Dairy: thoughts on motherhood, cultural conditioning and hope

Jo-Anne McArthur / Animal Equality A new mother warily watches the humans while defensively standing over her newborn.

When we are not vegan and we hear the word ‘dairy’, what do we think of?  We think of milk and cream, of yogurt and crème frais, of butter and cheeses, and of ice cream and chocolate. We think of ingredients and commodities, divorced from their source, vaguely but cosily wrapped in feel-good ideas like ‘harmless’ and ‘humane’, ‘free range’, ‘grass fed’ and ‘organic’.

We are encouraged to think of dairy as a harmless substance and millions of pounds, millions of dollars are spent by a heavily subsidised industry every year on the most skilled marketers money can buy, who use high-profile advertising to keep us thinking that way. Once we become sensitised to the prevalence of the advertising promoting and normalising dairy use, it is truly breathtaking to note how widespread it is.  The advertising is carefully crafted with cheerful cartoon animals alongside bucolic depictions suggesting a ‘natural’, ‘healthy’ commodity, never mentioning that it is unnecessary for health, seemingly unperturbed by any trace of conscience regarding the disturbing and ever-increasing weight of medical science that tells a completely different tale.

Motherhood corrupted and sold

The irony is that none of the substances in the first sentence that we associate with the idea of ‘dairy’, are what dairy actually IS, and simply understanding that one piece of information has made so many of us turn away from the very concept in revulsion. So what’s dairy?  In a word, ‘motherhood’.

Many of us are mothers ourselves, and most of those who aren’t, belong to a culture where the status of motherhood is valued, and mothers deeply respected. Which makes it almost unbelievable that ‘dairy’, this commodity that so many of us use with casual disregard for its source, is nothing other than motherhood, exploited, corrupted and sold for profit.

Dairy is the impregnation of female mammals followed by the removal of their infants so that the lactation their bodies produce for these infants may be pumped out and sold for use by humans.

That is the fundamental principle of dairy. All the feel-good words in the world can’t and don’t change that fact, they can only cover it up or cloak it in apparent benevolence. We can set the practice in a factory farm, a ‘family’ farm, an organic, free range feel-good farm; it can take place in barns or in feedlots or rolling pastures. We can feed our victims grass or any substance that keeps them alive until we’re ready to send them to the slaughter house that will be their only escape, but the fundamental principle remains. That is what dairy IS.

When as consumers we pick up that carton of milk, butter or cheese, we have been taught from childhood to see only a faceless commodity. We can, however, choose to reject that cultural conditioning, can consciously look past the ‘product’. If we were to do so, we might see in our mind’s eye, the two pairs of despairing eyes whose grief, terror and traumatic separation was the unseen and unavoidable cost of the pristine package in our hand. Acknowledging these faces, every single one of whom is condemned to death by our personal demands as a consumer, is a sobering experience.

There are two pairs of eyes because dairy is the exploitation of motherhood followed by the destruction of the bond between mother and infant. No matter how those with vested interests seek to justify their actions, it is anything but ‘natural’ and the truth goes against everything that most of us already believe in. Yet every one of us has, at one time, been keen to accept the ‘justifications’, no matter how contradictory they are, in order to make us feel comfortable with our own status as consumers generating demand for ‘products’ that we want to buy and use without feeling guilt.

The justification of vested interest

A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right.

~ Thomas Paine

Those who make their living from harming animals for us to consume as a completely unnecessary ‘food’, even if they are aware of it, are not in any way motivated to acknowledge the sentience of our victims, the injustice of what we are paying them to do and the very real risks they pose to our health. Just as consumers have been raised to be oblivious to the moral implications of their choices, it seems clear that the majority of those who supply these consumer choices are similarly oblivious. Livelihoods depend on everyone remaining that way.

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

~ Upton Sinclair

By those who perpetrate the interventions, there is a soothing ‘explanation’ for every single practice that is carried out. There is likewise a swiftness to dismiss and close down any probing, accusing the enquirers of being ‘out of touch’, ‘unrealistic’, ‘ignorant’ and so on, the forcefulness of the retaliation depending on the insistence of the enquirer.

The justifications are many and varied, and just like the arguments against veganism, it would really be impossible to list every one.  However it is not necessary for any one of us to know them all, just as it is not necessary or even desirable for anyone to provide us with details of what to think about any given subject. One of the greatest gifts that any of us can give to another, is to point out the mechanisms by which their views are being manipulated and then stand back and let their own thoughts unfold and untangle, freed from the restrictions placed on them by marketers, cultural conditioning and commercial interests.

Whilst the separation of mothers used for dairy and their infants (cows, goats, sheep and others) is a fact that is never broadcast by those who make their living by participating in the industries that meet consumer demand for substances predicated upon this process, there are a number of standard responses that I’ve seen wheeled out to quickly shut down any who seek to question the reasons for it. I’ve heard many of these in my sixty years, and to my shame as a former consumer, I not only used to find them reassuring , but they used to be effective in switching off my concern. Now that doesn’t work. Once we know something it becomes impossible to un-know it. From a variety of sources, I’ve heard and read things like:

Cows are terrible mothers /they don’t even notice they’ve had a baby / they might stand on the calves/they are separated for hygiene
Except that statistically, a cow defending her calf is amongst the most dangerous of farmed animals. Except that in keeping with all the other species that we habitually use for unnecessary ‘food’, the circumstances of existence as a commercial resource whose rights as a living, sentient individual are not even acknowledged, necessitates conditions that are completely unnatural, and that – not surprisingly – place them all at high risk of disease and injury. Drug use to counter risks and boost production in all areas of nonhuman use, is increasingly well known and documented, as are the grave risks posed to human health by antibiotic resistance and cross species transmission of disease.

It should also be noted that research confirms that separation is deeply traumatic for both mother and infant, and in the case of cows is greater the longer they are together, due to their strengthening bond. Terrible mothers. Clearly.

Cows want to be impregnated, they mimic mating behaviour
Except that in keeping with all other female mammals, mothers used in the dairy industry experience cycles affecting their reproductive systems. Unlike humans who participate in recreational sex, every few weeks a female mammal of many other species will experience a short period when she may be responsive to the mating advances of a male of her species. The notion that these biological cycles indicate that she ‘wants to be impregnated’, is completely anthropomorphic and there is no evidence to suggest that any ‘wanting’ takes place. Neither is it morally justifiable to inseminate her for the commercial use of her reproductive process, either by introducing her to a male or by the more common method of restraining in order to use arms and implements in her vaginal and rectal passages to inject semen obtained by an equally interventional procedure** from a male.

The infants are given special/individual care /they are loved like family.
You know, it always amazed me that so many calves were orphaned at birth – which is what I used to think long ago when I saw the images of bottle feeding. Such naivety was so much more comfortable than the truth.  If we were talking about kittens or puppies, our ‘favourite’ species, being taken from their mothers at a mere *24 hours of age instead of the recommended  8 – 12 weeks, we would be incredulous.

And on the other point, well, they say you always hurt the ones you love, but I do make a point never to eat them.

Talking about ‘natural’

As someone who has actually given birth, I know about the process at first hand and it’s a messy business, but it’s also a time when primal instincts that I was unaware of possessing, seemed very close to the surface. Supported by hospital staff, I was glad for their help, but also aware that at a deep level, my body already knew what to do.

Dismissing the competence of nonhuman animals to mother their own infants now seems to me to be an extreme arrogance for a species that first began to domesticate other animals a mere moment in time ago, from an evolutionary perspective. 12,000 years of gradually increasing exploitation has built to a crescendo in recent decades, an unholy orgy of bloodshed, brutalising other species, laying waste to the planet we share with them, and killing ourselves with the diseases caused by inappropriate ‘food’.  It beggars belief that our species now postulates that many other species, despite managing absolutely fine in the eons that their ancestors lived wild and free without our aid, are now so hopelessly inept that they allegedly require our midwifery and childcare for their very existence. We’re told it’s about ‘welfare’ and ‘compassion’, but when we really stop and consider it, all we need to do is follow the money and apply common sense.

Once again in the case of our dairy victims we have the benevolent midwife scenario. Following the money and applying common sense leads inescapably to the realisation that both mother and infant are commercial assets (the mother more so than the infant who was in fact just a tool to induce lactation); they are business resources being used to make money and generate profit. Medical treatment is costly and undesirable as it reduces potential profit.  Any and every business will risk assess and maintain the assets required to optimise their financial gains. No one would claim to ‘love like family’ a fleet of vans, machinery on a factory floor or the contents of a warehouse. To those with interests in making money from their use, ‘livestock‘ (there’s a clue in the name) are in this same category and while ‘caring’ talk undoubtedly softens up some uncritical consumers, ‘love’, from the perspective of the helpless victims, is in very short supply.

To quote the late Tom Regan, in his work The Case for Animal Rights,

The fundamental wrong is the system that allows us to view animals as our resources, here for us — to be eaten, or surgically manipulated, or exploited for sport or money. Once we accept this view of animals – as our resources – the rest is as predictable as it is regrettable.

Believing what we want to believe

Why is it that we are so quick to accept without challenge or critical thought, almost anything we are told about those species that we wish to continue to harm, to exploit, to kill and consume for no reason other than self interest? Why is it that if we were told the same thing about humans or any species that we consider to be ‘pets’, we would immediately spot the self-serving inconsistencies?

The truth is that not one of us actually likes to think of ourselves as inflicting devastating and gratuitous violence and death on innocent and defenceless creatures and we strongly resist any suggestion that we are.  What we are on the look-out for is reassurance that appears to legitimise and excuse the actions we currently take. Reassurance makes us feel good about ourselves, and means we don’t face any moral conflict that might render us obliged to face the trivial inconvenience of changing our behaviour. When we find that reassurance, no matter how unlikely it is, no matter how inconsistent or illogical it is, many will grasp it with relief. It’s a phenomenon called ‘confirmation bias’. For many, the finding of confirmation that apparently supports our own opinions, ends our search. We reinforce our personal barriers to truth, self-congratulate and carry on with our past support of use and harm. The only difference is that now we are reassured and convinced that what we’re supporting is ethical.

Are we worth it?

For our defenceless victims, hope comes in the form of campaigns such as Go Vegan World.  In posters and words, with links to a comprehensive website, this particular campaign in the UK and Ireland is presenting the unpalatable truth to consumers in those venues and media that were previously the unrivalled domain of those with something to sell, but here we are witnessing the advent of a new era.

Social media is awash with information, ***with a number of excellent sites and pages providing links to superb quality information, explaining in detail why, and indeed how, we can all be vegan. In the age of Google, it has never been easier to seek out and find information.

With nothing to sell and nothing personal to gain except justice for humanity’s victims, vegan advocacy is setting new precedents. Unflinchingly calling for an end to our needless use of other individuals, such advocacy in the form of campaigns, pages and websites offer everyone they can reach, the opportunity to inform themselves about the heartbreaking reality that underpins their nonvegan consumer choices, offering the chance to make informed decisions about how our shared values are reflected in the way we live. We are invited to consider whether our new awareness of a twilight world of nonhuman misery fits with the vision that most of us have of ourselves as people who stand against oppression, who believe in justice, and who are strongly opposed to anything that inflicts needless harm on the defenceless.

In the end of the day, the question we must each ask of ourselves is, ‘Am I worth the terrible and unavoidable consequences of my nonvegan choices?’

My answer to that question made me become vegan. Let yours do the same.

Be vegan.



Links for further interest:

*In the UK separation 12 – 24 hours after birth is the time upheld by industry’s highest ‘welfare’ standards for cows (other species have different standards, as in fact do other countries where in some cases immediate separation is the norm, before a mother may even lick her infant).

**Interspecies Sexual Assault, a superb analysis by Karen Davis  of the exploitation of other animals on which all use of them is predicated https://www.animalliberationcurrents.com/interspecies-sexual-assault/

***Suggested sites to check out
Go Vegan Scotland
South Florida Vegan Education Group
Vegan Starter Kit
How To Go Vegan
Legacy of Pythagoras


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This wonderful life

Image by Jo-Anne McArthur / Djurattsalliansen

So often, I see claims that in causing our victims to exist by our contrivance and intervention, we are bestowing some gift on them that they would otherwise not have. When I hear this, I think of the 60-70 billions each year of innocent young individuals whose violent, slaughterhouse deaths are timed to meet consumer demand for their corpses, for their milk, for their eggs, skins and body parts. Reduced to resources, without rights or respect, nameless and unloved, they are regarded as no more than cogs in a wheel, the measured moments of their existence commercially calculated, financially optimised well in advance of the forced violation that conceives them. This is not life. We impose an existence to be endured for our self interest, but it is not life or any kind of ‘gift’.

For ourselves we all know that life is so much more than the measure of time, the breath moving in our lungs and a clock ticking down until we die.

Think of it, this one precious life that each of us has, its length unknown, into which we must fit all of our experiences, our achievements, our times of happiness and joy, our bonds with family and friends, the loves of our lives and the griefs of parting and loss. We each cling to life, desperate not to miss a single moment, grieving when our close ones can no longer walk alongside us on our path, hoarding our glittering memories of the good times, so that we may take them out and remember them once again in times of solitude or sadness. It is impossible to place a value on how much our lives mean to us. Each life is beyond price, beyond measurement. It means everything to each of us, as too, do the lives of our children, our partners, our friends. Without life, we have nothing.

We are not unique, this is part of our sentience, of our self awareness, of the way we relate to the world through our senses and our relationships with others. Each one of us is the same, and when a life is taken that we have no need or reason to take, we have no word that expresses the enormity of our outrage.

Yet every nonvegan choice is a decision to take life from another individual who values that life every bit as much as we each do. We do it casually through our choices as consumers, while claiming that we care for our helpless victims to shield us from the truth of our brutality. We excuse ourselves with a smile and a shrug. They’re not like us. It’s okay. Everyone does it. It’s okay. It’s okay. It’s okay.

But we are lying to ourselves. We all know that difference alone is no justification for needless harm.  And it IS needless. We can thrive without doing it, a fact we stubbornly refuse to acknowledge.

To truly value and respect life is to refuse to continue using the lives and bodies of defenceless mothers, fathers, infants, friends of other species. The ONLY way we can recognise and respect their right to life as we understand it, is to be vegan.

Why not start today?

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What’s the point? A personal reflection.

Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals
Sheep looking through a fence in a sale yard.

‘What’s the point of going vegan? One person can’t make any difference.’

Familiar words that attempt to justify continuing to cause devastating harm to those around us who are defenceless against our brute force and technology. It’s also an attempt to ignore the fact that each of us, personally, is unavoidably responsible for the inevitable consequences of our demands as consumers.

Every one of us likes to think of ourselves as an individual, as our own person; as someone who determines their own values and behaviour. We all strive to be someone who can hold up their head and feel good – not necessarily by comparing ourselves to others – but by meeting our own expectations and standards. For most of us, it is unlikely that we will change the world. I definitely won’t and probably neither will you. However that does not define who we are.

Once we become aware of the deep injustice that is the basis of all our use of nonhuman individuals, when we acknowledge the sickening violence, the unspeakable horror and the heartbreaking misery that are the inevitable consequences of our unhealthy and unnecessary obsession with harming and slaughtering defenceless and innocent individuals, there is one thing each of us can definitely do. We can draw a line in the sand. Each one of us can say, ‘That’s enough. I will not be part of that nightmare for even one more day’.

We may not be able to change the world but we can change ourselves. Each one of us can stride beyond that line in the sand, meet our own eyes in the mirror and know that we’re doing our best to live up to the standards we set for ourselves. One person CAN make a difference. One person can make a difference in the way they live their own life by becoming vegan.

And from there, the future is up to each of us; we can spread the vegan message in every way we can devise, or at the very least we can stop condoning and approving the destructive behaviour of others.

Each new vegan is a victory for our persecuted victims, the only kind of victory that carries hope of a future where they will be valued for the unique individuals they are, rather than for the pitiless use we can make of their lives and their bodies. That is definitely worth something.

Be vegan.

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Who are the REAL victims?

Image by Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

It a simple statement of fact that our victims are sentient, that they value their lives and that we have no need to use them because every use requires that their right to live unharmed is overruled in favour of the convenience and indulgence of our species.

Today, reading comments. opinion pieces and articles on social media, a thought occurred to me. It seems that any statement of support for animal rights, the moment it is articulated, becomes an ‘attack’. Not only does putting nonhuman animals front and centre become an attack, but the ‘victims’ of the perceived attack are all desperate to draw attention to themselves as the one(s) subjected to the worst degree of offence.

Suddenly there are editorials and comments reacting angrily that this is anti-freedom-of-choice, anti-farming, anti-animal-consumers, and ‘getting at’ those who wish to continue to unnecessarily harm animals in various ways. Apparently it’s even anti – people who identify themselves as vegans but are facing challenges sourcing various consumer products.

The thing that needs to be said is that being pro-nonhuman animals does not automatically mean being anti-anyone. Because guess what? It’s not about us. Any of us. The humans and their organisations and institutions clamouring and waving their hands in outrage at the back of the room are not victims.

The position of ‘victims’ has already been filled more than adequately by almost 70 billion sentient land based individuals each year, with additional uncounted trillions of aquatic creatures. The position of ‘victim’ comes with an automatic death sentence after an existence as a resource, a commodity and a commercial asset. All our species faces, at the worst, is the inconvenience of re-learning how to live and to make consumer choices that align with the values that we already think we have. In the grand scheme of things, I know which role I’d rather fill.

Perhaps it should also be noted that if we consider that the first paragraph of this essay is a personal attack, then it may well come from the voice of our conscience. When I was young, there was a saying, ‘If the cap fits, wear it’. Be vegan.

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A thought on ‘less use’

When we talk to others about ‘less’ animal use, we are encouraging them to think of nonhuman animals as a quantity that can be reduced, in the same we that we think of using less oil or less sugar. It’s not surprising that this can seem praiseworthy.

Only, they’re NOT a ‘quantity’ that we can cut down on. They are nameless, it’s true, but even their numbered ear tags should always remind us that our victims are a number, a group. Their numbers may be breathtakingly large, but they are nevertheless individuals, sentient, each one unique, each one with an equal right to their own life, each one desperate to live that life unharmed. When we think of them as individuals, see them in our mind’s eye, gazing on us with the fear and desperation that they endure as the inevitable consequence of our treatment of them as resources, it becomes unthinkable that we could ever condone the inflicting of needless harm on any one of them.

Rather than encouraging the continuation of unnecessary harm that is ‘less’ use, let’s remember always the individual faces of those who are depending on us to end the system that regards them as things for our use. When we fail to represent them as individuals, we are utterly betraying those unique children of other species who will continue to endure the existence that our needless use inflicts on them.

‘Less’ use does not cut down harm for all our victims. At best ‘less’ use may save a small number of individuals but for the rest, the torment of their existence as commodities and commercial assets will be unchanged.

What’s even worse, those who continue to pay for it by not being vegan will feel encouraged that they are doing something positive and that’s not true. We owe them better than that. We owe them the truth.

Which one do you think deserves to die for human indulgence? Whose desperate pleas deserve to be ignored? Who deserves to stand quaking and trembling in the gore of the slaughterhouse? Could any of us make that choice? I know I couldn’t. They all deserve the very best that we can do for them, and that means asking others to stop deliberately hurting them. All of them. That means asking others to be vegan.

Be vegan.

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A brief thought on the hijacking of ‘humane’


Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

When you look at this image, be honest. Is ‘humane’ the first word that pops into your head? I doubt it.

And then, if you’re like I used to be, you’ll find another internal dialogue begins.
‘But it must be humane, because there are laws; but it must be humane because the label says ‘free range’ or ‘organic’ or ‘XYPCA approved’, and we sigh with relief, switch off our concern and carry on demanding the flesh and the eggs and the milk.

Few of us think about this in any depth. It’s uncomfortable to see the images – the real ones, not the staged, cartoonish fantasy that we are sold as consumers. That’s why marketing doesn’t show the real stuff. Even so, if it wasn’t for the constant reassurance that it’s all ok, it’s all ‘humane’, we wouldn’t know what to think, would we?

And there’s the problem. Our understanding of the word ‘humane’ has been subtly hijacked. The meaning of ‘humane’ that is sold to us on the dismembered corpses of young creatures, on eggs and on the milk taken from the seeking mouths of babes, no longer means what we think that it means. How could it? How could the obtaining of ANY of the substances that we use and consume ever be truly ‘humane’? How could it be ‘humane’ when every single thing we do is unnecessary and so fraught with suffering and misery that we refuse to acknowledge the truth. We all find it much easier to hide behind the word ‘humane’, that redefined word that is now used as a marketing tool, as a conscience salve, as a legitimisation of a brutality that none of us wants to be part of.

We all know what ‘humane really means. It means ‘tenderness, compassion, and sympathy, especially for the suffering or distressed’. ‘Well here’s another word to throw into the mix; ‘humanity; the quality of being humane; kindness; benevolence’.

Not one single process that we inflict on the sentient individuals who are our wretched victims could ever be called ‘humane’ except through the hijacked and corrupted interpretation of the word that we have been sold as consumers.

Let’s take back the meaning of humane and in doing so, take back our humanity. The only way to do this is by being vegan.

Be vegan.

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Obscene phrase of the day: ‘live and let live’

Today I heard this said, yet again and without a trace of irony, by a dairy industry representative, about the decisions of consumers to consume milk and milk products from nonhumans.

So what’s obscene about the phrase?  It’s obscene in the way that any good, noble and worthy thing becomes obscene once it has been corrupted and used as a way of disguising and denying harm, horror and needless death.

‘Live and let live’ is a phrase commonly resorted to by the many who view veganism as the removal of their freedom of choice. And yet a more inappropriate phrase would be so hard to find that today I found myself wondering why. Do those who use it in this manner not understand the words that make it up, are they simply unaware of the basic processes that constitute the production of the substances that are derived from the lives and bodies of members of other species, or is there some other reason ?

The meaning of ‘live’

Perhaps the first potential misconception that needs to be addressed here is the word ‘live’. It seems to me very unlikely, but certainly, a misunderstanding about this word could possibly, I expect, make the phrase ‘live and let live’ in the context of animal use and exploitation, make some sort of sense. So let’s tackle that first.

live: verbto have life, as an organism; be alive; be capable of vital functions:

Now clearly this definition would exclude –  say – rocks, but I expect that everyone would agree that any complex organism such as those whom we victimise for ‘food’, clothing and experimentation actually do ‘live’. They are born, they breathe, they think, they feel, they experience the world. They live.

So having established that they fulfil the criteria to be considered to ‘live’, do we ‘let’ them ‘live’? Well, no.

All animal use industries kill

Given our unnecessary, violent and utterly merciless exploitation of every aspect of their existence from their conception until their terrifying death in a slaughterhouse, the phrase ‘live and let live’ can hardly be considered to have any relevance whatsoever. And let’s make no mistake here – every use of nonhumans and particularly the dairy and egg industries that are predicated upon the exploitation of reproductive processes and the severing of mother/child bonds – lead to premature death for our victims. The perception of dairy and egg use as being victimless is a severely mistaken one, that the links here can dispel unless the reader is utterly determined to remain oblivious.

But we all love animals…?

It increasingly seems to me that we are inhabiting the surreal world of Orwell’s dystopian vision, and this is never illustrated more starkly than in the area of animal use.
For those unfamiliar with the Orwell’s tale, it takes place in a setting where government departments of Peace deal with war and defence, Plenty – economic rationing and starvation; Love – torture and brainwashing; and Truth – propaganda.

In our dealings with animals the majority of us have been schooled to consider that our attitude toward those who are unfortunate enough not to share our species, may legitimately be termed ‘love’, when in fact as consumers we are directly responsible for perpetuating the most sickening and disgusting horrors imaginable upon vulnerable and defenceless individuals without cause or justification. Yet how we like to broadcast this ‘love’, each of us coming from ‘a nation of animal lovers’. We tell others about it; they reassure us that they feel exactly the same. We declare our contempt for all who would harm animals and our audience pats us on the back, absolutely 100% in agreement. We are outraged at what ‘other people’ do to animals and we protest, brimming with righteous indignation because they are clearly not ‘animal lovers’ like ourselves.

Freeze the frame

And yet if we had the means by which to freeze the frame on any one of these conversations and zoom the camera out to a distance, what would we see? Would we see the leather shoes, belts and handbags, the woollen and silk garments? Could we pan to the fridge contents, to see the dismembered corpses of desperately frightened, gentle individuals whose dying screams went unheard? Would we see the milk, the cheese for which mothers were violated and their darling infants sent to slaughter, the eggs for which a tiny, fragile bird spent the only precious chance of life she had in a box of misery, straining to lay egg after egg in her vain attempt to gather a clutch while her brothers were killed at birth? Let’s look at the shelves of cleaning materials, toiletries and cosmetics. Will we see the small furry, terrified creatures, eyes destroyed, skin erupting, crusted, bleeding while their hammering hearts await the next atrocity of a nightmare that only death will end. No. The majority of us won’t. But the majority of these things are true of any one of us who is not vegan.

We complain about what others do, but ever hold ourselves above reproach. I did it too. That’s how I know that what I say is true, hard as it is for me to face the memory.  But this is not what ‘live and let live’ means. It’s not even close.

Living and life – whose right is it?

So I am forced to conclude that the reason for the blindness that allows this preposterous use of the phrase ‘live and let live’, must be something else. As children growing up in nonvegan households (as most of us do), we learn the roots of the inconsistencies that shape adult positions which, on closer examination, make no sense whatsoever. It is here that we begin to learn how to live with the contradictions that many of us struggle with in later life; that love means harm, that kindness means incarceration, that being alive and wanting to live does not mean that one has that right, that our most trivial whims are more important than life is to our victims. Indeed we learn our lessons so well that the majority of us don’t even acknowledge that we have victims, may even seem unaware of this truth.

Seen in that context, the phrase ‘live and let live’ thus comes to mean ‘I am the only one whose life is of any importance whatsoever; I resent any suggestion that I am not free to cause whatever devastation I wish without considering the consequences of my behaviour to those who are harmed by my actions.’ Seen this way, it’s not the fine and noble sentiment we originally thought.

To acknowledge that we do indeed have victims and that this is a completely unnecessary way to live; to face the fact that these victims are sentient which means they are like us in every way but species; and to acknowledge that every aspect of not being vegan is the exact antithesis of ‘live and let live’ leads to only one logical conclusion. To be the people we already think we are, we have to be vegan.

Be vegan.

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For Earth Day: thoughts about speciesism, biophilia and veganism

Today, I learned a new word. As someone fascinated by words, finding this one gave a name to a notion that has become more acute in my recent years as an advocate and blogger, and it prompted thoughts that I’d like to share.

Biophilia, noun:
A love of life and the living world; the affinity of human beings for other life forms.

*The friend who introduced me to the word had learned it in a natural history class from a lecturing conservationist who explained, ‘It’s important because we save what we love.’ Astonishingly, this conservationist then demonstrated what might be considered an absence of affinity by proceeding to discuss other life forms in terms of ‘populations’ to be ‘managed’. This outlook contrasts starkly with Henry Beston (1888 – 1968), the American writer and naturalist, whose words seem to more accurately reflect the spirit of biophilia in the quote:

‘We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate for having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein do we err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.’

Humanity’s tyranny

As a vegan advocate, the main focus of my writing will always be upon the grave injustice we perpetrate upon billions of individuals each year, simply by not being vegan. The vast majority of these victims are used by us to indulge unnecessary dietary preferences, although such is our arrogant belief in the superiority of our species, that our use of them does not stop there. We wear them; we experiment on them; we ‘break’ them and ‘train’ them and are ‘entertained’ by their helpless acceptance of our strength and the implements we use to enforce their compliance. Yet as a species, we choose to remain oblivious to the unspeakable violence inherent in every aspect of our exploitation, frequently repeating the popular myth about how we all ‘love animals’. In this lie of staggering self-deception, we find a reassurance that feeds our continued support of practices so vile that to face them is deeply traumatic and life-changing.

The definition of biophilia includes the word ‘love’, a word which means different things to different people. Veganism does not require us to love our victims, it simply requires that we stop having victims.  Hence although ‘love’ is not necessary for our victims, justice most certainly is. Nevertheless in the same way that we cannot claim to ‘love’ animals with their corpses on our plates and their skins on our feet, we cannot claim to embrace biophilia in these circumstances either.

My focus on the rights of our victims means I seldom refer to the fact that our own health is vastly improved once we cease to view the body parts and secretions of our fellow earthlings as ‘food’. I regard this truth as an unexpected benefit of doing what is simply the right thing. Similarly, my focus on our victims’ sentience means I seldom mention the environmental devastation that is the inevitable result of our use of them. It is, however, inescapable that in laying waste to our own environment, we destroy something irreplaceable, that belongs as much to our victims as it does to us.

I’m neither a scientist nor a medical expert. Although awareness of the environmental and health aspects of nonveganism goes with the territory of being vegan, I leave it to the many others more expert than I, to explain the science of health and environmental destruction; the epidemics of diet-related disease, the pollution, the melting icecaps and the changing climate that imperils us all.

Knowing our place

And of course, our global tapestry is part of a very much larger picture. Planet Earth is but a tiny speck in a mysterious universe where galaxies wheel and tilt, where suns are born and die, where worlds and moons collide and coalesce from stardust. Those who have skills to interpret the science, describe the impact of these forces on our little world; the dinosaurs that have come and gone; the slow drift of tectonic plates that meet and part inexorably; the ebb and flow of tides; land rising from the ocean floor, only to subside again on timescales that our short-lived species struggles to imagine.

Nature, the word we give to the rich tapestry of interdependence that comprises all life here on Earth, is the most perfect of mechanisms, maintaining exquisite equilibrium without our interference. How can we fail to marvel how each living species has evolved to fill a niche that suits its needs, with bodies perfectly designed to obtain whichever ideal sustenance nature has designed them to ingest, wonderfully adapted to survival in whatever climate that their necessary sustenance and shelter may be found, a myriad living entities with a breathtaking array of ways to reproduce and ensure the continuance of their genes.

In the same way that everyone claims to ‘love’ animals, even while actively supporting and promoting unnecessary harm towards them, I find myself pondering the way our species is so quick to declare their ‘love’ for the natural world. Because even as we do, that very same harm that we are causing to our fellow creatures is the direct cause of a systematic devastation that threatens to end life as we know it upon this small blue planet in the outer reaches of the galaxy we call the Milky Way.

It seems to me that humanity has lost sight of its place as a single thread in the tapestry of life. With technological advances that have spawned global industrialisation; we are a species fixated on self-interest, reluctant to weigh the moral obligations that accompany our abilities. Having long passed the point where, at the push of a button we could destroy our world and all its wonders, our ‘might makes right’ view assumes a licence to impose our collective will unilaterally upon our shared environment and upon the untold trillions of other life forms whose harmonious interdependence we disrupt and destroy by our arrogant assumption that we can improve on nature.

Delusions of entitlement

In so many ways we usurp the natural world with our urbanisation, with our fossil fuels and with the poisons we pour so liberally onto the land and into the oceans. Yet in terms of land/ water use and pollution, habitat and rainforest destruction, and the global warming that is its inevitable consequence, the impact of the animal use industries constitute the most sustained destructive force that has ever been unleashed on this world by mankind.

Although not necessary for our wellbeing, we have adopted lifestyles that exploit the reproductive systems of our fellow sentient beings. We adapt and manipulate their bodies, creating commercial environments in which to breed them, to accommodate the existence we force them to endure, to facilitate the premature deaths we inflict, and to carry out the processing of their body parts and substances derived from them. Without conscience, we optimise our own financial interests, interests that will always supersede the needs and interests of our victims, those countless annual billions whose sentience we deny and whose lives we mistakenly regard as having no value other than the level by which we profit from their exploitation.

Whilst my main focus is upon our sentient victims, it must be said that the natural world is rich in plant life, uncounted species whose home this also is, and without which the world’s dizzying array of ecosystems could not exist. Our obsession with the use and consumption of our fellow creatures impacts drastically upon plant life too, as we deplete vast swathes of their natural ecosystems to grow crops that we subsequently feed to our victims in a tragically inefficient conversion of vegetation to animal flesh. We destroy natural habitats, displacing the rightful occupants of ancient communities, obsessively ‘farming’ nonhuman species to obtain substances that damage our health. As our population increases, it’s an escalating and devastating cycle where there are only losers and nobody wins, a bleak backdrop against which all our protestations about ‘loving’ animals and the natural world, ring a hollow death knell.

The atrocity of speciesism

It is my firm conviction that all the harm our species inflicts upon others may be traced to a single prejudice by the name of speciesism. A form of oppression directed at other living individuals, speciesism is the practice of according or withholding the rights that are theirs by virtue of their birth, based solely upon their species. This insidious form of discrimination happens simply because they differ from us and cannot prevent our behaviour.

It is abundantly clear that because of speciesism, so many of us fail to respect and value our fellow travellers for the unique contribution each one makes to the harmony and equilibrium of the living marvel that is the world we share. As a species hell bent on self indulgence, we have come so far down the road to destroying this planet that many scientists now consider that we have passed a climatic tipping point which renders our extinction, along with uncounted other species, a grim inevitability with the only relevant point of discussion being the timescale.

Facing the uncertain future

However, even faced with the possibility that we may already be committed to an apocalyptic nightmare, nothing in life is ever guaranteed. Any one of us may be only moments from an unforeseen occurrence that may change our lives for ever. So whatever the future holds, as individuals we can do nothing more than go on living day by day, true to the values we believe in, respecting and valuing each other, our family and our friends of all species. And as we all claim to share a love of life and the living world; as we all claim an affinity for other life forms, living true to our beliefs means holding this value at our core.

So this Earth Day let’s remind ourselves of the biophilia that each of us is eager to embrace and acknowledge just how perilously close to destruction we have brought this planet on which we and each one of our fellow earthlings depend for our very existence.
Let’s renew our rejection of speciesism by refusing to participate in the injustice that regards our fellow travellers as our resources.
And let’s renew our commitment to veganism, the only way we can hope to protect this miraculous corner of the universe that we hold in trust for the uncertain future.

Be vegan.

For those who wish to read more about the environmental impact of nonveganism, I’d like to share the following link with grateful thanks to Benny Malone, my friend and fellow advocate.

Vegan Environmental Links

Posted in Festivals, Speciesism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Open minds and playing mock the vegan

Every day I read comment after comment from those who dismiss science in favour of support for industry advertising campaigns that play to and reinforce our confirmation bias. It dismays me to witness how many will willingly ridicule the recognition of the sentience of our victims and the fact that not only we do not require to use them for nutritional purposes, but that we are in fact harmed by doing so.

How naïve have we become, to delight in playing ‘mock the vegan’, while lapping up the multi-million media advertising campaigns by the massive industries that market sentient animals, their corpses, eggs and lactation, as commodities and resources, filling their coffers as they laugh all the way to the slaughterhouse?

Since when have we become so trusting as to seriously entertain the idea that those who make their living from harming animals for us to consume as a completely unnecessary ‘food’, are going to be honest with us about the sentience of our victims, the injustice of what we are paying them to do and the very real risks they pose to our health?

Apart from the obvious truth that every one of us claims to care about animals so it clearly makes no sense for us to continue to harm them when it is unnecessary, I have nothing to gain except the hope that sharing my own experiences may help prevent others from taking massive risks with their own health and that of their children.

There are many studies that will tell us that animal products are good for us. There are also those who will tell us that the world is flat and that evolution is a lie. No idea is too preposterous not to have someone who believes and promotes it.

All I can ask is that you apply common sense and follow the money. If a report or a recommendation tells us that consuming animal substances is ‘healthy’ for us and ‘humane’ for them – check out the sponsors, the source and ask yourself who has much to gain from such an assertion. And keep an open mind, corporate sponsors have a surprisingly long reach.

It’s definitely a matter of life and death for our victims and most likely for ourselves as well.

Be vegan.

Posted in Awakening to veganism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

In memory of friends

Many of us who share our homes and our lives with a cat, with a dog or with some other nonhuman companion(s) have had to face the experience of agreeing to euthanise them when veterinary medicine can no longer keep their pain at bay.

Look back and remember

Today I’m asking those who have faced that sickening decision to pause for a time and think back to that day as I’m sure you must do at times, your thoughts tinged with sadness. Perhaps, for you as for me, every moment of those days is etched bone deep with a sorrow that can never heal.

While you reflect on this, let me ask a sincere question. Are you vegan? Please realise that I’m not asking you what you choose on the menu when you go out. Being vegan is about refusing to inflict harm and violence for any reason on other individuals who value their lives as we value our own and in the same way we valued the lives of those friends we are remembering today. Some people may be outraged that such a question should intrude on a moment of reverie, but it’s a really important and relevant question.

What we have in common

It’s important because, for a breath or two, for a few beats of our hearts, we have been united in our shared understanding of a bond between species that we can never forget.  We have been joined in a sadness that will never fully leave us. Together we remembered these friends who are no longer with us, and for myself, I longed to share again their friendship and their trust. Together we recalled the havoc and the laughter of the days we shared with them, happier days before that bleak day that we said goodbye to them forever. For a short time, we shared an understanding of what it means to value another for who they are, rather than for how we can use them. And that very understanding is one of the fundamental principles of veganism.

So moving back to the vegan question I asked, let’s turn our thoughts to those whom our nonvegan choices condemn to a short and miserable existence for us to consume them, or wear them, to experiment on them in laboratories, or use them for milk or for eggs. Let’s spare them a thought while they await the knives and the saws that reduce each magnificent and incomparable life to the cost per kilo of a corpse. To fulfil our demands as faceless consumers, they were each brought into the world by our contrivance and intervention to endure a bleak existence, and a terrifying death, where the uniqueness of their personality, the potential for fun and for trust and for friendship with humans all lay dormant, shunned by our relentlessly predatory species as an unwelcome reminder of the emotions, the enquiring minds and the complex ideas of our needless victims. Make no mistake, although we may have been taught otherwise, that potential is there in every sentient creature – it goes with the very definition.

We all know the words to say

When we think of those who are our victims, we become defensive, often resorting to explanations about how we seldom consume substances derived from them, and recounting how we try to ‘source’ these ‘products’ from ‘local’ or ‘humane’ establishments.

And there, in that sentence above,  we see a common but telling shift in terminology, one that is seldom noticed and infrequently remarked upon.  From the mention of our victims, there is an abrupt move away to ‘sourcing’ ‘products’. It’s the shift that happens when the discomfort of thinking of sentient individuals with thoughts and feelings, is eased by re-casting them as objects and resources in our minds and conversation.

You see we all say that we think none should suffer and that we ‘don’t believe in cruelty’. Let’s face it, it’s recited like a mantra. We obsess about their treatment while they await the unnecessary deaths we inflict upon them, pretending that this somehow atones for the injustice of our unnecessary actions. In fact we may even claim to believe that our victims have great lives, but wishing doesn’t make it so. We really know that what we say about them is not true, though we often come very close to fooling ourselves.

Parallels and connections

And so, consider this. Would any of us have wished for our beloved companion to have lived a ‘life’ such as we like to imagine is acceptable for those animals we use? I’m talking about standard practice here, with absolutely no suggestion whatsoever that any aspect of their existence as ‘farmed’ individuals would fail to reach the very highest standards. I can say without any hesitation whatsoever that I would not. And what’s more, I’m confident that any who would say otherwise could only hold that view because they have no knowledge of the violence and grave injustice inherent in any process that uses the lives, the labour and the bodies of sentient individuals as if they were inanimate resources.

Death comes to us all

And finally, setting aside for a moment our knowledge (or lack of it) of the lives of our victims, unless you and I are more different than I can imagine, I know how you felt when your heart was shattering in that vet’s surgery on that day long ago.

And I know beyond the slightest shadow of a doubt that if that vet had reassured you that a humane and peaceful death for your dear companion meant suspending them from chains upside down in the gore spattered cacophony of a slaughterhouse, slicing open the soft beloved throat to spill the lifeblood in a pulsing torrent past eyes, glazed with pain and shocked betrayal, there is not a chance in all the world that you would have believed them for even the slightest fraction of a second. You would have instantly recognised the myth of ‘humane slaughter’ that we hear about so often, for the black and utter lie that it is; that deep down we all know it to be. Unnecessary killing can never be humane. Never.

We are responsible for our actions

Yet for every nonvegan consumer choice that any of us makes, to consume, to wear, to experiment on, to imprison for ‘entertainment’, this is the very real and completely inescapable consequence of our choice and we cannot distance ourselves from being personally responsible for what is done to meet our demands. The only difference between our loved companions and our victims, is that we have never known our victims, have never looked into their eyes to see the fear, never witnessed their loneliness, the desolation and despair of young creatures who have never known what it means to be cared about for who they are, rather than for their commercial value as commodities. We would recognise all these feelings if we were only to have the opportunity to look, just as we recognise these same feelings in our companions and fight so hard to ensure that they never have to experience them.

Honouring, respecting, learning

So today, on behalf of those we have loved, let’s remember with fondness who they were, and who we are, we who understand and value the bonds that sentient individuals of different species share.  And knowing that our victims are exactly like our loved ones were in every way but species, let’s ask ourselves if we can really continue to live in a way that causes such pointless but catastrophic harm to them,  they who have never harboured the slightest thought of harm towards us, and who are completely innocent in every sense.

I know that I couldn’t live that way. That’s why I’m vegan. Please join me.

Posted in Companion animals, Speciesism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments