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Friday, July 21, 2017

Should Ethical Vegans Invest in the Stock Market?

The Vegan Vine
Many people invest for retirement, often blindly, focusing on returns and not knowing what they're really investing in.

There was a time when I invested, too—before the economy tanked and before I saw Michael Moore’s documentary, Capitalism: A Love Story. But is investing conducive to ethical veganism?

As with all big purchases, before investing I did my due diligence. I started my financial education by subscribing to Money magazine, I read Suze Orman’s Money Book for the Young, Fabulous & Broke, and subsequently researched various companies and funds.

I chose Vanguard to manage my investments after I learned they charge the lowest fees, but I was disappointed with the choices available to me. While I was able to find mutual funds that offered solid returns, they weren’t ethically agreeable since they included companies like Exxon Mobil, Johnson & Johnson, and Procter & Gamble, which are neither environmentally-friendly nor vegan. So I began to look into something called Socially Responsible Investing (SRI), an approach that considers social issues in addition to financial returns.

For centuries, people have been practicing consumer activism and have been making conscientious decisions about how to spend their money. The Quakers prohibited their members from participating in the buying and selling of humans through the slave trade; during the Civil Rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King advocated the boycott of businesses and corporations promoting segregation, and many peace activists protested against companies profiting off the war in Vietnam. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Media is No Friend to Animals

The Vegan VinePresidents tend to have a love-hate relationship when it comes to the press. After becoming President, Donald Trump declared that the media is the "enemy of the American people!" In reply, Presidential historian Michael Beschloss noted that Richard Nixon secretly told Henry Kissinger, his Secretary of State, that "the press is the enemy, the establishment is the enemy, the professors are the enemy."

Now, let me be clear. I am not a Trump supporter, nor do I agree with the President's belittlement of journalists and the press, but for very different reasons, I connected with both his and Nixon's statements through my vegan frame of reference.

In Inventing Reality: The Politics of News Media, Michael Parenti wrote "[T]he single most common form of media misrepresentation is omission." I notice this every day where animals are concerned. The local news station airs a story lamenting the closing of a famous New York City deli but fails to mourn for the myriad nonhuman animals whose bodies had been served up there as food; so-called environmental correspondents report on algae blooms and dead fish washing ashore but never connect it to factory farms and our meat- and dairy-centric diets; raging fires and floods attributable to human-induced climate change kill countless wild animals and ravage their natural habitats but all we ever hear about is the number of humans impacted and human homes destroyed, and while cute videos of black bears and cubs climbing trees and jumping into kiddie pools abound during the summer, gruesome photos of hunters smiling over their dead bodies during New Jersey's annual bear hunt rarely seem to make it on TV in the fall.

In an article in The Nation, "Progressives Need to Build Their Own Media," Mark Hertsgaard addressed the enormous power the media have in defining reality. "The journalistic choices of news organizations send a message, consciously or not, about what is—and isn't—important at any given moment and who should—and shouldn't—be listened to. . . . Such decisions shape the ideological air we breathe and the . . . actions we take."

The roots of our cruel and manipulative animal abuse culture run deep. Animal abuse is built in to our infrastructures, and packaged and sold through the media in everything from entertainment, news, and advertising, to sports and weather. Sure, the word vegan is thrown around in the media much more today than ever before, but the net gain to these shout-outs have been marginal at best because the ethics of veganism is rarely broached and being vegan is still seen as a personal lifestyle choice, not a rightful necessity. In the media's eyes, veganism is about restriction, turning mushrooms into burgers, and mocking tofu, purposefully devoid of any genuine discussion on animal rights and social justice.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Taking on the Angry Vegan Stereotype

The Vegan Vine
When I was in my early twenties I was obsessed with the original Star Trek series. I was even somewhat of a Trekkie, having attended a Star Trek Convention in New York City (sans costume). My fascination with the show centered on Spock. While I admit I found his pointy ears and Vulcan eyebrows irresistible, there was something else about Spock that enamored me to him. After much consideration, I realized that I envied Spock for being my paradox: a measured and unemotional being who keeps his human passions from overwhelming him. While human rage and pain have always been part of Spock's makeup, he mostly kept them well-contained and controlled.

For a passionate and emotional person like myself, keeping my feelings even and steady when discussing dire social issues is not my strong suit. After all, it is my zealous spirit along with my desire to eradicate social inequities that have brought me to veganism and have allowed me to channel my emotions more productively through animal advocacy.

Most ethical vegans are continuously looking for opportunities to strike up conversations in order to educate others on how their decisions affect the lives of other animals. For many of us, we may be the only vegans our friends, coworkers, and family members know, so they look to us to be a model of veganism. Because there are so few committed, ethical vegans, there is a lot of pressure to present well to others. For example, my friend worries about the way she looks and fears being overweight gives a misleading reflection of what it means to be vegan. I agonize over my interactions with unconscious defenders of animal ab(use) since I want to be as effective as I can be for animals. 

What a vegan looks or acts like can vary greatly because we are all unique. Furthermore, considering the colossal, entangled system of animal abuse and the insidious nature with which the animal-industrial complex is promoted and permeates every area of life, it's difficult not to show anger or frustration, especially when people respond crassly and defensively to facts. 

In Aftershock: Confronting Trauma in a Violent World, A Guide for Activists and their Allies, Pattrice Jones reminds us that—first and foremost—we are animals and to be effective we must embrace our animal emotions, not suppress them. As vegans, it is understandable to feel shame for the methodical suffering we recognize and often witness as a result of daily human activities; we are permitted to feel isolated and lonely when we can't find other vegans with whom to share our grief; we are justified in feeling mournful because of the sweeping violence and death needlessly inflicted on animals, and we are certainly within our right to feel enraged at the levels of human greed and indifference.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Driving Animals to Their Deaths

The Vegan Vine; Squirrel crossing the road
I was driving from Pennsylvania to New Jersey to visit my family for Thanksgiving. I drove cautiously while following the 35 mph speed limit. Suddenly, from the far corner of my eye I saw a squirrel dart onto the road toward my car. With no time to think (brake or speed up?), I moved to get away. I screamed "NO!" when I felt the thump of the squirrel's body under my car. I slowed down and looked into my rear-view mirror, eager not to see him. I hoped against hope that he managed to get away with minor scratches, but then I saw his little body lying in the road. I quickly turned the car around and parked alongside him, blocking the right lane to keep us both from passing cars. I crouched down next to him. He was alive but barely, and he had a little bit of blood near his mouth. He was looking up at me from one side and breathing heavily, his body heaving. I ran to my trunk to put on gloves and grab a cardboard carrier that I kept for animal emergencies. As I did so, a woman pulled up next to my car and asked if I was okay. I said yes and thanked her. She wanted to know if I was sure. Yes, I assured her, thanking her once again. I closed my trunk and quickly went back to the squirrel but it was too late. His breathing stopped and his eyes were closed. I put gentle pressure by the corner of his eye to see if there was a reflex but there was none. I felt awful; the poor creature suffered and died all alone. I gently picked him up, his body still warm, and moved him to the side of the road. I kept telling him how sorry I was over and over and over again as tears streamed down my face. In between gasping sobs I gave voice to a short prayer my mother taught me when I was a child during trips to my grandfather's grave. Feeling incredibly helpless and grief stricken, I stayed with him for a few moments before getting back in the car.

The ramifications of powering machines that can maim and kill, which was drilled in to many of us when we first learned to drive, often diminishes over time. Driving can seem so routine that we lose touch with the gravity of getting behind the wheel. Driver's education teaches us to respect pedestrians and other drivers but rarely, if ever, are we taught measures to revere the lives and habitats of other animals.

Vegans take great pains to make mindful choices that reduce and eliminate our impact on other beings. Our advocacy for animals requires us rethink every sector of society and our own actions continuously. We should not, therefore, overlook our modes of transportation or driving habits.

Incidents of road rage are on the rise. We feel cocooned and removed in our cars, which allows us to act self-importantly. We're generally self-absorbed with our own agendas and heavily distracted by music, technology, passengers, drinking, eating, etc. More often than not, we're simply focused on getting to wherever it is we're going and as fast as we can.

The rise of car culture grew out of the post WWII boom and the network of interstate highways developed under the Eisenhower administration. The expansion of roads led to the growth of suburbs, large housing developments, shopping centers, and strip malls, simultaneously promoting capitalism, cars, and consumption so humans could drive and devour farther, faster, and more frequently. Combined with a growing populace, car culture made us more mobile and helped fuel the Biocaust—the destruction of animals, habitats, and ecosystems.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Pet Fees, Policies, and Housing Discrimination

The Vegan Vine; No Irish No Blacks No Dogs
I recently received my lease renewal and, to my ire, learned that I will be charged an additional $35 a month for “pet fees.”

My apartment is spotless. My feline companion is both well cared for and well-behaved (as far as domesecrated animals go), which often go hand in hand. Sadly, I can’t say the same for some children. Every so often the rental office sends out cautionary emails regarding unruly juveniles trashing the clubhouse and other communal areas. So why, I wonder, aren’t my neighbors charged “child fees?”

Speciesism—human intolerance, prejudice, or discrimination on the basis of species, especially as manifested by cruelty to or exploitation of nonhuman animals—is prevalent in all sectors of our society and culture, including the places where many of us call home.

Anyone who has ever attempted to rent an apartment with a companion animal, like a dog or cat, knows about species discrimination. Advertisements abound stress “We are a pet-free community" or “Sorry, no pets.” These are just nice ways of saying “No Dogs or Cats Allowed!” Anti-pet policies strike me as being highly biased and speciesist. Likewise, opportunistic pet-friendly rental communities that charge ancillary fees on top of already astronomical rents to those who open their lives to homeless animals are equally discriminatory.

On my way home from work I used to pass a billboard that advertised a nearby townhome complex. It featured a picture of a dog and cat with a caption that read “Pets stay free!” I was pleasantly surprised, but why is this practice the exception and not the rule? Moreover, why is it acceptable for me to be charged more rent per month just because the only other member of my household happens to be feline? Can you imagine a billboard that said “Children stay free!”? Probably not because we are so indoctrinated by anthropocentrism. People would be appalled if rental communities charged by the child, yet I clearly remember one occasion when I was shown an apartment in which a child had written all over the walls in crayon.

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.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

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

Sometimes 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. www.VeganKit.com

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.