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”

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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”

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”

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”

Vegans Never Say Die!

goonies sean astin never say die

The term “vegan” has been loosely thrown around to mean ‘someone who doesn’t use or consume animal products or by-products’.  This is in fact true;  however, it is much more than just that.  Veganism does not start on your plate or your body — it starts in the heart and mindVegans are just people who believe that we should respect all living beings, ourselves and our environment.  Veganism is simply these beliefs put into action — we boycott industries that conflict with our beliefs.  These beliefs are the foundation of veganism.  Without them failure is inevitable.

If someone considered themselves a vegan for a number of hours, days, weeks, months, or even years and then went back to consuming and using products made from animals then they were never vegan to begin with.  How is this so?  Because there is a very big difference between Continue reading “Vegans Never Say Die!”