On Earth Day

April 21st, 2013 - filed under: Furthermore » Inspiration

First thing in the morning, Waits and I danced from room to room around the house, burning sage.


This is not the post I’d intended to write.

“Happy Earth Day!”, is how I imagined the opening, since today (Monday) is actually, officially, Earth Day. “Although if you celebrate Earth Day, you probably already did that over the weekend.” That’s what would come next.

My plan was to spend all day Sunday at the Santa Barbara Earth Day Festival, an enormous annual 2-day eco-loving extravaganza. Did you know that it was a 1969 oils spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, that led to the creation of the very first Earth Day in 1970? So our festival is famous and we do it up right . . . well, at least we’re supposed to.

And my plan was to spend the day there with Waits, and take lots of pretty pictures, and then Sunday night I would write a reflective post on this precious planet of ours.

I did go to the festival, and I did spend all day there. But now, Sunday night, I don’t feel so much like writing that post anymore. I actually just kind of feel like crying.




Today I saw a young cow, living, black and soft and quiet, on display behind a farm gate while workers at that booth handed out coupons for a dollar off their hamburgers.

Today I watched, horrified, as people crowded in to “hold the baby chicks”. The same group of chicks, for 7 hours straight. Passed roughly from hand to hand, over and over, and over and over. One squeaking afraid, in pain, because a toddler was pinching the neck. His mom just wasn’t really watching, I guess? My friend shook her head, “Those chicks are going to die – they’ll be dead in a few days. There’s no way they can survive this trauma.” 7 hours straight. 2 days in a row.

There are times when I find myself in unexpected, difficult situations, and I can rise to meet whatever challenge may be presenting itself. I have snarled fierce and fearless into the face of a man who had roughed up a girlfriend. I have thrown my body onto hot pavement, into traffic, in protest. I’ve called folks out – friends and strangers alike – on their racism, their homophobia, their prejudice. And I’ve stood up for animals.

There are other times, when I find myself in unexpected, difficult situations, that I just. shut. down.

Today I watched a turkey, a big proud male resplendent with his plumage, who had been set free to wander near a booth. Children would run up to “pet” him – approaching cautiously, full of nervous energy, then quick like lightening striking out with their hand, and then screaming, and then running away. Adults did it too. Chasing him.

I was stunned, and all I could think to do was to explain to Waits, VERY VERY LOUDLY, why we would not be spending our time near the turkey. “Do you see baby? His mouth is wide open and he’s panting – it’s because he’s terrified. He doesn’t want to be touched. He’s so scared and he’s trying to tell us, he doesn’t want us to touch him. We’re going to leave now because he’s afraid and he doesn’t want us here.”

Today, I am ashamed that I didn’t do more.


Bottles collected on the beach.


Today, at Earth Day, I had to call in an order at a Vietnamese restaurant a few blocks away, because there was LITERALLY NOT A SINGLE THING I COULD EAT FOR LUNCH. It was meat meat cheese meat meat cheese eggs and meat. And funnel cake.

And I wandered the food court and I just couldn’t help but think, “What a disconnect.”

It made me sad, but mostly it made me MAD. I spent the whole day traversing that park, and I didn’t see a single vegetarian-focused booth (it’s possible I missed one?). No vegan outreach, no food, no representation at all. At an Earth Day! In a day and age when we know for a fact that the choice to eat meat has infinitely more of an environmental impact than choices regarding transportation, energy efficiency in the home, water conservation, etc.

What a disconnect.




I had a great time at Earth Day this year. I hung out with my amazing kid all day long, I spent my hours with friends old and new, I soaked up the big bright beautiful sun, listened to live music, saw some cool exhibits and vendors.

But my heart was heavy when I left, and I’m still processing what I witnessed today. Lucky for me, I’m the kind of person who takes sadness and anger and uses it as kindling to forge a big ‘ol fire under my ass. I have plans now, big plans, for some big changes to next year’s Earth Day.

And the mantra “Be the change you wish to see in the world” has been chanting itself in my head all night.

Why wasn’t veganism represented at Earth Day? Because I wasn’t there representing it.

Why were those animals being publicly tortured? Because we haven’t been hollering our oppositional voices loudly enough.

So that’s my lesson, Earth Day 2013.

Consider my fire re-ignited.

  • unethical_vegan

    cage = car.

  • unethical_vegan

    i don’t deny that pollanesque flexitarianism is an improvement over SAD, i was merely objecting to the adjective “strong”.

    but i also have to disagree about equity issues. so-called “more ethically-killed” grass/pasture raised meat is quite expensive. for example, it is also only sold on a farm via a CSA share system. if you are buying it in a store it is almost certainly finished and killed in an FDA-inspected hell hole. moreover, if one looks at the husbandry details, even the most ethical producers feed their animals grain/byproducts/hay. commercially viable 100% pasture-raised flesh is, imo, a myth.

  • unethical_vegan

    don’t take it personally i am merely objecting to the word strong. i personally don’t consider myself a very strong environmentalist and i am car free, live in a shack, and have voluntarily cut my spending to just a touch above the federal poverty line.

  • e

    My heart breaks for you, Waits, the chicks, the calf and the turkey. I feel like I don’t fit in anywhere, I work in animal welfare and I have dedicated my life and career to reducing suffering in the world, yet, among my co-workers I am an outcast for living vegan. “I love animals,” sounds so different when it is sneaking past specks of flesh jammed in between flat, grass-grinding teeth.
    I feel comfort and at home at your blog. Thank you, so much.

  • Rebecca

    I totally agree! Those blog comments scare me…that the majority of the population is so extreme!

    Unfortunately I fear UnethicalVegan is dipping his/her toe over the line in terms of the usual accepting and open tone of this blog. Writing CAGE and S.A.D. in all caps (and assuming that, as a non-veg I eat a standard American diet) is really getting under my skin.

    As most readers would agree, it is better to take steps we feel comfortable with environmentalism than to take none at all..and that those efforts should be *applauded* rather than “one-upped.” Honestly, when I am attacked by vegans when I admit that I do occasionally have some dairy or eggs from someone’s backyards (and, yes, these attacks have happened sadly enough!) it makes me want to go buy a hamburger from McDonalds and eat it in front of them just out of spite! And I don’t even eat that stuff! I don’t understand why we can’t commend and support people for their efforts instead of pointing out what they are doing “wrong” (wrong being relative in my opinion in this case).

    (Plus, I am pretty sure even UnethicalVegan engages in at least a couple so-called non-environmentally friendly acts. I don’t think anyone is in the position to cast the first stone…no one is perfect)

  • Rebecca

    I’d like to ask that you refrain from using such strongly negative terms and adjectives. I welcome hearing your thoughts and opinions but it is unnecessary to make negative assumptions as to someone else’s lifestyle (i.e. someone having a “s.a.d.” diet just because they might have a bit of cheese once every 6 months) and to refer to something as an “FDA-inspected hell hole.”

    There are plenty of ways to get your point across without sounding so combative. I respect your positions on veganism and want to hear them…just without the vitriolic undertones.

    As a side note: There are plenty of people who raise their own animals and let them pasture. No grain, by-products or hay involved. Can’t make the assumption that because someone is mentioning consuming dairy, eggs, etc. that they are sourcing them from places other than their own land (or perhaps a neighbor). Some do. Some don’t. Let’s just not make assumptions and blanket statements.

  • Rebecca

    It’s all relative. Because someone engages in one thing you consider to be environmentally-unfriendly does not mean they are not a strong supporter of the environment. Even the most eco-minded people most likely do something that someone else may consider an environmental abomination.

    To some, taking a 7-minute shower might be considered an atrocity, yet even the most vehement environmental supporters probably an average or even slightly below-average amount of time in the shower. However, to the person who focuses on water usage as the downfall of the Earth, they could easily consider anyone who takes a shower to not be a “strong” supporter of the environment. Yet they may: use only passive solar energy, practice veganism, grow their own food, walk everyone on foot and so on.

    Of course this example is extreme. It is only to illustrate that the actions which either classify or nullify “strong” in regards to environmentalism are all relative to what you, yourself, believe has the most effect. All points can be argued. It all depends on your vantage point.

  • Bettina

    Don’t worry, I’m not taking it personally. :) I’m just less hard on myself (and everybody else).

  • unethical_vegan

    i in no way assumed that you ate a S.A.D. diet. in fact, i am one of those heretics that would just
    call someone who eats dairy or meat a few times a year vegan. nevertheless, many “flexitarians” eat animal products more often and are not terribly picky about their origins. from this perspective i hope you can see why i objected to the use of “strong” in the context of “plenty of flexitarians”.

    i stand by my fda-inspected hell hole comment. in portland virtually all of the “grass fed” meat sold in co-ops and expensive health food stores comes from here:

    https://sge.lclark.edu/wp/wp-content/themes/striking/cache/images/25238_feedlot-640×330.jpg

    http://www.gildemeister-usa.com/display-decor%20images/BNW%20decor%20web/3-panel-feedlot.jpg

    http://www.beefnw.com/gallery/large/chowtime_lg.JPG

  • Rebecca

    Fair enough. I will respectfully agree to disagree : )

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  • http://www.keepinitkind.com/ Kristy

    Thank you for this post, Sayward. It’s such a great reminder to turn anger into fuel for change, and it’s just what I needed. I work in an office that tries very hard to enforce healthy habits but stocks the fridge with organic string cheese, organic cream cheese, “free-range” sandwich meats, and a whole myriad of other things we know to be terribly unhealthy for you. I actually heard someone complain that the organic dark chocolate they stock is disgusting and they should have some milk chocolate. I usually sit quietly, eating my homemade vegan lunch, and just observe and secretly get frustrated. This post was such a great reminder that I shouldn’t just ignore it, but maybe start bringing delicious vegan food to share with everyone. Thank you so much for this inspiration.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lindseyjenee Lindsey Crain Jacobs

    I’ve been thinking about your post for several days trying to formulate a response. I absolutely love to learn – I read just about everything I can get my hands on, and I love searching the internet for whatever topic is currently my fave.

    But I just didn’t know.

    I thought the healthiest thing to feed my family was full-fat dairy and lots of it. In fact, not too long ago I was on a very high protein diet – as much cheese sticks, meats, and lunchmeat as I could get my hands on.

    But a family member had cancer and started trying to treat it naturally, and mentioned she was cutting out dairy and meat. How could that be healthy? I thought. So….I went searching for the answer and WOW.

    Within 6 weeks I had read several books and converted my whole family (that’s 8 of us!) to a vegan diet. And of course that means I’m scouring the internet for recipes and ideas, which means I’m now in contact with the vegan community.

    I did not know how much water it took to make a pound of beef.

    I did not know how much methane the diary/ag community produces.

    I really didn’t know how much animal products are connected with disease.

    I just didn’t know. And who is there to tell me? Every source of nutritional information – “What to expect when you are expecting”, my public school educators, Weight Watchers (and every diet website or article), Reader’s Digest, my pediatrician…they all tell me I NEED dairy every day, and that I need to get enough protein so I should have chicken with every meal, and that my kids need a filling breakfast of eggs.

    I have a large family and it bothers me when people say that is irresponsible to the environment – we work really hard to make good decisions for the environment…we buy in bulk to reduce garbage, we drive very little, we rarely go on long vacations, we take baths less frequently or bathe several little ones in the same water….so how could I know that ALL of that was worthless if we eat an extra pound or two of beef every month???

    I would LOVE to be a part of helping you spread the word, and I hope that you will understand that we JUST DON’T KNOW! It’s not that we don’t care. We just don’t know.

    An

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    Thank you Lindsey, this comment is amazing. This comment just fills me up with hope. Thank you!

  • Briana

    I’m so sorry to hear about your experience, that sounds awful. I would have been so upset. I would also come next year to being the vegan love to Santa Barbara!

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    Briana I’m working with a few other Southern Californians to organize a booth, let me know if you’re interested! info AT bonzaiaphrodite DOT com

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    Carrie! Let’s do it, that would be amazing! Will you email me info AT bonzaiaphrodite DOT com

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    VVC reunion in SoCal! Let’s do it lady! I’m totally serious if you are. =)

  • http://www.facebook.com/vedged.out Somer Vedge

    Congrats on your invite to share at the next one! Love the photo of Wait with the crown of flowers!

  • Chris R. Casti

    The funnel cakes were vegan!!!!!!!!! BUUUUTT I WAS ALSO INSANELY BOTHERED BY NOT BEING ABLE TO FIND ANY OTHER VEGAN FOOD OTHER THAN THAT! Isnt vegan food sustainable unlike dairy, meat and cheese? why the helk is society so brainwashed??! Sure there was an overpriced organic corn stand, but where is all the delectable food that vegans can eat? Literally 2 out of 15 food stands I could eat from.. I will help you out with your priorities, because they are mine as well. I did not see any animals there, I must’ve been looking in the wrong place, but that sure does sound terrible. I hope we can meet and fight on for animals and diversity for vegans, the truest people to the Earth on Earth Day! Add me on Facebook!

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  • mollymom

    Sayward, can I say, I love you. I just found your blog a few weeks ago, and I find such value and inspiration here. I know I’m late to your post about Earth Day last year, but I so appreciate the fire and grit it has brought to you. We are, sometimes, the “they” that has to show up. As in, why don’t “they” do something about it. Thank you for inspiring us to turn anger and frustration to healthy, meaningful activism. You are a gift.

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    Thank you so much! What an amazing comment, thank you for the kind words that inspire me to keep fighting! ♥

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