Thursday, April 30, 2009

Health Organizations Cave to Pork Producers

A national and an international health organization have cowered to pressure from pork producers and will cease using the term "swine flu."

According to the agribusiness site Meatingplace.com, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization will stop using the phrase "swine flu." (You'll need to register to gain access to the site.)
The U.S. agencies will use "2009 H1N1 flu" and the WHO will use "influenza A (H1N1)" instead, according to a memo distributed by the North American Meat Processors Association.
This move comes just days after a WHO official said there was no need to rename the disease.
"This episode started basically with that name, and the virus that is identified is a swine influenza virus," [the WHO's Keiji] Fukuda said on a conference call today. "We don't have any plans to try to introduce any new names for this disease."
Today, though, without any explanation the WHO reversed its decision. Its Web site simply says the following:
30 April 2009 -- From today, WHO will refer to the new influenza virus as influenza A(H1N1).
For the past several days, Big Agribusiness has been trying to persuade the media and agencies worldwide to rename the disease, as the term "swine flu" has been hurting pork producers' stocks.

This decision, of course, begs the question ... Who is in charge?

(Photo credit: Eduardo Verdugo/AP)



Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Swine Flu Claims 1st U.S. Life As Agribusiness Whines About Media Coverage

As swine flu spreads to more U.S. states, a 23-month-old toddler in Texas is the first person in the United States to die from the disease.

But animal exploiters continue to focus on deflecting blame.

The toddler was from Mexico and had recently been there.

Illinois, my home state, may have its first case of swine flu.
Chicago school officials shut down an elementary school Wednesday after one child contracted a probable case of swine flu, and the Illinois Health Department said other cases are suspected in the state.
While more than 150 people in Mexico have died from swine flu and it continues to be found in more states and countries, the agribusiness industry pushes forward with its plan to deflect blame, in part by continuing to try to get the media to cease the use of the term "swine flu." (You'll need to register to gain access to the site.)
The North American Meat Processors Association, the National Meat Association and the American Meat Institute all issued statements asking the media to pick up on the phrase "North American flu" or other, accurate references to the hybrid A/H1N1 flu strain that is the culprit in the ongoing outbreak.
The industry was also disheartened (their word) to learn that the Associated Press had finally picked up the story about Granjas Carroll, the facility in Perote, Mexico, that is thought to be the origination point for the swine flu outbreak. The AP reported that it is half-owned by Smithfield.

Unfortunately I don't think the story goes far enough. It doesn't mention what Grist.com had reported -- that Mexican health officials, during a preliminary investigation earlier this month, had traced the outbreak to Granjas Carroll.
As early as February, residents began complaining of unusually strong flu symptoms. They blamed a farm that lies upwind, five miles (8.5 kilometers) to the north. By late March, roughly one-sixth of the community of 3,000 began suffering from severe respiratory infections.
Agribusiness also continued to blame bloggers for their "false" reporting.
Bloggers overwhelmingly repeated the information initially published on the Grist site, connecting the outbreak to "factory" farming, and sneered at Smithfield's releases attempting to set the record straight.
Imagine that: Bloggers not believing what Smithfield's PR people say. After all agribusiness doesn't lie, and Smithfield specifically has no reason to, right?

Instead of looking at themselves and determining how such an outbreak of swine flu can be prevented in the future, agribusiness has chosen to ignore the problem by playing a blame and name game. As a Meatingplace.com blogger put it, it's the media aand not agribusiness that is guilty.
Hopefully, some of the trade groups will get the media to start calling it [swine flu] another name and to quit showing pictures of pigs as they are talking about it. That is irresponsible.
("Irresponsible" photo courtesy of Business Week.)



Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Disease by Any Other Name ...

While the World Health Organization has refused to rename swine flu despite pork producers' appeals, the Obama Admistration is now referring to it as the "2009 H1N1 virus outbreak."

In my previous post, I wrote about how the World Organization for Animal Health wanted swine flu renamed North American influenza because of the loss of money the pig-flesh industry faces. Fortunately the World Health Organization has rejected a proposed name change.
"This episode started basically with that name, and the virus that is identified is a swine influenza virus," [the WHO's Keiji] Fukuda said on a conference call today. "We don't have any plans to try to introduce any new names for this disease."
Unfortunately the Obama Adminstration doesn't have the moxie to stand up to agribusiness.
"This really isn't swine flu. It's H1N1 virus," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said at an afternoon news briefing with U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
As I mentioned in my previous post, Vilsack is the former governor of Iowa, a state with a large number of pig farms.

With the Obama Administration pussy-footing around agribusiness, it's even more important for average consumers to recognize the industry's game-playing and say, "Enough is enough." And the best way to say this is through your wallets.

Agribusiness has put more energy into its smoke-and-mirrors deception than into public safety. Enough is enough.

(Thanks to Erik Marcus at Vegan.com for linking to these stories.)

(Photo of Tom Vilsack cooking pig flesh with Hillary Clinton in 2007 courtesy of About.com.)



Agribusiness on Defensive Amid Swine Flu Outbreak

People who benefit from the slaughter of pigs -- and those who support them -- are on the defensive since the outbreak of swine flu.

Government officials with ties to animal agribusiness, like Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley and former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack (now secretary of Agriculture), have encouraged people to continue to consume pig flesh.

According to Meatingplace.com, an industry Web site, Grassley posted the following message on Twitter: "U can't get swine flu from eating pork. Eatup. Regardless of epidemic."

Never mind, of course, that this disease originated in factory farms, where tens of thousands of pigs are confined, creating a breeding ground for disease. Animal exploiters have long recognized that the conditions in factory farms are ripe for disease. That's why they feed the animals antibiotics, even before they become ill.

While you may not be able to contract swine flu from eating pig flesh, you _are_ contributing to the outbreak by continuing to do so. Your money supports corporations that pollute the air and water and have no regard for consumers', nearby residents or employees' health.

Meatingplace.com is also disparaging bloggers. (You'll need to register to gain access to the site.}
Others [bloggers], however, are picking up and repeating a story that appeared in a Mexican newspaper near the town where the outbreak seems to have started, in which residents (not the authorities) blame a nearby pig production facility.
The pro-agribusiness site wants to ignore that Mexican health officials have, indeed, linked the swine-flu outbreak to a factory farm, owned by U.S.-based Smithfield.

Pig-flesh producers are also keen on getting the public to refer to swine flu as "North American influenza."
The World Animal Health Organization has suggested that since this so called "swine flu" originated in North America, the name should be changed to reflect its origin rather than the poor pigs.
The poor pigs?! The feelings of pigs have nothing to do with it. Animal producers don't want a disease linked to the animal flesh they are trying to sell.

Shares of stock in companies that sell pig flesh dropped at the opening of the day Monday, after news of the swine flu outbreak broke over the weekend.
  • Smithfield was trading at about $9, down nearly 13 percent from its close on Friday.
  • Hormel's price was about $30 per share, down about 2 percent from its Friday close.
  • Tyson Foods was priced at about $10, down almost 9 percent from its Friday close.
  • JBS, which operates three pork processing plants in the U.S., saw its stock drop as much as 9.9 percent at one point, then traded down 7.2 percent to 6.45 reais in late morning trade on the Brazilian Bovespa exchange.
Unfortunately, companies that sell chicken flesh could profit from swine flu because people may switch from pork to chicken. I heard some restaurants have pulled pork from their menus.
A survey of supermarket meat departments indicated that consumers already are asking about a virus-pork connection, and "the fear generated by a disease named after hogs cannot be good for pork consumption."
(Photo courtesy of the BBC.)



Sunday, April 26, 2009

Mexican Officials Trace Swine Flu to Smithfield Plant

In a preliminary investigation a health official in Mexico has traced the most recent outbreak of swine flu to pig farms operated by a Smithfield subsidiary.

On April 6 after 400 people in the town of Perote, Mexico, (population 3,000) had become ill, local health officials declared a health alert. Perote is home to pig farms operated by Granjas Carroll, a Smithfield subsidiary, which raises almost a million pigs a year. A health official said the transmission of the flu was caused by "a type of fly that reproduces in pig waste and that the outbreak was linked to the pig farms."

So far Grist.com is the only American media outlet that has picked up on this angle of the story.

But a Mexican newspaper, La Marcha, ran a story with this headline on April 15: "Granjas Carroll, causa de epidemia en La Gloria." La Gloria is part of Perote.
The article goes on to say that area residents have long complained of "fetid odors" in the air and water, and swarms of flies hovering around waste lagoons. Like their counterparts who live in CAFO-heavy [CAFO=factory farms] U.S. areas, they also complain of respiratory ailments. Now, with 30 percent of the area's residents now infected with the virulent flu bug, people are demanding that state and federal authorities inspect hog operations there. So far, reports La Marcha, the response has been: nada.

The Mexico City daily La Jornada has also made the link. According to the newspaper, the Mexican health agency IMSS has acknowledged that the orginal carrier for the flu could be the "clouds of flies" that multiply in the Smithfield subsidiary's manure lagoons.
Dr. Michael Greger, the director of public health and animal agriculture for The Humane Society of the United States, has written a piece about a 1998 outbreak of human/bird/pig flu virus.
"Influenza [in pigs] is closely correlated with pig density," said a European Commission-funded researcher studying the situation in Europe. As such, Europe's rapidly intensifying pig industry has been described in Science as "a recipe for disaster." Some researchers have speculated that the next pandemic could arise out of "Europe's crowded pig barns."

The European Commission's agricultural directorate warns that the "concentration of production is giving rise to an increasing risk of disease epidemics." Concern over epidemic disease is so great that Danish laws have capped the number of pigs per farm and put a ceiling on the total number of pigs allowed to be raised in the country. No such limit exists in the United States.
While Janet Napolitano, secretary of Homeland Security, has been quick to point out that swine flu cannot be contracted by eating pig flesh, your purchase of pork, bacon, etc., supports corporations like Smithfield, which don't care about people's health. They pollute the air and water and mistreat their employees and the animals.

Send them a message -- and help to prevent further deaths and illnesses -- by refusing to purchase products that come from animals.

(Photo of "hog farm" in North Carolina courtesy of the North Carolina Conservation Network. Smithfield Packing is located in that state.)




Monday, April 13, 2009

'Numb3rs' Investigates Animal Rights

"Numb3rs," a cheesy, well-meaning series on CBS investigated animal rights in its latest episode.

Here's the synopsis: "The investigation into a professor's death takes a dangerous turn when the team finds their lead suspect has ties to a radical animal rights group."

The episode opens with these numbers:
  • 50 million to 100 million experimental animals
  • 1,088 research labs
  • 51 animal rights extremist groups
  • 1,440 criminal acts
I don't know what the producers' definition of "extremist" is, but I couldn't name more than one or two groups. As for the criminal acts, a character in the episode tells FBI agents, "In over 20 years no one has been injured or killed by animal rights people."

However, the show needed a murder for its FBI character to solve, so a researcher at a university is accidentally killed during an open rescue. Dogs and mice are released from cages, but the effects of animal torture are not shown. The producers seemed to think they could be implied by showing one dog and several mice in e-cones, the cones your vet puts on a dog to prevent him from pulling out his stitches.

And, of course, the animals were being used to study post-traumatic stress disorder, avian flu and cures for HIV, malaria and coronary disease. Nothing as ridiculous as nicotine addiction or shampoos. However, torture is torture.

"Domestic terrorism" is mentioned once when the FBI agents are discussing what the perpetrators could be charged with.

A fictitious group Animal Rights Rebels is said to "believe in animals and arson" and "call themselves eco-terrorists." While some real groups do believe in property destruction, I've never known any animal-rights advocates or environmentalists to refer to themselves as eco-terrorists. In fact, Will Potter in his blog "Green Is the New Red" contends that the true eco-terrorists are the people destroying the Earth, not the ones who want to protect it.

Overall, I could see that the producers of "Numb3rs" had tried to present both sides of the animal-experimentation debate. But, perhaps given the medium (network television), they didn't show the true face of experimentation.

For example, one character did research on Macaque monkeys. Britches is a real Macaque "who was born into a breeding colony at the University of California, Riverside in March 1985."
He was removed from his mother at birth and had his eyelids sewn shut as part of a three-year maternal and sensory-deprivation study involving 24 infant monkeys.
The Animal Liberation Front raided the laboratory in April 1985, when Britches was 5 weeks old. He and 700 other animals were rescued.
Activists found Britches alone in a cage with bandages around his eyes and a sonar device attached to his head that emitted a high-pitched screech every few minutes. He was clinging to a device, covered in towelling, that had two fake nipples attached, apparently intended to serve as a surrogate mother.
A character at the end of "Numb3rs" said animal experimentation is a complicated ethical dilemma. For those who see the torture that these animals have to endure, the answer seems pretty simple.

(Photos of Britches courtesy of Britches.org.uk.)



Animal Cruelty a Case of Common Sense

Four people investigating the cruelty at the Maine egg farm last week sought medical attention for ammonia-related problems.

The Maine Department of Agriculture workers, responding to the undercover investigation by Chicago-based Mercy For Animals, "felt burning in the nose and eyes, coughing, tightness of breath, and they sought medical attention for ammonia exposure."

These were the symptoms felt by people, obviously much larger than chickens, who were in the factory-farm facility for a matter of hours -- and who were likely wearing protective clothing and masks.

Now think about the chickens who have to live in these conditions their entire lives. They are much smaller than people, so ammonia fumes will affect them much sooner and more severely. There is no escape for them, no doctor to look after them.

In a related story, researchers from the University of Connecticut are studying chickens' vocalizations and how they relate to stress (ie. their vocalizations sound different based on how much and what kind of stress they are under). [You will need to register to gain access to this Web site.]
"Alleviating stress in commercial flocks of laying hens and broilers is important not only because it improves the overall welfare of the birds, but also because stress is a known enemy of production efficiencies," said Michael Darre, an animal science professor at the University of Connecticut.

"Chronic stress has been shown to reduce egg production, reduce growth and meat yields, and lower immune system function," Darre said in a news release from the Poultry Science Association.
Of course, as the Mercy For Animals investigation -- as well as numerous other undercover investigations -- shows, people in agribusiness don't care about the animals. They care about the product, the meat, the eggs, etc.
The goal is to develop a device that can be placed in chicken houses that allows farmers to remotely monitor the birds and notify them when it detects stress vocalizations.
Now think about your dog or cat. Do you need a device to tell when they are stressed? Or can you simply look at them and know that they aren't feeling well, that something is wrong?

If factory farmers can't walk through their facilities and realize that chickens in overcrowded cages with rotting corpses, animals trapped and unable to reach food or water, and cows with swollen udders because of mastitis are stressed, then no device is going to help them develop common sense and a conscience.

(Photo courtesy of SunJournal.com.)



Obama's New Dog Obtained From Breeder

Despite petitions and other entreaties for the Obamas to adopt a dog from a shelter or rescue organization, they've obtained one from a breeder.

Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) found the Obamas a Portuguese water dog from a breeder he knows in Texas. The 6-month-old dog, whom the Obama daughters have named Bo, had been purchased from the breeder and returned.

The American Kennel Club released a statement today congratulating the Obamas on their new dog.

I am very disappointed in the Obamas. With the publicity generated by the announcement months ago that the Obamas would get a dog, the first family had to have known why it was important to adopt a dog from a shelter or rescue instead of buying one from a breeder.

With millions of dogs dying every year in U.S. shelters and animal-control offices, there is no reason to support people who continue to breed them.

For those who say a Portuguese water dog would have been to difficult to find in a shelter, check out Pepper (right). She's a young Portuguese water dog mix ... in Washington, D.C. It didn't take a U.S. senator to find her; all it took was a quick search on Petfinder.com.

(Top: Image of Bo courtesy of the Obama Dog Blog.)



Monday, April 6, 2009

Agribusiness a Maze of Deception

In addition to the animal cruelty revealed at New England's largest egg supplier, Mercy For Animals recent undercover investigation also shows us how confusing the maze of animal agribusiness is.

I wish this blog template came with a flow chart.

We start with the egg facility, where hundreds or thousands of birds live in cramped battery cages, unable to spread their wings, sharing space with rotting corpses, being kicked into manure pits or thrown into trash cans while they're still alive.

This place is owned by Maine Contract Farming. The facility was formerly the DeCoster Egg Farm. Some media sources call it Quality Eggs, but others say that Quality Eggs is only one purchaser from the facility. The facility is still owned by Jack DeCoster, who owns Maine Contract Farming.

Then we draw an arrow down to Radlo Foods, which is a purchaser of eggs from this facility.

Radlo Foods was one franchisee of Eggland's Best, which sells eggs to consumers through grocery stores. Radlo supplied "classic brown" eggs to Eggland's.

Today, though, Eggland's announced that it has dropped Radlo as one of its franchisees because it did business with a facility who didn't abide by Eggland's animal-welfare policy.

I don't know what that policy consists of, but it's safe to say that because Eggland's is mass-selling eggs, there's a very good chance that its other suppliers have the same lax standards. After all, United Egg Producers, the umbrella group over egg companies, condones battery cages.

I also question Eggland's advertisements that say their eggs are healthier than other companies'. If they get their eggs from the same pool as other brands, how are their eggs any different?

As for Radlo Foods, Dave Radlo announced today that its egg production will be cage-free in 10 years.
"We're very excited about our cage-free programs. We're one of the largest cage-free producers in the nation, and we understand that the trend is going that way and we're there with it."
Funny -- if he's right there with it, then why will it take 10 years to implement?

It's all smoke and mirrors, semantics and convoluted mazes with agribusiness. It's deception and spin. They count on consumers not to ask questions, not to investigate, not to think.

The path from the "farm" to our plates shouldn't need to come with a flow chart.



Sunday, April 5, 2009

Honor God's Creatures on Easter

Today is Palm Sunday, which means Easter (except for Eastern Orthodox religions), is a week from today.

However you choose to celebrate it -- whether a non-religious excuse to get together with family or a highly religious event even greater than Christmas -- please do so without contributing to the suffering of animals.

If you believe in God or in a god, think about how He or she would feel about his (ok, I'm done with the capitalization and am using the male pronoun for ease) creatures being tortured for their flesh.

Would God condone the actions seen in the undercover video in my last post? Would he want you to contribute to that suffering and cruelty?

Sure, it's been tradition to color eggs -- we even call them Easter eggs. But how about forgoing that this year? You can hide plastic Easter eggs instead. Explain to your children that the eggs that they may have colored last year hurt the chickens. Kids LOVE animals; I'm sure they'd understand.

Why not wrap white paper around the plastic eggs and have your children draw on those instead? Or to make it easier, they could draw an Easter scene on a flat piece of paper. Those scenes would likely include bunnies and chicks -- and those chicks will be free on grass, not trapped in cages with the rotting remains of their cagemates.

And instead of the traditional Easter ham, break tradition. Show your kids some of the many videos online of happy pigs in animal sanctuaries. I bet they (and you, too) would be amazed at how frolicking pigs look similar to dogs.

The Internet is filled with delicious vegan recipes. To begin, check out ChooseVeg.com.

If you have any suggestions of other animal-friendly Easter traditions, please post them in the Comments section. Happy Easter!

(Photo courtesy of Jon Bockman.)



Video Reveals Rotting Corpses, Chickens Kicked into Manure Pits at Egg Facility

A Chicago-based animal-rights group recently released undercover video showing chickens living in cages with rotting corpses.

The six-week investigation by the organization Mercy For Animals, which I wrote about in my previous post, was undertaken at a farm in Turner, Maine, operated by Maine Contract Farming LLC, New England's largest egg supplier.

The facility also provides eggs to Eggland's Best, which I'm familiar with because it sponsors "Wheel of Fortune" (I've e-mailed the producers) and which prides itself on having healthier eggs than its competition. I'm no expert, but I'd suspect "healthy" eggs must come from healthy hens, and the hens in this video don't look healthy to me.

The video not only revealed rotting corpses but also workers throwing chickens into trash cans to die and whipping birds around by their necks to kill them.
"Workers and supervisors would swing them around in an attempt to kill them and many of these hens would then suffer and have a slow, painful death, and callously kick them into manure pits," said Daniel Hauff of Mercy For Animals.
State police and the district attorney's office raided the facility Wednesday.
"They have told us that they have substantiated the things we found in the facility as well," said Hauff.
Please view the video, as this blog post does not do it justice.

Business as usual

It's as if the PR people in animal-abuse industries have the same playbook to refer to when an undercover investigation is revealed: feign outrage, punish lowly employees, declare that the abuse uncovered is not the norm.

Bob LeClair, a safety compliance officer at the egg facility, said the abuse was committed by only three workers.
"It's not the kind of behavior we expect," said LeClair. "We've identified those employees and we will meet with them today."
Ironically the neglect and cruelty at this facility looked the same as Wegmans did in Adam Durand's undercover video shot five years ago.

Update (4/6/09): A representative from Eggland's Best replied to an e-mail I wrote the company yesterday. But her response contradicts itself.
Contrary to recent media reports, Eggland's Best has no relationship with Quality Eggs of Turner, Maine. Eggland's Best's New England-based franchisee is Radlo Foods, which is required to adhere to the company's stringent animal welfare regulations. Any violation of these regulations could lead to termination.

[...]

As of today, Monday, April 6, Eggland's Best is shipping all Classic Brown eggs to New England from other locations. Eggland's Best White, Cage Free and Organic eggs have never been involved.
If Eggland's Best has no dealings with the egg facility in the undercover video, why are they changing how they ship their "Classic Brown" eggs? And why do they say three other varieties "have never been involved"? That leads one to believe that the "Classic Brown" eggs have some connection to the facility in question.

Update II (4/6/09): I swear -- is it so hard to just be upfront?

Thanks to Paul Shapiro, of The Humane Society of the United States, I now have an answer to the questions in my first update.
Today, Radlo Foods became the first national egg producer to commit to ending its confinement of hens in battery cages. The company's announcement followed a recent Mercy For Animals investigation that exposed grossly inhumane conditions for laying hens caged at Quality Egg of New England, some of whose eggs Radlo Foods distributed. This past weekend, Radlo Foods terminated its relationship with Quality Egg of New England, where Mercy For Animals exposed laying hens confined in tiny wire cages, hens suffering broken bones and infections, and employees kicking, breaking the necks of, and throwing live hens away in trash cans.
[Emphasis is mine.]

While cage-free isn't all it's cracked up to be (pun not intended), I would have seen this move as a tiny success for the animals, had the next paragraph not said that this shift to cage-free chickens will be implemented within 10 years. Please. How many chickens will continue to live with rotting corpses and be kicked into and left to die in manure pits in the next 10 years?

(Image courtesy of Mercy For Animals.)



Activists Tout the Benefits of Leafleting

Mercy For Animals joined with the Vegan Chicago and Animal Rights Chicago meetups yesterday to present a workshop on leafleting on behalf of farmed animals.

A panel of activists explained the details and benefits of leafleting pro-veg material.

Because 99% of the animals who suffer and die for human use are farmed animals, Mercy For Animals and most of the activists focus their energy on advocating on their behalf. That percentage breaks down like this: Ten billion land animals and 17 billion aquatic animals are killed each year in the United States so that people can eat them.

Heather Patrick, MFA's Chicago campaign coordinator, said that equates to 1 million animals murdered each hour.

The activists hand out literature printed by Vegan Outreach, a group that also solely focuses on farmed animals. You can order leaflets here. They request a small donation for first-time orders.

People can have a tremendous impact on sparing animals suffering and death. The average person eats 2,700 animals in his or her lifetime. That's 35 farmed animals each year. Meat-eaters who claim to be animal lovers -- and once I was included in this group -- often don't even think about the animals that they're paying to have killed.

And Vegan Outreach volunteer Joe Espinosa said just giving up red meat, for example, is not enough, as it takes 159 broiler chickens to equal one cow because of the disparity in size.

Espinosa, who was recognized at last year's Animal Rights Conference for his dedication to volunteering, has given out more than 100,000 leaflets.

Another activist, Leslie Patterson, began her leafleting in crowded places like El stops and now also joins Espinosa in leafleting colleges through Vegan Outreach's Adopt a College program.

The activists said targeting college students is beneficial because they aren't yet set in their ways, are more prone to question the status quo and can be found in large numbers (on college campuses).

For example, activist Mikael Nielsen discovered veg*anism in college when he was doing research for a public-speaking class. He said he wishes he would have learned about it sooner.

Darina Smith, who came to the United States from the Czech Republic when she was 21, said anyone could leaflet; no training is needed. While she was nervous the first time she leafleted by herself, after she opened a booklet and looked at the photos of suffering animals, she realized her unease was nothing compared to what the animals were feeling.

Smith also said leafleters don't need to be extroverts or have an encyclopedic knowledge of animal cruelty.

Activist Matt McEwen echoed that point, saying he doesn't have all the information in his head but that he does have it in his heart.

Patterson said that leafleting is empowering. "You feel like a warrior for the animals."

Get involved

The Chicago Diner, a vegetarian staple in the Lakeview neighborhood, and Veggie Bite, a vegan fast-food restaurant, donated delicious food. I had a pesto hummus wrap from The Diner and tofu chunks and fries from Veggie Bite.

Nathan Runkle started Mercy For Animals in 1999 in Ohio. Its headquarters is now based in Chicago, and along with Ohio offices, it also has a presence in North Carolina. The group is looking to add an office in either New York or on the West Coast.

Since October, I've been attending each monthly meetup for Vegan Chicago. Held on the first Saturday of the month, they are usually a buffet-style gathering at a veg-friendly Chicago restaurant. This month's meetup, of course, was a bit different. Next month's will likely be similar to yesterday's. Details are still be worked out.

I encourage anyone in the Chicago area to join Vegan Chicago Meetup and Chicago Animal Rights Meetup. For those living in other locales, visit Meetup.com and find a veg group near you. The camaraderie is priceless.

Also, Mercy For Animals is always looking for volunteers for a variety of tasks, including office work and research. If you're in an area served by Mercy For Animals and would like to volunteer, fill out their volunteer form. Many other animal-advocacy organizations exist in other areas. Search for them on the Web and get involved!

(Photo of Joe Espinosa leafleting courtesy of Vegan Outreach.)