Meatless Monday, A Closer Look

I’ll just say this straight out.  I’m not a fan of Meatless Monday.  As an ethical vegan, I believe that it is wrong to use animals for our pleasure.  It’s a black and white thing.  So measures such as Meatless Monday which tout the benefits of not eating  animals some of the time asks me to believe that animal exploitation and murder is okay at other times.  To my way of thinking it most certainly is not.  But, okay, no one claims that Meatless Monday is about the animals.

In society and even in the vegan community there can be a knee-jerk positive response to efforts like this one.  On the one hand it doesn’t really sound so bad.  In terms of animal suffering, isn’t any effort/reduction in consumption worth celebrating, even if there’s no intention vis-a-vis the animals?  Well, I don’t know.  I decided to put my cynicism aside and look a little closer at the Meatless Monday website to actually learn more about what they are up to.  The following is a quote from their “Global Movement” statement:

Meatless Monday is now active in 36 countries and growing because every nation can bring its unique culture, customs and cuisine to the table in meat free and vegetarian dishes.  Skipping meat one day a week is good for you, great for your nation’s health, and fantastic for the planet!

So the message is to incorporate more vegetarian dishes–like today’s featured recipe, Kadai Paneer, an Indian Cheese dish:

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(Photo from the Meatless Monday website)

 Never mind how much animal suffering was needed to produce this dish.  This dish is loaded with cheese and yogurt. I seriously question whether eating this way is “good for you”, “great for your nation’s health” or “fantastic for the planet”. We know that dairy is incredibly unhealthy and I have no idea what environmental resources are saved by chowing down on cheese rather than beef or chicken.

While I think it’s tempting to think that when folks remove meat from their diets the result might look something like this:

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when I think it might actually look more like this:

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During our transition from omnivore to vegan, David and I spent a few months being vegetarian.  While I would say that we did increase our consumption of fresh vegetables (all good) many of our meals looked like this cheese-laden eggplant parmesan.  And I had a great time creating delectable egg dishes like this quiche:

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Plenty of cheese and butter in that one as well.  Oh, and I remember very clearly that this mozzarella sandwich was a lunch staple of that period:

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Now I can completely cop to having had limited imagination and even less understanding of vegan cooking during that time, but I also think this is pretty typical.  And I look back on that stretch as not only contributing to animal exploitation and abuse (possibly even more than I did as an omnivore considering the level of abuse in the dairy and egg industries), but also eating in a way that was hardly ideal healthwise.  Consequently, promoting vegetarianism as a positive alternative to meat-eating (a la Meatless Monday) doesn’t make sense to me.

I transitioned to veganism when I had enough education to fully understand that by eating a vegetarian diet I was continuing to support the torture and killing of other sentient beings as well as the destruction of our planet.  I believe that others have the capacity to understand the facts and make similar changes.  Education and information will make this possible, but we need to tell the truth.

Every day of the week.

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Unintended Factory Farm Drive-By

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David and I spent the weekend visiting his parents in Palm Springs.

Palm Springs is about six hours from Tucson, a straight shot on the I-10.  We decided to take a slightly different route on the way back in order to avoid the downtown Phoenix area and to get a little change of scenery.  The first leg of this Phoenix by-pass route takes you on route 85, a rural highway.  We were actually enjoying the relaxed driving and desert views (lovely palo verde trees this time of year) when I spotted what appeared to be a series of large buildings set way back off the highway.  My now- trained eye knew instantly that this was a factory farm complex.  But it didn’t take an expert (or vegan as the case may be) to clue us into the fact that we were in factory farm land.  The stench wafted into the car even with the windows closed.  I cracked the window just to get a sense of what this actually smelled like.  It was truly overwhelming and we were really nowhere near the place and driving 80 miles an hour.

Interestingly, along this same stretch of highway we also passed a large prison complex and a nuclear power plant.  You know, the places we don’t want in our neighborhood so we can all be safe (and maybe ignore that places like this exist?)

When I got home I went online, and it didn’t take long to figure out that the factory farming operation belonged to Hickman’s Family Farms, Arizona’s largest egg producer.  You can take a look at Hickman’s operations by checking out their website here.  It looks like such a happy place and such a sweet history with grandma and all.  Smiles all around.  They seem particularly proud of their incredible efficiency.  Is this what you envision when you think of an egg farm?  They are also anxious to share how impressively they have grown since those early days in grandma’s yard.  Here’s what it looks like today (in their words from their website):

Our buildings now cover 2 million square feet, equivalent to 7 football fields;
Our processing capacity for shell eggs is ¾ million eggs per hour;
We are able to will be able to break, pasteurize and package 100,000 eggs per hour;
We can boil, peel and package 50,000 eggs per hour;
We have hens and pullets in Arizona and Colorado, egg processing and distribution in Iowa, and distribution warehouses in Las Vegas, Nevada and El Centro, California;
We service customers located from Iowa to Hawaii;
We consume the production of approximately 50,000 acres of grain products a year. (That is 78 square miles.) Another way to think of it is, we use a train of grain, one mile long, every month;
Our feed mill makes a 26-ton semi-load of feed every 18 minutes;
We repurpose everything possible – including 800,000 lbs. per day of chicken manure. Our fertilize division ships organic, dried, pelletized, bagged or bulk fertilizer throughout the state and southern California;
We have about 300 full-time employees.

Oh, they are working very hard here not to say much about the chickens.   My particular favorite is “we consume the production of approximately 50,000 acres of grain products a year”. Who is “WE”?!  Well, turns out, as best I could glean from the internet (couldn’t find the info on their site), they have some four million chickens that are crammed floor to ceiling in their “lay houses”.  These chickens have their beaks sliced off and are put in “battery cages”where they stay until they die or are killed.  Bruce Friedrich of Farm Sanctuary wrote an excellent and compelling article describing the plight of the battery-caged chicken here.  He points out that 95% of egg-laying hens are housed this way in factory farms like Hickman’s.

Buying and consuming eggs directly supports this horrendous industry.  Hickman’s and others like them can crow all they want about their efficiency.  I call it a travesty.

 

 

 

 

Do You Have 12 Minutes?

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I finally watched the PETA video, “Meet Your Meat”, a compilation of undercover footage taken from factory farms and slaughterhouses.  Alec Baldwin does the narration. I went vegan after learning about the cruelty to animals in factory farms where the vast majority of the animals used for food in this country are bred, confined and killed.  I’ve watched many movies and read countless books on the subject but until today I couldn’t bring myself to watch this short video.   It is as graphic and sad and disturbing as I feared it would be.  I’m glad I watched it, and I want to encourage you to do the same.

These factory “farms” and slaughterhouses are tucked away in rural areas for good reason.   Visitors are not welcome at factory farms and slaughterhouses for good reason.   The factory farming industry is banking on the fact that if we can’t see what is happening behind the windowless walls we’ll assume that nothing is happening.  They know an awful lot about human nature.    See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. And the poor animals continue to suffer in the most horrific ways.

But I also know that it is in our human nature is to be kind to animals.  Most people I know profess to love animals.  We naturally turn away when we see animals being mistreated or in pain because it hurts our hearts.   But refusing to see or acknowledge the truth about where our food comes from doesn’t make the cruelty any less horrific or real.

Please watch the video.  It will only take twelve minutes of your time.

The link is here.

 

 

 

The Veal/Dairy Connection

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Do you know anyone who eats veal?  I don’t.  Consumption of veal in the United States has indeed fallen dramatically over the last few decades.  Back in the 1980’s  horrendously cruel veal farming practices were broadly and publicly exposed.  Once the public learned of these atrocities many people gave up veal for good.  This is excellent.  The fewer baby cows torn from their mothers at birth, crated or penned, fattened up and inhumanely slaughtered the better.

I imagine that many folks reading this opening paragraph are nodding along and feeling glad that they at one time decided to stop eating veal.  It surely does feel good to connect with our compassionate natures.

Before going vegan I never ate veal, mostly because I didn’t like it.  What I’ve learned over the last several months, however, is that the veal industry is a complete by-product of the dairy industry.  Not only did I not know that, but I’m realizing that most people I share it with don’t know it either.  And several of these people stopped eating veal for ethical reasons years ago.

Here’s how the system works.  In order for female cows to lactate they need to continually become pregnant and give birth.  I know that seems obvious but who really thinks about it? The cows are forcibly impregnated and they give birth approximately once a year.  So, what happens to their babies?  In factory farm operations where most of our milk is produced, all of the babies are removed from their mothers (their milk is for our consumption after all) right after they are born.  The female calves will live the same lives as their mothers giving birth and producing milk until they can’t physically do it anymore (they will then probably become hamburger meat), and the male babies will most likely be sent to veal farms where conditions may be only marginally better than they were back in the 1980’s.

I read a bunch of articles about the dairy/veal connection and it’s incredibly bleak and sad.  Ultimately there’s no avoiding the fact that every veal calf is born to a dairy cow mother.  In my online search I found that some veal producers actively promote the dairy/veal connection suggesting that by eating veal we are indeed supporting the dairy industry. Check out this excerpt taken the Strauss Farms website (click here for the link)

Q: How does group raised veal support the dairy industry?
A: Dairy cows must calve every year in order to maintain milk production. Heifer (female) calves, are raised to re-enter the herd as milking cows. Bull (male) calves, provide little to no value to dairy farmers. The formula-fed veal industry evolved by utilizing a by-product of the cheese industry (whey) and a by-product of the dairy industry (bull calves). The flavor and texture of meat from dairy breeds is not desirable, and therefore they are not typically marketed as beef. Raising them as veal supports the dairy industry, which provides us with delicious ice cream, lattes, and cheese.

Happy veal and lots of lattes.  I’ll pass on the whole unholy alliance.