Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Minestrone Is Murder?

Maybe so — but carnivores still kill many more plants than vegans do

Day after day, meat eaters try to discredit ethical veganism with an astonishing array of pseudo-philosophical protests, but the recurring assertion that “Plants have feelings, too” is particularly vexing — mainly because it’s so transparently insincere. Think about it: Why are meat eaters so remarkably resistant to recognizing the horrific suffering of “food” animals, yet simultaneously eager to anthropomorphize faceless fruits and vegetables that utterly lack the brains, central nervous systems, and sense organs (like eyes and ears) generally associated with sentience? When carnivores insist that plants’ feelings matter, it seems to me that they disingenuously want to appear genuinely concerned about hurting innocent herbs, when in fact the sneaky subtext peeking out from underneath the edge of this compassionate facade is a self-serving accusation that we vegans are as guilty of murder as the most unrepentant flesh-obsessed gourmand.

The latest example of this perennially weed-like phenomenon sprouted up yesterday in Natalie Angier’s New York Times article “Sorry, Vegans: Brussels Sprouts Like to Live, Too” — a title which insinuates, baselessly, that plants’ faculty for feeling somehow negates the moral authenticity at the core of animal rights. Now, please understand, I am by no means criticizing Angier for promoting the hypothesis that all living organisms are imbued with some form of consciousness: actually, I find the eminent behavioral botanist’s quotation touting plants’ capacity for “sensory modalities and abilities we normally think of as only being in animals” quite compelling. What I do object to, strenuously, is that any carnivore (much less a mainstream science journalist) would have the unmitigated chutzpah to charge that it’s hypocritical for us vegans to shout “meat is murder” while allegedly committing mass herbicide — especially because meat eaters kill so many more plants than we do in the course of daily dining!

Need proof? Then check out these stunning statistics:

• To yield a single pound of edible meat, a chicken must consume about 2 pounds of grain*, a pig must consume about 4 pounds, and a cow must consume 10 to 16 pounds. So, every time someone eats meat, they kill 2 to 16 times as many plants than they would by eating vegan.

• Slaughtering approximately 65 billion animals worldwide for meat each year requires that one-third of humanity’s grain harvest be fed to livestock. This calculation accounts for 80% of U.S. corn crops and about 99% of U.S.-produced soy meal, but not the vast fields of grass and other naturally-growing plants upon which free-range cows, sheep and goats graze.

• According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, livestock production occupies 70% of all the land used for agricultural purposes, and nearly one-third of the Earth’s entire landmass. This boundless terrain was once unspoiled habitat for billions of native plants and animals who were either displaced or eradicated — some to the point of extinction. The beef industry, for instance, is the driving force behind the destruction of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, one of the planet’s most diversity-dense regions, with nearly 80% of deforested land being used for ranching.

Strictly speaking, it’s impossible for us to physically survive without consuming other living entities — just as billions of microbial creatures subsist on the proteins in our bodies. But contrary to the misleading myths of popular belief, veganism isn’t about achieving perfection, purity or sainthood (or, for that matter, smugly proving our superiority or political correctness). Rather, the point is to consciously make pragmatic lifestyle choices that significantly reduce the amount of pain, agony and death suffered by others as a result of our privileged existence, and persuade people to do the same in the name of non-violence.

So, the next time some smart-ass carnivore tries to excuse their lethal fauna-filled diet by feigning sympathy for faultless flora, just look them right in the eye and tell them straight out: If you really, truly care about the plight of exploited plant beings, then go vegan now!

* I originally cited a website claiming (inaccurately, it seems) that the grain-to-meat conversion ratio for chickens is 6:1. Tip of the hat to Erik Marcus for pointing out the error.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Nightmare of the Nurse Mare Foals

Thoroughbred horseracing's invisible victims

For decades, the thoroughbred racehorse industry has practiced a shockingly cruel breeding method that activists have only recently brought to light. The result of this compulsory procreative procedure are nurse mare foals — the unwanted offspring of female horses used as nursing surrogates for thoroughbred ponies. Every year, tens of thousands of these horses are killed or orphaned simply because they are useless to a multi-million dollar enterprise that thrives on equine exploitation.

Here's how it works: in order to get thoroughbred mares to produce as many potential racehorse champions as possible, breeders push their biological limits to extremes by forcing them to reproduce once a year. Maximizing productivity requires breeders to have the mares reimpregnated right after giving birth, which precludes them from nursing their own babies. The newborns are therefore taken away from their mothers within days of delivery, and nursed by surrogate mares (of “inferior” breeds) who have just given birth to their own offspring — the “by-products” of this process known as nurse mare foals.

Permanently separating thoroughbred babies from their mothers is tragic enough, but most nurse mare foals face a far worse fate than either racehorses or surrogates. While some are killed soon after being born or starved to death, others are sold (as young as one day old) to the tanning industry, which slaughters them and turns their skin into handbags, belts, and other high-grade leather products. The lucky ones are rescued by horse advocacy groups, which, just like the tanners, must pay the going rate of $200 to $400 apiece — and then spend several hundred more dollars feeding and raising each horse for months before they are ready for adoption.

Rescuers nourish nurse mare foals by bottle-feeding them milk replacer, which could theoretically be used to feed thoroughbred foals as well, thus eliminating this exceedingly inhumane breeding practice altogether. There are two main reasons that they don't do this: formula is expensive, and horse breeders maintain that thoroughbreds need to drink real (albeit surrogate) mother's milk from the source to achieve peak athletic performance. Plus, the larger nurse mare farms (concentrated in New York, Kentucky and Tennessee) produce 50 to 100 foals a year, and it is more operationally efficient to make the surrogate mothers do all the work rather than paying human caretakers to feed the foals by hand.

Another possible solution to the problem of unwanted foals is a new domperidone-based drug protocol that induces non-pregnant mares who have given birth before to lactate. Though chemically manipulating horses' hormones poses ethical dilemmas in the context of animal rights philosophy, in practical terms it would prevent tens of thousands of unwanted foals from being born into a life of suffering and untimely death. It could also dramatically reduce the number of surrogate nurse mares by enabling thoroughbreds who are too old for breeding to nurse foals.

There are many ways to help relieve the suffering of nurse mares and their orphaned foals, from urging elected legislators to pass humane laws to financially supporting horse advocacy organizations or adopting a rescued foal. Learn more about how to take action at lastchancecorral.org.