Category Archives: self-education

Meat Is Hiding Inside My Cold Medicine

I have this season’s Martian Death Flu; my brain feels like it is bouncing gently against the ceiling, tethered to earth only by the flimsiest of strings.  I am not in the right frame of mind to be reading ingredients lists, but I happen to glance at the back of the box containing the little white pills which are the only thing that stops my brain pouring out of my nose, and see:

Inactive Ingredients: acesulfame potassium, artificial flavors, carnauba wax, colloidal silicon dioxide, corn starch, croscarmellose sodium, glycerin, glyceryl behenate [likely from the Ben-oil tree], hypromellose, lactic acid, lecithin [probably, but not 100% definitely, vegetable-derived] maltodextrin, medium-chain triglycerides [from palm oil, the harvesting of which threatens orangutan habitat], microcrystalline cellulose [“refined wood pulp” — yum!], pharmaceutical ink [which may contain shellac!], polydextrose [reportedly made from corn], polyvinyl alcohol, pregelatinized starch, propyl gallate [which one study sort of claims is a carcinogen — in male rats and mice], silicon dioxide [sand!], sucralose, synthetic iron oxide, talc, titanium dioxide, triacetin [made of glycerin/glycerol and acetic acid, and therefore possibly not vegan], xanthan gum.

(As for the active ingredients, it’s hard to tell, but ibuprofen itself appears to be non-animal-sourced.  Chlorpheniramine maleate may or may not be made with bone oil, which contains pyridine, from which chlorpheniramine maleate is made, and, frankly, I haven’t the foggiest idea about phenylephrine hydrochloride.)

Glycerin pings my radar as being possible to make from vegetables, but much easier to get from animals.  (Later, doing research on every item on this list, I also find triacetin, which is made from glycerin, and therefore equally suspect — and, what the hey, pharmaceutical ink, which apparently can contain shellac, made from bugs.  Also, as you can see above, it eventually occurred to me to ask if the active ingredients themselves were also vegan.)  Oh.  Well.  Off to research….

Unfortunately, Google is not a big help here.  I found a site which tells me on two pages (here’s one, dated 3/3/14, Pfizer reference number 214905A; here’s the other, using the same reference) that my currently preferred little white pill, “Advil Allergy and Congestion“, is completely animal-product free, and on another page (dated 11/4/13, Pfizer reference number 188656A), tells me the glycerin in that product is derived from either beef or pork fat.  (This article about gluten-free medications tells me glycerin is mostly derived from petroleum these days…and the Vegetarian Resource Group tells me glycerin is the same as glycerol, and that glycerol is “typically vegan”, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the glycerin in Advil is — and on another page, the Vegetarian Resource Group tells me that glycerin is typically non-vegetarian, so what do I know?)

(I don’t mean to be dinging on Advil.  For all I know, they are vegan, they just aren’t labeled that way.  They don’t make it easy to find out, which leads me to suspect that they aren’t.  If they aren’t vegan, then they’re certainly not alone.)

Since my place of business dings me for calling in sick, not taking something (at least on work days) is unthinkable — I must be able to see and interact with other humans, whatever my immune system feels it ought to be doing instead.  A search for “vegan cold medicine” turns up nothing I’d consider scientifically tested, or remotely functional.  You’d think someone would be working on getting this “niche market” filled by now — it’s not like glycerin, lecithin and food-grade ink can’t be plant-based, and you’d just have to stamp the end result “vegan” for me to come rushing in to buy it preferentially.

Alas, this may have to be filed under the “99.9% vegan” category, like Cheerios, at least for the moment, with an eye out for swapping brands at the first available opportunity.  At least I know to avoid the “gel-caps”, which are outright made of gelatin.  In any case, all medications, by US law, have been tested on animals, so by taking any medication whatsoever I am directly contributing to that part of the machine.

Somehow, that makes me feel worse than the flu.  Fortunately, staying in bed with the covers over my head is vegan….

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Cheerios is 99.99% Vegan; So Am I

I made one of my usual tactical errors the other day, and decided to check whether Cheerios, my breakfast cereal of choice, is, in fact, vegan.  I’d just managed to wean myself off of traditional dairy based milk onto soy milk (and boy, did that suck — sorry, cows); I was feeling proud of myself and wanted to verify that I’d finally gotten breakfast fully vegan.

The answer is interesting: no, Cheerios is not vegan, because the vitamin D3 which is added to the cereal is made from lanolin, which of course comes from sheep.  Technically, this may make the cereal just vegetarian rather than vegan, but since there’s no way to tell if the wool was sheared off living sheep or skinned off dead sheep, it may also technically be “animal based”.  This means that any “fortified” cereal (or any “fortified” food, such as orange juice!) may contain vitamin D3 or other “slaughterhouse by-products”.  Also, if the “sugar” in the Cheerios is white cane sugar, it was likely whitened using the calcium carbonate from animal bones.  So my “vegan” breakfast, well, isn’t.  Arrgh!

My experience wasn’t special.  Non-vegan products are hiding inside apparently vegan food all the time.  What is really interesting about this is that one of the first links I found when starting my search for nutritional information on Cheerios was PETA’s “Accidentally Vegan” web site, which — sometime in the past — listed Cheerios, saying it was vegan and making no mention of the treacherous lanolin-based vitamin D3.  When people complained about this (and other foods on the list which were not actually vegan), PETA responded thusly:

While PETA supports a strict adherence to veganism, we put the task of vigorously reducing animal suffering ahead of personal purity. Boycotting products that are 99.9 percent vegan sends the message to manufacturers that there is no market for this food, which ends up hurting more animals.

So where should I draw the line?  Do I spend four times as much on a “vegan” version of Cheerios, or is 99.9% vegan “close enough”?  (Maybe, maybe not — PETA did eventually take Cheerios, and some other non-vegan foods, off the “accidentally vegan” list.)  But what about animal products hidden in other places (like car tires and plastic bags) that are often impossible to spot?  How far do I go to ensure that I never eat another animal?  How far should I go to never indirectly harm another animal?  How crazy should I get, avoiding having any kind of impact on any other living being, anywhere?

Bloom County, by Berkeley Breathed.

Comic from Bloom County, by Berkeley Breathed.

I finally found the “Bloom County” cartoon I’ve been looking for, which shows veganism taken to its logical extreme.  Because we’re on this planet, we’re using resources, and that’s necessarily going to impact other living things, sometimes negatively.  That’s okay.  That’s something we can’t help.  However, that’s no reason to ignore the issue.  Even if I can’t completely remove my impact on the planet, my choosing to not eat animal products in as much as I possibly can is still reducing my impact by a measurable percentage.  Isn’t that better than nothing?  At least I’m trying, and I can only get better at it.  (Next project: switch breakfast to fruit-without-animal-based-wax-coatings and vegan-bread toast….)

Scientists’ View of Humane Science

Image by mensatic via morguefile.com

Image by mensatic via morguefile.com.

If you are interested in how scientists are currently viewing animal-based research, there is a free online course available, taught by employees of Johns Hopkins University (one of the big animal research “players”), Alan Goldberg and James Owiny.  The course is called Enhancing Humane Science – Improving Animal Research.  It is sponsored by the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing, which sounds great until you realize it’s also part of Johns Hopkins.  This course is absolutely not in any way unbiased.  Johns Hopkins has a lot of big stakes in animal-based research.

I’ll admit I haven’t listened to the whole course yet, but it reeks of the stuff I had to read while working in animal research.  It appears to be a pretty accurate picture of the scientists’ point of view concerning animal welfare.

I’m not defending or attacking anybody here.  This mess, and my opinion of it, is too huge and complicated for me to summarize it in one journal post.  But if you were looking for a good introduction to how scientists look at animal research, and where they are coming from when they say, “But we are doing everything we can for the animals in our care,” this is where a lot of them are standing right now.  The jargon and the general attitudes are appropriate and seem pretty representative.

They aren’t cackling and rubbing their hands together, drooling over the prospect of thousands of dead mice.  On the other hand, these animals routinely undergo experiences we would not inflict on our pets.

Cruising With Ethics

From msmediadesign at morguefile.com.

From msmediadesign at morguefile.com.

I refuse to complain about going on a Caribbean cruise.  This is going to be the most wonderful thing ever and I am terribly excited.  However, this is the first time I’ve looked at planning a long, involved vacation with the eyes I have now.  It’s a very new experience.

The cruise literature is full of glossy photographs of equally glossy food, promising how I’m going to have a wonderful time gaining 20 pounds.  Of course, the centerpiece of every photo is a gleaming piece of meat.  Okay, well, I’m used to that by now — there’s hardly a restaurant anywhere that doesn’t have the equivalent of a whole glazed pig splashed in pornographic, hickory-smoked ecstasy across the front page of its menu while the vegetarian “options” — oh, look, pasta again — languish in the back.

I thought I’d be fine when I read there are vegetarian options at dinner.  However, the questions just seem to be piling up:  Can I use the shampoo and lotion provided in the rooms?  Can I even get dressed up for dinner, given that I own no animal-friendly cosmetics?  Does the spa use cruelty-free products?  Are the french fries in the buffet vegetarian?  What do I do when some crazed shipboard photographer hands me an iguana, then demands I buy a photo taken with it?  (This happened on my last cruise.)

I am also having to pick my shore excursions quite carefully.  I’d love to swim with a dolphin, even at a hundred and twenty bucks an hour.  However, there is pretty much no humane way to arrange this.  Captive dolphins are rarely cared for properly, especially not at tourist traps in the Caribbean, and wild dolphins can be harassed to create these photo shoots or can be habituated by them into hanging around in human areas, which can be dangerous for both dolphins and humans.  No dolphins for me.

Does my submarine or glass-bottomed boat expedition benignly view wildlife from a distance, or does it habituate wild fish to humans and/or disrupt their behavior patterns by having someone feed them in front of the viewers?  Does the stable where I want to go horseback riding treat their horses — as well as the land through which they ride — appropriately?  (Is horseback riding even a reasonable recreational activity for an animal lover?)

Will I be shopping for mementos of my trip?  Well, maybe, but not black coral or conch shells, and apparently there’s a whole market of random animal parts (seahorses, starfish) I’ll be avoiding.  And it’s not just animals I’ll be wondering about.  Are we treating the inhabitants of the islands like animals?  Should I really be “touring” these people’s homes?  Sure, I’m putting money into their economy — but I could also just be donating that money.  And is the cruise line I’m on behaving responsibly concerning the environment as well as its own employees?

Don’t get me wrong.  I have almost 100 gigs of memory cards for my camera and I plan to bring back the best souvenirs — photographs.  I am going to have a great time!  I just find myself really interested by how much of this I did not see when I went on my first cruise *ahem* years ago.  (It’s also somewhat disappointing that I’m embarrassed to even care about this.  “It’s just a vacation — enjoy it!  Live a little!”)  What an interesting society we have.  More food for thought….

Coyote: Compare and Contrast

Nehalem Bay State Park coyote

Aggressive coyote at Nehalem Bay State Park. Photo has many attributions — It’s probably from the Oregon Parks & Recreation Department, via a visitor who snapped a photo of what is believed to be the relevant coyote.

On June 21, 2012, a 20-pound female coyote attacked a five-year-old girl in Nehalem Bay State Park in Oregon.  The girl is fine.  The coyote is not, but you wouldn’t know it from this National News article, which reports, both in its headline and in the text of the article, that the offending coyote was “removed” from the park.  That sounds like it was live-trapped and relocated, doesn’t it?  Only at the end of the fourth paragraph do we see what really became of the coyote — apparently it was “safely taken from the park by lethal means“.

“Safely taken”…by “lethal means”?  Not safely for the coyote, surely.

For contrast, here’s an alternative article, about the same event, whose angle implies the coyote was “tracked down and killed”.

Here’s an article that says the girl was “nipped” by the coyote; here’s one that says she was “bitten”; here’s one that says she was “attacked”.  Here’s an article calling the event an “encounter”, using a headline which carefully implies the coyote was not necessarily at fault (“Coyote killed after encounter left 5-year-old girl injured“), and specifically not using the word “bitten”, yet still using the word “attacked” later in the article.  And here’s one that deliberately emphasizes that the attack was made upon a “little girl”.  What do you suppose actually happened?

And, as a bonus, here’s the first article published verbatim by a different news agency without the original byline.  Notice that they changed the headline to include the word “attack”, even though the word “attack” appears nowhere in the article?

This is why I never trust information from just one source.  Journalists are supposed to be unbiased, but it doesn’t often happen that way.

Repost from Cracked: More Creepy Stuff from the Food Industry

I hate just reposting something without adding anything to it, but this author has said it all.

The 6 Creepiest Lies the Food Industry is Feeding You is posted on Cracked.com, a site which uses the word “boobies” a lot but still manages to produce some insightful articles.  The article covers: the unfortunate origins of honey and spices; “plumping” and other hideous things done to your chicken; the “gluing together” of meat scraps to make fake steaks (something of which I was unaware); the dyeing of meat to make it look healthier; the fact that, unless you are in Japan, you have never eaten Kobe beef; and the fact that you probably have never eaten real olive oil, either.

The article also has a twin brother by the same author, The 6 Most Horrifying Lies the Food Industry is Feeding You, covering: bread made of wood; zombie orange juice; the ammonia bath factories give meat rather than actually maintaining clean slaughterhouses; imitation fruit; the meaninglessness of phrases like “free range”; and baseless health claims on labels.

I like pointing people to these articles as a “baby step” toward larger issues.  They don’t screamingly push an agenda; they’re reasonably funny; they’re very well written and back themselves up with decent references; and they don’t so much say “for the love of god, examine what you are eating” as provide a very real and immediate reason to do so.

Orangutan Prostitution Appalling, but Thankfully Not “Common”

Orangutan.  Photo courtesy Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation.

Orangutan. Photo courtesy Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation.

Another horrible thing wandered across my radar today, under the lively title “Orangutans being used as prostitutes!!”  The attached text (which was written by a random Facebook friend, not a journalist) implied that hundreds of orangutans are being snatched from the trees and used as prostitutes in villages in Borneo.  It included a link to a Care2 petition begging everyone to stop the orangutan prostitution industry.

So, some quick research.  There’s a bunch of stories on this floating about, and they all seem to reference this story, written on October 3, 2007 by Jack Adams of the online magazine Vice, which appears to be something of a news outlet but whose main-page stories (as of 5/27/12) also include articles like “If You Don’t Like The Spurs, You’re A Wall-Eyed Moron” and “Dave Hill Wrote Some Stupid Book“.  The orangutan story is extremely short (9 paragraphs, including the introduction) and does not go into a lot of detail.  It also does not in any way imply that orangutan prostitution happens outside of this one incident.

The interview is with Michele Desilets, director of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, founded in 1991.  The BOSF web site does not mention Pony or prostitution at all.  Neither does Michele Desilet’s Facebook page.  You would think that if orangutan prostitution was a huge industry (or even an industry at all), there would be mention somewhere.  Instead, we have a tweet from Michele personally (dated April 2012, and directed at someone else who was researching the petition site’s allegation): “The case of Pony the orangutan was the only case we have ever come across of this type.  It is NOT common.”

Is the use of animals of any kind (and, arguably, of humans) in a brothel an unforgivable atrocity?  Yes.  Is it terrible that this happened (and it does seem to have happened), and that the perpetrators won’t be punished (there are no laws forbidding this kind of behavior in Indonesia)?  Yes.  Is this a sad, sad example of how low some people will sink?  Yes.  Are hundreds of orangutans being captured for use in Indonesian brothels?  No.

What is really threatening orangutans?  Habitat loss due to deforestation, related to the palm oil industry.  Want to help stop the idiocy?  Don’t just sign an online petition — get out there and donate some money, try to reduce your use of products containing palm oil, (here’s a handy wallet card!) or, at the very least, Facebook or tweet about the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (or the animal support group of your choice), and get people angry about a problem that actually exists.

Online Learning Tool: Animal Ethics Dilemma

While searching Amazon for more books to eat, I found a mention of a free “online learning tool” called Animal Ethics Dilemma.  It presents five case studies (focusing on the use of genetically modified animals, specifically monkeys, in research; the welfare of farmed chickens; euthanasia of aggressive pets; rehabilitation of wildlife; and slaughter plants) and provides various ways to explore the issues presented by these situations.  It encourages the user to  consider various response options to potentially real-world situations.

Overall, it’s well put together.  It does a decent job of introducing five broad areas of animal welfare.  The exploratory answer options tend to be a little fixed — the tool is trying to introduce the user to five (debatable) points of view (“contractarian“, “utilitarian“, “relational“, “animal rights” and “respect for nature“) and, instead of allowing freeform answers, the tool forces you to choose between five fixed answers, each representing one of the categories.  I don’t honestly believe that any one of these viewpoints is entirely right in all situations, but the division helps to simplify the problems a bit for initial interpretation.

You do have to create a username and password to use the thing, but it’s free, and it never asks for any personal information.  It’s designed to let you create a profile of yourself before experiencing the tool, and compare it to a profile of yourself after working with the tool.  It’s interesting, and it’s not preachy.

For what it’s worth, I personally figure as highly “utilitarian” and “animal rights”.