Sunday, September 15, 2013

Moral Purity?

A big thing that vegans and animal rights people always seem to be talking about is moral purity (also known as "personal purity"). In this case, it refers to the question of how meticulous you should be when making sure that the products (food, clothing, toiletries, etc.) you buy are completely vegan. For example, sometimes sugar is refined using animal bone char, which isn't listed on the ingredients list because it's not an actual ingredient-- it's just something that's been used in the process of producing the sugar, even though it isn't actually in the finished product. Another example is when you buy foods with extra-long ingredient names on the label, and you don't know if those trace ingredients are vegan. The question is, how far do you go? Is it realistic to be "morally pure"?
Different people and organizations have different opinions of this. Here are the opinions of some of them.

On the "Don't worry about it" side:
PETA has made the following statement regarding trace ingredients in otherwise vegan foods:
"Some packaged foods have a long list of ingredients. The farther an ingredient is down the list, the less of that ingredient is in the food. People who have made the compassionate decision to stop eating animal flesh, eggs, and dairy products may wonder if they need to read every ingredient to check for tiny amounts of obscure animal products. Our general advice is not to worry too much about doing this. The goal of sticking to a vegetarian or vegan diet is to help animals and reduce suffering; this is done by choosing a bean burrito or a veggie burger over chicken flesh, or choosing tofu scramble over eggs, not by refusing to eat an otherwise vegan food because it has 0.001 grams of monoglycerides that may possibly be animal-derived.
We discourage vegetarians from grilling waiters at restaurants about micro-ingredients in vegetarian foods (e.g., a tiny bit of a dairy product in the bun of a veggie burger). Doing so makes sticking to a vegetarian diet seem difficult and dogmatic to your friends and to restaurant staff, thus discouraging them from giving a vegetarian diet a try (which really hurts animals). And we urge vegetarians not to insist that their food be cooked on equipment separate from that used to cook meat; doing so doesn’t help any additional animals, and it only makes restaurants less inclined to offer vegetarian choices (which, again, hurts animals)."
In fact, PETA's "Accidentally Vegan" list of processed foods isn't actually 100% vegan. PETA does point this out at the bottom of the page, and they provide a link to the above quote to explain why.

Vegan Outreach, another organization, says that personal purity is impossible, since many everyday objects contain animal products:
"When you first discover the reality of modern ani-
mal agriculture, you might feel compelled to try
to root out every single product associated with
animal suffering. Unfortunately, personal purity is impossible.
All around us are items connected in some
way to animal exploitation: organic foods (animal
manure used as fertilizer), cotton (animal products
in the bleaching process), bicycles (animal fat used
in the vulcanization of tires), books (hooves and
bones in binding glue), roads and buildings (animal
products used in curing concrete), water (tested
with animal products, often filtered through bone
char), etc. Even many vegan foods result in killing
some animals during planting and harvesting.
We believe that framing veganism as the avoid-
ance of a specific list of “bad” ingredients is not
the best way to achieve results. When looked at
closely, any ingredients-based definition of vegan
collapses into inconsistencies. This is why we
stress that
the essence of being vegan is working
to end cruelty to animals."
They go on to say that "our time and energy are most likely better spent focused on spreading vegetarianism than on shunning minor ingredients." In one of their booklets, "Compassionate Choices", they even go so far as to advise, "Years of eating less meat and eggs will prevent more suffering than a brief stint on a vegan diet, so it’s more important to take an approach you can sustain. If you make exceptions, such as eating meat on certain occasions, you’ll still make a big difference by eating vegetarian the rest of the time." (Note: I don't agree with this latter statement!)

On the "You should be true to your values" side:
A blog post by Reverence Lily on Vegan FAQs ( tells another story. She points out that a product is vegan if it contains NO animal products. If it does contain animal products, it's not vegan. Commenting about PETA's note at the bottom of its "Accidentally Vegan" page, she says that:
"PETA (regardless of their other sins/accomplishments) is trying to make vegans into non-vegans. [...] the second part of that second sentence. "Personal purity." Ouch. So my wanting to eschew all animal products is about "personal purity"? Okay, I'll give you some of that - it can make and has made me feel extremely guilty to accidentally eat an animal product [...], and I don't like to do it at all. But accusations of not caring about animals and just being squeamish to actual vegans? With friends like these, who needs enemies? [...]
Y'see, the reason I'm vegan is not just because of "personal purity". It's not just because I don't want to be a part of the commodification and suffering - it's because I want the commodification and suffering to stop. It's because I know that, even though I'm just one person, many vegans would be a force to deal with. You know. "Together, we are strong." Call it following the herd, I don't care - I'm pushing the inevitable revolution rather than resisting it. And I wouldn't want it any other way.
So save your money, and go buy a can of chickpeas and make hummus rather than serve us (processed) non-vegan crap - which, if we're knowledgeable, we'll end up turning down, and make you feel bad. Veganism is easy! - it's just that there's a lot of people spreading misinformation about how not everything has to be vegan to, um, be vegan. "
I feel tempted to say "Hear, hear!" right now. But then, how can you say that it's okay to buy bicycle tires (which might have been made using animal products) yet you can't eat anything that's been made using small amounts of animal products? Where do you draw the line?
How does one decide this? Does one eschew all foods that have been processed using animal products and refuse to use obviously animal-derived goods (such as a wool sweater, for example)? This is what I do. I don't eat refined sugar of dubious origins, for instance, yet I do buy books once in a while, even though I know that they might have been made with animal-derived glue. Hypocritical, perhaps, but it's the only realistic way to survive in society, it seems. Still, is there a way to stop being a hypocrite?
Keep reading, because this is the really cool part...
There is a way to stop being a hypocrite. It's to reach outside yourself and your own personal boundaries and to become a world-changer, instead of only avoiding hurting others. Through your diet, you're already avoiding hurting others (if you are a strict vegan, that is-- which is very important, since only reducing your intake of meat still means that your lifestyle hurts animals). Instead of only focusing on the negatives, however, focus on the positives as well! This way, any minute negative impact that you may have by buying a book, for example, will be offset by all the positive impact you're having.
Photo sourced from Vegan Rabbit blog

Another thing to remember is that animal rights isn't the only issue in the world. There's also human rights issues and environmental issues. These matter, too! When you buy anything for yourself, you should also keep in mind whether or not it was manufactured sustainably, and whether or not the laborers' rights were protected, among other things. While it may be an impossible goal to find a morally "perfect" book/T-shirt/bicycle, you can still do your best to find animal-friendly, environmentally-friendly, human-friendly ones. And you can simply buy less stuff! After all, who needs a Smartphone, Blackberry touch, and a laptop all at the same time? Do you really need a new pair of jeans, or is that tear reparable? Will you ever actually use that dollar-store mini camera stand, or can you just leave it on the store shelf? That sort of thing. And when you do need to buy things, you could always try thrift stores, consignment shops, and online second-hand trading sites (such as or ebay) before going to actual stores. Even then, you may still have the choice of going to small, independently-owned stores before making your way to the dreaded big-box stores.

When it comes to focusing on the positives, here are some ways you can do just that:

  1. Join/volunteer with your local vegetarian/vegan association or animal rights group; you can also join larger organizations, such as the Vegan Society in the UK.
  2. Hand out booklets, pamphlets, or brochures educating people on animal rights issues and veganism.
  3. Go to events, protests, rallies, VegFests, conferences, and more!
  4. Start a blog or a website-- be an online activist! (If you have never made a blog before, trust me-- it's easy.)
  5. Write letters to the editor and newspaper articles on veganism and animal rights.
  6. Set a good example of veganism for other people. Live by your values, and be happy and responsible!
  7. Join the activist world for other causes (if you're interested in other causes besides animal rights) and bring your vegan values into new places. Once other activists become educated on AR issues, they might become AR activists and vegans, too!
  8. Give speeches, workshops, and/or presentations.
  9. Share vegan recipes with vegans and non-vegans alike.
  10. Hold "bake sales" for free-- let people taste free vegan food, and then hand out literature! (You may want to fundraise for this, or get other people to help cover the baking expenses.)
  11. Become a "foster parent" for a rabbit or a dog or a cat or a gerbil, etc.
 There are many ways to change the world. Remember...

"Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies." Mother Teresa

Sunday, September 8, 2013

"Rescuing" Animals from Pet Stores... and Shelters

Hello, everyone,
Before I get started with my next post, there are a few things that I'd like to clear up:
  1. I haven't been posting new blog posts solely on Sundays recently. Originally, that was my goal: one post every Sunday, usually in the morning. However, posting at the same time every week doesn't work out all the time. Therefore, I have changed this guideline: from now on, I'll try to post every Sunday, but I might end up posting on another day of the week, instead. I'm still posting (generally) once a week, however. You can count on me for that much!
  2. A couple weeks ago, I promised a "Part II" to my "Animal Rights, Backwards" series. I've decided to not do a Part II any time soon (if at all), however. The issue of native cultures and animal rights is too complicated and controversial for me to want to touch on at this time.
  3. Have you tried the search bar at the right-hand side of my blog yet? It's very handy, usable, and spiffy, don't you think? It displays results without taking you away from the page that you're currently on!
Today I'm going to talk about this weird habit that some people have... "rescuing" animals from the pet store. Essentially, this is either when:
  1. an animal at the pet store is getting old or is sick and no one wants to buy him or her, so a "compassionate" person comes along and buys the animal instead, or
  2. when an exotic pet (or any pet) is being improperly cared for at the pet store, so someone decides to buy the animal to take him/her home so they can take better care of him/her.
This may seem like a compassionate thing to do at the time, but it's actually detrimental to animals as a whole. As you may already have realized, "rescuing" that animal from the pet store only gives the pet store more revenue (and empty cage space) to buy more animals to fill its cages. In fact, you are actually encouraging the pet store to keep buying animals from breeders/puppy mills/etc., since by buying from the pet store, you're letting them know that there is a business for these pets. And so the vicious cycle continues.
The best way to help the pet store animals is to not buy them! If everyone avoided buying animals from pet stores, we would save generations to come of animals from the same pet-store fate.
Admittedly, that much was pretty obvious. Now I'm going to talk about the second part of this post, in which I pose the question,
"Under what circumstances is it not O.K. to adopt animals from animal shelters?"
File:Puppy on Halong Bay.jpg
Photo Attribution: By Andrea Schaffer from Sydney, Australia (Puppy on Halong Bay) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Many people believe that adopting animals from animal shelters is always completely morally pure. However, there are some circumstances in which I think it's best to generally avoid adopting from animal shelters:
  • If the animal is pure-bred or a "hard-to-get" breed or species that everyone else wants. Many people will rush to shelters in order to get their hands on a standard poodle, a Bernese Mountain Dog, or a pug. If you adopt an animal who everyone else is vying to get, your contenders may simply go to a pet store or breeder to get a different animal in the same breed, just because they want the breed. This means that for you to adopt the animal is just as bad as buying one from a pet store; the effect is merely displaced.
  • If you can't take on the responsibility of having a companion animal, please don't get one!
Other moral quandaries surrounding animal shelters also arise; however, I don't consider them significant enough to not adopt an animal just because of them. Here are some of these problems:
  • Spaying/neutering. Read my position on spaying and neutering here (scroll down to the section on "When You Shouldn't Spay Or Neuter, Or, Why Spaying And Neutering Is Sometimes Wrong").
  • Euthanasia. Some-- but not all-- animal shelters put their animals "to sleep" if they are overrun with animals (which, for most animal shelters, is a large proportion of the time!). This is cruel and uncompassionate.
When you pay an animal shelter for the animal you adopt, some of the money usually goes towards one or both of the things mentioned above. However, like I said, I don't believe that these are significant enough to not adopt an animal from the shelter. The animals may die or become ill if they don't get adopted, and supporting animal shelters is nowhere near as bad as supporting pet stores. (Of course, some pet stores sell only pet supplies, but not actual pets. Other pet stores only sell rescued animals in conjunction with shelters. These two kinds I'm not as concerned about-- the real "baddies" are the pet stores that sell animals from breeders and/or puppy mills-- those involved in the "animal industry".)

Thank you for reading, everyone! Have a lovely week!

    Monday, September 2, 2013

    Animal Rights, Reading, and the Internet: What to Believe

    I've spent quite a lot of time researching different animal rights and vegan topics on the Internet and in books over the last few years. I've found that, although the Internet can be a great source of information, there is often a load of very conflicting data on the web. In books, too, one author can authoritatively tell you one thing, while the author of another book will insist on the opposite. How does one separate the fact from the fiction, the truth from the opinion?
    That's what I plan to write about this week. :)
    First of all, let's start with the Internet. There are a few types of sources that you can use to find info from the Internet. I'll discuss all the most relevant ones in turn:
    1. Animal rights organization websites: These are generally some of the most trustworthy sites that you can gather information from (although I think that PETA is kind of sketchy). These organizations have to uphold their reputations, so they research their information carefully, consult professionals, and cite many of their sources. Good websites include:
      1. Mercy for Animals International: (Canadian version:
      2. Vegan Health:
      3. The Vegan Society:
      4. Vegan Outreach:
    2. Blogs and personal websites: My website is a blog! And you can trust me to do research before giving information about a topic, although I acknowledge that those of you who don't know me have a right to be skeptical. Many bloggers are very careful to do their research, cite their sources, and keep opinion separate from fact. However, not all of them are. Although blogs and personal websites can be a great source of info, inspiration, and ideas, it's always a good idea to double-check any facts posted on blogs and personal websites that might have a significant impact on your life. Good sites in this category include:
      1. The Animal Rights Action Site (my blog, of course!):
      2. Think Differently About Sheep:
      3. Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach:
      4. The Breath of Empathy:
    3. Reader comments on blogs, forums, and other websites that allow for commenting: These are truly untrustworthy sources of information. On my blog, I published a post called "Say Neigh to Trail-Riding", and I received a myriad of rude, uninformed comments (and some neutral and/or polite ones, too). For example, one commenter said:
      "...Horses WERE put on this earth as "Beasts of Burden" meaning they are here as transportation and to be utilized as such. Horses that stand around and have no job are truly miserable...they get depressed if their human isn't with them."
      Of course, anyone who does not accept the anthropocentric view of the Universe would find this statement absurd, even laughable. The way this person stated this "fact" as if they were so sure of themselves-- as if they knew that horses are "beasts of burden" for human use, and nothing more-- illustrates very nicely why we shouldn't believe random comments posted on the Internet. They're often just passing opinions of whoever happens to be visiting a site. Although these comments can lead you to find more trustworthy sources, or they might inspire you, they shouldn't be automatically trusted. Comments are often less trustworthy than blogs and personal websites because there's little commitment involved in making a comment, while setting up your own site involves a degree of thought and commitment. Maybe I, as a blogger, have a biased view of this, but it seems like a reasonable statement to me.
    Next: There's books. Books are an even better source of information than all Internet sources (authors usually do a lot of real-life research in order to write their books, after all!), although they are, of course, less interactive. I love reading animal rights and vegan non-fiction books. Here are a few that I think you should read:
    1. Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat by Hal Herzog: A wonderful book that challenges conventional thinking about animals and rights.
    2. The Dog by the Cradle, the Serpent Beneath by Erika Ritter: An intriguing book that discusses paradoxes in human-animal interactions.
    3. Wild Justice by Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce: A look into cognitive ethology of animals. Not completely about animal rights or veganism, but fascinating nonetheless.
    4. Becoming Vegan by Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina: A book by two dietitians outlining guidelines for healthy vegan nutrition.
    5. Thrive by Brendan Brazier: A book by an Ironman triathlete about eating to increase vitality and remain healthy for life.
    Of course, a great source of info on animal rights issues is personal experience! Get out there-- go on a tour of a farm to see for yourself how the animals are treated (I did this once-- you can read about my experiences at, although keep in mind that I wrote this when I was younger and a less proficient writer), volunteer at an animal shelter, interview scientists and psychologists specializing in animals and animal rights, talk to the manager at a local vegan cafe. You decide how to get involved! Books and the Internet can be great resources, but don't forget to spend time in the "Real World" of animal rights, too!
    Bye for now!