Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Swine Flu Culprit: Factory Farming

With the swine flu outbreak spreading in Mexico and surfacing in the United States, few are stating the obvious: These diseases that spread from animals to humans are a direct result of the confinement and breeding processes of factory farming.

The spread of diseases from humans to animals is not new, but its origins can be traced to the domestication of animals and its rise to the intensive confinement of these animals. Michael Greger, M.D., wrote a haunting account of the inevitable spread of infectious disease in
his book Bird Flu: A Virus of Our Own Hatching (available online for free). A graduate of Cornell University School of Agriculture and Tufts Medical School, Dr. Gregor is currently the current Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at HSUS. He writes,
"...most modern human infectious diseases were unknown to our hunter and gatherer ancestors.742 Early humans may have suffered sporadic cases of animal-borne diseases such as anthrax from wild sheep or tularemia (“rabbit skinner’s disease”) from wild rabbits,743 but the domestication of animals triggered what the director of Harvard’s Center for Health and the Global Environment called the mass “spillover” of animal disease into human populations.744...

Epidemic diseases tend to be harbored only by those animal species that herd or flock together in large numbers. This concentration allows for the evolution and maintenance of contagious pathogens capable of rapidly spreading through entire populations. Unfortunately, this same quality—the herd instinct—is what makes these animals particularly desirable for domestication. Domestication brought these animals once appreciated mainly from afar (along with their diseases) into close proximity and density with human settlements. As a zoonoses research team concluded, “The spread of microbes from animals to humans was then inevitable.746..."
He goes on to explain that diseases such as Avian flu, swine flu and even Tuberculosis have their roots in the domestication of certain animals.

An op-ed piece published last month by Nicholas Kristof renounced agribusiness' use of antibiotics. Kristof warned about the dangers of MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant staph infection that was found in 25 to 39 percent of pigs in America.

The pork industry, however, has been quick to encourage Americans to continue consuming pig products as the contamination is not present in the foods. Renaming it "the so-called swine flu" C. Larry Pope, the chief executive at Smithfield Foods told the New York Times that "Swine flu is a misnomer. They need to be concerned about the influenza, but not eating pork." While Pope is correct in his analysis that the individual transfer of the disease does not occur at the level of food consumption, he fails to see the long-term effects of pig confinement on the spread of diseases. The disease may not be contained within the porkchops, but the industry is at the root of the problem.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Drawing the Line: Being boiled hurts

For those conscious eaters who continually ask the question about where to draw the line between sentient and non sentient organisms, a recent study weighs in about the central neuronal processing of crabs. The discovery shows that they not only feel physical responses to painful stimuli, but are also capable of remembering pain.

The experiment, conducted by Professor Bob Elwood and Mirjam Appel from the School of Biological Sciences at Queen's University, sought to deliver shocks to the crabs that were just strong enough to cause them to move out of their shells. They found that shocked crabs showed signs of remembering the experience as they moved out of their old shells into new ones.

So if you're still enjoying those trips to Red Lobster, straddling the line between pesca- and vegetarian, it seems reasonable to take crabs off your menu.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Cows decoded and exploited

Scientists recently achieved a major milestone in animal studies, sequencing the genome of a female Hereford cow. The project was a six-year effort led by 300 scientists in 25 countries. Cows now join the small group of animals whose genomes have been sequenced, which include humans, primates and rodents.

Unfortunately, this "breakthrough" is among the discoveries that seek to protect the $49 billion cattle industry of the United States. One of the authors of the paper, Ross Tellam, described the human benefits of the study saying,

"If we can see precisely what genes cause the differences between each animal, there is an opportunity to enhance selective breeding...We can use natural methods - simply selecting the best animals - to produce livestock that make more meat or more milk."

Scientists will start comparing the Hereford cow genome to those of six other breeds, with the hope of selecting traits most suited for beef and dairy production. This process of selective breeding is a common industry practice that produces turkeys who are so large they can't naturally copulate and gestation pigs who are physically immobilized from their excess weight. This could contribute to many of the other diseases industry cows already suffer from, such as mastitis, an inflammation of the udder.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Vegans last longer

The Princeton Animal Welfaore Society (PAWS) hosted its first annual VegFest, featuring chipotle burritos, vegan desserts, music, free t-shirts and a presentation by scientist T. Colin Campbell.

Author of the "China Study"--one of the most comprehensive examinations of the relationship between the consumption of animal products and illnesses such as cancer, heart disease and osteoporosis--Campbell gave a powerpoint presentation on nutritional misconceptions and studies that have provided evidence to the contrary. The China Project took place over the course of twenty years and surveyed the death rates from cancer in 2,400 counties and 880 million citizens in China. Campbell was featured in a new documentary about vegan health, A Delicate Balance, which PAWS showed to a small group of students and community members last week.

Campbell is among many emerging nutritionists and scientists who are trying to undo public understanding of health, which among other things attributes milk consumption to strong bones and considers animal products the only source of a "complete protein." Though Campbell has received peer-reviewed research funding, he still faces stiff opposition from the public and even at Cornell, where his class was banned (perhaps attributable to Cornell's very large school of agriculture and their vested interest in meat consumption).

The theme of PAWS' "blitz week" was vegan health, which we summed up in the slogan written on our American Apparel giveaway shirts: Vegans Last Longer. (subtext intended)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Defending the Indefensible

People will go to great, sometimes absurd lengths to defend that which they hold dear, when it is under attack. In response to last week’s San Francisco Board of Supervisors resolution commending restaurants that have stopped serving foie gras, determined foodies have rushed to the defense of the right to consume the excessively-priced, fattened, and diseased liver of force-fed ducks and geese. In a Wednesday column in the San Francisco Chronicle entitled “In Praise of Foie Gras,” Caille Millner attempts not only to defend the indefensible, but to glorify what is arguably the cruelest delicacy known to man. By wildly distorting the reality of foie gras, Millner puts a happy face on profound suffering.

Millner’s piece made my blood boil. Thanks to her skewed claims, thousands of restaurant-goers won’t think twice the next time they see foie gras on the menu. But there's reason for hope. Beyond its superficial claims, Millner's article signals just how out of touch with public opinion anyone who defends foie gras is these days. Millner resorts to patently clumsy and contrived arguments (see below). Clearly, she is on the defensive. Her painting of the anti-foie gras crusade as a raging fad, and her community of foie gras foodie enthusiasts as noble yet misunderstood guardians of a sacred right – lone voices of reason in a sea of confusion – signals just how unpopular foie gras is these days. The desperation of her plea is a testament to the success of the anti-foie gras campaign and more broadly to the fact that, as Nicholas Kristof put it in the New York Times last week, “animal rights are now firmly on the mainstream ethical agenda.”

But Millner is undeterred. She closes on a note of triumph, “Commend away, San Francisco. I'll be just across the city lines, eating without guilt.” What she fails to note is that quite soon, crossing city lines won’t be enough. Thanks to a bill signed by Governor Schwarzenegger in 2004, the sale and production of foie gras will be banned in California in 2012.

See you in Nevada, Caille.

Thankfully, Millner’s claims are not hard to refute. She uses lines of reasoning and rhetorical devices that are nearly universal in defenses of animal cruelty. I think it’s instructive to flesh these out and consider how we can best respond.

Tactic: Crying anthropomorphism
Her claim: “Most people are prone to anthropomorphize, so they imagine how horrible it would be to have a tube shoved down their own throat (ducks do not have voice boxes or gag reflexes; they breathe through their tongues) and agree that it's a horrible process that must be stopped.”
Why it works: Crying anthropomorphism always scores points. The suggestion is that those who care about animal suffering have fallen prey to childish sentimentality. It lends an air of scientific credibility to those opposing animal rights and suggests that empathy is irrational.
Response: For starters, her claim that geese lack a gag reflex is questionable. The Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare (SCAHAW), the EU’s most authoritative scientific body on farm animal welfare, reported that “the oropharyngeal area is particularly sensitive and is physiologically adapted to perform a gag reflex in order to prevent fluids entering the trachea. Force feeding will have to overcome this reflex and hence the birds may initially find this distressing and injury may result.” But this is beside the point, because the inherent and undeniable cruelty of foie gras is not the force-feeding itself but the resulting enlargement of the bird’s livers to 6-10 times their natural size, inducing injury, disease, and lameness. Millner makes no mention of this.

Tactic: Displacing culpability/defense by commonality
Her Claim: “The means of production for the vast majority of the country's meat supply are at least as horrifying as what it takes to produce foie gras, but it's much harder to demonize the vast majority of Americans for what they eat.”
Why it works: One of the easiest ways to excuse someone for their evils is to point out that a whole lot of other folks are doing the exact same thing or even worse things. Suddenly, it’s unfair to single out that particular evil over other equally horrible evils. Basically she is saying “all meat production is cruel so why don’t you lay off foie gras.”
Response: The claim that the farm animal rights movement is singularly focused on foie gras is absurd. The resources put into all the foie gras campaigns across the country are minuscule in comparison to those invested in Proposition 2, alone.

Tactic: Distortion and irrelevant claims
Her Claim: “Never mind that there are only three foie gras producers in the United States, all small farms that are paragons of humane treatment compared to our country's countless factory farms….All three foie gras farms in the United States use open pens for their ducks and have very low mortality rates.”
Why it works: When there isn’t supporting evidence for your case, sometimes you just have to make things up. Here, Millner exploits the common image of “small” farms as humane and idyllic.
Response: The smallness of foie gras farms and the quality of living conditions do not affect the cruelty inherent in the force-feeding process. And are the farms in this investigation video (including the three she mentions) truly “paragons of humane treatment?” The housing looks wretched. Low mortality rates (a highly subjective term that she doesn’t quantify) don’t mean much, given that the ducks are slaughtered at only 4 months of age. Moreover, one can think of plenty of forms of torture, human and animal alike, that don’t result in death.

Tactic: Framing issue as human rights vs. animal rights
Her Claim: “Never mind that so many enormous issues - climate change, obesity, health care - are tied up in our country's cheap meats, not its expensive ones. And certainly never mind that the leadership of San Francisco has far bigger things to worry about than whether or not people should be eating foie gras.”
Why it works: Animal cruelty apologists like to suggest that that human rights and animal rights are mutually exclusive. Here, Millner implies that those campaigning against foie gras are squandering time that could be spent working on more important, presumably human issues.
Response: This is not a human life vs. animal life issue. This is a relishing-in-the-fleeting-taste-of-flesh-produced-through-enormous-cruelty vs. finding-something-else-to-eat, issue. The passing of this resolution required little time on the part of the council. Furthermore, the council resolution will have an impact far beyond city limits. Since San Diego passed a similar resolution last year, other cities in Southern California have done the same. The San Fran resolution is likely to have a similar ripple effect.

Tactic: One-sided quotes
Her Claim: "We were the first farm to use a humane auditor," said Rick Bishop, animal welfare officer for Hudson Valley Foie Gras in Ferndale, N.Y. …“We've always fought misinformation by having an open-door policy at our farm. Anyone who wants to see what we're doing is welcome to visit and observe at any step of the process."
Why it works: It’s simple. Quote somebody that agrees with you and pretend that he or she is an expert.
Response: Thanks to Hudson Valley’s transparency, activists with Compassion Over Killing took up the offer for a free tour. The problem is, they caught it on tape.

Tactic: Appeal to personal investment in cruelty
Her Claim: “A dollop of foie gras is a creamy, rich flavor explosion. Prepared properly, it has wonderful texture - the word "mouthfeel" should have been invented for it - and, like wine, can have notes of flowers, citrus, nuts. I love it.”
Response: Hmmm, I guess the 15 countries that have banned foie gras weren’t aware of how yummy it tastes.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Tempermant Testing Fails to Evaluate Shelter Dogs

While I was interning at Farm Sanctuary a dog was dumped on its grounds. As the farm does not take in dogs, he was sent to Tompkins County SPCA, a no-kill shelter in Ithaca. When I called to check up on him, I learned that he was scheduled to be put down that day because he had failed temperament testing. He tested positive for "rough play," "possession aggression" and "food aggression". Having spent time with the dog, I knew this could not be the case. After arguing with staff on the phone they agreed to hold him until 5pm and release him to me, as he was "dangerous" and "un-adoptable."

I was able to watch a video of the tests they did to evaluate him. During one, he was chained to a wall in two spots and poked at with a large rubber arm on a stick. He was given pig ears and other treats while the arm poked at his face trying to knock food, toys and pig ears out of his mouth. At some point, he growled, backed away from the arm and snapped. This led them to deem him too dangerous to be adopted. During another test, they had him play and jump on a man with a hockey stick, who would use the stick to block and push the dog off and rough him up. This was deemed rough play, but was not enough to fail him.

I had to sign legal forms, which said that the dog cannot live in Ithaca, is a danger to society and that I accept all responsibility. After being warned again about how dangerous he was, they walked him out and when he saw me he trotted over and placed his head over my shoulder and tried to curl up in my lap. He sat there, leaned into me and licked my cheek. When I stood back up to sign the rest of the forms he trotted over to my friend, Zoe, (who he'd never met until then) and leaned into her chest with his head waiting for the affection.

This is the e-mail I wrote to the shelter about how Party (that is his name) has been doing since I took him home. My hope is to make them realize the inadequacies of their temperament tests. Party tested positive for rough play, food aggression and possession aggression. In y experience with party, he has neither.


This is Amanda Dickie. Your shelter redeemed a young dog named Party dog to me last November. I just wanted to let you know that he is the sweetest dog out there. And despite what your tests may have indicated, he does not have possession aggression or food aggression. He met my mother for the first time on the ride home and was eating chips out of her hand the whole way back.

When we arrived home we had him sitting and waiting for his food. Once or twice he jumped the gun and started eating before he had permission, but my 54 -year-old mother was able to control him without protest. After he got settled here everyone approaches him while eating and he is fine. My mother and I regularly take his food dish from him while he is eating and just waits for us to give it back.

He is learning to take treats from people gently. Whenever he is too rough, we take the treat back and try again until he gets it right. He has never growled, snapped or bitten anyone since leaving your shelter. We have four cats, who occasionally eat out of his bowl. When they do this, he sits back and waits for them to finish.

There is a constant flow of new and strange people in our house and party is excited and happy to meet everyone of them. He no longer jumps on people when they come to the door, and is happy when strangers approach him. He also loves small children and is extra gentle around them.

This dog is one of the kindest, gentlest and friendliest dogs I have ever met. Kids pull his tail, blow in his ears and pull on his cheeks, but he never retaliates with aggression.

We just wanted to pass along this message in hopes that you might reconsider using temperament testing as it is an unfair system that sets perfectly adoptable and loving dogs up for failure.

Thank you,
Sincerely Amanda
With Love, Amanda Dickie
"As long as people will shed the blood of innocent creatures there can be no peace, no liberty, no harmony between people. Slaughter and justice cannot dwell together."
- Isaac Bashevis Singer,Writer, Nobel laureate (1904-1991)

He is the sweetest boy I have ever met and he loves everyone. In no way is he "a danger to society".

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Princeton environmentalists get it wrong

Princeton's dining halls have started a new green initiative that asks students to eat their meals without trays for one day a month. This will decrease the amount of dishwater used to wash trays and environmental groups expect it will cut the amount of food students generally waste when they fill their trays with more than they can eat.

As part of The Princeton Animal Welfare Society's (PAWS) "blitz week," we proposed a new initiative for students: go meatless. PAWS distributed these fliers as a response to the trayless policy:

While we commend efforts that have environmental aims, we think people should consider veganism as one of the most effective ways to cut waste and save water.

This flier was designed by PAWS Vice President Emeritus Alex Barnard. If you would like to use PAWS literature on your campus, email

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Skinny Bitches or Bulimic Vegetarians?

In 2007, few people would have expected a "no-nonsense" book of "tough-love" for American females to become one of the most succeful vegetarian advocacy publications in the Western hemisphere. This book, Skinny Bitch, spawned a whole slew of products including a cookbook, an instructional book on pregnancy, a journal, and now three work out videos. Already, the original book has become an international bestseller, hung onto the New York Times bestseller list (including a breif spot at the top), has sold two million copies, and has been translated into 20 languages.

While many vegetarian and AR activists have welcomed this book with open arms, too few people have heeded to the criticisms that this book preys on female body insecurities. Below, I will discuss why disguising a vegetarian message within a frame about weight-loss/management is not only detrimental to the health of adolescent females and young women but also trivializes the radical political orientation of veganism by conflating it with a self-interested, faddish diet. In light of continuous research that links the adoption of vegetarian diets by teens to disguise and/or justify their eating disorders, the sizist discourse that shames and blames "fat" people, and the vogue-ing of vegetariaism for the mainstream, I suggest that vegans ally instead with feminist and radical social justice groups to promote body acceptance and HEALTH rather than societal acceptance and "health."

"I am a vegetaian: I don't eat meat... or anything for that matter."
Just several weeks ago, a paper published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association proved suspicions that many teen girls choose vegetarianism as a cover for their extreme dieting measures. The authors of the study conclude that
current [adolescent and young adult] vegetarians may be at increased risk for binge eating with loss of control, while former vegetarians may be at increased risk for extreme unhealthful weight-control behaviors. It would be beneficial for clinicians to inquire about current and former vegetarian status when assessing risk for disordered eating behaviors.
Though there may be health benefits from adopting a vegetarian diet, many who choose such diets do so as a guise to manage their weight in the most unhealthy ways.

John Cloud from The Times recentlyreported on this latest study:
in a 2001 study in the Journal of Adolescent Health, researchers found that the most common reason teens gave for vegetarianism was to lose weight or keep from gaining it. Adolescent vegetarians are far more likely than other teens to diet... [and] teens with eating disorders are more likely to practice vegetarianism than any other age group.
So while the public and socially acceptable answer many teenage vegetarian girls for their vegetarian may be "to save the animals/environment," at least one out of five (and potentially over half) really adopted the diet primarily out of concern for the health and/or image of their body.

Cloud continues, summarizing the results of the study:
approximately 20% of the [teen] vegetarians turned out to be binge eaters...compared with only 5% of those who had always eaten meat...This disparity in extreme behavior disappeared between [the ages 19 to 23]... But among former vegetarians, that number jumped to 27%.
Interestingly, teen vegetarians were four times as likely to be binge eaters than omnivores, but young adult vegetarians were no more likely, suggesting that many teen vegetarians started extreme dieting prior to their omnivorous counterparts. Most concerning is that over one of four those who had once been vegetarians as teens, but quit, were extreme dieters. That's twice the rate of eating disorders as among young adults who had never been or who still were vegetarian! The moral: the adoption of a vegetarian diet as a teenager for the primary purpose of body-management sets one up for serious risk of eating disorders in the future.

I Love them Bitches: Don't Have a Cow, You Fat Pig, LOL!
The authors and publishers of Skinny Bitch are not naive to the "self-loathing" young (and old) women feel as a product of modern capitalist patriarchal culture. The official Skinny Bitch website gives a concise description of the book, or at least why someone should be interested and pick the thing up:
If you can't take one more day of self-loathing, you're ready to hear the truth: You cannot keep shoveling the same crap into your mouth every day and expect to lose weight.
The answer to self-loathing, the book suggests, it holds is not to accept and love one's body, but to stop eating crap and lose weight--nevermind that many of the readers of the book are proabably already at a healthy weight.

Of course, the point of the book is not to make girls into "skinny bitches" but into veg*ns with jarring editorializations of meat processing and propoganda. The title is just a diversion to get people to pick up what Julie Klausner, in a scathing review of the book at Salon described as "a PETA pamphlet in chick-lit clothing and an innovative fusion of animal rights with punitive dieting tactics that prey on women's insecurities about their bodies." According to a previous review in the New York Times
[o]ne South Cal botique has sold more than 2,000 copies of Skinny Bitch because "[customers] just like the title." Likewise, one fasion publicist said that she "would never have read 'The Omnivore’s Dilemma.' I’m not even sure I know what an omnivore is. But I know what a skinny bitch is, and I know I want to be one."
To put it simply, the Skinny Bitch franchise is so popular largely due to the clever marketing that went into it. As the fasion publicist said, women know skinny bitches, and they know they want to be them; they don't necesarily know (or care) what an omnivore or a vegan is. With a title like Skinny Bitch, the book drew on a much larger, mainstream audience, like a magnet for body-insecure women. But is this more of a succss for vegetarianism or perpetuating body-image anxiety?

Klausner would probably agree with he latter: Skinny Bitch is more likely to perpetuate eating disorders than to nurture a sustainable compassion for animal others:
The relentless bullying peppered throughout the authors' advice accounts for much of the book's humor, including quips like "you need to exercise, you lazy shit," "coffee is for pussies" and "don't be a fat pig anymore." It was a formerly anorexic friend of mine who nailed it when she read excerpts from the book. "When you have an eating disorder," she told me, "that's the voice you hear in your head all the time."
The authors of the book, understand that bullying voice internalized in women from all races, classes, and regions of America that drives them toward unhealthy eating, and they are not afraid of exploiting it to humorously shaming/motivating people into eating "better" food. How ever tongue-in-cheek the humor of their tough-love style is, it trivializes that oppressive voice within women's heads and further validates false associations between fat/stupid/lazy/bad and thin/smart/agency/good. In many ways, the humor actually is apologetic for that oppressive voice as well as mysoginism and sizism.

PETA: People Encouraging Teen Anoretics?
The title of tis section may be hyperbole, but I also don't believe it is totally out-of-hand or false. On the contrary, the success of the Skinny Bitch franchise comes after almost two decades of PETA "selling" vegetarianism and sex in the form of attaining a more beautiful and virile body, which is almost always abnormally thin and fit. PETA, which unlike Skinny Bitch does not garb its political agenda in weight-management discourse, is no less the culprit of perpetuating body-image anxiety. The organization often utilizes fat phobia and sizism to shame/motivate people to adopt a veg*n diet. For instance, Vegan Kid notes that, according to PETA's video"Chew on This: 30 Reasons to Go Vegetarian," the #3 reason to go vegetarian is because "meat and dairy make you fat." Of course, many other things "make you fat," and meat and dairy need not be any of these things. They prioritize this "fact" because they know that most people are already insecure if not ashamed of their weight and size, and as such, it may be more compelling than reason #11 "because it is violence that you can stop."

Another example of the "fat" phobia/shaming done by PETA is in a response to Jessica Simpson's "Real Girls Eat Meat" shirt on the official PETA blog. According to this PETA employee, the #4 reason that "Only Stupid Girls Brag about Eating Meat" is that
Meat will make you fat. All the saturated fat and cholesterol in chicken wings, pork chops, and steak eventually leads to flabby thighs and love handles. I hope the upcoming "Jessica Simpson's Intimates" line comes in plus sizes! Going vegetarian is the best way to get slim and stay that way.
Here again, just like we saw with Skinny Bitch, is the perpetuation of the stereotype linking size to stupidity--something that has been common at least since the pseudo-science of physiognomy. Worse of all is that PETA even has the audacity to distribute "Chicken Chump Cards"--which are still available at their online store and kids, of wich one shames fat children. On the front of the card is a sad, morbidly-obese child entitled "Tubby Tammy;" on the back it explains "how" chicken makes you so fat you'll have to wear a bungeecord for a belt.

Again, these three cases of fat phobia/shaming are in no way trivial. Each is part of a highly calculated marketing tactic to "sell" vegetarianism as a social panacea. The discourse in the blurbs and visuals has little to do with enhancing and sustaining health (or even a healthy body weight), but about looking your best for society which will reject you as a big fat, stupid person who is probably less compassionate and more self-indulgent than the other kids.

Unfortunate for the well-intentioned female animal advocates of PETA, those who do not conform to the mainstream's socially acceptable standard of beauty for women, the very standards PETA perpetuates, will be harassed and shunned. Take for instance the reactions at Perez Hilton to a publicity stunt in which a pregnant woman posed in a mock-gestation crate to protest hog farms. Comments included:
Yikes, I get the picture, but hmm... saggy boobs= kinda gross!!!!

What's a tubby naked bitch in a cage got to do with eating pork??

She needs to go on a diet

wtf is this about


Moo cow..UGLY

Why couldn't they have chosen an attractive female?

Of course, no one deserves to be called such horrible, mysoginistic and speciesist names; but it would not be surprising if PETA, or some animal advocates in general, used the same rhetoric to attack a woman who was promoting pork. As is suggested in their anti-fur ads, "Be Comfortable in Your Own Skin," one blogger comments, PETA "is basically saying that yes, you should let animals keep their fur because you should be comfortable in your own skin–as long as you’re a size 2 and conventionally beautiful."

Lettuce Entertain You: Vegetarianism is the New Black
Nearly all of PETA's ad campaigns utilizes not just any woman (or man), but celebrities, and not just any celebrities, but particularly physically attractive ones who are actors and musicians. These celebrities, thus, are visual icons. There are few, if any ads of famous (and beautiful) female scientists, photographers, authors, scholars, etc. suggesting the organization values (or at least values the people who value) "entertainment" over "art," science, and literature. Such famous people may not be "cool" enough for PETA's campaign targeting youth. Vegetarianism and AR is being "sold" as the "in" thing, and as is evident with anti-fur slogans in the movement that publicly shame women for wearing fur (i.e. "the Trollsen Twins," "Fur is worn by beautiful animals and ugly people"), women who do not conform are not only moraly but physically ridiculed.

Let me emphasize that the use of such visual celebrities is very deliberate, and, as I believe, very misguided. The use of these celebrities over others emphasises not any moral, political, artisitc, or intellectual of the particular person being associated with vegetarianism and AR, but an image. One should go veg because vegetarians are pretty, hot, badass, or funny, not because they are social/political radicals healing injustices everywhere or writing/discovering something that will change the world. (Unfortunately, television, cinema, and the internet have made the former celebrities' images much more prominent and at the expense of the great works of scholars, scientists, artists, and social entrepeneurs).

To return to Chris' point, PETA dresses-up celebrities in vegetables instead of showing them eating vegetables because PETA doesn't really care what people eat so long as their "food" does not come from animals. For all they care, vegans could just eat a Boca burger, potato chips, and a soft drink--not exactly a nutritional powerhouse. The ads are intended not to promote HEALTH, but to promote an image. By dressing up celebrities in vegetables, PETA is marketing the vegetarian diet as either sexy and/or graceful. Vegetarianism, in a sense, is the latest fshion, "the color" of the 21st Century.

However, note that by framing vegetarianism and AR as an image, as an "in" thing, it easily can become an "out" thing. Many of these ads and campaigs which target younger audiences may influence thousands of people to try out vegetarianism and AR, but the question becomes "for how long?" If vegetarianism is a matter or being like a particular "cool" or "hot" celebrity, especially one whom may be obsolete in two years, as soon as another "cool" celebrity comes around who eats animals or people realize how potentially challenging a vegetarian diet can be (all the social and emotional maintenence that is involved) they may shrug it off; it's just not worth it, just as those irksome designer heels are just not worth it.

Basically, if one cares about animal "rights," veg*nism is essential to putting their values in practice, but veg*nism is only contingent if they care more about body-image, which can not only be attained a number of ways, but is also something that cannot be guaranteed by a strict vegetarian regime. Certainly one can be "vegan" and eat unhealthy foods and not exorcise, but some people are not naturally disposed to being "thin" as others--making the pursuit of thinness a futile journey. In the end, those people striving for thinness on a veg*n diet may be unhappy with the lax results and move on to "the next big thing" to lose weight so that they can achieve their "ideal" body size.

On the other hand, if vegetarianism is "sold" as a political-ideological-intellectual orientation and commitment, it becomes a part of one's values, and hence one's more permanent identity util those values change, if they change. Instead of going for numbers, if non-profits and other organizations went for outstanding citizens, we may have much stronger and longer-term advocates on our hands. So much of these attempts take the "shotgun" approach by trying to hit any and eveyone in a mass audience. Tragically, many of these politically active and radical people are being "turned-off" to the vegetarian message and thousands of dollars are being wasted because these ads and discourses more than likely alienate and offend potential ARAs who are not "thin" like the women in these ads, and more generally, unjustly contribute to the anxiety of girls outside the movement about their own body image.

This is an abridged version of the original, cross-posted @ HEALTH

Monday, April 13, 2009

Princetonians Confronted with their Moral Schizophrenia

As part of the Princeton Animal Welfare Society's (PAWS) "Blitz Week"--a week where we try to seep the vegan message into public consciousness as deeply as possible with literature, slaughterhouse footage, demonstrations and speakers--we used fliers designed by Nathan Schneider in the vain of Gary Francione's conception of the moral schizophrenia people have with regard to pets and farm animals.

If you would like to use these fliers on your campus, email

Letter to the President

As some of you may have heard, Obama has back tracked on his promise to adopt from a shelter and has sadly gone to a breeder. I took some time to write him a letter and would suggest if this or anything else upsets or disappoints you that maybe you take the time to write one too.
I just wanted to let you know how disappointed I am that you bought a dog from a breeder. There are plenty of hypo-allergenic dogs dying for good homes across your country and you've just signed their death warrant. Sir, you may only be one man, and one family providing a single home for your new dog and closing a single door for the other dogs in need, but your actions are broadcast globally and have far greater effects.

As the president people look up to you and will likely follow your example. You had a real shot to make a difference, but you have let us down. Setting this precedent will make it significantly more difficult for homeless dogs to find loving homes.

Sincerely disappointed,
Amanda Dickie

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Simple Potato Curry

I originally found this on a LJ community and made enough to last me all week. I also used some leftover curry to fill some home made samosas! This is a great week night curry that you can throw together easily and enjoy leftovers for lunch. Being a little lazy and less authentic, I used whole wheat tortillas to scoop this stuff into my face.

Easy Potato Curry

4 large potatoes, unpeeled diced and boiled until soft.
2 T canola oil
1 yellow onion diced
3 garlic cloves
1 large carrot sliced into thin coins
5 t hot curry powder
4 t garam masala
1 fat inch of frozen ginger, grated
2 t paprika
1 t sea salt
1 can stewed tomatoes broken up (or diced if you have it!)
1 can coconut milk
1 large can chickpeas, rinsed
1 can peas, rinsed

Plop your potatoes into a pot of salted water and boil until tender. Drain and set aside.

If you don't have pre-boiled potatoes, do this while you wait.
Warm oil in a large pot (enough to fit everything) over medium heat. Add your onions once the oil is heated, saute for 2-3 minutes before adding your garlic. Once onions are translucent and garlic is fragrant toss in the carrot pieces and cook for 3-4 minutes. Then add your spices. Cook for 1-2 minutes while stirring. Now add your potatoes, rinsed beans and peas, cook for a few minutes. Now dump in your canned tomatoes and coconut milk and bring the whole thing to a low simmer for 5-10 minutes. If you find the curry to liquidly as I did, sift in a little corn starch to thicken it up.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

6 Ways to Become a Better Advocate for Animal Rights and an Ally of People of Color

This post is a summary of the statements expressed by people of color and their allies as documented in a five-part privilege series and is intended to assist animal activists, especially those who are identified as white, in becoming more effective at engaging in interracial communication about animal issues.

The following lists are meant to introduce you to 1) why some people of color may become outraged at human:animal oppression analogies, 2) how advocates create negative images of themselves in communities of color, 3) how they alienate advocates of color from the general AR community, and 4) six ways advocates can be more effective anti-oppression allies and advocates for animals. Finally, if you are interested in exploring how and why white and middle-class privilege can obstruct well-meaning efforts to engage with people of color who are and who are not already animal advocates, I have pasted a "table of contents" to previous posts.

Why analogizing human and animal exploitation/oppression often produces outrage and not empathy:
  1. aim to provoke people into debate in contrast to inviting people into a discussion
  2. are sponsored by organizations/people who have little or no history in promoting the “liberation” of the marginalized group whose oppression is being analogized to animals
  3. are insensitive to the existential trauma of and the meaning of “animal” to individuals of the marginalized group,
  4. assume that their oppression is history
  5. infer that their group lacks agency (just like "animals") and thus could not liberate themselves and depended upon an enlightened class of privileged citizens.

How do POC see vegans and AR activists (in general)?
The consequences of the aforementioned errors include the perception that vegans and ARAs
  1. exploit and appropriate the oppression of others for there own ends (without any prior request for consent and understanding)
  2. are racist because they fail to recognize the difference between human and non-human liberation (i.e. humans are self-organizing resisters, “animals” are not) and thus reduce the marginalized group to an “animal” condition of passivity
  3. cater to the white middle-class because they have taken no measures to make POC feel comfortable in their campaigns or abstain from consuming “cruelty-free” products that come at the expense of POC.
  4. care “more about animals than people (or color)” for the above reasons.

How do some white advocates alienate advocates of color from working together?
  1. Stereotype: “Have you ever eaten dog or cat?;” “Do you speak English?”
  2. Instrumentalize: “we need a black vegan for this event;” “if we adopt children of color, there will be more diversity in our movement”
  3. Exotify: “The best part of being vegan is getting to eat all kinds of exotic food”
  4. Marginalize: “Comparing human and animal oppression may hurt your feelings but it will help animals”
  5. Suppress: “Don’t criticize so-and-so because you’ll just be helping animal exploiters”
  6. Blame: “Don’t bring race into this! Why do you have to be so divisive?”
  7. Invalidate: “Get over it!” “You’re upset because you just don’t understand.”

How do (white) vegan and ARAs become better activists and allies?
The actions and their resulting consequences above serve both to hurt and alienate people of color from the animal/vegan movements(s) and construct the movement(s) as white middle-class, thereby creating a vicious cycle insensitivity and alienation. Therefore, a race-sensitive approach to promoting animal liberation and veganism ought to
  1. Be proactive! …don’t assume that POC are disinterested because they are not present
  2. Develop an understanding of POC’s existential condition and (one’s own) white privilege
  3. Humbly invite POC into a discussion (vs. use shock tactics and potentially offensive comparisons)
  4. Actively build bridges between movements and become an active ally in their liberation
  5. Engage with POC in issues they are already interested in (vs. using them as a means to your ends)
  6. Avoid language that alienates them by inferring that they are marginal Others (i.e. exotifying vegan food, homogenizing ethic groups, and scapegoating ‘foreign” cultures and nations).

Table of Contents
    Part 1:
  • Are Animals the New Slaves?
  • What Went Wrong?
  • Racism, Speciesism, and Cross-racial Misunderstanding
  • Are human-animal juxtapositions reductionistic?
  • Part 2:
  • Animal Rights or Animal Whites?
  • Animal White Supremacists?
  • Vegan Colonialism
  • One Word: Empathy
  • Part 3:
  • A Colorful Movement: Debunking the White Lie of White Exceptionalism
  • Making us Invisible: The Epistemology of Ignorance
  • The White Activist's Burden: Engaging the "Other"
  • Part 4:
  • Killing Us Softly: Narratives of Alienation
  • With Us or against Us –or- “Sit Down and Shut Up, Little Brown Girl”
  • Part 5:
  • Eating the Other: "Exotic" Food Fetishes
  • Are Vegans Oppressed?
  • The Police & White Privilege
  • Freeganism: The Privilege of Free Food?
  • Classism & Consumer Advocacy
  • Toward a Mutual Trust: Veganism as a Safe Place

Cross-posted @ HEALTH

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Star Starches

Featuring our favorite spud, the potato!
What better cheap, easy and oh-so-delightfully-filling product could there be?

The ways to prepare our fabulous spudding buddy are endless.
Wither mashed, baked, roasted, grilled, chilled, or fried potatoes make a great addition or composition to any meal.

Eaten with the skin the potato provides you with a rad assortment of vitamins and minerals, heavy on the C with some potassium and vitamin B6.

Its carbby goodness has filled many a hungry student belly, so when you take a break from saving animals do something nice for yourself and curl up with one of these fluffy baked delights and re-fuel your bad ass self.

Use them to bulk up, or compliment any meal. No matter what the menu, there is a potato accompaniment. If the cupboard is looking bare, then bake up one of these bad boys and top them anyway you'd like.

Happy eating!

(In our featured photo, we see the might spud enjoying a coating of paprika, pepper, earth balance, vegan bacon bits and some garlic salt. mmm)

*For further potato inspiration check out the link above!

Friday, April 03, 2009

Free Money for Vegan Food

If any student groups are having trouble getting funding, Vegfund is an organization that will pay for you to have free vegan food at an event or table to promote veganism.

Find local events in your area that are appropriate venues for food distribution (art fairs, demonstrations, film screenings, etc.) and research the ways to get a table of vegan food and literature set up. Fill out an application with Vegfund (be sure to save all your receipts!) and get reimbursed for any food you buy.
Inspire people with the exquisite taste of the best vegan food you can find!

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Cute = Tasty

A blown-up, above-the-fold picture of this goat was featured on the front page of the NYT Dining section on Wednesday as part of an article titled "How I learned to Love Goat"

Perched ears and eyes personally engaged with the camera, this goat is a more fitting subject for the front page of a Farm Sanctuary brochure, rather than as the complement to an article about the succulence of dead goat flesh. It seems it isn't actually necessary for people to create distance between cute animal images and the meat they eat.

Are all animal/animal products nutritionally "bad"?

Recently, many vegetrian advocacy organizations have been celebrating the release of a new scientific study that finds a large, positive corrlation between the high consumption of red meat and all categories of health related mortalities. Such organizations and people, however, infrequently care to read all the findings and appreciate these types of studies in a more nuanced fashion. More sensational organizations will even disegard the truth of the matter and create a distorted frame just to get some media attention, thus losing credibility in the eyes of the better-read public. For instance, many vegetarian advocates ought to read the findings more carefully before approving of its finding which include that "
those [people] with high white meat intake had a slightly lower risk for total death". Taken alone, this study may sound the death knell for "red meat" only to usher in the reign of "white meat."

We must ask ourselves whether we should praise single nutritional studies as much as we do, and whether making very bold and controversial nutritional claims about "animal products" under a single-label is truly effective.

Before assuming animal flesh and dairy are essentially unhealthy for human biology, we ought to consider all the factors that may influence why "meat" and dairy are "bad" for "us," and not so bad for others. Perhaps the poor health consequences "meat" and dairy have on Americans has to do with a) the species of the animals eaten, b) their lifestyles and diets, c) the way they are cooked, d) the way they are eaten, e) the amount eaten, and f) what they are eaten with. Take any couple of these interrelated variables and alter them and you may end up with "
health paradoxes." Social/cultural practices of eating/killing animals and certain kinds of cuisine also play an important role in health outcomes. "Meat" may be culturally worse for human health than naturally worse.

Note that the results from the recent study only apply to Americans and specifically address "red meat" and
processed meats (from animals confined to feedlots)--much of which are cooked at high temperatures that release known carcinogens. Obviously the Standard American Diet is a nutritional time bomb, but what about the French and Masai diets that include high amounts of fatty cow's milk and ruminant flesh? Are the French and Masai's genetics that radically different from "our" own, or is it more likely that their nutritional fitness has more to do with (agri)cultural practices?

Michael Pollan has labeled the broad generalizations the public and scientific community takes from studies like these
"nutritionism"--which often backfires more than it helps by being appropriated by processed "food" marketers to seel their product to a scared and gullible public. Yet, these broad exertions of "meat is bad," not only is very reductive scientifically, but also in terms of acknowledging animal lives. In a sense, vegetarian advocates are saying meat = meat (i.e. corn-fed cow = wild salmon = broiler chicken, etc). Veg*ns, through this discourse, erase differences between species, breeds, and individuals' lifestyles by objectifying animal others as exchangeable bodies. By appropriating the discourse of "meat," we thereby make "meat" of animal others, as Carol Adams might say, by no longer addressing animal others' subjectivity, merely their fragmented corpses. Jacques Derrida, an extremely influential thinker among animal ethicists today, calls such a reduction of "animals" to "the animal"--or in this case "meat"--"carno-phallogocentrism".

Obviously, as a vegan, I don't endorse the commodification and slaughtering of animal others. I only hope our resentment of the harm from killing/eating animal others be more nuanced. Depending too much on health arguments, as others have argued,
distracts away from the moral/political reasons for veganism and exposes it to more dismissal.

If we want to address the health benefits of a vegan diet, we ought to do just that.

There is no evidence that one is any less healthy on a vegan diet and plenty of evidence to suggest one is healthier. With "meat" and dairy, however, I have yet to see any decisive evidence that it is *always* bad in *any amount* of *any kind.* I have yet to see a collection of studies condemning fish (without mercury contamination) and honey, for instance. It is thus reductive and naive to categorize all animal products under a single label as nutritionally "bad."

Certainly we ought to address the continual promotion of "healthier" and "humane" "meat" by the nutritional authorities of these studies at every opportunity, noting that vegan diets are equally, if not more healthy for generally everyone. Obviously, many researchers and doctors are concerned their advise will not be taken as seriously if they were to promote plant-based diets in our meat-centered culture, and may even wish to rationalize that certain "meat" is healthier than other kinds to make "us" all feel less concerned about the "food" that is literally craved. However, if a scientific study is published or there is a culture that doesn't fit within the paradigm, it is not going to convince anyone (but some vegans) to call such findings "backlash." We cannot rely on rhetoric and conspiracy theory to challenge sound scientific research. Science may not always be perfect, but it is up to the scientifically literate to criticise such claims, not anxsty activists (whether either for or against "meat").

Vegan diets by themselves are not necessarily healthy. What is most important in maintaining good health is a variety of whole produce, not merely the absence of animal products. After all, what is best about a pant-based diet is the high consumption of cancer-fighting and body-nourishing vitamens in plants; the commonality of "bad" fats (i.e. Omga-6s) are only contingently absent in plnt-based diets, not necessarily so. It is sufficiently compelling to recommend a vegan diet because animal products 1) are unnecessary for our health, 2) most often detrimental to health, 3) are generally catastrophic to ecological health, and 4) morally unjustified; these are all incontestable points, while "moderate consumption of animal products is no different" than moderate consumption of tobacco is not one.

Why risk our credibility with stretchy claims?

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Despite Christian, loving lions is still dangerous

Watch the Christian the lion video that everyone—mainly Oprah—is talking about. This video moves many to tears as it seems a depiction of how love can transcend species barriers.

Although Christian's story is a touching one that summons childhood desires to befriend Simba from The Lion King, I am wary of the romanticization of human—wild animal relationships. While I don’t think Christian will inspire swarms of Simba fans to adopt lion cubs, it is dangerous for people to believe that social conditioning can fundamentally change the instinctive behavior of wild animals.

One woman’s plan to love and domesticate a chimp, Travis, went terribly awry last month. The Connecticut woman raised and cared for Travis as though he were a child, feeding him lobster, dressing him in children's clothing and entertaining him with computer games. After noticing that Travis exhibited symptoms of depression, she gave him antidepressant drugs, the effects of which had not been observed on chimps. Soon after, Travis brutally attacked a friend of the woman. He was stabbed repeatedly and eventually shot down by law officers.

Travis is like many chimpanzees who are bred to be used in the entertainment industry while infants (before they are large and unsuited for domestic life) and then left to spend the rest of their lives in small cages as they have neither the survival skills for life in the wild nor the subdued personality necessary for life in a human household. The entertainment industry frequently creates this gross misconception that wild animals can adapt to live as humans do.