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For many people, compassion for animals is at the heart of their decision to embrace the vegan lifestyle. Accordingly, veganism discourages the use or support of any food, clothing item, consumer good or activity that harms, exploits, imprisons or kills any animal. Let's delve a little deeper...

At first glance, veganism and its suggested "restrictions" might seem like a very rigid, or even fanatical, creed to live by. But when you really begin to go behind the curtain and learn exactly what's happening to the animals in a variety of contexts, you gain new insights into the unbelievable atrocities to which they are subjected. These often lead to new convictions about what role you will play - or actually, no longer play - in the perpetuation of these atrocities. These insights also serve as sobering reminders to us that these animals have a right to live in this world, freely and peacefully, just like you and I.

Here's what we'll be covering in this For the Animals section (Click on the Go link to skip ahead to that particular topic.):

1. All animals are created equal! Go
2. The Ethics of it all: How does the animal really get to your plate? Go
3. What happens to chickens? Go
4. What happens to pigs? Go
5. What happens to "beef" cows? Go
6. What happens to "dairy" cows? Go
7. What happens to "veal" calves? Go
8. What about animal-based clothing like fur, leather, wool, down and silk? Go
9. What's wrong with honey?
10. What about circuses, rodeos, zoos and marine parks? Go
11. A word about vivisection (animal testing) Go
12. It's up to you, and you alone... Go

All animals are created equal!

There are a number of glaring inconsistencies in our society with regard to the treatment of animals. For example, most pet owners are extremely compassionate towards their dogs or cats, treating them at least as well as members of the family, fussing over them, going to the earth's end for their comfort, etc. And if anyone saw or heard about someone treating a "domesticated" animal such as that so cruelly...forget about it. They would all but form a lynch mob to defend the helpless animal, right? (...and rightfully so.)


"Malcolm" - rescued by Farm Sanctuary

Yet, the proverbial blind eye is cast toward other "non-domesticated" animals like cows, chickens and pigs. These animals feel pain, isolation and sorrow just like an exploited dog or cat would, but because they have been earmarked by society as "animals we're supposed to eat," no one seems to care about the animal's well-being, let alone how he or she got to your plate. Why is this? Why is a dog held with higher regard than a pig? Because he's smarter than a pig? Because he makes a better pet than a pig? Because he's "cuter" than a pig?

Well, besides the fact that all three of these points are very subjective, what I'm suggesting here is that we have no right to impose our own "animal hierarchy" on the creatures of the earth, any more than we have the right to say that one human being is more expendable than another. The truth is, there is very little difference in how a dog or cat feels pain and expresses affection, versus how a cow or a pig does. The only difference is how we elect to feel about them.

But even "how we elect to feel about them" should be irrelevant. I believe we are at a point in our evolution where we must unconditionally extend an across-the-board, right-to-life policy to all living creatures. Any reasonably evolved person would respect another human's right to live, even if we didn't happen to like them on a personal level or agree with their politics, morals or lifestyle. In fact, at least as a collective society, it's safe to say that we have finally evolved beyond the genocidal mentality of going around and "eliminating" those who don't share our eye or skin color, or who operate from an entirely different belief system than we did. So why would we implement this genocidal mentality on animals, just because WE happened to find certain ones expendable?

"The greatness of a nation can be judged
by the way its animals are treated."


The Ethics of it all: How does the animal really get to your plate?

Nobody likes to talk about this one, but it doesn't make it any less of a reality. For a dead animal to be on your plate, it means that it had to be killed. Let's be clear about this. It did not die of old age or "natural causes." It did not voluntarily donate its life for the betterment and supposed nourishment of humanity. It was consciously, systematically executed, and this likely happened one of two ways:

1) The animal was killed "out in the wild" by a hunter (or fisherman).
2) The animal was brought up in a horrifying factory farm or (supposedly "more humane") free-range environment, then killed.

Now to me, these are all tragic scenarios because an animal's life was needlessly taken. But...

What about free-range "products" or hunting and fishing?

Some folks view hunting, fishing or the free-range procedure to be the more compassionate choice because the animal wasn't confined to the brutal world of factory farming prior to his or her execution. But if we could borrow another shameful page from our history and look at slavery for a moment, I would ask that you consider this parallel;

On many plantations, you generally had "field" slaves and "house" slaves. The field slaves, as the distinction implies, typically worked out in the field under extremely dire conditions. The house slaves usually lived in the "master's" house where the conditions were, comparatively speaking, much easier. When we finally woke up and decreed slavery as the despicable, dehumanizing practice that it is, it was flatly abolished, and there were no further distinctions made between the house slaves or field slaves. There was no justifying the house slave's lot in life as easier, so there were no special concessions that declared "you can't have field slaves, but house slaves are okay because they don't have it so bad." No. Slavery, as a concept in general - in any capacity - was thrown out with the trash because it was no longer congruent with where we were heading as a more evolved society. And likewise, I suggest that killing or exploiting an animal - in any capacity - be it factory farming, free-range, hunting or fishing should be abandoned because IT is no longer congruent with where we're headed.

And as for the rationale that free-range is the more compassionate way to get your eggs and milk, I would ask that you consider the following harsh jolts of reality:

1. There are very broad regulations as to what officially qualifies an operation as "free-range" and, I assure you, it is seldom as "free" as you might think.

2. There are no regulations as to how the animals are treated, and there are still numerous episodes of abuse along the way (particularly in the trucking and handling end of things).

3. They are still sold off to the slaughterhouse and subjected to all of those atrocities, anyway.

Factory Farm Reality Check

These other killing methodologies aside, virtually all animal products purchased from a restaurant or store are the result of the factory farm industry. And while, as mentioned, I personally do not condone one over the other, I think it's important that everyone know exactly what this factory farm process entails. Yes, it's ugly, but please read on...

In today's factory farm environment, the brutalities that take place in the process of raising, feeding, housing, then killing these beings (cows, pigs, chickens, sea creatures, etc.), are so unbelievable that most people couldn't imagine the horrors these animals endure, let alone talk or even think about it. The days of getting these products from "Farmer Jones" and the friendly, open-air environment of his farm are long behind us, as this is a very outdated picture of what's really happening in the industry nowadays. It has clearly become a business of such massive proportion and single-minded focus that the almighty dollar has taken precedence over the concept of an even remotely-ethical treatment of animals. And having these animals roaming around the range isn't exactly how one gets the most bang for their factory farming buck.

Instead, maximum efficiency must be implemented in every step of the process to turn the biggest profits. This is a common factory farm philosophy - just ask anyone in that industry. Consequently, cattle, chickens, pigs and other factory farm animals are treated with such ill-regard, subjected to such torturous conditions, it is beyond comprehension. (It's no wonder that slaughterhouses have among the highest employee turnover rates of all businesses.)

The old saying about how a picture is worth a thousand words could be no more appropriately applicable than to the factory farming industry. I'm telling you, when you see photos or video clips revealing what goes on in this environment, you would think you were seeing outtakes from a turbocharged version of "Texas Chainsaw Massacre." These images are so indescribably gruesome, inhumane and bloody, it's hard for it not to affect most everyone. Nonetheless, it's happening, daily, hourly, even as you're reading this. And since these factory farm operations are responsible for the staggering majority of these animal products getting to our stores and restaurants, it's worth taking a closer look.

Of course, as you might imagine, to see and hear these images firsthand is most me on this one. For your eardrums to be pierced by the shrieking squeal of a pig who's moments away from being executed is agonizing to hear. To see the rich, red blood pour thick from the neck of a squirming chicken, hanging upside down on a conveyor belt, is brutal to watch. Or to look into the soft brown eyes of a terrified bull minutes before death, and then see its body systematically dismembered, all traces of his existence reduced to steaks and hamburger meat, is tragic to experience.

So, let's continue as we take a closer look at some stats, explanations and photos. And keep in mind that the events described (along with the accompanying pictures) in this section are not in any way heightened or isolated examples of what's going on out there. This is all standard for the industry, happening around the clock all over the continent. In fact, an estimated 10 billion (yes, billion) animals are killed for food every year. That's over one million per hour! I urge you to give this a few minutes of your time.

Warning: Throughout the following text, there are links to photos depicting the events described. When you click on a link, a photo will pop up for your review. Many of these images are extremely disturbing. Nonetheless...know the Truth. Know that this is what is being perpetuated each and every time you consume or purchase virtually any animal-based food or product. Look at them each once and you'll never have to look again...

What happens to chickens?

- Over nine billion chickens and 1/2 billion turkeys are born into the US factory farm system each year. The average chicken-eating US citizen consumes about 40 chickens per year; hundreds over their lifetime.

- Crammed into cages of four or more and allotted a half-a-square foot of space per bird, the typical factory farming environment is worlds away from the open spaces that chickens are accustomed to. These cages are often stacked on top of each other in poorly-ventilated, warehouse-style settings, and space is so limited that not only are the chickens unable to even spread their wings, but their toes often become painfully intertwined with the wire mesh of the cage floor.

Then, because their natural instincts are to stake out space by pecking at one another (hence the expression "pecking order"), chickens are routinely debeaked so they won't harm each other and "damage the goods." Of course, this debeaking process (which involves cutting through bone and cartilage with a hot blade) is extremely painful as no anesthetic measures are taken for it not to be.

Layers (hens whose primary function are to lay eggs) can look forward to one year of laying over 250 eggs in this environment. They can also look forward to a host of ailments and syndromes as a result of this unnatural level of egg productivity. Broilers (chickens who are raised for meat) are fed an extreme amount of hormones so they'll grow abnormally large (up to twice as big as their ancestors) and fetch a higher price at the "auction block." The genetic manipulation of these meat chickens is so extreme that, in the case of millions, the lungs and heart don't grow fast enough to support the rest of their bodies and they die before slaughter age of six weeks. In other cases, the legs are subjected to various incapacitating disorders as they have difficulty supporting their disproportionately large upper bodies. All of this is in accordance to the factory farming formula of bigger animals-in less time-for more money.

In addition to the hormones, factory farm chickens are given a variety of antibiotics to prevent the otherwise inevitable outbreak of diseases that would occur under such overcrowded conditions. And don't think that these hormones and antibiotics aren't passed along to the consumer. They are. But for some unexplainable reason, the actual toxic residue levels remain consistently under what the government would consider unsafe. Go figure...

Death - After the initial one-year egg-laying cycle is up for hens, one of three things usually happens:

1) They are pawned off to the slaughterhouse where their ravaged, brittle-boned bodies can be shredded up for use in lower grade chicken products like pot pies or pet food.

2) If hen replacement costs are especially high, they are "force molted." This is where the hens are kept in the dark without water and starved for as much as 18 days, all in an effort to shock their bodies into another egg-laying cycle.

3) They are paid a visit by the friendly animal feed people and, right there on site and while fully conscious, are thrown into a portable grinder and ground up.

On the other hand, hatchery-born male chicks are of no use to the industry because they don't lay eggs, so they are simply discarded at birth. And I mean "discarded" in the literal sense of the word; many are thrown away in trash bins and die of suffocation. Others get to become fertilizer and are ground up and dismembered while fully conscious. How many? 500,000 per day. That's right - five hundred thousand per day.

A "broiler's" demise is a bit more predictable as they are typically treated to the following multi-step experience. Trucked over to the kill plant in cages and placed upside down on a conveyor belt mechanism, the birds are first dipped into electrically charged water to stun, but not kill, them. This helps to prep them for part two of their journey, where their throats are slit with a mechanical blade. But again, this is not supposed to kill them. The idea is to keep their heart pumping so all of the blood can drain out of their neck as they continue through this unbelievably inhumane process. Finally, they hit the scalding water tank where, if they're not dead yet (and oftentimes they're not), they're submerged in boiling water, fully conscious.

Turkeys are subjected to a similar fate in today's factory farm environment. This is an especially poignant injustice, considering that Benjamin Franklin lobbied for the turkey, rather than the eagle, to be our national bird. That should give you some insight into the magnificence of this animal.

(Photo courtesy of Farm Sanctuary)

Click here for The Turkey Page: It's all about turkeys, vegan alternatives for holiday meals, and a short video you MUST see.

Nonetheless, anytime we eat anything that involves chicken, turkey or eggs, we are perpetuating these atrocities.

What happens to pigs?

Numbers - Around 100 million pigs fall prey to the slaughterhouse every year.

Life - Most people still envision pigs hangin' out and eating all day in a classic farm setting. But the traditional pig pen, even as confining as it may be, is radically different from how the factory farm pigs spend their short life. Instead of the open-air environment with plenty of mud to cool themselves off, they're stuffed into metal cages with concrete or slated floors, denied even minimal rations of hay to lie down on. The air in these places is so stifling, that the gases from the animals' urine and excrement not only cause respiratory problems among the pigs, but even among many of the factory farm employees, who may only be subjected to these gases for a few hours a day. And the resultant, powerful odor is particularly tragic for pigs, who have a notoriously acute sense of smell.

One of the most unfortunate misconceptions about pigs is that their living environment is of no consequence to them since they're filthy and disgusting animals with little going on in the way of brains. Nothing could be further from the truth. These are extremely intelligent animals that are in many ways even smarter than dogs. As such, the unspeakable living conditions of the factory farm drives them crazy...literally; so much so that these otherwise fun-loving and peaceful animals are driven to chewing on the bars of their cages and biting each other's tails off. Of course, factory farm protocol takes care of this in advance by cutting the pig's tails off through a practice called "tail docking." They also subject piglets to other painful procedures including castration and ear-notching, where notches are cut into their ears for identification purposes. As you might expect, none of these procedures involve anesthesia for the animal.

Pigs designated as "breeding sows" are groomed into a lifestyle of repeated cycles of impregnation and giving birth. They reside in small pens or metal cages and are only allowed a couple weeks of nursing their newborn before the piglets are taken away to be fattened for slaughter and they're impregnated again. Sows will usually crank out around 20 piglets a year and then, once their productivity as breeders wanes, it's their turn to go under the knife for slaughter.

Death - About 15% of the piglets born into the factory farm system are casualties of the overcrowded, disease-rampant living conditions. (These might be the lucky ones.) Many thousands more die en route to the slaughterhouse each year, as economics apparently deem it necessary to transport as many pigs as possible at one time...even if this overcrowding kills some of them. Those that are "fortunate" enough to make it to the primo slaughter age and weight of six months and 250 pounds are subjected to a most memorable exit from the earth:

Like chickens, pigs go through a similar shock - slit - bleed - boil process as a thrifty way of both draining all of the blood from their bodies and killing them. There's usually some kind of a conveyor belt mechanism that sets up the initial electric shock portion of the process. The little critters are usually wigging out and squealing during their short ride to this first step (which, in turn, gets all of the other very sensitive and nervous pigs riled up, as well). This electric shock stuns them - so it will be easier to cut their throat - but also gets their hearts pounding so all the blood can gush out of their necks. And the throat-cutting part is often literally just that; guys with knives jamming blades into the throats of the freshly shocked and extremely disoriented pigs.

The "kill room" area where this happens is as eerie and horrifying as you might imagine, with blood spurting from the animal's necks like a mini fire hydrant, then draining into a separate holding tank where the plasma can be "maximized." The pigs are then hung upside down (if they're not already) from another conveyer belt and taken on a short ride so that all of the blood will drain out before they reach the scalding tank. And if by chance they're still kickin' when they get there, they are boiled alive.

Anytime we buy anything with pork in it - from hot dogs to bacon to pork chops - we are perpetuating these atrocities.

What happens to "beef" cows?

Numbers - About 35 million cattle are murdered for beef every year in the US...that's about 250 per hour at the average slaughterhouse.

Life - Many "beef" cows are born into life on the range, living for months or even years in difficult conditions without protection from severe weather conditions or the benefits of adequate veterinary care. Some might even die from dehydration, freezing to death, or "cancer eye," a common affliction among cattle that eats away at the cow's eye, face and, eventually, the whole side of its head. (Not exactly the vision of "Elsie the cow" that we grew up with, is it?) And this is to say nothing of the other common mistreatments these most gentle of animals are faced with, like being de-horned, castrated, burned with hot branding irons or having large chunks of hide under their necks cut away in another type of identification marking process called "waddling."

As you may have noticed, cows operate on a different wavelength than most other animals; they're used to a slower, mellower pace and lifestyle. So, you can imagine the trauma they must experience as they're hastily rounded up and paraded onto packed cattle trucks, then subjected to hundreds of miles of treacherous travel en route to the auctions or stockyards. And, of course, this travel has other consequences, as the frightened animals are often either subjected to injury as a result of their careless handling, or susceptible to shipping fever; a potentially fatal, cost-of-doing-business disease that's written off by the industry to the tune of one billion dollars a year in "losses."

The last few months of life for beef cattle are spent at crowded feedlots, in holding pens that are replete with dust, dirt, bacteria, stench and ungodly amounts of manure. (The average cow is good for about 120 pounds of excrement a day. That's roughly the same amount as two dozen people, but without the benefit of modern plumbing.) They are given hormones and specialized (yet unnatural) diets to fatten them up to maximum weight prior to auction/slaughter time. This often causes them further health-related problems.

Death - Victims of a factory farm killing procedure similar to chickens and pigs, the initial stunning portion of the process for cattle involves a mechanical blow to the head, which is supposed to render them unconscious. But, per usual, this is a tragically inaccurate science, and what you often wind up with is a terrified animal, hanging upside down in a "dry cleaner-style" assembly line, struggling to free himself, as more attempts are often made to knock them out. They are inevitably put out of their misery by a piercing jab to the throat with a knife by one of the "benevolent" slaughterhouse employees, so that they may bleed to death in peace. Finally, with a flash of a blade and the splash of their entrails, the cattle are disemboweled, then "disassembled," hooves, legs, trunk and head, with an arsenal of blood-soaked tools that might include hydraulic pincers and electric shears. All of this for artery-clogging hamburgers, steaks and cold cuts.

Anytime we buy beef or any of its byproducts, we are perpetuating these atrocities.

What happens to "dairy" cows?

Numbers - A minimum of half of the 10 million dairy cows in the US are imprisoned in the factory farm system as described below.

Life - "But what's wrong with dairy products? Those cows aren't killed or even harmed for that matter." Such is often the position of folks who attempt to justify the dairy industry as harmless. Unfortunately, this is a severely uninformed position.

The truth is, most dairy cows are victims of the same "maximize profits no matter what" mentality to which all factory farm animals are subjected. There is simply no regard or compassion extended to these gentle animals and it's tragic. First of all, they are forced to give birth every year (usually through artificial insemination) so that they will be able to crank out the steady rations of milk that are demanded from them. Once in a lactating state, extreme measures are taken to ensure that milk production is optimized, often to the tune of 100 pounds per day (which is 10 times their "normal," natural amount). This might involve several things, like injecting them with BGH (Bovine Growth Hormone) and feeding them an unnaturally rich diet to stimulate even more milk. And all of this usually takes place with the cow living in a small concrete stall (some of which have slated metal floors) and involves being hooked up to some kind of electronic milking mechanism several times per day. Naturally, these extreme mass production methodologies create adverse health problems for the cows which, naturally, are treated with various drugs which, naturally, wind up in the resultant products that are produced from their milk.

Death - And while the average cow could look forward to as many as 25 years on the planet in a healthy environment, they are "dried up" and of little use to the industry after only three or four years and are promptly slaughtered for ground beef anyway. (See description of killing procedure under "Beef Cows.") So even if you think dairy products are somehow a more compassionate alternative to beef, by supporting the dairy industry, you are inadvertently supporting the beef industry, as well...not to mention the veal industry. (See below.)

Anytime we eat anything that involves milk, cheese, yogurt, or their byproducts, we are perpetuating these atrocities.

What happens to "veal" calves?

We present the plight of veal calves here because veal production is a direct offshoot of the dairy industry. As explained in the dairy section, cows must continually be impregnated to be able to produce the kind of volume of milk demanded of them. This, of course, leads to a number of births, half of which are female, the other half male. The females are raised to replace their mothers on the "milk machines." The males, on the other hand, are raised as either beef or veal. Veal production, in particular, involves some of the most notoriously inhumane factory farming methodologies of all of them.

Numbers - About 1 million calves are forced to endure these most abominable of living conditions each year before they're killed.

- Usually within 24 to 72 hours after they're born, veal calves are taken from their mothers and corralled onto trucks where they're often sold at auctions. After severe mishandling, which might include being kicked or even dragged around by their ears or legs, the fate of the veal calf is always the same. They are raised in a small wooden crate, which is about two feet wide, and chained at the neck to severely limit all possible movement, including stretching out, turning around or even lying down comfortably. Why? To restrict virtually all movement so that they won't develop any muscle and their flesh will have that "exquisitely tender" quality that the market demands. Additionally, "milk-fed" veal calves are actually given a milk substitute that has been concocted to be deliberately deficient in iron so that they're always on the verge of anemia. This, along with the muscular atrophy that takes place from their inactivity, contributes to the "pinkish-white" flesh characteristics that's sought after by the world's veal aficionados.

As you might imagine, the mental torture that these beings experience as a result of these horrifying living conditions lead to a number of "chronic fatigue" kind of behavioral patterns like excessive kicking, scratching, chewing and shaking. This, along with some of the other inevitable physical symptoms that are a result of this extreme confinement, warrant the use of over five times the "normal" amount of drugs that "normal" factory farm calf might typically be given. And again, all of these lovely residues are passed along to the unknowing consumer.

Death - At only four months of age, these sickly, weakened animals are finally put out of their misery and executed in a similar manner as beef cows. They'll wind up in butcher shops and restaurants as the coveted "milk fed," "special fed" or even "fancy" veal. Their more fortunate counterpart, "bob" veal, comes from calves who have met their fate at the slaughterhouse without having to endure the four months of torture; these calves are killed and dismembered after only hours or days of their birth. This "bob" style is considered a lower grade source of veal and is used for lower quality products like TV dinners.

Either way, when you buy any products that contain veal, you are supporting the treacherous living conditions and brutal deaths of these innocent animals.


And again, not only are all of these factory farming descriptions and photos industry standard, but as you probe further, you'll find that this is really only the tip of the iceberg. Deeper investigations, like those of Gail Eisnitz of the Humane Farming Association (look for the link to their site in the Veggie Links section) reveal an endless barrage of specifically documented cases of animal abuse and unsanitary practices that is simply beyond belief.

With full knowledge of all of these things, there seems to be something profoundly unnatural, something that goes against the grain of our inherent compassionate essence, about having animal products in our diet. And unfortunately, no matter what our personal convictions or code of ethics may be, everytime we purchase something that contains animal products, we are, inadvertently or otherwise, contributing to the perpetuation of these injustices. You may or may not find this disturbing, but at least know and be aware of what's happening.


What about animal-based clothing like fur, leather, wool, down and silk?

One of the key distinctions of the vegan philosophy is how love and respect for animals extends to all facets of our lifestyle, including the clothes we wear. Why? Because if we want to express peace and compassion to our fellow critters of the earth, we will not want to harm or exploit them in any way, let alone support the vicious methodologies used in trapping, housing, killing and skinning these glorious animals. And have no illusions; As you'll see in a moment, even in instances where it appears as though certain animals are not killed (like geese or sheep for their down and wool), ultimately, they are. That's right, friends; In addition to the extreme levels of exploitation, pain and suffering to which these animals are subjected, they all wind up in the slaughterhouse once they have served their purpose to the clothing industry.

The good news is, in the same way that the plant kingdom supplies us with plenty of food alternatives to animal products, there are plenty of other materials available to us as an alternative to animal-based clothing. Let's take a closer look at the truth behind how many of our clothes and accessories come to be.


It's probably not much of a secret by now: The fur trade is among the most barbaric and inexcusable on the planet today. Very much like the factory farm world, it's all about the numbers, so fur-bearing animals are viewed as inconsequential commodities. The way they are raised or trapped, then ultimately executed, is undeniably sickening. Yet, our society not only continues to support the industry but, in many circles, views wearing fur as an expression of beauty and even a symbol of affluence and elite social status. It's time for a different point of view.

There are basically two ways in which animals are turned into fur coats or trim:

A) They are caught in steel traps, usually by their paws, legs or even torsos, where they suffer in excruciating pain for hours and sometimes days before the trappers show up and kill them.

B) They are raised in the filthy, cramped, abusive and torturous environment of a cage on a fur farm, so stressed out that they pace their days away until their time of execution.

The animals that are raised for fur are executed in a number of ways. Some die by being gassed and suffocated, but are still alive when they're skinned. Others die by electrocution as fur farmers will insert an electronic rod into the animal's anus or vagina and jolt them to death from the inside out (so the fur isn't harmed in the process).

And "fur" animals aren't the only victims of the steel traps. Dogs, cats, birds and other animals get caught in them by mistake and have even been known to chew their own paws off to escape.

Adorning oneself with a fur coat, or even one that has fur trim, is not only a reminder of the despicable cruelty and ill-regard inherent to the fur industry, but it's also a show of support for it. This is why we encourage everyone not to purchase or wear products with fur, or patronize those businesses who deal with fur.


Leather goods are everywhere, particularly in clothing items like jackets, shoes and other accessories like purses and wallets. And yet, leather is a direct offshoot of the factory farm industry, comprising over half of slaughterhouse cattle's byproduct revenue. Even the hides of dairy cows are eventually turned into leather goods and the skin of their "veal" calves is where calfskin comes from.

It doesn't stop there, however. Many leather goods can be an amalgam of lambs, goats, horses, sheep and pigs who have fallen prey to the slaughterhouse. Or, perhaps even more close to home, some could be comprised from Asian bred and killed dogs and cats. There is, of course, no way of regulating this, so when you buy certain leather goods, you really can't be sure what you're getting.

Even if a leather product is from a cow, it could be from the booming leather trade in India. There, the whole process is even more inhumane, as much has been documented about the atrocities that take place in Indian tanneries. Weak, sickly and oftentimes injured animals are often dragged around by ropes, or have hot substances (like tobacco or hot sauce) rubbed in their eyes to make them stand up. The killing methods are sometimes less thorough than our domestic ways, so animals are often skinned alive.

In general, it seems as though a lot of people's justification for wearing leather is that, "Hey, they had to be killed so we can eat them. We might as well maximize the animal's worth and wear his or her skin, as well." The fact is, supporting any part of the machine provides fuel for the whole. The leather industry is a viable part of the meat and dairy industry, and the meat and dairy industry profits from the leather industry. There is no way to separate the two, so if you support one, you support the other.


There are some serious misunderstandings surrounding wool. Most folks assume that, from an animal right's perspective, it's perfectly fine to wear wool for three primary reasons: 1) Sheep are not killed in the context of the wool industry, 2) Sheep are not harmed in the shearing process and, in fact, 3) we are doing sheep a service because they are more comfortable with a sheared fleece. All three of these assumptions are inaccurate.

First of all, the only reason their fleece can get so "unruly" is because the sheep are raised and bred for maximum growth. Without our interference and manipulation, their fleece would grow to just the right length to protect them from extreme temperatures. So, it's not like we are stepping in and helping out where nature has failed them.

Secondly, like every other factory farm-type of environment where speed, efficiency and output are the main objectives, the living conditions, special "protocols" and shearing methodologies that these animals are put through is reprehensible. Shearers are typically paid by production volume, not on an hourly basis. This promotes an assembly line "get 'em in, then get 'em out" sort of atmosphere where carelessness creates extremely dire conditions for the animals. But it doesn't start there. Even as lambs, they have their tails cut off, ears hole-punched and, for the males, their testicles removed, all without anesthesia. Many others either die at birth or do not last much beyond two months, due to adverse weather conditions or starvation, which are often the result of the treacherous transportation conditions many endure. These "stats" are, of course, figured into the budget.

In addition to all that these gentle animals are subjected to, one of the most appalling, yet prevalent, processes they must endure is called "mulesing." This is where large strips of skin are carved off of the back of lamb's legs to discourage the harboring of fly's eggs, which can become a problem as they are raised to produce an abnormally thick fleece.

Thirdly, once their production capability has waned, they are trucked off to slaughter anyway. So again, by supporting the clothing (wool) side of things, we are ultimately supporting the killing of these beautiful creatures.

Down and Silk

When we think of the cozy warmth of a down jacket or comforter, it's important that we understand exactly where down comes from. I wish I could tell you that the feathers which comprise down filling were gathered from the ground, randomly and naturally "shed" by flocks of passing birds. Instead, I must tell you that these soft feathers are usually plucked from live geese that are being raised for food. As you might imagine, this is a very painful and violating process for the animal, and yet they are forced to endure this process a handful of times during their life before they're slaughtered. Even when down is gathered from the nests of eider ducks, removing these feathers will often kill the unhatched ducklings.

Silk makes its way into the world in an even more brutal way: by boiling silkworms alive in their cocoons. Plus, to come up with a measly 100 grams of silk, they have to boil 1500 worms, making this an even more disheartening reality.

So I say, live and let peace. There are many animal-friendly alternatives to all of these animal-based materials. Check out What to Do for more ideas.


What's wrong with honey?

Honey is another one of those products where most people assume that there's no harm, exploitation or killing involved with its production. Folks think, "It's just like an assembly line, right? The bees make all of this honey just for us, then they even store it for us until we're ready to collect it." Again, this is a misinformed perspective.

Honey is basically glorified bee vomit. After collecting nectar and having a shot at digesting it in what's known as their "honey stomach," bees then regurgitate it back and forth to each other before fanning it with their wings to harden its consistency. Once it's in honey form, it is then stored in the hive. This storing process, by the way, is not realized without a great deal of time and effort. Bees are extremely intelligent insects that have incredibly elaborate means of conveying to each other various routes and flight patterns to find more pollen. They also have an impeccable work ethic. To produce a mere 1/2 pound of honey requires that the bees collect pollen from one million flowers and fly over 25,000 miles!

They do this, mind you, not for our benefit, but for their survival. Honey is actually what bees rely on as their exclusive form of sustenance when pollen (their main food source) or other alternatives are not available, or during the cold weather. Our marching in there and taking honey from their hive is analogous to someone marching into your home and emptying out your refrigerator. Yet, this is the process of beekeeping and honey production.

This robbery issue is, unfortunately, not the worst of it. The queen bee's wings are often clipped so she can't leave the colony. Many bees are killed (accidentally or otherwise) in the day-to-day process of bee production, or their legs or wings are torn off due to mishandling; it seems absolutely unavoidable, even with the most careful beekeepers. Bees are viewed as such an expendable commodity, in fact, that in certain instances where the beekeepers cannot financially justify sustaining them through their nonproductive winter months, they'll set their hives on fire with gasoline, or douse the trees with insecticide, killing most of them.

Anytime we use honey or products that contain honey (which, tragically, include many foods that would otherwise be vegan), we are doing our part to insure that these insidious practices continue. Yet, if we want to unconditionally express the highest level of compassion to ALL sentient creatures, this should include our beloved bees and we should "just say no" to honey and all of its derivatives, like bee pollen and royal jelly.


What about circuses, rodeos, zoos and marine parks?

The Circus

What could possibly be wrong with the circus, you might ask? I mean, what animal wouldn't want the opportunity to participate in such a prestigious show, right? Well, let me ask you this: Do you really think that a gracious and mighty animal like an elephant, who's most at home in the free wilds of Africa or Asia, enjoys being paraded around in some ridiculous outfit, "under the big top," in front of a bunch of gawking, cotton candy-eating kids? Does it seem natural for a proud and powerful animal like a tiger to be performing "doggie tricks" on top of some barrels?

And how are the elephant and other such circus animals trained to do such things, anyway? With harsh tones from a stern trainer? Try again. Most of these animals and the tricks they're forced to perform are so far out of the realm of their instinctive being, that their handlers use whips, chains, ropes, bullhooks, electrical shocking devices, baseball bats, ax handles, metal pipes, muzzles and even firearms. That's right, for the particularly unruly or threatening, a bullet or two to the head may be the inevitable solution. And all this is to say nothing of the conditions these critters are subjected to between show time. The cages, the transport, and the overall living conditions these beautiful animals are forced to endure are a far cry from the Motherland where they belong. Elephants, in particular, spend most of their lives as circus "performers" in chains. And the individual cases of animal injury and abuse - as meticulously documented by our friends at PETA - is, unfortunately, rapidly growing. Take a peek for yourself:

(Look for more links about circus cruelty in the Veggie Links section of this site.)

And remember: these are just the cases they've been able to find out about from one of the more renown circuses (Ringling Brothers). Conditions are often much worse at the smaller, less profitable ones. So let's support only those forms of amusement that do not exploit our fellow animal beings.


The Rodeo

Let's call it like it is, shall we? Rodeos are one of the more brutal and exploitative relics from our past that we're still hanging onto. It is an outdated, man vs. animal exhibition of power, control and domination, dating back to the 19th century...around the time when public hangings were still en vogue!

And I'm not trying to vilify all of its participants, any more than I would some harmless "old timers" from the deep south who have yet to be completely liberated from their subtle racial biases. It's all they know, and by the same token, I understand that the rodeo and its related activities are a huge part of a lot of folk's social infrastructure and even family tradition.

Nonetheless, the rodeo clearly represents more of where we've been as opposed to where we're going. So, as long as it continues to be a part of our world, I feel like we need to put the facts on the table and illuminate all of its cruel and archaic elements. This way, everyone has a chance to evaluate whether it's still something they want to perpetuate. For many of us, it is not.

Consider this: It is not an inherent part of a bull or horse's make-up to buck and kick wildly. Instead, there is a very calculated and ruthless process involved in getting the animal to this "showtime" state of mind. This involves bucking straps, which are painfully attached to the animal's genitals or abdominal region and promote a severe sense of urgency in the animal as he attempts to shake it off. Riders also dig into their flesh with spurs and, for further agitation, there is the handy electric prod, as well as some "good ol'" tail twisting. All of these things are designed to put the animal in a state of pain and rage...for the audience's entertainment.

And this, of course, is only one facet of the rodeo. There can be several different racing events that these animals are forced to run in, as well as "calf roping," which involves chasing a calf around on an overworked horse, slinging a lasso around his neck, then "tying him up." Are these animals ever hurt as a result? See for yourself:

And all of this is to say nothing of the overall conditions that are a part of "rodeo life" for these animals. Should we be branding and caging animals whose natural environment is the open range? It's an activity that has exceeded its relevance in the enlightened society.


The Zoo

Okay, so what about zoos? What's wrong with taking animals from all over the world, housing them in a facsimile of their home environment, and inviting the community out to see and learn about them? For starters, the problem here is that the animals have no say in this. They are either captured from their home environment or raised in an unnatural one, solely for our curiosity and entertainment. Plus, the "facsimile of their home environment" is pretty pathetic compared to where the animal is most at home. Does it seem natural to take these magnificent animals - lions, tigers, giraffes, polar bears, zebras - and put them in a small cage or isolated living environment for us to look at? For that matter, it would be hard to imagine any animal in a zoo favoring this environment over their own natural habitat.

Additionally, we often hear the rationale that zoos give us humans a chance to observe the behaviors of the animals and learn more about them. But do you really think we're seeing how these animals truly are, given how alien this environment is for them? Would people really be able to learn about how YOU truly are if you were imprisoned in such a way?

There is also something heartbreaking about forcing these animals to endure the often demeaning "vibe" of many zoo guests. Take lions, cougars or even gorillas, for example. In the zoo environment, these proud, powerful and glorious animals are forced to be put on display like cheap suits in a showcase window, and are then often subjected to the degrading jeers, commentary, mocking, fingerpointing and "funny faces" of many of the patrons (particularly children). And yet, if you were in their home environment, you would try to avoid getting within 100 feet of them because you know they could kick your ass from here to Nigeria. Even under the observation of respectful guests or even avid animal lovers, it must be a bit disconcerting for the animal to completely forego any sense of privacy or space and always feel these eyeballs on them...without being able to do anything about it. (Can you imagine that?) This whole thing is unjust and disrespectful to these majestic beings, so I propose that we avoid supporting or patronizing any and all forms of zoo "prisons."

Now, this is not an indictment against the many well-meaning professionals associated with zoos who are passionate about animals and concerned for their welfare. And I also recognize that there is another sector here that's driven more by the preservation of our endangered species and works toward establishing more controlled living environments for these animals to achieve that end. What I'm addressing here is the concept and motivation of the traditional zoo...the idea that we have the right to put these beings on display, solely at our discretion. We do not.

If you're fascinated with any of the thousands of incredible species of animals and would like to admire and learn more about them, I'm right there with you. So I say, either find a way to (safely!) visit them in their own environment or enjoy the profusion of books and videos that have been produced by those who have. This is the more compassionate alternative.


The Marine Park


This category includes places like Seaworld, where dolphins and orca whales are imprisoned like zoo animals and trained to perform like circus animals. It's inexcusable for any species of animal to have to endure either, and yet, it seems especially tragic for these incredibly intelligent and loving sea beings to be forced to live out their lives under such conditions.

First off, you have to understand something about the family bond that is annihilated when dolphins and orcas (which are actually part of the dolphin family) are captured and forced into this world. Dolphins live in "packs" with their mothers, siblings and offspring for life, cruising around in smaller groups of 3 to 10, or in larger tribe-like "pods" of hundreds. Each of these pods even has their own special dialect, or way of communicating with each other. We all know how unbelievably bright and compassionate these animals are (hence the massive "Save the Dolphin" campaign we saw where tuna was concerned). So as you might imagine, it is absolutely devastating for every member of a pod when even one member is captured and imprisoned.

Then, once they're in this strange new environment, a very difficult and inhumane plight sets in. The dolphins and orcas have many adjustments to try and make, not the least of which is their new living situation. They're used to cruising anywhere from 25 to 100 miles per day through the limitless expanse of magical ocean "landscape." But now, they are trapped in the confined, shallow, chlorinated waters of the marine park's concrete environs. They are also made to perform tricks in preparation for "showtime," with the primary form of persuasion being the manipulation of how and when they're fed.

All of these drastic changes are not without obvious consequences to them. Dolphins lives are shortened by as much as 15 years, while the orcas lives are shortened by as much as 40 years! Even their breeding habits are radically effected in this environment, which explains why more "replacement" dolphins and orcas are continually pilfered from the sea.

And why? So the public can be entertained? So, as the marine park marketers would have us believe, we can be "educated about what these grand mammals are really like"? Just like in the case of other imprisoned animals in the zoo, we are not getting the full, authentic scope of these magnificent beings in this environment, anyway. And even if we were, I believe it is beyond the right of the enlightened society to force any living creature to live within the confines of our agenda.


A word about vivisection (animal testing):

Animal testing remains one of the most irrationally vicious and barbaric practices in modern society. And, because it often involves more traditional pet animals like dogs, cats, primates and rabbits, it tends to get people's attention.

Whether or not there was ever a time in our society when vivisection was a "necessary evil" is obviously a debatable subject to many. What's considerably less debatable is its necessity in the new millennium. "But it's for the good of humanity" is a common retort. Did you know that only 6% of all animal testing done nowadays is for this supposed "good"? Besides, how many more harmful chemicals do we really need to test on innocent animals so that we may "safely" introduce them to the world anyway?

The truth is, no governmental agencies even require companies to test on animals where consumer products are concerned. So why do they do it? Largely, to protect themselves in the event of a lawsuit. Animal testing is viewed as a credible "safety precaution" and, in the event of a legal scuffle, can be used to show that the company did all that it could to be safe. And yet, there are currently hundreds of companies that do not support testing that seem to be doing fine.

So I say - HELL NO! I refuse to throw my money or support in the direction of any company that still practices animal testing. I suggest that the conscientious animal lover do the same, because it really is a cut and dried issue. These company's livelihood - as well as the horrifying testing they support - are sustained by our financial participation. By cutting them off and even dropping an e-mail or letter (politely) expressing your disapproval, you are making a powerful statement. Be sure and check out some of the links in the Veggie Links section of this site for more info, and for access to updated listings of which companies still support vivisection. We've gotta take a stand against this one and unequivocally express our intolerance for this kind of thing.

It's up to you, and you alone...

These are the realities of some of the most prevalent food, clothing, consumer goods and sources of amusement in our world. They are ugly, but they are hidden from us in the guise of slick packaging and expert marketing, swept from our sight in the name of tradition and popular culture, and justified with weak rationale that has more holes in it than the Swiss cheese that it perpetuates. At the end of the day, we have to make a black and white choice: Bottom line - can we live comfortably knowing that we're supporting the death and exploitation of these innocent animals? Granted, it's very easy in our society to justify it, and we can damn sure find many others who will help us. But again, in the stillness of our thoughts, we must realize that it's our money and our daily choices that are perpetuating these atrocities. And every time we demonstrate our support of anything non-vegan, financially or otherwise, we are, in turn, supporting the machine that kills and exploits. Do we want to support that? Do we want our lives here on earth to be an expression of an animal's senseless sacrifice or an animal's well-deserved salvation? And aren't we at a point in our self-actualization as spiritual beings where this kind of activity is incongruent with who we really are?


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