The following is a letter I sent to Denver’s Washington Park Profile in response to their front-page article on keeping backyard chickens:
I’m glad your July article on backyard chickens included the downside. Given the practical issues of daily care, humane concerns, and health consequences of eating eggs, is this something the city of Denver should be encouraging?
Often would-be urban farmers do not understand what they are getting into, as indicated by this from an NBC News report: “Hundreds of chickens, sometimes dozens at a time, are being abandoned each year at the nation’s shelters from California to New York as some hipster farmers discover that hens lay eggs for two years, but can live for a good decade longer, and that actually raising the birds can be noisy, messy, labor-intensive and expensive.” Continue reading Keeping Backyard Chickens Is Not a Good Idea
Living in Denver, with the Broncos going to the Super Bowl this year, I see lots of people dressed in the Broncos’ team colors, pages and pages of news coverage of the teams and their prospects, many parties being planned, and for a wealthy few, the anticipation of attending the game itself. At the risk of being asked what planet I come from, or being considered “un-American” because I am not going to watch the game (a fitness instructor in a class I attend actually said this), I’d like to explore some concerns behind the hoopla. When we look more closely at the Super Bowl, we see a waste of environmental resources, large amounts of consumers’ money spent on throwaway items, and a glorification of violence–all as part of an event priced so high that people of average income cannot even attend.
First of all, let’s look at the expense. According to ABC News, Super Bowl spending will top $15.5 billion for food, decor, and team apparel. In the buying of T-shirts, jackets, hats, scarves, gloves, pajamas, blankets, tote bags, glassware, banners, and countless other wearable and collectible items displaying the team colors, does anyone consider that it is wasteful of both the consumer’s money and the resources that go into making these items that will be worn or used only a very few times? I go back to the slogan: when you are considering buying something, instead of asking “Can I afford this?” ask “Can the planet afford this?” I even saw a tiny baby wearing a Broncos-themed outfit–her parents are already teaching her to consume frivolous, throwaway items that were probably shipped all the way from China.
Continue reading Why I’m Not Caught Up in Super Bowl Mania
The Modern Savage: Our Unthinking Decision to Eat Animals, by James McWilliams. Thomas Dunne Books, 2015.
Once again James McWilliams proves that he is one of the most articulate thinkers and writers we have on the subject of how we treat animals used for food. Regarding so-called “humanely-raised” meat, he shows readers that chickens, pigs, and cows have emotional lives, suffer and do not want their lives cut short to provide food humans don’t need. It is not ethically acceptable to claim to care about them, give them a more natural life for awhile, and then kill them. And in case you want details on typical slaughter procedures, that’s in here too.
“Humanely-raised” animals allowed to live outdoors can be even more disease-prone than those in factory farms, picking up infections from the soil and contact with feces. McWilliams cites numerous blog posts from small farmers giving their animals a marginally better life, but dealing not only with frequent diseases arising from an outdoor environment, but losses to extreme weather and, in the case of chickens, to predators–often a grisly death for the chickens. These “humane” farmers also mutilate their animals–for example, castrating male pigs without anesthesia–and farmers who do their own slaughtering can be shockingly inept, causing greater suffering than if the animals had been taken to a commercial slaughterhouse. Continue reading The Modern Savage
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the publication of a still-amazing book, Living the Good Life, by Scott and Helen Nearing. The Nearings left city life in 1932 to homestead rural land in (first) Vermont and (later) Maine. They felt they had discovered the “good life,” and wrote several books both to describe how they lived and to encourage others toward greater simplicity and authenticity. They have been called “the great-grandparents of the back-to-the-land movement” and no doubt inspired many young people in the 1960s and 1970s. When I came to their books later, I was impressed that they were vegetarians and carried on their farming completely without the use of animals. Would that the 21st century homesteading movement would do likewise!
The Nearings’ books overflow with sincerity, compassion, and common sense. Here are examples:
“Ideas of ‘making money’ or ‘getting rich’ have given people a perverted view of economic principles. The object of economic effort is not money, but livelihood. Money cannot feed, clothe, or shelter. Money is a medium of exchange,–a means of securing the items that make up livelihood. It is the necessaries and decencies that are important, not the money which may be exchanged for them. And money must be paid for, like anything else . . .” Continue reading “Not Money, But Livelihood” — Remembering the Nearings
The Ogallala Road; A Memoir of Love and Reckoning, by Julene Bair. Viking, 2014.
I was delighted to discover this exceptional memoir about how powerfully our loved ones shape our lives, be those loved ones family members, lovers, or the land we call home. Here the prairie landscapes of western Kansas come alive in exquisite beauty, along with an unsettling concern for the future: the huge Ogallala aquifer beneath them is being pumped out at an alarmingly unsustainable rate to irrigate crops that could never be grown there otherwise. It’s not a case of outside developers coming in to exploit the land’s resources, as happened in Appalachia, for example. On the prairie the long-time residents who love it the most are responsible, whether they fully realize it or not, for robbing their descendants, and many species of indigenous wildlife, of a future there.
As I read I was reminded of another skillful and moving book I loved about the prairie ecosystem: PrairyErth, by William Least Heat-Moon. But Julene Bair has the advantage of having grown up on the land she describes, telling the story as only a native can do. She went away for some years, then returned to the farm with a young son to raise. She develops an environmental awareness that puts her at odds with the locals. Later on, her family must decide what to do with their land after the patriarch dies, his son is ready to retire, and none of the younger generation wants to farm.
Bair combines the sensibility of a poet with an activist’s command of the facts, but neither side runs away with the narrative. The prairie is not just a place on the map to her, but inhabits her mind and heart, allowing her to persuade readers to care more deeply.
While tabling on behalf of Denver Vegans at the city of Denver’s Earth Day Fair, I had several chances to increase the effectiveness of my outreach by talking with people who influence many others. A friend had told me that 50PlusPrime, the TV News Magazine for Baby Boomers, was in town looking for stories on boomer generation people involved in community service, and would I be interested in talking to them? I would.
It turned out that the program’s president and founder is a vegan himself! So he was glad to film a segment on that topic. He and a cameraman came to the Earth Day Fair, interviewed me on camera and showed our vegan literature table. The program will not air until this fall, in limited markets, but will be available for viewing online after air date.
I also mentioned that I would like to encourage boomer-age viewers not to give up on personal goals or dreams they’d had in their youth, out of a fear that maybe now they were too old to achieve them. I’d wanted to be a published author since my youth, but put that on the back burner as I gave my attention to other worthwhile projects. I picked up that dream in my late 50s, and wrote my book The Practical Peacemaker: How Simple Living Makes Peace Possible. It was picked up by New York publisher Lantern Books, published just after my 60th birthday, and launched with an author event at the Tattered Cover Bookstore. I was filmed talking about this for a separate segment of 50PlusPrime. Continue reading 50PlusPrime Interview and Other Earth Day Encounters
The following is a letter I sent to three organizations–Food & Water Watch, Natural Grocers, and Colorado Interfaith Power & Light–who are sponsoring a forum in Denver this week on the overuse of antibiotics on factory farms. Working to change laws on this is fine as far as it goes, but the best solution doesn’t require legal or corporate change: we need to encourage people to reduce or eliminate their use of animal products. That viewpoint will not be represented on the forum, although grassfed beef and dairy interests will be. I call on the sponsors to include the veg viewpoint in any future events on this topic.
To Lisa Trope, Food & Water Watch; Alan Lewis, Natural Grocers; and Colorado Interfaith Power & Light:
I just picked up a flyer at Natural Grocers about the potluck and forum you are sponsoring April 2 regarding antibiotic-resistant bacteria. I know that Food & Water Watch has a petition campaign urging passage of the Preventing Antibiotic Resistance Act, related to factory farms, where routinely-given antibiotics endanger the health of everyone. I applaud this campaign.
However, regarding the April 2 event, there is a glaring omission among those invited to be on the panel. No one is speaking to the approach that is simple, effective, and would greatly benefit human health, the animals, and the environment: namely, encourage people to reduce or eliminate their consumption of meat and other animal products. This requires no petitions, no changes in laws or corporate agricultural practices. Unlike the approach of the non-factory farmed meat producers, this would benefit the environment (e.g. grassfed cattle emit more methane, a dangerous greenhouse gas, than feedlot-finished cattle, because grassfed animals must live longer in order to reach market weight). The meat-reduction solution also benefits human health because only animal products have cholesterol; they also contain saturated fat and no fiber. This solution also addresses the cruel practice of animal slaughter, which occurs at a time far short of the animals’ normal lifespan. Continue reading A Missing Viewpoint about Antibiotics on Factory Farms
Veganomics: The Surprising Science on What Motivates Vegetarians, from the Breakfast Table to the Bedroom, by Nick Cooney. Lantern Books, 2014.
A very helpful little book for veg activists, Veganomics brings together data collected in recent years about a number of topics, such as: what motivates people to reduce or eliminate meat consumption (answer: primarily animal cruelty and health concerns), what demographic group is most likely to go vegetarian (young women), what are the most effective ways to tailor vegetarian outreach to make it appealing to people (one example: refer to food as “meat-free” instead of “vegetarian”), why to emphasize cutting out chicken, fish and eggs instead of red meat (chickens and fish account for 92% of the farm animals killed for food in the U.S. and represent 95% of the days of animal suffering caused each year by omnivores). Continue reading Veganomics
Meatonomic$: How the Rigged Economics of Meat and Dairy Make You Consume Too Much–and How to Eat Better, Live Longer, and Spend Smarter, by David Robinson Simon. Conari Press, 2013.
What a compelling argument for the huge economic cost, estimated at $414 billion, of Americans’ high meat consumption! Eating this amount of meat–three times the world average–is made possible for Americans by huge government subsidies and the astonishing political clout of the meat industry, among other factors. This is not just a rehash of meat consumption issues–I’ve read a lot of books that are–but will help readers see things from a fresh viewpoint; i.e. how much it is costing us as a country.
That alone would make the book worth reading, but there’s more: the author is a man with a plan. It is especially encouraging to read not just a lament about what’s wrong, but a detailed proposal for how to fix it, including the imposition of taxes on animal foods, a restructure of the USDA, and adjustment of federal support programs. He anticipates and discusses objections that may arise. Several appendices along with detailed endnotes and an index make it even more useful.
Reviewers’ superlatives–“spectacularly important” (John Robbins) and “ranks [with] . . . The China Study in its power to expose the truth” (Patti Breitman)–are well-earned. It’s only 185 pages: read it!
Disciples: How Jewish Christianity Shaped Jesus and Shattered the Church, by Keith Akers. Apocryphile Press, 2013.
Following up on his previous book The Lost Religion of Jesus, Keith Akers continues his examination of Christianity in its earliest stages, presenting a very different view from what Christianity later became under Paul. This Jewish Christian movement, which practiced simple living, nonviolence and vegetarianism, has been completely lost, even though it represented what Jesus actually taught. Contemporary scholars of religion are mostly unaware of its existence, yet the author’s conclusions are based solidly on historical sources of the period. For more details, visit the the author’s blog here.
Had Christianity stayed closer to its original vision, we would likely have a kinder world in which resources would be more equitably shared and no climate/environmental crisis would be looming on the horizon. The more people who are Christian read this book and begin to work for change in their churches, the better the future will be.