Thursday, July 31, 2008

Veggie Fest 2008


A month or so ago I caught the bug to leaflet. Then I received a brochure in the mail for Veggie Fest 2008 and thought that'd be the perfect introduction to leafleting -- passing out pro-animal brochures to people who were already interested in vegetarianism.

I attended Veggie Fest last year. It's an event that focuses on the health aspects of vegetarianism and is held on the grounds of an organization called Science of Spirituality. Basically it's a nondenominational group that practices meditation and a vegetarian diet. I liked the premise of Veggie Fest but was disappointed that there were few vegan offerings. And I don't remember any mention of animals.

The same day I decided I'd leaflet at this year's Veggie Fest, I found a post on Mercy for Animals' Web site, seeking volunteers for tabling there. "Tabling" is standing behind a table (no, really?) filled with literature and answering questions people may have.

So my first experience tabling will be Saturday. I may also do a bit of leafleting, too. Wish me luck! And if you're in the Naperville, IL, area, come out for some great food, cooking demonstrations and health info.



Wednesday, July 30, 2008

FBI Targets the Wrong People


This is the final installment of the three-part Green Scare series.

Most of what I know about the Green Scare, I learned from Will Potter's blog, Green Is the New Red, which I highly recommend. (The second and third items below are from Will's blog.) He compares what is happening worldwide now to the Red Scare of the '40s and '50s when U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy initiated a witch hunt against Communist sympathizers. If you weren't with him, you were against him. Similar to what is going on now in this country. Because Barack Obama fails to wear a U.S. flag pin, he must be unpatriotic. Because I'm against the war in Iraq, I must not support our troops. Because we care about animals and the environment, we must be terrorists.

CNN Reporter on Terrorist Watch List

CNN's investigative reporter Drew Griffin reported on how large the terrorist watch list has become -- more than 1 million names. And then he found himself added to the list. The government denies it, of course, but Griffin has been pulled aside on 11 different flights since May 19. Each airline says the same thing: that his name was on the watch list.

FBI Enlists 19-year-old for Entrapment

The FBI gave "Anna" a car and money to drive two activists across the country to meet another, Eric McDavid. They also provided bomb-making recipes and materials. Anna tried to push him and another activist, Lauren Weiner, to damage the U.S. Forest Service genetics tree lab and a dam, which they didn't end up doing. One piece of dialog heard at trial:


Anna: Tomorrow, what are we planning on doing tomorrow? Are we still planning on doing anything tomorrow? Or should I just stop talking about plans?
McDavid: Hmmm.
Weiner: I would love it if you stopped talking.
Anna: I would love it if you guys followed a plan! How about that!

McDavid, Weiner and another activist were charged with plotting to sabotage the lab and dam.

“I said the FBI was an embarrassment,” [juror Diane Bennett] says, as other jurors scrambled to unload similar opinions. “I hope he gets a new trial. I’m not happy with the one he got.”

Bennett said that the foreman “teared up” when he delivered the guilty verdict. But the judge’s instructions were confusing, she said, and “people were tired… we wanted to go home.”

McDavid was sentenced to 20 years in prison. In a declaration to the court Bennett said this:

During deliberations, we asked the court to please clarify for the jury the issue of whether Anna was a government agent, and if so, when did she become one… The written answer was from the court and stated “no” that she was not a government agent, yet we were told orally that she was. With the written response of “no,” and after reading the other written responses from the court, we ended our consideration of the issue of entrapment, the vote was 7-5 to consider the entrapment issue as a defense. Once the written response advised Anna was not a government agent, we then changed to a guilty verdict soon thereafter.

Vegan Potlucks

Finally, in an effort to stop dangerous vegans the FBI has even resorted to trying to recruit people to infiltrate vegan potlucks. For those of you who aren't vegan, a vegan potluck consists of people eating food that isn't made from animal products and doing a lot of oohing and ahhing over said food. Apparently the government thinks there's more to it. Members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force tried to get a Minnesota activist to become a paid informant:

Then for twenty minutes they flatter me about how my personality and appearance are perfect matches for what is required in some espionage dealio. They wanted me to crash vegan potluck parties and get into the inner circle of terrorists because supposedly terrorists are trusting and I’m “trustable, easy going, funny,” and a bunch of other flattery. Every time they said “vegan potluck” I chuckled, but their faces showed they weren’t kidding. They said “vegan potluck” half a dozen times. They really feared vegans and their violent conspiracies to blow up buildings in protest to the republican national convention.

(Image courtesy of dcgiftshop.com.)



A Double Life


Speaking of spies ... this one takes the cake (vegan, of course):

Mother Jones has published a wonderful story about a woman who worked with the National Rifle Association and infiltrated gun-control organizations. Mary Lou McFate was the gun-control alias. Mary Lou Sapone was the pro-NRA alias.

McFate attended protests, served on gun-control boards, lobbied federal officials -- and got to know the strategies of major gun-control organizations. Bryan Miller, the executive director of Ceasefire New Jersey, a grassroots gun-control group, says this about what the NRA could learn from Mary Lou's spying:

"What the grassroots of the gun violence prevention movement intended; where our priorities are shifting; which legislation we would be promoting or fighting against and what sort of effort we would be putting into that; who our targeted legislators would be; what states and districts we deemed important enough to put an effort into; our messaging, what our messaging would be before we put it out there."

In the 1980s she infiltrated the animal-rights community that was protesting against US Surgical, a company that tested on dogs. Mary Lou attended protests and conferences nationwide, urging illegal activity and violence.

She befriended a 33-year-old activist named Fran Trutt, who in November 1988 would be arrested for planting a remote-controlled pipe bomb near the parking space of US Surgical chairman Leon Hirsch. According to Trutt, on her way to carry out the bombing she lost her nerve and placed a call to Sapone, who convinced her to follow through with the plan—a fact that prompted activists to accuse Sapone of acting as an agent provocateur.

Read the entire story, which is both fascinating and disturbing. Some people -- the NRA, factory "farmers," etc. -- will do anything for money. They think nothing of lying or hurting others as long as they get paid.



Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Running Scared


I was glad to see that at least one member of the animal-cruelty industry was in attendence for the recent Taking Action for Animals Conference, sponsored by the Humane Society of the United States. The Animal Agriculture Alliance, which supports the meat and dairy industries, posted a press release on its Web site, but only Alliance Gold Members can access the full propaganda ... er ... report about the conference.

The release reports that "California Proposition 2, which would devastate egg farming in California[,] was high on the list of legislative and legal maneuvers intended to attack animal agriculture." How sad for the abusive "farmers." How wonderful for the hens, who may get just enough room to spread their wings.

The spy seemed surprise that many of the attendees were "educated, organized professionals (predominantly women) capable of making calculated moves to further the organization's [HSUS] influence." Damn right!

I look forward to scouting out the spy[ies] at AR2008.



Greenwashing


Seventh Generation, a company whose products include household cleaners and toilet paper, is one of the more environmentally responsible businesses around. The company is named after a Native American philosophy of judging the merits of an action based on how it will affect people seven generations from now.

Seventh Generation's e-mail newsletter is refreshing for the candidness of CEO Jeffrey Hollender and for the articles about the environment. In a recent one Hollender cites examples of corporate greenwashing -- marketing designed to make consumers think a company is being environmentally responsible when, in fact, it isn't. I've altered the order to suit my preferences.

n ... General Electric, Caterpillar, and Alcoa ... last year were widely hailed when they joined four environmental groups to endorse sweeping cuts in heat-trapping emissions. Problem was, behind the scenes, the three companies supported the efforts of an industry trade group to fight mandatory cuts in greenhouse gases, according to BusinessWeek. Sounds to me like the three giants are blatant emitters of that heat-trapping gas called hypocrisy.

n Procter & Gamble’s Tide Pure Essentials Detergents, with their earth-tone packaging and "naturally inspired scents," turn Tide into a green wanna-be. Consumers believe they’re doing the right thing for their families and the environment by choosing Pure Essentials. But according to P&G’s Material Safety Data Sheets, Tide Pure Essentials products are identical to conventional Tide!

n Sunshine Makers’ Simple Green plays a similar game. Its key ingredients comprise the same toxic solvent that can be found in traditional all-purpose cleaners such as Formula 409 and Windex.

n General Motors is advertising a plug-in hybrid, the Chevrolet Volt, which it doesn’t even sell [yet]. At a time when fuel-sucking SUVs have helped drive the US auto industry into a ditch, GM apparently hopes that its phantom Volt will give it a pristine green sheen.

In another article in the newsletter Hollender cites a story that talks about Procter & Gamble's effort to be more environmentally responsible (ie. adding more squares to its toilet paper rolls, so consumers won't go through as many cardboard tubes), while ignoring one of the biggest environmental woes it creates: releasing toxins into our environment through the chemicals in its products.

"P&G is doing a good job of reducing its greenhouse gases," says Devra Lee Davis, director of the Center for Environmental Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh, "but at the same time, it's using cosmetic ingredients like phthalates, where the evidence is growing that these chemicals could have a negative impact on our children and grandchildren."

Incidentally I was surprised to see that there is a Center for Environmental Oncology. While there is all this talk about finding a cure for cancer (ie. Race for the Cure, wear your pink ribbon for a cure, torture animals to find a cure), I rarely hear anyone in the mainstream talking about prevention. Ending the production of goods that contain harmful chemicals is a great place to start.



Thursday, July 24, 2008

"Farm Sanctuary"


Last Thanksgiving I adopted a turkey.

Ok, he didn't actually come to live with me; I "adopted" him financially with a gift to Farm Sanctuary.

Farm Sanctuary, a haven for rescued farmed animals, began 20 years ago when Gene Baur rescued a goat -- which he named Hilda -- from a pile of dead goats in a stockyard.

In "Farm Sanctuary" Baur takes readers through the past 20 years of his life and that of his sanctuary, which now has two locations -- Watkins Glen, NY, and Orland, CA. He recounts stories of rescues, his work to improve the lives of farmed animals through legislation, and issues regarding each species of farmed animal. Interspersed between these chapters are profiles of individual animals at Farm Sanctuary.

At times I needed a break from the horrors that farmed animals endure, so I read "Striking at the Roots" concurrently. But it's important that we don't turn away from this information. If you eat meat and/or eggs or drink milk from animals, you owe it to the animals to know the truth about their lives. And you owe it to yourself to know the facts about what you're putting into your bodies -- and into your children's bodies.

Despite the cruelty that we learn about, "Farm Sanctuary" is ultimately inspiring. It shows how one person's work can save thousands of animals. And it shows how something as simple as a meal can also help animals.



Monday, July 21, 2008

Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act


This is the second of a three-part series called "The Green Scare."

In 1992 Congress passed the Animal Enterprise Protection Act. Groups that profited from animal suffering -- like the National Association for Biomedical Research -- supported the law, which made it a crime for anyone who "intentionally damages or causes the loss of any property (including animals or records) used by the animal enterprise, or conspires to do so.”

Civil rights groups charged that the vague language could be used to arrest non-violent activists. After all, the purpose of a protest or boycott (legal under the First Amendment) is to cause an entity to lose money.

Go here for a more in-depth look at this law.

The Animal Enterprise Protection Act wasn't good enough for the groups that profited from animal suffering, so they began to push Congress to pass the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act.

The biggest difference in this law is that it also seeks to protect "tertiary targets" of the animal-cruelty industry. For example, activists opposed to Huntingdon Life Sciences targeted the company that provided insurance to HLS, eventually getting them to drop HLS as a client. If the AETA had been law at the time, activists may have been charged for targeting a tertiary company.

The biggest irony of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act occurred the day Congress passed it into law. The Senate had already passed it, and when it went to the House, only six legislators were there to vote on it. It passed via a fast-track process used for noncontroversial issues. So where were the other House members? They were attending a groundbreaking on the Mall to honor Martin Luther King Jr.

Congress passed legislation that called those who participated in civil disobience terrorists at the same time that they were honoring a man who used civil disobience to effect change.

You can read a more detailed account of that day -- Nov. 13, 2006 -- here.

(Photo of MLK standing in front of Gandhi's picture courtesy of mlkonline.net. Gandhi had also practiced civil disobedience.)



Newspaper calls "Bullshit" on the CCF


I love that the readers' representative for the San Francisco Chronicle took the time to research the Center for Consumer Freedom and to write a retraction of sorts regarding a letter the paper had published from the deceptive group.

The CCF letter criticized a study that reported people who kept daily food diaries lost more weight than those who didn't. The CCF even cited a study from a research group at Brown Medical School in Rhode Island to support its claim.

The Chronicle, though, talked to Suzanne Phelan, a Brown Medical School assistant professor and co-investigator of the research group, who said the CCF misstated their findings.

"In fact," she said in an e-mail, "dietary restraint and monitoring are key characteristics of the successful weight losers in the (research group)."

Informed choice demands accurate information, said Marjorie Freedman, a professor of nutrition at San Jose State University, in a letter to the paper citing the center's opposition to labeling, indifference to the role of diet and distortion of the registry's conclusions.

"Telling part of the story doesn't protect consumer choice - it sabotages it," she said.
My post doesn't do justice to the retraction, so please read it in its entirety.



Sunday, July 20, 2008

"The Story of Stuff"


I'm shopping around for a new house. I want one that's smaller than where I live now -- even though I live in a townhouse -- and one with a yard so I can grow my own veggies. When a friend saw online photos of a house I'm interested in, she didn't like the kitchen. "The stove doesn't match the refrigerator." I hadn't even noticed that the stove was black and the fridge was white. "But you can always buy new ones."

Huh? Why would I want to buy a new stove if that one still works? Does a stainless-steel fridge protect my food better than a white one?

This perceived need to purchase new products is one issue discussed in "The Story of Stuff," a 20-minute online video I just watched.

A thought occurred to me six months or so ago. My grandparents had lived in a small house (at least by American standards), but the houses being built nowadays are much, much bigger -- with seldom-used living rooms and even bonus or game rooms. Why? Family sizes have shrunk, not grown. Most women of my grandparents' generation didn't have to work outside the home. Today that's not the case. I'm all for women working outside the home if they want to. But I'd rather a two-parent income be a choice, not a necessity. Where's the logic in buying a big house if you have to work more to afford it?

Why are storage facilities popular now? With our big houses, don't we have enough room?

We need to get back to basics, back to simplicity. We need to stop deriving our self-worth from the objects we own. We need to recognize that companies want us to consume, have trained us to consume.

About 10 years ago my cordless phone broke after only six months or so. Shopping with my sister, I lamented about how quickly the phone had become useless. A customer next to me complained that was commonplace with a lot of products nowadays.

It's called planned obsolescence (ie. obsolete), according to "The Story of Stuff." Companies make their products to break earlier than they should so we go out and purchase another.

The second kind of obsolescence is perceived obsolescence. The iPhone came out only one year ago, yet last week people -- who own the 2007 version -- were camped outside Apple stores overnight to be the first to buy the newer version. And, of course, people who had a cell phone before the original iPhone came out ditched it in favor of the newest thing, at the time.

Now this isn't to say that I'm never wasteful. No one is perfect, and that's not what any of my blog posts are about. My posts are about sharing what I've discovered about animal rights, the environment and our health. With knowledge we can each improve how we live our lives.

So watch "The Story of Stuff" and think about it the next time you feel the need to buy new clothes or the latest gadget.

(Image courtesy of climatex.org.)



"Striking at the Roots"


Last night I finished reading "Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism" by Mark Hawthorne.

I read it while I was also reading another book, which I'll likely review next week, because the latter's subject matter is more intense and I occasionally needed a break from it.

"Striking at the Roots" is packed with information and advice, yet it's a quick read. While it's targeted toward animal activists (both novice and experienced), it would be useful for people fighting for any kind of social change. I also recommend it for people who want an introduction to animal issues but not an intense one.

(Image courtesy of PETA.)



The Green Scare: The SHAC7


Because of the in-depth subject matter, this post is the first in a three-part series called "The Green Scare."

We all remember where we were on Sept. 11, 2001. We all remember what we felt -- anger, sadness, disbelief, horror, the need for revenge.

And we tolerated -- and still do -- the longer lines at airport security, the 9/11 fee we pay with our airline tickets, the ban on small scissors and even some tweezers in carry-on luggage. We feel those are small prices to pay to ensure our safety.

Even when it was revealed that the U.S. government was working with the telecommunications industry to tap our phones, I really didn't care. After all, I'm not a terrorist. I'm not doing anything illegal. I have nothing to hide.

But then I began reading about other people who weren't terrorists, who weren't doing anything illegal, who had nothing to hide ... and who are now in prison. I came to realize the importance of protecting our civil liberties.

The SHAC7
Josh Harper, along with five other people, ran a corporation -- Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty USA Inc. -- and a Web site. The six people and the corporation are known collectively as the SHAC7.

Huntingdon Life Sciences, the company that they wanted to shut down, is an animal-testing lab in England and New Jersey. HLS forces animals to consume excessive amounts of chemicals and are then killed and dissected. Among the products that have been tested there are Viagra, Splenda and Olestra. Undercover video has shown workers punching 4-month-old beagles in the face and dissecting a live monkey.

According to shac7.com, the SHAC7 Web site "reported on and expressed ideological support for protest activity against Huntingdon and its business affiliates." For example, if an act of vandalism was committed against HLS, the SHAC7 noted it on their Web site. If activists urged HLS's insurance company to drop them as a client (which happened), it'd be mentioned on the Web site. A few of the SHAC7, including Harper, also were alleged to have faxed black paper to the HLS to keep their fax machines busy and their toner in use. Not exactly the work of terrorists, yet the U.S. government charged this group under the Animal Enterprise Protection Act of 1992, now the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. Harper was sentenced to three years.

I'm focusing on Harper in this post because of a recent entry on the blog GreenIstheNewRed.com. I've included part of a letter written by Harper below. But please read it in its entirety, while keeping in mind that our government views him as a terrorist -- and has used our tax money to prosecute and imprison him.

Construction in the hills above my building was displacing critters whose homes were falling beneath bulldozers and chainsaws. One of these creatures, a small deer mouse, took shelter in a rock wall next to the Plaid Pantry on 23rd and Glisan. When I first saw her, she was skinny and terrified. She would huddle as far back in the wall as possible. Only occasionally darting out to snatch a bite of bread I would leave for her.

As time went by, she got a little bolder though, until eventually her true personality as the world’s punkest mouse broke through. She started out taking seeds from birdfeeders and graduated to stealing the seed right out of the bags when yuppies came to fill the feeders. She never strayed too far from the wall. I could usually find her when I needed a reminder of the strength possessed by the smallest of us.

Correction (7/24/09): According to Josh Harper, he was not accused of "black faxing." He was accused of talking about "black faxing." I'm sorry for the error.

(Photo courtesy of shac7.com.)



Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Gay Rodeo?


I used to love to watch "Big Brother," but a year or two ago it lost its appeal. This week, though, I watched a half-hour of this season's premiere.

It has the usual assortment of young, attractive, white people. (Ok, plus two older people and two African-Americans.) And no reality show would be complete without the obligatory gay person. I was surprised to discover that this year's is a rodeo cowboy. The combination seemed odd.

I wasn't surprised, though, that a rodeo fanatic was among this season's cast. A few months ago someone had posted a casting call of sorts on a veggie board I frequent. "Big Brother" was looking for an animal-rights activist to join the house. Who's the AR activist they found? Who's going to go toe to toe with Mr. Rodeo? A woman who proudly announced she works at Hooters -- and who doesn't eat red meat. Not exactly an animal-rights activist.

So Mr. Rodeo won't have much to worry about. He hasn't come out to the house yet, but that shouldn't take long. When I saw him on TV, I thought it was ironic that he was gay and a rodeo participant. I figured heterosexual cattle ropers wouldn't take kindly to gay people. And I may be right. What I didn't know, though, is that gay rodeo riders have their own organizations. There's the International Gay Rodeo Association, the Texas Gay Rodeo Association ... . Heck, even Illinois has a group.

What surprises me even more, though, is that gay people would exploit and harm animals. I realize I can't lump people together, but it seems that gay people would be more aware of and more sensitive to the plight of others. I feel the same way about women and African-Americans. As I said in a previous post, if one group is oppressed, then we're all oppressed. Gay people don't have the same rights as straight people in this country, and that's wrong. Yet these rodeo participants are treating animals like some people treat gays: as lesser beings.

Visit SHARK to learn more about rodeos and to see undercover video.

(Photo courtesy of SHARK.)



Atkins Study Flawed


Newsweek has published an article by Dr. Dean Ornish. It's a critique of a new study analyzing the Atkins diet, a Mediterranean diet and a low-fat diet.

The article is three pages long, but here are some of the interesting points:

n Ornish finds flaws with the study, which was funded in part by the Atkins Foundation.

n The low-fat group's fat intake, which followed guidelines from the American Heart Association, wasn't nearly as low as Ornish recommends.

n The Atkins group was "counseled to choose vegetarian sources of fat and protein and to avoid trans fat." However, in a traditional Atkins diet meat is highly recommended.

n In Ornish's own studies researchers found "reversal of coronary heart disease after only one month, even more reversal after one year, and still more improvement after five years."

n Ornish also found that his diet could stop or even reverse early prostate cancer.

n Ornish contends that people who eat a meat-based diet need a high HDL cholesterol level to rid their body of meat's cholesterol. But in vegans, he maintains, the HDL level doesn't need to be as high because they don't have as much "garbage" to get out of their bodies.

I encourage you to read this article. You're the only one who can take care of your body.

(Image courtesy of PETA.)



More Lies From the CCF


David Martosko is at it again.

The man paid by the Center for Consumer Freedom to go after animal advocates has embellished his tagline. He's now "a national expert on the politics of the animal-protection movement." Of course, that implies he's unbiased and is certainly not receiving money from industries that profit from animal suffering. But he is.

Here's the letter to the editor I just submitted:

I found David Martosko's column about animal protection laughable ("Leona's loot and a more humane America," July 17). First, Martosko is not a national expert on animal protection, as his tagline says. He's a paid flack from the deceptively named Center for Consumer Freedom whose sole goal is to discredit organizations that advocate on behalf of animals.

The CCF receives funds from various industries, including the restaurant, alcohol and meat industries. According to CCF president Richard Berman, the group's strategy is "to shoot the messenger. ... We've got to attack their [activists'] credibility as spokespersons."

Because the Humane Society of the United States and PETA advocate on behalf of all animals -- including farmed animals, by supporting veganism -- Martosko tries to discredit them to appease his clients that profit from animal suffering.


(The "Wolf in Sheep's Clothing" image courtesy of American Chronicle.)



Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Slippery Sludge of Oil

I'm tired of hearing politicians say we need to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

We need to lessen our dependence on oil ... PERIOD. Foreign or domestic -- oil is harming our environment.

Now the Republicans want to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. How oxymoronic!

NPR recently aired a story about the different strategies of the Democrats and Republicans regarding oil and gas prices. In response to Democrats asking for U.S. oil reserves to be released, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said it was a ploy "to try to make the American people think that we’re doing something that is of benefit when what we’re really doing is harming ourselves."

But that's exactly what the GOP is doing. They want Americans to believe that drilling in Alaska will lower gas prices and be good for our country. They don't acknowledge the environmental devastation it would cause, nor the fact that the drilling won't have any effect on gas prices.

It would take years for infrastructure to be assembled. More important, the amount of oil we'd get would be nothing compared to what we need. The United States controls less than 3% of the world's oil deposits, yet our nation consumes 25% of the world's energy. (Although Americans account for only 5% of the world's population.)

Bush on Tuesday called for Congress to lift the ban on offshore drilling, saying, "Failure to act is unacceptable. It's unacceptable to me, and it's unacceptable to the American people."

As an American, what I find unacceptable is the blatant disregard that Bush and other Republicans have for Americans and for the world in which we live.

The U.S. government needs to actively seek sustainable, environmentally friendly energy sources. It's time to look to the future of our planet and end the cronyism with the oil tycoons.

Edited to add: E-mail your representatives and tell them you oppose drilling offshore and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

(Image courtesy of www.fogcityjournal.com.)



Friday, July 11, 2008

Cholesterol


The other night South Beach Diet guru Dr. Arthur Agatston was interviewed about heart health on "Chicago Tonight," a local news program on PBS. I was impressed that he didn't mention eating lean meat in an effort to achieve a healthy heart. But, as is too often the case, he became another doctor in the media who didn't mention eating a vegan diet. He didn't even tell the audience that cholesterol is only found in animal products.

So I wrote to the producers, and Phil Ponce read an edited version of my letter on the air last night:

I'm perplexed as to why doctors are reluctant to advocate a vegan diet for their patients. They're more ready to prescribe a potentially liver-damaging drug to control cholesterol than to tell their patients that cholesterol is only found in animal foods.

The last two sentences of my letter were omitted (which was fine):

Studies have shown that a vegan diet can reverse heart disease, in addition to lowering the risk of certain cancers, diabetes and obesity. After being vegan for less than a year, my cholesterol dropped 38 points.

200 is regarded as the dividing line between normal cholesterol levels and high cholesterol. But the medical community is considering lowering that to 175. In "The China Study" author and medical researcher T. Colin Campbell puts the line at 150, saying that heart attacks still occur in people whose total cholesterol is between 150 and 200.

When I scheduled my first cholesterol test, in 2005, I worried that I'd be over 200 and that I'd have to change my diet. At the time I was still a meat eater, and I loved cheese and cream soups. I was happy to learn that my total cholesterol was 162. Of course, I hadn't yet read "The China Study." A year later, while still a meat-eater, my total cholesterol had jumped to 177. I didn't worry about it because it was still below 200.

The following year, after being vegetarian for a year and vegan for only three months, my total cholesterol had dropped 38 points -- to 139! I had read "The China Study" by then and was glad to see my total cholesterol below 150. And I was psyched to see that changing to a vegetarian diet and then to a vegan one had produced such a dramatic result.

This year I'm going to fast before my test, so I can see the breakdown of good cholesterol (HDL) and bad cholesterol (LDL). I love food and can't stand to be hungry, so that's why I never fasted for the three previous tests.

While obesity continues to be an epidemic in this country and TV ads for cholesterol medications are now as commonplace as those for headache meds, Americans need to know that the best way to lower their cholesterol (and lose weight) is by eating a whole-foods, vegan diet. Your body naturally produces all the cholesterol it needs. Consuming more by eating animal products only hurts you.

So when your doctor says he wants to put you on medication to lower your cholesterol (and which may damage your liver), tell him you're going to try a vegan diet for six months and get retested then.

Obligatory disclaimer: I am not a doctor, so please investigate further and make a decision you're comfortable with.

(Image courtesy of PETA.)



Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Support Vegan Outreach


You've probably heard of PETA -- People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals -- and I'm sure you've heard of the Humane Society of the United States. But an important, yet small, organization that does a lot to spare animals from suffering is Vegan Outreach.

Their methods are deceptively simple: Volunteers leaflet at colleges around the United States (and at festivals and concerts during the summer). They pass out brochures about the lives of farmed animals and the benefits of veganism, and they target young adults, people they have found to be the most receptive to questioning the status quo and making lifestyle changes.

This month every donation to Vegan Outreach is doubled, up to a total of $30,000. Please help them continue to their work to end animal abuse. (In the Comments section in the online donation, please write "matching drive.")

And if you want to be inspired and filled with hope every week, subscribe to their newsletter.

I haven't yet leafleted, but I know my time is coming. I want to get out there and do more, and when I'm ready, Vegan Outreach will be there with moral support and pamphlets.

(Photo of Jon Camp leafleting courtesy of VeganOutreach.org)



Monday, July 7, 2008

Cutting the Lawn


Manicured lawns are highly overrated. I don't understand the pride people feel -- for some reason mostly men -- from a dandelion-free yard. Gardening is traditionally a woman's area, arranging pretty flowers, etc. (Although I do know that many men enjoy it as well.) But when it comes to lawns, it's usually the man out front positioning the sprinkler just so.

That's how it was when I was growing up. I also remember ChemLawn visiting my house regularly and leaving their white flags behind to alert us kids to stay off the grass.

Now, though, I'm raising the white flag. Please no more chemical warfare! It's absurd to wage war against a few yellow weeds by using carcinogens. Sure, you don't have any dandelions in your yard, big, macho man, but your kids can't play on their own grass either.

How about enjoying more of your summer by not obsessing so much about your lawn? It's not perfect? That's ok! Nature is perfect in its own way; let it be.

To conserve water and reduce the time you mow, consider planting native plants in parts of your lawn.

To mow the grass you do have in an environmentally friendly (and more neighborly) way, get a reel mower, a lawn mower that runs solely on human energy -- no gas, no electric.

I only discovered the existence of these within the last year or so. But from my "test drive" last weekend using my boyfriend's and from reading reviews online, I'm buying one as soon as I have grass to cut. I wasn't inhaling fumes as I walked behind it. I didn't need earplugs to protect my hearing. And I didn't disturb any neighbors -- the reel mower is quiet.

Rethink how you view your lawn and how your behavior affects the environment -- and you.

(Photo courtesy of greenterrafirma.com)



Protests Successful: Pet Store Closes Doors


It's a very happy day for animal advocates and dogs!

Twice last summer I protested in front of a Warrenville, IL, pet store. The once-a-month demonstrations were organized by Therese Davis and her husband, Gary.

I joined them only twice because I was frustrated that we weren't allowed to approach customers to explain to them why they shouldn't buy puppies from a pet store. By law we were only allowed to stand in the parkway. We couldn't cross the sidewalk. Therefore, it was difficult to engage customers in a meaningful conversation.

But the Davises protested once a month for two years to try to shut that business down. And they succeeded! The owner, Ron Berning, blamed the economy for the site failing. Yet he's opened at a new location in Oak Lawn. I'm pretty sure the economy is the same in that town as it is in Warrenville.

The Davises had said that when the Warrenville location closed, they'd protest at a different one. Good luck, Therese and Gary! And on behalf of the dogs suffering in puppy mills, thank you!



Wednesday, July 2, 2008

"Green" Your Plate


When I was in grade school -- 20, 25 years ago -- I worried about issues that no kid should worry about ... like the destruction of the rainforests.

At some point my dad had told me about them, and it kept me up at night. But as a child, I thought I was helpless to solve the problem.

Fast-forward to the present day when environmental issues have finally hit the consciousness of mainstream America. Now people are changing out their lightbulbs, investigating the MPG ratings of cars, bringing reusable bags to the grocery store, continuing to recycle and eating more organic, locally grown food. And, frankly, it's about damn time.

But one solution to our environmental woes -- the solution that would make the biggest impact -- still hasn't hit most Americans' radars.

Stop eating meat.

I know, I know ... blasphemy, right? What on earth am I talking about? You grew up eating meat. Your parents grew up eating meat. Your parents' parents grew up eating meat.

Well, it's time for a change.

Stay with me while I toss some stats to you:

n Creating animal protein (ie. meat) uses eight times as much fossil-fuel energy as creating plant protein.

n Cattle grazing has contributed to the loss of 26% of threatened and endangered species.

n Raising animals for food produces more greenhouse gases than all the cars and trucks in the world combined.

n Factory farms contaminate well water with nitrates, which have been linked to miscarriages in women.

n An area of rainforest equal to seven football fields is destroyed every minute to create land for cattle grazing. (And many American fast-food restaurants import their beef from this region.)

n 5,000 gallons of water are needed to create 1 pound of meat, while only 25 gallons of water are needed to grow 1 pound of wheat.

n Overgrazing leads to soil erosion and desertification that renders once-fertile land barren. (See photo.)

n A person can save more water by not eating meat than by not showering for an entire year.

n It takes 16 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of meat.

Still with me?

So while it's great that you've made small eco-friendly improvements in your life, it's time to make the biggest -- and easiest -- change you can make.

Stop eating meat.

When you order spaghetti, get it with marinara sauce.
If you want a sloppy Joe, use Boca crumbles instead of beef.
Feel like a hamburger? Opt for a veggie burger instead.

You'll be consuming less saturated fat and no cholesterol. (Bet your doc never told you only animal products contain cholestrol, did he?) You won't have to worry about Mad Cow disease. You won't be contributing to the death of an animal. And you'll be helping our Earth in a big way.

I wish I knew when I was 10 that if I stopped eating hamburgers, I'd be doing something to help the rainforests.

Fortunately, I know now.



Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Independence for Animals


This Indepence Day think about the irony of your brother-in-law barbecuing animals on the grill while we celebrate our country's freedom.

All living beings yearn to be free.

Throughout our country's history, women didn't want to be in the shadow of men -- dependent on men for their livelihood, not allowed to vote, legally beaten by their husbands. Africans and African-Americans fought for freedom from their chains, from their slave masters, from segregation. Gays and lesbians fight to be free of the stigma that many in society stick on them. They push to be able to marry whom they choose, to be recognized under the law as family.

And animals, who are unable to voice their struggles, their pain, also want to be free. They want to live their lives naturally, not confined to cages. Chickens want to bathe in dust and roost on their unhatched chicks. Pigs want to wallow in mud baths, snorting with glee. Cows want to nurture their calves, to feed them milk from their udders. Ducks and geese want to fly. Deer want to meander through woods and eat leaves.

So this weekend as you prepare to celebrate your own freedom with your family and friends, instead of contributing to the confinement, suffering and murder of others, grill some veggie burgers and tofu dogs instead.



Freedom

With Independence Day nearing I wanted to talk briefly about freedom, an idea Americans treasure. But what our government and various industries sometimes tell us -- or don't tell us -- robs us of some of our freedoms.

For example, if you read something that was written by the research director of the Center for Consumer Freedom you'd likely believe him, right? After all, as a consumer you want to be free to make your own decisions. But the Center for Consumer Freedom is actually a front group.

The CCF was created in 1995 with $600,000 from Philip Morris. In return, the CCF was supposed to put a positive spin on cigarettes. That obviously failed, so now the CCF gets money from the meat and dairy, restaurant and alcohol industries, among others. Their job? To discredit any person or organization who threatens the profits of these industries.

Richard Berman, the lawyer and lobbyist who runs the CCF, said in a 1999 interview that his strategy is "to shoot the messenger. ... We've got to attack their [activists'] credibility as spokespersons."

So while groups are trying to inform the public about food issues such as mercury in fish, trans fat, even something as simple as how many calories are in a sub sandwich, the CCF works to discredit these groups and their facts. They also lobby to hide the calorie count of the sandwiches at your favorite sub joint.

To me, this isn't freedom. Freedom is about having all the necessary -- and truthful -- information at your fingertips in order for you to make an informed decision. If you still want that sandwich with over 1,000 calories, that's your choice. If you still want to eat the fish that may be polluted with mercury, that's your choice. But it's our right to be able to make these choices with all of the necessary information given to us first.

So if you see anything from the Center for Consumer Freedom, keep in mind that they're only looking out for the best interest of those organizations that pay them. Contrary to their name, they don't care about consumers or about freedom.



Chickens


Did you know that mother hens communicate with their chicks while their babies are still in the eggs? A hen will softly chirp and cluck to her chicks. The unhatched chicks will chirp back, as well as communicate with each other.

Because male chicks are worthless to the egg industry, millions are killed each year when they are just a day old. They're either ground up alive or tossed into bags to suffocate.

Chickens can recognize and remember 100 other chickens.

Of the 10 billion (that's "billion," not "million) land animals killed for their flesh each year in the United States, 9 million of them are chickens.

Like people, chickens are sensitive to touch, temperature and pain. A full lifespan is 13 or 14 years.

Chickens in the egg industry -- laying hens -- are considered "spent" after two years and are then slaughtered. Chickens raised for their flesh -- broiler chickens -- reach "processing weight" in only six or seven weeks.

Chickens are social, inquisitive creatures.

Chickens are confined to overcrowded cages in a warehouse, where the stench of ammonia and feces assaults their senses.

Chickens clean themselves by taking dust baths. The dust removes oils from their feathers.

Chickens raised for their flesh are bred -- and given growth hormones -- so that their breasts are abnormally large, often making it difficult to support themselves.

Learn more about chickens.