Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A peek from the outside in

I've spent a fair amount of time in online veg*an communities over the last 10 years, or so. Many of them become virtual havens of sorts for people who feel isolated within their own communities or families for the choices they've made concerning whether or not they feel it's healthy or right to eat animals, or to participate in any way whatsoever in the animal slaughter industry by consuming other animal products. Often, younger vegetarians come looking for advice on the best way to placate and educate a parent or guardian.

This ''Dear Abby'' sort of Q&A I stumbled across online caught my eye, because it presents the other side of what I've often heard expressed about unsupportive family members. It shows someone from the outside looking in. Reading it almost left me holding my breath. I was anticipating that the response to this woman's concerns would involve advice to treat the vegan ex-wife as being in the wrong (since so many mainstream omnis view veganism as extreme). It was a nice suprise to see otherwise.

Read it here.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

So they're sentient. What next?

I stumbled upon a seemingly thoughtful and thought-provoking piece this morning on the website for the Scotland on Sunday paper. The article discusses animal sentience and how our views concerning it have evolved over the years. The article kicks off with the story of Gana the gorilla at Germany's Muenster zoo, whose offspring died recently and who for several days displayed obvious signs of grief, refusing to part with her baby's body. Richard Bath, the article's author, continues by noting zoologist Dian Fossey's extensive work with gorillas and how she's observed them mourning the loss of their young. Bath then asks whether these are truly indications of similarities in emotion between our fellow primates and ourselves, or whether we're merely projecting. Are we ultimately just looking for something that isn't really there?

Bath provides context for why we've come to view other animals as lacking in sentience and spends some time discussing how we've since started considering that this isn't so. Modern research shows that chimps who are subjected to the cruelties of vivisection, for instance, even end up suffering from what we recognise as post-traumatic stress disorder. Bath goes on in this empathetic vein, comparing speciesism and the fight to establish basic rights for sentient non-humans to abolitionism and the all-too-recent battle to establish basic women's rights.

Bath then reverses course somewhat abruptly and points to the usages of terms such as ''non-human animals'' and "companion animals" (which are now used instead of "animal" and "pets") and he describes them as stemming from political correctness. He elaborates upon this by pointing out instances of legal measures enacted to protect animals which he deems excessive. And then? Then he brings up the ''a'' word: ''The trend is exacerbating out tendency towards anthropomorphism -- the allocation of human traits to animals''. So after paragraphs spent describing animal sentience, Bath goes from pointing out emotions and cognitive abilities shared by humans and non-human animals alike, to asserting that we are the ones somehow projecting our ''human'' traits on non-humans, as if we have dibs on sentience after all.

Bath ends his piece bringing things back to Gana, writing about her prior rejection of another offspring as if it's an indication of the great divide between "us and them". He ends with a question for which he seems to think there could only be one answer, which he uses to prop up his final point that animals are, in fact, inferior to humans. He asks: ''Would most human mothers in similar circumstances do likewise?'' and adds: ''For the moment, it seems, some animals are still created more equal than others.'' The irony in this is that it assumes that human mothers wouldn't abandon their offspring, when volumes could be written illustrating the exact opposite. From the scared teenager who secretly gives birth and leaves her baby bundled for another to find (or in a garbage can to be forgotten), to the parents who walk away from their families at any given point in their lives for any number of reasons -- these are indeed unfortunate facts of ''human'' life. Furthermore, Bath asks if most human mothers ''in similar circumstances'' would do the same as Gana. I'm not certain of whether there have been studies involving women raised in captivity being given the option to either keep or give up their offspring. We -- including Bath -- can really only speculate, rather than assume and use that assumption as a wedge between us and our fellow primates, or between us and the rest of our fellow animals.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Le Mystere des voix Bulgares

I was listening to some of their songs just earlier this morning (specifically, the album on which the first two can be found). A friend recently went to hear the choir in Québec City -- I can't even wrap my head around what an experience that must have been.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

FDA to allow irradiation of produce

I read a story on the San Francisco Chronicle's website this afternoon about the FDA's recent decision to permit the irradiation of fresh spinach and iceberg lettuce (i.e. it's being permitted, but not required). The reasoning behind it is that it will kill any possible E. coli or salmonella on these leafy vegetables. These aren't the only irradiated foods that will be permitted on the US market. The irradiation of many animal products, as well as of dried spices has been permitted for some time. Labeling indicating the foods in question had been irradiated was required, however, which limited the number of producers wanting to indulge themselves in using this technology for food processing. So? Now the FDA is thinking of changing the labeling requirement altogether -- basically, to leave consumers in the dark so that they're unable to choose for themselves. Now applications are apparently pouring in for permission to irradiate other types of lettuce and vegetables.

Critics say that not enough testing has been done on the safety of irradiating food, or on its effects on food's nutritional value. I'm wondering, myself, what effects irradiating food would have on phytonutrients in it, for instance. There's so much about nutrition that we still don't understand, especially in terms of synergy.

The Organic Consumers Association featured a story on this that definitely presents an anti-FDA side of it. It also seems to indicate that the irradiation is already being allowed to proceed without labeling. Hopefully, I'll be able to dig up some clarification on this over the next few days. As of today, there was nothing on the FDA's press release page on their decision.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Tom Waits Press Conference

Oh what I wouldn't give to see the fine Mr. Waits in concert!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

More misinformation about vegetarianism in the news

There was no wondering which way this veg-related opinion piece on Raleigh-Durham, NC's WTVD-TV website was going to lean after reading its subtitle. The title "Is Vegetarianism Better?" leads into "Have you ever been bullied by a vegetarian?" and Health Blog writer Akiia James proceeds to share her story of her own experience as a malnourished vegetarian (she describes it as having been "lacking in nutrition"), by virtue of having been what she calls an "uneducated vegetarian". In her article, she promotes a website called "The Fast Guide for Vegetarians and Vegans" as being a good resource. The site features numerous articles, most of them sketchy and well-intentioned at best, but with others with titles like "The Top Five Nutrients Vegetarians Lack" which features protein at the top of the list (and don't get me started on this ridiculous protein deficiency myth). James provides this info, although asserting that she herself is now a happy meat eater who chooses to get her protein from animal sources and who knows several other vegetarians who have resumed meat eating because of their own exercise regimens.

So I have to ask what the point of the whole article is. Why offer up information on vegetarianism if you're going to admit that you failed at it because you ate an unhealthy diet (i.e. lacking in "whole grains, legume and larger quantities of green leafy vegetables"), that you think going back to eating meat was the healthy and "satisfying" choice and that many of your vegetarian acquaintances followed suit. Yet, James claims that she "understands and respects both sides of the issue", even though she starts the article with some sort of vague gripe against a vegetarian on a radio talk-show and then spends the rest of her time going out of her way to show that her personal experience points towards meat eating being the right choice.

The article was badly-written, incredibly biased and uninformative. Mucho downward thumbishness, it gets from me.

Monsanto's getting out of the bovine growth hormone biz

Just today, it was announced that Monsanto has sold its Posilac synthetic hormone (aka rBST, rBGH) to veterinary pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly & Co. for a whoppin' $300 million bucks, plus "contingent consideration" -- whatever that entails. At the end of the day, Monsanto's stock rose, Lilly's fell a little, and now we'll wait to see what happens next, as Lilly inherits the criticism Monsanto earned while pushing this hormone and bullying companies in court who'd sought to label their own dairy products as hormone-free. The Organic Consumers Association has tons of info on the hormone and its effect on cows.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Veganism in the news

'K, so I don't usually read tabloids or follow entertainment ''news''. I've been living cable-free for over two years and generally care more about my cats' relationships than Brad and Angelina's. That being said, I read a blurb on the only entertainment site I do read from time to time, Ecorazzi, that turned my head a little, 'cause good press is just plain ol' good press. Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi were married this past weekend. Back in October, Gray Francione had addressed the big ''to do'' over Ellen's adopted dog Iggy, taking a bit of a reasonable look at what customarily happens when people adopt from rescue groups. At the time, he'd also taken issue with the fact that Ellen had sobbed on national TV over a dog, while happily reporting this or that animal-based meal on her blog. Which, brings me back to the fact that DeGeneres and de Rossi were married this past weekend. After they exchanged rings, an all-vegan meal was served to their guests -- including a vegan wedding cake. As far as I know, neither DeGeneres or de Rossi is even vegetarian, but I think the gesture was swell.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Cockfighting in Louisiana and one newspaper editor's take on it

On Friday, Louisiana became the last US state to ban cockfighting. At a press conference at the East Baton Rouge Parish Animal Control Centre, state Attorney General James D. Caldwell and HSUS announced the ban (along with a ban on dogfighting). According to HSUS, reports show that

(t)hese cruel and illicit encounters are spawning grounds for other criminal activities, including drugs and violence, dragging down entire communities. Credible studies and law enforcement experts agree that people who engage in this kind of violence against animals are likely to exert violence against people.

Two days later, Houma, Louisiana's The Courier decided to publish a video of what they asserted was probably the last legal cockfight in the state. Along with it, Keith Magill, The Courier's Executive Editor, decided to wax philosophically about whether or not the killing of animals for either sport or food should turn our heads, regardless of the suffering they endure in either practice. It's pretty obvious that his intention is to express that it's hypocritical to condemn cockfighting if one enjoys happily munching away on factory farmed chicken. I tend to agree with him and believe that if you condemn one, you should condemn the other and act accordingly by not supporting either. He makes his own position clear about eating animals early on, though (''I consider myself an avowed carnivore''), and in doing so, seems to imply that it's perfectly alright to acknowledge another creature's suffering but to then turn a blind eye to it for the simple sake of one's own pleasure.

While it was likely just the convenient use of an old cliché, Magill's opinion piece's title ''We Are What We Eat'' speaks more about the workings of his own mind and personal system of ethics than it does anything else. He raises examples of the suffering that's inherent in the animal slaughter industry, but punctuates his article with affirmations of his unfaltering love of the taste of various ''delicious'' chicken parts. Reading this opinion piece felt like being tossed around on a raft at sea, as he juxtaposes images that at face value seem intended to ellicit compassion (e.g. ''Millions of chickens, according to one USDA report, make it alive into the 'scald' tank where they either die from burns or drown''), with unapologetic statements flaunting his lack of guilt in feasting on these same chickens, regardless of his knowing what they suffered on the way to his plate (''I'll probably think about it as I bite into my next delicious Chik-fil-A'').

When he brings up cockfighting, he claims to have mixed feelings about it, but then launches into a paragraph where he poeticizes the bloodsport, saying that it ''possesses some oddly admirable, even beautiful, qualities'' and then that ''(e)ven if you abhor the practice, the valor of two animals in a battle to the death, the artistry of their lethal dance and their sheer will to survive are amazing to behold''. Thanks for going all Hemingway on us, Magill, but there's nothing beautiful or courageous about strapping spikes to a couple of birds and throwing them at each other so that a bunch of cro-magnons can have some fun waging bets while getting off on another creature's suffering. Incidentally, here's what the HSUS has to say about this thing Magill finds beautiful and courageous and the people who are drawn to it. It ain't pretty, boy-o.

Ultimately, Magill's focus on the nastiness of the slaughter industry after going off on his little creative spurt is by no means meant to soften anyone's heart to the brutal treatment of animals in said slaughter industry. Instead, it's meant to drive home that cockfighting is really no different from what animals go through to become our food, and since that food is soooo yummy and Magill (as he expects his readers will want to do) intends to continue devouring it with pleasure, then why be disturbed about cockfighting? He's right that it's illogical to condemn one and condone the other, but wrong to suggest (even though he never blurts it out in so many words) that one's willingness to turn a blind eye to one type of suffering should leave one able or willing to turn a blind eye to a second instance of suffering. He's discussing ethics while admitting that he's able to remove himself from caring about his own accountability concerning harms he acknowledges are real. That someone with this mindset should take it upon himself to address what he views as hypocrisy in terms of ethics just seems a little weird, y'know?

World Water Week -- John Anthony Alan on biofuels and on consuming less meat

It's World Water Week in Stockholm. At least 2500 experts have gathered in Sweden at the Stockholm International Water Institute to discuss water-related issues ranging from sanitation to sustainability. The winner of the institute's 2008 Stockholm Water Prize, British professor John Anthony Allan, took the opportunity to issue a warning about what he predicts will be the frightening global impact of the increasing use of biofuels. He also stated that meat consumption is just plain old bad news for the world's environment -- particularly because of the huge amount of water wasted in raising animals for food. He called upon people to lower their meat consumption. The sad truth is that this isn't groundbreaking news. Experts have been talking about the meat industry's impact on global water supplies for years; we just haven't been listening.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Jenny the elephant and the Dallas Zoo

I read a story this morning about a 32 year old elephant in Dallas who, after being snatched from the wild and suffering horribly at the hands of a circus trainer known for his cruelty, ended up at the Dallas Zoo. According to the New York Times article I read, Jenny suffered (and still suffers) for years from depression and the equivalent of post-traumatic stress disorder. Now, after her latest companion has died, the zoo wants to send her off to a Mexican safari -- a drive-through zoo.

Elephant experts and protesters are fighting to have her sent to this quiet sanctuary in Tennessee, where she can live out her remaining years free of stress and away from the public. She's been the center of attention in Dallas news, where most seem to be voicing the opinion that this emotionally disturbed elephant -- who's displayed extreme aggression towards both people and other elephants and who's engaged in serious self-mutilation requiring the administration of heavy tranquilizers -- deserves better than to be a pawn in some zoo lobbyists' political game. According to the Dallas Zoo's website, in Mexico Jenny would be housed in a 4.9 acre elephant educational exhibit with two other females and a breeding male, where she would ''continue to offer visitors an appreciation of the natural world''. In Tennessee, Jenny would have free range of 300 acres with three other elephants, and only sanctuary staff would have contact with her.

This document from In Defense of Animals purportedly provides a history of Jenny's behaviour and subsequent treatment and makes a strong case for her being relocated to a quiet and more secluded place, bringing up repeated examples of her inability to cohabitate with other elephants without heavy sedation, and of her strong aversion to noise and activity around her -- all of which would be obvious issues at a safari park.

Fredericton's Friday Night Docs series set to kick off again

Part of the Cinema Politica project offering free political film screenings and organized by the Montreal-based non-profit überculture, Fredericton's Friday Night Docs series runs at Conserver House at 180 St. John St.. I just noticed that their fall schedule is finally up and that they're kicking things off on September 5 with a viewing of one of my recent favourite documentaries, The World According to Monsanto. It's about as must-see as must-see gets for anybody who eats. That's my take on it, anyway.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Deconstructing the anti-veg formula in today's oh-so-trendy opinion pieces

The Miramichi Leader (OK, decidedly not so trendy in and of itself) featured an opinion piece yesterday -- a glorified blog post, really -- that's essentially just an immature, ill-informed and condescending dig at vegans. (What's up with all of these newspapers reprinting blog posts or hiring on their own volunteer bloggers, anyway? Are they just too cheap to pay people to write about news anymore? Is it that so many more people are relying on blogs for their information these days that the newspapers are just desperate to stay hip and cling to their readership?)

These post-Pollan anti-veg pieces, in particular, are becoming so commonplace and so formulaic. Here's what I mean: There are the obligatory references to how scrumptious meat is (e.g. ''if they started selling Raisin Bran with two scoops of bacon bits, I'd be sorely tempted''). Since all omni dishes purportedly revolve around a fleshy bits centerpiece, an assumption is presented that vegan dishes should also, by default, revolve around a meat substitute (e.g. ''as I can tell, the main staple of their diet is tofu) and then, a description is put forth of how inedible that obligatory meat substitute actually is (e.g. ''it tastes just like gym socks''). There is also, of course, the token quote from some sort of food ''expert'' to back this or that aspect of the writer's dismissal of veganism, usually from a non-veg chef, cookbook author or nutritionist who either a) knows little or nothing about vegetarianism, or who is b) known to be prejudiced against it:

I called my son-in-law, who is a chef, and asked him for some vegan recipes. He just chuckled. "Good luck with that," he said. He asked what kind of vegan she was.

Add to that the general mocking of veganism simply based on an ignorant assumption or bit of misinformation the writer perpetuates (e.g. ''maybe vegans only eat vegetables that die of old age or something'') and then, of course, the old slap on the back and ''hey buddy, can't you take a joke?'' ending (e.g. ''I'm kidding, of course, and I hope all you tofu-lovers won't throw your healing crystals across the room in anger'') that never fails to bring to mind every unimaginative and transparent passive-aggressive former co-worker I've ever had. Presto! You have today's typical trendy anti-vegetarian newspaper blurb. Am I not right?

Philadelphia City Paper article claims rising fuel prices are making it harder to eat vegan

The article is a bit misleading and seems to be a whole lot of writing just for the sake of writing. Rising fuel prices are making it more expensive to eat anything. The article perpetuates the myth that veganism is complicated and requires special food substitutes that are only available in specialty stores.

A quote from the article:

Vegans, according to Widener University professor of economics Joseph Fuhr, have been particularly hard hit by increasing food prices, driven up by the price of gas. "They have less flexibility in terms of what to buy," he says. So when one item increases in price, it's that much harder to find a substitute.

"When you're cooking for a vegan person," says Rachel Klein, who runs Miss Rachel's Traveling Fare, a local vegan and vegetarian catering service, "you can't get everything you need from one store. ... I'm going to Whole Foods, I'm going to Trader Joe's, to Wegmans, to ShopRite. I'm going to the Vietnamese market." Gas prices on these errands add up.

Things are especially difficult for restaurants. "People are expecting a certain level of quality that we're not going to sacrifice," says Rich Landau, owner of Horizons restaurant in Bella Vista. "At a restaurant like ours, it's got to be about freshness ... We need trucks in front every day." With new fuel service costs, that can cost Landau an extra $10 to $15 per day — which he is eating, rather than passing along to his customers.

As for the first two paragraphs of this quote, these people being quoted seem to be making the assumption that vegans require specialty processed foods that can only be found in health food stores (which means having to burn more gas driving around). That's grossly misleading. I get most of my stuff from one of the two major supermarkets in town, and most of the foodstuff that I get is pretty basic -- legumes, produce, whole grains, tofu, et al. -- and is pretty much available almost
anywhere I'd shop. Even the specialty processed vegan foods (e.g. meat subs) are generally available most anywhere now, as well.

As for the last paragraph in the quote -- I'd hope that this applies to any kind of restaurant, not just vegan restaurants, and it does nothing to support the article's claim that vegan diets, specifically, are dependent on cheap gas in any way. At least no more than any other diet.

Read the rest of the article here.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Roots & Lentils Casserole

I made this on Sunday. I never thought to take a photo. It was really yummy with the crushed garlic (I adore garlic, so I added lots) and extra black pepper. I had it with tossed garden salad drizzled with a zesty sundried tomato dressing.

Roots & Lentils Casserole

What you need:

One cup each of the following:

Chopped onion
Chopped celery
Diced turnip
Diced potato
Diced carrot
Diced parsnip
Dried red lentils


Two cups boiling water
1/4 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly-ground pepper (or more, to taste)
crushed garlic to taste (optional)

What you do:

Place first seven ingredients in an ungreased 3 L (or quart) casserole dish and stir them to mix well.

In a medium-sized bowl, stir the boiling water and peanut butter together until smooth. Stir in the salt and pepper and crushed garlic (I like to use at least 3-4 cloves). Pour over the vegetables in the casserole dish and bake in a 350F oven for around 1-1/2 hours, or until the vegetables are tender. Makes around six servings. This is great with a large tossed salad and some whole grain rolls.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Vegetarianism in the news

I stumbled upon an article about a chef who'll be a guest on today's Oprah for a sandwich cookoff where three chefs will be paired with three Oprah fans. The chef was planning on making some sort of lobster, crab and cow concoction until...

...when Stone met the fan he would be paired with, she uttered four words that changed everything.

"She came up to me and said 'So, I'm a vegetarian'," he says. "I was like, 'Oh great. Just great,' and went right back to the drawing board."

After a brief moment of panic, Stone and his helper got to work, planning, shopping for and cooking an elaborate meal.

"We ended up doing a trio," he says. "A cocktail, a crab cake sandwich that was like a mini burger and a falafel. Thankfully, her doctor had said she should eat more protein, so she was willing to try some crab."

Yet another incidence of mainstream media presenting the eating of fish (or other water-dwelling critters) as vegetarian-friendly, as well as another perpetuation of the protein myth (i.e. that vegetarians don't get enough)... I'm irked. Sorta. I wonder if any of this will come up in the show.

And then while reading the New York Times...

Yes. Yes, Nicholas D. Kristof, it does indeed seem like ''soggy sentimentality'' and ''hypocrisy'' that you pretend to support animal rights, when in the same breath you assert that you enjoy devouring them. It's like someone asserting that he stands up for women's rights, even though he slaps his wife and daughters around at home and then -- whimsically -- shrugs off his doing so by blaming it on his upbringing. I mean, c'mon?