Optimistic Vegan

No Mercy: Calf Farm Cruelty Exposed
April 27, 2011, 9:33 pm
Filed under: Animal Rights, Films, Law | Tags: , ,

I was just wasting some time on Facebook when I saw a post by Bold Native encouraging people to write to Youtube about a video they recently removed for violating its Terms of Service. Curious, I followed the link and subsequent links to the terms of service. Turns out they don’t allow videos that are “shocking and disgusting.”

It says: “For instance, including a clip from a slaughter house in a video on factory farming may be appropriate. However, stringing together unrelated and gruesome clips of animals being slaughtered in a video may be considered gratuitous if its purpose is to shock rather than illustrate.” I can understand this even if I don’t fully agree with it. Youtube is a company and they do have to decide how they want to be represented, but I would hope they would want to been seen as a company that supports free speech.

Anyway, I was wary of what the video was, expecting it to be a video with just a bunch of unrelated cruelty clips (because in the terms of service that is why they will remove videos). It took me a while to find it because other video services also removed it. I finally found it and prepared myself to watch it. It was atrocious. It was one of the most horrific videos I’ve seen yet (and I’ve seen a fair share) but I made it through the entire thing. However, it wasn’t a string of unrelated clips and it brought it back full circle with “go vegan” etc.

Apparently a full spectrum of people have commented on the video, including dairy industry reps. They talked about how they don’t support the cruelty seen here and they hope appropriate action is taken against this farmer, etc. While this all seems great (yay! Vegans and dairy industry reps unite!) I’m not convinced they’re concerned about their animals’ welfare. I think they’re nervous that their image will be tainted and the public might have crazy ideas and think that some of them might also have similar practices.

I don’t doubt that this video was released at a critical time when free speech is being challenged in states like Iowa, Minnesota and Florida with laws that would make undercover farm videos illegal. When we had a skype Q&A with Bold Native director Denis Henry Hennelly he said that while the laws are scary and we should be alarmed, that others that aren’t vegan or animal rights activists are also alarmed. Free speech is free speech and when you start encroaching on it anywhere it makes people nervous. So perhaps trying to hide this video is related to trying to make these videos illegal. It was one of these undercover videos that ultimately made me decide to go vegan and without them we’re just covering up the dirty secrets in our country.

So: I think Youtube is in the wrong. It does not seem to be composed of unrelated clips, and while shocking, it should be known. It should be shocking, but it’s better than left in the dark.


Aww! This baby cow picture was taken by Rodd Dierker. I love the ears on this cow!


Bob Parson’s Elephant Hunt
April 1, 2011, 9:28 am
Filed under: Animal Rights, Celebrities, Travel | Tags: , , , ,

I’m sure some of you have seen the video that Bob Parson, CEO of GoDaddy.com, has posted on his website depicting a hunt of “problem elephant.” According to Parson, Zimbabwe has an elephant overpopulation problem and they’re trampling farmers’ crops. The only way to solve this problem is to kill them.

This could potentially be a tricky situation. The people of Zimbabwe need to eat, and the elephants shouldn’t be allowed to trample their only source of food, but I’m not sure killing them is a good solution to the problem. If it were just the residents that were killing elephants to protect their food source, and due to a lack of resources they couldn’t do something like build an electrical fence then I think we would have more sympathy. The problem that I see is that a wealthy American is doing this “great” service for them by killing their little infestation problem. If he has enough money to take time out of his life and fly to Zimbabwe to go on a killing spree, then I’m willing to bet he has enough to responsibly solve the problem more humanely.

Another thing that really bothers me about Parson is that he thinks he’s doing such a great thing. He talks about how impoverished the people of Zimbabwe are and how dependent they are on him and his rifle. Without him, these people would starve! If he actually cared about them, he would help solve the problem in a way that solves it long-term, by providing the resources to build a fence or by providing them with food. All he actually cares about is the opportunity to kill an elephant, which is illegal most everywhere else.

Finally, he turned his video into just another commercial for his business. At the end he zooms in on a GoDaddy.com hat that one of the Zimbabwe residents is wearing. In an interview he says that he always “grab[s] whatever I have in swag and give to these guys, because they have nothing.” Really? You’re such a humanitarian. If you actually cared, bring some fresh food and water next time.


Baby elephant!

Oprah’s Vegan Challenge
February 4, 2011, 12:20 pm
Filed under: Animal Rights, Celebrities, Food, Lifestyle | Tags: , , , ,

For those of you who missed it, Oprah had a show described her challenge of going vegan for 1 week, including 378 of her staff members. How exciting is this?! I’m sure that Oprah’s influence will help change the image that vegetarian/vegan diets currently have. I haven’t watched the entire episode, but there are some segments available online.


I don’t know if you’ve heard about it, but in 1998 a group of Texan beef producers filed a lawsuit against Oprah after she had a show that talked about BSE (mad-cow disease). After hearing about the dangers of it, she said, “I’ll never eat hamburger again.” Apparently this comment affected a lot of viewers and sales of meat products decreased. This group of Texan beef producers didn’t want Oprah saying anything bad about their products, so they sued her. Even though Oprah won (thank goodness, ever heard of the freedom of speech?) I think it scared her from talking about it any more. (Lawsuits take time and money!) So when I heard she was doing this vegan week I couldn’t believe it.

If her comment about hamburger can have such an influence, what do you think something like this can do? I don’t think all of those staffers are going to go vegan, nor do I think Oprah’s fans are. Although I do think that the seeds have been planted. This was a very positive picture of veganism, and I think that this was a great introduction to a lot of people, especially to those who’ve never heard the term before.

I’d like to point out a few things that were talked about on the show. Michael Pollan was one of the guest speakers, who I have a love/hate relationship with. On the one hand, he does raise a lot of awareness and advocate for more conscious eaters, but I think he could be a little more optimistic. One of the things he said was (I’m paraphrasing) that this vegan challenge is a moral challenge, an ethical challenge, a challenge to tradition and that it could be viewed as an insult to your mother. I could say a lot about this, but the part where he said it was an insult to your mother I couldn’t handle it. I think he views veganism as giving up “great food” and saying no to a way of life. While this is true, you’re also giving up your support for the unnecessary suffering of animals, the environment, etc. Your mother should be proud that you’ve seen this connection and you’re willing to change your way of life to align with your values (I’m just assuming compassion and a rejection of cruelty are some of your values). He is seen as an authority figure for vegetarianism for those who don’t know about it and I think he could be using his influence in a more positive way. But anyway…He did talk about how 75% of our health care spending is linked to diet. This needs to change. AND he said that you shouldn’t eat meat if you aren’t willing to look at how it’s produced. I think this is a great idea. He knows how it’s produced but still eats it a couple times a week (but not from feed lots or industrial factory farms).

Last thing, sorry this has gotten so long! They got a chance to get into Cargill, the largest beef processor in North America (after being turned down by 20 others). Obviously I don’t know, but I suspect that they made sure everything was clean and smooth so they could get a better image for all of Oprah’s fans. But it was good for people to see nonetheless. At one point the investigator asked her “tour guide” what she would say if animal activists told her they didn’t support the consumption of animals. She  said that she would respect their opinion, but that they value the dignity of animals and that it’s the natural order to eat them. OKAY. I’m sorry, but I’m not sure how dignified it is to treat every animal like a piece of machinery, from birth to death. I missed that part somehow. And I’m not sure which part of it is “natural” either. Well then.

Well, if you’re reading this, you got through that whole thing! Thanks! And you should check out the vegan show. And you should become a conscious eater. And make me vegan brownies.

I’ll give you a picture of Oprah AND a cute animal, how’s that?


A Change of Opinion: Is it Unnatural to Eat Animals?
February 3, 2011, 9:28 pm
Filed under: Animal Rights, Lifestyle, Personal | Tags: , , ,

After some recent conversations about whether or not it is “natural” to eat meat, I have revised my stance on this topic. In passing one day, one of my friends said that one of the things that bothered them being vegan is that it is “unnatural.” We decided to postpone the rest of our conversation, which gave me a chance to think about it. I then talked to my dad about it (also vegan) and told him how easy I thought it was to dispute that. How could factory farming and drinking milk intended for baby cows be considered more natural than fruits and vegetables?

The conclusion I’ve come to is that, as much as I hate to admit it, there is nothing wrong with consuming animals for food. However, the way that we are currently consuming them is wrong. Like my dad pointed out, humans have been eating animals as soon as we could catch them. He used the term of opportunistic carnivore, and I think this is accurate. We would rely on plants and things we could gather, but when an animal came around, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity of an energy-rich meal. We didn’t used to subject animals to the cruel practices of factory farming and industrial slaughterhouses, we put them to their death as natural as another animal consumes another.

That being said, the way that we are eating animals today is nothing like that. The way we get our meat now is about as unnatural as you can get: treating animals like machines, hooking them up to machines, caring more about the end product than the animals’ dignity, and putting them through unnecessary pain.

This is a big change in the way I look at things. Instead of advocating for a world where no animals are eaten, I will instead advocate to limit our intake to avoid excessiveness and go towards a more sophisticated, more dignified, and more conscious food system.

Even though I have modified this way of looking at things, I think the best way to achieve the ideal food system where animals are spared suffering and a loss of dignity is to speak with our wallets. I will not support any food industry (factory farms, industrial slaughterhouses, etc.) by giving them my dollars.

So there you go! (For the record, I’m still a vegan and probably always will be.)


This is a Duiker. Isn’t he adorable?

All About Wool
November 23, 2010, 10:29 am
Filed under: Animal Rights | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Recently wool has come up in conversation a few times and I think that it needs to be discussed.

On the surface, wool seems like it would be a humane product. Unlike obtaining leather from cows, it’s not necessary to kill sheep to take their wool. However, taking wool from sheep is an industry and because it’s an industry we can guess that the sheep’s well-being isn’t taken into account. As you can imagine, for mass production and efficiency, there are huge numbers of sheep on a farm and managing these numbers and keeping them all healthy is near impossible.

Like other furry animals, sheep build up their wool to keep warm during the winter and they shed it to keep cool in the summer. However, if they shed their fur it would be much more difficult to harvest it for our use, so they are sheared before they would normally shed. For the sheep this means that their bodies are left unguarded against the elements and many die from exposure.

80% of the world’s wool comes from Australia, which means that the majority of the wool products in the US originate here. So when I talk about the wool industry, I’m predominantly talking about Australian sheep, but it’s important to remember that is the industry that Americans support.

The most common type of sheep to raise for its wool is merino. Merino sheep (which have been cross bred to produce massive amounts of wool) are popular to raise for wool because they have wrinkled skin. More skin means more surface area, which means more wool. While this may sound ingenious, the folded skin traps water and starts to smell. The odor attracts flies, which lay eggs and the maggots then eat the sheep alive. This is called “fly strike” or “blow flies.” The industry’s solution for this is called “mulesing.” Mulesing is where the skin on the back half of the sheep is cut off, without the use of painkillers (not cost efficient!). When the skin grows back it will be tight and scarred, so the wool will grow on unwrinkled skin. This mostly prevents blowflies, but at what cost? There must be a better solution. Blowflies are prevented on the back half of the sheep, but can still affect them on their top half. Mulesing is usually done when the sheep are still babies, and their tails are also cut off, they’re branded, and the males are castrated. P1010522

Notice the long tail on this sheep! This sheep was at Farm Sanctuary.

Historically all sheep would shed their wool in the summer and build it up for the winter. However, sheep have now been bred to not shed their wool and unfortunately are now dependent on shearing. Although sheep must be sheared, in no way is it for their benefit or well-being. Shearers are paid by volume, not by the amount of sheep they shear, so they go extremely fast without much regard to the sheep. As you can imagine, the sheep are often cut by the shears which also often result in infection.

Once they are too sick to carry on, they are shipped to a slaughterhouse. The word shipped is actually quite literal because they are usually shipped from Australia to the middle east/Africa. (You may have heard of the Cormo Express. In 2003 it was refused by a port, and it was at sea for much longer than planned. The sheep were confined for much longer that what anyone would consider humane.) They are usually slaughtered after around 4-5 years (rather than the 15-20 years they would normally live).

I’m sure there are humane ways to “harvest” sheep wool, especially because most modern breeds need to be sheared. However, because most wool comes from huge production plants, do not believe that the sheep are treated humanely.


A happy sheep at Farm Sanctuary!


Note: Thank you to Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, as much of this information came from her podcast entitled “The Shearing of Sheep”.

Every Bit Goes a Long Way

Something I’m sure many of you have seen is the picture of a cow and a list of all of things we use her for with the tagline “There is no such thing as a vegan.” You may have seen the blog post that I put on my facebook wall (I didn’t write it, but it’s another that responded to the illustration). When I first saw the illustration I was a little upset, but there has been a lot of interesting response to it that I think it was a cool thing for people to see.

Oftentimes those who aren’t vegan try to find “flaws” with those who choose a vegan lifestyle or they’ll try to “catch” them being non vegan. I think that if they can prove that the vegan isn’t actually vegan then it justifies their choice to use animal products. Because if it’s impossible to be a vegan, then why bother changing your lifestyle? Something that Colleen Patrick-Goudreau often says in response to things like this is, “Don’t do anything because you can’t do everything. Do something.” I love this. Just because it might be impossible to be a complete vegan doesn’t mean I should disregard what I think is right. I try the best that I can to live my life as true to myself and that’s all I can ask of anyone else.

Something vegans hear a lot is that it would be impossible to go vegetarian because it’s too hard to give up chicken, or it’s too hard to go vegan because it’s too hard to give up cheese. So why don’t you give up everything but chicken? Or make the steps toward a vegan lifestyle by giving up everything but cheese? I think that in society today there is such an emphasis on labels that people don’t want to explain that they are almost vegan, with the exception of cheese. Anything you give up helps, and somewhere down the line someone is appreciating it!

Bold Native

Hello world!

It’s been a while. I am here, at the Let Live Conference and I’m really excited to have the opportunity to be around so many like-minded people. This conference (which I’ve never been to!) works to give animal rights advocates the skills to become animal activists. It’s this weekend, Saturday and Sunday but I got confused and thought it started tomorrow, (oops!) so we’re a day early.

However, I wouldn’t have had the unique opportunity to see the film, Bold Native. This is a movie (not a documentary) about an animal liberator, Charlie, and what lengths he goes to, and what dangerous situations he puts himself in to give animals a better home. It describes the different ideas floating around the animal rights community, and the different kinds of people that commit themselves.

It was a very refreshing film, and honestly quite terrifying. While looking through the agenda for this conference there are many speakers prepared to talk about security and how to avoid jail time; all of which I passed for other, safer talks. This movie cemented the unnecessary dangers that animal liberators go through, and the real threat that is jail time. For saving cramped chickens and fearful calves, (and for destroying factory farming property) Charlie is faced with a life sentence. (It’s also easier to feel sympathetic towards Charlie as he is quite attractive! Ha.)

I’m so glad we got here a day early and that we were able to see this film in a theatre. I didn’t feel embarrassed or ashamed for crying—instead I felt comforted by my neighbors who are the most active animal advocates I’ve ever met. At the end of the film the applause was unanimous and lasted for quite a while—no one wanted it to end. In that moment there was an unspoken feeling of gratitude for bringing us all together and reopening these ideas but also a feeling of sadness for the reason that we all had to come.

This conference is one of the stops on the tour of Bold Native, and because of this the directors, one of the producers and a couple of the actors came along with it. This secured the togetherness of the crowd, of the “choir.” (Not to mention how cool it was to see Charlie—Joaquin Pastor—in real life! AH!)

The next stop of Bold Native happens to be in Seattle, as part of the Northwest Film Forum, so you should all go and see it. (And maybe Joaquin will be there)

ALSO. You should vote for Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s video to be put on Oprah’s network!