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Bringing Up the Roots

I’m incredibly thankful for a conversation I had the other night that reminded me of the very visceral feelings I’ve experienced all of my life in relation to animal exploitation and cruelty. What a relief to know that someone else experiences that same white hot burning through the temples, boiling behind the eyes, and through every bone while seeing first hand, reading about, viewing film or even talking about animal cruelty. That threatening and shaking rage knowing there is unimaginable suffering caused by human action (or inaction). That very primal push by an invisible force to do something about it that will most likely look crazy to nine out of ten people. How else to explain why I am vegan? It is the most honest and meaningful decision I have ever made and might ever make.

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I’m surprised at how personal this post turned out to be. I wasn’t planning on it. I was trying to decide if I wanted to go ahead and jump into the commercial farming of turkeys just in time for Thanksgiving OR if I wanted to go into the environmental impact of animal agriculture. I guess I felt compelled to share some of my feelings about veganism as a whole. The turkeys will get all my attention the next post.

I’m really coming to terms with the fact that I know so very little (about anything really) but specifically, veganism. Well, let me put it another way; between reading all these incredible (or incredibly eloquent even if I don’t always agree) authors and their views on veganism, agribusiness, vegetarianism, cruelty-free living, environmentalism, nutrition, animal-human symbiosis, animal exploitation, worker exploitation ETC. ETC. ETC. and talking to people who are vegan (and why) and are not (and why not) I am realizing that veganism is so multifaceted. We don’t all share an entirely collective view. We do not all have the same exact reasons we chose to be vegan. However, most who I have met and some who I have only read about, are vegan because they are against animal suffering as a whole and choose to live in a way to reduce their impact on animal suffering and exploitation through living a certain way. This includes never consuming any animal products. This leads directly to my next point: I need to really work on the eloquence of my tentative definition of veganism. On one hand, in itself, the word veganism is so simple and to the point. For animal welfare. Against animal suffering. Done aaaand done. However, I will now include a few definitions I’ve found in other books and by other authors and that damned wikipedia which is where I’m sure most people go to when they’re trying to figure out what the hell veganism means. So it matters. There are sooooo many other ways to define it but here are just a few I chose because this post is lengthy:

Brenda Davis, R.D. & Vesanto Melina, M.S., R.D (authors of Becoming Vegan)

Veganism may be defined as a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as possible and practical, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing; or any other purpose. In dietary terms, it refers to the practice of dispensing with all animal produce, including meat, fish, poultry, eggs, animal milks, honey, and their derivatives.”

Bob and Jenna Torres (authors of Vegan-Freak)

Veganism isn’t a “diet.” It is a way of living that focuses on according animals their due right as fellow sentient beings.”

Veganism is an outright rejection of the violent and hierarchical processes that condemn animals to lives of subjugation, servitude, and oppression.”

“As a lived form of protest, veganism is the expression of this desire for justice, a visceral and logical reaction to the horrors visited on others in our name.”

“As vegans, we take the anger, channel it, and live in a way that, to the greatest extent possible, affirms the intrinsic worth of animals. Veganism is us living in a world the way we want the world to be, and denying the violence done in our names.”

“To be vegan is to deny the psychological distance between the flesh in the Styrofoam tray at the supermarket and the someone – not something – who that meat came from. To be vegan is to live fully and honestly with yourself about how animals are treated, and it is about your not taking place in that exploitative system to the greatest extent possible.”

Wikipedia:

“Veganism is a philosophy and lifestyle whose adherents seek to exclude the use of animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose.”

“Vegans endeavor to never consume or use any animal products of any type. The most common reasons for becoming, or remaining, vegan are health, ethical commitment, moral conviction concerning animal rights or welfare, environmental concerns, and spiritual or religious concerns.Vegans are often, but not limited to, the practices which may be involved in factory farming and animal testing, as well as the intensive use of land and other resources for farming of animals.”

Vegan-Action (www.vegan.org)

“A vegan is someone who, for various reasons, chooses to avoid using or consuming animal products. While vegetarians choose not to use flesh foods, vegans also avoid dairy and eggs, as well as fur, leather, wool, down, and cosmetics or chemical products tested on animals.”


Now, it is to be understood that I am not incredibly well-read when it comes to vegan text. There. I said it. I have done ample research of the horror on factory farms and the impact of a meat-eating diet on the environment, on the body and our health, the extent of animal testing and their cruel role in entertainment etc. I am becoming much more educated on nutrition as a whole and the advantages of a vegan diet. However, I am still trying to figure out all the ways to live as a vegan. I have not been in many social situations where there isn’t anything for me to eat. Just today, I was in a situation where I was asked what kind of pizza I would like because I was helping some people on a project and they chose to order pizza. I answered, “Well, I am vegan so I don’t eat any dairy or meat of any kind so if they can make it, I’ll have a couple slices with no cheese and instead lots of vegetables.” The pizza came back with pepperoni, sausage, cheese, black olives and green peppers. However, I REFUSE to look like the unhappy and deprived vegan. I must live by example and have confident answers to comments and questions such as, “Oh man, I could NEVER give up cheese I love it so much!” or “Wasn’t it difficult giving up all that?” Or even more interesting, there happened to be an ex-vegan in the mix. Turns out he had been vegan for three years but had to resume an omnivorous diet because he just wasn’t healthy but he admitted he ate “mostly junk food.” Which is unfortunate because he became vegan just to lose weight. Which blows my mind. He was so happy to eat a big steak and he felt great. Well, probably because he was finally getting something else in his body besides vegan treats.

Back to my point: I never feel deprived. I never feel like I’m missing out. I eat and live with so much confidence now I even surprise myself. Instead of taking a bunch out of my diet I’ve been introduced to myriad foods I didn’t even know existed. And by the way, that doesn’t include Boca Burgers or any sort of frozen meat substitute. It really is amazing that once you start reading the labels on everything, learning what all these long names for chemicals are and what words are hiding animal products, you feel sick about how most of your life you’ve been ingesting all sorts of weird shit. I’m trying to, as Michael Pollan would say, eat mostly foods that are made up of four ingredients or less and few things my great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. I’ll have another post at some point about what I’m keeping in my kitchen these days as a fledgling vegan.

Here is another good source for what the vegan diet should entail:

Vegan Food Pyramid

This quote by Jenna and Bob Torres pretty much sums up my whole entire blog:

“Unless we take the time to educate others about veganism and why we are vegan, the elegant and powerful message of veganism will remain misunderstood, and our goal of abolishing animal exploitation will be deferred.”


(as if you can’t already tell I love pigs and Farm Sanctuary is my favorite of everything ever. I highly recommend Gene Baur’s (pictured above) book!


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there’s blood in the water

Egads it’s taken me a long while to jot down another post! Well, to be fair, I’ve had one of my best friends in town for a week and so that makes it virtually impossible to carve out time to write a well thought-out blog post. A post that wasn’t rushed. My friend unfortunately had to travel back to freezing Colorado today so I decided a quiet couch-day of writing and tea was needed. And the “Indian Classical Radio” station on Pandora Radio. Trust me. Actually, I’ve written three separate posts but I’m not going to fire them all out right now. Hopefully one everyday or every couple days coming up. As promised from the last post, I wanted to leap into the cruelty involved in factory farm practices.

With the assistance of a few authors, journalists and activists that I hold in enormous esteem, I’m going to describe each animals’ experience: pigs, cows (and veal), geese (and ducks), and chickens (both laying hens and broiler chickens) endure in CAFO’s. Often overlooked, I will go into the industrial farming of fish and industrial fishing practices. I am going by individual species because all their experiences are collectively the same under excruciating pain and torture but I want to stress that they all have individual natures and personalities as sentient beings and they deserve individual attention as such.

I’ll start with the unexpected and talk about fish. There is something about fish that makes people forget they are animals. Many vegetarians continue to eat fish (by the way, I think that it should be called pescetarianism or semi-vegetariaism, at best). Maybe it is the seemingly vacant look in their eyes, their inability to make noises that are audible to human ears, maybe they aren’t looked at as “cuddly” or simply that they live in an entirely different environment and we just don’t encounter them very often while they’re alive. I’ve always thought that giant fish tanks in doctor’s office waiting rooms and in the corner of a house just look like decorations. I mean, you can watch them swim around and tap on the glass to see if they react but to many they are just alien creatures at best. I bet a large percentage of the general population think they’re dumb, incapable of forming memories, having feelings or relations with other fish.

It’s really interesting to me how little fish are talked about in discussions about factory farming. Modern day “aquaculture” is in fact, a form of factory farming. Here is why:

Jonathan Safran Foer has done incredibly in depth research in his book Eating Animals. He does a very enlightening study on salmon aquaculture. I’m defining aquaculture here as Foer does being, “farms in which fish are confined to pens and “harvested.” Taste-wise, salmon has to be my favorite fish. However, salmon harvesting is so terrible, and like so many animals, I cannot look at the food the same way as before. The Handbook of Salmon Farming identifies “key stressors” in the aquaculture environment: (1) water quality (2) crowding (3) handling (4) disturbance (5) nutrition (6) hierarchy. Foer breaks it down very clearly from his research:  (1) water so fouled that it makes it hard to breathe; (2) crowding so intense that animals begin to cannibalize one another; (3) handling so invasive that physiological measures of stress are evident a day later; (4) nutritional deficiencies that weaken the immune system; and (5) the inability to form a stable social hierarchy, resulting in more cannibalism. In the salmon industry, these “integral components of fish farming” result in a “10 to 30 percent death rate” and those that survive “are likely to be starved for seven to ten days to diminish their bodily waste during transport to slaughter and then killed by having their gills sliced before being tossed into a tank of water to bleed to death.” No law requires the humane slaughter of fish and many are slaughtered while still conscious and “convulse in pain while they die.”  So that’s the story of salmon!

salmon farm

Now, let’s go over what wild-caught fish go through before death. Astoundingly, for every ten tuna, sharks, and other predatory fish that were in our oceans fifty to a hundred years ago, only one is left. Again, using the thorough research Foer has done on the subject, in modern days, schools of fish are located via GPS systems and the most common ways of catching the most commonly eaten sea animals in America (tuna and shrimp) are (1) longline fishing (2) trawling (3) purse seines. Longline fishing is a lot like it sounds. Modern longlines each dangling thousands of hooks can reach seventy-five miles long. The real kicker is that longlines don’t just catch their “target species” but 145 others too.

“One study found that roughly 4.5 million sea animals are killed as bycatch (fish caught unintentionally) by longline fishing each year, including roughly 3.3 million sharks, 1 million marlins, 60,000 sea turtles, 75,000 albatross, and 20,000 dolphins and whales.” Trawling is the most typical method of catching shrimp. It is also one of the most environmentally destructive. Foer likens it as “the marine equivilant of clear-cutting rain forest.” This is a particularly apt comparison considering whatever else is caught in the net (crabs, squid, sea turtles, dolphins, sharks, scallops etc.) virtually all die. Astoundingly, the “average trawling operation throws 80 to 90 percent of the sea animals it captures as bycatch overboard.” Foer continues, “We are literally reducing the diversity and vibrancy of ocean life as a whole. Modern fishing techniques are destroying the ecosystems that sustain more complex vertebrates ( like salmon and tuna), leaving in their wake only the few species that can survive on plants, and plankton, if that. As we gobble up the most desired fish, which are usually top-of-the-food-chain carnivores like tuna and salmon, we eliminate predators and cause a short-lived boom of the species one notch lower on the food chain.” So what? So, the process continues when we fish those species and move to a lower level.

bycatch from trawling operation

When we speak about the cruelty of this process, we are (and I might be over-quoting here but his language is spot-on) talking about hundreds of species being “crushed together, gashed on corals, bashed on rocks–for hours–and then hauled from the water, causing painful decompression (the decompression sometimes causes the animals’ eyes to pop out or their internal organs to come out their mouths).” You remember in scuba class they told you never to shoot up to the surface but to rather go up a couple feet at a time slowly giving your body time to adjust to the pressure changes?

Lastly, Foer discusses purse seines. Which I had never even heard of by the way.

purse seine

They are the main commercial fishing technology primarily used for catching tuna. The most popular fish to eat in America. Simply, “a net wall is deployed around a school of target fish, and once the school is encircled, the bottom of the net is pulled together as if the fishers were tugging on a giant purse string. The trapped target fish and any other creatures in the vicinity are then winched together and hauled onto the deck. Fish tangled in the net may be slowly pulled apart in the process.

The important question to ask (and I’ll ask this again and again…) is “What does this all matter and does it matter enough that we should change what we eat?” One indisputable fact I’ve found throughout my reading of multiple sources is no fish gets a good death. If you are a pescetarian semi-vegetarian because you’re worried about animal suffering in pigs, cows, and chickens, consider the fish. No humane slaughter act (not that that “act” really holds much merit anyway) is involved, the “target fish” is not the only species that die and suffer in the fishing process, the environmental damage is so immense it contributes to why many scientists predict the total collapse of all fished species in less than fifty years. 

purse seine

sea turtle in bycatch

Well, now that you’ve seen some heartbreaking photos of the repercussions of commercial/industrial fishing you’re probably wondering how I could ever leave this post on a positive note. Here’s what I’m thinking; I feel positive about this post knowing that someone (hopefully) read it and knows a little bit more about where our sushi comes from. Hell, even if you love sushi and would never under any circumstance give it up because you think it’s so delicious, AT LEAST you are educated about how it got to your plate. I think it’s very cool to know how food is food. Not that the way we “harvest” fish, but for knowledge for knowledge sake. Or maybe it will inspire you to do your own research because you think I’m full of shit. I think that’s cool too. What I think would be particularly awesome would be if you are as horrified as I am about this new knowledge that you decide to abstain from any fish consumption. Or even just cut back a little. “What if there were labeling on our food letting us know how many animals were killed to bring our desired animal to our plate? So, with trawled shrimp it might read: 26 POUNDS OF OTHER SEA ANIMALS WERE KILLED AND TOSSED BACK INTO THE OCEAN FOR EVERY 1 POUND OF THIS SHRIMP.” (Foer) Imagine your sushi. My point is, being informed leads to more conscious decisions about what the hell we’re putting into our bodies and what happened to said food before it landed on our plate.

Here are much more in depth explanations of modern industrial fishing methods including the ones I briefly mentioned:

http://www.fishonline.org/information/methods/

And some other educational sources for even MORE info on industrial fishing:

http://www.mcbi.org/what/destructive_fishing.htm

http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/oceans/

For the next post I could go one of two directions: I could continue and go animal by animal describing how they are raised for consumption OR I could go into every other reason besides animal suffering I chose to become vegan. These reasons include health, environmentalism, slaughterhouse worker’s rights, consumers being lied to through labeling (or lack of), legal issues and policy making, the manipulation of laws and policy by BIG agribusiness, public health dangers (think avian flu and e coli), and community and global economy issues. We shall see.

thanks for reading. hearts!

-S

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