Friday, September 28, 2012

The importance of "The 10% Club"

The 10% Club is really an extension of one of my fundamental beliefs, namely that we should look beyond our own needs, and help other living beings to enjoy a better life. The premise behind the club is simple – to encourage people to set aside 10% of the money they normally spend on entertainment, and to donate that money to charities that help animals. There are no membership fees or club cards, just the promise that you make to help and the follow through.

So why animals? Why not focus on other charities? In my experience, animal shelters, animal rescue organizations, and other such entities have a much harder time surviving financially than charities that deal with other issues. While there is a wide variety of worthwhile charities one can support, the ones that actively help animals are the ones that are the most underfunded, and, in some countries, completely ignored.

Many of us spend a lot of money on going out and having fun. The percentage of the same people who give even a little money to animal charities (or any charities whatsoever) is ridiculously low. The 10% Club is a gentle reminder that while we spend, spend, spend on ourselves, there are others out there who would be grateful for every dollar we give in order to keep doing what they do. This is doubly true in many developing countries, where animal charities are often not funded at all, and rely on donations from people like me and you to survive. The 10% Club is reminder that by setting aside even a little of our disposable income, we can indeed begin to make a difference. Let’s say there are 100 people every Friday at the bar that you go to. Each person there spends about 30 dollars that night. If each person sets aside 10% of the money they spend, there would be $300 dollars available for charities. $300 can go a long way. It could buy a lot of dog and cat food, blankets, and other necessities that animal shelters often struggle to provide for the animals that they save.

Of course there is still a long way to go before the small minority of givers becomes a majority. Every person that "joins the club", however, and donates even a little bit of money to charity, is helping to make a difference. These days, many organizations that help animals have websites and make it easy to donate online through Paypal or bank transfers. The only thing to remember is to make sure you’re donating to a reputable organization, so do some research beforehand! Those of us who don’t have a lot of disposable income, but would like to help anyway, could always volunteer a little of our time at an organization that helps animals. In some places, volunteers are required as much as money.


Friday, September 21, 2012

EFFA: Helping both animals and humans

Many of you are already familiar with the organization that I helped start several years ago, EFFA, but you might not be familiar with the underlying philosophy behind this organization, ie. what motivated me to start it.

One of the things that sets EFFA apart from other animal rights organizations is that we are not only about animal rights. EFFA has always been about helping animals while helping ourselves to grow as humans at the same time. The first part is clear, - we do stress the importance of helping animals; the importance of identifying areas of our relationship with other animals that have to be reexamined and made more fair. To us, for example, veganism is the correct way of life, as it minimizes the suffering of other living beings. We believe that veganism, like any change that leads to less suffering, represents progress for humanity. Apart from not eating meat, we stress the importance of respecting other animals, and of being wise enough to know the difference between allowing some animals to "just be", and protecting those that need our protection.

So how does our philosophy relate to humans? First, we believe in cause and effect, and, consequently, that that the suffering and death of millions of animals around the world daily has an adverse effect on our lives. It would be naïve to think that all the suffering and death experienced by these animals just vanishes into thin air. Consequently, by minimizing this suffering, we are, in fact, minimizing the negative effects thereof and making the world a more positive place. Second, we believe that the actual act of killing an animal (or having someone kill an animal for us) is harmful to us on many levels. Apart from creating the above-mentioned negative effects of that animal’s suffering, it creates a secondary negative effect for us personally for having taken a life. What we’re saying here is not at all mystical or hypothetical. If you are in doubt about the very real, physical violence and negativity inherent in mistreating animals, visit a slaughterhouse or any other such place. Most people, upon doing so, would agree that our concepts make sense. Thus, by eliminating actions that directly or indirectly cause harm to other animals, we are eliminating several different negative effects. This makes our own lives better.

Third, we believe that there is a lot of good that comes from helping, especially helping innocent beings. We encourage people to get involved in helping animals, because we have a personal connection to that particular issue and feel it to be very important, but there are many other ways to help improve the world as well. One of the main ideas underlying most of our approach to life has to do with leaving selfishness behind, seeing beyond our personal needs and reaching out to those who really need our help. Just as we feel that harming, killing, and abandoning animals is, in itself, a harmful act, we believe that the act of helping these creatures (and others) is, in itself, a very positive act, one that will lead to a better world.

These are three ways in which we believe that we all can benefit from our philosophy. By adopting some of these ideas into your own life, you too can start to make a REAL positive change, both for yourself and for the world around you.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Friday, September 14, 2012

Why are Vegans so serious?

Vegans are sometimes accused of not having a sense of humor. Far from being a "general truth", what this really refers to is that many vegans don’t find jokes involving cruelty to animals and eating meat funny. I myself can think back to certain times when I would laugh at such jokes, ones that these days I wouldn’t find the least bit amusing. So what changed?

To understand why people like me don’t laugh at those types of jokes, even though we completely understand that they’re just jokes and don’t necessarily mean that the person actually harbors these feelings, one has to understand our beliefs. Namely, one has to understand the depth, intensity, and personal connection to how we view our relationship with animals. When one reaches a higher level of understanding about how unfair our treatment of animals is, one begins to empathize with their suffering, and becomes very sensitive to the injustices around him/her. It’s important to remember that for someone who has connected to this higher level of consciousness, the empathy one feels is of a deeper variety, and a personal chord is struck every time one witnesses an act of cruelty, sees animals confined in cages waiting to be slaughtered, or sees an abandoned dog roaming the street. Someone who has not attained this level of empathy may also feel "sorry" for these animals, but this feeling will not be as deep. Someone who has not attained this level of empathy may simply not understand some of our reactions, as is the case here.

Once we get to that level, where the injustices of how we treat other animals begin to strike a personal chord within us, we no longer find jokes about this funny. If you can’t understand this based on the human-animal relationship example, try thinking about other analogies. Many people who have a personal connection to injustices and violence do not find jokes about these topics funny. Most rape victims do not find rape jokes funny, nor do the family members of these victims. Most victims of torture do not find jokes about torture funny, nor do the family members of these victims. Family members of someone who was killed by a drunk driver will most likely not laugh at jokes about drinking and driving. Many people who truly love animals are as aware and as sensitive to the injustices that animals face as the above-mentioned people are about their issues. Hopefully, after reading this, people will start to question the jokes themselves, and not our reaction to them. fully, having shed some light on this, people will start to question the jokes themselves, and not our reaction to them.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Above the butcher's shop in Węgrów, Poland

This is pretty much what I imagine everyone who lives above a butcher shop anywhere in the world looks like.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The case against selfishness

The way we treat other animals is based on a variety of factors: upbringing, cultural and societal norms, and education, to name a few. Whatever the reasons, people who mistreat animals often don’t care enough about them to behave any differently. More often than not, this is tied in to a self-centered view of life, where our own goals and aspirations take precedence over everything else. We’ve been taught to "look out for number one" our whole lives, so it’s natural that we turn a blind eye to the suffering around us. While there is nothing wrong with focusing on ourselves to an extent, we should also strive to be more conscious of the suffering around us, and take concrete steps to alleviate it. A self-centered way of life might seem fine, but it is ultimately pointless in that it is a wasted life that could have been used to improve the world in which we live.

I have always stressed the importance of helping. The reason that I stress the importance of helping animals, in particular, is that I believe that our current relationship with them is an enormous ongoing problem for the world that we live in. This (mis)treatment, whether it be killing millions of them daily for our food or clothes, abusing them for our sports and entertainment, or simply ignoring their suffering on the streets of our cities, is leading the world in the wrong direction. Negativity causes more negativity. It’s a simple case of cause and effect. The current treatment of other animals can be remedied by taking a step back from our selfish behavior and thinking about all the suffering we are causing. It starts with the realization that no sentient being, human or otherwise, wants to suffer and die. Animals were not put on this earth to serve us. Thinking that they were is the epitome of selfish (and faulty) thinking. They were put here to see if we could all coexist peacefully, and as long as we don’t change the current way of doing things, we will not be able to.

Realizing that it’s not OK to hurt and kill other living beings is the first step. Thinking about this, really meditating on it, should ideally lead you to empathize more with the other animals suffering around you. You should then act on this realization, and do whatever you can to help these animals. You should help even if you don’t feel this empathy. Active helping is the best way to broaden our focus, and to start making a difference in the world. The actual act of helping innocent beings is so positive it is almost therapeutic. It is the antithesis of the popular (and misguided) hedonistic approach in which see the world as something that we can use and abuse. The more we move away from this hedonism and selfishness, the better our chances to truly improve the world we live in.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Did Michael Clarke Duncan's vegetarianism play a part in his death?

Michael Clarke Duncan, the actor famous for his portrayal of John Coffey in the Green Mile, died today from complications of a heart attack he had suffered back in July. I liked Michael. He seemed like a nice guy. I didn't know that he had been a vegetarian for the last couple of years of his life, since 2009. He even did a spot for PETA promoting vegetarianism, stating how much better he felt after eliminating meat from his diet. This, of course, made me like him even more.

Once I found out about his vegetarianism, I thought it would be interesting to check if there were any anti-vegetarian agitators out there who would conclude that not eating meat was somehow responsible for his death... and of course there were. I'm not going to provide links to their sites because I don't want to give them extra traffic. Basically though, to sum up, the veggie haters once again pulled out one of their favorite cards, the "soy products damage the thyroid gland" card, concluding that Duncan's vegetarian diet could have affected his thyroid, which, in turn, could have weakened his heart. If that weren't enough, they also somehow ridiculously linked his heart problems to a lack of testosterone (also from deadly soy - beware!). Of course they said nothing about the many other people who died today from heart problems caused by a TRULY unhealthy diet, a meat-based diet high in saturated fat, but hey, I guess they just forgot. They also didn't mention the common-sense fact that no matter what you eat, a balanced diet is key. They must have forgotten that as well.

First and foremost, I'm pretty sure that Michael Clarke Duncan's vegetarianism did not play any role in damaging his heart. His heart attack (as all heart attacks) could have been caused by a variety of things - his diet throughout his whole life, a congenital defect, the consequences of over-exerting himself, - the list goes on. Vegetarianism and especially veganism are diets that generally lower one's blood pressure and cholesterol. These are diets that are, more often than not, low in saturated fat, one of the worst culprits in heart disease. In fact, many doctors often ask patients who have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or related heart problems to cut down on their meat intake. One would have to be pretty misguided to actually think that vegetarianism would CAUSE these problems. On a personal note, I don't eat meat and avoid most animals products, run 10 km three times a week and work out the other days. Weak heart? I think not.

So what about soy affecting the thyroid? This, just like the above-mentioned idea about soy raising estrogen levels isn't backed up by any strong evidence. Anyone who uses this as an argument doesn't really know what they're talking about. Here is a good collection of questions and answers regarding soy consumption. All that aside, there are tons of vegetarian food options apart from soy. Not everything in a vegetarian diet is soy-based, and we don't even know how much soy Duncan ate.

To sum up: Michael Clarke Duncan didn't die because he didn't eat meat. Don't let the peanut gallery make you believe that vegetarianism is unhealthy. And one last thing, rest in peace, Mr. Duncan. Thank you for making your last years ones of empathy and compassion.