Guest Post #1: “The reason veganism is still relevant to me is that animals are still relevant to me.”

May 28, 2012

The first guest post comes from A.V.B. in Lawrence, Kansas.

There isn’t an exact date of when I decided to go vegan (because I transitioned slowly) but it was about 10 years ago when I was a kid in high school. I was vegetarian for about a year and a half before that.  To say that I chose to make these life changes for any other reason other than ethical ones would be disingenuous. To say that my convictions around my motivations have done anything but intensified over the past decade would be an all out lie. Let’s be clear: the only issue that motivated me to make that lifestyle change was the ethical imperative I knew I had the moment I really realized that meat came from the flesh of a once living animal. To be totally honest, it was a nice coincidence that veganism is healthier than meat-eating.  But make no mistake, even if being vegan wasn’t the healthiest thing I could do for my body, I still would have made the same choice.

I’m not trying to claim to have an open mind to the arguments often spoken by locavores/food politics junkies because the animals are necessarily left out of those conversations. I absolutely disagree with arguments that describe veganism as ineffectual. Every time individuals choose to not put the flesh of another creature inside their own bodies, that means something profound. I know many radicals scoff at symbolic victories and think they don’t mean anything or matter.  But fuck that. That’s so capitalist I can’t even handle it. Things don’t always have to be concrete to matter. There doesn’t always need to be a “real” or “proven” outcome for an act for it to matter. Yes, I do think it’s wasteful and shortsighted for vegans to exclusively eat products that contain large amounts of packaging/processing and not think about the impact of those food choices or how animals are affected by deforestation, landfills, and other forms of environmental degradation. But you cannot discount the statement that is made when an individual chooses to not eat the carcass of a (at-one-time) living being.

I know there isn’t a one size fits all approach to veganism, and I don’t think there should be. But I do think the suffering animals endure should be a large part of the conversation. The reason veganism is still relevant to me is that animals are still relevant to me. I am, after all, an animal and, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” The only reason I’ve continued to deal with racist folks, messed up Utilitarians, sexist and sizest comments from both within and outside the vegan community, is because the only thing that matters to me is the fact that I try, with all my might, to keep animals and their byproducts out of my body. I know I’m not perfect, and I’ve had too many conversations about “where I draw the line”– I’ve made that line as clearly defined as possible. I don’t ask for perfection, nor should anyone. I think that everyone should try as hard as possible to think about animals, put themselves in their place, to open their hearts, and make decisions that can minimize the harm humans inflict on animals.

My sister recently gave a presentation to a group of locavores-artists (one artist was going to have five chickens displayed around town in a coop and then publicly slaughter them at the end of the month to “connect people to their food”) and she illuminated something that I had always known but not considered quite so simply. Thousands of years ago, most of the nonhumans on earth were able to live their lives according to the reasons they were meant to exist. But in this current era, humans/men have violently transformed this. We removed animals from their environments, or altered them drastically based on our other actions (domesticated cats/dogs/rabbits/etc, warmed the ocean so much that the Antarctic glaciers are melting, cut down the forests for cheap palm oil, “developed” land in the name of “modernization,” etc.) and then we said, “your purpose in life is to be there for me, for I am human and I am the only thing that matters.” We’ve said with our actions “your sole purpose for existing is now mine. Your life’s purpose and value is only to provide something for me: convenience, flavor, entertainment, companionship, a method to test chemicals, anything I want. I control you.”

And this land of the “free” is one of the worst offenders. I don’t want to be an animal that expects this of any other animal. I want to let others live as they should live. Humans consume 100 billion animals worldwide every year (there are ~7 billion humans on Earth). There is just no argument that a nonvegan can make to justify this. Vegans don’t contribute to this number, and there is value in that. As unfathomable as this number is, even it relates only to the end process: death. This number says nothing about the suffering each and every one of those living creatures experienced to be the flesh we consumed, or the flesh we purchased at the store and then threw away because it went bad/we didn’t like the taste/was recalled for e. coli etc.

Despite what some people may try to claim, all humans know that nonhumans suffer.  We may not know exactly how, but that’s irrelevant. We don’t need scientific studies or “authorities” to tell us this. We just need to make rational choices that come from an open heart. Animals suffer, we know that.  Therefore, we should not eat them or use them for any other purpose humans find relevant. It’s really that simple.


1000+ Italian Activists Liberate Beagle Puppies in Daylight Raid

April 30, 2012

On April 28th, World Day for Animals in Laboratories, Italian animal liberation activists staged a daylight raid of the Green Hill Breeders complex in Northern Italy, freeing 25 to 40 beagles in the process.  All but one of the dogs are puppies.  Green Hill, owned by Marshall Farms Inc., is one of the largest European breeding facilities for nonhuman animals bred for vivisection.  Green Hill, which sells “purpose bred” dogs for up to $1,200, keeps 2,500 dogs on site at any given time and harbors ambitions of expanding its facilities to contain 5,000.  Green Hill breeds dogs to order for customers like Huntingdon Life Sciences, who can pay for extra “features,” like dogs with their vocal chords removed so they cannot scream when experimented upon.

See video of the raid here.

Since the closing of Italy’s other laboratory dog breeding facility, Italian activists have gone hard after Green Hill.  The campaign has employed a diverse array of tactics, ranging from letter writing and petitions to legal challenges and public demonstrations.  Daylight raids like the one that occurred on Saturday are not in themselves unprecedented, but the sheer size of this one is a definite first.  On the heels of this action, hackers acting under the umbrella of Anonymous have begun to take down and subvert websites owned by companies “who derive profit from the blood and the suffering of animals,” using the hashtags #OpItaly, #OpSaveAnimals and #OpGreenRights.

Activists scale the barbed wire fence surrounding Green Hill Breeders

It remains to be seen how the Italian government will respond to this escalation in the grass roots campaign against vivisection.  12 individuals were arrested at the raid on Saturday but it’s not yet clear how keen Italy is on following the United States’ suit on applying terrorism enhancements to a situation like this.  Some European states have tended to tolerate occasional daylight raids as long as they don’t occur too frequently or stray too far from the symbolic.  Four dogs would have been one thing, but forty?  When activists in England began using open raids to great effect during the 1980s, the state began to apply “conspiracy to burgle” charges to as many activists as possible in order to drain energy and funds from the movement (chronicled in Against All Odds).

An interior view of Green Hill’s kennels

It will be interesting to see how the campaign against Green Hill continues to play out.  The story has only just begun to escape Italian news services and into international social media, blogs and online petition sites (1, 2).  Wider coverage will not be far behind and this bodes poorly for a company like Green Hill.  The discussion of animal rights as they pertain to food politics has been forced into the mainstream of late, but vivisection is an industry with a history of desperate resistance to public visibility.  The brazenness of this raid is captivating and the images that have come out so far are profoundly moving.  Perhaps we will be seeing more of these daylight raids moving forward, particularly given how easy it has become to organize a flash mob using social media.  It is to be hoped that Italian animal liberationists will be able to both weather the state’s response to their act of mass conscience and to leverage the ensuing global attention to close down Green Hill once and for all.  Whatever happens next, I’m pretty sure it’s already worth it.


Thanksgiving: What’s to Celebrate?

November 24, 2011

NTNG!

It’s difficult to find the right words for a day like today. This is especially true when you’re surrounded by drunk and overfed relatives who, quite frankly, don’t want you spoiling their day off with another tirade on whales or Bosnians or whatever the hell it is today. But, god bless ’em, you’re going to do it anyway. Years from now, your younger cousins will thank you for showing them that critical engagement with social issues is a far more effective ways to piss off adults than the entire Slipknot back catalogue. Congratulations, you’re a role model.

Having a day off work is great, but it’s important to be aware of what today represents to the indigenous people of the Americas. Many have called for a National Day of Mourning to commemorate the victims of a genocide that is yet ongoing. The systematic extermination of the original inhabitants of this continent defies comprehension in its scale and brutality. According to whose figures you accept, the native human population of the Americas was reduced by between 80 and 99 percent in the 400 years between Columbus’ arrival and the massacre at Wounded Knee. We’re talking about up to one hundred million people. More people than you could have met in ten lifetimes. More people than the top eight most populated cities in the world combined. A little more than one out of every one hundred people currently alive today. Behind every “self made” millionaire is this history of primitive accumulation.

Humans were not the only victims of these policies of extermination and the violent conversion of the common fruits of the Earth into discretely bound units of private property. In just a hundred years, the North American bison population dropped from about 60 million to one or two million. [1] During the mid nineteenth century, passenger pigeons thrived to such a degree that “there would be days and days when the air was alive with them, hardly a break occurring in the flocks for half a day at a time. Flocks stretched as far as a person could see, one tier above another.” [2] Today, they are completely extinct.

Area of primary forests in the United States (lower 48)
Deforestation Leads to Exinction

The ecosystems of North America were once burgeoning with an integrated diversity of species: salmon, wolves, mink, ermine, badgers, beavers, otters, bears, cougars, bobcats, cranes, eagles, turkeys and so on. Yet one by one, these creatures were displaced and nearly or completely eradicated because of the same philosophy that legitimized the genocide of American Indians, the same philosophy that legitimized the exploitation of European peasants and the same philosophy that legitimizes global capitalism today: manifest destiny. That what is is good because god wills it; because it is “natural.” The genocidal imperative.

Ward Churchill has made the argument that we ought not be surprised when the United States government engages in wars of aggression overseas or domestic repression at home. After all, it was the genocidal imperative that founded this country and, from near the outset, wealth began to be centralized among those who were willing to commit the most heinous atrocities. We have arrived at a point now where our society rests on a foundation of normalized violence. Our economy depends on war all the time to function. The bodies of the body politic literally run on the product of extreme systemic violence: 50 billion nonhuman animals killed every year for a nutritional need that does not exist. The aforementioned staggering death tolls pale in numerical comparison to this figure, yet it occurs annually and with little fanfare.

We are not listing these examples to try to present some sort of equivalency between the suffering endured by humans and the suffering endured by nonhumans. Quantifying and comparing one person’s suffering or oppression to another’s is absurd and incoherent. The purpose is to identify common modes of oppression and the cultural logics which justify them. The purpose is to honor and mourn those who are gone and to fight with those who still remain. The purpose is to understand the history of how we got came to live in arguably the most violent society in all history and to ask why that seems normal to so many of us.

If we are aware of the histories that precede us, then we can begin to construct functional and peaceful alternatives to the cultural logic of genocide. Confronting manifest destiny is a necessary part of this process even if (and maybe especially if) it makes your relatives uncomfortable.

Notes:

“As an indigenous person, the fur trade represents so much more to me than just animal abuse. It represents cultural genocide. They were the footsoldiers of an invasion and conquest of the new world. They were ones who introduced disease and alcoholism. They were the ones who introduced gunpowder and many many things that lead to our decimation.”–Rod Coronado

If you plan on eating turkey this thanskgiving, this is required viewing. Please don’t fool yourself into thinking that “humanely raised” or “free range” turkeys live and die in appreciably different conditions. Raising animals for food means rape, castration and murder 100% of the time.

1. The Eternal Frontier, Tim Flannery, Atlantic Monthly Press, 2001, pg 321-322

2. A Green History of the World, Clive Ponting, Penguin Books, 1992, pg 168-170