Why vegans don’t eat eggs

When I was a vegetarian, I ate eggs and I drank milk. “They’re byproducts,” I’d say. “The chickens and cows don’t get hurt.” I was convinced of this. Then I read Diet for a New America and found out how wrong I was. I cut out eggs and dairy immediately.

So what’s wrong with eggs?chicks

It starts at the hatcheries–the places that breed chickens and incubate eggs. Hatcheries are where factory farms, free-range operations, and even “urban farmers” get their chicks.

The boys – On day one, all male chicks are killed. They’re ground up alive, gassed, or dumped in the trash and left to die. The boys, you see, have no value. They won’t lay eggs, and they’re not meaty broilers like their cousins. They are useless to the egg industry.

That’s enough for me to ditch eggs. But wait, there’s more:

Confinement – On factory farms hens are crammed into tiny battery cages. Each bird has less “floor space” than an iPad (except, unlike an iPad, she has to stand on wire). In these conditions, hens will become frustrated and crazy and will sometimes hurt each other.

Debeaking – To prevent injuries, chickens are, well, injured. When they’re still babies, they have the ends of their beaks seared off with a hot blade. Even free-range set-ups will often have debeaked hens. A lot of so-called free-range farms are really just cageless, not roomy. They’re cramped warehouses that may or may not have outdoor access.hens in battery cages

An unhealthy environment – These “farms” stink to high heaven and the air is so polluted that the ammonia will burn your eyes (if they let you in). My mom saw first-hand what a small-scale battery-cage farm looks like. You can read about her experience on her guest post at Honk if you’re Vegan.

Physical stress – In nature, a hen will lay a clutch of eggs (maybe 10 or 12) in a nest, where she will sit on them for three weeks until her chicks hatch. She won’t lay eggs again until her young can fend for themselves, so she gets a break from laying. But on egg farms, hens have their eggs taken away so they keep laying. It’s stressful on their bodies and depletes them of calcium, which often causes osteoporosis. Up to a quarter of battery hens experience bone breaks during their short lives.

Willow at Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary

This rescued hen, Willow, is safe now (picture (c) Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary)

To get the most eggs from indoor hens, some farms practice forced molting. Farm operators stop feeding hens for a week or two, which causes them to shed their feathers and simulate the fall season, when they would normally stop laying eggs. After an induced period of “rest,” in which they lose about a third of their body weight, they begin to lay again. This practice is banned in some countries. Where it does exists (like the USA), it coaxes another laying season out of already taxed birds.

Hens are social, nurturing and smart–when in a natural setting. But to the egg industry, they’re a commodity–valuable only when they’re making someone money. So after a year or two, when hens lay fewer eggs, they’re slaughtered.

The egg industry is inherently cruel. Over 95% of birds come from factory farms. Even those who are “treated well” have lost their brothers. And most, even those from hobby farms and urban coops, are sold, or killed when they lose their value.

Animals deserve to live their own lives. A hen’s worth is not tied to what she can give me. And there are so many egg alternatives. There’s no need for cruelty.

That’s why vegans don’t eat eggs.

We Animals

Last summer, as part of a Kickstarter fundraiser, I contributed to getting the book We Animals printed. For my donation, I received a copy of the book, which arrived in December.

We Animals is a gorgeous, hardcover photo book by award-winning photographer Jo-Anne McArthur. She also wrote the accompanying text that explains the circumstances in each picture. It’s beautifully written.

we animals book cover

McArthur spent years travelling the globe, documenting the plight of animals in human environments. She covers animals raised for food, clothing, used in entertainment and research, as well as rescued animals.

Her photos draw viewers in and help make a connection to the animal subjects in them. The photos aren’t all easy to view, but they all tell a story that needs to be shared. If they must endure it, the least we can do is acknowledge it.

Bearing witness–observing but not necessarily being able to help–is a key part of the book. McArthur travelled to factory farms, fur ranches and zoos. What can one do other than promise those animals that they will not be forgotten–that their message will be shared and that someone will fight for them and others like them?

Every animal lover should own a copy of this book. Mine is on the coffee table and is a great conversation starter when guests come over.

Jo-Anne McArthur is the subject of the documentary The Ghosts in Our Machine, by Liz Marshall. When I get a chance to watch that, you can bet I’ll share my thoughts with you.

Vegan new year’s resolution

The new year is a time to celebrate with loved ones, to start fresh, and to make resolutions.

If you’re already a vegan, now is a great time to make a resolution to stay vegan and perhaps add something extra to your vegan journey. Join (or start) a vegan supper club and meet other vegans, raise funds for an animal organization, or maybe step out of your comfort zone and get involved with activism.

If you’re not vegan yet, try it for a month. Veganuary.com is a great place to start. You can also look at Amazon.com for vegan cookbooks (my first was How it all Vegan and I still use it) or go to websites like the Post Punk Kitchen or Engine 2 Diet. A web search will result in a ton of links to vegan recipes. The China Study Cookbook has simple recipes with common ingredients.

book ideas

You might find being vegan is fun, easier than you thought, and makes you feel good about your health and all the animals your not eating. On a trial run, take the time to read about the plight of animals. Often, the easiest time to learn about what animals endure for our taste buds is when you’re not partaking in them. No guilt. No excuses. Just learn and be the change.

If you’re not ready to dive in, get your toes wet with a transition plan.

On New Year’s Eve, as you’re singing Auld Lang Syne, a song by Scotland’s national poet Robert Burns, think about another poem he wrote. To a Mouse was written after Burns upturned a mouse’s nest in a field. The original poem, in Scottish vernacular, is harder to understand (even though it sounds great), so here’s a link to the original along with a modern translation.

The first two stanzas especially, share a message that we are all in this together:

Small, sleek, cowering, timorous beast,
Oh, what panic is in your breast!
You need not start away so hastymouse from wikimedia
With a hurrying scamper!
I would be loath to run and chase you,
With a murderous spade!

I’m truly sorry that Man’s dominion
Has broken Nature’s social union,
And justifies that ill opinion
Which makes you startled
At me, your poor, earth-born companion
And fellow mortal!

Burns feels empathy for a tiny creature who is now homeless in the coldest season. He relates to the mouse as a fellow being on the planet. He tells the mouse that they’re alike, because “The best laid plans of mice and men / Go oft awry.”

We can plan, but things change. If you have great plans for the new year and they don’t fall into place, you’re not alone. If you try to be vegan and fail, pick up and keep at it. Be like the mouse who is forward-looking, and not like humans, who often dwell on the past.

The future is vegan! Happy New Year!

No warm fuzzies with angora

I’ve often wondered about angora production. The soft, fuzzy sweaters, mitts and hats that pop up in stores each fall seem so cozy. I’ve never bought angora though.

Angora can refer to cats, goats, ferrets, but it’s the angora rabbit that people use for wool. To get angora, the animals don’t need to be killed, which is why many people don’t think about it as a cruel industry. Angora can be combed, shorn, or plucked.

What? Yes, I wrote that. Plucked! Shearing results in shorter hair, so often plucking is preferred. Angora molt every few months, and in theory, pulling loose hair from a rabbit shouldn’t hurt, but as with everything, care and welfare is abandoned when volume goes up and there’s money to be made.

Angora Rabbit from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:White_Satin_Angora_Rabbit.jpgNinety percent of angora comes from China, where there are no animal welfare standards and no oversight into the angora industry. Recent undercover video shows rabbits screaming in pain as they’re plucked. I didn’t even know rabbits could scream. It’s heartbreaking. And after being plucked, they lie in shock in their filthy cages. After 3 to 5 years of this abuse, they’re killed). You can read more about the developments here (the video is embedded but won’t play automatically, so you don’t have to watch it).

If 90% of angora comes from these conditions, it makes sense that 90% of the angora in the stores is cruelly sourced. Frankly, even shearing doesn’t look humane to me. In this video, a woman boasts about how well her rabbits are treated, but she ties up one rabbit’s legs, stretches him and rotates him like a spit pig (minus the skewer).

The video isn’t graphic per se, but it’s not how I would like to be handled on a quarterly basis. Kind or cruel, why should they live in cages to be wool-making machines? Rabbits need to forage and burrow. It’s another example of commodification. These rabbits are slaves for our fashion and treated like nothing more than money-making machines.

animals are not fabric

To quote the slogan on my new favorite sweater (from The Tree Kisser’s website), animals are not fabric.

If you want to help, here’s how:

  • Don’t wear or buy angora.
  • Ask the stores you shop at not to carry angora.
  • Sign the petitions linked to in this article and tell stores like The Gap and Zara to stop carrying angora

(Update: Zara and The Gap, along with Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, suspended further angora purchases pending investigation. H&M and ASOS have vowed to stop selling it permanently. Pressure works! Keep on these retailers. They make money from us, so we have a say!).

6 ways to help animals this season

It’s December already and that means it’s the season of giving. In the spirit of Christmas, here are a few ways you can help animals:

Become vegan – Not eating animals is the number one thing you can do to help them. If you’re an animal lover, start your plan to transition to veganism today! You can find links on the right that will take you to sites that offer starter kits with recipes and nutritional info.

Don’t give animals as gifts – A dog or a cat is a ten to twenty year commitment. Giving an animal as a gift is giving someone a boatload of responsibility–and expenses! If someone isn’t ready for that, it’s likely their new animal will end up in a shelter. If you know someone really is ready for a companion animal, consider giving a gift certificate to a pet supply store. They’ll definitely need it when they have to feed and care for their new animal.

Adopt, don’t shop – If you’re planning to add an animal to your household, and all family members are on board, visit local shelters, rescue groups, or check out the nationwide network on petfinder.com. Contrary to what some people think, purebred and young animals are available for adoption. Then again, older animals are usually calmer and house-trained. They’re often a great choice.

Rescued animals are great, but they'll steal your heart--and your bed.

Give to charities that don’t exploit animalsGiving livestock to a poor family in a developing nation might sound noble but it’s a burden for people who can barely feed themselves. Instead of giving to organizations that give animals, consider supporting ones like Vegfam, Trees for Life, or Plenty. These groups work with local communities to provide plant-based meals, education, disaster relief, and clean water.

Sponsor an animal – What do you give someone who has everything? How about sponsoring an animal in their name? You can choose from farm animals, rescued primates, dogs and cats, or wild animals at a number of sanctuaries. Every animal rescue group needs funds, and many offer official sponsor programs, like Pig Peace, PAWS, Farm Sanctuary, Chimpanzee Sanctuary NW, Soi Dog (Thai street dog rescue), and the Performing Animal Welfare Society.

Give swag – Message gear is a fun way to give to someone, support a great cause, and spread the pro-animal message. If you know someone who supports animal causes, why not give them something from those groups? From chimpanzee wine, message mugs, cookbooks and vegan slogan T’s, there’s something for everyone.

photos (c) Herbivore

These are my ideas for helping animals during the holiday season (not that we have to limit ourselves to just December). Do you have any other ideas?

Making a wish with a wishbone

Have you ever wondered why people fight over the chance to break a wishbone?

A wishbone is the front of a bird’s breastbone: the furcula. It’s formed by the connection of two clavicles. The superstition, where two people grab either end of the dried bone and pull to see who gets the larger pieces, has a long history.

As early as the 15th Century, and before turkeys were introduced to Europe, geese bones were used to foresee the future and predict the upcoming winter. Wars were waged based on the bones’ predictions.

Clergy in the 17th Century even tried to tried to stop people from using the bones as a form of superstition. Despite their best efforts, the practice continued–and was brought over to America.

Now, the wishbone is less about prediction and more about making a wish. It’s even called the merry-making bone. But make no bones about it. There’s nothing merry about killing a turkey.

If you want to see if you get a “lucky break” or a “bad break” without including a carcass at your thanksgiving meal, you’ve got options. I suppose a v-shaped twig would work. My husband and I tried a similar tug-o-war with two grapes and a stem and it was also successful (he got the bigger piece, and hence the opportunity to make a wish).

grape wishbone

There’s even a company that sells synthetic wishbones for families who want more than just one wishbone per meal. Their site specifically mentions that their product is suitable for vegetarians.

So no matter how you break it, you can have a fun Thanksgiving, keep the traditions you like, and ditch the cruelty.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Cruelty-free Thanksgiving

Last year, I attended the Feast for the Turkeys at Pasado’s Safe Haven. This year, the event is already sold out. To make up for disappointment, Hubby surprised me with reservations to a prix fix vegan Thanksgiving meal at Plum Bistro. That’s not until next week though. In the meantime, I’ll show you what last year’s event was like.

guestcard

Instead of having turkey, the turkeys had us! Butterball was the official host, but Stacie, our lovely guide, took us on the tour. First stop: Turkeys, of course!

turkeys

Turkeys are gentle and kind. It’s not true that if it rains and they look up, they drown. On the contrary, they’re smart birds who protect each other, “talk” to their friends (including people), and are loving parents to their little ones. I got to pet Butterball–what soft feathers! As smart as she is, I’m not sure she noticed that I color-coordinated with her today.

At Pasado's

Next, we met these little piggies, who were rescued from a fire. They loved eating the popcorn, carrots, apples, and bananas we brought.

mini pigs

While I was taking their picture, look who snuck up on me! (You might recognize that mug from my banner.)

goat

I gave him a carrot, and he was happy. As we fed the goats and sheep, I spied a rooster, well, roosting.

roosting rooster

I found lots of chickens in the coop next door. The white ones are rescued laying hens. To think they used to live in cages with no more room to move than if they were standing on an iPad. They love their freedom now! And they’ll never end up in a pot.

chickens

They loved eating lettuce and grapes. Look at that blur–she sure was a fast one!

feeding the fowl

This photo doesn’t show how big these two pigs are. They’re each over 600 pounds! Splash, on the left, saw her siblings slaughtered and escaped certain death by swimming across a river where a startled, but loving woman took her in until she could find a proper home for the pig. Nora, on the right, was rescued from a horder and was starving. They’re both happy, healthy, and safe now.

Splash and Nora

The cows loved the carrots I brought for them, but they look a little suspicious of me, don’t you think?

Eddie Cheddar

cow

After an amazing tour, we toasted the animals with a glass of bubbly and went inside for a feast!

I got teary-eyed as our hosts read the menu: Autumn vegetable samosas with plum chutney, carrot miso spread on baguettes, and baked chickpeas; red kuri squash and coconut soup with cashew cream and beet reduction; massaged kale salad with pomegranate, hazelnuts and pears; parsnip apple puree, root vegetable latkes, orange balsamic glazed Brussels sprouts, and maple baked tempeh with apple cider glaze; pumpkin cake with chocolate-hazelnut ganache.

feast

I was overcome with emotion because as we dined on our vegan meal, rescued animals were snuggling in their stalls in the barns next door. Animals that would have been pork chops, turkey cutlets or hamburgers. I wished for peace for all living creatures and longed for every restaurant and household to serve delicious, cruelty-free meals like this.

What a wonderful time! I hope you take a tour of Pasado’s or a similar sanctuary in your area. They’re amazing places.

Wool-free winter wear

Whenever I write about what not to do/eat/wear, I like to provide alternatives so we have ideas for things we can consume. I recently wrote about what’s wrong with wool. Well, I’ve found some great, cruelty-free products that are made of wool alternatives and I have to share!

My favorite winter wear company is Vaute Couture. Vegan-owned, Vaute (pronounced vote) is the brain-child of model-turned-entrepreneur Leanne Mai-ly Milgart. Her men’s and women’s designs are made in New York’s garment district using recycled and recyclable fabrics that are windproof, snow- and rain-resistant, warmer than wool, and heat retaining.

Vaute is stylish too. They’re the first all-vegan line to show at New York’s prestigious Fashion Week–and they rocked it! The media picked up the story and vegan fashion went mainstream!

vaute image (c) Vaute Couture

I recently learned about another cool company, Hoodlamb. Based in Amsterdam, Hoodlamb makes men’s and women’s coats and other apparel from hemp–arguably the most environmentally friendly fabric out there. It’s strong and durable and requires no pesticides or fertilizer to grow. Hemp warms you up when you need it and keeps you cool when you’re hot.

Hoodlamb carries stylish, warm winter clothes with a conscience. Love the faux shearling linings!

hoodlamb image (c) Hoodlamb

For budget-conscious fashionistas, I recommend Lulu’s and Modcloth. They both carry a wide assortment of winter coats, many of which are wool-, down-, and leather-free. Not all their products are vegan, so read the descriptions before you buy.

Modcloth and Lulu’s focus on showcasing independent designers from around the world. That might not sit well with localvores, but if you’re like me and are primarily interested in animal-free clothes, you’ll find something adorable at these online retailers.

In fact, if you look around, you’ll find non-wool coats in other stores too. For example, American Apparel, known for their sweatshop-free made in LA clothes, carry some vegan winter items, like a wool-free cape and a unisex parka made with faux shearling.

American Apparel images (c) American Apparel

Do you have any other tips for finding cruelty-free winter wear?

Why not wool?

I’ve never liked the feel of wool next to my skin. It’s too itchy! But I couldn’t understand why vegans didn’t wear it. Sheep need to be shorn, right? And unlike fur, they’re not killed for their wool. Or are they?

A few years ago, after researching about wool, I changed my stance. Wool isn’t welcome in my home.

bleating sheep

Wild sheep grow only enough wool to keep warm (and they can shed it). Domesticated sheep have been bred for their wooly coats and do require shearing. Often, sheep who aren’t shorn before the weather is too hot will die of heat exhaustion. And if they’re shorn too early, they’ll die from exposure. About a million sheep a year die this way.

Sheep, like merinos, are bred to have lots of wrinkly skin (more area to grow wool on). As a result of their wrinkles, they suffer from skin infections. Flies lay eggs in their folds and maggots literally eat the sheep alive. Ranchers have found a way to combat this: mulesing, a process where large strips of flesh are cut off the sheep’s backsides. About 100 million sheep have this process done to them every year–without anesthetic!

Also performed without painkillers: castration, dehorning and tail docking.

Sheep are shorn by laborers who are paid by volume, not the hour. And in their hurry to work quickly, sheep are often rough-handled and injured. And when sheep stop producing as much wool as ranchers need to keep profits up, the sheep are killed for their flesh. In Australia, sheep are often shipped alive to the Middle East so they can be sold and butchered there. Many don’t even survive the cramped, long journey by sea.

In theory, one can raise a few sheep and sheer them humanely. In reality, the scale of operations–farms with hundreds of thousands of sheep–means there isn’t time or resources to care for the sheep. Dead sheep are a cost of doing business. It’s great that sheep aren’t usually confined to factory farm, like pigs, chickens and cows, but they roam land in habitats that they aren’t native to and often destroy habitat for native species. In Australia, some indigenous species are becoming endangered as a result of sheep grazing.

Don’t get fleeced! Whether for carpets or clothing, skip the wool (which is pricy, shrinks, attracts moths, retains odors and isn’t hypoallergenic) and try humane alternatives:

  • Cottonsheep
  • Bamboo
  • Hemp
  • Tencel (biodegradable)
  • PolarTec (made from recycled plastic)
  • Poly fleece
  • Synthetic shearling
  • Rayon
  • Linen

Resources:

I can look at you

Franz Kafka, the German writer, once said, “Now I can look at you in peace; I don’t eat you anymore.”

I feel the same way. I abhor cruelty and I’m overwhelmed by the suffering in the world. The non-stop murder of animals in slaughterhouses around the world is truly hard to fathom. Of course it upsets me. But I feel like I’m not part of that system.

Instead of contributing to cruelty, I’m working hard to help animals. I know I can never do enough, so I’m not writing this with superiority. I owe the animals an apology too. But I can look at them. I can acknowledge them. I feel peace knowing that, to paraphrase Leonardo Da Vinci and quote the slogan on the back of one of my Herbivore shirts, “my body is not a graveyard.”

I had a real-life experience of the sentiment behind the quote when I was at a farmers market this past spring with friends. I saw an adorable lamb tethered to a stall. My first reaction was to run over and talk to him and pet him. I knew the vendor was promoting free-range “humane” meat, but in that moment, I just loved that little lamb.

Andy

I knew I couldn’t save him and I knew his life would be short. I asked his name, expecting a cold, cruel remark along the lines of “dinner.” The farmer told me the lamb’s name was Andy.

I was still overjoyed in the moment and in the experience of seeing Andy, that I put his future out of my head. I called to my friend. I wanted her to see Andy too. “No.” She told me flatly as she kept on walking. An odd response from a normally bubbly woman.

When I finished talking to Andy and taking his picture, I showed my friend the photos I’d taken. She told me she didn’t want to look at Andy because she eats lamb.

That was profound! The Kafka quote jumped into my head. Kafka was referring to a fish, but the sentiment is the same. I’m not contributing to cruelty. I’m not guilty. As a kid, if I did something dishonest at school, I wouldn’t look the teacher in the eye. This was the same thing. My friend couldn’t look Andy in the eye. She was betraying him.

Even if I could have whisked Andy away, there are millions of other animals just like him. Sweet innocents who are commoditized and valued for the taste of their flesh. But they have the desire to live and enjoy life just like we do. In our ability to suffer, we are all the same.

I don’t mean to vilify my friend. She loves cats and dogs, and there’s compassion in her heart. Like many people, she’s compartmentalized the way she views animals and divided them into categories of “pets” and “food.” But her guilt is chipping away at the lines. If my friend wants to look at lambs like Andy, she can. She just needs to stop eating them and start respecting them as sentient beings.

My hope for all animals is that people go vegan. Do it for Andy.