Cruelty to animals

Jo-Anne McArthur Djurattsalliansen

Image by Jo-Anne McArthur, Djurattsalliansen

Originally posted on 22 November 2015, reviewed and links updated 07 February 2018

Cruelty to animals. If ever there was a phrase that seems so clear but says so little, then this is it. We all say we hate it, we all agree with those who say they oppose it, and we all condemn those who perpetrate it. But – and this may come as a surprise – almost every one of us is thinking of something completely different when we use it. We almost never acknowledge this, finding it much more comfortable to assume a shared frame of reference with others who use it.

So why is this? It’s because ‘cruelty to animals’ is a completely subjective phrase. Now just to be sure I’m completely clear about the meaning of the word ‘subjective’ see below * for the definition from an online dictionary. The definition of the word boils down to this: ‘subjective describes something that means different things to different people.

So why might that be a problem?

Why indeed. Lots of other things are subjective and in general, little harm is done. For instance, when each of us thinks of ‘young’ and ‘old’ people, we tend to use ourselves as a benchmark. For example, I am way past the age that I thought of as ‘old’ when I was in my 20s.  To family members, I refer to myself as ‘elderly’ in a tongue-in-cheek kind of a way but to be absolutely honest, I’m not sure what it will take for me to truly see myself as old. I don’t suppose there’s any harm in this and if it serves to make my sons shake their heads fondly at my delusions, I don’t mind.

So some subjective references are not inherently harmful, however I firmly believe that the seemingly innocuous little term, ‘cruelty to animals’ is one of the most dangerous and harmful there is, not in terms of grammar or language, but in terms of the ones who always suffer while we’re mincing our words. Our victims.

Part of the harm lies in the fact that we all think we know what it means, and in our certainty that we know, we rarely question its meaning when others use it. We tend to assume we’re on the same page, on the same side, sharing the same values, and we find comfort and are reassured about our own behaviour in the shared sentiment that we’re assuming.

What we almost never do, is ask others what exactly they mean by ‘cruelty to animals’. Before I became vegan, if someone were to have asked me exactly what I meant by it, I’d have struggled with that question. I’d have done a bit of hand waving to indicate how nebulous the concept is, and I’m sure there would have been a few ‘you know what I mean’s and ‘sort of’s in my explanation. Because really I didn’t have a fixed idea. I could have quoted a few extreme instances of brutality but that was it.

Why don’t we check our frame of reference?

So why don’t we check? There are a number of reasons for this that I have learned during several years of doing advocacy and blogging. Of course as I have lived more than six decades on this planet, it would be fair to say that life has taught me a thing or two and sometimes what is not said is just as telling as what is said. So I have come to the conclusion that for most of us, we subconsciously use two main strategies:

  1. We stick to the beliefs we’ve always had
  2. We use our own behaviour as the benchmark

Sticking to the beliefs we’ve always had

What do I mean by this? ‘Sticking to the beliefs we’ve always had’ means that we each have our own, personal beliefs about what we need to do and what we are entitled to do. For most of us – even those who are ‘young’ by my reckoning – the roots of these ‘beliefs’ are lost in the mists of time. We were taught them at about the same time as we were taught not to poke our fingers into electrical sockets or put beads up our nose. We become adult just ‘knowing’ these things but can’t recall where the ‘knowledge’ came from. No one ever sits down to consider or challenge why we should not put our fingers in sockets etc. because we regard these truths as self-evident.

And so it is with our beliefs about those of other species, our importance and worth when compared to them, and the uses we believe we need to make, are entitled to make, as a consequence of our assumed importance and perceived superiority. We rarely challenge these beliefs and in fact deride the suggestion that we should, in much the same way that we would rightly react to a suggestion that we have a serious debate about the existence of the tooth fairy.

We use our own behaviour as the benchmark

‘We use our own behaviour as the benchmark’, means that in general, we consider ‘cruelty’ to be something that others do. We invariably start from the assumption that we ourselves are doing nothing wrong, as evidenced and emphasised by our ready declarations condemning ‘cruelty to animals’, and we look outward at other people, other nations, other cultures, always others. We look outward, we find fault and we point fingers of blame and condemnation.

Thus armed with our ‘knowledge’ and clearly believing ourselves to be above reproach, we confidently condemn ‘cruelty to animals’. Almost all of us do this before we have even heard of veganism, and when we do hear about it, it’s seldom a welcome topic.

So why is veganism an unwelcome topic for us?

It’s unwelcome because it forces us to examine our actions in a new light, an honest, truthful one. Veganism forces us to reconsider what we were taught from childhood, that animal use is necessary for our well-being. We discover that in fact, the opposite is true.

Veganism forces us to reconsider why we should think ourselves somehow more important, more worthy than other species.  In our eyes as human animals, other animals have previously occupied a no-man’s-land in terms of definition. We were always aware that they are not things or objects, however we resisted the natural conclusion to which this awareness should lead. Our use of them up to the point where we understand veganism, has refused to acknowledge their sentience, our glaringly obvious similarities, and has determinedly ignored the fact that they are the same as us in every way that matters.

Veganism forces us to realise the fact that our every ‘choice’ is a decision to violate the rights of defenceless and innocent individuals who are exactly like us in every way but species. Their lives matter to them. They share bonds of love and friendship with their family and friends. Each one is a unique individual who experiences life as we do, through their senses, their interactions with others, through their memories, through their environment. 

We think we’re on the same page but we’re not

So coming back to the phrase that started this essay, ‘cruelty to animals’, what does this shifting frame of reference mean in real terms? When we are not vegan and living in our western society, and we declare this to others as – let’s face it – nearly everyone does, we are thinking about actions that hurt dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, hamsters or members of the other species that we think of as ‘pets’.

We are thinking about actions or circumstances that fall outside our own, personal, accepted range of ‘necessary’ actions (our benchmark), although we will sometimes concede that even these should be done ‘humanely‘ (which is another subjective and loaded word). Examples of this are when we call for ‘compassion’ (a subjective concept), ‘kinder choices’ (a subjective concept), and for more laws to ‘regulate’ the ‘welfare‘ of our unnecessary victims while we are carrying out the inevitable denial of their fundamental rights that forms the bedrock of all the uses that are made of them to satisfy our consumer demands.

This is a path that invariably leads to xenophobia and ‘otherisation’, because other cultures have a different set of species to which they give ‘special’ consideration and a different range of actions that are perceived as ‘necessary’. It’s a path littered with grey areas, with personal definitions of ‘essential’ and ‘necessities’, little individual justifications that we each invent. Most significantly, it’s a path where we always ensure that the parameters excuse our OWN behaviour, regardless of what we do .

So is there an **objective definition of ‘cruelty to animals’?

There is a definition; all we need to do is define our frame of reference. ‘Cruelty’ is the inflicting of harm or distress on another and let’s presume for the sake of avoiding argument that we accept the (debatable) qualification that all humans tend to adopt; that in certain circumstances ‘harm’ may be justified as being unavoidable or even necessary, and further define cruelty to mean ‘unnecessary or avoidable harm’. Is it possible to define ‘cruelty to animals’ objectively (i.e not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts)?

Humans do not need to use or consume or otherwise use members of other species for any purpose. We have a myriad alternatives and as a highly inventive species we have no trouble at all in finding them. (Even if we did not have these alternatives, it would still be immoral for us to confine, use and kill countless billions of sentient individuals every year simply because we can – but this is a moot point). Using other individuals is inherently harmful to them. It is harmful because it prioritises our unnecessary habits, our convenience and our selfish indulgence over every single right they have. They are our victims.

The recognition of the fact that we have no need to make others into our victims, and the decision to live true to this recognition, is the definition of what happens when we become vegan. So in fact, the objective definition of ‘cruelty to animals’ may be summed up in a single word; nonveganism.

Telling it like it is

So let’s stop talking about ‘cruelty to animals’, because as a phrase it is meaningless. I have seen so many arguments arise between self-proclaimed ‘animal lovers’ (a subjective concept) many of whom are still using other individuals as I once did, excusing my own actions and seeing fault only in others. These arguments frequently accuse vegans of being divisive, claiming that since we all condemn ‘cruelty to animals’, we must all be on the same side.

Make no mistake, we’re NOT on all the same side at all and in our complacency about our shared (mis)understanding, lies a bloodbath, a continuing nightmare for 74 billion land animals and trillions of aquatic individuals each year; each one of them an innocent, vulnerable creature who needs us all to be absolutely clear on their behalf.

There is a crystal clear line that separates being vegan from not being vegan. That’s the one we need to recognise and cross. Let’s keep working towards that day.

Be vegan.

 

 

*subjective:
1- existing in the mind; belonging to the thinking subject rather than to the object of thought.
2- pertaining to or characteristic of an individual; personal; individual: a subjective evaluation.
3- placing excessive emphasis on one’s own moods, attitudes, opinions, etc.; unduly egocentric.

 

**objective: not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts.

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Harm is driven by consumer demand – thoughts about dairy

Most of us were raised to believe that we ‘needed’ to consume dairy to be healthy. We were also taught that taking milk didn’t harm cows. Many of us live our whole lives without ever challenging these childhood myths. The fantasy is reinforced in the media by the industry itself in what has up to now been a very effective way of keeping consumers oblivious to reality. When we do finally look at it with an open mind, not one of us can understand how long it took us to realise the horror of the industry that is driven by our demands as consumers.

Animal use is big business. Huge. ‘Dairy‘ is a business of commercialised reproduction. It is a business of forced pregnancy; a business of separating mothers and their babies, to facilitate the using of their hormonal secretions or breast-milk (commercially known as ‘milk’) as a commercial resource. This resource is sold for profit either as a liquid or as any one of the many substances we have become accustomed to consuming without the slightest thought: yogurt, ice cream, cheese, butter and so on.

There’s no way round this. All the ‘organic’, ‘grass fed’, ‘free range’ labels that we have been taught to look out for, do NOT prevent this underlying process from happening. For every defenceless mother trapped within our profit-maximising system of ruthless exploitation, her entire existence is one of forced impregnation, pregnancy, birth, separation from her infant, and daily subjugation to our sucking pumps and tanks. We drive this process with every purchase that we make.

For dairy mothers of all species, although still young, when their production of breastmilk falls below a commercially viable (i.e. making the maximum profit) level, their only escape from the relentless cycle is the clanging horror of a slaughterhouse where their poor, depleted bodies will become the cheapest of ‘meat’.

In 2016, 286,000,000 (286 million) dairy bovines, 20,500,000 (20.5 million) dairy goats, 30,000,000 (30 million) dairy sheep and 78,000,000 (78 million) dairy buffalo and camels were slaughtered. These numbers will include at least 21,000,000  (21 million) dairy calves killed as ‘waste products’ because their sole purpose for being brought into the world was to induce lactation in their mothers. Millions of additional calves and kids will have found their way into the ‘meat’ statistics not quoted here, as a consequence of being ‘fattened up’ for consumption.

Dairy doesn’t CAUSE harm – it IS harm. It’s a death sentence for this baby at the top of the page, for their siblings yet to be born and ultimately for their mother when she has nothing left for us to take.

Once we know this, there’s only one question that demands an answer. What am I, as an individual consumer, going to do about it? My answer made me vegan.

 

Statistics source: Food and Agriculture Organization – FAOSTAT Production – Livestock Primary – 2016.

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Obscene phrase of the day: ‘bred for eating’

Originally posted 1 September 2014, revised and links updated 31 January 2018

bred for eating’ (variation: ‘bred for food’)

‘But surely you realise that they were ‘bred for eating‘?’  It’s a sentence frequently uttered triumphantly by those seeking to justify eating habits that cause catastrophic and unnecessary harm to innocent individuals.  How could we ever have become thus; a species that claims exoneration for victimising the vulnerable with a declaration that as this was always their intent, the atrocities they commit against their victims are somehow beyond criticism?  And yet the phrase ‘bred for eating’ is brandished smugly, produced with panache every single time; clearly thought of by its user as a clinching argument that confers on them some magical pass from the normal responsibility that each of us has, to examine the choices we make in life against the values that we claim to stand for.

‘Bred for eating’, like every one of the excuses we invent, that our victims were ‘bred’ for us to use in some way, that our interests far outweigh theirs, is a clear manifestation of the ugly prejudice known as speciesism.

Most of us will agree that torture, enslavement, violation, breaking up families, abducting children, wrongful confinement and needless killing are completely unacceptable practices when we hear of them being perpetrated against humans.  Why then should we think for a moment that some phrase, produced out of the magic hat of childhood excuses we use to justify our every atrocity, is going to get us off the moral hook of committing these selfsame atrocities against other sentient individuals simply because they don’t share our species?

The quality of sentience that they share with us means that, like us, they experience life and living through their senses, and through their connections to their environment and to other individuals. They have minds and thoughts and needs, are capable of feeling joy, of devotion to their offspring, of forming deep bonds with other beings and are capable of experiencing suffering and misery. With a full range of well expressed emotions, they seek to avoid pain and they make it absolutely clear to all but the most determinedly oblivious that they do not want to die.

They are, in fact, like us in every way except species and as such deserve our respect. A spurious label that we apply to a sentient individual can never excuse or justify violating the reproductive systems of their parents to bring them into the world with the sole intention of using them as an unnecessary commodity to satisfy a trivial human indulgence, as if they were inanimate objects without minds or thoughts or feelings.

We seriously need to think again about this phrase ‘bred for eating’, because it is utterly without substance. It is bound up in unchallenged assumptions of superiority, entitlement, necessity and the ownership of individuals other than our selves. All of these notions have their roots in our childhood and none of them can stand moral scrutiny by ourselves as adults.

It is not ‘how we treat’ our needless victims that is the problem. The problem is the fact that we have victims at all, that we unjustly assume a right to take from them everything they have, for something we don’t even need. And we do this simply because we can, because we have been raised not to question, not to challenge, not to ask ourselves why we imagine for even a fleeting moment that our own most trivial whim merits the taking of the precious life of another.

The only way to be the just, fair, honest people we already think we are, is to stop applying phony labels to members of other species, see them for the fascinating, unique individuals that they are, and accord them the respect that is their due. That means becoming vegan.

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Claiming exceptions

‘That’s not true. That just happens on factory farms.  It doesn’t happen on all farms‘.

This depressingly common statement appeared recently on a friend’s page in response to a post. It’s been lingering on my mind ever since because variations on ‘that doesn’t apply in every case, there are ‘good’ ways of doing it’, are a very common retaliation used by those seeking to defend, justify and solicit approval for their use of members of other species. It is an attempt to invalidate what is being said on the basis that someone, somewhere, claims there is an exception to whatever is being stated.

‘The way I use animals is different from the way that everyone else does it’

‘That only happens:

  • in ‘factory’ farms;
  • in ‘other’ countries;
  • in ‘battery’ chicken farms;
  • in ‘foreign’ slaughterhouses;
  • in ‘other’ cultures’.

‘That may happen in some places but:

  • not in this country (wherever);
  • not the animals I use;
  • not where I buy ‘my’ meat/milk/eggs/honey/ leather/ silk/ make-up/toiletries/ cleaning materials;
  • not when you buy from ‘local‘ farms;
  • not when you keep your own hens;
  • not when you buy ‘organic’/’free-range’/eggs, dead flesh, lactation etc.’

The list of ‘exceptional circumstances’ used to seek to justify or excuse the actions of some individuals, groups or even whole countries just goes on and on.

In a similar vein, I recently read repeated claims by someone on social media that wool production isn’t exploitative, at least ‘not the type that my jumpers are made with’. Although it’s a common perception (that I used to share) that helping ourselves to the body fibres or coverings of any individual who is unable to prevent us, is somehow doing them a kindness, that particular claim was a new one for me.  In my decades as a nonvegan and a knitter of every type of apparel you could name, I could never have claimed to know anything about the wool I was using, other than in some cases, the country in which the individuals lived while it was growing on their defenceless bodies. In those days I was too naïve to appreciate that the overproduction of wool is a result of selective breeding for human commercial interests, and necessitates the ordeal of shearing for our victims.  I did not realise that the stripping and sale of wool was a moneymaking sideline for those who ‘farm’ our victims’ lives, and that while shearing may not directly kill them, a slaughterhouse death would be the only escape for my helpless victims.

Using them ‘to prevent waste’

There will be those who seek to counter this point by claiming that as sheep have now been bred to overproduce wool, we ‘might as well use it’ or it will be ‘wasted‘. The same tired argument is frequently used to try to justify egg consumption.  Not surprisingly, we don’t have the same spurious compulsion to prevent ‘waste’ when body parts and substances discarded by humans are being discussed. And of course, there are always those who assert triumphantly that ceasing to exploit defenceless creatures will result in their extinction, as if that were a bad thing.

My response is the same in the case of every species and breed that we have developed for our own benefit at the expense of the wellbeing of our victims. I can’t understand why we even need to ask whether these man-made mutants each of whom are powerless to escape the prisons that we have made of their bodies, should be allowed to die out, to become extinct. But since the question is frequently asked, I’ll answer. YES.  Our victims should be allowed to die out. If our own species survives, I hope with all my heart that our selectively mutated victims will one day be allowed to become extinct. It’s the only way they can ever escape the atrocity of what we have done to them.

Trusting the experts

Anyway, moving on. ‘That doesn’t always apply, there are ‘good’ ways of doing it’ is a principle on which an entire ideology is grounded. It’s the basis of the idea that there’s a right, good, acceptable way to use our unnecessary victims. At its heart, this ideology is the fundamental failure or refusal of our species to acknowledge that every use that we make of others is inherently harmful to them because it prioritises our trivial convenience over their every single right. This self-serving perspective leads directly and seamlessly to the concept of ‘humane exploitation’ so eagerly promoted by the harm industries and their advertisers and associates, a strategy that targets consumers with the idea that they can pay to use and kill others ‘nicely’ without the need for concern or conscience. The word ‘humane‘ that is repeated so often, is like a veil that most consumers don’t look behind.

I suspect the reason that we don’t look behind the veil of animal use is because we strongly suspect that we would be extremely uncomfortable about what we would see. Because everyone says that they care about animals and says they can’t abide ‘cruelty‘, we might even find that our conscience wouldn’t allow us to carry on paying for what’s behind that veil. So we shrug and decide to ‘leave it to the experts’.  ‘If the experts say it’s humane then surely it must be.’ ‘There are laws about ‘that sort of thing’.’ This country’ (wherever that is) ‘has the best ‘welfare’ laws.’ So goes the internal dialogue.  I know because I was that consumer several years ago. We all fall for it. It’s very persuasive, it’s comfortable,  it fits with what we’ve all been brought up to think. And it’s complete rubbish.

And who are these ‘experts’ in whom we put our faith? They are the people, the organisations, the establishments and the industries who make money from using our victims. I’ll say that again so that we can all just have a good think about it.

Those we look to as ‘experts’ are the very people, the very organisations, the very establishments and industries who make money, either directly or indirectly, from every substance that is derived from the bodies and the lives of our victims.  

And they very much want to keep making money that way. Are we really so naïve as to fail to observe such a blatant conflict of interest – with a flashing light and a siren on it? The idea that we can delegate responsibility, pay somebody else to use and kill others ‘humanely’ without the need for concern or conscience, is at the root of every feel-good label, every ‘XSPCA’ stamp of approval and every industry ‘quality assurance’ stamp depicting coloured farm machinery.

‘What I do is different which ‘proves’ there’s not a problem’

When put forward by any individual, organisation or group, ‘that doesn’t always apply , there are ‘good’ ways of doing it’, is the sound of a door slamming shut. It’s a door slamming shut on the notion that ‘their type of using’ is the same as every other kind; the bad kind, the ‘cruel kind’, the kind that ‘other’ people do. ‘That doesn’t always apply, there are ‘good’ ways of doing it’ is a defiant ‘gotcha’ that shouts out, ‘This doesn’t apply to me. My kind of using is different’.

From ‘my special kind of wool’, via ‘I only eat eggs from chickens that a lovely woman down the road loves like her family’, to ‘I’ve heard about ‘humane’ dairy, so it’s not as bad as you say’, there are a myriad attempts every day to use exceptional circumstances as if they were commonplace to somehow disprove the unspeakable atrocity of nonveganism, or at least claim a personal exception from the idea that we, as a species, are guilty of an atrocity.

This is, however, missing the point. Even IF these exceptions were truly exceptional, which they are not, in the whole vast panoply of animal harm, the quoted instances represent a minuscule proportion of the vast majority.

‘When I eat eggs it’s different from everyone else’

For instance 12 billion (12,000,000,000) chickens are brought into the world each year by the egg industry. Half, as males, are killed within hours of hatching, the other 6,000,000,000 produce just short of an egg every day as a result of our selective breeding. Whatever anyone says about free-range, back-yard, ‘dearly beloved’ hens, statistics show that worldwide, 95% of the hens used for eggs exist in battery conditions. That is where demand is focused. That is where it will remain focused until the consumers whose purchases demand this barbarity become aware of the consequences of their actions and the fact that all egg consumption is unnecessary.

A handful, of allegedly ‘happy’ hens who by some miracle of communication have conveyed their consent to be used as egg machines will NEVER mean that there is no problem about the other 12,000,000,000 (12 billion) annually. Only when consumers stop demanding harm will harm stop being a profitable business. Every single egg used by our species – wherever and whoever it came from – reinforces the concept of eggs, and those who lay them, as our property to be used, and as an appropriate food for humans. When a practice is fundamentally wrong – as egg use is – no-one is in a position to claim exceptional circumstances.

‘My use of dairy is different from everyone else’

As for the ‘humane dairy’ idea, I was recently asked whether I had referenced the concept of dairy enterprises that claim to be ‘humane’ (that word again) or ‘slaughter free’ or ‘harmless’ (aka ahimsa). I hadn’t, although I’ve often seen it championed by those who are not vegan as an ‘argument’ in favour of the process of the continuing breastfeeding of adults that we have been taught to overlook and call ‘dairy consumption’.

The first thing to say is that any action by our species that makes use of the reproductive functions of other species to breastfeed in place of – or even alongside – their own infants, is exploitative, unnecessary and harmful. This excellent article entitled ‘Slaughter-Free Dairy Is Being Hailed As The Future of ‘Humane’ Dairy. Here’s Why It Isn’t.’ by my friend Ashley Capps of Free from Harm,  painstakingly examines the many problematic aspects of the concept of ‘humane dairy’.

Again, even without entering into the debate, it is vital to realise that this relates to a relatively tiny number of bovines, confined in small-scale enterprises that can never be commercially reproducible. Like the ‘happy’ hens of our ‘humane’ mythology, even if they have by some miracle of communication conveyed their consent to be used as breastmilk machines and labourers, this will NEVER mean that there is no problem about what happens to satisfy the raging global consumer demand for cheap dairy products.

And what does happen? In a single year, 2016, 286,000,000 (286 million) dairy bovines, 20,500,000 (20.5 million) dairy goats, 30,000,000 (30 million) dairy sheep and 78,000,000 (78 million) dairy buffalo and camels were slaughtered. These numbers will include at least 21,000,000 million (21 million) dairy calves killed as ‘waste products’ because their sole purpose was to induce lactation in their mothers. Millions of additional calves and kids will have found their way into the ‘meat’ statistics as a consequence of being ‘fattened’ away from their mothers for consumption.

For dairy mothers of all species, although still young, when their production falls below a commercially viable level, their only escape from the relentless cycle of pregnancy, birth, separation and the daily pumping out of their breast milk for human commercial gain, is a slaughterhouse where their poor, depleted bodies will become the cheapest of ‘meat’ or possibly ‘pet food’.

We cannot claim exceptions for our personal actions. Every substance derived from the life or the body of an individual who does not share our species, is a declaration that we consider that they are ours to use. We would and could never invent a similar set of justifications to use the lives and bodies of members of our own species. We do it only to those who cannot defend themselves in a clear manifestation of the ugly prejudice known as speciesism.

Don’t worry, keep giving us your cash and leave the rest to us

We are currently witnessing a gearing up of the animal harming industries. We are seeing a change of approach. We see them increasingly using language specifically targeted at ‘concerned consumers’ in a flagrant attempt to damp down concerns and keep them onside as accomplices in the harm and misery that is the only true brand of nonvegan consumer demand. We see increasing media time being given to industry paid ‘nutritionists’ and ‘dietary experts’ who frequently contradict the science of those without conflicting affiliations. We also see patronising dismissals of consumer concerns using language that intends to belittle and mock any who challenge the processes inherent in all farming of lives on the basis that they ‘don’t know what they’re talking about’, ‘come and see a real farm’ etc.

Recent rhetoric claims that the dairy industry is working to promote a ‘positive message’. Given the undeniability of the fundamental procedures of forced pregnancy, birth and separation that form the bedrock of dairy production; the fact that animal agriculture has been proven to be unsustainable and to be destroying the planet; an increasing body of medical evidence that points to dairy consumption as a major factor in cancer, heart disease and the many other serious conditions that are increasingly afflicting humanity, it is difficult to imagine how this ‘positive message’ can be achieved. At least without straying from the truth.

In the end we are each responsible for our actions

While the harm industries and their media people are working extra hard to keep us from realising what we pay them to do, it is not uncommon to see media outrage about vegans being ‘anti-farming’, along with opinion pieces proselytising about the selfless devotion that involves their sending 74 billion desperate individuals who don’t want to die to slaughterhouses each year.

In my experience, vegans are not ‘anti-farming’. They are ‘anti-violence’, ‘anti-brutality’, ‘pro-truth’, ‘pro-honesty’ and absolutely pro-animals. The point is that we need to keep our focus on humanity’s 74 billion annual victims and their trillions of aquatic contemporaries.

These billions and trillions are our innocent victims, and while those who currently derive their income from satisfying consumer demand for them to be harmed, seek to shift the focus to themselves as the aggrieved victims, the bottom line is that consumers have all the power to determine what is available for them to buy and they convey that demand by voting with their wallets.

We have to keep our wits about us and think our way through the deceptions of the users to the simple truths that our common sense is telling us. Common sense will never fail us if we give it a chance. Common sense says that vegan is the only way to live true to what every one of us knows in our soul and any excuse that we invent to continue to cause harm is simply that. An invention. Be vegan. Now.

 

Statistics source: Food and Agriculture Organization – FAOSTAT Production – Livestock Primary – 2016.

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Speciesism

bulldog-2403903_960_720Originally posted 6 August 2014, revised and links updated 22 January 2018

Speciesism is a pervasive form of prejudice, taught to us all in our earliest years, that blinkers members of our species into the unfounded belief that we are so much more important than, or so superior to all other beings on the planet that we may harm and kill them for whatever trivial reasons we devise, without conscience and without any moral justification whatsoever.  A form of oppression directed at other living individuals, speciesism is the practice of according or withholding the rights that belong to others by virtue of their birth, based solely upon their species. Much is written about the term, however we may easily gain awareness of it by examining our own attitudes and looking at the world about us.

How do we see speciesism in action?

Speciesism is happening when we needlessly slaughter and consume other sentient individuals, when we take away their infants so that we may breastfeed in their place, when we selectively breed them so that they will produce eggs for our consumption despite the fact that it destroys their health, when we perpetrate a myriad other atrocities upon them with absolutely no justification whatsoever. Using brute force and technology we assert our dominance over every other species, wilfully denying their every right to life and freedom from deliberate harm, in favour of our own trivial, frivolous and unnecessary habits and convenience.

Speciesism is happening when we profess to love dogs and cats but ‘farm’ members of other species, assigning a completely nonsense category of ‘food animals’ to them despite their sharing the exact same quality of sentience that we recognise and value in our companions.

Speciesism is happening when we see fundraisers being held for cat and dog rescues where the pitiful corpses of defenceless members of other species, are dismembered, charred and devoured by smiling people discussing how much they ‘love’ animals and hate ‘cruelty‘.

Speciesism is happening when many eagerly sign and share petitions against fur and zoos and circuses and the killing of whales, while eating burgers, bacon and eggs and drinking milk; vociferously treading the moral high ground in leather boots and wool jackets while failing to spot any irony whatsoever.

Speciesism is happening when we promote unproven or imagined reductions in the level of torment to which our needless victims are subjected, or changes to the environment in which we confine and use them, as a ‘step in the right direction’ because of their species.  Speciesism is happening when we accept or promote conditions and procedures for our victims that we would consider vile and completely unthinkable if those victims were either human, or members of the companion species with whom we share our homes.

Speciesism is happening when we support industry-developed ‘welfare‘ regulations that govern treatment of our unnecessary victims, and are fooled into thinking that these represent concern for the wellbeing of these victims, when in fact they are purely profit-driven and concerned only for the financial benefit of those who farm and harm others in response to consumer demand. Again, if these same ‘welfare regulations’ were applied to humans or members of the companion species with whom we share our homes, we would be outraged beyond belief and would instantly spot the duplicity.

Speciesism is happening when we accept the unacceptable as ‘good enough’ if our victim is not human. It’s why the values of justice, fairness, honesty and the rejection of needless violence that we all like to think are part of what defines each of us as an individual, are applied only to certain species, while towards others as consumers of their torment, we support and pay for the most depraved and brutal practices that our species can devise.

Only on the day we open our eyes and realise that every single one of our victims values their life, and that we have no need or right to take that life away, do we begin to cast aside the blinkers of speciesism. 

Once we do that, we have no choice but to become vegan.

Get information about veganism here:

https://www.goveganscotland.com/
https://goveganworld.com/living-vegan/
https://www.internationalvegan.org/vsk/

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‘There’s an Elephant in the Room’ – why this title?

‘Elephant in the room’ is a metaphorical idiom for something obvious that is either being ignored or is not being addressed. It is based on the idea that an elephant in the room would be impossible to avoid noticing; with the consequence that any people in the room who pretend the elephant is not there, are clearly making a deliberate effort or choice to avoid dealing with the looming issue that it represents.

The name of this blog and the Facebook page where it began, ‘There’s an Elephant in the Room’, reflects the fact that although our entire society and culture is founded on the needless use and torment of other beings, the vast majority of humans are either unaware of their role in the atrocity, know about but choose to ignore it, or else in some way seek to rationalise it to themselves. The name ‘There’s an Elephant in the Room’ was originally chosen as a declaration that I will always refuse to stay silent about that elephant.

Despite our fond delusions about being ‘animal lovers’, it is no exaggeration to say that we have created a hell for other beings. We confine, torture, mutilate, violate, and enslave them. We kill and eat their babies. We consume their flesh, their eggs and the lactation they produce for the infants we have taken from them and killed. We wear, furnish our homes with and otherwise use their body parts, body fibres and skins in a myriad ways. With implements, technology and brute force we imprison and restrain them, exerting our dominance over them so they will act in unnatural ways for our ‘entertainment’. We ‘experiment’ on and test drugs, chemicals, toiletries and procedures on their trembling, agonised bodies in laboratories straight out of our most violent and sickening horror stories.

The beings whom we use are sentient, a quality that we, as humans, share. Sentient individuals have an interest in remaining alive and in avoiding pain. Whatever our species, we are each unique individuals, each of us with needs and preferences, each capable of experiencing satisfaction or pleasure and indeed each excruciatingly able to experience suffering, misery and fear.

In order to effect real change in the way those who do not share our species are viewed, we must strike at the root of the problem, exposing the speciesism and violence that underpins every part of our brutal society as the unchallenged and culturally accepted norm. We must invite and encourage all humans to think critically about the way consumer demand and the choice of the individual are one and the same thing.

When our demand for the products of needless harm ends, only then will harm cease to be profitable for those who hurt, torment and kill innocent and defenceless victims on our behalf. We cannot dissociate ourselves from the slaughterhouse taint that is the inevitable consequence of the many atrocities that we pay them to carry out.

Only by taking individual responsibility for the violence that takes place in our name and refusing to pay for it to continue, can we create the peaceful world that every one of us claims to wish for. That peaceful world is a vegan world and it’s within our reach.

Be vegan.

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Statistics: a list of individual tragedies

How often do we look at statistics and get lost in the mathematics of bigger numbers and smaller numbers, more or fewer, comparisons and graphs.

Look again. Every single one of these 74,171,872,986 was a unique individual – separate from all others just as you would be if you stood in a crowd.

Every single one had a mind and thoughts and wishes. Every single one did not want to die and for every single one their last thoughts were of pain, of terror and of desperation while their panicking heart pumped their lifeblood out through their slashed and broken flesh onto our killing floors.

I read so often the myth that ‘slaughter is humane and painless’. This is utter nonsense and tells us simply that the writer has chosen not to face the truth. However, even if that myth were true, it does not justify the outrage of what our species does to every other. None, NONE of these deaths was necessary.

Let 2018 be a year when we continue to represent the bleak and despairing individuals behind the statistics. For our needless victims, we fail them all if we fail to represent them as the individuals that they are.

Be vegan.

 

Statistics source: Food and Agriculture Organization – FAOSTAT Production – Livestock Primary – 2016.

This number does not include marine creatures, male chicks killed soon after hatching by the egg industry (currently estimated at 6 billion annually), wildlife dying from loss of habitat or the millions who are killed annually in laboratories after having substances and procedures ‘tested’ on them, and numerous other groups not directly associated with ‘food’ production.

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‘Personal choice’ – remembering a lesson

This year, I’ve decided to revise and re-publish some of my favourite blogs from previous years. This is the first of these, prompted because the claims of ‘personal choice’ still make monotonous and regular appearances in comments threads everywhere.

Originally published 27 June 2016. Revised and republished 10 January 2018.

Today, for some inexplicable reason, I remembered the first time another person told me that eating ‘meat’ was their ‘personal choice’. The memory has replayed itself all day in my mind’s eye.

It was 2012 and I recall still feeling raw from the horrors that I had learned in the weeks before about the dairy and egg industries, and was rediscovering a way to exist in a world that looked exactly as it had before, but where my own perspective had shifted irrevocably.

The other person in the conversation was a work colleague and had been for many years. I would probably go so far as to say we had been friends and there we were, the two of us, at work. I had just confided that I had recently become vegan.

‘Of course,’ my colleague said, ‘what I eat is my personal choice.’

The forceful words were accompanied by a hostile flash in the eyes and a defensive set to the chin that spells ‘back off’ in any language.  It was probably not the first time I had heard this statement, but it was certainly the first time I had heard it since becoming vegan. I don’t remember the other times. Like so much of my life and my thoughts in those tragic decades when I was not vegan, I look back down the years at that person who wore my face and I know who she became but not who she was. I know what she thought but not how she managed to reconcile it with the kind of person she thought she was.

Anyway, to return to this memory and this assertion of ‘personal choice’; I had no response. I think I mumbled something and then sat there, stunned, taken aback by the immensity of this preposterous idea.  I had thought that I knew this person; had thought they shared the same values as myself. Yet here I was with a metaphorical chasm yawning at my feet, knowing that my colleague’s words were utterly wrong for uncounted reasons that I could not articulate. I felt as if everything I had valued about our friendship had been a lie. I left that workplace shortly afterwards and although I have been invited several times to ‘catch up’, I never have.

Finding the positive – advocacy

Almost six years have passed since that day and it’s strange how things turn out. I silently made a vow that never again would I fail my defenceless, innocent earthling kin because I didn’t have an answer. I read and researched, listening and learning as much as I could bear to know about the atrocities that my species perpetrates upon every other species on the planet. What I found was unspeakable, the stuff of nightmares, unbelievable and yet true. So in an odd sort of way, I am grateful for that experience long ago, because although I didn’t realise it at the time, that day marked the tentative start of my vegan advocacy.

Becoming vegan is like that; so many turn to advocacy. And that’s understandable. After all the harm we did before we knew any better, we feel the weight of the huge debt we owe  our victims, who endured an existence and a death so vile, so terrifying that we shrink from imagining it; the despoiled and pitiful remains of their only, precious lives long since crunched, digested and flushed away.

The tragic irony is that most humans are eager to declare their concern for nonhuman animals, to reject ‘cruelty‘ to them and to condemn those who participate in it. Once we recognise and accept that we have no right to harm sentient individuals whatever their species, we realise that to refrain from participating in the gratuitous and needless violence of our sanctimonious species is the very least we can do. The only way to do that is to be vegan.

Each of us may be provided with information about the deep injustice of animal use, but engaging in a meaningful way with that information, internalising the realisation that this is the only way to make peace with our conscience, and making the decision to become vegan, has to come from within. We can provide reams of information, but for the seeds we plant to bear fruit, those to whom we reach out must be receptive to that information. As advocates, we must remain hopeful that this will happen, not least because we are beginning on common ground, from a shared assertion that we all ‘care’ about animals.

Informed choice?

And this leads me to another point that I have considered as time has passed, as I have delved deeper into the vile and hidden practices inherent in any system that commodifies sentient individuals as ‘resources’. When someone tells us that it is their ‘personal choice’ to use others, their body parts, their reproductive systems, their forced compliance with our domination; asserting that their ‘personal choice’ demands subjugation of the vulnerable to brutality for consumption, for plucking and shaving and flaying, for testing, for entertainment, and for the hundreds of deeply disturbed and disturbing purposes that our species invents, there is one thing that we all – vegan and nonvegan alike – have to fervently hope.

And that hope is that the one who claims the right to exert this ‘personal choice’ is speaking from a lack of knowledge.  Anyone who could calmly gaze into the screaming, whimpering hell of our creation; who can acknowledge the pain, the anguish, the separation and grief and degradation; can be aware of the mute pleas of the bleeding, mutilated, broken young creatures who have never known a moment of peace or joy and can feel entitlement and assert that it is their ‘choice’, is truly a most terrifying creature and certainly far beyond my comprehension.

We have to seriously believe that their words stem from a lack of information. Such a ‘personal choice’, made informed and knowingly, could belong only to one whose violence and blood lust know no bounds. And that lack of information is our cue as advocates.

As time goes by

So how would the person I am today respond to my former colleague, asserting their ‘personal choice’ to silence and dismiss me? Well, there’s a time and a place for a discussion about ethics and even now, I fully recognise that was not it. But now I would stand my ground and would point out calmly that while the use and consumption of animal ‘products’ is indeed a choice, it can hardly be said to be ‘personal’. A personal choice is one that affects only ourselves. A personal choice has no victims and leaves no bloodbath in our wake.

I might invite them to watch one of the increasing number of films about animal use such as Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home which is free to watch on the link. Most such films, unfortunately, do not promote veganism, but instead leave viewers with the impression that the problem lies in our treatment of our victims or the environment in which it takes place. This is completely incorrect, however some films can be a useful wake-up call on the strict understanding that any viewing is accompanied by a message that it is not how we treat our unnecessary victims that is the problem, it is the fact that we have victims at all that we need to address, and that adopting veganism is the only way to end all the uses that the film depicts.

And the person I am today would try to salvage some sort of relationship, in the hope that as time went by I could seize other opportunities to change mind and heart by providing information. Because I don’t think my colleague was that terrifying creature of nightmares whose ‘personal choice’ was made knowingly. They spoke from a place of ignorance. I’m fairly certain that their ignorance was a conscious choice, but nevertheless there is always a cure for ignorance, and the cure is information; it’s just a question of finding the way – if it exists – to convey it.

If anything I am more determined, more unequivocal than I ever was but I have learned to separate the deed and the perpetrator as we all must. I have stood in their shoes, smug and opinionated in my breathtaking ignorance. Although I can’t recall exactly how it happened, I was fortunate that the information I needed came my way and I can never thank that unknown advocate enough.

Breaking through the shell of ignorance is what advocacy is all about. Advocate with truth, sincerity and persistence. Be vegan.

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What is veganism – a reminder

In recent days, I’ve seen many comments on posts and pages making suggestions about how to be more persuasive about veganism; how to make it more ‘appealing’.

  1. ‘You should be telling people to watch < film about human health>’;
  2. ‘You should be talking about how animal agriculture is destroying the environment‘;
  3. ‘You should be sharing articles about ‘vegan’ athletes or celebrities’;
  4. ‘You should be posting recipes’.

Health

It is certainly true that eating a plant diet has many proven health benefits and is known to reduce the risk of the killer diseases caused by the poor and inappropriate diet followed by the majority of those who consume other animals, lactation, eggs and other substances derived from their bodies.

But veganism isn’t about humans and their health. It’s rather sad and says much about our view of our fellow humans that so many think that only by appealing to our self interest can we understand the concept of justice and be persuaded to behave with basic decency. I’m sure it’s true for some, just like I’m sure that it’s only the risk of punishment that prevents some from committing crimes, but even if it was true for every single person, human health benefits are not what veganism is about.

Environment

It’s also true that meeting the consumer demands of those who are not vegan are resulting in practices that are destroying the environment and are the leading cause of the changing climate that places every single one of us in mortal peril. But terrifying as that is, the desire to halt the Armageddon scenario, while it is consequentially connected to global consumption patterns, is not what veganism is about.

Miscellaneous

As for athletes and celebrities, apart from the sad fact that not everyone who claims to be vegan, actually is vegan, following celeb culture, fads and diets are not what veganism is about.

Recipes? There are thousands of sites and pages for that. The world doesn’t need another recipe page. While those who suggest posting recipes instead of ethics mean well, showing people how easy it is to eat a plant diet, making it all about human convenience, is not what veganism is about.

Suck it and see

Apart from anything else, I am always aware of the very real risk of reinforcing the mistaken perception of veganism as a diet.  This perception needs no additional reinforcement whatsoever at a time when there are so many ‘why not try it out’ programmes running, making it all about us, all about our interests, all about our convenience.

I simply don’t believe it’s possible to try out justice, try out being a decent human being for a week or two, before deciding it’s not for us and going back to the way we were. I believe people are  far better than that.

But everyone needs motivation. So, after looking at all the things it’s not, let’s revisit the beating heart of veganism, the starting point.

The vegan believes that if we are to be true emancipators of animals we must renounce absolutely our traditional and conceited attitude that we have the right to use them to serve our needs. We must supply these needs by other means. If the vegan ideal of non-exploitation were generally adopted, it would be the greatest peaceful revolution ever known, abolishing vast industries and establishing new ones in the better interests of men and animals alike.

~ Donald Watson (2 September 1910 – 16 November 2005)

Animals. First. Foremost. Central. Always.

That is the original definition of veganism. And it’s about animals.

That’s our motivation; our motivation is the desire for justice for all sentient life in a better world. ‘[W]e must renounce our .. attitude that we have the right to use them to serve our needs.’ Veganism couldn’t really be any more simple or easy to understand.

The issue that we must address is not how we treat our unnecessary victims. It’s the fact that we have victims when it is unnecessary. Once we, as individuals, deal with that as consumers at the checkouts, everything; health, environment and everything else will flow directly from our changed behaviour.

A better world starts with each of us and it can start today. Be vegan.

 

 

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The price of a life

There are many people who will tell us, ‘I love animals and I think they should be treated humanely but I eat meat’ and will see no irony in a declaration that they have possibly never even stopped to consider.

This statement, that I’ve seen so often on too many posts and pages, came into my head at the tragic sight of a flock of dead chickens, whose pale, featherless and flaccid 42 day old corpses were arrayed in the mortuary aisle of a supermarket today. Posed obscenely without heads or feet, they were shrink-wrapped and emblazoned with a red tractor bragging about the ‘quality’ of their cold, dead flesh. They cost about £3.00. That’s €3.36 or $4.06.

When those who claim they ‘love’ and also consume these pitiful little bodies are looking for the best bargain in the mortuary aisle, I wonder what sort of a wonderful life they imagine any individual has had, if the price of their corpse in a supermarket is £3.00?

What sort of any kind of life could anyone have had, if the price of their corpse in a supermarket is £3.00? Given the number of humans who made a profit for whatever role they played in this tragedy; the hatchery, the farmer, the transporters taking quietly cheeping crates full of frightened babies to be killed, the slaughterers, the packers, the loaders, the refrigerated vehicles full of silent bodies, the wholesaler and the supermarket and maybe others as well – that’s a hell of a lot of palms to grease out of a measly £3.00.

How much was left for the victim out of that £3.00 for anything other than the barest minimum of every single thing; like comfort, like warmth, like food, like space to move around and all the many other things we value in our own lives? We can’t put a price on our own lives because we each know that our own life is beyond price to us. Each of our victims values their own life in the same way and does not want to die. We have no need and no right to take that treasured life away.

And we have no right to delude ourselves that we care about those whom we kill without cause. Our words cannot stand scrutiny; they make no sense. When we stop demanding harm, harm will no longer be profitable.

Be vegan.

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