Sunday, February 24, 2008

you don't eat meat OR dairy?!

Yesterday Annalise and I spent a day with some people that we hadn't been in touch with for a while, and who didn't know about our vegan thing.

Surprisingly, I don't actually get the "why are you vegan" question very often. It came up several times yesterday though, and I realized that it has become such a hard question to answer because vegans know that there are several extremely good reasons to give up animal products, and really, there aren't any good reasons to eat animal products. So, when we hear "why don't you eat meat" our internal and unspoken reaction is something like "Holy S%*T! Why the F&*K would I?!!?"

I find it hard to think of why people do eat meat, beyond the fact that they grew up doing it, have never in their lives given it a moment's thought, and just continue to do what they've always done.

I mean, imagine this scenario - we are able to wipe the slate clean, and sit every person in North America down at a decision making table, and say "Here is a list of reasons to eat meat, and this page here is a list of reasons to go vegan. Think it over a little while and see which you'd rather do."

Here is what the two lists would look like:

To eat meat

  • You might eventually start to like the taste of it

To go vegan

  • It's healthier for you - especially reducing risk of diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and cancer.

  • It's better for the environment - limiting both pollution and climate change (the rule of thumb being that you can reduce your carbon footprint more by giving up meat than by giving up your car)

  • You reduce the amount of your hard-earned money that goes into the pockets of some seriously corrupt corporations

  • You contribute far less to world starvation

  • You stop funding an industry that is both a) increasing the risk of diseases like avian flu and mad cow while also b) decreasing the ability of our anti-biotics to fight these diseases

  • Looming large behind the issue of whether or not it's ethical to eat animals, you fall on the right side of the debate about whether or not it's ethical to torture animals

Hmm, maybe I'll start refusing to answer the "why don't you eat meat?" question in social situations, and just have business cards made up with a link to this post. Then I could hand people the card and say "Let's not talk about this now, but if you're really interested, read this post, and look through my blog sometime."

If you want a good overall summary of this stuff, click here, or watch this.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Protecting corporate power against democracy

I've been reading Christopher Cook's Diet for a Dead Planet, and it has got me thinking about why I'm a vegan.

The big three reasons for being vegetarian or vegan are to protect the environment, for personal health, and for animal rights. The big reason I'm increasingly proud to be veggie is a little different. The more you read, the more evident it is that "big agriculture" is as corrupt and immoral as big oil, and I simply refuse to give these people any more of my money than I have to.

The ties behind big agriculture and government go back into the distant past, but for my purposes let's start with Michael Pollan's story about how U.S. legislators in the 1970's tried to recommend eating less red meat after getting good data that this would reduce heart disease. The agricultural lobby went ballistic, and told all these legislators that they would be actively campaigned against in their next election if they put forward their new dietary guidelines. What happened? Agri-business won, the government caved, and Americans kept getting heart attacks at higher rates than they needed to.
Picture from Choose Veg's dairy page.

According to Cook (pg 40/41), the beef lobby all by itself donated $28 million to U.S. politicans between 1990 and 2003. Republicans get most of this money, receiving 83% of the $500 000 that was given to congressional candidates in 2002. What does the beef industry get in return? Well, they get members of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association hired as aides within the U.S. Agricultural department. They get politicians to quash, time and time again, laws prohibiting the sale of meat from "downers" - cattle that die en route to the slaughter house. AND THEN, when mad cow finally scares legislators enough that they do ban the use of downers, it turns out that in practice, slaughterhouse employees shove lame and dying cattle onto the kill floor anyway, and therefore you have stories like the recent recall of beef in the U.S., where a slaughterhouse is shut down for using downers.

And then you have the damned hog producers, like Wendell Murphy, who give campaign contributions to local politicians in exchange for tax breaks and subsidies to their factory farms - despite said factory farms being the worst polluters in these politicians electoral districts. And who is Wendell Murphy? Well he's a hog producer and also formerly the North Carolina senator who was the chair of the Senate's agricultural committee. He helped exempt factory farms from zoning laws that would have restricted the size of the confinement houses and effluent lagoons, even those along sensitive floodplains. In exchange for contributions to senators, the hog industry in North Carolina was able to treat the eastern part of the State as one big sewer (Cook, pg. 179).

In Canada, where we like to think our politics is a little cleaner, we need to remember stories like Frankensteer from the CBC's Fifth Estate. Among other stories, these journalists talk to Health Canada scientists who were removed from their positions when they stood up to Health Canada and said they refused to approve antibiotics for cattle which good research showed were carcinogenic.

Hmm... we know that we're feeding these animals carcinogenic drugs, but when members of our national Health agency say "we have to stop this!", they get fired?

Anyway, if I had the time I could flesh out a few more things, like how the dietary food pyramid is basically designed by the dairy industry, how North American laws regarding animal cruelty and the transport of animals are archaic because the agricultural lobby prevents them from being changed, and how, if you were a good politician who thought you might have a go at the agricultural lobby, you better be ready to take on the pharmaceutical industry as well - in 1997 they sold 985 millions pounds of pesticides to U.S. farmers, and in 2001 they sold 25 million pounds of antibiotics to U.S. farmers (Cook, pages 164 and 64).

So, why am I a vegan? Because the people behind the meat industry care more about corporate profits than they do about the health of their customers, the health of the planet, and the amount of suffering they cause the animals who are their product.

And what galls me even more? All of this is made possible, at least in part, because of bribery, collusion, and knowing smiles at power lunches.

If all I can do is keep these people from pocketing my money, that's what I'm going to do.

Alex Carey:
The 20th century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: The growth of democracy, the growth of corporate power, and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy.