Thursday, October 23, 2008

10 Food Industry 'Secrets'

The Journal of the American Medical Association has published a commentary by pediatrician David Ludwig and Marion Nestle, a nutrition professor at New York University.

In the piece Ludwig and Nestle outlined 10 issues that the food industry doesn't want the public to know. While none of them were news to me, most would have been before I went veg. Since going veg, however, my research about food educated me about all 10 of these points.

A reporter with U.S. News and World Report did a good job of explaining the 10 issues to readers, as the JAMA piece requires a fee to access it. Since the U.S. News piece ends with references to the Center for Consumer Freedom, I'm going to work backwards.

10. The food industry works aggressively to discredit its critics.
Ah, the good old CCF. As already noted in this blog, this group is a front for various industries, among them the food, meat, dairy and alcohol industries. And as previously mentioned in "Digging," CCF president Richard Berman's primary tactic is to discredit the people and organizations that stand in the way of his clients' profit. In a 1999 interview he said that his strategy is "to shoot the messenger. ... We've got to attack their [activists'] credibility as spokespersons."

9. The food industry funds front groups that fight antiobesity public health initiatives.
Yep, the CCF is one of those groups. In July the San Francisco Chronicle called bullshit on the CCF and issued a retraction of sorts regarding a letter about obesity that the paper had published from that group.

Food industry front groups don't only fight antiobesity initiatives, though. In January David Martosko, a CCF goon, threatened Nestle with a libel suit if she didn't remove a blog post that dealt with the threat of mercury in fish. Despite the real danger, Martosko would rather keep the public in the dark than risk his clients losing money. Nestle did not remove her post.

8. Food industry pressure has made nutritional guidelines confusing.
Even the phrase "natural flavors" is confusing. I recently read of a woman with food allergies calling an orange juice maker to find out what exactly was in the "natural flavors" listed in the ingredients. No one could tell her.

7. A health claim on the label doesn't necessarily make a food healthy.
Basically one should ignore anything on the front of a package. Focus on the nutrition box and the ingredient list on the back.

6. Many supposedly healthy replacement foods are hardly healthier than the foods they replace.
The example cited in U.S. News is pop (or soda if you're not from Chicago) is replaced in a vending machine with sports drinks and flavored water.

5. Less-processed foods are generally more satiating than their highly processed counterparts.
Therefore, you need less food to fill you, which saves you money and calories.

4. More processing means more profits, but typically makes the food less healthy.
Ok, I admit this one was something I didn't know. It seems to me that the less you have to do to a food, the more money you'd make. But evidently that isn't true.

3. Junk food makers donate large sums of money to professional nutrition associations.
Like the American Dietetic Association, which I wrote about last week. It accepts money from such companies as PepsiCo, Hershey's, Taco Bell, Crisco, McDonald's, Coca-Cola and Monsanto.

2. The studies that food producers support tend to minimize health concerns associated with their products.
As with all studies, we need to be aware of who is funding them.

1. Junk food makers spend billions advertising unhealthy foods to kids.
No kidding. Just like Philip Morris, which was required by law to provide anti-smoking advertisements, junk food makers -- seeing the attention that childhood obesity is garnering -- create the illusion that they care about kids' health. However, they continue to market unhealthful foods to them.

Bottom line -- Your diet should consist of as much unprocessed plant foods (and water) as possible.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Election '08: Racists Target Obama Campaign

The murder of a black bear yesterday in North Carolina is the latest in a series of racist activities directed toward Sen. Barack Obama and his supporters.

The bear cub had been shot in the head and dumped on the campus of Western Carolina University in Cullowhee. Obama campaign signs had been stapled together and placed over the bear's head.

Last week in a Chicago suburb two Obama supporters received threatening letters in their mailboxes, reading, "Get the Obama signs off your property—now. Failure to obey this order will result in the immediate death of all family members."

In San Bernadino County, Calif., the president of a Republican women's club sent out a mailer with the image of a food stamp. Obama's head was in the middle, on a donkey's body. Surrounding that were the images of a KFC bucket of chicken, barbecued ribs and watermelon. The caption read: "Obama talks about all those presidents that got their names on bills. If elected, what bill would he be on ????? Food Stamps, what else!"

Club member Kristina Sandoval said the images of the food were innocuous.

"Everyone eats those foods; it's not a racial thing."

At an Oct. 11 rally for Sarah Palin in Johnstown, Penn., a man taunted protesters by waving a Curious George doll. An Obama sticker was wrapped around its head. When he was inside the rally, though, and realized a camera (from CBS) was pointed at him, his demeanor changed. Watch the videos:

You can view the second video here.

Obama is in a rare position. Not only is he the object of anti-African-American racism, but he's also the target of Anti-Arab sentiment.

During the final presidential debate, when Obama pointed out that people at McCain and Palin rallies shouted such words as "terrorist," "kill him" and "off with his head," McCain spun Obama's concern.

[T]o somehow say that group of young women who said "Military wives for McCain" are somehow saying anything derogatory about you, but anything -- and those veterans that wear those hats that say "World War II, Vietnam, Korea, Iraq," I'm not going to stand for people saying that the people that come to my rallies are anything but the most dedicated, patriotic men and women that are in this nation and they're great citizens.
Of course, Obama isn't of Arabic descent nor is he a Muslim. But, as Gen. Colin Powell said while endorsing him Sunday on "Meet the Press": What if he were?

I'm also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, "Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim." Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, "He's a Muslim and he might be associated [with] terrorists." This is not the way we should be doing it in America.
Fortunately, most of the country judges a person not on the color of his skin or which god he worships but by his behavior and his character.

(Photo by John A. Lacko. Courtesy of the Kalamazoo Gazette.)

Taxpayers Fund AIG Hunting Trip

Despite the bad publicity and dressing-down from members of Congress after AIG sponsored a spa retreat for its top earners, the life insurance company went ahead with a planned hunting trip for executives earlier this month.

All this as the insurance giant asked for and received billions in loans from the Federal Reserve.

After reports of the spa retreat garnered attention, AIG said they'd review their policies.

AIG Chief Executive Officer Edward Liddy, who replaced former CEO Robert Willumstad as a condition of the federal loan, on [Oct. 8] told Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson that the company intends to reevaluate expenses.

"We understand that our company is now facing very different challenges," Liddy wrote in a letter to Paulson. "We owe our employees and the American public new standards and approaches."
After news of the hunting trip came to light, the company put out a statement to the same effect.

"We will continue to take all measures necessary to ensure that these activities cease immediately. AIG's priority is to continue focusing on actions necessary to repay the Federal Reserve loan and emerge as a vital, ongoing business."
Like other Bush initiatives (ie. the war in Iraq), I believe Congress moved too quickly in approving the bailout. As I have written about before, hundreds of economists urged the government to reconsider the $700 billion bailout.

I'm sure AIG is more the rule than the exception. How many other companies continue to squander money while receiving billions from American taxpayers?

Regarding the hunting trip, AIG spokesman Peter Tulupman said, "We regret that this event was not canceled."

So do working-class Americans -- and the animals who were killed.

(Thanks to Vegan Soapbox for bringing the AIG hunting trip to my attention.)

(Image courtesy of The Associated Press.)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

"American Blackout" Sheds Light on U.S. Elections

It's humbling to discover information that you didn't know but feel like you should have known. That's the feeling I had -- in addition to disgust -- while watching "American Blackout."

I'm ashamed to admit that I didn't pay close attention to the election of 2000. It's ironic because at the time I was a copy editor for a newspaper, so I should have been reading story after story about the race for president. But the only thing I remember is how disappointed I was when George W. Bush was declared the winner, how relieved I was when I heard the results were in dispute and how disappointed I was when Bush was again declared the winner.

From the news reports, I, like perhaps most Americans, thought that "hanging chads" were the major issue. I didn't realize the extent to which voter disenfranchisement affected the election until watching "American Blackout."

I'm also ashamed to admit that while I believe in and agree with the Green Party platform, I knew nothing about Cynthia McKinney, their candidate for president this year.

For practical reasons -- and because I truly do trust and adore him -- I will vote for Barack Obama for president, and I encourage my readers to do the same. We cannot afford four more years of lies and the continuing decline of the lives of working-class Americans that a McCain/Palin presidency will bring. But I have a feeling that in the coming years I will support Green Party candidates.

"American Blackout" follows McKinney, a former Democratic U.S. congresswoman from Georgia, as she questions the voting in Florida in 2000 through the election of 2004.

Of course, everything in this film is still pertinent today, but I was especially struck by the segment with U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., whom McCain referenced at the third presidential debate Wednesday. McCain had taken issue with Lewis' remarks about his rallies.

As one who was a victim of violence and hate during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, I am deeply disturbed by the negative tone of the McCain-Palin campaign. What I am seeing today reminds me too much of another destructive period in American history.
You can watch "American Blackout" online for free at

(Image courtesy of

Friday, October 17, 2008

Wanted: Your Veggie Tales

A few days ago "Oprah" discussed the life of animals on factory farms, particularly chickens, pigs and calves. While I taped but haven't watched the show, the reports I've read say that Oprah basically provided two choices for viewers: continue eating meat from various sources, thereby contributing to animal suffering, or choose "happy meat."

All veg*ans know, though, that "happy meat" is a myth and the only way to stop contributing to animal suffering is by not purchasing any animal products.

I want to show people what Oprah's show did not: that most veg*ans were once meat-eaters and that anyone can choose to go veg.

Therefore, I'm asking my veg readers to send me their stories of how they decided to go vegetarian and/or vegan. I'm hoping my meat-eating readers will learn from and be inspired by your experiences.

Simple Guidelines:

l E-mail me the story of what prompted you to go from from meat-eater to veg*an. If you transitioned from meat-eater to vegetarian and then from vegetarian to vegan (as I did), I'd be interested to know what prompted each decision.

l Stories from vegetarians are welcome; you don't have to be a vegan.

l Suggestions for content: What prompted you to go veg*an? When was this? How old were you? How has being veg*an made you feel -- both physically and mentally? Please provide any other information you think would be interesting to read.

l Stories should be at least 160 words. There is no maximum.

l Please provide your first and last names and the town and state in which you live. (Include your town and country if you live outside the U.S.)

l If you don't want your last name published, please let me know. (I'll publish your first name and the first letter of your last name.)

l If you have a blog devoted to veg*anism and/or animal rights, please provide the URL. I'll link to it following your story, so "Digging" readers can visit your site.

l If possible, please provide a photo of yourself. I'd like meat-eaters to see that veg*ans are regular people like them.

l The deadline to submit your story is Friday, Oct. 31. So get writing!

l Your story may be edited for grammar and clarity.

Thank you!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Industry Money Trumps Public Health

Last night during commercials for "House," I watched "The Biggest Loser," a cheesy reality show in which heavy people are helped to lose weight.

It does have its few inspirational and intelligent moments, but I hate when it awkwardly segues into a commercial within the show. With a complete lack of subtlety and charm, one of the trainers "educates" the participants about the supposed benefits of a particular product.

One week it was how great milk is in helping one lose weight. Because saturated fat and cholesterol are oh-so-healthful? (I wrote to NBC after that.) Last night trainer Bob demonstrated how delicious a particular brand of whipped cream was on a Jello cup. Only 30 calories! And then the participants have to ooh and ahh about their clever discovery.

It's blatant commercialism, and it's deceptive. These people are there because they've been eating poorly for their entire lives and are significantly overweight because of it. And millions more people are watching the show, looking for inspiration and insight. Lying to these people is wrong.

The producers care more about corporate money than they do about their viewers. But that's not so surprising.

What may surprise people is another group who cares more about corporate and industry money than it does about the public: the American Dietetic Association.

Last fall officials from such "healthful" companies as PepsiCo, Hershey's, Taco Bell, Crisco and McDonald's were on hand for the ADA's Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo.

Evil Monsanto was also in attendence, promoting its genetically modified foods. Even a drug company, GlaxoSmithKline, was there -- to hawk Alli, its weight-loss pill.

GSK spokesperson stressed that Alli only works if a person sticks to a low-calorie, healthy diet.

Why, then, was a diet pill promoted at the ADA's annual keynote event when the most important factor in maintaining a healthy lifestyle is to eat right (the ADA's website, after all, is And how did "the nation's food and nutrition experts" stray from promoting the fruits, vegetables and whole grains featured on the covers of their books? Could it be related to the more than $10,000 that GSK contributed to ADA as a corporate sponsor within the last year?
The money that the ADA receives from these unhealthful companies is especially alarming considering the ADA admits that "[f]ew groups have more influence over the way Americans eat than the 67,000 members of the American Dietetic Association."

I was first made aware of the shady operations of the American Dietetic Association at the beginning of this year. The president of the New York State Dietetic Association, Keri M. Gans, wrote a letter to the editor of a newspaper, cautioning people not to follow the advice of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. They had written a piece that encouraged readers to remove dairy from their diets.

Surprised that the NYSDA would be a proponent of dairy, I did some online research and found something very interesting. In June 2007 Business Wire published a PR piece titled "Milk: the Best Nutritional Beverage for the Buck, According to the New York State Dietetic Association." Gans was the only person quoted.

So why is the NYSDA so gung-ho about milk? The answer could be found in the tagline at the bottom: "NOTE: Keri Gans is available for interview, please contact, Brenda Beltram of the American Dairy Association at 973 228-4809 or 315 491-3318."

So the American Dairy Association is the publicist for the president of the New York State Dietetic Association?

Before Gans became president of the NYSDA, the president was Barbara Baron. Care to guess who Baron worked for in 2007? The American Dairy Association & Dairy Council, Inc.

It's sad that the public can't trust the very organizations that are supposed to be looking out for them.

(Image courtesy of

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Gov't. Officials Graded on Support for Animals

The Humane Society Legislative Fund has released its scorecard of U.S. senators and representatives.

The HSLF is the political arm for The Humane Society of the United States and publishes its "Humane Scorecard" annually.

I'd like to stay informed about congressional votes, but I find it difficult. If you know of Web sites that keep track of votes for constituents, please post them in the comments section. They don't have to be animal-related, as I care about other issues, as well.

In the "Humane Scorecard" elected officials were graded on their votes for such issues as horse slaughter, downed animals, the Farm Bill and Class B dealers.

Take a look at your senators' and representatives' records. If you like what they're doing for animals, call their offices or e-mail them. A quick Google search can put you in touch with them. If you don't like their record on animal issues, let them know. They need to hear from their constituents that animal issues matter.

Undercover Investigation Reveals Abuse of Chickens

Mercy for Animals has released undercover footage of animal cruelty at one of California's major egg factory farms.

The August-to-September investigation of Land O'Lakes-owned Norco Ranch in Menifee, Calif., revealed the following:

l Birds confined in tiny wire cages so small they couldn't walk, perch, fully stretch their wings, or engage in other basic behaviors
l Ill birds neglected to die on top of dead piles - denied veterinary care or proper attention
l Workers killing birds by grabbing their necks and swinging them around in circles - an attempt to break their necks which often resulted in prolonged deaths for the animals
l Hens suffering from bloody open wounds and untreated infections
l Dead hens left to decompose in cages with birds still laying eggs for humane consumption
l Birds trapped in the wire of their cages or under the feeding trays without access to food or water
"I never saw a veterinarian on the property nor was there any kind of a protocol ever explained to me for what humane euthanasia would be," the investigator told a reporter with the local ABC station.

The investigator tells the I-Team when he pointed out injured birds, the workers did not call a vet and they did not do a very good job -- or a humane job -- of killing the hens. They would keep flopping for minutes. He also found chickens suffering what is called a prolapse.

"And a prolapse is where a chicken has laid enough eggs or a particularly large egg so that her uterus turns inside out and then she's bleeding from the wound and eventually all of her insides spill out from her cavity," explains the investigator.
A spokeswoman assured the Los Angeles Times -- as they always do -- that the facility has a great record.

"The [Norco] ranch maintains thorough veterinary records and was recently inspected by the county of Riverside during the same time period in which the video was apparently shot," said Julie Buckner, spokeswoman for the No on Prop. 2 campaign. "The inspection report notes that the ranch's proper handling of hens was appropriate, conforms to industry-accepted standards and found the ranch to be in 'excellent' standing."
If you live in California, please vote Yes to Prop 2. This initiative would phase out battery cages for hens, pig gestation crates and veal crates.

Prop 2 is more like a Band-Aid, though. To have a greater impact on ending animal cruelty, please go vegan. These chickens, after all, lived lives of misery not for their flesh but for their eggs.

Edited to add: Julie Buckner is the spokeswoman for Californians for SAFE Food.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Walk for Farmed Animals

Oct. 2 was World Farm Animals Day, and every year around this time groups of people around the country (and perhaps even the world) walk to benefit farmed animals. Chicago's walk was this past Saturday and benefited Farm Sanctuary.

I use the term "farmed" animals instead of "farm" animals because "farm" simply describes what kind of animal it is, whereas "farmed" connotes an action against the animal. It hints at exploitation. I can't remember who introduced me to the term, but I feel it more accurately implies how the animals are regarded by those who use them.

This walk was my first, and it was uplifting to see the number of vegans and vegetarians who showed up in support of the animals -- 65 of us! I also like that, through vegan and animal-rights meetups, I'm forming a group of good friends.

People we passed on the walk exhibited varied reactions. Some stared at us like we were freaks, which was off-putting. Some took pictures of us. A few people cheered us on. Several people made disrespectful comments about how good meat is. One boy sang a song about chicken. A man at a sidewalk cafe told us he had ordered spaghetti (hopefully with marinara sauce). A few people, arms outstretched, asked for one of the 200 "Why Vegetarian?" brochures we were handing out.

Unfortunately one girl who was walking behind me was rude to the people who made the pro-meat comments. She told one guy he should die. A gay man we passed (I'm assuming he was gay, and I only bring it up because I find it odd that some people who are oppressed think nothing of oppressing others) said he could go for a hamburger and then said he should go to a particular steakhouse. The girl behind me said something, and the guy started walking with us and tried to put his arm around her. She told him to get away, that he might have an STD. He said he did and put his arm around her. I should have said something to that girl much earlier, but I didn't. I didn't want to cause a scene or incure her wrath.

At this point, though, I'd had enough and turned around. The guy, though, had already entered a building. I know I still should have said something. I really need to work on being more assertive in those types of situations.

One other negative aspect of the walk were the signs we were given. Most were anti-veal, and while I'm against eating veal, I'm also against eating any type of meat. The people we passed likely thought it was an anti-veal protest. I can't criticize too much since I didn't plan the walk. Next year, though, I hope the signs make it clear that all meat consumption -- including hamburgers and chicken, which is what people eat the most -- is wrong.

After the walk a large group of us ate lunch at FlatTop Grill, a veg-friendly restaurant with locations in Chicagoland. It was delicious! You put noodles or rice in a bowl and pile on tons of veggies and a sauce. They even have tofu, seitan and mock chicken. And then you leave it on the counter, the chef stir-fries it for you, and it's delivered to your table.

If you have the inclination to walk to benefit farmed animals, you can find a walk here. If the walk near you has already taken place, you can donate to a walker. My friend Heather, whom I met at AR2008, is still taking donations for her Oct. 25 walk.

(Photos courtesy of Mikael Nielsen. Click to enlarge.)

Friday, October 10, 2008

Dog Used to Test Heat Stress

It amazes me when people engage in activities that are clearly, blatantly instances of animal cruelty.

Animal Control in Clay County, Florida, picked up Diamond, a Rottweiler who was running loose in September. She later died, possibly because of the heat in the Animal Control van.

So what do the Clay County officials do to try to determine the exact cause of death? They put another dog in a cage in a van for an hour.

"This was a simulation of the temperature conditions under which the deceased Rottweiler was transported to Animal Control."

Temperatures were taken after thirty minutes and after one hour.

The temperature inside the cage started at 81.9 degrees and climbed to 86 degrees.
When a person dies of unknown causes, do we put another person in those same circumstances to try to figure out what happened? If a child died after being left in a hot car, do we put another child in that situation?

Animals need to be treated as inherently valuable beings, not disposable objects we can conduct tests on.

[Diamond's owner, Harold] Brown is upset about the experiment and says, "[Animal Control] was basically putting the dog in the truck to see if it would live or die."
If you'd like to send a comment to the Clay County Board of Commissioners, you can do so here.

(Photo courtesy of Death Row Dogs. This dog is not related to this story.)

Monday, October 6, 2008

Supreme Court to Hear Pharma, Environmental Cases

The U.S. Supreme Court reconvenes today. Among other issues, this session they'll decide if pharmaceutical companies should be immune from state lawsuits and whether the government can suspend environmental issues in favor of national security.

Pharmaceutical companies claim that because they are regulated by a federal agency, the Food and Drug Administration, they should be exempt from state laws. The case that the Supreme Court will hear involves a Vermont musician whose doctor injected Phenergan, a drug used to help ease nausea during migraines, into her arm. Gangrene occurred, and she had to have her arm amputated.

The Vermont courts found the drug company failed to adequately warn doctors and patients that one injection method — the one used in this case — significantly increases the risk of irreversible gangrene.
But the drug's maker, Wyeth, argued that since the FDA had approved the warning label, people shouldn't be allowed to sue the drug company. This case will be heard in November.

The second case involves the U.S. Navy. A court had issueded an injunction against the U.S. Navy's use of sonar during training exercises, after the Natural Resources Defense Counsel sued, saying it harmed beaked whales -- an endangered species -- and other marine life. The Bush Administration argued that national security trumped environmental concerns.

The Navy's sonar interferes with whales' communication and sense of direction, causing them to become stranded. To try to get out of the sonar's sound field, the whales surface too quickly, leading to decompression, or the bends.

[In 2000] 14 beaked whales became beached on the same day that U.S. Navy destroyers where engaged in a sonar exercise. CAT scans of two heads collected from six whales that died confirmed later that the whales experienced hemorrhaging around the brain and ears.
This case is scheduled to be heard Wednesday.

(Photo courtesy of Marine Fisheries Service. The stranded beaked whale "had bleeding around the ears – a symptom of sonar damage.")

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Photograph Evokes Holocaust Comparison

I went to a vegan meetup yesterday in Chicago's Loop. Afterward a group of us visited Millennium Park and the Chicago Cultural Center.

One exhibit at the cultural center focused on Chicago landmarks. I was especially interested in two photographs of the gateway to the Chicago Stockyards.

The steer at the top of the arch is thought to represent Sherman, "a prize-winning bull named after John B. Sherman, one of the founders of the Union Stock Yard and Transit Company."

The photograph of the gateway in this post doesn't do justice to the one I saw at the Chicago Cultural Center. That one was, of course, larger and right in front of me, allowing me to feel like I was there. Another difference is that under the arch was a large truck coming out of the stockyards. I imagined the cows being transported to the stockyards and then the empty truck leaving -- or even worse, the truck leaving with the remains of the dead cows. It reminded me of Auschwitz or another concentration camp, with Jews being transported to these horrendous places, with only their dead bodies or bones leaving. I felt an eery silence, the kind of disturbing silence that can only come from mass executions like these.

Some people criticize animal advocates for comparing slaughterhouses to gas chambers or farmed animals to victims of the Holocaust. But I couldn't help making the same connections when I saw that photograph. If we learned to see others -- both human and nonhuman animals -- for their intrinsic value and learned to love our differences, holocausts, genocides and slaughterhouses wouldn't exist.

Holocaust scholar Charles Patterson spoke about the commonalities of oppression at AR2008, and I bought his book "Eternal Treblinka," which I haven't read yet. Treblinka was an extermination camp in Poland during World War II. The name of his book comes from an excerpt from "The Letter Writer" by Isaac Bashevis Singer.

In his thoughts, Herman spoke a eulogy for the mouse who had shared a portion of her life with him and who, because of him, had left this earth. "What do they know--all these scholars, all these philosophers, all the leaders of the world--about such as you? They have convinced themselves that man, the worse transgressor of all species, is the crown of creation. All other creatures were created merely to provide him with food, pelts, to be tormented, exterminated. In relation to them, all people are Nazis; for the animals it is an eternal Treblinka.

(Photo of the gateway to the Stockyards courtesy of Close-up photo of Sherman courtesy of

Friday, October 3, 2008

Light Pollution Disrupts Nature's Rhythms

Among the many types of pollution we face, light pollution doesn't get much notice. But it's a serious issue for us, as well as other animal species.

Light pollution describes artificial light that makes our night brighter than it naturally should be: street lights, parking lot lights, electric signs on buildings. While much is used to deter crime and prevent car crashes, we need to find a way to reduce it and to return to a darker night.

Experts say that the number of fireflies is dwindling. In addition to habitat loss by urban sprawl and industrial pollution, they theorize their decline is also due to light pollution. Lightning bugs need darkness to attract mates by illuminating their bodies.

Light pollution affects the natural rhythm of other species.

In the spring robins are chirping at 3 a.m., when -- except for the artificial light -- it's still dark outside. And rabbits, who are naturally active at dusk, still hop around at night.

In cities like Chicago, which has nearly 200,000 streetlights, lamps can confuse birds, which may mistake skyscraper lights for the Northern Star, a celestial guidepost in migration. The birds circle buildings until they exhaust themselves and crash.
Humans are also affected by light pollution.

An Israeli study published earlier this year found that women who live in heavily illuminated neighborhoods are more likely to get breast cancer, hypothesizing that too much light at night may interfere with the brain's production of a tumor-fighting hormone.
When I worked nights as a copy editor, I read a story about female night-shift workers being diagnosed with more breast cancer. The same hypothesis was given.

So save some money and energy, and turn off those lights.

(The photos show Sydney, Australia, before and during "Lights Off Australia" in 2007.)

Election '08: Analysis of the VP Debate

I feel like the McCain/Palin campaign lied to me and thinks I'm stupid. I don't like when I'm treated like that.

For a week now we've seen interviews with Katie Couric and Alaskan Gov. Sarah Palin, in which Palin couldn't complete a thought with a complete sentence. Her gibberish was even used -- unedited -- to get a laugh on "Saturday Night Live."

COURIC: Why isn’t it better, Governor Palin, to spend $700 billion helping middle-class families struggling with health care, housing, gas and groceries? … Instead of helping these big financial institutions that played a role in creating this mess?

PALIN: Ultimately, what the bailout does is help those who are concerned about the health care reform that is needed to help shore up the economy–Oh, it's got to be all about job creation too. So health care reform and reducing taxes and reining in spending has got to accompany tax reductions.
Yet last night -- while not necessarily answering each question that was asked -- she managed to look relatively competent against Delaware Sen. Joe Biden during the vice presidential debate.

So what gives? Is she a floundering idiot or a flirtatious pretty face who can stand for 90 minutes in a national debate?

A turning point for me during the debate was when Palin took issue with what Biden said about the U.S. general in Afghanistan. It seemed that Palin even knew his name -- McClellan! I thought, "How does she know this guy's name when she couldn't even tell Couric what newspapers she reads?"

Couric: And when it comes to establishing your worldview, I was curious, what newspapers and magazines did you regularly read before you were tapped for this to stay informed and to understand the world?

Palin: I've read most of them, again with a great appreciation for the press, for the media.

Couric: What, specifically?

Palin: Um, all of them, any of them that have been in front of me all these years.

Couric: Can you name a few?

Palin: I have a vast variety of sources where we get our news, too. Alaska isn't a foreign country, where it's kind of suggested, "Wow, how could you keep in touch with what the rest of Washington, D.C., may be thinking when you live up there in Alaska?" Believe me, Alaska is like a microcosm of America.
And then Biden seemed to struggle with his reponse to Palin. His knees were bent and he was leaning over the podium like he was ill. I thought, "Oh, shit. She scored on Biden."

Only after the debate, when I was listening to the commentators, did I learn that the general's name wasn't McClellan, as Palin had said; it's McKiernan. And the commentators complimented Biden on not correcting her. So Biden's struggled posture could have been him debating with himself if he should say the general's correct name. I think he should have.

I also didn't like Palin's overt flirting. I'm sure some people -- maybe even some feminists -- would say that Palin should use all the tools she has to win. But in a debate of this magnitude, winking at the camera goes too far. She relied too much on her folksiness and flirting instead of her intelligence. She did a disservice to women and continued the misconception that a woman has to rely on her looks because she couldn't possibly be as intelligent (or more so) as a man.

(Photo of Palin winking at the camera courtesy of The Guardian.)

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Defensive Reactions to Animal Rights

Because of the importance and craziness of this election, I started getting into the Daily Kos. While the site is mostly devoted to progressive politics, members are free to write their own "diaries" about anything they choose. They are also free to post content from their blogs.

Yesterday I posted my entry about the health risks of eating chicken. I knew it would have a greater audience there, and I had assumed that progressives would be more open than the average person to hearing about animal rights and learning information that the mainstream media largely ignores. I was disappointed, though, by the rude comments I received.

Anyone who eats at "popular chain restaurants" deserves what they get.
This diary reminds me it's time to slaughter this year's two hatched chicks, both of which turned out to be roosters. We don't need any more roosters, so it's into the stew pot with them!
Some others criticized People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and The Humane Society of the United States -- although I didn't mention either in my post.

One very nice guy wrote a helpful comment.

It's fascinating how angry people can get when any of their favorite foods are questioned. For some reason, food can be a very emotional issue.

Sometime for fun try suggesting that folks cut back on cheese, the leading source of saturated fat in the American diet. Then stand back and watch the flaming!

You did a service by bringing this issue to greater light. I'm sure the science will continue to evolve on this issue. In the meantime, the heads-up is appreciated.
Although I know I shouldn't, it's difficult for me not to take critical comments personally. But the latter comment helped to put things back into perspective for me.

I'm amazed by how defensive -- and quite rude and/or just plain ignorant -- some people are when the topic of animal rights or veg*anism comes up. When I was a meat-eater, I found out one of my co-workers was a vegetarian. While I didn't think I could go veg, I admired him for doing so. The only questions I asked him were about tofu, how to cook it and how it tasted. His vegetarian lunches didn't threaten me.

But veg*anism does threaten some people. At a Labor Day party my cousin told me he couldn't go vegetarian. (He brought it up; I hadn't said anything.) I suggested that if he were to learn how animals were treated, he might change his mind. He, his brother and his brother's wife adamantly dismissed that thought. His brother's wife said her father used to hunt and fish. His brother said he used to watch as his grandpa (my great-great-grandfather) poked the eyes out of fish.

Unfortunately, I'm normally not quick in pointing out flaws in people's logic. It was a few days later when I realized I should have called them out on how proud they seemed that animal cruelty doesn't bother them.

In response to the comments I received yesterday on the Daily Kos, I submitted another "diary" today. In it I wrote the following:

I know that animal rights is not yet popular with the mainstream. But the readers at the Daily Kos are just the people to see the connection between animal exploitation and oppression and that of gays or blacks or women, etc.
I was surprised that this statement garnered the most criticism today. It's sad that many (maybe most) people believe in human exceptionalism, even if they've never heard the term. They believe that people are far more important and superior to animals. I wonder if, when the gay-rights movement was first beginning, they compared it to civil rights. I imagine they did. And I wonder if others were as upset about that comparison as people today are about animal rights being compared to human rights.

I don't know if I'll continue to post to the Daily Kos. If I do, I need to summon all my will power not to read the comments because they drain my energy and put me in a negative frame of mind.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Chicken Not Healthy or Safe

When I was in high school, I heard about the hundreds of illnesses and deaths of four children attributed to E. coli-tainted hamburgers from Jack in the Box, a West Coast fast-food chain.

As I lived in Illinois, the E. coli outbreak didn't directly affect me. All the same, I figured if it could happen at that restaurant, it could happen at any other. So I stopped eating hamburgers from all restaurants.

Instead I ate a lot more chicken, thinking it was safer and healthier.

While one could argue chicken is healthier than beef, it's still not healthy nor safe.

A study undertaken by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and published in "Nutrition and Cancer: An International Journal" analyzed 100 grilled-chicken items from popular chain restaurants.

The results, compiled from independent laboratory tests commissioned by PCRM scientists, found that the levels of PhIP contained in grilled chicken entrees, many of which are considered "healthy" menu selections, could contribute significantly to a person's total intake of carcinogens and may play a role in the development of breast, prostate, and other cancers.
All 100 of the items contained "PhIP, the most abundant of a group of carcinogens called heterocyclic amines (HCAs)—and the HCA likely to contribute most to overall cancer risk."

While some may dismiss the findings because the PCRM advocates a vegan diet and thus must be "extreme," even a governmental agency, the National Cancer Institute, has known about the carcinogens found in meat.

Research has shown that cooking certain meats at high temperatures creates chemicals that are not present in uncooked meats. A few of these chemicals may increase cancer risk. For example, heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are the carcinogenic chemicals formed from the cooking of muscle meats such as beef, pork, fowl, and fish. [...] Researchers have identified 17 different HCAs resulting from the cooking of muscle meats that may pose human cancer risk.
Also, this week a British study found that 97 percent of food poisoning cases caused by Campylobacter could be attributed to meat and poultry. This bacterium is responsible for most cases of food poisoning.

From a 1999 story published on the Food and Drug Administration Web site:

Although found in many farm animals, Campylobacter in poultry is causing experts the most concern. There have been several studies pointing to high levels of Campylobacter present on poultry at the retail level, including a recent two-year Minnesota Department of Health study that found that 88 percent of poultry sampled from local supermarkets tested positive for the bacteria.
In addition, an increasing number of Campylobacter cases have been resistent to antibiotics. Normally healthy adults can usually rid themselves of the disease without antibiotics (after a day or two of vomiting and diarrhea). But in severe cases, especially among children, the elderly, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems, that may not be the case.

Back in 1993 I had no clue that grilled chicken contained carcinogens, nor did I realize the extent to which eating it put me at risk for food poisoning. Had I known, hamburgers wouldn't have been the only food I stopped ordering.

(Photo courtesy of CBS/AP.)