Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Veganism Is Not a Sacrifice

(Taken from Gary L. Francione: The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights on Facebook. A photo of a sign noticed in Greenwich Village, NYC by one of Prof. Francione's students.)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

What This Vegan Eats

Eats with which I've been stuffing myself over the last month or so:

Gardein & a bit of cheddar Daiya on flat bread. Steamed collards tossed with pickled hot banana peppers. Steamed asparagus.

Romaine tossed with red onion, dried cranberries, sweet onion/lime vinaigrette, sesame and ground chia seeds. The end of a baked sweet potato.

Romaine, bok choy greens, green and red bells, cucumber, zucchini and red onion with balsamic fig dressing. Whole grain pasta tossed with olive oil and garlic, steamed broccoli, sauteed zucchini and onions, organic sundried tomatoes and kalamata olives, parsley and red pepper flakes.

Collards steamed with baby carrots & yellow/green beans. Romaine tossed with red onion, dried cranberries, chia seeds and sweet onion/lime vinaigrette. Maple baked beans.

Tomato soup with gemelli pasta and seasoned with smoked paprika, dried orange peel and garlic. Kale chips made with the same seasonings.

Rhubarb, kale, orange, banana s
moothie. Salad with red leaf lettuce, cucumber and a drizzle of thinned roasted red pepper hummus. Watermelon for dessert.

Kale with a "cheesy" tahini, nooch and garlic sauce. Organic tofu stir-fried with baby portobellos and corn, seasoned with organic tamari and Massaman curry paste.

Tater tots, Gardein strips and baby peas.

Romaine, red onions
and dried cranberries tossed with a sweet onion/lime vinaigrette. Bananas and blueberries.

Parsley, tomatoes, cucumber, hot peppers, ground chia seeds, smoked soy bits drizzled with olive oil/lemon/crushed garlic. Organic carrot juice.

Pinto bean chowder with wheat ber
ries, carrots, broccoli and wax beans, seasoned with Indian chili powder, dill and crushed garlic.

Orange, banana and kale smoothie. Oven-roasted Gardein, radishes and kale stems.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Question That's Worth Asking

(It's one that I've been asking myself these days while slacking off on updating the blog.)

Monday, August 20, 2012

On Self-Delusion and Seeking Absolution

A friend of mine sent me a link last week to a small blurb on the ever-inconsistent This Dish Is Veg website. The piece, "Can I make a case for eating eggs?", is the sort of thing you'd expect to see left out as bait by a writer to generate hits and comments. For its writer Shana Kurz, however, it seems more an attempt to garner a little bit of sympathy from readers so that she can feel better about her decision to go back to exploiting other animals.

Kurz begins the short blurb stating outright that giving up eggs was easy -- that she didn't eat them and had otherwise found simple substitutes for them where she might have used them while cooking. Regardless of this, though, Kurz proceeds to try to make a case for her going back to using them. She does so in such an illogical manner that one can't really help but wonder if she's serious.

The eggs from her CSA come from "happy" chickens, she insists, "adopted" from organic farms who'd relinquished them as unproductive. These "adopted" chickens are allowed to roam, she tells her readers. Of course, she also adds that when the chickens go from being less productive to being unproductive altogether, they are either passed on to others or "killed" and that she has no idea of just how these chickens are killed, but is speculating that it must somehow be "humanely". (One almost envisions Kurz crossing her fingers, eyes squeezed tightly shut!)

So someone who had already found substitutes for eggs has a CSA that treats chickens as things and whose slaughter practices for those chickens are unknown to her. So? She views this as triggering some sort of "diet related dilemma" but says so while admitting that she's already made the decision to order them on a weekly basis (i.e. so much for any dilemma). One has to wonder about her self-identifying as having "compassion for animals" considering her eagerness to obtain a sort of absolution from her readers as she informs them of that decision. Even more so, one has to wonder why in the little bio following the blurb, This Dish Is Veg describes her as a "Certified Health Coach (and vegan)".

One also has to wonder if Kurz can really be that oblivious to the fact that the chickens on those original organic farms came from breeding operations where male chicks (deemed worthless) are invariably killed, often simply ground alive or suffocated. It's a shame that -- while not even knowing how the chickens meet their deaths when her CSA deems them useless and disposable little feathered machines -- she still clings to this myth that there is such a thing as a humane way to slaughter another. What's bizarre, however, is that she then chooses to assume -- based on nothing but a hunch -- that the chickens whose eggs she is taking must surely be killed in a manner in which that killing somehow seems more ethical to Kurz.

It's unfortunate that this is the sort of sloppy writing that This Dish Is Veg continues to feature on its website, particularly from someone it presents as being a vegan consultant.

Saturday, August 11, 2012


It's funny how things just fall into place sometimes. My ex and I had been living with two litter-mates who'd just turned six. Tar and Monzo had been with us for five years and seemed to be spending more time lounging than moving. The apartment felt large and so we decided to adopt a cat to keep them company -- to provide someone new with a much-needed home and to maybe to liven up the household a little. My friend Tanya piped up one day that her dear friends Andre and Stacey were fostering a momma cat and her two surviving kittens for one of the local SPCA shelters. We agreed to go meet them. We watched a zany grey and white ball of fluff bouncing off everything around her, darting to and from the more stoic (and somewhat more oval) ball of white and black fluff we were told was her brother. She was weepy-eyed and it was suggested to us at some point that she wouldn't be considered adoptable if returned to the already-overcrowded shelter.

On our walk home, we weren't even a block away before we decided that there was no way we would end up not bringing both home. They spent the next dozen years known as "The Kittens". Zeus decided to shadow Tar and Sophie fell in love with Monzo. Since Tar usually shadowed me, Zeus followed suit; since Monzo pretty much adored my ex, Sophie ended up spending a bit more time with him more so than she did with me. Her first few years, most of our interaction involved my sending wads of paper down the long entrance hallway, watching her gallop full throttle and leap up and off of the walls in chase.

It's hard to write about Sophie without writing about Zeus. Their antics were the stuff of giggles and horror. I still remember the day I'd been in the kitchen preparing dinner and heard a loud crash in the living room. I ran out to find them tiny and immobile in the middle of it, having knocked over the tall and heavy decorative glass bottle I'd assessed as unbreakable. I quietly begged them - as if they understood my words -- to not budge as I gingerly stepped in to scoop them both up out of what seemed to be thousands of tiny shards of glass, ignoring the upstairs neighbour's frantic knock at the door in response to the loud smash. There was no way those little pink toes were going to end up bleeding on my watch.

Sophie's weepy eyes led to her soon developing a much closer relationship with her veterinarian than I would have liked. Surgery for fused tear ducts and then a diagnosis of eosinophilic granuloma complex led us to restrict her diet and to make lifestyle changes to eliminate scented products or any allergens we could possibly think of that might need to be considered. Periodic steroid injections led to the customary and necessary warnings of the side-effects of long-term steroid use. Still, Sophie and I perfected our game of catch, by which I'd lob wads of paper up at her as she perched on a kitty condo, eventually learning to catch them in flight between her paws and training me to throw more accurately in the process! When she wasn't catching wads of paper, she was burrowing beneath the blankets on the bed. We eventually nicknamed her "the lump" since sitting anywhere on the bed that wasn't an obviously completely flat surface invariably risked eliciting a startled "meowch!" from that spot.

When Sophie's favourite human moved on, she and I found ourselves reevaluating our previous relationship as she so obviously mourned an absence. When Monzo -- "her" cat -- died less than a year later, I was left with a sad girl who found herself burrowing beneath the covers more often than not. In no time, though, she seemed to decide that the "pay attention to me" way of proceeding worked for her. Visitors soon became familiar with the "pat-pat-pat" of her paw on their arms, laps, hands, shoulders -- whatever was within reach. If you said 'hello' to Sophie, you were inadvertently acquiescing to providing an evening's worth of scritches, plain and simple. Failure to fulfill your obligations would lead to a stream of chirps and grunts in protest and that gentle "pat-pat-pat" reminder, Sophie sitting beside you (im)patiently.

As the eosinophilic granuloma cleared up with treatment and management over the years, another immune system and allergy-related issue arose. Sophie developed asthma, requiring further medical intervention. I still remember going to the neighbourhood pharmacy to pick up her first inhalers and to set up her account, the pharmacist promptly informing me while shaking his head in disbelief that she was his first feline customer. He and his assistants came to know me by name as I went in every month or two to refill prescriptions.

Sophie eventually rekindled the kinship she and Zeus shared and they would frequently cuddle up to one another. Eventually, she even came to allow Sammy, who'd tried to befriend her from his first day in our home, to sidle up to her without hissing at him. But the asthma took its toll and after years of her steroid use's having left her a more portly kitty than most, her weight began to decrease -- and to continue decreasing. The complication of a severe and sudden bout of rhinitis and her worsening asthma left her losing more weight and sneezing what seemed constantly. A friend who visited in June ended up on the receiving end of a few streams of mucus, something I'd come to accept as being ordinary when interacting with Sophie, and deemed it gross. At that point, I'd been spending months cleaning "Sophie snot" off of things, including myself. It came with the territory and I loved her with all of my heart regardless.

After an unfortunate mishap as a kitten while held -- and dropped -- by a friend, she was always a little wary of being picked up and held by strangers. Her compromise with those she trusted involved crawling up close against our throats, claws dug firmly into our shoulders. It was pressed into my throat with her claws firmly outstretched that she let me hold her and rock her for hours our last afternoon together. The rhinitis had returned and her asthma has been worsening over the months, regardless of the inhalers and steroids. Her weight had dropped more significantly and rapidly and the vet suspected that blood tests would show the onset of renal failure. So after a long series of bad days where eating seemed optional to her and wheezing was constant, on a day that somehow turned out to be a better one than we'd had in months, I cleaned Sophie's face with a cool damp cloth, combed her carefully-- which she'd always loved -- and held her closely, nestled against my neck and purring, rocking her and talking to her until the time came to take her to the vet's to follow through with the heartbreaking decision I'd been making all week. It's one I still regret now, because how can someone not regret making that decision, even if others assure you that it's the right one?

Two weeks ago my heart broke. I miss my girl, I do.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Hindsight and Nostalgia: Animals on the Screen

Both of my parents had been raised on small family farms and my mother's official stance was that other animals belong in the forest or in a barn -- not in a house. The idea of bringing any non-human in to share our home was unacceptable to her. Of course, she didn't count on the fact that she'd end up with the sort of kid -- not terribly unlike most kids -- who would end up fascinated with every single insect she encountered and drawn to every single cat or dog whose path she crossed. Growing up in a small town, those cats and dogs were everywhere and generally allowed to wander. "The Solomon's dog's in the yard again!" "There's that Comeau's cat in the flowers." I'd hear these things and rush outside, wanting to say hello.

Whenever I happened to come across an animal who was a stranger to the neighbourhood and who seemed hungry or frightened, I'd more often than not find a way to entice him home, sneaking him under the back patio and stealthily raiding the fridge for food to share. I remember one day when a childhood friend and I heard the nervous collie who lived on the corner barking furiously, and then the screeches that followed. We ran as fast as we could to go see what was happening. The collie's people were at work and she had attacked a cat who'd strayed into the yard. Knowing that I couldn't take her home, I scooped her up, bleeding and weak, and my friend and I proceeded to knock on the door of a surgeon who lived a few houses down, begging him to help. He refused and offered no assistance to these two blood-stained and crying girls lugging a cat in obvious distress. We knocked on more doors until the mother of another neighbourhood friend took her off our hands and promised she'd do whatever she could. She nursed the cat back to health and kept her for years and to this day I'm grateful and remember her basic decent kindness when so many other adults had sent us -- and the injured cat -- on our way. To me, there'd been no other option but to scoop up that cat and to find help.

Growing up in that small town, I was also fascinated with what trickled in of the outside world through the numerous televisions in our home. Members of my family were, more often than not, glued to one telly or another and it was not out of the ordinary to find 3-4 of us home, each watching something completely different. What almost always drew me in most (no surprise) were the television programs involving animals. Whether it was Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom or Grizzly Adams, I was tuned in and enrapt. Along with whichever nature documentary happened to come across PBS (usually watched alongside my father, a lumberjack who was just as fascinated with other animals), my favourite shows included old Flipper reruns and The Littlest Hobo. I was the first kid in line to see the two first Benji movies at our small local theater and remember the insistence with which I had persuaded my parents to take me to see Disney's The Cat From Outer Space at the local drive-in. Oblivious to whether or not these animals were behaving the way they'd usually behave and even more oblivious to the circumstances -- from possible capture to training and torture -- facilitating their ending up on these shows for my entertainment, I soaked it all in happily. It was a huge part of this animal-loving kid's life and I was "animal obsessed" -- but at what cost?

I remember years ago in some online vegan discussion forum or other, asking whether others who'd grown up exposed to television programs and films in which animals were used felt about it in hindsight. I had asked how they managed to mitigate the nostalgia they may have felt with the knowledge they now had later in life of the exploitation involved. Over the years in one sad tale after another, the awful truth has surfaced of what was really behind some of what seemed to be the most innocuous nature programs. The worst of the brutality inherent in Hollywood animal films revealed itself over and over. Even without the information concerning the most outrageous cases, the truth is that the entertainment industry revolves around profit. It's a business like any other. When other animals are used to entertain humans, they're not valued as beings with interests of their own; they're used as props to push the buttons of the sort of sentimental folks who, as I did, grew up watching other animals before them being used as props. It's exploitation regardless of how those animals are treated. Seven-year-old me certainly didn't get that, but I get it now. It makes me incredibly sad to think about it now.

Part of getting it now means that when friends and I dip into the nostalgic sort of reminiscing we'll often do about childhood pop culture, the warm fuzzies I'd get years ago humming the theme song to The Littlest Hobo just don't happen anymore. Worse is when I'll occasionally forget myself and slip into a sentimental pocket and then end up sort of yanking myself back out of it, feeling guilty and wondering how I let myself slip if even for a second. When I watch friends, family and acquaintances around me attempting to nurture their kids' love of animals by taking them to the latest talking dog film (or to the local petting zoo), I'm reminded of my own childhood. The thing is, though, that this childhood love of animals I had was never what led to my connecting the dots -- certainly not to go vegan, and not even when I decided years ago to become vegetarian. I first became a vegetarian in college for environmental reasons. See, all of these sappy shows I'd watched had left me with this notion that even the animals we raise for food were somehow beloved and well-cared for. After all, we never saw Charles Ingalls chop the head off a chicken or castrate a calf on Little House on the Prairie! For years as an adult, I'd been quite convinced that having watched all of these shows as a child had somehow left me more open to eventually weighing the morality of animal use. I realize now that even more insidiously, all of this exposure to "cute" or "happy" animals on television or in films merely served to further entrench in me the speciesism we're each taught from the ground up. Watching those shows, I was taught to believe that animals were perfectly happy to be used for human entertainment. I was convinced that they had the best possible lives available to them and (nature documentaries aside) I learned to accept this idea that their value increased relatively to the amount of good they could bring to the humans around them (think "animal heroes" and stories revolving around them).

Of course, I know now that all of this was terribly wrongheaded. It's sad and weird to look back at it, though, and to see it for what it was. Sentimental creature that I am, it throws a wrench into my own sense of self-awareness and leaves me all the more aware of all we're exposed to our entire lives that ultimately leaves us truly confused about our relationships with other animals. This understanding also leaves me more patient when faced with others who balk upon hearing why I'm vegan. There are so many knots to undo when confronting speciesism; as with most knots, patience and perseverance are more effective than force and frustration. As advocates, we need to keep this in mind when talking to others. We really do.