Spring! Here in Maine we seem to be having a unseasonably early thaw. Plants and animals normally seen in April are being seen in time for the Spring Equinox. Blessed be!
Ostara and Easter mark a time of year when I have always worried about the treatment of chickens and rabbits. Even before I became pagan or vegan I heard stories about the reckless purchase and mistreatment of Easter-themed animals like chicks, ducklings, and bunnies. Now as a vegan pagan I would like to harness the energy of the Sabbat to send healing and compassion to these creatures. I would also like to do ritual for social change.
Many of us as pagans and vegans have pets and have probably always loved animals. Pagans may have pets who are "familiars" and are intimately connected to one's magical practices. Ironically animal lovers like us can end up being the most naive of all about facts around animal exploitation. I know I have avoided stories of animal suffering in the media over my life because I find it so distressing. Yet when we have a pagan ethic of personal responsibility and of ethical action, I challenge us (most definitely including myself) to take a close look at the painful facts. Even doing the research is painful for me so I apologize that reading it is probably just as bad or worse. Yet I truly feel that a vegan pagan ethic of "An it harm none, do as ye will" mandates this kind of knowledge if we are eating animals or educating people about why we don't.
During the Ostara season, I think it is very appropriate to look at chickens and rabbits in particular. Here are some facts about chickens and chicks from Farm Sanctuary's site, http://www.farmsanctuary.org/ (under "the issues"):
There are more than 280 million egg laying hens in the U.S. confined in battery cages — small wire cages stacked in tiers and lined up in rows inside huge warehouses. In accordance with the USDA's recommendation to give each hen four inches of 'feeder space,' hens are commonly packed four to a cage measuring just 16 inches wide.
After one year in egg production, the birds are classified as 'spent hens' and are sent off to slaughter. Their brittle, calcium-depleted bones often shatter during handling or at the slaughterhouse. They usually end up in soups, pot pies, or similar low-grade chicken meat products in which their bodies can be shredded to hide the bruises from consumers.
With a growing supply of broiler chickens keeping slaughterhouses busy, egg producers have had to find new ways to dispose of spent hens. One entrepreneur has developed the 'Jet-Pro' system to turn spent hens into animal feed. As described in Feedstuffs, "Company trucks would enter layer operations, pick up the birds, and grind them up, on site, in a portable grinder... it (the ground up hens) would go to Jet-Pro's new extruder-texturizer, the 'Pellet Pro.'"
In one notorious case of extraordinary cruelty at Ward Egg Ranch in February 2003 in San Diego County, California, more than 15,000 spent laying hens were tossed alive into a wood-chipping machine to dispose of them.
For every egg-laying hen confined in a battery cage, there is a male chick who was killed at the hatchery. Because egg-laying chicken breeds have been genetically selected exclusively for maximum egg production, they don't grow fast or large enough to be raised profitably for meat. Therefore, male chicks of egg-laying breeds are of no economic value, and they are literally discarded on the day they hatch — usually by the cheapest, most convenient means available. Thrown into trash cans by the thousands, male chicks suffocate or are crushed under the weight of others.
Another common method of disposing of unwanted male chicks is grinding them up alive. This can result in unspeakable horrors, as described by one research scientist who observed that "even after twenty seconds, there were only partly damaged animals with whole skulls". In other words, fully conscious chicks were partially ground up and left to slowly and agonizingly die. Eyewitness accounts at commercial hatcheries indicate similar horrors of chicks being slowly dismembered by machinery blades en route to trash bins or manure spreaders.
I know it's hard to read. Keep breathing. We're not quite done.
And in honor of the Easter Bunny, here are some facts about the fur industry and animal testing involving rabbits from PETA http://www.peta.org/ :
Rabbits are frequent victims of animal experimenters because they are mild-tempered and easy to handle, confine, and breed—more than 241,000 of them are abused in U.S. laboratories every year.
Despite the availability of more modern, humane, and effective alternatives, rabbits are still tormented in the notorious Draize eye irritancy test, in which cosmetics, dishwashing liquid, drain cleaner, and other substances are dripped into the animals' eyes, often causing redness, swelling, discharge, ulceration, hemorrhaging, cloudiness, or blindness. The rabbits are killed after the experiment is over.
Even though internationally accepted non-animal methods exist, in skin corrosion tests, rabbits' backs are shaved and corrosive chemicals are applied to their raw skin and left there for up to two weeks. These chemicals often burn the skin, leading to tissue damage. Rabbits are also given no pain relief during this excruciatingly painful test, and after the test is finished, they are killed.
Eighty-five percent of the fur industry's skins come from animals on fur factory farms—dismal, often filthy places where thousands of animals are usually kept in wire cages for their entire lives.
To cut costs, fur farmers pack animals into unbearably small cages, preventing them from taking more than a few steps in any direction or doing anything that is natural and important to them, such as running, making nests, and finding mates. Many animals go insane under these conditions.
Unfortunately, no federal humane slaughter law protects animals on fur factory farms, and killing methods are gruesome. Because fur farmers care only about preserving the quality of the fur, they use slaughter methods that keep the pelts intact but that can result in extreme suffering for the animals. Some animals even wake up while they are being skinned. Animals have clamps attached to or rods forced into their mouths and anuses, and they are painfully electrocuted. Genital electrocution—deemed "unacceptable" by the American Veterinary Medical Association in its "2000 Report of the AVMA Panel on Euthanasia"—causes animals to suffer from cardiac arrest while they are still conscious.
Other animals are poisoned with strychnine, which suffocates them by paralyzing their muscles with painful, rigid cramps. Neck-breaking is another common slaughter method on fur factory farms. The fur industry refuses to condemn even blatantly cruel killing methods.
I know this information is painful to read. Yet we have to remember how painful it is for these animals to endure. We have to make educated decisions about our lifestyle and consumption choices, because our choices do determine market trends in animal exploitation. If you need to take some action I recommend sending energy to the animals who are suffering. It is helpful to them and to us.
Remember that there is hope. A vegan lifestyle does make an impact. Those of us who practice magic know that our intentions become manifested realities and here is a great example:
Compassion Over Killing (http://www.cok.net/) recently worked with Quorn, a company that makes vegetarian foods, to reduce their use of eggs in their recipes. Quorn launched one vegan veggie burger and agreed to reduce the eggs used in their other recipes. Just in making this one concession, the company reduced it's egg consumption by about 3.5 million eggs per year. This will mean the exploitation of 14, 000 fewer factory farmed laying hens. This is the kind of change our consumer dollars make when we ask for product changes that we are prepared to pay for (or sometimes to boycott to get). This is magic at work.
I also lovingly challenge anyone who hasn't yet to watch PETA's "meet your meat," narrated by Alec Baldwin:
And I know, despite interacting with these hard truths, that you who are friends to the creatures and to the earth will have a wonderful and blessed Ostara. Truly, blessed-be.