Monday, November 29, 2010

It's Advent!

Let's cover my horribly long absence by stating that I had some personal stuff to take care of that meant my internet time has been severely limited. I've been reading only my most favorite blogs and even commenting on those only in batches while mostly lurking. I'd apologize, but I think it's understood that people sometimes need breaks from these things when life gets crazy.  Everything is good now though and things are getting under control and less hectic.

I've also started Christmas shopping. I'm a list person. It helps keep me under budget, but it also helps me remember ethical constraints for my friends.One friend is so fed up with Palestine/Israel that she won't buy anything that is made with disputed resources (such as Ahava products and most other "Dead Sea" products). Another feels strongly about independent shops and would rather a book from an independent second hand shop than a Borders. It's easy for me to remember that about my friends and adjust my shopping accordingly.

But what about your animal loving friends? We're a pretty diverse group--some people do a whole vegan lifestyle, others love cats and dogs but that's the extent, and many of us are somewhere in between. Plus, even if you know your friend is vegan or some form of vegetarian, it's hard to remember what that can entail. One of my friends is an amazing cook and has a great cooking blog--unfortunately one of her recipes labled vegetarian uses traditional gelatin which isn't. So in the tradition of the "Examination of Conscience" guides my Catholic grade school supplied, this week is devoted to examining your gifts for animal-loving friends. If you have any specific questions, feel free to ask and I'll do my best to answer. Otherwise, I'll provide a general overview with some specific don'ts and some suggestions for if you're stuck.

Feel free to consider this a guide for Solstice, New Years, or Hanukah shopping if you prefer. Or Festivus. Or you don't celebrate anything now but might be buying birthday gifts in the future.

Also, please realize that just because you aren't opposed to every item I list, does not mean I consider you any less of an animal lover. I'm, what I consider a "Conscientious Dairy- and Egg-Consuming Pescatarian." I'm still figuring out exactly what I think about certain issues and the vast majority of animal rights is a bit gray and murky for most of us. That's okay, in my mind, so long as we still try to think about it and don't just ignore it all. Please feel free to disagree with me. I'm not easily offended. Just don't say that you think God wants us to eat meat. You'll get a digital finger flick.

My general view on animal rights and animal issues is that animals need to be respected as animals and as just as much a part of the Earth as we are. I am not opposed to symbiotic relationships where both species benefit. I like to think that Toby benefits as much from my loving are as I do from his antics and affection. I'm not opposed to working animals, so long as those animals are treated in a respectful manner and allowed to live somewhat natural lives. I try not to consume or use products from animals where the animals suffered. Obviously, suffering is somewhat subjective. I consider factory farming to be suffering. I consider it wrong to kill and eat animals who are at least as smart as dogs and cats (a line needed to be drawn somewhere, for me it's there). I'm still learning and my views are subject to change. I'm not a saint and I still get strong cravings for greasy cheeseburgers and blts. I do not look down on anyone who chooses to eat meat but I do rejoice when people think about their choices and choose to support farmers who treat their animals well before death or choose to consumer less meat than before.

 What if you are an animal-loving recipient of a gift that goes against your ethical grain? Your response is dictated by your own conscience but my plan, if that happens, is to say thank you and then quietly donate the gift. Even if you're given fur, HSUS has a program where donated furs are used to help orphaned and injured bears. I tend to think that people are best won over by example, not by shouting or rudeness. I would never tell my boyfriend that he's not allowed to eat meat or bring it into the apartment, but I almost melted when he told his dad that he was trying to move away from ham, pork, and bacon because of how smart pigs are. I never set out to change my boyfriend's mind, but I know that he looked through vegetarian starter kits I had out when I was first switching and that he listens to me when I talk about animal issues. I know I also started lessening my animal-consumption after exposure to low-key, non-evangelical vegetarians and vegans. People who had yelled about animal consumption never made an impact on me. Instead, I was converted by seeing that smart, successful veggies were happy to talk about the issues or send me to sites when I expressed curiosity. They didn't act like I needed to convert or be evil, but just made it clear that they would love to help me inform myself if I so chose.

If your conscience tells you to scream at the gift-giver "don't you know who I am?" well, if it's your grandmother I'll pretend I've never heard of you even on the internet. If it's your boyfriend who knows you're vegan and would never use an Omaha steak subscription, I'll assist you in dumping a bucket of herbal tea on his head.