Monthly Archives: December 2013

Why Does Our Food Make Us Sick?


-By Lauren Ouellette-Bruchez

I love food. Most people I know love food. These are gifts of the Earth Mother and the Sun God and provide us with  another way to strengthen our relationship with the divine and with each other. We eat to celebrate and even share     meals in mourning. Food is nourishment, fuel, a way for family and friends to come together and a means of connecting  with our communities. At the very least, if you plan to stay upright and respiring, you need to eat occasionally. Continue reading

Year in Review

year_in_review__largeIn July 2012 I created this blog as a way to connect with other Pagan activists around the world. I knew there had to be others out there so I started writing as a way to connect with others. And in the last 1.5 years I have to say, I’m quite pleased with the connections made.

At first I was going to write a post like I do every few weeks but I decided not to. Instead, the idea of a Year in Review came to mind. Generally, Year in Reviews are a round up of the most commented upon posts, or the one with the most views. I decided to do something different this year: I’m adding a link to one post by each author with no comments.

So without further ado

Soli talks of the The Benefits of Doing Your Homework

If you are going to be an activist, or even care about an issue, it is essential to have a good background of the material surrounding this issue. Not only will it better inform you as a citizen, it will give you ammunition (though I hate to use the term) when dealing with people opposed to your stance.

I speak about You Don’t Regret the Things You’ve Done, You Regret the Things You Skipped Out On

This is something I’ve learned over the years. Certainly I regret a few things I’ve done over the four decades of my life but I have more regrets over the things I haven’t done, or skipped out on. The WTO in 1999 is a prime example. Why didn’t I go? I was working. Or I had school. Or the stars weren’t lined up right. The reality is, I don’t remember why I didn’t go but I’ve yet to forgive myself for missing what I think is one of the most important moments in US social history.

Literata writes Conservative Poll-Watching Initiative Depicts Trans Person as Cartoon of Voter Fraud

It’s only adding insult to injury for a conservative group like True the Vote to use this as its stereotype of “fraud.” True the Vote specifically encourages its “election observers” to watch for mismatches with voters’ IDs and registration records, and to challenge voters in states – like Virginia – where such challenges on Election Day are legal. Their purpose is to prevent people from voting. Even when they’re not successful and a trans person manages to vote, it’s extremely galling to think about the added stress and strain trans people go through when confronted by True the Vote’s “observers,” forcing them to explain – again – their personal situation, including intimate details, to perfect strangers, in public, while trying to reach some unstated standard of being a “real” person – man or woman – in order to participate in this most fundamental part of being a citizen of a democracy.

Dashifen writes about the need to Be Careful Out There

No one, not one of us, is an island remote, cut-off, and separated from everyone else. When violence erupts in Egypt, you can be sure that the American government is watching and wondering what we’ll need to do and whether we’ll need to get involved. But, not all of us can stand up in the same ways. Not all of us can afford to be on the front lines risking our freedom and our bodies the way that others can. And these limitations exist for a variety of reasons that cross every social boundary from race to religion, from class to gender.

Peter wants us to Have a Seat

Those wishing to engage in activism must first find their voice in their own community and be able to “stand” their ground and call the community to self-reflection on how our own actions do or do not reflect our values. ‘Standing up’ and risking negative discourse, social consequences and sometimes-hurt feelings is at the very center of the activist archetype.

Jason is Making Connections

Many, but not all, Pagans consider themselves Earth-centered. If we worship the earth, or gods of the earth, or just care about the world we live in, we should be concerned with our own impact on it.

Debra speaks about Then and Now

The last moment of special note was when I mentioned to a fellow marcher that this year felt somehow different to me. She pressed me for an explanation of what that feeling was and I heard myself explain that this year I wasn’t afraid – not afraid of the police, not afraid of losing myself, simply not afraid. Perhaps it was naïve to feel that way but that doesn’t change the fact that fear was absent for me. Did last year’s experience change the police in some way? Have we, as activists, learned and grown since last year about focus and organization? I don’t have any answers to those questions but I celebrate my experience, realizing that it may have been very different for other people. I felt stronger, more grounded in what I was doing and infinitely more connected to the thousands of people around me. We were community. We were focused. We were organized. We will be back next year. Solidarity!

Shauna asks about Being the Hero: How Do We Move Forward?

Each one of us is the hero of our own story. And each one of us has the capacity to be more than we are, to be a part of bringing about the changes that will build better lives for all of us. But, I think that accepting that we have the power to make changes in the world means accepting a lot of responsibility. It means acknowledging our flaws and how we get in our own way, and it means, for some people, actually being willing to acknowledge what we want in our lives. It means putting a name to our dream. It means that we have to actually walk our talk–put action to our words–which is the core of activism.

It’s been a fantastic year here on Pagan Activist. I want to thank all the authors who take the time to write and to the readers who take the time to view the blog. Starting next week, you’ll see new authors on Pagan Activist including Lauren and Phil.

Happy New Year everyone!

Image credit

Making Connections

I grew up hating the use of pathos in argument. I always thought that we should accept an argument on its merits, not because we liked it, certainly not because we liked the speaker.

But as an activist, I’ve come to realize that people aren’t usually rational. We do what we want to do, not what we abstractly think we should. That is, our feelings about right and wrong inform our actions more than our thoughts about right and wrong. I’ve realized that for someone to change, you need to help them make an emotional connection to what you’re saying. Otherwise they simply won’t believe you. They won’t believe that what you’re saying is important, or accurate, or should have anything to do with their own life. It doesn’t matter how good a case you make if the other person doesn’t care how good a case you’ve made.

So let me show some connections between animal rights and issues you may already care about. I’ll expand on these and other issues in later posts.

The Environment
Eat Something That Doesn't Mind Being Eaten

Many, but not all, Pagans consider themselves Earth-centered. If we worship the earth, or gods of the earth, or just care about the world we live in, we should be concerned with our own impact on it.

I always try to explain that animal rights/veganism isn’t an environmental movement per se. That is, most vegans are vegan out of concern for animals as individuals, not for the environment in general. But that doesn’t mean that the environment isn’t a completely legitimate reason to eschew animal products. In fact, concern for the environment just might demand it.

Animal agriculture is probably the leading cause of water pollution, which has a range of consequences. These include algal blooms that cause dead areas in the sea, destruction of coral reefs, antibiotic resistance, sedimentation of the coasts, and unsafe drinking water. In nature, animal wastes products would be scattered broadly and absorbed by the system. In nature, there is no waste. The waste of one species is food for another. But now we raise animals in boxes in factories – which is absolutely necessary if we are going to eat meat, because there simply isn’t enough land to let animals walk around. This means that animal waste gets concentrated in large reservoirs, which can spill or leak into waterways.

It’s not just animal agriculture that’s to blame, as pesticides from human produce are also a problem and there are ways for animal raisers to prevent run-off. But as things stand, buying animal products leads directly to toxic runoff. So does eating nonorganic produce, to a lesser extent.

Livestock operations are responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions. It’s also the largest cause of rainforest destruction, both to create pastures and grow livestock feed. 62% of cleared rainforest land in Brazil goes to cattle ranching alone.

Up to 77% of ocean fish species are overexploited. Eating fish, whether farmed or wild-caught, is the largest cause of the overtaxing of oceans.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations says that “livestock production is one of the major causes of the world’s most pressing environmental problems, including global warming, land degradation, air and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity.”

Changing the way humans farm animals may help in the long run, but until that happens, every dollar spent on animal products causes more of this to happen.

Imagine being told that you’re not intelligent or rational, and that because of that, you don’t have the same rights as others. Imagine being told that you’re an object for someone else’s desires. If you’re a woman, maybe you don’t have to imagine.

In 1792 Mary Wollstonecraft published the book Vindications of the Rights of Woman, one of the first works of feminist philosophy, as a follow up to her 1970 book on the rights of men. The satirical Vindication of the Rights of Brutes was written in response. It argued that the then-new idea of human rights, popularized by Wollstonecraft and Thomas Paine, inevitably led to the ridiculous idea that animals, too, must have rights. Since that idea was patently ridiculous, the idea that all men, and even women, had rights must also be ridiculous.

Women’s rights and human rights might seem obvious now, but activists fought hard for it and the work is still not done. One of the central points held in common by feminists and human rights activists is that we all have rights based on our ability to think and to feel, not based on whether we look the same, have the same abilities, or are useful to someone else.

The link between animal rights and women’s rights isn’t just intellectual. Studies now show that slaughterhouse work increases domestic violence, rape and other sex crimes, and other crimes in a community, especially violent crimes. (See end of post for links). It’s not that violent or abusive people tend to seek work at slaughterhouses. Slaughterhouse work actually desensitizes people to violence and makes them more violent. It’s a terrible, traumatizing experience for the people who work there. By law all purchased meat must come through a slaughterhouse, including humane grass-fed beef raised on a co-op. Therefore, there’s a necessary link between purchased meat and domestic abuse, rape, and other violent crimes. We can’t have one without the other.

Racial Equality
A crucial ingredient of genocide is the thought that the victims don’t deserve better because they aren’t fully human. I would say that moral exclusion, or kicking others out of the group of “those that matter,” is what allows all social ills to occur. I’m not suggesting that everything in the world gets to be morally regarded. We rightfully exclude things like nuclear waste, bell peppers, rocks, etc. The question is, how do we determine who and what to regard, and what not?

All too often the answer is, “I regard those that are most like me. I don’t care about anyone else.”

Theodor Adorno says, “Auschwitz begins whenever someone looks at a slaughterhouse and thinks: they’re only animals.”

In 1906 a Pygmy man named Ota Benga was displayed in the Bronx Zoo in New York City. He was eventually freed, but committed suicide in 1916. Around the same time, a man named Ishi, the last member of the Yahi Native American tribe, was displayed in California.

People protested Benga’s imprisonment. The criticisms were received much the same as modern protests against chimpanzees’ imprisonment. They are “merely x,” and beneath our concern.

You could say, and people do say, that the problem is that they were humans, not animals. But that isn’t saying anything much different than was said of Benga, or whole hosts of people suffering genocide. Essentially, Benga and Ishi weren’t in well-regarded groups.

Comparisons between the Holocaust, slavery, and human use of animals generate controversy. Nevermind that Holocaust survivors themselves have made the comparison, such as Alex Hershaft comparing, “the crowding, cattle cars, brutality and the routine and efficiency of mass extermination.” Why does this upset people? Well, it’s a normal human thing. We don’t want to compare our suffering to the suffering of others, because that seems to diminish it. Not to mention, because in this case, we are comparing the suffering of fellow human beings to beings we don’t consider our equals. Which, again, we’ve also said of fellow humans. Unfortunately, controversial statements like this might do more harm than good because while facts are insensitive, activists need not be. Pathos again.

Such terms mean whatever the speaker wants them to mean. Some people use “human” more broadly or narrowly than others. It’s just a label of group membership. Discrimination and bias will always exist when we think of others as “merely x,” or as members of an arbitrary category. Sure, we need to use labels in order to communicate, but we run the risk of making the label more than it is.

The goal of all abolitionists has been to show that the circle of those deserving moral consideration is larger than people once thought. In the case of racial discrimination, the task was to show that members of the out-group are every bit as human as the perpetrators. In the case of animal rights, the task is to show that non-human animals are beings just as much as we are. But regardless of one’s ultimate opinion on that, the same biased process underlies all exploitation: we can do what we want, because they aren’t like us.

Social Justice
A hamburger costs about 55 square feet of rainforest to make. Not only are 35 species estimated to go extinct every day due to rainforest clearing, the lives of natives are also in danger. Consider the Awa tribe in Brazil, who only have a few hundred surviving members. Hired guns hunt the tribe members so that their land can be logged, settled, and ranched.

Though the killing of natives is illegal, it’s still an indispensible part of cattle ranching. There simply isn’t enough unoccupied land to satisfy the market’s demand for meat. Besides working to prevent the illegal logging operations, which is not really successful, the other option is to reduce demand.

Around 400 million people in Africa and Southeast Asia depend on fishing, but the ocean is dying due to Western overfishing. Fish farms are a poor solution because they create toxic-runoff that creates more dead zones in the oceans. Though I am advocating a vegan diet, if anyone should be eating fish, it should be the coastal people who depend on it, not the wealthy nations of the world that have other things to eat.

The job of tanning leather is increasingly being exported to poorer countries, where the chemicals used not only endanger the lives of tannery workers, but also endanger the local communities by poisoning the water and soil. The chemicals used in tanning leather are known to cause a host of cancers.

Not a Separate Issue
It’s almost mind-boggling how one bundle of habits – eating animal products – has created so much havoc in every corner of the globe. It also gives me cause for hope. With one change, I am able to make a huge difference.

Veganism, it would seem, is not a separate issue, but a coming-together of multiple goals. As a philosophy, it represents a desire for the well-being of all sentient beings, including humans. As a practice, it’s the single most important way we can reduce our negative impact on the world.


Link between slaughter and crime:

Link between animal agriculture and environmental damage:


Economic impact of animal agriculture

Health effects of tanneries:

‘Tis the Season…

IMG_1715 That time of year is here again… the time of the annual argument about whether ’tis better to wish people a merry Christmas or happy holidays.  Opinions are strong on both sides of the issue and believe me, for some of us it is a huge one.  Every year I am torn between voicing my feelings and risking the possibility of hurting feelings of people whom I love and respect.  This year, I’ll take the chance to share my thoughts here and trust that readers will understand it is offered in the spirit of simple explanation.

Growing up in a Jewish family, my memories of childhood include Christmas plays and Christmas parties at school.  These were and continue to be decoration displays in every conceivable public space, Christmas music playing through every public speaker starting in Thanksgiving and going through the beginning of the new year and the usual inquiries from total strangers about whether or not I’ve begun my Christmas shopping.  The result has always been a feeling of complete invisibility as a non-Christian throughout the holiday season.  The worst was when people would make comparisons and refer to Hanukkah as the Jewish Christmas as if somehow that made it easier for us to feel more a part of the dominant culture.  Messages of “merry Christmas” continue to leave me feeling assaulted by an assumption that everyone celebrates the holiday, an assumption that the holiday is universal, and most importantly the assumption that everyone is Christian.  The people to whom I wish a happy anything are people that I know and my messages are specific to them and what I know they observe/celebrate.  I don’t wish other people a happy birthday when it is my birthday or a happy anniversary of a special event that is my own.

When I am wished a “merry Christmas”, what I hear is, “Enjoy your celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, our lord and savior, the son of god”.  After all, isn’t that what the celebration of Christmas is all about?  When I am wished a happy holiday, what I hear is, “Wishing you happiness in the celebration of all that brings you joy”.  There is a big difference between these two messages.  The first is exclusive while the other is inclusive.

I don’t believe there is ever any malicious intent on the part of folks who extend their messages.  In fact, I believe their messages are extended with very positive intentions without the knowledge of how they may be received.  As activists, one of our prime responsibilities is to educate our communities.  About 10 years ago, when the December newsletter at my job was being assembled, there was the usual short paragraph wishing a merry Christmas and happy Hanukkah to everyone.  Having defined myself as Pagan by that time, I added the following to our newsletter in hope of sparking awareness of diversity among us:

Winter Solstice is the time of year when the day is shortest and the night is longest, usually arriving on December 21. It has been celebrated throughout history in many cultures and in many ways. It marks the end of the shortening of days and looks ahead to the gradual return of days that are longer, warmer and brighter with the return of sun-filled hours.

At our house, Winter Solstice is celebrated with an outdoor fire, representing the sun that is about to return more abundantly. Standing around the fire, we gather to offer memories of the past year and wishes for the new. The observance of the Solstice reminds us that life is circular. Just as Summer will follow Winter, light will follow dark and warmth will follow cold, we believe that good times will ultimately follow difficult times and happiness will return after times of sadness.

Winter Solstice is a time to remember that our gardens will blossom again, fresh fruit will appear on the trees and the earth, which seems deadened by Winter’s cold, will reawaken and offer beauty and sustenance again come Spring.

I honor diversity.  I respect traditions that are not my own.  I wish my family and friends the greatest of celebrations of the holidays and markers of time that are significant to them.  What I am hoping for is a universal respect for diversity and an understanding that people have a need to feel their identity and way of celebrating life is every bit as special and recognized as any other.  I will consider it a miracle when a stranger wishes me a blessed Solstice but I don’t anticipate that will happen any time soon.To each of you, I wish you wonderful days of strength, community, love and a spirituality that brings you to a place of completeness.  Blessed be!  And happy holidays!

Media, Mind Control, Myth, and Magic

4880615–By Shauna Aura Knight

Your mind is being controlled. Really. It’s happening all the time, and at a subtle, insidious level.

You are being programmed.Every time you read a billboard, watch a commercial, even a TV show. You are being brainwashed. Ideas are being thrown at you. You’re being told a story, you’re being told what to buy, what to believe, what to value, what you should be doing with your life.

You’re being told who you should be. And the problem is, it works.

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