What do these two sentences mean to you?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.