Category Archives: Philosophy and Ethics

The Paleo Fantasy – update

Jane Goodall

Jane Goodall – Anthropologist

Scientists have recently discovered settlements of vegetarian Neanderthals in Europe. It seems that they lived on a plant-based diet and ate no meat at all. This should come as no surprise since everyone from Charles Darwin to Clifford Roberts, the editor-in-chief of the American Journal of Cardiology, to the famous anthropologist Jane Goodall, tells us that we are designed by anatomy and physiology to be vegetarians.

“The human species does not have the physical attributes of a carnivore.  If everyone knew and faced up to all the facts, most would either opt for drastically cutting their meat consumption or giving up meat altogether.“

– Jane Goodall, Author of Harvest for Hope

Paleo man didn’t eat as much meat as has been hyped and some ate none at all. Since the mistaken notions and thinking behind the Paleo Diet have continued since our last posting debunking it, we thought we would add a little more refutation to it.

Writing in her book, the Paleofantasy, anthropologist Professor Marlene Zuk, says that the claim that Paleo Man did not consume grains and grain-like plants has been disproven yet again. Analysis of the living sites and bodily remains of people living 30,000 years ago showed considerable use of starchy grains, and the cooking of a kind of pita bread. According to Professor Zuk, the assertion made in the Caveman Diet by Walter Voegtlin, that Paleo Man had a nearly all-meat diet, is untrue.

Furthermore, she explains that the claim that our entire anatomy and physiology changed in this relatively short time period, by evolutionary standards, and that we had any significant capability of obtaining meat, reflects a misunderstanding of evolutionary theory. Indeed, she explains that what we are able to eat and thrive on depends more on our 30 million plus years of primate history, than the recent, brief period of time.

Perhaps, most importantly, Professor Zuk points out that Paleo man wasn’t particularly healthy, and that the idea of following a high-meat diet should be judged in light of today’s nutritional knowledge.

The famous biology professor, and author of Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond, has also weighed in on the subject. He explains that Paleo man was a relatively poor hunter, even as recently as 100,000 years ago. Yet, in Robert Ardrey’s book, African Genesis, the author portrays paleo man as a successful big game hunter, and Hollywood has been only too willing to reinforce this mistaken notion. Diamond considers this so far off the mark that he terms it “pure fantasy!” Another erroneous notion is that meat somehow gave rise to our extraordinary intelligence. But Professor Diamond goes on to explain that by the time we attained even a modest amount of meat in the diet, our brains were already well evolved.

He discounts Eskimos as an example of paleo living because humanity only reached the arctic in the last few thousand years. Besides we now know, thanks to better data, that the Eskimos weren’t particularly healthy anyway. According to Diamond, even among most of today’s so called hunter gatherer societies, which are quite advanced compared to paleo societies, there’s much more gathering than hunting. In one group in New Guinea, though they talk a good talk, most of the hunters have only gotten two significant animals in their entire life!

Even though ancient man had the ability to consume larger amounts of meat, we now know that they didn’t always do so. New evidence shows some groups of Roman Gladiators ate a vegetarian diet, and so did the ancient Egyptian peasants. The fish and meat were apparently mostly reserved for the elite and the royal. Yet the Gladiators were known for their great strength and the Egyptians built the pyramids.

Do animals feel pain?

Farm AnimalsDo animals feel pain?  Of course they do!  Just ask yourself this question: if animals can’t feel pain, then why do researchers test pain medication on them?  Then ask yourself another question: if animals don’t feel pain, then why do they scream or wince when they are hurt? Of course they feel pain and are capable of suffering.

Famous Anthropologist Jane Goodall says that “…farm animals are treated as mere things, yet they are living beings capable of suffering pain and fear.” The Veterinary Merck Manual, perhaps the most standard reference in animal science and veterinary practice, states, “Based on what is known to date, all vertebrates, and some invertebrates, experience pain in response to actual or potential tissue damage.” In fact, scientists have found pain receptors in mammals, birds, and they have even found pain receptors in fish. If animals could only talk, and therefore beg for their lives, no one except the coldest of people would ever dare kill them. It’s time to face the fact that animals do suffer and that they do feel pain.

In our experience, many people try to deny the fact of animal suffering through a complicated and twisted maze of excuses. Some of these excuses come across to us as nothing less than exercises in denial, so that they don’t have to feel guilty or change their diet. Others fear a loss of business since meat is a big industry.  Another problem is that some people want to claim that the exclusive ability to suffer pain is one of the things that make people exceptional in the animal kingdom. These people are afraid that if they admit that animals can feel pain, then humanity has lost one of the things that make us exceptional. Presidential speechwriter and author, Mathew Scully, responds to this by saying that we should bravely face the fact of animal pain, act more compassionately towards the animals and  “…by just and merciful conduct show how exceptional we really are.”

Most of today’s farm animals are raised on what’s known as factory farms. These animals endure harsh conditions of extreme overcrowding, denial of every natural instinct and, all too often, direct mistreatment. They are almost treated like inanimate objects in a factory. Then there’s the slaughterhouse. It’s often been said that if slaughterhouses had glass walls, we would all be vegetarians.

Jeremy Bentham, a famous British judge and philosopher form the 1800’s asks the following question of humanity, “The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?”

So, now that you know that animals suffer pain and fear, what will you do?  If you currently eat some animal products, you might find that making some changes to your diet is easier than living with all that pain and misery on your conscience, and having to come up with excuses for every meal. If you already avoid animal products, consider sharing our new animal brochure with friends who you think may be open to learning more about how animals are treated.  Show them, gently, that being a vegetarian is easy to do and it’s healthy, better for the environment, and so much better for the animals.

Faith-Based Veg Diets

At this time of year, many turn their thoughts to the various faith-based communities. Here are just a few new developments of veg-interest that have caught our notice. This adds to the already rich veg-offerings of many faith communities, both East and West, which are already well established.

Israeli PM Joins Meatless Mondays

Meatless Monday IsraelVegetarian food choices were already becoming popular in Israel, but they have recently received a big boost from Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara, who have decided to join the Meatless Monday initiative. As far as we know, he is the first head of state to endorse and follow the program. “With my responsibility as prime minister to protect the lives of people here, I feel committed to increase awareness to fight cruelty toward animals,” Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu and his wife met with Micki Haimovich, who launched the Meatless Monday campaign in Israel. He told the prime minister about the health and environmental aspects of consuming meat, in addition to the compassion aspects. The couple said they eat very little meat and added that their son Yair has become a vegetarian in the past few years.

At a recent discussion that took place during a cabinet meeting concerning animal rights, Netanyahu said he “understood that animals are more conscious than we thought,” adding that the new information was bothering him, making him think twice on the subject. Netanyahu’s comment surprised Justice Minister and leader of the opposition party Tzipi Livni, a vegetarian since her teens, who said, “Prime Minister, hearing you say this is like finding an oasis in the desert.”

Interestingly, Mrs. Sara Netanyahu “came from a family that was very much aware of the issue.” The prime minister’s wife, whose father, Shmuel Ben Artzi, was a vegetarian, said she was eager to help “raise awareness and sensitivity to the suffering caused to animals” during meat production.

Vegetarians have included many famous Jewish people throughout history including two chief Rabbis and Albert Einstein just to name a few. Those who would like to learn more about news and events in the Jewish veg-world should check out  www.jewishveg.com – Jewish Vegetarians of North America – Jewish values in action, for health and for compassion.

Daniel’s Diets

In addition to the Christian programs such as those offered by the Seventh-day Adventists, here are two new programs that have recently gotten some notice and attention. Both these programs are inspired by the book of Daniel and the diet it describes.

Daniel-Fast.org  is a relatively new and very rapidly growing Christian-oriented online community. Their blog alone has already had almost 10 million visitors! In this case, the word “fast” means giving up all animal products. Their diet is based on Daniel in the Bible, who gave up all animal products as well as the junk food of the time. This diet, composed of unprocessed plant foods including vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and fruit, is as healthy as you can get. They offer a 21-day structured program, books, workbooks and lots of free downloadable materials.

Pastor Rick Warren

Pastor Rick Warren

A similar program, called the Daniel Plan, was originated by the well-known pastor Rick Warren, best-selling author of The Purpose Driven Life and pastor to Saddleback Church. Warren, who at one point said he’d gained a good 90 pounds over a 30 year period of ministerial work, decided the Daniel diet was a good idea. In 2011, he and many of his congregants went on the diet, albeit not quite as strict as the Biblical one, and collectively lost a reported 250,000 pounds, 65 pounds of which were the pastor’s. This program is now also available online, with a book, cookbook and online help provided by several doctors.  See www.danielplan.com for more information.

For more information about the Christian veg-community please visit www.all-creatures.org – Christian Vegetarian Association, dedicated to cruelty-free living through a vegetarian – vegan lifestyle according to Judeo-Christian ethics.

Interview with Dan Paul – WA State Director for the Humane Society of the US

Tell us something about yourself. How did you first become interested in animals in general and farm animals in particular?  

My fascination with animals seems to have been hardwired from birth, but it took many years and many nuggets of exposure for me to finally get that ‘aha’ moment.

I grew up in the suburbs of Southern California, but spent a few weeks each summer during my early teenage years at a camp which centered around a working farm. The cows spent their days wandering around in one of the many pastures; the chickens were free to roam and munch on bugs in the manure and dirt, the pigs dined on the plants and the camp’s food waste; vegetable were grown on the farm and picked by the campers – this system was balanced and thus, it worked

Whether or not I completely realized this at that time, the annual exposure to these farm animals had a profound impact on my life and fortunately helped widened my scope of how I connected with animals. Much later, when I was in college, I was flipping channels and landed on the local public-access station, which was showing a slaughter facility and a factory farm. These all-too-real images, depicting the sheer terror and violence inflicted upon these animals, were seared into me – a far cry from the farm where I had spent my summers, yet this was the sobering reality for nearly every animal in the US food supply. Farm animals, such as the ones I was lucky enough to grow up with, are thinking and feeling individuals, who share an equal capacity to suffer as I do, and yet whose desire to live free of torment and abuse is systemically ignored. Eating a plant-based diet has been not only a simple transition, but an absolute pleasure.

What is your position here at the regional HSUS office/chapter and what kinds of things does your branch work on? 

I am the Washington State Director for the Humane Society of the United States. In Washington, there is a huge spectrum of issues that I am involved with: from assisting law enforcement on puppy mill cruelty and abuse cases, to lobbying for wildlife and farm animals in Olympia. The Humane Society of the United States advocates to reduce suffering, and to create meaningful social change for all animals, by advocating for sensible public policies, investigating cruelty and working to enforce existing laws, educating the public about animal issues, joining with corporations on behalf of animal-friendly policies, and conducting hands-on programs that make ours a more humane world.

Recently you won a big victory for egg laying hens. Can you tell us about that and what you see as some of your other significant accomplishments?

In the Spring of 2011, we launched a ballot initiative here in Washington State that would help improve the lives of 6.5 million egg-laying hens living in factory farms. These hens are crammed inside tiny, barren, wire cages with several other birds, which are so restrictive that each one has a space smaller than a sheet of paper on which to live. The public response was truly extraordinary: evidenced both by the passion and dedication of our volunteers, as well as the overwhelming positive response from folks we met on the street.

What our in-state efforts resulted in, however, was an agreement with the United Egg Producers to push a joint effort to pass federal legislation, which in part would give each bird, throughout the entire US flock significantly more space to live. Our signature drive prompted the framework to help not only our 6.5 million birds, but every hen throughout this nation – it’s a truly staggering result!  

Currently, the majority of the 280 million birds in the US flock are each provided with only 67 square inches of space, with roughly 50 million receiving a meager 48 square inches! The proposed legislation, HR 3798 would culminate with hens nationwide being provided a minimum of 124 to 144 square inches of space, along with the other enrichment improvements. Remember, most birds in the US, live in states that do not allow for the initiative process, so an agreement with industry to obtain a federal law is the most likely path to truly end the barren battery cage in the US. 

Other accomplishments I’ve been a part of in Washington include passing legislation that calls for some of the most thorough and strict rules relating to large-scale dog breeding (puppy mills) in the nation, as well as helping Washington become the second US State to ban the preparation and sale of shark fins – a completely unsustainable table treat that results in the slaughter of over 90 million sharks each year.

Do you think that concern about plight of the animals on factory farms is growing?

Absolutely – you see it every day. Whether it’s through mainstream media coverage of animal issues on Oprah and Ellen, or watching star athletes adopting vegan diets, the awareness of the cruel, destructive and ultimately unsustainable practice of warehousing of animals is growing astronomically.

Furthermore, my colleagues at The Humane Society of the United States have done an incredible job with helping leaders in the private sector transition to products that come from more humane production methods. Just this past year, major food companies and retailers that have announced intentions to eliminate gestation crates from their supply chains include: McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Jack-in-the Box, Costco, Kroger, Safeway, Kraft (Oscar Mayer), Heinz, Campbell Soup, Denny’s, Cracker Barrel, Carl’s Jr., Hardee’s, Sonic, Baja Fresh, Kmart, Compass Group, Aramark, Sysco and Sodexo.

What do you wish the wider American public were more aware of?

Well, first of all, I have great faith that with an increase in understanding and awareness, an increase in empathy and compassion will result. So we as advocates need to continue to educate and inform our friends, family and neighbors on these critical animal welfare issues. Kindness and compassion are values that are intrinsic in all of us, yet often times we choose to place our own interests over others as a default.  But as we consider these choices – often times the decision seems insignificant like ordering a meal, but these seemingly trivial choices represent, to the animals affected, a critical life and death decision.

I wish the wider American public understood that you don’t have to be perfect – but any and every compassionate choice one takes will have a very real and tangible impact to a creature who is completely at our mercy. We can all live a rich, full and complete life while also being decent to the other beings with which we share our planet. 

Are you optimistic for a better future for the animals?

I am. As I mentioned before, empathy and compassion are values shared by the collective. For too long we have been blinded to the realities of the plight which many animals on this planet face – whether it be in a puppy mill or on a factory farm or from habitat destruction, but that is changing every day. I hope that one day the world will leap from A to Z, where Z is a place that institutionalized cruelties to animals are a thing of the past, but I recognize what a huge step we have in front of us just to get from A to B. And that alone gives me cause and purpose to wake up each day and take action. Because I know that with my effort, and the effort of like-minded advocates, our world can’t possibly be worse off, and better yet, we just might reach our goal.

Caving In to the Cattle Industry

Recently, the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) made a recommendation in its regular newsletter to its employees, to consider participating in the Meatless Mondays initiative, which advocates going vegetarian one day a week, citing the health and environmental benefits. The advisory explained that the USDA cafeterias now contain plenty of meatless options to enjoy.  The recommendation concluded, “So you can really help yourself and the environment while having a good vegetarian meal!”

But within just a couple of days, the USDA had caved into pressure from the cattle and meat industry, and had retracted the message, claiming that it had been made without proper clearance.  It was promptly removed from both the newsletter and their website.

The message seemed reasonable enough, coming as it did from the federal agency tasked with promoting sustainable agriculture and dietary health. And while part of the agency’s mission is to promote the agricultural industry, crop farmers were quick enough to point out that they are part of that industry too. It’s troubling that the USDA would cave in and give priority to the meat industry over the health of its employees and environmental sustainability. Also, we can’t think of another industry that would dare to react with such misplaced self righteous indignation as the meat industry did last week. What if the energy lobby freaked out every time the Department of Energy told consumers how to cut back on their consumption?

There is a silver lining however.  Meatless Mondays is an initiative of the nonprofit Monday Campaign Inc. and the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health that has shown a measure of success. Across the country, there are now thousands of corporate cafeterias, restaurants and schools who have embraced the idea of skipping meat on Mondays in favor of vegetarian options.  Perhaps even more significant is that we now know that there are at least some elements within the USDA who understand the many benefits of a vegetarian diet.  We hope they will try again.

What’s Yoga Got To Do With It?

The answer is plenty when it comes to vegetarian food choices. 

The most important part of the yoga practice is eating a vegetarian diet. -Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

Yoga has hit the mainstream. With yoga studios popping up all over, offering everything from traditional forms of yoga to new forms aimed at special groups ranging from prenatal moms to airline pilots (there are even new and innovative forms of yoga such as laughter yoga and Christian yoga), more and more people are giving it a try. However, in their drive to become more popular, or perhaps because of a shortage of fully trained instructors, many, if not most, yoga studios have dropped the vegetarian portion of yoga theory and practice. 

When most people think of yoga, they think of the physical postures taught in yoga classes. This is a yoga practice called asana. It is one of the many yoga practices, such as meditation, pranayama (breathing exercises), and yamas (ethical, moral, philosophical guidelines.) Yoga therefore offers the student both physical health and psychological/moral well being. It turns out that yoga theory considers a vegetarian diet most beneficial to them both, and of course the two, while seeming separate, are really part of the greater whole.

Let’s take a look at the physical aspect first. In their pursuit of good health, the Yogic Masters of old determined that a vegetarian diet was definitely the most conducive to bodily health. They developed a theory of food that explained the basis of good nutrition and the effects that different foods can be expected to have on the consumer.

According to yoga theory, each food has its own particular vibrational frequency associated with it, and when we eat that food a kind of sympathetic vibration is set up in our bodies a result. While there are many different foods available they fortunately all fall into three groups. The first group is known as Sattvaguna and forms the basis of the yogic diet. These are vegetarian foods such as fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and beans and also includes mild spices. These foods are thought to impart a peaceful, relaxed, calm, loving and enhanced sense of self awareness in the person who eats them. The second grouping is known as Rajaguna and includes foods such caffeinated beverages, strong spices, hot peppers, chocolate, some fermented foods and certain drugs. These foods impart a sense of agitation and restlessness to the person who consumes them. These foods are allowable in the yoga diet but only for special circumstances and purposes. The third grouping is known as Tamaguna and includes meat, poultry, fish and eggs. These foods are thought to impart the vibrations of decay and even death, and are generally not part of the yoga vegetarian diet.

Amongst the moral and ethical guidelines (yamas), the practice of Ahimsa, not killing, injuring or causing pain to humans and animals, is considered by many yoga scholars and practitioners to be the most important.  The practice of Ahimsa is said to be conducive to psychological wellbeing, eases the conscience, and is thought to be spiritually enhancing. Obviously, considering the harsh conditions almost all animals are subjected to on both industrialized factory farms and in slaughterhouses, consuming meat is anything but Ahimsa and is therefore not recommended in the yoga diet.

For body, mind and spirit, yoga has long held that the vegetarian diet is best all around. Let’s hope that with all the new yoga studios opening up around the country, those studios that have dropped the vegetarian foundation of yoga and its practice will reincorporate it once they feel more secure, and the popularity of vegetarian diets will grow as a result.

No Meat in Public!

A growing number of people want the president to stop eating meat in public. As Health Educator in Chief, many people expect President Obama to set a good example by eating healthier food in public and at the many official photo opportunities.

Now let’s be clear: it’s no-one’s business what a political leader eats in his or her private life. But these are photo ops, each one carefully arranged by the White House in order to create an intentional image. And time and again, they feature exactly the food products that federally funded research has shown to cause heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, and other health problems, and that health officials are encouraging us to avoid.

Since taking office, President Obama has posed for the cameras eating a hot dog at a basketball game with British Prime Minister David Cameron, eating cheeseburgers with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, and stopping at a D.C. burger restaurant to share a cheeseburger with a reporter, among other similar instances. His predecessors, including Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan have also been caught on camera eating unhealthy foods, from ice cream to a Big Mac.

For better or for worse, celebrities and public officials definitely seem to have an effect on public consumption habits. For instance, widely publicized photographs of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt eating a hot dog are credited with popularizing what once used to be a widely disliked food. Now Americans consume 7 billion hot dogs between Memorial Day and Labor Day each year. But just imagine if there was a photo op of the president chowing down a Gardenburger or enjoying a Smart Dog at a baseball game!

“The White House would never set up a photo op showing the president buying cigarettes, so why is it okay to show him eating a hot dog?” says Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine nutrition education director Susan Levin, M.S., R.D. “Processed meats like hot dogs kill more Americans each year than tobacco does, and they cost taxpayers billions of dollars in healthcare. As role model to millions of Americans, the president has a responsibility to watch what he eats in public.”

Is meat the new tobacco? A growing number leaders in the veg community think so and see many parallels between the two. One is Rip Esselstyn, son of the famous heart surgeon Caldwell Esselstyn, author of the Engine No. 2 Diet and star of the much acclaimed movie Forks Over Knives, who says “I think we’re approaching a point close to where we were with tobacco in the 1950’s…I believe that within ten years or so there will be a significant stigma attached to eating meat similar to the one against smoking today.”

Last year we took First Lady Michelle Obama to task on setting a good example in public in our article titled A Better Burger for the First Lady. Now it’s the president’s turn. The president never lit up a cigarette during White House photo ops. It’s time now to recognize that more cancers are caused by food choices than by tobacco and to stop giving free product promotion to the meat industry. Indeed, a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute revealed that diet accounts for up to twice the number of cases of cancer as does tobacco. We have also written about Why It is Important for America to change the food it eats from an even broader point of view.

Presidential appointments have been mixed from the veg point of view. The Surgeon General was a paid consultant to Burger King. The existence of a financial relationship between a big fast-food company and a surgeon general nominee troubles Dr. Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University and author of What to Eat.  “Fast-food companies are not public health agencies; their job is to sell fast food – and the more, the better,” Dr. Nestle said. “For me, this would represent an impossible conflict of interest. I can’t speak for anyone else, and I am aware of the counter argument that if you want companies to become more health conscious, you need to work from the inside. But in my experience, that argument does not hold.”

On the other hand, the food plate promoted by the USDA is the most veg-friendly one ever produced, and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, who is known to have a copy of Diet for a Small Planet on his bookshelf, has commented on the benefits of a veg diet for both the environment and global hunger.

As we approach the July 4th holiday we recognize the many great Americans who have championed the vegetarian message, including: founding father Benjamin Franklin; founder of the American Red Cross Clara Barton; hero of women’s suffrage Susan B. Anthony; inventor of the light bulb Thomas Edison; senior speech writer for the Bush administration, and author of the best-selling book Dominion, which advocates a veg diet, Mathew Scully; and, most recently, former president Bill Clinton. Let’s hope that President Obama and all future presidents set a better example with their public food choices.

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