Friday, November 16, 2012

Tour of Chicken Run Rescue

This is how time has been going for me lately. In August I wrote a review of the book City Chickens. At the end of that review, I said,
Coming soon: Photos and a re-cap of the VegKins tour of Chicken Run Rescue on July 21st. SPOILER ALERT: It will contain photos of adorable chickens and humans.
Well here we are in mid-November and I have yet to post that re-cap. Better late than never, I guess! Here are some photos (I didn't get as many as I would have liked because I was too busy managing my kids and petting chickens):

First up, our gracious host, Mary. Chicken Run Rescue is literally her and her husband's basement and back yard. The amount of good that they do with that square footage is awe inspiring and humbling.

Anna wondering if this chicken would let her pick her up.

She was unsure at first (they both were).

Anna and Liam with a couple VegKins friends. VegKins (our vegan family group that meets up monthly) has blown up in the last year or so, largely because of events like this and our annual Halloween party and Spring (plastic) Egg Hunt.

Your's truly. What a rare thing it is for me to post a photo of myself on this blog.

Holy crap, here's another one of me! That's a six or seven year old Herbivore shirt that I'm wearing, by the way.

Anna eventually grew more comfortable with the chickens.


Liam never really warmed up though. Maybe next time...

All in all, it was a nourishing day. All four of us met and held chickens for the first time in our lives (Liam held one briefly, but I didn't get a photo).

I know on an intellectual level why I'm vegan. My kids know why we're raising them vegan. Meeting these birds though, really drove home a different aspect of veganism. It's one thing to say that the principle of equal consideration dictates that all sentient beings should have the right to live free from unnecessary harm and death, but it's quite another to hold a living, breathing, thinking, feeling being in your arms, stroke her feathers and scratch her head, apologize on behalf of your species, recommit yourself to never participating in the exploitation of beings like (and not like) her ... and to know that as long as you breathe you will be vegan because it matters as much as something can matter.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Curried Squash Tomato Bisque

It's that time of year when my dad realizes that he planted waaaaay too much squash, and so he pawns it off on his more-than-willing children. Or maybe that's why he plants so much. Either way, I always get a ton of squash from my dad's garden around this time of year and I've found the perfect recipe for using a bunch of it. 

My mom made a vegan tomato squash soup a few years back for Christmas and it was delicious (yeah, my mom rocks). If I remember correctly, it was tomatoes and squash pureed together with some vegetable broth and then sauteed onions were added to it (or maybe the onions were blended in, I can't remember). She gave me the recipe and the first time I made it I taste-tested it and it wasn't as good as my mom's. Not a big surprise there. I let it sit for a while there on my stove and pondered my inadequacy. 

But instead of coming to terms with my failure in the kitchen, I decided to make the soup my own. I added a can of coconut milk to it and some curry powder, garam masala and cumin and BAM! It became something very different and very delicious. The recipe has been tweaked since then, of course. I took garam masala out of it because I ran out and didn't feel like buying more. I'm sure you could put a little in and it wouldn't hurt. And I found that it doesn't need veggie broth, though I'm sure it wouldn't hurt to have some in there if you wanted more leftovers. 

It eats like a meal. And it goes great with saltines or some good crusty bread. 

It's not every year I post an original recipe on this blog. So enjoy, dear readers:

Curried Squash Tomato Bisque

4 cups of butternut squash pulp (other kinds of squash work, too, but probably not every kind)
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion chopped
1 tsp cumin seeds (or 1/2 tsp ground cumin)
28 oz can whole tomatoes with juice
15 oz can of of coconut milk
1 tsp. curry powder (start with 1, add more to taste)
1 tsp. salt
¼ tsp fresh ground pepper
1/8 tsp garlic powder
2 bay leaves

Bake squash (cut in half the long way, place in 1/4 inch of water in a casserole dish, bake at 375 until easily pierced with fork) until tender. Scrape it all out.

Heat oil on med/high heat, add cumin seeds and let them sizzle and/or pop for 30 seconds or so. Add onion and sauté until browned.

Put Tomatoes (with juice) in processor. Blend.

Add squash and onions, process until smooth (the cumin seeds won't blend up and that's fine). If you have an immersion blender, you can blend everything in the pot, but I like to used a food processor and then an immersion blender later if needed. I think it's easier to get a smoother texture that way.

Put that all in a pot, add the coconut milk and heat it up. Add curry powder, salt, pepper and garlic powder (and ground cumin if you didn't use cumin seeds back when you fried the onions). Taste and add more of any of these spices as needed. Add bay leaves and simmer for as long as you want, stirring occasionally.

I'd post a photo, but it's just orange. Close your eyes and imagine the color orange. There you go. That's what the soup looks like. 

OK fine, I'll take a quick photo with my webcam. 

See. Orange. And now you know I have a Maytag stove. 

Reheats wonderfully. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Veganism and Woo

Here's the third part of my veganism and religion essay series (parts 1 and 2 are here and here): 

What is Scientology? A cult? Religion? Despite what one wants to call Scientology, there’s no real appreciable doubt among the majority of society that it’s something rooted in an irrational, illogical, non-scientific, fantastical view of the world.

Scientologists who are vegan—people may be tempted to refer to them as vegan Scientologists—may have a “VEGAN” bumper sticker on their car alongside a “SCIENTOLOGY” bumper sticker. Will this result in non-vegan-non-Scientologists thinking that Scientology is something that vegans do, or that veganism is something that Scientologists do?

Both Scientology and veganism are on the fringe, as defined by dominant culture. Whether or not it’s true in any individual case, people who aren’t vegan will associate the other fringe aspect of a vegan’s life with veganism.

When someone voices two distinct marginalized views in a society that is indifferent or hostile toward those views, they tend to get lumped together. It’s the bumper sticker effect. It may be that veganism or the other fringe element is seen to be the dominant element about a person—one may think, “Oh, being vegan is just something Scientologists do,” or, “Oh, Scientology is just something that vegans do.” Either way, it’s a lose/lose for veganism.

It could be rightly said that I’m unfairly picking on Scientology by using them as an example. Other examples could be used, of course. I’m writing specifically about marginal systems of irrational belief here—marginal in the sense that they have a small numbers of adherents—as opposed to mainstream, culturally dominant religions. I'm not saying here that mainstream religions have some greater claim to supernatural truth than do these marginal beliefs.[1]

I focus on marginal belief systems here because they are viewed by dominant culture as on the fringe, far beyond what the average person would believe.

Given this, lumping veganism in with marginal belief systems hurts veganism. It may well be the case that the inverse is true, that the lumping hurts the marginal belief system, but that’s not my concern here. I wish to see veganism, an ethic of justice for all sentient beings, to proliferate beyond the fringe. As such, I desire to see veganism associated with the mainstream values it already reinforces. I’m not arguing that vegans should instead hitch the vegan wagon onto major religions, but that vegans shouldn’t hitch the wagon of veganism onto anything other than the idea that we should not cause the suffering and death of other-than-human animals when we don’t need to. Nothing else is required.

This argument also goes for the bumper sticker effect that is observed when raw food and other dietary restrictions, myriad new age beliefs, and “woo” are lumped in with veganism.

Regarding the extraneous dietary restrictions that get associated with veganism when vegans advocate them, vegan and registered dietitian Ginny Messina writes:
Advocating diets that incorporate unnecessary nutrition-related restrictions makes it harder for people to go vegan. That goes for fat-free, soy-free, and raw foods diets. Sometimes these variations on veganism are perceived as steps in the same dietary evolution. They aren’t. Veganism is an ethical choice and it’s a diet that is healthful and appropriate at all stages of the lifecycle. Raw foodism is a fad diet that is appropriate only for adults and is based on shaky scientific principles at best. Fatfree veganism is a therapeutic diet for adults with health problems—and as I’ve noted before, it’s not necessarily the ideal approach.
An example of someone who utilizes “woo,” which Wikipedia defines as, “a term used by scientific skeptics for pseudoscience, alternative medicine and New Age beliefs,” is advocate and author of The World Peace Diet, Will Tuttle.

Tuttle co-founded Circle of Compassion, which runs a prayer circle website. On the site, an essay Tuttle authored with co-founder Judy Carman says, “Those of us who saw the film What the Bleep Do We Know? learned, or probably already knew, that our thoughts create energy fields that can affect matter in powerful ways.”

This is what is meant by “woo.” Aside from utilizing junk science and selectively interpreting good science in order to propagate a spiritual worldview, What the Bleep Do We Know? has intractable ties to a sect which believes that a woman, Judy “JZ” Knight, channels a 35,000 warrior named Ramtha.

The claims made in the movie are not supported by science.

Tuttle and Carman continue,
What we are proposing is that we all increase the power of these [animal advocacy] actions exponentially by uniting our focused thoughts on this single phrase at least once a day: “Compassion encircles the earth for all beings everywhere.” Imagine this phrase—this vision—being brought into the minds and hearts of millions of people each and every day and thus generating an energy field of compassion around the world.

I have to wonder why, if this sort of thing works, Tuttle and Carman don’t ask people to focus their thoughts on this phrase multiple times per day, or perhaps focus their thoughts on nothing but this phrase all day long. (I know that Tuttle does not do this, himself. He's a tireless advocate for peace, touring all over the place in order to spread the message of radical inclusiveness detailed in his book, The World Peace Diet.)

This concept that Tuttle and Carman put forth is, of course, similar to the Christian concept of the power of prayer: Pray, and Jesus will answer. Again, I’m not claiming that one way is closer or less close to the “right way.” That’s not the point I’m making here.

The Catholic concept of a wafer magically turning into the flesh of a god because an ordained man in a robe says some words to it is pretty darn out there when you step back and look at it. But the fact remains that Catholics are a respected demographic in our culture. One can’t simply say, when trying to determine how best to advocate on behalf of other-than-human animals, that since the majority of society believes in an all-powerful spiritual being or beings, then statements like the ones Tuttle and others make in regard to vegan advocacy should be treated as just another way of viewing our spiritual relation to reality.

Put another way, in the public relations fight between Jesus and Ramtha, Jesus is winning by a lot, and his odds are great to keep on winning for the foreseeable future. I happen to think that vegans shouldn’t bet on either of them, but if you do bet on the one who has little to no odds of winning, maybe just … keep it to yourself while advocating for other-than-human animals?

Carman and Tuttle write that their books, “can help you educate people about how activism and spiritual work are inextricably linked with animal rights issues. For example, world peace and personal inner peace cannot be attained among human beings as long as we are violently dominating, exploiting, and eating our animal kin.”

I agree with the second sentence, but I wonder what inner and world peace have to do with spiritual work. Spirituality is the belief in non-physical things. Inner peace and world peace are real, physical matters. I need no spiritual belief in order to advocate on behalf of animals and I take offense at the claim that I do.[2]

Veganism requires no more faith than is required when we see a dog yelping in pain and say, “That dog is in pain.”[3] There’s a preponderance of scientific evidence to back up that claim of pain. On the other hand, there’s a poverty of scientific evidence to suggest that merely thinking about something can change it, or that a woman can channel a 35,000 year old warrior, or that raw foods are always healthier than cooked foods, or that oil has no place in healthy diets.

Vegans may do well to keep a large gap between their advocacy of veganism and their advocacy of other fringe beliefs and actions, especially when those beliefs and actions are supported neither by the culture at large or by anything close to the scientific evidence which supports veganism.

[1] For what it’s worth, if I were to make a claim at all in this regard, I would claim that all supernatural claims are equally, patently false.
[2] I am aware of the humor of this statement, considering that it appears within a piece sure to offend many people.
[3] Substitute any animal you want for “dog” in this statement, including “human.”

Monday, November 12, 2012

Coming Soon: Confronting Animal Exploitation -- and another Deleted Scene

The book which contains my essay on vegan parenting is almost published. Confronting Animal Exploitation: Grassroots Essays on Liberation and Veganism should be out from McFarland Books early next year. 

I'm really excited for this book to drop. I've read most of the essays contained within and their awesomeness is matched only by their diversity. Some essays are heavy and ground-shifting while others are personal and contemplative. Here's a description of the book from McFarland
As animal exploitation increases, animal liberation issues are of growing concern, as seen through the rise of veganism, academic disciplines devoted to animal issues, and mainstream critiques of factory farms. Yet as the dialogues, debates and books continue to grow, the voices of "street level" activists--not academics, journalists or vegan chefs--are rarely heard on a national level. 
This volume broadens animal liberation dialogues by offering the arguments, challenges, inspiration and narratives of grassroots activists. The essays show what animal advocacy looks like from a collective of individuals living in and around Minnesota’s Twin Cities; the essayists, however, write of issues, both personal and political, that resound on a global scale. This collection provides a platform for rank and file activists to explain why and how they dedicate their time and what is being done for animals on a local level that can translate to global efforts to end animal exploitation.
Pretty cool, huh?

I'm going to start posting more snippets that I've cut out of my parenting essay on here, which I'm calling "deleted scenes" because it has a better ring to it than "essay cuts." Though these scenes won't be published, they should give you a decent idea of the sorts of themes I touch on in my essay.

In the essay, I use books and other media as examples of the barrage of speciesism our children face. Thankfully, not all books perpetuate speciesism on a readily apparent level:
Wild Talk: How Animals Talk to Each Other details the many ways that other-than-human animals communicate among one another. From the booming howels of howler monkeys to the songs of humpback whales and blinks of fireflies, the book presents conscious communication as just that. In addition to taking communication at face value, all animals in the book are either gendered or referred to as the plural “they,” as opposed to the genderless, deindividualizing "it."

Wild Talk is not an animal rights book. It doesn’t give us any guidance on how to treat animals. And there are slight improvements that would make it even more animal rights-friendly. For example, after a section in the beginning that details how we humans talk to each other, the book says, “Animals have a lot to say to each other, too.” It should, of course, say, “Other animals…” because we humans are definitely animals as well. Also, referring to the animals in the book as “wild” lumps them in an artificial category that serves to further the perceived divide between humans and other animals. But aside from those qualms, this book is a great, neutral (in that it doesn’t take a stance on any contentious issues) treatment of how other-than-human animals communicate with one another.
Just a note on the "wild animal" critique that I make there. I prefer the term suggested by Joan Dunayer, which is "free-living animal." The word "wild" reinforces the perceived normalcy and rightness of domestication in all of its forms. Free-living animals aren't wild, they're just animals, freely living in their natural habitats. By creating a category for animals who live in their natural state, we suggest that that state is just as benign and normal as the state we created for them - the domesticated and/or caged state.

And yes, I realize that "free-living" is a category in a similar way that "wild" is. The difference is that it more accurately and objectively describes the individuals we're talking about. There's a fog that needs to be cleared here and the phrase "free-living" helps in that effort.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Conversion Narrative in Veganism

The following is part two of a three-part series I wrote quite a while back. There was a chance that these were going to be published in an upcoming anthology in which a separate essay (by me) having nothing to do with religion will appear, but it didn't pan out (nobody's fault and no hard feelings). Honestly, I'm sort of OK with these mini-essays not being published, since they are sure to irk people in a way that I don't necessarily feel comfortable irking. 

The previous essay in this series, Religion and Vegan Advocacy, received a couple comments that deserve a response. I plan to write a separate post addressing these and any other comments I get on this second installment and the eventual third installment. 

OK. Here's the essay now. 

Oh wait, one more thing. If these essays had actually made it to the point of being published, I can assure you that they would have been edited and re-edited and fleshed out and would just be plain better (because my editors are rock-stars, that's why). So ... now that I've sufficiently lowered expectations, here you go!

The words “convert” and “conversion” come up a lot when vegans talk about choosing to be vegan. In many ways, this makes sense. In others, it’s problematic.

In what way is this conversion narrative a positive?

First, it’s something that just makes sense. Everyone knows what conversion means: in the simplest sense, it’s changing from one thing to another. When non-vegans choose to be vegan, that’s a type of conversion. Often, it can feel like a religious conversion; something akin to a spiritual awakening. As one blogger writes:

People often ask me why I made the decision to go vegan. I can point to certain events leading up to that moment that are helpful in explaining how I got here, but at the same time, when I really think about it, it’s almost as if it wasn’t a choice at all … What I mean is that it was almost like I had been asleep before and suddenly I woke up and saw the cruelty and suffering around me; being vegan seemed like something I simply had to do. 

I’m sure that many vegans can relate to this. I know I can.

This blogger may not have used the word “conversion,” and maybe that was intentional on her part, but the above quote still falls under the umbrella of what I mean when I refer to conversion language.

One could imagine Paul—formerly Saul—saying something similar about his conversion on the road to Damascus: “All of a sudden, I saw a light and I woke up.”

Sentiments such as these are all over the internet. One blog, The Vegan Light Bulb, has the tag line, “Stop looking at the shadows and look into the light!” Another blog is called My Vegan Awakening. James McWilliams even has a "Vegan Conversion Narrative" series on his blog.[1]

The word conversion is apt when describing the change from one ideology to another, and so I submit that the use of the word when talking about the change to veganism is technically correct. When one chooses to be vegan, it could be said that they are rejecting the ideology of speciesism and embracing equal consideration of other-than-human animals. Veganism could be said to be the ideology of this embrace.

That said, it’s important to consider what problems arise from use of the conversion narrative.

By framing veganism as a conversion, vegans present veganism as something ideologically different from what non-vegans believe. Conversion language doesn’t give enough weight to that fact that many people already agree, to an extent, with the precept that unnecessary killing of animals is wrong. The conversion narrative presents veganism as an ideology that is wholly different from the way non-vegans already view animals, but in many cases, this is not true.

The word conversion is also closely—perhaps intrinsically—tied to religion in our culture. For reasons that I state in my post, Religion and Vegan Advocacy, I see this as a problem.

Another pitfall of the conversion narrative is that most people don’t want to be converted. Most people are happy with who they are. When a non-vegan hears a vegan talking about their conversion, they may see it as this odd metaphysical shift instead of a simple decision made for rational reasons; reasons the non-vegan may likely be able to identify with.

If the problems of the conversion narrative outweigh the positives, and I think they do, then what easy-to-understand alternative could vegans use when describing their transition to veganism?

Carol Adams has used a different term to describe the act of becoming vegan in her book Living Among Meat Eaters. She refers to non-vegetarians as “blocked vegetarians”[2] and the process of becoming vegetarian as becoming “unblocked.” Living Among Meat Eaters is obviously a book geared toward people who already eschew animal flesh (a point Adams reinforces within the book), but it’s worth asking whether or not vegans should use the blocked/unblocked language when speaking to non-vegans.

Non-vegans may bristle at the notion that they’re blocked and somehow less connected to their minds than vegans are. Additionally, this term has caused a few vegans I know to refer this the book as a little too “woo” for their liking, meaning that its language takes on a new age feel and/or seems to be rooted in nonscientific thought.

If “unblocked” seems to exchange religion for woo—which may work for some, but not for others—then what other word or phrase could be used to talk about our transitions to veganism?

Vegans may appeal to a broader set of people when, instead of using conversion language, they say something like, “I chose to be vegan because…” This frames our actions simply as a choice.

It’s true that “conversion” also denotes a choice, but it carries baggage. It also suggests, because of its close association with religion, that vegans substitute one faith-based way of thinking with another faith-based way of thinking.

Veganism is a rational choice that most people are capable of making. Framing that choice as a conversion, though, may keep them from seeing it that way.

[1] This essay was written before McWilliams started the "Vegan Conversion Narrative" series, so that name and the name of this mini-essay is nothing more than coincidence. I just decided to add a reference to his series in at the last minute here since it seemed to fit so well. 
[2] In this book, Adams uses the word “vegetarian” to refer to vegetarians and vegans.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

City Chickens

City Chickens by Christine Heppermann tells the tale of Chicken Run Rescue – the only urban chicken rescue in the United States – just across the river from me in Minneapolis, MN.

Chicken Run Rescue is run by Mary Britton Clouse and Burt Clouse. The book tells the stories of how Mary and Burt came to care deeply about other-than-human animals as children, and eventually how they came to be the founders and caregivers of Chicken Run Rescue. Their stories are a short section of the book, but one that matters so, so much. This world cannot have enough examples of people handing their lives over to care for other animals. Everyone—young and old, vegan and non-vegan—can learn something profound from the dedication and care Mary and Burt unleash upon the world.

City Chickens also does a fantastic job of telling the unique stories of several chickens who have come through the gates of Chicken Run Rescue. From Billiam, a rooster who was dumped on the side of the road with 105 other chicks; to Miss Manor, the hen who Burt rescued from the grounds of an apartment complex (for an uplifting and heartbreaking photo tour of Miss Manor’s rescue and care, see this photo album on the Chicken Run Rescue Facebook page). 

"Now she would have a warm place to sleep, fresh food and water, plenty of space to explore. Now Bert would hold her and hum softly while Mary attended to her wounds."

There’s a ton of information and images packed into this book. In my opinion, the design suffers as a result. In order to break up large chunks of text, certain sentences are given a different and larger font. As a former newspaper reader (sorry, newspaper industry!), I’ve been trained to assume that larger text within smaller text is a pull-quote and is not meant to be read in sequential order (or read at all, if you’re already reading the whole story). It’s safe to say that the design took some getting used to on my part.

What the book may lack in design, though, it more than makes up for in photos. The layout might not be perfect, but since, according to the publisher, this is a book for kids ages 6-9 (I think that top age range should go all the way to 13 31 103, especially given the importance of the subject matter), more photos equals more connections. These birds are beautiful beings and the multitude of photos does a great job of capturing that beauty.

A note of warning to parents: There are three of what I would consider disturbing photos. One of a rooster who was rescued after police shut down a cockfighting operation, and two others of hens in battery cages. Probably not nightmare inducing images, but it depends on the kid (and adult). 

This is unavoidably a book about the refugees and casualties of humanity’s war of indifference on other animals. As such, you can expect to read about some of the horrible things that are done to chickens. The words are not graphic, but they’re there. One cannot talk about a sanctuary without talking about what it’s a sanctuary from. And Chicken Run Rescue is a sanctuary, even if only a temporary one for most guests. Thankfully, the homes these chickens end up in after adoption are also places that treat them as someones, not somethings – as an end unto themselves, not a means to another’s end – as beings with intrinsic worth above and beyond any extrinsic worth afforded to them.  

The few graphic images and depictions of cruelty are certainly not necessary in order to educate our kids about animal rights, but they do portray the awful reality of countless chickens. Personally, I let my kids see the images and explain them with the tact and love they require. And then we move on again to the happy parts of the book.

This is a long book and it's full of heavy ideas and situations. I suggest reading it with your kid(s) in shifts, explaining things along the way. Even with older kids, I think reading it together, at least for the first time, is a good idea. It's definitely a conversation starter. Don't be surprised if your kids ask if you can adopt a chicken. Don't be surprised if you seriously consider it. 


Here are two videos taken at Chicken Run Rescue. The first is from Minnesota Public Radio and the second is shot by a Minneapolis based animal advocate. 

And apparently I'm just not that good at the internet, because I cannot for the life of me embed a Vimeo video on this blog. Yes, I tried the embed code. Anyway, click on this link here and it'll take you to the video. 

Coming soon: Photos and a re-cap of the VegKins tour of Chicken Run Rescue on July 21st. SPOILER ALERT: It will contain photos of adorable chickens and humans. 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Memories, Old and New

The kids and I went to the Children's Museum on Tuesday. After much fun at the Curious George exhibit and the rooftop art park, we took a break for lunch. Nothing fancy, just peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, oranges and carrots and hummus. We ate up the carrots and had some hummus left. So I bought some pretzels from the vending machine.

"How do you know they're vegan?" Anna asked as I slipped the second of two dollar bills into the machine.

"Good question," I said. "I've had these before, so I know. But I'll check anyway once they come out."

They were vegan.

After a while, Anna started eating bits and pieces out of the pretzel pieces to make letter shapes. I followed suit and I made an M which was also 3, an E and a W. As I held the piece in the W position, it reminded me of a "wishbone," the clavicle of a turkey, even tough they don't really look similar.

I thought of the tradition in my family (and many families and cultures going back millennia, according to this random website) of pulling the wishbone apart with one of my siblings. First we'd make a wish. Whoever got the middle part after it snapped would have their wish come true.

Memories like these are one of the hardest parts of going vegan as an adult, I think. Eating is easy. Finding non-leather shoes is a breeze. But viewing once-happy memories differently is just plain painful. It pained me to remember the glee I took in snapping that dried-out bone. It pains me to remember pulling fish from lakes with sharp hooks. Or taking joy in killing moths between my bare hands.

I wrote about this recently on this blog's Facebook page:

My little brother and I used to parade up and down the house clapping our hands and proclaiming ourselves, in song, the "Miller Killers!" We would kill millers (moths) by clapping our hands with them in between.

Today, I caught a moth in a cup and let him or her gooutside while my kids watched. I do the same (and so do they) with spiders and other bugs all the time. But the moth today made me think of that once-positive childhood memory and, instead of making me happy, it made me sad. 
So ... that's one personal drawback of reevaluating our relationship with other animals, I guess. 
I told Anna and Liam about what my siblings and I would do with the wishbone. I explained that it's a good memory because it's something I did with my family, but that it also makes me sad because it was the bone of a turkey who wanted to live.

I asked Anna if she'd like to play the same game, but with the pretzel instead. She glowed. I told her to make a wish and that I would too, but that we shouldn't tell each other what our wishes are. After a few seconds we pulled the pretzel and she emerged victorious, much to her delight. 

"You can't tell me what you wished for though, or it won't come true," I reminded her. 

She looked at me with a knowing smile and said, "Uh..."

"Do you think it's something that will ever come true?"


"OK. Then you can tell me if you want. It's fine."

"I wished," Anna said, "that no one would eat animals." 

After I caught my breath I gave her a big long hug and said, "Me too." 

Then Liam and I played. He won. I asked what he wished for. 

His answer: "To win." 

Then we went and played for a couple more awesome hours and made more awesome memories. 

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Vegan Mainstream Interview

Hi there! 

Some of you may be coming here from Vegan Mainstream, which published an interview with me yesterday, Being a Vegan Dad (and Blogger).

As I usually do when there's a chance that new people will be visiting my blog, I'm going to link to some posts I've written which, if I'm being honest, I feel represent me and my blog in the best light. 

But first! If you want to hear the voice of my and my daughter, check out the Midwest Vegan Radio podcast that we were interviewed on. And would you look at that, you can listen to it right on Vegan Mainstream!

Anyway, here are some posts I like: 

Stats: a post about the health of my children.

Cat on the Playground: on Anna's reaction to kids chasing a cat on the playground.

Flabbergasted: about Anna's reaction upon hearing that a lot of people care about dogs and cats, but not other animals.

My Daughter the Monkey Eater: on pretending to eat animals.

We're All Made of Meat: on explaining what "meat" is to Anna.

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.

Dolores Hureta: A Hero to Migrant Workers: a review I wrote of the book. 

Kale: It's What's For Dinner: in which I introduce a design and write about the wonders of kale. 

So yeah. That's my blog. Welcome to it. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Silver and Gold

Anna graduates from Kindergarten today. Here's a song that she's going to sing with her class at her graduation ceremony.

Awwdorable, right? Her voice is a little shaky since she's caught that horrible cough that's been going around. Which just makes it more adorable, in my unbiased opinion.


Make new friends,
But keep the old.
One is silver and the other gold.

The circle's round,
It has no end.
That's how long I want to be your friend.

When asked how she felt about school ending in a couple days (she has school until Friday even though she graduates on Thursday), she said, "Happy and sad." That's the exact same thing she said about school starting back up last fall. She loves her friends and learning, but she also loves her family and sleeping in!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Midwest Vegan Radio

Anna and I were interviewed for the most recent episode of the podcast, Midwest Vegan Radio. In it, Anna talks about being a five-year-old vegan and I talk about being a vegan father.

You can listen online here.

The episode is also listenable on Vegan Mainstream.

Or you can download as a podcast on iTunes here (that link will open iTunes for you).

You can visit the MVR blog here (you can also donate to the podcast while you're there ... because podcasts aren't actually free, folks).

And 'like' MVR on Facebook here.

So yeah. Give the podcast a listen. I'm super happy with out it turned out. I don't come off like an asshole, I can understand most of what I say, and I make some points that I think are worth making. Feels like a 'win' to me.

Thanks a ton to Dallas and Ryan for asking Anna and me to come on the show. Anna enjoyed it as much as I did, I think.

And if you haven't listened to MVR, I suggest checking out some (actually, all) of the old episodes. It's great.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Earth Day 2012

It's Earth Day today (for a couple more hours, at least). For us, that means it's the third annual "clean up one block of this filthy city" day, where we walk around our block and pick up every bit of trash we can find. Even the cigarette butts, of which there are many.

Liam helped.

Anna helped.

But mostly just Anna helped while Liam hit trees, bushes and lamp posts with a stick he picked up. That's just sort of how that kid rolls.

So yeah. That's all I have for you today. Peace out.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Dolores Huerta: A Hero to Migrant Workers

Note: I don't think I've ever reviewed a book on this blog, but I've always meant to. So hopefully this is the first of several. And I feel I should say that I received a review copy of this book, because that's something an independent reviewer is supposed to say, right? 

OK. That's enough of this italics business. 

All parents (hopefully) teach their children about fairness. It's a rather simple concept, though it can be made complicated when you add tradition and prejudice into the mix. Fairness doesn't have to be hard, but the unfortunate truth is that it often is.

Dolores Huerta: A Hero to Migrant Workers, by Sarah Warren, illustrated by Robert Casilla, is a great entry point into the ideas of justice and fairness and tells the inspiring story of an amazing woman. 

Anna, who will be six in July, was really interested in this book. She's a lover of non-fiction, especially when it tells a good story.

And the story of Dolores Huerta is a heck of a story. The book focuses on how Huerta felt strongly about the rights of workers to receive fair pay and treatment. This meant organizing strikes and boycotts.

Warren explores these weighty concepts (justice, strikes, boycotts) with simple language that is somehow far from simplistic. I usually find myself adding explanatory sentences to books like this so Anna can better understand the content. But I didn't have to do that here. It's all laid out in easy-to-understand concepts and language.

But then, justice is sort of that way for kids. They get fairness. They get that when something is wrong, it should be made right.

One part of the book that I thought really would hit home with kids is where it touches on the fact that these organizers and striking workers weren't able to spend as much time with their families as they would have liked.

I asked Anna what she felt about this part, and she said, "Kind of sad."

I asked, "Do you think the parents should stop striking so they can spend more time with their kids?"

She replied, "No. Because they want the bosses to be good and it's more important to get more food than to be with their kids."

"Do you think that was an easy decision to make?"

"Kinda hard," she replied.

This is an issue that I struggle with as an activist (though I am under absolutely no illusions that I sacrifice anywhere near as much with my activism as Huerta and her fellow activists did). While I think there's nothing wrong with bringing my kids with me to activist opportunities whenever possible and appropriate, I'm not always able to do that. I spend less time with my kids because of my activism. I'm always up-front with them about where I'm going and what I'm doing (for example, that I'm tabling at an event, trying to get people to consider choosing to be vegan). My hope is that they'll glean a couple things from this: 1. I'm doing work that I feel is important, and 2. It's perfectly normal for parents to volunteer for a cause they feel is important.

If you can't tell, I'm really happy that Warren included this section in her book. I feel that it's there for the adults as much as it is for the kids.

The book also touches on the fact that Huerta was told to be quiet and let men do the talking. Of course, she doesn't listen.

Hopefully our children are already surrounded by strong women. And even if they are, it's a good idea to occasionally point out that women haven't always been able to freely express themselves; that it's been a struggle and that the struggle is ongoing. I talked to Anna about this, of course. But I also plan to talk to Liam about it once he's a bit older. Boys need to hear this message as loudly as girls do, in my opinion.

Anna said her favorite part of the book was, "Telling people to do what they want." Which means that she liked how the workers told the bosses to treat them fairly. She turned the book to the page of Huerta on a bullhorn, surrounded by striking workers.

Anna wanted to see if we could find any videos of Dolores Huerta online. I found this interview on Democracy Now! and we watched it together.

Anna was super excited to spot a photo in the video that was recreated in the book - the same one that she had turned to when I asked her about her favorite part:

I love my observant daughter.

This is the part of the review where I would critique any speciesist messages in the book; any images of people eating chicken's legs, or images of farmed animals in confinement. But there isn't any! It's a wholly vegan-friendly book, which means it's consistent in its message of fairness.

And speaking of vegans. I wanted to say that I really do feel that it's of the utmost importance for vegan parents to teach their kids about the intersections of oppression and that being vegan means that you want justice and fairness for all animals, including humans. Books like this do a great job of driving that point home.

This book will fit comfortably into the collection of anyone who wishes to teach their children about justice and equality. It's a great conversation starter. In fact, it may start multiple conversations which are just as worth having now as they were having then. 

Friday, April 6, 2012

Minnesota Parent Article

Greetings to anyone coming here after reading the story in Minnesota Parent about raising vegan kids and the vegan parenting group, VegKins! Welcome to my sporadically updated blog. Feel free to have a look around. A few of my favorite posts are here:

Stats: a post about the health of my children.

Cat on the Playground: on Anna's reaction to kids chasing a cat on the playground.

Flabbergasted: about Anna's reaction upon hearing that a lot of people care about dogs and cats, but not other animals.

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.

And just for the hell of it, here's Anna singing a medley of tunes from Annie at a talent show. And here's Liam doing the same ... but not at a talent show. 

Please feel free to post a comment here or send me an email if you have any questions at all about being vegan or transitioning to being vegan. I'm more than willing to answer any and all questions you have. Even the stupid ones (kidding!). 

Now that I think of it, I should tell you that if you think you want to go vegan, you should check out Vegan University, which helps people transition to being vegan. We do mentorship (I'm a mentor), vegan shopping tours and workshops. And we're on Facebook, if you want to like us so you can get tips, tricks and reasons to be vegan dumped straight into your news feed. 

Friday, March 16, 2012

Kale: It's What's for Dinner

Tomorrow is St. Patrick's day. Eat some kale! It's green! Here are some ideas!

Speaking of the color green and kale, I made this:

If you click this here hypertext, it will take you to Zazzle, where you can put the logo on a t-shirt. If you  purchase a shirt, I will make 10% of the whatever you pay. That money will be donated to the vegan education efforts of the Animal Rights Coalition (click on that link - they have a sweet new website).

The idea for this design came when I read 7 Reasons Kale is the New Beef on the Huffington Post.

I get a kick out of the love for kale that many vegans (present company included) espouse. They treat it the same way that unfeeling hipsters treat bacon. It's a cheeky reverence that is matched only by our worship of nutritional yeast (which even has a cool nickname: nooch).

But the reverence makes sense, too. James McWilliams has written a great post: Let them Eat Kale (and Quinoa): Richard Oppenlander Offers a Brilliant Critique. I suggest going over there and reading the whole thing (it's not long). And read the rest of his posts while you're at it. He has a refreshing and powerful way of conveying the ideas and logistics of animal rights.

McWilliams' post makes the Only Kale Can Save Us Now shirt, from Herbivore Clothing Company, ring all the more true. Check out the design on that shirt. My little thing took ten minutes in photoshop. Theirs was done by someone who actually knows how to create beauty from scratch. If I were you, and I was making a choice between my shirt or their shirt, I'd pick theirs. Go ahead. I won't be offended.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Religion and Vegan Advocacy

The following is part one of a three-part series I wrote a few months ago. There was a chance that these were going to be published in an upcoming anthology (in which a separate essay having nothing to do with religion will appear), but it didn't pan out. So I'm publishing them here instead. 

Should animal advocates use religion to promote veganism?

The majority of religious belief depends on the idea of hierarchy, chiefly the belief that we humans are given value by and should humble ourselves before someone or something that is ostensibly “greater than us”—be that a deity, deities, religious leaders, or a collection of metaphysical doctrines.

If there is a being[1] who is greater than humans, then by default that means humans are lesser beings. If humans are lesser than that higher power, then it’s not too large of a leap to reason that there are others who are lesser still. This way of thinking (that other = lesser) has been employed to justify racism, sexism and every other oppression throughout human history. While many religious people have come to see those oppressions as unjust, it was not due to their religious traditions that this has happened[2]. Instead, it was due to the rational, logical argument that skin color and sex, for two examples, are not valid characteristics to take into account when deciding whether or not it’s OK to treat a being as someone with lesser intrinsic value.

In the same vein, religious texts and traditions generally don’t support the idea that animals are due equal consideration, and so they would likely not be the true cause of the embrace of veganism among the faithful.

Animal rights philosophy holds that there is no such thing as “greater” or “lesser” when it comes to the interests of animals in avoiding pain and continuing life[3]. It seems strange, then, to hold veganism up as a religion, or to incorporate the language of religion within veganism, when religion has historically been a major perpetrator of the greater/lesser divide.

Marjorie Spiegel writes in The Dreaded Comparison, “By eliminating the oppression of animals from the fabric of our culture, we begin to undermine some of the psychological structures inherent in a society which seems to create and foster ‘masters’” (28-29).

Or as blogger Randy Sandberg has said, “I’m an atheist because I do not believe in superior beings and I am vegan because I don’t believe in inferior ones either.”

Much as David Neibert’s Animal Rights, Human Rights and Bob Torres’ Making a Killing question whether or not one can be opposed to speciesism while supporting capitalism, activists should ask themselves whether or not they can effectively oppose the hierarchy of speciesism, while embracing the hierarchical institutions of religion. 

It should be noted that certain forms of religions have historically opposed oppression of certain forms. A basic precept of Buddhism is non-harm, for example. But most Buddhists are not vegan. The 14th Dalai Lama isn’t vegan or vegetarian. So while a belief system like Buddhism seems to be an ideal institution within which veganism would thrive, the majority of its adherents still value trivial human interests above the very non-trivial interests of animals. This fact alone should be enough to cast serious doubt upon any religion’s ability to fully embrace and promote veganism.

I don’t mean to suggest that personal belief in deities or metaphysical doctrines should preclude one from choosing to be vegan. And I’m fully aware that many people come to veganism through what they would consider spiritual or religious routes. What I’m suggesting here is that religion need not be used as a way to argue for veganism and that if activists are serious about opposing hierarchy and oppression, it might be a good idea to take a hard long look at the religion they belong to and ask if its teachings line up with their stated beliefs.

Activists should also be wary of entangling religion with veganism because it has the effect of excluding all who aren’t adherents of the specific religion they’re utilizing as an outreach tool.

The Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA), for example, makes several points about the biblical case for veganism—though they confusingly refer to it as vegetarianism. If one is Hindu and reads the CVA site, she may wonder what in the world this has to do with her. She needs to be Christian in order for the Christian biblical argument for veganism to apply to her.

The Society of Religious and Ethical Vegetarians, in their Judaism and Vegetarianism question and answer page, responds to a question about whether a move toward vegetarianism would mean moving the focus away from kosher laws. They answer, “Quite the contrary. One of the purposes of the laws of kashrut is reverence for life. Another purpose is to avoid pagan practices, which often involved much cruelty to animals and people.”

So, just to be clear, there’s no moral obligation for Pagans to be vegan? 

Legal scholar and animal rights philosopher Gary Francione makes the case on a blog post that, “the movement to abolish animal exploitation should be part of a larger movement for Ahimsa, or non-violence.” The Ahimsa that Francione refers to is the Jain principle of non-harm which exists for the purpose of increasing good karma and liberating a soul from reincarnation. The value of incorporating such religious terminology into vegan advocacy is questionable at best. Someone who has no knowledge of the principle of Ahimsa still can easily grasp the concept of non-violence, though may balk at the idea of karma and reincarnation. Why then include within an argument for veganism a religious term that is limiting in scope? Ahimsa refers to a specific principle of a specific belief system, but as far as praxis goes, it means the same thing as non-violence. Given that, it’s confusing as to why Francione, who has otherwise crafted a logical argument for animal rights, doesn’t just take religious language out of conversation and stick with the broadly appealing language of non-violence and justice.[4]

There are, of course, arguments for veganism from most religious perspectives. But does each religion have to incorporate veganism within it’s teachings in order to convince its adherents to go vegan?

It’s understood that people view the world through the various lenses of their religions. But this doesn’t mean that activists need to imprint veganism upon each of those lenses. First of all, there’s no reason to believe that it will work. Since the majority of religious leaders are not vegan, it’s too easy for adherents to dismiss arguments for veganism. If veganism was really what their religion demanded of them, the defense would go, their holy leaders would already be vegan. Secondly, veganism stands on it’s own just fine. It doesn’t need to be incorporated into a religion and it doesn’t require buttressing by the language of religion. A simple, honest argument for veganism is compelling and has the potential to appeal broadly to believers and non-believers alike. Activist should look critically at the desire to muddy that argument with interpretation of holy texts, traditions and guesses as to what deities would prefer. Instead of spending time trying to reverse engineer religions to make them fit veganism, activists may be better off crafting messages that not only drive home the point that unnecessary harm is wrong for reasons that are self-evident, but also focus on the myriad ways in which animal use is, indeed, unnecessary.

Should the argument for veganism be based upon amorphous supernatural belief? Or should it be presupposed upon immutable, observable, fact-based, logic-based evidence?

As an atheist, I obviously lean toward the latter.

Alas, like the religious, the majority of atheists don’t embrace veganism. For many, the atheist view that there is no gods ends up elevating humanity to the position of god within the hierarchy of being. Since there is no god, the argument goes, humans make the rules and can rightly position themselves at the pinnacle of the chain of being. Anthropocentrism either goes unexamined or is celebrated. The appeal to nature fallacy is embraced as a defense of the status quo.

Fortunately, skepticism often goes hand-in-hand with atheism as well. Many skeptics take a look at the institution of speciesism and see it as one of unnecessary oppression.

Mary Martin, author of the blog “Animal Person,” writes

"Vegans usually have spent quite a bit of time exploring our relationship with nonhuman animals and making a conscious decision to go against the mainstream. And atheists who were parented by believers have usually spent time examining the religion they were raised in as well as why we'd believe there is a god at all. I see these counter-culture positions as parallel and based on the same evolution of thought and deconstruction of the stories of childhood."

Again, none of this is to say that one can’t be vegan and religious. But as advocates, we ought to be cognizant of the extra layers we needlessly add to the argument for animals rights when we use religious terms and religious arguments in our advocacy.

Advocates should seriously consider leaving religion out of the conversation regardless of the personal religious views of either party—the advocate and advocated to. Most people, regardless of religious belief, are not going to argue against the statement that it’s wrong to inflict unnecessary harm upon animals. Religion-specific codes of ethics and morality may come into play further into individual conversations about veganism, but when the dialogue isn’t presupposed upon them, the argument for veganism as a general moral obligation is stronger. 

[1] Or beings. I’ll stick with the singular in this essay simply for flow’s sake.
[2] Despite what they may claim. Also, it’s important to recognize that it’s probably not because of religion that those oppressions initially occurred, but that religion was likely created and molded to justify and enshrine the pre-existing oppression of others.
[3] That’s a statement that needs to be qualified. Animal rights philosopher Tom Regan, for example, maintains that human interest in continuation of life counts for more than, say, a dog’s, since the average human is the subject of an ostensibly more complex and fulfilling inner life, and potential future, than are other animals. For the purposes of this essay, though, I defer to Gary Francione’s view of animal rights, which maintains that sentience is all which is required in order for one animal to have equal inherent value to another.
[4] In fairness to Francione, it’s worth noting that in Introduction to Animal Rights, he wrote in reference to “the basic right not to be treated as a thing and the concept of equal inherent value,” that, “neither of these concepts involves anything that requires our acceptance of any metaphysical doctrines. All that is required is logic” (93) …

Monday, February 13, 2012

Even if it Didn't Wear Away the Stone

City Pages, the Twin Cities' "alternative" weekly newspaper, recently ran an article about "herd retirement;" the practice of killing a whole bunch of cows for the sole purpose of driving up the price of milk.

Milk Money is the name of the article (at least in the print edition, it is). The subtitle/blurb for the story is, "A half-million cows were worth more dead than alive, and now we're all paying the price."

You can imagine my feelings about this story, and I could pull a bunch of quotes and point out how horribly speciesist they are, but I'm not going to. I'm going somewhere else with this. 

Stories like this, of the animal exploitation machine killing hundreds of thousands of individuals not because of demand for the "products" extracted from them, but for the reason of increasing the price of the products extracted from those individuals who are not killed (at least not until they are "spent") ... well they just depress the hell out of me. 

Yes, of course, it's depressing because of the individuals who were killed. It shouldn't be forgotten though that all of them will eventually be killed for money anyway ... they're all eventually "worth more dead than alive." These cows who are the victims of "herd retirement" are killed a few years earlier than they would be on the average diary farm. The natural life span of a cow is 20-25 years; cows who are exploited for their milk are killed at around 5-7 years of age. 

And, "herd retirement?"  Golly, death sounds downright pleasant when you call it a retirement! Will the retired cows get to play chess in the park?

Ah ... but I digress. My point here is that stories like this depress me for the obvious reasons, but also because they give me this nagging feeling that being vegan doesn't make the impact that it should. 

Some animal rights advocates will say that by being vegan, they're "saving animals." I don't make a habit of saying this. If anything, when viewed from an economical/utilitarian point of view, I see being vegan as a way to reduce the demand for animal products, thus causing less animals to be brought into existence just so they can be tortured and killed for their products. Vegans don't save animals simply by not buying animal products. Some vegans save animals by adopting them from shelters. Others save animals by breaking into farms and taking them. But no vegans save lives by buying Daiya or Gardein products.

All animals who exist on farms right now will be killed. They won't be spared by you going vegan. But hopefully by going vegan, you reduce demand and less animals will have to live lives of hell. Less mother cows will have their calves taken from them so that humans can steal their milk. Less chickens will have to live on farms where they are controlled and confined so that humans can consume their eggs. Less ... ah, you get the point. 

But a story like this, where hundreds of thousands (500,000 between 2003 and 2010) of thinking, feeling individuals are slaughtered simply to increase the price of their sisters' milk ... well a story like this can cause a vegan to feel that his actions aren't really making that "reduced demand" impact. 

But that's not true. And it's a defeatist way of thinking. Of course, on a macro level, one single vegan makes little to no impact. But a bunch of micro levels put together equals a macro level. So yeah, I'm just one person. And maybe my individual actions don't do much. But my individual actions put together with the actions of the approximately three million other vegans in the United States (that's like the population of Iowa, folks), well, that's at least a drop in the bucket.

"The fall of dropping water wears away the stone."
I vote in elections. Given the electoral college, corporate money, the two-party system and various other factors that diminish representative democracy, why do I vote? I vote because I believe in participating in democracy. And while my vote might not count by itself, my vote together with a bunch of other people's votes COUNTS!

Sorry, I try to avoid caps lock as a rule. It just seemed appropriate there. 

This post thus far has focused on the economic/utilitarian case for veganism. I feel that I should state here that I actually see veganism as being more than voting with my dollars. I see it as an expression of fairness. Even if I was sure that my actions had zero effect on animal agribusiness ... even if I knew for a fact that my actions didn't influence anyone else's actions and nobody reassessed their relationship to animals because of me ... I'd still be vegan. 

I used to eat animals. I considered them things to be used for food, clothing and entertainment. A little over nine years ago, I changed my mind. They aren't my food. They aren't my clothing. They aren't here for my entertainment. It would be great if every dollar I spent on vegan products translated to an equal amount of money taken away from those who exploit animals. The fact that that's not the case can be a bummer, but I'm not going to let it get me down for long.