Activism

Okja

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Directed by Bong Joon-ho, Okja is the brilliant movie that follows the bittersweet bond between a little girl and her beloved companion pet that is destined to be on your dinner plate.  This 5/5 star movie pulls at all the right heart strings.  It is a tale of the childhood innocence being confronted by the greed of a corrupt corporation.  The real gut wrench is that this evil corporation is too enabled by the cognitively dissonant public.


Plot (spoilers):  

The movie opens with the extravagant PR event of Mirando Corporations’s new Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton), revealing about their plans to breed a super pig they have created.  The year is 2007.  She says that 26 off-springs will be sent to locations around the world, and 10 years later, one will be crowned the ‘winner’.  Her closing sentence is “..and it better fucking taste good” which implies the fate of this super pig ‘winner’.

10 years later in South Korea, a young girl named Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) lives in the countryside with her grandfather (Byun Hee-bong) who is a local farmer and the super pig, Okja. Mija has asked her grandfather to buy Okja from Mirando Corporation so that Okja doesn’t have to go back to New York.

One day Mija and her grandfather are visited by Mirando spokesperson and zoologist Dr. Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal), who declares Okja is the best super pig and she will go back to New York.  Mija who doesn’t speak English doesn’t understand what is happening.  Mija’s grandfather coaxes her to visit the graves of her parents. There he gives her a solid gold pig and tells her that he couldn’t buy Okja so he bought her the gold pig instead.  Feeling betrayed, Mija runs back home only to find that Okja has already been taken away.

That evening Mija she runs sets out on a mission to find Okja. She goes to the Korean office of Mirando and finds Okja being loaded onto a truck headed to the airport. Mija manages to chase down the truck which is eventually intercepted by an Animal Liberation Front (ALF) truck.

In the resulting chaos Mija and Okja run away causing chaos though an underground mall.  They are eventually saved by the ALF.  Jay (Paul Dano) the lead ALF member, tells her about their plan to put a hidden camera in Okja’s ear and return Okja to Mirando Corporation. Through the hidden camera footage they want to expose the animal cruelty at Mirando Corporation.  Jay asks Mija’s permission to use Okja for their plan.  Mija tells them no but the translator, K (Steven Yeun), lies so the group believe Mija has consented.  Okja is recaptured by Mirando and sent to New York.

Meanwhile, footage of Okja and Mija running through mall has gone viral on youtube.  In order to do damage control, Lucy pays for Mija to come to New York to be reunited onstage with her Okja at a mega PR event.  Dr. Wilcox doesn’t like this idea and gets upset with Lucy for trying to overshadow his fame.

Okja is taken to the laboratory where Dr. Wilcox tries to forcibly breed her with another super pig.  Dr. Wilcox is drunk and says “I am suppose to be an animal lover” while he extracts bits of meat from Okja for a taste test. Members of the ALF are watching the whole ordeal through the hidden camera in Okja’s ear.  K feels guilty and tells the group he lied about Mija’s consent to use Okja. Jay gets upset, punches K and bans K from ALF.

Devastated Mija arrives in New York with Mirando representatives. She learns bits of English to avoid being betrayed by a translator again.  She was told to get ready for her stage appearance. When she goes into her room, Jay comes out from behind the curtain. He apologises to and say they are planning to rescue Okja.

Mija is reunited with Okja on stage.  The hidden camera footage of animal cruelty is played on the big screen for the public to see.  Mija and the ALF attempt to escape with Okja, but Lucy’s twin sister Nancy (also Tilda Swinton) is back from London and takes over the Mirando Corporation and keeps Okja with Mirando Coporating.  The ALF members were beaten and arrested by the police.  However Jay is assisted by K to escape the arrest.  Jay, K and Mija go to the Mirando’s slaughterhouse to find Okja who was next to be killed.

Mija runs up to the slaughter-man and show a photograph of herself with baby Okja.  The man seems moved, but Nancy arrives and tells to keep the production line going. Before the slaughter-man continue, Mija offers the golden pig to Nancy in exchange for Okja’s life.  Nancy agrees to the deal.  Jay was finally arrested.

Mija and Okja leave the slaughterhouse passing the feedlot with thousands of super pigs awaiting slaughter and some were forced into the slaughter ramp. A pair of super pigs push their baby through the fence.  Okja hides it within her mouth to take it away.  

The movie ends with the final scene back in Korea with Mija, her grandfather, Okja & the baby pig living their pre-existing life.

In a post-credits scene, Jay is released from prison and gets on a bus with K and the other members of ALF, who reveals that they are attending a major meeting involving all of the Mirando shareholders. Then, they all put on their ski masks.


This brilliantly produced movie questions the morality within us all.  The most powerful scene is its second last scene when Mija and Okja leave the slaughterhouse passing the feedlot packed with other super pigs.  The gravity of the atrocities inflicted toward animals slaughtered in the name of food hits home.  That was just pigs – super pigs.  Imagine the sheer number of smaller animals, like chickens, that are killed in the name of ‘food’.  And we have the audacity to call ourselves “animal lovers”…

The movie covers a very relevant topic, and it does so, so brilliantly.  It makes us question how everyday people like us view ‘food’ that once lived.   It exposes the standard lies fed to the public. Eco-friendly, non-GMO, carbon-neutral – these are all phrases that are thrown around carelessly and constantly to promote various consumer products, especially food.  But in a world where anything goes, how do you know that you are not lied to?

Another aspect of the movie is that it brings attention to the important work animal activists, ALF or any other organisations do to exposes these lies.  If you live in any first world country like the US, Australia or many countries in Europe, you’d know the extent the governments and agricultural industries (‘corporations’) are going to stop these activists. Labelling them as “terrorists” and making up laws to criminalise even the most mundane activities like leafleting – ag-gag laws anyone?  The activists risk their lives and their freedom to end cruelty.  So next time you see the media demonise the activists, ask yourself: who is the real demon here?  Is it the person who wants others (human & non-human) to live in peace, is it the corporation trying to maximise their profits, is the government, or is it you – the consumer who create the type of demand that corporations and governments profit off?

The plot is not the only good thing about this movie.  The cinematography, especially the lush green scenery of South Koreao is breathtaking.  The scenes at the slaughterhouse and the Mirando laboratory eerily terrifying and raises the hair on your back.  My favourite though, is the acting because it is done oh-so wonderfully!  Tilda’s portray of eccentric Lucy is praiseworthy.  Jake Gyllenhall did very well being whimsical Dr. Wilcox and Ahn did such an incredible job of playing Mija.  Ahn takes us on a journey filled with raw emotions and true genuineness.  We could relate to her feelings as she uncovers the cold truth of the ‘real’ world of which she had been shielded from until now.

Ok, don’t worry.  The movie is not all doom and gloom.  There is plenty of sarcastic humour embedded within the film.  From the very first scene of Lucy’s PR extravaganza it sets the scene for its dark humour which follows throughout the movie.  Even the role of the local truck driver is humorous.

In summary, I was very impressed with all aspects of the movie and I highly recommend you watch it if you haven’t done so already.

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Boo

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Boo

Last week I met this cutie about a block from my home. She looks so much like my baby girls Speckles and Lily 😍

She had a collar on and always hung out at the same block of apartments 🏡 It was likely she had a home, but, she was so skinny! I could feel her spine when I patted her. I have been feeding her all last week. I decided to go on an adventure on Friday by catnapping her for a vet visit.

Boo at the vet

It turned out her name is Boo and she is 15 years old!  She is microchipped and desexed. She had fleas, bad teeth and possibly hyperthyroidism (which would explain why she is thin).  The vet gave her flea treatment and reviewed her general health. The vet didn’t want to do any invasive procedures without owner consent.

Boo and I went back to where she had been hanging out.  After a few door knocks I found the owner.  The owner was an older lady who has TWO tortie girls (a reflection of my future self?!).  The owner was nice and said she takes care of the cat, which I believe is true.  She admitted that she sometimes skips the monthly flea treatment – obviously not a good idea.

I told her that I took Boo to the vet, and the Boo needs some dental work. I told her about the fleas and the importance of monthly flea treatment.  She was appreciative of the information.  We spoke for a while about both of our cats.

I suggested she take Boo and her other cat to the vet again.  She said that she will.  I left my phone number and said she can contact me about the cats in future.

I have no doubt I will see the cats again during my evening walks.  I am glad to know that Boo has a human and a place to call home.  I will still give treats and cuddles on my way.  I hope Boo gets the treatments she is desperately in need.

Please take care of your pets.  They depend on us to do right by them.

Boo

What Children Learn from Animals in Circuses

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On 14 January 2017 Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced that they will be closing down permanently as of 21 May 2017.  They will perform a few shows between now and the 21 of May 2017, but after that Ringling Bros no more.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is a United States traveling circus company.  Their main show is called “The Greatest Show on Earth” which includes animal performances such as camels, monkeys, dogs, horses , lions, tigers,and elephants.

Without even touching on the inherent cruelty in training and confinement of the animals, some people would still argue that animals in circuses are a good way for children’s education.   I completely disagree.

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Animals in circuses teach children that it is ok to confine somebody for our entertainment.  It teaches children that it is perfectly ok to confine, abuse, and objectify non-human sentient beings if that entertains us.

Up until the mid 20th century (1950s) the western countries such as the United States hosted freak shows using unwilling participants as a form of entertainment.  Up until the similar era the United States also displayed African American humans in zoos.  These are instances where we have confined, abused, and objectified other human beings for the sake of “entertainment”.  In modern society, anybody who identifies as a “normal” person would be shocked if freak shows and zoos with humans re-opened.  How is using animals for “entertainment” different?

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Where is the evidence to say that animals “want” to be in zoos or perform in circuses?  Most of the animals used in circuses are non-domesticated animals that are either captured from the wild or bred in captivity.

Animals in circuses teach children that it is OK to dominate and control other beings if they are “different” to us.  they teach that objectifying and using others for personal entertainment is ok.  This creates a lack of empathy in children that could carry into their adult life and adversely affect their human and other non-human interactions. As if our society doesn’t have enough social problems already.

See another article about this topic here.

The well known Australian moral philosopher and animal rights activist Peter Singer said:

“When children see animals in a circus, they learn that animals exist for our amusement. Quite apart from the cruelty involved in training and confining these animals, the whole idea that we should enjoy the humiliating spectacle of an elephant or lion made to perform circus tricks shows a lack of respect for the animals as individuals.”

I welcome the permanent closing of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in May 2017.  I just hope the retiring animals are surrendered to reputable sanctuaries to live out the remainder of their lives.  Sadly there are already talk of them being surrendered to other cruel industries such as animal research facilities.  Such is the fate of this lot of unfortunate animals.  My silver lining of  hope is that other circuses follow Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus lead and cease animal performances so that new animals are not captured and bred into this outdated industry.

Why Vegan?

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Those who follow my blog know that I am passionate about veganism.  Wikipedia defines veganism as “both the practice of abstaining from the use of animal products, particularly in diet, and an associated philosophy that rejects the commodity status of animals.”

I became vegan 3 years ago, at the end of 2014.  Before then I followed a vegetarian diet (I didn’t eat meat but still consumed dairy & eggs).  You can read a summarised version of my vegan journey here.

Since I’ve become vegan I have discovered so many health benefits that I’d like to share.

Improved Mental Health

I am not claiming that a vegan diet would cure mental illness however, I found that since aligning my actions with my core values of kindness and compassion, I am fundamentally happier.  This is because I see the world through a different lens – a lens without the ‘invisibility cloak’.

Dr. Melanie Joy, the key founder of Beyond Carnism, explains the invisibility cloak as “Carnism”.  Listen to her TEDx talk on Carnism.

Carnism is the invisible belief system, or ideology, that conditions people to eat certain animals. Carnism is essentially the opposite of veganism, as “carn” means “flesh” or “of the flesh” and “ism” refers to a belief system.

Once I shifted my belief system from Carnism to Veganism, I felt a weight shift off my chest.  I felt at ease with myself in a way that I had never felt before.  I no longer participated in unnecessary violence toward other sentient beings, and that felt better than eating any type of animal product ever did!

Better Food Choices

Once I made the conscious decision to become vegan, I had to shift my mentality about food.  Food I previously consumed became no longer food.  Rather I saw those as body parts of dead sentient beings, and products of cruelty and injustice.

I learnt about alternatives to meat and diary.  I made my diet entirely plant based.  This is also referred to as a vegan diet, or simply ‘vegan’ (although being vegan is more than a diet – see end of the article).  My simple google research revealed how much nutrition can be obtained from a plant based diet.  Vegan Easy is an excellent source for loads of vegan recipes and other resources about plant based eating.

Also check out Australian Guide to Healthy Eating.  This is the national guideline in Australia for a healthy diet!  Look at the five good groups.

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The entirety of the Grains, Vegetables and Fruit categories are already vegan. These 3 groups alone make up more than two thirds of the circle!

Then there is the “Dairy” category for calcium and “Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds” category for protein.  These are the only categories with animal products.  As the name suggests protein can be obtained from tofu, nuts and seeds.  Meat, poultry, fish and eggs can easily be replaced with other plant based sources of protein such as lentils, quinoa, tempeh, beans, grains, and broccoli.

Dairy is the other concern many people have when considering a vegan diet.  Most people believe that dairy is the only source of calcium.  Calcium is important for strong and healthy bones but there are many plant based sources of calcium.  These include leafy greens (e.g. kale), collards, broccoli, okra, figs, oranges, almonds, pistachio nuts, hazelnuts, flaxseed, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, soybeans, chickpeas, navy beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, lentils, tempeh, tofu, fortified non-dairy milks, fortified soy products, fortified breakfast cereals, and fortified orange juice.  Visit Vegan Easy for loads more information about healthy plant based diets.

While I didn’t suddenly become invincible to illnesses, my sinuses became less frequent and my blood results showed that my overall health has improved over the last 3 years.  My vitamins, protein and cholesterol levels are well within the healthy ranges.  Before I became vegan, before I was even vegetarian, I was often anaemic.  Since I changed my diet my iron levels have consistently been in the healthy range.

I am not saying that cutting off meat and dairy will miraculously make you immune to every disease.  There are certainly naughty foods that are still vegan (100+ naughty vegan food) – fried chips or nice cream anybody?  What I am saying is that it is entirely possible to live and thrive on a well balanced plant based diet.  The only supplement that is universally recommended with a plant based diet is vitamin B12.

Still concerned about health impacts of a plant based diet?  Consult a qualified dietitian! For those who live in Brisbane, Australia, ‘Human Herbivore‘ is a good website.

Other Benefits

Apart from mental and physical health benefits at an individual level, there are also wider scale benefits from being vegan:

1) As vegans we would not only stop consuming animal products but we would also stop contributing to the suffering in clothing (e.g fur, leather & wool), entertainment (e.g. circus animals, aquariums & zoos), medicine/laboratory experimentation (e.g. cosmetic testing), and working animals (e.g. horse-drawn carriages).  There are loads of vegan friendly alternatives to choose from.

2) We would significantly reduce the carbon footprint on our planet.  I aim to write a post about the water consumption and land clearance associated with animal agriculture and non-animal agriculture.

3) Generally, we would develop an increased awareness toward other social justice issues in the world such as; poverty, child labor, sexism, LGBT rights, racism and all things in between.  Dr. Melanie Joy explains why eating animals is a social justice issue because commodification of animals is a result of a widespread oppressive system just like racism, sexism, and heterosexism.

Ultimately, cultivating compassion and justice is not simply about changing behaviours; it is about changing consciousness so that no “others,” human or nonhuman, are victims of oppression.  To bring about a more compassionate and just society, then, we must strive to include all forms of oppression in our awareness, including carnism. – Beyond Carnism

So what are you waiting for? Order a FREE vegetarian starter kit today!

Psychology & Veganism

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I am taking an Edx course called “UQx: Think101x The Science of Everyday Thinking”. Lesson 7 of this course discusses why it is hard to change people’s minds about various things, particularly when it comes to long held beliefs. I thought this is particularly relevant to veganism as we know how frustrating it is to hear the same motivational excuses repeated over and over again as the basis for carnism.

Why it is hard to change people’s minds? The Edx course says that it’s because of the following two things:

1) Source amnesia. We have difficulty remembering why it is we believe in something. Think about this. What makes you think you have access, that you can instantly recall the exact basis for why you believe something?

2) It is hard to reconcile what it is you believed previously with this new data. It’s cognitive difficulty. You can’t replace your former belief in the heat of the moment. It takes some work and time to put new wealth of evidence.

Evidence alone is not enough to get people to change their minds. We need evidence and a good story to show people what they can change their minds to.  The course suggests the following 6 leads for prompting opinion change.

6 Leads of Opinion Change

1) Ask yourself “what do you really believe anyway?”

2) How well based is the opinion that you already hold?

3) How good is the evidence for changing your opinion? Is it based on experiments or appropriate research?

4) Does the evidence really contradict what you already believe?

5) If the answer to question 4) is “no”, then what would be enough evidence to contradict what you already believe?

6) Is it worth finding out about? Why or why not? What is the cost of changing your belief?

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Tools for Effectively Moving People into Veganism

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I attended an animal rights conference in October 2016 and listened to a speech by Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM)’s Executive Director Michael Webermann. His speech provided me with the following tools for effectively moving people toward veganism.

  1. Provide Incentives

    That is, give a reason for people to go vegan. The main one of course is the ethical incentive. Another way to give an incentive is the ‘pay per view’ style activism. This is where we can pay $1 or $2 for a person to watch a film clip such as 1000 Eyes. In this instance, money first becomes the first incentive but then hopefully the ethical obligation become the longer term incentive to go vegan.

  2. Follow Up

    Once we’ve spoken to somebody about going vegan and they say that they’ll try, we need to follow up. It could be a phone call, a text or a survey. This will allow us to know if they are sticking to their promise. If they are struggling, we can help them address their struggles. Over time this will give us a sense of what the most ‘common’ struggles people face when they first go vegan. We can use this information for continuous improvement of our activism.

  3. Aim Young 

    Michael Webermann said to aim the vegan message to teenagers and young adults because they are more likely to be open to new ideas. They are also more likely to share the message within their network. As a caveat make sure the people we approach are not too young. i.e. no children.

  4. Captive Audience 

    Find an audience that would be receptive to our message. For example, it is no use doing a speech in a noisy mall. A speech at high school or a university class room would be far more effective.

  5. Focus on the Message

    Be specific about the message. Michael Webermann believes that focusing on the injustice to animals will keep people engaged the longest. However, we can discuss the other benefits of veganism, such as health and environmental benefits, but don’t loose the focus from the main message: The Animals!

  6. Focus on the Most Vulnerable 

    There is no denying that all suffering is bad. The atrocities we inflict on animals is beyond horrid. But in terms of quantity, the largest amounts of animals that suffer for food are chickens and fish. This is because the number of chicken and fish consumed per head is much larger compared to cows and pigs. It is also common when people give up red meat, they end up eating more chicken and fish. This would exponentially increase the number of animals eaten. So if we ask a person to give up chicken instead of cow meat; that would save a larger number of individual animals.

  7. Make the Right Ask 

    If we ask a person to go vegan straight away and if that person is not ready, they could shy away from the idea completely. Therefore, at times it might be beneficial asking for one or two days per week where they follow a vegan diet. Let them do that for a few weeks. Then apply the tool number 2 (following up). If they are doing well eating a vegan diet several days per week, ask them to increase the frequency. Apply this logic until they are fully vegan.

  8. Acknowledge When We Are Wrong 

    So we try to positively influence people but we can still get it wrong. It’s ok. Being wrong and knowing we did something that didn’t work is good, because at least we know next time to try something different or fix our mistake  🙂

References:

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