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Reflecting on 2011, Looking Ahead to 2012

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Reflecting on 2011, Looking Ahead to 2012

From Robert Grillo, Free From Harm

Happy New Year! I feel so content looking back on 2011, but of course any major effort in life is full of mixed emotions. As an eternal optimist I promise I will leave you with good reason for optimism if you get to the end of these highlights from my year as freefromharm.org's founder and editor.

Comfortably numb
Some of my saddest moments this year were at the dinner table with friends and acquaintances, listening to the talk of these well-educated and well-intentioned people who make absolutely no connection between the animals they are eating and the animals they love as pets. Some glaring examples are the dog lovers who also declare their love of ham and bacon while denying the identity of the animal behind the food, never referring directly to the pig, who is as sentient as their pet dogs and, according to most behaviorist, possesses the intelligence of a 3-year-old child. At such moments I am reminded of Ed Van Winkle, a slaughterhouse worker, who is featured in the book, Slaughterhouse by Gail A. Eisnitz. "Pigs down on the kill floor have come up and nuzzled me like a puppy. Two minutes later I had to kill them... I can't care," he says.

What is unnecessary
Two years as a vegan has strengthened my resolve that animal products are a completely unnecessary part of our diets, thanks to visionaries like Colleen Patrick-Goudreau who gave such an impassioned talk at the 2011 World Veg Fest. Gary Francione helped me understand that subjecting 58 billion land animals a year to a life of misery to feed our planet's population is not just unnecessary; the only justification we have for doing so is that we like the way they taste. Francione asks us to see the intrinsic value animals possess in and of themselves instead of a value defined by the extent to which they serve as a "human resource." Dr. Adiel Tel-Oren helped me understand how protein becomes toxic, a source of pollution to our bodies, in our age of animal protein worship where marketers would have us believe we can never get too much. The works of Melanie Joy gave me a deeper understanding of the psychology and sociology of why we eat some animals and love others without questioning the moral schizophrenia behind our actions. Zoe Weil made me realize how important humane education is in educating a generation of "solutionaries" who can successfully tackle all the big issues we face today. And there are countless other famous and not so famous visionaries who have left deep and lasting impressions on me. One of those is a 9-year-old named Justice.

The 9-year-old Who Gets It
My friend Marla's nine-year-old son Justice moved me with the homemade video he made for his class to explain why he is vegan. What strikes me as so utterly ironic about children like Justice is that their emotional intelligence is clearly more evolved than that of many grown folks who have regressed into a state of, well, comfortable numbness. As a result, I find some of my most engaging conversations with young people these days. They hold the key to a future that does not rely on violence and exploitation of animals, humans and the environment.

The Wing Bar
In the video short I produced this fall called The Wing Bar, I take my viewers on a journey that starts with the Chicken Wing Bar at the supermarket, to a cottage in California where I befriend the chickens there in a matter of hours, then back to my home to see what it's like to live with four rescued hens, and finally inside a chicken factory farm to ultimately discover where all the wings are coming from.

Rats with More Empathy Than Humans?
While I focus on animals in agriculture, the recent University of Chicago rat study has such universal importance, I could not help but write about this. The story became by far the most popular page on the website, ever. Now I don't support the use of animals in research, but nonetheless, the findings of this study are absolutely sobering and should give us all pause. Researchers show that rats engage in empathy-driven behavior, helping to free a trapped cagemate for no reward other than relieving its fellow rat's distress. Rats chose to help each other out of traps, even when a stash of delicious chocolate chips was on the line. Now what's truly fascinating and sobering is the fact that humans have evolved to a point where they can block their natural empathy for other sentient beings in distress. We can live in denial about suffering and show no mercy whatsoever, but a rat, a species we commonly view as nothing more than a "pest," exhibits an unwavering perseverance to alleviate distress in his mates. What does this say about how we define intelligence? I believe we need to seriously re evaluate this!

The emerging Free from Harm community
I'll leave you with my happiest and most satisfying thought this year. I launched freefromharm.org with the goal of reaching as many people as possible with what I believe is an urgent message, literally a matter of life and death for billions of innocent, sentient beings as well as the survival of the very habitat that sustains life. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that freefromharm.org would be getting 13,000 new visitors per month and visibility by countless others who interact with all of our social media touch points. These results drive my enthusiasm to push ahead and make all the time and effort so worth while. I move into 2012 ready to seize this momentum knowing that there is much more work that needs to be done.

May the new year bring you all that you hope for!