Sunday, September 30, 2012

Being Kind to Animals

Businesses often send their representatives to college campuses at the beginning of semesters to sign up students for their products and services. It may be a gym or a spa offering annual membership at discount prices, a beauty parlor promising to “remake your looks and how you feel about yourself,” or a local deli extolling the manifold delights of its sandwiches.

Sometimes, though, volunteers show up to sell not a thing but an idea. Such was the case recently at a community college campus in Northern California. Mike Sage, a 65-year-old software engineer at a high-tech company in Silicon Valley, was handing out brochures to persuade students to become vegetarians.  “It’s good for you and it’s good for the earth,” he was saying. The brochure was prepared by an organization committed to stopping cruelty to animals. Mike is associated with the Santa Clara County Activists for Animals (SCCAA), “an all-volunteer organization dedicated to reducing and eliminating the suffering of animals and to raising community awareness of animal issues.” SCCAA is driven by compassion to prevent cruelty to animals, “especially those used for food, clothing, and entertainment.”

With the increasing awareness of animal cruelty, surely the number of vegetarians in the United States is increasing?

“Not really,” says Mike. “As some people become vegetarians, some vegetarians go back to a meat-based diet. Lapsed vegetarians keep the overall conversion rate down.”

According to Vegetarian Times, 3.2 percent of U.S. adults - 7.3 million people - follow a vegetarian-based diet. Approximately 0.5 percent - 1 million - of those are vegans, who consume no animal products at all. In addition, 10 percent of U.S. adults - 22.8 million people - say they largely follow a vegetarian-inclined diet.

Mike has taken time off from his vacation hours to stand under a hot sun to talk with students. Many are receptive and politely accept the brochures. A few wave him off. He is undaunted.

“You must feel passionately about this, to use up your vacation time like this!”

“I cannot think of a better way to use my vacation time,” he says.

Most Americans are unaware of the torture and cruelty the food-industrial complex inflict on animals to keep the grocery stores stocked with meat, although the 2008-documentary “Food, Inc.” was a gruesome eye-opener for many. This year alone, for instance, Governor Jerry Brown of California signed into law about a dozen animal welfare bills.

But progress is slow and consumer craving for red meat continues to grow. Mike, a vegan since 2007, and others like him, know it is an uphill battle to persuade people to give up meat from their diets. “But we have a network of dedicated people all over the country. We will never give up. Humane treatment of animals makes us better human beings. As a popular poster says, be kind to animals by not eating them. It’s really as simple as that.”


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