For the Love of Elephants

elephant

By: Jenni Taylor

While visiting Thailand, a friend and I signed up for a day tour that seemed to offer it all: history museums, waterfalls, elephants, rafting, and tigers. Can’t get better than that, right?

The museums were informative, the waterfalls were beautiful, and the elephants- well, the elephants were chained, dirty, and beaten. A chain smoking “tour guide” pushed the tourists from the bus into a line to get them on the elephants, take a few circles around while they were directed with hooks, and then shuffle the group off to lunch on time.

We refused.

While standing to the side feeling guilty and unsure of what to do while the rest of the tourists took their pleasure ride, an elephant came right up to the fence and reached out her trunk to me. It was the same feeling you get when a toddler reaches out her little arms to you and you are sure all the love in the world is being directed at you in that moment.

We became friends.elephant 2

When I asked what her name was, another chain smoking worker said they called her “Lady Boy”, and laughed. Lady Boy’s baby and another older “grandpa” elephant soon joined us.

I decided to feed them bananas.

Elephant 4

I’m no elephant expert, but if eyes are windows to the soul, these elephants have spirit. They have life. They are capable of happiness, friendship, and love.

And when grandpa elephant was taken away to be ridden by tourists and smacked with a hook, my new friend turned sadly away and stood by herself.

Her eyes told me they were capable of pain and suffering, too.

Maybe we couldn’t have done much more than we did, refuse to ride and show as much love and care as we could in the few minutes we had. But I can’t get them out of my mind. So, I pray,

May the humans who have lost their kindness rediscover it.
May creatures in pain be given advocates of love.
May we learn to increase our empathy and our loving action,
and may we use the loudness of our voices
to speak out against wrongdoing towards all things, great and small.
May we see the world through the eyes of God and care for it in the same way.

Amen.

Elephant 3

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Eating our Values

Today’s post is from Max Fischlowitz Roberts, who is a history teacher in the Boston area.  Max writes about how being a vegan is not always easy, but it is a way to live out values of love and respect for all of the creatures of the universe. For those considering veganism, Max offers some good starting point for that journey  but no matter what your dietary choices are, Max offers us some wisdom about living authentically with our values.

As humans, we are often concerned about what our peers think of us. Those of us who identify as vegan are no different.  Although the world is gradually becoming more accepting in this regard, I still cringe a little on the inside when I identify publicly as a vegan. Too often, people assume my veganism means I am some sort of extremist; they ask (in bewilderment) where I get my protein; or they inject their own opinion – “I could never give up [x, y, or z animal product]!” Most of these people with whom I talk about my veganism are not mean-spirited, but perhaps they haven’t fully understood where I come from with regard to my dietary choices.

Why do I follow a vegan diet (one that avoids meat, dairy, and eggs)? Quite simply: to reduce as much animal suffering as possible. In the U.S. alone, over nine billion animals are raised and slaughtered for food each year. The vast majority of these animals – chickens, cows, pigs, and others – live their short lives on “factory farms,” with little or no access to the outdoors, all the while being pumped full of antibiotics to avoid infection – which is rampant because of how closely they are crowded together. The standard American diet has produced such incredible demand for animal products that the modern factory farm looks nothing like Old MacDonald’s farm. Instead of cows happily giving us their milk, hens happily laying eggs, and farm animals of all kinds willingly sacrificing themselves for our tastebuds, we know from research that the animals living in these horrendous conditions experience stress, fear, and pain.

Thinking about life on a factory farm, it’s not unusual to realize that farmed animals don’t like this arrangement. How would our pets react if they were held in captivity and led to slaughter? How would we?

I approach veganism from three perspectives. First: I see veganism as the best way to align one’s diet and one’s values. The overwhelming majority of people love animals; in fact, most are appalled to learn of the intense cruelty that takes place in producing the animal-based food on their table. Most people of faith already believe in the humane treatment of animals, and biblical texts contain many references to this tenet; the next step is to find ways in which we can more fully marry our actions with our beliefs.

Second: I think it’s important for vegans – and anyone who cares about animals – to find a way to get active to promote their cause. Spreading the word about the abuses of factory farming has exponentially more impact than simply following a vegan diet in silence. Everyone has a specific talent or way they can get involved that can benefit animals, whether that’s leafleting, writing letters to the editor – one of the most widely-read parts of a newspaper – or making financial contributions to existing nonprofit groups.

Finally: it’s helpful to remember that veganism shouldn’t be a contest about who can best scour a list of thirty ingredients. We all cause suffering in our lives, whether that’s by stepping on an ant or running over a squirrel. Sometimes things happen. What matters is that we work to reduce as much animal suffering as possible – and avoiding meat, dairy, and eggs as much as possible is a great first step on that path.
For more information about veganism and ways to become active for animals, check out one of the most effective and efficient advocacy groups out there, Vegan Outreach.