Close to home…

I grew up in rural Herefordshire, entrenched deep in its farming community.  So this article strikes a very poignant chord for me as it goes to the heart of one of the hardest conflicts I have being a vegan with my background.  How can I be comfortable with and respect my friends and family who make a living doing something I intrinsically believe is cruel and wrong?  A lot of my farming friends are sadly turning to this form of factory farming of chickens in order to try and stay financially afloat.  I have huge sympathy for how hard farmers are finding it to make a living – especially the potato and dairy farmers, many of whom are going under all over the UK or having to diversify away from what they have done for generations.  But does that excuse them turning to such a depraved method of farming?  Who am I to think badly of someone trying to keep their family above water?  At what point do their immediate needs have to take priority over my ethical ideals?

As a passionate vegan everything about this form of factory farming appalls me – both ethically and environmentally.  But whilst famers feel they have no other option, they are going to continue down this route of desperate mass farming which only spells out bad news for us, the animals and the environment.  The responsibility ultimately lies with the consumers.  When will we wake up to the effects our everyday choices have on the world at large?    When will we stop demanding cheaper and cheaper meat and dairy products in greater and greater quantity at the expense of our own personal health, the animals’ rights and the health of the environment.

The below article is from George Monbiot’s website and was published yesterday in the Guardian:

Fowl Deeds

The astonishing, multiple crises caused by chicken farming.

(By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 20th May 2015)

Man holding a chicken

It’s the insouciance that baffles me. To participate in the killing of an animal: this is a significant decision. It spreads like a fungal mycelium into the heartwood of our lives. Yet many people eat meat sometimes two or three times a day, casually and hurriedly, often without even marking the fact.

I don’t mean to blame. Billions are spent, through advertising and marketing, to distract and mollify, to trivialise the weighty decisions we make, to ensure we don’t connect. Even as we search for meaning and purpose, we want to be told that our actions are inconsequential. We seek reassurance that we are significant, but that what we do is not.

It’s not blind spots we suffer from. We have vision spots, tiny illuminated patches of perception, around which everything else is blanked out. How often have I seen environmentalists gather to bemoan the state of the world, then repair to a restaurant in which they gorge on beef or salmon? The Guardian and Observer urge us to go green, then publish recipes for fish whose capture rips apart the life of the sea.

The television chefs who bravely sought to break this spell might have been talking to the furniture. Giant chicken factories are springing up throughout the west of England, the Welsh Marches and the lowlands of the east. I say factories for this is what they are: you would picture something quite different if I said farm; they are hellish places. You might retch if you entered one, yet you eat what they produce without thinking.

Chicken factory

Two huge broiler units are now being planned to sit close to where the River Dore rises, at the head of the Golden Valley in Herefordshire, one of the most gorgeous landscapes in Britain. Each shed at Bage Court Farm – warehouses 90 metres long – is likely to house about 40,000 birds, that will be cleared out, killed and replaced every 40 days or so. It remains to be seen how high the standards of welfare, employment and environment will be.

The UK now has some 2,000 of these factories, to meet a demand for chicken that has doubled in 40 years*. Because everything is automated, they employ few people, and those in hideous jobs: picking up and binning the birds that drop dead every day, catching chickens for slaughter in a flurry of shit and feathers, then scraping out the warehouses before the next batch arrives.

The dust such operations raise is an exquisite compound of aerialised faeces, chicken dander, mites, bacteria, fungal spores, mycotoxins, endotoxins, veterinary medicines, pesticides, ammonia and hydrogen sulphide. It is listed as a substance hazardous to health, and helps explain why 15% of poultry workers suffer from chronic bronchitis. Yet, uniquely in Europe, the British government classifies unfiltered roof vents on poultry sheds as the “best available technology”. If this were any other industry, it would be obliged to build a factory chimney to disperse the dust and the stink. But farming, as ever, is protected by deference and vested interest, excused from the regulations, planning conditions and taxes other business must observe. Already, Herefordshire County Council has approved chicken factories close to schools, without surveying the likely extent of the dust plumes either before or after the business opens. Bage Court Farm is just upwind of the village of Dorstone.

Inside chicken factories are scenes of cruelty practised on such a scale that they almost lose their ability to shock. Bred to grow at phenomenal speeds, many birds collapse under their own weight, and lie in the ammoniacal litter, acquiring burns on their feet and legs and lesions on their breasts. After slaughter they are graded. Those classified as grade A can be sold whole. The others must have parts of the body removed, as they are disfigured by bruising, burning and necrosis. The remaining sections are cut up and sold as portions. Hungry yet?

Plagues spread fast through such factories, so broiler businesses often dose their birds with antibiotics. These require prescriptions but – amazingly – the government keeps no record of how many are issued. The profligate use of antibiotics on farms endangers human health, as it makes bacterial resistance more likely.

But Herefordshire, like other county councils in the region, scarcely seems to care. How many broiler units has it approved? Who knows? Searches by local people suggest 42 in the past 12 months. But in December the council claimed it has authorised 21 developments since 2000§. This week it told me it has granted permission to 31 since 2010. It admits that it “has not produced any specific strategy for managing broiler unit development”¤. Nor has it assessed the cumulative impact of these factories. At Bage Court Farm, as elsewhere, it has decided that no environmental impact assessment is neededɷ.

So how should chicken be produced? The obvious answer is free range, but this exchanges one set of problems for another. Chicken dung is rich in soluble reactive phosphate. Large outdoor flocks lay down a scorching carpet of droppings, from which phosphate can leach or flash into the nearest stream. Rivers like the Ithon, in Powys, are said to run white with chicken faeces after rainstorms. The River Wye, a special area of conservation, is blighted by algal blooms: manure stimulates the growth of green murks and green slimes that kill fish and insects when they rot. Nor does free range solve the feed problem: the birds are usually fed on soya, for which rainforests and cerrado on the other side of the world are wrecked.

There is no sensible way of producing the amount of chicken we eat. Reducing the impact means eating less meat – much less. I know that most people are not prepared to stop altogether, but is it too much to ask that we should eat meat as our grandparents did, as something rare and special, rather than as something we happen to be stuffing into our faces while reading our emails? To recognise that an animal has been sacrificed to serve our appetites, to observe the fact of its death, is this not the least we owe it?

Knowing what we do and what we induce others to do is a prerequisite for a life that is honest and meaningful. We owe something to ourselves as well: to overcome our disavowal, and connect.

www.monbiot.com

* Total purchases for household consumption (uncooked, pre-cooked and take-aways combined) rose from 126 grammes per person per week in 1974 to 259 grammes in 2013 (see the database marked UK – household purchases).

§ BBC Hereford and Worcester, 15th December 2014

¤ Response to FoI request IAT 7856, 13th August 2014

ɷ Herefordshire County Council, 22nd December 2014. Screening Determination of Bage Court Farm development, P143343/F

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Skool of Vegan

Skool of Vegan is a new initiative aimed at trying to get people to look at their eating habits and attitudes towards animals in a more critical way.  Their mission statement is: ‘Because making the connection is child’s play’.   It certainly makes for some uncomfortable reading and I admire their original approach.  Whether you like the drawings or not its hard to deny the underlying truth and i think they do a good job of highlighting the hypocrisy and inconsistencies of what we teach our kids.  I think it’s probably a little too heavy handed for most people’s taste and therefore I doubt they will reach people in the way they’d like to.  Perhaps a less aggressive tone might have spoken to more people…?  What do you think?  Here a few…

'Skool of Vegan' Draws Cartoons That Make Eating Meat Seem Like Anything But Child's Play'Skool of Vegan' Draws Cartoons That Make Eating Meat Seem Like Anything But Child's Play'Skool of Vegan' Draws Cartoons That Make Eating Meat Seem Like Anything But Child's Play'Skool of Vegan' Draws Cartoons That Make Eating Meat Seem Like Anything But Child's Play'Skool of Vegan' Draws Cartoons That Make Eating Meat Seem Like Anything But Child's Play'Skool of Vegan' Draws Cartoons That Make Eating Meat Seem Like Anything But Child's Play'Skool of Vegan' Draws Cartoons That Make Eating Meat Seem Like Anything But Child's Play'Skool of Vegan' Draws Cartoons That Make Eating Meat Seem Like Anything But Child's Play'Skool of Vegan' Draws Cartoons That Make Eating Meat Seem Like Anything But Child's Play'Skool of Vegan' Draws Cartoons That Make Eating Meat Seem Like Anything But Child's Play'Skool of Vegan' Draws Cartoons That Make Eating Meat Seem Like Anything But Child's Play'Skool of Vegan' Draws Cartoons That Make Eating Meat Seem Like Anything But Child's Play'Skool of Vegan' Draws Cartoons That Make Eating Meat Seem Like Anything But Child's Play'Skool of Vegan' Draws Cartoons That Make Eating Meat Seem Like Anything But Child's Play

'Skool of Vegan' Draws Cartoons That Make Eating Meat Seem Like Anything But Child's Play

Founder of WNY Vegans talks about her diet, misconceptions about veganism

Good article by Melinda Shaw on her experiences as a vegan:

The word “vegan” carries an inordinate amount of caustic weight despite its simple theory and definition. The term sparks trigger quick, flippant responses and reactions based on – from what I have found through casual conversations – a misappropriations, distaste and individual perplexity.

Statements like, “Why would you do that?” “Isn’t is hard to not eat meat?” and “You’re missing out on so many good foods!” spring up regularly, creating inadvertent and glaring testimonies that being “vegan” really means being “different.”

And ultimately misunderstood.

After reading about “Veganuary,” my seminal curiosities led me to dig in a bit deeper in what it is to be truly “vegan.”

I understand the core concepts: no meat, no animal byproducts, and conscious and ethical living practices, but never did I realize that living as a vegetarian, how far off I am from living a vegan lifestyle, thanks in great part to the products I use that contain animal components – as opposed to the foods that I eat.

So “Veganuary,” the promotion of “veganism” last month, afforded me the opportunity to reach out to Melinda Shaw, the founder of WNY Vegans, who spoke about what it is to be vegan.

“A vegan is someone who chooses not to consume any animal products, including meat, fish, dairy, eggs and byproducts made from animals, including honey and gelatin. People generally choose to become vegan for either humane, environmental or health reasons, or a combination of those reasons. Most ethical vegans also generally abstain from using health and beauty products and cleaning products that contain animal ingredients or were tested on animals,” Shaw said.

Also, ethical vegans will desist from wearing fabrics derived from animals, including wool, leather, fur and silk. They also will refrain from attending events and activities where animals are being used for entertainment purposes, such as rodeos, zoos, marinas and circuses.

As a vegan for 23 years, Shaw began living in this manner for “ethical reasons.” Her primary concern was “for the animals.” With more than two decades experience, Shaw attests to the “health and environmental benefits of being vegan.”

“I know that the choices I make every day have a positive impact on the world and do the least harm possible to the animals, my health and the environment. The physical benefits of a vegan lifestyle are tremendous,” Shaw said.

“Today, more people are dying from lifestyle-related disease than infectious diseases! These lifestyle-related diseases are mostly due to high consumption of processed, animal-based foods and lack of physical exercise. We know that most of these diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and even cancer, are linked to the over-consumption of animal products and can be reversed through a whole-foods, plant-based diet.”

Thanks largely to innate commonsense and research, omnivorous and vegan diets are, nearly to entirely devoid of animal byproducts, thus traditionally lower in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol in comparison to non-vegetarian forms of nourishment. Numerous studies also support claims that vegetarians and/or vegans appear to have a lower risk for coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity and various forms of cancer.

With all the health benefits associated with non-meat based diets, misconceptions about herbivorous diets are incredibly and shockingly pervasive in our society, especially one that has access to answers in as little time as it take for someone to think and type in a question on Google.

“The biggest misconception about being vegan is that it’s too hard and the foods are too restrictive,” Shaw said. “Many people who try or become vegan are pleasantly surprised to learn about the huge variety of foods that are vegan and actually enjoy cooking and eating more as a vegan as they experiment with new foods and flavor combinations.

“The other misconception is that vegan food is expensive, which is just the opposite. Beans and rice are very inexpensive. When you remove the costly meat, dairy and eggs from your diet, which is generally about 40 percent of an average grocery bill, that frees up a lot of room in your budget. You get more for your money on a vegan diet.”

As for vegan foods, the variety available is extensive. Per the recommendations from Shaw (and some of her favorites), there are “vegan” meat products like Gardein and Beyond Meat, which she uses when cooking for those who are non-vegan, and nutritional yeast, an accent spice of sorts; high in vitamin B12, it gives food a pleasant, nutty flavor.

“The biggest apprehension from people about being vegan is concern over what they will eat,” Shaw said. “I will often go grocery shopping with people to show them some of my favorite products. Most people are shocked to see all of their familiar food items in vegan form, such as butter, cheese, sour cream, cream cheese, ice cream, shredded cheese and meat-replacements. It’s a big relief when they realize that they can still eat very similar to what they are used to eating, just in a more humane and healthy way.”

Should you want to experiment with being vegan for a day or just a meal, there are numerous local restaurants that offer vegan dishes. They include Saigon Bangkok, Falafel Bar, and Pizza Plant, to name a fast few.

Also, as the old, clichéd, but ever true adage goes, “knowledge is power.” The more information you have on veganism, the better informed you will be about the relatively misconstrued subject matter. Check out these documentaries: Vegucated; Earthlings; Forks Over Knives; and Food Inc. Or try one of these books: “Diet for a New America,” by John Robbins; or “The China Study,” by T. Colin Campbell.

Now you can go seek out, find out and try out what works for you. Like anything in life, options are good, and this is just another one for your consideration.

Live and Let Live

Have just watched this feature length documentary on veganism and would highly recommend it to everyone, vegan or not.

It examines our relationship with animals, the history of veganism and the ethical, environmental and health reasons that move people to go vegan.
Food scandals, climate change, lifestyle diseases and ethical concerns move more and more people to reconsider eating animals and animal products. From butcher to vegan chef, from factory farmer to farm sanctuary owner – Live and Let Live tells the stories of six individuals who decided to stop consuming animal products for different reasons and shows the impact the decision has had on their lives.
Philosophers such as Peter Singer, Tom Regan and Gary Francione join scientists T. Colin Campbell and Jonathan Balcombe and many others to shed light on the ethical, health and environmental perspectives of veganism.
Through these stories, Live and Let Live showcases the evolution of veganism from its origins in London 1944 to one of the fastest growing lifestyles worldwide, with more and more people realising what’s on their plates matters to animals, the environment and ultimately – themselves.

And it has a lovely soundtrack too…