The Splendor of a Turkey is Not in Her Flesh

What do you first think of when you are greeted with “Happy Thanksgiving”?Turkeys - Wild - Colorful

For many of us we think of turkey. Turkey as in “A large mainly domesticated game bird native to North America, having a bald head and (in the male) red wattles. It is prized as food, especially on festive occasions such as Thanksgiving and Christmas (Oxford Dictionary)”. More simply put “…a large American bird that is related to the chicken that is hunted or raised by people for its meat”. We have collectively come to think of turkey as the meat of a bird used as food.

What has happened to thinking of turkey as a beautiful (or not so beautiful, depending on your opinion) bird that roams free and has a will to live his or her own life?

Wild turkeys forage on the ground in flocks, occasionally mounting shrubs or low trees for fruits. They scratch the forest floor for acorns and nuts in the fall. They line their nests with leaves and grasses. Turkeys make gobbling calls. They utter clucking calls “cluk, cluk, cut, putt.” Wild turkeys have been known to fly up to 55 miles per hour for short distances. In short – turkeys are sentient beings who have habits and desires of their own.

Unfortunately 300 million domestic turkeys are killed each year for their flesh, with approximately 45 million of them being killed for Thanksgiving dinner alone. Unlike their wild cousins, domesticated turkeys cannot fly. Not just because they are so highly confined that they cannot spread their wings, but because their genes have been so heavily manipulated that the rate of growth of their bones and organs cannot keep up with the rate of growth of their flesh (for which they area raised), resulting in an inability to walk, let alone fly.

As an ethical vegan, what perplexes me is that during the very same Thanksgiving meal in which 45 million turkeys are eaten, millions of people are gathered around dining room tables sharing that for which they are grateful, yet not acknowledging that these turkeys have lost their lives so they (the people) can celebrate their thankfulness. If it was not so tragic for the turkeys it would be entertaining.

The tradition of Thanksgiving eludes me because my experience has been that most people do not know what this Holiday is really about other than a wonderful time to be with family and friends that they might not otherwise have the opportunity to see. There is however, great emphasis on the food that is eaten because it is “traditional” and it is thought that this is what the Pilgrims and Indians ate on that day back in 1621. But…if one scours the resources on the origins of Thanksgiving, one will find that what we are “traditionally” eating today was not necessarily on the “menu” in 1621. What is said to have been on “their” table was whatever they had harvested that particular year at that particular time. No pumpkin pie, no sugar-laden desserts, and much more than turkey and stuffing.

The origins of Thanksgiving seem to elude many as the history is a bit complicated and unclear. Religion, harvest, fasting, feasting, Pilgrims, Indians, Plymouth Rock, New England; John Hancock, Continental Congress, and more are all mentioned when one researches the origins of this Holiday. I do not claim to be expert on this issue, quite the contrary. I am unclear about the origins of the day itself and the menu. I have seen it documented that Betty Crocker actually created the modern day Thanksgiving Dinner. So what is one to really make of this Holiday and its meal?

The reason I mention these things is because I find it disturbing that this Holiday has such ambiguous origins and that the majority of the people who celebrate this Holiday rarely ever acknowledge these origins, YET, they are deeply committed to eating so many foods that involve so much animal suffering.

If we are going to ultimately overshadow the (ambiguous) roots of a Holiday and adhere to a menu that seems to be somewhat randomly selected, need we involve so much animal suffering?

In a time when many are priding the human race as evolving spiritually and consciously, must we continue to clench to this tradition? There comes a time when tradition, ambiguous or unequivocal, cannot justify certain practices. Raising 45 million turkeys, who have interests and desires of their own, simply to kill them so that their flesh can be a part of our celebration meal is one tradition whose time ought to expire.

May one day the splendor of the turkey again be seen in her eyes as she scratches the forest floor for acorns and nuts in the fall; as she lines her nest with leaves and grasses; and as she makes her gobbling calls “cluk, cluk, cut, putt…cluk, cluk, cut, putt…cluk, cluk, cut, putt”.

I am convinced we can do better. Are you? Please share how you are leaving animals off your Thanksgiving plate.

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.

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.

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.

What Happens When Elephants Leave the Ring?

Elephant with Raised Trunk

You may have heard that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey will be phasing out the use of elephants in the circus. With the announcement comes a host of questions entangled with this victory. The most immediate might be, “Why are they waiting until 2018?” or “Why only elephants?” Has there been more public outcry for elephants than there has been for other animals used in the circus? Do we believe that elephants have characteristics that other “circus” animals do not? Does this therefore justify subjecting the others to continued cruelty in circuses? Is it just a matter of time before other animals will be phased out?

These questions have yet to be answered, and they shine a light on an underlying question of Claim Humane: Can humans reach full consciousness if we continue to use animals as utility or resource?

This question suggests that by using animals as such we are engaging in unethical behavior. For argument’s sake, let’s assume it is unethical to use animals in circuses. If, in the future, we choose to stop using them in circuses, we must consider the impact this will have on the humans involved in circuses and on the circus goers.

Impact on Circus Employees

For some circus employees, a loss of work is inevitable. This begs the question, “Can drawing revenue from an activity justify participating in it?” We only have to look at the historical arc of slavery to understand that a great majority of people do not believe so. By ending slavery (as an acceptable practice) we aligned ourselves with a kinder and gentler way of being, a way that had potential to guide us towards greater compassion and consciousness.

A next logical question is how to tend to the financial needs of those who will lose their jobs. We tend to operate under the assumption that ending a practice/industry inherently means stagnation in the economy. It can, but it does not have to. We can be, and historically have been, creative in inventing new industries or redesigning existing ones. Regarding circuses, this has already begun. Consider Cirque De Soleil, a highly successful circus that uses only the amazing feats of willing humans.

Impact on Circus Goers

The ways to entertain oneself are endless, so it seems that any significant impact is self-induced. Parents often object when confronted with not bringing their children to circuses that use animals. They question if it’s fair for children to not see animals in the circus.

This begs the question, “How selfish are our entertainment habits?” A great number of circus animals are captured from the wild, often witnessing the killing of their mother. They are then repeatedly beaten and deprived of food and water in order to break their spirits so that they’ll then perform unnatural, and often dangerous, acts. (For example, elephants’ trunks are not designed to bear the weight of their bodies in a headstand).

If we are aware of this and continue to support animal-based circuses, what does that say about our level of compassion?

Impact on Society

We must also consider what we are teaching (children in particular) when we enslave and brutalize animals to perform for us. One thing we are teaching is that dominance and brutality are acceptable and worthy of perpetuating. When this mentality is overlaid onto ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­other social structures, we run the risk of this becoming a social norm. Desensitization occurs, and we are more likely to accept treating all beings with great disregard.

A final consideration is this: If we remove animals from the circus altogether, are we not losing cultural and traditional practices? The short answer is yes. And the question that this begs is how can cultural and traditional practices justify cruelty?

I’d love to know your thoughts on these questions and on the recent news of phasing out elephants from major circus shows.

 

What’s Love Got to Do with It?

Cow With Young GirlDuring this season of love, let’s take time to consider what love means in relation to the food we eat. Recently, I was a guest on Food Freedom Radio’s Valentine’s Day show to talk about All Things Love and Food. When co-hosts Karen Olson Johnson and Laura Hedlund invited me into this conversation, my first thoughts were, “How does what and who we eat fit into our notion of love? What and who do we consider to be food? And what or who is the recipient of this love?”

What is food?

When I first became vegetarian I no longer viewed animals as food. I viewed them as individuals who have the right to live their lives according to their own will, just as humans do. I still hold this perspective today, but now, as a vegan, I question if animal products are actually food. After all, as humans we’ve had to domesticate and enslave animals to retrieve these products with any regularity.

A lack of love in our current food system

I’ve come to believe that love cannot be present in the practices required to bring animals and their products to our plates. Love is defined as a strong feeling of affection and concern toward another, and I do not believe that affection and concern are ultimately extended to the animals who end up on our plates.

Love is particularly absent when the animals are raised in Factory Farms (or CFO’s, Confined Facility Operations). But what about smaller-scale farms that are purported to be humane and sustainable? Aren’t those animals treated well? That depends on how one defines “treated well.” These farms, too, are part of a bottom-line driven industry in which animals are considered a commodity.

In my 35-plus years of animal advocacy and my 4 years of schooling in animal agriculture, I have come to realize this: the moment an animal becomes a commodity is the moment their well-being is severely compromised. Animal well-being is not of primary interest or concern to the business, thus giving rise to the Humane Farming Myth.

You might be wondering, “What about really small-scale and backyard farming? Aren’t those animals loved and well-cared for?” Again this depends on how one defines “loved” and “well-cared for.” Admittedly, I have seen some really small-scale farms (OK, one) in which the turkeys and chickens have a pretty good life. But the operative phrase here is “pretty good.” During incubation the chickens are abruptly interrupted when their eggs are confiscated for human consumption. Once a chicken stops laying eggs at a rate that financially warrants keeping her alive, she is slaughtered.

The effects of animal products as food

Consumption of eggs and milk is often justified because animals are not (directly) killed for those products. This is true. However, layers and dairy cows (particularly those in Factory Farming) are kept in unfavorable conditions for a longer duration than animals raised for meat.

Their mothering instincts are repeatedly thwarted as their young are consistently taken from them for our own consumption. We steal what was intended for them: eggs that naturally grow into an animal, and milk that is designed to put hundreds of pounds on a calf in a few months. In other words, these “products” were never intended for humans; thus my reservation to consider them a human food.

What is our role? What do we want it to be?

For a moment, let’s assume it is possible to give a farmed animal an “ideal” life before he or she is killed for our consumption. There is one more question to consider. One that lies at the heart of Claim Humane’s inquiry into whether humans can reach full consciousness if we continue to use animals as utility and resource:

What does it mean for us to bring forth the life of a sentient being (let alone billions) and then take this very life for the sole purpose of satisfying a desire?

To bring forth a life is a phenomenal responsibility; to end it is an even greater one. What are we doing on an evolutionary scale with this practice? How might this impact the conscious evolution of our own species?

I do not have the answers. I only have more questions and the clarity in my belief that this is not an expression of love. I invite you to explore this issue further and ask your own “next questions.”

What is Claim Humane anyway?

Contemplative OrangutangLast month I talked about some of the kind things we can do for animals in the winter months; things that we can also do year round.  This month, in order to set the groundwork for future musings, I talk about what Claim Humane, Reinventing Our Relationship with Animals (an inquiry into no longer using animals as utility or resource) is, why I think it is an important conversation and how we can set ourselves up to be receptive to and engaged in it.

I believe that how we are treating animals today is an outrage and is an offense to creation.  I believe that in today’s modern world we do not need to use animals in order to thrive, let alone exist, and so I view our current use of them as an act of unreserved want or greed.  From downed farm animals to eye-irritancy tests to rodeos to trolling the oceans…we are treating animals as if they are non-living beings.  I believe that we have infringed upon animals so severely and for so long that it is time to leave them alone.  Our duty now is to restore what we have taken from them.

The reason I became an animal advocate (in the early 1980’s) is because I found how we perceive and treat animals to be exceedingly prejudiced.  Once I became involved with organizations whose missions are to propel humanity forward I started to wonder if we humans could reach our full potential, our full consciousness, if we are to continue to use animal as utility and resource.

For many of us this is an entirely new conversation.  It is far-reaching and it will take time to fully grasp the concept and the need for it.  In order for this conversation to move forward we need to allow ourselves to constructively “be with” what is confronting, what is inconvenient, what is uncomfortable.  We need to allow ourselves the space to grapple with our unexamined assumptions.  We need to be transparent about our fears of losing what we have come to love and on which we depend.

When we look at what lies behind what we find to be confronting, inconvenient, and uncomfortable, when we fully realize the impact these practices ACTUALLY have on animals it is very easy for us to move into shame, blame and guilt.  This will undoubtedly prove to be futile and so what there is to do is to create new questions that are inspiring; questions that boldly explore how we might creatively evolve towards no longer using animals as utility and resource.

So how do we do this?   How do we reinvent our relationships with animals?  How do we move forward with such a massive undertaking?  With great intention, unsurpassed ingenuity and boundless compassion!

These new questions that we are asking (as individuals, as communities, as states, as nations, and as a species) are bound to be difficult ones.  And in asking these difficult questions it will benefit us to do what Rainer Marie Rilke suggested to a young poet who had questions about “being in life”: “…I would like to beg you…as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language.  Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them.  And the point is to live everything.  Live the questions now.  Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

I think we can use this notion of “loving the questions themselves and living the questions now” to support us in “being with” the harsh realities of how we currently view and use animals.  If we fully allow ourselves to “be with” the pain and suffering that we have subjected animals to, we would end up in a puddle of bloody tears – not an effective state-of-being for implementing transformation.  AND – we need to touch upon this pain and allow it to be the seed of inspiration for this transformation.

One thing we can do to help us constructively “live these questions, love these questions” is to recognize that because each one of us was born into these current-day beliefs, paradigms and practices we, as individuals, are not responsible for the history behind the rise of these.  AND in “living the questions and loving the questions” we can recognize, embrace and be inspired by the fact the each one of us, through actions both small and large, can profoundly influence how we move forward in transforming our relationship with animals.

As we come to realize how the paradigms we are currently living in no longer align with our values we can begin making commitments and significant changes in our day-to-day lives so that we no longer contribute to these practices.  Conceptually this is easy.  Logistically, not so easy – because our global infrastructure is not prepared to make such a shift.  Nor are the minds of the majority of human’s. However, if we believe in unlimited human potential, then nothing is impossible.  After all, we created the world we live in and we have the ability to re-create it.  We (as individuals and as a species) are the ones who limit ourselves.  We are the ones who set the confines in which we live.  We can break through these if we commit our intentions, our hearts and our resources to this.

How long will this take?  As long as we, as a species, decide it will take.

If we embrace our excitement about the prospects of living in a world based on an entirely new paradigm that day, [far in the future that we live our way into the answer] just might be closer than we can now imagine.

This is the essence of Claim Humane: Reinventing Our Relationship with Animals.  This conversation can take place in facilitated circles, at home, on the streets, at parties, while waiting in line at stores, virtually anywhere your voice can be heard.

Winter Compassion for the Animals

Winter Animal MenagerieAs we all know winter can be beautiful and restorative to animals and the earth. We also know it can make tough times even tougher. With the Holidays upon us many folks are generously donating to causes that are important to them. We can include in this generosity those organizations that advocate for animals. Three local organizations worthy of such a gift are The Animal Rights Coalition, Chicken Run Rescue and Compassionate Action for Animals 

3 ways to be kind to animals this winter and beyond!

1) Consider who is behind your warmth and fashion. There is a tremendous amount of pain and injustice involved in turning animals and their products into our clothing. Whether for warmth or fashion there are many humane choices we can make. Please consider abstaining from buying animal products this Holiday Season. You just might find some new products that delight you. Check out Ethique Nouveau for clothing and accessories. The animals will thank you.
2) Be mindful of what you eat. As we have recently passed one Holiday and we glide into others it weighs heavy on my mind and heart that approximately 45 million turkeys were killed for this holiday alone. Most people say they eat turkeys for Thanksgiving because of tradition. As history has shown us, not all traditions are worthy of keeping.
I feel safe saying that nearly 99 of all turkeys and other farmed animals are raised in unfathomably cruel conditions. I would call the images astounding if they were not so heart breaking.
As more and more people move away from animal products many are enjoying plant based meats and cheeses. For some this is what helps them transition into plant-based eating. Others aren’t so fond of processed foods and so they tend to eat predominantly whole, unrefined foods. Whatever your preference, here is a great resource to give you a jump start.

Leaving animals and their products off your plates is one of the kindest things you can do for them.

3) Don’t use or support the use of animals for entertainment. As is the case in all industries that utilize animals, the animal-entertainment industry is replete with great injustice and pain for the animals involved. Whether in the movies, circus or zoos, be it a great ape, a dog or an elephant these animal lead lives of great isolation and misery. And it is never their choice to be a part of the industry.

Each of us, in our own amazing humanness, with our great potential for compassion, can take one small step that leads to another and another; steps that will eventually lead to a life of compassion and equity for all.