Why we need to rethink welfare

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My opinions on animal welfare campaigns have definitely changed over the last year or so and articles like this high-blood-pressure-inducing piece from Food and Wine illustrate the main reason my position has changed.

Let me start by stating what should be obvious: I’m not against better conditions for animals.  Welfare improvements are fine and dandy in theory because, hey, “less bad” is better.  But many times, as with “free range” eggs, the supposed welfare gains are nonexistent.  Instead, what we get is consumers feeling ethically better about their choice to eat eggs and an industry that can charge more money for their products.  You can bet the industry is making more profit, too, or they wouldn’t be making these changes.  We’re doing the industry’s marketing for them when we tout these supposed welfare improvements as “victories.”  The industry looks better for supposedly treating animals better, consumers feel less guilty about their consumption, and it does nothing to convince people to reduce or eliminate their consumption of eggs.  Yes, they may buy a few fewer because of the cost, but their fundamental thought process about animal products isn’t being challenged.

I used to think getting people to eat free range eggs, organic milk, etc. might be a “stepping stone” to veganism.  These days, though, I’m becoming more and more convinced that they’re steps backwards as we see more and more former vegetarians going back to meat.

Even former vegetarian cookbook authors are jumping the grass-fed, free-range bandwagon:

Even chef Mollie Katzen, author of the vegetarian bible the Moosewood Cookbook, is experimenting with meat again. “For about 30 years I didn’t eat meat at all, just a bite of fish every once in a while, and always some dairy,” she says. “Lately, I’ve been eating a little meat. People say, ‘Ha, ha, Mollie Katzen is eating steak.’ But now that cleaner, naturally fed meat is available, it’s a great option for anyone who’s looking to complete his diet. Somehow, it got ascribed to me that I don’t want people to eat meat. I’ve just wanted to supply possibilities that were low on the food chain.”

This is infuriating on so many levels.  For one, people are going to read this and think, “Wow.  Mollie Katzen, former vegetarian cookbook author, is eating meat again.  I guess vegetarianism isn’t that necessary of a goal after all.”  Trust me, Mollie, I’m not saying, “ha ha” at this.

Also frustrating is the implication that a vegan diet is “incomplete” when she says, “[N]aturally fed meat is… a great option for anyone who’s looking to complete his diet.”  We don’t need dead animal on our plate to be complete and as a vegetarian cookbook author, she should realize this.

It’s bad enough when people that are considering vegetarianism or veganism don’t go all the way because their moral sensibilities are sated by the promise of happy meat, but it’s even worse when we have former vegetarians (and vegetarian role models — even though it pains me to type that phrase) backsliding and speaking out about it.

The article’s author, Christine Lennon, closes with this: “Convincing those people that eating meat can improve the welfare of the entire livestock population is a tough sell.”  Allow me to close with a response:

It’s a “tough sell” because it’s cop-out reasoning that’s used to justify the consumption and commodification of animals for our tastes.

What is the solution?  Should we put an end to all welfare campaigns?  I don’t have the answers, but I know I won’t spend my own time or resources promoting such ideals.  I spend enough time already trying to counter the message that too many people are taking from these campaigns: that welfare alone is enough.  It’s not.

Cookbook Review: A double dose of raw

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I dig raw food. I used to be a skeptic, but I became a believer. I don’t worry myself about the sub-110 degree rules or the enzymes or any of that: I’m just impressed with it as a cuisine.

Two new raw cookbooks found their way into the Veg Blog PO Box, so I thought I’d give them both a look and compare and contrast them a bit.

Ani’s Raw Food Kitchen First up is Ani Phyo’s Ani’s Raw Food Kitchen. Over the last 15 years, Ani’s tried, shall we say, a variety of things. According to her friend, Boing Boing’s David Pescovitz, she’s designed video art for raves, written a well-respected book on information architecture, and then most recently, founded SmartMonkey Foods, a company that makes packaged raw convenience foods.

Ani’s book is attractively designed and filled with conversational discussion of raw foods. There’s plenty of attractive food photography as well as photos of the author out and about in Portland, buying vegetables, walking her dog, and eating fruits. The recipes themselves are generally quite reasonable, though like most raw authors, she recommends the Queen Mary of blenders, the expensive Vita-Mix. Recipes are VEFH and only occasionally require a dehydrator.

We’ve made a number of recipes from Ani’s Raw Food Kitchen thusfar with good results. The Ginger Almond Pate tasted wonderful as part of the Ginger Almond Nori Rolls, a simple dish where the pate is wrapped in nori sheets with spinach, burdock root (yeah, fat chance we had that around), and mung bean sprouts. A sharp knife is essential for this recipe. It’s really delicious and is one of those that will win over skeptics if they dig things like sushi.

The Sun Burger recipe was another success. Though we just ended up eating the burgers on regular bread (heresy!) and had to “dehydrate” them on our toaster’s “warm” setting rather than in a dehydrator (double heresy!), they were still delicious, with the celery, onion, bell pepper, sunflower seeds, and spices binding well with the flax seeds. These can be eaten right after they’re made or dehyrdrated for a more familiar burger texture.

We had slightly less success with the tasty-sounding Strawberry Kream Swirl, a cold dessert soup that would have been great except for the fact we couldn’t get the almonds “creamy” enough in our food processor. Maybe the Vita Mix would have done a better job.

There are two more recipes I’m really itching to try out soon: the Coco Kream Pie with Carob Fudge on Brownie Crust and the Fruit Parfait, which looks to be very similar to the one served at Blossoming Lotus in Portland.

The Raw 50Next up is World’s First Supermodel Carol Alt’s The Raw 50, co-authored with David Roth. Alt lends her name to the book, but all of the recipes come from others including familiar names like Dan Hoyt and Sarma Melngailis.

The Raw 50 is significantly different from other popular raw cookbooks in that it’s not vegan (or VEFH). It includes raw dairy, raw eggs (ick), and even fish. She includes proscuitto (cured pork) as an essential pantry item. Alt addresses this in a section titled “Vegan or Not?” She equates not being vegan with not being a 100% raw foodist, which of course requires completely avoiding the ethical issues. “I believe your body will tell you what it needs,” she writes, “Although you may want to be vegan, you may find that your body is genetically adapted to animal products; you may even need them.” She does add that if you are vegan, “my hat’s off to you,” but her casual coverage of veganism focuses only on the health issues and barely even touches the ethical side of things. If you’re not 100% raw, you’re only affecting yourself. If you’re not vegan, you’re also affecting other animals.

More frustrating, though, is the introduction by Nicholas J. Gonzalez, M.D. where he makes an awkward connection between vegetarianism and the low-fat diet trends of the 1990s. Gonzalez spends a liberal amount of time quoting the research of Weston A. Price. The name may sound familiar: the Weston A. Price Foundation spends a lot of time promoting raw milk while spreading somewhere between half-truths and outright mistruths about vegetarianism and soy. It reads like a New York Times op-ed piece by Nina Planck. A lot of time is spent in the opening pages telling readers why being vegan isn’t important to a raw foodist, which had me in a foul mood before I even got to the recipes.

I’m not being hypersensitive about that, am I?

So. The recipes.

There are actually more than 50 of ’em, split between breakfasts, lunches, dinners, drinks, and snacks. While I won’t be touching Tuna Ceviche or Raw Egg Mayonnaise with a ten foot pole, there are some interesting vegan inclusions worth mentioning. For instance, we enjoyed Muriel’s Sticky Granola, a simple, yummy blend of agave (subbed for that damned honey), ground cinnamon, dates, and raisins. The recipe calls for 12 hours of dehydration, but at the time we didn’t have a dehydrator on hand, so we just heated it at 200 degrees for a few hours.

We did have a dehydrator on hand for the deliciously-simple sounding Almond Coconut Cookies from Chef Dan Hoyt. We made the variation, which processes raw almonds and dried coconut flakes into a dry powder, then mixes them with salt (is it pretentious that it calls for specifically Himalayan salt? Yeah, kind of.), vanilla extract, and agave. It’s then dehydrated for 15-18 hours. No one ever said raw food was for those who needed instant gratification!

Unfortunately, while the cookies were a good consistency and had nice hints of almond and coconut, the saltiness was overpowering. Perhaps using sea salt instead of the Himalayan salt was a mistake after all.

In summary…

Ani Phyo’s book is a pleasure. Its recipes are reasonable, don’t generally call for bizarre ingredients, and are things you might actually serve to guests. Unlike Raw Food, Real World (which I love, but, seriously, there’s no way I’m buying a machete to hack open coconuts), this is a raw food book the average vegan could use on a regular basis. Ani’s personality comes across in the book, so it really does feel like a friend that’s sharing something she’s passionate about.

On the other hand, Carol Alt’s The Raw 50 made me more frustrated than inspired. There are some good recipes from a wide variety of raw chefs, but the almost anti-vegan sentiment is very off-putting and the inclusion of recipes with raw eggs, dairy, and fish alongside the promotion of raw meats keeps me from recommending this book.

Find out more about Ani’s Raw Food Kitchen and view video demos of some recipes. The book is available for $19.95 from Marlowe & Company. Carol Alt’s The Raw 50 is available for $17 from The Crown Publishing Group.

links for 2007-07-24

  • “But my basic feeling is that until children are old enough to know what an unholy pain it is to cook and clean and shop and plan for all a family’s meals under normal circumstances, day in, day out, week after week, they’re too young to have “dietary res