Archive | September 2013

Ditching the Dairy? Diverse views on America’s cultural obsession with bovine secretions.

     According to a recent article in the Atlantic, the market for dairy consumption in the United States has not only remained “healthy” (not a very appropriate word to use in this context, I suppose), but apparently, a significant portion of the American population has increased their cheese consumption from the level we were at in the 1970’s to a mark that is currently three times higher, at an estimated 23 pounds. The author of the piece, James Hamblin, makes a brief mention of the Michael Moss book, Salt, Sugar, Fat,  referencing the disturbing reality that the USDA, which is (in part) supposed to take an interest in guiding Americans towards better health, is effectively toothless in comparison to the Dairy Management section of the Department of Agriculture, which has a budget of $140 million dollars and has worked with America’s restaurants in an effort to create more cheese laden menu items, despite dairy being conclusively linked to Alzheimer’s, acne, constipation, Type 1 diabetes, heart disease, and symptoms of autism. 

     This article seems to be in contrast to the recent article in the WSJ, detailing how the dairy industry is throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the problem of sharply declining sales, including “reformulating” milk to include more protein (aimed at fitness enthusiasts) and repackaging milk into more kid-friendly cartons. A VegNews piece from the July+August edition highlights some of the reasons for this decline, including but not limited to consumer awareness of the tremendous health costs, the horrific conditions of cows on factory farms, and the fact that plant-based milks are increasing in abundance as well possessing some rather attractive health benefits, such as omega-3’s, healthy protein, and lower calorie counts per serving than dairy milk. 

     John Robbins (author of No Happy Cows: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the Food Revolution, among other influential books on our industrial food system) has highlighted the daily torture that dairy cows experience, beginning with being forcibly impregnated, having their children ripped away from them to be killed for veal, and being forced to produce a terrifyingly large amount of milk, which leads to fatigue and stress that causes them to lose productivity after a few short years, at which point they’re sent to the same slaughterhouses as their children. This reason alone should help consumers abandon the carcinogenic dairy milks and make the healthy and compassionate switch to either hemp, oat, almond, coconut, soy, or any of the other plant-based options that continue to proliferate the marketplace. 

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Principles to remember in non-violent education.

     “Veganism is not a limitation in any way. It’s an expansion of your love, your commitment to non-violence, and your belief in justice for all”- Professor Gary Francione.

 

     Our daily existence on this earth is not often an object of deep and thorough contemplation. The choices we make on a day to day basis do not normally cause us to stop and think about the long term ramifications. While we should hold ourselves responsible for our choices, we must keep in mind that the vast majority of us are never truly encouraged to explore the decisions we make, especially when those choices involve the food that we consume regularly. 

     An veritable ocean of ink has been spilled discussing the aforementioned ramifications of our food and lifestyle choices, and this post will not retread some very familiar stomping grounds. Rather, I want to take the opportunity to echo some beliefs about the general public that I’ve heard expressed by writers and thinkers such as Professors Francione and Tuttle, but is not often heard among inter-sectional communities of vegans. 

 

1. The vast majority people are not stupid.

     As a matter of fact, most people one encounters turn out to be very thoughtful and considerate individuals. It has often been said to me that people either won’t or cant understand the basic tenets of veganism, including but not limited to the ideals of compassion, justice, mercy, and kindness. I have found this to be completely absurd. The majority of people I converse with on this issue are genuinely concerned with these ideas, and are more than willing to have conversations about veganism in a thoughtful and contemplative manner.

 

2. The vast majority of people are kind and thoughtful individuals.

     It’s a veritable vegan trope to insist that the majority of the masses are uncaring, cruel, and hateful people, specifically in their behavior towards animals. In one regard, this is patently false. The majority of Individuals are animal lovers, and care for their pets deeply. It’s not that they want cows and chickens and pigs to suffer horrific torture before their death; the majority of people are simply unaware that this is even taking place. When they learn the truth, they’re often readily motivated to change their behavior and adopt a vegan lifestyle, due to the fact that they truly care for animals as members of the moral community.

 

3. People are generally ready to have conversations about veganism and the compassion inherently within.

     As Francione has mentioned, if people were simply unconcerned in any way with the claims of vegansim, they would not engage in any way and simply walk away from the conversation. The very reality that vegans are having conversations with all sorts of individuals on a regular basis about these ideas is proof that a vegan lifestyle is a proposal worthy of discussion, which is a very positive sign of progress. Where there is rational, healthy dialogue, there is always the possibility of growth in a positive direction. 

Francione has noted previously that we must not be reactionary; we must instead be responsive. The difference in these conversational elements is monumental. Vegans must be remember that they need not water down the message so as to appeal to others; simply being true to the fundamental elements of veganism (justice, mercy, compassion) is crucial to communicating these ideas to a world that is largely ready to recognize the legitimacy of authentically expressing these values in our daily choices.

Cognitive dissonance from the pulpit.

     I will not be sharing where I was this morning. Well, that’s not entirely true. I will say that I was at a church service, though I will refrain from saying who was preaching and what church it was to protect the identities of these entities, for reasons that will become quite clear. I was listening to a sermon on the topic of showing kindness the beings in our vicinity, and providing for the most disadvantaged in our communities, for this is the call that disciples of Christ must answer. The pastor was deep into the intricacies of the text, and I was (admittedly) following a bit of a mental rabbit trail when he said something that caught my attention, although I cannot provide the appropriate context for the statement. His words were (and here I provide a direct quote): “Bacon is proof that God wants us to be happy”. While somewhat bewildering (at least to my ears), the quip gained the desired laughter from the congregation. Admittedly, I do not believe that the pastor truly meant this, in all sincerity; I’m quite sure he was being a bit facetious, for whatever reason. That being said, I cannot say that I was truly surprised by such a cruel statement: being in the southern part of the nation, I’m quite accustomed to being confronted by carnistic attitudes on a regular basis, which is mildly annoying but certainly par for the course.

 

     Yet, what truly caused me a great deal of concern was the pastors following statements. After the unfortunate bacon comment, he went on to speak on the considerations we must make as compassionate people. As people who are called to be kind, and to show mercy. I almost could not believe what I was hearing: here was a leader of a congregation who is calling upon his members to be vessels of compassion, but he finds it amusing to precede these statements with comments involving the destruction of animals; sentient beings who were certainly given no compassion or mercy. 

 

     Here, I must make a disclaimer: I am not naive in regards to this type of disconnect. This is certainly not the first time (nor will it be the last) that I hear from people who claim to be pro-compassion, and very much in support of merciful actions, yet support inhumane and cruel practices without even realizing it. Admittedly, there are a whole host of cultural norms that allow most of us to avoid addressing the egregious acts of cruelty that take place against defenseless creatures who are no different than the dogs and cats that we share our homes and hearts with. 

 

     I’m quite certain that this pastor hasn’t the slightest idea how bacon is procured. If he did, I’m fairly sure that he wouldn’t be gleefully proclaiming how it provides him with happiness from the pulpit. Furthermore, we must address the issue of keeping the realities hidden. I’m going to be a bit graphic, for a brief moment, to provide context for his statements (TRIGGER WARNING): If the pastor were to adhere to the industry standards of pig production, he would take one of the runts from the litter (as they are commonly turned into pork early on, due to their inability to develop appropriately for the production line), and proceed to smack it on the ground repeatedly in order to hasten death, before it was hacked to pieces and turned into bacon. If this act was committed on stage at the church, the vast majority of the congregation would be rightly horrified, and greatly troubled, perhaps even calling for the resignation of a man who quite obviously shows no compassion to innocent young animals who have done no harm. 

 

     That being said, most of us are unaware that these acts are being committed, and when we do discover this truth, we quite often refuse to support animal agriculture any longer by going vegan. Reverend Andrew Linzey is fond of saying that yes, while humans certainly need salvation and that we should help guide people to this understanding, animals most certainly need a critical rescue from the hands of violent and cruel humans. 

 

     I left the church service feeling a bit uneasy, yet introspective. I reached some conclusions derived from this experience: If we as Christians really mean what we say in regards to showing compassion to all beings,  with regards to the complete and total redemption of Creation, we cannot draw this line between showing kindness to all humans and only some animals (namely, our companion animals). If we insist upon doing so, we are setting ourselves up for a dangerous idolatry, wherein we make ourselves the harbingers of death for some, where we spare the lives of others. To make oneself into a judge over life is to assume a place of arrogance, according to the words of Reverend Linzey, and I’m inclined to agree with him. 

 

     As Christians, we are often reminded to be thoughtful of our actions, and to be considerate of how our choices have lasting effects on those around us. I’ll take this opportunity to respectfully urge all members of faith to explore their own choices with regards to eating animals, and ask themselves if they are truly being compassionate individuals in regards to the choices they make at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

Myriad passions and being vegan.

“May our daily choices be a reflection of our deepest values, and may we use our voices to speak for those who need us most, those who have no voice, those who have no choice.”

― Colleen Patrick-Goudreau

     Speaking the truth has never been a task for a faint of heart, particularly when the truth is in direct opposition to the daily practices of the majority. Perhaps, some vegans and activists may seek the spotlight for their own agendas, but the vast majority of those concerned for the earth, the animals, and the human race speak up against a broken and cruel system simply because its the right thing to do. In the few short years I’ve been living a vegan lifestyle as best I can, I have been soundly criticized, thoroughly chastised, and in short, told to stop telling the truth more times than I can possibly remember. I’ve come to the understanding that many of us go through life without ever stopping and thinking about how we can be making a difference in a meaningful and lasting way, and I used to be one of these individuals. Becoming vegan has profoundly changed my life in an incredible way, and it has helped me reengage with my spiritual heritage in a way I never thought possible.  

     In my own life, I’m a disciple of Christ, and this foundation of faith helps guide my steps as I move through my life. Becoming vegan has helped me understanding the true message of compassion and mercy towards all living beings within the scriptures; therefore, my faith is irrevocably intertwined with my veganism. I do not see them as contradictory in any way whatsoever: rather, I have found that the inherent principles within both concepts are tremendously complimentary.

     I’m also deeply aware that some people may not be so inclined to read a great number of books about being vegan, nor would they watch documentaries about how our food is produced, or be inspired to write or discuss these ethical implications for a vegan lifestyle. That’s all well and good; I understand the hesitation to submerge oneself in a new subject that, on the face of it, can appear to be rather complex and layered. Additionally, we all have our talents, and gifts, and strengths, that allow us to chase what we’re really passionate about and do our best to become a positive force for good in the world. 

     I would be remiss if I did not take this moment to state a very important idea: one can still pursue their passions, goals, and dreams, and still be vegan! An individual does not have to give up their own particular cause or goal to study the depths of the vegan ideal; one can eat vegan food and live a wholly compassionate lifestyle, and still chase after whatever their calling might be. Professor Gary Francione has answered this particular inquiry with great aplomb; to paraphrase, he has insisted that eating a healthy vegan diet would most likely provide you with even greater energy to chase after the passions that inspire you, as well as help provide you with greater compassion in whatever your calling might be. 

     I would urge everyone to strongly consider learning a few key aspects about veganism, and why its so very important for us to live a compassionate life. One does not have to become an eccentric academic to be vegan! Simply gain knowledge into our food system as it currently stands, make the compassionate choice to be vegan, and continue pursuing any goals and causes that inspire and energize you. 

What is true justice?

“As long as people will shed the blood of innocent creatures there can be no peace, no liberty, no harmony between people. Slaughter and justice cannot dwell together.
—Isaac Bashevis Singer, writer and Nobel laureate (1902–1991)”

I stumbled across this quote recently, and it make me think of Dr. Will Tuttle’s book, “The World Peace Diet”, which I recently finished reading, and would heartily recommend to any vegan or non vegan who might be curious in exploring vegan ideas and principles. Dr. Tuttle speaks to this idea that we as a society, as humanity, have struggled for thousands of years to apply the principles of peace and justice in our world. A countless number of concerted efforts have been made across the centuries, but peace and mercy remain the ever elusive ideals that have yet to be recognized on a comprehensive scale.

As a society, we are likely to try and from solutions that might address the symptoms, rather than addressing the problem at the roots. As a physician might prescribe a medication, instead of proposing a long term lifestyle change, we find ourselves doing little to work at the core of the issue, which is the mindset that violence is a natural and acceptable part of life, particularly in regards to our fellow creatures, whose only crime is their mere existence in a world that sees them as commodities to be exploited for profit or pleasure.

In my ethics class, we’ve begun to study the idea that causing harm to someone who cannot defend themselves against an attack of any sort is morally unacceptable, particularly if we consider ourselves (as Christians) to be members of a faith that teaches kindness, love, and mercy to all. Therefore, there is no justice for the pig, or the cow, or the chicken, if we mutilate their bodies for our purposes, leading to a sickness of the mind that is created when one perpetuates unnecessary violence and bloodshed for its own sake. For further reflection, we must consider the extreme irony of allowing a female dog to give birth, to nurse her young, and to rest comfortably while we tend to her; yet, when a cow gives birth to her calf, we immediately take her child from her, slaughter her brutally, and turn her child into a “delicacy”. We may well have fooled ourselves into believing we are, as Andrew Linzey says, “mini-deities”, who have the power to choose which lives are spared and which are vanquished in the most horrific manner possible. As a believer, it is immensely clear to me that this dichotomy we have created in our minds originates from a land of darkness, an arena of barbarism that has no place in a community that wishes to show kindness, love, peace, and compassion to all creation, as we are explicitly called to do within the holy scriptures. We are but a fallen race, destined to err gravely, but we must learn from our transgressions so as not to repeat our prior mistakes. I would be remiss if I did not urge my brothers and sisters to act upon the ideals of the peaceable kingdom mentioned in the words of Isaiah, to show a love towards the sentient beings God created as our covenant partners on this earth.

Lessons from Ari the Calf (A salute to farmed-animal sanctuaries)

Ari the Calf (courtesy of Farm Sanctuary)

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     For a great deal of animals born into this world, their short lives are punctuated by incredible pain, loss, and suffering, as much of humanity views many of our fellow earthlings simply as commodities to be used, tormented, and thrown away as worthless objects. Although the majority of these sentient beings are never allowed to touch the earth, to see the sun, or to express any natural desires, the rise of farm sanctuaries across the US and the world are bringing a bit of light and love into an otherwise horrific world for these incredible beings. Most of us have never seen a pig in its natural habitat, wallowing happily in the mud or munching contentedly on a bit of food; a hen, giving herself a dust bath, and calling her chicks to her as she gathers them under her wing; a cow and her calf, nuzzling up to one another as the calf suckles from his mother. Far too often, these bucolic scenes are never allowed to occur, due to our appetite for their flesh and secretions. Farm Sanctuary, a farmed-animal haven in Watkins Glen, New York, is working tirelessly around the clock to provide love, care, and shelter for farm animals that have been rescued from nightmarish conditions on both small farms and factory-style operations.

     The animal activist news cycles was recently awash with articles covering the recent plight of Ari the calf. He was rescued from a slaughterhouse operation where “spent” dairy calves are sent to be killed; his mother gave birth to him moments before she was taken into the slaughterhouse to be torn apart. After a baby calf is born, it is imperative that the mother provide milk to her calf to provide essential nutrients for their survival, yet Ari received no milk or comfort from his mother, being left alone on the cold ground to fend for himself. A baby calf needs to obtain colostrum from their mother, or else there is little chance for survival. Thankfully, a kind woman noticed this small, shivering calf on the ground near the slaughterhouse and made a call to the vet, as well as a call to Farm Sanctuary. Ari is described as “touch and go” at the moment in regards to his health, and a small donation would go a long way to helping cover the cost of his treatment, so that he can make a full recovery. Please considering making a small donation to help this baby calf, and consider going vegan in order to boycott this horrific system that separates mothers from their children. I’ve included a link to the article on Farm Sanctuary’s website, which will give you the option to donate, if you’re able to. If you can’t afford to donate, please share the article so that more people are aware of this reality. 

 

http://action.farmsanctuary.org/site/MessageViewer?em_id=31362.2 

Is there ever such a thing as “happy meat”? Review of “The Ultimate Betrayal”.

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     In Hope Bohanec’s new book, darkly entitled “The Ultimate Betrayal”, she works to explore some of the terribly common misconceptions that plague the concept of a more “humane” agriculture. If anyone has comforted themselves with the presumed knowledge that they have purchased a more “kind” cut of meat or eggs from “happy” chickens, her work causes that assumption to quickly dissipate. Marketing executives within the animal agriculture industry are very sensitive to the fact that many consumers are concerned about the well-being of animals (to a certain degree, at least), and are willing to pay the increased price for a piece of animal that has a comforting label on it, such as “free range”, “grass-fed”, or “humane”. Bohanec likewise makes the astute observation that many consumers are often far too eager to fully trust the label on the eggs of the piece of animal, and do not usually dig deeper into the matter themselves; she has a number of theories as to why this is, but I’ll let you read the book to discover for yourself.

     Bohanec sets the scene for the overall theme of the book by showing her readers the vast amounts of scientific research detailing the consciousness of animals, their emotional lives, and their own systems of morality. As an audience, we begin to understand that famous quote that runs roughly along the lines of “Animals are like us in the ways that truly matter”. Even the most committed omnivore cannot help but be deeply moved by the facts concerning these beautiful creatures and the elemental emotions we share with them.

     Bohanec writes with a sincere urgency, and it rings true as she meticulously and painfully details the facts about “humane” slaughter. In all actuality, the animals raised on somewhat smaller farms all end up in the same factory-farm slaughterhouses as their conventional counterparts, along with all the filth, disease, and suffering that accompanies these endeavors. Bohanec provides, thankfully, brief moments of encouragement in highlighting the wonderful experience of several farm animals that have been rescued from a short life of painful suffering and eventual death; creatures such as Elsa the cow and Carmen the sheep show us what their species looks like in a natural, health setting, and its a powerful reminder of what vegans work towards on a daily basis.

     Bohanec spends a good amount of time on the issue of world hunger and feeding the growing global population, soundly debunking the notion that we can adequately deal with these growing crises with the production and consumption of pasture-raised animals. She makes mention that the United Nations committee on Food and Agriculture have repeatedly created empirical reports that find animal agriculture to the the primary culprit in the creation of environmental pollution and global warming. She notes that grassfed beef, contrary to popular belief, produces more CO2 than conventional animal production, and using pasture-raised livestock requires more water, more land, and more overall energy use. Bohanec also makes mention of that sobering fact that animal agriculture uses 80% of the earth’s arable land. With the earth’s population increasing, and a global food shortage looking increasingly likely, we can no longer allow ourselves the illusion of believing that we can fight world hunger as well as raising animals for the sole purpose of consumption.

     This text is well worth a thorough reading, for both the seasoned vegan and the well-heeled individual who is willing to pay $14 a pound for local, pasture-raised, so called “happy” meat. It’s available on Amazon for $3.03 for Kindle, and $17.96 in paperback. I could not more highly recommend it, for we only have one planet, and its not too late to fix the mess we’ve created, by immediately switching to a plant-based diet and thereby preserving a healthy environment for our future generations.