If you must eat meat, save it for Christmas

Here’s a great article by the wonderfully eloquent and engaging George Monbiot which was published in The Guardian on the 16th Dec 2014.

image via Minnesota Turkey Growers Association

If you must eat meat, save it for Christmas

From chickens pumped with antibiotics to the environmental devastation caused by production, we need to realise we are not fed with happy farm animals.

What can you say about a society whose food production must be hidden from public view? In which the factory farms and slaughterhouses supplying much of our diet must be guarded like arsenals to prevent us from seeing what happens there? We conspire in this concealment: we don’t want to know. We deceive ourselves so effectively that much of the time we barely notice that we are eating animals, even during once-rare feasts, such as Christmas, which are now scarcely distinguished from the rest of the year.

Christmas turkey

It begins with the stories we tell. Many of the books written for very young children are about farms, but these jolly places in which animals wander freely, as if they belong to the farmer’s family, bear no relationship to the realities of production. The petting farms to which we take our children are reifications of these fantasies. This is just one instance of the sanitisation of childhood, in which none of the three little pigs gets eaten and Jack makes peace with the giant, but in this case it has consequences.

Labelling reinforces the deception. As Philip Lymbery points out in his book Farmageddon, while the production method must be marked on egg boxes in the EU, there are no such conditions on meat and milk. Meaningless labels such as “natural” and “farm fresh”, and worthless symbols such as the little red tractor, distract us from the realities of broiler units and intensive piggeries. Perhaps the most blatant diversion is “corn-fed”. Most chickens and turkeys eat corn, and it’s a bad thing, not a good one.

The growth rate of broiler chickens has quadrupled in 50 years: they are now killed at seven weeks. By then they are often crippled by their own weight. Animals selected for obesity cause obesity. Bred to bulge, scarcely able to move, overfed, factory-farmed chickens now contain almost three times as much fat as chickens did in 1970, and just two thirds of the protein. Stalled pigs and feedlot cattle have undergone a similar transformation. Meat production? No, this is fat production.

Sustaining unhealthy animals in crowded sheds requires lashings of antibiotics. These drugs also promote growth, a use that remains legal in the United States and widespread in the European Union, under the guise of disease control. In 1953, Lymbery notes, some MPs warned in the House of Commons that this could cause the emergence of disease-resistant pathogens. They were drowned out by laughter. But they were right.

This system is also devastating the land and the sea. Farm animals consume one third of global cereal production, 90% of soya meal and 30% of the fish caught. Were the grain now used to fatten animals reserved instead for people, an extra 1.3 billion could be fed. Meat for the rich means hunger for the poor.

What comes out is as bad as what goes in. The manure from factory farms is spread ostensibly as fertiliser, but often in greater volumes than crops can absorb: arable land is used as a dump. It sluices into rivers and the sea, creating dead zones sometimes hundreds of miles wide. Lymbery reports that beaches in Brittany, where there are 14 million pigs, have been smothered by so much seaweed, whose growth is promoted by manure, that they have had to be closed as a lethal hazard: one worker scraping it off the shore apparently died of hydrogen sulphide poisoning, caused by the weed’s decay.

It is madness, and there is no anticipated end to it: the world’s livestock population is expected to rise by 70% by 2050.

Four years ago, I softened my position on meat-eating after reading Simon Fairlie’s book Meat: A Benign Extravagance. Fairlie pointed out that around half the current global meat supply causes no loss to human nutrition. In fact it delivers a net gain, as it comes from animals eating grass and crop residues that people can’t consume.

Since then, two things have persuaded me that I was wrong to have changed my mind. The first is that my article was used by factory farmers as a vindication of their monstrous practices. The subtle distinctions Fairlie and I were trying to make turn out to be vulnerable to misrepresentation.

The second is that while researching my book Feral, I came to see that our perception of free-range meat has also been sanitised. The hills of Britain have been sheepwrecked – stripped of their vegetation, emptied of wildlife, shorn of their capacity to hold water and carbon – all in the cause of minuscule productivity. It is hard to think of any other industry, except scallop dredging, with a higher ratio of destruction to production. As wasteful and destructive as feeding grain to livestock is, ranching could be even worse. Meat is bad news, in almost all circumstances.

So why don’t we stop? Because we don’t know the facts, and because we find it difficult even if we do. A survey by the US Humane Research Council discovered that only 2% of Americans are vegetarians or vegans, and more than half give up within a year. Eventually, 84% lapse. One of the main reasons, the survey found, is that people want to fit in. We might know it’s wrong, but we block our ears and carry on.

I believe that one day artificial meat will become commercially viable, and that it will change social norms. When it becomes possible to eat meat without keeping and slaughtering livestock, live production will soon be perceived as unacceptable. But this is a long way off. Until then, perhaps the best strategy is to encourage people to eat as our ancestors did. Rather than mindlessly consuming meat at every meal, we should think of it as an extraordinary gift: a privilege, not a right. We could reserve meat for a few special occasions, such as Christmas, and otherwise eat it no more than once a month.

All children should be taken by their schools to visit a factory pig or chicken farm, and to an abattoir, where they should be able to witness every stage of slaughter and butchery. Does this suggestion outrage you? If so, ask yourself what you are objecting to: informed choice, or what it reveals? If we cannot bear to see what we eat, it is not the seeing that’s wrong, it’s the eating.

Leonardo DiCaprio speaks at UN Climate Change summit… watch speech here

Actor and environmental activist Leonardo DiCaprio addresses the UN summit meeting on climate change on Tuesday. He was recently named a United Nations Messenger of Peace. ‘This disaster has grown beyond the choices that individuals make. This is now about our industries, and governments…’ he tells the summit.  It’s a passionate and eloquent speech and hopefully the fact that it’s being delivered by Leo will mean that a lot more people watch it than were it being delivered by a faceless environmentalist.  Sadly.  Who knows… So far there has been a lot of rhetoric but very little action as far as I can see.  People are talking about it and it is temporarily on the agenda but unless China, Russia, the US and numerous other hard hitters commit to some serious reductions then nothing is going to change…

Watch here!

Leader: DiCaprio has fashioned himself as one of the most high-profile climate change activists an today urged world leaders at the United Nations to cut global carbon admissions

What to tell the kids…?!

I’ve been reconsidering what to tell the kids when it comes to eating meat, dairy and eggs.  So far the subject has not really come up as our three girls are only 5, 3 and 2 weeks so haven’t really noticed that mum and dad avoid animal products.  But they are beginning to ask questions – not just about what we eat but about food in general.

Up until now I have always been very quick to say that Ed and I certainly don’t impose our beliefs on our children and they can eat whatever they want.  So if we’re out and they choose the chicken sandwich then we buy it.  At school we haven’t put them down as vegetarian as we wanted them to have the choice each day as to what they eat.  I didn’t want to be seen as a pushy mother imposing her ‘extreme views’ on her poor kids… but recently this has started to sit uncomfortably with me.

For example, last week we were walking down the Northcote Road past an Argentinian Steakhouse.  There was a giant cardboard cow outside promoting some offer or other and Arcadia (5 yr old) asked me why there was a cow outside the restaurant.  So I explained to her that it’s a steak house and steak comes from cows.  She asked me whether the cows were dead or alive and she asked me who killed the cows.  I explained that the cows were bred for their meat and killed at a slaughterhouse when they were big enough to eat and then the meat is bought to the restaurant where it is cooked and eaten by the customers.  She looked absolutely horrified.  And I didn’t say it with any tone in my voice whatsoever – I just explained the process to her.   She asked me why someone would want to kill a cow?  I said because they taste nice and people like eating meat.  Still she looked horrified.  I don’t want to eat cows mummy she said.  Ok well you don’t have to eat cows if you don’t want to.

Then we were watching Finding Nemo last night and again Arcadia asked me why people take fish out of the sea.  I explained to her that when people eat fish, they have been taken out of the sea or out of a fish farm where they have been bred specifically for people to eat.  Again horrified.

girl with turkey friend vegan thanksgiving Our children have zero desire to eat these animals and are horrified when they discover what they have been eating… until we brainwash them into thinking it’s ok!

You get the picture.  The problem is that by the time children start to ask questions they have already started to learn that it is ok to eat animals. because everyone at school is doing it, on tv, all around them etc.  So what sits uncomfortably with me is that already she is looking at me as if to say ‘well why have you been letting me eat fish and sausages and chicken?’.  ‘You know that I wouldn’t want to had you explained to me what they are’.  Because kids haven’t yet learned from other people the crazy illogical idea that it is ok to eat pigs and cows and sheep and lambs and chickens and pigs and other poultry but that it’s not ok to eat horses and dogs and cats etc.  They are equally horrified at the idea of eating any of them.  Until we teach them that it’s ok in some cases.

So surely as a parent, my job is to equip her with the information that she needs in order to make an informed decision and then it is up to her what she does with it and I must respect her decision whatever it is.

But when do I start this?  With my oldest clearly 5 was too late as she is already really confused as to why I haven’t explained this to her before.  So do I start explaining to Indigo what different meats are before she’s started asking me prescient questions? So when we’re ordering lunch and she says she’d like a beefburger I should say are you sure you want to order that honey?  You know that a beefburger is made from the meat of a dead cow… I immediately feel like a psycho pushy parent.  But why?  All I’m doing is explaining to her what she’s about to eat.  I’m only giving her fact.

little girl turkey compassion vegan thanksgiving Children are appalled at needless slaughter… until we deceive them by telling them it’s ok, they’re meant to be eaten, we need to eat them for protein – complete rubbish!

I’m always amused at how people bang on about how appalling it is that children these days have no idea that milk comes from cows and sausages come from pigs.  When it’s absolutely no wonder!  I’m amazed when kids (that haven’t grown up on a farm) have the slightest clue where their food comes from because most adults are in total denial of it.  Every length is gone to to deceive and mislead us – through advertising campaigns and marketing ploys.  Words such as free range, organic, grass fed etc allow us to believe these cattle are living lovely lives before being humanely slaughtered…

The truth is a little different… We might all know that beef is from a cow – but most of us don’t know the reality of the miserably short life that cow has endured.  Most beef calves are taken from their mothers immediately after birth, castrated and dehorned with no anaesthetic, transported to ‘fattening sheds’ where they are fed on high-protein cereal feeds (largely made up of soya which is responsible for most deforestation of the rainforests and a huge environmental concern – also cattle belch and fart out between 100 and 200 litres of methane a day, a gas which is 24 times more powerful than carbon dioxide and is the largest contributor to climate change – bigger than the entire transportation sector combined!!!), and then taken for slaughter between 10 and 12 months of age.  Pitifully young when you think that they would live happily for 25 odd years if left to live out their natural life in peace.  At the slaughterhouse, the cattle are stunned (often ineffectively) using a captive bolt pistol before being shackled by the leg, strung up and having their throat slit.

In the UK, dairy cows are most commonly kept in pastures during the summer months and indoors in the winter. However, the practice of keeping the cows indoors all year round is becoming more popular; this is known as zero-grazing. Cows naturally produce milk after giving birth; for their children, not for human consumption. However, dairy cows are subjected to the same amount of cruelty as in any other intensive farming system so as to constantly supply humans with milk. Maximum production is paramount to the farmers and therefore, the cows produce between 20 and 50 litres of milk each day; around ten times the amount her calf would suckle. 10 TIMES!  I am breastfeeding at the moment and the thought of being rigged up to a machine and have 10 times as much milk leached out of me is unimaginable.

To take full advantage of the excess milk which cows produce immediately after giving birth, the calves are usually taken from their mothers within the first two days of birth, causing suffering, anxiety and depression for both mother and child, as the maternal bond a cow has with her calf is very strong. Under natural circumstances, the calf would suckle for anywhere between six months and a year. Like humans, cows produce milk for the benefit of their children and therefore only lactate for around ten to thirteen months after they have given birth. The cows are therefore re-impregnated approximately 60 days after giving birth to continue the cycle of milk production. In addition, the cows continue to be milked whilst pregnant; a process which causes them extreme discomfort. Once the dairy cows are so worn out that they have produced all the milk they can, they are sent to slaughter, usually at around four or five years of age; the average natural lifespan for a cow could be as long as 25 years. Their meat often ends up in low-grade burgers or pet foods.

Some of the infants that are taken from the dairy cows are, like their mothers, destined to become milking machines for human consumption and profit. However, approximately half of the calves are male. Some of them are killed as infants for cheap meat; however, as the offspring of dairy cows are not purposefully bred for meat, they are rarely suitable for beef production. Prior to the BSE outbreak, a large number of these calves were transported to continental Europe for used in the veal industry.

Anyhow – enough – I’m getting waylaid.  My point is that a lot of this was news to me and I was bought up on a smallholding in a farming community and thought I was one of the ‘educated ones’ when it came to animal agriculture.

So my new plan is to try and educate the kids in as transparent and honest a way as possible, without trying to persuade them in any way of what choices they should make.  It’s kind of hilarious that I feel like a pushy mother for considering telling my children the truth about this.  It just goes to show that the truth is pretty horrifying and it’s that I’m nervous of.  I don’t want my children to feel the same confusion and anger and sadness that I do that people continue to eat animals when there is absolutely no need for it, no excuse for it.  It is an indefensible, totally unethical and cruel practice which has no place in our society any longer.

I’m sad that they are going to see what lengths people will go to, what lies people will tell themselves, in order to not have to take a stance and go against the grain and do the right thing.  It isn’t easy and it does make you question people’s morality but it is also an extremely valuable lesson.  You cannot assume that just because ‘everyone else is doing it’ it’s ok.  You must learn to question things, carry out your own research, draw your own conclusions and continue to evolve and grow as your own person.

Slice of Cruelty

Another week, another horrific undercover video revealing the horrific abuse and cruelty that goes on in many dairy farms around the world.  This was taken by a mercy for Animals undercover reporter who got a job at a dairy in New Mexico for several weeks.   It shows workers punching, kicking and whipping cows and shocking their genitals with electric prods, tossing calves into truck beds, using heaving equipment to force sick animals into confined spots and committing other types of abuse.

Watch here!

It’s not easy to watch but I think it’s really important that people are made aware of what goes on behind closed doors.  People cannot be held accountable for financing these industries if they are not made aware of what it is they are directly supporting.  Most people have no idea of the cruel practices that go on in the agricultural sector.  I certainly didn’t until I undertook my own research and I am convinced that as soon as people are made aware of the horrific acts of animal abuse that are so endemic on factory farms around the world, they will stop consuming their products and lining their pockets.  Unfortunately the industry is obviously going to do everything in their powers to keep this out of public view and, such are their lobbying powers, so too are governments.  So it is left up to animal rights activists, animal welfare groups and charities to do whatever they can to raise awareness and educate people as to what kind of practices they are unwittingly supporting and therefore responsible for.  It is unfortunate that people have to deceitfully pose as employees whilst secretly filming goings on, but there is no other way of showing people the truth.  If these kinds of videos don’t make people immediately stop eating these dairy products, at least at the restaurant chains that they know these dairy farms supply, then I honestly don’t know what will.

Stop Dairy Abuse

Even if you choose to believe what Tim McIntyre, vice president of communications for Domino’s, (Leprino Foods biggest client, supplied by this dairy amongst many others), says and believe that this is an ‘isolated case of sadistic acts by employees at a single dairy farm in southern New Mexico…’ (which endless undercover footage has sadly proven to be untrue – in 2010 another Mercy for Animals undercover investigation gathered similar footage at Willet dairy in New York, also supplying Leprino Foods.  They were closed down for a few months and reopened a year later when the bad press died down.  Another video was released showing appalling abuse at a beef farm, Bettencourt Farm, in 2012, one of Burger King’s biggest suppliers – yet no arrests were made and people still eat at Burger King…) then just the faintest possibility that this might not be the case would surely get anyone questioning whether or not subscribing to this industry is at all ethical or necessary.  At the very least this should stop you eating at any of the chains that are supplied by this dairy – Domino’s Pizza, Papa John’s and Pizza Hut for starters.

Or if you want to tell yourself that these are just a bunch of evil people getting sadistic kicks out of abusing innocent vulnerable animals and this is absolutely not your typical dairy industry employee, then read the book ‘Slaughterhouse’ by Gail A Eisnitz.  Gail interviews dozens and dozens of employees working in dairy farms and slaughterhouses across the US and these personal accounts of what really goes inside those walls will leave you feeling sick to your stomach that you have ever bought and eaten meat that has been processed in factory farms.

or if you tell yourself that you don’t buy meat that comes from factory farms then ask yourself where the lamb in your Cornish pasty has come from or where your service station chicken salad sandwich came from, or where your beef stock came from, or the milk in your hot chocolate powder or cadburys flake… There are animal products in so much of what you eat.  Way beyond the joint of expensive beef you might buy for your Sunday Roast.

The horror of dairy farms

And even if you do tell yourself that this kind of cruelty is limited to factory farms far far away from your table, then look at the zillion other reasons you shouldn’t be eating animals.  Start with the environment, then look at the ethics of eating an innocent vulnerable animal that you have absolutely no nutritional need for and then look at the enormous health benefits of an animal free diet.  The arguments are so obvious, the evidence is so resounding – the only way you can continue to consume and wear animal products is if you choose to deceive yourself.  And at the back of your mind, you know you are lying to yourself and you have to live with this niggling nugget of knowledge that you are part of this horrifically cruel, unnecessary and evil practice and you really should have had the balls to do something about it.  One day your grandchild will ask you – what did you do when you found out about the abuse and cruelty?  You stopped eating animals right and tried to get others to stop too?  Yes?  Right?

This video screengrab shows a cow being dragged out of a stall. The video was shot by the animal rights group Mercy for Animals.

People cannot continue to turn a blind eye any longer.  People can no longer ignore the elephant in the room.  Even if you believe that there is such a thing as ‘humane slaughter’, producing meat on the scale that we are today cannot be done ethically or humanely.  Commodifying animal products in this way inevitably leads to enormous numbers and tiny profit margins.  Every penny is squeezed out of every animal and profits are driven through unethical means – mass scale production with more animals squeezed into smaller spaces, more gallons of milk squeezed out of mastitis engorged udders, animals being stuffed full of unnatural animal feed and dosed up on antibiotics, fattened obscenely quickly, slaughtered at a desperately young age and sold at a cheaper and cheaper price etc etc.

The greater the demand for food the more corners are cut and not only do the animals suffer appallingly but so we do as the cholesterol pours through our veins and blocks our arteries, raises our blood pressure, brings on heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes, the list is endless!

If you don’t believe me go and do some research.  It’s like opening Pandora’s box.  Before you know it you’ll be glued to your computer with your jaw on the floor amazed at how something as ‘normal’ as eating meat, dairy and eggs can make you partly responsible for such horrific acts of violence and cruelty.

Trust me.  Do some research and see what you discover.

Care about climate change? Go vegan!

This afternoon we joined London’s march for climate action. 

Some 40,000 people turned out and marched along Embankment to a rally in Parliament Square.  The rally comes ahead of a summit on Tuesday for 125 heads of state and government at the United Nations headquarters in New York.   This meeting is the first such gathering since the unsuccessful Copenhagen conference in 2009 and will attempt to push forward political momentum towards a new universal agreement on climate to be signed by all nations at the end of 2015.

Climate change is a huge part of why Ed and I became vegan in the first place.  Most people associate veganism with animal welfare far more then they associate it with environmentalism but for anyone who cares about the environment then switching to a vegan diet is a really obvious choice to make.

Here’s a reminder why:

Global warming has been called humankind’s “greatest challenge” and the world’s gravest environmental threat. Many conscientious people are trying to help reduce global warming by driving more fuel-efficient cars and using energy-saving light bulbs. Although these measures help, science shows that going vegan is one of the most effective ways to fight global warming. A staggering 51 percent or more of global greenhouse-gas emissions are caused by animal agriculture, according to a report published by the Worldwatch Institute. Additionally, a recent United Nations report concluded that a global shift toward a vegan diet is extremely important in order to combat the worst effects of climate change. According to the United Nations, raising animals for food is “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.” In addition, the official handbook for Live Earth, the anti–climate change concerts that Al Gore helped organize, says that not eating meat is the “single most effective thing you can do” to reduce your climate change impact. Carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide together cause the vast majority of global warming. Raising animals for food is one of the largest sources of carbon dioxide and the single largest source of both methane and nitrous-oxide emissions.

Carbon Dioxide

Burning fossil fuels (such as oil and gasoline) releases carbon dioxide, the primary gas responsible for global warming. Producing one calorie from animal protein requires 11 times as much fossil fuel input—releasing 11 times as much carbon dioxide—as does producing a calorie from plant protein. Feeding massive amounts of grain and water to farmed animals and then killing them and processing, transporting, and storing their flesh is extremely energy-intensive. In addition, enormous amounts of carbon dioxide stored in trees are released during the destruction of vast acres of forest to provide pastureland and to grow crops for farmed animals. On top of this, animal manure also releases large quantities of carbon dioxide.

You could exchange your “regular” car for a hybrid Toyota Prius and, by doing so, prevent about 1 ton of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere each year, but according to the University of Chicago, being vegan is more effective in the fight against global warming; a vegan is responsible for the release of approximately 1.5 fewer tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year than is a meat-eater.

A German study conducted in 2008 concluded that a meat-eater’s diet is responsible for more than seven times as much greenhouse gas emissions as a vegan’s diet. Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the U.N.’s Nobel Prize–winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (and a vegetarian himself), urges people to “please eat less meat—meat is a very carbon-intensive commodity.”

Methane

The billions of chickens, turkeys, pigs, and cows who are crammed into factory farms each year in the U.S. produce enormous amounts of methane, both during digestion and from the acres of cesspools filled with feces that they excrete. Scientists report that every pound of methane is more than 20 times as effective as carbon dioxide is at trapping heat in our atmosphere. The EPA shows that animal agriculture is the single largest source of methane emissions in the U.S.

Nitrous Oxide

Nitrous oxide is about 300 times more potent as a global warming gas than carbon dioxide. According to the U.N., the meat, egg, and dairy industries account for a staggering 65 percent of worldwide nitrous oxide emissions.

You Can Help Stop Global Warming!

The most powerful step that we can take as individuals to avert global warming is to stop eating meat, eggs, and dairy products.

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She’s Alive

This is a non-commercial attempt to highlight the fact that world leaders, irresponsible corporates and mindless ‘consumers’ are combining to destroy life on earth. It is dedicated to all who died fighting for the planet and those whose lives are on the line today. The cut was put together by Vivek Chauhan, a young film maker, together with naturalists working with the Sanctuary Asia network (www.sanctuaryasia.com).