On being a vegan for a year…

Yep, it’s been a year since I’ve made the decision.  I have to be completely honest, it hasn’t felt that long.  But on the other hand, it’s hard for me to remember those days before.  All the choices that come along with this lifestyle seem so painfully obvious to me now.

I’ve tried tons of new restaurants, recipes and vegetables that I NEVER would have tried before.  Rather than shrinking in options, my diet has definitely expanded.  I’ve become involved with a non-profit organization called No Kill Louisville, which is working on creating a no-kill community in regards to adoptable pets.  And I’ve participated in my first of many animal rights demonstrations; one being a peaceful protest of Ringling Brothers Circus to stop the confinement and torture of wild animals.  I can almost guarantee none of this would have happened if I had not been vegan.

What has been the biggest setback?  Not the food.  Not the hygiene products.  And certainly not the clothes.  There are cookbooks, veggies, and packaged items available to even those living in the most rural areas now.  You can get shampoo, toothpaste and deodorant at most major supermarkets.  And it’s incredibly easy to find fake leather and synthetic fibers for every article of clothing you could ever want.  The one thing that makes it difficult sometimes, is the social aspect.  And this, I think, is the biggest reason people won’t consider going vegan.  I don’t necessarily mean just eating out at Buffalo Wild Wings with your friends.  I mean the acceptance factor.  Most people don’t want to feel like outsiders.  They don’t like to draw attention to themselves.  And they certainly don’t want to be continuously ridiculed.  Going vegan will earn you all of those things, even from your friends and family, if only for a short period of time.  Don’t think for a second that I’m painting myself to be a martyr for the animals.  Poor poor, pitiful me.  No one understands me, boooo hooo hoooo.  That’s not the point.  The point is, many people just don’t understand things that are different from what they know.  They will be more willing to point at you, than try to educate themselves about the matter.  Trust me, I live this.  I’m a gay-vegan-atheist.

One of those things people aren’t willing to understand when it comes to veganism, is what it’s really about.  Having to convince people that being vegan is healthy should be just as rare as convincing people that the Earth is round.  A well-balanced vegan diet is healthy for everyone at every age.  A poorly balanced diet of any kind is unhealthy for anyone.  As far as ethics are concerned, for me, it’s a no-brainer.  Viewing non-human animals as “things” that are beneath us and warrant no right to live except to serve our own desires, is arrogant and speciesist.  No different from the arrogant and racist views we held for African slaves.  Or the arrogant and chauvinistic views some still hold of women.  Not to mention the homophobic society we still live in.  They are all connected.  Oppression of any group is wrong.  Some might feel uncomfortable being linked with cows and pigs.  But we are all animals.  We feel pain, love, sadness, and have a desire to have companions.  Just observe your dog or cat.

But the one big thing I think people misunderstand about veganism, is it’s not about purity.  It’s not a cult with a Holy Vegan Book and doctrines you must live by to reach an ultimate level of pure veganity.  Over the course of the last year, I can’t tell you how many questions I got from people trying to “get” me, or find some loophole that would magically erase any kind of logic that was found in every other facet.  At one point, I actually had someone tell me, “You know micro-organisms have to die for your drinking water!”  To which I smiled, shrugged and replied, “I guess I can’t drink water anymore.”  Do tires have animal products in them?  Yep.  Try living in this world without getting around on a few tires.  Are most pharmaceuticals tested on animals?  Yup.  If a doctor says I need to take this pill to live, guess what I’m gonna do?  Some things are unavoidable in the world that we live in.  Will it always be like this?  I am eternally optimistic.  We are becoming increasingly more compassionate and responsible about the choices we make.  This world is what we make it.  Educate yourself.

To me, being a vegan is more than just animal rights.  It’s about human rights, as well as caring for the environment as best we can.  It’s about challenging world views.  It’s about evolving.  It’s never been a better time to be vegan.

Starbucks hesitant to call their sugar “vegan”

As anyone who frequently visits a Starbucks knows, we now have instant coffee.  Actually, it’s not instant, it’s ready in an instant.  Wow, I can’t believe I just said that.  That’s what months of corporate brainwashing will do.  I kid, I kid (I don’t want to be fired).  It’s called VIA.  When summer rolled around we launched a new Iced VIA that was sweetened with sugar.  And anyone who’s read my previous articles about Starbucks probably knows where this is going.

So a natural thought that would come to someone like me would be, “I wonder if this sugar is vegan.”  Now that may sound like a silly question to most people.  You might think, “Doesn’t sugar come from a plant?”  Well, yes.  But that’s not good enough.  At least not for the corporate giants who need something to do with their leftover cow skulls and bones.  In one last effort to squeeze as much money from the carcass of the animal they exploit, they ship off the remains to select charcoal manufacturers who in turn ship them to sugar companies.  What do they do with these skeletal remains?  They use them in refining sugar.  Something they call “bone char” or now “natural charcoal.”

Do they have to use them?  No.  The main reason bone filters are used is to make the sugar white in color.  Most people equate white with “pure”, and bone char makes that happen.  It’s quite amazing what we try to convince ourselves of, even when it’s unnecessary.  However, bone char/natural charcoal is prohibited in the production of USDA certified organic sugar.  Another reason organic is better.  But back to the main story…

After talking to my manager about the reasons why I would not try the new Iced VIA, or the yet to be released flavored VIA, he assured me we would get some answers.  Being very supportive, he e-mailed our District Manager.  Who in turn e-mailed our Director of Operations.  Who then followed through with someone with corporate.  Which then filtered back down to me.  The answer?  “They’re reluctant to call anything “vegan.”  To me, this just seems like a bureaucratic way of saying “no”.  Of course they don’t want to put a label on anything.  God forbid some angry vegan sue Starbucks because they found out their product wasn’t really vegan.  Which I’m sure is what it comes down to.  Starbucks doesn’t want a million dollar lawsuit.  Meanwhile, I just want to know how my food is processed.  Someone has the answer.  Is that too much to ask?

Does “free-range”, “cage-free” or “locally raised” mean anything?

A long time ago, in a supermarket far far away, I was strolling down the dairy aisle when I came across “cage-free” eggs.  I can get behind that.  Chickens that aren’t confined.  Happy chickens.  Then I saw the term “free-range.”  Hot damn!!!  These chickens aren’t just cage-free!  They can roam free too!!  If only.  Little did I know that the terms “cage-free”, “free-range” and “locally raised” guarantee virtually nothing.

I had always heard rumors from people that these terms meant nothing.  “Nonsense!” I said.  They have to be treating these animals better.  It says so right on the package!  I was a stubborn self-proclaimed animal-rights vegetarian.  I wanted my eggs and cheese goddamn it!  And if these ingredients were politely taken from animals and they were allowed to live out the rest of their lives freely, then I was content.  The following picture is of a “cage-free” farm.

Then I began to do a little research.  And a little thinking.  Let’s look at the term “cage-free.”  According to their website, it is completely unrecognized by the USDA.¹ If you see this term on an egg carton, it means absolutely nothing.  There is no independent party to verify these conditions, let alone know what to even look for since there are no concrete guidelines.  They may increase the chicken’s living space from 67 inches (the typical battery-cage condition in which they spend their entire lives in a space smaller than a letter sized piece of paper, which is the majority of egg farms), but they still may never see the light of day while they are cooped up with thousands of other chickens in a warehouse or enclosed barn.  Because of these tight quarters with other chickens, there is an increase in fighting and the practice of debeaking is still prominent.  Debeaking is a painful process where they cut or burn off part of the bird’s beak without any sort of anesthetic.  Now let’s talk about chicks.  Since male chicks are of no profit to these farmers, they have been deemed useless, thus are either thrown into a grinder alive to be used as feed, tossed in a dumpster where they starve to death or suffocate, or gassed.  They get to spend no time with their mothers before being killed.  All of these acts and conditions are permitted with “cage-free” eggs.

“Free-range” has to be a little better, right?  Well, it’s “better” if you consider yard-time an appropriate reward for innocent prison inmates.  This yard time can consist of only 10 minutes.  Again, there are no USDA standards for “free-range” egg production.  And the only USDA standard I found for non-egg producing “free-range” chickens are this:  “Producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.”² Pretty strict guidelines huh?  Also, there is no third-party agency auditing these farms.  In addition to debeaking, forced molting through starvation is also permitted.  What happens to chickens who no longer produce as many eggs as they once did?  They are either gassed, electrocuted or have their necks slit open to bleed out.  These methods are far from humane.  The following picture is of forced molting practices.  

Since these methods are prevalent with big factory farms, you may think that the only option is to go with “locally raised” products from smaller farms.  And while the conditions for the animals here are probably a little better, they are still slaughtered with similar (if not the same) methods many, many years before their time is up naturally.  Since they are viewed as products rather than living beings, they are disposed of when their yield has declined.  Farmers everywhere, whether they are bowing to the needs of corporations or just tend to their small family owned operations keep in mind one thing  that is of dire importance.  Money.  If their farm isn’t profitable, they have no business.  It is far too expensive to keep every chicken and cow that has stopped producing enough eggs or milk.  These “commodities” would be eating into their profit, literally.  The most cost-efficient thing to do is to kill them.  They are never viewed as anything but price tags.  And to tap into that profit even more, they’ve created a niche market for consumers who want to feel better about the animal products they consume.  This is why they’ve coined terms like “free-range” and “cage-free.”  To give consumers peace of mind.  Not animals.  All for a few extra pennies.

Am I against better practices or better welfare for animals?  Of course not.  I would much rather someone get raped as opposed to beaten and raped.  But the deeper problem lies not with the welfare of the animal we use for our means.  As long as animals are viewed as walking commodities, products for our ends, or profit, they will never be treated humanely.  You cannot simultaneously consume animals while saying you “care” about them.  It’s as simple as that.  If you truly care about the well-being of animals, the only sensible conclusion is to stop the exploitation.  Over 27 billion animals are brought into existence in the U.S. alone, only to be killed soon thereafter for food that is not only unnecessary, but unhealthy.

Waiting for the industry to change would require a conscience on their part.  That will never happen.  We have to change it by cutting the demand.  Without demand, there is no product to sell.  Every single person makes a difference.  On average, if you cut out all animals from your diet, you would be saving over 50 lives a year.  Anyone who says that one person can’t make a difference is sorely mistaken when it comes down to profit-based businesses.

If you ever doubt that farm animals have personalities, visit an animal sanctuary.  They display the same emotions as dogs and cats.  If you live in the Kentucky area, and want to visit or support one, check out Home At Last Animal Sanctuary.http://www.homeatlastanimals.org/ They rescue farm animals in addition to any other animals needing care.

¹  http://www.fsis.usda.gov/fact_sheets/Focus_On_Shell_Eggs/index.asp

²  http://www.fsis.usda.gov/fact_sheets/Meat_&_Poultry_Labeling_Terms/index.asp

Conklin Dairy Farms in Plain City, OH sadistically torturing cows

Mercy For Animals recently just uncovered horrible video of Conklin Dairy Farm employees beating, torturing, and maiming cows during a four-week period.

Mercyforanimals.org is a wonderful site that has been currently working on getting these people prosecuted on animal cruelty charges.  They are a non-profit organization, so any donations would greatly help this and other cases.  Considering this video is not the only one out there documenting abuse on farms, does this not make you wonder how often this really happens?  Just this particular video was in the time frame of 4 weeks.  Think about all the other things that happened the camera didn’t catch.  This is not an isolated incident, as we have learned from the KFC undercover videos and plenty others.  These animals deserve better lives than this.  Write or call:

Conklin Dairy Farms

12939 Us Highway 42 N

Plain City, OH 43064

(614) 873-8024

If you want to contact the Union County Prosecuting Attorney’s office:

Union County Prosecuting Atty‎

221 West 5th Street

Marysville, OH 43040-1111

(937) 645-4190‎