Working Group on Right Relationship with Animals Annual Reports
The text of recently received Annual Reports are below, with the most recently received at the top and older reports below. To jump to a particular report, simply click the year listed below.
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In 2018, BYM adopted this minute:
“In the interest of peace, and with a deep concern for the living world, Baltimore Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends encourages Friends to discuss how to extend the circle of love to animals, and to consider their welfare when making food choices.”
In 2019, our group’s Annual Session display was titled, “We are not fringe; we are fundamental,” and we encouraged friends to see the connection between our concern for animal welfare and the Peace Testimony by revealing that Dexter King, son of Martin Luther King Jr. and Chair of the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change, eats a vegan diet for reasons of conscience. In his own words, “If you are violent to yourself by putting things into your body that violate its spirit, it will be difficult not to perpetuate that onto something else.” Dexter King convinced his mother, civil rights leader Coretta Scott King, to do the same. Rather than seeing animals as separate from and inferior to humans, the Kings, when shifting to veganism decades ago, viewed human rights and animal rights as compatible, and plant-based eating as a natural extension of Martin Luther King Jr.’s position on non-violence.
This year, our Working Group focused on the environmental devastation caused by factory farming through showings of two documentaries: Cowspiracy (2014), at Adelphi FM in November 2019, and Meat: A Threat to our Planet? (2019), at Herndon FM in January 2020. We also facilitated discussions with Friends on two books: Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer, and A Plea for the Animals by Mathieu Ricard.
“Treat us like humans, not like animals.”
Today, in June 2020, four months into a global pandemic, and four weeks into protests against police brutality and racial injustice in approximately 140 American cities, and across the world, our concern for the welfare of animals remains vital and relevant. Some of the protesters’ messages have included “No Justice, No Peace,” “I can’t breathe,” and “Treat us like humans, not like animals,” a message that resonates because, given the way that animals are treated in our society, there is nothing worse than treating a human like an animal.
Harlem Renaissance poet, Claude McKay, expressed this, when, in 1919, in response to widespread attacks that year on black communities by white supremacists, he published a sonnet, which began,
“If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.”
Last month in the New York Times, Ahmaud Arbery’s best friend, Akeem Baker, communicated the inhumanity of Arbery’s killers by saying, “They treated him as if he was game,…”
Excruciating, real-life videos brought the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd into plain view all over the world, and now, finally, due to those irrefutable images and to protests notable for their tremendous scale and racial diversity, we are hopeful for authentic and lasting change in the areas of racial injustice and police brutality. But powerful agri-business lobbies, and their Ag-gag legislation, punish people of conscience for filming the cruelty and violence that pervade animal agriculture, which most if not all Americans participate in, by proxy, every single day.
"Two Viruses—COVID-19 and Racism” l
Now in light of the Covid-19 crisis and Baltimore Yearly Meeting’s anti-racist initiative, the Right Relationship with Animals Working Group will turn its focus to the social problems associated with the consumption of foods derived from animals. When Anthony Fauci, our nation’s leading expert on infectious disease, was asked why African Americans were being disproportionately impacted by Covid-19, his answer was “pre-existing conditions.” Many pre-existing conditions consist of lifestyle diseases, like heart disease and type-2 diabetes—leading causes of death nationwide, and largely attributable to diet. African American authorities on plant-based eating include cookbook author, activist, and Chef-in-Residence at the Museum of the African Diaspora, Bryant Terry, and Alicia C. Simpson, a cookbook author and dietitian specializing in maternal and pediatric nutrition.
We aim to learn more about the reasons why Covid-19 is taking a heavy toll on the black community, and will make food insecurity, food desert, and the hunger-obesity paradox part of our working vocabulary while seeking ways to effect positive change.
Some of our outreach will involve debunking myths about plant-based eating. For example, some critics charge that a plant-based diet is elitist and costly, when in reality, vegan staples, like grains and beans, are about as democratic, affordable, and nutritious as it gets.
The need to make our concern more racially inclusive calls to mind the history of the Standard American Diet as a product of British colonialism. The colonizing mindset was informed by racism and rejected the wisdom and nutrition of other cultures’ plant-based cuisines in favor of forcing its own narrow and unsustainable vision on non-white populations. Out of our desire to nourish ourselves without causing harm to animals, many of us have turned to non-white cultures for guidance. Options geared toward vegans by Hood College during last year’s Annual Session included Moroccan Lentil Chickpea Stew, General Tsao’s Tofu, and hummus in the salad bar. Because a vegan diet is racially inclusive by nature, anyone who attends a RRwA event can expect to find hospitality in the diverse culinary offerings, but we will now strive to be more intentionally anti-racist by including the perspectives of people of color on animal welfare and veganism.
Statistically, more people of color identify as vegetarian than whites. Is that because more people of color observe traditional diets that champion plant-based foods? Is it because more people of color work in service and manufacturing industries that put them in touch with the harsh realities of food production? The Covid-19 crisis has helped bring to light the unjust working conditions of slaughterhouse employees, who are mostly people of color. It also provided a glimpse of the poor living conditions for animals raised en masse on factory farms.
“Dream in Color”
This year the Right Relationship with Animals Working Group will be dreaming and eating in color. We will listen, learn, and share, and hope to encourage more people to join us.
Working Group Members: Dayna Baily, Alex Bell, Mary Campbell, Margaret Fisher (Clerk), Margaret Greene, Stuart Greene, Samantha MacGrath, Edie Silvestri, Nic Tideman, Colie Touzel
Activities this year: After the Yearly Meeting adopted the minute last August encouraging Friends to discuss how to expand the circle of love to animals, and to consider their welfare when making food choices, the Working Group considered how to facilitate those discussions. We continued our visits to local meetings, with three more visited since last August bringing the total to date to thirty meetings (two of which have been visited twice). We put on a “Vegan Tasting Feast” and discussion at William Penn House and provided a plant-based lunch at the Peace and Social Concerns Networking Day. We added another video to the series on our BYM web page. Two members of our Working Group had articles published in the June 2019 edition of the Friends Journal. We have been in touch with Friends around the world who carry a similar concern for the wellbeing of animals and for the impact that our food choices have on the ecosystem. Three meetings to date – Patapsco, Herndon and Midlothian – have adopted Baltimore Yearly Meeting’s minute, and others are considering it.
We also initiated a “Two Book Project” in which we invite Friends to read and discuss one of two books about animal agriculture: Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, and A Plea for the Animals by Matthieu Ricard.
Plans for the coming year: The food choices of members of our Working Group range from vegan to meat eating. We welcome all Friends who would like to participate as we work to lay the issues before Friends, encouraging them to make intentional decisions about their food choices based on spiritual discernment aided by an informed understanding of the impact of animal agriculture on the living world. We are seeking invitations to those meetings we have not yet visited and are also happy to revisit the ones we have. We can offer a short presentation followed by worship sharing, a discussion about the two books, or a workshop on how to eat a plant-based diet. We can also offer a simple worship sharing for spiritual seeking related to the query, “What is my right relationship with other animals?”, in which the visitor(s) from the working group will not be promoting eating or not eating animal products.
Our official Working Group members are Dayna Bailey, Jodi Beatty, Alex Bell, Mary Campbell, Margaret Fisher (Clerk), and Samantha Magrath. In addition, 19 other people have participated in occasional email discussions.
We continued our work to stimulate thought and discussion among Friends about the effect that our food choices and other personal decisions have on the lives of animals and the rest of the living world. In the past year, we gave a workshop at Annual Session, a talent show presentation at the Women’s Retreat, and provided a “Vegan Tasting Feast” at the P&SC Networking Day. We sent invitations to Friends to participate via the BYM Interchange, and we added another video and other materials to our web page on the BYM website. Four of us have travelled singly and in groups of two or three to as many local Meetings as scheduling would allow. We led discussions and worship sharing at 10 local Meetings, to bring the total to 24 local Meetings visited so far. We have submitted our concern to Unity with Nature, Peace and Social Concerns, Young Friends, and Young Adult Friends for seasoning. Our Working Group members bring a diversity of Quaker perspectives about the spiritual implications of our food choices and are united in a leading to bring the concerns forward despite the considerable time and emotional commitment that are involved.
We have found Friends willing to engage on the concern for animals. We are hopeful that they are ready to express that willingness in the form of a minute which we plan to propose at Annual Session.
Our working group engaged in the following activities in the past year.
- Annual Session August 2016
- Offered Pendle Hill Pamphlet #440 for sale (Enlarging our Circle of Love).
- Provided vegan snacks during one of the Meeting for Business breaks.
- Offered animal face painting at the All Age Celebration.
- Filmed Friends talking about their relationship with animals and posted the video on our website.
- BYM Women’s Retreat
- Performed an amusing song during the Coffee House. Posted a video on our website.
- Meeting visitation
- Margaret Fisher led discussions at two more Meetings (for a total of fifteen so far) and continues to seek invitations to other Meetings.
Members of the working group have demonstrated very limited enthusiasm for meetings or email discussions.
Margaret Fisher (Herndon), Clerk
Our working group convened officially for the first time at Annual Session last year. Our mission is to stimulate thought and discussion among Friends about the effect that our food choices and other personal decisions have on the lives of animals and on the rest of the living world. We have come up with several ideas for starting the conversation.
- Adult Discussion sessions: Margaret Fisher has been travelling to meetings to lead discussions and would welcome invitations to the Meetings she has not yet reached. Pendle Hill Pamphlets will be publishing her manuscript this month (August 2016).
- Video series: We have created four very short videos which can be viewed through our working group web page. More videos are in progress.
- Plant-based meals: Vegan feasts at potluck time are a joyous way to break down misconceptions about meatless meals.
- Self-study: Our web page includes suggestions for engaging books and videos.
It is an interesting challenge to learn how to address the topic of food in a way that welcomes all to the discussion. We are finding that humor, story-telling, self-deprecation, and non-dairy ice cream are invaluable tools in this endeavor. The greater challenge has been in attracting people to participate in the discussion to begin with. Apparently there is no subject more likely to drive away an audience than “The Spiritual Nature of Vegetarianism!”
A logistical challenge has been in finding ways for our group to meet, given the distance to Interim Meeting where those few Working Group members present often need to attend the meetings of other committees. Two attempts at teleconferencing were not well attended.