Hands Off the Camels

I’ve been so busy looking at cashew cheddar, hemp Parmesan and avocado ice cream that I didn’t notice the camel milk in a local co-op until a friend nudged me. Yes, camel milk has arrived. A website called Wellness Mama touts the stuff as a one-stop fix for everything from allergies to autism.

The Camel Milk Association must be under some social and legal pressure, though. They’ve posted a fact sheet about their members’ right of association on their website.

One camel milk vendor, Meadow Ridge Farm, calls itself a private membership club, citing the Weston A. Price Foundation as prescribing the raw-milk tradition to which they adhere.

But raw, unpasteurized milk, sought by many camel milk devotees, is generally prohibited in the United States and Europe. And camel milk has only recently been accepted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a commercial product.

Desert Farms, an online sales hub, attempts to make camel milk look eco-friendly, with a particular reference to the Amish suppliers.

But camel farming is just another example of the traffic in introduced species. Plus, it comes with methane emissions. Although these emissions might be lighter than those of cows and other ruminants, they are significant. Note that commercially exploited camels and their descendants have been blamed for a significant portion of Australian methane.

The Desert Farms website also claims that the suppliers spend a lot of time with their camels, that the smallest supplier owns just two camels, and that these suppliers’ camels are just the happiest in all the world.

The pink camel in the room here is a baby camel. Where does a baby camel go after being conceived and born to induce lactation? A free-roaming baby camel is suckled for more than a year.

The Desert Farms Frequently Asked Questions page doesn’t say a word about the offspring. It does include the bizarre question Is Camel Milk Vegan? Answer: “No, Desert Farms camel milk is an animal product. Animal lovers can rejoice that our camels are treated well and cherished by each family farm!”

The vendors are clearly well versed in pretending that the camels whose milk they usurp endorse this business model. Hogwash.

In any case, what makes up happiness in the world of camels is none of our business. These beings are so wonderfully adapted to the desert habitats in which they evolved that they have extra eyelids for removing grains of sand. Camels have their own history without us, spanning more than 40 million years.

Jeffrey Mousssaieff Masson writes in Altruistic Armadillos, Zenlike Zebras:

An Arab proverb says that a foal knows the well where her mother came to drink before she gave birth to her. It is not clear how they can find their own home range again over vast stretches of trackless desert, but they do.

Does your local health food shop or co-op carry camel milk? If so (or if not), conversation could make a difference and spare new camels from being brought into a life of confinement.

A search on the Desert Farms store locator page brought up three retail sellers within 25 miles of me:

One encouraging factor is the limited number of camel milk outlets on the map. This fledgling trend should be vulnerable to sound critique.

Some readers might point out that making a special case of camels leaves the trade in cows, goats and others unchallenged. I’m not suggesting that we advocate solely for camels; nothing prevents us from admonishing animal agribusiness generally, including when discussing camel milk. Camels as a community can be defended, and the broader questions about why we take any other animals’ milk can come to the fore.

I thank Linda Stein for inspiring this post.

Cuteness and Memes in Wildflower Cafe Slideshow

Start Your World Vegan Month at Wildflower Vegan Cafe

What’s Up? Enjoy cake and a cup of fair-trade coffee or a hearty vegan meal at Wildflower on the first Saturday in November, when I’ll facilitate a slideshow and conversation on Cuteness and Memes in Animal Advocacy.

Where? Wildflower Vegan Cafe, Village on High, Millville, NJ.  856.265.7955

When? 4 pm on Saturday 5 November 2016

We’ve all seen “Why love one but eat the other” images. Indeed, why do we love a puppy yet have no regrets when it comes to eating the calf? Then again…

Does setting the ideal in “loving” animals compromise nonhuman dignity? What can other social movements teach us about these idealized images?

Eric Nyman, owner of Wildflower Vegan Café, said, “Our business is nurturing bodies and minds. We’re excited to open November, which has traditionally been World Vegan Month, by offering space for Lee’s work on memes—inviting advocates and the public to consider how feel-good imagery might endorse exploitation.”

Event sponsored by Wildflower Vegan Café, and patrons of the art of animal liberation.

Nursing the Bio-Community

The International Council of Nurses represents 16 million nurses.icn code of ethics for nurses Recently my friend Brenda Trerice, a retired RN, directed my attention to their Code of Ethics—a guide for action based on social values and needs.The Code has served as the standard for nurses worldwide since its first adoption in 1953.

Its Point #3 (on page 4) states:

The nurse practices to sustain and protect the natural environment and is aware of its consequences on health.

Brenda senses a connection between this ethical tenet and animal-liberation philosophy; but explains:

Yet articulating it requires such subtlety so that one discovers then starts to make more connections on their own via their own psyche (memories, experiences, observations, resolution of dilemmas) so the choice is made in full consciousness for all time. Of all the health professionals, I think it is nurses who could grasp this philosophy easier than most others.

Why nurses? Because the nursing orientation is holistic. The individual is perceived as an integrated whole having biological, psychological, social, and, depending on the individual, spiritual aspects—not simply a disease or body part.  It is a mere leap across a gap, the connecting of a nerve synapse, to understand whole and health in the larger sense: the Earth and all inhabitants. Veganism is holistic.   

Earth’s atmosphere sustains all living beings within it. No animal is meant to live forever, nor to escape pain. Yet all require nurturing, nourishment, and balance. All of our lives are placed in danger by the degradation of Earth’s surface features, by mass extinction events, by climate disruption. Each factor alone will unravel life; it’s a matter of time.

So to step back and regard the big picture means to understand human health as existing within the sanity of nature.

Animal agribusiness work as a health risk

A porcine pairBreeding animals and keeping them in confinement (shooing away predators and taking up land for feed crops as we do it) constitutes a practice in opposition to the natural world.

And the placements of animal confinement, and slaughter sites as workplaces, affects vulnerable human populations.

At Vegstock in September, I noted a Johns Hopkins public health study cited by Dr. Ana Negrón indicating that half of the population of slaughter workers test positive for campylobacter. And then there’s the rate of amputations in the industry. While nonhuman lives are commodified completely in animal agribusiness, the arena is and will always be inhumane to humans who must work in it.

Animal farming’s climate impact as a health risk

Everything depends on climate. Plants are losing the conditions that support them. By 2100, some tropical regions are predicted to have 200 fewer growing days a year. The health and nutrition impacts remain to be seen, but how could they not be harrowing?

And consider what’s happening to untamed animal communities as climate zones shift and native plants stop growing in their habitats.

Climate change is complex; but the major role played by animal agribusiness is now well known, and it is connected to massive fossil fuel use. We keep releasing stored carbon dioxide (through transport and electric refrigeration) and disrupting Earth’s capacity to Slide22store it (by cutting down trees to enable both grazing and growing feed crops). We’re releasing methane into the atmosphere (in significant part, though our domesticated animals, mostly cows).

Animal manure is a major source of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide too.

More to explore

I’m making the connection with animal agribusiness, the health risks plaguing people in animal husbandry and slaughter, and the health of our biosphere. I haven’t made any eating-related health claims; I’ll leave that to the people in the medical field.

There is still much more to explore: the ethic that addresses our duty of care for the animals we domesticated, and to the untamed Earth that’s habitat for animals who could still live free; and how we would nurture a developing humanity that sustains and protects the natural environment and the conscious lives moving within it.

But to start: Should the International Council of Nurses take a broad view of health—situating it in its actual context, which is the planet’s whole biological community? Tokyo Ariake University on Slideshare.net - International Council of Nurses and the Contribution of Nursing Students

Here (PDF) is the International Council of Nurses 2014-2018 Strategic Plan. Those who implement such plans are not guided here, at least not in any concrete ways, to come to grips with the Council’s longtime ethical commitment to sustain and protect the natural environment and promote awareness of its consequences on health. Can the Council, in a time of environmental crises, neglect these issues?

If Beanstalks Had Feelings

Vegan? Becoming a vegan? One day, someone is going to ask you that burning question: “Oh, so you think plants don’t have feelings?”

What About PlantsDepending on your mood, available time, and experience with this classic outburst, your answer might be (1) terse, (2) practical, or (3) biological:

(1) Whatever. You roll your eyes and return to what you were doing before this unoriginal remark was uttered.

(2) OK, but animal farming harms more plants. Obvious, is it not? Animal husbandry requires several times the volume of crops as would be grown if we just grew food for people to eat. Willy could spare untold leafy billions from torture by growing food, not feed.

(3) Plants can’t run. You could also remind Willy that nature gave animals nervous systems to prompt them to self-protectively move away from sources of pain. If beanstalks had feelings, evolution would have equipped them with moveable feet, fins, or wings.

My preference is 1.

Plant Sensitivities, Revisited

So now that we’ve got the retorts laid out, let’s think seriously about plants. They are indeed responsive to their surroundings. And in this time of climate change, plants’ sensitivity to stress is coming to the attention of environmental science. Plants naturally breathe in carbon dioxide. But they can only take so much.

Excessive carbon dioxide in our atmosphere results from several human activities—including the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, and animal agribusiness.[1]

We also tend to drive predators out of any biological community we enter. That leads to an abundance of herbivores, standing around the foliage, chomping away without a care. Their bliss is illusory; the absence of wolves and other predator animals is unhealthy. And the put-upon plants can’t absorb the greenhouse gases they could handle in a balanced environment.

A study at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies showed plants around spiders (predators) took in carbon 1.4 times faster than when with only grasshoppers (herbivores). Grasshoppers coping with predators ate less grass, and grasses stored more carbon in their roots when dealing with these herbivores and carnivores together. Where only herbivores were present, plants tended to breathe out, rather than store, carbon.[2]

Compare the way sea otter scarcity correlates with rising emissions. The missing otters’ prey, sea urchins, are free to feed heavily on the kelp forests which would otherwise hold in carbon. With predators gone, CO2 emissions have, in some cases, risen tenfold!

What Are the Implications for Vegan Activism?

We need to get out there and challenge the persecution of predator animals. I’ll gladly help in the writing of educational materials with any vegan group interested in forming, say, a coyote co-existence initiative. coexistence initiative

By being vegan, we’ve already built a solid platform for this advocacy. Predators are so often wiped out because they impede human hunting and animal farming (which a vegan humanity would stop).

And of course, trees and foliage can’t take in carbon dioxide if they’re gone because the forest was cleared of indigenous flora and fauna so corporations could usurp the land to farm domesticated animals.

All told, plants and their sensitivities have diverse and interesting ramifications, and we need to pay attention. In the mystical yet grounded words of my friend Jack McMillan:  “Plants—and, yes, rocks, and water, and all . . . are part of the exceedingly complex web of life and the sacred constellation of consciousness.”


[1] United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), “Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production” (2010) examines fossil fuel consumption, land use, and the impacts of population growth, and states: “A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products.”

[2] The scientific experts who study climate change for the United Nations haven’t been taking these multiplier effects into account in their models. 

Thanks goes out to Jack McMillan for inspiring this post. Coyote coexistence art by Lee Thompson.

Support Animal Liberation Advocacy—Direct!

Big news: I’m now on Patreon.

If you visit Vegan Place regularly, you know On Their Own Terms: Animal Liberation for the 21st Century is in print. Through Patreon, you can fund the transfer of the book’s ideas into public advocacy.

Photo credit: Suzannah Troy

Photo credit: Suzannah Troy

I’m committed to doing at least one presentation monthly.

Through public presentations, I am:

  • Connecting dots for environmentalists.
  • Painting a picture of a new human identity in relation to Earth’s other life.
  • Showing how vegans spare animals from being turned into commodities—and how the commitment to becoming vegan can and does relieve the pressure on our whole global bio-community.

You can support this work of creation and outreach today, at my Patreon page.

Q. What is Patreon?

A. Think of it as a way to be a patron of the arts—in my case, the art of animal-liberation philosophy. And you don’t need to be rich. For the price of a cup of coffee each month, you can contribute meaningful support, as part of a community of funders.

Q. Lee, you teach law and legal studies. Aren’t you already supported?

A. I do animal-liberation work with no institutional support. I am an adjunct professor who, as many adjuncts do, also holds a retail job to make ends meet. Tenured and tenure-track professors are supported; indeed, most tenured professors receive high salaries, benefits, and substantial paid time away from the classroom so that they can do research, attend conferences, etc. But schools are in a race to the bottom when it comes to paying for instructional staff. Most of today’s college and university teachers are educated working-class contributors who—for equivalent work to that performed by fully paid professors—are drastically underpaid, and receive no time off for research and writing.

Q. So in effect, adjuncts are subsidizing the education of U.S. students! This needs to change. Right now, Lee, what work of yours can a “patron” support?

A. This quarter (through 2016), I’m focusing on achieving the ability to produce at least one educational presentation each month. Public presentations are vital to getting the word out about animal liberation, yet they require time I’ve lacked, given my schedule at the retail job. It’s simple: I can’t be in two places at one time. Your support enables my active presence in communities.

Q. So you believe Patreon is an effective way to support advocacy and policy work?

A. Yes, in this sense: Say you’ve considered giving to a nonprofit, knowing the group will direct your donation to a variety of things—very timepatreon logo-limited campaigns, executive and administrative salaries, fundraising, branding consultants and so forth—when your intention is to support focused vegan education. You might prefer a direct channel to fund an educator; and Patreon, which has developed a category for public educators, works well for that.

More questions or comments? Feel free to add them below.

A Performance Review of Humanity

On Earth Overshoot Day, which inches earlier each year, we exhaust more resources than Earth annually regenerates. #Pledgefortheplanet, we tweet! But what of the root-level change needed to address “over-exploitation” of Earth and its living communities?

Throughout our range across the Earth’s surface, we deem ourselves nature’s managers. Managers usually have to account for themselves in performance reviews. What if Earth Overshoot Day prompted a performance review of humanity?

Let’s try it.

Essay by Bill Drelles, Lee Hall, and matt shaw. Banner photo by Mónica Vereau.