When tax dollars fund animal abuse

In the USA alone, more than $16 billion dollars of taxpayers’ money is spent on needless animal experiments every year. It’s a number that boggles my mind. I can’t even fathom the scale of abuse that 100 million animals endure in the name of “science.”

It frustrates me that I can’t earmark my tax dollars and funnel them into education, healthcare, and parks instead of cruelty.

Just when I thought I’d heard it all, I read a New York Times article about a taxpayer-funded animal research facility in Nebraska. This horrific lab conducts research on farmed animals to benefit the meat industry. They receive $22 million dollars of taxpayer money a year to torture and abuse animals. The experiments are so gruesome even people in the animal agriculture industry are appalled!

I’m grateful to the whistleblowers who shed light on this atrocity (and the journalists who ran with the info and got the story published). The NYT article exposes experiments at the 50-year-old U.S. Meat Animal Research Center.

At the Center, animals are genetically modified to produce more offspring–and the result is often babies who are born with horrendous deformities. Vet care is inadequate, “caretakers” aren’t properly trained, animals are starved to death, and newborns are left to die in open fields.DNA double helix

This is all in the name of higher yields and bigger profits. Researchers are looking for ways to produce heartier animals and more meat. It’s a twisted tale that belongs in a sci-fi movie–but it’s reality.

Sadly, cows, pigs, and sheep are excluded from protection under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). Only Congress can stop such egregious animal suffering by making changes to the Act.

The American Anti-Vivisection Society has put together a great page to help you reach out to your legislators.

Please tell your legislators that you are outraged that federal government funds are used for such cruelty and that it must be stopped. Politely tell them that ALL animals deserve protection under the Animal Welfare Act.

There are so many reasons why I want nothing to do with the meat industry. I don’t willingly give them any of my money. I hate that they get taxpayer funding. With enough public pressure, taxpayer–who also happen to be voters–can get this place shut down!

Please help me shut it down!

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Vegan Thanksgiving options

Being vegan doesn’t mean you have to give up Thanksgiving. In fact, a big portion of the dinner is probably vegan–or could easily be made vegan. As for the turkey? Swap out the carcass with a delicious vegan loaf!

When I think of Thanksgiving, I think of sharing precious time with family and friends. There’s no better way to show people how easy and delicious being vegan is. And if you can share your vegan food with others, they’ll know so much more about how to be vegan.

Here are some options for the holiday:

Host a dinner

Having dinner at your place guarantees you can make it an all-vegan meal and show others the joy of eating cruelty-free.

Mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, dinner rolls, soup, sweet potatoes, stuffing, and pumpkin pie are all dishes that are vegan or easily can be. Substitute butter and milk with dairy-free options and you’re set. You can find lots of vegan recipes online–even for things like gravy.

 

Field Roast, made from seitan (a wheat protein), and Tofurkey (made from soy beans), make delicious prepackaged loaves that easily take the place of a turkey on the table. Doing an online search for “vegan turkey loaf” will return great recipes for a DIY version.

Attend a dinner

There are two types of dinners I’ve attended. My favorite are ones hosted by vegans. I get to try all the food, and I get to spend time with like-minded people.

Attending a dinner with people who aren’t vegan is a great opportunity to bring a dish and show people you can still enjoy holidays and that vegan food is awesome! If being around a murdered turkey is too disturbing, plan to arrive for dessert–with your favorite vegan sweets!

Go to a vegan restaurant

Sometimes vegan restaurants will offer a Thanksgiving meal. You’ll likely have to make reservations in advance, but it will be worth it. It’s also a great chance to take friends who still eat meat and show them vegan options.

 

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No matter how you plan to celebrate the holiday, have fun, be safe, and enjoy the vegan food!

 

When animal welfare groups fall short

Many different types of organizations are fighting for animals. Some focus on companion animals, others advocate for wildlife or animals in captivity, like zoos and circuses. Still others promote vegan living. And while many groups don’t always agree with each others methods and priorities, they usually have the same goal: saving animals.

However, the Humane Society of The United States (HSUS) fell short of that goal recently.

I learned that they were the main sponsor of Hoofin’ It, a farm-to-table culinary tour in Denver where, as the website says, “a different hoofed animal will be featured at all of the stops each evening.” That’s right. The Humane Society sponsored an event where people eat animals. Bison on the first night, sheep on the second, pigs on the third, and cows on the last.

hoofin' it webpage

The HSUS celebrates that these animals were raised in a “sustainable” way and weren’t part of the factory farm system. Unbelievable! This highlights the main difference between animal rights organizations and animal welfare groups.

I’m an abolitionist. I don’t believe any animal should be exploited, abused, or eaten. That said, I also recognize that the world won’t wake up vegan tomorrow. So I appreciate efforts to make the miserable lives of farmed animals slightly less hellish. Ban gestation crates for breeding sows. Ban battery cages for laying hens. Ban tail docking, dehorning, and castration without anesthesia. Sure. It helps the animals in the system, but it’s not the answer. It’s not the end goal.

It’s one thing to fight for better conditions for farmed animals. That’s not a stamp of approval. But sponsoring a meat-based event is incredibly irresponsible and near-sighted. The HSUS is condoning the commercial exploitation and killing of animals by being a sponsor. They’ve made strange bedfellows by praising farmers who practice free-range animal-rearing methods while criticizing factory farms.

Let’s pretend Hoofin’ It was about a dog-eating festival, right here in the good ol’ US of A. Would the HSUS be a sponsor? No! Because we love dogs and cats. Sponsoring a let’s-eat-farmed-animals event is speciesist. “Grass-fed” doesn’t change the fact that an animal’s life is cut short by a brutal killing (no, there is no such thing as humane slaughter). Free-range animals fight for their lives just as hard as factory-farmed animals. And the slogan of the festival is “respect your dinner.” What a disgrace!

respect
I don’t usually criticize other groups’ tactics. But in this case, I have to speak up. The HSUS is setting back the vegan movement by condoning meat-eating. Additionally, grass-fed, free-range meat is expensive, so they’re being elitist. Even if everyone in the world could afford this type of meat, there wouldn’t be enough grazing land in the entire world to support it. Obviously the people at HSUS haven’t seen Cowspiracy.

I’m never donating to the HSUS again and I’ve told them. There are a lot of great cat and dog rescue groups that I’ll give to instead: Soi Dog in Thailand rescues street dogs and is fighting the dog meat industry in Southeast Asia, Rudozem is working to save street dogs in Romania, Best Friends Animal Society is a no-kill shelter that works nationwide in the US, the Beagle Freedom Project rescues animals from labs, and Darwin Animal Doctors helps wild animals in the Galapagos by promoting a spay/neuter program for cats and dogs. I’m sure you know of smaller, local groups that are worth supporting.

Furthermore, I’m going to continue to support Vegan Outreach, a group that promotes veganism and doesn’t pander to special interest groups that exploit animals.

I suppose the HSUS is doing what it always has. They don’t rock the boat–and as a result they rake in big donor dollars. They advocate for “pets,” they push limited farmed animal welfare changes, and everyone goes to bed at night feeling good about themselves. Discovering the Hoofin’ It event was like discovering there’s no Santa Claus. It’s disappointing, but I kind of knew it all along.

I can look at you

Franz Kafka, the German writer, once said, “Now I can look at you in peace; I don’t eat you anymore.”

I feel the same way. I abhor cruelty and I’m overwhelmed by the suffering in the world. The non-stop murder of animals in slaughterhouses around the world is truly hard to fathom. Of course it upsets me. But I feel like I’m not part of that system.

Instead of contributing to cruelty, I’m working hard to help animals. I know I can never do enough, so I’m not writing this with superiority. I owe the animals an apology too. But I can look at them. I can acknowledge them. I feel peace knowing that, to paraphrase Leonardo Da Vinci and quote the slogan on the back of one of my Herbivore shirts, “my body is not a graveyard.”

I had a real-life experience of the sentiment behind the quote when I was at a farmers market this past spring with friends. I saw an adorable lamb tethered to a stall. My first reaction was to run over and talk to him and pet him. I knew the vendor was promoting free-range “humane” meat, but in that moment, I just loved that little lamb.

Andy

I knew I couldn’t save him and I knew his life would be short. I asked his name, expecting a cold, cruel remark along the lines of “dinner.” The farmer told me the lamb’s name was Andy.

I was still overjoyed in the moment and in the experience of seeing Andy, that I put his future out of my head. I called to my friend. I wanted her to see Andy too. “No.” She told me flatly as she kept on walking. An odd response from a normally bubbly woman.

When I finished talking to Andy and taking his picture, I showed my friend the photos I’d taken. She told me she didn’t want to look at Andy because she eats lamb.

That was profound! The Kafka quote jumped into my head. Kafka was referring to a fish, but the sentiment is the same. I’m not contributing to cruelty. I’m not guilty. As a kid, if I did something dishonest at school, I wouldn’t look the teacher in the eye. This was the same thing. My friend couldn’t look Andy in the eye. She was betraying him.

Even if I could have whisked Andy away, there are millions of other animals just like him. Sweet innocents who are commoditized and valued for the taste of their flesh. But they have the desire to live and enjoy life just like we do. In our ability to suffer, we are all the same.

I don’t mean to vilify my friend. She loves cats and dogs, and there’s compassion in her heart. Like many people, she’s compartmentalized the way she views animals and divided them into categories of “pets” and “food.” But her guilt is chipping away at the lines. If my friend wants to look at lambs like Andy, she can. She just needs to stop eating them and start respecting them as sentient beings.

My hope for all animals is that people go vegan. Do it for Andy.

Giving livestock isn’t charitable

Imagine, if you will, that you live in an impoverished community in an underdeveloped nation. Your one-room hut has a dirt floor without electricity or running water. You have to a make a fire just so you can cook. Food is scarce but you do your best to feed your children.

Then a western charity gives you a cow (or goat, or maybe a flock of chickens) so you can use this animal to improve your life. Sounds good, right?

Not so fast.

Ever raised a cow? Tried predator-proofing a chicken coop? Taking care of animals is hard to do. It’s a real burden, especially for people trying to raise a family and meet their basic needs.

cow in Africa

Livestock costs a lot. Animals get sick and require vet care, they drink a lot of water (water that might not be easily accessible), and they eat food that could be used to feed people. Animals eat more than they produce. Often the price of food for livestock is greater than the money families can get from selling milk or meat.

The chances of the animals getting good care (when people can’t give their families proper care) are slim. Sometimes animals are used as currency and are bartered away. Other times children are pulled out of school to tend to the animals.

Oxfam-funded drinking hole in East Africa

Eating high on the food chain isn’t wise. But western charities promoting western lifestyles and diets, would make you think it’s ideal. By introducing western eating habits, they’re introducing western diseases. The majority of people in countries where livestock is gifted are lactose intolerant anyway, so what good is a dairy cow?

The environmental costs of bringing more animals into a region are high too. Water pollution and waste runoff is one issue; desertization of land is another. Raising animals for food is a bigger contributor to global warming than all forms of transportation combined.

As a vegan, I care about animals. That’s why I can’t give money to charities that promote the mistreatment and slaughter of animals. I also care about people, which is why I don’t support charities that promote meat as an optimal food.

This holiday season, when you’re looking for ways to help others, look for organizations that promote ethical, sustainable ways to invest in communities. Here are a few:

Alternatives

  • Vegfam – Self-supporting, sustainable, plant-based food programs, and water resources.
  • Trees for Life – Fruit trees, books, education, clean water, and fuel-efficient stoves.
  • Plenty – Plant-based nutrition, healthcare, education, self-sufficiency, and disaster relief.
  • A Well-Fed World – Plant-based nutrition, education, farm animal rescue, and food sharing.
  • Kiva – Micro-loans for people to start small businesses and get themselves out of poverty.
  • SALEM – Education, shelter, environmental protection, nutrition information, and vegetarian meals.

Further reading

Why Paleo diets belong in the Stone Age

The Paleolithic, or Caveman, diet has gotten a lot of press lately. It sounds similar to the Atkins diet of a few years ago (remember that?) with a few more fruits and veggies added in. Many proponents claim eating like early man is how we’re designed: Lots of lean meats (especially wild game) and no grains is what the doctor ordered. Or is it?

First the positives: The Paleo diet encourages people to avoid dairy and processed foods. Sounds healthy enough. But with about half its calories coming from animal protein, it’s not a wise option.

Making assumptions

Paleo assumes early humans were mostly hunter, partly gatherer. Women (the gatherers) get little credit and macho hunting men become responsible for catapulting cavemen into civilization. Hunting without modern weapons is difficult and gathering was likely a big part of their diet.cavemen

If early humans were opportunistic hunter-gatherers, doing what they could to survive, they’d surely eat all parts of the animal. No one I know salivates over boar’s eyeballs or deer hearts (but maybe I just don’t know the right people).

The diet also assumes that eating this way was the best choice; it might have been the only choice. And was it healthy? They probably wouldn’t didn’t live long enough to develop heart disease anyway. Back then, life was brutal–and short.

Ignoring what we know

Research about our ancestors is revealing that they were mostly plant-eater, with a bit of opportunistic meat-eating (including cannibalism) thrown in. Leaves, fruit, wood and bark likely made up the biggest portion of their diets.

We also know that diets high in animal protein are unhealthy. And when we cut out carbs, we tend to add in fat. On the contrary, a whole-foods, plant-based diet can give us the most nutrients, antioxidants and fiber, while avoiding cholesterol and saturated fat.

Using diet as an excuse

CavemanAdopting a Paleo diet is a great way to say “I need bacon” and “this burger is the best thing for my body.” It gives people the green light to continue bad habits. I know a few people who eat Paleo, and none of them remember that coffee and alcohol is off-limits too. When it’s convenient, Paleo suits them fine, but the rules get broken.

Funny how people embrace the Paleo diet but also accept modern medicine, technology, and other luxuries. To be Paleo, shouldn’t we eschew antibiotics, anesthetics, dentistry, cars, computers, and central heating? Why is only the food of early humans valued, and not the rest of their simple lifestyles?

Flipping off the environment

I like that the Paleo diet steers people away from factory-farmed meats, but free-range, grass-fed meat is a luxury afforded to the affluent. Plus, we’d need an whole other planet for livestock if we wanted to raise all farmed animals in grassy plains.

Regardless of where animals are sourced, raising them requires vast amounts of water and fossil fuels. Not to mention the enormous piles of feces they produce. The meat industry is a bigger polluter than all transportation combined. Paleo, by encouraging people to increase their meat consumption, is contributing to the destruction of our planet.

Alternatives

From The China Study to PCRM, evidence points to whole-food, plant-based diets as superior to diets that include animal products. Animal-free diets are better for us (reducing risks of heart disease, stroke type 2 diabetes, many cancers, as well as obesity), they’re better for the environment, and they’re much better for animals.

Maybe it’s time to evolve.

Resources

My vegan dog

My dog eats vegan dog food. Have I lost my mind? Am I forcing my beliefs on my poor dog? Not at all! Let me explain.

Frankie is an 11-year-old rat terrier. Ever since I adopted him when he was five, I was interested in feeding him the healthiest food I could find. I started with a high-quality, human-grade, fish-based food, thinking I’d be avoiding factory-farmed meat. But fish is often factory farmed too. And the oceans are being depleted, so wild-caught is just as bad. Fish are sentient beings and I couldn’t justify it.

Later, I made Frankie homemade vegan meals, to which I added Vegedog, a powdered supplement especially made for dogs. Frankie loved it, but planning his meals was a lot of work. Besides, Frankie will eat anything. Cheap kibble, human food, garbage, cat poo. I felt like my culinary skills were being taken for granted.

frankie with his v-dog

Then I found V-Dog, a cruelty-free kibble. It’s free of wheat, corn, soy, fillers, GMOs–and of course animal products. Frankie loves it. He has lots of energy, and “clean up” is better too (by which I mean, good in, good out).

As for me forcing my beliefs on Frankie, here’s how I see it. In the wild (well, dogs are domesticated, but you know what I mean) dogs wouldn’t be eating prepackaged food. They wouldn’t be chemical-laden, not-fit-for-human-consumption castoff meat bi-products from factory farms. Reality is, most commercial dog food is crap. The parts of the animals that people don’t eat are sent to rendering plants for pet food. The diseased animals, the ones with tumors, even roadkill and euthanized cats and dogs, can end up in dog food.

In the wild, Frank would be a scavenger, an omnivore. He loves watermelon, but he won’t turn down meat. For him it’s not a moral issue. For me it is. I had a hard time aligning my vegan values with the fact that I bought him meat-based food. Heck, some pet food companies even test on animals. Luckily with V-dog, I don’t have to compromise.

There are other vegetarian dog foods on the market (like Evolution, Ami Dog, and Natural Balance vegetarian formula) and if you have a dog, I’d encourage you to try a few and find one that suits him or her best. I chose V-Dog because it’s a vegan-owned business and is recommended by a host of organizations, from veterinarians to animal sanctuaries.

Resources: