Friday, October 21, 2011

Fear and loving in Las Veganland: An open letter to my future adopted child

Dear son- or daughter-to-be,

You don't know it, but your dad and I have been waiting for you for quite some time.

First, you were the child were going to conceive — till infertility crashed the party like an obnoxious, uninvited guest.

Later on you were the child we would adopt from a foreign country, but then that didn't seem right for us for a number of reasons — such as the exorbitant financial costs and our misgivings about removing you from the country and culture of your birth. (It had happened to me as a child, and it hadn't been good.)

Finally, you were the child we'd adopt from right here in the U.S. — not an infant from a pregnant unwed mother, but one of the tens of thousands of older children stuck in foster care limbo.

So we did what needed to be done: we took the mandatory classes, we had our backgrounds checked and our fingerprints printed, we had our home and our finances and our medical records inspected and approved, we underwent hours of interviews, wrote pages narrating our entire lives and our families' histories, we attended adoption parties, made inquiries, met countless social workers . . . until we finally found you.

Everyone tells us this is going to be difficult. And we believe them. Like all kids who wind up in the "system," you've been dealt a crummy hand. You've been physically abused. You've been neglected. You've seen things no child should see. Every relative you have — your mom, your dad, your grandparents — has let you down. Has washed their hands of you, has turned you over to the state. No one fought to get you back. No one calls you, or sends a card on your birthday. No one has shown you how special you are.

Our social worker is concerned. She reminds us of the challenges we're certain to face. You're going to be defiant, you're going to act up and act out and test us in ways we can't imagine. You're not going to trust us. You won't believe that we really, truly want you. That we'll stick by you no matter what. That we'll never, ever, send you away.

And out of all the things I worry about -— from your ADHD and your depression, to your attachment and cognitive issues, to your aggressive behaviors and your history of self-injury — the thing I feel least equipped to handle is the thing nobody mentions: Food.

Because, you see, your dad and I are vegans. And we're struggling with how — or even whether — to incorporate our diet into your life.

If you were a baby, this wouldn't be such a big deal. But you're not. You're a teenager, and like any teenager you have clearcut ideas about what you like and what you don't like, whether it's fashion or music or subjects in school or even, ugh, food.

And here's the thing. Your dad and I understand that no one made us become vegans. We've chosen to eat this way, after many years of vegetarianism, and many more years before that of eating meat. So we recognize the hypocrisy of trying to force a vegan diet on you. But at the same time . . . can I imagine roasting you a chicken? Or picking you up a Happy Meal on my way home from work? Or sending out for pizza and wings? No, I can't.

So what are we to do? When I imagine the best case scenario, it goes like this: We explain to you, calmly, gently, and clearly, why we're vegan. We take the time to educate you, not by pressuring you, but by sharing what we know. You'll come with us to volunteer at the local farm animal sanctuary, where you can meet and touch and learn about the animals — like Annie, the rescued dairy cow who spent her entire life as a pregnant milk machine, who never nursed any of her calves, who was about to be sent off to slaughter when her production dropped. We'll have fun in the kitchen making delicious foods together — like my killer vegan raspberry chocolate ice cream, or the savory dumplings I'm known for bringing to every potluck, or a mile-high lasagna gooey with Daiya cheese and cashew ricotta. We'll take you with us to the vegan festivals we attend each year, where you'll see that there are hundreds of people of every age, of every color, who take animal welfare seriously, just like your dad and I do.

But will it be enough? Will food, of all things, become our family's sticking point? And if you reject veganism, will it feel like you're rejecting me, or vice versa? Are we going to be the right family for you? Are we the right family for anybody out there?

I wish I knew someone — parent or child — who'd already been through this. Even though we've met a lot of adoptive families, not one has been vegan, or even vegetarian. If you're out there and can share your experiences, please leave a comment. There are two adults and one child who could really benefit from it.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Wednesday's Vegan Lunch

Homemade Vietnamese-style spring rolls, a summertime staple.

Today for lunch I made fresh Spring Rolls, my own version of traditional Vietnamese gỏi cuốn.

I used what I had on hand:
• ginger-garlic roasted tofu strips (leftover from last night)
• crisp juicy bean sprouts
• local red leaf lettuce
• homemade pickled radishes (also local)
...just lay the ingredients on softened rice paper and roll up tightly. Usually these are served with a dipping sauce, but the vegetables were so fresh and moist that I decided a sauce would be unnecessary. And it was.

These were crispy, savory, and tangy-sweet all at once.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

"The suffering is palpable": John Robbins visits a veal barn with Julia Child

In this short video, John Robbins tells the story of taking die-hard veal enthusiast Julia Child to visit a veal barn in rural Pennsylvania. Upon seeing the conditions there, Julia Child gave up veala fact few people know.

As John Robbins explains, 99% of our animal-based food today is produced in such horrible conditions that, if people could see it first-hand, as Julia Child finally did, they would reject it:
"Here was a person who clearly was not vegetarian-oriented in any way, and yet even she [changed], when she saw it, when she was face to face with it."

Monday, July 18, 2011

Declawing: Cruel and unusual punishment for cats

An eye-opening new public service announcement from The Paw Project dramatizes what "declawing" (de-knuckling is a more accurate term) really means:

Declawing is illegal or considered inhumane in many countries throughout the world, including over 12 European nations, Australia, and Brazil.

For more information about the effects of declawing and humane alternatives, go to

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Historic Moment for Animals: Lab animal abusers indicted for felony cruelty

For the first time in U.S. history, workers from an animal research laboratory are facing felony cruelty charges for animal abuse. A grand jury in North Carolina handed down 14 counts of cruelty to animals against four former lab workers, one of whom was a supervisor, at Professional Laboratory Research Services (PLRS).

Scene from video taken at PLRS lab.

The cruelty was first brought to light last fall, when People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) provided authorities with undercover video showing animal mistreatment at the lab. After federal officials began investigating the inhumane operation, nearly 200 dogs and more than 50 cats were removed from PLRS and the lab was closed in late 2010.

PLRS conducted testing for major manufacturers of pet products, such as flea and tick treatments. Video provided by PETA (see portions above) shows lab employees engaged in numerous cruel acts:
"The accused are among those caught on video kicking, throwing, and dragging dogs; hoisting rabbits by their ears and puppies by their throats; violently slamming cats into cages; and screaming obscenities at terrified animals. One of those named is the worker seen on video trying to rip out a cat's claws by violently pulling the animal from the fence onto which he or she clung in fear."
It is estimated that over 150 million vertebrate animals, including dogs, cats, mice, rabbits, guinea pigs, farm animals, and non-human primates, are used annually worldwide for testing purposes. In the U.S over 90% of animals used in experimentation are excluded from the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), the only federal law which oversees animal testing. Rats, mice, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish are expressly exempt from all safeguards. Species not covered under the AWA do not even have to be reported.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Restaurant Review: The Garden Grille Is a Vegan Eden!

Location: 727 East Avenue, Pawtucket, Rhode Island 02860 (at the start of Blackstone Blvd.)
Before I went vegetarian, I loved going out for ethnic food. Gosht Shahi Korma (lamb in saffron-cashew sauce) at the Indian place with the fancy table linens? I'm there. Bun Thit Nuong (rice vermicelli with grilled pork) at that pan-Asian hole-in-the-wall? Count me in.

After I became vegetarian, I not only loved ethnic food, but my appreciation increased immensely—given that mainstream "American" restaurants were now, for the most part, dietarily useless to me. I kept going to the same ethnic places, only instead of lamb and pork I was ordering things like Paneer Korma (made with cheese) or Veggie Pad Thai (with its requisite egg).

Once I turned vegan, however, everything changed. It's not that I stopped loving ethnic food. On the contrary, added to the love and appreciation I'd long felt was something entirely new: dependency. With cheese pizza and eggplant parmesan removed from the equation, ethnic restaurants suddenly became my only reliable option when I wanted a meal away from home.

And then I discovered (or really, re-discovered) the Garden Grille Vegetarian Cafe. With its eclectic (yet accessible) menu, the Garden Grille has become the answer to my family's restaurant rut. Basically, our dining-out choices had whittled down to just four options: Indian, Chinese, Japanese, or Middle Eastern. Don't get me wrong—I'm thrilled to live in an area where we have relatively easy access to Baingan Bharta, Szechuan Tofu, Avocado Maki, and Falafel. But after many, many months of noshing exclusively on the ethnic circuit, we felt frustrated that there wasn't a place with "regular" vegan food. This was especially important if we wanted to dine out with people, like our parents, whose palates fall decidedly in the conservative camp.

Which is why my husband and I, after several lip-smacking visits, felt secure in taking his parents out to lunch at the Garden Grille one recent weekend. With its 100% vegetarian (and highly vegan-centric) menu, we knew it was a place that would satisfy us (and give us a break from the ethnic-food merry-go-round), while at the same time would please (and not freak out) our guests. So here's the lowdown on the Garden Grille, where hardcore vegans and mainstream eaters alike can find culinary contentment:

Contemporary and warm, with a slightly upscale feel that is in stark contrast to the low-budget, slightly dinged-up aesthetic so common in veg-friendly nosheries. There are seven roomy booths (two of which look out over the large front window) and six smaller tables, as well as an attractive L-shaped bar that seats 10. The bright, polished wood tabletops make a nice backdrop for the clean lines of the white ceramic dinnerware and clear glassware (nothing plastic here). In all, it's an appealing blend of casual-posh; you'd be at home showing up in shorts after a day at the beach, but you'd also feel fine trying to impress a first date.

The mix of customers is one of my favorite things about the Garden Grille. I knew my in-laws wouldn't be comfortable in a place where they were the only senior citizens, and even I am old enough to feel awkwardly uncool when everyone around me is a 20-something hipster with multiple facial piercings and resplendent dreads. Luckily, the Garden Grille is so popular among such a diverse cross-section of diners, that you feel at ease no matter your demographic. Every time I've dined there, I've been happy to see an amazing assortment of humanity—old and young, gay and straight, daters and loners, families with small children, families with adult children, you name it, everyone belongs.

When Garden Grille first opened in 1996, I lived only 3 streets away. Back then, it was a much more humble affair; what I remember is it being mostly a juice bar whose menu consisted mainly of a few wraps. Imagine my surprise when, returning to my old stomping grounds 15 years later, I find that this once-modest smoothie shop has transformed, Cinderella-like, into a full-scale eatery.

Cashew and Nori Crusted Tofu
Appetizers (called "small plates") range from $6 to $10. Highlights include Reggie’s Raw Heaven ($10), a gorgeous arugula salad artfully arrayed with slices of mango, grapefruit, and avocado, and topped with beet-infused jicama matchsticks and cashew gamasio. A far cry from the insipid "garden salad" we vegans are too often stuck with, it's a dish I order almost every time I go. Another must-try appetizer is the Chipotle Seitan ($7) served with a sinus-clearing wasabi mustard; this tangy, toothsome delight got raves from both my vegan husband and his carnivore father.

Entreés ("large plates") run from $9 to $12 at lunch and from $9 to $17 at dinner. The Grilled Vegetable Wrap ($8) was a safe choice for my never-to-be-mistaken-for-a-foodie mother-in-law. Stuffed with portabella, asparagus, roasted red pepper, caramelized onions, and arugula, with a touch of tarragon aioli, it's pretty much a classic vegan starter dish—familiar enough not to be off-putting to the average eater, but nothing special to a longtime vegan. (With so many more interesting items on the menu, I doubt I'll ever order it.)

There's a bit more creativity in the Vietnamese Tofu Sandwich ($9), which features tofu covered in a sweet chili glaze, alongside pickled carrots, jalapeno, red onions, lettuce, and a cilantro-mint aioli. Both my husband and my father-in-law had this dish (on separate occasions) and pronounced it very good.

Two of my favorite sandwiches at the Garden Grille are vegan twists on classic favorites: the Tofu BLT ($7) and the Tempeh Reuben ($8). The BLT features crisp, salty tofu "bacon" (love!), and for an extra $2 you can add avocado (which I always do). The Reuben is a delectable combination of grilled tempeh, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, caramelized onions, and thousand island dressing on rye bread. If you're a vegan who misses the Reuben experience (but not the corned beef), this is one highly gratifying concoction.

The Garden Grille's fancier entreés are found at dinnertime, and they do not disappoint, either in appearance or taste. I recently tried the Korean Barbeque Tempeh ($16), which featured two substantial pieces of millet-crusted tempeh on a bed of grilled bok choy and shiitake sesame rice, garnished with toasted edamame and nori, with a lovely drizzle of scallion oil. On the same night, my husband ordered an entreé from the Specials menu: Cashew and Nori Crusted Tofu ($15) served on a bed of pan-fried udon noodles. Both dishes were elegant to look at and delectable to eat.

Other dinner entreés that we have yet to try, but are looking forward to, include Eggplant Rollatini ($15), Cauliflower Steak ($16), and Mushroom Risotto Cakes ($17).

Wildflour bakery
The Garden Grille does have a dessert menu, but I've never ordered from it. Why? Well, it turns out that the owners have opened a new all-vegan bakery, Wildflour, just two doors down from the restaurant. So hubby and I make it a habit to visit there after finishing our meals at Garden Grille. If you're a vegan who has never been to a vegan bakery (as we hadn't until we discovered Wildflour), it's an almost out-of-body experience. There, right in front of your eyes, are all the pastries, cookies, brownies, tarts, and cakes of the finest French boulangerie you can imagine—and yet every single morsel is vegan!

Bottom Line:
The Garden Grille Vegetarian Cafe offers delicious, creative food that satisfies the most hardcore vegan without putting off their meat-eating friends. It takes well over an hour for me to get there, but it's always worth it. Highly recommended...and do not visit without checking out their new sister business, the gorgeous Wildflour vegan bakery!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Must-See Video

This 12-minute video is so important. It helped to remind me why I'm a vegan, and why consuming milk, cheese, and butter is anything but a benign activity.

Unlike many animal abuse videos, which are too gruesome for many people to watch, this one tells the truth about the "dairy" industry without graphic images. Suitable for everyone...please watch and share!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Elephant hunting

With the new film Water for Elephants arriving in theaters, it's a good time to reflect on how elephants actually make their way from the wild into captivity.

Here's an excerpt from Derrick Jensen's book, Thought to Exist in the Wild:
"The traditional method for capturing many social creatures, including elephants, gorillas, chimpanzees, and many others, was—and remains—to kill the mothers. About elephants it was said, "The only way to capture a living animal was to kill the suckling females or the herd's leaders. Hagenbeck [a famous circus man] found himself 'too often obliged to kill' elephants who were protecting their young by using their bodies as shields."

And from Nigel Rothfels book Savages and Beasts:
"Soon Dominick [an elephant capturer] encountered a female with a young calf; after several shots…the female was dispatched with a shot in the left eye. The calf was roped to a tree, where it 'churned up the soil with its small tusks, bellowed and moaned, charged backwards, stood on its head, and foamed at the mouth in rage as bloodshot eyes protruded from its head.' Three remaining calves were soon captured as well, one dying of suffocation after having its trunk pulled between its forelegs and tied to its rear legs so that it 'breathed with difficulty and lay on the ground like a large gray sack.' Another calf died during the night of wounds sustained in the capture, but Dominick had still managed to secure two calves from the herd and soon added three more to his collection. Two died a month later, but the remaining three apparently thrived [sic] in their new environment, and one found its way through Hagenbeck to the Berlin Zoo."
Another account of a specific hunt, from John George Wood:
"One of the wild elephants in the struggle got half-drowned, and then entirely strangled; she just staggered to the shore, and then dropped dead without a struggle. It was really quite piteous to see her poor little young one, about ten days old; she kept walking round the body, pushing it and trying to coax her dead mother to rise up; then uttering the most heart-rending cries, and lying down by her side, as it were to comfort her." 
And here's an all-too-similar story about the capture of the world's most famous elephant, Jumbo:
"A hunter, Hermann Schomburgk, shot his mother. He describes it himself: 'She collapsed in the rear and gave me the opportunity to jump quickly sideways and bring to bear a deadly shot, after which she immediately died. Obeying the laws of nature, the young animal remained standing beside its [sic] mother….Until my men arrived, I observed how the pitiful little baby continuously ran about its mother while hitting her with his trunk as if he wanted to wake her and make their escape'."
Needless to say, I will not be seeing the movie Water for Elephants.  It's 45-year-old "star" elephant, Tai, was captured in the wild in 1966. Does she remember seeing her mother slaughtered in front of her eyes? Did she try in vain to a rouse her mother from death? What was it like for her to be roped and chained and shipped to the other side of the world, so she could used as "entertainment"?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Vegosphere's take on "Photogate": The VegNews scandal that's rocked the vegan community

VegNews, the premier vegan magazine in the U.S., has been outed by the blog quarrygirl for publishing phony photos of meatless meals. Yes, the publication whose stated goal is to "help you live your best veg life ever" has apparently been deceiving its readership for years by passing off stock images of animal-based food as vegan.

Food Fraud Exposed
If you've ever read VegNews, whether in print or online, then you've seen the images I'm talking about. Colorful and yummy-looking, they're designed to showcase just how appetizing vegan eating can be. Sometimes these photos accompany a recipe, such as this one for a "soul-satisfying" dish of "veganized Brunswick stew": 

According to VN, what the picture shows is a hearty, 100% meat-free stew made with vegan sausage links, vegan burger crumbles, and assorted vegetables and spices. But here's the catch: the picture is a hoax. Not only is it not vegan, it's not even Brunswick stew!

Instead, it's a ready-made picture of chicken stew that VegNews purchased from iStockphoto:

The same chicanery occurs not just with recipes, but throughout VN in general. For example, in the first installment of their Vegan 101 series (which claims to focus on "one of the best things about being vegan: the food!") there's a photo of a juicy-looking burger that readers would, quite naturally, assume to be a veggie burger: 

But this, too, is a con. The photo is just another regular hamburger (aka ground up dead cow burger), acquired from the same stock photography site:
In one of the most egregious examples of VN's deception, they've not only used non-vegan pictures to illustrate vegan dishes, but they've even doctored photos to disguise the animal parts. Here's the original stock photo of the spare ribs (note the clearly visible bones):
And here's the same photo used by VN, with the bones conveniently Photoshopped out:

VegNews Responds
In response to the public outcry over its deceptive practices, VN has posted an open letter to its readers. In the letter, VegNews states that they are "deeply saddened"—not by their own misconduct, as one might expect, but by "the dialogue that has transpired" since their fraud was exposed.

The letter's first 3 paragraphs are a strange mix of self-congratulatory and woe-is-me prose. Readers are reminded that the "labor of love" known as VegNews has "won numerous major magazine awards" (impressed yet?), and that it's accomplished this with "no funding or investors" to help cover its "exorbitant costs" (get out your hankies).

It's not until the fourth paragraph that VegNews addresses the revelations about its duplicity. Except it doesn't. Rather, they complain about how it's "not financially feasible" to use "custom-shot photography for every spread," and how stock companies offer "very few specifically vegan images."

But this misses the point entirely. The vegan readers of VegNews aren't asking the magazine to go bankrupt, or insisting that every photograph appearing in its pages be custom-shot for that particular story.

No, what readers are expecting is simply this: That a vegan publication not use pictures of animal-based foods. For that, we can turn to Bon Appétit or Martha Stewart Living or even Vegetarian Times.

Even if VegNews feels they must use such images (which is highly debatable), to do so in secrecy is downright dishonest. If ever there was a situation crying out for a disclaimer, it's this one.

(Speaking of which, one of the things that's long bothered me about VN is the snobby disclaimer that accompanies the monthly I Can't Believe It's Vegan column. For those not familiar with this regular item, it usually features vegan "junk" food such as Charms Blow Pops or Ore-Ida Tater Tots. And every month, a disclaimer appears beneath the article that reads: All foods mentioned in this article are vegan, but not necessarily good for your health —or ethics. Such paternalism always seemed out of place. If VN really thinks the food is that bad, then why feature it at all? And if it is featured, then why the self-serving disclaimer? Readers are certainly smart enough to understand the difference between Sour Patch Kids and Organic Three Grain Tempeh, aren't they?)

How "Photogate" Hurts the Vegan Cause
The issue isn't merely that VegNews misled readers and betrayed their trust, which is plenty bad enough. But by substituting animal-based food photos for plant-based ones, veganism itself is harmed. That's because VN's actions imply that vegan dishes just aren't attractive or appealing.

What the world needs to know, and to see, is that vegan foods look and taste delicious. If the number-one, mainstream-style vegan magazine has to resort to using flesh, eggs, and dairy to "portray" vegan fare, then how is the average person supposed to believe that veganism works—for the palate as well as for the planet and its inhabitants?

The message that VegNews has unwittingly conveyed is that vegan food can't hold a candle to "real" animal-based food. Of course this is not true, as proven by the many gorgeous, non-deceptive food photos featured on countless vegan websites and blogs.

But until VegNews changes its photographic practices, it's going to continue to make veganism look like an impossible ideal instead of a feasible option. If VN really wants to "create a more compassionate future" as it claims, it needs to start by offering a true apology for its deceit and by making sure that all its future artwork accurately and truthfully represents the the beautiful, viable lifestyle that is veganism.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Please sign the petition to help this captive tiger

Click here for the petition. 

In honor of World Day for Animals in Laboratories

Is animal testing necessary, or even effective? 

Here's what doctor Adrian Stallwood has to say about animal research:
That animals suffer in such research is beyond question. The clinical reports detail a massive catalogue of misery. Removing parts of the brains of marmosets and depriving them of food and water to ’research‘ Parkinson’s disease; millions of mice ’given‘ cancer by poison, irradiation, injection with tumours or genetic tinkering; dogs with their coronary arteries tied off to ’simulate‘ heart attacks by attempting to mimic the fat-laden arteries from which humans suffer and animals naturally do not.
Advocates for animal testing claim that it’s a trade-off: we need some animals to suffer in gruesome ways so we can find a cure for this or that serious disease in humans. But however appealing this mantra may be to the general public, it is completely untrue. The experiments are almost always futile and tell us nothing we did not know already or could not have discovered by other means. Neither should we think it strange when Animal Aid declares that animals are poor surrogates for people. It is obvious that there are significant, intractable inter-species differences. Even more worryingly, there is a wealth of evidence that animal experiments are at best delaying medical progress, and at worst making medical practice positively dangerous. 
Thirty-six states in the U.S. allow stray dogs and cats to be sold to research facilities if they are scheduled for euthanasia at animal shelters. Read more hereFor more about World Day for Animals in Laboratories, click here

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Great work day at Sunny Meadow Sanctuary!

Annie, the rescued dairy cow. (Read her story below.)
Sunny Meadow Sanctuary is a safe haven for rescued farm animals in Central Massachusetts.

Today was a work day at the sanctuary, where nearly 20 volunteers came together to make improvements to help the animals and then share a delicious potluck vegan meal.

This was the first chance for Tim and me to visit the sanctuary and to meet Helen and Steve, who are not only the caretakers and guardians of the animals, but also the founders of MARC, the Massachusetts Animal Rights Coalition. MARC is the largest and most active animal rights group in Massachusetts, with over 2600 members.
Spring crocuses at Sunny Meadow Sanctuary.

It was a beautiful day for working outside—sunny and brisk, with a hint of spring in the air. We first were introduced to the Sanctuary's furry, feathered, and scaly residents, including the most recent rescues: Annie the cow, Nelly the donkey, and Cisco the horse.

Nelly, the donkey. (Read her story below.)

Cisco, the horse. (Read his story below.)
Then we began to work. The job requiring the most hands was first installing a platform/shelter in the new, larger goat yard, and then fencing it in. But with so many people helping out, these jobs were completed in no time!

Installing the new fencing.
New ramps and platform for the goats, with new barn in the background.
Hannah and Ivy enjoying fresh spring greens in their new goat yard.
A fun and satisfying day was had by all!

About the newest rescues
Nelly's Story. If ever an animal needed sanctuary, it was Nelly. She may have originally been a BLM burro but then she went somewhere where a man beat her badly to get her to work. Then she ended up somehow at her current barn. From what could be gathered, they were trying to run an animal buying/selling/boarding/breeding operation that went totally haywire. 

Consequently, the donkey is very shy and scared of new people, especially men, but she seemed ok with Helen and Steve after a while. And she is not aggressive at all. 

Only Sunny Meadow and a logging company in Maine, where she would haul logs for the rest of her life, were interested in her. She is such a smart, sensitive animal that it's hard to imagine what could be worse for her than if these people sold her to the loggers. Poor animal, she's had 5 foals in under 6 years. 

When she came to the Sanctuary she was totally terrified. Throughout the day, she wasn't calming down at all—shaking, covered with sweat, wouldn't eat, etc. (Although she ate grain but only if Helen hand fed her.) 

Nelly is eating now and taking treats—she loves bread and horse treats—that is helping her calm down too. Whatever happened to this poor animal was really, really traumatic. And donkeys are really smart and never forget.

Cisco's Story. While Nelly's rescue was in progress, a horse rescuer contacted Helen and Steve about a rescued gelding who had been starved for 2 1/2 months (the police found him almost dead after receiving a tip) but who was ready to leave the rehab barn and who was currently living with a donkey. When Helen and Steve emailed the rescuer about the situation, she offered to bring Cisco to be a companion to Nelly, right away. Amazingly, as soon as Cisco was in the stall next to Nelly, she settled down. 

Although Cisco was severely underweight when he arrived at Sunny Meadow, he has been getting the best of care and this good boy is well on his way back to good health.

Annie's Story. Annie is almost six and has been impregnated every year since she was able to be and milked on a milk machine continuously when she wasn't pregnant. She recenty had a calf but she barely had enough milk. (Her previous owners kept breeding and milking her as long as they could to get every penny out of her.) Sunny Meadow had no hope of getting her baby but was able to save her. 

Her transition to the Sanctuary went as well as could be expected, given that this poor sweet cow was being taken from her baby. She was so sweet, even in her sorrow and longing for her baby. She was incredibly gentle and even came to Helen and Steve for comfort, but her mooing was so sad. They consoled her with petting and treats, and the other rescued mom, Nellie the donkey, helped, but nothing could take away her agony completely. 

This agony of loss is the dark, hidden side of dairy consumption—this happens to every single dairy cow every single year—until she is sold at a very young age to become hamburgers or dog food. Her female babies become future dairy slaves and the males are killed almost immediately for veal.

If you have not gone vegan yet, please, in honor of this and the millions of other poor mother cows, do so.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Chained, kicked, and beaten: Graphic animal abuse exposed at UK circus

Annie the elephant being beaten by worker at Bobby Roberts Super Circus.

ADI (Animal Defenders International) has released video footage of horrendous scenes of animal abuse suffered by circus animals. Some of the most shocking footage shows an elephant named Annie repeatedly being struck with a metal pitchfork and kicked in the face and body while shackled in heavy chains.

An arthritic 57-year old Asian elephant, Annie is "owned" by the Bobby Roberts Super Circus. Her violent abuse at the hands of circus workers occurred at the circus's winter quarters in Northamptonshire, England. ADI reports that Annie, who was captured as a baby in Sri Lanka in 1954, was "constantly chained" during the entire three-and-a-half week period of filming. During this time, circus workers were "also seen beating and spitting on a camel," as well as "beating miniature ponies and horses on numerous occasions."

The secret filming sparked a massive public outcry in the days after it went public, and media outlets are now reporting that Annie will soon leave the circus and be rehomed at a park where she will be provided with a secure environment and proper veterinary care.

ADI's exposé of the Bobby Roberts circus is part of its global campaign to end the suffering of animals in circuses:
"ADI has now exposed the shocking abuse of animals in UK circuses from several random undercover investigations over the last fifteen years. Only recently, in 2009, the beating of elephants at the Great British Circus was exposed and now in 2011 Bobby Roberts Super Circus shows that this is a way of life at the circus. A clear pattern has been proven and this time the government needs to act."
The group is calling for a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses. For ways to help, visit the Stop Circus Suffering section on the ADI website.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Why I'm not an 'animal lover'

Yesterday I got an alert from MARC (the Massachusetts Animal Rights Coalition) explaining that Martha Stewart is planning a vegan-themed show and is looking to assemble an all-vegan audience. To get tickets, you have to go to the show's website and tell Martha all about "your vegan passion."

Okay, it sounded cheesy, but who am I kidding? I'd love to go to New York and be in an audience full of fellow vegans. So here, in part, is the pitch I made:

My husband and I are long-time vegetarians, recently turned vegan. While it seems a lot of people are jumping on the vegan bandwagon these days because of health—they want to be skinnier, live longer, look better—we belong to the category of "ethical vegans." This means we can no longer stomach, literally, supporting an industry that commits, as part of its normal operation, atrocious acts of cruelty on so-called "food" animals.

Many folks think people like us must be "animal lovers." But personally, I dislike that term. "Animal lover" connotes someone who oohs and ahhs over cute kittens and fuzzy puppies, someone who lets their Persian cat eat off their dinner plate and treats their cockapoo like a spoiled grandchild. Of course, most of these animal lovers have a huge blind spot in the middle of their affection when it comes to animals like cows, pigs, chickens, etc., and they see no contradiction between their warm-hearted feelings for pets and their cold disdain for species that aren't considered cute and lovable.

I'm a vegan, not so much because I "love" animals, but because I DEPLORE suffering and cruelty—whether it's inflicted on a newly hatched chick, a spent milk cow, a wool-producing sheep who has undergone mulesing, or a fellow human.

This was the first time I'd ever publicly said anything about NOT being an "animal lover." (Not counting saying it to my husband, Tim, but I don't think of spouses as "public.")

Anyway, I guess I've avoided speaking about this issue because it just sounds so mean. And yet, that whole "animal lover" label really does bother me. Maybe it's my own bias, but somehow being soft-hearted always gets associated with being soft-headed, and I certainly don't think of myself that way.

Also, I find the label trivializes people and obscures their motives. If I say I'm a vegan because I "love animals," it's easy to dismiss me. I'm nothing but a big softie, my sensibilities are too delicate and tender, eating a hamburger might make me cry. Animal lovers pose no threat to those who eat animals—they're just "sensitive" types who are wired differently from everyone else. We can humor them, even pity them, but we aren't forced to take their actions seriously. And we certainly aren't prompted to reflect on our own choices.

On the other hand, if I say I'm a vegan because I refuse to participate in the torture of sentient beings—well, that's not so easy to shrug off. It's vegans like me who make non-vegans so defensive. They're suddenly confronted with their own complicity in a very ugly enterprise. The things done to animals in the name of food are hardly a secret these days, and there are few who can genuinely claim to be unaware of the "meat" industry's barbaric practices.

That's why being around vegans is often so disconcerting for non-vegans, especially for non-vegan animal lovers. Say you're someone whose favorite computer screensaver is Baby Animals, someone whose blood boils every time you watch Animal Cops, someone who tears up whenever those ASPCA commercials with the mournful Sarah McLachlan song comes on TV. And you're on your lunch break at work, with a 365 Kittens a Year calendar hanging above your desk, and there's your new vegan co-worker eating his Amy's non-dairy burrito while you're chowing on a ham and cheese sandwich. Cognitive dissonance, anyone?

If that's you, the only way you're going to make sense of this, without changing your behavior, is to make your co-worker the "freak" while you remain the "normal" one. Because, hey, you would never hurt an animal. You love all creatures, great and small. But let's be reasonable, you're not some radical, you're not going to go overboard. And what validates and helps you justify your life is the fact that there are plenty of people just like you—millions and millions of self-proclaimed animal lovers who, it just so happens, eat animals on a daily basis.

And that's why I'm not an "animal lover."

Thursday, February 24, 2011

"Fished out": The banality of extinction, part 1

Illustration from Etchings of a Whaling Cruise, 1823.
Bison skulls waiting to be ground up for fertilizer, circa 1870.
A few days ago, a front-page story in the New York Times celebrated the shipwreck of Two Brothers. To be specific, the story heralded the first-ever discovery of a Nantucket whaling ship named Two Brothers in waters northeast of Hawaii. As the Times helpfully defines it, a Nantucket whaler is "one of an armada of ships that set sail during the early 19th century when the small Massachusetts island was an international capital of whaling."

What caught my attention, though, wasn't the description of the many relics found or the lurid details of the Two Brothers' captain, George Pollard. (On a prior voyage, the article recounts with perverse glee, Pollard's ship had been destroyed, leaving captain and crew floating for months on the Pacific, until they finally resorted to cannibalism—with Pollard eating his own cousin.)

But no, those weren't the details that disturbed me.

What made my head spin was a single parenthetical phrase, buried in the middle of a sentence in the middle of the article, which read as follows:
The Two Brothers—which was bound for the newly opened Japan Grounds after whalers had fished out the Atlantic and parts of the South Pacific—was long known to have sunk on the night of Feb. 11, 1823, off the French Frigate Shoals.
Did you catch it? It's nothing but a brief aside, a phrase tossed off with such nonchalance that the reporter doesn't appear to find it shocking, obscene, or tragic—even though it is all of these things.

Let's look again. What the article says is that, by 1823, the Atlantic Ocean and parts of the South Pacific (we're talking about the two largest oceans on the planet, people) had been "fished out." Fished. Out.

Which is why whalers like Captain Pollard, whalers from Massachusetts, had to travel all the way to the North Pacific to do their hunting. And remember, this was almost 100 years before the completion of the Panama Canal, so getting from the North Atlantic to the North Pacific was, to put it mildly, no easy feat.

And so the newspaper of record offers its bit of explanation: fished out. Such an innocuous phrase for the extinction, or near extinction, of an entire order of mammals. And, somehow, it had already occurred by the beginning of the 19th century—long before the invention of "modern whaling," with its colossal ships and explosive-propelled harpoon guns. No, the killing that nearly wiped out the whales was done by men in small wooden boats throwing handheld spears. And yet, as low-tech as they were, these men still managed to "fish out" immense portions of the Earth's seas.

If it weren't a fact, it would sound impossible. Or perhaps I should say that it does sound impossible, even though it is a fact.

It's one thing to accept that humans could cause the extinction of the dodo, a flightless bird endemic to a single island. And I can, though not easily, wrap my brain around the fact that by 1880 American bison were pushed to the brink of extinction, given that the U.S. government—in large part to starve native peoples and make way for ranchers and their cattle—vigorously promoted the wholesale slaughter of bison herds. (Of course the popular "sport" of killing buffalo from passing trains, which were slowed down by accommodating conductors to compensate for the poor rifle skills of not-so-sharp-shooting tourists, didn't help either.)

But to imagine that a few humans in wooden, wind-powered vessels could have such an impact on whales—powerful swimmers of great endurance who have entire oceans at their disposal—is mind-boggling. The sheer amount of damage our species can do (and has done) to other humans, to other species, to the lands, waters, and skies of our one, dear planet, I find incomprehensible. But maybe the problem is that there's something in us that allows us not to fully comprehend, that allows us to speak of enormous events without registering their enormity.

"Fished out."

Friday, February 18, 2011

Sharing a sweet picture

An old photo, from my days in Tennessee. Too sweet not to share.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

How does a person become a vegan?

Noted philosopher Tom Regan observes that animal rights activists can be divided into three distinct categories based on how they arrived at their position. The DaVincians (after Leonardo da Vinci) are people who seem to have been born with an innate sensitivity toward animals. From an early age, they instinctively know that it is wrong to harm, kill, and eat other living beings.

Then there are the
Damascans (from the story of Paul-the-apostle's conversion on the road to Damascus). These are the folks who, suddenly and profoundly, become transformed by a single event or experience. One minute they're munching happily on a Big Mac, and the next minute they're picketing KFC and joining PETA.

Finally, there's the largest group (of which Regan counts himself a member): the
Muddlers. People who shuffle along, learning bit by bit as they go. No plan, no agenda. But their minds are open. They take in new information year after year, they ask questions, one insight leads to another, and in doing so their lives undergo an almost imperceptible shift. At one point, they decide to buy Fair Trade coffee. Later on they start participating in Meatless Mondays. And before they quite realize it, they've stopped eating meat altogether and are subscribing to VegNews.

My own journey—from carnivore (I wasn't really an omnivore since I detested vegetables) to cheese-loving vegetarian to seitan-scarfing vegan—was a combination of Damascan and Muddler. The life-changing event occurred some 15 years ago, when I attended a screening of the wordless, eye-popping documentary film
Baraka. As amazing and memorable as the film was as a whole, what flicked a switch in my consciousness was a series of images on baby chicks being "processed." There they were—hundreds of fuzzy yellow, ping pong ball-sized beings, totally innocent and totally alive—having their beaks burnt off, getting tossed down a chute like a piece of trash, helplessly tumbling and landing in a vast, horrific heap. And I thought, Oh my God. Is this what happens? Are people really doing this to these animals just so I can eat a lousy chicken salad sandwich? And at that point I knew I was not going to do it (meaning eat meat) anymore.

For a while, I thought about taking the whole free-range, non-factory farm, more "humane" route, but that lasted about a week. After that, it was no meat at all. (Okay, I still ate fish sometimes, but that's another story.)

And for 15 years after that one viewing of
Baraka, I muddled along, feeling good about my vegetarian diet, but knowing, deep down, that I was still implicated in others' suffering. The suffering of the "dairy" cow, the suffering of the "laying" hen, the suffering of the male baby chick and his million brothers who, useless for egg production, get stuffed (alive) into giant garbage bags like unwanted styrofoam peanuts and thrown out, with the non-living trash, into dumpsters.

And then somewhere along the line, after lots of thinking and education and muddling, something shifted. Unlike the
Baraka episode, there was no dramatic turning point, no moment of enlightenment. I can't tell you precisely how long I've been vegan or how I decided to become vegan, because I never actually "decided." I simply became.