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Sunday, April 25, 2010

What's Wrong with Organic?

So you think you’re doing the environment and yourself a favor by buying organic fruits and vegetables, right?  And for the most part, you’d be right.  But there’s a truth about organic food production that most of us don’t even think about.  And if you are at all concerned about the environment, or the suffering of animals raised for our consumption, then you might want to reconsider buying organically grown produce at all.

First, let’s take a look at how organic produce is produced.  Because organic farmers don’t use chemical fertilizers to supply nutrients to their crops, they use “natural” products instead.  But by natural, it means that they use materials such as bone meal - to primarily supply phosphorus, and blood meal - as a source of nitrogen.  Composted animal manure (feces) is used as a soil conditioner.  It helps encourage the microbial activity of soil, and also supplies nutrients to the soil.  Sounds good, doesn’t it?

But there are some obvious problems with farming this way…especially if you want to reduce or eliminate animal-based products from your life.  These fertilizers and soil amendments are the by-products of the slaughter industry.  A 2007 University of Minnesota study found that organic crops that used factory farmed manures and the byproducts of slaughterhouses took up the toxins used in factory farms.  These toxins included pesticides, GMO foods, hormones, antibiotics and steroids…not to mention the fact that some of these products are contaminated with, and can spread, disease.

Bone meal has been linked to the spread of mad cow disease. And antibiotics that are given to farm animals can be found in the animals’ manure.  This is then absorbed by the plants we eat and can lead to antibiotic resistance.

What’s the point of trying to eat organically to avoid pesticides and other toxins, when the fertilizers and manures used to produce organically grown crops are contaminated with these very substances?

Then there’s the issue of how organic production supports animal-based agriculture, and the incredible waste of resources and damage to the environment it causes.  Please educate yourself on this issue as there is plenty of information out there on this topic.

This doesn’t mean you need to go back to buying conventionally-grown produce.  You can go VEGANIC (VEgan-orGANIC).  This term refers to the fact that it takes organic a step further.  It uses no chemical pesticides or fertilizers, but also doesn’t depend on animal waste or animal by-products to grow crops.  Veganic farming doesn’t depend on the exploitation or killing of animals to produce food crops.

What veganic production does use are cultural practices such as crop rotation and the use of green-manures.  This improves crop quality without the problems associated with animal-based products.  For example; animal-based manures are high in phosphorus, which interferes with plant’s ability to use other nutrients.  It also contributes to the runoff of phosphorus in the environment.

Healthy soil offers a natural resistance to pests and diseases.  Green manures, such as old hay, grass clippings(not treated with pesticides), vegetable peelings and garden waste, are worked into the soil or left to decompose and supply nutrients and organic matter.  Cover crops with long taproots can extract minerals from deep within the soil.  Leguminous crops, such as clover and vetch, are cover crops that supply nitrogen.

Rotating crops encourages biodiversity by avoiding the soil-depleting, disease-promoting monoculture system of conventional farming. 

So, what can you do?

Plant a garden using plant-based manures and cover crops.  There’s nothing magical about the manure that comes from/through animals.  It’s made from plants.  So just use the plants…without the middle-poop.

Talk to your local farmer about growing veganically.

Join a veganic CSA.

Check out the Veganic Agriculture Network to see if there’s a veganic farm near you.

7:47 pm est

Sunday, April 11, 2010

How My Dog Helped Me Become Vegan

My dog, Rock, a Boxer, and the joy of my life, passed on to the other side the day after Thanksgiving of 2009.  It would be the worst day of my life.  As I write this over four months later, I still cry at the thought of having lost him.  

However, besides the joy and happiness he brought into my life during our time together on this earth, Rock influenced my life in numerous ways, all for the better.  Rock taught me to live in the moment, have fun, and not sweat the small stuff.  But the most profound influence was one that I was not prepared for - Rock made me a more compassionate person and started me on a life-changing journey. 

I bought Rock in March of 1997 as a birthday gift for my husband - when meat, dairy and eggs were a big part of my diet –a diet that I never gave a second thought to.  If you asked me then what I thought about my diet, I would have told you that I ate a healthy diet.  Heck, I ate yogurt for goodness sake.  How could I NOT be healthy?  And regarding the fact that I ate animals…well, that was why they were here, right - for us to “use”?  That’s what I was brought up to believe and to not question.  That’s what most of us are brought up to believe. 

As I bonded with Rock and we spent more time together, I saw qualities in him that I considered to be mostly reserved for humans.  It was obvious that Rock wanted to have fun.  Up until not long before he died, he would steal my slippers when I came in the house and would run all around making me chase him.  You could almost see him laughing as he would run in one direction and then make a quick U-turn in the other direction to keep the slipper away from me.   

Like most of us, Rock loved - even craved affection.  Whether he was giving it or getting it, it didn’t much matter.  He would sit on my lap for as long as I would let him(he never realized that he wasn’t a lap dog), and would face away from me so that I could scratch his neck and all the way up and down his back.  This was a favorite daily ritual for both of us, and one that I miss terribly. 

As time went on, I saw emotions in Rock such as sadness, anger, frustration, joy, and even compassion.  It became obvious to me that he possessed all of the same emotions, wants and desires that I did.  He wanted to be warm, cozy and dry, eat quality food, exercise, interact with other beings, and to have fun. He also wanted to be treated well. 

What began to happen for me was a shift toward the realization that other animals had the same wants and desires that Rock had, that I had, that we all have. 

There were times when I would be driving and would come across road kill.  In the past I would have driven by it without a thought.  But now I began to feel sorrow at the loss of life - the babies who lost a mother, or the animal that lost a partner.  There were actually times when I would cry when encountering a dead animal on the road.  What was wrong with me?  “Normal people don’t cry at road kill!”  I didn’t like what I was feeling.  It was foreign to me and I wasn’t sure what it meant or even what to do about it. 

Buying meat in the grocery store was no longer accomplished as it had been in the past – with no thought to what had to happen for the meat to get to the store and into my cart.  I started to question whether I could eat meat if I had to kill the animal myself.  Could I continue to pay others to do what I was unable to do myself?  The answer was “no”, I couldn’t.  Out went the beef, pork, and lamb from my diet.

It all came together when I read the book Diet for a New America by John Robbins.  I cried my way through the book, and knew that before I finished reading the last page I would no longer participate in an industry that treats animals as “things”. All I had been feeling since Rock came into my life was starting to make sense.  The shift that had begun was now past the point of no return. 

Now chickens were no longer part of my diet.  Dairy was also out.  It took a little longer for the eggs to go.  And finally, fish went as well. 

My diet, which was pretty bland and boring when I consumed animal products, slowly became much more interesting and flavorful than anything I had eaten in the past.  I learned how to prepare foods that I had never heard of before.  My journey continued as I transitioned to new career which focused on plant-based nutrition.

Living and evolving with Rock allowed me to see how much we, and all living creatures, have in common.  I realized that I was able to see the similarities between Rock and myself because of the time we spent together.  Most of us don’t spend time with the animals we put on our plates.  If we did, I’d bet that we wouldn’t be able to eat them.  In some countries they eat cats and dogs – a custom that may seem revolting to us because to us cats and dogs are pets – they’re to be loved and treated like members of the family. 

But if you were to spend time at an animal sanctuary and to get to know the cows, ducks, chickens, turkeys, burros, pigs, rabbits, lambs and goats – you would see how much like cats and dogs they really are.  You would see how much like Rock they really are.  You would see how much like YOU they really are.  

I have Rock to thank for bringing such compassion and joy into my life, for opening my eyes, and for allowing me to see the truth. For those lessons, and for so much more, I am forever grateful.  I miss you, boy.

9:00 pm est

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