Category: Vegan aMusing

Ethical EatsGuest BloggersVegan aMusingVeganism

It’s Not all About the Food. But OMG – the FOOD!

There is something about vegans and food. Specifically, vegans and their food. I know that that is somewhat of a sweeping generalisation, but I can confidently declare that most of the vegan crowd I hang with sure do have a thing about the glory of what they choose to eat.

Years ago, as a child discovering my world, I was eating my dinner in front of television with my father. That was quite the norm in our house. Suddenly overcome with that childlike curiosity, I asked Dad where meat comes from. Wouldn’t you know it, a cow just happened to be on the screen, right then. Saving himself too much trouble, he pointed at the cow and simply said, “Them.”

What a slap in the face! Never would I have expected that I was eating the very beings for who I felt so much love and connection, even as a four-or-five year old. “I’m never eating meat again,” I spluttered. The irony of that scenario is that I didn’t have the remotest clue as to what was involved in turning a living, breathing, sentient being into a piece of flesh on a plate, but just like that, I knew it was wrong.

My resolve must have lasted at least for a meal or two. I made a couple of attempts at vegetarianism in my teens, even though Mum always made sure I at least ate gravy so that I would get some “goodness”. (Vegetables obviously weren’t good). It wasn’t until after I had moved out of home, had turned 26 and above all, witnessed the foulest thing I had ever seen to that point in my life (the commercial slaughter of a cow) that I finally gave up eating meat for good. Blissfully ignorant of things like battery cages and bobby calves, of castration without anaesthetic and infants being torn from their mothers, I carried right on eating eggs and dairy. I made especially certain that I got my three serves of dairy every day so that my skeleton wouldn’t desiccate by the time I turned 40 (yeah, clever marketing, dairy industry).

Besides, I was particularly fond of scrambled eggs, ice cream and – the big one – cheese.

If I were inclined to wallow, I would waste energy on wondering why it took another 17 years before I properly became vegan. Because it was only when I made my commitment to that philosophy and lifestyle, that something profound happened to my food. The Food Blinkers came off!

I can bet money that many vegans reading this will be nodding their head and smiling wryly in agreement. It’s not intellectual; it’s this thing we viscerally understand. Our lifestyle choice is not all about the food – but omg – the freaking food! More about that later.

The first tentative steps into veganism were on a lonely road for me, back in 2000. There were no mentors, no vegan friends; my Mum thought I was aiming straight for malnutrition. Soy milk tasted like ear wax. I certainly didn’t get 99,300,000 hits when I Googled “vegan”! My biggest ally was one supportive friend with whom I grew up. She moved to London and would visit her Mum back in Perth a couple of times a year. This dear friend would prepare suitable meals for me when we all caught up at her Mum’s, and she also presented me with my first vegan cookbook (called The Vegan Cookbook), which she lovingly and thoughtfully brought back for me from England. As far as I recall, there were no vegan cookbooks available pretty much anywhere in the universe at that time (apart from England!), and if there were, either I couldn’t find them or they must have been forgettable poop.

And you can’t jimmy a banquet out of forgettable poop.

I faltered soon after; admitting my Achilles Heel was made of little more than Jarlsburg. And most certainly the cheapest kilo block of cheese in the supermarket chilled section, because I ate so much of the stuff. When I ordered a deep pan pizza at Pizza Hut, that thing had extra cheese on it anyway, but I would order it with extra cheese on the extra cheese. Couldn’t be arsed cooking? Cheese sandwiches for dinner. Cauliflower was invented to be smothered in cheese sauce, because otherwise – what’s the point to a cauliflower? Dessert? Cheesecake. Tiramisu. Cheese and jam sandwiches.

What I have since discovered is that cheese is often the stumbling block for many humans who are vegetarian and are considering veganism. While they earnestly gravitate towards giving up all animal products because these people are truly compassionate and realise the moral implications of their continued consumption of, in this case, dairy, their yearning for cheese is a powerful yearning indeed.

It is a bit challenging for me to relate to this now, but I went through it big time. Nowadays the thought of eating a huge chunk of solidified, salted fat hardly has the pulling power it used to. I have since discovered a little dairy opiate called casomorphin and the subsequent suggestion that addiction to dairy is real. Jonathan Bechtel can give you a leg-up about it: “Beta-casomorphin-7 is a naturally occurring opiate, which is a compound that creates euphoria and is the basis for drugs like morphine, codeine, and oxycodone”. There is plenty of information about casomorphin; the fact that casein is present in the milk of mammalian mothers and its conversion into casomorphin helps calm an infant. There are also plenty of references to it as “Nature’s crack”. The short story is that if you tell yourself that you would go vegan except that you are addicted to cheese, you are exposing your crack for all to see…. The truth is you are an addict and should immediately enrol in a 12-Step program.

None of this was relevant to my epiphany about dairy, though, especially since I found out about casomorphin long after I embraced veganism. I once walked into a Peter Singer lecture in Perth a vegetarian. He talked about what happens to calves in the dairy industry. And I walked out vegan. Message received and understood. Me suffering withdrawals from cheese could in no way justify what happens to those babies.

Human mothers reading this, if you aren’t vegan now….consider how you would feel if someone took your baby away from you after he or she had suckled just enough colostrum for it to do its job. The wonder of motherly love is often represented by an image of Mother Cow and her baby. You think she doesn’t feel loss when a human takes her newborn away for the entirety of its infancy or even its life? Or do you believe that because she can’t tell you her pain in a language that you understand, that she doesn’t suffer? She might meet her daughter again when she (her daughter) is introduced to the dairy herd to begin her own continuous cycle of pregnancy, calving, loss, lactating and, finally, slaughter. Her sons are not so lucky – you can’t get milk out of a boy; many will be killed within five days; many will be slaughtered at four months of age for veal. Some will be allowed to mature into bulls to inseminate the dairy herd, after semen is artificially collected for artificial insemination. Are you shuddering in disgust yet? This is shudderworthy stuff.

Just another thing to remove those big, gentle beings from their natural urges and instincts.

Once I became vegan it did not take long and I was meeting other vegans and being shown all sorts of things of which, till then, I had been unaware. A couple of vegan social groups were forming as other people tested the waters around them. We started to gather once a week and share food and ideas, stories and information about new products. Then my partner, Jiffy, watched Earthlings and renounced his vegetarianism for veganism too. Together we embarked on an adventure that has been so incredibly rewarding and, just as a bonus, we have picked up some of the most amazing friends one could ever wish for.

They are kind, compassionate, generous; they love animals; they love their food, and they are eye-wateringly funny.

When we get together for a social gathering you can pretty much bet on the fact that the gathering will involve two things – firstly, food. Lots and lots of food. Secondly, lots and lots of laughing. We gather, we eat and we laugh. And eat. Mainly eat. And laugh.

Most gatherings involve a fair amount of awe to boot. I could tell you that I respect life and nature enough to feel humbled by it all, and cultivating a sense of awe helps one to stay grateful (and it would certainly be the truth). But mostly we are in awe of the food. You see, there is something about vegans and food. Speaking for myself, I experience sheer joy and amazement when I gaze upon a vegan spread. Commence fanging, and the experience becomes slightly transcendental.

This is probably beautifully described by my recent exchange with a shop assistant I met in a health store in a suburban shopping centre. I was looking for something and I asked him to help me locate it. I informed him it would have to be vegan and he piped up that he was a new convert to vegetarianism. He had been vego for only three months and boy, was he ever enthusiastic about his newly-adopted lifestyle. I listened to his exuberant sharing and thought I must have sounded a lot like that at times. Actually, I probably still do.

Then he told me all about how he had gone to a store or market and bought an organic cucumber. “The taste!” he squeaked, close to happy tears. Ah yes, Grasshopper – you are on your way.

So, what is it about vegans and food? For a start, the food is awesome. It is amazing. The vegans I hang out with give a damn about making meals tasty and, mostly, nutritious. Some omnivores are under the mistaken impression that vegan food is all healthy, but it isn’t. We have junk food too! But pretty much all of it, healthy through to junk, is delicious.

Secondly, vegans get a big kick in ‘veganising’ old favourite recipes. Just last weekend I was looking through my books for a banana cake recipe. The only one I could find without hitting Google was in one of two favourite vegetarian cookbooks I hoard from my former life. It called for milk, butter and eggs. Milk and butter are a no-brainer to substitute (soy milk or homemade cashew milk, and vegan margarine). Eggs? I made a vegan egg substitute staple – use a stick blender to blast a tablespoon of ground flaxseeds with three tablespoons of water (equivalent to one egg). The recipe said two eggs, so I doubled the amount. Organic flaxseeds and filtered water, I might add. The cake came out of the oven all risen and cake-like. I split it in half, loaded on sliced, fresh strawberries macerated overnight in maple syrup, clapped it back together and topped it with a ‘cream cheese’ frosting. It was moist (mwah!), succulent (mwah!) and tasted so very, very, really very good.

While cakes are easy to veganise, the point here is that veganism is not a ‘diet’; it is especially not a lifestyle of doing without. It is a lifestyle of creativity and invention, wherein is thrown even a little bit of ingenuity, and you get the whole cornucopia of good stuff. Spaghetti bolognaise? Check. Gourmet hotdog with spicy Italian sausage? Check. Pizza? Of course! Lasagne – with ‘cheese sauce’. You got it. Breads, pies, cookies and the entire gamut of desserts from trifle to tiramisu – complete with whipped cream! If a soy cream is not to your liking, soak some unroasted cashews in water, then blend the crap out of them in a good-quality blender, one that purees those suckers at 38,000 rpm into the smoothest, creamiest consistency possible. Maybe add maple syrup or vanilla essence. Presto! Cashew cream! I even found a recipe for meringue on a packet of commercial egg replacer a few days ago. Haven’t gone there yet, but it is on my list of things to do. I now have visions of vegan pavlova.

And the best thing about veganising? Besides the deliciousness and the fact that nobody gets hurt? One has a really appreciative bunch of munchers who will gratefully lick their plates clean and weep with joy as they declare the cook a Vehicle of Greatness.

Ultimately, though, what I believe is the thing behind ‘vegans and food’ is less about the food itself than one might think. After all, there are plenty of omnivores out there who get almost as much pleasure from eating. From my own experience, I am convinced that this tangible lightness of being is more to do with the absence of guilt.

Oh, did you just feel something?

When I used to eat animals I could easily wipe off an annoying sense of doubt about what I was doing by declaring profound statements such as, “Humans were meant to eat meat!” This was clearly when I was someone’s God’s right-hand person and had an intimate knowledge of His (or Her) plan. As if! The truth is, I thought I did. I heard my Dad say it a few times in an effort to underscore his ‘right’ to consume someone else’s arm, although I’m not sure who gave him the right. Why was I feeling doubt about eating meat? I didn’t want to feel it; frankly it was interfering with my enjoyment of chowing down on someone else’s leg, not to mention all those other bits of someone else that tasted so good. I adored animals, but it was simply their lot to lie down and die so that I could eat their corpses.

That’s right, punters – ‘meat’ is just another word for ‘corpse’.

Yum yum.

When I look back, I remember sometimes feeling horribly guilty and I guess that the guilt was actually always there – young, healthy animals being killed just so that I could have steak or a Christmas turkey. A few moments of taste, is all. Burdened with empathy, it is hardly surprising that I did become vegan – but it was hands down the best thing I have ever done. The added bonus was that once I made my life’s commitment to veganism, I unwittingly shed the guilt yoke. Granted, it took me a while to notice. I knew I felt better about not eating animal products right from the get-go, but sensing and acknowledging that aforementioned ‘lightness of being’ didn’t happen for maybe a couple of years. Once I became aware of it, that sense of lightness was and is a most wonderful way to be.

Perhaps this is why we often hear omnivores complain about vegans wanting everyone to go vegan. Never mind that it is better for the planet, for us and of course, the animals – we have simply discovered a better way to be that goes far beyond walking the talk, and we really want everyone to feel this amazing way. It also goes far beyond ego and the human concept of us being the centre of the universe, or God’s chosen, or whatever you like to call being plain old selfish. In the Grand Scheme of Things, it is possible that we are no more a miracle than a dung beetle. Or, to put it another way: a dung beetle is every bit as much a miracle as we.

The bearable lightness of being. Why try it?

Because it is just awesome.

For the critters
Mona

Guest BloggersVegan aMusingVeganism

An Ugly Side of Facebook

Hasn’t Facebook changed our world?  It seems like just yesterday when I watched Wall E and its humorous, if slightly disturbing, portrayal of human beings in little mobile capsules communicating with others via the computer screen in front of them, all the while blissfully unaware of the real people physically around them (but doing the same thing).  Now it’s (virtual) reality!  I saw evidence of this while studying for my Visual Art qualification.  In the library, two youngsters were seated at computers and gleefully carrying on a discussion with each other – via the computers!  And did they look at each other?  Well, no.  What would be the point of that?

The Vegan movement has been hugely assisted by this leviathan of instant communication, as have many other causes.  Recently one of our local vegans noticed a community green grocer had begun stocking foie gras; he had barely walked through the front door before he’d posted this onto Facebook.  Within hours people responded; commenting and pledging various forms of action.  One FBer emailed the store owner about how he was opposed to foie gras, and included a link to a video that showed how the birds are force fed to make their livers fatty and sick; the very thing that ends up on someone’s cracker.

Most importantly, and with all credit to him, the store owner responded by watching the video, permitting himself to become aware of the inherent cruelty, then removing foie gras from his shelves and promising never to stock it again.

Right about then a few FBers posted about how that action saved only a few animals; what about the cows/sheep/chickens….?  Those comments are very true and relevant, of course, but for now I guess people have to pick their battles.  At any rate, Facebook was a tool by which a small group of committed people inspired action with a positive result.

But then….

I recently had the opportunity to take part in a Facebook thread.  A local animal protection organisation (referred to as “Org” from here) was holding an event to raise funds for its rescued animals, strictly cats and dogs.  This place practises a no-kill policy, and where the cats live is the most amazing shelter I have ever seen.  It is a cat’s paradise of baskets, blankets, pillows, nooks, crannies, ledges and scratching posts.  The kitties are fed and cuddled and loved.  Most touchingly, they even have some old timers who are safely living out their lives in this soft and padded haven.  I have not seen the dog side of Org so am unable to comment on that, but I’ll bet it is just as awesome as what they have created for their cats.

Proving to be quite a tool for inviting people to events, Org created a Facebook page to publicise its fund raiser and the guest list started to rapidly grow.  People were posting about how they were looking forward to being part of the event and that particular Facebook page was a warm and fuzzy place to be.  The blurb advised that food would be available to purchase on the night; quiche.and vegetarian pies.  Beef pies. Chicken pies.

Er….

So one of our more in-your-face vegans posted the following statement:

Why is a Society for the PROTECTION of animals selling products made from pieces of abused animals and the products of abused animals? I’ll never understand that.  Can you at least please ensure there are cruelty free options for those of us that do not wish to be complicit in the abuse of animals (that means vegan, not vegetarian)?

This was followed by a few supportive comments written by vegans, including offers to provide homemade vegan pies and sausages on the night for Org to sell to everyone.  Brimming with enthusiasm and energy (and a touch of the vernacular), if read with negativity, I can see how the comments could have been misconstrued as aggressive and lecturing.  This was already obvious in only the second of Org’s supporters’ replies, which included: Preaching only gets you haters not followers.  Which can come across as a bit preachy too, although I am certain that was not the writer’s intent.  Some Org supporters responded graciously, with valid comments like the fact that Org cares for cats and dogs, not other animals, so its focus should be those companion animals and not on what Org offers as food to humans at a fund raiser.

The third response from those to who I will now refer to collectively as “the Orgs”, illustrates the above: I would imagine as thier history shows they will be raising funds to help thier abandoned cats and dogs……which is what thier refuge is ALL about….I dont think you will find any of those in thier pies at the quiz night! Why dont you concentrate your efforts on putting down organisations that ARE cruel to animals and not those that are simply out to do thier best and help these dogs and cats in need……! (sic)

In-your-face-vegan replied, and made a suggestion that Org change its name to reflect that it rescues only dogs and cats (which is not specified in its current name).

The fourth response: omg are you people for real?? If you don’t like it dont go, pretty simple if you ask me but coming onto their event page and bitching about it is about as rude as it gets! Maybe next time you could get down off that pedestal that you have put yourself on and organise it yourself instead of carrying on like a hard done by child.

Hmmm, things started to get a little personal here.  This is where the thread began to go downhill, and it’s a long hill, considering it went on for over 200 posts before the event creator deleted it.  It does, however, bring to light a number of issues about Facebook that may, one day in the future when we have a social network police, be addressed by law.  Or maybe that’s just in my head.  Either way, I want to share some of the issues that I identified by taking part in what I found to be a demoralising and exhausting thread.  Please note, my comments below are applicable to BOTH SIDES OF THE DISCUSSION (not yelling; emphasising).

Firstly – and probably least importantly – some FBers are obviously supersonic typists.  This is self-evident in several of the posts because there is no doubt that those particular people can type faster than they can think.  It is easy to get caught up in an emotional debate (or fiasco, as the case may be) but really, it is in everyone’s best interest – and probably especially so for the person making the post – that anything and everything written is CALMLY proofread before hitting the Reply button.  I meekly admit that sometimes I can’t see the wood for the spelling errors, grammar mutilation and complete gibberish.  I do try.  And I acknowledge that someone who is challenged by communicating through the written word should not be precluded from such a debate; however I find myself skipping over those posts that have a (seemingly) flagrant disregard for English to concentrate on ones wherein the language flows and is calm.

Thus – please take the time to proofread what you have written before you post it.  Or at least be aware that it is possible to easily delete your gobbledygook once posted, to rewrite it and repost.  No-one expects you to be George Bernard Shaw in a paragraph; however, you might find that there are things you have written that don’t even make sense to yourself.  Ever placed all eight fingers on the wrong keys, gazing meaningfully at the ceiling while typing?  Only to look at the screen and discover that you have suddenly mastered a language that undoubtedly has its roots in a planet somewhere out past Betelgeuse?  *guiltily raises hand*  Or gotten so carried away with the amazingly powerful stuff you think you have written as to triumphantly hit “Enter” before glancing back at the screen?  *hand remains in the air*  Or even stated that someone was preaching, but channelled the Reverand Ian Paisley while stating it?

For example (and I have shortened this):  why, they have animals in thier care not once does it say breed and species specific or how many so that debate seems ended to a negative for you doesnt it now, compassion i have for animals but not for those being pushy anough as religions to shove your soy down my throat, i come from the same ancestory prehistoric neanderthals you do, and from way back humans have eaten meat if you choose not to in this day and age well good for you, but while you are at it, save the enviroment and switch of your computer, dont drive a car, recycle and save the nviroment from all the carbon gases you are emitting as you type, i dont claim to save the world or preach my views on you or anyone else as we are all individual with our own preferrences. and i think (Org) are doing a great thing raising money for thier venue and thier animals they are helping .. so who is the one not being compassionate when thinking of them,, as far as cruelty free diet goes i chosse to eat meat, its what my teeth were designed to do, have a good day wont ya now (sic)

Incidentally, I wanted to clarify something about Neanderthals to the above writer, so responded with: the Neanderthals are popularly considered to have been a different species to modern humans; one that died out after the end of the last Ice Age, possibly due to an inability to evolve. If you choose to insist you descended from the Neanderthals, I find it easy enough to believe you; but please don’t declare I descended from them too. And also, the best way to convince me you don’t “preach (your) views on (me)”, is not to. If that last post was anything but preaching? Frankly, your tirade did little else than convince me I hit a nerve. Have a good day yourself.

Cool.  Calm.  Informed.  Researched.  Flows well.  Freely acknowledges that some of what the prior poster wrote was correct.  If it was a knee-jerk, at least it does not come across that way.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Which brings me to my next issue – the Rant.  Does the Rant, written or spoken (or yelled) get anyone anywhere?  Read a rant, and my Psycho Radar starts to go off (and I have written this with a big smile on my face – it is not a reference to the writer, it is a reference to how a rant can make a writer appear to a reader).  By ranting, someone with valid things to say can come across as self-righteous and maybe just a little unhinged.  Supersonic typing abilities aid and abet the Rant.  It is far better to say few things well in one paragraph than attempt to rewrite Wikipedia in its entirety.  Take a breath.  Calm down.  Proofread.

Be aware of your unintentional irony, like this gem: and yet they still don’t believe they have been condescending or abusive. look through your posts (In-your-face-vegan) and co and don’t think your shit doesn’t stink.

During the course of the thread, some of the Orgs and the Vegans reached an accord on a number of issues that had been raised.  I should note here that some vegans posted specifically to support the Orgs and suggest that other vegans ought to be ashamed of their conduct on the thread (it is just easy for me to refer to the “opposing sides” as the Orgs and the Vegans).  Admittedly, there wasn’t that much support in reverse, but the debate about eating animal products is of course, one hot potato.  *laughs at own joke*  The point is, as the thread grew, it became obvious that some people were jumping in at latter stages without referring to what had gone on before.  These posters were bringing up old chestnuts that had been discussed and put to bed earlier.  Ostensibly these people were just thirsting for a fight.  That may not have been their intention, but because of the situation, that is how they came across.  Of course, some of the posters were just thirsting for a fight.  And what happens when one reads a post by such a someone?  Well, I get a distinct sense of a pitiful person with low self esteem and no friends, possibly the victim of bullying, huddled over their computer while locked away in their bedroom (probably in the dark) who has found one small avenue in which they are able to feel a sense of power.  They grab onto that opportunity.  I am in no way saying that the posters are like that, I am saying that that is how some posters come across via Facebook to me.

And it’s tiresome, really.

If you want to take part in a thread, by all means – do!  But please take the time to inform yourself of what has happened prior to your diving in.  Read.  Prior.  Posts.  Being informed is crucial to worthwhile debate.  This also may help to prevent digression from the relevant point, which is something that happened in the Org thread, a lot.  For some reason, some of the Orgs were dishing out “how dare you” posts to the Vegans for the latter having somehow discredited the good work that was (and is) being done by the organisation in question.  That never happened.   In fact, the very opposite was true – the Vegans kept reiterating that they admired and supported the work that Org does.  It was never about belittling Org; it was about challenging an organisation that compassionately rescues animals, serving dead animals for human consumption to raise funds to save animals; especially when delicious cruelty-free food is easy to prepare and a fantastic educator.  Surely that’s a no-brainer!  Obviously it is, because several people with no brain chose to post to the thread….oh I’m sorry – did I say that out loud?  Despite the many times the Vegans expressed their admiration for Org and attempted to get the debate back on track (if it ever was on track), people kept declaring that, no matter what the Vegans did or said, Org was doing a damn fine job and should not be picked on.  So there.

There were the ubiquitous (and – here’s a tip – done to DEATH) objections to vegans telling omnivores what they should eat.  I would like to quote someone here; unfortunately I cannot remember his name nor where he wrote the following, but it is so applicable: “Vegans don’t tell you what to eat.  They tell you who you are eating.”

There were also the posts that made assumptions about what the Vegans do or don’t do.  The writers of these posts assumed that vegans:

  • Don’t volunteer
  • Never take part in fund raising to benefit animals
  • Have no respect nor do they care for humankind
  • All believe that cats and dogs should also be vegan (this one is a touchy subject)

Some folk only posted once or twice but chose to make their mark with something that hardly served a positive purpose: I’m not an animal activist nor am I vegan whom many of the other volunteers I believe can relate. I do know however that I love each and every one of those furry bastards who call this place home. (In-your-face-vegan), please kindly remove your head from your arse, get off your narcissistic high horse and stop pointing out irrelivancy. Simply, you are attmepting to shit on a good thing (which may I point out is rather difficult with your head in it’s current position) (sic)

Well, ok – that is actually quite funny and there were indeed some humorous posts in amongst the aggro.  In the midst of the battle one person posted: I like turtles.  That’s it, the entire post.  I read that and had myself a Zen moment.

But things eventually took a dark turn; someone posted something inexcusable: Are u going to this event (In-your-face-vegan)? I would watch ur ass hey theres going to be a lot of people there who’d like to find you & kill you. I hate to discredit the event any more than it already has been by popping death threats in here but seriously (In-your-face-vegan) get a damn life … like the twenty people before me said you could have approached this in a clever manner. Kind of want to punch u in the face (sic)

I guess one way to try and excuse this is acknowledging the obvious immaturity of anyone who would post this on a public forum.  I wonder whether this silly person has the capacity to recognise the gravity of their words?  Perhaps they meant it as a joke, although given the situation it remains, in my opinion, an explicit example of how Facebook gives some people the opportunity to behave inappropriately with what they no doubt feel is impunity.  That said, In-your-face-vegan had a good laugh about it.

Before concluding, I’ll just slip another small thing in here.  For anyone who has referred to something along the lines of you have the right to be what and who you want in life (from a post in the Org thread; undeniably getting into the deeper philosophical quagmire here): have you really thought about what you are saying?  Or is it just a handy, throwaway line a lot like “everything in moderation”?  I ask this because I used to use the “you have the right to do what you want” angle myself.  Overtly it is a pretty good way of looking at things.  It makes sense.  Until you dissect it.  For a start, did someone actually give you the right, or is your ego making a self-serving presumption?  Secondly – and this is the main reason I stopped using that statement – would you agree that it applies to murderers, rapists, slave-traders, humans who abuse animals, etc?  Because sure – they all have the right to be what they want to be.  But for me, things got a little grey when I really started to consider the implications of what I was fearlessly stating.  Just like “everything in moderation” – which, by definition, includes cannibalism and paedophilia.  Or “no-one has the right to judge anyone”.  Try telling that to a judge.

One thing stood out about this thread as most disconcerting.  Sure, things were said on both sides by undoubtedly nice people that could have been expressed with more finesse.  Some (both sides) even embraced the possibility of collaboratively trying a completely cruelty-free approach to a future event, hurrah!  When the people who are open to embracing ahimsa get face to face in a room, then they can change the world for the better – together.  And being physically in the same room, communicating with the spoken word, would eliminate the ongoing possibility of misconstruing someone’s tone, attitude and/or words to the extent that it can happen on Facebook.  I am guessing that some of the Orgs have “picked their battle” and are changing the world for the better by rescuing dogs and cats, which of course is a wonderful thing.  But what I found very sad was that in all the posts, the Rants, the preaching and the pontificating (both sides), not one of the Orgs had the clarity of thought to post something along the lines of “Hang on a minute!  We love, rescue and protect animals, and yet we will be serving other animals for human consumption to raise funds for our animals….that is a little weird, isn’t it?”  In terms of suffering, a cow is a dog is a cat is a pig is a chicken.  Is a human?  But in terms of humans showing them love and compassion, all animals are equal unless it interferes with what someone wants to eat.

That is what the initial post, that volatile trigger, was about.

A moment of awareness and the ability to question something ingrained that stabs mercilessly right at the core of our identity.

For the critters.

Mona

PS – When Org held its event, it raised several thousand dollars for the cats and dogs.  What a brilliant effort.  Kudos!

Guest BloggersVegan aMusing

The Chooks…

We have chooks.  To anybody unfamiliar with the Aussie vernacular, a chook is a chicken.  When we first moved to the Hills, we were intent on adopting several critters.  It was surprising to discover that we were not permitted to keep hoofed animals on our acre, especially considering there are properties in the immediate vicinity who can (and do) keep a motley assortment of horses and sheep.

Being vegetarian at the time, it was only a matter of days before Geoff and I had set ourselves up to receive our first-ever chooks, anticipating eating “our” own eggs.  There had been a little garden shed on the property that we moved to a better spot; Geoff fashioned a none-too-shabby pen adjacent to it and, armed with a roll of chicken wire and some star pickets, we proceeded to erect the world’s ugliest fence.  I guess about 15% of our property was given over to the chookyard, wherein lies a small orchard.

And so we went to a chicken farm and picked out our first four biddies.  Of course they were all given names – Burping Mango, Thelonius, Reg and Hooter.  No prizes for guessing Geoff named Hooter; it was his revenge for me naming the other three.  My friend, Delys, had been helping me at work and one day had eaten some mango.  During our conversation a little while later she puffed up a polite little belch and announced, “Aw, now I’m burping mango.”

“That,” said I, “is a great name for a chook!”

Those four, calm, friendly hens gave us a taste of how good it is to be amongst our fellow beings in love and respect.  Every morning they would come scooting up excitedly to greet us and then they set to work at squeezing every chook possibility out of the day – enthusiastically and with an obvious great amount of enjoyment.  If I was digging with a shovel, they’d be hanging around to see what I would unearth; sometimes they would even perch on the shovel while I was using it.  Our neighbour would watch in disbelief and declare, “Would you look at how tame those chooks are!”  Why wouldn’t they be?  They had nothing to fear from us.  As far as I could tell, they were very happy and that translated into incredibly delicious eggs with intensely golden sunshine yolks.  I had given a dozen to the lady who owned the local convenience store and she told me how she used a couple of them in a cake recipe.  The recipe had said to break in the eggs and beat the mixture until pale.  She beat and beat and beat, but that mix stayed a glorious saffron yellow.

Time passed and one day I noticed that Burping Mango looked a bit depressed.  A couple of days later we realised that she was unwell and took her to the vet.  She was dying and the decision was made to euthanise her.  The vet advised that it is difficult to find veins in chickens and so they inject them in the chest cavity.  He said that it takes about five minutes for them to pass and is virtually painless.  I was so distraught that it didn’t even occur to me to ask exactly what he meant by “virtually painless”.  Or even how he knew.  But about ten minutes later he brought out the cat carrier with our dear little Mango in it, lifeless.

Geoff dug a grave and we put her in it and said goodbye.  It is testimony to these amazing, funny little creatures as to how much they fill our hearts, and how much they are missed when they die.  And how much better they deserve than to be crammed into tiny, wire battery cages with other birds with about the space of an A4 sheet of paper for each hen, robbed of every natural behaviour that brings them pleasure, from stretching their wings to dust bathing to scratching the soil for goodies.

We have sourced ex-battery hens from a battery farm in a well-known Western Australian wine region.  Visitors have access to an area with battery cages in it that contain hens for sale, but are not permitted into the main battery area.  In the visitors area is a mixture of point-of-lay pullets and “spent” hens that are around 18 months old.  After a year or so a hen’s egg production decreases from what is considered economically viable and so they are disposed of.  Some of the spent hens at this egg farm are sold off for $5 each, usually, as the woman there informed me, “for the pot”.

We buy spent hens in favour of pullets these days because the pullets have a better chance of being bought by someone who will keep them at home (alive) for eggs.  The ones we buy look terrible – they are missing many feathers, are mortally terrified of humans and often have wounds.  There are often three chickens in one cage and they smother each other trying to get away from our hands.  Geoff once pulled a little girl out from under the other two, her toe broken, and we took her with us and named her Squash.  While there is anticipation of being able to give some of these girls a second chance at a real chook life, choosing who to take and who to leave behind is an immensely taxing procedure.

Once back at home, we pop the cat carrier on the ground in the chookyard and watch the heartwarming, yet profoundly heartrending events unfold.  Firstly the existing chickens start making their disapproval heard and that sounds a lot like chickens trying to moo.  The newbies stay in the carrier for a while because they haven’t been on the ground for a year and I guess they just don’t know what it is.  The bravest one will slowly come out, followed eventually by the others, all stiff and hobbling.  They pick up their feet and watch them as they gingerly put them back on the ground, obviously dealing with something odd, because they have been standing on wire for most of their lives.  They are learning to walk again.  The single most incredible thing about the process of introducing spent battery hens to our chookyard is that within five or ten minutes, all of the girls, every single one of them, will be indulging in some kind of natural behaviour that they haven’t been able to do since they were put in the cages.  Most will begin to feebly scratch the dirt.  Some will lurch onto their sides, a skeletal wing elevated.  The first time I saw a hen do this I thought she was going to kick the bucket right there.  Then I realised that she had felt the sunshine for what was probably the first time in her life, and had rolled onto her side, featherless wing held aloft, to let the sun’s glorious warmth in.  Occasionally one will even manage to figure out how to have a dust bath.

There are lots of things they need to learn.  Within a few days, after a bit of biffo as the new pecking order establishes itself, the motheaten featherless ones will be enjoying their new life.  They have to learn to eat things other than crumbles – they don’t even understand what lettuce is at first and only peck it and other goodies by observing the oldies.  They learn to go into the chookpen at dusk so I can close the door behind them to keep them safe from foxes.  There is a hole in the wall of the chookpen that leads into the chookshed.  They have to learn to go into the chookshed at night to sleep on warm straw.  There have been times I have needed to gently push them through the hole because they don’t quite catch on when the old chooks disappear through it.  I have come to let the chooks out in the morning to discover the newbies aren’t in the pen.  When I check in the shed, sure enough they’re still in there looking a bit bewildered.  Sometimes they just don’t know how to get out of the shed via the hole, but I have never had to show them how more than once.

Over time they grow their feathers back.  I’m unsure what the difference is but I have seen one girl regrow her feathers in three weeks and yet others take up to a year.  There is lots to do as a chook in a yard full of fruit trees – there is dirt to scratch, and bugs to run after, and magpies to yell at.  There is all manner of wonderful food to experience, often brought by the humans, and so they begin rushing headlong to the gate, wings flapping when I approach, to see what goodies are in the bucket.  There are dust baths to lavish in and friends to cuddle up to while dust bathing.  There is room to indulge in a good, long stretch.  And there is the excitement of being let out of the chookyard for a romp around the rest of the property (but NOT in the silverbeet!).

Chooks are extraordinary little guys and some simply amazed me over the years.  Herbie Henchook was firmly at the bottom of the pecking order and quite skittish.  One day she disappeared and I assumed she had been taken by a fox.  Soon after I was out the back of the chookshed when I heard a tiny little tap.  I am not even sure I heard it so much as sensed it some other way.  I looked down and there was a big flower pot with another one upturned in it.  For some reason my mind considered that a spider might have made the sound and I nearly walked away.  But something compelled me to lift that upturned pot and there she was, Herbie Henchook, standing half submerged in dirty water, bedraggled, wet (it had been raining) and shivering, but still alive.

Nineteen days.

Geoff and I gave her a warm bath, dried her but then she started to shake uncontrollably.  I guessed she was suffering from low blood sugar and started feeding her VegeLayer crumbles mixed with maple syrup and rolled into balls.  She ate them readily and eventually stopped shaking.  I don’t know how she managed to survive – she had water to drink, perhaps she managed to peck a few flies that might have ventured through the holes in the pot’s base, but survive she did.  She went on to live for another two years, so we had her for three years all up.  That’s a pretty good innings because, as we discovered, chickens rescued from battery farms don’t live for very long.  Three years with us, post-hell, is good.  These hens live a very long life indeed compared to their male counterparts.  Egg production requires hens, but half the chicks hatched into this world are males.  Have you ever considered what happens to those babies?  On the first day of their lives, most of them are either gassed or macerated.  Yes, macerated.  It means ground up.  Alive.

Twelve million a year.  Just in Australia.

Which brings me to Warren.  Just over two years ago, Maree (our Animal Actionist) posted that the RSPCA in Perth had a rescued rooster who needed a home.  We quizzed a few neighbours and then welcomed the handsome boy into our fold.  When we let him go in the chookyard, he raced around and rolled in the sunshine and all but ignored the girls.  The morning after I got a wake-up call, courtesy of Warren.  110 of them by 10:00am, in fact, and that is when I stopped counting.  The peaceful ambience of Stoneville was rent by raucous and frequent and damn loud crowing.  What had I done?  Happily, he settled down quickly and set about introducing himself to the laaaaaadies.

For someone who had never interacted with a rooster, Warren was a challenge.  Cute and boyish with the hens who received him when he felt horny, he was bad-tempered and aggressive with any who ran away from his ardour.  He was also permanently pissed off with me for about the first 18 months.  It wasn’t unusual for me to be strolling through the chookyard doing stuff, and suddenly have Warren hurl himself at me from behind, spurs-first.  He has a roar on him like fingernails on chalkboard – only louder.  Most of the girls love him and there is way less aggression between the hens since he took charge.  None of them are trying to be the top chook because that’s Warren’s job.  And how’s this – if we throw him a titbit, he will make his little cute sound and summon the girls so that they can have it instead of him.  If they don’t see it, he picks it up and drops it for them, all the while making his cute sound.  I have even seen him pick up a big titbit and break it into smaller pieces for his hens.  If they accept his offer and eat the goodie, he puffs his chest out and looks very proud about it.

There have been hens since Warren arrived who cannot stand him and he can be quite nasty with them.  One of them, Sharon, would jump the fence every morning to avoid Wazza and come hang out with us at the house.  It didn’t matter how many times I took her back and plonked her in the chookyard, she’d jump straight out.  I made the decision to let her do what she wanted, the alternative was to shut her in the pen 24/7 and that wasn’t okay.  She would sit on the back doormat all day, just hanging.  Sharon loved walking around with us and enjoyed a cuddle.  Sadly, away from Warren’s protection and while we were out one day she disappeared.

We recently lost Marilyn to natural causes.  She’d come to us via PAWS in Perth.  She had been handed in by a couple who’d found her in their garden.  The guy had threatened to eat her if they didn’t find a home, but by the time they delivered her to PAWS he had fallen in love with this gentle and chatty chook.  Marilyn was ‘blonde’ and just as beautiful as her namesake.  When I sat on an old chair in the chookyard, she would jump into my lap for a cuddle.  Marilyn was particularly fond of a headrub and would sink into my lap, her head on my right arm, making contented little noises, as I gently scratched and stroked her head.  Something has been missing from the chookyard since this little white darling peacefully died at 2:50pm on 3rd March this year, surrounded by the rest of our flock, something I’d never seen before.  She was indeed special.

All of them are special, of course.  We have had 46 chooks over the past decade, eight of who are with us now, including Warren.  He and I have reached an accord and sometimes I even believe he likes me.  The world’s ugliest fence is still standing and is no better looking, but is testament to how little the chooks need to be happy – scraps and crumbles, some space, dirt and plants.  Love.

And no battery cages.

For the critters,
Mona

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There’s a White-tailed in My Keyboard…

I have a few ideas for future blogs and was pondering which one to muse about today.  Deep in ponder I happened to glance down and I saw an intrepid baby white-tailed spider taking his afternoon stroll on my keyboard.  He has now lodged under the top left key just above the Tab key and that is okay – I never use that one anyway.  In fact I’ve never noticed it before – there’s not much call for “~” in my world.  Anyway, that little bloke has helped me make a decision.

Spiders!  I’m talking the arachnids, not the ghastly concoction of ice cream dropped into your glass of Fanta (which was undoubtedly the surprise result of someone licking their ice cream cone too hard….).  And for my money, the idea of drinking – or eating (is it drinking or eating?) a dollop of ice cream frothing like it’s got rabies while it’s swimming in your lemonade, is far, far more horrifying than the eight-legged wee beasties.

Probably more poisonous too.

You know, spiders get a bad rap.  As a three-year-old my folks moved us up to the Perth Hills and the bush.  That is where I remember seeing my first spider, although I knew what it was and so must have seen others prior to that one.  It was huge and undoubtedly after me; not, as may have been the case, just walking to wherever it was that he wanted to go to, to do whatever he wanted to do.  It was probably a huntsman, the first of hundreds I have since encountered.

My dear parents were a little clueless as to small insect-y creatures, as was I.  Anything beautiful was safe and anything ugly was dangerous.  Lucky we don’t judge ourselves like that….  Ladybirds and butterflies were warmly welcomed; spiders, scorpions, centipedes, flies (we had a genuine thunderbox, so there were lots of flies – big, bomber blowies) were all a threat and thus destroyed.  This was in the sixties, so we even had one of those old flyspray pumps with the long cylinder and the manual pump action.  The spray that came out of that sucker wasn’t so much a spray as a fire hose; thick, oily horrible stuff that shot out of the pump and then fell solidly to the ground.  Many a critter found itself at the receiving end of the Mortein.  I remember my Mum spraying anything and everything that was classified “Ungeziefer” (vermin in German), including big spiders.  Mum once shot a wolf spider carrying her spiderlings on her back; sprayed till she drowned in a sea of toxic white foam and all her babies were dead.

God, what a tragedy.

This is how I was brought up and how, undoubtedly, my folks were educated about Australia’s many insects, etc, after they stepped off the ship to begin their new life in Oz after WWII.  Dad had a tangible arachnophobia, which he selflessly passed on to me.   I think I was in my twenties before I started to question how I reacted to these small beings (the insects, not my parents….).  My first foray into learning to live with – and not despite – them was when I decided I would no longer have flyspray in my home.  I was living on my own in a small unit at the time and it had flywire on the windows and a screen door.  That’s some fab stuff!  I threw out the last of the flyspray and haven’t even entertained the idea of buying any more since then.

When I lived in a small villa in Como (Perth), we had a thriving population of redbacks.  Mum, who was by that time vetoed from harming critters around me, named the first one Olga.  That was Olga 1, and by the end of the summer we were up to Olga 41.  We left them to do their thing and they left us to do ours.

Then I got awfully homesick for the Hills and moved back there.  Our property is in a bit of forest, there is bush on the other side of the road, lots of rocks and logs – perfect for spiders.  And the word has obviously got out, because we do, indeed, have spiders.  Shitloads.  In fact I soon realised that I had two options regarding the spider plethora here – either learn to live with them or go insane.  I chose the former, a very conscious (slightly nervous) choice and can hereby trumpet that I have come a long, long way over the past decade.  From being paralysed by fear at the sight of a huntsman (when I still lived in Bickley) to loving them to bits and gleefully cohabiting with them in my home, always happy to spot another.

The first rude arachnid shock came early in the piece, shortly after we’d moved to our new home.  The backyard was a bit of a mess and there were lots of things that critters could hide in and under.  I’d gone out to the pool and spotted a hippopotamus in it; no, wait – an elephant.  A really big one.  It turned out to be a large, chunky, heavy, black spider who, I swear, bent the scooper pole when I lifted her out of the water.  Trembling with terror.  Me, not her.  She had by all accounts shuffled off this arachnid coil.  I can’t remember how I researched it, but I discovered that she was a trapdoor spider.  “We have trapdoors in Australia?” I whimpered.  “And in our freaking POOL?!”

I had once read about Sydney funnel web spiders going into suspended animation if they were unlucky enough to end up at the bottom of a swimming pool, and decided to put my trapdoor somewhere safe.  Sure enough, the next day her animation was anything but suspended and she scuttled off to see out the rest of her life.

Over the years I also hauled out some males.  Those guys have got a real attitude problem.  I risk my life to pull them out of the depths, find a nice sheltered rock at the back of the pool enclosure, carefully pop them on there and caringly cover them with something to hide them from birds.  When I go and check on them later, the bloke trapdoors are so bursting with gratitude, they just want to bite something.  They rear up on their back legs, let me check out the size of their ancient (downward facing) fangsters and, I am almost convinced, yell “Fuck off!” in loud thought language.  Once there was this bloke trapdoor who wasn’t quite together after coming out of his coma.  He looked like he’d been on the booze for three weeks, rearing up and falling over, and being all wobbly.  But he was still utterly pissed off.  I left him alone to carry on coming to.

As it turned out, it wasn’t just the trapdoors who fancied a dip.  The frequent discovery of a long centipede or gargantuan scorpion at the bottom of the pool was so prolific, it became known as “The Daily Arachnid”.  I have since discovered that centipedes take the longest on average to get over their near-death experience, some of them needing a good couple of days to get mobile and move off.  Trapdoors and scorpions who get rescued in the morning have often moved on by the time I come out and check them at night.  There is always a sense of something good having been done when I lift the camouflage leaf and find nothing underneath it but rock.

Up here we have bugger all redbacks, but we sure do get a lot of hunting spiders, namely huntsmans and wolf spiders.  I am particularly fond of huntsmans and fyi – I checked the plural in Spider Watch: A Guide to Australian Spiders by Bert Brunet and even as I justify the grammar, writing “huntsmans” instead of “huntsmen” is giving me a migraine.  Anyway, huntsman spiders are just too cool.  They have the most amazing faces and eight legs and one eyeball for every leg, and the eyeballs are divided into two park lights, two driving lights, two spotties and two super troupers.  They’ve got these big, furry ….things…. that their fangs poke out the bottom of, sort of like fang-warmers.  Hidden behind the fang-warmers is a pink mouth.  Around our home they suddenly appear in a spot, and that’s their spot for as many nights as they want it to be.  So one night a big male will appear in a spot on an external garage wall.  He will disappear during the day and then the next night reappear in his spot.  Because it’s his spot.

Over the course of many encounters with huntsmans, I became aware that when the males are out looking for the ladieeeeees their abdomen sometimes appears to shrivel like a raisin.  One day while looking at one of these little prune-dudes, it occurred to me that perhaps he was dehydrated.  I filled an eyedropper with filtered water and offered the tip to the spider and tarnation!  If he didn’t respond immediately!  So immediately I shrieked a bit and dropped the dropper.  But you know, I was on a mission.  Picked the eyedropper up and offered it to him again.  For the second time he responded to the water; this time I (who is about a million times bigger than the spider) was steeled.

The little fellow grabbed onto the dropper with three of his four front legs, parted his fang-warmers, manoeuvred his mouth to the tip of it – and started drinking.  It was so great.  He drank gallons and gallons, at least two drops, and as he drank I witnessed a little miracle – his abdomen plumped up again to its true handsome appearance, no more the hairy sultana.  When he finished drinking he let go of the dropper, backed off a couple of paces, and – I could almost swear – licked his lips and sighed, “Ahhh, that’s better.”

Who knew?  I never stopped to consider that spiders like a drink.  Since that first experience, I have offered the dropper to several more of the small guys.  Sometimes they don’t want a drink and they are not at all shy about letting me know.  Rarer still you get Mr Total-Poopypants who just wants to be left alone, even if he’s looking a bit thirsty.  That’s his choice, of course.  Besides, huntsman spiders have this unnerving tendency to let go of whatever vertical surface they are clinging to with all eight legs, and drop like a bag of mini-potatoes.  This is why I never offer the dropper to a huntsman on the ceiling.  Their other trick is similar, except they execute a bungy jump – one spider, one thread of silk, eight legs splayed: rapid vertical drop (no bounce).  I love them a lot, but I’m still a bit unsure whether I want that landing on my face.  I’ve had issues about my face being used as a helideck by multi-legged lifeforms ever since I saw Alien.

The girl huntsman has got a different gig.  She will find a safe nook or cranny in which to have her babies, then she will sew a beautiful round, flat, white, broody bag, about the size of a twenty cent piece.  Once her precious cargo is safely ensconced in this soft haven, she holds onto it, hugging it tucked under her, like she will never let it go.  She just sits and sits and sits and holds and holds and holds.  Eventually her babies come out, these comical, tiny-weenie, perfect long-legged replicas of Mum and Dad.  Many a time we’ve had these pint-sized kids on our ceiling, and they are funny things – they will sit in one spot for ages (practising for when they’re grown up), but suddenly one will get it in his head that he really needs to be over there – so he charges, pedal to the metal, to over there.  Then he sits in that spot for ages, until he realises it’s going to be a whole lot nicer one metre and twelve centimetres to the left.  And off he goes.  Full throttle.  When you have hundreds of spiderlings doing this all at the same time, it’s quite a show.

As mentioned, we have white-tailed spiders too.  I’m still a bit jittery about them, but they have usually shown themselves to me to be quite well-mannered and tolerant (although there is sometimes the occasional Mr Total Poopypants).  I very carefully catch them in my critter jar, slide the Christmas card under it and escort them across the road to the bush.  I like to relocate them because I am very fond of our window spiders and white-taileds enjoy a good meal of window spider.  At the moment we have a very large, velvety black window spider I’ve named (no, auto-correct – “black WINDOW spider”, not “black widow!”….go away) “Lady Eight-legs”.  She hangs around the tunnel in her web at various levels of exposure.  Sometimes she comes right out and I must say, she’s a big girl.  Since it is now Autumn, I expect she’ll be having some kids soon.  A couple of weeks ago, three days apart, I discovered white-taileds near her, facing her and obviously thinking about lunch.  I took those guys across the road to a nice fallen log.

Jiffy also came across a web next to his garage, home to a large orb-weaving spider.  She is about 10cm long, including her stripy legs (and that measurement is without her legs being fully stretched).  Her abdomen looks a lot like the alien’s head in that same movie, but it’s a beautiful creamy colour and has no double-snapping jaws at one end.  We have to be grateful for such things.  She sits in her orb web, while around it she has spun a network of crazy lines of silk that are quite untidy – a bird deterrent?  Or camouflage?  Down the middle of her web, from the top edge, is a line of debris.  At the bottom of this pile of debris is the middle of the orb, where she sits all day long.  A-a-a-a-ll d-a-a-a-a-y l-o-o-o-o-ng.  It’s a spider thing.  Golly, she is beautiful.

As you can see, my opinion of spiders has come a long way and changed for the better.  I realise that these little beings have value and each of them is a miracle, as is all life.  Sure, they are different from me – heck, in terms of legs and eyeballs, I’m only 25% the being that a spider is!  And sure, it was easy to get caught up in the “ew, they’re ugly and scary” scenario, but that says more about ignorance and fear than anything else.  I wouldn’t want to tangle with a Sydney funnel web, no way, but I still feel they are here as the result of something much bigger than me.  They have a place in this world and sometimes that place crashes head-on with ours.

I let myself imagine that they are trying to make sense of their spider world in much the same way I am trying to make sense of mine, except in the spider equivalent of that.  I don’t expect they experience their life in the way I am experiencing mine (as in spider senses versus human senses) but you know it is possible that they do.  One thing I am certain of, and that is the fact that I have far more pleasure and wonder in my life because I have consciously learnt to love spiders.

They are freaking awesome.

For the critters..
Mona

Copyright R Janssen - 2012

Huntsman Drinking
Copyright R Janssen - 2012

Guest BloggersLifestyleVegan aMusingVeganism

And So This Was Christmas!

So here we are, at the other end of it all. Another year flown by, another New Year ushered in with all its tacit promise of better things to come and promises made to be better humans. I anticipate that many New Year’s resolutions have been made by compassionate people choosing veganism to improve this entity we are, Humankind, to be kind to our fellow beings and to treat our planet with more respect.

In terms of Christmas, things are a little different at our home compared to what they used to be, and that is because Jiffy and I opted out of Christmas years ago. I had been disenchanted with Christmas for a long time, and he began to feel a similar discomfort. There are a number of reasons for my disillusionment; some, but not all based in veganism, and here’s a rundown:

Religion

My Dad was a no-nonsense atheist. Mum – you know, I’m still not entirely sure how she feels about God in any sense of the concept. She was raised a Lutheran. While Dad made his opinion clear, they left me to seek my own way and for a while I too was a confirmed atheist. Then as I became a bit disillusioned with science and its dislike of anything it can’t measure, I diluted my stance to agnosticism. I guess I am still an agnostic because I am both disconcerted by some of the evil acts that are perpetrated in the name of religion, yet ready to acknowledge that the concept of religion, in terms of giving people meaning in their life and a set of guidelines to help them aspire to be better human beings is wonderful, assuming it is not abused. Ultimately I believe there is something going on in the universe that’s a truckload bigger and more important than me (ok, probably a couple of things), so as long as I acknowledge that and continue through life without hurting anything then that’s okay. Right? Without hurting even the people who hurt others. Especially that last one. I’m not too good at that yet, but I’m working on it. That, and forgiveness. I can hang onto a grudge with all 20 digits for millennia. As I said, I’m working on it.

Golly, I’m the first to acknowledge I don’t have the answers! But at any rate, I felt that I was not in a place to celebrate the birth of Christ the way that Christians do. With all due respect, and acknowledging my belief that Christ existed, the fact is that I also believe that there are many avatars whose births aren’t celebrated in the all-encompassing fashion that his is (at least where I live), and who are as deserving as he. Buddha, for one.

To put it simply – isn’t Jesus Christ’s birth what Christmas is about? How’d all that other stuff get in there?

Commercialism

Ugly, ugly, ugly. Were any of you brave enough prior to Christmas to watch a movie or, perish the thought, the tenth rerun of a Big Bang Theory episode on a commercial channel? Were you suddenly overwhelmed by the urge to go out and buy stuff, especially stuff that was going to exponentially improve the quality of your life, like, say, a remote control helicopter? Did you want to go to Harvey Norman and buy something, anything, because, omg – they were giving you a-lot-of-months interest free? Did you realise that you forgot to buy something for your boss’s wife’s next door neighbour’s second cousin, and hallelujah you were saved because there were last minute Christmas gifts available JUST FOR YOU TO BUY?? Or perhaps, like me, you discovered the merits of the mute button on the universal remote (said remote, incidentally, being something that has improved Jiff’s life exponentially…..).

And those commercials were gentle compared to the ones for the Boxing Day sales that appeared one nanosecond after Christmas was done. Shops in the eastern states opened at 5:00am – to the queued up hordes – ? Really?

I remember being a kid in delicious agony having to wait for Father Christmas to deliver my prezzies. It was all about the prezzies-for-me. This was before I was old enough to feel obliged to return the favour, so I must have been pretty young. How did I become this Mini-Me who salivated at the exciting promise of new things and goodies? Sindy doll. The fancy Chrissy doll, whose hair could be short, medium or long, thanks to a roller in her head and a crank on her back. Barbie doll. Gee, lots of dolls. Toys, toys, toys. Some dumb people gave me food. Everyone knew food wasn’t presents! Worse, some idiots gave me clothes! Ya what?? Hasn’t anybody yet written the definitive guide entitled What to Give a Kid for Christmas so They Don’t Hate You?

Obviously the bar has been raised, because Sindy and Chrissy have been replaced by Xbox Kinect or sundry i-Gadgets. Or was that so five minutes ago? Gadgets! I first became aware of other (especially young) people and their gadgets – and the way said gadgets are changing our way of interacting with the world – during the three years I studied art in Perth 2008-2010. This involved two hours on buses and trains every day, a three-hour round-trip door-to-door, don’t get me started. But it offered me an opportunity to people-watch and it was usually me who was doing the watching. Apart from those thrillseekers who actually communicated directly with each other on public transport, most commuters were engaged in other activities. Many folk were reading books or the daily paper. Some stared into oblivion, trying to avoid gazing straight into the crotches of those who were standing. A few spoke on their mobile phones (and I am convinced that some of them were not having conversations with real people – they were just shouting controversial things into their phones to make it look like they were important. Or maybe had friends). Some txtd with great concentration. There were those with their ear buds in, listening to their music so loud that I could have sung along with it, even from the other end of the bus…that is, if I knew the words.

By far the most sobering were the people who sat in their seats and listened to music while txting, constantly, for the entire journey, without looking up occasionally to perhaps take in the view or reconnect with where they were at present. So lost in their own worlds, apparently oblivious to all around them – like the overtly funny but somewhat chilling scenes in Wall-E, where obese people sat in little pods with a computer screen in front of them, engaging friends via the computer, but not interacting with other real, live people directly next to them. And they’d lost the ability to walk. Silly cartoon, right? The txting earbud people I saw in buses and trains were so used to the constant soundtrack in their head that they didn’t physically respond to music. When a favourite song comes on I think it’s so gorgeous to be able to let go and tap hands and feet, move body, mildly headbang. Dance like nobody is watching. Sing like nobody is listening. Surely that’s not just me?

At a time when our consciousness is supposedly expanding, these must-have cool gadgets are informing us more about the rest of the world at the expense of relating to what is immediately around us.

But I digress.

The point is, one of the greatest inspirations for me to opt out of Christmas was how commercial and profit-driven it is these days. Maybe I am mistaken about the significance of Christ’s birth. Maybe in our world Christmas is about buying stuff. If so, a name change is in order – “Buy-mass”, anyone? Ok, that’s a bit lame. But you see where I’m at.

The Meatfest

There is a pig slaughterhouse about twenty minutes past our local town. Our town is on the highway and the pig trucks come through our town en route to that vile place, with their “cargo” of doomed beings. It is a sad and demoralising sight. Some of their squeals are bone chilling. If I am close enough to that truck, those little guys look me right in the eye and all I can do right then is apologise for my own species and ponder how anyone can believe it is okay to turn these living, breathing, feeling beings into a food that we don’t even need, that we eat just because we like the taste.

In about October each year the truck carries more pigs per load than the rest of the year. I don’t know for sure why, but my guess is that it has something to do with Christmas hams. From an ancient way of preserving meat when there was no refrigeration, to a mainstay in the sad Western diet; those unfortunate beings are killed and dismembered to be ingested by humans as part of the traditional Christmas dinner.

Joy to the world.

For any person with a modicum of awareness who has witnessed a piglet zooming gleefully around an open field, or exploring, playing, being loved or getting belly rubs, there is little to separate the piglet’s obvious joy from that of a dog’s in a similar situation. Sadly, most pigs are raised in factory farms, in overcrowded pens on concrete floors, no straw to bed down, in their own muck, for six short months until it’s their turn on the truck. And then, if it is a clear day, the ones on the outer edges of their level on the truck get to see sunshine for what may be the first and only time in their miserable lives. According to www.pork4kids.com/askafarmer.aspx there are approximately 850 million pigs in the world at any time. That’s a lot of misery, and that is only one of the intelligent species that we exploit.

Turkeys are also unfortunate enough to be part of our Christmas dinner picture, even with its decidedly American roots. Turkey marketing peaks in Australia around Christmas time. Just like chickens, turkeys have been bred to gain weight as fast as possible. A turkey’s lifespan could be as much as ten years, but here they are slaughtered at just 12 weeks old, and suffer diseases and crippling as a result of their rapid growth, not to mention cruel practices like debeaking. I just read a report that cites if a 3kg human baby grew at that rate, at just 18 weeks of age, that baby would weigh 227kg.

We are Frankenstein. But then, Frankenstein did not eat his creation.

I have seen a pair of rescued broiler chickens (those raised for meat alone). Having been allowed to live beyond the six weeks of age when chickens are usually slaughtered, these two young chickens, a male and a female, grew into something surreal. When I described them to a friend, I used the word “abominations”. They were so massive, they could barely walk on their crazily splayed legs. Encountering them filled me with revulsion and pity. They both died shortly afterwards; she first and then he, his end possibly quickened by grief. He’d lost his mate.

Well, enough of that. You get the picture. Another reason I opted out of Christmas was my inability to be gracious about nice, and even deeply religious and kind, people being good and pious at Christmastime, yet not giving a second thought to the creatures whose lives were taken for Christmas dinner. Or maybe giving a second thought and eating them anyway. A fleshfest at a time when leaders ask us to think of our “fellow man” and peace on earth seemed so hypocritical to me. How can there be true peace on earth when there is so much cruelty and hypocrisy? Getting back to science, that negative energy has to go somewhere…

Was anyone else ready to throw spitballs at Curtis Stone’s smiling face on the telly as he spruiked Christmas fare that is disproportionately meat-heavy? Turkey, ham, prawns, anything that moves. And along with the annual flood of Christmas recipes come the concurrent articles about how to lose the weight you put on over the festive season. That, right there, says so much about a troubling, wasteful side of us – that so many of us overindulge that there is impetus enough for the media to offer us articles on how to fix the unhealthy mess we made of ourselves in a very short period of time. In amongst that are your concerned government’s reminders to eat 2 fruit & 5 veg every day. Trust me, folks – they do that because they care for you. My Cynical Side is popping up and insisting I tell you that it’s actually because they anticipate the rapidly approaching and monstrously vast health crisis caused by our meat-centric, dairy-heavy sugar-laden, junk-food infused, vegetable-starved, fibre-free western diet. Oh Cynical Side, you little rapscallion, you mischievous imp – I forgive you.

See, I’m getting better at forgiving already. I thought this was gonna be hard!

So, without engaging in a regular Christmas, how did we spend the past couple of weeks? Jiff and I shared some special time with loved people and our critters. We ate wonderful vegan food and, in fact, Jiff used the opportunity very well indeed. He happily cooks up a storm in the kitchen at any time, but he has just discovered the best dhal recipe in the universe (thank you, IsaChandra – you legend!), not to mention the equivalent level of creamy tofu chocolate mousse (from The Joy of Vegan Baking by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau).

You need a protein injection, you protein-deficient, sickly-looking vegan-type? Cop one in the mousse!

In between discovering them, he whipped up a few more awesome Indian dishes courtesy of Manjula (we love Manjula). We shared a few drinkipoos and a lot of laughs, and we acknowledged our fellow creatures with love.

We didn’t kill anybody.

And we toasted how great it is to be vegan. Happy New Year!

For the critters…
Mona

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Vegan A-Musing: Family! – by Ramona Janssen

Firstly, I would like to acknowledge that this post went in a different way than I had anticipated it would.  I have mentioned the documentary Forks Over Knives a number of times, but this is because I found it fascinating and profoundly relevant.  I am in no way connected to that documentary nor its makers.

My human blood family is pretty compact.  The concept of “Family” is a little alien to me, inasmuch as I have never really had much of it to deal with.  Mum and Dad came to Australia from Germany after World War II, while all the rellies, bar my Aunt, stayed in the Vaterland. Now I have my Mum and my Aunt who is actually my Dad’s cousin, and no siblings.  I also have my partner, Jiffy, and thus a connection to a few of his relatives, like his Dad and his partner, and Jiffy’s Aunt.

What I have discovered as the years go by is that family have become more precious.  Albeit they often shit me to tears, the fact is that they are my family and I am mostly glad that they are around.  I have considered the possibility that maybe I do my share of shitting them too……maybe…..

What a clanger veganism can be when it comes to family!  My first tentative baby steps into vegetarianism, which began when I was a child, were met with harrumphs and very little support.  Given my parents were German and, let’s face it, the Deutschies of that generation sure loved eating animals – knackerwurst and leberwurst, kalbsnierenbraten, kohl und pinkel, braten in general, wurst, wurst, and more wurst.  They ate – and omg, I atebloodwurst, the notorious black pudding (who the hell thought up putting “blood” and “pudding” in the same sentence, ffs?  It’s just wrong)!  If you’ve ever wanted to know what that is – and believe me, you don’t – one definition is “a kind of black sausage made from minced pork fat, pig’s blood, and other ingredients” (1).  The German word for meat, “fleisch” even sounds creepy, especially since its literal translation is flesh – it is pronounced “fl-eye-sh” as one syllable.  Meat could be (and usually was) served at any and every meal, vegies were boiled to mush and salads were made up of cooked vegies.  Bleh.

My folks were overjoyed in the least possible way that I wanted to quit eating critters.  They believed that vegetarians were weird, pale, sick-looking hippies shunned by society while they ate handfuls of nuts.  I wish I’d grown myself a pair of nuts back then because it was all too hard without my parents’ support and basically, I still enjoyed the taste of meat.  Not pretty to admit, but it’s the truth.

At twenty years of age, doubled over in agony and vomiting bile, I was admitted to Emergency in the local hospital.  During an ultrasound, the tech was pointing out my inside bits as they appeared on the screen – “There’s your kidney…there’s your this and your that…” and I had to take his word for it because couldn’t recognise anything, the screen was just a weird accumulation of grey and white.  Suddenly onscreen there materialised this easily-identifiable “bag” tightly filled with marbles, and the tech informed me, “That’s your gall bladder, nicely filled with gallstones!”  Oh happy days.  Gallstones had a reputation in those days – to develop them you were supposed to be female, fair, fat, fertile and forty.  Tick the female bit, so to speak.  But hang on – I was half the freaking recommended age, fairly fair (after several drinks), only slightly chubby, fertility was unproven, so HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?  It turned out that the gallstones were formed out of cholesterol – hello, clue!

Mum picked me up after the operation.  We’re talking here of a vertical incision from solar plexus to belly button because the wankers hadn’t invented keyhole surgery for gallstones back then, thus I was left sporting one big physical scar and countless emotional ones.  I was hungry because all I’d been given to eat in hospital was hospital stuff (they called it food).  My darling Mum offered to take me somewhere for lunch and I was starving and craving fish and chips, the battered kind that beckons all manner of disease and nasties.  That’s what I ate for my first post-hospital meal, after being rampantly surgerised for a disease probably caused by my diet.  Kick me, somebody.

There were rumblings indeed from the mater and pater when, some six years later, I finally grew those nuts I mentioned back there a bit and chose a vegetarian lifestyle.  It took another seventeen and a half years before I went vegan and by that time Dad was no longer around – he had developed type 2 diabetes and, after an initial fright at the diagnosis during which he made the calculated switch from drinking beer to the healthier scotch whiskey (!), he carried on smoking and drinking.  And it killed him, although he did manage to make it to 77, copping a stroke along the way.  I had many “discussions” with him about his diet and my own lifestyle choices.  This, a man who adored animals – he just would not stop eating them.

I wonder what he would say today, after I’d bound and gagged him and forced him to watch Forks Over Knives?

I kept talking to Mum but she couldn’t help herself, apparently – butter and cream, eggs and salami, down the hatch they went.  She stacked on the weight and found herself a tad unfit.  About 18 months after Dad had passed, we were walking to her house, a mere 500 metres from mine, when she had to stop and catch her breath.  Shortly thereafter she was admitted to the Emergency Department at a nearby hospital with shoulder pain.  They ran an ECG and sent her home with medication to treat an ulcer.  A short time later the same thing happened.  Again she was sent home.  The third time she experienced this severe, recurrent pain in her shoulders, and just after she desperately told me that she didn’t want to die, I drove her to the major hospital in the city (an ambulance would have been bound to take her to the local hospital again) and there, finally, the ECG revealed she had suffered a heart attack.

An angiogram showed that the blood vessels to her heart were in such a poor state, with one major vessel reduced to the width of a hair, the doctors decided to let her ticker rest for a couple of days before performing bypass surgery.  She was hooked up to a machine to help pump blood around her body.

Only after all this did my Mum give up eating meat.  Eight years on and I am still asking her to quit the dairy.  She doesn’t consume much and most of it is when she is out at her weekly seniors gathering.  She has come a long way and I do acknowledge that.

Then there was Jiffy’s Mum, diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at, if I remember correctly, four years of age.  A few years ago we accompanied her to a ceremony where a small group of diabetics who had lived for 50 years with the disease were presented with a commemorative medallion.   Most of their diabetic peers had died in the interim, and it is worth noting that the majority of the people presented with a medallion that day had shared the same doctor, Jiffy’s Mum included.  She used to tell me she was convinced it was cow’s milk that had caused her diabetes.  While I don’t know if that is what happened, there is plenty of compelling material online to support her theory – just Google something simple like “cows milk diabetes”.  Some will agree with her belief re milk, some may find it controversial, others will just disagree.  I know what I believe.  She had a lifetime of pricking digits to test blood several times a day, injecting insulin and watching what she ate and drank.  She once told me she was terrified of losing limbs, an insidious possibility that is a complication of the disease.

Jiffy’s Mum passed away in July last year, barely making her sixties.   The cause was diabetes mellitus.

Jiffy’s Dad lives on the other side of Australia from us so we don’t see him very often.  One of our visits in recent years was a response to a call from his partner’s daughter, who informed us he’d had a heart attack and was in hospital.  When we arrived, his partner was a train wreck, and he was in bed, oxygen mask on his face, and his whole head was bright red.  He was also unusually emotional and started crying when we spoke to him.  Lucky enough to avoid bypass surgery, he had had a stent inserted into one of his cardiac blood vessels.  He too had barely made it into his sixties.  He now eats a hearty regime of medication every day, including Lipitor, aspirin and stuff to lower his blood pressure.  He still eats animal products, but feels secure in the knowledge that the milk he chooses is low fat (ha! Watch out for that one if and when you watch Forks Over Knives!).  He has had a few associated health scares that put him back in hospital, notably two episodes of severe dehydration.

People!  Drink water and avoid that shit!

My Aunt who lives here in Perth was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes years ago and has done very little about moderating her lifestyle to deal with the disease.  I have spoken with her so many times, but I identified that changes, even small, perhaps slightly inconvenient ones, were graciously plopped in her too hard basket.  Things like losing some of her way-too-much weight that obviously interfered with her enjoyment of life, or reducing the amount of animal products she consumed, and drinking water.  But she hates water.  She liked orange juice – yes, the sweet kind – and drank that by the two litre carton.  Her liquid intake was mainly coffee and OJ.  She liked sweet biscuits with her coffee.  She loved her weekly outing to eat fish and chips on the wharf.  She was recently diagnosed with kidney failure, and has been given a year to live.

I have spoken with all these people, my family, about food and lifestyle choices.  My Dad used to shut down our conversations about vegetarianism; indeed, shortly before he died (and a dozen years after I became veg) he still emphatically stated to me, “You have to eat meat”.  But why did he think I have to?

It is obvious to me that there is something very wrong with the long-term health of many of my family members.  I wonder why they are intellectually able to acknowledge that what they eat today is what they are tomorrow, but then are so challenged by the thought of giving up animal products, even for a relatively short period of time, even if just to see how they feel (and I’m not talking a token vegan dinner).  I get the impression that deep down there is an angst that compels them to reject embracing veganism because of course it threatens their ingrained way of life, the very thing that has got them this far (the ones that are still alive, that is).  It probably got them here in the condition they’re in, too……While some of the rellies, notably my Dad (77) and my Aunt (80-something) have made it to a ripe age, their quality of life was/has been severely compromised by the state of their health.  Anybody truly want to live a long, unhealthy life?  Or at least, would they consciously choose to be unhealthy?

I am certain that many vegans are all too familiar with dealing with family members who just don’t want to know about veganism, even though it is one of the most empowering decisions we can ever make for ourselves.  I attempt to share ideas with my family because, first of all – I care for them!  And I have familiarised myself with information that is available for those who wish to discover it, information that is not in the mainstream (although I suspect the mainstream can now just about see it coming.  I suspect it looks a bit like an avalanche).  For me it’s a lifelong quest and to wit, I have just started reading The China Study by T. Colin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell II.  I’m 16 pages in and already shaking my head in disbelief.

Don’t be disheartened, fellow veegs!  Sometimes trying to share the good stuff with family reaps rewards.  Jiff and I sat down with his Dad and partner a couple of weekends ago, and we all watched Forks Over Knives.  While his partner chose to focus on only the info re processed food, Jiff’s Dad, bless him, piped up with, “Yeh, okay – let’s give it a shot,” which was promptly followed by two loud clunks as our jawbones hit the deck.  Cynicism can become a habit, you know.  I am unsure whether the compelling info on the documentary convinced him, or the fact that we advised him Ozzy Osbourne decided to try veganism after watching the same program.  Or maybe it was the fact that the word “vegan” was hardly heard at all; what was referred to was “a wholefoods, plant-based diet”.  I guess for some people, choosing veganism is more about their own health than animal rights and that’s okay.  Either way I am convinced it is better for the planet, for us and our fellow beings, so if humans latch on to health themselves up, it’s still a great thing.

I have since emailed Jiff’s Dad more info, plus links to various sites, including the registration site for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine’s next 21-Day Vegan Kickstart which commences on 2 January 2012 – I am now hoping he is still as enthused about taking responsibility for his health as he was after the credits rolled on the documentary.  21 days is a short amount of time when you are talking a whole life, and really – what has he got to lose?

A lot, come to think of it.

For the critters ….
Mona

Mum today, being awesome and groovy. Isn’t she gorgeous?

Guest BloggersLifestyleVegan aMusingVeganism

Vegan A-Musing: The Cruelty Free Festival – by Ramona Janssen

It’s been a hectic few weeks in my world but oh so rewarding.

I had the opportunity to be involved in organising the Cruelty Free Festival in Perth this year. Well okay, it was more by default. My bloke, Geoff, took on the role of Chief Food Organiser months ago, while I happily carried on doing other stuff. Man, did he ever take it on – face buried in the laptop as I got to know every hair on the back of his head by its first name. Monosyllabic responses to my conversation-starters, even the riveting ones!

He was doing an awesome job, but as the festival itself loomed nearer he was suddenly offered a short-term casual job that was too good to turn down (and happened to coincide with the festival and just prior to it), accepted it, proceeded to delegate his festival load and bang – mones collapsed under the weight of the not exactly-welcome responsibility for…….the cake stall (insert dramatic music here).

Lucky for me, if there is one thing vegans usually do when it comes to food (besides eat a lot of it), is report for cooking duty in stunning fashion. Our joy in vegan food is the shareable kind, and most of my peers are thrilled at any opportunity to showcase the wonderful array of eatables to anyone who stands still long enough. Or moves. Or breathes. Or doesn’t. It only took a few emails to follow up the fine work Geoff had started to enlist a veritable army of happy bakers.

At this point, Geoff’s job was cancelled. Of course I expected him to assume the cake stall helm again. It was his baby, or at least, part of his baby. I never expected him to take it as a done deal that I would continue organising the cake stall.

Always expect the unexpected.

The big day arrived, just last Saturday, and we unloaded our heaps of gear at the Earthwise Centre in Subiaco. The weather was windy and rainy and we were armed with a cheapie marquee off ebay. The struts were as sturdy as garden hose and the cover was less so. With the assistance of about a half dozen of our peeps, we assembled the doodads and attached the roof and three sides. Geoff and I walked to our nearby car to get something and heard a terrified yowl. We looked back from whence we came. With one gust, the wind had lifted our carefully-erected marquee up like a parachute, and there it was – airborne, with a squealing person dangling from the bottom of each strut, hanging on for dear life.

Struts were bent and tent pegs too, while the wind kept blowing just to remind us it was still there. As we put everything back together, allowing places for the wind to blow right through the marquee rather than parachute it, I figured things would improve from there. And they did.

Start time was 10:00 and the atmosphere charged as we drew closer to opening up to the public. The festival consisted of various stalls promoting cruelty-free living, social justice and sustainability. For example, Sea Shepherd had a stall, so did SAFE (Saving Animals from Euthanasia); there were cosmetics and clothing and petitions. The Perth festival was put together by Animal Rights Advocates (and they rock). ARA had organised continuous live music throughout the day; there were talks and cooking demonstrations and a fantastic transportable water bubbler station where people could refill their drink bottles.

And of course there was food. What positive, happy vegan event exists without it? There were three food stalls in our marquee; Geoff’s homemade spicy Italian hotdogs (aka ‘notdogs’), Earnie’s homemade savoury pies, and of course our cakey stuff. Our happy bakers deposited their wares and we had everything from Rainbow Spongecake (or Pride Cake, as Creator Kelly declared), to Golden Vanilla Cupcakes with Fluffy Raspberry Coulis Notbuttercream frosting (that’s with fresh raspberries and a nod to our beloved vegan cooking and baking Pillar of Awesomeness, Isa Chandra Moskowitz). We had Salty Choc Chip Oatmeal Fig Cookies (and they were amazing!) to Blondies (delish!). There were gluten-free cookies too. What a spread! We also had booklets of the recipes used in some of the baked goodies on offer.

Basking in management duties, I declared that we’d set the cakes up at 09:45 so they’d be ready for presentation and sale at 10:00. We made a good attempt, but no sooner were the cakes on the table at 09:45 – still in plastic containers and whatever other means of transport were employed – than the humans started buying. Doh! We had cake covers and platters and all manner of purty stuff for displaying the goodies, but no. The humies were hungry. The cakes were within striking distance. They grew themselves legs and walked off the table.

Geoff fired up the VGQ (that’s vegan for ‘BBQ’) and started frying onions. This was 10:00am in the morning, before the pm, and yet once the aroma of sizzling onions wafted over the footpath, a queue of droolers formed. Try breakfast, people!

He’d made 150 snaggers in our kitchen, calculating that number should see us through. Two and a half hours of constant hotdog-assembling later, and they were cleaned out. That is one hotdog per minute for 150 minutes. So the horde descended on Earnie and his pies because poor old Earnster and his weenie piemakers had been hidden behind the large and glamorous VGQ – suddenly he was visible and set upon by the hungries, forking out his Better-than-beef and corn mornay pies like a tornado of pieness. The guy even made his own pastry! And if you’re having any silly ideas, let me assert right here that Earnie is MY pastry makin’, pie-bakin’, meat forsakin’ friend – go find your own.

The pies didn’t last long either. Note to self: for 2012 festival – Bring. More. Food.

All this time, of course, our cake stall was going ballistic, cakes and cookies heading off in every direction. Satisfied customers coming back for more and I don’t mean just once. Some people spent a lot of time in the three queues outside our marquee, sampling a hotdog, going back for seconds, trying a pie, having anothery, finishing off with a cake. And then a cookie. And it was raining.

We had so much cake! So many cookies! Slices and stuff! We sold it all!

The response to our offerings was enthusiastic and heartwarming. People were amazed by the food, in awe that it was free of animal products. One big bloke had bought a hotdog and was stomping past the ARA stall. Tracy couldn’t get up to our marquee fast enough to tell us that he’d taken a bite of his hotdog and declared (possibly paraphrased), “Bullshit! This has got meat in it!” When advised by someone nearby that it was definitely vegan, he took another bite and said, “BULLSHIT! This has definitely got at least meat juices in it!” No dude, let me officially broadcast to you now that that sausage, the one that has hopefully got you thinking about who you eat, is made of gluten flour, besan (that’s chickpea flour) and spices.

I wandered up to the building in which the talks and cooking demos were being held. Peeping through the windows, I noticed that every seat in the place was filled. People were listening intently to Nick as he talked about issues relevant to the cruelty-free theme. Maree (yes, our own beloved Animal Actionist) waited outside with pamphlets, information and the documentary Earthlings for anyone who had been stirred to find out more. And there were many people who had been stirred.

As the day wound down and the rain really set in, some of us walked around, packing up and reflecting. It is clear to me that for whatever reason, people are really starting to question where we are as a species. This includes, of course, where we find ourselves in time and on this planet, as one of countless species who also share our earth. Their interest seems more than politeness, it has an energy that suggests shifting consciousness and a desire to make a change for better, for us and for our fellow beings. They embraced our food, ideas and philosophy and all this in the rain. Perhaps they are now considering this – would our world be anything but better with less cruelty in it?

The answer? As if.

Note to self: Might need a bigger venue for next year’s festival…..

For the critters
Mona

www.crueltyfreefestivalwa.org.au

www.earthlings.com

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Guest Blogger.. Say Hi To Ramona

Hey everyone, I have joined forces with a lovely lady who is an excellent writer, and an avid animal lover.  Allow me to introduce you all to the passionate & delightful, Ramona Janssen!  *applause!*

‘Mona’ has graciously agreed to write periodic blog posts discussing all things relating to animal rights, veganism, compassion, health … the list goes on and on.   Anything that affects animals and our world are topics that Ramona has a keen interest in, and I’m sure you will find her posts poignant and thought provoking.  An immense animal lover from childhood, Mona has always felt deeply for the suffering of our non-human friends – but like all of us, it took her a while to fully realise just how exploited so many are, and her unwitting complicity in it all.  This first entry is an introduction to what you can expect to see in the coming weeks, and explores her journey and thoughts on animal exploitation & veganism.

Enjoy.  Over to you Mona….

Hello to everyone, and welcome to my first blog post.

Veganism is rising.  It was a whisper, then it was a presence, and now there is an undeniable quickening as more human beings awaken to this incredibly rewarding life choice.  If there was ever anything wrong about being vegan, it was that there were too few of us – and that is rapidly changing.

There is something about being vegan that transcends a choice in diet; it is also a philosophy, a freedom, a connection, a relief and a state of joy.

Without doubt, choosing to become vegan is the single best thing I have ever done, and I would like to share my passion for it, tales and opinions and joy and humour – with you.  The list of potential topics is vast, but includes “Shiny, Happy Vegans”, “It’s Not all About the Food.  But omg, the Food”, “Vegans vs Vegos (in the Nicest Possible Way)” and responses to current affairs.

Initially I will blog every one to two weeks.  Thank you Maree, for hosting my blog – you are awesome.  And you’re vegan, which means you are even more awesome.  How awesome can one little dynamo package of critter-mad human be?  Humans don’t come any better than you.

And so to begin, I think the best way is:

Why Am I Vegan?  The Evolution of the Mones.

Some humans eat meat.  Some do not…..

Year: 1989.

Scene: Murdoch University, Perth, Western Australia; a frustrated Communications student (I wanted to do art, dammit), I got involved with Animal Liberation on campus.  They were screening a documentary called “Hidden Crimes”, which was ostensibly about animal experimentation.  The gradual revelation of brutal and shocking acts committed by my fellow humans on my fellow beings was nothing short of deeply disturbing.

But somewhere amongst the various scientific experiments, the filmmaker had cut in footage of the slaughter of a cow.  I can’t remember whether the doomed one was male or female; I will refer to her in the feminine.  It is 22 years since I saw the footage, and this is how I remember it:

She was brown and beautiful and looked straight into the camera.  A man took aim with a rifle and shot her in her head.  Next she was hoisted by her hind legs until she dangled; a man then cut her throat and jumped back as the blood gushed out.  The man walked around her hanging body, cutting with a sawing action, severing her head.  Somewhere in all this, as she hung upside-down, her front leg moved in an arc, and it was not the result of anything moving it other than her.

In a short time all that was left of her was a hanging lump of meat.

In amongst all the cruelty in scientific experiments, the gravest offences against those who cannot speak our human language, it is possible that the slaughter of that cow disturbed me the most in its sheer vileness.

I remember being horrified, overwhelmed by the wrongness of it all.  The girl next to me was sobbing.  After the documentary ended I went to a toilet and sat in the cubicle, dazed, shattered.  I was filled with revulsion and shame, and then realised that something in me had changed, had shifted or perhaps just surrendered.  When I arrived at my flat later, my Mum was there and had cooked fillet steak for dinner; I remember her being rather annoyed at me when I advised her I was not going to eat it and in fact, I was going vegetarian.  This should have been no surprise to her, considering I had made a number of half-hearted attempts at going vego during my childhood/teens (without support from my well-meaning parents).

Even though I still enjoyed the taste of it at that time, I stopped eating red meat and became a white meat carnivore (which, let’s face it, is a more honest term than “red meat vegetarian”!).  It was only a few weeks before I made myself a chicken sandwich on rye.  I put it in my mouth and it was as though I had taken a bite of sawdust.  It had happened.  I had moved to the next stage without really noticing.  All meat was eliminated from my diet.

As I thought about it, I realised I was opposed to animals being killed so that I could eat them or wear them.  In hindsight I didn’t do much research about it, but it seemed fair enough to me from what I knew.  So the next things to go were leather and silk – fur was never an issue because it always seemed inherently wrong to me.  I started by deciding to never buy leather or silk again, but I kept wearing those leather shoes I still had in my wardrobe.  I shopped compassionately, choosing cruelty free soaps and stuff.  I still enjoyed eating eggs, cheese and yoghurt.

The internet arrived and suddenly there was far more information readily available about everything, including factory farming, the truth about the dairy industry and the egg industry, inhumane practices that are considered normal as part of animal husbandry; the list is long, comprehensive and revolting.

Fast forward to June 2006.  At this point I was happily vegetarian, and looking forward to being in the audience at a Peter Singer lecture at the University of Western Australia.  I understand he rubs a lot of people the wrong way, but there is no denying that he has a gift for asking the uncomfortable questions with clear reasoning.

At some point in the evening he spoke about the dairy industry and what happens to the babies.  Yes, babies.  Calves are babies; innocent, desperate to suckle, and in need of their mother’s love.  Despite this, they are torn from their mothers shortly after birth so that humans can feed on the milk that was meant for them (i.e. the calves).  The heifers are raised in nurseries to become part of the dairy herd, and the young males who are not kept for breeding purposes are usually kept alive for three to four months to end up as veal, or fattened to be slaughtered as yearlings.

I knew all of this, yet somehow had managed to continue consuming dairy right up till then.  As Peter Singer talked, I was transported back to a holiday in the South West of Western Australia, when I had been witness to the most awful bovine bellowing.  It was explained to me that the sorrowful, panicking sound was the mother cows calling for their babies who had been taken from them and that it would go on indefinitely.  Suddenly whatever it was that I had been protecting myself with just fell away.  No more denial, just a definitive decision to be something better than the cause of that tragedy.

Thank you, Peter Singer.  I walked into your lecture a vegetarian, and walked out vegan.

Well, almost.  We have rescued ex-battery chickens on our property, and have learnt much from them – including the fact that even if we ask them not to, the chooks who still lay eggs will do so on mostly a daily basis.  I kept on eating my beloved chooks’ bumnuts (although I noticed that they were starting to taste oddly bitter), while working on convincing my partner, Jiffy, to consider becoming “vegan” too.  He resisted bravely, until a friend of ours convinced him to watch Earthlings.  I chose not to watch it, knowing full well I would end up a blubbering mess, so I went to bed.  I was gently woken up by Jiff after he’d watched it, and he said, “I finally understand where you are coming from.  I don’t want to be part of that anymore.  I am going vegan.”

“We’ll still eat our chooks’ eggs, right?”

“No, I want to do this properly.”

And so it was somewhere around the beginning of the southern spring of 2006 that two new vegans were born.  That’s when the fun started – and I really do mean fun, although I won’t be writing about that here today.

The point of this article is to tell a story of one person’s journey from eating meat to veganism.  I ate meat until my 26th year.  I was vegetarian for 17 more.  Now I look back and acknowledge that although I choose to not waste time with regret, if there was anything I could regret about this, it is that I have not been vegan my entire life.

If you are considering becoming vegan – it is a wonderful, amazing life choice and you will only truly understand this once you choose it.

What are you waiting for?

For the critters
Mona