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.

The battle lines in the War on Animals run deep, both physically and psychologically, and can be found everywhere: in homes, at work, on the roads, in schools, on television, in newspapers, etc. As I drive my animal-killing machine to work, I mourn for the lifeless, mangled bodies of those trounced the night before. Demarcations of established human values, behaviors, practices, and traditions disregarding the lives of animals are reinforced and buttressed through institutions, advertisers, and status quo thinking akin to Orwell's Big Brother. Any rejection of propaganda or human allegiance to the animal industrial complex often results in clashes with family members, coworkers, friends, and strangers. To speak to or act out on daily atrocities committed against animals can lead to isolation, poverty, despair, and death.

"War exists any time there is an agreed upon enemy and a concerted effort to harass, kill, enslave or disempower 'others'," said Adrienne Jones in "It's a War Movie".

In the United States, laws support and sustain the War on Animals: some by making the documentation of animal abuse a crime (Ag-Gag); others by criminalizing as terrorists those who come to the aid of injured, sick, and oppressed animals (AETA), and still others by sanctioning the mass extinction of wildlife to protect the interests of cattle ranchers, farmers, and property owners.

In the social sphere, animal rights and veganism are marginalized and ridiculed. "Let me eat in peace....let me eat what I want," said Ron Chimelis in response to tactics promoted by Direct Action Everywhere, which mobilizes activists to conduct sit-in like protests at restaurants to disrupt the unconscious eating of animals. Chimelis, like many nonvegans, pleadsnot for the lives of those beings he pays to have tortured and killedbut for the uninterrupted ability to continue to do so without censure. Furthermore, his use of the word peace is ironic given that breeding and slaughtering animals for his food (depriving, confining, torturing, maiming, beating, scalding, slicing their necks, and shooting a bolt through their heads) is extremely violent.

In the Pornography of Meat, Carol J. Adams noted that "challenges to meat eating are seen as infringements on someone's pleasure. A political analysis about species . . . inequality is reduced to being repressive and controlling.

The notion that humans have the "right" to enslave, capitalize on, and torture other beings simply because they can or because of the satisfaction they get from doing so (eating them, watching them perform tricks, racing them, etc.) is a false and twisted concept of rights and personal choice. According to this logic, we should grant child pornographers the right to sexually assault and videotape children because of the pleasure they get from watching or performing such vile acts. People have a right to their opinions, but they do not have a right to hurt others, which is why murder, assault, and rape are not deemed personal choices. The problem is that most humans are unwilling to recognize animals as others, unless they are the right animalsprimarily cats and dogs.

The US Civil War was precipitated by Southern states defending their wrongly perceived right to subjugate, torture, and kill African Americans. "South Carolina and the ten states that followed it into secession from the United States did so because they loathed the possibility that the states' right to continue to hold black people hostage, benefit from their labor, degrade them, and deny them access to social and political participation, would be lost," continued Jones.

Humans are no different today than their 19th century counterparts. Slave owners and slavery sympathizers (Chimelis) have always existed regarding animals. Except for a small percentage of opposing voices, animals continue to be tyrannized, beaten, killed, and denied access to basic liberties because they are still recognized as property and as such, are more valuable and profitable as objects for labor, food, laboratory experiments, consumer items, entertainment, etc. In fact, the rationales for slavery made over 150 years ago are the same ones used today to defend animal bondage:
  1. Ending the slave economy would have a profound and devastating economic impact on those who relied on slave labor to produce goods and services. (Today's rationale: Eliminating meat, dairy, and egg industries will hurt jobs and the economy. Truth: New plant-based jobs, products, and opportunities will take their place.) 
  2. If all the slaves were freed, there would be widespread unemployment and chaos. (Today's rationale: If we stop consuming animal products, all the farm animals will run amuck. Truth: Farm factories depend on rape and rape racks, forced masturbation, and artificial insemination. Ending animal bondage will halt industrialized breeding and exponentially reduce the number of animals bred for consumption.)
  3. Slavery had existed throughout history and was the natural state of mankind. (Today's rationale: It's normal and natural to kill and eat animals; this is the way it's always been. Truth: Just because something has been done for a long time doesn't make it right or necessary. Humans are natural herbivores, not carnivores, and despite claims to the contrary, the first eaters of animals were not actually hunters but scavengers of animal's bodies left by actual carnivores.)
  4. In the Bible, slavery is widespread and condoned. (Today's rationale: The Bible says it's okay to enslave and eat animals. Truth: There are also many passages in the Bible that disapprove of killing animals and eating meat. According to Genesis, God's ideal was Eden, where all beings lived in harmony and humans ate a plant-based diet. The Greatest Commandment, the Golden Rule, and the Sixth Commandment were not relegated to humans alone.) 
  5. All blacks, not just slaves, had no legal standing as persons in the courts and were considered property, and the Constitution protected that right. (Today's rationale: Animals are property and the laws protect one's right to own animals and do with them what one wishes. Truth: While animals are still deemed property, science has already confirmed that animals are sentient beings and, as such, should be treated as persons, not property. Hopefully, the US Supreme Court and the International Court of Justice will soon right this wrong, too.)
  6. Slavery is good for the enslaved. They were better cared for then being left to fend helplessly for themselves. (Today's rationale: Animals like to be slaughtered, ridden, caged, made to perform tricks, confined, etc. The humane myth also tries to convince people that some animals bred and killed for food live happier, fuller lives. Truth: Like Santa Claus, these notions are fantasies; they are false beliefs concocted by those trying to rationalize their own self-interests in exploiting animals.)
While the official Civil War resulted in at least 620,000 deaths, the unofficial War on Animals quietly rages on, annihilating 1 trillion and 57 billion nonhuman lives every year for the meat, dairy, egg, and fish industries. At least 400 million animals are killed on our roads every year, 200 million by hunters, 100 million in our laboratories, and 3 million in our shelters. This doesn't include millions of other animals killed by the military, universities, "pest" control, marine parks, aquariums, zoos, climate change, development, and our destruction of the natural environment (Biocaust). Wildlife Services, a US government agency, has used taxpayer dollars to kill over 34 million wild animals in the past decade, including otters, wolves, coyotes, bobcats, beavers, bears, mountain lions, bald eagles, and prairie dogs, to assist the hunting industry and the animal industrial complex.

Just like previous generations, people will go to great lengths to defend their peculiar institutions, controlling the lives and bodies of other beings for their own contrived, greedy interests.

"Usually we are clear about which movies to file in the War section," said Jones. "They are the ones that depict obvious warfare with guns and grenades, armor and combat boots. . . In fact, the genre is much broader and should include movies about warfare that occurs in mundane places."

Yes, mundane places like school cafeterias, kitchen tables, restaurants, living rooms, offices, and backyards. Open your eyes and you will see that the War on Animals continues unabated and with society's blessing; the blood and carnage and victims are pervasive; they cry out, but only very few seem willing to hear them or do anything to help them.

Vegan Starter Kit

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.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Animal Experiments at Rutgers University Must End

The Vegan Vine
by Bethany Cortale

For some twenty years I have been a proud Rutgers University alumna, but having recently discovered that the State University of New Jersey has been clandestinely participating in animal experiments for many years, I can no longer stand behind my alma mater.

In a Buzzfeed article, "The Silent Monkey Victims of the War on Terror," Peter Aldhous revealed that since 2002, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Defense has been funneling taxpayer monies to major universities in support of often painful and unethical experiments on nonhuman primates and other animals. After a little research, I learned that Rutgers University is one of those universities.

Since 9/11, taxpayer monies have been doled out to universities to test new drugs and vaccines in the name of biodefense to combat potential biological, chemical, and radiological warfare. Defense programs are big business and universities recognize this, benefiting from government subsidies that fund innocuous sounding "research programs," which Rutgers has been fond of touting lately in its quest to obtain ever more donations from alumni.

The United States Department of Agriculture operates a database called the Animal Care Information System which provides an annual list of the types and numbers of nonhuman animals experimented on by a research facility.  I encourage every Rutgers University student and alumnus to visit the database here:

Simply type "Rutgers" into the search box and then select the "Research Animal Report Information" tab. In 2014, at least 6 nonhuman primates, 12 guinea pigs, and 14 rabbits were exploited for research. In 2010, 9 nonhuman primates, 12 cats, 3 pigs, 114 guinea pigs, 86 rabbits, and 445 "other" sentient beings (deer, gerbils, voles, and mice) were left to languish in laboratory cages, experimented on, and/or subjected to pain, and killed at Rutgers. (Click on the link to export the data into a spreadsheet and you will see the number of nonhuman animals experimented on at Rutgers as far back as 1999.)