The following is my letter to horse activist Karin Hauenstein regarding pending horse slaughter legislation in the US. I’m sharing this because my response to her prompted me to raise some important questions about veganism as a form of activism and the merit of single-issue campaigns in the larger context of animal advocacy.
Yes, we’d be happy to do what we can to promote a ban on the slaughter of American horses. If you have something you’ve already written, we’d be happy to consider publishing it.
In exchange, I hope you will consider a few points, which I’ll mention below, on the subject of being vegan. I applaud your efforts in embarking on that course. Regrettably, it takes many of us, myself included, years of inquiry to finally arrive at the conclusion that all sentient beings deserve our respect.
Free from Harm is founded on the idea that if we really are serious about helping animals, that is, if we really want to see a paradigm shift in the status of animals, then we need to focus on the 99.9% of animals exploited and killed unnecessarily — that is, the 60 billion land and 60 billion aquatic animals annually killed (worldwide) for the sole purpose of pleasing our palates.
If we fail to see the positive impact we can have by adopting a vegan diet and lifestyle, we’ve just reduced our potential impact to less than 1% of all animals that suffer at human hands.
I strongly believe that being vegan sends a consistent message to our constituency, even when we are taking on a single issue, such as horses. And this consistency pays off. Europeans who eat horse meat often criticize American animal activists who still consume animal products. They make the legitimate claim that such activists are still supporting the commodification and killing of animals for food, so, they wonder, what makes horses different? The same argument is made by the Japanese, who see non-Japanese activists’ opposition to whale hunting as hypocritical, given that these same activists have no problem eating animal products deemed socially acceptable in their respective cultures.
My special interest is chickens. I’ve discovered that each individual chicken is highly aware, sensitive, smart, socially sophisticated, affectionate and seeking companionship with us. Yet, as a species, these magnificent birds are the most exploited animal in our food system, accounting for some 92% of all animals killed for their eggs and meat in the US.
My form of advocating on behalf of chickens is focused on rescuing individuals, telling their unique stories, and providing the broader context by writing about the industries that commodify them. A young hen I recently rescued is chronicled in my new four-minute video, Angelica: The Thanksgiving Day Hen. All egg-laying hens — including those whose eggs are labeled “cage-free,” “free-range” and “organic” — are subjected to hideous cruelty. It’s not just an issue of how cruelly they are raised, though. It’s also an issue of how their breeding dooms their health. See my Egg Facts slideshow for details.
I’m also concerned about fishes, since they are often the last animal we stop eating when we become vegan. Like chickens, fishes are complex creatures who are grossly misunderstood. So much so that their casualties are counted by the ton, rather than the individual body. The documentary The End of the Line provides a harrowing overview of the global depletion of our oceans. We are literally fishing all the life out of our oceans. Many experts conclude that in 30 years there will be no more wild-caught fish.
Of the many undercover investigations I have compiled from animal advocacy sources around the world, one that shocked me most was the annual traditional tuna kill in Sicily. You can see how these majestic fishes experience excruciating pain when bludgeoned to death. This hideous bloodbath would not exist if it were not for an industry that makes money on their suffering. To add insult to injury, this disgusting cruelty ends up being labeled “humane,” “sustainable,” and “harpoon-caught” at stores like Whole Foods Market. If there was ever a false advertising claim to be made, this would have to be it!
And this leads me to my last point, Karin. I support single-issue campaigns, like yours, only insofar as they carry the message that all animals are worthy of our respect. This is, unfortunately, not the case with many single-issue campaigns, particularly the more high-profile ones from organizations like HSUS, ASPCA, PETA, and even Greenpeace. In fact, it is quite common to find all of them running campaigns that call for a ban on the exploitation of some species, like whales, bears or seals, while running other campaigns that promote “sustainable” and “happy” meat.
The cognitive dissonance that such conflicting campaigns creates does more harm than good. These organizations end up perpetuating a speciesist view that favors protection for some animals but exploitation — albeit a kinder, gentler form of exploitation — for others. In 2012, ASPCA actually rewarded a small poultry farm that slaughters chickens a grant of $150,000. When so-called animal protection organizations fund animal slaughter, I think it’s high time we evaluate how we have lost our way.
Please keep in touch, and let me know if I can answer further questions or help you in any way as you continue on your own vegan journey.