Their Turn - The Social Justice Movement of Our Time Their Turn - The Social Justice Movement of Our Time

Why Aren’t Youth Climate Leaders Addressing Meat Consumption?

October 17, 2019 by 7 comments


The News

On September 21, youth climate leaders from around the world converged at the United Nations in New York to participate in the Youth Climate Summit. During the summit, TheirTurn asked them why the youth climate movement isn’t using its platform to encourage grass roots climate activists and the mainstream public to make lifestyle changes to reduce their own carbon emissions.

One day earlier, tens of thousands of New Yorkers, most of whom were students, took to the streets of downtown Manhattan to participate in a youth climate strike with Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. Neither their posters nor the information they distributed focused on what individuals can do to reduce their own carbon footprint. Frustrated by the fact that youth climate leaders are not proactively encouraging the public to take steps to reduce their own emissions, a contingent of several dozen adult activists joined the climate strike to promote plant-based diets.

Adult climate strikers promote plant-based diets as a strategy to reduce carbon and methane emissions

“Eating animals is the elephant in the room of the climate change movement,” said Nathan Semmel, an attorney and activist who participated in the climate strike. “How can youth climate leaders expect world leaders to take action on the climate crisis if they aren’t encouraging their own constituents to stop engaging in environmentally destructive activity that can be easily avoided?

Ranchers are deforesting the Amazon in order to graze their cattle and grow cattle feed (photo: National Geographic)

During the interviews with TheirTurn, every youth climate leader mentioned meat reduction or elimination when asked what steps individuals can take.  None of them, however, indicated that they are proactively conveying this message to their constituents. They are instead pressuring global leaders to make systemic change.

“It’s not an either/or,” said journalist and climate advocate Jane Velez-Mitchell of JaneUnChained. “Youth climate leaders can demand accountability from our leaders and ask their constituents to reduce their own carbon footprint by making the switch to a plant-based diet.”

Waste lagoon at a cattle ranch (taken from above)

Unlike youth climate leaders, who understand the impact of animal agriculture on the climate and are reducing or eliminating their own consumption of animal products, grass roots participants in the youth climate strike were largely unaware. When asked what steps they can take to reduce their own carbon emissions, most recommended reducing single-use plastic and recycling.

Youth climate leaders speak about their advocacy at the United Nations Youth Climate Summit


Are Youth Climate Activists Addressing Meat Consumption?

September 27, 2019 by 2 comments


The News

In an effort to determine whether or not climate strikers are aware of the impact of meat consumption on the planet, TheirTurn asked participants at the Youth Climate Strike what steps individuals can take in their day-to-day lives to reduce their carbon footprint:

Angered by the government’s failure to address the global climate crisis, an estimated 250,000 New Yorkers took to the streets of lower Manhattan on September 20th to demand climate action from elected officials. Absent from this and previous Youth Climate Strikes was messaging about what individuals can do to reduce their carbon footprint. While youth climate leaders are demanding accountability from world leaders, they are not using their platform to encourage their constituents to take personal steps, such as switching to a plant-based diet, to mitigate their impact on the planet.

The failure of youth climate leaders and mainstream environmental groups to address the impact of animal agriculture on the planet and promote a plant-based diet has been a source of great frustration for the animal advocacy community.

“Going vegan is the most impactful step individuals can take to reduce their carbon footprint, yet the youth climate strike movement, like the larger environmental movement, is turning a blind eye,” said Edita Birnkrant, the Executive Director of NYCLASS, a NYC-based animal rights group that participated in the Climate Strike. “Until the environmental movement embraces and promotes plant-based diets, vegans need to come to these marches in large numbers to deliver the message directly to consumers that animal agriculture is a leading cause of climate change.”

A contingent of vegan adults participated in the Youth Climate Strike in an effort to educate strikers about the impact of animal agriculture on the planet.

In recent weeks, the burning of the Amazon rainforest to make more space for cattle grazing has started to create public discourse around the impact of animal agriculture on the planet. Before the fires, the leading environmental groups skirted the issue out of fear of alienating meat-eating donors. This conflict of interest was exposed in the award-winning 2014 documentary film Cowspiracy, which follows filmmaker Kip Andersen as “he uncovers the most destructive industry facing the planet today – and investigates why the world’s leading environmental organizations are too afraid to talk about it.”

On October 20th at 1:00 p.m., the Chelsea Film Festival in New York City is hosting the world premiere of another documentary that addresses the impact of animal agriculture on the planet.  The film, Countdown To Year Zero, is directed by journalist and animal rights icon Jane Velez-Mitchell.


Hasidic Jews Speak Out Against Mass Animal Sacrifice, Kaporos

September 18, 2019 by 9 comments


The News

Before Yom Kippur in 2018, an Orthodox Jewish man in Brooklyn recorded himself criticizing a ritual animal sacrifice called Kaporos while standing in front of hundreds of chickens who had been abandoned for the night with no food or water. While many Orthodox Jews are willing to speak off the record about their growing discomfort with Kaporos, few speak out publicly out of fear of retribution.

During Kaporos, practitioners swing six-week old chickens around their heads while reciting a prayer to symbolically transfer their sins to the animal before the Jewish Day of Atonement.  They then bring the chickens to ritual slaughterers who slice their throats in makeshift slaughterhouses erected for the holiday.

While reciting a prayer, a Kaporos practitioner swings a chicken around his son’s head in a symbolic transfer of his son’s sins to the chicken. The chicken is then killed in a makeshift slaughterhouse erected before Yom Kippur. (photos: Unparalleled Suffering Photography)

During a previous Kaporos, an Orthodox man in Brooklyn told TheirTurn that he felt that the ritual could not be conducted humanely on a mass scale in urban areas.  “It used to be, once upon a time, you lived in a little shtetl [small Jewish village in Eastern Europe]. You used to go before Yom Kippur. You used to take your chicken out of your backyard. You used to take it and do it, but not to bring as a mass slaughtering on the streets. And that’s why I think it’s not right.”

 

In recent years,  resistance to the use of live chickens has been building in Orthodox communities. In discussions with animal protection advocates, many Kaporos practitioners have acknowledged that the animals are mistreated in the days leading up to the ritual due to their intensive confinement in crates. While some say that the problems can be fixed, others in the community argue that the industrialization of the ritual has led to systemic abuses that violate “Tza’ar ba’alei chayim,” a Jewish commandment that bans causing animals unnecessary suffering. In 2017 and 2018, thousands of crated chickens died of hunger, thirst, sickness and heat exhaustion before the ritual even began.

Before Yom Kippur, tens of thousands of chickens are trucked into Brooklyn, and the chickens are held in crates for up to several days with no food, water or protection from weather extremes.

A least a dozen Orthodox Jews have told TheirTurn that online videos about the cruelty have compelled them and/or family members to stop using chickens. Others say that, because the ritual takes place just once a year, they begrudgingly continue to use chickens in order to avoid family or community strife.

Advocates say that holding chickens by their wings instead of their bodies causes them more pain as they’re pulled from the crates, transferred to the Kaporos practitioner and swung in the air.

In New York City, animal rights activists have been protesting the ritual for decades, but they have seen few tangible results. “In candid discussions with Orthodox Jews, we have learned that the community doubles down on something when outsiders ask them to stop,” said Jessica Hollander, an activist who has been protesting the ritual since 2014. “We were trying to help the chickens, but, in the end, we were doing more harm than good.”  In 2018, the activist community stopped protesting and instead focused on providing food and water to the beleaguered chickens.

Advocates provide water to chickens in crates who are intensively confined for up to several days with no food, water or protection from the extreme heat.

To the surprise of animal rights activists in the United States, Israel’s Ministry of Agriculture released an animated public service announcement encouraging Kaporos practitioners to use coins instead of live animals. In New York City, the government not only refuses to speak out against the use of chickens, but also provides City resources for ritual, in spite of the 15 city and state public health and animal cruelty laws that are violated.


Forced Separation of Panda Mother and Nursing Cub Triggered Emotional and Physical Trauma

September 12, 2019 by 6 comments


The News

In 2017, the Smithsonian National Zoo forcibly separated a giant panda from her 18 month old cub so it could artificially inseminate her again. Since then, both mother and cub, who live in adjacent enclosures but cannot see each other, have displayed signs of anxiety, stress, and physical and emotional trauma. At four years old, the cub is now too old to be reunited with his mother, but advocates who fought for over two years to reunite them want the public to know about the needless suffering that these animals endured after the premature separation.

Background

On August 22, 2015, giant panda Mei Xiang gave birth to Bei Bei at the Smithsonian National Zoo after being artificially inseminated with sperm from the Zoo’s male panda. In spite of being held in captivity, mother and cub, Mei and Bei, appeared to be happy.

Giant panda Mei with her cub Bei before the Smithsonian National Zoo forcibly separated them in 2017

On February 28, 2017, the Zoo separated Mei and Bei while Bei and moved them into different enclosures. The Zoo executed the forced separation so that it could artificially inseminate Mei again.

“Smithsonian National Zoo officials have been motivated solely by the production of money-making panda cubs. If the welfare of the pandas was their priority, then they would have allowed Mei to raise her baby without interference,” said Michelle Schmitt-DeBonis, an advocate who has been speaking out on behalf of the pandas since their separation. “Zookeepers around the world are well aware of the anguish experienced by forcibly separated mothers and cubs, but they turn a blind eye to it in order to stay focused on the prize – a baby. It’s a real life version of the Handmaid’s Tale.”

Mei and Bei were separated when Bei was 1.5 years old. In the wild, a giant panda mother would typically separate from her cub when the cub is between two and 2.5 years old because pandas are solitary animals. Because Bei is now four years old, he would no longer be living with his mother in the wild. However, given their premature separation, the stressors of captivity, and Mei and Bei’s ongoing efforts to communicate, Schmitt-DeBonis and other advocates believe they should be given the opportunity to at least see each other, even if only through a window.

Bei Bei searches for his mother, Mei Xiang, at the Smithsonian National Zoo after a forced separation.

Since the forced separation, the Zoo has subjected Mei to three rounds of artificial insemination, in spite of how sick the procedures made her. Video footage shows Mei struggling to walk and crying out in pain while locked indoors for weeks at a time. On September 11, 2019, the Zoo announced that the most recent attempt to impregnate her failed. The story was covered in the Washington Post. On September 5, Psychology Today published an essay by veterinarian Dr. Kati Loeffler about the dark side of the captive panda breeding industry. 

Mei has shown signs of sickness and great discomfort each time the zoo has artificially inseminated her.

“I’m frustrated that the Smithsonian National Zoo has brainwashed the public into believing that they are giving the pandas a good life when, in fact, they have subjected them to years of misery,” said Schmitt-DeBonis. “But, more importantly, I am heartbroken that everything the advocates tried to do to reduce the suffering of Mei and Bei failed, including the petition asking the Zoo to reunite them after their premature separation. The egregious mistreatment of mother and cub adds salt to the wounds of animals who should never have been bred for captivity in the first place.”

Your Turn

Please ask Dr. Steve Monfort, the Director of the Smithsonian National Zoo, to allow Mei and Bei to see each other through a window before Bei is sent to China on November 19th, 2019:  monforts@si.edu, (202) 633-4442


Dairy Consumers Reconsider

September 9, 2019 by 3 comments


The News

Four dairy consumers talk about why they eat it and why giving it up is so difficult. Will videos about the health risks and animal welfare issues along with samples of cashew-based cheese convince them to switch to non-dairy products?

During the two hour discussion, participants watched a 1.5 minute video in which Dr. Michael Klaper, an expert in nutritional medicine, explains why dairy products, which are made from the bovine mammary secretions of cows,  are unhealthy for humans.

Participants also watched Grieving Mothers, a four minute documentary produced by TheirTurn about what happens to cows and their babies in the dairy industry.