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SMART BOMBS and DUMB KIDS

By Lee Camp

(watch my YearlyKos Convention performance here)


Day after day we turn on the news to hear how much money is being poured into
Iraq. Those taxpayer dollars come out of other areas, like education. Our kids keep getting dumber while the war keeps getting longer. We have too many smart bombs and not enough smart kids. And a lot of the time those dumb kids are the ones deciding where to drop those smart bombs. And not even the Smartest bomb can compensate for the dumbest kid. I don’t care if the bomb can solve a Sodoku puzzle in 15 seconds, if it’s being helmed by a cross-eyed kid with a tattoo of Johnny Knoxville on his ass, then some sh*t is gonna get f*cked up… so to speak.

Besides, we all know smart bombs are an oxymoron. I’m not saying there aren’t times to bomb. There are, but let’s not kid ourselves into thinking explosives only hit one evil dude sitting in his office wearing a Cobra Commander costume. Bombs blow up buildings (at the least). I’ve never even seen a smart Firecracker. If you use a firecracker to blow up a cantaloupe in your front yard, it’s taking all the nearby insects with it as collateral damage. I should know – I grew up in Virginia.

You want more proof our money (not to mention our men and women) are getting misused in Iraq? A few months ago nine billion dollars went missing. Nine BILLION dollars! To help you grasp that number – That’s eight Billion dollars MORE than one Billion dollars! How does nine billion dollars go “missing?” And we’re not talking one big novelty check like they give to winners of golf tournaments. We’re talking PALLETS of dollar bills, literally TONS of money. Someone had to fill several tractor trailers with money and drive off. And they weren’t even wearing ski masks because it’s too hot for that in Iraq.

Want more proof our money is being thrown away? I just saw a report about the new million dollar robot the military is using in Iraq. Apparently three of them are already over there. They basically look like a lawnmower with a semi-automatic weapon attached to it, or a much less friendly version of Johnny 5 from “Short Circuit.” These robots are controlled by soldiers who are about a mile away looking at a monitor on a computer. Thank God the military finally removed from the equation such useless human characteristics like nervousness, empathy, and compassion!

During the report they showed the screen the soldier was using to control his military version of the Furby. It was a blurry video reminiscent of a Paris Hilton sex tape, and he was expected to decide whether the blob-like figures on the video should be murdered by a robot. As far as I could tell, the soldier was directing the robot to destroy either a terrorist or a fruit stand.

So we’ve got 18 year-olds looking at a computer screen in the safety of the Green Zone and blowing things up several miles away. I think the final step is to not even tell the soldiers that it’s real. Tell them they’re playing "Halo" or "Grand Theft Auto." Then you’ll REALLY see some chaos.

And even if the robot were reliable, could you imagine a kid from Kentucky receiving a box of robot parts with Ikea instructions telling him how to hook the grenade launcher on with an alan key? Great, so the only thing between a functional robot and one that sprays Samurai throwing stars everywhere is a kid with a wrench and a picture of a frowny face next to the drawing of the grenade launcher attached upside down.

I can’t wait for that news report: “Yeah, it was a little exciting there when we found out the accelerator button causes throwing stars and the throwing star button causes acceleration. But don’t worry, we fixed the problem. Now there’s a Post-It note on the control reminding us they’re backwards. And that robot must have about a gajillion throwing stars because it did Not run out at all. Luckily no one got hurt. But we F*cked UP a camel! Fur everywhere.”

I think the only thing the military’s worried about is whether the robots have the creativity necessary to stack Iraqis in naked pyramids. That takes outside-the-box thinking.

In the report I watched, the military people also kept talking about the robot being great for the “front lines.” What front lines?? What war are you talking about?? Spanish American? 1812 maybe?? There’s no front lines anymore. It’s a guy with dynamite strapped to his crotch walking into a crowded Mosque. How’s the death lawnmower going to handle that? Unless you’ve got a robot that does cavity searches, you’re screwed. You need humans with the gentle touch necessary for caring and friendly cavity searches.

>>>>> To watch Lee's performance at YearlyKos, go here. To get more stuff by him, go to www.LeeCamp.net and www.SharkBaby.com <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

LET’S ASK MARION: IS THERE A ROAD MAP TO BETTER ROAD FOOD?

(With a click of her mouse, EatingLiberally’s kat corners Dr. Marion Nestle, NYU professor of nutrition and author of Food Politics and What to Eat:)

kat: We New Yorkers are spoiled by our access to a terrific Greenmarket, four Whole Foods stores, and plenty of mom-and-pop health food shops where we can stock up on quinoa, kohlrabi, and kombu. It’s only when we venture beyond our native habitat, as we did last week to attend the Yearly Kos convention in Chicago (where you were gracious enough to participate in our panel on sustainable agriculture) that I realize how few options most Americans have when it comes to making healthier food choices.

The closest we came to "healthy" were the baked Lay’s potato chips at the Teamsters cookout on Saturday, and the excellent dinner we enjoyed in Chinatown. The rest of the foods available to us, whether on Amtrak or at the convention, were heavy on saturated fats, salt, added sugars, and empty carbs, with nearly zero nutrients or fiber.

Even the garden burger I ordered on Amtrak was fried. At the convention and on the train, potatoes were practically the only vegetable, in the form of chips, or a mayonnaise-soaked potato salad, or French fries. Whole grains? Wholly absent. Fruits fared a little better, but not much.

And all across America, this is apparently the norm, outside of a few ethicurean enclaves. Non-meat options are nearly non-existent, and if you’re trying to avoid animal fats for health reasons, you’re really out of luck—the vegetarian options all seem to revolve around eggs and cheese. What good does it do for the USDA, and nutritionists like yourself, and activists like me, to keep telling folks to eat more wholesome, unprocessed foods when they’re not even an option in so many places? What will it take for consumers to have a real choice?

Dr. Nestle: This is a tough one. I’ve been spending a lot of time at airports all over the country. Nearly all of them have salads and sandwiches but they are the same everywhere—soggy and tasteless. In desperation, I’ll get some nuts, a banana, a container of yogurt, and an empty drink cup to mix them in, but the nuts are always saltier than I like and the yogurt invariably over-sweetened. Alas.

I had a great breakfast of oatmeal and fresh berries at the convention hotel—a gift from the manager to compensate for the four wake-up calls I got during the night but hadn’t asked for--but the bill was something like $18. So the choice is between eating things that ought to be fresh, but aren’t, or paying a fortune. No wonder people like fast food--you know exactly what you are getting, you get plenty of calories (that’s the problem, of course), and you can afford it.

But it wasn’t all that long ago that New Yorkers couldn’t get anything decent to eat outside of pricey restaurants, and the older supermarkets in my Manhattan neighborhood are still pretty dismal. Farmers’ markets, Whole Foods, and some of those health food stores prove that good food can be provided at a reasonable price--if there is a market for it. So I say, complain! Exercise personal responsibility and complain loudly and repeatedly to store managers.

But at the same time promote social responsibility and complain to community officials. Tell store managers you expect better quality food and are willing to pay for it. Tell them you don’t want to hear any excuses from suppliers. But then do some complaining at the policy level. Get your town to make it possible for farmers markets and specialty stores to open and flourish. Invite food entrepreneurs to open businesses and help them get started. Work with agricultural extension services to make sure poor people have access to better food. The government runs Amtrak—so those complaints have to go to the agency in charge. Once people have better food, there’s no going back, so you have to start someplace. Otherwise, as American travelers have learned all too quickly, you have to boycott what’s there and bring your own food with you.

BOARD THE EAT WELL BIO-FUELED BANDWAGON, MAKING ALL LOCAL STOPS!

Guest bloggers Melissa and Larry Jordan

(Sustainable Table, a non-profit organization that highlights the dark side of industrial agriculture and builds community through sharing fresh, wholesome foods, is hitting the road in a bio-fueled bus to go coast-to-coast making stops at some of our nation's most sustainable farms and restaurants, and seeking out America’s best pies. Guest bloggers Melissa and Larry Jordan covered the road trip’s launch for Eating Liberally:)

Swimming pools! Movie stars! Well, not exactly, but I’m sure Jed and Jethro would have been beaming with delight at the launch of Sustainable Table’s “Eat Well Guided Tour of America” last Thursday at Kings Road Park in West Hollywood.

Diane Hatz, the organization's Founder/Director, is traveling across country with her crew of real-food revivalists on a big green bio-fueled bus in search of the best pie ever. Passing through more than 25 cities, the team will stop along the way to celebrate healthy, homegrown foods with farmers and chefs who promote sustainable cuisine. The tour, which wraps up on September 9th in New York City at the Farm Aid Concert on Randall's Island, has a daily blog for those interested in following Sustainable Table’s adventures.

Diane warmly received visitors and shared the positive encounters they’ve already experienced in the early phases of the tour. "There are more sustainable practices going on than people realize and we just want to expose the world to it. We received more support than we expected from the communities we contacted also."

Sustainable Table's “Eat Well Guide” is a rapidly growing web directory which enables the public to easily search for farmers, restaurants, stores, B&B’s, caterers and more who sell or provide sustainable and local meat, poultry, dairy and eggs in the United States and Canada. Sustainable Table also created and produced the award winning “The Meatrix Trilogy”. These are hip, smart, funny Flash animation shorts that spoof The Matrix films--the perfect introduction to some of the biggest threats we face from industrial ag.

But back to the celebrities! Traveling with the tour are those cute and lovable toons from the Meatrix: the perky porcine hero Leo, and his trusty farm sidekicks--Moopheus the Ray-Ban clad cow and Chickity, Leo’s love interest and, well, the chicken.

This and several other stops on the tour are being hosted by the good people at Food & Water Watch, a sister organization of Sustainable Table, dedicated to ensuring we have access to fresh, safe and healthy food; protecting our oceans; alerting the public to the lack of seafood inspections; and keeping our public water supply public.

Enjoying a summer day in the shady park, D.C.-based Executive Director Wenonah Hauter and senior organizer C. Noelle Ferdon from San Francisco greeted people and shared their insights into the problems arising from poor federal regulation of food labeling and inspection. Currently, the Food & Drug Administration only inspects 1% of the food they are responsible for inspecting, which includes all foods except red meat and poultry.

"People need to be food aware and gain more control over what we eat and drink.” Hauter told us, adding, “This is especially true since almost half of the food we eat now is imported. We really need country-of-origin labeling, so that people know where their food has been produced. Unfortunately, agribusiness and the giant food processors have been able to delay this from happening. Currently, only seafood in grocery stores is labeled with its country-of-origin. Last year, 81% of the seafood we ate was imported, but if you bought seafood at a restaurant or a seafood market--no labeling was required."

Hauter believes the public needs to be informed so that everyone has access to healthy food; a two-tiered food system, whereby only the "better off and better informed" folks are educated about food being a profit center for large multinational corporations, is unacceptable and threatens the safety and quality of foods served in less affluent households across the country. Food and Water Watch is "working to create a food system that produces nutritious and healthy food for consumers, keeps the environment safe, and allows family farms to survive."

The launch lunch was graciously catered by Evan Kleiman, Chef/Owner of Angeli Caffé on Melrose Avenue and Host of KCRW’s “Good Food.” Kleiman was on hand to oversee the lunch and chat with the guests, who were treated to heirloom tomatoes, mozzarella and basil with a garlicky parmesan vinaigrette over locally grown greens. A beautiful and tasty roasted beet and fennel salad alongside a zucchini frittata showcased what Kleiman does best: simple, comforting food as well as "…streamlined rusticity for the sophisticated palate." Friendly catering staff noted that Angeli Caffé incorporates locally produced food into the menu. Kleiman is also the California Governor of Slow Food, leads culinary trips to Italy throughout the year, and continues her commitment to educating the public on food sustainability issues through her appearances and the radio show.

Amelia Saltzman was there signing copies of her new book, The Santa Monica Farmer’s Market Cookbook. Sustainable farmer Jim Churchill, who grows tangerines and avocados at his Ojai orchard, gave us samples of his magnificent pixie tangerines while his wife/partner Lisa Brennis screened clips from her latest film, “Eat at Bill’s", a documentary about Bill Fujimoto and his pioneering work for family farmers at the Monterey Market. Farmers market “legend” Alex Weiser, as the LA Weekly has dubbed him, brought some beautiful sustainably grown heirloom carrots, potatoes and melons.

Why kick off the road tour in Hollywood? Why not? Hollywood, much like the rest of the country, has lost many of its individually owned businesses and become depressingly corporatized over the last 20 years. Long gone are tinsel town’s maverick, pioneering founders; it’s now run by a handful of mega-monolithic corporations (General Electric, Time Warner, Viacom, Disney and Rupert Murdoch’s FOX) who force feed their wares (advertising and the swaying of public opinion) down our collective throats.

Most insidiously, in its never ending zeal for profit, the “entertainment” industry has made a Faustian bargain with almost every major industrial food provider to exploit our children’s eating habits with advertising onslaughts that “tie-in” their digitally created mice, ogres and superheroes with some of the biggest offenders in the Super-Sizing of our food systems. The Eat Well Guided Tour of America stands as a small but wonderful antidote to this. So it’s entirely appropriate that this tour got off to a heavenly start in the city of angels.

 

LEARN TO SERVE UP A TASTIER SOUNDBITE

We women were once encouraged to learn to cook because “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” I’m telling you all today, whether you’re male, female or some combination thereof, that we progressives need to learn to cook up more palatable campaigns, because the way to a voter’s heart is through his guts, according to Drew Westen.

Westen, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at Emory University, has written a must-read book, The Political Brain: the Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation. I was lucky enough to hear Westen speak at a standing-room-only workshop he gave at Yearly Kos entitled “Extreme Makeover: How to Put Emotion into the Emotionally Barren Language of the Left.” I left the workshop convinced that if our candidates would only listen to this funny, brilliant man, we could really win.

Howard Dean thinks so, too. Dean gave a fantastic, fired-up keynote speech at Yearly Kos last Thursday night, and he’s clearly taken to heart Westen’s message that we need to appeal to voters’ emotions. I know Dean’s read Westen’s book, ‘cause he’s got a blurb on the back of it that ends, ”In 2008 we will win the presidency if our candidate reads and acts on this book.”

Westen’s book proves that Stephen Colbert’s truthiness is no joke. Conservatives win by appealing to voters on a visceral level, while liberals lose by relying on rational, Spock-like arguments based on reason. We might as well be on another planet; isn’t it high time we phoned home and actually connected with voters?

Colbert got it right:

I’m no fan of dictionaries or reference books. They’re elitist, constantly telling us what is or isn’t true, or what did or didn’t happen…Doesn’t taking Saddam out feel like the right thing? Right here, here in the gut? Because that’s where the truth comes from, ladies and gentlemen: the gut. Do you know you have more nerve endings in your stomach than in your head? Look it up.

Now, somebody’s gonna say, “I did look that up, and it’s wrong.” Well, mister, that’s ‘cause you looked it up in a book. Next time, try looking it up in your gut. I did, and my gut tells me that’s how our nervous system works.”

And that’s how our political system works, too, for better or worse. You may want to change the world, but if your message is unappetizing, people are not going to swallow it. And we’ve allowed conservatives to demonize the word “liberal” to such a degree that it evokes all kinds of unappealing associations despite the fact that a significant number of Americans actually hold pretty progressive values. If you allow the other party to define you, you’re dead in the water. If you rely on dry facts and figures, you’re gonna run aground.

Westen writes:

When you hear a campaign operative express some version of, “We’ve got them beat on the issues,” you know you’re on the dispassionate river, and you know the candidate is going under.

It is time for those on the left to dam the dispassionate river, and to focus on navigating and channeling the emotional currents of the passionate political brain.

I collared Westen on his way out of the workshop to ask if he could help me hone my remarks for the panel on sustainable agriculture I was participating in the next day. He generously offered to read my speech, which would have been terrific if I had actually finished writing it, but in any case, he gave me some great tips and his presentation inspired me to be a more passionate and effective speaker.

Let’s face it, telling folks to eat more fruits and vegetables is a pretty hard sell, and trying to get people worked up about the farm bill? Now, that’s a really tough row to hoe. But if anyone’s got the tools to make these tasks easier, it’s Westen. Whatever your cause may be, The Political Brain will give you the insight into the human brain that will help you win hearts, minds, and, most critically, votes. Devour this book, and digest it. It will change the way you go about trying to change the world—and give you a fighting chance to actually do so.

WEEKEND BLOGGER CONFERENCE BLOGGING

Matt and I are currently at the Yearly Kos convention in Chicago along with most of our Living Liberally colleagues. Ironically, being at a blogger convention has gotten in the way of doing any actual blogging.

There have been some terrific speakers and wonderful workshops I’d like to write more about later, but in the meantime, here’s the text of the remarks I made this morning at a panel on sustainable agriculture that I had the honor of organizing and appearing on, along with Dr. Marion Nestle, Tom Philpott of Grist, and Daily Kos’s foremost food activist, Jill Richardson, aka OrangeClouds115:

Eating is a political act whether you know it or not, and our website’s mission is to see to it that more of you know it than not. Eating Liberally grew organically out of Drinking Liberally, which, as many of you know, is a nationwide network of progressive social clubs where liberals can get together to share a pint and promote democracy. We’re thrilled to be part of the Living Liberally crew which is dedicated to creating communities for liberals where we can eat, drink, share great books and movies and just hang out with our fellow progressives.

I’d like to take a moment to thank my mentor Justin Krebs and all my Living Liberally colleagues for their inspiration and support, as well as my fellow kossacks: Claire Silberman, Natasha Chart, and, of course, our moderator, Jill, aka OrangeClouds, who is willing to do whatever it takes to get you guys excited about the farm bill, including using pictures of naked chicks in her diaries.

Thanks also to Marion for being Big Food’s biggest gadfly, to Tom for being the Mac generation’s Johnny Appleseed, and thanks also to Gina Cooper and her tireless team for making this entire event possible and giving me the opportunity to put together this panel on a subject I’m passionate about: climate change.

I know, you thought this panel was going to be all about food, and it is—it’s about greenhouse gases and food, which are shackled together as tightly as the White House is to Fox news.

And unless you get your news from Fox, you know that climate change is, in fact, a real crisis. What you may not know is that the way we produce our food creates more greenhouse gas emissions than the cars we drive. I say “we” even though I don’t drive myself, and my husband Matt—with whom I co-founded Eating Liberally—doesn’t even have a driver’s license. Because we live in New York City, we have the luxury of relying on mass transit and our own two feet, unlike most Americans.

Our motto at Eating Liberally is “free yourself from the fossil fuel food chain,” and you can do that by switching to a “low carbon diet.” Forget about counting carbs—start counting your food miles, and skip the asparagus from Peru. Eat less meat, because industrial livestock production is a total resource hog and a prodigious polluter. So if you really want to fight global warming, you’ll get more mileage from a plant-based diet than a Prius.

One of my favorite peak oil prophets, James Howard Kunstler, likes to say that the American suburb is “the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world.” Kunstler predicts that we’re going to run out of gas and face food shortages that will force us to grow our own food the way we did back in World War II, when our government told us it was our civic duty to plant victory gardens.

After 9/11, the president told us it was our civic duty to shop. Our troops are dying to defend a way of life that—if the rest of the world chose to emulate it--would require the resources of roughly five planet Earths.

I read an AP story a couple of weeks ago about how Americans use twice as much toilet paper as Europeans do, so apparently we can’t even wipe our asses as efficiently.

One of the strangest things about conservatives is how so many of them oppose conservation. Jimmy Carter put solar panels on the White House roof; Ronald Reagan ripped them down. Dick Cheney once said that people should feel free to use as much electricity as they like, so long as they can pay for it. Ann Coulter is convinced that low flush toilets are a liberal conspiracy to deprive Americans of a sufficiently robust flush.

And let’s not forget Tom Delay, the exterminator who felt compelled to get into politics because he felt that pesticides were over regulated. In his new memoir, he blames Rachel Carson, whose book Silent Spring pretty much launched the environmental movement, for the loss of “thousands, if not millions of human lives,” presumably by depriving the world of DDT.

So while our commander in chief and his cronies insist that it’s patriotic to buy made-in-China consumer crap, and that it’s our god-given right to waste energy and water and saturate our surroundings with pesticides and all kinds of toxic chemicals, I believe we have a civic duty to our fellow Americans and our global neighbors to preserve our planet and lay the foundation for a future where kids everywhere can eat a decent diet and have a safe place to play.

Our recipe for curbing your carbon footprint consists of the three “C’s”: conservation, consumption, and compassion. Practice conservation, reduce consumption, and show compassion for the planet and all its creatures.

Get a rain barrel to save your water for those non-rainy days, and compost your kitchen scraps instead of sending them to the landfill. Carpool, ride your bike, or use mass transit whenever you can. Don’t buy stuff you don’t need, and when you do need to make a purchase, buy products that are sustainably manufactured, if you can find them and afford them. Get stuff secondhand, and when you’re ready to get rid of something that might be useful to someone else, freecycle it. Remember, garbage is a relatively new invention—before the 20th century, there was no such thing, because every scrap of food or wood or paper or whatever was somehow put to use.

Boycott factory farmed meats and poultry, not just because they’re an institutionalized form of torture that no civilized nation should tolerate, but also because they are one of the most egregious polluters. Avoid processed foods brought to you by industrial agriculture if you can, for your own well-being as well as the earth’s. As New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof noted, trans fats kill far more Americans than Al Qaeda manages to.

I don’t see that the War on Terror is making us any safer, but I do know that a war on terrible food could make us a hell of a lot healthier. And the planet, too. Help save the family farms, and the family farmers will help save us.

LET’S ASK MARION: DO WE REALLY NEED SCIENTIFICALLY ENGINEERED “SUPERFOODS”?

(With a click of her mouse, EatingLiberally’s kat corners Dr. Marion Nestle, NYU professor of nutrition and author of Food Politics and What to Eat:)

kat: The annual Institute of Food Technologists convention just unveiled the latest batch of "nutraceutical" novelty foods, such as brain-boosting brownies and cheese cubes that strengthen your immune system. Meanwhile, fruits and vegetables are loaded with all kinds of phytonutrients and antioxidants that provide the same benefits (or better) naturally.

So why do food scientists devote so much effort and expense to fabricating these things? I'm not saying that a cholesterol-lowering yogurt isn't a boon to mankind, but wouldn't it be easier to, you know, eat more fruits, whole grains, and vegetables?

Dr. Nestle: Ah yes. Miracles of food technology. This is about marketing food products, not health. If you are in the food business, your job is to make money. If your company is publicly traded, your job is to make money for stockholders and you have to please Wall Street--or else. As I'm constantly repeating, we already have 3900 calories a day available in our food supply for every man, woman, and child in the country--roughly twice what we need. So the competition is absurd.

What to do? Make new junk foods because the ingredients are cheap and you can add lots of value. But how to distinguish one product from another? Make them look healthy. So food technologists work hard to create products that might have some small health benefit--if people eat enough of the products AND make sure the rest of their diet is healthy. Best of all, companies can advertise the "improved" junk foods with health claims, and health claims are well established to help sell foods.

It's hard to add value to fruits and vegetables and whole grains and one carrot is much like another so you can't get added value out of the brand. This is really all about marketing. And you don't need food products to eat healthfully. You know my mantra: eat less, move more, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and don't eat too much junk food (even if it has a health claim).

The Liberal Question

People from around the country ask the Democratic Presidential candidates if they are in fact 'liberals'.

L.C. GOES TO D.C. TO CONVENE WITH COW HUGGERS

(Last weekend the Humane Society sponsored a conference in DC called Taking Action for Animals, so we sent L.C., the Liberally cow, to find out what her human allies are up to these days. L.C. gingerly tapped out the following dispatch on an iPhone, that ingenious device so user-friendly that even a fictitious bovine mascot can write long e-mails on it:)

Dear Matt & Kat,

I am still trying to digest everything that I saw and heard at this awesome conference—as you know, we ruminants tend to, well, ruminate. It was such a thrill to be surrounded by so many two-footed herbivores fighting on behalf of my fellow farm animals. And the food! I never knew tempeh could be so tasty. How come you guys can’t make it like that?

The folks who organized this conference bent over backwards to curb its carbon hoofprint. They provided pitchers of tap water and drinking glasses instead of bottled water, and served delicious vegan meals buffet style with real plates, silverware and cloth napkins instead of doling out the usual doleful fare in disposable containers and plastic utensils. Swanky and sustainable!

I’m delighted to report that there’s an alliance brewing between the animal rights activists, the environmentalists, and the nutritionists--everyone was talking about how industrial agriculture is such a huge contributor to global warming and the obesity epidemic. Michael Jacobson, the founder and executive director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, gave a talk entitled “Eating Green—for Ourselves, the Planet and Animals,” in which he said, “We’re all making progress working in our respective spheres; we could make much faster progress working together.”

And Representative Chris Shays (R-Conn.) noted, “Global warming isn’t the only inconvenient truth we need to confront.” He was talking about the fact that the world is consuming more meat than ever at a time when the single best thing people could do to help themselves, the planet, and critters like me would be to switch to a plant-based diet.

Now, I know you guys think it’s a step in the right direction just getting us cows back on a plant-based diet, eating the grass our digestive tracts were designed for instead of corn, corn, and more corn (btw, why is everybody so perplexed about the obesity epidemic? Big Ag switched us to grain in the first place ‘cause it fattens you up faster. People keep pumping kids full of corn-based by-products and cooping them up indoors; why not just keep ‘em in a feedlot?)

You “ethicureans” are so convinced that going grass-fed is a big improvement over the factory farms, and if I were an actual cow as opposed to a made-up mascot, I would so definitely prefer to be pasture-raised. Because what goes on inside those CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations) makes Abu Ghraib look like a picnic. The factory farms cram us into tiny, squalid spaces that leave us so constricted we can barely breathe—not that you’d really want to, anyway, with all the foul odors emanating from the manure and urine we stand around in all day. It’s enough to make you sick, and it does; that’s why they have to use so many antibiotics to combat all the diseases we get. They use growth hormones, too, to make us grow bigger, faster.

They dock the pigs’ tails, sear off the cows’ horns, and hack off the chickens’ beaks--and all without any anesthetic, too. OK, so we can’t speak, but we can feel, you know? This kind of stuff is torture, pure and simple. We are living, breathing, SENTIENT beings, but industrial agriculture treats us like commodities to be manipulated for maximum efficiency, so all these barbaric practices are just business as usual (most of this stuff is illegal in Europe, btw.)

At least the grass farmers let their pigs, cows and chickens frolic and forage outside, and do the stuff we like to do, like roll around on the ground and chew the cud with our buds. But there was a faction of passionate vegans at this conference for whom, to quote Herbivore, the hipster purveyor of pro-vegan merchandise, “There is no such thing as humane meat.” And that’s why it got kinda ugly during the Q & A following a panel of grass-fed farmers, including Nicolette Hahn Niman of Niman Ranch fame.

Nicolette had shown some almost preposterously pastoral photos of contented cows grazing on Niman Ranch’s gorgeous ocean front ranch in Northern California. Looked like a nice slice of La Dolce Vita most livestock would die to have, even if it meant ultimately getting slaughtered, however “humanely.” But when Jenny Brown from the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary stepped up to the mic to ask a question, she expressed her outrage that the Humane Society had even invited folks like Nicolette to participate in an animal rights conference:

“You people are like another species, you have such a disconnect from these animals. And you talk about how you love them, and you respect them…all these animals are gonna be killed because they taste good, and because these people continue to exploit and profit from their flesh, their fiber…are we not more abolitionist, do we turn our cause to bigger cages and not empty cages? I think it’s shameful.”

Ouch. You can see how the Humane Society could get gored on the horns of this dilemma. I mean, no matter how nice the livestock lifestyle at Niman Ranch, at the end of the day the cows are still gonna get slaughtered. And savored.

But roughly 97% of Americans are meat eaters, and even if half of them went vegetarian, you’d still be left with a whole lotta meat eaters. Given the atrocities the CAFOs commit on a daily basis, the Humane Society’s support for humanely raised meats seems to offer the best hope for encouraging more Americans to boycott the factory farms.

As Kim Severson noted in the New York Times last week, animal rights activists “have learned that with less stridency comes more respect and influence in food politics. So they no longer concentrate their energy on burning effigies of Colonel Sanders and stealing chickens. They don’t demonize meat — with the exception of foie gras and veal — or the people who produce it. Instead, they use softer rhetoric, focusing on a campaign even committed carnivores can get behind: better conditions for farm animals.”

The Humane Society’s approach revolves around the 3 R’s: “refinement of farming techniques, reducing meat consumption and replacement of animal products.” Severson points out that this tactic is paying off, with lots of legislative successes on behalf of farm animals in recent months and a growing awareness and acceptance of the animal rights movement in mainstream culture.

How factory farms ever came to be the norm is beyond me. I may be just a cartoon cow, but there’s nothing comical about the way the CAFOS abuse farm animals. And as the New York Times reported yesterday, the biotech industry’s busy tweaking our genes to create all kinds of genetically altered animals that supposedly solve all kinds of problems, like pigs who produce less-polluting poop, or faster growing piglets.

I may be an uddered luddite, but I wish people would stop tinkering with us and treating us like widgets. As Gandhi said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” On that scale, you guys have a long way to go.

BETTER KNOW A BUTCHER

Otto Von Bismark, Germany’s “Iron Chancellor,” famously said “Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made.”

Better for whom? The legislators and butchers who have something to hide? If the process of making laws—or sausages—is so revolting, maybe we should ask ourselves why that is, instead of sheepishly swallowing larded legislation and wolfing down pork products from parts unknown.

After decades of making deals in dark, smoke-filled backrooms, our politicians have been thrust, blinking, into the glare of CSPAN, YouTube, and Comedy Central. During the CNN/YouTube debate last week, a handful of “ordinary” Americans got to question the Democratic candidates directly. Their questions were pointed and poignant, unlike the usual beltway blather the anchors like to lob. (The candidates’ answers were, alas, pretty much business as usual.)

Now, if only we could eliminate the MSM from our sausage, too. As in, “Mechanically Separated Meat”--defined by the USDA as “a paste-like and batter-like meat product produced by forcing bones, with attached edible meat, under high pressure through a sieve or similar device to separate the bone from the edible meat tissue.”

Bits of gristle and connective tissue may, technically, be edible, and MSM is a boon to manufacturers looking for cheap filler to bulk up their product, but who really wants to eat that stuff? Concerns about mad cow disease forced the USDA to ban the use of MSM beef back in 2004, but MSM pork is still permitted, and hot dogs may contain as much as 20% MSM.

And those ground beef patties you buy at the supermarket are a veritable melting pot of mystery meats, made from countless cows from potentially half a dozen different countries. No wonder the meat industry doesn’t want to see Country of Origin Labeling implemented. In fact, they lobbied to get a less rigorous standard into the current farm bill—you know it’s gotta suck when the National Pork Producers Council gives it the thumbs up.

If you want to buy burgers and hot dogs that aren’t adulterated by scraps of sinew and gristly globs, try the Japanese concept of “teikei,” which translates loosely as "food with the farmer's face on it." In other words, get your meats directly from local farmers or the butchers who source their meats from those farmers. “Grass farmers” let their livestock graze on pasture the way nature intended them to, and because they don’t confine their animals in close, disease-breeding quarters, they don’t need to rely on all the hormones and antibiotics the factory farms use in the name of “efficiency.” And they don’t pump their products full of fillers and chemicals, either.

But what if you aren’t lucky enough to live near a farmers’ market, or a butcher shop that sources its meats locally? Look for products from companies like Niman Ranch or Applegate Farms, who rely on a network of small family farms to provide them with their products. It’s the next best thing to local.

Best of all, of course, would be to eat no meat at all. But some of us (cough, cough) aren’t ready to go that route. So we’re glad we can get biodynamic beef and hot dogs that aren’t contaminated by MSM and other unpalatable by-products. If we wanted scraps of crap ground up and passed off as fit for consumption, we’d get our news from Fox.

FARMERS WIN A ROUND AGAINST ROUNDUP

Oh, the pleasure, the glee, nay, the schadenfreude it gives me to announce that, in the words of Progressive Moderate over at Daily Kos, “Monsanto has just had its ass handed to it.”

Four Monsanto patents for genetically modified crops have been rejected by the United States Patent and Trademark Office on the grounds that Monsanto has been using the patents “to harass, intimidate, sue - and in some cases literally bankrupt - American farmers.”

Monsanto’s been using these patents to file patent infringement lawsuits against farmers who can’t afford to hire adequate legal counsel to defend themselves. The farmers’ alleged crime? Saving their seeds from the last year’s crop to plant the next season’s, as farmers have done since, well, forever.

How does this constitute patent infringment? Because Monsanto’s GMO crops have a nasty habit of trespassing and tainting non-GMO crops. And Monsanto has an equally nasty habit of sending private investigators to snatch seed samples from non-GMO farmers to test for evidence that the farmers have “stolen” Monsanto’s patented seeds.

Take the case of Percy Schmeiser, a seventy-five year old Canadian canola farmer whose case has been well documented (see, for starters, Schmeiser's own website, or Deborah Koons Garcia’s documentary The Future of Food or Sandor Katz’s book The Revolution Will Not be Microwaved.)

Schmeiser’s non-GMO canola crop was contaminated by Monsanto’s Roundup Ready canola when the winds carried pollen from neighboring farms that were growing the patented, genetically modified canola. Monsanto sued Schmeiser for patent infringement and demanded monetary damages.

As Katz describes it, Monsanto’s lawsuit was an attempt to force Schmeiser to “pay for the privilege of having his seeds contaminated.”

Incredibly, Monsanto won, although the Canadian Supreme Court later ruled, magnanimously, that Schmeiser hadn’t actually profited from copyright infringement and therefore owed no monetary damages.

Monsanto allocates a big chunk of change—$10 million in 2005, according to the Center for Food Safety--just to prosecute (or, really, persecute) farmers, filing ninety lawsuits of this nature against farmers in twenty-five states in that year alone.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office determined that Monsanto was not entitled to any of the patents based on evidence submitted by the Public Patent Foundation, a not-for-profit legal services organization. The Ag-Ip-News Agency quoted PUBPAT's Executive Director Dan Ravicher:

“We are extremely pleased that the Patent Office has agreed with us that Monsanto does not deserve these patents that it has used to unfairly bully American farmers. Hopefully, this is the beginning of the end of the harm being caused to the public by Monsanto's aggressive assertion of these patents, which threatens family farms and a diverse American food supply."

But the threat extends well beyond the boundaries of our own family farms. Monsanto is in fact out to control the world’s seed supply, aided and abetted by our own government, and that’s not just me talking out of my tinfoil hat.

As Katz documents in The Revolution Will Not be Microwaved, investigative reporter Greg Palast dug up State Department documents from February 2003--a month before we invaded Iraq--that suggest a strategy was already in place to use seed and plant patents to undermine Iraqi farmers’ self-sufficiency and force them to depend on “the high tech global seed market, while imposing the legal framework to permanently disempower local farmers,” as Katz writes.

Oh, and by the way? In the processing of democratizing Iraq by way of bombs and brutality, we managed to wipe out the bulk of Iraq’s seed stocks, resulting, according to an FAO report, “in the loss of almost all generations of seeds of all crops.” We did the same thing in Afghanistan, too, although I guess we overlooked the poppy seeds.

So forgive me for gloating over Monsanto’s misfortune. Here’s hoping it’s a sign of a sea change that’s not too late to stop our amber waves of grain from going GMO.

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