vegansaurus!

09/22/2011

Guest Post: Oakland’s animal slaughter proposal meets the national audience  »

And locals aren’t the only ones appalled

The Oakland planning proposal to deregulate animal slaughter and officially sanction backyard “husbandry” is the focus of James McWilliams’ blistering critique in the Atlantic. It turns out that reconstructing the city’s yards and vacant lots as “sustainable” animal farms and urban “homesteads” is a bit problematic. (Warning: some descriptions are graphic.) 

Judging from the comments, the proposal is just as contentious outside the East Bay. And to absolutely no one’s surprise, vegan perspectives expressed online are greeted with frenzied blathering and digital tantrums. 

The article, on the other hand, is great!

Framing the local issue for a wider audience, McWilliams makes an important point early on:

As matters now stand, Oakland could very well alter its urban agriculture code in order to allow virtually any urban homesteader not only to raise goats, chickens, rabbits, and ducks, but to slaughter them on site. And what happens in Oakland — a test case of sorts — is bound to be replicated elsewhere.

This point is important for a number of reasons. For better and for worse, the locavores of the Bay (and the East Bay, in particular) have positioned themselves as the leading voices and public representatives of Urban Homesteading and Sustainability (TM). They and those deeply influenced by their thinking would like to see this proposal put into practice, and replicated elsewhere.

For better because it’s enormously important to encourage local, organic food production, address the lack of access to fruits and vegetables in urban food deserts and schools, and foster community self-sufficiency and empowerment. These are all issues that have been championed by the likes of Alice Waters, Michael Pollan, and their acolytes. They deserve credit for bringing them somewhat into the mainstream.

But it’s most definitely for worse: interwoven with this vision, and sometimes eclipsing the original goals, there’s a creepy fixation on the necessity of killing animals, despite such killing being less necessary now than at any time in recorded history. What’s more, the killing is meant to be somehow virtuous and right, a matter of social justice and cultural reclamation. Even if the amateur butchers themselves are not always particularly skillful and humane at the killing part; even if it means more inputs and less land to grow food on; even it means expensive animal products rather than the fruits and vegetables basically everyone agrees need to be made cheaper and much more accessible; and even if the push for deregulated animal slaughter is coming less from those most screwed over by the broken food system than from best-selling authors, upper-middle class hobbyists, and, bizarrely, young, usually white progressives and radicals.  

The backyard slaughtering vision is wrong on multiple levels. It aspires to be an alternative to factory farming but really only offers an addition to it. And alongside the egregious and predictably “excessive” violence against animals, there’s also a crucial insight that’s been hijacked: Our food system really is in bad shape. We really could be feeding ourselves in ways that make much more sense, while also not destroying the world. Addressing food security and access were the original, stated reasons for initiating the food policy discussion in Oakland in the first place, prior to the sudden emphasis on killing animals.  

A key point of McWilliams’ piece is its first paragraph, which has gone totally unremarked in 201 comments and counting (as of the time of this writing):

Over the past ten years the United States has undergone a revolution in the way we eat. Communities throughout the country have localized food systems, placed power back in the hands of local farmers, and shortened the distance between farm and fork. The benefits of this trend have been considerable. Consumers have become more critical of overly processed food, better aware of the connection between diet and health, and more appreciative of eating seasonally. I’ve been critical of this movement from the start, but I admit it has been a cultural achievement of historical significance.

This is absolutely true, and something to be recognized and appreciated. 

But what we strive to put in place of the broken and ultimately self-destructive food system shouldn’t replicate its cruelties, desensitization, and inherent inequalities of access. There is at least a bit of common ground to meet on – specifically, how we need to grow hella food as much as we can – and we should take advantage of those points of agreement.   

Locavores certainly need to stop being so fixated on the virtues of “honest slaughter,” for starters, not to mention on fictitious “closed systems” that ignore the existence of the rest of the world, to all of our detriment. 

And vegans need to engage with these policy debates, because they’re happening with or without us. In our absence, we should probably expect a bunch more proposals like Oakland’s.

Rick Kelley is a recent transplant to the Bay, having fled the brutal Minnesota winters for warmer climes. He spends his days at a Oakland workers’ rights nonprofit and his evenings probably playing moderately accurate renditions of Propagandhi songs with his awesome partner and their rescued pup, Bandit. He’s also currently active in organizing against Oakland’s “Let’s All Kill Some Chickens in Our Yards For Fun” proposal. He used to blog, and might do so again someday. The adorable chickens above were rescued by Animal Place and they’re not for eating, they’re for feeding grapes to! And hugging maybe if you’re lucky.

06/15/2011

Guest post: Food accessibility is a vegan issue  »

I was sitting at my desk, staring at my coffee, when my co-worker walked in with a bag of cherries and said, “God, organic fruit at the farmers’ market is fucking expensive.”

At least we have a farmers’ market nearby selling local, organic fruit and vegetables, I thought, and my co-worker has the resources to buy some. When discussions of veganism and privilege come up–as they seem to be doing with increased frequency—there’s some understandable defensiveness from vegans, and some valid concerns that the “veganism is for rich white people” trope is both wrong and insulting to anyone not rich or white. But there remain striking differences food access across communities. This should concern everyone, but especially us veganism advocates.

A recent survey [pdf] by the very rad Food Empowerment Project (FEP) lays out the data. Looking at Santa Clara County specifically, they found that:

“On average, higher-income areas have twice as many locations with fresh fruits and vegetables compared to the lower-income areas…14 times more locations with frozen fruit and six times more locations with frozen vegetables.… In addition to being generally less available in lower-income areas, the variety of produce is also limited in these locations.”

Some of these findings are helpfully laid out in chart form:

Other sections point out things that should be obvious to those of us who live, work, or generally exist in urban cores, but are worth stating plainly: there are fundamental differences between supermarkets and small corner groceries; meat and dairy alternatives are virtually nonexistent in many communities, despite high levels of lactose-intolerance in some of those populations; that, along with being “cash-poor,” many providers in low-income communities and communities of color are “time-poor,” way too overstretched by multiple jobs and responsibilities to travel to a distant shop for decent produce, return home, and prepare dinner. The FEP study calls this “environmental racism.” Check out the full thing, along with their recommendations, here [pdf].

Your ability to make healthy food choices shouldn’t depend on your address or income, and lack of access to fruits and vegetables amounts to a public health crisis in many places. The growing trend of farmers’ markets accepting food stamps is a welcome development: by expanding access to good food rather than restricting access to junk, it’s also a much smarter, and less paternalistic and classist way to encourage people to eat well. (Another option would be to eat all the locavores, provided they were humanely put down, with reverence for all that they would provide us, but that’s a topic for another post.)

As vegans, it should matter to us especially. When we tell others to go vegan–which we should–it’s crucial to consider what barriers might stand in their way. Some are ideological, reflective of long-standing habits and assumptions, but some are more practical, like whether they can get to a market that sells non-gross apples. The ability to do so does mark a sort of privilege that needs to be recognized and dismantled, even if anti-vegan internet goofballs like to cite it for their own purposes.

And finally, concern about food security and access shouldn’t be the domain of a borderline-sociopathic “locavore” community that seems to raise these issues only to argue that we need to kill chickens in our yards. We shouldn’t cede that ground (sign a petition against at-home chicken-slaughter right now!). Everyone deserves decent food, produced sustainably, locally, and without poisons, and vegan advocates should be on the frontlines of that push. The FEP’s work is a good place to start.

Rick Kelley is a recent transplant to the Bay, having fled the brutal Minnesota winters for warmer climes. He spends his days at a Oakland workers’ rights nonprofit and his evenings probably playing moderately accurate renditions of Propagandhi songs with his awesome partner and their rescued pup, Bandit. He’s also currently active in organizing against Oakland’s “Let’s All Kill Some Chickens in Our Yards For Fun” proposal. He used to blog, and might do so again someday.

05/02/2011

Gross meat germs cost us billions in healthcare dollars annually!  »

I get a lot of questions about being vegan:

Q. Do you actually like tofu?
A: YES.

Q. Don’t you miss steak?
A: NO.

Q. How did you get to be so beautiful?
A: I’ll never tell.

One of the most irritating questions is, “Isn’t veganism crazy expensive?” and I’m all, “How much did that carton of free-range eggs cost you?” Now science can back me up: Some study ranked pathogens found in food according to how much they cost society, and more than half, including the top three, are found in meat products.

Guess what was at the very tip-top? A food contaminant called Campylobacter, which is found in the nastiest of factory-farmed products: chicken! Campy, as it shall be affectionately known henceforth, sickens 600,000 people and costs society $1.3 billion per year in terms of medical care, missed work, chronic health problems, and even death. DEATH, Y’ALL. Could this all be fixed, as the article suggests, by overhauling the USDA? Probably not—they be in the pockets of the meat and dairy industry, yo!

In conclusion, while veganism might sometimes cost me slightly more money right off the bat (assuming I choose to eat exclusively processed faux meat products) than eating burgers and chili dogs, it saves me AND society money in the long run!

04/29/2011

Shut up, David Chang!  »


God, this fool loves to run his mouth something stupid
. I know it’s part of his schtick (hey! I relate!) but the problem with him is people listen to this garbage and agree. So when Chang is just stringing random words together and making about as much sense as the lady on my corner who thinks I’m her husband (reminder: need to shave!), it genuinely worries me!

Because, for real, the guy makes no sense. In this interview, bitching about the various customers he hates dealing with (turning away customers! What a luxury in these trying times of ours!), one of his complaints is vegetarians! Ugh fine, I get it, they’re my #4 complaint too,* but for real, his logic does not compute!

He says:

I’m not against all vegetarians. But if you’re a vegetarian for ethical reasons, you may be causing more harm. I use this example: I was at a wedding, and at the reception everyone was eating local lobster and clams, but a couple of my friends were like, “No, we want the vegetarian option.” And it’s fucking vegetables from every corner of the fucking planet. Really? They don’t want to pollute the earth, they don’t want to support factory farming, but factory commodity farming is fucking awful.

Drama. Queen. This example is truly crazytown. Like anyone has ANY choice in where the vegetables came from at someone else’s wedding. And where does it say that ethical vegetarians don’t care where their vegetables come from? Most vegans care more about where their food comes from than pretty much anyone else, THAT’S WHY WE’RE VEGAN. We question shit! And when we questioned our current food system, we decided to abstain from A LOT of it. Duh, bitch.

He continues:

And not only that, it’s almost slave labor. That poor fucking person who harvested your asparagus from Peru might have died because you wanted a fucking goddamn asparagus in August. Which doesn’t happen.

Oh, shut the fuck up already. We all read Felicity Lawrence’s piece on asparagus in Peru, you ain’t special. And what’s with the last sentence of “Which doesn’t happen.” That doesn’t even make sense. And I haven’t eaten asparagus since the summer of ‘99 so he can shove it.

If you’re going to be a vegetarian, limit yourself to food from a place you can go to in two hours and just eat that. Do it, or shut the fuck up.

Again, what does this mean? Food grown in a two-hour radius? And then is it by car? Are we going the speed limit? Ooh! Can I take a plane? And how is that recommendation any different than what you meat-mouths should be doing? If I come to your restaurant and ask for a vegetarian dish, why do you suddenly go all WHOA HAVE YOU THOUGHT OF THE ETHICAL RAMIFICATIONS? What has changed by taking the meat out? I’d like to “do it and shut the fuck up” (lie) but I don’t know what “it” is? (I’m really hoping he’s talking about the worm, because that’s my party trick!) But really, one of Chang’s biggest problems is not just his allergy to making sense, it’s that he’s just wrong. Read it and weep, nerd.

I get it, Chang is total gold for interviewers and so we’re not gonna stop hearing about him because journalists are like, "YES PLEASE KEEP SWEARING AND TALKING NUTSO! I CAN SEE THE PAGEVIEW$$$$ RISING ALREADY!" (Newsflash, Chang! Your constant press has nothing to do with your cooking! Which even omnis say is WEAK!) but it’s also harmful because of the legions of “celebrity chef”-obsessed fans. Seriously, people worship this little ultra-privileged dweeb. While he’s busy masturbating to a thought bubble of himself, his bullshit ramblings sink into the collective unconscious of a million impressionable Americans. We’re not the smartest people, and when the New York Times tells us he’s the Second Coming, we’re all, “MUUUUST EAT PORK BUNS.” like a really uncool zombie army. Well, the NYT is tired, Chang is just another spoiled kid having a tantrum when things don’t go exactly his way (customers asking for things AHHH!!!) and I just hope he stops getting so much press. GOOD JOB THEN, LAURA. Further, quit fucking swearing all the time, Chang. That’s my fucking thing!

*Right after all things Lohan, everyone putting tomatoes on everything, and the premature cancellation of Party Down.

03/15/2010

I heard they eat women  »

I know new words are fun, but you can’t just go around inventing them willy-nilly! “Cybersex”: very important word development; “femivore”: SOME BULLSHIT.

The New York Times offers up this new concoction as a combination of locavorism and modern housewifery and/or feminism. The writer, Peggy Orenstein from our very own Berkeley, Calif., has a few friends who grow their own food and now are all buying chickens. Then BAM! Femivores! No, it’s actually not people who eat women. It’s women who are stay-at-home moms and make all their own stuff like clothes and now I guess eggs.

To be honest, I think I’m missing a few steps. You can read for yourself and see. Or maybe it’s just that the whole literary aesthetic is too distracting because it makes me want to vom. Who can say. Check it out:

"All of these gals—these chicks with chicks—are stay-at-home moms, highly educated women who left the work force to care for kith and kin. I don’t think that’s a coincidence: the omnivore’s dilemma has provided an unexpected out from the feminist predicament, a way for women to embrace homemaking without becoming Betty Draper. ‘Prior to this, I felt like my choices were either to break the glass ceiling or to accept the gilded cage,’ says Shannon Hayes, a grass-fed-livestock farmer in upstate New York."

Glass ceiling or gilded cage? I know that’s a quote, but bleeeeeh! I need a shower! And what about men who grow their own food? Or women who grow their own food and have a job outside the home? Or what about words that already exist and aren’t ridiculous? I also doubt that this is anything new. Isn’t this just kind of a farmer? What makes them femivores? That they have chickens or that they are middle class?

09/10/2009

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