Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Veganism: The Word Is Spreading

I was surprised -- and thrilled -- a few weeks ago when I was browsing at the local Barnes & Noble and discovered a vegan area in the cookbook section.

Now, this wasn't just a few books off to themselves. This was a full-on genre of cookbooks, complete with its own large headline rising above the display: VEGAN.

I love when I see that word in mainstream places, for many reasons.

It means veganism is gaining attention. The gatekeepers -- whether they be newspaper editors or TV producers, bookstore execs or restaurant owners -- have allowed the word to enter the space of the average American.

And that means that information about veganism will continue to spread, reaching Jane Soccer Mom and Joe Football.

It also means that veganism has become popular. Barnes & Noble wouldn't highlight a section it didn't think would sell. Thanks to talented chefs like Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, Isa Moskowitz and Tal Ronnen, among many others, bookstores have a slew of vegan cookbooks to tout.

Another unlikely place that veganism has made an appearance is at my husband's workplace. The cafeteria in his 22-floor office building in Chicago was recently remodeled and now offers vegan food, which is labeled as such.

This change not only helps co-workers who may be vegetarian or vegan, but it also introduces meat-eaters to veganism. Some of Keith's friends at work jokingly (and in good fun) call him "Tofu" because they know he's married to a vegan. But the other day one of them actually decided to try tofu for lunch.

It's so encouraging and uplifting to see the notion of veganism spreading!

(Photo courtesy of Nikki J. at "Generation V.")

Monday, January 11, 2010

Gay Animal Activist Beaten in Chicago

A Chicago animal activist was beaten and called gay slurs early Sunday morning on a CTA train.
Daniel Hauff, 33, said he tried to quell a dispute between two men on the train when one of them, joined by two other riders, began yelling gay slurs and other taunts at him.

Hauff said he pressed the emergency intercom, and the conductor came. But the conductor soon left, Hauff said, and the train started moving again.

Hauff said the men beat him while the train was between the Wilson and Argyle stops. "And I never once threw a punch," Hauff said. "It's just not in my nature."
The incident happened around 3 a.m. He "was released from a hospital around 6 a.m. He said his face, chest, back, knee and foot were in pain, but nothing was broken."

Dann, whom I've met, is the director of investigations for Chicago-based Mercy For Animals. In April I quoted him in a blog post about MFA's undercover video, which showed rotting chicken corpses in a facility run by New England's largest egg producer.

Like me, I'm sure most people in the animal-rights community are going to think of Nathan Runkle when they read about Dann's assault.

Nathan is the executive director for Mercy For Animals, the organization he founded in 1999 in Ohio. He was the victim of an assault around this time a year ago (December 2008). It occurred at a gay night club in Dayton, Ohio.

He suffered "two facial fractures, a broken nose, deviated septum, and severe facial bruising" and had to have several surgeries.

It's sad and ironic that two men who work to end violence against living beings have found themselves the victims of violence.
MFA has long worked to bridge the gap between the common prejudices which lead to oppression and abuses faced by both animals and minorities. In recent years MFA has joined gay advocates in gay pride marches by forming human rainbows preceded by banners declaring, "No one is free when others are oppressed." The organization has also been a lead opponent of gay rodeo events, citing the community's obligation to protect animals from needless violence.
It's all connected. When people view others as lesser beings simply because they are different, they feel justified in mistreating them.

Please help stop violence in our society -- against both human and nonhuman animals. One simple and effective way is by eliminating animal products from your diet. Visit ChooseVeg.com for more information.

(In this April 2009 photo by Angela Rowlings via BostonHerald.com, Dann Hauff tells reporters about the suffering Mercy For Animals uncovered at a New England egg-laying facility.)

New Year, New Followers

Although I'm a week late, I just wanted to take a minute at the beginning of 2010 to welcome those who have recently discovered "Digging Through the Dirt."

Whether through Twitter, Facebook, Google searches or elsewhere, I'm glad you found this blog. And whether you're a meat-eater, vegetarian or vegan, I hope you find it informing and enlightening. I also hope it inspires you to make changes to your life to help yourself, your fellow animals and the Earth.

It's not always easy to break old habits, particularly ones that have been ingrained in us since we were children. But when we know the truth about animal suffering, it's easier to make decisions that reflect our values.

I will continue "digging through the dirt" to inform both my readers and myself about issues affecting animals, our health and the planet so that we may all continue to grow.

To both my new readers and my faithful followers, have a very happy New Year!

(Photo courtesy of Animal Rights Activists of NJ.)

Friday, January 8, 2010

'Flexitarians' Actually Omnivores Trying To Be Hip

Compass Group, the world's largest food-service company, has implemented a program to encourage people to eat less meat.

The Humane Society of the United States worked with the company on the campaign.

The move will affect Compass Group's "8,500 U.S. corporate and academic food service cafeterias."

Although I don't know how many dishes will be vegan (vs. vegetarian), normally I'd applaud such a move. But I can't fully support this initiative because of its name: "Be a Flexitarian."

Now, The HSUS and Compass Group could have named this campaign anything (or nothing). I'm not going to brainstorm ideas. But it could have revolved around health or the environment or "Meat-Free" something-or-other.

But instead they chose to publicize the notion of being a flexitarian.

I first came upon that word in an interview with actress Anne Hathaway. Her 2008 "Becoming Jane" co-star James Cromwell is vegan, and Hathaway told the reporter she's "flexitarian," which I took to mean she sometimes eats vegetarian food and sometimes eats meat. This diet is nothing new. In fact, it's the definition of an omnivore.

But by giving our standard American diet a new name -- flexitarian -- it makes people think they're doing something good, something hip. They're making a difference. "At this meal, I'm not going to eat meat. But at this other meal, it's ok if I eat meat. I'm a flexitarian, after all."

The American Dialect Society voted "flexitarian" as 2003's most useful word and defined it as "a vegetarian who occasionally eats meat." Vegetarians don't eat meat. Period. So not only is the word useless, but it's also nonsense.

It's sort of like me deciding that two-thirds of the time (or any other fraction) I'm going to be sensitive to other people's differences. But when I feel like it, I'm going to be racist and homophobic. Because I'm flexible like that.

If you're an omnivore who doesn't think you can go vegetarian (or vegan) all at once -- although the vegetarian part is pretty easy, in my opinion -- and wants to reduce your meat consumption, that's great.

If you want to label yourself, call yourself an omnivore who is trying to go vegetarian (or vegan). That phrase connotes someone who is actively looking to improve herself (and/or the world). A "flexitarian" implies you're not attempting to improve anything and are proud of that fact.

(Image courtesy of The Globe and Mail.)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

'Food, Inc.' Worth Checking Out

Although the documentary "Food, Inc." was released last year, it didn't come to a theater near me. So I didn't get to see it until last night, after I rented it.

I had heard it wasn't exactly a pro-vegan film -- and it's not -- but I do recommend watching it.

Much in the film I had already known: corn can be found in lots of foods; factory farms harm animals, workers and the environment.

But it was great seeing Smithfield, Tyson, Perdue and Monsanto get burned. Now I see why Monsanto was so peeved about the film and why they instituted "regular guy" bloggers to tout the company.

But, while the film portrayed these behemoths in a negative light, it didn't do the same with farmers. Farmers -- both those who raise crops and those who breed animals -- were portrayed as victims of these companies.

What is ironic, though, is the response from the ag community to the release of "Food, Inc." People laid into director Robert Kenner during a Twitter interview, saying he hated farmers and wanted to put them out of business. These are the same people who follow Smithfield and Monsanto on Twitter and believe -- and spread -- their lies.

While I wish veganism had been mentioned in the film as one way to combat these evil companies, I hope viewers will cringe at the scene of chickens being killed by Joel Salatin, a "farmer" cited as being humane.

Perhaps viewers will realize that no method of killing live animals is humane enough for them to support.

A Story of 'Ham'

This is the story of ham (and bacon, pork, pork chops, sausage, hot dogs, etc.).

Sarah -- I'm giving the pig a name to make her more real -- has to be artificially inseminated to become pregnant. When she's pregnant, she's put into a gestation crate. She will remain here for about 114 days, the average gestation period for a pig. The gestation crate is so small that Sarah is not able to stretch her legs or to turn around.

After she gives birth, she's put into a farrowing crate, with bars to separate her from her babies. Like the gestation crate, the farrowing crate is too small for Sarah to extend her limbs or to turn around. Her babies nurse through the bars. In nature Sarah would have made a nest and would have been able to cuddle with her babies.

One of Sarah's babies, Winnie, is a runt, a smaller-than-normal piglet perhaps with a genetic defect. One of the workers at the pig farm takes Winnie and bangs her against the concrete floor. He tosses her into a garbage can, where her body seizes and she's left to die.

Wilbur is another of Sarah's babies. In the first few days after he is born, his canine teeth are cut (clipped). His tail, which pigs wag just as dogs do, is cut off. His ears are notched using an instrument like a hole punch. All of these disfigurements are performed without anesthesia.

Sometime before Wilbur is 4 weeks old, his testicles are cut off, again without anesthesia.

Around 3 weeks old Wilbur is weaned from Sarah and taken from her. Sarah will be impregnated again. Wilbur is crowded with other pigs into pens with metal bars, where he remains until he reaches 250 pounds.

When Wilbur is between 6 and 10 months old, he's loaded into a truck with dozens of other pigs. It's winter, and the back of the truck isn't heated. The pigs stand in urine and feces during their drive, which could last for hours.

When they arrive at the slaughterhouse, some of the pigs' skin has frozen to the side of the truck. The workers rip them free. The pigs are herded down aisles, where they hear other pigs screaming ahead of them.

When Wilbur reaches a man, he fights, squirms, screams. The man, in his haste, fails to "stun" Wilbur properly -- either by shooting a bolt into his brain or giving him an electric shock.

Wilbur is hung upside-down by one leg. As he travels on the conveyor, blood rushing to his head, he regains consciousness and starts thrashing. A woman with a knife slits his throat. Wilbur continues to fight until he loses consciousness again and dies from the blood loss.

Wilbur's dead body continues to travel across the slaughterhouse, workers stabbing at it, cutting it, chopping it.

It will eventually be displayed at the center of a dining room table, where mothers and fathers and their children will stab a piece of Wilbur's flesh with a fork and comment on how good it tastes, not wanting to think about the cruelty and suffering, murder and death they are actually eating.

Note: Although this story sounds extreme and sensational, it's not. These practices are standard in animal agribusiness. Please ask yourself if you can continue to support such an industry.

Update (1/9/10): Because one of my family members was offended by my reference to "relatives" at the beginning of this post, I've removed it.

(Photos courtesy of "Animal Writings," PETA via Vegan Outreach, PETA and Gail Eisnitz.)