Friday, October 26, 2018

Christianity and Veganism, United in Purpose

The Vegan Vine
There is a deeply spiritual side to my veganism, one that feels natural and harmonious with the original vision of Eden and the ideals of Christianity. But as this church sign shows (left), it's popular to make fun of vegans. More than that, the morality of veganism—advancing fairness and justice—is lost on many, especially those you least expect who advocate charity and goodwill. I wrote to the Rose Hill Church in response to their sign:

I realize you're just trying to be funny and that it's trendy to mock vegans, but many of us see nonhuman animals as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ and in doing so, we choose not to exploit, abuse, and murder them. These messages are not harmless and support a speciesist and abusive belief system that promotes ill will toward other living beings. You would not make light of hurting a cat or dog, yet you do make light of hurting and killing cows, who are no different. I prefer to live a life that doesn't impose unnecessary suffering on others. I can't understand how any person or organization, especially a church, chooses to do otherwise.

Pastor Brian North of Rose Hill Church returned:

Thanks for your feedback on our sign . . . I don’t think our sign guy realized it’s trendy to mock vegans. I know I didn’t. Regardless, we apologize for our insensitivity. It certainly wasn’t our intent to offend anyone but simply have fun with words. We will be more sensitive about these kinds of things in the future. Thanks again.

I appreciated his response; however, Pastor North ignored the central petition of my complaint, so I concluded:

Thank you for your thoughtful response. I care less, however, about any insensitivity to vegans than I care about what the message means for the treatment of other animals. Any offense I took pales in comparison to the offenses committed daily against those nonhumans who have the hopeless misfortune to be labeled "food" or "steak." Through abject violence, these living, feeling beings are turned into commodities. We pay slaughterhouse workers to do our bidding and to carry out our dirty work. It's something we like to forget. The message on your sign was just another attempt to trivialize and distance ourselves from our contribution to needless cruelty and exploitation. We like to say we love animals, but we don't. Sadly, our actual behaviors rarely live up to our spoken values.

Every year around the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi (Oct. 4), many churches hold a special service to "bless the animals," opening their doors to both parishioners and their pets. This year, nonhuman visitors to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan included a large tortoise, horse, cow, and camel, among many others.

"If you bless an animal, does that mean it has a soul, and if it has a soul, does that mean you shouldn’t eat it?" asked photographer Dina Litovsky, who took photos of the event for the New York Times. Litovsky, who eats flesh occasionally, admitted to a "conflicted relationship with meat."

Most humans are raised as speciesists and taught to believe that other animals are inherently inferior. It is not surprising, therefore, that their love for some nonhumans raises moral concerns about their eating others. Bishop Clifton Daniel, dean of the cathedral, replied cavalierly to these genuine concerns: "Yes, animals and all living things carry some aspect of God's image. And no, this did not preclude eating them."

How convenient!

What the bishop fails to acknowledge is what has to transpire for nonhuman animals to be turned into consumable merchandise: a lot of awful and disturbing things that he and very few others care to admit or acknowledge as they casually sit down to eat them. Furthermore, eating the flesh, milk, and eggs of other animals is unnecessary for optimum human health, so this captivity, pain, and death we subject other animals to is completely gratuitous and self-indulgent. How can our voluntary contribution to such avoidable bloodshed be pleasing to God? Or to us, for that matter?

In his scholarly work, Disciples: How Jewish Christianity Shaped Jesus and Shattered the Church, Keith Akers examined the movement that preceded Jesus and formed both him and his disciples. The Ebionites and Nazarenes rejected war, wealth, and animal sacrifices, while espousing simplicity, nonviolence, and vegetarianism. "Vegetarianism was more than just an optional way to self-improvement," wrote Akers; "it was a necessity for Godly living." Despite the injection of fish into certain passages of the Gospels, there is strong evidence that both Jesus and his brother James were vegetarians, as well as John the Baptist, who most likely did not eat insects (locusts) but locust beans from the widely available carob tree, also known as St. John's bread.

In spite of heartfelt intentions, the "blessing of the animals" is performed for the benefit of parishioners and the church; it is not carried out in the best interests of their nonhuman friends, who probably prefer to remain "home" or in their natural habitat than be transported to and paraded around an unfamiliar and unsuitable place that's loud and filled with strange smells and faces. (See photo of the poor tortoise on the cart.) I imagine this experience is traumatic for most of them. But what about the millions of nonhumans trapped in cages of their own filth and excrement, who are sick and filled with fear, waiting to be slaughtered? Who thinks of them? What are churches and their parishioners doing for them?

If you ask most people whether it's generally acceptable to unnecessarily hurt other animals, they would answer "no, it is not." Yet, that is exactly what they do every day. For now, it's still socially acceptable to manipulate the reproduction of nonhumans for their eggs and milk and slaughter them for their flesh, so we rarely question it. This indifference ensures that some nonhumans remain outside our moral and social purview. But whether we concede to our participation in such atrocities against other animals, we still bear moral responsibility for them. The "blessing of the animals" is indicative of our attempts to rationalize our self-contradictory beliefs—our claim to "love animals" even while we continue to oppress them. Instead of being honest with ourselves, we excuse our cruel choices and delegate the gruesome task of killing to others.

“Do I think I’ll meet my animals in heaven?” Bishop Daniel pondered. “Surely they’ve made sacrifices and given us great joys. I can’t imagine that their sacrifice goes unnoticed by God.”

What "sacrifice" is Bishop Daniel referring to? The sacrifice of domestication, the sacrifice of their bodies and their lives? His comment sounds primitive, like something a nineteenth century Southern plantation owner might have said about his slaves.

One thing is certain, however. Nonhumans do not willingly "sacrifice" their lives for our use—their lives are taken. Anyone who is willing to confront what takes place in a slaughterhouse will discover that the individuals who are dragged into these factories of death fight very hard for their lives. If anything, I believe their entry into heaven is more assured than our own.

But the bishop is right about one thing. I don't believe these "sacrifices" go unnoticed by God. In Luke 12:6, Jesus reminds us, "Yet not one sparrow is forgotten by God."

How Do I Go Vegan?

Thursday, September 20, 2018

A Titanic Mindset for a Doomed Planet

The New Jersey office where I work will likely be under water in less than twenty years. When I mentioned this to a coworker, she just smiled and walked away.

"Long-term disaster is now the best case scenario" wrote Nathaniel Rich in "Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change." The planet is warming much more quickly than climate models predicted. It is now very probable that global temperatures will increase to 3.5 degrees by 2035 and may possibly warm to 6 degrees Celsius by the end of this century, according to NASA.

In the past two million years it has taken the planet about 5,000 years to warm 5 degrees and yet we stand to do it in just one century, a rate of warming that is extremely unusual and at least 20 times faster. Already the oldest and thickest sea ice in the Arctic has started to break up prompting one meteorologist to describe it as "scary."

The writing has been on the wall for some time, but it continues to get pushed under the rug for many reasons, not the least of which is apathy. There are the proponents of economic-growth-at-all-costs. There are the climate deniers, deregulation diehards, and the human extremists. And there are those who nullify the moral depravity of exploiting and consuming the bodies and fluids of other animals, which happens to contribute mightily to our and our planet's woes.

The Vegan VineThe numbers speak for themselves. A recent analysis of life on Earth published by the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America showed that humans are directly attributable for the deaths of 83 percent of all non-domesecrated nonhuman animals, as well as half of all plants.

We have replaced these free-living beings with tormented captives. Now 70 percent of all birds on Earth consist primarily of enslaved chickens and turkeys, while 60 percent of all mammals comprise mostly of captive cows, pigs, and goats. We murder 60 billion of these birds and mammals and trillions of sea animals annually just so we can needlessly eat them.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Separating Families of Any Kind is Wrong

The Vegan VineA friend and I were lamenting the injustice of President Trump's "zero-tolerance" policy of separating immigrant children from their parents. Even though the policy was later reversed, it will have residual negative effects for those families (many who still remain separated), as well as the United States. For my friend, the horror of seeing families being torn apart conjured up harrowing stories and images of other animals enduring the same and worse.

Humans are not the only species to experience closely connected bonds between mother and child. Cows, like many other mammals, are known for their deep maternal instincts. Human supremacists, however, resist acknowledging that nonhumans have thoughts, feelings, and genuine relationships because empathy and exploitation are mutually exclusive. A willingness to relate to other animals is often dismissed as anthropomorphism.

"There are a number of very valid arguments against anthropomorphizing the creatures with whom we share this world, not least of which is that their inner lives deserve to be evaluated on their terms—not ours," wrote Susan Casey in The Orca, Her Dead Calf and Us about Tahlequah, a whale who mourned her deceased daughter by carrying her body for seventeen days. "At times, interpreting their behavior through a human lens might be misleading, silly or even harmful. But at other times—and they occur more often than science would care to admit—perceiving ourselves in these others is exactly the right response. When an animal’s emotional state is obvious to anyone with eyes and a heart."

Clarabelle had been deeply scarred by the loss of her previous children. Clarabelle isn't an immigrant; she's a cow who had been confined at a cow-milk factory. Her milk had been waning so her enslaver decided she wasn't worth keeping alive anymore. A sanctuary heard about her plight and took her in only to discover that she had secretly given birth. Clarabelle had hidden her newborn in a nearby patch of tall grass in fear of another baby being stolen from her.

Dr. Holly Cheever, a former veterinarian, relayed another story about a pregnant cow who gave birth to twins. Knowing that her enslaver would take away her babies as he did many times before, the mother took only one calf back and kept the other calf out in the pasture, hoping her enslaver wouldn't notice. When he realized she was carrying less milk than usual (because she was feeding her calf), he found the baby and took him away, too.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Frogs in Peril

The Vegan Vine
by guest writer Matt Ellerbeck, frog advocate and conservationist

Frogs are in terrible trouble. Around 30 percent of all the world's frog species are threatened with extinction! Many human-induced hazards are killing frogs and contributing to their decline.

Habitat destruction is largely responsible for the loss of frogs. Areas that were once suitable for these nonhumans to live have now been destroyed. The areas that still remain are often polluted with hazardous substances like chemicals, oils, gasoline, and pesticides.

​Habitats are often isolated and cut off from one another by roads and highways that now slice through them. Countless frogs are killed on roads and highways every year when they are hit by vehicles.

A 2006 study from Carleton University in Ottawa found heavy traffic to be a larger threat to frogs than habitat loss.

Sadly, many frogs who are migrating to mating and egg-laying sites must cross over roads to reach such areas where many of the maturer individuals are killed. This greatly limits their reproductivity and makes it incredibly hard for various frog species to rebound.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The Bigoted Vegans Among Us

The Vegan Vine
Our world is awash in hatred and no one seems to be immune, not even vegans.

Having learned about the interconnectedness of all systematic forms of oppression and their root in nonhuman exploitation, it confounds me how some vegans can advocate for nonhumans while disparaging fellow humans over race, sex, class, religion, etc. It's like "shelters" for cats and dogs that hold fundraising events where they serve up the bodies of pigs, chickens, and cows. How can anyone who abhors the oppression of one group support the persecution of another?

"To see real change for nonhuman animals, advocates must challenge inequality for all," wrote Corey Wrenn in "Status Contamination: Women, Nonhuman Animals, and Intersectional Liberation."

Earlier this year, two former senior officials at the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) were accused of sexually harassing employees for some ten years. "According to interviews, emails and an internal document reviewed by POLITICO, [Paul] Shapiro suggested a female employee should 'take one for the team' by having sex with a donor, sent pornography and lewd emails to male employees, and discussed with colleagues his sexual philosophies, such as having as many sexual partners as possible." According to another employee who attended a work trip in 2006, former CEO Wayne Pacelle "asked her to take off her clothes and perform oral sex, and asked her whether he could masturbate in front of her."

At HSUS, Shapiro and Pacelle apparently sought to reduce the objectification of nonhumans as things to be used and consumed all the while objectifying their own female colleagues as sexual playthings to be used and consumed.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

U.S. Taxpayers Forced to Pay $38+ Billion a Year to Kill Other Animals

The Vegan Vine
A cat used in deadly experiments inside USDA laboratory.
Follow the money!

It's a commonly heard phrase that originated with the Watergate scandal. We hear it a lot today in reference to the investigation into President Trump's ties to Russia. But the popular phrase also applies to the nonhuman-abuse-industrial-complex. If you want to cut through the lies and deceptions to get at the truth, just follow the money.

Over the centuries we have built an entire economy and culture around the enslavement and exploitation of nonhuman animals. Working to end this grave injustice is as much an economic issue as it is a matter of political and social will. We simply cannot ignore the financial incentives that continue to drive nonhuman oppression.

Successful operations, whether they be military or social, usually require besieging the opposition on multiple fronts. Likewise, nonhuman advocates have many battlegrounds. In addition to advancing veganism and nonhuman legal rights, it is essential that we also deprive nonhuman enslavement institutions of their financial enticements. Nonhumans do not yet have legal rights in large part because too many sectors of society profit off their exploitation and deaths.

"People who purport to act on behalf of nonhuman animals must be urged to do much more than change their shopping, eating, etc. . . . citizens have to make time for policy," said David Cantor of Responsible Policies for Animals.

In his 2013 book, Meatonomics, David Robinson Simon found that $38.4 billion of United States taxpayer monies are used to further the nonhuman flesh, milk, and egg industries. Here's what else he found:

  • 63 percent of federal and state government subsidies go to promoting nonhuman flesh, milk, and eggs, while less than 2 percent go to fruits and vegetables.
  • Taxpayer subsidies create artificially low prices for nonhuman-derived "foods" that do not reflect the real costs to produce them, thereby encouraging Americans to consume greater amounts. For example, if we were to account for the full burden of a Big Mac—the abuse, environmental and health care costs, etc.—a Big Mac would actually cost $12.
  • A significant portion of the nearly $1 trillion in annual health care and lost productivity costs related to just three diseases—cancer, diabetes, and heart disease—are directly linked to the consumption of nonhuman-derived "foods."
  • Nonhumans bred for their flesh, milk, and eggs are routinely fed 75 percent (28 million pounds) of the US market of antibiotics to bolster their abnormal growth and prevent imprisoned-induced diseases. 
  • Nonhuman flesh, milk, and egg industries now rank with mining, oil production, and electricity generation as one of the most ecologically damaging to the planet. The EPA found that groundwater sources in one-third of US states are contaminated with urine and feces from factory farms.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Where Are the Rights in the "Animal Rights Movement"?

The Vegan Vine; Bill of Rights
When Lisa Vanderpump of Real Housewives fame and a nonvegan restaurateur is said by the New York Times to be championing "animal rights" for having dogs and running a dog rescue, you know there is a problem.

For most nonhuman advocates, the term "animal rights" has lost all meaning and efficacy. The phrase has been denigrated by a self-described "animal rights movement" and has been co-opted by anyone and everyone imaginable, from those who promote veganism to those who simply "love animals" like cats and dogs.

When we speak of "animal rights" (AR) it usually has absolutely nothing to do with the actual attainment of legal rights for nonhumans. This is regrettable because doing so only hurts those we're trying to help.

Activists and organizations alike misuse "animal rights" when applying it to the context of treatment and the lessening of cruelty and suffering. This only adds to the confusion and detracts from the real work being done to advance nonhuman rights. Similarly to the way veganism has been watered down by consumerists, fads, and those who want the label without the effort, so has "animal rights."

"Many animal advocates mistakenly think nonhuman animals have rights which 'animal rights' organizations work to enforce. The reality is that nonhuman animals have no rights," said David Cantor of Responsible Policies for Animals (RPA). "Despite massive injustice toward nonhuman animals, the first wave of the 'animal rights movement' has made no progress these past three decades because it is not a rights movement."

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Untold Victims of Gun Violence

The Vegan Vine
Hunted Haunt the Hunter
Sue Coe
The recent Parkland, Florida school shooting has raised the specter of gun violence once again. And once again, politicians and pundits alike employ hunting rhetoric to absolve themselves and others of their own contribution to violence.

Almost every discussion following a mass shooting pointedly incorporates what I call the "hunting clause," whereby the purposeful targeting of nonhuman animals is deemed an "appropriate" use of guns in contrast to the inappropriate use of guns to purposefully target human animals. This self-gratifying distinction by which nonhumans are "hunted" whereas nonhumans are "killed" or "murdered" is deeply speciesist and immoral. What's worse is that these same people, who seek to justify their gun ownership for the purpose of slaughtering other animals, brag about teaching their children to do the same.

"Like Texas church shooter Devin Kelley, Nikolas Cruz also had a history of hurting animals. For Kelley it was beating a dog. For Cruz it was a string of reported cruelty that included shooting squirrels and chickens with a pellet gun, trying to get a dog to attack a piglet, jamming sticks into rabbit holes and killing toads. His social media reportedly included photos of dead animals," reported Jessica Scott-Reid in the New York Daily News.

Akin to hunters of humans, hunters of nonhumans also get a thrill from murdering. In a 1996 article from the Philadelphia Inquirer detailing a canned hunt, Rex Perysian, a hunter, was anxious to begin. "I wanna peg one of these babies," he said. The boar Perysian set his sights on writhed and cried out with each shot. After four minutes of hell, she laid down and died. "I was pumpin’, man," Perysian said. After wiping blood from the boar's nose, he lifted her head by the ears for the cameras, and then dropped her head "and bellowed into the woods, boasting that the kill had sexually aroused him." Later, as ranch workers dragged away the corpses, Perysian sang a Miller beer jingle and summed up his enjoyment of hunting for the reporter. ‘‘It's just adrenaline, it’s great," he said. I'm sure Cruz and Kelley experienced similar adrenaline rushes at they aimed at students and churchgoers respectively.

Edward Stack, Dick's Sporting Goods chief executive, who was praised for his decision to remove all assault-style guns from his stores after the Parkland shooting, explained why his company will restrict some gun sales. "We don't want to be part of a mass shooting," he said. But Stack doesn't seem to mind being part of some mass shootings.