Tag Archives: vegetarianism

An Unusually Bird-Brained Marketing Strategy

Image source: www.chickenfries.com

Image source: www.chickenfries.com

Burger King has a new promotion going: a live chicken, named “Gloria”, will travel to “select” Burger King locations across the U.S. and, by pecking at one of two food bowls marked “yes” or “no”, will determine whether or not that location will serve “chicken fries“, which are strips of chicken made up to look like french fries.

Since Gloria is a chicken, she has no grasp of the metaphysics of what she is doing: “deciding” whether or not, say, 500 of her fellow chickens will be turned into “fries” rather than chicken sandwiches on that day, based on her (possibly) random actions.  All she knows is that she pecks the bowls, and gets food.  I am not a chicken, and I find the image of a chicken deciding the fates of its fellows obscene.  It’s a little like the happy painted pigs you see on the signs at barbeque restaurants, merrily encouraging guests to eat them and their friends. (What would Burger King do if Gloria pecked “no” at every stop?  Held up a little sign that said “GO VEG”?)

I am also interested in that, as a being with a name, Gloria is Not Food, and is afforded the status due a named chicken: an “expert handler”, a “plush coop” and a “custom decision-making stage” from which to issue her decrees.  Note also that Gloria is very unlike the chicken hoi polloi which are used in the fries: according to her web site, she is a “three-year-old Rhode Island Red chicken”.  She has already lived nearly twenty times longer than the five-to-nine-week-old hybrid, white-feathered “broiler” chickens Burger King (likely) uses in their nuggets and sandwiches.  She is from “Starlight Ranch, in Lake Elsinore, CA”, a facility so small even Google can’t find it.  Why not choose a representative factory farm chicken from one of the big broiler producers?  (Oh, yeah, they’re crippled, have no feathers, and die early of respiratory diseases.  Not a good mascot.)

What message are we supposed to take from this?  “Watch as the random actions of a factory farm chicken’s privileged cousin determine what shape your meat will be”?  I have been led to understand that Burger King is at the forefront of what we must, alas, call the fast food revolution toward eventually, someday, provided it is financially feasible, possibly being slightly nicer to the animals we eat.  I am not certain this advertising campaign fully supports that theory.  (On the other hand, I certainly noticed it, so, in that regard, it worked perfectly.)

(From the primordial television series of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)

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“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?

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.

Charlie and the OMG Factory

I once heard it said that you would never eat a hot dog if you knew how it was made.

From Perry Bible Fellowship

From Perry Bible Fellowship

It’s interesting to me how little we talk about meat production.  You can’t find a lot of detail, honestly — and what detail you do find is not generally produced by “real” journalists, but by animal rights organizations, so there’s this tendency to dismiss it.  Mainstream journalism does not show you the killing floor.  We show World War II and the evening news but we just don’t mention to each other how sausage is made.

Isn’t this the kind of thing you’d want to know?  Don’t we want our kids to be informed consumers?  I ate hot dogs for *ahem* years before I found out — not what they’re made of, but how they kill the animals that go into them — I’m not sure at what age it would have been appropriate to explain the concept to me, but I strongly suspect I would have stopped eating hot dogs a lot earlier if someone had shown me what was going on.  All I saw growing up were watered-down, polite news stories, which had very little detail.  I got the vague feeling I wouldn’t like what I saw in there, but I never had the chance to see it, and I didn’t look into it in detail.  I grew up pre-internet — there wasn’t a lot of media available on the topic at the time.

It might also be argued that, when my grandparents bought sausage, the pig involved was personally slaughtered, as humanely as possible, in a low-volume slaughterhouse, and had likely spent a reasonably happy life in a grassy field, doing nothing much.  When my parents asked my grandparents how sausage was made, they got that story.  That’s the story that got passed on to me.  Meanwhile, out of everyone’s sight, technology was changing….

Maybe there ought to be school field trips, or contests — although I’d probably pass on having to yank a soggy “Bacon Ticket” from the inside of a sausage.  Clearly this needs to be a reality TV show.

There’s a lot more to this, of course, and I’m interested in whacking around the idea that constant exposure to this kind of thing renders it “normal”, and that’s why, say, cattle ranchers don’t understand why vegetarians are so squeamish about eating meat.  Moving past that idea…if exposure to it renders it “normal” — do we then want to tell people about it?  How do we tell people about it?  If we hear about it, in graphic detail, every day, will we still be as horrified, as motivated to act?

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….

Book Review: Meat Market: Animals, Ethics, and Money

Meat Market: Animals Ethics and MoneyMeat Market: Animals, Ethics, and Money, by Erik Marcus, is an interesting, if brief, read, and a good answer to the question “What are these hippie freaks whining about, anyway?”  It’s not a perfect introduction — I’m still looking for the best way to suggest to, say, my parents that they not eat factory-farmed animal products — but it’s a good explanation of where one is coming from which doesn’t involve showing one’s audience graphic video of a slaughter plant.

The book begins with a glimpse of how and why small-farm practices become factory farm practices, follows up with an excellent, reasonably impartial, description of common factory farming practices for chickens, pigs, and cattle, and describes some options for what could be done to alter the status quo, along with what is currently being done.  It examines the three facets of the current what-the-hell-is-going-on-here movement (animal welfarists, animal rightists, and vegetarians), describes their goals, actions, and methods, looks at what is working and what isn’t, and suggests an alternative option (complete dismantlement of the system).

The book ends in a flurry of interesting essays and appendices, with subjects ranging from Starting a Local Vegetarian Society to The Ethics of Hunting.  It’s a lot of different viewpoints (although, toward the end, the vegan viewpoint grabs center stage and holds it), and, more, it’s thought-provoking material.

For example, it thoughtfully compares the relative quality of life — inasmuch as we can measure “quality of life” for another species — of various factory-farmed animals.  If you only give up one thing to make farmed animals just a little happier, Marcus says, give up eggs: the hens producing them are confined in ludicrously tiny cages their entire lives, debeaked, crippled, repeatedly force starved, and then slaughtered at the end.  The animal with the “best” relative life is the beef calf, which has a pretty good time of it (out at pasture, with mom) until about six months of age (after which it all goes to hell, but briefly compared to the two years’ close imprisonment of the laying hen).

The other thing that hit me was the reminder that, even though I am carefully purchasing milk from “certified pasture-kept” (and, theoretically, happy) cows, by purchasing milk at all I am contributing to the veal industry.  I am ashamed it didn’t occur to me before — of course!  What are they doing with all the male calves? — but now that I know I am trying to figure out how to get milk out of my diet, or at least minimize it.  Alas, soy milk tastes like liquid Lucky Charms, and unsweetened soy milk has the texture of Elmer’s glue — I am working on it.  In the meantime, I do my best to minimize consumption of milk and cheese….

If you are just starting to look at vegetarianism or veganism or know someone who is, Meat Market isn’t a bad start.  It is not overly preachy and does not use “We can’t kill animals because they are so CUTE!” faux logic — it produces rational, empirical examples which make it difficult not to listen.  I kind of wish it hadn’t ruined milk for me, but I can’t honestly blame the messenger.

Dinners, Dinners Everywhere — Why Can’t I Eat Them?

In my job I have a very small period allotted for lunch, no real ability to leave the office to buy food, and the usual dubious and communal utensils with which to cook anything I choose to bring.  Prefabricated, fast-food or otherwise “convenient” meals strongly appeal to me: quick to cook, taking no brainpower to prepare, and highly portable.  They are also great for portion control — my current diet is big on counting calories and I love little packages which have done all the dirty work for me and don’t tempt me to overeat.

It is a terrible shame that I can’t eat them.

I am avoiding, for hundreds of extremely good reasons that I’m trying to tackle one at a time, factory-farmed meat.  Some of the biggest consumers of factory-farmed meat are the people who are producing these helpful little meals: using the cheapest possible ingredients (including meat) is how they make these meals affordable.  It’s pretty much impossible to find anything cheap and/or convenient which is not made out of factory farmed meat, eggs, or dairy.

The irony is, of course, that meat is generally more expensive than vegetables.  The producers could make their meals even cheaper, and possibly even better for you, by substituting meat with beans or another source of protein in at least some of their dinners.  Instead, they produce dish after dish with meat thrown in.  Going along the freezer case is another exciting revisit to the Monty Python “spam” sketch: pasta with chicken, pasta with beef, pasta with pork; vegetables with chicken; vegetables with beef, vegetables with pork; potatoes with chicken, potatoes with beef, potatoes with pork…spam spam spam spam spam…

The meat in the meals even appears generally in only tiny amounts, almost as an afterthought.  Check out this (fascinating) site which reviews frozen meals — notice it takes scrolling back quite a long way to find a single vegetarian entree — and take note of how much meat there is in each meal.  Wouldn’t it be cheaper and better for everyone to, occasionally, just take the meat out, bill the thing as a vegetable/pasta dish and be done with it?