Is Kevin Bacon not Kevin Bacon?

On so many things, I’m always amazed at the ways people manage to rationalize away facts so that they’re not threatening. For example, in response to a request for clarification on how sugar can be considered not vegan, a reader writes to Jonathan Zasloff:

Some super-strict vegans will not use sugar if the activated charcoal used in the filtration process was or might have been made from bones. (To give some idea how far-removed it is from an actual animal, it’s kosher pareve.)

That’s a very interesting concept of far-removed. Kosher pareve only means the food contains no dairy or meat. Bone char is not meat. But it is not “far-removed” from an actual animal. It is a direct, immediate connection. If we were playing Six Degrees of Separation from an animal, bone char’s number is zero.

I choose veganism. You choose to be an omnivore, if you wish. Just don’t pretend that what you’re consuming isn’t directly from an animal. Be honest about your choice.

Link via Megan McArdle, as she contemplates going (temporarily) vegan.

“Bring it on down to Omeletteville!”

I have two angles on this story:

Two days after naming its mascot “PorkChop,” the Philadelphia Phillies’ new Triple-A affiliate abruptly dropped the moniker after receiving complaints from Hispanics that it was offensive.

The Lehigh Valley IronPigs, whose mascot is a large, furry pig, had selected PorkChop from more than 7,300 fan submissions. The team, which begins play in 2008, announced Monday that the mascot will be named “Ferrous” instead.

I had no idea of the derogatory implication. I don’t have an opinion on changing it in response to complaints, other than to say it’s probably the smartest business decision. I also think that Ferrous is a better, if not particularly original, name for a mascot. And it permits this kind of sticky-sweet blech:

Ferrous can be described as a portly, affable IronPig wearing the IronPigs home uniform and jersey number 26 – the atomic number for Iron (Fe).

How precious.

My second point is to remember how complaints about vegans typically accuse us of irrationally anthropomorphizing animals. Um, no. That’s what omnivores do.

But PorkChop? Seriously? Who looks at an animated pig, a walking, jersey-wearing mascot created to interact with children, and thinks “Mmmmmm, you’re so awesome, you remind me of dinner, your name shall be…PorkChop!”?

Post Script: I still love the name IronPigs.

Thankfully, the Bread-O-Meter is on a different network.

I’ve never enjoyed local news because of its propensity for a brainless lack of questioning and reflexive embrace of feel-good sentimentality incompatible with common sense. Watching the local news last night only because someone wanted possible new indications of a snow day, I suffered through this story on new food allergies in children. The important bits:

Margaret has eosinophilic esophagitis, a severe food allergy in which white blood cells build up in the esophagus, causing swelling and narrowing, making it difficult to swallow….

To control the disease, Margaret must stick to a strict diet — a tough task because she can only eat very few foods. Staples include pork, potatoes, rice and most vegetables. She has to avoid most other foods, like those with wheat, gluten and dairy.

How does being able to eat most vegetables equate to being able to eat very few foods? Is it too hard to comprehend that something beyond macaroni-and-cheese will provide sustenance to a child?

“It’s hard to feed a 2-year-old, anyway, but take away Cheerios, take away cake, take away milk, take away cheese, take away so many foods that normal toddlers eat and it makes it more difficult,” Julia Schifflian said.

Possibly, it appears. This indicates a lack of imagination, which, to be fair, is widespread in America. I see no reason to believe that wouldn’t be rectified rather quickly as these parents seek what’s best for their daughter as they deal with her illness. But when cake is the second item mentioned as how this disease hampers your efforts to fill out your child’s diet, that’s an unreasonably low starting point.

P.S. Listening to the radio this morning, Howard Stern mentioned that he doesn’t eat meat, only chicken and fish. Okay.

“Insubordinate teacher reprimanded” wouldn’t get readers, or how news cheats with facts.

In what can only be counted as a P.R. “win” for vegans, this story:

An art teacher removed from the classroom for encouraging pupils not to eat meat vowed Monday not to return to Fox River Grove Middle School until it eliminates milk and all other animal products from the lunch menu.

I heard about this when it first appeared last week. My opinion was and is that the story is about insubordination, not veganism. But that wouldn’t sell. Remember Nina Planck?

As much as I agree with his message (and it isn’t 100% agreement, as you’ll see in a moment) and what I’m sure are good intentions, turning this into a debate on food choices will ultimately hurt vegans by making us look irrational and weird. For example:

Dave Warwak, 44, also said he plans to ask the McHenry County state’s attorney to file child-endangerment charges against the school district because the school continues to promote milk and other animal products as part of a healthy diet.

With friends like these…

In other clichéd “vegans are weird” news, most freegans are vegans. Most vegans are not freegans.

(First story via FARK. Second story via Hit & Run.)

Forget nuance; speak against the accepted and you’re crazy.

I don’t know how clear I’ve made it in the past, but I don’t consider myself an animal “rights” advocate. I understand enough political philosophy to realize that the word rights has specific meaning, and in that context, it’s difficult to defend its use apart from humans. However, that shouldn’t imply an acceptance of animal cruelty, as too many are willing to accept. Basically, I try to approach any such discussion in a rational, intellectual manner. That makes reliance on stupid stereotypes more frustrating. From FARK:

World’s fattest pig sacrificed at religious ceremony in Taiwan. Naturally, animal rights groups are losing their minds (w/ pic of one fat pig)

The headline refers to this article:

The world’s heaviest pig has been sacrificed as part of a religious ceremony, sparking fury among animal welfare groups.

I hope it’s apparent why an animal sacrifice as part of a religious ceremony is ridiculous enough to warrant at least an eye-roll and a sigh. Defenders of such a practice will generally rely on an argument that the animal will be eaten after it is sacrificed killed. We could debate the merits of that, but contrary to what the FARK headline implies, that’s not at stake here. The next paragraph of the article:

The animal, which was force fed sand and metal to reach its record breaking weight of 908kg (143 stone), could not even stand as it had its throat slit at the ritual in Taiwan.

Right, look at those animal rights groups losing their minds. What could they possibly be thinking? They’re lunatics out of touch with reality.

In defense of the normally indifferent FARK commenters, many have said that they have no problem with killing animals, but force feeding an animal sand and metal is too much. Even a pig, which will eat almost anything.

The difference between “can’t” and “won’t”.

Like every vegan, I’ve encountered the “I couldn’t live like that” response, as in this story from Ryan at VegBlog. Explain veganism to someone and it’s always “I couldn’t”, usually followed by rambling about deprivation (and protein). Ryan has the right take on this:

… You say “I couldn’t live like that!” to someone who’s living in squalor with cat feces piled on top of decade-old newspapers. You don’t say it to someone who simply chooses not to consume animal products (including cat feces piled on top of decade-old newspapers).

Veganism isn’t about deprivation. It’s not about sacrifice. …

I choose to be a vegan because I’ve weighed the factors to the best of my intellect and determined that it’s right for me. I’ve chosen a specific path. I have not denied myself anything.

Contrary to popular disbelief, I do not crave meat. (Nope, not even steak hamburger beef.) I don’t secretly sneak off to McDonald’s for a Big Mac/fish sandwich/chicken nuggets combo, with a milkshake chaser. And I don’t feel like my life is lacking anything.

It’s hard to believe that I could have a different opinion and act on it, but I do.

P.S. You aren’t the first person to offer me “just one little bite” of your steak when we’re at a restaurant. It wasn’t funny the first time it happened. It gets less funny every time. But thanks.

Tastes Great — Less Killing

There’s an animal rights discussion raging at Megan McArdle’s new digs at The Atlantic. The background is too detailed, and probably too boring to those not interested in the topic, to rehash. However, this statement from Ms. McArdle in response to earlier arguments offers an excellent glimpse at a common fallacy among omnivores.

But I’m still battling with the question of whether animals should have rights. I’m a utility maximizer for animals: I think that eating certified humane meat is a positive moral good, because it causes the creation of additional happy animals (insofar as animals can be understood to be happy). …

There’s a term within the animal rights movement that better explains the ridiculous notion of humane meat. It’s “happy meat”, as in, as long as I believe the animal lived a content life on a farm with ample room to move around and received proper handling and medical treatment, contributing to that animal’s eventual, gruesome death becomes trivial. That’s too simplistic.

The argument is not specifically that animals are treated horribly, making “humane” treatment hunky-dory. Basic laws should cover cruelty, regardless of whether it’s food production or dogfighting. Animals have an identifiable central nervous system. It’s rational to assume that they feel pain. How they process that, we can’t really know, but assumptions and observation indicate that their response differs little from that of humans. Hence, we have a reasonable starting point for laws prohibiting animal cruelty, even in a libertarian model.

The argument rests with the death of an animal. From Certified Humane:

Under the system, growth hormones are prohibited, and animals are raised on a regular diet of quality feed free of antibiotics. Producers also must comply with local, state and federal environmental standards. Processors must comply with the American Meat Institute Standards, a higher standard for slaughtering farm animals than the Federal Humane Slaughter Act.

The American Meat Institute’s recommended animal handling guidelines include this:

AMIF’s audit guidelines recommend that companies conduct both internal (self-audits) and third party audits using the following criteria:

Effective Stunning – Cattle and sheep should be rendered insensible with one shot at least 95 percent of the time. For pigs, electrical wands should be placed in the proper position at least 99 percent of the time. For gas stunned pigs, no more than 4 percent of gondolas may be overloaded.

Hot Wanding (Pigs only) – No more than one percent of pigs should vocalize due to hot wanding. Hot wanding is defined as the application of electrodes that are already energized.

It continues further, although it doesn’t get better. There is an acceptable level of inhumane slaughter within the “humane” standards. We needn’t worry about a potential 5% of cattle who are not effectively stunned on the first shot, making them insensible and unaware of what’s happening to them? I don’t accept that.

The certified humane label is merely a feel-good tool for omnivores. I’m not saying that’s enough to outlaw meat. The argument is more detailed than that, and can’t be summed up in one quick dismissal of non-vegans. I’m even willing to accept that “humane” meat is a positive moral good, as Ms. McArdle claims. The basic welfarist argument that a life ended (barbarically) after being spent not in complete agony is better than a life ended (barbarically) after being spent in complete agony is valid. But that positive gain is neither deep enough nor compelling to solve the full issue (animal death) or to ignore the blatant contradictions in animal cruelty laws that do seem to center more on a “fluffy/cute” test than any sort of principle.

Families harmed by government, seek government protection.

This article on the rising price of milk is a week old, but I’m just getting to it now. It shows the unintended consequences of stupid government policies, although it doesn’t try to do that. But that’s not what I want to focus on. Instead, I’m amused by the lede.

Record-high milk prices are stinging Americans at the dairy case, just as millions of thirsty school children are returning to classes.

First, that’s a quaint indirect use of “for the children”. I’m just frustrated that the basic economic truth doesn’t show up. These thirsty children have many options to satisfy their thirst. Some are good, some are bad, but there is a plethora of choices. Those who can’t afford or don’t want to pay for higher-priced milk can drink something else¹. This is basic economics, which is probably why it’s so readily ignored.

¹ We’re not going to delve into the myth that cow’s milk is the only, or even best, source of calcium, among other nutrients. Right?

Can we expect a retraction?

Finally, someone at the New York Times figured out that Nina Planck’s irrational diatribe is one-sided and full of mis-leading information, which I discussed here. From the Public Editor at the Times:

Her Exhibit A was a trial in Atlanta in which a vegan couple were convicted of murder, involuntary manslaughter and cruelty in the death of their 6-week-old son, who was fed mainly soy milk and apple juice and weighed only 3.5 pounds. The column set off a torrent of reader e-mail that is still coming in – much of it from vegans who send photos of their healthy children or complain bitterly of being harassed by friends and relatives using Planck’s column as proof that their diet is dangerous.

If there was another side, a legitimate argument that veganism isn’t harmful, Planck didn’t tell you – not her obligation, [editor of the editorial page Andrew] Rosenthal and [head of the op-ed page David] Shipley say. But unlike the Middle East, The Times has not presented another view, or anything, on veganism on its op-ed pages for 16 years. There has been scant news coverage in the past five years.

There is another side.

Bingo. I agree that the op-ed page does not need to be balanced on presenting information. Sometimes, a bias is appropriate. (Obviously.) But it’s good to see someone at the New York Times stand up for truth in this case because Planck provided misinformation. She lied as a result of her bias. That is different than analyzing facts and declaring one stance correct.

The editorial provides further explanation as to why Planck’s article was flawed. I challenged in my original entry most of what the Public Editor now challenges about Planck’s claims. Still, the entire editorial is worth reading to fully demonstrate how ridiculous Planck’s essay was, given the facts she misrepresented and omitted.

Enjoy Ms. Planck’s reply to the furor. Obviously, I disagree with her and find much of her reply laughable. However, I don’t feel like rebutting any of her claims today. Read it and judge for yourself.

Hear the wind blowing through his ears.

I’m not ashamed to have voted against Bush for Kerry-Edwards in 2004, but it gets harder every day.

Responding to a question at a bookstore here, John Edwards said he has never heard of PETA, the animal rights group.

“I can honestly say I have never heard of PETA,” said Edwards. “They don’t want people to eat meat? Well I am not in favor of that.”

Can he possibly be that moronic? If he is so unaware of the news to not know who PETA is, he’s clearly not capable of ever being fully informed about our world. We have a president like that now, we don’t need another.

On a more fundamental note, is he really be such a dunce that he thinks somehow meat-eating versus vegetarian/veganism is going to become a campaign issue requiring a public stance? Alright, now I’m a little ashamed.

Link via Elaine Vigneault.