Are you vegan at heart? (but maybe not so much in practice?)

September 16, 2008

Kind Green Planet has the coolest thing for you then! It is called Vegan at Heart. You get an email “mission” every day for thirty days that takes only 1 to 10 minutes. I was lucky enough to be able to be in the test group for this project and it helped sooooo much and was fun (and if you skip a day, you can save it for later or, don’t tell anyone and no one will ever know….). The “missions” are little tips, projects, websites or suggestions about gently incorporating more veganism into your life.  I loved it so much because it is non-judgmental, supportive, and fun. I love the title Vegan at Heart because I relate to it so much as someone who really really wants to be vegan but really really is a picky eater and not a good cook in the first place. I am big on “baby steps” (anyone remember that from What About Bob? I loved that movie.) This is a great little thing to sign up for even if you are just VC (veg-curious) or you just want some fresh ideas for ways to incorporate more sustainable practices into your life.

p.s. The woman who designed Vegan at Heart is a Unitarian Universalist who is very nice and friendly and would probably answer your individual questions too if you have them along the way. :)

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Vegetarianism Watch in the UU Blogosphere

September 1, 2008

I just can’t help reading the vegetarian or vegan posts that are out there. And then reposting them here. Peacebang watched Meet your Meat which I have never been able to bring myself to watch – for me it is sort of like a Saving Private Ryan sort of thing – I know it (war or raising animals for meat) is bad. You don’t need to show it to me in graphic detail. But many vegetarian advocates points out that this does actually work well in terms of helping people understand what goes into our meat production. So, if you are as brave as Peacebang, and braver than me, you can watch it to. Or else just read her commentary on it.

p.s. Why four blog posts in a row after months of almost silence? I don’t know. I guess it comes in waves.


The Sexual Politics of Meat and PETA

June 8, 2008

Carol Adams wrote a good book in 1990 called The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory. While not without its faults (what book is perfect?), I appreciated the way she made connections between oppressions and subjugations, highlighting what is one my key mantras – oppressions and subjugations are related and you can’t just address one without attention to the others (and certainly not at the active exclusion of others). If you could see the small picture on the cover, you would see that it is a woman divided up into “cuts” – and the question written is “What’s your cut?”

A quick summary – women’s bodies are objectified. The bodies of animals who are eaten are objectified – their pain, suffering, life becomes irrelevent to us because they are objects for our consumption, not beings.

But the whole point of this post is an ABHORRENT image that I stumbled-upon this morning from PETA (see below). I know, I know. PETA doing something that angers someone? Upsets them? Being provocative? Even questionable? Not a surprise. But I found it so upsetting that I will be canceling our $10 a month donation to PETA and finding an organization that does work to lessen the suffering of non-humans animals that doesn’t also promote sexism and objectification of women. It isn’t like I didn’t know that they ran sexist ads before, but somehow this was so upsetting to me that it was the last straw.

Because women and cows are alike, right? And you wouldn’t eat a woman so you shouldn’t eat a cow?


Resources for Sharing Information and Sparking Discussion About Vegetarian Issues With Your Congregation

May 3, 2008

A Unitarian Universalist for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (UFETA) member, Charlie Talbert, shared this with the UFETA list the other day and I thought it was really well done and could be quite helpful for those that are interested. Please feel free to share with others.

Thanks for raising the vegetarian issue to your group. I’m happy to suggest some resources. Many who want to raise this topic in their congregation find that people often want to avoid the topic, which is unfortunate.

I was telling someone at GA last year about a workshop I had just attended at GA, with Doug Muder presenting. He’s a favorite Unitarian Universalist writer of mine. He made an analogy between effective advocacy and Captain Cook’s strategy for greeting island cultures that he discovered in the 1700s. Some of his crew would leave items of interest on the beach and row back out to their sailing ship. Afterwards the island inhabitants would cautiously approach the beach and investigate what the Europeans had offered them. They might then similarly leave items they considered valuable on the beach and retreat, giving the Europeans an opportunity to row back in and have a look. This careful, non-threatening approach facilitated communication and mutual understanding between these groups where who were wide apart in traditions, culture, and language.

As you probably know, some Unitarian Universalist congregations have experienced some controversy over the idea of banning meat in the congregation all together. I believe it’s ineffective to try to ban animal products at congregational functions. The suffering inherent in animal agriculture is too entrenched, too accepted by even Unitarian Universalists – who have a heritage of questioning traditions that institutionalize cruelty – to be challenged so directly.

Members of UFETA regularly share what’s going on in their congregations on this issue, and exchange information and ideas. Perhaps some members of your fellowship would be interested in joining the listserve. UFETA’s website is at http://www25.uua.org/ufeta/. Instructions for joining the listserve are at http://lists.uua.org/mailman/listinfo/ufeta

Advocacy can take two approaches that can be summed up by two words: unnecessary suffering.

It’s the “suffering” part that sometimes makes people squeamish. That’s why much of our denominational advocacy focuses on the “unnecessary” part – that shows a vegetarian diet can be tasty, satisfying, and healthy. We have presented “Cooking With The Compassionate Cooks” at my congregation here in Kenosha and one close by in Racine.

This DVD is upbeat, entertaining and full of information about nutrition, basic ingredients, and delicious but simple recipes. We have prepared some of the dishes demonstrated in the DVD and served them afterwards. We have also displayed the ingredients (e.g. tofu, seitan, tempeh) with information about where they can be obtained in our community.

The founder of Compassionate Cooks began her cooking classes at First Unitarian in Oakland when she was a member there. She is now well known in vegetarian cooking circles and has appeared on the Cooking Channel. You can see more information about her and her DVD at http://www.compassionatecooks.com/ .

Vegetarian food can be not only tasty and satisfying, it can be much healthier than a diet with animal products. People are increasingly accepting this, but the protein and other nutrient myths are still out there. No group I’m aware of challenges these myths more authoritatively than the Physicians Committee For Responsible Medicine. Their website offers a lot of useful nutritional information that can be downloaded or purchased for sharing with others www.pcrm.org/.

But showing the pleasures and health benefits of a vegetarian diet is not enough to persuade some people to consider their food choices. They like to eat animal products. They’re tolerant of those who don’t, but they don’t what to be “told what to do.” To them, this is a “freedom” issue, and freedom is fundamental to Unitarian Universalism. In my opinion, it’s an admirable “live and let live” ethic that – in this case – humans want to apply selectively: to themselves but not to other animals.

The moral issue is a sensitive one, but I believe it’s a legitimate one for religion to consider. In my observation, it’s usually the more conservative people who object to it the most, which is why Matthew Scully’s writings are so important.

Scully is a political conservative and former senior speechwriter for President Bush. His 2002 book, Dominion – The Power of Man, The Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy, has influenced many people, including me. You can get an idea of his considerable writing abilities from his 2005 cover story “Fear Factories: The Case for Compassionate Conservatism – for Animals” for Patrick Buchanan‘s magazine, The American Conservative. www.matthewscully.com/fear_factories.htm. Our UFETA chapter has made this article available at our church. The word “conservative” can spark some curiosity in a UU congregation!

Our UFETA and Green Sanctuary chapters have also displayed this pamphlet www.veganoutreach.org/cc.pdf on their table. It has drawn attention particularly among our congregation’s younger members. Vegan Outreach is a primarily volunteer organization that hands out over a million of its pamphlets every year at colleges and high schools, primarily in the U.S. Its posters were used in the two-page advocacy ads that UFETA sponsored in the UU World in May 2006 and May 2007. (This May the UU World will have a statement signed by 40 or so Unitarian Universalist ministers and seminarians.) We also make available PETA’s Vegetarian Starter Kit, which offers a concise overview of the issues and some very appealing pictures of veg food.

I would also recommend the DVD Peaceable Kingdom. It has influenced a number of people in our congregation, including our minister and her partner, who went from vegetarian to vegan after seeing it. It’s produced by Tribe of Heart www.tribeofheart.org/, and its other film, The Witness, is also outstanding. You can see a trailer for the yet to be released newest version of Peaceable Kingdom at www.tribeofheart.org/tohhtml/pk3previewhome.htm. Tribe of Heart is not distributing the older versions any longer.

If your fellowship has Christian members, then I would recommend materials from the Christian Vegetarian Association www.all-creatures.org/cva/ . Its DVD “Honoring God’s Creation” is wonderful. It includes Fr. John Dear, a board member of the CVA who coincidentally will be speaking at GA in Ft. Lauderdale on Jesus and the question of peace.

Many Unitarian Universalist congregations provide lay led services. If yours does, then members in your fellowship may want to use the opportunity to provide a sermon. Some of these are available at the UFETA website under the “Resources” tab.

As you may know, one of two Study Action Issues that the GA is currently considering for 2008-2011 is “Ethical Eating: Food and Environmental Justice”. If it is selected as an SAI, this would present an excellent opportunity for discussion in your fellowship. You can find more information about it at www.uua.org/socialjustice/issuesprocess/currentissues/55648.shtml

Thanks for taking the time to raise this very important issue in your congregation.

-By Charlie Talbert, May 2008


Privilege, Justice, and Sustainability

April 28, 2008

Over at My Moxie Life, Jacqueline writes about Why Food Isn’t My Politics (also mentioned at The Interdependent Web). She writes about how she and her family became vegetarian and…

Three years after that we moved to an intentional community in Missouri for a year. We, again wanted to experience living as lightly on the earth, community, and a back to the land ideal. It was while living with 70 other people from all walks of life that I began to shift my ideas about food…

What I began to realize was that food is only a choice for those who have the financial privilege to make that choice. It is an economics thing. If you come from a lower economic background or a definitive cultural background you will have food ideas around that. You MAY choose to break out of those ideas, but often, in the circumstances you CAN’T. You eat what is offered, and if you are lucky you are grateful.

It was the white middle and upper middle class kids that were offensively food oriented. THEY were making the RIGHT moral choice and they let you know in no uncertain terms that they were better because of it. Well, that screams of economic superiority, a bit of racism, and holier then thou attitudes.

These were CONSTANT conversations at East Wind while I was there and because of that tension and my wanting to understand where everyone was coming from I chose that food was something to be thankful for in whatever form it takes.

Education and poverty were more important to me then what someone served me at dinner.

So, we moved back to San Francisco omnivores… and have stayed that way.

I started to comment over at her blog, but the comment got a bit long so I thought I would post it here. I completely hear this idea that often liberals or other do-gooding folks go around being like, “Gosh, look at us. Shopping at Whole Foods, getting our vegetarian, local, organic food while we cruise around in our Prius. Golly, we are sure doing good by the world. Too bad there are those other people who are ruining the planet!” I know these people. I try not to be one. Probably I don’t always succeed.

So first, I want to affirm Jacqueline’s struggles with this issue and say that such struggles resonate with my experience (perhaps, um, too closely….). Yet, I think there are two important additional things to consider here.

First, I think we need to be careful not to set up a false dichotomy between “food politics”, and other (race and class or education) politics. Being attentive to the ways that our diet impacts the world around us – the natural world, humans, and other animals – is one important way to seek to live out our convictions related to compassion for suffering, non-violence, environmental justice, and human rights. Vegetarianism isn’t just all about saving the animals/lessening their suffering. It is also about trying to live more sustainably so that future humans have an earth to live on, and it is about being attentive to the ways that meat consumption, violence, the meat packing industry, immigration, race, class, food shortages, food riots, global warming, etc. are all related. Vegetarianism or veganism is, of course, not only way to address such concerns. But, I don’t see our food choices (to the extent that we have choices about our diet) as separate from bigger questions about justice, environment, class, etc.

Secondly, I struggle with the idea that if everyone/poor people/lots of people can’t do _________ (fill the blank with an attempt to be more sustainable/attempt at social justice activity), then it is a privileged thing to do and we are being too privileged/spoiled/snobby if we do this thing. I feel like this would apply to most volunteering, many if not most home energy efficiency measures, to many forms of education (expensive colleges/any colleges/many forms of homeschooling/private schools, etc.), buying organic/locally grown food, having the time and energy to grow a garden, driving a hybrid car, etc. The problem seems not to be that by doing these things (such as being vegetarian) we are not attending to the real problems like race or education, but rather that often our attitudes about our various “do-gooding” activities (like being vegetarian) are problematic.

The problem could thus be framed as the attitude that “We are doing the right thing (as privileged, liberals) while they (poor, others) are not,” rather then the problem being framed as the particular action we are taking (in the case of Jacqueline’s post, vegetarianism). If we look at it like this, the solution would not to be to stop doing action X, but to change our attitudes about action X.

For me, it is all about finding a balance between calling on each other and calling on ourselves to live as sustainably and justly as we can, while at the same time, being understanding that we can only do what we can do. I find it challenging, with vegetarianism, but also issues like hyper-consumerism, sexism, racism, classism, etc. to know how to best challenge my fellow humans try to live justly and more sustainably, while at the same time acknowledging the wide range of limitations to what each of us can do as individuals, families, communities, and countries. Certainly, to some extent, I believe all of us are called to call to humanity to be more just, more loving, less violent, and to live more sustainably, and to live out these principles in our own lives. But how much is too much calling? And how are we to do it without infringing too much on individual prerogatives, given that we cannot all do it all? And, are there different standards for calling upon fellow Unitarian Universalists, than, say, the general public?

Thanks to the post at Moxie Life for helping me to continue to grapple with some of these questions.


From The New York Times: Meat Consumption Is an Environmental Issue

February 1, 2008

NYTimes isn’t exactly on the cutting edge of vegetarian and environmental propaganda, so those leery of vegetarian overstatement can rest assured that this isn’t the same as if PETA came out with such an article. The times has a spotty record of publishing articles about vegetarianism and the environment, including a painfully misinformed article about veganism last year and an article that tells people how they can save the planet with easy, simple steps rather than actual sacrifice (I wish this was true, but it just isn’t – you can only slow down the destruction with easy, simple steps).

Anyway, they NYT has come through, however, with an impressive article about the environmental consequences of meat-consumption. Interestingly, the guy who wrote it is not a vegetarian. I always find that interesting that folks can have all the info in the world (hey, including myself) and know what is best, but not do it. It shows that rationality is overrated.

In “Rethinking the Meat Guzzler“, Mark Bittman writes:

To put the energy-using demand of meat production into easy-to-understand terms, Gidon Eshel, a geophysicist at the Bard Center, and Pamela A. Martin, an assistant professor of geophysics at the University of Chicago, calculated that if Americans were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent it would be as if we all switched from a standard sedan — a Camry, say — to the ultra-efficient Prius. Similarly, a study last year by the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Japan estimated that 2.2 pounds of beef is responsible for the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the average European car every 155 miles, and burns enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days….

Perhaps the best hope for change lies in consumers’ becoming aware of the true costs of industrial meat production. “When you look at environmental problems in the U.S….nearly all of them have their source in food production and in particular meat production. And factory farming is ‘optimal’ only as long as degrading waterways is free. If dumping this stuff becomes costly — even if it simply carries a non-zero price tag — the entire structure of food production will change dramatically.”

Animal welfare may not yet be a major concern, but as the horrors of raising meat in confinement become known, more animal lovers may start to react [Elizabeth’s note – do we need to be animal lovers to want to prevent very serious suffering?]. And would the world not be a better place were some of the grain we use to grow meat directed instead to feed our fellow human beings?

I suggest reading the whole article, but those are some of the highlights. A good point that I came away with is that it isn’t like everyone has to become vegetarians (although, of course, I would like that!). But if everyone did some reduction, it would have more of an impact than if a small number of people became vegetarian. I found that once I started thinking out of the “meat is the center of a meal” box, I learned to eat a lot of things I wouldn’t have other wise. Like Michael Pollen (non-vegetarian) says, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”


Murray the Kitten Teaches Me About Compassion

January 30, 2008

good-picture-of-murray.jpg

So, we took in a foster cat named Murray last summer after another foster home said that he was impossible to tame. He was found on the streets of Dorchester, MA as a kitten and all the cuddling of him didn’t seem to work like it did with other kitties. He is the only kitten we’ve ever had to wear gloves with because of biting. But he has improved. He even purrs sometimes when we pet him when he is half-asleep and he ADORES our semi-outcast cat, Gustav who none of the other cats like so well.

June passes, as does July. Come Christmas, Murray is still happily living with us, only letting us touch him when he is sleeping or eating, of course making it impossible to adopt him to a permanent home.

Wolfgang says to me, “Murray is such a cute little dum-diddle-dum.” Just sort of wandering through life, not knowing how good he has it, maybe not the brightest cat ever, and with this funny little waddle where his legs sort of fly out in every which way. But he loves Gustav so much and snuggles up to him and is clearly a happy little guy, enjoying eating a lot, and taking 8 naps a day.

Come mid-January, we are saying, “Gosh, do you think something is wrong with Murray’s legs? His walk does seem to get worse.”

And come yesterday, Murray was running away from me and he legs got all tangled up and he fell. Maybe just a slip?

Then eating his breakfast this morning, his legs were slipping out from under him. The vet said it isn’t an emergency, and tomorrow will be just as fine as today so we take him in tomorrow. I’m not sure if this is because they were just too busy and figured it is so dire, what difference does a day make? (Preliminary internet searches don’t paint a promising picture of back leg problems in cats.) But we can only go to this one vet because he only charges the shelter we volunteer for half-price, so we just wait until tomorrow.

As I was trying to lure Murray out from under the bed to check on him, I realized how much he has taught me. Wolfgang and I are just so worried about him. We want to make sure he isn’t in pain. Enough to eat? Does he want to rest in the nice warm cat bed by the heater? We want everything to be okay with him and for him to live a happy, good life. And it just made me think about all the animals that have sweet little personalities just like Mr. Murray who suffer so much and never get the sort of love and kindness that Murray has been able to get – Murray brings out the love in us – the caring, the compassion, and the selflessness. No small task to bring that out in humans which, in some respects, have a spotty record of caring, compassion, and selflessness, this human included! But, Mur says, “Hey, even though you were planning on going to a class at 1:30 tomorrow, this is the only time the vet could see me so you’ll just have to not take that class.” In their own ways, animals and other dependent creatures (like human children) call us to be our best selves – to care for those who need caring for, to attend to suffering, to give love.

For me, care for Murray and care for the suffering of other animals that have the ability to suffer are such important parts of my faith and my life. I know I am not a perfect and it is just a little part I can do. But, as much as it hurts me to see Murray’s little legs, I am so happy to be able to care for him, take him to the doctor, and give him extra treats. I just feel like so often we say, “Oh, what can we do about all the suffering of the world? All the misery?” And our little animal friends are sometimes teachers to us if we are wiling to listen.

So thanks Murray for letting me love you. And thanks for reminding me to love all animals the best I can who suffer just like you do with your little legs. I hope it is nothing and the vet makes you better.

Love, Elizabeth