Thursday, February 25, 2010

Guerrilla Marketing For Gorillas And Other Animals

I recently attended a fund raiser and ‘’pep rally’’ for what I consider is one of the most misunderstood and misrepresented organizations in the country. The name of the group is PETA, which stands for, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Their name sounds pretty benign to me. With such a laudable goal, why do you think that the mere utterance of the name PETA evokes such strong emotions among so many people?

My sense is that most people are really quite ignorant regarding the issues that PETA are attempting to address. PETA primarily focuses its energy in four areas that involve the greatest exploitation of animals. They are, factory farms, laboratories, clothing industries and the entertainment world.

Ingrid Newkirk, co founder of the organization, and a number of the PETA staff spoke at the event. Without exception, their presentations were compelling and compassionate. In the many years that I have been a supporter of PETA, every staff member that I have interacted with has been warm, caring and dedicated. They are the people that you would be proud of, if they were your friends, family or children.

Well, what about the Neiman Marcus blood throwing fur protests or other similar radical activities that we often see on CNN or Fox news? With a worldwide budget of only 45 million dollars, PETA must be very opportunistic when it comes to getting its message across. Obviously, its approach has proven to be quite effective, since this is what they are most known for by the general public.

Even other animal rights advocates sometimes quibble about some of their more flamboyant actions, but most will agree that on total, they are an extremely powerful force and effective voice for all animals. Representing the bad cop in the animal welfare world often allows the more moderate good cop such as HSUS,to come in and negotiate a deal that is advantageous for the animals. My experience is that most people in the exploitive animal world would prefer not having PETA as an adversary.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Yoga Drama

The New York Times recently ran a feature story on what was described as the ‘’hottest of all hot-button issues in Yoga.” Just what was the white hot issue in the rarified self righteous world of Yoga? It turns out that food, and more specifically, whether it was necessary for the purity of the practice for Yogis to consume a vegetarian diet. It appears as if the current crop of celebrity Yogis have gotten their digestive juices churning over this debate.

The saga has all the elements of an Entertainment Tonight drama. There have been tearful confessions and a whole host of other adolescent behavior that has disturbed the serenity of this six billion dollar business.

My personal Yoga Guru, the venerable Yogi Berra, has made many classical utterances. The one that most represents the present situation is ‘’you observe a lot by watching.’'

I’ve been observing the Yoga community since the early eighties. What started out as a spiritual and physical exploration for many of its earlier practitioners has unfortunately morphed into a mega capitalistic endeavor. When I see how many students are often packed onto the floor, I am reminded of my childhood beach experiences, where we were often lying on our blankets, literally butt to butt guarding our precious space.

These days, walking around with a rolled up yoga mat is as ubiquitous as seeing people clutching a paper coffee cup trying to look cool. For some segment of the population it has become the prop du jour along with a Lululemon Yoga outfit. As with so many other worthwhile endeavors, success all too often leads to an environment that is conducive to producing a hyperactive greed chakra. The Yoga community has become a victim of its success by emulating the morally bankrupt fee for service health care model.

Their mantra has become, pack them in and ship them out. This philosophy is more troubling to me than whether they are authentic vegetarians or closeted omnivores.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Chosen One

Whenever I am asked why I am vegan, I usually respond with what I consider are my three major reasons for choosing this lifestyle. My list has three components. They consist of health, environmental and ethical reasons. I’m generally just fine explaining the health and environmental issues, but when it comes to my ethical concerns, I often feel quite uncomfortable. I find this a bit odd, since this issue is the most powerful and motivating one for me.

When I share my ethical beliefs with others, I’m often concerned that the other person is inferring that because they regularly frequent In and Out Burger, they are not moral people. I don’t want them to feel slighted or feel that I am claiming moral superiority, it’s just that I have strong opinions on this important subject.

Most people who are intrigued enough to engage in a conversation with me, have probably never considered how the ten billion farmed animals killed for food in this country are actually treated. I find this attitude quite understandable, since when I consumed animal products, it was never an issue that I thought about.

Even though I was as anti war and pro environment as any other progressive person that I knew, the morality of factory farming was never on my radar. I haven’t lost my concern for the poor, Darfur, Congo or wherever Nicholas Kristof is traveling to these days, it is just that I have added the exploitation of animals to my banner. I find it quite empowering to be able to make a tangible difference by choosing a Garden Burger over a Big Mac. Making a dent in the other items on my agenda have proven far more elusive for me.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

It All Depends

I just returned from a hike with my two dogs, Bella and Buster. This time of year, many parts of Tilden Park are off leash areas, and because I generally keep my guys on lead, I’m invariably asked if my dogs are friendly. My sense is that most people, who are inquiring, just want a yes or no answer without any equivocation. I never quite know how to respond to their questioning, other than to say that it depends on the circumstances, which often is not the response they are looking for.

This is exactly how I feel about the ‘’questionable’’ labeling by Whole Foods of their organic frozen food products from China. People have been asking me just how important this story is. My response at this time is that we don’t have all the facts to form any salient conclusions, but my gut reaction is that it’s probably not a big deal.

I would be more concerned, if we were discussing processed foods or ingredients from China, since their track record in that arena is quite besmirched. Dried mushrooms and edamame are the foods that I consume from China, since the likelihood of their adulteration is much less problematic.

Most people are rather ignorant regarding the origin of their food and often don’t read or understand food labels. We live in a world in which many of our foods are outsourced. The German owned Trader Joes is an international retailer who sources its products from all over the world. Looking at a benign can of organic beans, one would never suspect that they were from China or Turkey.

I’m more concerned with the ‘’crap’’ most people eat, rather than the dubious labeling practices of Whole Foods or Trader Joes.

Watch this two minute video of Dennis Kucinich!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Enough Already

In another example of the Obama administration’s continued capitulation to special interest groups, this following story appeared in the NY Times on Feb 5. ''Faced with stiff resistance from ranchers and farmers, the Obama administration has decided to scrap a national program intended to help authorities quickly identify and track livestock in the event of an animal disease outbreak.''

The specific disease that the program was oriented toward was Mad Cow Disease, which has up to a 20 to 30 year incubation period. This prion caused condition is always fatal, with no known treatment available. Apparently the ‘’benign’’cattle producers objected to the extra work and additional costs involved in implementing this tracking system.

We’ve seen this phenomenon occur before,more specifically, in health care and in the moribund cap and trade legislation,which is being stymied by special interest groups that appear to have no regard for the collective health of this country.

Many of us, who were Obama supporters, are close to having a Howard Beale moment. ''We’re mad as hell and are not going to take it anymore.’’

Friday, February 5, 2010

Desperate Measures

The poignant story of dairy farmer Dean Pierson is in the news today. Pierson was a second generation small time dairy farmer in New York State, who on Jan 21 systematically shot all 51 of his milking cows in the head and then committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest.

This type of tragic story always has many permutations. No doubt this individual was dealing with many personal and financial issues. He apparently saw no way out of his dire situation and chose to end his painful existence in the ultimate way.

The diary industry, whether on the mega scale of the giant cooperatives or on the more diminutive scale of Mr. Pierson, is a toxic environment for all concerned, especially the poor animals. Whenever animals are viewed as commodities, rather than sentient beings, people will do whatever they deem necessary to maximize their profit.

When prices on the world markets were high, dairy farmers massively increased their herds. Now that consumption is down, these same farmers are aggressively ‘’thinning their stock’’ since production costs are greater than what their product is fetching on the world market

This phenomenon may be classic economics 101, but it is destroying the fabric of this country

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Nuts For Ice Cream

Last Sunday, Diana and I held a gelato and sorbet tasting at our home. We served four sorbets and five flavors of gelato. I recently acquired a new Italian gelato machine and was eager to share some of my favorite creations with a small group of our Marketplace dinner friends.

The freshly made sorbet flavors were, moro blood orange, pink grapefruit,mango and meyer lemon. The nut based gelato flavors were, espresso,vanilla almond, orange chocolate mousse, fig anise and peanut-chocolate swirl. Judging by the positive response from all of the participants, it was clear that nobody missed the traditional cream and egg based desserts.

Many of the participating individuals had some issue with dairy consumption. This is not too surprising since world wide about 75% of the population has some physiological decrease, or complete loss of the ability to produce lactase, which is the enzyme that breaks down lactose. North American Asians, Native Americans and African Americans have the highest levels of lactase nonpersistence, while North American Caucasians and Hispanics have the lowest levels.

Since milk is not necessary for humans after the age of weaning, it is clear that consuming the milk of a plant consuming animal is not the most efficient way of obtaining our calcium needs. There is some evidence that milk protein may increase the risk of some types of cancers, particularly prostate and ovarian. Many children are also at increased risk for ear infections and allergies due to the heavy consumption of milk products.

The National Dairy Council and the International Dairy Foods Association are some of the most powerful trade lobby groups in the country. Their “Got Milk” program has been one of the most successful advertising campaigns in marketing history, all to the detriment to the health of the country.

Finally, there is the ethical issue of the inhumane treatment of hundreds of millions of dairy cows who lead a horrific life. The current factory farming of our dairy cows has led to major environmental damage,with many groups implicating it as a major contributor to global warming.

Since all the nutrients in dairy products can be obtained from plant sources, one would have to be nuts to continue consuming dairy products.