Saturday, December 3, 2016

When Veganism and Family Just Don't Mix

by Bethany Cortale

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?

All this drama has me pondering other vegans' experiences with family members and loved ones, especially around the holidays.

Food is as polemical a topic as both politics and religion. "Diet seems to be such a rightly private matter. Our bodies, ourselves," said Pattrice Jones in her book, Aftershock, "But eating an animal is something you do to somebody else's body without her consent." Simply put, personal choices don't have victims and yet, many people believe it is no one else's business who they hurt to eat.

More often than not, vegans attend non-vegan family gatherings primarily to be with the ones they love, in spite of the "food" offerings. I wonder how many non-vegans can claim the same and how many would happily attend a vegan Thanksgiving with their family—giving (thanks) rather than taking (lives).

Non-vegans often complain about what an inconvenience vegans are, however, vegans are generally a minority of one at most functions; they're the ones trying to smile through comments, jokes, and insincere questions made at the expense of other animals; they're typically required to bring their own food, beverages, and desserts, and they're usually the only ones repulsed and appalled when confronted with tables filled with body parts and secretions from beings who lived miserable lives and met harrowing ends.

Some vegans are plain fed up and are boycotting holiday affairs or any other gatherings where people are eating animals. Those taking the #LiberationPledge are refusing to sit at tables where victims' bodies are being eaten in order to counter the silent notion that animal suffering and violence is acceptable.

Through my many exchanges, I've learned that simply educating others about how their actions negatively impact other animals can be as threatening to some as a loaded gun. Many people uphold a "don't see, don't speak, don't hear" mentality when it comes to animal exploitation and abuse because they don't want to be reminded of their own complicity in it for such trifling motives as pleasure, convenience, and entertainment. Adopting a radical and ethical vegan lifestyle would require change and living their values, but our dominant culture has trained them to see doing so as a negative, as taking away their false sense of choice and ending the life that has become so familiar regardless of how destructive it is to both themselves and others.

Experience tells me that there are plenty of other vegans and animal rights activists with analogous experiences. "Activists are often isolated from their families or communities due to their controversial opinions and activities," continued Jones. "Their closest relationships may be with the members of their activist 'family.'"

Unfortunately, some have expressed reservations to me about adopting a vegan diet solely because of familial concerns and social negativity. I encourage them to be brave and reach out to others in the vegan community and online for support.

I was informed that my brother will not renege on his position unless I apologize, but I won't apologize for inconvenient truths. The bodies, babies, and eggs of chickens no more belong to me or my brother than my own body, babies, and eggs belong to someone else. Furthermore, the consumption of eggs, which have been capitalized on during Easter to symbolize new life and Christ's Resurrection, tragically and hypocritically entail the deaths of billions of lives. Every day thousands of newly born male chicks slide down chutes and conveyor belts on their way to macerators or dumpsters because they are useless byproducts of the egg industry. 

Holidays and traditions conveniently disguise the normalized and unsightly cruelties of animal desecration, and there never seems to be a right time or place for exposing them. As vegans, our presence alone and our rejection of common practices can ruin all the "fun" for those who prefer to remain in denial. But, unlike me, facts are a lot harder to make disappear.

I wonder what my brother and sister-in-law will tell the kids as they get older and ask questions. What might they say? Aunt Bethany cares about other animals and that's why you're not allowed to see her anymore? Aunt Bethany loves animals and thinks they should be treated as we want to be treated so she can't come over? What could they possibly say to justify such banishment?

While it's taken me some time, I have chosen to forgive my brother. One day I hope he will come to see my post for what it truly was—a chance to raise awareness and encourage practices that are merciful, kind, and just to other animals. 

I miss my niece and nephew very much, and I know they would welcome me with loving, open arms if they could right now. Maybe they will one day soon, and maybe my brother will be able to show me some mercy, too.

Vegan Starter Kit

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Veganism, Zombies, and the Mental State of Things

by Bethany Cortale

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
by  Bethany Cortale

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
by  Bethany Cortale

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.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Speciesist Language Reinforces Animal Inequality

by Bethany Cortale

The Vegan Vine: Speciesist Language Reinforces Animal Inequality
Violent animal idiom: Kill two birds with one stone.

As vegans, we're usually focused on our behaviors, forgetting that words have power, too. So much of our language is subconscious and mindless, and all too often it conforms to the speciesist notions we have been raised with that we, as vegans, are trying so hard to thwart. Our common usage of certain speech and adages that engender violence and indifference toward nonhuman animals have gained traction through protracted use and long held beliefs to reaffirm perceived inequalities. Whether we intend to or not, when we reiterate these phrases and uses of grammar in speech and in word, we continue to mark nonhuman animals as less than and others.

As a writer, I've noticed that even my computer's spell checker is programmed to uphold speciesism. When I refer to a particular animal as a heshe, him, her, or who, the program highlights the selection and suggests that or it instead. 

In an article I submitted to a newspaper regarding animal testing, I wrote about "great apes languishing in cells who have never experienced climbing a tree or feeling the warmth of the sun.” Even though I ignored the rule change suggested by spell checker, the editor of the newspaper did not and printed my piece exchanging who for that. His correction did not strike me as editing per se but, rather, an unjustifiable license to strip animals of their sentience through words. I've since learned my lesson when submitting letters to the editor; I now inform them beforehand that my use of pronouns is intentional, and I request that they not be revised.

Unfortunately, even writers and publishers of books on veganism and animal rights have incorporated the standard grammatical usage into their works, unaware of how they, too, are promoting speciesism.

How does a that or an it experience anything? Beings think and feel, lifeless matter does not. Our society's treatment of other animals as commodities and tools rather than as individuals is so insidious and far reaching that even our computers command us not to consider them as living creatures who experience joy and pain.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Learning to Love (or at Least Respect) Insects

by Bethany Cortale

Learning to Love (or at Least Respect) Insects; The Vegan Vine
Leaving for work one morning, I noticed a solitary Crane fly in the corner of a hall window in my apartment building. He was so still that I feared he might be dead. Upon closer inspection, he moved his long legs and crawled up the glass, frantically trying to get out. The window is inoperable, so I cupped him in my hands as gently as I could and brought him outside, being careful not to squeeze him. When I opened my hands, he flew up and away. I imagined he was pleased to be outside once again.

It just so happened that the day before I had caught a housefly in the same location. It's generally difficult to catch a fly, but this particular fly was in obvious trouble. She was seemingly exhausted and weak, desperate to find an exit.  I ran upstairs as quickly as I could to retrieve my humane bug catcher to scoop her up. As soon as we were outside, I let her out and she flew away, presumably to find some water and nourishment.

When I see insects flying back and forth along windows and doors, especially during the spring and summer months, it's clear that they're lost and just trying to get back outside, and sometimes they just need a little help from us.

Like most people, I'm squeamish when it comes to certain bugs like centipedes and large, hairy spiders, but my respect for insects has grown immensely since becoming vegan. I eventually conceded that they are sentient beings too, struggling to survive just like the rest of us and are no less worthy of self-determination than anyone else. With each passing season I try to challenge myself to coexist alongside them and see life through their eyes. They may be small, but they are incredibly significant and quite amazing.

One day at work I heard a tapping, tapping noise and looked up to find an insect caught behind the plastic of the ceiling light. He was flapping around, trying to get out. I wondered if he had noticed the others up there who had gone before him and lost the good fight. I tried calling the building manager, but I couldn't reach him, so I hoisted myself onto my credenza and was able to remove the cover myself. With a paper cup in one hand, I coaxed out a seemingly grateful stink bug who, incidentally, didn't stink at all. He hung on to the rim of the cup, and I safely deposit him outside on the grass.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Who Has More Legal Rights, a Corporation or an Ape?

The Vegan Vine
Tommy in his cell. Photo courtesy of Nonhuman Rights Project.
by Bethany Cortale

His name is Tommy, he is 28 years old, and after having been forced to spend most of his life performing in a circus, he now lives in solitary confinement in a small, dark, cement cage 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at a used-trailer lot in Upstate New York. His only company is a small television. What crime did Tommy commit to endure such misery and isolation? He was born a chimpanzee.

There is an old adage that the pen is mightier than the sword. American legal scholar and attorney Steven Wise certainly hopes so. He and his organization, the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), are ardently fighting for Tommy and other chimpanzees in court. They are working to change the common law status of nonhuman animals from property and mere things, which lack the capacity to possess any legal right, to persons who possess fundamental rights, one of them being the right not to be wrongfully imprisoned.

Until animal rights activists can obtain systemic change within the legal system—getting both courts and lawmakers to recognize all nonhuman animals as individuals with the same inherent legal rights as any human animal—the fight for animal justice will remain an arduous, grassroots struggle, and individuals like Tommy will continue to suffer at human will.

Animal rights is not a foreign or fanatical idea. Those who consider it extreme usually have something to lose by its implementation. Once upon a time, African Americans had similar property status. It took a Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation and three constitutional amendments to give former slaves equal protection under the law because those with vested interests in slavery (plantation owners, the cotton industry, Southern aristocrats) spurned the idea of losing their "peculiar institution" and their source of economic wealth.

Currently, the NhRP is working to obtain personhood rights and protections for chimpanzees like Tommy who most resemble humans in that they are “self-aware, possess deep emotions, live in close-knit societies, use sophisticated communication, and mourn the loss of their loved ones.” They figure this is the best place to start. Of course, many nonhuman animals share these traits and intelligence has no bearing on an animal’s sentience. As eighteenth century law professor and philosopher Jeremy Bentham wisely observed: “The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer? Why should the law refuse its protection to any sensitive being?" he asked.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Teaching Children to Commit Atrocities

Boy hugs a chicken.
by Bethany Cortale

"Put a baby in a crib with an apple and a rabbit," Harvey Diamond said. "If it eats the rabbit and plays with the apple, I'll buy you a new car."

Diamond's epigram often brings a knowing chuckle to those who hear it, but it really mirrors an uncomfortable realityas a society we collectivelyand often unconsciouslyraise children to go against their better nature, which is to care for other sentient beings and, instead, teach them to hurt others, particularly farm animals. 

A majority of people are not only committing daily atrocities against nonhuman animals by eating them and their secretions (milk and eggs), but they are also raising new generations to commit similar acts of brutality without any thought to what they're doing to their fellow earthlings, their health, and the planet.

Perhaps unwittingly, parents are raising children to participate in cruelties that children would never otherwise support themselves if they were privy to the truth, and were not indoctrinated to toe the line of industries and advertisers. Children look up to their parents but adults betray this confidence and their children's innocence by encouraging insouciant savagery through the consumption of animals and animal products, thereby compromising their children's innate compassionate selves.

Case in point: On a recent episode of a home-buying show, a family with three young boys were looking to live on a ranch in Montana. The realtor, like many residents in Montana, also owned his own cattle ranch. (There are about three cows for every one person in Montana, indicating exactly what drives Montana's economy and the people who live there.) In one clip, the boys were introduced to the realtor-rancher's cattle and went happily up to the fence to meet the cows. When the boys kindly inquired about the cows, the realtor-rancher told them that he feeds them and gets them big and fat. One of the boys innocently asked, "Then you let them go?" The realtor-rancher cheerfully said "no!" and the adults all had a good laugh at the expense of both the children and the cows. The clip abruptly ended.