Archive for May 2013


Where to start? Well, several others, including SuperVegan and James McWilliams, have already begun the conversation with excellent commentaries. In case you have been really busy lately and haven’t been able to get online, Mark Bittman is a food writer who has caused a firestorm in the vegan community with his new book “VB6″ (Vegan Before Six), which advocates a reduced meat vegan-style (I refuse to call it vegan) diet during the day as a way to lose weight and improve health. He has been doing quite a few interviews lately and it appears his own words have come back to bite him (oh the irony).

One of the primary things that has (rightly so) really torqued off the vegan community is his colossal misuse of the term vegan. He could have used the term veggie-style, or vegetable based, or reduced-meat, or any number of other terms to describe his new diet and made the same points about how healthy a plant based diet really is. Instead, he usurped a term that has a deep meaning for the people who follow the lifestyle with heart and soul. Vegans do not just avoid eating any products that came from animals, unless they are vegan in diet only (usually for health reasons). But vegans, true to the core vegans, will live a life that tries in every way possible to avoid being part of the economic and cultural machinery that exploits, tortures, and kills billions of sentient beings. Vegans, of course, do not consume food products that came from animals. But we also do not wear the skin of other beings or products that were manufactured using them. We do not buy personal care products or household cleaners that were tested on defenseless, captive, suffering creatures. We do not contribute to charities that do their so-called research by torturing and killing animals. And so on. It is not just a diet, although for the health conscious, it can be (President Bill Clinton is an example). So for Mr. Bittman to casually refer to himself as a vegan during the day is insulting and infuriating to many of us who live it 24/7/365.

The other major flaw in Mr. Bittman’s philosophy is that while he tries to justify his continuance of eating animals, he highlights just about every major reason not to. He readily acknowledges the suffering that goes on in producing food for humans that involves killing animals and then goes on to say that since humans still enjoy eating them, it’s ok–sometimes (does he think he should get to be the arbiter of how often that is?) In his own words, “We produce most animal products in deplorable conditions, and some of our health and environmental problems can be traced both to dominant production methods and our overconsumption.” And then immediately says “But we like to eat them…” He believes that this strategy of eating vegan-like some of the time “…can move us toward better health.” It is in this last point that he once again shows his true colors on this issue – it’s all about HIM. HE likes to eat animals, so therefore everyone should be able to, even though the suffering of sentient creatures is immeasurable and the environmental toll devastating. Even his choice not to eat animals some of the time is for his OWN benefit.

Finally, Bittman describes three scenarios where true veganism would be appropriate in his opinion – one of them is “…the emerging dominance of a morality that asserts that we have no right to “exploit” our fellow animals for our own benefit.” He closes that train of thought with “All seem unlikely.” Really?? So humans are NOT currently exploiting other creatures? What a relief that will be to the billions of land animals (and even more sea creatures) who are confined, tortured, skinned, dismembered (in many cases while still conscious) and slaughtered so he can have a burger after 6 pm. He clearly needs a new dictionary – According to Merriam Webster, to exploit is “to make use of meanly or unfairly for one’s own advantage.” Can Mr. Bittman explain how the mass-scale captivity, torture, and death of animals so that he can enjoy his dinner is NOT exploitation? I’d like to see him try. Oh, that’s right he did – and made a great case for veganism in the process.

Source article from the New York Times
photo: Jon Sullivan via Public-domain-photos.dom


Ok, the title certainly suggests that I recently saw the new Star Trek movie–which I did (and liked). But it wasn’t just the movie that got me to thinking about neutrality, or the lack of it, when it comes to animal rights and proper treatment of our fellow beings. A recent tweet by @VeganSmythe, someone I follow on twitter, expressed my thoughts well: “There’s no neutrality. Whether you realize it or not, you’ve taken a side: either for or against the exploitation of animals.” Nicely put.

When I was in graduate school studying evolutionary biology, one of the discussions we had was as to whether or not there are any truly neutral mutations. Many mutations are believed to be neutral, resulting in characteristics neither helpful nor detrimental to the organism. These mutations often become either helpful or hurtful as environmental conditions change, and thus are either selected for or against in the population. But what about during the time they are “neutral?” Are they truly such? One argument made is that a mutation can never be truly neutral because every characteristic takes up space and requires caloric energy to maintain, even at the molecular level. So the argument goes, if a mutation is not helping, it is in effect, hurting. No neutrality.

And so it seems to be as we consider how we individually and collectively treat our nonhuman co-inhabitants of this planet. Sure, not everyone is able to work in an occupation that directly assists animals. In fact, many individuals who help on the front lines every day are not doing it as part of their paid work, but rather as part of their mission, their life’s work. But there are, for all of us, numerous individual decisions that are made every day, every week, every month, that can have a huge impact on the well being of our fellow creatures. What we eat (the biggie). What we wear. What kind of car we drive. What brands of personal care and housecleaning products we use. What companies we purchase from. What organizations we donate our time and money to. Where we invest our money if we do so. There are so many ways we can help animals just in the course of living our daily lives that, if done consistently and by a number of us, have an effect on the lives of animals all around us.

So for people who don’t think you can really make a difference: you can. For people who think that your day to day decisions don’t matter: they do. For people who ask “how can it really help anyway since I am just one person?”: you are not. You are part of a collective and growing effort along with millions of others who care as much as you do.

No neutrality. But we can make a difference. We can make progress. We can effect change. And we must.

Downloaded from BestPhotos.US

Swamp people. Duck Dynasty. Hillbilly handfishin’. American Hoggers. Chasing tail. There’s a theme here, and it seems to be growing. The number of “reality” shows that focus on, even celebrate, the killing of animals has exploded in recent years. The killing and/or eating of animals has been shown on television for many years, of course, from cooking shows to “sports” programs. And as long as cable channels have existed, there have always been semi-documentary programs that followed hunters in the field or people out on the water fishing. But those shows, at least in the limited viewing I have had of them, seem to be straight forward and attempt to be instructive (not that I am a fan, just pointing out a difference). The present crop of programs however, seems to have a disturbing celebratory glee attached to them. And again, I have only seen (and been able to stomach) small snippets of these programs. But the people on them seem to really enjoy their “work” or “recreation” and do not seem to have any compunction at all about the violent and often cruel deaths they are inflicting on sentient, frightened creatures.

The knowledge that these things are take place is upsetting, but the fact is, people do hunt and fish and design products to make hunting and fishing more efficient for those who engage in it. Regarding hunting and fishing, again, not a fan, but it exists whether or not I like it. What is much more disturbing to me is that, by the millions, people are spending time out of what is for many a precious small allotment of free time, WATCHING these killings as a form of entertainment. I understand fatigue. I understand the need to unwind with some relatively mindless occupation after a long day. But to watch the suffering and death of animals as a way to unwind? I don’t get it. And for many people, work and family responsibilities consume many if not most of the waking hours of most days. So that leaves precious few hours for entertainment and relaxing. That these shows attract enough viewers to stay on the air makes me very sad.

I will admit to watching the first couple of seasons of Billy The Exterminator. But despite the program title, Billy and his company actually attempted (and almost always accomplished) relocation of the animals caught. When he had a bat infested attic, he rigged a net to force the bats out of the building while not harming them. He seemed to care about the local ecosystems and wanted to release the “nuisance” animals to live out their lives in a remote setting. It was actually somewhat uplifting. I did eventually stop viewing because there were some instances of actual extermination – wasp nests (although he did relocate a bee hive once) and rats in various locations. I just can’t watch that. But I am glad he rescued and released many of the animals he was called to remove.

But these current programs are about killing, hunting, shooting, and death. I don’t care if the animals killed are later harvested for food. Or if the people in them think they are performing a “necessary” removal of “dangerous” animals. The programs are ultimately about the hunt and the kill. And people are watching. Sad.

photo: Gary M. Stolz, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via


It’s coming. The roll out date for mass public consumption of laboratory grown meat may be some time away, but lab-grown meat, also known as synthetic meat or in vitro meat, will be here soon enough. It’s a product whose time is long overdue. The current meat demand worldwide is growing. It is estimated that by the year 2050, meat production will be double what it is now. Already, much of the world’s arable land, as well as water resources, are consumed for food animal growth. Beef alone accounts for nearly 60% of the world’s agricultural land, and 22% of the global freshwater supply is used for meat production. Add in the devastating environmental effects of the mass growing and killing of land animals for food, and it is clear that this is not a sustainable path for the long (or even short or medium) term. Recent food safety issues, such as the discovery of antibiotic resistant bacteria and fecal bacteria in ground turkey and the public’s increasing awareness of the cruelty of this industry make the idea of sterile, non-death causing meat even more appealing.

Will it appeal to everyone? Of course not. For example, after (basically no) consideration, I know that I will not be a consumer of these products. I have not eaten meat in almost 30 years and have no desire to return to it, even if an animal didn’t die to produce it. For me, it is still an animal derived product. I put it in the same category as dairy, an animal derived product where the animal was not killed, but still required. For me, it does not fit with the vegan path I have chosen for my life. Plus, one of the many reasons I stopped eating meat is that I simply don’t like it – it grosses me out. I won’t even eat many of the tvp-based alternatives because they are too authentic in taste and texture. And for people who try and avoid food that is highly processed, it may not be an appealing option. But for much of the meat-eating world, people who like meat and want to continue eating it, this may be the best solution the world will see for a very long time. Does it still exploit animals? Yes, in that the starter material will be taken from an animal and it will still be cultured animal tissue. Does it conform to an abolitionist world view in which nonhuman animals are appreciated for their sentient nature and not viewed as a means to an end? Absolutely not. But will it save billions of land animals from being born, only to live in confinement, have painful procedures such as debeaking and castration (usually without the benefit of anesthesia), be pumped full of dangerous hormones and antibiotics, and die ghastly, tortured deaths? Yes, indeed it will. And who knows – it may even change a few minds about what it really means to eat the flesh of another. It’s not nirvana, but I’ll happily take it when it comes.

photo: Jon Sullivan via