Thursday, June 16, 2011

The School Year That Was

Anna's last day of school was on Tuesday. She's both happy and sad for it to be over. As she said, "I'm happy because I get to spend more time with you, but sad because I won't get to see my friends all the time."

It makes me happy and sad, too.

The year was awesome, by the way. Anna learned a ton, and she made friends.

Some things of note, as far as the vegan stuff goes:

We talked to her teacher (let's call her "T") at the beginning of the year about Anna being vegan. T immediately understood everything we said, and there was never any confusion about it from then on. We gave T a list (incomplete, but a list nonetheless) of snacks that are vegan, since she does the shopping for snacks for the class. As far as I know, the class always had vegan snacks, or if they didn't, there was always a vegan option for Anna.


Kids have birthdays, of course, and they bring in non-vegan things. For the first few months, I just let Anna go treat-less. She would come home and say that so-and-so had a birthday and they brought such-and-such, but it wasn't vegan so she just had a snack. She never complained and never seemed sad about it. Except once. She said she wished she could have one of the cookies. I asked her if it was vegan. She said no. I asked if she wanted to eat things that aren't vegan. She said no. I asked if she wanted to eat the cookie. She said no, but that she wanted a cookie like that, but vegan.

So I bought a package of Candy Cane Jo-Jo's from Trader Joe's and sent them to school with her. From then on, whenever a kid brought in a non-vegan treat, T would give Anna a Jo-Jo. She loved it, and from the sounds of it, the kids were often jealous that she got a special treat.


Anna's teacher told us at the beginning of the school year that she has, in years past, kept a cockroach in an aquarium in the classroom. When she told us this, I mentioned that Anna may say something about the cockroach not wanting to be in a cage. I didn't ask her to not have the cockroach in class, mostly because I'm the kind of person who generally avoids conflict. But lucky us, after thinking about how Anna might feel about the cockroach, T decided to not have one this year. Yay! We feel pretty luck to have a teacher who respects, understands and even encourages our daughters empathy.

I know that some classes do a caterpillar in a jar in the spring. I don't think T usually does that in her class, which makes me happy. I don't like the idea of confining animals for the education of our kids. It might teach them something about life science, but the untaught lesson is that it's OK for us to confine and control the living conditions of our fellow beings.

And besides, who wants to see caterpillars and chrysalises in a jar in a classroom when you can see them outside?

It's a Montessori school, which means that pre-K and Kindergartners are in the same classroom. So Anna will have this same teacher next year. Woot!

UPDATE: Upon further thought, I realized that the white thing in the above photo isn't actually a chrysalis. But they were all over the place and each had a caterpillar in them. So what are they? Google is failing me. If anyone knows, let me know.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Anna's on Vegansaurus

Vegansaurus is a blog, for those of you who don't know, about vegan dinosaurs. Except actually it's just about vegan stuff.

Anyway, they're doing a series called Happy Veggie Kids and Anna is featured today.

Check it out.

And read all of the Happy Veggie Kids posts here.

And to those of you coming over from Vegansaurus, hi! Welcome to my sort-of weekly updated blog. Feel free to have a look around. A few of my favorite posts here are:

My Daughter the Monkey Eater (on pretending to eat animals)

We're All Made of Meat (on explaining what meat is to Anna)

Happy Feet (a review of the movie)

This is Not a Post About Milo & Otis (on Anna trying to understand others who aren't vegan)

The Life I Did Save (about a squirrel I brought into a rehabilitation center)

Anna's First Correction of "It"

Friday, June 10, 2011

One More Dead Wolf

On the morning of June 8th, a Mexican gray wolf escaped from his cage at the Minnesota Zoo. He walked slowly on a path, and people quickly moved away from him. The zoo staff decided that they should shoot to kill instead of tranquilize. Their rationale was that the wolf was a danger to zoo patrons and a tranquilizer dart, according to zoo officials, "can take 10-15 minutes to fully take effect on an animal."

So a choice had to be made by the zoo: either tranquilize the wolf and risk him injuring or killing patrons, or kill the wolf  and deal with the negative publicity that would be sure to follow. They chose to kill.

I have often said that if a tiger broke into my house and seemed intent on eating my children, I would not be opposed to killing her if that's what it took to save my kids. (I should note here that I would do the same if a human broke into my house and she seemed intent on eating (or just killing, I guess) my children. What I would do in this situation says nothing about what we should routinely do to animals.)

My point is, I'm not sure that the zoo necessarily made the wrong choice in this specific instance, though I think they should have more ways to catch an animal unharmed than by just using tranquilizer darts. The process they have in place for things like this should rule out killing an animal except for in the most extreme cases. Their emergency reaction plans don't take the non-human animal lives at the zoo into as much consideration as they should. But since they didn't have adequate protocol and their options were truly kill or tranquilize (as the zoo claims), I can understand why they chose kill.

The big wrong choice the zoo made was when it chose to be a zoo. Zoos are inherently unjust places, tiny pale facsimiles of animals' natural habitats, places where animals go senile, places where animals are merely a commodity to be used to entertain and, ostensibly, educate.

So in my view, the real question isn't whether or not the zoo should have shot the wolf, it's whether or not the wolf should have been there in the first place. It's obvious to me that the answer is no. We can't justify imprisioning these animals for our entertainment or even for (again, ostensibly) our education. And the fact that they escape (and they do quite a bit ... oh and let's not forget this), and then zoos are often caused to weigh the non-human animals' lives against the potential of harm to paying customers ... it seems like a recipe for disaster.

Of course, news outlets jumped all over this story. And there were plenty of outraged citizens, saying the zoo acted rashly and should have done more to capture the wolf alive. I agree. But I think it misses the point of the institutionally entrenched problem of speciesism, which allows horrible situations like this to happen.

That's an It. He's an It. Not a He.

On Minnesota Public Radio, they wrote:
"Zoo officials said no people were in immediate danger but they decided to shoot the wolf because they couldn't predict where it would go or whether it would hurt people visiting the Northern Trail." (link)
Elsewhere in the story, Tony Fisher, the zoo's "animal collection manager" refers to this wolf as a "he." I can't for the life of me understand why MPR would refer to him as "it." The rest of the news outlets, of course, also referred to the wolf as "it," even though he was identified as male within their stories.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press managed to gender and neuter the wolf in the same paragraph:
"The 8-year-old male wolf slipped through the gaps of a fence in the keeper area of its exhibit into a secondary enclosure where it jumped an 8-foot fence, said animal collections manager Tony Fisher." (link)
And the Star Tribune did the same thing (in fact, the combination of the words "male that" is the shortest distance possible between gendering and neutering):
"The wolf, an 8-year-old male that was born at the zoo, is one of an endangered subspecies with only a few dozen living in the wild. There were three Mexican gray wolves at the zoo, but this one was not on exhibit because it didn't get along with the other two, Fisher said." (link)
The AP went there, too. They did correctly attribute one gendered pronoun to the wolf, but then decided to neuter him anyway:
"Tony Fisher, MN Zoo animal collection manager, told KARE 11 the ordeal began around 10 a.m. when the male wolf escaped his primary display area. Vets and zookeepers armed with tranquilizers started gathering and preparing to recapture the wolf but it jumped a secondary barrier and ran out among the public walking on the zoo's Northern Trail." (link)
I've got to hand it to Tony Fisher though, in all the quotes I saw from him, he referred to the wolf by the proper pronoun. I wish the reporting media would have followed suit. I don't have my AP Style Guide handy, but I wonder if there's something in there that says you have to refer to a non-human animal as "it" even if you know his or her gender. Any reporters out there want to help me out here? Are there style guidelines on this?

This bothers me, as you can tell. Animals are not its, they are hes and shes (or in the case of hermaphroditic animals, the generic, but non-objectifying, "they"). By routinely refusing to attribute a gender to them, we reduce them to the level of things. Things are "its." We don't have to care about things. We don't really care about animals so we refer to them at "its." And we refer to them as "its" to make it easier to not care about them.

It's pervasive, it's insidious and I really, really want it to stop. Regardless of how you feel about animals, you should at least recognize them as beings who are not mere things. That recognition should be reflected in your language.

Precious Species, Worthless Lives

The Minnesota Zoo released a note on their Facebook page which explains why they shot the wolf instead of tranquilizing him. One of the comments on this note sums up what I think a lot of people are feeling:
"I am disappointed that this extreme action had to take place. A precious life had to end today because the zoo we support did not do its job to keep the animals safe. While I don't want to see any humans injured better safeguards should have been in place. I have been a long time member and contributor but am rethinking my support."
First of all, this extreme action didn't have to take place. This is a dilemma that was created by the zoo. If there was no zoo, this dilemma would not have existed.

Secondly, this wolf's life is no more precious than the chicken's life which became your last meal of McNuggets.

Thirdly, support for the zoo should not occur if you truly regard the lives there as precious. I know that this wolf is a member of an endangered species, but that doesn't mean his individual life is intrinsically more precious than any other animal's.

And let's not forget the reason this species is on extinction's door: human hunting of wolves. Speciesism feeds speciesism. On the one hand, humans have nearly eradicated Mexican gray wolves. On the other hand, humans are confining Mexican gray wolves in hopes of saving the species.

But what good is a species?  A species is a concept. A species doesn't have feelings. A species doesn't care if it's extinct.

What matters - who matters - are the individual members of species. But it's the individual members who are routinely confined, abused and killed. We confine them in zoos. We further encroach on their habitats with  urban sprawl. We clear-cut rain forests so we can have cheap cow flesh (and we kill cows for flesh). We kill 23 million individual chickens per day in the United States alone.

Looking at the patterns of abuse and disregard, it's obvious that the overwhelming majority of we humans could care less about individual members of species. It's almost comical to me then, that we go to such lengths to save species.

Anna and the Aquarium

Needless to say, my family doesn't go to zoos. The potential for escaped carnivores doesn't really come in to play when we make that choice; the right of animals to live free from ownership and exploitation does. Our sense of justice does.

That said, a few weeks ago Anna's class took a field trip to the Mall of America's underground aquarium, Minnesota Sea Life. We talked with Anna about it before hand and told her that she could go if she wants, or she could stay home. She said she wanted to go. She said she thought fish shouldn't be in cages, but she also wanted to go to see what it's like. She said she would maybe ask the people who worked there if they could let the fish go.

But she was sick that day. So she didn't go after all.

Her teacher and I were talking about it today and she said she was glad Anna wasn't there. There were a lot of dead animals that the kids could look at up close. Like a dead turtle, for example.

How many kids wondered what the turtle's life was like? What lessons did they learn by gazing upon this deceased individual's lifeless form?

What lessons did they learn by looking at the living beings trapped behind glass?

Further Reading

After writing this post, I looked online for critiques of zoos from an animal rights perspective. The following pieces are worth taking a look at (note: I don't necessarily endorse all views expressed on the sites at the other end of these links):

Should Zoos Keep Endangered Species? by Doris Lin
What's Wrong With Zoos? by Gary Yourofsky
Zoos by Wanda Embar at Vegan Peace

UPDATE: The Animal Rights Coalition has released a statement in regard to the shooting of the wolf. You can read it here.