May 10, 13
I received an email this morning from a friend of mine. Very few of them write me about my activity on animal rights, so I thought her letter and my response was worthy of posting online.
It can be tremendously isolating to be the only vegan in your group of friends. Some will, wrongly, expect you to show up at their BBQs and throw buckets of blood on their faces. Or scream, “Meat is murder” at them as they eat their eggs even though you yourself ate meat for many years.
It’s nice when a friend writes me and is genuinely curious. It lets me know my online advocacy is not falling into a black hole.
Hello my beautiful spirited friend! I love your posts about animals and veganism!
I want to ask you: you know how I’m always teetering back and forth between vegetarianism and not. I would full-heartedly love to live the vegan life. I do not know how you do it. It seems impossible to me. Especially living with a meat eater. He’s gone a lot so scout and I stick mainly to fruits and veggies and grains and sadly dairy.
I could so live without meat. But I cannot eliminate the dairy, and you taught me that’s the worst industry.
Can you give me some inspiring words? Kudos to you and your family and for your love and devotion to animals.
Thank you for the kind words! Here are some tips. I hope they help you make some changes that make you feel better and help the animals.
The beautiful thing about being vegan is you get a chance to creatively help the animals, and make a real impact on their lives without having to ever leave your kitchen.
Milk is pretty easy to replace. Think of how many alternative milks there are: hemp, rice, soy, almond, coconut, just off the top of my head. Vegan butters are for sale in places like the grocery near your house. Cheese replacements don’t taste quite the same, so that’s why I say just pull the cheese out and put something interesting in its place: avocado, cashew / basil pesto, etc.
Being vegan with a nonvegan spouse can be challenging but it’s totally doable. Think of it like trying to quit smoking while living with a smoker.
Eating vegan can seem impossible because it can be a totally new habit, but if you take one recipe at a time and put in plant-based alternatives, you’ll inch your way toward a vegan menu in no time.
I’d pick one meal a day to make vegan (breakfast is an easy one). Any recipe you have trouble making vegan, just ask me or check these sites for ideas:
Sag Aloo! Not only does it sound funny, it also cures boredom.
This is a delicious Indian-inspired meal for lunch or dinner. I wouldn’t want it for breakfast, but I hear it has magical hangover cures. This recipe makes enough to feed about 8 people.
- 4 potatoes
- 1 pound fresh or frozen spinach
- 2 cups fresh or frozen peas
- 1 can coconut milk
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon tumeric
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder (or 1 tablespoon fresh crushed garlic)
- A big pot
- A big skillet
- A cereal bowl
- In the pot, add as much water as you need to cover the potatoes by about an inch. Start boiling.
- In the skillet, sautee the onion in water (you could use oil but I’m trying to keep this recipe low fat) on about medium heat. You probably don’t want to try to caramelize them in water.
- Chop the potatoes into cubes or pterodactyls or whatever shape is your favorite.
- Add potatoes to water even if it’s not perfectly boiling yet.
- Open can of coconut milk. Pour into cereal bowl.
- Add powdered stuff to cereal bowl.
- If you don’t have a mortar-n-pestle, fold the coriander seeds and clove in a paper towel and beat them like they’re an obese relative asking you where you get your protein.
- Shake the atomized coriander and clove dust into the bowl.
- By now the onions should be softened up. Shake the spinach and peas into the skillet. Add a little more water (1/3 cup should do) and cover to steam.
- Once the skillet of green stuff has softened up a little, the potatoes should be nearly done cooking.
- Make sure you whisk the cereal bowl nicely. Tumeric is really fine and doesn’t immediately blend with the coconut milk.
- Fun part! Dump the cereal bowl into the skillet!
- Stir it around while it simmers and feel like a cook.
- Enjoy compliments from roommates/family/dogs/ghosts about the lovely smell.
- Drain potatoes when they’re soft enough.
- Add potatoes to skillet. That’s right. Add potatoes and greens in the same skillet. This craziness cannot be contained.
The one on the left will be ground up with about a thousand siblings so you can eat his mother's eggs.
Is it immoral to cut a dog’s throat because we like the sound of the blood gurgling onto the soil? To stomp on a box of kittens because the squishing under our feet is lovely and refined? To sever a lizard’s tail and legs, leaving her to bleed to death, because the trail of blood she leaves behind makes interesting patterns?
Most of us would say yes, these acts are immoral. Would they be any better if the aggressor was paid to do it? If a young man is paid ten dollars every time he crushes a kitten to death, is the act then acceptable? How about ten thousand dollars? Of course not.
We agree that receiving pleasure from the sound, sight or feel of bloodshed is immoral (if not downright creepy), as is profit.
What if the pleasure is taste?
If the pleasures on our ears, under our feet, or upon our eyes are unacceptable reasons to inflict harm, why do we make exceptions for the pleasures of the tongue? It is just another organ.
Eye, nose and skin pleasure may be seen as entertainment. If we agree that killing for mere entertainment is bad, then certainly crushing kittens to death is bad. Stabbing a cow to death for entertainment, then, is also bad because a cow is no different a moral specimen than a kitten is.
The difficult part of talking to meat and dairy consumers is helping them understand that eating flesh and non-human milk are unnecessary. Because these food items are not necessary, they are entertainment. Buying steak at a grocery store which also sells beans and fresh vegetables is no more defensible than stomping on a box of kittens.
We must reject killing not just kittens, but also cows, chickens and all living beings, in pursuit of the specific sensations given to our tongues and noses.
There is no magic morality purifier device built into our taste buds. Criminals are not released on the condition that they greatly enjoyed the crime. And, despite what the bacon advertisements tell us, pigs are not happy to die today because a plate will hold their body parts tonight.
Our enjoyment is as irrelevant as profit. The price paid per kitten squished has no effect on the immorality of the act. Be it ten dollars or ten thousand dollars, funding murder is funding murder. In the same way, a tickle or a taste does not change the exploitation.
Let us be consistent with our beliefs. Being so is much easier than trying to explain to our children why assaulting kittens is bad, but assaulting pigs is okay, provided we eventually eat them, too.
Summary: Do not blame being an asshole on this organ.
To be vegan is to be consistent. We extend our natural feelings of empathy not just to dogs and cats, but to cows, geese, and humans.
Today a neighbor of ours found a stray Dachshund mother wandering in the woods between our neighborhood and a very busy road. He took her home. She was not spayed, had no collar, and shivered with more than a little fear as he brought her food and water. She had recently given birth.
Let us do a little visualizing. This won’t hurt, and it won’t be disgusting. Bear with me.
You are a Dachshund. You are alone, wandering through unknown territory. Your babies are where you left them, whimpering and hungry, still wet from birth, crawling over each other in search of you, their sole sources of warmth, love, and of course life-giving food.
What would drive you to leave? What would have to go through your head that you would leave your freshly born children defenseless in a strange place?
I cannot speak for her, but I imagine it was fear and desperation. Maybe all she wanted was water. Or maybe she hadn’t eaten in days, and now she was going to risk her children’s lives because it was either stay with them, and die of starvation herself, or wander off and risk her children being eaten by a predator.
My heart goes out to her. I really cannot imagine being in desperate, hopeless situation. I work a desk job. Maybe you feel similarly. Maybe you agree. Most people wish her what she deserves: safety, shelter, food, water and a clean place to raise her children.
Now transpose those feelings onto a cow. Why is she any less deserving of our mercy? Why are her children relegated to a few short days, or weeks, of terrible life before being slain for their pale flesh? Surely, the cow and her calves are every bit as scared and sensitive as the Dachshund.
Before I was vegan, reading stories like these evoked sickening feelings of guilt and helplessness. I was only able to console myself with a (false) reminder that eating flesh and drinking non-human milk are necessary for human life. Now I know that vegan diets are healthy – extremely healthy. I know that flesh is not mine to take, nor milk mine to demand from captive, lactating mothers.
The idea of exploiting a Dachshund for some weird, personal pleasure was as repulsive to younger me as it is today. But, back then I ate flesh and drank dairy. I had not made the connection yet. What pleasure, you might wonder, could anyone gain from her? Shudders arise at the mere suggestion.
One day, we will protect and respect all sentient beings. Be consistent. Go vegan.
The hidden vegan agenda: having fun and being kind.
People say “veganism has a hidden agenda.”
Every aspect of animal consumption and slaughter takes place with a hidden agenda.
Starting with our children, we hide the truth about what the animals feel. We tell them that animals are meant for us to kill, that we are showing the animals “respect,” that the animals don’t feel anything at all. We tell our children that it is okay to murder other children, just not human ones. We hide the videos of dairy cows butchered because their tired glands cannot produce milk at a profitable rate any more. Our agenda is teaching children to eat meat and dairy and, to teach them this, we must hide the truth lest it trigger their natural feelings of disgust, sadness and horror.
A child who pleases himself by burning dogs with a blowtorch is considered highly troubled and possibly insane. A child who pleases himself by eating chicken nuggets is considered normal. Who created this illogical schism? We did.
As a slightly more risque comparison: for good reasons we do not want our children to have sex. We would never show them sexual videos. Likewise, we hide videos of animal slaughter from our children. The difference is we want our children contributing to the slaughter, we just don’t want them knowing that’s what they’re doing until they’re too set in their ways. This is indoctrination, and is the most obvious kind of hidden agenda.
From the animals as babies, we hide our intentions behind a lifetime of feeding and tending. But as we pet them and guide their faces to their food, we give no hint about their grisly fate. Maybe in some perfect world with unlimited resources and space, we could populate the thousands of square miles it would take to hold the billions of Free Range Animals. And even in those rolling hills, with their perfect weather and clean, fresh water, we would be hiding the agenda of killing them. Every. Single. One.
Maybe, in the dark, jammed, hellish corridors of factory farms, these animals have a good idea. But even then, likely they do not know what’s in the next building. In the slaughterhouses, we hide the upcoming rooms from the animals with twisting, angled chutes. We do not want them causing a ruckus and damaging the product, their flesh, or the machines which grind them into it. Our agenda, as always, is profit.
For the final act, we hide our agenda of clumsily missing with an underpowered stun bolt, skinning the animals alive, horse, cow and bear. We hide what’ saround the next corner, becasuse if the animals knew, they’d run[link to youtube turnaround vid] in rightful panic. Run as far as they could, at least. And maybe someone would be there to “rescue this brave little guy”.
From the public, we hide the lagoons of shit that leak bacteria and diseases into the water supply. We cover up the sources of E. coli and salmonella, nearly always from animals, and claim that there is an “outbreak” in tomatoes, spinach, or whatever other crop was unlucky enough to be near the factory farm run-off.
From the public, we hide what goes on behind the factory walls. We hire illegal migrant workers and abuse them, knowing there is little to no recourse they can legally take. From the workers we hide our trump card: turn them over to INS if they so much as squeak.
Most obviously, the slaughter is done in secrecy, hidden from the delicate and refined senses of the consumers, for as Paul McCartney says, “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a [vegan].” (He says vegetarian, I say vegan).
The killers themselves are the modern equivalents of slaves forced to do the dirty deeds. They must shield their psyches from the disgusting and unnatural acts they commit. Nearly all workers report that they “can’t think of it like a living being, it’s just an it, just a machine that makes noise, because otherwise you’d go crazy.” These are adults, and they must hide from themselves what they are doing. The agenda? Staying sane while making a dollar. If we did not demand meat, we would not create jobs for butchers.
As consumers, we even try to hide the reality of the products we claim to want to ingest. We cannot, at every meal, with every bite, sanely contemplate the source. So the body parts come packaged in little red and pink squares, de-boned, de-veined, bloodless, not too fatty, salted, cooked, and spiced. They are shaped into nuggets, patties, hot dog tubes and McRiblets. Even their names are hidden. It’s not a baby, it’s “veal.” It’s not mentrual cycle excess, it’s an “omelette.” Pork, poultry, beef, and so on. We don’t want to remind each other of what it is, where it came from.
At the most basic psychological level, we don’t even want to admit that it was a who.
Contrast this with eating a plant-based diet. There is nothing hidden about veganism. Everything we grow, everything we eat and discuss, is quite literally out in the open with anyone at any age.
Things to See:
These aren’t all strictly citations, as some just expand on the point I made:
- Simon the Sadist
- Typical article about escapees.
- Google results for factory farm runoff lagoon
- Paul McCartney video
- Blood, Sweat and Fear, from Human Rights Watch. Jump to about page 165.