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.

Giving livestock isn’t charitable

Imagine, if you will, that you live in an impoverished community in an underdeveloped nation. Your one-room hut has a dirt floor without electricity or running water. You have to a make a fire just so you can cook. Food is scarce but you do your best to feed your children.

Then a western charity gives you a cow (or goat, or maybe a flock of chickens) so you can use this animal to improve your life. Sounds good, right?

Not so fast.

Ever raised a cow? Tried predator-proofing a chicken coop? Taking care of animals is hard to do. It’s a real burden, especially for people trying to raise a family and meet their basic needs.

cow in Africa

Livestock costs a lot. Animals get sick and require vet care, they drink a lot of water (water that might not be easily accessible), and they eat food that could be used to feed people. Animals eat more than they produce. Often the price of food for livestock is greater than the money families can get from selling milk or meat.

The chances of the animals getting good care (when people can’t give their families proper care) are slim. Sometimes animals are used as currency and are bartered away. Other times children are pulled out of school to tend to the animals.

Oxfam-funded drinking hole in East Africa

Eating high on the food chain isn’t wise. But western charities promoting western lifestyles and diets, would make you think it’s ideal. By introducing western eating habits, they’re introducing western diseases. The majority of people in countries where livestock is gifted are lactose intolerant anyway, so what good is a dairy cow?

The environmental costs of bringing more animals into a region are high too. Water pollution and waste runoff is one issue; desertization of land is another. Raising animals for food is a bigger contributor to global warming than all forms of transportation combined.

As a vegan, I care about animals. That’s why I can’t give money to charities that promote the mistreatment and slaughter of animals. I also care about people, which is why I don’t support charities that promote meat as an optimal food.

This holiday season, when you’re looking for ways to help others, look for organizations that promote ethical, sustainable ways to invest in communities. Here are a few:

Alternatives

  • Vegfam – Self-supporting, sustainable, plant-based food programs, and water resources.
  • Trees for Life – Fruit trees, books, education, clean water, and fuel-efficient stoves.
  • Plenty – Plant-based nutrition, healthcare, education, self-sufficiency, and disaster relief.
  • A Well-Fed World – Plant-based nutrition, education, farm animal rescue, and food sharing.
  • Kiva – Micro-loans for people to start small businesses and get themselves out of poverty.
  • SALEM – Education, shelter, environmental protection, nutrition information, and vegetarian meals.

Further reading

Why Paleo diets belong in the Stone Age

The Paleolithic, or Caveman, diet has gotten a lot of press lately. It sounds similar to the Atkins diet of a few years ago (remember that?) with a few more fruits and veggies added in. Many proponents claim eating like early man is how we’re designed: Lots of lean meats (especially wild game) and no grains is what the doctor ordered. Or is it?

First the positives: The Paleo diet encourages people to avoid dairy and processed foods. Sounds healthy enough. But with about half its calories coming from animal protein, it’s not a wise option.

Making assumptions

Paleo assumes early humans were mostly hunter, partly gatherer. Women (the gatherers) get little credit and macho hunting men become responsible for catapulting cavemen into civilization. Hunting without modern weapons is difficult and gathering was likely a big part of their diet.cavemen

If early humans were opportunistic hunter-gatherers, doing what they could to survive, they’d surely eat all parts of the animal. No one I know salivates over boar’s eyeballs or deer hearts (but maybe I just don’t know the right people).

The diet also assumes that eating this way was the best choice; it might have been the only choice. And was it healthy? They probably wouldn’t didn’t live long enough to develop heart disease anyway. Back then, life was brutal–and short.

Ignoring what we know

Research about our ancestors is revealing that they were mostly plant-eater, with a bit of opportunistic meat-eating (including cannibalism) thrown in. Leaves, fruit, wood and bark likely made up the biggest portion of their diets.

We also know that diets high in animal protein are unhealthy. And when we cut out carbs, we tend to add in fat. On the contrary, a whole-foods, plant-based diet can give us the most nutrients, antioxidants and fiber, while avoiding cholesterol and saturated fat.

Using diet as an excuse

CavemanAdopting a Paleo diet is a great way to say “I need bacon” and “this burger is the best thing for my body.” It gives people the green light to continue bad habits. I know a few people who eat Paleo, and none of them remember that coffee and alcohol is off-limits too. When it’s convenient, Paleo suits them fine, but the rules get broken.

Funny how people embrace the Paleo diet but also accept modern medicine, technology, and other luxuries. To be Paleo, shouldn’t we eschew antibiotics, anesthetics, dentistry, cars, computers, and central heating? Why is only the food of early humans valued, and not the rest of their simple lifestyles?

Flipping off the environment

I like that the Paleo diet steers people away from factory-farmed meats, but free-range, grass-fed meat is a luxury afforded to the affluent. Plus, we’d need an whole other planet for livestock if we wanted to raise all farmed animals in grassy plains.

Regardless of where animals are sourced, raising them requires vast amounts of water and fossil fuels. Not to mention the enormous piles of feces they produce. The meat industry is a bigger polluter than all transportation combined. Paleo, by encouraging people to increase their meat consumption, is contributing to the destruction of our planet.

Alternatives

From The China Study to PCRM, evidence points to whole-food, plant-based diets as superior to diets that include animal products. Animal-free diets are better for us (reducing risks of heart disease, stroke type 2 diabetes, many cancers, as well as obesity), they’re better for the environment, and they’re much better for animals.

Maybe it’s time to evolve.

Resources

My vegan dog

My dog eats vegan dog food. Have I lost my mind? Am I forcing my beliefs on my poor dog? Not at all! Let me explain.

Frankie is an 11-year-old rat terrier. Ever since I adopted him when he was five, I was interested in feeding him the healthiest food I could find. I started with a high-quality, human-grade, fish-based food, thinking I’d be avoiding factory-farmed meat. But fish is often factory farmed too. And the oceans are being depleted, so wild-caught is just as bad. Fish are sentient beings and I couldn’t justify it.

Later, I made Frankie homemade vegan meals, to which I added Vegedog, a powdered supplement especially made for dogs. Frankie loved it, but planning his meals was a lot of work. Besides, Frankie will eat anything. Cheap kibble, human food, garbage, cat poo. I felt like my culinary skills were being taken for granted.

frankie with his v-dog

Then I found V-Dog, a cruelty-free kibble. It’s free of wheat, corn, soy, fillers, GMOs–and of course animal products. Frankie loves it. He has lots of energy, and “clean up” is better too (by which I mean, good in, good out).

As for me forcing my beliefs on Frankie, here’s how I see it. In the wild (well, dogs are domesticated, but you know what I mean) dogs wouldn’t be eating prepackaged food. They wouldn’t be chemical-laden, not-fit-for-human-consumption castoff meat bi-products from factory farms. Reality is, most commercial dog food is crap. The parts of the animals that people don’t eat are sent to rendering plants for pet food. The diseased animals, the ones with tumors, even roadkill and euthanized cats and dogs, can end up in dog food.

In the wild, Frank would be a scavenger, an omnivore. He loves watermelon, but he won’t turn down meat. For him it’s not a moral issue. For me it is. I had a hard time aligning my vegan values with the fact that I bought him meat-based food. Heck, some pet food companies even test on animals. Luckily with V-dog, I don’t have to compromise.

There are other vegetarian dog foods on the market (like Evolution, Ami Dog, and Natural Balance vegetarian formula) and if you have a dog, I’d encourage you to try a few and find one that suits him or her best. I chose V-Dog because it’s a vegan-owned business and is recommended by a host of organizations, from veterinarians to animal sanctuaries.

Resources:

They say steak has vitamins

I was innocently perusing the pages of a women’s health magazine when I came a cross a rather offensive ad. It was a full-page advert that proclaimed: That’s right: Steak has vitamins. How do you like us now?

steak ad crumpled up

Hmm. How ’bout Not At All?

The beef-it’s-what-for-dinner-folks (aka the Cattlemen’s Beef Board and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association) had the audacity to target a health-conscious demographic who they thought might be eschewing beef for healthier options. The ad bragged that beef has B vitamins.

A 3 oz. flank steak has 158 calories and 25% of the daily value of B6, 23% of B12, 7% riboflavin, and 34% niacin.

So what?

B vitamins are a great source of energy, but potatoes have 31% of B6. Portobello mushrooms have 24% of riboflavin. Peanut butter and passion fruit have loads of niacin. And B12? I’d rather get it from fortified bread, soy milk or a Luna Bar.

When you get your vitamins from plants, you don’t have to deal with bad cholesterol, saturated fats, trans-fatty acids or animal protein. If you’ve read The China Study, you’ll know that animal proteins turn on cancer cells. Plant proteins turn them off.

No amount of sugar-coating by the Beef Board will make me eat meat. My dog is chock-full of vitamins but I won’t eat him. A human cadaver has vitamins, but that’s out of the questions. I eat things (plants), not beings.

I’m not really surprised that the beef industry is duping people. I’m also not surprised that a magazine will accept ridiculous ads (ads pay the bills). I just hope people are smart enough to see through all the bull.

Have you seen and ridiculous ads lately?

March to close all slaughterhouses

This past Saturday, several cities around the world marched to close all slaughterhouses: Paris, Toulouse, London, Istanbul, Houston, San Diego, Zagreb, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Perth, Florence, and Toronto. My mom joined in the Toronto march.

vegan women

Compassionate protesters (my 61-year-old mom is on the right — her first demo!)

The Toronto march started at a city park, wove through the streets and ended at one of Toronto’s slaughterhouses (it’s not called Hogtown for nothing). I imagine emotions ran high at the site of the building where 6000 pigs die each weekday.

The march was organized with four tenets:

  • Because oppression, living conditions and slaughter cause immense suffering to animals
  • Because meat production is destroying our planet and our health
  • Because eating animal products is not necessary
  • Because sentient beings should not intentionally be mistreated or killed

The food industry is the largest contributor of animal exploitation, abuse and death but most people condone it through their dollars and their diets. The abuse goes on behind closed doors–literally. We’re not supposed to see it.

MTCAS demo

The marchers show what the meat industry tries to hide

Animals raised for food have a nightmarish existence. Confined, castrated, de-horned, debeaked, injected with hormones and antibiotics, and finally shipped to a house of horrors, where they see, hear, and smell other animals dying all around them before they too are killed.

The animal rights movement is part of a greater social justice movement. People need to speak up for injustices, and that’s exactly what they did on June 15th, all around the world. They marched to raise awareness and be a voice for the voiceless.

Robert Caine and my mom

Speaker Robert Caine and my mom met after the march

When we stop viewing animals as commodities and start seeing them as individuals with the right to live free from exploitation, it’s a no-brainer.

memorial

A memorial to slaughtered animals marked the entrance to the slaughterhouse

The best part about this cause is that the solution is right in front of us. It’s healthy and delicious and easy to do: adopt a plant-based diet.

vegan friends

The people in the march were a cross-section of society. They came from all classes, ages, genders, political leanings and beliefs. Animal abuse is something everyone can do something about.

a little protester

Compassion starts at a young age–don’t suppress it!

Each year, 60 billion land animals and 1,000 billion water animals are killed for humans. It’s staggering to think about. It’s cruel and unnecessary. By changing to a vegan diet you can save about 100 animals a year. This makes a difference. It adds up. Animals matter.

new friends

The message is simple and powerful: Go vegan!

I hope Seattle has a march next year so I can join too and speak up for those who can’t.

In-vitro meat becomes a reality

I’ve been wanting to write about the sci-fi notion of in-vitro meat for a while now. In-vitro meat (also called cultured, test tube, or lab-grown) is meat that is “grown” from cells in a petri dish, not from a living animal.

This week, however, the New York Times reported on this phenomenon. So sci-fi is becoming reality. Time to take a look at what the meat of the future could look like.

test tube

In the prototype, beef muscle tissue is grown into a piece of meat. This isn’t vegan, of course, since the source is from a cow. Future versions could be non-animal based.

Would you eat meat grown in a lab? I still stand by the loads of scientific research that shows how unhealthy meat is. It clogs arteries, provides no fiber, turns on cancer cells, and promotes diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. But if mainstream America doesn’t jump on the vegan bandwagon, I’d rather they buy lab-grown meat than support the slaughter of sentient beings.

Eating in-vitro meat bypasses the factory farm and slaughterhouse. It skirts around issues such as dehorning, debeaking, castrations without anesthetic, transportation, water and grain consumption and land use. It’s environmentally much better.

For me, going vegan was about reducing suffering so I’m personally on board with in-vitro meat. I’d still like to see people adopt whole food plant-based diet though.

This technology might also be able to “grow” leather in a lab, so there really are a lot of possibilities.