Category Archives: veg

On being a conscious consumer

Our local food co-op will stop carrying all Eden Organic products after a recent member vote where less than 5% of members voted and the petition won by just 13 votes.

I find myself very frustrated. I understand the reasoning behind the petition (the perception that Eden’s policy on the Affordable Care Act is seen as unfair to women, though the reality is more nuanced) but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to buy the products because they are superior and it’s hard to find suitable alternatives.

I consider myself a very conscious and careful consumer, but it can be difficult to decide what to buy, to the point it can be paralyzing sometimes!  Personally, when it comes to vegan food I am inclined to prioritize taste and healthfulness of the product over seemingly unrelated political implications. But it’s still a tough decision.

When choosing to buy a canned product, do I pick the one where the food is organic and the cans are BPA free but the company is seen to be unfair when insuring their workforce or the one that doesn’t stack up as well nutritionally and environmentally, isn’t as palatable, but does provide birth control for their workers?

In looking for a nut milk, should I choose the one that tastes good, is organic, has minimal ingredients, supports GMO labeling and is carrageenan free but won’t provide infertility drugs? Or the one that is full of crap, but happy to provide their workers with a full range of insurance options?

I’ve faced a similar dilemma in other purchasing decisions recently too.

When picking a kettle, do I but the one that doesn’t have plastic and isn’t coated in chemicals and is made in China by a reputable company but with unknown working conditions, or the one that’s coated in carcinogens but made in the USA?

What about the food made by a brand that gets top marks on its allergen friendliness, tastes good, has a wide range of products that my kid likes, but was just bought out by a company that is anti GMO labeling? OK to continue purchasing, or no?

It’s hard to be a conscious consumer!!

In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have to make choices, but given that’s not the world we live in, how do you prioritize?  When there are none that tick all the boxes, which do you choose and why? Which ethical consideration gets compromised first?

PS – If we get to decide what is carried in the store based on ethical and political considerations, why not take a vote on the entire meat section? After all, animal products are known to be anti-female and employers provide less than stellar conditions for their workers. Who’s with me?

Live animal transport

As common as animal transport is here, it never ceases to incense. On our last trip north to visit family, in an hour’s time we saw four trucks crammed full of turkeys and eleven trucks of pigs, plus who knows how many hog confinements, feed lots, etc. Given how often we witness it here, I don’t know why it never occurred to me before that animals might be experiencing something similar, or even worse, in other first world countries!

I didn’t know until recently that animals are often shipped overseas for consumption but before slaughter, just as they are trucked across the U.S. In addition, sometimes they are flown to other countries.

I found out about the shipping industry while watching a speech by Australia’s Philip Wollen about live animal export that was prefaced by a video showing a HUGE ship full of live animals being sent to other countries for slaughter.  It was the size of an ocean liner, like a cargo ship, many stories high, filled with cage after cage.

Conditions for animals on such ships are abysmal. They are cramped and scary. Just like people, some cows get sea sick. And if something happens to them, they are just as likely to get thrown overboard mid-ocean as to get medical attention. According to one source, it’s estimated that millions have died at sea.

When the animals get to their final destinations for slaughter, it doesn’t matter where they came from. There are no protections for how they’re handled. They’re often sent to countries where animal cruelty is not event a consideration and face barbaric and inhumane treatment.

Flights are no more pleasurable for the animals, and casualties occur during air transport too. In fact earlier this week it came to light that 174 out of 2000 sheep died during a flight from Australia to Singapore due to heat exhaustion. They had been destined for use as sacrificial animals in Korban Rites, an Islamic religious tradition that takes places yearly.

Australia seems to be taken the lead on this one, with the group Animals Australia spearheading the effort. Their Ban Live Export campaign seeks to bring light to the issue, conduct investigations, and eventually stop live animal export from Australia to Middle Eastern and Asian countries.

It’s important to note though that Australia hasn’t cornered the market on this form of cruelty. These practices occur all over the world, including in the United States. As egregious as it is, we hear little about live animal export here. It is not forefront on the issues list for any US-based animal welfare group that I know of, and our government has gone out of their way to make it easier for live exports to keep up with growing global demand.

How NOT to support animal experimentation with the ALS ice bucket challenge

“Trying to cure human diseases by relying on outdated and ineffective animal experiments isn’t only cruel—it’s a grave disservice to people who desperately need cures.” – Pamela Anderson via Facebook post, 8/20/14

I understand the purpose behind the popular ALS ice bucket challenge, and can see it’s great value towards raising awareness for the cause and in generating donations, but totally agree with Pam on this point, as does the ALS researcher that wrote a piece for HuffPost Science titled, In Defense of Pamela Anderson.

The FDA’s own statistics show that 92 out of 100 drugs that succeed in animal trials fail when used on humans. Apparently that’s particularly true for ALS drugs. In the last several decades, after alllllll their animal testing (they used to use primates but have since stopped and now primarily use rodents, zebrafish and fruit flies), only a handful of drugs even showed promise in clinical trials with humans.In the end, none truly ended up working for people.

The ALS Association has responded to people concerned about animal rights to say that, “The Association is committed to honoring donor intent. If a donor is not comfortable with a specific type of research, he or she can stipulate that their dollars not be invested in that particular area.”

Whether or not you are doing the challenge, if you are donating to the ALS Association please consider specifying that it not be used on animal experimentation. Or, consider giving to an alternative organization such as Compassionate Care for ALS.

Note that I am not being dispassionate or saying not to support ALS awareness or research, just asking people to support ethical research that’s actually *more* effective and directly helps humans. See further info in this blog post by PCRM.

The “humane” raising of cattle

As part of a lifestyle change we’ve made, we’ve recently moved to a more rural location, surrounding by cattle. While we’re still within a town, we now have cows off our doorstep and in our back yard!Cows

As a result, we’re getting an up close look at the “humane” raising of these animals intended for food. For the most part the animals do get to graze in pasture and live much more naturally than they would in a CAFO. But it’s not all sunshine and roses.

Observations thus far:

  • While many cattle are in typical farm pastures (think large, rolling hillsides), others are in smaller enclosures that just happen to have some grass and weeds. When it runs out the workers bring in supplemental hay.
  • The cows are herded around from place to place frequently (here they use four wheelers) and are goaded – even hit – if they do not comply with the worker’s desires. They are frequently moved from pasture to pasture, sometimes by truck.
  • Mothers and babies are separated and bellow for each other for DAYS. This is not an exaggeration.
  • Some animals in particular do not like being alone and call out for the others that they can hear in nearby pastures. If another animal is put in with them, they stop. Bulls are almost always isolated from the rest of the herd.
  • Cows are marked/branded and have ear tags put in without pain relief. They yell out while it’s happening and for quite some time thereafter.
  • Cows are sometimes left in pastures without access to shade or shelter, even when it’s 100+ degrees.
  • When something upsets the herd, they all get anxious. This typically includes a lot of loud mooing and pacing. It continues long after the initial upset has occurred., It’s easy to tell when they’re distressed, a very unsettling sound.

These cows are raised using the more “natural” methods embraced and approved by animal welfare organizations. They are considered “grass-fed”.  The treatment is Certified Humane. But it should never be considered compassionate.

While I will admit this is an improvement over veal crates and feed lot life, it’s still not enough.The animals are still treated like property, torn from their families, and have absolutely no say over their fates. There’s a reason they refer to animals as live stock.

It is beyond me how organizations that say they are dedicated to animals can promote this nonsense.  Humane meat is a myth. The best way to help farm animals is not to treat them better before killing them, but to stop eating them!

Cats, dogs, & allergies. Oh my!

As I was growing up there were a lot of pets around, cats in particular. While I wasn’t allowed to have a pet at our house (other than a few brief forays into fish ownership) I had near daily interaction with cats and kittens at my grandparent’s house. I also kept ducks for a while and sometimes helped with the chickens.

When I got a bit older, I started volunteering for the local animal rescue group. I managed their website and Petfinder listings, took pictures, and occasionally transported animals. I was even the group’s Vice President for a short while. My husband and I permanently adopted four cats and moved them with us from house to house. We even made our home purchasing decisions in part on having a suitable space for the cats to play and enjoy the sun while we were away at work.

Our son came along and the cats became slightly less important in our lives but were still a part of the family. We saw them through some major illnesses and eventually one of the four died, succumbing to a lifetime of respiratory problems.

And then our son developed pet-induced asthma.

It was miserable to contemplate giving up our companions of 10+ years, but even more miserable what the pet exposure was doing to him. We had to visit the ER and give him medicine for the first time. He fought the inhaler with all of his strength, pretty traumatic on everyone. Our luck was no better with the nebulizer. We quickly made the the tough decision to seek new homes for our cats. Finding the right places was hard, giving them up was harder still. Around the same time we also found out that our son gets massive hives when dogs lick him, making dogs something we were then trying to avoid too.

Over time I noticed my opinions about cats and dogs starting to change. I still felt passionate about animal rights issues and helping animals find forever homes, but began to see most companion animals as a nuisance. I got irritated when there were dogs in public places (even places where they should be allowed) because it meant we had to safeguard my son from getting licked. The fact that family members had cats (included that same grandparent’s house from my childhood) was a major hassle and at times made visiting them near impossible. He could no longer stay over night at his grandma’s house. We now needed to check in advance if friends had pets. Etc. Etc.

I’ve now realized the pendulum may have swung a bit too far in the anti-pet direction. This really hit home earlier this week when my son told me he is somewhat afraid of dogs. He said he thinks they don’t like him. :( Is it any wonder given we’ve spent so much effort trying to avoid them? We clearly need to find a better way, some balance. His allergies are not extremely severe and do not need to be treated as such. We can probably take more liberal precautions and still avoid bad reactions.

I’d love for my son to grow up with an appreciation and love for animals like I have, in part because I believe it to be a foundational piece for veganism. Understanding that animals are sentient beings that feel pain, love and other human emotions makes it easier to extend them compassion. People that have empathy for animals are less likely to eat/wear/hunt/use them. Will this love still manifest if he has no animal interactions? Perhaps. But I’d like to hedge the bets.

The corporate vegan

Being a vegan in the corporate world can be difficult, especially if you live in an area where plant-based diets and respect for animals are not the norm.

Where I work, company lunches, potlucks and other opportunities to eat together, are not only common but are often used as motivation or given as a reward for a job well done. Yet for me, they are little other than a point of stress and I sometimes find myself looking for an excuse to avoid the event all together!

Since I’ve been with the same company for years now, my coworkers all know that I don’t eat meat, and some even know that I’m a vegan. Most are quite courteous in trying to choose restaurants with food they think I can order and they often try to make menu suggestions. But quite often the places chosen have nothing suitable to eat, which just makes for an uncomfortable situation.

If you are a vegan, it’s likely that you too will at some be put into a position where it’s necessary to eat with your workmates. If you find yourself facing an upcoming lunch or event, perhaps you can deploy some of these tactics that have worked well for me in past:

  • Check with the meeting organizer in advance to get the scoop on the meal situation. Will it be catered in? Box lunches? Dining out?
  • If you know you’ll be eating at a restaurant, ask for the menu is advance or find it online. That way you can take as much time as necessary to figure out what to order without holding up the order for the rest of the group and will know in advance if there’s not a good option.
  • If the meal will be brought in, bring your own food to eat at the same time.
  • Consider if there are likely to be snacks served (candy, cookies, etc. are common for all-day meetings) and bring something yummy for yourself plus enough to share with others.
  • If the event starts with lunch and the program or activity will follow, ask if you can join the group after the meal has already been served.
  • Use techniques one would normally employ at inhospitable restaurants such as ordering just a drink, appetizer, or other sides off the menu in place of an entree.
  • Consider asking if you can place a special order, especially good to do if they have something explicit on the menu saying they welcome alternate requests. Note that this may not be a good idea if everyone is in a rush, since special orders often take more time.
  • Make sure to have some non-perishable food with you, such as a piece of fruit or a packaged bar, in case things don’t go as expected. Sometimes even the best laid plans fall short.

While it would often be easier just to skip out all together, it is good to make an effort to participate in some fashion. Otherwise you may be branded as “not a team player” or miss out on some crucial bit of information. A lot gets discussed over lunch!

I am lucky to have had supportive and considerate supervisors during my time as a corporate vegan. If you are the manager of a vegetarian or vegan employee I’d extend the following tips to you:

  • Don’t make a big deal out of the issue, broadcast an announcement or bring it up as a major discussion topic for the team.
  • Understand your employee’s dietary preferences so you can make informed choices when choosing a location, restaurant or caterer for team meetings. Consider asking your employee for their input.
  • If you are not making the choice, coordinate with the meeting organizer to determine the meal plan and give input if possible. This will save your employee some work and stop them from always having to feel like they are always the only ones asking questions or demanding special favors.
  • When you are the one bringing the snacks, make sure to offer something that all your employees can eat. (It’s not as hard as you might think! Lots of junk food such as Oreos and Twizzlers are accidentally vegan, and you can always bring obviously vegan things like plain fruit or nuts.)
  • Be conscious of the fact that people may adopt the veg lifestyle for wildly different reasons. Don’t presume you know your employee’s reason.
  • Note that ethical vegans often hold deep-seated beliefs that extend to areas of animal welfare other than just food. You might consider this belief similar to that of a religious position in that it is a choice, but not one made lightly or to be discarded. In this vein, be aware of peripheral issues and things that may offend such as giving leather as gifts or wishing them a Happy Turkey Day.
  • Appreciate the diversity their veganism brings to your team! Variety of thought is always a good thing.

And to add in a lofty and random request here for facilities managers too, please try to make sure there’s at least one vegan thing in the vending machine!! Since packages  can’t show both front and back at the same time, Im thinking a vegan sticker or printed slide-in icon to go next to the price would be a great addition. :-)

For any readers that might be out there, what’s your experience been like? Any additional tips to share?

Unsheeply’s Law?

I’ve observed a phenomena that I think deserves a new adage, similar to Godwin’s Law. If you’re not familiar, that’s the idea that given enough time any online discussion – regardless of topic or scope – will eventually involve comparison of a poster’s point to the beliefs held by Hitler and the Nazis.

Similarly, it seems that that any online discussion that involves animal rights, vegan or vegetarian diets will eventually include comments by someone asserting that they are going to go eat a steak or hamburger right now, usually in someone’s honor.

To those posters I say, I get it. You eat meat and you like it. There’s no need to claim you’re going to rush out right now to stuff your face, or pretend that the discussion has provoked you into doing it. And there’s really no need to graphically describe the animal parts you intend to consume. Just not necessary and does not add to the discussion.

But it is inflammatory, and that’s probably the point. It might serve as a diversion from any other more logical arguments in progress, drawing people away from the truth. And for whatever reason, trolling veg forums seems to be a popular topic among a small portion of the meat eating public.

In the same way that Godwin’s law can be cited to reduce the incidence of inappropriate hyperbolic comparisons, my attempt at pointing this out is in the hope that it will reduce the incidence of such nonconstructive comments. Additionally, this law could be used to serve an automatic FAIL to win the argument on the person making the claim.

I’d love to see this on this list of adages named after people or things. So what do you say? Unsheeply’s Law? ;-)

Animal transport, extreme weather

Whenever animal welfare is discussed, animal transport is often left off the agenda. Yet the transport process can be a brutal experience and is largely unregulated.

Every day on my commute to work (20 miles interstate each way), without fail I see at least one livestock transport truck. Some days I’ll see a dozen. It’s usually large pigs heading south, baby pigs going north, and trucks crammed full of birds (or empty bird cages) in convoys of 4 or 5. Occasionally I’ll see trailers of cows, but they’re often hard to spot as their black hides appear near invisible inside the dark recesses of the trucks. What a constant, dismal reminder of why I am a vegan.

This always upsets me, but lately my thoughts have turned from the ultimate fate of the animals towards the animal transport process. A change in focus, but one that ultimately should be considered.

From the research I conducted, it seems there are very few actual requirements for animals transported by truck. The industry standard on treatment seems to be the guidelines put together by Temple Grandin in her Livestock Trucking Guide. They advocate for basic comfort measures, not necessarily for the sake of the animals, but in order to avoid investment loss. There are tips for reducing shrink (weight loss), bruising, and other things that can affect “meat quality”, all based on solid science, but focused solely on what’s best for business.

Lately we’ve been experiencing a heat wave that has daytime temps soaring into the 100s with “feels like” temperatures even higher. We’re getting constant warnings about what to do to protect ourselves and our companion animals, and the government has even started opening up heat relief centers and busing people to places with air conditioning, like malls and libraries.

And yet, I see livestock trucks transporting pigs as normal!! They cram up to 400 “hogs” into a truck and they’re not required to stop to give water or food. Grandin’s guide says that humid Midwestern conditions can be lethal and death losses double on hot, humid days. I wonder how many animals they’re losing to heat?

The same thing happens in winter, as many are transported in sub-zero temps. While some trucks will cover the holes to protect the animals in transit, not all of them bother and they’re not required to do it. I’ve also seen animals driven into heavy storms and high winds. They seem to carry on despite the weather conditions, no matter how unsuitable, and nobody bats an eye.

A chart called the Livestock Weather Safety Index was created to make it easier for shippers to know when their cargo might be in danger. However, I know for a fact that many aren’t following the advice of Grandin or looking to this index based on what I’m seeing on the road every day. If they were, they’d be on the road at night instead and I wouldn’t see them at all.

Obviously, the perspective of the industry is that they consider animals live stock, and in a way similar to transporting something like fruit. They aim to deliver their cargo in a condition suitable for their intended purpose and aren’t bothered by some bruising or a few losses along the way as long as they can maintain their ROI.

Imagine if those were puppies crammed hundreds in a truck in the ridiculous weather and under deplorable conditions. Do you think the average person would be outraged then? How can this be perceived so differently?

Say cheese!?

I’ve learned this week, due to some great reporting by Michael Moss for the New York Times, there is a marketing group called Dairy Management that’s responsible for promoting dairy to the American public and for overseas export. This organization is a subset of the US Department of Agriculture, an agency also tasked with promoting nutritional responsibility, presenting an obvious conflict of interest between the two groups.  Specifically, Dairy Management promotes cheese consumption and works with major national brands to increase the amount used in their products.

So why the conflicting goals between different branches of the USDA, and how is this allowed? The NY Times piece says, the USDA leaves it up to Dairy Management to decide how to “bolster farmers and rural economies” and isn’t in the business of controlling how this occurs. And according to a story on NPR, the USDA is OK with promoting cheese consumption in particular because Americans need the calcium, especially as they”re drinking less milk.  Still, I’m not sure this fully explains the dichotomy.

Marion Nestle, author of the book Food Politics and this recent blog entry says, “So why is USDA in bed with dairy lobbying groups? That’s its job. From its beginnings in the 1860s, USDA’s role was to promote U.S. agricultural production and sales, with the full support of what was then a largely agricultural Congress. Only in the 1970s, did USDA pick up all those pesky food assistance programs and capture the “lead federal agency” role in providing dietary advice to the public.”

Interestingly, the side of the USDA responsible for nutrition policy is under funded compared to Dairy Management, the side that’s pushing cheese. According to this Boston Globe piece, “While the USDA budgets $6.5 million to promote nutrition policy, Dairy Management had more than $140 million to play with last year, mostly through government fees on the dairy industry, but also with $5.3 million from USDA itself to promote overseas exports.”

Just like many other things the USDA promotes, I take issue with our government endorsing large scale animal agriculture, and thus animal cruelty. However, in this case I find it even more reprehensible that taxpayers are funding even a portion of the budget for a group whose sole job is to promote cheese consumption. It’s true that the majority of the work done by Dairy Management group is paid by the dairy industry itself. However, we’re still on the line for over $5 million dollars, and that’s in addition to the collective millions US dairy farmers receive in government subsidies every year.

While we hear again and again how America is in the throws of an obesity epidemic, here we have a government group whose job is to get even more cheese into our food supply.  Even if you don’t share my ethical concerns about the dairy industry, it’s not hard to see why this might be an issue. This increase in cheese consumption means hundreds and thousands of extra calories for American consumers, as well as an increased intake of sodium and fat. Americans take in an average of 33 pounds of cheese a year now, and Dairy Management hopes this will increase. Thankfully, the Center for Nutritional Policy and Promotion is not singing the same tune.

If there was ever a government program that deserves to be cut, it’s Dairy Management.   There is no legitimate reason to continue funding this group with taxpayer dollars.  I can only hope lawmakers take note.

___

P.S. – When going vegan, cheese was one of the harder things for me to give up. I hear the same thing again and again from other vegetarians; I just can’t give up cheese. Until recently, there weren’t very many good cheese substitutes. Now, thanks to Daiya and other brands, it’s much easier to replace cow milk based cheese with something less cruel that also tastes good.

Ahimsa

Ahimsa is a Sanskrit word that means “to do no harm”. I’d like to think that I live by this concept, but what I’ve determined is while I’m doing a good job of making sure cruelty doesn’t touch my plate, I’ve been doing a poor job of consistently applying this principle to other spheres of my life.

As I read recently, “Ahimsa or non-injury means entire abstinence from causing any pain or harm whatsoever to any living creature, either by thought, word, or deed. Non-injury requires a harmless mind, mouth, and hand.”

My vegan status goes a long way towards the avoidance of killing other living beings, however there are other ways to inflict harm. My consideration needs to extend to treatment of others as well. I seem to have little problems exhibiting willpower when it comes to food, but I need to gain some mastery over my mind and mouth. Unkind or villifying behaviour, things like dishonesty, hate and gossip, are all incompatible with the ideal.

In order to become more consistent with what I believe, I’m going to try my best to improve in this area– focus in on the positive and try to avoid the negative thoughts and speech. I’ve got some ideas on why I slip into injurious behaviours and need to consciously make an effort to cut back and quit.

Self improvement is never ending, a vast continuum.