Monthly Archives: May 2010

Memorial Day for Animals

 

By Dr.
Will Tuttle

 

            Here‚Äôs
an ironic 3-way conjunction: Memorial Day; the recent release of the undercover
Conklin Dairy video footage; and the spewing volcano of oil deep in the Gulf.
Memorial Day is a time to honor those serving in war, harmed by war, killed by
war. It’s become increasingly obvious that war has always been a tool of
oppression and of wealth and power accumulation by a small elite, and Memorial
Day is one of many ways war is legitimized in the public stories that are told
to us from birth. The real war, again becoming increasingly obvious, is against
the capacities for wisdom and compassion that are inherent within us, and the
ultimate victims of this war are the most vulnerable: animals, ecosystems,
children, women, hungry people, and future generations. Especially animals.

            How
many animals are we killing daily in the U.S. for food? Roughly seventy-five
million! How many is that? Basically ungraspable, at least by me. For example,
if we take just part of the ongoing slaughter of animals—the slaughter of four
species: cows, pigs, chickens, and turkeys—and leave out all fish, sheep,
goats, ducks, geese, and other animals killed by us daily in the U.S., and do
the relatively simple math, we realize that we are causing a daily flow of
blood that amounts to about 8.5 million gallons! This is many times more than
the estimates of the Gulf oil gusher, which we have all been praying will be
finally plugged up. This oil gusher is devastating! Every day that goes by
brings greater destruction, so we yearn to have it stopped, and blame routine
corporate greed and government corruption for the
breakdown in safety standards that caused it to happen. Some estimates run
as high as a million gallons per day of oil polluting the ocean.

            And
yet we continue with our ongoing daily 8-million gallon blood gusher without
any remorse or sense of urgency to stop. Disconnected from the terrible
repercussions, unaware of and in denial about the pollution and suffering
gushing forth, we go on devastating every level of our health: physiological,
psychological, cultural, spiritual, ethical, and environmental.

            Who
is accountable for this relentless blood gusher? It rings hollow to blame
corporations and politicians, though we might be tempted, but that is just part
of it. Ultimately, every drop of blood, misery, feces, and pollution spewing
from the industrial meat grinder is generated because of personal choices by
responsible individuals who pay for meat, dairy products, and eggs. Without
these millions of daily choices, the blood gusher would dry up instantly and
the ongoing war against animals for food would cease. The healing, joy, and
celebration when this gusher is finally plugged is barely imaginable. Its
stopping is inevitable, for whatever has a beginning has an ending. The
question is: how will it be stopped – voluntarily or involuntarily?

            The
crucial question in all this has to do with accountability. Why are the
overwhelming majority of us—who are responsible for this carnage because of
making choices to buy and consume the flesh and secretions of animals—not
accountable for our actions? How can we evade responsibility so easily and blithely?
Or do we? And what about vegans who don’t make these choices to kill and cause
others to kill? How are they accountable? And what about the producers and
workers who do the killing on behalf of the consumers?

            In
the Conklin Dairy video footage, we see about three minutes of shockingly cruel
abuse of dairy cows and small calves by about three different men, including
Mr. Conklin himself. There is violent and repeated hitting with metal bars,
kicking, stomping, stabbing with a pitchfork, punching of calves, and it’s even
bragged about by one of the workers. I absolutely did not want to watch this
footage, and procrastinated about five days because it is an ordeal to witness
such violence inflicted on helpless animals. I finally decided that if these animals
were forced by fellow humans to endure such abuse, the least I could do would
be to bear witness to their suffering, informing myself, and holding them in my
heart in love, mercy, and tenderness. The three minutes seemed like an
eternity, and I felt the ordeal deepened my understanding and resolve, and I
have recommended to many people that they
see it
also
.

            We
are all wired for compassion, and so this is why eating animal foods is so
devastating to our self-respect and wisdom. Due to our innate empathy, we now
see a flurry of media exposure and a universal call to hold this Ohio dairy
accountable, and especially that the perpetrators be punished in order to send
a strong message that such cruelty is not acceptable. This is fine as far as it
goes, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough, and reveals our blindness to our
cultural indoctrination. Besides feeling compassion for the brutalized animals,
can we feel compassion for the workers—the perpetrators? How quickly we tar
them with a black brush, and make them the scapegoats for our broader cultural
violence.

            We
want inexpensive ice cream, cheese, and yogurt, and have as an entire culture
created systems that provide that remarkably well, complete with economies of
scale, government subsidies, technologies of enslavement and profit
maximization, and an underlying story that animals are inferior to us and to be
used as we please. From its beginnings eight thousand years ago, animal
agriculture brought out the worst in people. It is the same today. These
workers are in terrible situations that bring out the worst in them. Cows are
powerful animals who naturally don’t automatically cooperate with having their
babies and milk relentlessly stolen from them. Violent force must be used, and
always has been. Cows are innately silent when pain is inflicted on them, from
millions of years of living in the wild when this was advantageous to avoid
detection by predators. This fact unfortunately seems to encourage workers to
beat them more brutally to move them or punish them.

            The
entire system of reducing animals to mere commodities brings out the worst in
both workers and consumers, and as Gene Baur of Farm Sanctuary emphasized
recently—with his 30 years of experience rescuing farmed animals and
investigating meat, dairy, and egg operations—what was videotaped at Conklin
Dairy is standard procedure on all dairy operations. Nathan Runkle, founder of
Mercy For Animals, the group that obtained the video footage, recently told
reporters that whenever they send an undercover worker into an animal
agriculture facility, they obtain footage of shocking violence to the animals
there. When we reduce an animal to an “it,” how will we not degenerate into
violence toward that animal? Owning animals and stealing their sovereignty is
inherently violent. The workers are put in an ethically devastating position in
which they are not accountable for venting their frustration and anger on these
animals (unless a pesky vegan undercover operative with a video camera happens
to sneak in), and as we understand well, the more anger and violence are
expressed in an individual or culture, the stronger and more virulent they
become. We become what we practice. What consumer of cheese, ice cream, milk,
or yogurt, watching this video, would want to eat products coming from the
kicked and stabbed udders and bodies of these poor animals? The thought is
revolting, but eating violence, death, and despair is inescapable in eating
dairy products, including so-called organic, free-range, and other
industry-sponsored propaganda labels.

            We
are all ultimately accountable for the violence we see in the Conklin Dairy
video – anyone who purchases dairy products is obviously directly responsible,
because, like the person demanding the assassination of someone, they are the
motivating cause of the violence, while the workers are less culpable, being
the hired guns who do the bidding of their superiors. It’s difficult to refuse,
because those who desire dairy products, and the corporations serving them, are
constantly repeating, “Dominate, inseminate, steal from, and kill these animals
for us, and if you don’t, we’ll find someone who will.”

            As
a 30-year vegan, I am not absolved of responsibility in this, because it is
only those who are not perpetrators who can and must offer solutions, guidance,
clarity, and a positive example to break the cycle of violence that is
engulfing our world in so many ways. As vegans, we are called to cultivate
hearts and minds of all-inclusive kindness, including both the victimized
animals and the perpetrators in our compassion, and understanding that the
perpetrators—consumers and providers of animal foods—are both victimized
unwittingly by their violence and numbness. We are all connected. Veganism is
radical inclusion—love in action—and requires of vegans a deep commitment to
complete personal transformation, and an awakening from all dimensions of the
cultural insanity required by eating animal foods.

            Who
knows what terrible abuse the Conklin Dairy workers experienced as infants and
children? Birth in our culture is a violent affair, like it is on a dairy.
Babies are routinely separated from their mothers at birth, and their bodies
are flooded with pernicious injections and harsh sounds and toxic chemicals.
Like on dairies, less than four percent of the human babies born in the U.S.
today get their mothers’ milk. Whatever we do to animals, we end up doing to
ourselves. Sending anger and judgment to Mr. Conklin and the workers only adds
to the problem, and shows we are not looking deeply and are not free of the
culturally indoctrinated mentality of exclusion required by eating animal
foods. Personally, I yearn to send love and tenderness not just to the cows and
calves in the video, but to Mr. Conklin and the workers as well, and to the
masses of consumers blind to the effects of their actions, and to the millions
of fish killed yearly to be fed to the dairy cows to boost their milk
production, and to the starving people who could be fed the grain and beans fed
to these cows, and to the whole interconnected web of life on this beautiful
planet being devastated by animal agriculture.

            Not
buying animal-sourced foods, products, and services for ethical reasons, while
it is a fantastic, healing leap for anyone to make in this culture, is just a
small first step on the great vegan journey of love and awakening, and for us
to be successful in helping our culture evolve to nonviolence, freedom, respect
for life, justice, and peace, we are called to cultivate and embody these
qualities in all our relationships, and practice inclusivity, kindness, and
respect for both human and non-human animals.

            The
calls that are going forth from the larger animal protection organizations for
stronger laws and regulations to protect dairy cows, pigs, chickens, and other
animals will never succeed in stopping our violence toward animals for food, or
free us from it. They may even legitimize it. What is called for is committed,
resourceful, creative, and grass-roots vegan education. We must reduce and stop
the demand for dairy products and meat by respectfully educating people that
with whole, organic, plant foods we can feed ourselves and free ourselves.
There is nothing more important today than each of us practicing and sharing
these ideas of love for all living beings.

            The
relentless blood gusher must, like the oil gusher, be stopped quickly and soon,
or humanity and most life forms will be destroyed. Our violence toward animals
and the Earth is a boomerang that is increasingly ferocious. We absolutely do
not have the right or luxury to eat animal foods, or to think in the
exclusivist ways that eating animal foods requires. This is the message
underlying all the news headlines, if we can see it. Our future is beckoning
and drawing us ever onward. What kind of future will it be? We cannot build a
tower of love and harmony with bricks of cruelty and indifference. Our bodies,
our lives, and our relationships are the towers we build daily and inhabit.

            May
we have a Memorial Day for Animals, whose bodies, minds, and spirits bear the
full fury of our culture’s indoctrinated cravings and numbness. Their blood,
gushing relentlessly in the hidden gulf of agribusiness machinery, is
devastating the heath of our entire world. Remembering animals every day, let’s
be and spread the vegan message of love and compassion for all with, as JFK
used to say, renewed vigor. We have no other choice. I propose a Memorial Day
for Animals, which is a Memorial Day for all of us, and is the next step in our
cultural evolution.

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