Here's an ironic 3-way conjunction: Memorial Day; the recent release of the undercover Conklin Dairy video footage; and the spewing volcano of oil deep in the Gulf. Memorial Day is a time to honor those serving in war, harmed by war, killed by war. It's become increasingly obvious that war has always been a tool of oppression and of wealth and power accumulation by a small elite, and Memorial Day is one of many ways war is legitimized in the public stories that are told to us from birth. The real war, again becoming increasingly obvious, is against the capacities for wisdom and compassion that are inherent within us, and the ultimate victims of this war are the most vulnerable: animals, ecosystems, children, women, hungry people, and future generations. Especially animals.
How many animals are we killing daily in the U.S. for food? Roughly seventy-five million! How many is that? Basically ungraspable, at least by me. For example, if we take just part of the ongoing slaughter of animals--the slaughter of four species: cows, pigs, chickens, and turkeys--and leave out all fish, sheep, goats, ducks, geese, and other animals killed by us daily in the U.S., and do the relatively simple math, we realize that we are causing a daily flow of blood that amounts to about 8.5 million gallons! This is many times more than the estimates of the Gulf oil gusher, which we have all been praying will be finally plugged up. This oil gusher is devastating! Every day that goes by brings greater destruction, so we yearn to have it stopped, and blame routine corporate greed and government corruption for the breakdown in safety standards that caused it to happen. Some estimates run as high as a million gallons per day of oil polluting the ocean.
And yet we continue with our ongoing daily 8-million gallon blood gusher without any remorse or sense of urgency to stop. Disconnected from the terrible repercussions, unaware of and in denial about the pollution and suffering gushing forth, we go on devastating every level of our health: physiological, psychological, cultural, spiritual, ethical, and environmental.
Who is accountable for this relentless blood gusher? It rings hollow to blame corporations and politicians, though we might be tempted, but that is just part of it. Ultimately, every drop of blood, misery, feces, and pollution spewing from the industrial meat grinder is generated because of personal choices by responsible individuals who pay for meat, dairy products, and eggs. Without these millions of daily choices, the blood gusher would dry up instantly and the ongoing war against animals for food would cease. The healing, joy, and celebration when this gusher is finally plugged is barely imaginable. Its stopping is inevitable, for whatever has a beginning has an ending. The question is: how will it be stopped - voluntarily or involuntarily?
The crucial question in all this has to do with accountability. Why are the overwhelming majority of us--who are responsible for this carnage because of making choices to buy and consume the flesh and secretions of animals--not accountable for our actions? How can we evade responsibility so easily and blithely? Or do we? And what about vegans who don't make these choices to kill and cause others to kill? How are they accountable? And what about the producers and workers who do the killing on behalf of the consumers?
In the Conklin Dairy video footage, we see about three minutes of shockingly cruel abuse of dairy cows and small calves by about three different men, including Mr. Conklin himself. There is violent and repeated hitting with metal bars, kicking, stomping, stabbing with a pitchfork, punching of calves, and it's even bragged about by one of the workers. I absolutely did not want to watch this footage, and procrastinated about five days because it is an ordeal to witness such violence inflicted on helpless animals. I finally decided that if these animals were forced by fellow humans to endure such abuse, the least I could do would be to bear witness to their suffering, informing myself, and holding them in my heart in love, mercy, and tenderness. The three minutes seemed like an eternity, and I felt the ordeal deepened my understanding and resolve, and I have recommended to many people that they see it also.
We are all wired for compassion, and so this is why eating animal foods is so devastating to our self-respect and wisdom. Due to our innate empathy, we now see a flurry of media exposure and a universal call to hold this Ohio dairy accountable, and especially that the perpetrators be punished in order to send a strong message that such cruelty is not acceptable. This is fine as far as it goes, but it doesn't go nearly far enough, and reveals our blindness to our cultural indoctrination. Besides feeling compassion for the brutalized animals, can we feel compassion for the workers--the perpetrators? How quickly we tar them with a black brush, and make them the scapegoats for our broader cultural violence.
We want inexpensive ice cream, cheese, and yogurt, and have as an entire culture created systems that provide that remarkably well, complete with economies of scale, government subsidies, technologies of enslavement and profit maximization, and an underlying story that animals are inferior to us and to be used as we please. From its beginnings eight thousand years ago, animal agriculture brought out the worst in people. It is the same today. These workers are in terrible situations that bring out the worst in them. Cows are powerful animals who naturally don't automatically cooperate with having their babies and milk relentlessly stolen from them. Violent force must be used, and always has been. Cows are innately silent when pain is inflicted on them, from millions of years of living in the wild when this was advantageous to avoid detection by predators. This fact unfortunately seems to encourage workers to beat them more brutally to move them or punish them.
The entire system of reducing animals to mere commodities brings out the worst in both workers (cruelty) and consumers (denial and numbing), and as Gene Baur of Farm Sanctuary emphasized recently--with his 30 years of experience rescuing farmed animals and investigating meat, dairy, and egg operations--what was videotaped at Conklin Dairy is standard procedure on all dairy operations. Nathan Runkle, founder of Mercy For Animals, the group that obtained the video footage, recently told reporters that whenever they send an undercover worker into an animal agriculture facility, they always obtain footage of shocking violence to the animals there. When we reduce an animal to an "it," how will we not degenerate into violence toward that animal? Owning animals and stealing their sovereignty is inherently violent. The workers are put in an ethically devastating position in which they are not accountable for venting their frustration and anger on these animals (unless a pesky vegan undercover operative with a video camera happens to sneak in), and as we understand well, the more anger and violence are expressed in an individual or culture, the stronger and more virulent they become. We become what we practice. What consumer of cheese, ice cream, milk, or yogurt, watching this video, would want to eat products coming from the kicked and stabbed udders and bodies of these poor animals? The thought is revolting, but eating violence, death, and despair is inescapable in eating dairy products, including so-called organic, free-range, and other industry-sponsored propaganda labels.
We are all ultimately accountable for the violence we see in the Conklin Dairy video - anyone who purchases dairy products is obviously directly responsible, because, like the person demanding the assassination of someone, they are the motivating cause of the violence, while the workers are less culpable, being the hired guns who do the bidding of their superiors. It's difficult to refuse, because those who desire dairy products, and the corporations serving them, are constantly repeating, "Dominate, inseminate, steal from, and kill these animals for us, and if you don't, we'll find someone who will."
As a 30-year vegan, I am not absolved of responsibility in this, because it is only those who are not perpetrators who can and must offer solutions, guidance, clarity, and a positive example to break the cycle of violence that is engulfing our world in so many ways. As vegans, we are called to cultivate hearts and minds of all-inclusive kindness, including both the victimized animals and the perpetrators in our compassion, and understanding that the perpetrators--consumers and providers of animal foods--are both victimized unwittingly by their violence and numbness. We are all connected. Veganism is radical inclusion--love in action--and requires of vegans a deep commitment to complete personal transformation, and an awakening from all dimensions of the cultural insanity required by eating animal foods.
Who knows what terrible abuse the Conklin Dairy workers experienced as infants and children? Birth in our culture is a violent affair, like it is on a dairy. Babies are routinely separated from their mothers at birth, and their bodies are flooded with pernicious injections and harsh sounds and toxic chemicals. Like on dairies, less than four percent of the human babies born in the U.S. today get their mothers' milk. Whatever we do to animals, we end up doing to ourselves. Sending anger and judgment to Mr. Conklin and the workers only adds to the problem, and shows we are not looking deeply and are not free of the culturally indoctrinated mentality of exclusion required by eating animal foods. Personally, I yearn to send love and tenderness not just to the cows and calves in the video, but to Mr. Conklin and the workers as well, and to the masses of consumers blind to the effects of their actions, and to the millions of fish killed yearly to be fed to the dairy cows to boost their milk production, and to the starving people who could be fed the grain and beans fed to these cows, and to the whole interconnected web of life on this beautiful planet being devastated by animal agriculture.
Not buying animal-sourced foods, products, and services for ethical reasons, while it is a fantastic, healing leap for anyone to make in this culture, is just a small first step on the great vegan journey of love and awakening, and for us to be successful in helping our culture evolve to nonviolence, freedom, respect for life, justice, and peace, we are called to cultivate and embody these qualities in all our relationships, and practice inclusivity, kindness, and respect for both human and non-human animals.
The calls that are going forth from the larger animal protection organizations for stronger laws and regulations to protect dairy cows, pigs, chickens, and other animals will never succeed in stopping our violence toward animals for food, or free us from it. They may even legitimize it. What is called for is committed, resourceful, creative, and grass-roots vegan education. We must reduce and stop the demand for dairy products and meat by respectfully educating people that with whole, organic, plant foods we can feed ourselves and free ourselves. There is nothing more important today than each of us practicing and sharing these ideas of love for all living beings.
The relentless blood gusher must, like the oil gusher, be stopped quickly and soon, or humanity and most life forms will be destroyed. Our violence toward animals and the Earth is a boomerang that is increasingly ferocious. We absolutely do not have the right or luxury to eat animal foods, or to think in the exclusivist ways that eating animal foods requires. This is the message underlying all the news headlines, if we can see it. Our future is beckoning and drawing us ever onward. What kind of future will it be? We cannot build a tower of love and harmony with bricks of cruelty and indifference. Our bodies, our lives, and our relationships are the towers we build daily and inhabit.
May we have a Memorial Day for Animals, whose bodies, minds, and spirits bear the full fury of our culture's indoctrinated cravings and numbness. Their blood, gushing relentlessly in the hidden gulf of agribusiness machinery, is devastating the heath of our entire world. Remembering animals every day, let's be and spread the vegan message of love and compassion for all with, as JFK used to say, renewed vigor. We have no other choice. I propose a Memorial Day for Animals, which is a Memorial Day for all of us, and is the next step in our cultural evolution.