Tuesday, January 15, 2013

"You always had the power"

It's my favorite line from one of my favorite films of all time, The Wizard of Oz.   This line from the end of the movie is said by Glinda, the good Witch, to Dorothy who has so desperately been trying to get home to Kansas.  


Dorothy:  "Oh, will you help me?  Can you help me?"

Glinda:  "You don't need to be helped any longer.  You always had the power to go back to Kansas."

Dorothy:  "I have??"

Scarecrow:  "Then, why didn't you tell her before?"

Glinda:  "Because, she wouldn't have believed me.  She had to learn it for herself."


I think of this more and more often as I get older.  When challenges amass and seem insurmountable, I think to myself, "You can do this, Ethan. You always had the power."  I think of it when I'm facing enormous odds against success of one sort or another.  I think of it when the task at hand feels overwhelming and too hard to even start.  I admit, though, that the part about having to learn it for herself always confused me.  I think I understand it, now.

As a vegan who dedicates himself to the cause of justice and equality for our non-human brothers and sisters on this planet, I find that it's sometimes hard to be patient for everyone to "wake up" and for the world to change.  It can be hard to remain hopeful while the ruthless exploitation of non-human Earthlings continues.  55 Billion land animals (and unknowable, uncounted billions of sea animals) each year are confined, tortured, murdered in viciously cruel ways so that their rotting corpses may be devoured for human palate-pleasure while polluting our bodies and the planet.   How can we surmount these numbers?  How can we vegans crack through the seemingly impenetrable shroud of carnism that facilitates this burgeoning holocaust of non-humans so we can reach people and they can "get it"? 

I think the answer is very simple; one by one. Each of us, as vegans, "had to learn it for [ourselves]" as Glinda said.   We've always had the power to change things, but we didn't know we had that power.  Going vegan can be a significant step in recognizing that we, as individuals, have the power to make our lives and our world what we want it to be.  All we need to to is make up our minds, act on our decision and that change happens.  One meal at a time.  One person at a time.  It all adds up.  After all, I was a meat-loving, omnivore grandson from a long family line of butchers.  If I could "wake up", reject violence and go vegan then anyone can.   But we can't make others wake up.  We can help educate others but, in the end, we all need to learn these lessons for ourselves.  

So in 2013, I rededicate myself to helping the cause of animal liberation by bringing information to others and educating them.  I will speak and educate others unreservedly about the atrocities being committed on their behalf so they may continue to eat non-humans; about the effects on our health and our planet; about speciesism and the dangerously slippery slope it inhabits with its friends heterosexism, racism, ageism and sexism; and I will gladly share my firsthand experiences with the sustainable, life-supporting, compassionate and delicious diet that we vegans enjoy.  And then, I will remind myself and those I speak to, that we have the power to change.  We have the power to change everything if we want to.  We've always had the power.

We just needed to learn this for ourselves.

Monday, October 1, 2012

No, I won't sign your petition.

This post is directed at nobody in particular.  I don't want anyone who reads this to think this is in response to them or their recent solicitation of me.  If you recently sent me something on Facebook, Twitter or email then know that it just happens to be the latest in a steady stream of solicitations that I have been receiving for the better part of the past three years asking me to sign my name to protest this or that, relating to animal use or torture.  You know what I'm talking about.  I'm sure you get the barrage of them, too:

"Sign this petition and let the Governor know that horse slaughter isn't okay."

"Sign the petition to stop the annual Canadian seal hunt."

"Say no to Fur!" 

"Ban the sale of dog meat in China!"

There are so many I just can't go on.  These petitions are usually forwarded on to me from friends in the animal rights and vegan community.  These are passionate people who live by their principles of compassion, justice and kindness.  I adore and respect these people.  These are my people.  

Nonetheless, it irks me to no end that we promote these specific instances of animal abuse in these, as Professor Gary Francione would say, "single issue campaigns." Why?  Well, because history has shown that, while they are (sometimes) successful in promoting animal welfaresingle issue campaigns do very little to stop animal use.  Now, of course I'm concerned with animal welfare.  In fact, I'm quite concerned with the welfare of all Earthlings.  

Now, I don't want to rehash the Singer vs. Francione historic argument of New Welfarism vs. Abolition because it's been done a thousand times.  I could never do it the justice that Professor Francione, in my opinion, does.  Frankly, I want to make a different point about it. 

My problem with single issue welfare campaigns is that they indirectly promote a notion of acceptable use.  How so? Well,  for example, when we promote a campaign to ban the use of Fur, we are saying that "fur is bad." Indirectly, this creates a misconception that "leather is okay" or, at least, "leather is not as bad as fur." Otherwise, why not speak about leather, too?  How about wool or silk?  How is the death of a cow not as bad as that of a mink? It isn't, of course.   Now, I know what you're thinking;  'C'mon.  There is NO vegan out there who will think that.'  Right?  

Well, not so.  As we can see from the fact that many vegans still wear leather, there are many who actually still subscribe to these very confused beliefs.  I've even had some terribly misguided (though incredibly well intentioned) vegans tell me, "Well, at least with leather, some people eat the meat.  With fur, it's just a total waste."  And that's the problem, right there in a nutshell.  We send confusing messages with these campaigns- even to those in our own community- an we set up for a belief that there are varying degrees of acceptable use.  Let's be honest;  The only way that "fur is worse than leather" is if you're speciesist.  The core of an ethical vegan's belief is a rejection of speciesism.

So then, what's the answer?  I propose that a specific "single-issue campaign" can be used to promote a broader perspective.  One that unites the animal rights and ethical vegan community once an for all.  If we as ethical vegans have a "single-campaign issue" it should be this:  


Pretty simple.  Very straight forward.  Let's be honest; as ethical vegans, most of us believe this.  This is our core truth.  We reject speciesism because we know that there is no moral distinction between our beloved cat who is a part of our family and the turkey who is destined to become someone's Thanksgiving dinner.  

What if, instead of saying "Sign this petition to ban the sale of horse meat at restaurants..."  we would say, "Just as you are disgusted and would agree to ban the sale of horse meat in restaurants, I find the sale of chicken, fish, cow and pig meat as equally disgusting and immoral because there's no moral distinction between a horse, a cow, a pig, a chicken or  a fish and the dog that sleeps in your bed." 

To promote the notion that all sentient beings deserve to live a life free of property status and use is to really challenge the underlying belief and core issue regarding animal use in our culture;  Speciesism.  When we promote an awareness of speciesism, we can get people to understand the issue better.  Suddenly it's not just "Stop clubbing baby seals" but "stop beating to death any and all animals, whether it's for their fur or their meat."  It's no longer "ban the sale of dog meat in China" but "Ban the sale of all flesh from all animals everywhere."  If we focus on the inherent injustice, bias and inequality that is at the core of speciesism, we begin to unravel any justifiable reasons for use.

I always think of the gay rights and liberation movement when I think of animal rights and liberation, because so many of the parallels hold true.  As with the rampant homophobia that is societally sanctioned around the world, the tide didn't start turn for LGBT people because we said, "Treat me nicely."  When tolerance and regard for our welfare was asked for, we didn't get it.  It was only when we united as a single community, organized and demanded equality that the tide started to shift.  We came out, as a community and we came out as individuals.  One by one, we deconstructed the entrenched homophobic belief that because we are "different" than heterosexuals we are not deserving of equal consideration with regard to our moral status as equal members in society.  

The same needs to be done with respect to our positions on the abolition of animal use.  Let's not pretend to be okay with half measures.  Let's not sow the seeds of self-defeating assumptions about the issues we don't mention to be inferred from the ones we highlight.  Let's agree about our moral baseline as a community and advocate that position, consistently and unabashedly.  We need to unite as a community to demand change.  "Using animals is wrong!"  Why is it so hard to say that?  You know you think it.  I think it.  We know it to be true.  The people to whom you promote all of the "Meatless Mondays" and "Happy Meat" crap know this, too.  They know you believe this.  You're not fooling them- you're confusing them!  They'll humor you and do your meatless Monday but they're going back to Steak-filled Saturday.  Instead, give them something to think about; "Don't use animals any day because it's wrong."  Then explain why it's wrong.  Sometimes I think that we, as vegans, don't give non-vegans enough credit.  I mean, most of us were non-vegans when we "woke up" to the reality of speciesism and animal use, right?  If we were capable, why wouldn't our non-vegan friends, family, neighbors and co-workers be capable of this same realization?  Let's not think that we are so exceptional that most others just can't get this.  They can.  But you've got to level with them, be consistent and be honest.  Nothing wreaks as foul as inauthenticity.

So it becomes a strategic question:  Do we promote single-issue welfare-oriented campaigns that ultimately might win a battle but lose the war?  Well, of course I'd love to win every battle where the animals are concerned.  In the end, though, with more than 58 Billion land animals killed for their flesh each year, I would say that the strides we make in the small single-issue campaigns are far outweighed by the massive numbers of innocents that are murdered.  We've been doing the same thing over and again regarding the promotion of single-issue campaigns and welfare reform and we're left with a massive schism in the animal rights community for a really long time now.  And it's paralyzing us. And while we continue to fight it out amongst ourselves as ethical vegans and animal rights advocates a holocaust continues!  I say, better we coordinate ourselves as an animal rights and vegan community around the globe an focus on the single-issue campaign:

"Animals are not ours to use.  There is no order of importance in the animal kingdom.  Sentience and the ability to suffer is the moral litmus test on whether or not we should ever think of using another living being.  When in doubt as to the sentience of a living being, err on the side of caution and always defer to non-use.  Now, more than ever in human history, we don't need animals to live.  We're just used to exploiting them out of old habit and convenience."

Send me a petition for that and I'll sign it.  In a heartbeat!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Sandusky in the Gladiator's Ring

Like so many of us, I have been anxiously awaiting the verdict in the trial of Larry Sandusky, former Penn State University defensive coordinator. I was pleased to see justice prevail late last night when the verdict came back finding Sandusky guilty of 45 of the 48 counts of child sexual abuse. Now in custody, Sandusky awaits sentencing in 3 months which, if he gets the maximum allowable by law, would put the 68 year-old Sandusky away for 4432 years.

Shortly after the verdict was announced, Twitter went nuts. We were understandably happy to find out that Justice has prevailed and that the suffering of all of those young men and boys will be honored and Sandusky will pay for it by losing his freedom for the rest of his life.

I was very disturbed, though, to note a trend in comments like, "You know what they do to child molesters in prison" and "He'll get what's coming to him in prison." These are references to a well-known fact that in the "code of ethics" among inmates in U.S. prisons, pedophiles are singled out as the most heinous of criminals because they prey on defenseless children. That's right; Even rapists and murderers think they're better than pedophiles. Child sex abusers are often beaten, raped, and murdered in U.S. prisons with the full-knowledge of prison guards and Wardens who turn their watchful eyes, allowing this "Texas-Style Justice" to go on. Here's my issue with that; That's not justice.

Justice is a trial in court, having adequate legal representation, a jury of your peers review and decide your fate. Justice is when you are convicted of the crime you committed. And the punishment for that crime is a loss of freedom. You no longer are allowed to live amongst the brotherhood of mankind. You are removed from your community. You home. Your family. Your life. You are taken away as much as a punishment for you misbehavior as you are to remove the threat you pose to the rest of us in society. And that's what is happening here, and that's JUSTICE.

But in 2012 moralizing, do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do Christian America, we see something else- we root for violence. We voice our hope that beyond justice, there will be retribution and vengeance. We hope someone who took advantage of weaker children and physically and sexually assaulted them will, when in prison, be the weaker inmate who is himself physically and sexually assaulted. People are quite literally rooting for him to be raped, beaten and murdered. That would not be justice- that would be a corrupt system whereby We The People (represented by our prison system) are reduced to the same level as the criminal (by allowing for his abuse, rape and murder). It is my same argument against the death penalty for murderers, as it add nothing to justice. Rather, it just makes the state a murderer and lowers us as a society to the level of the criminal. This is retribution and vengeance, not justice. Like how, in Iran, if a man is caught stealing, they cut his hand off. If a man is convicted of rape, they castrate him. That is violence, not justice.

In the old days of Roman Gladiators, the blood-thirsty crowds of onlookers would root against convicted criminals, often out-skilled and over-powered by their Gladiator opponents. Crowds of otherwise decent people would cheer on the bloody "good death" for these criminals. The masses would get whipped up into a frenzied excitement anticipating the brutal, violent end to these condemned men. I dare say, that's what we're doing with Sandusky today in a virtual Galdiator's arena of public opinion.

Is Sandusky a model citizen? Hardly. He was a child sex offender- a predator- who covered up his crimes and has yet to come clean in admitting his wrongdoing. He is a very sick man. Despite this, I know that good people can do bad things and that what you do and who you are often two different things. What I do know is that our criminal justice system was worked and found him to be guilty of having done horrible things. For those crimes, he will pay with his freedom for the rest of his life in prison. His family and friends, though innocent, will pay for this too, by losing him from their life. I suggest, though, that we look at ourselves and our salacious desire for brutality and violence. It should suffice us all to know that a criminal has been caught and will be brought to justice and, even as we revile the heinous acts and crimes this man has committed, we owe it to ourselves as a society of compassionate non-violent people to celebrate Justice, but reject the violence of vengeance and retaliation.

When Christian America refuses to "love the sinner but hate the sin" we create a culture where that same violence sows it's seeds and a new Sandusky is born.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

40 Days Until I'm 40.

On July 25th, I will turn 40 years old. This is an important milestone and I have been taking stock of my life over the past months as the day approaches. With 40 days to go until I'm 40, all I can come up with is a profound feeling of overwhelming gratitude. I feel very blessed to have lived the life I have thus far. I have such loving and generous people in my life- I am so fortunate to have the family of relatives and friends that I do. I am exceptionally grateful for a life that has always granted me all that I need. To that end, I've decided to use my birthday as a vehicle for helping those who are not as fortunate.

I know lots of people say this, but I say this because I mean it; I seriously do NOT want any form of a gift for my birthday. That said, funny cards (paper or e-cards) are always welcome. Here is my truth; the best birthday present for me is the presence and the love of the people I cherish. However, if you still feel compelled to "give me a present" then this is what I want: Please donate whatever amount you would have spent on a material object towards my fund raising campaign for abused factory farm animals.

I have chosen to raise money for Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary. I am so pleased to have come across this amazing organization and I'm thrilled to be able to finally be able to support a Farm Animal Sanctuary whose clear message of complete animal non-use and vegan advocacy is front and center in their mission statement. This is something that is at the core- the essence- of who I am and what matters most to me.

You can learn more about Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary, their work, their advocacy, and the amazing non-human residents/refugees they've taken into their sanctuary on their website at www.peacefulprairie.org

You can make a donation at http://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/ethan-ciment/Ethans40thbirthdayfundraiser and please feel free to share this link with others... even those I do not know. In this way, I hope that the occasion of my 40th birthday becomes a vehicle for spreading peace, love and non-violence to those who are voiceless, left-for-dead, and often ignored. That's how you can make this the best birthday ever for me... and for some wonderful non-human persons, too.

Thanks so much!


Friday, May 13, 2011

Veganism, is not a Choice; It's a Moral Imperative

We need all people everywhere to be vegan by all peaceful, non-violent means possible.  Our precious, sentient non-human brothers & sisters need this.  Our Mother, Earth, needs this.  We all need this. I do subscribe to the notion that it is possible for a person to go vegan for health or environmental reasons to later understand it from a new perspective such as animal rights & liberation.  So when someone like my friend Jim (an abolitionist vegan) tells me that he's willing to "meet" any omnivore at their level, be it animal rights, personal health, notions of compassion, whatever… I think it’s AMAZING that he does that. That's a choice that works for him, and I wouldn't criticize it or him.

FOR ME:  I was vegetarian before I was vegan.  The main motivation for me dropping the milk, eggs, and honey was that I needed to be consistent.  I had a hard time reconciling my beliefs and actions.  I needed to come to terms with the fact that there is as much (if not, arguably more) suffering in an 8 oz glass of milk as there is in an 8 oz steak.  So I got honest and went vegan because it’s the just thing to do.  I didn’t do it for reasons of compassion—because compassion implies that we don’t  need to behave this way.   Compassion makes us feel good about ourselves, but it lacks the weight and moral imperative that justice demands.  I am vegan because sentient non-humans are owed the same rights as sentient humans.  That’s Justice.  Frankly, though I believe it comes from an earnestly good place, I find the focus on “compassionate choices”  and "kind eating" to be unintentinally undermining and misguided.  While it gets people's attention and sometimes gets them to commit to a vegan diet, it's basis is rooted in an implied belief that this is a CHOICE from benevolent humans to help unfortunate and lesser non-humans.  It's still speciesist in that fundamental assumption.  In the end, where does thinking like that get us? I'll tell you- we get famous, "fad-vegans" like Ginnifer Goodwin & Natalie Portman who publicly and famously "Stop being vegan."  Or Alicia Silverstone, THE KIND DIET, author and super-celebrity vegan, who admits that she'll sometimes eat a Burger King veggie burger, even though she knows it has egg whites in it! (There's too much there in that one to get into...)  While, arguably, these folks never were truly vegan (they were just compassionate folks who ate a plant based-diet for a period of time) their public reversal sets the movement way back by reinforcing the unfounded belief that Veganism, as a diet, is unhealthy or unsustainable.

As a gay men, I understand from our cultural history that the eons of a secret underground culture of back-alley entryways to secret clubs, marriages of convenience, "beards" and faghags never advanced the rights of LGBT persons an iota.  Then we stopped hiding.  We came out.  We embraced our names and labels.  And while there was initial hatred and a violent backlash against our unabashed identity, we eventually (and in a relatively very short amount of time) have gained mainstream recognition and acceptance so that a majority of Americans now believe that LGBT persons should be allowed to marry and have equal rights.  We didn't hide our names: We embraced the label.  That's why I'm not a "veggie boy".  I'm a VEGAN.  "Veggie" is a term designed to keep us in the closet.  We need to come out.  We need to be visible. 

I know that these are seriously controversial issues within the vegan community.  I know that people get very upset when some of us use terms like "Abolitionist" or "New Welfarism".  I never use such terms with the intent to offend or harm another person-- of course not! Vegans and Veganism is never about violence or offending and hurting others.  But I think it's important for folks to get really clear about where their motivations are coming from, what and whom we all choose to support, and whether or not those choices are consistent and aligned with what we believe.  I also recognize that we are such a small (yet rapidly growing) community and when events like this weekend's veggie pride parade in New York City are few and far between, its tempting to want to just go, put aside our differences and lump everyone together under one big "veggie" umbrella.  But over 100 years of welfare promotion since Upton Sinclair's THE JUNGLE has led to nothing but a worsened condition for animals on this planet.  We need to change direction and trajectory as individuals and as a movement. We need to own the identity as VEGANS.  We need to correct those who hold to a confused belief that this is a choice of compassion and explain that it's an imperative of JUSTICE.  

I can't wait until the day when we're all in the same page about all of this, and I believe that day will come a lot sooner than we might think.   But for now, as a non-violent abolitionist vegan gay man opposed to non-human slavery and use, I cannot in good conscience stand with those who believe the problem is welfare and treatment.  It confuses our message to the masses and leads people down a doomed path that approaches Veganism as something that it is not: a choice.  It is a moral imperative.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

How I Came To Be a Vegan and an Abolitionist

This is my story as to how I became vegan and an abolitionist. It is really nothing exceptional; it's just my unique experience. Like me, it's a story that is still very much in progress.

I am the grandson and great-grandson of kosher butchers. I grew up around meat, all of the time. I would spend some of my summers, even as a very young kid, working in my grandfather's butcher shop up in Albany, New York. There was a great sense of pride in coming from a family that was "a long line of butchers" because, as it was presented to me as a child, they were preserving the tenets of their faith in adherence to strict laws of keeping Kosher. So I grew up, proud of our family's connection to meat. I never thought of THE PEOPLE who became meat- the non-human persons.

Throughout my adolescence, I slowly began to deconstruct the religious dogma my orthodox Jewish upbringing had drilled into me. This was greatly facilitated by a recognition, at a very early age, that I was gay. Mind you, I had no language for that- for what it meant to be gay- at the time. I knew nothing of what being gay was, other than that it was something deemed "sinful", something to hide and be ashamed of. But I knew it was as integtral a part of me as my left-handedness and that it was something I couldn't pray or wish away. This realization, around age 13, opened the door to deconstructing the myths and lies about dogma and religions in general. Once I knew that something was wrong with one of the "teachings" of our faith, then ALL of the "teachings" came into question. Eventually, by the time I went to college, I abandoned the belief in the faith of my family and stopped practicing orthodox Judaism altogether as it was not something I believed in. It was, and still is, important for me to live my life in accordance with what I know and/or believe to be true about the world.

I was 15 years old when I was working one afternoon up at the butcher shop, wrapping meat in the back. My grandfather's employee, Harry, decided to play a joke on me. Harry was a "man's man." Rough around the edges. He smoked too much. Harry had served in World War II and was scarred from having watched all of his high-school buddies die in the battles out in the Pacific. He was an alcoholic with severe emotional issues and he often did things around women and children that were just completely inappropriate. Anyway, Harry arranged to have another employee (whose name escapes me) tell me to go into the meat locker in the back and pick up the rack of ribs on the 3rd shelf on the right, and bring it up front. I hated the meat locker. It smelled foul to me. It was like the smell of death, but frozen. It always made me uncomfortable and I always would ask my younger brother to go in my place. But this afternoon my brother wasn't at the store. So I reluctantly made my way to the back of the store, opened the heavy, thick door, and prepared to step in. Just then, Harry came RUSHING out at me- screaming as loud as he could- "Ahhhhhhh.... Mooooooo!!!!!" He had the decapitated head of a cow on the handle of a broomstick and he was charging me with it.

Naturally, I screamed and ran out so fast. I kept running, screaming, through the store all the way to where my grandmother was at the front register. My grandfather really gave it to Harry for doing something like that. After all, he didn't just scare me, but got me running through the store, making a commotion which clearly upset the customers. I eventually recovered but didn't go back to work with the guys in the back on the meat packing and cutting that afternoon. When the day was over, my grandfather and I drove home in silence. About 3/4 of the way home I broke the silence and said, "Zayde?" (That's yiddish for "grandpa", and that's what I've always called my grandfather). He said "What is it?" as if he knew what was coming. I continued, "I don't think I want to work in the back of the store anymore. I'd like to learn the business side of things. I could work with Bubby (my grandmother) up at the front register. Would that be okay with you?" My grandfather paused, realizing that I was lost to him and would never want to go further with the butcher shop as a potential business some day. He said, "Yeah. That would be fine. Whatever you want to do is and always will be just fine with me." I think, somewhere in his mind, he had hoped that my brother or I would have turned back to the old family business and taken it over from him one day. Incidentally, years later, when I told him that I applied and got into medical school, he said, "Ah, you'll be working with knives, just like me." I always thought that an odd statement, until much later.

One would think that experience with the cow's head would be enough to keep me away from meat-- certainly cow beef-- for the rest of my life. But it wasn't. It did, however, drive me to become vegetarian. Mind you, I still ate eggs, dairy, occasional fish, but I "was a vegetarian". This went on and off for a number of years until in my mid 20's I was no longer a vegetarian. Why? Well, somehow, it all lost it's meaning. There was no connection to animals I was trying to avoid eating and harming and I went back to my "numbed state" of cognitive dissonance. In a matter of years, I was back to eating steak, not thinking about how this was a part of a cow- A part like the decapitated head of that poor creature. I was eating wings, no longer seeing them as the arms/wings of a chicken. I'm ashamed to admit how long this went on- mostly because I became busy with my studies, med school and my residency. Distraction was convenient.

It was in my residency that the next "inkling" towards making the animal-food connection came. I was in my surgical residency and after a year of retracting, assisting, and watching, it was finally time for my first solo case. The attending surgeon handed me the scalpel and said, "When you're ready." I waiting. I was really focused. This was the moment; My first surgery! I had gone over this a thousand times in my head. I knew every move I was going to make. I'd seen this hundreds of times. I took the scalpel, looked up at the clock and announced, "Incision, 7:45 AM." The nurse repeated, "Starting, 7:45 AM." I cut into this human being and the feeling was... well... the tissue felt soft. Warm. Vulnerable. Foreign. As soon as I finished the skin incision and the blood began to run out of it, the Attending said, "Well done. That wasn't too bad, right? Nothing to it... Like cutting into a steak."

That just threw me! "Cutting into a steak? How is this like cutting into a steak?!?" Suddenly I was totally distracted, unable to focus on what I was doing because I was riveted by the notion that this action I just took- this first step in helping someone, in healing someone- was allegedly like cutting into a dead piece of meat. It didn't make sense. I immediately thought of that decapitated cow and her head just rushing at me in the cold meat locker. I started to think about all of the pieces of animals I had consumed since that day. I became overwhelmed.

I made it through that surgery and 3 more before lunch. How I did it, I'll never know. When I went for lunch, I ordered one of the hospital hamburgers. Those burgers were revolting on a good day. I actually removed it from the bun and tried to re-do my incision as I had that morning. But the meat was cooked. It felt tough. "This feels nothing like cutting into a steak" I told myself. From that day on, it became a tradition for years for me to end a day of surgery with a hamburger. It never dawned on me until years later how this "tradition" was not just reactionary to that first day in the OR, but that it really was a way of connecting with my grandfather. It was my conciliatory act act to him. Almost as if I were saying, "I rejected your profession, but not you." I ate meat after surgery every day I operated until May 2009.

In May 2009, my life was a mess. I had slowly but steadily gained a LOT of weight over the preceding years. I didn't really know quite how much, but I knew it was a lot over the years. A bad diet, in spite of exercising daily, took it's toll on me. I was on Liptor for my high cholesterol after years of trying to get it down with Niacin, Fish Oils and all sorts of "dietary modifications". (All except removing the Cholesterol source- animal flesh- from my diet.) At that time, our dog, Chandler, was very sick with rapidly spreading metastatic malignant melanoma. We were doing everything to help him survive it. He had 2 surgeries to remove tumors from his bladder, neck, lymph nodes, and he was still not well. We were feeling desperate because we knew the end was coming faster than we wanted or were prepared to deal with. My husband, Michael, got in touch with a canine holistic doctor who was also a certified naturopath. His recommendation was to get the processed foods out of Chandler's diet, and feed him all organic foods and only fresh, raw, Grass-fed beef. It was about 2 weeks into this when one day, I had gone to Whole Foods to get the meat and some fresh organic vegetables. Michael spent over an hour preparing this organic meal for Chandler. Once we fed him, I said "What about us? What do you want for dinner?" We ended up taking out burgers & fries from Five-Guys. About half way through my burger, I started to feel uncomfortably full and kind of sick. I turned to Michael and said, "You know, we're spending all of this time and money on Chandler with all of the Grass-Fed beef and organic foods... don't you think we should at least do the same for ourselves?" This started a long discussion which concluded with us deciding that we were going to make the investment in ourselves to be as healthy as we could and buy only organic foods for our home. This was a HUGE switch for us.

A week later, we had a bunch of friends over for dinner. Three of the women at dinner had recently given birth and were lamenting the difficulties of losing the baby weight. They all starting talking about their Weight Watcher points, etc... I started asking them about how Weight Watchers works and by the end of dinner I was hooked on the idea-- I'm going on weight watchers and finally loose the "extra few pounds" I had. I also decided, that I would do it as a vegetarian. I was sick of all of the animals I was eating and I knew I would lose weight faster on a vegetarian diet. So, as of June 1, 2009, I again became a vegetarian and went on Weight Watchers.

The thing I didn't count on with Weight Watchers was that a lot of the "vegetarian-but-not-vegan" options are big no-nos on the diet; No milk. No cheese. Eggs were okay but only the egg whites. Next thing you knew, I was "nearly vegan" though completely unintentionally. And man, did that weight come off!! I lost 45 lbs in under 4 months. 45 lbs! I had no idea I was so heavy or had that much to loose, but boy did I feel better and better as I lost the weight.

Over those months, I also happened to start reading more about vegetarianism- mostly from stuff I read online from PETA. I was reading recipes and going to different Vegetarian (and vegan) websites. I really new very little about why one would be a vegan as opposed to a vegetarian. That opened a lot of other doors. I started reading dissenting opinions from those espoused by PETA. I also started reading a bunch of different books. THE FACE ON YOUR PLATE, The Truth about Food by Jeffrey Masson really opened my eyes. I read it twice. I realized why eating meat was no different than drinking milk. Then I read Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer. After I read it, it struck a strong chord within me. I did some research and learned that Foer was a vegetarian and not a vegan, and it shocked me. How could someone who so clearly states the reasons to not participate in animal use choose to still use animals? How can he rationalize his stance of knowingly participating in consuming products derived from animals when he knows- firsthand- how this would affect these poor animals? The intellectual dishonesty pissed me off. I kept thinking, "How could someone know the truth and still not change their behavior? It then dawned on me- I now know the truth. Will I be a Foer? Will I prioritize my convenience and momentary pleasures over the rights of sentient, feeling, tortured creatures? I couldn't do it.

And that was it. November 22, 2009, I became a vegan. There was nothing to it. I just went out, got a half-gallon of Lowfat Soymilk and put it in my coffee that morning and thought- this doesn't taste the same, but I'll get used to it. And I did.

It was months later, when I resurrected my Twitter account, that I started to learn about the difference between advocates of an abolitionist approach and those who promoted welfarist initiatives and single-issue campaigns. There is no doubt that Gary Francione has singularly affected me more than any other person on this subject. Having read his books, essays and Tweets about abolitionist veganism, I felt like there was finally someone out there who understood my intellectual commitment to living in alignment with my beliefs in a strict and consistent way. And he was unapologetic. When I noticed the many accusations of him being "Divisive" for pointing out the inconsistencies in others' behavior vs. beliefs I knew that he was on to something. After all, we often call people things like "Divisive" or "Critical" or "Unhelpful" when we don't like what they're saying. I could relate to him and absolutist positions. He strengthened my commitment to both myself and to being vegan. I owe Gary a debt of gratitude that I know I can never repay. I also know that the fact that I'm an abolitionist vegan who educates and promotes consistent, vegan abolitionism is all the "payback" he'd ever want or hope for... just for each of us to pass it on and pay it forward.

So I'm coming up on my first Veganniversary. In some ways, it feels like I've been vegan FOREVER! I can't believe it's "only been a year." Still, I have perspective and I understand that this is the first of many years and decades to come. I'm nothing like the person I was a year ago today. A year ago I was scared of this "decision" to "become a vegan". Wondering at that time, "Can I do it?" The man I was then would never have believed that in such a short time- much less than just a year- I'd look back and say, "Of course I can. How could I ever NOT be vegan, at this point?"

Yes, it's been quite a year for me. There have been many different levels of awareness-expansion, justice-seeking and compassion that have evolved within me. I look forward to seeing how my understanding and knowledge on this issue will continue to unfold and develop within me in the years to come as I become more and more of a "veteran vegan". I can't wait.

Wishing Us All Peace.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

There is No Such Thing as a "Hardcore Vegan"

I often hear people refer to "hardcore vegans." This is sometimes asked of me when I reveal to an omnivore or vegetarian that I'm vegan when they ask, "A hardcore vegan? Like no eggs, no dairy no honey?" Sometimes I hear other vegans refer to themselves as being a "hardcore" vegan. They don't necessarily mean this in a derogatory way. In fact, they often offer it up as a badge of honor- something they're proud of.

Let me be very clear about this:

There is No Such Thing as a "Hardcore Vegan".

As I see it, there are vegans and then there is everyone else. Yes, I lump the vegetarians and omnivores together in a grouping called "everyone else" because the difference between their diets is merely nuanced by their specific form of speciesism.

Point of clarification: Speciesism is the practice of assigning of different values or rights to beings on the basis of their species membership. The term was created by British psychologist Richard D. Ryder in 1973 to denote a prejudice against non-humans based on physical differences that are given moral value. So an ominvore might eat the flesh and products of cows, pigs, chickens and fish whereas a vegetarian might limit her consumption to fish and the products of the chickens and cows, though not their flesh. These decisions are as arbitrary and capricious as the choice to not eat cats or dogs.

Looking up the definition of "Hardcore" there are many definitions. Two that are of interest to me in this discussion are;

1) Intensely loyal
2) A militant or fiercely loyal faction

So what makes us "hardcore" then, it would seem, is our loyalty to Veganism. Our unwavering and fierce loyalty to our commitment to eating a plant-based diet and to removing animals and animal use from our consumption. We're committed. We don't cave in to pressure. We don't make exceptions. Well, I ask you; Isn't that the way we should all be living our lives? Shouldn't we be fully committed- 100% in thought and deed- to that which we profess to believe? By that same token, are there "hardcore Olympians" and just regular ones? Do some commit more to trying to win at their sport than others? Of course not.

The "militant" definition of the hardcore label clearly is intended to be unflattering. I would guess that it likely originated from those who wish to demonize and alienate committed vegans. Perhaps it originated as a propagandist label from the Meat Industry or alternatively it could have been offered up as a slur against abolitionists from the (currently) more socially popular so-called "new-welfarist" approach. But I caution us all; In reclaiming the term "Hardcore Vegan" we not only perpetuate the harmful notion of Abolitionists as harsh and abrasive (i.e. "hard to the core") we promote an even more dangerous social trend; The expectation that people don't really ever fully commit.

Isn't it sad that loyalty and "stick-to-it-ness" is so rare that it deserves its own level of distinction? We marvel when a couple says they're happily and faithfully married for 35 years. We respect a person who commits to working at the same job all of their adult life. Our society is very much based on what's expedient, what's easy, what's disposable. We have lowered our expectations and, sadly, the results are visible everywhere.

So next-time you're asked, if you're a "Hardcore Vegan" I suggest you respond like I do; "There's nothing hardcore about it. I'm a vegan. It's easy. You should be, too."