As we all know, hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria have brought devastation upon so many. As someone with family in Florida, including my Mom, I anxiously followed Irma’s path and was immensely relieved when she only lost a couple of shingles along with power for several days. Many others, as we know, were not so lucky.
Yet even during such nail-biting times and now the tremendous destruction left behind, I couldn’t help but notice that, somehow, a perfect storm had been created for glorifying animal exploitation and ridiculing veganism (of all things).
Although I really wish we didn’t have to talk about this right now, unfortunately, letting these distortions go unchallenged would be a great injustice, both to the animals and those who truly defend them.
Are farmed animals really “rescued?”
A disturbing trend is exemplified by the viral video the above image was taken from, as well as by articles like The New York Times’ “A Flying Cowboy Arises to Rescue Cattle Stranded in Harvey’s Floods” and CNN’s “Texas Ranchers Battle to Save Cattle From Harvey’s Wrath,” all depicting the moving of cattle to dryer ground as some sort of compassionate intervention to save these animals for their own sakes.
But despite appearances and claims – unless, of course, they are being rescued by a vegan sanctuary – farmed animals in situations such as this are NOT being rescued or saved from weather events or fires; sadly, it’s just being made sure they don’t die before they can be further exploited and killed for profit.
Positioning this profit-protecting as “rescuing” or “saving” those you are going to restrain and kill at a later date is obtuse and deceptive if not downright diabolical, and the media and public’s uncritical acceptance of that framing reveals a glaring disconnect. It’s all part of the ludicrous charade required for people to support animal exploitation and slaughter in the total absence of necessity.
The farmers, of course, are all too happy to use the confusion to their advantage. In an Orwellian piece for Farm and Dairy, editor Susan Cromwell has sunk so low as to claim that the fact that so many so-called “livestock” (that word alone speaks volumes) were “rescued” by farmers from the hurricanes not only proves that commodifying and killing sentient individuals is an act of “compassion” rather than exploitation (they give them bedding and hay, tho!), but that animal activists are the true dangerous hurricane, metaphorically speaking.
I kid you not.
Not surprisingly, this spot-on comment left by Free From Harm’s founder Robert Grillo has since been deleted/censored from the article’s comments section:
Are we really to believe your assertion about farmers “rescuing” their animals from Harvey and Irma, that the real “victims” are those who artificially breed, exploit and kill baby animals for profit? Are we to hail exploiters as heroes for rescuing their “livestock” because they view them as nothing more than valuable commodities they can’t afford to lose? Are we to conflate real compassion, altruism and empathy with financial self-interest? Everyone knows that these animals have a price tag on their heads and will soon be sent off to slaughter by these same “compassionate rescuers” where they will be shot point blank in the head, have their throats slashed and then have their bodies hacked up into “edible” body parts. You are shamefully and dishonestly propping up an industry built upon violence and killing as some kind of rescue mission.
When we trust the ones doing the direct exploiting on our behalf, it’s the desensitized leading the disassociated. It’s a very convenient dynamic, allowing them to profit while consumers enjoy the results and absolve ourselves of responsibility and moral consequence. When it comes to justifying needless exploitation and killing, apparently nothing is too ridiculous and absurd for otherwise savvy people (including reputable journalists) to believe.
And where is the journalistic integrity and responsibility in accurately covering such stories? Journalists hold the power in either informing or deceiving the public about news stories. Rather than getting at the truth and the facts, they’ve conflated rescue with financial self-interest. It flies in the face of the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, particularly these two principles:
- Provide context. Take special care not to misrepresent or oversimplify in promoting, previewing or summarizing a story.
- Never deliberately distort facts or context, including visual information.
If they were truly being rescued, these animals would be destined for sanctuaries, not slaughterhouses.
Making the disconnect even more obvious, a Washington Post exposé published on the same day as Cromwell’s article explains that the FBI is currently dedicating resources to try to recapture truly rescued farmed animals from their caretakers at vegan sanctuaries – in order to return them to their killers. Are we to believe that is “rescue” too?
Animal exploitation is not compassion. Please don’t fall for it.
Does nobody really want the vegan food even during a natural disaster?
A second wildly popular meme that managed to spread in the midst of hurricane preparation, covered by The Daily Dot, also perpetuates a falsehood to the great detriment of animals: the idea that “even during a natural disaster nobody wants the vegan food” and that Americans would rather starve to death (and go to hell) than eat vegan food.
The photo in the meme, popularized by a comedian, is admittedly a funny sight, and I get that it capitalizes on an incredibly easy target. But regardless of whether it was intended just for laughs, it was gleefully shared by non-vegans everywhere to further reinforce what’s been drilled into our heads since childhood: that plant-based sources of the same nutrients found in animal foods are somehow inferior and undesirable, and that people who opt out of animal exploitation should be unceasingly ridiculed by those who opt in.
Oh, and if you dare to critically respond, they’ve “found the vegan.”
First, since a relatively small fraction of the population is vegan, it’s reasonable to imagine that the vegan specialty items may typically turn over much more slowly than other foods. Of course, many popular foods that move quicker are also vegan, we just don’t generally think of them as such (I’m pretty sure people eat things like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and bananas during hurricanes).
In fact, the Hurricane Ready Cookbook developed by Florida International University seems to include more vegan and vegetarian options than not, judging from the sample recipes published by the Miami Herald such as hummus, eggless egg salad, chickpea curry, and bean salad – which makes sense given the highly perishable nature of animal flesh and secretions.
But the meme refers specifically to tofu and other plant-based meaty and/or cheesy options still only consumed mostly by vegetarians and vegans and perceived as subpar to people eating typical Western diets.
Therefore when a mad rush occurs before a bad storm, it makes sense that these particular items will still remain largely untouched by anyone other than vegans. This is America after all. Despite the fact that as of 1999 it was estimated by researchers that globally “4 billion people live primarily on a plant-based diet” as required by “shortage of cropland, freshwater, and energy resources” – and that items like tofu and “wheat meat” and even almond milk have been nutritious, affordable staples for many cultures for many millennia – our sense of entitlement to constantly eat the resource-intensive flesh and bodily fluids of exploited animals doesn’t suddenly go away just because a hurricane is coming.
Yet the resulting visual created the perfect opportunity to ridicule veganism and reinforce the status quo.
This photo doesn’t prove the inferiority of vegan food. It just proves the extent to which we’ve been conditioned to believe it’s inferior, to the point we will turn our noses up at it even if it might mean going hungry. (Although I believe that again, as Americans, people didn’t really believe they would go hungry, otherwise that vegan section would have been cleaned out.)
It also contradicts a common rationale for non-veganism that claims vegan food is typically unavailable (true in food desserts and remote regions but not at typical U.S. chain grocery stores). Here it is so incredibly available it is apparently the only thing left. It all calls to mind this quote from Dr. Will Tuttle from his book The World Peace Diet: “There is something about veganism that is not easy, but the difficulty is not inherent in veganism, but in our culture.”
Secondly, it’s worth noting that the science tells us that animal agriculture dramatically exacerbates climate change, which in turn exacerbates the intensity and frequency of storms. Despite the popularity of films like Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret, this connection still remains tragically trivialized or ignored by most people, a fact made extra ironic by this meme.
Finally, while vegans were being poked fun at, here’s what they were really up to during the hurricanes.
- Vegan food relief organization A Well-Fed Word was busy matching all donations up to $5,000 made on behalf of Food Not Bombs Houston to increase their free vegan food distribution to flood victims.
- Food Not Bombs Houston (a regional wing of a national vegetarian food relief organization) shared a post showing a large group of people volunteering at their Friday night Hunger Fight: “While we are still facing Harvey’s devastating trauma & challenges, the continued effort of last night’s folks was a testament of perseverance and dedication.” The post included a call for donations along with the hashtags “#vegan #vegetarian #nonviolence #community.”
- Vegan Society of PEACE shared: “On Wednesday, #Govindas gave out 200 free meals from their restaurant. And for the past few days, #Udipi Vegetarian Cafe has been delivering 500-700 free meals to #vegans and vegetarians currently in shelters at the GRB and at NRG Park. #VeganSocietyofPEACE greatly appreciates these businesses giving back to those in need during times of disaster.”
- The same group shared the vegan food efforts of Loving Hut Houston (a vegan restaurant chain) in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and the devastating floods. “They are preparing hundreds of FREE vegan meals to deliver to those in need around the #Houston area!”
- Food For Life Global, who travel around the world during times of disasters to feed those in need, shared a call to help Texas flood victims, adding “The Govinda’s vegetarian restaurant in Houston has been offering 300-400 free vegan meals to victims since the storm hit, however, they are now delivering free vegan meals to area shelters, including 200 hot meals to volunteers at the University of Houston who are doing volunteer service at various shelters.”
- G-Zen Vegan Restaurant in Branford, CT announced that a portion of bills are being donated “towards disaster relief in the Caribbean and Puerto Rico. Unicef, Friends of Culebra Animals and other hurricane relief programs in the Caribbean.”
- Chilis on Wheels, who build community around free vegan food, posted that they are reactivating their Chilis on Wheels Puerto Rico chapter “to aid in food relief efforts as a result of the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria… We will be joining existing relief efforts and providing #vegan meals to everyone affected.”
And those are just the few I happened to come across.
I’m sure this article will be seen by some as “trying to make everything about veganism,” but in a society hell-bent on systemic mass animal exploitation and slaughter for reasons other than survival – along with, conveniently, the rampant mischaracterization of vegans – this is the unfortunate context in which we exist.
And if talking about this right now is insensitive, as I anticipate some will also argue, then so is dedicating efforts to rescuing pets during hurricanes. All animals are sentient individuals with a fierce will to live and survive, including the ones whose lives we so callously snuff out for our palate pleasure, fashion, and other forms of exploitation, while their killers are framed as their saviors. We will speak out for them all.
My heart goes out to family and friends and everyone else, both human and non-human, affected by these recent (and ongoing) disasters. The justice, empathy, and compassion people have shown others, including the most vulnerable, have been incredible. Veganism is simply the logical extension of such values. In these tumultuous times, may more of us be galvanized to make this connection so urgently needed of us, now more than ever, and join the growing vegan movement.