Monday, March 31, 2008

NY Times and Meat Guzzling

Wow... what the hell have I been so busy with the last two months that I missed this amazing New York Times article titled Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler? Has this already been posted on all the other veggie blogs??

I can't improve upon this article, and am extremely impressed that it appeared in the New York Times. Well done dudes.

Here are some of the passages that made me raise my fist and say "Right f#$&*'ing On!" But, hell, this article is so good... don't read what I've excerpted, just read the article!!! : )

Global demand for meat has multiplied in recent years, encouraged by growing affluence and nourished by the proliferation of huge, confined animal feeding operations. These assembly-line meat factories consume enormous amounts of energy, pollute water supplies, generate significant greenhouse gases and require ever-increasing amounts of corn, soy and other grains, a dependency that has led to the destruction of vast swaths of the world’s tropical rain forests.

Growing meat (it’s hard to use the word “raising” when applied to animals in factory farms) uses so many resources that it’s a challenge to enumerate them all. But consider: an estimated 30 percent of the earth’s ice-free land is directly or indirectly involved in livestock production, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, which also estimates that livestock production generates nearly a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases — more than transportation.

To put the energy-using demand of meat production into easy-to-understand terms, Gidon Eshel, a geophysicist at the Bard Center, and Pamela A. Martin, an assistant professor of geophysics at the University of Chicago, calculated that if Americans were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent it would be as if we all switched from a standard sedan — a Camry, say — to the ultra-efficient Prius.

Though some 800 million people on the planet now suffer from hunger or malnutrition, the majority of corn and soy grown in the world feeds cattle, pigs and chickens. This despite the inherent inefficiencies: about two to five times more grain is required to produce the same amount of calories through livestock as through direct grain consumption, according to Rosamond Naylor, an associate professor of economics at Stanford University. It is as much as 10 times more in the case of grain-fed beef in the United States.

The environmental impact of growing so much grain for animal feed is profound. Agriculture in the United States — much of which now serves the demand for meat — contributes to nearly three-quarters of all water-quality problems in the nation’s rivers and streams, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Because the stomachs of cattle are meant to digest grass, not grain, cattle raised industrially thrive only in the sense that they gain weight quickly. This diet made it possible to remove cattle from their natural environment and encourage the efficiency of mass confinement and slaughter. But it causes enough health problems that administration of antibiotics is routine, so much so that it can result in antibiotic-resistant bacteria that threaten the usefulness of medicines that treat people.

Those grain-fed animals, in turn, are contributing to health problems among the world’s wealthier citizens — heart disease, some types of cancer, diabetes. The argument that meat provides useful protein makes sense, if the quantities are small. But the “you gotta eat meat” claim collapses at American levels. Even if the amount of meat we eat weren’t harmful, it’s way more than enough.

Americans are downing close to 200 pounds of meat, poultry and fish per capita per year (dairy and eggs are separate, and hardly insignificant), an increase of 50 pounds per person from 50 years ago. We each consume something like 110 grams of protein a day, about twice the federal government’s recommended allowance; of that, about 75 grams come from animal protein. (The recommended level is itself considered by many dietary experts to be higher than it needs to be.) It’s likely that most of us would do just fine on around 30 grams of protein a day, virtually all of it from plant sources.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Let the good times roll, except for dairy cows

Today has been quite the day for "go vegetarian" news stories:

  • Greenpeace has released a report titled Cool Farming: Climate impacts of agriculture and mitigation potential. Basically it's a summary of how agriculture causes climate change; notably, how energy intensive the meat industry is, and, ultimately, how wasteful.

  • You know how some city councils are banning bottled water as a gesture towards combating climate change? Camden Town in London, U.K. is recommending that city employees give up meat to fight climate change. Alexis Rowell said the idea of taking meat off the menu was based on United Nations data showing that the livestock industry is responsible for 18 per cent of the world's carbon emissions.

  • Vegan diets ease arthritis. At the same time, the vegans [in the study] developed a lower body mass index, had lower levels of bad cholesterol and higher levels of immune system factors that potentially inhibit the inflammatory reaction. The research was reported in the journal Arthritis Research and Therapy.

And I have to admit that I've reached the point where I find it completely offensive that the Dairy Board of Ontario supplies school boards in this province with educational materials. I'd actually prefer it if Coca Cola and Pepsi were filling our schools with "nutritious beverages" flyers - as least those guys aren't torturing animals (as far as I know). Plus, the Dairy lobby has caused enough trouble by using lobby groups to completely pervert the food pyramid. Bastards.

Milk: From Farm to Fridge, one of the publications that the Dairy Board of Ontario gets into classrooms, covers the following:

  • Milk and Machines

  • Dairy Goodness

  • Cow to Carton

  • Careers in the Dairy Industry

  • Animal Care and the Environment

If the dairy board gets to supply schools with educational materials, shouldn't we ask elementary principles to make sure that classrooms are stocked up with information from humane treatment organizations as well?

I.E., the dairy industry uses pharmaceuticals and reimpregnation techniques (i.e., these cows are constantly kept pregnant), to make the cows produce ten times more milk than their bodies are meant to produce. This causes them to suffer from a whole smorgasboard (sp?) of diseases, such as Mastitis, Bovine Leukemia Virus, Bovine Immunodeficiency Virus, Johne's disease, Ketosis (which can be fatal), and Laminitis, which causes lameness. And, ironically, another dairy industry disease caused by intensive milk production is "Milk Fever." This ailment is caused by calcium deficiency, and it occurs when milk secretion depletes calcium faster than it can be replenished in the blood.

Being treated as a machine in a factory farm reduces a dairy cow's lifespan from 25 years to approximately 4 years, at which time they are forced up a ramp, with prods and electric shocks, limping because they've gone lame standing in one spot all their lives, into the slaughterhouse to become your hamburger (oh yeah, and one hamburger has the meat from around 40 cows by the way).

Yeah, let's invite these guys to send their "Dairy Goodness" picture books to our schools. That seems right. Maybe Bush and Cheney can come by and tell our third graders about how good government works.

Be fruitful and multiply

You'll have to click on this image to enlarge it and be able to read it, but for a vegetarian this is a pretty good chuckle. Thanks Sue!!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

You're much sweeter than me, by far

Annalise, despite her recent mishap, got busy last night and whipped up two salads for us. One is Walnut Cranberry Squash "Rice" from Ani's Raw Food Kitchen. We're both hoping to introduce raw meals into our diet, and this was our (or Anna's) first recipe from this book. I didn't like it so much. Basically you run a Butternut Squash through a food processor, and then add walnuts, cranberries, cilantro, onion, cumin and coriander, but the taste of the squash was still too strong for me.

The other salad though is one of my favourites - Quinoa (scroll down the page a little) with cranberries, walnuts, sweetened with Maple Syrup, and some other seasonings that I forget at the moment.

This story about the recent meat recall is why I am so happy that none of my money is going into the pockets of meat industry executives.
I love it when the below mentioned executive says that he was shocked by the actions of his employees, when the meat industry fought for years, and, up until mad cow mania in about 2004, fought successfully, for the right to sell meat from "downers" to North American consumers.

The executive, Steve Mendell of the Westland/Hallmark Meat Company of Chino, Calif., said, “I was shocked. I was horrified. I was sickened,” by video that showed employees kicking or using electric prods on “downer” cattle that were too sick to walk, jabbing one in the eye with a baton and using forklifts to push animals around.

The video was taken by an undercover investigator from the Humane Society of the United States. One tape showed a worker using a garden hose to try to squirt water up the nose of a downed cow, a technique that Representative Bart Stupak, a Michigan Democrat who conducted the hearing where Mr. Mendell testified, referred to as waterboarding.

Testifying before the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Mr. Mendell, who appeared only after being subpoenaed, assured lawmakers that despite his lack of knowledge about conditions at the plant, sick animals were not slaughtered for food, so no safety issue existed.

But Mr. Mendell retracted the statement when shown a second video in which a “downer” cow was shocked and abused by workers trying to move it to the “kill box,” then finally shot with a bolt gun and dragged by a chain to the processing area.

When Mr. Mendell told the committee he was unaware of the abuses, Mr. Stupak asked him, “What’s your curiosity, as president and C.E.O. of the company you’re responsible for?”

Mr. Mendell replied that after he had seen the first video, he concluded that “it was a regulatory violation, for sure, it was inhumane treatment, for sure,” but that he did not believe it was a food safety issue until he saw the second video on Wednesday.

Mr. Stupak asked if one could conclude from the video that the cow dragged into the killing area had gone into the food supply.

“That would be logical, sir,” Mr. Mendell replied.

Actually, I wonder if these people eat meat that comes from their own factories?

Saturday, March 8, 2008

naked chicks + media = vegans!

Wow, Macleans magazine definitely got more interesting a few years back when the management changed. I used to find it boring as hell, but now I quite often find myself impressed with the stories and topics they present.

The most recent issue has a story called Go Veg! Get Girls! which critiques the increasing use of sex as an advertising tool to get people (or mainly men) to go vegetarian. For a number of examples of this type of advertising, and for some good commentary on this topic, check out this post on another Ontario veggie's blog.

Basically, you have the Vegan Vixens, who go on the Howard Stern show to flash their breasts and get a couple seconds of "go vegan" airtime, and you have stars like Alicia Silverstone and Eva Mendes and Pamela Anderson who perform in "I'd rather go naked than wear fur" type of ads, and you even have a Vegan Strip Club in Portland which lures men in to the club with girls, and tries to surprise the men with the realization, halfway through the evening, that they'd been eating vegan food for a couple of hours and that it was actually good!

Now, whether or not all this advertising works, whether or not it swells the ranks of vegetarians, is beside the point to feminists like Carol J Adams, who wrote The Sexual Politics of Meat. The above mentioned Social Cripple blog argues this point much better than I ever could, but as far as I understand it, you are doing vegetarianism no favours when you dangle naked women in front of men, like the carrot at the end of a stick, to get them to go veggie. In exchange for a few converts to the cause, you demean women. This, Adams would say, is not worth it.

Now, I don't disagree, but I would like to expand on this PETA argument: "unlike our opposition, the wealthy meat industry, PETA has to rely on getting free advertising through media coverage of our campaigns and demonstrations. Experience has taught us that provocative and controversial campaigns make all the difference."

Have you ever seen an ad for vegan issues on your local public transit? Ever seen an ad saying "Buy meat from a factory farm - support the torture of animals!" in your local newspaper? Were you surprised when they wouldn't even play this advertisement at the superbowl? The mainstream media will NOT take money from animal rights groups and run their advertising, because they're too afraid of pissing off most of their viewers/readers. And so, PETA will say that they have to be sensational in order to get any media coverage at all.

And so, in response to the "you're objectifying women" argument, PETA will say "more men bought a veggie dog today, and therefore less money went to the torture industry."

Now, another article in Macleans this week kind of demonstrates the above point. Local Schmocal by Pamela Cutherbert discusses how ethical the much touted local food movement really is, when the 100 mile apples you're eating are bathed seven or eight times with chemicals, and your pork came from a local factory farm.

Cutherbert mentions the group Homegrown Ontario, which is an an alliance of Ontario Pork, the Ontario Veal Association and the Ontario Sheep Marketing Agency. These guys, obviously, are trying to convince people in Ontario to buy meat raised in the same province. In a paragraph which kind of asks the reader "do you really want to support these guys?", Cuthbert writes that the 3000 pig farms in Ontario work as follows:
the typical pig farm in Ontario has roughly 6000 sows each year, where each animal is fed on a ration of genetically modified soybean and corn that is enhanced with antibiotics and growth horomones, to a mature weight of about 250 pounds in six months. They are raised entirely indoors with an allowance in group pens of eight square feet per animal.

My point in quoting this is that the incredibly tame, neutral language of the above paragraph is the most that a writer can get away with in a mainstream news publication (for American readers who don't know what Macleans is, it is Canada's version of Time magazine).
If you read that paragraph with no background in animal rights issues, you'd probably glaze right over it without realizing what it is actually saying. You don't realize that getting a pig to 250 pounds in six months means force feeding it a diet that it's body can't actually handle, and therefore, to enable the pig to survive, you also have to force feed it antibiotics, which is promoting the rise of anti-biotic resistant viruses like the avian flus and mad cows that have been in the news. The paragraph also doesn't mention the severe problems of manure lagoons and tail docking etc.

So, I guess, the question is this, if your hands are tied, and a group can't advertise in, or voice it's opinion in the mainstream media, is okay to get coverage by being sensationalistic?

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Your valleys and your farms

A recent issue of Macleans magazine has a cover story about why peak oil, and the use of corn etc for bio-fuels, is going to cause a massive spike in food prices very soon (in fact, this spike has already occurred in many parts of the world).

In listing a few of the causes, one passage ends with what vegetarians know is one of the answers to this problem - stop wasting 7 tons of soy and grain by feeding it to cattle, who only return about 1 ton worth of consumable meat.
Is the recent price bump due, as some argue, to passing or localized phenomena, like Australian droughts or the biofuel fad? Or is it rooted in longer-term forces that augur sustained and potentially distastrous shortages? After all, many of the conditions necessary to make the food armageddonists' predictions come true are now upon us. Water is scarce, fossil fuels are prohibitively expensive, fish stocks are near collapse and the world adds 80 million people every year. To that, you can now add global warming, which agronomists say is drying up vulnerable countries where farmlands depend on rain.

And then there's China. With ever greater purchasing power, Asian consumers are moving toward the higher-protein, better-tasting, meat-laden diet westerners have enjoyed for decades. Producing all that beef, pork and eggs requires vast quantities of grain that might otherwise be used to feed people. "On the amount of grain fed each year to cattle in the United States, you could feed 850 million people as vegetarians," says David Pimentel, a Cornell University agricultural scientist who studies the global food economy. "That's not a value judgment. It's a fact."
It's just boggling sometimes. There are so many reasons to be vegetarian (see previous post). Why don't more people get it?

And I came across this a little while ago, and couldn't believe it. The way that the U.S. has a strategic oil reserve to be used for emergencies, China has a strategic pork reserve.

And because I need to fantasize a little bit, here's the kind of farm I hope to be living on when peak oil hits and we all make for the hills.