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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Vegan Yacht!

So much pressure for the second entry!… I guess I’ll begin with my first meeting with my Vegans Rock Austin Meet-Up Group! Austin is currently experiencing a massive trend in trailer restaurants. It’s pretty genius and there are trailers for every type of food or beverage you can think of. Tonight, we met at the Vegan Yacht on E 6th St. in a lot shared with a few other trailers. It’s owned by this young tattooed couple committed to providing delicious vegan and vegetarian organic food that’s affordable to E Austin. And thus, the rest of Austin that wants this type of food. They have a menu online but they didn’t include their vegan freeto-pie! But i did have an amazing Daiya vegan cheese, seitan and avocado quesadilla. I was impressed. They had some pretty tasty looking smoothies but there was no way in hell I was going to pay $6 for a smoothie. Besides, I had already made a strawberry-mango smoothie with almond milk for myself earlier today. So there.

For anyone who really knows me knows I am inherently shy. I’ve really managed to overcome a lot of that in recent years(?) or months(?) and either way I met up with these vegan strangers and it was really great. There is one hilarious dude who is a great storyteller and pretty much organizes all the meet-ups and potlucks and all that good stuff. Ross. We chit-chatted and I found out he’s from Midland (TX) and is the son of a rancher and a bunch of his family are fishermen. He became vegan a few years ago when he found out the truth about factory farms and knew he could never look at eating meat or dairy the same way again. He felt very alone being he was the only one he knew in Midland who was vegan. He KNEW there had to be others who shared the same views and he moved out to Austin where he met his lovely wife and a handful of other vegans. He started this group because he wanted a gathering of like-minded people who could just “hang out and eat good food.” We were talking about how a gathering of vegans or vegetarians doesn’t always have to be about protests or tacking up posters of bloody animals (although he says that still needs to happen but…) sometimes you need to just relax and talk and joke around and enjoy new food. Everyone was very curious about which vegan restaurants I had tried in Austin. I felt kind of embarrassed because honestly I haven’t tried hardly any. Everyone jumped at this opportunity to tell me their favorite spot. The most popular suggestions were:

Conscious Cravings (also a trailer)

on Rio Grande @ MLK

Conan’s Pizza

on W. 29th

Casa de Luz

1701 Toomey (S. Austin)

Bouldin Creek

(S. First)

I had been to Bouldin Creek a few days earlier with my friend Luke for brunch and I had this amazing tofu scramble with fresh veggies. It actually inspired me to make one of my own. Still inspired… haven’t actually made it yet. Soon! Luke is a minimalist eater most of the time (two scrambled eggs, a piece of toast and two slices of bacon) and definitely leans towards the carnivorous side. We don’t really talk about food much. He’s from a very New Jersey/Chicago Italian family with a big emphasis on meatballs. I did get him to try my chai and some falafel the other day which was monumental coming from a dude who somehow survives on cheeseburgers, pizza and beer.  For another post, I want to go into a different approach to talking about food when there is a vegetarian or vegan involved in the conversation. Another day. I digress!

Back to Vegan Yacht-land. Everyone was really welcoming and they made sure I committed to going to their Halloween pot-luck on Saturday night. Awesome! These guys are total chowhounds too so I KNOW there will be some good shit there and good company. What should I bring?! Maybe those vegan chocolate chip cookies I’ve made a few times…

—–

For the next post I’m going to get really serious and really explain my motivation for going vegan. CAFO’s (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) are like being in a nightmare. Any it’s a nightmare so many animals live their entire lives. It’s an issue I’ve become very passionate about and I think it’s extremely important that people possess the knowledge that this is going on right under their noses and how our health, communities and environment is at stake not taking action against it. This all might sound kind of radical to many but this shit is REAL and these agro-barons don’t give a flying fuck about what diseased product we put into our bodies or how these animals are treated as long as they’re getting paid big bucks. And by supporting them we are paying them BIG BUCKS.

I’m going to try and end all these entries on a lighter note though. Let’s end it like this:

I’ve never felt like I was a part of anything. I took a risk tonight going out and meeting these strangers on the East side of town (woo scary!) and talking about something that is new to me. They weren’t snobby, they weren’t pretentious or holier-than-thou. I had never really talked to any group of people like this about veganism. Ever. I suddenly found I had something to say. I suddenly felt like I was DOING something meaningful choosing to live this way. All of the sudden I’m part of a community of people who have made the same realizations I have and had the same reaction probably of “Oh my God what the fuck is happening how can this be happening and how are we letting it happen?!” And that was awesome being around that energy. I can’t wait to go to the Halloween party on Saturday and eat amazing and creative dishes GUILT-FREE! (Except maybe considering calories… but oh well it’s Halloween!)

Thanks for reading! hearts.

-S

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an introduction of sorts

Ahimsa is a Sanskrit term meaning nonharming or noninjuring and can be interpreted as “dynamic harmlessness.” The practice of Ahimsa includes avoiding specific foods and products, being considerate of the lives of humans and animals, and actively participating in beneficial action.

I have been educated since I was very young about the horrors of animal abuse and was always taught to be compassionate even if it brought scrutiny from my peers. My mother has been active in animal advocacy and humane society work most of her life and she and my step-dad even co-founded a wildlife rehabilitation center in Colorado Springs. She’s been a vegetarian (lacto-ovo; no fish) for over thirty years and raised me with an emphasis on a meatless diet but she left the choice up to me. I haven’t eaten red meat or pork since junior high but it was hard to kick fish since my dad owns restaurants in Hawaii where the menu centers around fresh fish. I was always a picky eater so I kept chicken and turkey in my diet thinking I needed it for adequate protein not to mention I don’t think I was confident or assertive enough to commit to a vegetarian diet knowing I would undoubtedly be questioned about it and I wasn’t educated enough to answer all those questions. There is something about talking about a vegetarian or vegan diet that makes people feel cornered or judged. Telling people you are a vegetarian or vegan tends to invite criticism and people immediately like to point out hypocrisies in other areas of your life. People also make the assumption that vegetarians or vegans just don’t like the taste of meat and that’s their only motivation. Although, I’ve long since forgotten what a burger tastes like or pork I have always liked a grilled chicken breast. However, my decision to go completely meatless (and dairy-less) comes from a motivation beyond my palate. This year I’ve become very interested in where my food comes from. Not just meat, EVERYTHING. However, even though I’ve been aware and seen undercover videos (probably from PETA) of the conditions in factory farms, I wanted to do more extensive research. I did a lot of reading and educated myself on the treatment of all animals farmed for meat and the horrific and unimaginable conditions they are made to live in and the suffering they endure to end up on our plates. I truly believe that most people want to do the right thing and most people would choose for animals bred and raised to be food to be treated more humanely but the truth is a lot of people just don’t know where our meat comes from. They don’t know that pigs exhibit the same behaviors as dogs and cats and that chicken and turkey’s have distinct personalities. Cows and all of these animals are sentient beings who deserve more than being treated as production units.

I started this blog as a journal for myself to document my new discoveries being a vegan. By discoveries, I mean new recipes and foods I’m trying out and the research I’m doing on important nutritional information that’s helping me live a healthier lifestyle by knowing what nutrients my body needs to function as efficiently as possible. I also want to share some of the inspiration I’ve felt from amazing individuals, advocacy and activist groups, authors, researchers, and organizations all committed to a more compassionate lifestyle. Importantly, I want to discuss the horrific discoveries I’ve made about profit-driven factory farming practices and how detrimental they are to our bodies, our environment, our communities and the very animals that are forced to endure such cruelty.

I’d also like to expand to other areas of food production to include farming issues for corn, soybeans and the hardships modern farmers and their families and communities endure for large-scale corporate Agribusiness. I truly believe that knowledge is power and the more educated we are about what goes into our food and how it’s produced the healthier lives we can begin to live, because there is no doubt in my mind if most people knew the truth they would choose to spend their dollars on other options.

I want to write so much more right now but this is only an introduction and I’ll be updating this blog frequently. I have so much churning around in my brain and heart about these issues and it’s exciting and I need to get them written down; to document my own personal journey and if possible educate a couple others and inspire them to look at their own lives and become more aware of who they’re supporting (and who they’re condemning) when they buy their food.

I welcome all questions and comments! Thanks, y’all for reading.

-S

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