Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Thank you for dying for me

A guy I don’t really know asked me out recently. I asked him if he was a hunter because I don’t date hunters. He replied: “No, but if I were to hunt, I would thank the animal for giving its life to nourish me and use as much of it as possible."

What’s wrong with this statement? Most everyone will acknowledge that on the deep scale of suffering in the acquisition of animal flesh, skillful hunting tends to cause less suffering than factory farming. Yet hunting still causes immense suffering and I do oppose it regardless, but the part I object to here is about thanking the animal for giving its life to a human. 

Why? Because I look at such things from the animals’ point of view. It makes absolutely no difference to an animal whether someone prays to her or thanks her or gives a blessing to honor her before eating her body. And the animal doesn’t care if all or none of her flesh is used. 

Second, an animal would never sacrifice his life to provide food for a human in the first place. I’m pretty sure no animal has ever given that go-ahead in the history of the universe and never will, and that’s because animals have an intrinsic instinct to survive.

Saying that an animal “gives its life” is dishonest. There's no consent here. Born of ancient Native American practice, it's now a greenwashing technique used by new-age spiritual types. The first time I recall hearing it was in the early 2000s by a guy wearing a loincloth at the Boulder Co-op. He was on a debate panel on vegetarianism. He called himself a deep ecologist and told a story of a deer who gave him permission to kill her. They communicated in voices most will never hear, apparently.

Claiming the animal "gave its life" is even worse than using the word "harvest" instead of "kill." It’s like a murdering rapist thanking the woman for sacrificing her body to him. Make no mistake: these lives were taken, and taken in vain, but that's fodder for another blog.

When it comes down to it, those who thank or "honor" the animal they’re about to murder or eat cause an equal amount of suffering as those who just chomp down and skip the blessing bullshit. It just helps some types feel better about what they’re doing. Maybe fooling themselves aids in their digestion.

Let’s not buy and spread the lie that everyone's happy about animal slaughter, including the animal. Let’s be honest with ourselves and our children about where meat comes from. At the most basic level, we can be certain it came from a sentient being who did not want to die.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Social Media Friendships Before the 2016 Election, When We Thought Clinton Would Win

This took me aback, and some of you will find it ridiculous: one of my Bernie Sanders-loving Facebook friends posted that any of his friends who support Clinton should unfriend him. I have Clinton-supporting friends who've told their friends to unfriend them if they're voting for Trump. I get it. I haven't heard of any Trump supporters demanding the same from Clinton supporters, although I don’t have a lot of Trump-supporting friends, and for whatever reason, most are quiet on the topic.

Thing is, all I ever saw from this guy were angry political rants. Even though I agreed with a lot when Bernie was running, his posts grew increasingly derisive and tiresome, and I won't miss them. I noticed he blocked me right after I commented that I was unfriending him per his request. Such anger.

I think it's ideal to have a balance on social media. I’ll admit my posts sway a lot toward animals and living in the mountains, but I do branch out. Lots of people say they hate constant political or animal rights posts and shares—even when they agree with them—and tune out, unfollow or unfriend. So if the intention is to reach people and influence them, maybe barraging them isn’t the best idea.

I despise animal abuse, e.g., meat eating, more than just about anything, but I haven't unfriended every meat eater I know and retreated into an isolated, lonely bubble of righteous vegans. That would be miserable. Instead, on occasion I influence others to try something different. Moreover, I have a diverse community I love. Likewise, I don't think it's wise to just cut people off willy-nilly over politics—not because they're being obnoxious but simply because you hate their candidate. We’re all sharing this spinning sphere hurtling through space, and in times of natural disasters, it’s all moot. So while I empathize, seeing it from this new perspective makes it easy to recognize it for what it is: intolerance … ironically, one of the biggest flaws most of us see in Trump. 

So, thank you, raging Bernie guy. For my part, I’ll still engage in political discussions but aim to accept people despite their opinions that differ so vastly from my own, and above all not to be hateful or derisive. Easier said when your candidate is winning, I suppose.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Speaking Up for Rabbits at Whole Foods

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Elephant Journal
by Jill Bielawski

Imagine you’re shopping in your local Whole Foods when you discover dogs and cats in the meat case.

You voice your protest, and the company responds by issuing a statement that it is sensitive to the companion animal issue, but that some customers requested dog and cat meat.
Further, Whole Foods Market claims, it employs rigorous animal welfare standards, and the animals live in an enriched environment before they’re humanely slaughtered.
Now, as you look at your beloved dog or cat lying beside you, imagine how those of us who live with bunnies feel about Whole Foods selling our playful, loving and curious animals for dinner.
Rabbits are the nation’s third most popular companion animal. We began to voice our protest, along with many others, including dog-and-cat-people, vegetarians and meat eaters. Some of us who shopped primarily at Whole Foods now go out of our way to boycott it. Many customers were already insulted by the company’s greenwashed claims that all of the animals it sells are humanely slaughtered.
And so, with the rabbit being the symbol for Easter, we protested Whole Foods in Boulder this past weekend. We protested not because domestic rabbits deserve to live more than any of the other animals killed for Whole Foods, but because rabbit meat is a fairly small market in the United States, and Whole Foods is the most profitable natural foods chain, wielding great influence on other stores that seek to emulate the company’s success. Whole Foods does not need to add to the long line of animals it already sells, nor should it add family pets to its offerings.
Further, domestic rabbits already have enough problems. They are routinely slaughtered for their fur and flesh and used in experiments. Like chickens, rabbits are not covered by the USDA’s Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. As pets, they’re misunderstood, neglected, confined alone to backyard hutches, dumped at shelters or “set free” to die. Those of us who live with rabbits are often at the receiving end of “jokes” about violence against our loved ones. The last thing rabbits need is for Whole Foods to popularize the consumption of their flesh among the mainstream.
WholeFoods Bunnies
The company states it does “not allow any animal testing for any of our personal care products, ever”—great news for rabbits—but it now encourages customers to, “Come hop down the bunny trail and get yourself some delicious rabbit today!” Is this how Whole Foods shows it’s being “sensitive to the companion animal issue”—by using words from a children’s song to sell violence toward our companions?
Whole Foods announced its pilot campaign to begin selling rabbit meat at a handful of locations around the country last summer. Since then, it has expanded from two initial regions to most of North America, although it has not introduced it in Boulder yet. There may be a marginal demand for rabbit meat in some areas, but a far greater demand exists for rabbits as companion animals. In fact, Whole Foods is creating an artificial demand for rabbit flesh by auto-shipping it to its stores across the country, whether they want it or not.
The company buys its rabbit “fryers” and “stewers” from suppliers in states that have passed ag-gag laws that restrict outside inspection and verification of standards. Under company guidelines, an eight-pound adult rabbit can be housed his whole life in a two-foot by two-foot space. A mother and her eight babies can be housed in a two 1/8-foot square space.These white New Zealand rabbits can live 8–12 years as sociable, litterbox-using companions in the house and are known as the Golden Retrievers of the rabbit world.
So-called_enriched environment
The Rabbit Advocacy Network published photographs from one of the farms that supplies eight-week-old baby rabbits to Iowa Rabbit LLC, the processor and distributor that sells bunnies to Whole Foods. The photos reveal a factory-farm-like environment, with animals crammed into small, wire-bottomed cages, without hay, a single comfort or space to play. Water is delivered through a dirty drip system. Yet Whole Foods Market’s signs boast the rabbits have an “enriched environment.”
Whole Foods is already under nationwide attack for the animal cruelty that lies beneath its veneer of feel-good marketing about humane standards. However, the fact is that even if the company were to meet the standards of rabbit protection groups for raising this species, at the end of the day, a barely weaned baby rabbit is taken from her family and slaughtered, just so Whole Foods can make a buck. Tell Whole Foods how you feel about its new product.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Jill's Top 10 Costa Rica

10. The restaurants in Puerto Viejo
They were vegetarian-friendly and offered myriad options to free me from the rice and beans that had been my sustenance for a week. I relished vegan coconut French toast, sushi, raw food, iced coffee and cheap cocktails such as the mango daiquiri. The town boasts a vegetarian restaurant, and even the grocery stores had a few items to choose from in addition to the big avocados and mangos available everywhere.

9. Ziplining in the jungle 
I’d never been ziplining before, and what better place to do it! It was definitely an adrenalin rush, feeling the wind whipping by as I flew through the treetops. It’s important to “brake” before the end of the line or risk smashing into a tree. Some nice folks in our tour were from Colorado, and the only negative was that I got bitten by little fire ants. I hadn't realized there was a lot of walking required between platforms, and sandals are a poor choice in the rainforest. Ziplining, or canopy tours, were available wherever we went.

8. Taban Hot Springs
These were the most luxurious hot springs I’ve ever visited. An eco-friendly and carbon-neutral resort  in La Fortuna in the Northern Lowlands, Tabacón is fed from a single hot river. The most well-known luxury hot springs resort in Costa Rica, it is quite expensive. We went at night, which is cheaper and included a pass for the next day. It offers many different pools with waterfalls, beautiful landscaping and a fun slide near the swim-up bar. A friend spent her honeymoon here while watching the nearby Arenal Volcano erupt, although the volcano had been quiet for several months before our arrival. There are other hot springs nearby, including the river that feeds into Tabacón, which is right across the street, beneath a bridge. We ended a rainforest tour there the next day, and it was pleasant except for the roaring current that had us clinging to rocks to keep from being swept downstream along with several annoying children. At least that one was free.

7. Wildlife
Costa Rica's incredible flora and fauna were a primary inspiration for choosing the country as a destination, and it did not disappoint. Walking through the rainforests, we saw all three species of monkeys in Costa Ricasquirrel, capuchin and howleras well as sloths, coatimundi, a tapir, tropical birds, beautiful frogs, insects and crabs. Wildlife is so abundant, and viewing the animals in their natural habitat, free from cruel captivity, is the only way I ever wish to see them. We even saw a sloth hanging from a power line above the street, not that this was a good place for him!

6. Night rainforest tour
On our first night in the country, my friend and I hired a local guide, who met us at our accommodations in Bahia Drake with rubber boots and headlamps and took us on a walk down the beach and into the forest. He pointed out numerous kinds of frogs, iguanas and insects, including several Brazilian walking spiders, the most poisonous in Costa Rica. These resemble our much more benign wolf spiders, which also hunt their prey on foot. We saw many bioluminescent insects as well and could even spot the glowing eyes of spiders from a distance.

While sloshing through a shallow creek, our guide jumped and stopped short after nearly stepping on a fer-de-lans, the
“ultimate pit viper,” which he called the most dangerous snake in the country. Apparently, a bite can kill a person if the victim doesn’t receive treatment within four hours, and we were in the middle of nowhere, with boats as the main form of transport.

Adding to the creep factor were many 3-ft. spider webs surrounding our narrow trail, complete with large red and yellow spiders waiting in the center. I got my hand tangled in one of these. My involuntary scream of pure, mortal terror made our poor guide jump again. Fortunately, the spider didn’t come after me, nor did I tear her web, which was very strong.

5. Gorgeous, warm, sunny weather
It was idyllic for the entire trip, in the mid-80s and clear. It rained just a couple of times over 10 days, and only at night.

4. Kayaking through the rainforest 
The river was a short walk from our first accommodations, Hotel Jinetes de Osa in Bahia Drake, and my fun new acquaintances and I paddled a ways down the peaceful river and stopped to swim and then to race kayaks. We were thrilled to see several white-faced capuchin monkeys cross the river above us. The mothers carried their babies and were particularly cautious as they jumped from tree to tree. They were very close, and one jumped down to the riverside near where I had parked my kayak to watch them. He snatched a praying mantis, bit off its head and sucked out the innards.

3. Beautiful beaches
One of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever been blessed to visit was on the Pacific side of the country in Manuel Antonio National Park, which abuts the rainforest and is known for monkeys on the beach. The turquoise water was the ideal temperature for swimming, with a gentle rocking current and silky light sand. A few large black rocks protruded from the water near the shore. This was a decadently lazy afternoon.

2. The Sloth Sanctuary
We visited the sanctuary  in Cahuita, near Puerto Viejo, on our last day in the country before our flight. Greeter sloth Buttercup was very engaged and reached out to us from her swing. I was captivated by the sloths’ peaceful, gentle, low-key, trusting personalities. We arrived too late for a regular tour, but “sloth whisperer” Judy Avey-Arroyo kindly gave us our very own personal tour and introduced us to the adorable babies in the orphanage. Her deep love for and dedication to the sloths were obvious. So much is unknown about these fascinating, threatened animals, and I want to return someday to volunteer.  http://www.slothsanctuary.com

1. Jet Ski tour with dolphins and whales
Although jet skiing was not on my list of things to do, I begrudgingly took the opportunity when it was discounted for us by a guide after he told us that the sunset sail we were reserved for had been canceled. My friend and I each hopped a jet ski, which were very fun and exciting to drive, and followed our guide into the Pacific off the coast of Manuel Antonio. After miles of speeding along, we were rewarded by seeing dolphins jumping as the sun began to set. Soon after, we spotted a family of humpback whales nearby. I stopped my engine, and the whales glided beneath me. It was so surreal to be in their powerful, peaceful presence as they surfaced and submerged around us. It felt otherworldly and exhilarating. Even though we were only halfway through our vacation, my friend and I agreed that it could've ended right then, and we would've been satisfied.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Animals at Burning Man

Burning Man in some ways can be described as animalistic and primal, but it is virtually absent of nonhuman animal life. Upon my exit of the playa, I welcomed the first dog I ran into like an old friend I hadn’t realized I’d missed so much. Burning Man also does not permit companion animals, for good reason.

Anything goes as far as Burning Man attire, including nothing but the skin on your back. Burners often wear little during the day in light of 90-degree temperatures and a free, liberal atmosphere. But the nights are cold, and wise burners bundle up, many in the faux fur coats that are extremely popular on the playa. The fuzzy, bulky coats are often colorful, fun and handmade, and some even glow in the dark. They contribute to the lighthearted nature of Burning Man.
Then there is the dark side of Burning Man: Despite the playa’s lack of wild animals, every night thousands of rabbit, fox and coyote corpses appeared. After attending the festival in 2008, I was surprised and dismayed at the number of people wearing dead animals this year, in the form of fur coats, shawls, trim and other pieces. It's pretty easy to recognize real fur when you live with a rabbit. Some furs looked new, some were vintage, and some were parts such as tails. All (even roadkill) promote the idea that animal suffering is OK for human vanity and a twisted sense of fashion.
To make one fur coat, you must kill an average of 40 animals, depending on the animal used. With nearly 54,000 people attending this month, there were easily 10,000 dead animals at Burning Man this year in fur alone. Support of the fur trade and the myth of fur as fashion supports:
  • Fur farms, where animals are confined to tiny, filthy cages and killed by anal or genital electrocution or neck breaking
  • Trapping, in which an animal will try to chew her own leg off to escape
  • The brutal theft of the lives of sentient beings whose sole wish and right is to live
While real fur comes with a stigma of cruelty, faux fur, or “playa fur,” is fun and comes free of the animal suffering pricetag. When one guy posted a question about whether or not to bring a real fur coat to Burning Man, one commenter remarked that no one would know the difference. Another replied: “Well, except for the fact that my faux fur coat is white with fuchsia tips, and my faux fur chaps are fluorescent green... Yah, nobody can tell the differencelol.” It’s also cheap, easy to use to create costumes and bike décor, and easy to clean. 
I hope that the playa dust destroyed the real fur worn at this year’s Burning Man and that future years will feature more faux fur and far fewer corpses littering the desert and putting a very unnecessary, ugly mark on all the love and good cheer at Burning Man.


Saturday, September 17, 2011

A Fish Tale

Waiting for the school bus alone at the end of our long driveway would've been very boring, had it not been for the fish.

The large-mouthed bass, bluegills and sunfish found food in the seaweed but were accustomed to receiving treats from me and the neighborhood kids. When we walked around the pond, schools of fish followed us, keenly watching for any ripple created by a tossed snack.

Every day before school, I shared bites of my lunch with them. Two fish became particularly excited by my visits to the pond and developed a trust in me that no other fish had shown. A plump bluegill I named Blue and his little sunfish friend, Sunny, would spot me from afar and hurry across the pond side by side, creating twin ripples at the water's surface. They stopped as close to the shore as they could and waited for me. The tips of their small fins sometimes emerged above the surface of the shallow water as I hand-fed them pieces of sandwich. Blue and Sunny accepted each morsel slowly and gently, careful to never nibble a finger.

At the end of every winter I waited eagerly for the ice to thaw to see my friends again. One spring day as I descended the driveway, one telltale ripple appeared in the pond, and I spotted the tiny fins headed my way. Blue arrived alone. Sunny had not survived the winter.

Blue never replaced his companion, nor did he change his routine. Each day, he kept a lookout for the little girl carrying the lunchbox, and his small blue body swayed quickly from side to side as he raced across the pond to meet me.

What’s Behind Your Wool Coat? (2008)

Money is power, and we are empowered with our choices about where to spend our dollars. As a conscious consumer, I'm a label reader. I scrutinize not only the labels on my food and household products, but also on the clothing I buy. Demand causes supply, and I don't want to contribute to a demand for products that cause animals to suffer in order to supply them to me.

Last year, I needed a dressy winter coat, but most of the coats I found online or in stores contained wool.

Sadly, our images of sheep peacefully grazing in the Alps until the Swiss Miss girl comes and gently combs away their wool to keep them cool could not be further from reality in our mass-produced market. What I'm going to tell you about is the reality of the wool industry.

We don't *need* to kill sheep for wool, right? But we do. And we do it very cruelly.

Australia leads the world's wool producers, producing half the merino wool and 30 percent of all wool used worldwide. The country exploits more than 100 million sheep, and it is considered normal in the Australian wool industry for as many as 6 million to die each season as a result of neglect, starvation, disease, and exposure. Flocks usually consist of thousands of sheep, making it impossible to give attention to individual needs.

Within weeks of birth, lambs' ears are hole-punched, their tails are chopped off, and the males are castrated without anesthetics by one of the most painful methods of castration possible.

Shearers are usually paid by volume, not by the hour, which encourages fast work without regard for the welfare of the sheep. According to industry publications, shearers clip more than 350 sheep in one day. Says one eyewitness: "[T]he shearing shed must be one of the worst places in the world for cruelty to animals … I have seen shearers punch sheep with their shears or their fists until the sheep's nose bled. I have seen sheep with half their faces shorn off …."


But that's not all.

In Australia and New Zealand, the most commonly raised sheep are merinos, who are specifically bred to have wrinkled skin, which means more wool per animal. This unnatural overload of wool causes some animals to die of heat exhaustion during hot months, and the wrinkles collect urine and moisture. Attracted to the moisture, flies lay eggs in the folds of skin, and the hatched maggots can eat the sheep alive.

In order to mitigate this condition, called "flystrike," Australian ranchers perform a barbaric procedure called mulesing, which involves carving huge strips of skin and flesh off the backs of lambs' legs and around their tails—with no painkillers whatsoever. This is done to cause smooth, scarred skin that won't harbor fly eggs, yet the bloody wounds often get flystrike anyway before they heal.

One farmer—who successfully protects his sheep from flystrike by using a combination of fly traps, chemical sprays, breed selection, and grazing management—attributed the industry's resistance to giving up mulesing to "a bit of old-boys'-club arrogance in a once-grand industry that is now struggling a bit."


The terror sheep endure today does not end with mulesing. When sheep age and their wool production declines, they are sold for slaughter. This results in the cruel live export of 6.5 million sheep every year from Australia to the Middle East and North Africa. Sheep are crammed aboard enormous multitiered open-deck ships, and severe overcrowding causes many to be trampled to death or to starve when they cannot reach food and water. Treated as mere cargo, sick or injured sheep may be thrown overboard to drown or be eaten by sharks, or tossed alive into shipboard grinders.

Investigators found that animals were dragged off the ships by their ears and legs, bound and thrown into the trunks of cars, and slaughtered in prolonged and cruel ways that are illegal in the United States, Europe, and Australia.


Upon learning these facts, many people ask where they can find humane wool. It's difficult to find considering that the raising and shearing of sheep even outside of Australia is often inhumane, and it's extremely hard to tell where a wool product originated.

An Internet search for humane wool turned up an organization that boasted to be the first sheep farm in the United States to be "certified humane" by major "humane" organizations. However, it also offers "flavorful lamb cuts." I suspect that like "humane meat," "humane wool" is an oxymoron, unless perhaps it comes from private individuals on a subsistence scale, rather than companies exploiting animals for profit.

The only way to be certain that you are avoiding wool from sheep raised in Australia and New Zealand is to avoid wool altogether, and boycotting merino wool is a great step in the right direction. You can also buy clothing from retailers that have pledged not to sell Australian merino wool products until mulesing and live exports have ended, such as American Eagle Outfitters, Abercrombie & Fitch, Timberland, Aéropostale, and Limited Brands.

Alternatives to wool include cotton, cotton flannel, polyester fleece, synthetic shearling, and other cruelty-free fibers. Tencel—which is breathable, durable, and biodegradable—is one of the newest cruelty-free wool substitutes. Polartec Wind Pro, which is made primarily from recycled plastic soda bottles, is a high-density fleece with four times the wind resistance of wool, and it also wicks away moisture.

As for me, I'll keep reading labels. Last winter I finally found a soft, warm coat that met my needs but was completely synthetic. My first opportunity to wear it was at Farm Sanctuary in NY last Christmas, where I met Thelma, a beautiful sheep who followed me around to be petted. I was really happy with my choice as a consumer. I could hug this sheep knowing that my coat had not been manufactured out of the blood and suffering of other sheep like her.