Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Polish campaign encouraging people to stop buying live carp at Christmas

Polish tradition dictates that carp (and other fish dishes) be served on Christmas Eve. Unfortunately, many people also have the custom of buying live carp, which are often kept in the bathtub until they are killed for Christmas Eve dinner.

The goal of Polish environmental organization Klub Gaja's campaign is to minimize the suffering of these sentient animals. The campaign basically asks people not to buy live carp, - noting that the way these animals are transported, kept, and later killed all cause a lot of needless suffering to these animals.

(All of the resources are in Polish only)


Monday, July 29, 2013

Zoos, marine mammal parks, wild animal parks, etc.

As someone who does not like to see wild animals in captivity, I’m not a fan of zoos, marine animal theme parks, and other such places. Zoos are basically controlled environments that initially came into being in order to allow us to safely see animals that we would normally not be able to see in our daily lives. Unfortunately, this has often meant that the animals were taken out of their natural habitat and put in very unnatural, confined surroundings. None of us wants to be taken out of our natural habitat and put in a glorified cage for the amusement of others, so we shouldn't do this to animals. We fight to be free, yet so easily deny the same freedom to these poor creatures. The worst type of zoos are the ones that operate on the misguided, archaic view that animals exist to serve us any way we see fit. The situation in many marine animal theme parks is especially bad since the poor animals who live there are made to do all sorts of tricks.

It is important to know when to help animals and when to leave them alone in the wild. The majority of zoos don’t get this concept, but some do. Many of the better zoos (and they are indeed in a very small minority) put an emphasis of the preservation of species, - taking in animals that are, for one reason or another, endangered in their natural habitat. Unfortunately some animals are not guaranteed a safe life in their natural habitat, due to poaching, hunting, and other such illegal activity. In these types of cases, zoos can serve a conservation purpose. Some of these more ethical zoos do whatever they can to create the best possible life for their animals, recreating their natural environment for them and making them feel as comfortable as possible. Wild animal parks are better, in theory, since they are meant to recreate an animal’s natural habitat in the wild. The reason I say "in theory" is that even though this type of environment is meant to be more natural, it is still a controlled environment, and as such, steps have to be taken to ensure that the park is managed well, and that the animals are healthy and happy. Not every wild animal park does this, and many don’t provide adequate care, an adequate environment, or even an adequate level of privacy (ie. too much interaction with visitors) for the animals that live there. Furthermore, some of these parks exist in completely inappropriate climates for the animals that live there.

Of course the best possible controlled environment would be an animal refuge or sanctuary, set up as part of a conservation effort; a non-profit organization, unlike nearly all of the above mentioned zoos, marine animal theme parks, wild animal parks, etc. This is the best way to ensure that they animals are in their natural environment; that they are being protected without being placed in cages, in closed-off premises, etc. Although it's true that conservation efforts are still fairly low on most governments’ agendas, the more people that attain a higher consciousness regarding the need to help other animals, the easier it will be to change this. For now, a good first step is to become aware of what’s going on in the zoo in your area, and if you find that an animal is being kept or treated in an inappropriate manner, to notify the director of the zoo, local animal rights organizations, and any other appropriate authorities. This will send a message that there are people who care about the welfare of these animals, and who will not stand for mistreatment.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Monday, July 22, 2013

The ban on the ritual slaughter of animals in Poland

The Polish parliament recently rejected a proposal to reinstate ritual slaughter (of the Jewish and Muslim variety) after the practice was banned from the beginning of 2013 because it was deemed to be in conflict with existing Polish animal welfare/cruelty laws. The arguments of supporters of ritual slaughter can mostly be divided into 2 categories: economics (the claim that money and jobs will be lost as a result of the ban) and religion (it’s important to guarantee religious freedom). The economic argument is a bit moot for all people who have attained a higher level of consciousness regarding animal suffering. For us, ethics trumps economics, so something that causes unnecessary suffering should be banned, no matter what the economic effect. Still, there have been several studies done that have concluded that from an economic point of view, the ban will not make that big an impact on the meat industry in Poland. But what about guaranteeing someone the freedom of religion? Isn’t this vital for a modern, democratic state?

The quick answer to this is yes, but within limits. Every society has a set of values that it tries to uphold. Any change in the constitution of a country has to go through certain steps to ensure that the new law does not go against these values. Freedom of religion is an important right, but Poland has decided that anti-cruelty laws trump certain aspects of that religious freedom, and rightfully so. Any law that prohibits cruelty should take precedence over a law that allows it, no matter how important the latter might be to a religion, any religion. Some opponents of the ban have even stated that the rejection of the proposal reeks of antisemitism, islamophobia and a general xenophobia prevalent in Poland. While both antisemitism and islamophobia are unfortunately quite prevalent in Poland, the rejection of ritual slaughter has nothing to do with either of these. It is simply a decision that the ethical treatment of animals (countless organizations around the world have deemed slaughter without stunning as inhumane) is more important than allowing such acts for religious purposes.

I value freedom of choice. But what I value even more is the elimination of unnecessary cruelty in the world. If this were a ban on wearing green hats instead of black hats, I’d be against it. But it’s not – it’s a ban on cruel killing methods. A lot of people have a hard time accepting this because we’re talking about animals. This would not even be an issue if someone proposed a law allowing for the marriage of 13 year old girls (as is common in some cultures), or the allowance of forced female circumcision (also common in some cultures), etc. These types of proposals would immediately be struck down because everyone would agree that they go against the values of our society. Since animals are involved, however, the issue has been opened to debate. This is because, sadly, the majority of people still view animals as lesser creatures to be used, abused and killed in whatever way we like. Small steps, like the rejection of the ritual slaughter proposal, however, give me hope that a move away from this way of thinking is indeed possible; that, as a society, we can institute laws that attempt to minimize the suffering of sentient beings.

I've always tried to be fair, whether it’s fairness to other people, or fairness in our relationship with the rest of the animal world. This is why I don't support any kind of ritualistic practices that cause unnecessary animal suffering and welcome any move to limit or ban such practices. The ritual slaughter of animals by cutting their throat while they are fully conscious is archaic and barbaric, and should be banned. While I support religious freedom to the fullest, I believe that modern societies, in order to progress, have to leave behind such practices, no matter how ingrained they are in culture, tradition, or religion.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

COOL PLACES AROUND THE WORLD: Cafe Neko (Vienna, Austria)

As a cat lover, I just had to check out Cafe Neko when I was in Vienna last month. It is a Japanese style cat cafe, with several free-roaming felines (cat residents, if you will) present at all times. The food menu is pretty limited, but they do have a good selection of reasonably priced coffee (and other) drinks, and ice cream. Truth is, most people come for the cats, which get so much love and attention from the customers, they seem spoiled beyond belief. :)

Address: Blumenstockgasse 5, 1010 Vienna, Austria

Website: http://www.cafeneko.at/

Facebook: Cafe Neko's Facebook page

Vegetarian/Vegan: There are quite a few vegetarian items on the menu, especially the sweets and ice cream. The fried tofu pockets might be vegan, but ask to make sure.

The Ukrainians - Batyar (Bigmouth Strikes Again - Smiths cover)

Very surprised I hadn't heard of this before today...

Monday, July 8, 2013

Friday, July 5, 2013

Why shouldn't we eat meat?/ ¿Por qué no deberíamos comer carne?

This is the topic that I’ve probably written about the most in the past couple of years. Still, I get asked this question a lot, so I decided to (once again) present my reasons as simply as I can.

Life is precious. Human life is precious. Animal life is precious. We should respect the lives of animals in the same way we respect the lives of other humans. We have been taught that animals are here to serve us, to be our food, to be our entertainment, to help us survive. This has been a common belief for centuries, even millennia, and for many of us, the society in which we live reinforces this belief at every step, so it seems very natural. But this is not the correct way to live. Over the past centuries, we have begun to recognize and appreciate both the intelligence of animals and their feelings, many of which are not unlike our own. Because of this, and because of the above mentioned general respect for life , some of us have progressed to a level where it becomes impossible to eat another animal. I use the word "progressed" intentionally, since I see vegetarianism (and especially veganism) as progress. Why? Because it is the more ethical of two choices. It is possible to survive eating meat. It is possible to survive without eating meat. Thus, we are faced with a choice, to eat meat and to have countless sentient animals killed in our name, or to refrain from eating meat, and to be free of that cycle. One person stopping eating meat will not change the world, but a thousand such individuals can signal an important change in a society’s priorities. This type of progress happens gradually, but can lead to the elimination of negative phenomena in society, leading to a better world. Remember that today in many parts of the world, people (and animals) have many more rights than they did just fifty or one hundred years ago, so positive change is indeed possible. Animals exist for the same reason that we all exist – because God, the universe, or whatever you would like to call it, has placed us all here. It is up to us humans, as the "more intelligent" species, to find a way to live together harmoniously. The fact that many of us believe that some animals are simply born to suffer only creates more unnecessary violence in the world. Leaving behind meat and others products which involve animal suffering is an important step on the road to a more harmonious and just coexistence with the rest of the animal world. What’s more, we should remember that animals, like small children, are innocent beings and, like small children, they are often vulnerable and helpless. While animals don’t always require our protection, they do want to live their lives in peace. Animals kill and eat each other all the time, you might say, so why shouldn't we kill for food? Animals do kill each other for food, but don’t forget that humans are very special animals. While other animals make their decisions based on instinct, we have the ability to make an ethical choice, a choice to either engage in violence, or to avoid it; to buy meat or to buy a plant-based alternative. We should appreciate this gift that we have, and always strive to make the ethical decision. In other aspects of our lives, most of us already do this. Following a cruelty-free diet is simply another important step in eliminating violence in our lives and in the world around us.

He escribido muchas veces sobre este tema, pero todavía me hacen esta pregunta, así que decidí de presentar otra vez miz razones en la manera más clara posible:

La vida es preciosa. La vida humana es preciosa. La vida de los animales también es preciosa. Deberíamos respectar la vida de las demás especies animales al igual que la vida humana. Nos enseñaron que los animales están aquí para servirnos, para ser nuestra comida, para entretenernos, para ayudarnos a sobrevivir. Ya llevamos siglos con esta forma de pensar, y, por la mayoría de nosotros, la sociedad en que vivimos reafirma esto a cada paso, así que la idea parece muy natural. Pero esta no es la manera correcta de vivir. En los últimos 200 años, hemos empezado a reconocer la inteligencia, y, aun más importante, los sentimientos de otros animales, sentimientos que a menudo no son tan distintos de los nuestros. Por eso, y también por el antedicho respeto a la vida en general, algunos de nosotros hemos avanzado a un nivel donde se nos hace imposible comer la carne de un animal. Uso la palabra “avanzar” a propósito porque vemos el vegetarianismo como progreso. ¿Por qué? Porque es la más ética de dos opciones. Es posible sobrevivir comiendo carne, pero también es posible sobrevivir sin comerla. Así que podemos elegir: seguir comiendo carne, causando la matanza de muchísimos animales sentientes en nuestro nombre, o dejar de comer carne, y liberarse de este ciclo. Sí, solo una persona dejando de comer carne no hace gran diferencia en el mundo, pero un mil de estas personas sí puede señalar un cambio importante en las prioridades de una sociedad. Este tipo de desarrollo sucede gradualmente, pero finalmente puede ocasionar una eliminación de fenómenos negativos en una sociedad, llevando por ende a un mundo mejor. Recordemos que hoy en día, la gente (y los animales también) en muchas partes del mundo tienen mucho más derechos que hace 100 o hasta 50 años, lo que significa que cambios positivos sí son posibles. Los demás animales existen por la misma razón que nosotros – porque Dios, el universo, o como quieras nombrarlo, nos puso todos aquí. Nosotros los humanos, siendo la especie más inteligente, somos responsables de encontrar una manera de convivir armoniosamente. Pensar, como muchos de nosotros, que algunos animales simplemente nacen para sufrir, solo conduce a más violencia innecesaria en el mundo. Dejar de comer animales es un paso muy importante en el camino hacia una convivencia más justa con el resto del mundo animal. Además, deberíamos recordar que los animales, igual como los niños pequeños, son seres inocentes, e igual como los niños pequeños, suelen ser vulnerables y indefensos. Los animales no siempre buscan protección, pero sí quieren vivir su vida en paz, como cada ser sentiente. Pero otros animales suelen matarse para comer, me dirán, así que ¿por qué nosotros no deberíamos hacer lo mismo? Otros animales sí suelen matarse para comer, pero no olvides que nosotros los humanos somos unos animales muy especiales. Mientras otros animales actúan y hacen decisiones por instinto, nosotros tenemos la capacidad de elegir la opción moral, la opción de fomentar la violencia o de evitarla; de comprar carne o de comprar un producto vegetariano. Deberíamos apreciar esta capacidad moral que tenemos y siempre tratar de hacer elecciones éticas. En otros aspectos de nuestra vida, ya hacemos esto. Seguir una dieta sin crueldad es simplemente otro paso importante para eliminar la violencia en nuestra vida, y en el mundo en que vivimos.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Excuses carnivores use: anemia, wrong blood types, etc.

Being a vegetarian, one hears many excuses from people as to why they continue eating meat. Two such excuses come up quite often. The first is that they are/were anemic, and need meat to ensure healthy levels of iron in the blood. The second is that they belong to a blood group for whom it is unhealthy to become vegetarians, so, alas, they must continue eating meat. Although it is understandable that sometimes people who have bad habits (which is how I and others like me view eating meat) find relief in "scientific" proof that enables them to think that what they're doing is actually good, many nutrition experts, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian, believe that the above-mentioned theories are flawed, if not completely wrong.

First let’s take the anemia theory. The idea that you can’t get enough iron from a vegetarian or vegan diet is about as faulty as the one that you can’t get enough protein from that diet. (By the way, if you still believe that whole protein=meat myth, check out veganbodybuilding.com and you’ll see that it’s perfectly easy to get great results from plant based proteins.) There are indeed many great sources of iron for vegetarians and vegans, - a quick Google search will result in informative articles, which outline exactly which foods to eat (and how to combine them) in order to ensure normal levels or iron. Anemia can be fought with a plant-based diet as effectively as it can be with a meat-based diet. In fact, I have a couple of friends who actually improved their iron levels AFTER becoming vegan, by following the advice given on the above websites. Unfortunately, many people don’t search for this info themselves, but just rely on what their doctors tell them. Vegetarians and vegans should remember that when it comes to nutrition, your doctor's word is not gospel. Many doctors have been taught very conservative (sometimes archaic) solutions to nutritional problems. To ensure that you’re not following some outdated advice, always inform yourself by doing an online search on something before making a decision.

Another famous theory is the blood type theory, made famous by the book "Eat Right 4 Your Type" (Putnam Adult) by Peter D'Adamo, which puts people in three categories related to their blood type. In brief, according to this belief, type A people function best as vegetarians, type O people have the hardest time being vegetarians (hence the excuse, "I have to eat meat, I’m type O."), and type B individuals are somewhere in between. After doing some research on this theory, I found that many if not most nutritionists actually see very little scientific merit in it. One Chicago Tribune article quotes prominent nutritionists stating that the conclusions are "based largely on anecdotes", and that "there have been no peer-reviewed studies published showing that different blood types perform better on certain foods". But even if one believes this theory, one has to remember that even the author himself has stated that it’s not that type Os are "prohibited" from being vegetarians, it’s just that they "may want to explore a more high-protein, lower-carbohydrate lifestyle". As I have stated above, it is possible to ensure high levels of protein without eating any meat or animal products, so it turns out that the infamous blood-type excuse is not much of an excuse at all.

I have always stated that whether you eat meat or not, a balanced diet is key. You have to ensure that you’re getting all the nutrients that your body requires. Vegetarian and vegan diets are not unhealthy. In fact, as even a little research will show, a diversified plant-based diet is a lot healthier for you than its meatbased counterpart. There is a ton of information online about which foods are good sources of plant-based protein, iron, and more. Hopefully this information will help you take steps to minimize your meat intake, and to eventually leave behind the cruelty of the meat, dairy, and egg industries.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

COOL PLACES AROUND THE WORLD: Dream House vegetarian restaurant, Sofia, Bulgaria

Dream House is a vegetarian restaurant located in the center of Sofia, Bulgaria. It has good, affordable lunch specials, as well as both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Most of the dishes are prepared with organic ingredients.

Address: Ul. Alabin 50a, Sofia, Bulgaria

Website: http://www.dreamhouse-bg.com/

Facebook: Currently unavailabe (7/2013). Check website above.

Vegetarian/Vegan: Most if not all of the menu is vegan, but ask to make sure.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Stray dogs, a measuring stick of a society's empathy

I've recently been traveling though several countries with a large number of stray/street dogs. In my opinion, all sentient life is precious, and the life of a cow is as important as the life of a dog or a cat or a chicken. By picking and choosing whose life is more important, we open ourselves to the conclusion that it’s OK to kill a certain animal because they’re "not as intelligent", "meant to be killed", etc. This type of thinking is a stumbling block on the road to true progress, and I have already written several blog entries about the need to expand our horizon to start respecting the life of as many animals as possible.

Having said all that (to keep things in perspective), the way a society treats dogs does indeed reflect certain values, or sometimes lack thereof, prevalent in that society. Dogs are arguably our most loyal and true companions out of all animals. They are intelligent. They become attached to us immensely and become our true and faithful friends soon after coming into our lives. They rely on us, wait for us, and love us. They do all this in a very obvious way. There is no mystery in a way a dog loves the person that takes care of it. There is no mystery in the affection that dogs require, and that many stray dogs beg for food while walking the streets after being abandoned. There is no mystery in the pain in a dog’s eyes when s/he is missing his/her owner. For most people, considering all of the things I have just described, this would be the easiest animal to empathize with. A dog would be the easiest example of how we should take care of our animal friends, and to help them lead lives free of fear, pain, loneliness, and depression. So, when I see a society where dogs are easily abandoned, and when an animal that is so obviously loving and faithful, is discarded like some kind of toy that is no longer amusing, I question the compassion of that society. When stray dogs roam the streets, begging for food, and most people just pass by, not feeding them, not giving them water, not showing any kind of love for an animal that would have done anything for them had the situation been reversed, I question the priorities of that society. When instead of taking concrete steps to improve the lives of these dogs, a society chooses to exterminate them, to demonize them by treating them as a supposedly "dangerous" nuisance, I question the heart of that society.

Some people will point out that many places where there is a problem with stray dogs are poor, and that there simply isn’t enough money to spend on this type of thing. While it is true that sometimes these societies are relatively poor, this is not the only reason that this problem exists. Ignorance and prevalent norms play an equal if not greater part in perpetuating the problem, or making it worse. They are what give the welfare of homeless animals a very low priority. Instead of spending money on programs to spay and neuter strays, building no-kill animal shelters or supporting existing ones, educating the population, especially children, about the good treatment of pets, etc., municipalities with a large population of stray dogs often spend money on other things, things such as stadiums, government buildings, etc., that are ultimately less important in terms of improving life for its human residents, dogs, and other animals. All true animal lovers in these cities should constantly take action to pressure their local government to adopt humane methods of dealing with the problem (the most accepted of which is the catch and release type spay/neuter program), to create programs to educate the population not to abandon pets, and to create stricter laws and penalties relating to this type of abandonment. Many European cities (and some Mexican ones that I know of) have already seen a great decrease in the number of stray animals due to the above methods.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The consequences of eating meat, revisited

I sometimes get asked how we can be so sure that there are negative consequences to eating meat, and what these consequences are exactly.

I believe that there are negative consequences to abusing and killing animals, and, by extension, to eating the meat of these dead animals. I believe that killing any sentient being, whether it’s another human, a cow, pig, fish, etc. is unethical because I see all sentient life as important. The same person that asked the question above would likely not have asked the same question about the consequences of killing other humans. Why? Because most of us already know that the killing of other humans is wrong. Religious individuals would most likely see this action as a "sin" for which there would be negative consequences. Even (most) non-religious individuals would agree that the killing of other human beings is not ethical. Even if we don't specify the exact consequences of killing someone, we kind of inherently feel that this is the wrong thing to do. For most of us, being responsible for a lost life would weight very heavily on our conscience.

I believe that this same level of respect for life should be extended to include as many animals as possible. When one develops compassion and empathy for animals, one begins to see that their suffering is as unacceptable as ours. One begins to respect all life, not just human life. There are ways in which we differ from animals, especially in our intelligence and our ability to make decisions. There are also ways in which we are very much alike: Our desire to live, our ability to feel pain, our emotions, including but not limited to happiness, sadness, depression, and fear. We should use to the things that set us apart (our intelligence and ability to make good decisions) to remind ourselves and others around us that we should be the caretakers of animals, not their executioners or abusers.

Whether you're religious or not, you can hopefully agree that violence and murder contribute to the deterioration of society, and make the world a much worse place to live. I believe that our treatment of animals also contributes to this. When we try to become "better people", we should keep in mind that respecting the life of animals is an important part of that equation, an important stepping stone on the path to true progress.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Happy Birthday Morrissey!

Meat industry workers' transition to more ethical jobs

In defense of the meat industry, some people bring up the inevitable job losses if and when we were ever to move to a more plant-based way of life. They argue that many farmers and others working in various meat, fish, and dairy industries would become unemployed, and that the welfare and ability of these individuals to earn an income should take precedence over animal rights issues.

It is never good for people who work in a certain industry when that industry declines. The first thing to remember, however is that this phenomenon is nothing new, historically speaking. Industries lose their importance, and sometimes completely fall by the wayside for a variety of reasons: The development of more efficient ways to provide goods or services, environmental concerns, ethical concerns, etc. This has always happened, and will continue to happen. While not always representative of progress, in some cases it is. One only need to look at how an increasing number of businesses are embracing more environmentally friendly methods of energy production (wind, solar, etc.), causing traditional industries such as the coal industry to decline. The possible decline of the meat industry and the subsequent growth of non-meat alternative industries would be a very positive thing, as it would mean a decline in the death and suffering of millions of innocent beings. I would welcome this sort of thing, since I believe that the killing of these innocent animals is responsible for many of the problems we face in the world today. While we should indeed worry about the ability of farmers and other individuals working in the above-mentioned industries to make a living, we should take steps to ensure that they do so as ethically as possible.
People will always need to eat, so farmers will not become obsolete. When other industries decline, the jobs that are lost are sometimes replaced with completely different jobs requiring completely different skills, so those working in the original industry can’t easily switch over. In food production, this can be a bit easier to do. Simply put, it would be easier for a farmer to go from raising livestock to, say, soy production, than it would for a coal miner to start working in the solar energy industry. The same can be said for people working in meat-production plants, etc. They would simply find work in a non-meat food production plant/factory. In the long run, once people adapt to working in the new industries, there would be as many people involved in the food production process as before. The only difference will be that these people will no longer be contributing to the death and suffering of innocent beings.

On a side note, another important point to remember is that working in and around so much death can and does affect our minds and our moods. Some people can simply brush it off as "just a job", but the negative effects of working in such an environment should not be underestimated.

Once again, I don’t mean to oversimplify the process of altering the current food-production infrastructure or to underestimate the challenges of retraining the people employed in the meat industry, but because of all the moral and ethical problems associated with meat production, this has to be done. Remember the importance of actively trying to affect change, and encourage your member of parliament, congressman, local representative, or any other appropriate member of government, to develop and invest in meat and dairy alternative food industries.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

COOL PLACES AROUND THE WORLD: Chaparro - cocina mexicana (Berlin, Germany)

Chaparro is a small, modern, fairly authentic Mexican restaurant, located in the bohemian Kreuzberg neighborhoood of Berlin, Germany. They offer tacos, tortas, burritos, and more, and have both meat and vegetarian (including vegan) options for all of these. They also sell Mexican beer, good mezcal, and fresh corn tortillas.

Chaparro es un pequeño, moderno, y bastante auténtico restaurant mexicano, ubicado en la zona bohemia de Kreuzberg, en Berlin, Alemania. Ofrecen tacos, tortas, burritos, y más, también en versión vegetariana (y vegana). También venden cervezas mexicanas, buen mezcal, y tortillas de maiz recién hechas.

Address: Wienerstr. 15-A (Kreuzberg), Berlin, Germany

Website: http://chaparro-berlin.de/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ChaparroCocinaMexicana

Vegetarian/Vegan: Most of the main dishes (burritos, tortas, enchiladas, etc.) come in vegetarian and vegan versions.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Anita's Animals (San Juan Cosala, Mexico), revisited

Whenever I'm in Guadalajara, Mexico, I make a point of taking the one hour trip to San Juan Cosala, on Lake Chapala, either by car (when my friends aren't busy and can give me a ride) or by bus. The reason I go there is to visit my friend Anita (Strehlow), who runs Anita's Animals, a private no-kill animal refuge for the abandoned dogs and cats of the region. I find Anita's selfless dedication to the strays inspiring, and I try to help her out in whatever way I can. Here's a video I made with footage that I recorded during my last visit to the sanctuary.

Anita needs our financial support, so please share the video, and help keep the sanctuary running by donating money (or if you live in the area, food or other supplies).

Friday, March 29, 2013

An Easter thought - Christianity and vegetarianism

Many Christians (and especially ex-Christians) who have embraced vegetarianism and veganism for ethical reasons, are disillusioned with what they perceive to be Christianity's negative or, at best, ambiguous take on our interaction with the rest of the animal world. After all, we are always told that "even Christ ate fish", that nowhere in the Bible is the eating of meat prohibited, and that, on the contrary, passages thereof clearly demonstrate that the consumption of meat is seen as OK.

While there has been quite a bit written about this (Google, for example “Christianity and a vegan diet”), I wanted to list some personal reasons why it is, in fact, possible, and even preferable, to be a vegetarian/vegan Christian. First of all, it is OK not to take everything in the Bible literally. There are, in fact, a lot of things that are in there, details, that would be seen as more than a little strange (or violent) if taken at face value. The second point, related to the first, is that we should avoid "not seeing the forest for the trees", but, instead, try to get to the heart of the teaching, to what the main message is. I see the teachings of Jesus Christ as being full of love, compassion, and forgiveness. Sure, he was prone to outbursts of anger and did sometimes sound vengeful (though many scholars attribute some of the latter to the personalities of some of his disciples coming through, as opposed to that of Christ himself). Still, taken as a whole, this was a kind man, a man who forgave sins, and man who took care of those around him, a helper and a healer. With all of this, I ask myself: What would this compassionate man think of our modern cruel factory farming methods responsible for the death and suffering of millions of animals daily? Would he approve? I am pretty sure he would not. In fact, I'm pretty sure he would be appalled by the lack of empathy that we have for the creatures with whom we share the world. I believe that had he seen the way we currently abuse and kill other animals en masse, he likely would have said more about our relationship with the rest of the animal world.

I think that Jesus' message is ultimately a positive one: To love and help one another, to forgive, and to try to live a righteous life. This Easter, when we remember the man and his teachings, my hope is that we will try to incorporate these into our interaction with animals as well as into our interaction with other people.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Another call to extend our field of vision

Most people limit themselves to focusing on their own happiness, or on the happiness of their immediate friends or family, doing very little to help those whom they don't know to live happier lives. While not necessarily a bad thing, per se, this type of limited focus, is, to a large extent, responsible for the sad state of the world today. If I know for a fact that someone leads a self-centered life, I cannot take any advice that that person gives about life seriously. And when that person claims to see things "clearly", I realize that what the person sees clearly is his/her limited field of vision.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Landscapes of the American South (January 2013)




Friday, February 15, 2013

The roach incident

I was in my friend’s bathroom the other day, and I saw a roach. It was a fairly big roach, one that most people would find fairly disgusting. I grew up in an old house in Los Angeles, one with an unfinished basement, so we always had problems with roaches, no matter how hard my parents tried to get rid of them. This is why I still get bothered by the sight of them, and even though my compassion for other animals is very strong, roaches are something I have very little compassion for. To be fair, I usually don’t kill roaches, or mosquitoes, but try to find a way to get them outside instead.

Anyway, this roach noticed me and, like most animals who perceive a threat, started to run away. He tried to hide under the door. I couldn't see where he went, but I closed the door to prevent him from going into the living room, not really caring if I squished him or not. Once I opened the door again, I noticed that I had, indeed, partially squished him. He was staggering, badly injured, with a liquid dripping from the part of his body that was caught between the door and the wall. This made me feel horrible. For the first time in my life, I felt true compassion and sadness for the suffering of a roach. I ended up putting him out of his misery.

The whole experience left a strong impression on me. It reminded me that it’s important to grow our compassion to include as many animals as possible. It is important to try to widen the range of animals for whom we feel empathy. It is easy to feel compassion for our loved ones, and, for many of us, for our pets as well. The true test of our compassion, is in expanding it to include other possibly less obvious animals. This particular incident served as a reminder for me that even an animal that is generally considered to be a pest, and is often exterminated, is a living being that suffers. This is not to say that no pests should ever be killed. Parasites, and other such creatures that feed and destroy our homes, should indeed be stopped in order to prevent disease and destruction. Most people, however, misinterpret the term “pest”, and include way too many animals in this category. Even when we’re dealing with harmful pests, we should always think about the most humane way possible to get rid of them. My whole experience with the roach was negative, but it lead to a positive realization which will hopefully prevent more such negativity in the future.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Taking a step back from our selfishness (part 2)

Driving long distances through the U.S. recently, I noticed a lot of roadkill. For those of you unfamiliar with this word, it refers to animals that are run over by cars on roads. Seeing all these dead animals made me think of the selfishness of human beings in general, and our selfishness with respect to how we relate to other animals, in specific. I have written about this concept several times already, but would like to touch on this subject again.

It’s important to put ourselves in the position of others that are suffering, especially those whose suffering is ignored by most people. Most people would downplay the whole roadkill thing, and consider it a side-effect of better roads, of faster cars, etc. In other words, they have no problem with increasing their convenience at the expense of other living beings. They buy into the whole concept that’s fed to them from birth: That it doesn't matter how many animals suffer and die, as long as they get to live a convenient life.

A truly empathetic individual would never agree with this line of thinking. I believe that whenever we decide to construct something, we have to do our best to ensure the well-being of the animal residents of that area. If there is a concern about this well-being, if there is a danger that a certain ecosystem might suffer because of our intrusion, we should not build. With regards to minimizing the number of animals killed on our roads, there are steps we can take, both as individuals and collectively. As individuals we can simply be more careful when we drive. We should not trivialize the lives of wild animals, or think their lives are worthless. Collectively, we should strive to implement the construction of roads that minimize the possibility of contact between wild animals and drivers. In Norway and other countries, for example, there are special bridges over highways where moose (and other animals) can cross. This not only helps the moose, it also minimizes the risk of injury and death for drivers. In other parts of the world, the implementation of various types of barriers along highways has lowered the number of unnecessary deaths. Like any developments which minimize the harm we do while interacting with other creatures, these examples represent true progress.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Cause and effect, karma, etc.

The belief that positive actions produce positive results and that negative actions produce negative results is a concept that spans religions and cultures. Examples of this can be found in the Jainist, Buddhist and Hindu concept of karma (which, incidentally, is now a common word in English and many other languages), in the Christian concept of "you will reap what you sow", and in many other belief systems. Even religions that don’t have a concrete word/description for this concept, still often believe that doing positive things (such as charity, helping other people, praising God, etc.) will lead to some kind of reward, whether it be in this life or the next, and that doing negative things will lead to some kind of punishment.

I believe that this this concept is equally valid in relation to the way we treat animals, and that the killing, hurting, or mistreating of animals are all negative actions that will have negative consequences. I believe that eating animals should be avoided because the killing of an animal should be no more acceptable than the killing of another human; that using the fur, skin, and other parts of animals should be avoided for the same reason; that we should not abuse or exploit animals any more than we should another human being. I believe that we should use the moral foundation that many of us already have relating to the treatment of other humans, and expand this to include as many animals as possible; that the only reason people don’t do this is because they have been conditioned to think that they have the right to mistreat and kill animals, conditioned to be blind to the fact that animals, just like us humans, have feelings, albeit maybe simpler ones, and should be respected. The belief that we, as humans, have some kind of "right" to abuse animals is, for me, a big lie, one that’s keeping us on the wrong path, both as individuals and as a society. Having said all that, the opposite is also true: Every action that involves helping animals have a healthier, less stressful life, any action that saves an animal from death or suffering, will have positive consequences. This is why the act of helping is so important.

It’s hard to break free from a way of thinking that our families and culture have told us is correct our whole lives. It’s much easier to just stick with the way things are instead of going through some major upheaval. Still, in order to progress as human beings, we have to question any kind of action that causes the suffering and death of innocent sentient beings. This realization is an important one, the implementation of which should lead to positive actions and, subsequently, to positive consequences.

Friday, January 11, 2013

COOL PLACES AROUND THE WORLD: Vega Bar (Wroclaw, Poland)

Located right on the central square (Rynek) of Wroclaw, this tasty and affordable cafeteria-style restaurant serves vegetarian and vegan versions of mostly Polish and Central European food, along with a variety of fresh and bottled juices and other non-alcoholic beverages. Apart from the great food, this place's claim to fame is that it was the first vegetarian cafe in Poland.

Address: ul. Sukiennice 1/2 (Rynek), Wrocław, Poland

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/VEGA.Bar.Wegetarianski.Wroclaw

Vegetarian/Vegan: The entire menu is vegetarian/vegan.

Vegetarianism/veganism vs. freedom of choice

In many parts of the world, there are more and more vegetarians and vegans, and most people, even when they don't really know much about our diet, do accept the fact that someone can choose to live meat-free. The problem, I find, arises when someone like myself tries to spread the word about the benefits of a plant-based diet. Why, some would say, would I want to impose my beliefs on other people? Isn't vegetarianism/veganism just a choice, just like eating meat is a choice? Since the freedom to choose one's lifestyle is a very important one for most people, they often get very defensive whenever they feel someone tries to take that freedom away from them. The first thing to consider here is why someone chooses to go meat-free. If one chooses a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle for dietary reasons alone (and there are indeed health benefits to doing so), and we ignore all other aspects of the issue, then yes, this becomes a question of a simple lifestyle choice. Another popular reason why people go meat-free is the whole negative environmental impact of the meat and dairy industry on the planet, namely the misallocation of resources and land, the pollution tied in to various factory farms, etc. This is a valid concern, so encouraging people to become vegetarian/vegan for this reason is no different than encouraging people to recycle, to not buy clothes made in sweatshops, etc. As with any environmental issue, one is still free to choose a path that causes more damage to the environment, though most of us would agree that a path that ensures a sustainable existence for future generations is the better way to go. The third reason why people go meat-free is because of respect for the life of other animals. Those of us who truly care about other animals do our best to respect the life of other sentient animals as much as we do human life. While we consider human life to be very precious, we would never equate being human with the right to exploit and kill other species for our benefit. When someone begins to value all life, then it becomes as important to raise consciousness about our injustices towards other animals, as it is to raise consciousness about our injustices towards each other. While someone who has not progressed to the same level of compassion might not understand this, for someone who has opened their minds and hearts to the suffering of all creatures, this becomes perfectly clear.

Having said all this, eating meat, ultimately, is still a choice. We are all free to choose to act in a way that either encourages or minimizes violence in the world. Still, injustices do have to be exposed and discussed. This is how societies progress. While we, as a society, have come to the realization that other forms of violence are wrong, and will punish murderers, rapists, child-abusers, hooligans, etc., we, more often than not, still stop short of including our abuse and killing of animals in the equation. I think it’s important to challenge and change the belief that humans have some sort of inherent right to exploit other animals. This can help create a world where there is less violence, one in which all of us, humans and animals alike, suffer less, and live together in a more harmonious way. As long as this is done in a respectful, informed way, I believe there is nothing wrong with encouraging people to take steps towards a fairer relationship with other sentient beings.