On living our values

It is not necessary for human animals to use other animals for any reason, and only those unaware of the science, or those who have a vested financial interest in keeping us from realising the truth, will tell us different.

Does it change them?

When a declaration is made that an individual was ‘bred for eating’, or ‘bred for eggs’ or ‘bred for milk’, does that change something about that individual?

How could it? Although WE may decide that our conscience is easier if we think of them as nothing but a thing and a resource, they remain who they are; still unique, still sentient, still experiencing their existence through senses that match our own; still sharing bonds with their family and friends just as we do ourselves. They think, they breathe, their hearts pump the blood round bodies that seek to avoid pain. They feel.

Does it change us?

So if it doesn’t change our victims, does the declaration change us; does it mean that we cease to be responsible for our own actions? Most of us would be quick to claim say that we are our own masters, and would never be manipulated to act against our own deep-rooted values of fairness and decency.

So what does it change?

So although it is completely unnecessary for us to harm other animals in any way, does the declaration that an individual was ‘bred for eating’, or ‘bred for eggs’ or ‘bred for milk, make it mean that using, mutilating, and slaughtering that individual becomes the right thing to do? Does such a declaration make it mean that we can betray our victims’ utter dependence on us for their well being and protection by using, mutilating, and slaughtering them, without needing to feel any guilt?

Of course it doesn’t. Certainly it’s much easier not to even think about the consequences of our actions. Possibly it’s more comfortable to pretend that those who sell broken bodies and lives to us are making sure that our values are respected while they are doing all these things that we’ve decided not to think about. However it’s the stuff of purest fantasy if we really imagine for a moment that their aim is any more noble than to get hold of our cash – by any means necessary.

Declaration of intent to hurt and rob others of the life they love, the life that matters to them so very much, can never change the responsibility each of us has to live true to our own deepest values; that we have no right to cause needless harm to those who are vulnerable and defenceless.

Our choice; their lives. Be vegan.

Posted in consumer demand, Sentience | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The property status of animals

Today I’ve been sharing posts and images about the aftermath of the latest hurricane in Carolina; sharing the stark aerial photographs of what have become flooded tombs for millions of defenceless individuals whose lives and bodies were being ‘farmed’ to satisfy the consumer demand for their broken lives that is regarded as ‘normal’ in this world of ‘animal lovers’.

It’s clear that for many these images are a real shock. There is horror and outrage and grief. There is frustration and anger and demands to know how this could be happening, as the toll of the dead creeps upwards from the 3.4 million (3,400,000) chickens and turkeys, and 5,500 pigs acknowledged in the media some 18 hours ago.

The post on social media read as follows:

I understand the frustration expressed by so many that the imprisoned animals who are still drowning as I write, were not given even the dignity of being released to at least try to fend for themselves.

The reason this doesn’t and will never happen is because these individuals are business assets and resources in the view of those who use them to make money. They are property in the eyes of the law and the insurance companies.

That’s what we are buying into when we use our consumer power to demand broken bodies and broken lives. Our use of them is a declaration that we do not consider their interests to be worth recognising. We do not consider them deserving of their own lives.

Those who own the sites where the animals drowned will be able to make insurance claims for ‘assets’ lost ‘in production’, just as any of us would make a claim for property damaged or lost in a flood. And in the same way that our claim would be invalid if we had moved our property out of our house, those who use sentient individuals to meet consumer demands would invalidate their claims if they set their ‘assets’ free.

It’s all about money and consumer demand. We can buy into that, or we can be vegan.

Giving meaning to the words

The phrase that sits in the pit of my stomach and makes me feel sick, is ‘the property status of animals’. And it occurs to me that many – even amongst those who are vegan – had never before fully appreciated all the terrible implications of this phrase. It’s one that many activists, including myself, have used – but it’s clear from the stunned reactions I’m witnessing that not everyone has recognised the true meaning of the words; what it truly means to be ‘property’ in a disaster.

This, then, is the reality for living, breathing, feeling ‘property’. ‘The property status of animals’ is not some legal technicality that prevents every other species from sharing in the privileges that humans accord themselves in this world that our species is destroying with greed and ignorance.

‘The property status of animals’ is a phrase with very real and utterly predictable consequences that are as sickening as they are inevitable. These consequences lead directly from our commitment to eat flesh, eggs and breast milk, to use and enslave other beings as resources and commodities for what – as it is completely unnecessary – can never be anything more dignified than a trivial and superficial indulgence, no matter how we seek to justify ourselves with talk about being ‘humane’ and ‘compassionate‘.

But they shouldn’t be hurt! Be ‘humane’ and ‘compassionate’!

Such words mean nothing at all once we have decided that the life of another sentient being has no value other than to indulge our non-essential interests; once we have decided their desperate wish to live unharmed and in peace is an irrelevance. Words that seek to make us appear concerned about the treatment of our unnecessary victims are at best an attempt to salve our conscience while we keep our eyes averted from the queues of defenceless young individuals in our slaughterhouses to satisfy the demands that we are making as consumers.

‘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.’

Property – what it means and where it leads

The fact that our victims are property – like trucks and furniture and machines – in the eyes of the law, underlines and emphasises that whatever the rhetoric of feigned love and concern that we hear from those whose businesses may lose money because their assets have been abandoned, starved, deprived of fresh water and ultimately drowned before their commercial value was recouped from the slaughterhouse, those whom our consumer demands have designated as resources have no protection in law whatsoever.

The following link to a talk by Lesli Bisgould, Canada’s first animal rights lawyer, provides a succinct explanation about why the ‘laws’ that we fondly imagine to protect those unfortunates within systems that are designed to use them to death for profit, do not, can not and never will provide any level of protection. Ms Bisgould also provides an explanation why, as long as their ‘property status’ remains, our victims will remain victims.

Keeping it in context – what can we do?

So here we are today as the horrific images unfold. I agree wholeheartedly with a comment by a fellow activist:

It’s really important to contextualize it all, though, because focusing simply on the drowned victims is a small part of the larger story here. The greater tragedy is the system that would have killed them anyway, and the continued demand for their dead bodies. Any time the general public is forced to stop and think about what these farms are–which I think is going on now, to some extent–is meaningful. It needs proper context, though, to reveal the larger problem.

~ Striving with Systems

It needs to be emphasised that horrific as this latest tragedy is, it is a symptom of a greater ill. In this world that our obsessive and inappropriate use of others is rapidly bringing to its knees, science tells us that these extreme weather events will continue to occur with increasing frequency. We can’t legislate away the problem that is causing our planet and her miraculous diversity of life to falter and die; it’s gone way beyond that, if indeed that option ever existed, which I doubt. The answer needs to be much more effective and much more creative.

And surprisingly, the answer is within our reach – yours and mine. The answer that can bring this hideous nightmare to an end is one that needs each of us as an individual to act upon. Only by becoming vegan and working for a vegan world can any of us cling to a hope of this beautiful world having any future at all.

Be vegan.

Posted in Advocacy, Global disasters | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Feet of Clay – no need for heroes

Feet of clay: a weakness or hidden flaw in the character of a greatly admired or respected person

Without any effort at all, I can think of a number of high-profile persons who are hero worshipped for their claims to represent the interests of animals of various species, but who, by their own admission, are not vegan. By definition, this means that they support and fund brutality and violence in their consumer choices. This is simply a fact.

On social media, as soon as the fact that they are not vegan is mentioned by anyone who is, there is an unseemly rush from apologists ready to defend their heroes on the basis of what is shrugged off as inconsequential, coupled with a barrage of what can only be termed vitriolic bile being levelled towards the one who had the audacity to mention it.

Today on social media I had the misfortune to witness one such exchange on the page of a staunch animal rights advocate who lives by every single word that they say. The thread unfolded in the sadly predictable pattern that results from any naming of names; the same way in fact that this essay would, if names were named. However the names are not important; what these non-vegan ‘heroes’ represent, most definitely is.

Today, apologists, non-vegans and the ‘can’t all be perfect’ brigade weighed in to accuse, contrast and condemn on the basis of what in this instance was proclaimed to be the ‘wonderful work’ done by their hero, with scathing remarks demanding to know ‘What are you doing compared to that?!’ According to critics, only a ‘zealot’ would consider that self promoted ‘good works’ do not grant a free pass to at least some brutal and exploitative behaviour. According to the defenders, the predilection of the hero for consuming cheese made from nonhuman breast milk, and the slaughterhouse-tainted nightmare that the practice inflicts  annually on millions of defenceless mothers and infants, should not only be discounted as a mere trifle, but the vegan ought to be ashamed for even mentioning the matter.

So before I continue, let’s step back and consider this phenomenon in a human context. Such an exercise is always useful to reveal aspects of our view that may be speciesist. I use it frequently.

Thinking about human rights

If you will, I’d like you to think of a high-profile, human rights campaigner, past or present.  I’m sure we can all think of at least one such person whose shining example has inspired our admiration. Now, still thinking of this person, imagine that you have just been made aware that this icon was, by their own admission, a supporter and promoter of something incompatible with their stance, such as – say – child pornography.

Would this revelation that they were saying one thing while doing something completely contradictory, affect our perception of the chosen hero? For the sake of those who may, at this point, choose to deny any change, we can try taking this a step further. What if, when the stash of child porn was uncovered, we were to discover that our own children were amongst those whose innocence had been violated for a thrill?

Would we see on social media a spirited defence of this human rights paragon on the basis that their ‘good works’ outweighed their predilection for sexualising infants? Would we see derision, scorn and vitriol being levelled at anyone with the audacity to point out that no matter how ‘good’ the ‘works’, it is impossible to dismiss and forgive on behalf of their victims, such a fundamental betrayal of every human rights issue ever? Would we see scathing comments of ‘So what? Nobody’s perfect!’?

I suspect we wouldn’t. Because it’s not so easy now, is it?  By defending those who harm other animals, we’re saying that collateral casualties are a reasonable price to pay as a scientifically unproven route to some imagined ‘greater good’. However that sort of high ideal is fine only when we’re talking about someone else’s loved ones. Or in fact for some, preferably some other species and their loved ones. It’s always easy to sound magnanimous about situations that are never going to touch us personally.

Heroes as influencers

So, to return to the conversation that I mentioned at the beginning, what we have to ask is what is the message being sent out by these high profile animal users?

My merciless memory raises its hand at the back of the room again. Until 2012 I was not vegan and I admired and aspired to emulate many other non vegans who claimed to represent the interests of animals. I was influenced by what they said. And what I heard was a vindication of my own efforts to be ‘compassionate‘, and I felt reassured that I was doing the best anyone could reasonably do. I already thought that the use of members of other species for any and all reasons was a ‘necessary evil’, and so from these non-vegans my impressionable former self learned that there was a ‘kind’ and ‘caring’ way to deprive my victims of their lives and of every single thing that made those lives worth living. Through such teaching in my decades as a non-vegan, my ‘awareness’ was not even slightly ‘raised’ above the corpses, the eggs and the breast milk products on my plate. Only vegan education did that.

With clay-footed heroes elevated onto pedestals by those who either don’t know any better, or by those who see in the failures of their ‘heroes’ some vindication of their own inconsistencies, a message is proclaimed to a non-vegan world only too happy for the reassurance, that some animals matter but there’s no need to be extreme. They don’t all matter equally and it’s perfectly fine to harm and kill them as long as we are ‘kind’ and ‘compassionate’.

On the cult of celebrity

It is dismaying that there is an escalating media circus surrounding vegan advocacy, with the inevitable result that the victims of our species are so often becoming eclipsed by the clamour of ‘celebrities’. We don’t need to be looking for ‘heroes’ to put on pedestals. We don’t need to be hanging onto every word of ‘celebrities’.

The decision to be vegan is a personal one, made in the silence of our own thoughts and guided by our conscience. Once we understand the inevitable consequences of our consumer choices to use broken lives and bodies, the decision to be vegan is a line that we draw as an individual where we say ‘Enough. Not in my name.’

Yet for as long as the message that ‘heroes’ are broadcasting, ignores or trivialises the need for veganism as the absolute least we can all do, the rest of us will just have to work twice as hard to defend their victims.

Be vegan.

In memory

Let’s be mindful of the following in the single year 2016:

  • 74 billion land based individuals killed in cold blood in regulated slaughterhouses, and the uncounted individuals who were not even important enough to count
  • 2.7 trillion (estimated) aquatic individuals killed in cold blood and the trillions whose deaths were dismissed as ‘by-catch’
  • The global flock of 7.4 billion egg laying hens
  • The estimated 7.4 billion male chicks who were regarded as worthless
  • Hundreds of millions of dairy mothers of various species killed because they could no longer produce enough breast milk
  • The 800 million dairy mothers (including 264 million cows) worldwide, trapped in a system where they are used to death
  • Uncounted individuals used and tortured in laboratories
  • Uncounted individuals used for ‘sport’ and ‘entertainment’
  • Uncounted billions used for their skin, their body fibres and for a myriad other purposes.
Posted in Advocacy, Celebrity culture, Speciesism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Staying true – more thoughts on ‘reducing suffering’

Image by Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

More and more often I see comments from those who for some reason identify themselves as vegans, comments in which they are approving the most astonishing levels of violence and brutality to the defenceless individuals that veganism is sworn to defend. I shared an article this morning, that pointed out that the ‘lab grown meat’ industry uses fetal bovine serum, a substance derived from the hearts of calves, cut from their heavily pregnant mothers in the slaughterhouse.

I think too many vegans are thinking of this as the Holy Grail, which may subtly be taking pressure and urgency off of other modes of action and analysis.

~ John Sanbonmatsu

Please see this link where the points raised by philosophy professor John Sanbonmatsu closely match my own perspective. The subject of lab grown meat is a fertile source of controversy amongst those who are unaware of the grotesque reality it involves, however, this essay has been fermenting for a few days following the reading of a particularly shocking number of comments by apologists for the continued use of nonhuman individuals.

Virtuous pragmatism?

My thoughts here are applicable in far too many situations. Whenever any article of this nature is posted, there are invariably several who announce that ‘anything that reduces suffering’ is ‘okay with them’, as they scramble to commandeer a shaky patch of moral high ground, while seeking to cast critics as ‘extremist’ and ‘unrealistic’ when compared to their own ‘virtuous’ pragmatism. I have several issues with this.

First and foremost, in seeking to make a virtue of ‘reducing suffering’, an unwinnable ‘numbers game’ is being played. This quality termed ‘suffering’ is not scalable.  As I have noted before, with regard to our unnecessary victims, we fail them all if we fail to recognise them for the individuals they are. Victims are not a quantity that we can cut down on like our sugar, fat or alcohol intake. We are talking about individuals here.

To illustrate this, and this is mainly for those who find themselves leaning towards the ‘less harm’ / ‘reducing suffering’ idea as being good in theory, I’d like to suggest a brief thought experiment.

A thought experiment

We all have people we love; children, parents, siblings, friends so let’s focus on them (the human ones, in this instance, leaving aside our nonhuman family members just this once). Let’s think about those whom we love the absolute most. For example, I have two sons, grown men now but still inspiring in me the fierce love that all mothers know so well, the sort of love that would stand unhesitatingly in front of a bullet, would gladly lay down its life to keep them safe. I’m thinking of them here and no doubt everyone has someone in their life that inspires protective love.  Now. Look at these beloved faces in your mind’s eye while considering the following question.

If a circumstance arose where they were threatened with some completely unnecessary harm but, rather than fighting to protect them all, you decided that ‘reducing suffering’ would be good enough, which ones would you consign to torment, incarceration, mutilation and an agonising and unnecessary death, and which ones would you consider as worth sparing? Would it be your youngest child? Your eldest? Your mother? Really think of what you’d be agreeing to on their behalf; the terror, the gore, the whimpering and begging for the hurt to stop.

It’s not so easy now, is it?  After all, when we’re promoting ‘less harm’ and we strip it all down away from the rhetoric, this is what we’re saying about some other mother’s children, parents, siblings, partner. We’re advocating that collateral casualties are a reasonable price to pay as a scientifically unproven route to some imagined ‘greater good’. However that sort of high ideal is fine only when we’re talking about someone else’s loved ones. Or in fact for some, preferably some other species and their loved ones. It’s always easy to sound noble about sacrifices that are never going to touch us personally.

What we think we’re saying vs What is being heard

When we promote ‘less’ harm, a strategy that often accompanies the ‘I’m good with that as long as you’re trying’ approach, we’re completely overlooking something. Despite seeking to claim brownie points for pragmatism amongst extremists, we are actively promoting all the horrors of non veganism. Whatever we may fondly imagine we’re saying, what our audience is hearing is that it’s perfectly fine to not be vegan.

In saying that we’re ‘okay’ or ‘have no problem’ with this nebulous and highly subjective  idea of ‘reducing suffering’, the message that we are conveying to a non vegan audience that, let’s face it,  wants nothing more than to have their own current behaviour vindicated is this: ‘Veganism isn’t all that important. Yeah, there are some extremists out there who go over the top but hey, people like me are realists and as long as you’re trying, I’m good with it. Every little bit helps.’  I even saw a conversation with almost these exact words on a thread recently.  Some self-identified ‘vegans’ were falling over themselves backwards to condone harm and bloodshed in their efforts to be seen as ‘reasonable’ while those who were not vegan were swapping anecdotes about why their own brutal choices were perfectly fine – and no doubt would seem even more fine having had a ‘vegan’ seal of approval.

Accept that the message isn’t popular

And here we have another point to note. Promoting veganism to any audience that has normalised animal use, harm and slaughter – and every dietary permutation and position short of veganism falls fairly and squarely into that category – is never going to be popular.  As I said earlier, because people want their behaviour to meet with approval from their peers, the last thing they want to hear is unsolicited information about the harm that their actions have been causing, and facts about how totally unnecessary it is.

Every one of us, when we were not vegan, had a ready set of justifications with which we had studiously avoided recognising the consequences of our actions. An advocate who promotes veganism is going to run headlong into that wall every single time. Unless of course we take the tack that, ‘yeah, that’s all fine, I’m good with that’, in which case, the wall of excuses has once more served its purpose, deflected the challenge to our carefully constructed narrative and dismissed consideration of veganism.

It’s going to hurt

That moment when we finally open our minds to veganism is painful. Always. It doesn’t come gently at the end of a long period of having our awareness ‘raised’ whatever that means. It’s not a gradual and sweet progression of enlightenment that allows us to feel good about ourselves all along the way. At the point where we have to decide one way or the other whether to embrace veganism or ignore it, we feel sick with horror, chilled with the heart-stopping realisation of exactly what we’ve been paying for.

And for the purpose of this essay, the final major issue I have with the ‘I’m good with that as long as you’re trying’ idea is this. Who the hell gave us the right to sanction a bleak existence being used as a resource, violation and slaughter on behalf of another sentient individual? Surely being vegan is defined as an acceptance, an internalisation of the fundamental injustice of taking the life of any individual because we know that it’s all unnecessary?

A false dichotomy: being realistic or being unequivocal

If we hold true to ourselves and unequivocally champion the defenceless victims of non-veganism, it’s naive to even hope we will be liked and we must learn to accept this.

Often presented as ‘unrealistic’, unequivocal vegan advocacy does not mean being drawn into mudslinging, anger and aggression, even when that is the tone adopted towards us. The truth speaks for itself. It is my experience that providing facts, calmly, honestly and without compromise, does work.  When a critic seeks to ridicule veganism, or justify their own abusive choices, they are seldom in a mindset for having a reasonable discussion. The fact that they invariably choose to do so in a public thread emphasises this; when cheered on by their animal-harming contemporaries who are similarly seeking justification in the comfort of numbers, it becomes almost unthinkable for them to back down. That is why I consider that leaving a link to information and making a strategic withdrawal is often the best policy.  But somewhere, someone lurking on the post may click on our information and it may start to plant seeds.

Never lose sight of what’s at stake

In 2016, 74 billion land based individuals each endured an existence as a resource and a death so horrific that we shrink from even thinking about it. The number of aquatic individuals subjected to our unspeakable brutality far exceeds that number by many multiples. They all deserve nothing but our best efforts to defend them, to bring down the whole vile commercial edifice that has been built up to support the consumer choices of those who are not vegan; that massive industry in which sentient individuals are no more than business assets.

And those who are queuing, trembling in fear and horror in the slaughterhouses at this moment, as well as the innocent and defenceless individuals who will continue to comprise that queue every day into the future until the madness ends, are relying on us to defend them without compromising a single one of them.

We can do that. Believe it. Be vegan.

Posted in Advocacy, Harm reduction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Inspiring veganism

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to yearn for the endless immensity of the sea.

~ Antoine De Saint-Exupery

Today I read this quote and I found myself reflecting on how it applies to vegan advocacy.

To me these words convey that before we can gain commitment from others for any undertaking, we must first inspire them; we must make them see and feel from the most basic of principles why this undertaking simply must happen; we need them to long for it as we do ourselves. We need to make our own goals into a mutual desire that determines and dictates actions that we can undertake together. Having done so, everything that needs to be done to achieve our shared passion, will flow from that desire.


Applying this thought to advocacy, to champion the defenceless victims of our species, I found myself considering that it is not sufficient to assign what may seem like disparate tasks to others. In the absence of a cohesive motivation, making suggestions about menus, clothing, toiletries and entertainment, inciting protests about the treatment of other animals during our unnecessary use of them, can all too easily be seen as separate issues, a pick list from which to choose. Similarly, listing the health benefits of plant-based eating or the environmental impacts of ending the practice of ‘farming’ the lives of other creatures are often the subjects of a completely separate focus. Within each of those areas there is a world of subjectivity, a myriad compromises and trade offs that each of us may make to appease pangs of conscience. ‘I do something about X so I can relax a bit on Y’; I’m sure we all know that internal dialogue.

However there is one thing that circumvents all the compromises and all the trade offs, one thing that unites all the issues that I mentioned earlier and it is this.

Motivating from first principles

Once we know in our hearts that our defenceless victims, as sentient inhabitants of our shared planet, each has a life that matters to them, a mind that responds emotionally to life and living; that creates memories, bonds and relationships with each other and their environment, then we start to see, reflected in them, how we would feel were our positions reversed.

Once we are motivated by this deeply felt understanding of what our casual, thoughtless demands as consumers have been inflicting on our victims, we become vegan in that place deep in our core that drives every action, every choice for the rest of our days. We no longer need a tick list because we see the big picture.

Seeking to inspire that profound understanding of what veganism means, is to me what advocacy is all about. It is the only way I can try to make amends for my non-vegan past. Be vegan and work alongside me, asking others to be vegan.

Posted in Advocacy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Nothing less than veganism

Last night was a landmark for There’s an Elephant in the Room on Facebook.

Becoming vegan

August 2012, when I first became vegan, began a time of discovery; a new age in an unfamiliar landscape. Most new vegans will have had a similar experience; we have lived our lives to that point, thinking we had a grasp of the world and our role in it, both as individuals and as a species. In many ways, much of our life and living has happened on autopilot, running along tracks that were set for us in our childhood with the behaviours we were taught as infants. It had been comfortable; safe and cosy.

Then over a short period, everything changes. Nothing about the world itself changes, but our own perception of it shifts on its axis, so utterly that we feel disoriented, lost and adrift.

‘Information’ about our actions towards all other species, ‘facts’ that we have lived with for years and never challenged, are suddenly shown to be fabrications and fairytales, akin to the tales of Santa and the Tooth Fairy but infinitely more sinister. When we pull back the screen of the carefully constructed myths and peep behind it, we discover a rotten black heart behind the façade. Becoming vegan means that we have opened our minds to the grotesque reality of our species’ brutal tyranny. At first we have all been incredulous.

I remember that as realisation dawned, the truth was so unbelievable that it was as if my thoughts squirmed and writhed, seeking an escape as my morbid quest devoured Google. ‘This can’t be real, it can’t be true. It just can’t. That can’t happen. Surely not..? Oh please, no. No. Please make this not true. Please…’

Yet it was true. I was devastated. I was broken. And my life would never be the same again; people, places, actions, everything had to be re-examined in the harsh and bleak light of my new understanding. Gladly taking upon myself this new label, ‘vegan’, I realised that I could no longer accept anything I had been taught. In essence it had all been either completely false, or else tainted with the lies that half a century of speciesist conditioning had ingrained into my world view.


Spotlight on the elephant

I decided to start a Facebook page to document the thoughts which were beginning to flow from an unused and rusty place; that place where I questioned, and challenged, and looked for the real truth about those who are the defenceless targets of the orgy of gore and violence that our species inflicts on those others who share the world with us.

So ‘There’s an Elephant in the Room’ came into being. It landed uncertainly, wobbling rudderless and new in a turbulent sea; half formed and not yet focused, just as I was. There was so much to learn and I was lost for a time in the clamour of petitions and protests, recipes and consumer goods. It would be some time before I recalled the advice that I should write about what I know, and realised that the real reason for us all to become vegan is, was, and always will be, as the recognition that every individual, whatever their species, has an inherent right to own their body and their life.

I recall the first time someone I didn’t know ‘liked’ the page. I felt ridiculously elated. Suddenly I knew I was no longer alone. When 100 ‘likes’ happened, I was thrilled; who were those 100 people out there that I had never met? However as time went on, I began to realise that a numbers game could and should never be my goal. Every one of us likes our behaviour to be validated, our actions to be approved by our peers. There are hundreds, thousands of pages out there sitting on the fences of Facebook; a myriad pages endorsing, supporting and encouraging the torment of humanity’s innocent victims either overtly, or through a speciesist, treatment focus cloaking the refusal to state the unvarnished truth: that veganism and only veganism is the way to stop being the cause of the bloodbath.

Asking people to open their eyes to horror, appreciate their role in it and stop causing it is never going to be a welcome message; it’s never going to be a popularity contest. It’s said that one has to be realistic, pragmatic, because the ‘world won’t go vegan overnight’.

We’re doing it!

Well last night, Facebook announced that 20,000 people had ‘liked’ There’s an Elephant in the Room. Twenty thousand. Numbers may very well fluctuate and nothing is certain but you know what? Today I’m feeling a bit emotional about that 20,000 and it has nothing to do with anything that I’ve done personally.

I feel emotional because I know that out there in the world somewhere are 20,000 people who have decided to keep tabs on a page that tries never to compromise, never to sell out the defenceless and innocent victims of our species by asking for anything less than veganism; a page that doesn’t use ‘pragmatism’ as an excuse to betray those who are depending on us.

And it gives me hope and happiness that you’re out there, helping create the vegan world that is the only hope for our victims, for ourselves and for the planet. I’m so very glad to know you. Here’s to the next 20,000!

Be vegan.

Posted in Advocacy, Awakening to veganism, Festivals | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Heading in the direction of being vegan

‘…or if we can’t be vegan we can at least head in that direction.’ I’ve seen so many variations on that theme as a comeback to the call to be vegan that appears in almost every piece I write. Today I saw it again. I’ve given the words a lot of thought and I have to conclude that when ‘heading in the direction of veganism’ is thought to be a possibility, it is a clear illustration that the speaker hasn’t really grasped what veganism is.

Please note that as always, this statement does not refer to new vegans who are currently transitioning, incorporating the ethic into their life. This transition period is generally very short (for many it can’t happen quickly enough), but can vary depending on circumstances.

Pragmatism or betrayal – it’s a matter of perspective

At this point I can almost hear the rasp of keyboards being dragged into position by the ‘every little helps’ and ‘can’t all be perfect’ brigade (some vegan, some not), ready with their ‘world won’t go vegan overnight’, and ‘we have to be realistic’ preludes to a blistering criticism of such ‘purist attitudes’. Yes, I’ve been around on social media a good while and I’ve seen and heard most of the put-downs. The phrases lack originality, probably because they have become overused stock items, plucked whole and unconsidered from the shelf of platitudes that we have all, at one time, been guilty of using without due examination.

Just to be clear, although born vegan as I think we all are, I was not raised vegan and am ashamed to say I spent most of my life that way. I woke up with a jolt in 2012.

That year, and for as many of my (then) 56 years as I could recall, I thought of myself as a reasonably intelligent person, ethically aware, honest and honourable. I wasn’t perfect (who is?) but I thought that I was trying. I often said that I thought of myself as an animal lover. I abhorred what I considered to be cruelty to any animals, and as well as sharing petitions and ranting about ‘cruelty‘ and the need for ‘compassion’ to any that would listen, I donated to a number of organisations that claimed to look out for the interests of animals. In return, they sent me images in the post, many of which were so vile that I have been unable to forget them. I once even received a manicure kit (?) in a leather wallet if I  recall, inscribed with the logo of some ‘Humane Society’ or other. I detected no irony in this.

Of course, as an animal lover and a hater of ‘cruelty’ I shopped for the very best, most ‘humane’ labels (as endorsed by the XYPCA of course), spending as much as I could afford on the animal products that I had grown up to believe were essential for the health of my family.

The curse of compromise

So, without a trace of conscience (why would I have, what with the humane labels and donations and the back-patting of the ‘animal welfare‘ organisations whose staff were paying their mortgages with my cash?), I snoozed on in my ethical bubble. I didn’t eat ‘meat’ or at least, not often (doesn’t everyone say that?), but cheese… oh, how I loved the taste of cheese. And eggs. And I delighted in wearing wool. Angora – bliss! I loved leather; boots, shoes, jackets, bags, chairs. Touching it and breathing in the scent was so pleasurable. Now, as my gorge rises at the memory and I fight not to gag with disgust it is hard to believe the person I was, but that’s how I can write about this. I’m not pointing a superior finger and finding fault. I’m writing from bitter and heartbreaking experience. But moving on.

I made it clear to my conscientious consumer contemporaries that I was very much one of them. Saving the forest, planting trees, worrying about litter, sending (most of – well it’s not always convenient, is it?) my glass bottles for recycling, visiting second-hand shops for clothes and furniture.  I was ‘mostly’ vegetarian, except for the odd occasion (to be sociable, you understand – I mean, when someone goes to the bother of cooking something for you…). And prawns. Oh – and apart from the leather. And the sweets loaded with gelatin. And silk scarves (well so what? They were presents!). Oh yes, what a trooper I was!

Where was I heading?

So, since I was so ethical and conscientious, would you say I was ‘heading in the direction’ of being vegan? After all, many of the things that I was doing were the very things we see so many ‘pragmatic’, ‘realistic’ people suggesting that we could all do to ‘cut down on animal cruelty’ and ‘reduce suffering‘ because we ‘can’t be perfect’.

I’m sure some would say I was definitely ‘heading in the direction’ of veganism. But they’d be talking absolute rubbish. I was not moving at all, not heading in any direction, wallowing smug and satisfied in the absolution that I bought every so often with donations. I was not vegan. I remained completely committed to using other individuals for my own most trivial interests without even questioning why. I wasn’t even aware that there was such a thing as veganism; except of course what I’d heard about the stereotypical, undernourished, sandal-wearing hippy, choking down worthy muesli only one step removed from sawdust, while taking a break from hugging trees.

The loop of mistaken need and entitlement

And this brings me to the whole point of this and it’s a point I’ve made before. When we are not vegan, we are hurting, harming and killing innocent and defenceless individuals who value their lives and don’t want to die. There are no exceptions.

*** – whether we have one victim or billions is irrelevant. By not being vegan we are harming and killing others because we think it’s somehow acceptable to do so; maybe because we think we have to; maybe because we feel entitled, maybe because we consider our own interests are more important than those of our victims.  However we square our actions with our conscience – if we even have a conscience about them – we are killing other individuals when we have no need or right to do so. We can do it to fewer individuals, we can do it to fewer species; we can obsess about the environments or practices that facilitate our consumer choices; we can make judgements and protest about the degrees of brutality and violence that are completely inevitable elements of our demands, make different menu choices one or two days a week, but – Return to *** and keep reading the loop. It’s the way it is.

Breaking out of the loop

I say that I woke up in 2012. It was in 2012 that I stumbled across information that led me to understand what veganism is, and I broke out of the loop and became vegan. I was not heading that way. How could I be? I was stuck in the loop of self-congratulatory ‘conscientious’ consumerism. I was a killer. When I was a killer, I couldn’t gradually head in the direction of not being a killer, because it’s a binary thing. One is a killer or one is not a killer. And each of us is a killer until the final time that we take a life. It’s really that simple and it’s not on a sliding scale. And we can only make the switch from killer to non killer, non vegan to vegan, once we actually know what veganism is.

Once we know, we each have a personal choice to make, and no other can make that choice for us. We can choose to be vegan. Or we can choose not to bother. It is a personal thing, a decision driven by the values that we hold and the way in which we wish these to define us.

As a vegan advocate, all I can ever do is explain how veganism is the only way that allows us to live in a way that reflects the values that most of us like to claim are important. The issue that we must address is not how we treat our unnecessary victims but rather 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.

Before we have even heard about veganism, we cannot be ‘heading in its direction’ because it’s binary and we are stuck in a loop. Once someone knows what veganism is, really knows that it is a rejection of harm to other individuals who value their lives and want to live, it is at best disingenuous to excuse continued harm and killing by claiming to be ‘heading in the direction’ of being vegan. I’ve heard it said that once you know what it is, the only honest reason not to be vegan is ‘because you don’t give a shit’.  There’s a lot of truth in that.

Be vegan.




*In case any readers wonder if it’s safe to click on any of the links in my essays, please note that I do not use images depicting violence and gore.


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Not ‘chicken’. Chickens. Individuals.

Image by Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

The word ‘chicken’ has come to represent a cooking ingredient. Despite – or perhaps because of – a world where information has never been easier to discover, those with vested interest in making money from using animals, and the powerful advertising propaganda they wield to ensure their continued profitability, have become more ruthless than ever before. No one is ever encouraged to understand the consequences of their demands as consumers, particularly when these consequences run counter to every single value that the majority of people believe that they hold. In adverts and programmes on every available form of media, in stores, and in restaurants, a steady stream of soothing reassurance veils the grotesque trade in suffering and death with a carefully constructed facade of acceptability. ‘Everyone does it. Everything is fine. Don’t worry. We’ll keep selling if you keep buying.’

Chicken. That cookery ingredient in the mortuary aisle; bags of wings, bags of legs, bags of breasts, halves and quarters, fillets and drumsticks, livers and hearts; emblazoned with reassuring labels that use words like ‘happy’ and humane’ and ‘freedom’, labels boasting about ‘welfare’, about ‘quality’ and ‘freshness’.

It’s so clinical, isn’t it?  With our use of others so normalised by incessant reinforcement, so complacently unchallenged and accepted by the majority of consumers, it is as if the misery, the gore and the screaming had never even existed. Most seem oblivious. The majority of those who use the word ‘chicken’ are thinking of recipes, of sauces and accompaniments.

Chickens. Individual chickens.

The very first time we decide to look at the facts behind the ingredient, requires a conscious effort of will; a determination to reject conditioning that we have possibly not been aware of up to that point, the courage to face the truth.

So let’s make that effort of will to really see the body parts in the supermarket mortuary aisle as it is or was; not ‘chicken’ the ingredient, but chickens as individuals. Let’s look back a few days in time to see them alive; warm, sparsely feathered, blue-eyed, quietly cheeping babies, each one motherless, hatched in a temperature-controlled drawer in a hatchery, transported to endure their entire existence in a sunless ammonia reek with thousands of other motherless infants.

Let’s see them in our mind’s eye as they were; panting open-beaked with distress, being packed into crates and stacked high on road transports, fleets of them, shuttling in and out of our slaughterhouses, day after day, hour after hour. There is a miasma of dread hanging over a slaughterhouse as the transports park precisely in the diesel-fumed yard, alongside waiting and empty refrigerated vehicles.

Not just looking; actually seeing

Let’s focus in on these stacked crates, on these small individuals; these tiny, trembling creatures, sick with unimaginable terror, helpless babies huddling together for comfort. When we allow ourselves to truly see, we can feel the pounding panic of their infant hearts; we can sense their utter desperation; the crushing futility of their feeble, fluttering struggles against implacable hands as the bowels of hell yawn to receive them.

Image by Jo-Anne McArthur, We Animals

To the accompaniment of whirring machinery, hurrying hands abruptly whisk each small individual from the meagre comfort of quaking bodies pressed together, trying to hide.  Suspended side by side with their friends, hanging splay-legged from shackles for easier disembowelling, powerless to escape the gut-churning journey into contraptions from the darkest reaches of the depravity we humans inflict on our sentient kin.

Baby chickens. At the hands of our species they each know pain and fear in a way we humans hope never to experience. How could the mechanised slaughter of innocent creatures be any other way?  Finally every trace of their minds, their memories, the very essence of each unique personality is gone, erased with their heartbeats and their gasping breaths; sliding sluggishly down gore filled drains. Only echoes and the stench of fear and entrails remain, as the shrink-wrapped packages emerge.

Making our blood run cold

And so they now lie, pale and motionless in the supermarket mortuary chill, contorted, headless, footless, dismembered.  Each small corpse a tragedy, an individual tale of a life that was never lived. 42 days from egg to slaughter is not a life. Yet despite that, it was all these babies had.  They had absolutely nothing else to call their own.

It is of no relevance whatsoever what the labels say. They say exactly what they need to say to make the uninformed part with their cash. It is only when we look behind these labels to the truth, we see that they mask unspeakable violence, fear, and agony. And these are the completely inevitable consequence of choices that require others to pay with their lives for our convenience. The only way we can stop being the consumer whose demands are insisting on the nightmare, is to be vegan.

Be vegan.

Posted in 'Happy' exploitation, Advocacy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thinking about things other people do

When confronted with information about what is done to members of other species at the hands of our own species, have you ever caught yourself saying, ‘at least things like that don’t happen here’?  I know that in the past I certainly have.  With several years behind me of trying to keep an open mind with Google at my fingertips, I can clearly see now that the sentence was uttered from a place of hope and habit, rather than knowledge of any facts whatsoever.

On reflection, I think it’s possibly a shared cultural reflex; we all recite things without real insight; repeat ‘information’ that we believe to be true without ever taking the time to confirm it. When these ‘facts’ relate to members of species other than our own, it is comfortable for us to cling to them. I know this from past experience as well as more conversations that I can count with others whose experiences are similar to my own.

The habit of our unconfirmed ‘knowledge’ allows us to maintain a state of complacency. It serves to reinforce our personal and internal narrative that casts each of us as an ethical and concerned individual who would protect the defenceless and champion the innocent; it normalises the unspeakable frenzy of violence that underpins our everyday life to the extent that it rocks our world to its very foundations on the day we finally open our minds to the truth.

False knowledge

Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance.

~ George Bernard Shaw

Taking refuge in the myth that ‘it doesn’t happen here’ frequently occurs when we hear about a practice or action and decide that we consider it to be cruel. We go on to rationalise that ‘there are laws against cruelty‘ here so that practice or action won’t happen here. This train of thought – one that I remember all too well – leads to a reassurance that we can go on doing what we do, without need for concern because clearly it’s ‘other people’ and ‘other countries’ that are causing the problem. This is true wherever our particular ‘here’ is; whoever fits our particular definition of ‘other’ people; whichever countries we consider to be ‘other’.

The thoughts in this blog stemmed from seeing yet another comment on a post about animal use that demanded to know where this particular incident took place, who could be complained to, insisted that a petition was necessary etc. In this particular case, the post was a purely factual one about what is referred to as ‘the dairy industry’. The comment was a typical manifestation of the idea that in the normal run of things, everything is absolutely fine except for a few exceptional instances or circumstances.  The writer was clinging to the ‘knowledge’ – that we have all no doubt shared at one time – that once these isolated instances are dealt with and those responsible are reprimanded, no underlying problem exists.

Myths and why they remain

The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie – deliberate, contrived and dishonest – but the myth – persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the clichés of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.

~ John Fitzgerald Kennedy

The first thing any of us must realise is that animal use is big business.  It’s impossible to express how deeply rooted it is in every part of our culture. From foodstuffs to clothing, furnishings to toiletries, drugs to entertainment, the innocent victims of our callous and brutal use are all but invisible to the majority of us as we go about our lives; anaesthetised to the completely inevitable consequences of our choices as consumers by a potent mix of habit, imaginary entitlement and false necessity.

From the moment we open our eyes each day, we are wearing and walking in flayed skins and shaved fibres; we wash our clothes and bodies in substances tested on and containing ingredients from defenceless creatures who never knew a moment of peace; we place bets on and are entertained by the helpless capitulation of innocent creatures to our brute force and incarceration; and we shop for body parts, for breast milk and for eggs without even a nod to the reality that each of our purchases created a victim, each of our purchases is evidence of a life used for our interests at the expense of the true owner, an unacknowledged epitaph of individual tragedy for someone who valued their life and their person and most definitely did not give us permission for our actions.

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.

~ Tom Regan, The Case for Animal Rights

With our ruthless exploitation of other individuals so entrenched, the industries that rely on it for their vast wealth, hugely politicised and subsidised, are deeply invested in ensuring that consumers either do not learn of practices they would rightly find abhorrent, or if they do learn, are provided with a spin that normalises the horror and quiets any stirring of concern.

The truth behind the myth

However, to return to the particular comment that sparked these thoughts, ‘dairy‘ is a business of commercialised reproduction. It is a business of forced pregnancy; of separating mothers and their babies to facilitate the using of their 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 consideration for mother or infant: yogurt, ice cream, cheese, butter and so on.

Contrary to the myth, and the alleged exceptions to the rule, there’s no way round this. All the labels that we have been taught to look out for, all the myths about ‘welfare’, do not prevent the fundamental procedure from happening because reproductive exploitation is the key process that underpins the industry. It IS dairy. Protesting about separating dairy mothers from their infants is akin to protesting about slaughtering an individual while simultaneously demanding their dead flesh for our dinner table; it creates a paradox.

This is not exclusively a dairy issue or even a farming issue; it’s a ‘using the lives and bodies of other individuals’ issue. Every use that we make of others is exactly the same. The circumstances of our use inevitably violate and disregard every right and interest of our victims in favour of our own convenience and unnecessary preferences.

Furthermore, although it is a misconception encouraged by the industry, it is incorrect to consider that regulations referred to under the general heading of ‘welfare’ are in any way designed to protect the feelings, the well-being or the individual autonomy of those whom the fact of our use of them designates as resources and commodities. Indeed, any lessening of the level of torment to which our victims are subjected as a result of adherence to ‘welfare regulations’ is purely coincidental because the purpose of regulation is to safeguard the commercial value of those who are deemed to be commercial assets through consistent practices and maintaining consumer confidence. It’s not about the victims in any way. Regulations are designed by and for those who have a financial interest in exploitation.

So does it ‘happen here’?

So here’s the truth. When we find ourselves shocked or outraged by some action or circumstance affecting members of other animal species, we are invariably witnessing a symptom of the pervasive system of prejudice known as speciesism; a learned behaviour whereby we, as humans, accord or withhold the rights that belong to others by virtue of their birth, simply because they are not human. When we are horrified and sickened, it is because we are seeing – however briefly – through the veil that screens the seething, writhing, whimpering terror of our use of other individuals, from our gaze. Whatever we are witnessing is not an exception. It is reality. It is everywhere, in every country, on every TV screen and billboard and magazine and it is being driven by our choices as consumers and by our unchallenged speciesism.

So to return to the initial assertion that ‘at least things like that don’t happen here’; yes they do. Perhaps they happen to a different species, perhaps they happen in a laboratory, perhaps they happen fully sanctioned and legitimised by ‘welfare regulations’ on a farm or in a breeding facility or in a slaughterhouse, in a backyard, on a racecourse, in a circus or a zoo, but actions that are the equivalent of whatever most offends our senses do most assuredly happen here.

And what is essential for us to recognise, is that if we are not vegan, then at this very moment, someone, somewhere, is screaming and whimpering, begging in vain for their life and for an end to our ruthless exploitation in order to supply our personal demands. It’s happening in our name.

That’s the completely inevitable consequence of making choices that require others to pay with their lives for our convenience. That’s what not being vegan actually means.

Be vegan.

Posted in Addressing resistance to change, consumer demand, welfare | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

‘Surely taking milk and eggs doesn’t kill?’ – FAQ

There are many who persist in the notion that taking milk and eggs from other individuals does not result in their deaths. It’s an assertion that’s frequently seen on social media and it simply could not be more incorrect.

In keeping with the reality of any other business asset or machine, those whose breast milk and eggs are taken from them and sold to humans, are considered to have no value outside the purpose for which they are used. Every moment they exist, the cost of their food and accommodation must be greatly exceeded by the money that can be made from the substances that are taken from them. Once that profit margin starts to diminish, there’s no retirement plan.

Many millions of dairy mothers of various species are slaughtered each year because they have started to produce less breast milk and are not sufficiently profitable to be considered worth keeping alive.

Each dairy mother is impregnated multiple times during her existence as a breast milk machine in order to trigger lactation. These infants are ‘surplus to requirements’ if they are male. They are slaughtered while young; the only variable is how young. Their numbers are hard to gauge because in many cases they are not even considered important enough to count, so negligible is their value to the industries.

Globally, it is estimated that there are 7.4 billion chickens laying eggs. With their bodies selectively bred to overproduce at extreme levels, each of these individuals will exist approximately one year before her overworked and broken body can produce no more and she is packed off in a crate to the slaughterhouse. The industry euphemism is ‘spent’.

To sustain that global flock, the same number of female chickens will require to be hatched each year. Half of all hatchlings are male and are slaughtered within a day because they don’t lay eggs.

Chickens are not the only species of bird used for eggs. Once again, statistics about these are hard to gather but the same principles apply. Males don’t lay eggs. Each female is killed as soon as her overworked body starts to fail.

So to summarise, in a single year, taking breast milk and eggs results in the slaughter of the following sentient individuals:

  • Over 150 million dairy mothers of various species (out of a global number of almost 800 million dairy mothers);
  • An unknown number of male infants birthed by those dairy mothers;
  • 7.4 billion egg laying chickens;
  • 7.4 billion newly hatched male chicks;
  • Uncounted numbers of other species used for eggs.

These numbers take no account of males of various species used for their sperm or hens used by breeders solely for producing fertile eggs. I’m confident there will be other groups of casualties that I have inadvertently left out and I will update this as I become aware of them.

These are the inescapable facts. The claim that using eggs and breast milk are harmless activities, can come only from one who lacks information or is determined not to accept the truth.

Once we know these things and recognise that our species has no need or justification for perpetrating these atrocities, becoming vegan is the only thing that makes sense.  Be vegan. Today.

More information:

Dairy in a nutshell

No such thing as a humane egg

Chickens and eggs – what about the males?

Hens and puppy mills – an analogy

Advertising Standards Agency rules that dairy is inherently inhumane 

Posted in dairy, eggs, FAQ | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments