Freedom, Compassion, and Hard Choices

A review of The End of Captivity? A Primate’s Reflection on Zoos, Conservation, and Christian Ethics (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2015) by Tripp York

After a meeting, I looked at my phone to see that I had several missed calls and a voicemail from the head of the after-school program my young son attended. Without listening to the message, I immediately dialed the teacher, my heart racing. Turns out that my son had been worried sick about the field trip they were scheduled to take that day: he had not remembered it was happening and had not discussed it with me. It would be his first trip to the zoo, and he was concerned I would be mad at him for going. I told the teacher it was fine and to please let my son know she had spoken to me. When he got home that night, we talked about what he saw, how he felt, and whether I was upset (I was not).

Tripp York’s The End of Captivity? had a lot to do with my measured reaction to my son participating in the zoo field trip, something I swore up and down I would never allow. York’s book made me realize that much of my blanket condemnation of zoos came from miserable experiences I had as a child visiting the Boise Zoo. Even at a very young age, something seemed terribly wrong with keeping bears in barren concrete pits, confining monkeys to narrow cages with only a few vines and branches for exercise, and keeping piles of snakes together in small aquariums. No wonder the resident giraffe spit on everyone he could: I would have been mad, too. But my thirty-year-old experience at the Boise Zoo probably should not inform my whole opinion of all zoos. Indeed, one of York’s basic points is that we cannot simply paint all zoos with a broad brush.

York presents the reader with six movements and six interludes. First, he gives the reader an overview of the circumstances and questions that led to a Christian animal advocate volunteering for his local zoo. Second, York explores how humans experience zoos and what that might mean for the purpose and place of zoos in modern society: “I love and loathe zoos. I lament that they need to exist, but I am often grateful that they do exist. I am more excited, however, about what they can become. Their potential…” (York, 25). Third, we examine the tension between “freedom” and “conservation” with a particular focus on the crisis of the Baghdad Zoo during the U.S. invasion. These first three chapters serve mainly to provide a nuanced, balanced, and realistic overview of the situation that humans have created for animals, and to highlight a few of the ways that people are responding to that crisis in (hopefully) helpful ways.

After establishing an overview of current realities, York turns begins to unpack how a Christian worldview or faith ought to inform the human-animal relationship, with a particular focus on captive animals. York first explores the purpose of animals from a Christian perspective and examines how that purpose relates to what the Bible says about how humans are to practice dominion. In a book about captive animals, we’d be remiss to ignore the billions of animals kept in captivity for human consumption. York’s fifth movement explores the philosophical origins of his vegetarianism since, “the number of chickens killed per hour exceeds the total number of animals in all accredited zoos and aquariums in North America” (York, 87). In the final movement, York “disrupts the poverty of our imaginations” (York, 111) to combat the idea that because there is violence in the world now, we can be excused from pursuing eschatologically-informed behavior, and revisits an earlier discussion of naming: “Christians name other animals well when they are named eschatologically” (York, 112).

Book reviews are supposed, I think, to find something to nitpick, some point to make to let the author know they did not do everything exactly right. I’ll do that, but reluctantly. York has written a compelling, deeply personal, and nuanced book that helped me think more holistically about animals in captivity. If he ever does a re-write, I would ask for further exploration of two points: first, there is an underlying assumption throughout the book that extinction is bad and conservation of species is good. I found myself wishing he would acknowledge and explore that assumption. And second, I would like to hear more about why we call a small subset of captive animals “exotic,” explore how that might relate to colonialism, including a colonized faith, and examine the ways in which a decolonized theology might offer hope to animals in captivity.

In a fallen world, the “right thing to do” is not always clear. In addition to presenting a compelling theological case for animal protection, The End of Captivity? offers readers an introduction to some men, women, and organizations who are balancing this tension as they attempt to make a comfortable life for animals in their care. I may not agree with some of their tactics, but York has helped to humanize a group of people I had unfairly written off as greedy and self-serving. His work has made me more compassionate and more informed, and for that, I am exceedingly grateful.

A Big Change

In November of 2002, at my parent’s house on Corona Street in Eugene, Oregon, I packed two big U-Haul boxes. One contained my clothes and some bedding, the other contained supplies for my cat, Max. My dad drove Max and me and my boxes to the Portland airport, where I walked through security with her in my arms and tears in my eyes. Vicki picked us up in Norfolk, Virginia later that same night and thus began my life on the east coast.

Fifteen years later, I’m headed home. Back to Eugene, to that same street on which I packed my boxes all those years ago, albeit a different house. This time, I’ll make the journey with my husband, son, our two dogs, two cats, and a truck full of what-remains-after-the-necessary-downsizing.

It’s incredibly bittersweet. We’re going to be much closer to my family (most of them) and much farther from Giehl’s. Isaiah doesn’t remember living anywhere except Philadelphia, and is pretty crushed to be leaving his friends. I’ve assured him that with relative frequency, he’ll be able to accompany me on work trips back east, and FaceTime was made for situations just like this. We’re leaving behind a church community that felt like home from the first day. I’ll miss hiking and running in the Wissahickon with amazingly supportive neighborhood friends, carpooling with Kristyn, book club, being ladies-who-lunch with Beth, and much, much more (not necessarily in that order).

I’m grateful that I’ll be able to keep my job after the move, that I’ll continue to be able to do work that I love and that is much needed. I’m grateful that the friends I’ve been able to tell in person have been supportive and are making plans to visit. I’m excited to see what new connections I’ll make on the west coast, what people I’ll be able to meet and partner with who might have otherwise flown under my east-coast-focused radar. I’m filled with joy and anticipation knowing I’ll be just an hour away from the Oregon coast, the place at which my heart feels totally at rest. And I’m so, so happy that we’ll be able to share day-to-day life with my mother and brother.

But the joy and gratitude and overwhelm is tempered by a palpable, sharp grief, at least for now.

If we are east coast friends, I hope we can stay connected in a meaningful way. I hope we can have a meal together when I’m in town and that you will text me West Wing gifs in the middle of the day just because. And I hope you know you’ll always have a place to stay on Corona Street.

Weekly Menu

My pop is in town for part of the week! He went vegan after he reading my books and he’s sugar-free to boot. We also have baseball playoffs this week, a counselling appointment (talk therapy saves lives and marriages), book group…you get the gist.

Here’s what’s on the docket for the week:

Sunday: Thai-inspired noodle bowls with almond butter tofu

Monday: Chickpea sunflower sandwiches (to pack and eat at the ballpark)

Tuesday: we’ll take pops to one of our Philly faves or we’ll have tacos

Wednesday: Spicy mango and avocado rice bowls

Thursday: Strawberry shortcake stacked pancakes

Friday: Coconut curry ramen

Saturday: One-pot red lentil chili with perfect vegan cornbread and DIY chili cheese fritos (it’s Saturday, I like to cook on Saturdays)

Weekly Menu

Keeping it super simple and fast because Giehl is in charge of dinner all week!

Sunday: Corn on the cob, veggie dogs, and salad

Monday: Easy Peanut Noodles – we’ll use shiitakes, edamame, kale, and carrots as the veggies to make the meal appealing for the kid

Tuesday: Scrambled Tofu Breakfast Burritos (Giehl loves a good breakfast burrito, man)

Wednesday: Spaghetti with tomato sauce, Trader Joe’s meatless meatballs, and salad

Thursday: TACOS! We’ve got some Tofutti Sour Supreme we need to use up

Friday: Puffy Pillow Pancakes with Gimme Lean Soy Sausage

Post-Red-Eye Weekly Menu

When this posts, we will have just gotten back from Ecuador. The fridge will be bare, I won’t have slept on the plane, and we’ll need to go grocery shopping and feed ourselves and unpack and catch up on new episodes of Sherlock.

So, I’m going for another easy week:

Monday: Jumbo Chickpea Pancakes. I’ll make ours perhaps with teensy tiny mushrooms and a little Trader Joe’s beefless crumbles to go along with the avocado and hummus.

Tuesday: we have an appointment at the dinner hour in South Philly, so we’ll probably go sample the vegan offerings at this fun little spot. You’d never know this little hole-in-the-wall would have a HUGE range of vegan goodies, from Caesar salads to dessert!

Wednesday: That Easy Vegan Seeded Whole Grain Bread was so damn delicious, I’m going to make it again and use it as a base for Vegan BLTs.

Thursday: Smoky Tempeh Burrito Bowls with tortilla chips

Friday: Vegan Cobb Salad with Coconut Bacon

Saturday: post-baseball game homemade pizzas – we’ll use Daiya mozzarella or Miyoko’s if we’re feeling splurgy, plus Lightlife veggie bacon & pineapple or Lightlife pepperoni & black olives. Old school, with a vegan twist.


Weekly Menu

It’s going to be hot and it’s a busy week, with at least two or three baseball nights plus book club and more, so I’m trying to be pretty economical with our time and the oven:

Monday: Easy Chickpea Scramble with steamed kale and, if I remember to start it at lunch Easy Whole Grain Seeded Bread

Tuesday: Almond Butter and Tofu Stir Fry

Wednesday: Lemon Dill Vegan Chicken Salad sandwiches (or a wrap, in Isaiah’s case)

Thursday: Vegan Broccoli and Cheese Soup (I’ll toss in some pan-fried Gardein Chick’n Scallopini for extra protein)

Friday: Gardein Beefless Burgers with Vegan Ceasar Salads

Weekly Menu

Every Saturday evening, I sit down with my calendar for the upcoming week, a stack of my favorite cookbooks, my laptop, and a pen and paper. Twenty minutes later, I have a menu for the week and a grocery list.

I’ve heard from a number of friends and family that one of the biggest hindrances to eating vegan is not knowing what to cook. I’ve also heard from friends who are in a food rut. 

So, I might not do it every week, but when I can, I’ll post our weekly menu here. I’ll miss the mark sometimes, but most will be kid- and budget-friendly, fast, and filling vegan meals. I work full-time, and I often work from home. If a recipe needs a little extra time in the stove or oven, I pause in the late afternoon and then get back to work while the food does its thing in the oven or on the stove.

This week’s menu (I’m on a bit of a Minimalist Baker kick at the moment, but I’m not sorry about it and I don’t think you will be, either):

Happy eating!