On Buying Absolution

From Kip I learned of this brief essay by Michael Dorf. Here are the first two of its three paragraphs:

In my FindLaw column yesterday, I argued that Al Gore undermines his ability to act as a spokesman for combating global warming by living in a very large house and jetting around the world — even though he “carbon balances,” i.e., pays green causes to plant trees, cover landfill and take other actions that compensate for his own generation of greenhouse gases. I compare these compensating measures to the purchase of papal indulgences and the payment of substitute soldiers by Civil War draftees. (I go on, however, to praise Gore’s policy proposals.)

Here I want to add another example. Suppose I think that it’s wrong to eat animals and animal products (as in fact I do) but that I really like the taste of meat. Could I discharge my moral obligation (as I see it) to be a vegan by continuing to pack away the hamburgers and steaks but pay a carnivore to convert to veganism so that I “meat balance?” The very idea seems absurd.

Such a transaction is far too utilitarian-at-the-expense-of-principles for me personally, but I don’t think it’s absurd to consider this.

Animal rights vegans, of which I am one only tangentially¹ through my primary health justifications for being vegan, tend to fall into two camps: welfarists and abolitionists. The distinction isn’t perfectly applicable here because the distinction has more to do with approach to the treatment of animals, but it’s useful anyway. Welfarists believe that marginal improvements in how we treat animals is useful. Free-range chickens and cage-free hens, for example, reduce the suffering of animals while they’re alive. If a pig has the ability to stretch her legs in her gestation crate, that’s better than her being pinned to the floor by the constraints of her crate. The treatment may still be despicable, but the animal suffers less.

Abolitionists view this distinction more as a black-or-white issue. It does matter how compassionately you treat the animal, the animal still suffers. It doesn’t matter how compassionately you slaughter the animal, dead is still dead. Since humans do not need meat and alternatives exist for animal products, there is no justification that renders the use and abuse of animals acceptable.

I tend to side with the abolitionists. There is value in the welfarist approach when it exposes people to the horrible practices involved in animal “agriculture”. Every change must begin somewhere. But I agree that such concessions may lead to as much or more animal consumption. I’ve had discussions where a carnivore will say “but I buy only free-range meat”. So? The animal still suffers, although that’s not apparent in the marketing. (How many singing cows do we need to see to believe something untrue?) Again, dead is dead.

Which gets back to the question at hand. Would a barter of money for veganism work? I don’t think it discharges the buyer’s moral obligation, but it could work to reduce animal suffering. For every new vegan, n animals will not die or suffer. That’s the beauty of capitalism. Reduced demand will lead to reduced supply. Over a lifetime, that could be a tremendous individual impact.

There are drawbacks, of course. The buyer may now consume more meat because he is “offsetting” his consumption. The buyer may be a large man with a vociferous appetite, while the seller may be a petite woman with a small appetite. The balance falls heavily against significant improvement. The net effect from the person with a moral qualm is potentially less than if he had the character to act according to his beliefs.

I suspect this drawback is more likely than the optimistic outcome from buying veganism. A bit like Al Gore’s energy consumption for his home, for example.

¹ I care about animals rights enough to do the basics. I don’t buy animal products such as leather. I don’t buy products tested on animals. You just won’t find me actively protesting and agitating for change. I care about it, but I’m not passionate enough. I’d get in the way.

Firmware Upgrade from the Eyeball Factory?

Some interesting science news today:

Providing a kaleidoscopic upgrade to creatures that are largely colorblind, scientists have endowed mice with a human gene that allows the rodents to see the world in full Technicolor splendor.

The advance, which relied on imaginative tests to confirm that the mice can perceive all the hues that people see, helps resolve a long-standing debate about how color vision arose in human ancestors tens of millions of years ago. That seminal event brought a host of practical advantages, such as the ability to spot ripe fruit, and unveiled new aesthetic pleasures — autumn foliage, magenta sunsets and the blush of a potential mate, among them.

This is fascinating to me. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be colorblind. I’d assume that, if this pans out, many colorblind people would seek out a genetic improvement. That’s only a guess, of course. Still, the capability of the human mind fascinates.

One line in the story made me chuckle.

The work also points to the possibility of curing some of the millions of colorblind Americans — and even enhancing the vision of healthy people, allowing them to experience a richer palette than is possible with standard-issue eyes.

A bit like combat boots or a new company laptop. Are we obligated to discuss who/what issued them as standard? So many questions.

Disclaimer: As a vegan, I’m supposed to be opposed to animal testing in all its forms. For the most part I am. My exceptions are practical and beyond what I care to discuss in this post. In not discussing them, I am offering no approval or disapproval for the animal testing in the article, from which many questions arise. Blah, blah, blah.

How important is cheaper bacon?

I don’t write much about vegan issues because there are only so many non-mainstream issues I can discuss before I give the impression that I’m ready to abandon society, live in a hut and forsake showering. Sometimes an issue worth mentioning hits the news.

The largest U.S. pork supplier, Virginia-based Smithfield Foods, said yesterday [01/24] that it will require its producers to phase out the practice of keeping pregnant pigs in “gestation crates” — metal and concrete cages that animal welfare advocates consider one of the most inhumane features of large-scale factory farming.

Activists hailed the decision as perhaps the most significant voluntary improvement ever made in animal welfare, but they said the stage had been set by the recent passage of two state initiatives that would ban the use of the crates.

That’s indeed overdue but significant. I accept that my dietary choices will remain the minority in my lifetime, barring some unanticipated development. But I’m still amazed that even a minimal shift like this has taken so long. Any basic awareness of the issue should reveal exactly how cruel this is. It seems only someone with a complete indifference to the suffering of farmed animals could deem cheaper meat more important than a small level of decency. Basically, I’d be curious to hear how this could be considered humane or defensible:

While they defended the use of the crates — which are so narrow that the animals cannot turn around and some have to lie uncomfortably on their chests — they said their own research had concluded they could be replaced by group pens without any long-term problems or cost increases.

Remember, these are pregnant pigs that cannot turn around and may be forced to lie on their chests. I’m not going to jump on the animal rights soapbox because I know most people see that as extreme. I don’t think it is, although I’ll grant that some activists take that to its extreme. But actions such as this don’t need to be motivated by any notion of rights for animals. Actions like this are about the humans who care for and consume these animals in a time when it isn’t necessary for survival. We don’t think it’s acceptable to mistreat “cute” animals like cats and dogs, so why is it acceptable to mistreat other animals? Because we decided they taste better? That can’t be enough.

For what it’s worth, I think the seriousness with which this will be undertaken and to which it will be adhered is explained by the implementation timeline of this decision. Smithfield expects all of its pig nurseries will be converted to group pens within 10 years. Many animals will suffer over the next decade.

Does the baby Jesus hate Tofurky?

Speaking of science and kooks, too much soy will allegedly make you gay (Source):

The dangerous food I’m speaking of is soy. Soybean products are feminizing, and they’re all over the place. You can hardly escape them anymore.

I have nothing against an occasional soy snack. Soy is nutritious and contains lots of good things. Unfortunately, when you eat or drink a lot of soy stuff, you’re also getting substantial quantities of estrogens.

Estrogens are female hormones. If you’re a woman, you’re flooding your system with a substance it can’t handle in surplus. If you’re a man, you’re suppressing your masculinity and stimulating your “female side,” physically and mentally.

With such claims, a few citations of medical data might help. They’re nowhere to be found. But that’s okay. Proof is unnecessary when a child’s sexuality is at stake:

Soy is feminizing, and commonly leads to a decrease in the size of the penis, sexual confusion and homosexuality. That’s why most of the medical (not socio-spiritual) blame for today’s rise in homosexuality must fall upon the rise in soy formula and other soy products. (Most babies are bottle-fed during some part of their infancy, and one-fourth of them are getting soy milk!) Homosexuals often argue that their homosexuality is inborn because “I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t homosexual.” No, homosexuality is always deviant. But now many of them can truthfully say that they can’t remember a time when excess estrogen wasn’t influencing them.

And so it goes. Instead of scientific proof, or even theories with a scientific basis, we get the basic statement that “homosexuality is always deviant.” Note that the author discusses medical blame rather than explanation. Even if soy is as dangerous as the author claims, his real concern is not physical health. Moral health trumps any reality we face here. Of course, a reasonable person might just as easily attribute the alleged rise in homosexuality to reduced stigma that allows gays to come out of the closet rather than pretending to be straight. Incidence and reporting are different.

Finally, I wonder how the author would explain lesbians? I understand that the real disgust is aimed at gay men, but I wouldn’t expect the bigotry to be this obvious.

Afterthought: As a vegan, I have no stance in this argument. Avoid soy or don’t. I eat soy products and I’m fairly certain it hasn’t made me gay. But I’m just one guy. Here is some information about soy that challenges a few claims. I make no claims about it’s accuracy, but there are citations. That’s instantly an improvement over the WorldNet Daily nonsense.

Seattle Factoids

For anyone thinking of visiting Seattle, here are a few tidbits of knowledge I picked up:

  1. Mighty O donuts makes the greatest vegan donuts doughnuts the planet has ever known. In eight days, Danielle and I inhaled 2½ dozen doughnuts. Granted, I consumed more, but they were good. Like crack, even. Every time we were in our hotel room, they called our name. So. Good.
  2. The locals refer to the city as the People’s Republic of Seattle. I don’t know if this is meant affectionately, but you can imagine I’d never live there. It’s a wonderful place to visit, though.
  3. The common perception that it rains a lot is a myth. I lugged a rain jacket and umbrella across this continent based on this lie. Don’t believe it. We encountered zero drops of rain on our vacation, including more than five days spent in Seattle.
  4. I’ve never been to San Francisco, but I imagine it feels like Seattle. I’d never ridden on roads that slope at an 88° angle before, but now I know what it’s like.
  5. Not Seattle-specific, but taught by the aforementioned hills, I can report that the Saturn Vue is possibly the worst car ever designed. How can an automatic transmission require two feet to operate the pedals to avoid slamming into cars behind you? (Side note: The hills weren’t really 88° angles. The engineers at Saturn inspired that bit of exaggeration.)
  6. As a DC resident I was susceptible to Seattle’s hatred of jaywalking. I obeyed all the signals to avoid the $55 ticket, which police will apparently issue at 7am Sunday morning on an empty road.
  7. Mount Rainier is big.

Now you know.

Where are the tofu subsidies?

As a vegan, testing or not testing for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (Mad Cow Disease) isn’t a particular concern. One cow with the disease, or one billion cows, my brain is going to continue functioning nicely. (Open to interpretation, of course.) And the politics involved, through subsidies for meat and dairy production, preclude my “Save the cows” pleas from making any headway. So, instead of complaining or applauding the wisdom of the Agriculture Department’s decision to cut testing for BSE, I’ll highlight this quote from the story about the possible impact of the decision:

“It surely will not encourage consumers in the U.S. or Japan to rush to the store to buy more beef,” said Carol Tucker Foreman, food-policy director for Consumer Federation of America.

The government shouldn’t be in the business of encouraging consumers to buy more beef. Or less beef. Or chicken instead of beef. Or beets instead of chicken. Or… you get the point.

If consumers want beef, they’ll buy it. If they deem BSE or any other possible contamination to be a risk, their inevitable decision to stop buying beef will suggest responses from beef marketers. They could stop selling beef. This might be necessary if the cost of testing proved prohibitive to what consumers are willing to pay. More likely, they would test their beef, which would raise their costs. They would pass that increase to their consumers. Taxpayers like me, who do not consume the beef we’re all paying to protect, would no longer be forced to artificially support the carnivorous habits of everyone else.

Capitalism. It’s what’s for America.

I spent 75&#162 on this entry

KipEsquire at A Stitch in Haste points to this article concerning New Jersey’s newly announced ban on junk food in school lunches (to take effect on Sept. 1, 2007).

Under the New Jersey plan, soda, candy and foods listing sugar as the first or principal ingredient will be banned from school cafeterias. Snacks and drinks with more than eight grams of total fat per serving and two grams of saturated fat will be banned, and cafeterias will have to restrict amounts of foods with trans fats.

The only beverages that can be served in amounts of 12 ounces or more will be water or milk with 2 percent fat or less.

I’m not going to focus on the merits of this proposal because I don’t really care much. It’s a noble goal that will go horribly wrong because the government wishes to dictate that people make responsible choices where they don’t wish to do so. It’s especially absurd because it involves the state’s power over minors, a group that obviously has no political power to object. Also, parents form their child’s eating habits, so anything that doesn’t influence the prior learning before forcing the change, and I can think of little government intervention that would, will fail. I suspect the typical reaction will mimic this (not surprising) response:

“I think it’s whack,” Malcolm Jones, 13, an eighth grader at South Orange Middle School, said while munching on a baked chicken patty sandwich. A carrot stick sat untouched on his plate. “They took away French fries, pizza, all the good stuff. A lot of students aren’t happy.”

Anyone believe that kids won’t find a way around this? Administrators and teaches will spend more time confiscating junk food contraband than educating kids. So, no, I have nothing to add to that debate that isn’t obvious.

I do wish to comment on this quote, though:

Robert Earl, senior director of nutrition policy for the Food Products Association in Washington, D.C., said there were flaws with the plan because it excluded many foods that children want and need as part of a whole diet.

“Things like cheeses, nuts, peanut butter, flavored milks and normal foods that are part of a healthful diet could be excluded,” Mr. Earl said. “It seems like the better objective is perhaps having a lot of variety instead of restrictions.”

Education and choices? Oh, why would we do that? We don’t put children in school to learn to think. They’re in school to learn how to take directions. Duh.

But again I digress. What really bothers me is that Mr. Earl mentions flavored milks as “part of a healthful diet”. How are they healthful? Aside from the obvious arguments that humans are the only species to drink the milk of another species and milk does bad things to the human body, how is adding flavors to milk going to keep make it healthy? Consider this explanation of flavored milk by the National Dairy Council:

In general, flavored milks are milks to which a sweetened flavors such as cocoa or cocoa powder, strawberry or vanilla extract has been added, along with a sweetener such as sucrose or high fructose corn syrup.

No doubt every nutritionist recommends a minimum daily intake of high fructose corn syrup. That’s why we’re being propagandized marketed flavored milk from many different angles. Consider:

Besides the great taste, pediatricians agree that flavored milk is a nutritious beverage for children. This same survey also revealed that 100% of pediatricians agree calcium is important for children’s growth and development and 93% said that children are not consuming enough calcium in their diets. Many children agree that they would drink more milk if it were flavored, and a recent study shows that children who drink milk with their lunch consume more calcium for the entire day! Not just for kids, milk, including flavored milk, has an excellent nutrient profile, and, along with other dairy products, is the major source of calcium in the diet. Government data indicates that most of us fail to meet our daily calcium recommendations as set by the National Academy of Sciences. This can lead to bone fractures early in life and eventually osteoporosis. Why shouldn’t we add a little “flavor” to our lives!

That’s a hard-hitting study. 100% of pediatricians agree calcium is important for children’s growth and development. Who knew? Blah, blah, blah. There’s more debunking I could do on the facts, as presented so far, but that’s for another day. What I will do is a little experiment, based on this comment from Dayle Hayes, a registered dietician:

Flavored milk does contain added sweeteners. However, the amount of sugar in most flavored milk is significantly less than the amount in regular soft drinks.

Really? That’s good. We should make flavored milk the staple liquid to quench every thirst. But just to be sure, let’s look at the labels, okay? Okay. Here is the nutrition label for Horizon Organics Vanilla Milk. Here is the nutrition label for Nesquik Vanilla Milk.

One has 29 grams of sugar, the other has 30 grams. They’re basically even. And to get that fine flavor, they both use sugar. And Nesquik is better because it uses the high fructose corn syrup and artificial flavors. Mmmmmm. Nutritious. At least they’re use considerably less sugar than soft drinks. I hesitate to even think of the sugar content of soft drinks. But I must suffer for my art, so I purchased a 12 oz. can of Coca-Cola to read the nutrition label. (Coca-Cola doesn’t make it available on the web. Wonder why?) I took this picture of the Coca-Cola nutrition label.

Right, the less sugar argument is true because that can of soda has 39 grams of sugar. And yet, I don’t feel like that’s true. Why is that? Could it be that the soda’s 39 grams of sugar is in 12 oz. of soda, versus the 30 grams of sugar in 8 oz. of flavored milk? I didn’t major in calculus, but I think I can do this math. The soda has 3.25 grams of sugar per oz. The flavored milk has 3.75 grams of sugar per oz.

I haven’t had a soda in years, so I’m not promoting soda as an alternative to milk. But the argument that flavored milk is a good choice is absurd. For example, a serving of flavored vanilla milk has the same sugar content as a Snickers&#174 bar. Yet, it’s so much easier to believe the marketing from the government and dairy producers that milk is a great food. Really, they wouldn’t market lies. They wouldn’t pay legislators to legislate milk over soda water. Would they?

So, no, I have no faith in the state of New Jersey to get th
is plan right.

Adam & Eve owned a butcher shop

Sometimes a news item comes along that makes me angry. I may rant at many stories, but this article’s nonsense is beyond anything imaginable. So, even though the article is more than three months old, I’m still going to comment on it.

I’m a vegan. I’ve written a little about that in the past, but not much because I don’t care to preach to anyone. I think it’s the right choice, but I know most won’t agree. So be it. If you’re interested, I’m more than happy to give you information about why I choose veganism. Basically, I subscribe to the “Don’t tell, unless asked”. Most carnivores don’t want to know, believing that ignorance is bliss. Fine, enjoy. However, I expect the same because yes, I can get enough protein and no, I don’t really want a burger. I don’t even sneak them when no one is looking, even though I know many don’ t believe that. Somehow, I survive.

A few months ago, the American Association for the Advancement of Science held its annual meeting. One topic was veganism and whether or not its healthy, appropriate, or ethical for children. Professor Lindsay Allen, a US scientist with the US Agricultural Research Service. (The ARS is part of the US Department of Agriculture.) Those credentials seem impressive, but this is what she had to say:

“There have been sufficient studies clearly showing that when women avoid all animal foods, their babies are born small, they grow very slowly and they are developmentally retarded, possibly permanently.”

Really? Hmmm, maybe she’s on to something. I’ve read the exact opposite in almost every book I’ve read in the last eleven years, but perhaps she’s studied more. I want to know more.

“If you’re talking about feeding young children, pregnant women and lactating women, I would go as far as to say it is unethical to withhold these foods [animal source foods] during that period of life.”

Unethical? That strong? What would be better? Blue Kool-Aid&#174 drinks? That occurs naturally in the wild. Chocolate milk? Ditto. I can’t count the number of times I’ve driven by a pasture only to witness three, sometimes four children suckling the teat of some grateful dairy cow. She nurses them so well, it’s stunning to think that, not only did she not give birth to those children, they’re not even the same species. Yet she cares so much. Cows are cool.

Professor Allen’s studied enough to know this. She’s even done studies. Consider:

Research she carried out among African schoolchildren suggests as little as two spoonfuls of meat each day is enough to provide nutrients such as vitamin B12, zinc and iron.

The 544 children studied had been raised on diets chiefly consisting of starchy, low-nutrition corn and bean staples lacking these micronutrients.

This meant they were already malnourished.

Time to interrupt this just to emphasize that point. The children were already malnourished. Remember that as the story continues.

Over two years, some of the children were given 2oz supplements of meat each day, equivalent to about two spoonfuls of mince.

Two other groups received either a cup of milk a day or an oil supplement containing the same amount of energy. The diet of a fourth group was left unaltered.

The changes seen in the children given the meat, and to a lesser extent the milk or oil, were dramatic.

These children grew more and performed better on problem-solving and intelligence tests than any of the other children at the end of the two years.

Adding either meat or milk to the diets also almost completely eliminated the very high rates of vitamin B12 deficiency previously seen in the children.

Look at how completely the oil aspect dropped from the conclusion, but no matter. The point is obvious. Eat more meat and dairy. It gives the kids what they need. Damn, what an amazing elixir meat is. I’m just stunned. I would’ve never guessed that any adjustment to a nutrient-poor diet would make a difference. Who knew that consuming a variety of foods could make a difference? And I won’t mention how happy I am that Professor Allen concluded that it’s unethical to feed a young child a vegan diet consisting of vegetables, fruits, nuts, grains, and oils, but it’s ethical in the name of science to deliberately withhold nutrition from a group of children known to be malnourished. I have so much to learn.

Professor Allen did make a concession.

She accepted that adults could avoid animal foods if they took the right supplements, but she said adding animal source food into the diet was a better way to tackle malnutrition worldwide than quick fixes with supplements in the form of pills.

“Where feasible, it would be much better to do it through the diet than by giving pills,” she said. “With pills it’s very hard to be certain that the quantity of nutrition is right for everybody and it’s hard to sustain.”

Right. It’s too hard to take B-12 supplements, so let’s just go to the easy answer. That’s how civilization achieved every advancement until this study, so it must work. Oh, and it wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that the National Cattleman’s Beef Association partially supported the study.

One final revelation in the story shows how generous developed, carnivorous nations can be. Consider:

In Africa, good results had been obtained from giving people a dried meat on a stick snack which proved both nutritious and appealing.

In two hundred years of economic and scientific advancement, the best we can do is export corn dogs?