I’ve had a tough time getting through non-fiction of late. I attributed it to my overall lack of interest in reading due to general malaise etc, but really when I look at it, I just crave something that will pull me in and keep reading, and much of the non-fiction I’ve read of late (ie. the past year or so) hasn’t had a strong enough narrative to do that.
Jenny Brown’s book is a memoir as much as it is the story of getting the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary (WFAS) up and running. She speaks about her experience with bone cancer as a young girl, her struggles with adapting to a prosthetic leg, and her gradual shift from typical American meat-eater (“We eat animals simply because it’s what we’ve always done”) to passionate advocate for animals, and vegan (“We can become prisoners of our earliest indoctrination or we can choose to look critically at our assumptions and align our lives with our values”). I really identified with much of what Brown went through in her ‘awakening’, let’s call it – and also her current approach of educating visitors about the marvels and personalities of farm animals, and what they also suffer through in the farming system.
As I was reading through her ‘transition’ chapters, much of it hit me really hard. From her initial backlash against the system “I wore my impatience on my face and slathered my care and chest with bold messages: ‘Meat is Murder! Fur is Dead!’ I was a bitter proselytizer, which was neither pretty nor effective”, to the realization that no matter what, she’d never be able to take part in the system again after what she’d seen going undercover in farms/stockyards “I loved cheese omelets, but now I was haunted by the image of the critters I’d gotten to know, and I knew I’d feel complicit in the ruthless treatment of cows and chickens if I consumed their ‘products'”.
I have never gone undercover to see what factory farming is really like, because I’ve seen enough to know. I know that I don’t need to bear witness anymore, and it’s actually really upsetting for me (ask Adam, he’s seen me balled up on the couch in a crying jag after seeing just a few minutes of footage) – I’ve never watched anything like Earthlings, either. I just can’t. That’s why I really appreciate the approach that farm sanctuaries and animal advocates like Brown have – show what the animals are like, and capable of, and tie it implicitly to their treatment within the animal farming system to hopefully bring people to make a connection between their food/clothing/products and these animals. “For those of us who claim to love animals, we have an obligation to examine what they must endure for us to enjoy such products.”
It’s also why I appreciate that in the book, while there’s some tough information to swallow as far as how these animals can be treated, Brown talks a lot about these animals and their behaviours, personalities and quirks. There are some times where it can be tough to have people listen to tough information – “faced with uncomfort able truths that involve their participation on some level, people can become very defensive” – that can be a hard balance, getting your message across without scaring people off.
While it’s obviously preaching to the converted having a vegan like me read a book like this, I think it’s always important to remember the reasons why I make the choices I do, and not just for the awful truths, but for the wonderful reasons that Brown talks about a lot when she speaks generally of animals, and of the animals she cares for and is friends with (now at WFAS, and in her time at Farm Sanctuary). I think some of these quotes I picked out highlights that.
“It makes me sad how so far removed people are from the reality that bacon came from a sentient animal who lived a life of deprivation, pain, frustration and fear, all for food we have no nutritional need for.”
“But amazing as these facts are, I wonder should they even matter? Must animals be intelligent for humans to have compassion and empathy toward them? To be spared misery?”
“Their faces may not express emotions the same way ours do, but it’s hard to miss bliss when you see it.”
“All of the animals I love with, from our dog Carli to our rooster Rod, want the same things: companionship, pleasure, good food, room to explore, and the freedom to spend their days as they wish.”
I really admire the work Brown’s done leading up to opening WFAS, and the passion and drive that she and her husband have to keep it going, especially constantly welcoming visitors to engage and inform them. That’s amazing. I’d love to visit WFAS myself, some day. Until then, I would encourage anyone to read this book! Omnivore, vegan, vegetarian – it’s a great and inspiring story about a person that has been through a lot, and used that to connect with her passions and values to do something fantastic. It’s a light read, with a very informal tone and some great anecdotes, and doesn’t get preachy too often. I’ll leave you with this quote from Brown:
“What will matter, what in fact always matters, are the values we uphold and the principles and possibilities we stand for. What will matter then, and what matters now, are the quality of the love we share with the world and the statements we make with our choices and our lives.”
I’ve been enjoying the delicious and ethical treats from Jen @ APieCalypse Now! at Farmer’s Markets and festivals for the last couple of years. Now she’s opened up a little storefront in the Annex (589 Markham Street, Toronto, Ontario M6G 2L7, lower level – look for the raccoon on the door!) which means it’s all within walking distance now! Yesssss.
It’s a small space with no seating, just a counter & some coolers – but those things are full of amazing and wonderful food! Selfishly I would like a place where I could sit and have a warm beverage with my treat to hang with friends, but with limited opening hours and a lot of cold treats that are make/bake at home, it makes sense to be take-out only.
For the grand opening weekend, I decided to really treat myself (within limits, as a lot of what I got wasn’t gluten-free and therefore sharing with Adam was off-limits). I went in on Saturday & picked up a mini-croissant, pain au chocolat, and two little sausage rolls (one apple sage, one chipotle).
To take home, I got a delicious sausage and sqaush pot pie to bake, and a jar of Caesar dressing. One of the two coolers is full of gluten-free goodies – flavoured buttery spreads (cinnamon, garlic etc), plus sauces and dressings and the like. The other cooler’s got pot-pies, lasagnes, mac ‘n’ cheese & shepherd’s pies (the last two with GF options, woo!).
Jen works hard to make her products look and taste amazing, to ensure the packaging fits the bill, and that she’s happy with what goes into everything that’s going out the door with people. Her work ethic & personal ethics show through in the cafe. It’s an awesome, welcoming space that Jen has very clearly made her own. I love the stickers on the counter, and that she produces an amazing array of info cards about veganism & animal rights that are all free to take. I love vegan food – obviously – but I’m vegan because of how I feel about the use of animals, and it’s nice to see that at the forefront of Jen’s business.
If you’re in Toronto, or swinging through, stop by for some treats. It’ll warm your cockles & fill up your hearts and bellies. I’m looking forward to trying more of the amazing options from the Apiecalypse coolers, and hopefully a wider range of ready-to-eat treats. APieCalypse Now! 589 Markham Street, Toronto (lower level!), not far from Bathurst/Bloor. Check the opening hours before you go, and go ready to eat! Follow: Facebook, Twitter.
I finally got off my slack butt and read something so I could attend a meetup of the Toronto Animal Book Club! Hosted by vegan gadabout MeShell, we sat down at the Bickford Flexitarian to chat about Second Nature: The Inner Lives of Animals by Jonathan Balcombe. Examining scientific observations, Balcombe paints a picture of the capability of animals to experience life, emotion and their capacity for intelligence.
Much of what I’ve read about how animals can feel will often focus on non-human primates – it makes sense, as much work has been done on their cognitive abilities and social nature. In this book, Balcombe does cover that ground, but also uses quite a varied spectrum of other examples. Insects, rodents and other small mammals, marine life, and more. It’s fascinating seeing that broad amount of observation laid out to examine the depth of animal life beyond basic biology (not that any of it is mutually exclusive to biology, but it’s still nice to see discussion above and beyond).
The first half of the book generally deals with the types of capacities for living and experiencing that animals display. Sensitivity, emotions, awareness and intelligence. It’s important to examine these in the context of the non-human animals, and realise expecting the same level of emotion, intelligence and language in non-human species is unrealistic, and understand that not every act of an animal species is based on instinct. It was fascinating to consider that animals experience grief like us, when depressed they might favour water drugged with anti-depressants, they have not just self-awareness but awareness of others, can deceive, can communicate, can learn and can have a surprising capacity for selflessness and empathy.
There’s a lot of information going on in this book, so it can be a bit of a slog, but it all comes together to portray the importance of recognising the lives of animals as unique in their own right, but sharing many aspects with ours. I think this is a great quote to share from the book’s conclusion:
“As we’ve seen, fishes and other vertebrate animals have inner lives. As individuals with sensations, perceptions, emotions and awareness, they experience life. Having the capacity to remember past events, and to anticipate future ones, animals’ lives are not merely a series of now moments; by showing that animals have ambient emotional states, we show that their lives play out like a moving tapestry, and they can go better or worse according to their circumstances. As active participants in dynamic communities teeming with other life forms, animals benefit by being on the ball, and learning from their experiences. Many live in rich social networks, where individuals benefit by forming friendships and by cooperating with others.
These capacities endow animal with interests of their own. They are not just living things; they are beings with lives. And that makes all the difference in the world.”
We had a great, ranged discussion about the sorts of things that came up in the book. A lot of us were surprised and delighted by the variety of information and what we learnt about the unique behaviours of certain animals. It stirred discussion about the catch-22 of understanding animal behaviour better through examples resulting from lab research (although many of the examples are from wild studies also). I brought up the question “is is hard for people to accept examples and capacities for emotion/intelligence etc in animals because they’re not at the same ‘level’ as humans”? This book makes the argument that getting past that issue is embracing our Second Nature – coming out of the era of the First Nature, where we use and abuse animals, into a period where we understand the individual animal as just that, and make a connection to beings that are living and deserve to do so, to leave behind our deep-seated prejudices that humans are better than non-humans.
If you’re interested in animal behaviour, society and intelligence, this is worth at least a skim-read! You could also watch Balcombe’s webinar on the subject – MeShell linked it for us in the book club’s group, and she said it covers a lot of the ground the book does. So if you’re into seeing the movie rather than reading the book, perhaps this lecture is for you![youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kMYyRPUMCDo&w=640&h=360%5D