Sunday, February 26, 2017

I Stood Up For a Fish and Lost My Job

The Vegan Vine
Work is where we spend a large chunk of our time, unfortunately, and unless we own a business, whom we work with is not up to us. Working with strangers in a constricted environment for many hours every day over the course of a week is challenging in itself, but add veganism to the mix and you've got a whole new set of hurdles.

As an ethical vegan, I'm always looking for opportunities to educate people on issues affecting all animals, including human animals. Since animal exploitation and abuse is so culturally pervasive, I make a point of challenging unconscious assumptions. I also seek to be a voice for those whose own voices go unheard. Needless to say, I don't check my ethics at the office door.

For example, a couple of years ago, my former employer decided to hold their annual staff outing at the local racetrack for an afternoon of horse racing. I promptly told my supervisors that I would not be attending. When they and other coworkers inquired why, I elaborated on the cruelties inherent in the horse racing industry, including doping, electrocution, and death.

Like the majority of unglorified female secretaries in the pink-collar ghetto, I am typically asked to obtain food for meetings and events even when it is not in my job description. I was summoned to regularly take and pick up lunch orders for committee meeting members. Even though I was neither eating nor paying for the chicken salads and pig (ham) sandwiches, I took issue with the entire process because I felt like my actions implied complicity with torturing and killing animals for food. Soon after, I informed my supervisor that I didn't feel comfortable confirming or acquiring orders of various animal parts and products begot of violence and indifference. She expressed disdain at my response but ultimately removed me from the task.

A year later, I had a more contentious interaction with a coworker regarding her office pet fish...actually, her second office fish. Shortly after Mary was hired, a small fish tank showed up on her cubicle desk. I thought little of it at first and asked for the fish's name, which I learned was Cici. I frequently visited Cici's tank to say hello and talk to him, at which time he would venture over to the side nearest to me and swish his tail back and forth in a seemingly playful way. I felt sorry for him for having to subsist in such a small tank and because no one seemed to pay him much attention, including Mary.

One day I started noticing that Cici wasn't doing too well. I occasionally found him hovering at the top of the tank somewhat listlessly. I voiced my concern to Mary when I saw her and she didn't seem to have an answer. Some days later I walked passed her desk and saw that Cici was gone; a note was left in his waterless tank which read "RIP Cici." I was saddened and asked Mary what happened. I was stunned when she told me, somewhat nonchalantly, that since Cici didn't seem to be doing well she put some additive into his water to stop his breathing so he would die. I wondered if Cici suffered and whether Mary had committed murder or administered euthanasia.

I had hoped that that was the end of her buying—thereby encouraging the profitable breeding and exploitation of—animals for her work entertainment but then a few weeks later there was another fish in the tank. I was indignant and asked her why she brought another fish into the office when he's more than likely going to suffer the same fate and die like Cici. She countered, very smugly, "WE ALL DIE!"

The next day was Friday and Mary was out of the office for a long weekend. Concerned about the fish, I sent her an email inquiring as to who was feeding and watching over her fish for three days while she was away. She didn't respond but on Monday the fish tank was gone, and I was swiftly called into a meeting with HR and the executive director. After explaining my worries, I was told to keep my "beliefs" to myself and that my coworker's fish was "none of my business." I felt otherwise and said so. Having taken into consideration the outcome of the first fish, I explained to my supervisors that I felt a responsibility to speak up for the second fish. I reasoned that most of my coworkers would consider it equally cruel and unacceptable to leave a dog or any other animal alone and confined to an office without food for three days. Furthermore, I contended that it is deeply speciesist to care for some animals like dogs (or the children our organization serves), while overlooking the well-being of others. Since Mary's fish, like most domesecrated animals, are considered property, my supervisors felt I had no cause to interfere. Once again, I was admonished for imposing my beliefs and "proselytizing."

I've since noticed how quick people are apt to throw out the belief card in response to ideas they choose not to understand so as to eliminate any further discussion or examination. As soon as I said the word speciesist, I saw the look of horror on the director's face, as if I had used profanity. She was clearly defensive and my concerns were immediately criticized and dismissed.

Speciesism is a form of discrimination, no different than racism, sexism, ableism, or heterosexism. Speciesism, more than any other 'ism, is deeply rooted in society and culture and is therefore made invisible, but that doesn't mean it does not exist.

A few weeks later a coworker sent an email to the entire office promoting a non-work-related "Pony Party" and petting zoo event at the local library. In addition to contacting the library, I responded to the email with my concerns, detailing the hidden suffering and abuse ponies and petting zoo animals often endure. Lastly, I urged our organization not to promote similar events in the future. For this last action, I was fired.

Some coworkers quietly came to me in support of my email, but it didn't matter. What I hadn't anticipated was that throughout my employ a Nixonian file was kept on me that even included a passing comment I made almost a year earlier to another coworker critical of the organization's annual donation of turkey corpses for Thanksgiving.

Veganism was never mentioned in my former employer's reports; instead, they reiterated words like "belief" and "proselytizing," as if treating animals as living, feeling beings and moral equivalents is something one has to be convinced of. I don't understand how care and concern for another creature or intimating factual data on animal suffering can be considered "proselytizing" or sharing of "personal beliefs." If I had been advocating for dogs and cats only (those animals we pet and call family) instead of horses, fish, turkeys, pigs, and chickens (those animals we exploit and eat), I might still be gainfully employed.

People have a personal choice to their own religion, their own politics, their own style of car, and what color they paint their walls; however, their sense of entitlement to the lives and bodies of other animals is morally bankrupt and baseless. It is self-deceptive to argue that one has a right to personally harm another being, which is why murder, assault, and rape are not considered personal choices in our society. The distinction typically arises from arbitrary notions as to who is deemed property and who is not, and what is considered socially acceptable by the masses. A bloody Civil War was once waged over similar property status and inequality.

My former employer acts as though they operate in a vacuum. If anything, the organization and office environment continued to foster and endorse mainstream carnist ideologies and personal beliefs, condoning the systematic abuse and exploitation of animals through food selections, events, and discussions, which I nevertheless abided despite my contrary views. My former employer continuously engaged in and perpetuated prejudiced and speciesist beliefs in alignment with the zeitgeist that made it a hostile work environment. Despite my excellent work and frequent raises, a quota was placed on my conscience. In my attempts to edify, I came face to face with a brick wall, a microcosm of our society that upholds policies promoting violence and injustice toward other animals.

Vegans have an uphill battle, especially outspoken ethical vegans who will not accept status quo thinking. "I think there is anathema associated with both ethical veganism and anyone who doesn't buy [into] the Just World Theory," said my friend Jude Berry. "And I think it can be more depressing trying to suppress your own ideas for the fear of that anathema. Voicing it is necessary and healthy."

Silencing my conscience was not a solution for me and speaking up for other animals like Mary's fish required immediacy. I believe my former employer's reasons for terminating my employment and denying me benefits were based on bigotry and personal biases. It has presented me with challenges, but no social justice movement ever emerged by people caving in and acquiescing to socially accepted wrongs. If not us, who? If not now, when?

"Society organizes itself very efficiently to punish, silence or disown truth-tellers," wrote Rachel Cusk. That it does, but I will continue to speak truth to power. I may have lost a job, but my soul remains intact.

Vegan Starter Kit

Photo: Fish no. 231 courtesy of pacman23.

Update: Shortly after I was terminated, I learned that Mary's fish was doing well at home, presumably seeing the same faces and getting fed regularly. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

When Compassion Just Isn't Enough

The Vegan Vine; The Compassion Conundrum
The word compassion gets thrown around a lot these days as a kind of magic elixir for creating an ethical, vegan world. It seems everywhere you look vegans are plugging compassionate consumerism: The Compassionate Diet cookbook, the "compassion over cruelty" t-shirt, the "nothing tastes better than compassion" tote bag, etc.

Vegans and animal activists have a compassion problem, and I don't mean with other non-vegans or themselves (that's for another post). The issue concerns the (over)use of the word compassion and its inadequate appropriation for animal advocacy objectives.

While compassion is a basic component for advancing ethical veganism, it is not the be-all and end-all since it doesn't require much more than feeling. Merriam-Webster defines compassion as a sympathy toward others' distress and a desire to alleviate it. Note the word desire, which is vague and discretionary. Having compassion is an admirable virtue, but it is not a directive for willful, binding action. Take Meatless Mondays as an example. Compassion may drive some to abstain from animal flesh one day a week, but it does not deter them from engaging in other forms of animal abuse or from even eating meat the remaining six days of the week.

If nonhuman animals are going to live in a just world that honors and respects them as equally deserving of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, it's going to take a lot more than compassion, pity, or empathy to make it happen. What other animals require are legal and protected rights.

In Circles of Compassion, David Cantor of Responsible Policies for Animals (RPA) described the problem this way: "The move from humanism to the new animalism, from animal abuse to rights of all animals as the basis of governance, is a struggle against injustice, so we will do well to elicit the moral indignation humans naturally experience at animal abuse rather than emphasize compassion, which positively affects those in our presence, not policy. Belittled as 'anger' by the industry-government-university-media complex, moral indignation is the human trait most likely to instigate radical policy change. The Constitution refers to establishing justice, not promoting compassion."

Saturday, December 3, 2016

When Veganism and Family Just Don't Mix

I had been following my niece and nephew, both under the age of five, on my brother and sister-in-law's shared Facebook page for years. Every so often I would "like" a picture of the kids or make an admiring comment without any acknowledgment or fanfare, until one day when I came across pictures of the kids decorating eggs for Easter. I was saddened since I knew their joy was unwittingly at the expense of other young innocents. Like most children, they are unaware of their participation in animal cruelty and exploitation because they are conditioned by a non-vegan society that starts with their parents.

Since I knew these pictures were posted by my brother and his wife for their own benefit and that of their friends, I sent the following comment and picture to remind everyone that even painting eggs for Easter is not harmless:

The Vegan Vine; I am not TRASH
Sadly, this is how male chicks are treated soon after they're born because the egg industry has no use for them.

Shortly thereafter I received a brief text message from my brother saying, in part, "Have you lost your fucking mind? . . . You are no longer welcome in my home or around my family."

Nothing in our past prepared me for this seemingly knee jerk reaction, so I was dumbstruck. For one, this was his and his wife's Facebook account, not the kids'. Secondly, when did facts and information become so threatening? I've been an outspoken vegan for many years, so why should my response to animal injustice come as a surprise now? Perhaps my brother felt as though I were telling him how to raise his kids but, even if that were the case, is that a compelling reason to kick me out of his family's life . . . forever?

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Veganism, Zombies, and the Mental State of Things

The Vegan Vine; I am Legend
I am broadcasting on all AM frequencies. I will be at the South Street Seaport every day at mid-day, when the sun is highest in the sky. . . . If there's anybody out there, anybody, please. You are not alone.

There are days when I feel analogous to Robert Neville in the movie I am Legend, one of the last human survivors on earth. Like Neville and his dog, Sam, my only companion is a cat, Max, and I'm surrounded by zombies who want to infect others with their flesh-eating disease. Okay, maybe that's a little dramatic but some days it fits.

This year marks ten years that I've been vegan. Choosing a vegan way of life has been one of the most rewarding decisions I've ever made. Growing in consciousness as an ethical vegan has been a blessing as I've grown more connected to my animal brethren and more enlightened of how my choices impact them and their environments. However, like any progressive act, it also has its challenges. After all, they don't say ignorance is bliss for nothing. Just as you cannot have flowers without rain; with knowledge and truth comes the burden of awareness and personal responsibility.

I, too, was once an oblivious, flesh-eating zombie, doing what everyone else did, and causing much pain and suffering to myself and others. Now, I struggle to adapt as a vegan in a non-vegan world while attempting to open the eyes and minds of those around me who remain corrupted by an invisible virus. I offer them an alternativea cure if you willto this deadly and deleterious way of living. Some are willing to apply the corrective antidote but most are myopic and resistant, reacting like a vampire to garlic.

The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference.  Elie Wiesel

"You're not going to get me to stop eating meat," one of my coworkers scoffed after I explained how the meat and dairy industries separate animal families and cause them so much sorrow; "Mind your own business," wrote an anonymous Facebook user when I pointed out the problems attributed to buying companion animals from breeders as opposed to adopting from shelters; "Do me a favor and fuck off," wrote my neighbor when I expressed concern over finding her cat outside during the bitterly, cold winter months.

Friday, September 23, 2016

The War on Animals

Time Magazine, The War on Delicious; The Vegan Vine, The War on Animals
The world is engaged in an endless, partisan battle. Unlike the wars du jourISIS, Afghanistan, Iraqthe War on Animals doesn't garner headlines nor is it debated by politicians and pundits on cable news networks. In contrast to the War on Terror, the War on Animals needlessly terrorizes and kills billions every single dayand that's just fine with most people, even negligent participating pacifists.

Since the beginning of human existence, most conflicts have been waged over property: land, animals (both human and nonhuman slaves/labor), and the resources necessary to sustain them. From capitalism, a system built upon increasing exploitation, and its version of human progress, has come nonstop bloodshed and the destruction of the natural environment. And so, in the wake of such numbing violence and needless destruction, it should come as no surprise that our anthropocentric urges and desires have dulled our sense of morality and justice.

Last fall Time magazine published a piece on the most recent findings linking the consumption of animal flesh with cancer. On the cover (above) Time depicted two pieces of pig flesh (bacon) crossed over each other like army artillery and chose "The War on Delicious" for the title, reflecting the warped and derisive attitudes of many Americans.

While I was angered by the news magazine's trivializing and mockery of butchered body parts from devalued beings, I was not surprised since the mainstream media mirrors the obtuseness of an undisciplined and unrestrained populace. Only in a society as sick as ours, in which people are disconnected from themselves, nature, and the lives of other sentient beings, is the savage manipulation and voluntary ingestion of dead and disfigured bodies considered delicious.

The War on Animals remains invisible because we are entrenched in a dominant, patriarchal code that views the use and exploitation of nonhuman animals (hereafter, animals) as normal, natural, and necessary. The prevailing ideology promoting brutality and the transformation of someones into somethings is so steeped in our society that it is widely tolerated and ignored. Those who challenge prevailing myths, mindsets, and behaviors indicative of speciesist chauvinism often face hostility and defensiveness.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Be Fair Be Vegan Calls for an End to All Animal Use

The Vegan Vine
Rising above 1500 Times Square and the Jacob Javits Center stands the most ambitious social justice campaign ever to be launched in New York—“Be Fair Be Vegan.” The powerful imagery and messaging introduces viewers to the sentience of animals by using evocative close-up images and messages demonstrating that other animals experience emotions just like humans do.

For four weeks, these provocative slideshows will be displayed in two of the highest profile billboard locations in the country and will be accompanied by a series of 200 street posters throughout Manhattan. The campaign invites passers-by to consider the circumstances of the victims of the animal production industry while seeing them for who they are: feeling, caring beings who value their lives and their families.

The campaign is the brainchild of Joanna Lucas, a writer, visual artist and animal rights activist. Joanna created vegan outreach materials and campaigns for Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary where she studied and chronicled the rich lives of animals who are commonly dismissed as food or objects of use. “We want people to consider their obligations to these often invisible animals, consider that they are sentient beings with complex relationships and lives of their own,” said Lucas.

Actor Joaquin Phoenix commented on the billboards, saying “I believe that the Be Fair Be Vegan campaign is much-needed because, in addressing our speciesist attitudes toward other animals, it encourages us to consider that our core similarities are far deeper than our surface differences. Now, more than ever, the world needs to hear this message.”

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Every Day is a Meat Festival in the United States

Yulin Dog Meat Festival
The annual Yulin Dog Meat Festival in China came and went but not without strong opposition to the slaughtering of some 10,000+ dogs for food. This year many high-profile celebrities added their names to the fray, raising the scope of awareness. While attempts to close dog abattoirs in China are laudable, Western revulsion and outrage at the consumption of dog meat reeks of hypocrisy and American exceptionalism.

Killing animals for the taste of their flesh is not unique to China. Just as there are some Chinese who care little for the lives of dogs beyond the perverted pleasure they get from eating them; there are plenty more Americans who care even less for the lives of farmed animals for similarly immoral reasons.

The United States consumes 10 billion land animals every year for their flesh, milk, and eggsone million times more animals than those killed at the Yulin Dog Meat Festival! 

In a campaign video, Matt Damon, Alyssa Milano, Andy Cohen, and other Hollywood stars voiced their concerns regarding the treatment of dogs at the festival: "We're here asking you to stop the cruelty, stop the beatings, stop the burning, stop the hangings, stop skinning them alive, stop the stabbing, stop boiling them alive, stop the torture."

American methods for butchering farmed animals are no less cruel and violent than Chinese practices. In fact, the same savageries that Damon, Milano, Cohen, and other non-vegan Americans want stopped for dogs are the same savageries they sanction against pigs, chickens, turkeys, cows, goats, ducks, and other animals every time they sit down to eat.