What to Do on Kentucky Derby Day

We humans excel at making use of other animals, extracting wealth through that use, exhausting them, disposing of them. This week, the 145th Kentucky Derby will showcase these habits.

Frivolous, frenzied pressure surrounds the horse called Omaha Beach, who is dubbed most likely to win. Because the racing industry is all about ROI, this horse and the others will run so hard their lungs bleed. Racetracks use a diuretic called Lasix to stop the horses from bleeding through their noses.

UPDATE: Just three days before the 2019 Kentucky Derby, Omaha Beach was removed from the race, having come down with breathing problems associated with a trapped epiglottis. Inflammation of airway structures can cause a horse’s epiglottis to get stuck in folds of tissue, according to Equus Magazine.

Trainer Richard Mandella calls Omaha Beach “a kind horse. A horse that’s easy to be around.” Evidently we are just sensitive enough to perceive kindness in the other animals—even as we amuse ourselves at their expense. Even as horses continue to die in professional racing. Fatalities include Kentucky Derby horses Barbaro (April 29, 2003 – January 29, 2007) and Eight Belles (February 23, 2005 – May 3, 2008)…

And as long as the horse breeding business exists, so will the auctions and the killer buyers. Tens of thousands of horses, including racehorses, go to slaughter each year. With horse slaughter disallowed in the United States (it stopped in 2006), the unwanted animals just get a longer, more excruciating journey over the Canadian and Mexican borders for a slaughter. Don’t kid yourself about this. That $3 million purse isn’t buying sanctuaries for four-year old horses, either.

The racetrack industry is under scrutiny for drugging horses in the Triple Crown events. HR 1754, the Horse Racing Integrity Act, would create a nationwide standard for testing in racing horses, implemented by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

Churchill Downs, Inc. opposes the Horse Racing Integrity Act. The major animal-advocacy groups back the bill.

Given the temptation to push boundaries to win, the racing industry will keep tormenting horses—drugs or no drugs. If we’d ask serious questions, we’d find no integrity exists in horse racing.

And this Saturday’s Derby would be the last.

This Saturday, let’s all refuse to don bonnets. Let’s decline to stick mint leaves in glasses. Let’s stop making light of this event, making bets on this event, and allowing its realities to go unmentioned. Let’s act upon a baseline of decency, speak up in our social circles, and start treating horse racing as the blood sport it is.

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Shell Shocked

The eggs are gone from the grocery store. The egg fridge shut down after non-stop egg stocking for days.

No, you can’t buy the cartons collected from the broken fridge.

You come here because of the labels. The labels don’t tell.

Continued

Year of the Boar

On 5 February we enter the Year of the Pig in the Chinese Lunar calendar.

Now, Wikipedia tells us, the Japanese zodiac and the Tibetan zodiac do not have a pig; they have a boar.

I’m going with the Year of the Boar.

Because if we want to get to animal liberation, the ideal to keep in mind is a community of free-living beings. Not beings who were selectively bred to be controlled by the apes known (to ourselves) as Homo sapiens.

Decide for yourself. Would you want advocates to represent you this way?

Sure, the cut-paper caricature seems happy, but there’s no joy in being born dependent on, and ultimately killed by, a controlling owner.

Very few purpose-bred pigs make it to refuges. Those so-called lucky ones wouldn’t need luck if we humans would just stop breeding away their independence.

So much for the happy pig motif. Let’s get real.

Now look at the banner photo. Free-living boars live and move together, in groups. If the image of young sibling boars evokes a happy feeling in the viewer, it happens in a more respectful context: freedom.

Representing pigs as adorably happy in a pet-like state isn’t the best we can do. But it’s what a lot of vegan advocacy does.

Here it is, at the most extreme, with this cute little lonely pig. 

Yes, lonely.

Undomesticated boars live in groups. Babies stick together. So, this image should trouble us and make us question whether what seems “cute” to most human eyes is a profoundly sad state for the animal who’s displayed.

And now, are we really going to share a video clip of a helpless baby pig in a bidet for “National Dog Day”?

OK, yeah, I’m gonna get preachy here.

In the Year of the Pig Boar, how about we focus on these beings’ ancestral, free communities?

Most people don’t know what young boars look like, or where they live. We, as vegans, should know. Because veganism is not about making selective breeding seem adorable. Veganism is about challenging it and refusing to obscure the reality of where animal communities come from and who they really are.

Best wishes to everyone in the Year of the Boar. Let these images of boars interacting set the tone for a new year in vegan outreach.

#TimesUp in the Animal Charity World

The Humane Society of the United States has just accepted CEO Wayne Pacelle’s resignation.

This followed reporters’ investigations into claims that CEO Wayne Pacelle and (now former) VP of farm animal protection Paul Shapiro have sexually humiliated HSUS staffers.

In the words of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, wider concerns involve a “frat-like ‘bro’ culture” that manipulates and stifles advocacy careers.

Some say the #MeToo problem in advocacy can be fixed with more female leadership. Can it?  Read on.

 

“But Vegans Kill More Animals!”

Justin Van Kleeck is a microsanctuary pioneer—a farm animal rescuer working on a small scaljustin-van-kleecke, often rescuing animals from small-scale farming operations too, and resisting the calls of industry to tout “humane” or “local” agribusiness as a step in the right direction.

While Justin urges consistency—no amount of homespun pictures or creative PR can ever make animal exploitation “humane”—some will then challenge the commitment to crops as food.

There’s a clever argument, and maybe you’ve heard it, that vegans cause the deaths of more animals by being vegan. Growing crops for human food, the argument goes, involves tractors and threshers that kill field mice, voles, and so forth.

Have you ever noticed how this argument misses all the feed crops used in animal farming? Note, for exSlide37ample, that 99% of your local chicken farmers drive to feed stores to keep their birds growing and producing. The feed store is reliant on the fossil-fuel industry. So the “local” and “sustainable” concept in animal farming, when we dig deeper, is questionable.

Your local animal farm would also be a consumer of the massive feed industry that uses heavy equipment on the land without regard for the countless small animals seeking food and shelter amidst the fields.

As discussed before on Vegan Place, facile excuses to avoid personal change abound. When people face the reality that becoming vegan is possible, there seems to be a shut-off valve, signifying: “Change myself? No! Let me seize an excuse that I haven’t really thought through and hope you haven’t thought through either. Vegans do more harm—so there! Yeah, that’s the ticket!”

Justin, when confronted with the “vegans kill more animals than your local animal farmers” claim, says:

We vegans start from the premise that exploitation and killing of other beings for our own ends is unacceptable, and we seek solutions…beneficial for all involved. Husbandry starts from the premise that other animals are here for us to use and consume, and all we have to do is be nice. So vegans seek harmonious coexistence without holding a knife to anyone’s throat.

Veganic models of agriculture and permaculture are available. Along with being more sustainable they are also workable in a variety of settings. Veganic urban gardens and food networks EXIST, but animal husbandry does not make sense for all communities. Remember: “If it isn’t accessible by the poor, it is neither radical nor revolutionary.”

In our conversations, Justin has noted that we, our whole generation, are products of an industrial revolution now. Why hold vegans alone responsible for what mechanized farming does to the land and to animals seeking habitat? Vegans didn’t plan to produce food this way.

Feeding crops to animals kills more animals. Animal farms breed large numbers of animals into existence for human consumption.

And when field animals get caught up in the collateral damage in the production of food crops (eaten by vegans and non-vegans), it’s because we’re all dealing with constraints imposed on us by modern agribusiness.

But we can go vegan to stop direct exploitation and killing within our food system, and try to change that system completely. Let’s insist on fewer excuses, and real engagement.


I am grateful to Justin for expanding my knowledge on vegan and sanctuary ethics greatly, and also for being a patron of my animal-liberation work. Photo of Justin: source. Banner photo by Philipp Kuchler (own work), via Wikimedia Commons.

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.