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Archive for the tag “veganism”

Republican Senator’s Ill-Conceived Plan to Block Vegetarian Options in the Military

Factory Farming

Factory Farming

Across the United States and most of the developed world, there is a growing awareness of the problems caused by overconsumption of meat, and an attendant growth in vegetarians and vegans. One of the many campaigns to help spread awareness and moderate our diets is Meatless Monday. This program, endorsed by many public and private organizations, encourages people to forego meat at least one day a week in favor of plant-based alternatives. The Department of Defense, one of the largest and resource-heavy organizations in the world, is considering adopting the practice in military dining facilities.

Jodi Ernst, a first-term senator from Iowa and retired lieutenant colonel in the Iowa National Guard, has recently introduced legislation into the United States Senate to actually block the Department of Defense from implementing “meatless Mondays” in military chow halls. She claims that daily meat consumption is necessary to satisfy nutritional needs. This is so facile and disingenuous that only a caveman could defend it. If you actually read the official Dietary Guidelines for Americans, it is suggested to eat less meat and eggs. But for legislators like Ernst, facts and logic cannot get in the way of their gut instinct.

If we dig deeper, it turns out that Iowa is actually the nation’s largest pork- and egg-producing state, and the agribusiness industry contributed at least $200,000 to Ernst’s 2014 Senate campaign. That is a good return investment for an industry whose 2014 sales were $186 billion. Because this isn’t about nutritional needs, obviously–it is about cold, hard cash. Like everything in America. Everyone knows that meat is not necessary for proper nutrition. It has actually been clearly linked to cancer, and the enormous consumption of meat in America has helped create not a healthy and balanced population, but one with an uncontrollable obesity epidemic.

I was in the US Army for four and a half years and spent two years deployed to Afghanistan. In this time of my life I was still a typical American meat-eater. I ate meat nearly everyday while deployed, and I can attest that the quality of the food was low, and it was in no way necessary to offer meat everyday even to highly active soldiers. In retrospect, I wish there had been more variety of food offered in the chow hall like meatless Mondays that would have given me different options and helped me lower my meat intake earlier.

I became vegetarian and then vegan after leaving the army, and I have not eaten any meat or animal products in over four years. I am light and healthy and energetic, and I practice rock-climbing several times a week with better physical performance than I ever felt during many years of army training with a heavily carnivorous diet. Senator Ernst is either ignorant or willfully lying on this issue. Neither is a good look for an elected politician.

Furthermore, Ernst, like all of her Republican colleagues, loves to completely dismiss either that climate change is happening or that it is caused by humans, saying things like “I’m not a scientist.” On every other issue, they are experts, however. On abortion, they are medical experts; on gay marriage, they have a direct line to God; on guns, they are all enthusiastic hunters and potential freedom fighters. It’s all hypocrisy. Everyone who studies the issue knows that not only is climate change the most urgent crisis humans have faced since the last ice age, but that intense industrial meat production is one of the largest single causes of pollution and climate change (I’ve written about climate change here). Factory farms, like the ones that are concentrated in midwestern states like Iowa, are enormously inefficient and harmful to the environment. And that is to say nothing about the ethical question of raising billions of sentient, emotional creatures to live short brutal lives in cramped metal cages, pumped full of steroids and antibiotics before being slaughtered. It has been said, with no irony or exaggeration, that modern factory farms are humanity’s biggest crime.

Senator Ernst was elected on a platform of freedom and her military experience. She deployed to Kuwait as a combat tour. She has also falsely claimed that National Guard duty is the reason she missed over half of the votes in the Iowa State Senate. She thinks these things make her an expert on military matters, and that all military personnel and veterans will support her no matter her policies. As a veteran myself with two years of deployment on a remote outpost in Afghanistan, I can say that most veterans see through self-serving and corrupt politicians quite easily. That is why Bernie Sanders’ top contributors are active duty military members. This is also important because Ernst is one of the people who will be considered for the Republican Vice President nomination because she is a woman and a veteran. Too bad she is also a corrupt fraud like most of her party’s standard-bearers.

The Republican Party, which has long made “freedom” its watchword, does not seem to understand what it actually means. It often tends to conveniently ignore freedom for people that disagree with them. It does not take a political philosopher to realize that freedom does not count if it only means restricting other people’s freedom. The Republican Party, which claims to want “smaller government” while insisting that government should be able to regulate and block the most personal individual choices in people’s lives, has struck again with an absurd logic-bending proposal about people’s most personal individual choices.

Eating is one of the most personal things we do. Just like religion, sexual preference, whether to have a child or not. In all these cases, the supposed party of individual freedom wants to restrict freedom. In the spirit of 1984, the Republicans would operate a Ministry of Freedom that insures everyone eats what they told to eat and prays how they are told to pray. It is hypocrisy, unmasked, not even trying to be masked, in fact. Like many Americans, I’m tired of it and want to change the system. One important way is to follow political campaigns, be active, and vote. Arguably even more important is to vote with your wallet with the products you buy, and get involved and stay involved in local or personal issues that you are passionate about. That is why I do not take it lightly when I see a hypocrite try to spread lies about meat consumption in order to help prop up a hundred billion dollar industry, or spreading lies that it is necessary to eat meat to be healthy when it is clearly the opposite. Veganism is an idea whose time has come as more and more people are learning that it is better for their health and for the planet (and for the animals). Fortunately, people have more freedom to do as they please than people like Senator Ernst realize.

The Strong Case for Veganism

My objective for this post is to spread awareness about veganism and about the benefits that ensue from this philosophy. Therefore, it is necessary that I first reintroduce and build upon my earlier post on this website, Why I Am a Vegetarian in light of my evolution away from the use of animal products.

I still fully support everything I wrote in ‘WIAaV’, and I believe that my arguments are still valid. I listed four reasons, in ascending order of importance, why I am a vegetarian. It is cheaper, it is healthier for the body, it is healthier for the environment, and it is the higher ethical, or moral, position. I do not believe that any of these arguments can be refuted, and any one of them should ideally be enough to convince a rational person of abandoning a diet built around the consumption of dead animal flesh. There is only a growing body of evidence in support of each of these arguments, some of which I briefly outlined in the original post, and much more of which can be found quite easily on the internet. The only excuse for not adhering to a vegetarian diet at this point would seem to be ignorance of the benefits and costs, which cannot be claimed by any of the readers here. Basically, the issue with my earlier post is that I did not go far enough in stating the case for not using animal products of any kind. This is because, at the time of writing, I was still only a vegetarian, but not someone who rejected the use of milk, cheese, eggs, honey, and other things. In light of further information I have become aware of, and more thinking on the subject, I have completed the evolution from vegetarian to vegan–that is, someone who chooses not to use animal products of any kind.

What ‘awakened me from my dogmatic slumber’ (to use Kant‘s famous phrase about David Hume’s Enquiry) was a video by animal-rights activist, vegan, and motivational speaker Gary Yourofsky. This video, with over 1 million Youtube views, and available in 26 languages, is 70 minutes long, but I would encourage you to find time to watch it (and to pass it on to others). Also, in the ‘Links’ menu to the left you will find the website for Yourofsky’s organization ADAPTT–Animals Deserve Absolute Protection Today and Tomorrow–where you can find more videos, information, recipes, links, and much more.

Yourofsky is a dynamic speaker, and his 100+ annual speeches are aimed at a primarily American and college-aged audience. Nevertheless, his arguments are valid for peoples of any age and nationality. Though the factory farming excesses he discusses might be most widespread in America, they certainly exist in most other countries as well. In addition, the segment in which he presents vegan food alternatives is probably not as useful to people outside America, and is designed to be most convincing to university students who are already used to such typical processed and pre-prepared microwaveable-type meals. Living in Italy, for example, I have neither access to any of those brands or products, nor the desire to eat them. I do have access to a wide variety of grains, fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, legumes, and other basic ingredients to make delicious vegan concoctions.

One of the strongest points of the video is, in my opinion, his unmasking and debunking the myths surrounding milk and the dairy industry. It was this point that was most responsible for forcing me to complete the path from vegetarian diet to vegan philosophy. Obviously, the argument for not eating meat is strong and self-evident. However, the argument for not using other animal products, such as milk, is not as intuitive, and requires overcoming misconceptions and propaganda from the dairy industry. It is striking how Yourofsky emphasizes that the number one reason why vegetarians do not become vegans is cheese. We use cheese on everything, and most people are loathe to give it up. All cheeses contains a substance called rennin, which can only be obtained from the stomach of baby cows, because it is necessary for them to properly digest their mothers’ milk. Humans are only designed to consume human milk, and only until the age of one or two. After that, we have no need for milk of any kind for the rest of our lives. There are adverse health conditions that result from dairy consumption. For example, we are told that we need milk for our calcium needs and to have strong bones, but the highest rates of osteoporosis occur in countries, such as the US, were milk consumption is highest, while this medical condition is almost non-existent is many African and Asian countries where dairy intake is almost zero.

Besides the fact that we don’t need milk, and that it is actually not healthy for us, we need to recognize that most dairy cows eventually get sent to the slaughter-house to become ‘beef’ as soon as they are too old to produce milk. Actually, in America the majority of beef comes from old, worn-out dairy cows. The environmental question is just as clear-cut. There are billions of cows raised every year only in order to produce milk. These cows need massive amounts of grain, steroids, growth-hormones, and produce massive amounts of waste and methane gas. The amount of grain used to feed farm animals in America every year could easily alleviate world hunger. 90% of corn grown in the US is used for animal consumption (cows naturally eat grass, not corn, by the way). There is actually more than enough food produced in the world every year to feed every human, but there is not enough money to pay for it! One of the reasons for this is that such a huge percentage of food is used to raise unnecessary animals instead of humans. In this way, humans who eat meat or use animal products are only getting their nutrients second-hand, by way of an animal, instead of first-hand, by way of the plant material itself. Hundreds more examples and statistics could be summoned to continue building up this unassailable argument, but hopefully you are already convinced.

Besides the health, financial, and environmental reasons, there is of course the ethical reason. Is it correct that 70 Billion animals are raised each year only to become food for humans? The vast majority of these animals live lives of such unimaginable squalor and suffering as to dull the senses. There seems to be a widespread idea that animals, for some reason, don’t feel pain or suffering like humans, or that they only exist to feed humans. These are such juvenile ideas that they would almost be laughable if they weren’t so repugnant. Notwithstanding the active abuse dished out to untold numbers of animals and the horrible conditions that they inhabit during their short, sad lives, the worst part of this issue is the fact that most humans feel that there is nothing wrong in our very mentally which justifies the slavery and subservience of all other animals to our appetites and whims, and that humans are naturally superior and ordained to dominate and rule the earth because we are the most intelligent species. This is an example of an intelligence I want no part of. We are animals too, and this slavery and abuse is unacceptable and should not be tolerated or even allowed.

Once again, these arguments apply mostly to the huge industries of food production and animal exploitation, but, you might ask, “What if the animals are locally raised, cared for, and killed for food in a humane way when their time is up?” I will respond that we do not need to eat animals to live, and that there is no excuse for killing an animal merely because you enjoy the taste of its flesh. I admit that I like the taste of meat, and have eaten it for most of my life up to this point. It is not a question of taste, but of choosing not to eat it because we don’t need it, and because it is healthier and more ethical in so many ways. Finally, while I know that I will never eat meat again, I am not yet at the point where my veganism is absolute or dogmatic, and I don’t think it needs to be. I do not buy or use animal products, and try to avoid them at all costs, but understand that sometimes there is an occasion where it is too difficult to avoid something with a bit of cheese or egg or milk. For me, this could happen while I am traveling, or as someone’s guest, or another similar uncontrollable circumstance. Maybe I will eventually change my views, but for now I agree with Peter Singer, Australian philosopher and author of Animal Liberation, on this issue.

For more facts, you can find a very informative chart here. If for some reason you still have doubts, just remember that even elephants and gorillas are vegans!

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