The Dirty Six

Posted in Animal Welfare, Industrialized Farming on August 21, 2009 by Powered By Produce

In just one hour in the US, more than 1 million animals are killed for food. Before their slaughter, they endure a life of abuse. Considering that nearly 10 billion animals each year are treated as production units rather than social, intelligent animals, this is the gravest animal welfare problem in the country.

The Humane Society of the United States has identified the six worst animal practices in agribusiness:

1. Battery Cages
In the US, 95% of egg-laying hens are confined to battery cages: small wire enclosures stacked several tiers high, extending down long rows, inside windowless warehouses. These cages offer less space per hen than the area of a single piece of paper. The birds are so cramped that they are unable to spread their wings. While many countries are banning these abusive battery cages, the US still overcrowds 300 million hens in these cruel enclosures.

2. Fast Growth of Birds
More than 9 out of 10 land animals killed for human consumption in the US are chickens. About 9 billion are slaughtered each year. The chicken industry’s use of growth-promoting antibiotics has produced birds whose bodies struggle to function and are on the verge of structural collapse. (To put their growth rate into perspective, the University of Arkansas reports that if humans grew as fast as today’s chickens, we’d weigh 349 pounds by our second birthday.) Ninety percent of chickens have detectable leg problems and structural deformities. More than 25% suffer from chronic pain due to bone disease.

3. Forced Feeding for Foie Gras
French for “fatty liver,” the delicacy known as pate de foie gras is produced from the grossly enlarged liver of a duck or goose. Two to three times a day for several weeks, the birds are force-fed enormous quantities of food through a long pipe thrust down their throats to their stomachs. This deliberate overfeeding causes the birds’ livers to swell to as much as ten times their normal size. This impairs liver function, expands their abdomens, and makes movements as simple as standing or walking difficult and painful. Several European countries have banned the force-feeding of birds for foie gras.

4. Gestation Crates and Veal Crates
During their 4-month pregnancies, 60-70% of female pigs in the US are kept in gestation crates: individual metal stalls so small and narrow that the animals can’t even turn around or move more than one step forward or backward. Similarly, calves raised for veal are confined in restrictive crates, generally chained by the neck, that prohibit them from turning around. This takes an enormous mental and physical toll on the animals. Both of these practices are being phased out in the EU because of their abusive, inhumane nature, but they are still in use in the US.

5. Long-Distance Transport
Billions of animals endure the rigors of transport around the country. Overcrowded onto trucks that do not provide any protection from very hot and very cold weather, animals travel days without food, water, or rest. The conditions are so stressful that in-transit death is considered common.

6. Electric Stunning of Birds
At the slaughter plant, birds are moved off trucks, dumped from transport crates onto conveyors, and hung upside down by their legs in shackles. Their heads pass though electrified baths of water, intended to immobilize them before their throats are slit. From beginning to end, the entire process is filled with pain & suffering. Federal regulations do not require that birds be rendered insensible before they are slaughtered. The shackling of their legs causes pain, increased in those already suffering from leg disorders (see #2) or broken bones. Electric stunning has been found to be ineffective in consistently inducing unconsciousness.

You Can Help
Don’t support the cruelties endured by these animals.
-Refine your diet by eliminating the most abusive animal products.
-Reduce your consumption of animal products
-Replace animal products in your diet with vegetarian options
-Only consume animal products that are locally and humanely raised (try your local farmers’ market)
Breakfast: English muffin with jelly
Lunch: Veggie sub from Quizno’s
Dinner: Cheeseless pizza loaded with spinach, mushrooms, onion, bell peppers, olives, tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and garlic


Why Go Veg: Reasons 5-8

Posted in Why Go Veg on August 20, 2009 by Powered By Produce

5. You’ll save your heart. Cardiovascular disease is still the number one killer in the United States, and the standard American diet (SAD) that’s laden with saturated fat and cholesterol from meat and dairy is largely to blame. Cardiovascular disease is found in one in nine women aged 45 to 64 and in one in three women over 65. Today, the average American male eating a meat-based diet has a 50 percent chance of dying from heart disease. His risk drops to 15 percent if he cuts out meat; it goes to 4 percent if he cuts out meat, dairy and eggs. Partly responsible is the fact that fruits and vegetables are full of antioxidant nutrients that protect the heart and its arteries. Plus, produce contains no saturated fat or cholesterol. Incidentally, cholesterol levels for vegetarians are 14 percent lower than meat eaters.

6. You’ll avoid toxic chemicals. The EPA estimates that nearly 95 percent of pesticide residue in our diet comes from meat, fish and dairy products. Fish, in particular, contain carcinogens (PCBs, DDT) and heavy metals (mercury, arsenic; lead, cadmium) that cannot be removed through cooking or freezing. Meat and dairy products are also laced with steroids and hormones.

7. You’ll help reduce famine. Right now, 72 percent of all grain produced in the United States is fed to animals raised for slaughter. It takes 15 pounds of feed to get one pound of meat. But if the grain were given directly to people, there would be enough food to feed the entire planet. In addition, using land for animal agriculture is inefficient in terms of maximizing food production. According to the journal Soil and Water, one acre of land could produce 50,000 pounds of tomatoes, 40,000 pounds of potatoes, 30,000 pounds of carrots or just 250 pounds of beef.

8. You’ll provide a great role model for your kids. “If you set a good example and feed your children good food, chances are they’ll live a longer and healthier life,” says Christine Beard, a certified nutrition educator and author of Become a Vegetarian in 5 Easy Steps. “You’re also providing a market for vegetarian products and making it more likely that they’ll be available for the children.”
Breakfast: Lots of cherries!
Lunch: Asian stir-fry (leftover from dinner last night)
Dinner: Soy chorizo (from Trader Joe’s) taco and homemade guacamole

Growing Local Farm Movement

Posted in Miscellaneous, Organic on August 11, 2009 by Powered By Produce

Last week, CNN reported on the growing local food movement, or Community Supported Agricurture (CSAs). From the article:

[The farmers] describe their farming technique as “beyond organic,” saying they use no artificial fertilizers, growth hormones or antibiotics and don’t keep their animals penned up.

Life on their property — where cattle and sheep graze in open fields and chickens follow along to clean up after them — looks much like the classic image of a family farm. [The Farmers] say they consider themselves healers to both their customers and, according to their Web site, a food system that “had become a machine with little regard for food safety, food taste and animal welfare.”

“People are becoming very disconnected from the food system,” Liz Young said. “Buying from a local CSA or just shopping at a local farm, you can see where it’s coming from. You can talk to the farmers and figure out how the animals or the produce is raised.

Members of the nation’s handful of meat CSAs, and the thousands of others, offer a list of reasons.

The food is healthier and tastes better, they say. They like supporting their local economy. Eliminating cross-country delivery is better for the environment, as are the sustainable farming techniques the farmers tend to use.

“Being part of a CSA means that I know the first names of the people who are raising the meat I eat,” said Andrew Johnson of Kansas City, Missouri, a member of the Parker Farms meat CSA in Richmond, Missouri. “Whereas, with the meat I buy from the grocery store, I don’t know where it came from or who raised it.”

Others say they appreciate that animals from the usually small family farms don’t spend their lives in processing plants, conditions that advocates call inhumane.

Because CSA members deal with the farmers directly, they are able to visit the farms and see exactly how their food is produced. The transparency, they say, creates an incentive for farmers to raise their animals as naturally as possible.

“Is it as cheap as the lowest-price chicken in the grocery store? Absolutely not,” Tim Young said. “But with our prices and the prices of any sustainable farmer, you’ve got everything baked in: the cost to the environment, the cost to the health care system, the cost of producing that animal [in a humane way].”

“I don’t think it is significant, but if it does end up costing a bit more, it is still important to us to make this a priority,” he said. “There are other expenses I am willing to give up rather than give up a safe, trusted food source.”
Breakfast: Bagel with “better than cream cheese” (a non-dairy cream cheese subsitute)
Lunch: Veggie sub with avocado, lettuce, tomato, sprouts, shredded carrots, vinegar & oil
Diner: Burrito with beans, rice, zucchini, squash, peppers & salsa

Meet Your Meat: Pigs

Posted in Animal Welfare, Meet Your Meat on August 10, 2009 by Powered By Produce

Back to the basics this week: Meet your meat.

Pigs are often compared to dogs because they are affectionate, loyal, and intelligent. Most people are not familiar with pigs because 97% of pigs in the United States today are on factory farms. People would be surprised to learn that pigs dream, recognize names, play video games better than some primates, and lead social lives of the same complexity as primates. In fact, according to Dr. Donald Broom, Cambridge University professor and former scientific advisor to the Council of Europe, “[Pigs] have the cognative ability to be quite sophisticated. Even more so than dogs and certainly [more so than] three-year-olds.” Learn more about the intelligence of pigs.

Pigs on today’s farms are denied all of their instincts. Mother pigs (sows) spend the majority of their lives in individual “gestation crates” which are two feet wide, too small for them to even turn around. According to a March 2004 article in the Des Moines Register, “A pregnant sow’s biological need to build a nest before having her litter is so great that some sows confined in modern hog buildings will rub their snouts raw on the concrete floor while trying to satisfy the drive.”

This deprived environment causes neurotic coping behaviors such as continual bar biting, obsessive pressing on water bottles, and sham chewing (chewing nothing). One slaughterhouse investigator wrote, “what will remain with me forever is the sound of desperate pigs banging their heads against immovable doors and their constant and repeated biting at the prison bars that held them captive. This, I now know, is a sign of mental collapse.”

Piglets are taken from their mothers as young as 10 day old and are packed into overcrowed pens until they are sent off for breeding or fattening. Because they are not properly weaned from their mothers, they bite each other’s tails, searching for milk. To prevent this problem, piglets’ tails are cut off and the ends of their teeth are broken off, both without the use of pain killers.

Just like all other animals in CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations), sick pigs are left untreated and either die from illness or are killed by “thumping” (slamming animal’s head against the floor until they die), drowning, or standing on their neck. According to a November 2002 article in the New York Times, “Sick pigs, being unproductive ‘production units’ are clubbed to death on the spot.” Approximately 100 million pigs are killed in the US each year. A Washington Post article reported that, “[hogs] are dunked in taks of hot water after they are stunned to soften the hides for skinning. As a result, a botched slaughter condemns some hogs to being scalded and drowned. Secret videotape from an Iowa pork plant shows hogs squealing and kicking as they are being lowered into the water.”

According to one slaughter plant worker, “After they left me, the hogs would go up a hundred-foot ramp to a tank where they’re dunked in 140° water…Water any hotter than that would take the meat right off their bones…There’s no way these animals can bleed out in the few minutes it takes to get up the ramp. By the time they hit the scalding tank, they’re still fully conscious and squealing. Happens all the time.”

Breakfast: Cereal with soy milk
Lunch: Falafel pita sandwich
Dinner: Went to a BBQ – veggie burger, pasta salad, cornbread, beans

Meat’s Not Green: Water

Posted in Health, Industrialized Farming, Meat's Not Green, Water on August 4, 2009 by Powered By Produce

Nearly half of the water used in the U.S. is squandered on animal agriculture. Between watering the crops grown to feed farm animals, providing drinking water for billions of animals each year, and cleaning the filthy factory farms, transport trucks, and slaughterhouses, the farmed animal industry places a serious strain on our water supply. According to a special report in Newsweek, “The water that goes into a 1,000-pound steer would float a destroyer.” It takes more than 4,000 gallons of water per day to produce a meat-based diet, but only 300 gallons of water a day are needed to produce a vegetarian diet.

Besides just wasting water, factory farms also pollute it. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, animal factories pollute our waterways more than all other industrial sources combined. The major sources of pollution are from antibiotics and hormones, chemicals from tanneries, fertilizers and pesticides used for feedcrops, sediments from eroded pastures, and animal wastes.

Cows, pigs, chickens, and other animals raised for food produce approximately 130 times as much excrement as the entire human population, except there are no sewage systems to dispose of the waste from factory farms. Much of the millions of pounds of excrement and other bodily waste produced by farmed animals every day in the U.S. is stored in sprawling brown lagoons.

These lagoons often spill over into surrounding waterways and cause massive destruction. In 1995, 25 million gallons of putrid hog urine and feces spilled into a North Carolina river, killing 10-14 million fish. This spill was twice as large in volume as the Exxon-Valdez oil disaster. But, it doesn’t take a spill of this magnitude to wreak havoc on the ecosystem. In West Virginia and Maryland, for example, scientists have recently discovered that male fish are growing ovaries, and they suspect that this freakish deformity is the result of factory-farm run-off from drug-laden chicken feces.

Besides the environmental problems caused by farmed animal waste, the dangerous fecal bacteria from farm sewage (including E. coli) can also cause serious illness in humans.

A Scripps Howard synopsis of a Senate Agricultural Committee report on farm pollution issued this warning about animal waste: “…it’s untreated and unsanitary, bubbling with chemicals and diseased… It goes onto the soil and into the water that many people will, ultimately, bathe in and wash their clothes with, and drink. It is poisoning rivers and killing fish and making people sick…Catastrophic cases of pollution, sickness, and death are occurring in areas where livestock operations are concentrated… Every place where the animal factories have located, neighbors have complained of falling sick.”

The EPA reports that chicken, hog, and cattle excrement have polluted 35,000 miles of rivers in 22 states and contaminated groundwater in 17 states yet, amazingly, the federal government continues to allow factory farms to use our rivers as sewers.
Breakfast: Whole wheat bagel
Lunch: Mango “chicken” (soy chicken subsitute) from Chinese/Thai fusion restaurant
Dinner: Veggie burger

Vegetarian Athletes: The Football Player

Posted in Health, Vegetarian Athletes on July 29, 2009 by Powered By Produce
As some of you may know, I am currently training for the Nike Women’s Marathon (that’s 26.2 miles) in San Francisco, CA on October 18, 2009. This will be my third marathon, first as a vegetarian. Many people are skeptical about the ability of vegetarians to be athletes, but there are a great number of vegetarian athletes who have proven this skepticism to be unwarranted. (See also my post about protein.)

There is an excellent article on featuring four vegetarian athletes, which I want to share here. The article is rather long, so I will break it up into four sections.

But, before I begin, I will shamelessly plug my fundraising efforts. I am running this marathon with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team In Training. Everyone on our team pledges to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s mission to cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and myeloma, and improve the quality of life of patients and their families. For more information, or to make a tax deductible donation to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, visit my Team In Training website:

Ok, back to the topic at hand. From

The Football Player

When you’re a Pro Bowl tight end, it’s difficult to change your routine. Difficult, and maybe crazy. If you’re in the midst of a Hall of Fame career, why change anything? As Tony Gonzalez discovered, sometimes change comes to you.

Sitting at home one day in May 2007, Gonzalez suddenly lost all feeling in his face and felt a terrible pain in the back of his head. He initially thought he was having a stroke, but hospital tests confirmed he had Bell’s Palsy instead. Many doctors prescribe a diet consisting entirely of raw fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds — no animal products or processed foods — as a way to improve digestion and combat the condition. A few months later, Gonzalez got another health scare, when doctors warned him of a low white blood cell count, raising the possibility he had leukemia. In the end, a mix-up with another patient’s blood had caused that diagnosis. Still, with two scares in a span of a few months, Gonzalez became more attuned to his health and to what he put into his body.

Not long afterward, Gonzalez was on a cross-country flight when he struck up a conversation with the man next to him in first class. When lunchtime arrived, Gonzalez’s seatmate ordered the salad with shrimp, hold the shrimp. Come dessert time, the man turned down the flight attendant’s offer of milk to go with his cookies.

“So I asked him, ‘Are you a vegetarian?'” Gonzalez recounted. “He said he was a vegan. Not eating meat I could understand, but I asked him why he wouldn’t even drink the milk. He said that we’re the only animals on Earth who drink milk after being babies.”

A few years earlier, or maybe even a few months earlier, Gonzalez might have nodded politely and ended the conversation right there. But that year, he’d started to seriously ponder his long-term health and the dietary choices he was making. The health scares had opened his eyes. But more than that, Gonzalez wondered what life would be like after football. He wanted to stay in shape and live well after his playing days were done.

When the man recommended “The China Study” as a must read, Gonzalez devoured it. The 2005 book by Cornell professor and nutrition researcher T. Colin Campbell claims people who eat mostly plants contract fewer deadly diseases than those who eat mostly animals. The book got its name from diet studies and blood samples drawn from 6,500 men and women in China. Gonzalez has since met with Campbell and now plans to write his own book about dietary choices from the perspective of a 246-pound football star.

For Gonzalez, now 32, getting from Point A to Point B took a great deal of thought and self-doubt. Conventional wisdom held that eating steak and drinking a gallon of milk a day would make you big and strong and prepare you for the rigors of NFL life. Gonzalez followed that path, pounding steaks and milk, as well as pizza, hot dogs and burgers — whatever it took to pack on the pounds. He especially loved macaroni and cheese, with an emphasis on cheese, piled as high as possible. You couldn’t argue with the results. In his first 10 seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, Gonzalez had made the Pro Bowl eight times, establishing himself as the best tight end in the league.

When he switched to a meatless diet, he wondered whether the move would backfire on him. At first, it looked like it might. In the first few weeks of his new regimen, he lost 10 pounds. His strength quickly dropped, and Gonzalez found himself unable to lift the heavy weights he’d hoisted with ease in the past. Teammates started telling him he looked skinny. “You’re going to get your butt kicked” was another common refrain.

“It was a trial by error,” he said. “I had to educate myself on how to do it the right way.”
After reading up on vegan-friendly recipes, Gonzalez found the right balance. Though he had more than enough money to buy any foods he wanted, Gonzalez still wasn’t thrilled with the prospect of spending through the nose on groceries. Instead, his grocery bills stayed about the same, but the check at restaurants got slashed with no $50 porterhouse steaks on his plate. Gonzalez says he now focuses on produce when constructing his meals. He loads up on berries, bananas and mangoes, fresh vegetables and milk alternatives like rice milk or hemp milk, then blends them into what he calls “power smoothies.”

He gained back most of his lost weight, settling in around 246 pounds. His strength quickly returned. When the season started, he was shocked at how good he felt. In the fourth quarters of games, he found himself sprinting past tired defenders. He became more alert during team meetings. On the day after a game, he’d skip into the gym, while teammates looked sore, beat up and worn out.

“People were still making fun of me, because I think they wanted to make themselves feel better,” Gonzalez explained. “I’d be ordering salad, potatoes, veggies. I think they felt guilty. Unless you’ve been in a cave, you know what’s healthy and what’s not healthy. But most of them still keep eating what they’ve been eating, because they think that’s the only way to get enough protein and compete at a high level.”

As the season progressed, Gonzalez’s numbers picked up. Playing in his 11th season, Gonzalez made 99 catches (the second-highest total of his career), racking up 1,172 yards (the third-highest total of his career). In the previous three seasons, he’d dealt with an arthritic foot that got so bad he could barely walk the day after a game. The foot condition had forced him to give up basketball, a sport Gonzalez loved, having played varsity ball alongside the Sacramento Kings’ Shareef Abdur-Rahim at Cal. Coincidence or not, the foot condition improved dramatically over the course of an offseason, to the point that he started hitting the hardwood again. Playing basketball in turn gave Gonzalez another good way to boost his training, which he says helped improve his agility.

More surprising than his improved health, he says, was the reaction of some of his friends, especially ex-players.

D’Marco Farr was a bruising NFL defensive lineman for seven seasons before injuries forced him into early retirement. Seven years after leaving the league, Farr told Gonzalez he still didn’t feel 100 percent, carrying extra weight and still suffering from aches and pains. When Gonzalez told him about the changes he’d felt since going vegan, Farr jumped on board. He has since spread the word to other ex-players, including Lincoln Kennedy, a three-time Pro Bowler who retired at well more than 300 pounds.

Gonzalez has become something of a spokesman for healthy eating. When he retires, he wants to travel around the league speaking about the value of healthier diets. He’s excited about the prospect of his first book on the subject. Gonzalez wants to reach out to younger players, too. He recently spoke to a group of 300 college football prospects at USC, where he counseled the group not to fall into the trap of scarfing down fatty foods just because that’s the norm for aspiring players trying to pack on weight.

“I believe in moderation,” he said. “I know this isn’t easy. One steak or a chicken dinner once in a while, that’s fine. You just have to be smart about it. When you go from eating that way to a vegan diet, you can get into situations where it’s like an alcoholic going to a bar: You say you’re going to have one drink, and you end up having 10.”

Pin Gonzalez down, and he’ll concede his new diet hasn’t necessarily improved his on-field performance. Science agrees with him on that point: No conclusive studies have proven a vegan or vegetarian diet helps an athlete run faster, jump higher or throw a ball harder or farther. To Gonzalez, making the change was about living healthier and about recognizing there’s a life beyond football.

“In this league, you think you’re invincible, that you’ll last forever,” he said. “Then you look at some of the numbers, that the average football player dies young. I’m sure there are other reasons, but eating unhealthy foods and carrying around all that extra weight can’t help.

“I realized football’s not going to last forever. To me this isn’t a diet. It’s a complete lifestyle change.”
Breakfast: Whole wheat bagel
Lunch: Leftover Tom Yum Veggie soup – delicious!
Dinner: Chalupas with beans, lettuce, tomato, onion, cilantro, guac, and salsa verde

The Most Dangerous Job in America

Posted in Health, Miscellaneous on July 28, 2009 by Powered By Produce

Sorry for the slow down in posts lately. My life got hectic with a business trip, moving apartments, then vacation, all back to back. But I’m back on track now & hope to pick up the pace on the blog again!

Just last week, the headlines read “Woman Found Dead at McDonald’s Food Processing Plant.” Although this is a single headline, this is not an isolated incident. Meatpacking is now the most dangerous job in the United States. The injury rate in slaughterhouses is three times higher than the rate in a typical American factory. Every year, more than one-quarter of the meatpacking workers in this country (roughly 40,000 men & women) suffer an injury or work-related illness that requires medical attention beyond first aid. And, there is evidence that the official numbers, reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, are an underestimate and that thousands of injuries go unreported.

Lacerations are the most common injury, but meatpacking workers also suffer from tendinitis, back problems, shoulder problems, carpal tunnel syndrome, and trigger finger (a finger becomes frozen in a curled position). The rate of these cumulative trauma injuries is much higher in the meatpacking industry than in any other industry. It is thirty-three times higher than the national average. Slaughterhouse workers make a knife cut every 2 or 3 seconds, adding up to about 10,000 cuts during an 8 hour shift, and placing repetitive pressure on the workers’ joints, tendons, and nerves.

The speed of the assembly line is an accurate determinant for the number of injuries at a slaughterhouse. The original meatpacking plants slaughtered about 50 cows an hour. Twenty years ago, plants slaughtered about 175 cows an hour. Today, meatpacking plants slaughter about 400 cows an hour. One former nurse in a meatpacking plant said, “I could always tell the line speed by the number of people with lacerations coming into my office.”

Workers desperate not to fall behind (and risk losing their job), are encouraged to take methamphetamine (often sold to them by their supervisors). The widespread use of “crank” in the meatpacking industry only makes an already very dangerous job even riskier.

Because most of the workers in slaughterhouses are recent immigrants, many illegal, they can be fired at any moment, without warning. They may have traveled long distances for this job, could have families to support, and are earning more than they could back home, so there is huge pressure not to complain, and not to report injuries. The annual bonuses for plant supervisors is often based on injury rates.

From a purely economic point of view, injured workers are a drain. They are less productive, so getting rid of them makes sense when there are plenty of available replacements. Injured workers are often given easy, yet unpleasant tasks, their wages are cut, and they are encouraged to quit. This causes non-visible injuries (hand pain, back pain) to go unreported and untreated.
Breakfast: Lots of cherries!
Lunch: Spinach burrito from California Tortilla (Spinach, black beans, rice, tomato, onion, cilantro)
Dinner: Tom Yum Veggie soup (Thai lemongrass soup full of veggies, including broccoli, carrots, cabbage, mushrooms, bean sprouts, those mini corn things, cilantro, and noodles)