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Thursday, December 13, 2012

In Conversation with Dr. Karen Davis: Of Practical Applications of Trans-species Psychology, Of Demystifying Anthropomorphism, and Of The Holocaust and the Henmaid’s Tale


Some of us choose to be vegan because we feel kinship with nonhuman animals; we can relate empathically with them and therefore, we feel committed to unfolding the layers in their behavior, emotions, and language. From this drive emerges a body of knowledge that helps us construct their inner world. This body of knowledge thus accumulated, and when documented, told, and retold, becomes the building blocks of the discipline of “Trans-species Psychology” – the field of psychology that studies animal cognition and emotions.

Today, the blog heartily welcomes Dr. Karen Davis, an animal advocate of such caliber. The blog had the privilege of first introducing Dr. Davis in the essay, The Chicken Story Retold. Dr. Davis is the founder and president of United Poultry Concerns (UPC), a non-profit organization that promotes the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl in food production, science, education, entertainment, and human companionship situations. In the last three decades of her work, Dr. Davis has made enormous contributions towards the discipline of Trans-species Psychology. Backed by empirical research data, she has written volumes about the inner world of animals in her captivating, storytelling style. This data has been used to lobby to end animal exploitation, particularly of chickens, turkeys, and other domestic fowl; and to appeal to people to recognize their shared sentience with animals.

Many in the USA today know her as the “chicken lady”, the “chicken rights advocate” who changed their lives for a more enlightened and compassionate future.

Sanctuary for rescued chickens and other domestic fowl

Through UPC, Dr. Davis runs a haven for chickens and other domestic fowl in Machipongo, Virginia. Birds being smaller than most “food” animals, are thought to be “stupid, brainless” with no personality at all, and only fit to be eaten and mistreated. This sanctuary is open to anybody who wishes to observe and feel the life of free birds from close quarters. In Dr. Davis’ sanctuary, all birds have names and her writings bring out the individuality of each. She has appeared in various radio and TV shows to advocate for them and has even pioneered a course on the role of animals in the Western philosophic and literary tradition in the University of Maryland Honors Program. She is also the author and editor of a number of important publications.

Publications and lobbying

Dr. Davis is the founding editor of Poultry Press, the quarterly magazine of United Poultry Concerns. Among its other benefits, the magazine has acted a lobbying tool for the sensitive and intelligent birds being brutalized in the name of “food”. This magazine has been chosen as one of the best nonprofit publications in North America by the alternative press, UTNE magazine

Besides, Dr. Davis has written scores of articles and essays in various mainstream journals and magazines. To get a glimpse of the titles of her writings and the recognition bestowed upon her for her work, you can click this link on the UPC website.

Dr. Davis has written several books as well; one among the path breaking ones is Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs: An Inside Look at the Modern Poultry Industry, first edition, that focuses attention on the billions of chickens buried alive on factory farms. This book acted as a catalyst for animal rights activists to develop effective strategies to expose and relieve the plight of chickens. The second edition of the book documents the outcome of advocacy efforts since the book first appeared.

The original Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs became a blueprint for people seeking a coherent picture of the poultry industry as well as a handbook for animal rights advocates seeking to develop effective strategies to expose and relieve the plight of chickens. This new edition tells where things stand in a new century in which avian influenza, food poisoning, global warming, genetic engineering, and the expansion of poultry and egg production and consumption are growing concerns in the mainstream population.” ~Google Books review~

Dr. Davis is also the author of a compelling academic and scholarly book entitled, The Holocaust and the Henmaid's Tale: A Case for Comparing Atrocities, which makes the case that significant parallels can—and must—be drawn between the Holocaust and the institutionalized abuse of billions of animals in factory farms.

Davis tackles the penultimate emblem of mass suffering, the Holocaust, and compares it successfully with the daily slaughter of millions of sentient beings in the name of human gluttony and imperialistic perfidy. Just as the claim that the 9/11 attacks in the US were more “tragic” than the slaughters in Columbia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Iraq, etc. is laughable, so too is the notion that non-human suffering cannot be compared to human suffering. Suffering is suffering, and seeking an end to same should be the goal of all reasoning beings.” ~R. Craig on Amazon.com~

Besides the above two books, Dr. Davis has also authored A Home for Henny; Instead of Chicken, Instead of Turkey: A Poultryless ‘Poultry’ Potpourri; and More Than a Meal: The Turkey in History, Myth, Ritual, and Reality.

The main points covered in this interview

In this interview, Dr. Davis explains the essence of the discipline of Trans-species Psychology and discusses its potential for positive animal rights advocacy. All trans-species psychologists employ the technique of anthropomorphism—the attribution of human characteristics to nonhuman animals—to gather data. However, this word has gathered certain taboos, not only from the animal abusers’ lobby but from the animal rights community as well. In this interview, Dr. Davis presents a holistic understanding of “anthropomorphism” by making a distinction between false anthropomorphism and empathic anthropomorphism. She points out how anthropomorphism of the false kind is used by animal abusers to destroy the dignity of animals. Conversely, she points out the enormous value of empathetic anthropomorphism and how the latter is used for positive animal rights advocacy.

In the penultimate section of the interview, using the metaphor of the Holocaust, Dr. Davis makes a case for the similarities in the psyche of the oppressor—whether it be humans abusing animals or humans abusing other humans—and the similarities in treatment meted to the victims – whether human or nonhuman animals. Dr. Davis leaves us with a bibliography of important books and blog sites under the discipline of Trans-species Psychology.


In Conversation with Dr. Karen Davis
Dr. Karen Davis at her desk in the office of United Poultry Concerns

Vegan India!: Dr. Davis, first of all many thanks for consenting to this interview with Vegan India! blog. We understand that the research on the emotions and cognitive capabilities of animals, particularly chickens, done by your organization, United Poultry Concerns, and cited in your books belong to the discipline of “trans-species psychology”. Could you please share your insights based on your experience on the potential of this discipline for positive animal rights advocacy? What are the takeaways from this discipline for animal rights advocates that one can implement effectively to change the way animals have been objectified in our culture?

Dr. Davis: Humans share evolutionary kinship with other animals, yet many people continue to resist acknowledging our common heritage and inter-subjective ties with other species. Animal advocates seek to overcome this resistance by stressing our shared sentience. Pain and fear in particular have been emphasized given that animal advocacy is a response to the abusive relationships that humans have established with other creatures, abuses rationalized on bases that deny subjectivity and consciousness, hence moral worth and ethical claims, in beings who are not human.

In the 20th century, Western science defined other animals almost exclusively in terms of “drives” and “instincts”. “Fear” and “aggression” dominated the discourse. Rigid behaviorists still insist that other animals do not have subjectivity, or that the study of emotions and consciousness in them is futile, because psychological states cannot be empirically tested in other species. The naturalist Joe Hutto who said of young turkeys he raised that on seeing him at dawn, they did “a joyful, happy dance, expressing an exuberance,” would be ridiculed by the strict behaviorist as a sentimentalist projecting his own feelings and desires anthropomorphically onto these birds rather than “objectively” describing their behavior as, perhaps, “dance-like locomotion,” and letting it go at that.   

For 22 years until she died, I had a beloved parrot companion named Tikhon. I used to marvel over the fact that she and I knew each other so well, that we were so close and communicated so intimately without ever having “talked about” a single subject. We shared experiences that could only have happened through the medium of our relationship with each other. As an advocate for chickens and turkeys, I observe and interact with the birds at our sanctuary every day, and I make it my business to evoke their lives through storytelling as best I can. People are fascinated and affected by the stories I tell, which enlighten their view of these birds to an appreciation of the fact that chickens and turkeys have personalities, expressiveness, emotions, cognition, and empathy.

Mavis and Karen
For example, I tell people the story of a shy and timid hen we adopted once named Mavis, who, after coming to our sanctuary, stayed alone by herself in the yard, seemingly uninterested in the other chickens or in me. One day I looked up from hugging our three “broiler” hens, who would urge me every day by bumping up against me with their chests, to crouch down and embrace them all together as a group. Thus engaged that day, I saw Mavis standing stock still and staring at us. Struck, I thought: does Mavis want to be hugged? I withdrew from the three hens, walked over and knelt beside Mavis and pulled her gently toward me. There was no resistance at all. She rested against me so comfortably and completely that I felt as I held her close and stroked her feathers that this was exactly what she had wanted me to do.

My experience with chickens and turkeys since the mid-1980s has shown me that these birds are conscious and emotional beings who can relate empathically with one another and with me. I tell people about the time that my hen, Sonja, walked over and nestled her face next to mine when I was crying and deeply upset. I don’t know whether Sonja knew why I was crying, but there is no doubt in my mind that she knew I was sad and sought to comfort me. She comforted me with an expression of empathy that I have carried emotionally in my life ever since. These kinds of experiences, these stories of mutual responsiveness and understanding, traverse species boundaries and dissolve them in the deeper moments of our lives, revealing humanity’s psychological ties with other creatures.

I regard well-told personal accounts, like my stories of Sonja and Mavis, to be crucial to effective animal advocacy, especially when it comes to animals such as chickens and turkeys, who have been misrepresented as having few or no feelings or consciousness, who are said by those who mistreat them for profit or pleasure to lack the ability to be companion species. These bogus claims can and must be challenged with truthful stories showing otherwise. A story describing a significant encounter with a fellow creature of another species is one of the best ways to reach people.


Vegan India!: This brings us to the topic of anthropomorphism as a lot of the “affective” material in trans-species psychology is derived from it. In your writings, you have made a distinction between “false” anthropomorphism and “empathic” anthropomorphism. We understand it is false anthropomorphism that animal rights activists need to be cautious of; empathic anthropomorphism, on the other hand, is the most natural and logical method of building data since we recognize our kinship with the animals. Dr. Davis, could you please explain the distinction between false anthropomorphism and empathic anthropomorphism for our readers with some examples? Also, how is false anthropomorphism used by animal exploiters and how can empathic anthropomorphism be used by animal rights advocates for positive animal rights advocacy?

Dr. Davis: Once in the 1970s when I was living in San Francisco with my parrot Tikhon, I visited a wild bird rescuer whose house was filled with injured owls and other birds he was rehabilitating. The rescuer cared about these birds, yet he rejected any suggestion that birds and humans could relate to one another psychologically or emotionally. Nothing I told him about my relationship with Tikhon would change his mind. To him, all of my interpretations of her feelings, desires, and intentions were “anthropomorphic” – an imposition of my personal desires and wishes onto her. He seemed to combine the belief that birds don’t have an interior life with a belief that whatever interior or trans-species experiences they might be capable of having, are unverifiable and are therefore as good as nonexistent. I felt that his natural affinity for birds had been overridden by the 20th century behaviorist taboo against “anthropomorphism” – the attribution of human characteristics to nonhuman animals. (Originally the term referred to the attribution of human characteristics to a deity.)

In 2004, while reading the transcript of a talk by an agriculture professor in Iowa who argued that the animal rights movement attracts people with “anthropomorphized visions of animals,” I thought: Animal rights advocates are not the primary “anthropomorphizers” of nonhuman animals: animal exploiters are. Institutionalized animal abusers are the ones who impose human traits and desires onto other species, rhetorically and materially, in order to justify mistreating them. It is they who will go so far as to insist that the animals they otherwise treat as objects want to suffer and die for humans. They say such things as: dolphins are happier in amusement park tanks than they are in the ocean because in captivity they receive three square meals a day. They falsify roosters as “wanting” to act out human aggression in cockfighting rings (but to liberate this purported desire in roosters they have to be punished into a state of psychological trauma). It is animal exploiters who dress up carriage horses in clownish costumes and force elephants and tigers to enact human notions of entertainment that have nothing to do with the natural behavior and choices of elephants and tigers. Animal abusers are the ones who genetically reconstruct chickens’ and turkeys’ bodies to reflect and satisfy human dietary and monetary desires, then cynically assert that the debilitated birds are healthier and happier than normal chickens and turkeys. The list goes on. Imposing human desires on other animals against their will, claiming they are “happier” in zoos than they are in “the wild” (their own natural homes) is the essence of false anthropomorphism, which also includes unhealthy pet-keeping situations in which the “pet” is forced to mirror the owner’s self-centered desires pathologically.

"What must be we do to prove we are 'persons'"? Illustration courtesy: Nature's Chicken by Nigel Burroughs





My vision of false anthropomorphism has an apt metaphor in the mythological bandit Procrustes (“the stretcher”), who in classical literature keeps an iron bed to which he forces his victims to conform. Watching them approach his stronghold, he stretches or shrinks the bed to predetermine their failure to fit into it so that he may torturously reshape them to suit his will. If the victims are too tall, he amputates their limbs; if they are too short, he stretches them to size. Procrustes is a fit symbol of the false anthropomorphism people use to force nonhuman animals into constructions that are fundamentally alien and inimical to them. When the wishes and desires of the human psyche conflict with the needs and desires of other animals, a Procrustean solution is devised whereby the animal is either cut down to size or stretched to fit the agenda. Animals are physically altered, rhetorically disfigured, and ontologically obliterated to mirror and model the goals of their exploiters.

False anthropomorphism entails maintaining the illusion that humans and other animals are separate orders of existence (“I am a subject, you are an object.”) while simultaneously maintaining that other animals are willing participants in being disfigured to accommodate human interests.
The opposite of false anthropomorphism is empathic anthropomorphism, in which a person’s vicarious perceptions and emotions are rooted in the realities of evolutionary kinship with other animal species in a spirit of goodwill. I stress that my view of false anthropomorphism versus empathic anthropomorphism entails attitude as well as action, goodwill versus ill will. (I stress this because empathy can be employed harmfully as well as compassionately toward others.) In general, though, according to my definition, false anthropomorphism is rooted in, and facilitates, emotions of hostility to animals. The goal is to oppress the animal and the animal’s identity into compliance in order to serve the human interest at the expense of the animal’s own interest. Empathic anthropomorphism by contrast is rooted in emotions of fellowship and respectfulness toward an animal or animal species. Through these emotions, aided by careful observation, reasonable inferences may be drawn regarding the meaning of an animal’s body language, vocal inflections, and other less easily characterized expressions.

For example, when a chicken is feeling ill, her (or his) condition is reflected in a drooping posture and woeful tones of voice.  A rooster with an illness who has been removed from his flock and the yard where he lived exuberantly in his better days will stand on the porch at our sanctuary and focus obsessively on what is going on outside with his companions. He will pace back and forth and circle back to that spot where he stands looking out upon his world with what can only be described as yearning frustration. Possibly he feels frustrated not only in being apart from his companions and his place, but in being prevented from actively influencing what his friends are doing out there.

Happy chickens are audibly and visibly vibrant, cheerful, and eager. Their eyes are bright, their posture is alert, their voices are alive with the emotions they’re experiencing in expressing their nature as chickens in an environment that answers to their interests – digging in the earth through fallen leaves, basking in the sunlight, settling contentedly together on their perches at night, exercising their ability to make choices throughout the day. I marvel at how cheerful chickens are in all kinds of weather, rain, snow, or sunshine. The contrast with their disconsolation when they are sad or bored or helplessly afraid is unmistakable. Virgil Butler, who worked for years in a Tyson chicken slaughterhouse, described how the chickens hanging upside down on the slaughter line would try to hide their poor little faces in the feathers of the birds beside them, and how scared their eyes were.  


Vegan India!: Another related topic is how animal rights advocates have often used to make a point by drawing parallels with the holocaust brought about by the Nazis. Matt Prescott, the creator of the “Holocaust on Your Plate” campaign has written that the “comparisons to the Holocaust is undeniable and inescapable…. because we humans share with all animals our ability to feel pain, fear and loneliness….” However, there are opposing views in using the metaphor of the Holocaust to describe the human manufacture of animal suffering in today’s context because the “Holocaust is sacralized, and comparisons are perceived as blasphemy”. (Boria Sax, Animals in the Third Reich). Dr. Davis, in your book, The Holocaust and the Henmaid’s Tale, you have made a convincing case in favor of the comparison. Please tell us the primary reasons why the human-engineered extermination of six million people in the Holocaust is comparable to the human-engineered oppression of animals happening every day?

Dr. Davis: As I explain in The Holocaust and the Henmaid’s Tale: A Case for Comparing Atrocities, I believe that significant parallels can be drawn between the Holocaust and the institutionalized abuse of billions of nonhuman animals, and that there are lessons to be learned by viewing each of these evils through the bleak lens of the other. The reduction of a sensitive being to a nonsentient object links the Holocaust victim to the animal victim in laboratories, factory farms, and slaughterhouses in ways that diminish the differences between them. Heinrich Himmler, the brutal chicken farmer and Nazi executioner, exemplified the pitiless spirit of human and nonhuman animal exploitation. He said, “What happens to a Russian, to a Czech, does not interest me in the slightest…. We shall never be rough or heartless when it is not necessary…. But it is a crime against our own blood to worry about them”. His statement captures the mentality of animal abusers toward their defenseless victims.

The Holocaust epitomized the attitude that we can do whatever we please, however vicious, if we can get away with it, because “we” are superior and “they”, whoever they are, are, so to speak, “just chickens”. While the word “Holocaust” represents a unique historical phenomenon of the mid-20th century, the term can transcend this phenomenon to function more broadly on behalf of a more enlightened and compassionate future. A broader approach allows a more just apprehension of past and present atrocities by connecting the Holocaust to the larger ethical challenges confronting humanity. Interestingly, the word holocaust is neither species-specific nor culture-specific. The term was taken over from the Greek word holokauston, meaning “whole burnt offering”, which in ancient times denoted animal sacrifice. To those who complain that the word Holocaust is being falsely appropriated to characterize the experience of nonhuman animals at the hands of humans, I suggest that the original holocaust victims have every right to complain that their own experience of being forcibly turned into burnt offerings (and to please and sate a god they would not necessarily have acknowledged as their god) has been appropriated by their victimizers, who are robbing them of their original experience of unjust suffering.

Poster courtesy: Truth Exposure

In conclusion, although I have much more to say in The Holocaust and the Henmaid’s Tale, there is precedent for contextualizing the word holocaust to include the animal experience that Charles Patterson describes unforgettably in his book Eternal Treblinka. The United States Holocaust Museum states in its guidelines for teaching about the Holocaust that, “The Holocaust provides a context for exploring the dangers of remaining silent, apathetic, and indifferent in the face of others’ oppression”. Nonhuman animals are “others” no less than we humans are; they have faces and feelings and families the same as we do. If it is wrong to treat other human beings like “animals”, it is no less wrong to treat other animals like “animals”. We have the capability to do better. We need to nourish, develop, and cherish this capability and by doing so, to exterminate the fascist within us.


Vegan India!: Dr. Davis, in the end, could you please suggest books or other materials on the discipline of trans-species psychology.

Dr. Davis: Here is a short selection of resources.

Books

Karen Davis, Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs: An Inside Look at the Modern Poultry Industry. New York: Lantern Books, 2009.

Karen Davis, The Holocaust and the Henmaid’s Tale: A Case for Comparing Atrocities. New York: Lantern Books, 2005.

Karen Davis, More Than a Meal: The Turkey in History, Myth, Ritual, and Reality. New York: Lantern Books, 2001.

Experiencing Animal Minds: An Anthology of Animal-Human Encounters, ed. Julie A. Smith & Robert W Mitchell. New York: Columbia University Press, 2012.

Annie Potts, Chicken. London: Reaktion Books, 2012.

Sister Species: Women, Animals, and Social Justice, ed.  Lisa Kemmerer. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2011.

Critical Theory and Animal Liberation, ed. John Sanbonmatsu. New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2011.

Minding the Animal Psyche, Spring: A Journal of Archetype and Culture, Volume 83, ed. Nancy Cater & G.A. Bradshaw. New Orleans, Spring 2010.

Mark Bekoff, The Animal Manifesto: Six Reasons for Expanding Our Compassionate Footprint. Novato, CA: New World Library, 2010.

G. A. Bradshaw, Elephants on the Edge: What Animals Teach Us about Humanity. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009.

Tina Volpe & Judy Carman, The Missing Peace: The Hidden Power of Our Kinship with Animals. Flourtown, PA: Dreamriver Press, 2009.

Charles Patterson, Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust. New York: Lantern Books, 2002.

Animals & Women: Feminist Theoretical Explorations, ed. Carol J. Adams & Josephine Donovan. Durham: Duke University Press, 1995.

Margaret A. Stanger, That Quail, Robert. New York: HarperPerennial, 1962; rpt. 1992.

Loren Eiseley, The Immense Journey: An Imaginative Naturalist Explores the Mysteries of Man and Nature. New York: New York: Vintage Books, 1946; rpt. 1959.

Blog & Website Resources

Thinking Like a Chicken. United Poultry Concerns. http://www.upc-online.org/thinking

G. A. Bradshaw, Bear in Mind. Psychology Today. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/bear-in-mind

Marc Bekoff, Animal Emotions. Psychology Today. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/animal-emotions

Chicken Run Rescue. http://chickenrunrescue.org

Free From Harm. http://freefromharm.org

Matilda’s Promise, Eden Farm Animal Sanctuary. http://www.matildaspromise.org

Vegan India! http://vegan-india.blogspot.in

VINE (Vegan Is the Next Evolution). http://www.bravebirds.org


For more interviews featured in this blog, you can click this link.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

These are Five of My Favorite VEGAN Things! Part 1


One prominent myth around veganism is that it is a lifestyle of “deprivation” – a lifestyle that involves “giving up” one’s favorite food, articles of clothing, way of living, and so on. Even though while leading a vegan lifestyle one does affect a number of changes, the “giving up” is not equivalent to “deprivation”. It is simply the formation of new habits and ideas in place of the old or letting go of conditioned habits and ideas because they lose validity in the new scheme of things. As a vegan-aware individual’s world-view expands to include the welfare and rights of all living beings and living systems on Earth, new habits and favorites form. Needless to say, these new habits are based on the principle of minimal harm.

The blog is excited to launch a new series on this space, These are Five of My Favourite Vegan Things! Through this series, every now and then, a vegan friend will share five of their most favorite vegan things—just about anything—edible and non-edible!

The blog is grateful to friend and well-wisher, Susmitha of Veganosaurus for consenting to open this series with her list. Being a veteran vegan, widely travelled and well informed, the blog greatly values her articulate opinions on all matters vegan!

So, here’s presenting the first part in this series!


 
Susmitha

I'm honored that 'Vegan India!' asked me to be the first person to curate a collection of my five vegan discoveries here. There are so many vegan wonders out there, some which are made to be vegan and others which just happen to be vegan 'by mistake'. Having been vegan for over nine years, I certainly have a lot more than five on my vegan favorites list but these are what I would like to share with you today.


Red Star Nutritional Yeast
1 The very first thing that I must mention is Nutritional Yeast. I don't think I'd have ever discovered it if I hadn't turned vegan. Nooch (that's what vegans call it with love), imparts an umami flavor to the dishes it is added to. For those who don't know, umami is the fifth taste, the other four being sweet, salty, spicy, and sour. Nutritional Yeast comes in the form of delicious flakes of nutrient rich goodness and can be used as a condiment, sprinkled on food or blended into sauces, chutneys, marinades, soups... well, if you love Nooch as much as I do, you'd put it into just about everything you prepare.

If you know someone who is travelling back here from the US and if they can spare some luggage space for you, then you could order Red Star Nutritional Yeast from Vegan Essentials. It is a B12 fortified brand and is less expensive than what we get here.

These days, Nutritional Yeast can be found in certain places in India too. In Bangalore, I have seen it at the little organic store at Jaaga.


Chocolate Ganache Cake
2 I know there are a lot of fantastic vegan recipe blogs and websites on the internet today, but I'd like to get a little nostalgic here and share the link to the very first website I started to follow dessert recipes from. In my early days of veganism, when I was a complete newbie to baking and had a terrible craving for chocolate cake, I discovered a site called Vegan-Food.net (http://vegan-food.net) and it was a real life saver! Even to this day, the baking recipes closest to my heart (or more precisely, my tummy) are the Super Moist Chocolate Cake and Chocolate Chip Cookies from Vegan-Food.net. They are the first vegan baked desserts I ever attempted, way back in 2003. After all these years, they continue to be a big hit among my friends and family, regardless of their food choices.


3 Talking about desserts, here's something I really wish comes to India soon (starting with Bangalore, of course) – Turtle Mountain's Purely Decadent range of Vegan Ice Creams. Here's how many ice cream packs hubby and I went through in a three-month long stay in the US a few years ago. :oP

Turtle Mountain Vegan Ice Creams

Of course, homemade vegan ice creams are just as delicious! Especially those made with different nut mylks (mylk = vegan milk). I often make vegan ice creams at home and keep encouraging everyone to do the same. When you're not restricting yourself to animal milk, a whole new world filled with delicious plant-based mylks opens up. And then, there's no end to the various combinations of creams and ice creams that you can make.

Vegan Mango-Pista Ice Cream
Here's my Vegan Mango-Pista Ice Cream that you can easily make at home. Change the nuts and the fruits and you have a whole other flavor of ice cream. Don't want a fruit based ice cream? No problem. While grinding the nuts initially, just add a vanilla bean or melted chocolate or coffee powder or ground cinnamon... you get the picture. :D Oh and you must try making ice cream with coconut mylk, it's fantastic!


4 Ice creams are not the only yumminess you can whip up out of nuts. A very delicious part of my vegan diet is Vegan Curds. As a South Indian, the first vegan alternative I looked for is curds/yoghurt. Initially I used to make it out of soy but later I discovered the magic of peanut curds and cashew curds. Though I don't have a dependency on curds any more, meaning that I don't feel the craving for it on a daily basis, I do prepare curds once every few weeks and peanuts are my main choice. Because of their natural oils, the curds turn out thick, creamy, and oh so satisfying!

Here are links to some vegan yoghurt recipes and tips: Tongue Ticklers, Vegan On The Prowl, and my own blog Veganosaurus.


5 The final thing on my vegan favorites list today is Dr. Nandita Shah's SHARAN-India seminars (http://sharan-india.org). More and more Indians are going vegan each day thanks to Dr. Nandita's simple and insightful way of helping people make the connection between our food choices and our health. I have personally attended many health seminars and healthy cooking demos conducted by her, and have always been impressed by the way she answers all kinds of questions in a patient and clever manner so that even an argumentative person would see the point clearly. Add to that, the array of delicious food served at these events and anyone can see that it makes absolute sense to go vegan.

The SHARAN website is a goldmine of information for vegans and aspiring vegans living in India. Among the various topics covered are health-related articles, recipes using locally sourced ingredients, and meetings of vegans that happen at different cities in India.

And that ends my list of five vegan favorites. I'm looking forward to seeing more of these collections here by other Vegans in India.

Thank you once again for having me over, 'Vegan India!'

Susmitha :)

~~~*~~~*~~~*~~~

Susmitha on Internet: A vegan food blogger and jewellery designer, below are the links to Susmitha’s food blog and jewellery store, and their respective pages on Facebook.
Veganosaurus Blog: http://blog.veganosaurus.com
Veganosaurus Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/veganosaurus
Art by Susmitha Vegan Jewellery Store: http://art-by-susmitha.itshandmade.in
Art by Susmitha Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/artbysusmitha

Thursday, October 18, 2012

In Conversation with Gary Yourofsky: “Educate Educate Educate!”


Yada Yada Hi Dharmasya,
Glanirva Bhavathi Bharatha,
Abhyuthanam Adharmaysya,
Tadatmanam Srijami Aham.


(Whenever there is decay of dharma [righteousness] O! Bharatha,
And a rise of adharma [unrighteousness], then I [the good and divine] manifest Myself!)

~From The Bhagawad Gita, Chap. 4, Shloka 7~

The battlefields are warming up. For the war against apathy, selfishness, silence, ignorance, misinformation. At the horizons are emerging warriors of truth who are working their way up to ensure a day when all living beings will be treated equal, when compassion will be the common thread that will bind humanity. That day, the brick walls of all the houses of slaughter will be brought down, the perpetrators of crimes against animals will be meted the same treatment, and the Earth will become a safe haven for the non human animals. Needless to say, it will make human suffering disappear as humanity will understand and appreciate the wise words of genius mathematician, Pythagoras spoken 2000 years ago in ancient Greece – “As long as humanity continues to be the ruthless destroyer of other beings, we will never know health or peace. For as long as people massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, those who sow the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love.”

The blog is honored to have one extremely important warrior grace this space today, a warrior who is leading with an army of supporters from across the world. He is none other than Gary Yourofsky of Jewish American descent, born August 19, 1970, in Michigan – US. As per the last available data, Gary has given 2,388 lectures on animal liberation to more than 60,000 students at 178 institutions. His lecture has been translated into more than 30 languages and has registered nearly 4 million YouTube hits. That he has disturbed the status quo by speaking the truth and acting on it, is evident from the fact that he has been arrested 13 times and banished by five countries. In 1997, Gary liberated more than 1,500 soon-to-be-murdered minks from the Eberts Fur Farm in Blenheim, Ontario following which he was arrested for the first time and later deported from Canada. You can click this link on his website, ADAPTT (Animals Deserve Absolute Protection Today and Tomorrow) for details of the arrests and bans.

Gary holds a B.A. in journalism from Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan, and a radio/broadcasting degree from Specs Howard School of Broadcast Arts in Southfield, Michigan. He has been closely followed by the media, covered by every newspaper, radio outlet, and TV station in his native Detroit, and most recently, throughout Israel. Inspired by Gary, supporters in Israel have created the Hebrew website, www.GARY-TV.com, convinced two major vegan companies to put this URL directly on their packages, and also formed the Facebook community, 269Life. Dr. Melanie Joy, professor of psychology and sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, has analyzed the main reasons for the incredible success of Gary's speech in Israel, which you can read in this link.

Gary has also written, produced, and done several voiceovers for graphic, hard-hitting TV ads that have aired in Los Angeles and Detroit, and radio ads that have aired throughout America. You can watch the commercials and listen to the radio announcements by visiting The ADAPTT Video and Radio ADS Page on the ADAPTT website. For the full bio of Gary Yourofsky, you can click this link on the ADAPTT site.

Gary is strength and inspiration for the animal rights defenders of Planet Earth and a blessing for everybody who is willing to give themselves a chance to be compassionate, truthful, kind, and fair. All questions to Gary in this interview have been formulated to get insights based on his experience and to learn more from him. It is clear that there is only one way to get the truth out and affect change, in Gary’s own words – Educate Educate Educate! And it is clear that Gary believes the impact will be maximum if you 'catch 'em young'. He is creating a force of young minds that will be instrumental in bringing about the change.

Before moving to the interview, below is the link to his famous lecture for anybody who has not listened to it:

Life Changing Speech (original in English)
Life Changing Speech (with Hindi subtitles)
Life Changing Speech (with Tamil subtitles)

Satyameva Jayate!

(Truth Alone Triumphs! “Satyameva Jayate” is a text from the ancient Indian scripture, Mundaka Upanishad. It has been adopted as the motto of independent India, and inscribed below the national emblem of India and on one side of all Indian currency.)


In Conversation with Gary Yourofsky
Photo courtesy of: gary-tv.com (http://www.gary-tv.com/garymain/?page_id=6029)

Vegan India!: Gary, thank you for consenting to this interview with the Vegan India! blog. We are thrilled and feel honored to have this chance to talk to you. Many of us in India have listened to your talks on the Internet and read other materials you have helped generate. Your passion teamed with your candidness creates a compelling attitude that we are enormous fans of! In fact, the way you interact with the audience and the media makes one think for a moment that you were probably born vegan! :-) Please tell us how and when the transformation happened? What was your epiphany moment that told you, that is it, no more being part of the exploitation of animals?

Gary Yourofsky: My stepfather used to be a clown in The Shrine Circus. He took me backstage when I was 23. I saw three elephants chained to the cement floor in the warehouse of the Michigan State Fairgrounds. Sadness, hopelessness and fear were emanating from their eyes, their bodies. They were swaying neurotically from side to side. A monkey was screaming in his cage, grabbing the bars of his prison. Two tigers were pacing neurotically in their tiny cages. Cruelty was staring me in the face. I knew something was wrong. If you pay attention to energy, you can tell when a fellow being is in peril. The slave-show I witnessed made me question where my food and my shoes came from, what truly went on in an animal research laboratory, etc. I ended up going to Thorn Apple Valley pig slaughterhouse in Detroit for 6 weeks straight. I couldn't believe my eyes. My heart hurt. Their fear was palpable. The screams, impossible to brush aside. I knew I had to make a choice. Was I going to be their friend, or their enemy? Was I going to be hypocritical, or ethically consistent? How could I condemn the abuse of elephants in the circus but not the murder of animals in a slaughterhouse? Vegetarianism was my first step in '95. Then veganism on July 24, 1996.


Vegan India!: We know for a fact that you like a lot of Indian vegan food, you have made a special mention of aloo-gobhi and chana masala in this video. Please tell us where the Indian influence in your food has come from, have you ever lived in India, do you cook? 

Gary Yourofsky: I am fortunate to be living in the great state of Michigan where we have an eclectic amount of ethnic food. We have the largest Arab population in America so falafel, hummus, tabouli and other Middle Eastern delicacies are plentiful. And we have a huge Indian populace, too, so all the wonderfully delicious Indian vegan dishes are everywhere. Michigan also boasts an amazing collection of Thai, Asian and Ethiopian restaurants!


Vegan India!: Gary coming back to your talks, how does the audience react to them? What sense do you get overall – how much of the reaction is about recognizing the injustice against animals and about taking personal responsibility to finish it? What hopes do you have from the future?

Gary Yourofsky: Nowadays, I am averaging around 225 lectures per year! Professors tell me I have around a 15-20 percent conversion rate, which is remarkable since I walk into every classroom with zero support. They also tell me that 50-60 percent of the students drastically reduce their animal-product intake. All of my lectures are in private college classes for ethics, philosophy, composition, women's studies, public speaking and sociology students. It is important to note that I never request money from students nor charge professors for the lecture, as I don't believe people should have to pay to learn the truth. I am definitely not a salesperson, marketer, fundraiser or politician. The reason why profs are so eager to have me in their classroom is because of my genuineness, honesty, no-gimmick style and colorful background (13 arrests, 5 country banishments, mink liberation in Canada in ’97). Profs say I bring to life the writings of Peter Singer and Tom Regan.

Besides my recent trip to Israel, I no longer do open-to-the-public lectures because I am faced with the problem of attracting an audience. The only people who show up for a vegan presentation are animal rights people. And this movement is idiotic with its preaching-to-the-choir mentality. Telling animal rights folks about veganism is pointless. Education IS the most effective form of activism and I will continue educating NON vegans about veganism. If you want to see the 1000s and 1000s of emails that I've received from students and other people who've seen my lecture online, go to my www.adaptt.org website and click the COMMENTS/ACCOLADES section. Besides the tour, my main focus is compiling an uncompromising amount of vegan information on my www.adaptt.org site.


Vegan India!: The incredible response to your recent series of talks in Israel indicated by the impressive turnout, the coverage on prime time Israeli television, and the fact that your speech is the most viewed ever in the history of Israel, is by all means a historic event. Historic, because it comes from a nation of people who suffered terrible humiliation and bereavement during World War II. The events of that time are a blotch on humanity and the scars left behind are undeletable. Parallels have often been drawn between the horrors of the Holocaust to the present day horrors in the lives of animals. In your view, what are the significant points of similarity between the genocide of 6 million human victims of racism and the everyday persecution of millions of animal victims of speciesism? 

From a board in Gary’s classroom lectures
Gary Yourofsky: First, it is important to note that animals were the first victims of slavery, torture, oppression and murder. Humans perfected these psychotic techniques and travesties on animals before they used them on each other. By sheer numbers alone, NO ONE has ever suffered like animals have suffered. In the last 12 months, 60 billion land animals and 90 billion marine animals were enslaved, murdered and dismembered by the meat, dairy and egg industries! Then, when you include the billions of other enslaved, oppressed or murdered animals who were tortured or killed in vivisection experiments, hunting, the clothing industries, rodeos, circuses, zoos, etc., you can see that the animal holocaust is the largest and longest-running holocaust that has ever existed.

In Nazi Germany, Jewish women had their babies ripped from their arms. In the dairy industry, calves are stolen from their mothers after birth. Other animal mothers (hens, pigs, sheep, etc.) have their babies stolen away in weeks or months. Separating families was a sick, psychologically-devastating tactic the Nazis used to weaken the pride of Jewish people and inhibit their desire to retaliate and fight back. The Nazis borrowed this tactic from the meat, dairy and egg industries. Jews were tattooed to mark them. All animals in the meat and dairy industries are branded with hot irons, or ear-notched with a numerical tag. Jews were sent to the gas chambers in the same extermination trucks that send animals to slaughterhouses. The Nazis constructed buildings to massacre Jews, Gypsies, blacks, etc.

Slaughterhouses are strategically built all across the planet to murder and dismember animals. Both groups were/are treated like nothing, like they don't matter. You can also compare the two holocausts this way: If you go to the nearest cow or pig slaughterhouse and remove the animals and replace them with Jews, you have now re-created Birkenau and Auschwitz. If you went back 70 years to Birkenau and Auschwitz, and removed the Jews and replaced them with cows or pigs, a holocaust is still taking place. During my recent lectures in Israel, after I showed my new slaughterhouse video, which can be viewed on my adaptt.org site in the VIDEOS section (click OTHER VIDEOS, scroll down to 2012 SLAUGHTERHOUSE VIDEO), I asked 1000s of people the following: “How come if the animals in that video were dogs or cats, you'd be outraged? If they were kids, you'd be screaming bloody murder! Instead the victims are cows and chickens and fish and all of a sudden no one cares. It's okay?” So I'm a little confused here. Is the slaughterhouse a problem? Or is the problem who's getting killed in the slaughterhouse? It's a HOUSE OF SLAUGHTER. Why does it even exist? Especially in a country that loves to say, “NEVER AGAIN. IT'LL NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN.” I got some news for you. The animal holocaust was happening long before the Jewish holocaust, during the Jewish holocaust and it's still happening today.

It's time for Israel to become the first nation on this planet to abolish concentration camps once and for all. 


Vegan India!: In this video that is a summary of your trip to Israel, you have said that you have high hopes from Israel and that “maybe it is a blessing from God” why probably people are so receptive. Please tell us, how do you conceive God? 
 
Gary Yourofsky: I believe in God, but I am not so arrogant and blind to believe that God is human-like, or that God looks, thinks, or acts like us in any way. God did NOT create us in His image. Humans created God in their image. As a whole, humans are psychopathic, apathetic and myopic. God is not! As someone who believes in God, I do not reject the bedrock of Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, etc.! I only reject stupid religious customs that attempts to justify malicious acts of cruelty in the name of God. If people looked into the eyes of an animal, they would SEE God in those wondrous creations. Job 7:8 states, “But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you.” God is in NO book. God is in NO building. God is NO priest, rabbi, imam, etc. on a pulpit condemning animals to death. God is in the heart. God is compassion. I don't believe in people, or ink and paper and books about God. I believe in compassion, and I believe in God.

Organized religion focuses too much on barbaric traditions and inane rituals, instead of peaceful living and compassionate duty. It sickens me that the most important aspect of religion is gathering together on the weekend watching someone in a suit—or a black, red, white or green robe with a green, white, red or black hat—performing hand-jive rituals of imaginary cross-signs and prayer-gestures. Imagine if churches, synagogues, temples and mosques only demanded its followers to be good people rather than mean automatons! People need to stop worshiping man-made creations like The Wailing Wall, bibles and other religious books, a slab of granite that Jesus died on (in The Holy Sepulcher), etc. It is time we appreciate and worship God's creations: the animals, the oceans, the stars, the sun, the sky, the mountains, the forests, etc.


Vegan India!: There are a couple of notable trends in your presentations. One is that you share a lot about meat analogues and the other is the inclusion of graphic videos of cruelty against animals. It is obviously a strategy that is working considering the number of fan following you have all over the world. Please tell us what is the thought or belief behind each.

Gary Yourofsky: Again, I am not a politician or a marketer, so I don't have strategies and plans. I speak from the heart. I speak truthfully, uncompromisingly. I speak for the animals like I would want to be spoken for if I were in their situation. Meat, dairy and egg-eating addicts are full of trite, vacuous and irrational excuses. Excuses to kill. Excuses to torture. Excuses to be indifferent towards the suffering of the animals they eat. Excuses to do nothing. I used to be one of those selfish addicts so I know all of the excuses well. Therefore, when I lecture, I am simply eradicating every excuse from 'God says it's okay' and 'where do I get my protein', to 'what should I eat' and the media-created image of a happy slaughterhouse. It is important to cover all angles of the animal holocaust in order to cure the psychotic mind of the animal-oppressing addict. Addicts are ALWAYS irrational when it comes to their habits. Have you ever known an alcoholic, a cigarette smoker or a heroin user to be rational when it came to alcohol, cigarettes or heroin? Of course not. And there is NO such thing as a rational or ethical meat, dairy or egg-eater when it comes to animal issues and whether humans should be enslaving, murdering and eating animals.

Gary with friends: Photo courtesy of ADAPTT (http://www.adaptt.org/bio.html)

Vegan India!: How would you sum up the way the global movement against animal exploitation is shaping up? We understand that there are a number of different voices within this movement with an equal number of styles and beliefs to combat the injustice. If you had to define a strategy for intervention for the rest of the world of activists, what would be the highlights and why?  

Gary Yourofsky: First, stop acting like a politician. Stop thinking that close-minded addicts will listen to you if you are sweet, nice, inoffensive and gentle. After speaking to 60,000 meat, cheese, milk, egg-eating students in America, I can assure you that people listen—or refuse to listen—regardless of my demeanor. Depending on my mood, there are days when I am as sweet as Gandhi. Then, there are days when I am as militant as early Malcolm X. Around 15-20 of my 225 annual lectures turn into a chaotic Jerry Springer show during the Q&A session. I never want it to go this way. But, sadly, some students start yelling, laughing and loudly mocking animal liberation. On some of those occasions, when I was in my soft, Gandhi-esque mood, I literally got down on my knees and begged them—with tears in my eyes—to stop killing animals. They continued to laugh, yell and mock the animal holocaust, and me.

There have been times when students told me that my speech was abrasive and that I was rude. Each time I polled the class to see if everyone felt that way. Not once did more than 20% of the class feel that way, which led me to say: “Since only a small percentage of you think I am rude, maybe the problem isn't me. Maybe the problem is you and you and you and you (pointing toward each student who thought I was rude).” In other words, students came into that classroom either willing to listen and learn, or refusing to listen and learn. And there's nothing I could've done to change their minds. People are ready for enlightenment, or they are prepared to stay blind and benighted. The only thing that has ever worked in ANY liberation movement is speaking the truth, as harsh as the truth may be, to agitating people out of their comfortable traditions, and forcefully condemning injustice and those who actively take part in it or sit by passively with an indifferent attitude towards it.

Second, EDUCATE EDUCATE EDUCATE! I've run the gamut of activism from civil disobedience, media interviews and direct action to protests, advertising, lobbying and letter-writing. NOTHING is more effective than teaching someone why their lifestyle is harmful, illogical and cruel. We have to focus on edifying those around us. We have to stop gathering together at VegFests and animal rights conferences and pot-lucks, too. Liberating animals is a revolution, not a social gathering. Stop letting family members, friends and co-workers off the hook as well. We need to let animal abusers know there are consequences to harming animals, the least of which is never having a moment of peace while they joyfully live a violent lifestyle.


Vegan India!: How have your own strategies changed over the years and why? How would you sum up your current strategy? Do you see it change in the future, if yes, what change do you predict and what will the change depend on?

Gary Yourofsky: Again, I don't use strategies; politicians and salespeople employ strategies. The truth isn't a strategy. Speaking forcefully, uncompromisingly and genuinely aren't strategies.

About change, NO lie can live forever. Injustice can't be eternal. Sadly, injustice and lies can live for 100s or 1000s of years. When vegans start getting ACTIVE instead of socializing, animals will obtain their freedom. When vegans rise up and DEMAND freedom instead of holding on to some sort of 'I-respect-you-you-respect-me' mentality, animals will obtain their freedom.

Photo courtesy of: 269Life on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/269calf/photos_stream)
 
Vegan India!: Gary, we asked some of your fans here – as to what they would like to know from you as the final question and it is incredible how everybody thought on the same lines! We would really appreciate if you could provide some insights on how one can put the extreme anguish that one as animal rights activists feels and live life with a positive mindset. Please tell us from your own experience, in terms of how you deal with the cruelty and yet manage to achieve such a great lot for the animals.

Gary Yourofsky: First, never let unethical people—whether they are friends, family members, or strangers—advise you on how to live your life. Don't let others bring you down. Misery loves company; those who still eat flesh are drowning in misery, and would love some company. So stay strong. The animals are counting on you to make compassionate decisions. However, I do not have a magical remedy for making friends, strangers or family listen. But if you ALWAYS speak the truth, know your facts, and let your passion come out, most people WILL listen. Please do NOT hide your passion, or your emotions. Passion and emotion get a bad rap because people respond to both, so the unethical people in our society are always trying to mock people for being passionate and emotional.

Remember, Susan B. Anthony, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Cesar Chavez, Nelson Mandela, Malcolm X, and many, many others, were ALL passionate and emotional about the causes they embraced. Don't drive yourself insane with people who refuse to change their violent lifestyles when the truth is presented to them. Since religion, governments, schools and the media have been brainwashing people to act evilly to the animal kingdom, de-programming people and turning them into compassionate souls is a difficult task. Sympathize with these misinformed folks, try to enlighten them and give them a chance to comprehend. But if you see no progress at all, move on to someone else. The strongest people stand alone. And no matter how many others you convert, you HAVE made a difference by going vegan.

Second, I am not immune to frustration, perpetual sadness and stress. Enlightenment is bittersweet. It is wonderful to see the truth, to know the truth, to live peacefully and display compassion. However, it is horrible to see how evil our species truly is. Besides my recent September lectures in Israel, I haven't lectured since May 3. For the first time in 16 years of activism, I am taking a sabbatical. The lecture tour should begin again in 2013. I haven't been doing nothing, though. I am involved in a radio advertising campaign in order to get people to watch my speech online. You can hear those ads by going to my adaptt.org site, clicking VIDEOS at the top of the page and then click RADIO ADS.


Vegan India!: Thank you so much Gary for sharing your enlightening viewpoints and for elaborating on your very hopeful position about the future. More power to the animal liberation movement and to you! Satyameva jayate, may the truth triumph!


~~~~~~~~

An interesting tidbit about this interview, something that has happened for the first time in this blog :-) : Originally, this email interview with Gary was planned to be published on Nov. 1, World Vegan Day. However, the responses were received within half a day of sharing the questionnaire with Gary. We junked the original plans, threw the strategies out of the window; his words were too enthralling to be shelved until Nov 1 :-)  


Acknowledgements
The blog is immensely grateful to friend and well wisher, Arun Rangasamy for his inputs to the questionnaire for Gary. A vegan himself, Arun among other things is an Indian Institute of Science alumnus, a vegan athlete, moderator of the Vegan Bangalore group on Facebook, and one of the founders of Samabhava, a grassroots organization formed by vegans that strives hard to secure the rights of working animals. Arun, who was till recently a student living in a hostel has put together a document entitled, Vegan Lifestyle: Tips for Hostel Residing Students that has benefited and continues to benefit many hostel students.

For more interviews featured in this blog, you can click this link.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Of the Goat: Gentle and Trusting


The opening

The story on our gentle fellow Earthling, The Goat comes in the wake of the declaration at the recent Francis Crick Memorial Conference entitled, Consciousness in Human and Non-Human Animals in Cambridge, UK. This declaration signed by the cognitive scientists, neuropharmacologists, neurophysiologists, neuroanatomists, and computational neuroscientists present at the conference submits that:

“…. Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Nonhuman animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.” (The Cambridge Declaration)

To simplify, the declaration acknowledges that animals are conscious beings just like us, humans. What does “consciousness” mean or what does it mean to be “conscious”? Consciousness is defined as the state of being aware of one's surroundings. Without the faculty of consciousness, we will not have any experience at all. In being able to withdraw ourselves from painful stimuli, graduate towards stimuli that bring us joy, suffer physical pain, and such, both human and nonhuman animals are alike. However, human and nonhuman animals also differ in their ability for conscious experiences. For example, while animals cannot reason the way humans can, they have a superior sense of smell and the ability to hear sounds of very high or very low frequencies. We often refer to these abilities as the “sixth sense” of animals and human beings who are capable of them are often regarded as “intuitive”, “clairvoyant”, “psychic”, and so on. Perhaps because animals do not have the same equipment to bring about speech typical to humans and therefore cannot vie for their rights themselves, our species has accorded them property status and consequently made them objects of food, entertainment, and fashion. The fact that in our capacity to feel physical pain and fear, both humans and animals are the same, has been completely disregarded. In fact, violence towards animals is not considered “violence” at all.   

Consciousness makes nonhuman animals just as “sentient” as us. If our choices bring them suffering, it certainly means that in the web of life governed by the supreme principle of cause and effect, we pay for making the cruel choices in some way, some time, whether we like to admit it or not. The above declaration from the scientific community spells things that most people working for and living with animals already know through experience, observations, and intuition; yet this declaration must be applauded because in the human-engineered suffering of animals in today’s society, it indicates a positive movement for animal rights advocacy.   


The Goat: Perceiving them with a new lens

In our country, goats are mostly perceived as “food” animals from whom meat and milk is derived, and as animals used for ritualistic sacrifice. Several years ago, we had met a compassionate gentleman in the city of Dehradun who had opened his premises to goats rescued from ritualistic sacrifice. The goats reminded one a lot about dogs in their interaction with humans. They would wag their short little tails in glee, come darting when their names were called, lock horns with each other in playfulness. The goat kids were as cute, fluffy, and bouncy as puppies, and it was difficult to fathom that they would have been beheaded for the sake of superstitions had the gentleman not taken them in.

In his encyclopedic work, Naturalis Historiæin (translated: “Natural History”, published circa A.D. 77 – 79), Pliny the Elder, the Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher wrote the following about the goat, based on eyewitness accounts:

“Mutianus relates an instance of the intelligence of this animal, of which he himself was an eye-witness. Two goats, coming from opposite directions, met on a very narrow bridge, which would not admit of either of them turning round, and in consequence of its great length, they could not safely go backwards, there being no sure footing on account of its narrowness, while at the same time an impetuous torrent was rapidly rushing beneath; accordingly, one of the animals lay down flat, while the other walked over it.” (source)

Remarkable, isn’t it?!


Jackie and Freddie about to lock horns for a little fun! Who are they? Read on….
Photo courtesy of: Leilani Farm Sanctuary

A lot of modern-day data about goat intelligence, their personalities and rich emotional lives has come via stories from animal sanctuaries in the US and Europe, also known as “care farms”. Some of these sanctuaries have been specifically instituted for goats. These sanctuaries have presented a whole new paradigm of looking at the goat, doing justice to the kind, compassionate, and fair side of human nature. They are not only paradise for the goat residents but also for the humans who work in them. There is no victimization of the human soul by conditioning them to oppress animals and no exploitation of another species; only a heartfelt effort at reversing the great damage done to the human reputation. There is no judgment in terms how intelligent or how emotionally capable goats are in comparison to humans or other animals, but simply an appreciation of and honor for their unique abilities and the drive to help some of them, if not all, to come out of their traumatic pasts. Jackie and Freddie in the photograph above are residents of one such sanctuary called, Leilani Farm Sanctuary. Both Jackie and Freddie were brought to the sanctuary when they were orphaned after hunters killed their respective mothers.


Data from sanctuaries

The goat residents in these sanctuaries have been rescued from the following places and conditions: slaughterhouses, auctions where they were to be sold for meat, dairies where they were no longer needed because of a decline in milk production, the petting zoo industry, breeders, hunters, research labs, and other abusive situations such as abandonment, neglect, starvation, terrible cruelty, and so on. The goats are brought to the sanctuaries wounded, ailing, emaciated, and traumatized.

Weeks of medical care and kindness provided to them in these sanctuaries help the goats bounce back to the creatures that Nature meant them to live as – in open pastures, each with their individual personalities and intelligence. Here, the rescued goats live out the rest of their lives in care and safety. Many of these sanctuaries also help rehabilitate goats into human families who love them and want them as companions. Many also offer a system of fostering. One remarkable thing we found is that whether adoption or foster case, all involved human families need to sign an “agreement” consenting to the conditions of care; especially the clause around “no breeding” of the does (female goats) is taken very seriously. It is a little risky to neuter the female goats; all sanctuaries ensure that the bucks (male goats) are neutered.

Tommy giving goat kisses. He was rescued from the slaughterhouse.
Photo courtesy of: Puget Sound Goat Rescue
In addition, these havens also offer goat care classes in an effort to dispel myths about these animals, inform about their shelter requirements, their needs for companionship, what they should be given to eat, their interactions with other animals, and how to care for them if they are ill and also as an everyday maintenance activity. One sanctuary called the New Moon Farm Goat Rescue and Sanctuary has even come up with a fun event for adopted goats and their human companions called Goatalympics!       

Today one can read many heartfelt goat rescue stories on the Internet documented by these animal sanctuaries. Miracles happen here. The goats respond accordingly to the kind and caring environment around them. Here is one story with a happy ending from Leilani Farm Sanctuary of a dairy goat saved from slaughter:

“One February morning on the island of Maui, Bill, a friend of Leilani Farm Sanctuary, went for groceries at Foodland market, located just down the hill from a large dairy farm. As he walked across the parking lot, Bill heard crying coming from inside a car. In the back seat, he saw a goat hog tied and in extreme distress. The car doors were locked, so Bill frantically waited there, making eye contact with the goat until three men approached. The men explained that they had just purchased the goat from a dairy farm and planned to butcher him that weekend for a barbeque. Bill pleaded with the men to relinquish the goat, but they refused. Unable to walk away, knowing the fate that awaited the goat, Bill decided there was no acceptable option other than buying the goat from the men.
Ned
Leilani Farm Sanctuary


Bill named the goat Ned and brought him to Leilani Farm Sanctuary where he has been living for the past six years. Ned, a sweet and gentle soul, seems to have forgotten his ordeal. He and his goat friends spend their days lounging under fruit trees in an orchard, grazing on lush grass in the pasture, and interacting with humans who give them endless love.”

Please note: The dairy goat is treated similarly to the dairy cow in many ways, whether in organic or non-organic farms: Does are kept permanently pregnant and confined in pens with inadequate space. After she gives birth, her kids are taken away; the male kid is sold for meat, the milk is taken away for human consumption. In addition, all dairy goats are subject to painful, dangerous, and traumatic dehorning that involves severing her horns – all for the farmer’s ease because the absence of horns helps in milking her more conveniently. Following a drop in productivity, she is slaughtered. The female kid is placed into the goat-milk industry where she meets the same fate as her mother.


Goat and their relationships

A theme that runs common in all documentation on the goat is that each goat has a distinct personality and no two goats are alike. They build strong relationships with each other and are essentially “herd” animals, which is why most sanctuaries ensure that they are adopted in pairs or more than one. They are of every kind: big, small, friendly, quiet, smart, affectionate, mischievous, inquisitive, spunky, outgoing, mellow, gentle, and even pushy and bossy! However, with humans all are gentle and trusting by nature and make sweet, affectionate companions.

From the slaughterhouse to a loving home: Sassy boards the car to her new home after a complete healing at the sanctuary.
Photo courtesy of: Puget Sound Goat Rescue

Puget Sound Goat Rescue notes this sentiment in their website:

“Goats are wonderful and rewarding pets. They are intelligent, curious, fun, and easy to care for. They can provide you years of entertainment and affection. They can be so affectionate and playful. They love to be brushed and petted and will follow you around like dogs.”

This sentiment is further elaborated by Leilani Farm Sanctuary:

“Many people have experienced the love, companionship, and joy of sharing their home and lives with an animal such as a dog or cat. Those of us that have enjoyed the rich experience of spending time in the company of goats understand that these animals—
and all animals used for dairy and meat production—are just as sensitive, loving, and capable of suffering pain as our beloved companion animals.

They enjoy playing head-butting games with each other, jumping on rock piles, and reaching up for fruit tree branches on their hind legs. When visitors take walks around the farm, the goat herd follows along, every step of the way. The tamest goats like to cuddle and one young goat named Freddy even sits on laps.”

Mary Kay held by Laurelee Blanchard, Director - Leilani Farm Sanctuary. 
Mary Kay was rescued after hunters killed her mother.
Photo courtesy of: Leilani Farm Sanctuary

It is estimated that there are more than a thousand farm sanctuaries or care farms in Europe while their numbers are growing in the US. That day will come when there will be more care farms than factory farms and backyard butchers combined. That day will also come when there will be no care farms on this Earth because there will be no factory farms and such. That will be the ultimate Victory Day.

Betty (mother goat), Annie & Danny (Betty's kids), and Gary (chicken). Betty was pregnant with Danny and Annie when she was liberated from a man who was going to continue breeding her and selling her offsprings. Gary was purchased as a hatchling from someone who wanted an egg-laying hen. They discarded Gary when it became apparent that he was a rooster.               
Photo courtesy of: Leilani Farm Sanctuary
 
We end this section with a quote from The Goat Sanctuary:
“At the end of the day, when the water buckets are filled and the racks stuffed with hay, the farm is filled with the sound of munching. But if you walk through the yard at 1am, the sound of overwhelming contentment fills the night. Peep over a stable door and you're met with the sight of a family curled up in a corner gently cuddling. Safe and secure.... looking forward to tomorrow.
The centuries have produced an animal that offers mankind unreserved trust, love and respect.... it's sad that mankind does not always return it or deserve it!”

~x~x~x~


Goat “sacrifice” in India

This essay is incomplete without mentioning the superstition that involves “sacrificing” goats in India. Goats are among the most used animals for sacrificial rituals. Perhaps because they are so trusting of humans. What is the logic behind animal sacrifice? There is definitely a linear logic – a simple, alarming logic that in one sweep strips human beings of all humanness. “I offer you the blood of this animal, bear me a child in return.” “I offer you the headless bodies of these many animals which I shall later give away in charity, in return wash away all the sins I have committed through the year.” “Bring me wealth, I satisfy you with the limbs of this animal.” All animal sacrifice is done to gain favors from or to appease God or a deity.

A great lot has been written on animal sacrifice – about its history and its psychology. Very interestingly, there is no proper documentation on the “benefits” of animal sacrifice say in the form of “testimonials”, for example!! “How did dragging the animal to the kill place—that animal who trusted you all these days—and beheading the animal at the altar of their Creator benefit you?” No, none, there is no testimonial. Rather, there are detailed sermons on how and why to prohibit children from witnessing the act or how to answer children’s queries on animal sacrifice or how to prohibit close contact of the children from the “sacrificial” animal lest the children develop a bond with the animal! 

Children are known to be “pure” consciousness, if they find animals being “sacrificed” unsettling, then, there is something fundamentally wrong with the logic of the practice. Dr. Krishnaiyengar Varadarangan, in his essay, Veganism and Spirituality on this blog space aptly notes:

“Animal sacrifice in the name of God is one of the most heinous, disgusting, and absurd acts that one can ever imagine. Animal sacrifice amounts to murdering and then offering the corpse of the butchered animal to the creator Herself! What an irony! What gross ignorance! What shame! She is the creator, the mother, of every one of us, including the animals. How can we offer a butchered child to its own mother? What will the mother think of us? We call her mother, then kill her own baby and even worse, expect her to consume it!

Sacrifice means surrendering ourselves to the supreme force in all humility. We need to surrender our ego, selfishness, greed, hatred, and arrogance and not the lives of hapless animals over which we have absolutely no right of ownership. Cruelty to animals is indeed a grave crime. In what way is killing an animal different from the murder of a human being?”

To know in detail about animal sacrifice in India, how and what perpetrates the crime, you can read this report from the BWC, India archives. The hopeful news is that many organizations and individuals in India are working to stop animal sacrifice from taking place. With the complicity of vested interests, it is an uphill task; however, with the passing of each year, success stories are also pouring in.


Afterword

Writing an afterword in an essay that profiles an animal is the most difficult part. How do you end it? What do you say? Without judging? Without sounding preachy? With all humbleness we want to help bring attention to the fact that many of us have seen goats wandering through cityscapes, contentedly picking at the grass beneath their feet…. imagine the day when they would be loaded inside trucks on their first and last journey on a vehicle to be “delivered” to butcher shops and slaughterhouses. These sights have become common in our cityscapes, haven’t they. If we pause the engine of our vehicles, we will hear cries from within these trucks, they may be cries of discomfort or maybe cries in mourning each other’s imminent death, whatever they are, these are feeble cries, yet too deafening to ignore, which the city’s traffic seems to consume most of the times…. of these gentle animals made by the same Creator who made you and me. Imagine headless corpses hanging upside down hooked to the front of butcher shops. These too have become part of our cityscapes. A single question arises in the mind, was all of this necessary for the biryani or kebab on our plates? 

~x~x~x~


PS: The average life-expectancy of a goat is usually 15-18 years; however all goats raised for meat and are slaughtered between 3 months to 1 year of age and those for milk – until their bodies wear off and can no longer bear the forced pregnancies.


Acknowledgements

This blog is grateful to the following for permitting us to use content from their online resources:

  • ~Laurelee Blanchard, Director, Leilani Farm Sanctuary. Laurelee received the Vegan of the Year – 2012 award by VegansAreCool.com.
  • ~Barbara Jamison, Founder, Puget Sound Goat Rescue
  • ~Cheryl, Founder, The Goat Sanctuary


You can also read an essay profiling the chicken in this blog post, The Chicken Story Retold.




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