“When you go ‘all in’ with hand in poker, you are betting everything that you’ve got the best cards. With Veganism you know you have a sure winner–I’M ALL IN–good health can’t be beat!” – Cyndy Violette, Professional Poker Player, Vegan
I needed to confirm with my friend Cyndy, a well-known professional poker player, about a phrase that I just love. I am “all in.” It is a singular devotion to moving forward with all you have with confidence knowing that you not only have the cards on your side, but in the case of this conscious lifestyle, the answer for so many of the challenges we face in the world today and what is absolutely necessary for justice for animals, for our personal health, well-being, and to preserve the precious resources of our planet. This is what living a conscious, vegan lifestyle brings to this world. It is my contention that in order to move this great movement forward, we are going to need to move beyond just a casual allegiance to eating a particular way. Being vegan is not a hobby, it is a lifestyle that should have a profound impact on not only how we live, but also impact all living creatures and the planet that we all inhabit.
It is possible for someone to eat a plant-based diet and not be fully aware, or embrace, the ethical and environmental reasons why we should live this way. We need to be more than just conscious of what we eat. We know this is a key to re-gain and maintain great health and removing animal products from our diet will perhaps impact that more than anything else we can do. It is of great personal benefit. If that is where you find yourself, I commend you for the steps that you have taken. But I also want to encourage you to not stop there. You are impacting animals and the environment by default without perhaps embracing why you should be doing so. If you think it is just a diet, your are selling yourself short. It is only when you realize your connection with others, with the animals, and the planet, that your life will gain a deepening sense of a destiny for this planet and your role in it. It needs to go beyond embracing it with our mind and stomach. It is only when we realize the role we play in justice for animals and preserving our planet that this truth will grip both our heart and soul.
I am encouraged to know that this movement is growing in unprecedented ways. Entire nations are being shaken. One-seventh of the world’s population is now vegetarian or vegan and thousands upon thousands are crossing over each and every day towards a cruelty-free lifestyle. Most of the people that I meet and share with today who are on this conscious journey are moving towards being vegan. They want to go “all in.” Being a vegetarian seems today to be more of just a temporary stop on that journey…not the end destination. I have also met a number of long-term vegetarians. They seem to be very comfortable in their lifestyle choice. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if those that have been both short and long-term vegetarians would choose to go all the way with this and become vegan? I believe it is a necessary step to help propel this movement forward. While it is positive that we have removed meat and fish from our diet, how is it possible to overlook the health, ethical, and environmental disasters that the dairy industry offers? If we are vegetarian and not vegan, we are still supporting at some level, the dairy industry. And as the saying goes, the dairy industry is the meat industry and the meat industry is the dairy industry. There are quality alternatives at every level to replace anything that one would think they would miss. It is time to give it up and move forward.
I want to go “all in” in all of the areas of my life that I truly deem important. I want this to be how I love those that I love. I want them to know that I am fully committed. I want to be “all in” in terms of my work, my writing, and my involvement in helping animals and the planet. While my health is very important, it is not my main concern. Great health is a benefit of my conscious lifestyle, but it is not my focus. It certainly changes my life, but it is not going to change the world…and that is what I am about. There is nothing casual or part-time in my devotion to justice for animals and protecting and restoring the planet. I know what my cards hold, and I am laying my cards on the table with supreme confidence knowing that this key to bringing needed change to this world. Justice for animals. Enough natural resources for the world. A life free from disease and medications. Spiritual congruency and vitality. It is all there. Let it all sink in deep and change your life. It is time to go “all in” and make the difference you were put upon this Earth to do.
Paul Graham was born and raised in Northern California and has lived in Las Vegas since 2004. He is a top wedding officiate, a green Realtor and writer. He has a daily vegan food blog www.eatingveganinvegas.tumblr.com which is 365 days and 365 vegan meals in Las Vegas. He can also be reached at email@example.com or www.facebook.com/EatingVeganinVegas. Paul’s e-book, “Eating Vegan in Vegas: If It Can Happen Here, It Can Happen Anywhere” is now available at www.sullivanstpress.com.
It is not an easy thing to do…admitting that you were wrong. Let alone be glad about it. But that was exactly the case six years age this August, when I decided to eliminate the use of animal products in my life and to live a fully compassionate and conscious lifestyle. The practical side of doing it was not the hard part…I found it rather easy to do when my mind, body and spirit all got on the same page of understanding. The harder part was coming to grips with the fact that for fifty years of my life I had been living with only a partial understanding of the realities that were happening in and around me. I was “dead” wrong in the way I was perceiving my relationship to animals in my life and the way that I was supposed to co-exist with them. It was one of the most profound revelations that I could imagine.
As I was watching “The Long Ranger” yesterday, I was struck with a thought…besides the fact that I really like my bud Johnny Depp. The movie starts out with a young boy dressed as The Lone Ranger walking into a carnival exhibit of The Old West. He sees the buffalo, a bear and then comes upon a rather old Indian. He is startled when the Indian is actually alive and begins to talk to him. “Tonto” begins to tell the boy of his adventures with The Lone Ranger. It was a very creative way to tell the story and it got me to thinking. How powerful it would be if we could have a living exhibit with some of the great orators, scientists, artists, writers, statesmen and humanitarians throughout history who have written and spoken for us words of enlightenment to encourage us to abstain from the eating and use of animals in any way in our lives? This would be something I would love to hear. It would be so impactful knowing that these great minds have have been speaking for centuries upon centuries about what I came to understand just a handful of years ago. The sad part would be that too few people actually listened to their wisdom over the years, and billions and trillions of animals have suffered as a result.
A sampling of an exhibit like this would sound something like this with a great orator such as Pythagorus, one of the fathers of science, saying, “The Earth affords a lavish supply of richness of innocent foods and offers you banquets that involve no bloodshed or slaughter, only beasts satisfy their hunger with flesh, and not even all of those, because horses, cattle and sheep live upon the grass.” He also would say, “Animals share with us the privilege of having a soul.” Nikola Tesla was a great humanitarian and scientist. You could hear him say, “Animal slaughter was wanton and cruel.” The great Leonardo DaVinci would be fascinating to listen to and we could hear him say, “I have from an early age abjured the use of meat, and the time will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as they now look upon the murder of men.” He would probably go on to say about how the ingesting of animals makes our bodies to be “graveyards.”
There would certainly be some great writers present who would have much to say. Henry David Thoreau could be heard sharing these words, “I have no doubt that that it is part of the destiny of the human race, in its gradual improvement, to leave off eating animals, as surely as the savage tribes have led off eating each other when they come in contact with the more civilized.” Leo Tolstoy wrote much about non-violence and also was an advocate of vegetarianism which led to his friendship with Gandhi. Tolstoy would no doubt have much to say, such as “Flesh eating is simply immoral, as it involves the performance of an act, which is contrary to moral feeling: killing.” He would also say, “If a man aspires towards a righteous life, his first act of abstinence is from injury to animals.” George Bernard Shaw would certainly be one of the characters of the exhibit and would talk endlessly. “I was a cannibal for twenty-five years. For the rest I have been a vegetarian.” He would pull no punches: “We pray on Sundays that we might have light to guide our footsteps on the path we tread; we are are sick of war we don’t want to fight. And yet we gorge ourselves upon the dead.” ” A man of my spiritual intensity does not eat corpses.” “All great truths begin as blasphemies.”
Great statesmen would be seen and heard and remembered for their courage to speak the truth no matter what the contrarian thought might be. Thomas Paine would proclaim, “Everything of persecution and revenge between man and man, and everything of cruelty to animals, is a violation of moral duty.” Benjamin Franklin would be fascinating and we could hear the wisdom of “Flesh eating is unprovoked murder.” On the subject of vegetarianism, he would note that “one will achieve greater progress from the greater clearness of head and quicker comprehension.” President Abraham Lincoln could be heard in his distinctive voice to say, “I am in favor of animal rights as well as human rights. It is the way of a whole human being. He would also remark that, “I care not for a man’s religion whose dog and cat are not better for it. Gandhi would keep us spellbound with his gentle spirit and powerful words: “To my mind the life of a lamb is no less precious than that of a human being. I hold that, the more helpless the creature, the more entitled it is to protection by man from the cruelty of man.”
We would be overcome with the truth touching our heads, hearts and our very souls. Henry Salt would state, “The emancipation of men from cruelty and injustice will bring with it in due cause the emancipation of animals also. The two reforms are inseparately connected and neither can be fully realized alone.” Thomas Edison would challenge us with, “Non-violence leads to the highest ethics, which is the goal of all evolution. Until we stop harming all other living beings, we are still savages.” Albert Schweitzer would bring us this thought: “The time is coming when people will be amazed that the human race existed so long before it recognized that thoughtless injury to life is incompatible with real ethos. Ethics in its unqualified form extended responsibility to everything that has life.” Albert Einstein, with his wild hair and scribblings on the chalkboard would leave us with hope that “nothing will benefit human health and increase the the chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.” I hope that this idea for an exhibit like this resonates with someone and they run with it. I think it could impact a lot of people.
I can do very little now about the first half of my life other than admit that I was wrong about a lot of things. It was not until I opened my mind and my heart to this truth that I could actually move not only forward, but higher in my own life. It has opened up incredible vistas to me and has connected me with remarkable people that I will work hand in hand with for the second half of my life towards fulfilling the goals and ideals that these thoughtful and compassionate people through history have spoken and written. It is hard to admit that you were wrong, or perhaps that you were taught a wrong way to live. I understand that…I lived it. But I also know there is life on the other side of this decision that provides not only life for you, but also every other living creature. We can take off an old grid that we lived life through and put on a new one. It is the life that I dream of where ever man, woman and living being can be free. We can live and co-exist together, the way it has always been meant to be. I want to live to see that day.
Paul Graham was born and raised in Northern California and has lived in Las Vegas since 2004. He is a top wedding officiate, a green Realtor and writer. He has a daily vegan food blog www.eatingveganinvegas.tumblr.com which is 365 days and 365 vegan meals in Las Vegas. He can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.facebook.com/EatingVeganinVegas. Paul’s e-book, “Eating Vegan in Vegas: If It Can Happen Here, It Can Happen Anywhere” is now available at www.sullivanstpress.com.
Most of you have likely read the “The Lottery” at some point in your lives. I had to read in 9th Grade English class. It’s a great little short story…first published in 1948…but every bit as thought provoking today as it was a half-century ago.
It’s about a small village of three hundred people that holds a lottery every year…a lottery in which everybody is expected to take part…every man, woman and child. It is a tradition shared in common by many of the surrounding villages…a tradition that has existed for so long that nobody can even remember how or why it first began…though some of the old timers have a hazy recollection that it was started by earlier generations to ensure a bountiful harvest.
The villagers are no longer sure how much their lottery tradition has changed over time…though most appreciate that many of its original features have been altered over the intervening years…like substituting slips of paper for wood chips…few realize that only the vaguest outlines of the original ceremony remain. When one of the younger town residents casually mentions that a village up north has already abandoned the “Lottery” tradition, the town grump, Old Man Warner, complains, “Pack of crazy fools…listening to the young folks, nothing’s good enough for them. Next thing you know, they’ll be wanting to go back to living in caves, nobody work anymore, live that way for a while. Used to be a saying about ‘Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.’ First thing you know, we’d all be eating stewed chickweed and acorns. There’s always been a lottery.”
This the Villagers do know….the Lottery tradition requires that each member of the village draw a small folded slip of paper from a box… on one of these paper slips has been drawn a solid black circle…and the one who draws this slip is immediately surrounded and stoned to death by all of the other villagers….and I do mean all….women, men, the elderly and infirm… even the children…without hesitation or mercy…or even a moment spared for tearful goodbyes to family and friends.
In Jackson’s telling of the Lottery, Tessie Hutchinson…the middle-aged wife of a local farmer and the mother of three young children draws the dreaded slip. Her fellow villagers waste no time stoning her to death…the children have been giddily stacking piles of stones all morning…before returning to their lives again. Her pleas for mercy fall on deaf ears and she is gone before noon, just in time for everyone to get home for lunch. It is a chilling, abrupt end to the tale.
Mindless violence in the name of blind and uncritical obedience to tradition is the major theme in “The Lottery.” While the stoning is in and of itself a cruel and brutal act, Jackson escalates its emotional impact by setting the story in a seemingly civilized and peaceful community where everyone knows each other and gets along. Her message is that horrifying acts of violence can take place anywhere, at any time, and are often taken for granted as natural, normal and necessary. Brutality can be committed by the most ordinary of people, especially when individuals refuse to stand up against mindless traditions and who instead unquestioningly rationalize their own participation either because its just always been done that way or because that’s what everyone else is doing.
The Villagers in this story have to a person abrogated their responsibility to question injustice and brutality…they have wrapped themselves in the mantle of tradition, believing that by doing so they are somehow exculpated from their individual and collective guilt for a monstrous crime. They have voluntarily surrendered what was best of their own humanity…namely their “humaneness”…for the mammon of “fitting in”. Even worse, they have turned a blind eye to the innocent victims of our collective violence rather than face the costs that inevitably come when we take a stand against what one has been taught and has long believed to be true.
Jackson’s Lottery pointedly reminds us that one of the most dangerous phrases in the English language is perhaps “That’s the way it has always been”, which is only somewhat worse than “That’s what I was taught”.
“The Lottery” is, of course, fiction…but there are a lot of traditions and habits around the world and right here at home that should make us sit back and wonder at man’s breathtaking capacity for absurdity…and the lengths we will often go to rationalize our own callousness and brutality in the face of damning evidence.
What I have discovered in the course of my advocacy on behalf of human and non-human animals around the world is that I cannot make anyone believe anything. I can show you photographic evidence…ask you to read literature and watch hours of undercover investigation videos that show cruelty unmasked in all its naked horror and cruelty…but even this will have no effect whatsoever if your hearts are not open to the possibility that what you once believed could be completely wrong…that you have been terribly misinformed about some things you were taught to believe and embrace.
I have found that I can only encourage people to question everything…to accept no belief, no custom and no tradition as inviolable, immutable or beyond reproach…to not even trust the our own memories as unimpeachable guides. They are not. They too will deceive us if left unchallenged.
As free men and women, we not only have the right to question what we have been told to believe and how we have been told to behave in this world…towards each other, towards the environment and, yes…also towards the non-human animals who share it with us…we also have that obligation. We have an obligation to stand up and to proclaim that any “lottery” that gambles away our children’s shared environmental heritage and the lives of countless billions of sentient creature in the name of greed, apathy and tradition must end now. It is ultimately a loosing bet.”
Lieutenant Colonel Robert “Bob” Lucius, USMC (Ret.) was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1989 and served 22 years on active duty in a wide variety of command, staff and diplomatic assignments before retiring on August 1, 2011. During the last half of his military career he served as a specialist in Southeast Asian foreign languages and cultures, which included assignments at U.S. embassies in Indonesia and Vietnam. He now oversees advanced education programs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA. Bob graduated from Norwich University in 1989, receiving a BA in History. He also holds a Master of Forensic Science degree from National University, an MA degree in National Security Studies from Naval Postgraduate School and a Graduate Certificate in Community Advocacy from George Washington University. He is currently pursuing a PhD in Human Development from Fielding Graduate University. In 2009, Bob founded the Kairos Coalition (www.kairoscoalition.org) to pilot experimental humane education and grassroots advocacy initiatives in developing economies. He is the founder of VegHeads of Monterey Bay (http://www.meetup.com/Vegetarian-and-Vegan/), a group that advocates the environmental, health and animal welfare benefits of a plant‐based diet. He has also served as the CEO of the Humane Party of the United States. If you’d like to contact Bob, you can reach him at email@example.com
You know them, I know them, you may even be one of them: the “gotcha” vegan. In my mind, there are few characters more annoying than those who troll the vegan world on the lookout for a vegan slip-up. Leather car seats, animal-tested travel toothpaste, beer filtered through isinglass, the wool socks your 90-year-old grandmother knitted you for Christmas, the leather puffs on the inside of your fancy headphones: these are just some of the violations that a “gotcha” vegan will nab you for, administering a moralistic finger-wagging rebuke as they sip their soy lattes and cinch up their pleather belts in smug satisfaction.
Of course, we need to be reminded—constantly—about the relatively hidden places where industrial production secretes animal products. It’s not at all uncommon, after all, for highly intelligent and aware people to remain completely oblivious to the fact that, say, beer might not be vegan or your canvas shoes might have melted horse hooves in them. But animal exploitation is animal exploitation, so they need to know. We all need to know. How we are educated on this issue, though, matters as much as the message. And when we fail to live up to an ideal standard, it really sucks to be chastised for it, especially when we’re already trying so hard to do what’s right in a world that generally thinks we’re nuts.
Thus the dilemma: it’s critical to spread the word about vegan responsibility, but nobody likes to be told what to do—or be reminded of their faults—by someone who appears “holier-than-thou.” Adding to this burden is the backfire potential of yelling at someone for their belt when he’s just gone through hell to give up bar-b-que and fried eggs.
I’ve no simple answer to this common problem. Ultimately, though, it comes down to personal qualities: tact and humility stand out in particular. Tact–in that when we do seek to educate potential or practicing vegans we must tread gently in terms of messaging. “Gotcha,” for example, should be replaced with an understanding that there are many levels of awareness, and that different people are in different places. Instead of crying foul, maybe we could say “maybe it’s time to think about taking your activism to the next level by, say, replacing all your leather shoes with non-leather ones.” “Let me know when your ready and I’ll shoot you some links.” Etc.
Humility—in that when you, vegan old-timer, encounter someone who knows better but falls short, just calm down. I recall a seasoned activist once expressing admiration for the fact that I travel with my own soap. I recall thinking “and this person doesn’t?,” but then I also remember feeling a bit relieved by this person’s honesty and willingness to publicly admit imperfection. In no way was this person’s activism diminished for the soap laziness. In my mind, his humanity was enhanced. Plus, I later learned, he later started to carry along his own soap. No proselytizing required.
Ethical veganism is not an all or nothing position. It’s a journey on a long continuum. It’s critical that we never stop articulating the ultimate goal: a world as free of animal exploitation as we can achieve. It’s equally critical that we help make that road as accessible, welcoming, and supportive as possible. Hence the importance of yesterday’s post: we need leaders who are humble, direct, and tactful.
Oh, and a sense of humor helps, too.
James McWilliams is a professor at Texas State University and the author of four books on food and agriculture, including Just Food: Where Locavores Get it Wrong and How We can Truly Eat Responsibly. His work appears regularly in Slate, The New York Times, Harper’s, The Washington Post, and the Atlantic.com. He blogs at his Eating Plants Blog and lives in Austin.
I wrote this article for VegNews.com last week, one of my most favorite magazines in the whole world. I loveVegNews so much because the mag supports all of the values I hold most dear- saving the planet from environmental catastrophe, human rights, animal rights, healthy living, and amazing tasting food (I just couldn’t leave this last one on the list out- doesn’t saving the world while eating delicious food seem like the best plan ever?!). The overwhelmingly awesome content in the magazine and website makes my heart skip a beat. When my monthly issue arrives in the mail, my face lights up and I become as giddy as Charlie from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was when he found that golden ticket in his chocolate bar. Speaking of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, if Willy Wanka understood that sugar kills, I can only fathom the creativity he would have employed to develop delicious, naturally fruit sweetened candies. Wow, what an awesome daydream! Alas, my imagination just got the best of me and I have digressed. Here is the article I wrote for VegNews:
Forget nixing sugar or eating more kale—here’s the number one change to make for your health.
If there is one thing that I have learned in 2012, it is that our physical and our emotional are inexorably linked. Our lifestyles affect our emotions, and our emotions affect our health. Showing compassion towards ourselves, nurturing positive relationships with friends and family, and taking actions to support causes we believe in actually makes us physically healthier. In fact, multiple studies support the idea that people with close, loving relationships with friends and family actually live longer than those without social support.
That’s why the most important New Year’s resolution of your life should be to nurture your relationships with like-minded, caring people whom you know support and love you, and whom you can support and love in return. Not only will you be physically healthier for it, but your quality of life will skyrocket, too. By fostering our close relationships we maximize our enjoyment of life and our health at the same time.
I Wanna Hold Your Hand
What are the findings of those studies I speak of? One intensive study found that people who were disconnected from others were roughly three times more likely to die than people with close social ties. Interestingly, the people in the study with a supportive network of friends and family yet who had unhealthful lifestyle habits (such as smoking, obesity, and lack of exercise) actually lived longer than those with poor social ties but more healthful living practices. Of course, those in the study with healthful lifestyle habits and close relationships were the healthiest and lived the longest of all. We could eat the healthiest diet in the world, but die a lonely, likely premature death simply by being a hermit. The people in our lives give us reason to want to be free of health problems and in turn, the act of having relationships themselves help keep us healthy.
The type of social relationship or whom it is with doesn’t matter, what matters is the closeness of the relationship. Even people with pets live longer than those who are have no furry friends. One compelling study found that, in patients hospitalized with coronary heart disease, those who had a cat or dog were six times less likely to die than those without an animal companion. These findings held true even when accounting for differences in the extent of heart damage and other medical problems.
This study doesn’t stand alone. The health benefits of cuddling and loving our companion animals was again found during trials for two pharmaceutical drugs used to treat cardiac arrhythmia. Results indicated that patients who had dogs were only one-sixth as likely to die during the study’s duration than those who didn’t have a dog. It seems the best medicine really is love and affection.
Whether it is people or pets, feeling connected to other living creatures is good for our hearts. In a study called the Beta-Blocker Heart Attack Trial, the pharmaceutical drug on trial didn’t improve survival rates or life expectancy in heart attack survivors. Trending with the findings from the other studies, what did improve survival rates was have strong social ties with other people. Astoundingly, those people with strong social connectedness had only one-fourth the risk of dying as opposed to those more isolated. This was even true when controlling for smoking, diet, alcohol, exercise, and weight.
The findings of these studies are remarkable and the overwhelming evidence is a motivating force that we all should take advantage of the proven benefits of prioritizing close relationships. We often make New Year’s resolutions to lose weight, quit smoking, and exercise more, all which are great resolutions to make, yet most of us have never been taught about the tangible health benefits of spending quality time with loved ones and furry friends. Host a vegan potluck, visit your local animal shelter or bond with a friend over a planet-based meal. That’s why this New Years, we should all put our relationships first. You might be surprised by how fantastic it feels to reconnect with old friends or spend more quality time with your family.
Cheers to a healthy and joyous New Year with plenty of good times in good company!
Talia Fuhrman, the oldest daughter of Dr. Fuhrman, has a degree in nutritional sciences from Cornell University and is currently working on a manuscript of her own health and wellness book for young women. She is on a mission to help people of all ages understand that eating healthfully can be fun, delicious, and easy. A lover of cooking and writing, she understands that disease prevention must be made positively delicious! Talia has her own website with psychological musing, nutrition tips and recipes. In addition to her posts on Disease Proof, you can find her at taliafuhrman.com.
I never would have guessed that the fate of two old oxen on a Vermont college campus would inspire tens of thousands of people around the world to raise their voices. But it did. Bill and Lou, scheduled for slaughter after a lifetime of service to the college, were featured in the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Boston Globe and many other major media outlets, and inspired action and dialogue around the world. But now that Lou has been euthanized due to an injury and the college has decided to keep Bill, an even more urgent dialogue needs to happen. It is a dialogue about sustainability.
Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vermont is a liberal arts institution whose mission is to “prepare students for productive, caring and fulfilling lives by taking the environment as the unifying theme underlying its programs.” This laudable mission is seen in course offerings, green jobs programs, numerous campus-based green initiatives and much more. The school’s commitment to the environment appears to be close to a raison d’etre. Look, for instance, at its Strategic Plan 2020, which charges the school with becoming “authentically sustainable,” or, in their words, “giving back more than we are taking.” Named the nation’s greenest college by The Sierra Club, the Green Mountain community intends to walk their talk. Good for them. Good for us.
I wonder if this environmental innovator has begun a conversation about becoming a vegan college. Plainly and simply, growing animals to feed humans — no matter how conscientiously — is not sustainable, and animal production appears to be a key piece of the Green Mountain experience. The controversy over Bill and Lou, in fact, began when a farm animal sanctuary offered lifetime care to the boys, but the college refused to sign them over, deciding instead to feed them to the students.
The devastating impact of animal agriculture is a hard, cold fact, presented convincingly by dozens of organizations including the United Nations and borne out by scientific review, the careful charting of environmental degradation, human illness and cancer rates, and increasing global climate instability. Why does it have such ill effects? A very complex issue can be boiled down to this: with a growing human population demanding more animal products, there is an accompanying demand for more water, more land, more feed for the animals, more fertilizer and pesticides and antibiotics (all toxic, all entering our soil and water), more fuel, more electricity, more waste disposal capacity, and on and on. That constant demand for more has pushed Mother Earth to the breaking point… and she is pushing back.
Let’s take a look at just one resource: water. WorldWatch Institute notes that the standard American diet (meat and dairy-based) requires 4,200 gallons of water per day, while a plant-based diet requires only 300 gallons a day. It takes between 2,500 and 5,000 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef, vs. 49 gallons to produce a pound of apples. We’re taking 13 trillion gallons of water per year from the Ogallala aquifer, the largest body of fresh water on earth, mostly for beef production. As a result, say many scientists, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Colorado, and New Mexico may soon be virtually uninhabitable. These are but a handful of thousands of ways that animal production taxes our finite water supply.
As our diet is causing the middle of the country to shrivel up like a prune, lower Manhattan, the Jersey shore and other areas in the Northeast have just experienced their own Katrina. Climate scientists’ predictions are coming true sooner than anyone anticipated: our shorelines may soon be underwater. Look at the havoc wrought by Katrina, Irene and Sandy alone, not to mention more devastating catastrophes farther from American shores. Conversations unfathomable a few short years ago are taking place — about putting houses on stilts, about building towering walls at coastlines to keep out the sea. On the heels of so many other “natural” disasters, Sandy convinced even some naysayers that global warming is here, is real, and that we need to act. But first, we need to question. To think. To change. We need a paradigm shift.
Green Mountain College envisions itself “leading the world toward sustainability through our example” by the year 2020. But “animal production” and “authentic sustainability” are mutually exclusive. Even though Green Mountain is growing animals far more responsibly than agribusiness does, it turns away from a larger truth: to be authentically sustainable means to be vegan. No matter how animals are grown, growing plants to feed humans is easier on the earth than growing plants to feed animals and then turning those animals into food. Indeed, the breadth of devastation wrought by animal agriculture is impossible to capture in a brief blog post, but ranges from the loss of biodiversity to the loss of 40 percent of our ecologically vital Amazon rainforests and 75 percent of our topsoil to the extinction of entire bodies of water and thousands of plant and animal species. According to Time, regarding its impact on global warming, “the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) concluded that livestock farming generates 18 percent of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions,” while other scientists postulated that the more accurate figure may be as high as 51 percent.
Where, America, is the urgent conversation about changing our personal behavior — i.e, our diet — to mitigate environmental disaster, and prevent loss of life and other hardship on a scale that we likely can’t imagine? Right now, all I’m hearing are conversations about sea walls and raising the foundations of houses. Impractical, for starters. More to the point, these remedies are nothing more than sticking our head into the sand and waiting for Mother Nature to whack us in the ass. They are band aids, not preventive medicine.
As we humans bump along through history, we become more enlightened, not less. Despite a vociferous few who cling to archaic ideas that fail to serve the greater good, most of us march forward, toward a more enlightened view of the world. Social change is a tall order, requiring folks to reconsider deeply held beliefs influenced by culture, religion, family history, personal bias, and more. But to our credit, we Americans are good at paradigm shifts. Consider, for instance, the election, and reelection, of Barack Obama. It is my hope that Bill and Lou — two humble, beloved souls — become the teachers who jettison us to the next level, creating the conversation that helps us all make the next urgent paradigm shift: the shift to veganism.
If humanity is to survive, a shift of this magnitude must happen right now. Now is the moment for us to talk seriously, as a world community, about veganism. Vision, knowledge, leadership, and political courage are desperately needed. If it chooses to, Green Mountain College, in the once-sleepy town of Poultney, Vermont, is poised to lead the conversation for, thanks to its own admirable mandate and two old oxen named Bill and Lou, the whole world is watching.
Kathy Stevens is the founder and director of Catskill Animal Sanctuary, one of the nation’s leading sanctuaries for horses and farmed animals, located in New York’s Hudson Valley. A passionate but patient advocate of the vegan lifestyle, she presents her message of “kindness to all” through her writing, as well as at speaking gigs at “kindergartens, colleges, and conferences and everything in between.” She has authored two books on the work of CAS and the animals who call it home. The first,Where the Blind Horse Sings: Love and Healing at an Animal Sanctuary, received critical and popular acclaim and was released in paperback on 2009. Her second book, Animal Camp: Lessons in Love and Hope from Rescued Farm Animals, has just been released. Kathy lives on the grounds of Catskill Animal Sanctuary with her dog Hannah and her cats Fat Boy and Mouse.
During the recession, many people with horses lost their homes and can no longer care for these amazing animals. Some of these surrendered or abandoned horses find loving new homes, but others become victims of neglect and abuse or end up being sent to slaughter. Many people are working to change that.
To find out more about the issue of homeless horses, I spoke to Shelly who is the founder of Dude’s Ranch Equine Rescue Center in Acton, Ca. Her rescue is at capacity – they have to turn away thousands of horses every year for lack of funding and space. What happens to these horses that are turned away? According to the Humane Society, there is no data on the specific number of horses slaughtered in this country every year, but some speculate it to be in the six-digits. There are many organizations and sanctuaries around the country like Shelly’s that adopt out horses and desperately need help. If you’re thinking of getting a horse, please, please don’t buy one! Instead, consider adopting one of these beautiful creatures, or encourage others who you know love horses to adopt. Find out how to adopt a horse through the Humane Society here. You can also call your local animal sanctuary to find out if they have any horses available for adoption. If you are unable to adopt a horse, you can still make a donation to the Humane Society to help homeless horses.
Alicia Silverstone is an actress, producer, author, activist, vegan mom. But the author of bestseller The Kind Dietmakes time to interact with and encourage new and aspiring vegans through her website, www.thekindlife.com. In addition to tips, recipes, and personal views on going green, she posts success stories that site members have shared with her, helping others to see the wonderful changes that a plant-based diet can bring to your health and well-beinga
Check out this new video from our friends at Farm Sanctuary. It is narrated by the beautiful, Allison Janney. I promise, you’ll have a tear in your eye before it’s done playing. To find out more about Farm Sanctuary, visit their website and don’t forget to adopt a turkey!
A couple of months ago, in early November, 2011, my wife Madeleine and I visited Natural Bridge State Park in the mountains of Virginia, and as part of that, we also visited the Monacan Indian Living History Village that is there. It was a fascinating experience!
The Monacans were a tribe living for many centuries in the Appalachians before the arrival of Europeans, and the display at the state park is a replica of part of one of their villages. It was staffed by several docents who were there to explain things to the tourists. We happened to arrive there shortly after a large field trip of local high school students had arrived, so there were probably 60 kids there and a male docent was explaining to them the Monacan people’s life. He was, not surprisingly, talking a lot about their methods of hunting and fishing and how they killed and ate animals for food.
As Madeleine and I were looking at some of the beautiful baskets they created, a female docent came over and we started talking about the food practices of the Monacans. There was a small plot of corn growing, and I asked her about the corn the Monacans traditionally grew and what percentage it was of their total food consumption. She replied that it was only about two percent. She told us that she is herself descended from the Monacan Indians, and that her people had traditionally set up and stayed in villages such as this one for several years, and that they would then would move to a slightly different location in the same general area, and did this repeatedly because they would gradually exhaust the local resources. I asked if she was referring to the animals who were hunted and fished, and she said no, that meat and fish accounted for less than two percent of their food. Virtually all their nutritional needs – 96 percent – came from acorns, together with nuts, berries, roots, seeds, leaves, shoots, and other plant foods that they gathered.
From what I have learned, the Monacan Indians were pretty typical of the people living here in North America before the Europeans came. Indians’ diets were overwhelmingly plant-based, as in the case of the Monacans, according to this docent, 98 percent. And yet, ironically, all the school kids visiting the Monacan Living History Village got the impression from the male docent that they subsisted primarily on meat and fish. They left the Monacan Village with a completely different message than we got, one that would reinforce their acceptance of the foods in their school lunch programs and at the local fast food restaurants, and it was in many ways forced onto them by exploiting their trust and innocence. Of course the male docent was in no way consciously exploiting the children, but was part of a process that happens inexorably—the replication of culture.
What I continue to discover is how far from reality are many of the “official stories” that we tell ourselves and teach our children. They are stories that serve a specific purpose, which is to justify the existing order, and they are passed on effortlessly and subconsciously, because they make us all comfortable in believing, in this case, that our current practice of enslaving and slaughtering huge numbers of animals for food (75 million daily in the U.S. alone) is somehow a normal and natural expression of who we are as human beings. It is no accident that we term native cultures “hunter-gatherers.”
This emphasis on “hunter” for earlier humans is chosen by the mainly male meat-eating anthropologists whose views are unconsciously filtered by their own culturally-imposed meat-eating behavior, and the deep discomfort it inevitably causes. We will and must go to great lengths to justify violent behavior, and this is an example of this.
It is long past time to question these official stories, and to create new stories that more accurately reflect the fact that plant-based foods provide us all that we need to thrive on this Earth and celebrate our lives here with wisdom and compassion. The animals of this Earth, the oceans, rivers, and ecosystems, hungry people, slaughterhouse workers, and the future generations of all living beings are certainly yearning for the day when we awaken from the indoctrinated delusions that we need meat and dairy to get adequate protein and calcium, and that the world and nonhuman animals were put here for us to use.
We are not separate from this world and from the precious web of life here. Eating the products of enslaved and murdered animals forces us to forget this, but at any moment we can question the official stories, remember the truth, and become a force for healing, peace, joy, freedom, and health for all. The ancient Lakota prayer, Mitakuye Oyasin – “All my relations” or “All are related” – reflects this fundamental human wisdom of our essential interconnectedness that is repressed by the corporate diet of death and denial.
The wisdom of the Monacan people can inspire us today if we listen deeply within and question everything.
Dr. Will Tuttle, an educator, author, pianist, and composer, presents 150 lectures, workshops, and concerts yearly throughout North America and Europe. Author of the acclaimed best-seller, The World Peace Diet, he is a recipient of the Peace Abbey’s Courage of Conscience Award, and is the co-founder of Circle of Compassion ministry. A vegan since 1980, he is a Dharma Master in the Zen tradition, and has created eight CD albums of uplifting original piano music.
As the holiday season approaches in the United States, many consumers anticipate “Black Friday” (this year November 25) as a day to shop and spend wantonly. Long a token of luxury, the fur industry expects increased sales in the colder months, and will often use Black Friday as a jumping-off point. This had led many animal right groups to declare the day “Fur Free Friday” amidst a slew of protests and activism. To consumers, this may appear brash, over the top, or even ludicrous – why protest the sale of a garment, especially one with such a classic history as fur?
While vegetarianism has generally been accepted by the mainstream as “okay,” the anti-fur activist continues to be marginalized as a “radical” or “offensive.” Sure, we know that animals are killed for their fur, but so what? So are cows for leather, and pigs for pork. Such is the way of the world. It was monumental, then, when the West Hollywood City Council voted in September to ban the sale of fur, or any product made with the “hair, wool, or fur” of an animal. While furniture (leather in origin) was exempted, and the bill has an effective date in 2013, the symbolic nature of this legislation is no less grand: West Hollywood decreed what many who have researched the fur trade have known for decades, namely that the fur-farmed animals killed for clothing endure unimaginable suffering, unnaturally short lives, and filthy, inhumane conditions.
Ironically, the United States banned the import/export and sale of dog and cat fur in 2000, citing, among other things, that “the trade of dog and cat fur products is ethically and aesthetically abhorrent to United States citizens.” Indeed, a quick reflection by most citizens will support this, imaging their own pet being killed, skinned, and used for some form of clothing. But why is there an exemption for fox, mink, rabbit, and other animals? Largely, this is due to the literal trading of fur, which generated huge profits for Russia, Canada, and the United States as far back as the 1600s. While the perception of animals used for clothing, food, or entertainment has improved, most still believe that animals outside the realm of dogs and cats are available to be farmed and exploited.
“Exploited” is a relative term, and defenders of fur, particularly those who wear it, often feel that precautions are in place to protect the animal from undue harm. Unfortunately, this sort of faux (no pun intended) protection is a myth: the laws that reference fur trade and production in the United States are vague, and consistently defer to state laws instead of federal mandate. Again, the local laws fall short as most anti-cruelty measures specifically exempt animals used for fur. Indeed, the regulations are more often concerned with fur labeling rather than the treatment of the animal itself. Ignorance is bliss, however, regarding said treatment – many consumers of fur are in the dark, sometimes by the choice, of the cruelty involved at a fur farm.
A recent Photo Blog on MSNBC shows the stark reality: manual laborers, most likely dulled to the killing of countless animals, carry, process, and create the pelts that make the coats of the wealthy. Consider the animal, a mink or fox, as one as loving and similar to your dog or cat as the following is illustrated:
Each animal may self-mutilate or cannibalize as a result of stress
Each animal undergoes inbreeding to produce specific “fashionable” coat traits, inbreeding that leads to genetic defects
Each animal lacks interaction with its natural environment: grass, water to swim in, or companionship
Each animal is typically killed by being gassed, poisoned, suffocated, or severely injured, sometimes resulting in the animal being skinned alive
While fur once represented a form of commerce and clothing when no other alternative was available, it is now time for the trend and consequent cruelty to end. Faux fur, produced using synthetic textiles and “greener” materials, satisfies the need for aesthetics, while synthetic fleece made from recycled materials provide warmth and sustainability. Fashion will often dictate our mindset, but remember that we, the consumers, dictate fashion. If what we choose to wear can be obtained in a compassionate and just way, sparing the needless death of millions of animals, then we are obligated to do just that.
Samuel Hartman has traveled far and wide looking for incredible vegan food, but calls the Midwest home. Believing that food is one of the best forms of activism, Sam enjoys making delicious vegan meals for his friends while volunteering with animal rights organizations. He lives with his fiancée and two rescued French bulldogs in Louisville, KY. Amidst his goal to eradicate speciesism, he still finds to time to bike, play music, and blog. His writings can be found at thenailthatsticksup.com