Compassionate Eating: A Guest Post

My sister, Jill

I’m excited today to have a guest post written by my sister, Jill McCullough! She and I, along with our two younger brothers, grew up on ranches where we lived very closely with nature and with our animals (goats, ducks, chickens, etc.). While we all loved our animals, I’d have to say that Jill was more involved with them than any of us. She wanted to be a vet for many years, and in her desire to pursue that career, she put herself on the frontline, so to speak, experiencing joys and tragedies that the rest of us shied away from.

In our early twenties, we both read Diet for a New America, which changed our lives. We could not believe what was described in those books, especially having had the experience of raising animals. We couldn’t fathom the inhumane treatment endured by the animals on factory farms. We both became vegans, in protest of these practices. My diet has changed over the years (I’m a vegetarian at this point, but have more to say on this subject in future posts), but Jill has remained a vegan all these years.

She is currently trying to raise money for a great organization called Vegan Outreach. VO focuses on education to make a difference, which I think is awesome – it’s not like some other organizations that use shock tactics or sexualized propaganda to push their agenda. VO simply helps people make informed decisions about what they eat, and stands up for the rights of the animals imprisoned on factory farms. I will talk more about this in future posts – how to make compassionate dietary choices whether you are a vegan or an omnivore. But for now, here’s my awesome sis!

What if I told you that something horrific was happening every day– something terrible that no one talks about?

What if I told you that you could do something to stop it?

Unfortunately, I AM telling you that something horrific is happening every day. It is happening in factory farms and slaughterhouses all over the world. The food that we eat and the demand we have created for such food has given birth to an industry of cruelty and animal commodification that defies our inherent, natural loving impulses. It doesn’t make sense that another sentient being, of any species, should be forcibly removed from their own natural processes and subjected to the torture and abuse that takes place on factory farms every single day– all so that we can have a certain cut of desired meat on our plate.

A snapshot of our goats

There are endless amounts of shocking and disturbing videos, photographs, and statistics all over the Internet detailing the horrors of which I am speaking. If you have yet to educate yourself on this topic, I highly recommend checking out websites for Compassion Over Killing, Mercy For Animals, and Vegan Outreach. [Note from Five Seed: Please be assured that clicking on these links will not take you to disturbing videos/pictures. These are simply the main pages of these organizations that will allow you to navigate through their websites.] It is one thing to hear about an innocent calf being torn from its mother and confined to a tiny crate for the duration of its short life in order to produce veal, and another to actually see it. Laying hens are stuffed in tiny cages and stacked on top of each other for their short, miserable lives. Many often die of asphyxiation because of the cramped quarters and induced immobilization. Farm conditions for these animals (chickens, cows, pigs, and turkeys, for example) are deplorable. When it is time to go to the slaughterhouse, these animals face even more suffering in transit, including extreme temperatures, standing in their own excrement, lack of ventilation, and abuse. According to Vegan Outreach, 200,000 pigs fail to survive the trip and are found dead upon arrival. Some might say these are the lucky ones. Slaughterhouses are places of terror, fear, abuse, and horror. In the name of almighty profit, animals are denied a humane death, as well as a very basic sense of compassion, decency, and mercy.

I know these facts are unpleasant to hear. But our denial doesn’t make them untrue; in fact, it only ensures that the violent atrocities that are occurring on our watch will continue to take place every single day.

When I first read the book “Diet for a New America” by John Robbins, I was indescribably stunned. I didn’t know before I had read that book what a factory farm was or how industrialized farming practices had transformed animal agriculture into a mechanized system of torture and cruelty. I cried while reading the descriptions of the unendurable suffering these animals experience in their brief lives that ultimately culminate in a brutal slaughter that we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemy.

As a culture, we hide what we don’t want to see and what we don’t want to acknowledge. But awareness and truth are some of the most healing powers in the universe, and as we expose ourselves to the realities of animal suffering, we are empowered to create change and make a difference in the lives of all living beings everywhere. By arming ourselves with information about these issues, we can take direct and powerful action, and create a collective culture that is based on peace, love, and compassion, instead of denial, violence, and cruelty.

We have the power every day to make more compassionate choices and thus perpetuate that energy on the planet. If the idea of giving up meat seems foreign or intimidating to you, start with having one vegetarian meal a week. Continue to educate yourself, learn about new, healthful plant-based foods, and make gradual changes to support long-term growth. Kathy Freston has written two excellent books on this subject that I would highly recommend titled “Quantum Wellness” and “Veganist.”

Another great action that you can take today is to donate money to an organization that is working hard to spread the message of compassion! As mentioned earlier, Vegan Outreach is one such organization that disseminates a lot of wonderful information regarding the destructive nature of animal agriculture and the benefits of a plant-based diet. VO is currently staging a campaign called “Team Vegan” to raise money for continued outreach and education. I am on the team, and I need your help to reach my goal! Your contribution will go directly to Vegan Outreach and can be made anonymously if you so choose. Check out my team profile if you would like to learn more and/ or make a contribution (which you can do directly through my page – please put my name, Jill McCullough in the comment box). I thank you in advance for any and all assistance you send through me. My current goal is to raise $200 by the end of June, but I secretly hope to exceed that goal as much as possible!

We all have so much more power than we even realize. We make so many choices every single day that either enhance or diminish life on this planet for ourselves and all beings. All it takes is a willingness to become more aware, and our positive process of empowerment will begin to unfold before our very eyes. Compassion is a choice that we can make each time we sit down to have a meal. We can contribute to a more peaceful world… one meal at a time!

Thank you so much for reading this. Peace and compassion to all!

Factory farmed Easter eggs: Pollution, health risks and animal suffering

With Easter just around the corner, eggs are flying off the shelves at the grocery store. But the story behind the eggs is an environmental and ethical nightmare.

Pollution

According to the EPA, there are approximately 450,000 factory farms or AFOs (Animal Feeding Operations) in America today. These operations keep thousands of animals in small, enclosed places, allowing them little movement throughout the day. This creates a huge amount of animal waste being produced in one area. In the past, there has been little incentive for factory farms to responsibly manage animal waste, and in fact, our political system has largely protected these farms from legal consequences of waste mismanagement.

Ammonia from animal waste seeps into our rivers and streams, killing the fish that live there. Even low levels of ammonia are highly toxic to fish. The EPA states that, “Increased amounts of nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, from AFOs can cause algal blooms which block waterways and deplete oxygen as they decompose. This can kill fish and other aquatic organisms, devastating the entire aquatic food chain.”

Further, the gases emitted by this animal waste are extremely toxic to the environment. In 2008, The Washington Post stated, “Concerns about global climate change have brought new attention to the fact that modern agriculture is responsible for about 20 percent of the nation’s greenhouse-gas production.” The emissions from the waste on these farms contribute to smog and particulates.

Health risks

Animal waste gets into our water systems and can cause severe damage. In some cases (like the 1993 Milwaukee outbreak of cryptosporidium) the waste contaminates our drinking water with microorganisms that can cause illness or death. It can also raise the nitrate level, which is dangerous for infants, and can cause Blue Baby Syndrome.

The pollutants released into the air are equally dangerous. Emissions from the animal waste and particulates stirred up by animals can cause asthma, nausea, headaches, eye and throat irritation, lung inflammation, and various respiratory diseases.

In addition to all this, factory farms have, according to The Washington Post, increased “human illnesses caused by drug-resistant bacteria associated with the rampant use of antibiotics on feedlots…”

Animal suffering

One of the most horrific attributes of factory farms is the treatment of the animals. The 300,000,000 laying hens in American farms are housed in small “battery cages.” Three to ten of them live in each cage, and the extreme stress of their living conditions can cause them to turn on each other. Because of this, most laying hens have the tips of their beaks cut off, without anesthesia. The hens also suffer from severe health problems ranging from uterine prolapse to deformed feet.

In order to produce the most eggs possible, these hens are subjected to unnatural cycles of light and dark, and a period of “forced molting” (when they are purposefully starved for 10-14 days). Most laying hens are only valuable assets for two years and two laying cycles. After that, they are slaughtered. Because the Humane Slaughter Act does not cover poultry, the chickens are not always stunned before they are killed.

The male chickens escape the two years of torture, but not without a price. Because they are useless to the industry, they are killed immediately – gassed, crushed, or thrown into shredders or plastic bags while still alive. (Click here for more information from Compassion Over Killing, and here for a disturbing video on the lives of factory chickens.)

What can you do?

Don’t support the egg industry. Buy local whenever possible. Purchase eggs from your farmer’s market or a CSA.

Check with your friends, as well. You may be surprised by the number of people who have a backyard chicken coop.

Also, take a look at Compassion Over Killing if you want to help change the practices of factory farms.

For more information on this subject, check out the documentary A River of Waste.

Reprinted from my article over at Examiner.

Eco-savvy shopping: A guide to buying healthy, ethical, eco-friendly eggs

Today’s shoppers are bombarded with labels when they enter the grocery store – especially in the egg section. Organic. Cage-free. Vegetarian-fed. All these labels seem to promise healthy eggs, laid by humanely-raised chickens, in a way that doesn’t harm the environment. But what’s the reality behind those labels?

Vegetarian-fed

This label is often accompanied by pictures of chickens happily grazing in a green pasture beneath a golden sun. Nothing could be further from the truth. In most cases, these hens are living in battery cages, like most factory-raised laying hens, often in such cramped spaces that they cannot turn around or stretch their wings. This label only tells you that their diet is vegetarian. (Most factory farm chicken feed consists of beef scraps, beef tallow, and steamed, dried and ground chicken.)

Omega-3 Enriched

This means that chickens were fed foods high in Omega-3 fats – usually flax seeds. This label alone tells the consumer nothing about the welfare of the laying hens.

Certified Humane

This label was created by the non-profit group Humane Farm Animal Care. Farms using this label allow their chickens to roam freely indoors, and engage in normal behaviors (nesting, dust bathing, etc.). Forced molting is prohibited, and nesting space must meet certain requirements. However, farms are not required to let chickens go outside, and beak cutting is permitted. This label also says nothing about the chicken’s diet. Third party auditors ensure compliance.

Cage-free / Free-range

This is perhaps the most misleading label of all. It simply means that laying hens are given access to the outdoors. It is far more humane for them to roam freely in warehouses, rather than being stuffed into cages, but they are still lacking space, eating standard factory farm diets, and are subjected to typical factory farm practices, including beak cutting. Further, there is no third party regulation.

According to Robert Plamondon, author of several books on poultry farming, “All the ‘official’ free-range systems that I’ve come across are scams, at least by my standards. …The goal is to run a factory-farm operation while getting a price premium for the ‘free-range’ label. The best way of doing this is to discourage the chickens from going outside, through the use of doors that are too few or too small, and by other methods. If only a handful of chickens actually go outside, you’ve really got a confinement operation, and can run it like any other factory farm.”

Certified Organic

While this may provide the healthiest eggs, it still may not come from well-treated chickens. This label ensures that the laying hens have not been exposed to pesticides or antibiotics. The hens have been fed a vegetarian diet, and are not caged. They are required to have some outdoor access, but there are no standards to regulate the quality and duration of their outdoor time. Additionally, according to The Humane Society of the United States, beak cutting and forced molting are permitted under the certified organic label. Like Certified Humane eggs, this label is regulated by a third party.

Other misleading labels and one forgotten truth

Labels that essentially mean nothing include “natural,” “free-roaming,” and “United Egg Producers Certified.” Also, it’s important to remember that most egg farms, regardless of the label they wear, kill male chicks, as they are useless to the egg industry. Most male chicks are killed by gassing, grinding, or suffocation.

What can you do?

Despite the seemingly hopeless picture behind these labels, there are steps you can take to become a conscientious egg consumer. First of all, buy local eggs whenever possible. Buy from your farmer’s market or check out Local Harvest to find farms near you.

Put the word out among your friends that you’re looking to buy local eggs. There are many urban farms in neighborhoods all over the country – just do some exploring and you may be surprised by what you find!

Finally, if your only option is store-bought eggs, opt for certified organic eggs. These are the healthiest for you and the environment. If you are willing to take an extra step, write to the producers of your favorite organic eggs, and ask them whether or not they practice beak cutting. Express your dissatisfaction if they do. Consumer demands have the power to change the market.

Sources

The Humane Society of the United States

TLC Cooking

Union of Concerned Scientists

Robert Plamondon

The Gorgeously Green Diet, by Sophie Uliano (book)

This post is a reprint of my article over at Examiner.