By Gracia Fay Ellwood and Kate Carpenter, The Peaceable Table
Some of our readers may want to know more about the Animal Kinship Committee, sponsor of Peaceable Table. Recently we were asked by members of our Meeting to write up a summary of our position for the benefit of other Friends. Since we will need a Position Statement in other contexts as well, and since our view of our task has been evolving somewhat over the years, we offer the following as a work in progress. We invite readers' comments.
In an often-quoted passage, John Woolman says "May we look upon our treasures and the furniture of our houses and the garments in which we array ourselves and try whether the seeds of war have any nourishment in these . . ." Woolman, as we know, practiced what he preached, scrutinizing taken-for-granted customs and opinions, braving social discomfort for himself and others by gently declining to participate in any that promoted slavery or the luxury/poverty split between social classes.
Since its beginning in 1992, the Animal Kinship Committee has encouraged Friends and others to look particularly upon the food on our tables to see if the seeds of violence and destruction have nourishment there. We see many signs that they do.
Basis of the Concern of the Animal Kinship Committee
The present system of animal husbandry in the United States has largely swallowed up independent family farms, reducing to "sharecroppers" some that remain. It is now agribusiness, with a few giant companies controlling billions of animals imprisoned in “factory farms.” The system involves makers of cages, pharmaceutical companies, transport systems, slaughterhouses (or rather slaughterhells), supermarket chains, advertisers, lobbyists, and consumers. The wealth of the companies gives them great power to manipulate political policies and public opinion, so that they can serve their own interests, often at the cost of the people and the planet. The size of the system and its methods are gravely harming human beings, animals, and the earth.
- Environment: The system contributes in several ways to threats to our environment. It uses up vast amounts of fresh water from shrinking aquifers. It is a major water polluter. It releases excess nitrous oxide and methane into the air. It contributes to deforest- ation and desertification in the U.S. and in Latin American countries, speeding global warming, and thus destructive climate change.
- Distributive Justice: The system greatly worsens hunger in impoverished countries because between a third and a half of the grains produced in the world are fed to animals destined to be eaten mostly in rich countries. In the process, the total amount of available food is reduced, and we have a growing luxury/poverty split.
- Human Health: Callous agribusiness practices have produced low-cost products; this, together with saturation advertising often posing as health education, has led us to adopt a diet heavy in meat, dairy, and eggs, a diet which tends to harm our health. To make matters worse, the products are laced with harmful pesticides, antibiotics, and hormones, and are often dangerously unsanitary. Many studies show that in societies whose diet is mostly plant-based, our major cancers, coronary heart disease, and other degenerative diseases are rare. But when members of these cultures adopt a Western diet and lifestyle, the rate of these diseases rises. Many authorities now agree that one can be quite healthy without any meat.
- Compassion: The animals which the system exploits suffer greatly at almost every stage of the process: selective breeding which causes their bodies to become more and more painful as they grow; traumatic separation of mothers and newborns; massacre of male infants by the egg and dairy industries; the cutting off of beaks and tails; crowded confinement in filth and polluted air; miserable transportation without food and water in crowded trucks; and finally being killed in terror, often in agony, in the slaughterhells.
- Evasion: Caring persons who would be moved to compassion by seeing defenseless and innocent fellow beings suffering so greatly are spared the sight and sounds of it by thick windowless walls, barbed wire, and a vocabulary sugared with euphemisms.
All five of these dimensions implicitly conflict with Friends’
Testimonies. Our Peace testimony is especially important here. The harm done
to the environment is violence against the planet, our home, and its present
and future peoples. The callous treatment of the animals is violence against
them throughout their lives as well as at their deaths, and it degrades
those who carry it out. Most consumers would not do or support such cruel
acts on their own, but because we inherit the system unthinkingly we are
numbed to it rather than moved by the loving kindness our Inner Light
naturally inspires. That the system's ugliness is kept out of sight and
masked by language designed to mislead violates the Truth/Integrity
testimony. Because these animal products take their toll on the environment,
our bodies, and the poor, and we do not need them, they are luxuries that
violate the testimonies of Simplicity and Equality.
The Work of the Animal Kinship Committee
The Committee seeks to raise the consciousness of Friends and other people of faith about the inherent wrongs of animal husbandry as a form of slavery, and especially the many evils of the animal agribusiness system; to encourage people to withdraw their support from it, and move toward a diet that is compassionate, sustainable, and fair. To do so is to implement a charge to Friends in the Global Climate Change Minutes adopted in 2007 by both Orange Grove Meeting and Pacific Yearly Meeting, which reads:
We call for Friends to examine and decrease our individual impacts, where possible, so that Earth’s resources are sustained or replenished. Such commitments will likely entail major adjustments in our purchases, diets, transportation, and livelihoods.
For the past eight years, the Committee have met faithfully on the third
Sunday of the month at 1:00 PM at Kate Carpenter’s house in Pasadena. We
have a vegan potluck with anywhere from five to ten people participating,
after which we do business. The meal and meeting are more like a celebration
than work, and we enjoy them. All are welcome.
The work of Animal Kinship goes beyond Orange Grove Meeting to reach out to others, especially other people of faith. We network with like-minded organizations, working particularly closely with Fauna Outreach, a locally-based nonprofit that provides free spay and neuter services for feral cats and companion animals of low-income families. We table at Pacific Yearly Meeting of Friends and at various conferences, where we distribute, among other literature, our booklet Are Animals Our Neighbors? We are presently pursuing nonprofit status.
Part of our ministry is providing vegan food for Meeting events or Meeting-related events. Occasionally we have fundraising bake sales, sometimes as benefits for like-minded groups. Once or twice each year we have a vegan cooking class, which has always been well attended and enjoyed.
Since July 2004 we have published our free monthly on-line journal, The
Peaceable Table. At present we have over 550 subscribers, a good number of
them from other denominations. They receive a monthly letter describing the
contents of the current issue, together with a link.
In the spirit of John Woolman, let us courageously hold this important area of life in the Light of Truth, following the leadings of the Spirit that seeks to enlarge our hearts to love for all beings.