Why Do We Do That?





I recently finished reading Animal Liberation and Atheism, written by Kim Socha, a local English Professor and author in the Twin Cities. Part of what captivated me was that I felt like Socha had been wandering the halls of my brain for years and extracted thoughts for which I had not yet formed words.

Socha’s premise is based on the notion that non-human (and human) animals will never be liberated as long as religion (dogmatic by design) exists. Her reasoning is that because religions are hierarchal, any being or species that is below a God, a god or a goddess must always answer to that Supreme Being and is never fully capable of ultimately making their own choice or decisions since this Supreme Being is THE guiding post for all ethical matters. Because this hierarchy exists, Socha argues, we are always striving to do what is right, not because it is right for all involved, but because doing what is right is what will assure us proper positioning in the afterlife (whether in spirit form or through reincarnation).

As I let this notion wash over me, I’ve come to realize the complexity of a question that has been begging to be answered for years. The question, which I am still refining, has to do with the (most common) reasons why humans treat animals with regard (if and when they do).

There are two “areas” of “doing what is right” for the “wrong” reasons that I will address. (While reading this article please keep in mind my liberal use of the terms “right” and “wrong.” Although I usually stray from using these judgments, I find them effective tools for this article.)

The first “area” is our reason for saving threatened species of animals.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, 41% of amphibians, 25% of mammals and 13% of birds are threatened, i.e., endangered. (Sadly government and special interests repeatedly threaten to remove them from protection, often so we can resume hunting them.) The reasons for saving threatened species are almost always cited as “…future generations depend on them…” or “I want them to be around for my grandchildren.” Rarely do I hear the notion of saving the species for the sake of the species or for the sake of the individuals within that species (not even from the organizations that are doing amazing conservation work).

On the surface these actions can appear to be altruistic. However, I am not convinced they are because if something was not at stake for ourselves (by the loss of these species), by and large, we would not be taking actions to protect them.

Some people believe that all that matters is that the action is being taken and that the reason for taking the action does not matter. While what may be the most important thing is indeed the action, I tend to look at the larger picture.

What long-lasting implications are there of only taking actions that ultimately benefit ourselves, even if others also benefit? What kind of a world are we creating for ALL, not just humans, when this is our guiding post to taking “right action”? I do not have the answer. But, my guess is that it is not a very good one because I find this to be one of the most selfish reasons for taking action, and selfish actions are often met with negative and unintended consequences.

The second “area” regards the notion of reincarnation.

There are two aspects of this that I find to be disturbingly anthropocentric. The first (which touches upon Socha’s observation of the hierarchy imbedded in religion and many other forms of faith and spirituality) is the idea that if we do not reach enlightenment in this lifetime, we may return in another lifetime as a life form that is lower than our current selves, an animal. If we do reach enlightenment, then we are propelled to the next stage, heavenly beings. So we see how deeply rooted in this belief is the superiority of humans to all life forms other than spirit or God. Thus, Socha’s claim that humans and non-humans alike will never be liberated as long as we are living in accordance to these religious and spiritual doctrines.

The second aspect of reincarnation I find to be disturbing is the reason that people (aspire to) assure themselves good karma. On the surface, some religions and spiritualties appear to hold animals with great regard because their doctrines or precepts suggest treating them with what could generally be considered great respect. Upon deeper reflection, as Socha points out, this is really done to satisfy human needs and desires.

An example she uses (that “burst one of my bubbles”) is the reason that Janes are extremely mindful of not harming animals: not only are they predominantly vegetarian, they also cover their mouths with masks so they will not inhale insects and they sweep the ground before them so they will not step on bugs. The reason they do this is not because they value the lives of these individual creatures to this degree, but because they want to be sure they are treated well if they are to return to another life form such as one of these creatures. By putting into practice now, a kinder and gentler way of treating a “lesser” being, they are assuring a kinder and gentler treatment of themselves should they ever return as one of these “lower” life forms.

In my view, this is extremely human centric and more disturbing than that, it is very “me centric.” And it is not only Janes who do this – I only use this example because I had great hopes that at least a small number of humans following religious practices were able to act kindly to other species for reasons beyond themselves; for reasons of real altruism.

So this leaves me still seeking an answer to a question I am still refining: when will humans, as a species, take right action for the sake of others and not only for the sake of ourselves? Please share your thoughts and reflections on the blog.

“Missing Deer Head”

Deer Face - 1





I recently joined one of those Next Door Neighbor Social Media Sites and have been enjoying getting a sense of who lives in my ‘hood and what they are asking for and giving away. Lost Dog! Found Cat! While the former leaves me with a saddened heart the later gives me solace in knowing my neighbors are looking out for one another. Free Loveseat! Free Ostrich Fern! Wet Food for Starving Cat! Yeah, I love my neighbors!!! They are generous and warm-hearted…maybe even ecologically friendly. Contractor Needed! Ushers Needed! I see they are creative too.

Silly as it might seem, I feel more connected to those who dwell nearby even though I never see behind their four walls. My walks in the ‘hood are now infused with a bit more curiosity and eagerness to greet my neighbors as we pass one another on our daily walks.

And then IT comes in. Missing Deer Head! I am taken aback, wondering what this means. Is it the name of a play, maybe for the posting that beckoned Ushers Needed? The posting tells me otherwise. It says that someone had “…shot the buck of his life…” this spring and that the head with antlers was in his backyard but is now missing. He goes on to ask if we have “…seen or heard of a deer head that showed up somewhere?” And I wonder why is it that a deer’s head, without the deer’s body, could show up anywhere? To whom did this head really belong?

Before I know it my fingers are tapping out “Maybe the deer’s spirit came and took it back.” And I hit send. Unable to retract my reply, I start to wonder if this was inappropriate for this Neighborhood Social Media Platform. After all, there have not been any conversations other than solicited advice.

I begin to imagine what the “owner” of this Missing Head might reply. Would he reply at all? Would he find humor in it? Would he be outraged, believing I overstepped my boundary? And then I began to question our perceptions of boundaries and what conversations seem to get shut out in our society.

It is a commonly held, and generally accepted, belief in our society that as long as we are licensed to do so, we can kill. We can then share the information about the kill wherever, whenever, and however we want. For me, as a person who equally values all species, I was shocked to see such a blatant display of the joy that killing this animal gave this man. I don’t know his reason for the hunt but I can say with confidence, that as a city dweller (in particular), he did not need to take this life for his survival. And so why do we find this behavior to be acceptable?

And why does the voice that questions hunting often get criticized as soft-hearted or intrusive? As for the soft heart, why do we fear that? This reminds me of how the qualities we consider to be feminine are shrugged off as emotional and unfitting for so many of our cultural activities. I believe that if we fully expressed the softness in our hearts, our world, let alone society, would be a more loving and accepting place. As for being intrusive, I believe it is considered as such because hunting (a very clean word for killing when it is not needed for our survival) is considered to be a personal choice. And in some ways it is. But so is raping, or abusing a child. So when do we call it fair to step in and voice what we see as an injustice?

When one views a socially acceptable practice as an injustice, and openly expresses that perspective to the “perpetrator,” they are often considered to be speaking out of line; to be dabbling in someone else’s business. But when does someone else’s business become our business? If we always kept our unpopular beliefs to ourselves, slavery, as it once was practiced, would still exist. Women would not be showing up to the voting booths, and girls in China would still have their feet bound.

We look back on the pioneers who led those conversations and applaud them. This applause seems to be absent when the pioneers of (hopefully impending) paradigm shifts are in the process of introducing new conversations that challenge current, acceptable practices that they find to be unjust.

Entering new conversations can be scary and awkward. They can be confronting and very uncomfortable. But experiencing these sensations does not justify not entering these conversations. After all, the deer whose head is missing and all the other victims of unjust, yet acceptable, practices experience sensations that are much graver than anything we will experience when we are in challenging conversations and pioneering new paradigms.

As all of this is running through my head, I head back to my computer and see a new posting on the Next Door Neighbor Social Media site. It is not from the owner of the missing deer head. It is from an appreciative neighbor who thanked me for my post. I write back to him and let him know I appreciate his heart.

Lulu’s Lively Vegan Burgers

My dear Friend Lulu, a Kitchen Witch of her own ilk, has taken a live-fermented Dosa recipe and transformed it into a magical Vegan Burger. With a unique blend of grains, legumes, mushrooms, herbs and spices this is a rare vegan burger in that it actually holds together. It also happens to be quite tasty and nutritious. It is great fried in a skillet or cooked on the grill or shaped into balls (baked lightly) and used for fondue. It can be eaten as a sandwich or a “steak”. As Lulu rarely makes the same thing twice, I had a hard time capturing the recipe so I have tweaked it a bit.

Basmati Mushroom Juicy Lucy

An odd creation of its own sort, Juicy Lucy’s have been making it into the world of vegan food. A healthier version, (using protein-rich mushrooms, basmati rice and pecans) this Juicy Lucy offers up a unique eating experience, stretching your taste buds to new dimensions. Indeed we are in a food evolution!

The Power of Story

Lately I’ve been pondering my effectiveness as an animal advocate. A good friend reminded me of the impact I have had and that I will never really know the full impact of my advocacy for animals. We hear time and again that a person has to hear something 3 times, 4 times, 7 times, before they remember it and take action. It doesn’t really matter if my conversation or comment was the first time or the last time that someone heard the information. What matters is that my voice played a role in them taking action that directly or indirectly made a positive difference for the animals of the world.

Our conversation led to exploring stories people live in; the things we tell ourselves. Things that allow us to continue lifestyle practices that, on some level, are not aligned with our values. When we take a close look at the troubles of the world we can easily become paralyzed into inaction.

I invite you to take a peek at how stories keep us operating from complacency and how we can lean into actions that align with our principles and actually energize us, rather than drain us.

1. Recognize what our story is. Have we come to believe that we have to drink milk in order to develop and maintain healthy bones? Do we believe that cows naturally lactate year round?

2. Understand how that story impacts our lives. If we have come to believe we need milk for strong bones, has this led us to regularly consume dairy products? Are we comfortable consuming milk from a cow because we believe she naturally lactates all year round?

3. See the story for what it is…a story! It’s something that we, with tremendous influence from society and industry, have made up and adopted as an absolute truth. We will only understand if our story is story after we educate ourselves about the truth behind the practices we have come to believe are necessary for normal, healthy living. In this process we might discover a different truth and see how this new truth inspires change in our daily practices.

Once we expand our sources of information we find that we don’t need to consume dairy to meet our calcium requirements for strong bones. A plant-based diet rich in greens, seeds and other whole foods provides the calcium we need. We also learn that cows are consistently impregnated in order to keep producing milk. A cow, like any mammal, only produces milk after giving birth. In order for cow’s milk to be available for human consumption the calves are taken away from their mothers within 24 hours of birth and given a milk substitute. The females are raised to be used as their mothers have been used and the males are raised in high confinement pens and fed an iron-deficient diet to produce pale, soft flesh for veal.

4. Recognize and believe that we get to rewrite our story and that this new story can align with our core values. If recognizing that humans do not need to consume dairy products to be healthy, and that cows don’t naturally produce milk year round, and if understanding that a mother-child bond is broken numerous times throughout the lifespan of a dairy cow does not align with our core values of peace and compassion, it may empower us to know that there are delicious and nutritious ways of feeding ourselves that do not involve the use of dairy products.

5. Take joy in rewriting the story and “leaning in” to our new practices. To do this effectively we want to be sure to remove guilt and shame from our previous choices and to take this journey one step at a time. It is of no value to step in so quickly that we become overwhelmed and give up. With an increase in plant-based milk and cheeses, the explosion of vegan cookbooks on the market, and an ever-increasing amount of vegan food offered in restaurants and natural food buffets, it is getting easier and easier to begin and maintain a plant-based diet. If we need an extra boost, we can take vegan cooking classes and receive personalized coaching. We may feel a need to jumpstart our new eating habits by having a nutritional consultation with someone who specializes in plant-based nutrition. We just may find a sense of empowerment and peacefulness that we can make a difference by living into our values.
As we continue to embrace our new practices we just might be surprised by the increased ease in our breath as we begin to live into our deeply held values.

While this is just one example of empowering ourselves to live according to our values, it can serve as a model for any area of our lives that we wish to transform. It is critical to remember that while each of us is just one person making these changes, that is all we can ever be. We serve as inspiration to others to make their own desired changes. Then we will be the ripple effect in the pond that expands to become the ripple effect in the ocean.

Have faith my friends. Follow your heart. What is one story you are telling yourself about the foods you eat? Share with us by leaving a comment on our blog.

Cashew Tempeh Spread

Straight from the New Farm Cookbook

A most delightful way to eat tempeh! It just might even make a tempeh lover out of a tempeh sceptic. Nutty, creamy, rich and hearty – the flavors of toasted cashew, steamed and grated tempeh, combined with a tofu-mayonnaise offers up a deeply satisfying spread for all reason and seasons.

Triple Crown BBQ Tofu

The BBQ Tofu I have been waiting for!  Never to get the recipe of the best BBQ Tofu I ever tasted I made a few feeble attempts at making my own sauce and quickly surrendered to the complexity of getting it just right. I resigned to never having such a delicious BBQ Tofu ever again. Until…I sunk my teeth into this. The secret is crispy yet soft tofu, made to perfection, and floated in this richly, dynamic sauce that will have your eyes rolling to the back of your head in delight.

For the Sake of Knowledge

Baby Monkeys

I’ve been reading If A Lion Could Talk; Animal Intelligence and the Evolution of Consciousness, by Stephen Budiansky. What drew me to read it was this statement on the cover-jacket:

“Budiansky…show[s] us animals for who they are, not semi-adequate humanoids but powerful, competent, fully evolved beings in their own right.”

I was excited to glean insight into how intelligence and consciousness arouse in these amazing beings. To understand this about any being would be fascinating and a privilege. And so I cuddled up with the book, excited to spend some time with the evolution of our fellow planetary inhabitants.

I was not far into the book when Budiansky referred to animal research in which numerous primates, dogs, birds and rodents are held captive in order to learn how they recognize, or don’t recognize, faces or objects. Rats and dogs are exhaustively run through mazes and other structures in an attempt to understand how their memory operates. Song birds are removed from their natural environment to assess the impact their absence has on how the remaining birds sing. ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­And on it goes.

At first one might consider this to be innocuous research and see no reason for concern about the welfare of the research subjects. Compared to medical research that often involves probing deeply into animals’ bodies and eventually killing them, this may be true. However, if you step back a bit and look at why we are doing this particular research and who benefits, then we encounter a very different conclusion.

Why are we doing this research? Think of what is required for humans and all other animals to survive or even thrive. Each inhabitant of the earth has a unique innate design and intelligence that allows it to exist in its own perfect way. Every species has what it needs to live. Knowing the evolution of and the level of intelligence and consciousness of other species is completely and utterly unnecessary. Everything is as it should be (and we can’t possibly understand how it all works on every level).

So why are we capturing animals from the wild and caging them? Putting probes into their brains to monitor cerebral activity when the size of their enclosure is altered? Why are we having them work with the principles of addition and subtraction?

We are searching for answers that we will never find, no matter how much technology we apply, no matter how many generations of animals we use, no matter how complex, comprehensive, or bizarre the research procedures are!

Comparing animals to ourselves is flawed and unnecessary. We are trying to figure out their level of intelligence by comparing it to that of an entirely different species—our own. We fabricate artificial frameworks under which we apply artificial conditions and assume we can then extrapolate information into the natural world. No matter the strategy, research will always remain limited by the fact that we created the context within the limitation of our human minds, a minuscule representation of all that creation has to offer.

Budiansky says, “Evolution, learning, the very wiring of animals’ brains and sense organs, adapt them to the cognitive demands of their physical and social environment in ways that at times put us to shame, with our reliance on consciousness and language and reason to see us through….[we could never] navigate our way home the way a pigeon can, or locate a tiny rapidly moving target the way a bat can, or calculate the distance of a Carolina wren from the tonal shifts in its song the way a Carolina wren can….So one might well argue that animals do not need the special human cognitive abilities that we possess, for they have gotten along quite well without them.”

But the very way we have learned of some of these amazing characteristics is through invasive research. So there is great discordance in this race to learn what we can about animals.

It seems we are researching to see what we can learn about animals so we can ultimately decide how we can treat them.  If they are of a certain level of intelligence we consider treating then with a little more compassion and respect. If they fall below this level of intelligence we can continue to treat them as we wish, regardless of the impact it has on them.

All of this is for what? To satisfy curious human minds? To feed egos and pocket books? Animal research is a ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­multi-billion dollar industry. It keeps a lot of individuals employed and a lot of universities and other research facilities functioning in certain capacities. Can all of this justify using animals in the name of knowledge? This question is what I find myself walking away with after reading If A Lion Could Talk.

What do you think?

How can we justify experimenting on sentient beings just to satisfy our curiosity?

Why do we think we have the right to do this?

Why have we chosen intelligence to be the basis on which we judge worthiness of a species?

I’d love to know your thoughts. Please leave a comment on my blog.

Belly Warming Enchilada Bake

This recipe was inspired by a recipe from which my dear friend Joel was inspired – one of his favorite dishes. I tinkered with it so it delights you from the moment it touches your tongue to when it warmly lands in your belly. Layers of plant-based Mock Chicken, Sour Cream, Chedda Cheese Shreds, corn tortillas and a bit of heat from green chilies and jalapeños combine to create a Belly Warming Comfort Food.