Tag Archives: consumerism

Second Livestock: The Virtual “Good Life” For Farmed Chickens

Yes, it’s a joke — at this point.  The nonexistent virtual reality “Second Livestock“, designed by ISU assistant professor Austin Stewart, brings up the idea of providing a virtual natural environment for conventionally farmed animals.  Rather than devote money, time, and space to actually giving the animals what they deserve, we can give them a virtual image of what they deserve.  They’ll believe they are running around and interacting with conspecifics, while in reality we can make their enclosures even smaller, since they won’t know they’re using them….

Knowing that it’s not real(yet), it’s actually funny, especially the little chicken headsets.  But take a moment, and imagine what might happen if this became economically feasible, especially compared to actually providing a natural environment for farm animals.  (While that’s honestly unlikely, Stewart has said further development for actual implementation was an option he would consider.)  Picture dairy cows grazing on a virtual pasture, giving birth to virtual “calves” that could hang around for a bit before being “naturally weaned”, while in reality the calves are taken away at birth (and fitted with a headset and given a virtual “mother”).

Would it be ethical?  If the animal truly believed it had a wonderful — or at least a quasi-natural) life, is there a functional difference from it actually having a wonderful life?  Is this a viable replacement for real space, conspecifics, and interaction?  What if every animal had an amazing virtual life, filled with its species’ own version of wine, women, and song?  (Either way, I’m not sure that either option is adequate “payment” for being consumed as food in the end.)  The authors make a point (arguably, the whole point of the site) that some humans are already partially living in an environment like this one…is that a good thing?  A bad thing?  Just a thing?

No answers here, although my gut instinct tends to the “Are you kidding?” side of things.  I just thought this was funny-becoming-interesting and kind of chewy food for thought.

Advertisements

Roadside Distraction

Every year for the last ten-ish years, I have driven through Florida on vacation, and have noted garish billboards for a chain of gas station/tourist traps, which promise such inviting sights as jams, shell sculptures, and “gator heads”.  Previously I’ve successfully avoided stopping at one, but this year the car got thirsty and I ended up gazing at…probably not the most garish collection of tourist tchotchkes I’ve ever witnessed, but definitely one of the top five.

Amongst a mind-boggling array of products based on the loosely local products of rum, sea shells, and oranges, I found these sad little creatures.

dog sharks in jars

They appear to be juvenile dogfish sharks (a formerly reasonably common species which is becoming, for some reason, a tad overfished) and the word “SHARK” under them is the extent of their labeling, except for the price ($19.95) on a sticker underneath.  The jars are just jammed into those circles of styrofoam.  Educational?  Decorative?  Surely they are not meant to be gifts?

In trying to find the origin of the “shark in a jar” concept (what motivates this kind of behavior?), I note that this has been going on for a while, and is not an isolated phenomenon (although I am glad to note it seems confined to “tropical” locales).  In fact, if you for some reason need a jarred shark, you can get one online right now, in large quantities if need be.

Where are all these baby sharks coming from?  They are almost certainly a byproduct of another business, probably fishing the adult sharks for meat or research.  Should we be happy that we’re at least using all the parts of the sharks, even for a purpose this frivolous?  Or should we be terrified that we are processing so many of these sharks that we have this many — specifically juvenile, specifically this size — left over?  What is happening to the other non-meat bits of the sharks?  To the babies which happen to be smaller or larger than these jars?

Either way, I won’t be buying one for my friends back home.  If these are meant to be decorative, surely there is something else which can replace them on a shelf; if they are supposed to be educational, surely there is something more detailed and useful which can be used for reference; and, if they are meant as gifts, surely there is some other way to show affection.

Suspicious Origins

Today I was looking at a web site which sold leather belts — the kind for Real Men.  You know the kind: big, hefty belts made to hold guns, not just pants.

One type of belt was touted as being made of “bull” leather, not just “cow” leather, marketing this as being “better” because the bull is full of testosterone, which (according to the web site, but not any other source I can find online) makes for better leather.  I had a question here: one cannot keep mass amounts of bulls easily.  They fight, and they are dangerous.  Where is the store behind this web site getting a bunch of bull skins to make these belts?  Who is keeping bulls to maturity and then skinning them?  And what are they going to do with all that testosterone-tainted meat afterwards?  (Testosterone makes the meat darker and less desirable.)

Perhaps they are just using regular leather — even castrated steers are regularly treated with synthetic testosterone to improve meat yield.

The same company also makes “elephant belts”, which to my horror are made from actual elephant skin.  The site insists they deal only with “legal importers” of elephant hide, which led me to wonder: Where do you find a “legal importer” of parts of an animal it is illegal to kill?  This one surprised me: it appears to be legal to hunt elephants, provided you have the right permits, at least in some parts of Africa, and in theory the “tourism” trade that’s generating is good for the locals and even, possibly, in some roundabout way, the elephants.  Um, that’s great…maybe…but I’m still not buying a belt made of elephant skin.

On a related note, the other day I was at a zoo which had a “touch tank” full of dogfish sharks, and it occurred to me that the zoo probably did not have its own dog shark breeding operation.  Where might be the easiest place for a facility to get large quantities of a shark bred for “animal fodder, fertilizer, and research”?

I’ve walked past “touch tanks” for more than thirty years.  Only now am I wondering where they get all these animals (and it seems likely they have high turnover in those tanks).   A facility at which I worked once (against their own better judgement) bought display animals from a fur farm.  Where is your local zoo getting their critters, and sending their surplus?  Where is your “legal supplier” of elephant skin getting their material?  It’s just an important question to keep in mind: what other industry may I be indirectly supporting by purchasing this product?

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.

I Wish to Register a Complaint

I miss meat.  As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I believe in (compassionate) carnivory and I do not believe there is a moral failing in consuming an animal you have appropriately “paid” (with food, water, shelter, care and affection) for its contributions to your household.  I am happy to eat meat.  However, I prefer not to pay the companies who do not adequately compensate their animals — thus, I do not eat meat at restaurants, picnics, fast food joints, what have you, because they buy their meat from enormous, horrible factory farms.  This leaves me searching, often vainly, for meat which has been slaughtered humanely and raised kindly.  I don’t eat a lot of meat anymore.

It is possible, if one hunts diligently, to find small local farms where the animals see grass and daylight during their lives, have adequate vet care and space, and even (gasp) enjoy species-appropriate social groups.  (I am happy that, because of the prevailing change in attitudes, it is slowly becoming more possible to find these farms.)  I find that my best chance of locating non-factory-farmed meat is at the local, “community” grocery stores.  These stores appear to make at least a token effort to find these humane farms and carry their products.  In turn, I happily give these places my money.  I wish to encourage this behavior.

However, I still find that the meat selection in these stores can leave much to be desired, and the watchwords caveat emptor still apply.  Unless the meat says “free range” (and sometimes not even then), you’re likely looking at factory farmed meat.  Yes, even if there’s a picture of a smiling pig on the wrapper.  Yes, even if it says “organic” and “hormone-free” all over it.  Today, I was almost ambushed by some elk stew meat, ambiguously labeled “Broadleaf”.

In my experience, it is generally very difficult to factory-farm wild game.  I worked with bison for ten years; they are larger and smarter than domestic cattle, and do not tolerate herding, hitting, crowded conditions, or running through cattle chutes — all requirements for “economical”, assembly-line processing — well.  I was initially attracted to the elk meat for this reason.  Fortunately, I still made the wise choice to look up “Broadleaf”, which after much research turned out to likely be Broadleaf Game, based out of California.  Broadleaf sells bison, elk, alligator and boar, which are quite unlikely to be factory farmed due to husbandry issues similar to those mentioned above, but they also sell beef, chicken, various “poultry”, veal and “farm-raised” rabbit, which are very easy to factory farm.  They say things like “hormone-free” on their site, but only the lamb is (vaguely) intimated to be living on grass, and most species do not have any description of their living facilities.

Alas, this is another brand name I won’t be rewarding with my money.  To demonstrate that it is possible to raise and slaughter wild game (or any animal!) kindly, and to advertise it properly, here is the web page for Broken Arrow Ranch, in Texas, and a description of its “field harvesting” technique, which I believe is the most humane way I’ve ever seen to kill an animal, for meat or otherwise (provided the person behind the gun is an excellent shot).

Of course, checking out the web site is only a small part of thorough research on a brand.  Typing search terms like “Broken Arrow Ranch USDA” and “Broken Arrow Ranch humane” into Google would be a good followup, checking for news articles concerning their handling practices and articles on other sites describing the facility.  Sometimes you can find reviews from people who have actually visited the farm, or a Facebook page from the farm with photos.  Ideally, one would be able to visit each facility personally, but, well.  In this exciting old world we can only do our best.