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From 20 October 2002 Issue

Collateral Damage
By Robert Cohen - i4crob@earthlink.net 

http://www.notmilk.com

I was recently challenged to justify my consumption of rice. After all, I am told, the process of harvesting rice (growing in water) kills untold numbers of frogs, turtles, and fish. As a vegan who cares about animal rights issues, people sometimes create the most unusual of scenarios to question my choice not to eat animals. One angry individual recently asked during the question and answer period of a lecture at a major university:

"If you were in a rowboat, and came upon a drowning baby and a drowning dog, which one would you rescue?" (Every animal rights speaker who I know has been challenged by a variation of the same question.)

I responded: "That happens to me two or three times each summer." (Usually, at this point, the audience laughs at the absurdity of such a question). I continue. "I usually jump into the water, disabling the crocodile by tickling that soft spot between his eyes (try that next time...puts them right to sleep), and feeding the great white shark a few of my waterproof 'people cookies' which I keep concealed in a secret pouch in my bathing suit, just for such emergencies. I then rescue the baby first while the dog does the dog paddle, then I grab the dog by the nape of its neck by my teeth while swimming to shore. Of course, by that time the local fire department has usually responded with their rescue team. I hand off the dog and child, brush the firefighters aside, enter the first burning building that I find, and carry out the elderly couple that has been overcome by fumes. Occasionally, the heart of one of the two stops beating, so that I have to ride along in the ambulance keeping the victim alive with heart massage and mouth to mouth resuscitation. A few times, my surgical skills have come to good use, and although I do not look forward to performing angioplasty alone, I do what has to be done. Saving lives is a full time job for me."

Where were we? Oh, yes, rice threshers. Imagine how much noise a 70,000 pound rice thresher makes in a water-filled paddy? I'll get to that in a few moments, but imagine this: No frog in his or her good sense would stick around long enough to find out what all the ruckus was about. Kermit and company, seeking to keep their legs intact and off of somebody's dinner plate, would hop or swim away. Hopefully.

No, I would not dive into the path of the maniacal driver of a rice thresher to rescue a deaf frog. Hard of hearing amphibians mate and create more hard of hearing frogs. We've got a classic survival of the fittest scenario. The strong survive, or so Darwin claimed.

My choice is not to eat animals. I do my best to exercise that choice by not wearing their skin on my body, and I do not eat them.

I am aware that birds and bees sometimes die during the harvesting of apples. So do human apple pickers. Nobody has yet accused me of being a cannibal or murderer because of an occasional death in the orchard, although I may have to deal with that eventuality one day. In the meantime, I will continue to eat apples.

I do my best, but some people have justifiably accused me of being without compassion. After all, I eat bananas, despite the fact that some banana pickers in South America are abused. I eat grapes too, despite the fact that migrant workers would most certainly live in mansions, if not for my gluttony. I draw the line at chocolate. We all have our limits, and my conscience does not allow me to eat chocolate grown in Ivory Coast, where children are kidnapped and live in slavery on chocolate plantations. At least migrant workers get paid something, and have the ability to migrate.

I will also continue to eat rice, even the wildest of species.

I grow many of my own fruits and vegetables. It is mid-October, and I have plenty of spinach and four varieties of lettuce still growing in my garden. I use no pesticides, and sometimes find a bug in my salad. I do not intentionally eat bugs, but there must be an occasional bug on my food, in my mouth, and in my stomach. I do not do it intentionally, honest, although I understand that they are a good source of protein and Vitamin B-12. Elizabeth asks, "Daddy, what's worse than finding a worm in your apple." I respond, "A half a worm, Lizzy."

Vegans get their B-12 by eating organically grown pesticide-free produce. After all, B-12 comes from bacteria. The average human female carries nine pounds of bacteria on her skin or within her intestines.

There are no perfect vegans. There are only people living their lives as compassionately as possible, living true to their values by not intentionally bringing pain to other animals. Vegans do not buy products from companies performing tests on animals. Vegans do not wear leather shoes or buy crocodile-skin backpacks. Super-vegans do not sit on toadstools.

If ever I hear that the driver or operator of a rice thresher takes pleasure in veering erratically out of his way in order to run over frogs and fish, that might be the last time I eat rice. I doubt that occurs. Instances of small wildlife and bugs killed during the processing of my food are accidental, and I feel bad for the living creatures who die so that I am fed.

The defining line between their deaths and the deaths of farm animals used to feed meat eaters is that the occasions of their accidents, like the drowning dog and child, are the exceptional rarity and not the rule. Eating a dog in Korea or a cat in China or a piglet in the United States represents what is essentially the same act of death and violence, and such actions are intentional and volitional choices made by individuals who have compassionate food choice alternatives.

OK. So, now that we've had a bit of fun answering questions about rice harvests, I've saved my final thoughts for those dimwits who ask the question, having no knowledge of rice harvesting.

Rice plants cannot possibly survive unless proper irrigation management techniques are applied. Most of America's rice is grown in Arkansas and California. The rice plant goes through many cycles, and requires plenty of water. When harvesting time comes, getting the water off of a field at the proper time is as critically important as flooding the rice paddy during growth stages. In other words, the rice is harvested in dry fields. Experienced rice farmers know the proper time to drain fields. There are no frogs or fish in rice fields. The myth of Kermit's pureed brothers, sisters, and tadpoles is an urban legend that vegans need not have to defend.

Go on to Cold Mountain, Cold Rivers and BFC Release Native Wildlife Video Compilation
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