On leather

Leather is not vegan
Leather is probably one of the easiest things for a vegan to give up. It’s probably the proof that just refusing to eat animals doesn’t cover all the bases, and is part of a wider view. It’s often the first rationale for someone (vegetarian or omnivore) to consider being vegan.

Leather requires the death of an animal. Death and captivity are never in an animal’s interest. That’s the basic, most obvious claim of any veg*n.

But beyond that, it’s not a pleasant death. It’s not given by a potent toxin that causes animals to peacefully drift off. The animals are “harvested” by electrocution. There are almost no enforced standards for humane killing of animals for leather. Accidents, meaning not successfully stunning an animal before harvest, are both common and completely tolerated.

The label “genuine leather” isn’t a guarantee that a piece of clothing came from a cow, either. It’s quite possible (even likely) that it came from a dog or other, more readily-available animal. After all, animals used for leather are usually killed only for their leather and their carcasses converted to fertilizer.

Tuesday ~ October 7, 2014 by b

Posted in advocacy,veg | 7,028 Comments | blog@goodtofu.org

testing animalia

I have a gripe with testing medications on non-humans. In those cases where it might remotely be useful, the animals are most like us. They’re the animals who think most like us. Those who say they aren’t conscious or sentient or sapient (they’re all of the above, it’s considered standard knowledge) are ignoring the fact that their similarity in exactly those ways is why they were chosen. The scientists who are researching on monkeys disagree with the common folk who support it, and on the most basic ethical level. After saying this in various ways for more than 15 years, I’m still waiting for a strong counterargument.

In other parts of the world, there’s a movement to give chimps the status of personhood, in terms of what’s allowable in terms of their treatment. A lot of people skoff at the idea, but it’s probably not as radical as most might think. The basic fundamental rights inherent to being a person are actually rather limited, in any legal sense. And it rests partly on the premise that some species might best belong in the Homo genus, on a biological basis. The past members of Homo don’t seem particularly bright, yet we recognize them as our own. Evolution is a funny thing. We didn’t suddenly become human in one generation, rising up from the non-concious monkeys. We are monkeys, we haven’t really changed enough biologically to fit elsewhere. Given the write environment, they even talk to us in our own language. I’d have a hard time doing that with someone of a different nationality, on intellectual grounds.

My fave movie (I, Robot), has an interesting scene that drives home the point. In it, a detective questions whether a sentient robot (Sonny) deserves personhood:

Detective Del Spooner: Human beings have dreams. Even dogs have dreams, but not you, you are just a machine. An imitation of life. Can a robot write a symphony? Can a robot turn a… canvas into a beautiful masterpiece?
Sonny: Can *you*?

For example, some monkeys can catch SIV, a virus that’s similar to HIV. Cats also can contract a similar virus named FIV. You’re never in any danger of catching either, because they can’t survive and reproduce and spread inside the human body. Yet were supposed to accept, as an unproven issue of faith that some the thing with stops SIV in apes will also stop HIV in humans. Nevermind that the two diseases have different sets of symptoms. It’s like saying I can be in the World Series because my brother hit a home run in a pick-up game last night. And then everyone begs: but the similarity exists. The burden of proof has never been met. in one hundred years of using the same techniques – long outdated – it was never conclusively proven to produce accurate results. So far we know chain-smoking 24/7 can cause cancer… if the soot is rubbed into the skin and never washed off. Show me a rabbit stepping outside for a smoke break. Because if the testing were conducted entirely within the human population, that’s the level of similarity required for useful results. We simply don’t do experiments like that, with such sweeping conclusions about the organism as a whole, in other scientific fields. Hell, even when drugs are tested on humans, the practical effect in a doctor’s prescription isn’t completely the same. The gold standard should be statistical analysis of a human population. The picky patient isn’t settling for anything less, today.

Laboratory testing is not actually wanted by the research companies. It’s expensive, and unreliable, and has negative political consequences. It’s no insulation against lawsuits for releasing harmful drugs, precisely because its inaccuracy is well-known and considered insufficient. However, it is legally required by the federal government. Those who disagree with the government touching your healthcare should take a step back to think about what they should really be saying wrt animal testing. It’s done for political reasons, to appease voters who don’t know better and have little relationship or understanding of how new drugs are created. A technique one hundred years old is unlikely to produce the fine-grained detail of the techniques designed to replace it. They pre-date pennicilin. By the way, those replacement techniques are used in every country with more advanced research than our own. Despite what politicians and well-meaning patriots say, the US is not at the forefront of drug research. We’re not even second. [document]. We provide a lot of money for it, but money is no substitute for skill. On the whole, they result in a much safer (to humans) set of drugs.

Thursday ~ November 15, 2012 by b

Posted in advocacy,veg | 6,994 Comments | blog@goodtofu.org

On Pigs

part of a series exploring the specific harm presented by exploiting particular animals or by particular animal products

Pigs are cool. They’re more intelligent than dogs, for starters.

They also dominate animal agriculture.

Many parts are used for animal products. Not just meat for eating but also fat for lard, soap, fertilizer, testing of animal tissue destruction by firearms in the armed forces, cartilage and other connective tissue for gelatin.

Pigs in domestic agriculture live in crowded barns, with concrete grates for flooring. The grates are there so that their waste can be easily hosed down into the subflooring, where it is then pumped into a pond next to the barn. There’s no soft ground, dirt, or mud within sight. Just pig crap on steel. The barns smell bad enough that when you wear clothing into one, it must be washed several times to no long smell offensive. Pigs naturally live in clean mud, not their feces. They don’t sweat, so the mud is used to cool off. They actually go to great lengths to remain clean.

Most pigs in domestic agriculture receive a steady battery of drugs to plump them up. Unfortunately, many develop joint problems as a result and are effectively crippled. However, when pigs receive injuries on the farm (including broken legs), they do not typically receive treatment. A broken leg or two in the group is common when moving pigs between barns and trucks.

All baby pigs have their tails docked (by a red-hot knife) and molars removed (by pliers) without anesthesia. If their tails are left natural, they will eat each other’s tails when confined in an overcrowded barn. Piglets spend most of their time waiting in highly overcrowded pens.

Mother pigs (sows) spend their lives in a pen small enough that they cannot usually turn around. They occasionally crush a piglet without knowing.

Slaughterhouse conditions for pigs are nightmarish. The production lines of restrained pigs moves so quickly that many are not properly stunned and anesthetized before slaughter. Pigs who survive their intended slaughter don’t receive any sort of mercy killing by slaughterhouse workers. Some live until they reach other parts of the slaughterhouse, like where boiling water is used to remove skin.

So there’s a steady progression of problems that pigs face from birth to slaughter, when raised on farms.

Sunday ~ June 24, 2012 by b

Posted in advocacy,veg | 7,435 Comments | blog@goodtofu.org

Chimps one step closer to full protection

The National Institute of Health has decided that most Chimpanzee research is unnecessary and should be phased out.

The rationale?

From the NIH press release:

However, new methods and technologies developed by the biomedical community have provided alternatives to the use of chimpanzees in several areas of research.

CBS News explains the scope of the new rules:

Collins also announced the NIH temporarily barred new government-funded studies involving chimps as his agency began implementing the new limits. The NIH will also decide whether to phase out about 37 ongoing projects, half of which Collins said probably don’t meet the new standards.

The rule changes only apply to government-funded experiments, not private research. Nonetheless, it’s nice to codify the sentiment that chimpanzee research is generally unethical, even if there are exceptions seen today in practice. I’m not at all sure (yet) about chimp research, but in general animal testing is conducted in the U.S. almost solely because it is required for FDA certification of new drugs. That requirement is generally considered outdated by the scientific community, something added after research is basically complete. Note that places in the world with more stringent rules and bans on animal research also tend to create and certify new drugs years ahead of U.S. schedules.

Some researchers want to use chimps in medical research is because they are like us biologically and mentally. That sounds like a macabre rationale to me. Destroying something or someone doesn’t become more ethical because it’s like an activity most people would label criminally violent.

Friday ~ December 16, 2011 by b

Posted in advocacy,news | 7,334 Comments | blog@goodtofu.org

compromises

“The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off.” — Margaret Mead

I think some may not understand that “vegan” describes the general concept of life without exploitation of animals. Without reliance on animal agriculture. Most vegan groups describe being vegan as attempting to realize an ideal thru practical actions. The idea of compromising to live in the real universe has always been a defining part of being vegan. It’s the reason for the phrase “as far as is possible and practical”, not a technicality.

The word “veganism”denotes a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude — as far as is possible and practical — all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.

That doesn’t mean the end decision is any different, as The Vegan Lightbulb pointed out.

Abolishing animal killing and slavery (known as abolitionism) requires a steady, committed hand. Luckily, that’s how human minds actually like to work, as it lets us form these things called “habits” that we spend the vast majority of our life doing. The process lets humans be both committed to a line of action and on autopilot without thinking “omgwtffbqq must be vegan” 24/7. It lets us do things like drive, get ready in the morning before fully awake, keep pets alive, take medications daily, eat at similar times every day… the list just goes on to describe much of what we do. Basically, we can be vegan because we are human. But frankly, a few weeks of being vegan pretty much means one is a vegan & can treat it as “normal” or habitual.

I know points when I will compromise. I don’t ask if my injections were grown in chicken eggs, or refuse them if tested on animals, or any other medical choice when there is no vegan alternative. Most vegans I’ve met seem to feel very similarly and none have condemned anyone for making use of any medical products. In my mind this is not even compromising, as it’s implied by the definition of “vegan” being those things which are practical. The point is to prove that many, many non-vegan things can be done in a vegan but practical way. The trappings of cults are conspicuously absent.

But what about the leftovers? Not just the family turkey dinner (“don’t make so much next time, then”), but also things like the leather jacket or even hotpants, the shoes, the leather trim and upholstery that people seem to like against their own bodies (ew, that’s just nasty in a bad way), the wool sweaters, the 20-yo coat with “fur” trim that might not be real… the list goes on as long as any evangelical anti-vegan can stand to talk. There’s no list in the mind of a vegan, so it’s not exactly an exercise in how consistently a vegan thinks. A vegan is human, and therefore must be inconsistent at some point. We’re in the habit of eating meat, but it’s a habit and not a requirement. We are not slaves.

It simply blows minds, apparently, to conceive of an ethical systems that intentionally has guidelines with individual interpretations rather than strict rules. The differences are intentional and might stir useful debate, not something to divisively fight over. Just as much as it blows minds that an ethical framework won’t answer other questions & even cooperates with other frameworks (like religion or social politics). Again, this is another source of compromise when it comes to being vegan.

To me, I’ll sacrifice (indirectly) the well-being of another animal when it’s required to avoid permanent harm to another human being. I will not forget my vegan ethics for something that I feel would personally be purely an issue of convenince for me. I will try new vegan products that I don’t need or like, simply to be an authority if anyone asks me about them.

So I came up with a list of “compromises” I make, when most people might think I’m not being the Best Vegan Possible.

always compromise:

  • medical care
  • elections
  • gray (situational):

  • pets (mine aren’t vegan)
  • tobacco
  • refined sugar
  • old non-vegan clothing
  • dyes
  • places I won’t settle (I’ll reliably send these back to the producer):

  • honey
  • basic meals
  • restaurants
  • zoos
  • seafood
  • insects
  • new clothing, even gifts
  • luxury goods
  • upholstery (even rented, where possible)
  • I do have guiding principles that help me to define my preferences and frame situations inside a vegan ethic.

    As for which animals are on & off limits… basically most things in the animal kingdom. I don’t need to split hairs about which are “ok”, so I won’t. Life’s too short to be that complex. In practice that means no products from seafood or insects.

    I’ll always choose vegan when there’s a choice presented as a matter of taste or preference. After seeing videos of sheep shearing and animal slaughter and a billion other instances of animal agriculture in video and in-person, I’m pretty sure that I don’t want non-vegan things. Interestingly, most non-vegans agree with me on this point. The vast majority don’t like being reminded of that agreement.

    I will not sacrifice my immediate, acute health for the sake of a vegan ethic. I am an animal, too. I have a right to self-defense that is above judgment from others who do not fully understand my viewpoint. Only a very few, rare individuals can’t relate and say similarly.

    I will base my choices on reality, not obscure and irrelevant hypothetical situations designed to see what’s vegan… in obscure and irrelevant situations unrelated to meaningful science or ethics. No one really knows if they’d eat an already-dead wild boar if absolutely required to survive on a barren desert island. I’ve never heard of a child beginning to support animal rights because of a zoo, or supported their propaganda. I don’t have a choice between cancer treatments designed from animal tests and those designed from statistical analysis (which is actually scientific). I’ve never pretended to be better. I’m not better. That’s part of the point. I wouldn’t voluntarily face the choice, anyway. But I do voluntarily go to restaurants.

    I accept that any system or even body of rules has limits which require common sense and practical experience above dogma, a point where things break down at the edge. Somehow many anti-vegans find this stance more offensive than making a dish creamier by killing someone smarter than any family pet that they’ve taken care of. Apparently this rationale for killing is acceptable when planned in advance of the animal’s birth.

    Friday ~ October 14, 2011 by b

    Posted in advocacy,veg | 6,188 Comments | blog@goodtofu.org

    dinner story

    We sat down at the table, assuming our usual places.

    Dave (the redneck of the group) took a seat at the end, and looked thru the menu. Mary ordered a chef’s salad. John asked about the specials; he always liked the “freshest” dish, and claimed that the chef would promote “freshest” rather than “stock he’s trying to get rid of”.

    We’d filed in past a group of protesting Humanitarians coming in.

    “Self-righteous pricks. What gives them any right to tell me what to eat anyway? It’s my body.” mumbled Dave, with an over-emphasis on common sense.

    “They always kinda give me the creeps” said Mary. “Can’t they just go protest somewhere else?”

    “Hey now, they’re just speaking their conscience,” I chided. “I actually agree with their ideas, just not their methods.”

    Dave made noises like a crying child loudly, that mutated into a loud snore. Then he stopped and deftly proclaimed “I’m just kidding you, GT. We all respect your opinion.”

    Mary relayed a story to me, an explanation that all of the feeder-babies would never have had good homes. That they got better treatment on the farm, perhaps even more attention. That they couldn’t survive in the wild because they’d been raised in captivity. That they were all slaughtered humanely. That Green Babies were available for anyone really concerned about farm conditions and not just gathering followers and donations. I had answers to these questions that ae well-known and obvious to most humanitarians, but I didn’t bother presenting them. This wasn’t a debate, however much it pretended to be one. It was about the carnivores feeling good about their actions despite having a humanitarian in their ranks. I was a prop, not a participant.

    Dave mumbled about how it wasn’t right to avoid eating babies. “They’ve got all the good nutrients. It’s natural to eat them.” also “Besides, GT, we ate at that humanitarian restaurant last Friday, so it’s all good. We’re just taking turns and it’s only fair that you come here more. There’s more of us”. Dave was very proud of this logic and became angry when it was questioned. Then he made gagging motions and complained about the taste of tofu.

    So I ordered a salad, no cheese, no dressing. I fully expected the waiter to simply move the smokey-toe flavored bbq sauce to the side, not realizing that it was made with smoked toes. I don’t even eat toes; I’m just that hardcore.

    Jane gave an exasperated sigh. “I don’t see how you live without cheese. I mean, I understand how theoretically it’s not nice to the mother to take the breast milk, but it’s not like she needs it anymore.” she added “I just don’t buy that it supports the babiest industry”. Jane dabbled in lacto-ovo Humanitarianism but never really was a radical who went all the way. “But I’m not like Dave; he’s just gross”. She helpfully finished off her point with “Besides, I can’t live without cheese”. I avoided pointing out that most mammals weaned long before puberty with little harm. Best to avoid disturbing anyone while they eat; they just get mad and ignore any logical points.

    Meanwhile, Dave ordered a newborn riblet with a side of fried brains and some sticky fingers w/ dipping sauce as an app. He calmly asked me for the 406th time how I’m Humanitarian but still pro-choice. It was a total contradiction in his world that most humanitarians in this country are pro-choice.

    As we continued on with lunch, I eventually steered the conversation away from discussion of humanitarianism.

    Thursday ~ March 10, 2011 by b

    Posted in advocacy,dining,humor,veg | 2,547 Comments | blog@goodtofu.org

    animals don’t care?

    There’s commonly an argument presented that cows / lab rats / cats / pigs / lobsters simply “don’t care” about some injury being done to them by experiments or farm life.

    First, as proof to the contrary… humans are animals, and we care. Any solid argument that animals don’t care must provide solid evidence that we are somehow unique, proof that a specific mechanism exists uniquely in humans.

    Second, not caring doesn’t mean giving consent. Some humans occasionally have bouts of strong depression. They might care about anything at all, and am basically incapable of caring for general purposes. I am a slug, and won’t really react differently than a despondent animal. However, killing a depressed person would be murder, and today I’d certainly want such a murderer to receive swift justice.

    It’s bullshit. Humans did not invent pain or consciousness, nor completely change the biology of our lower nervous systems. I seriously doubt someone who’s been thinking of anti-AR arguments for even a few hours has proof to the contrary. We like to think we’re different biologically, but the differences are small and not always relevant to our major ethical concerns. Besides, treat a human “like an animal” for a while, and it’s well-known that the aforementioned human will “act like an animal”. Dealing with captivity doesn’t exactly require a college degree.

    Almost all animals to hide pain, injury, and anything else that paints them as a victim. For example, consider a housecat. They live a rough-tumble-life, and beneath the fur are often wearing bruises, minor joint injuries, pulled muscles… when’s the last time you treated a cat for one of those, much less asked your vet for advice on dealing with them? There’s almost no evidence that they feel any less pain from those injuries – and there are reasons to think they’re more sensitive. They do, however, show signs of handling it well psychologically, in the same way that humans might. With major pain like broken limbs, cardiac pain, and similar, they act more like humans. When given post-surgical pain meds, a moderately high dosage for a while improves their prospects… just like with humans. They use the same pain meds (mostly) that we do, and there aren’t significant differences between the respective parts of our nervous systems.

    Yet through it all, your housecat will hardly utter a peep out of pain or abuse. That’s simply not how they respond emotionally. They respond by hiding themselves or the injury, by submitting, by trying to curry favor, by what we’d normally call “toughing it out”. Animals do not live in democracies or anarchist utopias, much like humans did not for most of civilization. They live in hierarchies with clear social positioning and rules of social behavior. Crying out for every pain would be like someone crying out for their freedom every time they saw a list of rules about anything. It doesn’t get the desired attention, so it’s not an obvious thing to do. “Normal” humans don’t even think about it. For animals, don’t expect them to cry out even if retrieved from an overcrowded house thick with ammonia, covered in fleas and long-lasting injuries, and starving. Regardless of how well they respond to improvements (often they’re very happy), they do not complain under normal circumstances. Doing so can get them hurt or killed, even amongst human beings. It does not advance their prospects, unlike for a human crying out in pain. Even humans only react by crying out while among other humans, not nearly so much without their company.

    Nonetheless, some still make the argument that animal abuse cannot exist (or cannot be as severe as human abuse) because an animal is unconscious (in some form… I’ve been waiting half my life to hear some evidence of the claim). Logical extension of that logic means that it’s ok to experiment on, injure, and rough up unconscious or less intelligent humans. I think many would agree that doing such things to an unconscious (sleeping) human may be even worse than doing them to a conscious human – because unconsciousness removes the ability for realistic, practical self-defense. The ability for creating an artistic masterpiece or advance science doesn’t really matter. It would disturb some if intelligence or particular moral creed did matter.

    Tuesday ~ June 8, 2010 by b

    Posted in advocacy,cat | 6,937 Comments | blog@goodtofu.org

    On free ranges

    As the popularity of vegetarianism (in all forms) is increasing, consumers are also choosing animal products which they consider more ethical. The general idea is to remove the harm of animal agriculture by raising animals in a way generally considered “humane”.

    I’m not sure how this really is supposed to work. Even if the treatment were more humane (it’s only that way on very rare occasion), the end result of a painful death for an animal exploited for human fashion or taste hasn’t changed. Also, I tend to view the problems of animal agriculture as systemic, rather than caused by a few malicious or careless people. Zoos, restaurants, and experimentation are all facets of the same treatment, the same anti-animal attitude and perspective. We are fortunate enough to live in a society in which influencing systemic change is possible.

    Before assuming that “free-range” animals are treated significantly better while they are alive, we should look at the actual conditions. For an animal to be considered “free-range” it must have access to the outside during warm times of the year. There’s no minimal limit on how much time, space, or ease in ability to go outside is required. So most free-range chickens spend their lives in a barn with a very small door to a miniscule scrap of completely unsheltered dirt. Not surprisingly, most spend most of their entire lives in conditions identical to non-free-range animals. The machinery, overcrowding, genetic manipulation, and the cocktails of antibiotics and hormones aren’t any different. There’s no meaningful criteria for the label “organic”, either.

    There’s also no meaningful measurement demonstrating that any free-range animals are treated better than their conventionally-raised siblings. No studies (of which I’m aware) show lower rates of stress-related illness. No studies show beneficial effects on human health, either, by the way. No studies demonstrate that free-range animals have a better quality of life in any significant respect. There are absolutely no promises that the siblings and offspring of free-range animals are treated in any way but the most brutal manner, that every part of the process before and after the barn is identical to any other factory farm. Free-range cows product veal calves, male chicks of free-range hens are still ground alive at the processing plant, the slaughterhouse itself doesn’t distinguish, and the pigs still suffer severe injuries during processing. The very idea of “free-range” is an experiment in stop-gap measures, usually marketed at a hefty markup by companies who also sell non-free-range animals. It was a worthy experiment, and like many worthy experiments it ruled out a way that people thought the world might work. Good scientific experiments break a paradigm and demonstrate facts that prior theories cannot account for, long before they support a new hypothesis. Once more, the idea with “free-range” is to exploit and derive a profit from the harm and subsequent sale of animals, just the same as any other manufactured product.

    The ultimate problem with animal agriculture is that animals are reduced to a commodity, from whom it is acceptable to competitively derive a profit. Animals don’t have the right to any sort of fair, decent treatment while they are property. Mainly because something is property when someone’s dominion of it is basically complete, and is to the exclusion of outside authority. We usually refer to property as neuter (“it” referring to an animal), to remove consideration that an animal is a living individual with a personality and a gender, and we do so to protect ourselves. Generally you can’t sue your neighbor for destroying, mismanaging, or neglecting his own property until doing so has harmed you directly. That’s the very heart of arguments presented by the animal agriculture industry in supporting their practices, the claim that they have a right to exist. They have property rights, and it’s only American to respect those property rights unquestionably. It’s the ethical reason that slavery was made illegal – people shouldn’t be the property of other people, as they will inevitably be brutally exploited and derived of their own fundamental rights to being treated humanely. Why should we expect any less when dealing with other species, for whom the average citizen holds far less sympathy? Should it really matter that a single farmer acts “responsibly”, when the basic systemic problem is that doing so is not an obligation?

    That is the core of the rationale behind vegan opposition to using animals outside of merely food. It’s the realization that treating animals as *ours* really screws things up the same way, every time. Even when we say we’re not going to screw up, that the animals are taken care of, that we’re using them to help humans. Even SeaWorld has ridiculously small tanks.

    The basic idea of animal rights is that we have the obligation to treat animals in certain ways. That animals have fundamental rights, much like humans, which have nothing to do with political action or religion – we have rights to not be abused as children, to follow the religion we choose, to not be targeted (as civilians) by armies, to not be slaves. Animal rights argues simply that animals (should) have a similar set of rights – the specifics vary a little as to which, but no one argues that your dog should be allowed to vote. Rejecting the idea of animal rights is rejecting the very idea of an obligation to treat animals in any way whatsoever. That rejection means, almost solely, that animal mistreatment cannot exist simply because any sort of brutal treatment is explicitly allowable. In such a regime, it is naive to assume that someone marketing animals will use the words “ethical treatment” in a meaningful way. Those words mean nothing without the concept of an animal having at least some rights.

    To some, this is at least part of the reason to choose to be vegan rather than another form of vegetarianism.

    Wednesday ~ November 25, 2009 by b

    Posted in advocacy,veg | 6,697 Comments | blog@goodtofu.org