Vegetarianism Is Fertile!

I post this as I’m about to go off to see 600 or so other Vegetable People at the North American Vegetarian Society’s annual Summerfest.

I love being part of the vegetarian movement. Vegan comprises the beginning and ending letters of vegetarian. The vegans have always been around the movement, insisting that it apply its principle consistently.  In 1944, a few members the Vegetarian Society in England went out on a limb and publicly objected to the confusion in the wider Vegetarian Society membership about the use of animal milk. They formed the vegan offshoot expressly to bring vegetarianism to its logical conclusion.

The vegans weren’t discussing “food choices”; they were talking about commitment. They aspired to a society in which no one would think of oppressing or not as a choice. They refused to take a seat on the throne over all creation. They rejected our identity as Earth’s grand apex predator—a role that has never belonged to us.

John Wesley, vegetarian founder of Methodism, articulated the vegetarians’ rejection of all forms of human-privileged bullying:

I am persuaded you are not insensible to the pain given to every Christian, every human heart, by those savage diversions, bull-baiting, cock-fighting, horse racing, and hunting. Can any of these irrational and unnatural sports appear otherwise than cruel, unless through early prejudice, or entire want of consideration and reflection?

Readers interested in a broad-brush yet brief history of the vegetarians can take a look at the overview I wrote a few years back for the Encyclopedia of Activism and Social Justice.

2014_LargeSummerfestBannerSo this week, in keeping with the best of vegetarian thinking, the North American Vegetarian Society’s annual Summerfest, a five-day conference in Johnstown, Pennsylvnia which draws upwards of 600 people, expressly dedicates itself to helping vegans and aspiring vegans find friendship and support.  I’m giving several presentations this week, and two will be audio-visual. Below, two brief summaries. Looking forward to seeing some of you. Whether or not you come to Johnstown, please feel welcome to comment here.

Love and liberation,

Lee.

Farms and Fish: Is “Organic, Sustainable” a “Step”?Summerfest classroom

Thursday 3 July at 10.00 a.m.

Everyone’s talking about reducing  their “footprint” (or “foodprint”). “Local” and “sustainable” are the buzzwords of the day.  But what changes are actually occurring; and are they meaningful? Turns out the changes are often meaningful, but not in a good way.

Half of people questioned in a survey said they are willing to pay more for “sustainable” labels—quite a few of these folks were willing to pay a 20% markup. So companies want to get in on the action, and this sector, which is supported by charity heavyweights, has actually displaced old methods and is driving a damaging global market for fish feed crops, as fish farming is poised to double by the middle of the century.  I’ll explain the difference between, on one hand, buying “sustainable seafood” and “local” or “free-range”  or “grassfed” or “organic” animal products, and, on the other hand, opting out in terms of real effects. This presentation will show the effects of our decisions with the varnish of corporate hogwash removed.

Vegetarian Responses to Climate Change, and How to Explain Them in Ordinary Conversations

Saturday 5 July at 10.00 a.m.

Completing a second law degree, this time in environmental law, has informed me intensively on climate change.  Being vegan has also informed me; the first climate talk I gave at Summerfest was a plenary ten years ago. Now, to put all this together, with up-to-the-moment climate knowledge, for a one-hour session (including participants’ questions and feedback)!

Climate is a big subject. But we can focus it with a few key insights and ideas. In this session I’ll provide some easy-to-remember conversation points, and bring the latest knowledge into a format useful for everyday decisions. This session will also include a discussion of why the main purported solutions—whether high technology, cutting back, or eating “local”—aren’t cutting it at all, and what kind of grassroots leadership is needed and possible at this point.

 

Thanks to Robin Lane of the London Vegan Festival for unearthing John Wesley’s quote, which comes from WORKS: Rev. J. Wesley’s Journal (1756) at page 612. Photo credit: Jason Pompilius.

 

In Memory and Celebration: Donald and Dorothy

Today is Spring Bank Holiday Monday, better known in the United States as Memorial Day. Lives of determined conscientious objection aren’t the kind most people laud today. But if they were, wouldn’t our culture be the healthier for it?

Donald Watson was a woodworker who spoke respectfully of those who went to fight in World War Two, including several close friends. Donald reprehended the vileness of Hitler’s designs, yet evidently rejected the concept that war is the way to end war, and sought the grant of an alternative position teaching young woodworkers. Donald couldn’t kill. No war horses were bred for or by Donald, nobody’s children physically or mentally maimed.

Keswick on the map, from keswick.org/

Keswick on the map, from Keswick.org

Donald Watson married Dorothy Morgan some time after the end of the war and the couple established their home in Keswick, Cumbria. The life partners—for they were more than spouses, it seems to me: they were partners in the fullest sense of that word—became active members of the Cumbrian Vegetarian Society. But by then, the pair, together with Elsie Shrigley and about two dozen like-minded people, had already launched the vegan movement.

When Donald Watson passed gently of old age in 2005, the BBC reported on the longtime advocate’s satisfaction in having achieved the key goal of that advocacy: “to feel that I was instrumental in starting a great new movement which could not only change the course of things for Humanity and the rest of Creation but alter Man’s expectation of surviving for much longer on this planet.” And the more we learn about the role of animal commodification in climate disruption, the more urgent Donald’s point has become to international policy-makers.  

casket - 2005 Nov.

Donald Watson’s casket was adorned with sunflowers—symbols of the vegan movement.

People worldwide are now asking what and how to “cut back” in order to curb climate change. But the vegans called for change at a much deeper level. They made the case against killing. They made the case for undoing the age-old concept that other conscious beings are inferior to us, and were put on Earth for our own conquests, uses, and whims.

Donald’s funeral was held on the morning of Monday 28 November 2005, at Crosthwaite Church, which is dedicated to Saint Kentigern. Following the service, guests gathered to eat at the Lyzzick Hall Hotel. The service was requested by Janet, the only child of Donald and Dorothy.

Crosthwaite Church in Keswick.

Donald self-identified as agnostic, but once said, “[I]f any priest of any denomination wants to distinguish himself—or, nowadays I must add `herself`—the opportunity is open for them to join the vegan movement and really express the core element of what they are professing to stand for.”

Speaking at Donald’s funeral, Janet mentioned a day that Dorothy and Donald both attended a dance. During the event the two started discussing the founding of a new society; and Dorothy came up with the word vegan as a possible name for it, on the basis that its letters are the beginning and conclusion of vegetarian.

I visited in North Yorkshire at the invitation of Patricia Tricker in 2011, and we planned a day trip to visit the final resting place of Donald and Dorothy. The Crosthwaite Church, near the River Greta, overlooks the beautiful Lake District mountains and the Newlands Valley. The name of the nearby fells Cat Bells may have come from “Cat Bields” – shelter of wildcats.

Donald Watson 242

A church has stood on this site since the sixth century A.D., and the present church architecture dates from 1523. The stained glass in the windows is mostly from the 19th century although some fragments of ancient glass remain.Donald Watson 342

The graves of Donald and Dorothy are not among the notable people listed by the church as buried there; nor are they marked with headstones. But a church representative, called by Patricia in advance, had offered key reminders of the spatial details that would enable us to find the spot. And after quite a bit of focused meandering, we found it.

Finding Donald Watson’s grave, and a surprise (for me): Dorothy is buried there too.

Finding Donald Watson’s grave, and a surprise (for me): Dorothy is buried there too.

Wanting to leave flowers on it, I recycled a few freshly discarded ones left by previous visitors.

Flowers: recently cut but discarded.

Flowers: recently cut but discarded; I pulled some out to place on Donald’s grave.

The November fog brought its natural beauty to the Keswick day. By mid-morning, the landscape appeared out of the rain in striking green; by midday, the fog and rain returned.

Not far from Crosthwaite is the Castlerigg Stone Circle, which we stopped to look at during one of our many brief walks in the area. A group of sheep grazed near the circle.

They were Swaledale sheep, used for the production of mutton (adult lamb flesh) and wool, and to maintain the landscape that’s so appealing to Cumbria’s visitors. Notes from tourists about the “happy sheep” of Keswick are frequently written and easy to find online. But Donald Watson wryly spoke of the custom of telling children about sheep who “gave” wool, without saying this “giving” would continue only until the sheep were killed because maintaining them alive no longer served the purposes of their human owners.

Castlerigg Stone Circle

Swaledale sheep grazing at Castlerigg Stone Circle.

The fog ultimately claimed the afternoon, and as a cold mist turned into rain, we visited the town square. Tucked between the Skiddaw, one of Britain’s highest mountains, and the smaller Latrigg, Keswick is a popular point of convergence for cyclists, kayakers, walkers and climbers.

Bell Close, Keswick Town Square.

Bell Close, Keswick Town Square.

It is the market village in the beautiful Lake District National Park in Cumbria. Canon Rawnsley, who served as vicar of Crosthwaite Church from 1883-1917, was one of the co-founders of Britain’s National Trust, which now owns much of the land in the area.

Off Lake Road, Keswick, Cumbria.

The vista off Lake Road, Keswick, Cumbria.

The Lakeland Pedlar

Two employees of the Lakeland Pedlar pose with Patricia.

At the close of the day we stopped for supper in a restaurant Patricia had visited some years ago, called The Lakeland Pedlar. There we warmed ourselves with apple and parsnip soup, served with fresh bread—and received a 10% discount as members of the Vegan Society.

 

 

 

Photo of Donald’s funeral casket taken Monday 28 November 2005, supplied courtesy of Patricia Tricker. Photos of Keswick taken on Sunday 27 Nov. 2011 published by Lee Hall. Link and share this memory freely (thank you!); but if using selected text or pictures, kindly communicate by e-mail to Lee via climatelaw[AT]me.com

 

Why Don’t Campaigns Against Horse Slaughter Work?

Much U.S. activism focuses on the slaughter of horses for human consumption. Year after year. If slaughter administration by the U.S. agriculture department stops, then the focus shifts to the live export of horses to slaughterers in Mexico or Canada. It always seems to be one or the other, and although charities suggest that enough donations and clicks and letters could end it, it never ends.

How much of the dialogue delves into the breeding and breaking of horses? Practically none. In fact, most advocacy groups frame the argument against horse slaughter as an affront to our equine companions, or the idea that we owe them better treatment for their history of service to humankind. bridle

Their service to humankind isn’t open for debate. We’re so used to being served that the matter of whether horses originally wanted us on their backs never even comes up.

Full disclosure, lest I sound preachy about this: I have ridden horses. For the most part, I enjoyed the activity; and for the most part, I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong. I am deeply sorry. From the week I became vegan, I resolved to never, ever do it again. The transformation of horses—who arrived on this planet long before we didinto our recreational vehicles, into items we exchange (our use of horses) also makes them available for slaughter (the decried abuse); I now understand how I participated in the injustice.

Our acceptance of the riding in the first place causes hundreds of horses to die every year on racetracks worldwide, and that prompts the racing industry to invest in research on horses in order to investigate speed potential and injury treatments. The plight of ex-racing horses, and any owned horses who pass their primes (or the primes of their owners’ attention spans), may be a chain of sale, resale or donation to charity, neglect, and the ultimate handover to the killer buyer.

What finally happened to those horses I rode? I doubt any died of old age under the gentle care of a sanctuary. Out of the 9-million-plus horses in the United States, how many do, and who is supposed to ensure that happens?

The broader message of horse-slaughter opposition

What is the message of a campaign to ban the human consumption or the live transport of equine bodies? Having entered the chain of resale, horses who are not slaughtered for human consumption, one might assume, are likely to be turned into some other product, such as food for zoo animals. Their bodies are going somewhere. We don’t see horse cemeteries in suburban pastures or at riding schools.

And if we say horses shouldn’t be slaughtered and shipped to restaurants in Italy or Belgium, then some other animal will appear on the same Belgian or Italian menu that would have featured the horseflesh—a selection that should arouse no more ethical outrage, if our morals are consistent, than the average North American pizza. Issues involving the human consumption of animals always press us to reaffirm the vitality in supporting restaurants offered by vegans. This makes much more sense than backing a campaign that scolds people for eating this and not that animal, or one that pushes the slaughter of certain animals over administrative borders.

And by framing the eating of horses as a “barbaric” foreign habit, the humane community routinely enables donors to miss the meaning of what they do at home, and the advantages people derive in our own regions from the pervasive commodification of animals.  To put it bluntly: No humane-charity CEO wants to trouble the conscience of the donor on horseback.

The underlying trouble: domestication

Our form of dominion over cats and dogs and horses—a dominion that we accept and even celebrate—certainly connects with humanity’s domination of these same animals in other ways. Our habit of making toys or companions out of dogs and ponies who have no say in the matter sets the stage, for example, for training animals to go into wars and exploding buildings, or for their millions of deaths in shelters, through auctions, and in laboratories each year.

Despite charity groups who refer to owners as “guardians” and despite animal law writers’ insistence that their household animals are more than “mere” property, the human who lives with a domesticated animal is in charge of every major situation in that being’s life. It makes no more sense to refer to our control over other animals as guardianship than it does to claim that slaveowners would have been guardians of human slaves simply by uttering the term.

Farrier at work - Wikimedia CommonsRecall Charles Darwin’s words: “Animals, whom we have made our slaves, we do not like to consider our equals.”[1] We rationalize and perpetuate our dominion over other animals in part by making ourselves their benefactors and pointing out that we do love specific animals; but do deep feelings of love for these animals justify domestication generally—or does that deep love lead us to challenge it?

I support rescue groups. I appreciate anyone who helps animals with nowhere else to turn. At the same time, I hope the rescue community will agree to question the root cause of the animals’ vulnerable condition. To admit that rescue keeps us in control, to acknowledge the sad aspect of the dependent state that we put them in, forcing their reliance on the sheer luck of being scooped up by a decent, sympathetic human who has the means and will to look after them. The point of advocacy can’t be to slather euphemistic language over human dominance. Nor is it about exclaiming how much we love our individual animals at home and yet refusing to acknowledge the overall unfairness in training animals to live in our homes and paddocks—for just as long as we say they may.

All of these beings have been selectively bred from ancestors who lived on their terms in their spaces. Autonomous communities of free-living animals. Why do we always have to mess with that state? I’ll sign off by linking a video of the free-living horses known in Mongolia as the Takh (Equus ferus przewalskii). Once these communities were wiped out by human hunting, military activities, and farming. But about 250 of these horses are now re-established in Mongolia’s Hustai National Park, an area where they had co-evolved with wolves of the steppe ecosystem. The Takh have developed complex patterns of social conduct to defend themselves from natural predators. But when they die, as they all do, the horses go back into the stream of universal energy in the ways they have done since the dawn of their being, and long before the dawn of ours.

[1] CHARLES DARWIN, METAPHYSICS, MATERIALISM, AND THE EVOLUTION OF MIND: EARLY WRITINGS OF CHARLES DARWIN 187 (1974; transcribed and annotated by Paul H. Barrett; with a commentary by Howard E. Gruber).

 

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.