Thursday, August 13, 2009

Grandma - we can no longer afford to keep you!


Tel: 1.888.689.3698

Write: Positive Options - c/o ASRI
PO Box 1815
Westfield, MA 01085-1815

It is thought of as a sign of the times: the dire state of the economy is taking a toll on families across the nation and across the world. Jobs are being lost, incomes are sharply reduced and homes are being foreclosed upon. Almost everyone, to some degree or another, is feeling the effects.

And the animals are feeling it too.

In my own town, a new initiative - Positive Options - has sprung up with the mission of helping families keep their pets through times of financial hardship. A small flyer arrived for me yesterday (courtesy of a utility bill) through which contributions are being solicited. The aim of the initiative is as follows:

"[to] supplement the pet food donations that are collected regularly throughout the City of Westfield and other local communities. The donations are used to help keep a pets [sic] with its' [sic] family by supplying food and necessities that a family may not be able to afford at this time. Our goal is to help people keep their pets."

This is a completely laudable objective and I intend to make a donation but one point struck me when reading through the flyer - the underlying acceptance of the disposability paradigm. It goes like this.....

1) Times are hard and we need to make cutbacks.
2) Certain things are not negotiable - rent, mortgage payments, food - therefore we have to cut back on non-essentials.
3) Our pets - those beloved 'members of the family' in good times - are non-essential.
4) Cutbacks can be made on the expenses associated with them.

In short, the animals go.

I know there's a lot of hand-wringing, tearful discussions and heart-wrenching decisions made along the way to this conclusion. And equally, I imagine that it's not the first option most reasonable, normal people accept as a way through these tough times. However, my point really is that it IS an option on the table, in a way that would never be applicable to human members of the same family. Try as I might, I cannot imagine the scenario wherein a couple decides that their income simply cannot sustain the family and therefore the youngest child must go. Nor yet the case where Grandma is just such a drain on resources that it might really be time to have her put to sleep.....

But it is an acceptable scenario in any case where the family member is a non-human. A cat, dog, bird, rabbit, whatever.....And this acceptance is rooted purely and simply in our perception of animals as property to do with as we wish. They are considered disposable and replaceable; their status that of object, the same as a table or chair. More lovable, perhaps, certainly cuter, but an object - no more, no less.

Recently, I have become increasingly interested in the framing of the abolitionist perspective within the animal rights debate and it seems to me that this current situation is a perfect example of how the welfarist position might indeed be inadequate. Inherent within the framing of this Positive Options initiative is the supposition that it is fundamentally understandable and acceptable to abandon a non-human family member in times of crisis. For the sake of the animal, this organization seeks out a foster home in the hope that the abandoned pet does not end their days prematurely - confused, terrified and alone - in a kill-shelter. However, I think that the abolitionist argument that such short-termism does not truly benefit the animals is valid. What we really need is education, a sea change of social thought wherein the idea of surrendering a pet in times of economic distress is as far from our minds as that of abandoning of our children. Until people no longer perceive companion animals as disposible and replacable, until we all take our life-long responsibilities to them as seriously as we do the human members of our families, the future for the animals will not change.

And, just we judge a society by how it treats its poorest members, it is a measure of our values - of us as individuals - how we treat our non-human dependents in challenging times. And I believe, I can only suspect that we are in grave danger of failing ourselves, of not stepping up and rising to the challenge, in this regard. I hope I am wrong.

And, in case I am, I will be mailing a check to the address above. Perhaps you might too?

Stay together and stay vegan, friends.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Maple Syrup and Garlic....where's the link????

.....The Farmers' Market, of course!

This summer has been uncharacteristically miserable - weather-wise, at least. Many days it has poured with rain continually and I'd begin to believe that a) I'd been magically spirited back to England, that (in)famously drizzly isle, and b) that I'd better evolve some webbed feet. PDQ....!!!

Yesterday, however, the day started out beautiful and doggedly remained that way and so, to celebrate, My Beloved and I hot-footed it up to the Farmers' Market in Northampton. It's a pretty low-key affair, with only a handful of stalls, and a preponderence of plantable plants....bedding plants, annuals, that kind of thing.

However, there are also at least two or three extremely well provisioned vegetable stalls with a truly impressive array of greens - kale of every kind, mustard greens, collard greens, you name it, they have it - root vegetables, enormous bunches of fresh herbs, and some fruits. Since we are still experimenting with growing our own kale, I restricted myself to getting some fingerling potatoes (delicious simply boiled and tossed with thinly-sliced garlic sauteed in olive oil), heirloom tomatoes, baby eggplants (just 2 inches in length - perfect for grilling lightly and popping into your mouth!), white eggplants, corn, a bunch of radishes the size of small plums, and some summer squash. It's all somewhat cheaper than the grocery store and I love that the money is going direct to the grower, the farmer. One of the stalls was offering only shallots and different types of fresh garlic:

Show me the grocery store where you'd find this kind of choice of garlic bulb!!!! We bought a handful of different kinds and I'm planning to roast them with a little olive oil and then use in soups, breads, or as pizza toppings.

The other specialty stall belonged to the maple syrup guy. We've bought from him before and the syrup is wonderful, ranging from a very light amber to a deep golden color. I love to use the former on crepes and french toast and the latter in baking - especially as I want to use more of these natural sweeteners and (ultimately) leave refined white sugar behind.

The whole market is basically just one small side street of the town that they close off to traffic for the morning, but it was heaving with shoppers. Perhaps the sun brought them out or perhaps it's just the nature of Northampton. There were folks with strollers, young tattooed couples, one young woman proudly sporting a Vegan Radio t-shirt, spry seniors, bicyclists, people with their dogs. It's very much a mixed bag. One couple, I noticed, had a very unusual dog - an American Hairless Terrier. I didn't manage to get a picture - to be honest I was kind of embarassed to ask - but, while talking with the man, I learned that they had bought her on the internet. From a breeder. I could barely stop myself from rolling my eyes and sighing - it's not like we don't have dogs galore here in shelters and pounds who need a home!!!!!! But no, these guys had the dog driven up from heaven knows where. And it struck me that this hairless dog is really going to enjoy the New England winters, oh yes indeedy! Hmmmmm.....

One of the few stalls that I avoid - for obvious reasons - is the farm-raised, free-range, happy-beef stall. Usually, I try to walk directly past it and just not look. I find it altogether too sad. And it struck me yesterday how different the vibe was coming from that particular stall...see what I mean?

The canopy seemed a ridiculous contrast to the butchered bodies in the altogether pathetic coolers. And the owner was not exactly doing a brisk trade, I am glad to say. I clung tightly to my Vegan Outreach bag as I walked by and tried not to think too much about it all. 

As we were leaving - the 'happy beef' stall having totally killed my earlier good mood - the fates intervened and presented me with the following sight:

It's hard not to feel better when you look at them isn't it!

Do you have a farmer's market where you are? And if so, what do you like best about it?

Stay Vegan Friends!