Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My Eight Most Encouraging Signs of Vegan Expansion in 2013

Every year, there are things to whine about and there are also signs of hope. Keeping in mind the very massive shift of consciousness we are trying to usher in and all the ingrained habits we are trying to move the world past, these may seem like pretty puny examples of positive growth. Everything has to start somewhere, though, and the outward indications of our once easily ignored social justice movement are starting to become undeniable. Here were some of the most encouraging signs to me in 2013 that we are moving to the next level of growth, influence and maturity. 

Beyond Animal Products

Cruelty-free replacements for flesh and animal-based products are nothing new; wheat gluten and tofu were developed thousands of years ago as a plant-sourced protein for vegetarian Buddhists. What is new, though, is the interest in plant-based replacements for ecological and social justice reasons. Citing concerns about feeding a growing population and the disastrous footprint animal foods wreak on the environment, civic-minded philanthropists and food scientists are throwing their support behind Hampton Creek, a San Francisco start-up which seeks to make eggs, often produced in such unhygienic, cruel and polluting environments, obsolete. With chickens comprising the largest percentage of animals in confinement, the fact that people are beginning to recognize the need to start moving away from eggs is a huge leap forward and will potentially have a very a positive effect on everything from world hunger to environmental protection. (Please, no lectures on genetic engineering here: I have done my research on the topic and am simply talking about gains for the animals in 2013.)

Artful Cheese

The upscale vegan cheese movement has been afoot for a while, ushered in with great anticipation in 2012 by pioneering restaurateur and cookbook author Miyoko Schinner with her stereotype-shattering cookbook Artisan Vegan Cheese, allowing a maturing movement of real food lovers to create creamy, sharp, tangy and uncannily dairy-esque productions in their own kitchens. Ever since, it seems there are always some nuts soaking on vegan kitchen counters: people has been soaking cashews, macadamia nuts, etc. and more, delving into vegan cheese gastronomy to great effect, using natural ingredients, real cultures and ingenuity. Also, there is at least one more vegan cheese cookbook, the Non-Dairy Formulary (which I have heard excellent reviews for but haven't purchased yet) as well as a growing market of different varieties of artisan-crafted dairy-free cheeses in stores that will impress the most discriminating palates, such as Ste. Martaen, Kite Hill, Dr. Cow, Treeline Cheese, Door 86 Vegan Cheese, Punk Rawk Labs and more. Remember when there was one vegan cheese on the market and it was basically Play-Doh wrapped in plastic? Well, I do.

The Rise of Exclusively Vegan Grocery Stores

While the growth of animal-free items in both conventional and high-end grocery stores is exciting and we see more of it every year, this has been a rising growth sector for a while. What I noticed more this year was the viability and ascent of exclusively vegan grocery stores. From the Veganz chain in Europe (opening their first location in London in 2014 after several in Germany), to markets like Food Fight! in Portland, and the recently opened Everything Vegan in Adelaide, South Australia, Nooch Vegan Market in Denver and Viva La Vegan in Rancho Cucamonga, CA, we are seeing an increased demand for purchasing from businesses that research, curate and sell goods with integrity. How soon before there is a cruelty-free market in every city? I don’t know but it can’t come soon enough. 

Provocative Documentaries

2013 was the year when two powerful documentaries were able to grab the public’s attention, bringing audiences to think about our relationship to animals in a more expansive, challenging and compassionate way. Blackfish, the documentary that follows the tragic life of Tilikum, an orca captured in 1983 at the age of two in the wild near Iceland and kept in captivity as a performing and breeding killer whale ever since, having resided at SeaWorld Orlando since 1992. While Tilikum is the focus of the film, Blackfish also delves into the lives of other captive orcas, and how their complex emotional, cognitive and social needs are deeply frustrated by captivity, resulting in not only their profound suffering but the endangerment of those in close contact with them. (Three individuals have been killed by Tilikum alone, something SeaWorld and their lawyers were shameless in their haste to assign blame elsewhere.) Blackfish garnered a lot of critical acclaim and even aired on CNN; it is shortlisted as a best feature documentary for the Oscars. The other film, The Ghosts in Our Machine, presents more challenging material, material where the director and protagonist have pulled back the curtains so audiences can see that humans have declared an unprovoked war on animals: from animals imprisoned by the fur trade to animals in agriculture, the cruelty is weaved so invisibly into our society that we carry on without a second thought about the lives we have violently stolen. As I said, this is a much more challenging subject for mainstream audiences so it hasn’t gotten the distribution of Blackfish but it has garnered some excellent reviews and it is still on its ascent. Both films made 2013 a year when mainstream audiences were challenged to think about their privileges. (Check out our review of Ghosts and interview with director Liz Marshall.

The Response to Ag-Gag Bills

The wildly overreaching, deeply flawed anti-whistleblower Ag-Gag laws, which seek to criminalize the exposing of animal cruelty, poor working conditions and more in agribusiness, have not passed in any of the eleven states where they were introduced in 2013. Also in overreaching, the Ag-Gag proponents have inadvertently helped to foster support between various alliances beyond animal advocacy, forging coalitions with free speech and anti-fracking activists, for example, mobilizing our growing movement and exposing the very cruelties they had sought to conceal. What started out as a tyrannical threat to free speech and justice has emerged as something that can be a net gain for the animals if we stay active and a crushing embarrassment to the interests that benefit from animal exploitation. Please check out Green is the New Red for developments in this fascinating sphere.

More Varied Insights Into the Long Shadow of Animal Agriculture

We have been exploring the myriad ways that food production, specifically animal agriculture, inflicts horrific cruelties upon the sentient beings trapped in the system at least since Ruth Harrison’s Animal Machines was published in 1964 but this year brought some fresh, penetrating insights regarding other spheres in which we feel the repercussions of the industry as well as exposing how it is propped up. Specifically, Meatonomics: How the Rigged Economics of Meat and Dairy Make You Consume Too Much by David Robinson Simon and Food Choice and Sustainability: Why Buying Local, Eating Less Meat, and Taking Baby Steps Won’t Work by Dr. Richard Oppenlander come to mind as serious, important books that could potentially bring science-minded people, often skeptical of veganism and anything that smacks of emotional“bunny-hugging,” into the fold. Apparently former Vice President and environmental champion Al Gore apparently stopped eating animals and animal products in 2013...could he have finally run out of excuses? Anyone who studies animal agriculture realizes that these books, important as they are, are just the beginning. We need to keep shining a light at the dark, often hidden but massive consequences of this industry and we have barely begun.

Rally for Animals Around the World

Nothing prepared me for the images coming out of Israel after their August march for the animals in Tel Aviv. Thousands of people took to the streets in peaceful protest in solidarity with the oppressed and to raise their voices against cruelty to animals. After the march in Tel Aviv, animal advocates in more than 40 cities and 17 counties also rallied on behalf of the animals. Will anything come of it? It’s impossible to say but we have to start somewhere.

Vegan Street!

Well, this is important to me, anyway. My husband and I revived Vegan Street, the website we started way back in 1998 and had been dormant for more than ten years. We have reemerged to an exciting new vegan world, one we scarcely could have imagined back in the day. There is so much to say about Vegan Street and our goals but I am very sleepy, but I will say that we have huge plans. Please join us at Vegan Street (you can sign up there to get our newsletter and a free copy of my e-Book) and our Facebook page, where we share a new, original meme aimed at expanding vegan awareness every weekday. Seriously...it’s very exciting.

What were your signs of hope for the animals in 2013?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Everyday Heroes

Over the weekend, I saw the most recent Lord of the Rings film with my guys. I pretty much feel like the world’s most long-suffering, persecuted martyr each time one of these Hobbit Ring things is released (soooo many times and, true story, I even chewed some scenery as Gollum in my camp play but it’s still unmitigated torture to me). I try to hide my disdain for the sake of my son, who cannot imagine anything involving dragons, battle scenes and highly improbable near-death experiences right before even more improbable escape sequences to be anything but cinema at its finest. (He’s an 11-year-old boy, it makes sense.) This is probably my own shortcoming, but there is something about special effects that annoys me and something about Middle Earth that reminds me of a Renaissance Faire with a bigger budget and fewer drunk guys in codpieces puking behind ye olde backdrops. But I do it because it’s something for the family to do together and it’s the holiday season and I don’t want to be dismissive of what my son enjoys and he’s gone to more than a few things with me (craft fairs!) that have probably bored him to tears. Still, sitting there in the movie theater, between creating sarcastic dialogue in my mind and nabbing a short, British Isles-accented nap, it was hard to not keep returning to thoughts of this guy pictured below. He was safe at our home after his own harrowing journey.

His name was Money when I first learned of him. He appeared in my Facebook feed Wednesday night and his picture gripped me right away. He was a 15-year-old unneutered dog surrendered by his human to a hell for animals in Chicago: Animal Care and Control. No reason was given for his surrender, none was needed, he was just let go. Unwanted. He had possibly the saddest, most scared eyes I have ever seen. Those eyes seared into me on a visceral level, seemed to be looking right at me, made my whole body react. I shared his photo and within minutes, a plan had come together. From the first person who took his photo, to the people who shared it, to the friend who helped to grease the wheels for his quick release, to another friend (the lovely Little Fox, Ashlee Piper) who would help with his eventual placement, we devised that my family would foster Money and he would be out of there. Within minutes, we created a chain of support that would bring this very vulnerable boy to safety, like a team of bodies linking arms and pulling up someone from the crevice of an abyss. Each of us alone might not have been able to rescue him but all of us together, with just a little effort, could. By Thursday night, less than 24 hours after sharing his photo, we were able to pick him up.

He is now named Monty (from me) Sprinkles (from Ashlee). He is hard of hearing and can’t see well. He had one of the worst odors I have ever inhaled, like he was doused in a month’s worth of urine. He got right into my car, though, without the need for any coaxing. He came into our home, ate his bowl of food, went for a walk (he doesn’t know how to walk on a leash) and got a bath that he really did not appreciate but we did very much. He also met the other animals, shoving his nose indelicately into private doggie parts and he slept through the night on a blanket that he pushed around into a nest with his skinny little paws. In the morning when I came downstairs, so worried that he wouldn’t adjust, that the cat would eviscerate him, that we would be outed as foster failures, Monty greeted me with a tiny wag from his docked tail. He may have never known kindness, he was just given up like a piece of unwanted furniture, and despite this, he still wagged when he saw me. I sat on the floor with him and my dandelion tea and he placed his greying muzzle in my hand, turning it to get the best scratching angles. His cloudy eyes were wary but they still met mine despite the disappointments and the reasons to be suspicious. I sat on the floor with him for two hours that morning, kissing and scratching that wizened face and unexpectedly velvety neck. He was so tender. 

This is how it always happens when I adopt and apparently also when I foster. I fall in love. Whenever I’m not with them, they are all I can think about at first. I race home to be near them, smile at the thought of them, find myself wondering if she would like this toy, if he would like to visit this park. It is always a matter of my heart bursting with embarrassing purple prose, skipping to a new rhythm, fully embracing a kindred spirit I didn’t know even a day or two before but can’t imagine living without.

It alters us for the better.

So while I was sitting in that theater, bored silly by the elves and screaming intensity and swords and stage blood, I drifted away and thought of Monty, as I often do these days. This dog has seen a lot in his long life. He has been most likely treated as an thing to reproduce and earn money and his worth was based on that. But now here he was, sleeping in our home, sighing in his sleep, accepting our affection - yes, cautiously at first but then seeking it out - claiming the new life that I can only presume is a world apart from how he had lived even a few days before. Adapting to it, thriving in it, completely and gracefully transforming because of it. In just one night, those ears, once behind his head, stood confidently up. His tail came out from being tucked under and wagged. His eyes - frightened and suspicious from a lifetime of what he saw - now had a different quality, a different spark: one of release, of trust. In just one night, he had begun a remarkable transformation of the spirit, the kind it might take a person years to accomplish, if ever.

Is Monty’s transformation any less of a hero’s journey than Bilbo Baggins’s because he wasn’t threatened by Orcs and deadly dragons? Maybe he didn’t outrun fireballs and manage to survive a column collapsing on him, but what he did endure and survive was every bit as threatening to his well-being. He came out on the other side, too, scarred and shaken but still believing in his innate self-worth enough to graciously accept it when his new life arrived. He is sleeping on the couch now as if this has always been his comfortable life because dogs are amazingly adaptive beings who live in the moment but also because he has arrived at a place of trust and acceptance. Why do our stories have to be so convoluted and out of reach? Can’t a hero’s story be this quietly brave, loving and tender? Can’t an inspiring story be within reach but every bit as audacious and inspiring as the fantasies we construct? I also think that learning to trust is as courageous as anything we do.  This dog, this being who has been treated like an object and discarded when he was no longer useful, can forgive and trust. He will nudge my hand with his sweet snout to keep me from writing because he wants my affection. That is heroic, too. 

I dedicate this piece to Monty, a boy who has taught me again and again in his short time in my life that transformation is so complex and yet so accessible; it involves communities and our own tenacity of spirit. Monty will be going to his rest-of-his-life home soon where he will live out his days in contentment and love. Our home will be open again for fosters (yes, it will, John). He has touched a place in my heart forever, though. You are a hero, Monty. Thank you for letting me be a part of your journey. You don’t need sword battles and pyrotechnics. You are as brave and as bold as they come.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Fifth Annual Disgruntled Alphabet for Vegans

Ah, the annual chance to get it all out of my system so I can be the shiny, happy vegan you all know and love for the rest of the year. Oh, there’s only a couple of weeks left in the year? Well, that’s better than nothing. I love being vegan, please don’t misunderstand, but people, sigh, people will make you a little nutty sometimes. Let’s get to it, shall we?

A is for Angry, because if I am vegan, is necessarily follows that I am angry. Right? While knowing about the unnecessary mass slaughter of sensitive beings for no reason other than satisfying a temporary pleasure doesn’t exactly make me feel like skipping through a meadow like I am in a feminine hygiene commercial circa 1977, I think characterizing  vegans as universally “angry” is a little simplistic and reductive. We’re happy, sad, irritated, exuberant and, yes, angry at times. You know...human.

B is for “But can’t you just eat around the turkey bits in the stuffing? Oh, and you don’t eat chicken broth either? I give up. You really are impossible.”

C is for the Cold boiled vegetables with some squiggle of green (liquified grass?) that is apparently the standard vegan plate at the catered office holiday party. You will find us by our desk scarfing our ProFit bars and locating the best decent post-meal meal via the handy HappyCow app.

D is for Despite possessing neither a central nervous system nor a brain, exhibiting no obvious or even subtle signs of suffering, there are still going to be people who assert that “plants feel pain”? And somehow they are still be able to tie their shoes in the morning? That’s actually kind of impressive. 

E is for Effing leave me alone about the new sausage-of-the-month club you just joined. What part of my “Ask Me Why I’m Vegan” button makes you think I want to hear about something called freaking blutworst? And, oh, yeah - thanks for compelling us to Google that grotesqueness.

F is for Former vegans, often meaning someone who, curiously, was never vegan or was between breakfast and their mid-morning snack one day in 1996, but is still taken as the final word of authority on Why Veganism Doesn’t Work. Guess what: I am a failed omnivore. I just couldn’t keep doing it; it was too gross. I didn’t feel well. ‘Kay?

G is for Guilt, in that, when someone is grasping at every possible random excuse at his or her disposal for eating animals (“Plants-feel-pain-animals-kill-other-animals-I-honor-the-animals-like-the-Native-Americans-what-about-the-Inuit-it-is-part-of-the-cycle-of-life-and-death-Hitler-was-a-vegetarian-oh-he-wasn’t-well-I-don’t-really-care-vegans-are-still-meanies”), couldn’t guilt just be admitted to so we can both move on?

H is for Humane meat. How can babies be taken from their mothers humanely? How can females be forcibly impregnated, males be castrated without anesthesia, and so on? How can a knife sever the jugular vein in a humane fashion? You can gussy up the fairy tale scenario however you like - the animals can dine on fields of organic, tender mesclun mix, they can enjoy massages while Michael Pollan reads them selections from The Omnivore’s Dilemma, they can frolic in the flowers like Bambi and Thumper all the live-long day - if they are being killed for unnecessary food, it ain’t humane. Why is this so hard to understand? 

I is for If you eat that tuna fish sandwich at your desk in the same office as me again, it is my right to open the window, pinch my nose while gagging and wave a folder to disperse the air and, no, I am not being passive-aggressive. It really is that putrid.

J is for Joel Salatin, the “rebel/hero” of the organic meat community, the farmer who was seen serenely slitting a chicken’s presumably grateful throat in “Food, Inc.,” and who honestly tried to argue that mitochondria and bacteria have the same capacity to feel and suffer as animals: this is the best you’ve got, humane meat world? This is your best and your brightest? Oy vey. Please get it through your head that diversionary tactics aimed at exposing us as hypocrites and attempting to minimize our sincere efforts at harm reduction remains just that: obvious diversionary tactics. (By the way, his ass was handed to him in that debate.)

K is for Kid, in that you can kid me about eating sticks and leaves but the second I mention the words “ovum” and “carcasses,” you get upset. Sure, that seems fair.

L is for Let me get this right: In order to "prove" that vegans are hypocrites, I am supposed to accept your hypothetical scenarios about being stranded on a deserted island and speculation that plants experience pain but you can’t even visit the reality we live in? Oh, yes. That seems reasonable. I hope you’re happy in your special fairytale land. Ohhh, look! A sparkly unicorn!

M is for Maintaining my enviable blood pressure despite society’s best attempts to make me irate because I’m vegan, man. At least I’ve got that.

N is for Nutritional yeast, which we have to say when we are asked by the repair person at the Apple store about what all that flaky yellow powder is under our keyboard.

O is for Omm...I'm effing serene, damn it.

P is for the Personal choice to eat animals, spoken by those who defend their consumption habits with the same air of conviction as Clarence Darrow in a courtroom, but, somehow, not realizing that their right to impose a “personal choice” requiring the suffering and/or death of another is not ethically sound. Does a mugger have a “personal choice” to relieve a victim or his or her wallet because he really wants that wallet? Does an arsonist have a “personal choice” to set buildings on fire because he really enjoys that activity? No. Stop using this stupid phrase, seriously. It is the fingernails on the chalkboard of my soul and it doesn’t make you sound smart. 

Q is for Quirky, in that, I know I’m strange but there’s something about eating a corpse that no longer appeals to me. I know! Quirky!

R is for the Recipe for eggs and bacon that I didn’t ask to hear but you still felt compelled to tell me about anyway in nauseating detail. Why???

S is for Salad because that’s all we eat, right? And, oh yes, Snark, because some of us gorge on a big bowl of that every day, too.  

is for the Take-out that you forgot to check before you left the restaurant and now you are hungry and you have just opened a container of pad Thai with chicken and eggs and you will have a wait 45 minutes before you can get the right one and you should have just cooked dinner and the guy on the phone repeated back the order and why does the world have to be so stupid??

U is for Ugh because sometimes, just ugh.

V is for Vegetarian: is anyone really one of those anymore? 

W is for Water, in that, yes, sure, I’ll be perfectly content just nursing that glass of water at the annual dinner out with the extended family. I was thinking about fasting anyway, I may as well start now when everyone else is eating their dinner. You mean I can have some iceberg lettuce with lemon, too?! Wow, you really went out of your way to make me feel welcomed. Thank you.

X is for the X I am marking on my calendar for the days until I can justify drinking chocolate mint nog season starts again as a seasonal mood improvement aid. (It starts the week before Thanksgiving).

Y is for Yes, I’d love for you to tell me the story of the one lady you know who’s second cousin got married to someone whose childhood babysitter was vegan and she got really sick, her hair fell out and she died of veganism. Because that sounds very legit. 

Z is for zoning out. Can you blame us?

All better! Onward until next year's disgruntled alphabet!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Veganism Ruined My Life!

I tried going vegan and it didn’t work out for me. Here is my story.

One morning I decided to go vegan and I was thinking about recipes when walking through a crowd at the train station on my way to work. 

While I was thinking, I stubbed my toe.  

Because I was distracted after stubbing my toe, I walked into the revolving door and broke my nose.

I got blood all over my favorite sweater.

At the hospital emergency room, I was exposed to two hours of really horrible morning TV and countless viruses while I waited for a doctor to see me.

I blame veganism.

During this time, my phone lost its charge.

Because my phone had lost its charge, I was unable to call in to work and was written up by my supervisor. 

On the train home, my wallet got stolen. Probably because I was so weak from being vegan, I didn’t even notice.

The prescription for my painkillers was in my wallet, so that got stolen, too.  

I had to go home without a working phone and wait for it to charge before I could get the hospital to send my painkiller prescription to the pharmacy.  

I found some money in an old coat pocket to pay for the painkillers. While looking through pockets, I tore the lining of my coat.

None of this would have happened if I hadn’t gone vegan.

Once my phone was charged, I saw that my boyfriend sent me a text. He broke up with me. 

I also got a text from my best friend telling me that we needed to talk. 

She and my ex-boyfriend ran away together to Province.  

Veganism is soul-crushing.

On my way to picking up my prescription, it started to rain.

Or I thought it was rain, but a bird actually pooped on top of my head.

I went into a public restroom at Macy’s to clean my hair. As I was leaving, the alarm went off and my bag needed to be searched by a security guard to check if I was stealing. 

My old high school rival happened to be walking through right at that moment with her new baby. 

I shouted, “I wasn’t stealing!” but by then she had hurried off. Everyone was staring at me. 

Veganism made me look really bad.

I finally got to the pharmacy. After waiting to be seen for ten minutes, I was informed that they hadn’t received the prescription.

They called the hospital. I waited another ten minutes to be told they didn’t couldn’t fill the prescription because they were out of the painkillers.  

I had to go to a different location across town with my throbbing nose. 

They had the painkillers. I would have taken the train home but I didn’t have any money left and no cards, either.

Veganism is really, really inconvenient.

So I had to walk home in the rain. I couldn’t buy an umbrella so the rain just ran down my sad, vegan body.

By the time I got home 45 minutes later, I was soaked and chilled. 

I had almost no groceries at home.

I had no money.

I ate plain rice for dinner.

I went to bed hungry because of veganism.

A fire alarm went off in my apartment building and brought the fire department out at 2:00 in the morning.

We all had to stand out in the cold until they located the source of the smoke.

“We located the source of the smoke,” a the fireman finally announced. “It was a rice cooker in apartment 609.”

Everyone looked at me. I’d forgotten to unplug my rice cooker. I think I had a severe nutritional deficiency because of my veganism.

My landlord and fellow tenants now hate me.

Going vegan was the worst decision I ever made.

The next morning, I woke up with a cold and a fever.

I had to call in sick to work. I didn’t realize I was on probation at work.

I lost my job.

I was hungry, penniless and sick.

My boyfriend broke up with me.

My life was spiraling out of  control.

I hit rock bottom the second morning I was a vegan.

Veganism ruined my life.

I know you might say that I didn’t give veganism my all, but you are wrong. I did.

It just didn’t work for me. If you would like to be unemployed, hungry, penniless and dumped by a boyfriend who is now dating your best friend, by all means, go for it. That was not for me, though. 

After two days of subjecting myself to this miserable diet, I am happy to say that I am no longer vegan.

I am also happy to say that I have gotten my life back on track.

I credit eating animals to this.

Now I have a job, I have money in my bank account, I have a boyfriend, I am no longer as hungry as I was when I was vegan, and I haven’t caused the fire department to come out in the middle of the night. Everything is so much better, thank God.

Going vegan ruined my life and stopping being vegan fixed it.

Don’t make the same mistake I made. Let me be your cautionary tale. 

If you go vegan, you could break your nose, lose your job, get your wallet stolen, go hungry and more.

My two days of being vegan brought indescribable suffering and pain into my life.

Don’t let it happen to you.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

On Judgment...

"Truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it." - Flannery O'Connor

We’ve all heard it before: You vegans are just so judgmental. The accusation of judgement can have a potent silencing effect, one that I have seen effectively employed countless times. How can we express what is happening to animals and what is happening to our planet in honest, plain terms without raising the hackles of those who feel judged when many are going to feel that way regardless of our messaging due to their own complicity? That is a deeper question of strategy to tackle another day, but for now, I will just focus on one aspect of this issue that we face and rhetorically ask again what I have been rhetorically asking for years: which is the greater crime, to “judge” or to continue the habits that cause actual harm, suffering and death?

If I were to shout to get the attention of someone who is about to open a car door on me while I am on my bike, should I risk sounding judgmental? If I were ask my neighbor to please not toss litter in my yard, would that be overly judgmental? If I were to tell someone who is mistreating me that cruelty is not acceptable, would that be too judgmental? What about on a much larger scale, where so many feeling beings are brutally, fatally punished for being born in a form other than human, and where the cost of our collective demand for their “product” is irreversible harm to our planet and the lives of future generations? Is it okay to point this out? Does it matter if egos are bruised in the process?

To me, the answer is clear. We need to be smart and effective with our communications but we should not allow ourselves to be silenced simply because speaking truthfully makes someone uncomfortable. In this case, when we are told to maintain a lie because speaking honestly upsets the ones causing the damage, we are asked to maintain a code of silence around harm and that is always an abusive power structure.

I have some experience with this.

I was raised in a home where the elephant in the room was never addressed. The elephant was usually drunk. The elephant tossed over tables, raged at us and behaved as if no one else mattered but we had to pretend not to see what we saw. In short, he created a terrifying environment that we were expected to adjust ourselves to somehow. Instead of being allowed to acknowledge his damaging behavior, the message I got was that speaking about what was plainly obvious was a flagrant violation of an unspoken but obvious rule in the house. As this behavior worsened, we were pressured into taking turns at assuming blame. We were expected to tiptoe around what was glaringly apparent to avoid “provoking” more behavior of the same. The very worst offense was to speak of it with candor. Having escaped that environment, I have a very low threshold for being pressured into maintaining appearances for the sake of not upsetting anyone.  

At a certain point, we need to step aside from that egotistical lens and be able to look at things from a bigger, more inclusive framework. If my skin is so thin that I cannot even hear of anything that undermines what I see as my place in the world, that is the narcissistic mentality of an abuser. A deeply pervasive message we get in society reinforces such self-centeredness, maintaining that animals are for us use we wish and to speak of it in ethical terms is to violate a tacit arrangement, one in which we’ve conveniently been rendered unimpeachable. This is not to say that I believe that people who eat animals are abusers because I don’t think that - the intentionality is very different. However, that abusive power dynamic comes into play when people don’t want the existing structure challenged, questioned or sometimes even mentioned. When this happens, I am reminded of the unfairness of being asked to be complicit in a lie. I am reminded of being a girl and seeing what was plainly obvious but being forbidden to speak honestly of it or risk hurting someone’s pride. Again, I am not saying that people who consume animals are abusers, I am saying that the power structure of telling someone not to speak of what she sees is an abusive one. There are greater wrongs in the world than bruising an ego.

When we find ourselves holding back and not speaking our truth because it might offend someone’s sensibilities, we have to really examine what we have agreed to do: we have agreed to play a part in a charade, in a dance of denial, and the consequences are devastating to us personally and to the future of the world. I have observed the silencing ripple effect this fear of sounding judgmental has on people and it is eerily familiar. There are certain things we need to admit to and one is that killing others for unnecessary and temporary pleasures is not consistent with our highest values of compassion and justice. Should we pretend that it is in order to protect someone’s ego? Billions of animals are brutalized every year in the most unfathomably cruel ways and our habits are also leading to ecological disaster, yet it’s frowned upon for us to be so “judgmental” as to point this out? I refuse to participate in this delusion and believe that asking someone to do this is the perpetuation of an abusive dynamic. I opt out.