fact that global change has to begin with personal change. We need to begin acknowledging that our personal actions affect the rest of the planet, and we must take into account this wider impact in all our choices.
For too long, we have luxuriated in the pleasures of an unsustainable self-indulgence, using the resources of the planet, as well as its other inhabitants, however we please. The outdated mindset that man is at the center of the universe and everything exists to feed, clothe, house, entertain and please us has got to be overthrown, and this has to occur in people’s own hearts and minds.
It seems that our grand experiment is coming to a climax. We can no longer continue to worship a lifestyle that promotes the hedonistic desires of a human population that is convinced that the entire planet exists to serve our pleasures. We must take responsibility for our mistakes, make peace with the rest of the world, and come to understand and embrace our place in the natural order of things. This change of consciousness will not occur without the change of heart that we desperately need.
Originally published on Care2
May 6, 2009
“We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.”
– Immanuel Kant, German philosopher
When last year’s presidential election campaign ended, I would have been happy if I had never heard the name ‘Sarah Palin’ again. What scares me the most about her is the attitude she holds toward animals. Unfortunately, despite her defeat in the presidential election, as governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin still has the power to kill wild animals on a massive scale. Now, she and her friends are gearing up for an escalation in their slaughter of wolves.
According to the Care2 campaign team,
“…defenseless wolf pups and their families will soon face death from deadly snares and poison gas in and around their dens in Alaska. It is part of an escalating attempt by the Palin Administration to slaughter wolves at record numbers via helicopter, spotter planes, aerial gunners… and the unprecedented and extreme method of gassing wolf pups to death in their dens in the weeks ahead.”
The e-mail circulated by Care2 announced that during Alaska’s recent spring Board of Game meeting, the board approved a proposal to allow the use of gas bombs to kill wolves and wolf pups in their dens.
“The Board has consistently voted for unprecedented and increasingly extreme methods of killing wolves, and many in Alaska now question the make up of the board and the magnitude of their vendetta against wolves.”
At the end of March, 66 wolves were slaughtered in one week, shot down from helicopters, spotter planes and aerial gunners. Even wolf packs that live near a National Park Service preserve were targeted, despite the risk to wolves in the preserve that have been studied for nearly two decades of research.
“Governor Sarah Palin and her allies have worked to expand the aerial killing program by removing the few remaining scientific requirements from the program.”
There is something terrifying to me about someone who is so completely heartless when it comes to animals. I think it is a sign of something deeply disturbing, not just on a personal level, but on a societal level as well. To me, the hatred of animals that Sarah Palin demonstrates is not a simple matter of an individual being unwilling to feel compassion for members of another species. I believe it represents something much bigger. She is a public symbol of the part of us that has shut off the essential human qualities of kindness, empathy and compassion.
Indifference toward the suffering of other creatures is an accepted societal norm that is alarming to contemplate, but I’m starting to recognize something that is even more troubling. I’m beginning to believe that there is a part of the collective human consciousness that actually hates animals. If this sounds hard to believe, readers should make an investment in the small amount of time it takes to watch some of the more controversial footage of animal exploitation, where people have been filmed treating animals with abhorrent callousness, and seem to actually take sadistic pleasure in it. If that seems extreme, consider the famous picture of Sarah Palin smiling proudly beside the blood-soaked body of a moose that she had slain and was preparing to disembowel.
Why would this be, when so many of us feel such a strong bond and love for animals? Animals remind us of our own connection with (and separation from) the natural world, a world we once shared with them, where we constantly struggled to survive. Out of our intense desire to leave behind a way of life where daily survival had to be fought for, we managed to climb out of the world of nature, and thereby transcend the food chain, leaving behind the animal world and the terror of being preyed upon.
Rather than using our position of advantage to help our fellow animals, we have used it to further oppress them, and to push them into lives of even more fear, more pain, and more suffering, this time at the hands of those who claim to be creatures of moral conscience. It is for this reason that we feel guilty when we look at animals, because something inside us knows that we have betrayed them, and we continue to betray them, on a grand scale. What do we do in response to the guilt that nags at our conscience? We keep killing them, keep hurting them, keep terrorizing them, and keep oppressing them, perhaps in the hope that we will convince ourselves that it is simply what they deserve, what they were made for.
As long as we keep treating animals as insentient objects that were put on this planet to serve our desires, we will continue to oppress them, continue to hurt them, and continue to torture them. This causes us to be plagued by the guilt that lies like a blanket of anguish over the collective conscience of humanity. All over the world, animals are imprisoned, enslaved, tortured and killed violently, and all over the world, people go on as if this is just fine with them. Everyone is complicit in this crime, except for those who reject the products of the animal holocaust, embrace the vegan ideal, and choose a life where harming others is not an option.
I recently discovered a fantastic article called ‘Vegetarian Is The New Prius‘, written by Kathy Freston, author of Quantum Wellness. Some may remember Kathy Freston from her appearances on Oprah and Ellen, where she made a substantial impact on the lives of both of these women. After interviewing Kathy on her Soul Series, Oprah was so moved by what she read in Quantum Wellness that she embarked on a 21-day cleanse diet, cutting out all animal products, alcohol, caffeine, refined sugars and gluten.
What moved Oprah to make such a radical shift in diet (albeit temporarily) was Freston’s way of explaining what it means to eat “consciously.” In her blog, Oprah described how deeply affected she was by Kathy’s descriptions of the harm we do to animals used for food. But the article I just read is not about animal welfare or the conditions under which farmed animals suffer at the hands of humans. It focuses instead on the 2007 UN report about the environmental impact of animal farming, and her short article makes a powerful case for the ecological imperative of transitioning towards a plant-based diet:
In 2007, the United Nations published a report on livestock and the environment with a stunning conclusion: ‘The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.’ It turns out that raising animals for food is a primary cause of land degradation, air pollution, water shortage, water pollution, loss of biodiversity, and not least of all, global warming.
According to the UN report, almost a fifth of global warming emissions come from livestock, which equals more emissions than come from all of the world’s transportation combined.
To someone who hasn’t heard these statistics before, it could be hard to imagine how this is true, until you become aware of the vast scale of the animal industry.
The United States alone slaughters more than 10 billion land animals every year… . Land animals raised for food make up a staggering 20% of the entire land animal biomass of the earth. We are eating our planet to death.
Then there is the fact that feeding animals for meat, dairy, and eggs requires around ten times as much grain as we’d need to feed the population a plant-based diet. When you add the environmental cost of transportation and refrigeration, it turns out that a calorie of meat protein requires ten times as much in the way of fossil fuels as a calorie of plant protein. On top of that, the production of that same calorie of protein releases more than ten times as much carbon dioxide.
The researchers found that, when it’s all added up, the average American does more to reduce global warming emissions by going vegetarian than by switching to a Prius.
Kathy Freston goes on to discuss the vast quantities of land required for animal farming.
Animal agriculture takes up an incredible 70% of all agricultural land, and 30% of the total land surface of the planet. As a result, farmed animals are probably the biggest cause of slashing and burning the world’s forests. Today, 70% of former Amazon rainforest is used for pastureland, and feed crops cover much of the remainder.
As the forests of the planet are designed to absorb carbon dioxide from the air, burning them not only destroys the very systems that are designed to process all the gases we are producing, but it also releases all the stored carbon dioxide, “in quantities that exceed by far the fossil fuel emission of animal agriculture.”
And of course, most people are aware now that as well as carbon dioxide, there are other greenhouse gases that are produced in large quantities by huge herds of farmed animals. According to Freston’s article, methane and nitrous oxide have “23 and 296 times the warming power of carbon dioxide, respectively… while animal agriculture accounts for 9% of our carbon dioxide emissions, it emits 37% of our methane, and a whopping 65% of our nitrous oxide.”
She goes on to explain how farming food animals is also one of the biggest causes of some of our other global environmental problems:
Animal agriculture accounts for most of the water consumed in this country, emits two-thirds of the world’s acid-rain-causing ammonia, and is the world’s largest source of water pollution–killing entire river and marine ecosystems, destroying coral reefs, and of course, making people sick.
All of these statistics seem to add up to one profound conclusion: We simply cannot go on like this. The ethical question of vegetarianism in regard to the animals who are the innocent victims of our eating habits has been debated for centuries, leading to a growing population of ethical vegetarians and vegans. Now there are other issues to be considered, issues which are extremely time-sensitive when it comes to the future of our planet and the human population.
It seems that we have created a situation for ourselves where, if we want to turn this global catastrophe around, we simply must re-examine our old ways of thinking, and the biggest thing we need to address is the way we eat. Fortunately, in today’s society, the options are plentiful, information is readily accessible and the choice is easier than it has ever been.
Originally published on Care2
After my last post, The Vegan Solution, there were several comments by readers indicating that ‘grass-fed’ or ‘pasture-raised’ beef was considered a viable solution to the problems of intensive animal farming. For various reasons, it seemed to me that free-range farming couldn’t provide a realistic solution to the many issues associated with the animal-based diet, including the well-documented environmental devastation that is beginning to be brought into the view of the general public.
There is significant evidence that the environmental destruction which occurs as a result of the wide-spread grazing of cattle, is much worse than the free-range PR leads us to believe. Grazing cattle pollutes water, erodes topsoil, kills fish, displaces wildlife, and destroys vegetation, more so than any other land use.1
In recent years, grazing animals have all but disappeared from sight on the landscape. This has occurred as a result of modern ‘agricultural’ practices that include intensive confinement of animals in factory farms that have become the focus of much criticism from advocates of animal welfare. But a return to widespread free-range grazing, especially as the human population continues to increase, would mean a return to the widespread damage that this grazing wrought on the land not so long ago. Following is an excerpt from a speech given in 1985, almost twenty-five years ago. The speaker is Edward Abbey, conservationist and author, addressing cattlemen at the University of Montana.
“Most of the public lands in the West, and especially the Southwest, are what you might call ‘cow burnt.’ Almost anywhere and everywhere you go in the American West you find hordes of cows. . . . They are a pest and a plague. They pollute our springs and streams and rivers. They infest our canyons, valleys, meadows and forests. They graze off the native bluestems and grama and bunch grasses, leaving behind jungles of prickly pear. They trample down the native forbs and shrubs and cacti. They spread the exotic cheatgrass, the Russian thistle, and the crested wheat grass. Even when the cattle are not physically present, you see the dung and the flies and the mud and the dust and the general destruction. If you don’t see it, you’ll smell it. The whole American West stinks of cattle.”
John Robbins is the author of the international bestseller Diet for a New America, The Food Revolution, and Healthy at 100. He is widely recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on the dietary link with the environment and health. He is also the Founder of EarthSave International.
According to Robbins:
“The price that western lands and wildlife are paying for grazing cattle is hard to exaggerate… widespread production of grass-fed beef would only multiply this already devastating toll.”
One of the problems is the sheer scale of the animal industry. The issue that leads me to question the benefits of free-range farming isn’t only the matter of more humane treatment, (which is grossly overstated, as explained below), but the matter of space. In order to farm enough animals to feed the collective appetite for flesh and other products of animal exploitation, we are already destroying our wild lands at a rate that is boggling to the mind. Since we have so many food animals intensely confined, it would be impossible to allocate sufficient land to pasture-raise them all. Without a significant reduction in the overall consumption of animal products, animal farming (free-range or not) is not an ecologically viable method of food production.
“It takes a long time and a lot of grassland to raise a grass-fed steer. Western rangelands are vast, but not nearly vast enough to sustain America’s 100 million head of cattle. There is no way that grass-fed beef can begin to feed the meat appetites of people in the United States, much less play a role in addressing world hunger.”
Most environmentally-aware people are now familiar with the correlation between intensive animal farming and greenhouse gases. But that problem wouldn’t be solved by pasture-raising cows either:
“Next to carbon dioxide, the most destabilizing gas to the planet’s climate is methane. Methane is actually 24 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and its concentration in the atmosphere is rising even faster. The primary reason that concentrations of atmospheric methane are now triple what they were when they began rising a century ago is beef production. Cattle raised on pasture actually produce more methane than feedlot animals, on a per-cow basis.”2
According to an article on ScienceNews.org, Nathan Pelletier of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia says:
“We do see significant differences in the greenhouse gas intensities [of grass vs grain]. It’s roughly on the order of 50 percent higher in grass-finished systems.”3
Another serious concern, of which many people aren’t aware, is that commercial free-range grazing involves the eradication of wildlife, including threatened and endangered species.
“The USDA’s Animal Damage Control (ADC) program was established in 1931 for a single purpose—to eradicate, suppress, and control wildlife considered to be detrimental to the western livestock industry… In 1997, following the advice of public relations and image consultants, the federal government gave a new name to the ADC—“Wildlife Services.” And they came up with a new motto—“Living with Wildlife.”4
According to a USDA website, Wildlife Services “provides Federal leadership and expertise to resolve wildlife conflicts and create a balance that allows people and wildlife to coexist peacefully.”
According to John Robbins:
“What ‘Wildlife Services’ actually does is kill any creature that might compete with or threaten livestock. Its methods include poisoning, trapping, snaring, denning, shooting, and aerial gunning. In ‘denning’ wildlife, government agents pour kerosene into the den and then set it on fire, burning the young alive in their nests.
“Among the animals Wildlife Services agents intentionally kill are badgers, black bears, bobcats, coyotes, gray fox, red fox, mountain lions, opossum, raccoons, striped skunks, beavers, nutrias, porcupines, prairie dogs, black birds, cattle egrets, and starlings. Animals unintentionally killed by Wildlife Services agents include domestic dogs and cats, and several threatened and endangered species.
“All told, Wildlife Services, the federal agency whose motto is ‘Living with Wildlife,’ intentionally kills more than 1.5 million wild animals annually. This is done, of course, at public expense, to protect the private financial interests of ranchers who wish to use public lands to graze their livestock.”
Dr. Mike Hudak is an environmental advocate who is a leading expert on the harm to wildlife and the environment caused by public-lands ranching. He is the founder and director of Public Lands Without Livestock, and the author of Western Turf Wars: The Politics of Public Lands Ranching (2007). Since July 2008 he has been chair of the Sierra Club’s National Grazing Committee.
In his article, Public Lands Ranching: The Scourge of Wildlife, Hudak elaborates:
“How extensive is the carnage that ranching inflicts on wildlife? One reasonable measure is the number of affected species that are either (1) federally listed as threatened or endangered, (2) candidates for federal listing, or (3) the subject of petitions for federal listing. By that criterion, ranching’s victims number 151 species in all: 26 species of mammals, 25 species of birds, 66 species of fish, 14 species of reptiles and amphibians, 15 species of mollusks, and 5 species of insects.”
As we can see, the growing popularity of ‘grass-fed’, ‘pasture-raised’ or ‘free-range’ beef, far from being the solution to the damage caused by animal farming, represents just another side of the devastation caused by the animal industry.
Those who profit from the promotion of free-range animal products exploit the ethical motivation of conscious consumers, caring people who rightfully abhor the horrific practices that occur on factory farms. The free-range PR creates the false impression that consuming free-range products is an effective way of boycotting animal cruelty and environmental destruction.
The desire to avoid participating in acts of cruelty is the other (perhaps more common) reason that many choose free-range over factory-farmed animal products. But are grass-fed cows really treated more humanely than their factory-farmed counterparts?
As John Robbins concludes:
“The lives of grass-fed livestock are more humane and natural than the lives of animals confined in factory farms and feedlots, but their deaths are often just as terrifying and cruel. If they are taken to a conventional slaughterhouse, they are just as likely as a feedlot animal to be skinned while alive and fully conscious, and just as apt to be butchered and have their feet cut off while they are still breathing — distressing realities that tragically occur every hour in meat-packing plants nationwide. Confronting the brutal realities of modern slaughterhouses can be a harsh reminder that those who contemplate only the pastoral image of cattle patiently foraging do not see the whole picture.”
In light of this information, and the questions that arise as a result, I am very curious to hear from advocates of environmental conservation or animal welfare who believe that ‘free-range’ or ‘pasture-fed’ is indeed an ethical or sustainable alternative to factory farming. Is it really ‘grass-fed’ that is going to make the difference that we need? At a time when the human population is approaching seven billion, is it realistic to expect to continue feeding ourselves on animal flesh, milk and eggs? Or do we need to make preparations for a future where there simply aren’t sufficient resources to support the inefficient methods of animal-based food production?
For those who seek a way to avoid exploitation and cruelty, the choice doesn’t have to be between factory-farmed and free-range. There is another option, a truly ethical alternative that does not require us to sacrifice our moral standards for the satisfaction of our appetites and our taste buds.
As can be seen by the growing number of people, from all walks of life world-wide, who abstain from animal foods, it’s really a lot easier than many people think. The essential first step toward the vegan alternative is a change in perception. Once that is achieved, with the wealth of information and the ever-increasing number of products that are now available, making vegan choices is easier, and more rewarding than it has ever been.
(For more information about how to make vegan choices, feel free to contact the author.)
1 Robbins, John What About Grass-fed Beef?
3 Raloff, Janet The carbon footprints of raising livestock for food
Originally published on Care2
Going to the garden in the morning is an adventure in the magical realm of transformation. Although I love to grow flowering plants, I’ve never actually tried my hand at growing food. I suspect that I am missing out on one of life’s most exciting pleasures. It amazes me enough to think that plants can turn soil, water, air and sunlight into flowers. But when I allow my mind to ponder the fact that some plants turn those sources of energy into food in abundance, it appears to me to be one of the great miracles of life.
It’s easy to take it for granted, especially when the food we eat is so far removed from its original source, as it is when we buy it in supermarkets and grocery stores. Growing our own food provides us with a powerful opportunity to tune in to our relationship with nature.
Food plants simply go about their business, bathing in the light of the sun and absorbing its energy, taking in rainwater to hydrate themselves, and using their roots to seek the nutrition that is present in the soil. It seems like a simple procedure, certainly when it is taught to children in school, yet I know there’s more fascinating detail to it than that.
But the amazing part of it to me is not the science, exactly. It’s more the incredible brilliance of a system that works so harmoniously. It seems so right to me, that food can be generated in this way, and so appropriate for humans, who do not get excited by the idea of preying on other creatures.
Sooner or later, people everywhere are going to be growing their own food. The current system of food production is simply unsustainable, and in a new economy and a new society, changes must be made. People are already beginning to be nourished, body and soul, by community and rooftop gardens, farmers’ markets, and backyard veggie plots, where they have never been before.
Change is essential, and I believe it’s inevitable. This evolution will bring with it multiple benefits, not the least of which will be better personal and environmental health. But hidden in amongst the other positive effects will be a very special opportunity for those who seek it: The promise of re-kindling one’s fascination with the natural world.
Helping plants to grow has the potential of leading us to a gentle but profound spiritual awakening, an enlightening experience which can help us find a sense of peace and belonging. In this life, where we are so far removed from many of the miracles of life, re-connecting with nature is something we all need, and it’s re-assuring to know that we can achieve it in a way as simple as growing our own food.
originally published on Care2