The difference between us and them

Jeffrey Masson and Peter Singer on the difference between us and them…

What is it about being human that makes us different from other animals? Scientists and philosophers have been juggling with this question forever. How can we categorise ourselves as different from them? Scientists have, in the past tried to conceptualise this by some of the following categories…

–       Tool use – observed in many non-human animals – and just recently studied in crows.

–       Language – a category closely followed by the metaphysical question, what constitutes language? Must it be spoken, written, embodied? Non-human animals certainly have communication of their own, sometimes through means that we find hard to access and even study, like vibration patterns between the tunnels of naked mole rats that they produce with their teeth.

–       Culture – Something passed down through generations. Primate populations have shown particular behaviours (such as fishing ants with a stick) that are different from other populations showing that knowledge has been passed down through generations.

–       Unconscious and conscious thought – This is where research gets a little tricky…

So we asked Jeffrey Masson and Peter Singer what there thoughts were on,

“What is the difference between humans and all other animals?”

Singer –

People have tried to draw lines between humans and other animals in a variety of different ways in terms of tool use and language a whole range of things. I don’t think they’re really what matters…. Look I think there are a lot of differences between humans and other animals. If what we talk about when we are talking about humans is normal mature human beings then I think it’s true that the normal mature human being has the capacity for thinking, reasoning and communication, which exceeds anything that we know of at least in non-human animals. But the question is, is that morally relevant or why is it morally relevant? After all it’s also true that the normal mature human being has a capacity for thinking and for communication that is in excess of that of humans with intellectual disabilities, or is in excess of that of humans who are less than one year old. But that doesn’t mean that we feel ourselves justified in using those beings in the way that we use non-human animals. So I think what that shows is that we don’t really think that a lack of these higher intellectual capacities gives us the right to ignore the interests of beings of lower intellectual capacities. And I think that’s correct because what really matters is if beings can suffer and feel pain or enjoy their lives. No whether they can do physics or mathematics, write novels or poems so um I think that we shouldn’t be focussing so much on finding some dividing line between humans and other animals. Their have been various attempts to do that and mostly they turn out not to really separate humans from animals properly but even if someone came up with something that did it would also separate some humans from other humans. So really that’s what we need to focus on. We need to say well if something doesn’t justify us in using or exploiting individuals with intellectual capacities that are no higher than non-human animals then how could it justify us in using non-human animals in those ways”.

Masson –

“I think there are a number of important differences between human emotions and animal emotions I think mostly however not to our credit. I think for example humans, envy plays a great role in our lives. I don’t think envy plays a role in any animals life. I don’t think greed plays a role in any animals life. And surprisingly I don’t think hatred plays a role in the emotional lives of animals they can get angry, they can be upset but they don’t hate and they certainly don’t retain hate over days and days and days that is if they are annoyed at something you do most animals forgive you within an instant. It’s not that they forget it, its like it doesn’t have an impact on they whereas we can feel I’m so angry at that person and the next day I’m still angry and a year later I still hate them. I don’t think animals experience hatred which really controversial but its true….. they don’t hold grudges no and even when they hunt they hunt for food”.

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Willy is free, now it’s Lolita’s turn

Today I visited Dunedin new video store opposite the farmers market, MINT. After having a good chat to the owner, I found out that he used to work for the animal protection group SAFE – the one I now volunteer for. So it was less of a surprise to find a whole wall of documentaries on animal rights.

It was only one documentary though that (really) touched me and that’s “Lolita – Slave to Entertainment”. If you’ve seen the recent documentary, “The Cove” about dolphin capture and slaughter in Japan then you might be aware of the multi-billion dollar captive marine mammal industry – and the cruelty involved in wild capture techniques. If you haven’t then before you buy a ticket for a marine park to giggle at the funny animals wiggling their tails, you need to see these two documentaries. “The Cove” concentrates on dolphin capturing – which still goes on today but “Lolita – Slave to Entertainment” is about an Orca, or killer whale that was trapped and separated from her family more than three DECADES ago.

Lolitas capture

Lolita is the oldest surviving Orca living in captivity. Orca’s in the wild live to about the same age as humans but have a brain around five times larger than us. They communicate in a sonar language specific to their family groups. A family group will often span more than five generations, that’s like living with your Great Great Grandmother. Lolita was born in a family group that today, still live in the waters that she was captured from, Puget sound.

Lolita still speaks the same dialect as this group, only now her calls echo on the concrete walls of her isolated and illegally sized bathtub at Miami Florida’s Seaquarium. Lolita was captured when she was seven and the six other Orcas that were captured along with her are now dead, she is the only remaining one. This documentary is a disturbing look into the extensive efforts of animal activists, school children, politicians, filmmakers, actors, multimillion dollar magazine campaigns, scientists, the people who freed Willy and the man who actually caught Lolita himself, to return her to a family that awaits. Much like the Orca that played Willy, scientists expect Lolita would make a successful release back to the wild.

Lolita is the oldest surviving Orca in captivity, estimated to have made Miami Florida’s Seaquarium over $16 000 000. She’s earnt her retirement.

The main message from the film – Never buy a ticket to a marine entertainment park. Lolita still remains locked up to this day – destined to die in captivity.

Photos taken from


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Vegan cheesley… a love story

Last week when Janelle and I were up in Auckland, we visited a woman by the name of Alice … She told us the story of how she fell quickly in love with her current partner Billy and out of love with animal products (albeit at a slower pace on her favourite, smoked salmon).

Alice invited us into her beautiful little kitchen in an artsy suburb of Auckland, not far out of the city. The first thing I noticed about the first vegan kitchen I had ever been in, was the intimidating set of cooking knives hanging on the wall. However, remembering the results of struggling with my last wobbly pumpkin and a blunt knife I realised their place in the kitchen.

Janelle and I set up the camera and decided on the kitchen as the best place to interview a chef. We didn’t have to worry about lighting as a beautiful soft natural light came straight through a window reflecting onto the blades of the knives. Alice began to tell us the story of how she met her current partner Billy, but it had to be cut short as we noticed a cloud passing over blocking all our lovely natural light. After some fiddling with the exposure we began again but soon came to a halt as the sun came out from behind the cloud. We realised we would have to pick to expose the shot for either brightness, cut when the light changed and start again when it returned – so we went for sunshine.

So six years ago a wannabe but couldn’t quite be vegetarian, Alice met Billy the dedicated and passionate vegan. In order to make an already smitten Billy even more interested, Alice decided to go with her lifelong erg to try and omit meat from her diet. Successful as she was, Alice admits smoked salmon was the last and hardest to give up because their was really no replacement for it. She said that it became easier and easier to not eat meat because when she stopped, “suddenly the piece of meat I had been chopping up became more and more like the piece of dead animal flesh”.

Six years later Alice and Billy are still together but Alice has a new love, running her online shop, Angel Foods as well as running a plant based cooking school. Angel Foods is well worth a visit for anyone in New Zealand as they do mail orders and also have lots of information regarding outlets.

We left as two happy students with two rolls of generously given packets of vegan cheese to try, tucked under each arm. And how did it measure up as a replacement for the salty, fatty melted dairy cheese in our toasties that night? Well it’s definitely not the same. It lacked the layer of fat and the stop heart attack time quality of dairy cheese but it did however still sooth my salt and creamyness craving. Which although important to my tastebuds is probably more important to the calf that was deprived of it – Like our little Hansel.

And while Alice would never look back she admits that she is still yet to find a replacement for smoked salmon. It leaves me wondering if some foods just weren’t meant to be replaced. HOWEVER when I got home that night I found this amazing recipe for soy mayonnaise and when I made it I realised that perhaps some foods are even better plant based. I must share.

Recipee from “Martha goes green” by Rosie Percival and Ruth Friedlander

1 ¼ Tbsp white Vinegar

½ Cup good quality soy milk

¾ tsp salt

2 tsp mustard powder (I used real mustard)

½ tsp honey (I used organic blue agave)

1 cup vegetable oil (I used sunflower)

… I also added garlic and lemon juice

You pop the vinegar into the soy milk and let sit for 10 mins until it curdles. Then put the soy milk, salt, mustard powder and honey (and anything else you want to add) into a processor and blend until combined. Then while processing, or electric whisking (or hand whisking – but prepare for a sore arm) SLOWLY add oil until combined – like a tiny drizzle. Mixture should be thick and creamy consistency. Refrigerate until ready to use – Great with potato salad!

And thanks to Janelle, who stood me up for dinner because I got to have it all to myself!

Until next week… Eliza

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The Sanctuary

Hello for March!!!

Our week of filming in Auckland began at sunrise on a Sunday morning as we headed two hours out of Auckland to a beautiful place called The Sanctuary.

Shawn and Michael run the Sanctuary on their own with the help of the occasional volunteer, otherwise known as a WWOOFa (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms).

After “living the corporate life for too long” the couple now spend their days living and working, with the resident (just to name a few) donkeys, goats, ducks, pigs, ex egg laying hens, ex meat (broiler) hens, dogs, MANY other native bird species.

WOOFA Volunteer

The Sanctuary does three main things…

1) rehabilitate and re-home ex-battery hens

Some ex-battery hens finding out what grass and soil feel like under their feet… these three were still getting their feathers back and were re-homed later that day. However, they weren’t traveling far… only next door in fact. They had to be transported in cages so that they didn’t flap around and injure themselves. It was hard to watch their panicked faces as they were lifted into the cages that were about the same size as what they had spent most of their lives in. It was impossible to tell them that it would only be for 10 minutes but i’m sure they found out soon enough…

2) to rescue and release native birds

Here is a Herron, free to come and go but still learning to scavenge for food, patiently waiting for Shawn to chuck it another piece of meat as it learns to catch moving food…

3) and lastly to act as a permanent home to abused, neglected or unwanted animals. Such as this lovely troupe (leaving their own sad stories behind them as they now call The Sanctuary home)

Janelle and I had an amazing day out at the Sanctuary. It’s hard to believe these animals had a rough time with humans as they showed us so much trust but maybe they were just thankful to be safe now.

The Sanctuary also offers a Bed and Breakfasts which I would highly recommend to anyone wanting to get out of the hustle and bustle of Auckland city see their website for more information

That’s all for today! More updates on Auckland to come, including an interview with Jeffrey Masson, author of ‘The Face On Your Plate’ and ‘When Elephants Weep’.

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and filming begins

It’s been a while since our last update and lots has happened!

November came along with our departure from cold and rainy Dunedin (Eliza to Melbourne, myself to Auckland). While Eliza set up our talent in Melbourne (Peter Singer, Patty Mark, Pam Ahern, a pair of adorable calves and the pig that played BABE – now retired!), I met up with our talent in Auckland (Jeffery Masson).

Jeff is a world-renounced author who has moved from writing on human psychology to studying and writing about the emotional capacity of animals.  Jeff is an inspirational writer! He takes his audience on an emotional ride, which allows us to look at the topic in a new way. While highly intellectual, Jeff is incredibly laid back and friendly. Jeff opened up his home to me without a second thought, giving me hours of his time to discuss our project and my own personal journey with vegetarianism. Jeff gives a new meaning to having pets as part of the family. Jeff’s dog is included into conversations and he actually waits on the dog’s response before continuing. Jeff has a unique understanding of animals, which we hope to capture when we interview him in a couple of weeks… Check him out Two of his books, “The Face on Your Plate” and “The Pig That Sang To The Moon” are our favourites.

Eliza and I have just returned to a sunny Dunedin from the heat of Melbourne where we had the honour of interviewing Peter Singer (Author of Animal Liberation). Prof. Singer is often quoted as being the “father of the Animal Liberation movement” and after inviting us into his home for a ‘quick’ interview we found out just why he came to get this reputation. Apart from writing one of the most powerful books on the status of animals in society he was a joy to interview. No other person can answer a question so succinctly. In the words of our sound guy, Ollie “I wish I could carry him along with me to BBQ’s and pull him out everytime someone asks me why I don’t eat meat”.

If Peter Singer is the father of the Animal Liberation movement then Patty Mark is it’s Mother. Singer and Mark shared the front row of protests together in Melbourne in the 70’s. However, in the last decade or so they have divorced there views on the right way to think and act on Animal Liberation. Patty Mark is an incredible person working hard with the organisaiton she sounded, Animal Liberation Victoria ( ALV are an abolitionist group who believe that the best way to improve the situation for animals is to abolish their ownership status in society. Patty has been involved in countless open rescues and now faces imprisonment … updates on her story to follow.

… Patty Mark and some members of her rescued menagerie

Next stop was Edgars Mission ( where Pam lives and works with many lucky farm animals in a sanctuary that she runs and funds all on her own. It is really an amazing place and she is an amazing advocate for animals. It is also the place where we found the stars of our film ….Hansel and Gretel but more on that later.

Pam with Mrs Peaches a very happy and very retired film star …

Capturing some great (and surprising) footage of these people as well as a few animals along the way, we successful gained all the footage we need in Melbourne plus some.

For now we are content on logging footage, more updates to follow shortly!


… and Eliza

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What the?!

Welcome to our blog!

Eliza Muirhead

and Janelle Ericksen

are both budding filmmakers in their thesis year of a Masters in Science Communication in Natural History Filmmaking at Otago University in Dunedin.

During 2010 they will be working on a film revolved around Animal Liberation (written by Peter Singer… read it!). They will be exploring what it means to be an human and non-human animal. What does this mean? Basically we are looking into meat eating (or not) and the effect it has on animals.

Still in the early stages of development any feedback, comments, thoughts or opinions would be greatly appreciated!

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