PETA’s Shelter Scandal

So, some of you all recently informed me about the current PETA scandal. For those of you who don’t know, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is a massive animal rights organization that receives about 36 million dollars a year in donations and has about two million fans. It’s been around since 1980, and its headquarters is located in Norfolk, VA.

PETA has often received criticism for its practices – it spends a decent amount of money on media campaigns and general awareness-raising, which is well and fine. The problem here, the thing that people are getting upset about, is that PETA runs an animal shelter out of Norfolk where in the last year almost 90 percent of the animals taken in were euthanized. This is obviously horrible, but there are a few important things to keep in mind when considering the way PETA runs their shelter.

The only news I could find about the PETA shelter (and that was only after someone commented me the link) was a website called www.PETAkillsanimals.com. I read the front page, which seemed fine. They are stating facts about PETA’s shelter. But if you scroll down to the “Recent News” section, all of the articles are from the website of the Center for Consumer Freedom. These articles have sensational and accusatory titles, so I tried to figure out what the CCF is all about. As it turns out, they’re a lobbying group for the meat, tobacco and alcohol industries, and they created the aforementioned website. Some of their past endeavors include fighting against bills to ban smoking from restaurants and campaigns against organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving. I’m not exaggerating when I say that they produce propaganda that tells people that obesity isn’t that bad, and have fought against tighter blood alcohol limits for drivers. These people are what should come to mind when you think “scum of the earth.” Their most recent target is PETA – and if you were making millions of dollars in the meat industry, wouldn’t you want to take out America’s largest and loudest animal rights organization?

Another important fact is that PETA is not alone in the killing of shelter animals. Many shelters, for whatever reason, have experienced a recent decline in adoptions. No-kill shelters are very costly to run, so the only alternative that most shelters have is to euthanize animals. It’s horrible. But unfortunately, we don’t find it as important to donate to no-kill animal shelters as we do to organizations that seek to cure cancer or provide clean water to developing countries. Most individuals would rather give money to a cause that’s personally significant to them. Isn’t it funny that this lobbying group that so viciously attacks PETA receives donations (I couldn’t find an exact number, but rest assured that it’s at least in the tens of millions) from companies like Philip Morris, Wendy’s, and Coca-cola, and doesn’t donate any money to no-kill shelters? Isn’t that what the CCF is so upset about – the unnecessary killing of animals?

PETA is not innocent in all of this. An organization that receives so much money and is so publicly visible can and should run a no-kill shelter, if it’s going to run one at all. But please, don’t let corporate assholes influence you. And don’t let PETA’s failure influence your opinion of the animal rights campaign. There are no-kill shelters, and thousands of people who work to keep them open. The euthanization of shelter animals is a sad reality that can only be combated by supporting no-kill establishments, and by spaying and neutering pets.


Are You Chicken?

In most of my posts, I’ve been operating under the assumption that people eat meat because they’re unaware of the dangers that it poses to their health and the environment. I’ve also been assuming that readers or the general population are unaware of the treatment that animals receive in mass meat production.

I’m starting to think this is a little unfair. This stuff is all over the media, and has been for a while. The animal rights movement has been going on since the 60’s or 70’s, and has gotten a lot of attention. You probably know who PETA is, and that it’s bad to eat too much red meat, and that the mass production of just about anything, let alone living creatures, is detrimental to the environment.

So, why aren’t you a vegetarian? In fact, why are less than one percent of Americans committed vegetarians?

I started to ask myself this question after I read this article from Psychology Today. The article pinpoints the beginning of the moral argument against meat with a book written in 1975. Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation received a lot of attention at the time and kick-started the animal rights movement. Since then great legal strides have been made in the protection of animals, meat has been correlated with health risks, and environmental awareness has greatly increased. However, thirty years later, there are no more vegetarians than in 1975, and our consumption of meat has increased dramatically. The article cites biology as a main reason why we continue to eat meat, and loosely mentions meat industry propaganda. Meat consumption may have contributed to the rapid development of the evolving human brain, and we’ve been eating it for millions of years. He suggests that we’re genetically driven to eat animals.

The writer says that he considers vegetarians and vegans to be “moral heroes” for transcending the desire to eat meat. That makes me feel silly – I’m a vegetarian and I don’t consider myself to be any kind of hero. Giving up meat wasn’t hard for me, even though I used to love it. I can’t really see myself going back. With everything I know about how terrible meat is, I would rather go hungry than eat it. I imagine that it wouldn’t even taste good.

But if you eat meat, and you’ve read any of my blog posts, you know what I know. Why does meat still taste good? I’m not trying to be a jerk, or pushy. It’s a serious question. If you know how bad meat is for the environment, how poorly the animals are treated, why do you still eat it? Is it a matter of convenience? Cost? Just taste preference? Why are these things more important than animal rights, environmental protection, or in some cases even personal health?

And finally, just for laughs, I found this terrible and hilarious website called “Vegetarians Are Evil.” We all know that at the end of the day, vegetarianism is a violent religion that is often forced upon brainwashed children – if you stop eating meat, you’ll obviously end up like Adolf Hitler.


Friends, Food, and Frankenmeat

We’ve reached that point in the semester – I’m running out of topics. I’ve ranted about animal rights, nutrition and the environment. I could go on and on, but I thought I’d switch it up this week and talk about some interesting things I’ve seen in the news lately, and get your opinion on them!

Guinea Pigs: Friend or Food?

Guinea Pigs have long been considered a delicacy in South America. Today, they are becoming increasingly popular in the states, and not as pets – as food. I read this article from NPR that said that ritzy restaurants are seeing an increased demand for guinea pigs on the plate. They are often fried and eaten whole, but here in America their heads and extremities are cut off so that they don’t offend American diners.

I thought it was interesting that Americans are so quickly turning to consume an animal that I have always thought of as a pet. To me, eating a guinea pig would feel like eating a dog. We just don’t eat pets, right? While some states have completely banned consumption of dog meat, many allow for the consumption of dog as long as the animal is killed “humanely.”

Genetically Engineered Meat

A very exciting prospect for the future of the meat industry is lab-grown meat. I came across this article a while ago, where one scientist working on this project discusses its possible outcomes. Lab-grown meat is created by taking living animal tissue and growing the muscle tissue outside of the animal. It doesn’t require the death of an animal, and growing it is far more sustainable than raising livestock.

The question is, how viable will this meat be? Will it look, taste, and feel like conventionally grown meat? There are plenty of meat-substitutes on the market. I love Morning Star’s buffalo nuggets, but no meat eaters that I know buy them – they’re more expensive. In the near future, lab-grown meat will be an extremely expensive commodity product for wealthy vegetarians. The scientist being interviewed in the article spectates that it will fill the same niche as mycoprotein or soy protein, and become an ingredient in meat-substitute products. If this is the case, I can’t really see the relevance of the product. It might taste more like meat than other substitutes, but it will remain more expensive than meat until some inconceivable day when the meat industry is producing more lab-grown meat than livestock. It seems that it would remain a commodity product for vegetarians and other eco-minded people. The scientist says that he is more immediately focusing on producing lab-grown leather because there are more regulations on food than anything else.

What I want to know is what you all think of these two subjects. When it comes to food, is any animal up for grabs? Do you designate some animals as friends only, and if so, why? Is it just convention or do you feel like they have more of a right to life by way of intelligence or some other quality? If high quality lab-grown meat became available for a slightly higher price than the conventional option, would you make the switch? Why? Let me know what you think!


Anthropocentrism and the Environment

Anthropocentrism is the idea that humans are the center of everything, more important than anything else in the world. We’ve believed this for an incredibly long time, and understandably so. There are no other beings like us on the planet; our thought and technologies are more sophisticated than those of any other creature on earth. We have sent men into space and created written language. Even some religions teach that the world was created for us, a big bountiful gift. Animals were made for us to eat, and the earth was made to provide everything we need (or just want). Doesn’t it make sense that everything around us is ours and should be put to use for our benefit?

This worldview has been getting us into trouble lately. We have always had some effect on the environment, but our effect has reached a global scale only since the industrial revolution. Our rates of production can sustain vastly larger populations, and we are growing at an exponential rate. We can’t keep it up forever. We won’t destroy the world – it will continue on long after us. We’ll destroy ourselves, and take hundreds of thousands of species down with us.

Anthropocentrism is really a sort of species supremacy. We believe that, simply by virtue of superior intelligence and opposable thumbs, everything else is beneath us. We should be the most comfortable beings on the planet, and it doesn’t matter what happens to anyone else. In reality, we don’t control the world. As we ramp up our population and excessive, unsustainable consumption, we will warp the environment to an unlivable point.

Animals and plants have the same right to life as we do. In fact, they have been here longer than us. Animals in particular, although they haven’t reached our level of sentience, are often self-aware and demonstrate emotion. They are valuable unto themselves, each one an integral part of the environment. In recent history, we have chosen the species that get to live – cows and chickens are cultivated, and animals that produce no product are forced into extinction. Although we as a species obsess over ownership, it is an idea that we constructed. We don’t actually own anything, and the meaning that we ascribe to the living things around us is trivial. Their merit is in their existence, and they deserve to be allowed to live as we would want for ourselves.

This ideology is at the center of our treatment of animals. At this point in human development, meat is unnecessary for our health. We eat it because we want to, because we can. Our consumption of meat has even become so excessive that it’s hurting the environment. If we don’t strive to change this behavior, then we will suffer the consequences – a life with no excess on a planet that we have altered from its natural state, the one that fostered our evolution and growth as a species.

How do you feel about anthropocentrism? Do you think it’s possible for us to change this way of thinking? Let me know!


Meat the Environment

Where does the food that livestock eat come from? What do we do with all of their excrement? Like most people, I never asked these questions – that is, until I was faced with the answers in an environmental science class. The meat industry’s effect on the environment is by far the easiest to ignore. It’s invisible. There are a thousand pictures of suffering animals, but we can’t just look around and see the depleted ozone layer and poisoned soil that factory farming contributes to. If we aren’t careful, we will soon find ourselves in a deep manure lagoon.

A manure lagoon - yes, it's a real thing.

A manure lagoon – yes, it’s a real thing.

So, what exactly are the implications of mass meat production for our environment?

Air and Energy

There are 29.3 million beef cattle in America, and 8 billion chickens. They all eat, and when that food comes out the other end, it’s loaded with methane. Methane contributes to global warming, and although it is a concern, it pales in comparison to the emissions that the entire industry causes through raising and transporting meat. It is estimated that meat farming is responsible for 18% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.

Raising meat is also an inefficient use of resources. It takes seven pounds of feed to produce one pound of beef. If we were producing less meat and more plant food, we could be healthier and use less energy.

Seafood

Commercial fishing is a serious threat to aquatic wildlife. Practices like bottom trawling, the dragging of a net along the ocean floor, destroy aquatic habitats. Overfishing has led to the exploitation of many species, and can disrupt food webs when specific predators or prey are targeted. Fishing can also result in the accidental capture of unwanted species that, if not tossed back, will simply die in the name of seafood.

Other Considerations

In the US, runoff from meat production can all but annihilate aquatic ecosystems. Poor practice of some massive farms can lead to the contamination of water sources. The production of commercial meat effects every aspect of the environment, and it seems that we’re discovering new problems all the time.

This isn’t to say that every aspect of meat production is negative, or that plant agriculture is completely benevolent. For example, most manure from meat operations is used as fertilizer – a preferable natural alternative to chemical fertilizers. Small flocks and herds of livestock, when actually grazing, can limit the growth of invasive weeds. As far as the environment is concerned, we don’t need to cut out meat altogether. We need to change the way we raise livestock – less mass production, and more practices that benefit the earth. This is imperative when meat consumption is expected to double within the next 10-30 years. Although vegetarianism is becoming a more popular dietary choice, demand for meat products only increases as countries develop and approach the American standard of dietary excess.

Have you ever considered the implications of meat on the environment? Have you seen or heard of any beneficial practices in the industry? Let me know!

Photo Credit: http://really-rose.blogspot.com/2009/04/dairy-and-orchard.html


Soggy White Matter

Somewhere in the natural food aisle of the grocery store, a lonely block of tofu soaks in a plastic container of liquid, waiting to be taken home. “Eat me!” cries the squishy wad of protein, and “eugh” is the reply of most who walk past.

Let’s face it: tofu looks and feels weird. When I mention eating tofu to some of my family members, they react as if I had just told them I ate live bugs.  But, hear me out for a moment. Tofu is edible. In fact, it’s good – and the best tofu-based meals I’ve ever eaten were ones I made myself.

So, what do I do with that?

It is conventional to eat raw tofu with some foods! I’ve seen raw tofu in many different salads and sandwiches. If I’m in a hurry, I like to chop a few cubes of it and toss it in my ramen. Silken tofu (as opposed to firm tofu) can be used to add protein to smoothies and other blended things. Before you write off uncooked tofu, try adding it to something flavorful that you already like.

What if I don’t like the texture?

That’s completely understandable. You can go one of two ways from here – baking or frying your tofu. Both have a more solid and compressed texture that is reminiscent of meat. I personally prefer to bake my tofu, but we’re going to learn to do both!

For either of these routes, I always use extra firm tofu. It holds up better to cutting and being tossed around.

Raw tofu, even when chopped, is rather unattractive.

Raw tofu, even when chopped, is rather unattractive.

Baked

  1. Start with a marinade. Any marinade. I’ve used just teriyaki sauce before, and fancy marinade made for chicken. My favorite recipe can be found here – it’s a little more time intensive to measure out all the ingredients, but the result is delicious.
  2. Open your container of tofu over the sink! It might squirt tofu juice everywhere. Drain it, pat it down with a paper towel, and chop it into roughly 1-inch cubes. You can go smaller if your tofu can handle it.
  3. Let the tofu soak in a container in the fridge with the marinade for a day or two. Mix it up every once in a while so all your cubes will be tasty.
  4. When you’re ready to cook, heat your oven to 350 degrees. Place the tofu cubes apart from each other on a baking try that is wrapped in aluminum foil or sprayed with cooking spray.
  5. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour. Check on the tofu every once in a while to make sure you aren’t over or under cooking it. It should be firm and dry to the touch, and just a little soft and moist inside.
  6. Add to vegetables, soup, rice, or whatever you want, and enjoy!
Hemp oil and teryaki sauce are essential for basic but delicious fried tofu.

Hemp oil and teryaki sauce are essential for basic but delicious fried tofu.

Fried

  1. Start by pressing your tofu. Set it on a bunch of paper towels (or a hand towel of you don’t mind washing it and want to be eco-friendly!) on a plate, and place another plate plus a stack of books on top. This is your tofu pressing contraption! The weight of the books will squeeze the moisture from your tofu and into your paper towels, which you will change periodically when they’re soaked through. The drier the tofu is, the less it will crackle and spit when you fry it. It should take about three or four hours to press.
  2. Once your tofu is dry, cut it up into cubes in the size of your choice. Put a generous amount of oil in bottom of the pan; I recommend hemp. I haven’t tried them all, but I have heard that olive oil doesn’t work that well. Once it heats up, toss in your tofu and stir occasionally.
  3. Between 5-10 minutes, your tofu should be turning golden and starting to get a little crispy on the outside. Now it’s time to add some flavor. I simply use teriyaki sauce and/or curry powder, but this is a fun opportunity to experiment! Add enough seasoning to cover all of your tofu and fry for another five minutes, or until a test cube is cooked through.
  4. Add to your favorite dish and enjoy!
The end result - delicious fried tofu!

The end result – delicious fried tofu!

Now it’s your turn – to ask me questions, or post a picture of some delicious tofu you made!


Consumers In the Dark

ag-gag-1

Yesterday I was turned on to this article regarding “ag-gag” legislation – laws that seek to silence whistleblowers in the meat industry. These laws have come about in the past few years in response to several instances of animal rights workers and journalists going undercover and filming animal violence in factory farms. You know, “animal violence” might be a little too politically correct for what’s actually going on here; it would be more accurate to say that in America’s meat industry, there can be found incidents of calloused, desensitized, and primal brutality that demonstrate the very lowest point of human behavior. What is more horrific than violence against innocent and defenseless beings? The fact that there are powerful people who want to hide that violence from the public eye.

First of all, what kind of violence are we talking about? This article mainly points out mistreatment of Butterball turkeys by workers; the animals were being arbitrarily kicked and beaten, and thrown forcefully into cages. This is only the tail end of the mistreatment these birds receive – don’t forget that these animals are mutants, bred so large that they can hardly walk, kept in tight cages all of their lives, festering in fecal matter, and even living amongst animals who have died from untreated injuries. So you can imagine that a turkey being sent to slaughter is a molting, oozing, weak and pitiful sight. It is beyond me that anyone seeing these animals (who are about to be turned into food for human consumption, by the way) could find it in themselves to harass and beat them for their own enjoyment.

But, I digress. I discussed animal cruelty in my last post, and today I’m not just talking about violence. I’m talking about constitutional rights that are being threatened. These industries know that their practices are filthy and unethical. That’s why they want to make sure that you never get to see what is happening to your food; you might do something radical, like stop eating meat! They try to play the victim to get the average American – an omnivore – on their side. They don’t want those PETA-pushing, “radical vegans” showing you how disgusting the industry you’re supporting really is. This isn’t just an issue for vegetarians. Any meat eater should be concerned about the quality of their food. USDA officials are often corrupt, and so many cases of poor practice in the meat industry slide by. If undercover investigators didn’t expose these crimes, they could have gone unnoticed for years. If ag-gag legislature is passed, factory farms will have free reign over the animals you eat. It will be illegal for anyone to expose crimes like failed health regulations and animal brutality.

The fact that these laws were even proposed is ridiculous to me. Instead of ramping up government regulation and inspection of factory farms, certain representatives want to close the doors, cover the windows, and pretend that these crimes just don’t happen. I honestly don’t know how likely it is that any of them will pass, but I will appalled if they do.

How do you feel about meat industry practices? Do you think ag-gag laws are constitutional? Are the whistle-blowers in the wrong, or doing the public a justice? Let me know what you think, and I’ll promise to get off of my soapbox next week!

Photo Credit:http://serbiananimalsvoice.com/2012/06/10/usa-agriculture-gag-laws-are-violating-press-freedom-in-the-us/