Over the last couple of weeks the news has been full of the protests sparked by the death of George Floyd in police custody in the US. The protests have been organised by Black Lives Matter, an international human rights organisation which campaigns against violence and systemic racism towards black people. The focus then shifted to slavery and statues around the country have been torn down and vandalised because of their links with slavery and/or racism. This all got me thinking about the similarity between slavery and exploitation. The definitions of each word, in the Cambridge dictionary read like this:

Slavery: ‘the condition of being legally owned by someone else and forced to work for or obey them’

Exploitation: ‘ the act of using someone unfairly for your own advantage’

Aren’t those the same thing? Using someone unfairly. Whether or not they are owned by you seems to me the only difference.

So then I’m thinking about all the  exploitation and yes, slavery that goes on, not only legally but acceptably. I am, of course, talking about animal exploitation. We all are only too aware of the exploitation and slavery that is animal agriculture but what about animals ‘owned’  by non-farmers? Specifically I’m thinking of probably the most enslaved animal after farmed animals, horses.

Most horse owners purchase a horse or pony to be ridden or driven and maybe competed. Is this not exploitation? With no thought about what’s best for the horse, these people put a saddle or harness on their back and a piece of metal in their mouth to make the animal work for and obey them. Sound familiar? Look again at the definition of slavery.

Don’t get me wrong, most of these people would say they love their horses but when the child outgrows  the pony or the horse isn’t as good at the person’s chosen discipline, they just sell them on. Horses are sensitive animals who form lifelong bonds with each other. Changing their home environment and changing their companions affects them emotionally, sometimes for the rest of their life.

What about the horse racing industry? Well, they take horses that are little more than foals, put grown men on their backs and force them to race before their vertebrae are even fused! Then, when their bodies break down, they are slaughtered, often no older than 5 years old! Is this not legal slavery? They keep the horses in completely unnatural conditions; confined in a stable for up to 22 hours a day and denied the opportunity to display natural behaviours like grooming each other, play and rolling outside.

Up to 90% of racehorses and 60% of competition horses, as well as non-performance horses and even foals have gastric ulcers. These are caused by stress: physical and emotional stress.

When I heard that police horses had been attacked by so-called protesters; although I would call them something else, I was sickened and so, so angry. Not just at the thugs who attacked these poor animals: one horse was hit in the face with a brick which broke their nose and others had bicycles thrown at them. I was angry that these peaceful, cooperative animals had been put in this position. These horses are trained to not react in loud and violent situations when their every instinct is telling them to run. All horses, as herd and prey animals avoid conflict and are cooperative by their very nature and everything people do with horses exploits this. Horses aren’t designed to be ridden let alone be in the middle of a violent protest!

I have 3 horses. Yes, I am ashamed to admit that I bought my first horse to ride but when she tried to tell me that she didn’t enjoy being ridden and that new situations terrified her, fortunately I learnt to listen. My other 2 were unwanted by their owners, for exactly the reasons I stated earlier: child had outgrown one and the other didn’t do what the owner wanted him to do. They are a very happy little herd, with as natural a life as is possible in domestication and I am grateful that I can give them this. All I ask of them is cuddles!

As vegans we avoid the exploitation of animals but I wonder how many vegans ride horses….

What’s the point? That is a question that often pops into my head regarding Vegan activism.

People just aren’t listening. My hopes that we may emerge from this pandemic to a better, more compassionate world are fading fast when I am already seeing queues at the local KFC drive through, road traffic almost back to pre-pandemic levels, people swarming over beaches and beauty spots leaving their rubbish behind and, politicians promising financial assistance for livestock farmers!

Last year, my cousin’s 9 year old daughter was shocked at the condition of some  ex battery hens I had brought home and, when I told her I wished I could rescue them all she said, very wisely that ‘you can only do what you can do.’ She even wrote it down on a piece of card for me to keep in my wallet and read whenever I felt despair.

The trouble is, even when we do what we can, it often feels that we are achieving nothing and our efforts are in vain. 

I asked my neighbour, who has started farming sheep and had lambs this year, if I could please buy a couple from him. His reply?

‘No because they are too valuable’.  I just wanted to save who I could from the slaughterhouse and I can’t even do that!

I have to admit, sometimes I need to take ‘timeout’. Timeout from the heartbreaking images we share on social media of animals suffering; timeout from reading articles documenting the cruelty and exploitation around the world; timeout from wracking my brain trying to come up with new activism ideas that people won’t be able to ignore and timeout from the world in general.

I don’t know how the guys that go undercover to document animals’ suffering manage it but they are heroes in my eyes.

For me, just knowing about it sometimes becomes too much. I am often overwhelmed by humans’ ability to inflict suffering without batting an eyelid.

Many vegans are content with just being vegan, safe in the knowledge that they are saving lives just by avoiding all animal products and I envy them that peace. I wish I could be content with not contributing to any animal’s suffering and be at peace with the world but that’s just not possible.

I can not un-know what I know nor un-see the images I have seen. 

When it all becomes too much, I have to disengage from the world and retreat into my own bubble for as long as it takes to heal my heart and quiet my mind. I avoid social media, I don’t look at emails and I avoid human company.

When I am ready, I take out my little card and read the words written there ‘you can only do what you can do’ and I am ready to do what I can do. To continue speaking up for the millions of voiceless souls that are suffering so much at the hands of humans.

So, if I disappear from the radar, you know where I am and I will see you on the other side….

Today I had to have one of my lovely hens put to sleep.  Mavis became unwell a couple of weeks ago and a visit to the vet left us none the wiser as she had no temperature, nor fluid in her abdomen. A course of antibiotics was prescribed and she picked up a little but this morning it was evident she had gone downhill overnight and she was really suffering so I made the heart breaking decision to let her go.

I know you’ll forgive me, therefore, if I dedicate this blog to her and all like her.

I have been fortunate enough to welcome ex battery hens into my home on 3 separate occasions so far and each time, I bring home a handful of very sorry looking birds who are skin and bone, have few or no feathers, whose beaks have been chopped and  their combs are pale and floppy. Yet, as soon as their overgrown toenails touch the grass they instinctively start scratching for bugs and grubs. I have never had to trim their nails because, within a few weeks, they have shortened them on the ground. Also within a few weeks their feathers return and their combs are a beautiful, brilliant red, standing proudly on their heads.

It is so rewarding watching them thrive in their retirement. They are so funny, they are incredibly nosy and always pleased to see me! They chatter away and their favourite thing in the whole world is their own eggs, scrambled and fed back to them! Well, that and the sunshine and dust baths!

They are hardly ever still and I think they must cover a couple of miles each day. Their diet changes to a more natural one;  ignoring the layers pellets, preferring to forage whilst also hoovering up the bird seed dropped from the feeders and enjoying my vegan leftovers!

Unfortunately, they still lay eggs but the lucky ones cease production and I like to think this prolongs their life by a few months.

However, the damage is already done.  Of the 15 girls I have so far given a home, most have succumbed to illness within a year of  being with me; some within a few months.

My current little flock has been with me for just over a year and actually, one; Queenie is from the previous flock so she has been here for 2 years but she has a tumour on her vent so it is just a matter of time.

It’s worth noting here that the egg industry gets rid of it’s hens when their egg laying REDUCES to one egg a day! This means that they are usually 1yr – 18 months old.

If there were death certificates written for each of my girls that have died, they would read ‘natural causes.’ But they are not natural, they are man made.

Exploding ovaries, peritonitis caused by eggs transiting into the abdomen because her tubes are so weakened by the over production of eggs, and, the most common in my flocks: organ failure. Organ failure in birds aged 2yrs – 2.5yrs, whose natural lifespan would be around 10 years. These are man made ‘natural causes’ because of man’s incessant greed for eggs. These poor souls are bred and fed to over produce eggs to the detriment of their bodies.

‘That’s why I buy free range’ I hear people say. Free range hens are still bred to overproduce eggs so their fate is the same as these ex batts. 

As vegan activists we often concentrate on the fate of the male chicks in the egg industry, quite rightly, but the cost for the egg laying hens, free range or not, is huge suffering  followed by premature death. 

There are no references in this blog because I am the reference.

I witness how these malnourished, deprived, scared little girls arrive from their concentration camp and blossom into beautiful, confident, curious, happy chickens, each with their own unique character.

I witness their premature demise as human demand for their eggs takes its toll on their bodies, and I mourn for each and every one of the millions of them that don’t make it to retirement and, instead, endure a year of incarceration followed by death.

We fight against factory farming but egg laying chickens are used as individual factories. 

How dare we treat other species like this? Who do we think we are?!

My intention this week was to mull over a couple of excellent articles I have read; one about the similarities between factory farms and Chinese ‘wet’ markets and another which calls for an end to animal agriculture in the light of millions of livestock being ‘culled’ as a result of processing plants and food outlets being closed. Both excellent, and worrying, articles.

The suffragists believed in achieving change through parliamentary means and used lobbying techniques to persuade Members of Parliament sympathetic to their cause to raise the issue of women’s suffrage in debate on the floor of the House.

Between 1870 and 1884 debates on women’s suffrage took place almost every year in Parliament. This succeeded in keeping the issue in the public eye as Parliamentary proceedings were extensively covered in the national and regional press of the time.

There was some criticism that by concentrating so heavily on activities in Parliament, the movement sacrificed opportunities to mobilise mass support throughout the rest of the country.

The reason for this little history lesson is the last paragraph. In a previous blog I wrote that change comes from the people and governments will follow but there are lobbyists that succeed in changing government policy. This is because they have numbers.

If we are going to change government policy on animal agriculture and consign the exploitation of animals to the history books, we need numbers.

In that, we have 2 problems.

First, many vegans are just happy being vegan. They have no desire to become activists or mobilise in any way to fight the system.

Second, and I hate to say it, some vegan activists are toxic to the cause. They do more harm than good; they alienate people. Sure, we love them but the general, animal consuming public does not like to be told that they are cruel nor do they like being told that the disease they have is their fault!

So how do we gain numbers? Well, I believe  we need to follow Millicent Fawcett’s example and bring all vegan activism groups under one national umbrella with the specific aim of outlawing animal agriculture. We cannot do this on our own. Yes, we can lobby politicians and lobby the lobbyists which may bring some success but to organise ourselves into one large body of voices? Well that, I believe, will move mountains!

We are in the fifth week of lockdown and the focus of the media has now shifted to when a vaccine will be available and how we come out of lockdown and return to ‘normality’.

Five weeks of scientists, politicians and journalists ignoring the huge elephant in the room: Why did this pandemic happen and how can we avoid it happening again?

The answer is simple: leave animals, and nature alone. Stop exploiting them, stop farming them and stop eating them.

3 in 4 of the world’s new or emerging infectious diseases come from animals. Not just wild animals but domesticated animals; farmed animals. In an open letter published today in The Independent, 10 scientists and campaigners have warned that factory farms and wildlife markets provide the perfect conditions for disease to thrive and transmit to humans. They go on to say “Ending the exploitation of animals is one of the biggest actions humankind can take to protect itself against future pandemics.”

The other topic conveniently being swept under the carpet right now is Climate change. With the UN Climate Change conference postponed and, as of today, Scotland’s review of their emissions targets also postponed until the end of the year, Climate change is still, to quote the UN Secretary General, ” the deeper emergency.”

The  solution to both these emergencies is veganism.

Many commentators have said this is not the time to talk about veganism but this is ABSOLUTELY  the time to talk about veganism! If the world goes vegan, factory farms and wildlife markets will be erradicated, thereby reducing the likelihood of another pandemic: there will be a significant reduction of harmful greenhouse gas emissions, with animal agriculture though to be responsible for 60%: there would be 75% less farmland used for animals and animal feed  around the world, freeing that land for food crops and thereby avoiding future food shortages: mass extinctions of wildlife will be halted and habitats can be restored with rewilding…the list goes on.

So why is this not the time to talk about veganism?!  I get that people are struggling, losing loved ones and facing financial uncertainty but surely veganism is the light at the end of the tunnel. It is the only way the human race will survive because, as Paul Watson, the founder of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, said ” this planet was never meant for 8 billion meat eating, fish eating primates.”

Paul Watson also said: ” Trees, worms and bees are more important than us.” When questioned why he said that, his reply was ” they can all survive without us but we can’t survive without them.”

We must not come out of this crisis and return to normality as we knew it. There must be a paradigm shift in peoples’ thinking and their lifestyles to avoid it happening again. For our own survival and that of the planet, we must ask the right questions and share the answers, worldwide.

Fortunately, there are journalists and experts  out there that get it.  There have been a few articles in The Guardian recently examining the bigger picture and asking the right questions, and now this letter to the Independent. At some point, I am confident, those in governmental office will no longer be able to ignore that veganism is the only way for us, and other species to survive. Until then, I will keep sharing these articles and inviting the conversation on social media, in the hope that others will be enlightened.

When we hold our Roadshow events, the most common thing I hear from the public is that they ‘only buy organic’ or ‘I only eat Free Range’, or ‘we buy grass-fed so we know they’ve had a good life’, or ‘we don’t eat much meat’, or ‘we buy local so we know where it comes from’. Well, unfortunately, all of these systems still use normalised violence in one way or another.

Whether organic, free range, grass fed or local, these animals are handled, at best roughly and at worst violently. They are dragged, shoved, beaten, kicked, prodded and, when they are considered of no more use or the ideal weight, they are violently killed. Every single system of animal agriculture involves exploitation, fear and imprisonment of some form. This is normalised violence.

Both males and females suffer but it’s the females that are abused continuously. Dairy cows are bred and given hormones to increase their milk yield to such unnatural proportions that they are in pain if not milked.  They are artificially inseminated  to keep them  constantly pregnant  then their babies are taken, at just hours old causing deep distress to both.

Many dairy cows suffer from mastitis which results in excruciating pain when milked and is caused by what we do to them. Sows are imprisoned in ‘farrowing crates’ for when they have their young. Egg laying hens are given hormones to cause them to lay more than one egg a day which can result in their ovaries exploding.

Farmed animals are impregnated on our terms, they are imprisoned, their young are kidnapped, and every single one of their lives is cut short with a terrifying and violent death. Normalised violence from birth to death, no matter in what system they are farmed.

Egg laying hens are gassed, their male chicks are ground up alive; chickens reared for meat are slaughtered at 56 days old; male dairy calves are either killed or sent to veal farms, often abroad; piglets are taken from their mothers and slaughtered.  Cattle, sheep, pigs, turkeys, ducks, geese all are crammed onto lorries for a terrifying journey and then slaughtered, en mass, all because humans want to eat them or their offspring or their bodily secretions.

Who the hell do we think we are?

There is no humane way to kill a healthy animal who wants to live, and all these animals want to live. The typical lifespan of a cow, if left to live freely, is 18-22 years. Beef cows are typically killed between 18 months and 3 years old. Dairy cows are killed before they are 4 years old, not to mention the male calves who are killed at a few days old: 3,000 killed in the UK every week! Pigs would live for 10-15 years if we didn’t slaughter them at 4-6 months old! Chickens can live up to 10 years old but in the egg industry the hens are gassed at 18 months old, when their egg production decreases to one a day(!) and their male chicks are ground up at 1 day old: over 40 million killed in the UK each year. Chickens raised for meat are killed at 56 days old!

There is no justification for consuming animal products. It doesn’t matter what farming system is used, they are still ‘farmed’!

We need institutional change to a culture of normalised non-violence but first we have to have individual change. When the Indian people were trying  to destabilise the British government, Gandhi told them to change their clothes. He told them to only wear clothes made by Indians in India and within a short time, the British government toppled. If enough of us adopt a plant based lifestyle, change will happen on an institutional level.

So, whilst we are all still stuck at home, why not do some research, watch some documentaries like Cowspiracy and Forks over Knives, and educate your household while you have a captive audience.

Who knows, if we stop killing animals we may just stop killing ourselves.

Photo by Lidia Costea from Pexels
Photo by Lidia Costea from Pexels

Over the last couple of weeks my resolve has been severely tested.

Exactly 2 weeks ago, my husband left home, just as the lockdown started. The main reason for his leaving? My ‘crusade for animals’ as he called it. Since becoming vegan, apparently I am uncompromising, despite the fact that I have endured his consumption of meat and dairy daily whilst deliberately trying not to make him feel guilty about it.  After all, I wasn’t vegan when we met, just vegetarian so I am not guilt free. 

So, with his leaving, I have been doing a lot of ‘navel gazing’ and been asking myself whether this fight is worth it. Am I really making any difference? I have driven my husband away and I miss him. Are animals worth that? What if I didn’t care? Then I could live like so many others; happy and carefree. Their consciences don’t bother them  because they don’t examine them.  They live how they want to live and what’s wrong with that? They enjoy their holidays, they eat what they like and they recycle!  They don’t think twice about things like swimming with dolphins, they have no qualms about the palm oil in their food and they certainly don’t think too deeply about the meat and dairy they consume. I guess this is how my husband wants to live and, to a certain extent, how we used to live.  So what happened?

Well, my conscience. That’s what happened.  Like so many vegans, when I became aware of the truth behind our exploitation of animals I became angry and resolved to do all I could to bring the suffering to an end whilst living the rest of my life without deliberately harming anyone or anything. In this, yes, I am uncompromising and I make no apology for that but the responsibility sometimes weighs me down so much that it overwhelms me.  I admit that I am often reduced to tears by the enormity of the task ahead.

So what if I compromised more? I don’t mean stop being vegan but in other areas. What if I compromised on flying abroad for holidays? What harm could that do? How about if I didn’t insist on recyclable packaging? Maybe I could ignore the palm oil in products and just eat what I liked instead of going without because of the unsustainable ingredients.  What if I stopped rehoming ex battery hens and gave up my other animals so that I was more free to travel?

Well, then I may as well sell my soul.  I am making a difference, as all vegans are. It is often hard to believe, when all around are farms full of animals and people living in ignorant bliss, but we mustn’t give up. No matter how heavy the burden, we must speak out for the voiceless.

I do compromise, every single day, in my interaction with others, I compromise. But I will not compromise my conscience. I will not compromise in my fight for those gentle souls’ freedom.  I must be true to my purpose and have the moral courage to continue on my path , even if it alienates those I love.  

Yes, it feels like a very lonely road right now but it is one I must travel and I am confident I will pick up many friends along the way.

Join me and let’s make a difference!

Easter is a pagan festival. The date is not fixed but governed by the phases of the moon. The familiar symbols of Easter also hark back to pagan customs. The Easter bunny is thought to be from the pagan festival of Eostre, a northern goddess whose symbol was a rabbit or a hare. The exchange of eggs and hot cross buns are also ancient customs with the Old Testament telling us that Israelites baked sweet buns for an idol despite religious leaders trying to stop them. It wasn’t until later that religion adopted Easter and made it about resurrection.

However, nowhere in my research could I find mention of big feasts centred around the roasted flesh of a young animal.

For me, as for many others, Easter is a celebration of Spring. A celebration of Nature reawakening after the long winter;  of trees bursting into blossom, of the first green shoots in the garden, of the sun’s warmth and of wildlife busily preparing for the birth of their young.

However, Easter also brings deep sadness and despair.

I feel no joy at seeing all the lambs, calves and piglets in the fields, knowing their short lives are destined for a terrifying and violent end, to satisfy humans’ incessant greed for their flesh.Easter has become a time for loved ones to come together and enjoy a special meal but I struggle with the hypocrisy of it all.

On the one hand, the public are bombarded with images of new born lambs and chicks around Easter time, there’s a new TV series live from a lambing shed that will be shown early enough for children to watch and yet, when they are seated at the table for the Easter Sunday dinner, it is often  part of a lamb or a whole chicken that is served!

This is known as Cognitive Dissonance and is how people disassociate the image of the new born lamb playing in the field from it’s dismembered leg on their table. My whole family gets together at Easter to share a meal and, as the only vegan at the table, it is heart-breaking.

In this current situation, my trip to be with my family for Easter has been cancelled and, of course I am disappointed. Still, we will all be together having our meal on Easter Sunday via a video chat link, but, I won’t have to see or smell what they are eating!  Every cloud…!!

This Easter, why not challenge your friends and family about their cognitive dissonance and maybe use this opportunity to provide the link between those cute images and what’s on their plate!

Wishing you all a very Happy Vegan  Easter.

Photo by Taryn Elliott from Pexels

We are in the grip of a global pandemic; a virus that has spread to every corner of the world and is killing, it would seem, indiscriminately. People are losing loved ones and my heart goes out to them. All our lives have changed and many people are scared. People on the front line of this crisis are overworked and everyone is having to adjust to a new normality.

However, this whole situation fills me with hope. I know, bear with me!

People are being kind to complete strangers, they are checking in more often with family and friends. I skyped with my whole family last weekend, something I’ve never done before, and it was so uplifting! Yes, people are still all over social media but they are using it to talk face to face with their loved ones.  People are also exercising more. I have seen many more individuals and family groups out walking or on their bikes than usual.

There have been shortages in the supermarkets which has meant people have had to be more imaginative and, perhaps, ‘make do’. Huge events that exploit animals like the Grand National, greyhound races and Spanish bullfights have been cancelled.Airlines are grounded and there is less traffic on the roads which has already seen pollution levels drop.Outlets that cater only to vanity have had to close. Fast food chains like McDonalds, KFC and Burger King have had to close. What if… people start to not miss their carcinogenic burgers? What if…people start to feel healthier and take stock of the way they used to live?

I know people are missing their freedom and ruing the cancellation of events but the longer this goes on, the more normal it will become. My hope is that we are facing a paradigm shift in the way we live. A shift in priorities and in conscience. A shift from consumerism towards a more responsible society; one where we examine our choices and take only what we need, not what we want. A shift away from speciesism and narcissism. A shift towards respect for all creatures.

For too long, we have been the virus. We have spread throughout the world and killed indiscriminately. We have had complete disregard for others.

COVID-19 is a result of our exploitation and abuse of animals and we need to change.

So, while you’re staying home, protecting the NHS and saving lives, keep up the online activism, educate yourself and others on why this happened and the changes they can make to avoid it happening again.