Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Don't Be Deceived by Processed Foods

A few years ago I began avoiding products that contained "artificial flavors." But if a product advertised "natural flavors," I'd buy it, thinking that I was buying something ... I don't know ... natural?

Turns out -- of course -- that that's not the case.

In "Fast Food Nation" by Eric Schlosser (yes, I've gained tons of information from that book, and I'm not even finished with it yet) he sets readers straight regarding artificial vs. natural flavors.

The need for these flavors grew because "the canning, freezing, and dehydrating techniques used to process food destroy most of its flavor." In fact, an entire industry was formed -- mostly in New Jersey -- to create flavors.

Schlosser says that the similarities between the different types of flavors is more significant than the differences. "Both are man-made additives that give most processed food its taste."
Natural and artificial flavors are now manufactured at the same chemical plants, places that few people would associate with Mother Nature. Calling any of these flavors "natural" requires a flexible attitude toward the English language and a fair amount of irony.
In fact, there's nothing natural about the following experience Schlosser had with a flavorist.
[Brian] Grainger had brought a dozen small glass bottles from the lab. After he opened each bottle, I dipped a fragrance testing filter into it. The filters were long white strips of paper designed to absorb aroma chemicals without producing off-notes. Before placing the strips of paper before my nose, I closed my eyes. Then I inhaled deeply, and one food after another was conjured from the glass bottles. I smelled fresh cherries, black olives, sauteed onions, and shrimp.
So the processed food we see consists of various ingredients. But when we taste it (and thereby smell it), we're just tasting a liquid chemical compound. I'd much rather consume fresh cherries or fresh onions or fresh strawberries than consume a lab experiment.

Kraft Caters to Health-Conscious?

With the New Year here, food and restaurant companies are going to be tripping over each other to assure consumers that their products are healthy. After all, the No. 1 New Year's resolution for decades has been to lose weight.

Unfortunately, the Chicago Sun-Times has played right into the hands of Northfield, IL-based Kraft Foods, printing a story about how the company is rolling out lower-calorie, lower-fat foods. Processed foods, of course, like the ones mentioned above.

It's coming out with two different types of cookies in 100-calorie packages, which just means more post-consumer waste. Its "Sugar-free Jell-O gelatin with antioxidants will be 10 calories per serving." Jell-O with antioxidants?! Do people really buy this crap? ("Buy" as in "purchase" but also "believe.") If you want antioxidants (which are cancer-fighting agents), eat fresh fruits and veggies. They're loaded with them! Jell-O, by the way, is made from gelatin, which contains collagen from the bones, connective tissues, organs and some intestines of cows and pigs. Sounds yummy and oh-so-healthy, doesn't it?

As a side note, Kraft Foods is owned by the compassionate-sounding Altria Group, which also owns cigarette-maker Philip Morris.

Bottom line: If you want to lose weight or get healthier for the New Year, opt for a whole-foods, plant-based diet.



Tuesday, December 30, 2008

AKC Uses "Marley & Me" to Sell Itself

People who work or volunteer at animal shelters cringe whenever a ad campaign or a new movie is released that showcases dogs.

Inevitably the breed highlighted becomes the newest must-have possession. Disney rereleases "101 Dalmations," and every kid wants a spotted dog. A dog voices his desire for a taco, and suddenly Chihuahuas are cool.

Unfortunately, though, the initial excitement of having a puppy soon fades, and the owners are left with more responsibility than they'd bargained for. That's where the animal shelters come in.

So when I saw the beginning of a commercial tonight with the author of "Marley & Me," I was initially impressed. That book, about an out-of-control yellow Lab, has been released as a movie. John Grogan told viewers that dogs are a big responsibility and that they should find out if they're ready before getting one. Good advice. But then the logo for the American Kennel Club came on the screen, and he encouraged people to visit its Web site to learn more.

As with many facets of my life, before I became aware of animal rights, I thought the AKC was fantastic. After all, they're all about dogs. Well, not all dogs. Even though I watched their annual dog shows on television, it didn't occur to me that they only care about purebred dogs. Although "care" isn't the right word.

The AKC cares about the money the dogs bring in for them. They get paid for every puppy that gets AKC papers. So the more puppies born, the more money the AKC receives.

The AKC also supports The Hunte Corporation, the nation's largest distributor of puppies. This company -- not coincidentally located in Missouri, a state with a lot of puppy mills -- buys puppies from breeders and sells them to pet stores.

So while millions of dogs die in this country each year because they don't have homes, breeders keep churning out more, the AKC keeps profiting, and shelters keep taking the unwanted animals, repeating the cycle.

The AKC also lobbies against mandatory spay/neuter bills, as well as restrictions on breeders, both of which would help reduce the number of unwanted dogs.

While Grogan's message about the responsibility of dog ownership is commendable, it's sad that the hypocritical AKC has used it to advertise itself.

If you're ready for the responsibility of owning a dog, please adopt from a shelter or from a rescue organization.

(Photo is of Straggles, one of my fosters who was repeatedly bred at a puppymill.)




Monday, December 29, 2008

Berman, CCF Seen As Saviors to Restaurant Industry

The more I learn as I research animal rights, the more naive and stupid I feel.

Take, for example, the restaurant industry. I grew up on McDonald's, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Wendy's, Chi-Chi's -- lots of chain restaurants. But I never imagined how devious the industry -- and perhaps most businesses? -- are.

Even after learning about Rick Berman and his deceptively named Center for Consumer Freedom, I didn't realize how important the restaurant industry is to that group's survival -- and vice versa.

It didn't hit me until I was reading "Fast Food Nation" by Eric Schlosser. Six years after children died from an E. coli outbreak at Jack in the Box (in 1993), its CEO, Robert Nugent, addressed a group of chain-restaurant operators at a convention in Las Vegas.
"A growing number of groups who represent narrow social and political interests," Nugent warned, "have set their sights on our industry in an effort to legislate behavioral change." [His industry was being] threatened by groups with an agenda that was "anti-meat, anti-alcohol, anti-caffeine, anti-fat, anti-chemical additives, anti-horseradish, anti-non-dairy creamer."
Nugent was being dramatic, but clearly he was worried about the future of his industry. I wasn't surprised then when I learned that only a year earlier the restaurant industry had enlisted the CCF to propagandize on its behalf. Before that, the group worked solely for the tobacco industry.
In a 1999 interview with the Chain Leader, a trade publication for restaurant chains, Berman boasted that he attacks activists more aggressively than other lobbyists. "We always have a knife in our teeth," he said. Since activists "drive consumer behavior on meat, alcohol, fat, sugar, tobacco and caffeine," his strategy is "to shoot the messenger. ... We've got to attack their credibility as spokespersons."
And Berman has been a buddy -- no, a savior -- to the restaurant industry ever since. In fact, a March column by Lane Cartwell, an advisor on the CCF's board, in that publication urges restaurant owners to donate money to Berman's "four organizations that are the bedrock of our industry's counterattack: American Beverage Institute, Center for Consumer Freedom ..., Center for Union Facts, and the Employment Policies Institute."

Without Berman's work, Cartwell foresees an industry that will be forced to pay workers a living wage and to provide health insurance. (Good God, we can't have that! Healthy employees who can provide for their families? Craziness!)

Reading the Chain Leader Web site, though, clarified for me why Berman's "Center for Union Facts" exists. He's looking out for the restaurant industry, which actively works to resist the organizing of employees. In "Fast Food Nation" Schlosser tells of a McDonald's in Montreal whose workers voted to unionize in 1997. After a series of legal motions by the restaurant's operators (and 15 attorneys), a judge was prepared to make the union vote final in 1998. Only a few weeks before that was to occur, employees were told the restaurant was going to close, and it did the following day.

In the 1970s McDonald's employees were organizing in Lansing, Michigan. They were fired, and the restaurant closed and reopened down the block. The workers who had supported the idea of a union were not rehired, sending a clear message to future employees.

Berman cites the Employee Free Choice Act as a challenge to the restaurant industry in 2009.
Everyone from QSR [quick-service restaurants -- aka fast-food] to institutional food to table-service restaurants to family table-service to fine dining are all in the unions' cross hairs.
If the act, which would make it easier for employees to unionize, passes, Berman said unions would want to push for mandatory health care, increasing the minimum wage and paid sick leave.

He also worries about The Humane Society of the United States' efforts to sway public opinion away from meat-eating. I'm glad he's worried.

If you're still under the illusion that Berman and the CCF care about consumers, perhaps this will set you straight:
In a May 11, 2002 San Francisco Chronicle article, CCF spokesman John Doyle ... said ... ads [aired on the radio at the time] were meant to attract people to their website and "draw attention to our enemies: just about every consumer and environmental group, chef, legislator or doctor who raises objections to things like pesticide use, genetic engineering of crops or antibiotic use in beef and poultry." [emphasis mine]
I already don't eat at fast-food restaurants and have been eating less at other chain restaurants, but I'm going to be more conscious of where I eat now. When presented with an option, I'll try to choose an independent restaurant rather than a powerful chain. I don't want my dollars supporting an anti-union, anti-average-American, anti-animal agenda.



FDA Backs Down on Antibiotic Ban in Animal Feed

Not only are there deadly pathogens in animal flesh (see previous post), but meat also contains antibiotics, which poses a serious health concern for people.

Because thousands of animals (cows, chickens, pigs) live in tight quarters, "farmers" (seriously -- we need a new name for these people) lace their food with antibiotics in a futile attempt to keep them healthy.

Of course, what happens when animals -- human and nonhuman alike -- take too much antibiotics? Antibiotic-resistant strains of diseases are created.

For this reason, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration wanted to ban the use of Cephalosporin in animal feed. Cephalosporin is a popular antibiotic used to treat illness in people. Four days before the ban was to go into effect, however, the FDA changed its mind, saying it needed more time to study the issue.

Gatz Ridell, a veterinarian and spokesperson for the American Association of Bovine Practitioners, supports putting antibiotics in animals' food, a practice known as "extra-label use" because it's being used in a way the antibiotic isn't marketed for. The antibiotic, of course, is meant to treat a specific illness in a specific animal. It's not meant to be used as an indiscriminate prevention/treatment for thousands of animals.
In our opinion there is no data available that shows that extra-label use, in and of itself, in the cattle species is a serious threat.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, had supported the ban. It called it "an important public health advancement."

Some advocacy groups consider the reversal a "holiday gift to the meat industry." One such advocate is Steve Roach of Keep Antibiotics Working.
[The FDA] started off intending to protect the public health, but when they heard back from the industry, they just backed down immediately. And we think this was wrong.
(Photo courtesy of cbc.ca.)



Sunday, December 28, 2008

What's in Animal Flesh Sickening

After delaying Christmas dinner waiting for it to cook, my aunt finally gave in to the stubborn roast beef and served it, although some of it was still red. While we were eating, she turned to my uncle and repeated a tip she'd learned from a friend: Put some of the meat's "juice" on it, and the color changes from red to brown.

"Does it kill the E. coli?" I asked, knowing it didn't.

I think the first time I heard about E. coli was in 1993 during the outbreak at the Jack in the Box restaurants in the Northwest. It freaked me out enough that, at age 16, I stopped eating hamburgers from all restaurants.

Of course, E. coli is not the only foodborne pathogen. According to "Fast Food Nation" by Eric Schlosser, a USDA study published in 1996 "found that 7.5 percent of ground beef samples taken at processing plants were contaminated with Salmonella, 11.7 percent were contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, 30 percent were contaminated with Staphylococcus aureus, and 53.3 percent were contaminated with Clostridium perfringens." It went on to say that "78.6 percent of the ground beef contained microbes that are spread primarily by fecal material." Or as Schlosser succinctly puts it: "There is shit in the meat."

And that's only the ground beef. Chicken has its own set of nasty pathogens.

About 200,000 people are sickened each day in the United States by a foodborne disease.
Anyone who brings raw ground beef into his or her kitchen today must regard it as a biohazard, one that may carry an extremely dangerous microbe, infectious at an extremely low dose. The current high levels of ground beef contamination, combined with even higher levels of poultry contamination, have led to some bizarre findings. A series of tests conducted by Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona, discovered far more fecal bacteria in the average American kitchen sink than on the average American toilet seat.
Kids, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems are the most at risk. "Slaughterhouse" by Gail Eisnitz devotes a few pages to Senate testimony from parents of children who either died after eating tainted food or have been seriously physically affected. Robert Galler said this about his 3-year-old daughter:
It literally took over Lois Joy's life. During her eighteen days in the hospital, she had sixteen blood transfusions, fourteen dialysis treatments, her lungs had to be tapped because they filled with fluid, she had to be put on a respirator, she lost sight in her right eye, her brain was bleeding, she had a stroke. We watched helpless as our daughter died right before our eyes."
From 1993 to 2001 about 500,000 Americans, mostly children, have been sickened by E. coli. Thousands were hospitalized, and hundreds died.

For those who survive food poisoning -- even those who experience less-serious symptoms like diarrhea and gastrointestinal upset -- studies have found that foodborne pathogens can cause long-term problems, such as heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease, neurological problems, autoimmune disorders and kidney damage.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Agriculture -- charged with overseeing the meat industry and food safety -- has been a joke for decades, its executives in bed with the meat industry.
President Reagan's first secretary of agriculture was in the hog business. His second was the president of the American Meat Institute .... And his choice to run the USDA's Food Marketing and Inspection Service was a vice president of the National Cattleman's Association. President [George H.W.] Bush later appointed the president of the National Cattleman's Association to the job.
At the time "Fast Food Nation" was published -- 2001 -- the USDA could not force the industry to issue a recall of tainted meat. I suspect the same is still true.

In June 2000 IBP, one of the four largest meatpacking companies in the U.S., issued a recall of ground beef. Thirty-six people had taken ill after eating at an Arkansas restaurant. Yet the press release IBP issued said, "In an abundance of caution, IBP is conducting a voluntary recall. ... There have been no illnesses associated with this product."



Thursday, December 25, 2008

Pork Industry Partnering with Children's Non-Profit

The pork industry is teaming with a non-profit group that "encourages an appreciation for cultural diversity through cooking."
The [m]ission of Common Threads is to educate children on the importance of nutrition and physical well-being, and to foster an appreciation of cultural diversity through cooking.
How ironic then to support industries that are making our children and our planet sick. According to the Common Threads Web site, the sponsor for this quarter is the National Dairy Council, which is ironic considering 45% of African-American children are lactose intolerant. (You can check out the percentages of other races and ethnicities in a chart at that link.)

Here's the letter I sent the Chicago-based Common Threads:
I just read that Common Threads has partnered with the pork industry. I find this sad and ironic, considering part of your mission "is to educate children on the importance of nutrition and physical well-being." Animal flesh is loaded with saturated fat and cholesterol, not to mention growth hormones and antibiotics. Instead of promoting that, please consider promoting a vegetarian or vegan diet. Studies have shown that vegetarians and vegans have a lower risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and some forms of cancer. Advocating a vegetarian or vegan diet also teaches children compassion and to respect all living beings.

(Photo courtesy of Keetsa.com.)




Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Taxpayers to Aid Faltering Chicken-Flesh Industry

I've got good news, and I've got bad news.

First, the good news.

With demand lagging, Tyson is reducing its production of chicken flesh.
"The industry has never cut production to this degree before, but demand for chicken has never contracted to this degree either," [industry analyst Farha] Aslam notes.
This quote comes from an industry publication whose stories are not at all in-depth and which likes to remain as positive as possible about farmed-animal "agriculture." So, coming from Meatingplace.com, this information makes me feel especially good.

Now to the bad part. Who is going to help the chicken-flesh industry? You and I are -- with our taxes.
The United States Agriculture Department said on Tuesday it bought about 60.451 million pounds of chicken products for about $42.2 million for school lunch and other nutrition assistance programs.

The purchase program was announced last month to help the chicken industry, which has been hit hard by high feed and fuel costs amid slowing demand from cost-conscious consumers.
Half was purchased from Pilgrim's Pride, the country's top chicken-flesh producer which filed for bankruptcy earlier this month. The other half came from Tyson, the No. 2 producer in the U.S.

Shipping costs will add even more to the $42.2 million figure.

In related news, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has written to President-elect Barack Obama, urging him to take the National School Lunch Program out of the hands of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
"USDA consistently spends more than twice as much money on cholesterol- and fat-laden meat and dairy products for the school lunch program as it does on healthier plant-based foods."




Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Animal Exploiters' Actions Indefensible

Either animal exploiters are amazingly out of touch with reality or they have no logical defense for their actions.

Maybe both?

Take Barbara Young, for example. Young is the editor-in-chief of The National Provisioner, a publication for the "meat" and "poultry" industry. Her Dec. 5 piece, "Battling anti-meat terrorists" -- yeah, that'd be me -- urges farmed-animal exploiters to unite to end their oppression.
Those of us fed up with cowering before these terrorists must join forces, draw a line in the sand and prepare to reclaim our civil liberties.
Yes, somehow the animal exploiters have been stripped of their civil liberties. In addition to the idiocy of that statement, I was also struck by it because Young is African-American. She can't honestly believe that powerful white men have lost their civil liberties. Or can she?

She reminds her readers that these dangerous AR terrorists helped to get California's Prop 2 to pass.
Their most recent victory in America is voter approval of California's Proposition 2, the animal-rights ballot measure outlawing confining cages for egg-laying hens and restrictive pens for veal calves and pregnant sows. The measure takes effect in 2015. Despite the outing of a few bad actors, humane handling and animal welfare are guiding principles in the industry. Would it be that human animals were held in such high regard!
I have news for you, Barbara. "Human animals" were held in such "high" regard once. This fortunate group of people did once have their babies torn from them like cows and pigs do. They did once have to share such tight quarters that they couldn't stretch their limbs. They were once imprisoned and owned. They did once have chains around their necks like veal calves. That idyllic situation -- the one you wish you could experience for yourself -- is called slavery.

It's time for animal exploiters to stop living in a delusional fantasy world. Animal advocates aren't terrorists. You're not doing people or nonhuman animals any favors by confining and killing animals. And just like the slavery of African-Americans finally became viewed as reprehensible, so, too, will animal abuse and exploitation.

(Thanks to Change.org and "Reformed fast food mascot" for leading me to this piece.)

(Photo courtesy of paws.org.)




CCF on Defensive Over Tuna Dangers

I knew when reports surfaced that actor Jeremy Piven ("Entourage") had left a stage play due to mercury poisoning from fish, the Center for Consumer Freedom was not going to take that kind of bad publicity lying down.

After all, the CCF has been an outspoken proponent of eating fish -- especially when studies have found that it's not healthy to do so. Why? Because the deceptive lobbyist group gets money from the fish industry. Although they may threaten me with libel for writing that.

Today a few newspapers have blindly quoted parts of David Martosko's press release, which calls Piven a liar who simply wanted a way out of the play. Apparently Martosko is not only an expert on food, nutrition and health, but he's also a Hollywood insider. Who knew?

Unfortunately the media reporters gobbled up this bit of controversy and reported Martosko's blatantly false information.
"The entire medical literature doesn't contain a single documented U.S. case of mercury poisoning from eating fish sold in restaurants and supermarkets," said CCF Director of Research David Martosko. "Piven isn't going to change that by making a convenient escape from a job he doesn't like."
I'm sure victims of mercury poisoning by fish would take issue with that.
First, Deborah Landvik-Fellner's hair started falling out. Then her speech began to slur and her memory grew unreliable. Her heart started fluttering, and her hands shook. One day she walked out of the supermarket and woke up surrounded by a crowd of people. She'd collapsed in the parking lot for no apparent reason.
After seeing doctor after doctor, she was finally diagnosed with mercury poisoning, caused by eating a lot of tuna.

Another victim of mercury poisoning through fish, actor Fisher Stevens sided with Piven.
Stevens suffered from mercury poisoning earlier this year and said, "I believe him. His numbers are off the charts."
Martosko even charges Piven with damaging people's health.
"Piven may not know it, but he's playing games with Americans' health."
Ironically it's the CCF, not Piven, who are playing dangerous games with Americans' health.

UPDATE: The National Fisheries Institute also supposedly doubts Piven's illness.
In a press release today, NFI advised reporters and editors nationwide to treat Piven's mercury toxicity claim with skepticism.

"We already know close to 80 percent of Americans are not eating seafood at least twice per week," said Jennifer Wilmes, a registered dietitian with NFI. "Messages that inappropriately scare consumers away from fish because of mercury can do a real disservice to public health. When people eat less seafood, they miss out on a significant disease prevention opportunity."
Let's be honest here. The NFI didn't put out this press release because it cares about people's health. It sent it because news of Piven's illness will further hurt the industry. It's all about profits, not health.



Saturday, December 20, 2008

Biden's Next Dog to Come From Shelter

After animal advocates chastised the Bidens for purchasing a puppy, Joe Biden said his next dog will come from a shelter.

His wife bought the vice-president-elect a German Shepherd puppy as a gift for his Nov. 4 victory, a move criticized by animal activists. He told George Stephanopoulos of ABC News that his next dog will be adopted.
"I've had German Shepherds since I was a kid and I've actually trained them and shown them in the past," Biden said. "So I wanted a German Shepherd and we're going to get a pound dog, which my wife wants, that is hopefully a Golden [Retriever]."
When news broke about the Bidens' purchase, I was surprised. With all the hype surrounding the Obamas' plan to get a dog -- and animal advocates urging them to adopt from a shelter -- how could the Bidens then purchase a dog from a breeder?

From Biden's quote above, he seems to think that one has to purchase, instead of adopt, a German Shepherd puppy if it is to be a quality dog. He needs to visit some shelters and get in contact with breed rescues, so he'll discover that quality, deserving dogs can be found in these places. Contributing to breeders' profits isn't going to help the millions of unwanted dogs who are euthanized every year. I'd also recommend he consider adopting an older dog.

Linda Brown, the woman who owns the puppy mill where Biden's puppy was churned out, was warned or cited just this month for maintenance, ventilation, sanitation, record-keeping and vaccination issues. But even if the inspection record had been spotless, this "kennel," as Brown calls it, had 85 dogs on the premises. How can one give 85 dogs the love, housing and attention they need? Brown is not a woman who cares about dogs; she's a woman who cares about profit. These dogs are objects, her inventory.
Kennel owner did not possess all records for dogs sold/boarded/adopted/ transferred/returned to owner during the 2008 calendar year. Numerous records possessed by kennel owner failed to contain the complete name and address of where dogs went. [my emphasis]
I also didn't like that Biden said the puppy was a gift from his wife for winning the election. Animals should not be thought of as presents we give to people. Getting a dog or a cat (or any other animal) is a big responsibility and one that takes a lot of thought. Coincidentally the Saturday before Christmas -- that'd be today -- is when most puppies are purchased. Don't take the decision to get an animal lightly. If you've thought it over and feel you can take care of one, please adopt from a shelter or rescue organization. Don't buy from a pet store or from a breeder.

(Photo courtesy of examiner.com.)



Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Zoos No Party for the Animals

My office's holiday party is going to be held at Brookfield Zoo this year.

I won't be going.

Two years ago we voted on the venue for the holiday party, and I actually picked the zoo. I love animals and thought it'd be neat to get a private, somewhat backstage look at them. I was disappointed when a comedy club won.

Since then, though, I've learned more about animal rights and my thoughts on zoos have changed.

When I was growing up, my parents would take my sister and me to Brookfield Zoo every summer. Although I remember hot days with lots of walking, I did enjoy it. I thought the zoo was doing a wonderful thing: teaching children about loving and respecting animals.

What I didn't think about was how different the environment of the zoo was from the natural habitat of the animals. Simply because the polar bears' concrete area was painted white didn't make it an arctic refuge. I also didn't realize where the animals came from.

Several years ago I was watching a show on The Travel Channel about a coastal city in California. It featured the city's beautiful aquarium and showed people at sea capturing jellyfish to bring back to the facility.

I was shocked! I had figured that once upon a time animals must have been taken from the wild and put into zoos and aquariums, but surely that practice was unnecessary today. The animals in these facilities are there because of "breeding in captivity," right? Apparently not in all cases. I watched with disgust and confusion as the jellyfish were abducted from their wild homes and imprisoned in the aquarium. This experience was a few years before I had even heard about animal rights.

Then, after I had discovered animal rights, I read that elephants travel 30 miles a day. Can zoos offer that large of an area for elephants?

A new study of European zoos found that elephants in the wild live much longer than those in zoos.
It found that the median life span for African elephants in European zoos was 16.9 years compared with 56 years for elephants that died of natural causes in a wildlife park in Kenya. If poaching is accounted for, the median age fell to 35.9 years.

The study found the median age of Asian elephants in European zoos was 18.9 years compared with 41.7 years for animals working in the timber industry in Myanmar.
The study blames the early deaths on stress and obesity.

Another cause is mothers killing their babies.
Infanticide is almost unheard of among wild elephants. Mothers invest two years in their pregnancies, they live in stable matriarchal groups, and females collectively care for the young. In captivity, mothers are often held in relative solitude, undergo stressful and painful births, and then simply kill the source of all that suffering. Some mothers, [animal-welfare scientist Georgia] Mason says, may even turn to infanticide because they just don't know what the small, squirmy creature that suddenly appeared in front of them is. "Many females in zoos have never seen a calf," she says, "so they may not recognize it."
Ironically, while zoos appear to the average person to be the epitome of an animal-friendly place, two of the three dinner options for our holiday party are dead animals (chickens and pigs). To their credit, though, the zoo does offer a vegan option.

But this vegan won't be partaking.

Disclaimer: This post is not meant as a rip on my company, the people who organized this event or the people who will be attending. As I wrote, two years ago I would have been excited to attend. So go, have fun -- but perhaps choose the vegan entree.

(Photo courtesy of the Oak Park (IL) Journal.)



Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Obama Chooses Interior, Agriculture Secretaries

While President-elect Barack Obama's choices for secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture may appear to support his commitment to alternative energy, they seem to on their support for animals.

Despite a letter from The Humane Society of the United States to the President-elect, urging him to consider animal issues when filling his Cabinet posts, Obama has chosen a member of the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus for his Interior secretary.

Mass-media reports reveal that Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar may be fine from an environmental standpoint.
The department oversees national parks and other large swaths of public land, setting policy for oil and gas drilling, mining and other resource extraction. Earlier this year, Salazar criticized the department under President George W. Bush for decisions to open Colorado's picturesque Roan Plateau for drilling.
But upon deeper investigation, that's not the case. The Center for Biological Diversity called him a "disappointing choice for Secretary of the Interior."
Salazar:

- voted against increased fuel efficiency standards for the U.S. automobile fleet

- voted to allow offshore oil drilling along Florida's coast

- voted to allow the Army Corps of Engineers to ignore global warming impacts in their water development projects

- voted against the repeal of tax breaks for Exxon-Mobil

- voted to support subsidies to ranchers and other users of public forest and range lands

- threatened to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service when its scientists determined the black-tailed prairie dog may be endangered

- fought efforts to increase protection for endangered species and the environment in the Farm Bill
When it comes to animals, Salazar is no better. He's a hunter, a hobby that likely helped him garner the appointment.
The US Department of the Interior manages national parks and national wildlife refuges. They decide whether to allow hunting on those lands, so advocating "access for sportsmen and hunters" will mean that more lands in national parks and national wildlife refuges will be open for hunting. Hunting in a wildlife refuge seems like a contradiction, but this is what the hunters have been fighting for, and unfortunately, Obama seems to be on their side.
Salazar scored 0% on the Humane Society's Legislative Fund scorecard during January 2005 to December 2006. He scored 50% for January 2007 to December 2008, neglecting to vote with the animals on horse slaughter, downed animals and Class B dealers.

Unlike Salazar, Obama's choice for Agriculture secretary seems to be a relatively animal-friendly one. In fact, the Humane Society's political arm backed former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack when his name was on the short list.
Vilsack, for example, has a solid record on animal protection. As chief executive, he didn't address the most complex issues such as the massive pollution from hog factory farms, but he advocated for bills to toughen the state's penalties for animal fighting, and he stood up to the hunting lobby and vetoed legislation that would have allowed the target shooting of mourning doves for the first time in decades.
Like Salazar, Vilsack appears to also be a proponent of the environment -- although I don't know that ethanol and biofuels, which he supports, are all they're cracked up to be. But an opinion piece he wrote in October shows that he's aligned with Obama's vision.
American agriculture and renewable energy, produced on American farms, hold the key to increasing carbon productivity. The manufacturing base required to support this growing rural industry will create more than 5 million new and better-paying jobs that will enable us to better support our families and communities.

We must go beyond drilling and the destructive energy extraction of the past to apply the latest technologies in conservation and sustainable management.
But, according to an NPR report I heard on my way to work this morning, advocates of organic foods take issue with his post at Iowa State University's Biosafety Institute, where he analyzed the risks and benefits of genetically modified plant and animal products.

Only time will tell how well Salazar and Vilsack advocate on behalf of the environment -- as well as animals.



Debate(s) about Animal Experimentation

USA Today had a debate about animal experimentation on its opinion pages yesterday. But it appears the two sides of the debate weren't clear on exactly what they were debating.

The paper's piece -- "Our view on medical research: Violence won't save animals" -- is mostly about harassment of animal experimenters. The author of the opposing piece -- "Opposing view: Replace animal experiments" -- doesn't side with the harassment. Instead his piece focuses on the problems with using other species to solve human health problems.

USA Today's editorial board contends that instead of looking at the drugs that were successfully tested on animals but caused life-threatening effects in humans, animal-rights activists should instead focus on the drugs that succeeded.
Opponents focus on the number of drugs that have tested well in animals but failed in humans. That's an interesting point, but it's a backwards way of looking at the record. Why not focus on the hundreds of drugs or procedures that were discovered, tested and refined in animal trials?
I contend that their logic is flawed. People used to test on animals because they had no other recourse. Today that is no longer the case.
The National Cancer Institute now uses panels of human cells and tissues to test treatments for cancer and HIV/AIDS, and to detect drug toxicities. And the National Research Council now recommends replacing animal toxicity testing with in vitro methods.
In addition, we have valuable stem cells that we could and should be using to solve human medical dilemmas. But for political reasons we haven't been able to touch them.

The USA Today piece also assures its readers that animals are not subjected to a lot of pain or unnecessary experimentation.
Research is evolving in ways that minimize the use of animals ... and minimize pain for those that are used. Experimentation is heavily regulated, and guidelines require scientists to justify the need for animal experiments and to meet treatment standards during their research.
But Edythe London, a repeated target of animal activists, was using monkeys to study nicotine addiction. How is that necessary? We know nicotine is addictive; we know we shouldn't smoke cigarettes. Why should we torture monkeys for the stupid choices some Americans have made? Oh, and the research was funded by Philip Morris, who clearly doesn't care about people's health.

Newspapers Biased


With regard to "violence" against animal experimenters, the USA Today piece begins with this anecdote to frighten people into siding with animal torturers:
About 5 a.m. on a morning in August, a researcher at the University of California-Santa Cruz was awakened when a firebomb planted by animal rights extremists exploded on his porch.
I've written about this incident before, and I'm still perplexed as to how newspapers know that animal-rights "extremists" were involved. No one has claimed responsibility, which they usually do, and no one has even been charged.

USA Today isn't the only paper to jump to conclusions. The Santa Cruz Sentinel has, too. I contacted Sentinel writer Jennifer Squires after the last story I saw accused animal-rights activists of the Aug. 2 firebombing and asked her why her paper definitively writes that the incident was the work of AR activists, instead of saying the activists are suspected. She cited fliers that had been found in a cafe days earlier and which had the contact information of animal experimenters on them.

Of course, that doesn't definitively prove anything. I blame poor reporting -- widespread as it's become -- for newspapers prematurely condemning a group of people.

However, Chris Reed, editorial writer for the Union-Tribune in San Diego, seems a bit too zealous to fall into the category above. In fact, he used his company blog yesterday to pat himself on the back for helping get the California Assembly to pass a cyberstalking law, protecting animal experimenters.

He even criticized the president of the University of California for not recognizing that the media, and not the school, were responsible for a stricter version of the law after, Reed says, it was watered down by "an animal rights true believer" in the assembly.
Senate Judiciary Chairwoman Ellen Corbett -- an animal rights true believer -- quietly oversaw the gutting of the bill, so all it did was allow for misdemeanor trespassing charges against extremists who go to the homes of researchers. Only after vigorous editorial criticism from the San Diego Union-Tribune and the San Jose Mercury-News (and lots of whining here as well as some reporting about criticism of Corbett from fellow lawmakers and the head of the U.S. Humane Society) did a bill more like what the Assembly passed reappear.
Reed is proud of his paper's fear-mongering.
Insiders told me the media criticism was what got the stronger bill passed. I buy it. The criticism was intense. This was the headline on the U-T edit: "A senator's shame: Animal researchers may die due to Corbett."
Ironically Reed's blog post from Aug. 15 supports some activists' suspicions that the Aug. 2 firebombings were the work of pro-vivisectors -- in an effort to bring more attention to the proposed law.
... the bill was gutted to the point of meaninglessness by Corbett and then only restored after two UC Santa Cruz researchers were the targets of new firebombings ...




Monday, December 15, 2008

Center for Consumer Freedom Tied to Terrorist Groups

The Center for Consumer Freedom has been linked to terrorist groups, including al-Qaida.

After the CCF ran an ad supposedly linking The Humane Society of the United States to a "terrorist" group, Will Potter of GreenIstheNewRed.com issued a challenge: Connect the CCF to real terrorism.

The CCF linked the HSUS to an animal-rights group because an HSUS official is slated to speak at a holiday gala for the Humane League of Philadelphia. For the confusing and desperate connection, check out Will's post.

But a Green Is the New Red reader was able to tie the CCF to real terrorist groups, like al-Qaida, in only two steps:
CCF was created by Philip Morris, and Philip Morris has ties to cigarette smuggling, which directly funds terrorist groups.
I had never heard of cigarette smuggling, but, according to U.S. intelligence officials, it's a major source of income for terrorist groups.

In 2002 the European Union sued RJR and Philip Morris (whose money was used to create the CCF), accusing them of wittingly using European countries as an intermediary for shipping large quantities of cigarettes to Iraq.

Now, you can say that these links are a bit tenuous, but at the very least they're stronger than the CCF's accusation about the HSUS, which was the point of Will's challenge.

(Image courtesy of GreenIstheNewRed.com.)



Saturday, December 13, 2008

Smithfield Workers Vote to Unionize

Workers at the world's largest pork producer and the country's largest turkey producer have voted to unionize.

Smithfield Packing workers in Tar Heel, North Carolina, have attempted to unionize for at least 14 years. In September I wrote about the company's anti-union tactics, as well as the abuse the animals there face and the environmental destruction caused by the facility.

The results of two elections in the 1990s were thrown out due to company officials harassing employees. One worker had even been forced to stamp "Vote No" on dead pigs.

Smithfield and the union have a year to agree to a contract. The workers are hoping for better health care and workers compensation and a voice in setting hours and determining workloads.

The nearly 5,000 workers kill 32,000 pigs each day.
Some pull pigs off trucks and usher them to a gas chamber. Others work in a cavernous room where freshly killed hogs are wrestled onto hooks, decapitated and sliced in half.

Some spend all day pulling out internal organs or yanking out sheets of fat. Many wield knives, and slice and debone pork as it moves along conveyor belts.
While the vote to unionize is likely a good outcome for the workers, unfortunately the animals who are killed at the plant are not given any opportunity to negotiate their fates.

(Photo courtesy of Rolling Stone.)



Supposed Activist Actually Paid Informant

A supposed activist in animal-rights, environmental and other groups has been outed as an informant for the police.

New Zealand resident Rob Gilchrist was paid by police and anti-terrorism agents to spy on protest groups for 10 years, telling them of planned events and even about members' sexual relationships. He was finally discovered when his girlfriend found suspicious e-mails on his computer.

While this happened in New Zealand, it's also a practice that officials in the United States use. Like the U.S. case of FBI informant "Anna," Gilchrist attempted to provoke illegal activities within the groups.
At protests, Gilchrist was often the one taunting police, says Mark Eden of Wellington Animal Rights Network, who regarded Gilchrist as a friend. "If it didn't involve adrenalin and confrontation, he wasn't interested," Eden told the Star-Times.

"He was always interested in who was keen on illegal actions and would often make it known that he was keen to be involved in anything illegal or undercover. On a few occasions he would take people out for a drive and sit outside a factory farm or an animal laboratory and encourage them to talk about planning a break-in or other illegal activity.

"He would be really pushy and persistent about planning illegal activities and then would suddenly lose interest, claiming it was too difficult or that he was busy. He was always keen on planning dodgy stuff, but on the occasions when we did break the law [for instance, an open rescue of battery hens] he would always have an excuse and pull out at the last minute."
Gilchrist also liked to focus on the infighting between activists. Perhaps to divert their attention from the real issues they were fighting against?

He also created problems where there weren't any, likely to cast suspicion away from himself.
In 2005-08 he frequently claimed to have evidence that a 19- or 20-year-old Auckland animal welfare campaigner was a police informer. This and other claims about spies in the groups created unease and bad feeling.
In addition to the violation of people's civil liberties, spying on animal-rights, environmental and peace groups poses other problems. It's a waste of taxpayers' money and, even more serious, it diverts law-enforcement resources from targeting true terrorists.
Does Gilchrist think the people in the protest groups were security threats? "No, of course not. I know they are good people trying to make a better world," he told the Star-Times.
But police officials defend their actions.
Police Minister Judith Collins said: "This government wants to ensure [the police] have the tools and the support they need to keep the public safe.

"From time to time it may be necessary to use paid informants. I think most New Zealanders would find it reassuring that the police are out there keeping a watch on the whole community."
But others disagree.
[Eden] said it was outrageous to consider that the network's campaign against battery hen farming was terrorism and that the group was somehow like al Qaeda.

"We have gone in and filmed the farms and discovered the cruelty. But instead of doing the democratic thing and stopping it, which is what the public want, they have responded by sending in the secret police. That's the most shocking thing about it."
Protesters "are the conscience of society," Steven Price, a Victoria University law lecturer, told the Star-Times. "Though their messages are often unpopular when they're delivered, it's surprising how often they are the spark that ignites important social changes that later seem obviously right."

(Photo of Rob Gilchrist courtesy of the Star-Times.)



Friday, December 12, 2008

Farming Group Launches Program to Counter AR Activists

The American Farm Bureau Federation has launched a new program to win the minds -- and dollars -- of consumers.

Conversations on Care is a "response to rising consumer concerns over animal agriculture."

The AFBF commissioned Oklahoma State University to conduct a survey of consumers, which found that they take animal treatment into consideration when deciding which products to buy.

As if echoing the recently passed Prop 2 that will phase out gestation and veal crates and battery cages in California, "[s]urvey respondents also said they would vote for a state law requiring farmers to treat animals more humanely."

To appeal to consumers, Mace Thorton, an AFBF public relations official, said producers need to interact with the public, not simply educate them. He also stressed showing the public how much producers care about their animals.
"Consumers want to know you are looking after your farm animals just as carefully as you are your family," Thornton said. "It's up to you to tell your stories about spending cold nights in your barns with your animals, giving them the kind of care that means personal sacrifice from you."
(Funny -- my family members don't kill other family members.)

In addition to instructing producers how to interact with the public, the Conversations on Care program also offers classes to teach animal exploiters how to handle animal-rights activists, including to avoid direct confrontations.
"Make no mistake," Thornton said. "This is nothing short of an epic battle for the hearts and minds of the American public on the issue of consumer trust and maintaining the social license to produce food animals for our nation."
In other words, animal exploiters are in the battle of their lives. They are worried that they will lose their "social license to produce food animals," that the thought of eating animal flesh will soon be as accepted as smoking a cigarette is today.

It is a battle -- and one that we will win because we have good on our side. For animal exploiters, it's all about money. For us, it's all about animals' lives.



Thursday, December 11, 2008

Group Forms to Repeal the AETA

A group formed to repeal that Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act wants animal-rights supporters -- as well as supporters of civil liberties, in general -- to become involved.

You can join the efforts of the Coalition to Abolish the AETA at its newly created Web site.

(Thanks to Stephanie at Change.org for alerting me to this.)

The AETA, which was signed into law in November 2006 amid hypocritical shadiness, was created to try to deter animal advocates from speaking out against animal exploitation.

According to the Coalition, "the language of the AETA covers many First Amendment activities, such as picketing, boycotts and undercover investigations if they 'interfere' with an animal enterprise by causing a loss of profits. So in effect, the AETA silences the peaceful and lawful protest activities of animal and environmental advocates."

This law doesn't just affect animal-rights supporters. For example, many people involved in dog rescue care about animal welfare, not animal rights. But they could be targets of this law if they protest pet stores or take undercover videos of puppy mills.

So whether you are an AR supporter, care about animal welfare or want to protect Americans' civil liberties, in general, it behooves you to get involved in the repeal of the AETA.

(Image courtesy of the Coalition to Abolish the AETA.)



Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Founder of Anti-Animal Group Weighs in on Prop 2

The founder of the anti-AR Animal Agriculture Alliance says the meat industry should be concerned about the passage of California's Prop 2, which will phase out the use of veal and gestation crates and battery cages.

Meatingplace.com recently interviewed Steve Kopperud, now senior vice president of Policy Directions Inc. in Washington, D.C. The group "provides service and counsel on food animal and crop production; crop/livestock protection/insurance; food inspection, processing and retailing; animal drug/approval/regulation, as well as financial and operational issues critical to corporate agribusiness, including trade, environmental policy, emerging technologies and radical activism."

Kopperud maintains that Prop 2 will actually harm animals and endanger people.
The meat industry should most assuredly be concerned because it may redefine "welfare" in that it's an indictment of proven, science-based, producer-endorsed and well being-enhancing housing practices.

It gives the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and its allies a major lever with the new Congress to try and move federal legislation based upon precedents set in Florida, Arizona, Oregon, Colorado and California even though the overall welfare of the animals is diminished and the safety of meat, poultry and dairy may be compromised.
It's so reassuring to know that a man who makes his living from the abuse and murder of animals actually cares about their welfare. I also fail to see how giving animals room to stretch their limbs will affect the safety of the already unhealthy animal protein that is sold to consumers. In fact, the largest beef recall in history occurred in California in February -- long before Prop 2 even passed.

Kopperud also expects the HSUS to push for the following next year:
  • leveraging the California Prop 2 victory with Congress
  • major rewrites of federal humane slaughter laws, with a push to include poultry
  • a ban on transport of horses for export if they might be heading to slaughter in Mexico or Canada
  • a ban on federal purchases of meat, poultry and dairy from farms not practicing HSUS's definition of "welfare"
  • a move to federally regulate the transport of all animals to all destinations, and
  • active alliances with environmental and food safety groups to attack animal biotechnology, the use of animal drugs by anyone other than a vet, and other conventional production practices.
To counter animal advocates, Kopperud wants all animal-"agriculure" exploiters to work together. Notice the terminology he uses.
Swine must and will support cattle, with cattle returning the favor; ditto for dairy. The four-leggers must and will support poultry and vice versa.
He also would like organic producers to go easy on "conventional" ones.
I'd like the public to know organic and "natural" are legitimate product choices in the marketplace, but they're not better than conventionally produced, just different. I'd like to see our organic and natural brethren promote their products without bashing conventional production.
Just reading that Kopperud doesn't think that organic is better than "conventionally produced" products shows how either ignorant or in denial he is or how much he wants to spread lies to people, including his fellow animal exploiters.

(Photo of a calf in a veal crate is courtesy of Contra Costa Humane Society.)



Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Top Animal Stories of 2008

With Christmas not even here yet, it's a bit early to be looking back at 2008. But Time has gotten a head start with its 50 Top Lists of 2008 -- among them the Top 10 animal stories of the year.

The top story? California's Prop 2, the successful ballot initiative that will phase out the use of gestation and veal crates and battery cages. I know this issue would be at the top of Paul Shapiro's list. He's the senior director for the Humane Society's factory farming campaign, and he worked tirelessly in support of the proposition.

Taking second place is the Obamas desire to get a dog, preferably one from a shelter.

The Supreme Court decision in support of U.S. Navy sonar, to the fatal detriment of whales, took the fourth spot.

Unfortunately, the other top issues were more fluff than substance: a fat cat, the longest insect, puppycams.

Which issues would you put in your Top 10?

(Photo courtesy of all-creatures.org.)



Friday, December 5, 2008

Veganism Prescription for Prevention

The two main topics of conversation at my family's Thanksgiving dinner last week were colonoscopies and my veganism.

The latter has become a tradition now at every family gathering, and, while it can be frustrating that my relatives don't "get" it, I do enjoy the opportunity to try to educate them.

My mom underwent a colonoscopy two days before Thanksgiving. I was privy to a pre-colonoscopy conversation she had with her sister- and brother-in-law the weekend before -- talk of drinking nasty liquid in preparation, taking laxatives, sitting on the toilet for hours, feeling the pinch of the tool as it's inserted (although I don't think that's typical). And one thought popped into my head: Thank God I'm vegan.

Of course, veganism isn't a guarantee I'll never need a colonoscopy, but it does mean less meat rotting in my intestines. (I was a meat-eater for 29 years, so I'm guessing there's still some in there.) And my plant-based diet ensures I'm consuming much more fiber than the average person. So since doctors recommend the average person (ie. a meat-eater) gets a colonoscopy at age 50, I'm hoping I can at least postpone my first.

So on Thanksgiving my mom, now post-colonoscopy, compared notes with my aunt and uncle, who got their first about six years ago and who recently underwent another. Talk of polyps, gas, diverticulitis and bowel movements ensued. My other uncle, who is 17 years younger than my mom and who won't have to worry about a colonoscopy for at least another nine years, was disgusted.

So conversation moved on to blood-pressure and cholesterol medications. Again, I was glad I was vegan. I suggested that instead of taking these medications, they should switch to a vegan diet and mentioned how my cholesterol level had decreased by 38 points last year.

My uncle, who never shies from instigating a good argument, dismissed my statistic because it wasn't from a "scientific study." He suggested a host of other variables could have caused such a dramatic decrease -- like getting one year older. I, of course, countered that getting older would likely increase my cholesterol level, not decrease it. And he knew that; he just likes to play devil's advocate. He then suggested maybe my dogs had something to do with it. No, I hadn't yet adopted Snickers, and I'd had Poncho for the previous cholesterol test, too.

Hence the frustrating aspect of discussing my veganism with my relatives. While they have been surprisingly accepting of my lifestyle -- even from the beginning -- they are quick to dismiss it, or to bring up inane tangents to redirect the focus of the conversation.

Because when you get down to basics, you can't argue with the benefits of veganism.



Thursday, December 4, 2008

Christmas Shouldn't Be About Consumerism

For the past few Christmases, my shopping list has gradually declined. This year I will not be buying gifts for anyone -- and I obviously don't expect any in return.

It saves money, but more importantly it prevents a lot of stress. Battling crowds and traffic and trying to find gifts for people who have everything they could possibly want are a lot of work.

If you're going to buy gifts this year, keep these tips in mind:
  • Do your best to shop locally. Support residents of your town, not huge corporations. If you do go the mass-market route, remember that Wal-Mart sucks. And IKEA is selling reindeer meat at its stores in Europe.
  • Purchase gifts that will last decades. Bypass the cheap fads.
  • Shop at secondhand stores.
  • Put gifts in reusable gift bags. Don't use wrapping paper. It just gets thrown away.
  • Consider making gifts instead of purchasing them. Give homemade cookies. Or layer ingredients for cookies or soups in jars (and attach the recipe), so recipients can make the goodies at home.
  • Donate to someone's favorite charity. Go here to find out if one tests on animals.
  • Remember what this season is about: peace and love. It's not about materialism, or at least it shouldn't be about that.
Share your own ideas in the Comments section.



Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Veggie Tales: Vegan Has One Regret

This is the fourth in a four-part series called "Veggie Tales." In their own words people write about their decision to become veg*an.

Unlike some meat-eaters I've encountered, I never felt threatened by vegetarians. In fact, I admired them for doing something that I didn't think I could do. I've always loved food, and I get very cranky and emotional when I'm hungry. I thought all vegetarians ate was iceberg lettuce and carrots, and I knew I'd never be able to handle that. It's boring and would never fill me.

But living by myself -- and hating to cook -- exposed me to non-meat items. Popping a veggie burger in the microwave and eating it on a bun with mustard and ketchup, pickles and potato chips, was so much easier than cooking raw meat -- something I've never done. I did this straight out of college, when I had no thoughts of becoming a vegetarian. I then discovered soy "chicken" patties, which tasted just as good as their meat counterparts, and microwavable brown rice.

So when one day in November 2006 I decided to investigate vegetarianism online, I already knew that I'd have more choices available to me than just iceberg lettuce and carrots. The first Web site I clicked on was GoVeg.com. After reading about pigs and chickens in their natural states -- pigs are as intelligent as 3-year-old children; chickens can recognize faces -- I immediately decided to go vegetarian. I didn't even have to think about it or have a mental dialogue with myself. It just became fact.

The only times I was tempted to eat meat after this was at family gatherings. Each time, I had to remind myself that while I wouldn't die if I ate a piece of [whatever], an animal did die and another would also die (supply and demand).

So I haven't had meat since then. In early 2007 I started listening to the podcast on CompassionateCooks.com. Colleen Patrick-Goudreau does a fabulous job of educating people about veganism. I got hooked on previous podcast episodes, and after listening to most of them, I had to become vegan. I couldn't know the facts she'd presented and remain "just" a vegetarian.

While I've been vegan since August 2007, I still think the transition from meat-eater to vegetarian was the more significant for me. It opened my eyes to animal rights and health and environmental concerns that I had no idea existed.

I love being vegan and only wish I had chosen this lifestyle years earlier.

(Photo of me at a dog-adoption event in September 2007. The cookies weren't vegan, and I didn't eat any.)