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A Little Bit of Chicken Love

August 24, 2011

I have been asked if chickens feel. Emotions. Thoughts. Sometimes I am told whether they do or not (and when I *am* being told, it’s to let me know they don’t). I am unsure of the nuances and depth of chicken thought and feelings. I know they experience emotions, I have seen it. This is irrefutable to me. It is simple fact made complex by people.

Today I watched two animals bond. It was a simple act of comfort being offered and accepted. I cannot describe it in any other way.

There is a hen who has a bad eye. The eye, it squints. There is perhaps difficulty seeing. When she cannot see, she becomes uncomfortable in her skin. You can see it by the way she turns in circles, keeping her good eye to the world. When the good eye is turned the wrong way, towards the center of the circle, her world winnows down and she paces, circles, paces, circles. You want to reach out and help her but know quickly how flighty she is, how afraid of humans a hen from a battery cage operation becomes.

Her good eye suddenly catches sight of white, feather, fluff. The soft down of another bird. Carefully, she investigates. Sometimes those she seeks to touch retaliate with pecks or move away. Sometimes chickens are moody and cruel. She stands in front of the other bird, then sidles to the side – I am no threat, she says, remember me? The other bird appears to do so. She is an ex-battery cage hen too.

Under the misters, they touch. Squinty-eyed hen circles the seeing hen, leaning into her, deeply, superficially, but always touching. She drapes a head over her companion’s back. She touches the comb of her friend, gently. At one point, she falls deeply into the contours of the hen’s body, filling the small “s”. A perfect connection.

But this photo is my favorite moment. It is the second the hen with the squinty eye can totally relax it. She does not struggle to keep her bad eye open. She closes it. She has a friend.

Squishy Snuggles

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Holding Onto Sorrow

July 25, 2011
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My little note: I am a firm believer that things will get better, that progress will continue to be made for all oppressed beings. But this post is less about that and more about sadness. Just want to express that caveat – I think we have the right, have earned it, to feel what I believe are healthy emotions, like sorrow.

The horror of Harris Ranch, for me, is that I only ever really see the animals suffering on it after leaving the Animal Rights Conference held in Los Angeles. Nothing ruins a great weekend of inspiring animal rights activists like a barren drylot with thousands of cows and steers awaiting death.

You don’t see this feedlot – which can hold up to 120,000 animals at one time – while going south. You smell it, but can avoid (unwillingly or not) seeing, truly gazing upon, the thousands of cows* who live that smell.

Traveling north, unless you take a longer route, will take you directly by.

I hate the place.

I hate it not because it is run by people who profit off the oppression and abuse of sentient beings.

I hate it because it exists in the open and no one cares.

I hate it because no matter what I do, no matter how many vegan meals I eat, I know the fate of those beautiful creatures, know that nothing I do now in this very moment means anything to them, to their future.

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Pigs – A Happier Note

June 30, 2011
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Mercy for Animals is always depressing me with their undercover investigations, and their recent one at a pig farm is no exception (warning: video automatically starts playing, it’s not pretty). They leave me feeling like I’m one of a few sane people in a really messed up world. I mean, by this point, why isn’t the whole world mostly vegan – these videos aren’t exceptions, they’re rules, standard industry practices.

Sally Snuggles with StaffI want to celebrate pigs and all the cool stuff about them. Like how they generally really like people and yeah, you can snuggle with them in ways you can’t with a dog – even a big one. This is Sally and she is totally into the whole “lay on top of me” interaction. Pigs are very tactile animals and are especially fond of belly rubs. There is no species who loves belly rubs like a pig. This is irrefutable fact that you can see in action at any farmed animal sanctuary in the world!

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Flying Away

June 27, 2011
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A couple weeks ago, Celeste flushed out a wild turkey hen from brush at the sanctuary. In a flurry of motion and flapping, the hen leaped in the air and took flight. There was grace and strength in that motion.

Every time I see a wild turkey fly, I think of what domestic white- and bronze-breasted turkeys lack, what has been taken from them by humans.

Wild TurkeysThese are wild turkeys. They are either the Eastern or Rio Grande subspecies. Every season, they congregate to meet and breed. The tom turkeys fill their chests with air, puffing up proudly for the hens. It’s a sight to behold, ten or twelve males with their flagging tails and deep-throat gobbles. They reside on the sanctuary, alongside the rescued turkeys.

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Food Is A Right, Not A Privilege, Orlando Riding The Failboat

June 14, 2011

Around 15 volunteers from the Orlando Foot Not Bombs chapter have been arrested for, oh my gosh hold your breath, feeding homeless people! I know, right? I love the Orlando chapter, because they are all smiling being walked away in handcuffs, those miscreants! Orlando doesn’t have anything more important to worry about, like a violent crime rate 4 times the national average. No, it’s those homeless people being fed within two miles of City Hall that pose the real threat. Look at them, so scary.

If you live in or outside of Orlando, feel free to sign this petition. Petitions are feel-good tactics, so feel good about it.

I don’t know about writing Orlando officials. The douche-canoes totally defended their law in court, because ZOMG HOMELESS PEOPLE EATING FOOD! It’s not murder that reduces tourism, it’s pancakes.They should do a billboard campaign with a picture of a pancake stabbing someone to death, then we’d all get their point and support Orlando city officials in the cause to get grits off the streets of Orlando!

Or start your own Food Not Bomb chapter and kick some butt with vegan/vegetarian food.

On “The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary” by Andrew Westoll

June 10, 2011

As a vegan and animal rights activist, I can easily review Andrew Westoll’s “The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary: A True Story of Resilience and Recovery” by focusing, perhaps to the point of ranting, about speciesism and exceptionalism. After all, what discussion about any kind of rights for chimps or other apes doesn’t come down to how much they are like humans; they’re exceptional because we’re exceptional. We should treat them better than we treat other nonhumans simply because they are fortunate enough to share so many qualities (and genes) with we who are at the top of the evolutionary heap.

But a rant like that would detract from the good a book like this could do for its target market: the mainstream “animal-loving” public, and for animals. Yes, there’s some linguistic housekeeping. For instance, there’s a bit of confusion about animal rights and animal welfare. And yes, I would love to meet the person who made the decisions about when animals were to be called “he” or “she” and when they were to be called “it.” Perhaps the strangest choice of verbiage comes at the end of a description of the horror and anxiety chimps in laboratories experience when their friends are shot with dart guns in order to render them unconscious. The page-long passage gave me the chills but then ended with: “Even if the knockdown is only for a blood draw or cage transfer, to the casual observer it looks and sounds and smells as if the ape believes it is about to be murdered” (70-71). “It” is about to be “murdered”? My chills were replaced by irritation. There’s also a jab at vegans: “In the lab the chimpanzees had been fed a joyless diet of water and monkey chow—dehydrated ricks of protein, carbohydrates, and nutritional supplements that would be enjoyable only to the most abstemious of vegans” (93). But I’m going to look beyond my pet peeves, which are well represented, and focus on the many positives the book has to offer.

Onward.

Thirteen chimps are housed at Quebec’s Fauna Sanctuary when primatologist-turned-writer, Andrew Westoll arrives for his several month stay. He will volunteer and learn/write about them, their primary caregiver, Gloria Grow, and, as he discovers, himself. The majority of the chimps are research subjects who “had endured years of pain and deprivation as living test tubes for the study of human diseases. They’d been torn from their mothers just days after birth. They’d been imprisoned in cages, sometimes in solitary confinement. They’d undergone blood draws, invasive surgeries, and viral experiments. Some had been knocked unconscious with dart guns almost every week” (10). The rest are from nearby zoos. Regardless, all had been in the same position for years: the basic choices of their everyday lives were taken away from them, and they were prisoners.

Ironically, they’re still prisoners, and that fact is discussed. It’s not as if they could possibly be returned to the wild, as that’s not where most of them are from (they were captive bred). Their needs are met as best as any human could ever meet them, and that’s really what the book is about. There is history of research with chimps as subjects and the individuals are placed within the context of our use of animals for science as well as entertainment (and food is briefly mentioned). Current legislation is discussed and there are calls to action. All but a few people have used and continue to use the chimps. We continue to take from them, even when we visit them, expecting them to present us with some profound lesson as if that’s their job.

But the real story is the individual chimps and the woman who has dedicated her life to listening to them and doing her level best to provide them with an environment and opportunities that will help them heal. It’s a story of unconditional love. Not insignificant is also the story of the writer who longs to have a fraction of what Gloria has with the chimps. He’s well aware of the costs of what she has and I’d say he probably doesn’t think he could handle more than a fraction.

Here at Animal Rights & AntiOppression, we’ve spent quite a bit of time exploring what works in animal rights advocacy. Westoll speaks of “a peculiar truth” he “realizes” and I’m fairly certain some activists would disagree with his pronouncement of truth. Nevertheless . . .”[I]n order for people to commit themselves fully to fighting injustice, they must first witness an extreme example of it” (143). What do you think of that? Far less controversial is Westoll’s realization that the day we begin to see animals as individuals is the day our world begins to turn upside down (to paraphrase him, 168). I’m sure every vegan can relate to that; helping people see animals as individuals is a large part of what we do.

Finally, Gloria originally thought that once people learned what the chimps have been through, their lives would be changed, just as hers was. But that’s not what happens. She wonders what it will take to get people to make the connections that are right in front of them, clear as day. I certainly empathize with that. We show graphic footage, we tell the stories of individuals without graphic footage. We provide unfathomably large numbers—uncontested numbers—to attest to the carnage we create for something as trivial as our palates. We describe health problems and environmental devastation. And yet, the vast majority of people will continue to not care (as measured by their actions).

Westoll provides an insider’s view of the lives, loves, habits and quirks of the individual chimpanzees of Fauna Sanctuary. Many passages describing the sentient nonhumans, if read alone, can easily be about humans. From their gestures to their emotions to the games they play, they are so much like us that it’s especially unfair for us to use them the way we have. Or so the story goes.

I’m torn because though all chimps being used by humans right now deserve sanctuary, for me they don’t deserve it because they are chimps. The rats and mice and pigs and dogs in laboratories around the world are just as deserving of the opportunity to heal from the hells we have created for them. Perhaps chimps will be the gateway animals, and rights for others will follow. It might not be able to be said that granting rights to chimps or banning invasive research on them will necessarily be good for all animals. But it will definitely be good for chimps, and I don’t think I can come down against that.

What do you think?

Neighborhood Vegan Food Sharing Week

June 8, 2011
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A few years ago some curious omnis asked me “what do vegans eat?” They didn’t just want to know food groups and ingredients, they were interested in hearing specific examples of what I eat for meals. When I mentioned that I had a great and easy recipe for chili, and that it had won 2nd place in a work chili cook-off against non-veg chilis, it sparked the idea for a routine (if not regular) get together where we’d choose recipes and make a vegan feast together.

It was an exploration for all of us, many times the recipes we chose used ingredients none of us had ever used, or made things none of us had ever tried. It was a fun social experience for us to explore grocery stores and cook together; we always had a good time, learned quite a lot, and they were always impressed with the food we made. I’d gotten into the habit of photocopying the recipes we’d use to make it easier on us in the kitchen, and so they always had copies of the recipes we’d made at the end of the night.
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