So, thank you, now and forever, for all you’re doing to make the world a better, more compassionate place.
Thank you to everyone who had a vegan revelation this year — so much more powerful than a resolution :) A revelation that there is another way, a better way. A revelation that you don’t have to stick to old habits. A revelation that you can save lives, help the planet, and live a life connected to your values. A revelation so powerful that excuses just don’t cut it anymore. Sure, anyone can make a resolution stick for a while if they just put their mind to it. But there’s just no stopping you once you put your heart to something.
So, thank you, now and forever, for all you’re doing to make the world a better, more compassionate place.
I’m late on posting this, I know. But I think it bears repeating for the 1.2 billion Catholics in the world — that this Pope gets it! Maybe I should send him a VEGAN t-shirt.
In his recent encyclical on the environment, Pope Francis asked that we STOP BEING CRUEL TO ANIMALS saying, “We have only one heart, and the same wretchedness which leads us to mistreat an animal will not be long in showing itself in our relationships with other people. Every act of cruelty towards any creature is contrary to human dignity.”
In the encyclical, the Pope reminds believers, “We read in the Gospel that Jesus says of the birds of the air that ‘not one of them is forgotten before God’ ( Lk 12:6). How then can we possibly mistreat them or cause them harm?”
In it, he also addresses the excuse almost every animal advocate has heard from those who want to keep eating animals even though it’s cruel and unnecessary — the excuse that “God put animals for us to eat.” Pope Francis agrees with animal advocates that “dominion” doesn’t mean utter *domination*: “…Absolute domination over other creatures is misinterpretation of God’s grant of “dominion” over creation.”
Late last year, he acknowledged that evolution and the big bang are real and that they are not incompatible with faith in a creator — maybe making science less scary for the faithful. He said that God is not “a magician with a magic wand.”
That compassion is a cornerstone to all major religions seems to be obvious and even easy to understand. Why not put it into action? To extend our circle of compassion to include the meekest among us should also seem obvious. Making animal-free food choices is the perfect way, religious or not, to bring your true values of compassion, justice, and kindness into real world action.
Matt Bear grew up in Minnesota on his grandparents’ animal farm. Through his teens, he lived and worked on an intensive pig factory farm. Matt is a popular speaker and teacher drawing from his first-hand experience with farmed animals, his dedication to social justice issues, and his broad understanding of the impact our consumer choices have on those with whom we share the world. Matt founded NonviolenceUnited.org, created the popular VEGAN shirt from VeganShirt.com, and produced the widely acclaimed video A Life Connected (VeganVideo.org) – now available in 16 languages and seen by millions around the world. He received his master’s degree in sociology focusing on social psychology and consumer ethics. He continues to direct Nonviolence United while teaching others about how their consumer choices matter and about the positive far-reaching effects of living a life connected to one’s values.
I cherish the years I spent on my grandparents’ farm. I remember waking up to roosters crowing and the clank of the metal covers on metal feeding troughs slapping closed as pigs finished eating and turned to lie in the morning sun. I can still smell the magic of Grandma’s breakfast drifting upstairs to pull me out of bed.
I’d jump in my overalls and scramble out to help Grandpa feed the 40 sheep, two steers and the 50 or so pigs. The farm had changed over the years. The gigantic red barn that had once housed dozens of dairy cows was now nearly empty. It echoed with the calls of the remaining few sheep and low of the steers. Grandma collected the eggs from the 50 or 60 chickens and washed them — ready for her famous cakes and cookies, and for neighbors to buy a few dozen at a time.
In the spring, Grandpa would come home from the feed store with dozens of little yellow chicks, only a few days old, peeping and blinking at their new world. Grandma would set up the brooder house where the chicks would spend their lives over the next few months. They would peck and scratch the ground outside during the day, and at night they would huddle under heat lamps locked up safe from the night.
When I was seven years old, I became fast friends with one particular chick. He wasn’t any smaller or bigger than the others, but we had a connection. When I would walk in to sit and watch the baby chickens, while the others would nervously scatter to the other side of the small shed, he would come running to me. He’d jump in my lap to be held and petted. He had a way of looking me in the eye. He seemed like a long-lost friend somehow trapped in the world of being a chicken. I named him Foghorn. And I loved him.
Chickens grow fast. Soon August arrived. My aunts, uncles and cousins rolled down the dusty gravel road toward the farm to take part in the traditional family event. Grandma boiled water in huge pots out in the pump house. And Grandpa sharpened the long, steel blade of a homemade machete.
Midmorning came. My cousins picked up the nearly full-grown chickens by their legs and carried them to my Grandpa. I followed behind cradling Foghorn. I handed Foghorn to Grandpa. Foghorn looked at me and blinked. With one giant hand, Grandpa folded Foghorn’s wings to his sides and held his legs and lay him down on the tree stump. Seconds later, he handed Foghorn’s bleeding body back to me. I held him upside down by his legs as I was told to do and let the blood drain from his severed neck. As I stood in line with my cousins to take Foghorn to the scalding pots to make it easier to pluck out his feathers, I looked back at his head lying in a heap with the others… one last blink, beak open.
I was lost in a fog of confusion. I was proud of the tradition and for helping the grownups. But a friendship was lost that day along with my kindred spirit. And a trust was broken – trust between my grandparents and me and between me and my friend. While my remembrance speech at the dinner table that night kept everyone from eating the chicken, it didn’t stop them or me for long. I was told, and I was convinced, “It’s just a part of life.”
I spent my teen years living and working on a pig factory farm. My mother had married my step-father who owned and lived on what used to be a farm, but was quickly turning into a facility. My step brothers and I ran the daily operations – I had my hands in every gory detail. Nightmares from what I saw and what I did still keep me up nights – even after all these years. Immersed in the horror, I continued to be told and to tell myself, “It’s just a part of life.”
I was 18 and in college when I heard the word “vegetarian” for the first time. While on a field trip where I met my wife Barbara, one of our professors ordered pizza without pepperoni. I thought he had to be crazy. I’d steal glances of him eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich while others stuffed their hands into a zip lock bag of beef jerky. I learned that he was vegetarian for environmental reasons. At the time, the reasons didn’t matter to me as much as the sudden realization that there was another way – keeping and killing animals was not “just a part of life.” That was a lie. It was all a lie.
When Barbara came with me from college for a visit to the “farm,” I suddenly saw everything differently. A sick mother pig opened my eyes and changed my life forever. I’d seen downed mother pigs (sows) dozens of times before. Female pigs are impregnated over and over again. They get so used up over their short lives that their health often deteriorates – often so badly that they lie down and simply can’t get up again. Anyone who thinks this doesn’t happen because “farmers care for their animals because they care or because they are the farmer’s livelihood,” just doesn’t understand the enormity of these facilities, the pressures of modern day farming, and the realities of using animals for profit. It’s less expensive to push a used up sow aside than to care for her. And that’s what animal farms are all about – making money.
I looked into that momma pig’s eyes and it felt like a movie moment – she entered my heart. I gave her a little food and water – she couldn’t reach it by herself. I still have a hard time thinking about this as I write about it over 20 years later. I told my step-father about her. He handed me a gun. But I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t bring myself to put her out of her misery. Barbara and I gave her a little more water and food, got back in the car, and cried our way back to school. We talked about her all the way. We talked about the family farm, the whole animal agribusiness industry, about the waste and violence. We talked about how it was all so unnecessary. We made a commitment to each other and a promise to that momma pig – we’d go vegetarian. I’ve never gone back to the farm.
It took us a few years to go fully vegetarian. At the time, we lived in very rural community, in a tiny house directly across the street from a Hardee’s hamburger joint and a Dairy Queen. We could just about read the giant behind-the-counter menus from our living room. We knew only two vegetarians and wouldn’t hear the word “vegan” for another three years. But we persevered and moved along the path – refusing to buy flesh, but still eating it with family and friends. That’s the power of culture – we knew it was wrong, it went against our own values, but still we struggled to live our own values.
Then on New Year’s Eve 1989, after we’d both graduated college and moved out of state (to Iowa City), we pulled a packet of steaks from the freezer. The steaks had been a Christmas gift from a family member. We cooked up the steaks, but couldn’t eat them. We looked at each other… and we looked at those steaks. “Let’s not do this anymore.” The promise stuck. We’d gone vegetarian.
Shortly thereafter, we were gleefully shopping in our local co-op for rennet-free cheese and free-range eggs patting ourselves on the back for our thoughtful choices when a new friend of ours who happened to be vegan offered, “If you’re vegetarian for the animals, you should look into going vegan.” What the heck is “vay-gun?” we thought. Her comment set us on the vegan path and onto what has become our life’s work.
This was before the internet. The only dairy-free milk on the shelf was a gritty soy milk that I had to plug my nose to get down. Our first experiment with homemade seitan kept seitan off my radar for years because I thought it was supposed to be a globby mess. There were no commercially available vegan cheeses or ice creams (that we could find). I feel like going vegan 20 years ago took willpower and diligence. And maybe it still does today, but times have changed. Now even the most modest supermarkets in the Midwest where I grew up have vegan ice creams, cheeses, milks, hotdogs, burgers and so much more. Going vegan is easier than ever.
Now, nearly everyone I meet knows what “vegan” means. And more and more people understand why choosing vegan is such an important and powerful consumer choice. Because of this shift, the way I do outreach has shifted too. My days of debating, arguing, and trying to convince people to consider vegan foods are quickly becoming days helping those eager to learn more about the vegan path.
Today the old family farm is empty. Grandma died recently and the homestead will likely soon be sold. She’d kept the big barn painted and in repair, fulfilling a promise to my Grandpa who passed away in 1988. Grandpa saw even then that the family farm had become a thing of the past. The surrounding farmsteads now stand empty, barns crumbling to the ground. Those few that survived have become intensive factory farms where animals spend their lives in misery and confinement.
Factory farms are so hellish that people have come to revere smaller family farms because they want so badly a release from the pain, from the horror. “We can’t do that to animals, can we?” they tell themselves. “Of course not — look at all the “humane” farms.” And it all feels better… for a little while. But it’s just another lie. We lie to ourselves that the animals we are using and eating must somehow have magically missed the mutilations, the broken families, the confinement, the life at the total “mercy” of humans, and the final ultimate cruelty of stealing their precious lives from them.
Of course, there is no such thing as “humane” animal farming. I’ve lived it; I know. Even on the smallest, most thoughtful of family farms like my grandparents’ farm, the animals will be used against their will and die before their time. Yes, there may be opportunities to be “less cruel”, but not “humane.” It’s another lie.
Naming animal products “humane” is a marketing ploy to bilk good people who honestly want to do the right thing. People who, like me, didn’t realize there is a better, Nonviolent way. People who didn’t realize that eating animals is not “just a part of life.” We want to escape the pain, the horror, and I understand that. I want to escape it, too. But the animals can never escape it. Happily, there is a solution.
Vegan choices offer a powerful opportunity to stop the suffering and death inflicted on others. Vegan choices offer each of us an escape from the pain of being a part of the cycle of misery. Our freedom and our redemption lies in no longer taking part in the suffering of others. Choosing vegan is when I became free, it’s when I became happy, it’s when I became fully the person I think I always was but hadn’t met yet – someone who passionately and unapologetically cares.
Sep 03 2014
This chapter in Ira Chernus’ American Nonviolence discusses the contributions of U.S. author Henry David Thoreau to the nonviolence movement. Jumping to the end of the chapter, Chernus points out that, ironically, while people tend to count Thoreau among the heroes of nonviolence, Thoreau “never actually embraced the principle of nonviolence” (54). He supported violent revolutionary acts such as John Brown’s assault on Harper’s Ferry. Neither did Thoreau have confidence in the efforts of social justice activists. Thoreau saw social justice activists, at least those working to change policy and institutions, as wasting their time – he thought it was more important to change “individual souls” rather than social institutions: “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root” (52). He urged reformers to look within themselves and change themselves rather than trying to change others.
Still it seems he recognized that these individuals were the building blocks of society and societal institutions and that “one man expressing his own opinion amounted to the re-origination of many of the institutions of society” (53). What Thoreau found to be of utmost interest and importance was waking each individual to follow their conscience — even when this means breaking unjust laws.
His philosophy of commitment to conscience led to his own short stay (one night) in jail for refusing to pay taxes which supported the U.S. war against Mexico and also a government (the U.S.) that supported slavery. This experience led to his writing his infamous “Civil Disobedience” which in turn influenced Mohandas Gandhi and countless nonviolence activists. This contribution to nonviolence theory is why Thoreau is still exalted as a nonviolence theorist.
Thoreau’s way of thinking moves beyond the thinking of Thomas Hobbes, who believed that any government was better than no government. Hobbes believed that because people were innately selfish and brutish, that we must transfer our right to self-rule (and even violence) to the state. Hobbes believed the government is a necessary evil. To Hobbes, there is no such thing as an unjust law because right and wrong is determined by the law.
Thoreau on the other hand, sees justice as our primary loyalty, not laws. He foresaw a day when this adherence to conscience by masses of individuals would lead to the obsolescence of the state — what Thoreau called a “glorious State.” Rather than looking to the state for guidance and punishment, each would look to themselves and their own good conscience for what is morally right. The state would wither and become unnecessary. Chernus calls this Thoreau’s “political ideal” of “enlightened anarchy” (51).
Chernus, Ira. 2004. “Henry David Thoreau.” 45-55 in American Nonviolence: The History of an Idea. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.
Aug 14 2014
A new movie about Cesar Chavez premiers March 28. Cesar was ahead of his time, but the time is now! Like Cesar, we can all stand up for those ignored and abused by a system bent on profit over conscience. He spoke out for poor working people, farmed animals, and our struggling planet. And he was one of the very first to show us that by simply living our lives consistently following our shared values of kindness, justice, and compassion (by consuming consciously), we can build a fair society. It’s in our hands.
Nonviolence United explains Nonviolence as connection; whereas violence is disconnection. This is fundamental to what is taught by the heroes of Nonviolence.
Mohandas Gandhi taught a continual search for the truth – to connect while eliminating disconnection (lies — even lies we tell ourselves, propaganda, personal disconnection of choices and their effects).
Cesar Chavez taught us that when we buy consciously and live our lives consistently with our values we can build a fair society – connection of our choices and their effects can build a society reflective of those values; disconnection builds a schizophrenic society that doesn’t reflect, respect or uphold our values.
Thich Nhat Hanh teaches us of “interbeing”- that everyone and everything is connected; how even a piece of paper holds the soil, the tree, the sky, the clouds and the rain that gave birth to it.
And Martin Luther King, Jr. taught us of how the disconnection from how we waste our resources on hate, militarism and materialism rather than on uplifting humanity is limiting our true potential.
You’ll also hear from the masters of Nonviolence their call for love. As Thich Nhat Hanh puts it, “Love is the essence (the core, the heart) of Nonviolence.” But what is love? How can we love our enemies when they cause us so much pain?
Love in the tradition of Nonviolence doesn’t mean acceptance of an opponent. It doesn’t even mean you have to like your opponent. Love means connecting to the potential of your opponent. Love means seeing yourself in your opponent.
Imagine yourself as your opponent. We each may remember a time when we were not who we are now. We believed different things; we acted in different ways. If you sat down and had a conversation with your past self about issues now important to you, you might not even like that person. If your past self was in front of you today, you might even see that person as an opponent.
But what if you hate or dismiss or even hurt your past self? Would that person have had the opportunity to reach their potential? How might you help them along the path? Think of how much more powerful it would be to recognize the potential for good in your opponent, to foster their potential, and to offer a hand in their reaching that potential. That is love.
Our sentiments exactly. People are catching on. Watch and listen to the clarity of Russell Brand and the absolute confusion of the interviewer who can’t seem to think outside the box in which he’s been placed. We’ve all been placed there and there are rote social institutions to make sure we stay inside that box. Voting is one of the primary issues addressed here. Russell brilliantly (in our humble opinion) explains that voting is a way to keep us passive — we vote and then say “Hooray, *now* my interests are finally being represented… I’ll go back to what I was doing” or “Oh well, maybe next time… I’ll go back to what I was doing.” Or “Well, I voted for the lesser evil, that’s the best I could do… I’ll go back to what I was doing.” Russell hopes that there are options, that there are better ways of doing things. At Nonviolence United, we *know* there are options; we *know* there are better ways of doing things. It all begins with the choices you make every day. Every one of your consumer choices helped build the world we live in today and every choice, from this moment forward will help build the world of tomorrow. Live your values, change the world.