Why I’m No Longer Going to Vote for Terry McAuliffe

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Here in Virginia, the Democratic primary for the state’s gubernatorial race is underway. We have a few candidates running, including former DNC chair Terry McAuliffe. I was initially considering throwing my vote his way, despite his campaign’s irriating calls multiple times every week, but after a mailing I received yesterday, there’s no chance. If you don’t want to open up the PDF, take a look at the video instead:

As a vegan, I cannot justify supporting a candidate who wants to turn animal waste into energy. Why would I reject an option that, in theory, doesn’t hurt the animals? Especially one that helps clean up the environmental mess that’s a result of their intensive confinement? Because it’s just not that simple…

  • Agribusiness doesn’t deserve the money. As an ethical vegan, why would I want to support factory farms (because, believe me, ain’t enough waste coming from farms like the imaginary one in the video to support McAuliffe’s plan)? Using chickens’ waste doesn’t solve the real environmental problems of overconsumption and factory farming. Rather, it financially rewards those causing the problem. Let’s look at another by-product of meat production: leather. The argument is that leather is just a by-product and the materials would otherwise be wasted and discarded. But, a USDA report states that animal skins are “the most economically important byproduct” of the meatpacking industry. It’s not just an afterthought, it’s an essential part of the operation of slaughterhouses and the poultry waste used for energy could potentially become nearly as essential.
  • It’s not proven to be environmentally sound. If it ain’t clean and sustainable, why is it even a topic for consideration? This Washington Post piece points out a number of criticisms of the chicken waste-to-energy concept:

    Environmental groups have been largely critical of efforts to generate energy from waste products such as garbage or droppings. Often such plants produce harmful emissions.

    In addition, critics note that raw poultry waste already brings in top dollar as a fertilizer — more, sometimes, than the energy it can produce.

    “It does not make sense to try to solve a waste problem as an energy solution,” [Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network] said. “It is an unproven technology that is going to serve only to delay and confuse the real solutions in Virginia, which are energy efficiency and true renewable energy like wind and solar.

  • Fibrowatt. Fibrowatt is a Pennsylvania-based company aiming to build a power plan on the Eastern Short of Maryland that would run completely on logging and poultry waste. There has been a lot of opposition to Fibrowatt and “poultry litter incineration” in North Carolina, calling the process “dirtier than coal, more expensive than wind, and litter incineration as an economic threat to farmers” (Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League).

Where do the other candidates stand? Brian Moran supports it in a passing comment, but:

Jesse Ferguson, a spokesman for Moran, criticized McAuliffe’s fixation on chicken waste. “He’s made it seem like chicken waste is the solution to the problem, and we’re not even sure how much of an answer it is,” he said.

I couldn’t find a stated position for Creigh Deeds. I’ve sent him an e-mail and a note on Twitter and am awaiting a response.

While I’m sure none of the candidates are going to completely satisfy my lefty political desires, I can definitely say that I will not be voting for a candidate that so enthusiastically and aggressively supports plans like chicken waste-to-energy. We shouldn’t be putting more money into the pockets of factory farms while diverting attention from real solutions like reduced consumption, energy efficiency, and clean technogies like solar and wind power.

(Update: Creigh Deeds replied to my inquiry on twitter: “Great potential in poultry waste, and other ag waste for that matter.” Sigh.)

CSPI vs Palm Oil

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The Center for Science in the Public Interest (best known as “those guys that fought to get trans fat listed on nutritional labels”) publish a newsletter called Nutrition Action. It’s a good read with solid scientific information about diet and health, often debunking or questioning claims behind supplements. It’s far from vegan, as they are often recommending dairy and meat, but that sort of makes sense since they’re focused solely on health. They never speak against a vegan diet, but I suppose they know their readership is primarily non-vegetarian.

However, in May 2006 I was very surprised to see a full-page ad for their campaign against palm oil. Palm oil is very prevalent in processed foods and isn’t exactly healthy, so it’s not unusual that they’re speaking out against it, but what surprised me is the angle they’re taking. Their main ad reads “DYING FOR A COOKIE?” and underneath says, “Palm oil production is killing orangutans and other endangered wildlife.” Their full report talks about palm oil’s detrimental effect on health, the environment, and wildlife. This is the first time that I can remember that the CSPI has made note of the animal suffering associated with any food product.

One danger they note is that with the new trans fat designation on nutrition labels, many companies are looking to switch away from partially hydrogenated oils. The danger is that they might move to palm oil.

If companies replaced the 2.5 billion pounds of partially hydrogenated oil used annually in foods needing a solid fat with palm oil, U.S. palm oil imports would triple over the 2003 level. Such an increase would require about 1,240 square miles of new oil palm plantations—an area that represents rainforest habitat for up to 65 Sumatran rhinos, 54 elephant families, 65 Sumatran tigers, and 2,500 orangutans.

Good job, CSPI. Let’s see more of it in the future and it wouldn’t kill you to start mentioning vegetarian diets a bit more, would it?

Oops I Bought Some

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How can you not love a product called Oops I Pooped?

OIP bags are “biodegradable waste bags” for cleaning up after your dog. They completely degrade in a landfill and leave no harmful residue behind, something that can’t be said about those spare plastic bags from the grocery store you’ve been using (and by “you’ve been using” I mean “I’ve been using”). Plus, they’re black, so you won’t have to carry around a nasty see-through plastic bag after your dog’s done her thing.

The nice thing is that these bags are also quite affordable at only $8 for 88 bags. Presumably they don’t need to be double-bagged, so that’s going to come to about $4 a month. Unless your dog poops more than mine does.

I’ve ordered two boxes worth and look forward to trying them out. Hopefully they mask the odor better than regular plastic bags do because man oh man… this morning our trash can was out on the curb and when I walked within ten feet of it I caught a whiff of the nasty scents contained therein.

The Oops I Pooped site’s simple, but fun, and has a cute “infauxmerical” that’s worth checking out.

Nell Newman

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Nell On Earth: An interview with Nell Newman, creator of Newman’s Own Organics

An enlightening interview on Grist.com about the business of organics, but what’s up with her answer to “are you vegetarian?”:

I was a vegetarian for three years as a kid. Now I am a “flexitarian.” My friends say it’s a PC name for hypocrite. I eat a little bit of everything. Ninety percent of what I eat is organic, and any meat I buy is organic, but when I go out to dinner, I don’t always investigate the ingredients. I don’t say no when I go to a friend’s for dinner and they’ve prepared a non-organic meal.

Isn’t she answering two totally separate questions there?

That aside, Nell’s got some interesting things to say about big business/mainstream organics:

Oh, it’s good that someone’s mainstreaming this industry. Adopting big-business practices is one thing, and adopting agribusiness practices that would dilute the meaning of organic is another. On the whole, I think we’re doing a pretty good job of preserving the integrity of organic foods.

As for business practices, you have to be realistic. Even running a small organics company, I’ve got constraints. I would love to not have to ship anything and use nasty packaging, but you know what, that’s not a reality. You want to do everything regionally, and just support local small farmers regionally, and then you find out there are no good pretzel manufacturers anywhere on the West Coast, so you have to make your pretzels on the East Coast and ship them. So you do as best you can, but most of the time, it’s difficult to have those high ideals and stick to them, in terms of how you produce stuff. People would love us to put our pretzels in wax paper, but would they really like it when they bought a stale pretzel? It’s a very difficult balance.

The Land Institute speaks out on Atkins

Warning: This diet is not for everyone

Marty Bender and Stan Cox speak out about a topic not often considered: the environmental impact of the Atkins diet. Not surprisingly, many of the arguments are the same as the environmental arguments against meat consumption in general:

Let’s start with the Worldwatch Institute’s estimate that 1 billion of Earth’s inhabitants are overweight. Assume that on average they each eat 56 grams of animal protein a day. That is the average in Western countries, and most overweight people eat Western diets.

If all those people went on an Atkins-style diet, their requirement for animal protein would rise to about 100 grams. A billion dieters each eating an extra 44 grams could not easily be satisfied by giving them a bigger share of current animal protein production. As it is, humans worldwide average only 28 grams per day. Instead, by our calculations, the meat, dairy, poultry and seafood industries would have to increase output by 25 percent.

The next paragraph, though, is especially eye-opening:

The dieters would no longer get much of their protein from plants, so less cropland would be required for that. Still, the net result of their big switch to animal protein would require almost 250 million more acres for corn, soybeans and other feed grains. That’s because feeding grain to animals and then eating the meat, milk, eggs or farm-raised fish is much less efficient than eating plant products directly. The dieters could not expect to get more from the oceans: the global catch has fallen since the mid-1980s, from overfishing.

The environmental arguments for a plant-based diet are ones that I haven’t explored very frequently on the Veg Blog, but numbers like these are hard to ignore.

If you’re interested in more information about meat production’s affect on the environment, read through the wealth of material at The Vegan Blog: The (Eco)Logical Weblog. Richard hasn’t updated it since October, but there’s still loads of information available.