By age twelve I had already decided that motherhood wasn't for me, in part because I didn't want to risk subjecting a child to the same kind of screwed-up childhood I was experiencing myself. Imagine my surprise then when decades later I've ended up doing a form of mothering anyway, in a classic case of role reversal with my aging mom. And while there are challenges to taking care of a parent who didn't particularly take good care of you, there are rewards as well. These include closure, working through unresolved issues, grieving a relationship that never was, and providing the kind of nurturing and caring that my younger self craved but didn't receive enough of. And as odd as it may sound, providing this kind of care for someone else is self-nurturing too. I can even see how having had my own kids may have speeded up this healing process, although biologically it's too late for that now. Which isn't to glamorize or minimize any of the hard work involved in taking care of a living being, whether they're eight months old, or eighty-eight years.
But while today celebrates the role of mothering, I would argue that it's a role we don't really value. We don't define it particularly well, or even give much thought as to whether we should take it on. Folk who opt out of parenthood are often characterized as being selfish and shallow, whereas those who don't give it a second thought, who automatically assume that that's what people do, are lauded as being unselfish and giving. Never mind overpopulation and the various environmental implications. This isn't to say that no one should have kids, but that anyone contemplating having them ought to give serious thought as to the consequences, because not doing so is the actual selfish and shallow act. Parenting, in my view, should be thought of as a privilege rather than a right, and with rights come responsibilities.
Because what other enterprise in our society is as unregulated, unlicensed and unreviewed? Do anything else -- drive a car, buy a gun (in itself an insane act, in my opinion), or enter any number of professions -- and you'll likely need a licence or at least some form of training. But become a parent, and hey, no demonstration of skills or aptitude required. Parenting has to be one of the least paperless activities around, even though it's purported to be the most difficult task there is. Hmmm.
And as for value, what do we pay people to be parents? To prepare the next generation to become responsible and model citizens? What is this most important work worth? Then compare that to what we pay hockey players, basketball stars, actors, CEO's, and whatever redeeming title you can manage to come up with for anyone whose last name is Kardashian, and it boggles the mind.
What about all the shelters, programs and services set up for domestic abuse victims? Women and children mainly, although men fall prey as well at times. Take Back The Night has been around forever it seems, and the stats on sexual assault don't appear to be dropping either. So if we value the labour of women when it comes to raising kids so much, why don't we take the man out of the home and off of the street when violence occurs rather than forcing the woman to flee?
And what of this role called mothering? What does it mean to be a mother? We don't spell it out clearly enough methinks, but to my mind mothering involves nurturing, raising, protecting, teaching, guiding, caring, playing, helping, mentoring, setting a good example and being an effective role model.
What about fathering? Not a term we hear as often as mothering, but surely it also means protecting, raising, caring, guiding, nurturing, helping, setting a good example, teaching, playing and being an effective mentor and role model. Notice that all of these attributes are shared by both male and female parents, although unfortunately the onus is still on mothers to do the lion's share of raising kids. Because when are men ever asked, for example, how they'll combine childcare and work?
Notice too that all the qualities of being a good (or good enough) parent are not species-specific. If we really value mothering, shouldn't we recognize and respect the mother-child bond wherever it occurs? Take a look at any undercover footage of factory farming, and you'll see just how much we actually value mothering. Sadly, as with human mothering, not that much.
But veganism can change that. Does change that. And to end this post on a positive note, here's a video of a fabulous new mother, and a nod to two human dads who prove that nurturing, protecting and providing is everyone's job, although these two do it particularly well. Well alrighty, can't seem to insert video directly as I'm not logged into Facebook, snort, so hopefully copy and paste will do. ;)
Hard to believe that Earth Day has been commemorated for 45 years now, and I have to admit that the more cynical part of me wonders how much we've really achieved in that time. Given the ongoing problems with global warming, pollution, oil spills, other environmental degradation, overpopulation, misuse of natural resources, species exploitation and extinction, the colossal disrespect human animals show towards this earth is overwhelming. Arrogance, greed, and an unwarranted superiority complex seem to trump common sense, decency and compassion when it comes to how humans interact with other species and Earth herself. So let's just hope we do better in the next 15 years, because 45 years from now it may well be too little, too late.
p.s. apparently, this is my 250th post :)
image credit: Patrick McDonnell's Mutts comic strip
Ha, spoke too soon. The paper published my letter after all! And apart from editing the first paragraph (they broke it up into three, and deleted the last sentence), they kept the rest intact and even put it in the featured letter spot thus improving its chances of being read. Have to admit I was pleasantly surprised, and even more so when I received a call the next day from a reader who had taken the time to look up my name in the phone book in order to thank me for writing it. No negative replies in the following edition either (which I half expected), although maybe that's still coming. All in all, a positive experience.
But reading Striking at the Root's chapter on letter writing before doing this again still stands, and I agree with Anne's comment on my post: I would not respond to his diatribe, nor defend us against his allegations about activists, but rather present clearly the facts surrounding beings captured for the sole purpose of our entertainment. It'sa good point, and something I didn't do, although hopefully would do next time.
It's a suggestion (using clear facts) SatR* made too, so I thought I'd take the opportunity here to outline a few of their other suggestions as well:
be concise and focus on the most important issue
be polite and professional
include information on how an issue will affect readers personally
respond to positive stories as well as negative ones
direct letters to readers and not the author of the piece you're responding to
don't assume readers already know about the issue you're referring to
tell them something they may not know
write in the affirmative and include positive suggestions for change
show how other animals have a wide range of emotions
be friendly and a good role model for animal activists
Oops, I clearly didn't read this chapter before writing my own letter, and the above suggestions would certainly have been good to follow, but I can't honestly say I regret my first attempt. And if one reader felt compelled enough to reach out to me, who knows how many others took some of the letter to heart? :)
* Mark Hawthorne, Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism pp. 35-37
p.s. I'm afraid I'll be MIA for a little while longer -- hope everyone's keeping well!
As I indicated on someone else's blog (sorry, I can't remember whose) quite a while ago, I think writing letters to the editor is a wonderful and worthwhile endeavour, but not something I want to do myself. Which is a bit odd given that I like writing, am opinionated enough and feel other animals need to be given a voice, yet am reluctant to do so.
Maybe it's because I live in a small conservative town and the opinions published thus far in our local papers tend to be the exact opposite of mine when it comes to reproductive freedom, gay rights, animal welfare, and well, just about everything else. In fact, some of the expressed opinions raised my ire so much that it caused me to stop reading the papers altogether. Maybe it's also because I'm employed in a Christian organization that doesn't share most of my political views, and while I would never lie about those views if asked, I don't go out of my way to share them. In short, I don't always feel like I have the freedom to publicly express whatever it is that I want without thinking about the potential consequences on both family (my mom and siblings all go to church weekly) and work.
So how did it get to be that I decided to do some scribbling anyway? Well, I stumbled across an opinion piece as I was cleaning my cat's litterbox (we're allowed to dispose of litter in newspaper in the compost bin here), and got annoyed enough to respond. And it took a certain amount of editing as I wanted to make sure it wasn't too reactive, too insulting, too inflammatory, too whatever. Imagine my disappointment then when it wasn't even published! To be fair though, I was a couple of weeks late, and there had been two other negative responses (here and here), so I can't really blame the editor. What galls me though is how this columnist gets to have his jerk-like opinions aired anyway, because this isn't the first time he's railed against "hippies" who care about animals.
In retrospect though, maybe it wasn't a bad thing to have my letter ignored. I don't think it was the best letter anyway as I WAS being reactive, was riled up when I wrote it, and it may not have served the best interests of those I was trying to represent. No, if I'm ever going to do this again, I should probably read the chapter and tips on letter writing in Mark Hawthorne's Striking at the Roots book first.
But because I did spend time on it (which I truly don't have enough of these days), and I can (within reason) say pretty much anything I want on a personal blog, I will let you read what I wrote, and perhaps you can let me know how to formulate it better next time for an audience that isn't my blog readership. Here goes:
Re. Lazy hippies have too much free time to troll online, Column, Feb. 12:
Ah James, you do think you’re clever, don’t you, what with all the cutesy capitalized names for folk who care about animal captivity and exploitation. But you might be surprised at the demographics of those you mock. Some of us are middle-aged or older, most of us are gainfully employed, more than a few of us are busy with child or elder care or both, and I would say that practically all of us wear deodorant. You see, what we’ve simply done is recognize that compassion can and should be extended to all living beings. (Even newspaper columnists, snort, so I apologize for those writing mean things to you on Twitter, although I can understand how a flippant and dismissive attitude such as yours would not inspire much friendliness.)
I’ve been vegan for almost seven years now, but in retrospect, I believe it was my first (and last) trip to Marineland as part of a school trip almost forty years ago that set me on this eventual path. Because watching the spectacle of magnificent beings reduced to performing silly circus tricks for humans struck me as sad and wrong, rather than fun. And while it took a long time for me to stop eating and wearing animals altogether (societal indoctrination supporting animal use is strong indeed), once I did, there was no going back.
Luckily, the number of people who believe that animals do matter (all animals, not just cats and dogs) is on the rise, and veganism is becoming more mainstream by the day. More specifically, the success of films like Blackfish indicates that it’s not just “hippies” who care about orcas and other captive animals. No, the writing is on the wall my friend, and one day archaic institutions like Marineland will become as extinct as the dinosaurs, and hallelujah to that I say.
So what's the verdict? Too personal? Too long? Not enough facts? Ah, at least no one can say I didn't try. :)
Is probably one of the most asinine set of words ever stringed together. If you're of a certain age you'll likely remember where this line came from, but if not, well, never mind. Suffice it to say that I tend to consider Valentine's Day just as senseless (as I do any holiday that celebrates something that ought to be recognized and validated more than once a year -- think Mother's Day, for example), but what the heck, let's take the kernel of this schmaltzy, sentimental, overly hyped, marketed, and commercialized day and do something useful with it. Let's look at love from a vegan perspective.
So what is love? I'm no expert, but thought I'd start a list. Feel free to add.
True vegan love means:
saying sorry whenever you've goofed up, which means you'll be saying sorry many more times than never (and if you're the exceptional human who rarely slips up, you could always say a general sorry on behalf of the rest of us)
respecting your animal companions (this means not declawing your cat, docking your dog's tail or ears, or any other number of practices that don't benefit other animal household members in the least)
extending your respect and compassion to sentient beings not viewed as companion animals (just because they don't happen to live in someone's home doesn't mean they shouldn't be present in your area of concern)
getting out of your comfort zone to assist other sentient beings in concrete and off-line ways
remembering that "other sentient beings" includes the human kind
not holding yourself or other vegans to impossibly perfect standards
not getting too hung up on what label (or non-label) other vegans use to describe their identity or advocacy if they're actually doing something helpful
being patient and kind with non-vegans even (or especially) in the moments when a part of your brain feels that violence could be a valid and useful tool
recognizing that love, respect and compassion towards all are supposed to be the cornerstones of being vegan
remembering those cornerstones when you're having difficulty feeling love, respect and compassion because someone or some group is pissing you off
seeing that "love" works better as a verb than a noun
preparing food that sustains rather than hurts (whether in sourcing or consuming)
accepting that you can only change yourself, provide information without demanding results, and lead by example
realizing that veganism is a means to an end, not an end in itself (the real end is for the need for veganism to become obsolete*), and ultimately about other animals and not ourselves
disagreeing without hurting and agreeing without competing (this, if I remember correctly, was a line -- I've roughly paraphrased it -- by Lee Hall that I saw referenced in one of veganelder's posts or comments a couple of years ago, and it stayed with me because it struck me as possibly one of the most difficult things for members and factions of the vegan movement to do)
remembering to take the time to take care of yourself
being willing to have an open mind when new information presents itself
being willing to have an open heart when new feelings present themselves
learning from other species who in some ways are much smarter than we are
showing gratitude for what you have and anything that IS going right
knowing that real change will likely take far more time than you'd like
pacing yourself for the long haul, and
did I mention being humble enough to say you're sorry? ;)
* obsolete in the sense that we longer need to convince folk to go vegan as animal use and consumption will be a thing of the past, hurrah!
When I saw the comic below (many moons ago now), I burst out laughing.
Funny thing is, it was posted on a decidedly non-vegan site whose author used this to illustrate the folly and error of vegan ways. Kinda backfired methinks, because when you show the absurdity of one concept (quick rule of thumb for the "but plants have feelings too!" folk -- if a carrot doesn't scream when you lop its top off, it likely can't feel pain), it can actually strengthen the argument for another. In this case, the idea of showing solidarity for farmed animals in the many animal walks now common in numerous cities and countries. Not quite sure if the illustrator was also trying to poke fun at us, but hey, we should all (vegans and non-vegans alike) be able to see the humour in whatever it is that we do. The stereotype though, that vegans are unable to do this, is one that's gotta go. Plus it's one of the cop-out ways to try and discredit a group or movement. Cuz you know, all those feminists don't have a sense of humour either. Or anyone who doesn't laugh at a rape joke. Humour can be a double-edged sword: used wisely it can educate while entertain, cutting through bullshit in mere seconds, but sadly can also be used to keep tired myths and progressive groups in place.
Something else that made me laugh a while back even though it maybe wasn't supposed to, was a comment made by a character on Coronation Street, the world's longest-running TV soap and one of the few shows I won't have interrupted. I can't quite remember the context (although I believe it was Kylie talking about food allergies), and I'm paraphrasing here, but basically the line went something like this: Some people can't eat cows, some can't eat pork, others can't eat shellfish, and don't even get me started on vegans. I'm not sure why this prompted a loud guffaw on my part, but I suspect it was the unexpected -- hearing the word "vegan" on a television show, even in a derogatory way, is still novel enough that it pleases me enormously. Veganism has become mainstream enough to be made fun of (remember that humour can be a defense mechanism and non-vegans have a lot to be defensive about), so like it or not, vegan jokes are here to stay. Until of course the tipping point is reached and what is currently considered a minority stance becomes a majority one. But until then, let 'em laugh, because you know the old saying, she who laughs last... ;)
Take a minute, and without thinking about it too much, quickly list all the different ways in which you're privileged. Better yet, do it out loud.
Now, did you find this relatively easy, or were you a bit stumped after the first couple of more obvious privileges? If you're like most of us, you were a bit slower in rattling off the last items you came up with, and that's not surprising given the nature of privilege. Privilege tends to be relatively invisible to the privilege-holder, that is, we often don't even see the advantages that come with the particular type of privilege we enjoy. And we all enjoy numerous privileges we take for granted.
If you are currently reading this post, then you enjoy heaps of privilege right off the bat. You have time, and are likely not working in multiple part-time jobs (or sweatshops) in trying to make ends meet. You have some kind of device on which you're reading these very words, and are probably living somewhere without Internet censorship. Almost certainly, you have some level of post-secondary education, or are self-taught. Already, as you can see, you are hugely privileged.
Statistically, many of you are enjoying gender privilege (it's easier, by the way, for vegans to pay lip service to the idea of being nonsexist than it is to recognize how certain approaches that value linear or black and white thinking, or reason over emotion, may actually be rooted in sexism), racial privilege, and heterosexual privilege. What may not be as easy to see is that you likely also enjoy gender identity privilege, Judeo-Christian privilege, and able-bodied privilege. If you fit the norms of whatever is considered attractive and desirable in your culture or society, than that's privilege too.
So right away, we have all sorts of privilege that we may not even be that aware of: gender, gender identity, class, racial, economic, technological, religious, education, orientation, and so forth -- it's a bit staggering, isn't it? Which isn't to say that anyone is completely privileged, as we're all probably marginalized in one area or another, and as with anything, it's a matter of degree.
But the one enormous privilege that the vast majority of us (even those of us who can easily recognize all sorts of other privileges) don't see, is the privilege conferred on human animals. In fact, this privilege is rendered so invisible that those of us who do see the anthropocentrism for what it is are usually accused of anthropomorphism. In other words, our world is so human-centric that many cannot recognize other sentient beings as beings in their own right, and dismiss veganism as an attempt to attribute human emotions and characteristics as if those emotions and traits can only be human. It's as if most humans cannot view members of other species but through a human-specific and human-oriented lens. Quite the disability, if you ask me. ;)
My friend veganelder has also been pondering this most peculiar inability, so I would invite you to read here, here, and here.
Please do think a bit more about the notion of privilege, the extent of your own particular set of privileges, how you can help those with fewer privileges, and how you can help other humans actually see the privilege-tinted lenses they wear. Thanks.
Oh, because privilege can be hard to think about objectively when you're the one enjoying its benefits, here are a few nifty lists of examples to make it a bit clearer:
Eek! Where did 2014 go? And wouldn't you know it, one day into the New Year and I'm already behind, snort. I had such good intentions for this blog over the holidays too. Was going to finally write and publish the Why Aren't More Christians Vegan? post that I've been meaning to do for too many months to mention, but then decided that because the topic makes me cranky and the last post had been grim enough, I'd write about vegan gr-attitude instead. Started the draft, and then poof, life intervened. Also wanted to reply to the comments left on the last post of last year (yikes, saying last year makes it sound even worse), but again, life-interruptus and all that.
If I really thought that setting goals for this blog would work, they'd include:
reply to comments promptly
reply to posts written by other bloggers promptly
publish new blog posts, if not promptly, at least regularly
In other words, keep-up mode rather than catch-up mode. But alas, I know myself too well, and promises I likely won't be able to keep I won't make. Plus, the situation may get worse rather than better, so all I can do is say I'll try. Thankfully though, it's Thursday, which means I can make use of #ThrowbackThursday and link back to a post I quite liked and is just as relevant today as it was when written two years ago. Thus, substitute in your mind the year when reading welcome to 2013, and forgive my tardiness on this and other blogs. And, HAPPY NEW YEAR everyone! :)
For people who are not Christian, this holiday has very little to do with celebrating the birth of Christ, and while Christians may lament this, holidays should be inclusive. Inclusive, of course, having a much more expansive meaning for vegans than non-vegans. And while I've never given the word Xmas all that much thought (or use, except when I didn't have enough space), I've been seeing it a fair bit lately and all of a sudden its appropriateness struck me with full force today.
Because that X really does sum up what happens, doesn't it?
Even folk who believe that a birth should be the focus of this event, do so by reveling in the deaths of billions of sentient beings. We literally snuff out the lives of countless others, putting a big ol' X through their existence (see how that word has an x in it too?), and think nothing of it. Most holidays involve the deaths of other beings on a massive scale as well, but I've never seen the hypocrisy of Christmas as a religious holiday quite as clearly until now.
X brings to mind:
a dead cartoon character's eyes when marked with x's
and incorrect when used as the opposite of a check mark
X, one letter with multiple meanings, including a literal death sentence on a day that for many humans is supposed to be about birth. How odd. How sad.
Actually, there are a number of them, but here are four examples.
Why is it assumed that when vegans get sick it's because of what they don't eat, yet when non-vegans get sick it's not assumed to be because of what they DO eat?
Why are vegans often asked if they support abortion, yet pro-life folk are rarely asked if they support ALL life? A surprising number of anti-choice proponents favour capital punishment, for example, yet this isn't often thought to be hypocritical even though the hypocrisy charge is lobbed against pro-choice vegans all the time.
Why are humans murdered while other animals are killed -- it's the same action with the same consequence is it not?
And lastly, why are vegans routinely accused of being judgmental, but non-vegans who judge the lives of other animals as less important every time they stuff them in their mouths are not? Eh, tell me that!
I stole the awesome cartoon above (don't remember from where now), but it's from the talented Vegan Sidekick who also has his own website where you can find images in categories (how cool is that?), and books (which I may just have to buy), so go give him some love! Seriously, right now. No point in waiting. ;)