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Revisiting Veganism

I’ve been vegan for over a year now. This week it was my birthday, and as a gift, I got a little pack with certificates saying that I’m now Shirley the cow’s and Hamish the pig’s ‘best buddy‘.

These guys live at Edgar’s Mission, and Shirley’s story was the catalyst to my becoming vegan. I wanted to sponsor him since he was the one that set me on the path.

Hamish is just super cute!

Anyway, it reminded me of when I first read Shirley’s story, so I thought I’d revisit the post I wrote at the time. What do you think? Was I on the right track?

I think going vegan was one of the best decisions I ever made. 🙂

In my pack from Edgar’s Mission, I got a booklet entitled Eating Up The World: the environmental consequences of human food choices. It’s produced by various vegetarian/vegan societies in Australia, so you could get a copy through any of them if you wanted one. It’s also available online at that link. I thought it might be biased considering the producers, but they cite all their sources. Anyway, the booklet really confirmed my decision for me, from an environmental standpoint. It clearly outlines how choosing not to eat animal products is pretty much the single greatest individual activity you can take to help reduce climate change. I think that’s pretty awesome.

Here are some of the main points (I didn’t know a bunch of these before I read the booklet!):

  • It takes 50,000L to 100,000L of water to produce 1kg of beef, but only 2500L to produce 1kg of white rice and much less for most other grains, fruits and vegetables. (This totally makes me think of how I was often told to eat less rice during the drought, because it was such a water-intensive crop and not suited to the Australian climate – which it’s not – but no-one ever told me to eat less beef.)
  • Over 67% of water in Australia is used for agriculture (as compared to 9% for household use), so we should concentrate our water saving efforts on what we eat/wear etc. About 90% of household water consumption comes from food consumption. People eating an omnivorous diet use approximately 3.5 times as much water for food than people eating plant-based diets. Are you seeing a connection here?
  • Australia’s livestock will produce more warming over the next 20 years (via methane) than all our coal-fired power stations combined.
  • 60% of Australia’s land is used for grazing.
  • The UN identified ‘…animal agriculture and food consumption as one of the most significant drivers of environmental pressures and climate change, stating that “a substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products”…’
  • 92% of land disturbance in Australia, which includes clearing forests and bushland, increased erosion, changes to the water table, acidifying and compacting soils, spreading weeds, unsustainable levels of manure and climate change, is caused by animal agriculture (55% beef, 36% sheep/wool, 1% dairy). The remaining 8% is all other industries. That’s EVERYTHING ELSE.
  • 5kg of wild fish is needed to produce 1kg of farmed fish.
  • Fish is one of the most contaminated foods on the planet.
  • Some parts of the ocean have been so over-fished that they are now ‘dead zones’ covering tens of thousands of square kilometres.
  • Australia now imports 30% of our oil (we used to drill our own, but it’s been dropping since 2000 – Australia has already reached peak oil). Animal agriculture uses considerably more energy than plant agriculture, considering transport of feed and livestock, operation of farm facilities including heating, cooling, lighting and slaughter facilities and the constant refrigeration required for storage of the animal products.
  • 27,000 children under the age of 5 die of poverty and starvation every day around the world – and we grow 50% more edible grain worldwide than is required to feed every person on the globe. That extra food plus more is given to farm animals.
  • The world’s cattle (so not including anything but cow type animals) eat enough food to feed more than the whole world’s population.
This has actually put a bit of a different spin on things for me. For a long time I’ve been thinking beef production is one of the better types of animal agriculture, because from an animal rights perspective, the animals live better lives than many other species. However, from this booklet, it sounds like beef is the worst environmentally. I was actually surprised that poultry and eggs didn’t show up on the graphs – I know the animals are smaller but they’re so extensively farmed…
Guess it’s a good thing I’m vegan so I don’t have to make any tough decisions. I just don’t eat any of it. Easy.
Thanks Shirley. 🙂

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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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Spotlight: Sustainable Cork

Do you remember a time when all wine and champagne bottles had a cork stopper? I barely do – I was only just old enough to start drinking alcohol when plastic corks were introduced. Not long later, screw top lids came in. I thought these were both great ideas. I’m not great with a corkscrew. Inevitably, small bits of cork would end up in my wine. It’s not so hard to pick them out, but you know… it’s a pain. Especially if you’re on your third bottle. Not that I would drink that much…

So anyway, I tended to choose bottles with plastic corks, or better yet, screw-top lids.

I won’t be doing that anymore. Now it will be cork every time for me.

Why the sudden turnaround? Well, I was reading some Fake Plastic Fish articles yesterday, and found an old piece on cork. I followed the links and found a link to the Cork Oak Landscapes section of the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) site. It includes an article and a beautiful video outlining why the cork industry is important. (There’s no spoken audio so it’s accessible for Deaf folks.)

This WWF news clip on Youtube paints a more detailed picture (sorry, no captions).

Essentially, plastic stoppers and screw-tops have reduced the demand for cork. As a result, some cork farmers are leaving the forests behind (moving to the cities to find work) or replacing them with non-indigenous tree plantations (like pine or eucalypt). This action is increasing susceptibility to desertification, fires and the extinction of native species (like the endangerd Iberian Lynx). Note that cork production in Mediterranean areas has been going on for millennia, so this is a pretty major change.

What amazes me the most about cork production though, is that it’s extremely sustainable. The trees don’t get cut down – which contradicted my (admittedly hazy) ideas about cork manufacture – but are in fact carefully looked after so they can continue to act as the livelihood for generations of the same family. To make cork, the bark is harvested. This bark then regrows and is harvested again. This is done with specially designed axes that don’t harm the trees. Cattle graze in the forest, keeping the grass low and reducing the risk of fire. Overall, it’s a natural, environmentally friendly way of life that we should be looking to preserve.

Instead, I’ve been unknowingly destroying it by choosing lids that are marginally easier to remove. Bad hippy. I know I didn’t do it on purpose, but I feel kind of guilty; I want to go buy copious amounts of corked wine to make up for it, but I won’t, because I just don’t drink that much. Instead, I’m posting here, in the hope of spreading the word.

So guys, listen up! Buy wine with real corks! Save the cork forests and the animals and this gentle way of life!

P.S. If you need a reason to buy cork that is closer to home than Portugal, how about not poisoning yourself with the petro-chemicals plastic stoppers are made of and screw-top lids are lined with? Give it a try.

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Newsflash: Cow-vision?

Today’s WTF is…. cow-vision from Russia! (Click the link to read the article.)

cow-vision

Cow-vision? Really?

Aside from the Tantalus-like torture of it, I’d be interested to know how much those tvs add to the farmer’s electricity bill, and if s/he (zie?) thinks it’s worth it. I was just telling my parents how much more plasma tvs cost, now they just bought their first one. So I just wonder…

The poor cows!

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Spinning Yarn

In my dream house/farm, I’m going to have sheep and other animals that have been rescued from farms that aren’t very nice to their animals. I want to give them happy homes!

It’s my understanding that you want to shear sheep though, even if they are just pets, because in sub-tropical Queensland especially, it’s just too hot in summer for all that wool. That makes sense – we have to shave poor Loodle in summer cos it’s too hot for him too!

So if I’m going to have this abundance of wool, I think I’m going to learn how to spin my own yarn. I’ve been interested in it for a while, but I read this post on Living Naturally in Louisiana and it inspired me! I’m too busy at the moment to try on a handspindle, and our place is too small to have a spinning wheel, so it will have to wait, but I’m anticipatorily excited! (Yes, I know anticipatorily is not a word, but it gets my point across. Why should Shakespeare be the only one who is allowed to make up words that aren’t nouns?)

yarn and spinning wheel

Homespun yarn with a beautiful spinning wheel. The yarn always seems to be intensely coloured when it's homespun. Photo courtesy of Screw Bronze! blog (link at the end of the post).

I love the idea of having local, eco-friendly yarn though – from happy sheep. I don’t buy wool yarn now because I don’t want to support an industry that isn’t animal-friendly, but I’m not happy buying acrylics either (they’re made from petrochemicals), cottons use so much water and maize takes corn out of the food web. That pretty much leaves me with bamboo and soy (leftovers from making soy products), which are both pretty expensive and often not locally produced. Sometimes I pick up used yarn, unravel a jumper or succumb to some pretty cotton, but I can’t wait til I can make my own pretty yarn from my happy pet sheep. Then I can reduce my dependence on those other kinds of yarn (although if I start making my own soy milk, I wonder if I could make my own soy yarn… and maybe grow some hemp and make a blended fibre…)

Plus I’ll be able to try some of those felting patterns I’ve seen (only animal fibre can be felted).

*Photo courtesy of this post at Screw Bronze!

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Piggies.

Completely random, unrelated to the environment, except based on previous posts I’ve made on pigs, farm animals, rescue, compassion and veg*nism. Go look ’em up. You wanna.

Hamish the pig from Edgar's Mission.

Hamish the pig from Edgar's Mission.

Meanwhile, I want a pig.

Hamish is so cute!

Hamish is so cute!

Specifically, I want a pig like Hamish from Edgar’s Mission.

How could anyone want to eat Hamish?

How could anyone want to eat Hamish?

This guy is the cutest EVER.

Check out Edgar’s Mission! Pics from the Facebook page. Alternatively, go have a look at SaveBabe.com.

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Compassionate Dairy? Nah.

You all know I’m a vegetarian for environmental reasons, but you’ve probably figured out I’m also all for animal rights and compassion. Just search my blog under the tag ‘veg*nism’. To be fair, I don’t necessarily believe this means having one strict, stringent set of rules that apply universally to all. I’m not that kind of thinker in any arena of my life. For example, I believe you could eat a compassionate diet that included chicken eggs, if the chickens lived as your lovely little pets and the eggs were a by-product. However, I don’t think it’s possible to compassionately eat eggs if they were produced in a battery run.

I’ve been an aspiring vegan for ages – I use soy milk rather than dairy, but haven’t kicked most of the other dairy products yet. In fact, I feel I’ve been slipping. I used to be stringently anti-(dairy)yoghurt and over the last few months it has crept back into my diet after years without it. I can’t even claim that it happened without my knowing it, because I did know it, and I deliberately chose to not think about it. I have real trouble seeing a time for me without dairy cheese and I think I just got to a point where I was like… ‘Why bother? I’m not a real vegan anyway.’ I kinda gave up for a bit.

Well, that’s just slack and not cool and all ‘head in the sand’ style.

I guess the yoghurt thing has been lurking in my mind after all though, because as part of my dreaming on about living on an eco-friendly property with my strawbale house and rescue animals, I started to wonder about keeping a cow or two. I knew there’d be egg-laying chickens (dunno if I’d eat the eggs cos I don’t really like eggs anymore, but regardless), and I started wondering if it would be possible to eat compassionate dairy. Unlike eggs, milk production is stimulated by pregnancy, but I wondered if it would be possible for a cow to have a baby once a year, and to rear it naturally at the same time as me taking just a wee bit of milk for my own devices. I wouldn’t even use it to drink – just for stuff like cheese – so I really would need such a tiny bit. After some research I discovered this was possible, although very few people do it as it’s a bit of a chore to get the milk with a frisky calf around and you end up with less milk.

I started to wonder what would happen to the cows though. I’m not into artificial breeding – all my pets are desexed, there are enough unwanted animals in the world – so it seemed I would be artificially increasing the herd. I mean, the alternative is to kill them off and I wasn’t thinking of doing that. Er, no. Vegetarian herd-culler, I think not. I thought maybe each cow could have just one baby so really all they did was replace themselves, like Zero Population Growth (ZPG), which I’ve talked about before in human terms. I figured male calves would just luck out and get to hang around getting fat and happy, and the females would have one baby each. If a boy calf was born then lucky for his mum, she’d get to have a second one after all.

Then I started to think that I must be a bit naive, and all this seemed like hard work and I knew I was really not grasping all the complexities. Plus the Internet seemed so adamant you should separate the cow and calf ASAP for the calf’s protection (immunity etc). This didn’t seem so natural to me. Then there was the question of whether they could live on grass alone or if they need supplementary food (ultimately – grass is possible, if there is enough of it year round). And how to milk them. Are those milking machines really humane?

So I kept reading.

Then I came across Edgar’s Mission, and a little story by Shirley the calf. Now I think I’m just going to have to bite the bullet and give up milk entirely.

Hansel - one of the newest 'bobby' calves at Edgar's Mission; his life now saved.

Hansel - one of the newest 'bobby' calves at Edgar's Mission; his life now saved.

Go have a read, and take your tissues. Go have a read of Sadie’s story too, if you are a glutton for punishment.

I know it’s sentimental, and from a human perspective and probably cows don’t think that way really cos they’re cows and don’t have the kind of higher cognitive functions we humans do – but another thing I learned in my research tonight (and on other nights) is that they do have feelings and they do think. Maybe not like us, but they do. Those baby cows miss their mummies and the mummies miss them. Separating them buggers up their health, they don’t socialise quite right, the boys are unceremoniously killed, the girls raised as lactation machines and ultimately, when it comes right down to it, it’s mean!

Rosa - another calf (now a cow) from Edgar's Mission.

Rosa - another calf (now a cow) from Edgar's Mission.

So. My plan is to give it all up, one thing at a time down the list below. I know I’ve tried to do this before, ages ago, but I didn’t have a list, and unlike giving up meat and eggs which I wasn’t that big on in the first place, getting past milk and yoghurt were so daunting that I kinda burned out before I got anywhere else. This time, I’ve already started, so it will be easier I hope. There’s a bit of me that wonders ‘why bother, not many other people are doing this, what difference will it make?’, but I’ve unexpectedly read about the story of the old man with the starfish (or little girl, depending on the version) about five times in relation to this very decision tonight, so maybe the compassionate zen God of the universe is trying to tell me something. Besides, that never stopped me making a stand before. Every little bit counts, right?

Most items have replacements, although lots of those things I eat more of now that I will of the replacements, cos I just don’t like the substitutes as much (such as ice-cream – soy icecream just doesn’t really do it for me), or eating that much soy isn’t good for anyone. The first two should be easy as I’ve mostly done them, and the third I just have to remember. Plus, for the fourth, I was eating too much ice-cream so I already gave it up for the month… now I just need to keep going.

  1. Milk = non-dairy milk (eg: soy, oat, chickpea or almond, as rice milk isn’t good for me and hemp milk is NASTY – sorry hemp-lovers)
  2. Sour Cream = avocado, guacamole etc
  3. Yoghurt = non-dairy yoghurt (eg: soy)
  4. Ice-cream = non-dairy ice-cream (eg: soy, coconut etc, and sorbets like Weis yum yum yum)
  5. Butter = non-dairy margarine, oil
  6. Custard = non-dairy custard (eg: homemade soy)
  7. Cream = some soy substitute for cooking, otherwise probably nothing
  8. Chocolate = non-dairy chocolate (eg: dark chocolate, soy chocolate etc)
  9. Cheese = depends on the type of cheese (eg: tofu for paneer, tofutti better than cream cheese for cream cheese, no idea what for haloumi, ricotta or feta, maybe I’ll try some of the Uncheese Cookbook attempts for melty cheese cos I dislike all the commercial fake cheeses).

Cheese is definitely going to be the tough one. Like, real tough. I eat cheese in a lot of meals, and Yankee Elv loves it and probably won’t want to give it up (which is entirely her choice, of course – no pressure!!). All the rest I’ve lived without for certain periods in my life before, but cheese has always been a constant friend. However… I’m thinking of Shirley and Sadie and all the other cows like them. It’s time to bite the bullet and make a real commitment.

Interestingly enough, this hasn’t solved my question about whether it’s possible to consume compassionate dairy. Maybe it will be something I look into again one day. However, maybe when the time comes that it would be feasible for me to do that, I won’t be interested in eating dairy anymore anyway. After all, regardless of compassionate reasons, not consuming dairy is better for the environment and my health too.

Giant Edgar Alan Pig and a little lambie friend.

Edgar Alan Pig (the first rescue and namesake of Edgar's Mission) with a little lambie friend, enjoying the sunshine together.

Edgar’s Mission is a farm animal sanctuary in Victoria. I wish it was closer so I could go there and have a look myself! Next time I’m in Victoria with access to a car, I’ll be there, for sure. I’m wildly envious of the owner, Pam, and would love to know how she manages to live on, run and fund the place. The idea of doing something similar is not unfamiliar to me – hence the thoughts about my eco-friendly rescue farm that started this whole thing off. I’ve become a Facebook fan. Go check out the Facebook page, and especially the photos in the Around the Farm album; some are just beautiful. The photos in this post are taken from the page.

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