I was going through computer files the other day, and I came across an archive of stuff I have on Morgan at Loro Parque. I have always felt a sadness for Morgan, picked up off the Dutch coast in 2010 and now at Loro Parque in the Canary Islands. (I wrote about Loro Parque in 2011, because that is where trainer Alexis Martinez was killed by a SeaWorld killer whale just a few months before Dawn Brancheau was killed in Florida).
You can read all about Morgan, and how she came to be at Loro Parque, here. The story has a lot of twists and turns, but the bottom line is that Morgan is a recently wild killer while who now finds herself owned by SeaWorld, and with her valuable wild DNA likely to become part of SeaWorld’s captive breeding mill.
Anyhow, I started clicking on some of the videos of Morgan (they are from 2013) and for some reason this video perfectly captured for me the banality and tedium of a once wild life that is now experienced in a confined pool, and devoted to entertaining holiday crowds. Teaching Morgan how to wave her tail just seems so pathetic and lame. And her energy level and affect seems to indicate she feels the same way. Good times.
In my recent Outside story about sustainable eating I didn’t get into the question of whether foods which are easier on the planet are also healthy (or healthier). So this Washington Post story, which looks at whether there is scientific consensus or disagreement, on a number of dietary choices, caught my eye.
Check out this summary chart. Looks to me as if there is pretty solid scientific consensus on the health benefits of a more plant-based, low environmental footprint diet.
It reinforces what I believe about plant-based foods. They are a three-fer: 1) Good for you; 2) Good for the planet; and 3) Good for animals.
I find that logic overwhelming, which leaves taste and habit as the only real barriers to a plant-based diet. And good recipes (and chefs like Dan Barber) can easily obliterate those barriers.
After writing about eating seafood more sustainably, my editor at Outside and I figured we might as well go Full Monty and broaden the question to take a hard look at eating more sustainably in general. So I dove into lots of research on how our food choices affect the planet, and you can read the results here.
- your food choices are the easiest way for you to dramatically shrink your environmental footprint
- eating less or no meat has the biggest impact on dietary sustainability
- if you want to maximize both your nutrition and the environmental benefits of your diet, eat more pulses/legumes: lentils, beans, etc.
- we worry way too much about whether we are getting enough protein. We get plenty, even if we are vegetarians, and eating more protein than we need is very costly to the environment
- going vegetarian can halve your impact on climate, and land and water use; going vegan can reduce it by around three-quarters (I was impressed by the extra environmental bump you get from going from vegetarian to vegan).
- eating organic has a demonstrable benefit to soils, waterways and climate.
- one of the biggest environmental tragedies related to diet is food waste–which in the US is a shocking 40%. That also makes reducing food waste in your home a huge opportunity to shrink your environmental impact.
So, to sum up, if you really want to eat more sustainably: Eat less or no meat, and eat organic and locally whenever possible. Stop eating so much protein, and stop eating so much in general (overeating is costly to the planet and your health). Oh, and stop wasting so much food!
Quite apart from now being vegan, I have long been skeptical of all the ways in which humanity catches, farms and eats fish. Species after species seemed to dwindle in number, despite “fisheries management,” and farming fish seemed equally destructive. So when people asked me what fish they should eat, I usually answered “You should eat no fish.”
But my editor at Outside, who loves fish and loves the planet, kept insisting this was the wrong answer. So I researched and reported a story on the question of fish. The answer I came up with is much more useful, interesting and surprising than I expected.
So, for all the seafood lovers out there, here is your guide to eating fish responsibly.
Here’s how it starts (which is already causing me grief from vegan absolutists on Twitter):
I contemplated the simple sandwich on the plate in front of me: a beautiful slab of glistening rainbow trout, crisp lettuce, and a freshly baked French roll. The trout skin was lightly seared and seasoned. The pinkish meat was firm and toothsome. I genuflected briefly, then two-fisted the thing and took a big bite. A slightly smoky, sweet flavor gave my taste buds a sensation long denied. I chased it with a slug of Fort Point ale. Soon, both fish sandwich and beer were gone. I am a vegan, but I was untroubled. Eating the trout seemed like the right thing to do.
Read the rest here. Hope you enjoy it.
As the public becomes more aware of the ethical issue involved with keeping dolphins and killer whales captive, and public sentiment about captivity changes, the question of whether captive dolphins and killer whales can successfully be released back into the wild is increasingly relevant.
While there have been many releases of captive dolphins, there have been relatively few releases of long-term show dolphins, and even fewer that were fully documented. In recent years, however, two bottlenose dolphins (named Tom and Misha) were successfully released back into the Aegean, and three bottlenose dolphins (Jedol, Chunsam, and Sampal) were successfully released off Jeju Island, South Korea. All had spent years in marine parks, yet managed to learn what they needed to learn to survive again in the ocean.
Both releases were carefully documented, during and after release, and show what can be achieved, even with dolphins that have suffered greatly in captivity. My story about these dolphins, and the question of captive release, was just published at National Geographic.
Here’s the start:
In early January 2011 Jeff Foster, a 55-year-old marine mammal expert from Seattle, arrived on the stony shore of a pristine bay near the small village of Karaca, situated in a corner of the Gulf of Gökova on Turkey’s southwest coast. Just offshore was a collection of floating pens used to farm fish. In one of them, which had been modified and measured about a hundred feet across and 50 feet deep, two male bottlenose dolphins swam in slow circles.
Tom and Misha, as they were called, were in lamentable condition. As far as anyone could tell, they’d been captured in the Aegean sometime in 2006, and almost nothing was known about their lives in the wild. After starting their captive lives at a dolphin park in the seaside town of Kaş, they’d been trucked a short distance inland in June 2010 to a crudely constructed concrete pool in the mountain town of Hisarönü so that tourists could pay $50 for the chance to grab their dorsal fins and get a ten-minute tow. Hisarönü consists mainly of cheap hotels and bars with suggestive names like Oh Yes! and thumping late-night music. It would be hard to imagine a more incongruous or disorienting location for two ocean-born dolphins. An inadequate filtration system quickly left the bottom of their pool carpeted with dead fish and dolphin feces.
Within weeks, an outraged grassroots and social media campaign organized by dolphin-loving locals had forced the place to close. In early September, amid fears that the dolphins would soon die, the U.K.-based Born Free Foundation, which is dedicated to the protection of animals in the wild, stepped in and took possession of Tom and Misha. The two dolphins were bundled into a refrigerated meat truck lined with old mattresses and transported to the pen off Karaca. Foster was hired to help Born Free attempt something truly ambitious: restore Tom and Misha to peak physical condition, teach them what they would need to know to live as wild dolphins again, and release them back into the Aegean. “It is extremely high risk with a creature that is not predictable and easy,” says Will Travers, Born Free’s president. “But we realized that there were very few options for them, and they were likely to die unless somebody did something.”
As regular readers know (and some former readers, who left as a result), I post plenty of material on food, the implications of eating meat, and the idea that giving meat up is the single most powerful choice an individual can make when it comes to the health of the planet, the health of humans, and the welfare of billions of animals.
Reader Maria Ramos wrote in and offered to write up a guide to some of the most thought-provoking documentaries on the topics of factory farms and meat consumption. Since the power of documentaries to inspire change is another of my favorite topics, I said “Sure.”
So here is Maria’s list of films that can change the way we eat. Feel free to add your own favorites (Earthings–if you dare!–anyone?) in the comments. I would also recommend “A Peaceable Kingdom,” a very moving film about what it means to give animals the lives they deserve, as well as “The Ghosts In Our Machine,” about photographer Jo-Anne McArthur‘s quest to capture what it truly means to turn animals into human commodities.
Take it away Maria:
Documentaries That Show the Truth About Factory Farms
Factory farming, and its far reaching effects on both the environment and the public health of American citizens, is one of the most important issues of our time. Gone are the days of the small independent farm where animals have all the space they need to roam. Instead, farming has been turned into a corporate operation that continually sacrifices ethics for profits. Below are five documentaries that expose the truth about factory farms and other aspects of modern farming that need to change – now.
This 2008 film, directed by Emmy award-winning filmmaker Robert Kenner, looks at the many dark sides of corporate farming in America. The first part of the film exposes the awful living conditions of chickens, cows, and pigs on factory farms. Food, Inc. is effective because it changes people perspective on meat from an object bought at a supermarket to a living thing. This may make viewers apply a different set of ethics when purchasing their meat and has already sparked several companies to be more transparent with how their meat is produced.
Farm to Fridge
Farm to Fridge, a documentary made by Mercy for Animals in 2011, provides undercover footage of animal cruelty at some of the nation’s largest factory farms. Although it is only 12 minutes long, its graphic footage leaves a lasting impression. Some of the worst footage shows male chickens being grounded up while still alive. Other scenes show dairy cows being physically abused by workers. This graphic style of filmmaking has been a big contributor in the 100% vegan diet movement that is growing steadily in America. It certainly leaves a lasting impression – find it here on YouTube.
Cowspiracy exposes how Big Meat is the number one destroyer of the environment through the use of unsustainable farming practices. It discusses impacts most people don’t associate with agriculture, such as deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions from food transportation and slaughter factories, and the long-term harm most pesticides have on the environment. It also shows just how much political red tape surrounds the problem by including interviews with industry whistleblowers, in which the whistleblowers discuss various threats against their career and life for spilling industry secrets. This film makes viewers realize that there is a business behind their food and how these businesses have complete disregard for the health of their customers and the planet.
Indigestible: The Film
Indigestible is a 90 minute film that exposes the hidden costs of providing cheap meat to consumers. It breaks down the illusion most people have of the small-time farmer showing his animals tender love and care each day, and exposes viewers to the realities of factory farming. Once people see how our food is confined to tiny spaces similar to a prison and treated as raw materials to be converted into product rather than a living organism. Like Food Inc, it changes the way people view the production of their meat by putting the face of a living animal to the process. You can find clips of the full film here on YouTube.
This heartbreaking documentary is one chicken-farmer-turned-whistleblower’s story on how the corporate chicken industry exploits its farmers to maximize their profits. He compares being a chicken farmer for a corporate farming company to being a sharecropper. The farmer just works the farm. The corporation owns all of the chickens and equipment and decides how these chickens are treated (cruelly). The film also shows how the number of chicken farmers have shrunk from over a million in 1950 to just 30,000 today, with 54% of them contracted by the same company. This documentary from Fusion filmmakers and DirecTV and makes viewers realize how their fellow Americans are also exploited in order to bring meat to their plates.
The one underlying theme that links these five documentaries is they outline severe problems within our food industry that must be changed if we are expected to survive as a species long-term. Films like these prove documentaries have the power to not only raise awareness, but inspire widespread positive change.
What I love about all these films, and there are so any good ones, is that they convincingly, systematically, and powerfully, rebut all the spin, truth-twisting and outright BS or the industrial farm lobby. Watch them and see whether you thing there are any happy chickens or cows. Whenever I hear such talk, or contemplate the vast industry that grows and processes meat for human consumption, I go back to Isaac Bashevis Singer, who captured the relationship between humans and animals in a perfect and unforgettable frame:
What do they know–all these scholars, all these philosophers, all the leaders of the world–about such as you? They have convinced themselves that man, the worst transgressor of all the species, is the crown of creation. All other creatures were created merely to provide him with food, pelts, to be tormented, exterminated. In relation to them, all people are Nazis; for the animals it is an eternal Treblinka.
Last year, I connected with a dolphin trainer called Ashley Guidry, from Gulf World in Florida. Over the more than 10 years she worked with Gulf World’s dolphins she had come to find her love of the animals irreconcilable with the business of using them for profit-making entertainment.
I have always been interested in how trainers’ attitudes change over time, as they learn all the subtleties of the marine park business, and also develop deep bonds with intelligent, captive beings. Many trainers say “I love my animals” as a way of suggesting that the animals are doing fine in captivity; that their “love” means that everything is fine (because it would prevent them from condoning or tolerating practices that harm the animals).
However, I have long thought that what many trainers mean when they say “I love the animals” is really “I love working with the animals” or “I love having a deep relationship with the animals.” In other words, that being a trainer is about themselves and their desires, and not really about the animals and the animals’ welfare.
But Ashley Guidry provided an example of what truly loving the animals means: by walking away from a business that treats them like commodities, and telling the story. That takes guts and self-sacrifice. And real courage.
The story I wrote about Guidry and how her thinking about the dolphin show business changed has now been published at Longreads.com. Here is the original introduction I wrote for the story (cut from the published story for brevity’s sake–even on the web you can’t go on forever!). I am posting it here because it sets up Guidry’s story in the way that I framed it in my own mind:
This a story about empathy, about it’s power to connect us to animals, but also to suddenly change the way we think about animals and our relationships with them. It’s also the story of a stubborn, sassy, blonde named Ashley Guidry, and how her love and compassion for a dolphin calf turned her life, her career, and her view of herself completely upside down. Because it was empathy–and her undeniable compulsion to try and consider the world from the point of view of a little guy named Chopper–that unexpectedly dumped her into a morass of introspection, self-doubt, and painful self-discovery. In the end, Chopper changed her life for the very simple reason that she couldn’t change his.
Read the full story of Ashley Guidry’s change of heart here.