Of Easter hams and meatless fish

Google images

‘Tis the Easter season. This is apparent thanks to the frequency with which supermarket advertising circulars appear, each and every one featuring the dead, sliced body of a pig front and center. How else to celebrate the Season of Renewed Life?

Indeed. Let’s sit down to a meal of flesh from an intelligent, sentient being who was brought into the world to suffer a hideous, hellish life and die a cruel, industrial death solely to grace our tables as we give thanks to the Lord of compassion for His sacrifice born of love…and the miracle of Easter. Amen!

Lambs all over North America must wipe their woolly brows in relief every Easter: Whew, dodged a bullet! But I digress.

The foods section in our local paper is something I rarely read. Pouring almond milk over cereal is the extent of my cooking interest and ability. Or at least it used to be–until desperation to produce a vegan birthday cake drove me to find a recipe I thought I could handle–and did. Talk about your miracles!

Tilapia orgy in Malaysia -OregonLive.com (click)

But a recent foods section caught my eye with this photo caption: “For a meatless Friday meal, try tilapia with avocado salsa.” Meatless? Tilapia?? I quick looked up tilapia, just to make double sure it wasn’t some exotic vegetable or fermented, sprouted soy thingie. An article from the Detroit Free Press went on to tout the benefits of cooking and eating this African freshwater fish.

Promoted as the “new chicken of the sea” or “aquatic chicken because it breeds easily and tastes bland,” tilapia are industrially produced on huge factory fish farms in China and Latin America; the U.S. is the largest consumer at 475 million pounds in 2010 (New York Times). Along with fish farming come the many sins of industrial animal production: overcrowding of sentient beings, added hormones (in some cases), displacement of native species, massive aquatic ecosystem degradation and destruction.

Likely we’ve all heard (at least once) the proclamation, “I’m vegetarian, but I do eat fish” or “fish and sometimes chicken.” I imagine a hierarchy (“How Similar to Us Are They?”) where fish–cold-blooded, scaled, underwater-dwelling, egg-laying fish–are so alien as to merit virtually no consideration as living beings. Chickens–creatures with wings, not even mammals!–are just above them. I mean, aren’t they produced by the billions? Basically just dumb, mindless automatons?

I googled “is fish meat” and got a couple of interesting hits. One concludes that “it depends on your perspective” at which I snorted in disgust. The author was talking to me when he/she wrote, “Many people hate to arrive at the conclusion of everyone wins, but in this situation that may be the case.” To be fair, though, religious perspectives, dietary preferences, red meat vs. white meat, and a biological approach ( meat is muscle protein, period) are all given their due here.

Another site is unequivocal:

Most of us tiptoe around religious mandates regarding slaughter of animals and consumption of their bodies out of respect, out of fear of appearing insensitive, out of fear of offending. Sometimes out of ignorance. Here’s where I harken back to childhood, a half-Polish, Protestant kid with lots of Polish Catholic friends and relatives. I was eating lunch–Campbell’s chicken noodle soup–with my friend Mary, who was removing pieces of chicken from her mouth and neatly placing them on a napkin. I was baffled. “It’s Friday,” she reminded me. (The Friday fish fry was and is an institution in my heavily-immigrant, heavily-Catholic hometown.) I kept my own mouth shut–you don’t question another’s religion. But seeing Mary spit out chicken chunks because it was Friday made me wonder–is this really what God wants? REALLY? Well, turns out not God so much as the church:

This is not to come down on Catholics. Most humans whose religion has compassion at its core routinely rob animals of their lives–with or without ritual. I once attended a panel discussion on living a compassionate life; it was presented by a progressive Christian pastor and a Buddhist nun. During the Q&A, someone beat me to asking about killing animals for food. The pastor seemed uninterested in addressing this topic and sat back while the nun took it on, saying pretty much what you’d expect from a practitioner of one of the more respectful-of-animal-life belief systems.

So when will religions–many with millennia of ancient tradition behind them–come up to speed with what we know about animals today? That animals lead emotional and yes–even moral lives? That chickens show empathy? That cows make friends and suffer in their absence or loss? That pigs are social, playful, and protective? That fish are complex, intelligent creatures with memories and cognitive powers, that their “pain system…is very similar to that of birds and mammals”?

We live in a modern world and have new insights into animals’ lives. When dogma clashes with compassion and justice, which should give way and which should hold sway? If warm-blooded and cold-blooded can no longer be claimed as any kind of moral divide, what about Friday’s fish?
For an admittedly incomplete list of faith-based animal resource, visit our Vegan Living page.

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

An animal rights Super Bowl fantasy (reprised & updated)

Just say no to pigskin–unless it’s on a pig. Click image.

It’s Superbowl Sunday, and even as I type, the six-hour pre-game show has commenced. We’ll tune in later, for the actual game. Yes, we’re football fans, a somewhat shocking revelation to friends who know us only for our more conscience-driven pursuits. We’ll be cheering for, well, who cares. I default to the NFC when I don’t have a dog in that fight, to use a football-related (OK, Michael Vick-related, close enough) term. Go 49ers, ho-hum. Then again, ravens are birds–and birds are good, and the Edgar Allen Poe/Baltimore connection is most compelling to a former English teacher…so…Go team!

I’ve been a Green Bay Packers fan since before it was cool–for 4-1/2 decades. I kid you not, just in the last two minutes I started thinking about the name “packers,” wondering what could it be that was getting packed in the midwest way back when??? (Upton Sinclair, get thee behind me.) With dread in my vegan heart, I confirmed my worst suspicion: meat! Meat was packed at the Indian Packing Company (slogan: “A meat market on your pantry shelf”). According to that perpetual eruption of information, Wikipedia, shipping clerk Curly Lambeau asked the company to sponsor jerseys and provide use of its athletic field in 1919, and the Green Bay Packers team was born. Ouch. See what happens when you start looking below the surface?

We’ll soon start preparing our game-day chow, which includes roasted-garlic-and-kalamata olive hummus, tortilla chips, vegan pizza, and a growler of Missoula’s own. Maybe there will be room left for “The best chocolate cake ever…that happens to be vegan. I kid you not” (recipe here).

Like everyone else, we’ll watch for the ads. And because Americans profess to love animals, and marketers know that animals sell, we’ll probably see plenty. Oh sure, the Budweiser draft horses will make an appearance, as will the Coca-Cola polar bears, but so will the Skechers French bulldog (view 2012 ad here), who, according to greyhound advocacy group Grey2K USA, will legitimize and glamorize dog racing cruelty for 100 million viewers. Will there be cat wrangling? Chimps in business suits? Pigs crammed in gestation crates and downer cows forklifted to the slaughter floor? Oh wait–that’s part of the fantasy.

See, I’m waiting for the Super Bowl where every ad pushing a product that exploited animals HAS to be followed by one showing the exploitation. Chicken nugget ad? Chicken “broiler” ad. Got milk ad? Cow and calf cruelty ad. Steakhouse ad? CAFO ad. Egg muffin ad? The skinny on “layers.” Bacon-bacon-bacon ad? Thirty seconds of factory farmed pig cruelty. Imagine the many mindlessly masticating mouths filled with pulled pork and barbecued wings that would come to a grinding halt while the bitter, hideous truth graphically played out before their horrified eyes! The gag reflexes and the heaving! The stampede for the restroom! The next-day surge in Field Roast and Tofurky stock on Wall Street!

See what happens when you start looking below the surface?!?

The halftime reprieve would feature vegetarian and vegan entertainers who were billed as such. Prince and Sir Paul have already had their gigs, so the list might include Chrissie Hynde, Moby, k.d. lang, and Bryan Adams. Maybe animal rights rapper IFEEL. There are plenty to choose from.

But the fantasy won’t happen this year. No, this year the status quo of exploitation will continue to reign because blogs such as this haven’t yet brought the animal-industrial complex to its knees (“the animal industrial complex performs the annual repetitious killing of in excess of 56 billion farmed land animals”) though, dog knows, it’s not for lack of trying. It won’t happen this year because you and I don’t have a cool four million to spend on honest ads that show the sufferin’ behind “I’m lovin’ it.” Sadly, I don’t suppose we ever will. *sigh*

And that’s where that growler comes in. Will you be joining me in a pint?

Comment on this post at animal law blog Animal Blawg.