Fantasy Farm – Podcast #005

timthumb (2)PETA recently sent a letter toZynga (creator of social media games such as Petville, Fishville, Farmville, Treasure Isle and Mafia Wars) protesting their plan to use virtual dogs for fighting in their Mafia Wars game.  PETA was concerned that the use of such dogs in fantasy play might lead to an increase in dogfighting in the real world. PETA requested that Zynga remove fighting dogs from their games.

Virtual Farming

This brought to mind what I had been noticing in their other games – the exploitation of animals, much as they are exploited in the real world. But PETA never complained about the animals on Farmville.  A quick glance around the farms in Farmville land will show animals crammed so close together that they cannot move at all — sound familiar to anyone? Just like a factory farm, only these farms have daylight.  Animal hoarding was really becoming a problem over in Farmville. The vegans I know who play this game have their farms looking more like sanctuaries, either without animals or a few free-moving animals in a garden setting.

I began noticing – sorry, it is the therapist in me – that people playing Farmville had farms that often represented traits about that person. The obsessive type A’s had all their trees neatly lined us, all their plots evenly spaced; the laid back people had things spread across the landscape haphazardly.  The creative types had beautifully landscaped gardens and the super achievers went straight for the gold (or in this case, the XP).  When Farmville introduced co-op farming, even more was revealed.  Those with management genes went into overdrive to coordinate the type of seeds to be planted, when the co-op would open, who would be invited, and precisely when the crop would be harvested.  All for fun, of course. It seemed like people just loved the idea of farming, at least in the virtual world.

Romancing the Farm

While I was noticing what was going on in Farmville, I was also noticing how farming in general is being romanced. I just finished reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s book, Eating Animals, and was surprised at this glowing reports he related about farmers who grew animals for consumption the old way.  Of course the old way meant slaughter as baby animals, too – just a much less horrific life until that time. (More on Foer’s book in another podcast.) The recent push, even with the support of animal protection organizations like PETA and HSUS, towards “humane” meat seems like more of the same – a way to romance the family farm.

As far back as the 1970s, George McGovern called on people in the United States to limit the amount of dairy and meat they consumed in order to improve the health of the general population. Here is a quote from a New York Times article:

Responding to an alarming increase in chronic diseases linked to diet — including heart disease, cancer and diabetes — a Senate Select Committee on Nutrition, headed by George McGovern, held hearings on the problem and prepared what by all rights should have been an uncontroversial document called ”Dietary Goals for the United States.” The committee learned that while rates of coronary heart disease had soared in America since World War II, other cultures that consumed traditional diets based largely on plants had strikingly low rates of chronic disease. Epidemiologists also had observed that in America during the war years, when meat and dairy products were strictly rationed, the rate of heart disease temporarily plummeted.

(Here is a clip of Robert Kennedy Jr. talking about this disregard for what McGovern found.)

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Power of Agribusiness

The same moral confusion that allows us to think we love animals while subjecting billions of them to hell on earth allows a people who pride themselves on unrestricted free market capitalism to simultaneously have institutionalized farm subsidies that ensnare an entire nation into unhealthy eating habits that damage the globe while damaging our health – and still allow a good portion of the population to fight doing anything about health care, either.  Farm subsidies promote dairy and meat consumption despite volumes of scientific information decrying their harmful effects on health and increasing diseases such as colon cancer, cardiovascular disease, and high cholesterol.  The actual cost of these products would be enormous if they weren’t backloaded, with everyone paying the costs to the environment, to the farmers, to the poor health of the nation.

Farms are not as numerous as they once were; they have been replaced by industrial operations that dismember animals while they are still fully conscious and destroy, injure, and traumatize the human beings, often undocumented workers, who are forced to work in their polluted, demanding mechanized death chambers. These workers have a very high turnover rate and very high incidence of injury and worker mortality. They are destroying the landscape, air quality and waterways near their operations, and they are getting very wealthy in the process.

If PETA is correct, and the Zynga games do reflect reality, then when Farmville releases all the animals and introduces GMO and organic produce and goes completely vegan, it will mean things are moving in a positive direction.

If you are interested in seeing a Fantasy Farm, consider The Real Dirt on Farmer John, a documentary about a third generation farmer who was free-spirited and creative and moved beyond traditional ways of farming to form a co-op and develop organic produce. If this was a vegan farm, it would truly be a Fantasy Farm.  For another good film about the power of the food industry, try The Future of Food. Both films are available on Netflix.

PETA’s letter to Zynga

SPQN’s Secrets of Farmville

New York Times Article – George McGovern

Ring of Fire with Robert Kennedy Jr.

The Real Dirt of Farmer John

The Future of Food

All About Food

YEA Camp

Vegans for Peace

PETA, HSUS, and The Rumblings of a Vegan Tsunami

Tahiti WaveAs a young teenager, I used to surf the coast of Southern California. My vision was poor, so I learned to feel the currents of water beneath me. When there was a light drawing back, it meant a swell was coming and I needed to get paddling. If I delayed, I would miss the ride, and if I was too fast, I would have the wave crash down on me and would wipe out. Lately, I have been feeling a shift in the currents beneath me once again, only this time I do not plan to miss it.

PETA’s Failed Policies

There have been rumblings on the vegan blogosphere about some of the latest new lows reached byPeople for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.  Their pie-in-the-face disrespect to a person in authority seems contraindicated when requesting more respect for other beings.  It is assaultive and inappropriate behavior not becoming adults with serious intentions. Then there is the full frontal nudity of a young woman in their State of the Union Undress (deliberately not linked here) – disrespectful not only to women but also to our elected leaders. Even Ingrid Newkirk‘s response (A pragmatic fight for animal rights) to Victor Schonfeld’s article, Five fatal flaws of animal rights activism, in which she defends “silly antics” as being part of animal rights activism misses the mark by a mile.  While Ms. Newkirk may be well-intentioned, her behavior is the same old tired tactics that have been failing to do anything but increase the PETA budget and gain some press for many years.  At every turn, Ms. Newkirk sells out the animals and any chance to show respect for their lives, whether it is by cooperating with fast food enterprises that kill animals for food and profit, or partnering with corporations by buying stock in animal exploitation schemes. Ms. Newkirk never draws a line in the sand, never acts as if she believes what she says that animals are not ours to use; she uses and exploits them freely to draw attention and financial support to her organization while they remain in a living hell. I have noticed lately that when an outrageous behavior occurs in the news, such as the recent intrusion into Senator Mary Landrieus’ office by men dressed as phone company repairmen, the allusion on a recent MSNBC news discussion was to liken them to “PETA protesters.” Meanwhile, only 7 animals were saved in PETA’s “shelter” in 2008, while nearly 2,000 were killed.  With millions of dollars in annual income, it seems impossible that those lives were valued, because with the will to save them, they could have. If PETA wants ethical treatment for animals, they should begin by delivering some themselves

Pitfalls in Imperfect Abolitionist Animal Advocacy

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I describe myself as an imperfect vegan because I have not yet reached the level of theoretical knowledge where I feel assured  my every move is the right one. I support the abolitionist movement and believe that animals deserve personhood, that a major paradigm shift needs to happen to move people away from the exploitation of animals and earth towards justice, and because non-violence is an important component of doing so. I hope to see a day where humans can respect the natural world and see themselves as part of it, not in charge of it.

As a therapist, there was a tale about a man who was walking on the beach that was told to us as interns.  The man found millions of starfish, dying, having washed up on shore. A man stood there, throwing one after another in the water.  Another man walked up and told him, “What are you doing? You cannot save them all!”  to which our man replied, “No, but I can save this one,” as he saved another life. The story was to help us avoid being overwhelmed by the need and suffering we were soon to encounter. It was also to remind us that, although we could not “save” every single client, each one was worth the effort. We would do the best we could.

I make mistakes and hopefully learn from them. I do not invest time in urging for larger cages for chickens but rather to free chickens from being commodified. I used to support some of the animal protection groups, but now think that vegan education is the single best thing anyone can do to help the most animals in the quickest fashion. No two advocates offer the same combination of perspective, energy, experience or education; that is what makes us a community. We need all of us to pull together to get this done.

Here are some of the ideas I have been learning about activism as well as the activists that keep me sane.

Confessions of a Former PETA Member

When I was younger, and less informed, I used to take pride in identifying with the bizarre tactics of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.  I cringed at every issue of their magazine that I received, though, so filled with photos of tormented animals; I used to wonder why they sent those photos to those of us who already cared about animals–it was distressing. Obviously, it helped keep their coffers filled, because they continue doing so today.  The fist and paw of Animal Liberation Front seemed to exemplify the radical changes that needed to take place. Free the Animals! Then, I did not question their tactics; I thought they were radicals and felt the torment of animals required extreme measures to get the attention of people. They did make the news and did make people think; unfortunately, what most people thought was that animal rights people were not to be taken seriously.

Now you can count me as a Vegan against PETA. They have made so many missteps that I cannot consider them a positive force in the fight for the liberation of animals.  A few months back, I was more concerned with in-fighting, disagreements and lawsuits between animal protection groups; that was before I landed squarely in the middle of one of their squabbles.  I felt then that if anyone was doing anything positive for animals, then good for them; why would I take a stand against a group that was trying to help?  But what I learned changed my perspective and increased my understanding of the problems with the largest groups, such as PETA, who take in millions of dollars yet do not seem to make any progress towards freeing animals from their horrible position on this planet. While they may stop a bad practice here or there, undoubtedly several more, often worse practices crop up to replace them.  At the root, there is no respect for animals.

Here are the reasons I am disappointed in you, PETA:

  1. You use tacky tactics.  Sexism, sizism, celebrity, appearance: all are superficial and do not represent the horror of what you know is happening to animals. Who cares who the sexiest vegetarian over 50 is? Why is it important to disparage a full-bodied female on your billboards?  And nudity?  Is that really necessary, when the reality is so very serious? How does that elevate the dialogue to save other species? What is happening to animals is no joke and it is offensive that you make cartoons while the reality is a nightmare in full living color.
  2. You are dishonest.  People trust you to do the right thing for animals. They entrust their companion animals to you, thinking you will find them homes. Then you destroy them before you have even tried to place them and spend thousands of dollars on a freezer to contain all the dead bodies. Ms. Newkirk, you have your photo taken with dogs and cats, yet you are not working to find homes for animals. That is inherently dishonest, using the media to present a false sense of who you are and what you represent.
  3. You support some of the most egregious companies by owning stock in them, companies that torment and slaughter millions of animals. How could you?
  4. You partner with companies who show no conscience, who cause some of the worst suffering imaginable; yet you partner with them if they make some useless gesture towards animal “welfare.”  If you end up getting slaughtered, there is no welfare involved.
  5. You have a scary attitude towards rescue that ends in death.  You have charged other animal organizations of not providing adequately for the animals in their care, but you kill the animals entrusted to your care. How is that better?
  6. Your kill ratios are getting higher each year.  What are you doing with all your millions of dollars, if you do not respect the individual lives of animals? Ms. Newkirk, you have said that the kindest thing you can do for a homeless animal is to kill them. That is not kindness, it is psychopathology.  The kindest thing would be to provide them a home.
  7. You refuse challenges.  Adam Kochanowicz recently challenged you, Ms. Newkirk, in an open letter to debate with Gary L. Francione.  Mr. Francione, a Rutgers University professor, agreed to the debate.  There is now a petition circulating on Twitter to request the same of you.  Why have you refused to respond?
  8. You have become a destructive force.  You support the failed welfarist policies that do nothing to increase respect for animals. Indeed, you show very little respect for them yourself.  Not just the dogs and cats found half frozen and dead in dumpsters, but the fact that you do NOTHING to try to place the animals entrusted to you before you murder them.  They are innocent, loving, feeling beings and you never give them a fighting chance. While you may not be able to save them all, you could at least try. For $32 million a year, you could certainly try.  Your lack of will is fatal.

Your kill statistics from last year, 2008, show only 7 animals placed and nearly 2,000 killed.  That is lower than any neighboring shelter and a higher kill ratio than in any year in your past.  You have an income of over $30 million per year, yet most of us could do better than those odds working with a zero dollar budget and a home computer.  The news that two PETA workers killed dozens of animals within minutes of being surrendered was defended by you, Ms. Newkirk.  You supported the workers (possibly because they were following PETA policy?) stating that they did not cause suffering.  You seem to have a pathological concern that living animals are vulnerable and the safest way to protect them is to kill them.  Your group kills healthy, very young animals – a veterinarian performed an autopsy on one of the dogs found in a dumpster who had been killed and he was only a six month old puppy, a beautiful and perfectly healthy young dog that would have been easier than most to place. Nor did PETA keep these animals in shelter for six months, thirty days, a week, or a day – but only for minutes, before they were killed.

That is why I am a Vegan against PETA.  I am glad you do some good with your money; you should.  But you also cause harm. You give Animal Rights a certain bizarre reputation that is ill-deserved. Gary Francione, Roger Yates, Randy Sandberg, Elizabeth Collins, Adam Kochanowicz, Dan Cudahy and numerous others are Animal Rights people that do not behave in an adolescent fashion. They do not use the media and celebrities for questionable purposes.  The work ahead of us is far too important to have it reduced to a cartoon, to have insulting billboards spread out across our highways that offend a good portion of our citizens, to have nudity used to lower the bar of our cause and make us look vulgar and insignificant, while billions of animals are killed every year, and while PeTA is busy killing thousands themselves.

I know there are earnest hearts who work for PeTA and truly care about animals.  And there are many millions of people who believe in PeTA. But I am no longer one of them.