Monday, June 14, 2010

Exploiting Some Animals to Raise Money for Other Animals? No Thanks!

Welcome to Barbecue Season!

Summer is here (albeit not so much for you readers in the southern hemisphere). This means that on a nice day, each and every bike ride taken through a residential area of my small city's streets in the late afternoon or early evening brings with it an "opportunity" to get a noseful of the odour of animal parts being cooked on a multitude of eagerly fired-up backyard grills. I don't even have to travel that far to smell it, actually; I share a yard with neighbours, and over the summer months those same smells fill the air in and around my building at least once or twice a week.

Barbecue Season = $$

With barbecue season come fundraisers. After all, people like to be outside during the warmer months, right? What could be easier than grabbing a few bags of rolls, slapping a couple of cheap hot dogs on the grill, squirting them with some tasty condiments and handing them out on disposable paper plates? How about in a parking lot conveniently offered up by a local business hoping to churn up some good PR with those milling around the smiling volunteer wearing the apron and handing out mystery meat? My local paper features at least 2-3 of these a week in its "Community Events" calendar: Barbecued wieners and burgers for pee-wee baseball, for an all-girl bagpipe band, for some local group's project to build a well somewhere in some country wherever a well needs to be built... or for the local SPCA animal shelters.

Throughout the year, I periodically see notices in the paper of one or the other of the two SPCA shelters in my area holding food-based fundraisers. Some time ago, I joined the Facebook page for one of the local shelters -- the one through which I had adopted Zeus and Sophie over 10 years ago (and that's Sophie glaring at you off to the right). Over the winter, I received occasional announcements concerning its activities until one day I received an invitation to attend an all-you-can-eat spaghetti and meatballs dinner fundraiser (I think they called it a "spay-ghetti and no-balls" dinner). I posted on their Facebook wall, mentioning that I was vegan and asking if all of the spaghetti at their fundraiser came with meat-based sauce and if they would consider instead offering spaghetti with a vegan marinara sauce. One of the shelter's spokespeople responded saying that she wasn't really sure what was in the sauce, but said nothing beyond that. It wasn't an issue for her that they were selling food containing animal ingredients to raise money for other (obviously much more worthy) animals. As for the barbecues the SPCA shelters hold during warmer weather, the fare is hardly any different -- it's not vegan.

'Animal-Free' as Optional?

The topic came up again a few days ago when a local rat rescuer on Twitter tweeted about a Kindness Club barbecue being held in my city to raise money for its Spay/Neuter Assistance Program (SNAP). At this fund-raising barbecue, veggie burgers were included in the offerings, but as far as I know, so were the usual fund-raising mystery meats. The thing is that lumping in veggie burgers with the other animal-based food offerings doesn't change a thing, whether or not those veggie burgers were actually even vegan before they were taken out of the box. Why? Well, at the very least, they'd be cooked on a grill and served with utensils already covered in caked-on animal bits and animal fat. Even if they weren't, participating in an event where the flesh and secretions of animals are being sold to raise money to improve the lives of other animals means publicly condoning the message that some non-human animals' rights are more important than those of others. It also means condoning the lie that you need to exploit animals to feed humans. As an abolitionist vegan, I want to destroy the speciesist status quo -- not reinforce it.

But I Want to Help!

Some vegans might argue that attending such fund-raising events isn't problematic as long as no food is consumed, and that it can even be worthwhile since it ultimately "helps" some animals. The thing is that if you really just want to throw financial support at a specific cause, you can always -- at the very least -- write them a check. You don't need to participate in an event where there is animal exploitation to support that cause. If you do throw money at them, though, please use the opportunity to talk to them about speciesism and about the exploitation of other animals: Teach them that they don't need to exploit other animals to raise money. Want to do even more? Start up a vegan or animal rights group and hold a vegan bake sale -- or vegan barbecue -- and throw some of the money you make towards your local shelter or spay/neuter program and use your sale as an opportunity to educate the public (as well as the group or program receiving your donation) about veganism.

Make a Real Difference!

Don't be afraid to educate others! Make yours a clear and unequivocal message in this mess of mixed messages in the so-called animal movement. If you don't, then who will? And how will things ever change for non-human animals?


Lisa is Vegan on $10 a Day (or Less!) said...

Good advice on making a difference.

x said...

Great post!

There's an event coming up run by the RSPCA. They've started having a cupcake day but they don't mention vegan baking and they endorse eggs that they profit from. It's very frustrating and ignorant.

If one more person suggests I bake for their day I will scream!

M said...

Thanks, both of you. Mandee, from the feedback I've been getting to this post, I'm guessing that the issue is (sadly) all too common. Maybe we can try to turn it around.

tustin said...

We have an upcoming office BBQ, and these almost always imply a required mandatory presence. I am loath to attending it for fear of trivializing "the act" while I blithely socialize in its midst. I am leaning towards not participating.