Vegan thank you notes: “Just thought you’d want to know”

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One last hurrah is on the holiday season horizon–the New Year’s celebration. The holidays (regardless of which ones you celebrate) are a time fraught with pitfalls for ethical vegans in a speciesist world. Gifts…food…gifts of food…argh.

Food. You can always detect the vegan at the omnivore holiday party, surreptitiously rifling through the pasta salad with a serving spoon, attempting to determine if it’s “safe.” Likewise, the vegan (or veg*n) is the one whose face brightens at the sight of a huge salad bowl then darkens upon realizing that the lovely greens are covered with crumbled bacon. And bacon vinaigrette. Tsk.

Then there’s the gift-giving, and by that I really mean the gift-receiving. Because you can bet your Moo Shoes that ethical vegans give vegan gifts but don’t always receive them. If you’re a new vegan, the giver probably simply forgot. Sure, it’s central to your life, but let’s face it, the majority of people don’t experience the world through an exploitation filter that’s always switched to ON and always set to HIGH. Maybe the giver doesn’t realize that ethical veganism isn’t just a diet, but an all-encompassing lifestyle–with all its concomitant commitments. The giver probably doesn’t know about our compulsive label-reading, and wouldn’t recognize some ingredients as animal-based anyhow. Heck, most vegans need a cheat sheet from time to time, amiright?!? Wool? Leather? These things are as common as breathing air…I mean, who even thinks about this stuff–or where it comes from?!? (OK, vegans do.)

Case in point: We received a small bag of chocolate-covered espresso beans. Yum! The chocolate was dark (yay, no milk products) and all systems were ‘go’ until we spied “shellac” in the ingredient list. Noooo! Sometimes obfuscatingly called confectioner’s glaze, shellac is the resinous secretion of the Southeast Asian lac beetle. Aside from exploitation of a life form, this is just downright repulsive, IMO. (No, gelatin isn’t the only thing you have to worry about in your candy!) Check your Reese’s Pieces ingredients for ‘resinous glaze.’ They also contain milk–beetle juice and cow juice–for a vegan double-whammy. Thought you’d wanna know.

Yesterday’s Sunday “Peanuts” comic strip features Linus writing a thank you note to his grandparents for a Christmas gift while Lucy harasses him. With that as a prompt, herewith (and without harassment) are pre-written, fictional thank you notes for your convenience. If you received any of these gifts, just change the salutations, adapt the details to fit your needs, and you’re on your grateful, compassionate way.

Dear Grandma:

Thank you for thinking of me. It’s so like you to say that the beautiful blue color of the merino wool sweater matches my eyes, but the truth is, my eyes are red. From crying. The sweater got me to thinking about the wool industry and the suffering it causes sheep.

See, there’s this industry practice called mulesing (named after a guy whose name was Mules) where sheep have strips of flesh cut away from their rear ends without anesthesia. It leaves raw, bloody wounds (sorry, Grams, I know you’re sensitive) that prevent re-growth of wool in an area that attracts flies. The flies lay eggs that hatch into maggots in the folds of wooly skin, and the maggots eat the sheep’s flesh. It’s a nasty business, Grandma, and even if sheep aren’t mulesed, their tails are still painfully docked and they’re exploited as wool-producing commodities instead of sentient individuals.

Gosh, sorry to go off on a tangent, Grams…thought you’d want to know. Much love…

Dear Mr. Matthews:

Thank you for the tie–wow, company colors AND bearing the corporate logo. I hardly know what to say! I also noticed that it’s 100% silk. Did you know that silk worms are killed by the hundreds of millions every year in the silk industry? And that roughly 15 silkworms are killed to produce one gram of silk? (I know how you love facts and figures!)

Remember our little “spat” at the company picnic last 4th of July? Ha ha, when you joked that I was unpatriotic for not eating an “all-American” pork hotdog and for passing on the red, white, and blue Jell-O gelatin mold of Old Glory? Well, even though silkworms aren’t sentient like pigs, I still subscribe to a policy of “do no harm” where living beings are concerned. You won’t find silk boxers in my dresser drawer, either, Mr. Matthews, not that I ever want to find you rummaging around there, ha ha. Just thought you’d want to know. Respectfully…

Dear Aunt Louise:

Thank you for the angora-cashmere blend socks. They are sooo soft! And since I’m soft-hearted, I can’t help but think of the suffering endured by the rabbits and goats who produced that fur. Most of it comes from Chinese producers who don’t let compassion get in their way–witnesses say the bunnies actually scream when their fur is ripped out–yes, ripped out. Kinda how my heart feels when I rub those beautiful, soft socks against my tear-stained cheek. I guess I thought you’d want to know, Auntie Lou, cuz you’re a softie, too. Love & hugs…

Hey Michael…

Dude! Thanks for the leather-bound journal. So thoughtful of you to suggest that my “stunning prose” (you’re too kind!) should be recorded in something classier than a spiral notebook. But as a vegan, I eschew (love that word!) the use of leather–remember how our plans for an after-work, rec league basketball team almost fell apart?…until I was assured that the ball was made of rubber or a synthetic composite??…and you guys were all so exasperated??? Yup, crazy ol’ vegan me!

Anyhoo, lots of people believe that leather is simply a byproduct of factory farming and, well, what the hey. But that isn’t necessarily the case. Leather is actually an important co-product, and beyond that, lots of leather is produced in a global leather industry found in places like India and China–bad news for animals, dude. Hey man, figured you’d wanna be in the know. Cheers!

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Click image for info

Dear Sis:

Thanks for NOT giving me a gift certificate for UGG boots! I figured it was just good-natured ribbing on your part when you “threatened” me with that, knowing I would never go around schlepping the skin and wool of an abused, slaughtered sheep on my feet. (You’re rolling your eyes, aren’t you?!?) As for the “milk & honey” spa products gift set you sent instead, thanks, sis. I suppose it might do wonders for the skin, but milk is meant for baby cows and honey belongs to bees. This wrinkled old carcass of mine (go ahead, rub it in that I’m the oldest!) will do fine with plant-based emollients. Just thought I’d mention it, you know, FYI. Also, that mom liked me best. Love…

Dear Cousin Phil:

Gee, Phil, a bacon gift basket bearing a tag that reads, “To my favorite vegan.” Thank you, Phil–for remembering I’m vegan.

You’re a jerk, Phil. Just thought you’d want to know.
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White tigers: Tragic–not magic | Other Nations

Photo credit was hard to pin down: http://www.pbh2.com/wtf/meet-kenny-an-inbred-white-tiger/Kenny died in 2008. If you didn’t mark his passing (you probably didn’t even know about it), don’t feel bad. Kenny, you see, was not the beautiful white tiger on posters for glitzy magic acts. He wasn’t the star attraction drawing crowds of admirers to the zoo. As the product of unscrupulous white tiger breeding, Kenny’s life and death ran under the radar. It was only through the compassion of a wildlife refuge in Arkansas that he was able to live out his life in comfort and even found a modicum of fame (video)–one of the luckiest of the unlucky. He died at 10 years of age from cancer.

Kenny’s parents were brother and sister, both carrying the recessive gene for whiteness. As a white tiger, Kenny inherited double recessive genes. His orange brother was also born with the problem that accompanies this genetic disposition–he was severely cross-eyed. In addition, manifestations of inbreeding include club feet, cleft palates, spinal and other structural issues–and facial deformities, among other maladies.

To be clear: white tigers are not a species or a subspecies. They’re not albino. They are genetic anomalies. Though rare, white Bengal tigers have, in the past, existed in nature; the last known free-ranging white tiger was shot in the 1950s, according to an article at Popular Science. Since that time, white tigers are the product of for-profit breeding programs and, making matters worse, many are hybrids of Bengal and Siberian (Amur) tigers. As inbred and crossbred animals, they have no conservation value, but that doesn’t stop many of those who capitalize on the white tiger cachet from jumping on the conservation bandwagon to legitimize the exploitation. Emphasizing this is a Slate.com science article, “Why White Tigers Should Go Extinct”:

Tigers in general are in dire straits. According to wild cat conservator Panthera, fewer than 3200 tigers remain in the wild today on less than 7% of their historic range. Three subspecies have gone extinct in the last 80 years. Tigers are red-listed for their high risk of global extinction; their population trend only continues to decline thanks to an illegal wildlife trade market, a depleted prey base, increasing conflicts with humans, and habitat fragmentation and destruction.

Ironically, as many as 10,000 captive-bred tigers live in U.S. cages–in zoos, backyards, circuses, hotels, roadside attractions, exotic animal mills, and anywhere else an ego can be stoked or a buck can be made:

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Siegfried & Roy – click image for credit & info

But white tiger cubs go for far more–and are something of a special industry in the U.S. exotic animal market. According to numerous sources, the inbreeding of white tigers in the U.S. started when the first white cub was delivered in 1960 to Washington, D.C.’s National Zoo from India, the product of inbreeding herself. She was bred to an uncle, and white tiger production expanded from there with the Cincinnati Zoo (see “The White Tiger Fraud” at Big Cat Rescue) and Siegfried and Roy among the big players. Says Tigers in America, “Breeders began the quest for not only white cubs but pure white cubs for their market value of $100,000. This inbreeding…continues today with their offspring because of the demand for white tiger cubs. They sell for $30,000.”

Given its secretive nature and lack of regulation, numbers are hard to pin down in the shadowy world of unscrupulous wildlife breeding. In researching this piece, I’ve repeatedly seen 80% used as the percentage of inbred animals stillborn*, while a high percentage of those born live die early from their defects–all in attempts to create marketable animals. Further, according to Crown Ridge Tiger Sanctuary,

This squandering of sentient lives is what we support when we flock to zoos and glitzy shows featuring the magical white creatures who attract audiences and pay the bills. At a website defending the “conservation” of white tigers, charges of “animal racism” against those who object to their breeding are leveled on one page while, on another page, a zoo director is quoted saying, “We’re producing white tigers simply because they’re very popular with the public and they’ve helped us with the gas and light bill.” (Note: This website calls the Association of Zoos and Aquariums–the AZA–the “American Zoo Association” in error.)

In 2011 the AZA, an accrediting body,

tigermagicA magic show will appear here in Western Montana in another week or so. One look at the ads and it’s apparent what the marketing focus is: two tiger sisters, one of them white (video). The “Dare to Believe!” show has booked a theater on the University of Montana campus for two performances, and, if the Shrine Circus–a campus event center staple–is any indication, people will throng to the spectacle. If they’re anything like the circus-goers, they won’t know (and likely won’t want to know) the sad facts behind the flashy performance with its awe-inspiring cats. They’ll think conservation has something to do with it, and not without cause: The ticketing service provider for UM offers this special: “VIP ‘Save the Wild Supporter’ ticket options are available for the first 9 rows. Proceeds from these tickets go to help save tigers and cheetahs from extinction through RareSpeciesFund.org.” (Note that the Rare Species Fund supplies animals for entertainment, among other endeavors. Here’s another, less flattering view of the work they do.)

Since we can’t count on the University of Montana to take a principled stand by refusing to book wild (or any) animal acts, we’ll just have to dare to believe that if people only knew about the discarded lives and suffering behind the creation of just one marketable white tiger–they’d stay away in droves…remembering Kenny as one of the luckiest of the unlucky.
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*To emphasize the difficulty I had finding reliable information, I later came across this–and leave it to the reader to determine veracity: “It is not true that infant mortality in white tigers is 80%. This urban legend seems to have originated with opponents of white tigers. Poor husbandry, stressed mothers and feline infectious enteritis (for which a vaccine is now available) played a large part in white tiger cub mortality” (source).
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  • “Kenny the white tiger reveals the price of inbreeding,” IFLScience!
  • Panthera, linked above, is a good and reliable source of info
  • “Scientists find one gene responsible for all white tigers” here
  • “Diary of a White Tigress: Humorous look at growing up as a white tiger…Showing the true facts, without the Animal Rights propaganda.” A pro-exotic animal ownership video.
  • “Magician raises tigers, perfects illusions from small Montana town” (7/24/12) here

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Bad advice: “Homework is for kids who don’t hunt”

homeworkhunt“Homework is for kids who don’t hunt.” This proclamation, delivered on a Realtree brand boys’ T-shirt, appeared recently in a Shopko sales flier. I looked twice to make sure I read it correctly, so shocking was the message to this former teacher. Flashback to rural New Mexico and a boy in my 9th grade English class. He was a nice kid–congenial, polite–if not a committed student. His greatest enthusiasm during the school year manifested itself immediately before his week-long absence every autumn to go hunting. Attend class? Do homework? Make up missed assignments? Pff. That shirt would have fit him to a ‘T’.

You have to wonder about Realtree’s motive. Are they gunning for a legion of uneducated hunters loyal to the brand? Pandering to boys (and their money) who want to get their braggadocio on by dissing education and the sissies who prefer cracking books to killing? What responsible adult condones that alarming message–especially during these divisive times when a virulent strain of anti-intellectualism shot through with animosity is gripping our country? Chances are good that the masked dudes in the viral wolf slaughter photo didn’t rush home from middle school to study.

Girls aren’t forgotten in the not-so-subtle messaging that aims to connect hunting and identity. “Ribbons & bows & camo clothes –that’s what little girls are made of.” This bright pink t-shirt features a whitetail buck, a bow made of ribbon, and a bow and arrows. The takeaway here is that you can kill animals and still be a girlie girl. Here’s another: “Some girls play with dolls…REAL girls go hunting!” (A fishing version is also available.) This has something in common with the homework slogan–a kind of pride-building psychology that says Dolls? Loser. Killing animals? Winner. Let’s not forget Sarah Palin’s “Real women hunt moose” bag, an indication, perhaps, that some people never outgrow their need for the ego-massaging reassurance that they’re the real deal. The rest of us? Pathetic posers.

Perhaps the most appalling shirt of all was the one I saw while rushing through a big-box department store a few weeks ago: “Don’t mess with me–my daddy’s a HUNTER” (find it here). Seriously, is that a threat…of gun violence? Exactly how desperate is the hunting industry to win over the hearts and minds of kids?

It’s no secret that state agencies and national groups are engaged in a serious push to recruit new youth hunters as adult numbers decline. In Vermont: Youth Weekends for spring turkey, waterfowl, and deer. In Oregon: The Mentored Youth Hunt program, a “try before you buy” opportunity for unlicensed hunting without passing hunter education. In Florida: The Youth Hunting Program, whose first stated goal is to preserve Florida’s hunting heritage. In Montana, kids are handed their first license at no cost.

A Montana state legislator who’s also an outfitter sponsored a bill in 2013 to lower the hunting age to nine (it’s currently 12), allowing mentored hunting for three years before taking hunter education. Testified a 40-year hunter ed instructor: “You need to kill this bill before some third grader kills herself or some hunter” (source). The bill died, but not without support from all the major national hunting organizations.

The hunter identity T-shirts are likely an outgrowth of this concerted national effort to recruit ever more and younger hunters. Girls–and women–are obviously a major focus; I’ve recently seen more news features on women hunters than ever before. In articles sometimes heavy on both glamor and bravado, women are killing stocked pheasant on private ranches; others are beauty queen bow hunters out to fill a deer tag. (“With a bow, you have to be stealthy. It makes me feel like a bad ass.”) This particular bad ass goes on to reveal that the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks has “hired me for the year to attend events and teach girl scouts (sic) how to shoot. … Through my example, I hope to get girls interested in the outdoors.” Perhaps a future version of the Bow Hunter Ann action figure will come with a Girl Scout sit-upon for use in her tree stand.

Then there’s the proposed “youth hunting ambassadors,” the result of a 2012 study on how peer influence affects hunting participation. Commissioned by the Hunting Heritage Trust, the idea here is that it’s kids themselves who’ll chat up their friends about the awesomeness of hunting. Check out page xix of the study’s Executive Summary for an “overview of opportunities” designed to win over the 51% who questioned the acceptability of hunting, and the 46% who held a negative opinion of it (of the latter, 16% simply oppose hunting; 65% are turned off by killing animals).

Yes, the killing does give one pause. This year’s obligatory youth hunting story in our local paper featured a photo of a 12-year-old girl at the check-in station clutching the side of dad’s pickup truck while considering the deer she’d killed, the doe’s slit-open abdomen gaping at the camera. The pre-teen, sporting bright blue nail polish and numerous rings, told the reporter, “It was good, but it was sad too. This was my first deer and it’s hard to kill something, but I’m pretty happy about it too.” Her words echo the very same conflicted emotions of a boy on his first-ever hunt in last year’s iteration (see “Empathy override begins early with gigging, plinking“).

Hunting promoters will say that fewer kids hunt because they have too many other options. Never mentioned is the fact that we know more about animal sentience than at any previous time–and that lots of kids are repelled by hurting and killing other thinking, feeling beings. This explains attempts to lower hunting ages: as children grow, so do their empathy and moral concern for animals.

Hunting won’t disappear next week or next year, but self-serving T-shirt slogans can be countered with appeals to empathy, justice, and the benefits of a compassionate diet. Words are the mightiest of weapons, so let’s keep reminding kids, their parents, and anyone who’ll listen that sentient animals–all of us–just want to live their lives and pursue their interests. Like us, animals are individuals, and while it might be hard (in the words of our pre-teen hunter) to kill something, it’s even harder to kill someone.

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Channel your inner wolverine! | Other Nations

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Happy Wolverine Birthday! According to the Wolverine Foundation, February 14th is the day designated to symbolically mark the birth of wolverine kits. They come into the world under five inches long, weighing 3.5-5.11 ounces, and covered in white fur. They sometimes hang with one or the other parent for up to two years before going their own scrappy way.

Just a few days ago, on Feb. 9th, Gulo gulo’s lawyers were in a Missoula, Montana courtroom where a U.S. District judge heard arguments pertaining to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s denial of Endangered Species Act protection for wolverines–specifically examining whether the decision was reasonable…or arbitrary (article). Did FWS use the best available science? If climate change eats away at high elevation snowfields, will wolverines–who are obligate snow denners–be able to survive? What about their low population numbers (300 or fewer in the lower 48, mostly in Montana) with breeding-age females estimated at only 36 individuals? Read an extensive summary of the arguments in “Science goes to court” at the Wolverine Blog (includes proposed listing rule, leaked memo, and more).

Badass Wolverine Challenge

But now for that challenge. If any animal has a reputation for being a badass, it’s the skunk bear! These bodacious brawlers will take on bears, wolves, wolf packs…and come out on top. Writes wildlife biologist Doug Chadwick,

If you harbor an inner wolverine (and who doesn’t?!?), it’s time to channel that baby and help wolverines (via the Wolverine Foundation) in the process. The Badass Wolverine Challenge is a virtual race conducted online–though you and I put in actual, on-the-ground miles. This challenge gets us outdoors at the end of winter–when mom wolverines are tending to motherhood duties but the guys are out tearin’ it up, and covering vast miles, as per usual. Because wolverines would never wimp out and exercise on a treadmill when the weather is lousy, we won’t, either–we’ll walk, run, cross country ski, and/or snowshoe our way to badassedness in one of three categories. Details and how to sign up are here. Wolverineswould probably never be so sociable as to use social media, but you can, by checking out the Badass Wolverine Challenge Facebook page. The challenge starts Sunday, Feb. 21st, so if your inner wolverine is clawing to get out, get your tail in gear!
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