Friday, November 30, 2012

The cruelty behind the wool industry

Apart from one jacket made from recycled wool, I have no clothes that that are made from any animal products. The only reason I have this jacket is that several years ago, when I made the decision to stop wearing leather, I didn't know that wool also had its dark side. More and more people realize the horrors behind the fur industry, and most vegans (and some vegetarians) realize that leather is, at best, a by-product of the meat industry and, consequently, is also a by-product of animal suffering and death. Still, a lot of people who come to the above realizations do not realize that wool involves a lot of cruelty as well.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

Shearing sheep is big business, and many suppliers try to speed up the process as much as they can in order to sell more wool. This means that shearing sheep becomes a mechanical (and often rushed) process, one that often causes painful lacerations and other damage to a sheep’s skin. While most types of shearing operations treat sheep as mere objects, causing them to suffer, the common process of "mulesing" is particularly cruel, and routinely involves cutting off chunks of a sheep’s skin and flesh along with its wool. To make matters even worse, this is often done without any anesthesia. Apart from the skin damage and the negative consequences thereof, there are other issues that make wool an unethical choice. One of these involves the way that these animals are transported. Many of the same sheep that are used for wool are later transported across continents, often in filthy, cramped conditions, only to be slaughtered for food. This is only one of several negative practices associated with the wool industry. Moreover, the production of other types of wool, such as mohair, cashmere, pashmina, etc. involves as much if not more suffering as the production of "generic" wool.

All of the above things should lead us to reconsider buying wool in the future. While it is important to try to minimize our involvement in the death cycles of the meat and fur industries, we must also be conscious of the needless suffering of animals in other industries (such as the dairy, egg, and wool industries) and do our best to avoid these products as well. Wearing wool is not necessary, as we have progressed to a level where synthetic fibers, such as polar fleece, are, in fact, much warmer than animal products such as wool and fur. This is why clothing made from these synthetic fibers is what you see on polar and mountain climbing expeditions, or any other such trips in extremely cold weather conditions.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Why animals? (revisited, yet again)

Despite having written about this before, I still sometimes get asked why I choose to focus on helping animals when there is so much else wrong with the world. It’s funny that, in most cases, this question is asked by people who do absolutely nothing to help anyone beyond their immediate family, if that. I’m pretty sure that anyone who truly helps to make the world a better place will not ask silly questions about my priorities. This is because they will realize the importance of helping in and of itself, and will most likely be too busy trying to make a positive change to ask these types of questions. Still, here are some things to keep in mind if the “why animals?” question does perplex you:

The first thing is that when it comes to how we mistreat other animals, the scale of the problem is enormous. Millions upon millions of animals suffer and die daily because of us. Anyone who truly respects the life of other animals will realize the magnitude of the problem, and will not need to be convinced. The people who are befuddled by people helping animals are those that simply haven’t yet realized the importance of respecting animals’ right to live and not suffer. To put things in perspective, let’s pretend for a second that it’s human beings that are in the position of these animals. Imagine slaughterhouses full of humans, humans chained up on short chains, forced to perform and be killed for sport and entertainment, hunted, humans abandoned when they are no longer cute. Yes, of course some of these things still do happen to us, but, for the most part they happen a lot less than they do to animals, and there isn’t as much blatant exploitation mixed with a total lack of respect involved.

The second thing is that animals are innocent beings. Animals, much like small children, cannot defend themselves, and even if they could, they would be no match for our technology and our intelligence. Unfortunately, instead of using our intelligence to create a better world for everyone, we’ve been using it to exploit, abuse, and bully other species for our benefit. What about children, one might say, or sweatshop workers? Aren’t they innocent victims as well? Of course they are. This is a serious problem, and every conscious individual should be concerned about it. What is true, however, is that more and more countries are taking steps to remedy the problems of child exploitation and workplace injustices, and there are many more people in the world who at least recognize that these things are a problem. This is often not the case with issues of animal abuse. Most people unfortunately still cling to the idea that we are somehow justified in causing all this suffering and death, and that we have a right, as a higher form of life, to do whatever we want to other animals.

I believe animal rights issues to be pretty important, and I devote a lot of time to trying to improve the way we interact with the other species with whom we share the planet. Having said that, I also recognize the importance of helping in and of itself, and I will not question someone’s choices if they happen to feel passionate about something different from what I’m passionate about. Judging someone on the basis of whom they choose to help is just plain silly. There are many injustices out there, and plenty of room for all of us to chip in and help. I focus on our relationship with other animals because I truly believe that the current one is dragging the world down and causing a lot of negative consequences for us all. Others will choose to get involved in other issues, important issues they are equally passionate about or feel a personal connection to. So let’s not waste our energy on silly questions, but rather do our best to try to improve the world that we live in. This will benefit all of us much more in the long run.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

COOL PLACES AROUND THE WORLD: Caligari Café (Guadalajara, Mexico)

This hip cafe/restaurant with a bohemian slant, located on the southern edge of the Santa Teresita (Santa Tere) neighborhood in central Guadalajara, is the perfect place to grab breakfast, coffee, or a beer (they have a pretty good selection of microbrews).

Address: Juan Manuel 1406, Guadalajara, MX


Vegetarian/Vegan: Quite a few lacto-ovo veggie options, not sure about Vegan options.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Using our love for our pets to learn to empathize with other animals

People all over the world have pets that they love very much. In some countries, pets are treated as family members, while in other countries, less so. Still, in both cases, there is enough respect for these particular animals to make the idea of eating them seem cruel. After all, someone might say, these are pets, and while other types of animals are meant to be eaten, pets are not. This, of course, is not true per se, and depends on your perspective. If you look at eating habits around the world, what is acceptable in one culture is often deemed unacceptable in another. Cows are sacred in India, while they are slaughtered by the million in Texas. Cats and dogs are beloved by people in many parts of the world, but both are eaten in parts of Asia, among other places. The easiest way to break the cycle, to stop eating the meat of an animal, is to have a personal connection to that animal. This is why people who have cats or dogs will, generally, never even think about eating them; or why rat owners are sickened at the thought of animal experimentation; or why bird watchers sometimes get so attached to birds, they would never want to see one harmed.

I believe that every step we take to stop eating animals is a good step. Every instance when a species is taken off the "list of animals to be eaten" constitutes progress. Whenever we start to feel that personal connection to a certain animal, we should be happy. We should be grateful that we are lucky enough to love our cat, dog, guinea pig, turtle, hamster, etc., but should also use this opportunity to expand this love to include other animals. Why? Because a connection to one animal is like a seed that can eventually grow into a beautiful tree of compassion for all animals. We must remember that no animal wants to feel pain or suffering, whether it be our dog or cat, or a pig, cow, or sheep. No animal wants to be hoarded and confined in a small, crowded area. We hate the thought of our pets being in this situation, but chickens, and many other farm animals often live their whole lives in dark, confined spaces, only to be killed at the end. When we see reports of dogs and cats crammed into cages, we feel horrified, and justifiably so. We should try to grow our empathy for other animals, so that we have the same sort of reaction when we see them in such situations. They deserve our sympathy and our help as well. Again, don’t be afraid to make the connection. We should remember that these animals have the same emotions as the animals we call pets, and are often as smart, if not smarter, than our pets are. The only reason that we sometimes feel that there is a difference, is that we have been conditioned to make this distinction.

By spreading some of the love and respect to other animals, we can eventually begin to fully understand the injustices of our current relationship with the rest of the animal world, and to take concrete steps to eradicate these injustices. While we will never eliminate every inconsistency in what we do, we should at least take steps to eliminate obvious double standards such as the one described above.

Friday, November 9, 2012


Pescetarians (also spelled "Pescatarians") avoid every type of meat except for fish and seafood. Many people all over the world (especially in many Asian countries) mistakenly believe that people who eat fish and seafood are actually vegetarians, when in fact they are not. Before getting into why I think one should not eat fish, I would like to state that I, too, was a pescetarian for about a year before I switched over to vegetarianism, and later, veganism.

There are two main reasons why people choose to become pescetarians. Some decide on this type of diet because they don’t have the same amount of empathy for fish and other marine animals as they do for cows, pigs, sheep, etc. They feel that fish either don’t have feelings, or somehow don’t deserve as much respect as other animals do. Others feel that fish, unlike other meat, is too healthy for us to give up. In their view, without fish, we would not be providing our body with the nutrients we require. The first reason, the lack of empathy for fish, is a common one. When I gave up other types of meat, I didn’t give up fish because I just didn’t feel as sorry for them as I did for other animals. Now, having developed a deeper empathy, I realize that this way of thinking was wrong. First of all, there is quite a lot of scientific evidence that suggests that fish are, in fact, more intelligent than many of us had previously thought. The fact that they are marine animals and function in a different way than the land animals that we are familiar with should not mislead us. Fish are sentient beings, just like humans, cows, deer, and other animals. This, on an ethical level, should be enough for us to respect them (even if we can’t yet empathize with them) and to stop eating them. Besides, this respect can sometimes eventually give rise to empathy, as was the case with me. When I stopped eating fish, I didn’t really feel much compassion for them, but with time I started to feel this compassion more, especially when I thought about how so many people who are very conscious about the suffering of other animals seem to disregard the suffering of our marine friends. Another ethical paradox is the fact that many of the same people who would never eat the meat of a dolphin, or a whale, would have no problem eating the meat of a trout, or that of a red snapper. I ask myself, is this a question of size or intelligence? Neither argument is satisfactory, in my opinion, as both are trumped by the respect for sentient life in and of itself.

As far as healthy eating is concerned, the case against consuming fish can be argued quite effectively as well. First of all, most of the fish and seafood that is sold in supermarkets is generally not very healthy. Farm raised fish, which accounts for a big percentage of supermarket fish, often has high levels of mercury, and since many fish are given antibiotics (and their environment treated with pesticides) to ensure they don’t get sick, any nutrients that you get from them will most likely be offset by the negative side effects of these practices. The truth of the matter is that you can find all the nutrients that you normally get from fish and seafood in a vegetarian or vegan diet. Let’s take something that most people think they can only get from fish: Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids. In fact, flax seeds combined with a couple of other simple ingredients will provide you with a great meat-free source of these important nutrients. Anyone concerned about losing the positive nutrients provided by fish only has to do a simple Google search in order to find non-meat alternatives to each of these.

Hopefully, after reading this, you’ll consider cutting down on fish and seafood, if not eliminating them completely from your diet. While not as cute and cuddly as baby mammals, as sentient beings, they deserve the right to live as much as any other animal.

Friday, November 2, 2012

An Effaist feeding walk (Un paseo de alimentación effaísta)

While I was on vacation in Mexico recently, I came up with an idea to help the stray dogs there, and to raise awareness about their suffering. I went on what I called "feeding walks". Among other things, they served as an important reminder that the power to make a difference is often in our own hands.

I have never liked the fact that people would go on vacation somewhere and be either blind or oblivious to the injustices of the region. Granted, some of these injustices are complicated in nature, especially when they're part of a culture’s social fabric, and require a lot of research before one gets involved in them. Some issues, however, like the plight of hungry stray dogs, are relatively easy to get involved in. Basically, I felt so bad for the emaciated hungry dogs digging in the garbage that, true to my Effaist beliefs, I decided to help. I bought a 4 kilogram bag of dog food and I spent several evenings feeding pretty much every stray dog that crossed my path. Many of these animals were hesitant at first, giving the impression that they had been either chased away and/or mistreated many times beforehand. Once they had gained enough confidence and started eating, though, I could tell that many of them were really hungry.

So what did my series of feeding walks change? And did they, in fact, do more harm than good by giving these dogs false hope (as some might think)? I would argue that these types of feeding walks do indeed accomplish several things. First, they give the dogs a break from hunger, and from the trash that they normally dig through. Second, they show people that there are individuals out there that care about these animals, which may, in turn, encourage others in the area to start doing the same. People would often stop to ask me what I was doing, and most whom I spoke to had a very positive reaction to the whole idea. Even in our crazy world, I believe good deeds are infectious, and there are indeed people out there who only require this small push to start helping themselves.

To answer the second question, feeding a dog regularly and then stopping can indeed be very dangerous, as the dog may very well become attached and expect food from you at a given time and a given place. This should only be done if you know for a fact that you will be around for that animal. A feeding walk is different in that it is not a permanent solution. Like I stated above, it provides a temporary break for these animals. This, of course, does not mean that a permanent solution is not needed. Among other things, a feeding walk is a reminder of the need to fight for a permanent ethical solution to the problem of strays – education about the proper treatment of pets, the creation and implementation of spay and neutering programs, the creation and implementation of catch and release programs, providing more support for no-kill animal shelters and animal rescue organizations, the encouragement of adoption of strays from shelters. After going on several feeding walks, one almost always wants to get involved in one or more of the above-mentioned ways in order to keep helping these animals in a more permanent capacity.

Since the act of helping innocent beings is a very positive one, every Effaist feeding walk will have positive consequences for the world. Although the act itself only provides temporary relief from the hard lives these poor animals live, it serves as a reminder, both to ourselves and others, that there is a problem, and that something should be done to help these animals. The next time you travel to a part of the world where there are many stray dogs or cats, or if you live in one of these regions, please consider taking a little bit of time and going on a feeding walk of your own.

Últimamente cuando estaba de vacaciones en México, se me ocurrió una idea para ayudar a los animales callejeros y para levantar conciencia sobre su sufrimiento. Hice una serie de paseos, que en ingles llamé "Effaist feeding walks", que llevan a una conexión al sufrimiento animal (en este caso de los perros callejeros). Aparte de eso, son un recuerdo importante de que el poder de hacer una diferencia está en nuestras manos.

Nunca me había gustado el hecho de que mucha gente, estando de vacaciones en algún lado, ignora o hace que no ve las injusticias de la región. Claro, algunas injusticias son muy complicadas ya que forman parte de la fábrica social de una cultura y, por lo tanto, requieren mucha investigación antes de involucrarse. Sin embargo, hay males, como por ejemplo el sufrimiento de los animales callejeros, que son mucho más fáciles a remediar. Yo, simplemente, me sentí tan mal por los perros hambrientos buscando comida en la basura, que, recordando los principios effaístas que trato de seguir, decidí de ayudar. Compré una gran bolsa de comida para perros, y pasé un par de horas cada día dando a comer a cada perro callejero que me topé. Al principio, muchos de esos perros tenían miedo de acercarse, dando la impresión de haber estado asustados o maltratados antes por personas poco compasivas. Una vez ganada la confianza, se notaba que la mayoría de los perros tenían mucha hambre.

Entonces, ¿cambiaron algo estos paseos? Y (según algunas personas) ¿no hicieron más daño a estos perros, dándoles esperanza falsa? Yo diría que estos paseos sí lograron un par de cosas importantes. Primero, dieron a los perros un descanso del hambre y un descanso de comer la basura que comen normalmente. Segundo, enseñaron a otras personas que hay gente a quién le importa el bienestar de esos animales, lo que pudiera animar a otras personas en la zona a ayudar también. Mucha gente me paraba para preguntar que hacía, y la mayoría de las personas con quienes hablé tenían una reacción muy positiva a la idea. Hasta en nuestro mundo loco, creo que uno todavía se puede permitir contagiar por la influencia positiva, y que hay personas que solo necesitan un pequeño empuje para empezar a hacer cosas buenas ellos mismos.

Para contestar la segunda pregunta, sí, dar a comer a un perro regularmente y después dejar de hacerlo puede resultar en problemas, ya que es probable que el perro ya estará acostumbrado a recibir esta comida en el lugar de siempre y al mismo tiempo. Este tipo de cosa sólo deberíamos hacer si sabemos que vamos a estar ahí, y que el perro podrá contar con nosotros. Los paseos que describí arriba no son lo mismo – son una solución temporal, un descanso del sufrimiento. Obviamente, eso no significa que no tenemos que buscar una solución ética y permanente. Al contrario, los paseos effaístas son, entre otras cosas, un recuerdo de la necesidad de encontrar una buena y compasiva solución al problema de los animales callejeros – de establecer programas para educar al publico sobre el buen trato de las mascotas, de crear y implementar programas de esterilización, de financiar mejor los albergues y refugios que no matan a los animales (de tipo "no-kill"), de animar al publico de adoptar las mascotas en vez de comprarlas, etc. Después de hacer unos paseos effaístas, uno casi siempre quiere involucrarse más en estos asuntos, para poder ayudar a esos animales en una capacidad más permanente.

El acto de ayudar es algo muy positivo, y cada paseo effaísta que haces resultará en consecuencias buenas para el mundo. Aunque en si mismo es sólo una solución temporal, es un recuerdo importante tan para nosotros mismos cómo para otra gente, de la importancia de hacer algo para ayudar a los animales que sufren en el mundo. La próxima vez que visites una región donde hay muchos animales callejeros (o si vives en una región así), piensa, por favor, en comprar una bolsa de croquetas, y de dejar un poco de comida (y agua) para los animales de la calle.