14 March 2009

Downer cow loophole is closed

Good news to report from Wayne Pacelle's blog (HSUS President)
[T]oday, President Obama himself announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture was officially putting a stop to non-ambulatory cattle being mishandled in order to get them into slaughter plants.

Pacelle is referring to the USDA's heartless economic policy that allowed sick cattle to be slaughtered and enter the food supply, if they were ambulatory on first inspection and then went down later. The USDA has promised no-downer policies in the past, but it was quietly weakened despite consumer outcry.

Thanks to last year's HSUS undercover video investigation at the Chino, CA slaughter plant, lots of Americans were exposed for the first time to the cruelest abuses taken against farm animals. Based on the President's address and the appointment of Tom Vilsack to head USDA and Peggy Hamburg to FDA, 2009 could mean good things for animals. According to HSLF, Vilsack has a "solid record on animal protection," standing up to animal fighting and puppy mills as former Iowa governor. And Hamburg is viewed by many as a consumer advocate. We will see how this plays out for animals.

It's encouraging to hear Obama acknowledging some major problems in our food safety system: grossly outdated food safety laws, poor coordination between government agencies that regulate food safety, and lack of FDA funding to conduct inspections. Watch his 5-minute weekly address:

Vegans should get behind the food safety push, not just as animal advocates but as consumers. Especially when we have national leaders who are making commitments early on to improve the situation. There's lots of common ground for us vegans to build upon when more people realize that the way we treat animals is harming society.

27 January 2009

Be nutty, protect your heart

Turns out, vegetable oils, nuts and seeds are good for your heart. According to a science advisory from the American Heart Association:
Omega-6 fatty acids – found in vegetable oils, nuts and seeds – are a beneficial part of a heart-healthy eating plan, according to a science advisory published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.
Omega-6 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats that can help reduce your risk of heart disease. According to a nutritionist who helped issue the report, people who ate the most Omega-6 fatty acids generally had a lower incidence of heart disease. And studies found that people with heart disease had lower amounts of Omega-6 in their blood than healthy people.

The AHA's statements lend further support for eating vegan for heart health reasons.

However, the AHA also recommends eating animals twice a week to be healthy, which is not a huge surprise considering the fact that they aren't a humane charity, and fund research that goes to cruel, irrelevant experiments conducted on dogs, cats, mice, primates, pigs, sheep, and other animals instead of spending them on promising human-based programs. If you're thinking of donating to a health charity, check to see if it has a humane seal of approval first. No need to kill a life in order to save mine.

12 January 2009

Vote for Vegan School Lunch Options

You can help make this kid's frown turn upside down. You have three days to vote for healthful school lunch options (currently in 18th place, under Agricultural Policy) as part of Change.org's Ideas for Change in America. Animal rights is competing if you will, with a spectrum of progressive issues submitted by Change.org users, to be among the top 10 ideas submitted to the Obama administration this Friday.

The proposal (submitted by Alex Hershaft): Require USDA to facilitate healthful plant-based (vegan) school lunch options to promote public health, freedom from hunger, environmental quality, nonviolence, and kindness to animals.

The Problem

Under the mandate from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National School Lunch Program, school cafeterias routinely serve highly processed meals laden with saturated fat, cholesterol, hormones, and salt. Common entrees include chicken nuggets, pizza, cheeseburgers, and hot dogs. This diet flouts U.S. Dietary Guidelines and promotes obesity, diabetes, hypertension, other chronic conditions, and food poisoning.

Consider the following:

• Fewer than 2% of children eat in accordance with the U.S. Dietary Guidelines on a given day.
• School lunches contain 33% of calories from fat, including 12% from saturated fat, while U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend 30% and 10%, respectively.
• More than 30% of children are overweight or obese.
• 25% of children ages 5 to 10 suffer from high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure, or other chronic conditions.

The Solution

A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains is largely free of these problems and essential to good health. It supplies nearly all essential nutrients, contains little fat, fewer pesticides, and no cholesterol, hormones, antibiotics, or heavy metals. It also provides special nutrients that reduce the risk of cancer. It is conducive to more energy and improved academic performance.

A healthy diet for children is a critical indicator of future health, because children's bodies are still developing, because their dietary choices are still being formed, and because their poor eating habits become lifelong addictions.

In addition to its obvious health benefits, a plant-based diet offers the only long-term solution to the world hunger epidemic. It avoids the massive deforestation, water pollution, and global warming caused by the meat and dairy industries. Last, but not least, it spares billions of cows, pigs, and other innocent sentient animals from the atrocities of factory farms and slaughterhouses.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has the ability and the obligation to provide a wholesome food supply for our nation, starting with our children. It should use the school lunch and other national feeding programs to improve the nation's health, rather than to susidize the meat and dairy agribusiness.

Healthy school lunch options are a human right that coincides nicely with animal rights. Yet the word "vegan" in a proposal will be a tough sell in the world of politics and special interests. Even talking about obesity may be a tough sell.

But perhaps the essence of Hershaft's school lunch proposal could be included in the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Bill. When it comes down to real votes in Congress, tell your lawmakers that school nutrition shouldn't be lip service to parents. We need to change the food power structure so that corporate food isn't given an unfair, immoral, marketplace advantage. Here are some of my favorite suggestions to improve child nutrition, so that vegan school lunch options can have the groundwork it needs. Taken from La Vida Locavore:

* Increase funds for school lunch. The reimbursement rate is $2.55/kid/meal right now. Schools already spend $2.88 on average. Cheap food is junk food. For a budget breakdown of a school meal, read "Many Barriers Keep Fresh, Organic Food Out of School Lunches."

* Expand the Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Program. This is a program that provides fresh fruits and veggies at a handful of select schools in each of the 50 states. Right now it's a pilot programs and the schools that are chosen are typically ones in which a high percent of kids qualify for free or subsidized school lunches.

* Reduce barriers or encourage schools to feed students locally produced foods. This is a no-brainer and the farm-to-school programs that exist currently seem to be very popular. However, a number of barriers keep many interested schools and districts from being able to bring fresh, local food into their schools (i.e. schools have no kitchens, the bidding process for vendors is complex, the lunch budget is so small they can't afford local food).

* Get competitive foods out of schools. A "competitive food" is any food outside the federally reimbursed school lunch. The USDA has nutrition standards for the school lunch but it is NOT ALLOWED to have nutrition standards on other foods, called competitive foods. Competitive foods are typically junk, like stuff in vending machines.

* Keep rBGH milk out of schools. This is a longshot since the FDA approved rBGH and thinks there's no difference between rBGH and rBGH-free milk BUT there are links to cancer in humans and the American public overwhelmingly DOES NOT want rBGH in their milk.

* Either ensure commodities provided to schools are healthy foods or give the schools more money for lunches in lieu of commodities. Schools are forced to take free government commodities that are often processed into unhealthy junk... the commodities provided flip the food pyramid on its head, giving schools a lot of the things you should eat sparingly (high fat meat and cheese) and little of stuff you should eat a lot of (fruits and veggies).

* Increase regulation of and inspection of slaughterhouses. Right now the fast food companies have the clout and buying power to insist on high standards for food safety and humane slaughter practices. The government does not have the political will to insist on these things and as a result a lot of the worst quality crap goes to the schools

Considering we eat animals as though they are meant to be eaten, we owe our children the right to a healthier diet that would inevitably address other social issues such as food safety, food sustainability, health, health care, and environmental policy. Change starts with our everyday lives, and what closer way to promote change than to start with our diets?

10 January 2009

FDA will require carmine to be labeled

The FDA will now require companies to label whether your food or cosmetics contain carmine and cochineal. While these ingredients sound relatively harmless and perhaps even exotic, in reality, they were obtained by crushing the bodies of female cochineal insects, producing a red dye (see photo above). Carmine and cochineal are found in cosmetics, shampoos, dozens of reddish colored foods and beverages, including fruit drinks, ice creams, yogurts and candies. Thanks to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), who first petitioned the FDA back in 1998, after receiving several dozen reports from people who had suffered adverse reactions from consuming carmine.

Although CSPI asked the FDA to label carmine as being of animal (insect) origin, the FDA has decided you don't need to know that detail. They assume the label is "adequate information" for vegetarians and people who want to avoid eating crushed bugs for religious or health reasons.

If the FDA expects you to know that carmine comes from an animal, you should probably take a look at this extended list of other animal ingredients (and their alternatives) as well. While we may not be able to avoid these ingredients every time we shop, there's no harm in knowing where they might be hiding.

07 December 2008

Veggie dogs with attitude

Meet HotRod Dog, veggie dog mascot for the Hotrod Honeys of the Texas Rollergirls. "I am a veggie dog. I am also Kosher. In fact, I received my Bar Mitzvah in a Jewish deli on the lower east side of Manhattan," explains HotRod Dog. Considering he's such a big fan of the roller derby, it's quite an honor for him to be surrounded by such high energy women with names such as Dagger Deb and Janie Gottagunn.

The Hotrod Honeys became 2008 season champions after sticking it to last year's season champs, the Hell Marys. Final score: 79-23. Congratulations Hotrods! They'll return to kick some ass in March 2009.

Be on the lookout for a giant veggie dog splattered with mustard. He's kind of hard to miss. Find out what makes HotRod Dog sweat--besides casting him onto the grill!

03 December 2008

Spilling blood for all to see

Rooster used for a cockfight in Bali, Indonesia.

"Spilling Blood," an episode on the National Geographic Channel's Taboo series, made me want to vomit. I will never forget those bloody scenes of animal sacrifice in Nepal, of flies swirling around lifeless chickens and families lined up to see a man carving a goat's head off as his crimson blood drains down the altar of Kali. This Hindu temple never closes. Animals are killed around the clock for all to see.

This segment of "Spilling Blood" was about the contrast between the east and the west. In Nepal, some Hindus slaughter animals and offer them to Kali, the goddess with a strong lust for blood. But in the west, farm animals are killed out of sight, and their deaths go unnoticed and without ceremony.

Said one temple slaughterman: "When I'm in the temple, I feel Kali beside me. I don't feel sad about the animal, I just start killing."

According to people who practice this 400-year-old tradition, once you sacrifice the animal, it won't be reborn as an animal; it will go to heaven. The family believes it will bring spiritual rewards. Similar acts of ritual animal sacrifice are practiced in many countries and religions around the world.

While the gruesomeness of animal sacrifice was partly offset by the innocent faces of Nepalese children waiting to worship by the altar, cockfighting in Indonesia looked fully heartless. (See the photo above of a rooster with a blade attached to kill its opponent.) The ring was filled by men eager to see a bloody show who claim they must appease evil Hindu spirits by the blood of fighting cocks. While cockfighting was banned in Indonesia in 1981 due to its close association with gambling, it is still allowed on certain dates on the Hindu calendar.

Cockfighting is banned in the U.S. and most of Europe because it is seen as cruel. But the National Geographic Channel notes that cockfighting is part of American history. Both Washington and Jefferson raised fighting cocks.

"Spilling Blood" featured another awful practice occurring in the Faroe Islands, where pilot whales are driven to shore and hacked for their flesh. Set up as a family ritual, Islander men wait by the shore with hooks and knives and stain the ocean with whale blood. Though it takes the whale as long as 30 seconds to die, they call it humane.

950 pilot whales are killed each year in the Faroe Islands. One local biologist said the killings make "local environmental sense" rather than importing food. But modern technology makes other foods available, and it should be of high concern to Islanders due to the increasing levels of mercury found in North Atlantic pilot whales.

From Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's Captain Paul Watson:
I hate to say I told you so, especially when it involves the health and lives of children, but the people of the Danish Protectorate of the Faeroe Islands are now reaping the foul seeds of poison that they have been ignorantly been sowing for decades.

Back in 1985, 1986 and again in 2000 I repeatedly warned the people in the Faeroes that if they continued to eat pilot whales they would suffer the effects of mercury poisoning.

Now finally after two decades of warnings from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, their own medical doctors are now admitting that we have been right.
Karma's a bitch. So much for tradition.

Ultrasounds may reveal that mercury causes cardiovascular problems. Even in low doses, mercury can affect the central nervous system and impair memory and language skills. Despite risks and outside pressure, many Islanders consider it their birthright.

My point is not to single out cultures or religions but to show that bloody, inhumane traditions can't be defended merely because they are tradition, especially when those traditions may be psychologically and physically harmful to children. These children have no real choice but to go ahead and participate in these traditions. In some cases, they may object, like the girl in Nepal who refused to watch her family goat being slaughtered. But they may also be subjected and harmed, like the children eating mercury contaminated whale meat.

And we can't really be critical of foreign traditions until we apply that same criticism to our own irreverence towards animals.

28 November 2008

Thank you

When I ran into Dennis Kucinich at a College Democrats conference in D.C. a few years ago, I thanked him for being vegan.

"It's great, isn't it?" he replied back with a friendly grin. As far as I know, Dennis is the only vegan in Congress.

I should probably say "thank you" more often. Thanks to VegCooking for the cashew nut roast recipe. It tasted fantastic.

Exhibit A: Nut roast

Exhibit B: Tofurky with dad's spiced vegetables