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Why Language Matters

January 13, 2015

On the Facebook page of an international editors’ group I belong to, someone recently asked whether ‘livestock’ was a trigger word for revulsion in animal rights and welfare circles, and whether it should be avoided in favour of ‘farm animals’.

I was surprised — and pleased — that someone outside the sphere of animal advocacy would stop to think about that and ask the question. I replied yes, I would personally suggest avoiding that word, and went on to say that when I write about animals, depending on the context I’ll go a step further and say ‘farmed’ animals, adding the ‘-ed’ to emphasize the notion of exploitation.

Another editor in the Facebook conversation accused me of “making stuff up to be offended about,” “trying to turn ‘livestock’ into a dirty word,” and added that I was damaging my own credibility by expressing my (asked-for) perspective.

I don’t look for things to get offended by. I don’t have to – our use of and casual disregard for animals is so pervasive it’s impossible to avoid. Photographer Jo-Anne McArthur has said “Once you start seeing, you can’t stop,” and it’s true. I don’t look at a simple pair of shoes the same way I used to. I avert my eyes when I have to walk past the meat counter at the grocery store. Someone walking their dog while wearing a Canada Goose coat, complete with coyote fur trim, sends my blood pressure soaring. It frustrates me endlessly that the majority of other people don’t (or sometimes won’t) see what I see.

I am not a filmmaker or a talented photographer or an artist…all I can do is write, so that is the only way I have of trying to show other people the way I see the world and the way I see animals. So the words I use are important.

Language matters; it is how we express ourselves to one another, explain things, communicate ideas. And when one is discussing rights, oppression or exploitation, I think the specific language used takes on even greater importance, because it has the power to shape perception.

I don’t like the word ‘livestock’. I don’t view animals as any kind of stock. I see them as living, feeling beings, because that’s what they are. They’re not objects, and I think words like ‘livestock’ objectify them. I don’t talk about livestock, I talk about animals. When I tell someone I’m vegan and they ask what that means, I don’t tell them I don’t eat meat, eggs or dairy, I tell them I don’t eat (or use) animals or their products, because that’s what they are. I am not talking about something, I am talking about someone, and the language I use deliberately reflects that.

Choice of language is also about knowing who you’re speaking to. I don’t talk about animals being ‘murdered’ because I know what a completely foreign concept that is to most people. There is a school of thought that says if you want to get people to change their perceptions you have to make room in the lexicon for murder being an applicable word for all animals, not just human ones, and I respect that view. But my own approach favours meeting people where they are, using language they can relate to. I don’t want anyone to be so busy reacting to a statement like “meat is murder” that they can’t hear anything else I’m saying.

I wasn’t trying to turn ‘livestock’ into a dirty word (although I find that an interesting idea). I was asked whether people who advocate for animals would prefer another term and I said yes. The world is full of euphemisms for animal parts: beef, pork, veal, nuggets, paté. I could go on and on. These words separate us from the animals they describe, which is very convenient. It’s so easy to not see…most of us have been doing it all our lives. If someone took you to a petting zoo when you were a kid and then told you at dinner that night that you were about to eat one of those same animals, you probably would have had a lot of trouble with that, and rightly so. But you wouldn’t have eaten a pork chop and thought about the pig whose belly you rubbed, because what’s a pork chop? A steak doesn’t look like a cow and a nugget doesn’t look like a chicken. There’s just nothing to relate to there. So language matters. ‘Livestock’ doesn’t have any real meaning. But say ‘farmed animals’ and suddenly you’re talking about someone. As it’s been famously said, animals are not here for us, they’re here with us. They feel, both physically and emotionally. Anyone with a dog or a cat knows that, and farmed animals (or any other animals, come to that) are absolutely no different.

As I was writing this, Farm Sanctuary’s National Shelter Director Susie Coston posted a video on her Facebook page. This is the text that accompanied the video:

It is amazing how responsive the cattle are. They all know their names and come when we call them. They are always so happy to see the people that they love. We are so lucky to have such amazing beings in our life. I love our cattle people.

Cattle people. Someone, not something (thank you, Bruce Friedrich). Yes, language matters.

Beautiful Ari, a friend of mine at Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, N.Y.

Beautiful Ari, a friend of mine at Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, N.Y.

Animal “gifts” no gift at all

December 3, 2014

Debra Roppolo:

I’ve never reblogged myself before. On the one hand, it seems incredibly lame. On the other, this is an issue that persists, coming up again year after year around the holidays. I don’t have anything new to say about it; my message remains the same. So I’m reposting for those who may have missed it the first time. Please share with family and friends.

For the animals,


Originally posted on These Glass Walls:

Image courtesy of A Well-Fed World Image courtesy of A Well-Fed World

While Christmastime is often denounced for having been overcome by commercialism, more and more people want to share their good fortune by giving to those in need. It’s the time of year when non-profits of all kinds go into high gear with their fundraising campaigns. Food banks have collection bins in every grocery store, Santas are ringing bells on busy street corners to raise money to help the homeless, and international organizations spend big money on advertising and direct mail in an effort to capitalize on the overall generous mood of the season.

There are almost countless ways to help people less fortunate than you. You can sponsor a child in another country, you can feed a family for a month (for surprisingly little in many parts of the world), you can pay for vaccinations or school uniforms for children, fund a well in…

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5 New Words Inspired by Esther the Wonder Pig!

October 9, 2014
Esther the Wonder Pig

Esther the Wonder Pig

Found this in my inbox this morning and it’s just too good not to share! Herewith, Have Gone Vegan‘s latest post. If you’re not familiar with Christa’s blog, please check it out — there’s lots of good stuff there!


For the animals,


World Day for Farmed Animals

October 2, 2014
Photo courtesy of Esther the Wonder Pig

Photo courtesy of Esther the Wonder Pig

Today is World Day for Farmed Animals. Animal rights advocates the world over are fasting today in solidarity with farmed animals, who often endure long journeys without food or water en route to their slaughter, in every kind of weather from perishing cold to searing heat.

This is also, according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), Animal Health Week. CFIA recognized it by issuing a press release yesterday concerning the responsible use of antibiotics for pets and farmed animals. Two of the points made in the press release are:

Animal and livestock owners should make sure that all medicated feed that is manufactured, imported or sold in Canada meet certain specifications and regulatory requirements.

Whether on the farm or in the home, healthy animals can better fight off potential illnesses. A healthy lifestyle includes regular veterinary check-ups, vaccinations, parasite prevention, exercise and good nutrition.

There is an inherent paradox here. Regardless of how meat-eaters feel about consuming meat from animals who have been fed prophylactic antibiotics (and the ramifications of that on human health), the fact remains that if farmed animals were not raised in intensive confinement, antibiotics in their food would not be necessary. In addition, the overwhelming majority of farmed animals do not receive individual veterinary care, exercise or good nutrition. Baby animals do often receive an astonishing, often excessive, number of vaccines in the first days and weeks of life, but this is where any sort of veterinary care begins and ends. (Egg-laying hens, to give one example, receive weekly — sometimes daily — vaccinations until they begin egg production, mostly for diseases caused by unsanitary, overcrowded conditions with poor air circulation. In other words, they are vaccinated this frequently, often repeatedly for the same virus, so that they can survive the atmosphere in which they are forced to live.)

In all but the smallest of farms, true veterinary care is non-existent. Animals who get sick are left to suffer; those who die are written off as part of the cost of doing business. Animals are “cared for” only to the precise extent necessary to get them to survive long enough to make it to the slaughterhouse — and no more.

So while it’s very nice that the CFIA has issued a press release in recognition of Animal Health Week, what the animals really need are changes to both the system of animal agriculture and slaughter itself, and to the existing laws — which make common farm practices such as castration, branding, debeaking, de-toeing, snood-cutting, tail-docking and more, all without anesthetic of any kind, exempt from cruelty laws.

Bear in mind that if anyone treated one animal the way your average farmed animal is treated they would be brought up on charges. If someone treated dogs and cats this way — branding or castrating, for example, with no anesthetic — people would be horrified and the person who did it would justifiably fear for their safety. Do it to hundreds of thousands, millions, billions of animals, and it is sanctioned by nearly everyone. This is what happens when we commodify other beings.

Today, on World Day for Farmed Animals, you can show your support and compassion by leaving them off your plate. The world is changing and you can be part of the change. You can get all kinds of helpful information at Choose Veg, your local vegetarian association, V-Lish, the Veg Curious page on this blog, or simply by Googling “vegetarian starter kit.” Resources are all around you.

As they say at Edgar’s Mission, if we could live happy and healthy lives without harming others…why wouldn’t we?

Please help stop this.

August 8, 2014

I just posted something really difficult on These Glass Walls’ Facebook page. It’s a video of sheep-shearing, which most people consider to be quite harmless.

I struggled with posting it, in part because Facebook has a new background feature whereby posted video runs automatically without the need to click on it. I chose to post it anyway because I believe it’s so important for people to know about the brutal animal abuse behind wool. Yes, commercially raised sheep do need to be shorn because they’ve been bred that way — but no one needs to be shorn like this. The sheer brutality of it is breathtaking. The sheep are punched, kicked, dragged, stomped on, poked in the eyes, beaten in the head with a hammer, and more. All because they struggle when they’re shorn, which they find uncomfortable to begin with. I would imagine they struggle more when they see their flockmates — their family — being so violently abused.

What made it doubly difficult for me to see this is the fact that I just returned from three days at Farm Sanctuary, where the sheep barn is my favourite place to hang out and where I have come to know so many of these lovely animals as individuals. Sheep are such sweet, gentle, loving and kind creatures…they are protective of those weaker than they are and are highly intelligent with incredible memories, including great facial recollection, even among other sheep (or humans) they haven’t seen for years. The sheep in the undercover PETA video could be sheep I know; it could be Jeanne or Hershel or Joey or Freckles.

The video I’ve linked to here and posted on Facebook is very hard to watch, but I implore you to try — and then to reconsider how you feel about wool. It’s about as far from harmless as you can possibly get.

**Please note: if you click on the link, you will see a petition you can sign at the bottom of the page that asks Ralph Lauren & J. Crew, two leading sellers of wool in the USA, to drop wool in favour of animal-free alternatives.

How long should we wait to act?

June 11, 2014

Mercy For Animals Canada has been very busy and I find myself getting increasingly angry and frustrated.

Earlier this week they broke yet another investigation – their third this year, this one at Canada’s largest dairy, supplier to Saputo and its subsidiary, Dairyland. The two-and-a-half-minute video shows staff at the Chilliwack Cattle Company (a.k.a. Chilliwack Cattle Sales, a.k.a. Kooyman farm) abusing cows in horrific ways that would make all but the most hard-hearted person recoil and gasp in sympathy for the animals.

A worker at Chilliwack Cattle Sales kicks the head of a downed cow. Photo: MFA Canada

A worker at Chilliwack Cattle Sales kicks the head of a downed cow. Photo: MFA Canada

The video shows workers kicking and punching the cows, beating them with rakes, chains and metal pipes, viciously poking at open wounds, screaming obscenities at the animals, hoisting them up by chains around their necks, and more.

This farm — again, the largest dairy supplier in Canada — was chosen at random, as are all the farms Mercy For Animals Canada has investigated. The story was featured on CTV’s national newscast, made front page news on the website of CBC, Canada’s national public broadcaster, and has appeared prominently in newspapers large and small, local and national, across the country.

Dave Taylor, chairman of the B.C. Dairy Association, said “We feel it vital to assert that this abuse is in no way common practice in our industry.” The dairy owners say they’re shocked and horrified by what they saw, that it’s completely unacceptable and they have “zero tolerance” for animal cruelty, and they have now fired the eight workers involved. It is possible they may be sincere. But without exception, every single farm owner whose farm has ever been investigated, in any country I can think of, has said exactly the same thing. And yet it happens at virtually every farm. How can that be? If every time it happens it’s decried by the industry as an isolated incident, an anomaly, every single time…then doesn’t that mean it’s the norm? The results of every investigation can’t possibly be an anomaly. When the results are the same again and again, it’s a pattern. It is what happens every day.

Cow about to be struck in the leg at Chilliwack Cattle Sales. Photo: MFA Canada

Cow about to be struck in the leg at Chilliwack Cattle Sales. Photo: MFA Canada

When the undercover investigator at Chilliwack Cattle complained to management — specifically to Brad Kooyman — Kooyman’s response was “Watch for that and make sure nobody hits them unnecessarily.” He did not take direct action, he did not say how the worker should make sure the abuse didn’t happen, and his response in fact suggests that there are times he thinks it is necessary to hit the cows.

The bottom line is, as Director of Legal Advocacy with Mercy for Animals Anna Pippus said, “The company allowed animal cruelty to flourish on its watch.”

The general reaction to MFA Canada’s video seems to be “Oh, I can’t watch!” And this is why I am angry. Most people profess to love animals and abhor their abuse, and most of them have yogurt for breakfast, like to put some cream cheese on a bagel and relish a smear of brie on a cracker. And yet they don’t want to know where their favourite dairy products come from. This seems so contrary. As a society, we want our food labelled. We want to know if it’s organic, if it’s GMO, we want our fruit free of pesticides and our meat free of hormones and antibiotics. We want to know where our food comes from, and damn it, it’s our right! Well, here it is.

If you eat dairy, I am begging you to watch the video. Please see with your eyes — and your heart — what the cows endure with their bodies. If they have to live it because we like dairy, I think we can watch it for two minutes. We owe them that, at least.

We don’t need dairy for our health — really! —and there are lots of great alternatives. Believe me, I know how people feel about ice cream and cheese. Dairy was once my favourite food group and I could not imagine giving it up. I would never have believed I would stop eating dairy and not even miss it. And now? I don’t give a damn about dairy. I do give a damn about not being complicit in the kind of cruelty that is captured time and again in undercover investigations, and it was an investigation much like this one that changed me.

Please, please understand: Organic dairy does not mean cruelty-free. The dairy industry supplies the veal industry. There is no separate slaughterhouse for the “happy cows” where they are painlessly put to “sleep.” There are no happy cows in this scenario.

No one can say anymore that they don’t know. They can only say they don’t care enough to do anything about it. If you eat dairy, please reconsider your choices.


**You can sign Mercy For Animals Canada’s petition here.

A Double Birthday!

April 2, 2014
Ingrid & Marilyn. Photo: Farm Sanctuary

Ingrid & Marilyn. Photo: Farm Sanctuary

Today is a special day for two little goats at Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, New York. It’s their first birthday! It will be celebrated in freedom and with love — but that wasn’t the original plan for them.

Their mum and dad, Delilah and Patrick (you can read their amazing rescue story and see photos here), were rescued in a heartbreaking state of neglect. Patrick was going to be shot and it’s safe to assume Delilah would have been kept for milk — milk that would have been denied her twin babies, who likely would have been raised and bred so that they would produce milk as well.

Patrick and Delilah were not rescued from an industrial farm.  They were being raised by an individual who could have easily marketed cheese from the girls’ milk as being “artisanal,” from pasture-raised goats on a small organic farm. When you read their story, you’ll see how little it matters what it says on the label of a dairy product.

As for their girls, Marilyn and Ingrid, today they — along with their mum and dad — are happy, carefree, healthy goats. They are intelligent, funny, curious and affectionate, and they love to climb and play. The girls have made good friends with “step-sister” Maxie, a goat who’s just a couple of months older than they are, and charming Nancy, a sweet eight-year-old goat whom they’ve accepted as part of their family.

Happy Birthday, girls — wishing you many, many more.



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