Sistah Vegan: A Review

(Image is from Wishing Well Sanctuary)

I finished Sistah Vegan this month and decided it was worth its own post so here are my very inexpert thoughts on intersectional veganism and the book that compiles some essays dealing with the topic.

sistah vegan

**Disclaimer: am white person whiting it up over here.

Prologue: The Uncomfortable Reality of Racism in Animal Rights

Here are a couple of comments I stumbled upon recently, in response to an animal advocacy group sharing an article that said Canada was badly ranked for it’s treatment of animals (unsurprising).

halal comment

The first comment is frustratingly ignorant. The SPCA can only do so much, guys, because the laws suck and need to be updated. Pay attention to who you’re voting for. The laws also require law enforcement officers who are actually interested in enforcing the laws in order to be effective. Pay attention to who isn’t doing the enforcing and give them hassle when they fail to act. Don’t break into people’s houses and steal animals and ruin animal cruelty cases that the SPCA are building up legally. Come on, now.

The second comment is, you know, racist.

It’s ignorant, too, because, really. What is the SPCA supposed to do about an industry practice that is entirely legal and defined as “not animal cruelty” and instead one of the acceptable methods of slaughter?

I should expand on the “racist” thing though because I happen to know some people IRL who would take issue with that label, annoyingly. “It can’t be racist if it’s about a religion” OK Brent, best case scenario you’re a bigot, congrats, but I’m still going to call it racism because Islamaphobia gets directed at anyone who looks vaguely brown.

Why is it a problem that people are against Halal? Well – it’s not. Halal is not a great thing where animals are concerned. It requires animals being slaughtered for food to be alert during slaughter whereas otherwise the animal would be stunned first. Personally I think it’s not the biggest difference because animals slaughtered for food tend to be at least somewhat aware of what they’re heading for before they get stunned, especially if the slaughterhouse is badly designed or not following the top guidelines, but it makes enough of a difference to the individual animals that really that sort of practice shouldn’t be allowed.

But why single out Halal? Kosher is exactly the same. Also, why single out either Halal or Kosher? Why not single out the industry standard practice of grinding up male chicks while they’re still alert? That is not done because of religious laws, just for, I don’t know, expedience, maybe. Or what about gestation crates for pig mothers, which is a practice that causes immense suffering for years on end rather than for just a split second at slaughter? How about going after gigantic quotas that lead to massive stress among the already stressed-out workers, which of course leads to physical abuse of the animals, either as a necessity for reaching quota or as an outlet for frustration?

How I deal with Halal and Kosher is that I’ve just resigned myself to being mostly silent about it, because there are, in fact, animal advocates of both the Muslim and Jewish persuasions who are having these conversations within their own communities and it isn’t my place as some rando Catholic to butt in. Why not allow them to take care of their own cultural practices, particularly these days, when their communities are under quite a bit of stress because of certain unmentionable somehow elected officials? Really, ever since September 11, 2001, it hasn’t been the opportune moment to start browbeating Muslim people about one of their cultural practices that isn’t good for animals. Especially when non-Muslim Canadians aren’t exactly lining up to tidy up our own garbage practices.

Canada has plenty of animal rights issues to tackle that are not specific to our Muslim communities. Like the seal hunt. Like all of those other meat industry standard practices I mentioned. How about the transportation of pigs for slaughter? That was kind of a big deal a while ago.

Also, Islam is in many ways a pretty animal-friendly religion. Sure, Halal requires animals to be alert for slaughter and there are the sacrificial animals during Eid, but Muslims are technically not supposed to eat pork ever (good for pigs), and a lot of their fasting rituals require them to abstain from meat for lengthy time periods each year (good for food animals in general). Christianity could learn a thing or two.

I don’t know this commenter and for all I know “Halal” was just the first thing that popped into their head when it occurred to them to email the SPCA. But probably not. I think it’s more than safe to say that this is an example of someone who probably does care about animals, but who also is upset about Muslim people existing nearby and has decided to kill two birds with one stone and join the two pet causes.

I’m ashamed to say I didn’t speak up here. I seriously considered it. I think things like this hurt everyone, because first of all, it’s racist, which is never good, and then there’s the fact that there easily could be a Muslim person scrolling through these comments, and animal rights needs allies, and to have allies we need to make people feel welcome, and not make them feel like they do anywhere people enthusiastically voted for Stephen Harper and his low key Islamaphobia. Finally, it does delegitimize us a bit. People are looking for any excuse to dismiss animal rights as a thing worth discussing, and if you’re using it as a platform to be racist, you’ve basically handed them a perfect reason to stop listening forever.

The reason I didn’t speak up is sort of complicated. The first problem is that Facebook will then plaster that conversation on the walls of my friends, some of whom are my coworkers, and I didn’t want them to see me calling a stranger an Islamaphobe. And that’s basically what it would have been, because the second problem was that I couldn’t come up with anything calm and reasonable to say.

I still think the right thing to do was to think about it for a while and then post something along the lines of, “Hi there – Islam is a pretty animal-friendly religion, actually, considering the fasting and such, and there are lots of other, non-Islamic and totally legal industry practices that cause a lot of suffering to food animals, none of which the SPCA is capable of ending on its own. We need to vote smarter and put pressure on our elected officials so that they know we want animal welfare improvements. Have a LOVELY non-Muslim-hating day!”

Alas. Next time.

And that said…

The Actual Review

The book is a collection of personal essays about the broad experience of black women vegans. A lot of the essays focus on health veganism. Health veganism is cool and all but for my part, I’m not really interested in hearing about the health benefits of being vegan these days. What I actually want to hear about are the pitfalls. I’d like in depth examinations of B12 deficiencies and where to get calcium, vitamin A, omega 3s, iron, and zinc, because although I do have vague ideas about all of those things, being nutritious is really tricky and I think it can only help to be honest about how complex it is. My sister has talked about some of that before but I’d like to see more of that from vegans regularly because it’s helpful stuff. (HERE’S THE PART WHERE I UNSUBTLY SHOUT OUT TO THREE TO WRITE MORE NUTRITION STUFF.)

Health veganism, from the perspective of all of the essayists is especially beneficial for black Americans, however, and that’s where my own perspective is limited. I may not be all that excited about how useful a vegan diet can be for combating obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, but because black Americans are disproportionately more likely to die from these health problems than other races in America, it’s clearly worth more discussion.

There was also a really intriguing conversation near the end of the book between women discussing being fat, black, and vegan/vegetarian, and that was one of my favourite parts. Fellow vegans: FAT SHAMING. IS NEVER. OK. FAT SHAMING. ONLY. DOES HARM. THANKS.

Perhaps my favourite essay was “Being a Sistah at PETA” because I’m a PETA apologist. I love PETA criticism and here was some really well thought out criticism written by a former employee. She says she wanted to apply the intersectional message of a vegan diet being good for black Americans’ health considering they are more likely to face certain health problems made worse by animal consumption, but PETA wanted to focus on fur-wearing in hip hop and getting various black celebrities to be publicly anti-fur. It seems clear from this essay that their goals were really short-sighted and, like, extremely white. Outreach to any community that focuses on “what animal rights can do for you” would probably be more effective in the long run than patronizing “let’s get celebrity role models to say stuff for us and that’ll do it.” Sigh, PETA. While you may like your bad publicity and your celebrity partnerships, sometimes maybe try reaching out in a thoughtful manner. Cover your bases, is all I’m suggesting.

Finally, we arrive at “the dreaded comparison.” The biggest takeaway I got from this collection was that it’s really, really important to be thoughtful about rhetoric. Comparing animal exploitation to human atrocities is important, and probably essential, both for understanding how animal exploitation works AND for understanding how human exploitation works, but, especially if we’re white, we need to think carefully about when and why we’re doing it. Mainly, we need to not scream all day about how the meat industry is just like slavery or the Holocaust, because in doing so we may be hurting marginalized people. There are several accounts of hearing black people say they were viscerally disgusted by “meat is like slavery” rhetoric and never gave the issue more careful thought afterwards. If someone has observed throughout our culture that animals are worth far less consideration than humans, and also that their own humanity will always be up for debate because of systemic white supremacy, this sort of rhetoric will never help animals, and instead will always hurt people. If we’re doing comparison, it needs to be in specific contexts only, thoughtful, studious ones, looking at the similarities and differences between human and animal exploitation. We can still ask people to begin to value animals more and to consider their suffering when they make decisions, and we can absolutely use strong rhetoric to do so, but I think white animal rights activists especially need to take several steps back if we’re going to use human atrocities that didn’t affect our ancestors and don’t affect us currently as easy rhetorical devices, and, like, not do that.

Sistah Vegan is good reading for anyone who wants to help make the animal rights community less racist and therefore much, much better. We need to be accommodating and intersectional. It’s the only way forward.

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The Saga of the Terrible St Catharines Vet

… has come to a close, for now.

To summarize, there’s this vet who was (and still is) practicing in St Catharines (a city in southern Ontario that has a really good vegan doughnut place). He is not a very good vet. His staff members took covert video footage of his particular brand of veterinary medicine, which included slamming animals, choking them, and punching them.

The College of Veterinarians of Ontario disciplined the vet by suspending him for ten months, slapping him with a fine, and are requiring that he gets retrained on how to restrain animals.

So, here’s the thing about that.

There’s already quite a lot of mistrust of veterinarians and vet medicine in general. When a doctor or an RVT takes your pet to the back to do a few procedures out of sight, pretty much their most important job is to ensure that the human client trusts them to be kind, gentle, humane. While it’s true that restraint is usually required to get procedures done safely, and that even minimal restraint can be upsetting for doting humans to see, for the most part the staff at the back are good at what they do and are doing it right because to do it wrong would go against their entire being.

Now people have seen this footage of a vet slamming animals around, and of course every time they drop off their pet for surgery or even just to get a vaccine done they’re going to worry on some level about what’s going on back there. They also know that the CVO didn’t revoke his license, which is absolutely what they should have done, if only to protect the profession. But also because, yeah, dude needs to not be practicing medicine. It’s going to be hard to convince people to trust veterinary medicine as a whole when the CVO won’t even suspend someone who is on camera punching a chihuahua.

Earlier this week this story somehow got worse, because the Crown decided to drop all sixteen charges of animal cruelty against the vet filed by the OSPCA. They decided to do this because the CVO had already investigated and disciplined the vet.

There was also something about the OSPCA officer investigating without a proper complaint being filed. The officer says he was responding to the video footage that had been released to the public and was widely viewed.

Laws are complicated, but for animal cruelty laws in Canada and Ontario specifically, it really does come down to whether you have sympathetic law enforcement on your side or not. And precedent. Precedent is key.

The crown could have pursued the animal cruelty charges. There was evidence. Crimes had clearly been committed. There are lots of precedent-setting cases of dogs and cats being struck and the abuser being found guilty of animal cruelty. And as for the CVO, well, it isn’t the CVO’s job to prosecute veterinarians for animal cruelty. That task is left to the OSPCA and cooperative prosecution. Alas.

Everything went wrong here. The CVO should have taken a more decisive stance, and law enforcement should have actually enforced laws. By not doing so, the next case of an abusive vet (and it’s coming) will be harder to prosecute, not easier. It will be harder, not easier, to obtain justice for the animals who are abused next, and it will be harder, not easier, to prevent something like this from happening again without demonstrating that there are tangible and appropriate consequences.

The vet in question and his family have received death threats, so I guess I should add that that’s never cool. The dude is garbage and he should find a job that doesn’t involve animals, or humans, really, but no death threats, thanks.

Also, his clinic is still open and people are still going there. Hint: don’t. There are vet clinics everywhere; find a new one.

Further reading on this depressing case of maximum apathy: St Kits, CBC, OSPCA.

Don’t watch the video, though. Instead, watch this.

The Most Obnoxious Scene in The Fox and the Hound

My favourite thing about these posts is that eventually Disney will come along and force Youtube to remove the videos and then there’ll just be a giant gray empty space here where the scene I’m talking about should be.

I really hate this scene.

But I also kind of love it.

I don’t know, OK?

It’s reminiscent of the “Twitterpated” scene in Bambi which is somehow both cute and also extremely uncomfortable to watch. The animators at Disney are getting away with… a lot. Let’s just say a lot. It’s because the characters are animals, so, well, fair game, I guess.

In Grade 9 science there was that infamous day we all referred to as “The Day They Made Us Watch Animal Porn.” But the animal porn we watched that day had nothing on these. I watch both of these scenes from behind my hands or just giggling uncontrollably as though I were 12 (that might be a bit of an exaggeration) (but not really).

You may say, “Um, what are you talking about, they’re cute fluffy animals falling in love and it’s sweet and 100% G-rated.” And I’ll just raise my eyebrows at you. Because no.

We can talk all day about how I’m just a huge prude or something, because honestly I do feel kind of like a prude watching these scenes. They are upsetting and somewhat thrilling to me on a very basic level of mine that I don’t fully understand. But that’s not really why I think the “Tod Meets Vixie/”Appreciate the Lady” scene is the most obnoxious one in The Fox and the Hound.

No. I kind of like the romance aspect of it, as much as I have to hide my face watching it. I like that it shows them sort of communicating nonverbally in a successful fashion – not the exaggerated harrumphing/flower picking part, that’s stupid, but the part where she gets embarrassed and he notices. I think there isn’t enough emphasis in media about paying attention to what your partner is feeling in any given moment and reacting appropriately.

But still. Here’s a list of what I don’t like:

  • why do foxes have last names though (that one is minor, I concede)
  • the peanut gallery is super obnoxious
  • “Appreciate the Lady” has to be the third or fourth worst song EVER. Apologies, Big Mama, but why didn’t they write you a better song for this part?
  • I know early Disney movies like their courtship swift and bland but wow
  • I can’t really call it bland though, not when he calls her an “empty-headed female” and two seconds later all is forgiven
  • Tod’s woes about being dumped in the woods are cured because he sees a girl fox which is stupid because Tod being dumped in the woods is perhaps the WORST THING THAT HAS EVER HAPPENED IN A DISNEY MOVIE EVER AND THAT’S DISNEY MOVIES WE’RE TALKING ABOUT, IN WHICH PLENTY OF HORRIFIC THINGS HAPPEN, AND YET THAT IS PROBABLY THE WORST.
  • It’s one thing to do “Hakuna Matata” shortly after Mufasa’s death. That works thematically. This is just some nonsense right here.
  • You have been abandoned in the woods but it’s fine, now you can be a wild animal again even though YOU NEVER WERE A WILD ANIMAL BECAUSE YOU HAVE BEEN RAISED BY A HUMAN IN A HOUSE AND YOU ARE FULLY DOMESTICATED AND YOU DON’T KNOW HOW TO SURVIVE IN THE WILD.

So it’s kind of cute, kind of annoying, and mostly frustrating because people need to not dump their pets in the woods. Or on the side of the road. Or like literally in a dumpster.

Also OMG don’t raise wild animals at all. It ends badly. Contact the proper organizations that will rehabilitate them responsibly.

30 Days of Avatar: Animal Rights

Week 10: Messages of Avatar Land

Day 28: Masculinity
Day 29: Animal Rights
Day 30: Feminism

First of all, shout out to the creators of Avatar for making every animal in Avatar Land a combination of two animals, except for the Earth King’s bear:

Legendary.

Anyway, this post is about Animal Rights, and the only logical place to start is with the Greatest Creature Ever Committed to Television, Appa, the Flying Bison.

Please familiarize yourself with Appa using this self-proclaimed “Definitive Appa Montage,” which sets tragic scenes from Appa’s Last Days to a cheerful tune in order to lessen your pain:

While Avatar is not afraid to unpack complex ethical issues, Appa’s Lost Days may be one of the most honest and upfront interpretations of such an issue in the franchise (or in any franchise). It does not hold back on making us want to cry in a bath tub forever while the horrors animals face in this world slowly wash over us until we drown in a sea of unending misery.

Seriously, it gets real.

 

We start this horrifying journey with the illegal exotics trade. Sandbenders rope up our favourite Flying Bison and drag him out of the desert, away from his friends, forcing him to listen to Aang’s desperate bison-whistling, unable to fly to his lifelong companion. Ugh.

These jackasses sell him to a freaking circus.

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In true “Greatest Show on Earth” fashion, the trainer whips his animals (with fire), using fear to “break” them and force them to do humiliating performances dressed in ridiculous costumes. But this trainer wasn’t prepared to handle a Flying Bison – the original airbenders, this big softie has bending and evasion on his side, and he manages to escape the circus. Would that all animals could murder their trainers and fly off into the sunset, but we dream.

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Next in Appa’s tragic story (seriously, more tragic than Zuko’s, am I right?) he tries to find Aang, discovers that the library sank into the desert, then attempts to take refuge in a few places before being chased off by various predators (giant wasps, giant porcupine boars, and this asshole with the fire stick). No, Avatar is not afraid to handle the question of what to do with wild animals either – what is our responsibility? Something between dressing them up in stupid costumes and chasing them out of our houses with fire, is the answer. (Duh.)

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The Kyoshi warriors find him and show him kindness. Appa is hurt and scared, and they approach slowly, before gently removing the porcupine boar needles and cleaning up the sticky wasp residue from his fur. If you’ve ever attempted to rescue a wild animal or feral cat, this scene will feel familiar – the animal is scared, and ready to either run or fight for their life, and you just want to help them and have no way of explaining that.

Anyway, the Kyoshi warriors do well, until Azula and co. show up and ruin everything.

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Because the writers love to make us sob uncontrollably, Appa navigates his way to the Eastern Air Temple, one of four abandoned homes of his ancestors, the air nomads and their bison, who were extinguished by the Fire Lord. Yikes. Anyway, there he meets Guru Pathik, who shows him some more kindness as well as the way back to Aang.

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But as we know, this episode is a series of disasters and any good news is not to be trusted, so of course, Appa flies to Ba Sing Se, where the gaang is, and ends up being caught by Long Feng, because, of course.

BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

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YESSSSSS APPA YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS

So to sum up, here is what we learned in one short episode of ATLA:

  • The illegal exotics trade is Evil and pure garbage and should all die in a fire
  • Circuses are Evil and pure garbage and should all die in a fire
  • Be kind to wounded animals who cross your path, even if they do not thank you
  • Appa is and always will be the best person place or thing ever written I will fight you on this
  • three has a giant plushie Appa and it gives her life
  • I’m off topic

In other words, if you didn’t really understand why exotics trading and circuses were Evil and pure garbage and should all die in a fire, this incredible episode will take your hand and walk you through the story of Appa’s lost days with the perfect combination of nuance and pure suffering and it will make you want to cry in a bathtub forever while the horrors animals face in this world slowly wash over you until you drown in a sea of unending misery.

All screenshots from Avatar Spirit.

The Life of Pi Movie Misinterprets Itself

So Life of Pi. I’m talking about the very end of both the movie and the book today so it is fully a spoiler fest on here.

Hi there, you. Whoever you are. I’d read Life of Pi, if I were you and the me/you person I/you am/are haven’t read it already. The movie will do in a pinch but the book is seriously good.

There’s a scene near the end of Life of Pi in which the movie very helpfully tells you what the meaning is behind the whole thing. I get it, sort of. We live in such times as apparently nobody wants to have to think ever. It’s probably also because the selling point of this book and movie has always been, “This is a story that will make you believe in God.” I think that’s the bigger problem in need of a “explain the meaning during the runtime” solution right there. That’s a pretty bold statement, and in the book, there’s no outright “aha” moment. Never fear, though, it’s in the movie.

Also, it gets the whole thing 100% wrong.

We return, near the end of the movie, to grown-up Pi lamenting to his narrator friend that he never got to say goodbye to Richard Parker (that would be the tiger). By and by narrator friend says, “… that was an amazing story, but, a little hard to believe?” So grown-up Pi tells another story. This time, we don’t flashback to teenage Pi. We just watch grown-up Pi tell the story in the present day.

In this one, there’s Pi, an evil cannibal chef, a Buddhist sailor, and Pi’s mom. The chef amputates the sailor’s leg to be “helpful” but actually so that they can eat some meat (the chef is a big advocate of meat-eating), the sailor dies, Pi’s mom flips out at/physically attacks the chef for being evil, and the chef kills Pi’s mom, right in front of him. Not long afterwards, Pi kills the chef, who doesn’t resist his own murder. Pi survives on the lifeboat alone and gets to Mexico.

Gross.

So then grown-up Pi asks narrator friend, “Which story did you prefer?” And narrator friend says, “The one with the animals.” And grown-up Pi says, “And so it is with God.”

Sigh.

No, movie. No.

Grown-up Pi’s statement is pretty vague, so it’s not exactly entirely wrong, but the easy interpretation of said statement is, “It’s nicer and funner and more interesting and more comforting and less horrific to think that there’s a God/the sacred texts have some/lots of truth to them, so that’s why we believe that stuff.” And that’s pretty nihilistic, if you ask me. Also the book did it much differently and it’s better.

In the book, the story proper completely ends with Pi lamenting never saying goodbye to Richard Parker. He was devastated. RP meant a lot to him and he would like to have believed that he meant something to RP in turn, but RP never looked back at him. That’s sad. The end.

On the next page, we’re informed that the narrator found a transcript of a conversation between Pi and two guys from the insurance company for the ship. They wanted him to tell them the whole story to try to understand why the ship sank and also lifeboats, I guess.

The transcript starts right after Pi has told them the animal story. They, like movie narrator friend, don’t believe it. They want to be nice (somehow that gets conveyed even though there’s seemingly no artistry to this part; it’s a straight transcript), but they prod him to tell them the real story. “There’s no way you survived on that lifeboat with a tiger. And the flesh-eating island full of meerkats? Come on.”

So eventually he tells them the other story. It’s the same as the one in the movie. At the end of it, there’s silence. Then I think teenage transcript Pi asks them which one they prefer (I can’t find my copy of the book to check), and they of course say they like the animal one. This time, his “Which story do you prefer” isn’t a question of friendly interest, many years after his horrific experience. This time, it seems more pointed, as though he’s saying, “See? I told you the better story but you weren’t satisfied with it, well now look how that turned out for you!”

After the transcript ends, there is a news article about Pi that has used the insurance men as sources. The story of how Pi survived the shipwreck those men have told the journalists is the one with the animals. And that is the end of the book.

We end the book with two very strong notions of what just happened: The story with the humans and no animals is what actually happened, and that the story with the animals is better. But give it some thought, and there’s one conclusion that brings everything together.

The stories are the same.

The same things happen in both stories. The same players are there. Richard Parker is Pi. The chef is the hyena – and in the book, the french man does show up as an actual human being as well, so that even that disgusting man is portrayed as fully human and that is a different discussion – the Buddhist sailor is the zebra, and Orange Juice is Pi’s mom. He even says, during the animal story’s telling, that he’d always thought of Orange Juice as a maternal figure. She has lost her baby in the shipwreck, just as Pi’s mom had lost her other son.

There are key differences, obviously. Maternal though she may be, there’s a big difference between watching a hyena kill an orangutan and watching a horrible person kill your mother. There’s a difference also between a boy murdering his mother’s murderer and a tiger killing a hyena out of primal kill-need.

But… not that much of a difference. At least, I would argue that.

I think the fact that I’m inclined to view animals as being more or less identical to humans in most of the ways that matter means that I view both versions of this story as horrific. In the human version, as awful as all of the killing is, at least it makes sense. There are reasons and motivations for it all that I can relate to. The hyena is unnecessarily cruel with the zebra (and although Martel tries to claim that a hyena would indeed act like that in this situation, I’m calling bullshit), and on meerkat island it’s pointed out that RP kills way more meerkats than he can eat. He just kills them to kill them. It’s a thing about cats I will never understand.

Pi’s mother being murdered is awful. But because Orange Juice is an innocent, her death is, I think, just as awful, but in a different way. Orange Juice didn’t need to object to the hyena’s treatment of the zebra. She didn’t need to put herself in danger, but her compassion and righteous fury compelled her to do so and it’s just really sad that she couldn’t save herself. It’s a different kind of sad and I’ll be forever at pains to explain that being just as sad about bad things to happen to animals as I am about bad things that happen to humans is not a moral failing on my part (or, like, everyone else who feels that way). We can be equally sad about both things in different ways or similar ways depending on the situation, so deal with it. Also this is just fiction but OMG I hate fictional depiction of animal cruelty. I can’t separate it from the real things that happen everyday.

Here.

It’s super sad at first but then there’s a bunch of baby orangs in a wheelbarrow so. You know.

Sorry, fellow humans. It seems that the greatest ape is the orangutan.

Anyway. There are clear differences in how the personal trauma will affect Pi depending on whether it’s his mother and humans or his zoo animals, but other than that, it’s the same story.

Life of Pi doesn’t endeavour to make you believe in God. It’s just showing you how sacred texts work.

A religious story may bend the truth or completely fabricate it. We have no way of knowing. Jesus of Nazareth, who was probably one of the most influential people to walk the planet ever, only has one piece of historical evidence to call his own. Something about how James is his brother and they called him “Christ.” That’s it. There’re the gospels but those weren’t written down until hundreds of years post crucifixion. At least some of that stuff isn’t true. Maybe a lot of it isn’t. What Life of Pi is suggesting is that it doesn’t matter what specifically is factually true, because the point of the story is to make meaning which is a different kind of truth.

The animals on the lifeboat, RP moreso than the others, are there to give Pi’s experience meaning. Without them, it’s just another story about people doing awful things in awful circumstances. And with RP especially, Pi’s struggle for survival isn’t just a boy being resourceful and almost starving or dying of thirst and eventually making it. His relationship with RP makes his survival story something more. It’s about having compassion for that part of yourself that you are ashamed of, the more animalistic, enraged, violent side of you. Pi has to keep RP fed and watered for his own sanity, and RP needs Pi to care for him because he’s just a tiger on a lifeboat. He can’t do that himself. They befriend each other, but Pi can never communicate with RP the way he would like to. And RP, excepting those moments when he really is dying, is always a gigantic threat to Pi, if he lets his guard down.

Having the tiger there makes it a really entertaining, easy to understand story about the human condition and human nature and internal darkness and lizard brains and stuff. Everything that happens with RP is truthful, if the human version of the story is the “real” one, even though there is no tiger. Because the tiger just represents an element of Pi that shows up when he needs it to and disappears once he’s back in civilization.

About the God stuff, then. I like to think you can interpret this in both ways. In Life of Pi terms, believing in God is the same as not believing in God, it’s just that believing in God adds metaphorical meaning to the question of why we’re even here. In God’s absence, we should still probably be trying to help each other out but everything is messy and uncertain. In God’s presence that idea of radical love/kindness is made a little clearer (only for people who don’t use their faith to be cowards and bigots, of course, but still), and a little more artfully. On the other hand, because Richard Parker is real whether or not he’s actually a tiger, the book does seem to edge further towards the “believing in God” side of the spectrum, which is fine. Pi would approve; he’s a God fan.

While the ending of the movie annoys me, I do really like this one scene:

Because:

  • Pi looks at RP, who is looking at the stars
  • RP looks at the water, and his reflection
  • Pi looks at RP looking at his reflection
  • Pi looks at his own reflection
  • RP reflecting while looking at his reflection
  • Images of Pi’s and RP’s past and the shipwreck
  • Pi looking at Pi’s reflection
  • RP looking at Pi looking his reflection

AHHH! It’s so cool. And you can’t do that in a book.

Also, the flesh-eating island that looks like a tomb? That was brilliant.

The fact that they used a real tiger for some scenes and at one point he almost drowned? Not brilliant.

Animated Animals: The Reptile Muscle

Guess it’s Disney Day again.

I’m trying to write a thing about portrayals of animals and nature in animated films – specifically Finding Nemo and The Lion King – since Andrew Stanton gave that interview saying his reaction to the “circle of life” philosophy in Le Roi Lion was a major influence to how nature is portrayed in Trouver Nemo. I keep getting stuck, mostly because how I feel about those portrayals is tied up in how I feel about how society perceives nature in general and then I go off on huge barely-related tangents about humpback whales and I think it’s going to turn into a massive manifesto.

So for now I wrote this thing about Louis and Pascal and how they do somewhat unethical things so that their princesses can achieve their dreams without moral ensulliment. Mmhm.


Recent Disney princesses have occasionally relied on reptilian enforcement for maximum dream achievement. Let’s discuss.

Louis is the definition of non-threatening. He shows up right after truly threatening gators attack our frog heroes, but all he wants is to play his trumpet in accompaniment to Naveen’s spider webbed-branch. Actually, all he wants is to play among the great (and human) jazz musicians on the riverboats. So Louis is both non-threatening and Ariel.

“Oh I tried once.” That part is probably the funniest thing in the movie. Tiana’s “And we talk, too,” is also good, but that’s not the point.

Louis asks Mama Odie to give him a human body so that he can safely jam with the big boys, but she apparently isn’t one for simple, straight-up magical transformation and tells him he just needs to find what he needs. Which ends up simply being that he needs to be friends with some powerful and influential people who own a restaurant by the end of the film, because as we see during the finale, Tiana lets him play for her patrons.

But to get to this point, first we need non-threatening Louis to be a true American Murder Log.

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You’re better off where you’re at.

The Fenner brothers probably weren’t supposed to accept another offer after agreeing to sell to Tiana, but since she hadn’t signed the papers yet it wasn’t technically illegal. I like this because it’s a lot more realistic than having them just be outright evil schemers denying Tiana her dream property. They’re just not good people, even though what they’re doing is within the law.

I mean, the above is clearly a death threat though. I’m fine with it (sometimes you have to force people to not do terrible things), but, it’s a death threat. Damn, Disney.

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Worth it.

I’ve been to Florida many times and I’ve never seen an alligator in the wild. I’m mostly OK with that, because if I happen to meet one and it decides to eat me then I think I’m eaten. But it would be interesting to see one from a safe distance. They are the living dinosaurs, after all (I mean so are birds but we’re not ready as a culture to accept feathered dinosaurs yet so whatever).

I’m grateful for Princess and the Frog’s portrayal of alligators. Louis is genuinely lovable, and gators don’t get enough appreciation, which is a shame. I personally find it hard to appreciate them because they’re dangerous and they eat animals I like better than them, but despite all of that, when I found a lovely shop display of decapitated baby alligator heads in multiple souvenir shops in Florida, I was unimpressed. To say the least. When we allow ourselves to project evil onto an animal just because it’s deadly and doesn’t make cute facial expressions, we end up allowing the worst kinds of exploitation. From the footage I’ve seen, snakes and alligators in the skins industry and sharks in the fin industry are treated with excessive cruelty, and it’s almost as though the people doing it think they’re obligated to harm them with such spite because of how hated they are by random facets of human society.

Anyway that’s depressing, but the point is, I’m always up for a beautiful Disney movie creating a lovable character out of an animal that is hated and misunderstood in real life. Threatening sleazy real estate agents with death and all.

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Now play Dippermouth Blues.

… Pascal commits actual murder.

Guest Blogger: Fantastic Mr Fox – A Fable for Our Times?

Good morning all, and happy Friday.

Today we bring you a guest post from one of our favourite like-minded wordpress bloggers, Animalista Untamed. Be sure to click on that link for some un-censored yet beautifully-articulated animal rights blogging goodness. We promise you’ll learn something!

Animalista was kind enough to enter our realm of analyzing children’s lit, with a fabulous animal welfare tie-in. We hope you enjoy the result as much as we did.

– erm & three

Subversive is the word for Roald Dahl. That’s what he is. His stories’allure for kids (and for us adults of a more rebellious inclination) lies in his demolition of accepted social norms with a few deft flicks of the pen. His fiction inhabits a realm that the ‘acceptable’, ‘normal’ grownup world frowns upon, but a realm we wish real life resembled and into which we can momentarily escape. That’s why kids love him. He’s the merry Lord of Misrule.

Continue reading “Guest Blogger: Fantastic Mr Fox – A Fable for Our Times?”

The Never-Ending Saga of Canada’s Terrible Animal Rights Lesgislation

This article sums up this mess going on in parliament currently.

Just to add my (erm’s) two five cents: these arguments against passing a bill, which is a bill that would only criminalize the worst animal abuse, and only when committed against pets, are kind of like that refrain we hear time and time again whenever someone’s complaining about some awful animal cruelty: “Are any of you who are complaining about this vegan? Because if not you should shut up.”

As a vegan, can I just say that anyone is allowed to be outraged by animal cruelty. Anyone. Yes, it would be lovely if that outrage were followed by even small attempts to limit meat/dairy/egg consumption, but if it isn’t, I’ll still take your outrage. We don’t live in a perfect world, everyone isn’t going vegan tomorrow. I don’t think we need to wait until we’re all eating tofu kebabs to start to chip away at the kinds of animal abuse that EVERYONE agrees are heinous. EVERYONE thinks we need harsher laws when we’re talking about abusing cats and dogs. Everyone, of course, except people listening to the animal exploitation brigade’s lobbyists.

I’m almost positive this bill, which isn’t good enough but it’s something and therefore I support it, is not going to pass. Bills like it won’t be passing anytime soon. Not in Canada, at least. But even with my defeatist attitude, I know that the lobbyists are right to be scared. The day that all animal exploitation is criminalized is coming, though it may be far away. They can fight it all they want, but they simply don’t have it in them to fight as long or as hard as we do, because it’s a 9-5 job for them. It’s our hearts and souls. And that means, we’ll win. It’ll take forever, of course, but there’s no stopping us.

A Whale’s Tale – SeaWorld & The Humane Economy

The take-down of Sea World is a cause very near to our hearts (three owns a BOYCOTT SEAWORLD long-sleeve tee which she wears in public too often). As children we used to visit Sea World almost every year, because we, like everyone else it seems, were enchanted with the beauty of the whales, dolphins, and other creatures we saw there. Like everyone else, we had to be taught better. Humanity is drawn to these animals, and we suppose it is ‘natural’ to want to contain them and view them at all times – this is why people comment on videos of wild animals saying things like “I want one” and “literally getting one of these as a pet”. No. No. No. It is possible to love something without trapping and abusing it for life, and this is what all animal lovers need to strive for.

Sea World ending its breeding program is a big victory, but there’s a lot of work to be done. If you don’t follow Animalista Untamed, we recommend you do, if you are interested in learning more.

Animalista Untamed

Did you hear that tremendous wave of sound reverberating around the planet on Thursday March 17th? You can’t have missed it because I swear it could be heard on the moon! It was the shout of joy from the global band of animal advocates when SeaWorld finally bowed to public pressure and made the momentous announcement that they would no longer breed orcas in captivity.

On that memorable day emails were pinging into my Inbox in rapid succession from different organisations all proclaiming “Victory!” Facebook and Twitter were ablaze. This was an historic moment in animal protection, worthy of celebration. On that same day writing in his blog, Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the Humane Society of the US, called it “a game changer for our movement”. The orcas still at SeaWorld will be the last generation to suffer in confinement at their facilities.

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HSUS played a prominent role in bringing SeaWorld to this…

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