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Christmas Ham: Just Say No

I’ve just had a mini perfect storm of incidents that have gotten me thinking about factory farming again.

Yesterday, I was talking with a colleague about being vegan. He’d just found out that I am vegan and was telling me he sometimes thinks about it. Sometimes he’ll be eating a steak and he’ll stop and think: ‘This used to be a cow’. Then he’s sickened and can’t continue eating it. But the next day he’ll be back to eating meat – except any goat products. He had a pet goat as a kid and can’t stomach anything from goats; meat, cheese, milk… nothing. I wondered aloud if Mr Teeny-bop would go the same way once we move to our own house (we’re looking at the market at the moment) and get some backyard chickens. Would he stop eating chicken altogether? (Even if he doesn’t, at least I will know his eggs are cruelty-free.) I told my colleague that my son is old enough to make up his own mind. I also was careful not to denigrate my colleagues choices about eating meat. I’m always careful that way. Sometimes it annoys me that I’m so non-boat-rocky (this has been a challenge for me before). I want to tell everyone off and try to convince them what bad choices they are making but then I remember I have to work with them.

Anyway, the second thing in my perfect storm is that a friend of mine sent me a link to the Slow Food Sunshine Coast Hinterland group (I grew up on the Sunny Coast), and I was looking around on their Facebook page and found a link to the Factory Farm Map. A quick look at the site really appalled* me but as always, I thought: that’s in the USA. I know we don’t farm our cattle like that in Australia (almost all beef cattle are grazed), and I know we do factory farm chicken but that’s getting an increasing amount of attention (particularly cage eggs; Coles has recently agreed to reduce prices on free range eggs and phase out cage eggs, and Woolworths and MacDonald’s have pledged to increase the use of free-range eggs in their stores since last year). Not that that’s an excuse, but I guess I already had knowledge about those industries, so it didn’t get me thinking in the same way.

What the site did get me wondering about was the other kinds of animals ‘produced’ in Australia. A ex-colleague of mine had dairy-farming family in the Darling Downs and insisted that the cows weren’t factory farmed, and that the family farm was typical of the industry. She claimed that many of the horror stories came from the US and didn’t apply in Australia. I know from previous research that even the friendliest dairy farms still routinely impregnate cows and remove the babies from their mothers. And what about the pigs? I love pigs! So I thought I’d put my google-fu to work.

The sheer amount of information out there is so phenomenal that today I just limited myself to pig research. (That doesn’t mean I don’t care about other animals; I just started with pigs and got a bit overwhelmed.) I found that nearly 400,000 pigs are factory farmed in Queensland alone (5.7 million Australia-wide). The conditions in which they live are so horrible it’s hard to believe that people actually put them into those situations^.

Look at this video from Animals Australia Unleashed to learn more about the conditions in Australian piggeries.

pig in sow stall from unleashsed.com.au

Pigs get so stressed in their little stalls they begin obsessively biting the bars.

It’s well documented that many sociopaths first start out by being cruel to animals. A look at the pictures from piggeries makes me wonder if many Australians are supporting a ghetto of violent offenders (aka factory farm workers) with their pork, ham and bacon purchases… because there’s no way to look at those pictures and not see animal cruelty. Those pigs didn’t put themselves into tiny cages sow stalls. People put them there. How anyone could do that is beyond me. It made me cry (and I’m not one of those people who bursts into tears at the drop of a hat).

Then I listened to the latest radio ad from SaveBabe.com, aimed at getting people to think about factory farmed pigs right before the peak meat season (aka Christmas). It’s predicated on the fact that pigs have the intelligence of a 3-year old. The ad is from the perspective of a mother pig in a sow stall, describing how she feels… spoken by a little (presumably 3-year old) girl. It’s a very emotionally evocative ad. I had another little cry and then decided to do something about it.

So as a result of my perfect storm (thinking about factory farms + feeling disgruntled that I am so moderate in expressing my views to other people) I decided to take my new-found knowledge and share a little of it with my friends via Facebook, talk about it with people at work in a non-threatening (but firm and decisive) way, maybe mention it to my family at Christmas. The vast majority of the people I know are omnivorous, although generally open-minded about alternative dietary options… but I think after looking at some of those pictures, floating along with their open-mindedness is not enough. I need to try to do something. So I shall share here and elsewhere and commit to being more vocal, and see what comes of it. Do I think people will give up their Christmas ham because of my actions? I don’t know. It feels like such a small thing to do to help those poor pigs and other animals, but when I think that the average vegetarian saves approximately 100 animal lives per year, it gives me the hope that raising awareness can really make an impact. All I can do is try.

I hope videos like this one will help some of my friends and family think about the choices they are making with their food. Why harm other creatures if you can live without doing that, right? I hope they think that too.

Go here to watch a longer version of the video.

*I’ve written before about why factory farms are bad. Alternatively, click each part of the ‘Find out how factory farms affect all of us’ section at the top of the Factory Farms Map page or look at the Factory Farming – The Facts page from Brightside Farm Sanctuary.

^If you’re concerned that some of the sites included in this post may present a biased view since they are animal welfare sites, try looking into intensive pig farming on Wikipedia (I know it’s not necessarily unbiased either, but I think it’s closer to a middle ground).

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The Story of Stuff

I just read a great article about Annie Leonard, who created The Story of Stuff. The Story of Stuff is a short, animated film that explains our consumer lifestyle and how it is affected us and the planet – from go to whoa. Here’s the video if you haven’t seen it before (you can choose different languages and captions if you click through to the site).

I like how the article allows Annie to better explain some of the points people have refuted. I also like how it gives us a bit of background to how she got into environmental activism. I especially like how the article is appearing in a major magazine – Elle – so lots of people will get to hear more about The Story of Stuff. Good stuff, Elle!

P.S. I really like the idea of a kampung. Does anyone know of any western (specifically Australian) types of these? Mostly I’ve seen eco-villages, but they don’t allow you to keeps cats and dogs and that doesn’t work for me (although I understand their reasons). I would love to live near like-minded people, eventually, and the whole sharing of resources and community appeals to me.

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Eco Sex Ed

I read about issues outside of concerns for the environment (I know, gasp!), and one of the things I’ve been reading about lately is the efficacy of school sex ed programs. Mr Teeny-bop is right around the age where, although he’s so young it scares me, you gotta seriously think about it. Australia is pretty open-minded about sex (legal age is 16, the kids start learning about condoms and stuff in primary school). In America, however, lots of places rely on abstinence-until-marriage type of advice, which is about as effective as paper parasol in a monsoon. Yeah, I just made that analogy (metaphor?) up.

There’s been some discussion recently, on some blogs I read, about moving towards an abstinence-until-ready style message instead, which is in keeping with growing acceptance of de facto families. (Read Alex DiBranco’s post, Could Abstinence-Until-Ready Programs Work? for more detail.) Adding to the confusion is the way the messages can be interpreted for different cultural groups. For example, Whitney Teal’s post on Abstinence Education, Minority Teens and Religion on the Women’s Rights blog indicates that even in areas where safe sex (condoms, birth control pill etc) is advocated, there is still reasonably high numbers of teen pregnancies among Black and Hispanic populations, likely due to the higher importance these groups (typically) place on religion. Safe sex is pre-meditated sex (you have to plan to get a condom or the pill), which means you willfully had sex outside of marriage, and didn’t just get caught up in the heat of the moment. The latter is considered more acceptable.

So when I saw this post on Endangered Species condoms on ecorazzi, it occurred to me that the environment might just be the one thing that crosses cultural, religious and socio-economic divides. I wonder if anyone has thought about using eco-consciousness as a motivator for safe sex?

The crux of the argument is that condoms reduce unplanned pregnancy, which in turn reduces overpopulation. I talked more about why overpopulation is bad here, but the Centre for Biological Diversity in Tucson, Arizona is specifically making a point about how overpopulation is affecting plants and animals, particularly endangered species. Think of the images of the polar bears on shrinking ice caps and all the stories we’ve heard lately of the demise of wild tigers. Think of the orangutans in Indonesia, dying as their forests are cleared to plant palm trees for palm oil. All of these animals, and many more, are dying due to human influence – influence that would be dramatically reduced if we simply had fewer people living on the Earth.

So their solution is to start their own little safe sex ed campaign, complete with pretty pictures and the opportunity to win a lifetime supply of condoms. I think it’s pretty genius.

Artwork promoting the use of condoms to save endangered animals - sponsored by the Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson, Arizona.

Artwork promoting the use of condoms to save endangered animals - sponsored by the Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson, Arizona.

I also think schools everywhere, but particularly in those places with a lot of cultural and religious resistance to the use of condoms, could jump on the bandwagon. The choice of whether or not to have sex before marriage and how you’ll do that is a personal one, but the choice of whether or not to damage the environment is one that everyone has a stake in. Maybe this could be another tool to help kids who struggle with the idea of pre-meditated sex, to justify making the decision to stay safe.

Or you could do what I do. Lesbianism* is a great form of birth control.

*There are condoms and dams same-sex couples can and should use too; there are other reasons to have safe sex outside of preventing pregnancy. You know it, I know it, but I gotta say it…

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