This blog is about the intersection between evolutionary biology and food. But also about practical applications, sustainable agriculture, and general tasty things.
Last year I paid a visit to Miya's Sushi, in New Haven, a restaurant that tries* to be sustainable
We are aware that the restaurant industry has a very harmful impact on the environment; in particular, the traditional cuisine of sushi is destroying our oceans. Therefore, we try to maintain a restaurant in as ecologically responsible manner as possible. We do our best to not use ingredients that are either overfished or that in their production have a negative impact on the environment. As a result, half of our vast menu is vegetable-centered; the other half does not utilize traditional sushi ingredients such as Toro, Bluefin Tuna, Big Eye Tuna, certain Yellowfin, Unagi, Red Snapper, Maine Sea Urchin, Octopus, and so on. Instead, we’ve created dishes that include unconventional sushi ingredients such as Catfish, which, unlike the farming of many farmed fish, are grown in confined ponds that make it virtually impossible to cross-contaminate other species or destroy the aquatic ecosystem around them.
I was reminded of it because on a popular Facebook group called International Paleo Movement Group, there was an argument between me and Lana, the admin of Ethical Omnivore Movement, a facebook page where she posts various articles and other information.
Lana thinks it is unacceptable to eat any seafood ever because we need to give our damaged oceans a rest. That there is no such thing as sustainable seafood. She was promoting a film called Sea the Truth, which is produced by the Dutch animal rights party.
They also produced Meat the Truth and I think here it's where we find parallels between many tactics that animal rights activists use to discourage omnivory. The main tactic is to highlight parts of the industry that is destructive and then also highlight incidences where corrupt governments and NGOs labeled meat or fish sustainable where it wasn't. The implication is that the entire industry is bad and it is impossible to buy sustainable versions of these products. With the growth of the local food movement, in meat at least, this position has become untenable since a growing number of people have personal relationships with the farms they buy from and see that not all meat is produced in the way portrayed by these documentaries. So they also increasingly ally themselves with other arguments that appeal to self-interest such as that meat or fish is all full of toxins or will clog your arteries and kill you slowly.
They also attack small producers, trying the best they can to find small producers that are poorly run in order to undermine consumer's confidence that they can find good products or to highlight the idea that even small producers can have a negative effect on the environment such as Meat the Truth's emphasis on methane that even grass-fed cows produce.
They want you to firmly believe that there is never an acceptable meat or seafood to buy.
When this kind of stuff gets incorporated by the paleo movement, it becomes even worse since so many people in this movement are rabidly anti-government and anti-agriculture. Fish farming? It has the word farming in it, so it must be always bad. Government monitoring and regulation of fish stocks? Nope, because a lot of governments are corrupt. I don't even know what solution they are proposing. Lana simply said people who eat fish are being selfish and small picture and we have to personally change in order to save the ocean.
Given that the ocean is the commons and in general owned by no one (a more sophisticated libertarian argument would attack lack of ownership), and that we can't assume that rest of the world's population is willing to give up seafood because of animal rights films, unfortunately the main viable solutions will be on a global policy level. Which definitely is difficult considering the capture of governments by industry interests, but the consensus on individual action is that it is ineffective at even making a dent on global problems like ocean health or climate change. I think even the makers of these films understand that. Marianne Thieme, the Dutch politician that helms these films, is a big supporter of bans for things she doesn't like, not trying to guilt consumers into making different buying choices. The Dutch understand this more than most people with their multiculturalism struggles. Marianne, knowing that many of the things she opposes are deeply culturally embedded, has backed bans on Kosher and Halal slaughter for example.
I'm not saying that small local solutions aren't important, but they will fail if they rely on the commons and the commons are not protected. A good example was efforts in the Gulf to develop sustainable fisheries that were stymied by the oil spill there.
The reality on fish and meat is that it's not all black and white, that the presence of bad apples shouldn't tarnish efforts to reform the industry, develop alternatives, and lobby for regulations or other methods that protect the commons for everyone. Some methods of harvest will need to be banned like trawling (some countries have already banned them) and some species will require harvest moratoriums.
Sustainable solutions do mean we have to consume less of certain things and not consume others at all, which is why arguments about emissions from grass-fed cows and other similar arguments can be so deceptive. Methods like pastured cattle raising are less productive, which means higher prices for consumers. Even though I get my beef at a very good price, it is still more expensive than factory-farmed beef. Which means the average consumer will buy and eat less. There are costs, but they are worth it in order to support functioning ecosystems that can produce all kinds of foods for future generations.
Of course when you are dealing with a wild animal things get harder. You have to have sophisticated monitoring in place in order to determine what can be taken sustainably. You have to accept that some years you might not be able to hand out any tags for animals or harvest quotas. It's possible that the best solution for some of these stocks is to treat them a bit like we started treating land hunting in the US after overhunting became an issue: we heavily regulated it, de-commercialized most of it. If you want a deer, you can go out and get it yourself with a tag given out by the government. This method has already been applied to abalone in California. You have to dive to get wild abalone. Given that this is kind of dangerous, sustainable abalone farms have been developed for the commercial market.
Back at Miya's, I thought most of our sushi tasted very good. The menu describes the production method, harvesting method, and a little bit about each fish. Well, maybe not a little bit. One of our complaints was that the menu was the length of a small novel, which made it difficult to actually decide what to order. I'm not going to pretend that my own choices or even your choices can save populations of fish. For every bluefin tuna I chose not to consume, there is a consumer in a developing economy who probably just got his or her first paycheck and is going to probably order fish without looking at their "seafood watch list" card. Solving ocean problems requires large scale policy solutions, not telling a relatively well-off educated person in New York City that they are selfish for eating grouper like Lana was doing on IPMG.
But I do think those of us in the food industry, whether its writers, chefs, or grocers can make a small dent by promoting good products and leaving bad ones off the menu. Good products might not reach everyone, but they provide business models that can be used around the world and generate demand that might spur development of similar production/harvesting elsewhere.
We hear a lot of endangered seafood, but what about marine species that are pests? That are invasive and negatively impact ecosystems? These are ideal to consume, we just need to make sure that we are purposefully overharvesting and not replenishing. And that we accept that if we are successful, these things won't be on the menu anymore. Jackson Lander's Eating Aliens highlights some of these species. Miya's has a tasting menu of invasives.
There are also conservation success stories that have been so successful that these species flood the market, which is the case with lobster right now.
I also think that we need to embrace some forms of aquaculture. This isn't black and white either. There are bad fish farms. Maybe right now most fish farms are bad, but there are good systems that are being developed right now. Development of fish feed for aquaculture that is not itself wild harvested and is not also species inappropriate grain pap is a major issue right now. We need to look at systems that farm seafood at every level of the ecosystem, from aquatic plants to brine shrimp. I visited an aquaponics operation here at the Plant in Chicago recently and there were farming herbivorous Tilapia there. Unfortunately, with most of their diet being grain, consuming them has almost none of the benefits of consuming wild fish. Innovations in the production of DHA-rich algae could be a possible solution. Closed salt-water fish production systems are already being developed. I have had an interest in aquaculture for some time and would very much like to produce freshwater prawns on my family's farm.
Also, I can't help but notice Lake Michigan in my backyard, which is full of fish. Maybe someday once the remediation is done, we can get pollution under control so we can consume fish out of their more often. I eat fish my father catches from there sometimes, but try not to consume it very often.
Either way, we can't let ourselves be derailed by sexy documentaries and books created by people who have other motivations, namely the end of omnivory, in mind. Even as a niche market, we can drive the development of better solutions.
I recommend the book Bottomfeeder by Taras Grescoe which takes a look at the current state of the fish industry. It's a short read and free of extremism. When buying seafood, I would recommend Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch website. You can even print out a card to take with you to restaurants and the grocery store. They use several criteria to determine which seafood are good choices. The ideal choices come from healthy populations which only what can be replenished is harvested, using methods that do not damage the ecosystem. The ideal fishery is managed in a way that preserves and maintains the marine habitat. You can read more here. You should also take toxin levels into account like mercury and PCBs. If you take fish oil, consider switching to algae-based DHA or source your oil carefully, as much fish oil production is currently unsustainable. I used to buy Marine Stewardship Council certified fish, but based on their approval of fisheries that use trawling, I do not believe they are a trustworthy source of information.
I treat buying seafood the way I treat buying anything. There is a wrong way to produce things. There is contamination everywhere. But if I ditched anything that was possibly bad, I'd have nothing to eat. Instead, I look for and support the best I can find. This requires me to ask questions and be knowledgeable. With sardines for example, there are two main fisheries. One is threatened (Atlantic), the other thrives (Pacific).
Personally, I've never been crazy about fish oil. I think the benefits have been exaggerated and there might actually be some negative health effects to high consumption.
I never ever ate fish until I was about 20, when I first started trying to use diet to treat my health problems. I hated fish and remember drenching it in spices to choke it down. But now I actually appreciate the taste of many fish and think it is a very important element in the flavors of my cooking. The main seafood items in my kitchen are:
I really would like to find a better source for shrimp. When I see wild caught Oregon shrimp at Whole Foods, I definitely buy them. Since fraud is an issue, I would suggest finding a reputable fish monger and buying whole easily-identifiable fish.
So no, I don't think the solution to our ocean's problems is to leave them alone. Good fisheries are stewards of the ocean and by relying on the ocean for food, our stake in the matter is much higher. Good community fisheries can even mount effective resistant about threats like undersea drilling. I also think it's important to preserve traditional healthy livelihoods and work with small local community fisheries to adapt their traditions to new global challenges as best as we can, a sentiment Lana does not share. To her it's black and white- there is no fish from the ocean that is acceptable to eat. I won't be liking "Ethical Omnivore Movement" any time soon on Facebook. It's time for a rational omnivore movement.
* they had no information at the time I dined there on the sustainability of the rest of the menu, such as the vegetables or the grains.
Some people sent Nicholas Kristof's latest editorial to me, a seemingly feel-good story about "happy cows." Maybe it's vestiges of my old veganism, but the whole story made me uncomfortable. It brought up some things I wrote about in my recent post The Meat in Your Milk.
It describes a farmer who loves his dairy cattle "like children." Then it dances around the issue about what happens to them when their dairy production wanes:
This isn’t to say that Bob’s farm is a charity hostel. When cows age and their milk production drops, farmers slaughter them. Bob has always found that part of dairying tough, so, increasingly, he uses the older cows to suckle steers. That way the geriatric cows bring in revenue to cover their expenses and their day of reckoning can be postponed — indefinitely, in the case of his favorite cows.
So they are like his children, except he sends them to slaughter when they aren't useful, unless they are his favorites?
It's almost enough for me to want to start a startup where you purchase milk with a percentage of profits going to a cow retirement home.
And what happens to male offspring? Surely he isn't feeding them for charity. Don't get me wrong, I think this farmer has some admirable ideas, but it takes a Pollyanna view of animal production to portray that system the way that Kristof does.
And ultimately it reminds me that I have mixed feelings about dairy. When humans started dairying, it created a strangely intimate relationship between humans and the animals they utilized as food. Hunter-gatherers and foragers generally don't kill the animals they raise themselves. It reminds me of this Richard K. Nelson story about how Koyoukon hunters found it so difficult to adopt animal husbandry.
After watching the chickens grow, many couldn't bring themselves to eat the eggs, and it was even worse to think of dining on the birds or pigs. "People felt like they'd be eating their own children," a Koyukon woman told me. "A lot of them said, from now on they would only eat wild game they got by hunting. It felt a lot better that way.
I wonder how many pastoral cultures even slaughter their animals very often? The Maasai, for example, view cattle as too valuable as signs of wealth to slaughter. When meat is eaten, it is often in the context of a ceremony. Perhaps religion is not just for humans to understand their own lives and deaths, but the lives and deaths of animals as well.
Now that my family raises some cows, I reflect on what they mean to me. I do not consider them children or friends. They are essentially wild animals to me. We left their horns on and they haven't socialized with humans much. I'm not arrogant enough to think a cow that hasn't been conditioned towards being fed (usually grain or formula) by humans when they are young will have any interest in consorting to me. They aren't my children or my friends. They are part of the ecosystem. We steward their land, fix them up if they are sick, but largely we leave them alone to do what they want as long as its in the realm of our fenced pastures until their slaughter day comes.
Today I got a spate of seemingly random animal rights trolls. Fly by night nonsense? Nope, apparently I was featured on the Freakonomics blog. Normally this would be an honor, since I was a fan of Freakonomics when I was an economics major in college, but nope, they let James McWilliams write another animal rights nonsense piece on their blog, one that references a post I made over a year ago. What does that have to do with economics? Hilariously enough, one of the major objections I have to magazines and blogs billing McWilliams as an agricultural writer is that he doesn't seem to know anything about agricultural economics. He is a historian who ruffles feathers because he condemns the locavore movement. Some troglo-free marketers only see the latter and are just happy to have someone pulling the hippies down to Earth, while forgetting that animals play an essential and irreplaceable role in our agricultural economy. When I saw McWilliams speak on a panel with real farmers, I saw him ignoring what they said, cherry picking quotes to rationalize his fantasy-future utopia of magic robot vegetable farms where they is no death (hilariously, growing mechanization of agriculture often leads to more deaths).
According to McWilliams, I am rationalizing unnecessary death. This is untrue. There is no way to rationalize any kind of death. The idea that some deaths are necessary and others are not is a quasi-religious way to look at the world. I was thrilled to see an animal rights philosopher, Joel Marks, admit that in the New York Times a few weeks ago:
In my case the plight of nonhuman animals at human hands became the great preoccupation. I could think of no greater atrocity than the confinement and slaughter of untold billions of innocent creatures for sustenance that can be provided through other, more humane diets.
In my most recent published book, I defended a particular moral theory – my own version of deontological ethics – and then “applied” that theory to defend a particular moral claim: that other animals have an inherent right not to be eaten or otherwise used by humans. Oddly enough, it was as I crossed the final “t” and dotted the final “i” of that monograph, that I underwent what I call my anti-epiphany.
A friend had been explaining to me the nature of her belief in God. At one point she likened divinity to the beauty of a sunset: the quality lay not in the sunset but in her relation to the sunset. I thought to myself: “Ah, if that is what she means, then I could believe in that kind of God. For when I think about the universe, I am filled with awe and wonder; if that feeling is God, then I am a believer.”
But then it hit me: is not morality like this God? In other words, could I believe that, say, the wrongness of a lie was any more intrinsic to an intentionally deceptive utterance than beauty was to a sunset or wonderfulness to the universe? Does it not make far more sense to suppose that all of these phenomena arise in my breast, that they are the responses of a particular sensibility to otherwise valueless events and entities?
So someone else might respond completely differently from me, such that for him or her, the lie was permissible, the sunset banal, the universe nothing but atoms and the void. Yet that prospect was so alien to my conception of morality that it was tantamount to there being no morality at all. For essential to morality is that its norms apply with equal legitimacy to everyone; moral relativism, it has always seemed to me, is an oxymoron. Hence I saw no escape from moral nihilism.
The dominoes continued to fall. I had thought I was a secularist because I conceived of right and wrong as standing on their own two feet, without prop or crutch from God. We should do the right thing because it is the right thing to do, period. But this was a God too. It was the Godless God of secular morality, which commanded without commander – whose ways were thus even more mysterious than the God I did not believe in, who at least had the intelligible motive of rewarding us for doing what He wanted.
Unfortunately, complete moral relativism is just as silly as believing that it's immoral to kill animals. Morality does come from somewhere, and the evidence is that it comes our ancient tribal past where we evolved a moral sense in order to be able to cooperate with other humans beings as a community. Morality is about making our lives together better.
James McWilliams totally misses the point I was making in that post and in later posts that animal husbandry is something we have a tough time with because it's not part of our evolutionary heritage. I've been watching Human Planet, the gorgeous documentary about diverse human lifeways around the globe, and one of the most striking scenes is of a South American Indian woman breastfeeding a baby monkey. They ate that monkey's mother for dinner, but this baby monkey is a treasured pet. They don't eat the animals they raise, those animals are part of their tribe. The idea that eating meat is wrong because eating babies (argument from marginal cases) and our pet dogs is wrong is the kind of idea that only someone totally detached from innate human morals would put forth. We don't ban eating/killing babies because babies are sentient!
I was also making a point in that post that I didn't agree with how that farm was raising their animals, since they were perpetuating a breed that doesn't even have a sense of life and would die young even if you brought them to some kind of farm sanctuary. That's an industrial system dressed up in free-range clothing.
I never considered myself part of the "compassionate carnivore" movement. There is nothing special about my engagement with my food. My desire to slaughter my own animals doesn't have to do with reducing harm, but achieving independence from a dying industrial food system. And yes, that means using and eating animals. Fertilizers based on mining un-renewable resources aren't going to last forever.
If you are a visitor interested in learning more why I gave up veganism and debating animal rights, I suggest you head over to let them eat meat, a truly excellent site on the subject.
After reading James McWilliam's idiotic piece on backyard slaughter, I found myself immersed in reading more about Oakland's effort to allow backyard slaughter. For those of us who are thinking in the long run, towards an economy with greater scarcity of natural resources, being able to have food independence is truly important. True food independence involves both plants and animals. The animals provide the plants with valuable fertilizer, among other things.
Unfortunately, bleeding hearts have hi-jacked the movement and turned it into some kind of plant fetishism, dedicated to growing plants that can provide only a trivial contribution to the diet of a healthy normal human. Sure, spinach is great, but it doesn't have very many calories, you cannot survive on spinach. I've written on this delusion before, in my post The Produce Delusion. Focusing on trivial plant gardening is not food independence and I wonder if the lip service in the government towards it serves to distract people from real issues. Michelle Obama is growing some tomatoes in her back yard, maybe she hopes it will help us forget the massive amounts of subsidies that go towards unhealthy food.
This image from the Oakland anti-slaughter group, was so hilarious I couldn't resist posting it. It's the perfect example of the triviality of most urban gardening. The idea that animals aren't part of any type agriculture is really quite strange. They can't just admit that they don't like the idea of animals getting killed. It's about controlling other people in order to make them comply with their personal preferences.
From the outset, the Planning Department has had its heart set on bundling animal breeding and backyard slaughter into its urban agriculture policy. Its eagerness to be in the limelight alongside bestselling locovore authors singularly obsessed with “knowing their meat” has blinded it to the mandate that Oakland set forth for creating food policy.
To provide low-income people in food deserts with the foods that they most lack access to, which are — according to luminaries such as Michelle Obama and public health advocates the world over — healthful fruits and vegetables.
Unfortuantely, as I outlined in my original Produce Delusion post, giving people access to fruits and vegetables DOES NOT have an impact on preventing obesity. It sure does seem nice though. But I hope the decision makers of Oakland realize that you shouldn't get agriculture advice from people who run animal sanctuaries.
And it's highly amusing that they are using the argument that meat is for the elite.
The people profiled are not continuing the family farm out of economic necessity. Nor are they killing animals because they lack protein in their diet. They are educated, published and politically connected, and they choose to slaughter and eat their backyard animals because of a personal preference to consume a culinary delicacy: locally raised organic meat. Food empowerment this is not.
Um, it's for the elite partially because regulations make it expensive! NYC has slaughterhouses in the city and I'll tell you it's not rich bankers who use them, it's immigrants, many of them low-income. Furthermore, many people in those communities already possess the skills to slaughter animals well. I've often thought of organizing a workshop where immigrants who grew up slaughtering animals could help teach backyard farmers about how to do it right.
Someone commenting on the McWilliams article said it had something to do with serving delicacies in fancy restaurants. Haha, you are not allowed to serve home-slaughtered animals in restaurants.
Anyone know any pro-slaughter groups? I'd love to feature them here. I admire people willing to put up with the crazy urban weirdos in their effort to achieve food independence. Me? I'm heading to the country.
I've written before about the animal rights-locavore cold war. In some people's eyes, they are two types of liberal food movements, but the truth is that the locavore movement has its true roots in conservatism, as exemplified by the agrarian pillars of the movement such as Wendell Berry and Joel Salatin. Animal rights is just plain radical modernism, a pathology of alienation from nature. Being so different in core philosophy, it makes sense that animal rights would want to make life difficult for agrarians, who use integrated systems of plants and domesticated animals on their farms.
Believe it or not, there's a food issue lurking out there beyond food rights and food safety. Joel Salatin, the Virginia farmer-author-activist is worried that that next issue is animal rights.
He's already seeing evidence of it at Polyface Farm, his own farm in the Shenandoah foothills. During a tour of his farm Saturday for 150 attendees as part of a fundraiser for the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, Salatin said he's been reported to his local animal control officials by area residents who have had concerns about the treatment of his cattle.
In one case, someone reported him because one of his steers was limping. In another case, he was reported because his cattle were "mobbing"--hanging out close to each other as a herd in a new pasture.
In each instance, "We had to spend two days with local vets explaining what we do"...and he was off the hook.
His view of animal rights as an emerging issue for owners of sustainable farms rates a chapter in his upcoming book, Folks, This Ain't Normal: A Farmer's Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World. It's due out in early October.
During the Saturday farm tour, Salatin wondered aloud what other problems the animal rights people might find at his farm. He pointed out how, during recent heavy rains, the chickens (who stay outside in mobile structures) got pretty wet, which isn't unusual. "We have days when our chickens are out here in the rain and cold and shivering. I know there are people who would like to go out and buy them L.L. Bean dog pillows."
Might the animal rights folks be better off focusing their attention more on CAFO's and other factory farm practices? They already have, of course, but Salatin speaks to a more ideological tendency.
The problem is a theme of his book: "We live in extremely abnormal times..." And one expression: "In our communities, we have more and more animal rightists."
Of course the animal rightists love regulation, the better to make it tough enough that the small farmers get out of business, just leaving the industrial CAFOs, which are easier to malign in the public's eye. Animal rights mouthpiece Jame McWililams consistently is on the side of big government. Sorry Philpott, they aren't on our side.
Great blog post by a local farmer. Some of you may have heard about GoDaddy CEO's canned elephant hunt. On one hand the dude is clearly an asshole (with company whose web interface sucks) and elephants are very intelligent. On the other hand this is a single elephant. How many companies have policies that destroy the environment for millions of animals? Where is the outrage for that?
And it also highlights a problem. You see, first world folks like us want to protect elephants. And several conservation efforts have done just that, which has created the issue that in some areas the elephant population pressure is very high, which leads elephants to raid croplands of the local people, who are often impoverished. In my opinion we need to learn to live in balance with animals and part of living in balance is hunting. Electrified fences and birth control for elephants sound nice, but they are not practical in such a situation. Ecotourism is an option, but it's not practical in every area. As a humanist, I believe the needs of the local population come first, particularly since the elephants in question are not endangered. I don't have a very high option of people who hunt for fun, but either way, the CEO donated the meat to local Africans, who quickly swarmed the carcass.
That highlights another issue: I often hear people say "blah blah blah vegetarianism is the diet of most of the world." Well, no. The world's poor eat very little meat (or so say the statistics), but they eat whatever they can. I've read about North Koreans keeping a single prized soup bone for months and Africans eating dangerous bushmeat because they so desire the animal protein for their children. Development projects that focus on giving people what we think they should want instead of what they actually want will never curb things like the bushmeat trade. Luckily, more and more people are realizing this and several great development projects focus on livestock.
This isn't the first or last we'll hear from Westerners decrying the right of African's to manage their own wildlife resources for their own benefit instead of for the interests of bleeding heart animal lovers.
The ultimate pinnacle of this sort of attitude are animal rights terrorists. A scary blog post discusses the problem of animal rights terrorists intimidating undergraduate researchers with threats of violence. I have many friends and family members who are scientists and this frightens me. Don't let anyone lie to you and tell you that scientific research on animals doesn't save lives or isn't necessary. Some day, but not now.
Trivial perhaps, but I would not be able to blog about many topics that are on here without animal research elucidating facts about biology.
Some of the most important research is in the development of antibiotics. The situation here is quite frightening, as this article about the antibiotic crisis outlines. Misuse of antibiotics, but also just the general evolution of bacteria, has created a huge need for new antibiotics. Antibiotic resistant infections could put infectious death disease rates back to 19th century levels.
Besides research, I feel we do need to ban the use of antibiotics in animal feed. Antibiotic effectiveness is the common property of humanity and allowing single entities to destroy it is a huge problem. This excellent article, Our Big Pig Problem, discusses agricultural antibiotics and how they are endangering our health. Arguably, we need to stop worrying about some elephant a rich dude killed and start worrying about the antibiotics in the food millions of Americans consume.
Tom Phillpott proposes an omnivore/vegan alliance against animal factories. I think a lot of vegans who believe in animal rights would reject that. And I'm going to be the rare sustainable farming advocate omnivore to reject it.
First of all...what is an animal factory and what makes them bad? Is is bad management or is all mass production of meat inherently bad?
In the US it's usually bad management, because for some reason it's totally legal here to destroy things you don't even own like nearby wetlands and our ability to use antibiotics in humans effectively.
But while living in Europe I toured some animal facilities that were dare-I-say quite nice. And it's a myth that letting animals do their own thing outside is always the best thing for them. It's also spit in the face of people like Temple Grandin that have worked to make mass meat production better.
It is also quite regressive to suggest that all meat production besides free-range should be banned. It's easy for us rich folks to advocate for, but tell everyman that chicken is now $14 a lb and you might not get much support. I do think free-range meat production could be ramped up, but once you start asking for infrastructural reforms with regards to slaughterhouses, the vegan side of the coalition won't be much help.
I'd like to see greater transparency and accountability in meat production, but people who want to destroy people's food choices are not our allies.
This vegan quote on the article says it best
"as vegans we would be banding together with the owners of slaves kept in relative comfort against the concentration-camp style slave-owners."
Sorry, I'm allying myself with people who believe animals can be slaves and it's skirting the issue to call these people merely "vegans". They are animal rights activists plain and simple. I'll continue to ally myself with people who call on humans to be good stewards and to be conscious of our consumer decisions.
As an aside, I find it very amusing that anti-locavore James McWilliams has come out of the animal rights closet and said the reason he thinks pastured meat is bad is because it's "killing" now that his fake economics arguments have been refuted. If you want to see him attack local farming live, he'll be debating local chefs and farmers in NYC on Friday. I'll be there.
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Becoming an ex-vegan is somewhat like becoming an ex-antiracist or an ex-antisexist -- you have to wonder just how unprejudiced the person was to begin with. I haven't read it, but the report Livestock's Long Shadow says that meat causes most of the world's problems. Don't tell me that there are different production methods, I can only think simplistically and can only consider one perfect diet, which is vegan. I am pretty sure this blog post and all things mentioned in it must have been sponsored by the nefarious Weston A. Price Foundation, an organization funded by wealthy zebra-ranching cabels.
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The way paleolithic people lived has to do with this story about how men who liked flank steak had the biggest left pectoral muscles and because of some famines that I think happened because life seemed really hard, the men with the big left pectoral muscles were more attractive to cavewomen. The Bellevue experiment, despite being one short experiment, totally showed us that we can maintain perfect health indefinitely on an all-meat diet. Only non-paleo plants contain toxins. Maybe you feel fine eating these non-paleo foods now, but you never know when you might erupt tiny panda-shaped cysts on your face. It could take decades. You'll suffer and you won't be able to go back and undo the damage.
Edit: Haha, Dr. Kurt Harris gave me a new one "I don't eat plants because Owsley Stanley told me not to. He made 5 million hits of acid, so he knows more about chemistry than you do."
People often ask me why I'm still so rankled by veganism despite having given it up long ago. Unfortunately it's not veganism that gets me fired up, but more troubling political issues at the animal rights heart of the vegan movement. Not long after I stopped being vegan, I got involved with agriculture. I saw the makings of a cold war between the locavores and the animal rights groups and became troubled by it. Animal rights groups like the Humane Society of the United States and PETA pull in substantial amounts of donations and therefore exert some political clout. They get these donations by pretending to go after factory farms, but in reality small farms are also in the crosshairs. They don't admit this much and publicly don't want to admit it because the general public tends to be sympathetic to small farms.
This year, a history professor, James McWilliams, came out with an anti-locavore book called Just Food. Laughably, I saw some "conservative" outlets endorse the book, probably because of the anti-elite sentiment so tragically beloved by Palinites and their ilk. They probably didn't read it, since the ultimate point of that book is that locavores are stupid because really it's not Chilean strawberries, but meat, that is at the root of all problems. Despite not being an economist*, McWilliams frames his arguments as being all about economic rationality. But I saw right through it from the beginning and it's quite obvious from his recent animal rights posts at the Atlantic that his real beef with locavores is their use of animals. Notice that's not on the jacket of his book.
Can one be locavore and disavow all use of domestic animals? Yes, there are a few small farms practicing veganic agriculture (it's telling that one of this method's main advocates has written a book now called Meat: A Benign Extravagance), but they are few and far between. Because they are so unusual, there is little data on how productive they actually are. Much of the fertilizer used on farms comes from animals and if you want low-impact pest control, hunting is a good way to do it. Not to mention the dietary challenge of being vegan and local in very cold climates.
Animal rights groups also rely on videos of cruelty on farms to win converts. These become less effective on people who have actually been to farms. Animal rights groups rely on people being disconnected from farming and from agrarian traditions. But unfortunately for them, these are being revived. Things have been coming to a head recently with animal rights groups attacking backyard chicken-keepers and DIY turkey slaughter. I love it when people show their true colors— that it's not Smithfield farms they are after, but all farms that use animals**. Often the strategy is to divert: when you talk about soy, parrot back that most soy goes into livestock feed. It isn't until activists are cornered that they admit their true agenda, which is to eliminate all domesticated animal use from lab rats to riding horses to pet dogs to the turkey on your table.
It scares me because I feel that agrarian traditions are beset on both sides by conservatives*** who want their right to munch on their McTroglodyte burgers without worrying about what that means and the leftist movement to make such traditions difficult/illegal, either intentionally in the case of animal-rights activists or unintentionally in the case of the average land-alienated urban liberal.
Why should we care? In my view it's because every good farm is so valuable in preserving the health of humans, animals, and the land holistically. What does it take to make people understand this?
I've been interested in following the reaction towards A Vegan No More, a post by a woman who left veganism for health reasons:
While my original choice to be a vegan stemmed from the always noble impulse to do the right thing and be as compassionate as possible, it was a mistake and a choice I should never have made. If I had done my research and actually asked the hard questions from the beginning instead of letting the graphic images of factory farms guide me, I would have saved myself 3 years of misguided efforts as well as the deterioration of my physical and emotional health.
What can we do to prevent this? I think engaging people in producing food is the answer. It's a real threat for animal rightists and they know it.
Danish backyard chickens
*nearly every Animal Rightist on the internet fancies themselves an agricultural economist and parrots the simplistic and de-localized idea that animal agriculture is inefficient.
**This isn't to omit the outright terrorism that animal rightists inflict on scientists
*** I shudder to use that word to describe people who obviously care very little for conserving anything
Isn't ironic that the very same animal rights vegans who say it's arrogant to view humans as special engage in some very human ignorance of their own? Yes, I'm talking the assertion that the vegan diet can be just as healthy as an omnivorous one. But the truth is that nutrition science is young and there is SO MUCH we don't know. A good example is taurine, a nutrient found only in animal products. Scientists are just getting started determining its true effects, but Robb Wolf posted this excellent new paper that has some great updates on taurine's role in preventing stokes, heart disease, and hypertension.
Free The Animal has also been posting about animal rights vegans who like to mock paleo. Notice I say animal rights vegans. There are a handful of vegans who just eat the diet and don't go on a campaign about it. But let's be clear: animal rights vegans want EVERYONE to follow their diet even if it results in sub-optimal health. Paleo doesn't work for you? I could care less if you follow it or not, paleo is about YOU. AR veganism is definitely not about you, it's about animals.
We aren't just chasing windmills here. AR organizations regularly engage in changing laws to make animal-product consumption more expensive (and to ban lifesaving medical research). And those are the relatively reputable groups. Other AR groups engage in outright terrorism.
I do enjoy eating at some vegan restaurants myself and occasionally eat vegan meals. I do appreciate the trend in veganism towards gluten-free in particular. In NYC it's possible to get a delicious "paleo" vegan meal.
*though Masterjohn has certainly made some great contribs to this as well