Thursday, December 10, 2009

Live and let die

I've never met her, and had never even heard of her before yesterday, but I'm currently hating an Irish politician named Mairead McGuinness.

For reference, here are the two stories where all my information is coming from, primarily the first link:
Beatles star Paul McCartney 'knocked out' by Louth MEP Mairead McGuinness

Carnivore versus crooner: Meat-eating MEP bites back at ex-Beatle

So here's the intro to the story: Vegetarian and now environmental crusader Paul McCartney was invited to the European Union parliament to give a presentation on why Meat Free Mondays should be promoted across the EU as a way to fight climate change. However, he ran into McGuinness, whose riding back home is full of meat and dairy farmers, who apparently shot down all his arguments (that's the way those two news stories tell it, I find it hard to believe that McCartney could really lose this argument however).

Here are some highlights of McGuinness's argument, and some of her key points:

- McGuinness dismissed McCartney's claims that reducing livestock and embracing vegetarianism would help to combat climate change. "Getting rid of livestock from the planet as a solution to climate change is too far-fetched and unrealistic a proposition to be credible," she said.

- "Research shows that a change in European diets with considerably less dairy and meat products would have only a marginal impact on the environment," she said.

- "Those who see vegetarianism as a better way of life or who are vegetarian because they do not want to eat animals should also not jump on the climate change bandwagon."

- McGuinness added: "Lastly, those of us who enjoy a roast on Sunday and who hope to continue to do so, would never even consider a meat free Monday.

- "We have the left-overs on Monday and in this era of 'waste not, want not', calling for a Meat Free Monday, as Sir Paul is doing, could be a call to waste food, something which none of us should be promoting."

Oh my God all that drives me crazy!! I find it hard to believe that she is so shockingly ignorant of all the good research linking climate change to meat production. I mean, she could look through my blog alone and find dozens of stories & articles on this topic. The most interesting one recently was the paper in the journal Climatic Change (Feb 4, 2009) which stated that a worldwide switch to vegetarianism (however unlikely) would be worth the equivalent of $20 trillion spent on other climate change prevention techniques.

No, she can't be that ignorant. She must be a politican with lots of meat farming and meat eating voters, and she must be more willing to appease her voters than she is to suck it up and acknowledge that meat farming is a massive environmental problem.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Food Inc is a must-see

If you've read Omnivore's Dilemma, and Fast Food Nation, and Way We Eat, and have been waiting for a film equivalent of these thoughtful and intelligent books, Food Inc is it.

Food Inc is investigative journalism. It's intelligent and made for adults, and while it does have some footage from the factory floor that isn't the point of this documentary. The point is to paint an overall picture of the North American food industry. And the food industry, you'll quickly learn, is completely engineered to protect the interests and profits of large corporations - NOT the health of North Americans.

Most of the food politics movies that are out come from the militant veggie side of life, and being very one-sided and blind in their rage these things are pretty off-putting, and useless to show to friends and family whose brains turn off after a few seconds of factory farm imagery. Food Inc draws you in with thoughtful explanations of why Tyson and Monsanto etc are afraid to let you see how food is really made, and why they have teams of lawyers and private investigators at their disposal to haul farmers into court if they don't follow company line. The approach in Food Inc is general and rational and thoughtful enough that your friends who don't really want to think about where their food comes from will give the movie a chance (where they wouldn't give a PETA video a chance).
After watching this movie, they will be very hard pressed not to make significant changes in their diet, because this movie is a life-changer.

Plus it ends with a live Bruce Springsteen track.
: )

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Of fish and alaskan governors

I think I mentioned a documentary titled End of the Line a while back, simply saying that I couldn't wait to see it. It's now out on video from Mongrel Media, and I've finally been seen this documentary, and I highly recommend it to everyone.

I've read enough about the fishing industry that not a lot in it was new to me, but the documentary was still fascinating because visually a lot of it is gorgeous, and the interviews with the scientists were really interesting - all these profs with data at their fingerprints saying "it doesn't matter what the Chinese government says, the charts show that 90% of the fish are gone, and that's the truth!"

The only real quibble I have with it is a very brief stat they give, saying that 10% of the fish brought up out of the ocean by those deep sea trawlers are bycatch that just get thrown dead back into the water. I've read other books where that number is much much higher... as in 1/3 of the fish (and dolphins and turtles and whales) pulled out of the water get thrown back dead. I'm curious about where they got the 10% number from.

P.S. another great thing to watch regarding the state of the oceans is a TED talk by Sylvia Earle: Protect Our Oceans.

Sarah Palin both exasperates me and amuses me. Her biography Going Rogue: An American Life is now out, and of course she takes a shot at vegetarians:

Besides addressing her views on the McCain campaign and the media, Palin, a passionate Alaskan hunter, takes aim at vegetarians. Palin states, “If any vegans came over for dinner, I could whip them up a salad, then explain my philosophy on being a carnivore: If God had not intended for us to eat animals, how come He made them out of meat?”

The accommodating host went on to explain, “I love meat. I eat pork chops, thick bacon burgers, and the seared fatty edges of a medium-well-done steak. But I especially love moose and caribou. I always remind people from outside our state that there's plenty of room for all Alaska's animals -- right next to the mashed potatoes.”

Is she really such a simpleton?

a) the "right next to the mashed potatoes" line just makes you groan because that's a joke that has been on T-Shirts for at least ten years now.
b) The article I link to above mentions that Palin actually identifies herself in her book as a carnivore. A carnivore, Sarah? Really? A carnivore? Not an omnivore?
c) The most annoying thing is that this groan-inducing poke at vegetarians will appeal to a huge swath of American voters, and might even make them vote for her. Can't you just see Joe-Bob in Texas chuckling over the "right next to the potatoes" joke and going "God I like that Palin, maybe I'll even vote for her in 2012."

If gets the republican nomination, and actually wins the presidency, maybe the world will end in 2012.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Will work for zucchinis

A friend at school offered to bring me in a zucchini from her garden recently. I said sure, and she showed up with a zucchini big enough to knock out a grizzly bear.

The only thing I really do with zucchinis is make my Zucchini Bread dessert. If you check the recipe, it calls for 1 1/2 cups of zucchini, and in brackets tells you that this is about two small zucchinis. From this sucker, about 1/6th of it amounted to 2 cups of shredded zucchini.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Choose Veg on the TTC

I haven't seen it personally, but a coworker who was in Toronto came back up north and started telling me about an animal rights poster campaign that she saw on TTC buses and subway trains.

The full details are at Choose Veg, and the project seems to have been financed by Mercy For Animals. They have a set of three posters, like the dog vs. cow one below, and they're up on the buses and subway cars of one of the busiest and largest mass transit systems in North America.

I think that's awesome. When I was living in downtown Toronto and working in Oshawa, doing a bicycle / Go Train trip to and from work, I started daydreaming about winning the lottery and funding a really "in your face" veggie poster campaign, with the posters plastered all over the train cars of Go Transit, forcing thousands of suburban commuters to read about factory farming, red meat & cancer, battery hens, commercial deep sea fishing, etc etc.

But - I always assumed that the large transit systems would never accept the ad campaign. I mean, they'll bombard you with chocolate bar ads and help contribute towards childhood obesity and heart attacks, but how many social justice ads do you ever see up on your local transit system? Not too many, and certainly none that are basically telling 97% of the population (i.e. all the omnivores) that they better open their eyes and make some serious decisions about what type of farming they'll support with their money.

So anyway - while Choose Veg and Mercy for Animals deserve some cudos for getting this project going, I think we also need to congratulate the TTC for actually accepting the ad campaign. I wonder how helpful it was that a couple of high profile city councilors are vegetarians??

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Colour me confused

So if you keep your eyes open, or set up a feed using Google News Alerts, you come across stuff like this all the time:
President's Choice beef flagged for E. coli. Somewhere, with some meat product, there is always a problem. Yes it happens with vegetables as well - but trust me... it is far more common with meat products.

Similarly, if you keep your eyes open and follow the news... you come across stuff like this all the time:
Being a vegetarian can cut your risk of cancer by a half.

There is always some study saying that a vegetarian diet is healthier than a meat-rich diet. The one I'm linking to here is a brand new study, based on about 61 000 people in Britain, aged between 20 and 90, who were followed for about 12 years. Point being that this is very good and very well executed research.

I've mused about this many times before (most notably here), but what the hell?!! If one diet reduces your risk of serious disease, and the other increases the risk, what in the world would make you choose the bad one!!??

P.S. the pictures are from a story about the Heart Attack Grill in Arizona.

This is the caption under the photo of the pretty waitress holding the hamburger:

The Heart Attack Grill is a hospital-themed restaurant in Chandler, Arizona, which has become famous for embracing and promoting an unhealthy diet of extremely large hamburgers.

That's awesome - honesty from a burger joint. Too bad it is only decorated like a hospital... it should actually be housed within a hospital so that the heart-attack victims don't have as far to travel.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Pickler? Really?

Wow - Kellie Pickler has been named by PETA as the sexiest vegetarian in America.

I guess that's great - I watched the season of American Idol that she was on (Chris Daltry was in her season, wasn't he?), and I'm thinking that with Pickler's grassroots appeal, and with her rural background, she could make vegetarianism popular with a swath of North Americans who otherwise would barely know what vegetarianism was all about.

Still - remembering what Pickler was like on American Idol makes me wonder how the heck SHE decided to go veggie.

Another story on the web mentions that she got some guidance with going veggie from another American Idol graduate, Carrie Underwood. I don't know anything about Underwood, but my general impression is that she's a fairly intelligent, world-aware person, so bravo - good for her for spreading the word.

The story above also mentions that Pickler learned about vegetarianism by googling around and watching PETA videos. That makes me a little nervous - PETA stuff is so unbelievably biased that they make it hard for someone with a research background to take them seriously, but oh well. To be fair, I guess we all kind of start with those videos.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

From the news today

I make fairly good use of google news alerts, and here are some items that came my way via a (vegan OR vegetarian) news alert today:

I'm not sure if this is really the website for the prestigious (and right-wing) Foreign Policy journal (a few things about the site make me suspicious), but the site has a piece called Meat: The Slavery of our time. How the coming vegetarian revolution will arrive by force.

Then, from the Huffington Post, there is a piece called Why I'm almost a vegetarian, but not yet. He makes some interesting points, although if you've read Michael Pollan you've seen these arguments before.

However, Harris's piece gets a thumbs-up because it refers to a documentary I've never heard of before, and which looks great: Food, Inc.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The flu and the orange

Newsweek has a good article called The Path of a Pandemic which deals nicely (and without hysteria) with the swine flu story.

At the end - after saying that eating meat won't give you the swine flu, and that the cull of 300 000 pigs in Egypt was pointless, the article describes how the problem comes from the farming system:

"A wiser set of pig-related actions would turn to the strange ecology we have created to feed meat to our massive human population. It is a strange world wherein billions of animals are concentrated into tiny spaces, breeding stock is flown to production sites all over the world and poorly paid migrant workers are exposed to infected animals. And it's going to get much worse, as the world's once poor populations of India and China enter the middle class. Back in 1980 the per capita meat consumption in China was about 44 pounds a year: it now tops 110 pounds. In 1983 the world consumed 152 million tons of meat a year. By 1997 consumption was up to 233 million tons. And the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that by 2020 world consumption could top 386 million tons of pork, chicken, beef and farmed fish.

This is the ecology that, in the cases of pigs and chickens, is breeding influenza. It is an ecology that promotes viral evolution. And if we don't do something about it, this ecology will one day spawn a severe pandemic that will dwarf that of 1918."

This isn't a veggie story, but since veggies are generally concerned with what we're putting in our bodies, I thought I'd mention this new book called Squeezed: What you don't know about orange juice.

It's not really an "expose" of the orange juice industry, because the author wasn't really trying to turn people away from orange juice. However, the author definitely wanted you to know that the commercials describing this or that orange juice as "fresh" and "pure" are pretty much lying - oranges do not get squeezed, the juice put in cartons and directly taken to your local supermarket. Instead, the oranges are squeezed, the juice stored in vats for six months to a year, during which time all its flavour is lost, and when it is time to be put in cartons, they add chemical packs (the "Tropicana" flavour pack, or the "Minute Maid" flavour pack) to the juice to give it its taste.

From a Boston Globe interview:

IDEAS: What isn't straightforward about orange juice?

HAMILTON: It's a heavily processed product. It's heavily engineered as well. In the process of pasteurizing, juice is heated and stripped of oxygen, a process called deaeration, so it doesn't oxidize. Then it's put in huge storage tanks where it can be kept for upwards of a year. It gets stripped of flavor-providing chemicals, which are volatile. When it's ready for packaging, companies such as Tropicana hire flavor companies such as Firmenich to engineer flavor packs to make it taste fresh. People think not-from-concentrate is a fresher product, but it also sits in storage for quite a long time.

IDEAS: What goes into these flavor packs?

HAMILTON: They're technically made from orange-derived substances, essence and oils. Flavor companies break down the essence and oils into individual chemicals and recombine them. I spoke to many people in the industry at Firmenich, different flavorists, and at Tropicana, and what you're getting looks nothing like the original substance. To call it natural at this point is a real stretch.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Hachooo.... oh, I mean "oinkchoo"

May 1st Update - Well, since I wrote this post a day or two ago, the "confirmed deaths" number has dropped down quite a bit. Quoting the World Health Organization's numbers, Bloomberg says there are only 10 confirmed deaths. Beware the difference between suspected deaths and confirmed deaths, and the need of the mainstream media to sensationalize their stories!


I haven't been in a rush to write about the swine flu, because no one needs a vegan saying "I told you so!" right now, and also because health officials have not been able to pinpoint the cause of the flu, i.e. they haven't said what all us veggies are probably thinking, that it started at a factory pig farming operation.

Within the counter-press however, connections are starting to be made. In Grist Online, Tom Philpott covers some evidence that the flu originated with a Smithfield owned pig farm.

An article yesterday in the Associated Press covers the same ground:

LA GLORIA, Mexico (AP) — Residents in this community of 3,000 believe their town is ground zero for the swine flu epidemic, even if health officials aren't saying so.

More than 450 residents say they're suffering from respiratory problems from contamination spread by pig waste at nearby breeding farms co-owned by a U.S. company. Officials with the company say they've found no sign of swine flu on its farms, and Mexican authorities haven't determined the outbreak's origin.

As far back as late March, roughly one-sixth of the residents here in the Gulf Coast state of Veracruz began complaining of respiratory infections that they say can be traced to a farm that lies upwind five miles (8.5 kilometers) to the north, in the town of Xaltepec.

But Jose Luis Martinez, a 34-year-old resident of La Gloria, said he knew the minute he learned about the outbreak on the news and heard a description of the symptoms: fever, coughing, joint aches, severe headache and, in some cases, vomiting and diarrhea.

"When we saw it on the television, we said to ourselves, 'This is what we had,'" he said Monday. "It all came from here. ... The symptoms they are suffering are the same that we had here."

If this new outbreak of the Swine Flu (it has existed before) did indeed start at this Smithfield Farm, do you think we'll actually learn a lesson from the 120 or so deaths that have occurred so far?

Probably not. There is no end to the evidence that factory farming is simply outrageous. I've written about this before (many times) and so has just about everyone else. But if hog farmers continue to win senate seats and bend legislation so that it protects environmentally catastrophic hog operations instead of penalizes them, what chance do we have to start making improvements?

P.S. - Smithfield is the company behind this God awful story from Rolling Stone a few years back.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

well, I don't "love" tofu...

There's a story on youtube about the Colorado Motor Vehicles department changing its mind, and taking away a woman's ILVTOFU license plate.

Oh well - I don't blame Colorado Motor Vehicles all that much. It was probably the right decision. What I'm wondering is if the woman who requested the license plate actually noticed the other interpretation of the letters she was asking for.

And this quote is from coverage of this story from Denver Westword News:

Not surprisingly, PETA has already weighed in on this shocking rejection of not-exactly-free speech (after all, you have to pay for vanity plates). "It's shocking to us that the DMV calls a vegetarian plate offensive," says spokeswoman Lindsay Rajt. "We think the DMV can do a lot of good by reconsidering its decision and allowing people to discover the joy of soy."

Hmmmm.... ILVTOFU... I hope that readers of veggie blogs would look at that plate and say "Hey! That guy loves tofu", but I suspect that the majority of the population would see it the other way, and the plate would rather be allowing people to discover the joy of f*&cking.

I mean, do you guys remember the Roger Clemens Vegan story? This is an adult multi-millionaire American who had never even heard the word vegan.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

wells and divining rods

Economist magazine has an article in its April 11 - 17 issue titled Sin Aqua Non. Their take on the international water situation is that the world has enough water, but we're wasting so much of it that we're creating water shortages.

How are we wasting it? Well - one primary way is by eating too much meat.


Two global trends have added to the pressure on water. Both are likely to accelerate over coming decades.

The first is demography. Over the past 50 years, as the world’s population rose from 3 billion to 6.5 billion, water use roughly trebled. On current estimates, the population is likely to rise by a further 2 billion by 2025 and by 3 billion by 2050. Demand for water will rise accordingly.

Or rather, by more. Possibly a lot more. It is not the absolute number of people that makes the biggest difference to water use but changing habits and diet. Diet matters more than any single factor because agriculture is the modern Agasthya, the mythical Indian giant who drank the seas dry. Farmers use about three-quarters of the world’s water; industry uses less than a fifth and domestic or municipal use accounts for a mere tenth.

Different foods require radically different amounts of water. To grow a kilogram of wheat requires around 1,000 litres. But it takes as much as 15,000 litres of water to produce a kilo of beef. The meaty diet of Americans and Europeans requires around 5,000 litres of water a day to produce. The vegetarian diets of Africa and Asia use about 2,000 litres a day (for comparison, Westerners use just 100-250 litres a day in drinking and washing).

So the shift from vegetarian diets to meaty ones—which contributed to the food-price rise of 2007-08—has big implications for water, too. In 1985 Chinese people ate, on average, 20kg of meat; this year, they will eat around 50kg. This difference translates into 390km3 (1km3 is 1 trillion litres) of water—almost as much as total water use in Europe.

The shift of diet will be impossible to reverse since it is a product of rising wealth and urbanisation. In general, “water intensity” in food increases fastest as people begin to climb out of poverty, because that is when they start eating more meat. So if living standards in the poorest countries start to rise again, water use is likely to soar.

Moreover, almost all the 2 billion people who will be added to the world’s population between now and 2030 are going to be third-world city dwellers—and city people use more water than rural folk. The Food and Agriculture Organisation reckons that, without changes in efficiency, the world will need as much as 60% more water for agriculture to feed those 2 billion extra mouths. That is roughly 1,500km3 of the stuff—as much as is currently used for all purposes in the world outside Asia.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

zucchini bread!

Perhaps because vegans are geniuses, AND because great (or "genius") minds tend to think alike, Andie over at Newbie Vegetarian and I are both writing about Zucchini Bread at the moment.


Along with a poor man's bean salad (that I found somewhere on the internet), Zucchini Bread is one of the few staple dishes that I make. It can serve as either a dessert, or, because it is so filling, a full-on meal.

My wife found this recipe in a book called Breaking the food seduction which was written by the guy behind the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. I like these guys (and agree with them that meat is basically unhealthy), but you have to understand that they are the medical version of PETA. They once tried to have hot dogs and processed meats banned from U.S. schools because of the well proven links between these meats and problems like cancer.


Anyway - the zucchini bread is pretty simple to make. Basically you put all the dry ingredients together in one bowl, mix all the wet ingredients together in another bowl, and then combine them and bake.


2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cloves

1 ½ cups shredded zucchini (about 2 small)
½ cup unsweetened apple sauce
¼ cup apple juice concentrate, thawed (undiluted) – I use orange juice concentrate sometimes too
¼ cup maple syrup
1 Tbsp oil (sunflower or canola)
1 tsp vanilla

½ cup chopped walnuts


Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). Spray pan with nonstick cooking spray (I use a 8 x 11ish glass baking dish OR a regular loaf tin). In a large mixing bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and cloves. In a separate smaller bowl, mix together remaining (wet) ingredients, excluding walnuts.

Pour wet ingredients into dry and mix just until dry ingredients are evenly moistened. Stir in walnuts and mix until evenly distributed. Spoon batter into baking dish and bake on centre rack for 50 to 55 minutes. Turn onto cooling rack and let cool completely before slicing or wrapping. It will keep at room temperature up to 3 days or refrigerate for up to 7 days.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

open up your veins

I think I've alluded to the problem of how antibiotic use in factory farming leads to super viruses, but I don't think I've ever done a post about it. I heard a piece on the radio about it this morning, and then used google news to find some stories on the topic. The best one I could find was from the Los Angeles Times and called A healthy resistance to antibiotics.

The problem is this:
- The sheer unhealthiness of factory farming (the confinement, the injection of steroids, the lack of exercise, and even completely f%$*cking up the animals' diet as when cows, who eat grass, are fed soy and estrogen instead) would kill all the animals unless they were pumped full of antibiotics to try and keep them alive.

- Bacteria, viruses and pathogens such as MRSA are in the livestock and are constantly battling with the antibiotics fed to the animals. Through this battle they get stronger and become resistant to the antibiotics (which are the same drugs that humans use and need to fight infections etc).

- So, these antibiotic resistant pathogens then make their way into the human population, and since the pathogens have already encountered and defeated our medications while in the animal population, we no longer have any way to treat humans infected with the virus.

As the above mentioned LA Times article mentions, MRSA all by itself kills more people in the U.S. each year than AIDS.
The rise of bacteria such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, which kills more people in this country each year than AIDS, is believed to be a consequence of the overuse of antibiotics in humans and animals. Low doses of the medications have become ubiquitous in the livestock industry, mixed into feed to enhance growth and prevent the diseases that sweep through crowded pens.

A panel of experts found "clear evidence of adverse human health consequences due to resistant organisms resulting from nonhuman usage of antimicrobials," the World Health Organization reported in 2004.

Image is from an online article titled From Dyes to Peptides: The Evolution of Antibiotic Drugs. It also provides some nice coverage of this issue:

In the 1950s, it was noted that antibiotics fed to livestock increased growth rates and animal size leading and thus increased production. It quickly became common practice to include antibiotics in animal feed. When antibiotics began to be used as food additives, there was no regulation behind it. Any antibiotic including those used for human therapy could be used.

At the same time, it became common practice to house livestock in confined and concentrated quarters. Farm animals such as chickens when allowed to roam free have limited egg and meat production, so farmers began to collect large numbers of chickens together to increase production. Factory farming led to the rapid spread of infections throughout farms and the use of antibiotics vastly increased to try to counter it. With the common use of antibiotics in farming, resistant genes were emerging in livestock bacteria and residual antibiotics were being ingested by humans, contributing to antibiotic resistance in human pathogens.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Yippee-Kai-Yay: the research shows...

The "red meat tied to cancer" story has certainly swept the news industry. I like this story about the reaction of Saskatchewan cattle ranchers to the new study:

Ed Bothner, president of the Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association, questions those findings.

"There's societies that eat three to four times as much red meat or three to four times as much beef as we do," Bothner told CBC News. "And I can remember in my lifetime when our per capita consumption in Canada was over 100 pounds. Right now it is lower than 50, so I don't think it's the consumption of red meat, per se, that's the problem."

Joe Kleinsasser, the chairman of SaskPork, said that when he heard about the study, his first reaction was to dismiss it.

"These studies are a dime a dozen," Kleinsasser said. "One day eggs are bad for you, the next day you can't eat enough of them."

I'm sorry dude - BUT WHERE IN THE HELL are people eating three to four times more red meat than North Americans? That's goddamned ludicrous. And the other guy is priceless as well... these studies are a dime a dozen.... Yeah I know. Troll through the archives of this blog... there is NO END to the amount of research saying Whatever the f*&^k you do, don't eat red meat!


Wow - am I the only one who completely missed this Pew Commission Report that came out in April 2008?

Pew Commission Says Industrial Scale Farm Animal Production Poses “Unacceptable” Risks to Public Health, Environment

Washington, DC - 04/29/2008 - The current industrial farm animal production (IFAP) system often poses unacceptable risks to public health, the environment and the welfare of the animals themselves, according to an extensive 2½-year examination conducted by the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production (PCIFAP), in a study released today.

Commissioners have determined that the negative effects of the IFAP system are too great and the scientific evidence is too strong to ignore. Significant changes must be implemented and must start now. And while some areas of animal agriculture have recognized these threats and have taken action, it is clear that the industry has a long way to go.


I found the Pew Commission report while scanning through the references at the end of this article:

Common Foods and Farming Methods Thought to Promote Health: What the Data Show
Primary Care: Clinics in Office Practice - Volume 35, Issue 4 (December 2008)
John Chahbazi, MD & Shelly Grow, MS

If you don't have access to the journal "Primary Care" shoot me an email (check my profile) and I'll see if I can send you a copy.

Here are some exerpts:

On how hard it is to figure out what the healthiest diets are, when our whole lifestyle is so sick

Even if the POEMs needed for evidence-based dietary counseling and farming practice recommendations are available, there is the difficulty of applying proven interventions to a population that has such a high rate of lifestyle-associated disease. This is a population that has continued to gain weight and become diabetic at ever-increasing rates in the face of improved food label reading and dietary changes as reported in Healthy People 2010. Trying for different results while maintaining the basic elements of a lifestyle that already has caused poor health could explain why only a small portion of proven dietary interventions have been shown to improve long-term health or longevity.

Quote from Diet for a New America on the benefits of adopting a vegetarian diet

“The effects on our physical health are immediate. The incidence of cancer and heart attack, the nation's biggest killers, drops precipitously. So do many other diseases now demonstrably and causally linked to consumption of animal proteins and fats, such as osteoporosis … hormonal imbalances causing miscarriages and aberrations of sexual development similarly drop away, as we cease ingesting with our meat, poultry and milk the drugs pumped into our livestock. So do the neurologic disorders and birth defects due to pesticides and other chemicals, as we begin to eat lower on the food chain where the poisons are far less concentrated … We find that the grain we previously fed to fatten livestock can now feed five times the U.S. population; so we have been able to alleviate malnutrition and hunger on a worldwide scale … We find ourselves also relieved of fear. For on a semiconscious level we knew all along that the old disparities in consumption were turning our planet into a tinder box, breeding resentments and desperations that could only eventuate in war.”

On the blood type diets like Eat Right for Your Type

Blood-type diets claiming benefits from different dietary components based on genotypes[37] are dismissed commonly as baseless theory.[38] Evidence is scarce and limited to secondary prevention. The most interesting study showed that a particular blood type in diabetics predisposed to more effective low-density lipoprotein lowering in response to increased dietary fiber.

Antibiotic Use

Cattle in 83% of United States commercial beef and dairy feedlots routinely receive antibiotics for disease prevention and to promote growth, resulting in the use of over 24 million pounds of antimicrobials annually for nontherapeutic purposes.
Many of these antimicrobials, such as tetracycline and penicillin, are important for human use. Drug-resistant bacteria and pathogens have emerged because of the widespread use of antibiotics in the animal reservoir, and these theoretically are able to be passed to people through the consumption of meat products. Health implications of antimicrobial resistance are infections that otherwise would not have occurred and increased rates of treatment failures and infection severity. An antibiotic-resistant urinary tract infection already may have been linked to this practice.

In general

This article is an overview of research on diets and nutrition, and the most common theme is this one:

For now, amelioration of unhealthy choices may be the best approach. Serial substitutions using nonanimal foods and snacks to reduce animal product consumption over time, encouragement of daily vigorous exercise, and increased consumption of organic and locally grown foods appear to be the best strategies toward that end.

Friday, March 20, 2009

End hunger by having a sirloin?

A local community group just started advertising something they're doing to raise money for a food bank - it's obvious that no vegetarians or vegans were part of this. The premise is that you have a steak dinner at a local restaurant for $20.00, and $2.00 from each meal goes to the food bank.

I couldn't help myself. I wrote the community group a nice email detailing the intimate connection between the meat-rich (particularly beef) diet and world hunger.

I came across some neat stuff while writing my email.

In the Independent Online I found The Big Question: Is changing our diet the key to resolving the global food crisis?

How does eating meat cause hunger?
Because it is a very inefficient way of producing food. It takes 8kg of grain to produce 1kg of beef, and large tracts of forest have been cleared for grazing land that might have been used to grow crops. Chicken is more efficient to produce – it takes 2kg of feed to produce 1kg of meat. To maximise food production it is best to be vegan. According to Simon Fairlie, in his magazine The Land, it would take just 3 million hectares of arable land to meet Britain's food needs, half the current total, if the population were vegan.

From WorldWatch, 2004, 17(4) pg12-19 I found a fairly devastating (for the meat industry) article with the very long title Now, it's not personal! But like it or not, meat-eating is becoming a problem for everyone on the planet.
Here's an excerpt from the article abstract:

As environmental science has advanced, it has become apparent that the human appetite for animal flesh is a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage now threatening humanity - deforestation, erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social injustice, the destabilization of communities, and the spread of disease.

The WorldWatch group is biased by the way. I happen to think they're right and I agree with them, but they're the group behind Happier Meals (which you can find a free copy of if you google it) and they've been on about the meat industry for a long time now.

Here are the other links I provided in my letter to this community group, some of which you've seen before on this blog:

Wired Online - Food Riots Begin: Will you go vegetarian?

BBC - Hungry World Must Eat less meat

Guardian - Only a radical change of diet can halt looming food crises

U.N. Food & Agricultural Association: Livestock's Long Shadow

Thursday, March 12, 2009

from Irish research to Vancouver newspapers

While pissing off vegans everywhere, here is a good illustration of something like the joke about how there are three types of lies (punchline being - Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics). In this case, we have the grey fuzzy gap between research, and how research gets portrayed in a newspaper.

First - the Vancouver Sun runs a story called Vegan diet tied to birth defects.

So read that, but then definitely read a follow up piece in the same newspaper called Is eating vegan while pregnant as bad as smoking and drinking? What you are particularly going to want to read are the string of comments below this piece, where pissed off vegans tear both stories to shreds.

A) All the hoopla in both stories is about women who are B12 deficient. Vegans are not necessarily B12 deficient... especially mothers who have probably read up on this and are taking their supplements.

B) The data in the study is 20 years old (which is fine) but comes from a test group in Ireland where neural tube defects are already common - i.e. this is already a fairly biased test group.

C) None of the women in the study actually identified as vegetarian or vegan - some happened to have low B12 levels... and no offense... but in Ireland in 1989 they were probably meat eaters, not veggies.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Food and sustainability

I knew that the meat-rich diet was bad for the environment, but until the last few days I didn't realize that meat production emits more greenhouse gases than the international transportation industry.

I put together some details on this for a little project at work, and thought I'd post it up here as well.

Guess what – more and more research is showing that you can more to reduce your carbon footprint by going vegetarian, than by switching from an SUV to a hybrid car.

In 2006, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization released Livestock's Long Shadow, which identified the meat industry as a greater producer of greenhouse gases than the entire international transportation industry.

New Scientist magazine agrees, stating in 2008 that a family's food consumption accounts for double the greenhouse gases as their household driving habits.

The industrialized production of meat (approximately 15 billion animals each year in the U.S. alone) is an incredibly carbon intensive process. The problem begins with the fact that it takes 7 tons of plant protein (cows in industrial farms aren't fed grass, but soy, which can be eaten by humans) to make 1 ton of meat protein – resulting in 6 tons of wasted food (and wasted farmland, fertilizer, pesticides, oil/energy, and tremendous amounts of wasted water).
Not only does the production of meat create greenhouse gases, but by replacing forests (which act as carbon sinks to soak up C02) with farmland to grow soy for the animals, the meat industry reduces the planet's natural ability to absorb greenhouse gases. As well, cows account for approximately 40% of all the methane in the atmosphere.

In a February 2009 report, Stehfest et al state that the combined problems of methane, the C02 emissions caused by the meat industry, and the elimination of carbon sinks, are so significant that a worldwide switch to a vegetarian diet (however unlikely) would achieve the equivalent of $20 trillion spent on other climate change solutions (such as carbon sequestriation).

In Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a planet under stress and a civilization in trouble (looks like a version 3.0 was just released), Lester Brown writes that at a North American level of food consumption (ie heavy on meat), the planet can support 2.5 billion people, while at the other extreme, on the more veggie Indian diet, the earth could support 10 billion people (there are 6 billion people on the planet right now, with 9 billion expected by 2050).

Apart from greenhouse gas emissions, the industrialized meat industry creates many other environmental problems, including the toxic waste lagoons caused by pig farms (which create as much waste as cities the size of Cincinnati) and the reduction of oxygen levels in water bodies like the Gulf of Mexico, which kills all sealife in these areas.

Brown, L. (2006). Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a planet under stress and a civilization in trouble. Washington: Earth Policy Institute.

Nierenber, D. (2005). Happier meals: Rethinking the global meat industry. Danvers, MA: Worldwatch Institute.

Stehfest, E. & Bouwman, L. (2009). Climate benefits of changing diet. Climatic Change, published in Online First edition, Feb. 4, 2009.

Steinfeld, H. & Gerber, P. (2006) Livestock's long shadow: Environmental issues and options. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Trivedi, B. (2008). Dinner's dirty secret: your shopping basket is spewing greenhouse gases. New Scientist, 199(2673), 28-32.
PS - looks like the online version was titled What is your dinner doing to the climate?

Saturday, January 31, 2009

End of the Line

The book is sitting on my bedside table.

I can't wait to see the movie.

Pg 4 comes with the realization that in a single human lifetime we have inflicted a crisis on the oceans greater than any yet caused by pollution. That crisis compares with the destruction of mammoths, bison, and whales, the rape of rain forests, and the pursuit of bush meat. As a method of mass destruction, fishing with modern technology is the most destructive activity on Earth.

Pg 5
This book argues that, as a result of overfishing, we are nearing the end of the line for fish stocks and whole ecosystems in the world's oceans, and that it is time we arranged things differently.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Dolphins evolve opposable thumbs

One of my favourite George Bush lines is included here: "I believe that human beings and fish can coexist peacefully". I assume he was asked a question about overfishing, and that was his response, but out of context it sounds like most other ridiculous George Bush comments. To give Bush credit, I mentioned over here that I'm tremendously impressed by his decision to create massive marine protected zones (i.e. oceanic equivalents of National Parks).

This is tremendously important, and ties in to a post I've been meaning to write about Pescatarians. Now, to each his own and all that, but I really think that pescatarians need to read more. I assume that pescatarians are otherwise veggie only because of the animal cruelty issue, and think that fish lack the intelligence to know suffering, and therefore the pescies (this shall be my new shortform of pescatarians) feel alright about eating fish. Now the first flaw here, if we stick with animal cruelty, is that you have to believe that hyper-intelligent dolphins, and also porpoises and whales, have the intelligence to suffer, and since deep sea nets catch and slowly kill 1000 of these creatures a day - 1000 A DAY FOR GOD'S SAKE!!! (for no purpose by the way, simple bycatch of trawlers actually going after fish) - the cans of tuna you buy at the supermarket help support the torture of dolphins. Commercial fishing by the way is a phenomenally wasteful industry - how can you support a business practice where 1/3 of the fish caught get thrown back dead into the ocean because they weren't the species that the trawler was going for?

My other response to pescatarianism is that, unless you honestly and truly cannot survive without the protein from fish (which I suspect only applies to people in the third world) you are misguidedly supporting an industry which is completely f*&%king up the planet.
As far right and conservative a magazine as the Economist has published alarm-sounding special reports (see Troubled Water) about the links between overfishing, marine diversity, climate change, and our own survival as a species.
First - we've already reached a point where all commercial fish stocks could be gone by 2048. The collapse of fish populations makes it harder for the trawlers to get their quotas, so the holes in fish nets get smaller and smaller, catching younger and younger fish - meaning fish which never get the chance to reach breeding stage, thereby eliminating the ability of fish populations to recover from overfishing. Also - the desperation ship captains feel to get their quotas leads to fish nets being dragged over and over across the floors of bays and gulfs and other shallow water areas, destroying any vegetation on the seabottom (vegetation that either feeds or protects fish).

The loss of one species of fish leads to the rise of another type, and then the downfall of another (i.e. if all the sharks die, the fish that sharks ate prosper, and they eat much more of their prey, devastating that stock). The ripple effects of this lead include things like seabirds starving, and bears in B.C. unable to eat salmon.

Meanwhile, while we all know that oceans in general are massive carbon sinks (helping suck up all of our C02 emissions), to date we didn't fully understand how oceans helped us out this way. New research shows that fish excrete a type of calcium that buffers the acidification that C02 causes in the ocean. We're already pumping so much C02 into the atmosphere, and thereby into the ocean, that the skeletons of some sea creatures are dissolving.
Lose all the fish, you lose much of the ocean's carbon sink ability, you lose your elderly aunt to a respiratory problem caused by increasing levels of C02 in the atmosphere.

P.S. - you really should watch Sharkwater and learn about shark finning, and the title of this post comes from one of my favourite articles in the Onion.

P.P.S. - this and this are random but good introductions to this topic, the first for younger audiences, and the second for adults. This one is good on coral reefs and the importance of oceans as carbon sinks.