Saturday, September 6, 2014

You Are Your Companion Animal's Best Advocate

by Bethany Cortale

Caveat Emptor! In Latin, it means buyer beware. When it comes to pet food and veterinarian advice, you had better become familiar with this axiom or you risk compromising your companion animal's health as I almost did.

As the guardian of a cat named Max, I have as much—if not more—of a responsibility to him as I do to myself because I am solely responsible for his care and wellbeing. I've made a lifelong commitment to him, no different than the commitments most people make to their children.

In the eyes of the law, I am wrongly labeled as Max's owner, primarily because animals are considered property much like a sofa or a bed—or a black person in America prior to the Civil War. I know better, however, and as a cat guardian I have grown and evolved as I have learned how to provide Max with a happy and healthy life.

While I am vegan, Max is not. He isn't vegan because I wouldn't want him to be vegan, but because I know it's not in his best interest. Max is a true carnivore by nature and although he may not be outdoors chasing down birds and squirrels, I feed him a meat-centric diet that a carnivore requires for optimum health. I do not feel morally conflicted about feeding Max animal flesh because it is what he would eat if he were undomesticated. I adopted him from a shelter, and until humans stop breeding cats and dogs for domestication, it is the best I can do. Furthermore, forcing him to eat a vegan diet would not only compromise his welfare, but it would be morally inconsistent with the spirit of veganism.

Male cats are more prone to urinary blockages and infections than female cats due to their longer and narrower urethras. Max has had a history of urinary tract infections, which makes it even more fitting that he consume a wet, carnivorous, grain-free diet. During his last serious bout with the infection, the vet treating him suggested that I feed him a dry food (Hill's Science Prescription Diet) designed for urinary health that—coincidentally—also happened to be sold right there in the veterinary clinic.

I balked at the vet's recommendation but bought the food and went home to do some research. It was just as I had suspected; cats who have had urinary tract infections, especially a history of urinary tract infections, should never, ever be fed dry food!

Indignant doesn't even begin to describe how I felt over this obviously biased and uninformed recommendation by a veterinary professional who is supposed to be helping my cat get better—not worse. Needless to say, I returned the food and looked for another veterinarian.

It wasn't just the type of food that was problematic, but the quality of the food itself. I have painstaking researched pet food companies, canned cat foods, and individual ingredients within those foods over the years and have learned what questions to ask company representatives and how to identify good formulas from bad ones. From my own research, I found Hill's Science Diet pet food to be among the worst. I also visited a natural pet food store that requires its employees be educated on pet nutrition and spoke with a representative there about Hill's Science Diet food because I was shocked to see that the store carried it. The employee said the store carried the brand because people asked for it, but she told me that she has cats, too, and she would never feed her cats any Hill's Science Diet formula.

So why are vets pushing what I think is pet junk food at veterinary clinics? And why does a vet prescribe a dry kibble to a male cat with a history of urinary tract infections? I think many animal guardians would be surprised to learn that veterinarians are not animal nutritionists. According to Susan Thixton at Truth About Pet Food, dog and cat nutrition classes at most veterinary schools across the country are known to be very brief, lasting only a couple of hours in total. Moreover, the classes are typically taught by representatives dominating the pet food industry, including Hill's Science Diet, Iams/Eukanuba, and Purina, so there is an inherent conflict of interest and very limited understanding of high quality pet food.

And the conflict doesn't end with the individual veterinarian. According to holistic veterinarian Dr. Jean Hofve at Little Big Cat, pet food companies provide a great deal of indirect funding to the American Veterinary Medical Association through lecture sponsorships, receptions, exhibitor fees, and "goodies" at the annual AVMA Convention, in addition to direct donations to the AVMA Foundation. Dr. Hofve went on to say that in 2008, AVMA created a four-year "AVMA Platinum Partner Program" with Hill's Science Pet Nutrition and that the AVMA received more than $1.5 million from Hill's in exchange for promotional favoritism.

Now you have some idea why Hill's Science Diet pet food is widely available at veterinary clinics around the country. Like most everything else, it's not because the food is any better or more nutritious, but rather because the company has paid for premium exposure to potential customers.

And food isn't the only cause for concern. Big Pharma has infiltrated veterinary clinics as they've done human doctor's offices where both are equally prone to physicians hawking and overprescribing medications. In another instance, a vet tried to use Max as a test subject for a new drug that contained a three week supply of antibiotics that was to be injected in him all at once. When I politely questioned the vet and told him I didn't want Max to have the injection, he became insulted and left the room. Needless to say, we didn't return to him either. If I can't question a doctor—whether he be treating Max or me—without him getting defensive, he's not worth his salt as a professional.

Thankfully, Max hasn't had a urinary flare up in four years. Unfortunately, the shameful and manipulative exploitation of companion animals and those who love them by pet food companies, veterinarians and the AVMA continues. Therefore, it is crucial to keep in mind that no one loves your companion animal as much as you do. You are their best advocate, so advocate for them! I'm not suggesting you don't trust anyone, but as the old adage goes: trust but verify, and always do your research. As with all animals, don't be afraid to speak up! Your friend is depending on you.

Vegan Starter Kit

Friday, August 8, 2014

Animals Don't Fly Planes Into Buildings

by Bethany Cortale

I read it or hear it spoken at least once a week. Most recently, I heard it on CNN. Someone being interviewed about the attack that took down a Malaysian airliner said that those responsible are "worse than animals." I'd like to know when's the last time animals took down a plane with a rocket launcher.

Can we please put a nail in the coffin of mindless rhetoric comparing animals to humans who do reprehensible things and exhibit bad behavior? Enough already with overused and vacuous expressions like "he's worse than an animal" or "they acted like a bunch of animals."

First of all, humans are animals, too, although we seem to conveniently forget this when it is in our favor to do so. Second, it's quite hypocritical to compare the deeds of people to nonhuman animals only when those deeds are flagrant. Third, and above all, the actions of human animals are—by far—worse than anything nonhuman animals have done or could ever do.

Have animals created tools of death and destruction and used them against other animals? Have animals waged wars to annihilate other animals who think differently? Are animals cruel to other animals for the sake of being cruel or because the color of their skin, fur or feathers is different than their own? Do animals destroy the environment or abolish other species?

Animals are not sadistic, self-conscious, greedy, egotistical, hypocritical or shallow. Animals may not be able to do all the things humans can do, but they are capable of doing extraordinary things that we can only dream of. For example, we can't soar above the clouds or swim the depths of the oceans without the benefit of some serious technology. Yes, some animals kill for food; they're called carnivores, and they only eat raw meat. Despite common misconceptions, humans are not carnivores and the physical traits differentiating humans from true carnivores are numerous. For one thing, we can't eat raw flesh. We may be able to digest cooked meat, but we don't do it well, and doing so compromises our health. Those animals who are natural carnivores only take what they need. As Laura Moretti eloquently states in her essay, I Like Animals, "A pride of lions doesn't get together and decide how to exterminate zebras—their very source of nourishment. I don't think it's because they don't know how," she says. "I think it's because it's counter-productive."

Animals don't create torturous events and activities that exploit other animals for gain under the pretense of sport or entertainment. They don't imprison other animals, display them in cages and tanks, and force them to perform for their own amusement. They don't restrain animals and then release them, only to kill them. They don't chase other animals down to ride them, torment them, or spear them for a crowd's applause.

It is animals—not humans—who are the most victimized beings on earth. Some 60 billion land animals and one trillion sea animals are bred and slaughtered each year, just for food. The animal kingdom doesn't produce tyrants like Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Pol Pot (Thank God for that!) and yet the number of animals we murder annually is more than eight times the current human population of 7 billion, demonstrating that we—not animals—are the ones to fear. We are the sadistic oppressors who operate as a mob of tyrants, reaffirming what Stalin purportedly once said: one death is a tragedy, one million is a statistic.

It is animals—not humans—who are continually exploited for entertainment, science, clothing, food, and every kind of atrocious use our diabolical minds can conceive of. As both individuals and a group, we humans do to other species things that they would never do to us or other animals and yet, we continue to look the other way, ignoring our complicities in their pain and suffering, while managing to compare our most dreadful acts to them. There's absolutely no comparison.

"Animals—not humans—are the best this planet has too offer," Ms. Moretti says at the end of her essay. I couldn't agree more! Animals offer us a chance to see ourselves for who we really are and to strive to be better. Until we recognize this golden opportunity, we will continue to make excuses for our egregious conduct, and we will continue to blame others for our failings as human beings.

Image from Bjork video for Human Behavior

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Monday, July 14, 2014

Employing Orwellian Doublethink to Devour Animals

by Bethany Cortale

2 + 2 = 5

Despite what many of you may be thinking, I can add! But does this equation ring a bell? What if I told you that 2 plus 2 really does equal 5? Would you believe me? What if the government and corporations backed me up? Would you believe it then?

In theory, this is exactly what happens every day; industries and their pocketed law-makers tell us that 2 + 2 = 5 and, for the most part, we believe them.

I recently had the pleasure of rereading George Orwell's 1984, a novel which seems more relevant today than it ever was more than half a century ago. A futuristic dystopia, 1984 is about a culture built upon lies and one man's attempt to keep his mind from believing the lies, simplistically referenced in the equation 2 + 2 = 5.

As Erich Fromm brilliantly summarized in the book's afterword, 1984 is a warning to all nations, especially Westernized ones, enslaved by modern modes of production and organization, in danger of creating "a society of automatons who will have lost every trace of individuality, of love, of critical thought, and yet who will not be aware of it because of 'doublethink' " (p. 267).

Doublethink is a fascinating cognitive process. By definition, it is the acquiescence of two contradictory beliefs held in one's mind at the same time. According to Orwell (1949), the embrace of these two incompatible convictions has to be both conscious (in order to be acted upon) and unconscious (or it would raise doubt and a change in behavior). Doublethink allows us "to tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient" (p. 177).

Even today, many of us are persistent practitioners of doublethink in one specific way: we believe that animals have feelings and that it is immoral to cause them unnecessary harm, while simultaneously holding the opposing opinion that eating their flesh and bodily fluids—as a direct result of torture and death—is acceptable.

Attempts to reason with others as to why raising animals for food is unwarranted, abnormal and cruel are often dismissed, criticized and/or belittled to stifle one's own consciousness raising and participation. Hence, with the blessings of industry, advertisers, and the state, we tell the lie to ourselves and share it with others ad nauseam. The lie is this: breeding, killing, and commodifying billions of sentient beings as lifeless production units for our consumption is normal, natural, and necessary. Anything presented to refute this ideology is rejected and/or hidden. This entrenched system, which Dr. Melanie Joy coined carnism, is "supported by every single institution in society, from medicine to education."

In 1984, the Party and its supporters proclaim deceits as truths to control the minds of the populace for the purpose of maintaining power and the status quo. Today, the hoi polloi gladly welcome domination via consumerism.

Animals, particularly those raised as food, must keep their places, permanently, as mechanisms to be exploited by power hungry industries, lobbyists and government officials. Therefore, the prevailing mental condition of the populace must be one of a "controlled insanity" in which doublethink is necessary to quiet the human and soulful qualities that would cause us to question our role in needless animal cruelty and violence.

A successful manipulation of the mind occurs when a person thinks the opposite of what is true. Just as a violent and domineering spouse may insist that he loves his wife even though he physically abuses her, so influenced is the person who claims to love animals who continues to hurt them by eating them and their secretions.

We would do well to heed Orwell's haunting warning. We are not automatons—at least not yet—and neither are our non-human brethren. Every day we have a choice. We can believe the immoral lie or live the moral truth; we can harm or we can help; we can be told what to think or we can think critically for ourselves. In other words, you do the math.

Orwell, G. (1949). 1984. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.

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Monday, June 23, 2014

Eco-Friendly Wannabes Continue to Ignore Real "Inconvenient Truth"

by Bethany Cortale

If you've been paying any attention to the news lately, then you're probably aware that humans are losing the war against global warming, a war that we undoubtedly started.

Fires, heatwaves, floods, droughts, mudslides and "super storms" are now commonplace and getting worse. Just last year, for the first time in history, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere passed 400 parts per million (ppm), above the 350 ppm cap set by scientists to avoid the worst impacts of global warming. More recently, we learned that Antarctic sea ice is melting so rapidly that scientists say "we have passed the point of no return."

It is hard not to be discouraged by these doomsday reports, but that doesn't mean we should stop trying or doing everything in our power to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. How we respond now may mean the difference between facing imminent disaster sooner rather than later.

There's no shortage of environmental pundits and talking heads touting government policies, like increasing gas mileages for cars and reducing carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. But, while these plans are helpful, they fall short in turning back the clock on GHGs, and they fail to address the biggest threat to our planet—the elephant in the room—our addiction to animal foods.

According to the World Watch Institute, animal agriculture accounts for 51 percent of annual worldwide GHGs, more than any other sector including transportation, commercial/residential properties, and gas/electric industries.

Many scientists and academics already recognize the enormous toll animal agriculture exacts on our globe with regard to resources and pollution. Compared to plant protein, raising animal protein requires 100 times more water, 11 times more fossil fuels, and 5 times more land. It is also widely understood that growing crops to feed animals to then feed people—instead of feeding crops directly to people—is completely wasteful, inefficient and unsustainable for a population of 7 billion people that is expected to rise to 9 billion in less than 40 years, an increase of almost 30 percent.

As a result, many have proposed replacing animal products with plant-based alternatives. For his part, philanthropist Bill Gates has been investing in companies like Hampton Creek foods, makers of Beyond Eggs and Just Mayo; vegan versions of eggs and mayonnaise that are cheaper, healthier, and neither requires the exploitation of animals, nor huge swaths of land and copious amounts of water to produce. And yet, while Mr. Gates praises the benefits of a plant-based diet, he himself is not vegan, which brings me back to the elephant in the room.

Appallingly, would-be environmental groups and their proverbial rock stars (Bill McKibben, Van Jones, Al Gore) refuse to acknowledge the environmental destruction attributed to the animal food juggernaut. For his VegNews piece, "Eco-Friend or Foe?", Nick Cooney researched high profile environmental organizations and found that not one single group advocates a vegan diet and worse; some even go out of their way to encourage the consumption of meat. A new documentary, Cowspiracy, goes even further illustrating the blatant unwillingness of these purported environmental groups to confront animal agriculture, the leading cause of global warming, water depletion, deforestation, species extinction and ocean "dead zones".

What's more, most of the leaders of these alleged environmental nonprofits, who have a platform and a duty to honestly and reliably educate the public, are not vegan themselves, so they neither expect their staff nor their organization's position to be pro-vegan. I should know. I worked for an environmental nonprofit that promoted green buildings in Philadelphia, and I was the only vegan. Attempts to educate my coworkers on veganism were not always well-received, and my suggestion that animal products not be served at fundraising events was dismissed.

How many supposed Earth Day events or environmental fundraisers incongruously serve animal products like hamburgers, hot dogs and ice-cream? Regrettably, most, if not all of them. Sadly, organizations like the Natural Resources Defense Council, Greenpeace, and the one I worked for don't want to point the finger at the meat and dairy industries and those who support them—including their own dues paying members and sponsors—so as not to alienate their donors.

We can expect more apocalyptic announcements from scientists unless we're willing to admit the truth, however inconvenient, and act on it. We can radically change our behaviors and our food choices or we can endure the radical change of our climate. The two are irrevocably tied together. Any group or individual that ignores this fact or tries to tell you otherwise is just blowing more hot air into our already choked atmosphere.

Vegan Starter Kit

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Gay or Straight; Vegans Need to Be Out and Proud

by Bethany Cortale

“Bethany, you’re a flake,” a former boss said with a guffaw.

Now, I know I’m a lot of things, but flake has never been a word I've heard used to describe me, at least not to my face. Am I eccentric? Sometimes. Unreliable? No! An oddball? Apparently so.

When my former boss uttered these words, my languishing social life had been the hot topic of the office. The comment came about after a coworker tried to set me up with someone. (I simply asked if the man in question was vegan.) When I indicated that I prefer to date vegans, my boss—who was typically sticking her nose in where it didn't belong—blatantly yelled out the aforementioned response.

I guess my wish to respect the sentience of all beings in every aspect of my life, and my prerequisite for the same in a partner, makes me a flake. If this is the case, then so be it.

Strangely enough, when a Jewish, Muslim, or Christian person seeks out a partner with identical values to their own, they’re considered quite normal. In fact, the desire of many of us to share our lives with those whose interests and ethics mirror our own is why dating sites like Christian Mingle, Green Singles and JDate exist.

Despite the ridicule, this exchange helped me to realize the importance in speaking my truth, regardless of other people's reactions and name calling.

In her book, Mind If I Order the Cheeseburger? And Other Questions People Ask Vegans, Sherry Colb highlights the similarities of being "out and proud" for those in the gay rights and animal rights communities:

They each have proponents, gay people and vegans, who must go out into the world every day and make choices about how 'gay' or how 'vegan' to be in their self-presentations in public and private spheres. . . . Because vegans make a choice about whether they will live in a way that affirms their values, friends and acquaintances who are ambivalent about that choice can try to humorously undermine it in ways that we would recognize as disrespectful were it directed at practitioners of a religious faith instead of at vegans.

Vegans take a lot of guff and verbal insults—always to be taken as a joke, of course! Yet, vegans constantly have to tiptoe around carnists so as not to offend them. Animal welfare organizations are always quick to warn vegan activists not to nettle non-vegans for fear of alienating them. Unlike abolitionists, animal welfarists insist that we should not condemn animal exploitation and animal exploiters because it might offend those who are doing it. But what about the animals who silently suffer while their perpetrators continue to consume their flesh, eggs and milk? 

Yes, vegans were once non-vegans, but we woke up and put our morality where our mouths are when confronted with the unnecessary and cruel reality of animal agriculture and exploitation. Sadly, so many others are willing to look the other way and live with a serious moral inconsistency when faced with the fact that their values (I love animals) are not in sync with their behaviors (I eat animals and their secretions) and the ensuing consequences (I hurt and kill animals).

The actuality is that it is never okay to consume animals or their byproducts. This may be a hard pill for some to swallow, but sugarcoating it does nothing to help the animals whose lives are at stake. If it is morally unacceptable to torture and eat a cat, dog or human, then the torture and consumption of farm and sea animals cannot be deemed any less morally repugnant.

I am grateful that I found my way to veganism. Knowing that countless animals have been spared because of my love and discipline is rewarding. I’m thankful that I can see beyond the advertising and gimmicks that assault us every day from the meat, dairy, and egg industries. And I’m more than happy to be labeled a flake, an oddball, a radical, an eccentric or whatever else people want to call me because I don’t subscribe to the notion that animals are ours to do whatever we wish with.

In deciding how to present ourselves to the people we meet, Ms. Colb once again refers to the experience of gay liberation, which "strongly suggests that visibility is a useful antidote to ignorance and fear. As people learn, from vegans who are 'out and proud,' that farming animals for their flesh, skins, hair, and secretions causes unspeakable and unnecessary suffering and slaughter, they may become more open to questioning the false proposition that meat, dairy or eggs are necessary ingredients in a pleasurable and fulfilling human life." 

I encourage other vegans to be out and proud and to speak up for the animals who depend on us to be their voices, their witnesses. Do not be discouraged. Like the Women's Rights Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Gay Rights Movement before it, which were all once considered extreme and subversive, veganism and the Animal Rights Movement is on the right side of history and the right side of a socially-accepted wrong.

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