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Book Review: The Cow with Ear Tag #1389

We want to believe that cows live happy lives. From our childhoods of Old MacDonald and his farm, field trips and cartoons and stuffed animals, we are raised to believe they are happy. The dairy industry tells us they are happy. The advertisements we see on TV reinforce the illusion. But it is only an illusion and more of us are awakening to the cruel reality of the world we have created for them. A world in which animals — cows, chickens, goats, sheep, and so many other species — are viewed and treated as little more than their component parts.

Why should a cow not receive the same degree of love and protection as the cat or dog we share our homes with?

This is a question in desperate need of an obvious answer. So I’m always happy to see more authors and publishers posing this question. Like this book by Kathryn Gillespie, published by the University of Chicago Press.

In The Cow with Ear Tag #1389 Gillespie takes us on a necessarily uncomfortable journey through America’s dairy industry. The core illusion built around the dairy industry is that cows somehow want to share their milk with us. And that they want to be milked. But the truth is, the milk is there for a very specific reason, one that is stolen from them every year. Each year, dairy cows are artificially inseminated and separated from their newborn calves within minutes after birth. A mother cow may bellow for weeks, calling out to a child that has been taken from her. Of course we can imagine the terror of this because we can imagine ourselves losing a loved one. And yet this is how milk is made. Cows don’t want to give their milk away. They create it for calves who are most often sent straight into veal crates, which the industry now euphemistically refers to as “hutches.” And the fact that the dairy industry is very much intertwined with the veal industry has long been the industry’s dirty little secret.

Gillespie is not the first person to analyze animal agriculture, but she provides an honest and human element to the journey that I found deeply moving. Her candor throughout her visits to farms and auction houses had me squirming in my seat as she watched those poor animals being pushed and prodded along. And it was not surprising but sad that nearly every dairy farm she approached for her research turned her away under the sad excuse of “biosecurity.” This is an industry that thrives on ignorance. On illusion.

But this book is not all pain and misery. There are inspiring moments amidst the stories of those who have founded animal sanctuaries, like Animal Place and Pigs Peace. Gillespie takes us along with her, where we can get a sense for what it’s like to care for an animal after it has suffered so much. As the founder of Pigs Peace noted, she had difficultly finding vets who understood how to care for aging pigs because in our world pigs aren’t allows to age. They all die young, as do cows and chickens. Those few chickens who do make it to sanctuaries have great difficulty simply standing upright because they were bred to get large quickly, so large that they can barely support their bodies.

Gillespie notes that there are 9.3 million dairy cows in the US that are used for their milk until they are “spent” after about three years and then sent to slaughter, to the tune of roughly 3 million cows per year. As Carol Adams writes in The Sexual Politics of Meat, “Female animals are doubly exploited: both when they are alive and then when they are dead.”

This is world I was raised into. A world in which I assumed we needed meat to survive, that violence to animals was necessary. I know now it is not necessary. That humans don’t need meat to survive and that we have never needed milk from a cow or a goat.

Gillespie is not out to belittle those who work in the industry — she is empathetic to the worlds they live in as well, and the emotional toll this work ultimately exacts on them. They are part of a system, a system that supplies a demand based on illusion, based on a tradition that so many of us except without question. Gillespie travels to a trade conference and notes how intertwined the dairy industry is with notions of family and patriotism and what it means to be an American. And it is these ideas that make it so difficult for people to give up milk and cheese and ice cream (even though they don’t have to give up any of it — vegan alternatives are far tastier and healthier).

This book is a valuable addition to a growing canon of literature that challenges our understanding of “normal” and that will, hopefully, as more people become aware of the horror, lead to positive changes for animals. It’s simple enough to start, really. You just stop eating meat and go from there. The Cow with Ear Tag 1389 is doing its part to opens hearts and minds.

The Cow with Ear Tag 1389

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Book Review: The Animals’ Agenda by Marc Bekoff & Jessica Pierce

The Animals’ Agenda: Freedom, Compassion, and Coexistence in the Human Age by Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce is an important and timely book that examines the human relationship with — or, more accurately, examines the many ways in which humans use — animals and how this relationship needs to evolve. This book asks readers to rethink how we see animals and to adopt more compassionate practices toward them, from animals used for food and entertainment to those in the wild.

If this book has one message that we all need to hear, it’s that animals in our society suffer abuses that we currently accept as normal — the hope is that one day we will all see these practices as barbaric instead of acceptable or necessary. The authors argue that humans are indeed aware, on some level, of these abuses but are not taking steps toward actually preventing them. Most people still eat animals, still visit zoos, still hunt and fish. “We offer lip service to freedom, in talking about ‘cage-free chickens’ and ‘naturalistic zoo enclosures.’ But real freedom for animals is the one value we don’t want to acknowledge, because it would require a deep examination of our own behavior…Many animals live impoverished lives because of our desires or our lack of awareness.”

The Animals’ Agenda shows how, despite studies that prove the intelligence and emotional sensitivity of animals, nothing will change until humans accept this suffering and choose to stop supporting it — by not attending zoos, for example, or by not eating or wearing animal products. They compare the reality of standard, accepted animal suffering to Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth: “The truth of animal feelings is similarly inconvenient, in that it challenges our highly profitable animal industries and our personal habits.”

The book is organized in sections that tackle the ways in which animals are at the mercy of humans, including farmed animals, animals in labs, pets, and wild animals. Among the most important points the authors make is that so-called improvements in the treatment of animals as a result of animal welfare studies actually do more harm than good because they let people off the hook by allowing them to believe the animals don’t suffer as much as they actually do. One powerful example is in the work of Temple Grandin, who “is hailed as a compassionate helper of animals while at the same time working within a venue in which billions of animals are harmed and killed…she has done more than anyone else to deflect attention from real freedom for animals. Even if a few animals are getting a ‘better life,’ it surely is not a good life.”

And this is the main point of The Animals’ Agenda: that non-human animals deserve the freedoms we human animals enjoy. And yet no non-human species comes even close. Even farmed animals who are fed and housed (allowing people to believe they are “cared for”) have no freedom whatsoever: “They are confined to small cages or crates, or else they are packed into a large space with so many others of their kind that physical movement is highly constrained…They have little to no control over social interactions and attachments.” Most of their diets are so unnatural to them that the animals feel hungry all the time, even when they are fed. And lest you think that “free-range” animals have it better, read on; as the authors show, “Humane is a dirty little lie.” Methods of castration, for example, that are “animal welfare approved” by the United States do not require anesthesia. And readers will be shocked to read of the terrible conditions and abuses that occur at AZA-accredited zoos.

One chapter of the book is devoted to companion animals and points out “how little research has been directed at the welfare of animals kept as pets, either in the home environment or in pet stores and breeding facilities.” Yet instead of focusing on ways to end the breeding and sale of animals, the authors focus on “exploring freedom and preferences in relation to our most common animal companions — dogs and cats” — despite their acknowledgment of the dearth of research. There are many good points in this chapter — the ills of the wholesale pet industry, the lack of knowledge most humans have about the needs of their pets — but by advocating for greater freedoms for companion animals, the authors do a disservice to shelter pets and their humans. While they acknowledge that “as companions of dogs, we can do our best to balance necessary constraints against as full a measure of freedom as possible,” they actually advise against keeping cats indoors (not mentioning exceptions for such circumstances as FIV-positive or declawed cats): “Depending on location, cats may have to contend with busy roads, with predators such as coyotes or cougars, with humans who have bad intentions, and with the possibility of injury or disease. But as with our children, we cannot protect them from all risk…Letting cats outside may be what ethicist Bill Lynn calls ‘a sad good,’ a good that involves an element of moral risk and harm.”

The fact that this book advocates so strongly for animals in other ways makes this chapter on pets a liability, as it risks derailing the book’s entire message: If readers think it’s okay to allow their cats to face injury, disease, and death from traffic or predators, why should they attempt to avoid causing such harm when it comes to farmed animals or captive animals in zoos? Many animal-rights activists would agree that keeping pets is something that humans should eventually give up — but until every last animal shelter is empty, these animals need to be adopted, loved, and protected. Companion animals deserve freedom the same way dairy cows do, but whereas the life of a dairy cow is a daily torture, most pets are not being tortured simply by being kept inside homes or behind fences for their own safety. Even a free dairy cow would presumably fenced in at a sanctuary, not left out on her own. It’s this chapter, in an otherwise stellar book, that may make it hard for non-activists to embrace the idea of animal freedom.

The Animals’ Agenda goes on to note the ways in which even wild animals, on both land and in oceans, suffer due to our influence — from habitat loss to our noise to our trash — and that even conservation work, such as capturing and tagging animals, has its own negative effects. Education is key here, and the authors’ message is clear: “a great number of things we currently do to animals are simply wrong and need to stop: the unnecessary slaughter of animals for food and fur, the use of animals in invasive research, the confinement of animals for human entertainment, and our excessive encroachment on wildlife.”

While Bekoff and Pierce detail the good science that is happening regarding animal welfare, they also note that we must “close the knowledge-translation gap”; in the end, much of this knowledge primarily serves the industries that abuse animals. For things to improve, for us to put “what we know about animals into the service of animals themselves,” it will take nothing less than a compassionate society to adopt a mindset of true animal freedom. A very good first step toward that is reading this book.

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Book Review: Clean Meat by Paul Shapiro

Paul Shapiro’s book Clean Meat: How Growing Meat Without Animals Will Revolutionize Dinner and the World explores the fascinating — and potentially planet-saving — world of cultured meat.

While the notion of “cultured meat” or “lab-grown” meat may sound odd to many, Shapiro’s book makes the case for why this new industry is among our best hopes for, quite literally, saving the world. He notes, “Our species truly is at a crossroads. It’s not hard to imagine the global instability that could ensue when we have billions more people on the planet, including billions more who expect to eat meat regularly. We just don’t have the resources to satiate that demand without destroying our planet and inflicting an enormity of suffering on animals, both domesticated and wild, in the process.”

As a decades-long vegan and the founder of Compassion Over Killing, Shapiro, who has also served as a vice president for the Humane Society of the United States, knows firsthand what’s at stake, and in Clean Meat he takes us behind the scenes of those who are about to change the world for the better.

As Yuval Noah Harari notes in the book’s foreword, “The world’s animals are not the wildlife we think of when we think of animals.” Rather, most animals that exist on the planet are bred for our consumption. For example: There are forty thousand lions in the world to one billion domesticated pigs, fifty million penguins to fifty billion chickens—and for these animals, life is horrific: “Judged by the amount of suffering it causes, industrial farming of animals is arguably one of the worst crimes in history.”

Cultured meat is the answer not only to the problem of animal suffering but to the issue of greenhouse gases produced by animal agriculture (responsible for more greenhouse gases than all forms of transportation combined); the massive water consumption required (“you’d save more water skipping one family chicken dinner than by skipping six months of showers”); and the destruction of rainforests to raise animals (“animal feed is the leading cause of rainforest deforestation, essentially killing the lungs of our planet”). In Clean Meat, Shapiro writes about start-up pioneers who envision “a world in which we can have our meat and eat it, too: where we can enjoy abundant amounts of meat and other animal products without all the environmental, animal welfare, and public health costs.”

Shapiro details the fascinating science behind cultured meat as well as shows us the history of meat consumption in the U.S. and other countries, and why it’s becoming unsustainable.The science of clean meat is explained in both technical and layman’s terms, which makes the industry’s concepts accessible to all readers — and the sections outlining the technology are remarkable, showing us how real animal products such as meat and leather are being produced from microscopic animal cells, and even from yeast, bacteria, or algae.

The book also demystifies many of our perceptions of cultured meat (one major point being that clean meat is not as wild an idea as we think because nearly all the food we currently eat is scientifically engineered, from packaged foods such as protein bars to vegetables and fruits such as seedless watermelon). In addition, the very term “clean meat” reflects the improved food safety of these products; whereas meat from animals raised on farms contains antibiotics, hormones, fecal matter, and diseases such as avian flu, cultured meat, which is produced in a completely sterile environment, will be far safer to eat than the meat being produced today. “Imagine choosing between an egg white that might have salmonella and one you know doesn’t,” says Arturo Elizondo of Clara Foods. “Or milk with pus versus milk without pus, which all cow’s milk has. Which would you choose?”

Perhaps most surprising is that the concept of cultured meat is not as new as it seems; as far back as 1931, Winston Churchill wrote of “the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing” — and even he was not the first: “As early as 1894 … French chemistry professor Pierre-Eugène-Marcellin Berthelot claimed that by the year 2000, humans would dine on meat grown in a lab rather than from slaughtered animals.” Shapiro outlines our history of attempting to improve the way we eat, from hunting and foraging to culturing such foods as beer and yogurt, and how technology has brought us to where we are today. In the pages of Clean Meat, we meet scientists, idealists, and businesspeople, all working toward bringing this science to the mainstream. Having met representatives from many of the companies in this emerging field — among them Memphis Meats, Modern Meadow, Hampton Creek, Mosa Meat, Finless Foods, SuperMeat, Future Meat Technologies, Perfect Day, Clara Foods, Bolt Threads, VitroLabs, Spiber, Geltor, and others — Shapiro notes, “Interestingly, for the most part they don’t consider one another rivals as much as they do friendly competitors, all working toward the same goal.”

As with any major disruption in our social, cultural, and economic lives, clean meat will have a tremendous impact on everything from jobs to food to animal welfare, and in the end, it will likely succeed if it improves the lives of humans. As Shapiro points out, much of animal protection is accidental — whaling only stopped in the mid-nineteenth century because kerosene was discovered to be a better and more affordable alternative to whale oil; horses were replaced with cars only thanks to Henry Ford’s innovation, not animal advocates (though wonderful advocates did exist, they were not the reason Americans exchanged horses for cars).

So there is reason for hope for clean meat, especially “given that mainstream meat consumers (i.e., most people in our society) rarely think twice about buying meat from animals who’ve been raised in unsanitary and inhumane conditions … it’s difficult to imagine most of us having a problem with clean meat that (aside from being safer, eco-friendlier, and more humane) is pretty much the same meat that we’re used to eating.”

The biggest question of all — how does it taste? — will ultimately be answered by consumers themselves. As you’ll read in Clean Meat, the reviews so far are quite good. Shapiro was invited to try several foods in process, from “steak chips” to cultured foie gras to clean duck. A vegan for more than two decades, he writes, “I had little ethical concern about eating the [cultured] meat, but it still felt bizarre to be on the precipice of ingesting animal flesh.” He reports that the taste of the products he sampled was authentic; the duck “was exactly how I remembered duck tasting from my youth.”

Clean Meat should be read by anyone who cares about the planet, but most of all by those who currently eat and wear animals the way these products are made today. This book provides a detailed, well-rounded examination of a new industry that highlights the challenges — and the incredible possibilities — of feeding and clothing us all in an increasingly populated and demanding world.

“I’m convinced that when we look back in thirty years on today, how we raise and slaughter billions of animals to make our hamburgers and handbags, we’ll see this as being wasteful, inhumane, and indeed crazy,” Andras Forgacs of Modern Meadow tells Shapiro. “We need to move past just killing animals as a resource to something more civilized and evolved. Perhaps we’re ready for something literally and figuratively more cultured.”

Learn more at www.cleanmeat.com as well as www.cleanmeat.org. And check out my interview with Paul Shapiro at VegNews.

 

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Book Review: The Vegan Studies Project

vegan studies project

Donald Watson is widely credited with having coined the term “vegan” in 1944, when he and others founded the Vegan Society.

Since then, the word has become so heavily loaded with cultural and emotional baggage (both pro and con) that an increasing number of vegan restaurants and food brands I come across now use the words “plant-based” instead.

But I like the word “vegan” in all its messy glory. And I’m not about to stop using it.

The fact is, the word represents disruption on an enormous scale — to food industries, political systems, religious traditions, family traditions, and personal relationships. This word can make people uncomfortable. There was a time in my life, not many years ago, when it made me uncomfortable.

Which is why I was so interested in reading The Vegan Studies Project by Laura Wright.

The book is largely academic in nature, with plenty of footnotes and references to other academic works. But there are also numerous personal narratives included. While the author doesn’t explicitly call out for the creation of “vegan studies” programs at universities, this would be a natural and positive outcome.

Wright points out that there is no “one” vegan movement, nor one typical vegan. Some people are vegan for animals, some for diet, some for allergies, some for all of the above. But Wright illustrates how commonly vegans are portrayed by media and popular culture as one entity: elitists, separatists, even terrorists. More culturally loaded words.

This is a book that poses considerably more questions than it answers, which is by design. The word “project” denotes the beginning of something, and this book sets out to open lines of discussion around the contemporary vegan movement. Issues such as:

  • Vegan celebrities: Do celebrities help the movement when they go vegan? And do they do more harm than good when they give it up?
  • Death by veganism: Every few years it seems that vegan parents come under scrutiny for “starving” their children through their vegan diet. Neal Barnard is one of a growing number of doctors who have made good progress in debunking the myths surrounding vegan diets and children.
  • Vegans in entertainment: Wright devotes significant attention to the popularity of vampire books, TV and film, examining the evolution of vampires. (As an aside, it’s a shame the vegan vampire series that Ashland Creek Press published — the Lithia Trilogy — was overlooked. This series features a vegan vampire that goes well beyond the “vegetarian” vampires popularized by the Twilight Series and discussed by the author.)
  • Veganism and eating disorders: Is veganism the cause of some eating disorders (as some people claim) or does it represent a path away from eating disorders? I find this area particularly interesting because veganism is often viewed as a lifestyle of deprivation — and, if not embarked upon properly, sometimes it can be. Many restaurants still make it difficult to eat vegan, but this is changing — and quickly. How will veganism be portrayed in the years ahead as food choices become more commonplace and more affordable?
  • Veganism and masculinity: Meat is so tightly intertwined with the concept of masculinity that it’s hard to get through fifteen minutes of an NFL football game without watching commercials that all but shout that you’re not a man if you don’t eat meat. Fortunately, many men are challenging this worldview, proving through bodybuilding or running that men can thrive without eating meat. This is a positive step forward, though I’d like to get to a point in time where men can be vegan without feeling like they have to run a marathon or two.

Religion should also be included in this field of study and was curiously missing from the book. I would love to see more researchers tackle how religious works are used to defend meat eating as well as to defend not eating meat.

Veganism/vegetarianism is not a new philosophy. The notion of not eating animals apparently goes back to Pythagoras. But I do find it maddening how over the past few hundred years the movement has bubbled up for periods of time only to fade again from mainstream view. This time, I think, is different — especially as climate change and the environment is increasingly linked with animal agriculture. Reading this book, I’m reminded of the many ways that veganism is becoming more and more central to our culture, even if the word itself is not used outright.

This book sets the stage for more researchers, more writers, more people to better understand this word and what it means to the world.

The Vegan Studies Project: Food, Animals, and Gender in the Age of Terror
The University of Georgia Press

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Book Review: Veganomics by Nick Cooney

Veganomics

VeganomicsIf you are looking for a ray of hope, it can be found in the effective altruism movement. Effective altruists are people who are thinking about not just doing good, but doing the most good they can do — and acting on it.

For those interested in animal welfare, a great introduction to this can be found in Nick Cooney‘s Veganomics: The Surprising Science on What Motivates Vegetarians from the Breakfast Table to the Bedroom. Frustrated that more people aren’t vegan? Sad friends and family don’t get it? Here’s your book.

Veganomics delves into scientific studies and crunches the numbers: Who are vegetarians? Why do they do it? Who is more likely to go meat-free? What motivates them to try and stick with it? It’s a data-driven approach to advocacy.

“The sooner vegetarian advocates put the research that already exists to use, the more animals will be spared their misery. The sooner vegetarian advocates carry out direct research to guide their decisions, the closer we will all be to the world we want to see.”

The book takes a utilitarian approach to ethics and advocacy. It’s aimed at how to do “the greatest good for the greatest number”: save the largest number of animals and get more people on board. This way of assessing vegetarian eating and saving animals can be a little off-putting at first — a Spock-like approach to a passionate issue.

However, the numbers can also be inspiring and motivating. Consider: The average woman is responsible for the suffering and death of 29 animals per year versus 37 animal deaths for men. Go meat-free and that’s lives saved.

Advocate for animals and you can triple, quadruple the number of lives saved. For vegetarians who aren’t engaged in activism, it’s still useful information. The way you respond to questions about what you eat can make a difference in furthering meat-free eating as a positive, viable choice.

“It’s a matter of getting the values people attach to vegetarian meats to be the values embraced by most Americans. Eating vegetarian chicken strips needs to become as American as eating apple pie.”

The book’s vegan advocacy checklist is available as a free download. A few key points:

  • Young women are most likely to change their diet to cut out or cut back on meat.
  • New vegetarians need social support to stay vegetarian.
  • More animals will be saved by focusing on getting people to reduce consumption of chicken, fish, and eggs.
  • Focusing on animal welfare is the most effective way to get people to eat less meat (followed by health reasons). “The more that people care about animals, even if it’s not their main motivation for being vegetarian, the fewer animals they will eat.”
  • Environmental and social justice reasons for going meat-free are less effective.
  • The phrase “meat-free” is more effective than vegetarian or vegan.
  • People are more likely to stay vegetarian if they make the change gradually and start with familiar foods. Plant-based meats can be very helpful and Veganomics includes an interesting discussion of the history of plant-based protein from John Harvey Kellogg’s Nuttose and Granose to today’s Beyond Meat.

It’s clear from the book that more data and research would be helpful. Overall, it’s about results-oriented compassion and effective animal advocacy.

Nick Cooney
Author Nick Cooney, Director of Education at Mercy For Animals and Founder of The Humane League, a vegan advocacy group, talks about his new book “How to Be Great at Doing Good” at Loving Hut in Seattle.

“Compassionate people like you are the only hope animals have of escaping existential misery. That is not a theory or poetic rhetoric. It’s a cold, hard fact.”

What to read next: How to be Great at Doing Good (2015), Nick Cooney; The Most Good You Can Do (2015), Peter Singer and, forthcoming in August, Doing Good Better, William MacAskill. See also, In Defense of Animals: The Second Wave (2005), essays edited by Peter Singer, especially part III “Activists and Their Strategies.”

Inspired by this book: Check out Animal Charity Evaluators and the Center for Effective Altruism as well as the Humane League Labs, for more research on vegan advocacy.

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