Monday, October 1, 2012

Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit

It's the first day of October!  Which means it's the first day of Vegan MoFo!  And the first day of Vegetarian Awareness Month!  Which means it's World Vegetarian Day!

I figured this would be a good time to talk about why I am vegan and why all of y'all should be vegan.  If you're already happily vegan, yay you!  Tune in tomorrow, when I will have an image-heavy post about how to roast poblano peppers, om nom nom.  If you aren't vegan (yet), are trying to go vegan, or have recently gone vegan and need to be reminded why it is worth giving up cheese, read on.  Or read on if you like pictures of cute animals.  They are after the jump.

Reason #1:  The Critters.

Opal, a long time resident of Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary in Poolesville, MD.  RIP.
This is why I'm vegan.  Because of critters like my late friend Opal, here.  Opal grew up on a factory farm and escaped from a truck as she was being taken to be slaughtered.  She was rescued by two vegans who happened to be driving by, and lived out the rest of her days (about eight years, if I remember correctly) at a beautiful animal sanctuary.  You'll be seeing more pictures from the sanctuary below.  It is one of my favorite places, and if you're not vegan before you go there, one visit should do the trick.

See how Opal's feet are kind of stubby looking?  That's because the farmer cut off the ends of her toes.  This is a standard procedure with birds being raised for slaughter, and it's done so they won't scratch each other when they are crammed together in tiny cages or on a factory farm floor that is jammed like Times Square on New Year's Eve.  When turkeys and chickens have room to move, to live like normal animals, no one has to worry about their claws.  Of course, not having toes made it hard for Opal to walk.  That didn't matter at the factory farm, since she didn't have room to move, and not being able to walk didn't affect how much meat her body produced.

Another thing that made it hard for Opal to walk was her size.  Factory farmed turkeys are bred to have supersized breasts, because that's the part of the turkey people most want to eat.  If they grow to their adult size, their legs cannot support the unnatural weight of their chests.  On a factory farm, of course, these animals only live for a couple months before slaughter.  And they don't have room to walk anywhere, anyway.  Opal's caretakers at the sanctuary often had to carry her where she wanted to go.

It's hard to see in the picture, but Opal was also missing the end of her beak.  Turkeys and chickens on factory farms are "debeaked" shortly after hatching -- again, so they don't peck each other to death in their jam-packed living conditions.  Having your beak cut off hurts.  It's not like getting a haircut.  And there's no anesthesia or pain medication.  Having your beak cut off also makes it hard to eat, but the turkeys manage.

Despite everything humans did to her, Opal was a friendly, loving bird.  She enjoyed being close to people and being petted.  She was a great ambassador for turkey kind.  I miss her.

Many if not most vegans believe it's wrong to kill animals for food, period.  That's what I believe.  I don't think it's OK to kill an animal unless you are killing it to end its suffering (I have had three cats euthanized because they were terminally ill and in pain, and I'm sure there will be more in my future), or you have to kill it in order to save your own life. But even if you don't believe that, I hope you don't believe it's OK to torture animals for no particular reason (if you do, why are you reading this blog? Go away.) .  And that's what happens on modern factory farms, which is where the vast majority of animals raised for food in the U.S. live.

What if you're a vegetarian?  You don't think it's OK to kill animals for food, but you still eat dairy and eggs.  That was me for many years. Here's the problem:  if anything, animals raised to produce milk and eggs are worse off than the ones raised for meat.  For one thing, meat animals get put out of their misery a lot sooner. But there's more.

Remember veal?  You would never eat veal, right?  Veal is cruel.  Well, veal is a by-product of the dairy industry.  In order to give milk, a cow has to give birth to a calf.  Cows don't just give milk all the time through some kind of magic.  They're like any other mammal.  So dairy cows spend a lot of their time pregnant.  And about half the time, they give birth to male calves.  Who don't give milk.  That's where veal comes from.  Whether the calves are male or female, they get taken from their mothers shortly after birth.

As for eggs -- unless your eggs say "cage free" on them, the hens who laid those eggs spend their lives in cages, where each has a living space about the size of an 8 1/2" x 11" sheet of paper.  They can't even spread their wings.  And "cage free" isn't that much better.  The hens aren't in cages, but they are still crammed in so tight they can barely move.  They are still debeaked.  They are still forced to lay unnaturally large numbers of eggs until they are killed.

But I only eat organic dairy and eggs!  Organic milk is from happy cows, right?  I used to think that until I actually did some research.  Organic means organic feed and no antibiotics.  It doesn't mean the animal was treated well.  The only way to know for sure if an animal is treated well is to have a personal relationship with the farmer, or visit undercover like the folks at Compassion Over Killing and other great organizations do.

I could go on.  And if you eat animals or animal products, you should go on.  Do some research.  Know where your food comes from.  Don't live in a happy vegetarian fantasy world the way I did.

Happy pigs enjoying a snack of raw pumpkins.

I was going to go on and talk about all the other reasons to go vegan, but this post is incredibly long already so I'll close with the rest of those cute animal pictures I promised.  I took these pics at Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary during their "Thanksgiving With the Turkeys" celebration.  Even more (and more professional!) pics on the web site.

Another happy turkey.  I think this is Victor.
Lenny the goat.  He's a friendly boy, and those treats by the fence didn't hurt.


  1. I think the point about milk supporting the veal industry is excellent. Veal was the first meat I gave up, when I was 11--and it was a big deal at the time. As for eggs, I found this graphic from the New York Times - - to be pretty compelling. (I'm still not fully vegan, BTW, but like most things, I do the best I can, and I do now eat nearly all eggs from chickens I have met.)

    1. That is an excellent, excellent graphic. And it's even sanitized -- I've seen pictures and video of battery hens that were far worse.