G.A. Bradshaw PhD, PhD

Bear in Mind

Awakening

A brilliant new book describes an emerging utopic today.

Posted Feb 21, 2015

Teja Pribac Brooks

Compassion is a verb. –Thích Nhất Hạnh

Farm animal abuse has been a central issue in the animal rights movement for decades, yet rarely, if ever, does it make headlines in the mainstream media. But a recent New York Times front page exposé on meat industries made it clear that animal rights can no longer be relegated to eye-rolling eccentricity.[1] Humans are stepping up to animal kin by stepping down from our species’ millennia-long reign of privilege. Signs, both sheepish and righteous, are everywhere.

Ever alert to new trends, big business now recognizes the “market for vegan and vegetarian food choices. . .is growing fast, driven by consumer concerns ranging from health and economics to the environment and animal welfare.”[2]  Former Burger King and Pepsi executives Brian and Kelly Swette have “ditched meat to bet on plant based protein” and opened their own plant-based company.[3] Forbes calls veganism “one of the top ten food trends.”[4] A bastion of animal-product food, MacDonald’s nonetheless insists that while they “don't offer any certified vegetarian options at this time,” many “menu items can be customized without meat” and they “encourage you to order however you like—if that means without meat, we'll gladly prepare that for you.”[5]

Some shake their heads clucking no, no no, “animal abuse has never been worse.”[6] Yet, while reasons may vary, the global dietary shift says otherwise, and it means salvation for billions upon billions of nonhuman animals. Change is broad and deep.

Gypsy Wulff, used with permission.

Some seek refuge with the plant kingdom because of epidemic health scares associated with animal products. Other veganauts seek to break the chain between global warming, rainforest decimation, and meat production. But, underneath the trendy silk, there is a burgeoning cadre who venture well beyond the dinner table. Not satisfied with Meatless Mondays, these plant-based eaters are part of a social sea change demanding pan-species democracy. [7] The beautiful new book, Turning Points in Compassion: Personal Journeys of Animal Advocates, showcases the kaleidoscope of this radical change.[8]

Edited by Gypsy Wulff and Fran Chambers, Turning Points in Compassion presents a veritable garden of stories by sixty-three authors. The diversity in contributor nationalities, backgrounds, professions, and ages is testimony that animal rights has come of age.  

Harold Brown starts off with the story of his conversion to animal advocate from industry farmer, whose everyday life entailed “castrating calves, killing rabbits, with my bare hands, beating cows onto trailers.” His moment of truth was triggered by a heart attack at age eighteen. Prompted by his doctor, Brown switched diets from animal products to healthier fodder. But, he discovered, this wasn’t enough, “something was still missing.” Brown’s turning point happened one day, in sanctuary, with a young steer, Snickers, whom he had befriended. When Brown called out, Snickers,

Teja Brooks Pribac

came running, planting his forehead into my chest with a thump. I wrapped my arms around his neck and gave him a hug and at that moment something amazing happened within me. It is hard to put into words but it was as if there was a torrent of emotion flooding through me and I immediately had some profound revelations. It was as if the last layer of my emotional armour had broken away.

Lynda Stoner, Animal Liberation New South Wales, Australia and former television actress, describes her turning point. It came

during my first few weeks of filming Cop Shop, when I stopped in my tracks as TV news showed footage of seal pups in Canada being bludgeoned to death and sometimes skinned alive. The image so distressed and haunted me that it became the pivotal point in me seeking out information about other animals being persecuted for skins and food.

The entrée to animal protection was different for Claire Abrams Myers. When she was twelve, Claire’s parents, Erika Abrams and Jim Meyers, picked up and moved to Udaipur, India. Together, the three founded Animal Aid Unlimited, a rescue and sanctuary facility to care for homeless and abandoned street animals. [9] Now twenty-three, Claire has lived the new paradigm most of her life:

We’re in a terribly exciting time in the history of man in which millions of people around the world are evolving right before our eyes in what seems like almost quantum leaps. Left and right, people’s levels of other-awareness and compassion in the form of animal and environmental protection are increasing exponentially.

Chapter after chapter describes the Janus experience of revelation—the torment of awakening to mass suffering juxtaposed to the exhilaration of salvation and enlightenment. Jenny Brown, co-founder and director of the U.S.-based Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, recites the litany of knee-buckling statistics:

Each year in the United States alone, a staggering ten billion animals are killed for human consumption—and that doesn’t include aquatic animals. Ten billion! Almost sixty billion worldwide. It’s hard to wrap your head around a number like this, let alone stop to consider that each was a someone—someone who had a personality, likes and dislikes, a mother and father they never got to know—a personal story and history unique to them.

Sandra Higgins

Sandra Higgins, founder of Eden Farm Animal Sanctuary and The Compassion Foundation of Ireland, speaks to the violent reality masked by “happy cows “and “talking rabbits” that makes up the fabric of modern society: [10]

Fact is the mother who bellows for her calf as she is taken from her so that we can have her milk. Fact is the hen who prolapsed whilst laying the egg that humans so thoughtlessly consume for breakfast. Fact is the searing, prolonged pain that follows dehorning, debeaking, branding, the extraction of teeth, testicles and tails without pain relief or anaesthesia. Fact is the premature loss of life of the very young animals who are slaughtered at the rate of billions every year for reasons of human taste, convenience and culture.

Many admit that after learning about who and how a hamburger, a glass of milk, or turkey sandwich was rendered, could never eat meat or dairy again. Despite the stare of facts, millions of others continue living in cognitive dissonance. Harold Brown describes his own experience:

I had the mental image of a light switch right over my heart. I call it my compassion switch. I realised I had developed the capacity to turn it on and off as circumstances dictated. Of course it was always my choice but at that moment I understood I had ‘learnt’ to turn it on for certain people and animals, and to turn it off for others.

Resistance and denial involve something else—animal rights re-defines the who and what constitutes the “social contract.”  Lynda Stoner recounts the social pressures her son faced as a child:

While in infant school, [Luke] stood up at assembly and spoke about the plight of battery hens. He was teased and ridiculed at school for being vegetarian, but nothing and no one could sway him from his powerful love and protection of animals.

Even the most basic of relational sacraments are questioned. For Louis Gedo, a watershed moment arrived when, after school one day, his “pet” chickens were missing. He waited until after dinner to ask his mother where they were:

My mom, after getting the nod of okay from my father, told me some of the chickens were now in the refrigerator and some were in my stomach.

Margo DeMello

Today, when Gedo is “not working, sleeping or eating I am an animal rights activist. Every opportunity I get I speak out on behalf of the rights animals deserve.” As Emma Haswell confesses, these realizations penetrate cellular identity:

The things I have seen in factory farms and the shame I have felt at being a human will stay with me for life.

Today, there is little room to run and little room to hide from the inevitable truth. Even science admits that the perceptual and conceptual illusion of fundamental differences between species is delusional. Humanity is faced with coming to terms with its Dorian Gray fantasy whose tenure has only been possible through the unwilling sacrifice of animal kin. How, asks Patty Mark, president and founder of Animal Liberation Victoria (ALV), Australia, if “we share sentience with animals, why should they be excluded from moral consideration and the freedom to live their own lives?”[11,12]

The answer lies before us.  Teja Brooks Pribac:

If one lives with sheep, as I do, in a trans-species intersubjective space aiming for equality rather than exploitation, the general instrumentalizing attitude towards the Sheep People, who tend to be considered no more than a lump of wool and tissue to be mutilated, traded and eventually slaughtered for human greed, is irreconcilable with what I see. The same applies to other nonhuman animals systematically exploited for human interest. Generally speaking, I believe that avoiding animal products is a necessary step towards a better world, and represents a minimum of ethical decency.

We may, as Kyle Behrend believes,

live in troubled times; we are indeed at a cusp and which way we tilt will determine the future of the planet. My take on this is that kindness is the key to a better world for all, kindness towards each other, towards the planet and towards animals.

In short, the answer is simple: storms of inner and outward conflict logically resolve by becoming the verb of honesty and kindness.

Literature Cited

[1] Moss, M. 2015. U.S. Research Lab Lets Livestock Suffer in Quest for Profit. The New York Times. Retrieved February 19, 2015 from  http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/20/dining/animal-welfare-at-risk-in-exper...

[2] Strom, S. 2013. With Juice and Vegan Trends, a Company Aims for National Exposure. The New York Times. Retrieved February 19, 2015 from  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/24/business/organic-avenue-says-juice-and...

[3] Zacharias, N. 2015. Why These Former Burger King and Pepsi Execs Ditched Meat To Bet on Plant-Based Protein. One Green Planet. Retrieved February 19, 2015 from  http://www.onegreenplanet.org/environment/sweet-earth-natural-foods-plan...

[4] Bender, A. 2014. Top 10 Food trends of 2014. Forbes. Retrieved February 19, 2015 from http://www.forbes.com/pictures/ehlk45jhll/high-end-vegan

[5] MacDonald’s. 2015. Our food. Your question. Retrieved February 19, 2015 from http://www.mcdonalds.com/us/en/your_questions/our_food/are-there-vegetar...

[6] Abrams, L. 2014. The surprising reason why the animal rights movement is failing. Salon. Retrieved February 19, 2015 from  http://www.salon.com/2014/12/21/the_surprising_reason_why_the_animal_rig...

[7] Meatless Monday. 2015  Retrieved February 19, 2015 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meatless_Monday

[8] Wulff, G. and Chambers, F. 2015. Turning Points in Compassion. SpiritWings Humane Education, Inc. Retrieved February 19, 2015 from http://www.turningpointsincompassion.info

[9] Animal Aid Unlimited. Retrieved February 19, 2015 from http://www.animalaidunlimited.com

[10] Eden Farm Sanctuary. Retrieved February 19, 2015 from http://www.edenfarmanimalsanctuary.com

[11] Animal Liberation Victoria. Retrieved February 19, 2015 from http://www.animal-liberation.org.au

[12] Southerly Journal. Retrieved February 19, 2015 from http://southerlyjournal.com.au/2015/02/19/australian-dreams-2

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