You Love Animals Right? Your Brain IS Different from Those Who Don’t

Is the human race divided into two tribes, those who love animals and those who don’t? Yes, it seems so. But what makes us this way? If only we could open a window into the human brain and see what is going on in there, what it is that makes one ‘tribe’ so different from the other.

Oh, hang on – we can. Exactly what was revealed when neuroscientist Massimo Filippi and his team did just that, opened that window, we will come to very shortly.

We’ve already seen in his fascinating book The Animals Among Us, John Bradshaw delving deep into the past to unravel the threads of our relationship with domesticated animals. He uncovers an evolutionary forking of the path – one group of humanity opting to settle, begin domesticating and living with animals, while the other remained hunting, marauding nomads.

Through the generations, passing those tameness genes down, the domesticated cats and dogs, cattle and sheep gradually got tamer. And at the same time the humans who lived with animals passed down their own evolving animal-loving genes to their descendants.

Meanwhile, the nomads found themselves an easy living without the trouble of making animals a part of their daily lives, by raiding the others’ settlements and stealing theirs. Animal-lover of animal-unlover, whichever group we fall into, that is very likely how we came to be. With apologies to John Bradshaw for squeezing what takes a book to explain into an ever-so-slightly oversimplified couple of paragraphs!

Now back to Massimo & co and their window into the brain

Their project set out to measure and compare the levels of empathy towards other humans and towards nonhuman animals in 3 different groups: omnivores, ethical vegetarians, and ethical vegans. By ethical we mean those who are veg*n for the animals rather than say, simply for their own health.

All the participants were first given an ‘Empathy Quotient’ survey to complete. Social cognitive neuroscientist Claus Lamm’s definition of empathy might be useful at this point:

“When we are confronted with another person [human or nonhuman] – say, someone in pain – our brains respond not just by observing, but by copying the experience. Empathy results in emotion sharing. I don’t just know what you are feeling, I create an emotion in myself.

Next, using fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) they showed the different groups images of human suffering and animal suffering, and monitored their brain activity to establish exactly what was happening inside these people’s heads.

The results of the fMRI:

  • The veggies and vegans showed more activity in empathy-related areas of the brain to images of both human and nonhuman suffering than the omnis
  • The veggies and vegans responded more strongly to the animal suffering than the human suffering
  • The vegans responded more strongly than the veggies to animal suffering
  • The veggies reacted more strongly than the vegans to human suffering
  • The omnis reacted more to the human suffering than the animal suffering
  • Both vegans and veggies showed reduced activity in the amygdala, which means that they were trying hard to control their emotions. Especially the vegans

All of which corresponded with the results from that preliminary EQ survey.

The study does leave some questions unanswered. For example, wouldn’t it be important to know which nonhuman animals appeared in the images? Were they dogs, cats, rats or hens? If they weren’t companion animals, might not cognitive dissonance have come into play for the omnis? After all, veg*ns don’t hold exclusive rights on loving animals, do they?


Cognitive dissonance – a brief excursion into the secret that enables our crazy species to both love animals and eat them. This is how it works:

In our Western culture we are socially conditioned to see animals as falling into specific groups defined entirely by how we humans relate to them, and how useful they are to us. We absorb this way of thinking completely unconsciously from our mother’s knee, and everything we encounter throughout our childhood, books, movies, games, toys, advertising, reinforces the construct.

So we have:

Wild Animals with whom we have little contact

Utility Animals who ‘work’ for us – horses, donkeys, farm and police dogs and so on

Food Animals – cows, pigs, sheep, hens

Animals for entertainment – racehorses, greyhounds, circus animals, animals in zoos and aquaria

Animals for ‘education’ – animals in labs, zoos and aquaria, in schools and universities

Companion Animals – pet dogs, cats, hamsters, budgies etc

And let us not forget

Vermin – this category can be made to emcompass any species from buzzards to badgers that humans discover reasons for finding ‘a nuisance’

What makes veg*ns different, is that they have broken down and demolished this construct. To them it matters not whether it is a woodlouse or a wolf, a chicken or a cheetah. A life is a life, and each and every one matters and has a right to live free from harm and exploitation. But might it not make a difference which animals’ pics were shown to the omnivorous participants? As they remain captive to that social conditioning which compels them to allot a category to different animals, some animals might matter to them more than others.


That aside, it’s no surprise that omnis responded more to human suffering than animal, or that for the veg*ns it was the reverse. The interesting finding was that the veg*ns were more responsive to suffering overall than the omnis. Yet most veg*ns including me, started life omnivorous.

So do the study’s results mean we were born with an innate empathy that turned us into vegans, or did becoming vegan make us more empathetic? Who knows.

If we fail to imagine what animals might be feeling, ” we could do a great deal of harm, and put suffering in the world that doesn’t need to be there”

Philosopher Janet Stemwedel


One thing the findings do, is cast doubt on how effective it is for animal advocates to try ‘converting’ omnivores by showing them images of the misery endured by so many animals at human hands. The response might fall disappointingly short of a ‘road to Damascus’ experience. The research shows that for some, seeing is not necessarily feeling.

But it isn’t only written in the genes. The brain has plasticity – it is capable of being moulded. So let’s take the hopeful view and assume that becoming vegan helped make us more empathetic. And that omnivores may have more of those nomadic raiders’ genes with an animal-disconnect. But they are also profoundly conditioned, as we all are or have been, in their attitudes to nonhuman animals by the prevailing norms of our society.

Do you love animals but still eat them? Here is one eloquent, passionate man who may be able to change your mind. Philip Wollen, tearing down those malignant social norms – so inhumane towards nonhuman animals, and indeed, so disastrously damaging for humankind and the planet itself.

Help to go vegan here

 

Sources

Veg*n Brains & Animal Suffering

Empathy for Animals is all about us

The Conceptual Separation of Food and Animals in Childhood

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You Love Animals Right? Ever Wondered Why Others Couldn’t Care Less?

The Animal Conspiracy Blown Apart

The Animal Conspiracy Part 2

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Together Forever

Eight Women Changing the World for Animals

Giving a Voice to the Voiceless – Meet the ‘Art-ivists’ For Animal Rights

This eye-opening piece by freelance journalist Peter Yeung is from Dazed & Confused magazine, Jan 2015

Animal rights and art have not always been easy bedfellows. Belgian artist Jan Fabre got into hot water for a performance in which he threw several cats up a flight of stairs, who let out pained meows in response. Damien Hirst, meanwhile, is famed for works featuring a formaldehyde-soaked shark, a pig’s head, and even a piece that required the killing of 9000 butterflies. The most recent example, however, was at Colorado’s Aspen Art Museum, where – as part of the show – turtles were made to amble around an art exhibit with iPads attached to their shells.

(More recently the Guggenheim Museum pulled works involving live animals from Chinese Art Survey. Now terrified mice are being used in ‘art’ installation in NY gallery. Plse sign petition)

But there are also plenty of examples of animal rights being championed by the arts. Vivienne Westwood and Stella McCartney are well-known for their anti-fur and anti-leather stances, whereas Morrissey is outspokenly meat-free, once writing the memorable lyrics: “It’s not “natural”, “normal” or kind/ the flesh you so fancifully fry/ the meat in your mouth/ as you savour the flavour, of murder”. Then, of course, Rembrandt, one of the greatest painters of all time, was a pioneering vegetarian. Here, we look at some of the most compelling animal rights artivists.

JACQUELINE TRAIDE 

Performance artist Jacqueline Traide, sickened by cosmetics testing on animals, wanted to convey the cruelty of it to the public by having the procedure done to herself. She was tortured for 10 hours in the performance, which was done in a vitrine in the Oxford Circus branch of Lush, as shocked pedestrians looked on. Amongst a number of activities, Traide had her mouth held open with a vice, was force-fed, had a strip of her hair shaved off, and was given two injections.

(Further info about the EU ban on animal testing for cosmetics here

Email your MP to support global fight against cruel cosmetics here)

ZOE BIRRELL

Portuguese artist Zoe Birrell once made an art installation consisting of 420 dairy cows, each made from vegan fair-trade chocolate, and each equalling her body weight of 53kg. The life of a modern dairy cow is marked by the emotional stress of the loss of her baby calf, combined with the hormonal effect of being kept perpetually pregnant. It inspired Birrell to respond to these psychological and physiological issues, considering the ethical alternatives, as well as, how it related to her own femininity.
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Birrell’s installation was part of her school’s degree show in Glasgow via prweb.com

(Step by Step Guide to Help You Give Up Dairy)

JONATHAN HOROWITZ

Jonathan Horowitz stopped eating meat at the age of 12, after his parents took him to a bullfight when on holiday in Mexico. The artist’s heavyweight Go Vegan! exhibition at a former New York meat-packing plant, LaFrieda Meats, aimed to normalise the idea of meat-free living. Horowitz compiled a portrait gallery of more than 200 celebrity vegetarians, as well as a video installation featuring Paul and Linda McCartney, arguing for veganism through the medium of modern living: commodity culture.
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These billboards featured as part of Horowitz’s Go Vegan! campaign via biennaleonline.org

(Help to Go Vegan here)

BANKSY

Banksy, the king of street art, made a return to the road with his puntastic project Sirens of the Lambs. Making appearances around the world, such as New York City and Glastonbury, the piece was a “moving sculpture”, in which a truck full of shrieking cuddly animals being taken to slaughter, drove around. The work is designed to highlight the issue of animals being farmed for their meat, but without the usual, depressing consequences.

SUE COE

Sue Coe grew up hearing the rattling of chains and screaming from the local abattoir at her home in Hersham, England. The normalisation of mass slaughter, which she also saw at abattoirs from Liverpool to Los Angeles, became the inspiration for her graphic paintings and drawings. These works are imbued with a mind-warping darkness and death, that the viewer can hardly ignore.
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Coe’s work is certainly a damning indictment of capitalism’s influence on the food industry via http://www.graphicwitness.org

ALICE NEWSTEAD

Artist and animal rights activists Alice Newstead once painted herself silver and suspended herself from hooks to protest the fishing of sharks, who are threatened with extinction (around 100 million sharks are caught in commercial and sports fishing every year. Piercing the skin of her shoulder blades, she was hung for 15 minutes, as blood streamed down her back.

(Sign petition to Ban Shark Fin Sales in Florida)

ASHER JAY

Asher Jay uses her digital graphic skills innovatively to inform the world about animal abuse. In Africa, Jay made screensavers of a poached rhino horn dripping with blood. In China, she integrated elephant tusks into Chinese language characters to encourage a halt in ivory buying while her enormous images of elephants killed for their tusks were projected in New York’s Times Square. “I wanted to visualize the scale and brutality of the crisis and use art to tell the blood ivory story,” she says. “Each year, 35,000 elephants are slaughtered; that’s one every 15 minutes.”
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Originally trained in fashion at the New York School of Design, Jay has gone on to become a conservationist artist via asherjay.com

(Born Free’s Blood Ivory petition)

ROCKY LEWYCKY

Rocky Lewycky’s project Is It Necessary? addressed the problem of factory farming in a violent new way. The work was comprised of hundreds of ceramic animals – pigs, cows, turkeys, fish – neatly positioned together. Each day Lewycky would enter the gallery space, elect an animal, and brutally smash it to pieces, leaving the white sculptures to reveal their blood-red interiors.
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Each sculpture was coated red on the inside and then either smashed or ‘liberated’ via rocksart.com

DAN WITZ

New York artist Dan Witz came over to east London to create his project Empty The Cages. For it, he placed chicken claws and pigs heads in 30 different locations around the streets of Shoreditch, in order to subtly raise the issue of animal consumption, and its dire consequences. Witz explained: “Climate change, deforestation, wildlife extinction, water waste, air pollution and ocean dead zones (among other things) are all directly attributable to meat, dairy and egg production.”
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Witz was part of a PETA campaign that also involved Sir Paul McCartney via danwitz.com

(I urge you to check out what Dan has to say about some other work he did with PETA, and how it made him feel)

GALE HART

Different societies and cultures always tend to draw the line of what sort of animal is okay to eat differently. Elephants, dogs, and silk worms are all consumed in places around the globe. Sacramento-based multimedia artist Gale Hart tackled this issue with her project Why Not Eat Your Pet? It juxtaposed images of devastating animal cruelty with pets that have sinister, child-like innocence.
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Other paintings in Hart’s collection included Pinocchio on his first caged hunt via galehart.com

Source: The Artists Pushing Animal Rights Further

Bits in brackets, mine


Art is not a mirror to reflect reality, but a hammer with which to shape it

Berthold Brecht

There is power in the hammer of these 10 art-ivists – let us hope they succeed in shaping us a kinder world


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The Art of Compassion for the Animals

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Scared of Spiders? You May Be Hard-Wired That Way

Ask kids what they are most scared of, and with one voice they’ll shriek “SPIDERS!”  Hardly surprising then that of all the phobias UK people suffer, nearly half involve creepy crawlies, spiders taking the crown. And no less than three quarters of undergrads canvassed admitted to some level of arachnophobia.

Arachnophobes have always been a puzzle to me. Despite having once been on the receiving end of a startling nip, I love spiders. The cobwebs in the corners of my house are designated conservation zones where no duster is permitted. Tell me, what’s not to love? Any creature that can draw silk like magic out of its own body, and spin the thing of beauty that is the spider’s web, deserves better PR – IMHO.
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Just look at that cute little face!

My personal favourite has to be Bagheera Kiplingi, who out of 40,000 named species, is the only known vegan spider in existence! It’s name alone is endearing. This is what the BBC has to say about our little veggie friend: “Like other species of jumping spider, Bagheera kiplingi has keen eyesight, is especially fast and agile and is thought to have good cognitive skills, which allows it to “hunt” down this plant food.”  See, these little guys are clever too. (Apologies if the  ‘jumping’, ‘fast’ and ‘agile’ have triggered a phobic meltdown)

But come on guys, we don’t have any real monsters in the British Isles. The house spider we’re likely to find in the bath at this time of the year, or glimpse out of the corner of an eye hurtling across the floor of an evening in the flickering light from the TV, deserves to be a welcome guest. It’s estimated that one will chow down and clear your home of 2,000 unwelcome bugs and flies a year. OK, so it can be a decent-ish span from one hairy little foot across to another, especially 2,000 bugs further down the line, but it’s not exactly in dinner-plate-size tarantula league.

If you live in Central America, India, Australia or such, you’d be insane – and quite possibly on the way to meet your maker – if you weren’t anxious about spiders. But we have no spiders of evil intent here, no deadly wolf, no sinister black widow. So why the fear? If it can’t be the size, or the poison factor here in the UK, how come this irrational abhorrence of arachnids?

Arachnophobia does run in families. The question is, inherited or learned? Nature or Nurture? It seems plain commonsense that if mum or dad are scared of these beasties (and it’s more often than not mum) the kids will not be slow to pick up on it. So nurture then.

Well, yes, but not entirely. As with so many aspects of the human animal’s behaviour, unpicking the tangled web of the two Ns isn’t simple. In a 2008 study, 5 month old babies who were shown a variety of images, looked longer at the spiders than at any of the other pics. These babes were unlikely to have been ‘turned’ at such an early age. The finding indicated, the co-authors said, that “humans, like other species, may possess a cognitive mechanism for detecting specific animals that were potentially harmful throughout evolutionary history.” Arachnophobia could well be innate – evolution made us this way. Not irrational at all, but an aid to survival.

A more recent and wonderfully titled study, Spiders at the Cocktail Party, confirms the baby test finding: human evolution has passed down undiminished the ancient fear of the arachnid. This time students were shown a range of different images to identify, including several fear- or revulsion-inducing objects like needles and flies, as well as spiders. Nearly all the participants recognised the spiders more quickly than any of the other images, and also gave them more attention. The spiders were rapidly spotted, even when they appeared out on the display’s periphery, and while the central image was drawing the subjects’ focus and conscious attention.

“Spiders,” say the authors, ‘may be one of a very few evolutionarily-persistent threats that are inherently specified for visual detection and uniquely ‘prepared’ to capture attention and awareness irrespective of any foreknowledge, personal importance, or task-relevance.”

Or, in plain English: Try to complete any requisite task, and we’re beset with constant distractions. We may pride ourselves on exceptional concentration and ability to focus. But, it doesn’t matter how engrossed we may be, the one thing that is certain to grab our attention however peripheral or fleeting its appearance, and spark in us that instant phobic response –  is the scary eight-legged creeping and quivering, scurrying, scuttling, spider.

It really is all in the genes. You, my arachnophobic friend, are hard-wired this way. It’s normal.

Happy Halloween – and please don’t stamp on the spiders!

halloween-975498_960_720

(What’s wrong with me then? Why can’t I be in the arachnophobe gang? What’s gone awry with my hard-wiring? Am I missing a gene or two? Maybe I’m a Neanderthal throwback or something. Any other dis-arachnophobes out there…. )

Sources

Frightened of spiders? It could be in your DNA

Why Are We So Afraid of Spiders? – The Independent

Eight Reasons to Love Spiders (Or At Least Spare Them)

Related posts

Spiders eat up to 800 million tons of insects a year

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8 More Kinds of Animal Craziness

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It’s Hedgehog Time!

9 Creatures Named After the Outgoing President

 

The Vegan Mafia – Driving the Post-Animal Future of Food

Vegan Mafia? This particular ‘underworld’ is subversive, for sure, but nothing like as sinister as it sounds. In fact, it’s all good. It’s the nickname given to a group of committed (and super-rich) vegans, including the creator of Google Ventures Bill Maris, who choose to put their money where their mouth is, literally – in plant-based start-up companies. Proving that you can have strong ethical goals and still be hard-headed in business, they reckon their investments are a pretty safe bet on a greener future for food.

“There’s a whole community of us building and funding vegan companies,” says long time vegan Ryan Bethencourt.

Who is Ryan Bethencourt, you ask? He may not be a household name, even in vegan households, but he should be. 38 year old Miami-born Ryan is a highly-qualified bioscientist with degrees from Warwick, Cambridge and Edinburgh Universities. In 2014, he co-founded IndieBio, and has become a major mover and shaker in the post-animal bioeconomy, and advisor to The Good Food Institute

He and his team at IndieBio have funded 68 biotech start-ups to date, including Clara Foods (animal-free eggs), New Wave (algae- and plant-based ‘shrimp’), and Pembient (lab-made wildlife products).

Interestingly, each one of those companies completely independently of the others, describes itself on its website as ‘subversive’, or uses the verb ‘subvert’. Oxford English Dictionary: ‘To subvert’ meaning ‘To undermine the power and authority of an established system” What could be more perfect than undermining the atrocity that is animal agriculture in the 21st century.

Though our mafia are all vegan, what emerged in interviews with a handful of the ‘mafiosi’ conducted by CNBC, was that the start-ups they invest in don’t just target their new products at vegans – though of course we do get to reap the benefits. They love the idea that Beyond Meat for instance, has got their burgers selling from the meat counters in big grocery chains. And that eatery chain Veggie Grill primarily serves people who also eat meat – which is great, because obviously they’re not eating meat while they’re dining at Veggie Grill.

30 year old ‘Robot Guru’ aka billionaire Kyle Vogt, who in September last year hit the headlines by buying the most expensive house in San Francisco, is a VM (Vegan Mafia) newcomer. Just about the same time as he purchased the house, his wife opened Charlie’s Acres sanctuary for farm animals rescued from abuse, or destined for the slaughterhouse.

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Happy animals at Charlie’s Acres (pics from their Fb page)

Kyle figured that if his wife was busy saving them, it didn’t make sense for him to keep on eating them. So he went vegan.

A year on, his business angle is, that though appealing to people’s hearts has its place, creating plant-based foods that taste better and are cheaper than foods derived from animals makes the best business sense.

VM investor Seth Bannon is another remarkable vegan. He was only 14 years old when he began volunteering for advocacy organisations. Fast forward a few years: frustrated by the outmoded technology he found being used in the advocacy world – a good 10 years behind the video games he was playing – he set up Amicus: its mission: “To empower people to advocate for the causes they care about through technology”. Now Amicus’s cutting edge tech powers The Human Rights Campaign, Greenpeace, Everytown for Gun Safety, The Humane League, and more.

Amicus’s success opened Seth’s eyes to the potential for positive social change through business. He co-founded and still runs Fifty Years, a venture fund supportingentrepreneurs solving the world’s biggest problems with technology.”

But back to food. Seth may have ideals, but he has no illusions: “The case for giving up meat is clear: There’s a health case, an environmental case,” he said. (Not to mention an animal welfare/animal rights case.) “But we have largely given up on education as a tool for convincing people.”

As we all know to the animals’ cost, you can show people the horrors of animal ag, you can tell them how it’s wrecking the planet and contributing to climate change, you can say, animal products are bad for your health, but some people just do not want to know. The entrepreneurs Seth is backing, he says, look at the market through a “strict business lens.” 

So the VM look to support plant-based products that will be yes, healthier and environmentally friendly and cruelty-free, but most of all cheaper to produce than the current animal products they are looking to replace.

Geltor is a good example – a less expensive as well as cruelty-free plant-based method of making a replacement for gelatin  (currently produced by boiling the skin, tendons, bones from cows and pigs). Geltor’s aim is to disrupt/subvert the gelatin market with what is hoped will be a game-changing animal-free alternative. Because even if people don’t care about the animals, hard economics is an unanswerable argument.

The Future of Food: The Top 2 Trends Shaping The Food & Beverage Industry In 2018

CB Insights which sifts millions of media articles to track trends, lists the top 8 food trends for 2018. And the top 2 of the 8 are…… (drumroll here please):

Food Trend Number 1 Diet tribalization intensifying

That’s industry in-speak for rapid growth in the number of consumers adopting certain lifestyle-based diets, in particular the vegan diet (we’re a tribe!), and the paleo diet. “The paleo diet emphasizes natural, sustainable, plant-based foods, which relates to overall trends toward plant ingredients within the food space. Vegan and gluten-free foods have also moved into the mainstream since 2012.”

Revere (vegan energy drink powders), Rhythm Superfoods (vegan kale snacks) Koia (plant-based smoothies) are some of the vegan start-ups which have drawn investment this year. And tellingly, while start-ups in vegan and veggie meal kits like Sun Basket and Daily Harvest continue to attract funding, meal kit start-ups that are non-diet-specific (ie for omnivores) are struggling.

Food Trend Number 2: Alternative proteins diversify and attract meat leaders

With the runaway success of companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Food, and ever-increasing consumer demand for plant-based foods, start-ups are sprouting up all over. And some are pioneering new kinds of plant protein – not just nuts and soy. We’re seeing pea protein, algae protein and chickpea protein. Ripple is a great example. Ripple attracted funding of $43.6 million. That is a lot of funding. Its pea-based ‘milk’ is already sold widely in major grocery store chains. And no cows were hurt in the making of this milk.

The Ripple Effect

This time we’re not talking pea milk. The financial and technological stimulus the Vegan Mafia has provided to the plant-based market has created such a stir in the food industry, it’s less like a ripple, more like a tidal wave. Meat corporations cannot afford to be left behind. The US’s biggest meat producer Tyson, last year acquired a 5% stake in Beyond Meat, and followed this by setting up a $150 million venture capital fund to support the development of plant-based foods. Tyson is excited about the fund because it gives the company “exposure to a fast-growing segment of the protein market”.² General Mills, Hormel Foods, and Maple Leaf Foods are some of the other giants grabbing a piece of the plant-based action.

Not satisfied with that, many of the mainstream companies are producing their own plant-based product lines. Pret A Manger for example opened a vegetarian-only restaurant, Veggie Pret.

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UK-based Pret A Manger’s gamble with vegetarian-only restaurants paid off when it registered a 70 per cent increase in sales, enabling it to make it a permanent fixture © Pret A Manger

That proved so popular, this year the company announced plans to make it permanent. Ben and Jerry’s and Hellman’s are among others capitalising on the growing demand for vegan foods too.

Big Investors outside the food industry

Big investors outside the food industry, alarmed by the ravages animal ag inflicts on animals, the environment and the climate, are predicting and promoting a plant-based future too. In 2016 “a group of 40 investors including Aviva and Swedish state pension funds managing $1.25 trillion in assets launched a campaign to encourage 16 global food companies (including Kraft Heinz, Nestle, Unilever, Tesco and Walmart) to respond to the material risks of industrial farming and diversify into plant-based sources of protein.”

“The plant-based meat market is set to reach $5.9 billion by 2022 and could make up a third of the market by 2050 according to some estimates. Worldwide sales of non-dairy milk alternatives more than doubled between 2009 and 2015 to $21 billion over concerns regarding saturated fat levels, lactose intolerance, hormone content and antibiotic use in dairy cows, as well as questions on animal treatment.”

“Our population is set to increase to 10 billion people by 2050 and supplying protein to everyone will prove to be a challenge if we rely only on animal-based sources. This presents a compelling opportunity not only for forward looking investors but also innovative companies who want to profit from a burgeoning plant-based protein market that is set to grow by 8.4 percent annually over the next five years.”²

But would any of this have happened without the initial and ongoing $100s of millions impetus from the Vegan Mafia?

The host of pioneering plant-based companies, and the vegan investors backing them from behind the scenes, give us hope for the future. With the torrents of bad news we get daily on the sorry state of our world, it’s sometimes hard not to get down. But committed, driven, and talented vegans like Seth, Ryan, Kyle, Bill and the rest, still in the summertime of their lives, using their wealth so effectively to address the problems of the planet, set a rainbow for us in an otherwise dark and stormy sky. Long may the Vegan Mafia, and all the animals they are saving continue to flourish. And here’s hoping for a better tomorrow.

Follow Charlie’s Acres on Facebook here


News October 25th 2017 CEO of Vegan Milk and Beverage Company Named One of Goldman Sachs’ Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs!

Sources

¹Wiki

²Plant based alternatives attract investment from meat producers – Lifegate

Vegan mafia: food investor network includes Bill Maris, Kyle Vogt – CNBC

Billionaire tech entrepreneur Kyle Vogt, 30, is revealed to be the buyer of San Francisco’s most expensive mansion after dropping $21.8 million for it – Mail Online

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This is very interesting – and also hopeful.: Conservation X Labs using the tech startup model to work on challenges in the difficult and complex space of environmental protection.Read more here


The One Thing Vegans are NOT doing & Need to Start doing – TODAY!

“I have been vegan for the past 7 years, vegetarian since 21 and animal lover all my life. During those years, I came to realize how my own actions –  and the way I was taught to think and act  – hurt my most beloved creatures in the world, hurt the planet, hurt our health. “

Vegan Illustrator Miki Mottes

In spite of veganism’s high profile these days, Miki identified 3 problems we have when trying to get our message across:

  • People still (erroneously) think going vegan is very very hard, and means depriving ourselves – but wishing we didn’t have to – of all our favourite things to eat and drink. To them we are the hairshirt brigade
  • People often see vegans as angry, aggressive and judgmental (in part because they don’t like having to justify their choices even to themselves)
  • “People don’t enjoy seeing images and videos of slaughterhouses while having their breakfast. Even if truthful (the truth food companies pay billions of dollars to hide from the public), this tactic usually achieves the exact opposite: it numbs people. They no longer look at the images and simply feel under attack.”

So let’s take a look at how the opposition, the meat and dairy industries habitually promote their products and make us feel good about consuming them.

Miki says, “Simple: with harmless, sweet and fun campaigns. Think happy cows, smiling kids (with a milk mustache) and laughing pigs. Industry giants made these products an important part of our childhood and family moments. No wonder thinking differently about them is so difficult.”

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em – Make It Fun!

Miki decided to create his own cute, fun characters – they went viral

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Before long he found himself bombarded with requests for more information. “First about iron and calcium sources and then about pretty much everything that had to do with a plant-based diet.”

It soon became a full-time job and Miki launched simplehappykitchen.com with “simple and relatable information about ingredients, nutrients, their sources and their effect on our health and the planet, [which] allows more people to open up, listen, and adopt new ideas.” It was a natural progression to produce his Simple Happy Kitchen book.

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“These days I get thank you messages from young mothers, educators and fitness enthusiasts saying how helpful my work is. I don’t ask if they are vegan or not. I know that with the right information, delivered in the right manner, more people will happily adopt a vegan diet and lifestyle.”

And so on that upbeat note, let’s finish with some more fun stuff about how easy it is to be vegan!

 

Download for free Miki’s Protein, Calcium & Iron printable posters here

Follow Miki on Facebook & Twitter

See more of his cute artwork here

Help to go vegan here

Images from the Simple Happy Kitchen website

Source

The one thing vegans are NOT doing and need to start doing. Today. – Medium

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Humans’ Schizoid View of Animals Exposed in Subversive Art

“In addition to our household cat, I had numerous pets – frogs, lizards, rats, turtles, fish, a rabbit and a family of adorable ducks. My childhood was replete with books about animals, animal toys and images of cute and cuddly animals… There I was, like most children, growing up believing I loved animals yet I was consuming animals daily. Whilst my love of animals was fostered, my taste for animal products was simultaneously cultivated.”

New Zealand-born prizewinning vegan artist Claude Jones describes her childhood – conditioned like every typical child into sustaining two completely contradictory ideas about animals at the same time in one brain. What we now, of course, call cognitive dissonance.

“My work seeks to expose such obvious contradictions in the face of widespread, culturally ingrained acceptance of this schism.”

Her work which appears quite simple, has a lot going on under the surface. She employs a deceptively innocent fairytale style, delicately drawn and in soft colours, as if for kids’ storybooks. The animals she depicts are anthropomorphised just as they so often are in children’s books. But our minds struggle to make sense of what our eyes are telling us – the shocking incongruity of the actions they are engaged in. Rabbits, universally viewed as timid and gentle, are seen wielding knives against other animals. A dog is bullfighting, or acting as circus ringmaster to a performing elephant, or experimenting on a hapless rabbit. Any given animal can appear as either perpetrator or victim. And yet all of them portraying ‘normal’ human activities that are not only legal but culturally acceptable, and accepted.

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But let Claude continue her story: “For some time [as a child] I could only assume that we ate animals when they had died of old age. … we attempt to compensate for the murder of our fellow sentient beings in bucolic images in stories and animated films of happy, healthy farm animals grazing and sunbathing in lush fields, joyously bounding about, scratching, sniffing the earth, cuddling their human companions, and so on. I soon came to understand the brutal truth and simply could not reconcile my love of animals with harming them, let alone killing them. With plenty of other food options to choose from, at age 16, I decided to become a vegetarian.”

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“Much later, in 2010, I finally made the connection between all animal products and animal suffering and decided it was time to shift from vegetarianism to veganism.”

Claude-Jones_Bull-terror_2015_mixed-media-on-paper_15x15cm“I find myself simultaneously fascinated and frustrated by our contradictory treatment of animals. Our human-centric perspective of the animal world positions rabbits, for example, as both cuddly companion animals but also as, laboratory specimens, meat and fur “products”. We support an industry that raises millions of pets that are accepted members of families yet trap, cage, torture and kill billions of animals annually for food, fur, leather.  My work seeks to expose such obvious contradictions in the face of widespread, culturally ingrained acceptance of this schism.”Claude-jones_Bullies_2015_mixed-media-on-paper_85x141cm

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Much of Claude’s work reveals her concern about modern science’s meddling with nonhumans. In an earlier post  I wrote about the science of gene-editing, CRISPR. Using CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) humans can now edit the genes of both animals and plants to ‘custom-build’ them in any way considered desirable and/or profitable. So already you can for example, if you have the money, order yourself a designer dog with black and yellow stripes – or brown with red spots – yes really. Maybe the creature Claude depicts here isn’t so very fanciful.

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Take a look at some of the other bizarre creatures of Claude’s imagination in her Gallery collection, ‘Hybrid”. At one and the same time amusing and nightmarish, I think you’ll agree. But too close to present day scientific reality for comfort.

Fantastical hybrids appear in many world mythologies. The ancient Greeks, for instance, told of the dread Chimaera, a flame-belching monster made of body parts from three different animals. Nowadays the all-too-real ‘chimaeras’ don’t breath fire, but are every bit as monstrous – gene-edited pigs made to grow up with human hearts, ‘harvested’ at the right time to remedy the shortage of human-donated organs for human transplants.

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“Jones questions the domination of humankind over all animal life, and our assumed right to meddle with the natural order of other species.”

Simon Gregg, Art Curator

For me Claude’s powerful art epitomises the saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. It speaks volumes about Man’s rationally untenable, schizoid relationship with his fellow creatures.

Visit Claude’s website to learn more, and browse through her gallery of disturbing and thought-provoking pictures. There’s a good chance you will feel the need to fix a conflicted mind (and soul, and life), the inevitable result of attempting the impossible: making sense of schizoid presumptions about our fellow animals that are, unhappily, conventional wisdom today.

If that resonates with you, you could do much worse than trying vegan. It’s not hard and the rewards are great. As great as bringing your life into sweeter harmony with Life. I guarantee it.

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Jewish Survivor of Nazi Holocaust Dedicates Life to Victims of Today’s Holocaust – The Farmed Animals

“Polish born Dr Alex Hershaft believes he survived the Warsaw Ghetto in order to commit his life to stopping the oppression of animals in the meat industry. Speaking at the final leg of his European tour at the Jewish Museum in London this week, 82-year-old Alex told the astonishing story of how his harrowing experience resulted in a lifelong passion for animal rights.”

Last week the London Evening Standard featured the story of Dr Hershaft, one of the few Jewish survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto.

To put the miracle of his survival in context:

  • 400,000 Jews were trapped inside the ghetto (1940-1943)
  • 245,000 of them were sent to Treblinka concentration camp
  • In all 300,000 Warsaw ghetto Jews died in concentration camps
  • A further 92,000 of them died of mass shootings, starvation and disease, in the valiant uprising against the Nazis, and the final destruction of the ghetto

Estimates of the total number of Jewish people annihilated by the Nazis in World War II –  between 6 – 11 million.

Each one was not of course simply a statistic, but a real person with a life of his/her own. And mere facts and figures cannot convey the unspeakable horror of the World War II Holocaust. So it’s even more inspiring that Dr Hershaft, this incredible man, channeled his years of suffering and trauma into compassion for other sufferers of oppression – those others now confined just as he was then, often brutally treated, robbed of dignity, and denied their basic rights as sentient individuals – the animals that humans farm for ‘food’.

Estimates of animals killed in the world every year? More than 56 billion, and tragically rising. That is even without counting fish and other marine animals.

The dictionary definition of ‘holocaust’ is ‘destruction or slaughter on a mass scale.’ Yet if we dare to apply such an emotive word to the monstrous flood of life blood flowing from the bodies of those billions of individual cows, pigs, chickens and sheep, slaughtered (like Hitler’s victims) by human hands, we are swiftly shouted down with cries of outrage. But is there a better word to describe what is happening behind closed doors this very second? Click here and I can guarantee you some surprise, if not downright disbelief, at the numbers of different species being stripped of their lives second by second so humans can eat their bodies.

Is this not holocaust on an unimagineable scale, passing unseen, unremarked, and mostly unprotested, right under society’s collective nose? A horror of dystopian inhumanity, insanely become acceptable, for which society at large feels no compunction or concern.

It’s not using the H-word in this context that’s an outrage. This present day holocaust itself is the outrage. So good people, let us close our ears to those cries of indignation, and let’s not stop using the H-word. The outraged will just have to suck it up, because there can be no more authoritative validation for its use in this context than from a Jewish survivor of the Nazi holocaust himself. Dr Hershaft likens the treatment of animals in the meat industry to his experience within a concentration camp, including the use of branding and witnessing piles of body parts on a regular basis.”

The London Evening Standard continues:

“Following a successful career as an environmental chemist, a work trip to a slaughterhouse made him realise his true vocation. As a result in 1976 he co-founded the Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM) and became a vegan in 1981.”

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Dr Hershaft with fellow survivors on a boat to America
Dr Hershaft says of his experience:

“This is when I finally realised that there was a valid reason for my surviving the Holocaust and a valid way to repay my debt for surviving. This is when I resolved to spend the rest of my life fighting all forms of oppression.”

Ever since, Alex has spent his life campaigning for the rights of farm animals; as a member of the Advisory Council of Jewish Veg in America, Patron of the Jewish Vegetarian Society, and the current President of FARM. 

For the truth about the animal holocaust in 60 seconds flat – watch here

If you can take it (and even if you can’t, you should. You owe it to the animals), see more here

And if you believe it couldn’t possibly happen in the UK where we have ‘good animal welfare laws’, take a look here

So don’t be a denyer of the animal holocaust – face the truth, and go vegan

Sources

Vegan Holocaust survivor says the reason he survived was to end the oppression of animals – London Evening Standard

The Warsaw Ghetto – Wiki

The Holocaust – Wiki

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The Pig Trial – It’s Not Over Yet

Just why are Gary Grill and James Silver, Anita Kranjc’s legal defence team in the infamous ‘Pig Trial’, not popping corks and toasting each other over glasses of champagne after their client’s welcome acquittal last week?

As we all know, in June 2015 Anita was attending one of the regular Toronto Pig Save’s vigils for animals headed to the slaughterhouse. She gave water through slats in the truck to pigs suffering from heat and thirst. The truck driver angrily confronted her, and the next day she was charged with two criminal offences.
Last Thursday animal advocates everywhere were rejoicing. Anita’s act of compassion was ruled not criminal and she was saved from a possible 10 year jail sentence.
So why were Gary and James not in celebratory mood? Because it wasn’t the win they (and Anita) had hoped for. “Contrary to the claims of many activists, the case did not put the ‘industry on trial’ or result in a ‘victory for animals’.”

On the charge sheet, Anita’s alleged offences were ‘criminal mischief’ and ‘interference with property’. So in a nutshell, the trial hinged on those two things: whether or not Anita was guilty of criminal mischief, and whether or not she had interfered with the property of a third party.

As for the criminal mischief, her team argued that giving water to thirsty pigs was acting for the public good. The judge agreed and dismissed the prosecution’s flimsy argument that the driver did not know if the water was in fact just water.

He also ruled that as the driver of the truck had no qualms about sending the pigs to slaughter in spite of Anita’s action, it was evident he did not believe the animals had been contaminated. The pigs’ ‘owner’ had suffered no financial loss, and his operation had not been affected in any way. There was no ‘interference with property’.


The most important part of Anita’s defence in terms of animal advocacy was the assertion that pigs are not property. As fully sentient, social, thinking, feeling beings, they are as much persons as we humans, and should be recognised as such in law. After all, if even corporations can be legal persons (and rivers and glaciers in some countries of the world), how much more pigs?

The defence called upon several expert witnesses, including Dr Lori Marino. Dr Marino sought to provide evidence that pigs are indeed persons, based on her years, if not decades, of rigorous scientific observation of, and research into different species of animals. Justice Harris chose to dismiss the eminent biopsychologist’s evidence as unscientific and biased – presumably because Lori is a vegan and animal advocate?

Justice Harris made it clear that under Canadian law, dogs and cats are property, and there are no legal grounds for considering pigs as anything other than property. Disappointing, but not surprising.


Ultimately commonsense prevailed with Anita’s acquittal. Commonsense would wonder why anyone performing the compassionate act of trying to relieve a fellow creature’s suffering should be charged with a criminal offence to begin with.

Which leads us to the sting in the tail of this whole story. The incident that sparked the whole commotion emanated from escalating tensions between the animal rights movement and the meat industry.

Gary and James believe that the truck driver’s confrontation of Anita in 2015 was deliberately staged in an attempt to put a stop to Toronto Pig Save’s thrice-weekly vigils. Unsurprisingly, the worst nightmare for those in the meat industry would be animal activism affecting their bottom line. It’s always all about the money.

Consequently, Van Boekel Hog Farms Inc are not happy with Thursday’s verdict. Fearmans Slaughter is not happy. Livestock farmers in Ontario at large are not happy.

“Organisations representing farms in Ontario expressed their disappointment with the decision, highlighting concerns that it would embolden animal rights activists and spark further confrontations between the two groups.

“Actions by Krajnc and activists like her should not be condoned by the courts as they threaten acceptable and legal farming practices and are a threat to food safety,” said Bruce Kelly of Farm and Food Care Ontario.” The Guardian

He added, “We can’t have a food system where people can interfere with food in any stage of the delivery. It’s not safe.” Global News. Some would say, including me, that slaughtering pigs for food is not safe – not safe for the pigs, and not safe for those who keep eating them.

This time, with this pig trial, the vested interests failed. They failed to shut the lid down on Toronto Pig Save, and by default other like-minded activists.

But Justice Harris’s summing up has practically handed the industry a blueprint for winning a conviction next time round. It’s ludicrously simple. Van Boekel Hog Farms’ prosecution of Anita fell down because the truck driver allowed the pigs to go to slaughter as usual, hence into the food supply chain. So all VBHF needs do next time is ‘euthanise’ just one animal declaring it tampered with, contaminated, and no longer fit for the food chain. Hey presto – ‘criminal mischief’ and ‘interference with property’ are proven, the defendant found guilty.

They will try again.


But meanwhile, “one of the unintended consequences of leveling criminal charges against her [Anita] is that the Pig Save movement has taken off. Last year, there were 50 such groups in North America. Now, she said, there are 150.” The Star

And here is this amazing, compassionate, fearless woman on the courthouse steps, after the trial.


Disclaimer I have tried to summarise in brief some of the main points of the trial, for my own benefit as much as anything, as a layperson. If I have misapprehended any of the legal niceties, please do not hesitate to bring them to my attention!

Footnotes

  1. During the trial, in presenting Anita’s defence, the lawyers refrained from referring to the Eric Van Boekel’s facility where the pigs were reared as a farm, instead using terms like ‘operation’ and ‘units’. After all, who in their right minds would consider such an intensive industrial facility a farm? Answer: the judge. Justice David Harris impatiently swept aside the defence team’s terminology and insisted the ‘hogs’ housing be referred to as barns, and the operation as a whole, a farm. He himself, he declared, was born and brought up on a farm. Does that raise questions of impartiality, I wonder?
  2. Other expert witnesses at the trial attempted to draw attention to environmental and animal welfare concerns surrounding the rearing, transport and slaughter of the pigs. Justice Harris dismissed these as irrelevant to the case and accused the witnesses of using the trial as a platform for animal activism. Well, why wouldn’t you?
  3.  Anita still faces another charge: of “obstructing police after a truck carrying pigs crashed near the Burlington slaughterhouse killing 42 of them. Krajnc was not blamed for the crash (the truck’s driver was charged with careless driving). But she was charged after Pig Save protestors at the scene crossed police lines in an effort to convince slaughterhouse workers to release some of the injured hogs to a pig sanctuary.” The Star

Sources

You can listen to Gary Grill and James Silver’s fascinating assessment of the case at Animal Liberation Currents

Judge acquits woman who gave water to pigs headed to slaughter – The Globe and Mail

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On April 29, We March for the Future

This is ‘From Truth to Justice’ Week. From the March for Science on Earth Day to the People’s Climate March this Saturday.
‘The Science March Was About Respecting Science, the People’s Climate March Is About Acting on It’
The president of the USA – who would be a joke if he weren’t so capriciously dangerous – may not care about what climate change is doing to the planet, but we do.
It is hard to avoid hyperbole when you talk about global warming. It is, after all, the biggest 
thing humans have ever done, and by a very large margin. In the past year, we’ve decimated the Great Barrier Reef, which is the largest living structure on Earth. In the drought-stricken territories around the Sahara, we’ve helped kick off what The New York Times called “one of the biggest humanitarian disasters since World War II.” We’ve melted ice at the poles at a record pace, because our emissions trap extra heat from the sun that’s equivalent to 400,000 Hiroshima-size explosions a day.
PolarBearFamily_iStock_160X150As for wildlife, look no further than the tragedy of starving polar bears. Which is why, just maybe, you should come to Washington, DC, on April 29 for a series of big climate protests that will mark the 100th day of Trumptime. Maybe the biggest thing ever is worth a day. Bill McKibben for The Nation

For some of us Washington DC is too hard to reach, but not to worry, we can still hit the streets and make our voices heard for the planet at any one of hundreds of the Peoples Climate Movement ‘sister marches’ all over the USA, and indeed, all over the world. Click here to find one near you.

If you really can’t make any of the marches, join the Virtual Wildlife Climate March here

Watch writer and environmentalist Bill McKibben, and his guests talk about climate change and climate action in this short video.

Week of Action From Truth to Justice: – Earth Day to May Day 2017

One amongst an exciting calendar of events in the Week of Action really caught my eye: an invitation to stand with the 21 youth plaintiffs suing the federal government for ‘perpetrating climate chaos’, in the case Juliana vs U.S.  It is predicted to be ‘the trial of the century’.

The youth plaintiffs will speak out from the steps of the United States Supreme Court – where their case may eventually be heard. Joined by their lawyers, supporting U.S. Senators and others, these youth will share the latest updates on their case, as well as song, fiery speeches and invitations to show your support.

Check out the full week’s program here

Find out everything you need to know about the Peoples Climate March here

Since farming livestock is responsible for 14.5% of greenhouse gases globally, you could do much worse than join the Plant-Powered Planet Protectors at the March. Says it all, in four words, doesn’t it – whoever dreamed up that group name deserves a medal! If you are serious about your interest in wildlife and in doing your bit to mitigate the grim effects of climate change – think polar bear – take the Center for Biological Diversity’s pledge to Take Extinction off Your Plate

Find out which species of wildlife are affected by climate change: USA here, UK here

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And when all the fun and flag-waving is over for the day, sign up for the free Food Revolution Summit, a week of illuminating talks from, amongst others, eminent doctors such as Michael Greger and Kim Williams. John Robbins kicks the whole thing off with “Lift-Off: Taking Action to Heal Yourself & the World”

Other experts, include Nathan Runkle who while still a boy of 15, founded Mercy for Animals. Nathan is an internationally renowned leader in the field of animal advocacy. He is talking on “How Mercy for Animals Can Transform Your Life” Check out all 24 visionary speakers’ profiles and their topics here.

For yourself, for the animals and for the planet

Happy smiles in the rain – people and posters from the March for Science here

Further reading post March for Science & Earth Day:

Julian L Wong advocate of ‘A Whole Person Economy’ tells us that science alone will not solve Earth’s problems for us. We need a much more radical solution – overturning ‘a political and economic system based on the indefinite and continuous extraction, exploitation, and wealth-hoarding of resources by the powerful few on a planet of finite natural resources. Addressing this root cause requires much more than advances in science and technology, but also requires significant advances in our understanding of how to shift patterns of human behavior on a systems and planetary scale (essentially, world cultures) so that, for instance, we collectively stop measuring success and progress through erroneous notions of “economic growth.”’

Read more of his fascinating piece here

This is of interest too Climate-induced species migrations could upend human society

But don’t get depressed! Mike Bloomberg, 3 times mayor of NYC gives us Six Reasons to Be Hopeful about Climate Change

For pics of the best posters and happy people smiling in the rain at Earth Day’s Science March, click here and here

Update

May 1st People’s Climate March Draws Massive Crowd in D.C. – Ecowatch

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Will Today be the Day Chimpanzees become Legal Persons?

Cover image: Getty

Today is a big day. Today lawyer Steven Wise of the NonHuman Rights Project will be presenting oral arguments in the New York Supreme Court in Manhattan on behalf of two chimpanzees, Tommy and Kiko.
In the fight to win legal person status for a nonhuman animal and what that would mean for nonhumans as a whole, this is the best and clearest article I’ve come across yet. It’s a decent length but truly worth reading through to the end. There cannot be much else as important as this for Animal Rights.

Should a Chimpanzee be Considered a Person?

“If we didn’t have rights, all we had was some statute that said you can’t be cruel to me, or that I’m entitled to some kind of welfare, the person who gave it to me can also take it away,” [NhRP President Steven M. Wise] said. Wise cited the example of environmental protections set forth by the Obama administration, which are now being rolled back by Trump. Essentially, if legislation can be passed, it can also be erased. Rights are more difficult to erode.”

“They used to bark at me when I walked into the courtroom,” lawyer Steven Wise said in the Sundance documentary Unlocking the Cage, which debuted on HBO last month. His use of the word “bark” is literal.

Wise, founder and president of the Nonhuman Rights Project, has spent his entire legal career preparing to represent the first chimpanzee plaintiffs in the U.S. court system. While he’s no stranger to having his life’s work—of attempting to get certain animals recognized as persons—poked fun at, he’s found that the courts have taken him seriously.

The distinction of “persons,” not “people,” is important. Part of the apparent absurdity is that on the surface, arguing for personhood might sound like saying a chimpanzee should have the same rights as an adult human, like the right to own property and vote in elections. Instead, the category of “person” is a legal one referring to a being entitled to certain fundamental rights. The case of the chimpanzees, Wise said, is about their right to bodily liberty—recognizing the animals as legal beings instead of “things.”

On March 16th, Wise will be presenting oral arguments in the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Judicial Department in Manhattan on behalf of Tommy and Kiko, two chimpanzees who appeared in movies in the 1980s and are now living in New York State in questionable conditions—Tommy, in a concrete cell at the back of a trailer lot in upstate New York, and Kiko, in a concrete storefront operated out of a private home in Niagara Falls. According to NhRP, Tommy has frequently been left with a small TV set as his only stimulation; Kiko has been photographed with a makeshift leash made of a padlock and chain around his neck. Both animals, kept in cages, are being deprived the natural habitats and socialization that chimps, known to thrive in large and organized societies, require.

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Steven Wise of the Nonhuman Rights Project arguing on behalf of the chimpanzee Tomm before the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division on Oct. 8, 2014, in Albany, N.Y. (Image: Mike Groll/AP)

Rather than attempt to sue or criminalize the chimps’ owners for cruelty, Wise is using a writ of habeus corpus to argue that these animals are being held against their rights as autonomous beings—autonomy being a “supreme common law value” recognized by the courts, as Wise explained.

“Scientifically speaking, autonomous beings have the capacity to freely choose how to live their lives. They are not cabined by instinct,” Wise told Gizmodo. He believes Tommy and Kiko should be released to true sanctuaries, with living conditions more akin to the jungles chimpanzees are native to, and importantly, other chimpanzees to socialize with. While nonhuman entities like corporations have, in the past, been named persons in the eyes of the law, Wise is the first to seek personhood status for nonhuman animals in a U.S. court. And if it can happen once, the door will be open to recognizing personhood in other cases of animal cruelty. Wise could set a precedent that changes the way nonhuman animals are seen in the eyes of the law forever.

Animal cruelty is usually fought piecemeal: Reports come out of an inhumane practice, an advocacy organization leads a reactionary campaign, and maybe a new law gets passed, or an offender is pressured to change their practices. David Coman-Hidy, executive director of The Humane League, says corporate boycotts are an effective tool. But it’s an imperfect system, because many forms of animal cruelty (like keeping chimps in isolation in concrete cages) are perfectly legal. Some laws are in place to protect nonhuman animals, but not nearly as many as you might think. Farm animals, the focus of THL’s work, “are afforded essentially no meaningful protections, legally,” Coman-Hidy said.

“Some of the most inhumane practices, like extreme confinement, are outlawed, but there’s very little [that is against the law to practice] in terms of slaughter.”

Farm animals, though not (yet) the subject of NhRP’s work, make a strong case in point. Specific forms of cruelty remain legal until—maybe—they’re not anymore. Meanwhile, other forms of cruelty remain the status quo. Wise’s approach, of arguing that animals are being not just mistreated, but being held against their rights as autonomous beings, is meant to upend this usual order.

“If we didn’t have rights, all we had was some statute that said you can’t be cruel to me, or that I’m entitled to some kind of welfare, the person who gave it to me can also take it away,” he said. Wise cited the example of environmental protections set forth by the Obama administration, which are now being rolled back by Trump. Essentially, if legislation can be passed, it can also be erased. Rights are more difficult to erode. As Wise put it, there’s a big difference “between having rights that you can enforce, and just being the object of protections that someone wants to give you.”

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Kanzi the chimpanzee as seen in Unlocking the Cage. (Image: Pennebaker Hegedus Films/HBO)

It’s been a few years since Wise first made headlines for filing on behalf of Tommy in 2013, and initially being rejected by a ruling and an appeals court by the end of 2014. Since then, his firm has also filed cases on behalf of the chimps Hercules and Leo, who were being held at Stony Brook University as biological subjects for study. Wise didn’t win that case either, but a public campaign (led by none other than Jane Goodall, primate expert and NhRP board member) is now pressuring Hercules and Leo’s owner, the New Iberia Research Center, to surrender the animals to a sanctuary in Florida.

Despite its losses, the NhRP is anything but discouraged.

According to Wise, Justice Barbara Jaffe, the judge in the First Department’s ruling on the Hercules and Leo case in 2015, agreed with “virtually everything” the NhRP presented. Jaffe wrote in her decision that “‘Legal personhood’ is not necessarily synonymous with being human,” and that the concept of legal personhood has “evolved significantly since the inception of the United States. Not very long ago, only caucasian male, property-owning citizens were entitled to the full panoply of legal rights.” But ultimately, Jaffe felt bound by a prior ruling against the NhRP—Tommy’s 2013 case in Albany—where the court said that to be a person you had to “assume duties and responsibilities.”

“The problem is,” Wise said, “millions of New Yorkers cannot assume duties and responsibilities.”

Wise is referring to what animal ethicists often call the “arguments from marginal cases”: if we define humanity, or personhood, as possessing a certain ability—in this case, the ability to assume responsibilities—what does that mean for the human beings who don’t? Are young children and those with disabilities less entitled to rights?

Few would say so. And this is where it gets messy when scholars and judges try to make logical distinctions between humans and other animals. The particular distinction the Albany court went with in the case of Tommy was that collectively, humans are able to assume duties, and chimps are not.

Wise is now armed to attack that assertion. The team has collected 60 pages of expert affidavits attesting to how chimpanzees in fact do assume responsibilities, both in chimpanzee-only and human-chimpanzee communities. At this stage, NhRP’s hope is the Manhattan court sets them up to appeal the Albany ruling. Considering it took almost 30 years between Wise getting the idea to argue for legal nonhuman personhood at all, and filing the first case, the process feels like a slow one. But Wise and his firm are in it for the long haul, and it’s entirely possible that one of their clients could be recognized as a person before the end of 2017. What’s more, NhRP is already looking outside of the Empire State.

Wise sees the bigger picture as a movement. He says the firm is in talks with lawyers in 11 different countries.

“We may be arguing in this courthouse way out in rural New York, but…people all over the world are paying attention to what we’re doing and why we’re doing it,” he said.

As of now, NhRP is gearing up to file a personhood case on behalf of circus elephants, and it’s looking into building a case for the orcas at SeaWorld in San Diego. Though the nature of the abuse and mistreatment is secondary to Wise’s legal argument, these cases are likely dire ones—abuses against circus elephants and SeaWorld orcas are well-documented. Large animals in captivity often suffer illness and developmental issues as a result of cramped and unnatural living spaces and breeding practices. Even worse, reports of violent abuse (beatings, confinement, use of ropes and shocks) in performing animal conditions are tragically common.

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Steve Wise with the chimpanzee Teko, as seen in Unlocking the Cage. (Image: Pennebaker Hegedus Films/HBO)

It would be no small victory for Wise to rescue even one of his clients from an unhappy life. But the greater value is the chance to set a precedent for the future. Future cases for nonhuman personhood in New York would be able to refer directly to the NhRP ruling, and a model would be provided for other states, even other nations.

“We’ve known from the beginning that ours will be a long-term fight continuous with and similar to other struggles for recognition of personhood and fundamental rights,” Wise said. That they’ve even made it this far, he says, is “a turn away from speciesist thinking.”

Kiko and Tommy, in other words, are only the beginning.

Support the important work of the NhRP here

Ariana DiValentino is a writer and filmmaker based in New York

Interview with Steve Wise on The Frank Beckmann Show

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