Intro to a Vegan Lifestyle

March 2, 2010

I decided to start this vegan blog to help those who want to make the change; to show people how easy it is and lend a hand.  The blog itself will address a variety of vegan and animal rights issues, and may include recipes, book reviews, issues to be aware of, animals looking for homes, etc.  I will do my best to “tone it down,” as the mere mention of being a vegan often causes people to become defensive, however I will not sugar-coat the facts or reality in order for the reader to be more comfortable with them.  Entries will not be an everyday occurrence, they will simply happen as they do.  This first one will be longer than most, and if this one is all you need, that’s perfect.  There is a lot to cover and I tried to narrow down what I included in this first post but still include many of the factors.

Always feel free to add your own relevant recipes, book recommendations, product or restaurant reviews, etc.  Open, respectful discussion is welcome.

Rescued cow at Animal Acres. If you saw when they were featured on the show “30 Days,” this is the cow that was sick and had been dumped on the side of the road by a farmer. Cheaper to dump a sick cow than pay to euthanize or get them healthy.

As a brief background, I have been vegan for about 13 years, and vegetarian for about 16 years.  I was born and raised in Michigan where meals tend to be centered on meat and many people hunt and fish.  I had always loved and defended animals but had never really thought about where those on my plate came from as one simply eats what is put in front of them as a child.  A youth environmental group came to my high school and discussed factory farming. What I learned caused me to become a vegetarian. A few years later, the continued process of learning more about factory farming caused me to become vegan.  I choose the lifestyle from an animal rights perspective; I truly feel my life is not more valuable than that of any other being, and I try to live my life holistically from that standpoint.

Having said that, the advice and information I will offer through this blog is from my own experience.  I am neither a doctor nor a nutritionist.  Even if I were, the person you should listen to the most is yourself.  Your body speaks to you in many ways.  The choice of a vegan diet is a healthy one if done correctly.  There are plenty of naysayers out there but when you hear of or read of them, (or any study), I implore you to look at who is behind the study or who is funding it.  Food is big business.

Here are a few reasons to consider a vegan or at least vegetarian diet:

Animal welfare: This is my main focus.  There is inherent animal cruelty in factory farming practices.  Factory farms are modeled after the automotive assembly lines, so when you view animals as product (and only product), and force high productivity for high profits, at any cost, suffering is going to occur.  Add to that an underpaid, over-worked labor force, and you get intentional cruelty that borders on the sadistic.  Read the book, “Slaughterhouse,” by Gail Eisnitz for hundreds of first-hand accounts of cruelty witnessed or those that the worker personally inflicted.  I have only read a few snippets and what I read made me sick.  Any cruelty that may get reported or exposed are not isolated events; it happens all the time.  Why do you think it’s always through a hidden camera?  By law, you’re not allowed to take pictures or video inside a factory farm.  Even they know you wouldn’t want to see what goes on inside. I believe it was Linda McCartney that said, “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, we’d all be vegetarian.”

Along these same lines, I’d like to quickly address the labels of “free-range”, “cage-free”, etc.  Don’t be fooled into thinking these make any difference.  They do not.  They are not regulated, and often mean very little. Ex: Cage-free means just that, they are not in cages. But there are still thousands of them (usually we are talking about chickens with cage-free) crammed together, poor conditions, beaks cut off, genetically modified, etc.  Free-range often means the animals may or may not have access to the outdoors, for a very short

Pig at Animal Acres who was recently rescued (along with several others) from a backyard butcher.

period of time (if at all).  These labels are a way of getting you to pay more by playing on your conscience for a product that does little in terms of animal welfare.  Organic is regulated, and certified (though there are also some questionable practices here, apparently), better to buy in terms of the environment, but doesn’t directly address the issue of animal welfare.  Try to buy everything local, and in season. If you do eat meat, find a local supplier that follows a more traditional approach, and allows you to go see the farm.  Go to farmer’s markets and support local organic vendors.  Buy organic frozen (versus canned) if you can’t get fresh, and try to stick with what’s in season.  We are so used to buying all fruits and veggies year-round, but we really shouldn’t be able to do that if we heed the true growing seasons of these products.  By buying them out-of-season, you are most likely buying a GMO, or something laden with pesticides and other chemicals to make them arrive (and appear) fresh in your grocery store.

I often hear people say that organic is more expensive.  While this can be true, think of it from a cost-benefit perspective.  Paying a little more now for better quality products will benefit you for years to come.  Buying a better product now could save you thousands in health bills in later years.  If you can’t buy organic all the time, at least try to purchase what you can.  As a general rule, the fruits and vegetables to always buy organic are: anything you eat that you leave the skin on.

Environmental degradation: Factory farming is destructive to the environment in a variety of ways.  It adds significantly to global warming through methane production, cutting down tropical rainforests to raise crops to feed cattle, transportation involved, etc.  Factory farming is also polluting to the air and groundwater.  Vegetable recalls (such as spinach and tomatoes), from E.Coli are due to the fact that the farms growing these crops were downstream of a factory farm or slaughterhouse, or they used groundwater contaminated by one of these, or used cow manure contaminated with E.Coli. If you tackle the source, you tackle the problem.  Here’s a quote from the book, “Eating Animals:” by Jonathan Safran Foer: “The U.N. summarized the environmental effects of the meat industry this way: raising animals for food (whether on factory or traditional farms) is one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global…[Animal agriculture] should be a major policy focus when dealing with problems of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution and loss of biodiversity.”(58)

Health: Unfortunately, I did not pay attention to this when I chose to go veg, but (from studies you can easily research on-line and from testament of people I know personally) generally people who choose a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle tend to have a lowered risk of various cancers, diabetes, heart problems, obesity, etc.  Just look at other cultures where meat and dairy are not as heavily consumed as in ours (although places like Japan and China are starting to catch up to our health issues due in large part to the influx of fast-food chains).  Cholesterol and weight tend to go down when one makes the switch (as long as you don’t just fill up on pasta).  Again, I am not a doctor or nutritionist.  I can tell you that, for coming from a family with a variety of heart problems and diabetes, my own blood tests come back with good readings.  I don’t get sick as often as those around me, and if I do, it doesn’t tend to hit me as hard.  If I feel something coming on, I load up on garlic, ginger, and orange juice…I don’t often reach for over-the-counter medications.

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When people think of factory farms, they tend to think of cows, chicken, turkey, pigs, etc.  Fish farms are just as problematic, and eating wild-caught fish (caught via trawling, longlines, etc), is extremely destructive to the ocean.  Foer describes trawling as, “…the marine equivalent of clear-cutting rainforest” (191).  To catch tuna (one of the most commonly eaten fish in the U.S.), there are about 145 other species regularly killed (and thrown back as bycatch). (Foer, 49).  At this point, there really aren’t enough good, viable options for eating meat or fish that are raised in a healthy, humane, and sustainable way. Increased demand for these products would help change the industry and its practices, but a better option is choosing a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle.

This was a silent protest by Greenpeace we happened upon in Stockholm, Sweden. They were protesting against over-fishing and methods used, in particular trawling. The dolphins on display were most likely killed as by-product from trawling.

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Here are some pointers to get you started:

Books: There are any number of books you can read for further discussion, and a more thorough understanding of the ethics behind a vegan diet.  Here are a few recent ones I highly recommend:

Eating Animals,” by Jonathan Safran Foer.  This book is really well done, and he addresses more of the non-animal-rights crowd in the sense that he did not start this book necessarily with the intent of becoming a vegetarian, but he made the switch when faced with the facts.  His writing style is easy to read, and he does a good job of trying to let both sides of the issues be present (I say trying to because several in the agri-business side of things did not want to be interviewed, so he presented what he could from other accounts).

Skinny Bitch”, by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin.  They also just released “Skinny Bastard,” for the men.  These are quick, no-nonsense books that argue the reasons for a vegan diet.  I know several people who are now veg after reading one of these books.  However, if you are offended by cuss words, fair warning (though the book above has a few choice words as well).

Websites:

http://www.goveg.com/

http://www.vegnews.com/web/home.do ; ~really nicely done magazine~ recipes, etc

http://www.vegetariantimes.com/ ; ~another really nicely done magazine~ recipes, etc

http://www.veg-world.com/articles/links-gen.htm ; ~random info~

http://www.thevegetariansite.com/index.htm ~random info~

http://www.vrg.org/links/

http://www.happycow.net/ ; ~you can type in your zip code at this website, and find veg-friendly restaurants and natural health food stores in your area, or wherever you are traveling~ also recipes and other info

http://www.veganbeautyreview.com/  ~My friend Sunny’s blog on vegan beauty products, etc.

Films:

Watch any PETA video clip on factory farming to see what occurs from raising farm animals to slaughter.

“Earthlings”, narrated by Joaquin Phoenix. Or just watch the trailer, for that matter. “It takes nothing away from a human to be kind to an animal.  Make the connection.” It has won awards and been nicknamed “the Vegan maker” as it addresses animal abuse across the board: factory farms, circuses, the leather and fur industry, sporting events, etc.   Very graphic but depicts the truth of these industries. http://www.earthlings.com/

“Food, Inc.” This is a must-see film that is not specifically an argument for veganism, but for choosing to purchase your food from companies that respect their workers, animals, the environment, and you as the consumer. Nominated for an Academy Award.  http://www.foodincmovie.com/

Cookbooks:

Local Bounty, by Devra Gartenstein: one of my newer favorites.  I like this because the recipes are according to what’s in season. Easy recipes and they’ve all been delicious, hearty meals.

Vegan Vittles, by Jo Stepaniak.  I don’t use this one as much, but there is a lot of stuff that would be good for kids: sandwiches, desserts, ‘replacements’ for kid meals (mac n cheez, etc). It includes ingredient alternatives, and explanations for what things are.

Vegan Italiano, by Donna Klein.  She has a whole series, I believe, of different food types, all seem to be good. I like this one a lot.

The Vegan Gourmet, by Susann Geiskopf-Hadler and Mindy Toomay. Another of my favorites.

Vegan Yum Yum, by Lauren Ulm. One of my new favorites.  Interesting dishes, most are simple.

Vegetarian (Williams-Sonoma): haven’t used it yet but it does have pics and the recipes look good and easy to make.

Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World, by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. This has won awards, and there are some incredible, gorgeous cupcakes in here. I’ve only made one, but they were delicious, and my non-veg friends said they wouldn’t have known the difference had I not told them.

The Joy of Vegan Baking, by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau

There are others for vegetarian kids, quick meals, etc.

This is me jumping out of the way of a pig who had just jumped down from the trailer. We were trying to bring them back to Animal Acres after they were evacuated out due to local fires. Photo credit: Anna S.

Some favorite animal groups that rescue animals and help further the cause to improve animal rights/welfare:

Animal Acres: www.animalacres.org

Farm Sanctuary: www.farmsanctuary.org

PAWS: (Performing Animal Welfare Society): http://www.pawsweb.org/

Animals Asia: http://www.animalsasia.org/

Star EcoStation (full disclosure: I work here): www.ecostation.org

IDA: In Defense of Animals: http://www.idausa.org/

Enkosini: http://www.enkosiniecoexperience.com/

Elephant Voices: http://www.elephantvoices.org/

World Society for the Protection of Animals:  http://www.wspa-international.org/

Gibbon Conservation Center: http://www.gibboncenter.org/

Dog and cat rescues (Los Angeles):

The Kris Kelly Foundation (full disclosure: she’s my sister-in-law): www.thekriskellyfoundation.org

Molly’s Mutts and Meows: http://www.mollysmuttsandmeows.org/

Strangest Angels Animal Rescue: http://strangestangels.org/

Hope For Paws: http://www.hopeforpaws.org/

Not in L.A.? Petfinder.com will help you find a pet to adopt anywhere.

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That’s all for now. Hope to see you next time!

Feeding time at the Gibbon Conservation Center. "Make the connection."


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