Friday, November 18, 2016

Imagine What a Vegan World Would Look Like

Santuario Igualdad Interespecie vegan

David and Piopito at Santuario Igualdad Interespecie in Chile. Photo by María Gabriela Penela.

For thousands of years, the human species has relied on the exploitation of our fellow inhabitants on Earth – the nonhuman animals. It has long been our society’s status quo, the norm. There are over 7.5 billion people on the planet. Nearly eight times that many farm animals are killed by humans annually. But what if the use of animals was no longer part of the equation? “Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night,” Edgar Allan Poe once wrote. In the spirit of November being World Vegan Month, we dream of a vegan world and just a few of the amazing changes we would have to look forward to were it to become a reality.

 

Billions of Animals Would No Longer Suffer

Over 56 billion animals are raised and slaughtered for human consumption each year. This figure doesn’t include marine animals, whose deaths are measured in tons. Together, approximately 150 billion animals’ lives are taken by the meat, dairy, egg and fish industries. Billions more are destroyed, injured and deprived of freedom by the fashion, entertainment, sports and animal testing industries.

The abolition of animal exploitation would bring an end to the cycle of breeding and raising animals for the sole purpose of killing them. No longer would nonhuman animals be subjected to agonizing (yet standard) practices like forcible insemination, intensive confinement, tail docking, dehorning, beak trimming, being auctioned off as babies, gassed, electrically stunned, processed while alive. Traumatic events such as separating children from their mothers within 24 hours of birth would no longer be routine.

Transport trucks full of animals stop criss-crossing nations; there would be no more live export by sea or air. Fish would no longer endure the despair and severe depression of farming.

Our relationship with animals would be completely transformed from one of dominance to one of co-existence and respect. Their depth of sentience and sophisticated cognitive abilities would be an undisputed fact, and our treatment of them would be universally acknowledged as having moral significance. We would understand the animal kingdom as never before; sharks would no longer be vilified, and farm animals would not be reduced to objects. Nonhuman animals would no longer have the status of commodities, but of conscious beings with the inherent right to be free from bodily harm.

 

Painting by vegan artist Hartmut Kiewert.

“Large Picnic” by Hartmut Kiewert, 2015.

 

Nature Would Heal

The toll of animal agriculture on our planet is brutal.  The meat and dairy industries have been identified as major accelerators of climate change: animal agriculture produces more greenhouses gasses than emissions from all forms of transportation combined. Today, close to 80 percent of the Amazon’s deforestation is the result of land clearing for cattle ranching.

The environmental damage of raising animals for human consumption far exceeds that of plants — with beef production, for example, having emissions per gram of protein that are about 250 times those of legumes. A study published in 2015 stated that “consumption of animal-sourced food products by humans is one of the most powerful negative forces affecting the conservation of terrestrial ecosystems and biological diversity.”

With animal agriculture made obsolete, global CO2 emissions would drop spectacularly. A world of herbivores would mean that our individual dietary greenhouse gas emissions would be cut in half.

In a vegan world with more available land, biofuels would replace half of the coal used worldwide, which is currently responsible for about 3,340 million tons of CO2e emissions annually.

Rainforests play a crucial role in absorbing our world’s carbon dioxide, converting it to oxygen. In a vegan society absent of animal agriculture, the Amazon — the “lungs of the planet,” as it’s known — would be restored to its healthy density. No longer would trees be burned to clear land, releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in the process. Global warming would be de-escalated.

With humans no longer wearing the skins of nonhuman animals, our Earth would be spared the dumping of chromium-laced waste and other dangerous pollutants into water systems by the leather industry. Instead, our clothing, shoes and accessories would be made from materials like repurposed plastic waste and waste plant fibers.

 

Vegemoda bag made from pineapple leaves.

Vegemoda vegan bag made from pineapple leaves.

 

Our Water Would Be Protected

1 in 9 people around the world face water shortages. The water crisis is the #1 global risk based on impact to society, according to the World Economic Forum. A third of the world’s water consumption goes towards producing animal products. In a society without meat production, each former beef eater would save our planet nearly 130,000 gallons of water a year. The dairy industry’s catastrophic water footrpint (109 gallons to produce just one stick of butter) would be reversed in a vegan world.

Without industrial-scale animal exploitation, our water supplies would no longer be in danger of being polluted and made unsafe for human consumption by the frequent leakage of animal waste “lagoons” and fertilizer runoff. No longer would vast regions be affected by the disastrous manure spills of factory farms. Thanks to the end of the meat industry, communities would be safe from waterborne disease outbreaks caused by pathogens or having their drinking water poisoned by toxic pollutants like nitrogen.

With animal products obsolete, climate change would be abated; rising temperatures and the depletion of groundwater reserves due to drought would come to a standstill.

 

No More World Hunger

The bulk of industrially produced grain crops goes to confined animal feedlots instead of the 1 billion humans currently suffering from starvation and malnutrition. Over 50 percent of the corn grown globally, and 80 percent of soybeans, are consumed by animals farmed for their flesh. Yet it takes roughly 13 pounds of grain to produce just one pound of meat. Twenty-five times as much edible human food is being used to produce just one unit of meat.

In a vegan society, all field crop production that would have been used to raise animals would now meet the nutritional needs of the global population. It is estimated that by 2050, an additional 4 billion people could be fed with the annual energy value used to produce meat. Doing away with animal agriculture would free up land and resources, enabling communities to sustain themselves and making food sovereignty a reality. In the place of industrial-scale animal exploitation and slaughterhouses, there would be community farms and gardens, more schools and cultural institutions.

 

Species Extinction Would Be Halted

The systematic decades-long clearance of trees from the Amazon has condemned close to 40 species in the region to near extinction. And in the Southwest of the US, livestock grazing is the most widespread cause of wildlife endangerment. Not only do wild animals suffer from deforestation and climate change caused by the meat industry, but they are also killed en masse to protect its corporate interests. Keystone predators like California grizzly bears and Mexican gray wolves have been driven to extinction as a result of “predator control” programs.

Without the meat industry’s existence, more than 175 threatened or endangered species in the United States would be saved from peril. And according to Thiago Rangel, an ecologist at the Federal University of Goiás in Brazil, forest regeneration in the Amazon would help to “gradually recover species richness, composition and vital ecosystems functions.”

 

Kat Von D and Bruno in LAIKA, Issue Six. Photo by Melissa Schwartz.

Kat Von D and Bruno, who was rescued as a calf after falling off a transport truck to the slaughterhouse. From LAIKA, Issue Six. Photo by Melissa Schwartz.

 

A More Empathetic Society

Leo Tolstoy famously wrote that “as long as there are slaughterhouses, there will be battlefields.” Could a world without wars result from, or coincide with, society abolishing animal exploitation? It’s not that far-fetched of a notion. Empathy is the ability to identify with the emotions of another and it is often the first step toward taking compassionate action for someone. And empathy literally transforms our brain.

A 2015 Neuroimage study showed that higher empathy scores were “associated with greater gray matter density” and that people “who have high cognitive empathy are those who are more rational.” A rational state of mind is calmer and less inclined towards impulsive actions — or, in other words, aggressive and violent behavior.

 

Rescuer Marc Ching with Lucky and Jack, who were saved from the dog meat trade in South Korea and Thailand. From LAIKA Issue Six. Photographed by Jenna Schoenefeld.

Rescuer Marc Ching with Lucky and Jack, who were saved from the dog meat trade in South Korea and Thailand. From LAIKA Issue Six. Photographed by Jenna Schoenefeld.

One of the core aspects of a veganism is being empathetic to the pain of animals, in being able to relate to them and recognize their suffering. Compared to omnivores, functional MRI brain scans reveal a more powerful empathetic response to both human and animal suffering in the minds of vegetarians and vegans.

The more we put empathy into practice, the more empathetic we become. It is nearly impossible to imagine wars still taking place once the last slaughterhouse shutters. In changing our relationship with animals, we could change our relationship with one another and pave the way to the world peace that we all long for.

 

Let’s Make It a Reality

It’s up to us to make the dream real — through leading by example, mobilizing our communities, becoming engaged with the world around us, participating in grassroots activism. The task is more urgent than ever, particularly since our President-elect is a climate change denier who is rounding up an administration similarly hostile to the protection of animals and the environment. When relying on the government to help us is no longer an option, we still have control over whether or not we choose to participate in industries and practices that are destroying our planet and its inhabitants. And that is incredibly empowering. We already know that a benevolent existence is possible — one need only flip through the pages of LAIKA to see how abundant, vibrant and interesting a vegan life is. It is us, the masses, who hold the key to transforming our society. Our potential to cultivate positive change is limitless, and the time to begin is now.

Posted by Julie Gueraseva

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LAIKA Kat Von D

Kat Von D is a world renown tattoo artist, creative powerhouse, makeup maven and the stunning cover star of LAIKA’s Magazine’s newest Sixth Issue. The force behind Kat Von D Beauty opens up about veganism, how she’s turning her makeup line vegan and about being a fearless animal advocate. In her first-ever vegan magazine interview, she shares with LAIKA her heartfelt thoughts about self-expression and her artistic process. Bonding on the cover with Regina hen and with more animals rescued by Farm Sanctuary in the feature, Kat is the embodiment of our new issue’s theme — Unity.

LAIKA Kat Von D Cover Feature

Inside the Unity Issue, we bring you poignant explorations on friendship, community, family and the kinship we share with one another and with our planet’s fellow inhabitants. Stories like “Enduring Bond” showcase not only the individuality and emotional depth of the animals, but also our remarkable commonalities with them.

LAIKA Issue Six Animals

Throughout LAIKA’s 6th issue, we draw attention to the impact of coming together in stories like “Plant Power,” about the growth of the food sovereignty movement and community agriculture; and “The Once and the Future,” a compelling series of cross-generational dialogues between vegan trailblazers and vegan teens. We feature food that connects us with the simple splendors of the plant kingdom from the likes of Lina Saber and Mississippi Vegan. There’s fashion that transcends boundaries, beauty that celebrates nature, and journeys that cross continents.

LAIKA Issue Six Food

Every page of the Unity Issue is designed to uplift, to provoke and to underscore the power and joy of co-existence. With gorgeous illustration, award-winning photography and unforgettable storytelling, LAIKA provides you, our dear reader, with an immersive experience that will leave you inspired and moved.

Stay tuned for more behind the scenes photos and videos from our Kat Von D cover shoot. Order your copy of the Sixth Issue of LAIKA or subscribe today.

On the Cover: Photography by Melissa Schwartz; art direction by Julie Gueraseva; makeup, hair, styling and artwork by Kat Von D.

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Virtual Reality Factory Farm Animals

Perhaps the most remarkable feat of the animal agriculture industry is the distance at which it has kept the public from its massive killing apparatus. Despite the fact that hundreds of millions of animals are slaughtered every single day for their meat in this country, most of us have never witnessed a single instance of this violence.

The non-profit organization Animal Equality aims to change this, with the help of virtual reality. In its new VR documentary film called Factory Farm, which is part of its iAnimal project, the organization’s cofounder Jose Valle leads viewers through the final moments in the lives of several pigs in a factory farm and slaughterhouse in Mexico. The film made its public debut at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, earlier this month.

 

A Sundance attendee watches the iAnimal video, during which they can move around and get a 360° view of a slaughterhouse.

A Sundance attendee watches the “Factory Farm” video, during which they can move around and get a 360° view of a slaughterhouse.

Factory Farm, produced in collaboration with VR technology company Condition One, is not easy to watch. It puts viewers just a few feet from not only the horrific conditions these animals are subject to, but also the stun-and-slaughter process, as they bear witness to what is an extremely common outcome: pigs regaining consciousness just moments after the initial stun, left to writhe and suffer as they bleed out on the slaughterhouse floor.

 

Pigs funnelled to slaughter at a plant in Mexico. Photo courtesy Animal Equality.

Pigs funnelled to slaughter at a plant in Mexico. Photo courtesy Animal Equality.

The film is narrated by Valle, who worked for months building the contacts and relationships to get access to the Mexican facility. (A level of transparency that, it’s worth noting, would never be possible in the US, due to the industry’s colossal, ongoing effort to prevent the public from seeing where its meat comes from.) Valle used a custom rig built with six special cameras to film the footage, which was later stitched together to create an immersive, 360-degree video. The viewer is able to behold their grim surroundings, from floor to ceiling and all around, in full, stereoscopic 3D.

We sat down with Valle and his Animal Equality cofounder Sharon Nunez to talk about their Sundance experience and how virtual reality will shape animal rights activism.

 

What did showing iAnimal at Sundance teach you about the potency of virtual reality?
Sharon: Even though it was a 12-minute video — a very intense video — of a factory farm and a slaughterhouse, most people watched through the whole experience. A lot of people commented about how powerful the footage was, and many commented about eating less meat or even going vegetarian or vegan. It is important to note that this was one of the most talked-about pieces at Sundance. One of the key learnings for us was that when people are immersed in VR, they are ready for something transformative. We give them that through access to all these horrible places where animals are suffering and are slaughtered. And this actually has the potential to not only change their lives, but to change the lives of millions of animals.

Jose: Since this medium is so new, many viewers are exposed to this technology for the first time, and to these kinds of experiences for the first time. During the panel on virtual reality, people commented about our piece because for them it was so strong, people still had those images in their minds — so powerful that one person had nightmares. With virtual reality, what you remember is not merely that, “I watched that piece,” like with conventional videos. It’s more like, “I have been there” or “I have a memory of what it’s like to be inside a slaughterhouse.”

 

Were you surprised by people’s willingness to watch the film at Sundance and their reactions to it?

Jose: Yes, because we told them that it was going to be an intense experience, it contains some very graphic scenes. One of the challenges was, how can you convince or invite people to watch something that is going to be painful, something that is going to be difficult to watch. It’s like asking someone, “Do you want to suffer?” And no one wants to suffer. But people were actually eager to watch it, and virtually everybody who watched it thanked us for producing the piece. Word-of-mouth worked really well, and we found that many people were also bringing their friends, co-workers or even families. They even drove from Salt Lake City to Park City specifically for that video. We filmed many of their reactions, which speak for themselves [in showing] how impacted they were. It’s not a video that you finish watching and you can just move on to the next thing. What we found is that people needed to process what they have just witnessed and they needed to talk about it and they needed answers.

If you look in the other direction, you are still inside that cage, just as the animals are.

 

The life of a pig on a farm. Photo courtesy Animal Equality.

The life of a pig on a farm. Photo courtesy Animal Equality.

Many people have seen undercover footage, but VR is something new. What makes this kind of sensory experience so life-changing and so vital to the animal liberation movement?
Jose: Virtual reality has the power to bring you into these places where you are not supposed to be. When we learned about this new technology, we understood that. We started experimenting, putting cameras inside cages — so when the viewer sees that [footage], [it’s as though] they are the ones who are trapped inside the cage and everywhere they look, there is no way out, as animals don’t have a way out. If you look in the other direction, you are still inside that cage, just as the animals are. So I would describe it as a very powerful [way] of people being witness to what happens and feel like you are the one subjected to the same treatment as the animals.

Sharon: We feel that VR is an extremely important tool for activism. We think it’s really revolutionizing empathy and the capacity [for] people to empathize with others, human or non-human. When we want to make sure that a person is transformed or we want to maximize the possibilities we have with engaging a person, changing or inspiring that person — VR is our tool. We want to continue developing content for VR inside farms and slaughterhouses and other animal exploitation facilities. And we want as many people as possible to try this out. That is why we are planning to bring this to universities, to festivals, we are to planning to bring it to politicians, to companies. And we think it’s really going to make a case for animals and their suffering.

 

How do you envision making this cutting-edge technology accessible to a large number of people?
Jose: Whenever we have shown this video with virtual headsets to people, we find ourselves surrounded by [other] people who are really interested in [trying it]. So we know that we have that on our side. We are bringing iAnimal to universities all over the U.S., Germany, Italy, England, and Spain. We are launching a website that will allow users to visit, virtually, a farm and go from one of the gestation crates to the slaughterhouse, look around and discover more information. We are also producing an app that will allow anybody, in any part of the world, to download [and watch] those same videos with a virtual headset like Google Cardboard, [which] we’ll be providing. People will be able to see it and show it to their friends and family and coworkers. We will also share it with other animal organizations who can use it as an awareness tool during their activities.

by Evan Shamoon

Images courtesy of Animal Equality.