Category Archives: Global Warming

The “choice” to eat meat, dairy, & eggs: knowledge, awareness & choice (part 2)

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What goes into the choices that we make around food? Are they what we think they are? Do we really have a choice at all? Those are some of the questions I’m asking in this 3-part series about what it means to choose to eat – or not eat – meat, dairy, & eggs. Society-at-large is still largely unaccepting of the choice to be vegan, often based on a fundamental lack of knowledge about the effects of animal products on both the human body and the earth.

One of the most common ways people respond to vegan activism is to propose that everyone has the right to choose; if vegans want to choose the life of an ascetic outcast weakling that’s fine, but they’ve chosen to consume animal products. To each his own, and we should all be able to accept each other.

But have they really chosen to consume animal products? For most people the answer is no. Most people were raised consuming animal products and, except, perhaps, in the case of lactose intolerance, many a child has been made to eat/drink animal products even when they didn’t want to. It happened in my own family (I hated the taste of cow’s milk and I didn’t want to eat the meat from the lambs I’d bottle-fed and played with), and many other families besides mine. I’m not suggesting that no child enjoys animal products – many of them taste good, but that’s not the point. Children aren’t given information and a choice. They’re given a plate full of chicken nuggets and a glass of milk. And told it’s good for them, even though it’s not.

Those children become adults – you and me – who one day hear about this strange lifestyle called veganism, and we then have two options: turn away and ignore new information, content to rely on tradition, or engage and learn. If we opt to learn, then we have the building blocks of a true choice between veganism and carnism. So long as we are not aware of the consequences of our behaviors for the health & well-being of ourselves & our global family, the earth, and the other creatures on it – so long as we remain in the dark – we are not making a choice, but blindly fumbling along.

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watch the clip here

It reminds me of a scene from Labyrinth (yes, the awesome 1986 movie with David Bowie & Jennifer Connelly) – when Sarah first enters the Labyrinth on her quest for the castle at its center, she meets a worm who helps her find an invisible doorway. She goes through, and trots off to the left. The worm calls out after her “Hang on! … Don’t go that way! Never go that way!” Sarah thanks him, turns around, and leaves. The worm then lets the audience know that “if she’d’a kept on going down that way, she’d have gone straight to the castle.” She accepts his advice without question, when she would clearly have taken the path on the left had she but known. I know it’s totally naive, but I can’t help but think that, if people truly understood the consequences of eating meat, dairy, & eggs, most would choose veganism with little or no hesitation.

I think this generation has the same responsibility as every other: to progress, both scientifically and morally. Most vegans, myself included, are people who turned away from the truth for some period of time, understanding somewhere deep down that once we knew, we would have to change in order to be in keeping with our own moral standards and, eventually, we did. I think it’s safe to say most of us wish we had made the change sooner. Don’t be afraid to bear witness. It’s one of the most powerful things you can do to increase your knowledge, awareness, and connection with the rest of the world. Allow yourself to see the truth.

So, what are the actual consequences of our collective carnism? They are manifold! Such that they require a whole separate post. Part 3 coming soon.

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The “choice” to eat meat, dairy, & eggs: Forcing children to be vegan (part 1)

crossroads-997123_1280Eating meat, dairy, & eggs is status quo. Virtually all of us grow up eating some version of an omnivorous diet. Animal products are so easily accessible that they’re taken for granted, even difficult to avoid. Living in a society – actually, a world – in which consuming animal products is well-accepted, nay advocated for, means that people who adopt a vegan lifestyle are total outsiders, on the less-trodden trail. But nothing happens in a vacuum, right? So, what happens when these vegans interact with society-at-large? In this multi-part series, I want to take a look at what goes into our choices around food. Are our choices what we think they are? Do we really have a choice at all?

A common accusation levied against vegan parents is that they force their children to be vegan. The underlying assumption is that children have the right to make that choice for themselves. I’m always amazed, and a little infuriated, at how little thought process goes into this accusation. I guarantee you not a single person who has ever accused a vegan of forcing their children to be vegan has asked their own children whether they want to eat animal products or not. More often, and I’ve seen this first-hand too many times, people try to make kids eat animals products even when they don’t want to. Not out of some desire to inflict pain & suffering, but for the same reasons that vegans don’t give their children the very same products. The desire to do what’s best for the child.

The problem here is obvious – those people who believe vegans shouldn’t “force” their children to adopt a vegan lifestyle, at the same time forcing their children to eat & drink animal products, don’t understand/haven’t yet learned that veganism is the best possible choice, ethically, sustainability-wise, and in terms of their children’s long-term health. They’re thinking of veganism in the negative – those poor kids are being denied the simple pleasures in life – a life without cream- and egg-filled desserts isn’t worth living – it’s some ascetic nightmare. How could you force that on your children? And many people still believe that it’s more difficult for vegans to get enough protein & calcium, so they worry about vegan children. It’s totally valid to have those concerns – but they must be taught (and willing to learn!) the truth. What is the truth? Vegans eat dessert. And vegans get plenty of protein & calcium.

conventionThey don’t understand (yet, hopefully) that the situation is quite the opposite of what they think – they’re forcing their children to consume animal products, which is devastating to their own health and is a major contributor to that clear and present danger: climate change, never mind causing slaughterhouse workers psychological problems like PTSD, and animals untold amounts of suffering. Why force that on your children? It’s past time to rethink how we understand our choices when it comes to food. Blindly following alimentary norms is not a choice at all. It is the absence of choice.

Another way in which I take issue with the accusation that vegan parents are “forcing” their children to be vegan is that all parents force their children to do certain things (e.g., clean their room) and behave in certain ways (e.g., discuss problems rather than throwing a temper tantrum). Why? As parents, we have a responsibility to do the best we know how for our children in order to prepare them for their future in this world, which includes being a member of society who knows how to make decisions that are in line with their ethics, to seek out new information to use in making those decisions, and to be a member of this global population that is capable of leaving the world a better place than they found it. But that also means first informing ourselves of how to do those things. To stop eating animal products is one of the single most effective things we can do for sustainability, and our health.

crossing-801713_640Vegans would be seriously remiss in their duties if they didn’t teach their children that! Imagine not teaching your children to look both ways before they cross the street. That’s what it would feel like for a vegan not to teach their children that it’s harmful to consume animal products. For me personally, every time I see a child eating a sausage, it’s like watching that child smoke a cigarette – because it’s the same in terms of cancer risk! And that is the reason we try to keep children away from cigarettes, is it not? So then why give them sausages?? Now that we know how carcinogenic they are, we have a responsibility to accept that we need to change our behavior. But it even goes beyond that.

hand-644145_640Now that we know how devastating animal agriculture is for the environment, we have a responsibility to our children, for the sake of their own future survival on this planet, to teach them how to save it. Since we’ve done such an abysmal job of saving it ourselves, the least we can do is pass on a little bit of knowledge before making them responsible for cleaning up the titanic mess we’ve managed to create in just a few ignorance-filled generations – if, that is, it isn’t already too late. And that is why this issue is so important. We have got to turn this boat around. Urgently.

Raising environmentally and socially conscious vegan children is an excellent way to do that.

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Is a vegan diet less sustainable than an omnivorous diet?

References to one particular study on diet and land use requirements keep popping up around the web, from various blogs and news organizations.

rude-151093_640Most of them have been quick to jump on this study because it seems to offer them an opportunity to thumb their noses and blow raspberries at the vegan community, for example, “Sorry vegans: Sticking to a meat-free, dairy-free diet is NOT as good for the planet as you might think”. Many of them start with some kind of elbow to the rib, something about how we like to think we’re better than everybody else or some such nonsense. Some are more respectful.

What all of them have in common is a serious lack of understanding of the specific point made by the authors, and even the authors themselves seem to miss the forest for the trees. I’ll explain.

First, here’s a link to the specious article under discussion: Peters et al. 2016. It’s licensed under the CC attribution license and available for everyone to read for free (yay!).

salad-1570673_640The key measure under investigation was the carrying capacity of U.S. agricultural land – basically, the annual per capita land requirements vs. amount of land available for food production when that food is in keeping with different diets. More simply, how many people can be fed with the amount of land that we have? The authors look at various levels of omnivorous diets, lacto-ovo and lacto-vegetarian, and vegan, as well as 2 variants of current consumption.

They begin with 2 fundamental assumptions: there is a relationship between diet and sustainability, specifically, “dietary change is essential for meeting future human food needs”. Agreed. Second: “sparing land from conversion to agriculture may be important for protecting biodiversity”, so it’s vitally important to understand how dietary patterns impact land use. So far, so good.

cows-1029077_640The authors caution against simplistic thinking because, though animal agriculture is the most land-intensive, the largest fraction of land it uses is for foraging and grazing, often on non-arable land – land that can’t be used to grow any crops for human consumption, though grasses and other ‘weeds’ will grow which the animals eat. So, as they point out, eliminating animal agriculture does not necessarily mean turning all its land over to cultivation.

So, I can definitely see where they’re coming from. It’s a logical argument. If we want to make the most of our land for food production purposes, then we need to use it for what it’s good for. Attempting to make non-arable land supportive of crops causes environmental devastation (just look at the Aral Sea crisis). And it’s clear from the numbers in Peters et al. (2016) that the most efficient use of land for food would include using non-arable land for animal agriculture.

There are 2 implicit assumptions the authors are making which are simply untrue. First, that there is such a thing as an omnivorous diet that is healthy. Nope. Not only is the ingestion of animal products devastating to human health, but the killing and handling of dead animals causes psychological disorders in the people who do that kind of work, and passes unknown numbers of diseases on to anyone who handles raw meat, producers & consumers alike.

Second, that the most efficient diet in terms of land use is the most sustainable diet. Efficiency does not equal sustainability, and animal agriculture is far too devastating to the environment to be considered as part of the future of a sustainable food supply. The following information and more is available on the Cowspiracy website’s fact sheet.

  • ocean dead zones, water pollution, & habitat destruction are largely driven by animal agricultureclean-1223168_640
  • livestock and their byproducts account for 51% of global greenhouse gas emissions
  • animal agriculture is the leading driver of desertification
  • the U.S. could feed 800 million people with just the grain that is currently fed to livestock (that’s more than double the current U.S. population and slightly more than the total number of starving people in the world, according to United Nations World Food Program statistics)
  • more than 80% of the world’s starving children live in countries who export their grain to feed livestock, which are then consumed by people in wealthier countries – an absolute crime against humanity

What I’m trying to say is that it doesn’t actually matter what the most efficient use of land is, because any animal agriculture at all does more harm than good and, if we turn over all the currently arable land to cultivation for human consumption, we could easily feed the global population with room to grow, and if we eventually do outgrow it, we can still work with what we’ve got and use our technology to find better solutions like vertical farming.

Something I often hear vegans say, and see in vegan blog posts is that we don’t need to consume animals and their products to be healthy and happy, but we can make a much stronger statement than that – because it’s true – consuming animals and their products at the rate we currently do is not only antithetical to human health & happiness, but even to our survival as a species.

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Leaving the Land of Nod: a vegan perspective on the Garden of Eden

How do you feel about knowledge?

It’s generally a good thing, right? Important, a worthy pursuit, advances civilization, and all that jazz? Yes, of course.

creation-47473_640That’s why I never really got the Bible story about Adam & Eve & the Garden of Eden. They were cast out of the garden for eating from the Tree of Knowledge. I couldn’t quite connect with the idea that knowledge was somehow a bad thing. I’m apparently not the only one because I’ve seen interpretations of this story saying that the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge had the power to fill man with the desire for both good and evil. But I don’t buy that interpretation. It doesn’t seem to be what was intended by the story, which speaks only of the knowledge of good and evil.

Now that I have a different perspective on the eating habits of humanity, it suddenly dawned on me to look at this story with new eyes, and I found that I have, for the first time, an answer to this riddle that works for me.

Humankind is the only species that, as far as we know, has knowledge of good and evil; in other words – we’re the only non-innocent animal in an ethical sense, meaning that we make decisions based on a thought process including the weighing of our actions against a moral backdrop rather than simply following instinct with no ethical culpability, as the other creatures on this earth.

We’re also the only species to consistently subsist on a diet that is neither natural nor healthy for us because we have the technology to go against nature. Here’s something interesting which, to me, shows that the ethic of veganism is part of our consciousness no matter how deep our culture is trying to bury it: in the Garden of Eden – the perfect paradise – animals simply exist side-by-side with man – they are not used for food or labor. But then, after being cast out of paradise, the first two “jobs” that humans engaged in (according to this story, anyway) were plant and animal agriculture. The sons of Adam & Eve were a shepherd and a farmer.

donkey-534906_640So, as we lost the innocence that goes along with ignorance, our entire relationship with the animal kingdom changed. It was no longer one of harmony, but became one of subjugation when we lost our paradise. That says to me that we have always known, in our heart of hearts, even 3500 years ago when the stories in Genesis were first written, that our relationship with the other animals with whom we share this planet is just not right. It represents a deviation from our original purpose.

book-2869_640Another word about knowledge: you’ve heard the expression “ignorance is bliss”, I’m sure. It’s easy enough to see why this is a truism, especially in this context. But what about “a little learning is a dangerous thing” (Alexander Pope)? Well, just look at us! The path we’re on is clearly destructive to ourselves, to other species, and to the planet as a whole. We’re ruining everything (I know that might sound hyperbolic, but it’s literally true) with our “knowledge” because we don’t have enough of it – you can never have enough of it. Once you’ve entered that rabbit-hole, there’s no coming out. We now have the duty of constantly trying to gain knowledge and understanding because the more we have, the less dangerous our knowledge becomes.

Simple example:

Common knowledge: protein is an essential macronutrient.

Not common knowledge: if we get our protein mostly from animal products, we’re doing ourselves more harm than good.

Not common knowledge: we can get plenty of protein from eating plants (after all, that’s where most other animals get it from).

I do have a caveat – it’s only true based on the assumption that, as humanity advances, we will also continue to grow spiritually & ethically – that personal qualities like empathy and detachment will be cultivated and will continue to spread. I see this in the vegan movement, and I used the two specific examples of empathy and detachment because they are both key qualities of successful (meaning long-term) ethical vegans. These are people who have expanded their circle of empathy, a prerequisite for compassion, as wide as they can. It’s more than that, though – developing the quality of detachment is necessary to let go of all the animal products that our society tells us we should fear being without. I assure you, there was a day when I was afraid to let go of cheese. I expressed that feeling in the following way: “I could never give up cheese!” Sound familiar? It seems silly to me now, because I don’t eat cheese and I don’t feel a sense of deprivation, but it’s normal for people to be afraid of that feeling. And it’s only after letting go that you can come to realize that your life and your food are just as interesting as they ever were. Getting to that point, though, requires detachment. While we still have the fear of letting go, we hold ourselves back from being standard-bearers of the advancement of society, and from participating in a meaningful way in literally saving the planet.

Expand your circle of empathy;

Detach yourself from what’s holding you back;

& Go Vegan. It’s worth it.

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** A note about the title, for those who are curious. I chose the “Land of Nod” for its double entendre. By leaving the land of nod I mean both waking up to the truth, and leaving exile to regain paradise.

 

Every bite counts: Parts 3 & 4.

Part 3. The People.

staples-2752_640Feeding the world is easy, and we don’t need Monsanto to do it. Did you know that there’s enough crop land in the United States alone to feed 10 billion people? One country could potentially feed the entire global population. So, why aren’t we? Because that only works if we’re not wasting our resources on animal agriculture in all its caloric inefficiency.

One acre of land can produce 40,000 lbs of potatoes, but only 250 lbs of meat.

One acre of legumes produces 10 times more protein than an acre devoted to animals raised for their meat.

70% of the grains produced in the U.S. go to feeding animals raised for food, instead of being grown for people. 80% of the world’s hungry children live in countries with food surpluses, but that food is exported to wealthier countries in order to feed animals that will be used for food. It doesn’t get more unjust than that. “Growing grain for feed instead of food may be humanity’s greatest evil yet.”

Artist: Lovis CorinthThose are all issues that you’ll hear every vegan raise. There is, I feel, a missed opportunity in the vegan movement – people that almost never get mentioned in the discussion on the human victims of this system: slaughterhouse employees. I start out with the assumption that most people who work in slaughterhouses do so because it’s the only, or one of the only, options open to them. This will be the topic of another post in the future. For the moment, suffice it to say that one of the first signs of psychopathy in children is harming animals, so why is it considered normal for someone to kill (certain) animals as an adult? Only because we don’t think about it. Society sweeps that bit under the carpet. Many slaughterhouse workers develop serious mental disorders, including PTSD, from the work that they do, and U.S. communities with slaughterhouses have 166% increase in arrests for rape compared to those without them. It is NOT normal.

The next time you buy a piece of meat, just take a moment to wonder who you paid to kill it for you and what kind of effect your demand for that piece of meat might be having on someone else’s mental health.

Part 4. The Animals.

sheep-451981_640To be honest, this is a much more important issue for me now than it was when I first decided to change to a vegan lifestyle. The environmental and health factors were enough. But, since I’m no longer emotionally invested in the ramifications of being a meat, dairy, & egg consumer, I’ve been able to mentally shine a light on those aspects of consuming animal products that were just too disturbing and painful for me to really evaluate while I was still participating in them. For anyone who has shut off that portion of your ability to deal rationally with the consequences of your actions – I get it!

Empathy is a difficult skill to develop and use because it requires that we open ourselves up to feeling pain and sorrow on behalf of others, and most of us have enough trouble dealing with our own suffering without adding to the burden. In this particular case, it also opens us up to feeling guilt, which is an unpleasant but necessary step on this path. Just remember, pain, physical or emotional, exists in order to help us avoid unhealthy behaviors.

It just doesn’t make sense that we love our dogs and cats like members of our own families, and recognize their individual personalities and their rights as living beings, while treating others as products. There’s some massive cognitive dissonance there, and it takes time to be able to confront that. If you haven’t yet watched anything like the documentary Earthlings, then whatever you imagine the treatment of these animals to be like, you can start by multiplying the horror by 10 to even get close. More than 2000 years ago, Pythagoras said,”For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seeds of murder and pain cannot reap the joy of love.”

In the end, I realized that living as a vegan is the only way for me to align my actions with my ethics.

Save yourself. Save the planet. Save the human race. Save the animals. Go vegan.

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Every bite counts: Parts 1 & 2.

apple-151989_1280This is the story of how I became interested in veganism, and an overview of some of the major reasons I decided to adopt a vegan lifestyle. It began, strangely, with smelling meat being roasted in the brand-new butcher/deli section of my local grocery store. I suddenly realized that I hadn’t eaten meat from land animals in so long that it didn’t smell like food to me anymore – it smelled like an animal was on fire, and my first instinct was to get the hell out of there. This got me thinking about using animals as food. Why was I suddenly repulsed by it? I’d been pescetarian for several years, but the smell of meat cooking had always been pleasant to me before. I had just decided to stop eating it because I knew it was pretty bad for both my health and the environment (though I had no idea at the time just how bad!). Somewhere in the back of my mind, something was telling me that I was about to embark on a journey that I had been putting off for years because I knew that, once I had the information, I would have no excuse for not changing my life. And that turned out to be true.

So, I did some research, and then I did some more, and some more…

Part 1. Health.

heart-rate-1375323_640It started with diet, nutrition, and the health of the human body, most especially my own. I watched lectures by, and interviews with, medical researchers and physicians like Dr. Michael Greger, Dr. John McDougall, Dr. Milton Mills, Dr. T. Colin Campbell, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, and a number of others, as well as documentaries such as Forks Over Knives, Supersize Me (even though I stopped eating fast food like 10 years ago), Vegucated, and others. I also bought and read How Not to Die by Dr. Greger. What I learned was that the most healthy diet, hands-down, is a whole foods vegan diet. Very simply put, if you completely eliminate animal products from your diet and live on fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, you’ll be one healthy sucker.

At least 68% of disease in the U.S. is diet-related. 14 out of the 15 leading causes of death are direct results of eating meat, dairy, and eggs.

A vegan diet (done properly – you can’t just have potato chips and beer) prevents, treats, or reverses atherosclerosis, multiple sclerosis, prostate, breast, ovarian, pancreatic, and colorectal cancers, non-Hodgkins lymphoma, kidney disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, diabetes, asthma, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, obesity, arthritis, impotence, Alzheimer’s disease, and MANY other ailments. But don’t take my word for it. Follow the links to some of the names above, and look up anything you want on nutritionfacts.org.

Humans are the only meat-eating animals that develop heart disease & other diseases as a result of eating meat, dairy & eggs. That’s because it’s not natural for us. If we pay attention to what the human body is telling us, and the massive epidemic of diet-related diseases which continue to spread and effect more and more people as a greater proportion of the global population includes higher quantities of meat into their diets (partially thanks to the global expansion of fast food giants like McDonald’s), it’s obvious that meat, dairy, & eggs are not what the human body is meant to consume.

Part 2. The Planet.

sustainability-1190327_1280Animal agriculture has a staggering impact on environmental destruction and global warming.

Animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than all, yes – ALL!, global transportation combined.

The vast majority of habitat destruction, including 90% of the deforestation in the Amazon basin (a.k.a. the lungs of the planet) is for the purpose of meeting ever-increasing demands for the products of animal agriculture.

Animal agriculture is also the main cause of ocean dead zones and water pollution.

There are 1.3 million known species, with approximately 15,000 new ones being cataloged each day. Estimates of how many truly exist range from 3 to 100 million. Of these millions of species, only one (that’s us) is causing the extinction of tens of thousands of others. Animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction.

A diet with high meat intake – beef in particular – produces nearly 2.5 times more greenhouse gas emissions, in tons, than a vegan diet, while buying only locally-grown foods does less to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions than giving up meat for only one day per week (Weber & Matthews 2008, Scarborough et al. 2014).

Click the image to go to shrinkthatfootprint.com

Only with what I’ve described so far, it’s easy to see that animal agriculture is one of the most destructive forces on this planet, having a direct negative effect on the entire system, including on our own health. And we’re not done yet.

Parts 3 & 4

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A Fresh Start

snowdrop-147871_1280It’s been a long time since I’ve published a new blog post. More than 2.5 years, in fact! During that time, I’ve done loads of research and learning, all of which has led me back to one particular change that anyone and everyone can make in order to substantially reduce your carbon footprint as well as your personal contributions to environmental degradation & species extinction, while significantly improving your odds against nearly all of the leading causes of death. It’s an idea whose time has come. And, when you realize the incredible extent of the ramifications of this issue, you begin to see that it presents just as much of a social justice issue as equality of the sexes and eliminating racism.

So, I’ve decided not only to start posting again (now that I finally have some time on my hands!), but also to make a change in the trajectory. The foundation remains very much focused on sustainability, but I will begin to hone in on this one change that has the largest impact on the earth and all its inhabitants – including us humans.

Last October (2015), I went from being pescetarian to vegan – in other words, I adopted a completely plant-based lifestyle. The motivations for making this change are many, and part of what I want to do here is to share them, for those who are not yet aware of the health and environmental benefits. For many people, even if you’re already convinced that it’s the right thing to do, actually making the shift can be an overwhelming proposition, so I also aim to share my experiences, the challenges I face living in a community in which veganism is almost unheard of, what I learn as I go, and anything that might be helpful in transitioning towards the vegan lifestyle. I also welcome questions, concerns, and requests.

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