~ANiMAL RiGhtS ACtiViSM iN tORONtO // UNtiL EVERY CAGE (ANd tANk) iS EMPtY~Posted: January 28, 2013
“For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth.” ~Henry Beston, naturalist
i’d been planning to write a blog entry about animal rights issues and activism for quite a while, but kept putting it off because it’s such an important topic, and i knew i had a lot to say… but the time has come. please keep in mind that, while the details that i’ve provided about the meat, egg, and dairy industries are factual, i’m also sharing a lot of my own thoughts and opinions here, and writing from my own personal experience, as opposed to speaking on behalf of any organization (although i know many people share my views).
i’m not going to get into the gory and horrific details of what goes on behind closed doors in slaughterhouses, vivisection and “research” labs, on fur farms, and behind the scenes at zoos, circuses, and other animal attractions, but suffice it to say that no animal should ever have to experience the pain, suffering, and cruelty that so many are subjected to on a daily basis, for the duration of their shortened lives. it’s completely unnecessary, and it must be hell on Earth.
i’m also not going to talk about intelligence in animals as a measure of value, because as Jeremy Bentham put it, “The question is not ‘Can they reason?’ nor ‘Can they talk?’ but ‘Can they suffer?’”
as a child/teenager growing up in Newfoundland, my father hunted (moose, caribou, bears, grouse, etc.), snared rabbits, and fished quite a lot, and he was also one of the more well-known taxidermists in Newfoundland. so, i was exposed to a LOT of dead animals, and you can probably imagine what our house looked like. in stark contrast, i started protesting against eating meat at a fairly young age, and was finally allowed to be vegetarian when i turned 13, after about a year of begging my parents. my mom was really good about buying things like veggie burgers, and other alternatives. *fast forward* i grew up to be a passionate, vegan, animal rights activist. i am very much against hunting, trapping, fishing, killing, and exploiting animals in any way (for food, clothing, entertainment, medical/scientific “research”, etc.), unless it’s absolutely necessary for your survival—ie: you or your child are about to be mauled to death, or you’re living in a remote part of the globe with no access to alternatives, and you would die of starvation, otherwise.
“All beings tremble before violence. All fear death, all love life. See yourself in others. Then whom can you hurt? What harm can you do?” ~Buddha
my main reasons for choosing a vegan way of life are ethical and environmental, but the health benefits are an added bonus. i approach the issues from a point of view that all animals should be treated equally, with compassion and respect. speciesism is fundamentally wrong, and no different than racism, sexism, heterosexism, or ableism, in that all of these words describe a form of prejudice and discrimination against people who are different in some way. they’re just different ways of judging another (species, race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.) as inherently inferior, and treating them as such. oppression is oppression. the fact that something is permitted and socially acceptable doesn’t make it right. i often use human slavery as an example because, in the not too distant past, we used to think it was okay to enslave and oppress people simply because they had darker coloured skin. once society realized that it was morally wrong, we abolished slavery. i dream of the day that our circle of respect and compassion expands to include other animals besides ourselves and the animals we (arbitrarily) choose to keep as pets.
“The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men.” ~Alice Walker
since humans have a digestive system that is adapted to/for an omnivorous diet, we have a choice; we can digest both meat and plant-based foods. being omnivorous is just a description of our capabilities; it doesn’t impose behaviours on us (this is a key point!). it’s also pretty well-known that humans can survive and be healthy without eating animals, during all stages of life.
“A man can live and be healthy without killing animals for food; therefore, if he eats meat, he participates in taking animal life merely for the sake of his appetite. And to act so is immoral.” ~Leo Tolstoy
in my opinion, the most natural diet for us as humans is the one that will give us optimum health. since rates of diseases like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes are significantly reduced by going vegan, i would have to go with that diet as being the most natural. arguing that we should continue to eat meat, based on the fact that chimpanzees and bonobos eat lizards and monkeys, or based on the fact that our ancestors ate meat, seems kinda silly to me. as Colleen Patrick-Goudreau said, “Just because we can doesn’t mean we should. Just because we always have doesn’t mean we always have to. Once we know better, we should do better.”
i’d also like to mention that my preference for logic and reason doesn’t go out the window when i talk about animal rights issues. fortunately, there are a lot of vegan scientific skeptic types out there in the world today (with blogs) who use a scientific approach (as opposed to misleading claims, which do more harm than good).
here are some of the better ones:
http://asksciencedude.info [science dude is actually a woman---Sinead Collins, an evolutionary biologist who experiments with microbes, and who is also feminist, vegan, and queer =D]
early this morning (between 7am and 9am), i joined 5 other people to bear witness for cows (and later, chickens) who were on their way to be brutally and unnecessarily slaughtered at St. Helen’s and Ryding-Regency slaughterhouses in Toronto, just so people can have an abundance of cheap meat. this was my first time doing an action with Toronto Cow Save and Toronto Chicken Save, and i was also present for one of the Toronto Pig Save vigils last week, to bear witness when pigs were being trucked to Quality Meat Packers slaughterhouse, one freezing cold morning. we hold posters, give information to people when they’re stopped at the lights, and give copies of documentaries about factory farming to truck drivers who are on their way to the slaughterhouse. some keep looking straight ahead and ignore you; some are ignorant/rude and give you the “i love bacon” line; others are receptive and willing to take the information. it’s also pretty encouraging when people honk to show their support. vigils take place 2 or 3 times a week, and in addition to bearing witness a couple of times, i’ve also joined TPS to do vegan outreach at the Toronto Eaton Centre the past couple of Sunday afternoons. it’s a good opportunity to talk with all kinds of people, and sometimes vegan BLTs (made with coconut) are given out.
it’s so sad and disturbing to know that 6-7000 young pigs (plus 60 000 chickens) are killed here every day (35,000 every week) at Quality Meat Packers. it’s really hard to see them cramped into the trucks, covered in scratches. their eyes are so expressive… so full of fear and sadness. it’s no different than looking into the eyes of a human, except that i’ve never known any human who’s had to experience anything so horrific. all you can really do is tell them that you’re sorry, and show them love and compassion through eye contact… but of course it never feels like enough.
“When the suffering of another creature causes you to feel pain, do not submit to the initial desire to flee from the suffering one, but on the contrary, come closer, as close as you can to him who suffers, and try to help.” ~Leo Tolstoy
i’ve known about Toronto Pig Save for the past few months, but i guess i procrastinated with getting involved for two main reasons: 1) i didn’t know anybody, and i have pretty bad social anxiety (which i work really hard to hide, just in case you haven’t noticed it) and 2) i was afraid of what i’d see and how it would make me feel. the act of bearing witness can be difficult, but i can say from experience that it’s made somewhat easier by being part of a group. contrary to what you might expect, you come away from the experience feeling stronger and more determined than ever. many activists participate in actions like this for that very reason—to strengthen their resolve and commitment. it’s also an opportunity to show the pigs, cows, and chickens that there are people who care about them… to speak a comforting word (or gently touch their snouts, in the case of the pigs) when the trucks are stopped at the intersection.
“The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.” ~Albert Einstein
over the years, i’ve always challenged myself to be a better person… to do my best in everything. as hard as i try, i know i’m not perfect, but i try to live as ethically and sustainably as possible. i have one main rule that i follow (the Wiccan rede): “do as thou wilt, so long as it harm none.” and while doing my best most definitely includes being vegan (which is about more than just diet), it goes a lot further than that. it always baffles me when people suggest that vegans aren’t concerned enough about the environment, and that we only care about animals. but vegan outreach and animal rights activism has never got in the way of any other activist work for me. it doesn’t stop me from trying to do something about sexism, racism, climate change, poverty, or anything else that needs to change. i realize that i talk about it a lot more than i talk about anything else, but it’s certainly not the only thing i care about or act on. as an environmentalist, i also reduce, reuse, and recycle (in that order)… compost… make an effort to conserve water and energy… have a sign on my door that says “No Junk Mail Or Flyers Please” (and it works!)… walk and bike as much as possible, and take public transit when necessary… buy biodegradable detergents and natural cleaners… and buy locally whenever i can.
when you consider the fact that animals who are raised for meat have to eat too, and the numerous environmental impacts of the meat industry—land and water use, deforestation, soil erosion, pollution, greenhouse gas emissions (18-51 % according to a paper published by a respected US thinktank, the Worldwatch Institute), and loss of biodiversity—it becomes obvious that veganism is better for the environment than any other diet. we need to make changes, and we need to make them fast. climate change is the most daunting environmental challenge that we face today, and it’s clear that factory farming is a big part of the problem.
a large percentage of the people that i know will at least agree that factory farming is horrible, even if they don’t think that eating meat is wrong, yet they continue to buy meat from supermarkets, knowing full well that it comes from a factory farm. there are healthy, affordable, delicious-tasting, vegan alternatives, so i challenge you to give it a try. you have nothing to lose by trying, and so much to gain. don’t let your taste buds or apathy control you; there’s way too much at stake.
“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.” ~Thomas A. Edison
i can’t talk about factory farming without addressing the concept of “humane meat”. i don’t have much to say about it, except to say that it doesn’t exist/there’s no such thing. The Onion put out a great article about a week ago that sums it up quite well, called “We Raise All Our Beef Humanely On Open Pasture And Then We Hang Them Upside Down And Slash Their Throats“. i’d urge you to check it out if you’re under the impression that it’s okay to buy grass-fed, locally-produced and “ethically harvested meat”. sometimes sarcasm is the best tool for getting a message across.
“We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.” ~Immanuel Kant
finally, i’d like to talk about why we should also quit buying and eating eggs and dairy products, and adopt a fully vegan lifestyle. it’s quite simple, actually. the egg and dairy industries are, perhaps surprisingly, the worst… because the animals still end up being killed for meat, but they suffer a lot longer before that happens.
chickens raised for eggs spend the entirety of their lives in battery cages that are 67-76 square inches. there isn’t even enough room for one hen to extend her wings, and there are usually a few crammed in together. they don’t have any room to move, so their bones and muscles deteriorate from lack of use, leading to broken wings and bones, and their feet get lacerated from standing on wire floors. on top of all that, they literally go crazy. also, many hens die from dehydration, and the dead carcasses are often left in the cages with the hens who are still alive. if you think chickens are stupid animals, you’re wrong. the truth is that they outperform both cats and dogs on tests of cognitive, emotional, and behavioural complexity. they’re social and inquisitive creatures, and devoted and adoring mothers. battery cages are so cruel that they’ve been outlawed across the European Union, and condemned by the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production.
dairy cows are artificially inseminated and impregnated, and they carry their babies in the womb for 9 months, just like humans. within hours or days of giving birth, their babies are stolen from them. this is extremely traumatic for both the mother and her calf. machines are attached to the mother’s nipples and, for a few months, the milk meant for her baby is siphoned out. then the process starts all over again, and is repeated four or five times. the male calves will usually end up as veal, and the females will be raised to replace the older cows. also, cows who are no longer able to produce milk are sent to slaughter. in other words, dairy cows become beef cows. so, if you don’t feel right about eating meat, then you definitely shouldn’t feel right about eating dairy products.
“One day the absurdity of the almost universal human belief in the slavery of other animals will be palpable. We shall then have discovered our souls and become worthier of sharing this planet with them.” ~Martin Luther King Jr.
so, even though we’re only a month into it, i can say with confidence that 2013 is turning out to be a very significant year for me, because it’s the year i became connected with a network of amazingly dedicated and compassionate animal rights activists here in Toronto. up until quite recently, despite knowing a handful of vegan folks, i was feeling pretty unsupported and alone because of my “radical” views on animal rights and veganism. meeting like-minded people—so many, so quickly!—has meant the world to me. if any of you are reading this, tHANk YOU, from the bottom of my heart.
in conclusion, i’d like to say that there’s hope. i believe that, deep down, most people want to do the right thing. many don’t realize how cruel these industries are, so raising awareness is really important. as more and more people decide to go vegan, the movement will continue to grow. so, if you’re living in Toronto and would like to find out more or get involved, i’d urge you to check out Toronto Pig Save, Toronto Cow Save, and Toronto Chicken Save. you can get in touch via the Facebook groups… and of course, you’re also welcome to get in touch with me, personally. i’m always willing and eager to discuss these issues, and to share what i know (vegan recipes, places to shop, etc.) and/or direct you towards other resources.
“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” ~Mohandas K. Gandhi
❤ peace and love ❤