Friday, January 29, 2010

Not a Revolution, But a Step in the Right Direction...

Here's an interesting piece of news from China: There is currently a draft law under consideration by the Chinese government that would ban the consumption of dog meat and fine violators 15 days in jail and 5000 yuan ($735US) for individuals and 10,000 to 500,000 yuan ($1,470US to $73,529US) for businesses.

As ABC News notes:

The legislation was drafted by a team of Chinese experts who consulted with the U.S.-based International Fund for Animal Welfare and Britain's Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.... An informal online poll in the popular Chinese Web site already attracted more than 178,000 votes as of today. Some 56.8 percent voted in favor of the ban on eating dog and cat meat while 39.6 percent were against it.
Apparently, wars of words are raging over the Internet in China as we speak. "Cats and dogs are our favourite pets," wrote a Beijing resident. "They are entitled to their own rights. Why should people eat them?"

There is a very good likelihood that this law will be adopted by the government, and if it is, it will be the first animal rights law ever passed in China. That alone makes it quite a remarkable achievement.

In some parts of China, especially in the southern regions, eating dog is still popular. As China Daily notes:

Eating dog meat in China is a risky proposition, given that the country has no specific regulations regarding the production and sale of the meat, experts say.

Eating dog meat is a traditional folk custom in winter in south China's Guangdong province. Shenzhen is one of the hubs for dog-meat processing.

The current price is approximately 24 to 40 yuan ($3.5-5.8) per kg. Kennel after kennel of dogs transported from other cities are slaughtered each morning in some butcheries in the outskirts of this metropolis.

However, no specific standard has ever been created in China to guarantee the hygienic conditions of dogs raised for slaughter and their meat.

Unregulated pork, beef, and lamb sales are banned in China. However, due to the lack of regulation, the bloody slaughter of dogs cannot be legally covered.

Rabies is the only circumstance requiring quarantine for dogs. Even more dogs are slaughtered outside the standard butcheries without any official supervision.

The relevant regulations on the logistics and sale of dog meat are also nonexistent. Numerous local supermarkets and restaurants are infested with dog meat that may not be safe, experts say.

According to Yu Jie, a local medic, eating dog meat is unsafe because of parasites. Also, workers processing the meat from a rabid dog can easily become infected with rabies.

Article 28 of the Food Safety Law of the People's Republic of China says, "It is forbidden to produce or engage in the business operation of meat that has not been quarantined by the animal health inspection institution or has failed the quarantine, or meat products that have not been inspected or have failed the inspection."

"If dog meat is not quarantined before entering the market, then processing and selling it should be considered illegal," Zhu Bin, a local lawyer, was quoted as saying by Nanfang Daily.

The passage of this law would be a tremendous triumph for the animal rights movement in China. Let's keep our fingers crossed it becomes the the law of the land.

If this law is passed, the next step of the Chinese animal rights movement - and animal rights movements in other countries - ought to be to convince people that the lives of factory farm animals - cows, chickens, pigs, sheep, etc. - are just as valuable and precious as those of dogs. Human beings can more easily identify with dogs, for obvious reasons. The thought of slaughtering dogs does not sit well with most people, even in parts of the world where that sort of practice is more traditional.

But those of us who believe in animal rights have a responsibility to teach others that the lives of all animals are precious, whether they're dogs, cats, factory farm animals, animals used in lab testing, animals used for fur and leather coats, and pretty much every other animal - and human being - that exists. This proposed law in China is a huge step. Yet it is also only the beginning.

Farewell, J.D. Salinger and Howard Zinn

Farewell to two of my heroes: J.D. Salinger, author of several books, most notably the adolescent bible Catcher in the Rye. He was 91. And farewell to Howard Zinn, author of the bestselling A People's History of the United States. Zinn was 87, going on 37 - because he never let old age stop him from fighting the good fight. Both were great men in different ways. Both were nonconformists. Both helped open the eyes of millions of people through their writings. Both were uniquely American.

And both men will be sorely missed.

The Sarah Palin Project: My Year-Long Attempt to Convert Sarah Palin to Veganism

I am embarking on a new project.

It's called "The Sarah Palin Project."

I am going to write a letter to Sarah Palin once a week for one year. If my math is correct, that's a total of 52 letters. I'm going to send the letters to her house in Alaska. I got her address by Googling "Sarah Palin's address in Alaska." I hope to hell it's correct.

Who knows? Maybe I'll also forward a copy to Fox News, scene of her current gig.

Why am I doing this?

I was reading Palin's book Going Rogue (pictured here) and I came across the following passages:

“If any vegans came over for dinner, I could whip them up a salad, then explain my philosophy on being a carnivore: If God had not intended for us to eat animals, how come He made them out of meat?”

“I love meat. I eat pork chops, thick bacon burgers, and the seared fatty edges of a medium-well-done steak. But I especially love moose and caribou. I always remind people from outside our state that there's plenty of room for all Alaska's animals -- right next to the mashed potatoes.”
Fair enough.

Palin's book has been a bestseller. She has become a media superstar across North America.

But I'm going to challenge her. Not in a mean or abrasive way. My letters to Sarah Palin will be down-to-earth, friendly, frank - just the way I'd be if I were sitting at her dinner table, having a conversation.

The first quote (above) from Going Rogue reads to me like an invitation. I think Sarah Palin wants to have a conversation about meat eating and veganism.

I want to try to convert Sarah Palin to the vegan lifestyle because I think she'd be happier as a vegan. I'm going to take some time out of my schedule each week to explain why I think veganism is the way to go.

Why devote one year to this? I'm giving myself a year to talk Sarah Palin into becoming a vegan. If, at the end of that year, my efforts have not borne fruit (excuse the pun), I'll put aside pen and paper and move on.

The animal rights and vegan movement is about winning over converts, one person at a time. I'm sick and tired of people on both sides of the political spectrum shouting at each other and dehumanizing each other. I'm tired of the Rush Limbaughs and Ann Coulters assassinating people's characters. I'm tired of overzealous militants throwing pies in the faces of their "enemies." I'm tired of the Red State/Blue state paradigm.

I want to reach out across the political spectrum and have a friendly and honest conversation with someone who is on the opposite side. And I want to talk about what I see as the most important issue of our times: The sanctity of life - not just human life, but all animal life as well.

But my letters to Sarah Palin won't just be about that topic. Fifty-two letters about the sanctity of life would get awfully boring after a while.

No, my letters will cover a wide variety of issues: Personal and political; the food people eat; the ways in which we argue with each other; attitudes about meat and veganism; vegan recipes; the treatment of human beings and animals in capitalism; movies, music, literature. You name it, it'll probably make an appearance in my letters.

You might ask: Why bother trying to convert Sarah Palin to veganism? It's not fundamentally altering the status quo. It's not going to get rid of the factory farm system or any of the other pernicious manifestations of capitalism. It's not going to trigger a revolution.

True. True. True. It won't do any of those things. But I've been sitting on my tush cursing the darkness long enough. It's time to act. Time to do something. Time to reach across the spectrum with the hand of friendship and start sharing ideas in a manner that does not involve yelling, pies in the face, name calling, etc.

And who better to have that conversation with than Sarah Palin? And what better way to do it than through the dying art form of letter writing? Each week, I'll print off a letter in Courier font, each week I'll address it, each week I'll mail it. Will any of this make a difference? Maybe not.

But damn it, I'm going to try.

I'll update you from time to time on my efforts, Blog Friends. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Terrible Move All Around

Those of us who feel impassioned about animal rights should condemn - in no uncertain terms - the actions of the overzealous animal rights activist who threw a pie in the face of Canadian Federal Fisheries and Oceans Minister Gail Shea yesterday in Burlington Ontario. The act was apparently a protest against the seal hunt in Canada. A lot of good it did!

This sort of thuggish behaviour is unacceptable. It hurts our cause for two reasons:

# 1 - The most important reason: This movement - our movement - is about celebrating all life, and when someone throws a pie in the face of someone else, that kind of act of desperation and bullying requires that the pie thrower dehumanize the victim. Animal rights activists are not in the business of dehumanizing or bullying others or making them feel bad. We're in the business of reminding people - over and over again - that animals are not ours to abuse and exploit. Animals have dignity. A cornerstone of our movement ought to be nonviolence. We're trying to show people that there is a different, more humane way of living. What a contradiction, then, for a movement that stands for dignity and an end to the exploitation and mass murder of animals to resort to such a thuggish act as pie throwing.

# 2 - The second most important reason: An act like this one steers public attention away from the most important issue, and that is the violence that human beings engage in - on a massive and systematic and daily basis - against our fellow animals. The woman who tossed the pie, Emily McCoy, did a real disservice to the animal rights movement because now people are focused on what she did, not on the brutality of the seal hunt, which should have been banned long ago. Now a Liberal MP in Canada wants to investigate whether this pie-throwing incident was an act of terrorism. The real terrorism that the Canadian government should be investigating is the violent slaughter of seals, which is part and parcel of a larger human effort to exterminate large numbers of animals in what amounts to an unjustified and immoral mass murder. Thanks to McCoy, rather than focusing on seals, people are focusing on pie throwing. That kind of activism is counterproductive.

Years ago, a local activist named Julian Ichim threw chocolate milk on Conservative Canadian politician Stockwell Day. Do you think anybody sympathized with Ichim or paid attention to the causes he claimed to be championing when he lowered himself to such a juvenile and creepy level? No. It was a completely ineffectual act that set back whatever cause or causes that drove him to do it by several years. The same could be said of the pie-tossing incident yesterday.

The animal rights movement does not need that kind of "help."

Monday, January 25, 2010

More Insane Destruction of Pigs, Courtesy of - you guessed it - that "Humane" Species Known As Human Beings

As if the mass slaughter of pigs by the factory farm system around the world and the burying of pigs under avalanches in Austria weren't bad enough, now there is another deplorable way that pigs are being destroyed.

In jolly old England, military scientists are blowing up pigs (wrapped in Kelvar blankets) to test the effects of terrorist bomb attacks. So far, 18 unlucky pigs have been blown up. They were chosen because their skin is similar to that of human beings.

Here's something else the scientists should remember: Pigs also have minds that are similar in intelligence to three-year-old children.

The pigs are being blown up in tests that are designed to replicate the horrific London terrorist bombings of July 7, 2005, which killed 56 people in the morning rush hour.

To the poor pigs who have died so horrifically, the terrorists are not al-Qaeda or the Taliban or any of the other bogeymen that we have been so heavily exposed to over the past decade. Hell, Muslims don't even eat pork, so pigs are safe among those groups.

To the pigs, the real terrorists are the British government's teams of "experts" who are blowing them up.

Why the hell is the scientific community in England doing this??? Good question. As the British Telegram newspaper explained:

Scientists wanted to find out how long the animals survived when more than a third of their blood had drained from their bodies.

Medics hope the experiments will help British soldiers in Afghanistan as well as casualties of terror attacks like the July 2005 bombing of the London Underground and a double-decker bus.

In particular these results should help them understand how to control haemorrhaging in bomb blast victims.

Needless to say, no pigs made it out of the tests alive.

How does one even begin to address such insanity? If there is anything positive to be gotten out of this sad story, it is this: At least the animal rights community has strongly condemned the brutality. So did Norman Baker, a Liberal Democrat MP, who told the press:

These are revolting and unnecessary experiments. Sadly, we are too familiar with the effects of terrorism. It is perfectly possible to find out things we don’t know without blowing up pigs to find out.
What's next? Crashing remote-controlled drone airplanes with chimpanzees inside to test what happens to passengers when a terrorist flies an airplane into a building?

Human beings. You gotta love 'em, baby!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Good Times for Vegans

Please take a look at Virginia Messina's excellent Blog called The Seattle Vegan Examiner. There is some very good news on there for vegans, courtesy of Blogger Erik Marcus. There are more successful vegan books, movies exposing the brutalities of the factory farm system and the fur industry, and big donors and celebrities backing pro-animal and pro-vegan causes than ever before. It's great to see. The actress Natalie Portman (pictured above) converted to veganism last year (after being a vegetarian for years and years). Portman now has her own line of vegan shoes that are apparently selling like gangbusters (right on, Natalie!!!). More and more food chains are starting to carry vegan food, including Starbucks and the growing cupcake chain Sprinkles.

Things are really looking up for vegans. I remember watching a video on YouTube not too long ago, about the time I was converting over to veganism. One of my favorite actors, Casey Affleck (Gone, Baby Gone and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Bob Ford) was promoting the vegan lifestyle. Affleck has been a vegan for years, since 1995, as a matter of fact. He was discussing how hard it was back in the mid-1990s to find any vegan food anywhere. Vegans were thought of as total freaks back in those days. Now the market for vegan cookbooks has exploded and bookstores have vegan cooking sections, there are vegan mail-order houses across North America specializing in clothing and other vegan goods, and groups such as Vegan Outreach are aggressively promoting vegan living.

Capitalism is all about supply and demand. The best way to change the system is for more and more people to go vegan. If everybody went vegan, the factory farm system would disappear overnight. Change the demand, you change the supply.

(Above: Actress Natalie Portman, fighting the good fight for veganism.)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Tom Regan's Brilliant Argument for Animal Rights

Animals are not our property. We human beings have no right to murder them, test them, turn them into clothing, extract resources from them, etc. This philosophy is nothing new, and it certainly does not belong to any individual. There have been many brave souls who have argued these points for years and years. One of the most brilliant is Tom Regan, an American philosopher and professor emeritus at North Carolina State University. Do yourself a favor: Please, please, please watch these videos - the first is Regan speaking in 1989, the second is Regan addressing an audience much more recently in Germany (May 24, 2006). He lays out the case for animal rights beautifully here. Regan is eloquent, humanistic and passionate. If you listen to his words carefully, you'll find that his arguments are impossible to refute.

Note: If you like this video, there are many other Tom Regan videos on YouTube.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Protecting Animals by Getting Tough on Abusers

The time has come to get tough on serious animal abusers by charging them with felonies and giving them the harsh prison sentences they deserve. I never enjoy blogging about animal abuse, any more than I enjoy blogging about human abuse, but the shocking case of police finding 160 dead animals in a barn in Deer Park, Washington yesterday compels me to do so yet again. The barn contained 200 animals locked in cages, most of them dead. The ones who were still alive were desperate for food and water. It was an absolutely appalling scene. (Source)

In Garden City, New York, a mother was recently charged with forcing her children to torture pets. When the authorities raided her house, they found five dogs and a cat in cages, living in their own pee and shit. In the backyard, the SPCA made an even more gruesome discovery: 42 animals buried, many with duct tape over their mouths. The woman has six daughters, ranging in age from 18 months to 13 years. Her 21-year-old son who turned her in described her house as a "concentration camp for animals." (Source)

There are other similar cases, but, to be honest, it would depress me too much to list them all here.

Suffice it to say that it has only been since the 1990s that serial killers who target animals have actually been charged with felonies. Before the 1990s, such killers were usually let free, or - at the very worst - they were charged with misdemeanor animal cruelty. There are several states that still do not even have felony animal abuse laws (for a list of which states have them and when they adopted such laws, see here). Some would say these sadists just need good counseling. But what they really need are long jail sentences and huge fines if there is any hope of sending out a message that this sort of behavior is absolutely unacceptable.

Note: I'm singling out the United States only because I have studied the society more carefully as an American historian and newspaper columnist who often comments on American affairs. Here in Canada, the animal abuse laws are a little tougher, but not much. (Click here for a history of animal abuse laws in Canada.) Four years ago, there was an excellent entry on the Toronto Humane Society's blog (dated June 9, 2006), that offered the following observations:

Canada's current anti-cruelty laws for animals are totally inadequate, allowing those who neglect and abuse animals to repeat their crimes again and again with minimal consequences. For six years, Canada's government has stalled on the passage of tougher animal cruelty sentences.

The main reason Canada remains largely ineffective in preventing animal cruelty is the lack of tough laws and large fines in cases of cruelty and neglect. The current maximum fine for animal cruelty is $2,000 and a possible two-year ban on animal ownership. The laws have not been updated in more than 100 years. Meanwhile, cruelty to animals continues....

Canadians want to protect animals

Ninety-three percent of Canadians polled support tougher animal cruelty legislation including law enforcement officers, lawyers, researchers, farmers, hunters and animal welfare organizations.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Update: Wiseguy Joining in on the Hunt

Remember actor Ken Wahl, who won a Golden Globe Award for the CBS crime show Wiseguy? Well, the actor and animal rights supporter putting up his Golden Globe Award to help find the thugs who glued the beautiful cat Timothy to Interstate 90 in Minnesota last month. I blogged about Timothy a week ago. He has, sadly, died as a result of his ordeal. Since then, the reward money to apprehend the perpetrators has gone up to $12,000. Wahl is worried that the sadists who murdered Timothy will kill again, and he's probably right.

As Wahl put it:

Men who pick on cats are sick cowards that have control issues, since cats are half wild and independent. We’re not just finding a kitten killer, we are preventing this person becoming a serial killer. (Source)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Are the Do-Gooders Really Doing Much Good?

Last night, I watched a show called Beef Inc., a Canadian documentary made about 10 years ago. It was one of those lefty documentaries that excoriates big corporations. The bad guy, in this case, was Cargill, a gargantuan agribusiness and the largest private corporation in the United States. Cargill is about twice the size of the Empire in Star Wars and owns damn near half the planet. Not only did the film attack Cargill, it was also a celebration of the independent, small cattle farmers.

Like I said, the movie is a little more than a decade old, so it's sort of a forerunner of the contemporary "Happy Meat"/"Conscientious Carnivore" movements. The film's message was clear: Giant, impersonal corporations = Bad Guys. Small farmers who allow their animals to enjoy nature = Good Guys. All of the commentators on the show, who were mostly academics, reinforced this decidedly populist point of view.

On the surface, it's a sensible position. In Canada and the United States, small farmers are almost regarded as sacrosanct in the popular imagination (indeed, Thomas Jefferson called them "God's chosen people"). And who wouldn't support the underdog - the small farmer - over huge and powerful agribusinesses that have been gobbling up land and resources and making gargantuan profits for decades?

Interestingly, at the end of the documentary, the interviewer - perhaps hoping to end on a note of levity - asked the pundits on the show how they like their steaks prepared. Most of them laughingly answered "medium rare." Only one said, "I prefer my steak inside the cow, and I like the cow to be playing happily in the field."

Right on!

I must admit, I was taken aback when I watched the film that these liberal anti-corporate types - preaching the virtues of the small farmer over the big corporation - had NO ability to relate to the animals that were being slaughtered. Before I came around to veganism, I probably would've sounded a lot like one of these people if asked about the deleterious effects of gigantic agribusinesses. I most likely would've attacked the big guys and stood up for the small farmers.

Thanks to the efforts of brave souls like Gary Francione, more and more people are starting to see right through the phoniness of the "Happy Meat" and "Conscientious Carnivore" movements. True, the animals in these free range settings are better off than those held captive in the factory farm system while they are actually alive. But make no mistake about it: These animals are still enslaved and exploited, slaughtered for their meat to feed human beings who do not actually need that meat to survive. To quote Francione:

The “happy meat” movement is intended to make the public feel more comfortable about animal exploitation and to ensure that social discussion about animal ethics remains focused away from the relevant question—why are we eating animals in the first place given that it is not necessary for human health, is an ecological disaster, and, most importantly, results in our imposing suffering and death on sentient nonhumans? The “happy meat” movement is achieving these goals, and that does not represent any sort of progress. Quite the contrary. The “happy meat” movement represents a significant step backwards.

As I watched Beef Inc., I thought: What a sad thing that most of these anti-corporate commentators cannot recognize that the very same impersonal forces that drive corporations to exploit people, deplete communities, maximize profits, quash small competitors and sacrifice their own (through downsizing and relocating overseas) - that these very same institutions also stun billions of animals, hold them upside down by metal clamps, slash their throats and drain them of all of their precious lifeblood.

It is far easier to relate to small farmers who have a human face than to gigantic corporations. We can understand their challenges and dilemmas, their vulnerability and courage in the face of adversity. It is possible to be sympathetic to these farmers and their plight, yet also see right through the delusion of "humane slaughtering." I have no problem with peacefully coexisting with meat eaters. As I've said before, I ate meat most of my life, and I wouldn't have wanted some over-zealous vegan to pass judgment on me.

But I do wish the "progressive" do-gooders would abandon all this B.S. about Conscientious Carnivorism. The "free range" cow whose artery is slit open feels the agony of death every bit as much as the cow who was confined to a coffin-like space in a factory farm, yet the people who insist on devouring "happy meat" are in a complete state of denial about this fact. "What is a Conscientious Carnivore to do?" asked the Website Eco Child's Play. "The answer is three-fold: Buy small, buy local, buy grass-fed."

At least the Sarah Palins of this world don't fool themselves into believing there's a nice way to slaughter animals. When she proclaimed in her memoir Going Rogue her love for hamburgers, pork chops and the "seared fatty edges of a medium-well-done steak" and said "there's plenty of room for all Alaska's animals - right next to the mashed potatoes," at least she didn't try to place a lot of politically correct widow dressing around her decisions. You could almost envision Palin wearing a bib, tearing into the T-bone, and letting the juices run down her chin.

There's far more honesty in that sort of Red State gusto than in all of this mealy-mouthed talk of Conscientious Carnivorism.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Either Protect 'Em or Give 'Em to Ted!

From the Washington Post comes an interesting article about 88 bison roaming in a part of Montana outside of Yellowstone National Park and who face possible slaughter if left to wander freely. So gazillionaire broadcast mogul Ted Turner has announced that the bison are welcome to live on his colossal Montana ranch and receive protection and care. The catch? You guessed it. There's no free lunch in America. According to the article in the Post:
The media mogul says he will care for the bison only if he can keep up to 90 percent of their offspring.
The article notes that "hunters, environmentalists and property law experts" are all up in arms over the prospect that animals living in public spaces can be placed under the care of a wealthy private rancher. FYI, for the past several years, these bison have been kept in a quarantine area near the park to make sure they were disease-free. The bison have received a clean bill of health, but they're now outside of the protected habitat. The state of Montana worries that the animals might be slaughtered if they are left to roam outside of Yellowstone. They are especially vulnerable to farmers who don't want the bison competing with their livestock for grass in the area.

The Washington Post article was a bit of a head-scratcher, because the author did not explain why the state of Montana doesn't simply ship the animals back to Yellowstone where they would presumably be protected (he does note that the state is not taking responsibility for the animals, but doesn't say why... maybe they're too cheap?). As is often the case with issues involving public lands and the federal government in the United States, it is hard to know just how vulnerable these animals really are. But clearly, many knowledgeable observers fear that the bison are in danger of being slaughtered.

So there are two options: 1) Give them to Ted Turner. He's a devout conservationist and the animals will probably have a relatively peaceful existence living on his 150,000 acres of land, a vast territory totally closed off to hunters. 2) Here's a novel idea: Protect them!!! Pass laws that make it a felony to kill them. Make sure they're cared for and looked after. The federal government and the state of Montana should help conservationists who are trying to buy land to create wildlife reserves for the bison. Washington, D.C. and Montana need to pony up if they want to protect the state's bison. Otherwise, Ted Turner's ranch is looking mighty appealing.

(Photo of a bison on Ted Turner's Nebraska ranch courtesy of the Washington Post.)

Crisis in Haiti Devastates Humans and Animals Alike

The crisis in Haiti has been staggering. Some observers are estimating the human death toll could reach 200,000 - just about 30,000 shy of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami death toll. A lot of generous people around the world are reaching deep in their pockets to donate to charities that are sending aid to the Haitian people. It is a gargantuan effort in every sense of the word. Watching images of rescuers pulling people out of the rubble, the corpses stacked by the side of the road, and the armies of Haitian homeless wandering the streets are all reminders of the precariousness of human life and the damage that mere seconds of severe earthquake can do to people, especially in such an impoverished nation.

In addition to the massive, large-scale effort to bring aid and relief to the Haitian people, there is also a much smaller effort to help the dislocated animals of Haiti. USA Today has noted that the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is joining forces with the Animal Relief Coalition for Haiti to help take care of the huge population of animals affected by the disaster. As USA Today notes:

There are an estimated 5 million head of livestock in the country (mostly goats), a large stray dog population, an untold number of companion animals and native wildlife all adversely affected by the earthquake.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the American Humane Association is also joining in on the rescue effort. There is an excellent Blog entry on Super Vegan about what you can do to help the animals of Haiti. My policy has been to donate to the charities that help human beings and whatever extra I can give, I will give to help the animals. Both are desperately in need of help.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Fighting the Good Fight in Singapore

It is encouraging to see people finally addressing the treatment of animals in Asia. There was a huge meeting this weekend in Singapore to address this very issue. And while the participants did not necessarily focus on animal liberation, this was at least an attempt to address issue of animal welfare and abuse in Asian nations, and hopefully raise a little awareness. The following news item comes from the Malaysian National News Agency Bernama:
SINGAPORE, Jan 16 (Bernama) -- Nearly 400 international animal protection activists gathered here today to discuss concrete long-term solutions for ongoing animal protection and cruelty problems in the Asia region.

The activists representing over 200 organisations from 26 countries, including Malaysia, are participating in the five-day Asia for Animals Conference (AFA) hosted by Singapore's Acres (Animal Concerns Research and Education Society.

The conference will cover a wide range of issues including running effective education outreach programmes, improving the welfare of animals in captivity, providing optimal veterinary care, effective stray animals management, wiping out the wildlife trade, running a sustainable rescue centre and campaigning for change.

Singapore Member of Parliament Seah Kian Peng who in his opening address, said the world was now beginning to realise the need to preserve and take care of animals and the importance of their survival to mankind.

He said the European Union had recognised that animals were sentient beings and had started to include animal welfare in its Free Trade Agreement.

The World Organisation for Animal Health recently integrated animal welfare into its strategic priorities and the Doha WTO Agreement on Trade also placed animal welfare firmly on the agenda for future agricultural negotiations, Seah said.

Yet Another Sign of Animal Intelligence: Chickens can count

This just in: In a three-way study between two Italian universities, the University of Padua and the University of Trento, and a Canadian university, the University of Saskatchewan, scientists have discovered that chickens have the ability to count. Study leader Lucia Regolin elaborated on the significance of the study:

We were able to train chicks to peck at either the forth or sixth hole in a series of 16. Our results indicate for the first time that a disposition to count from left to right exists in non-human, non-linguistic species. The fact that they were chicks supports the theory that such a disposition is apparent very early in development. (Source)

This is the kind of animal testing I like, because it shows what animal rights activists have been arguing for a long time: animals are intelligent, and chickens are no exception. If anything, we humans have been underestimating the intelligence and abilities of chickens for years. Now there is compelling evidence to show that chickens, from a very young age, learn to count exactly the same way human beings do.

In fact, the scientific community has added weight and legitimacy to these claims. As the website/Blog for Scienceray (dubbed, "All that is Science, Astronomy, Biology, Mathematics, Physics") pointed out last April:

Chickens are highly intelligent birds that have been traditionally underestimated, especially for their mental abilities. But now, it has now been confirmed by doctors and professors alike that their brilliant cognitive capacities match even those of mammals and primates. Research has indeed proved that they lead very complex lives which is now very clear.

These graceful birds exist in stable social groups and can recognize one other from their facial features. Apparently they have 24 distinct cries that communicate a wealth of information to one other. These include, separate alarm calls depending on whether a predator is travelling by land or sea. They are also brilliant at solving problems, just like monkeys.

Perhaps most persuasive is the chicken’s intriguing ability to understand that an object, when taken away and hidden, nevertheless continues to exist which is beyond the capacity of young children. They display sophisticated social behaviour which is what the act of pecking is all about. Chickens can recognize more than a hundred other chickens and remember them too. They also have more than thirty types of vocalizations.

The term “bird brains” can really be regarded as a compliment because chickens have proven that they can do things that people thought they just couldn’t! And terms like being “scared like a chicken” is also falsely depicted as this is in fact just a very natural motherly instinct for them to flap their wings to protect their hatching chicks! There are in fact a lot of hidden depths in chickens which we all need to make an effort to understand. They are very expressive and emotional as well. (Read the full post here.)

An Unforgettable Excerpt on the Slaughter of Pigs in Upton Sinclair's The Jungle (1906)

When Upton Sinclair's muckraking novel The Jungle was published in 1906, it was an instant bestseller and enormously influential. It inspired a host of Progressive Era reforms, including the passage of several laws and regulations related to the meatpacking industry. Long before I became a vegan, I thought one of the most powerful scenes in the book depicted the slaughter of hogs in the factory where the main character, Jurgis Rudkus, worked. The scene, found in Chapter 3, portrays a group of visitors touring the slaughterhouse. It is worth quoting here in its entirety:

"They don't waste anything here," said the guide, and then he laughed and added a witticism, which he was pleased that his unsophisticated friends should take to be his own: "They use everything about the hog except the squeal." In front of Brown's General Office building there grows a tiny plot of grass, and this, you may learn, is the only bit of green thing in Packingtown; likewise this jest about the hog and his squeal, the stock in trade of all the guides, is the one gleam of humor that you will find there.

After they had seen enough of the pens, the party went up the street, to the mass of buildings which occupy the center of the yards. These buildings, made of brick and stained with innumerable layers of Packingtown smoke, were painted all over with advertising signs, from which the visitor realized suddenly that he had come to the home of many of the torments of his life. It was here that they made those products with the wonders of which they pestered him so--by placards that defaced the landscape when he traveled, and by staring advertisements in the newspapers and magazines--by silly little jingles that he could not get out of his mind, and gaudy pictures that lurked for him around every street corner. Here was where they made Brown's Imperial Hams and Bacon, Brown's Dressed Beef, Brown's Excelsior Sausages! Here was the headquarters of Durham's Pure Leaf Lard, of Durham's Breakfast Bacon, Durham's Canned Beef, Potted Ham, Deviled Chicken, Peerless Fertilizer!

Entering one of the Durham buildings, they found a number of other visitors waiting; and before long there came a guide, to escort them through the place. They make a great feature of showing strangers through the packing plants, for it is a good advertisement. But Ponas Jokubas whispered maliciously that the visitors did not see any more than the packers wanted them to. They climbed a long series of stairways outside of the building, to the top of its five or six stories. Here was the chute, with its river of hogs, all patiently toiling upward; there was a place for them to rest to cool off, and then through another passageway they went into a room from which there is no returning for hogs.

It was a long, narrow room, with a gallery along it for visitors. At the head there was a great iron wheel, about twenty feet in circumference, with rings here and there along its edge. Upon both sides of this wheel there was a narrow space, into which came the hogs at the end of their journey; in the midst of them stood a great burly Negro, bare-armed and bare-chested. He was resting for the moment, for the wheel had stopped while men were cleaning up. In a minute or two, however, it began slowly to revolve, and then the men upon each side of it sprang to work. They had chains which they fastened about the leg of the nearest hog, and the other end of the chain they hooked into one of the rings upon the wheel. So, as the wheel turned, a hog was suddenly jerked off his feet and borne aloft.

At the same instant the car was assailed by a most terrifying shriek; the visitors started in alarm, the women turned pale and shrank back. The shriek was followed by another, louder and yet more agonizing--for once started upon that journey, the hog never came back; at the top of the wheel he was shunted off upon a trolley, and went sailing down the room. And meantime another was swung up, and then another, and another, until there was a double line of them, each dangling by a foot and kicking in frenzy--and squealing. The uproar was appalling, perilous to the eardrums; one feared there was too much sound for the room to hold--that the walls must give way or the ceiling crack. There were high squeals and low squeals, grunts, and wails of agony; there would come a momentary lull, and then a fresh outburst, louder than ever, surging up to a deafening climax. It was too much for some of the visitors--the men would look at each other, laughing nervously, and the women would stand with hands clenched, and the blood rushing to their faces, and the tears starting in their eyes.

Meantime, heedless of all these things, the men upon the floor were going about their work. Neither squeals of hogs nor tears of visitors made any difference to them; one by one they hooked up the hogs, and one by one with a swift stroke they slit their throats. There was a long line of hogs, with squeals and lifeblood ebbing away together; until at last each started again, and vanished with a splash into a huge vat of boiling water.

It was all so very businesslike that one watched it fascinated. It was porkmaking by machinery, porkmaking by applied mathematics. And yet somehow the most matter-of-fact person could not help thinking of the hogs; they were so innocent, they came so very trustingly; and they were so very human in their protests--and so perfectly within their rights! They had done nothing to deserve it; and it was adding insult to injury, as the thing was done here, swinging them up in this cold-blooded, impersonal way, without a pretense of apology, without the homage of a tear. Now and then a visitor wept, to be sure; but this slaughtering machine ran on, visitors or no visitors. It was like some horrible crime committed in a dungeon, all unseen and unheeded, buried out of sight and of memory.

One could not stand and watch very long without becoming philosophical, without beginning to deal in symbols and similes, and to hear the hog squeal of the universe. Was it permitted to believe that there was nowhere upon the earth, or above the earth, a heaven for hogs, where they were requited for all this suffering? Each one of these hogs was a separate creature. Some were white hogs, some were black; some were brown, some were spotted; some were old, some young; some were long and lean, some were monstrous. And each of them had an individuality of his own, a will of his own, a hope and a heart's desire; each was full of self-confidence, of self-importance, and a sense of dignity. And trusting and strong in faith he had gone about his business, the while a black shadow hung over him and a horrid Fate waited in his pathway. Now suddenly it had swooped upon him, and had seized him by the leg. Relentless, remorseless, it was; all his protests, his screams, were nothing to it--it did its cruel will with him, as if his wishes, his feelings, had simply no existence at all; it cut his throat and watched him gasp out his life. And now was one to believe that there was nowhere a god of hogs, to whom this hog personality was precious, to whom these hog squeals and agonies had a meaning? Who would take this hog into his arms and comfort him, reward him for his work well done, and show him the meaning of his sacrifice?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Don't Swallow It!

Leave it to people to come up with new ways of denial and self-delusion. The so-called "Happy Meat Movement" is a perfect example of the lengths that people will go to fool themselves. These days, you hear a lot about "humane" methods of slaughter and "conscientious carnivorism." "Eating animals is apparently hip again," noted the New York-based Gothamist Blog, under the headline "Is Vegetarianism Dead?" The Blog entry noted that some vegan restaurants have even started putting meat back on the menu, in response to declining customer demand. The owners hope the new meat dishes will bring the old clientele back and maybe even win over new customers.

The drift toward "conscientious" meat eating, such as the consumption of free-range animals, is a response to the exposure of horrific factory farm slaughtering methods in such documentaries as Death on a Factory Farm and Food, Inc.

As someone who has been a meat-eating omnivore most of my life, I can tell you that the words "humane" and "slaughter" do not belong in the same sentence together, any more than "peaceful" and "war" do. It's nothing more than an effort to soothe the guilty conscience. "Humane" is a misnomer in this case. If there was really truth in advertising, it would be sold under the label "Slightly Less Barbaric." Slightly.

This is more denial designed to assuage those who are uneasy about the mass extermination taking place in the factory farm system, yet not ready to make the leap into vegetarianism or veganism. If you don't want to become a vegetarian or vegan, that's fine. But please, spare us the adjectives like "humane," "painless," "conscientious," "local," and "alternative." Those words might help you to avoid staring into the abyss, but if you insist on using them in this case, they will lose all meaning. It's sort of like all of those loud-mouthed lefties in the 1960s overusing the word "fascist" Now "fascist" is essentially meaningless. Or these right-wingers who insist on calling Barack Obama a "socialist." Talk about another word that has lost all meaning.

Time to let Australian animal rights activist Katrina Fox have the last word, from her wonderful column in the Sydney Morning Herald:

As we enter not only a new year, but a new decade, it's time to refocus our attention on challenging our use, not just our treatment of animals. No animal goes willingly to the slaughterhouse, happy for their corpse to be served on a plate. There is nothing humane about slitting a sentient being's throat - regardless of whether it's been raised in a factory farm or pasture.

The real revolution isn't happy meat, it will be the establishment of veganism as a cultural and social norm. This is no easy task. The perception of veganism is that it's extreme or radical.... But it's important to remember many of the great liberation movements were first thought of as extreme and radical. Now is not the time for compromise. Anti-slavery advocates didn't call for better conditions for slaves, they called for the abolition of slavery. It's time to abolish the modern-day equivalent: animal exploitation, and the easiest way to start is by choosing not to eat them.

A Few Damn Good Blogs

  • Animal rights advocate Patrick Battuello writes a wonderful animal rights Blog for the Albany (N.Y.) Times Union. Please have a look at it, if you get a chance. Battuello is a business owner and vegan, and his Blog is one of the most compassionate and insightful I've ever read. The latest Blog entry, titled "On Luna and a Nameless Smithfield Pig," almost brought tears to my eyes. Thank goodness Battuello is fighting the good fight with his Blog. Not only is it extremely moving, but he gets a lot of interesting comments that highlight some of the debates and differing opinions about animal rights. The Blog has been going since last year and I had a chance to peruse some of the other entries. It is truly wonderful work.
  • After rushing out to the bookstore to buy her vegan cookbooks, I've become a huge Sarah Kramer fan. Sarah is based out of Victoria, British Columbia, and she posts videos on YouTube (please subscribe if you get a chance!) and on her combination Blog/Website Go I'm trying out some her recipes as we speak. Sarah is a real kindred spirit: A fellow punk (I know, I know - I no longer have my teenage mohawk, but, hey, once a punk, always a punk), a fan of alternative music, a humanist vegan/animal rights advocate, a wonderfully upbeat person and a great cook! Oh yeah, and she's a fellow Canadian. Her splendid cookbook, La Dolce Vegan, is pictured above. Keep up the great work, Sarah! You have a lot of fans out there. Add me to the list.
  • Pet lovers will cherish the Blog Pethacker. Bookmark this sucker for the latest in pet news and issues having to do with animal advocacy. Did I mention that it is loaded with adorable animal images? The folks at Pethacker clearly come at this issue from an animal rights perspective. The Blog features a particularly outstanding post about animal abuse in China. Folks, if you think we've got problems in North America, take a look at China's abysmal animal abuse record. It is extensive and it goes way back. And as long as there is a totalitarian regime running that nation, things aren't going to change there anytime soon. But I digress. You'll enjoy Pethacker. The posts are well written and the Blog is updated numerous times a day. Like this Blog, it hasn't been around very long, but what it lacks in longevity, it more than makes up for in regular updates.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Reform versus Liberation - scratch that; make it: Reform AND Liberation

When I finally embraced the concept of animal liberation last year, I did so after years of supporting and promoting various forms of human liberation (e.g., women's liberation, gay and lesbian liberation, etc. etc.).

As I grew older and perhaps somewhat more complacent in my cushy academic position, I still supported the concept of sweeping and humane revolutionary change in principle, yet I found myself becoming more of a liberal in my thinking and approach. In other words, I remained doubtful about the prospects of a successful revolution occurring anytime soon, so I supported reforms and social welfare and the like - policies designed to help ordinary people and ameliorate their condition.

That doesn't mean I abandoned my old vision of human liberation. It simply means I became more pragmatic.

As a believer in animal liberation, I understand that animal libbers face a dilemma. Like the abolitionists of the antebellum era who supported the immediate end of slavery and liberation of enslaved people, the new abolitionists of the animal rights movement support an immediate end to the mass destruction of animal life and the enslavement of animals for human use. This is our position. And we have to say it over and over and over again, loud and clear, until we're blue in the face.

But that doesn't mean we can't support policies that also gradually improve conditions for animals. We're not going to accomplish our vision of animal liberation overnight. Some of the more radical animal liberationists have attacked what they call "welfarism." They are understandably frustrated by the way that gradual improvements give the public a warm and fuzzy feeling and help promote the illusion that animals are finally being treated with the respect they deserve.

The dilemma is that the more you support reform, the more you seem to be legitimizing a system that ought to be dismantled and replaced by a more humane way of doing things.

My position on the matter is not to take an either/or approach to animal liberation and animal welfare. Every little improvement counts. Every law that helps better conditions for animals is a step - however gradual - in the right direction. If a cow is going to be slaughtered, better that it be slaughtered in a slightly less barbaric way due to a law or regulation that improved conditions in slaughterhouses. But slaughter is slaughter, and there is no such thing as "humane" killing, no matter how you look at it.

The job of an abolitionist - whether she/he opposed human chattel slavery in the nineteenth century or animal enslavement in the twenty-first - is to make sure that the voice of abolition is always heard, no matter what. If you take this position, the powers that be will call you every name in the book: radical, extremist, terrorist, you name it. Defend yourself against such name-calling if you must, but don't retreat an inch.

Remember that when 25-year-old journalist and printer William Lloyd Garrison started his abolitionist newspaper The Liberator in 1831, he was a lone voice in the wilderness. He had no way of knowing that his actions would change history. Similarly, when Frederick Douglass (left) escaped slavery in 1838, he, too, had no reason to believe that he would eventually alter the course of human events in profound ways. Neither retreated from abolitionism. But both would have preferred the kind slave owner to the cruel one, even as they worked tirelessly for an end to the institution.

Turning the Tide in Maryland

Kudos to two state senators in Maryland who are pushing for stronger animal cruelty laws. The two legislators are pushing to toughen the punishments in the state for anyone guilty of committing misdemeanor animal abuse. These senators want to increase the fine from $1,000 to $2,500, and the jail time from 90 days to one year.

Making the punishments more severe would "enforce the values" of Maryland's residents, says State Senator Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery County), "which are opposed to gratuitous cruelty and violence against animals." (Source)

The Animal Defense Fund ranks Maryland number 40 of all states and the District of Columbia in enforcing its animal cruelty laws. The increasingly responsive attitude of Maryland's politicians is due largely to the hard work of - you guessed it - animal rights advocates. As Carolyn Kilborn, chairwoman of the group Maryland Votes for Animals, put it: "We're sick and tired of the cruelty that's being unaddressed by our legislature." (Source)


Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Short, Sad Life of Timothy

On a freezing cold night just seven days before Christmas in 2009, a motorist in southwestern Minnesota made a horrible discovery. A beautiful, 7-month-old kitten (later named Timothy) was stuck in the middle of the highway. Some horrible sadist had glued his paws to the pavement.

Volunteers at Second Chance Rescue took him in, but he died a few days later. Apparently, the poisonous glue got into his system and killed him.

Timothy is gone, but not forgotten. He was the victim of a system in which animal abusers are seldom punished for their crimes. So many people have committed ghastly crimes against animals. And in the rare cases these thugs are brought to trial, they're almost always released with only a slap on the wrist - if that. This is because we live in a society that has looked the other way at animal abuse.

This sort of tragedy repeats itself over and over again, in a thousand different communities across North America.

But there is another side to humanity. A number of donors have offered rewards for information leading to the capture of the sadists who murdered Timothy. In fact, the reward has grown to $10,000. One anonymous donor contributed $1,000 toward the reward money. The outpouring of support and sympathy for Timothy has been nothing short of remarkable.

There is also a movement in Minnesota to push for the passage of more stringent animal cruelty laws. As the Morris (Minnesota) Sun Tribune noted:

Just two days before Timothy was pulled from the roadway west of Mankato, Minn., the national Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) released a report ranking the states on their laws concerning animal abuse.

Minnesota ranked 15th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, and someone arrested in connection with the Dec. 18 incident could face a felony charge because it involved intentional cruelty and resulted in the animal’s death, according to Stephan Otto, an attorney and legislative director with the California-based ALDF.

“They would be facing penalties of up to two years in prison and a $5,000 fine,” Otto said Monday.

Minnesota has a more severe felony animal abuse charge available for cases where the animal torture is done to terrorize another person. That carries a maximum penalty of four years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Conviction on a misdemeanor animal abuse charge in Minnesota carries a maximum sentence of a year in jail and a fine of $3,000, Otto said.

Tougher laws to protect animals are long overdue. Humane people who love animals can only accomplish so much. They need the legal system on their side, so that there is actually a deterrent against this kind of cruelty. As it is now, the fiends who committed this crime will likely go on hurting other animals simply because they can. Time to change the laws so the bad guys pay and the victims receive the protection under the law they deserve.

Tragedy in Haiti

It is horrific to see the tragic images coming out of Haiti in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that rocked the island nation a few days ago. The scenes of death, destruction and despair on television is almost more than any viewer can withstand. If there is any silver lining to this dark cloud, it is this: It is amazing to see how technology is helping the relief effort. People across North America have been texting donations to different earthquake relief organizations. Millions of dollars have already been raised. For those looking to help, the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) has compiled an amazing list of different relief efforts and the ways in which people in the United States and Canada can help. The URL is:

Every little bit helps - $5, $10, $20 - whatever you can spare. This is a tragedy of gargantuan proportions. I know that a lot of people will be reaching deep into their pockets and doing whatever they can to help the people of Haiti. There is a lot of goodness and generosity in North America. Amazing acts of generosity have already been too numerous to count. Let's all do our own little part to keep that tradition alive and well.

Right on! Ending a Pointless Experiment in Austria

Animal rights activists have scored yet another victory!

Thanks to the efforts of protesters in Austria, a group of scientists from Italy and Austria have halted an experiment of burying anesthetized pigs alive in snow to see if they can gain any insights about how human beings experience being buried in avalanches.

An Austrian group called Four Paws was behind the protest. As a spokeswoman for the group stated: "It is absolutely unacceptable to kill these highly sensitive, helpless animals for such a useless experiment." (Source)

One of the scientists said: "We want to save lives. That's the only goal of this experiment."

That might very well be the case. But thanks to the work of a dedicated group of activists, 29 pigs will avoid dying a horrible death, a death involving being buried alive in snow - an appalling way to die.

No scientific experiment is worth such a heinous act of cruelty.

Fighting the Good Fight Against Puppy Mills

Rather than always focusing on the negative, which is easy for animal rights advocates to do, it is also important to spotlight the heroic fight against animal abuse. Kudos to SPCA volunteers across North America. In Pennsylvania, SPCA workers in Lebanon and Lancaster counties are working to help abused puppies who are currently crammed into dark mills in a state with the reputation as "the puppy mill capital of the world." (Source) The conditions in the puppy mills are horrendous. It is worth quoting extensively from the article in the Mercury:

An Associated Press report in Monday's edition of The Mercury reported on one day in the life of an animal rescue worker driving through Lancaster County buying mistreated animals. The account described the horrid conditions inside high-volume puppy mills: "... an overwhelming stench of urine and feces. Ammonia fumes burn the nose and eyes. The simultaneous barking of hundreds of dogs creates a wall of sound that makes it hard to think, let alone converse.

"Lacking a bone or toy to occupy their time, some dogs go into a frenzy every time they see a human. Other dogs circle endlessly. Still others just sit there, staring, like a 'warm statue,' says Jessie Smith, special deputy secretary of dog law enforcement at the state Department of Agriculture.

"Breeders often act as their own vets, performing delicate surgical procedures — docking tails, "debarking" dogs by hacking at the vocal cords, performing Caesarean sections on pregnant females."
Thanks to a group of committed SPCA activists, these puppy mills are being exposed in the press as the profit-hungry, cruel factories that they are. "The corps of combatants" fighting against the abuse in puppy mills, notes the Mercury article, are "tireless." It is an uphill battle, to be certain, but when you see the horrible acts of abuse captured on tape (for example: a series of recent dog beatings in New York filmed on video), you begin to understand how crucial it is that animals receive better protection under the law. It is encouraging to see that many states, including Pennsylvania and Minnesota, are enacting much tougher anti-cruelty laws. This is a welcome move in the right direction. And the passage of such laws is largely because of the pressure being placed on legislators by animal rights activists.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

From Omnivore to Vegan

"Animals are not ours to use."

Those six words have changed my life.

I have lived most of my life - up until last year, as a matter of fact - as an omnivore. I ate nearly every kind of meat imaginable, from snails to bison. I lived in denial. I had grown adept in the art of disassociation. Sure, I knew that hamburger came from cows, pork chops from pigs and chicken from... well, chicken. But I did not stop to think about the moral implications of what I was doing each time I ate meat and consumed other animal products. I ate and drank in complacency, never putting two and two together, never connecting the dots. The meat I ate, bloodless and shrink-wrapped in white-as-snow styrofoam holders, was completely disconnected in my mind from the suffering that was caused to get it from the factory farm to the store.

Truth is, I've eaten meat as far back as I can remember without thinking much about it. And, ironically, I did so at the same time that I professed my love for animals. One of my first books, a gift from my mother, was called For the Love of Baby Animals. I adored animals. I helped homeless cats. I assisted injured dogs. I cuddled with hamsters, held parakeets on my index finger and fed them seed, and mingled with goats and pigs in petting zoos. I've ridden horses and donkeys. I've milked a cow. I fed the rabbits at my cousin's house. I chased roosters and roosters chased me. Trips to the zoo were a cherished event.

Animals have always played a central role in my life. At one time or another, I've owned cats and dogs, gerbils and birds, fish and lizards.

But somehow, I was able to put hamburger and steak and chicken and fish in my mouth without even thinking twice about it. That fact, I think, speaks volumes about the power of denial.

I am no longer in a state of denial. I am awake. I can see now. I know what it means to be "born again." When you suddenly attain a new level of consciousness, you begin to see everything differently. Smells take on new meaning. Colours you never noticed before suddenly expand your horizons. Textures you took for granted begin to reverberate and change your way of looking at things.

For a long time, I had nagging doubts about eating meat and consuming other animal products, but I managed to cast those doubts aside. I can't do that any longer.

Ten million animals are killed per hour in the United States alone. That translates to 10 billion land animals and billions of aquatic animals. Most are kept in factory farms, living in extremely cramped conditions. Some of the factory farms are foul and full of abuse and violence. Others are clean, modern and operate efficiently with as little pain as possible.

But make no mistake: There is no humane way to kill an animal. Some methods are less barbaric than others.

I am starting this Blog because I have had a taste of what it is like to live an entirely different way. I'm talking about the Vegan Lifestyle.

I used to think Vegans were - well - nuts. I thought they were out to lunch. Crackpots. Do-gooders who took doing good too far. Starry-eyed hippies with their heads in the clouds. I understood why somebody would become a vegetarian and swear off meat. But why become a vegan and stop using all animal products, even down pillows and leather jackets?

The answer came to me when I was watching an HBO documentary last year titled Death on a Factory Farm, about the horrific treatment of pigs on a farm in Ohio. After five minutes of watching the powerful documentary, I reached for the remote control. I couldn't take it anymore. I was about to switch off the television, but then I stopped. I forced myself to watch it. And the documentary literally woke me up out of a deep, complacent slumber. A slumber that I'd been in my entire life.

After watching Death on a Factory Farm, I began to read everything I could get my hands on. In particular, I was heavily influenced by the writings of Gary Francione, a brilliant American legal scholar and the nation's leading animal rights advocate (and a vegan). After reading Francione's writings and watching his videos, I came to the conclusion that human beings have absolutely no right to enslave animals for any purpose, whether it is for factory farming, testing or entertainment purposes.

It is acceptable in my view to adopt pets, because they're part of one's family. But I will no longer consume animal products of any kind, because I believe the massive slaughter system that now exists is unjust and needs to be dismantled. And part of that system is also the exploitation of animals for other products, such as milk, clothing, etc.

I don't wish to preach. In fact, this is about as preachy as I'm going to get on this Blog. I intend to use this Blog simply to distribute information to vegans and supporters of animal rights. As a Canadian, I believe that the animal rights movement in my country needs to be stronger. It needs to be vigilant. And it needs to be compassionate and nonviolent. Vilifying and resorting to violent tactics is not the way to go. It is never the way to go. No cause, save perhaps self-defense, is worth hurting another - whether that "other" is a human being or a non-human animal.

A year ago, if you would've told me, "Andrew, by this time next year, you'll be a vegan," I probably would've laughed and looked at you like you were a nut.

But a lot can change in a year. People change. I changed. I'm happier now. Sure, I feel guilty sometimes about all the meat I consumed over the span of my first forty years. Sadly, I can't go back and un-eat it. All I can do is open my eyes to the truth and advocate for the voiceless. I picked the title "We're all Animals" for this Blog because human beings are animals, too. None of us is perfect. Yet there is one thing that gives me hope about humanity: People change. Sometimes they actually improve. It is a beautiful thing to witness when it actually happens.

Those of us who are vegans and animal rights supporters need to form communities of kindred spirits who fight the good fight for the liberation of our fellow animals.

Change starts with the individual. And it begins in the here and now.