We were at the grocery store the other day, perusing the vegan section for any new developments, when a deli worker strolled up and informed us of a “special” on fried-chicken[s] the store was offering. Now, usually when someone offers us the carcass of a tortured dead animal, we respectfully reply, “No thanks, we’re vegan.”
But as soon as she (the deli worker) mentioned the birds on offer, we thought of the article by Gary L. Francione titled “We’re all Michael Vick”. In the article, Francione talks about people’s reactions to the horrors Vick put animals through – simply for his own pleasure – and how Vick’s behavior is really not that dissimilar to much of our own behavior. He points out that our consumption of animal products subjects animals to conditions and abuses that are strikingly similar to what Vick’s animals suffered. He describes a situation in which, when asked by a stranger about the Vick fiasco, he tries to point out the discrepancy between thought and behavior as they pertain to the Vick scenario. He found a teaching moment at a gas station.
So when posed this question about the “deal” on carcass, we responded, “Do you think it odd, at all, that we are so upset about the BP disaster and all the images of oil-soaked dead birds, yet we casually dine on the carcasses of other oil-soaked dead birds?” She sort-of half-heartedly agreed and walked away, so maybe it wasn’t the best teaching moment execution. Or maybe she is mulling it over right now. Either way, as a result of this conversation we have been thinking about many other aspects of the BP spill and our general behavior before, and after, the spill. Our considerations have mushroomed into a small body of thought that will continue after this tragically hilarious graphic we made.
We’re all BP. BP has managed to cover thousands of birds in oil. When the birds are covered in oil, their feathers don’t work as they are intended. Obviously, this means the birds can’t fly, but the feathers also help regulate body temperature. So when covered in oil, the birds start to overheat. Combined with the intense tropical sun in the gulf, the birds start to literally deep-fry until they die in agony. Pretty gruesome, huh? Well, one difference between BP’s fried pelican and last night’s fried chicken is that BP’s was an accident. Every year we purposefully boil billions – billions! – of birds in oil without a second thought. Most of the birds we kill (on purpose) live their entire lives in a cage with space no bigger than a standard envelope. After having their throats slit, many are immersed in boiling water while still conscious, to remove their feathers. Then they’re eviscerated, chopped into pieces, dipped in their liquid babies, dredged in flour, and boiled in artery-clogging oil – for us to stuff our faces with. And we’re pissed at BP about a few pelicans. And don’t even get us started on foie gras or down. Compared to our insatiable appetite for winged-torture and death, BP pales in comparison to suffering caused.
But it’s not just birds dying in the gulf, right? It’s sea turtles, dolphins, crustaceans, mollusks, fish, and innumerable other species of life. Well, let’s examine our relationship to these creatures before they were tainted by BP’s Eternal Fountain of Filth (thanks, Devo!) Fishing, shrimping, and all other forms of oceanic hunting have been affected by this disaster. We all saw the news report about the shrimper who burst into BP’s senate hearings with “oil” on her hands and demanded criminal charges be brought against BP. But what’s really happened, objectively? BP killed a bunch of animals accidentally, which made it harder for other people who make a living killing animals to kill animals. Regardless of who’s doing the killing, the animals are gonna’ get killed one way or another. The only difference is that some of the animals killed by the hydro-hunters would have been consumed by people. The other animals killed by the sea-going-serial-killers are either fed to land animals so we can fatten them up and kill and eat them, or they are casually tossed back into the gulf to die a slow, miserable death.
Shrimp aren’t the only animals killed by shrimpers. 16 pounds of by-catch – unwanted and useless animals – are killed or maimed for us to get 1 pound of shrimp. Again, sea turtles, dolphins, manatees, pelicans, jellyfish and myriad other species are killed or maimed as a result of our lust for sea-flesh and resulting by-catch. And it’s not just shrimping that results in by-catch. Every form of aquatic murder results in the deaths of unintended species. So before BP got here, we were already consciously and brutally pillaging the sea-life in the gulf, with little to no regard for non-target species. We were eating some of what we killed, but much was “collateral murder” to begin with. The slight difference between the Domestic-Dahmers (US) and the Gulf-Gacys (BP) is that the BP spill is 100% by-catch, so to speak. We claim to care about the wildlife needlessly dying because of BP’s acts, yet we commit what amounts to genocide to the same wildlife in order to please our taste buds – something equally needless. Along with the hypocrisy involved in showing a callous disregard for animal life in action while professing to be horrified and outraged by other’s callous disregard for the same animals, there are the environmental consequences.
Like the dead zone. Yeah, the part of the gulf stretching 500 miles in all directions from the base of the Mississippi River that contains such high levels of nitrogen and CO2 that one of the only forms of life that it can sustain is jellyfish. This was here long before the BP spill and is a result of our farming practices all along the (not so) Mighty Miss. Most of the Mississippi River is just an effluent stream from our factory farms and use of synthetic fertilizers. You see, much of the by-catch we kill goes to feeding other animals we plan on killing; animals in factory farms. We cram animals together in factory farms, spray them and their feed with pesticides, inject them with antibiotics, and then shovel their ridiculously copious amounts of nitrogen and synthetic-chemical-laden feces into our waterways – like the Mississippi. Along with runoff from farms using synthetic fertilizers used to grow corn for feed and biofuels, this fecal soup travels down towards the Gulf making the entire aquatic ecosystem virtually uninhabitable wherein it eventually makes it to the Gulf and creates what we call a dead zone. So we were already shitting where we eat long before BP decided to join us.
Our demand for animal-products (including meat, sea-meat, dairy, eggs, leather, wool, down, and all other products that result from animal exploitation) and our reliance on synthetic fertilizers for crop production (most of which gets fed to animals) are inherently unsustainable, have dire unintended consequences, and depend heavily on negating harmful externalities – just like drilling for oil (with or without relief wells or safety protocols in place).
This is not a defense of BP, or a Palin-esque rally cry to “Drill, baby drill!”. This is an appeal to reason. We as the pot need to stop calling the kettle black. Our practices were destroying the Gulf long before BP fucked up. The difference is that BP didn’t expect – or intentionally bring about – their oil spill, while we knowingly pollute the water and ravage the ecosystem, draining it of all it’s life while simultaneously destroying it’s ability to sustain life. They failed to use proper safety measures and had no effective response protocol. So have we for the past 50+ years. Because of our combined carelessness, the mutilation of the Gulf of Mexico is likely to be a long lasting and devastating infliction, brought about by our general carelessness and lack of foresight. Instead of pointing out problems, it might be more effective to discuss solutions. Rather than expecting BP, Obama, JP Morgan Chase or anyone else to find an effective solution, what can we, as individuals do? What can we do in our own lives to try and mitigate the effects of this disaster, one of so many our world faces? What can we do to try and prevent this from happening again?
It’s more than obvious that we need to change the source of our energy, but we as individuals have little to no options when it comes to trying to change the infrastructure of energy production without drastically reducing our quality of life. We are so dependent on oil and fossil fuels in general, if one were to try and stop consuming them, the attempt would leave one living under basically stone-age conditions. Most everything we consume is dependent on fossil fuels either to be produced or to be transported to market. From our gasoline to our cars themselves. From the shoes on our feet to the gel in our hair. From veggies to meat, books to computers, you name it and oil was involved. The current problems we face are, arguably, only solvable through the wise use of what little energy-producing goo we have left. Inefficiency cannot be tolerated when resources are so limited and obtaining more resources is so dangerous. (As demonstrated in the Gulf and every oil spill previous.) We need to use our existing non-renewable energy wisely while developing alternative methods of energy capture in order to effectively and efficiently abrogate our use altogether with as smooth a transition as possible. This is not going to be accomplished in any way if we continue to use our limited resources in the ways we do. Driving a car with decent gas mileage is a much more efficient use of energy to achieve the goal of rapid transport than feeding cows 16 pounds of energy-intensive grain to produce 1 pound of exponentially intensive beef is to achieve the goal of feeding ourselves. Animal agriculture and the fruits of it’s inefficiency are testimony to the wasteful tendencies we have adopted as a whole. Hummers are another.
Using plastic bags instead of re-usable bags is a waste of our limited resources, even though the reusable bags are dependent on fossil fuels (and probably chinese sweatshops) for their production and transport to market. Still, rather than giving up on re-usable bags because of the dinosaurs it took to produce them and using plastic, or foraging for food not using bags altogether and awkwardly carrying our items to our electricity-less cave – that is, rather than try and give up fossil fuels altogether in some vain quest for eco-martyrdom – we could consume in a way that uses our existing energy resources wisely and possibly mitigate the adverse effects of our current practices. Using our existing sources of energy for making reusable bags is a much more efficient and wiser use than churning out billions of throwaway bags. Using fossil fuels to grow grains and eat them directly is a much more efficient and wiser use of our current energy resources than growing grains and feeding them to animals so we can eat the animals. On the road to fossil-fuel independence is the need to use our existing energy infrastructure as efficiently as possible. Most of us don’t own giant corporations which have the ability to create a new energy infrastructure, or the means to be energy-independent, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a say in the matter. Just because we can’t remove ourselves totally from supporting fossil fuel consumption doesn’t mean we can’t make conscious decisions to improve our efficiency and reduce our impact along with creating a demand for alternative methods.
Aside from the obvious things – recycle, reduce, reuse – what we choose to buy before the need to rely on the three Rs is a major factor in determining the efficiency of our oil consumption. We vote with our dollars, and really this is the only vote most of us have. What we purchase, and who we purchase from, dictates what is sold and how it is made. We don’t buy many cars or bikes, compared to things like food and beauty products. We buy gasoline more frequently, but there aren’t many realistic options as alternatives available. Many of our purchases meet our goals in a way that is relatively efficiently met by our use of fossil fuels. That’s not to say their production and transportation efficiency couldn’t be improved, just that some uses of our limited energy supply are more efficient than others. Some goods do not meet these goals efficiently and are actually quite inefficient and absolutely unsustainable – even if we had unlimited renewable energy supplies. The worst and most frequently consumed of these would be animal products. This UN report points out the inherent inefficiency and un-sustainability of producing animal products in an ever increasingly populated world.
So back to the question: What simple things can we do, individually, to help prevent this from happening in the future and to try and mitigate the destruction already wreaked?
All you need is L.O.V.E.
The L.O.V.E. life is a commitment to four principles of consumption:
Local – Buying locally produced goods provides many benefits. It cuts down on the energy needed to transport products to market, it helps ensure the money stays in the local economy, and it is a good way to avoid goods made by exploiting low wages in developing nations. By supporting smaller community-based businesses, relationships between consumer and purveyor can be cultivated on a much deeper level, influencing business practices quicker and more effectively. Buying locally produced goods made from locally produced raw materials is the next step, and ensures even more security in knowing the processes and practices of production are traceable.
Organic – Buying organic helps ensure that unsustainable farming practices are not used to produce the food, clothing, bath and cosmetic products, and household cleaners, soaps, and detergents we buy. It also ensures that we are not exposed to harmful chemical residues, irradiation, genetic-engineering and a host of other toxic materials. It helps preserve the air, water, soil, and ourselves.
Vegan – The best thing we can do for ourselves, the animals, and the environment is to refrain from using any animal products, products tested on animals, or supporting any practices involving animal exploitation in any aspect of our lives where it is avoidable. Using animals for human purposes is unnecessary, unsustainable, and it violates all animals’ inherent right to not be treated as property by humans. Eating animal products has been repeatedly demonstrated to be harmful to humans, wearing animal skins or furs is simply barbaric (it is 2010 after all, we have people living in space and we still walk around in skins and furs like neanderthals), and testing on animals to discover anything about humans is unscientific and, put simply, stupid. Rodeos, bullfights, aquariums, zoos – all testaments to the fact that we are not civilized yet. Any society that accepts putting a bird in a cage is severely disturbed. We can do better. We can avoid all of these things so easily, and make one step in the right direction towards achieving humanity.
Ethical – All of the above practices could be utilized for purely selfish reasons – buying local to make sure one gets the freshest most nutritious food, or for the highest quality hand-made goods; buying organic because one wants to avoid harmful pesticide residue or gene-altering GMOs; eating vegan for health. And this the reason for the last principle. To commit to a L.O.V.E. life, you gotta have the love for others, not just the self. Making sure what we buy doesn’t come at the expense of others is a prime requirement of such a profound – yet profoundly simple in practice – commitment. It seems like common sense, but most of us would be surprised by how little we know about the history of our purchases. This last principle simply asks us to take steps, not simply for ourselves but for others – hoping that they might do the same – to inform ourselves about what effect our day-to-day decisions might have on those whom provide us with the goods we consume, the environment, and society in general.
The L.O.V.E. life asks us to simply be aware of what impact we have on others, to bear witness to and take responsibility for the consequences of our actions, and to change our behavior to align with our beliefs. Isn’t this what we’re demanding of BP? If we’re all BP, isn’t this what we should be demanding of ourselves?
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