Thursday, November 29, 2012

Good Riddance to Very Bad Rubbish

When I heard that the Hostess cake company was going out of business, I simply couldn’t believe it was true.  As a child of the 1970s, I had grown up consuming all manner of Hostess products:  Ding Dongs, Sno Balls, Ho Hos, Donettes, and Suzy Q’s—to name but a few.  I must confess that in my youth I also ate more than my fair share of that fuffy white bread in which anything wholesome or healthy had been stripped away in our incessant American quest to turn a nutritious food item into something that even starving rats would refrain from eating if they had any other options. 

And then there’s the Twinkie—a product so unnatural that it has been claimed that it can last on the shelf for years.   Already I image that hoarders are buying up as many of these tasty treats as they can find in an attempt to forestall that inevitable moment when the Twinkie will be no more.

What a shame that will be, too.  When there are no more Twinkies, where are we Americans going to find any product that so artfully combines everything that is bad for you in one conveniently wrapped product?  Where are we going to acquire our daily doses of partially hydrogenated oils, artificial flavors, and high fructose corn syrup? How can we possibly find another treat so completely empty of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and protein (all the things that keep us frail human beings alive)? And at such a reasonable price, too!

The Twinkie, like other Hostess products, belongs to that strange period from the 1940s-1970s when Americans became so caught up with the magic of processed foods that they lost sight that food should be nutritious as well as tasty.  Generations were raised to think that all real food must come wrapped in plastic with a corporate logo stamped on it. 

If you weren’t part of that mass-production generation, you can’t possibly know how lucky you are to be living now.  Over the past decade, many Americans have turned their backs—and closed their wallets—to the kinds of garbage that companies like Hostess have been trying to pass off as food.  We’ve seen the amazing growth of the organic, local, and whole foods moments in the United States and have also witnessed the success of food chains like Trader Joes, Whole Foods and Fairways, which specialize in providing food that our great-grandparents would recognize as such.

There might be some among us who mourn the passing of a company like Hostess.  But I am perfectly content to see this company and everything it has represented disappear.  Before it does, however, I’m determined to partake of one last Twinkie for old time’s sake.  The Twinkie, after all, is like that annoying friend who constantly got you into trouble when you were young, but was always a blast to hang around with.  Then your friend was sent off to the boy’s reformatory and you never saw him again.  You were certainly much better off without him, but you continue to wonder what sort of character defects you must have possessed to find him so appealing in the first place.

Farewell, Twinkie.  The world will be a much better place without you around.  But we did have some fine times together back in the old days, didn’t we! 

Rest in peace.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Thanksgiving Day Massacre

As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches and millions of Americans prepare to dine on millions of turkeys, I sat down to write a blog post about the inherent cruelty involved in this annual turkey massacre. I'm always seeking opportunities to engage people about veganism, and I fully intended to put together a list of reasons why you should choose compassion and kindness this Thanksgiving and leave the turkey and other animal products off the menu. I thought, as Communications Director at the Sustainability Institute at Molloy College, I can easily compile a list of environmental reasons to forego the turkey this Thanksgiving. As an abolitionist vegan, however, I have a hard time making the case for veganism on strictly environmental grounds. Not that a compelling argument can’t be made from an environmental standpoint. Fact is, whether you are concerned by biodiversity loss, deforestation, fresh water scarcity and pollution, or that animal agriculture creates more greenhouse gas emissions than driving, environmental concerns absolutely compel some people to go vegan.

However, going vegan for environmental reasons alone is a basic misunderstanding of what veganism is at its core. The basis of veganism, I submit, is recognizing the inherent value of animals as individual beings unto themselves. For this reason, I want to recognize and understand that the environmental implications of raising animals for food are severe, alarming, and taking a growing environmental toll, but put them within the larger framework of exploitation.

I make this argument because I believe that our actions should be bolstered by theory. For example, someone who is vegan only for health reasons has no real reason to be 100% vegan all the time. One could eat small amounts of meat, dairy, eggs or fish and still be healthy. The only philosophical position that results in full-fledged veganism is one that recognizes animals as sentient beings. There’s absolutely no convincing reason not to be fully vegan if you accept the notion of animals having a right not to be treated as property.

Consider the following: 46 million turkeys will be slaughtered and eaten this Thanksgiving, with another 22 million birds killed and eaten for Christmas, and 19 million more at Easter. More than 219 million are killed annually. Before they are ruthlessly slaughtered in the name of tradition and palate pleasure they are kept in the most horrible conditions, the majority in tiny battery cages, (very often deprived of sunlight and exercise) where they are cramped together so tightly that they can't move or get away from each other. As you might imagine, there are numerous fights among normally peaceful birds and they suffer from immense injuries. To keep turkeys from injuring one another, their toes and beaks are cut off with hot blades and no anesthetic, and when their throats are ultimately slit many are still conscious. To prevent diseases, most turkeys are fed antibiotics to promote artificial growth and to control Salmonella, Listeria, Campylobacter and other diseases transmittable to humans. According to the Poultry Science Association, however, 72 to 100% of birds have Campylobacter despite all the drugs. Campylobacter is the leading bacterial cause of human food-borne infections in the United States. 
We know that it is an incontrovertible fact that turkeys value their lives, feel pain, suffer, and are just as sentient as the family cat or dog. Yet, I know no one who would treat their dog or cat the way turkeys are treated from birth to their horrifying road to death. 

Even if the practices described above are reformed, however, the treatment of animals in and of itself, does not address the underlying elements in which animal exploitation is considered acceptable. The exploitation and death of billions of animals exists because human consumers persist in creating demand for such things. To an industry that views sentient creatures as economic commodities – it is inevitable that such exploitation and violence will be viewed as acceptable. In a system where animals are considered property, even their most significant interests can (and are) overshadowed by the comparably trivial human interest of profit. Because the system in place is fundamentally unfair, you can't "balance" the interests of a piece of property against the interests of a property owner. 

And with 46 million turkeys slated to be killed for Thanksgiving tables alone the environmental toll is undeniable. All animal production is detrimental to the environment. The practice pollutes the air, water, and land. Further, it is unjustifiably wasteful of valuable and dwindling resources. About 75% of all water-quality issues in United States waterways are the result of animal agriculture. Animal agriculture accounts for a huge amount of our greenhouse gas emissions. Livestock production generates more C02 emissions (accounting for 52% of total emissions) than the entire global transportation sector. Much of the grain produced in the US is used to feed livestock, with more than 70% of grains being used for this purpose.

You can be a good environmentalist and a good vegan simultaneously. If you're not vegan, you should go vegan and take a strong animal rights position. It's the right thing to do and no other food choice has a farther-reaching and more profoundly positive impact on the environment and all life on earth. If you are vegan but not an environmentalist, you should consider that both animals and humans need a sustainable environment in which to live. Abolishing the property status of animals will eliminate animal agriculture as the driving force behind every major category of environmental degradation. If you're interested in learning more about the abolitionist approach to animal rights, head on over to

Sunday, November 4, 2012

When Will We Ever Learn?

It's becoming increasingly evident to anyone who is not a shill for big oil (or a Republican candidate for President of the United States) that (1) climate change is real, (2) it's a human-caused phenomenon, and (3) we are going to pay a heavy price as a country for our sins against the planet. 

Hurricane Sandy has shown us very clearly what kinds of weather events we are likely to experience in the future and how little prepared we are to deal with them.  The cost for New York hzs been the loss of human life, billions of dollars in property damage, and a city thrown into turmoil. 

I could go on forever railing about how we had this coming---that it's Gaia's revenge against our species for our arrogance and stupidity---but it wouldn't change the fact that Americans probably haven't learned the right kinds of lessons from this experience. 

If you're at interested in what the "right lessons" to take away from Sandy are, I would highly recommend reading the following excellent article by Nicholas Kristoff:

It's probably too late to stem the tide of climate change.  Many climatologist believe we've reached a tipping point already and there's not much we can do about that.  But we might be able to staunch some of the most severe effects of climate change, if we act now and if we act with collective resolve.

My fear is that we've become so soften by our materialism that we couldn't act now, even if we wanted to.  And that's a real tragedy---not so much for the planet, but for one extremely selfish species that inhabits it. 

Welcome to the new normal.

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