Friday, April 30, 2010

For Once, I agree with the Dairy Industry - It's High Time for Some Good Old Fashioned Truth in Advertising!

Did you hear the latest?

The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) objects to the "misappropriation of dairy terminology." Specifically, the organization is taking issue with the word "milk" being used to describe products made of soy and other non-dairy products. (Source)

As Jerry Kozak, president and CEO of the NMPF, put it: "The FDA has allowed the meaning of 'milk' to be watered down to the point that many products that use the term have never seen the inside of a barn."

He added: "You don't got milk if it comes from a hemp plant, you can't say cheese if it's made from rice, and faux yogurt can't be made from soy and still be called yogurt."

Since Mr. Kozak is apparently so concerned with Truth in Advertising, then he should be willing to act accordingly when it comes to dairy products. We all know that honesty is the very foundation of the dairy industry. Right? I mean, the whole racket - er, uh, business - is built on integrity. Isn't it?

In keeping with this noble tradition of truthfulness in the dairy biz, I have a few suggestions of my own.

First of all, I propose that every carton of milk should say, in big letters:


While they're reforming their products to adhere to Truth in Advertising, how about each block of cheese gets slapped with a label in giant red print that says: "EVERY BLOCK OF CHEESE THAT IS MADE COMES FROM A COW THAT IS MERCILESSLY EXPLOITED HER ENTIRE LIFE (WHICH IS CUT SHORT BY ABOUT 20 YEARS AS A RESULT OF THIS PROCESS) AND WHEN SHE CAN NO LONGER GIVE MILK, SHE IS LED TO A BUILDING AND MURDERED IN COLD BLOOD. ENJOY YOUR CHEESE!"

Oh, and that yogurt? Yep. We have to label that, too, if Truth in Advertising is such a big concern of the milk industry.


I agree with you, Mr. Kozak. Honesty truly is the best policy.

Fighting the Good Fight: United Poultry Concern

Chickens live in the most appalling conditions imaginable.

At hatcheries, male chicks are gassed or crushed on conveyor belt machines by the thousands and thousands. At many facilities, egg-laying hens are placed inside of cramped battery cages where they can hardly move. In cage-free operations, hens live in darkness and shit all over each other and never get fresh air. It is not unusual for some of the larger plants to squeeze 20,000 hens into cage-free facilities, and each one of these animals will eventually be slaughtered; one huge outfit in Virginia has put 48,000 birds in a cage-free facility. Hens are de-beaked and that process is incredibly painful. Whether egg-laying hens are caged or not, they live tragic, short, hellish lives and they're all ultimately murdered by human beings.

In short, chickens raised for human consumption - so people can devour meat which they don't need to survive - live truly nightmarish existences. And understand this: There is no "compassionate" alternative. Murder is murder. And all meat amounts to murder.

Thank God United Poultry Concerns (UPC) is fighting the good fight and lobbying for the humane treatment of chickens. UPC is also encouraging the public to go vegan. The wonderful folks at UPC understand that if you reduce demand, you curtail the widespread and systematic abuse of chickens in poultry farms. UPC runs a large sanctuary in Virginia where they provide a loving home for all kinds of domestic fowl, including ducks, turkeys, pheasants and chickens. They also publish a wonderful booklet titled Life Can Be Beautiful - Go Vegan! (click here to see it in PDF format). At one point, the booklet quotes a former Tyson slaughterhouse worker: "We changed our diet. We couldn't look at a piece of meat anymore without seeing the sad, tortured face that was attached to it sometime in the past."

If you get a chance, visit UPC's Website. Find out what they're doing. If you can contribute a little to their cause, please do so. This is just one of many groups fighting the good fight for animals. Sometimes the struggle seems hopeless. But as long as good people refuse to compromise or surrender on the issue of animal rights, there will always be hope.

Go, Little Einstein, Go!!!

On April 22, a horse named Little Einstein was born at a farm in New Hampshire. He weights 6 pounds and is 14 inches long. I think he sets the record for smallest horse ever. And he is cuter than hell. I have posted this video of him frolicking, hanging out with people and just generally having a wonderful time. Please watch the video if you get a chance. It is so joyful, especially after the grim news of last week's destructive oil spill reaching the Gulf Coast. I was in a pretty lousy mood before I saw this video. Little Einstein really helped boost my spirits. Thanks, Little Einstein!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Disaster that Looms for Animals in the Gulf of Mexico

The oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico last week that resulted in the tragic deaths of 11 workers now threatens to become a disaster of gargantuan proportions. As many as 5,000 barrels of oil per day continue to spill into the Gulf where the rig collapsed and sank into the water. That's 42,000 gallons per day, according to The New York Times. To make matters worse, the oil slick is rapidly moving to the Gulf Coast, despite round-the-clock efforts of workers to stop it.

CNN's Website ran a fantastic story headlined "Oil spill could be a disaster for animals, experts say." The story is absolutely painful to read. The approaching oil threatens huge bird sanctuaries, stretches of coastal inlets where otters live, 400 species of fish, not to mention the blue crab, oysters and turtles along the coast. CNN quotes U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official Tom MacKenzie: "The best case is, the wind shifts and the oil doesn't hit. I'm not real confident about that.... We're doing everything we can to prevent it, but it could be a bad one."

Louisianans still have awful memories of an oil spill a few years ago near the state's Breton Island National Wildlife Refuge that killed about 800 pelicans. This spill could prove far worse.

It is difficult to point fingers in this case. Obviously, nobody meant for this to happen. And no individual was really to blame. It was a tragic accident, and we should not forget the sorrow of the families of the 11 workers who were killed. They deserve our sympathy and compassion at this moment.

Still, I can't help but think of the Exxon Valdez disaster in Prince William Sound, Alaska, back in March of 1989. It was horrific in every sense of the word. I will never get out of my mind the ghastly images of those suffering animals covered in toxic black sludge. We will never know the final death toll from the Valdez disaster. As many as a quarter of a million seabirds died, along with 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbor seals, 247 bald eagles and at least 22 orcas. We will never know how many fish were destroyed. The number is likely staggeringly high.

Flash forward 21 years, to 2010. A headline in The Independent (UK) said: "Oil spill in Gulf of Mexico 'could be worse than Exxon Valdez disaster.'"

Wherever human beings go, we somehow manage to fuck everything up. Sometimes it is exceedingly difficult to be hopeful about people. Sometimes it's impossible to fake optimism and say good things about humanity. And sometimes - just sometimes - one quietly hopes that this short-sighted and selfish race will go the way of the Neanderthal. I know it's impolitic to talk like that or think in those terms, but moments like this certainly seem to justify it.

Post-script: For another excellent articles on the threat of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill to animals, see David Knowles' column on AOLNews.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Book Alert: David Kirby's Animal Factory

Journalist David Kirby has written a book about the factory farm system called Animal Factory: The Looming Threat of Industrial Pig, Dairy and Poultry Farms to Humans and the Environment. I haven't read the book yet, but you can pretty much tell from the subtitle that this is going to be a damning indictment of the factory farm system. Kirby gave an OUTSTANDING interview to Time magazine about his new book.


The factory farm system is one of the most profoundly obscene institutions on the planet earth. The sooner these massive killing machines are declared illegal and promptly dismantled, brick by brick, machine by machine, cage by cage, the better. These immoral industrial plants should have been done away with long ago. Animals housed in these barbaric places need to be liberated right now and each factory farm should be promptly destroyed. This is capitalism at its worst - the free market run horribly, horribly amok. These are America's killing fields. They are what pushed me into veganism and I can never go back to being an omnivore. Sometimes you can say never - and must. And I knew that as long as I consumed animal products, I was perpetuating one of the most ghastly forms of human barbarism that exists in the world today.

Until every cage is smashed open, until every animal is liberated, there will never be peace.

That isn't hyperbole. Read what David Kirby has to say about the factory farm system. In particular, I was haunted by the closing paragraph of his interview with Time magazine. I'll let Kirby have the last word (note: when he uses the acronym CAFO, it means Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation, a 50-cent term for "factory farm"):

One time I visited a pig farm, a regular farm — not a factory farm — in Illinois. Right across the street was a hog CAFO. The owner didn't live there, of course. There's no farm house on a factory farm, just business offices. At night, all the workers would leave, and all I'd hear as I was trying to fall asleep was the sound of the pigs fighting each other, biting each other, squealing, screeching all night long. It was like nothing I've ever heard before in my life, and it just didn't stop. It sounded like kids being tortured over there. I'll never forget that sound. It was very sad.

Vegans and Vitamin B12

There was a very helpful article on vegans and vitamin B12 on the website Eat. Drink. Please read it if you get a chance. Vegans need to be very mindful of the body's need for B12 and, unfortunately, a daily multivitamin pill doesn't always cut the mustard. A common myth - probably heavily perpetuated by the factory farm racket - is that B12 can only be gotten through animal products. As the Eat.Drink.Better. website points out, this is not the case. But you still have to make an effort to consume food that contains vitamin B12 if you're a vegan. Please check out this article. More importantly, please find out more about ways to give your body extra protein, vitamin D, calcium and everything else vegans need to stay healthy and strong. We're all in this together. And it beats the hell out of being an omnivore!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

While I'm Heaping Praise...

I love Wisconsin.

Years ago, I recall reading a very moving story in the local Madison paper, The Capital Times - so moving, in fact, that I clipped it, saved it and still have it - about a janitor who rescued some baby ducks whose mother had been killed.

Today, twenty years later, a similar story appeared in newspapers about a kind-hearted good samaritan living in West Allis (a suburb of Milwaukee) who saved 14 newly hatched mallards after their mother was struck by an automobile. (Source)

The woman found the peeping ducklings, put them in her car and drove them to the local humane society and they're now in the good hands of loving volunteers. Turns out that the woman only left 13 ducklings with the volunteers. While she was driving her car, she heard a mysterious "peep peep" coming from somewhere inside. A mechanic took the entire dashboard apart and found a peeping stowaway. The duckling joined the others at the humane society.

I love these types of stories. They teach us that while there are still many animals suffering as a result of cruelty, abuse and violence inflicted on them by sadistic humans, there are also countless ordinary people who - when confronted with the suffering of animals - will stop whatever they're doing to help. Those times when I get so furious with human beings for treating animals poorly, I have to read stories like this one to remind me that there is so much basic decency out there. So many men and women want to help animals. This kindness, I believe, can be channeled into a greater power - one that improves living conditions for animals and makes us, as a human race, more compassionate.

Not just in Wisconsin. Everywhere.

Friday, April 23, 2010

In Praise of Lynn Henning: An Activist Who Has Made a Huge Difference

Kudos to Lynn Henning (right), who received a well-deserved Goldman Environmental Prize in San Francisco earlier this week. The prize was named after prominent Bay Area philanthropists Richard N. Goldman and his late wife Rhoda, and they honor people who have made a difference in the fight to protect the environment.

Henning's struggle is also related to animal rights. She spent years working to expose the horrible pollution caused by factory farm companies in Michigan. As a result of her actions, factory farms were exposed for being the horrible polluters that they are, and the biggest offenders were slapped with hefty fines for water quality violations. In awarding her the prize, Goldman Prize officials noted that Henning helped steer attention to the "runoff of animal excrement" that creates a "'toxic brew' of bacteria, antibiotics, chemicals, and sometimes carcasses." (Source)

Henning's story is fascinating. She's actually a farmer herself. And she's a member of the Sierra Club and dedicated environmentalist. She owns a farm near Hudson, Michigan, about 70 miles southwest of Detroit. Using a combination of aerial photographs, water samples, and thorough research of relevant documents, she fought a one-person crusade against the factory farm system. In the process, she endured a barrage of lawsuit threats, anonymous warnings and dead animals thrown on her porch. But she kept the good fight going. "I'm a redneck from Michigan," she proudly proclaimed. When asked about the Goldman Prize, she said, simply, "I'm humbled." (Source)

Henning's efforts have helped discredit the factory farm system. And a blow to that system is a victory for animals. As the Detroit Free Press notes: "Michigan has more than 200 concentrated animal feeding operations or CAFO's, defined as those with more than 700 cows, 2,500 hogs or 10,000 poultry..... Giant farms near Henning's farm in Lenawee County have been cited for more than 1,000 violations in the past decade." The same article goes on to say, "The farms are home to 20,000 cows and produce as much waste as a city of 200,000 people."

Nowadays, more people are waking up to the fact that not only are factory farms giant killing machines, they're also terrible polluters. Henning is a living, breathing example of a person who cared enough to make a difference. People like her are invaluable in democratic societies - people who stick their necks out for their beliefs, regardless of the consequences. Exposing the factory farm system, as she has done, has brought their harmful practices to the attention of millions and embarrassed the bigwigs.

That Goldman Prize couldn't have gone to a more deserving recipient.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

For Vegans, It's the Little Things in Life That Bring so Much Joy!

I was thrilled to read that Becel, a big margarine maker (I believe the company goes by the name Promise in the United States) is making a new kind of vegan margarine! Before now, only Earth Balance made vegan margarine and - I hate to say it - but I am not a huge fan of their margarine. Don't get me wrong. I applaud Earth Balance for selling vegan margarine and all. But it's not delicious and it's fairly pricey. It even leaves a little unpleasant aftertaste. At the risk of being accused of sounding like a human advertisement for Becel, but I can't wait to try their vegan margarine.

Butter is what I miss most about being an omnivore. All milk products - I have to admit - were hard to give up, including cottage cheese, yogurt, cheese and milk itself. And Earth Balance is a poor imitation of butter. Put it this way: Earth Balance alone is not likely to win any new converts to veganism. Maybe Becel's vegan margarine won't be much better. But the fact that a major global margarine producer is now making vegan margarine is an encouraging sign. It means, I think, that we vegans are growing in number. Ten years from now, I bet there will be entire vegan sections in stores.

Maybe that's wishful thinking. But I'm eager to try this new vegan margarine. I'll tell you what I think when I do...

Epilogue/Addendum/Post-Script: I found Becel vegan margarine at the store down the street and bought a tub. It's fantastic! Believe it or not, this is not a paid commercial announcement. But this margarine is a lot more butter-like than Earth Balance. Crazy - the things that give us a thrill in life.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Fighting the Good Fight in My Old Home State

Having grown up in Utah and lived there most of my life, I can vouch that states don't come much more conservative. So it was heartening to see the animal rights movement shaking things up in the old home state. Militants are targeting the University of Utah's various animal testing programs. And they're making a difference. The Davis County Animal Shelter, just north of Salt Lake City, is no longer sending animals to the U of U's research labs. Once upon a time, animal shelters provided the 150 to 200 dogs needed per year at the University of Utah. But new state laws have made it so these shelters no longer have to participate. (Source)

Kudos to the Davis County Animal Shelter for protecting its animals.

And then yesterday - in recognition of World Week for Animals in Laboratories - University of Utah students and local activists protested the treatment of animals in the university's laboratories. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) investigators detailed the abuses that occur on a regular basis inside the U of U's laboratories:
Thousands of animals are still suffering inside University of Utah laboratories. Dogs have their necks cut open and medical devices implanted inside. Cats, monkeys, and rats are forced to endure invasive experiments in which their skulls are cut open and electrodes are inserted into their brains, and mice are given enormous tumors and painful, deadly illnesses. PETA’s complaint to the U.S. Department of Agriculture alleging multiple violation of animal protection laws is still under investigation. (Source)

I have a particularly strong interest in this latest wave of protests because the University of Utah is my alma mater. And I am thrilled to see students and animal rights activists there coming together to demand an end to the terrible treatment of animals at the university's labs.

A hundred years ago today, the great American author Mark Twain died. During his lifetime, Twain often made his compassion toward animals known in his writings. He felt especially strongly about animal testing. As he once wrote, "I am not interested to know whether vivisection produces results that are profitable to the human race or doesn't.... The pain which it inflicts upon unconsenting animals is the basis of my enmity toward it, and it is to me sufficient justification of the enmity without looking further."

No doubt that if Mark Twain were still alive today, he would be cheering on the protests at the University of Utah.

The Supreme Court, Violent Animal Videos and a Beautiful Poem About a Little Mouse

Two important developments occurred recently in the struggle for animal rights.

One involved a ruling in the United States Supreme Court, which overturned a federal law that sought to ban videos depicting wanton violence against animals.

Many people applauded the decision as a triumph for free speech. And as a First Amendment absolutist myself, I held my nose and supported the court's decision, despite my bitter loathing of anyone who derives joy from filming or viewing the suffering of animals. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. wrote the majority opinion for the court:

The First Amendment's guarantee of free speech does not extend only to categories of speech that survive an ad hoc balancing of relative social costs and benefits. The First Amendment itself reflects a judgment by the American people that the benefits of its restrictions on the government outweigh the costs. Our Constitution forecloses any attempt to revise that judgment simply on the basis that some speech is not worth it.

Fair enough. But just once in my lifetime, I'd love to see the Supreme Court enact a law that bans the animal concentration camp system that is the factory farm, or prohibits fur-bearing animals from being mercilessly clubbed over the head, or stops dairy farmers from whisking baby calves away from their mothers to turn them into veal. Does mass, systematic human barbarism toward animals fall under the First Amendment protections? I don't think so.

I had very mixed feelings about this ruling. To be honest, even though I support the First Amendment 100 percent, the decision left me depressed and bewildered, wondering when animals are ever going to get their fair day in court.

Then I heard a beautiful story on NPR - National Public Radio - about a British historian and biographer Richard Holmes, who discovered what might be the first "Animal Rights Manifesto" ever written. Holmes is researching a biography of the great English philosopher, theologian, free-thinker and scientist Joseph Priestley (1733-1804).

Apparently, in Priestley's role as chemist (he was a true Renaissance Man with his hands in a lot of cookie jars), he kept caged mice for experimentation. Priestley was cutting the mice open to learn more about how creatures breathe in oxygen. With tuberculosis running rampant in Europe, Priestley - a humanist - hoped that his experiments would help in finding a cure to the terrible disease.

In researching Priestley's life, Holmes came across a poem that Priestley's lab assistant, a young woman named Anna Barbauld, wrote and tucked between the bars of one of the cages for Priestley to find.

Keep in mind, this was 237 years ago - 1773 - when the issue of animal rights wasn't even a blip on most people's radars. The poem, called "The Mouse's Petition" (see an original old English version here) is so beautiful that I am including it here in its entirety:


Found in the TRAP where he had been confin'd all Night.

Parcere subjectis, & debellare superbos. VIRGIL

OH! hear a pensive captive's prayer,
For liberty that sighs ;
And never let thine heart be shut
Against the prisoner's cries.

For here forlorn and sad I sit,
Within the wiry grate ;
And tremble at th' approaching morn,
Which brings impending fate.

If e'er thy breast with freedom glow'd,
And spurn'd a tyrant's chain,
Let not thy strong oppressive force
A free-born mouse detain.

Oh ! do not stain with guiltless blood
Thy hospitable hearth ;
Nor triumph that thy wiles betray'd
A prize so little worth.

The scatter'd gleanings of a feast
My scanty meals supply ;
But if thine unrelenting heart
That slender boon deny,

The chearful light, the vital air,
Are blessings widely given ;
Let nature's commoners enjoy
The common gifts of heaven.

The well taught philosophic mind
To all compassion gives ;
Casts round the world an equal eye,
And feels for all that lives.

If mind, as ancient sages taught,
A never dying flame,
Still shifts thro' matter's varying forms,
In every form the same,

Beware, lest in the worm you crush
A brother's soul you find ;
And tremble lest thy luckless hand
Dislodge a kindred mind.

Or, if this transient gleam of day
Be all of life we share,
Let pity plead within thy breast,
That little all to spare.

So may thy hospitable board
With health and peace be crown'd ;
And every charm of heartfelt ease
Beneath thy roof be found.

So when unseen destruction lurks,
Which men like mice may share,
May some kind angel clear thy path,
And break the hidden snare.
  • To Doctor PRIESTLEY.

Proof that even though the times change, there have always been people with compassionate hearts and a deep reverence for all life, including the lives of animals.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Thought for the Day from a Beloved American Icon

"Animals give me more pleasure through the viewfinder of a camera than they ever did in the crosshairs of a gunsight. And after I've finished 'shooting,' my unharmed victims are still around for others to enjoy. I have developed a deep respect for animals. I consider them fellow living creatures with certain rights that should not be violated any more than those of humans."

- Jimmy Stewart

Economic Recession and Animals

It is easy to forget that the current economic recession is taking a toll on animals. There have been stories too numerous to count on Google News and other news outlets about animals suffering from the effects of hard times. The problem seems to be especially bad in Atlanta and the surrounding counties, where animal shelters are euthanizing dogs and cats in record numbers. (Source, Source) According to the article linked here from the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the counties around the Metro Atlanta region put down 30,000 cats and dogs (that includes the counties of DeKalb, Clayton, Cobb, Fulton and Gwinnett).

Animals are often the forgotten victims of hard times. It is important to remember that good people are reaching deep into their pockets and trying to help in whatever way they can. The Atlanta Journal Constitution story also quotes Gwinnett police Lt. Mary Lou Respess, who's the director of the county's animal shelter, as saying: "We are trying to help citizens who are having financial trouble by giving them food donated to the shelter by local merchants. The shelter also helps sponsor events at local pet supply stories to promote adoptions and is planning a free spay and neuter clinic this spring for pit and pit mixes, the most common breed at the shelter."

Atlanta is but one example. This is a problem across North America, not just in the United States, but Canada as well. One of the most powerful accounts of animal euthanasia can be found on the website Animal It's called "Confessions of a Euthanasia Technician." Everybody across North America should be forced to read this article so they know what happens to so many pets who end up animal shelters and so they develop a deeper respect for the brave, loving and compassionate souls who euthanize animals on a regular basis. I can think of no better way to wrap up this Blog Entry than to include a lengthy quote from the piece:

I think about a sweet little black lab who stayed up for adoption for 2 months before we finally had to put her down because we didn’t have the room, and her time was up. She looked at me with her big, brown, trusting eyes, gave me her paw when I asked for it, and licked my face while I injected her with euthanasia solution. I think about the man who brought us ten, 8-week old puppies, to be put to sleep because he was going on vacation and didn’t want to deal with them. I think about the way that they so unsuspectingly wiggled around and played with each other as I picked them up, one by one, and took their lives. I think about the countless, feral, mother cats, who watched in frozen horror as we took their kittens away from them, killed them, and then killed Mom. I think about that time that the Humane Society brought us 72, healthy and adoptable cats, to be killed all in one afternoon.

I wish I could I say that these were all exceptional cases; that this wasn’t what I dealt with everyday for 3 years. But the truth is; this is what every euthanasia technician faces every day in their job. And we do it because we care. Because we know that it has to be done by someone, and that at least when we do it, that animal will get that last little pat on the head, or scratch behind the ears. And every time a member of the public calls us an “animal killer” because they don’t understand the reality of what a euthanasia technician faces, it stings.

There is a well-known story about a euthanasia technician, who had a dream one night that she died, and went to heaven, and all of the animals that she had ever euthanized were behind the pearly gates, and they wouldn’t let her in. I would like to think that the animals would better understand why we do it than the general public seems to understand. I would like to think that they would appreciate the men and women that have stepped into that role so that they could ensure that this necessary evil was being done in the best way possible. Then again, maybe I am being idealistic, and it is just my way of keeping that armor whole, and free of cracks. I guess I will never know.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Maybe Vegans Before 6 might also become... You guessed it: Vegans after 6!

The latest Vegan Diet Craze comes from famous New York foodie and highly respected food journalist Mark Bittman (see his website here), who is proposing a new diet: Vegan Before 6. (Bittman is pictured above.) The idea behind this diet - as you've probably guessed by now - is that everyday before 6 p.m. you go totally vegan. After 6, go wild. Then watch the pounds and inches come off fast.

Before going vegan and starting this Blog, I have to admit: I didn't think much about food. I just popped shit in my mouth all the time without thinking about it. Meat, potatoes, candies, cookies, Chinese food, Indian food, Italian food, cheese, crackers - you name it, I pretty much ate it. Now that I have become an uber-hardcore rigid vegan (who doesn't even eat things that say, "May contain traces of milk or egg" on the ingredients list), I know the ingredients of everything I put in my mouth. And I have become more aware of who's who on the North American - and global - food scene.

I applaud Bittman for coming up with his Vegan Before 6 regimen, even if it might not be veganism for all the right reasons. Bittman, as I said, is extremely respected. When he advises people to go vegan, even if it is only before 6, a whole lot of folks are going to do what he says, out of sheer reverence for the guy.

Here's a quote from a recent Washington Post article about Bittman:
Still largely an omnivore as he completed his vegetarian cookbook, Bittman says he didn't make the big change in his diet until he (a) saw statistics about the environmental impact of large-scale livestock production; and (b) recognized, as he turned 57, that he had high cholesterol, high blood sugar, sleep apnea, bad knees and 35 extra pounds. "My doctor said, 'I think you should become a vegan,' " Bittman says, referring to a diet that includes no animal products, "That's when I decided to try the 'vegan before 6' thing," he says. "It worked for me."

"Vegan before 6" entails eating a vegan diet every day until 6 p.m. After that, Bittman enjoys whatever he wants to eat in whatever portions suit him. "In three months, I lost 35 pounds," he says, adding that he gained five of those back. "My cholesterol went down and stayed down. My blood sugar went down and stayed down. My knees pretty much got better," and his sleep apnea vanished. "It solved everything."

Veganism has done the same thing for me. Without really dieting, I've lost 25 pounds since the fall of 2009. Veganism is a proven way to lose weight. And I actually love food now more than I ever did when I was an omnivore. Maybe that's because I'm far more mindful of what I eat now than I used to be. But the question remains: what about all of these people who are going vegan for personal reasons and not for the larger, more abstract issue of animal rights?

You may recall not so long ago, I blogged about so-called Hegans, who are middle-aged overweight guys (like I am) who decided to go vegan to lose weight and improve their health. These guys aren't moral vegans. They don't go vegan for higher principles. They go vegan to feel better and shed the pounds. Certainly, some animal rights activists would diss this course of action as problematic. I could hear good old Gary Francione - an author, scholar and animal rights activist who has had a huge influence on me - criticizing these Vegans-by-Convenience for their lack of awareness about the suffering of animals.

And he might have a point. Thank God for people like Francione for fighting the good fight all the time. But the truth is, if everybody went "Vegan Before 6" - as Bittman suggests - the slaughter of animals would plunge sharply. And once someone becomes a Vegan-by-Convenience, they will most likely discover the Vegans-by-Conscience community that is so widespread on the internet. And maybe - just maybe - there will be some hope of converting the Vegans-by-Convenience to the cause of animal rights. Certainly, they'll be an easier bunch to win over than the omnivores who just can't go a day without their steak or pork chops or chicken or whatever (fill in the blank).

So I like what Bittman is doing. I like the idea of "Vegan Before 6." If more people go this route, not only will fewer animals be slaughtered, but I believe there's also a distinct possibility that some adherents might go "Vegan Before 6 & Vegan After 6." Maybe "Vegan 24/7" is a better way of putting it. In the meantime, thanks to compromisers like Bittman, the idea of veganism is starting to seem less extreme, less radical, to people who might've dismissed it five years ago. As far as I'm concerned, this is a win-win for us vegans.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Time for some Pie in the Sky... With Vegan Ice Cream on Top! (Well, maybe not... let's face it... vegan ice cream sucks...)

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is generating a lot of controversy as a result of its decision to make public undercover video footage shot inside of America's two largest egg farms. Apparently, the film shows "workers slamming chickens into metal bins and dead animals littering cages." (Source) The footage was shot secretly inside of facilities belonging to Rose Acre Farms and Rembrandt Enterprises, both located in Iowa.

The video footage has sparked a war of words between HSUS and the food industry. Unfortunately, the debate has nothing to do with the rights of the hens. As HSUS President Wayne Pacelle announced at a news conference in Des Moines yesterday: "We're not asking for an end to the confinements of animals in buildings. We're asking they not be crammed into cages and crates barely larger than their bodies." (Source)

He went on to say: "Those same producers are producing cage-free eggs by the millions to account for the growing demand for these products. We're not talking about a pie-in-the-sky alternative." (Source)

Well, I say: Let's talk about pie-in-the-sky alternatives. These puny animal welfare measures do nothing but provide short-term feel-good solutions to lull food consumers back into a state of denial. How is it going to change the harsh conditions and rampant abuses in these egg-laying facilities to switch from caged hens to cage-free hens? How will that help one iota? Will it stop workers from slamming the chickens? Will it make life better for the chickens? Will they be anything other than slaves, forced to lay eggs for human beings who don't need eggs to survive?

Nobody talks about pie-in-the-sky alternatives anymore. People are too focused on pragmatic solutions. But if nobody aims high, great change will never come. In 1850, abolitionism was about as "pie in the sky" as you can get. The handful of brave men and women who wanted to free African Americans from bondage in the middle of the 19th Century faced persecution, ostracism, even death. And they did NOT have the press or courts or politicians on their side.

But they had something far more powerful going for them: They had right on their side. They had justice on their side. And these are far more than simple abstractions...

Use that damning video footage for something far more meaningful than a debate over caged versus cage-free eggs. Use it to show the beauty of birds that bond with their parents and offspring, understand mathematics, enjoy a day out in the sun as much of the rest of us, and have a right to live full and peaceful lives.

Pie in the sky? Sure. Right and just? Yes.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Cove Banned at U.S. Base in Japan

The Academy Award-winning documentary The Cove (pictured above), an uncompromising film about the slaughter of dolphins by gangs of brutish and cutthroat hunters in Japan, has been banned by U.S. military officials at the U.S. Air Force's Yakota Air Base in Tokyo. The Cove cannot be shown at the base theater, in the words of a public affairs spokesman, "since using a military base as a venue that could be seen as an endorsement of the film one way or another would be prohibited." (Source)

The base spokesman explained that officials are simply trying to be sensitive to customs in Japan. Interestingly, the film shows that only a tiny percentage of the Japanese population is involved in the dolphin hunt and most Japanese are shocked and appalled at the news that dolphins are being slaughtered in their country's waters. Defending the decision to prohibit showing the film, base public Affairs spokesman Major Christopher Watt explained that "anything done on an American base would be seen as an approval of that event." Interestingly, Watt says he wants to see the film. He should. I'm sure it will move him, just as it has millions of viewers around the world. It's an extraordinary documentary.

The courageous thing to do, of course, would be to make The Cove mandatory viewing at Yakota Air Base. From what I saw in The Cove, most Japanese people would probably support such a move. They don't seem to like these thugs who are murdering dolphins any more than the rest of us.

More Victims of the Immoral Factory Farm System

A follow-up to my recent post on animals dying in factory farm fires: The Washington Post reported earlier this month that 100 cows perished in a factory farm in Frederick, Maryland. There were 170 cows and calves in the barn and 70 were rescued. According to the local fire marshal, the barn was incredibly flammable due to the dry "hay, hay dust and grain" within.

A more recent blog entry on the Washington Post's "Crime Scene" blog indicated that 114 cows perished in the fire.

Any comment I make on this tragedy is just stating the obvious. Not only are factory farms dark and cold and frightening gulags for animals, but they're also deadly firetraps. Even in farms like this one, where the cows were apparently cared for well and it is a family-run operation, tinderbox conditions exist.

Even the best factory farms - run by conscientious people - are prisons for animals. We can only hope a great change will come.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Give That Shark a Cigar for His Diving Record

Here's one for the record books: A great white shark named Shack, tagged with a tiny transmitter by New Zealand scientists who are studying the migratory patterns of great whites, took a dive a record 1,200 meters (or nearly 4,000 feet!) under the ocean's surface.

Now that is deep.

Shack is part of a larger group of 25 great whites who had these transmitter tags attached to them. Scientists are learning a lot about sharks they didn't already know. As Malcolm Francis, principle scientist for the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (one of the groups heading the study) noted:
Before we started this work, five years ago, it was thought that great white sharks were cold water animals. But it seems the great white sharks are taking tropical winter holidays, departing New Zealand between April and September, for somewhere warmer. The maximum distance migrated was 3300 km. Our sharks don't cross the equator; so far our tagged animals have only gone as far north as 17 degrees south, north of New Caledonia. (Source)

Almost as cool as the fact that Shack plunged close to the 4,000 feet under the water was the description of the process by which the sharks are "tagged" by scientists. As Department of Conservation Scientist Clinton Duffy described it:
We have to attract them to the boat, with a berley of tuna oil and minced tuna. Then we use a long pole that has a needle tip on it. The tag has a monofilament nylon leader with a barbed plastic anchor on it. The anchor slides over the needle tip, which is injected under the skin of the shark with the pole. When the shark is close enough and at (hopefully) the right angle, we use the pole to stab the anchor into the muscle below the dorsal fin as it swims by. Lots of patience is needed because usually the shark is moving around, its back is exposed only for a short amount of time and the dorsal fin is out of reach. (Source)
You've got to wonder: How much does that job pay an hour? And what are the benefits like?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Introducing Summer, the Newest Member of My Family

We are still mourning the loss of our beloved Scotch. I have dedicated this Blog to her. It has been one week since I had to put her down because her liver was failing. To call it a painful decision is an understatement.

We adopted another cat, Summer, a loving 5-year-old, from the Kitchener-Waterloo Humane Society. She is hissing at Gibson, a mischievous 2-year-old feline member of our clan (he actually started the hissing wars, and believe me - he can hold his own), but I am confident they will one day be friends. Sort of confident. A little confident.

We love and adore Summer. Every cat in the world should be cherished. Unfortunately, they're not. Humans are incredibly careless when it comes to the cat population. It has been said that one homeless cat and her offspring can produce 420,000 kittens over the course of seven years if they're allowed to roam free. And judging from the huge number of cats up for adoption, I don't dispute these numbers.

I looked up cats on Pet Finder, one of the major North American databases for people looking to adopt animals. In this region of southwestern Ontario alone, there were more 2,500 cats up for adoption on Pet Finder. That's not counting all of the cats on Kijiji (our equivalent of Craig's List in Canada), Pet Patrol and Grand River All-Breed Animal Rescue.

I look at these beautiful creatures and want to adopt them all. But, alas, I cannot.

And then I hear stories like the one I read in today's Toronto Sun about Humane Society investigators finding an apartment in Oshawa, Ontario, filled with 25 cats living in horrendous conditions, many covered in their own feces.

The Humane Society of Durham Region will clean the cats and put them up for adoption. I hope they all find loving homes.

I didn't mean for this Blog entry to be a downer. Summer is a wonderful addition to our household and deserves a more upbeat welcome than this one.

Still, it is important to reflect on the sanctity of the lives of all cats and recognize that we, as a human race, are failing our feline friends. We need to spay and neuter them and give them loving homes. I honestly don't think I can handle many more stories like the one that happened in Oshawa. And yet, sadly, they are so commonplace on Google News. We can only hope that through a more concerted effort to help our feline friends, this won't always be the case.

Summer and Gibson live in a very loving home. Scotch did, too, during her life. Every cat - and dog, for that matter... every animal up for adoption - deserves that much.

For Chickens, "Cage-Free" is Nothing to Write Home About

There was a good column in the Des Moines Register (Iowa) today about "cage-free" eggs. Have a look at it, if you get a chance. It draws attention to the fallacy that chickens are somehow better off in a cage-free setting. On the contrary, hens who lay cage-free eggs are still cramped together. They use the bathroom all over the place (which inevitably gets on the eggs). They peck each other. The atmosphere is still dark and unpleasant and traumatic for them.

According to the article, the sandwich chain Subway announced on March 22 that they won't be using care-free eggs in any of their food anymore, due to the increasingly negative reputation of the method. Various animal welfare groups have pointed out that chickens are often far more comfortable in cages than when they're free to wander with countless numbers of their own in tight, dark spaces. Apparently, the cage method is actually more humane. The article also cites an Arizona Republic columnist, Linda Valdez, who concluded that chickens in facilities with cages are much better off than she expected.

Animal welfare groups can debate these issues until they're blue in the face. The truth is, the most humane approach to this issue is to go vegan and stop eating eggs completely.

Short of that, it is encouraging that these feel-good terms like "cage-free," "free-range," "conscientious carnivore," etc., are being called into question. People should see the fallacy of these warm-and-fuzzy terms. They were invented to make omnivores feel better. But when you get right down to it, they don't mean much. In the last analysis, animals still suffer regardless and their brutally short lives end just as ultra-violently.

It is time - long past time - to start talking about their rights.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Food for Thought... Literally! Put it this way: If this food doesn't make you think, nothing will...

Would you eat cheese made of human breast milk???

A bold New York couple named Daniel Angerer and Lori Mason, owners of the restaurant Klee Basserie, an all-natural eatery where Angerer is the head chef, have made headlines for - yep, you guessed it - featuring human breast-milk cheese at their eating establishment. The cheese is pictured above. Mmm mmm. Someone pass the Triscuits!!!

You can almost hear a collective "Ewww!" across North America.

Apparently, Angerer has also provided a breast-milk cheese recipe on his blog. (Source)

I wish I could shake their hand in person and tell them what a great thing they've done. Yet even before this matter was brought to my attention by my companion (thank you, Luisa!), I'd actually heard stories of people making cheese out of human breast milk. And maybe some plucky entrepreneurs have sold it elsewhere. But this is the first time I've heard about it being on the menu of a respected eating establishment.

Let me clarify something: I'm not excited because I plan to buy it by the pound (apparently it was selling for $2 an ounce on Toronto Kijiji, which is our equivalent in Canada to Craig's List).

(This raises an interesting question: Can vegans eat human breast milk cheese???)

No, I'm excited about it because it is bound to get more thoughtful people thinking about why they routinely eat cheese made out of cow's milk - milk that is meant for cows, not human beings - and not milk made out of human breast milk.

Oh, I know a lot of thoughtless people will dismiss this new treat as gross and not ponder the deeper philosophical implications of why they eat what they eat. I doubt that many patrons who order the Super Nachos at Hooters are going to request human breast milk cheddar atop their beloved snack.

But this is a real breakthrough that will hopefully provoke the more intelligent people to think twice about what they eat.

And who knows? When you think about it, eating cow's milk cheese instead of human's milk cheese is nothing but a human construct. People eat cow's milk cheese because that is what is culturally and traditionally accepted. If you change people's way of thinking, maybe human breast milk cheese might become the preferred choice instead of cow's milk cheese.

Then again, maybe not.

But I still think Angerer and Mason are Culinary Pioneers. I salute them wholeheartedly. This couple gets my Kudos of the week. And I hope - hope, hope, hope... hope against hope - their new delicacy will get people thinking about why the consume milk that is meant for calves, not human beings.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Not All of God's Critters are Huggable...

Dude! He - or is it a she? - looks like an extra from the movie Cloverfield!

The scientific name for this creature is Bathynomus giganteus. He is - essentially - a deep-sea underwater bug.

And, whew, is he ugly.

Apparently this 30-inch long guy (which makes him only slightly smaller than Tattoo on Fantasy Island) latched onto the side of a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) operating in the Gulf of Mexico, near an oil rig.

This deep-sea isopod is a cousin of the roly-polies or pill bugs - sort of like a roly-poly on steroids. The next time you think about crushing a roly-poly, just remember: It's cousin might be watching.

Or maybe not. Because these Bathynomus giganteuses live about 8,500 feet below the ocean's surface. (Still, don't step on roly-polies... They're cute and essentially harmless - although they have been known to feed on strawberries.)

Sources close to the Republican Party say they weren't aware that Newt Gingrich could swim that deep under the water.


Included below, just in case you need your Bathynomus giganteus fix, is a video of the critters in action, chowing down on a dead hunk of tuna that sank to the bottom of the ocean. And let me tell you: These suckers ain't waiting for the mayonnaise.

Ding-a-ling-a-ling... Supper's on!!!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Kudos to Ginnifer Goodwin for Telling the Truth About the Dairy Industry

Ginnifer Goodwin, one of the wives on the hit HBO show Big Love, is teaming up with PETA to bring attention to the brutality of the dairy industry. Specifically, Goodwin and PETA are targeting the California Milk Advisory Board's (CMAB) "Happy Cow" ads.

As Goodwin explained: "In show business, we often have good reason for making people believe things that aren't true, but there is no excuse for CMAB's misrepresentation of the milk industry. Consumers deserve better than to be fed lies about 'happy cows.'" (Source)

Goodwin, a dedicated vegan, knows that dairy farms are dark places where stressed out cows are worked to the breaking point and kept in a constant state of pregnancy. When their babies are born, they are whisked off to be sliced up into veal.

We often fool ourselves into thinking there's nothing wrong with milk. But these "milk factories" are some of the most extreme forms of exploitation and violence against animals that one could possibly imagine.

So kudos go out to Ginnifer Goodwin for speaking truth to power. Hopefully her efforts will help educate people about the realities of this brutal and exploitive industry.

P.S. Another reason to admire Goodwin: She is an avid supporter of Farm Sanctuary - one of my favorite organizations - and she was the spokesperson for their Adopt-a-Turkey Program in 2009. She set the example by adopting an entire flock.

Right on, Ginnifer!