Category Archives: vegetarianism

This Probably Could Have Been Said Better

In the unlikely event that anyone clicks on any of the links in my articles, you may have noticed that I don’t do a lot of linking to the traditional “animal rights” sites.  While I agree with (much of) their message, I do not always agree with their arguments (or their tactics), and, because their arguments are often badly expressed, I do not usually find them to be valid references.

An example wandered across my Facebook feed today, and I felt compelled to comment.  Understanding that I agree completely with the sentiment expressed by this video…I disagree with how it has chosen to convey its message.

The message is standard: “Dairy farming makes cows sad.  Don’t eat dairy.”  What puzzles me here is — where was this filmed?  The cow and calf pictured are absolutely clean.  The field they’re in is pristine, and, more suspicious, completely empty of other cows.  One polite worker gently herds the calf away, lifts it carefully, and puts it in a clean truck?  This is absolutely nothing like what you’d actually see in a factory farm.  (I’m skipping the terror footage here — let’s look at a (more or less) ideal example.  Here is Fair Oaks Farms, a multi-farm collective which gives public tours of some of its facilities — and which I have actually visited.  Its publicly viewable facilities (video includes shots of normal birthing area, which is separate from Fair Oaks’ heavily advertised “birthing barn“) are a pretty good example of a very clean factory farm.  The cows are in barns or small pens, not outdoor fields.)  Here is a document from Ohio State University about calving, picturing the standard environment for a calving cow: a stall.  Progressive Dairyman, an industry magazine, shows almost exclusively photos of stalled cattle.  Only lucky, pastured cows get to give birth in a quiet field — this is certainly not a factory farm environment.  (Is the point here that all farms are bad?  Are all farms bad?  What about those sanctuary farms where cows are kept in warm barns and not discarded when they get old?  Small family farms?  We’re edging perilously close to the “We must give up everything in order that animals can live free and unfettered” argument.)

Speaking of small family farms, where did Mercy for Animals get access to that cow and calf?  Did they film collaboratively with a dairy farmer (this is obviously not undercover footage) while he separated a calf from its mother (why did they support him doing this?), or did they separate someone’s pet cow and calf temporarily, just for a commercial?  Did they lie to a farmer and say they were filming for something else?  Why did they need to film this anyway?  It’s not like they don’t have already have much more relevant footage.  They have plenty of terrifying shots, from real farms, on their YouTube channel, including this much better example of the same argument, which uses actual dairy farm footage.

This is NOT meant to be an attack on Mercy for Animals, which is just trying to do the best they can, and is actually doing a very good job getting a lot of multilingual (good for them!) videos out there spreading an important message.  This is more a puzzled look at one of my least favorite trends in all pro-animal advertising (and many, many groups have made ads like this, not just MFA) — weird advertisements which trip over their own feet trying to make a point.  All Mercy for Animals had to do was air, say, this footage, with a voiceover: “Is a piece of cheese worth this?”  What’s with the unreal setup and scenery?

It occurs to me that probably this commercial has been “cleaned up” for wider public consumption, to try to reach the people who haven’t already been convinced that factory farming is bad, who don’t want to be convinced they should give up cheese, and who would normally stop watching the minute they see factory farm footage.  What a sad thought on its own — we are being steered away from showing the truth, because people instantly stop listening.  (Why?)

Making Foie Gras Illegal Sadly Not the Answer

Photo source: Morguefile.com, Sgarton.

Photo source: Morguefile.com, Sgarton.

In July 2012, foie gras, a paste made of the livers of force-fattened geese and ducks, was banned in California, on the reasonable grounds that pretty much nothing about making it is particularly nice to the birds.  On January 7, 2015, a judge threw out the ban, saying it “attempted to override existing federal law regulating poultry products”.

I am more interested in the reaction of people to the ban: before it went into effect (it was actually passed in 2004 and had a seven-and-a-half-year “grace period”), people had culinary foie gras orgies, putting it on everything.  While it was in effect, some restaurants gave it out for free as a way to get around the law.  And now that the ban is over, foie gras, the “forbidden treat”, is now trendy, with restaurants scrambling to get it back on the menu.  Basically, banning foie gras made it even more popular, rather like banning alcohol during Prohibition.

Clearly, simply making inhumanely produced animal products illegal is not the answer.  What is the answer?  Telling people how it is made doesn’t seem to help, although you’d think it would be primary (that’s certainly what convinced me not to eat it).  I am completely perplexed by people who hear: “This stuff is made by repeatedly holding down a live duck and filling it with fatty food until its liver reaches eight times normal size” and respond with “I want to eat that!” — even when there are alternatives presented.

No answers today.  Just a little “WTF?” as this goes by.

“Weird Al” Yankovic: The Mystery of Meat

This (sort of) reminds me of that precipitous moment when I realized just how much was going into getting me a cheap hamburger.  I knew it was made from dead cow, but I had this mental image of just one cow — you know, that old picture you got in elementary school of one cow, kept at grass, with lots of space and love.  You don’t picture how many cows died, and what they went through beforehand, until someone grabs your head and shows you and you see it.  I’d like to see what would happen if McDonald’s put out that commercial.

Keep it real, Ronald. Keep it real.

Use of Alternative Sources Does Not Solve My Problems with Meat

As an omnivore who has chosen to live without meat because no animal should have to go through our factory farming process just so I can have a sausage, I am constantly on the lookout for alternative options.  Unfortunately, I find tofu about as appealing as Kleenex under most circumstances, and the vegan “replacements” for my formerly favorite foods (hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken strips) don’t so much mimic those foods as taste so completely unlike them as to reinforce how much I miss them.

For example, I can try adding “tofu crumbles” to my spaghetti sauce to remind me of the ground hamburger I used to put in there, but there are three problems: 1) the tofu crumbles cost twice as much as the rest of the ingredients put together; 2) they take time and effort to cook properly; and 3) they do not actually taste like ground beef (or like anything).  I do not need the texture of ground beef in my spaghetti sauce so badly that I must go out and buy tofu crumbles for it.  (Bring on the mushrooms and fresh peppers instead!)

There is a new movement wandering around which is trying to encourage people to eat less beef, poultry and pork by using replacement meat sources instead of removing meat entirely from the diet.  This is supposed to appeal to carnivores because you don’t have to declare yourself a granola-eating vegan (I do not like granola, myself) in order to reduce the amount of beef in your diet: you can remain a dedicated carnivore, and even say you’re doing it for the environment, rather than for the animals, further reducing any appearance of sympathy you might have had.

Perfectly edible even without the "scraps" of mouse meat.  (Source: Vice.com)

Perfectly edible even without the “scraps” of mouse meat. (Source: Vice.com)

Along these lines, a journalist from Vice decided to eat live food from a pet store for a week, one meal a day, to see what replacing traditional meat sources with something less environmentally intensive to raise might do to her diet.  Her actions, including grinding crickets into a replacement pancake flour and the creation of what is essentially a mashed potato casserole with mice in it, remind me strongly of my trying to find alternative meat sources for my spaghetti sauce.  The recipes take additional work and time; the unusual additives don’t add much pleasure to the meal; and in every case there’s a cheaper, faster, vegetarian option available — simply don’t add the alternative meat source.  Hey, look, it’s a perfectly serviceable potato casserole with no mice in it!

….those little guys were raised in a sterile lab, which is more than you can say for your average chicken nugget.”

Plus, well, the mice are often being raised in the same kind of factory farming conditions to which I object with beef, poultry and pigs.  It doesn’t have the same impact on the environment, because mice don’t need the same kind of space or materials that the larger animals do, but it certainly has a similar impact on the mice, which was kind of my problem with meat in the first place.

toilet-fish-tankThe author’s problems with killing the live minnows (You do not euthanize fish by adding salt to their water.  You do not euthanize fish by adding salt to their water.  You do not euthanize fish by adding salt to their water!)reminds me that even — and especially — these tiny animals are “slaughtered” for consumption in terrible ways, mostly because they’re too tiny to scream audibly and therefore any method is “painless”.  Mice are generally gassed with CO2, which can be a terrible way to go if performed badly (which it usually is).  This also fails to solve the issues with factory farming that led me to give up carnivory.

Whether they have a smaller impact on the environment or not (they probably do), and whether their handling of them is in some way “better” than our treatment of pigs, cows and chickens (it probably isn’t), I don’t need crickets (or minnows, or mice!) so badly as a source of protein (peanuts! almonds! peas! quinoa! spinach! sunflower seeds! beans!) that I need to kill 50 of them to add texture (and, apparently, an almond or shrimp flavor) to my plate of spaghetti.  I had enough problems using 1/50 of a cow to get the flavor I actually wanted!

How about an option that’s plentiful, cheap, lives naturally in crowded conditions and is easy to obtain?

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….

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….)

I’m Vegetarian, You’re Not, That’s Okay

Today, I got dragged along to a family dinner. Some idiot invited my douchebag vegan uncle, who spent half the night making condescending remarks and lecturing us on how disgusting it was to have steak on offer at the table. A fistfight eventually erupted, and the cops were called. FML

This particular “F My Life” is followed by pages and pages of interesting commentary from people (justified or not) who feel they have been offended by vegans/vegetarians trying to make them feel bad about eating meat.

This is why I haven’t figured out how to tell a lot of people, including my parents, that I stopped eating meat.  Their first question will be Why did you do that?!? … and then I will have to tell them why, and I can’t figure out how to transmit that information without coming off as an overbearing asshole trying to push my belief system on them.

Image found at prettyfakes.com

From “Animal Man” by Grant Morrison and DC Comics. Pencils by Chas Truog; inks by Doug Hazlewood; letters by John Costanza; colors by Tatjana Wood.

It’s not like I’m planning to belittle them for not having the same ideas I do, or complain that they don’t share my thoughts.  If they have not arrived at the same conclusions I have about the world, that does not make them bad people.  But how do I say, “I stopped eating meat because they’re torturing animals needlessly and gratuitously to get it,” without also silently implying that, since my parents have not also stopped eating meat, they are implicitly supporting that process, and are therefore bad persons?

(I like to think I’ve struck a happy balance with my husband, who still consumes the occasional meat-based nom, but recognizes that I have a point of view and that I must have put some work into it to reach it, but not all people are as copacetic as my husband.)

I’m interested in how the comments compare proselytizing vegans/vegetarians to proselytizing religious persons.  I suppose they’re all belief systems, and the whole point is to be able to share one’s point of view without stuffing it down anyone’s throat (foie gras, anyone?).  Hmmm.

One Cow Versus 100,000 Smaller Organisms

I once saw a cartoon which depicted vegetarianism in an unflattering light: it showed a closeup of the front of a combine harvester, before which fled an array of inoffensive woodland creatures, yelling things like “Where’s mama?!?” and “I don’t know, just run!”

Edit: found it.  It’s from Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal:

20091207

Agriculture is not without its damage to the environment, and to animals.  A field of wheat or corn is home to mice, rats, birds, rabbits, various insects, and a host of other creatures, at least some of which are inevitably ground up along with the harvestThis recent article on an Australian web site suggests that the many small lives we grind up to harvest a crop in an area of land outweigh the lives of the cows which would graze that land were it devoted to pasture.  (If you’re interested, this article wanders into the notion a little further.)

The presentation of the issue is somewhat simplistic: it assumes that only a few cows are raised in the hypothetical pasture (i.e., it’s not a feedlot, the American standard); that “pasture” is equivalent to unspoiled natural land; that all the wildlife in the field are killed by the plow; etc.  I think it’s a valid notion, but the solution to this issue is not to have everyone eat nothing but red meat.  The problem lies more with how we produce our food, and what methods we’ve adopted to produce that food cheaply, and less with exactly what food we are producing.  For example, we can certainly develop methods to raise and harvest crops more sustainably and with less “collateral damage”.

I don’t think we’re really able to exist, at all, without causing some damage to the world.  It’s in our nature as consumers of energy — it’s got to come from somewhere.  However, we can choose to minimize the amount of damage we cause, and try to choose the least damaging places to cause it.

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….

Can’t Get Away From Factory Farming

I still don’t think of myself as truly vegetarian — just mostly vegetarian, and  I’m sure many vegetarians would consider me not entirely committed, for my viewpoint that it is possible to keep an animal kindly, and at the end of a happy and food-filled life to slaughter it humanely and eat it.  I believe this can be done with respect.  The animal benefits from health care, provisioned food/water/shelter and companionship; the human gets a wealth of supplies (leather, wool, etc) and food.  Everyone benefits.

Unfortunately, somewhere between this red-barn-and-picket-fence idyll and the high-speed modern slaughterhouse, the “mutual respect” thing turned into something where animals are not even afforded the basic respect we give to useful furniture, and I can’t buy into that system.  Thus, mostly vegetarian — enjoying meat but not the hell that animals went through in order to get it to me, I decided I would only eat meat from small, local, family farms, where compassionate farmers could spend enough time with the animals they slaughtered to ensure the process was as quick, painless and humane as possible, and the animals had as wonderful a life as it was possible to provide.  This makes me essentially vegetarian — certainly no restaurant or normal grocery store serves such meat, which must be found at specialty stores or obtained directly from the farms themselves.

I am now rethinking even this limited meat option.  It had been sitting in the back of my mind that even meat raised at the kindest of farms likely goes through USDA-“overseen” slaughterhouses, with their 3-chickens-a-second conveyor belts, and an episode of “Dirty Jobs” — in which Mike Rowe shadows Earl’s Meats, a mobile butchering operation which travels to clients’ farms, slaughters their stock, and butchers the carcass, producing wrapped meats ready for the kitchen — implied that it is actually required that this happen.  The episode pointed out to me that the meat butchered in this way was unsuitable for sale to the public because it had not been slaughtered in a USDA-inspected slaughterhouse.

This means that any meat to which I have easy, retail access, short of something I have slaughtered personally, has been processed through a USDA slaughter operation and has therefore been in the tender “care” of a high speed slaughter plant, or one of the new USDA-inspected mobile units, which can potentially process 30 head of cattle a day.  This means that it’s time to drop the “small farm” meat and become officially vegetarian, because there is currently no such thing as “humane” meat.

As a side note, here’s the Mobile Slaughter Unit Compliance Guide from the USDA.