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Posts Tagged ‘lauren ornelas’

Since my recent post discussing how once-vegan Ellen Degeneres announced on her show that she gets her neighbor’s backyard chicken eggs, lots of comments poured in from folks with thoughts and feelings all across the egg-eating spectrum. My goal in writing the post was to foster respectful debate about this situation, and I was grateful to see that happen both here and on Vegansaurus (where I wrote another version of the post). Since there have been so many responses to my original post, I’m dedicating another post to discussing some of comments I received and including some more backyard egg info from experts.

A lot of us have strong opinions about this, and I have learned of many different perspectives on the issue. I thank everyone who commented here and elsewhere. I’m glad that most of us were able to talk about these issues in a compassionate way, because disrespectful dialogue gets us nowhere. Gena Hamshaw reminded me that it is possible to assert strong opinions or disagreement while remaining compassionate towards others. I always admire Gena’s courage in standing up for her beliefs, and I take her advice to heart!

Gena said:

I think every situation like this is an opportunity to a) find ways to educate and voice our beliefs, even in the face of disagreement, and b) stay true to ourselves while also realizing that others will do as they see fit.

Below, I’ve decided to share some of the other comments that stood out:

1mamabird said:

I must admit that I too indulged in the consuming of back yard eggs. I bought them from an old farmer who loved his chickens. He’d sell the eggs for a few extra bucks in his pocket. I was excited that I could eat eggs occasionally guilt free knowing that they were happy and well cared for. I asked him if they were raised for eating. He said he never eats his chickens. So I’d basically buy them for family and would eat one now and then myself. His hens have stopped producing for the last few months. He mentioned that he’ll get more if they don’t start laying soon. I asked what he’ll do with the others? He said so calmly that he’ll just ring their necks come January. I’m so sad for those poor babies. You just never know. A lesson learned for me big time! But believe me, he got an ear full. Maybe he’ll re think his decision. I know I have.

I think this speaks a great deal to the evolutionary aspect of many of our vegan journeys. While some of us go vegan “cold tofu,” many of us go back and forth and take time to figure out exactly what eating choices align with our ethical beliefs. It is also startling to see how our impressions of animal treatment can vary from reality, even from the nicest-seeming farmers and pleasant-looking backyard setups. Thank you, 1mamabird for sharing this!

Gena also noted the particular danger of someone like Ellen who comes from an animal rights background espousing the virtues of “happy” animal products.

Gena said:

Silly though it may be, people do feel motivated to go vegan and validated in their choice when celebrities are selling the lifestyle. And they feel nervous, insecure, and threatened when celebrities jump ship (which they so often do: Nathalie Portman, Lea Michelle, etc.). It’s a particular bummer because Ellen was an animal rights-oriented vegan, and this may encourage some of her followers to take the “happy meat/eggs/milk” route, instead of the vegan route.

Many others shared that they consider themselves to be (mostly) vegan, but do make some exceptions for eggs (which some pointed out would make them ovo-vegetarians, not vegans). Others shared they have eaten backyard eggs but no longer do for various reasons:

Clem said:

I’ve consumed eggs once since I started eating a plant-based diet: when I went to visit my parents, who have since moved to South Africa, where it’s not as easy to be vegan as it is for me in the UK. They have chickens in their garden, so I had no problem eating those eggs… I hope that Ellen is going to do the same thing if she does decide to consume eggs–but ultimately, it’s her business, not ours.

Bethany said:

I have to admit… I am a vegan (or, was a vegan) who recently started eating eggs…My brother keeps a very nice, small farm with hens. I really don’t feel bad about eating the eggs from his place.

Chrissy wrote why she believes eating her chickens’ eggs is better for the environment than eating vegan alternatives:

When I compare the time and energy and environmental impact it takes for one of the chickens in my backyard to produce an egg, and compare that to the time and energy and environmental impact it takes to process soy into a block of tofu and ship it to my local health food store, well, the egg starts to look pretty good.

Ron G. said he doesn’t even trust his own backyard chicken eggs to pass humane/vegetarian standards:

Any egg producer who promises “free-range, vegetarian-fed” chickens is full of chicken droppings. The birds are devoted omnivores. I’ve even watched one take a mouse from my cat. Anyway, I’ve decided there are very few eggs out there which truly qualify as humanely produced, even from my own backyard.

Jess wrote on losing Ellen as a queer-vegan icon (something Our Hen House ladies were concerned about too):

Ellen has a huge cultural influence and this casual revelation is disappointing for people like my own partner who is testing recipes from a vegan cookbook with which both Ellen and Portia are closely associated. I think it is important to note that disappointment in this case doesn’t necessarily stem from expectations, but just from the basic fact that there are so few of us queer vegans, we feel let down whenever someone rejoins the mainstream eating practices.

Katherine said that Ellen wasn’t a true vegan icon for her even before the egg admission:

Ellen continued to participate in advertising for Cover Girl cosmetics, who are known animal testers. She also promotes Halo, an animal based, non vegan pet food.

Melanie wrote that we should stay positive and remember that Ellen may go back to all-vegan:

Most of us have a story of how we became vegan, and for many of us that process wasn’t a linear path. I hope that this is just a momentary diversion on the path for Ellen. The more that we can use this as a moment to educate ourselves and our communities about the truth, the more likely it is that some good may come of it.

Sandra Higgins, who runs a farm animal sanctuary, wrote this insightful comment which I have posted in its entirety because I think it’s just brilliant and so informative for those of us like myself who don’t get to hang out with chickens or know much about their basic biology:

I run a farmed animal sanctuary (www.edenfarmanimalsanctuary.com) which is home to a large number of hens rescued from backyard situations as well as caged facilities. I am saddened to hear that someone who proclaimed to be vegan and an advocate for other animals, partakes in the utter misery that chickens in the egg production industry endure.

Every egg laying hen had a brother who was killed by being gassed or ground alive because males are not useful in the egg production industry.

The fact that hens are bred to lay eggs greatly compromises their natural health. Naturally, and in the wild, hens lay two clutches of eggs a year for the purposes of rearing their young. Hens bred for the egg industry lay an egg every day. This is an onerous task, comparable to a human female having a menstrual cycle and childbirth, every day. An egg is quite a heavy object relatively speaking to the very light and thin body of the hen who lays it.

We regularly find blood on the eggs at Eden where the hen tore while laying it, similar to the way women can tear during childbirth. That is one of the reasons that eggs are washed prior to being given to humans to consume.

Laying eggs depletes the hen’s body of calcium and other nutrients essential to her health, resulting in conditions such as osteoporosis and broken bones. Evidence from x-rays at Eden Farm Animal Sanctuary show that the hens who were carried from their cages to us by their legs had broken hips and legs, and some of them had bones that broke and healed while in their cages. Can you imagine the pain of an untreated broken or fractured bone? Can you imagine the struggle to mind your broken limb from being jostled by your frustrated comrades? Can you imagine the pain of struggling to food and water on a broken foot or leg?

There are a varied of painful and fatal conditions that hens endure as a direct result of being bred to lay eggs in unnatural quantities. These include egg binding where the hen is unable to lay an egg either because it has a soft shell or it has become stuck somewhere in her oviduct or clocoa. Hens going through this experience huddle with ruffled feathers and refuse to eat or engage with their friends. They appear to suffer enormously. If the egg breaks prior to being laid the hen will suffer an infection called peritonitis. This causes illness just like any infection a human suffers. The hen’s temperature rises dangerously and she will feel exceptionally hot to touch. Her abdomen will swell with fluid in response to the infection leaving her unable to walk or move. Eventually her eggs will ‘cook’ in the heat of the fluid. As the fluid builds she will not be able to eat or drink as her crop will be squashed by the pressure from the fluid. Her lungs and other internal organs also become squashed and she will gasp for air. One can only imagine the pain she endures.

I have suffered extreme physical pain that could not be relieved by medication. I could not countenance inflicting such pain on another feeling, living being.

I do not eat eggs because I witness the horrible suffering that hens endure because we breed them to lay eggs in unnatural quantities in a way that causes them great pain.

I also do not eat eggs because I believe that the female of all species has rights and the hen has a right to her own eggs. They belong to her. They do not belong to us.

I hope Ellen, and other egg eaters, see my post and reconsider. We do not need to eat eggs. We have no right to eat the eggs of another being. Hens suffer if we do.

Lastly (thanks for having kept reading!) I am including this Q&A that is currently being developed (it is a work in-progress) by the wonderful organization Food Empowerment Project, posted here with permission by FEP’s lauren Ornelas:

Q: I don’t want to contribute to the suffering of hens in factory farms, so what if I raise hens in my backyard and eat their eggs?

A: While this may seem like a viable alternative to purchasing eggs, there are still very serious problems with eggs sourced from a backyard setting.

The first problem is where these so-called backyard chickens come from. Almost all hens who are bred to lay eggs begin their lives in hatcheries where there are no laws regulating how they are to be housed or treated. Like hens raised to lay eggs in factory farms, chicks in hatcheries are usually seen as mere production units.

Even before a buyer sees a single egg in their backyard, simply purchasing a backyard hen for her eggs contributes to a huge amount of suffering and death. Just as in conventional egg production, immediately after hatching, the males are often killed because they cannot produce eggs and are therefore considered useless to the egg industry. The female chicks, still just hours old, are boxed and shipped through the postal service without any food or water. (1) Male chicks, if they are not ground up alive or tossed into giant trash bins, have been used as packing filler to keep the “ordered” birds warm during transit. (2)

In hatcheries, male chicks are often ground alive or used as “packing peanuts” since they do not produce eggs.

If a baby male chick who was intended as a mere packing peanut somehow arrives still alive or if he was shipped because he was mistaken for a female in the hatchery’s sorting process—which frequently happens as it is difficult to determine the sex of such young chicks—this leads to further problems.

The second significant problem is that many people do not understand the amount of time, energy and money it takes to keep backyard hens. The animals are still seen as production units, and even though these chickens are not in a factory farm setting, they are still undeniably being commodified. Many backyard hens are kept in more urban settings where finding a vet who will take care of the birds as companion animals versus as “units of production,” may be difficult or impossible to find, and it’s also not easy to recognize when these birds are sick, leading to more suffering for the birds.

Like all females, a hen will eventually lose her ability to be reproductively active and she will stop producing eggs. While a hen’s egg production typically begins to decline at two years of age (5), the natural lifespan of a hen is typically around 10 years, sometimes longer. (6) All chickens, including those past reproductive age, will require the same care and protection for their entire lives. Unfortunately, many people are no longer willing to invest the large amount time and money into caring for hens after their egg production declines, and so these beautiful and social birds die from neglect, abandonment, or slaughter.

Backyard chickens can get sick and need expensive medical care.

Hens adopted from sanctuaries may not lay eggs at all because their bodies are so depleted from their experiences on factory farms or other egg-producing facilities. If they do, then they should be allowed to consume those eggs in order to help their bodies recover. While eggs are bad for human health, they are the perfect food for chickens. That’s the purpose of an egg–to feed the developing chick inside. Egg shells are high in calcium while the eggs themselves contain nutrients vital to chicken health. It would be a grave injustice if a bird rescued from an egg factory or egg farm were to be treated as an egg-producer by her adoptive family when what she really needs is to have total access to her body’s own resources and mechanisms for recovery.

Keep in mind that humans have absolutely no nutritional need for chickens’ eggs. In fact, chickens’ eggs contain cholesterol and saturated fat, which are detrimental to human health. A recent study by Western University found that when it comes to raising the risk of heart attacks and strokes, eating eggs is nearly as bad as smoking. (7) They are also completely unnecessary for baking for there are a variety of easy, plant-based options available that serve the same purpose in recipes.

If eating chickens’ eggs is not necessary, if it contributes to an immense amount of suffering, and there are so many alternatives, then why do it? Having backyard hens does nothing to truly take a stand against factory farming as animal consumption is at the core of this industry. The only way to take a stand against it is to go vegan.

(1) http://www.backyardchickens.com/a/taking-the-plunge-getting-my-own-
chickens-where-do-i-begin
(2) http://www.idealpoultry.com/policy.asp
(3) http://www.annarbor.com/news/ypsilanti/ypsilanti-township-to-appeal-
court-ruling-deeming-controversial-rooster-a-pet/
(4) http://www.cdc.gov/Features/SalmonellaPoultry/
(5) http://egglayingchickens.com/FAQ-how-long-chicken-egg-hatch.html
(6) http://www.mypetchicken.com/about-chickens/frequently-asked-
questions.aspx#HowLong
(7) http://www.torontosun.com/2012/08/13/egg-yolks-almost-as-unhealthy-
as-cigarettes-study

Thank you for reading this post! I’ve hope you’ve learned something (I know I have!) As always, comments are welcome.

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Finding a Niche For All Animals: A Conference honoring the ecofeminist work of Marti Kheel held at Wesleyan University

This weekend, I attended a conference honoring the life and work of late vegan ecofeminist scholar and activist Marti Kheel. The conference took place at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, and was organized by Wesleyan professor Lori Gruen and one of my personal heroines, Carol J. Adams.

Marti was the author of the classic ecofeminist book Nature Ethics: An Ecofeminist Perspective, which, according to Marti, “seeks to heal the divisions between the seemingly disparate movements and philosophies of feminism, animal advocacy, environmental ethics, and holistic health.” What drew me to Kheel’s work as an undergraduate at Vassar is that it outlines an ecofeminist philosophy that acknowledges the crucial roles of empathy in activism. It has always made intuitive sense to me to apply my “feeling” self to my activism.

The late ecofeminist vegan Marti Kheel.

I love how Marti explained that killing animals is wrong on “logical” grounds, but that we can also argue that one’s feelings about animals, compassion for their lives, and empathy for others’ suffering are valid reasons to be in favor of a plant-based diet.

Marti was a fantastic, determined, strong-minded activist, and a cherished friend to many within this movement and beyond. It was inspiring to see the ripples of her influence through the words of many of her friends and colleagues who spoke at the memorial the first evening of the conference. After a documentary shown about her life and work and a wonderful speech by Marti’s friend and colleague, The Sexual Politics of Meat author Carol J. Adams, other folks stood up and spoke about their personal connections to Marti. Many at the conference had worked very closely with her, including those who were active with Feminists For Animal Rights (FAR), a group Marti created based on her vision. Others had volunteered with Marti for animal rights causes or had been influenced by her during their academic and activist careers. While I did not speak at the memorial, I am lucky to say that I did have the privilege of meeting Marti several years ago while I was living in the Bay Area (she was a raw vegan and we met at an Oakland raw foods event organized by a mutual connection) and we kept in touch as I worked at a raw vegan center which she had visited before we’d met.

Just after meeting Marti, she instantly connected me with queer vegan women’s events she organized in the Bay Area, and we corresponded over e-mail about holistic health, and things related to a book project my partner and I were (and still are) working on about the intersections between holistic health, veganism and LGBTQ communities. The last time I heard from Marti was on October 5, 2011 in an e-mail letting me know she was sick with cancer and that she wanted to help more with our book, and that I should e-mail her questions and ideas quickly because time was of the essence. A few weeks later, on November 19, 2011, I got news that Marti had died. While I hadn’t known Marti as well as others in attendance at the conference, and we were only beginning to discuss and collaborate on ideas, I have been so humbled and grateful that even while sick and facing the end of her life, Marti was immensely committed to helping others and advance the vegan movement.

Heartwarming stories were shared at the memorial portion of the conference including a beautiful story Carol J. Adams told about how Marti began her animal activism as a young person refusing to pose in the family photos unless her family’s pet cat could be included. Several members of Marti’s family were in attendance, and shared how her compassionate approach to veganism influenced them and made more inspired to question aspects of their own lives.

Carol J. Adams speaking at the Marti Kheel Conference.

Panels at the conference referenced Marti’s Ecofeminist work and discussed how Marti’s compassionate approach to activism was infused in every aspect of her life.While the conference was primarily academic in nature–terms like “praxis” and “problemetize” were included in many panelists’ talks based on papers they’d written for the conference–there were great inclusions of practical approaches to activism that I found heartening and inspiring. My friend Lauren Ornelas of Food Empowerment Project and Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition gave a great talk about how her work with FEP considers food justice as a complex issue that requires looking beyond simply checking to see if ingredients are vegan. We must ensure that they are ethically sourced, as in the case of her nonprofit’s commitment to identifying truly ethical vegan chocolate companies that do not trade in child slave labor. (Note: Please sign the petition asking the makers of Clif Bars to disclose where they get their cocoa beans!) Lauren also discussed the importance of a vegan activist approach that is respectful to the needs of diverse communities.

Absolutely inspiring, witty and brilliant vegan duo Mark Hawthorne and Lauren Ornelas.

Theorist Greta Gaard spoke about ecofeminist theory and practice, and mentioned queer sexuality in the context of animal rights (which I loved).  Other talks I found inspiring included pattrice jones’ discussion of her queer-run animal sanctuary Vine Sanctuary, and about how they have all of their important meetings standing up in the barn while surrounded by animals. patrice said a line which really rang true: “All the stuff we really want is free.” patrice said to share with paleo dieters and purported feminists who eat meat: “Tell them that eating meat is something you do to someone else’s body without their consent.” What a powerful and accurate thing to say!

The first evening of the conference was catered with delicious vegan sushi, appetizers and gluten-free vegan treats from a local Connecticut vegan bakery:

Vegan sushi and chocolates served at the Marti Kheel conference.

Mushroom polenta cakes served after the memorial portion of the conference.

Lunch on Saturday was 100% vegan and delicious.

Ivory of vegan myths debunked fame (who is an all-star, best ever vegan conference buddy, the best a gal could ever hope for!) and I met in NY Penn station (I came from Philly, she from Brooklyn) and traveled to the conference together. We had the amazing good fortune of meeting some really wonderful new friends Andrea and Danielle at the conference who convinced us to stay with them in Branford, CT (near Wesleyan) and have a late-night persimmon and almond milk Greek yogurt party instead of staying at a hotel. It did not take too much arm twisting ;) We had a wonderful time bonding, chatting about our paths to veganism and how we all love plants (PLANTS!)! It was amazing to find some queer vegan women kinship and make incredible, thought-provoking, hilarious new friends!

Vegan lady friends! L to R: Danielle, Andrea and Ivory!

All-organic, fair-trade coffee was served with some soy mylk on the side.

Ecofeminist Greta Gaard speaking about Marti Kheel.

Wesleyan University’s beautiful campus.

Posing after lunch with my heroine and friend Carol J. Adams.

I got to meet Ali, fellow Vassar woman and author of the fabulous vegan food blog Farmers’ Market Vegan!

Ivory, Andrea and I had a great time at the conference!

One activist spoke about her ethical dilemma in not being able to find a vegan infant formula and needing to procure one immediately for her infant in the ICU. She said the D3 in the product was sourced from lanolin, which is from sheep, and that choosing that product was very difficult for her but ultimately was what was necessary to save her son’s life.

After the panel, I commended the activist for finding compassion for herself in this difficult situation, and I suggested the option of reaching out to infant formula brands that use all-vegan ingredients except for the non-vegan D3 and asking them to use vegan D3 in products now that it is available. This was something the panelist had not considered doing, and I think it’s a good example of where businesses and academics can work together to find solutions to problems.

I currently work for a vegan business and have worked for other vegan businesses in the past. I believe in the importance of academia and the influence of scholarship in shaping ideas that later become practiced throughout activist movements, however I also feel it is crucial that we connect the dots and work with businesses to provide vegan alternatives. I think a more vegan-friendly marketplace is a great goal for academics and non-academics (lay people?) alike, and was grateful for the chance to discuss this with her.

My former professor/friend Jill Schneiderman and others admiring the next generation of vegan activists.

For me, Finding A Niche For All Animals involved honoring Marti Kheel and celebrating her legacy, meeting new friends, seeing old friends, connecting with visionaries and a rare and incredibly sweet private lunch with Carol and Ivory in which we discussed our work and plans for the future. I leave with a renewed inspiration that vegan activism must always come from the love and empathy we have inside us that extends outwards to those around us. Thank you for reading.

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