Saturday, October 09, 2004

Animal rights for non-vegetarians

I am non-vegetarian, but am sympathetic towards animals. I don't think the two are mutually exclusive. I care about how animals are treated -- breeding hens in 1 by 1 pens, skinning cows while they're still conscious, testing on animals in laboratories and other atrocities against animals disgust me. My sister wanted to join an animal rights group in Berkeley, but was refused because she isn't vegetarian. This infuriated her and she decided to start her own group and call it "Animal Rights for Non-Vegetarians". Right now she's concentrating on her "Plants Rights" group, and yells at me whenever I accidently step on grass. I used to be an idealist like her, but somehow once you start earning, all the idealism seems to disappear. She recently commented when I picked up a plastic spoon at a restaurant instead of the regular cutlery -- "Didi, what happened to all the principles you taught me?" I guess I've sold out to "the man" and get paid well for it.

But then my sister goes to UC Berkeley, with all the leftist and liberal people who live there, she was bound to get bit by the activism bug. Which reminds me I am supposed to go to a Free Speech Movement Celebration this weekend in Berkeley with my sister. She was upset when I told her that I won't take off from work to attend the lectures.

However, I am particularly sympathetic towards animal rights causes, more than humans' sometimes. The reason could be that my parents used to take me to zoos and aquariums regularly. The interest has persisted in me and when I go to Southern California, I would prefer going to Sea World and San Diego Zoo, rather than Universal Studios and DisneyLand. I'm not sure where I stand in the whole debate about zoos. I firmly believe that going to zoos and interacting with animals makes children compassionate about animals and act in favor of animals when they grow up. In "Life of Pi" it was postulated that zoos are good for the animals, they don't mind being caged. It was argued that in their natural environment, animals confine themselves to a limited area and don't wander out of their territory. Hence, if they have restricted space, it does not bother them. They also get free food and water without any effort so zoos are the best thing on earth for animals. I couldn't disagree more. Animals in zoos display unnatural behavior like "escape reactions, self-mutilation, feeding disorders, overgrooming, abnormal sexual behavior, and repetitive behavior". I once saw a baby giraffe whose ear had been eaten by her mother who couldn't compulsively kept licking it. In the book, "The Human Zoo" Desmond Morris writes that the behavior exhibited by humans in cities is similar to what is displayed by animals in zoos. He went on to compare cities with zoos by indicating how the space is limited and humans are crowded together, almost caged in small spaces.

Living in cities, our animal encounters are not limited to zoos though. While I was cleaning up my previous apartment before moving out, a squirell came in through the balcony window. I chased it out and closed the window. The squirell did not leave and kept staring from the window. Then it started jumping and banging against the window. It freaked me out. If she was getting so desperate to get in, I thought she might have babies in my apartment. My apartment is empty most of the times, so it was quite possible. After this realization I opened the window, but she had left by then. I searched the whole apartment, but didn't find any babies. I did see some food hidden under my bed. I felt bad locking my apartment up before handing the keys back to the manager, but I had no choice.

Another species we coexist with in the city is pigeons. Once a friend of mine accidently ran over a pigeon while driving in the city. I was sitting in the passenger seat and we were both stunned for a moment. We had expected the pigeon to fly away as usual. It reminded me of the "Seinfeld" episode where George runs into a flock of pigeons expecting them to fly away, but one doesn't and dies. He rants to Seinfeld that we are supposed to have a pact with pigeons. We turn a blind eye when they dirty the statues and our cars; in return they fly out of our way. By not flying away, the pigeon broke the pact. The episode was funny, but our incident was not. My friend was feeling very bad for a long time, which was surprising for me. He is not the sensitive, caring kind and does not get serious easily.

It's not only animal rights causes I care about. For the past couple of days I had been noticing people on strike in front of some major hotels in downtown SF. I was on the bus all times so I couldn't tell what the signs said. The other day I had to attend a conference in one of these hotels. When I was entering I noticed the signs said something about health care. On that occassion, I wasn't able to connect health care problems with hotels. Yesterday, we had an IT party in another one of these hotels. I heard that some coworkers were not going to support the strike. I did go. I went to the party, hung out mostly with my lunch group, and had to leave early because a friend had asked me to go to his company's holiday party with him. While I was waiting for him to pick me up, I started talking to one of the people at strike, asking them what it was all about. He told me that the hotels had locked out the employees when they asked for health insurance coverage, which the hotels had discontinued when their contracts expired. I saw my friend arrive out of the corner of my eye, but chose to ignore him (I was tipsy enough because of the two glasses of wine I had drunk at the party) I asked the person on strike how I could help with the cause. He asked me to wait while he got someone who could give me more information, but my friend started calling me. I got yelled at for making him wait on the busy street, my fault. The party was nice; it was at BumBuddha, where I had been a couple of weeks ago. I had a good time and didn't give a second thought to the people on strike till I saw them again in the morning. And then all I did was read more about what has happening on the web.

All can't be lost though, my sister recently bought a button for me. She said that she instantly thought of me when she saw it. The button read - "No matter how hard I try, I just can't save the world."

As a vegetarian, thanks for your words and point of view...
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