Activism

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  🙂

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