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.

Yulin Dog Meat Festival

So why do so many Americans concentrate exclusively on the needs of dogs and cats in China and other Asian countries while ignoring the plight of farmed animals here? What's more, how can they disregard the direct impact their own non-vegan choices have on animals? There are three ideologies at work that explain these incongruities: racism, carnism, and most of all, speciesism.

"There are many animals that [sic] we do kill and eat in Americaindeed, more than twice as many animals per person than the average Chinese," said Wayne Hsiung, co-founder of Direct Action Everywhere (DxE). "But somehow, when the Chinese do it, it is disgusting, contemptuous, an indication of a perversion in their culture and race. When Americans do it (and on a far greater scale), it's just the way things areunthinkingly accepted by the masses and rarely protested even by those who have sworn their lives to defending animals."

Even more than racism, speciesism and carnism are so indoctrinated into human society that cat and dog lovers are often impervious to their own duplicity and dissociative behavior when it comes to other animals. For instance, after I pointed out Matt Damon's hypocrisy** on a Facebook post regarding the festival, a man named Seth responded: "This is not about eating meat, it's about trying to end the abuse and torturing of animals."

Are you frigging kidding me? Of course this is about eating meat, only, for most, the grievance is in the type or species of meat. And if the aim of these protesters were really to end the abuse and torturing of animals, then they also would be working toward securing legal rights for nonhuman animals and demanding a vegan course of action.

Seth's comment was ludicrous and naive but, unfortunately, it reflects the prevailing mindset of speciesists who believe it is morally acceptable to compartmentalize nonhuman animals into categories of human worth and usage. Like when a coworker insisted that she can love animals and eat them; she defended herself by emphatically reiterating "I don't eat dogs!"

"What are pigs," I asked her, "vegetables?"

Dr. Melanie Joy explains how carnism works in Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows:
"We love dogs and eat cows not because dogs and cows are fundamentally differentcows, like dogs, have feelings, preferences, and consciousnessbut because our perception of them is different. . . . We have a schema for every subject, including animals. . . . when it comes to meat, most animals are either food, or not food. . . . We aren't born with our schemas; they are constructed. . . . This system dictates which animals are edible, and it enables us to consume them by protecting us from feeling any emotional or psychological discomfort when doing so. The system teaches us how to not feel. The most obvious feeling we lose is disgust, yet beneath our disgust lies an emotion much more integral to our sense of self: our empathy."
The slaughter of dogs for food in China appears more egregious because of the species and the relationship Americans have with dogs, unlike the limited experience, if any at all, they have interacting with farmed animals. In addition, the killing of dogs in China is primarily conducted in the open and at festivals, whereas Americans rarely witness the execution of farmed animals on their behalf. In the US, the violent processing of nonhuman animals for food is systematic, invisible, and strategically kept at a distance from consumers. Americans don't treat nonhuman animals any better than the Chinese, we're just less forthright and transparent about our animal exploitation and abuse, which allows us to remain in denial, both personally and nationally.

The primary defense of the system is invisibility;" continued Joy, "invisibility reflects the defenses avoidance and denial and is the foundation on which all other mechanisms stand. Invisibility enables us, for example, to consume beef without envisioning the animals we're eating. . . . [it] also keeps us safely insulated from the unpleasant process of raising and killing animals for our food."

Animal advocacy campaigns in foreign countries are easier to support because they are elsewhere, and it is far less threatening (and more self-satisfying) to point fingers at someone else half way around the world than it is to critically look inward at our own daily cruelties and deceits. In the same vein, those who skirt around racism and speciesism in their claim that All Lives Matter are not being honest.

The campaign to end China's Yulin Dog Meat Festival is completely justified for its unwarranted abuse and suffering, but it also mirrors the same us-versus-them mentality that contributes to both racism (white privilege) and speciesism (dog and cat privilege).

Jersey Animals Welfare SocietyUS charities frequently exhibit this oppressive bias when they serve other animals to be eaten at fundraisers to help cats and dogs. Case in point, an ad (above) for a recent event held by the Jersey Animal Welfare Society.

"Racism, like speciesism, is not a product of individual prejudice but systemsbroad cultural patterns of thought that often are entirely subconscious," continued Hsiung. He added, "Open racists are a dying breed."

Speciesists, on the other hand, are unreserved and sanctimonious; they claim to love some animals while sustaining the torment of others; they pound their fists demanding action for dogs while living their lives at the expense of chickens, turkeys, fish, wildlife, the environment, starving humans in developing countries, and most everyone else, and they cling tightly to the Orwellian notion that some animals are more equal than others.

**(Neither Damon, Milano, nor Cohen are vegan, and Milano is actually a paid spokesperson for the Atkins Diet, which relies heavily on meat, dairy, and eggs.)

How Do I Go Vegan

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: https://acissearch.aphis.usda.gov/LPASearch/faces/CustomerSearch.jspx

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.)

Saturday, December 5, 2015

An Open Letter to Pope Francis Regarding Animals

Dear Pope Francis,

As a Catholic, I can’t tell you how happy I was when I learned of your appointment as Pope, especially your chosen namesake in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi who had a special kinship with nonhuman animals. In the spirit of St. Francis, I am writing to urgently ask you to expand the Church’s commitment to all God’s creatures, particularly those exploited and oppressed in the name of food, fashion, entertainment and science.

Currently, some 58 billion nonhuman land animals are bred and slaughtered every year for human consumption. Not only is this killing cruel, but it is also unnecessary. Furthermore, it is robbing the hungry of nourishment and doing irreversible damage to our planet.

Compared to plant protein, raising animal protein requires 100 times more water, 11 times more fossil fuels, and 5 times more land. In addition, growing crops to feed nonhuman animals to feed human animals—instead of feeding crops directly to people—is completely wasteful, inefficient and unsustainable for a population of 7 billion people that is expected to rise to 9 billion in less than 40 years. If the grain grown in the United States to feed livestock were instead fed directly to humans, it alone could feed 800 million people, potentially eradicating world hunger as we know it.

Factory farming is a large part of the problem, accounting for 99 percent of all nonhuman animal consumption, however, there is no way to raise other animals in a humane way as the end result is always the same—needless suffering and death. Organic and free-range farms are often just as abusive as factory farms and employ the same barbaric procedures such as debeaking, tail docking, dehorning, and castration—all without painkillers. Cattle have their horns cut off and their testicles cut out of their scrotums, and many are branded with sizzling-hot irons, resulting in third-degree burns. Pigs on organic farms often have their tails chopped off and their ears notched, and some have rings forced into their sensitive noses in order to permanently prevent them from naturally rooting in the grass and dirt. Chickens on organic egg farms usually have part of their delicate beaks cut off, causing acute pain and often death. In addition to widespread cruelty, free-range farms are completely unsustainable and cannot be duplicated on a mass scale to meet the current demand for animal flesh. And in the end, just as with factory farms, babies are separated from their mothers and innocent creatures are killed by caretakers with whom they had come to trust.

Technology has also diminished the value of other animals and has increased the ways in which they can be manipulated into machines and commodities. For example, the egg industry views male chicks as worthless because they are unprofitable for egg production, so hatcheries breed chickens and then divide the males from the females along an assembly belt. The males are separated and quickly discarded in one of three ways: they are gassed, suffocated in plastic bags, or tossed into a grinding machine—all within 72 hours of birth. This happens to 150,000 male chicks every day at just one facility.

Friday, November 6, 2015

This Is Your Brain on Animal Products

The Vegan Vine
by Bethany Cortale

Addictions come in many different forms. Some people are addicted to substances like caffeine, drugs, and alcohol, while others are hooked on activities like buying and collecting stuff or watching porn. There are sexaholics, chocoholics, shopaholics, and workaholics. But another type of addiction that gets very little attention is our addiction to animal foods: meat, dairy, and eggs.

When I first went vegan there was an adjustment period in which my taste buds had to learn new flavors and textures from non-animal foods. For example, back in 1997, veggie burgers, vegan ice-creams, and vegan cheeses were limited and not as advanced as the vegan options on the market today, so they were somewhat unfamiliar compared to the cruel and cholesterol-laden products I had grown accustomed to.

Though I was concerned about flavor and taste, it was not my overriding interest. For me, being vegan was and will always be about ethics and justice, and eliminating animal cruelty from my diet; that meant all animal products had to go! For this reason alone, I was excited and more than willing to try new foods that might take some time getting used to. In actuality, it took no time at all.

I started out with meatless and dairy-free substitutes. As the years went by I learned to cook more, try different recipes, and incorporate more healthful, whole foods into my diet. Now, I rarely need to add sugar or salt to any recipe as my taste buds have detoxed from the heavily masked and preserved animal products that pass for food.

The majority of consumers, however, are still addicted to processed meat and dairy products and don’t even realize it. They are easily persuaded—dare I say hypnotized—by advertisers to go out and buy whatever’s being pitched to them. Keeping in line with social norms, most consumers seem unable and unwilling to exercise any discipline or self-control when it comes to animal foods and defend their preferences under the presumption that might makes right. Consider the latest fixation with bacon, which can be found in most anything these days including cupcakes and ice-cream.