je suis cecil

pig cratesSocial media outrage can reach such a pitch that mainstream media pick up the story. This is what has happened with the story of another trophy hunter, someone who paid more than twice the average salary in the UK to go and hunt a lion, kill him, skin him and behead him. I imagine it is not easy hunting a lion, but the skill of this is surely diminished since this lion was baited, i.e. tempted into an area that would make him an easy target. Male lions are majestic creatures and this lion bore a human-given name as he was a familiar inhabitant of a National Park in Zimbabwe and one of the subjects of an Oxford University research project.

A similar wave of outrage swept through social media in April this year at the offensive photographs trophy hunters publish on social media sites. Typically they stand or squat victorious over their prey, shiny weapons and shiny smiles on display. At the time, I made reference to the Tory government’s push to repeal the Hunting Act in the UK which would legalise once more the hunting of foxes with packs of hounds and their retinue of scarlet and black coated hunters on thundering horses. All this under the guise of ‘vermin’ control while video footage circulates strongly suggesting foxes are being bred for hunting, as well as showing fox baiting activities.

A commonplace fox does not have the stature of a lion so the outrage does not swell globally, but swell it does because there is something in the human ‘spirit’ that is outraged by cruelty to animals. When you look into the eyes of another animal an un-namebale connection is made. It is not dissimilar to the connection we make through eye contact with each other, something arrests us in that moment as we share the magnitude and intimacy of actually being alive, awake and aware.

Interestingly, somewhere along the line, the animals raised for eating are removed from our view, we not only never look them in the eye, we rarely see them in the fields around us. The food on display in the supermarket is called meat not animal, and there is no imagery on the packaging that relates the body parts to a whole creature, like the ones we remember from our childhood picture books. This is because these animals are usually bred and raised in huge, huge numbers in factory farms, living short and tortuous lives, the sight of which is somehow deemed unfit for human consumption. (Aside: in certain US states it is now illegal to take photographs or make video footage of the conditions inside factory farms as these firms are “private”, and whistle-blowers will face prosecution.)

I am utterly convinced, however, that the vast majority of humans would not be able to bear witness, not be able to hold eye contact with any of these animals, without it touching their hearts and minds, without it impacting the way they choose to eat and live. It might not be an overnight sweeping change, perhaps like me it is a one day at a time effort, even a one meal at a time effort, but collectively we make a big difference to the animals and to the wider environment affected by these farming methods. This is why I chose the title for this piece: je suis Cecil, with all due respect to those affected by the events in Paris in January of this year, to name a connectedness and shared responsibility to all living things however majestic, however commonplace.

.

.

Image via farmsnotfactories.org, shows pig crates. About only 1/4 of pork produced and eaten in the UK comes from outdoor farms. Nearly 70% is imported from farms outside the UK with standards not permitted in the UK.

Advertisements

Yulin

cow loveI had never heard of this place, Yulin, until a couple of months ago. I believe, translated it means Jade Forest. It is a city in the north west province of China once associated with coal mining and now with fracking for natural shale gas. What it seems to be most famous for however is a summer solstice tradition for eating dog (and cat) meat that has kicked off a flurry of aggrieved and shocked petitions all over the internet. Tradition seems to be a rather generous term since, in all the articles I have read, it appears to have begun in about 2009/10.

Issues arising from the widespread publicity about the festival are largely around animal cruetly and slaughter, animal theft and smuggling, and public health issues for although you cannot contract rabies from eating dog, you can from handling infected animals, and approximately 10,000 dogs are traded to support the festivities. China has the second highest incidence of rabies in humans in the world, according to the WHO.

I have signed all the petitions. I live with a dog. I am part of a culture that on the whole is dog-loving (I leave aside the horrors of illegal dog fighting, and fox hunting – how far removed is a fox from a dog as a species anyway?) but I am curious about the horrified feelings of my co-petitioners, because while the suffering and slaughter of 10,000 companion animals is a staggering amount it is a small number when the number of farmed animals slaugherterd in the UK alone is considered. These are the latest figures I could lay my hands on, they don’t account for the thousands of deaths on farms due to disease, accidents, transportation or neglect.

“In 2013, more than 989.6 million farmed animals were slaughtered for meat in the UK, according to official figures. Of these, 2.6 million were cattle, 10.3 million pigs, 14.5 million sheep, 17.5 million turkeys and nearly 945 million chickens.”

That is a lot of animals.

This has all left me a bit bewildered about the consensus view of farmed animals and companion animals, for there is something intriguing about the way our minds have been conditioned to find it OK to treat one member of species with love and affection and another member of a species as OK to eat for dinner.  And going back to foxes and internet petitions, intrigued I am again about how the UK government would react if there was a worldwide push from Chinese animal acitvistst against the proposed repeal of the Hunting Act. Now that’s something to think about over my sweet potato pancakes this morning.

Guardian article November 2014, concerning unreported farm animal deaths

Guardian article March 2015, concerning Tory government backing for repeal of Hunting Act

treading lightly

hands painted as planet earthSometimes you get more than you bargained for. In January, I started this enquiry about switching from veggie to vegan in response to my growing awareness of the scale of industrialised methods in dairy and poultry farming. I gave myself a get out clause in that if I wasn’t able to manage my nutrition well, there were ethically run dairies and egg producers that I could support, but four months on, several books later, and a collection of browser bookmarks too numerous to count, the key learning is about the interconnectedness of my habits and choices.

At the same time as researching nutritional requirements and reestablishing the cooking habit after months of coping with family illnesses and bereavement, I added a few vegan FB page likes, subscribed to blogs and twitter feeds, and headed to the bookshop to replace my cookbooks and gather some associated reading. This for the most part has been a blessing as fellow vegans point me to their tried and trusted recipes, to stories about successful animal sanctuaries, and to answers to questions like, where do you get your protein? However, the other part of opening up the window on veganism is an exposure to the unadorned and brutal facts and practices of livestock farming from gender selection to slaughter, information that has driven me to tears of horror, disbelief and despair on several occasions.

Over and beyond the farming and welfare issues, I have learnt about the knock on effects of the contemporary globalised western diet with its links to poor public health; to pollution and degradation of localised water supplies and soil; to the blanket use of antibiotics in animal feed with its potential connection to untreatable superbugs; and to the concept of BigAg that along with other supersized lobby groups shapes global trade agreements that seek to ride roughshod over sovereign and local interests. The final connection that is gradually coming into focus is between large scale livestock farming and climate change. I can put my hand up now and say that I had not spent anytime in recent years contemplating in any depth the matter of climate change. I know that at home we take more showers than baths, only fill the kettle so far, have changed our lightbulbs, etc but the imperatives of climate change had been lost on me. Of course it is much more complex than farming and lightbulbs, after all there are vast sums of money spent on denying the climate change scenario. Only time will tell who is right, but looking through the vegan window is helping me shape a strategic vision for my household where we tread as lightly as possible on this little blue ball that revolves around the sun.

Image Source via thethoughtvox.com

skinny pigs

two pigsI was going to blog about a great supermarket salad I picked up yesterday: quinoa, beetroot, pear and pecan nuts, with a cider vinegar mustard dressing. Very, very pink and very, very tasty. Instead I was stopped in my tracks  by an FB post from a non-veggie/vegan friend. She was horrified to read an NY Times article about the breeding and experimentation programmes carried out at the US Meat Animal Research Centre located in Nebraska. A taxpayer-funded institution, it undertakes “high-risk, potentially controversial research that other institutions will not do or are no longer allowed to do.” It’s a long article, brace yourself and you can read it here.

Needless to say the journalist describes cruelty, neglect and levels of exploitation that beggar belief; mistreatment that shocks veterinarians, members of the farming community and other scientists. I won’t share any of the graphic examples here but just this one relatively mild initiative: the genetic development of leaner pigs, who are so lean they stop ovulating. Yes, anorexic pigs – now that has to be the oxymoron of the century. With a new quandary to master, the scientists overlook the fact that body fat is a requirement of nature for female fertility and instead explore ways to manipulate the endocrine connection between the brain and the ovaries so that these skinny sows will be able to  produce piglets for the lean tastes of the market. (I thought it was the fat that gave ‘pork’ its sweet flavour in the cooking?)

I am left wondering how this information goes, or is kept, under the radar of public consciousness (especially as it is government funded), and aghast at how animal husbandry can have turned into a BigAg dystopia.