Monthly Archives: November 2011

Horse Slaughter in the US May Have Hidden Up Side

from morguefile.comThis past holiday weekend, I listened to someone announce that they had “euthanized” their problem horse (who really did need to be put down — it had a vet-diagnosed neurological condition and was aggressively dangerous).  I was thinking of commending them for taking responsibility for the animal and not just selling the problem along to an unsuspecting buyer when they said they had “euthanized” the horse by selling him for slaughter.  (“Bam!” they said.  “Bolt to the head.”)

Clearly they missed out on the part where horse slaughter was not, at that time, legal in the US — before their horse was “euthanized”, it rode many hours in an open air cargo van — perhaps one designed for horses, perhaps one designed for pigs or cattle — with no food or water, to reach a slaughter plant in Canada.  The horse may not have even reached the killing box and its captive bolt gun — it may have died along the way, kicked at the feedlot, crushed or trampled in the truck, or suffering from exposure or dehydration.

There is hope that things may be changing.  Recently, Congress has, without fanfare, quietly lifted a five-year-old ban on funding for inspection of horse meat, which indirectly paves the way for re-opening of domestic horse slaughter plants by providing for the inspection of meat produced at those plants.  There isn’t currently a budget for horse meat inspection, so the process might be slow, but people who have been witness to the issues surrounding the lack of appropriate facilities in the US are scrambling to get one going, to prevent trips like the one my acquaintance’s horse took.

The closure of domestic slaughter plants in 2007 has not resulted in a reduction of the amount of US horses being slaughtered.  They are simply being trucked over the border to be slaughtered in Canada and Mexico, doing nothing but adding a 24 to 72 hour trip in a packed cargo truck — here’s animal behaviorist and slaughter reformist Temple Grandin describing one version of that experience — to the doomed horses’ woes.

We certainly do need to alter a lot of things about the process that is allowing companion horses to be slaughtered for food — including providing education for horse owners, finding help for families who, through no fault of their own, can no longer support their animals, and initiating improvements in slaughter practices and how all slaughter plants (not just ones for horses) are run.  There are a lot of problems with this industry, in all countries (graphic link).  However, sending horses off to Mexico and Canada is not the answer.  Providing a good support network for distressed owners, increasing public education, and bringing the slaughter plants under USDA control won’t fix the problem, but would be a huge step in the right direction.

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Why I Ate A Thanksgiving Turkey

I am not technically vegetarian; I consider myself a compassionate carnivore.  Alas, in this day and age, this results in essential vegetarianism unless I have personally bought the meat/eggs/milk involved.  It’s kind of nice, actually.  I don’t miss meat a lot, and it’s really helping on my diet.  However, this Thanksgiving I did help to dismember and consume a whole turkey as part of some quasi-traditional ritual much of the country seems to go through around this time.

First — since my mother-in-law is lucky enough to live in an area where she can essentially walk out of her house and meet the pasture-raised, humanely-treated turkey in question, she got a bird which had the kindest life anyone could have given it, and whose death was about as humane as it gets.  This qualifies, in my book, as humanely-raised meat.  The bird was appropriately “paid” for its efforts to the household — with food, water, shelter, medical care, and, in the case of this particular bird, even access to the outdoors and conspecifics.  We (via the farmer) gave the turkey a good life in return for several excellent dinners.

Second — we used the whole turkey.  Every little bit of meat, including giblets, bones, neck, bits, and pieces, got thrown into the stock pot and will be used to flavor soups, make noodles, etc., for the next several weeks.  Three families were fed by that bird.  Nothing was wasted, which is only appropriate when you are consuming something so important as another animal.  That turkey was not wasted.

Third — Thanksgiving, or, rather, a family get-together and overall bonding occasion, is not the point to stand up and grind it into people’s faces that their lifestyle choices disagree with yours.  I once had to put down a “vegetarianism for beginners” book which recommended that, when “thoughtlessly” offered meat at a restaurant, I essentially stand up, throw down my napkin, and rip the innocent waitperson a new orifice for daring to offer me animal flesh.  We are all imperfect, and shouting at people is a great way to guarantee they won’t be listening.  There are better times for these delicate, paradigm-rocking conversations.

During the holiday, I also consumed two pieces of not-at-all-humanely-raised sausage, because some poor pig (or, likely, between two and twenty pigs) died for that sausage, and it was going to be thrown away if someone did not eat it.  While I would prefer that humans in general not purchase or eat factory-farmed meat, if someone has purchased it, I would prefer that it not go to waste.  I consider it a crowning injustice to torment, damage, and otherwise torture a living animal only to toss the meat away at the end.  There’s probably another way to look at all this, but that’s how I’m looking at it right now.

Some meat I did not eat this holiday: The path to and from the mother-in-law’s passed a favorite restaurant of mine, at which I have not eaten in years, since long before my switch away from factory-farmed meat.  Despite a distinct fondness for their burgers, the great time which had passed since my last such experience, and the general inaccessibility of the restaurant to me these days, I could not justify the purchase or consumption of meat from that restaurant.  It would not be wasted if I did not eat it, and purchasing it would directly contribute to factory farming; so fries it was.  It wasn’t quite the same without a burger on the side, but I’d rather miss out on a meat patty than contribute to what usually happens to make a commercial, fast-food burger.

Seeing About Seafood

Since I am both highly calorie-restricted and also doing my level best to avoid factory-farmed meat, it is extremely rare these days to open a menu and see more than one thing I can calorically and morally afford.  I find myself leaning towards seafood these days, for sources of low-calorie, lean protein which are unlikely to involve ghastly intensive farming practices, but of course anything purchased in a restaurant is suspect until investigated.

Today, I took a look at shrimp, which is delightfully low-calorie (when not coated with heavy sauce, or fried), and easily raised domestically, so I am unlikely to be decimating dwindling wild populations.  Shrimp “harvesting” is also reasonably fast and does not involve the inhumane slaughter methods common with large mammals.

Shrimp farming is popular and widespread, which of course invites unfortunate habits by shrimp farmers trying to increase the number of animals they can produce/sustain in an individual pond.  Certainly I cannot cover the entirety of “shrimp farming” in a bite-size blog post, but here is a basic overview of U.S. shrimp farming in .pdf form from Auburn University; here is a more in-depth description from Kentucky State University; and here is a formal collection of overall information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  Here’s one for the Gulf of Mexico from NASA.  For comparison, here is a (likely virus-free) .doc file from the Association  of Southeast Asian Nations (unfortunately with no date) describing shrimp farms in its member countries.

It’s hard to form a universal rule on store-bought or restaurant-purchased shrimp, since it’s coming from so many sources, but fortunately a lot of restaurants are wising up and at least giving lip service to sustainable (and reasonably kind) farming practices.  Here’s the info for Red Lobster, whose menu caused my initial investigation re: seafood.  Hmm, pretty vague on farming practices, but I like that they’ve teamed with an aquarium.  Purchasing the fish at a specialty grocery store is usually safer: here’s the info for Whole Foods Market, which both reassures me that they’re at least trying, and paints a terrifying picture of what some shrimp farms must be doing, in order for Whole Foods to require rules such as these.

Seafood as a whole is generally suspect due to overfishing and overfarming, but there are some good options out there.  Here’s some good advice on picking “kind” and healthy seafood from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, including the Seafood Watch app for Android and iPhone, which can be used to find local restaurants which have chosen to purchase their seafood sustainably.

An Animal Control Officer Rants…Twice

An Animal Control Officer Rants, Quits On Craigslist (via Buzzfeed)

This is almost certainly not real — in the sense that it is likely not written by a quitting animal control officer in Comox Valley, British Columbia, as an official grumbling rant, at least.  In fact, here it is in a prior (and not necessarily its original) form, as a “best of” Craigslist post from 2006.

Its sentiments certainly ring true, however, despite the dubious veracity of its origin, which is likely why it’s being passed on.  I’ve certainly had similar sentiments occasionally.

It is interesting that these sentiments most often crop up anonymously.  We forward this and repost it, agreeing with it implicitly — why are we not saying it ourselves?

Vegetarian Vegetable Soup

Various health- and ethics-related events have combined to make me extremely interested in obtaining much of my nutrition from vegetable-based sources.  Finding foods which have no meat in them can be, as previously described, a frustrating endeavor.  Meat really is unbelievably pervasive.  Until you’re looking for it, you really don’t see how “everywhere” it is.

Recently I became aware of the existence of “vegetarian vegetable soup“.  It occurred to me, much belatedly as it turns out, to wonder why the manufacturer felt they had to make such a distinction.  Wouldn’t vegetable soup that has meat in it be labeled?  “Vegetable beef soup“, for instance?  Well, no.  Apparently, a lot of vegetable soup is made, at least partly, with chicken stock.  Or beef stock.  Or, as in my (previously) favorite soup, “beef stock”, “beef fat”, and “chicken fat”.

Apparently I am just late to the party and this is, and has always been, very common.  Here’s Martha Stewart doing it.  Some guy from the Food Network.  Emeril.  Here’s Wolfgang Puck at least suggesting you use (his) free-range chicken stock when you make your “vegetable” soup with meat.

I am trying to avoid eating factory-farmed animals.  Soup manufacturers are hiding them in my vegetable soup!  It’s not just Campbell’s, either — I don’t mean to pick on them.  I spent several minutes in my grocery store’s soup aisle turning over cans, and only the “vegetarian vegetable” soups, and one “vegetable” soup, did not feature animals or their derivatives in their ingredients.

I once ate at a steakhouse where meat was so pervasive it appeared in the salads and the vegetable side dishes as well.  The other day I ordered a “tomato and basil” soup which the waiter and the menu both forgot to mention contained large chunks of chicken.  Meat is everywhere!  I keep expecting to find meat in my toothpaste or my toilet paper.

Fortunately, I am not the only one who has noticed meat “hiding” in my food products.  The Carnivore’s Dilemma offers a hint for vegetarians and others looking for animal-free foods: look for the word “pareve” on the label, assuring those keeping kosher that the food contains neither dairy nor meat.  Cyberparent offers a handy list of euphemisms for meat-related products which may be appearing on an ingredients list near you.  And the Vegetarian Society works on “outing” badly-labeled products as well as offering a list of officially approved products which have been determined to be 100% animal-free.  They also have suggestions if you find a badly-labeled product and you’d like to do something about it.