What do these two sentences mean to you?

Number One:

Nothing happens in a vacuum.

The first sentence is widely used today and was penned by some very wise person. Don’t know who, just know it wasn’t me. Khaled Hosseini, author of the The Kite Runner explains it this way:

 Nothing happens in a vacuum in life: every action has a series of consequences, and sometimes it takes a long time to fully understand the consequences of our actions.

Enslaved monkeys picking coconuts

Child Labor in the Congo

And how, pray tell does this concept relate to veganism and animal rights advocacy? Well, maybe a couple of years ago, I might have said, “Not very much”. We are advocating, I thought, specifically for  all species of animals trapped in all of our various death for profit industries: it is, without a doubt, our main focus and energy taker. Our actions are altruistic and meaningful and we know with a certainly that the consequences will eventually be far reaching and completely positive.

Long Hours and Poor Pay in the Cut Flower Industry

Driscoll Berries

But, I think a bit differently today and I struggle, even as I am writing this, to make some sense of what it is that I am actually feeling. Let me give “getting this down on paper” a whirl.

We live in a non vegan world with an ongoing history of persecution of all living beings, humans included. It would be shortsighted and completely untrue to say that we have evolved to the point of being kind, compassionate and just to our fellow “man/woman/child”.

Yes, as humans we have laws in place to protect our rights to agency over own lives. Causing physical harm to a person, stealing a person’s property, kidnapping, slandering someone’s character, driving intoxicated are illegal and carry often severe penalties if one is charged and convicted. But, have these laws which are all about justice created widespread justice in this world? We only have to look to the news to know that this is far from true. Syria, South Africa, Sweden(Stockholm attack), America are countries that come to mind here. And this is the world in which we advocate –  the messy, cruel, destructive and yes, sometimes joyous sphere we all call home.

Newborn Victim of the Dairy Industry

Bullfighting – Cruel Tools of the Trade

It would be imperceptive of us to advocate (operate in a vacuum of sorts) for the liberation of persecuted and exploited animals by saying they are the only ones who matter. I believe that it is incumbent on us to  at least acknowledge the very real suffering of humans at the hands of humans. If we cannot recognize and validate this suffering, we may be handcuffed in our efforts to appeal to marginalized groups for justice for our furry, feathered, sometimes hairless, exploited friends.

I am not advocating here for diluting the definition and message of veganism and the very real and meaningful work being done by so many dedicated AR Activists and vegans. Quite the contrary – I want to encourage us all to understand that all life matters as we go about seeking the liberation of some of the most intentionally abused and exploited on this earth – non human animals.

Number Two:

 All life is interconnected: it is our responsibility as humans to relieve all suffering when we able to do so.

This one I kind of made up. It is a compilation of all the  thoughts and perspectives of the amazing vegans and AR activists I have met online and in person. I can’t take any credit for it. The point made here is that suffering does not discriminate. If we are in a position to help alleviate said suffering, then why not do so? Being vegan is about the animals, but for me it also is about living in a space where the pain of others is anathema. I understand that I am not in a position to help everyone, but I will  do what I can while actively advocating within the rubric of veganism.

Jimmy Videle explains:

Being vegan does not make us automatically  ethical towards all beings or even the environment. For sure the animals, but is that enough?

So, here is what I do. When a video or snippet of information about the ongoing exploitation of marginalized individuals and groups, both human and non human, comes colliding into my “all about veganism” filled consciousness, I make a concerted effort to boycott said exploitation. Here are a few examples.

1) The Cut Flower Trade:

Slave labor for women and children, poor working conditions and pay, long hours and over exposure to harmful chemicals are typical of the Latin American and African (Ethiopia for instance) countries producing and exporting these “happy occasion” flowers to developed countries such as Canada, the UK, Japan and the US.

Fair Trade Associations do exist to provide improved conditions and protection for these vulnerable people but, in general, work conditions and pay remain very lacking for most.

52% of the global trade in cut flowers comes from the Netherlands, where said exploitation does not take place.

2) Cashews:

Shelling cashews causes physical harm to workers, mainly women, whose hands are burned by the toxic chemicals present in the outer shells.

Many of the women who work in the cashew industry(in India and Vietnam) have permanent damage to their hands from this corrosive liquid, because factories do not routinely provide gloves. For their pains they earn about 160 rupees for a 10-hour day: £1.70.  Cashews from Vietnam are sometimes shelled by drug addicts in forced labour camps, who are beaten and subjected to electric shocks.

Fair trade cashews are available in some areas, but may be very expensive.

We can always boycott this product and find other “crunchies” on which to munchie.

3) Driscoll Berries:

The vast majority of the farm workers in the fields of San Quintin are indigenous migrant laborers from Mexico’s poorest states… Their demands include raising the daily minimum wage to the equivalent of about $20, reducing the average workday from 12 to eight hours, payment of overtime for work performed on Sundays, the right to organize independent of the official unions and an end to rampant sexual abuse of women in the fields.

The workers who pick berries for this distributor have asked for a consumer boycott  until their issues are tabled and their rights respected. Reports of the mistreatment are compelling.

4) Cobalt Mining in the Congo:

Poverty stricken children and adults are used to mine and wash the cobalt exported for the batteries in our Smart Phones, iPads, iPods, computers, electric cars and so on. The conditions are extremely poor and the pay does not even cover living expenses. While it is challenging to avoid using these products in our daily life, it is possible to minimize the number of devices we own, to avoid trading up as soon as the newest model hits the market and to buy re-conditioned, especially in the case of computers.

While major companies such as Apple are aware of this issue, they say that they are investigating, but do not always know how to determine whether the cobalt is mined equitably. I am not sure that I quite believe this stance.

5) Monkeys Used To Pick Coconuts:

In some regions of the world,(especially Thailand) pig-tailed macaques are intentionally bred and trained – often with punishment – to harvest coconuts. The monkeys are always tethered to their “handler” and are not permitted to eat the coconuts they collect.

Animal Place: Our Approved list includes companies that do not use monkeys and, also important, that engage in practices protecting the rights of human workers as well (e.g. fair trade, no child labor.)

Annie’s Vegan View

Contact companies before buying their products, especially where there is evidence of abuse in the industry.

Avoid buying, wherever possible, the products of companies which exploit others.

Ask companies to improve their working conditions and pay and not to use slave labor if they are doing so.

Inform people of these human and non human rights violations.

While we cannot do everything to alleviate the mass suffering in the world, there is always something that we can do.

Let us all try to tread softly on this planet for the sake of all living beings on it.

May all beings be happy and free.

Anne

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12 thoughts on “Veganism and Addressing the Abuse and Suffering of all Species of Animals

  • April 12, 2017 at 10:20 am
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    Hi Anne,
    That was an interesting and thought provoking article to read. I agree with you that nothing happens in a vacuum and that all life is connected. We all have a responsibility while we walk this earth to look after it and also one another, human animal and non-human animal alike.

    I didn’t know about some of the exploitation that happens with humans until I read about it on some of your Facebook posts and I will now do my best to boycott these products. I am sure the things you describe are only the tip of the iceberg too. The exploitation is hidden, same as in the animal industries. It is up to us to share with others what really goes on.

    I am learning a lot from your articles and posts

    Thank you

    Rachel

    Reply
    • April 14, 2017 at 10:13 am
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      Hi Rachel,
      It is always good to have your feedback and I am glad that you are enjoying my articles.
      I posted only several of the issues highlighting the exploitation of humans by humans and, of course, there are so many cases of exploitation of non humans by humans. Palm oil is a big one and this oil is in so many of the products we produce.
      Boycotting those we know about is certainly a step in the right direction.
      Take care,
      Anne

      Reply
  • April 12, 2017 at 2:05 pm
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    I believe that exploitation/cruelty to animals is the root cause of how we treat each other. If we were taught to respect all life from birth, we would treat each other better too. Many people are working to change the injustices to our fellow humans, but it’s really only vegans who are concentrated on fixing the root cause of those injustices. It may not be enough, but it’s vastly important to create a vegan world if we are to create a better world for humans too.

    Reply
    • April 14, 2017 at 10:15 am
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      Hi Murray,

      I agree with you there. It is why we do what we do. I always remember being so struck by Dr. Tuttle’s words in his book, The World Peace Diet.

      As vegans and AR activists there are many things we can do to relieve suffering when we are made aware, like the examples in my article. It takes nothing away from our advocacy to include others where possible. I think this is what Will Tuttle means when he talks about enlightenment.

      Take care,
      Anne

      Reply
    • April 14, 2017 at 10:16 am
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      Hi Friend,

      Thank you very much. That is high praise coming from you.

      Good luck with the move and see you on the flip side.

      Take care,
      Anne

      Reply
  • April 12, 2017 at 5:59 pm
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    We can always do more. There is always more to research, more to discover about the exploitations that exist. Some things to consider:
    Buy used, recycled or repair whenever possible, even things that you would never consider in the past like underwear. It may be weird, but is the exploitation of a bangladeshi worker worth what lies under your pants?
    As far as food goes: In all of my reseach, it is best to buy your veggies, fruits, mushrooms and herbs as close to home as possible. It is also important to buy organic (until veganic becomes available), because the damage done by the chemical pesticides and herbicides on our small mammal, bird, insect and aquatic animal and insect friends is mammoth. So if in Canada, buy canadian or from the US, the workers picking the produce (especially in the US) are very likely to be migrant (leagl and illegal) laborers. But a little research can reveal the truly exploitative companies. It may seem like a lot of work, to research all your food and where it comes from, but three meals a day we can make a difference and if all of us do it, it has a huge impact.
    When you learn the shocking news (like I did with the monkeys in Thailand), Stop buying coconut milk.

    We will all exploit each other, the earth and our animal friends, whether consciously or unconsciously as per capita canadians produce the most greenhouse gas emissions per person and use the most water per person. The point is to become completely conscious and limit the exploitation. It is possible, we individually have to do more than what we have ever thought possible.

    On the bright side, every vegan day we live makes a difference, for all animals (human and non-human) 🙂
    Write, gather, share, and cooperate for a more beautiful, loving existence!

    https://wri.org/blog/2014/11/6-graphs-explain-world%E2%80%99s-top-10-emitters

    Reply
  • April 14, 2017 at 10:28 am
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    Hi Jimmy,

    It is amazing to be able to benefit from all the research you have done and continue to do.

    I was into repairing small appliances for instance since way before I was vegan. It is tough though, because so many of them have planned obsolescence built into them. The broken widget on the blender is often a bit different than the replacement widget on the newest model. As we say in our family, :”Fuzzent dit” – doesn’t fit!

    As you know, I do have a lot of stuff collected from many years of owning a home, but try now not to be enticed by the newest bauble to hit the market.

    I like the info about buying fruit and veggies and other food stuffs. This is what I find to be the most confusing. And, for many, the cost of organic food can be prohibitive.

    Nutiva produces a coconut oil that does not use monkeys in its production, but I still have not found coconut milk that does not. So, I agree with you, no coconut milk unless I find a company that does not use slave labour.

    Did not know that about Canada, but am not all that surprised. We might be “nice” by reputation but have a poor record in our treatment of non human animals and the environment.

    Just hired someone to build our raised cedar veggie bed and will have a stab at growing some our own food again this year.

    We are never too old to learn – never too old to live vegan.

    Take care,
    Anne

    Reply
  • April 15, 2017 at 4:45 pm
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    I think that having raised beds and growing vegetables is something everyone should think about and put into action. Talk about food security 🙂

    Always learning, always vegan!

    Reply
    • April 18, 2017 at 8:48 am
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      Hi Jimmy,
      “Always learning, always vegan.” I like that. It is amazing and wonderful to me that the more we learn, the hungrier we are for knowledge.
      Take care,
      Anne

      Reply
  • April 30, 2017 at 8:00 am
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    I’m so sorry to be so far behind in reading and commenting. And apologies in advance because my comment will not be as articulate as I would like, not because I don’t agree with you, but because I try very hard to not write some of my opinions nowadays because I know that so many people might read the words we all write as writers and commenters and so I want to be careful on certain specific topics.

    Before this comment of mine becomes too cryptic and off the rail, let me move along. I appreciate what you wrote and the information you’ve shared. I have compassion for innocent humans who suffer. Sadly, I still see things as overall being a humanity vs. every one else kind of situation and it’s come from living for over 10 years (both inside the US and outside) in multi-cultural societies. There are glimmers of hope – some of them, all of us vegans know about – others from my personal day to day experiences, that make me feel glad to know/know that there is human goodness in the world in the way we vegans all hope for. But a certain characteristic of humanity, regardless of culture, has created such a stronghold for the mindset of speciesism, that makes no sense. It isn’t right for a human being to mistreat any other living creature no matter who they are. And the fact that we see ourselves as separate within our own species isn’t accidental, but it is our own fault. And the fact that we see ourselves as above any other species isn’t accidental and is so absolutely incorrect, but will take almost a “miracle” to overcome. And that particular mistake is far worse than what we do to each other in my eyes.

    And the fact that our species has created a world in which it is absolutely not possible to be entirely cruelty free unless you go away from human society and live alone or with a non-human society is very telling. Thanks for your post and sorry to be so late to comment and that my comment was so censored that I hope it didn’t come off “wrong”. … I hope you’re well and maybe have been able to go back to Esther and her family’s place! 🙂 If you posted about that, I haven’t seen it yet due to being so far behind.

    Reply
    • May 4, 2017 at 9:46 am
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      Hi Krissa,

      It is good to hear from you and I hope that you are doing well. I continue to have hope for all beings on this earth, , humans included and will try to extend my compassion to them as well despite all the ongoing human created atrocities we see in the world today.

      I appreciate your viewpoint and you are always welcome to share it here. It is through such dialogue that we learn from one another and expand the movement in a positive direction.
      I have not been back to see Esther – perhaps this summer. We shall see.

      Take care,
      Anne

      Reply

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