In Praise of Target (!)

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I hate Wal-Mart and generally detest any chain store of its ilk. Target’s slightly better and I haven’t grown to hate them with all of my heart yet, and will shop there if I’m forced to choose a cheapo chain store to patronize.

However, when I went last night, it was by choice. A few days earlier I had read on another veggie blog (I forget which one, darn it!) Go Vegetarian about Cherrybrook Kitchen, a company started by a woman with allergies that makes nut-free, egg-free, dairy-free baking mixes. And, get this, Super Target carries them in their grocery department! Honestly — a vegan chocolate chip baking mix in a store like Target? That’s a big win. And, supposedly, they’re very good (I’ll report back).

After I picked up my baking mix, I browsed the shelves a bit more. A few months earlier I had swung by Target to get some soy yogurt, which they didn’t have. They still don’t, but they have quite a nice selection of soy milk. Target’s store brand even has some of those fancy chip flavors that you normally find in places like Whole Foods (think Olive Oil and Rosemary).

What really blew me away, though, was that they had loose White Peony tea. Three years ago, you’d never find white tea, especially loose tea, available in a supermarket, let alone a Target.

Times, they are a-changin’.

More IM transcripts

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Because I’m lazy, here’s another IM chat transcript between Alex and me about veggie dogs at baseball stadiums:

Ryan: I dare you to ask one of the beer guys that walks around, “Excuse me, was that beer produced using isinglass? I don’t drink beer filtered through fish bladders.”

Alex: “no this won’t do. i asked for the non-fishy beer. could you please go back there and get someone to filter it properly. SO HARD TO GET GOOD PRODUCTS THESE DAYS. SHEESH”

Ryan: Sometimes I think it would be fun to be an annoying vegan. Complaining about everything. Walking into a steakhouse and complaining they don’t have seitan.

Alex: yeah. especially if they have gardenburgers. you should say “what’s a guy got to do around here to get a proper vegan boca burger.”

Ryan: “You’ll serve secretions from a cow’s teat, but not milk squished out of a soybean? You’re KIDDING, right?”

Two bird stories

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A couple of days ago, I was IMing with a friend who wrote:

saw a fledgling bird fall into the rush hour street downtown. a car blew over it at about 40mph

ran into the street and picked it up

it looked at me and died

The same day, Paul was having a similar experience:

Yesterday I headed into the parking garage to get our car. Our parking garage, it must be noted, is a large five-story structure that is typical of any modern parking garage with ramps, elevators, and stairs. I walked up to the 3rd floor, where our car was parked, and was stunned and surprised to see a bird try to follow me as I opened the door. But he missed.

I closed the door and watched this bird dart off in the opposite direction, directly toward a large pane of glass that looked out to the pedway below. He smacked it a little, but not too hard, and jumped down to the ground. He was clearly stunned by this glass thing. I stood by the door on the opposite end of the floor and watched him try a few more times to get through the glass. He put less effort into it each time.

My first thought was, “Maybe I can pick him up and get him outside.” I walked slowly across the cold, grey concrete and started making a tuck-tuck-tuck noise with my mouth. It’s the default bird noise in my head, one that I remember my mom and dad using with our parakeets and cockatiels growing up. But the bird had none of it. He hopped up to the railing a few inches off the ground, and tried to hop outside through the glass again to no avail.

As he sat there on the ground looking around, I started in slowly. I crouched down and cautiously extended my right arm when he took off. He flew up to the next landing but was once again befuddled by glass. He hit the glass once again and sat on the ground. I slowly walked up the stairs to the landing, and this time chose to whistle softly and quietly. I crouched down and got a good look at him. I wasn’t sure what type of bird he was, but he was clearly a baby. He was grey and white with a tinge of brown in his feathers. Amazingly while I was whistling his eyes started to close. I knew this was my opportunity. I once again slowly extended my right arm, and started to reach him from behind.

But it was to no avail. He sensed me and instinctively got the hell out of there. He flew up and to my right and, after tapping glass again, sat on a ledge in front of the glass. He was looking through the glass, trying to make sense of it all. He was breathing with his beak open and his breath was actually fogging up the glass. He was really tired.

I thought, “Well, if I open the door to the 4th floor he’ll be in the parking area – which does have open ledges without glass.” I walked slowly upstairs and whistled again, this time opening the door that was next to his ledge slowly. But he caught sight of the door opening and it spooked him.

He flew in the opposite direction again towards the pane of glass. His little body catapulted through the air, and when it hit the glass full force, made a dreadful and dead sound. I gasped as I let go of the door handle. His body fell to the concrete and bounced a bit before settling. I walked over as fast as I could and looked at him. I suspected deep down that the impact would be too much for him. His head was moving about in an uncomfortable motion – clearly not something his neck was supposed to do. He breathed heavily and didn’t make a sound. I picked him up carefully and opened the door to the parking floor.

I walked to the nearest ledge and set him down. I thought that maybe, if he was still able, he could fly away. But it wasn’t to be. I petted the feathers on the back of his neck, and his body, and he stopped breathing. He closed his eyes and like that, he was gone. I felt my eyes water up a bit, and visions of life and death passed through my head. Who knows how old this bird was? How long he lived, and what he did?

I thought of taking him down to the ground floor and burying him, but I chose not to do so. Instead I left him there. Today on the way into the building, I looked up to the 4th floor out of respect for a fallen friend.

Maybe I just associate with more-compassionate-than-most people, but acts like these remind me that humanity’s not a lost cause.

Book Review: Meat Market

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After being vegetarian for almost five years and vegan for ten months, I feel like I’ve read most of what there is to read when it comes to animal rights literature as related to veganism. I’ve read Slaughterhouse, I’ve read Fast Food Nation, I’ve read Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating, I’ve read The Food Revolution. But when I got Erik Marcus’ wonderfully written and impeccably-researched and -reasoned second book, Meat Market: Animals, Ethics, and Money, I realized that there are a lot of new ideas floating around worth thinking about.

The first three chapters cover material that will be familiar to long-time AR activists. But even so, there are still some worthwhile nuggets in there that will surprise you. Erik starts off by talking about the economics of animal agriculture and how dramatically the farming landscape has changed over the last fifty years. Long gone are the days when small farms ruled and you knew where your eggs were coming from. Now animals are grown more quickly, forced to produce a higher output (whether it be meat, eggs, or dairy), and are killed at an earlier age. One fact that struck me: in 1950, it took 70 days before a chicken reached slaughter weight. Now, it’s down to 47 days. And on that 47th day, the chicken is 2/3rds larger than a 70-day old chicken from 1950. Even if the argument that “eating meat is ‘natural'” is true, that kind of physiological change in an animal is anything but.

The “Farmed Animal Lives” chapter summarizes the pain and suffering animals go through throughout the meat/dairy/egg production process. Not too much new ground here, but the ethical argument for not eating meat is summed up so succinctly here, I wouldn’t hesitate recommending this as the one chapter to show to meat-eating friends and relatives. The facts are presented in such a straightforward way with just enough detachment that it’s powerful and moving without being preachy. This chapter made an impression on me, causing me think very differently about eggs. Erik contends, and it seems correctly, that egg-laying hens are the more tortured animals in all of food production. The pain and suffering they endure goes beyond even what veal calves endure. Clearly, it’s not a walk in the park for any animal subject to such a life, but if you’re a lacto-ovo vegetarian considering veganism, this might be the chapter that helps push you the rest of the way. I got this book just before I completely gave up eggs and dairy, and it was definitely one of the deciding factors in nudging me the rest of the way.

In the “Possibilities for Reform in Animal Agriculture” section, Erik discusses how it’s technically possible to provide slaughter-free eggs and dairy, but it is economically unfeasible in our current climate (it would cost about a dollar an egg). I always thought about how one could perhaps ethically eat eggs since hens will lay unfertilized eggs, but finding a place to get such eggs proves to be an extremely difficult task. Free-range and organic labels are intended to make consumers feel better about their purchases, but truly, the difference is miniscule, if anything, to the animals. Eggs are a torturous business, no way around it.

The main focus of the book comes in part two which talks about “dismantlement.” Sure, you’ve heard of animal rights, animal welfare, and vegetarianism as approaches to reducing animal suffering, but Erik introduces this idea of dismantlement as the ideal fourth movement that all animal activists can get behind. It’s a lofty goal: bring down the industry systematically not by telling people “You need to change your diet!” but by introducing them to the cruelties of factory farm life. “Animal agriculture takes a small hit whenever somebody becomes vegetarian or vegan,” Erik writes, “but the loss of one customer is something the industry can live with. What the industry won’t be able to endure is a steady stream of new activists [from the general public] seeking to put an end to animal agriculture.”

The argument for dismantlement is a strong one, and Erik does a very good job of outlining the problems the animal rights movements have had in the past and how they can be avoided. Everything from poor use of money to hostiliy towards hierarchy has hurt the movement, and these organizational issues need to be addressed before the dismantlement movement can really get off the ground.

It can be frustrating for an activist to look at the animal rights/protection movements over the last 20 years and see that while there have been incremental gains, public awareness of the issues isn’t really noticeably higher. Or, at the very least, the number of people that have converted to veganism has only increased slightly. Whether or not the idea of dismantlement is the answer remains to be seen. But perhaps the most valuable thing that Meat Market will do is cause activists to talk and consider new ideas. Erik wants his idea critically examined, just as he wants every other aspect of animal rights and protectionism examined. As a movement, it behooves us to make sure we have not only rock-solid science behind health and environmental claims, but a firm, clearly stated argument about the misery caused by factory farming.

Erik argues that the movement has been split evenly between health, ethical, and environmental issues and that it needs to shift primarily towards ethical issues in order to be most effective. I’m not completely convinced this is the best route to take. Perhaps it’s because I’m becoming a bitter old man when it comes to my view of humanity. I feel like people, in general, care more about taste and their “right” to eat what they please a lot more than they care about how animals are treated. Sure, organic and free range meats have gained in popularity, but I’m convinced it’s more for taste and health reasons than anything resembling a true and honest concern for the animals.

That said, I think that what Erik suggests as a new direction and focus can be true. What we have to do first, though, is help the average person not cringe when they hear the phrase “animal rights.” We have to show them that for every goofy PR stunt PETA pulls, they do a world of good that doesn’t get reported helping farmed animals. We have to remind people that there really isn’t a difference between their dog and a pig other than that one winds up on their plate in a particularly heinous fashion. I think that once we can shift public perception of the animal rights/protection movement, we’ll be able to drum up a lot more support for fighting the factory farm machine. We’ve begun to see this shift on the vegetarian side of the movement, where even though not significantly more people are becoming full-fledged vegetarians, more people are becoming aware of vegetarian foods and don’t automatically think of someone eating tofu raw out of the carton. I’m not completely sure how we can cause similar change in perception on the AR side of things, especially on a large scale, but I think it can be done. And once it is, then the concept of dismantlement will be ready to roll full-force.

The next section of the book features guest essays from activists on topics such as leafleting, working for school lunch reform, and promoting vegetarian diets as a nutrition expert. There’s a lot of inspiration in these brief essays and everyone will find something here that will encourage them to get up and make a difference in their own way.

Meat Market closes out with a set of appendices that take a critical look at the facts behind the arguments the movement uses, like the difficult question of hunting and how it’s not as black-or-white of an issue as either the traditional AR stance nor the hunter’s party line. This is what makes Meat Market a successful endeavor: it has a crossover appeal and it doesn’t lay everything out as “this is the only thing that is true and the other side is totally wrong about everything.” It’s a refreshing take on the issue and one that we have to consider, debate, pick apart, and act on in the coming years in order to keep our movement from stagnating and losing its true focus.

You can order Meat Market in both hardcover and paperback.

Humane insect removal

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I don’t like getting into the insect discussion with non-vegans because as soon as you say that you don’t squash bugs, you immediately become one of “those people.” But when I saw Bugzooka, I had to mention it.

This wicked little device sucks bugs into a tube with a manly THWOOP noise, allowing you to humanely dispose of insects that have found their way into your house. Not only is it more humane than squashing them, it’s more fun and doesn’t require cleaning up bug guts afterwards. Bonus: no batteries required.

Incidentally, on the “why I don’t kill bugs” thing: to me, it doesn’t matter if a fly has the ability to feel pain or the desire to live or the wish to eat chocolate cake for dinner. I figure, if I don’t need to kill it or squash it, why bother? I’ll just move it outside, instead. It may not make the world a better place, but it doesn’t harm anything either. Plus, after a little while, even those bugs that always creeped you out don’t seem to bother you as much once you’ve dealt with them up close.

(via Cool Tools)