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Monday, July 21, 2008

Non-vegetarian Nature Lover?

There were a couple of disturbing emails in my inbox this morning. The first had to do with pigs, the next with turtles and the last was a bit of research that I was inspired to do because it mentioned the plight of a dog in India. Surely you've guessed the underlying theme of these emails, and while I'm talking about these I would like to thank the people at Animal Rights Hawai'i (AR-HI) for keeping me abreast of the kinds of horror stories that take place daily in the world around us. Now, before I dive right in and start denouncing "this" or ridiculing "that", please think of what the title of this post really means. I can only promise to instigate a discussion that some of you may find tedious, and perhaps unsubstantiated, simply because you have heard it so many times. Nevertheless, I will warn you once again that this is an issue that requires you to really stop and think because if you don't, you will find yourself high and dry in the not-so-long run. But before this grand finale, let me tell you about these animals in those "disturbing" emails that I was just talking about.

First up, there was an article in the Honolulu Star Bulletin titled Picture of sow and piglet taken from"PETA opposes Army’s training that utilizes pigs." What? Then the introduction to the article hit me, WHAM! It seems that the US Army had adopted a training program that required its soldiers stationed in Hawai'i "to injure live pigs and then treat them as trauma patients" in preparation for "Iraq deployment". A bit crude, really, for the simple reason that there is technology for the soldiers that allows them to practice these skills where no animals need to be injured. Funny they should be shooting pigs, and that the pig is a haram animal in Islam. There is some irony there, trust me, if only for us biped, "higher" mammals.

Next, I found a link to the same story three times in my inbox, in three separate emails. So, like most normal people, I had to check it out. This was an article titled "Turtle found slaughtered", from the Star Bulletin, again. It seeThis photo was taken from the Honolulu Star Bulletin website, but it has been attributed to Malama Na that a green sea turtle that people had affectionately come to call "Honey Girl" had been brutally dismembered for no apparent reason except to deal death to this creature. That's really sad, and in a way, particularly for me. I remember one time in Hawai'i when I went to this little stretch of beach on the North Shore of Oahu, and there were like six or seven turtles in the water. Well, the law in Hawai'i is that we had to be six feet away from them, but being Indian and therefore somehow impervious to laws in general, we jumped in next to them with snorkels on. I only remember touching one of the turtles on its shell, before it flitted away, flying through the water on its wing-like flippers. And the other turtles around me were as big as me -- there was a turtle that slowly moved into position to feed below me, and it's shell was way broader and bigger that my entire torso. Wow! Feeding so gracefully, and moving weightlessly through the water, it was sheer bliss being there with them. Then, I read this article, and apart from the obvious why, I have to ask what would go through someone's mind to just "slaughter" another living being. For those of you who are exploring the connotations of that word, here's a little excerpt from the article"
"The turtle had been beheaded with its organs cut out and missing flippers, said Deborah Ward, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

'She was slaughtered,' [Joanne] Pettigrew [educational outreach coordinator of Malama na Honu, which protects the turtles that gather at Laniakea Beach] said, calling the attack 'a very violent act, not done by someone looking for a food source.'

Volunteers knew the turtle as Honey Girl for her honey-colored shell, Pettigrew said. Honey Girl was the largest female out of about 24 sea turtles that regularly frequent the beach, she added.

Honey Girl was about 200 pounds, between 30 to 40 years old, and in her prime..."

And with such a sweet name like Honey Girl, too. Why, eh? It seems to be so sad. Terrible news indeed. And the picture is a picture of Honey Girl from the Star Bulletin website, courtesy Malama Na Honu.

Which brings me to my last story, surprisingly from my home country of India. I have to thank one of the respondents on the AR-HI mailing list for mentioning this case because I had no idea of it. And, it's shameful to think that I live here. Anyway, it turns out that a strayThis photo of Kali was taken from dog was killed in a most brutal manner by a student of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi. Kali, the stray female who acquired the name with much affection, I suppose, found out that life was, pardon the pun, a cruel bitch. The student who committed the act, Yoronso, seems to have taken much pleasure in dealing a slow and excruciating death to Kali. After a little digging, and I mean very little, I came across a petition site that has a page specifically for Kali, and a sort of history of this incident, and then some, by Naresh Kadyan, the India representative of OIPA. Terrible stuff. And yes, even though I've tended to let these sorts of incidents pass without raising too much fuss, especially in the recent past, I just couldn't let this one go. I mean, look at the picture and tell me you could do any of the following. Please be warned that the description from Mr. Kadyan's blog is a little graphic.
"Yoronso [...] invited over two of his friends who spotted Kali sitting near the staircase and instantaneously developed a longing to consume her flesh. To hatch their heinous scheme they lured Kali with a Parle G biscuit to Yoronso's room [...] and once inside they [locked] the room from within. Yoronso then fed Kali some rice that he had gotten from the hostel [cafeteria] downstairs and once Kali was done having it, he wrapped around Kali's snout two torn [scarves]. Kali unsuspecting of the crimes that were to take place was busy thanking Yoronso and his friends for that Parle G biscuit and rice dish they let her have. But suddenly, Yoronso began to bludgeon her with a cricket bat and soon his friends joined in with a curtain rods. This battering prolonged for almost an hour and when Kali was sufficiently dazed, owing to the relentless beating, Yoronso plunged his knife into her and began to sever her while she was still alive, kicking and writhing in agonizing pain and continuing to breathe in ragged gasps as she kept blinking slowly. [For the next] 20 minutes Yoronso mercilessly dismembered her limb after limb while she still kept alive and mortifyingly watched the horrors and butchery being performed on her. Yoronso's friend then brought a brick and began to smash Kali's skull with that and resultantly Kali succumbed."
I don't know what you're feeling, but I have to tell you that this is possibly the 15th time that I read this little snippet, and each time I read it I feel the hairs on my neck bristle in horror and disgust!

So there you have it, three acts of human terrorism and brutality to the peace- and nature-loving denizens of this world. The question is "why". Why would anyone do something like this? And the obviously horrendous response, in a strange and emotionally-removed way, is "why not". But then there's me, your nature-loving non-vegetarian. What?

I can't claim to be a model citizen who champions the rights of the downtrodden and the persecuted, myself. I can't do this on the grounds that I allow all manner of domesticated animals to make their way to my dinner table on a seemingly regular basis. I enjoy a chicken sandwich, or a pepper steak just as much as the next man. Sadly though, I still chow down with complete knowledge of how that sandwich or that steak got there. I'm well aware of the murderous living conditions that these animals have to endure, I know full well the fact that I eat pieces of a decorated carcass, and somehow, in spite of an effort to be vegetarian -- one that I successfully pursued a couple of years ago -- I have slipped back into the non-vegetarian life.

It's sad really, that someone who champions the rights of animals and life in general is at best a pseudo-environmentalist; not willing to get his hands dirty, but up in arms in a moment when he reads about some animal being tortured to death somewhere on this great Earth. I mean, I seem to have been undergoing this sort of dilemma for a while -- eat meat or go veg again. I even blamed this regression on opposition from family members, and a whole host of other inane factors. But in such a situation, the easiest thing to do is to ignore the fact that you're part of the problem and to continue doing what you want to do. Ultimately, the only person to really blame is the person staring back at me every time I look in the mirror.

I think this article, titled "How Animals Suffer Around The World" by Dr. Michael W. Fox, was a neat little snapshot of the many, many sufferings of the others who inhabit the Earth. If you want some startling statistics about how much meat is consumed in the world, check out this post on Fat Knowledge titled "9 Billion Chickens Born a Year in US." According to a report in a book titled "Building an Ark," the US consumes close to 275 lbs of meat, on average, per person per year. India comes in way below this mark at 11 lbs of meat per person per year. But what does any of this mean? In other words, we can quote facts and figures, analyze cultural and historic trends, and even go back to the earliest instances of non-vegetarianism by human beings. Ultimately, we will always fail to see life being lost if all we count is pounds of flesh or numbers of animals... The question remains: What does it all mean?

Where do we draw the line at animal suffering? Was there more harmony when mankind lived in tribes and other small groups, and hunted only that which they needed to eat? Or do we look at human beings being inheritors of a great, natural abundance of resources, therefore living comfortably under the pretext of riding the crest of evolution? Or just maybe, being truly sentient, self-aware beings, our constant striving to a more spiritual nature will eventually see us shunning the non-vegetarian path altogether. Whatever excuse or answer we adopt, the underlying factor remains that there is a lack of a collective consciousness as far as these things are concerned among the members of this great human race. And, I am your run-of-the-mill, one hundred percent, non-vegetarian nature-lover; talking about the ills of human subjugation of all other life, but not being part of the solution in any way. All in good time, perhaps. But by then, many more of these kinds of horror stories will have assaulted you and me.

I'd like to end by asking, is it possible to eat meat and support life? What do you think? Or maybe I should switch to a vegetarian diet, not because I love animals, but because I hate vegetables, to do a take on a humorous quote by A. Whitney Brown.


1) Thank you Cathy Goeggel, Laurelee Blanchard, Joel Fischer and the many others from AR-HI who continue to update me on all the goings-on, both in Hawai'i and around the world. I hope to be able to make a difference soon enough.

2) Thank you Mr. Kadyan for your blog and your very impressive record of reporting from the ever-perilous environmental activist front. Also, thank you for another interesting link on "vegan shoes".

3) Thank you Joanne Pettigrew, for that picture of Honey Girl. It is a sad loss indeed, and I do hope they catch the person who did it.

4) Thank you Rob Shikina of the Honolulu Star Bulletin, for your articles that I both alluded to and used excerpts from.
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