Friday, May 29, 2009

Vegan Foods a Pleasant Surprise

Most of the biggest critics of veg*anism are people who haven't actually tried it.

I'm guilty of this type of behavior myself. When introduced to something new, something out of the ordinary, I typically respond with skepticism and perhaps even cynicism.

Before I went veg, my dad (who isn't veg) told me that cow's milk is bad for people. I thought of the pediatricians who tout milk as essential for strong bones and told him he was crazy. Then after I went veg and started researching nutrition, I realized he was right.

I recently met a guy who told me in no uncertain terms that he was not going to go vegan.

This weekend when I opened a package of tofu to crumble into a pasta salad we were making, this U.S. Air Force veteran looked doubtfully at the gelatinous white block but took a piece. And then he took another and said he could see himself snacking on the tofu. I was surprised; I wouldn't even snack on plain tofu.

And instead of fixing himself chicken as he had planned, Jason decided to try two of my veg chicken patties. Since the pasta salad was vegan, he said he might as well go all in.

"Let's see if this vegan meal will fill me," he said.

When he took a bite of the Boca chik'n patty, I could tell he was stunned. It tasted just like chicken. He even put a piece up to his eyes to examine it: "It looks like chicken." He couldn't figure out how it was done, but it doesn't matter. He had discovered that he could enjoy "chicken" without eating the flesh of an animal. At the end of the meal he announced that he was indeed full.

When I left him yesterday evening, he was heating up the pasta salad and another Boca patty.

A writer with the San Francisco Chronicle recently experienced the same surprise over vegan food -- only Amanda Berne's foray lasted a month.
I decided to cut out all animal products and go vegan for a month because I felt I couldn't cover the topic without having the experience. A month seemed like an appropriate amount of time, but I discovered it wasn't, especially if I would continue feeling as good as I did.
While Berne concerned herself with ingredients more so than I and some other vegans do, she still saw many benefits to being vegan.
My body felt great and my skin was shining. I cooked all the time, so not only did I really get into the process of living alone and creating lovely meals for myself, but I was also saving money by not going out or buying processed ingredients.
(I subscribe to the philosophy of Vegan Outreach when it comes to ingredients: Show others that veganism can be practical by not worrying about trace ingredients or giving restaurant servers the third degree.)

But Berne's to be commended for being open enough to try veganism. Like Jason, when she moved out of her comfort zone, she discovered delicious foods.

(Thanks to Erik at Vegan.com for first writing about Berne.)

(Generic pasta salad photo courtesy of Life As A... .)




Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Pollan Critic's Dilemma

I want to like Michael Pollan ... I really do.

But while I'm inching closer, I'm still not there yet.

Pollan, the author of "The Omnivore's Dilemma," was a guest last night on "Chicago Tonight," a local news program on PBS. He reiterated his well-known advice: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." He also recommended not buying products that are widely advertised, as most of it is processed food.

I'm on board with all that. What I don't support is his view on animals. In "The Omnivore's Dilemma" he shot and killed a pig. Something about being able to murder the animal you're going to eat.

While he admitted last night that Americans consume too much meat, he made a point of telling the host that he's not a vegetarian. He recommends eating a bit of meat "for the flavor."

He repeated one phrase that irks me, regardless who uses it: grass-fed beef. A piece of beef doesn't have a mouth. It's dead; it doesn't need to eat. A cow, on the other hand, is the one who is eating the grass. So instead of "grass-fed beef," people should ask, "Would you like a piece of grass-fed cow?" And the answer, of course, should be no.

Despite the obvious differences between Pollan and animal-rights activists, I think it would serve our cause well to align -- not completely, of course -- with Pollan and other organic, "slow food," "whole food" proponents.

We have more in common with people like Pollan and chef Alice Waters than Big Ag does. We both detest factory farms, and we both support organic farming.

Last night Pollan ended the interview recommending people reduce their consumption of animal flesh, particularly for environmental reasons. He suggested abstaining from eating meat one day a week, such as having "Meatless Mondays," which animal-rights group FARM also advocates.

So while animal rights' and Pollan's views on animals differ, when it comes to fighting Big Ag and factory farms, an alliance with Pollan may be beneficial to our cause.

(Photo of Michael Pollan courtesy of ChicagoMatters.org.)



Monday, May 18, 2009

CCF/HSUS Sparring Continues

I hadn't planned on writing another post about the Center for Consumer Freedom so soon, but I feel it's warranted.

As I noted in an update to my previous post, Atlanta's WSB-TV has removed from its Web site the May 14th story that criticized The Humane Society of the United States. (You can read The HSUS response to the story here.) My guess is that The HSUS threatened legal action. However, news organizations don't typically cave to threats of lawsuits. They have lawyers, and they also have the First Amendment. So I have to think that the people at WSB are doubting the validity of the story they aired.

Second, I want to make it clear that "Digging Through the Dirt" is not affiliated with any organization. This blog is not a PR piece for The HSUS. In fact, I have been critical of that group before. (However, I believe that the work they do for animals greatly outweighs any differences of opinion I may have with them from time to time.)

So it's ironic that blogger Andy Vance has accused me of being tied to The HSUS.
Claiming that the Center is some manner of industrial front-group, the HSUS-linked blogger attempts to tie the Center to a shadowy cabal including evil farmers and the tobacco industry.
Apparently Vance, host of ABN Radio ("Ohio's Voice for Agriculture"), doesn't know that the CCF began as a front group for the tobacco industry.

Vance also accuses me and other "pro-vegan minions" of "wag[ing] war on investigative reporters and their interviewed guests" in the WSB piece. However, as I noted in my previous post, while it would be nice for reporters not to take the CCF at its word, my contempt is not with them. Nor is it with any of the people interviewed for the story, save one: David Martosko. While Vance says I'm disparaging the messenger because I don't like the message, the truth is that the message is a lie and the public needs to know the motives behind the messenger.

"Disparaging the messenger" is actually the cornerstone of the CCF's strategy, as revealed in a 1999 interview with president Richard Berman.

"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."

As I noted in my previous post, the CCF and animal ag are running scared because of the success of Prop 2. Instead of going after the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, an easier target than The HSUS because of its antics, Martosko and the CCF have to contend with a more-respected organization. Martosko likes to refer to The HSUS as "PETA with a better wristwatch."

And as Paul Shapiro, senior director for The HSUS's factory farming campaign, notes, "rather than discussing the issues at hand, [Martosko would rather] just destroy the reputation of [his] critics.

"You can either lose pretty or win ugly," Martosko told animal-ag proponent Trent Loos last week.

The CCF's tactics are damn ugly. Martosko has even resorted to posting his group's lies on Craigslist.

The CCF and animal ag are desperate. As Loos accidentally said in his interview with Martosko, with any luck the CCF will "lose ugly."

(Image courtesy of BermanExposed.org.)



Friday, May 15, 2009

CCF Continues to Deceive Journalists, Public

OK, so the headline isn't exactly breaking news. The deceptively named Center for Consumer Freedom has been playing dirty since it was created by Richard Berman in 1995 to be a front group for the tobacco industry.

I'm using "CCF" here as a catchall for Berman's 15 front groups. They each have a different name, but their motives and tactics are the same: Protect evil, greedy corporations by any means necessary.

In the most recent case a Berman cohort was interviewed by the Orlando Sentinel, but the paper didn't identify Joe Kefauver as such. Instead he was described as a Democrat who "runs the public affairs consulting company Edgewater Group."

The story was about how an increasing number of Democrats, including Kefauver, are supposedly against the Employee Free Choice Act, which Berman's groups have been fighting.

Harper's Magazine, though, discovered something the Sentinel's business writer failed to. (Yes, I'm giving her the benefit of the doubt.)
What the article didn't mention is that Kefauver has long and close ties to Berman. The most recently available public disclosure forms list Kefauver as both a director of Berman's Center for Consumer Freedom, and as a compensated "director of development" for Berman's Employment Policies Institute Foundation. Berman and Company has also paid Kefauver's firm for consulting services.
Harper's story ends with this piece of advice:
Next time it writes about EFCA the Sentinel might want to look for someone other than a Berman plant as a source.
CCF attacks HSUS

That recommendation would be good to share with the people at Atlanta's WSB-TV (Channel 2). They ran a story yesterday disparaging The Humane Society of the United States. The hook? The HSUS doesn't run local humane societies. That's not news. We know that. They're not misrepresenting themselves.

Of course, the CCF's David Martosko was interviewed. And, as usual, the reporter didn't disclose that the CCF is doing all they can to discredit The HSUS. Instead the story simply identified the CCF as "a national consumer organization."

But the CCF isn't some grass-roots, consumer-run group. It is an industry front group, and industry is scared. With November's passage of Prop 2 in California, the animal ag industry, which funds the CCF, is in turmoil. The HSUS was successful in its attempt to have gestation, battery and veal crates phased out in California, and they are hard at work in other states.

After the story aired, The HSUS responded, saying in part that it's a national organization.
We were formed 55 years ago to end animal cruelty that occurs on a national scale. Local animal organizations serve their communities very well and we encourage people to support them.
Although The HSUS's response didn't mention the CCF, WSBTV.com posted a CCF rebuttal on its Web site.
The level of deception exhibited by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) never ceases to amaze us.
The CCF's feigned outrage is laughable. The level of its deception is limitless.

Update (5/16/09): It appears that WSBTV.com has removed not only the responses from The HSUS and the CCF but also the original story. (Unfortunately you can still see it on YouTube.) I don't know why the news station did this, as older, unrelated stories are still on the site. Perhaps they realized how inaccurate it was?

(Image of Richard Berman courtesy of CBS News.)



Thursday, May 14, 2009

Minister: Love for Animals Due to Lack of Religious Understanding

According to Southern Baptist Minister Wes Jamison, people who care about animals do so because of a poor understanding of religion.

Before giving his presentation, "Why Do Animals Matter? Animals and the Use of Religion in the Animal Welfare Debate," at the Animal Agriculture Alliance's Stakeholders Summit on Tuesday, Jamison, an associate professor of communication at Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida, spoke with "AgriTalk Radio" host Mike Adams.
If you believe in evolution, then we won. Why would we wring our hands about it? If dolphins don't like it, they should grow opposing thumbs and farm us maybe a million years from now. We won the evolutionary battle. But for some reason people have inside of them this desire to want to protect these animals.
Imagine that: people who want to prevent other living beings from suffering. I hate the talk about "human exceptionalism," just as I dislike people believing in "American exceptionalism." People are special in our own ways, yes, but so are animals. And people in other countries are no less valued or unique than people in the United States. "Exceptionalism" is a selfish, myopic, arrogant way of viewing the world.

Animal ag proponent Trent Loos said he received negative feedback from "ag media people" who saw Jamison speak at the conference. In an interview with Loos, David Martosko, of the deceptively named Center for Consumer Freedom, had a theory about that.
The only thing that I saw in his presentation that made me a little uncomfortable was the fact that ... a lot of his most interesting findings he said were secret and he wasn't sharing with the crowd. I think that turned off the media, the ag press who was there. They want all the information and Wes wasn't giving it to them. I understand why he did it. The Animal Ag Alliance and the ... Nebraska Farm Bureau paid for this thing and so they're entitled to see the results, and he's afraid that a few of his talking points will wind up being used against ag if HSUS gets ahold of them first.
Martosko is referring to a study Jamison conducted about how the animal-rights movement is using religion to further its cause.
"Given Dr. Jamison's previous extensive study of the animal rights movement and his understanding of their overall tactics, we eagerly anticipate the first disclosure of his findings at the Stakeholders Summit," said [Kay] Johnson Smith, Executive Vice President of the Animal Agriculture Alliance."
It sounds like Jamison didn't do much unveiling.

But he did link religion to eating animals. He contends that people who are well versed in their religious text (be them Christian, Jewish, Muslim, etc.) know it is OK to eat animals because those texts supposedly say it is. He also said atheists eat animals because they don't care what anyone says. And then there's the middle group, which is the largest.
In that middle is that squooshy middle of people who call themselves spiritual, who call themselves religious, but really don't know what that means. They are a very fertile recruiting ground. ... [Those people] will begin to say, "Ah, yes, God is a God of compassion. Factory farming is not compassion. Therefore God hates factory farming."
Religion and animal rights don't have to have anything to do with each other. I know vegan atheists, just as I know devoutly religious vegans.

Animal rights is really about recognizing suffering and cruelty and not wanting to be a part of it. It's about "The Golden Rule," and people at all points on the religious spectrum can live their lives by that.

But I can see the benefit of using religion as just one angle to promote animal rights, as The Humane Society of the United States is doing with its Animals and Religion campaign.

I've no doubt that Jamison would accuse me of being part of the middle group, of not being an expert on the Bible -- and that'd be true. But if his god is one who would condone cruelty to animals, then it's not one I'd want to worship.

(Image of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals, courtesy of CatholicGreetings.org.)




Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Want to Avoid Pesky Animal-Cruelty Probes? Let the U.S. Government Show You How

It's always nice when my tax dollars are used to protect animal-abuse industries.

A senior security specialist with the U.S. Department of Commerce was the first speaker on Day 2 of the Animal Agriculture Alliance's Stakeholders Summit.

Paul Battaglia spoke about "Improving Security and Deterring Threats to Your Business."

He works for the Office of Security's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. Financial crimes -- exactly what the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act was put into place to deter. Who cares about the treatment of animals? The industry just wants to protect its profits.

To that end, Battaglia gave the audience tips to combat undercover investigations. Since a facility's security system won't prevent undercover probes -- the investigators often are unknowingly hired to work there -- factory farms need to implement other ways to discourage these investigations. For example, owners should employ criminal background checks and credit checks, he said.

Employee handbooks should tell workers that any animal abuse should be reported to management and that the use of recording devices would be deemed criminal trespass. Battaglia encouraged owners to consult a criminal attorney to learn more about trespass, consent, fraud and threats.

He also advised owners to make workers sign non-disclosure agreements.

This advice -- and the eager ears soaking it up -- shows you that factory farmers don't care about animal cruelty. Instead of being outraged by the behavior, they condemn the person who "outed" their facility.

Employee handbooks can say whatever they want. In practice, though, if a worker complains to a manager about animal cruelty, the worker isn't taken seriously. We saw that in "Death on a Factory Farm," where an employee was disgusted by the hanging deaths of pigs. She complained and was ignored, which prompted her to contact the Humane Farming Association. That group hired an undercover investigator who made the abuse public.

(Image courtesy of ExploreVeg.org.)



Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Farmed-Animal Exploiters Fight to Keep 'Social License'

The Animal Agriculture Alliance opened its eighth-annual Stakeholders Summit today in Alexandria, Va.

The central focus of the two-day program, "Politics, Activism and Religion: Influencing the Debate on Animal Welfare in America," was tied to maintaining public approval for animal agribusiness, which one speaker referred to as a "social license."

Kay Johnson Smith, the Alliance's executive vice president, stated as much in a press release about the conference.
"In the USA, animal welfare issues have been among the most significant challenges the animal food chain has faced this decade. Aggressive animal rights campaigns are being mounted globally and it is important that we address them strategically and in a unified manner."
Workshops included advice on "reaching students on college campuses and in secondary schools" and on establishing a presence on social-networking sites, such as Facebook, MySpace and YouTube.

Montana logger Bruce Vincent spoke to "AgriTalk Radio" host Mike Adams before giving his keynote address to the summit about "The Price of Giving in" to activists.

He said the agribusiness industry must fight to maintain its "social license."
"We only operate with the consent of the public. We've got to engage them."
Vincent, the president of the League of Rural Voters, called animal rights and environmentalism "conflict industries."
"They are an industry that is based on conflict and fear, and there's no satisfying them, and when you think about it, they're fighting for their job. They want to fight."
Yes, we're fighting for those without a voice -- the animals and the environment. But we don't do it because it's our job. Many of us, perhaps most, don't get paid for our work.

Ironically Vincent recommended animal exploiters become activists.
"What I'll be telling folks today at noon is everybody needs to add activism as a line item in their business plan right in front of equipment maintenance or they won't have equipment to maintain in 20 years. ... Giving up an hour a week to making a phone call, writing a letter, showing up at a hearing."
He also said ballot initiatives by animal-rights groups are confusing. I, of course, disagree.
"Oh, there's confusion out there. And when industry is trying to explain to the public, and kind of take the veil off the issue, who does the public trust? Do they trust industry? We know the answer to that question. They do trust their neighbor. They do trust a peer."
And why doesn't the public trust industry? Because industry is in it for the money. It's not the animal-rights activists and environmentalists who are fighting for their jobs; it's the animal exploiters. We've seen countless examples of industry's lies and cover-ups. That's why people no longer trust them.

Because animal exploiters are all about concealment, attendance was by invitation only.

The summit was sponsored by the industry's most powerful companies and organizations: Monsanto, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, Tyson, Cargill, Pfizer, Hormel, Bayer, the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association, the United Soybean Board, National Pork Producers Council and Pork Checkoff, among others.

("Swine flu" photo courtesy of artist Dan Dunbar.)



Friday, May 8, 2009

Is Spreading Information About Veganism, Animal Rights Propaganda?

A former co-worker called me a propagandist on my Facebook page yesterday.

I don't know if he meant it in a matter-of-fact way or in a negative way. Regardless I had to look up the word for its exact meaning.
2. Any systematic, widespread dissemination or promotion of particular ideas, doctrines, practices, etc. to further one's own cause or to damage an opposing one. 3. Ideas, doctrines, or allegations so spread: now often used disparagingly to connote deception or distortion.
While I am definitely a propagandist by definition 2, I don't engage in deception. I could be accused of engaging in distortion; after all, my blog is biased. I'm not writing objective news stories. But that is evident when you read my blog; I'm not trying to deceive my readers.

The reason I began "Digging Through the Dirt" was to counter the lies that the animal-abuse industry shoves in people's faces every day. Their advertisements are so ubiquitous that most meat-eaters (myself included when I was one) don't even realize they are being deceived. We see ads for hamburgers, fried chicken, dairy products every day. The producers don't tell us their products are loaded with saturated fat and cholesterol. They don't show us how the animals lived before they were slaughtered.

Nikki, who writes the blog "Generation V," wrote a great post recently that ironically addressed the issue of spreading our message.
[A friend has] asked several times why I can’t just quietly follow my lifestyle and leave everyone else alone. No social movement ever gained ground by people quietly practicing their beliefs at home. What if no one had spoken out against slavery? What if they’d kept their comments to themselves?
She also refers specifically to veganism.
What if Peter Singer had never broached the subject of animal ethics and set a new generation of critical thinkers on the issue? If that were the case now, I, myself, wouldn’t have had the choice to go vegan because I’d have never heard about what was going on in factory farms. From another perspective, I’ve read countless stories of students who were grateful for the information handed out by activists, which allowed them to make an informed decision for the first time at the supermarket. How else would they have known?
She's right. With the millions of dollars -- as well as help from the government -- that the meat and dairy industries have, who is going to spread information about veganism if not individual activists and non-profits?

When I was a teen, I saw a 1947 movie called "Gentleman's Agreement." Gregory Peck starred as a journalist who wanted to investigate anti-Semitism, so he pretended to be Jewish.

One scene, in particular, has stayed with me. In it, Kathy Lacy (played by Dorothy McGuire), a gentile woman who hadn't cared about anti-Semitism before she met Peck's character, tells Dave Goldman (played by John Garfield) about a recent dinner party. At the party someone told an anti-Semitic joke. Kathy proudly tells Dave, who is Jewish, that she was disgusted by it. Dave asks Kathy what she did. She says that she was just so disgusted. She didn't join in the laughter; she remained silent. Dave says that silence is complicity. By not speaking up when you witness an injustice, you are just as guilty as the people committing the act.

Nikki made a similar point.
I see this as an ethical issue rather than a personal one. Animal rights isn't a [pastime] or hobby like soccer or [scrapbooking,] and ethics call for action.
(Image courtesy of PoliticalHumor.About.com.)



Thursday, May 7, 2009

Oprah, Ellen Criticized for Promoting Animal Abusers

Despite promoting vegan diets on their respective programs, Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres have recently used their celebrity to advertise companies that abuse animals.

Oprah worked with Kentucky Fried Chicken to allow people to download a coupon from her Web site that entitled customers to two free pieces of grilled chicken. She said she did it to help cash-strapped Americans.

Ironically last spring Oprah completed a 21-day cleanse, which required her to eat a vegan diet. In her blog on Day 1 she wrote the following:
How can you say you're trying to spiritually evolve, without even a thought about what happens to the animals whose lives are sacrificed in the name of gluttony?
On Day 5 she wrote, "I had the most delicious lunch: quinoa salad and pasta with soy chicken."

In October she aired a show about California's ballot initiative Proposition 2, which would eliminate gestation, battery and veal crates by 2015. (Prop 2 passed in November.) The episode, "How We Treat the Animals We Eat," focused on the cruelty inherent on factory farms.

Due to that show and one Oprah aired earlier last year about puppy mills, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals named Oprah their 2008 Person of the Year.

It's ironic then that after learning about animal cruelty and knowing it doesn't jibe with her "spiritual evolution," Oprah would encourage people to consume chicken carcasses from KFC.
KFC suppliers cram birds into huge waste-filled factories, breed and drug them to grow so large that they can’t even walk, and often break their wings and legs. At slaughter, the birds’ throats are slit and they are dropped into tanks of scalding-hot water—often while they are still conscious.
It's also disturbing from a non-animal rights perspective. Oprah has constantly battled with her weight, yet she's publicizing a fast-food restaurant. Even if people are hurting for money in this economy, there are far healthier foods to choose from that don't cost a lot: fruits, veggies, rice, beans. These are foods that don't cost much in the short term and cost even less in the long term. Consuming a diet of fast-food can lead to obesity, heart disease, certain cancers, diabetes, etc.

Like Oprah, Ellen also tried a vegan diet last year -- only she and wife Portia de Rossi have stuck with it. A columnist on The Huffington Post site criticized her yesterday for signing a contract with Cover Girl Cosmetics. (Although Ecorazzi.com reported on the contract in October.)

At issue is Cover Girl's -- and parent company Procter & Gamble's -- stance on animal testing.
Each year, thousands of animals die in Procter & Gamble laboratories -- the victims of painful, archaic and entirely unnecessary product tests. Caustic chemicals are forced into the eyes of rabbits and applied to animals' shaved and raw skin.
Although I don't support animal experimentation -- especially for consumer products like shampoo and makeup -- I'm not so quick to criticize Ellen for signing with Cover Girl. While Oprah clearly knows how animals are treated in the production of "food," Ellen may not be aware of the issues surrounding animal experimentation and Procter & Gamble. Just because someone adopts a vegan diet, she doesn't automatically become knowledgeable about all animal abuse.

Hopefully, though, Jaclyn Simon's column on The Huffington Post will encourage Ellen to research animal experimentation, and other forms of animal cruelty, and speak out against them -- at least after her Cover Girl contract expires.

(Image courtesy of KFCCruelty.com.)



Monday, May 4, 2009

Dietitian Presents 'Vegan 101'

Dr. Michael Greger from The Humane Society of the United States was scheduled to speak to Vegan Chicago Meetup members this past Saturday but canceled due to the swine flu.

No, he wasn't sick. As the director of public health and animal agriculture for The HSUS, he became in demand as attention of the disease outbreak grew.

Fortunately registered dietitian Anya Todd was kind enough to step in during her Chicago vacation. Todd, who lives in Mansfield, Ohio, is a vegan and writes a column in Mercy For Animals' twice-yearly magazine, Compassionate Living.

While her presentation consisted of information most vegans already know -- an audience member referred to it as "Vegan 101" -- it hopefully will be of interest to my meat-eating readers. (And some veg*ans may discover tidbits they hadn't already known.)

Health

The first part of the lecture focused on medical conditions. Todd said that 65% of Americans are overweight, and of that number 31% are obese. About 300,000 people die from obesity-related conditions each year in the United States.

Obesity increases one's risk of hypertension, sleep apnea, stroke, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and osteoarthritis.

A quarter of American kids are obese. What was once referred to as "adult-onset diabetes" is now almost entirely called Type 2 diabetes because kids younger than 10 years old are being diagnosed with it.

The government's school lunch program is not helping to stem that number, she said.

"Our country's school lunch program is disgusting; it's shameful," Todd said. "We're poisoning our children."

Congress is re-evaluating that program, and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has been has been promoting a "school lunch revolution." Talk-show host Montel Williams' 14-year-old daughter, Wyntergrace, has even reached out to Malia and Sasha Obama to get them to join the campaign for reform.

Todd referred to a study of diabetics, in which one group was put on the diet that the American Diabetic Association recommends for those with diabetes. The other group was put on a vegan diet. 43% of those on the vegan diet were able to reduce the need to take diabetic drugs, while only 26% of those on the ADA diet were able to.

Similarly, the people in the vegan group lost an average of 14 pounds, while the ADA group lost an average of less than 7 pounds. The LDL (bad cholesterol) of the vegan group dropped by 21%. That of the ADA group dropped by 11%.

While doctors are lucky to have one nutrition class in med school -- which is usually sponsored by meat and dairy groups -- Todd said she's encouraged that some doctors in her small town have begun prescribing a vegan diet to patients with heart disease.

Nutrition

While Todd went vegan for ethical reasons, she said that as she learned more about health, her choice seemed like a "no-brainer."

We can't trust the government to give us the facts on nutrition. The people who sit on the national Food & Nutrition Board, which disseminates nutrition guidelines, work for such companies as Burger King, Coca-Cola, M&Ms, Dannon, American Egg Board, Taco Bell and Pfizer.

Protein

The average American consumes twice as much protein as he needs. Because the excess protein must be filtered by the kidneys, they become overworked, which can lead to kidney disease.

Good sources of vegan protein include soy, beans, nuts, seitan and quinoa.

Carbohydrates

Sources of carbohydrates include whole grains, fruits, vegetables and beans.

Fiber

Fiber comes in two forms: insoluble and soluble.

Insoluble fiber moves bulk through the GI tract. It maintains proper pH in the intestines and possibly prevents the production of cancer-causing microbes. An example of insoluble fiber is leafy green vegetables.

Soluble fiber, which can be found in oatmeal, binds with fatty acids and lowers LDL cholesterol. It also prolongs digestion (making you feel full longer) and aids diabetics by regulating blood sugar.

Todd said an easy way to see if your bread is made with whole grains is to look at the fiber box on the nutritional label. If the fiber content is less than 3 grams, then the bread isn't whole grain.

Antioxidants

Antioxidants help to remove free radicals, which can lead to cancer.

Beta-carotene can be found in carrots, sweet potatoes, squash and spinach.

Lutein is found in dark green vegetables, such as kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and spinach.

Tomatoes contain lycopene.

Vitamin A can be found in bright-colored fruits and vegetables, such as carrots, squash, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and peaches.

Of course, citrus fruits are a source of Vitamin C. But did you know that broccoli and green peppers are other good sources?

Vitamin E can be found in nuts and seeds, whole grains and green leafy vegetables.

The above foods are only some of the sources for these antioxidants.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Omega 3 fatty acids reduce LDL cholesterol, decrease inflammation and regulate blood sugar. They can be found in flax, walnuts, soy and canola oils and seeds. While fish does contain Omega 3 fatty acids, Todd recommends forgoing the mercury, other toxins and cruelty of eating fish and using flax oil instead.

An audience member suggested a relatively new product called DHA algae oil, which I'm going to look into. Registered dietitian Jack Norris of Vegan Outreach recently recommended vegans take a DHA supplement, so this product may do the trick.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 can be found in fortified sources, such as soy milk, cereal and fake "meat." One can also take a B12 supplement.

Calcium

Todd said the "Got Milk?" campaign cost the industry $190 million in 1999 and was a response to kids opting for soda instead of milk. But people can get calcium without consuming saturated fat and cholesterol.

People need between 600 and 1,200 mg of calcium per day. The people on the higher end of the spectrum include kids and pregnant women.

Fortified soy milk contains 300 mg of calcium, a 4-oz. package of tofu in water (not the vacuum-packed kind) contains 250 mg, and collard greens contain 357 mg.

Iron

Iron can be found in soy, lentils, seeds and fortified foods. Consuming Vitamin C while eating a food high in iron helps to increase the iron absorption.

Pantry Essentials

Todd recommends keeping the following in your home:
  • Enriched non-dairy beverages
  • Beans
  • Whole grains (oats, brown rice, quinoa)
  • Flax seed
  • Dried fruit
  • Nuts
  • Calcium-set tofu (the refrigerated kind in water)
  • Citrus fruit
  • Green, leafy veggies
  • B12 nutritional yeast
Sample Meal Plan

Breakfast

1 Cup oatmeal with 1 Tablespoon of ground flax
1 Cup sliced strawberries
1 Cup soy milk (fortified)

Lunch

2 Cups bean soup
Large salad with tahini dressing
Large whole-wheat roll
Almond cookie

Dinner

Tofu (the refrigerated kind) and veggie stir-fry in 1 teaspoon canola oil
1 Cup brown rice

Dessert

4 oz. carrot with 1/3 Cup hummus
1 orange
4 oz. soy yogurt

Total nutritional content:

78 g protein
65 g fat (but good fat, not saturated)
55 g fiber
1,312 mg calcium
31 g iron

(There were other nutrients, but I didn't have time to write them down.)

Finally, Todd suggested people eat isolated soy protein -- the kind found in fake "meats" -- in moderation and concentrate more on whole-food soy, like that found in tofu and tempeh.

She recommended the following sites for people who want more information:
(Image of vegan food pyramid courtesy of VegSource.com.)