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


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.