Poplar Spring on NBC4

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NBC4 in Washington, DC is featuring a really nice video featuring Poplar Spring sanctuary.  It’s primarily a review of Karen Dawn’s new book Thanking the Monkey (Really?  That’s the title?  And with a peeled banana on the front cover?), but it’s shot at Poplar Spring and features some great footage of the animals.  I thought the tone of this piece was particularly noteworthy, especially in contrast to the local FOX affiliates’s patronizing animal feature last month.  The NBC 4 piece doesn’t attempt any goofy wordplay, respectfully presents the issues, and even makes mention that “cage-free doesn’t mean cruelty-free.”

Of course, the sole comment on the story is completely trollish:

(August 12, 2008 11:32 PM)

What a waste. Those animals could feed homeless people and other hungry humans. These animal "rights" activists should be ashamed of themselves. There’s a place in this world for ALL of God’s creatures — right next to the beans and mashed potatoes.

I submitted a reply, which hasn’t been approved yet:

You know what else could be used to feed homeless people and other hungry humans?  Money spent on pointless wars.

Compassion for animals and compassion for humans aren’t mutually exclusive.

I know, I know, don’t feed the trolls.  And the “pointless war” thing is kind of played out, but at its most basic level, it’s still true, no?

In addition, the station’s blog entry received its own trollish comment:

Alexandria, VA

I can’t believe that in this day and age some people are still working for the “rights” of animals. My goodness — have they run out of CONSTRUCTIVE things to do? Next thing you know they’ll want legal rights for potted plants. This is what happens when overprivileged brats lose focus in life and forgot what’s truly important: watching out for the welfare of PEOPLE.

I replied to this one as well:

It’s always funny to me how people like Adam seem to assume that a person’s belief in animal rights somehow means they’re anti-human. Animal rights and human rights are inextricably connected, as they recognize (rather than ignore or capitalize on) the suffering of “the other.”

I’ve found that those that accuse others of “wasting” time on “unconstructive” things like animal rights really aren’t doing much of anything to advance any cause other than their desire to hear themselves talk.

Anyway, I’m happy to see Poplar Spring get such good coverage on local news.  And it sounds like Karen Dawn’s book has that Skinny Bitch mainstream appeal that will get new people thinking and talking about animal issues.

(For those in the DC area, two dates to mark on your calendars: First, on Monday August 18 from 5-8:30pm, Karen Dawn will be doing a signing for her book at the sanctuary. Then, on Sunday August 31, Great Sage restaurant will be donating 10% of the day’s profits to the sanctuary.  Go get some tasty eats and support the farm.)

Mitt Romney is an idiot

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Thanks to Chris for pointing out this puff piece on Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. In it, it describes Romney packing up the family for a summer trip:

Before beginning the drive, Mitt Romney put Seamus, the family’s hulking Irish setter, in a dog carrier and attached it to the station wagon’s roof rack. He’d built a windshield for the carrier, to make the ride more comfortable for the dog.

I echo Chris’ sentiment of “WTF?”  Who the heck puts their dog on the roof of their car?  And we’re supposed to be all “Wow, he’s so caring about his dog!” when he builds a windshield for the carrier?

Here’s some news for Romney: dude, your dog isn’t a piece of luggage.  If the family were to get into a car accident, the dog wouldn’t stand a chance.  At least inside the car he has the protection of the vehicle’s frame.  What if the carrier came loose and fell off the car?  Again, the dog has no chance.

This is just another example of “animals as property” that so pervades our lives.  To Romney, the family dog isn’t worth space in the car.  Having him dangerously perched on the roof as they fly down the roads at 65mph is a risk that’s reasonable to him.  Would he consider that same risk with his kids?  Of course not.

Want another example of how Seamus gets treated as property?  OK.

A brown liquid was dripping down the back window, payback from an Irish setter who’d been riding on the roof in the wind for hours.

As the rest of the boys joined in the howls of disgust, Romney coolly pulled off the highway and into a service station. There, he borrowed a hose, washed down Seamus and the car, then hopped back onto the highway. It was a tiny preview of a trait he would grow famous for in business: emotion-free crisis management.

Animals rarely get much respect from the oval office.  Sure, President Bush’s dog Barney gets a nicer home page than most people have, but he’s also used to create stupid White House promotional videos.  Then, of course, there’s the debacle that is the presidential turkey pardon at Thanksgiving.  But if Romney were to become president, Seamus would be the worst-treated First Dog since Warren G. Harding’s lab named Seat Cushion.  (That last sentence was said in a manner imitating Jon Stewart.  Imagine me looking coyly at the camera.)

How you treat animals is usually a good indicator of how you treat people.  Perhaps we should keep that in mind when looking at presidential candidates.

Standing on a Shaky Planck

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I suspect everyone with a veg-themed blog will be thwacking this terrible NY Times op-ed piece.  I know Erik has, though I haven’t had a chance to listen yet and Isa took a good shot that I read earlier this morning.  Here’s what I’ve got to add, with apologies for repeating any arguments you may have read elsewhere.

Nina Planck is the author of “Real Food: What to Eat and Why.”

I wanted to start with the byline.  Please note that this was written by somebody with something to sell.  She has no formal training in nutrition (note: neither do I, but I’m not writing books about the subject).  Just saying.

I was once a vegan. But well before I became pregnant, I concluded that a vegan pregnancy was irresponsible. You cannot create and nourish a robust baby merely on foods from plants.

This is purely anecdotal evidence, but everyone I’ve ever met who was “once a vegan” either a.) really wasn’t a vegan or b.) did it for a couple weeks for health purposes (never mind that veganism is an ethical way of life and not just a diet).  I’d like to hear a little bit more about her stint as a vegan.  I’m really curious because she must have been doing something pretty wrong in her own diet to conclude that it was “irresponsible” to be a pregnant vegan.

There are no vegan societies for a simple reason: a vegan diet is not adequate in the long run.

Source please?  I suspect it’s less a reason of a vegan diet’s adequacy and more a reason of availability, control of food production, or reliance on historical/cultural precedent.  Our current world is much different than it was even 100 years ago.

Besides, if she says a vegan diet’s not adequate in the long run, she might want to read up on Donald Watson.  I’d say mid-90s classifies as the “long run.”  And what’s interesting is that I’m still trying to find these vegans with deficiencies.  It’s a lot easier to find omnis suffering from excesses.

Protein deficiency is one danger of a vegan diet for babies. Nutritionists used to speak of proteins as “first class” (from meat, fish, eggs and milk) and “second class” (from plants), but today this is considered denigrating to vegetarians.

I believe that this idea of “first class” and “second class” proteins goes along with the outdated notion of protein combining en vogue in the 1970s.  As long as you’re eating a varied diet of primarily whole foods, protein’s not an issue.  Back in 1982, Francis Lappe updated her classic Diet for a Small Planet to note that “In all other diets [other than fruit-based, tuber-based, or junk food-based], if people are getting enough calories, they are virtually certain of getting enough protein.”

A vegan diet may lack vitamin B12, found only in animal foods;

A lot of this is due to the pesticides we use when growing vegetables, which makes them unsafe to eat unless they’re thoroughly cleaned.  However, a simple supplement takes care of this without much problem.

usable vitamins A and D, found in meat, fish, eggs and butter; and necessary minerals like calcium and zinc. When babies are deprived of all these nutrients, they will suffer from retarded growth, rickets and nerve damage.

Vitamins A and D as well as calcium and zinc are easy to get in a vegan diet.

Yet even a breast-fed baby is at risk. Studies show that vegan breast milk lacks enough docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, the omega-3 fat found in fatty fish. It is difficult to overstate the importance of DHA, vital as it is for eye and brain development.

Most people can properly convert the Omega-3s in flax seed into EPA and DHA, but even for those that can’t, there are a number of vegan sources.

A vegan diet is equally dangerous for weaned babies and toddlers, who need plenty of protein and calcium. Too often, vegans turn to soy, which actually inhibits growth and reduces absorption of protein and minerals. That’s why health officials in Britain, Canada and other countries express caution about soy for babies. (Not here, though — perhaps because our farm policy is so soy-friendly.)

Again, I’d like to see a source quoted here, but I’m willing to bet it’s somehow tied to the dairy industry (as most anti-soy studies so far have been).  John Robbins has some useful info about mineral absorption and soy:

It is true that soybeans are high in phytates, as are many plant foods such as other beans, grains, nuts and seeds, and it is true that phytates can block the uptake of essential minerals, and particularly zinc. This would be a problem if a person consumed large amounts of phytates; for example, if they ate nothing but soybeans or wheat bran. But the phytic acid levels found in a plant-based diet including a serving or two of soy a day are not high enough to cause mineral absorption problems for most people eating varied diets. Furthermore, when soy products are fermented – as they are in tempeh, miso, and many other soyfoods – phytate levels are reduced to about a third their initial level. Other methods of soy preparation such as soaking, roasting and sprouting also significantly reduce phytate content.

While phytates can compromise mineral absorption to some degree, there is absolutely no reliable evidence that vegetarians who eat soyfoods “risk severe mineral deficiencies.” The complete adequacy of vegetarian diets is now so thoroughly proven and documented that even the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association has acknowledged the legitimacy of meatless diets. In an official statement, these representatives of the beef industry declared, “Well planned vegetarian diets can meet dietary recommendations for essential nutrients.”

Back to Ms. Planck:

Historically, diet honored tradition: we ate the foods that our mothers, and their mothers, ate. Now, your neighbor or sibling may be a meat-eater or vegetarian, may ferment his foods or eat them raw. This fragmentation of the American menu reflects admirable diversity and tolerance, but food is more important than fashion. Though it’s not politically correct to say so, all diets are not created equal.

‘Tis true, but take a look at a whole foods vegan diet versus any of the fad diets and you’ll see one major difference: a vegan diet is sustainable for a lifetime while most others aren’t.

An adult who was well-nourished in utero and in infancy may choose to get by on a vegan diet, but babies are built from protein, calcium, cholesterol and fish oil. Children fed only plants will not get the precious things they need to live and grow.

I think someone needs to make a t-shirt based on the quote “Babies are built from protein, calcium, cholesterol and fish oil.”

Pieces like this one by Nina Planck seem to exist not to foster any sort of serious discussion about nutrition and diet, but for other purposes (selling books, selling papers).  Without citing any sources, it’s hard to take any claims that Planck makes seriously.  If you go out there and do the research, you’ll find that a well-planned vegan diet can be every bit as healthy as a well-planned omni diet.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:

We all need to look at what we eat.  It’s not a “vegan thing.”  If you shovel food down your gullet and don’t have any concept about what’s good for you, it doesn’t matter if you’re omnivore, vegan, or breatharian — you’re going to have problems.

I’d challenge Ms. Planck or anyone else looking to cash in on the latest “VEGAN PARENTZ KILL BABY, OMG~!!” headline to debate with a dietician like Vesanto Melina or a vegan nutritionist so people can make up their minds based on facts rather than a piece of marketing fluff masquerading as an op-ed piece.

More Anti-Vegan Sentiment

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Vegans Sentenced for Starving Their Baby

ARGH.

Some variation of this story pops up about once a year in the mainstream press.  You may remember the baby that died thanks to his supposedly vegan parents that fed him cod liver oil (NOT VEGAN).  Or the fruitarian parents who were spared jail after their baby died.

The thing is, if you look at this story, the fact that the parents were raising their children vegan has no bearing whatsoever on the story.  The child didn’t die because he wasn’t eating meat, he died because he was (allegedly) fed only soy milk and apple juice.  I’ve got news for you: if you feed your child only cow’s milk and apple juice, they’re going to die, too.

Veganism is not the issue here.  It’s poor parenting.

But thanks to the obsession with making vegans look like crazy loons, readers will continue to take away the wrong message from the story.  Instead of it being a terrible tragedy (allegedly) brought on by neglectful parents, it becomes a sweeping generalization about vegans.  In fact, as I was writing this post, an e-mail came in with a link to the story, followed by this witty comment:

Save a cow …. Kill your baby!
Vegans are sick SOB’s

As regular readers surely know by now, it can be perfectly healthy to raise a child as a vegan.  In fact, all of the vegan kids I’ve met have been healthy, vibrant, and well-adjusted.  Yeah, parents need to do a little research to make sure their child’s nutritional needs are met, but that’s not limited to vegans.  Every parent needs to read up on diet and nutrition.

Unfortunately, these unfair portraits of vegan (or supposedly vegan) parents are catchy news fodder for press and pundits.  It’d be nice if the press would leave “vegan” out of the story (and here, the headline) if it doesn’t have any real bearing on the story itself, but that doesn’t generate the same kind of buzz.

(This is fair warning: I’m not going to let this degrade into a flurry of idiotic comments.  If you’re commenting on the story, bring your A-game.)

Zombie Pigs

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Cloning opens door to ‘farmyard freaks’

However, GM scientists are actively investigating ways to remove the stress and aggression gene from animals, effectively turning them into complacent zombies.

The professor said it might become technically possible to produce “animal vegetables” – beasts which are “highly prolific and oblivious to their physical and mental status”.

DAMN IT. Seriously. When will we stop acting like idiots trying to invent sentience-free animals and just, you know, stop eating animals that don’t want to be eaten?!

(via BoingBoing)