Celebration For The Animals: Good Vibes, Good Food

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.
~ Margaret Mead

I recently attended a potluck gathering at a friend’s home.  This particular gathering was comprised of a group of fellow animal rights advocates, and was held as a celebration of recent local victories for animal causes.  The Orange County chapter of Animal Protection and Rescue  League (APRL-OC), of which I’m a member, is a grassroots non-profit organization, working diligently to put an end to the many ways animals are abused and exploited.  Some of our campaigns include the issues of animals used for foodclothing, experimentation, and entertainment, as well as “puppy mills”.

Our celebration was in honor of these noteworthy victories:

One of the things I love about these get-togethers is that you can show up fifteen minutes late, easily offering as a reason the fact that one of your cats threw up just as you were on your way out the door, and this statement won’t be met with any awkward silence or sideways glances, only heads nodding in understanding: been there, done that.  You can arrive wearing black clothing speckled with decidedly not-black dog or cat hairs, without a trace of self-consciousness.  No one will discreetly offer you a lint roller – “Here, would you like to tidy yourself up?”.   Acceptance is the rule, and virtually everyone at the party has animals at home, or does hands-on animal rescue, and is familiar with all that that entails.  Also, the resident companion animals are usually in attendance, and in this case, we were delighted to have in our company two very large German Shepherds.

It’s not easy, the work we do on behalf of animals who suffer at human hands.  We push ourselves to witness atrocities few people could imagine, and then take whatever actions we can to address them.  It is unpleasant, uncomfortable, and inconvenient, often taking us away from loved ones and activities we’d rather engage in.  Sometimes it is literally the stuff of nightmares.  But speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves – the victims of abuse – is a labor of love  and devotion, to which we are dedicated, and for which we’re willing to sacrifice certain personal comforts in our effort to live a meaningful life.  The emotional toll is part of the package, and if attention isn’t paid to creating balance in an activist’s life, burnout can result.  So these get-togethers of fellow comrades-for-the-cause serve to help us recharge our spirits and find strength through bonding with each other.  They provide much-needed moments of levity and mirth, as well as validation and reaffirmation of our purpose.  And then there’s the food!

Because we’ve dedicated ourselves to helping animals in need, most animal rights advocates understand the connection we have to all animals, and that all animals have a right to their own lives, and thus we refrain from eating them.  So this was a vegan potluck, where none of the dishes contained any ingredients derived from animals.

Vegan potlucks tend to have an enticing array of interesting, delicious dishes.  Contrary to what many non-vegetarians believe about a vegan diet, there is great variety and robust flavors to be savored.  At this particular gathering, we were treated to tasty pizza with an assortment of vegetables and cheese (“Daiya” has revolutionized the non-dairy cheese world); quinoa and black bean salad; enchiladas; chili; pasta and veggie salad with pesto dressing; seitan in barbeque sauce; stuffed grape leaves; homemade cheese made from cashews; and apple pie.  Everything was delicious, and it’s especially satisfying to know that the food we’re eating comes from cruelty-free sources – no animals were harmed in order for us to enjoy this meal.  I wish I’d taken pictures of these lovely dishes to display here.  Next time!

For now, it’s time to get back to work.  It’s a daunting job, and we recognize that we’ll not achieve all the kinds of changes for animals we’d like to see in our lifetime.  So we take some comfort in the victories we can claim, such as those we celebrated at this potluck gathering.  We always conclude our evening saying good-bye to our comrades with warm embraces, celebrating our own connectedness, and knowing we’ll see each other next in the trenches.  And we’ll remain diligent in our endeavors, hoping for and envisioning the next victory for animals, the next joyful occasion that will bring us together.

Of further interest:

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Evolution: Escargot, Erotica, Empathy

When a man has pity on all living creatures then only he is noble.

As an adventurous “foodie”, there was a time when I was on a quest to find the very best escargot.  In my travels, I ordered the delicacy at every restaurant I visited which had it on the menu.  I tasted it in all manner of its various preparations: in garlic butter, in cream sauce, en croute,  bourguignon, stuffed in mushrooms…  While many people cringe at the thought of having the common gastropod in their mouth, imagining it to be anywhere from slimy to rubbery, I enjoyed the sublime texture, and the flavor imparted by whatever ingredients the particular recipe employed.  I did give a little thought to the fact that I was eating a creature who would’ve preferred to have lived, but managed to not let that thought trouble me much.  And then I saw the film, “Microcosmos”.

I watched the award-winning documentary, mouth agape, as remarkably close-up footage of a variety of insects and other tiny inhabitants of a French field held me mesmerized.  What is known as the “snail love scene” opened my eyes to the natural sensuality of snails.  Set to a hauntingly beautiful musical score, it depicts in glorious detail two snails mating.  But to refer to their act as mere “mating” is to not do justice to the exquisite tenderness displayed in their nearly erotic union.  Seeing the obvious sensitivity they possess for tactile sensation, it was hard not to interpret their undulations as providing pleasure.  The love scene was so intimate and emotionally provocative, as to almost cause one to blush at witnessing what would seem to be a very private interaction.  Sure, you can charge me with anthropomorphism, but I’d argue that those snails experienced some form of pleasure derived from the highly sensitive neurons that were firing by the thousands.  And if they could experience pleasure, couldn’t they then also experience pain?  I felt some stirrings of compassion…

Snail Love Scene, from "Microcosmos"

I examined my eating of escargot, and determined that my newly awakened empathy with snails could no longer allow me, in good conscience, to partake.   I haven’t eaten escargot since seeing “Microcosmos” in 1996, and have actually observed, awestruck, snail love-making in my own backyard on two occasions .

View the snail love scene on youtube.com here.

You can watch “Microcosmos” in its entirety (about an hour) on youtube.com here.  Better yet, get it on DVD or from a cable/satellite/online  source, and watch it on your big screen TV.  I think you’ll be riveted, and will likely gain a whole new appreciation for some of our smaller, often overlooked fellow Earthlings.

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Hummingbird Saga

“Our task must be to free ourselves… by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.” 
~ Albert Einstein

We have a laundry room with a little window which looks out onto our front yard/walkway.  Most of the time, I’m in and out of that room, staying in there just long enough to attend to the task at hand. But last year at this time in April, I spent hours at that window, intently observing a mother hummingbird tending to the two eggs, then hatchlings, in her nest.  I was spellbound for weeks, watching from my laundry room window, as mama nurtured her little ones.

The nest was in the hibiscus tree just outside the window, in a relatively protected corner, visible to me by my leaning against the laundry room sink.  I couldn’t tear myself away, and checked on the little feathered family day and night, often worrying about their wellbeing, especially during our occasionally inclement weather.  It was an anxious time, as I’d hoped the birds would be safe, not only from the weather, but also from predators.  I’ve witnessed the harsh realities of Nature in our yard before, helplessly watching crows attacking nests, or discovering the tiny bodies of chicks on our patio or in our small pond, having either fallen or been pushed from their nest.

We posted a “quiet please” sign on our front gate, cautioning visitors of the hummingbird nest’s proximity.  Sometimes, if I hadn’t been able to see both chicks in the nest, I’d go outside, examining the ground beneath, hoping I wouldn’t find what I feared: a lifeless little body.  One cold, rainy, windy night, I actually convinced my godsend of a husband to accompany me outside with an umbrella, to see if we could somehow securely position it to provide more protection for the nest without disturbing it.  Ultimately, we determined it wasn’t possible, at least not right then, and I forced myself to go back inside, where I spent a restless night trying to assure myself that mama bird had chosen a good place for her nest, and that the overhanging leaves, as well as the structure of our house, did provide some modicum of shelter.  Come the next morning, I went straight to the window at dawn, checking for signs that the family had either persevered or perished.  Thankfully it was the former, and I was able to go about my day, after first shedding a few tears of relief.

The timing was haphazard, and whenever I happened upon a feeding, it was a stroke of luck.  Thus, I made it a point to peek out the window as many times a day as possible, often forgoing or delaying other duties.  I so loved to watch the fuzzy little heads popping up, eagerly awaiting attention.  It was simultaneously thrilling and grueling to watch the drama unfold.  I always checked the nest right before going to bed, to make sure mama was shielding her babies, and all seemed calm.  On a couple occasions, I was distraught to not see her there, causing me great worry over the wellbeing of the chicks.  Had mama bird abandoned her babies?  Was she dead?   Naturally, my concern led me to the Internet, where I extensively researched hummingbird behavior.  I was somewhat relieved to learn that sometimes the mother bird will not spend all night on the nest, then very relieved when I’d finally see her again, and both chicks accounted for.  To be on the safe side, I bookmarked the website of a local hummingbird rescue organization should the need arise.  Yes, I was obsessed!

I truly felt the pangs of loss when the fledglings finally flew away.  I was extremely fortunate to have caught the exact moment when the first of the chicks flew up and away.  My heart ached a dozen ways.  It was another few days before the other chick took off.  Even though I’d witnessed their departure, I found myself returning to the window several times a day, wondering if I still might catch a glimpse of them.  Perhaps they’d return to the familiar comfort of their nest for a while…  I scrutinized the birds flitting about the yard, trying to see if I might identify any of them as the youngsters I’d watched mature.  I do think I spotted a couple hummers who appeared a bit smaller than the others…

Fledgling hummingbird perched above the nest

It took me weeks to wean myself from what had become my routine of frequently checking the nest for activity.  I missed that little family so!  At the same time, I was relieved that my self-assigned duty of watchfulness was successfully completed, my “charges” having moved on, my daily anxiety over their welfare quelled (or at least redirected).  My husband accurately noted that I was suffering literally from “empty nest syndrome”!  Having no children, I’d never experience the syndrome as it’s usually conceived.

We left the nest in place, as I’d heard that sometimes birds will return to use it again, and hoped that might be the case.  It is also illegal to disturb hummingbird nests in the U.S., as they are protected by federal law through the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.  Regardless of either of those facts, I would’ve left the nest in place for the sake of remembrance.  It is still there today, as yet uninhabited, and looking a bit weathered, but intact, same as my hopes.

A wealth of information about hummingbirds.

Fascinating facts about how hummingbirds build their nests, and more.

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Welcome To My World

“Somewhere in the rain, there will always be an abandoned dog that prevents you from being happy.”  ~ Aldous Huxley

At the heart of this compassionate citizen, and many others, lies a deeply inextricable empathy which informs daily life.  Sometimes this keen awareness of the plight of others manifests itself as an underlying sense of sadness, which, to varying degrees, tinges every waking (and often sleeping) moment of our consciousness.  That is not to say that I am sad all the time, or that every joyous occasion is sabotaged by despair.  I’m not a “Debbie Downer”.  But I believe that once a true awakening occurs, bringing into the light the ever-present suffering of our fellow earthlings, it is impossible to ever completely squelch that awareness, that empathy.  It’s hard for me to imagine a time in my life when I didn’t care so much.  But there was one. For me, as with many, this awakening happened gradually.

While I’ve always considered myself to be a compassionate person, kind and caring and conscientious, living by the Golden Rule, I began to realize that I did not extend my compassion to some of those who needed it most: the animals I was eating.  The discrimination that we humans impose on other animals is referred to as “speciesism”, and is likened in quality to other forms of prejudice such as racism and sexism.

As I witnessed the tremendous suffering involved in the production of animal products for human consumption, I concluded that a true call to compassion necessarily dictates following the basic tenets of ethical veganism: to abstain from using any animal products, or supporting any enterprise which exploits animals.  “Why love one, but eat the other?” asks the popular brochure printed by Mercy For Animals.  Or, “Which do you pet? Which do you eat?  Why?”, the provocative question posed on handouts supplied by Farm Animal Rights Movement.

Now, as I’ve become more educated about the various ways animals are abused by humans, I feel compelled to do whatever I can to ease, or at the very least, not contribute to their suffering.  This has led me to become an active advocate for animals.  In everything I do, there is something to remind me of those less fortunate.  If the water is too hot when I get into the shower, I think of the chickens who go to the de-feathering tanks, fully conscious, to be scalded to death.  When I shiver in the cold wind, I think of the pigs being transported across the country to their slaughter, deprived of any comfort or protection from the elements, many of whom literally suffer to death en route.  While enjoying a hearty meal, I silently grieve for those who are starving.  And when it rains, as I’m cozy and warm in my home, gazing out at the downpour (which I rather enjoy, but not nearly as much as I used to), I do think of the abandoned dog who is out there in it somewhere, lonely and frightened.  My own discomforts and hardships pale in comparison to those which others – human and non-human – endure.  I’m no longer able, as I once was, to suppress my awareness into my unconscious.  It is impossible to “unsee” that which has been seen.  Whether I’m in the midst of some pleasant experience, or a challenging one, there is always a connective thread, the degree to which I contemplate it varying by occasion, which anchors me to the world’s woes.

As a compassionate citizen, I’m doing my best to live a meaningful life in this world, knowing I won’t see the kind of world I yearn for in my lifetime.  From time to time, I’ll use this blog to share musings, insights, and accounts of experiences, some of which will be quite somber, and others which will be lighthearted in content.

Welcome to my world.

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