I'm in a miserably hypocritical state these days. Fall has come, mice have invaded my home and my car, and I have had to commit myself to their destruction. As someone who has spent 25 years not eating meat and tens of thousands of dollars keeping animals I love alive through veterinary care, I now feel like one of the evilest people alive having to kill mice, who under other circumstances I would find utterly adorable and worthy of my protection. But I feel I have run out of options.
I spent countless hours a few years ago trying to mouse proof my house, digging a trench around the base of the house and burying aluminum flashing a foot deep and sticking up a foot to prevent their entry. I found other holes inside the home and sealed them with copper mesh and expanding foam. I have spent something like $500 on mouse deterring sonic devices. I spent another $100-200 for mouse deterring sprays, powders, and granules. None of my actions have ever kept them away, they have remained a recurring presence. And so with reluctance I have had to turn to far more severe measures: killing them in traps.
Killing them does not come easy. For many years I trapped and released mice using Havahart traps, but with the rise of the hantavirus that no longer seems like a wise or viable solution. The mice in my house are deer mice, and statistically 14% carry a very deadly Sin Nombre hantavirus; 36% of people who catch the hantavirus and show symptoms die within 5 weeks of exposure. All it takes to catch the virus is inhaling the aerosolized vapors from recent mouse urine or feces (recent being within one week). And mice produce a neverending supply of urine and droppings. You can simply walk into a room where a mouse has defecated within the last week and in five weeks you are dead; since this happens all the time and people do not die, clearly there are other factors reducing the odds, but the fact remains that is all it takes. Given that the risk of infection is so serious you are supposed to wear a P100 mask, goggles, gloves, and booties to be in the presence of these mice or their feces I do not see how one could safely transport and release the mice. If you have ever live caught mice you know that: the traps are not air tight (they need to breath), they defecate and urinate quite a lot once caught (out of fear or frustration), and you cannot release them in your own back yard (they will simply return to your house). As such, trying to live trap and release deer mice seems like a recipe for hantavirus infection. Killing seems required.
As for my mouse killing protocol, I have tried to make it as "fair" as possible, erecting the equivalent of warning signs at mouse height. Much like an East German border crossing of the 1960s, I do my best to scare the mice off before I demonstrate my uncompassionate, sadistic willingness to kill them. Each killing trap is placed within the presence of one or more deterrent products meant to warn him off. The mouse must ignore the ultrasonic sirens blaring only feet away and the almighty stench of the aromatic oils they are clinically proven to hate. Only after ignoring those do they reach the trap and die.
I keep trying to comfort myself with the knowledge that life is hypocrisy. Despite my avoiding meat and catching and releasing the odd bug, I accept that I am directly and indirectly responsible for the deaths of hundreds or thousands of animals, insects, and other living creatures a year. I walk to get the mail and must crush bugs under foot without a thought. I drive down the road and dead insects cake themselves on the windshield. I eat carrots fresh from fields where no doubt tractors made roadkill of moles. Simply being alive requires the direct and indirect killing of teeming masses of other creatures; there's just no way around it. So, maybe I should face those realities and feel no special qualms about my direct involvement here... But it is not easy, it haunts me, grieves me. When I see their lifeless body I see my dog, I remember my hamster, I connect with my feeling cold when camping and just wanting to find a shelter. I wish them no harm, and yet I bring them death. And I say I grieve for them, and I do, but clearly not enough to not set the next trap; I feel like a monster. And I suppose that is good on some level, to feel so horrible. Blithely accepting the killing of those we can relate to has led to countless historical atrocities. I take slight comfort that I am not likely to be the next Hitler, Stalin, or Mao.
In perceived defense of my life, I kill. No activity is more fundamental to our natures than that, I suppose. What a pity that it comes to that.
I understand many of the aspects of what makes hunting appealing. I like guns. I like the outdoors, and experiencing it through hiking and camping. But where I begin to lose my understanding is with the selection of deer as targets. Deer are pretty inoffensive creatures. From my contact with them, in my backyard, on hikes, on roads, at parks, they seem fairly sweet, fairly trusting, and fairly stupid. A few times a year they wander into my back yard and even with me or my dog outside they don't immediately take flight. The only real danger they represent to man is of the jumping in front of the car variety; and while that is a problem, and does take human lives, the deer are as innocent as can be in the matter. So, why pick on deer? Making matters worse is the way in which many people choose to hunt deer. Today begins deer hunting season where I live and I just read a news article which included interviews from people about their kills and this one woman said, "The deer had just bedded down for a rest, right in front of me, and I got it!" Umm.... That just seems so unsporting. The deer doesn't have a chance. It's not moving, it's not afraid, it's not on guard, it's just lying down to relax after a hard day of deer-ing, and this woman sees that as the perfect moment to end its life?
I knew a guy who owned a large piece of land on which he ran a hang gliding school during the summer months. Someone approached him one fall to see if the property could be used for hunting. The guy I knew politely declined, saying he didn't think deer hunting was very sporting. The man then revealed that his method of hunting was to use only a large knife, and to leap from a tree to kill the deer. The property owner changed his mind, and gave the other man the go ahead. And apparently the guy was legit and did in fact kill a deer this way. Now, I'm not sure what was involved in that hunt, I imagine some bait was used to get the deer to stray under the tree where the man was. But, still, it seems a hell of a lot better than safely dropping a sleepy buck from fifty feet away with a scope.
I can make some sense of people killing lions, tigers, sharks, (perhaps) bears, creatures that seem to possess some cunning, that require some skill to take, involve some element of personal risk, etc. But killing a friendly, curious, inoffensive deer just does not make much sense to me. And of course when hunters use automated feeders to bait and lure the animals, providing them feed for weeks or months ahead of the hunt to ensure they will be easy, docile, trusting, available prey when the day comes, I completely lose the plot.
I don't get it. Clearly I don't. I must be using the wrong yardstick to try and measure the sporting-ness and enjoyment of deer hunting. Perhaps a more realistic understanding of deer hunting is to see it as a mix of a plinker doing some backyard target shooting and a farmer killing a penned animal. It's not about giving the animal a fair chance, or any chance at all, it's about the conversion of a deer into meat and/or a trophy, with the added enjoyment of firing a gun and relatively easy target shooting. Still, it doesn't sound like fun to me. Even if the deer was animatronic, and any moral questions were suspended, I just can't imagine myself finding much delight in this type of hunting, against what seems relatively easy prey. My only experience of anything close to "hunting" is playing paintball, against witting humans, and for me the enjoyment is the challenge of getting inside the mind of the opponent, trying to do battle with his strategy, and in the skill involved in the shooting, and selecting, tuning the equipment. If you replaced my human opponents in the paintball park with some deer wearing goggles and face masks I think I'd feel rather embarrassed to take a shot at them, least of all because they were wearing goggles and a mask; it just wouldn't seem sporting.
The Vegetarian Dining Club now was 505 members, so I decided to take a look at the membership roster and see just what stats I could extract from the membership data.
The distribution of event attendees...
- 348 members have never come to an event.
- 158 members have come to at least one event.
- 89 members have come to at least two events.
- 57 members have come to at least three events.
- 45 members have come to at least four events.
- 19 members have come to at least ten events.
- 10 members have come to at least fifteen events.
- I've gone to 63 events.
Sampled Member Specifics
Looking at a semi-random sample of member profiles, this is what I found...
- 64% vegetarian
- 27% vegan
- 2% omnivorous
- 7% unknown
Average length of vegetarianism/veganism: 7.5 years.
Sample sizes were small, so these sampled numbers are really rough estimates.
Top Ten Most Visited Venues
- Real Food Daily*
- The Veggie Grill
- Native Foods
- The Vegan Joint
- Vegan Glory
- California Vegan
* We don't go there any more, but it used to be a regular spot... (It's very popular, but I'm not personally a fan.)
And our top 10 attending members are:
- Mike K.
Donations & Costs
- Average monthly cost to run the group: $44/month (Meetup fees, party food/supplies, etc.).
- Average amount we're short on every dinner tab: -$2 ! (we're usually almost exactly right, and if it's off it's usually because people chipped in a little too much)
- Average donation: $1 / active member.
- Total expenses to date: $1195
- Total donations to date: $95
- Total advertising revenue to date: $150
We average 3.5 meetups per month!
Average dining event size is 7 people!
That's about all the meaningful data I could extract from the site...
The world will never go vegetarian while there's a single living animal left on earth, not without a universally accepted and completely convincing meat substitute. That substitute will almost assuredly be in vitro meat, non genetically modified animal muscle cells cultured in bioreactors and exercised on substrates like yogurt's Franken-cousin. It may sound unappetizing, but in vitro meat has the potential to be identical to real meat in taste and texture while being far healthier than either meat or the current meat alternatives. In vitro meat will be free of fat, free of antibiotics, free of gluten, free of phyto-estrogens, and potentially free of additives and other undesirable toxins like pesticides. Whether a new stew of undesirable chemicals becomes involved in the manufacturing process remains to be seen.
Even if it's not perfect out of the gate, in vitro meat will improve as the technology matures, and market forces will ensure it leaves the starting blocks competitive with the already high bar soy, wheat gluten, and fungus based fake meats have set in health and taste.
While all this pseudo-carni-gastronomy may perpetually put off die hard foodies, they matter not at all; McDonald's ubiquity has not been obstructed by anyone's informed disapproval. If the Great Vegetarian and Vegan War of the New Millennium is to be won it will be won because we have found a substitute for the slurry used in chicken McNuggets, not because we have grown the perfect fake lamb chop that will fool a New York Times' food critic.
And while the soy, wheat gluten, and fungus based fake meats have made tremendous progress over the last twenty years, I suspect the carnivores will forever see stigma attached to them because they aren't descended from the dominion of animals, "as God intended". In vitro meat, on the other hoof, they'll likely buy as a lesser leap of faith. First they'll buy it without realizing it is ingredient number three inside their Swanson Hungry Man microwave meal, then within a few years they'll buy it from their grocery store pseudo-butcher to take to their in-laws' July 4 barbecue.
Cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, et cetera will be safe, to become unprofitable, unpopular, unnecessary, and perhaps culled or left to their own devices in a world harsher than their domesticated genetics can survive. I hope we can gather enough of our humanity to let the last of the animals raised for meat die of natural causes in comfortable circumstances. But whatever their fate, the generational cycle of suffering will end, and that is the most important goal; and it is achievable, in our lifetime.
To that end, in 2008 PETA launched an In Vitro Meat Challenge PR stunt, with a $1 million prize for the first company by 2011 to commercially sell an in vitro meat product. While that was an unrealistic deadline given the state of the technology and the FDA approval process, it is predicted that in vitro meat will come to store shelves as early as the next 5 - 10 years. In the mean time soy, wheat gluten, and fungus based fake meat products continue to evolve, with new incarnations arriving on store shelves and in restaurants monthly.
It is a good time to be a vegetarian or vegan, and it's about to get much better, whether or not you like the pseudo meats.
An interesting video about the recent announcement by scientists at the University of Missouri that they've perfected a soy product that eerily simulates the texture of chicken.
I'm a vegetarian for reasons of morality, rather than health or the environment; taste seems a poor reason to kill. But there are other reasons to kill living creatures, and I either guilty of or complicit in them. We all are. Any vegan/vegetarian who believes otherwise is not being honest with themselves.
It is so easy to kill. And we do it in so many ways, some direct and many more indirect.
My personal weapons of choice are my shoes and my car. I shudder to think how many little creatures I have tread upon or how many winged miracles I've turned to goo on my windscreen. And much to my sorrow, driving I have killed two birds, and possibly a cat; every day I get in my car I accept that risk as part of the cost of my transportation. And I've also killed insects I couldn't easily or safely escort outside, by hand and chemical attack.
But there are also less direct means of murder.
One of the worst ways is that I buy meat products for my dog. My dog is a rescue, so I didn't create her, or her need to eat, but out of concern for her health (which is already poor) I choose to feed her the meat diet her biology expects. My money pays for her food which pays the farmers and fishermen to do their dirty deeds. I've also supported various dog charities and their saving of dogs which will over the course of their years eat many an animal.
But even my own food is indirectly complicit. When I purchase a vegetable from the store I accept that the farmer in his planting and harvesting killed many a pest in order to get this to me; insects and animals are killed by pesticides, by traps, by farm machinery, by the vehicles delivering the produce, etc.
Of course there are also plenty of other often discussed sources of animal suffering and death I am indirectly responsible for, such as the research done for medications and surgery procedures I have been or will be prescribed, as well as products I have or will buy that I may not realize involved animal testing.
But to my mind, my greatest contribution to the suffering and slaughter of animals comes from the most indirect and least avoidable source, my every daily dollar spent. I buy the goods that meat eaters make, I pay for the services meat eaters render. My rent goes to meat eaters, my health insurance payment goes to meat eaters, my car payment goes to meat eaters, my tax supports the infrastructure of a meat eating nation, and I've employed and will employ meat eaters. And with every dollar that ends up in the pockets of a meat eater, some meat/fish/fowl is purchased, and I increase the likelihood that they will create and raise meat eating families, and that they will buy those children meat, and that...
Anyone who sees their vegetarianism or veganism as the absolute end of their complicity in the slaughter and suffering of animals is a fool. But it's ok. It's a start, and a very good start. And it's likely the only way change will come. Vegetarians/vegans would win no converts to their way of thinking by isolating themselves, converts are won by being perfectly normal people who just happen not to eat animals.
My vegetarianism is my attempt to do the best I can to create a future I want, while living in a reasonable present where I feel ok with my actions; and I think it's important not to fool myself into thinking my life or actions are any purer than they are.
My Vegetarian Dining Club actually has 410 members and 71 past events; it's becoming so popular I've decided to require approval for membership. So far I'm approving everyone, but it adds that nice exclusive touch, so that when you are let in, as I expect everyone will be, you feel that extra bit of specialness we all crave. 😉 Also, restriction sets the stage for the enforcement of rules, and the crafting of club culture. Later this month we're having The Great Vegetarian Cabal of Twenty-Ten.
Taste is not a sufficient reason to kill an animal. We humans can live full, rich, happy, healthy lives without killing animals, and thus I cannot justify taking one of their lives because of my brain's perception of the difference between the taste of a veggie burger and a real burger.
I would not declare that eating meat is immoral, however (not for other people) . I think anyone who tries to argue that has a very difficult task ahead of him/her. Something that animals do naturally, something that evolution allowed and encouraged, is a tough sell as an immoral act. But it's not an impossible argument to make, and I personally believe in the argument (just not enough yet to impose it on others). We humans are funny creatures, our morality has evolved. We once obeyed evolution's commands and "took" our women, forcefully; we now (sensibly) recognize this arguably "natural" action (observed everywhere in nature) and call it rape. Where once men "needed" to rape women to grow the species, selecting for the physically strongest of the species, now we run a society where we achieve the same population growth goals, selecting for different measures of strength, while acknowledging the equal rights of women. Raping became immoral, despite genetics. We may have once needed to kill animals to get the high quality protein we needed to survive and thrive, but we no longer do. I would argue that the needless killing of animals has thus become immoral. But, I won't argue the point too long, or with people who don't enjoy the freethinking exploration of ideas. Life is too short to get into arguments with people who are unable to alter their views or uninterested in listening to other people's views.
It should be noted, that I am aware that the above logic carried forward means I should be a vegan. How do I justify the suffering of any animals for the "taste" of eggs, milk, etc.? While I always buy from "humane" sources when I go grocery shopping, and tend to stay away from dairy/etc., I do eat socially where the dairy, etc. was no doubt sourced on the basis of cost, and funds inhumanity. I recognize this inconsistency, and am trying to address it. Being vegan can represent quite a daily difficulty, social complications, and poses for me some specific health issues. Nonetheless, my not being vegan is one of my many "immoralities". We are all immoral, to varying degrees; and we are all (hopefully) striving to be better. Hopefully, one day soon, I will find a way to be vegan.
I invited the vegetarian dinner club I co-run as well as some omnivore friends over to my place for a vegetarian (and vegan) BBQ. The theme (though subtle) was safari! It was great to see so many new and old faces, I think we were 26 in all. The party went so well I'm going to do this once a month for the rest of the summer! Next one will be July 11!
Special shout-outs go to:
- Mel for the safari theme, for her zebrafication of the yard & house, and her unshakable positive mental attitude
- Nora for her great support, cleanup, and getting the groceries so I could focus on cleaning up!
- Anjali & Hannah for their amazing marzipan Serengeti creation!
- Arvin & Denise, for getting the OG back together! Represent! (and for the food & deserts)
- Byung for his gangster posery and making us veggies look bad-ass
- Andrew for being the enforcer we needed, keeping the veggies inline with the nerf vulcan machine gun
- Devra for her attitude, charmingness, and tasty tangelos!
- Raam for the stimulating conversation, and the tasty vegetables
- Maasai for her wonderful company
- Susan for her smiley-ness (i barely got to speak to you, but it made me happy when i did)
- Karen for returning to us and digging my stand up arcade!
- Osita for being party mascot, and dressing up in the lion costume (she's really a white poodle underneath)
- Fernando the pinata for agreeing not to be hit
- Paco the marzipan lion for lending an air of credibility to the proceedings.
- and everyone I didn't have time to name...