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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.

LET’S ASK MARION: DOES NUTRITION EDUCATION DESERVE AN “F” FOR “FRUITLESS?”

(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: Nutrition education’s a total bust, according to a recent AP report. Supposedly, our government will spend more than $1 billion this year to fund programs designed to get kids eating more fruits and vegetables, but the AP reviewed 57 such programs and found that most of them failed: "Just four showed any real success in changing the way kids eat--or any promise as weapons against the growing epidemic of childhood obesity."

What's your diagnosis? Is nutrition education a waste of money, a la abstinence-only sex education? Can we win the war on blubber?

Dr. Nestle: I hardly know where to begin on this but let's start with the $1 billion figure. Where did that come from? The last I heard, the federal government spent $2-3 million--a tiny fraction of a billion--on nutrition education for the public and that was for the now obsolete 5-A-Day campaign. When that campaign started in California, it worked pretty well to raise the number of fruits and vegetables purchased in that state, but only as long as the advertising continued.

The same was true of the campaign run by Center for Science in the Public Interest to encourage people to choose 1% or no-fat milk. So if you don't have ongoing funding for such campaigns, the benefits slack off after a while. This is no surprise. It's why food marketers spend $10 billion or so every year just to push junk foods and beverages on TV or the Internet (and about twice that much on other forms of marketing). My current favorite: the $24 million Kellogg spent in 2006 just for media promotion of one product: Cheez-Its.

I suppose some of the government’s hypothetical billion goes to the Department of Health and Human Services campaign using Shrek to encourage kids to be more active (but not to stop eating foods with Shrek on the packages). I’m just back from Australia where supermarkets were packed with Shrek-labeled junk foods. The side panel of one such cereal promoted the “goodness of vegetables.” The cereal O’s were bright green so I guess kids could pretend they were vegetables.

But I digress. According to the AP report, when researchers stop giving kids prizes for eating fruits and vegetables, the kids stop eating them. And when kids were given free fruits and vegetables at the beginning of the year, they stopped eating them by the end. Why am I not surprised? I’ve seen wildly successful school food interventions in action and it’s obvious what it takes to change kids’ food choices: adults who care.

Success requires a principal who thinks it’s important for kids to eat well, a school food service director who takes it personally if kids don’t eat the food, teachers who are convinced that kids learn better if they eat better, and parents who support the program by not having junk foods in the house. If any one of these elements is missing, the program is doomed from the start. When the elements are all there, you see kids eating adult food, asking for cooking classes, and complaining that the food in school is better than what they get at home.

The whole point of marketing to kids is to get them to believe that they are supposed to eat food made specially for them—kids' food in funny shapes and colors and boxes. The idea is to get kids to think that they know more about what they are supposed to eat than their parents do. No wonder parents have such a hard time with food issues.

If the government is serious about wanting to do something about childhood obesity, it ought to be putting some curbs on marketing to kids—on the Internet and cell phones as well as on TV—and funding decent school lunch programs that make it easier for kids to make healthy choices. One little intervention program will not do the trick without fixing the food environment so healthy choices become the default. As my Columbia University colleague Joan Gussow once famously stated, nutrition education—real nutrition education—has never been tried. If the government really does have a billion to spend on nutrition education, it ought to be using it to teach kids to critically evaluate food marketing and recognize when they are being sold something that isn’t good for them.

Liberal Shot of Political Whiskey - Net Neutrality

Laughing Liberally comic Lee Camp gives his take on Net Neutrality.

Liberal Shot of Political Whiskey - Obama's Name

Laughing Liberally comic Costaki Economopoulos figures out if he can vote for a President named Obama.

Liberal Shot of Political Whiskey - Suspicious Package

Laughing Liberally comic Costaki Economopoulos explains the latest on a suspicious package found at the John Edwards Head Quarters.

STOCK UP FOR THE APOCALYPSE NOW!

One thing Hurricane Katrina taught us is that a cabinet stocked with cronies is a recipe for disaster in a disaster. That’s why Eating Liberally encourages everyone to keep a well-stocked pantry. In case of calamity—manmade, natural, or a doubly catastrophic combination of the two (i.e., Katrina)--we’re saddled with an ungallant government that’s more likely to gallop off into the sunset at the first sign of trouble than race to the rescue. Just call them the First Absconders.

The Department of Homeland Security does, however, offer a website with advice about what to have on hand for an emergency. It’s chock full o’ half-helpful hints, such as “Choose foods your family will eat,” and “Avoid salty foods, as they will make you thirsty,” followed by a shopping list of sodium-saturated stuff like canned foods and crackers.

You’ll do better to consult a couple of cookbooks that specialize in calamity cuisine: Apocalypse Chow! by Jon and Robin Robertson and The Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook: Recipes for Changing Times by Albert Bates. Both books offer plenty of practical tips on preparing for all kinds of emergencies, but they also have recipes that sound so appealing you might be tempted to try them out before the next power outage.

And if you find yourself cooped up ‘cause of a bird flu quarantine, wouldn’t it be comforting to break out a bag of pretzels and dunk them in Sterno-softened chocolate fondue? What if a dirty bomb renders your region radioactive and you can’t get take-out? Apocalypse Now tells you how to make “High-Road Lo Mein” using a couple of canned ingredients you can keep on hand (well, OK, and maybe some fresh ginger and a carrot if you’ve got ‘em.)

Both of these books tackle a serious subject with a dash of humor while providing tons of useful information about the best ways to weather these worst-case scenarios.

But maybe you have trouble imagining the kind of apocalyptic events that call for cookbooks like these. Is The End of the World As We Know It just a jaunty REM jingle to you? If so, we have another book to recommend—Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us. Weisman speculates on what would become of the world if mankind disappeared entirely. Apparently North America would become a haven for herbivores, one gigantic deer habitat--not to be confused with Deer Park, the Nestlé-owned behemoth of bottled water. “As forests would become re-established larger herbivores would evolve to take advantage of all the nutrients locked up in woody species,” according to Weisman.

The world-famous jungle of Manhattan would reportedly revert to a forest. And there wouldn’t be any humans to clear-cut it to make chopsticks and grow GMO crops for livestock. Sounds like the face of the earth would finally clear up, if we cleared off of it. But I’m not rooting for the Rapture, unless you mean the one Debbie Harry delivered on Blondie’s AutoAmerican a couple of decades back. Now there's a timeless soundtrack; it’s got “The Tide is High,” too! What an awesome mix Bush counselor Dan Bartlett could have made for W.'s iPod, as a companion to that groovy highlight dvd of Hurricane Katrina he put together five days after it struck, so the president could be almost as up to speed as CNN’s Soledad O’Brien and Anderson Cooper. Songs like Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane,” or Randy Newman’s “Louisiana 1927 ”. Something to drown out the sound of people drowning.

 

Lee Camp on Nature

Lee Camp at the Tank in NYC

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