“Humane” Meat, Local Free-Range Eggs, and Backyard Chickens

I recently had the opportunity to visit a backyard egg producer. This person allowed me to take a tour of their small-scale, local, free-range, “humane” enclosure for their chickens. Had I not already known that this was a backyard egg-producer, I would have thought it resembled some of the nicest animal sanctuaries I have visited. … Continue reading “Humane” Meat, Local Free-Range Eggs, and Backyard Chickens

The Ghosts in Our Machine: An Interview With Liz Marshall and Jo-Anne McArthur

There has been a lot of talk about upcoming documentary film The Ghosts in Our Machine, and for good reason.  It is an incredible, mesmerizing, immersive homage to the billions of animals whose lives are caught up in the insanity of a system that treats them as mere production units.   The film’s unhurried cadence allows you to surrender to every layer of emotion as you become a part of a world that is hidden in shadows.  With its poetic cinematography and strong emphasis on creating captivating visuals, “Ghosts” will haunt you long after the closing credits. Continue reading “The Ghosts in Our Machine: An Interview With Liz Marshall and Jo-Anne McArthur”

Never Give Up

Dear friend, Though I have never met you, in many ways, I believe we already know each other very well.   Our struggles have not been identical, yet I am sure we have shared many.  The world is a tough place to live in, especially for a person who chooses not to follow the path … Continue reading Never Give Up

Kapparot With Chickens: On Ritual Slaughter and Human Greed

kapparot chicken heart candle vigilI had the opportunity to spend a considerable amount of time this past week saving the lives of sixty-three chickens and protesting a despicable tradition which stems back millennia.  Our protests throughout the week were heavily covered by various media outlets .  We were featured on KTLA 5 (channel 5), CBS News (channel 2), the front page of The Los Angeles Times (twice — no, thrice, and one more time), Jewish Journal (twice — no, thrice), The Jerusalem Post, JTALA WeeklyLAistMSN News, and KFI AM 640.

It is a ritual called Kapparot (also known as Kapparah, Kaporos, Kaparot, Kaporot and Kapores) that is part of the observance of the highest of Jewish holidays, Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement).  In this ritual a rabbi swings a live chicken over a person’s head to channel the sins of the human into the chicken.  This is to ensure a good year for the human full of health and prosperity.  A rooster is used for men and a hen is used for women.  A few passages are read from the Torah (the “Old Testament”) and the following is recited three times:

“This is my exchange, this is my substitute, this is my atonement.  This rooster (or hen) will go to its death, while I will enter and proceed to a good long life and to peace.”

The chicken is then killed with a sharp blade dragged across his or her throat.

Many Jews prefer to use money instead of chickens because of their acknowledgement that the use of chickens in the Kapparot ritual is animal cruelty.  To many Jews, the use of chickens in Kapparot directly violates a principle which bans “unnecessary” animal cruelty, known by Jews as “Tza’ar ba’alei chayim” (literally translating to “the suffering of living creatures”).  They say that because money is an acceptable alternative, it is not necessary to use chickens.

A week ago, I didn’t know about any of this.  My father mentioned the ritual to me a long time ago, telling me how his grandfather used to practice the ceremony on him when he was a child and how much he hated seeing a chicken suffer in that way, but over time I forgot about it.  I was invited to a protest against the use of chickens for Kapparot, organized by Rabbi Jonathan Klein and Gina Palencar, co-founders of Faith Action for Animals.  Over one-hundred activists and locals (many of them Jews) showed up for the protest on Sunday.

We expected to be met with resistance.  We expected to see chickens suffering.  But we could never have expected what actually transpired.

A protest which originally was supposed to last one day stretched on to an entire week, beginning on Sunday, September 8th and ending Friday, September 13th.  Whatever plans I had for this past week were forgotten.  Protesting and rescuing became my entire existence.  My life has been consumed by chanting, crying, laughing, screaming, hugging, supporting, driving, standing, walking, pacing, debating and trying to maintain my sanity.  My garage has been the half-way house between misery and freedom for almost all the sixty-three chickens who were fortunate enough to make it out alive.  Many of us have put in 12-hour days, having only enough time for one meal a day and three or four hours of restless sleep each night.  My body feels like I got hit by a bus.  The incredibly disturbing things we have seen, heard and smelled over the course of one week are enough to make anyone question their faith in humanity.

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We witnessed firsthand horrifying cruelty and neglect.  Chickens, who were crammed in cages, stepping on each other, bleeding, defecating and laying eggs over each other that would crack open and ooze through the wire cage floor onto the chickens below, becoming caked on what few matted feathers they had.  Chickens with nails two inches long.  Chickens panting in the 90 degree heat.  Chickens with puss-filled holes where their eyes used to be.  Chickens who were given no food or water except for the occasional hose-down after enough pleading from activists to “please be merciful” (though we tried to give them as much water as we could from our own bottles).

Activists in Los Angeles protesting Kapparot slaughter of chickens in front of Ohel Moshe synagogue.
Activists in Los Angeles protesting Kapparot slaughter of chickens in front of Ohel Moshe synagogue.

We witnessed firsthand disgusting exhibits of waste, environmental destruction and malice.  Workers dumping entrails and blood into storm drains.  Garbage bags full of stinking, rotting chicken corpses.   Workers throwing the hacked up remains of chickens at protesters and laughing about it.

We witnessed firsthand the early indoctrination of speciesism and human supremacy onto little children not even old enough to walk.  Families with children of all ages from infancy to young adulthood witnessing the slaughter of chickens in the wooden huts erected to shield their despicable acts of torture and murder from the public eye.  Children begging their parents to not take them inside.  Other children picking out which chicken they wanted to have slaughtered, “This one is fluffy and cute!  I want this one!”, stroking and petting the trembling chickens who would be murdered in front of their own eyes a few moments later. Continue reading “Kapparot With Chickens: On Ritual Slaughter and Human Greed”

Direct Action Everywhere

take actionI just returned to my hometown of Los Angeles, California from a two-week trip up the coast.  I spent the majority of my time with some new friends from Direct Action Everywhere in Oakland, California.  If you haven’t already heard of them, they’re an amazing group of committed animal rights activists whose goal is to inspire the world to pay attention, pick a side and take an active role in the animal rights movement.  They believe in total animal liberation, creating  and nurturing an inclusive community, telling stories from the animal’s perspective, non-violent direct action and confrontation.  They believe that veganism is not enough and that activism is imperative.  I completely agree.

Right now, the animal rights movement is incredibly pessimistic.  Talk to different activists and you’re likely to hear things like “the planet is doomed”, “abolition is not possible right now, so we should fight for ‘humane’ treatment as a means to that end” and “we’ll never change people’s views on animals, but at least we’ll go down fighting”.  This is the absolute wrong mindset to have.  This is not a winning mindset.  We need positivity in this movement not because we want to fool ourselves into thinking something impossible is possible (because it might be possible with far fewer numbers than you think), but because if we aren’t positive, the planet will be doomed, abolition won’t be possible and going down fighting is all we’ll achieve.  The truth is, changing people’s views on animals is possible with the right mindset and determination, but it will take all of us inspiring others to take action if we ever hope to achieve it.  We have to dream BIG.  In a world telling us “no you can’t”, it is up to us to confidently and unapologetically counter “yes we can.

Activists take to the streets of San Francisco, California to demand people open their eyes to the injustices animals endure at human hands.
Activists take to the streets of San Francisco, California to demand people open their eyes to the injustices animals endure at human hands.

Dreaming big is important, but meaningless if we lack the people-power to make the idea of total animal liberation a reality.  As activists, we have to follow through on our words with actions beyond vegan consumerism.  Making different shopping and entertainment choices is great, but we are fighting an uphill battle that can only be won if activists will actually get active.

Imagine if every time someone took a bite of a hamburger or picked a gallon of milk off the grocery store shelf they received looks of disapproval and words of truth earnestly telling them “this is wrong”.  We need to hold people accountable for their actions.  We need to wake people up.  We need to bring the entire world into the animal rights conversation.  The biggest social justice movement of our time is happening right now, but we’re too afraid and timid to talk about it.  We are their voice and yet we are silent when it counts most.

“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was ‘well timed’ in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word ‘Wait!’ It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’ We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that ‘justice too long delayed is justice denied.’” — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Letter From a Birmingham Jail)

blind to injustice, tel aviv, israel, earthlings, march, animal rights
Activists in Tel Aviv, Israel symbolically taking off their blindfolds showing that they acknowledge the suffering of animals and are taking a stand against it.

Direct action is imperative.  No longer can we allow other members of our species to live in the self-imposed darkness of willful ignorance.  No longer can we be appeased by the “victories” of meatless mondays, “humane” murder, and bigger cages.  No longer can we be contented by the illusion that change will happen because of how peacefully, respectfully and meekly we waited.

If this were any other social justice movement, would we be worried about appearing “pushy”, “rude” or “judgmental” by bringing people’s attention to the violence they are actively participating in by maintaining the mindset that a beings worth is based solely on their utility to humans?  If humans were in the animal’s place wouldn’t our actions be different?  Would we still be saying “wait”, “be patient” and “not yet”?  How is this disparity not speciesist?

“Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.” — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Letter From a Birmingham Jail)

Confrontation is the seed of change.  Without it, the status quo will remain forever.  We need to attack this issue with the same urgency we would have if these injustices were instead being dealt to humans.

Every time a person purchases or consumes a product of violence, we need to remind them that they are making a choice in support of the oppressors.  Willful ignorance is not innocence — there is complicity in every action and inaction which supports oppressive acts.  If you wouldn’t sit quietly beside a person slicing someone’s throat at the dinner table, then you should not sit quietly beside a person eating someone’s mutilated body — and if you would sit quietly beside a person eating someone’s mutilated body then you are complicit as well.  As Erasmus Darwin famously said: “He who allows oppression shares the crime”. Continue reading “Direct Action Everywhere”

I Lost My Friend Today

falcor, chow-lab mix
Falcor

It was one and a half years ago that I met my dear friend who I would come to know as Falcor.  The name was picked out by my partner who said she reminded him of the dog-dragon from the Neverending Story.  She was a chow-lab mix with a fluffy beige coat, a pink and purple tongue and nose, and big brown hound-dog eyes.

The shelter said she was six years old when we got her, but I had a feeling she was probably a little older.  (Shelters do that sometimes to boost a dog’s chances for adoption, but I wouldn’t have cared either way.)  She was always a timid, gentle dog, especially on her first day at our house.  We did our best to make her feel comfortable while still giving her enough space so she would be able to get used to us on her own terms.

When we first got her, she was the fattest dog I had ever seen with my own eyes.  She had difficulty walking and her breathing was labored.  For the most part, she tried to stay sitting or laying.  She wouldn’t even get up to eat.

We had already been feeding our younger dog, Layla (a 2-3 year old german shepherd-husky mix), a vegan diet and had seen good results, so there was no question that we would feed Falcor vegan food as well.  After a few weeks of feeding her vegan food we noticed that she was able to move around a little easier and could come get her food rather than having it brought to her where she was sitting.  We started giving her some exercise.  Nothing too tough at first, but soon enough she was keeping up with Layla running laps around the pool, chasing squirrels and rough-housing with us.  Within a few months time she slimmed down to a normal, healthy weight and even our veterinarian was impressed by the unlikely turn-around.

Layla had been an “only-dog” in our house for a year before Falcor joined our family and she would sometimes assert her dominance over Falcor in very nasty, scary fights.  One particular fight landed me in the emergency room with blood running down my left arm and leg and chunks of adipose sticking out from the wounds.  Someone didn’t close the door to the room where our three rabbits live and the dogs must have seen them and gotten excited.  I’ve heard you’re not normally supposed to get in between two dogs in the middle of a fight, but I had to push them out of the room where rabbits were hopping around without any barrier between them and the dogs.  I don’t blame either of them for what happened.

Falcor would always lose their fights and after the first one she realized that I was protecting her from getting beat up.  She started following me around everywhere.  When new people would come to the house she would stay close to me and when people would pet her she would look to me to see if it was safe to trust them.  She considered me her guardian and I was honored to have that duty.

She loved getting pets and rubs and would do this funny thing with her head if you stopped rubbing her, even for a few seconds.  She would snap her head back and give this disapproving stare back as if to say “I didn’t tell you to stop”.  Wherever I went, she wanted to go too.  When I would be finished showering I would open the bathroom door and see her laying on the floor looking up at me with her head resting over her paws, waiting for me to come out.  When I would come home from work she would do this “happy dance” with her front feet as if the ground was really hot.  Any time I would say her name (I called her Falcorsies), she would wag her tail.

My fondest memory of Falcor would have to be right after the first time we had her groomed. My partner brought her home smelling like flowers with a big pink bow on her collar.  She was glowing with happiness.  She must have felt like a princess.  Moments like that is what rescuing a dog is all about.  She would have languished and died in a shelter, wondering where her family went, feeling afraid, alone and confused, but in that moment she was the happiest, most loved dog in the world.

One night she couldn’t stop panting.  She panted so loudly I wasn’t able to sleep.  I took her to an after-hours emergency clinic.  She didn’t want to go into the back with the veterinary technician without me.  She took a few steps, looked back, noticed I wasn’t following her and promptly planted her butt on the ground and pulled against the leash.  She wasn’t going anywhere without her protector.  They let me come in with her.

They took x-rays of her abdomen and discovered that she was full of fluid that had collected around her lungs, making it difficult for her to breathe.  They would have to do a tap to remove the fluid.  After about an hour and just over two liters of fluid removed from her chest, the vet recommended that we send the fluid to a lab to see if her condition was caused by an infection or cancer.  About a week later we had the results.  It was cancer. Continue reading “I Lost My Friend Today”

National Animal Rights Day 2013 Los Angeles

Opening ceremony for National Animal Rights Day in Los Angeles, California on June 9th, 2013
Opening ceremony for National Animal Rights Day in Los Angeles, California on June 9th, 2013 [image credit: Sarah Jane Hardt]

Sunday, June 9th, 2013 is a day that will be remembered by many as a turning point in their lives.  At the 3rd annual National Animal Rights Day in Los Angeles, CA, activists from far and wide came together for a historical demonstration of compassion, remembrance and solidarity.  It was the first time a demonstration of its kind had ever been done on U.S. soil.  A demonstration that had made a life-altering impact on the people of Spain, Australia, Israel and others before, and sent shock waves around the world in the form of social media and word of mouth powerfully telling the world “we demand equality for animals NOW”.

I was so deeply moved and inspired by the commitment and strength of my vegan brothers and sisters, standing united under the cause of animal rights, paying our respects to the animals we held in our hands.  Animals who had every right to be alive but had been deprived of that right by the greed, gluttony and vanity of humankind.  We broke down, we cried on each other’s shoulders, we held each other up — we came together.  We were one.

eva gutierrez holding a dead baby rabbit at NARD 2013 in LA
We earthlings are impermanent, but our message is immortal. [image credit: Sara Jane Hardt]

For me, it was the culmination of months of emotionally trying work that had finally reached its transformational conclusion.  Acquiring animals from slaughterhouses for the ceremony, carrying the physical and emotional weight of their deaths back with me at work and at home was no easy task but it had to be done and I am so thankful that I was able to fill that role.  During the ceremony, as I walked back for another animal to hand to the activists, feelings I had tried so hard to keep bottled up for so long had grown to such intense proportions that when the levee broke and I could hold them in no longer, they hit me all at once like an flood of pure emotion in waves of sorrow, gratitude, awe and relief so intense I almost fell to my knees.  To see on the faces of fellow activists the impact this event had on them moved me to tears.  To look at them looking down at the animals clasped in their hands with tears streaming down their faces, a mix of sorrow, pity, shame, despair, anger and resolve.  It was beautiful and profound in its bottomless sadness.  As I handed animals to Brenda Calvillo, Eva Gutierrez, Jessica Schlueter, Carol Glasser and others, I thanked each of them for their strength and dedication to the animals and for sharing such a powerful moment with each other and the world.

Nothing would have been accomplished if not for the hard work and dedication of all of my fellow organizers who for the past five months have been diligently and uncomplainingly working to make this event possible. Aylam Orian, Vida Jafari, Brenda Calvillo, Dave Simon, Robyn Hicks, Jill Ryther, Christine Hess — these people did the lion’s share of the work and deserve a medal for their hard work and dedication. Continue reading “National Animal Rights Day 2013 Los Angeles”

Go Vegan, Save the World: 8 Similarities Between Animal Rights Activists and Superheroes

marvel and dc superheroesWe admire superheroes for their unwavering belief in the power of compassion and the inherent goodness of humanity.  We look up to them, idolize them, and champion them as role models for youth to emulate and aspire to.  In the face of adversity, superheroes never give up, they never give in, and they never compromise their ideals.  Superheroes have taught us that “with great power comes great responsibility” among many other valuable lessons for treating each other with kindness.  But have we actually learned anything from them?

We need to see the connection between villains using their power to harm humans, and humans using our power to harm animals.  The following are eight similarities between animal rights activists and superheroes and how you can help save the world by adopting a vegan lifestyle and becoming an animal rights activist.

1. Superheroes use their power for good

“With great power comes great responsibility.” ~ Voltaire (and later, Uncle Ben from Spiderman)

animal man, dc comics
Animal Man (aka Buddy Baker) is a vegan animal rights activist superhero of the DC Universe. He has the power to assume the abilities of animals, such as the flight of a bird, the wall-climbing of a spider, the color changing of a chameleon, and the regenerating of a worm, among many others.  Although he has been a long-time minor character in the DC universe, Animal Man’s story has recently been relaunched to much critical acclaim.  Other vegan and vegetarian superheroes include Beast Boy, Aquaman, and in some depictions, Superman.

The most basic difference between superheroes and villains is that superheroes use their power for good, while villains use their power for evil.  Superheroes believe in truth, justice and compassion while villains believe in chaos, violence and greed.  Though certain villains may believe they are fighting for truth and justice, their version of justice and their means of obtaining it are twisted and immoral.

Superheroes believe in standing up for the underdog and use their power to speak on behalf of those without power.  Unlike villains, they don’t view those without power as inferior beings and they don’t use their power as a reason to inflict pain to others just because they can’t fight back.

While a villain sees people without powers as a massive herd to dominate and rule over, a superhero sees people without powers as individuals to protect and care for.

Animal rights activists remove themselves from all avoidable acts of cruelty done to other sentient creatures on their behalf.  When they learn of injustices to animals, they empathize, inform others and fight for justice.  Animal rights activists are compassionate to all sentient life forms because they believe that treating others with respect is simply the right thing to do.

“I decided early that I would never take a life. Right around the time I decided that I wanted to live. It wasn’t an arbitrary decision and it was more than moral. It’s about identity. As long as you can choose that, choose who you are in the world… you can choose to call yourself sane.” ~ Batman

2. Superheroes dare to dream

“I wouldn’t have it any other way. Dreams save us. Dreams lift us up and transform us. And on my soul I swear… until my dream of a world where dignity, honor and justice becomes the reality we all share… I’ll never stop fighting. Ever.” ~ Superman

Superheroes aren’t afraid to dream of a better world.  While others are content to accept things as they are, superheroes dream of something better.  Villains dream as well, but they don’t dream of a better world the way superheroes do.   Villains’ twisted dreams of a better world are ones in which they are the ruler of a slave race (the human race) or even suicidal dreams of total annihilation of the universe and apocalyptic destruction causing the death of all life, including even themselves.

Superheroes are idealists and dreamers, but they are not delusional.  They understand perfectly well the hard work, the sleepless nights, and the shed tears it will take to make their dream a reality.  But they understand that some of the biggest ethical leaps forward society has taken throughout history at first didn’t seem possible.  They all started with that one person who thought “but what if it is?” Continue reading “Go Vegan, Save the World: 8 Similarities Between Animal Rights Activists and Superheroes”