The World’s Smartest Chimp Has Died. Her life helped us answer the question: What do animals think about?

Do other animals think, and what do they think about? Sarah, a chimpanzee who died last week in her late 50s, offers some important clues.

Sarah, who could have been deemed the world’s smartest chimp, was brought to the United States from Africa as an infant to work with David and Ann Premack in a series of experiments designed to find out what chimpanzees might think. In order to determine what, if anything, might be on Sarah’s mind, she was one of the first chimpanzees to be taught a human language. The Premacks taught her to use plastic magnetic tokens that varied in size and color to represent words. She formed sentences by placing the tokens in a vertical line. Ann Premack noted that her earliest words named “various interesting fruits,” so that Sarah “could both solve her problem and eat it.”

Food plays an important role in chimpanzee life, and in Sarah’s case, food often took on meaning beyond sustenance. She clearly had favorite foods, like chocolate, and much of the time would only correctly answer the questions she was asked if chocolate was forthcoming. She often would create sentences of the form “Mary give Sarah apple” but when Mary would change the order to read “Sarah give Mary apple” Sarah would not be happy and knock the sentence off the board.

The Premacks noted that one of the difficulties in teaching language to a caged subject is finding things to talk about. There is only so long even food-motivated chimpanzees will be willing to talk about bananas. Finding new sources of interest was important and for Sarah it was clear that asking her about her favorite people and promising her M & Ms provided strong motivation.

Sarah’s favoritism toward certain people came in handy in her groundbreaking participation in tests that lead to a subfield of inquiry known in psychology and philosophy as “theory of mind.” Sarah helped David Premack and co-author Guy Woodruff answer the title question of their 1978 paper “Does the chimpanzee have a theory of mind?” in the affirmative.

To have a theory of mind is to be able to attribute purpose, intention, beliefs, desires, and other attitudes to both oneself and another person or animal. In order to test whether Sarah could understand that people had thoughts that differed from her thoughts, she was presented with short video tapes where a human actor in a cage was trying to perform a task, like trying to get some bananas that were inaccessible. After watching the video Sarah was shown two pictures, one that would allow the actor to reach his goal (a box) the other not (a key). She successfully solved the problems for the actor.

But there was some concern that she was putting herself into the position of the actors, which would be a pretty exciting cognitive feat on its own, but wouldn’t show that she attributed attitudes to the actors. So she was presented with more videos, one in which the actor was her favorite caretaker and another in which the actor was someone she didn’t really like. Sarah selected the right responses more often for the actor she liked, and the wrong responses for the actor she didn’t much care for.

Sarah’s career established that not only do chimpanzees have complex thoughts, but also distinct personalities with strong preferences and prejudices. But this is just part of her remarkable life story. As she grew older she helped a diabetic chimpanzee named Abby, who she was living with, remember to get her medication. She was a loving, yet stern, aunt-like figure to a pair of young chimpanzees, Harper and Emma, and she helped Henry, a male chimpanzee who came from a situation of terrible abuse, get along with other chimpanzees.

Since the time that Sarah was thought to have established that chimpanzees know what others might want or need, a growing number of investigators have tried to figure out if other animals have a theory of mind. Though there have always been skeptics, studies have suggested that crows, jays, ravens, other apes, monkeys, and maybe dogs, may know what others are thinking. In social animals, being able to glean what others might be thinking is a good strategy for getting along. For chimpanzees living in sanctuaries, it can facilitate care.

All who knew her couldn’t help but be charmed by her determination. Her legacy will long be remembered and she will be sorely missed.

Dr. Gruen
Credit: Amy Fultz/Chimp Haven

Why Haven’t All Primates Evolved into Humans?

While we were migrating around the globe, inventing agriculture and visiting the moon, chimpanzees — our closest living relatives — stayed in the trees, where they ate fruit and hunted monkeys.

Modern chimps have been around for longer than modern humans have (less than 1 million years compared to 300,000 for Homo sapiens, according to the most recent estimates), but we’ve been on separate evolutionary paths for 6 million or 7 million years. If we think of chimps as our cousins, our last common ancestor is like a great, great grandmother with only two living descendants.
But why did one of her evolutionary offspring go on to accomplish so much more than the other? [Chimps vs. Humans: How Are We Different?]

“The reason other primates aren’t evolving into humans is that they’re doing just fine,” said Briana Pobiner, a paleoanthropologist at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. All primates alive today, including mountain gorillas in Uganda, howler monkeys in the Americas, and lemurs in Madagascar, have proven that they can thrive in their natural habitats.
“Evolution isn’t a progression.”
It’s about how well organisms fit into their current environments.” In the eyes of scientists who study evolution, humans aren’t “more evolved” than other primates, and we certainly haven’t won the so-called evolutionary game. While extreme adaptability lets humans manipulate very different environments to meet our needs, that ability isn’t enough to put humans at the top of the evolutionary ladder.

Take, for instance, ants. “Ants are as or more successful than we are.”
“There are so many more ants in the world than humans, and they’re well-adapted to where they’re living.”

While ants haven’t developed writing (though they did invent agriculture long before we existed), they’re enormously successful insects. They just aren’t obviously excellent at all of the things humans tend to care about, which happens to be the things humans excel at.

“We have this idea of the fittest being the strongest or the fastest, but all you really have to do to win the evolutionary game is survive and reproduce.”

Our ancestors’ divergence from ancestral chimps is a good example. While we don’t have a complete fossil record for humans or chimps, scientists have combined fossil evidence with genetic and behavioral clues gleaned from living primates to learn about the now-extinct species whose descendants would become humans and chimps.

“We don’t have its remains, and I’m not sure if we’d be able to place it with certainty in the human lineage it if we did.” Scientists think this creature looked more like a chimpanzee than a human, and it probably spent most of its time in the canopy of forests dense enough that it could travel from tree to tree without touching the ground.

Scientists think ancestral humans began distinguishing themselves from ancestral chimps when they started spending more time on the ground. Perhaps our ancestors were looking for food as they explored new habitats.

“Our earliest ancestors that diverged from our common ancestor with chimpanzees would have been adept at both climbing in trees and walking on the ground.” It was more recently — maybe 3 million years ago — that these ancestors’ legs began to grow longer and their big toes turned forward, allowing them to become mostly full-time walkers.
“Some difference in habitat selection probably would’ve been the the first notable behavioral change.” “To get bipedalism going, our ancestors would have gone into habitats that didn’t have closed canopies. They would have had to travel more on the ground in places where trees were more spread out.”

The rest is human evolutionary history. As for the chimps, just because they stayed in the trees doesn’t mean they stopped evolving. A genetic analysis published in 2010 suggests that their ancestors split from ancestral bonobos 930,000 years ago, and that the ancestors of three living subspecies diverged 460,000 years ago. Central and eastern chimps became distinct only 93,000 years ago.

“They’re clearly doing a good job at being chimps.” They’re still around, and as long as we don’t destroy their habitat, they probably will be” for many years to come.

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Credit: Shutterstock

Live Science

Ways To Spot a real friends from the fake ones

Have you ever caught yourself wondering if the people you call friends are really your friends? Have you ever complained, “He only talks to me when he needs me” or “I only exist when you need something”?

Apparently, fake friends are the ones that only contact you when they need something. People who complain of fake friends feel unsatisfied in their friendships. They feel they’re being taken advantage of. They feel motivated to ditch their fake friends.

Why do we form friendships?

To understand the phenomenon of fake friends, we first need to understand why we form friendships in the first place. The golden principle underlying all friendships and relationships is mutual benefit. I can’t stress this point enough because everything revolves around it.

We form friendships because they help us satisfy our needs- material and psychological. After we’re born, our family members are our first friends. When we go to school, our family can’t be with us all the time so we satisfy our need for companionship, among other needs, by making friends.

Shared beliefs, culture, and values also play a role in determining who we call our friends. We have a tendency to identify with our friends, especially the ones that are closest to us. This is why close friends are often carbon copies of each other. They have a lot of things in common and their personalities match. They have things that they can think about together, topics they can talk about together and activities that they can do together.

This is encapsulated in how one’s closest friend is often called one’s alter ego- other self.

Wherefrom cometh fake friends?

Humans, for some reason, tend to overvalue their psychological needs. Even Maslow, famous for his hierarchy of needs, classified psychological and social needs as ‘higher’ needs compared to physiological needs. Because psychological needs have such elevated status, people classify those who help them satisfy these needs as ‘real’ friends or ‘true’ friends.

The thinking goes like this: “He doesn’t only reach out to me when he needs help but we can just hang out with each other, expecting nothing from each other. Hence, he’s my real friend.”

The problem with this type of thinking is that it’s wrong. Even when you’re just hanging out with your “real” friend, your needs are being satisfied- be it the need for companionship, sharing your life, talking about the things that matter to you, and so on.

Just because these needs are psychological, and your friend isn’t helping you in some conspicuous way, doesn’t make this friendship any different from the ones where the ‘give’ and ‘take’ is more conspicuous.

Since we overvalue our psychological needs we call friends who satisfy these needs as real friends.

In friendships where psychological needs are not being met, there’s a greater risk of these friendships falling into the vilified realm of fake friendships. But these friendships are just as valid, as long as the principle of mutual benefit holds.

The person complaining about having fake friends perceives that the principle of mutual benefit is being violated. There are two possibilities underlying such complaint:

The first possibility is that the fake friend isn’t satisfying the person’s psychological needs and so the latter is inclined to think that the friendship is fake. It’s not absolutely horrible when people contact you only when they need something because the mutual satisfaction of various needs, not just psychological needs, is what friendships are based on.

Say you feel bad that a friend calls you only when they need something. Next time you need something, you’re going to call them and they’ll think you only call them when you need something. See where I’m going with this?

Often, the people who make this complaint are usually the ones who’re not getting as much as they are giving. But this is not an excuse to call the friendship fake. They ignore that sometimes wanting help can be a good way to communicate again when the communication has been infrequent of late.

The second possibility is that the fake friend is indeed being exploitative. They only call when they need something and if you try and strike a conversation with them along the lines of “How’s it going?” they’ll show a lack of interest in pursuing that line of conversation.

This again shows how we value psychological needs more. We want them to know that we care about them and are not just interested in helping them out. If the fake friend were blunt and said, “I’d rather you only help me. Don’t try to satisfy my psychological needs”, you’d be offended and perhaps ditch the friend right away.

If you’re in a friendship where you think you’re being exploited, the best strategy is to ask your seemingly exploitative friend to help you as much as you’re helping them. Real friends will not make excuses and won’t have any problems in helping you, even if you ask for it over and over.

Even if you ask of them more than you’re giving them, they’ll help you. This isn’t necessarily because they’re selfless but because they trust in the mutuality of the friendship. They know that that you’d do the same for them.

Importance of communication.

Communication is the lifeblood of all relationships. When we need help from a friend of a friend, our friends often say something like, “But I haven’t even talked to him for months” or “We’re not even on talking terms”. This goes to show the importance of being on talking terms. We expect those people to favour us who are at least on talking terms with us.

When communication has long been absent, we’re unsure about the friendship and, consequently, whether or not we can succeed in obtaining favours.

The problem with communication is that the person who communicates first gives the impression that they’re in need and this can hurt their ego. So a person’s ego tries to prevent them from communicating first when communication has long been absent.

If a friend puts his ego aside and makes an effort to communicate with you when communication has been absent, then it’s a good sign that they value your friendship. Or they may suddenly be in need of something that they don’t mind putting their ego on a backseat for. Again, you can test that by steering the conversation toward psychological needs to check if they pursue it. Also, you can ask them for a counter-favour.

As long as the contract of mutual benefit holds, we’ve got a good friendship going on. Whenever one party perceives that the contract is being violated, the friendship is endangered. When both parties perceive that the contract has been violated, the friendship dies.

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6 Animal Species With Strong Family Bonds

When it comes to animals, humans still have a lot to learn. We forget that some animals are also capable of most of the same behaviors that we have – we just don’t see them because they might do them differently.

We often forget that animals are capable of feeling the same emotions we do and sharing similar bonds with friends and family. The result of this willful “forgetfulness” is reflected in the way we treat animals. We separate them from family and friends, place them in captivity for our own entertainment, or even condemn them to life on a factory farm until the day they are turned into one of our meals.

A major step towards ending this vicious cycle of forgetfulness is to practice compassion. Animals really are not all that different from us, save the tails, fur, or scales. So, let’s for a minute take a look at all the ways that animal families are just like our families.

Here are six amazing animal species with extraordinarily strong family bonds:

1. Elephants
While males live relatively solitary, female elephants live in highly bonded herds. PBS says that in a herd, the matriarch will rule over a multi-generational family with six to 12 members – consisting of her offspring, sisters, and sisters’ offspring. Elephants have long been known to rush to the aid of babies caught in strong river waters, or stuck in mud, or staying to mourn the death of a herd member.
Back in 2012, two herds of South African elephants made their way to the house of Lawrence Anthony – the conservationist who saved their lives. They stayed at the house for two days apparently mourning his passing, according to Belief Net. It had taken them 12 hours to reach the house, not having visited in a year and a half.

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2. Wolves
Wolves may have even stronger bonds between the alpha male alpha female dogs. Defenders of Wildlife says that some may even sacrifice their own lives to protect the rest of the pack. It was once thought that wolf packs consisted of unrelated individuals who often fought each other for dominance till L. David Mech researched wild wolves and debunked the idea. He found that the pack consisted of the mated alpha pair, their puppies, and some adult offspring from previous litters.

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3. Orcas
Sarah Heimlich provided the first evidence suggesting matrilineal (individuals linked by maternal descent) social organization in killer whales in the 1980s. According to the report “Conservation Plan for Southern Resident Killer Whales (Orcinus orca)” prepared by the National Marine Fisheries Service, the members of these groups from extremely strong bonds and individuals rarely separate for longer than a few hours. Even offspring live with their parents for their entire lives.

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4. Dolphins
Dolphins exhibit strong social bonds and are a species that only exhibit caring behavior towards their own species but also towards others as well – they have saved humans from shark attacks and drowning, and have also helped seals and whales. The first time dolphins were recorded trying to help save another dying dolphin was in 2013 when five individuals formed a raft with their bodies to keep an injured dolphin above the water, with ten others later taking turns to do so, according to the BBC.

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5. Lions
Lions are the most social of all the wild cat species, and live in prides. While males have a harder life once they become older, The Big Cats says that old females even with missing teeth are waited on and shared food with. Nuzzling is not just a cuddly behavior, lionesses lick each other and males rub their heads to strengthen social bonds says the Business Insider.

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6. Chimpanzees
Bio Expedition says that there is a strong social structure within chimp troops. The mother-offspring is so strong that, even after they grow up into adults, they will continue to have affection for and care for their mother. Like with lions strengthening social bonds, chimps socially groom each other not only to clean off each other’s bodies but to reassure each other as well as to maintain friendships, says the Canisius College Ambassadors for Conservation. The site also says that chimpanzees live in communities with different sub-groups similar to human society, with a male chimp gaining the support of other community members to help him become an alpha male.

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References, One Green Planet
Lead image source/Wikimedia Commons

How Highly Sensitive People Can Stop Saying Yes When They Want to Say No

As a highly sensitive person, saying no is one of the hardest things for me to do. Turn down a friend who wants to hang out? Not answer my phone at odd hours? Restrain myself from re-organizing my schedule to accommodate yet another person? Even when I want to say no to these situations, I find myself saying yes.

But that means I’m saying no to myself.

I’m not alone in this problem. In general, highly sensitive people struggle with saying no. When we say yes to people and put them first, it makes us feel like we’re being a great friend or partner. But we’re often left wishing others would reciprocate this pattern of being “yes” people.

Not only does saying yes make us feel good about ourselves, but the people in our lives enjoy it and might actually encourage it. They may, unconsciously or consciously, start taking advantage of this characteristic of ours. As a result, we HSPs get walked all over. We end up exhausted, emotionally and physically.

Let’s take a closer look at why HSPs are prone to saying yes — even when it comes at a cost to us — and how we can balance the scales by setting better boundaries.

Why Highly Sensitive People Struggle to Say No.

There are many reasons HSPs might struggle to say no to people, especially when it comes to their loved ones. The overarching theme is empathy. We have the capacity to not only put ourselves in another’s shoes and imagine what they’re feeling, but actually absorb the emotions other people are emitting and feel them ourselves.

Empathy is basically the HSP’s superpower, but it can also be our downfall if we do not learn how to turn it off when we need to. This relates to saying no because we can usually tell that the other person wants us to say yes. Therefore, we desperately want to say yes as well.
It’s like being caught in a double bind. We want to say no, but we can tell that they want a yes — and then that desire becomes our own feeling. In order to say no, we have to set our minds on not listening to the absorbed emotion. And that’s no easy feat.

In addition to absorbing emotion, many HSPs are terrified of rejection. This fear is in no way limited to HSPs, meaning, people who aren’t highly sensitive experience it too. Really, fear of abandonment is one of the most common human fears.

Consider survival instincts, and this fear makes total sense. Isolation kills, so we desperately want human contact. HSPs often crave deep connections with others, so the absence of them has a more significant effect on us. Saying yes leaves less room for abandonment than saying no, so we say yes in order to feel safer in our relationships.
HSPs also tend to feel hurt more easily and have the unfortunate habit of taking things quite personally. We could easily take being told no as a personal slam, therefore, we avoid doing the same thing to others. HSPs hate making other people upset due to our empathy and fear of abandonment, so we never want to be the cause of someone’s negative emotions. Our empathy is too strong for that.

How HSPs Can Say No Effectively.

All of these HSP traits combined make it exceedingly difficult to say no to people. However, when we constantly say yes, we slowly but surely become depleted and emotionally exhausted. And because HSPs tend to feel emotion more sharply, this depletion can have greater effects on our well-being. Learning how to set boundaries and say no is therefore a crucial skill for HSPs to develop.
Saying no comes back to setting healthy boundaries, and realizing that sometimes when we say yes to other people, we are in fact saying no to ourselves. Often times, the simple fix to this problem is being open and honest with our loved ones. Though it sounds unnecessary and nerve-wracking, explaining your need to say no can be super effective with friends and family.

For example, cutting off a conversation that’s going too late into the night when you’ve got an early morning could simply look like, “Hey, I really want to hear the rest of what’s going on with you, but I need to call it a night. What time can I call you tomorrow?” This lets the other person know you’re eager and intentional about hearing the rest of their story. I can’t imagine any solid friends or family members responding negatively to that.

Putting your phone on “do not disturb” mode when you’re relaxing is also effective. If someone really needs to get ahold of you, your phone will let you know. Otherwise, enjoy the quiet.

Saying no is more difficult with family and friends who take advantage of our selfless acts of service or who don’t quite grasp our need for some “me time.” Again, when we’re open about the reasons we need a break, people tend to soften.

For example, after a busy work week, if a friend asks you to hang out, stating that you’re exhausted and need a self-care night is a completely legitimate excuse — though be prepared to have to say it a couple times.

Or, when people ask you to help them with something that isn’t your responsibility, try a technique called “reflecting.” This involves noticing their emotion and reflecting it back to them. It can be just what they need — and not necessarily you doing the job for them.

For example, say a friend continually asks you for favors. Instead of simply doing them, try saying something like, “You seem pretty stressed this week. Is there anything going on?” Simply opening the door to a vent session might reveal the reasons they’ve been using you, and by addressing the emotions the person is feeling, they feel heard and cared for much more so than if you had just said yes. And if they still need help, having had that conversation will allow you greater insight into what would actually be helpful to them.

Sometimes, HSPs just need to get a little more comfortable with not pleasing everyone all the time. As Dr. Seuss once said, “Those who mind, don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”

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‘Blue Monday’

This year ‘Blue Monday’ falls on January, 21.

January is a month where we attempt to blow the cobwebs away and hit the reset button, but when the dark nights hit and the finances take hold it can turn into a tough period.

One day in particular gets us down more than others, according to the experts.

Whilst it’s been around for a number of years now, Blue Monday is more than just a hashtag – it’s the result of an actual formula thought up by a psychologist.

“As the days get darker, and the more you wake up before the sun even rises, you might start feeling a persistent low mood or lack of energy. You may be struggling to concentrate and it’s possible you may even find less pleasure doing your usual activities.

“These symptoms could mean you’re suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is very common and can affect people from all walks of life.”

Mental health charities have often rejected the term ‘Blue Monday,’ arguing it trivialises those who are actually suffering from depression.

Last year, Mind wrote a statement in regards to Blue Monday on their website reading: “Here at Mind, we think BlueMonday is dangerously misleading. Those of us who live with depression know that those feelings aren’t dictated by the date. Implying that they are perpetuates the myth that depression is ‘just feeling a bit down,’ something that doesn’t need to be taken seriously.”

“Eat your greens”

Whilst it can be tempting to stock up on carbs this winter, opt for leafy greens instead as these are rich in folic acid, thought to be used in the production of serotonin, which is a happy hormone,”

“Antioxidants and polyphenols in things like berries and dark chocolate can also help elevate your mood.”

” Keep active”

If you want to beat fatigue and general sluggishness, exercising regularly to keep those hormones happy.

“If you find yourself demotivated at work, do some deskercise or go out for a brisk walk at lunch time.”1548027910292

My Vegan Story

Fast forward to about two years ago…

A Saturday night at home with a glass of wine and Netflix. My boyfriend (at the time) had gone to the gym so I found myself scrolling through documentaries (why not movies?!! ha) I came across Vegucated. This documentary stood out because I remember seeing it all over Twitter. I started following vegan Twitter accounts a few days prior (subconsciously, I think?). How ironic, the stars had aligned! Just kidding… but really… I read the description and knew if I watched this, I’d be crying the rest of the night. For some reason I was okay with that!! We all need a good cry every now and again. It was one of those days where I felt relaxed and open for anything, plus I was intrigued to know what the vegan hype was about. Boy, was I in for it…

Throughout the documentary, concepts started to click in my mind as if I was buckling my seatbelt. I was in the process of connecting to the plant based lifestyle. My mind was in horror, shock and became overwhelmed with anger, but I was connecting on a higher level. I felt nauseous but I knew it was necessary; there was no way of getting around these feelings. As much as I didn’t want to think about it, this was real. I could see the animals suffering from anxiety, fear, and immense pain. They knew what was coming and could sense it. How could they not? I watched absolutely unnecessary, heartless acts being performed and it brought up real human emotion that stems from instincts. Raw emotion, real happenings and video footage led me to this daunting crossroads in my life..

I realize most documentaries show the worst of the worst and not all slaughterhouses run the same but I still saw what I saw… it still happened to those animals and happens everyday… I’m unable to remove the images from my mind.
Feeling those feelings opened a new door to an unknown world. Those same familiar feelings from years before, but with a higher level of understanding and compassion. After the documentary ended, I sat there for a while.

Stunned. Numb. Confused.

Then came the sobbing. Then the thinking about what our world has come to. Then feeling disgusted with society. Disgusted with myself as well, that I had been so ignorant and oblivious to what was happening behind slaughter house walls but mainly behind big corporations. That the big name meat and dairy brands are powerful, full of lies and are absolute experts with their marketing and labeling. That for the most part, there are no happy cows or free-range chickens (unless you have a chicken coupe in your backyard). That cage-free doesn’t mean what we think it means. That we don’t know any better because we are swarmed daily with happy dairy ads, commercials and marketing schemes. That factory farming is very much existent, not to mention all the hormones and antibiotics that they pump into the animals to keep them from getting sick and to speed up the growth process, which is all too common, and is also powered by the big name brands connected to the government. That our food has become so processed and nutrient-lacking, we think we are eating healthy from the labels and what society says (got milk?), when we are actually missing the point completely, and it’s not our fault. That we don’t need animal products to thrive.
That my life would never be the same. My seatbelt was buckled. This time, I was ready.

Since that night I have not eaten any animal products whatsoever. Especially after those images and videos which are now burned into my brain… I wanted nothing to do with meat or cheese or milk or any of it. I made the connection to a plant based lifestyle, to what my body needs in order to thrive and to all animals.

Happy Vegan Christmas!  🎄🎅🌱

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