Sunday, July 31, 2011

Fighting the Good Fight: SHARK is Shining the Spotlight on Animal Abuse

There are so many wonderful groups fighting the good fight against animal abuse and cruelty. One of those groups, which has been putting videotaping to its very best and most effective use, is Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (or SHARK for short). SHARK is a group that deserves our support.

SHARK maintains a highly effective Facebook and YouTube presence. SHARK's head, Steve Hindi, is an incredibly effective spokesman for the cause. A former hunter, Steve goes from place to place, camcorder in hand, documenting human brutality against animals. As Steve points out in the introductory video on YouTube, SHARK relies on volunteer efforts and operates with a skeletal budget, so they need all the support they can get.

SHARK has been particularly effective in exposing the abuse at rodeos. Far too many animals have died extremely violent deaths in rodeos, which has tripped off warning bells among animal advocates. In one of SHARK's most recent videos, documenting the death of a Wyoming rodeo horse on July 30, 2011, thugs attempted to prevent Steve from filming the horse's painful death. This sort of scene has repeated itself over and over. No wonder the rodeo bosses - and all people who profit from the abuse of animals - fear SHARK's videocameras. Thee are modern-day video guerrillas, taking the best weapons imaginable - camcorders - into the belly of the beast.

SHARK is doing so much that is worthwhile. I urge you to support them. I'm going to be logging on to PayPal shortly to give a donation.

We're fighting an uphill struggle, but it's worth it.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Dear Morrissey: You're Not Helping...

Back in the Eighties, I used to be a huge fan of the British alternative rock band The Smiths. Their songs of angst and irony and pain were, in some ways, the anthems of my youth. I was an alienated teenager growing up growing up in Reagan-era suburbia, out of place in my high school, where I skipped classes more frequently than attended out of boredom and unhappiness. Not much spoke to me in the way of pop culture, but The Smiths proved to be one of the few exceptions.

The Smiths broke up long ago (1987) and they haven't gotten back together, not even for a reunion concert. I've moved on (though I confess: I still listen to their music, although it does seem a bit - how can I put it? - whinier than it did when I used to listen to it). And the lead singer of the band, Morrissey (real name: Steven Patrick Morrissey - he goes by his last name only) has moved on to other solo music projects, gaining some acclaim along the way.

Morrissey is a very controversial figure. He's a classic iconoclast and contrarian. He loves to offend. His views have always been anti-establishment. He was a fierce critic of George W. Bush's administration and the war in Iraq. He has spoken out against British PM David Cameron and he's even knocked the Royal Family. He's made a number of controversial statements about a broad range of issues. In other words, he's not afraid to live life on the edge.

Good for him. Too many people prefer that mushy, warm middle, right on top of the fence, where they don't have to speak out or feel strongly about much of anything at all. Compared to the masses of colorless dullards in the world today, Morrissey can often be like a breath of fresh air.

Which is why I so regret what he said in the aftermath of the recent massacre of innocents in Norway. At a concert in Poland this last Sunday, Morrissey ranted into the microphone:
We all live in a murderous world, as the events in Norway have shown, with 97 dead [sic]. Though that is nothing compared to what happens in McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Shit every day. (Source)

On the heels of such an appalling loss of human life, Morrissey's words were, at best, misguided. The message is clear: So a few human beings perished? So what? That's nothing compared to what animals experience on a day-to-day basis.

Well, yeeeeeeeaaahhh, but...

The picture is more complicated than that. Unfortunately, those of us who are ardent supporters of the Abolitionist Animal Rights position, which includes living a vegan lifestyle at its very core, often have to deal with absurd accusations of being anti-human or misanthropic. Just look at the response to Morrissey. The Blogosphere and the comments section of online newspapers has lit up with a bright, flashing "TILT" sign of angry responses. Many are predictable: The animal rights "types" don't care about human life the same way they care about human life.

You've heard it all before. You get the picture.

It's not surprising that many of us frequently feel distressed, horrified, revolted and saddened by what our species is doing to other living beings. Who among us doesn't look at the mass murder of innocent animals and hang their head in shame? This history of human-animal interaction has some noble moments, but most of it is a history of savagery and cruelty in the extreme.

But our realization that animals are being murdered en masse does not mean we have to abandon our humanism. In fact, it should reinforce our reverence for the sanctity of the lives of all sentient beings.

Perhaps a better thing for Morrissey to have said - and I know it's hard to give long speeches at concerts (they'll boo you off!) - is that the loss of life in Norway is appalling and sad. Each of those Norwegians - beautiful young men and women in the prime of life - died a horrible, violent death, and each deserves to be mourned. The world is a lesser place without them. Their families deserve our deepest sympathy and support. BUT: It is also true that the very impulse that drove Anders Behring Breivik to murder all of those innocent human beings comes from the same disregard for the preciousness of life that too many human beings have exhibited toward animals for far too long.

Consider one of Breivik's victims: 14-year-old Sheridyn Meegan Ngahiwi Svebakk-Bohn (right). She was the youngest victim to perish in the deadly, nonstop volley of gunfire at Utoya Island. She was one of 76 people killed in this most ghastly of terror attacks. Consider the unimaginable grief her parents are feeling. Their baby girl is gone and she can never, ever be replaced. She had her entire life ahead of her.

Born in New Zealand, raised in Norway, she went to that camp out of a love of humanity, to see if she could learn something about improving the world in which she lived. She was murdered before she had a chance to leave her mark on the world. And when her family learned the news, it is impossible to imagine the shock and grief and emptiness and rage and utter and complete anguish they felt. Multiply that by 76. Imagine the collective grief.

Is this how we should remember Sheridyn: Well, it's sad, but it's no worse than the horrors in a KFC or McDonald's? Surely we can do better than that.

Just as Sheridyn came into the world 14 years ago, an innocent newborn, the animals that come into the world who are slaughtered to become meals at KFC and McDonald's also met a violent end, and they, too, were unable to live long lives to the fullest. They, too, fell victims to a way of doing things and a worldview that disregards the sanctity of life.

But why does it have to be an either/or proposition, as some animal rights advocates insist? Why do we have to care about either the innocents who are murdered in Norway or the innocents murdered in the slaughterhouse? Is there not room enough in our hearts to weep for both?

I hope Morrissey keeps fighting the Good Fight. And I understand his disenchantment with the human race. But part of that disenchantment grows out of an awareness of the depraved things that human beings are capable of doing to other human beings, in addition to the depraved things they are capable of doing to nonhuman animals.

To live a richer and fuller life, and to create a world with any hope of decency prevailing, it seems to me that connecting the suffering of human beings to that of animals is essential. All lives matter. No species is more important than any other. Ending violence, and promoting peaceful coexistence - among different peoples and different species - is the only hope to save a world where a stark disregard for the sanctity of life, which is woven into the apocalyptic and nihilistic philosophy of Anders Behring Breivik, is the only other alternative.

First row from left are: Silje Merete Fjellbu, Birgitte Smetbak, Margrethe Boeyum Kloeven, Bano Abobakar Rashid, Hanne Fjalestad, Diderik Aamodt Olsen and Kjersti Berg Sand (26) from Nord-Oda. Second row from left are: Sharidyn Meegan Ngahiwi Svebakk-Boehn, Guro Vartdal Haavoll , Syvert Knudsen, Simon Saeboe, Haakon Oedegaard, Johannes Buoe and Eivind Hovden. Third row from left are: Sondre Furseth Dale, Sverre Flaate Bjoerkavaag, Gizem Dogan, Dupe Ellen Awoyemi, Silje Stamneshagen, Tove Aashill Knutsen. PHOTOGRAPH BY: HANDOUT, REUTERS/SCANPIX

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Just When I'm Starting to Miss Milk Chocolate...

This is a painful video to watch, but we have to see these videos. I watch them over and over, because they remind us of why we fight (that, is what we stand for). This video is about the price that is paid for the milk that goes into Cadbury Chocolate. And I'm not talking about the financial price. I'm talking about the moral price - the prince in pain, in suffering, in death. Cadbury is a very popular brand in England and North America (Canadians love it). Cows spend "virtually their entire lives" in cramped spaces, giving birth to babies that will be murdered instantly, and milk to human beings who do not need it to survive. Thanks to the group Viva in England for bringing these horrible atrocities to our attention. Let us work toward the day when sentient beings are no longer treated so horribly.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Power of Painful Memories

"The very saddest sound in all my memory was burned into my awareness at age five on my uncle's dairy farm in Wisconsin. A cow had given birth to a beautiful male calf. The mother was allowed to nurse her calf but for a single night. On the second day after birth, my uncle took the calf from the mother and placed him in the veal pen in the barn - only ten yards away, in plain view of the mother. The mother cow could see her infant, smell him, hear him, but could not touch him, comfort him, or nurse him. The heartrending bellows that she poured forth - minute after minute, hour after hour, for five long days - were excruciating to listen to. They are the most poignant and painful auditory memories I carry in my brain."
- Dr. Michael Klaper

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Keep the Laughter Coming: Another Ali G. Segment on Animal Rights

I am convinced that the only way to stay sane in a crazy world like ours is to laugh and laugh hard. That's why I'm posting this video from Da Ali G. Show. In it, Ali G. (always played so hilariously by Sacha Baron Cohen) quizzes animal rights experts about various animal issues. It's quite crass and somewhat disturbing, but it's also very funny. A while back, I posted another Ali G. segment on Animal Rights (see it here). It is fairly similar to this one. Ali G.'s utter and complete stupidity on this matter (and just about every issue under the sun) is not much of an exaggeration. There are a surprising number of people, alas, who possess equal amounts of ignorance. Cohen's spoof of them is brilliant.

In Solidarity With Our Brothers and Sisters in Norway

The lofty vision of Animal Rights is not complete without a lofty vision of Human Rights. Human suffering often comes from the exact same source as animal suffering: A lack of respect for living beings and the sanctity of life.

Think of the tragedy in Norway two days ago. A maniacal Norwegian gunman's grisly rampage through a youth retreat at Utoya Island on July 22, where he systematically murdered close to a hundred youths (the death toll still isn't clear), coincided with the detonation of a lethal bomb blast in Oslo the same day. The Mayor of Oslo, Fabian Stang, offered the following reflection on the day of tragedy: "I don't think security can solve problems. We need to teach greater respect."

He is right. Think about it: Greater respect.

Greater respect for the happiness and well-being of others.

Greater respect for differences of opinion and the right of all people to express their beliefs without fear of retribution or imprisonment.

Greater respect for the profundity of life.

I'll let President John F. Kennedy have the final word.

"If we cannot end now our differences, at least we can make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal."
- John F. Kennedy (1917-1963)

Mandatory Viewing: Another Video from Toronto Pig Save

The heroic men and women of Toronto Pig Save are fighting a noble battle against the slaughter of pigs at Quality Meat Packers and other slaughterhouses in the Toronto area.

Please watch this video to understand what they're up against. Pigs across North America are being transported in packed trucks in record high temperatures, spending their final moments in agony before they're murdered so human beings can devour their flesh. For those of you who do not follow temperatures in celsius, 38 degrees equals about 101 degrees Fahrenheit. That was the temperature on Thursday when these poor beings were crammed into a transport truck and taken to the last place they will ever be alive.

"There is a crime that goes beyond denunciation," John Steinbeck wrote in The Grapes of Wrath. He could have been describing this scene.

Toronto Pig Save is helping to create glass walls, and, in the process, tearing down the walls of denial. A lot of people will go out of their way not to watch these videos - not to gaze into the abyss and view the horror and suffering firsthand - because they want their ham or their bacon or their pork. But we need to keep battering away at these walls.

Hit, hit, hit, hit these walls, like waves crashing on the shore. Tear them down brick by brick. Demolish them until there is nothing left standing.

Because, take my word for it my friends, this ghastly scene is not confined to Toronto. It has taken place in city after city, country after county, and this "damned human race" (now quoting Mark Twain) has so much blood on its hands. The blood of innocents.

The only way to stop this madness is for everybody to go vegan. That may seem like a pipe dream. But when the great abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879) started his newspaper The Liberator in 1831 and called for the immediate emancipation of his enslaved brothers and sisters and an end to chattel slavery, that was the ultimate pipe dream. Slavery had the government on its side. It had the courts on its side. It had the forces of coercion and the power of wealth on its side. And, yet, thirty-five years after Garrison published the first Liberator and 1,820 issues later, the institution of slavery crumbled into the garbage heap of history.

The mass murder of animals will one day be added to that same wretched garbage heap.

Saturday, July 23, 2011


This video, about two close buddies - a Pit bull named named Spike and a kitten named Visa - shows their loving friendship mixed with epic clashes to the sounds of Guns N' Roses singing "Live and Let Die." Please take a few minutes to watch it. You won't regret it. The footage syncs perfectly with the music. It lifted my spirits right up and made my day. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Pigs the Way Pigs Are Meant to Live

There is a splendid article about a group of feral pigs living in the The Bahamas. They're very happy - and safe - there, flopping down in the shade along the beaches, swimming in the clear, warm waters, and just generally enjoying life. An article about these wonderful beach bums appeared on The Daily Mirror (UK) Website. The pigs are supported by locals, who give them food, and they enjoy frolicking in the sand and jumping into the water. According to the article, they're excellent swimmers, too, taking frequent dips together. The story contains a number of wonderful photos - uplifting, joyous, life-affirming and so beautiful - so please check it out if you get a chance. Reading about these pigs, seeing their fun and frolic, makes me think of those poor pigs packed in those trucks in murderously hot weather in Toronto. The pigs in The Daily Mirror story are proof that there is a different and better way for pigs to live. Those pigs in Toronto should likewise be enjoying the joys that our short time on Earth has to offer.

Mobilizing to Help the Pigs: In Praise of Toronto Pig Rescue

Across North America, livestock are being transported to killing factories in sweltering heat. It is bad enough that they are being slaughtered in such huge numbers, but to have to be squeezed into truck trailers by the dozens and dozens, with barely enough room to move, while the heat pounds down on them, is unthinkable.

Yesterday alone, here in southwestern Ontario, temperatures hit 38 Celsius (about 101 Fahrenheit). Factor in what they call the Humidex - an index used by Canadian meteorologists to figure out what the temperature really feels like to people once humidity is factored in - and you reach temperatures that feel like about 43 Celsius/110 Fahrenheit.

A few days ago, I blogged about Quality Meat Packers, a killing factory in Toronto where up to 6,000 pigs are processed every day.

What I failed to say is that small numbers of Torontonians are mobilizing. People in the region have formed a group called Toronto Pig Save. So far, they've launched letter writing campaigns to public officials and key political figures, picketed at various slaughterhouses, taken videos and photographs of distressed pigs, and attempted to speak to workers at these facilities in an effort to start a dialogue about what's going on. Their efforts have drawn media attention to the suffering of the animals.

Most of these activists are committed vegans who understand that winning new converts takes time and lots of hard work.

Yet when you begin to think of the suffering that so many animals are enduring on a daily basis, in what essentially amounts to assembly line murder, you get that sick sense of restlessness, that stabbing feeling that maybe small pockets of sane, reasonable, rational human beings aren't sufficient to counteract disturbing patterns of human destructiveness.

But the wonderful folks at Toronto Pig Save (see their fantastic Website here) are trying. They're part of a larger vegan and animal rights community in the city - and indeed, the region - working to open people's eyes to the suffering. That community has grown over the years. New people are waking up all the time. They are opening their eyes. They're starting to realize that reclaiming our humanity involves embracing nonviolence and compassion, and veganism is the ultimate expression of those values.

Those poor pigs are still out there in the sweltering sun, suffering, with no sweat glands, no means to cool down, knowing nothing but agony in their final days. But like the abolitionists of the 19th Century, who faced overwhelming odds in their efforts to undermine slavery, decent committed people are not giving up on them.

Postscript: To speak out against this madness, I wrote the following letter to The Globe and Mail, Canada's version of The New York Times. I don't know if they'll print it. If it doesn't appear shortly, I'll give The National Post a try.

Dear Editor,

Right now, as most of us struggle to stay cool, a tragedy is unfolding in our midst. Each day in this sweltering heat, truckloads pigs are left outside in the sun next to Quality Meat Packers Limited on Tecumseh Street in Toronto. The pigs squeal in agony, packed into nightmarish, oven-like conditions. Dazed, overheated, their snouts bleed from pressing against the walls of the truck trailers. They have no sweat glands, so their internal body temperature spikes. All the while, the heat blazes down on them relentlessly, making the final moments of their short lives unbearable. Efforts by concerned citizens to bring relief to the pigs are met with resistance by plant managers.

Six thousand pigs a day are processed at Quality Meat Packers. They know nothing but misery before their lives are cut short to fill our plates with meat we do not need to consume in order to survive. Sadly, Quality Meat Packers is not unique. This deplorable treatment is standard operating procedure for pork producers. “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated,” said Mahatma Gandhi. Ask yourself if this is the kind of Canada you want.

Andrew Hunt

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Why So Serious?

Boy, my last few Blog entries have been so damned serious! The mistreatment of animals in today's world be a very weighty topic, and nobody needs to take a break to laugh more than people who try to be voices for the voiceless. From time to time, I have to reclaim my sense of humour (humor to my American friends!). Which is why I'm posting some vegan comics here. I hope you enjoy them!

Heat and Animals: The Big Double Standard

Nowhere is the double standard about our treatment of animals more clear than when we're experiencing a heatwave, as we are right now. Newspapers, TV channels and the Internet perform an invaluable service by warning people - over and over again - about the dangers of locking pets in cars.

Sadly, despite these warnings, pets - especially dogs - keep perishing in the blistering heat from being locked inside of cars in the daytime sun.

But where is this public concern about animals that omnivores consume as food? Where is the concern for pigs and chickens, cows and other animals whose lives are cut short for the human dinner table?

Answer: It's not there. Well, maybe I shouldn't say it's nonexistent. After all, true animal rights advocates and vegans (typically, one and the same) point out that animals being transported to their mass-murder destinations are often traveling in sweltering heat, experiencing unthinkable misery in the final moments of their lives.

If you dare, watch this video (posted above) of pigs being delivered on an extremely hot day (July 12, 2011) to Quality Meat Packers in Toronto.

Here is the scenario, as explained by TorontoPigSave on

On Tuesday, July 12, 2011 at about 2pm, a local resident -- Teresa -- witnessed pigs that were very hot, dehydrated and wounded, including several pigs with bloody snouts in one transport truck. She was shocked to see about 10 transport trucks waiting in line in the hot sun to be unloaded at Toronto's Quality Meat Packers, including three trucks waiting on Wellington Street West. Distressed by what she witnessed, she ran into the plant and asked to speak to the manager. She demanded that they address the crisis. She was asked to leave.

Teresa texted her friends and various NGOs and through social media Toronto Pig Save was informed at about 4 p.m. We immediately visited the site.

The footage in this video is of one transport truck waiting in line at about 4 p.m.; most of the trucks had left the site already. The pigs are clearly in distress -- extremely hot, dehydrated, overcrowded, and many with wounds, including one with an open eye wound. The pigs are very vocal communicating to each other and perhaps to us as well, crying for help.

The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) has set up a media alert and aform letter you can send to your MP, but please personalize the letter and refer to this case of July 12 and this video.

Video footage: Anita Krajnc, Photo stills: Teresa Ascencao, Toronto Pig Save

How can any thinking, feeling human being watch this video and not feel a deep sense of shame in the human race? How is that we have reached a point where compassionate values have become so shrivelled up as to be nonexistent? How can any man or woman or child, young or old, look into the eyes of the pigs in the video above and not feel a sense of despair so profound, so heart-wrenching, that it is almost completely overwhelming?

The scenes you see in the video, of pigs crammed into trucks in the deadly heat, squealing with discomfort and pain and disorientation, should haunt every human being until his or her dying day. Imagine being inside of a piping hot, cramped space, no room to move, noses pressed so hard against the transport truck walls that blood is coming out. And all of this right before an army of human beings - probably most of them being paid just barely enough to survive themselves - swarm down on you, and herd you into a final dark place before your life ends?

When I was young, I liked to believe that goodness would triumph. Truth would out. Compassion would sweep into the hearts of people, like an unstoppable tidal wave. And justice would prevail in all corners.

Then I witness scenes like the one above, so painful as to break the heart. How can a race that pays a select few individuals low wages to do the sorts of things that we see in this video to sentient beings - and then collectively looks the other way at the suffering - possibly redeem itself?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Animal Snapshots: The Way Pigs Are Meant to Live

I can't resist posting this beautiful photo taken by the kind folks at Catskill Animal Sanctuary in New York state. Check out Catskill's Website if you get a chance. They do all kinds of wonderful work to help abandoned, neglected and abused animals. This is a photograph of one of their many cherished residents, Amelia, on her morning jog. If this adorable girl can't convert you to veganism, I don't know who or what can.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Ask Yourself: Is this really the sort of world we want to create?

Thanks to the folks at Animal Liberation of Australia, we have this stark reminder (above) that calves have shorter lifespans than flies. This sickening state of affairs is thanks to the Dairy and Veal Industries.

Our Israeli brothers and sisters in the Animal Rights Movement run a wonderful website called CHAI (Concern for Helping Animals in Israel). As Chai's Website points out:

In North America, over a million infant calves pass their short lives in wooden crates to produce veal for the table. Their mothers in the dairy industry are condemned to a continuous cycle of pregnancy-birth-lactation to keep producing milk. The veal and dairy industries are therefore completely intertwined and interdependent. In a dairy operation the female offspring replace the slaughtered milking cows, but the male calves, once born, have little value for farmers. One common outcome is to simply leave the calf to die of exposure or to smash his skull with a handy shovel or sledgehammer.

Where there are dealers to collect them, newborn calves are sold as "bob" veal for about $50 apiece and killed, barely able to stand, at under a week old. In larger dairy operations, where more infants are available, traders buy them for sale to veal producers. Once there and crated, they are treated as nothing more than mechanical units of production, never as living creatures with needs and natures of their own.

What kind of a civilization are we when the lives of sentient beings become so meaningless to us that we murder them within a week of their birth? Where is the pro-life movement to help these most vulnerable of beings?

Here's a suggestion: Get rid of those obnoxious "Got Milk?" ads, like the one below with singer/actress Miley Cyrus, replace it with the image above. "Got Flies?" says the new motto. "Well, thanks to veal and dairy, they enjoy longer lives than calves."

When in Doubt, Blame the Breeding!

Temple Grandin, the famous doctor of animal science at Colorado State University, subject of an HBO movie and one of Time magazine's 100 Most Influential People of 2010, has been referred to as an "animal welfare advocate."

Perhaps the words "shill," "enabler" and "apologist" are more apt descriptions.

Grandin has been a celebrity for quite some time, having spent years helping to improve conditions in slaughterhouses. One can hear the animal welfare advocate: "That's great. Best to reduce the stress, whenever possible, among animals about to be slaughtered."

In reality, Grandin's methods - adopted by a number of assembly-line mass-murder operations - have simply made the destruction of animals that much easier, and have provided plenty of positive P.R. fodder for big companies such as Swift, McDonald's and Burger King. (Source)

Her most recent foray into the spotlight occurred early in this year's recent Calgary Stampede. On July 8, opening night, a horse involved in the chuckwagon races had to be euthanized after breaking his leg.

Grandin's explanation of the death? Too much selective breeding in the "horse industry." To quote Grandin:

"The thoroughbred industry needs to address the issue of the legs being too weak. The Stampede has done everything they could do to prepare the track, to change the rules so the wagons are not smashing into each another.” (Source)

The Stampede has nothing to answer for, according to Grandin. It has treated its animals "humanely." Just like all of those animals "humanely slaughtered" using her methods.

The truth is, the Stampede has been plagued with problems for years. Last year was especially bad, as the CBC recently noted:

How the chuckwagon races are run, as well as standards for other events at the rodeo, have been greatly overhauled in the last year since six horses died at the Stampede's 2010 edition. Two died of heart attacks, two were destroyed after suffering injuries and another broke its back from bucking too hard. The sixth died after experiencing health difficulties 40 minutes after a chuckwagon race. One change made in the wake of those deaths sees veterinarians implanting a microchip in every horse that is scheduled to compete in the chuckwagon races.

The previous year, 2009, the CBC reported that several animals died in the Calgary Stampede. In fact, if you like at the history of the Stampede, animal deaths have been one of the common recurring features of the event.

A week after Grandin gave the Stampede a clean bill of health, the Stampede fired the driver of the ill-fated chuckwagon and gave him a record fine of $12,500. The driver, Cliff Cunningham, participated in another chuckwagon event - a mere week after the first one ended so badly - that resulted in a collision with another horse. The second horse had to be put to death as well. Cunningham was fired and slapped with a record fine for recklessness.

But it's a mistake to blame the Stampede's flaws on one reckless individual. The real culprit here is the rodeo exhibition itself. These events are, by their very nature, extremely brutal and hard on animals even under the best of circumstances.

Sadly, Temple Grandin will likely continue her role as cheerleader for companies and institutions that harm animals. She'll continue to enjoy a status as a quirky trailblazer and a pioneer that has greatly advanced the cause of animal welfare.

Meantime, thanks to her efforts, more animals will perish - in the slaughterhouse and the rodeo arena - and all the while the public will sleep soundly at night knowing that these institutions have adopted the most cutting edge "humane" practices possible.

Why Don't They Want Us to See It?

Time to start asking some difficult questions: What, exactly, are the manufacturers of animal-based products trying to hide? Why don't they want us to see the inside of factory farms and other production facilities that involve animals? Why are so many states trying to pass legislation outlawing videotaping inside of meat and egg and dairy factories?

So many "whys?", so few answers.

That's because powerful forces in our society understand the truth of what Sir Paul McCartney once said: "If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian."

Many of us vegans have heard that quote again and again. But stop and think about McCartney's words. Though they may seem hackneyed due to overexposure, they retain a profound truth that speaks to our times.

Consider the following story from The Atlantic:
Next time you drive through Iowa farm country, you may want to put away your camera. Earlier this year, the state proposed a new piece of legislation, House File 589, that would make it a crime to videotape, audio record, or in any way document a crop or animal facility without the prior consent of the owner. Anyone who produces, possesses, or distributes an unauthorized recording would face hefty fines, jail time, or both. The proposed law, an amendment to Iowa Code 717A, passed the Iowa House by a wide margin. It recently stalled in the Senate, but it will most likely be taken up again months from now in the state's next legislative session: as Iowa Representative Jim Lykam recently noted, "I'm sure that somebody will try to see if they can resurrect it." Most importantly, the underlying issue—industrial agriculture's fear that activists will continue to expose its practices—hasn't gone away.

Once upon a time, when people took pride in their work, they weren't afraid to show off their talents on the assembly line. Archives across North America contain film footage of workers assembling cars, producing textiles, building airplanes. On the Science Channel, there's a popular TV show called How It's Made that takes you through each step in the production of everything from duvets to banjos.

You'll notice if you ever see an episode of How It's Made, there workers aren't the least bit reluctant to let the outside world see their craft. They're happy to let the cameras come in and film what they do. They take pride in their work. They actually want the outside world to see what it is they do to make a living.

It was the late, great Studs Terkel - social commentator and oral historian extraordinaire - who once wrote: "Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life, rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying."

Terkel's words are applicable to so many professions. But you'll notice this magical and endearing quality of work - specifically, taking pride in one's work - is missing in the production of animal-based commodities.

It is no accident that there has been a rash of efforts across North America to ban videotaping inside of factory farm facilities and other industries that use animals in production. Why? Because the people that run these businesses understand the truth of what Paul McCartney said about glass walls.

Too bad they don't understand about what Studs Terkel said about the human need to pursue "a sort of life, rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying."

When you're in a line of work that involves so much death - whether it's slashing the jugular veins and carotid arteries of pigs, cramming hens into battery cages, or stealing baby calves away from mothers to keep the milk and veal supplies flowing - how can you possibly find anything life-affirming about your actions?

Anytime a living being is turned into a commodity - whether that living being happens to be human or a non-human animal - don't be surprised when production itself becomes a stark and alienating and ultimately violent process. And don't be surprised when powerful forces, the bosses, owners, investors, distributors, etc. - in other words, the men and women that keep the gears of the system oiled - resort to draconian means to prevent us from learning the truth.

Make no mistake: Truth is the most radical thing imaginable. Radical simply means means root. To be a radical doesn't mean you're a fringe extremist or a member of Al Qaeda or an apologist for violence. On the contrary, to be a radical simply means that you're someone who wants to get to the root of the problem in order to fix it. There is something deeply liberating about tearing down the walls of denial and showing people the truth within. That is the nature of radicalism.

The process of freeing ourselves from the shackles of tyranny begins when each of us decides we're not going to buy into the lies anymore. We're not going to put fantasy above fact. We're not going to let dogma trump the pursuit of truth. And - most importantly - we're not going to let sentient beings continue to suffer.

If the producers of meat and dairy and leather and fur and other animal-based products really do take pride in what they produce, and aren't afraid of the truth, they should place large, panoramic windows in their factory farms. Let the sunshine in. Let the animals get a glimpse of the blue sky before their short lives end. And let people on the outside glimpse into the window to see the truth.

This will never happen. Instead, the managers and foremen and "facility coordinators" will triple and quadruple check job applications. They'll ask newspaper reporters that want to come inside whether they're vegetarians. They'll search people for micro-videocameras and, in some instances, install metal detectors. In short, they'll do everything they can to protect the secrecy of what it is they do.

Consider those two quotes I mentioned earlier:

"If slaughterhouses had glass walls..."

"Work is about a search for daily meaning."

What happens in the slaughterhouse is of profound significance. It has layers and layers of meaning. But it's a meaning that those who profit from this misery would rather that we - the folks outside the slaughterhouses - not try to understand.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Remembering Animals in War

Kudos to 89-year-old Lloyd Swick of Ottawa, the capital of Canada, who is going around the city raising $100,000 to build a memorial to animals that have perished in past wars. After all of the money is raised and the memorial is complete, Ottawa's Confederation Park will boast one of the world's only monument to animals that perished in the seething cauldron of warfare.

To quote Swick:

"We need the monument because our casualty list of close to 60,000 in the First World War and some 48,000 in the Second World War would have been much higher had it not been for the support of our animals," he said. "The animals managed to bring the guns forward, the animals that managed to bring the provisions forward, the animals that evacuated our wounded. We owe a great debt to them." (Source)

Some additional information on Swick's crusade is worth highlighting here. Some key grafs:

The [monument] for animals in war will be connected to the existing Boer War monument, which commemorates the 1899-1902 South African battle where Canada sent some 50,000 horses to haul cannons, soldiers and ammunition.

Canada still uses animals in war -- specifically in Afghanistan where dogs are used to search for mine clusters as well as search and rescue operations.

Historically war animals have included glow worms for navigation and as reading lights, pack camels in India and Africa, elephants in the jungles of Burma, mine clearance dolphins in the Gulf War and an estimated eight million horses or mules which have been killed providing mobility to soldiers and equipment in the past century alone.

Swick deserves a salute and heartfelt thanks. Animals have made great sacrifices, not only for Canada, but for men and women around the world, in thousands of conflicts throughout history. Their deaths are largely forgotten, almost never acknowledged in monuments and rarely - if ever - getting a sentence in the history books.

What a blessing to us that this 89-years-young man has the courage and the wisdom to raise the money to build this memorial. We can only hope that his one-person crusade will lead to other, similar ones. Anything designed to help remember and honor the animals deserves our applause and heartfelt thanks.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Big Vegan Chill

Back in 1983, a dreadful film called The Big Chill hit the theaters across North America. It depicted a group of narcissists - men and women in their late 30s (possibly early 40s) - who reunite after one of their friends commits suicide.

Most of the characters in the film had been activists back in the Sixties, but now they now - approaching middle age - they no longer cared about politics. They'd all grown cynical. Not a single one still held on to the idealism of her/his youth. They'd all wised up, joined the "system," and about the only thing they still liked about the 1960s was the music.

The Big Chill was a depressing movie because it reinforced Reagan-era myths that activists from the 1960s had all abandoned their political commitments. Reality was much more complicated than myth. Many people who'd been active in struggles for social justice still held on to their youthful ideals, which they took with them into their adult lives and sometimes even found ways of integrating them into their professions.

I bring up The Big Chill because nearly 30 years ago, it proved to be a useful myth in helping to make dissenters - people protesting nukes, U.S. involvement in Central America, homelessness, American investments in South Africa, etc. - feel even more isolated. If everybody ditches their beliefs with the approach of middle age, what hope is there for real and meaningful change?

I raise this issue because The Big Chill myth is still very much a part of our contemporary political landscape. And it has found its way into the vegan community.

Celebrities play a vital role in our culture. Like it or not, celebrities wield enormous influence. People from all walks of life pay attention to celebrities. Ordinary folks take their cues from celebrities, follow celebrity gossip in magazines and on the Internet and in newspapers, and the actions of celebrities matter.

Take veganism, for example. Celebrity vegans are able to spread the vegan message to millions of people, thanks to their high profiles. Which is why when they "jump ship," which some do, the effects can also be negative.

Recently, the media has made much out of high-profile celebrities who have abandoned veganism. These famous "ex-vegans" have gotten quite a free ride in the media.

"My vegan diet almost killed me," said actress, philanthropist and action star Angelina Jolie in 2010. "I joke that a big, juicy steak is my beauty secret. But seriously, I love red meat." (Source)

Meantime, actor Hugh Jackman wrote in the introduction to the latest edition Brendan Brazier's Thrive: The Vegan Nutrition Guide to Optimal Performance in Sport and Life that "there's every chance I will be vegan by the time you read" the book. The book was published last year. Jackman is not a vegan. (Source)

Actress Zooey Deschanel ditched veganism due to "food sensitivities." "I gave it a good try," she said. "But sometimes you need a little something, a little meat." (Source)

The press made much of Academy Award-winning Black Swan star Natalie Portman leaving behind veganism during her recent pregnancy. "If you're not eating eggs, then you can't have cookies or cake from regular bakeries, which can become a problem when that's all you want to eat," Portman told a local L.A. radio station in April of this year. (Source)

And the most recent celebrity to abandon veganism was actress Ginnifer Goodwin (pictured on the copy of VegNews above), star of several recent films and the TV series Big Love. I've blogged about Ginnifer here. Her support of Farm Sanctuary's Adopt-A-Turkey Program was a constant source of inspiration.

Ginnifer appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live! in May and revealed that not only had she given up on veganism, she had also enjoyed meatloaf (with bacon on it) and a juicy hamburger.

I've posted the video here:

Ginnifer insists she eats "humane" meat in her home. "Wow, you've really gone over the edge now," said Jimmy Kimmel, when Ginnifer told him about her bacon meatloaf. "I'm glad you're back to the normal part of society."

I don't know Ginnifer. Based on all of the things I've read and heard about her, she certainly seems like a wonderful person with a lot of integrity and a strong conscience. She alludes to health issues in this video when explaining her reasons for ditching veganism. I like to think she engaged in a great deal of soul searching before moving forward with her decision. Clearly, it is important to her that she eats "humane" meat.

But it is sad to see Ginnifer leave veganism behind. It's like losing a powerful ally. Some vegans would scoff at such a statement. I can hear the naysayers: We make too big a deal of celebrities. What matters is what you, as an individual, decide to do in your daily life. Who cares about Ginnifer Goodwin? Or Natalie Portman? Or Angelina Jolie or Hugh Jackman? Or Zooey Deschanel?

But celebrities matter. They are newsmakers. They're hugely influential. Their actions matter. Their views influence others. The examples they set can both inspire and discourage.

Look at the promotional material distributed by PETA. Half of PETA's propaganda contains photos of celebrities who are either vegans or vegetarians. (Some of them, I swear to God, aren't either, but I give PETA some points for good intentions.) I just visited PETA's website. Sure enough, at the top of the Homepage, there is a picture of Hollywood stars Russell Brand and Kristen Wiig, voted "PETA's SEXIEST VEGETARIAN CELEBRITIES OF 2011."

When celebrities ditch veganism, like it or not, their actions are used by foes of the lifestyle to try to marginalize us, much like The Big Chill Myth was used back in the 1980s against activists. Jimmy Kimmel's words echo: "I'm glad you're back to the normal part of society."

Back to normal.

One can sympathize with someone like Zooey Deschanel, whose diet was so limited due to allergies that she didn't have many choices for her survival. And Natalie Portman had very real physical needs for certain types of foods she wasn't getting. And Ginnifer Goodwin's health issues are probably perfectly legitimate.

Yet, without being sanctimonious or self-congratulatory, we are still left to wonder about people who embrace and then abandon the vegan lifestyle.

Reading about these famous "ex-vegans" (actually, the term ex-vegan is absurd - either you're vegan or you're not vegan), one wonders what thoughts go through their minds. With those who embraced veganism for non-moral reasons - that is, purely for health - it is slightly easier to understand how they could walk away from it.

But, by their own admission, some of these celebrities were people who gazed deeply down into the abyss. They saw and felt the suffering that animals endured. They spoke out on behalf of the animals. They had epiphanies, awakenings. They were liberated from omnivorism, only to go back to the lifestyle. They woke up, then went back to sleep.

Ginnifer Goodwin, who used to see right through the myth of "humane meat," now touts her consumption of it. How can that be?

My purpose is not trying to pass judgment on these erstwhile, famous allies. Just trying to understand their actions.

"Ideas won by our intelligence, embodied in our outlook, and forged in our conscience, are chains from which we cannot tear ourselves away from without breaking our hearts," said the philosopher Karl Marx. "They are demons we can only overcome by submitting to them."

At the end of the day, in a world filled with so much tragedy and slaughter, it is hardly worthwhile to sit in self-righteous judgment of those who have looked into the abyss and then decided to walk away. At least they put two and two together at one point in their lives. At least they are capable of feeling compassion and being sensitive. The same cannot be said of a lot of other people.

Yet I reserve the right to feel sad about that video of Ginnifer Goodwin on Jimmy Kimmel Live!. Hearing that laughter about meat, then imagining the suffering that occurs in order to put that meat on a plate, leaves even the perpetual optimist feeling forlorn.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Words of Wisdom

Please take a couple of minutes to watch this extraordinary video by musician Philip Steir, member of the band Consolidated and a highly regarded music remixer. He pretty much says it all. There is nothing left for me to add. He went vegan in the late 1980s, when it was much more challenging to do so, and he hasn't looked back ever since. His comments are incredibly insightful. Have a watch!

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Jungle Revisited: Or, Connecting the Dots

Back in the Eighties - 1984, to be specific - Hollywood released a trio of movies about families losing their farms: Places in the Heart, Country and The River.

This was no accident. Farms had been in a state of crisis for years. The situation had grown worse in the Reagan years, as farm foreclosures continued to climb.

One of these movies, The River, directed by Mark Rydell (who directed the moving 1981 drama On Golden Pond), depicted a farming family headed by Tom Garvey (Mel Gibson) and his wife, Mae (Sissy Spacek). In a desperate effort to hold on to his land, Tom goes to work in a huge factory. He soon realizes that he's a "replacement worker," brought in to cross the picket line of a strike. Tom and his fellow workers resent being called "scabs," a favorite term of the strikers. These "replacement workers" work long and gruelling days, and they want to be respected like everyone else.

At one point in the film - and this was by far the most memorable moment in the entire movie - a nervous little fawn wanders into the factory. She is frightened by the noise and begins running through the massive plant. The workers get excited - they point, they laugh, they abandon their machines to chase after the animal, and they eventually surround her. The trembling baby deer is soon encircled by men. Terrified, she suddenly begins to pee.

At first eager to trap the animal, the workers soon become saddened by what they see. They realize that, like the little fawn, they're trapped in a ruthless and uncaring world. Still surrounding the creature, they carefully escort her out of the factory, beyond the gates to the forest, where they humanely release her to run off into the woods where she'll enjoy a level of freedom they'll never know.

It's a poignant scene. Long before I became an animal rights advocate, this part of The River made me weep. And it helped me connect the dots...

Flash forward more than a quarter of a century: In the July/August 2011 issue of muckraking Mother Jones magazine, there is a brilliant article by Ted Genoways titled, "The Spam Factory's Dirty Secret." It is a profoundly unsettling article about the ghastly pork production practices at Hormel's massive Austin, Minnesota, plant. Please read it here, if you get a chance.

Those of you who've read Upton Sinclair's painful 1906 novel The Jungle, about poor immigrants working in the slaughterhouses of Chicago, will note that things haven't changed much over the past 105 years. Unions are still being crushed. Production is still being sped up to unnatural levels. And animals are being tossed into the meat grinder (literally) in the most violent ways imaginable.

A key graf from Genoways' powerful article:

In the first week of December 2006, Matthew Garcia felt feverish and chilled on the blustery production floor. He fought stabbing back pains and nausea, but he figured it was just the flu—and he was determined to tough it out.

Garcia had gotten on at QPP [Quality Pork Processors, which processes the meat for Hormel] only 12 weeks before and had been stuck with one of the worst spots on the line: running a device known simply as the "brain machine"—the last stop on a conveyor line snaking down the middle of a J-shaped bench [DC] called the "head table." Every hour, more than 1,300 severed pork heads go sliding along the belt. Workers slice off the ears, clip the snouts, chisel the cheek meat. They scoop out the eyes, carve out the tongue, and scrape the palate meat from the roofs of mouths. Because, famously, all parts of a pig are edible ("everything but the squeal," wisdom goes), nothing is wasted. A woman next to Garcia would carve meat off the back of each head before letting the denuded skull slide down the conveyor and through an opening in a plexiglass shield.

It only gets worse. Some of the Hormel workers on the production line began to complain of mystery illnesses, and when they sought workers' compensation, the company fired them.

Oh, and for you Spam lovers out there, wait'll you see what goes into it...

None of this should come as a shock. This is, after all, the same Hormel Foods that crushed a huge strike in 1985-86 at its Austin, Minnesota, plant. Workers went out on strike for several months beginning in August 1985. The company finally trucked in "replacement workers" (or "scabs," as the strikers called them) in January of 1986. The strike eventually ended in June of that year, with many of the desperate strikers returning to work. About 700 or so refused to return to Hormel and left their lives - and their livelihood - behind in Austin.

The workers at Hormel went on strike to protest against cuts in wages and terrible working conditions. Sadly and yet predictably, once the strike at Hormel ended, the conditions did not improve. The wages did not go up. Management failed to learn any important lessons.

Twenty-five years later, in 2011, it is clear from reading this Mother Jones article that Hormel is still concerned with the bottom line: Maximizing profits.

It should come as no surprise that a massive, profit-making institution like Hormel has so little regard for its workers. It also has no regard for the well being of the animals that it murders by the millions. Like the pigs in Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, the pigs at Hormel are subjected to the most nightmarish treatment imaginable before their lives are cut short. They're herded around by the thousands. Their throats are cut, often while still conscious. The lifeblood is left to drain out of them, one after another. One after another. One after another.

The death toll at Hormel's Quality Pork Processors, Inc. plant: 19,000 pigs per day. 5 million pigs per year.

Why do Hormel executives show such disregard for their workers and the animals they slaughter? Are they sadists? Are they callous? Are these evil people?

No. They're businessmen. Entrepreneurs. Like all other business execs, they want to make profits. They're vulnerable to fluctuations in the market. They want to serve their stockholders. They're playing by the rules. These aren't evildoers. They're managers. They're moneymakers. They simply do what we're all taught is good.

These men and women work in an economic system that champions high profits, efficiency and growth. To achieve these things, lower-level workers become interchangeable and need to be fired when they no longer serve their proper function. And pigs become commodities - millions and millions of squealing, pink dollar signs.

No, Hormel is merely playing by the rules. Rules that govern all profit-making enterprises.

Oh sure, some aren't as merciless as Hormel. Some companies treat their employees better. But whether a company is kind to its workers or not, they still have to make money. Maybe another company will do a better job of rendering a pig unconscious before cutting his throat. Maybe another company will give employees a Christmas turkey and some extra time off.

But they all operate under the assumption that lives are commodities. Human lives and animal lives. They're numbers on paper. Figures on a profit and loss statement. Miles to Pluto, as the philosopher once said.

In 1933, shortly after Franklin Delano Roosevelt was sworn into office, he appointed Henry Wallace the Secretary of Agriculture. By this time, the country had reached rock bottom. Millions were out of work. Farmers were losing their land and burning corn to keep warm. Riots erupted in cities across the nation. The first stirrings of the Dust Bowl were underway.

Henry Wallace realized the nation's farms and agriculture were in trouble. He launched a program to destroy surplus crops and livestock with the hopes of bringing prices up. It was classic capitalist economics: Reverse oversupply, watch prices rise.

One of his first tasks was to oversee the slaughter of 6 million piglets. Doing this, he hoped, would raise pork prices. Sure enough, it worked. 6 million pigs were murdered, many buried alive, squealing as dirt was steam-shoveled over their flailing bodies. It was a macabre scene: Workers working into the night, under the glare of spotlights, to fill mass graves with terrified piglets.

The economy was saved. But at what cost?

Henry Wallace was not an evil man. Far from it. He sympathized deeply with ordinary Americans. He stood out as a champion of the working class. He felt the suffering of farmers very deeply. Years later, when he ran for president as a Progressive (third party) candidate in 1948, he was a principled voice against the excesses of Cold War hysteria.

Henry Wallace loved people. He loved his wife and children. He was good at what he did. He was efficient. He played by the rules.

But the rules were twisted. They were sick rules. Rules with no regard for the sanctity of life. Rules that placed the value of a dollar above that of suffering - human and otherwise.

Those rules are still in place, nearly eighty years later, governing the production of Spam at Hormel's sprawling Minnesota plants.

When we start to connect the dots, it becomes possible for us to see that the very same forces that commodify and objectify animals - turn them into products to be murdered, then have their remains bought and sold - also end up degrading ordinary people, transforming them into statistics, into things, their lives possessing no worth or value.

So where is the hope? It rests with vegans, who recognize the value of life. It rests with men and women who create sanctuaries for animals. It rests with publications like Mother Jones, exposing the evils of Hormel. Every time an individual connects the dots, there is hope. Every time someone goes vegan, every time ordinary men and women resist being treated poorly (whether by a private company or a government), every time people recognize their kinship with each other - and with animals (like those workers did in that movie The River) - hundreds, thousands, of little lights flicker on.

Maybe those tiny lights aren't enough to reverse our current trajectory of global destruction. But they give off a beautiful glow. And when you get right down to it, they're all we've got.