Summer Festivals and the “V” Word

Veg*n. Veg. Veggie.

I’ve never figured out what any of those terms mean. Some friends say they mean this thing or that thing; but that’s the thing: people use them in various ways.

Then there’s plant-based diet, the term preferred by the T. Colin Campbell Foundation. And there’s former firefighter and triathlete Rip Esselstyn, with the plant-strong recipes of The Engine 2 Diet. These concepts have helped some change their eating habits. Once people have made such lifestyle changes, it is then up to them whether to also become part of a social movement.

Because a movement involves more than a diet. To advance a movement, people invest energy in an ideal.

How does this ideal go further than food? That’s where vegan comes in.

In addition to making a case for sticking with the word vegan in this post, I’ve got a few thoughts on two vegan festivals to be held here in Pennsylvania: the North American Vegetarian Society’s massive, week-long Summerfest in Johnstown in early July, and our local offering in Chester County on Saturday 9 August.

A principle is a principle

The word vegan reflects a dedication to live as a conscientious objector to humanity’s dominion over other animals. It takes into account the importance of fair food distribution, our personal physical and mental health, and the health of communities, including the entire bio-community in which we move.

The first people calling themselves vegan did so in 1944. The word itself was thought up by Dorothy (Morgan) Watson, then adopted by a group of about two dozen like-minded people who noted it contained the first and last letters of the word vegetarian. The founders of The Vegan Society essentially declared their commitment to the Alpha and the Omega of the vegetarian movement, which was historically ethics-based, and, when taken to its logical conclusion, frees all animals, the finned and feathered, the egg-laying, lactating, and honey-making animals, from the yoke of our dominion.

As a result of peaceful and effective direct action, the word is now in every leading dictionary of the English language and a few other languages as well. The word reflects the integrity and strength of the people who offered it to us as they imagined the ideal, and set out to bring it about. As Gandhi said, `A principle is a principle and in no case can it be watered down because of our incapacity to live it in practice. We have to strive to achieve it, and the striving should be conscious, deliberate and hard.`

The beginning of this work involves having a term that represents the principle, and communicating clearly.

Vegan.

Summerfest 2014

With hundreds of attendees, all prepared to live in dorm rooms for three to five days, the North American Vegetarian Society’s Summerfest is a highly popular all-vegan festival. It lasts from a Wednesday lunch-time through the following Sunday afternoon (this year, the dates are 2-6 July). Many participants take Amtrak to the University of Pittsburgh’s Johnstown campus from points west (including Cleveland and Pittsburgh) or east (New York, Philadelphia, and Washington DC); others join carpools across the United States and Canada.

Rae Sikora at Summerfest

Rae Sikora at Summerfest

Some stay for the full five days; some for just the weekend (though given Amtrak’s current timetable with the early departure on Sundays, experiencing the event’s offerings into two days is not really feasible). It is, perhaps, the most significant North American opportunity to share ideas and optimism with vegan-organic consultants, vegan cookbook authors, sanctuary operators, and animal-rights advocates. The event culminates in Saturday night’s plenary “Hall of Fame” presentation. I’m not keen on halls of fame. Halls, yes. Fame, not so much. But now and then, such events transcend pomp and pageantry and become a form of well-deserved thanks. For example, last year’s Vegetarian Hall of Fame acknowledged the public activism of Rae Sikora—a kind and faithful proponent of veganism, social justice and ecological awareness. The “vegan” shirt I’m wearing here comes from Rae’s booth at Summerfest. (If you can’t make it to Summerfest, you can get one here.)Summerfest vegan shirt pick

Whereas the word plant-based indicates a vegetarian diet that takes no firm position on animals and ethics, and the word veggie falls into the cute category but again appears to avoid the ethic carried by vegan, it’s good to see and hear vegan often at Summerfest. The word’s call to principles represents the best Summerfest has to offer people who like to eat their vegetables, and take their vegetarianism seriously.

The North American Vegetarian Society has a policy for the event that speakers are expected not to laud any given method or equipment used in animal husbandry as better than another. Thus, as the national (and indeed global) egg industry makes plans ready to switch to a new standard layer cage, and is calling that new cage enriched, Summerfest has evolved as a zone of celebration for the ethics, health education, and social-movement principles of veganism. This includes arranging five days of exquisite meals facilitated by Chef Mark Reinhold of Vegan Fusion. Not a single egg—“enriched” or otherwise—is used in the making of those meals.

The Chester County Vegan Festival

I’m the VP of a local group in Chester County, Pennsylvania known as CARE. For many years, CARE hosted the sole “veg fest” in the Philadelphia area. One of the big highlights is the food we offer, including the famous Chester County mushrooms, local corn and other late summer delights from Pete’s Produce, and many samples from small vegan companies and local restaurants including SuTao vegan cafe, where CARE volunteers hold our regular meetings.

Summer CARE fest - food

The real cage-free deal: The food at CARE’s Vegan Festival is local, beautiful, and delicious.

Back to the vocabulary thing.

This year, another group announced the creation of an event called the Philly VegFest. The advent of another “veg fest” so close to our event could become confusing. The idea of asking the other group not to use that name popped up in our board’s discussion, but I’m happy to say that such a request was never made, as the CARE board voted instead to hold our event in a different month and change its name to the Chester County Vegan Festival. To avoid conflict, we changed—and, I think, for the better. CARE’s festival has always been completely vegan, and now we’ve named it accordingly. Will the new, bold name mean fewer people will attend? That question came up when we voted. I hope and expect we’ll do just fine as the Vegan Festival. If any of readers are around the area, join us on Saturday 9 August at Hoopes Park in West Chester from noon until 4 pm. Let me know if you’d like to have an exhibit for your group, vegan business, or animal-advocacy project.

The Chester County Vegan Festival.

The Chester County Vegan Festival.

Because this is a local event, there will be plenty of time and space to just hang out with the presenters and exhibitors. Confirmed speakers at this year’s annual (and newly named) Chester County Vegan Festival are Liqin Cao of United Poultry Concerns and former beef and dairy farmer Harold Brown, returning after two years by popular demand.

Click here for Liqin Cao’s view of the trouble with the backyard chicken trend. And here is Harold Brown on peaceful transformation—both within the individual mind, and in our society as a whole—to vegan agriculture.

Much respect to both of these activists, who have been in the movement for decades and provide us with excellent models or vegan integrity, consistency and kindness. I look forward to enjoying the Chester County Vegan Festival with them—and you, if you can make it.

Love and liberation,

Lee.

 

Dictionary image source: Ning.com files. Spotted via ARZone.

Who Owns the Bees?

Honey, vegans have noticed, is a food made by bees for bees. When I first became vegan (back when we had to walk ten miles uphill, both ways, to get vegan ice cream only to find it wasn’t invented yet), I heard honey was left to the discretion of the individual vegan. Years later I’d be corrected on that point by a document from the really early days of the vegan movement, unequivocally declaring honey is not ours for the taking.

But what about products pollinated by bees? As bees have co-evolved with plants, so have we co-evolved with bees, who pollinate our tomatoes, berries, peppers, squashes and nuts. Can we have these foods without the deliberate exploitation of bees? It seems only vegan-organic growers can claim to produce food for human communities free from the commercial pollinator industry, which takes half its profits from almond production.

Skin cream from Lush.

An almond-based skin cream. Looks like there’s palm oil in there too, but I’ll leave that for a future blog entry…

Store-bought almond milk, almond-based skin-care products, and almonds themselves are vegan; but with such a large human population craving these nutrient-packed nuts, it would be no mean feat to find an almond-based item produced apart from commercial bee pollination. In the United States alone, pollination by honeybees and other insects facilitates $40 billion in commerce annually, according to the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign.

But in recent decades, in the shadows of our burgeoning population and the advent of mass-scale agribusiness, flat fields have stretched over habitable landscapes, wiping out hedges and flowering shrubs. Large, social bees such as honey bees and bumble bees have faced “colony collapse disorder”—entire bee colonies dying suddenly. Dairy and other animal farmers are becoming concerned about their stores of feed, including alfalfa. And note that farm animals are being fed seven times the grain that people eat directly, at least in the United States. All told, the overwhelming factor straining bees is animal agribusiness.

Varied reports of collapses have appeared out of about half of the United States, from the Mediterranean region, and from Britain, and from China and Australia as well. When we lose what insects do for us, we notice them.   Scientists are now urgently recommending conservation efforts for all kinds of insects, given their ecological role as pollinators and evolutionary significance in the web of life.

Beekeeping: Part of the Problem?

The Public Broadcasting System’s Nature webpage “How can you help the bees?” recommends leaving wild spaces in gardens and avoiding pesticides, and it counsels readers to “put pressure on politicians to reinstate laws that used to prevent importing bees into the country and transporting them across state borders.” Yet PBS displays concern for them only insofar as one species—the species in which we happen to identify ourselves as members—wants to keep taking advantage of bees’ work.

In 2007, PBS reported that genetic testing had shown a link between the collapses of bee colonies and a virus. The study was led by the U.S. and Pennsylvania agriculture departments and two universities: Penn State and Columbia. That virus was discovered in 2004, the same year U.S. beekeepers started importing packaged bees from Australia.

Thus it’s a bit odd that PBS urges viewers to take up home beekeeping. Beekeeping threatens other animals as well. Gorillas have had to deal with hundreds of bee farmers in Rwanda, Congo and Uganda who use the forestland of the Virunga Mountains to produce beeswax for candles and the cosmetic industry.

Meanwhile, a new area of vivisection has arisen, with the aforementioned U.S. government and Penn State researchers setting out to “stress bees in certain ways and evaluate the effect on their health” in order to determine whether the virus itself wipes out colonies or if instead the disorder is triggered by other pathogens and stresses. Israeli researchers have posited that virus-resistant bees can be bred, and initiated yet more experiments, injecting bees with viruses.

Overbearing keepers

The earliest pollinators were insects such as beetles, but bees became specialists—more efficient than beetles, butterflies, pollen wasps, or any other pollinating insect. Bees’ ancestors are the wasps—predators of insects. Some wasps, commonly known as beewolves, prey on bees themselves in order to supply food to their carnivorous larvae. Thus, to some beekeepers, predator control means targeting wasps.

Unlike bumble bees, who typically form small colonies of 50 to a few hundred members, honey bees might form groups of 30,000 or more, so they’re exploited as high-volume producers. Yet bumble bees can fly in cold temperatures and keep moving after dusk, and they’ve been used for those abilities. Plus, they can pollinate tomatoes by holding a flower while buzzing with their wings to vibrate and loosen the pollen. And as they survive indoors, they’ve been used extensively in greenhouses.

Worldwide, humans use bee colonies in the millions to obtain honey, pollen, royal jelly, novelties such as propolis lollipops, mead or honey wine, beeswax candles and cosmetics. To obtain these products, beekeepers regularly disturb the hives, crushing some bees in the process. Beekeepers will replace the bees’ honey with high-fructose corn syrup or cheap, refined sugar. Many beekeepers will clip the queen’s wings or use excluder cages to keep queens from moving hives; many will also kill queens when their egg production wanes. Some keepers smoke bees out of the hive to get to the honey, or torch whole colonies before winter.

In a natural environment the queen bee would locate the hive. The bees would gather nectar and pollen to feed their own communities. Do the bees themselves care that they have lost control over their lives? Probably. Bees have brains. And a large body of evidence (often noted as beginning with observations of Austrian zoologist Karl von Frisch) shows that bees exchange information, make group decisions, form abstract concepts and create intricate forms of nest architecture. They have life experiences, steering clear of dangers, and seeking out what appeals to them and sustains them.

Dubious Cures 

Honey can contain bacterial spores which reportedly cause botulism in human infants. And propolis, a gluey product of beehives, has caused allergic dermatitis in beekeepers and people who use it in cosmetics and medicines. Nevertheless, apitherapy, or the health-related use of honey and pollen, propolis, royal jelly and bee venom, is promoted by some as an arthritis cure. The American Apitherapy Society, in New York, admits bee venom treatments haven’t been adequately evaluated in the United States, and that no doctors use them; yet the group promotes the 1935 “classic” Bee Venom Therapy: Bee Venom, Its Nature, and Its Effect on Arthritic and Rheumatoid Conditions by Bodog F. Beck, M.D. In a foreword to a reprint of Beck’s book, Charles Mraz writes: 

One of the first duties I assumed when I met Dr. Beck was to take charge of his beehive on the window sill of his office. He had a five-frame hive, covered with a wire screen. The bees had an entrance through the window so they could fly outside and gather a surprising amount of honey from Central Park during the spring and summer months. He had a small metal door on the screen which could be opened easily and the bees removed with long forceps and the bee applied to the patient’s affected areas. This created a perpetual supply of a “self-activated, self-contained, sterile hypodermic needle.”

The usual treatment involved bees applied every other day, thrice weekly, over arthritic areas and the spine. Clients experienced large, hot, itchy swellings, pain and nausea. “During this reactive stage,” recounts Mraz, “the patient often felt worse and would become greatly discouraged about the treatment.” Mraz insists, though, that they would often later become well.

An association called the North American Apiotherapy Society began researching and promoting the use of bee venom, which has also been tested on mice as a failed medicine for multiple sclerosis. In the 1990s, Vespa Laboratories and the (U.S.) National Multiple Sclerosis Society gave a research grant to Fred D. Lublin, M.D. and colleagues at Allegheny University of the Health Sciences in Philadelphia to inject mice with doses replicating between four to 160 bee stings, then wait for symptoms such as limb paralysis. They reported no clinical benefit at any dosage level, but said the numbers of mice were too small, and went on to conduct additional studies. 

J. Muir: Bees for Peace

Bees for Peace, by J. Muir

Supportive gardening

There’s a good deal of emerging science on bees these days, but few expressions of how bees matter to themselves. Yet there’s something to be said for stepping outside our own skin some of the time. Our view that everyone else in the bio-community is around at our beck and call is a major underlying factor in Earth’s current biodiversity crisis. Probably the major underlying factor. Are we, at some point in our lives, able to see ourselves as cohabitants with other living communities, rather than the planet’s biggest user? It seems to me this is what vegan striving is about, all the time.

Anyone with some garden space can help bees to flourish on their terms. Bumble bees make nests in grass or holes in the ground, such as abandoned mouse nests, so it’s a good idea to leave a spot of unkempt garden space. Early spring flowers are particularly important to new bumble bee colonies, and bees especially appreciate blue, purple, and yellow flowers, planted in clusters. Gooseberry is an early bloomer, and the graceful camas lilies are perfect for bees in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia. Avoid ornamental types, as they can be short of nectar or pollen; native plants are best adapted to the life cycles of local animals including bees, and also provide key connections to remaining wildlands. Eastern waterleaf, a groundcover, is an example in the central or northeastern United States, where these herbs naturally bloom from May to August.  Large, lavender beardtongue blooms over the North American prairie in May and June. Deciduous azaleas are native across North America and so are rhododendrons.

Purple prairie clover is indigenous to the North American Great Plains. White clover is native to Europe and Asia, but has become naturalized in much of North America, and if you’ve got it in the summer, it will be a smorgasbord for bees and moreover it’s an edible plant, eaten raw, cooked, baked, or used in teas for its nutritional value. From British Columbia across the prairies and into western Ontario and the adjacent states, the anise hyssop (liquorice mint) blooms all summer, and the flowers also work for teas and traditional tea breads.

In the northeastern U.S., late October and early November is the time to collect milkweed seeds for planting in the spring; and native bee balm will attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds in early summer. The fragrant, dusky-green leaves may also be used in teas. Joe-pye weed, a perennial native from Maine to Michigan, south to central Florida and Texas, is beloved by moths and butterflies and bees.

And isn’t it the greatest feeling to walk or jog alongside patches of blooming goldenrod in late summer and see the bees buzzing around them? Asters too, hangouts for bees and butterflies alike, are native to the northern United States as well as Canada from British Columbia to Newfoundland. Aster alpinus is the kind native to North America. In Britain, Aster tripolium, or sea asters, are indigenous. And when autumn arrives in the Northern hemisphere (Europe and North America included), sedum is the bees’ knees, and its leaves are edible too.

The growers at the Vegan Organic Network advise us all to do some gardening, even a little, even inside. Like learning to prepare meals, it’s a basic life skill and a way of cultivating vital social networks. What will you grow this year? Would anyone care to add some pictures or pro-bee gardening information?

Artist J. Muir paints with vegan, cruelty-free, earth-based watercolors from Colors of Nature
Source of Lush skin cream photo: http://soloverly.blogspot.com/

Radically Kind: Rynn Berry

On the 29th of December 2013, a jogger collapsed in New York City, without identification, and lay in intensive care for a week as a photo was circulated with hopes that someone would recognize a face obstructed by a lattice of tubes.

“Sad update,” tweeted Leslie Albrecht of DNAinfo.com in New York City — ‏@ReporterLeslie on Twitter. “Rynn Berry, the #vegan author who collapsed while jogging in Prospect Park, has died.”

Rynn at Summerfest 2012

Rynn at Summerfest 2012

It’s hard to believe it was really Rynn.

There’s one redeeming element in it all: Rynn left happily, gently, jogging in the park. Rynn loved to run and had finished a marathon.

Yet trying, as human nature invariably prompts, to make sense of it all, I recalled those geese, targeted as municipal enemies and rounded up from Prospect Park, never to return, and imagined Rynn having gone to find them.

I can’t imagine the North American Vegetarian Society’s Summerfest without Rynn’s talks. Or lunchtime without the chance to sit down and go over ideas and PowerPoint features—three years ago, we both joined the century and started creating slideshows. Rynn would ask about people I’d seen recently: what they were writing, and how various people’s ideas differed or coalesced. Rynn had a sense of where discourse fit into a greater scheme, was fully present during conversations, and, in one-to-one discussions, listened more than talked.

Rynn Berry. Source: Veggie Pride Parade, New York City

Rynn Berry in New York City. Flickr: Veggie Pride Parade.

But Rynn did speak out, and embraced the role of a public activist. Many thousands of people heard Rynn speak in New York and other cities. And hundreds will miss Rynn on a personal level.

Vegan-organic advocate Harold Brown called Rynn “one of the most outstanding examples of kindness I have had the pleasure of experiencing.”

It’s true.  Rynn Berry carried great intelligence with ease and a quiet grace, and demonstrated the full measure of a human being which surfaces in support for others.

Hitler banned vegetarian groups in Germany and occupied territory.

Hitler banned vegetarian groups in Germany and occupied territory.

In conference workshops, Rynn could revive the thoughts of Leonardo DaVinci, the Buddha, or Pythagoras by offering scripts and inviting people to play their roles, so that within minutes, one really got a feel for the various ways they applied ethics within and beyond humanity. Questions would be answered in fabulous detail, for Rynn knew the languages of original works; thus, for example, when examining a biblical word, Rynn could explain its sense in Aramaic. Rynn’s love of languages came from an abiding interest in uncovering the truth of things. An author or contributor to several books, Rynn is perhaps best known for writing Hitler: Neither Vegetarian Nor Animal Lover (Pythagorean Books, 2004; introduction by Martin Rowe), which revealed that particular image of Hitler as propaganda.

Rynn died in the early afternoon of Thursday, 9 January.

Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.

Rynn would have been 69 on the 31st of this month.

A brief addition on 16 January 2014: Bob LeRoy, R.D., Nutrition Advisor to the North American Vegetarian Society and founder of the Plant-based Prevention Of Disease (P-POD) project, wrote a note on Rynn’s public obituary that speaks to me with special strength about Rynn, and with Bob’s permission, I post it here.

Our colleague & friend Rynn Berry taught us all a great deal about Ahimsa via how he conducted himself & communicated. His demeanor was always humble & gracious, & he never sought out the limelight. He continually throughout his lifetime built upon his unusually broad range & depth of scholarly knowledge as a historian. Though he very generously shared that fairly unique expertise on countless occasions, there was never a moment when he conveyed any sense of proud self-importance. His passing is a profoundly sad loss, & his kindness, activism & teaching will truly be missed by our extended community.

— Bob LeRoy, Asheville, North Carolina, January 2014

Book jacket source: VegSource.com. For Veggie Pride, see link. Quoted poem: William Cullen Bryant, ThanatopsisCorrection note:  This piece originally stated that Rynn collapsed on the last day of 2013. Chris Suzuki has pointed out that some reporters incorrectly provided that date.

Speaking of Pets

Emy wrote:

A dilemma that is repeatedly raised: A “pure” vegan should not have pets, as this is another form of domination. Also pets such as cats cannot survive on a meat-free diet. I have cats (all rescued) as furry companions and in reality they dominate me. However, they do eat meat. Lee, what are your thoughts on this?

…To date the only articles that I have read argue that vegans should not keep cats or other meat eating animals. Dogs, I think, can do fine on a plant based diet? It would be great to hear what others think. “Speak” soon.

An important question, thoughtfully posed. It’s comforting to think these animals domesticated themselves many thousands of years ago by hanging around the warmth of our campfires; and we do enjoy cuddling up together on a frosty night. But yes, domination is the rub. Wildcats and wolves never asked to become Persians and pit bulls. We came up with those ideas.

The process of neoteny—selectively retaining juvenile traits in the adults—makes cats and dogs dependent. It’s a vulnerability that taps into that nurturing response we feel for a lost child. No wonder people go into a pet shop with the rescuer’s urge. It’s very hard to turn away from the face of the doggie in the window.

I’d never say cats and dogs lack volition, sensitivity, various forms of strength, or individual character. But I think we need to acknowledge that their biology has been changed in a way that creates reliance on human care. Imagine bulldogs trying to fend for themselves, and it’s clear. In fact, because of their shape, most bulldogs can’t give birth without surgical assistance.

Felis silvestris

An autonomous cat: Felis silvestris

The vegan principle calls on us to end the exploitation of other animals, and to defend their interests in living on their terms and not ours. If we apply this to wildcats and wolves, we cannot agree with the breeding of these animals into a vulnerable state.

Our deeply personal connections with cats and dogs are real, but they present no justification for this systematic manipulation. The most thoughtful love for an individual cat or dog would, on the contrary, bring us to ask if humans aren’t unfair to feline and canine communities when we assume they are ours to have and hold.

Please don’t shop

We do not steer anyone to “responsible” or “humane” animal breeders. It’s neither responsible nor humane to encourage animal dealers. The retail pet shops and the breeders down the road all profit from the notion that other animals are our things; and they fling more dogs, cats, fishes, birds, gerbils, ferrets, rabbits and other domesticated animals into the stream of commerce, while abandoned animals multiply and the ones in pounds are routinely killed—predictable elements of a commercial cycle of supply and demand.

A feral kitten looks out from beneath an apartment block.

A feral kitten looks out from beneath an apartment block.

So we’ll suggest that people who wish to live with animals go to the local shelter or cat rescue group, for many animals could do with a permanent home. Should vegans adopt as well? Sure. These animals are the refugees from a system that uses them. It’s right for their advocates to help them if we can.

I live with several cats who were in dire straits when I met them. I care for them with my whole being. But they don’t really exert power over me: they can’t make me care, or ask for what they want.

I let them in. I hold the keys. Many cats much like them, including from their own family, will never be saved from those streets where cats are chased into traffic as sport, and sometimes caught by people training fighting dogs.

According to the American Kennel Club, "the Siberian Husky is known for its amazing endurance and willingness to work."

According to the American Kennel Club, “the Siberian Husky is known for its amazing endurance and willingness to work.”

Many vegans—showing discomfort with what Emy noted as the domination, involving the animals’ reliance on an agreeable human for acceptance and lifetime care—prefer to call the animals in their homes companions. But companion means partner, one with whom one shares bread. The bond of companionship is by mutual agreement, not by selective breeding for the purpose. So, like man’s best friend, the term companion is a euphemism.

It’s frank, not disrespectful, to say cats and dogs are animals bred as pets. Those we know, we call by name.

Vegan pet food?

My friend at Green Menu asked:

Hi, Lee! A friend posted on my wall about cats being carnivores…your opinion? I want to raise my cats properly and make sure they eat right.

For a vegan, caring for a carnivore is no easy feat. With dogs, the case seems easier. Many vegans buy vegetarian dog food (although they still have VP - dog foodto face the connection between veterinary pharmaceuticals and industries that vegans would rather avoid).  Some vegans save money and spare the excess packaging by taking the DIY route to dog nutrition.

But how do we feed our cats? Special vegan formulae have been created and called cat food, but are they safe? A study published by Christina M. Gray, DVM, et al. (2004) in the Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association was inconclusive; and the researchers stated in a follow-up piece in 2005:

While a manufacturer’s statement that thousands of healthy and long-living animals are on their diets is interesting, additional information is needed to support the diets’ nutritional adequacy. Thousands of cats may be fed these diets, but we are not aware of any data that have emerged from a comprehensive health assessment of any of them.

Basically, then, expecting cats to become vegan amounts to in-home animal testing.

Humans are primates; we can apply the vegan principle to our diet. When asked if the meals we eat are safe and nourishing for humans, including our children, we might confidently quote the Position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada on Vegetarian Diets: “Well-planned vegan and other types of vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of the life-cycle including during pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence.”

Now, what do we cite when it comes to the animals in our homes? Shouldn’t we be able to state we’re ensuring appropriate nourishment—even though the dogs and cats can’t ask us to present proof for them?

The most up-to-date, comprehensive study of the daily nutrient requirements for dogs and cats currently available is the 424-page Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats (2006). Here are two excerpts, from page 313:

  • Dogs differ from cats in that they are not strict carnivores but fall more into the omnivorous category. This fact allows a great deal more latitude in ingredient selection and formulation. It is entirely feasible to formulate an adequate dog diet using no animal tissue-based ingredients.
  • Generally speaking, strict vegetarian diets, when fed alone, are not nutritionally adequate for cats, even though such diets can be made sufficiently palatable to be readily consumed.

If we’re going to take animals in, we have to offer them appropriate care. At the same

Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats, issued by the (U.S.) National Academy of Sciences.

Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats, issued by the National Research Council (United States: National Academy of Sciences).

time, we need, I firmly believe, to be forthright about why the entire custom of having pet animals needs to be challenged—for it has pressed us to stay dependent on the very animal agribusinesses we ourselves have renounced.

And for the animals’ own sake. Though we might go to great lengths for the animals we know and love, we also know that many can’t or won’t. In the United States, some 5 to 8 million dogs and cats are relinquished to U.S. shelters each year. Each is as likely to die as to be saved. Some shelters try to stave off tragedies, setting up animal food banks, for example, to help cash-strapped people who’d like to keep their animals. Yet the number of pets who die each year in U.S. shelters equals the number of people in Los Angeles. Something is deeply wrong with our everyday relationship with other animals, and we need to go deep into ourselves to transcend it. Social justice is elusive in human relations; but we strive for it, and we need to also strive to be fair members of the community of life on Earth.

Ecological impacts

We currently use resources faster than our planet can replenish them. We’re running out of grain and the space to grow it as our population is now outpacing food production. It turns out we use more grain to feed our domesticated animals than to feed the human population. And not only on farms. One dog can consume around a quarter-ton of food each year.

And we take up a lot of land, water, and landfill space because we’re breeding animals whom we then must provide for. Our cats and dogs, horses too, compete with coyotes for the right-of-way in green spaces. Dog waste pollutes water and kills aquatic life.

Not only do cats chase frogs, chipmunks and birds when roaming outside; their presence also imperils wildcats. Yes, conservationists say the greatest threat to the world’s vanishing wildcats is interbreeding with domesticated cats.

What we can do 

Before the 1800s, pet-keeping was mainly an aristocrat’s hobby. It only took off as a popular custom in the Victorian period. Since then, pet sales and pet care have become an industry supported by tens of billions in annual spending. But the industry is a relatively new invention, and not too deeply ingrained in our culture to challenge.

Lately, municipal bans on pet sales are being proposed. Granted, these provisions bar only certain (usually high-volume) outlets. Still, they can lay the groundwork for ending breeding and sales. Various dog breeds are now banned in Europe. It’s breed-specific legislation, yes. And I think it’s the right thing to support.

What else can we do?

  • Defend undomesticated cats and dogs, including bobcats, wolves, dingoes or coyotes;
  • Support the work of local trap-neuter return groups to care for, while phasing out, feral cat colonies;
  • Have the audacity to speak out against pet breeding—whether for high-volume retail sales or local clientele.
Companions. A pleasant word for pets, but it sugar-coats manipulation. Their ancestors were wolves.

Companions. A pleasant word for pets, but it sugar-coats manipulation. Their ancestors were wolves.

Some will say a culture without pets would be joyless. I’ve also been told—told, indeed, by other vegans—that it’s unrealistic to question a practice so enjoyed as pet-keeping. But we can care about other animals, and derive joy from their presence, without controlling them.

What’s more exhilarating than a view of a wolf or a wildcat running over their own land? There’s breathtaking joy in respecting animals untamed.

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Featured image: source. Wildcat: source. Please consult a veterinarian about the health of the animals in your care. Neither this blog nor any other website can substitute for medical advice for an individual animal.    

One Day in January

One day, the ears of those

With the fake festive deer

On their lawns

Awakened

To the breathing

Of the living ones, and those

Whose homes they took for lawns.

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Photo: White-tailed deer running by Jeff Houdret

Animal Contraception Covered by CounterPunch

The weekend edition of CounterPunch offers a piece that will be familiar to Vegan Place regulars. My article in the current edition of CounterPunch adds information about a recent proposal by Allen T. Rutberg to capture up to 60 female deer in New York, and to experiment on their reproductive systems during the 2014-2019 period.

I hope this information will be considered by advocates who condone contraception in deer and other undomesticated animals. Most animal protectionists already know how terrifying drop-netting is, how deer and other animals struggle when captured: the panic, the cries, the scrapes, the broken bones. I would suppose few advocates know this kind of capture is also planned for contraception experiments, and that the chemical birth control experiments which began four decades ago continue, with no end in sight.

I ask the advocates who call “contraception in wildlife” a humane undertaking to read the article’s linked pieces, and to learn well what contraception entails. Kindly share the article if you’re so moved; and read some of the work by other CounterPunch authors whose pieces might not get mainstream attention, but have the potential to change humanity’s mindset.

Control

Most vegans are aware of the Humane Myth dynamic: Disturbing examples of industrial animal handling are exposed. For example, pigs are forced into narrow crates to efficiently produce more pigs for the business. A segment of the market appears, distinguishing itself as conscientious and humane, although its goal is the same: to turn pigs into bacon and make money. For in truth it’s all exploitation, from the first day the family farmers learn to use their insemination rods to the day they send their animals to the same old killing floor as the rest. And the “free-range” farms banish the truly free-living animals. The guards of the henhouse have scant tolerance for foxes.

Now, on to a different humane myth. One that developed outside of agribusiness, in the woods, savannas, gardens and skiesplaces where, we hope and expect, animals live free. It’s the myth that populations of such animals can be pared by ourselveshumanely.

Why do we say there “too many” of the other animals? They all seem to balance themselves perfectly well until we intrude. Which we do, everywhere. Our population is seven billion and rising. As we spread ourselves out, we devise the cultural carrying capacity ideaintroduced by the ecologist Garrett Hardin to mean the limit we declare on any animal community perceived as being in our way.

TIME cover (9 Dec. 2013) labels deer "America's Pest Problem"

TIME cover (9 Dec. 2013) labels deer “America’s Pest Problem”

In North America, after we killed most of the wolves because ranchers and hunters didn’t want the predators around, deer achieved a notable ability to thrive in our midst; yet they are pressed by our incessant construction and road-building into ever smaller and fragmented green places; and so they are described, in many areas, as having a high population density. Government officials, goaded by media representations that alarm the public, advance the conception of deer as a problem requiring a solution.

So officials make plans and draw up budgets, and people are hired to shoot deer on public lands and around cities by the hundreds or thousands.

Animal advocates are calling the pending plan to wipe out thousands of deer on Long Island “primitive and ethically indefensible.” Their petition invokes “the overwhelming evidence that immunocontraception is effective, humane, less expensive and sustainable over the long term.”

Thus, advocates have decided to

  • Buy the myth that deer or other free-roaming animals constitute a problem; and
  • Regard a more sophisticated form of eliminating deer as sustainable and ethically defensible.

Let’s examine this closely, because much is at stake. Do we really want patented, government-approved pharmaceuticals to ensure that other animals are controlled the way humans want them to be controlled? So that we achieve an officially prescribed “density” of the animals in question for any given expanse of space? Is the bio-community that surrounds us something to refashion through some macabre, Disneyesque design?

Claude Monet pigeons Ruling the roosts 

Birds are also frequently named as nuisances. For pigeons, a much-vaunted contraceptive is OvoControl P. Its distributor’s website declares:

The Humane Society of the United States (“HSUS”), People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (“PETA”), American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (“ASPCA”) as well as other animal welfare groups support the use of non-lethal technology to moderate the populations of pigeons. Left unchecked, pigeon numbers in a local flock can grow very rapidly.

The company, Innolytics, calls the active chemical in OvoControl P “practically non-toxic” and elaborates:

Traditional reproductive studies in rodents show very limited effects.  Experiments to evaluate possible effects on sperm receptor formation in mammals are presently underway at Innolytics.

A letter to the Montana Standard by Jay Kirkpatrick, who holds a Ph.D. in reproductive physiology from the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, promoted the pigeon contraceptives:

…Trying to find relief through the removal of any “problem” animal simply exacerbates the problem. Unless you literally exterminate every pigeon in Butte, the residual population will simply keep filling the roosts and leaving behind reminders.

Reproduction, folks. That’s the key to managing populations. And there is an excellent proven commercial solution for the problem of pigeon reproduction in the form of an Environmental Protection Agency-approved avian contraceptive.

Not content to stop with the pigeons of Butte, Dr. Kirkpatrick continued:

This approach has worked extremely well for pigeons in other cities and the broad approach of fertility control has worked well for wild horses, urban deer, bison, and even African elephants.

Why it is so hard, for people to understand that reproduction is the problem?”

Pigeons, free-roaming horses, deer, bison, African elephants…oh, my.

Humane Society International, the international arm of the Humane Society of the United States, has been experimenting with contraceptive substances on elephants in Africa for more than a decade; they herald these intrusions as “a new paradigm for elephant management” and garner financial support from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

But Africa’s elephant population has dropped to less than half a million, compared with five million elephants 65 years ago. So why do the Humane Society and U.S. government keep preventing elephants from naturally reproducing in Africa?

Elephants: AFP photoThe Humane Society points to a lack of “new reserves established that can actually accommodate elephant.” (The singular form, elephant, is used in the original.) Highly vulnerable populations of long-tusked elephants, such as a genetically unique community of only 230 at KwaZulu-Natal’s Tembe Elephant Park, are being reduced through contraceptive testingperhaps, warns Pretoria wildlife veterinarian Johan Marais, to fade into oblivion.

Dr. Jay Kirkpatrick, who penned the pigeon contraception letter in Montana, is credited as one of the two compilers of the Humane Society’s elephant contraception report. The report mentions ultrasound exams and helicopter chases, with flights close enough to shoot elephants with darting rifles; so clearly the control is intense. But the report states: “Not only has immunocontraception proven to be the least invasive and most humane population control mechanism available to us, it proved to very effective in curbing population growth.”

This activity does not replace population reduction by lethal means. Instead of opposing the killing of elephants, the Humane Society’s report maintains that “relocation and/or culling of elephants in confined reserves may continue to be necessary, but contraception will enable management to better control the frequency and extent of such interventions.”

The Humane Society’s position is, evidently:

  • Free-living animals cannot live free from killing or intrusive social control; and
  • The Humane Society possesses the knowledge and authority to decide and direct the means of control.

But if elephant habitat is shrinking, isn’t that the real issue to address? Wouldn’t the best advocacy defend animals in their autonomous state rather than forcibly prevent their existence?

A non-lethal alternative?

Not only does contraception erase animals by preventing their offspring from existing; the science itself kills. In one series of experiments run by researchers at Cornell University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 21 white-tailed deer were captured, ear-tagged and collared, kept in a fenced area at an army depot, with some subjected to multiple contraceptive vaccines, and all killed, as stated in the report:

In October 2000, within permit authority from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), deer were humanely killed by a shot to the head or neck from a high-powered rifle fired from a blind or a vehicle.

The bodies were dissected to find any damage or disease resulting from the vaccine known as porcine zona pellucida (PZP), which hijacks the deer’s immune system so it attacks naturally occurring reproductive proteins. The most commonly used immunocontraceptive for controlling the reproductive systems of female mammals, PZP is “harvested from porcine ova”—taken from the bodies of pigs.

For the three years before they were killed, the deer were always within the reach of the university researchers and their students. Their dissected bodies told the tale: most of the vaccinated group had severe pelvic inflammatory disease, and abscesses the researchers called “remarkable”—severe enough to be called tubercular in appearance even two years after the injections. The body of Deer Number 188 showed bone marrow fat depletion with “classic signs of malnutrition normally seen in deer struggling through an extremely harsh winter.” Earlier studies indicating this same condition are cited in the study; the researchers declare that “[a]dditional investigation of the frequency and possible causes for marrow fat depletion should be conducted…”

Gary J. Killian and Lowell A. Miller had, just a few years earlier, published the results of six years of experiments at the Deer Research Center of the Pennsylvania State University. Deer subjected to PZP had fewer offspring (though “fawning” is mentioned in the study results, there is no commentary about the lives of these youngsters born under laboratory control) and the adults’ bodies changed so much that “the average breeding days each year for the control group was 45, whereas in some years some PZP treated does were breeding more than 150 days” of the year. Thus are the social lives of deer—the schedules of their lives—commandeered by the chemical.

The researchers also tried a hormone-based substance. It stopped antler growth on male deer—whose testicles, and sex lives, also failed to develop. The female deer subjected to the hormone also failed to develop sexually.

Noting “many earlier studies” dating back to 1973, Killian and Miller nevertheless claimed that the physical and social effects require more testing. Cited studies included “[e]fficient immunocastration of male piglets” and “gonadal atrophy in rabbits” as well as “applications of contraceptives in white-tailed deer, feral horses and mountain goats.”

Let Life HappenThe broader view

Meanwhile, everywhere humans impose our own brand of control on deer, the animal groups that naturally curb the deer population are treated as though their roles in nature don’t count. Wolves, bobcats and coyotes are persecuted continually—by traps, poisons, hunting and even killing contests.

Insofar as the so-called non-lethal forms of animal control put coyotes and other omnivore or carnivore animals out of a job, they can help to perpetuate the deaths of those animals.

So this is the other humane myth. Many an animal-rights activist has gone along with the idea of a contraceptive alternative—even offered to fund it or insist that local officials adopt it—because of the myth that it helps animals whereas killing harms them. But can the use of contraception on deer, elephants, and other free-living animals fairly be called humane?

And in the broader view, shouldn’t we resist the erasure of animals who don’t amuse or enrich us, or perfectly fit their allocated spaces, as our own numbers relentlessly rise?

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Featured photo by Jeff Houdret: Three young deer crossing a meadow at Valley Forge National Historical Park in winter. Elephants: AFP.