Archive for May, 2008

I know this is basically un-American to say, but I’m going to say it anyway: I’m not a huge fan of the never-ending TV show “The Simpsons”. I don’t know why, but I just have never been able to get in to it. Sometimes I see it and I think “why don’t I like this show?” but then I never make an effort to watch it again. That said, I know they tend to tackle some pretty big issues in a funny, but thought-provoking way, so I like the show in that respect. And guess what? They did a show about feedlots and slaughterhouses!

In “Apocalypse Cow”, Bart joins the 4-H Club and unexpectedly falls in love with his hand-raised calf named Lou. Bart takes Lou to a 4-H competition, where Lou wins first prize. Bart thinks that means that Lou won’t have to be slaughtered, but becomes determined to save him when he learns that it really means Lou “gets to go first” to slaughter. With the help of Lisa and her hippy vegan friends (one nicknamed “Composte”, which cracked me up), Bart breaks a much fatter Lou out of a feedlot. To explain Lou’s new size, Lisa tells Bart, “His food is laced with growth hormones!” At that moment, Lou licks Bart’s arm, which immediately sprouts hair growth on the pre-pubescent Bart. Gotta love those growth hormones!

Anyway, the show brought up some important points in true Simpsons fashion, and reached a wide audience, though I have no idea if it was at all effective in getting people to change their habits (probably not). My favorite piece of advice came from Homer when Bart was begging his parents to buy Lou back so he wouldn’t have to be slaughtered: “Never work hard and don’t form emotional attachments. Also, don’t be a cow.”

Touché, Homer, touché.

If you feel like my recap is insufficient (it is), you can watch the episode here for free.

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Last night I had a very strange dream in which people kept trying to get me to eat veal. VEAL! They’d put it on my plate at dinner time, wave it in front of my face when I was doing dishes, and follow me all over telling me how delicious it was and how I really should try it. It was raw and dripping with blood and I kept running away from them, because all I could picture when I looked at it was this:

Veal calves

Ugh. I hate those pictures, and even more, I hate the reality of those pictures.

You know, even when I was an omnivore, I can’t remember a single time I ever ate veal. The idea of eating it now makes me want a throw up a little.

At any rate, why in the world would I have such a dream?? Certainly it is not that I want to eat meat – especially not veal – of that I am positive. Has anyone else had these kinds of dreams after going veg*n? I realize that a lot of people think that dreams don’t really mean anything, but I tend to think there is something there – some symbolism or message, even if it’s a really weird dream. Maybe after my disagreement this weekend, my subconscious was just reinforcing my choice to be vegan? Any suggestions are welcome! Unless you are going to suggest that I’m really creepy.  I hope this dream doesn’t make me really creepy, although I fully realize that it might.  I’m not creepy, I swear!  (If I have to say that, maybe we have a problem after all….??)

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I came up to North Dakota to my parents’ farm for the weekend. I wasn’t going to, but my grandmother thought I was, and went to all the trouble of making me a bunch of vegan food – her homemade buns veganized, apple pie, and a very tasty pasta/chickpea/tomato soup. (I’m guessing it has a better name than that, but I forgot to ask). I was so touched by her effort that I decided I HAD to make the 7+ hour trip from Minneapolis. The food was great, and I am so proud of my grandmother for making such an effort for me. That was the good part of the weekend – not everyone has been quite so awesome and supportive.

Last night I was at the local bar meeting up with some friends from high school. One of those friends had heard through the grapevine that I had gone vegan (word travels fast), and he decided to ask me a million questions about it. I’m fine with having open, honest discussions/debates about my choices because I have nothing to hide. HOWEVER, it can be incredibly frustrating when the people asking the questions don’t actually want to hear me out. I felt like he was asking me questions, assuming what I would say before I responded, and then retorting without actually having listened to what I was trying to explain. Talk about an exercise in futility.

One of the things he said was that it’s okay to eat meat because people have always eaten meat – that’s just how the world works. I argued that our perceptions of food are molded by our culture. In some cultures, for example, eating dog meat is acceptable, but in the U.S. I doubt you’d find a whole lot of people who would say they’d order a dog steak if given the opportunity. Most of us find that idea repelling. I tried to explain that similarly, there are cultures and/or religious groups who forbid the eating of pork (Muslims, for example), and some other groups, like the Essenes, who refuse to eat any animal products at all. It is only because we (up here in The Land of Meat & Potatoes) were taught that eating pigs, chickens, cows, turkeys and other animals is acceptable that we do it. That doesn’t make it right or any more “normal” than eating dogs or cats or horses. Well, my friend didn’t even listen to what I was trying to say. He just told me it was ridiculous to think of eating dogs – disgusting, even – but eating pigs and cows wasn’t. I, of course disagreed. When I asked for his reasoning, all he could come up with was “because, that’s just how it is.” To me, that’s not an explanation.

I know I’m not going to change his mind, and honestly, that wasn’t even my goal, but I also feel like you should listen to someone’s answer when you ask a question. That’s all I wanted – JUST LISTEN TO ME and at least open your mind up a little bit, or just don’t ask me! I guess I knew I wasn’t going to change his mind, and having not made this whole “vegan decision” lightly, it’s not like he was going to change mine either, and that’s fine, but sometimes I just hate talking about it when I feel I’m not being heard. Mostly it just amazes me how much people care about what I eat — people who don’t even have much involvement in my life. I suppose I just need to get over it, and not get so worked up by it.

Sorry for the rant there. In an effort to end this post on a positive note, here are some pictures from this weekend!

A tree on our farm

My boston terrier

Otis close up

Phoebe, my sister\'s pug

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Kangaroo cull

You may have seen the news this week about the Australian government’s plan to cull roughly 400 kangaroos that have been fenced in to an abandoned military base. The slaughter began earlier this week, despite animal rights activists’ efforts to stop it.

One of the “animal welfare” organizations monitoring the cull says that all welfare standards are being met (um, because killing animals is good for their welfare? I’m confused…), and that the government had no other option as relocating the animals would cause them great stress.** Apparently it is less stressful for them to be killed or to watch members of their herds be killed. Yes, that seems logical. Or not.

There are a couple of things that bother me here:

1) One of the articles says that “Scientists point out that eastern gray kangaroos are abundant and destroying the native grassland habitat of threatened species…”*. There was no mention of the fact that humans are also abundant and destroying the native grassland habitat of threatened species as well as destroying other species just for kicks. Now, I’m not saying we should go and cull humans, but to pretend that humans don’t have a much bigger role in habitat destruction than kangaroos is laughable to me.

2) Culling is a short-term fix – a band-aid approach. It doesn’t provide a long-term, sustainable solution to the problem. In fact, just 4 years ago the Aussie government slaughtered over 1,000 kangaroos.*** Are we going to keep doing this every few years? There are alternatives! The Born Free Foundation recommends a contraception program as it pertains to South African elephants. This strategy would seemingly work even better in Australia with the kangaroos considering they are fenced in.

On top of that, I got really irritated when I read this quote from an article in the Sydney Morning Herald: “‘I would support euthanasing the animal liberationists at the same time as the roos on the basis of stupidity,’ said [one area resident].”*** Ah, yes, that is helpful! Thank you for your opinion. The problem I have with this is that I have found that a lot of anti-animal rights people don’t really have arguments to back up their points, so they resort to comments like that. Don’t get me wrong, I will listen to just about anybody make their point, and have a respectful debate about it, but after you say something like “let’s kill all the animal rights activists”, you kind of lose credibility.

Culling these kangaroos seems to me to be taking the easy way out. How many times is the government going to take the easy way out, and how many innocent animals will have to pay for it, before they realize that this won’t make a lasting impact on kangaroo population control?


Photo by Mark Graham/AP

* “Kangaroo culling begins at Australian site”, Associated Press, May 19, 2008. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/24706458/
** “Protesters vow action over kangaroo cull”, Associated Press, May 20, 2008. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/24727933/
*** “Canberra roo cull plan sparks protests“, The Sydney Morning Herald, May 14, 2008.

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I can’t believe this, but OPRAH IS EATING VEGAN FOR 21 DAYS! How excitOprahing is that? I’m a couple days behind, so this might be old news for some of you, but it’s new to me so I thought I’d share. As you probably know, Oprah has struggled with her weight for decades, never really finding anything that has worked to keep her consistently at her ideal body weight. Vegan author Kathy Freston was on Oprah’s show recently and talked with her about “conscious eating” and “spiritual integrity” and apparently it really influenced the talk show host.

Freston’s “21 day cleanse” is vegan, but goes beyond just following a vegan diet in that it requires adherents to also avoid gluten, alcohol, caffeine (what??) and sugar. Oprah is keeping a blog about her 21 day cleanse. My favorite excerpts so far:

She speaks of “spiritual integrity.” How can you say you’re trying to spiritually evolve, without even a thought about what happens to the animals whose lives are sacrificed in the name of gluttony?

Well said. One of the things I really like about Oprah is that I feel she genuinely does try to work toward self-improvement. I don’t think this is just about her weight, and I feel optimistic that this cleanse will impact her eating habits (and hopefully other product purchase habits) going forward. (Fingers crossed!)

Wow, wow, wow! I never imagined meatless meals could be so satisfying. I had been focused on what I had to give up—sugar, gluten, alcohol, meat, chicken, fish, eggs, cheese. “What’s left?” I thought. Apparently a lot. I can honestly say every meal was a surprise and a delight, beginning with breakfast—strawberry rhubarb wheat-free crepes.

Thank you, Oprah! This is what I’ve been trying to tell people–I have discovered so many new, wonderful foods that are satisfying, delicious, and healthy. These are foods I never would have tried had I not decided to start following a vegan diet. Now if only I could get a personal chef of my own to whip up some strawberry rhubarb crepes, I’d be set! How about it, Oprah? Feel like sharing? Please?

Okay, maybe Oprah won’t be sharing her chef with me, but I’m grateful for the number of people her journey will reach. Oprah is possibly the most influential person in American culture today, and watching her follow this cleanse might show people that avoiding animal products really can be done and that we should all be concerned about how our food is raised and how much suffering it causes to the animals who are – as Oprah says – “sacrificed in the name of gluttony”.

I’ll definitely be following Oprah’s blog and will share things with you as her cleanse progresses.

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past few weeks, you’ve probably heard a thing or two about a global food crisis. Food prices on such staples as rice, wheat and dairy products have sky-rocketed, affecting several already economically struggling countries. “Meanwhile world aid groups continue to reel from the jump in food prices. World Vision, one of the globe’s largest humanitarian organizations, said it may have cut 1.5 million people, or 23 percent, from its aid program because of a strained budget.”* Protests have erupted over rising food prices, and people have reportedly begun hoarding whatever food they can find.

Hunger is nothing new in the world. There have been “starving children in Africa” for as long as my parents have been able to tell me so in order to guilt me into cleaning my plate, and for many years before that. And while surely there are starving children here in America too, for the most part, Americans are living fat and happy. We clean our plates and then some. What most people fail to realize, however, is that we could feed all the hungry people in the world if only everyone reduced or eliminated their meat intake.

Think about this: Every one kilogram of beef produced requires 100,000 liters of water and 10 kilograms of feed. Compare that to a kilogram of potatoes produced, which requires only 500 liters of water. In terms of land use, one hectare of potatoes planted would feed 22 people per year, whereas one hectare of land dedicated to beef production would only feed one person per year.** The inefficiencies are staggering–and I could cite a million*** other statistics along these same lines. I first read about this in The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan and was floored. Despite the fact that the world’s poorest people don’t even have enough basic grains and water to sustain themselves, we produce “feed-grain” for cows and pigs and other farmed animals so that we can buy (cheap) meat. So why don’t we just eat the grains directly instead of feeding them to animals which we then eat?

Animal rights issues are increasingly becoming inextricably linked to human rights issues. The food crisis won’t be resolved over night, and the starving children of the world won’t be fed tomorrow because I’ve given up animal products – I get that. But if enough of us made a commitment to reduce our animal product intake, over time we might just make a difference and be able to get food into the mouths of the hungry, instead of into the mouths of poorly treated, factory farmed cows, chickens, and pigs that we produce for food.

Cows aren’t even supposed to eat grain and corn, by the way. They’re ruminants, so they’re supposed to eat grass. But cows require a lot of grazing land and that’s not cheap. What’s more, they don’t fatten up as well on grass, which is why they’re fed some pretty disgusting things: Cows are still allowed to eat feeds that can include parts of pigs, fish, chicken, horses, even cats or dogs….And cattle can continue to consume pig and horse blood for protein, as well as tallow, a hard fat from rendered cattle parts, as a fattening source.”**** We’ve turned herbivorous cows into carnivores and cannibals so that they gain weight faster and can be slaughtered when they’re practically still babies (a little over 1 year for “beef” cattle and anywhere from 3-6 years for “dairy” cows–the natural lifespan for a healthy cow would be over 20 years, just for comparison purposes).

So, what does this all mean? Maybe you’re not an “animal person”. Not everyone is (unfortunately) . . . but I have yet to meet someone who would turn their back on a hungry child.

Do your part: reduce your meat and animal product intake and help feed all the hungry people in the world. You can make a difference. Do it for your health, for the animals, the environment, and for all the people out there who will go to bed hungry tonight while some poor cow or pig suffers needlessly in a feedlot.

* “U.N. Agencies Weigh Response to Food Crisis”. Reuters. 28 April 2008. 28 April 2008. http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/news/news-food.html?scp=2&sq=hunger&st=nyt
** Gold, Mark. “The Global Benefits of Eating Less Meat.” Compassion in World Farming Trust. 2004. http://www.ciwf.org/publications/reports/The_Global_Benefits_of_Eating_Less_Meat.pdf
*** Possibly a slight exaggeration, but you get my point.
**** “Cattle Feed is Often a Sum of Animal Parts.” Common Dreams. 28 January 2004. http://www.commondreams.org/headlines04/0128-03.htm

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I am back from a wonderful weekend at Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, NY. What an adventure we had. I finally got to meet the goat I sponsored, Goodwin. This is him:


He is just the cutest little goat I’ve ever seen. Apparently his growth was stunted due to malnutrition or something, so he is only about half the size of the other pygmy goats. Since he is still pretty new there, he is terribly shy, and not sure what he thinks of humans yet. You can’t really blame him since he probably had never been treated kindly before now. In addition, he’s still trying to figure out where he fits in the pygmy goat herd. Despite his shyness, you could tell he has a lot of personality. He is cautious and wants to check things out, but to me it just seemed like you could tell he had a gentle, kind little personality. I think he’s feisty too underneath it all. I will be interested to see how he develops over time – yes, I’ll definitely go back there someday!

Here are some more of my pictures. If you haven’t been to a farmed animal sanctuary, I cannot recommend it enough. It was such a beautiful experience to connect with animals who have escaped slaughter, abuse, and neglect, and now are happy, sweet creatures who have learned to forgive humans, despite what they’ve been through. And for selfish reasons, it was just plain fun to give a pig a belly rub!


Happy pigRoseFennel, the roosterHappy pig

Maya, the friendly cow


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Eight BellesMost of my knowledge and efforts in the animal rights arena has involved companion animals and farmed animals. Until recently, I hadn’t thought that much about the implications of things like marine parks (more on that later), zoos (ditto) and horse racing. The recent Kentucky Derby and tragic death of Eight Belles has prompted me to look at this “sport” in greater detail. A recent article in the New York Times, written by William C. Rhoden, sums things up much better than I possibly could, so you should totally go read it and then pretend that it was me saying it (don’t I sound smart?). If it doesn’t change your feelings on horse racing all together, I hope it will at least prompt you to think about it a little bit more.

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We all mistakes. Since switching to a vegan diet, I’ve made a few food mistakes. The other day I got take-out food from an Indian restaurant. I asked the chef beforehand which dishes were vegan and loaded my take-out container with them. Then I added a couple pieces of naan because you can’t eat Indian food without naan, right? Turns out I’ll have to learn how because it isn’t vegan! Stupid naan!

I also learned that the onion rings I ate the other day weren’t vegan, nor were the lime tortilla chips. Seriously, why do tortilla chips need milk product in them? Really?? It doesn’t even make sense. Anyway, I can’t let myself feel too badly about these mistakes because obviously they were honest mistakes. It just goes to show you that you can’t assume that something is vegan just because you think it should be, or because it would be stupid to coat tortilla chips in dairy products. So, I’ll have to be a little more careful going forward….but my guess is these won’t be the last mistakes I make – hopefully they’ll just get to be fewer and farther between. And don’t even get me started on product purchases. It seems like I learn of of some new, obscure animal byproduct every day and have to look over all of the products in my house to check for it. It is incredibly frustrating, let me tell you.

For a really, really lengthy list of animal-derived products, check out the PETA website here. I’ve read this a few times, but there is almost no way I will be able to remember every single item on this list. Still, it’s a good resource if you want to research something. Wouldn’t it be so much easier if products were required to disclose whether or not they a) did animal testing or b) used animal-derived products? Hey, Government, let’s get busy on that, okay? Thanks.

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Ask the experimenters why they experiment on animals, and the answer is: “Because the animals are like us.” Ask the experimenters why it is morally okay to experiment on animals, and the answer is: “Because the animals are not like us.” Animal experimentation rests on a logical contradiction.
~Charles R. Magel

Did you know that the United States is the largest user of chimpanzees in biomedical research in the entire world? New Zealand, England, Sweden, Austria, and a number of others have either banned or limited such use, and yet we continue to subject our closest living relatives to painful and unnecessary medical testing. And guess what? It’s our tax dollars funding this research. “The cost to U.S. taxpayers for chimpanzee research and maintenance is estimated at $20 – 25 million per year, money that many in the scientific community believe could be allocated to more effective research.”* Based on how little information scientists have obtained by subjecting so many innocent animals to unnecessary tests, the bar for “more effective research” isn’t very high. So if chimps are such good substitutes for humans, why is it that we’ve gotten so little information? The reason is that there are substantial differences between chimpanzees and humans when it comes to diseases like HIV/AIDS:Chimp in research

  • Humans become immunodeficient and do not maintain normal levels of critical immune factors, CD4 and Tlymphocytes. Chronically infected chimpanzees maintain normal levels and do not become immunodeficient.
  • In contrast to humans, HIV does not reproduce well in chimpanzees.
  • HIV infected humans contain the virus in their blood cells and plasma. Chimpanzees contain the virus only in their blood cells.
  • Virus particles are found in human saliva and spinal fluid. In chimpanzees they are not.
  • Humans develop opportunistic infections and cancers associated with HIV. Chimpanzees do not.
  • Humans drop their antibody count prior to systemic illness; chimpanzees do not.**

So, what a great use of our tax dollars! I mean, remember when the scientists found the cure for AIDS from all this research? No? Oh, that’s right BECAUSE THEY DIDN’T.

But, there’s potentially good news. The Great Ape Protection Act (H.R. 5852) could end all the suffering for chimpanzees currently in labs. It would put an end to invasive research and testing on an estimated 1,200 chimpanzees remaining in U.S. laboratories. “The bill would also retire approximately 600 federally owned chimpanzees currently in laboratories — many for more than 40 years already — to permanent sanctuary.”*** Doesn’t that sound like a good idea? I know I’d rather have my tax dollars go toward almost anything else than the pointless use of these poor animals.

So, what can you do? Go to the HSUS website here and find out who your local representatives are. Then, make a quick phone call (or send an email), tell them you strongly support H.R. 5852 and tell all your friends to do the same! These chimps deserve better – help them live out the rest of their lives in sanctuaries.

Also, if you’d like to know more about alternatives to animal testing, check out this website. It has some great information and frequently asked questions and answers.
*Humane Society of the United States.
**Johnston MI. The role of nonhuman primate models in AIDS vaccine development. Mol Med Today. 2000 Jul;6(7):267-70 (as cited here).
***Humane Society of the United States.

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