Category Archives: Animals and ethics

The ethics of human interaction with animals

The basic argument against backyard chicken ordinances

NOTE: this is the basic argument against city ordinances allowing backyard chickens, though obviously you could apply the same arguments to one’s personal decision to keep chickens.

The basic argument against backyard chickens is that allowing this practice creates an entirely new category of urban animal: an animal which may be routinely mistreated in a domestic urban environment.

This is not to say that most people who keep backyard chickens mistreat them. In fact, many consider their hens to be “pets” and will keep them even after they cease being “useful.” But this is not what the promoters of backyard livestock agriculture have in mind. They are promoting backyard livestock as a practical way to obtain food, namely, eggs and meat. Continue reading

More Problems With Abandoned Backyard Chickens

When I protested against the proposal to encourage backyard chickens in Denver two years ago, one of the questions I asked was “What do you think is going to happen when owners get roosters from hatcheries? Chicks are hard to sex, and ‘mistakes’ may not be evident until the chickens are six months old.” Most cities which allow backyard chickens (including Denver) allow hens but prohibit roosters.

Well, guess what! We now know the answer to this question, at least for Denver. They will be dumped at animal sanctuaries or at local animal shelters. Continue reading

Ingrid Newkirk in Denver

It has been literally decades since I last heard Ingrid Newkirk (of PETA fame) speak.  She is coming to Denver and in fact, by a quirk of fate, speaking at Denver University on Thursday, August 22, just a few blocks from where I live.  She’ll be at the Ritchie Center, fourth floor, Gottesfeld Room, at 7:30 p. m. Ingrid’s talks are always controversial and inspiring; they also frequently sell out, so if you are interesting in hearing her, you should buy your tickets soon. You can do that by going to this PETA website.

For several years, the animal rights movement in the Denver area has perhaps not been as effective as it could be, and I am hopeful that this event will generate some new energy that will go in a positive direction to help animals everywhere.

The Normalization of Cruelty (continued)

Michael Pollan, while celebrating the virtues of keeping backyard chickens, recently made a comment that chickens are “nasty and stupid” — and therefore, it sounds like, more deserving of being killed.  Karen Davis, founder of United Poultry Concerns, incisively responded, “Even if chickens manipulated for meat production were stupid, blaming them for their defenseless predicament is cruel.”

There is another important point to be made, though, and that is the effect of killing chickens on Michael Pollan himself. Continue reading

Dear Professor Fesmire

Steven Fesmire, a professor at Green Mountain College, has posted a thoughtful response on the controversy over killing Bill and Lou.  For those of you hiding under a rock for the past few weeks, Bill and Lou are two working oxen slated to be killed at the end of the month, even though a place for them has been guaranteed by Vine Sanctuary.

Fesmire, although a “default” vegetarian himself, defends the decision of the community and is dismayed by the vitriolic attacks on Green Mountain College (GMC). Continue reading

They’re Not Your Animals

Green Mountain College in Vermont has, in the name of “sustainable agriculture,” chosen to kill its two working oxen — Bill and Lou — rather than allow them to retire in peace at Vine Sanctuary.

The attempt to defend the pro-execution point of view has now spread to the Post-Carbon Institute, which has posted an article by Philip Ackerman-Leist, “Bill and Lou: A parable for saving our broken food system.” The basic thesis of this article is a long-winded way of saying, “if we own it, we can kill it,” though he puts it a bit more elegantly:

Given the pressures exerted from outside interest groups that know neither the facts nor the animals nearly as well as our students do, it is beginning to feel more like an issue of food sovereignty. Continue reading

Slaughter as Art — update

UPDATE Feb. 29: the “slaughter for art” project has been cancelled. Local activist Judy Carman met with Amber Hansen (the artist), her partner Nicholas, and KU professor Elizabeth Schultz on Monday. Amber will still display the empty coop and there will be a public dialogue at the end of the project.

– – – – – – – – – – –

There have been some new developments in the Spencer Museum’s proposal to slaughter five chickens as part of an art project in Lawrence, Kansas. Continue reading

Slaughter as Art

A beautiful creature

“The Story of Chickens — a Revolution” is an art project sponsored by the Spencer Museum of Art in Lawrence, Kansas.  The stated purpose of the project is “to transform the contemporary view of chickens as merely ‘livestock’ to the beautiful and unique creatures they are, while promoting alternative and healthy processes of caring for them.”  So far, so good!  This is something I might actually be able to get behind.

The kicker, though, comes at the end: the chickens will be publicly slaughtered, and then fed to participants at a potluck. Continue reading

The Fish Stories in the New Testament

One of the big problems that people have with the idea that Jesus was a vegetarian is the “fish stories” in the New Testament — stories in which Jesus distributes fish as food to people, or in one case actually eats fish.  If Jesus was a vegetarian, then what are these stories doing in the New Testament?

We can get an important clue as to what they are doing in the New Testament if we take a quick look at what their effect is and has been.  From the point of view of a meat-eater, these fish stories are very convenient.  Jesus ate fish, therefore eating meat must be all right.  Continue reading

The Abolition of Slavery and Veganism

The Battle of Gettysburg (Currier and Ives)

The Battle of Gettysburg (Currier and Ives)

Can we compare the abolitionists in the animal rights movement, who will settle for nothing less than the abolition of all animal exploitation, with the abolitionists in the anti-slavery movement of the 18th and 19th centuries?  Absolutely!  But I would draw a very different set of lessons from history than most other vegans of either the “abolitionist” or any other type. Continue reading

On Raising Rabbits (review)

Comments by Nancy LaRoche on Chapter 13 “Raising Rabbits”
From The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Urban Homesteading
By Sundari Elizabeth Kraft

Nancy LaRoche is the co-Manager of the Colorado House Rabbit Society

First I must state that I adore rabbits for their personalities, intelligence, compassion for other rabbits and smaller creatures, their affection for those to whom they bond, and the pleasure they have given me over the years, living in my home as house-rabbits.  Obviously, then, I cannot condone exploiting them by taking their lives to provide a meal of flesh.  But both they and we benefit when we use their wonderful fertilizer or their wool. Continue reading

Rules and Regulations Governing Food Producing Animals


The ordinance on “food producing animals” (chickens, ducks, and goats) in Denver was passed last June.  What follows below is the statement I submitted to the Board of Environmental Health on the proposed rules and regulations.  You can read the proposed rules here (PDF). Continue reading


The Ethics of a Natural Foods Diet

What revisions would I make to section III of A Vegetarian Sourcebook (AVS) on “Vegetarian Ethics,” if I were to rewrite it today?  In this section, I took a historical approach to the “timeless issues” of a more philosophical nature. How have vegetarians dealt with ethics throughout human history? For the most part, this is the history of vegetarianism in philosophy and religion, with section III giving a quick overview of the major philosophical and religious systems and their attitudes towards animals.

How much have ethical issues changed in the last 30 years? Well, if you’re surveying the past 3000 years of human history, not that much. If I were doing a minimalist revision, I could probably get away with a couple of sentences. Since this is going to be a pretty boring blog if all I say is “not much would change in section III,” I’m going to go into two details which have changed: (1) rights versus utilitarianism, (2) vegan versus vegetarian. Continue reading

Akers, the Chicken

In case you don’t already know, the Denver “Food Producing Animals” ordinance passed at the Denver City Council on June 20 by a vote of 7 – 3. This is actually closer than it sounds, because there are 13 members of the Denver City Council and to pass this ordinance required an absolute majority of all members, not just a majority of those present. If just one of the “for” votes had been changed, the ordinance would have failed. Continue reading