Archive for the ‘Veganism’ Category

Where do pandemics come from?

March 19, 2022

If you actually want to create pandemics, then build factory farms.

Bird Flu: A Virus of our Own Hatching, Dr Michael Gregor (2006)

While it is true that many infectious diseases that have wreaked havoc on humans have come from animals, it is not entirely the case that ending the consumption of animals would put an end to such diseases. Limiting contact with animals, even assuming they are not being consumed by humans, would be necessary to lessen the chances that viruses and other pathogens transfer between species and infect humans.

Fact check: Is COVID-19 caused by human consumption of animals?

Large scale meat production increases the pandemic risk. Here are some videos that look at various aspects of the origin of pandemics.

A great video about the history and causes of pandemics

Once in awhile I’m not misanthropic…

March 13, 2022

In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

(Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot)

I find it increasingly easy to be misanthropic now.

Climate action malaise.

Zoonotic diseases (e.g. COVID-19, Japanese Encephalitis Virus).

Rampant speciesism.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and who knows what country next.

All unnecessary. All preventable.

I find myself speaking about homo sapiens in the third person more and more, despite (obviously) being a deeply flawed member of that species.

Despite a willingness to be conciliatory, to be a glass half full kind of guy, to encourage open, honest conversation, some days, I find it really really hard to have any hope that our species will mature quickly enough to significantly mitigate the coming climate catastrophe or to avoid decades more unnecessary suffering and death of the members of many species, but especially those that members of species homo sapiens use and abuse.

Every so often though, my spirits are buoyed and hope seems possible. That happened recently, when I watched this video.

Having said that, I do tire of the us and them phrasing of the title of videos like this (“meat eater” vs “vegan”). The content is positive and respectful though.

But there will need to be many more such intellectually honest, respectful conversations, before my view of the future is likely to be significantly perturbed.

Earthling Ed and Eric have the quintessential open conversation

A brief critique of the documentary 2040

February 20, 2022

The documentary 2040 (or visual diary as it has been referred to) does a good job of putting a positive outlook on the future by emphasising solutions, things that can be done to mitigate climate change, including but not limited to local solar electricity networks, kelp farms as a future protein source, and a move away from private car ownership toward more efficient transport systems.

I’m a father too, so I understand the film maker’s desire to put his young child (daughter in this case) at the centre of the story, imagining a better world for her early adult years and beyond.

2040 – official trailer

But, as uplifting and inspiring as 2040 is, it doesn’t go nearly far enough in my view.

What bothers me about the film is how anthropocentric it is. In what follows, I give examples of how its vision falls short. I may be accused by some of being overly critical of what is an otherwise heart-felt, genuine labour of love, but so be it.

There is a section in which a farmer is interviewed and there is talk of farming practices to improve the health of the soil, which is great. But the true costs of animal agriculture in terms of emissions (comparable to the whole transport sector) and animal welfare are not really addressed.

Near the end of the film, there is a self-congratulatory comment about how much less meat people will eat by 2040. We are already seeing a trend towards eating less meat and towards other protein alternatives.

Primary-school aged children were interviewed throughout. Their insights sometimes bordered on the profound and were often more wise than the adult utterances. The kid who talked about planting a seed and getting meat was on the money, if the rise of the lab grown meat industry is anything to go by, as was the girl who liked bacon but wasn’t sure she should eat it because of its source. These are the sorts of comments that get an uncomfortable “isn’t that cute” laugh from the audience, the members of whom may more-or-less dismiss the seriousness of the points being made.

There is a rushed and insipid comment by the film maker about the existence of some nice meat alternatives as supplements (not potential replacements), but no meaningful concession to the need for a totally plant based diet, just that we should be heading toward eating more plants: a no brainer since that’s what the latest Australian Dietary Guidelines have been telling us for almost a decade anyway!

At one point the future daughter asks her off-screen father “what were you thinking” regarding our generation’s shipping of fish long distance, as opposed to “what were you thinking” by engaging in the act of industrial scale fishing at all, with its attendant destruction of the ocean environment, species population decimation and untold suffering.

The film ends with a jubilant young generation having a party, but it’s a little too soon for much celebration it would seem to me, when there is no sign that any serious attempt to tackle speciesism (arguably, a barometer of our maturity as a species) has been made, and we are in 2040 likely still too narcissistic to think much beyond the end of our collective noses.

In short, 2040 is evolutionary, not revolutionary, and to be fair, that’s consistent with the film maker’s focus on what we can do in future derived from what approaches exist today.

But I think we should want to do even better than what is proposed by 2040, if we are not only going to mitigate the worst of effects of climate change for Australia and the world in general, but also to be able to look our future selves in the mirror and consider homo sapiens worthy of a place as anything like competent stewards of this planet.

How the Woke Cancelled Wumbus

June 1, 2021
Wum is for Wumbus, my high spouting whale who lives high on a hill.

Everyone knows How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

But have you heard How the Woke Cancelled Wumbus?

Among other Seussisms, “A Chinaman who eats with sticks” (from And to think that I saw it on Mulberry Street), was recently declared to be offensive.

On March 2nd 2021, Dr. Seuss Enterprises issued this statement:

Today, on Dr. Seuss’s Birthday, Dr. Seuss Enterprises celebrates reading and also our mission of supporting all children and families with messages of hope, inspiration, inclusion, and friendship.

We are committed to action.  To that end, Dr. Seuss Enterprises, working with a panel of experts, including educators, reviewed our catalog of titles and made the decision last year to cease publication and licensing of the following titles: And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry StreetIf I Ran the Zoo, McElligot’s Pool, On Beyond Zebra!, Scrambled Eggs Super!, and The Cat’s Quizzer.  These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.

Ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises’s catalog represents and supports all communities and families.

These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.

Hmm…

You have to admit though: that Wumbus high on the hill from On Beyond Zebra! looks pretty happy.

Land rights for gay whales anyone?

A Chinaman who eats with sticks… A big magician doing tricks…

No-one uses chopsticks anymore, right?

What about the “big” magician?

Should robust magicians everywhere suddenly be up in arms as they recall their traumatic childhood being force-read Dr Seuss?

In his recent article And then they came for ON BEYOND ZEBRA!, the American linguist John McWhorter said:

The book is not only entertaining but educational, in ways that a linguist like me especially values. It gently gets across the key fact that our letters only approximately reflect the language we actually speak. Note, for example, that there is no way to indicate with an isolated letter, or even a group of letters, the sound of u in put – if you don’t see it in the word itself, no other approximation works: oughooeueugh … see how nothing works? English has 26 letters to about 43 sounds, and Zebra introduces the idea, in its goofy way, that there could theoretically be more letters. 

But now we are to see the book as some kind of controversial contraband, and why? Specifically, on one page a man of no delineated race (and thus we would declare him “white,” I assume) is riding a kind of camel and has a mustache. A building in the background seems like, if anything (which it isn’t) some kind of pagoda. The man has the billowy pantaloons we would associate with an “Arab.”

I understand, formally, the idea that this picture signals that this is a Middle Easterner. However, I cannot be honest with myself and view it as a “stereotype.” In no way does this picture ridicule the man (or the animal), and in fact, the camel is a special kind (called a Spazzim) with elaborate horns that carry assorted objects which if anything make this man a mid-twentieth century homeowner.

SPAZZ is a letter I use to spell Spazzim, a beast who belongs to the Nazzim of Bazzim. Handy for travelling. That’s why he has ‘im.

I don’t know whether Dr. Seuss Enterprises felt pressure from within or without, but the action to which it has committed itself is an example of political correctness having reached dizzying new heights lately as the word woke has become part of our language.

Wokeness speaks to a keen awareness of social and racial injustice. We hear calls to “stay angry, stay woke”. The derivation is from African vernacular meaning that someone was sleeping but now is awake (“I was sleeping but now I’m woke“).

It’s not at all impossible to relate to such an awakening…

But with wokeness has come cancel culture.

Books from Dr. Seuss, along with other classics, are being cancelled.

Now, I lean pretty far left politically and ideologically. I’m a Green voting vegan atheist. I support freedom of speech, expression, and belief.

But it is arguably precisely these things that are under threat by cancel culture!

It reminds me of the Catholic Church’s Index Librorum Prohibitorum (index of forbidden books), the Nazi book burnings, and Ray Bradbury’s Sci-Fi story Fahrenheit 451.

To be fair, in the case of Dr Seuss, cancelled in practice just means: no longer being sold, not banned, but there are still books being banned, even if only in some countries.

Nevertheless, I think we have to resist a new index of forbidden books, no matter what form it takes.

Besides, if you did want to cultivate such an index, why on earth would you stop with modern classics?

Why not go after writings about (or by?) the vindictive, jealous, zealous god of the Old Testament, to name just one holy book?

Unless you think that burning witches or stoning adulterers or killing children if they’re disrespectful or slavery or drowning most of the world’s population are acceptable acts?

Or that damning people to Hell (New Testament) because they don’t utter the right magic words is okay?

No? Well, out with a bunch of books from the Bible then too!

But what counts as harm? What counts as injustice? What should be done about it?

If you look closely, you’ll notice that cancel culture is thoroughly anthropocentric.

How ordinary. How boring. How 20th century.

Not to diminish the importance of addressing the injustices still being done to people in various parts of the world, but why stop with human injustice? Why not upgrade racism to speciesism?

Floob-Boober-Bab-Boober-Bubs: they’re no good to eat, you can’t cook ’em like steaks, but they’re handy in crossing small oceans and lakes.

It’s easy to imagine a different group of outraged people applying Seuss book bans for treating other species, even if fictional or outlandish, as things to be used. And I don’t mean Thing One and Thing Two.

Those poor old mistreated Floob-Boober-Bab-Boober-Bubs. And don’t forget that the Nazzim only has the Spazzim because he’s handy for travelling. Or how about the udder (groan; dad joke) convenience of an Umbus?

UM is for Umbus, a sort of a cow with one head and one tail. But to milk this great cow you need more than one pail.

But Seussisms encourage a playfulness with language. And the corny humour never really gets old.

All Dr Seuss characters are essentially caricatures, including the chinaman with sticks, the Spazzim, and the magician.

There will always be someone to offend in this ultra-individualistic world we’ve created.

We have to stop worrying that something we write or say might be considered offensive to some group of people in the future and instead consider writings in their historical context.

That doesn’t mean that we should set out to hurt, to deliberately offend… Of course we shouldn’t…

And of course, we should stand against harm and injustice.

Obviously…

But what’s next: no Irish jokes? No jokes that start like: a priest, a rabbi, and a buddhist monk walk into a bar…

No question should be forbidden. No topic should be taboo.

Unless you think we’re special in some sense, except to one another, irrespective of any special capabilities we may have.

And yet…

We’re better than those others in some part of the world that is not ours. Right?

We’re smarter and superior to every other species. Right?

Wrong!

We have to reimagine ourselves as being a part of nature, the very nature that we seem so keen to distance ourselves from.

Not separate from nature. Not a special creation.

On this, especially, all holy books are misguided or misinterpreted. Usually both.

We are all biased beyond belief about one thing or another.

We are all flawed in some way.

Not one of us is perfect.

We need less judgement, misdirected anger, self-righteousness certainty, talk of those other people

We need more understanding, thoughtful conversation, tolerance of difference, kindness, forgiveness…

All easier said than done, I know…

Then again…

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.

(The Lorax, Dr Seuss)

On Food Choices: clandestine caged eggs

February 6, 2021

According to the current RSPCA frequently asked questions, there are 16 million layer hens in Australia, 9 million of which are still in battery cages.

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Pexels.com

This means that 7 million hens are not in cages, but are free range (which has a broad definition), in barns, or pastured.

The numbers may be +/- 1 million or so different, depending upon which year you look.

These days consumers have a great deal of choice when purchasing a carton of eggs.

But if there are more hens in cages in Australia than in other systems, and we are seeing a decline in caged eggs on supermarket shelves, an obvious question arises: where are all the caged eggs going?

The answer? Into processed food products (e.g. baked goods) and into the hospitality industry (cafes, restaurants). Here’s what the RSPCA had to say in 2018:

An estimated eight in 10 eggs used in food service and manufacturing are cage eggs. But this is changing with many of Australia’s biggest and best-known brands responding to the expectations of their customers by ending the use or sale of cage eggs in their businesses, in favour of cage-free.

Why cage free will help end the battery cage (RSPCA)

Similar comments were made in a 2020 RSPCA podcast (see also below). So, although there is change, if you read the ingredients list on a packet and it says that it contains eggs, there’s a good chance this came from a caged hen. Likewise, if you eat out, and there is no information to the contrary, your smashed avo with egg on toast may also have come from a caged hen.

As an important aside, the RSPCA also says that in commercial systems, a hen lives for around 72 weeks before it is considered “spent” and euthanised on the farm by carbon dioxide gassing or sent to slaughter to be used for lower-quality products such as soups, stocks or pet food. Then there is the problem of male chicks that are considered a waste product to the industry and killed after hatching, since they are not of the right breed for the meat industry. Recent Australian gene technology may, if adopted by industry, be able to identify gender early, before hatching.

The ACT has already banned the caged egg system. An episode in season 2 of the RSPCA’s Humane Food podcast (the name of which is arguably a contradiction) mentioned that later this year the Australian parliament will consider a ban on caged hens. Let’s hope this comes into effect. Of course, that still leaves the rest of the industry in place, but as Christopher Hitchens might have said: it’s progress of a kind.

Vegan Vignette: B12 Though…

September 21, 2020

When I first went vegan, I was concerned that I may not be getting enough vitamin B12, the only nutrient that cannot be obtained from consuming plants. It was one of the topics I wrote about in But is it Healthy?

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

B12 can taken as a supplement (e.g. tablet, mouth spray) or by eating foods fortified with the vitamin, such as plant-based milks (e.g. some soy milks) or other foods (e.g. some brands of vegan meat substitutes).

I currently use B12 fortified soy milk daily as my regular source. I have recently switched to Oat Milk and none of the brands I have found are fortified with B12, therefore I am taking a daily sublingual 1000 mcg supplement.

Although only required in very small amounts, B12 deficiencies can lead to anaemia and nervous system damage.

I have annual blood tests that have shown my levels of this and other required nutrients to be well within the normal range.

There’s good information online about B12. You can read more in What every vegan should know about B12 or Zeuschner et al, (2013), Vitamin B12 and vegetarian diets, The Medical Journal of Australia.

See also Dr Michael Gregor’s nutritionfact.org videos on B12.

The Church and The Vaccine

September 19, 2020

We no longer have any need of a god to explain what is no longer mysterious. What believers will do now that their faith is optional and private … is a matter for them. We should not care. As long as they make no further attempt to inculcate religion by any form of coercion.

Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Spoiler alert: I am not sympathetic to religion as a source of ethics here.

In mid-2020, concern was expressed by archbishops of Sydney Catholic, Anglican and Greek Orthodox churches regarding the use of cell lines in vaccine development that originated with a human female embryo that was aborted in 1973.

Free speech is important, but given that vaccine development is hard and that many (perhaps 95%) vaccines fail in the late stages of human trials, it really matters whether this is a reasonable ethical concern.

Granted, the conversation has been more nuanced than media headlines have often suggested, as can be noted by listening to the ABC’s Religion and Ethics Report podcast.

But to what extent does this nuance translate to “the flock”?

We would do well to recall that the flock has in the past been told that the use of condoms was a sin. The Catholic Church’s stance may have moderated a little on this matter, but just think of the calamity that this one, misguided teaching has unleashed, especially upon African adherents to the faith, when AIDS was still a death sentence, compounded by poverty and unchecked population growth.

For this alone, the Catholic Church should be universally reviled, once again having proven its irrelevance to modern life and at the same time, how dangerous it still can be.

We should also remember that a mere few hundred years ago, it was much much more dangerous, when we were collectively more dim-witted and willing to cede more power to it.

That must never again be allowed to happen.

Rejecting a perfectly good vaccine candidate is a kick in the guts for the work being done by the Oxford University team and others worldwide.

Suppose it is the most effective vaccine, or less likely but not impossible, the only one that works?

If it appears that I have unduly focussed on the Catholic Church, that’s only because it makes such an easy target. Other denominations do not have a squeaky clean history either.

It’s important to understand that all ways of knowing are not equal, especially in this context.

Science and reason, not faith, are required when thinking about the fitness of a vaccine and its development process.

None of this is to say that ethical concerns don’t matter here. Of course they do. But ethics must be based upon well-thought out principles and a focus upon consequences, not ill-conceived, brittle rules, and certainly never by thinking that tradition dictates truth.

A comment by Nobel laureate and immunologist Peter Doherty in this ABC News article sums it up for me:

If [Archbishop Fisher] finds that objectionable it’s his perfect right to say so and it’s our perfect right to take absolutely no notice of him.

source: ABC News

And, it’s not as if there are no other concerns…

For example, what about animal testing in vaccine development, including for COVID-19?

As someone who thinks that no-one, human or non-human, should be used as a means to an end, it would be an understatement to say that I am ambivalent about testing vaccine candidates on animals.

But, I’ve written about such dilemmas elsewhere; there is a spectrum of concern here…

I still wear boots with suede strips that I owned before going vegan. Suede is soft skin torn from the underside of some poor dead animal. I can’t help that animal now, but every time I wear those boots, I am reminded of my error…

…and, not wishing to add insult to injury, I choose not to discard them while they are still useful, perhaps somewhat akin to the way some of our ancestors are thought to have paid their respects to the animals they killed and consumed. Needless to say, my clothing purchasing decisions now incorporate vegan principles.

In a similar way, perhaps the religious objectors to the use of a decades-old cell line could chill out, just a little, and take a similar approach.

The cell line from the embryo that was aborted 47 years ago has led to great good (an unintentional means to an end), for which we should be thankful. It is unlikely to have suffered in any meaningful way.

If only the same could be said for the animals we routinely kill en masse, because we are collectively failing to tip the balance towards a plant-based diet.

Update on Victorian Bird Flu

August 29, 2020
Source: ABC News

Further to my last post, on Aug 29 this ABC report said that:

Tens of thousands of chickens and an untold number of emus will be euthanased as Victoria battles multiple bird flu outbreaks.

As of this week, infected birds – including emus, turkeys and chickens – have been found in six poultry farms. Agriculture Victoria says three different strains of the virus have been detected, meaning that the outbreaks are not all connected.

Source: ABC News

The report goes on to say that 300,000 layer hens had already been “destroyed” and that another 40,000 will be “culled” soon. The company in question will lose one third of its flock. The financial losses are expected to be around $18 to $23 million in the 2020/2021 financial year.

I find it distasteful that the talk is always of economics and poor-bugger-me from the companies as opposed to the tragic loss of animal life, so casually disregarded and disposed of.

I mentioned the two free range chicken farm outbreaks and another on a turkey farm in my last post. This latest ABC News report says around 4,000 of the turkeys were culled, and that due to another outbreak (a different strain) on a farm with 8,000 emus, part of that farm would have to be “depopulated“.

The euphemisms are flying thick and fast…

In my last post I worried about this: If these events continue or even increase in frequency, I can’t help but wonder whether there will be calls to dismantle free range.

Well, the ABC report ends with this:

Especially with more flocks in free range setups outdoors — it’s a recipe for disaster.

If we keep letting [the farmed animals] out during this high risk time, it’ll keep spreading.

The only way is to lock up every bird.

Source: ABC News

#EndSpeciesism

Bird Flu in Victoria

August 19, 2020
source: ABC News

Victorians are going through a rough time with COVID-19 right now, moreso than anywhere else in Australia. You only have to watch the news for a short time on any given day.

Less well reported is the fact that in late July and early August 2020, around two weeks before I wrote this, two free range egg farms at Lethbridge Victoria, tested positive for bird flu, in particular, the highly pathogenic H7N7 strain of avian influenza.

The first farm was quarantined, hens were “destroyed”, and a buffer zone was established.

An ABC News article reported that this was was only the eighth outbreak of a highly pathogenic bird flu strain on an Australian poultry farm since 1976.

It also pointed out that 3 of these outbreaks have occurred in the last 8 years…

While H7N7 only rarely affects humans, those coming into direct contact with affected animals or their secretions, along with their close contacts, are at risk. At least for us, the effects are mild. Not so for the birds who contract it.

A veterinary epidemiology academic at Charles Sturt University, was quoted in the new report as saying:

Free-range production poses a higher risk because it is more likely that the virus can be introduced from wild waterfowl to domestic poultry in these types of properties when compared to conventional indoor poultry raising.

(Marta Hernandez-Jover)

The CDC currently lists H7N7 as a moderate pandemic risk.

The Australian Government’s National Pest & Disease Outbreaks website documented the H7N7 outbreak, and then a few days later, on August 10, reported a low pathogenic H5N2 avian influenza on a turkey farm, also at Lethbridge… Soon thereafter, a second turkey farm, this time in Victoria’s East Gippsland, also tested positive to H5N2.

But there are worse avian flu strains, some of which do have a serious impact upon the health of humans (e.g. H7N9), and it’s a dynamic scenario. There’s mutation, especially in the presence of large populations of animals, where evolutionary experiments can play out over short timescales…

If these events continue or even increase in frequency, I can’t help but wonder whether there will be calls to dismantle free range, in favour of barn laid or worse, a regress to caged systems; neither, a good outcome for the animals, but I can imagine it being “declared” necessary by authorities.

But this either/or of free range vs barn, would be to set up a false dichotomy.

To protect humans from the Russian Roulette of zoonotic pandemic disease risk that we are currently subjecting ourselves to, while at the same time, not subjecting untold numbers of birds to a life that is nasty, brutish and short (as Hobbes might say), there is another option…

This also applies to all the other intensive animal factory farming scenarios in which zoonotic diseases can mutate and thrive.

Yuck, that’s not meat!

May 24, 2020

A 2019 New Idea article complains that customers of some Australian supermarket chains have been “falling into the trap” of buying what they thought were meat products, only to find when they get home that they purchased plant-based products instead.

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels.com

Many have been left infuriated by what has been called ‘misleading’ product packaging when it comes to vegan ‘meat’ products.

“Infuriated”?

Is that really appropriate an appropriate emotion here?

Ooh, it’s plants! Can’t possibly eat those!

Yuck, I bought these, I didn’t realise they were meat free, they have been sat in the freezer ever since”, said one disgruntled shopper.

Yuck? Did they consider trying the product?

…it’s not like the vegan meat is in its own section – at my local they’re mixed in amongst the proper meat. I keep buying it by accident, it’s driving me nuts. The other day I bought one that said meaty on it!

“Proper meat”?

Does the person quoted understand where “proper meat” actually comes from? Would they be willing to “process” it in order to have their meal?

And, until very recently, there was a distinctly separate meat section at major Australian supermarkets…

…where only those weird vegans went.

You know, the ones who just won’t shut the hell up about why everyone should go vegan?

So annoying…

This one I don’t understand: “I keep buying it by accident”?

Huh? How?

I accidentally bought these the other day thinking they were chicken, lol they do NOT taste like chicken, but the dogs seemed to enjoy them.

Wow. Lucky dog.

Sigh…

The items pictured in the article are clearly marked as Plant-Based, literally beyond meat in one case. Umm. Yuck?

How about trying them first? The products pictured are all high in protein, easy to cook and tasty.

We in the West are spoiled for choice by the range of products to choose from, but then, this post isn’t intended to be an advert.

The subject of what meat is, and its changing definition, is a rabbit hole for another time.

It’s worth noting that even the Medical Journal of Australia (that has influenced the Australian Dietary Guidelines) acknowledges that diets dominated by plant foods are likely the way of the future.

When something tastes as good as meat, is better for you, the environment and, obviously, the animals, isn’t it reasonable to at least give it a try?