Saving Animals Through Various Means

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After the whirlwind that was Vida Vegan Con, it’s interesting to pause and reflect on the state of veganism in our country (rather, North America) right now. There was a small international contingent at the conference, but with the multitude of animal rights actions happening, it’s hard enough to keep tabs on what is changing domestically. To me, what’s exciting is seeing the idea of veganism, or a cause fighting to end exploitation of animals, appear in an unlikely place. Here are just a few examples that have made the news recently:

The Randy Radish food truck is Washington D.C.’s “first 100% vegan food truck,” whose owners were inspired after watching the Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race. The truck features a small but pretty interesting vegan menu – lots of sandwiches and baked goods – and is barely two months old. Run by two women who were looking for a way to serve vegan food to all ages, the truck’s goal is to spread healthy, plant-based fare to the greater metro D.C. area. Awesome!

Here’s a pretty neat story of a dude who took his OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) and turned it into something good: David Klasfeld took the troublesome diagnosis and created Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics, best known for “a product called Lip Tar that has become a cult favorite among the kind of cutting-edge makeup enthusiasts who also tend to favor the brands Urban Decay and Illamasqua” (NYT). While a vegan make-up company may be the norm if that’s your scene, OCC’s policy on it is splendid:

In a time when many cosmetic companies make the claim that their products are “Cruelty Free” simply because Animal Testing has become unfashionable and less cost-effective, OCC felt it was necessary to raise the bar on this issue. We pledge never to use animal-derived ingredients (including Lanolin, Beeswax, Carmine and more) in our products and accessories. Beyond any personal convictions, we simply believe that it’s unnecessary, especially when there are alternatives that are just as readily available, and equally effective in the formulation of our products. Further, you need not necessarily be aligned with animal rights issues to reap the benefits of a vegan cosmetic line: animal ingredients can be amongst the most allergenic and skin reactive, and prevent makeup from being considered Kosher, Halal or otherwise compliant with various dietary (and sanitary!) regulations.

Lastly, we have this short but brilliant piece from Élise Desaulniers that appeared on HuffPo Canada-edition, about a recent gathering of French-Canadian scientists and one man’s admission of guilt about only recently switching to veganism. The short story discusses our endless quest to satisfy nothing short of a selfish desire to eat meat (not necessary, in our privileged world, for survival), and blames the deep ethic of carnism. Desaulniers closes with this hopeful message:

The majority of humanity is not psychopathic. Our carnivorous behaviour is best explained by ignorance and denial. It is thus possible to convince people to change their habits by showing them the hidden horrors that our food choices entail, and by reminding them that exploiting animals is by no means a necessity.

These three examples illustrate the power of change across the country, but one need not start a food truck or a cruelty-free cosmetic company to effect better choices. Simply living positively will echo out the changes we want to see, through small but profound steps, every single day.

Misunderstood: A Foie Gras Follow-up

Foie Gras protest

In the weeks after the foie gras protest, I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on the issues, the protest itself, and of course the immense amount of controversy it generated both online and off. The internet – mostly Facebook – was abuzz with status updates about the protest, often from people who care little about the animal rights issues I post so frequently about. This signified something “different” about this particular issue.

From my estimation, the criticism could be characterized into one of three categories: 1) attacking Game was unethical because they’re a small, locally owned and operated restaurant, 2) attacking foie gras is inconsistent because either a) all meat is bad or b) many other restaurants in Louisville also serve foie gras and have been doing so for much longer than Game, 3) protesting people’s food choices is inherently unethical and shouldn’t be done.

Point 3 was often contorted into various condemnations of PETA (“Going to come picket and do their disgusting displays of blood, etc, and how evil everyone is that eats meat, and in particular hunters and their taste for wild game.” link) or how we (the activists) shouldn’t force our views onto others, and that people should be “free to eat whatever they want.” In general I agree with that, although I think the understanding and acceptance of just how food is produced should be a prerequisite before it is consumed. And really, that was the whole point of the foie gras protest: understand how foie gras is produced, and then make a decision. For Game, I felt like the logical choice was to stop serving it, especially after speaking with Adam. For patrons, I feel it’s morally necessary to abstain from eating it unless a plethora of carnistic beliefs are firmly understood within your brain.

To the gawkers and “trolls” that said “well, isn’t all meat bad?!” – Yes, and we addressed that (both Loyd, the co-organizer and myself). In fact, they betrayed their own morality by admitting that point and then not following it up by adopting a vegetarian diet. But that’s not surprising, and we work to educate and combat ignorance in that area every day. Animal lovers, even those who resonate with just dogs and cats, would most likely (with a very high level of probability in my opinion) not be okay with the way 99% of meat is produced in this country. The only consistent choice after that is to abstain from eating it.

The other points I will let Loyd address, in his remarks below. Louisville.com journalist Collette Henderson was on top of things enough to write both an pre- and post-protest piece about the Game debacle that generated some much-needed press for our cause. Wave3’s coverage was laughingly docile, but once again the cognitive dissonance bled through: a man justified his eating of antelope by claiming that even though they are cute, so are cows, and he eats them. Watch it for yourself if you don’t believe me.

Collette’s piece was cut short due to the website’s guidelines (not by her), so the full interview is below. My points made it online in their entirety, which you can read here.


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An Open Letter To Louisville’s “Game” Restaurant

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If you haven’t heard the news on Facebook or elsewhere, a new restaurant called Game opened last month in Louisville. True to its name, it serves mainly “game” meats, including some more exotic ones including kangaroo, ostrich, and wild boar. As disgusting as this is, it’s also insane to me why people have an obsession with weird meats like this. However, the inclusion of foie gras on their menu is a point of contention between myself and the owners. After talking with one of them, Adam, and learning about their source of foie gras, I felt it necessary to write openly about the problems of sourcing and serving foie gras.

Many will condemn this approach for being too narrow: “why don’t you go protest McDonalds too?” they say. We do. “Well, don’t you think all meat is inhumane?” I do, yes. But foie gras is expensive, unnecessary  and supremely cruel. Far beyond raising animals for their flesh, ducks and geese are force-fed and tortured to put them in a diseased state where their liver becomes so fat that it is – for some twisted reason – considered a delicacy. This isn’t right, and I’m urging Game to stop carrying the dish. Read on for why:

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Interview with Holly Nolly of Vegan Shortcake

Rebecca (left) and Holly (right) of Vegan Shortcake

 

During my wonderful weekend at Animal Rights 2012, I had the pleasure of meeting Holly Noll, a fellow vegan straight-edger, who, along with Rebecca Bolte, hosts Vegan Shortcake: a “super awesome” cooking show that not only features delicious vegan recipes, but animal rights issues, and “mocktails” or alcohol-free versions of cocktails. I recently spoke with Holly about the show, AR 2012, and her food choices:

TNTSU: I think Vegan Shortcake totally what need in cooking shows right now: healthy, funny, and hip. What’s your goal with the series? Did you put a lot of thought into the “look and feel” or did it come naturally?

Holly: We do put a lot of time and energy into the way that our show looks though I think that process came totally naturally to us. We pride ourselves on having a show that’s relatable, easy to watch, fun and informative. A lot of the reason our show feels so solid, also, is because Rex [Ray] makes the editing/lighting/sound really high quality and spends a lot of time making it not feel so much like a [typical] “YouTube show”.

How did you end up working with Rebecca? She adds so much comic relief to the episodes; was it a natural fit or did you two rehearse any of the craziness?

Rebecca and I actually met, I believe, at an indoor water park and became quick friends. We originally started working on this rad idea she had:a sober drink bar at shows called Teetotal Babes, which I was really into and which bled into our show with the straight-edge drink additions as well. [T]he show idea was brought up to me and I mentioned it to her and Rex; shortly [there]after Vegan Shortcake was born.

We do think a little about the jokes ahead of time, in that we plan out story lines but honestly we’re really horrid when it comes to acting so the stuff that ends up on the final cut of things is the stuff that just came out as a result of hours of laughing over inappropriate jokes and to much coffee. [Rebecca] really balances my constant need for informing [the audience] about boring food stuff with the entertainment value of the show. [S]he also holds down the drinks and is killer at making sure all the behind the scenes stuff happens like getting our show out there and seen by people, [selling] merch, and what not.

Rex Ray’s camera work makes the videos looks really good. What’s it like working with him? What’s the post-production for Vegan Shortcake like?

Rex is incredible. Honestly, we couldn’t do it without him…we tried when he was on an extended leave, Rebecca and I had some attempts at trying to film shows on this little flip camera…results were disastrous! He is a total mastermind. Somehow he pulls off seeing the end result through all of Rebecca and I running around being crazy. He holds the whole show together and – in addition to making it sound and look good – he really creates those linear structures that make the show watchable. I don’t know too much about post production of the show [but] I know there’s a lot of editing and making things all line up, as well as cutting hours of footage.

I definitely appreciate the straight-edge versions of bar drinks, but what do you want viewers to take away from that?

Yay! I’m glad you’re into it! We want to promote a few different ideas with the xvx [vegan straight-edge] “mocktails”. First, we wanted to get across that sober drinks can be complex and interesting, not just sodas and stuff for children as it is often portrayed in mainstream culture. We also really wanted to promote the fact that xvx living is hella fun and doesn’t have to be super serious. Many people outside of straight edge think of going out to clubs and drinking or partying as their primary source of fun. Here we are trying to show that we’re totally sober and stoked.

When we met, it was in the middle of a high energy animal rights conference. What did you take away from AR 2012?

Wow. Yeah, it was high energy, huh? I took so much from that conference. The most notable being the friends and connections I made, with you as well as with many other dedicated and awesome folks. The conference renewed my inspiration to keep pushing forward and was a solid reminder that so many people in so many ways are promoting the same thing I am. Sometimes it’s nice to remember that you’re not alone with your small group of people you know, and that there are tons of ideas out there – so pushing forward with your [ideas] when you see gaps is okay – because there are others who have your back.

I know you personally eat a lot of raw foods, and a few of the recipes are raw or mostly raw foods. Would you comment on eating a raw vegan diet for health benefits?

I honestly believe that it’s best to eat 80% unprocessed, uncooked food; try your best to keep [the] processed food, sugar and processed carbs out of your diet. I think it’s all about balance though, how you feel about your food affects how you digest it as well as how much you enjoy life. It’s also about seasons: in the winter it’s more likely you’ll crave warm food, so reaching for solid options like a baked sweet potato, some sauteed greens with nutritional yeast and pumpkin seed pesto might be better as opposed to the warmer months, where, if you live somewhere with seasons, you might find yourself eating all raw and not even thinking about it.

Focusing on eating high nutrient content, easy to digest, tasty foods is really the primary goal – in my opinion – for optimal health. I also believe very strongly in juicing and smoothies, as they give you the option of eating huge quantities of raw fruits, veggies and greens, very quickly and easily, where many people find it difficult to fit [that] into their schedules. [Juicing] also skips some steps for your body so it can take that nutrition straight to the body as opposed to having to break it all down.

Rapid fire questions!

Favorite vegan restaurant?

SO HARD! Either Blossoming Lotus in PDX or Chaco Canyon in SEA. (I know answering with two is cheating !)

Best current, and past, XVX band:

Seven Generations, for sure.

Most calories ever consumed in one day:

Whoa. I lived in a co-op in Oakland for a while, and one day someone brought home a deep fryer and that night we had a huge garlic inspired deep fried potluck followed by a big game of “what dessert things can we deep fry?” If I were to pick out a day, it was almost definitely that one. Absolutely the worst I’ve ever felt.

Spiciest food you’ve ever made?

I’m a total baby when it comes to spice, honestly! I recently my dad made me this harrisa crumble over beets that had this insane spice but it grew with smokiness and was complex so I loved it. I like spice with flavor as oppose to just a kick in the face.

Are you a fan of the Vegan Black Metal Chef?

Yeah, I think he is funny and awesome, though I don’t really keep up with it too much. I think it’s a great niche and it’s exciting when anything promoting veganism goes viral.

What’s next for you and Rebecca? Will Vegan Shortcake continue on or do you have other projects planned?

Vegan Shortcake will absolutely continue! Look forward to episodes on [vegan] bacon, BBQ and greens! I am also building a protein bar business, writing a “cook zine” series, brainstorming a few other books, as well as a few ongoing columns for AMP magazine and Vegan Warfare. I’m also hoping to get back to school and get certified in nutrition soon.

Anything else you want to add, promote, or dis:

We just put out our latest episode on Bananas at veganshortcake.com, so check it out as well as my upcoming articles in AMP magazine [and] veganwarfare.com. I love feedback and hearing from people so feel free to email me at holly[at] veganshortcake [dot] com.

Closing still from the video

Photos: Vegan Shortcake YouTube & Facebook pages.

A Responsibility to Protect Animals: Paul Shapiro Interview

Among the flurry of awesome people I met at AR 2012, Paul Shapiro stuck out for a couple reasons: 1) his presentation was so well put together, entertaining, and fun to watch, and 2) he was with the Humane Society of the United States, a group that some may not expect to be at a conference that included ALF supporters and talk of direct action. But I give props to HSUS for speaking and representing there, showing that they care about all forms of action that alleviates cruelty to animals. Paul got his start in activism way back in 1995, founding Compassion Over Killing and being instrumental in many of its campaigns until 2006, when he joined the Humane Society. Now he is their senior director of factory farming campaigns. Below is a conversation we had via e-mail:

Thanks so much for taking the time to do this, Paul. When we met it was in the middle of a huge animal rights conference. It would be erroneous to say that there wasn’t any controversy over HSUS being there, yet your speech on Sunday was one of the most invigorating. What are your overall thoughts on AR 2012, now that it’s passed?

Thanks, Sam. I appreciate your kind words about my talk. I was glad to speak there. The response to the three speeches I gave was overwhelmingly positive, and the same was the case for other HSUS speakers like Michael Greger and Jon Balcombe, too. I was glad to be there and see so many old and new friends.

I understand that some people may not exactly be card-carrying HSUS members there, but that’s the way it goes. We should just keep in mind that the animal agribusiness industry views HSUS as a major threat for a reason, and spends millions of dollars to combat HSUS precisely because we’re effective at creating a societal shift in where farm animals land on people’s moral compass.

I want to jump right into what I believe is the main source of contention between some AR activists and HSUS. While I was aware of your relationship with the United Egg Producers, it never seemed to be the grievous move that people like Bob Linden are calling it (a “hi-jacking” as he says).

I want to understand your position on this: why is your negotiation with the UEP important? And can it exist with the Humane Society’s other initiatives, such as the promotion of “humane eating?” For you and many other HSUS members (including Wayne Pacelle) I know this means a plant-based diet (and consequent vegan lifestyle).

In all honesty, this legislation isn’t the main source of contention—it goes back a bit more. I respect Bob, and I respectfully agree to disagree with him. In 2008, he campaigned hard to deride California’s Prop 2 ballot measure and now he’s doing the same with the federal hen protection bill.  Some others who don’t like the federal hen bill also didn’t support Prop 2 (such as the Humane Farming Association and Friends of Animals). This isn’t really new for most of them. The beef and pork industries are fighting hard to kill this legislation, and we shouldn’t make their job easier.

More to the heart of your question, though: All of the animal groups that spearheaded the Prop 2 campaign support the federal hen bill (Mercy For Animals has a good page about why that is), and virtually all of the major meat and dairy trade groups oppose the bill, with the beef industry’s lobby group calling its defeat the group’s “number one priority.”

The meat and dairy industry so vigorously oppose this bill because they say they’re concerned about the precedent of having federal legal protection for animals on factory farms. It’s hard to imagine animals in a worse situation that egg-laying hens. Hundreds of millions of them are essentially immobilized in cages for 18 months prior to slaughter. It’s miserable. Of course this bill is modest, and if enacted, it would certainly reduce animal suffering, and importantly, it’s the best realistic option these hundreds of millions of animals have for the foreseeable future.

Those who don’t like this bill fail to offer any alternative legislative plan for the hundreds of millions of animals the bill would help. They’re not suggesting another legislative way forward for hens, nor are they showing how this bill is worse than having no law at all.

Simply put, no realistic alternatives are offered because none of us in the movement are aware of any. The 280 million hens in our country aren’t just a statistic.  These are real animals who endure real suffering, and we have a chance to help alleviate some of their misery with this bill.  Without it, they will be significantly worse off.

Some have suggested that people should simply stop eating animal products. Of course, one can do that while also supporting this legislation; being vegan does not preclude also reducing the suffering of the countless animals who will be helped by this bill if it’s enacted. As a vegan of 19 years, I’m heartened to see the animal movement focusing more on ethical eating options.  At the same time, I’m heartened that our movement is making so many strides to gain farm animals more legal protection from the worst cruelties, and I would value both approaches if I were a battery hen.

Groups like HSUS, Farm Sanctuary, Mercy For Animals, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the ASPCA, and Compassion Over Killing have been waging legislative campaigns to help farm animals on a state by state basis. Now we’re in our best position ever to gain federal protection for hundreds of millions of animals every year.  This will improve their lives compared to what they are today, and compared to what their prospects will be without the bill.

Would you explain why HSUS chooses to call itself an “animal protection” organization – words which I’m sure were chosen carefully – as opposed to “animal rights,” “animal welfare,” or something else?

To the general public these terms are largely distinctions without difference. The bottom line, though, is that we’re for helping animals. One reason HSUS has been so successful – whether in shutting down dogfighting rings and puppy mills, passing laws to help farm animals, or getting millions more plant-based meals served every year through our Meatless Mondays program – is because we focus our efforts on the human responsibility to protect animals.

Back in your days at Compassion Over Killing you were instrumental in removing the “Animal Care Certified” label from egg cartons, showing that the treatment of said hens was anything but “humane.” Do you think that current labeling, such as Whole Foods “5-Step” system, are meaningful and worthwhile?

There’s a dizzying array of welfare-related labels and some are misleading while others aren’t. HSUS is taking on some of the more misleading labels in court (for example, see our case regarding Perdue’s “humane” claim). I think HSUS does a good job of explaining what the most common ones mean—and don’t mean—at www.humanesociety.org/labels.

In your speech at AR 2012 you discussed the decline of meat consumption, and we’ve recently seen Tyson, Cargill, and other meat producers witness a drop in earnings over the last two quarters. How does this relate to the animal welfare standards of these companies?

Good question—I’m not sure it does alter what they’re doing (or not doing) on animal welfare.

In Kentucky, as you may know, we have a very strange Livestock Care Standards Commission, which listened to testimony from your colleague Matt Dominguez and others (myself included) about their silence on policies like tail docking and gestation crates. Why are regulators so resistant to enforce these now-common standards?

First, thanks so much for testifying there! That’s awesome, man. Second, there’s often a resistance from those in the agribusiness industry to providing any legal protection for animals from abuse whatsoever. On principle, many folks in the industry oppose any agricultural regulation, especially when it comes to regulations to prevent animal cruelty.

You wrote Food Day’s blog, regarding eating fewer animals, that “Very few issues have such clear connections among public health, animal welfare and sustainability.” How do we get others to understand that? Many think that dietary choices are simple, uninteresting debates based purely on taste.

There’s no doubt that eating is a moral act. What we choose to eat has profound consequences not just for us, but for animals and the planet, too.

HSUS—like so many other animal groups—advocates both to reduce the suffering of farm animals who are going to be raised for food and to reduce the total number of animals who are raised for food. For example, in addition to our efforts to ban some of the worst abuses of farm animals, HSUS’s resources include the HSUS Guide to Meat-Free Meals, our Meatless Monday video, our free recipe of the week, our recipe library, and more.

As far as advice for how to help people make better dietary decisions, Nick Cooney’s “Change of Heart” is a great book to read.

Simply put, is a plant-based diet the future for America? Do you envision a day when the majority of Americans eat this way?

Meat consumption is declining in the US. Per capita consumption of meat has dropped by 12.2% in the past five years and is projected to continue falling. Egg and dairy consumption is also on the decline. We’re raising and killing more than a billion fewer farm animals today in the US than we were five years ago, despite an ever-increasing human population. The number of people cutting back on animal consumption continues to grow, and major food industry trade publications tout meat-free options as one of the hottest trends in dining. Add to that cultural icons (think Bill Clinton, Oprah, Ellen and more) who are touting the benefits of plant-based eating, and you see that an issue that was once very fringe is now firmly in the mainstream. I definitely see that continuing.

Anything else you would like to add:

The animal movement has taken impressively important steps in recent years, especially when it comes to farm animal protection. This is progress we should celebrate for sure. Of course, the longest journeys begin with single steps, and we can’t forget that we’ve still got a long way to go. History proves that progress tends to beget progress, yet this doesn’t happen in a self-executing type of way. Laws don’t pass themselves. Campaigns don’t wage and win themselves. This progress our movement is making is only because of the tireless work of so many dedicated animal advocates who are working for tangible advancements, and it’s because of their continued efforts that we’re going to continue moving the ball forward for animals.

I want to thank Paul again for his generous time and explanations of the issues. Regardless of what lean of activist you may be, it’s important to recognize that HSUS is doing some effective work. I’ve ask Paul to check the comments to respond to any follow-up questions you may have.