Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Ups and Downs of My Vegan Vacation

What: Let Live NW Animal Rights Conference in Portland, OR, followed by a week-long vacation in Vancouver, BC.
Who: Me and my main-squeeze, Mariann.
When: Late June/Early July, 2009

Up: Finally having the gumption to get to LaGuardia on public transportation.
Down: Getting off the plane in Portland and going straight to the ER for my scratched eyeball. (Should I admit that this was a makeup mishap?)
Up: The fairly hot lesbian doctor at the hospital (and with a script for Vicadin, as an added bonus).
Up: Seeing Isa, and getting catty with Kirby, Avocado, and Fizz.
Up: The much-anticipated Vegan Mini-Mall. It is, indeed, all it’s cracked up to be.
Up: The best tattoo ever at Scapegoat. The wonderful Valentino is on my leg for eternity (and covering up a teenage mistake, to boot).

Down: The Vicadin (yes, the-eyeball-Vicadin) wearing off at the same time as the adrenaline during the process of getting the best tattoo ever.
Down: The ironically harried atmosphere at Blossoming Lotus.
Up: Snacking on the kale chips from Food Fight Grocery.
Up: Vegan doughnuts from VooDoo Doughnuts. I especially love the “Dirty Old Bastard.” (Vegan doughnuts are fat and calorie-free, right?)
Up: The amazingly convenient Trimet trip planner for public transportation in Portland.
Down: It ain’t the A train. You’ve gotta wait for the buses, often for a long time.
Down: Walking for a mile and a half – uphill – to get to the Rose Gardens.
Up: Stopping on the way to play on the swings.

Down: The Rose Gardens aren’t all that rosey.
Up: The Japanese Gardens, however, are luscious.

Up: Taking a break in the Japanese Gardens for a Buccaneer from Food Fight. Tastes just like a Milky Way, but minus the oppression.
Down: Finding out that Michael Jackson died and knowing that an era has died with him. Then trying to shove that new piece of information into a pocket of your brain just long enough to stop and smell the roses.
Up: When ordering food at Bye and Bye and asking if the “cheese” on the menu was vegan, getting a “duh” look. Um, yeah….
Up: Last Thursday on Alberta Street.
Up: Being leafleted to go vegan at Last Thursday on Alberta Street.
Up: The look on the face of the leafleter when she realizes I’m wearing a vegan t-shirt. Then, the conversation that transpired from that.
Up: Someone complimenting my new tattoo that I just got the day before.
Up: My rad new vegan shoes.
Down: Slowly but surely grasping the fact that my rad new vegan shoes hurt my little pinky toes…a lot.
Up: Trying on cruelty-free diva wigs.

Up: Passing a beautiful garden near Alberta Street as we looked for the rerouted bus.
Down: Passing it several more times since we were laughably lost.
Down: Getting tut-tutted at by the bus driver for attempting to pick up the rerouted bus at a non-bus stop.
Up: Having the bus driver let you on anyway, despite his visible annoyance.
Up: The vegan spread at the Ethiopian joint where we had lunch. Realizing that one of your friend’s friends is actually your friend too. It’s a small world after all…
Up: Singing “What’s Up?” with Gene Baur at karaoke night opening the Let Live Northwest Animal Rights conference at Portland State University.

Up: Josh Hooten’s karaoke salute to homosexuality…complete with a pink polo!

Up: The vegan soft serve at the Let Live opening party.
Down: Being too late to get any vegan soft serve at the Let Live opening party.
Down: No vegan breakfast in sight. This is Portland, folks. “And I scream from the top of my lungs…What’s going on?!”
Up: Kim McCoy’s riveting opening speech.
Down: Realizing that one of my workshops planned for that very afternoon is remarkably similar to Kim McCoy’s riveting opening speech. Quickly doing some rewrites.
Up: Awesome, inspiring activists at my farm animal advocacy workshop.

Up: Getting through my writing for the animals workshop in one piece and actually feeling good about it. Getting an email the next day from an attendee who started a blog because of it. Yay creativity!

Up: Being given a copy of a college student's vegan cooking zine after the workshop (and I am in love with it).
Up: Telling my most embarrassing activist story in front of several hundred activists, including some of my mentors.
Down: Telling my most embarrassing activist story in front of several hundred activists, including some of my mentors.
Up: Great dinner with Gene, Liz, Jason, and Heather at the Let Live fund raiser at Bye and Bye (yes, Bye and Bye again and again).
Down: Realizing that the reason many people were missing at Bye and Bye dinner was because they were at Portobello Vegan Trattoria, a restaurant we were dying to try.
Down: Further realizing that Portobello was going to be closed for the remainder of our trip. Grrrr….
Up: Fried coconut pies at the food cart, and the homemade vegan caramels.

Up: The powdered soy creamer we got at Food Fight so we can finally move beyond plain black coffee in our hotel room.
Up: Getting to talk on a panel with lauren Orneles and Pulin Modi.
Up: Buttnernut squash enchiladas at the Iron Horse with Jenny and Doug.
Up: Watching Ruby Bird Hooten lip sync at her house, later that evening.

Down: The incredibly tiny plane (with propellers!) taking us from Portland to Vancouver.
Up: A sweet flight attendant who took a particular liking to the vegan lesbians from the Big Apple.
Up: Getting out alive.
Up: Reading the menu at the Westin Hotel in Vancouver and noticing that they have 100% vegan cupcakes. Jumping up and down wildly. Then noticing that about half their menu is vegan. Weeping with joy, even though we couldn’t afford any of it.
Up: Splurging on the $10 cupcakes anyway. Thanking the chef and telling him we’re vegan. Getting two free cupcakes as a result.
Up: Daiya Cheese at the Naam. The best nachos we’ve ever had.
Up: Having lots of leftovers, and a mini-fridge in our hotel room in which to store them.
Up: Davie Street, which was remarkably similar to the Castro.
Up: The book selection at Little Sisters.
Down: Absolutely no signs on any bus stops anywhere in Vancouver. We started to think that the motto should be: “Canada…Guess!”
Down: No public transport maps to be found anywhere. And nobody having any clue how to advise you as to how to get where. I’m surprised that carless Canadians don’t just walk in circles.
Up: Somehow figuring it out anyway, often with the help of very sweet (and tolerant!) bus drivers.
Up: Feasting on a delish veggie dog. They are available at every corner hot dog stand!

Down: The disappointment of Commercial Avenue, including the food at Cafe Deux Soleils.
Up: Kitsalano, or “Kits,” on the most picture-perfect day you could ever imagine, sitting at the beach with a view of spectacular mountains and a beautiful city, fifteen minutes from downtown on a bus. (The 4, in case you’re lost.)

Up: Walking from Kitsalano Beach to Granville Island.
Down: Everything was closed at Granville Island, even though it was only 7 p.m.
Up: Taking a water taxi back to downtown, where everything was open, and it didn’t get dark until 10.
Up: Canada Day! Who knew?
Down: Scratching my glasses and breaking the track ball on my blackberry at the same time. (Yes, my glasses and my eyeball both got scratched in the Pacific Northwest.)
Up: The fabulous glasses guy, Reed, who gave me his take on what sights to see and which to miss...once he fixed my glasses, of course.
Up: The steam clock in Gastown.
Up: The coffee store that used maple syrup instead of sugar.
Down: Hastings Street is perhaps the most terrifying/depressing street I’ve ever seen.
Up: Great local cherries.
Up: The Loonies and Toonies. (That’s one-dollar coins and two-dollar coins.)
Up: The chocolate fondue at Foundation that made me a little too exuberant.
Down: The loud banging music at Foundation that made me a little too homicidal.
Up: The quote on the building of Foundation.

Down: Not being able to see the fireworks from our hotel room because our room faced the wrong way.
Down: Mariann’s dopey head cold that suddenly surfaced.
Down: Waking up early for an all-day adventure to Victoria.
Down: The VERY LOUD TALKER on the bus on the way to the ferry boat. (His basement flooded and the handyman refuses to fix it. He is on his way to Victoria with his band for the jazz festival. I know many more details about his life in case you’re curious.)
Up: Distracting myself from his rantings by listening to “Hey Eugene” on Mariann’s iPhone over and over.
Up: The breathtakingly beautiful (and incredibly windy!) ferry ride to Vancouver Island.

Up: The seagull who joined us for the journey.

Up: The vegan pizza (with homemade vegan cheese) at The Joint in Victoria.
Down: Victoria is such a cliché tourist joint that it’s hard to palate.
Down: Losing one of Mariann’s flip flops.
Up: Finding a 45-minute boat tour of Victoria, and passing the coolest floating homes (okay, the only floating homes) I’ve ever seen.

Up: The Salvation Army Thrift Store in Victoria, amidst all the tourist shops.
Up: The poetic sunset on the ferry trip home.

Up: Sleeping late the next day.
Down: The long bus ride plus the long walk to Wreck Beach.
Down: The even longer stairs (like, hundreds) that take you down to Wreck Beach.
Down: Being totally disillusioned by what a clothing-optional beach is like.
Down: Finding out what a prude I am.
Up: Keeping our clothes on the whole time.
Up: Leaving, nearly immediately.
Down: The climb to the top of the never-ending staircase that takes you out of Wreck Beach.
Up: The guy with the “Meat is Murder” tattoo on his back, who was always just too far ahead on the stairs to catch up to.
Up: Bodacious, my new favorite (non-thrift) clothing store.
Up: The housemade kombucha, the chocolate hemp shake, and all the other delicious food at Radha.
Up: Eavesdropping on the vegan meetup next to us. Cheerfully noticing that the men far outnumbered the women.
Up: The once-in-a-lifetime train trip from Vancouver to Whistler. This train went through trestles and mountains and rivers (oh my!).

Down: The mean people who sat behind us who, instead of just asking, rudely yelled at me for having my seat reclined while they were holding their screaming infant.
Down: Whistler itself, where we had 2 hours to explore. As Mariann said, “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”

Up: The watercress sandwiches and tea they served on the train trip home.
Up: The screaming infant from earlier was not on the train trip home.
Down: He was replaced by two screaming toddlers. It’s like they multiply.
Up: Lying on Jericho Beach the entire next day and reading.


Up: Devouring an advanced copy of Jane Velez Mitchell’s new book, I Want, and eagerly anticipating its publication so I can buy a copy for everyone I’ve ever met.
Up: The lemongrass tofu at the all-vegan Dharma Kitchen might be the best tofu I’ve ever eaten in my life. And don’t even get me started on the banana tapioca pudding.

Up: Dharma Kitchen’s adorable, eager, and yarmulke-wearing hipster waiter.
Down: Despite all the hype, The Oasis has no piano – but they do have a waiter who doesn’t wear a shirt.
Up: Coming back to Portland after a Vancouver vacation. It kind of felt like coming home, in some weird way.
Up: The Max Red Line stops right in the airport terminal. Easy-peasey!
Up: The honkin huge vegan burritos in Pioneer Square, Portland. (They give discounts for non-dairy burritos!)

Up: Having lesbian food with Josh, Michelle, Ruby, and Heather. (Okay, it was Lebanese…)
Down: During an intended leisurely morning in Portland prior to our afternoon flight, realizing the flight is in just over an hour! Scrambling to get to the airport on time.
Up: Miraculously, getting to the airport on time.
Down: A 3 ½ hour layover in Denver, and the greesy gross "veggie" sandwich we ate. Blech.
Down: 45 minutes before we land in NYC, the pilot says (word for word, I’m not kidding), “In case an emergency evacuation becomes necessary, leave everything!” WTF?!
Up: No emergency evacuation became necessary.
Up: Despite spending 14 days in the Pacific Northwest, an area renowned for it’s rainy weather, we experience only sunny skies.
Down: The second – and I mean the second – we touch down in NYC, it begins to rain torrentially.
Up: Spending time with Mariann, the most wonderful travel (and life) companion one could ask for. (Awwww, I know…)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Ducking the Truth

If you shoved a metal pipe down my throat, all the way to my esophagus, and then pumped food into me until my liver expanded 10 times its natural size, and then served my disease as a “luxury,” it would probably taste really good and sell really well for those who could afford to bask in the glory of my misfortune. My point is that I’m sure any of us taste like heaven when you deprive and mutilate our bodies just-so, and then top it off with the perfect sauce, or put our remains on a cracker. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

Topping the list of perverse things that we, as privileged people, can inflict on others (without legal ramifications) are: boiling a lobster alive; wearing a coat lined with the skin of an animal who was genitally or anally electrocuted; concocting a sandwich from the chopped up muscles of a dead cow; and eating foie gras, a French “delicacy” that comes from force-feeding ducks or geese to the brink of death. For foie gras birds, the forced-feeding torture lasts roughly 21 days, until their liver becomes hugely bloated and diseased. It’s the diseased liver that makes the food. And it’s the egregiously-cruel production method that makes the controversy.

It’s so controversial, in fact, that the production of foie gras by force-feeding has been banned in 14 countries, including Israel, a country whose decision was particularly important since it was the Supreme Court – not a regulatory agency or a legislature – that made the decision to ban it… based on an animal cruelty statute. California has also banned the sale and production of foie gras, effective 2012.

Earlier this week, the Village Voice came out with a front-cover article titled “Is Foie Gras Torture?” The reporter – Sarah DiGregorio – (who, incidentally, also penned another article recently in which she called vegetarian food “joyless, virtuous, and under-seasoned”) – decided to visit Hudson Valley Foie Gras (“HVFG”) to “objectively” determine if foie gras production is, in fact, abusive. DiGregorio includes one interview from an animal-rights perspective: that of veterinarian Holly Cheever. Cheever’s is the first quote you’ll find in the article, and not surprisingly, she is strongly against foie gras production, based on scientific findings and her own observations:

Cheever says that the esophagi are often "blown open" and that the fattened liver becomes profoundly diseased, which causes the birds to die a slow death, beset with seizures and unable to walk.

DiGregorio fills the rest of her piece with interviews with the owner of HVFG, a vet from HVFG, and the chef from Knife & Fork, a restaurant in NYC that has recently been the target of anti-foie gras protests. What struck me most was that she included an entire section bashing animal rights activists – in particular, those who protest outside of Knife & Fork. Yet she failed to interview a single one of these vilified activists. DiGregorio even includes a remark from the miffed chef, criticizing these activists for “standing out there with Ugg boots and leather jackets” – an unfair statement that I know for a fact is untrue. But it’s so telling, isn’t it? People would so much rather find some sign of hypocrisy in the activists than look into their own hearts for what is right.

I know these activists. I organize these activists as my career, and as my passion. I’ve been on the frontlines with these activists, and I can tell you without hesitation that 1) these activists are nothing but professional, law-abiding, respectful, and empathic – toward both animals and people; 2) all of these particular activists are vegan and wouldn’t be caught dead in Ugg-ly boots; 3) this chef talks a lot of bullshit, and the fact that he goes so far as to thrust foie gras in the activists’ faces (“which did not amuse them,” he gibes) is nothing short of abusive; and 4) this journalist would have presented a much more well-rounded story had she bothered speaking with the activists her article attacks.

DiGregorio’s article might also have been a bit more fair had it even touched on the fact that the Pew Commission released a report less than one year ago recommending an end to the production of foie gras; or that just a few weeks ago, the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus recommended that the largest foie gras distributor in the U.S. discontinue illegitimate claims about the “humane” treatment of birds used to produce foie gras.

There was a time when dog-fighting was considered an acceptable form of amusement, where people tossed dogs (usually pit bulls) into a fighting ring and placed bets on who would die first. Many people still find that fun – the infamous Michael Vick case might ring a bell. Now, in light of the Vick case and a growing social consciousness around such unnecessary cruelty, people are being awakened to what truly awesome animals pit bulls are. (My rescued pit bull, Rose, says that you can come over any time and give her a belly rub.) I actually visited the rescued pit bulls from the Vick case last summer at the Utah sanctuary, Best Friends, which was one of the most moving experiences of my life.

I had a similar experience when I was at Farm Sanctuary recently and got to hang out with Julep, a duck rescued from a Canadian foie gras production facility, the fluffy bird pictured at the top of this blog entry. Julep and several of her siblings were rescued from the dumpster after a sympathetic farm worker heard her peeps and found her still alive atop a heap of dead ducklings. At this facility and others in Canada, the female ducklings are gassed or suffocated in plastic bags because their livers are deemed unsuitable for the foie gras industry. Other rescued foie gras ducks at Farm Sanctuary – those who clearly endured the torture of force-feeding – continue to suffer debilitating health issues: Harper is blind in one eye and holds his head at a constant tilt; Kohl is crippled, and hobbles along the ground, no doubt from abusive handling. They are damaged, but have been given a second chance, just like the dogs and cats at Best Friends. They are thirsty for love, clearly happy to be alive each day in spite of their wounds, and they are true ambassadors. I hope that one day people see foie gras as the cruelty it is – an unnecessary, egregious, and barbaric activity that deserves to be banished to the dustbins of history alongside dog-fighting and other barbaric, so-called “traditions.”

One more thing: If you are ever lucky enough to encounter an animal rights activist, don’t fall into a trap of unfounded assumptions and foregone conclusions. Stop and have a conversation. Ask questions, and keep an open mind. Even if you don’t see eye to eye on everything, you might learn a thing or two.

There is no doubt that articles like DiGregorio’s will only energize activists further to speak up for the marginalized, oppressed and abused among us. There is also no doubt that these same activists will continue to be the target of people who are too busy swimming in the mainstream to have the moral courage to give issues like animal rights a second thought, or who love their foie gras too much to care.

But real social change was never made without grassroots activists who were brave enough to fight on against the odds, despite the accusations, despite the preconceived notions, and despite the ridicule of others. Among activist circles, there’s a well-known maxim taken from Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”

As we go about our daily lives taking care of our business, as it were, it’s an idea that we would all do well to store away in the backs of our minds and, when we get a chance, pull it out, mull it over, and ponder it.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Take Back the Night (this Wednesday)

Throughout the past year, Yetta Kurland has become a friend and comrade. I met her at a gathering for the Stonewall Democrats of NYC. It was hard to miss Yetta, particularly in a roomful of gay men (we were the only two women there). My friend John (of LOHV-NYC) insisted we set up a brunch-date, and a week later, we were all sitting at Kate's Joint talking furiously about yerba matte, civil unions, and the future of the animal rights movement.

Yetta is a civil rights attorney here in Manhattan. Her office, which I recently visited when my partner and I were seeking out advice on which way is up in terms of legal protection for same-sex couples, is full of photographs and doo-dads from Yetta's activist career. There she is with Hilary Clinton, back when Hilary was president... There she is leading a rally of some sort, no doubt speaking up for the underdog once again. On her desk was a knitted scarf that a young client had just sent to her. The note attached said "It's nice to know someone believes in us and fights for us when nobody else does."

A few months ago, I co-led a workshop on the intersections between gay rights, women's rights, and animal rights. Yetta was a guest speaker, and somehow eloquently tied together the hate-crime murder of Sakia Gunn, Sarah Palin's atrocious anti-feminist, anti-gay, anti-compassion stance, and how in order to end oppression, we must all go vegan.

Lucky for NYC, Yetta is currently running for City Council ('09), and lucky for me, I'm in her district (3). Lucky for all of us, this Wednesday, January 14th, Yetta will be hosting a Take Back the Night event, a fund-(and fun!)-raiser for her campaign. It's going to be a fabulous time. Janeane Garofalo will be there, too--and I mean, do I have to go on?

So be there for Yetta on Wednesday. Even if you hadn't realized until now, she's been there for you.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Gay Animal Rights Activist Attacked

I first met Nathan Runkle in person last summer in the lounge of a hotel just outside Washington DC. We were both presenting at TAFA, and Nathan and I joined a few other mutual friends for a drink and a few giggles--well, guffaws really...Nathan is a funny guy.

Of course, I'd heard of Nathan before. As the founder and Executive Director of Mercy for Animals, most animal advocates have heard of Nathan, and, like me, many are big fans. I first learned about Nathan's activism when I wrote an article entitled "Coming Out for Animal Rights" for Satya Magazine. As I was first learning about the various intersections between animal rights and gay rights, I read about MFA's inspiring work to help bridge the connections--efforts that were led by Nathan. Each year, MFA marches in Chicago's Gay Pride Parade, holding a banner that says "no one is free while others are oppressed."

Throughout the weekend of the conference, I found myself drawn to MFA's table--mostly because of the good company. Aside from Nathan, the table was staffed by Freeman Wicklund, Director of Campaigns--another friend and compatriot--whose work in the animal rights movement is ground-breaking and awesome.

The next time I saw Nathan and Freeman was a month later at the Farm Sanctuary Hoe Down, when they pointed my car into Parking Lot A. The two were volunteering for the weekend, and their delegated responsibilities were parking lot attendants.

It was while hanging out that particular weekend when I asked Nathan if the story I heard about him was true, the one I tell at nearly every single workshop I lead. This story is the one that is used to show activists that one leaflet can make a huge difference. It did for Nathan--who picked up one leaflet about animal cruelty, read it, realized he had to act, and went on to change the world. Nathan modestly assured me that the story was true.

So a few days ago, when I heard that Nathan was brutally gay-bashed while leaving a club in Dayton, Ohio, I felt as though my heart might shatter--and I'm still not sure it hasn't. In a press release issued today, Mercy for Animals states:

The attacker, believed to be a heterosexual white male with no previous relationship to the victim, has not yet been identified or apprehended. Runkle was briefly hospitalized after sustaining two facial fractures, a broken nose, deviated septum, and severe facial bruising. The incident has been labeled a felonious assault and is currently under investigation by the Dayton Police Department. Runkle believes the assault was motivated by hatred toward gays and was intended to send a fearful message to the local gay community.

I am sickened to death over this attack, and over the attacks of countless others who are continually subjugated in violent, demeaning, and life-threatening ways. I hope that this crime helps to shed light on the harsh prejudices that are still rampant, and on the issue of personal responsibility when it comes to injustice. When crimes like this happen, it is not enough to shake our heads and say "what a shame."

It's exactly what Nathan stands for and works so hard to advocate to others. The Mercy for Animals mission is loud and clear here: MFA works to create a society where animals are treated with the respect and compassion they so rightly deserve. Nathan leads efforts to establish and defend the rights of all animals--both human and non, and in so many ways, these rights are one in the same. Gay people continue to be attacked for no good reason because they are still considered objects and it is still considered acceptable, just as non-human animals are continually, repeatedly, and unfathomably abused and murdered, and it's still somehow considered okay. At Oregon University, vivisection was performed on gay rams to "to know whether sexual preferences can be altered by manipulating the prenatal hormone environment, for instance by using drugs to prevent the actions of androgen in the fetal sheep brain." So, scientists are cutting up live animals as a means to cure gayness. These things are happening. For no good reason, animals--both human and non--are being cut up and cast aside.

Oh, Nathan... I wish I could reverse time and take this all away. I wish I could reverse time long enough to take away the seeds that made all this seem like a good idea to your attacker, or a good idea to the scientists in Oregon, or to the woman I saw wearing a fur coat today, or to Sakia Gunn's killers. Though I can't reverse time--none of us can--we can all start to see what you've seen for so long, that truly, "no one is free while others are oppressed." And we can all start to up the ante of our activism so that when we die, we know we did everything in our power to try to create justice in a big bad world.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Madoff Makes Me Kvetch

I first thought seriously about Madoff's Judaism when reading the recent New York Times article about how he not only betrayed countless individuals and non-profits, but more specifically—his people. His religion is separate from his crime, and emphasizing that connection so that all us "chosen people" can tut-tut is a bit self-congratulatory—this type of behavior from a Jew?! The idea that this was somehow about Jewishness was exemplified in Rabbi Visotsky's statement, "the fact that he stole from Jewish charities puts him in a special circle of hell." (Wait—we believe in Hell now? Oy vey.) The fact that Madoff made off with the money of charities—period!—puts him in a special circle of Hell. Would it have been better if he stole from non-Jewish charities? We, as a culture, do not need to take blame for this mishegos, just as we don't get credit if he had done a mitzvah.

(This blog post was also published in Reasoned Radical.)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Confusion in Zaftig-Land

I recently started a new blog alongside my friends and colleagues, Liz and Casey. It's called Reasoned Radical, and it's a conglomeration of our thoughts on various social justice issues. I like it because, contrary to popular belief, sometimes I get a little tired of hearing myself. It's a nice fresh way of breaking up what this radical has to say, with thoughts from other reasoned radicals. My problem now is that I'm a bit confused as to what this means for Zaftig Vegan. Do I post my blog-posts twice? Do I blog more often? I'm still figuring this out, so for now, please bear with me, and in the mean time, check out Reasoned well as Zaftig Vegan.

To keep things easier for today, here are my two latest Reasoned Radical postings:

Consumed by America talks about a Walmart worker being trampled to death on Black Friday by overeager shoppers (and how that's representative of bigger, deeper problems), and Sacrificial Sham talks about an article I recently read regarding why people are abstaining from marriage (and the irony that the author wouldn't shut up with her ironically sad meat-comparisons).

Happy Zaftig Reasoned reading....

Monday, November 10, 2008

"Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world."

This blog entry is about as overdue as a Democratic president. But alas, here I am, coming out from the rubble of a month full of vague obsessions with Rachel Maddow, birthday mayhem which unfortunately led to a mostly-accidental teenage-like hangover, rescued roosters and road trips, and some pretty big small victories in our country.

Who was it that implied community organizers don't actually do anything? Or was that just a bad, icky, nasally nightmare? Aside from Obama's history of community organizing, this election would not have had the same results if it weren't for tireless volunteers and activists who knocked on doors relentlessly to ensure victory.

Annoyingly, I know more than a handful of people who didn't vote in this election, because of a varying degree of anarchist (and other) principles which made them feel that if the country can't be run in a way that is totally 100% on par with their beliefs, then they should boycott the election entirely. It perplexes me why these leftists can't see one candidate as better, at least, than the other--especially in this election. I like the way it is summed up here, by a self-described "eco-anarcha feminist animal." Regarding the "animals left unprotected in a Palin administration," pattrice jones says:

Me, I don’t believe that my right to symbolic self-expression trumps the interests of those animals. I know that my vote counts, whether or not I choose to cast it. If not casting a vote in any way contributed to the creation of the alternative political structure we need, that would be different. If we had a system where failure to capture a majority of the votes of eligible voters disqualified a candidate, that would be different. But one of those two men surely will win and which one it is surely will matter. Let’s not forget that Bush, who so many Greens falsely claimed was precisely equivalent to Gore in 2000, repealed several hundred environmental regulations enacted by Clinton-Gore. We all live on a different planet as a result. Let’s learn from history rather than repeating it. If only for the polar bears, let’s keep Sarah Palin out of the White House.

Unimportant Aside: I do wonder, now that Obama is packing his bags for the White House, what's going to happen to Tina Fey's career? It must be like how I felt when I played Momma Rose at 15... it's kind of all downhill after the role of a lifetime.

As for me and M, and likely most of the rest of the country, we didn't get much sleep on Nov. 4. What kept us awake, specifically, aside from the presidential election, was following Prop 2 in California. Prop 2 is an initiative that was on the ballot last week--asking residents of California to vote yes to ban three of the most egregiously cruel confinement systems in the entire state, effective 2015. The vote PASSED by a landslide--making this the biggest step forward for farm animals in this country to date.

Earlier in the year, I got to travel around California with the Truth Behind Factory Farming Truck, a multi-media vehicle (literally too) that showed the horrors of battery cages for egg-laying hens, gestation crates for pigs, and veal crates for cows. We leafleted everywhere--from gas stations to churches--to help spread the word about this important initiative. In the coming months, the campaign really took off, even winding up featured on such shows as Oprah and Ellen (the latter of whom is a brand new vegan!).

M and I finally fell asleep around 2:30, when we were pretty sure it was going to pass. At 4, I woke up and checked my email (my computer was beside me in the bed). "We won," I sleepily told her, and we fell back asleep--spooning--knowing full well what this victory meant, not just for the millions of animals affected, but for the future of the animal rights movement in this country.

The next day I brought Cali the Rooster to Farm Sanctuary.
A volunteer, Michelle, had found him in a parking lot in Nyack, and another volunteer, Greg, offered to drive him upstate so he could start the rest of his life. Cali--named, obviously, after the California initiative--was beautiful and robust. He was totally quiet and deeply thoughtful, until the sun started going down, landing for a moment in his pretty eyes. He wanted us to know it was time for bed, and boy oh boy does that boy have lungs! (Later that evening, during a dinner with a bunch of Farm Sanctuary colleagues, we all compared chicken-in-a-car stories. You know you're at Farm Sanctuary when...) Chickens are truly the most sensational creatures--they are brave and funny and social and intelligent. And someday soon, in California, they can stretch a little.

What does it mean to stretch a little? To stretch a little means that over 6 million Californians who had possibly never before questioned where their animal-derived "food" had come from, questioned it, saw the injustice, and decided that a modest measure was the least they could do. To stretch a little means that those who felt that voting yes on Prop 2 was too little, challenged themselves to go vegan and stop eating the animals entirely. To stretch a little means that thousands of people throughout the country spent hours of their time doing fund-raisers, leafletings, phone-banking, and writing letters-to-the-editor, in order to spread the word about Prop 2 and factory farming cruelty.

But to stretch a little means that while you are seeing the huge gigantic victory of Prop 2 passing, you also see that this is just a small indication of a larger possibility. And while it is truly victorious that farm animals have been given this attention, this "right," they are still being commodified in ways that are inexplicable and unfathomable, they are still not covered in the Animal Welfare Act or the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, there are still not any laws covering transport, and there are still 286 chickens being killed for food in this country every second. Stretch your mind--think of what that means.

Prop 2 passing is gigantic, but that's because farm animals are treated as the lowest of low--as soulless machines who can be misused for our own pleasure and profit. Prop 2 is historic for this country--yet the entire European Union has already either banned these three confinement systems, or they are currently on the phase-out. Prop 2 is a teeny-tiny, hugely-gigantic, little-big victory.

It is most certainly not time now to go home and twiddle our thumbs and eat our tofu scramble and say "there, we did it." It's okay to say "we did it" (because, holy crap, we did!) but thumb-twiddling is not allowed. It is now time to pick up the paper and the pace and spread the word even wider and further--it's time to enact similar legislation throughout the country, even federally. It's time to advocate veganism as not only a viable but a necessary step toward conquering global hunger and warming, egregious unfathomable cruelty, and commodofication of the many animals--both human and non--who are affected by animal agriculture. Prop 2 is just the beginning. And as my former intern and current friend, Cody, said so eloquently in an email he sent last week--"A lot of work by a lot of people laid the groundwork for this moment, not just in the past year but in the past several decades. However, I believe that when the book is written on how factory farming was finally and permanently dismantled, today will be the first chapter."

Meanwhile, Prop 8 also passed in California, though this was far faaaaaaar from victorious. Now, I'm not a fan of marriage. IMHO, I don't think that straight marriage is something we should want to mirror because it is full of deep dark flaws. That said, I think it's asinine that gay marriage is not legal in this country. My feelings about the entire (gay or straight) institution of marriage aside, it is nauseating that we can't have that opportunity, too, if we wanted it.

I was truly moved to unexpected tears by this commentary by Keith Olbermann. I marched in the Marriage Equality of NY Parade because I think that gay marriage is a modest measure--just like the chickens who can soon turn around. Gay marriage is not the be-all and end-all. But it should damn well be allowed for those who want it.

Last weekend I had the honor of giving a workshop alongside my colleague Matt Rice (if we combined names, my name would be Jasmin Rice) at the SUNY Social Justice Conference in Binghamton, NY. Our workshop was called Whom You Consume: Why Animal Rights is Central to Social Justice. We touched on the inherent subjugation within animal oppression--not just of the animals we eat, but also of the slaughterhouse workers who are victims of racism and extremely dangerous working conditions, the women who are marginalized as "pieces of meat" just as animals are made into pieces of meat--and the list continues. There are concrete connections between dairy and feminism, between AIDS and vivisection, between cockfighting and gay-bashing. Similar justifications have been used throughout time to rationalize othering these groups--and by "these groups" I mean insert-oppressed-group here (gay people, animals, the list goes on and on and on...).

How do we end it? We see the little big victories. We note them as victories and we celebrate those. And then we see them as the stepping stones they are--ways of moving onward and upward toward a more just society. How do we end it? We live consciously and remain aware of our privilege, and try our damnedest to not use our unjust power to continue the horrific cycles that have gone on for thousands of years, because the empty rationalization it's always been done that way is not an excuse; rather, it is a dangerous disconnect that is way too common.

Marriage is between a man and a woman--it has always been this way. We should not redefine marriage, right? Not right, no. As Keith Olbermann reminds us, if marriage had not been redefined, then two black people would not be allowed to marry each other, let alone someone of a different race.

It has always been this way. Humans have always eaten animals--it is part of the natural chain of command. No! Humans were vegetarian until fairly recently, evolutionarily speaking. It has not always been this way. 10 billion land animals have not always been killed in this country for food on a yearly basis.

We are all animals, and we all have the capacity to suffer, no matter what species or sexual preference we are.

While speaking at the conference upstate, I was able to see historian rock star Howard Zinn, give the keynote speech. Zinn--author of my favorite ever history book--spoke to a sold-out crowd about how it's time to redefine terrorism and heroism, and about how socialism needs to make a comeback. At one point, a college kid yelled to Zinn, "RIGHT ON!" and Zinn said "Huh? What?" "Right on!" the guy repeated, to which Zinn replied, "I haven't heard that since 1968. Glad to see things aren't all lost."

Howard Zinn once said: "Americans have been taught that their nation is civilized and humane. But, too often, U.S. actions have been uncivilized and inhumane." He also once said this: "Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world."

Right on, Professor Zinn. Indeed, you are correct--things are not all lost. Every now and again, we stretch, then we stretch some more, and eventually we find new ways of moving.