Pig wrestling: Small injustices enable larger ones

Pigs like mud for their OWN reasons – click image

“So delighted to find you folks upon googling,” the message begins. It arrived at my webmail box at the beginning of July, written by a woman from rural Anytown, Everystate, USA. The impetus for her message was an upcoming pig wrestling event at a local fair–complete with human spectators who would be, in her words, “guffawing and smiling all the while–unbearable!” Her concern was a lovely and oft-needed reminder that compassion–like speciesism–lives everywhere.

The Other Nations pig wrestling page she fortuitously found was born out of our own local need two years ago, and stumbling upon it might have felt like a minor stroke of good luck, perhaps providing validation and support when most needed. She pondered how best to protest in an agricultural region so thoroughly invested in animal exploitation that manhandling frightened animals passes for fun. She continued:

First, I ‘fessed up that there are no “you people” at Other Nations, just a staff of one plying the deep, rough, and unhappy waters of speciesism like so many others. I reiterated the advice on the webpage–contact event sponsors if it makes sense to do so, raise awareness with social media, letters to the editor, and guest columns–and be prepared for the inevitable criticism and ridicule. As for the ones who “consider these events sacred”? Forget about them, I suggested, for

Turns out she didn’t really need me or this advice–she later revealed that three years ago she had helped lead a campaign against the extermination of 250 Canada geese whose presence became inconvenient to some homeowners in a lakeside community. (Geese–on a lakeshore? Outrageous!) The plan to “euthanize” (read: kill) the birds was scrapped when protests erupted and a Squawk Back! Facebook page garnered attention and support for the cause. You go, girl!

But you know how it is. You’re up to your neck in factory farming, predator persecution, shark finning, horse slaughter, puppy mills, captive marine mammals, zoo-circus-rodeo abuse, coyote killing contests, goose and urban deer slaughter, fur farms and trapping and trophy hunting…and along comes something as stupid and mean as pig wrestling, touted as “great family fun!” And if you don’t take it on, who will?

Or maybe it’s mutton bustin’ (video), where small kids hang on the backs of frightened, docile prey animals, learning how to cowboy up for their awesome future wrenching the necks of steers (video) and clotheslining calves (video) in the rodeo arena. What’s the lesson in these “contests”? That “conquering” animals makes you a winner? That empathy and compassion are for sissies? That causing animals emotional and physical distress is inconsequential?

In the grand scheme, pig wrestling and mutton bustin’ pale in comparison to the brutality of rodeo and the mind-blowing excesses of factory farming. But animal exploitation dressed up as innocent, family fun and sponsored by respected community partners is no less exploitation, and it behooves us to call it out as such. So when someone takes on pig wrestling, I’m cheering them on, because small injustices enable larger ones. She refused to remain silent and channeled her outrage into a letter to the editor that appeared in three papers. It read, in part:

Of course, the show went on, but her words broke the silence that grants exploiters tacit approval for their mistreatment of animals. And just as she might have felt validation and support upon finding the Other Nations pig wrestling page, she in turn provided the same validation and support for other compassionate people who read her letter. Perhaps some of them will be emboldened to add their voices to hers next time around.

So, to Susie and to all of you who speak out, put your name on the line, and break the silence–even when you’re likely to be the only one taking a stand–I repeat the words of appreciation I found in her message: “Thank goodness for you people!”
Resource: Humane Goose Control Solutions – click here
See also: “Sheep dressing, pig wrestling, chicken scrambling: Bullies are made, not born” – here

Comment on this piece at animal law blog Animal Blawg.
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WHO WEARS THE PANTS IN MONTANA? Wild bison and the Orwellian state

Raise your hand if you’ve had measles.

OK, those of you with your hands up? We’re going to permanently remove you from the population—just as a safeguard—in the name of disease risk management. What, you’re objecting? Well, yes, that’s true—evidence of past exposure doesn’t mean you’re actively infected now or that you can transmit the disease, but that’s a minor detail, isn’t it?… and better safe than sorry, right? So off you go, the line forms here.

Buffalo Field Campaign photo

Culling humans for measles exposure makes no more sense than culling Yellowstone’s wild bison for brucellosis exposure. In Orwell’s 1984, the Ministry of Truth kept propaganda flowing to protect the ruling class much as the livestock industry and state veterinarian Marty Zaluski (Big Brother?) function in Montana: they pump out misinformation until proven wrong, and then continue to insist on it anyhow.

According to Zaluski, the heavy-handed “brucellosis containment efforts” (Orwellian “Newspeak” for hazing, capture, and slaughter) are not likely to change in the short term, even though no wild bison has ever—in over 90 years—transmitted brucellosis to domestic cattle, from whence the disease originated. The brucellosis red herring stinks to high heaven by now; we all know the zero-tolerance policy for wild bison in Montana is meant to preserve livestock supremacy–who controls the land, who gets the grass. Who wears the pants.

In livestock industry Newspeak, America’s last free-roaming bison are not wildlife, but “animals in need of disease control.” And in 21st century Montana, even those who test negative often go to slaughter, proving that “disease control” is just so much doublethink. Even the National Park Service plays along; in another jaw-dropping Orwellian twist, the agency charged with protecting America’s native wildlife has asserted its right to capture for slaughter nearly half the herd of 3700 animals. This comes in the face of an emergency injunction filed by Buffalo Field Campaign and others to stop the slaughter, and at a time when genetics experts are warning that the indiscriminate culling could spell doom for the population’s survival. It has already wreaked havoc with their intricate family and herd social structure.

Nonetheless, a judge has cleared the way for slaughter of a living national treasure–based on antibodies in their blood and the “time honored” tool of lethal removal, calling it necessary to “…protect the species, the habitat, and the public.” Kill them to save them…do you sense Orwell smiling? But wait, the governor then stopped shipment to slaughter. While this is a good development for bison, the governor has based his order on…you guessed it…the threat of brucellosis to Montana livestock even as the poor beasts are en route to slaughter! Stay tuned for the next political skirmish in the Buffalo Wars.

Bison need to migrate out of Yellowstone at this time of year, when deep snow buries their forage on the high elevation plateaus. Had Yellowstone’s boundaries been drawn with ecosystems rather than politics in mind, there’d be no problem. Now that we know better, we need to accommodate bison on adjacent public land in Montana where they belong. But fearing that wild bison restored to Montana will cut into livestock grazing, the Cattle Empire strikes back again and again, and the entire nation pays the price. Imagine a Yellowstone National Park without buffalo!

According to Big Brother Zaluski, the need for additional bison habitat is “…like buying another pair of pants because you keep getting fatter. At some point you’ll grow out of those pants too.”

Well, that works only if you’re buying and wearing your own pants. But a handful of Yellowstone-area ranchers continues to grab the citizens’ pants—the public lands bordering the park—for their own. Meanwhile, the lives of over 500 wild bison, currently suffering in crowded capture pens, hang in the balance.

Montana is called “the last best place,” but for native wild bison, it’s all too often simply the last place before the slaughterhouse. The Montana livestock oligarchy, bloated with entitlement, has outgrown its own pants. It’s high time they get the hell out of ours.

The animal industrial complex: The monster in our midst

Given the opportunity, what would you say to a couple hundred high school students about animal exploitation? In 30 minutes? I had that chance as a speaker at a local Missoula high school back in April. Having taught there several years ago, I already knew that kids at this school are generally awesome and take pride in their open-minded, “alternative” image. Still, I was clued in by a few that the animal rights viewpoint isn’t any more warmly embraced there than it is in the rest of society. Go figure.

Earth Day was the occasion, so I chose factory farming for my topic–its gross cruelty to animals, its devastating impacts on the environment and humans. I set about creating a PowerPoint to engage teenagers, saying what I had to say in 50 minutes, then painfully, laboriously cutting out 20 of those minutes. First and foremost, I wanted to convey the position of normalcy that animal exploitation occupies in the status quo and, consequently, in our lives–to let kids off the hook, in a sense, for not knowing or not noticing (a defensive audience being much less likely to hear the message). There was no reference to vegetarian (except for Paul McCartney’s “glass walls” quote) or vegan, no pressure or proselytizing. I started with a question:

Why are we so thoroughly unaware of the animal exploitation that surrounds and supports our lives?

We are kept ignorant by design, I suggested. Industrial animal production is intentionally hidden from view (“If slaughterhouses had glass walls…”). Then, too, it’s an integral part of our economy what with its taxpayer subsidies, powerful lobbies, beneficial laws, and lax regulation. Want more? The end product is cheap and heavily marketed (here, familiar fast food logos crowd onto the screen, one after another–Do you remember a time when you didn’t recognize these?!?). Finally, it’s embedded in our most enduring traditions and family memories. Here the Easter ham appears, supplanted by the Fourth of July hotdog and the Thanksgiving turkey. Last image up: a plate of cookies, a tall glass of milk, and Santa’s red-gloved hand poised for the dunk. Yes, the jolly elf himself’s got milk.

Then the images seldom seen: debeaked egg-laying chicks, “broiler” chickens collapsing under their abnormal weight, shackled birds on vast conveyer belts hurtling toward the throat-slashing blade. A pile of piglet tails and testicles, male dairy calves discarded to diarrhea and death in veal production, a restrained bovine awaiting the bolt to the brain. Toxic waste lagoons overflowing into rivers, dead fish, deforestation mile after square mile. Human rights abuses in slaughterhouses; human health impacts in the industry, in the neighborhood, in the consumer market. It was a grim accounting.

Did anything connect? Perhaps. Students were attentive, often engrossed, sometimes stunned (remember the first time you learned about debeaking?). The images, while not the worst portrayals of abuse and suffering, were enough to convey the reality of which we’re so blissfully ignorant when we casually order up McBuckets of wings and whoppers. Whether any students changed their lunch plans that day, I don’t know. But I choose to trust that something–one image, one idea–pierced someone’s armor, and their transformation–whenever it comes–will have a ripple effect.

Milk Mustache Scholarship: Embellishing the facade

Click image

But oh how difficult to breech armor forged over generations of reinforcement that exploiting certain animals for food is normal…is good for us. Even when it’s not. No one ever famously warned us–or our parents–to guard against the influence of the animal industrial complex, a “partially opaque network of relations between governments, public and private science, and the corporate agricultural sector” that “naturalizes the human as a consumer of other animals.”

So when I read that a local high school high-achiever was awarded a “SAMMY” (Scholar Athlete Milk Mustache of the Year) scholarship, I wasn’t so much surprised that such a thing exists as I was overcome with despair–yet again–at the enormity of the animal industrial complex, its long reach into our lives, and how well it has done its job normalizing brutality toward the animals whose very existence is forgotten.

Milk. Here’s a product whose benefits to humans are touted by the industry with slick, appealing ads and celebrity endorsements; questioned by some (Harvard); claimed to be downright harmful by others (SaveOurBones and NotMilk). And more recently:

HSUS-provided AP photo-downer dairy cow

But no matter what one chooses to believe about milk’s benefits or damages, there’s no getting around this: Milk is high in saturated misery. Factory farmed dairy cows are constantly lactating and/or pregnant, severely confined, and fed an abnormal grain diet. They suffer painful physical ailments, and are emotionally traumatized when robbed of their newborns. Nothing more than a production unit, they are worn out in four to five years (as opposed to 20-plus for a normal lifespan) and sent to slaughter. Downer cows–those too infirm to walk to their own death–sometimes incite even greater abuse, as revealed in this undercover video (text available if you choose not to view). Male calves are typically killed or put into veal production. Milk is not benign: “Metaphorically,” said Dr. Steven Gross, “there is a hunk of veal in every glass of milk.”

Schools: We don’t need no education; Kids: we don’t need no thought control

America’s school kids have been hijacked by the corporate dairy industry, the government (USDA, in particular), and schools–an animal industrial complex troika of immense influence. That dairy industry scholarship, for example? It’s “supported by four education partners: the American Association of School Administrators, the National Association for Sport and Physical Education, the American School Counselor Association and the National School Public Relations Association.” How’s that for product placement?!?

Click image

The Dairy Council of California offers–as just one example of a state dairy council’s stealthy reach into kids’ lives–a K-12 nutrition education curriculum free to state educators along with free professional development modules allowing teachers to become certified dairy council educators. Online learning tools for kids include “Dairy Farm.” Don’t miss the short “Cow Care” video. Do kids ever wonder what happens to all those calves taken from their moms (they don’t show that part) only to be bottle-fed? Why doesn’t “Life Stages of a Dairy Cow” include the trip to the slaughterhouse at age four? Just sayin’.

Because there’s nothing funner than wading into dense blocks of text written by bureaucrats, check out the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 7, Chapter 11 (1-1-11 edition), Subchapter A–Child Nutrition Programs, Part 210–National School Lunch Program (NSLP). I learned some startling information there. In fact, the NSLP (which reimburses schools for meals that meet guidelines) “is declared to be the policy of Congress, as a measure of national security, to safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation’s children and to encourage the domestic consumption of nutritious agricultural commodities and other food…” (210.1). Yes, it’s a matter of national security that school kids eat the products of industrial animal production. Who knew.

You vill drink zee milk, or else.

Milk is specifically singled out–“fluid milk as a beverage” must be offered for reimbursable lunches (pg. 26); substitutions can be made when a disability affects a child’s diet–and requires a doctor’s signature. Mom or dad’s word alone isn’t good enough for the Troika.

What about the child who doesn’t like milk, or the vegan student who wants an alternative to misery milk? Can he or she breeze through the lunch line and request almond milk? Not without parental request and clearance from Above:

Dairy milk is heavily subsidized by the government, other milks are not. It’s in schools’ own interest to push misery milk exclusively, since any cost overage for alternatives is on their dime. Even those schools, daycares, and qualifying camps that don’t participate in federal nutrition meal service programs can offer misery milk for reimbursement through the Special Milk Program. It’s everywhere, like a stalker of American kids. If the idea of an animal industrial complex seemed a bit outlandish–maybe even a little paranoid–to anyone a few paragraphs back, perhaps now?…not so much.

Much knowledge has been discovered about human physiology and nutrition and animal sentience since the advent of the National School Lunch Program in 1946. Industrial animal production has grown exponentially in suffering for animals and unsustainability for the planet. Bird flu, swine flu, mad cow disease, and other dangerously-mutating pathogens are the legacies (not to mention our possible fate) of the ravenous industrial monster in our midst.

I’ve taught school in enough poverty-stricken places to know the importance of school lunches; feeding hungry children isn’t the issue. What they are fed–and perhaps even more important, why they are fed what they’re fed–is. Though sentient cows themselves are nothing more than production units to be exploited and discarded, their milk has achieved sacred cow status, deserving or not. The vast, powerful animal industrial complex determines what kids eat because we’ve failed to “guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence,” to borrow from Pres. Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex warning. “The total influence–economic, political, even spiritual” is felt everywhere, he said, and it involves “the very structure of our society.” The parallels are sobering.

But let’s end on a happy note. With an increasing selection of healthy, cruelty-free plant-based milks available, cow’s milk for human consumption is obsolete. And apparently we’ve put a dent in Misery Milk’s facade–look who’s on the defensive with a pathetic attempt to malign plant-based milks as “imitation” products of science. If you know anyone who’s still “gobbling down that dairy milk like a parched heifer,” turn them on to the Power Milkman. He’ll set them straight. He’s got some serious nuts, too.

This post first appeared at animal law blog Animal Blawg, where comments are accepted.

Animal rights Halloween hazards: Candy corn, chocolate milk, and squid ink pasta with baby octopus

10 incredibly strange cephalopods - click

10 incredibly strange cephalopods – click

Ever notice how those “scariest animal” lists that appear around Halloween (bats! spiders! snakes! sharks!) always omit the most truly frightening candidate–Homo sapiens? I mean, what could be scarier than realizing you’re of the same species as the callous, wolf-killing Idahoan who twirls his gun and revels in his self-congratulatory “John Wayne sh*t” while he films the animal suffering in death throes?!? Yikes.

And then there’s Halloween candy, potentially the stuff of vegan nightmares given that traditional fare like Brach’s candy corn contains bothgelatin and honey. (I get a little green around the gills just thinking about the vast quantities I’ve consumed in days of blissfully-ignorant yore.) The good news is that Jelly Belly makes a gelatin- and honey-free version. The bad news–for vegans and bees–is that it contains beeswax. *sigh* (Unclear on why vegans eschew bee products? Click here.)

Yet another bloodcurdling Halloween proposition: the Peanuts Gang is still pushing chocolate dairy milk as the “official drink of Halloween” (“pick some up for your little monsters”). The monstrous suffering that dairy cows and their doomed offspring endure during their tormented, truncated lives goes beyond diabolical, yet how easily the usually-sensitive Charlie and friends cross over to the dark side. Ah, the specter of capitalism married to speciesism: their offspring is, indeed, unholy.

How squids and octopuses figure into Halloween (or, at least, into this post)

Our local, daily paper reflects, pretty much, standard American everything–that is to say, animal exploitation is invisible in plain sight. “Play with ingredients that are noir-hued for a grown-up Halloween dinner” encouraged an article (originally from the Chicago Tribune) in Wednesday’s food section. The recipe for sauteed baby octopus over squid ink pasta (stomach-heaving photo at previous link) caught my eye since I had recently glanced over some light reading on pain and suffering in cephalopods–octopuses and squids, specifically–used as research subjects. That led me to seek out more: a sequence of short videos showing an octopus engaged in problem solving (part 1, part 2, and part 3); a video showing an octopus using a tool (amazing!); and an item at Science Daily asserting that

Of course, we don’t need to belabor the intelligence angle when it’s sentience alone that matters, though many humans don’t think of mollusks as either intelligent or sentient–when we think of them at all. Squid? –you mean the software?

That brings us to squid ink pasta. Seriously, who worries about the squid when they see those three words? Not the cook whose “biggest concerns” are, “Is this gonna stain my hands?” “What about my kitchen countertops?” and, “What does it taste like?” Nor the woman who shows us, on video, how to harvest squid ink for Instructables TV (“the tentacles are the best part…everybody wants to fight over the tentacles”).

For the record, if I’m going to fight over the tentacles, it will be with the goal that they remain attached to the living animal. But Halloween calls for fun, not fighting, and what could be more fun than a simple squid hat costume? Imagine the questions you’ll get at the Halloween party, and your ensuing public relations campaign for cephalopods.

Imagine how effective–and alienating–this will be if sauteed baby octopus over squid ink pasta is on the party menu. Happy Halloween!

More on the amazing octopus from OneKind (HumanKind. AnimalKind. OneKind.)
Humboldt squid: great footage & commentary from a neurobiologist; 3-1/2 min. video
Cephalopod consciousness: Behavioural evidence, here
No-sew octopus costume – here
Top 10 vegan Halloween recipes & treats, here; Vegan Halloween at Pinterest
Ultimate vegan Halloween party menu from VegNews

Comment on this post at animal law blog Animal Blawg.

It’s June! Time to luv-a-turkey, hug-a-cat, eat-yer-veggies…and panic!

June is upon us, and with it comes special day designations that prompt both cheering and jeering from the animal advocacy crowd. Ready? Let’s get start with the big, month-long picture.

June is Turkey Lovers Month! But sadly–and predictably–that “love” is gastronomic in nature, so we suggest lovin’ ’em in a kinder, gentler manner. You’ve heard the myth that they’re so dumb they’ll drown looking up at the sky in a rainstorm? Huh-uh. “Smart animals with personality and character” is how one scientist describes turkeys. Downer alert: Watch Mercy for Animals’ undercover video filmed at a Butterball facility…no turkey lovers here.

If captive animals make you blue, you won’t be celebrating National Zoo and Aquarium Month. These establishments are fond of touting their enrichment programs that ostensibly enhance animals’ existences to make up for their loss of liberty and any semblance of life as nature intended. If you’ve seen psychotic/zoochotic animals pacing and turning circles (video), you probably wonder how the odd rubber ball, cardboard box, whiff of perfume, or Froot Loops treat can make up for the freedom to roam tens or hundreds of square miles in the wild. Also heralded by the industry are reintroduction programs, but it’s just as easy to hold up examples of shortened life spans and death. Zoos and aquariums cite research that claims they help humans “gain emotional ties to wildlife, foster appreciation for the natural world, and engage in conservation initiatives,” but Emory University researchers have found those claims to be lacking:

Springing animals from cages is what Adopt a Shelter Cat Month is all about. Click the link to learn how you can help homeless cats even if you aren’t in a position to adopt–or if you’ve already adopted your fill. Disclosure:We’re former shelter cats and we approve this message. ~Larkspur & Juniper

June also means that we probably can’t avoid the moo juice follies. Yes, it’s National Dairy Month. Ugh, so much has been revealed about the heinous abuse of dairy cows that we’ll just say drinking cow’s milk udderly sucks–unless you’re a calf, in which case sucking udders is all the rage, not to mention, nature’s plan. But generations of humans have bought into the myth that we need cow’s milk–you just know there’s some bad psychological juju going down when Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the whole darn Peanuts gang shills for the dairy industry. Downer alert (no pun intended): Watch Mercy for Animals’ “Ohio Dairy Farm Brutality” here.)

But guess what? June is alsoNational Dairy Alternative Month! If you haven’t yet made the switch to cruelty-free, plant-based milk, what better time? C’mon, you know you want to! Plan to experiment; yours truly, for instance, started out using soy milk and switched to almond. Fruit smoothies never tasted so udderlessly delicious!

Many states offer a free fishing weekend in June to coincide with National Fishing & Boating Week (June 1-9). That’s followed by National Go Fishing Day on June 18th, when sporting anglers trick sentient fish into embedding hooks in their mouths and then, in a display of skill and prowess, “play” the terrified, suffering creatures as they struggle for their lives. In some sort of warped twist, June 18th is also International Sushi Day. If something smells fishy, that’s probably not vegan sushi on your plate!

June 4th is Hug Your Cat Day, though some “authorities” claim it’s May 30th. No matter, hugging kitties is a daily treat for many of us. No feline to hug? Why not stop by your local shelter and hug a few? They’d love the attention, and as soon as one wraps his or her paws around your neck and purrs in your ear, you might suddenly recall that it’s also Adopt a Shelter Cat Month! Serendipity is a beautiful thing.

June 15th is World Juggling Day. I mention this only in case you’d like to consider a gig juggling vegetables (see it happening here) as a lead-in to the next two days: June 16th and 17th are Fresh Veggies Day and Eat Your Vegetables Day, respectively. There’s really nothing left to say…unless it’s vegan pizza.

June 21st is Take Your Dog to Work Day. For those of us who work at home, this is a day like any other. For the rest of you, don’t forget the Mutt Mitts!

June 25th is National Catfish Day, proclaimed as such by Pres. Reagan in 1987 in a statement clearly written by the catfish factory farming industry:

In a surprise move, the proclamation failed to consult with Worldwatch Institute, where we learn that it takes just one year for 10 tons of catfish waste to drop into a pond producing 5000 kilograms (about 11,000 pounds) of fish. And let’s not forget that it was southern-state fish farmers who first introduced Asian carp to their industry, and those voracious invasives are now lined up to enter the Great Lakes (animated map). So, in the spirit of all things June, we say hug your catfish–don’t eat one.

Asian carp in the Great Lakes? (Having grown up on one of the Great ones, this is the stuff of nightmares.) Dangerously-mutating pathogens in factory farms? And I’ve been in a state of near-panic since viewing the PBS Newshour’s segment on China’s insatiable appetite for pork, and the country’s bid to purchase mega-giant factory farm Smithfield Foods (undercover video). Thank dog June 18th is on the horizon–International Panic Day. Could be that the nightmare for pigs is just beginning.

But let’s end on a positive note. June 1st is Dare Day, a day to challenge someone else–or ourselves–to do something outrageous. To be the one who stands up, who speaks up–even if we have to do it alone–to make a difference. Give yourself the gift of watching “The Power of One.” It’s under two minutes long, but packs enough inspiration to last a lifetime. Happy June!

Comment on this post at animal law blog Animal Blawg.