Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Where Has All the Compassion Gone?

Hi guys-

I wanted to talk about something that seriously bugs me. I have lived a vegan lifestyle for more than 25 years and people rarely knew it. I always told myself it was because I hate labels, so ‘macrobiotic,’ ‘vegan…’whatever was off my list of things to call myself.

But that’s not entirely true…actually not true at all. Having lived as part of both of these communities for many years, I think it’s time to have the discussion about compassion, a word thrown about by both vegans and macrobiotics that seems to have little to do with the actual living of the lifestyle.

In macrobiotics, we say that by living this way, we are choosing to create a bigger life, one steeped in ancient wisdom, compassion and freedom of choice. And yet, I repeatedly see a kind of ‘them and us’ attitude that excludes anyone not of the same mind as us. I was always taught that, in accordance with macrobiotic thinking, we are all part of one whole…all connected to each other and that what happens to one, happens to all.

So why the exclusion of anyone not choosing this life? How can we ever hope to achieve ‘oneness’ if we continually set ourselves up as superior and better because we choose to eat brown rice. Do we really think we are better, smarter, on the fast track to enlightenment? How can we ever hope to attract people to our gorgeous lifestyle if we refuse to let them in because they don’t know or understand it.

And then there's vegan, another label I proudly wear…except when people are yelling at other people for their choices. When books like ‘Skinny Bitch’ can thrive, where has compassion gone? I cringed my way through all the books in this series and realized that they were quite successful in conveying their message…that you are a fat and stupid waste of skin if you are not vegan. Really? These Dr. Phil-like authors set themselves up as paragons of virtue and goodness as they demean their fellow humans. There is enough in life to make us feel badly about ourselves. We certainly don’t need former models adding to our misery.

As a committed vegan, I am deeply concerned about the way we treat our animals…and how we produce them for food. If we think for one moment that farming and producing more than 10 billion animals for food annually can be done in a compassionate, healthy and humane way, then we are more out of touch with reality than I feared.

But I also care deeply for human health. As vegans or macrobiotic people who say they are committed to health…human health, planetary health and spiritual health, how can we justify reserving all of our compassion for animals and serving up only disdain for people? How can we hope to enlighten people and help them to see when we are constantly blinding them by shaking our fingers in their faces? How can we hope to achieve harmony when we care only for the welfare of some animals and not for the welfare of others (humans, for example…).

Most vegans tell me that I am not ‘vegan enough’ for their taste because I refuse to spray paint people who wear fur (as gross as that is to me…); I don’t protest with violence; I don’t feel contempt for anyone not playing in my sandbox.

I prefer the philosophy of catching more bees with honey (pun intended…). If we are peaceful, attractive, inviting and open to all we meet, do we not stand a much better chance of them hearing what we have to say and thereby effecting greater change? Seriously, who wants to be scolded? And who wants to scold? It’s exhausting to be so self-righteous…for us and those who must endure us.

For me, the time of ‘them and us’ is over. It’s time for all those who live compassionate lives to show their fellow humans the same compassion we show to cows, pigs, chickens, puppies and kittens. Compassion opens the door for understanding and with understanding people can…and will…make better choices. But they can’t…and won’t…if they are constantly under attack, made to feel that they are inferior to we more ‘enlightened’ types and left feeling that they are less than worthless.

Compassion is not selective, but the gift of all sentient beings to each other.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

the big disconnect...

Hi guys-

So I sat down last week, tired from too much office work and decided to see what Oprah was into these days. I like to check her show out now and then to see what she has America thinking, feeling, wearing and reading at any given moment.

Well, her show was about hooking people up to make their lives better…note that I said to make their lives better…and the promos for the show were positively seductive! Oprah looked directly into the camera, her big brown eyes moist with compassion and promised America that she was hooking everybody up with a special gift.

The show begins and Oprah ends the anticipation and gives America its present. Each and every American is entitled to head on over to her site and download a coupon for a free grilled chicken dinner from Kentucky Fried Chicken. Huh? I was sure someone had slipped crack into my lunch. Did she say KFC? Seriously? KFC?!?!?!?

Of all the food on this fragile planet; of all the promotions Oprah could endorse, she goes with KFC grilled chicken dinners. This is Oprah, the same Oprah who has Dr. Mehmet Oz come on the show and talk to America about health and wellness and making better food choices. The same Oprah who has everyone from Eckart Tolle and green experts to Kathy Freston on her show talking about making a lighter footprint and living more compassionately. That Oprah. Is she schizophrenic?

Now that I have calmed down, (yes, this is me calm over this disgraceful promotion of junk food to an already obese and sick nation), I checked out the comparative nutritionals. While a breast of KFC original recipe has 370 calories, 21 grams of fat and 1050 milligrams of sodium, the new Kentucky Grilled breast has 180 calories, 4 grams of fat and 440 milligrams of sodium. Is it better than fried chicken? Of course; even I can see that. But here is the thing. It’s still chicken, with all that goes with being chicken.

When we eat chicken, we participate in cruelty…period. Nearly 10 billion chickens are raised for food each year and if you think for one minute that there is a compassionate, humane way to raise that number of animals, you need to think again. Each chicken is raised in a space that is less than one half a square foot; their beaks are cut off without anesthesia to prevent injury when the stressed out birds freak out in the crowded conditions. Imagine if you stood all day and night in a hot, packed space with nowhere to turn to be free. Oh, wait, we did that. It was called Auschwitz!

And because more and more Americans are turning to it as a fabulously healthy protein source (Oprah said so; it must be true, right?), we need to produce chickens faster, so they are genetically altered and fed growth hormones and steroids to encourage abnormally fast growth. Pushed beyond their biological limits, hundreds of millions of chickens die each year before reaching slaughter at a mere 6 weeks of age. Yikes! See, their lungs and hearts can’t keep up with how fast their bodies are growing, so they die of congestive heart failure. Not to mention the crippling leg disorders occurring because they can’t support the abnormal weight of their bodies. And that is even before the processing which can involve stunning the birds in electrified water, slitting their throats while conscious and if the blade misses that slits their throats, well, they are boiled alive.

But okay, suppose you’re not all into the animal suffering bit. Suppose the suffering of a living creature is not that big a deal for you? How about this? The chickens are raised in such unsanitary conditions that they become disease-ridden and need massive amounts of antibiotics to try and stem the tide of the diseases they carry. And all that poison lands right on your plate for your dining pleasure.

Sidebar, lest you think I am out of touch: There begs to be a discussion of organic chicken production here, to be sure, but since we are talking KFC and organic is not a word in their vocabulary, we’ll save that discussion for another time. Suffice it to say, however, that if you think organic chicken is a better choice, do some research and make sure the producer you buy from is following the spirit of organic production, not just the technical letter of the law. Organic feed used in the same circumstances as other factory farms may technically be organic, but it’s far from the spirit of sustainability and compassion. I’m just saying…

But back to KFC. For decades, their savvy marketing of kind ‘ole drawling Colonel Sanders helped shove this swill down our more than willing throats. My mother used to say that you could fry wood chips and people would eat them. She was right. And so now, after all the heart-stopping, artery-plugging fried junk food they have promoted, even going so far as to say dinner in a bucket was the greatest way for families to eat together again, they are trying to jump on the healthy food bandwagon. (Seriously, is that the best we can hope for, dinner in a bucket?)

And why do we think KFC is going this new route? You can bet your clogged arteries it ain’t for your health, but for the health of their bottom line. With healthy eating on everyone’s mind, it has become the fastest growing segment of the food industry today. And with that every health-stealing pirate in the fast food industry is looking for creative ways to keep you walking through their doors and purchasing their food…well, it looks like food, but trust me…

Look, at the end of the day, this is not an indictment of Oprah. I love the work she does in the world and I think she has a great heart. But she is also the perfect illustration of the disconnect Americans have with their food. To be able to move from green experts talking about a lighter footprint to giving away KFC (grilled, I know; I know…) to the entire country suggests a disconnect on the most basic level.

We have lost touch with who we are and what’s fit and unfit for human consumption and if we are to survive and thrive, we’d best reconnect right quick. Our very lives depend on it. There’s no free lunch. This Kentucky Grilled Chicken meal comes at a very high price.


Monday, May 4, 2009

swine flu and smithfield

Hi guys-

I know I am not supposed to call it swine flu anymore because the pork industry says it disparages pigs and is bad for their business, but…

I have spent a little time this morning reading articles about the suspected origins of this current outbreak of flu that is terrorizing America and the world (The media has seen to that!)

Apparently there is great suspicion that this all began in La Gloria, Mexico where massive pig farming takes place and the pollution from said farming has been causing sever respiratory illness, fever, chills, aches and fatigue in hundreds of residents of this village since February. But until a 5-year-old boy was officially diagnosed, this crisis in the making was left out of the news.

It makes me wonder why. This small village supplies more than 50% of the pork to Smithfield Foods in North Carolina, the proud owners of the largest pig slaughterhouse in the world. Such an achievement! They must be so proud. The biggest hog producer, as well as the nation’s leading processor of pork and packaged meats, Smithfield claims that their pigs do not have the flu. Not one of them…not one in the 14 million they raise or the 27 million pigs they own and slaughter has the flu. They claim they have all been tested.

And I am the Virgin Mary.

According to Mexican newspapers, showing the rotting corpses of pigs floating in pig waste ‘lagoons,’ Smithfield’s Granjas Carroll plant practices could most certainly have contributed to this current flu outbreak.

Let’s look at how it works with pigs, highly intelligent and gentle creatures in their own right. A pig produces, on average, three times its weight in solid waste. That’s a lot of manure. In 2003, Science magazine reported that ‘swine flu was on the evolutionary fast track’ due to the increased size of factory farms and uncontrolled waste accumulation. The best estimates put Smithfield’s waste output at 26 million tons a year. That would fill Yankee stadium 4 times. And it’s not just that there is a lot of pig manure out there, but it’s almost radioactive in its toxicity, according to environmental expert, Jeff Tietz. Ostentatious pollution, it seems is a lynch pin of Smithfield’s business model, as they allow great volumes of toxic waste to run off their sloped barn floors into the groundwater of the surrounding areas. With repeated fines from the EPA, you have to wonder what Smithfield is thinking.

Well, we know what they’re thinking. There is no possible way that they can produce in excess of 6 billion pounds of packaged pork each year without compromise to environmental standards, excessive cruelty to the animals as they are factory farmed under horrible conditions. But I guess we can’t let a little thing like human health get in the way of profit.

With 250 pound adult hogs crammed together in a tight space that has no sunlight, fresh air, earth or straw, the pigs trample each other to death. In the pits below the pens, accumulations of antibiotics, insecticides, dead piglets, afterbirth and excrement mount up. In such conditions, the gentle pigs become susceptible to infections and are shot up with antibiotics to cover their symptoms and get them to slaughter. And Smithfield tells us that there is no way that their pigs have infections? Or flu?

Now as the terror induced by the media loses strength and this latest version of swine flu looks like it will not become the pandemic of the age (sorry, CNN and Fox News…), the plight of the pig will once again recede from our consciousness. But now more than ever, we need to call for a worldwide health inquiry into the toxic conditions surrounding factory pig farming and put an end to Smithfield’s dirty little secret that threatens to create a colossal health danger.

Celebrity chef Paula Deen may look like a Southern granny with her white hair and saccharin drawl, but representing a company like Smithfield and what they do to the planet and to humans makes her anything but your neighbor over the back yard fence. She may say that she ‘puts family values ahead of her cooking values,’ but if she continues to work with a company known for cruelty to its animals and workers, pollution and violation of environmental laws…well, no wonder she needs so much butter in her cooking. She has to disguise the bad taste it leaves behind.

It’s time to step up and make choices for our health and the health of our planet. Stop swallowing (literally) all the marketing and smiling faces in the ads. Go with the truth…always…and vote with your dollar. If you want to see Smithfield make changes to how they produce, then stop buying their products and tell them why. When they see that they are losing your money, they’ll change their practices. In fact, stop buying their food-like substances all together…for all the reasons you know…saturated fat, diabetes, obesity.

Maybe one day, we’ll see the Smithfield organic broccoli farm. A girl can dream…