Off the Trail

The (necessary) evolution of environmental writing

I want to see “environmental writing” evolve, and quickly. Here’s what I mean.

November 23, 2014   Comments Off

Join me in Greenville, South Carolina for a free staged reading of Meat the Parents

New Play Festival

I’ll be headed to Greenville, South Carolina in a week to participate in the Centre Stage New Plays Festival.

It’s an honor to be included and I’m particularly excited to see what people think of my full-length play Meat the Parents. Here’s a brief description:

Bonnie, a high school senior and carnivore trapped within a family of vegans, is dreading the return from college of her older, better-loved sister Rachel and her new boyfriend, Greg. The girl’s father seeks to induct Greg into his animal rights attack on a poultry processing plant, much to the frustration of their mother. Meanwhile Bonnie has her suspicions about Greg, as he claims to be both vegan and from Texas.

If you’re in the area, the readings are free to attend. My play will be staged on September 29th at 7pm.

I hope to see you there…

September 21, 2014   Comments Off

Little Red House


I am very happy that the literary journal Mason’s Road has published my one-act play Little Red House.

You can read it here.

It’s just ten minutes long. And, yes, it does have an animal rights theme.

I hope you like it…

July 18, 2014   Comments Off

And now some good news about penguins

Adelie Colony

The Adélie penguin has long been viewed as in rapid decline, largely because of the number of shrinking and abandoned penguin colonies around the Antarctic peninsula.

But it appears that the penguin may not be declining so much as changing address.

According to this WSJ article, the penguin has actually increased in numbers globally:

The researchers found eight abandoned penguin colonies on the Antarctic Peninsula, where regional temperatures have been rising faster in recent decades than across the continent as a whole.

That loss, however, was offset by new colonies that sprouted up elsewhere in Antarctica and by growth in previously known colonies since the last general penguin census was carried out in 1993, the scientists said.

“The gains on the continent more than offset the losses on the peninsula,” Dr. Lynch said. “For now, that is good news.”

For now, but I’ll take it.


July 14, 2014   Comments Off

The beginning of the end for zoos

Animals in zoos get depressed.

Kinda obvious, I know.

Still, it’s nice to see The New York Times covering this issue. The article is about a man who helps captive animals cope better with the trauma of being held captive. Drugs are sometimes used.

I feel for this man because he is doing his best to ease their pain, though he must know that the only real solution is about leaving zoos behind entirely. He is at best playing triage. Yet it’s a start, a very good start. Anything to ease their pain.

And I was happy to see this in the article:

The notion that animals think and feel may be rampant among pet owners, but it makes all kinds of scientific types uncomfortable. “If you ask my colleagues whether animals have emotions and thoughts,” says Philip Low, a prominent computational neuroscientist, “many will drop their voices to a whisper or simply change the subject. They don’t want to touch it.” Jaak Panksepp, a professor at Washington State University, has studied the emotional responses of rats. “Once, not very long ago,” he said, “you couldn’t even talk about these things with colleagues.”

But that may be changing. A profusion of recent studies has shown animals to be far closer to us than we previously believed — it turns out that common shore crabs feel and remember pain, zebra finches experience REM sleep, fruit-fly brothers cooperate, dolphins and elephants recognize themselves in mirrors, chimpanzees assist one another without expecting favors in return and dogs really do feel elation in their owners’ presence. In the summer of 2012, an unprecedented document, masterminded by Low — “The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness in Human and Nonhuman Animals” — was signed by a group of leading animal researchers in the presence of Stephen Hawking. It asserted that mammals, birds and other creatures like octopuses possess consciousness and, in all likelihood, emotions and self-awareness. Scientists, as a rule, don’t issue declarations. But Low claims that the new research, and the ripples of unease it has engendered among rank-and-file colleagues, demanded an emphatic gesture. “Afterward, an eminent neuroanatomist came up to me and said, ‘We were all thinking this, but were afraid to say it,’ ” Low recalled.

The most important question of the article gets posed but not well answered:

But can improved conditions justify captivity?

The answer is simple of course. Yet the reporter goes to great lengths to rationalize how animals might prefer zoos to the wild.

Nevertheless, this article is a sign that people are asking questions, questions that will eventually lead us down the road to the end of zoos as we know them.


July 7, 2014   Comments Off

An Open Letter to Ashland Area Restaurants

Below is a letter I wrote to encourage Ashland, Oregon restaurants to serve veg-friendly meals. Some already do (and we’re regulars there) but most restaurants do not. This letter was published in the Ashland Sneak Preview in June 2014.

An Open Letter to Ashland Area Restaurants

Whenever a new restaurant opens in town, I’m eager to check it out. And I always read the menu with one question in mind: Does it offer vegan options?

Yet despite the recent spate of new restaurant openings, I’ve been left disappointed. Among the nearly half-dozen restaurants to have opened in Ashland over the past year, not one has a vegan option listed on the menu, and most have only one vegetarian item.

As a vegan, I find this discouraging — and I’m not alone in feeling this way.

There are a growing number of vegans and vegetarians in the Rogue Valley. I’m a member of the Southern Oregon Vegetarian/Vegan Group — a group with more than 200 members. And we all have networks of family and friends throughout the region who would love to see restaurants provide veg-friendly options.

I’m not suggesting that restaurants need to overhaul their menus. Simply adding one or two options would give us enough reason to try a new restaurant. Even noting that a given appetizer or entrée can be “made vegan” is a step in the right direction.

My wife and I (both vegans) love going out in Ashland, but we find ourselves limited to a group of restaurants that I can count on one hand — and even then, we often have to make special requests.

And yes, most restaurants will drum up something for you on request, but this is rarely a pleasant experience for anyone. Going off menu is more work for the servers and chefs, and it usually results in something that appears, as expected, like it was thrown together last minute.

I understand that Ashland is heavily geared towards tourists. But the fact is that more and more people around the world are cutting back on meat and dairy products — if not for the animals then for their own health. And perhaps even more important for local businesses is the year-round population they count on. The vegans and vegetarians of the Rogue Valley would spend a lot more time (and money) in Ashland restaurants if we felt welcomed and not merely accommodated.

The difference between success and failure in the restaurant industry is all too slim. Not only would veg options bring in more people on a year-round basis, veg food is usually cheaper to produce, which can translate into higher profits.

There is absolutely no downside for restaurants to offer more veg-friendly options; it can only be a win-win. Offering vegan appetizers and entrées won’t discourage the omnivores from patronizing a restaurant — but not offering these options means they are consistently losing a significant part of the community.

So, Ashland restaurants, please consider adding vegan options to your menus, and we’ll be there, year round.


John Yunker


June 7, 2014   Comments Off