A Novel Christmas Gift: Going Vegan

Tis the season. So this is a good time to revisit this story:

It started with Christmas.

And what happened was what always happens: I did no shopping.

I have on one or two occasions experienced the slightly awkward moment on Christmas morning when the gifts are finally all opened and it becomes apparent that none of them are from me. This general awareness is something I try to avoid, and sometimes, if I have the sense that the need for some kind of public admission is approaching, I have to think quickly. That’s what happened with the vegan thing. It just came to me — in the nick of time. The oranges were barely out of the stockings when I blurted out my entirely spontaneous idea. I told my 30-year-old daughter, who is a committed vegan, that her gift was six months of my being vegan. I said I’d give it a try.

Read on

Trumplandia

So, we now, to the shock of many, we live in President Trump’s world. The environment will suffer. Animals will suffer. Kindness and empathy will suffer. But the trajectory of our culture on these issues under President Trump, in my view, won’t be an order of magnitude different than what they would have been under President Clinton. And orders of magnitude is what is needed.

I have long thought the status quo was unsustainable and unacceptable. On that I agree with many Trump voters. But I certainly didn’t think Trump was the answer. Quite the opposite. Still, I also didn’t think Hillary Clinton, while she would point in a better direction, would even have the ambition to deliver the scale of change I think we really need, much less the ability. Yes, she believes climate change is real and would have kept pushing us toward incremental progress on environmental and other issues I care about. So in that sense President Trump will be a painful setback, because he will push in the opposite direction and we don’t have time to be pushing the wrong way.

But deep down I never felt either Trump or Clinton was the answer I have been looking for. They both live too much within the existing status quo. Their thinking and policy frame is too much within the status quo. Deep down I have long felt that the only real answer is a growing grassroots revolution in how we live, how we value other species, and how we value the planet. That’s the work I want to do, and it’s work any of us can pursue because no matter who is president we can make our own choices about how we live and what we choose to value. And we can try to lead by example, and make our case person by person. That’s the solution I seek. And nothing in last night’s election changes that.

Breaking: Ocean Trash Cleanup Solved?

Who says humans can’t come up with a workable device for cleaning plastic and garbage from the ocean? I’d say this dude, who has affixed a net to his SUP paddle, has nailed it, no?

Explanation:

The EnviroNet is about 10 inches long and six inches wide and temporarily attaches to any paddle using a bungee cord. It’s easy to use and doesn’t interfere with paddling. All paddleboarders have to do is fasten the net to the paddle, put a basket on their board to put the trash in and they are all set to clean up the coast.

Since inventing the EnviroNet, Captain Macias has made it his mission to pick up more trash and recruit others to help him. He even made a pledge not to cut his beard until he collected 2,200 pounds of ocean trash! Nine-inches of facial hair later (about a year in real time), he made his goal.

Just need a few million SUP-ers to adopt this thing and we might see a dent in the problem. And a lot of long beards.

The Spare Life

The older I get the less enamored with stuff I am, though I was never a big consumer or a hoarder.

This guy has gone to an extreme that I aspire to, and would be perfectly comfortable with (psst, please don’t tell my wife):

I LIVE in a 420-square-foot studio. I sleep in a bed that folds down from the wall. I have six dress shirts. I have 10 shallow bowls that I use for salads and main dishes. When people come over for dinner, I pull out my extendable dining room table. I don’t have a single CD or DVD and I have 10 percent of the books I once did….

We live in a world of surfeit stuff, of big-box stores and 24-hour online shopping opportunities. Members of every socioeconomic bracket can and do deluge themselves with products.

There isn’t any indication that any of these things makes anyone any happier; in fact it seems the reverse may be true.

For me, it took 15 years, a great love and a lot of travel to get rid of all the inessential things I had collected and live a bigger, better, richer life with less.

Read the whole thing and see if you don’t start thinking of all the things you could do without–despite the endless and persistent insistence of the marketers and companies whose livelihoods depend on convincing you otherwise. So far, they have been extraordinarily effective at creating a world in which more is better, and growing a global consumer culture that is poisonous to the planet, to our pocketbooks and lifestyles, and to healthy relationships and society (the values are all wrong).

And once you have come to grips with the idea that you could be happy with one-tenth of the things you are told you need to be happy, imagine what the world would be like if everyone had that same epiphany. Revolution. Enlightenment. Salvation.

Nightly Reader: Oct. 22, 2012

Links to to ponder (or sleep on)…

Counterintuitive: Are electric cars worse for the environment than gas cars?

Two-Fer: I unburden myself of interesting links by handing you off to Mark Bittman unburdening himself of interesting links.

Mark Bittman Links

Alternate Reality: Planet Money assembles a spectrum of economists to craft a bipartisan tax reform plan that makes economic sense. They do. It’s really good. And almost none of it will ever get passed. But here is how it would be pitched:

A View Of Earth

It’s always said that seeing earth from space gives humans a unique perspective that encourages a sense of earth as an integrated and fragile ecosystem. In other words, it helps us see the WHOLE earth.

This narrated video from the international space station achieves exactly that:

Humans tend to see everything from a human-first perspective. We tend to analyze events according to how it impacts humanity. We tend to act in our own interest.

But what if we started to see things from an Earth-first perspective? If we made personal, political, economic, and cultural decisions based on how they impact the Earth and ALL its species, not just the one we happen to belong to? If we acknowledged that we are just one part of a complex ecosystem, and that our cleverness does not necessarily give us the right to compromise the rights and futures of other parts of that ecosystem? If we had the wisdom to recognize that exploiting earth and its inhabitants instead of nurturing them is a way of undermining our own future.

What would happen? Well, everything would change.

Watch the video, see how humanity is visible almost everywhere, and think about that.

Tales From The Factory Farm

That’s the new Category I am creating for this blog, because (and this is good) I am seeing an increasing number of debates and analyses of the way in which we have industrialized food production, both to the detriment of the animals and our health. Here are two good examples:

1) Pink Slime: we’ve all been hearing about it, and you are probably disgusted by it (here’s an explanation of what it is). But Mark Bittman lately has been riffing alot on it, and has done a very nice job of pointing out that as odious as the idea of Pink Slime might be, it is a logical consequence of the industrialization of meat production:

But pink slime, as Grist writer Tom Laskaway says, is the tip of the iceberg; it’s a symptom, not a disease. Remember why it was originally created — to eliminate bacteria found in ground meat. The fact that pink slime was a “solution” might lead you to ask: What’s the problem?

The answer lies in the industrial production of livestock on a scale that’s far too large to sustain without significant collateral damage. E. coli, found in the digestive tracts of cattle, is common on factory farms where cattle are fed only grain. (Their stomachs are meant to digest grass.) The incomprehensible quantity of manure produced by these cattle — also often containing E. coli — is deposited on the land, sometimes seeping into the water supply; that’s how you wind up with E. coli in vegetables. To make matters worse, “healthy” farm animals are routinely fed so many antibiotics that E. coli, salmonella and other pathogens are developing resistance to commonly prescribed drugs.

Exactly. Defenders of Pink Slime have been saying that if it is eliminated something like 1.5 million more cows a year will have to be slaughtered to make up for the loss of Pink Slime content in ground beef. So the choice they pose is: eat Pink Slime or kill a million more cows. That’s not a very appealing choice. So here’s the solution: go vegetarian, or stop eating factory-farmed beef. Simple. Yes, humanely-treated, grass-fed beef will cost you more per pound. But if you eat a lot less beef you will be healthier, and the planet will be healthier.

Here’s more from Bittman, in video form.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/32545640

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

And, even more, here. Consider yourself fully slimed.

2) Eggs. Eggs are delicious (sorry vegans) and healthy, and it should be perfectly possible to raise and keep hens that are happy to produce them. Except consumers apparently care more about saving a few cents than treating hens humanely. Perhaps that is because they simply have no idea of the depraved and inhumane way in which hens are treated by the factory farmers. Nick Kristof, who grew up on a farm, is trying to rectify that, recently writing about the obscene conditions of one of America’s largest egg producers. As usual, read the whole thing, but here is a key portion:

Mice sometimes ran down egg conveyer belts, barns were thick with flies and manure in three barns tested positive for salmonella, he said. (Actually, salmonella isn’t as rare as you might think, turning up in 3 percent of egg factory farms tested by the Food and Drug Administration last year.)

In some cases, 11 hens were jammed into a cage about 2 feet by 2 feet. The Humane Society says that that is even more cramped than the egg industry’s own voluntary standards — which have been widely criticized as inadequate.

An automatic feeding cart that runs between the cages sometimes decapitates hens as they’re eating, the investigator said. Corpses are pulled out if they’re easy to see, but sometimes remain for weeks in the cages, piling up until they have rotted into the wiring, he added.

Other hens have their heads stuck in the wire and are usually left to die, the investigator said.

Is that how you’d like your breakfast egg to be produced? I didn’t think so. What can you do? Again, simple. By eggs that are certified humane.

Yes, they will cost a bit more. But there are two unavoidable questions central to feeding yourself and your family: 1) Are you willing to pay anything at all to insure humane treatment of the animals feeding you?; and 2) Whether you are or not (hopefully you are), are you willing to pay anything all for a food production system that causes less sickness and environmental damage?

The answers seem pretty obvious to me.

Double Depravity: Dolphins Die So Sharks Can Be Finned

Sorry if you just had breakfast. Because this photo essay by Paul Hilton on the fishing practices he documented in Lombok, Indonesia is not easy on the stomach, or the human conscience. (Hilton recently won a World Press Photo award for a series on shark finning, and his work is well worth a look).

The basic story is that fishermen capture dolphins, use the meat to longline for sharks (to fin), and sell any surplus at local markets. It’s like a perfect storm of destruction. It’s the pictures, though, that really illustrate how sad this is.

Here’s Hilton, describing the scene:

In August of 2011, I headed to Indonesia to investigate. On the first morning I woke to the sounds of prayer at the local mosque, grabbed my camera and a notebook and headed down to Tanjung Luar, the largest fish market in Eastern Lombok. The smell was over powering. The crowd was a mix of tourists and locals.  I watched as the crew of two Indonesian longliners, tied up alongside each other, started dumping large fish over the sides into the shallow waters to be dragged into shore. I quickly made a list of species being offloaded. Scalloped hammerheads, thresher, mako, blue, silky, bull, tiger and oceanic white-tips sharks, manta and mobula rays, spinner dolphins and pilot whales. All coming off the same two boats, and not a tuna in sight.

The pictures, and the fact that this sort of fishing is going on–both killing highly intelligent mammals, and contributing to the destruction of shark species–can easily inspire outrage and condemnation (as it should). But it is important to remember the underlying cause of such a destructive practice is poverty. It may be easy to judge, or to assume that we wouldn’t make the same choices these fishermen are making, but many are subsistence fishermen simply trying to feed their families (though I have only scorn and antipathy for industrial shark finning operations that are all about corporate profit).

So anyone who really cares about ending human exploitation of dolphins and sharks (and other species) has to face this inconvenient truth: these practices (along with so many other destructive environmental practices) will not stop until the world gets serious about addressing global poverty. That’s not easy to do, but it is something that rarely gets acknowledged in policy and political debates.

Poverty and environmental destruction and cruelty are intimately linked. So if you want to oppose what you see here, it is incumbent on you to open your mind to what can be done about the underlying problem.