Monday, June 20, 2011

Thanks for the Reminder, Wayne!

In case you weren't 100% sure that the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) offers nothing but a disinterested shrug to the question of whether or not non-human animals are ours to use, its President and CEO has issued yet another reminder:

I have been a vegan for 26 years, but the Humane Society is broad-minded when it comes to food. About 95 percent of our members are not vegetarian.

But I believe eating is a moral act, and we can make choices to minimize the suffering of (food) animals. We can buy cage-free eggs, buy pork that doesn't come from factory farms, and avoid eating veal and foie gras.

[... W]e don't say you must be vegan and we must stop all hunting. We're working to curb the worst abuses and we're very involved in the political realm.
If Wayne Pacelle earnestly views the question of consuming animals as a moral act -- one in which he does not directly partake himself, how on earth is it that he could condone that 95% of its members are not vegetarian and refer to this sad reality as "broad-minded"?

If "eating is a moral act", instead of paying lip-service to the rights of non-human animals to not be used as things existing solely for human pleasure, why not take the opportunity to suggest
not using them in the first place? Is doing so really so unthinkable to someone who chooses to refrain from using them himself? Why, instead, does he promote their continued use? Why does he opt to champion certain types of use as being somehow more moral than others? And why insist on doing it over and over again?

The truth is that HSUS is in the business of regulating animal treatment and without the continued consumption of animals and their products -- i.e. their continued use, Wayne Pacelle would find himself without his annual $250,000 (or so) salary. Why on earth promote veganism, then, when one's living is made off the blood of others? (An argument could also be made questioning whether someone who profits so clearly by facilitating the perpetuation of others' use of animals should, in good faith, consider himself vegan, but that's something I'll leave to better philosophers and debaters to weigh.)

Non-human animals deserve more than to have so-called animal advocates lulling people into continuing to provide the demand which leads to their being bred into lives of misery ending in slaughter. Maybe Wayne Pacelle doesn't think so, but I do. Don't you?

Go vegan. Talk to others about going vegan. If they're not ready to listen, talk to others who are. If you don't, who will? Certainly not Wayne Pacelle.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

What This Vegan Eats

I've been keeping meals really quick and simple these days and haven't been making enough use of the camera. That being said, here are a few "boring", "bland" and positively "unhealthy" dishes I've made over the past little while to keep me protein deficient, anemic, and basically fighting for my very life:

Vegetable-lentil soup with mushrooms. Seasoned with dill and Indian chili powder.

Homemade whole wheat crust topped with liberal drizzles of sriracha sauce, fennel seed, roasted slices of sweet potato, onion, red bell pepper, chopped portobello mushrooms, pickled hot banana peppers, fresh pineapple, slices of tomato, crushed garlic, a sprinkle of chipotle powder and a pinch of dried parsley.

Udon noodles stir-fried with portobello mushrooms, red bell peppers, onions, crushed garlic, organic tamari, sesame oil and a bit of fresh cilantro.

Gardein strips with homemade BBQ dipping sauce. A salad of raw carrots, red bell peppers, shredded broccoli & cabbage, cooked peas and a sweet onion/lime dressing.

Grated raw beet & carrot salad with a drizzle of lime dressing. Baked whole wheat wrap stuffed with roasted green bell peppers, black beans, cilantro, cheddar Daiya, crushed garlic, dried chipotle and a bit of salsa. Rice topped with extra spicy salsa.

And because there can never be enough pizza in my life:

Stage 1: Take a whole wheat pita and spread it with roasted garlic tomato sauce seasoned with fennel seed, basil, crushed garlic and spices. Top with cooked breaded Gardein chunks and sautéed mushrooms.

Stage2: Add pickled hot banana and chopped fresh red & green bell peppers.

Stage 3: Top with mozzarella Daiya shreds and bake in preheated oven until Daiya has melted, then devour.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Reinforcing Misconceptions: When Non-Vegans Weigh in on Being Vegan

I often stumble across articles in the media which are about vegans although written by non-vegans, and which don't appear at first glance to be fodder for any sort of lengthy or detailed post. Often, though, one of these articles will still contain something -- an assumption, a bit of misinformation, a certain tone -- that leaves me thinking about it long after I've moved on to read something else. I then return to it after some time spent mulling over whatever got under my skin and every once in a while, I'll try to tease it out into something I hope can lead to further discussion. This morning, it was an article by Coloradoan lifestyle columnist and chef Linda Hoffman called "Setting the table for all nutritional needs can be tricky task". Hoffman wrote the article after a neighbour approached her for vegan recipes, expecting the arrival of a couple of friends -- including one vegan -- who would be visiting for a week.

My first response to such a question would have been to suggest to her neighbour that she ask the friends in question for recipe ideas or information on their food preferences. When I visit others, I always offer to bring my own food and will often offer to fend for myself separately if my stay is prolonged. I'll even offer to cook a few meals for my hosts, mostly because I love to cook and enjoy any opportunity to share good food with others. One of my basic goals when visiting others is the same as any good guest's: To take all steps necessary to not become a pain in the ass so that the visit can be pleasurable for all. For a vegan, this often means doing a little bit extra to lighten the load and to fill in the blanks for my host so that there's no uncertainty or awkwardness during my stay. At least I try. I think it's because of this that I was disappointed that Hoffman didn't suggest to her neighbour that (s)he actually check with the forthcoming visitors to discuss meal arrangements.

Hoffman starts off on a considerate note that's actually a good general rule of thumb to follow when playing host to anyone, whether vegan or non-vegan. She states that when it comes to preparing food for a guest that

[i]t's one thing to provide food a friend can eat within the guidelines she's chosen and something else to serve food that can actually meet physical needs and makes the person feel cared for.
This is the sort of mindset that any host should hold when entertaining any guests, regardless of dietary restrictions or preferences. Unfortunately, she couches it in an initial presentation of hosting vegans as being "tricky" or "challenging". This needn't be the case at all, particularly if communication between guest and host is initiated and maintained on both ends. Hoffman makes it It's clear from the beginning, however, that she won't be facilitating this sort of communication.

Hoffman presents meal preparation during the visit as involving a need to balance options for the vegan guest as well as cater to the assumed needs of non-vegans who'll be at the table, and therein lies what I think is one of the main problems with asking a non-vegan for advice on how to deal with vegans at mealtime. In Hoffman's own words:
There is no need to impose a limited vegan diet on the rest of the group but it is important to serve a variety of foods that allows everyone to feel satisfied.
She views vegan food choices as "limited" and the attitude she conveys is that feeding vegan food to non-vegans is unthinkable -- that it would somehow leave them feeling unsatisfied. Of course, if you're reading this blog post, there's a really good chance that you're a vegan and that you've fed at least a few non-vegans at some point in your life and that you know from experience that this is bunk.

I think that given that she's an actual chef, Hoffman's suggestions for a week's stay of vegan meals are, in fact, embarrassingly "limited". She actually spends an entire third of the article discussing different variations on a bean and rice salad that can be served up as separate meals, insisting that "[b]eans and rice combine to provide complete protein". The thing is that there's no need to combine plant-based foods to obtain "complete protein"; this protein myth was discredited a very long time ago. Furthermore, it's just really disappointing that a chef -- a real honest to goodness chef -- would end up devoting an entire third of her article on what to feed vegans to suggesting variations of bean and rice salad. There are so many other equally simple ideas which could have been offered by anyone with far less expertise.

The other food options she brings up are "soy products" and grilled vegetables. At least she recommends serving the soy products with greens on the side, and she suggests allowing "the guest to choose" which ones to buy (remember -- communication between guest and host is key)... but she then suggests that the soy products can be "stir-fried or grilled next to steak or chicken breasts". I think that I speak for many ethical vegans when I say that I'd rather have a fourth or fifth (or sixth) meal of never-ending-variations-on-bean-and-rice-salad than eat meat substitutes fried up with animal flesh. What's sad, too, is that the idea that tempeh could possibly be served to non-vegans seems to escape her completely. She presents the same either/or scenario when discussing making open-faced sandwiches with soy cheese for the vegan but "real cheese for the others", as if somehow soy cheese is untouchable to anyone but a vegan.

The thing is that there are many dishes that non-vegans commonly eat which don't ordinarily (or always) contain animal products. These dishes can be shared by vegans and non-vegans alike at a meal without perpetuating this mistaken idea that every single meal enjoyed by non-vegans either does or should contain animal products (which then need to be substituted with soy replacements for vegans). How about pasta with marinara sauce alongside a garden salad and a grilled baguette brushed with olive oil, garlic and herbs? What about three-bean chili served with corn chips and guacamole? Or what about a gorgeous Middle Eastern mezze with raw vegetables and pita bread served with hummus and baba ganoush, rice-stuffed grape leaves (or other roasted vegetables like bell peppers, falafel, kalamata olives, marinated artichoke hearts and/or fava beans and tabbouleh? How about any number or variety of Asian stir fry served with rice or noodles or a scrumptious Thai curry made with coconut milk? These are all dishes my non-vegan friends have made at some point -- and not just when I was sharing the meal with them.

My point is that each meal need not be viewed as requiring the preparation of two separate meals, or of requiring any sort of special additional knowledge about vegan food that a non-vegan host might not readily have. Furthermore, each meal need not require the switching in or out of substitutes to cater to this idea that every single meal eaten by a non-vegan necessarily contains meat, dairy or eggs. Even when a vegan isn't sharing a non-vegan's table, vegan-friendly fare may be had from time to time. Add to this that any vegan guest would be happy to share his or her own meal ideas and to even cook something for his or her hosts that might be a little out of the ordinary, and I think that it would be difficult to agree with Hoffman's assertion that a host should view vegan food is "limited". I think it would be difficult to concur that that non-vegans would somehow be unable to leave the table satisfied or that they would feel "imposed" upon if fed any number of the things I listed above.

Still, as I wrote back in August, there are some non-vegans who do feel that they somehow need to consume a piece of flesh or a a mound of cheese to call something a meal. Hoffman would clearly fall into this camp. At least, her article would lead one to think so, which is why it's a shame that when mainstream media offers up bits of advice on vegans and non-vegans sharing a table that the point-of-view is always a non-vegan's. It invariably presents what a vegan would eat within the confined context of what the non-vegan writer imagines a vegan would eat; the general public ends up reading this and issuing a collective groan at the thought of ever facing the daunting task of hosting a vegan. Worse is that instead of providing them with useful advice, it reinforces any conclusions they may have been drawn from limited knowledge and experience and previous misinformation picked up through similar articles.

Wouldn't it have been a treat to read a piece which would have described how varied and delicious vegan food actually is? Wouldn't an article presenting the preparation of vegan meals as an opportunity to think outside the box -- to try something new without relying on animal products -- have left a more positive impression of veganism for Hoffman's readers? We need to get the word out any way we can that non-human animals aren't ours to use. In doing so, we need to knock down the barriers non-vegans set up for themselves when the message they're constantly and consistently delivered by other non-vegans in mainstream media is that going vegan is difficult, or that it's restrictive and tantamount to self-flagellation. We need to deliver a louder message that it's not, and that going vegan is, in fact, a joy.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Oh, Those Celebrities!

Just last month, The Biggest Loser's weight loss trainer Bob Harper lost an opportunity to promote not using animals. Harper went public in June of 2010 to self-identify as vegan and in doing so, has joined a handful of other celebrities who've spent the past few years sending one confusing message after another out to the public about what veganism actually is.

Last November, Harper was interviewed by Fitness magazine to talk to them "about his vegan lifestyle" and when asked for "healthy eating tips" he'd give to "readers who may or may not be interested in veganism ", Harper included trendy Greek yogurt with his vegan options. I don't know about the rest of you, but if given an opportunity as a vegan to educate the public about what to eat, my go-to place certainly wouldn't be to promote animal products. If I were a vegan who was also deemed an authority on personal health and fitness, I'd certainly jump at every opportunity to talk to others about not eating animals or their products.

But what do I know?
Even celebrity-beloved Farm Sanctuary seems a bit confused about whether or not humans -- even those who engage in animal advocacy -- should be using animals or promoting animal use. Some of their supporters questioned them on their Facebook page this past October 1 about whether Harper was a suitable spokesperson for their Farm Sanctuary Walk for Animals Campaign. At the time, Harper was also plugging Jennie-O Turkey, a company which sells turkey meat and is a major sponsor of Harper's Biggest Loser TV show. Farm Sanctuary's response to this reasonable question?

When working with celebrities, we understand that they are under immense pressure to maintain their public platform, and at times, and for a variety of reasons, their personal values may not always be reflected within their public persona. When we focus our energies on who is the purest amongst us, we do a disservice to animals.
So actually going vegan or(gasp!) expecting other self-described vegans to not promote animal use, according to Farm Sanctuary, does a "disservice to animals"? I guess, then, that they've found their ideal spokesperson -- although they at least didn't go so far as to select him as the celebrity face for the Adopt-a-Turkey Project they were in the middle of promoting. (I'm guessing that the suits at Jennie-O would have disapproved at such a blatant contradiction?)

Harper's spent a lot of time since outing himself as a vegan talking about the personal health benefits of veganism. During a Star interview this past May, which ended up discussed by many animal advocates online, Harper focused on veganism being about "feeling good" oneself. However, he also stressed that it's not altogether necessary to go vegan to attain this feeling of well-being:
I tell people all the time that you don't have to be a vegetarian or vegan to feel good, but I want people to rely more on plant-based foods. [...] For animal-eaters it's important that you get grass-fed meats and all organic produce. If you make sure you are eating in that way, you may pay more now-but you will save a lot on medical costs later.
Furthermore, although he did call himself a vegan in the interview, when asked whether he "miss
[es] meat", Harper responded with an emphatic "definitely" and proceeded to elaborate that he's a vegan who indulges his cravings for animal products because he doesn't feel that he should impose rules upon his consumption:
Look, nobody is perfect and I definitely have cheated but I don't beat myself up for it. I don't want life to be so regimented. If I want some cheese or something I definitely let myself.
In fact, when prodded further and asked if he allows himself "a cheat a day", Harper responded:
I don't necessarily have a cheat day, but I do allow myself to indulge once in a while without beating myself up. The other day I broke down and had some pizza-and it was so good!
Not to "beat" Bob Harper up, or anything -- since he seems quite concerned with not getting himself down over his self-identifying as vegan while continuing to indulge in consuming animals or their products because they're "so good!" -- but surely he's an intelligent enough fellow to understand basic definitions? Surely?

Not only does Harper call himself vegan while admitting to eating animal products in interviews, but (according to the non-vegan site This Dish is Veg) as recently as yesterday, he tweeted that he gave in to a craving for egg whites. To promote veganism? To promote Farm Sanctuary? It seems that the only thing Harper ended up promoting is his self-indulgent use of non-human animals. When asked by another tweeter if it was the first time since going vegan he'd consumed animal products, Harper (in flat-out contradiction to to the responses he gave in the interviews to which I've linked above) replied with an emphatic "YES!!!!!". When another tweeter asked him if he thinks that egg whites are vegan, Harper gave some indication that he does, in fact, understand the definition of "vegan" when he responded "NO".

Harper seemed surprised that some of the people who may have nonetheless thought he was the real deal have responded to his gushing over egg whites. His stating that he'd gotten "really HORRIBLE messages" was a little over dramatic, though; with the exception of one nasty pro-violence tweeter, most of what he received by that point were earnest questions from other animal advocates asking "why" he'd eaten eggs. Still, he chose to limit his response to that one nasty tweeter earlier. Judging by the hundreds of supportive responses he's gotten so far from non-vegans (and former "vegans") asserting that there's nothing wrong with consuming eggs, that what he eats is his personal choice, that there's such a thing as "happy eggs", I'd say that so-called "vegan" Harper's done a solid job delivering a clear message to the public that there's nothing wrong with consuming animal products. And no thanks to that one nasty tweeter, Harper's also helped facilitate the public perception of vegans as being hateful and deranged, as well as to hold himself up as a bit of a martyr.

Was he ever vegan? Probably not. But what concerns me isn't whether he was or wasn't; what actually concerns me is the fall-out from yet another celebrity's having presented himself as such and caused more damage than good. Sadly, it looks like the biggest losers today will be the non-human animals.

Monday, June 13, 2011

DIY: On Cleaning a Tooth or Two

I panicked a little at the grocery store over the weekend when my usual brand of toothpaste, Dr. Ken's, was missing from its usual spot on the shelves. I'd loaded up on it a while back during a sale and have no idea of when they ran out or of whether they've stopped stocking it. Not too long ago, the grocery store in question had gone several months without carrying the organic variety of Vegenaise I love and then recently resumed carrying it without explanation -- asking the staff about it had proved useless. Basically, there's no telling when or why a favourite item will vanish, so I try to stock up on non-perishable favourites when I can -- particularly when they go on sale. Dr. Ken's toothpaste became my "usual" brand because on top of being vegan, its taste isn't overwhelming and it's generally one of the more inexpensive of the brands carried by local stores. So with a little less than a half-tube of it left to go and refusing to shell out additional money to taste-test a different brand, I found myself with enough time to turn to Google to locate information to try to make my own.

Aside from containing animal ingredients and of having possibly been tested on nonhuman animals, commercial toothpaste often contains artificial sweeteners and flavours, as well as chemical preservatives. Much has also been written over the past couple of decades about the hazards of fluoride, whether added to toothpaste or to drinking water (please note that I haven't read enough about this issue to weigh in one way or another, myself). Considering that brushing your teeth is something you (ideally) do at least a couple of times a day, aren't you concerned about what it is that you're putting on your toothbrush and into your mouth?

A while back, I'd spent the better part of a year as an impoverished college student brushing my teeth with plain old baking soda. I would just sprinkle some baking soda on a small plate, wet my toothbrush, dip it in and then brush. Mildly abrasive, baking soda helps scrub plaque and stains off your teeth, leaving you with whiter looking teeth and fresher breath. It also raises the pH level in your mouth, which in turn combats the enamel-destroying acid created by the bacteria in your mouth. Concerns have been raised over baking soda being too abrasive to use regularly without wearing down tooth enamel, although this mostly becomes a problem if you brush too hard to begin with or use too firm a toothbrush. That being said, my dentist once told me that far too much gum damage is actually caused quite specifically by people brushing their teeth too hard -- something to keep in mind whether or not you use baking soda.

There are recipes for homemade toothpaste or tooth cleaner all over the internet. Seriously. They're common on a variety of blogs and websites because they appeal to the environmentally responsible (think of the packaging saved by making your own), to the thrifty and to the health-conscious. As it turns out, making your own toothpaste is so simple that it would also make sense that it catch the attention of penny-pinching, environmentally conscious, superfluous chemical avoiding vegans. The most common one you'll find is a variation on a combination of the aforementioned baking soda (with or without hydrogen peroxide), vegetable glycerin (for smoothness) and some sort of essential oil or extract such as peppermint or cinnamon for an all-natural fresh taste. Here's one example on the Instructables site. Here's another on the Vegan Epicurean blog. As an alternative to glycerin, some recipes use coconut oil. Find a recipe, try it yourself, then tweak it.

Let's face it: Sometimes vegan personal care products can be a bit pricey. This is one example, however, of how easy it is to make a cheap alternative of your own. A few years ago, I'd weighed the idea of integrating more do-it-yourself, vegan-friendly, frugal and sustainability-focused posts into the blog. Maybe this is a good time to revisit that idea. Please feel free to comment below if you have suggestions for future posts. Are there any items for which you'd like to find DIY alternatives to tackle at home?

Related post: DIY: Animal-Free Shampoo

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

I Know You Miss...

Bring up the issue of using meat analogues (or "mock" meats) on any vegan forum and you have my guarantee that the responses you will obtain will be quite varied; a few may even end up being of surprising intensity. Some love them and incorporate them readily into their regular meals, while other vegans feel pretty wigged out by what can sometimes be their fairly realistic taste and texture. Some view them as convenient, particularly when serving meals to non-vegans who are accustomed to having meals revolve around animal flesh; others view them as a reminder of the fact that most of society views meals as necessarily revolving around animal flesh. Some will even go so far as to express outright disapproval of their consumption. Some, on the other hand, address it with a bit more levity.

Whole Foods

My own journey towards veganism was long and slow, starting out with a vegetarian diet (too) many years ago which involved basic whole foods from the start. When I first decided to stop eating meat back in university, even tofu was something you could pretty much only find in bulk in a bin at a health food store. Most of the books on vegetarianism available to me were old natural foods cookbooks from the 60s and 70s I managed to find in secondhand bookstores (think Recipes for a Small Planet, for instance); they obviously predated what's become the mainstreaming of processed vegan foods. Instead of calling for a tube of Gimme Lean, a "meat" loaf recipe was more likely to call for mashed soybeans, nuts and vegetables. Burger recipes often consisted of beans, whole grains and grated vegetables instead of anything intended to in any way replicate the taste or texture of beef. I learned to cook from scratch in this manner and most of my cooking didn't involve trying to mimic animal products.

An Expanding Niche Market

Times have changed, though. At some point, soy dogs started to pop up everywhere, along with a growing variety of hamburger-like veggie burgers. Soy-based deli slices -- mock pepperoni, salami, smoked "turkey" and so on -- began to show up in ordinary supermarkets. The more time passed, it seemed, the wider the variety of options which became available -- and the more
realistic those options became. Living with a non-vegetarian at the time whose mantra was "If you cook it, I'll gladly eat it!" but who himself tended to lean towards convenience when needing to forage in the kitchen, I started to include some analogues on our shopping lists. I tried some of them out of sheer curiosity and ended up using some semi-regularly for convenience or variety. I'll admit that first tube of Gimme Lean! I bought after years of not having had animal products really wigged me out, although I quickly got used to it, knowing that it was plant-based.

Say "Cheeze"!

Processed fake cheese products have also increased in variety and improved tremendously in taste and texture. I remember the first time I had soy slices before going vegan and how they invariably seemed to contain casein and to smell like old sneakers. Perhaps because of this, most discussions of satisfying "cheese" cravings on the vegetarian and vegan message boards I frequented at the time involved recipes for nutritional yeast sauces or discussions of Joanne Stepaniak cookbooks, which included recipe for soy, nut or nutritional yeast "cheeses" of wide-ranging flavour and consistency. Today we have any number of completely vegan-friendly cheese analogues available, including Teese, Sheese, Follow Your Heart's Vegan Gourmet line and the latest (and it seems most popular) addition, Daiya.

At first only available in selected US restaurants or by mail order, Daiya has ended up in health food stores across North America and is now, too, becoming available in regular supermarkets. When it was first introduced in one chain's store in my tiny city, the 2-3 dozen packages of cheddar and mozzarella Daiya were sold out within a few days. Aside from being completely vegan, Daiya is also soy-free and has that rare trait that cheese substitute manufacturers have tried in vain to reproduce for years -- it's
stretchy like dairy cheese.

The cheese substitutes have been an occasional indulgence for me. I've most often picked them up when I've had non-vegan house-guests, although I do wholeheartedly appreciate a good plate of nachos topped with gooey
Nacho Vegan Gourmet or Daiya Cheddar Style Shreds. Although I'm generally quite thrilled with topping pizza with sweet potatoes or hummus and a mixture of tasty and tangy vegetables (see photo below on the left), sometimes it's nice to indulge in some Daiya Mozzarella Style Shreds just for kicks (see photo below on the right). Unlike many meat analogues, which are often fortified with any number of additional vitamins and minerals, cheese "subs" are often bereft of any notable nutritional value and on top of their being processed foods, are also rather junk-y foods..


Not being a heavy or frequent consumer of meat or cheese substitutes, I've never really thought about how their consumption could appear on the outside looking in. At least I didn't until I had a conversation with a non-vegan friend one day about my experimentation with Daiya when a local health food store first began to carry it. I mentioned pizza and she brought up that she'd had friends over the previous weekend for pizza and movies. She told me that she'd mentioned to one of her guests how I would have loved to have been there, but that it would have been "cruel" for me, since I "missed cheese pizza" and had told her once, many many years ago, how I used to love Italian sausage on my pizza. She told me that she figured that it would have been tempting for me. I asked why she'd think that and she said that I was "obviously excited about finding substitutes to satisfy my cravings".

I sat back at that point and then mentioned to her that after many years of not eating meat and years of not eating cheese that I craved neither. I told her that I now associate animal products with the animals from whom they're taken and that this involves being aware of how that comes to happen -- something I completely reject on both intellectual and visceral levels. I pointed out that during most of my transition to veganism, I'd settled into making dishes which didn't really involve trying to substitute animal products. "Yeah, but you're obviously excited about Daiya for a reason," she said. I wasn't, though. At least I wasn't for the reasons she was assuming.

Substitutes have generally been items I've used to offer up to non-vegans to make plant-based foods feel more familiar to them.
Daiya was (and is) just a fun plant-based ingredient for me to use to make dishes I used to make. It's just one of several plant-based options for me and since most of my cooking over the years has involved -- and still involves -- focusing on whole foods, processed substitutes aren't things upon which I rely at all. But after that conversation, I was left wondering how it appears on the outside looking in and what, if anything, I needed to do to address that. The truth is that I don't crave animal flesh and that the idea of deliberately consuming animal products is repugnant to me. I recognize analogues for what they are. They may provide some sense of familiarity, but without exploitation -- which is what I reject. I don't "miss" eating animal products, but I wonder if my sometimes consuming analogies is sending out a different message to non-vegan friends and family members. Could this be one more thing that needs to be lumped in when educating non-vegans about veganism?

Easy Meal Ideas of the Ages

The Vegan Black Metal Chef just released his second video. Enjoy! (Go "like" his Facebook page, while you're at it.)

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Want a Clear Conscience?

My Face Is on Fire's first ever official unofficial Boston correspondent forwarded this photo to me earlier today with the following description:

"[T]his signboard is outside of a place in Cambridge called 'The Clear Conscience Café.' Who needs the sacrament of penance when you can just . . . eat breakfast?"

So how about the rest of you? Have you stumbled across such ethical eating absurdities in your own towns or during your own travels? If so and you get a chance to snap a pic, please forward it to me at m.of.the.maritimes @ so that I can consider posting it in what could hopefully become a regular feature.

Meanwhile, want a "clear conscience" when it comes to using nonhuman
animals? Go vegan!

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Finger-pointing for Absolution: A Few Words about the Four Corners Story

Four Corners

For the past few days, animal advocates across the internet have been discussing
the recent so-called expose "of the cruelty inflicted on Australian cattle exported to the slaughterhouses of Indonesia". The story broke on May 30 when the ABC (i.e. Australian Broadcasting Corporation) television program "Four Corners" aired a program containing undercover footage of the cows fattened in Australian-approved feedlots and then slaughtered in Australian-approved slaughterhouses by Australian-trained Indonesian workers. I have not seen the footage, myself, for the same reason I don't gawk at accident scenes -- I've no doubt that it's completely awful.

Judging by the hundreds of related news articles from around the world covering this story (along with thousands of readers' comments left in response to those articles) and that the link to the story has been shared just short of 7000 times on Facebook and all over other social networking sites, it's evident that even the non-vegan general public is outraged. The story has gotten enough attention that the expression "treated like Indonesian cattle" has now even started being used to describe the grossly ill treatment of humans.

Follow the Money

much of the focus is being placed on the fact that Indonesia's "standards" for slaughtering non-humans are not as high as Australia's. A definite "us versus them" mentality has been reflected in the responses of the Australian government and cattle industry, proclaiming loudly and clearly that the cruelty involved in this whole mess is a deplorable exception limited to practices in Indonesia. The livestock export industry has promptly communicated its indignation to the press, as well. Faced with criticism for its direct involvement in the Indonesian abattoir expose -- as well as the possibility of a more generalized criticism of exporting live animals to a different country altogether for slaughter -- LiveCorp CEO Cameron Hall insisted in a press release that they really do want what's best for Australia's dear old homegrown cows:

"Cruelty to Australian animals is simply unacceptable. We will not tolerate it," Mr Hall said today. [...] Mr Hall said there was more work to be done, particularly at the point of processing, however if Australia was to cease exporting cattle, animal welfare would only go backwards. "No other nation has the same commitment to animal welfare as Australia and no other country invests in animal welfare like we do."
Australian politicians who've expressed the most indignation over the story have also been making it clear that it's not that cows are being raised for slaughter that's a concern and that Australian animal slaughter practices are somehow ethical and good. It's not even the stress of the cramming together and shipping off of animals to another country that's a concern for most. In fact, a strong argument being presented in response to the Indonesian slaughterhouse story is that ending exportation could ultimately help the Australian economy:
The end of live exports would boost domestic jobs with the processing of the animals done here rather than offshore, [independent MP] Andrew Wilkie said. "We should be processing these beasts in Australia," he said.
In tandem with this, many animal welfare groups and animal advocates have been propagating petitions to ban the further exploitation of live Australian cattle to Indonesia or featuring the story on their websites, often with gory clips from the original broadcast or with excruciatingly disturbing details of the footage which was taken.

When "Exception" is Really the Status Quo

The truth is that one need not single out Indonesia for abhorrent practices when it comes to the killing of non-human animals for human consumption; random undercover footage taken at slaughterhouses in many countries frequently display goings on which shock the general public. As Prof. Gary L. Francione commented on his Facebook page on May 31:
Does anyone believe that Australian slaughterhouses and slaughter in Australia as a general matter are "humane"? Any such belief would be mistaken. This is really a perfect example of how we try to delude ourselves into thinking that there are "civilized" ways to exploit nonhumans.
Minor punishments are doled out, promises are made to make nice with the cows and then after a collective sigh of relief is issued, it's all forgotten. Francione elaborated further by suggesting of this outrage-provoking news story that "it makes people [...] feel better to be able to point to someone else who does the same thing as 'uncivilized' while we pat ourselves on the back". Ground beef, rib roast and so on continue to appear on grocery lists and are then purchased and devoured without a second-thought being given to what a mere few weeks prior had seemed inexcusably "inhumane" -- at least until the next random undercover video of habitual goings on at slaughterhouses ends up making the rounds. Lather, rinse, repeat.

"We Need to Start Somewhere"

I got into a brief discussion with a vegan animal advocate yesterday who'd posted a link on a social networking site to a petition to ban the exportation of Australian cows to Indonesia. I asked if she thought her time and energy were being well spent in implicitly endorsing one form of animal slaughter as preferable to another, when she could instead take the opportunity to educate people about what is inherently wrong in any situation where a non-human animal is raised for slaughter. "But we need to start somewhere," she said. Why, though, should that "somewhere" involve contributing to the delusion that there is such a thing as an acceptable manner in which any animal could be raised and then killed for trivial reasons dictated by human habit or whim? Why waste a perfect opportunity to directly question the ethics of treating sentient beings as things which merely exist for human use? Why engage in activism which merely reinforces the idea that animal use -- animal slaughter -- is normal, and that it can somehow be morally acceptable?

Why can't that "somewhere" from which we need to start involve talking to people about going vegan? Think about it.