The Spin Zone: How Animal Ag is Trying to Dupe You

Perhaps you heard Sherry Turkle on NPR last week discussing her book, “Alone Together,” about the on-going struggle of our youth to remain autonomous beings in an inter-connected society. I wrote about her findings over a year ago, mentioning how Facebook is one big “validation fest.” This was echoed with Bruce Hood’s comments a few months later, who said “[r]ather than opening up and exposing us to different perspectives, social networking on the Internet can foster more radicalization as we seek out others who share our positions.”

And so it is with enthusiasm that I try to expand my worldview, my positions, and my outlook, by seeking the alternative view. Today, it comes from BEEF Magazine – yes, the industry magazine of cattle producers – and I’ve found quite a slew of propagandizing articles. What interests me, however, is the angle. Here, animal rights activists are on the wrong side of the fence, even though they claim we take “moral high ground” most of the time (I think we do because we have it!). In a recent article “debunking” meatless Mondays, entitled “Six Reasons Why I Eat Meat Every Day — Mondays, Too,” beef advocate Amanda Radke writes:

I’ve got to hand it to the vegetarian and vegan activists, they know how to create a movement to rally around. Only a small segment of the U.S. population actually follows a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, but these folks have been able to take their ideas and make them mainstream. Universities across the country have adopted the Meatless Monday trend, and it seems like every time I pick up a consumer publication, there’s an article promoting meatless meals like tofu and bean burgers.

Then the author gives six – what I can only assume she feels are valid – reason to eat meat every day, including Mondays. These include “health” which amounts to the statement that beef contains vitamins, minerals, and protein; then reason #5, “it’s kind” which is sort of laughable as ethically, by definition, it is not kind to bring a being into existence to kill it; and some other paltry examples such as “it’s sexy” and “it’s environmentally friendly.” Basically all the reasons we give against eating meat, just spun 180 degrees, to appeal to the cattle producers so they have some argument to throw out there. But you can think through those yourself (I even felt compelled to leave a comment on the post).

The real “meat” of the issue comes in when the industry goes after what they call the “emotion of animal welfare.” Ah yes, emotion. It always gets in the way of things! Author Gayle Smith has some profound quotes about the mucking up of emotion and science that AR activists like to do. For instance…

Animal activists are successfully influencing the consumer’s view of animal welfare by appealing to the core values people believe in, such as compassion, justice, fairness and freedom, she adds. Activists also highlight issues easily grasped by consumers, like housing, handling and pain; they then develop modest appeals for change by adopting a high moral ground or even using religion. As an example, [Purdue University associate professor of animal behavior and well-being Candace] Croney points to farrowing crates to contain sows. “The activists say, ‘Can’t we give this pig just a little more room to turn around?’ That sounds completely reasonable, but the urban consumer doesn’t understand how a sow behaves. They don’t understand it’s not that easy. Their opinion is ‘What’s the problem? Just do it.’”

Just a little more room! Impossible, right? No. While I certainly don’t advocate farming pigs, here are at least two suitable alternatives to farrowing crates: Swedish Deep-Straw Farrowing (hey, pigs in straw! novel idea, eh?) and this Natural Farrowing System. Again, please note that this is not an endorsement of any sort of animal confinement, simply a counter argument to animal agriculture’s claim that “a little more room” is just too much.

Next, onto definitions:

Animal welfare has different definitions to different people. For many, particularly producers, it’s providing good animal husbandry, and taking care of the physical needs of animals for food, water and shelter. However, others feel the biological and behavioral needs of the animal should also be considered.

This is the same rhetoric I heard about KYLCSC meetings: animals need food, water, and shelter, period. A “healthy animal” will produce better than an unhealthy one. And when behavioral needs factor into it? Eh…

It’s clear to me that the majority of animal producers have a wall up when it comes to this front: they create the guise of caring about animals through their basic needs (Maslow’s lowest level), while ignoring the emotional toll it can take on the animals. If you repeat this enough times, and are born into a society that does this (as “nth” generation farmers so proudly state), it can become a sort of truth. But these animals feel both emotional and physical pain, and when either one is left out of the equation, there are disastrous consequences. The article goes on to advise producers what to do when confronted with the media, activists, or even (gasp) conscious consumers!

…Croney recommends explaining to consumers that today’s food challenges require maximizing the use of land and space. “We also need to mention that it requires us to grow and finish a lot of animals quickly. In the case of sows, we need to show the public how they are fed, and that they are housed in a way to protect workers and other animals,” she says. “The attention span of the American public regarding these issues is about two minutes, so we need to develop a quick and effective way to address these concerns,” she says. “Make sure people know no one is more concerned about our animals than us, and that we are committed to their health and welfare,” she says. “Develop a statement committed to animal welfare, and put it out there where people will read it. Actions speak louder than words, but words can be very effective when people don’t know you or what you do.”

If you get to define the terms “health and welfare” then you can certainly be committed to it, no? By advising the animal industry to “develop a statement committed to animal welfare…” you get exactly that: a statement. How about advising them to consider the claims of activists, that animals need to be taken care of on all levels? Or discussing the separation between mothers and their young “down on the farm?” These issues are glossed over in the name of a generic “animal welfare,” and of course, profit. By re-enforcing the point that we have “food challenges” – assuming that they can only be met by meat and dairy – and using this as a talking point, the animal agriculture industry continues to dupe the American public. It takes any option of a truly humane treatment of cows, pigs, chickens, etc. off the table by assuming that their sole purpose in life is to provide for us, not simply exist of their own volition.

Note: in doing some research regarding the farrowing crate debacle, I contacted Paul Shapiro of the Humane Society, who had this to say:

  • Keep in mind that the entire debate going on in the country right now is about gestation crates, not farrowing crates. They keep the pregnant pigs in the gestation crates for four months, then move them to farrowing crates where they nurse piglets for four months, and then go back to the gestation crate where it all repeats for a couple more years.
  • Nine states have passed laws banning gestation crates. Zero have laws relating to farrowing crates.
  • About 35 major pork buyers in the country now have policies to phase out gestation crates. Zero have such policies for farrowing crates.
  • The industry likes to purposefully conflate farrowing and gestation crates so they can make the piglet-crushing argument.

Photo: Twicepix

Making It Work: Interview with Kristin Lajeunesse Of Will Travel For Vegan Food (Part 1)

Ah, Kickstarter! I’ve found so many cool vegan projects through that site. Just a week ago I stumbled upon Will Travel for Vegan Food, started by the lovely Kristin Lajeunesse. A social media, lifestyle design, ass-kicking, world-saving super-girl, she truly believes that no matter what the odds, if you want it bad enough, you’ll make it happen. Kristin and I spoke at length about her rise to awesomeness last week, as well as what spurred her to get serious about the upcoming cross-country road trip. Stay tuned for Part 2 in a few days!

TNTSU: So we can get this out the way – how do you pronounced your last name? I don’t want to mispronounce it! Is it French?

Kristin Lajeunesse: Sure, it’s lah-juh-ness. It is French and it means “the youth.”

I know that you run your own social media site,, in addition to Will Travel For Vegan Food (WTF Vegan Food). Was that sort of your identity, as a social media guru, before WTF Vegan Food?

I’ve had them merged together for a while because I started getting into social media professionally while I was working with a company called Vegan Mainstream – they’re a marketing company that focuses on helping vegan and vegetarian businesses. After grad school I started working with Vegan Mainstream, and my focus with them was really to be their social media manager; not only work on accounts that Vegan Mainstream manages but also to be kind of the consultant for our clients when it comes to social media.

In January I started in an effort to do some of my own work independently from Vegan Mainstream because I don’t mind working with other companies. So [I thought,] “ I might as well put my name out there as a social media guru in general” [while] not only focusing on the vegan stuff, but just helping small business  owners and entrepreneurs in general.

How did Rose Pedals Vegan Weddings come about, then?

After grad school I worked for the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) for a year and a half, and also started working for Vegan Mainstream nights and weekends. [But when] I decided that I wanted to try this mobile lifestyle and start planning this trip, I’m like “okay, I can’t have a standard nine to five office job.”

So I talked with my boss at Vegan Mainstream, we upped my hours there, I left the nine to five job, and then when I started [working at] Vegan Mainstream on a more regular basis I also founded the Rose Pedals site because I wanted to create some kind of passive income for myself on the side.

Between Rose Pedals, WTF Vegan Food, Vegan Mainstream, and your own site, how do you manage it all? That’s a lot of Twitter and Facebook accounts, plus the blog for each one!

Yeah, it’s a lot, and I have to say that I really love every of minute, to be honest with you. It’s all stuff I’m really passionate about and as time goes on, I might need to let things go or pair things down. But while I can, and while I have the time and the energy, I’m just going to put a bunch of stuff out there, see what sticks, and keep going – just do whatever I can to keep going.

With the Rose Pedals thing I actually have a part-time employee that manages the blog and the social media so I’m almost entirely hands-off with that. I pretty much handle the money, so [when] someone wants to pay for a vendor listing, or advertisement, I handle all of that, and I update the website for those listings, but she does everything else.

As I get these other projects going, the idea is to get help along the way and have someone, like Sarah, who’s helping me with the Rose Pedals site, so that those [sites] can keep going while I continue to work on other projects.

I remember when it started this year; Rose Pedals has really grown by leaps and bounds. Why Vegan weddings as opposed to vegan-something-else?

The reason that [Rose Pedals] came about…at that time I was looking for a business idea; a way to make money online. I thought “what is one area that really hasn’t been tapped yet?” That hasn’t been covered or delved into, and I thought, well, people that want to get married – vegans that want to get married, vegetarians who want to have a cruelty-free wedding, etc.

VegNews does a great annual weddings feature in their magazine, which I really love, but felt there really isn’t one place that people can go to, any time of the day, year round, to find resources. So that’s where the idea [came from] and once I thought of this cutesy name (Rose Pedals), I thought, this is too cute, I have to do it. But I have always had an interest in event planning, and in high school I used to come home after school and watch Perfect Proposal and I would cry when people would have emotional engagement. (laughs) I’m not terribly concerned about [getting married], but I really love the idea of providing a resource that didn’t already exist.

You love food, you love travel – but making a year-long road trip out of that is no small feat. In the context of a mobile lifestyle, lifestyle design, et cetera – what pushed you over the edge to decide this was the right choice?

I think it’s probably a combination of things, because for a few years I had been talking to friends and mentioning “oh, I’d love to travel, I’d love to see other parts of the world and see different things.” After a while I just heard myself saying it, and it felt like I was becoming like everyone else who would just say, “oh, but I have this thing” or “oh, but I have this job.”

It felt like I was falling into that. I thought, “I don’t want to just say it, I want to do it! So what can I do?” I started looking online, you know, there are dozens of nomadic-lifestyle-design bloggers out there, and I somehow got my hands on two different books that really changed my life: Crush It by Gary Vanyerchuk, and The Four Hour Work-Week by Tim Ferriss.

I knew Ferriss was going to be in there!

(laughs) Of course, of course. And the funny thing is I didn’t really know about him until last year, and he has been popping up for a while, I just hadn’t heard of the book or anything. I ended up reading those books back-to-back in one week, and [said] “oh my goodness, I have got to do something. I cannot sit here. I need to follow my dreams and my passions. I don’t want to be just another person who says ‘I wish I could but I can’t.’

So after that I started just reading, reading, reading everything I could online about creating a mobile lifestyle, making money online, and moving everything; essentially moving my entire lifestyle from the standard desk job [and] having to be in an office to get the work done to doing stuff from my computer. I probably spent like eight months just reading a bunch of stuff.

Some people who I talked to about it were like, “didn’t you feel like that was time was wasted?” And I was like, “no, because I wouldn’t have gotten here it if wasn’t for that point in time.” So [while] doing all this reading, I jokingly posted on my personal Facebook wall, “I’d love to eat at all the vegan restaurants in the country; wouldn’t that be awesome?” Just as like a road-trip or something. I got this flood of responses from people who were like, “you should  do it!” or “I would love to do it. Take me with you!” and like all this stuff started coming in. It was kind of at that moment that I was like “I can really do this.” I’d been thinking about creating a mobile lifestyle as it is, and why not just move my work and my life to “on the road.” I could continue to manage these blogs and websites and do the social media work that I’m doing – I’ll just do it from my computer in a car, instead of in my apartment. And while I’m on the road I can focus to going to vegan restaurants and I’ll have accomplished the food and the travel and work kind of all in one!

Then I started really conceptualizing the idea – I talked to my parents about it, I was telling all my friends about it – and I don’t think it was until I decided on a name, “Will Travel For Vegan Food” and started the website that I thought “this is it, I’m really going do it.” The more that I just kept talking about it, the more it became real. The more I realized this is actually happening. (laughs)

I did an interview with Markus of Living on Impulse about this whole idea of lifestyle design and what’s appealing to me about it is that there’s a very critical element of will to it, where you really have to will yourself to do the things you want to do rather than fall back on any number of excuses that we all have.

But I also think these lifestyles all kind of start from some position of capital or privilege or college education. The books like Four Hour Work Week make some assumptions about the person reading it – if you gave it to some average poor person in America, I don’t think the chances are great that it’s going to turn their life around or make them Tim Ferriss-esque. Does that make sense? What does it take to get from point A to point B?

I feel like there’s so many elements to that question because, I mean, going back to your example, if we gave the book to some poor person on the side of the road, could they really change their life – and honestly I think, I truly believe, that no matter what position you’re in – you find that if you want it bad enough, if you really really do, you find a way to make it work no matter what.

I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked to who believed they’ve started from nothing. [People who] went from not having any money saved up and just going to a library in their local community to start a website online in order to start reaching out to people. They ended up making a few bucks consulting or something and had enough money to buy their own computer and that enabled them to work more and develop digital products and then that lead to more…kind of this flow.

I truly believe no matter what situation you’re in, if you want it bad enough, you will find a way to make it work no matter what. I really think that that’s what helps me keep moving. I tend to only follow things that truly move me, I have a hard time working projects that I’m not passionate about, which I think is why I have so many things going on now because there are so many things I’m passionate about. I want to explore them all!

I guess  you could say that I was in a privileged position because I had a steady nine to five job before I left [but] I left it on my own, I didn’t get fired which unfortunately is not the case for everyone.

Not everyone gets to choose when they start a new job or career path. On that note, however, there are so many successful bloggers and online business owners that attribute their success to getting let go. They knew they couldn’t do it on their own – leave the security of their job – and the push was enough to get them on the path they are on now. [That] turns out to be a happier path for these particular individuals.

I’m not trying to condemn where you came from; I think everyone who does this is very lucky and fortunate, and I think it’s awesome. But I agree, I think it’s easier for someone who has a job, or a computer, or access to a computer, than someone who doesn’t. It takes a certain kind of mindset, even if you have will or desire.

I think you’re right, but I think with the number of resources available today, like…I just feel like there are so many opportunities out there for people and it’s not strictly only if you have access to a computer. There are things you can do, there are strategies that are offline, there are other things you can do to really make it work.

I think you’re right; it has a lot to with mindset. When I read these [books] it clicked. I felt like I found a community that felt right to me [and it] might not feel right to everyone. I’ve talked to people who say “I couldn’t do that because I prefer to have…to know…what my day to day thing is going to be. I’d prefer to have that security.” And in my mind I think, “I love not knowing what this next day is going to bring!” I love the idea of kind of just going with it and making it work because I know it’s going to, because it has to, because I want it to.

Even though Kristin’s Kickstarter project is fully funded (yay!) you can still help her out with this epic road-trip by backing the project past its initial ask. Stay tuned for Part 2 where we discuss the logistics of the trip, traveling to Hawaii, and get input from her travel partner Ethan. Many thanks Kristin for her time and energy on this, as well as Google Voice for its awesome call recording feature!

Photo credits: Jennifer Simmons

What I Learned From Vida Vegan Con

Veganscore's conference booklet. (src)

There are plenty of great summaries now online of this historical conference (after all, we’re talking about bloggers here!), but to me, the greatest summary is one of hope and inspiration, that there are people out there who care. In fact, it could be said that almost any vegan blog is automatically an advocacy blog, as the vegan lifestyle is one that, right now at least, is not quite mainstream, not always “cool,” and often completely misrepresented. Even the darkly satirical Suicide Food helps promote the fact that, hey, people are portraying these animals as friendly little creatures, and slaughtering them mercilessly behind our backs.

I learned a lot at Vida Vegan Con. I learned that Portland is as vegan-friendly as it’s made out to be, and quite “green” as well. Bike transit is booming, and vegan options abound everywhere. From the vegan mini-mall to Vege Thai (where we ate our last meal of the weekend), the awkward ask of “do you have anything vegan?” is a non-issue in Portland. It’s completely standard. This was well represented when we walked into the completely-packed Sweet Hereafter, an all-vegan bar where I watched throngs of people eat and drink without a care in the world as to whether or not the food was good or vegan. They just enjoyed themselves. In Louisville, vegans either eat with delight (“oh my god, this place has tofu!”) or non-vegans* steer clear of joints like Zen Garden and Morels Food Truck (“eww…vegan”). Portland has brought them all together.

I learned that, indeed, most vegans are compassionate. I can’t think of a single vegan I met over the weekend who wasn’t pleasant when I introduced myself, and most were more than delighted to talk to me about my blog, where I was from, or obsess over all the great food we had available to us. As Isa said, “this is what it’s like in my head all the time!” Surrounded by wonderful, intelligent vegans who get it. If we as a society are worried about more compassion, I sure don’t see why.

I don’t want to paint it as some exclusive club – in fact I don’t think being vegan was a requirement to attend at all – but imagine being around 200+ people who all share the same mindset you do about one of the most important beliefs in your life. For many, that’s church, or some spiritual business. For me, that’s veganism, and it’s veganism more-so than my passion for freethought or a drug-free lifestyle because vegans typically care. They care about why they’re vegan, they care about advocacy, they care about being healthy (though you’ll have to excuse how much Coconut Bliss we ate over the three day period). I’m not sure I can say that about most other causes I’ve been involved in except for a subset of the environmentalists I’ve met.

I also learned about a flurry of current and new websites popping up, a lot of them claiming to be the source for vegan information on a variety of sub-topics (restaurants, jobs, services, social networking, etc.). Initially, this is a great thing, right? But consider this scenario: you search for “vegan restaurants” on Google and find a website listing a few in your area. At the same time, there’s another site listing the same ones, but two more really awesome vegan restaurants that you didn’t find the first time around. That’s a bummer, right?

My skepticism of the thousands of vegan sites (not specifically blogs) results from the tech guru inside me that cautions against creating new websites just because it’s a cool idea. Has someone else already done it? If so, is it decent? HappyCow is a good example here, because throughout the weekend they were mentioned as the source for vegan restaurant info among attendees. Yet a slew of new veggie/vegan-restaurant listing sites do exist, with moderately good listings. HappyCow suffers from a weak GUI and site design, but its content is comprehensive. New sites can’t say that, and I don’t see the point in patronizing them unless there’s something there that’s truly unique. Almost anything vegan is good, but let’s not divide and conquer unless the topic to conquer requires it**.

So, I hope my healthy dose of skepticism doesn’t damper my elation about the conference. All-in-all the weekend was absolutely incredible, Portland was rad, and I can’t thank the organizers, speakers, and volunteers enough for helping out. “Let’s be honest, what kind of looks did you get when you said you were going to a vegan bloggers conference?” said Isa. I agree, it’s a niche subject! But one that is truly alive and thriving (and not just because of the raw blogs…vegan puns!), and one that I feel so fortunate to be a part of.

Below are some is a short “best of” list from the weekend:

  • Best new blog I discovered: Suicide Food, mentioned above. But everyone’s was great!
  • Best Portland Food: Homegrown Smoker (I only got to try a few while there, but this one was jaw-dropping!)
  • Best Company: Vegan Cuts. After meeting the two-person team who work full time just to make this thing happen, it’s got my vote!
  • Best Twitter name: @epic_self. Seriously, who doesn’t want to be epic? Amber is very positive, too.
  • Best Vida Vegan Con Speaker: Colleen Patrick-Goudreau. Her talk was so inspiring, and she really, really lives the ideals of compassionate lifestyle. See the full text of her speech here.
  • Best Product featured: Earth Balance’s Organic Coconut Spread. This is stuff is absolutely delicious, full of healthy saturated fats, and soy-free! Awesome.

See you in 2013!


* Not all of you! I’ve met a few open-minded meat-eaters who will enjoy the vegan delights :)
** To be clear, the topic of promoting compassion and ending animal suffering does require all of us totes “divide” and lead by example, then come together with a vegan lifestyle. However, I don’t think this necessitates 50 websites that claim to have a “listing of veg-friendly restaurants around the country.”

Food Revolution Season 2!

Stoked! If you’ve been following the news of the show, you’ll recall that Jamie had a super tough time trying to get into the LA County schools (as recounted above). I’m not sure the outcome, but it will definitely make for some good television! What Jamie is doing is great, and there has been success from Season 1 in Huntington, WV (see, ironically, a report on I hope Season 2 will inspire people both in LA and across the US to get active and eat better.


How Cool Are Prime Numbers?



So cool.

For any natural number N, the number of primes not greater than it is of the order of the logarithm of N. It can be proved also that for any prime p, the next prime is less than 2p. There is no consistency, however; for instance, the nearby numbers 86 629 and 86 677 are both primes, and the virtually adjacent numbers 8 004 119 and 8 004 121 are both primes, called ‘paired primes’. Primes appear to be distributed generally without pattern, but the Mersenne primes provide something of a patterned subset. These develop the fact that 3 = 22 – 1, 7 = 23 – 1, 31 = 25 – 1, and 127 = 27 – 1 to suggest that 2n – 1 is a prime if n is a prime. But the prime n = 11 fails, as do many others. However, the formula holds true for an extended if not unlimited range, for four three-figure primes, for eight four-figure primes, and at least to n = 216 091 (giving a Mersenne prime with over 65 000 decimal digits); it provides one relatively economical means for the esoteric exercise of seeking ever larger prime numbers.

From the Oxford Dictionary of Units and Measures via