My letter to Wegmans

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Hello.

I’ve been a customer of the Dulles, VA Wegmans store for several years now. I enjoy the selection of foods that you offer, particularly with regards to produce and specialty convenience foods. I’ve spread the word about Wegmans and have turned a number of people onto the store and they’ve become loyal customers as well.

However, last year, when Compassionate Consumers released their video shot inside your egg farm, I was disheartened. I wasn’t necessarily surprised at what I saw, since these types of atrocities happen every day at factory farms around the world. Rather, I was disheartened and embarrassed by your public response to the footage. Rather than acknowledge there was a problem, you used crafty language to insinuate (with absolutely no evidence) that some of the footage wasn’t shot at your facility. Then you mentioned the concern about the health risk when it’s been shown that factory farmed chicken and eggs are the reason that avian flu has spread so quickly in the first place.

That said, I continued to shop at your store, thinking that you’d come around and would work to make changes like Trader Joe’s and other similar companies. (You may say that you’re “full-service supermarket, not a specialty food store,” but come on… regular supermarkets don’t develop cult followings.)

But with the most recent news of Adam Durand’s sentencing, I can no longer spend money at your store in good conscience. Adam admitted to the misdemeanor he was charged with, but despite the fact he had no previous record, the judge saw fit to comply with your request for a jail sentence. A jail sentence. For a guy who helped sick and dying birds that your egg farm wouldn’t.

I spent a couple hundred dollars a month at Wegmans purchasing produce, vegan convenience foods, and pet supplies. Because of your reaction to the Compassionate Consumers’ movie and your pushing for a jail sentence of Adam Durand, I’m hereby boycotting your store. The money I would have spent at your store will instead go to smaller, local health food stores and to Adam Durand’s defense fund. I’ve also taken time to spread the word on vegblog.org and will be posting a copy of this letter there, as well.

I hope that you reconsider your stance and work to make a change. You have it within your power to do so. You’re recognized as a great place to work for your human employees. Why not try and make it a little less painful for your non-human employees as well?

… Ryan A. MacMichael
Virginia

Does the term “terrorist” even mean anything anymore?

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The current Vegan Freak podcast talks about two stories in the news recently that have really gotten my blood boiling. The first is about Tony Blair’s vocal support for animal testing and his classification of animal rights activists as “terrorists.” Blair was crafty in his use of implying a (non-existent) connection between a letter-writing campaign targeted at shareholders of GlaxoSmithKline and an isolated incident of a weirdo exhuming a someone’s corpse. We have to be very careful when things like this hit the press to remind friends and family that a.) only a select few animals rights activists (like any other group) are wacky, and b.) a significant portion of animal experimentation has nothing to do with finding life-saving answers to diseases but rather with developing drugs for things like erectile dysfunction.

A related story worth mentioning is one from Germany where researchers say that stem-cell testing can be used to replace hundreds of thousands of experiments on animals. That’s outstanding news, but may not matter much here in the United States until we (and by “we” I mean he) wisen up with regards to the use of stem cells.

The second story that raised my ire is about how animal rights activist Adam Durand was sentenced to six months in jail for a misdemeanor. The misdemeanor? Trespassing in Wegmans’ egg facility to gather the footage for Wegmans Cruelty. This is the maximum sentence Durand could have received and no one was actually expecting any jail time for him. It’s an absurd judgement and I won’t speak any more on it at this point, but I will redirect you to what I wrote about Wegmans a month or so ago. If you’d like to help Adam out or just write him to show your support, Compassionate Consumers has the information.

It’s getting more than a little scary with the government declaring animal rights’ activists “terrorists,” legal action being taken against those that do open rescues, and rights for food animals being stripped more and more. But as scary as it is, these actions wouldn’t be taken if an impact weren’t being made. The average consumer is becoming much more aware of what’s happening to make their food and that scares the industry to death. And, really, it’s not privacy matters or even property destruction the industry is most worried about… they’re worried about industry practices becoming common knowledge which can only serve to hurt them in a big way financially.

Letter to the Editor: The Problem with Breeders

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I just mailed the following letter to the Philadelphia Inquirer as a response to an article titled “Aid pours in for dogs rescued from kennel:”

I’m writing in response to the “Aid pours in for dogs rescued from kennel” article that ran on February 24th, 2006.

It’s touching to see that so much aid and support has poured in for the dogs rescued from an allegedly abusive and neglectful breeder. I’m thankful there are so many people willing to help companion animals in need.

However, I was disheartened to see that the article also featured a list of ways to “Pick a Good Breeder.” Much more appropriate would have been a list of “Reasons to Adopt Rather than Buy from a Breeder,” especially considering the nature of the piece.

Every year, millions of dogs in the United States are killed because there simply aren’t enough people to care for them or enough room in shelters to house them. Often, strays and lost dogs are picked up, kept at a shelter for seven days, and if no one claims them, they are killed to make room for more animals.

Surely, there are good and ethical breeders, but because of the sheer number of surplus dogs that are killed, there is simply no justification for purchasing from a breeder or, even worse, a pet store. If someone is looking to bring a companion animal into their lives, they should adopt from a shelter or rescue organization. Petfinder.com can help in the search for a specific breed, if that’s an important consideration.

Perhaps when the pet population comes under control, buying from breeders will be an ethical choice. But for now, it’s vitally important we save the animals that most need our help.

Ryan MacMichael

Food Service woes

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Holy cow.

I was doing a little bit of research to see what types of food some of the local public schools make available for students. After reading the article about the school in Atlanta with the amazing veggie-friendly lunch line, I had high hopes for Northern Virginia. Alas, what I came across was quite disappointing. Case in point, this document (PDF), a newsletter titled Nutrifax published by the Fairfax County Public Schools.

Being that it implies there are “fax” about nutrition, you might think that the document included helpful tips about vegetarian diets. Instead, in one page we get loads of half-truths, misinformation, and an undertone of anti-vegetarianism. If I didn’t know better, I’d think someone from the meat industry penned this, but there’s even a phone number to call a “registered dietician” for more information. Here’s a quick look at some of the main problems with this newsletter:

  • It’s titled “The Vegetarian Agenda.” Right off the bat, it’s antagonistic.
  • Incorrect definition of terms. Here, a semi-vegetarian = pescatarian. Semi-vegetarians just eat “less” meat, which can include any and all meat, poultry, etc. Pescatarians don’t eat beef or poultry, but will eat fish. They also refer to “lacto-ova” vegetarian. As far as I know, this is not an accepted alternate spelling for “lacto-ovo,” though it may be technically acceptable.
  • False information about the “risks” of vegetarianism. They have a section about the health benefits of vegetarianism, but it’s half the length of the “risks” section. A blatant falsehood crops up here: “Animal protein is the only source of complete protein with all the essential amino acids present.” One word: quinoa. Also, the soybean has what’s considered a complete protein, though it doesn’t have all of the essential amino acids.

    The risks section continues with more subtle errors, like stating “The more restrictive the diet is
    about eating animal protein, the greater the health risks become.” They mention B12 (which actually only occurs naturally in plant sources but for humans comes primarily from animals that have ingested B12 in their feed) and that “animal protein is the major source for calcium, Vitamin D, and iron.” Remember that most of the best sources of calcium are from plant sources.

    The worst of all the errors, though comes in this paragraph:

    Many grains, legumes and seeds are good sources of protein but need to be combined with one another to become complete proteins. A grain product, another vegetable or an animal derived protein can provide amino acids that are missing in a vegetable. Examples of complementary combinations are beans and rice, peanut butter and bread, macaroni and cheese.

    This section implies that protein-combining in the same meal is required, a belief that was disproven a couple of decades ago. The current school of thought says that a.) most people get too much protein, b.) plant proteins generally don’t have the health risks associated with animal proteins, and c.) as long as you eat a decent variety of foods over the course of a day, your proteins will be plenty well combined.

There’s still a lot of work to be done in the food service industry. While a lot of the statements above may on the surface have a layer of truth, there’s a sense of “vegetarianism is bad and hard to do, so if you have to deal with it, here are some things to tell those annoying people.” We are pests, aren’t we?

Wrestling with Cannibal Holocaust

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With all of the vegetarian/AR-themed blogs out there now, sometimes I worry that the ground I cover has already been covered elsewhere or that certain topics are getting boring for regular readers. But I think I can safely assume that the topic of this post is not one that you’ll be seeing elsewhere, unless it somehow manages to spark some weird discussions that I’m not expecting.

A lot of my passions and interests conflict with each other, at least on the surface. For instance, I run a small hip-hop label, but I’m also a tea geek. I’m big fan of classic diners and diner architecture even though there’s rarely anything I can eat at those greasy spoons. But perhaps the biggest conflict comes with my lifelong interest in horror movies and my firm beliefs in animal rights. I kid around and tell people, “I like blood on the screen, but not on my plate,” but this weird juxtaposition of interests and beliefs actually does cause some inner conflict for me.

The first thought that probably pops into your head is, “But horror movies are fake and always say, ‘No animals were harmed in the making of this film.'” In most cases, you’d be correct, but there are a couple of issues that come up.

First is the more common issue of special effects artists using animal leftovers for their effects. You’ll see this frequently in zombie movies where the zombies are munching on someone’s intestines… they’re usually pig intestines. Filmmakers don’t consider this in their “no animals were harmed” statement since the intestines are by-products. Of course, since vegans concern themselves with by-products or anything associated with animal exploitation, this is an issue. Sure, intestines are generally cast-offs from the slaughter process and, actually, are often obtained directly from slaughterhouses, but the fact remains that these things wouldn’t exist without the suffering of an animal. Even Larry Fessenden, whose movies have actually focused on animal rights, used an actual liver in a scene in Habit. It’s really common.

This issue’s a little tricky. If we were to really concern ourselves with that level of detail, we wouldn’t be able to watch any movie with good conscience for fear of supporting the exploitation of animals. Isn’t using slaughterhouse cast-offs less offensive than a meat-centric lunch being served to everyone involved in a nine month movie shoot? Surely the production of a movie like Lord of the Rings involved more use of animals (for food) than a small budget horror film that shoots for a few weeks and uses a bag or two of pig intestines. Right?

Maybe, maybe not. The answer’s not really clear. Ideally, more filmmakers would apply Fessenden’s idea of “low impact filmmaking,” and I think that’s something that we can encourage as moviegoers and is where we should focus our attention. More effects are being done with CGI these days rather than exploiting animals in one way or another, which is good, so I think there’s probably some advancement being made in that respect. And even with the use of digital video versus film, there’s potential for film to eventually be phased out. However, DV has a long way to go before it ever gets the proper film “look” that’s so important for a movie.

The second thing I think about is a much smaller issue in the grand scheme of things, but it’s bothered me much more. My key interest in horror focuses on Italian horror of the 1970s. While the majority of those films don’t have any more or less involvement with animals than any other horror films, there’s one subgenre of that that period that does: the Italian cannibal movie.

You may be surprised at how many cannibal films were shot by Italian filmmakers in the 1970s and early 80s thanks to directors like Ruggero Deodato, Jess Franco, Joe D’Amato, and Umberto Lenzi. The problem with most of the movies in this subgenre is that the animal violence in these films is real. And not just “National Geographic”-leopard-eating-an-antelope real, either. Since these films are based in jungle settings, the directors chose to show exactly how “savage” the cannibals were by also showing truly disturbing scenes involving torturous deaths of animals.

In the most well-known cannibal film, Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust, a live box turtle is gutted with a carving knife, a squealing pig is shot in the head, a muskrat has its throat slit, a snake is decapitated, and the top of a monkey’s skull is cut off. This brutal, disgusting, and wholly unnecessary footage was used to make up for Deodato’s small budget and lend an air of authenticity. In reality, it’s just abhorrent real life violence that simply cannot be justified.

Of course, Deodato tried. He said, “But we ate the turtle afterwards!” which didn’t satiate anyone. It was still, at its core, the torture of an animal for entertainment. Deodato has also apologized and said it’s the one thing about the movie that haunts him the most. He says he would never do it again.

Whatever the case, the violence is there in a very visual and visceral way. It’s made even the most hardcore meat eaters say, “Now that’s just wrong” and the scenes with the animals are generally considered to be the most disturbing parts of the movie. Of course, as this thoughtful review points out:

One doesn’t have to be Peter Singer to realise that our attitudes towards other animals are inconsistent. How many of those who object to Deodato’s film will happily eat meat, wear leather and place a bet on the Grand National?

I’ve seen Cannibal Holocaust a half-dozen times, including on the big screen. Shoot, I’m even in three of the extras on the recent DVD release. But I can tell you that every time I watched this movie, I’ve turned away during the scenes of animal violence. A lot of people do. While the movie intends to show man’s inhumanity towards his fellow man, it unintentionally shows man’s (specifically, the filmmaker’s) inhumanity towards non-human living beings.

To add an interesting twist, the aforementioned deluxe DVD release includes an “animal cruelty free” version, which skips right past all of the gratuitous animal violence. Needless to say, I’ll be using this option during any future viewings of the movie. While there may be an argument that this ruins the director’s original intent, this is one of the few times where I don’t care. I’m somewhat heartened that the animal violence is seen by enough people as “wrong” to warrant this type of extra treatment on a DVD release. It gives some sort of hope that the animals that were killed didn’t die completely in vain.

I won’t go into the other cannibal movies that use animal violence, but I will note that it goes even deeper in Umberto Lenzi’s atrocious Cannibal Ferox, a movie both so despicable and poorly made it’s entirely unworthy of the film it’s printed on.

I’m having a harder and harder time justifying my enthusiasm for these movies that have exploited animals, but at the very least, they caused enough of a stink over the years that on-screen animal violence is something you just won’t see anymore.

I’d really like to hear what others have to say about this, especially those of you that have a similar love for movies and filmmaking (horror or otherwise).