For the next month or so, I’m writing a series of posts that explore the “off-the-plate” choices vegans make. The term “vegan” originated in 1944 by a co-founder of the British Vegan Society, as an attempt to address the non-dietary matters of animal exploitation.
Definitions surrounding veganism are always evolving, and people make definitions with varying parameters. I will attempt to address some of these defining issues while answering some common questions I’ve gotten over the years about zoos, circuses, pet stores, and even breastfeeding. Leave me some comments for ideas for the series in the comments!
My husband and I recently went away for the first time without our toddler, who we left in the loving hands of his sitter and aunties. In the middle of our trip, our sitter sent a text pic of our son petting a goat. His aunties have known us for years and understand that zoos don’t gel with our vegan family values, but the sitter (who happily complies with the dietary angle) didn’t see the connection.
Lots of people don’t make that connection, and there was a time when I didn’t make it, either. If it’s tough for many people to see how drinking milk or eating cheese is exploiting animals, zoos are probably a less obvious source of animal exploitation, even though they are bred and traded, and kept in cages or behind glass in unnatural habitats.
Zoos claim to offer visitors a glimpse into the real lives of animals, but this cannot be achieved in captivity. Even the more elaborate, larger exhibits offer animals a paltry amount of space and enrichment compared to a native habitat, often causing animals stress that manifests in them swaying, pacing, and exhibiting other unnatural, or even insane, behaviors.
But aren’t zoos benefiting animals through conservation? Zoos do host conservation programs for endangered species, but the resources (money, time, creativity) poured into preserving a certain number of animals could be dedicated to preventing the destruction of habitats that is a major cause of how species become extinct and endangered.
We should not overlook how the production of meat and dairy products contributes greatly to climate change and the destruction of rainforests and other habitats. Zoos often house burger- and hotdog-style fast food, which is a significant cause of environmental destruction. The standard American fare for purchase at zoos is part of the disconnect that zoo-goers swallow at each visit: Certain animals are to be enjoyed through a gate or glass—those are available for purchase as stuffed animals on the way out. Others are to be eaten. All are exploited for unnecessary human consumption, in one way or another.
My local zoo is a hub of activity, and some people think we miss out on the fun. We have found fun ways to connect with and learn about animals that are responsible and beneficial all involved!
What to do instead:
- Visit animal sanctuaries where everyone connects meaningfully with various types of animals
- Observe wildlife habitat and learn about local plants, trees and animals
- Watch documentaries, such as Planet Earth, that have stunning visuals and excellent commentary for learning and entertainment
- Walk dogs or care for other animals at a local shelter. This is hands-on experience with animals who need the TLC, and you will learn so much about the habits and personalities of animals.
Photo credit: Crow 911 via Flickr