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”

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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”

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”

What is Love?: How Going Vegan Showed Me What Love Really Is

vegan, valentine, valentine's day, heartI am an animal lover; always have been, always will be.  The thing is, I didn’t actually start loving animals until just a few years ago.  Allow me to explain…

I’ve had pets all my life, but it wasn’t until recently that I began having companions.  To put this simply, anyone can love a pet.  We love them for all they do for us: they make us feel comforted, understood and supported when times get tough; they make us laugh and smile with their silly antics; and they can even make us cry when they fall ill and pass away.  But when does an animal stop being a pet and start being a companion?  The answer: when we stop focusing on how they make us feel and start focusing on how we make them feel.

Anyone who has ever truly loved someone will tell you that love is selfless.  With love, there is no room for ego or pride.  Love is something we give to someone without expecting anything in return.  Of course, we love to feel loved as well, but (real) love is not a form of bribery.  If we truly love someone, we love them for who they are, not what they can do for us.  Furthermore, real love is not contingent on whether someone can or will love us in return.

So at what point do you go from simply thinking you love animals, to actually loving them?   Continue reading “What is Love?: How Going Vegan Showed Me What Love Really Is”

The 1 Reason Your Vegan Diet Will Fail Every Time

vegan, text, word, repeated
Veganism is growing in popularity but are you sure you have what it takes to go the distance?

Veganism is everywhere.  It’s all over the news, grocery store aisles — even your friends and family are talking about it.  Whether people choose a plant-based diet to save animals, manage cholesterol, get in shape, save the environment, or just to know what they’re putting in their body, the word “vegan” is making the shift from marginal to mainstream.  But the one thing no one talks about is the #1 reason many vegan diets ultimately fail.  To find out whether you’re heading for a cliff, you’ll need to ask yourself a simple question, the answer to which can spell victory or defeat in your quest to go vegan.

First, you need to understand that veganism isn’t a diet — it is a lifestyle.  A diet is something you can go on and off for any given amount of time to achieve a short term result.  A lifestyle incorporates diet with other aspects of your life into an ongoing, long-term solution. Continue reading “The 1 Reason Your Vegan Diet Will Fail Every Time”

The End of the World May Soon Become a Reality

2012, mayan long count calendar, end of the world, apocalypse
December 21, 2012 marks the end of the Mayan long count calendar. Many doomsday theorists speculate this means the apocalypse is coming today.

Well, it’s finally here: December 21st, 2012, the so-called “end of the world”.  I can’t help but wonder, what if it was true?  What if today really is the last day of your life?  Looking back, do you have any regrets?  Is there anything in your life left unfinished?  Anything you wish you’d said to someone, but didn’t?  Any act of kindness or generosity you could have done to make someone’s life a little brighter but never had the time?  Do you wish you could have lived a life of purpose?  If we survive the day, what will you resolve to do with the rest of your life?  What changes will you make to make sure that your children and grandchildren will be able to live a long, healthy life?

The world most likely won’t end today, but it’s definitely headed in that direction unless we take a long hard look in the mirror and wake up from our stupor.  Ultimately, whether the apocalypse comes is completely up to us because it is completely determined by our own actions. Continue reading “The End of the World May Soon Become a Reality”

Catering to Fussy Non-Vegans

dinner table argument, disagreement, etiquette
Let me get this straight: I invite you to my home and you’re mad at me because I won’t serve you animal products?

I know it might be difficult for some non-vegans to believe, but although I am a vegan I do enjoy doing things “normal” people enjoy from time to time including hosting parties and get-togethers at my home.  Even just having a couple of friends over for a casual dinner is something I enjoy.  Normally, when people are invited to other people’s homes it is considered extremely rude to tell the host what to cook or to complain about the food served.  However, because I am vegan and because the food served at my home is vegan, this courtesy is often denied to me.  It seems as though showing good manners has become a privilege exclusively reserved for non-vegans.

Perhaps the most memorable disagreement I have ever gotten into about what kind of food would be served at my home happened last year during the holiday season when my fiancé and I were planning a holiday party at our new house for our co-workers. At first, everyone was excited.  We brainstormed ideas for party themes and finally agreed that we would have an ugly holiday sweater party where everyone would wear the tackiest, cheesiest holiday sweater they could find.  Toward the end of the party everyone would vote on who had the ugliest holiday sweater and that person would win a prize.

Everything was going great until someone suggested that we should serve buffalo wings.  I kindly pointed out that in my home I only serve vegan food and that vegan buffalo wings sounded like a great idea.  The reaction I got was something I could never have prepared for.   Continue reading “Catering to Fussy Non-Vegans”

My Take on New York Times ‘Ethical Meat’ Contest

eat like you give a damn vegan vegetarian veganism vegetarianism green eco sustainable sustainabilityA contest called Put Your Ethics Where Your Mouth Is by The New York Times, has recently tried to figure out who can write the best argument supporting the idea that meat is ethical.  Panelled by Mark Bittman, Jonathan Safran Foer, Andrew Light, Michael Pollan, and Peter Singer, I was eager to read what their picks would be.

Overall I must admit that the finalists are better than I had expected, but nonetheless they have yet to make a truly good argument.  I was surprised that the majority of the essays were written by ‘ex-vegans’ and ‘ex-vegetarians’.  It’s easy to see why, as they obviously are familiar with both perspectives and are able to give a more rounded opinion on the subject.  Though many of the points made were refreshing compared to the usual “where do you get your protein” arguments I am so used to hearing every day, I found so much wrong with the essays that I felt the urge to write a response to give a vegan’s point of view on the subject.  In the six finalist essays I noticed a few recurring themes:

Theme #1: Meat is ethical as long as it is “humane”

“There is an ethical option — a responsibility, even — for eating animals that are raised within a sustainable farm system and slaughtered with the compassion necessitated by our relationship.  That, in essence, is the deal.” ~ This Is the Deal We’ve Made

“Many animals, however, while they can be well off or poorly off in certain ways at particular times (e.g., by experiencing pleasure and pain), seem unlikely to be capable of becoming better off in their lives considered as a whole — or at least not once they have had certain basic needs met. While they may be capable of relationships of a kind, it is doubtful that these can grow and develop in the ways ours can. Indeed, it is uncertain whether most animals even have identities that span weeks, let alone years.  If all this is right, then once such an animal has had her basic needs met, a painless death cannot harm her, at least not in the sense in which harm is necessary for an event to be bad. Since it is not bad to kill such animals, it cannot be morally wrong.” ~ Meat Is Ethical. Meat Is Bad.

To understand why “humane meat” is unethical we must understand what pain is and why it exists.  Pain didn’t just become a part of our biology for no reason — it serves a very valuable purpose: pain exists to help us learn from mistakes.  As children, many of us have put our hand in a flame and felt the incredible heat of the flame set off pain nerves in our hand which travelled up to our brain.  This taught us the valuable lesson that putting our hand in a flame is a bad idea, and we are sure to be more wary of repeating the behavior in the future.

The part of the brain that is activated when a sentient being encounters painful stimuli is located very near to the center of the brain.  The further into the brain you go, generally, the more primitive the function.  All sentient beings have had this amazing function for millenia because it is very effective at teaching us what to avoid, enabling us to live long enough to procreate and pass our D.N.A. on to the next generation.  This isn’t something exclusive to humans; this is one of the most basic functions of almost all animal life on our planet. Continue reading “My Take on New York Times ‘Ethical Meat’ Contest”

Pot vs. Kettle

pot vs kettleVegans are called many names by non-vegans, a few common names include “annoying”, “judgemental”, and “extreme”.  I’ll examine the reasons behind this name-calling and explain how these names can be applied to non-vegans as well.  We all might even learn something in the process.

Have you ever heard the idiom “the pot calling the kettle black”?  If you know it already, skip ahead to #1.

There are two interpretations:

1) The first is about a pot and a kettle, who have both become equally blackened by being hung over a fire.  When the pot calls the kettle black in this interpretation, it is accusing the kettle of a fault they both share.

2) The second is about a pot and a kettle as well, but in this case the pot has been kept over a fire (resulting in a dirty, sooty exterior), whereas the kettle has been kept on hot coals (resulting in a clean, shiny exterior).  When the pot calls the kettle black in this interpretation, it is accusing the kettle of a fault that only itself possesses, as it is the pot’s own sooty reflection it sees in the shiny exterior of the kettle.

* Note that what is written below is about a large number, though not all vegans and non-vegans.  There is an exception to every rule.  I am not trying to generalize, but for those of you who can identify with this (and you know who you are) the following applies to you:

Have you ever said any of the following about vegans?

1. “Vegans are judgemental”

The very statement “vegans are judgemental” is judgmental in itself.  However, there are a few differences in the reasons and type of judgement that is going on between us.

a) We are judgemental of you because you are causing the torture and murder of sentient beings, which is something many vegans morally object to.

b) We often are not judgemental of you as a person, but of your actions.  You could be the nicest, sweetest, most caring person in every other respect, but the fact that you don’t show this side of yourself to animals who have done nothing to you is something that we tend to view as being inconsistent with your claimed ethical beliefs. Continue reading “Pot vs. Kettle”