Category Archives: Book/Movie Reviews

Book Review: The Compassionate Diet

The Compassionate Diet is a little book with a lot of information! In 150 pages, this book quickly covers all the major reasons to go vegetarian and more – from the health benefits, to the ethics and karma of eating animals, to meat production’s effects on the environment and contribution to world hunger, to a discussion of organics and GMOs.

Having read many books about vegetarianism, I didn’t find any of the facts in this book new or surprising. It gives a good, basic overview of the issues, but compared to other books about vegetarianism (like Eating Animals, Gristle, Slaughterhouse, or Skinny Bitch, for example), The Compassionate Diet doesn’t pack the same kind of punch – no gory animal abuse stories, no long lists of fact after fact about the destruction the meat industry is causing to our planet, no graphic explanation of how cholesterol clogs arteries. But I think that’s intentional. It felt to me like the authors made a conscious decision to take a different approach than other vegetarian books – a more compassionate approach. Plus, the length of the book (very short) made it impossible to go into many facts and gory details on any particular issue, so instead it just offers a quick, broad summary.

The section of the book that I found most interesting (because it is rarely covered in other vegetarian books) was the section about vegtarianism and religion. When discussing vegetarianism in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism, it is obvious that all of these major religions would be appalled by the way animals are treated in our current food system.

“You must not use your God-given body for killing God’s creatures, whether they are human, animal or whatever.”  –Yajur Veda 12.32
“By not killing any living being, one becomes fit for salvation.”  –Manusmriti 6:60
“To become vegetarian is to step into the stream that leads to nirvana.”  -Buddha

I did enjoy all the quotes that were used throughout the book, many from famous authors, philosophers, doctors, and scientists. (Y’all know that I love a good quote!)

All in all, I wouldn’t select this book if I were trying to convince an omnivore to convert to vegetarianism, but I do think it’s a good reinforcement and summary for someone who has just begun their vegetarian journey, or someone who is already familiar with the issues around our meat-production system. It certainly makes you more conscious of just how much our diet has an impact on – from the animals, to the environment, to our own health, and the health of everyone around the world. And consciousness about the issues is exactly what is needed to make a change.

Annoying disclaimers: I was given a copy of this book by the publisher. This in no way affected my opinion. All links to Amazon are affiliate links.

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Breakfast: Evol tofu and spinach burrito – And, right now, PETA has a buy one get one free coupon for vegan Evol burritos!
Lunch: Chipotle burrito bowl (no meat = free guac!)

Dinner: Seitan BBQ sliders from Snack Bar

Cookbook Review: On A Stick!

On a Stick! by Matt Armendariz is the ultimate entertainer’s cookbook! The introduction to the book asserts that, “foods just taste better on a stick.” Whether or not this is true, I will assert that foods certainly look better on a stick. The presentation of hors d’oeuvres, desserts, and even meals on sticks is absolutely perfect for parties. Whether you’re the host or you’re just bringing a dish, you will certainly find something both attractive and delicious in this book.

Divided into two sections, “savory” and “sweet,” this book is full of 80 ideas for foods on a stick. As I flipped through the first few savory recipes (bacon wrapped shrimp, beef kebabs, and beef teriyaki), I was worried that this book wouldn’t have many vegetarian recipes. But as I continued to browse, I came across more and more veggie options (like caprese sticks, deep fried ravioli, and elote – a Mexican corn-on-the-cob). And I found several that could easily be vegetarianized (like breakfast pancake dogs using veggie sausage, dak sanjuk with tofu instead of chicken, and molotes with soy chorizo). Then I hit the sweet section, where most recipes featured fruit and/or chocolate, and I realized that every recipe but one in the sweet section is vegetarian.  All in all, this book is extremely veg-friendly.

Whenever I read through a recipe book for the first time, I immediately mark the pages that I definitely want to make.

So choosing the first recipe to try from this book was a tough decision. I finally decided on one savory and one sweet:

Molotes – Potato, (soy) chorizo, and (vegan) cheese wrapped in a corn dough and fried. Served with a homemade salsa.

And Mojito Melons – Honeydew marinated in a mojito mix consisting of lime, mint, rum, and sugar. Absolutely delicious!

Both were fantastic, especially the Mojito Melons! I will definitely be using recipes out of this book when I entertain or take a dish to a party.

I’m not gonna lie, I originally thought I’d offer this book as a giveaway at the end of this post, but then I decided I wanted to keep this one, sorry folks. So I highly recommend you pick up a copy of On a Stick!, especially if you entertain.

Annoying disclaimers: I was given a copy of this book by the publisher. This in no way affected my opinion. All links to Amazon are affiliate links.

Rethinking Food Sustainability with James McWilliams

My Autographed Book!

This afternoon, I attended a lecture at The University of Texas by James McWilliams, author of Just Food. As in his book, McWilliams discussed the flaws in the “Eat Local” movement as a way to foster an environmentally friendly and sustainable food system. He pointed out that food miles (how far your food has traveled) actually isn’t an accurate indicator of the environmental friendliness of your meal and revealed that, in fact, transportation only accounts for 9% of the energy used in the food chain. The much more important environmental factor is how the food is produced, not where it came from.

McWilliams gave the example that for Londoners, local, grain-fed lamb uses four times as much energy as grass-fed lamb shipped in from New Zealand. It is actually better for the environment to produce the lamb in a more sustainable way, half-way across the world, and ship it, than it is to use unsustainable production methods locally. His point being that local isn’t always best.

He also discussed the world’s impending population growth. It is predicted that by 2050, the world’s population will reach 9.5 billion (we’re currently just under 7 billion). In just the past 50 years, the world’s population doubled. All of these people need to eat and in places where the growth is happening most quickly, like China and India, traditional diets (plant based) are being replaced with Western diets (meat and processed food based).  As McWilliams says in Just Food, “This is an irrepressible component of globalization – one with potentially severe environmental consequences – that we can no longer afford to ignore.”

Experts estimate that providing food for this massive population growth will require an increase in food production of 70-100%. However, it’s not as simple as it sounds. In fact, there are many problems. For one, there is very little remaining arable land that hasn’t already been cultivated. Civilizations developed around arable land and there is a reason why the land that is vacant remains vacant – crops will not grow on it (could be too dry, too hot, poor soil quality, too cold, too rocky, too salty, too polluted, etc.).

In addition, climate change is already negatively effecting agriculture and as the climate change continues it will only make matters worse. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a great site that summarizes how climate change is effecting agriculture, including issues like average temperature increases, change in rainfall amounts and patterns, rising levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, pollution levels, and changes in extreme climatic events such as floods, droughts, and heat waves.

After McWilliams pointed out many issues with our food system sustainability in the face of rapid population growth, he made it clear that just pointing out the problems doesn’t do much good (or make you very popular). So he moved from the “problem committee” to the “solution committe” and offered us his four solutions to this looming issue.

1) Utilize technologies that increase density of production (producing more calories in a smaller space). His first example of this was genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Now, if you’ve been reading my blog for any amount of time, you probably know how I feel about this issue. However, in the context of being able to feed 2.5 billion more people, I understand why McWilliams suggested this as a solution. It is true that GMO crops produce a higher yield, and they can resist drought, resist pests and diseases, they can grow in wetlands, and be bio-fortified (add extra vitamins, etc.), and more.  He also discussed using fertilizers which are better for the environment (less nitrogen runoff), but these are currently very expensive; and mentioned more efficient ways of farming like precision farming, vertical farming, and saltwater greenhouses.

2) Make agriculture responsible for their environmental damage. As McWilliams put it, “environmental damage is socialized, but agricultural profit is capitalized.” Currently, there are very few (if any?) regulations or penalties on agricultural companies for damaging the environment. As long as no one is mandating that they stop environmental destrucion, they will continue to do it. McWilliams suggests that agricultural companies should pay for the damage they cause – for damaging the soil, the water, the air. And I whole-heartedly agree with this suggestion. As soon as it becomes a detriment to their bottom line, these companies will certainly find a better way to operate.

3) Re-invest in agricultural science. Money invested in agricultural science has steadily declined since the mid-70’s. The reality is that money is needed to find solutions. Scientists don’t work for free.

4) Move to a plant-based diet. I doubt I need to elaborate on this one, since I have an entire blog full of posts about this issue, but the basic point is that meat consumption is absolutely the most wasteful part of food production. Seventy percent of all water used west of the Mississippi goes to animal agriculture (and remember the issues with water use I wrote about recently?). Seventy-five percent of synthetic fertilizers (the ones running off into our water) in the US are used on crops that are grown just to feed livestock. Over half of the antibiotics and vaccines in the US are fed to livestock. Meat production is responsible for more greenhouse gasses than all forms of transportation combined.

Not only is meat detrimental to the environment, but it’s just flat-out inefficient. It takes about 2,500 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef, but it takes only 13 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of potatoes. Growing food to feed to food is a waste of resources. I’ve often read that the crops fed to American livestock each year could feed the more than 1.3 billion people going hungry around the world. On average, Americans eat 275 pounds of meat per year per person. McWilliams said that for a sustainable system that can feed the entire population, experts estimate that it should be more like 12 pounds per person per year.

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My favorite part of the lecture was at the end when I asked McWilliams to sign my copy of his book and I got to ask him, “What do YOU eat?” He told me that he eats a strict vegan diet and said that as hard as he tried, he simply could not come up with a valid argument for eating animal products, so he doesn’t.

Be sure to check out James McWilliams’ writings at TheAtlantic.com – there’s some really awesome stuff there, like this article!

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Breakfast: Frozen bean & rice burrito from Whole Foods
Lunch: White Bean Bake – I tried to veganize this recipe by topping the casserole with vegan parmesan and nutritional yeast. It didn’t turn out that great. Oh well, sometimes that happens.

Dinner: Leftover vegan Mexican food (my favorite!!) from Adelante in San Antonio – Tofu & veggie enchilada, spinach tamale, guacamole taco, and rice & (vegan!) beans

Movie Review: The Cove

I just watched The Cove, the Oscar award-winning documentary about the  annual dolphin slaughter in Taiji, Japan. I’m not going to go into details about the film because this is a blog about American food issues, but I do just have a few quick thoughts:

  • This movie left me feeling completely disgusted with humanity (as does all of the animal abuse/slaughter evidence I see). It is so sad to see how callous humans are; what little regard we have for life, for majestic intelligent beings, for our fellow creatures.
  • It angers me beyond belief that the Japanese government pays small, poor countries to support them on this issue. I don’t understand how the representatives of the International Whaling Commission from Japan, and the countries which Japan has paid off, can live with themselves.
  • I am once again feeling entirely overwhelmed and helpless in this quest to enlighten people about animal abuse and slaughter. Dolphins are considered the most intelligent of all animals, yet we can’t even stop their slaughter for meat. If we can’t save the dolphins, there’s sure as shit no hope for the cows.


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Breakfast: Smoothie with banana, pear, spinach, flaxseed, almond milk, and ice

Lunch: Big salad with spinach, chickpeas, kidney beans, mini corn, and a chopped Morning Star Chik Patty
Dinner: Pumpkin ravioli with homemade vegan pesto

Book Review and GIVEAWAY!

Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows

In Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows author Melanie Joy, PhD, introduces us to her doctoral research on a belief system that enables us to eat some animals, but not others – a belief system she calls “carnism.”

The book begins with a hypothetical situation: You are at a friend’s house for dinner. Your friend serves you a delicious stew – the most delicious stew you’ve ever tasted! After scarfing down half your bowl of scrumptious stew, you ask your friend for the recipe. Your friend replies with, “You start with some well marinated Golden Retriever meat…”

What is your reaction? Do you continue to eat the stew that you just a moment ago thought was so delightful? Or are you so completely disgusted that you’ve just eaten dog, you can no longer consume the stew?

Now assume that you’re friend tells you it was just a joke – the meat is actually beef. Is your appetite fully restored? Do you resume eating the stew with the same enthusiasm as before? Or are you left with some type of residual emotional discomfort?

What is going on here? How can food, given one label, be considered highly palatable and that same food, given another, become virtually inedible? The main ingredient – meat – didn’t change at all. It is animal flesh either way – it just became, or seemed to become, meat from a different animal. Why is it that we have such radically different reactions to meat from cows and meat from dogs?

This book aims to answer that question by exploring Americans’ perception of animals. A portion of the book is dedicated to describing what happens on factory farms – the abuse of animals and how it is hidden from the public (meat, diary, eggs, and seafood are each given sections), the horror of slaughterhouses, the mistreatment of factory workers, and the lack of safety standards that lead to disease and illness in the public. There is also an examination of meat’s impact on the environment and on our health.

But the most interesting parts of the book, to me, are the philosophical discussions.

“It is an odd phenomenon, the way we react to the idea of eating dogs and other inedible animals. Even stranger, though, is the way we don’t react to the idea of eating cows and other edible animals. There is an unexplained gap, a missing link, in our perceptual process when it comes to edible species; we fail to make the connection between meat and its animal source. Have you ever wondered why, out of tens of thousands of animal species, you probably feel disgusted at the idea of eating all but a tiny handful of them? What is most striking about our selection of edible and inedible animals is not the presence of disgust, but the absence of it. Why are we not averse to eating the very small selection of animals we have deemed edible?”

This book gives a fantastic psychological and sociological examination of carnistic beliefs – the beliefs that allow an entire society to continue inhumanely raising and slaughtering certain animals, while loving and nurturing others, and not realizing the illogical nature of this behavior. Our attitudes and behaviors toward animals are so inconsistent, and that inconsistency is so unexamined. It is absurd that we love dogs, yet eat pigs, and don’t even know why.

“Many of us spend long minutes in the aisle of the drugstore mulling over what toothpaste to buy. Yet most of us don’t spend any time at all thinking about what species of animal we eat and why. […] What could cause an entire society of people to check their thinking caps at the door – and not even realize they’re doing so?

For the answer, you’ll definitely want to read this book! In addition to being informative about the meat industry, it also presents thought-provoking ideas about herd mentality and will likely trigger some self-examination.

The GIVEAWAY!

The publisher of this book, Conari Press, has graciously given me TWO copies of this book to give to readers! [This has not influenced my opinion of this book in any way.] To win a copy, leave a comment on this post by midnight on Tuesday, July 13th! I will select two commenters at random to receive this book.  Let me know your thoughts on carnism (or maybe your reactions to eating dog), or just let me know that you want to read the book.

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Brunch: Tofu scramble breakfast tacos with Gimmie Lean sausage, spinach, and Veggie Shreds cheese
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Dinner: The BEST veggie burger I’ve EVER had from BGR!!!

Movie Review: The Future Of Food

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This documentary about genetically engineered food is really eye-opening.

Eye opener #1: Much of the US public probably does not even know that we’re eating genetically modified food. Lots of it. Genetically modified corn, soybeans, canola, and cotton (which were non-existent in the 1980s) are now so commonplace that approximately 95% of American soybeans are genetically modified  (GM), as well as 50% of corn and 50% of canola. It is estimated that around 70% of processed foods contain GM ingredients. Considering that about 90 cents of every dollar spent at the supermarket goes toward processed foods, chances are you’ve been unwittingly consuming GM victuals since the mid-1990s, when they began appearing in stores.

So what?
Well, besides the ethicality (is that a word?) of corporations owning the rights to natural crops like corn and soy, there are also unknown health effects. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) states, “Genetically Modified foods have not been properly tested and pose a serious health risk. There is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects. There is causation.” The AAEM also called for a moratorium on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food, and for physicians to advise their patients to avoid GM foods. Since the massive invasion of GMOs into the food supply from 1990s, chronic diseases and food allergies have doubled.

More than 25 countries have banned or partially banned genetically engineered foods, including 15 countries of the European Union, Japan, Thailand, China, Philippines, Brazil, Paraguay, Saudi Arabia, Australia, New Zealand, and more.  This also means that these countries will not accept imports of genetically modified foods (also called genetically modified organisms, or GMOs) from the US.

Eye opener #2: In the US, genetically engineered foods are considered by the government to be “substantially equivalent” to traditional foods, so they are free from any additional regulations and companies are not required to label GMOs on food labels.  So, we have absolutely NO IDEA when we are eating GMOs.  (The countries of the EU that allow GMOs require that all GMOs are labeled.)

As I’ve ranted abut before, as consumers our money is our vote.  Without labels on genetically modified foods, we don’t even have the choice to vote against them by not purchasing them!  The choices we make at the supermarket influence the future of our food, but we are now being denied our choices.

Eye opener #3: Seriously shady politics.  As usual, US food policy is driven by profit rather than safety.  Against the advice of both government and independent scientists, GMOs were approved by Michael Taylor, a Deputy Commissioner of the FDA who, not so coincidentally, was previously the Senior Counsel of the largest producer of genetically engineered foods: Monsanto (my arch nemesis!).

Eye opener #4: Lack of safety research. Because GMOs are not labeled in the US, there is absolutely no traceability, causing a lack of understanding of the effects and safety of GMOs.  For example, if you were to feed your baby formula, and your baby were to have some sort of reaction to this formula, you would have NO IDEA that this reaction could be caused by GMOs, because GMOs are not labeled.  However, if they were labeled, you could take your baby to the doctor, the doctor could document the issue, and statistics could be kept on the effects of GMO foods.

It is completely absurd to allow such a new, controversial technology into our food system without any long-term testing!  It’s rumored that the Japanese, who are deeply concerned about the health effects of genetically modified foods,  stated: “We will watch the children in the United States for the next 10 years.”  Our government has turned our children into lab rats for the world.

Eye opener #5: The biotech food industry has done nothing for the consumer (no better taste, no better nutrition).  They claim, however, that genetically engineered foods will solve the world hunger problem.  This claim is absolutely ridiculous for 2 reasons:

a) The reason why about 800 million people starve every day has nothing to do with the amount of food available.  The problem of hunger is not a production problem, it is an access problem. We’re, in fact, overproducing the major commodities (corn, wheat, soy) to the point that farmers cant even recover their production costs because the market is over-saturated.  When countries like the US subsidize their crops, they undercut the markets of developing countries, causing poverty & hunger in third world countries.

b) One of the most ironic things about biotechnology industry claiming that it’s going to feed the world is that it has created a technology called the “terminator gene”: a suicide gene that is put into crops so that after one planting cycle,  it will “commit suicide”.  The seed is sterile.  You can not re-plant the seed.  So after one crop cycle, the plant is done and you must BUY more seeds.  (There are 15 patents by 1st world countries on terminator genes.)  Can you imagine what is going to happen if this terminator gene spreads to crops around the world?

Because I believe that knowledge is power, I recomend that everyone watch this movie to become educated on the issues we are currently facing that undoubtedly effect you, your children, and the entire human population.

For more information, and to download the movie, check out the film’s website: www.thefutureoffood.com

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Breakfast: Lots of cherries!
Lunch: Pasta with marinara
Dinner: Falafel sandwich from Maoz

Movie Review: Earthlings

earthlings

Earthlings is an incredibly eye-opening documentary about they way humans use animals. From food, to science, to entertainment, we exploit our fellow creatures to no end. It is disturbing and disheartening to see just how brutal humans can be, and then to realize that these horrible practices are accepted as part of our every day lives without any thought to the immense cruelty that is occurring. Earthlings urges us to “make the connection.”

In Earthlings, our exploitation of animals is examined from five areas: food, clothing, entertainment, science, and even our pets. Now, I know this is a blog about food, but anyone who reads this blog knows that I feel very passionately about ending animal abuse.  Although our food system is a gigantic contributor to animal suffering, unfortunately, it is not the only contributor.  So, this documentary not only delves into our food system, but also examines other areas in which we inflict suffering on our fellow creatures.

At only 1 hr 30 min, I urge everyone to watch this short but powerful film.  You can watch it online right here (it is also available on Netflix). Please don’t put this off. Ignorance has prevailed for far too long and it only helps to fuel the cruelty and suffering.  As a society, we have a very strong desire not to know things that might weigh heavy on our conscience, but the only way to end injustice is to first be aware of it.

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Below is my short summary of the film (which I’m including only because I’m afraid some of you will watch American Idol instead of Earthlings), but my words can not possibly convey the extent of the problem so I hope that you will watch it for yourself.

Pets
Most of us could never imagine deliberately harming an animal, let alone our beloved cats and dogs. But, do we ever stop and think about where our pets come from? The majority of dogs in pet stores come from puppy mills where animals are not only repeatedly bred, but they also live their entire lives in filthy, crowded cages. They do not receive veterinary care (they are simply “discarded” when unable to reproduce), there is no socialization, and they suffer from physical and psychological conditions.

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First: Overcrowded cages, Second: Starvation is common in puppy mills

It is incredibly important to spay and neuter our pets.  Every year, 25 million pets become homeless (including about 27% of the pure-bred dogs).  Of these 25 million, 9 million of them die on the streets from disease, injury, or starvation.  The other 16 million are sent to shelters that are often forced to kill them due to lack of space.  Almost 50% of animals in shelters are brought in by their owners! Over 60,000 animals are euthanized every day. Injection is by far the most humane way to euthanize animals, but it is expensive, so shelters with budget constraints are forced to use other methods such as gas chambers. Frightened animals are packed into the chambers and it can take as long as 20 minutes for them to die.

Gas chamber Euthanized cats and dogs
First: Gas chamber, Second: Euthanized cats and dogs

Food
If you’ve been reading this blog, this one needs no further explanation.  If you’re new, read the posts in the Animal Welfare and Meet Your Meat categories.

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First: Abused pig, Second: Abused and infected chicken

Because I focus this blog on American food issues, I have not covered the brutal practices of whale and dolphin fishing that occur in other parts of the world (yes, for food).  In addition to traditional US livestock, Earthlings discusses the massive slaughter of these majestic sea creatures around the world.

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First: Slaughtered dolphins, Second: Slaughtered whales

Clothing
The demand for leather comes primarily from the US, the UK, and Germany. Just about everyone wears leather (and suede) with little or no thought as to where it comes from. When we do think about it, we probably think that leather is a by-product of the beef industry, but the reality is that cows slaughtered for beef are not also used for leather.

Shockingly, the majority of leather comes from India cows, where slaughter of cows is forbidden. Poor, rural Indian families sell their cows only after being assured the cows will live out their lives on farms. The cows are then taken on a brutal and exhausting journey to relocate them to somewhere where their slaughter is legal. On the journey, they are not given food or water and are so weakened that they often break bones or collapse from exhaustion. To keep the cattle moving, the handlers will deliberately break their tail, the pain of which causes the cows to jump to their feet and keep marching forward. Their tails are broken again and again, in multiple places, each time they collapse from weakness. Handlers also rub chili powder into their eyes as another “keep moving” tactic.

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Collapsed cows

Entertainment
Rodeos: (Being a Texan, this one can be an especially touchy subject in certain company.) Animals are tormented with poking, prodding, and electric shocks, to get them to bolt out of the chute. The roped animals are very scared, and running full speed, then they are roughly jerked to the ground with a rope around the neck. There is no denying that rodeos are brutal and exploit our fellow animals.
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Racing: For dog & horse racing (and any other type of animal racing), training is often accomplished by withholding food and sometimes water. Injured race animals are “discarded.”

Hunting: (Another touchy subject in Texas.) Over 200 million animals are killed through hunting and fishing every year . There can be no debate that if hunting is a sport, it is a blood sport.

Circuses: Abuse of circus animals has been exposed by numerous undercover investigations. On top of the fact that the animals are kept in small cages, are uncomfortably transported all over the country, are denied socialization, and are in chains for 95% of their lives, they are also violently abused during training.

Bullfighting: Bullfighting pits a confused, maimed, psychologically tormented, and physically debilitated bull against a matador. Many prominent matadors report that bulls are given tranquilizers, cut to cause blood loss, and have heavy weights hung around their necks for days prior to a fight.

Zoos: We regard zoos as educational opportunities, but what can we really learn about wild animals by observing them in cages, other than a disregard for the nature of other beings?

(How can we find entertainment in such brutal activities? Are humans not the most callous beings of all?)

Science
Anyone who knows me well knows that I’m a huge advocate of science, experimentation, exploration, and discovery, in general. However, some of the ways we use animals for so-called science are atrocious. Now, I’m not saying that we should stop working on cancer cures because it requires testing on animals, but I am saying that we need to be WAY more selective about why, how, and how much we torture animals for the sake of science.

We deliberately inflict diseases, burns, starvation, dehydration, infections, head trauma, and physical and psychological torment on lab animals. Military research tests atomic blasts on dogs and nuclear radiation on primates.  To simulate the effects of car crashes, we literally strap baboons into metal helmets and slam their heads with the force of up to 1000 g’s. This process is repeated again and again on the same animal.

Even my beloved NASA recently funded radioactive experimentation on spider monkeys after the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine called the experiments “cruel, unnecessary, and lack[ing] scientific merit.” The approved experiments may even violate NASA’s own principles for the ethical care and use of animals, which require researchers to consider the scope of societal good that may come from an experiment utilizing animals. As much as I hope that it will happen in my lifetime, interplanetary travel at this point is, at best, speculative, and to put animals through radiation tests at this point is in no way justified.

It is estimated that 10 billion (with a ‘B’) animals die per day due to scientific research and the number is growing by 5% annually.  That number is almost beyond comprehension! That’s 19,000 per minute.

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Plus, every product tested on animals (yes, every single one, no exceptions) must again be tested on humans. Humans are biologically different than  rats, dogs, and monkeys, so even if something is proven safe on animals, it still must be tested on humans before it is approved as safe for humans. It is reasonable to say that much of the initial testing on animals could be eliminated.

Thoughts
The systematic torture of sentient beings, no matter the context or pretense, can not achieve more than it already has: to show us the lowest point of debasement man can reach.  We are all animals of this planet.  We are all creatures with a purpose. We all seek survival and minimization of pain.  We all feel pain. We are all alive.  We are all Earthlings. As we examine our dependence on animals for food, fashion, entertainment, research, and companionship, ironically, all we see is a complete disrespect for them.

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Breakfast: Bean & soy cheese taco
Lunch: Veggie burger
Dinner: Tofu and bean sprout stir fry

Movie Review: Food, Inc.

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Food, Inc. is a fantastic summary of all the food-related issues in the US today.

Marketing
The way we eat has changed more in the past 50 years than in the previous 200. But we still use the same images of agarian America to sell food.

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Hillshire Farms, owned by Sarah Lee, a $12.8 billion company, represents itself with a little red barn.

There is a deliberate veil drawn between us and our food. Industry doesn’t want us to know where our food comes from because if we did, we might not want to eat it. In fact, 13 states even have laws making it illegal to criticize food (informally called “Veggie Libel Laws” because the criticism is usually aimed at the meat industry).

This issue isn’t just about what we’re eating, it isn’t just about health, it’s about what we’re allowed to say and allowed to know.

Monopolies
Just a handful of companies have changed the way we eat. The whole industrial food system began with fast food in the 1930’s. The McDonald brothers brought Ford’s idea of industrialization to food. Each person in their restaurants performed one simple task repeatedly (one person added the mustard to the bun, one person added the pickle, one person wrapped the burger in paper). This system allowed them to pay very low wages and to easily replace employees.

McDonald’s is now the single largest purchaser of both ground beef and potatoes inthe US. They are also one of the largest purchasers of lettuce, tomatoes, chicken, pork, and even apples. With McDonald’s focus on consistency (ensuring that a burger tastes exactly the same no matter where its ordered, or where the meat came from), they have led and driven the industrialization of our food chain. Today, even if you don’t eat fast food, you are eating meat out of this system.

Animals
By combining antibiotics, hormones, unhealthy diets, and genetic engineering, animals are fattened faster than ever before.

We have literally changed the chicken.
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A layer hen (front) vs a broiler hen (back) at the same age of 6 weeks.

The food that is fed to livestock is cheap and fattening and is making the animals sick (which, in turn, is making us sick).

Farmers
Not only have we changed the chicken, but we have also changed the farmer. Today, nearly every chicken is owned by a large company (like Tyson’s or Perdue). The farmer simply raises them, but they are owned, from birth to slaughter, by a corporation. Farmers that raise chickens for a large company must continue to comply with the company’s regulations (such as upgrading their chicken houses on demand) which are often expensive. The typical chicken farmer has borrowed $500,000 and makes $18,000 a year. One chicken farmer who invited the cameras into her overcrowded chicken house said, “It is nasty in here. There’s dust and feces everywhere. This isn’t farming.”

Corn
What looks like a conicopia of veriety at the grocery store is not. it is an illusion. There are very few companies involved and even fewer crops. Nearly all of our food can be traced back to corn or soy. Much of our food is just clever rearrangements of corn and soy.

Thirty percent of the land-base in the US is planted by corn! Due to US government policy (the Farm Bill), farmers are paid to over-produce corn and soy. Since corn & soy are used in about 90% of processed foods, the large food companies lobby congress to continue these subsidies. This way, they’re able to buy corn & soy for cheaper than what it costs to produce.

Because corn is so cheap, it is fed to our livestock whose stomachs are not able to digest corn properly.  For more about this, see Feeding Our Food.

Food Safety (or lack thereof)
Feeding corn to animals that are not designed to eat corn has led to an abundance of an acid-resistant mutation of the E. coli virus.  This strain of the virus, which never existed prior to the industrialization of our food chain, is now prevalent in our food system.  The waste runoff from factory farms then spreads the E. coli to fruits and vegetables.

Each new step in “efficiency” that industrialization introduces to the food process just leads to more problems.  If a cow is taken off corn for 5 days (and instead eats grass), it will shed 85% of the E. coli in their system.  But instead of doing this, the industry comes up with another “solution” to the problem: ammonia washes.  Our meat is literally washed in ammonia (ya, the toxic stuff) to kill viruses and bacteria before it is packaged.

With all the new dangers in our food system today, you’d think the FDA would do something about it.  Turns out that in 1976, the FDA conducted 50,000 food inspections.  In 2006, they conducted less than 10,000.

Obesity
We have skewed the food system to favor the bad calories (High Fructose Corn Syrup is cheap) and it wasn’t an accident.  It is a direct result of US government subsidies.  Income is the highest predictor of obesity because a Big Mac is cheaper than a head of broccoli.  Type II diabetes used to only effect adults, but now it is effecting children in epidemic proportions.

Factory Farm Workers
The food industry has mastered the art of picking a workforce that they can exploit.  Slaughterhouses actively recruit in Mexico, seeking our employees who are desperate for a paycheck.  These type of employees can’t afford to quit or lose their jobs and the meat industry knows it and holds it over their heads.

The meatpacking companies even have agreements with immigration officers to give up as many as 15 illegal immigrants a day to avoid raids in their factories.

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)
In 1996, 2% of soybeans grown in the US contained GMOs.  In 2006, 90% contained GMOs.  Seventy percent of processed food in the US contains GMOs, yet none of it is labeled.  The food industry fights tooth and nail against labeling GMO ingredients.  They know that if we know what we’re eating, we may choose not to eat it.

Change
We have allowed ourselves to become disconnected and ignorant about something as intimate as what we are putting inside our mouths and bodies, but we have the power to change the system! When we run an item by the supermarket scanner, we are voting. (Even large corporations like WalMart have quit carrying milk containing synthetic growth hormones because of consumer demand.) It is up to us to demand a change.

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Breakfast: Bagel with “Better Than Cream Cheese” soy cream cheese
Lunch: Nachos with black beans, soy cheese, and homemade guacamole
Dinner: Veggie Pad Thai

Book Review: Skinny Bitch

Skinny Bitch by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin
A no-nonsense, tough-love guide for savvy girls who want to stop eating crap and start looking fabulous!

books

This is the book that changed my life.  Literally.  I went veg after reading it.  The book focuses healthy eating, but the part that got me was the chapter on animal abuse in our factory farms…

Included in the book are direct quotes from factory farm workers talking about what they’d seen or what they themselves had done to the animals and it just sickened me to my core. Malicious and torturous acts of cruelty to the animals that were more than unnecessary, they were flat-out evil.  Through my bawling, I knew that I never wanted to contribute to this kind of pain, suffering, and hatred ever again.  It still makes me so angry, even makes my stomach queasy, just thinking about the huge amount of cruelty and suffering that is involved for just one meal.  (I’m not even talking about the act of killing the animals here; I’m talking about malicious brutality to the animals while alive.)

Written in an in-your-face tone, (“Don’t even try some pathetic excuse… No one wants to hear it.”) you learn not only about the cruelty, filthiness, and unhealthiness of meat, but it also discusses things like sugar, carbs, and dairy, as well as touches on corruption in our food regulation agencies (USDA, FDA).  Plus, there is a listing of healthy, vegetarian meal ideas for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for an entire month!

This is not just a book for chicks. Obviously, it is marketed towards women, but the information is definitely unisex.  Plus, it’s such a short & easy read that it’s certainly worth the small amount of your time.

Five stars (out of five).
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Breakfast: Bagel with jelly
Lunch: General Tso’s Bean Curd (tofu)
Dinner: A big salad with lots of stuff: spinach, tomato, cucumber, celery, chick peas, avocado, kidney beans, peas, corn, carrots, broccoli, and pine nuts