Thursday, August 27, 2009

Animal Experimentation Not Ethical

Ask the experimenters why they experiment on animals, and the answer is: "Because the animals are like us." Ask the experimenters why it is morally okay to experiment on animals, and the answer is: "Because the animals are not like us." Animal experimentation rests on a logical contradiction. -- Charles R. Magel

Last night on "All Things Considered" on National Public Radio a reporter aired a story about a procedure that may prevent certain genetic diseases.

It's controversial because it involves altering genes of future generations, thus the possibility for engineering a "superior" race of people.

But while reporter Richard Harris questioned the ethical implications of this procedure, not once did he question the ethics involved in discovering it: Researchers at Oregon Health and Science University experimented on rhesus monkeys.

Somehow it's a given that it's ethical to imprison these animals and to conduct experiments on them. If researchers did the same to humans, they'd be considered monsters.

If you've taken a psychology class, you probably remember psychologist Harry Harlow's study involving rhesus monkeys in the 1950s.
Harlow's most famous experiment involved giving young rhesus monkeys a choice between two different "mothers." One was made of soft terrycloth, but provided no food. The other was made of wire, but provided food from an attached baby bottle.

Harlow removed young monkeys from their natural mothers a few hours after birth and left them to be "raised" by these mother surrogates. The experiment demonstrated that the baby monkeys spent significantly more time with their cloth mother than with their wire mother.
The results showed that infants prefer the soft touch of a "mother" to food.

Researchers couldn't use human infants because removing them from their mothers would be cruel. Monkeys are different from humans, though, so it's ok to separate mother and baby. Right? Of course, the results could be extrapolated to human infants because monkeys are so similar to humans.

(An infant rhesus monkey clings to a terrycloth "mother" while he'd rather be with his own in his own environment.)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The AETA's Double Standard

The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act was created to protect animal exploiters.

So it would seem logical that this law would be used to prosecute the people responsible for recent crimes against Maine lobstermen.
In one community a lobsterman was shot in the neck and two boats were sunk in the harbor.
If animal-rights activists were suspected of these incidents, the media would be labeling them "terrorists," and the AETA would be used to prosecute them as such.

The AETA applies to someone who ...
(A) intentionally damages or causes the loss of any real or personal property (including animals or records) used by an animal enterprise, or any real or personal property of a person or entity having a connection to, relationship with, or transactions with an animal enterprise;
(B) intentionally places a person in reasonable fear of the death of, or serious bodily injury to that person, a member of the immediate family (as defined in section 115) of that person, or a spouse or intimate partner of that person by a course of conduct involving threats, acts of vandalism, property damage, criminal trespass, harassment, or intimidation;
But the perpetrators of these separate incidents will not be charged under the AETA for one simple reason: The government supports their ideology.

The police believe the crimes were caused by fellow lobstermen engaged in a turf war. The motive is money, something the U.S. government understands.

The man who shot lobsterman Chris Young in the neck was only charged with aggravated assault. He was freed on bail and told to stay away from the Maine island where the incident occurred.

He wasn't labeled a terrorist, nor will the person responsible for the boat sinkings. That distinction is reserved for Muslims and animal-rights activists, such as those who protest outside an animal experimenter's home and chalk his sidewalk.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Counter Ubiquitous Anti-Animal Messages

When certain forms of animal torture and murder are the norm and when images of animal exploitation are ubiquitous, those who counter such behaviors seem unusual.

But it's our responsibility to speak out for the animals.

On my morning commute I pass billboards featuring a Denny's Grand Slam breakfast, a local restaurant with a giant image of fried chicken, an advertisement for Bass Pro Shops, a picture of a large grilled fish fillet from a seafood restaurant and the words "Seafood, Steaks and Sandwiches" and a gigantic Big Mac on a McDonald's billboard.

Today I was driving behind someone whose license plate holder read "I'd rather be fishing." I wondered how other drivers would react if it had said "I'd rather be torturing animals." After all, that's what fishing -- even catch-and-release -- really is.

Other days I'm stopped in traffic behind an overcompensating man with deer, pheasant or duck decals on the back window of his pickup.

Images like these are all around us, so much so that most people don't give them a second thought. But when confronted with an opposite viewpoint -- that animals are not ours for food, recreation, etc. -- they become uncomfortable, sometimes accusing animal advocates of being self-righteous or sticks-in-the-mud or of harshing their mellow. (I learned that phrase last week and dig it.)

In fact, a writer who doesn't eat meat and who had attempted to write a positive piece about Farm Sanctuary* actually belittled animal activists.
[Gene] Baur has been a vegan since 1985, though he is hardly preachy about it.


Though I haven't eaten meat since about the Carter Administration, like Baur I'm not a scold about it.
Because of these characterizations of vegans, some of us are almost apologetic when we tell others we're vegan. We may qualify it with, "But it's a personal choice." Sure, being vegan is a choice, but it's a choice we wish everyone would make.

Last year Karen Davis of United Poultry Concerns published "Moving Beyond the Rhetoric of Apology," an important piece about standing up for animals.
The apologetic mode of discourse in animal rights is epitomized by the "I know I sound crazy, but . . ." approach to the public. If we find ourselves "apologizing" for other animals and our advocacy on their behalf, we need to ask ourselves why.
Don't give people an out by saying statements like, "It's a personal choice." Be proud. Tell people exactly why you're vegan. Tell them what happens to farmed animals.

I admit, though, I'm guilty of downplaying my veganism sometimes, too. I'm on the quiet side and don't like conflict, so sometimes I feel it's easier to drop a conversation than to stand my ground. It's something I need to work on.

I have to remind myself that, while I think I may be saying too much, being too assertive, it's nothing compared to the bombardment of anti-animal messages -- like those on my commute -- people receive daily.

I take advantage of my lengthy commute not only by writing blog posts, like this one, in my head, but also by displaying two animal-friendly bumper stickers on my car. One, with an 800 number, advertises a free vegetarian starter guide. The other, which I created with a photo of one of my foster dogs, encourages people to avoid supporting puppy mills and to adopt from a shelter or a rescue.

Be aware of the messages that corporations and others are sending you -- and flip them a big metaphorical middle finger. Go vegan and speak out on behalf of the animals.

*NOTE: An employee of Farm Sanctuary, David Benzaquen, adamantly disagreed with the writer's assertion that "pushing a meatless diet is not really a priority" for the organization, saying "This is FALSE!

"Farm Sanctuary is proud to be a VEGAN organization. We believe veganism is the best way to help animals, the environment and human health. The author seems to be confusing the fact that Farm Sanctuary believes in educating people and supporting them in making the compassionate choice to go vegan in a non-judgmental way with the ludicrous notion that veganism is not a priority."

(Photo courtesy of Mercy For Animals.)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Pseudo Protests Undemocratic, Hypocritical

Exercising one's right to protest is an important way to ensure government is working for the people.

But when demonstrations are covertly organized by corporations, it hurts democracy.

For example, the American Petroleum Institute, the lobbying arm of the oil industries, requested that energy companies get hundreds of their employees to attend protests aimed at quashing Congress's climate-change bill.

According to Dan Lashof of the National Resources Defense Council, "many groups are attempting to pass off corporate opposition to the bill as a grass-roots uprising."
"Any time a trade association tries to portray their activities as grass-roots activity when it's clearly being orchestrated by corporate headquarters, that raises very serious questions about making sure that the public really understands what is going on."
The same sort of activity is happening with healthcare reform.

The majority of Americans want a public option -- one administered by the government -- for health insurance, but the minority opposition has been disrupting town hall meetings. The hypocrisy and stupidity of these people are apparent when asked if they are on Medicare, a government-run health insurance program. Many are.

I don't think we know yet exactly who is orchestrating such protests, but I wouldn't be surprised if people who had money tied to corporate healthcare had a hand in it.

Speaking of hypocrisy at protests, dozens of men brought guns to an event at which President Barack Obama was speaking yesterday in Phoenix, Ariz. At least two had assault rifles. Somehow, though, their actions were legal. Arizona has an "open carry" law.
Joe Klein, a veteran political reporter now with Time magazine, said: "In 40 years I have never seen anything like this. There is a right to bear arms but there is a right to protect the president."
Ironically four people were arrested in February in California for protesting outside an animal experimenter's house. They allegedly covered their faces with bandannas, chanted and wrote on the sidewalk with chalk. They were charged under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act.

So hiding one's face, chanting and writing with chalk equal terrorism.

Bringing an assault rifle to an already heated presidential event equals exercising one's constitutional rights.

We have a lot more protesting to do to get this country moving in a compassionate direction.

(Photo courtesy of the Associated Press.)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Advocates Tweet for Farmed Animals

Those who care about farmed animals stepped up today by tweeting on their behalf.

As I noted Tuesday, animal agribusiness Twitterers had planned to make "#oink" a trending topic today on the social-networking site to convince people to start calling swine flu "H1N1."

I was surprised they'd want to draw attention to swine flu, but who am I to argue with their strategy?

We who care about animals, on the other hand, used their plan as a way to educate the public about what happens on factory farms and in slaughterhouses.

"#oink" became a trending topic earlier than I had predicted. It had taken "#moo" about three hours, but "#oink" made the list much sooner -- sometime between 9 and 10 a.m. It remained a trending topic until 3:30 p.m. Animal advocates stayed with it the entire time with tweets such as these:
[LileeVonPug] #oink After enduring mos in hellish conditions, pigs are forced onto trucks, bound for a horrific & agonizing death at slaughterhouses.

[choosevegan] Killing sensitive, intelligent animals is never "humane." #oink

[veganwordnerd] Have you heard a pig scream? It's one of the most awful sounds in the world. They think. They feel. They want to live. #oink

[veganwordnerd] Why all the #oink tweets? Agribusiness wants you to support violence; animal advocates hope you'll support compassion.
I also tweeted with links to, the Rolling Stone story about Smithfield's environmental destruction (with a disturbing photo of a pile of dead pigs), my previous blog post about the "#oink" plan and information from "Death on a Factory Farm."

I'm so proud of all the animal advocates who donated their time today to help raise awareness of farmed-animal cruelty. This endeavor allowed me to meet others who care about animals. I'm confident that through our work today we've planted seeds in people's minds about changing the way they view food.

(Photo courtesy of Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary.)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Fairs Offer Mega Doses of Animal Exploitation

The state and county fair season is in full swing.

Animal exploitation isn't hard to come by in daily life, but these fairs offer families an even more up-close and personal view into the practice.

The Illinois State Fair, which opens tomorrow, features horse racing, a petting zoo, a butter cow sculpture, an exotic animal entertainment show and the opportunity to milk a cow.

Of course, many (maybe most?) fairgoers won't realize that cows are no longer milked by hand. Their udders are hooked to machines that pump the milk out.

All sorts of animal flesh and secretions will also be available for purchase at fairs, including the obligatory meats on a stick.

In addition to the food and exhibits, animals that were raised by 4-H or Future Farmers of America members will be judged. This contest is one where every contestant -- even the winners -- lose, for they are all auctioned and then slaughtered.
"This is one of the most difficult days for me. He is heading to auction and I know he's probably going to end up on someone's table," said [seventh-grader Emily] Kosky, a member of Turlock Hoof N Horns 4-H. "I've spent a lot of time with Hobby, but I know that I can't get too attached."
Emily is participating at the county fair in Turlock, Calif. She said she has "other goats at home, but Hobby has become a friend."

It's sad and unnatural to extinguish a child's love for animals, but that's what it takes to be part of animal agribusiness.
"You have to remember it's a business," said Austin Day, a Pitman FFA member whose crossbred steer was the fair's supreme grand champion. "I think everyone out here gets attached to their animal, but this also is about teaching us how to make good decisions."
These people's priorities are in the wrong place. How can teaching kids to treat animals as objects, as merchandise, be a good decision?

Nurturing a child's natural love for animals is a good decision. Teaching a child to have respect for and to appreciate nature and all its living beings is a good decision. Encouraging a child to have empathy for animals is a good decision.

With regard to fairs, there is one tiny positive sign to take note of, though. The Iowa State Fair has introduced a new division to its food competition: "The Vibrant Vegan." Competitors will be judged on their vegan dishes.

(Photo courtesy of the Kansas State Fair.)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

U.S. Attorney Whose Office Prosecuted SHAC 7 Runs for Governor

The man whose office prosecuted the SHAC 7 is running for governor of New Jersey.

But "This American Life" from Chicago Public Radio criticized Christopher J. Christie, former U.S. attorney for New Jersey, for his work on a different case.

Last week it re-aired an hourlong segment from 2005 that analyzed a terrorism case he led and about which he boasts on his campaign Web site.

Long story short: The U.S. government pegged Hemant Lakhani as a suspected terrorist. An undercover agent posed as an arms dealer, and Lakhani agreed to sell him a missile. After a year, though, Lakhani still couldn't find one. The government got tired of waiting, and, instead of realizing this guy wasn't a terrorist but a bumbling idiot, the U.S. government (acting undercover) sold him an inoperable missile. He was sentenced to 47 years in prison after he "sold" it to the undercover agent.

This case brought to mind that of Eric McDavid, an environmentalist who was lured by an FBI informant, "Anna," into "conspiring to sabotage federal facilities." (This case was prosecuted by another gung-ho U.S. attorney's office -- in California.)

This post, though, isn't about whether Hemant Lakhani was guilty or not guilty. It's about a man who has advanced his career by prosecuting dubious "terrorism" cases -- like that of the SHAC 7.

In the SHAC 7 case Christie's office prosecuted -- as terrorists -- activists who were simply exercising their First Amendment rights.

These six people -- the organization itself was the seventh "member" -- operated a Web site that reported on legal and illegal actions against Huntingdon Life Sciences and its vendors.
Five undercover investigations inside HLS labs have shown workers punching beagle puppies in the face, dissecting live monkeys and falsifying scientific data.
Although the SHAC 7 never committed any of the illegal acts that they posted on their Web site, Christie and his office went after them hard.
"This is not activism. This is a group of lawless thugs attacking innocent men, women and children," U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie said. "We will not stand by and let any group or individuals violate federal law through violence and intimidation, no matter what cause they profess to advocate for in the process."
The federal law Christie cited was the Animal Enterprise Protection Act of 1992 (now the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act), which labels an act a crime if it "intentionally damages or causes the loss of any property (including animals or records) used by the animal enterprise, or conspires to do so."

The loss of property here was profits.

Christie said the following of the Lakhani case:
There are good people and bad people. Bad people do bad things. Bad people have to be punished. These are simple truths. Bad people must be punished.
When it comes to the SHAC 7 case, Christie and I differ on who the bad people are.

[Photo of Christie (left) stands with with former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft in this 2007 AP file photo.]

The Vegetarian/Vegan Divide

In response to a request for submissions for a new Web site, "Vegan Voices," I submitted my information about "Digging Through the Dirt."

"Vegan Voices" is a list of "vegan voices from around the world."
This data base consists of leaders within the vegan movement, vegan activists, forerunners of the first vegan societies, humane educators, authors and journalists, vegan chefs and cookbook writers, philosophers, website owners, vegan-abolitionist bloggers, founders and directors of organizations, athletes, politicians, doctors and lawyers, registered dieticians, vegan business owners, and vegan event trendsetters.
But I was rejected.
Though I like your blogspot, Vegan Voices project is for vegans promoting veganism. (not vegetarianism)

I'm not sure that your site falls within the scope of the project.
I don't know if M. Butterflies Katz misunderstood my blog, or if she really does think it doesn't go far enough to promote veganism. And I don't want to argue with her; she made her decision.

But this incident reflects a divide in the animal-rights movement. Some vegans seem to view vegetarians the same as meat-eaters, and a few outright criticize them for not doing enough.

I don't hold that view, though. I see vegetarianism as a huge step forward. People who do it for ethical reasons (ie. for the animals) have broken through the mainstream view of food that bombards us every day.

Of course, I'd love for everyone to be vegan -- and hopefully these vegetarians will take the next step. But it's wrong to criticize people who are doing way more to help animals than the average meat-eater.

I didn't go straight from meat-eater to vegan. I went vegetarian in November 2006, and that was a significant accomplishment for me and one of which I am very proud. When I went vegetarian, I didn't know about the cruelty in the dairy and egg industries.

In August 2007 after listening to podcasts by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau of, I decided to go vegan. After learning about what happens to dairy cows and laying hens, I felt I had no choice. (Although, of course, I did.)

That move seemed like a natural step to take. But I still view my transition from meat-eater to vegetarian as more significant, as my eyes were finally opened, my consciousness finally awakened.

Some people can go from meat-eater to vegan in one step. And I applaud those people. If I had, I don't know that I would have succeeded. I'd also venture to guess that most of the vegans today were once vegetarians.

I'm sorry that Katz didn't accept my submission for her site. While "Digging Through the Dirt" does advocate veganism, if a meat-eating reader decides to go vegetarian because of my blog, I'd be thrilled.

(Image courtesy of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Use Twitter to Advocate on Behalf of Pigs

Animal exploiters on Twitter hope history repeats itself Sunday.

On Aug. 2 a group of dairy farmers worked to make "#moo" a trending topic on the social-networking site. They want to do the same for "#oink" on Sunday.

With "#oink" a trending topic, those in animal agribusiness want to convince people to call swine flu "H1N1."
Going to make Twitter #oink at 9 am EST, Sun. Aug. 16. Set your alarm. Goal: It's H1N1, not Swine Flu. Spread the word.
If the "farmers" succeed, animal advocates can use this opportunity to raise awareness of the suffering pigs endure in agribusiness.

For example, pregnant pigs are confined to gestation crates in which they can hardly move. And you thought bed rest during your pregnancy was difficult? Can you imagine what these animals endure?

Then after the pig gives birth, she's confined to a farrowing crate, separated by bars from her babies. Those in animal agribusiness say the measure protects the piglets. But for thousands of years wild pigs have bred and nursed their young just fine without metal bars getting in the way.

Those in agribusiness don't actually care about the well-being of piglets anyway. If they did, they wouldn't smash them against concrete floors and cement walls. This practice is known as "thumping."
According to a November 10, 2002 article in the New York Times, "Sick pigs, being unproductive 'production units' are clubbed to death on the spot." Other common methods used to kill sick pigs include: "thumping" (slamming animals' heads against the floor until they die), drowning them with a hose, and standing on their necks.
In the documentary "Death on a Factory Farm," which aired on HBO in March, a sick pig was hanged by a forklift. SPOILER ALERT: The case went to trial, and the judge found the defendants not guilty with regard to the hanging because it could be considered accepted practice. You see, when it comes to animal agribusiness, if something is considered common practice, it can't be considered cruelty, no matter how much pain it inflicts on an animal.

If the animal exploiters on Twitter are successful at making "#oink" a trending topic Sunday, please tweet about the suffering and cruelty inherent in the "pig farming" industry. Be sure to include "#oink" in your tweets so those searching for it will read your comments.

(Photo of pig confined to farrowing crate courtesy of Baileynorwoodrocks.)
(Photo of dead piglets courtesy of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.)
(Photo of hanged pig courtesy of Working Dog Productions.)

Monday, August 10, 2009

'Skinny Bitch in the Kitch' Dish a Hit

Partly because I don't cook enough and partly because I don't have a digital camera, I rarely post photos of meals. It's ironic because I love to eat. So this entry is my first attempt at food porn.

Yesterday, in addition to meeting a rat, I also helped another cousin, Fallon, prepare a vegan meal.

Fallon is a meat-eater who had bought the cookbook "Skinny Bitch in the Kitch" because of its title, not realizing the book contained only vegan recipes.

We made Linguini with Pesto and Sun-dried Tomatoes (although we used spiral pasta), which was delicious. Even Fallon's vegan-ridiculing boyfriend had two helpings of it.

When we make the dish again, though, both Fallon and I will use less olive oil than what the recipe called for.

(I'm unhappy with how my photos are posting on this site. Please click the image to see a better, yummier version of it.)

(Photo courtesy of Fallon Costenaro.)

Rats Get a Bad Rap

Both a person and a society can be measured by how they treat those who appear "beneath" them.

Rats are a good example of creatures that people would rather dismiss (ie. kill) than get to know.

My first experience with one was yesterday, when I got to meet Dahmer. He's my cousin's rat. Gianna shares my interest in serial killers; her other rat is Kemper.

Dahmer, though, is nothing like his namesake. He is a cute, sweet boy who crawled on my shoulder, in my shirt, around my neck. He ate a pine nut and a piece of pasta on my shoulder, holding the food in his tiny paws. His nails scratched my sunburned skin, but he didn't bite. I asked Gianna if he gives kisses. Following her suggestion, I licked my finger and put it by his mouth and he licked it.

People tend to be afraid of those who are different from them. Just as we have preconceived notions about people with different skin color or who speak a different language, so, too, do we have beliefs about rats that may not be based in reality.

On TV and in movies rats are portrayed as dirty, dangerous creatures. Dahmer -- in spite of his name -- is gentle, curious and clean. After his meal, he even washed his face.

One of my other cousins modeled a rat out of Play-Doh for her 2-year-old daughter, Lucy. The baby looked at the rat and placed it on her shoulder. It was awesome to witness!

If you're interested in sharing your home with a rat, please don't buy one from a pet store. A quick online search will put you in touch with a rat rescue.

(Photo of Dahmer and me courtesy of Fallon Costenaro.)

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Spread Your Message With Your Threads

I've always had a plain style of dress: a pair of jeans or shorts and a solid-color shirt. But since discovering animal rights, I've gotten wild and crazy -- well, for me anyway -- and love to wear T-shirts (or camis) that advertise a vegan message.

Yesterday at Veggie Fest 2009 I discovered a booth that sold veg*an-themed shirts and other goodies, and I was thrilled to discover that the entrepreneurs behind YB Veggie live in my town.

An apron that announced that "No animals were harmed during the making of this meal" was among Celina and Jake Chase's wares, as was a T-shirt that proclaimed "Veal is no meal." I bought a little white Teddy bear wearing a shirt reading "A vegetarian loves me." It's for my 4-year-old niece.
"Because we live in a meat-centric society, a lot of vegetarians are timid about talking about their lifestyle," [Celina Chase] said. "Wearing a T-shirt is a way to initiate a conversation without being overbearing."
Other online activist-apparel sites
  • Herbivore Clothing Company -- With a brick-and-mortar store in Portland, OR, and an online presence, it's easy to find hip gear.

  • In Defense of Animals -- Every time my friend wears his "Go vegan and no body gets hurt" T-shirt he gets asked where he got it. Now you know!
  • Nonviolence United -- Because this organization doesn't have a link to the shirt from its Web site, I had a difficult time trying to find what is now one of my favorite veganism shirts (right). Fortunately, I found it at
  • Motive Company -- This store has edgy apparel, including some for "straight-edgers," as well as a cloth shopping back to advertise that you're a "Vegan Shopper."
  • Mercy For Animals -- When I volunteered to help out at this group's booth at Veggie Fest 2008, by far the biggest seller was its "Not Cool" T-shirt, which features a chick inside the stomach of the wearer. Looking up at the wearer, he announces that eating him was "not cool."
What are your favorite stores for activist gear? Share them with me in the Comments section.

(Photo of Celina, Jake and Emma Chase courtesy of The Herald News.)
(Photo of "Vegan" shirt courtesy of Nonviolence United.)

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Veggie Fest Continues To Grow

This year was my third to attend Veggie Fest, and I'm happy that each year the event has grown.

I arrived at the Naperville, IL, event a little after noon today and was amazed at the number of people already there. (It had started at 11 a.m.) Each year Veggie Fest, put on by Science of Spirituality, a meditation center, draws a bigger crowd and more vendors.

In 2007 I was disappointed that I didn't see any information on going vegetarian to help animals. But in 2008 Mercy For Animals had a booth set up and volunteers handed leaflets to passers-by. But last year I was disappointed with the few vegan entrees available.

This year, though, Mercy For Animals was again there, and the food court had plenty of vegan options to choose from. I was impressed that the signs at each booth had a "v" next to each vegan item -- and there were a lot.

Like last year, though, I chose the veggie chicken and rice from a Caribbean booth. It was delicious. I also had a tropical smoothie, the only kind at the smoothie booth that was vegan. Some lemonade, water and watermelon also made their way into my tummy.

Caribbean wasn't the only variety of vegan food available, though. The event also had Chinese, Indian, Mexican and American vegan food.

In addition to the wonderful food, I also had fun running into friends I've met through the Chicago Vegan Meetup. I told one of them today that I've never had this many friends. Chicago may not be thought of as a hotbed of veganism, like San Francisco or Portland, OR, but we have a large, close-knit group in this area. And it was nice to see so many from the city come out to the suburbs -- since the suburbanites go into the city each month for the meetups.

But the best aspect of Veggie Fest is that it draws people who aren't yet veg and shows them how good vegetarian or vegan food can be, exposes them to vegetarianism or veganism -- maybe for the first time -- and educates them as to the benefits of a veg diet.

Veggie Fest 2009 continues tomorrow from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and admission is free. So if you're in the Chicago area, check it out.

(Image courtesy of the Science of Spirituality.)

Friday, August 7, 2009

Compassion Doesn't Require Firsthand Experience

Those in animal agribusiness often use this question -- Have you ever even been on a farm? -- to imply animal advocates have no grounds for opposing their industry.

While some of us have been on farms, have worked on farms and have even owned farms, I have not.

I also have never been to a Southern plantation, but I know slavery is wrong.

I have never had a child, but I know child abuse is wrong.

I have never been to a pig farm, but I know bashing piglets' heads against a concrete floor and keeping pregnant pigs in crates so small they cannot turn around are wrong.

I have never raped nor been raped, but I know sexual assault is wrong.

I have never been to a dairy farm, but I know forcefully impregnating a cow and then stealing her milk and her male baby are wrong.

I have never been to Auschwitz, but I know the Holocaust was wrong.

I have never been to a slaughterhouse, but I know the murder of billions of innocent, feeling chickens, pigs and cows each year is wrong.

(Photo of three pigs playing courtesy of Animal Acres, a sanctuary for farmed animals.)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

'Retirement' Not a Life of Leisure for Farmed Animals

Republicans and insurance companies are doing all they can to ensure President Barack Obama's healthcare plan is DOA.

The president has heard some absurd rumors during recent town hall meetings about healthcare.

In Virginia Charlotte Norman said she heard that "older American citizens would just be put out to pasture."

During an AARP town hall meeting another woman, Mary, said she was told that under Obama's program "everyone that's Medicare age will be visited and told to decide how they wish to die" -- and then presumably granted their wish, albeit before their time.

Obviously both these premises are ridiculous.

But one segment of the retired population is being killed: animals who have outlived their usefulness.

In a post on Twitter yesterday -- a "tweet," if you will -- someone with ABN Radio, "Ohio's Voice for Agriculture," wrote the following:
CWT Announces second herd retirement in nine months; Will remove 87,000 cows, 1.8 billion pounds of milk; Second-largest retirement ever.
It has nothing to do with the president's healthcare plan; it's simply the norm in the animal agribusiness industry.

These "retired" cows are not "put out to pasture" to live their remaining days in bucolic bliss. They are shipped to slaughterhouses and murdered.

Though people in animal agribusiness like to employ euphemisms, it's still cold-blooded slaughter whether it's called "retirement," "culling," "harvesting," "selling off" or "liquidating."

And though this Twitter user called it "retirement," these animals are not old.
It is unprofitable to keep cows alive once their milk production declines. They are usually killed at 5 to 6 years of age, though their normal life span exceeds 20.
And with milk prices decreasing, more dairy farmers are killing their entire herds, regardless of age or milk output, in an effort to decrease the supply of milk, thereby driving prices higher.

Musicians Lend Voices to Aid Animals

My Morning Jacket front man Jim James and the band Modest Mouse have used their talents to help animals.

James on Tuesday released a solo album of George Harrison covers he had recorded shortly after the Beatles legend died in 2001. The impetus for the project's release after all these years was Jenny Brown, co-founder of Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary in New York. Both natives of Louisville, Ky., Brown had asked James to hold a benefit concert for the sanctuary. James had remembered his Harrison recordings and thought they would be a good tie-in for the refuge.
"He was the kind of guy who always put the bug outside," [Harrison's widow, Olivia,] said in a telephone interview from England. "He never stomped on an ant or a spider."
He was also a vegetarian, as is James. Brown is a vegan.

The recording, which James released under the name Yim Yames, can be purchased here. A portion of the proceeds will benefit Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary.

Heath Ledger teams with Modest Mouse

Modest Mouse on Tuesday released the much-anticipated music video for its song "King Rat." Directed by actor Heath Ledger, who died in 2008, it features an anti-whaling message.

According to the band's MySpace page, "[p]roceeds from iTunes video downloads in the first month of release will go toward Sea Shepherd Conservation Society." [Link mine]

Check out Stephanie Ernst's post about the video at her "Animal Rights" blog on And watch the video here.

(Photo of Jim James courtesy of
(Image of "King Rat" cover courtesy of

Monday, August 3, 2009

'Human Exceptionalism' Exceptionally Arrogant

Since I seem to be tying up loose ends, here is a guest post I wrote for Stephanie Ernst's "Animal Rights" blog at last month.

For hundreds of years white men have lived as if the Earth and its inhabitants and resources were theirs for the taking.

Animals were beneath them, people of color were reduced to "savages," and the land was stripped and degraded. White men placed themselves on the top rung of the planet's hierarchy.

Much of that belief exists today in the form of "human exceptionalism," what "bioethicist" and animal-rights opponent Wesley J. Smith defines as "the view that ultimate moral value comes with being a member of the human species."

Women and people of color are now included next to white men, at least by definition, but animals and nature are still looked down upon.

Animal rights, of course, is at odds with human exceptionalism. While animal rights supporters believe that animals exist for their own reasons and shouldn't be used by people (for food, clothing, entertainment, etc.), human exceptionalism contends that people have a right to use animals as we wish, provided we do so "humanely" -- whatever that means.

The concept of human exceptionalism is exceptionally arrogant. Yes, people have accomplished a lot throughout history, both technologically and artistically, and it's fine to view ourselves as unique. But to think we are the best creatures on the planet is absurd.

We are the one animal who destroys its surroundings instead of being able to live with nature. A human exceptionalist would accuse me -- and all animal-rights supporters -- of being "anti-human" but far from it.

Unlike human exceptionalists, animal-rights activists realize that animal rights and human rights are not mutually exclusive.
If advocates win rights for animals, then the longstanding notion of "human exceptionalism is over," [Smith] said, and with it the idea of human rights.
Human exceptionalism may end -- and good riddance -- but the notion of human rights will remain.

In fact, animal-rights activists support human rights. Many advocate on behalf of animals while also supporting the advancement of rights for people -- gay rights, women's rights, civil rights, workers' rights, etc. And people whose primary focus is human rights can support animal rights daily simply by not eating animals.

In his book "Animal Rights/Human Rights," sociology professor David Nibert argues that human oppression of animals "is motivated primarily by economic interests and, what is more, that it is profoundly and permanently entwined with human oppression of other humans."

Just as animal rights and human rights are connected, all the inhabitants of the Earth are interconnected. We all are valuable and unique. People have some abilities that nonhuman animals likely will never have. On the other hand, though, animals have abilities that people likely never will.

For example, a mother hen can communicate with her chicks while they are still in their eggs -- and the chicks chirp responses.

Of course, people have more power than animals -- at least when we have guns and cages. But that's all the more reason that it's our duty to protect them from harm. Being compassionate doesn't take away from our uniqueness as people; in fact, it adds to our humanity.

It's time for people to become a little more humble, to realize we don't have all the answers, to recognize our interdependence with animals and nature.

We can -- and should -- celebrate the positive traits of being human. But we should also recognize that all living beings are exceptional in their own ways.

(Photo courtesy of

Yours Truly Quoted in VegNews

Apparently I'm not very good at selling myself.

When I learned that I was quoted in a story in the latest issue of VegNews, I didn't even think to write about it on my blog.

Thanks, though, to Nikki at "Generation V" who did think to do it.

In "From TV to Twitter: How technology is shaping the veg future" Mark Hawthorne writes about how animal advocates are using the Internet to educate others about animal issues.

You may still be able to find the issue at Barnes & Noble, Borders and Whole Foods, among others.

If not, though, here's what I said when asked why I started "Digging Through the Dirt":
"I was annoyed at the misinformation that people, including myself, are given about such basic things as what we eat.

"So the name of my blog refers to literally digging through the earth to plant healthy, cruelty-free food and also figuratively to digging through the crap that industry front groups feed the public."
(Image courtesy of VegNews.)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Dairy Farmers Make 'Moove' on Twitter

Supporters of dairy farmers have made "#moo" a trending topic on Twitter.

The social-networking site lists the 10 most popular phrases of its users. Today "#moo" made the list, which prompted an unknown number of people to click on it to find out why. What too many of them saw was something like this:
We #moo to show our support of dairy farmers!
The idea for trending #moo was created by two dairy farmers, Will Gilmer of Alabama and Ray Prock of California, and Mike Haley, a "5th generation Ohio Farmer, producing grain and purebred Simmental cattle," to celebrate Haley's birthday and to raise awareness of the plight of U.S. dairy farmers. The plan went into effect at noon CDT today. It looks like it took a half-hour to become a trending topic and remained one for at least six hours. It was still a topic as of this posting.

"Milk prices have plunged by about 50% from the historic highs of last summer," and some dairy farmers have decided to sell their cows to slaughter because of that.

According to a story on National Public Radio, though, slaughtering one's entire herd doesn't necessarily mean one's "dairy farming" days are over.
[Dairy farmer Joey] Mendoza is selling his cows through an industry-funded program called "herd retirement" that aims to ease an oversupply of milk. The program requires dairies to sell their entire herd for slaughter and agree to stop milking cows for at least a year.
The U.S. government is also lending a hand.
In addition to its price supports, the U.S. Agriculture Department has started buying surplus milk, butter and other products to clear the market and put a floor under prices.
These "farmers" are the same people who criticize government-funded healthcare as being "socialist," yet they gladly take money from the USDA.

While I generally feel for people who have lost their livelihoods, I have no sympathy for people who made their living through the suffering and murder of animals.

Using social networking

When it comes to social networking, animal advocates don't give animal exploiters enough credit.

We haven't made any of our buzzwords trending topics. And while I and a couple other women used "#moo" to spread the truth about the suffering of dairy cows and veal calves, our work didn't compare to what Prock did.

For at least five hours he sifted through the updates with "#moo" in them and responded, with a link to his Web site, to people who posted questions, such as "Why is #moo a trending topic?"

(Photo courtesy of Farm Sanctuary.)