Thursday, January 29, 2009
Friday, January 23, 2009
Monday, January 19, 2009
Friday, January 16, 2009
Every morning, I scan my customized Google news for interesting articles on animal ethics. Today, I read about someone who's freaking out meat lobbyists -- Barack Obama's latest appointment, Harvard Law School professor Cass Sunstein. According to The Center for Consumer Freedom (which is funded by the tobacco, alcohol, fast food restaurant and meat industries), he's a "radical animal rights activist". Sunstein, a well respected scholar and legal expert, will be heading the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA).
Sunstein and Martha Nussbaum (a philosopher and scholar I've come across more than once) co-edited an animal ethics book together in 2004, and Sunstein wrote its introduction. The book explored legal, philosophical and political issues surrounding the idea of animals as property, animal sentience, etc. and contained essays exploring these topics from different perspectives. According to the Center, this book's intro expressed the need to increase regulation of the use of animals in agriculture, entertainment and scientific experiments. According to the Center's conservative spin doctors, this means
using government to get everything PETA and the Humane Society of the United States can't get through gentle pressure or not-so-gentle coercion. Not exactly the kind of thing American ranchers, restaurateurs, hunters, and biomedical researchers (to say nothing of ordinary consumers) would like to hear from their next “regulatory czar.”I find it sort of funny how they equate "radical animal rights activism" with something as moderate as an expression of a need to increase regulation of the use of animals in various industries, which is more in keeping with animal welfarism. The Center cites other stances he's taken, though, including comparing the current treatment of animals in these industries to the mistreatment of humans who'd been deemed lesser persons in the past. Sunstein also had the apparent audacity to argue against greyhound racing, animal testing for cosmetics (which is already regarded as archaic in the mainstream) and meat-eating. They assert that
as the individual about to assume “the most important position that Americans know nothing about,” Sunstein owes the public an honest appraisal of his animal rights goals before taking office. Will the next four years be a dream-come-true for anti-meat, anti-hunting, and anti-everything-else radicals? Time will tell. For now, meat lovers might want to stock their freezers.This is the first I hear of Sunstein and I haven't watched the speech to which the Center links in its article about his appointment, so I don't really know what his politics actually are in terms of animal ethics. He obviously seems to lean towards more compassionate legislation, but I'm not sure just how far he's willing to take it. I'm also unsure of whether this could in fact have any bearing whatsoever on his new position, since it seems to me that there's an obvious difference between creating legislation / regulations and actually enforcing how they're applied, and where the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) is concerned, I'm fairly sure that any policies they actually develop will have more to do with the overseeing of the application of existing regulations than anything. One way or another, he seems to be making some people nervous. I'll be keeping a close eye on additional developments, since he's got my attention, too.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
UK farmers are rallying to spread the word that food prices are on their way up over yonder, thanks to the European Parliament recently backing legislation to scale back the use of certain pesticides. According to this article in The Telegraph, farmers are saying that 10 per cent of chemicals will have to come off the market in the next few years and that in the UK, this "could halve potato crops, reduce wheat yields by a fifth and cause the loss of the entire carrot crop". There's an article in The Guardian about the predicted possible loss of the entire UK carrot crop. Are we supposed to believe that carrots really cannot be grown without pesticides? I buy organic carrots here in Canada and they're not a whole lot more expensive than conventionally grown carrots. Root vegetables are notorious for leaching metals and chemicals out of the soil (not to mention the contamination coming from pesticides sprayed on the plants above ground), so buying organic is always the safest bet anyway.
The Fooducate blog had a story on Sara Lee's introducing a new labelling system for its products. In it, they included a link to a short history of food / nutrition labelling (mostly in the US). It's worth having a look, if only to see how ridiculously splintered labelling efforts have become as different companies set their own respective standards for their multitudes of products.
Monday, January 12, 2009
Someone over at the Vegan Freaks forum posted a link to this today. Some of the comments / reviews on the Amazon site are hilarious. At first, I couldn't believe that anyone would market something like this to little kids, then I remembered that when I was little, we had everything from toy guns to real guns geared towards kids. Not to mention those plastic fast food restaurant sets where you'd get your tray, little plastic fries, plastic burger, plastic shake, et al.. It almost leaves me wondering who's really behind marketing all of this stuff.
The slow food movement's Civil Eats website had a bit a few days ago on Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson's op-ed piece in the New York Times about the damage we're doing to our soil and what it means in terms of our civilization's ability to survive. Jackson's a plant geneticist and president of the Land Institute, while Berry is a farmer and writer whose voice has been gaining significance in discussions of sustainable vs. industrial farming these past few years.
Marion Nestle recently posted on her blog that the Government Accountability Office just produced a report looking at how federal agencies regulate (or, more importantly, fail to regulate) genetically modified crops. Nestle writes that "[t]he report documents long-standing gaps in coordination and direction among the three regulatory agencies involved: FDA, USDA, and EPA". Read the rest here. This comes just in time for Monsanto's recent attempts to have a strain of drought-resistant corn approved in the United States. Two bits says the report gets forgotten in as long as it takes to air pop a handful of kernels.
Speaking of corn... The Ethicurean had a blurb a few days ago about how Monsanto's profits have doubled this past quarter and how they currently control 25% of the global market for seed corn. Must be nice.
Just after the US elections, a friend and I were sitting having a pint and discussing US politics, as well as the international economic chaos that's been going on over the previous month or two. He adopted the catch phrase "We'll see" and stuck to it for most of the evening. Not a big follower of news in general, aside from listening to sound bites here and there, he had an interesting spin on what had been going on. "It's just the mainstream media making it up to scare people," he said. "The economy is fine. Once Obama is in, everything will start to turn around." I told him that I wasn't so sure and that even with the bailout that the prediction by many economists (as reported in mainstream as well as indie media) was that the US (and along with it, a significant chunk of the world -- including our own country, Canada) was going to wallow in something resembling a depression more than it does a recession for at least the next year or two. "We'll see. I have confidence that Obama will change things," he said. "In fact, I wish we had one of him in Canada."
I cited stories about holiday sales predictions (which are now proving to be true -- retailers in the US experienced the worst sales in decades), about unemployment skyrocketing and all the rest of the stuff that's being discussed online, in newspapers, on the radio and on television. "We'll see," he said. "I feel really good about this. Let's have this discussion again after the inauguration and see how better things look then." With a little over a week to go, I'm thinking that that everyone else -- especially in the United States right now -- holding his or her breath for big change is going to end up a little dizzy and disappointed.
Sunday, January 11, 2009
I read about a device that a young British woman purportedly recently invented. There was a link to it on a favourite French language blog of mine. You basically stick a metal cylinder inside another sort of cylinder, fill the gap between them with sand and wet that sand, and the water's evaporation (from the sun) keeps the inside cylinder cold enough to hold perishables for several days. All you need to do to keep it going is add more water to the sand. You can read the original piece about it in the Daily Mail here.
The thing is that this is far from being some revolutionary invention. Zeer pots have been around for a while and use the same passive cooling process using two pots. I looked for them here on the amazing AfriGadget website (you wanna talk about innovation and sustainability -- check them out) but couldn't find them. Mohammed Bah Abba, a Nigerian teacher, has been credited with their invention on numerous websites.
Friday, January 09, 2009
Sure, she did a show on puppy mills, became a strict vegetarian for a heartbeat and dedicated a show to her dead dog. Her actions also reminded everybody of the double-standard by which most people live: Some animals are our beloved friends, while other animals are our tasty food. The fact that Oprah can get a pat on the back from an animal welfarist organization like PETA for purportedly being a powerful voice for animals as she continues to eat them is no surprise. All this award does is drill home that PETA thinks it's OK to be a hypocrite.
Tuesday, January 06, 2009
I was just getting caught up in Ecorazzi stories over lunch, when I stumbled upon this one about Burger King marketing a meat-scented body spray. No, seriously. The Ecorazzi story includes a link to where you can order it (and you should check out the user comments after following that link if you want to get a good idea of how disgusting the stuff truly is). Blech.
In an article titled "Views shouldn't oppress others" in the Jackson Sun, Angelia Stinnet (who?) uses a supposed encounter with a stereotypical "militant" vegetarian as an excuse to perpetuate myths and misinformation, as well as a fair amount of good ol' general derision, towards those who refuse to eat sentient creatures. If not for our living in the digital age, I'd suggest that whoever received her copy at press time must have had to dab the dribbles of venom off of it. She provides no context for this meeting, leaving me thinking that it was more fictional and hypothetical than anything -- a prop to deliver her ultimate message that people come first.
Let's just run through some of the words she uses to make it clear what her opinion is of the token vegetarian she claims to have met: militant, zealous, angry, righteous and superior. She basically has a message running through the whole piece that makes it clear that she wants to portray the vegetarian she met as a hateful know-it-all seeking to "oppress" other humans by insisting that they share her beliefs about not eating animals.
Dripping with sarcasm, Stinnet mentions that she didn't bother to waste her time informing the vegetarian about two studies (whose sources she neglects to cite) that she seems to think undermine any possible arguments that could be made for vegetarianism. Not that she ever elaborates upon anything really said by her token veg -- she's too busy vilifying her. Stinnet first refers to "recent research" indicating "that insufficient meat protein causes brain shrinkage in humans". I'm guessing that she had a vague recollection of some anti-vegetarian rant she read at some point that mentioned an article that appeared in the Times of India last September about an Oxford study that focused on a sample of around 100 people aged 61-87 and concluded that B-12 deficiency may lead to brain atrophy (i.e. not lack of animal-based protein, as Stinnet claims).
The Times of India article made the incorrect assumption that this Oxford study somehow proved that vegetarians and vegans are at higher risk of brain shrinkage, since the "best" sources of B12 are supposedly found in animal products. Ignoring the fact that vegetarians (albeit not vegans) do consume these animal products the Times article cites are all-important, how about taking a look at an actual medical publication's article about the study? The article in Medical News Today makes no correlation between vegetarianism / veganism and B12 deficiency, and, actually quotes one of the study's researchers as mentioning fortified cereals as a good source of B12. The article also specifies that B12 deficiency is an inherent problem with older people (remember -- the study's participants were aged 61-87) and that the study was in fact called "Vitamin B12 status and rate of brain volume loss in community-dwelling elderly". Furthermore, research has shown that high levels of the amino acid homocysteine (found in animal protein) leads to brain atrophy and is linked to the development of Alzheimer's disease.
The other study Stinnet mentions has to do with longterm high protein dieters losing more weight and purportedly having "better overall health". I'm guessing she's perhaps talking about the Diogenes project, which has been discussed in the news in recent months and which concerns fighting obesity (and which is sponsored by everyone from Coca-Cola to Kraft and Unilever). Oodles of research has shown over the years that we consume too much animal protein (along with cholesterol) anyway, and that this consumption causes all kinds of problems like cancer and heart disease. As well, there's far more than enough protein to be had in animal-free sources.
So Stinnet is talking out her -- er -- ear, basically. She wraps up her article by again presenting her token vegetarian's rage and wrong-headedness by perpetuating that ol' stereotype that people who care about animal suffering don't care about the suffering of human animals. She writes
"It crossed my mind that she might not believe in violence against animals, but would surely send meat-eating folks to the guillotine or, at least, instantly deprive the entire human race of meat without consideration of the consequences."What horror, "to deprive the entire human race of meat"! She accuses the young vegetarian woman of proselytizing and uses terms like "self-promoting" to describe her ('cause in trying to prevent or relieve animal suffering, you're obviously a self-absorbed egotistical chump?). After making all of these shaky leaps and associations, Stinnet waxes philosophical some more and makes it clear that all of her blathering up to that point was merely to provide a blanket of context against which she can contrast what she feels is the true life of virtue. She writes:
"The simplest truth seems that an opinion is never wrong and each of us has a right to express our views, but we are wrong when we lose sight of kindness in our effort to enforce our subjective ideals and virtues."So an opinion is never wrong? But it is wrong to "lose sight of kindness in our effort to enforce our subjective ideals and virtues"? This sure sounds pretty. I mean, after paragraphs of anti-vegetarian snickering, she's now bringing it all home to her message about kindness? So what she's saying is that a good vegetarian or vegan shuts the hell up? My favourite part of her final ramblings, though is when she writes
"I have come to an understanding that personal virtues are only righteous if others are not oppressed or abused and when others are left with autonomy and without injury or judgement."And this... this is where she makes it most evident that she really doesn't have any idea of why it is so many people actually refrain from eating animals and why these same people want so desperately for other people to understand these reasons and to stop eating animals themselves. She cites people like Ghandi (a strict ethical vegetarian) and Martin Luther King, Jr. as being stellar examples of "martyrs" for their causes (i.e. helping others free themselves from oppression and abuse). But who'll stand up for the non-human animals? How can you speak of autonomy and injury while bashing part of a movement dedicated to ending animal suffering and enslavement? And how can you lecture someone about not judging, when in doing so, you're passing judgment on 'em, yourself? Stinnet's problem is that her "others" are hairless and walk on two feet. There are not others outside of this -- the rest are things.
Monday, January 05, 2009
According to the Environmental Working Group, apples are ranked second highest in terms of foods that carry the highest pesticide loads. Pears are ranked tenth. I've done some reading up on apples over the past few weeks and have come to the conclusion that unless getting them from a local farmer who doesn't use pesticides and whose word can be trusted, they should always be purchased from sources that are certified organic. Pears should, as well. In fact, much of what I found out about apples applies to pears, as well.
The Environmental Working Group's tests a while back found that 91% of the conventionally-grown apples it tested had pesticide residue. Most apples were contaminated with more than one pesticide and in their samples, they found up to 36 different pesticide residues. Most apples were contaminated by 1-3 different chemicals. These pesticides included substances that are known animal carcinogens, that cause birth defects, that cause neurological damage or affect the immune system and that interfere with hormones and the reproductive system. The three most common were Diphenylamine (DPA), Thiabendazole and Azinphos-methyl. Diphenylamine is a fungicide that inhibits common apple scald. Thiabendazole is a fungicide used to control mold, rot, blight, etc. and which is usually applied post-harvest. Azinphos-methyl is an insecticide. Read the test results here.
Washing apples will remove some of the surface residue, but not all. Additionally, the problem with apples is that many of the pesticides used are systemic, which means that they're absorbed into the fruit. Keep in mind when purchasing apples (or any other organic produce) that if they're located near non-organic apples and any spraying goes on around them that there may be contamination from the non-organic apples. So? So when it comes to buying apples and pears, splurge. Spend the extra little bit and opt for the organic.
Once a week (or at least once every couple of weeks), I want to highlight certain foods that you should indeed go out of your way to buy organic, either because they're customarily genetically modified or they're grown using pesticides and tend to end up with a lot of residue. I figured that I'd use this to educate myself, as well, so that when I do my own shopping, I'll know where to best spend my organic dollars. My eventual goal is to create my own little shopper's guide to haul with me to the stores. I'll start with foods that I eat most often or that other vegans might find ending up on their own plates more often than not. I should have my first post on this over the next 24 hours. All feedback and questions will be much appreciated.
Sunday, January 04, 2009
During the holidays, Huffington Post featured a short interview by Kerry Trueman with food expert Dr. Marion Nestle about the USDA's organic standards. The interview kicks off with a reference to the recent story in the news about the company in California that managed to sell fertilizer that wasn't organic to up to a third of California's organic farmers for five years. It seems that a whistleblower told the state's Department of Food and Agriculture about it as early as 2004, but the state didn't take the product off the market until three years later, in 2007. Furthermore, state officials didn't come out and reveal its knowledge that this had been going on until a year and a half later, after the company had received a mere slap on the wrist for "mislabeling" their product.
Dr. Nestle talks about how the entire organics industry is based on trust and the integrity of the inspection process, and of how the "beyond organics industry" (which focuses on consuming locally and knowing who exactly is growing your food instead of relying on certification) is still entirely based on trust. She also comments that we have no real way of knowing how widespread cheating either is or isn't in the organics industry, regardless of certification. Business is business, after all, and as the organics industry becomes more and more lucrative, profit and not integrity will hold more and more weight.
Saturday, January 03, 2009
The Loyola University Examiner published what sounds like an amazing soup from Robin Robertson's Vegan Planet: 400 Irresistible Recipes with Fantastic Flavours from Home and Around the World (aka Vegan Planet). It's Thai Style Coconut Soup.
Yesterday, the New York Times' website featured a recipe for a vegan variation of kufteh (aka kibbeh) that sounds simple and yummy. The recipe has Aleppo pepper listed as optional. I've never used it, myself. Anyone else?
The Miami Herald also offered up a treat (albeit just before the holidays) that was vegan by chance. It's Senegalese Black-Eyed Pea Salad (Salatu Niebe). It's from Brooklyn Chef and Restaurateur Pierre Thiam's book Yolele! Recipes from the Heart of Senegal.
I hope to try the kufteh over the next few days and will post results if I get the chance.