Friday, March 18, 2016

Who Has More Legal Rights, a Corporation or an Ape?

The Vegan Vine
Tommy in his cell. Photo courtesy of Nonhuman Rights Project.
by Bethany Cortale

His name is Tommy, he is 28 years old, and after having been forced to spend most of his life performing in a circus, he now lives in solitary confinement in a small, dark, cement cage 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at a used-trailer lot in Upstate New York. His only company is a small television. What crime did Tommy commit to endure such misery and isolation? He was born a chimpanzee.

There is an old adage that the pen is mightier than the sword. American legal scholar and attorney Steven Wise certainly hopes so. He and his organization, the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), are ardently fighting for Tommy and other chimpanzees in court. They are working to change the common law status of nonhuman animals from property and mere things, which lack the capacity to possess any legal right, to persons who possess fundamental rights, one of them being the right not to be wrongfully imprisoned.

Until animal rights activists can obtain systemic change within the legal system—getting both courts and lawmakers to recognize all nonhuman animals as individuals with the same inherent legal rights as any human animal—the fight for animal justice will remain an arduous, grassroots struggle, and individuals like Tommy will continue to suffer at human will.

Animal rights is not a foreign or fanatical idea. Those who consider it extreme usually have something to lose by its implementation. Once upon a time, African Americans had similar property status. It took a Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation and three constitutional amendments to give former slaves equal protection under the law because those with vested interests in slavery (plantation owners, the cotton industry, Southern aristocrats) spurned the idea of losing their "peculiar institution" and their source of economic wealth.

Currently, the NhRP is working to obtain personhood rights and protections for chimpanzees like Tommy who most resemble humans in that they are “self-aware, possess deep emotions, live in close-knit societies, use sophisticated communication, and mourn the loss of their loved ones.” They figure this is the best place to start. Of course, many nonhuman animals share these traits and intelligence has no bearing on an animal’s sentience. As eighteenth century law professor and philosopher Jeremy Bentham wisely observed: “The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer? Why should the law refuse its protection to any sensitive being?" he asked.

History shows us that justice is not blind and courts, like any other human-centric establishment, continue to operate from an anthropocentric prejudice. After all, if intelligence were truly a prerequisite for rights, then children and the mentally disabled would have none.

Still, if the NhRP can get a foot in the door and move the courts to recognize the rights of Tommy and other nonhuman primates, in addition to dolphins, elephants, orcas, and parrots—it can lead to a domino effect whereby all animal abuse and exploitation will be deemed illegal. Eventually, breeding and torturing other animals for food; kidnapping them from the wild for zoos and aquariums; subjecting them to painful experiments for science and cosmetics; exploiting them for entertainment at circuses, rodeos, and theme parks; and treating them like mere objects for sheer human amusement and profit will one day be a thing of the past.

It is, nevertheless, an uphill battle. In 2010, the Supreme Court overturned a ban on videos depicting animal cruelty because they said it violated free speech. This ruling included violent dog fighting footage and so-called crush videos that show women literally crushing small animals to death with their bare feet or high-heeled shoes. Only one justice dissented to legalizing the sale of such videos: Justice Samuel Alito, who said the harm animals suffer . . .  is enough to sustain the law.

Videotaping and peddling child pornography is illegal and rightly so because it encourages similar acts of abuse against innocents. No one contests this and thinks that this a violation of free speech, and yet taping violence committed against innocent nonhuman animals is somehow acceptable. 

Except, of course, when it comes to the meat, dairy, and egg industries. Animal food industries have such political clout that they have been able to sell lawmakers in some states on passing legislation criminalizing the recording of standard, institutional acts of cruelty inflicted against farmed animals. Ag-Gag laws, as they are commonly called, outlaw the documentation of animal cruelty by silencing activists who record animal abuse at factory farms and other industries that exploit animals. Many of these undercover activists risk their lives, and suffer emotional and mental trauma from what they witness, to expose to the public the customary horrors involved in meat, dairy, and egg production.

The animal food industries prefer that the public not be privy to their sanctioned abuse for fear that it will impact them financially.  And yet, when critics argue that Ag-Gag laws are a violation of the First Amendment right to free speech, the courts have often—conveniently—disagreed.

There’s an economic incentive for abusing and exploiting animals in all sectors of society. Many states have enacted legislation to protect dogs and cats from certain abuses, but these very same laws exempt farm animals in order to shield the monetary interests of farmers, factory farms, food corporations, pharmaceutical companies, cosmetic companies, research universities, the military, and countless other institutions that exploit, abuse, and kill nonhuman animals for gain.

In fact, laws typically work to make manipulating animals more efficient for business. For example, stunning a cow to make her unconscious before slitting her neck is not done to help the animal, but to help streamline the process for slaughterhouse productivity. In his book, Eat Like You Care, Animal Law Professor Gary L. Francione explains:
. . . the law generally prohibits imposing suffering on animals only when we get an economic benefit from doing so. . . . Large animals who are conscious and hanging upside down and thrashing as they are slaughtered will cause injuries to slaughterhouse workers and will incur expensive carcass damage. . . . Animal welfare laws that require ‘humane’ treatment are really not about animals; they’re about humans and making humans feel better about using animals.
The extent to which laws safeguard some nonhuman animals and disregard others is absurd and arbitrary, justified only by how useful certain animals are in satisfying consumer demands for pleasure, convenience, and amusement. 

On the bright side, two fairly recent rulings by the Oregon Supreme Court acknowledged that nonhuman animals have moral worth and those who have been abused are victims who deserve consideration in judgments. While this is a positive step in the right direction, nonhuman animals still have zero legal rights. Even the Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are entitled to certain legal rights which nonhuman animals are denied. So, while SCOTUS and politicians proclaim "corporations are people," the property status of nonhuman animals remains unchanged and those like Tommy have no more rights than a toaster.

George Orwell was correct when, at the end of Animal Farm, he cynically wrote "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."

Most human suffering, loss, deprivation, and early death come from injustice toward nonhuman animals. Establishing rights for all animals is vital to all of us and must be recognized above human opportunism and self-interest! Whether we allow our collective egos to finally concede this fact or whether we continue to deny other animals like Tommy their innate right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is clearly up to us but, sooner or later, justice will get her due—and so will we—even if Tommy does not.

UPDATE: NhRP recently reported that Tommy was moved to a roadside zoo in Michigan some months ago. To help Tommy and others, please visit the Nonhuman Rights Project

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Teaching Children to Commit Atrocities

Boy hugs a chicken.
by Bethany Cortale

"Put a baby in a crib with an apple and a rabbit," Harvey Diamond said. "If it eats the rabbit and plays with the apple, I'll buy you a new car."

Diamond's epigram often brings a knowing chuckle to those who hear it, but it really mirrors an uncomfortable realityas a society we collectivelyand often unconsciouslyraise children to go against their better nature, which is to care for other sentient beings and, instead, teach them to hurt others, particularly farm animals. 

A majority of people are not only committing daily atrocities against nonhuman animals by eating them and their secretions (milk and eggs), but they are also raising new generations to commit similar acts of brutality without any thought to what they're doing to their fellow earthlings, their health, and the planet.

Perhaps unwittingly, parents are raising children to participate in cruelties that children would never otherwise support themselves if they were privy to the truth, and were not indoctrinated to toe the line of industries and advertisers. Children look up to their parents but adults betray this confidence and their children's innocence by encouraging insouciant savagery through the consumption of animals and animal products, thereby compromising their children's innate compassionate selves.

Case in point: On a recent episode of a home-buying show, a family with three young boys were looking to live on a ranch in Montana. The realtor, like many residents in Montana, also owned his own cattle ranch. (There are about three cows for every one person in Montana, indicating exactly what drives Montana's economy and the people who live there.) In one clip, the boys were introduced to the realtor-rancher's cattle and went happily up to the fence to meet the cows. When the boys kindly inquired about the cows, the realtor-rancher told them that he feeds them and gets them big and fat. One of the boys innocently asked, "Then you let them go?" The realtor-rancher cheerfully said "no!" and the adults all had a good laugh at the expense of both the children and the cows. The clip abruptly ended.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Animal Experiments at Rutgers University Must End

The Vegan Vine
by Bethany Cortale

For some twenty years I have been a proud Rutgers University alumna, but having recently discovered that the State University of New Jersey has been clandestinely participating in animal experiments for many years, I can no longer stand behind my alma mater.

In a Buzzfeed article, "The Silent Monkey Victims of the War on Terror," Peter Aldhous revealed that since 2002, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Defense has been funneling taxpayer monies to major universities in support of often painful and unethical experiments on nonhuman primates and other animals. After a little research, I learned that Rutgers University is one of those universities.

Since 9/11, taxpayer monies have been doled out to universities to test new drugs and vaccines in the name of biodefense to combat potential biological, chemical, and radiological warfare. Defense programs are big business and universities recognize this, benefiting from government subsidies that fund innocuous sounding "research programs," which Rutgers has been fond of touting lately in its quest to obtain ever more donations from alumni.

The United States Department of Agriculture operates a database called the Animal Care Information System which provides an annual list of the types and numbers of nonhuman animals experimented on by a research facility.  I encourage every Rutgers University student and alumnus to visit the database here:

Simply type "Rutgers" into the search box and then select the "Research Animal Report Information" tab. In 2014, at least 6 nonhuman primates, 12 guinea pigs, and 14 rabbits were exploited for research. In 2010, 9 nonhuman primates, 12 cats, 3 pigs, 114 guinea pigs, 86 rabbits, and 445 "other" sentient beings (deer, gerbils, voles, and mice) were left to languish in laboratory cages, experimented on, and/or subjected to pain, and killed at Rutgers. (Click on the link to export the data into a spreadsheet and you will see the number of nonhuman animals experimented on at Rutgers as far back as 1999.)

Saturday, December 5, 2015

An Open Letter to Pope Francis Regarding Animals

Dear Pope Francis,

As a Catholic, I can’t tell you how happy I was when I learned of your appointment as Pope, especially your chosen namesake in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi who had a special kinship with nonhuman animals. In the spirit of St. Francis, I am writing to urgently ask you to expand the Church’s commitment to all God’s creatures, particularly those exploited and oppressed in the name of food, fashion, entertainment and science.

Currently, some 58 billion nonhuman land animals are bred and slaughtered every year for human consumption. Not only is this killing cruel, but it is also unnecessary. Furthermore, it is robbing the hungry of nourishment and doing irreversible damage to our planet.

Compared to plant protein, raising animal protein requires 100 times more water, 11 times more fossil fuels, and 5 times more land. In addition, growing crops to feed nonhuman animals to feed human animals—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. If the grain grown in the United States to feed livestock were instead fed directly to humans, it alone could feed 800 million people, potentially eradicating world hunger as we know it.

Factory farming is a large part of the problem, accounting for 99 percent of all nonhuman animal consumption, however, there is no way to raise other animals in a humane way as the end result is always the same—needless suffering and death. Organic and free-range farms are often just as abusive as factory farms and employ the same barbaric procedures such as debeaking, tail docking, dehorning, and castration—all without painkillers. Cattle have their horns cut off and their testicles cut out of their scrotums, and many are branded with sizzling-hot irons, resulting in third-degree burns. Pigs on organic farms often have their tails chopped off and their ears notched, and some have rings forced into their sensitive noses in order to permanently prevent them from naturally rooting in the grass and dirt. Chickens on organic egg farms usually have part of their delicate beaks cut off, causing acute pain and often death. In addition to widespread cruelty, free-range farms are completely unsustainable and cannot be duplicated on a mass scale to meet the current demand for animal flesh. And in the end, just as with factory farms, babies are separated from their mothers and innocent creatures are killed by caretakers with whom they had come to trust.

Technology has also diminished the value of other animals and has increased the ways in which they can be manipulated into machines and commodities. For example, the egg industry views male chicks as worthless because they are unprofitable for egg production, so hatcheries breed chickens and then divide the males from the females along an assembly belt. The males are separated and quickly discarded in one of three ways: they are gassed, suffocated in plastic bags, or tossed into a grinding machine—all within 72 hours of birth. This happens to 150,000 male chicks every day at just one facility.

Friday, November 6, 2015

This Is Your Brain on Animal Products

The Vegan Vine
by Bethany Cortale

Addictions come in many different forms. Some people are addicted to substances like caffeine, drugs, and alcohol, while others are hooked on activities like buying and collecting stuff or watching porn. There are sexaholics, chocoholics, shopaholics, and workaholics. But another type of addiction that gets very little attention is our addiction to animal foods: meat, dairy, and eggs.

When I first went vegan there was an adjustment period in which my taste buds had to learn new flavors and textures from non-animal foods. For example, back in 1997, veggie burgers, vegan ice-creams, and vegan cheeses were limited and not as advanced as the vegan options on the market today, so they were somewhat unfamiliar compared to the cruel and cholesterol-laden products I had grown accustomed to.

Though I was concerned about flavor and taste, it was not my overriding interest. For me, being vegan was and will always be about ethics and justice, and eliminating animal cruelty from my diet; that meant all animal products had to go! For this reason alone, I was excited and more than willing to try new foods that might take some time getting used to. In actuality, it took no time at all.

I started out with meatless and dairy-free substitutes. As the years went by I learned to cook more, try different recipes, and incorporate more healthful, whole foods into my diet. Now, I rarely need to add sugar or salt to any recipe as my taste buds have detoxed from the heavily masked and preserved animal products that pass for food.

The majority of consumers, however, are still addicted to processed meat and dairy products and don’t even realize it. They are easily persuaded—dare I say hypnotized—by advertisers to go out and buy whatever’s being pitched to them. Keeping in line with social norms, most consumers seem unable and unwilling to exercise any discipline or self-control when it comes to animal foods and defend their preferences under the presumption that might makes right. Consider the latest fixation with bacon, which can be found in most anything these days including cupcakes and ice-cream.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Neo-Marxism, Capitalism and Animal Exploitation

by Bethany Cortale

The story of capitalism universally has been one of the oppressor versus the oppressed. While an analysis of the history of capitalism has taken a decidedly anthropocentric focus over the centuries, the recognition of nonhuman animals as one of those subjugated groups—and the significance of animal rights and the ethical vegan movement in actively working to end this oppression and raise human consciousness—has been garnering more attention, specifically by Neo-Marxists.

For centuries, capitalism has justified abusive labor practices and the destruction of nature and nonhuman animals in the pursuit of wealth. With the added aid of technology, nature and animals are being destroyed at alarming rates as modes of production, and the use of distance and concealment, encourage indifference towards them as nothing more than inanimate commodities.

Hundreds of live male chicks thrown out in plastic bags every day.

For example, male chicks are deemed worthless and costly to the egg industry because they don't produce eggs. Hatcheries breed chickens and then divide the newly born males from the females along an assembly belt. Once separated, the males are then quickly disposed of in one of three ways: they are gassed, suffocated in plastic bags (above), or tossed into a grinding machine and ground up alive—all within 72 hours of birth. This happens to 150,000 male chicks every single day at just one facility; some 260 million are killed this way every year.

"Cattle were the original capital," explained Pattrice Jones in her book, The Oxen at the Intersection. "The Latin capitalis comes from the term caput (head) and the habit of referring to a group of captive cows as however-many 'head of cattle.' As a form of wealth that was both moveable and tradable, captive cows featured prominently in the development of both agricultural capitalism and mercantilism, each of which contributed to the growth of industrial and consumer capitalism."

Capitalism exploits labor while it successfully alienates and conditions labor (people) to turn their frustration and angst—not against the capitalists who warrant it—but on those who have no power. Many slaughterhouse workers have few options and are treated less than human, and bear out their grievances on the least among them and those who can’t fight back—the animals which society has tasked them with needlessly killing for consumption.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

It's Time to Be Veganized!

The Vegan Vine
Julie, Santos, Chef Ron, Annie and EL during a Saturday brunch. 
Photo from

by Bethany Cortale

For years I've been asking the same question over and over again: when will there be a vegan restaurant in New Brunswick, New Jersey?

I spent my late teens and early twenties in New Brunswick as a Rutgers University undergrad. While I was a student, I was also a member of the local George Street Co-op, a natural foods market started by vegetarian Rutgers students in 1973. I've visited New Brunswick often throughout the last twenty years and yet, despite the spirited and diverse city life and the collegiate atmosphere, there has not been one bona fide vegan restaurant within the city's walls...until now!

The Vegan Vine
Veganized is a friendly, clean and inviting establishment located in the heart of New Brunswick. It beckons to you before you even walk through the door with its vibrant logo and rainbow of colors, which are reflected in every dish.

You can tell that Chef Ron and General Manager EL, brothers who opened Veganized earlier this year, take pride in their new restaurant. The service at Veganized is impeccable. I am not one who likes to be constantly interrupted while dining, however, the servers at Veganized seem to strike just the right balance between letting you enjoy your meal and conversation, and knowing exactly what you need and when you need it.

If you haven't already guessed by the name, all the fare at Veganized is completely vegan, but what you may not have expected is that it is also 95 percent Organic. Furthermore, the brothers use local, seasonal, and Fair Trade ingredients whenever possible. Even the table water is not your average water, but deliciously infused with real, organic fruit. They pay attention to every detail.

The Vegan Vine
Photo by Laura Kogan
Veganized's modern vegan menu is robust and varied. Strike out with a salad, like the Quinoa Salad of mixed greens, sherry vinaigrette, tricolor quinoa, roasted beets, edamame, goji berries, and toasted pine nuts. Or start with an appetizer like the Timbale (left) consisting of black beans, sweet potato, guacamole, cashew sour cream, and tortilla chips.

I couldn't decide between the Falafull, a twist on the standard falafel wrap incorporating baked chickpea patties, hummus, cucumber tomato salad, pickle, and a side of tahini, and the Mex-I-Can, made up of brown rice, black beans, charred corn, cucumber salsa, guacamole, and cashew sour cream. In the end, I chose the delicious Falafull and made a mental note to order the Mex-I-Can during my next visit.

The food at Veganized has been described as rich and hearty, without being heavy. The restaurant also offers flatbreads, sandwiches, burgers, sides, and even a veganized version of mac 'n' cheese with pasta, sweet potato cashew cream, smoked shiitake mushrooms, broccoli rabe, and bread crumbs.

And don't forget dessert! How can you with offerings like Chocolate Peanut Butter Torte, 14 Karat Cake, and Vanilla Cheese Cake, a strawberry compote with an oat coconut crust?

The Vegan Vine
Chocolate Peanut Butter Torte
Photo by Laura Kogan
Veganized is a little pricey, but worth every dollar spent. I'm thrilled that the New Brunswick area and Rutgers University community finally have a vegan restaurant to call their own!

Veganized is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. and serves brunch on the weekends. They are located at 9 Spring Street in downtown New Brunswick, just a block from the train station. For more information, visit their website at

Vegan Starter Kit