Showing posts sorted by relevance for query veganism. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query veganism. Sort by date Show all posts

October 25, 2014

James McWilliams telling vegans to eat insects

“At the risk of being a total bore, I have a few more thoughts to shake out on the proposition that vegans are morally obligated to eat insects. ...” —The Life and Death of Insects

[previously:
Insects As Food: Hard Fact Versus Possible Fact
Are Vegans Obligated To Eat Insects?
Starting Over]

Rucio says:
October 24, 2014 at 8:34 am

You are indeed becoming a total bore here. Everything you argue about insects has already been said about other animals to justify their mass exploitation and slaughter. Even about other humans.

And telling vegans what they are “morally obligated” to do is as offensive coming from another vegan as it is from a grass-fed beef proponent.

James says:
October 24, 2014 at 10:25 am

I’ve offered a number of arguments for why cows and crickets do not deserve the same level of moral consideration. I’m open to having those arguments proven wrong. But you need to do that. Rather than make blanket statements without substantiation, I urge you to avoid insults and make arguments.

Rucio says:
October 24, 2014 at 10:52 am

The argument is simply that cows and crickets DO deserve the same level of moral consideration. That is the vegan ethic. It is not a question of sentience or whatever other anthropocentric rationalization you want to apply.

I really don’t have a problem with anyone eating insects, although I don’t see any good coming from “farming” them. It’s just absurd to suggest that it should be a part of veganism. Your very language in this post has devolved into that of “humane meat” advocates.

(As for insult, you set yourself up for the confirmation.)

James says:
October 24, 2014 at 12:39 pm

Your logic is circular. To say that a behavior is wrong because it does not adhere to a preexisting definition (in this case, veganism) is to subsume the demand for a real argument (which you still won’t provide) under the guise of a label that may or may not best accomplish the goal that we both seek–to reduce the suffering of animals who can suffer. My argument is that veganism may not be the best approach to reducing the harm humans do to animals. My previous posts on insects have laid out why I think that is the case. Thus, in the interests of having a genuine and fruitful discussion (and possibly getting me to change my mind), you must do more than say, in essence, “veganism does not allow for eating crickets.” I really don’t care about the insult, honestly, so no worries there. But I do care about logic.

Rucio says:
October 24, 2014 at 1:05 pm

Any circularity is in your framing the question as one of “animals who can suffer”. In other words, you’ve already asserted the conclusion in the premise.

Furthermore, if, rather than arguing that veganism may not be the best approach to reducing harm to animals (other than insects), you are attempting to redefine veganism to include eating insects, then the burden is yours.

unethical_and_speciesist_vegan says:
October 24, 2014 at 7:07 pm

“It’s just absurd to suggest that it should be a part of veganism.”

Thankfully deontic vegans don’t get to decide who is and is not vegan. Many utilitarian (see vegan action and vegan outreach position on insects and honey) vegans accept the ambiguity of insects and insect products (shellack, honey, silk etc).

Moreover, many deontic vegans are not at all consistent when it come to their own avoidance of insect “suffering”: honey is verboten but shellack is “don’t ask don’t tell”.

Rucio says:
October 24, 2014 at 10:11 pm

“Vegan” is generally understood to mean no animal flesh or products. It is not a “deontic” or utilitarian or pseudo-religious proposition, but just a simple definition. Nobody’s a perfect vegan, but if everybody’s a vegan by their own definitions, than the word means nothing.

unethical_and_speciesist_vegan says:
October 27, 2014 at 3:42 pm

“Vegan” is generally understood to mean no animal flesh or products.

Generally understood as “NO” by deontic vegans but not by many utilitarian vegans:

http://vegan.org/frequently-asked-questions/

“Again, it depends on one’s definition of vegan. Insects are animals, and so insect products, such as honey and silk, are not traditionally considered vegan. Many vegans, however, are not opposed to using insect products, because they do not believe insects are conscious of pain.”

http://www.veganoutreach.org/advocacy/definingvegan.html

“This may sound odd coming from a co-founder of Vegan Outreach, but it doesn’t matter what label anyone places on me, or what label anyone places on themselves. For example, if Peter Singer (author of Animal Liberation) were to eat a dish that contains hidden dairy when at a colleague’s house, or if Carole Morton (who runs Green Acres Farm Sanctuary and is a humane agent in a rural PA county) were to eat the eggs laid by the hens she has rescued … do I want to cut them off, shun them from our vegan club?”

Rucio says:
October 27, 2014 at 5:11 pm

That’s essentially what I already said. Many vegans fudge the line with invertebrate animals. But asserting that vegans are “morally obligated to eat insects” is a lot more offensive than asserting that they shouldn’t. As I also pointed out earlier, that’s not much different than Alan Savory asserting that we are morally obligated to eat free-range beef to save the planet. Even if his evidence were sound, we are certainly not obligated.

(Regarding evidence, James McW stacks his a bit by ignoring the tremendous land use required for animal agriculture feed. Switching to a vegan diet would reduce that land use to an eighteenth. Whereas farming insects would add a new land use, since it would obviously replace non-insect meat, not plants, in the diet.)

Later post: Consciousness

Rucio says:
November 1, 2014 at 3:47 pm

Moral consideration that relies on the resemblance of a being to oneself would not seem to be very deep.

It may turn a few people away from eating other vertebrate animals, but it’s a shaky foundation to build on. After all, humans easily rationalize brutality towards other humans. The hierarchic ladder of being is an easily manipulated fallacy.

December 11, 2012

Green Mountain College, Carnism, and the Embrace of Death

The echo chamber's not going to work if you allow dissenting opinions!
(Green Mountain College student Emily McCoy, who blocks Facebook users who engage her in public fora, on a GMC page that blocks dissenting opinions)

The people of Green Mountain College, Poultney, Vermont, remain defensive about the public outcry over their decision to kill for meat two oxen that they had worked for 10 years. A brief history: Lou was injured in the Spring such that he could no longer work; over the summer the GMC farm staff decided it was time to kill both him and his brother Bill and eat them (or, more likely, get some human-grade meat in exchange for their value as dog food). Some students and/or alumni, when classes resumed in the fall, were shocked by that decision and alerted Green Mountain Animal Defenders in Burlington, which led to an offer of veterinary care and sanctuary from VINE Sanctuary in Springfield. People’s shock at the decision to kill Bill and Lou was then compounded by GMC’s refusal of the offer to let them live out their lives in peaceful retirement. But the school became only more entrenched, lashing out at those asking for compassion and mercy as “extremists” and “abolitionists” “terrorizing” slaughterhouses and the college. Then they “euthanized” Lou (†Nov. 11, 2012), who had been seen happily grazing with Bill the day before his pre-dawn “sacrifice”, and perversely made themselves out to be the victim because he had to be composted instead of eaten. Two faculty members in particular, Steven Fesmire and Philip Ackerman-Leist, the latter a beef farmer himself, have been interviewing and writing all over the place to present this simple call for compassion toward two loved and hardworking oxen as a concerted and militant effort to end food choice and all animal agriculture.

It would be funny if it did not mean that Lou was killed and Bill remains in danger.

[[[[[ ]]]]]

The first reason given for killing Bill and Lou, and then for refusing sanctuary, was economic. In a cold calculus of utility, these aging oxen were deemed to be no longer paying for their upkeep, and a sanctuary would only perpetuate the “waste” of resources. This is the thinking of psychopaths. Bill and Lou are not machines to be junked for parts or materials, but living creatures as deserving and desiring to live as those calling for their deaths.

The defense developed, along with the paranoid exaggeration of “the enemy”, to a more complex idea of “sustainability”. At the basis of that “sustainability” ethic is the self-serving “happy meat” paradigm, by which human carnivores think they are being conscientious and environmentally mature by convincing themselves that their taste for meat is “love” for the animal itself and its place in nature (or rather the nature of agriculture that includes them), particularly when it is applied locally (eg, in the name of food sovereignty).

Let us look at that ethic, which has come to be called “carnism”.

To rationalize their inability or unwillingness to live without meat or dairy, they have constructed a system that is environmentally conscientious only within the terms of a perceived necessity for consumption of animals. There is no room in that vision for the rejection of animal agriculture. Ethical veganism is heretical, not just because it considers the interests, even rights, of the animals themselves (assuming that like all creatures they want to live full lives according to their own interests and social needs) apart from their usefulness to humans, but mostly because it recognizes that consuming animals is a choice, not a necessity.

With all ethical issues, each of us comes to a balance or accommodation that we are comfortable with, constantly weighing myriad factors of society, personality, culture, economy, etc. And that balance changes (or ought to) throughout our lives. Ethics isn’t about that balance, but about the choices we make when we are able to.

It is indeed good that some of those who won’t give up meat are trying to make that choice less cruel to the animals and less harmful to the environment. That is a step forward and does not obviate further steps. But the “carnist” trend of recent years has been to assert that it is actually better in every way (morally, environmentally, nutritionally) to continue to consume animals in this “balanced” way, which, first, is offensive to those whose decision not to is also shaped by efforts to be less cruel and harmful, and, second, only suggests that it most certainly is not.

It is obvious that loving animals can not include killing them unnecessarily just because we want to eat them. Animals are not things (”I love my teddy bear”). They are not meals (”I love squash soup”). Love, applied to any animal, is the same love we mean when we apply it to the human animal. That is a simple truth. The complex arguments to prove that animal agriculture is natural or necessary or beneficial serve to obscure that truth. They serve as a firewall between salving one’s conscience by treating animals marginally better and having to consequently recognize animals as having their own rights. They serve as an artificial boundary between granting animals a right to “welfare” and granting them the actual rights implied by concern for their welfare.

It is the same dynamic that has been seen in every battle for rights. Of course, the first principle of carnism is that animals aren’t people (not even noncivilized people, however sentient and social). Evolution of conscience is a slow process, and most vegans recognize that frustrating fact. Most of the time, they are biting their tongues about the world’s casual cruelty and disrespect. What vegans can not abide is carnists challenging or claiming superiority to veganism on any ground. It is frightening to see the lengths people go to rationalize needless killing. As they take their arguments farther and farther but go nowhere, stuck in their self-imposed carnism, their urge becomes to silence, if not destroy, those who remind them of that shortcoming. The vegan “no” is taken as an existential threat. Again, this is a fact of human history, which vegans must suffer through like anyone who has ever taken an ethical stand against entrenched cultural assumptions.

If carnists were truly comfortable about their choice, then they would not feel so threatened by the very existence of vegans. After all, everyone eats what vegans eat. Vegans just cut out the animal bits. And that small reduction of violence by our diet can only be for the good — of the planet, all animals, and humanity.

[[[[[ ]]]]]

As to Green Mountain College, they were given a choice: kill Bill and Lou or let them live out their lives at a sanctuary. While claiming to assert their rights and responsibilities, they revealed their sustainability ethic as one that embraces death, not love.

[See also:  Omnivores? ]

environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights, vegetarianism, veganism, Vermont, ecoanarchism

February 16, 2013

The animal killers' dilemma

Glenn Davis Stone, Professor of Anthropology and Environmental Studies at Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri, and pro-GMO blogger at fieldquestions.com, posted an essay on Nov. 26, 2012, "The Animal Lover's Dilemma", by Elizabeth Vandeventer of Davis Creek Farm, Nelson County, Virginia. She is another supposedly ex-vegetarian who describes her sense of missing out on the death action in the great cycle of life. So she attacks vegans, who she blames for palm oil plantations, among other evils of industrial agriculture and chemistry, for not being more informed than the general population about the same food that everyone else eats. And of course, unlike people who just buy their packaged meat in the grocery store, she "honors" animals by raising them and thanking them before killing them to sell as packaged meat at farmers' markets.

Vandeventer was inspired to write because of the international outrage about Green Mountain College's determination to kill their oxen Bill and Lou. (They went ahead and killed Lou, rather than give him adequate veterinary care, but did it medically so they could whine that his "meat" was wasted.) Bill, no longer working for his room and board, still languishes at the college in Limbo despite at least two offers of sanctuary.

While the college raised one of those sanctuaries, called VINE, for Veganism Is the Next Evolution, to arch-adversary, unable to separate VINE's specific concern for Bill and Lou from their antipathy to its larger outlook (animal rights, human rights), and then unwilling to hear any advocate for Bill and Lou except that of their imagined version of VINE — now an extremist, terrorist organization ready to firebomb the college — Vandeventer creates her straw man at the other end, conjuring mindless consumerist sentimentalist "animal lovers" who are singularly responsible for the destruction of rain forests for palm oil plantations.

The essay is the usual self-justifying drivel, which continues in the comments below it. I write about it today because host Glenn Davis Stone just added what I suppose he thinks should be a succinct wrap-up:

Meat eating causes more death but it causes more life as well. I have been to Elizabeth’s farm and seen the hundreds of chickens and cattle enjoying life on her pastures. All because of meat eaters.
How does one respond, after the laughter, to such madness? "Rucio" tries:
And then having that life cut violently short. For the enjoyment of meat eaters. Only increasing the animals' gratitude, no doubt.
Note: According to a profile of Charlottesville (Va.)–area farmers, Vandeventer's farm has 4,000 "meat" chickens. Each of them named, of course, and roaming free. And according to her own web site, both the chickens and the cows do not exist solely on the grass and grains of the farm. Although Vandeventer claims that grazing is the only agriculture possible for her land (the pictures showing lush grasses and fairly flat fields suggests otherwise, however), her business depends on other farmland growing crops not for people but for her "livestock", i.e., it is not at all a model of sustainability unless that means only sustaining a meat industry.

Update:  Davis Stone replied to Rucio's comment: "I’m not sure what “violent” means here — Elizabeth’s animals are killed instantly. Hard to imagine an animal being grateful to people for arguing they never be born just because they were going to die." To which Rucio replied: "What could be more violent than killing another being well before the time of its natural death?" and "It is even harder to imagine an animal being grateful to people for arguing that they must kill it to justify its life."

environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights, vegetarianism, veganism, Vermont, anarchism, ecoanarchism

December 29, 2012

Veganism & the Environment: By the Numbers

GREENHOUSE GASES
  • 1 calorie from animal protein requires 11 times as much fossil fuel as one calorie of plant protein.
  • The diets of meat eaters create 7× the greenhouse emissions as the diets of vegans.
Carbon Dioxide (CO₂)
  • If one person exchanges a "regular" car for a hybrid, they'll reduce CO₂ emissions by 1 ton per year.
  • If one person exchanges eating meat for a vegan diet, they'll reduce CO₂ emissions by 1.5 tons per year.
  • If every American dropped one serving of chicken per week from their diet, it would save the same amount of CO₂ emissions as taking 500,000 cars of the road.
Methane (CH₄)
  • Methane is 20× more powerful at trapping heat in the earth's atmosphere than CO₂.
  • Chickens, turkeys, pigs, and cows are collectively the largest producer of methane in the U.S.
Nitrous Oxide (N₂O)
  • Nitrous oxide is 300× more powerful at trapping heat in the earth's atmosphere than CO₂.
  • The meat, egg, and dairy industries produce 65% of worldwide nitrous oxide emissions.
WATER
  • Nearly half of all water used in the United States goes to raising animals for food.
  • It takes more than 2,400 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of meat vs. 25 gallons to produce 1 pound of wheat.
  • You'd save more water by not eating 1 pound of meat than you would by not showering for 6 months.
  • A meat-eating diet requires 4,000 gallons per day vs. a vegan diet which requires 300 gallons of water per day.
  • Animals raised for food create 89,000 pounds of excrement per second, none of which benefits from the waste-treatment facilities for human excrement. This creates massive amounts of groundwater pollution.
  • Chicken, hog, and cattle excrement has polluted 35,000 miles of rivers in 22 American states.
LAND
  • Raising animals for food uses 30% of the earth's land mass, or 17 million square miles. That's about the same size as Asia! The moon (at 14.6 million square miles) has less area than that.
  • More than 260 million acres of U.S. forest have been cleared to create cropland to grow grain to feed farmed animals.
  • The equivalent of 7 football fields of land are bulldozed every minute to create more room for farmed animals.
  • Livestock grazing is the number one cause of plant species becoming threatened or going
  • extinct in the U.S.
FOOD
  • Animals eat large quantities of grain, soybeans, oats, and corn; however, they only produce a comparatively small amount of meat, dairy products, or eggs in return.
  • It requires 16 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of meat.
  • It requires 5 pounds of wild-caught fish to produce 1 pound of farmed fish.
Source (with references):  http://www.culinaryschools.org/yum/vegetables/

environment, environmentalism, vegetarianism, veganism

March 25, 2005

Vegetarianism (and veganism) for peace

Ecofeminists and many anarchists see vegetarianism as an essential response against exploitation of other beings. Many religious people see vegetarianism as consistent with a message of peace.

Unfortunately, most people who call themselves progressive (let alone liberal) do not see the defense of all animals as relevant to their concerns about human society.

Yet the way that humans treat other animals is one of the most indicators of how we treat the environment and each other. Eating, hunting, wearing, poisoning, abusing animals is one way everyone participates in a social organization based on exploitation and jealous protection of power.

Besides hunting and fishing and fur farming and beings tortured and killed in labs, in the U.S. one third of what is spent for raw materials and half of all our water are used just to produce food for the animals of the "meat" industry -- 26 billion individuals killed and eaten every year.

Like the reality of our invasion of Iraq, the reality of the meat and other animal-exploitation industries are hidden behind euphemistic doublespeak and outright lies. To speak the truth is considered treasonous, a threat to traditional values and the cohesion of society. People would rather not hear it. Yet the pursuit both of meat and of war is ridiculously wasteful, counterproductive, and self-destructive.

If there is to be an anti-war movement, vegetarians, those who understand the intersection of all violence against another, should join it openly as vegetarians.

Vegetarianism for Peace -- Nonviolence begins with our diet

categories:  , , , , ,

September 14, 2014

Cowspiracy

There is one single industry destroying the planet more than any other. But the world's leading environmental organizations are too afraid to talk about it. Clips:


Global Warming

Richard Oppenlander, author, Comfortably Unaware: “My calculations are that without using any gas or oil or fuel every again from this day forward, we would still exceed our maximum carbon-equivalent greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2030 ... all simply by raising and eating livestock.”

Kirk Smith, Professor of Global Environmental Health, University of California, Berkeley: “If you reduce the amount of methane emissions, the level in the atmosphere goes down fairly quickly, within decades, as opposed to CO₂ if you reduce the emissions to the atmosphere, you don't really see a signal in the atmosphere for 100 years or so.”

Demosthenes Moratos, Sustainability Institute, Molloy College: “The single largest contributor to every known environmental ill known to humankind – deforestation, land use, water scarcity, the destabilization of communities, world hunger – the list doesn’t stop – it’s an environmental disaster that’s being ignored by the very people who should be championing it.”

Will Tuttle, author: “Free-living animals made up, 10,000 years ago, 99% of the biomass and human beings, we made up only 1% of the biomass. Today, only 10,000 years later ... we human beings and the animals that we own as property make up 98% of the biomass and wild free-living animals make up only 2%. We’ve basically completely stolen the world, the earth, from free-living animals to use for ourselves and our cows and pigs and chickens and factory-farmed fish, and the oceans are being even more devastated.”

Oppenlander: “Concerned researchers of the loss of species agree that the primary cause of loss of species on our earth ... is due to overgrazing and habitat loss through livestock production on land and by overfishing, which I call fishing, in our oceans.”

Tuttle: “We’re in the middle of the largest mass extinction of species in 65 million years, the rainforest is being cut down at the rate of an acre per second, and the driving force behind all of this is animal agriculture: cutting down the forest to graze animals and to grow soybeans, genetically engineered soybeans to feed the cows and pigs and chickens and factory-farmed fish.”

Oppenlander: “Ninety-one percent of the loss of the rainforest in the Amazon area thus far to date, 91% of what has been destroyed is due to raising livestock.”


Ocean


Water
“One quarter-pound hamburger requires over 660 gallons of water to produce. Here I've been taking short showers trying to save water, to find out eating just one hamburger is the equivalent of showering 2 entire months. So much attention is given to lowering our home water use, yet domestic water use is only 5% of what is consumed in the U.S., versus 55% for animal agriculture. That’s because it take upwards of 2500 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef.”


Rainforest
“Our global rainforests are essentially the planet’s lungs. They breathe in CO₂ and exhale oxygen. An acre of rainforest is cleared every second, and the leading cause is to graze animals and grow their food crops. ... And it is estimated that every day, close to a hundred plant, animal, and insect species are lost through the rainforest’s destruction.”


Wildlife
Deniz Bolbol, American Wild Horses Preservation Campaign: “The government has been rounding up horses en masse, and we now have more wild horses and burros in government holding facilities – 50,000 – than we have free on the range. Basically you have ranchers who get to graze on our public land for ... about one-fifteenth of the going rate, and what the Bureau of Land Management has to do is say how much forage and water is on the land and then they divvy it up. They give so much to cows, so much to ‘wildlife’, and so much to the wild horses and burros, and what we see is the lion’s share of the forage and water’s going to the livestock industry. And then they scapegoat the horses and burros and say, ‘Oh there’s too many horses and burros, let’s move them.’ I always tell people that wild horses and burros are just one of the victims of the management of our public lands for livestock, because we also see the predator killing going on: wolves are now being targeted by ranchers. USDA has aircraft and all they do is aerial gunning of predators. All a rancher does is call and say, ‘I’ve got a coyote here’, and they’ll come over and they’ll shoot the coyote, or they’ll shoot the mountain lion, or shoot the bobcat. And this is all for ranchers.”


Population
“Some people would say the problem isn’t really animal agriculture, but actually human overpopulation. In 1812, there were 1 billion on the planet. In 1912, there were 1.5 billion. Then just 100 years later, our population exploded to 7 billion humans. This number is rightly given a great deal of attention, but an even more important figure when determining world population is the world’s 70 billion farm animals humans raise. The human population drinks 5.2 billion gallons of water every day and eats 21 billion pounds of food. But just the world’s 1.5 billion cows alone drink 45 billion gallons of water every day and eat 135 billion pounds of food. This isn’t so much a human population issue – it’s a humans eating animals population issue. Environmental organizations not addressing this is like health organizations trying to stop lung cancer without addressing cigarette smoking, but instead of second-hand smoking it’s second-hand eating, that affects the entire planet.”

“You can’t be an environmentalist and eat animal products. Period.”

—Howard Lyman, former cattle rancher, author, Mad Cowboy


“To feed a person on an all plant-based vegan diet for a year requires just one-sixth of an acre of land. To feed that same person on a vegetarian diet that includes eggs and dairy requires three times as much land. To feed an average U.S. citizen’s high-consumption diet of meat, dairy, and eggs requires 18 times as much land. This is because you can produce 37,000 pounds of vegetables on one-and-a-half acres but only 375 pounds of meat on that same plot of land.

“The comparison doesn’t end with land use. A vegan diet produces half as much CO₂ as an American omnivore, uses one-eleventh the amount of fossil fuels, one-thirteenth the amount of water, and an eighteenth of the amount of land.

“After adding this all up, I realized I had the choice every single day to save over 1100 gallons of water, 45 pounds of grain, 30 square feet of forested land, the equivalent of 20 pounds of CO₂, and 1 animal’s life. Every single day.”

References and calculations

environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights, vegetarianism, veganism

July 16, 2014

The Oxen at the Intersection: Review

A Collision (or, Bill and Lou Must Die: A Real-Life Murder Mystery from the Green Mountains of Vermont), by pattrice jones (2014, Lantern Books)


This book is a page-turner. Jones is an excellent writer. She provides not only a history of the whole fiasco of the plan to kill rather than retire the oxen Bill and Lou, and the efforts to save them, but also a concise overview of the mythologies, intersections of power relationships and prejudice, and psychologies that came into play. It is both a valuable case study for social activists and a good introduction to the holistic anti-oppression perspective of eco-feminism.

Regarding the case itself, Jones seems to betray some personal rancor over what can well be seen as "hijacking" of the issue by others not directly involved (Jones' sanctuary had been approached by concerned alumni). Critiques of some of those are warranted, but they probably wouldn't have mattered if there was more direct "face-to-face" interaction, which Jones notes as perhaps the biggest shortcoming. However, she doesn't acknowledge the difficulty of direct action in this case: Poultney is rather far from everywhere as well as unfamiliar to almost all of the activists involved. And rights activists in Vermont simply do not go against the farming industry. Even the abuses revealed in late 2009 by HSUS at Bushway Packing, an "Animal Welfare Approved" slaughterhouse where organic dairy farms sent their male calves to be turned into veal, made barely a ripple. In another case in the late 2000's, a jogger in Greensboro noticed a pile of dead and dying animals on a farm, alerted authorities, and – nothing happened. As in these cases, the media, when they paid attention at all, only helped to support the "right-to-farm" viewpoint and discourage questioning of what farmers actually do to their animals.

One interesting and damning aspect of the Green Mountain College farm program is revealed in the book regarding their treatment of animals. Jones describes Princess, a cow who was given to them from someone who had bought her from an "agricultural college". It was clear that Princess had been abused (beyond the "normal" routines of animal ag), and Jones had written about her just before the Bill and Lou affair began, not knowing what college she had come from. When the campaign to save Bill and Lou began, people at the college recognized Princess and accused Jones of a concerted campaign against them. Jones also describes the visit of a couple of her colleagues during an open house at the college, where they saw a calf with so many burrs around his penis that he couldn't easily urinate. That calf was later sold, no questions asked, on Craig's List, with the stipulation that the buyer never reveal where they got it – which appears to have been a condition for saving Princess as well. As Jones points out, the head of the college farm program is a mathematician. It is an extension of his own hobby farm, with the added inexperience (and callousness) of college students. The animals seem to be neglected and abused and then disposed of, without acknowledgement, when they become too much trouble. As Jones also notes from the visit, the college garden was smaller than the one at their sanctuary. And as satellite pictures show, the college's acres of meadow are far from enough to sustain more than a very few animals (for meat, that is; used for produce, they could in fact feed quite a few humans). In other words, the farm is a sham, but worse, the animals are treated like toys for these very unserious dabblers.


Princess

Back to the problem of direct communication, as Jones makes clear, the bottom line was that the college was not at all open to discussion, even within their own walls. They were determined to prove a point, their authority, their "mastery". Closed off as they were, then, it was clearly the chaotic clamor of the social media–fired campaign to save Bill and Lou that at least saved Bill (whose actual fate, however, remains a mystery; for that matter, the actual fate of Lou also remains a mystery). And as Jones notes, it was the uncontrolled barrage of telephone calls to nearby slaughterhouses that stopped the original scheduled plan to turn both of them into hamburgers.

Jones also mentions her doubts about the effectiveness of gory photos and videos of animal abuse and suffering in the fight for animal rights. I agree. People are already desensitized and, as the "conscious carnivore" pushback shows, actually relish the fact that a life is sacrificed for their passing enjoyment. As the chef in Peter Greenaway's film "The Cook, the Thief, his Wife, and her Lover" observes, people like to feel that they are eating death. Shocking pictures only serve to reinforce the very viewpoint we are attempting to change. As with the picture of the Green Mountain College student grinning maniacally in a hand-scrawled "Death to Chickens" T-shirt holding a dead rooster up by its legs, or the students screaming at protesters that even though they're "vegetarian" they were "excited" to eat Bill and Lou, the people who need to be persuaded away from harming animals are more likely to embrace the imagery, to fling it back defiantly. Disturbing pictures can be effective – if they are used effectively for specific messages and/or to specific audiences, not for indiscriminate shock value.

Anyhow, this book is a stimulating and inspiring read, an insightful analysis of the mostly failed effort to save these two lives. It is also very nicely typeset.


Last known photograph of Lou and Bill, Nov. 10, 2012.
Lou was reportedly killed before dawn of the next day.

environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights, vegetarianism, veganism, Vermont, ecofeminism

April 18, 2014

Grass-Fed Beef Won’t Save the Planet

George Wuerthner, January 22, 2010

Excerpts:

Researcher Nathan Pelletier of Nova Scotia has found that GHG emissions are 50 percent higher from grass-fed than from feedlot cows.

One of the major consequences of having cattle roaming the range is soil compaction. Soil compaction reduces water penetration, creating more run-off and erosion. Because water cannot percolate into the soil easily, soil compaction from cattle creates more arid conditions — a significant problem in the already arid West, but also an issue in the East since the soils are often moister for a longer period of time. Moist soils are more easily compacted. Soil compaction also reduces the space in the top active layer of soil where most soil microbes live, reducing soil fertility.

There are far more ecological problems I could list for grass-fed beef, but suffice to say cattle production of any kind is not environmentally friendly.

The further irony of grass-fed beef is that consumption of beef products is not healthy despite claims to the contrary. There may be less fat in grass-fed beef, but the differences are not significant enough to warrant the claim that beef consumption is “healthy.” There is a huge body of literature about the contribution of red meat to major health problems including breast, colon, stomach, bladder, and prostate cancer. The other dietary related malady is the strong link between red meat consumption and heart disease.

Another health claim is that grass-fed beef has more omega-3 fats, which are considered important for lowering health attack risks. However, the different between grain-fed and grass-fed is so small as to be insignificant, not to mention there are many other non-beef sources for this: Walnuts, beans, flax seeds, winter squash, and olive oil are only some of the foods that provide concentrated sources of omega-3 fats. Arguing that eating grass-fed beef is necessary or healthier grain-fed beef is like claiming it is better to smoke a filtered cigarette instead of a non-filtered one.

environment, environmentalism, animal rights, vegetarianism, veganism

March 31, 2014

The importance of reduced meat and dairy consumption for meeting stringent climate change targets

Abstract
For agriculture, there are three major options for mitigating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions: 1) productivity improvements, particularly in the livestock sector; 2) dedicated technical mitigation measures; and 3) human dietary changes. The aim of the paper is to estimate long-term agricultural GHG emissions, under different mitigation scenarios, and to relate them to the emissions space compatible with the 2 °C temperature target. Our estimates include emissions up to 2070 from agricultural soils, manure management, enteric fermentation and paddy rice fields, and are based on IPCC Tier 2 methodology. We find that baseline agricultural CO₂-equivalent emissions (using Global Warming Potentials with a 100 year time horizon) will be approximately 13 Gton CO₂eq/year in 2070, compared to 7.1 Gton CO₂eq/year 2000. However, if faster growth in livestock productivity is combined with dedicated technical mitigation measures, emissions may be kept to 7.7 Gton CO₂eq/year in 2070. If structural changes in human diets are included, emissions may be reduced further, to 3–5 Gton CO₂eq/year in 2070. The total annual emissions for meeting the 2 °C target with a chance above 50 % is in the order of 13 Gton CO₂eq/year or less in 2070, for all sectors combined. We conclude that reduced ruminant meat and dairy consumption will be indispensable for reaching the 2 °C target with a high probability, unless unprecedented advances in technology take place.

Fredrik Hedenus, Stefan Wirsenius, Daniel J. A. Johansson
Department of Energy and Environment, Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg, Sweden

Climatic Change. Published online 28 March 2014.
doi:10.1007/s10584-014-1104-5

environment, environmentalism, animal rights, vegetarianism, veganism

October 24, 2013

It Was Meant to Be

James McWilliams writes:

Grass-fed beef advocates are always going on and on about how cows "were not meant" to eat corn. They were meant to eat grass. This might be true, barring any investigation into how genetics might have structured cows to eat corn, or how grasses and genetics match up. This is might be true, I suppose, if we want it to be true, and the media says so.

But let's just say its true. So, if cows were meant to eat grass and that is why advocates of grass beef support this form of production rather than corn based, feedlot production, we can logically conclude that those who eat only grass-fed beef – again, because it's more natural, and because this was how it was "meant to be" – don't drink milk or eat dairy products.

Huh? How did milk get into this discussion about beef? Well, if we're going to make a fetish out of what's natural, we have an obligation to ask: is forcibly impregnating cows, kidnapping their offspring, and drinking their milk natural? Isn't it natural for a mother to feed her offspring her own milk? Actually, is anything more natural?

Ask this question next time you hear someone justify some form of animal exploitation or another on the grounds of what nature intended. Make them answer. Force them to answer. Because there is no right answer.

human rights, animal rights, vegetarianism, veganism

September 24, 2013

350.org: Just Another Wall St Greenwash Department

Cory Morningstar writes at Counterpunch:

Anne Petermann writes: ... “if you focus solely on eliminating fossil fuels without changing the underlying system, then very bad things will take their place because it is the system itself that is unsustainable. It is a system designed to transform ‘natural capital’ and human labor into gargantuan profits for an elite few: the so-called ‘1%.’ Whether it’s driven by fossil fuels or biofuels or even massive solar and wind installations, the system will continue to devour ecosystems, displace forest-based communities, Indigenous Peoples and subsistence farmers from their lands, crush labor unions and generally make life hell for the vast majority of the world’s peoples. That is what it does.”

... the so-called climate movement has sabotaged any chance of mitigating a full scale global ecological collapse, having instead cleared the way for corporate profiteering, deforestation, fund-raising and full-out omnicide. ...

A key design element within the non-profit industrial complex is that “movements” are created top down. In the case of Rockefeller’s 350.org/1Sky, the game is simply this: 350.org locals take their marching orders straight from the top (350.org International) while “the top” (McKibben et al) take their marching orders directly from their funders – and in the case of 350.org’s Do the Math Tour, those funders are Wall Street investors.

McKibben, along with key 350.org staff, developed the divestment campaign in consultation with Ceres Investors – referred to fondly as their “Wall Street friends.”

Such loyalties are par for the course in the corporate enviro world where Wall Street execs can be referred to as “our Wall Street friends.” Never mind that Wall Street is the very root cause of our multiple and ever accelerating ecological and economic crises, not to mention the global food crisis. These crises are not truly “crisis” in a spontaneous sense, rather they are strategic by design with the aim of furthering corporate profit, which is simply insatiable. ...

One must take note of 350.org’s obsession with fossil fuels exclusively. With certainty, 350.org, in tandem with the non-profit industrial complex, is strategically preparing the populace to accept what Guy McPherson calls the “third industrial revolution.” This “climate wealth” agenda will include false solutions such as biomass, unbridled “green” consumerism, carbon market mechanisms such as REDD, etc. What it will not include is: the urgent necessity to destroy the expanding military empire, to transition from/dismantle our current economic system, to address the industrialized livestock industry, to massively scale back and conserve, to employ tactics of self-defense by any means necessary, nor anything else that is imperative to address if we are to mitigate full-out omnicide. [See also: : “White House misinformation and inaction regarding greenhouse gases”.] In a nutshell, the agenda will not include anything that would actually pose any meaningful threat to the system. It’s always divide and conquer with the corporate/elite-funded NGOs. The point is to ensure the masses fight meaningless battles and never “connect the dots,” to use 350.org’s phrase. Just like the Avaaz founder MoveOn.org, 350.org successfully induces consent. ...

We are about to witness the global transition to profitable false solutions under the guise of “green economy” coupled with the complete commodification/privatization of the shared commons by the world’s most powerful corporations. All while they simultaneously greenwash themselves as noble stewards of the Earth.

[Also see: Activist Malpractice” by Michael Donnelly]

environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights, vegetarianism, veganism, Vermont, anarchism, ecoanarchism

July 21, 2013

Slate notices the misapplication of climate action

From a couple of recent articles at Slate.com ...

Mark Hertsgaard, Tuesday, July 2, 2013:
Eating beef is particularly environmentally damaging: Cows are less efficient than chickens or pigs at converting corn (or other feed) into body weight, so they consume more of it than other livestock do. As a result, the industrial agriculture system employs 55 calories of fossil fuel energy to produce 1 calorie of beef. Meanwhile, livestock production is responsible for much of the carbon footprint of global agriculture, which accounts for at least 25 percent of humanity’s annual greenhouse gas emissions, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

Despite its large carbon footprint, the agricultural sector is invariably overlooked in climate policy discussions. The latest example: In his 50-minute speech on climate change last week, President Barack Obama did not even mention agriculture except for a half-sentence reference to how farmers will have to adapt to more extreme weather.
(The rest of Hertsgaard’s article delves into the “responsible meat” fantasies of Michael Pollan, in denial of the facts just spelled out here.)

David Biello, Tuesday, July 16, 2013:
Few would have to change their livelihoods as radically as American farmers if efforts to combat climate change became more serious. ... [T]he biggest change delivered by science to farming in the past century is ... the advent of fossil-fuel-powered machinery and fertilizer wrested from the air by chemistry. That, along with cutting down forests to make room for farms around the world, makes agriculture the second-largest cause of the greenhouse gas emissions changing the climate. There's methane from massive meat farms and manure lagoons. There's nitrous oxide — yes, the stuff used at the dentist’s office — seeping out of the soil thanks to all that nitrogen fertilizer, and it's no laughing matter since N₂O is nearly 300 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than CO₂ over a century [and persists in the atmosphere less than a tenth as long as CO₂, making it ~170-fold a more effective target for action. And methane is more than 20 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than CO₂ over a century and persists in the atmosphere only 10 years, making it ~200-fold a more more effective target for action.]
(The rest of Biello’s article mostly describes only reducing tillage, but with the example of using herbicides instead.)

Also noticing the misapplication of climate action is the National Academy of Sciences, in its recent report “Effects of U.S. Tax Policy on Greenhouse Gas Emissions”:
[T]he combined effect of current energy-sector tax expenditures on GHG emissions is very small and could be negative or positive. The most comprehensive study available suggests that their combined impact is less than 1 percent of total U.S. emissions. If we consider the estimates of the effects of the provisions we analyzed using more robust models, they are in the same range. We cannot say with confidence whether the overall effect of energy-sector tax expenditures is to reduce or increase GHG emissions.
environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights, vegetarianism, veganism

June 26, 2013

White House misinformation and inaction regarding greenhouse gases

Thanking Obama for his "climate action", as Paul Burns of VPIRG has asked me to do, would be like thanking him for universal health care — not only are Obama's "actions" utterly phony, they are a meaningless sideshow to distract attention of the willfully gullible from the creation of such a paranoid militarized corporatist murderous state that Obama makes Dick Cheney look like Elmer Fudd and Dick Nixon like one of the Three Stooges.

On the White House web site, the President's climate action plan includes this graphic, with the EPA cited as reference:


What's glaringly missing is any indication that the non-CO₂ greenhouse gases (GHGs) have a much greater warming effect per unit of mass emitted. For example, the EPA, despite ignoring it on one page in the same way as the White House, notes on another page the different "global warming potential" (GWP) values of a few GHGs relative to CO₂. They note that over 100 years, methane (CH₄) has a GWP of 20 and nitrous oxide (N₂O) a GWP of 300. That would appear to mean that the 9% of GHG emissions represented by methane actually has more than twice (9 × 20), and the 5% represented by nitrous oxide more than 17 times, the effect of the 84% represented by CO₂.

Moreover, the EPA notes that CO₂ persists for thousands of years in the atmosphere, whereas CH₄ persists only about 10 years and N₂O over 100 years. [Update:  “Continued global warming after CO₂ emissions stoppage”, Thomas Lukas Frölicher, Michael Winton & Jorge Louis Sarmiento, Nature Climate Change, published online 24 November 2013, doi:10.1038/nclimate2060.]

In other words, even if we were successful in drastically reducing CO₂ emissions, there would be no effect for thousands of years. If we want to more quickly reduce the effects of GHG emissions, the obvious primary target is CH₄, with at least 20 times the warming effect of CO₂ and one that lasts only 10-12 years. According to other sources, CH₄ has a 100-year GWP of 25 and a 20-year GWP of 72.

The White House graphic describes methane as coming from the production and transport of coal, natural gas, and oil, as well as from landfills. It neglects to mention that the hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") process of releasing natural gas, which Obama strongly supports, releases a particularly large amount of methane into the air. [Update: "Study: Methane Leakage From Gas Fields Guts Climate Benefit".] And it completely ignores the methane emissions from animal agriculture, which the United Nations has calculated contributes more to global warming than all transportation. [Update:  “Anthropogenic emissions of methane in the United States” [are probably at least twice as high as previously assumed], Scot M. Miller, Steven C. Wofsy, Anna M. Michalak, et al., Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Published online November 25, 2013, doi:10.1073/pnas.1314392110.]

Simply changing our diet away from meat and dairy would have much more effect on climate change than all of Obama's "actions".

And there are many other benefits in reducing animal agriculture:
When emissions from land use and land use change are included, the livestock sector accounts for 9% of CO₂ deriving from human-related activities, but produces a much larger share of even more harmful greenhouse gases. It generates 65% of human-related nitrous oxide, which has 296 times the GWP of CO₂. Most of this comes from manure.

And it accounts for 37% of all human-induced methane (23 times as warming as CO₂), which is largely produced by the digestive system of ruminants, and 64% of ammonia, which contributes significantly to acid rain.

Livestock now use 30% of the earth's entire land surface, mostly permanent pasture but also including 33% of the global arable land used to produce feed for livestock, the report notes. As forests are cleared to create new pastures, it is a major driver of deforestation, especially in Latin America where, for example, some 70% of former forests in the Amazon have been turned over to grazing. [Between 25% and 30% of the greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere each year -- 1.6 billion tonnes -- is caused by deforestation.]

At the same time, herds cause wide-scale land degradation, with about 20% of pastures considered to be degraded through overgrazing, compaction and erosion. This figure is even higher in the drylands where inappropriate policies and inadequate livestock management contribute to advancing desertification.

The livestock business is among the most damaging sectors to the earth's increasingly scarce water resources, contributing among other things to water pollution, eutrophication, and the degeneration of coral reefs. The major polluting agents are animal wastes, antibiotics and hormones, chemicals from tanneries, fertilizers, and the pesticides used to spray feed crops. Widespread overgrazing disturbs water cycles, reducing replenishment of above- and below-ground water resources. Significant amounts of water are withdrawn for the production of feed.

Livestock are estimated to be the main inland source of phosphorous and nitrogen contamination of the South China Sea, contributing to biodiversity loss in marine ecosystems.

Meat and dairy animals now account for about 20% of all terrestrial animal biomass. Livestock's presence in vast tracts of land and its demand for feed crops also contribute to biodiversity loss; 15 out of 24 important ecosystem services are assessed to be in decline with livestock identified as a culprit.
Another obvious target is to reduce hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which have come into use as refrigerants and propellants to replace chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs, such as freon). CFCs were phased out because of their destruction of the protective ozone layer in the atmosphere. They are also potent GHGs, as are HFCs. For example, HFC-134a (CF₃CFH₂) has a 100-year GWP of 1,430 and 20-year GWP of 3,830 and persists in the atmosphere only 14 years, making it, with methane, another obvious candidate for meaningful action. In fact, in 2011 the E.U. banned HFC-134a in new cars in favor of HFC-1234yf (100-year GWP of 4), with a total ban on all uses being phased in through 2017. Meanwhile the U.S. has only talked and delayed about doing the same.

Update (note):  Like his continuing delay (renewed in this latest "action") to finally approve the Keystone XL pipeline to appease Bill McKibben and his 350.org "activists", while it continues to be built nonetheless, Obama's "climate action" seems to be little more than another cynical bone thrown to them, who are just as phony, just as adept at misinformation and inaction, because 350.org also ignores all but CO₂ in the atmosphere, ensuring no reversal of anthropogenic warming – let alone environmental depredation – at all.

environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights, vegetarianism, veganism

June 22, 2013

The Myth of Sustainable Meat

By JAMES E. McWILLIAMS, New York Times, April 12, 2012

The industrial production of animal products is nasty business. From mad cow, E. coli and salmonella to soil erosion, manure runoff and pink slime, factory farming is the epitome of a broken food system.

... most people upset by factory farming have turned instead to meat, dairy and eggs from nonindustrial sources. ... They appeal to consumers not only because they reject the industrial model, but because they appear to be more in tune with natural processes.

For all the strengths of these alternatives, however, they’re ultimately a poor substitute for industrial production. Although these smaller systems appear to be environmentally sustainable, considerable evidence suggests otherwise.

Grass-grazing cows emit considerably more methane than grain-fed cows. Pastured organic chickens have a 20 percent greater impact on global warming. It requires 2 to 20 acres to raise a cow on grass. If we raised all the cows in the United States on grass (all 100 million of them), cattle would require (using the figure of 10 acres per cow) almost half the country’s land (and this figure excludes space needed for pastured chicken and pigs). A tract of land just larger than France has been carved out of the Brazilian rain forest and turned over to grazing cattle. Nothing about this is sustainable.

Advocates of small-scale, nonindustrial alternatives say their choice is at least more natural. Again, this is a dubious claim. Many farmers who raise chickens on pasture use industrial breeds that have been bred to do one thing well: fatten quickly in confinement. As a result, they can suffer painful leg injuries after several weeks of living a “natural” life pecking around a large pasture. Free-range pigs are routinely affixed with nose rings to prevent them from rooting, which is one of their most basic instincts. In essence, what we see as natural doesn’t necessarily conform to what is natural from the animals’ perspectives.

The economics of alternative animal systems are similarly problematic. Subsidies notwithstanding, the unfortunate reality of commodifying animals is that confinement pays. If the production of meat and dairy was somehow decentralized into small free-range operations, common economic sense suggests that it wouldn’t last. These businesses — no matter how virtuous in intention — would gradually seek a larger market share, cutting corners, increasing stocking density and aiming to fatten animals faster than competitors could. Barring the strictest regulations, it wouldn’t take long for production systems to scale back up to where they started.

All this said, committed advocates of alternative systems make one undeniably important point about the practice called “rotational grazing” or “holistic farming”: the soil absorbs the nutrients from the animals’ manure, allowing grass and other crops to grow without the addition of synthetic fertilizer. As Michael Pollan writes, “It is doubtful you can build a genuinely sustainable agriculture without animals to cycle nutrients.” In other words, raising animals is not only sustainable, but required.

But rotational grazing works better in theory than in practice. Consider Joel Salatin, the guru of nutrient cycling, who employs chickens to enrich his cows’ grazing lands with nutrients. His plan appears to be impressively eco-correct, until we learn that he feeds his chickens with tens of thousands of pounds a year of imported corn and soy feed. ... if a farmer isn’t growing his own feed, the nutrients going into the soil have been purloined from another, most likely industrial, farm, thereby undermining the benefits of nutrient cycling.

Finally, there is no avoiding the fact that the nutrient cycle is interrupted every time a farmer steps in and slaughters a perfectly healthy manure-generating animal, something that is done before animals live a quarter of their natural lives. When consumers break the nutrient cycle to eat animals, nutrients leave the system of rotationally grazed plots of land (though of course this happens with plant-based systems as well). They land in sewer systems and septic tanks (in the form of human waste) and in landfills and rendering plants (in the form of animal carcasses).

Farmers could avoid this waste by exploiting animals only for their manure, allowing them to live out the entirety of their lives on the farm, all the while doing their own breeding and growing of feed. But they’d better have a trust fund.

Opponents of industrialized agriculture have been declaring for over a decade that how humans produce animal products is one of the most important environmental questions we face. We need a bolder declaration. After all, it’s not how we produce animal products that ultimately matters. It’s whether we produce them at all.

Also see:  Why Allan Savory’s TED talk about how cattle can reverse global warming is dead wrong, Slate, April 22, 2013:

“There’s no such thing as a beef-eating environmentalist.”

environment, environmentalism, animal rights, vegetarianism, veganism

May 10, 2013

The Politics of the Pasture

James McWilliams writes:

Green Mountain College, from the founding of Cerridwen Farm in 1997 to its decision to kill Bill and Lou in 2012, was seeking to do what it genuinely thought best to do: farm in a way that modeled an environmentally sound alternative to industrial agriculture. The school loved the idea. The students loved the idea. The media loved the idea. It was extremely popular in every progressive corner. Replacing industrial agriculture with sustainable agriculture has become one of the most inspiring goals of the twenty-first century. GMC, through 22 acres known as Cerridwen Farm, aimed to play a direct role in this emerging revolution. ...

When animal advocates seized upon a controversy — the decision to kill and eat Bill and Lou — to argue that GMC’s pursuit of “sustainable agriculture” obscured basic moral consideration for animals, an unusually high-profile debate unfolded. That debate explored something that has, for the most part, enjoyed a free pass through an otherwise bramble-ridden landscape of agrarian discourse: the intensifying role of animal exploitation in “sustainable agriculture.” This book has tried to sketch out and analyze the depth and breath of that debate. As I hope has been made clear, animal advocates have made a strong case for not raising animals to slaughter and eat. They have effectively highlighted the ethical problem of killing sentient beings for unnecessary purposes. Repeatedly, and with varying levels of respect, they have demanded, sometimes forthrightly, that this quandary be acknowledged and explained by the advocates of small-scale animal agriculture at GMC.

In response, GMC never provided a serious answer. Ever. They provided excuses, but never did they make a sufficient ethical case in favor of killing the animals they supposedly loved for food they merely wanted rather than needed. More often than not, their primary battle tactic was to hyperbolize a few incendiary comments made by a few hotheads in the animal rights movement and deem themselves the innocent and helpless victim of vicious intimidation. I don’t buy for a moment that anyone at GMC ever felt truly in danger, but, as we’ll see, they put on an Oscar-worthy performance promoting their own victimhood.

As an advocate for animal rights and social justice, I’ve come to believe something very strongly: when a group seeking to reform an oppressive institution (in this case industrial agriculture) does so by relying on the exploitation of other sentient beings (in this case, two oxen), that group will eventually assume the tactics of the oppressors. They will, in other words, take the low road to perdition despite their articulated intentions to elevate themselves in the name of a nobler mission. To put a finer point on it, when a group of agricultural reformers seeks to dismantle industrial agriculture and its state sponsorship while simultaneously encouraging the single most important habit required to sustain industrial agriculture — eating animals — that group will find itself aligned, in the end, with the oppression of industrial agriculture.

Well, we’re at the end. And, in ways that could not be more affirmative of my thesis had I scripted them, GMC, in the wake of Lou’s death and the resulting vituperation that followed, has explicitly and implicitly aligned itself with American agribusiness. Indeed, GMC and Big Beef hopped in bed, divided the world into those who did and did not eat animals, and proceeded to do what those who exploit animals for a living do so very well: they consolidated their power and exploited the weakest.


environment, environmentalism, animal rights, vegetarianism, veganism, Vermont, anarchism, ecoanarchism

April 19, 2013

Tofurky claims to be, but is not, "wind powered"

As a devoted Tofurky fan, I was upset to notice on a package of Tofurky Deli Slices that you claim to be "100% wind powered".

Unless you have your own on-site wind turbines without backup and without connection to the grid, that is obviously not true. You are no more wind powered than your neighbors who get the same power from the same grid.

In fact, the accounting trick with which you claim to be "wind powered" was invented by Enron, who convinced regulators that renewable energy could actually be sold twice: once as energy, and once as "environmental benefit".

So your purchase of "green tags" that allow you to claim to be "wind powered" simply represents the purchase of the right to claim the wind power that is actually going to everyone on the grid, perhaps not even the grid you are on.

It's as if meat-eaters could "offset" their burgers and drumsticks by purchasing Tofurky packaging, thereby purchasing the right to call themselves vegan, with actual vegans thereby losing that right.

If you feel strongly about supporting wind energy development (and there are many reasons to be dubious, with its addition of industrial harm to our environment, particularly in previously undeveloped areas, with little or nothing to show in corresponding reduction of fossil and nuclear fuel use), then please limit your claim to that: You offset your electricity use by helping to subsidize the expansion of wind energy on the grid.

For the animals,
~~~

============================

Thanks for your interest in Tofurky. I wouldn’t [sic] be interested in where you see this claim made because as far as I know we do not claim anywhere that we are 100% wind powered. We are however committed to making an environmental difference and have been for the past 31 years. We currently purchase wind power through our local utility and by purchasing Blue Sky Power in the last year we have reduced our own emissions by 3,842,657 pounds of C02 [sic].

Thanks,
Wes Braun
Customer Service/Marketing/Design
Turtle Island Foods
541-386-7766 ex. 19

============================

But you haven't reduced your emissions at all. You're getting exactly the same electricity you would get if you did not purchase Blue Sky Power. ~~~

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism, animal rights, vegetarianism, veganism

April 10, 2013

Cropland better used for feeding humans

To the Editor (Valley News, April 10, 2013):

Chuck Wooster ("Upper Valley Is an Animal Landscape," April 7) observes, "Most of the agricultural land in the Upper Valley is upland pasture, too steep for cultivating for crops." Yet he also tells us that the sheep he doesn't slaughter "spend all winter devouring ... one luscious bale of hay after another."

In other words, animal agriculture in the Upper Valley depends on a tremendous amount of plant cultivation. As Wooster notes about the grain used for larger-scale animal agriculture, the land that grows hay can be used for crops "that could more efficiently be fed directly to humans."

Feedlots and deforestation demonstrate the stark reality of all animal agriculture as wasteful, cruel, and unnecessary.

environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights, vegetarianism, veganism, Vermont

March 28, 2013

Rump Steak

Advocacy group Rural Vermont is promoting its 2013 “Annual Celebration”:

“Philip Ackerman-Leist,” director of Green Mountain College’s Farm & Food Project ... will be the guest speaker. Ackerman-Leist will share his first-person account of the recent international controversy involving Green Mountain College’s pair of working oxen “Bill” and “Lou.” This moving and disturbing story illustrates the profound lack of understanding and connection between contemporary American society and the source of our food. ... Special guest Philip Phillip [sic] will offer his ideas on how we can work together to bridge this divide.
Rural Vermont is a fairly politically progressive organization unfortunately bound by a devotion to and reflexive defense of the exploitation of animals. Ackerman-Leist similarly is too gorged on the flesh of (and the profits from) his grass-fed heritage-breed cows to consider that he might be the one with a profound lack of understanding. What possible ideas could he offer to bridge the divide between those who think a team of oxen deserved retirement after 10 years of work and those who can only think about such animals as food?

It was precisely people who are connected with the sources of their food who were able to draw a line at killing Bill and Lou. Ackerman-Leist, who petulantly had Lou killed despite (or rather because of) the controversy, is like the slaughterhouse worker who recently posted a video of himself shooting a horse. There is nothing in his actions or words that suggests working together to bridge a divide. In fact, the bridge is already there, but he refuses to acknowledge it, stubbornly seething at the shoreline, still shouting impotent defiance after those who have left him behind.

environment, environmentalism, animal rights, vegetarianism, veganism, Vermont, ecoanarchism

March 9, 2013

Gluttony dressed up as foodie-ism

B. R. Myers wrote in the March 2011 Atlantic:

We have all dined with him in restaurants: the host who insists on calling his special friend out of the kitchen for some awkward small talk. The publishing industry also wants us to meet a few chefs, only these are in no hurry to get back to work. Anthony Bourdain’s new book, his 10th, is Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook. In it he announces, in his trademark thuggish style, that “it is now time to make the idea of not cooking ‘un-cool’ — and, in the harshest possible way short of physical brutality, drive that message home.” Having finished the book, I think I’d rather have absorbed a few punches and had the rest of the evening to myself. No more readable for being an artsier affair is chef Gabrielle Hamilton’s memoir, Blood, Bones and Butter.
It’s quite something to go bare-handed up an animal’s ass … Its viscera came out with an easy tug; a small palmful of livery, bloody jewels that I tossed out into the yard.
Then there’s Kim Severson’s Spoon Fed: How Eight Cooks Saved My Life, which is the kind of thing that passes for spiritual uplift in this set. “What blessed entity invented sugar and cacao pods and vanilla beans or figured out that salt can preserve and brighten anything?” And I thought I knew where that sentence was going. The flyleaf calls Spoon Fed “a testament to the wisdom that can be found in the kitchen.” Agreed.

To put aside these books after a few chapters is to feel a sense of liberation; it’s like stepping from a crowded, fetid restaurant into silence and fresh air. But only when writing such things for their own kind do so-called foodies truly let down their guard, which makes for some engrossing passages here and there. For insight too. The deeper an outsider ventures into this stuff, the clearer a unique community comes into view. In values, sense of humor, even childhood experience, its members are as similar to each other as they are different from everyone else.

For one thing, these people really do live to eat. Vogue’s restaurant critic, Jeffrey Steingarten, says he “spends the afternoon — or a week of afternoons — planning the perfect dinner of barbecued ribs or braised foie gras.” Michael Pollan boasts in The New York Times of his latest “36-Hour Dinner Party.” Similar schedules and priorities can be inferred from the work of other writers. These include a sort of milk-toast priest, anthologized in Best Food Writing 2010, who expounds unironically on the “ritual” of making the perfect slice:
The things involved must be few, so that their meaning is not diffused, and they must somehow assume a perceptible weight. They attain this partly from the reassurance that comes of being “just so,” and partly by already possessing the solidity of the absolutely familiar.
And when foodies talk of flying to Paris to buy cheese, to Vietnam to sample pho? They’re not joking about that either. Needless to say, no one shows much interest in literature or the arts — the real arts. When Marcel Proust’s name pops up, you know you’re just going to hear about that damned madeleine again.

It has always been crucial to the gourmet’s pleasure that he eat in ways the mainstream cannot afford. For hundreds of years this meant consuming enormous quantities of meat. That of animals that had been whipped to death was more highly valued for centuries, in the belief that pain and trauma enhanced taste. “A true gastronome,” according to a British dining manual of the time, “is as insensible to suffering as is a conqueror.” But for the past several decades, factory farms have made meat ever cheaper and — as the excellent book The CAFO [Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations] Reader makes clear — the pain and trauma are thrown in for free. The contemporary gourmet reacts by voicing an ever-stronger preference for free-range meats from small local farms. He even claims to believe that well-treated animals taste better, though his heart isn’t really in it. Steingarten tells of watching four people hold down a struggling, groaning pig for a full 20 minutes as it bled to death for his dinner. He calls the animal “a filthy beast deserving its fate.”

Even if gourmets’ rejection of factory farms and fast food is largely motivated by their traditional elitism, it has left them, for the first time in the history of their community, feeling more moral, spiritual even, than the man on the street. Food writing reflects the change. Since the late 1990s, the guilty smirkiness that once marked its default style has been losing ever more ground to pomposity and sermonizing. References to cooks as “gods,” to restaurants as “temples,” to biting into “heaven,” etc., used to be meant as jokes, even if the compulsive recourse to religious language always betrayed a certain guilt about the stomach-driven life. Now the equation of eating with worship is often made with a straight face. The mood at a dinner table depends on the quality of food served; if culinary perfection is achieved, the meal becomes downright holy — as we learned from Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma (2006), in which a pork dinner is described as feeling “like a ceremony … a secular seder.”

The moral logic in Pollan’s hugely successful book now informs all food writing: the refined palate rejects the taste of factory-farmed meat, of the corn-syrupy junk food that sickens the poor, of frozen fruits and vegetables transported wastefully across oceans — from which it follows that to serve one’s palate is to do right by small farmers, factory-abused cows, Earth itself. This affectation of piety does not keep foodies from vaunting their penchant for obscenely priced meals, for gorging themselves, even for dining on endangered animals — but only rarely is public attention drawn to the contradiction. This has much to do with the fact that the nation’s media tend to leave the national food discourse to the foodies in their ranks. To people like Pollan himself. And Severson, his very like-minded colleague at The New York Times. Is any other subculture reported on so exclusively by its own members? Or with a frequency and an extensiveness that bear so little relation to its size? (The “slow food” movement that we keep hearing about has fewer than 20,000 members nationwide.)

The same bias is apparent in writing that purports to be academic or at least serious. The book Gluttony (2003), one of a series on the seven deadly sins, was naturally assigned to a foodie writer, namely Francine Prose, who writes for the gourmet magazine Saveur. Not surprisingly, she regards gluttony primarily as a problem of overeating to the point of obesity; it is “the only sin … whose effects are visible, written on the body.” In fact the Catholic Church’s criticism has always been directed against an inordinate preoccupation with food — against foodie-ism, in other words — which we encounter as often among thin people as among fat ones. A disinterested writer would likely have done the subject more justice. Unfortunately, even the new sociological study Foodies: Democracy and Distinction in the Gourmet Foodscape is the product of two self-proclaimed members of the tribe, Josée Johnston and Shyon Baumann, who pull their punches accordingly; the introduction is titled “Entering the Delicious World of Foodies.” In short, the 21st-century gourmet need fear little public contradiction when striking sanctimonious poses.

The same goes for restaurant owners like Alice Waters. A celebrated slow-food advocate and the founder of an exclusive eatery in Berkeley, she is one of the chefs profiled in Spoon Fed. “Her streamlined philosophy,” Severson tells us, is “that the most political act we can commit is to eat delicious food that is produced in a way that is sustainable, that doesn’t exploit workers and is eaten slowly and with reverence.” A vegetarian diet, in other words? Please. The reference is to Chez Panisse’s standard fare — Severson cites “grilled rack and loin of Magruder Ranch veal” as a typical offering — which is environmentally sustainable only because so few people can afford it. Whatever one may think of Anthony Bourdain’s moral sense, his BS detector seems to be working fine. In Medium Raw he congratulates Waters on having “made lust, greed, hunger, self-gratification and fetishism look good.” Not to everyone, perhaps, but okay.

The Roman historian Livy famously regarded the glorification of chefs as the sign of a culture in decline. I wonder what he would have thought of The New York Times’ efforts to admit “young idols with cleavers” into America’s pantheon of food-service heroes.
With their swinging scabbards, muscled forearms and constant proximity to flesh, butchers have the raw, emotional appeal of an indie band … “Think about it. What’s sexy?” said Tia Keenan, the fromager at Casellula Cheese and Wine Café and an unabashed butcher fan. “Dangerous is sometimes sexy, and they are generally big guys with knives who are covered in blood.”
That’s Severson again, by the way, and she records no word of dissent in regard to the cheese vendor’s ravings. We are to believe this is a real national trend here. In fact the public perception of butchers has not changed in the slightest, as can easily be confirmed by telling someone that he or she looks like one. “Blankly as a butcher stares,” Auden’s famous line about the moon, will need no explanatory footnote even a century from now.

But food writing has long specialized in the barefaced inversion of common sense, common language. Restaurant reviews are notorious for touting $100 lunches as great value for money. The doublespeak now comes in more pious tones, especially when foodies feign concern for animals. Crowding around to watch the slaughter of a pig — even getting in its face just before the shot — is described by Bethany Jean Clement (in an article in Best Food Writing 2009) as “solemn” and “respectful” behavior. Pollan writes about going with a friend to watch a goat get killed. “Mike says the experience made him want to honor our goat by wasting as little of it as possible.” It’s teachable fun for the whole foodie family. The full strangeness of this culture sinks in when one reads affectionate accounts (again in Best Food Writing 2009) of children clamoring to kill their own cow — or wanting to see a pig shot, then ripped open with a chain saw: “YEEEEAAAAH!”

Here too, though, an at least half-serious moral logic is at work, backed up by the subculture’s distinct body of myth, which combines half-understood evolutionary theory with the biblical idea of man as born lord of the world. Anthropological research, I should perhaps point out, now indicates that Homo sapiens started out as a paltry prey animal. Clawless, fangless, and slight of build, he could at best look forward to furtive boltings of carrion until the day he became meat himself. It took humans quite a while to learn how to gang up for self-protection and food acquisition, the latter usually a hyena-style affair of separating infant or sick animals from their herds. The domestication of pigs, cows, chickens, etc. has been going on for only about 10,000 years — not nearly long enough to breed the instincts out of them. The hideous paraphernalia of subjugation pictured in The CAFO Reader? It’s not there for nothing.

Now for the foodie version. The human animal evolved “with eyes in the front of its head, long legs, fingernails, eyeteeth — so that it could better chase down slower, stupider creatures, kill them, and eat them” (Bourdain, Medium Raw). We have eaten them for so long that meat-eating has shaped our souls (Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma). And after so many millennia of domestication, food animals have become “evolutionarily hard-wired” to depend on us (chef-writer Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, The River Cottage Meat Book). Every exercise of our hungry power is thus part of the Great Food Chain of Being, with which we must align our morals. Deep down — instinctively if not consciously — the “hardwired” pig understands all this, understands why he has suddenly been dragged before a leering crowd. Just don’t waste any of him afterward; that’s all he asks. Note that the foodies’ pride in eating “nose to tail” is no different from factory-farm boasts of “using everything but the oink.” As if such token frugality could make up for the caloric wastefulness and environmental damage that result from meat farming!

Naturally the food-obsessed profess as much respect for tradition as for evolution. Hamilton, in Blood, Bones and Butter, writes of her childhood dinners: “The meal was always organized correctly, traditionally, which I now appreciate.” Even relatively young traditions like the Thanksgiving turkey must be guarded zealously against efforts to change or opt out of them. Foreign traditions destigmatize every dish even for the American. In Best Food Writing 2010, one foie gras lover asks another whether he would eat tortured cat if there were sufficient Mongolian history behind the dish; the answer is yes.

So tradition is an absolute good? No. When it dictates abstention from a certain food, it is to be rejected. Francine Prose shows how it’s done in her prize-winning Saveur article, “Faith and Bacon.” I need hardly explain which of those two she cannot live without. Prose concedes that since pigs compete ravenously with humans for grain, her Jewish forefathers’ taboo against pork may well have derived from ecological reasons that are even more valid today. Yet she finds it unrealistic to hope that humans could ever suppress their “baser appetites … for the benefit of other humans, flora, and fauna.” She then drops the point entirely; foodies quickly lose interest in any kind of abstract discussion. The reader is left to infer that since baser appetites are going to rule anyway, we might as well give in to them.
But if, however unlikely it seems, I ever find myself making one of those late-life turns toward God, one thing I can promise you is that this God will be a deity who wants me to feel exactly the way I feel when the marbled slice of pork floats to the top of the bowl of ramen.
Yes, I feel equally sure that Prose’s God will be that kind of God. At least she maintains a civil tone when talking of kashrut. In “Killer Food,” another article in Best Food Writing 2010, Dana Goodyear tells how a restaurant served head cheese (meat jelly made from an animal’s head) to an unwitting Jew.
One woman, when [chef Jon] Shook finally had a chance to explain, spat it out on the table and said, “Oh my fucking God, I’ve been kosher for thirty-two years.” Shook giggled, recollecting. “Not any more you ain’t!”
We are meant to chuckle too; the woman (who I am sure expressed herself in less profane terms) got what she deserved. Most of us consider it a virtue to maintain our principles in the face of social pressure, but in the involuted world of gourmet morals, constancy is rudeness. One must never spoil a dinner party for mere religious or ethical reasons. Pollan says he sides with the French in regarding “any personal dietary prohibition as bad manners.” (The American foodie is forever projecting his own barbarism onto France.) Bourdain writes, “Taking your belief system on the road — or to other people’s houses — makes me angry.” The sight of vegetarian tourists waving away a Vietnamese pho vendor fills him with “spluttering indignation.”

That’s right: guests have a greater obligation to please their host — and passersby to please a vendor — than vice versa. Is there any civilized value that foodies cannot turn on its head? But I assume Bourdain has no qualms about waving away a flower seller, just as Pollan probably sees nothing wrong with a Mormon’s refusal of a cup of coffee. Enjoinders to put the food provider’s feelings above all else are just part of the greater effort to sanctify food itself.

So secure is the gourmet community in its newfound reputation, so sure is it of its rightness, that it now proclaims the very qualities — greed, indifference to suffering, the prioritization of food above all — that earned it so much obloquy in the first place. Bourdain starts off his book by reveling in the illegality of a banquet at which he and some famous (unnamed) chefs dined on ortolan, endangered songbirds fattened up, as he unself-consciously tells us, in pitch-dark cages. After the meal, an “identical just-fucked look” graced each diner’s face. Eating equals sex, and in accordance with this self-flattery, gorging is presented in terms of athleticism and endurance. “You eat way past the point of hitting the wall. Or I do anyway.”

If nothing else, Bourdain at least gives the lie to the Pollan-Severson cant about foodie-ism being an integral part of the whole, truly sociable, human being. In Bourdain’s world, diners are as likely to sit solo or at a countertop while chewing their way through “a fucking Everest of shellfish.” Contributors to the Best Food Writing anthologies celebrate the same mindless, sweating gluttony. “You eat and eat and eat,” Todd Kliman writes, “long after you’re full. Being overstuffed, for the food lover, is not a moral problem.” But then, what is? In the same anthology, Michael Steinberger extols the pleasure of “joyfully gorging yourself … on a bird bearing the liver of another bird.” He also talks of “whimpering with ecstasy” in a French restaurant, then allowing the chef to hit on his wife, because “I was in too much of a stupor … [He] had just served me one of the finest dishes I’d ever eaten.” Hyperbole, the reader will have noticed, remains the central comic weapon in the food writer’s arsenal. It gets old fast. Nor is there much sign of wit in the table talk recorded. Aquinas said gluttony leads to “loutishness, uncleanness, talkativeness, and an uncomprehending dullness of mind,” and if you don’t believe him, here’s Kliman again:
I watched tears streak down a friend’s face as he popped expertly cleavered bites of chicken into his mouth … He was red-eyed and breathing fast. “It hurts, it hurts, but it’s so good, but it hurts, and I can’t stop eating!” He slammed a fist down on the table. The beer in his glass sloshed over the sides. “Jesus Christ, I’ve got to stop!”
We have already seen that the foodie respects only those customs, traditions, beliefs, cultures — old and new, domestic and foreign — that call on him to eat more, not less. But the foodie is even more insatiable in regard to variety than quantity. Johnston and Baumann note that “eating unusual foods is part of what generates foodie status,” and indeed, there appears to be no greater point of pride in this set than to eat with the indiscriminate omnivorousness of a rat in a zoo dumpster. Jeffrey Steingarten called his first book The Man Who Ate Everything. Bourdain writes, with equal swagger, “I’ve eaten raw seal, guinea pig. I’ve eaten bat.” The book Foodies quotes a middle-aged software engineer who says, “Um, it’s not something I would be anxious to repeat but … it’s kind of weird and cool to say I’ve had goat testicles in rice wine.” The taste of these bizarre meals — as researchers of oral fixation will not be surprised to learn — is neither here nor there. Members of the Gastronauts, a foodie group in New York, stuff live, squirming octopuses and eels down their throats before posting the carny-esque footage online.

Such antics are encouraged in the media with reports of the exotic foods that can be had only overseas, beyond the reach of FDA inspectors, conservationists, and animal-rights activists. Not too long ago MSNBC.com put out an article titled “Some Bravery as a Side Dish.” It listed “7 foods for the fearless stomach,” one of which was ortolan, the endangered songbirds fattened in dark boxes. The more lives sacrificed for a dinner, the more impressive the eater. Dana Goodyear: “Thirty duck hearts in curry … The ethos of this kind of cooking is undeniably macho.” Amorality as ethos, callousness as bravery, queenly self-absorption as machismo: no small perversion of language is needed to spin heroism out of an evening spent in a chair.

Of course, the bulk of foodie writing falls between the extremes of Pollanesque sanctimony and Bourdainian oafishness. The average article in a Best Food Writing anthology is a straightforward if very detailed discussion of some treat or another, usually interwoven with a chronicle of the writer’s quest to find or make it in perfect form. Seven pages on sardines. Eight pages on marshmallow fluff! The lack of drama and affect only makes the gloating obsessiveness even more striking. The following, from a man who travels the world sampling oysters, is typical.
Sitting at Bentley’s lustrous marble bar, I ordered three No. 1 and three No. 2 Strangford Loughs and a martini. I was promptly set up with a dark green and gold placemat, a napkin, silverware, a bread plate, an oyster plate, some fresh bread, a plate of deep yellow butter rounds, vinegar, red pepper, Tabasco sauce, and a saucer full of lemons wrapped in cheesecloth. Bentley’s is a very serious oyster bar. When the bartender asked me if I wanted olives or a twist, I asked him which garnish he liked better with oysters. He recommended both. I had never seen both garnishes served together, but … (Robb Walsh, “English Oyster Cult,” Best Food Writing 2009)
I used to reject that old countercultural argument, the one about the difference between a legitimate pursuit of pleasure and an addiction or pathology being primarily a question of social license. I don’t anymore. After a month among the bat eaters and milk-toast priests, I opened Nikki Sixx’s Heroin Diaries (2008) and encountered a refreshingly sane-seeming young man, self-critical and with a dazzlingly wide range of interests. Unfortunately, the foodie fringe enjoys enough media access to make daily claims for its sophistication and virtue, for the suitability of its lifestyle as a model for the world. We should not let it get away with those claims. Whether gluttony is a deadly sin is of course for the religious to decide, and I hope they go easy on the foodies; they’re not all bad. They are certainly single-minded, however, and single-mindedness — even in less obviously selfish forms — is always a littleness of soul.

environment, environmentalism, vegetarianism, veganism