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
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.
what we'll be covering in this For the Animals
section (Click on the Go link to
skip ahead to that particular topic.):
All animals are created equal! Go
greatness of a nation can be judged
The Ethics of it all:
How does the animal really get to your plate?
The animal was killed "out in the wild" by a hunter (or fisherman).
to me, these are all tragic scenarios because an animal's life was needlessly
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).
They are still sold off to the slaughterhouse and subjected to all of
those atrocities, anyway.
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.
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.)
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.
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...
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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 live...in peace. There are many animal-friendly alternatives to all of these animal-based materials. Check out What to Do for more ideas.
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.
(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.
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: http://www.bucktherodeo.com/injured.html
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.
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.
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.
to For the Planet
© 2002-2008 Bobby Rock