Category: Animals as…

A belated vegan review of eaarth (Bill McKibben, 2010) and Diet for a Hot Planet (Anna Lappé, 2010).

Saturday, January 15th, 2011

Last summer, I received review copies of eaarth and Diet for a Hot Planet – authored by Bill McKibben and Anna Lappé, respectively – though Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program. Though I devoured them rather quickly and back-to-back, it’s taken me quite some time to put together reviews for each. (2010 was a funky year for me, and not in a good way.) Given that they cover similar territory; complement one another in several respects; and suffer the same, all-too-common pitfall (in a word, speciesism), I thought a joint review might work best.

Eaarth by Bill McKibben (2010)

Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet by Bill McKibben (2010)

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Let’s start with Bill McKibben’s eaarth, which is by far the more radical of the two books. eaarth opens with a terrifying premise: that, when it comes to climate change, humanity has already altered the earth’s environment to the point of no return. For the bulk of human existence, the level of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere has remained somewhat stable at 275 parts per million (ppm). Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, CO2 levels have been on the rise, as has been scientific debate over its safest uppermost concentrations. Initially, 550 ppm was the supposed ceiling; in 2007, climatologist Jim Hansen identified 350 ppm as the “safe number.” This is problematic to say the least, as currently the planet has almost 390 parts per million carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Even if we drastically reduce emissions overnight (an impossibility, both practically and politically speaking), we’ve already reached the tipping point; our home’s climate is changing, and for the worse.

“Worse,” anyhow, for most of the species that have evolved to live on earth as it was, humans included. The “new earth” – christened “eaarth” by McKibben – will be a planet of much harsher living conditions and more extreme weather patterns; a planet “with dark poles and belching volcanoes and a heaving, corrosive sea, raked by winds, strafed by storms, scorched by heat.” McKibben looks to current climatological trends as indicators of what’s to come: warmer air and water temperatures, melting glaciers and ice caps, rising sea levels, increasingly acidic oceans, more powerful storms, prolonged droughts, a decrease in biodiversity and corresponding increase in invasive “pest” species – all of these phenomenon are interconnected and influence one another in myriad ways; sometimes unpredictable, almost always tragic.

I’m no climate scientist, so I can’t speak to the veracity of McKibben’s predictions – but the data presented in eaarth (buttressed by 25 pages of end notes) certainly makes for a striking argument. If nothing else, McKibben clearly demonstrates the degree to which seemingly disparate natural occurrences are interdependent; a change in one aspect of the earth’s climate affects all others. Human-driven climate change is real, and it’s really happening. Even if you accept this as a scientific truth, however, McKibben’s solution will be hard to swallow (not that you’ll necessarily have a choice, mind you).

In the second half of eaarth, McKibben shares his vision of a new way of life for a new planet. Though he doesn’t describe it in so many words, McKibben’s eaarth strikes me as somewhat anarchist in nature, marked by a number of small, mostly self-sufficient city states functioning under a shared moral code or social contract.* (It’s hard to pin down this new society exactly, as MicKibben doesn’t elaborate on such minor details as systems of government or human rights. I guess those things will just…work themselves out? Sarcastic, who me?) Rather than “regressing” to older ways of life, McKibben sees us living lightly on this changed planet by retaining some necessary and beneficial aspects of our current culture (e.g., the internet, new energy technology) and discarding those which are unnecessary and unsustainable (most of our current, bloated economy, including but not limited to the entertainment industry. No word on traveling bards, fwiw.)

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tweeting thanksgiving

Friday, November 26th, 2010

someecards - tofurkey

In this someecard, a woman sits at a dining table, seemingly ashamed as two older men berate her. The remnants of the night’s meal, including what looks like a bird corpse, scatter the tabletop. The caption reads, “Your Tufurkey has brought shame to this family.”
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As with several holidays past (most notably, Mother’s Day), I spent some of yesterday sending out Thanksgiving-related tweets. Most of these focused on the 45-48 million turkeys who were enslaved, slaughtered, dismembered and consumed in order to “show thanks” for [insert your irony here: friends? family? freedom? life?]. A few also addressed the racist and colonialist origins of the holiday. (Such a Debbie Downer, I am. Errr, make that Kelly Killjoy.)

For those of you who don’t follow me on twitter, I’ve included a digest of yesterday’s tweets. There’s lots of interesting reading there – some of which I linked to in yesterday’s edition of Friday Food – so enjoy!

Perhaps you’ll join me in tweeting the next problematic holiday or observance? It’s a surprisingly satisfying – and relatively simple – form of protest, though I’m not sure whether it has any practical effect beyond the personal. But hey, it made me feel a teensy bit better. That counts for something, right?

Oh, and at the end of the digest is a snarky little video from Sarah Silverman and the folks at Funny or Die: Sarah Silverman’s ThanksKILLING Special. “God bless America, and its greedy, self-righteous heritage.” Definitely check it out, even if you’re already familiar with the story of how Silverman became a vegetarian.

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Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs (Karen Davis, 2009): A vegan feminist book review, with recipes!

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

Bizarro - Thanksgiving-Christmas

Two holiday-themed Bizarro strips.
In the first, a group of turkeys looks on in horror and disgust as a farmer, clad in the requisite red flannel, hauls two of their terrified brethren from the barn, seemingly for slaughter. Two turkeys in the foreground discuss this all-too-predictable turn of events: “This is all about ‘thanks.’ Next month, the massacre starts all over again in the name of ‘peace on Earth.'”
The second strip shows a turkey angel visiting with a reindeer, who looks a little mopey despite the festive bells slung around his neck. The wizened turkey advises, “I’m just saying, WATCH YOUR BACK. I was a holiday icon too, & look what happened to me.
Images copyright Dan Piraro.
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I realize that a review of an animal rights book isn’t wholly in keeping with the theme of veganmofo; so, to compensate, I’ve included a number of yummy, egg- and bird-free recipes at the bottom of this post. Hopefully this will help drive home that point that the atrocities described in Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs are 1000% unnecessary while also placating the veganmofo goddesses! (No smiting of my person, mkay? Nevermind that I also have a blog named Smite Me!)

Out of respect for my fellow mofo’ers, I’ve purposefully omitted any visual representations of animal exploitation from this post, so you can scroll through without worry.

Or, if you’d rather not read the review, you can jump straight to the recipes!

Book Review: Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs: An inside look at the modern poultry industry by Karen Davis (1996; revised 2009)

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review from the publisher.)

[FYI: you can download a pdf copy of the first edition here. Also, by way of disclaimer, I received a free review copy of this book from the the publisher, The Book Publishing Company. As in, nearly a year ago. Slow, who me?]

Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs by Karen Davis (2009)

In the United States, nearly 10 billion chickens are slaughtered every year; worldwide, the number is 40 billion and growing, as agribiz continues to export America’s extremely unhealthy, meat-laden diet – as well as its industrialized method of animal “farming” – to developing nations. At any given time, 5 billion hens “live” in battery cages on American “farms,” so that their bodies may be exploited for eggs. Because male chicks are an unwanted byproduct of this system, 250 million of them are discarded – suffocated, gassed, ground up or merely thrown out, alive – annually.

While chickens – hens, roosters and chicks; mothers, fathers and children – represent the single most exploited species of farmed animals, they receive perhaps the least consideration. More chickens are enslaved and slaughtered per year than cows, pigs, sheeps and goats combined – and yet, along with cold-blooded mammals such as reptiles, chickens and other birds are not even considered “animals” under the U.S. Animal Welfare Act. (Granted, animals farmed for food and fiber are also not covered under the AWA, but this is perhaps small consolation, as they still fall under the rubric of “animals.”) Perhaps it’s their “alien” faces, what with rigid beaks where expressive mouths “should” be, but humans seem to have more trouble empathizing with chickens and birds than other farmed animal species, such as pigs and cows (who, of course, receive less consideration than “pet” species, such as dogs and cats).

In the intro to Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs, Karen Davis – founder and director of United Poultry Concerns (UPC) – reports that, when she first became involved in advocating on behalf of chickens in the late 1980s, these beautiful and abused creatures were largely overlooked in animal welfare and rights campaigns:

I was told by some that people weren’t “ready” for chickens. This proved to be false. The point, in any case, was to make people ready.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of folks like Davis, chickens are now central to the vegan and anti-factory farming movements. Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs – first published in 1996 and revised in 2009 – provides an accessible and compressive, if horrifying and hard-to-read, overview of industrialized chicken egg and “meat” production. (Something similar is sorely needed for fishes and other “seafood,” who seem to be the chickens and birds of this decade. But I digress.)

What with a 19-page reference list and copious quotations culled from industry publications and decades-old news clippings, Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs is meticulously researched and brimming with information. I’d hoped to include a list of talking points or key facts, but the sheer breadth and detail makes this nearly impossible. (That, and I’m not exactly about brevity, as regular readers well know!) Instead, let’s take this summary chapter by chapter, shall we?

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Blog Action Day: Water

Friday, October 15th, 2010

Today, dear grasshopers, is Blog Action Day – the fourth annual. Held every October 15th, the goal is to focus attention on a given topic via mass participation (this year, the White House is even getting in on the act!). Whereas previous year’s topics have included poverty, the environment and climate change, Blog Action Day 2010 is all about water. Pollution, scarcity, waste – you name it. Water it is.

As I noted last year, pretty much any and every topic under the sun can be tied to veganism and animal advocacy in some way, shape or form. Last year ’twas simple; the consumption of animal flesh and secretions is a major contributor to climate change. So too does our exploitation of nonhuman animals impact water, in myriad ways: waste from animal agriculture operations pollute our waterways; the production of “meat,” eggs and dairy requires the use (waste) of more water than does eating lower down on the food chain; and, by contributing to climate change, animal ag. has a further negative impact on weather patterns, including precipitation. Etc., etc.

Unfortunately, looking at change.org’s Blog Action Day page, one might not know this. Of its 18 featured post ideas, only one mentions “meat” production, and with little context – only by clicking through to The Water Project’s website does the reader learn of “meat’s” “water cost” relative to, say, an apple. Since most of us consume three meals a day throughout our lives (while only purchasing a new cell phone or pair of jeans sporadically), food should really be a primary focus of this action day as opposed to an afterthought, don’t you think?

Because I’m feeling both lazy and cynical (the former perhaps owing to the latter), I really don’t have the heart to delve too much more into the topic. Luckily, Elaine did, so instead I shall direct you to her post, and leave you with the following tables to consider:

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Table: The water cost of food
Source: The Water Project. Click through for a plain-text version.
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Meet Jasper, Sasha, Filipe, Teddy, Amigo and Pancho…and the Farm Animal Adoption Network!

Saturday, June 19th, 2010

Back in March, Farm Sanctuary came to the rescue of six calves who were left to starve at a farm in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. Some were left tethered to a tractor, while others were found locked in a garage; all were abandoned by their “owner.”* Most likely castoffs of the dairy industry, the calves were weak, frail and sickly and required immediate medical care:

After learning about the suffering calves, Farm Sanctuary immediately launched a rescue effort, and staff drove to pick up the calves halfway between the Pennsylvania farm and our New York Shelter. The calves we greeted were a terrible sight. Their eyes were sunken in from severe dehydration, and they were pale, coughing and extremely weak. They were fighting life-threatening infections, and most were unable to stand on their own. Four of the calves weighed less than they would have at birth, and their prognosis looked grim. Medical care was urgently needed to stabilize the calves, so our rescue team rushed them to the Cornell University Hospital for Animals for critical emergency care.

The following weeks were filled with constant care and anxious waiting as these sickly calves struggled to become well. But slowly, their fragile, battered bodies began to heal, and, in time, each came home from the hospital.

Though their lives began in violence and suffering, these babies are now safe, valued and loved. And in need of a forever home!: Farm Sanctuary is currently looking for one or more individuals to adopt dear Jasper, Sasha, Filipe, Teddy, Amigo and Pancho – as well as Vito and Clancy, two young Holstein steers who managed to escape from their captors before finding Farm Sanctuary. Thanks to Farm Sanctuary (as well as the Hillside SPCA and an anonymous tipster), these someones now have names whereas only numbers hinted at their unique, individual identities before. They are so much more than cogs in a capitalist machine, or producers of milk and flesh. They are sons, brothers, friends.

If you are willing and able to adopt any of these sweethearts (all of whom must be rehomed in pairs), you can find contact information and addition details here.

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"…the true nature of a pigeon shooter."

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

At a February 20, 2010 pigeon shoot at the infamous Philadelphia Gun Club, […] a member of the Club viciously yelled at two female activists saying, “Go fuck yourself you rotten cunt!”

SHARK discovered that the assailant was Richard Shackleton and that he was town attorney for Long Beach Township, NJ. At the April 9th Long Beach Township committee meeting, we confronted him about what he had done.

What he said was shocking: “I’m happy to say that, what I said, I meant every word of it.”

When offered a chance to apologize he said, “Absolutely not.”

At this point, Shackleton had compounded upon his original insult by taking pride in hurting his victims. And again, during a television newscast, he refused to apologize for his vile comments.

Referring to his despicable use of the “c” word, Shackleton said: “I think that’s what she is and I think she deserved it.”

Quite possibly you’ve already heard about Richard Shackleton, a pigeon shooter and solicitor for Long Beach Township, New Jersey, who hurled gendered slurs at two female activists – and then, when confronted by SHARK members at a Long Beach Township committee meeting, refused to apologize for the comments? No? Then keep reading for SHARK’s ongoing reports on the situation, complete with links to recent media coverage and opportunities to take action.

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No Kill Advocacy Center: Free Copies of Irreconcilable Differences to Elected Officials

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

Irreconcilable Differences, Nathan Winograd (2009)

Last year, Nathan Winograd and the No Kill Advocacy Center offered up free copies of Winograd’s book Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation and the No Kill Revolution in America to any elected official who requested one. Since then, Winograd has released Irreconcilable Differences: The Battle for the Heart & Soul of America’s Animal Shelters, an anthology of essays related to animal rescue and the no-kill movement. As with Redemption, elected officials can receive a copy, free of charge.

The details and fine print:

The No Kill Advocacy Center is offering free copies of Irreconcilable Differences: The Battle for the Heart & Soul of America’s Animal Shelters to any elected official.

We need to change the way shelters operate and our director is willing to pay for it! He has generously donated “as many copies as it takes” of his award-winning book to get City Council Members, Members of the Board of Supervisors, Mayors, Assemblymen, Senators, County Commissioners, or any elected official to read it. All they have to do is ask for it.

If we receive a letter on official stationary from them asking for a copy, we’ll send it free, no strings attached.

Limitations:

1. Letter must be postmarked by April 30, 2010 and sent to our address.
2. Request must be on official stationary (No e-mails, telephone calls, or third-party requests).
3. One book per letter and per elected official.
4. This offer is only valid for elected officials in the U.S.
5. There are no exceptions or extensions.

Please let your elected officials know about this opportunity. A leader in the no-kill movement and a vegan, Winograd is a fierce and outspoken champion of nonhuman animals – of all species.

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Ask not "Are Animal Lovers Sexist?," but "Can Animal Lovers Be Sexist?" (Answer: duh.)

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

lol kaylee - just needs a hammer

Don’t fear, Ms. Kaylee is here! lol dog sez, “wonder beyatch – be hear 2 smash ur kyriarchy, mkay?” She brought her Wonder Woman undies, but she’ll need to borrow a hammer. You got a problem with that, human?
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Last November, I penned a brief letter to the editors of VegNews, in which I questioned Rory Freedman’s casual use of the term “fur hag” – “hag” being a sexist, ageist and lookist slur. (VegNews subscribers can read the exact quote in context in Freedman’s column, “Prison or Bust,” which appeared in the December 2009 issue.) Fast-forward several months; my letter was published, albeit with several edits, in the March+April 2010 issue.

Not surprisingly – given the popularity of the term, as well as PETA’s “fur hag” campaigns – some readers disagreed with my comments, including Annie Hartnett of change.org’s newly-rebranded Animals blog. (Many thanks to Marji of Animal Place for bringing the post to my attention!) In Are Animal Lovers Sexist?, Hartnett argues that, ahem, attacking women for their femaleness is not sexist because most fur-wearers are women.

While I have previously deconstructed the term “fur hag” – as well as the campaigns’ associated imagery – what follows is a line-by-line response to Hartnett’s piece. Rather than rehash points that I’ve made elsewhere, however, I’ll use this as an opportunity to build upon my previous argument. If you haven’t already, please go read last January’s On “fur hags” and “fucking bitches.” before continuing on; doubly so if you’re surfing on over here from change.org. (Also related, and referenced in passing below: ARA PSAs: Women, Men and Fur and ARA PSAs: Attack of the Killer Cosmetics.) (1)

Before we begin, though, I’d like to reprint my letter, as Hartnett did not/would not do so, even upon request.

Here is the original letter, in its entirety:

As a vegan feminist, I’m increasingly disturbed by the number of animal advocates who are willing to engage in sexism (and other “isms”) in the course of their advocacy – “for the animals,” of course (as if women are not sentient beings as well). Take, for example, Rory Freedman’s use of the term “fur hag” to describe those who wear fur (“Prison or Bust,” December 2009 issue). “Hag” – a gendered slur that is synonymous with “witch” – literally means “an ugly old woman.” While fur-wearers may indeed be ugly on the inside, a person’s gender, age and physical appearance say nothing of her character. If Ms. Freedman – or any other animal advocate – feels the need to resort to insults, please keep them “ism”-free. “Jerk,” “loser,” “asshat”: all convey a point – without further marginalizing already-marginalized groups of animals, human or non.

Kelly Garbato
Kearney, MO 64060

kelly.garbato [at] gmail.com
http://www.easyvegan.info

By the way, I wrote a lengthy piece on the term “fur hag” last year, wherein I expound upon the sexist, ageist and sizeist nature of the phrase in much greater detail than is possible in 250 words or less. Additionally, I employ PETA’s associated “fur hag” campaign imagery to further illustrate my point. You can read the post in its entirety at http://bit.ly/vl8sB

Seriously, tho’, enough with the misogyny!

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On Carnism: Why Do We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows ?

Monday, March 1st, 2010

Carnism by Melanie Joy (2009)

Carnism: The Psychology of “Meat”-Eating 101

four out of five stars

Recently, I had the pleasure of reviewing Melanie Joy’s Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism (2010) though the website Basil & Spice. As a former psychology major and vegan of five years (and vegetarian for eight years on top of that), Carnism is right up my alley. Dr. Joy, a social psychologist and animal advocate, deconstructs our “meat culture,” identifying a number of key defense mechanisms that shield Westerners from an uncomfortable reality: how can we claim to “love” and “care for” nonhuman animals, yet enslave, torture, slaughter, dismember, process and consume them to the tune of tens of billions* per year? The answer lies in our carnistic system.

Carnism 101

Carnism, Joy posits, is the invisible belief system (or ideology) that underlies our unthinking consumption of “meat.” We have so internalized this behavior – “meat”-eating – that we do not even recognize it as a choice, but rather blindly accept it as a normal and necessary way of life; “meat” consumption is “just the way it is.” Carnism is the logical counterpart to vegetarianism: just as one can decide not to eat meat, so too is meat-eating a choice. And yet, while the terms “vegetarianism” and “veganism” are part of common parlance, we have no such word for “carnism.” Because the ideology that supports “meat” consumption remains unnamed, it’s seen as something natural, inevitable, existing outside of a belief system. Or it’s not seen at all – it’s invisible. We can avoid thinking about it because we lack the tools (words) with which to talk about it. In naming, there is power. Words matter.

This is, I think, is Carnism‘s greatest strength. With the introduction of one simple, short word, Joy gives us a tool with which to single out our “meat” culture for criticism and critique. “Carnism” unveils the choices behind the curtain – choices which are so incongruous with our innate sense of compassion, Joy argues, that we must go to great lengths to defend these choices from scrutiny. At a macro level, this is called psychic numbing: “we disconnect, mentally and emotionally, from our experience; we ‘numb’ ourselves. […] Psychic numbing is adaptive, or beneficial, when it helps us to cope with violence. But it becomes maladaptive, or destructive, when it is used to enable violence.”

On both an individual and institutional level, we engage in a number of defense mechanisms that help us to achieve psychic numbing:

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Colleen Patrick-Goudreau says, "Wake up, bacon breath!"

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

(I’m paraphrasing, of course!)

It’s been a few months since last I wrote about Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s series of short videos addressing the issues of veganism and intersectionality. (Dear Mozilla: It’s 2010, and yet you still do not recognize the word “veganism.” For reals!? Get with it, mkay?!) In the interim, she’s released three additional segments.

Thus far, she has covered a number of topics, including:
gender-based exploitation;
the universality of the maternal instinct;
violence in the animal agriculture industry;
raising compassionate children;
the agricultural revolution and animal ownership;
forming connections with nonhumans; and
the impact of slaughterhouse work on the human spirit. (Wheh!)

(As an aside, does the cute green top she sports throughout the series make you terribly nostalgic for summer or what?)

In “Growing Food for People,” Patrick-Goudreau touches upon the intersection of “meat” consumption, hunger and poverty, noting that we have the resources (land, water, technology) to feed the world’s population – if only we stop using so much of our existing food supply to fatten up the “farmed” animals birthed, raised and destined for slaughter. “Meat,” dairy and egg production are terribly inefficient – and increasingly inadequate, given our burgeoning population.

In “Becoming Empowered and Making a Difference,” she notes that each of our actions represents a choice made, whether consciously or not. Continuing on one’s present path of “meat” consumption is as much of a decision as is the adoption of a vegetarian or vegan diet. Because our society is centered around animal exploitation, however, only the latter is recognized as a belief system, while the former remains unnamed and invisible – a given. (For more on this, see Carnism: Meat, Deconstructed.)

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Libby and Louie (a Valentine’s Day Love Story)

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

Peaceful Prairie 2010 V-Day Vegan eCard

If you are lucky enough to find yourself in Deer Trail, Colorado this Sunday, stop by Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary for a Vegan Valentine’s Day Brunch. In a delightful re-imagining of an otherwise blasé day, filled with tired gender roles and patriarchal mores, the Peaceful Prairie celebration will include a commemoration of animal love – that shared by chickens Libby and Louie – told over a plate of cruelty-free waffles, quiche, tofu scramble, fruit and coffee cake, of course!

A lame, silent hen and a handsome, fire-red rooster, respectively, these rescued birds have sought solace in one another’s presence – and one another’s presence alone – for the past five years and counting. If anything, their story serves as a gentle reminder that human animals do not have a monopoly on love – nor on kindness, compassion, selflessness, sacrifice, devotion, and family.

In Libby and Louie, A Love Story, Joanna Lucas writes of a love so pure and so true, undying and never-ending, such that any human would count herself lucky to be caught in its bonds.

And there they were. Just the two of them in the world. A monogamous couple in a species where monogamy is the exception. Determined to stay together even though their union created more problems than it solved, increased their burdens more than it eased them, and thwarted their instincts more than it fulfilled them.

It would have been easier and more “natural” for Louie to be in charge of a group of hens, like all the other roosters, but he ignored everyone except Libby. He paid no attention to the fluffy gray hen, the fiery blonde hen, the dreamy red hen, the sweet black hen dawdling in her downy pantaloons, or any of the 100 snow-white hens who, to our dim perceptions, looked exactly like Libby. Louie, the most resplendently bedecked and befeathered rooster of the sanctuary, remained devoted only to Libby – scrawny body, scraggly feathers, missing foot, hobbled gait and all. It’s true that, with our dull senses, we couldn’t grasp a fraction of what he saw in her because we can’t see, smell, hear, touch, taste, sense a scintilla of the sights, scents, sounds, textures, and tastes he does. But, even if we could see Libby in all her glory, it would still be clear that it wasn’t her physical attributes that enraptured Louie. If he sought her as his one and only companion, if he protected that union from all intrusions, it wasn’t because of her physique but because of her presence.

It would have been easier for Libby too – so vulnerable in her stunted, lame body – to join an existing chicken family and enjoy the added comfort, cover and protection of a larger group, but she never did. She stayed with Louie, and followed him on his daily treks in the open fields, limping and gimping behind him, exhausting herself only to be near him.

What bonded them was not about practical necessities or instinctual urges – if anything, it thwarted both. Their union was about something else, a rich inner abundance that seemed to flourish in each other’s presence, and that Libby nurtured in her silence and that Louie voiced, sang out loud, celebrated, noted, catalogued, documented, expressed, praised every day of their 1,800 days together.

Should we all – humans and nonhumans alike – be so blessed.

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A hen is a mink is a dog is a boy.* Also: site updates and intersectionality links!

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

“Mother hen”: Resting in the grass, a mother hen carries/camouflages four+ chicks under her wings. CC image via topinambour on Flickr.
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Along with The Simple Little Vegan Dog Book, the Book Publishing Company sent me a copy of Karen Davis’s Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs, which I’ve had my eye on for some time now. (The book is now in its second edition; you can download the first ed. for free as a .pdf file here, via United Poultry Concerns.) With five out of six chapters down, I’m not yet ready to offer a review, but I will say that it’s excellent – a must read, and a difficult one, at that. Not difficult intellectually, but emotionally: battery and broiler farms are the Seventh Circle of Dante’s Inferno come to life. You will need to read this book from the bottom of a dog pile – soft fur and warm bellies were the only things to keep me from breaking down in tears some nights. The scale and depth of suffering is simply unfathomable.

Anyhow, whether intentionally or not, Davis writes quite a bit about issues of intersectionality in Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs. The gendered nature of egg production is an obvious topic, but the shared suffering does not stop there. For example, Davis explains what becomes of “spent” laying hens – that is, hens whose bodies are (prematurely, tragically, needlessly) depleted of calcium and other nutrients, such that they’re no longer capable of laying eggs. Their fate is a gruesome one, however, it’s only one link in a long chain of abominations:

At slaughter, spent laying hens are a mass of broken bones, abscesses oozing yellow fluids, bright red bruises, internal hemorrhaging, and malignant tumors. They’ve lost 40 percent or more of their feathers, and because they are economically “worthless,” they sit in transport cages in all weathers at the slaughterhouse “until all other birds are dealt with – up to 12 hours.” The slaughtered birds are shredded into products that hide the true state of their flesh and their lives: chicken soups, pies, and nuggets, commercial mink and pet food, livestock and poultry feed, and school lunches and other institutionalized food service and government purchase programs designed by the egg industry and the Department of Agriculture to dump dead laying hens onto consumers in diced up form. **

In order to mask the abuses inflicted upon the bodies and psyches of egg-laying hens, the industry dismembers – nay, grinds – them into unrecognizable bits. These bits are then fed to the most vulnerable among us: enslaved and exploited nonhuman animals, including the dead hens’ kin; “pets,” including dogs and cats; children who attend public schools, particularly those who rely on the school lunch system; “institutionalized food service and government purchase programs,” such as those that “feed” incarcerated men and women; and working-class and impoverished Americans, whose only access to food may come in the form of fast food joints. One injustice fuels the next, with no end in sight. (Sigh. Where’s that dog pile?!)

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On Queen Bees and Featherless Chickens

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

Update, 1/14/10:

In the comments, Helen points out that all three animals – (pussy)cat, beaver and chicken (errr, rooster; read: cock) are euphemisms for female and male genitalia. I know, so obvious! How on earth did I miss it!? Especially when I caught the significance of the beaver! Clearly, I’ve been off my game lately.

Anyhow, it’s my feeling that these gendered/speciesist slurs actually make the whole ad campaign that much more distasteful. While the targeting of men in addition to women might help to level the playing field, gender-wise (well, as much as it can be in a culture that disproportionately values women’s physical appearance and beauty – however it is defined – as opposed to men), we’re still faced with the exploitation and mockery of three nonhuman animals in order to sell…waxing products. Add to this the fact that the animals were specifically chosen for their correspondence to sexual slang, and…yeah. Ick, all around.

—————

One part “sexy meat,” one part zoo porn, with a little child sexploitation thrown in for good measure, these ads for Queen Bee Waxing are all kinds of creepy, no matter which way you slice ’em. (Not that I’m suggesting that you should slice them! They’re animals, not deli “meat”!)

Queen Bee Waxing operates a Salon & Spa in Culver City, California. Its services include tanning, mani/pedis, facials, eyelash extensions (!), and all manner of body waxing: full leg, half leg, eyebrows, full arm, half arm, back, chest, underarms, lip, genitals, anus – wherever your body generates unsightly hair, the friendly “waxologists” of QB will be there, ripping it violently from its roots.

One caveat: some forms of waxing will cost you extra if you’re a gross, hairy cave-dude. For reals! (Don’t you just love how they assume that all men are hairier than all women? In point o’ facts, my Italian ass just so happens to grow lusher body hair than my husband’s Irish one.)

To illustrate just how childishly smooth QB can strip your bits, they’ve demonstrated their mad skills on unsuspecting animals! (Not for reals – I’m guessing/hoping that the animals below have suffered these indignities in a digital sense only.)

From top to bottom, we have a cat, a beaver [insert obligatory joke re: women’s genitals here] and a chicken. Each of them stand stark naked, seemingly bewildered by their own baldness.

Queen Bee Waxing - Cat

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The Men Who Stare At Hug Goats

Monday, January 4th, 2010

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Caution: Major spoilers ahead.

While The Men Who Stare at Goats is by no means an animal rights or overtly anti-vivisection movie, it does (happily!) have a few animal-friendly moments.

Based on a 2004 book of the same name by journalist Jon Ronson, the film is a dramatized account of Ronson’s investigation into “psychic” warfare experiments conducted by the U.S. military in the ’70s and ’80s. Ostensibly a story for the skeptic set (indeed, that’s why the husband and I saw it in the theater), the film also at turns sentimentalizes the “free love,” hippie sensibilities and mysticism of the ’60s and ’70s. (Indeed, it concludes on a disappointingly “anything is possible if you believe” note.)

Anyhow, along with all the “flower power” comes not a little tree- and animal-hugging. Goat-hugging, to be more specific: because the army’s more “practical” experiments involve trauma training carried out on live animals, the medical school’s in-house goats also play a role in the aforementioned psychic experimentation – the purposes of which isn’t nearly as sadistic as the trailers let on.

Lest I get ahead of myself, here’s a brief synopsis, via Wiki:

The film follows Ann Arbor Daily Telegram reporter Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor), who one day interviews Gus Lacey, a man who claims to have psychic abilities. Bob shrugs Lacey off as crazy. Soon after, Bob’s wife leaves him for his one-armed editor. Bob, out of anger, flies to Kuwait to investigate the Iraq War. However, he stumbles onto the story of a lifetime when he meets Special Forces operator, Lyn Cassady (George Clooney). Lyn reveals that he was part of an American army unit training psychic spies (or “Jedi Warriors”), trained to develop a range of parapsychological skills including invisibility, remote viewing, cloud bursting, walking through walls, and intuition.

The founder of this unit, Bill Django (Jeff Bridges), traveled across America in the 1970s for six years exploring a range of New Age movements (including the Human potential movement), because of a vision he received after getting shot during the Vietnam War, and used these experiences to found the New Earth Army. In the 1980s, two of Django’s best recruits were Lyn Cassady and Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey), who developed a lifelong rivalry because of their opposing views of how to implement the New Earth Army philosophy; Lyn wanted to emphasize the positive side of the teachings, whereas Larry was more interested in the dark side of the philosophy.

In the early 2000s Bob and Lyn embark on a new mission in Iraq, where they are kidnapped by a criminal gang. They escape with fellow kidnapping victim Mahmud Daash (Waleed Zuaiter) and get rescued by a private security firm led by Todd Nixon (Robert Patrick), but get caught up in a firefight between Todd’s security firm and a rival security firm; this would later be known as the “Battle of Ramadi.” Mahmud, Bob and Lyn escape from the firefight and go to Mahmud’s house, which has been shot up by soldiers. From there Bob and Lyn leave to continue on Lyn’s vague mission involving a vision he had of Bill Django.

Here it’s worth noting that Cassady recounts the story of Django and the New Earth Army as his Iraqi adventure with Wilton unfolds in parallel. Both tales begin on a light, humorous note, eventually taking turns for the worse. While the trailers and media interviews done in promotion of the movie tend to emphasize the New Earth Army’s more nefarious projects, Django began the program with the best of intentions: namely, achieving world peace through love and understanding. A laudable goal, to be sure – even if its implementation proved somewhat ridiculous.

However, Hooper eventually betrays Django, assuming control of the New Earth Army in order to corrupt it. (Think of Django as Obi-Wan Kenobi to Cassady’s Luke Sywalker and Hooper’s Darth Vader.) The peace, love and understanding of Django’s ’60s and ’70s give way to the greed, militarization and subjugation of – what? The Reagen ’80s? The Clinton ’90s? The Bush ’00s? All of the above? Take your pick! (The Men Who Stare at Goats is, if not anti-war, at least anti-torture.)

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"I have always loved Harry’s ribs!"

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

CSI smiley logo

Caution: Spoilers ahead.

The second-to-last episode of CSI in 2009 featured a particularly animal-friendly plot line. I say “particularly” rather than “surprisingly” because CSI has a longstanding track record of treating animals and animal advocacy issues with a modicum of respect – a practice which stands in sharp contrast to similar crime shows like Law & Order. (See, for example, Veg*nism & Pop Culture: But does Costa Rica have an extradition treaty? and Veg*nism & Pop Culture: Sara Sidle: From CSI to Terra-ist.)

Season 10, Episode 9 (Appendicitement) saw the CSI team investigating not one, but two separate murders, both of which occurred on the premises of a BBQ joint. Since IMDB has a decent writeup of the episode, I’ll let them take it away:

There are two twisty tales in Vegas tonight. Strike that, one in Vegas and one outside.

The first tale concerns lab tech Henry. Greg, Nick, and Hodges literally kidnap Henry on his birthday to take him to this great barbecue place up the road apiece called Harry’s Hog Hideout.* On the way there a crazy lady runs them off the road and the car rolls. Fortunately, none of them is seriously injured but Nick’s car is out of commission. With no cell service, they decide to walk the last little bit to Harry’s but, unfortunately, when they arrive they discover it’s been closed for seven months due to a Hepatitis outbreak. They decide to poke around and see if there’s a working phone inside.

Instead they find a dead body, a man with a raccoon attached to his face.

While Henry, disgruntled about his crummy birthday, hangs with the dead guy Hodges and Greg poke around outside. They figure out that the guy lured the raccoon to a nearby barrel and tried to kill him by filling the barrel with ethylene gas and blowing him up. The explosion threw the raccoon and the guy through the window of Harry’s. So it was an accident.

Meanwhile, Nick looks for a phone and it’s not working. He returns to the scene just as another guy shows up and pulls a gun on Henry. They make it clear that they’re cops and the guy, Slick explains that the dead guy was Gomez the cook at Harry’s, who was generally a good guy.

(Emphasis and asterisks mine, of course.)

Initially – and in breaking with the show’s usual treatment of such cases – the CSI investigators exhibit disappointingly little concern for the dead raccoon. Personally, I am lacking in sympathy for people who inadvertently blow themselves up while trying to lure a sentient being into a trap, only to torch him alive. Killing “nuisance” animals – especially when there are humane, catch-and-release options available – is bad enough; plotting to light them on fire while still alive and fully conscious is downright sadistic. Unfortunately, the CSI team doesn’t voice any of these thoughts – that is, until much later in the show.

Once the plot unfolds and the bodies are transported back to the lab, coroner David Phillips expresses grief at the raccoon’s demise. I can’t recall what exactly was said (nor did I think to save the episode on my DVR so that I might type up a transcript – doh!), but I believe that David muttered something about the human getting what he deserved and referred to the raccoon as an innocent bystander.

In other words, all is well in the Las Vegas crime lab!

Alas, we still have one body to account for…

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Sexy Meat, No. 4: Portrait of the meat as a sex pot.

Monday, December 28th, 2009

Update, 2/8/10: These lovely ladies are now shaking their meaty bits on Suicide Food!

Update, 1/7/10: In the comments, Cara pointed out that the cow isn’t in leaning on a bar counter as I first thought, but into a car window. She is indeed a prostitute – a “street walker,” if you will – picking up a john (that would be us, the viewer!). In this context, I think it likely that all three “food” animals are dressed as prostitutes from different decades: the ’80s, the ’50s, and the ’20s, maybe?

Just when I thought it couldn’t possibly get any worse.

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To date, all of the advertisements involving “sexy meat” that I’ve dissected have depicted, literally, “meat” – i.e., dead meat. While this conflation of sex with death and violence is incredibly disturbing, the advertisers’ motives for doing so are obvious: clearly, they want us to think not of the living, sentient beings these corpses used to be, but of the delicious, succulent foodstuffs that they have been processed into. Objectified, the animals are things to be bought, sold and consumed. Worse still, they are absent referents – invisible, erased beings whom we aren’t meant to consider at all.

In this context, I’m not sure whether these advertisements for Martini Bitter are more or less disturbing than those for Rachachuros and McCormick seasonings or the DIY tutorial for making bikini-clad turkeys.

Each image depicts a living “food” animal dressed to look like an “easy” woman.

From top to bottom, we have:

Martini Bitter - Beef

“Beef”: In a smoky, hazy (read: seedy) bar or night club, a cow leans suggestively on the counter, as if to order a drink or “pick up” the man standing next to her – that is, the man behind the camera (hello, male gaze!). Her hoofs – which, somewhat suggestively, resemble the tips of two penises* – are crossed loosely at the wrists (ankles?). She’s white, with a full head of flowing white hair. However, the lighting in the bar casts a soft pink hue on her fur.

We know that the cow is a “she” because her body has all the trappings of femininity: she wears a tight blue dress, complete with cleavage and plunging neckline (instead of multiple udders, the cow has been enhanced with two D-cups!); her outfit is accessorized with multiple necklaces and bracelets; and she carries a pink purse slung over one shoulder. (In fact, her garish pink purse doesn’t quite obscure the subtle curve of her ass; you can spot it, hiding in the shadows – if you dare!) The cow wears makeup, too: a hint of pink eyeshadow and lipstick. Sadly, the makeup might be the most tasteful aspect of this “artwork”!

All in all, the “beef” ad has a very ’80s feel about it. Possibly the cow is just a “loose,” liberated women, looking for a one-night stand; or perhaps she’s a (*ahem*) “working girl.” Either way, the viewer is meant to understand that she (*gasp*) enjoys sex – and quite a bit of it, at that.

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Stephen’s Sound Advice: "Invest in Gold, Women and Sheep." Also: A wet pork contest!

Sunday, December 20th, 2009

Oh, how the writers at The Colbert Report continue to warm my heathen vegan feminist cockles! (Dear mystery vegetarian/vegan on Stephen’s staff: Call me, mkay?)

Tuesday’s episode of The Colbert Report featured this hilarious send-up of Glenn Beck & Co.’s recent gold investment advertising-slash-infomercial media blitz. While the entire six-minute segment is amusing, gold obviously isn’t our primary focus here; no, the trenchant-as-hell bit starts at 4:15:
 

 
For those who aren’t card-carrying members of The Colbert Nation, allow me to set the bit up for you. “Prescott Financial” is a spinoff of “Prescott Pharmaceuticals,” a spoof company that “sponsors” a long-running segment on TCR, “Cheating Death with Dr. Stephen Colbert, DFA.” In “Cheating Death,” Stephen reports on actual medical stories, which are then used to promote medical breakthrough products offered by Prescott Pharmaceuticals. Ridiculously fake medical breakthrough products, with equally ridiculous and fake side effects, that is.

Likewise, in this fake ad from Prescott Financial, spokesperson John Slattery recommends investing in gold as a safeguard against the coming apocalypse. While gold’s appeal may be “elemental” (A! U!), even this most precious metal’s value is limited. For example, you can’t eat gold. Thus, Slattery recommends rounding out your portfolio with women and sheep as well as gold doubloons and bricks.

Here’s a transcript of the “commercial,” for those who can’t view the video. (But if you can, you must!)

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lol ur empty gestures.

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

When I opened this email from 350.org, I couldn’t help but snicker – after which, I inevitably felt a little guilty. (Hey, I’ve got lady bits; I’ve been indoctrinated into a sea of guilt, whether deserved or not.) Then, still feeling a pang of guilt, I snickered some more. You see, their hearts are (kinda sorta) in the right place; their tummies, not so much.

Apologies again for bombarding you with email, but we’re in the final stretch here at Copenhagen and I hope you can join us in doing two unusual things.

“Unsual”? Well, I’m up for most anything. Do tell!

They’re unusual things for us to ask, but this is an unusual moment. In a certain sense the Copenhagen conference is going better than we dared hope. The small nations of the world have really been quite remarkable this week–their calls for strong climate action have completely changed the tone of these negotiations. They have stood up to immense pressure from the big powers, and they continue to rally behind the banner that all of you have raised for them. These nations are still trying to insert “350 language” into the treaty text, at least as a symbolic aspiration for the future. This would be a remarkable acknowledgment of physical reality, and give us a good base to keep moving on.

But not all is well in Copenhagen. We’re not going to get the agreement that we need (current negotiations put us on track to hit a devastating 770ppm by century’s end) and this movement will need to fight on in the years ahead.

But right now, while the Copenhagen climate talks are still unfolding, we need one final push.

Yes, yes!? Quit with the teasing and spill the organic, fair trade, sustainably harvested beans already!

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From ownership and exploitation to connection and compassion – for all.

Sunday, December 13th, 2009

Last month, I wrote about a series of videos in which Compassionate Cook Colleen Patrick-Goudreau examines the intersecting threads of human and animal exploitation. Specifically, we looked at four segments in the series: Female Exploitation; Maternal Instincts; Inherent Violence; and A Return to Compassion. Well, several weeks have passed, bringing with them three new videos to discuss!

In Domesticating Animals: From Reverence to Ownership, Patrick-Goudreau points to the agricultural revolution – in which humans transitioned from a foraging to farming lifestyle – as the beginning of the end of our harmonious relationship with nature and other animals. With the domestication of plants, nonhuman animals and land came human ownership of these “things”; living beings became property to be hoarded, protected and defended. This rush to affluence – to gather and own as much as possible – also triggered conflict between humans, including the human exploitation of other humans.

Patrick-Goudreau emphasizes the deleterious effects of reducing animals to property – essentially, commodities to be bought and sold – throughout this short video. Historically, marginalized groups of humans – women, people of color, those belonging to lower socioeconomic classes – have also been treated as the property of more privileged humans. I’m especially interested in how closely these two phenomenon are linked; did they occur almost simultaneously? Did the fall of women come close on the heels of the devaluation of nonhuman animals? Are humans doomed as long as we continue to exploit nonhuman animals?

I think y’all know my answer to these questions: No one is free while others are oppressed.

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On "Becoming a piece of meat"

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

Baby Beef Rubaiyat Steak House (Tomato) - Remix

I originally wrote this commentary as part of my latest intersectionality link roundup, but the stupid is so painful that it quickly morphed into a full-blown post. Head on over to Salon and skim through Roger Thomas’s interview of Julie Powell (yes, she of Julie & Julia fame) for the backstory, as I haven’t included any excerpts here. It’s pretty clear to which statements I’m responding, anyhow.

Also, while Powell refers only to vegetarians and “meat” consumption in the interview, I’ve taken the liberty of extending her slurs to vegans as well. Clearly, you and I know that the two are not interchangeable, but seeing as the mainstream media usually treats them as such, *shrug*.

Salon: Becoming a piece of meat; Julie Powell’s racy follow-up to “Julie and Julia” — and why she’s fine turning into the new poster child for S/M

Dear Roger Thomas and/or Julie Powell:

1) BDSM and “rough sex” are not even remotely comparable to the exploitation and butchery of nonhuman animals. The former are consensual acts; the latter, not.

A better comparison is that of rape to “meat” production (and consumption): in each case, the oppressor dehumanizes and objectifies his (or her; women don’t typically rape other humans, but they do engage in, support and defend the exploitation of nonhuman animals) victim, treating her as a “thing” to be (ab)used and discarded at will, rather than the sentient individual that she is. To rape a woman is to treat her like “a piece of meat” – and nonhuman animals are no more and no less “meat”-like than human animals.

Of course, nonhuman animals are also literally raped as a matter of course in most (if not all) animal exploitation industries, especially animal agriculture. Usually this rape serves a “practical” purpose, i.e., in order to forcible impregnate female animals (or to obtain the sperm of males); other times, sexual violence is used as a means of control or punishment. Whatever its purpose, these violations are no less violating when visited upon the bodies of cows, pigs and chickens.

[For just several examples of “purposeless” sexual violations, see: PETA’s Iowa Sow Farm/Hormel Supplier Investigation, 2008; PETA’s Butterball Investigation, 2006; and PETA’s Belcross Farms Investigation, North Carolina, 1998-1999.

While undercover investigations of factory farms and slaughterhouses are easy to come by, Googling for specific examples of rape and sexual assault is a depressing and difficult task: the rape and sexual assault of nonhuman animals is rarely referred to as rape and sexual assault. In general, this can be attributed to the attitude (quite pervasive among non-veg/an feminists, in my experience) that nonhuman animals, being the “unthinking,” “unfeeling” “brutes” that they are, cannot be sexually violated; that is, they don’t know enough to perceive sexual violations as such, and thus are not traumatized by rape and sexual abuse. Additionally, many forms of sexual violence are fundamental to the system; without the forced impregnation (and resulting birth) of sows, hens, ewes, nannies, heifers, mares, bitches, etc., our systems of animal exploitation would crumble. Here, the routineness of the violations renders them invisible and unnamed.

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