Breakfast of Biodiversity

October 31, 2011

– Tropical rain forests cover only 7 percent of the earth’s surface yet harbor at least 50 percent of the world’s plant and animal species (the earth’s biodiversity); they are the lungs of the world, eating away at the excessive carbon dioxide we have excreted from our industrial metabolism  – pg. 3

1. Slicing up the rain forest on your breakfast cereal

– Dibromochloropropane (DBCP) and the Banana Crisis:

  • During the early 1970s thousands of banana workers were rendered sterile by this poison.  In 1993 they filed a class action suit against Standard Fruit in a Texas court.  The companies agreed, in 1997, to pay US$41.5 million to workers who could demonstrate they had been rendered sterile, but thus far they have used a variety of legal maneuvers to avoid any payments…Banana companies have not accepted responsibility for the health and safety of their workers, the community, or the environment.
  •  There is a correlation between log workers and banana workers.  They both need to use the same roads to get to and from work, and because of this we see deforestation.

– Real Problem?

  • Birth rate:  Solution = birth control.  It further implies that this is a sufficient solution, that it is useless to do anything other than promote birth control, and that as long as population densities remain as they are, the pattern of deforestation will continue.
  • Hungry for profits: Banana companies are cutting down rain forests because they are hungry for profits.  They will stop at nothing to satisfy their need to accumulate ever greater quantities of capital, and the forests will continue to disappear as long as the banana companies are allowed to continue their greed operations

2. The rain forest is neither fragile nor stable

– The lowland humid tropics, site of the world’s rain forests, account for less than one-third of the tropical lands – deserts, savannahs, and mountains.  Tropical rain forests are evergreen or partially evergreen forests in areas that receive no less than 50 centimeters a year of rainfall, and have a mean annual temperature of more than 24 degrees centigrade with no frost.  Tropical rainforests are found in three general regions around the world – pg. 16

-Six factors:

  • High Biodiversity
  • Pollination
  • Herbivory
  • Seed Dispersal
  • Light Gap Dynamics
  • Soils

 

 

 

 

 

3. Farming on rain forests soils

-Slash and Burn Agriculture

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

-The most common form of traditional agriculture, and one still practiced in many places in the world today, involves the use of fire and a reliance on the ecological process of succession

-Represents the easiest solution to two ecological problems:

  • Plant Competition (WEEDS):  By burning the cleared patch before scattering the seeds, the farmer forces the undesirable species to at least begin at the same level as the crops.
  • Nutrient Cycling:  Nutrients in the rain forest are recycled very rapidly.  As dead leaves decompose, they release their nutrients into the soil, where they are then picked up by the roots of living plants and reused.  -pg. 42

4: The political economy of agriculture in rain forest areas

– The Origin and Intensification of Agriculture:

  • Slash and burn agriculture represents the first significant human activity that can be thought of as “deforestation”
  • When fallow time is shortened, it is known as “intensification” of agriculture.
  • Population will increase, requiring more land to be put into production and therefore more labor to work the extra land; a continual cycle. -pg. 52

– Banana Plantations

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

– Technical Side of Modern Agriculture

  • The many men (and very few women) looking to establish homesteads provided a ready source of cheap harvest labor.  With all that cheap labor available, it made no sense to invest a large amount of money in an automatic harvester.
  • McCormick’s reaper was ignored for two decades due to rational economic calculations.  Adopted with the outbreak of the civil war when labor grew short.
  • The internal combustion engine made automated devices even more efficient.  The introduction of the internal combustion engine, effectively the introduction of fossil fuel-based traction power, completed the first major transformation of farming to agriculture. -pg. 62

Green Revolution

5. The multiple faces of agriculture in the modern world system

  • The independent farmer has become, in a sense, a worker in the metaphorical food factory that is modern agriculture. -pg. 71
  • Cutting logs out of a tropical forest does not necessarily represent deforestation in and of itself.  However, in the context of a disarticulated economy in the Global South, when logs are cut from a forest, landless peasants are nearly always waiting to follow the logging roads and take advantage of land that has been at least partially cleared of trees. -pg. 79
  • Lack of land and thus lack of food security is the driving force of deforestation. pg. 79

 

-Fun Stuff!

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Eating and not eating animals

October 26, 2011

The beginning of this book was so great and I loved how seemingly unrelated it was to the subject. It was so story like I was a little disappointed when it actually got into the content. I was really quite excited to read this book, but after the first couple of chapters I didn’t find that there was information that was really all that new. I did really like the first hand accounts from C and the Turkey farmer. I think that things like that go a long way in showing people that there is more wrong with how our meat is obtained than what a stereotypical vegetarian might point out. I wish there had been more on the benefits of giving up meat than on why it is so bad for you to eat it. I think that this is a large problem in the dialogue about this issue. In almost all of the books I have read about why we shouldn’t eat meat, the emphasis is always on how bad it is in some form or another, but the benefits are usually just a quick section squeezed in somewhere. I like that he gave as much attention as he did to poultry. It’s odd how even if you are a small scale farmer, your options for birds is influenced by factory farming. You can have a chicken coop out back with plenty of space and clean fresh air, but if it’s broilers you keep then they are so genetically messed up that they won’t even really benefit from it. My aunt and uncle, who raise their own chickens for both meat and eggs buy broilers for the meat part and heritage breeds for the layers. After getting their first batch of broilers my aunt searched hard for a long time to try to find information about how to make their lives easier and it just doesn’t exist. There isn’t anything about steps you can take to improve their short lives even outside of being in a factory farm. The problem is how the birds have been engineered and the only thing you can really do to fix it is to stop breeding them.

Although he is obviously trying to be objective I think that Foer plays a lot on emotion, but I’m not really sure if they’re the ones that would be the most effective. I do agree though with his statement that even those who eat meat know that how the animals are raised is unpleasant to the point that they don’t want to think about it. It’s like they want to completely disassociate in their minds that meat is the result of something dying. My mom for example will can be eating a hamburger, turn to Animal Planet, and then have to turn to something else right away because she doesn’t want to watch the little antelope get eaten by the lion. When you point out to her that she is eating an animal that didn’t even get the chance to run away she just acts like there is nothing she could do about it and keeps going. Vegetarians are often cast off as being wimps or softies that can’t handle reality. I think in most cases it’s actually the reverse. The vegetarians I know are the people that are most grounded in the reality of where meat comes from and what it is. Not only do they know about it, but they have really let it sink in and have accepted the truth of it. It’s usually the meat eaters that refuse to see meat as more than a celophane wrapped package.

I think one of the saddest things about the meat industry (and ag business in general) is how influential it is in politics. As mentioned in the book it’s hard to know what is healthy and what is not because those giving us the reports have such a conflict of interest that what is suggested simply can’t be trusted. Just as the industry only needs to keep its “product” as healthy as necessary to keep it alive until slaughter, so it only needs its human consumsers to stay alive long enough to eat enough food that profit is made until the younger generation can start purchasing.


Eating Animals

October 26, 2011

Reasons behind vegetarianism is something I have been investigating since I was in 7th grade, so I know the basic gist of a lot of this stuff.  It never ceases to amaze and disgust though.

What is the reason for people becoming vegetarians?  I have heard probably a thousand different explanations.  I have been vegetarian at 3 different points in my life, but the reason has been different each time.  It is also really uncommon for people to become vegetarian and stay vegetarian their whole lives.  Why is this?  Is it societal pressures or do we inherently desire meat?  Why do we have a stigma to immediately assume someone is a sentimentalist if he/she is a vegetarian?  Have you ever felt shame for eating meat?  Have you ever thought of being vegetarian?

I spent a lot of time going through the second chapter on words and meaning.  Oftentimes people don’t realize how language affects our perception of something.  “Slaugherhouse” is very different than “factory farm”, but they can be one in the same.

I have been reading a book called “Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat“, that talked about people’s interactions with animals in all kinds of circumstances.  In talking about food, the author pointed out that the English language is one of the only languages to assign whole new names to meat.  In other countries, meat that comes from a cow is called cow meat.  In the United States it’s called beef.  Same goes for pork, veal, and mutton.  It allows us to separate ourselves from the actual kinds of animals we are eating.  I don’t think that if we had called cow meat “cow meat” from the beginning that it would make any difference in how we talk about meat now (the same way that “chicken” makes most people think about food right away, not the animal).  I wonder, though, what the response would be if we started talking realistically about our food.

I want to compile the list of words the book defined:

Animal, anthropocentrism, anthropodenial, anthropomorphism, battery cage, broiler chickens, bullshit (loved it), bycatch, CAFO, CFE, comfort food, cruelty, desperation, discomfort food, downer, environmentalism, factory farm, family farm, feed conversion, food and light, free-range, fresh, the power of habit, human, instinct, intelligence, KFC, kosher, organic, PETA, processing, radical,  sentimentality, species barrier, stress, and suffering.

A few of these caused very strong reactions for me.  Bycatch was the first one.  The list of animals killed in bycatch for tuna fishing includes fish, reptiles, birds, and mammals.  It is a very real thing to imagine when you are eating a fish you are also eating dead sea horses, sea turtles, and whales.  I restarted my vegetarianism in December but called myself a pescatarian, because I didn’t want to give up fish.  Article after article and now this book – – I will never eat tuna again.

I also enjoyed the discussion of words like free-range, fresh, and organic.  I know about the power of labels and the false sense of safety we get from purchasing things with these labels.  This type of thing was a big topic of discussion in a class I took last year on sustainability.

The group PETA has always been very interesting and puzzling to me.  PETA often goes as far as saying we should not have zoos and we should not have pets.  When I worked at a zoo, we learned that PETA is an animal RIGHTS organization, whereas zoos consider themselves to be animal WELFARE organizations.  The difference is that PETA believes in the rights of each individual animal, including the right to not have to live in a cage.  They would also, however, prefer that a species go extinct rather than many of its members be brought to zoos to manage a breeding program.  Zoos work for the welfare of the species, not the individual animal.  This means it’s okay to keep animals in captivity if it is overall increasing the wellbeing of animals across the world.  Some are kept with the purpose of increasing numbers of the species to be reintroduced into the wild.  Other animals are kept around to increase overall interest and empathy towards animals.  Does this really work?  Is there a better solution?

The definition of sentimentality was very meaningful to me because as I was reading it I realized that I often dismiss myself for being a sentimentalist.  I have very logical reasons for feeling the way I do about meat and animals in general, but even in times thinking to myself, I end up chastising myself for my “bleeding-heart” ways.  If I’m doing this to myself, how can I expect anyone else to feel any differently?

Okay.  Big question.  What kinds of people are slaughterhouse workers??  People are arrested, charged, and sent to jail for animal cruelty all the time.  So why is it okay for the people making our food to do the same?  We are so detached from these animals that become our food that the people exhibiting extreme animal cruelty in places where the food is processed do not receive the same kinds of consequences as those participating in cockfights or beating dogs.  Is tearing off the head of a chicken any different?  It gives me the chills to think of the people who go to work, kill thousands of animals, and go back the next day.  It actually makes me incredibly uncomfortable to think about.  I really do hope to never meet one of those people.

The discussion about food in a social setting was very relatable to me.  This summer my family took a vacation, and every time we stopped we had to have a conversation beforehand about what I, a vegetarian, could eat and what my sister, a vegan, could eat.  This is not an atypical situation.  On one side of my family there are a lot of vegetarians, so it is always easy to eat a meal with them.  My other side of the family is a little different.  My mom’s oldest brother worked for GM for most of his life and doesn’t believe in global warming.  That side of the family eats a lot of meat.  At Thanksgiving vegetarians are almost always restricted to eating mashed potatoes (no gravy) and green beans.  I have found, however, that many places are moving towards being more vegetarian/vegan friendly.  At Chili’s you can substitute any meat patty on a burger for a veggie patty.  Some burger joints in Chicago have started to compete for the honor of serving the best veggie burger in the city.

Should the intelligence of an animal dictate whether or not we eat it?  Should friendliness or trainability of an animal have an effect?

I have known people who admitted they did not think of humans as animals.  Why do you think this is?  How can we separate ourselves so completely from something we are biologically a part of?  When you look at the evolution of chordates, it is true that we seem to be very far away from fish.  When you look at a simple, broken down phylogeny of just minute parts of the plant, fungi, and animal kingdoms, however, it is clear how very close we are to fish.  We’re even closer to birds.  And obviously, we’re closest to cows and pigs.  Pigs are actually so similar that some of their organs can be transplanted into our bodies and work just fine.  So why do we not even view ourselves as being part of the same kingdom?

What is your reason for eating animals?


EATING ANIMALS

October 26, 2011

I feel like I struggle with many of the same issues that Jonathan Foer (author) does when it comes to being vegetarian.  The book overall was a great read and I found myself laughing most of the way through it at things he wrote.  The book is written like Foer is talking to you about this topic and includes many hilarious stories.  I would go through the each section but there were like 20 per chapter so I will just highlight a few.  I also liked the facts included in each section. I learned a lot about animal production and random views of subjects that made me do more research into them.  The facts made the book more interesting to read because they were all over.  One of the most surprising to me was that “one-third of the land surface of the planet is dedicated to livestock”! thats crazy considering how many people we have crammed in a room in some parts of the world!

would you eat a puppy?

The intro of the book and many of his home stories drew me in right away.  His grandmother sounds hilarious and I wish I had someone in my life that wanted me to weigh more! I also had to agree with his quote at the beginning, ” Her food was delicious because we believed it was delicious”! I feel like that is a true statement in my life because my grandma always had the best food.  Not really sure it was but when I was little it sure did taste like it!   Then Foer’s struggle with becoming a vegetarian was similar to mine in high school, I liked the idea of it but when I was home and my dad was making dinner …. it was a rough time sticking to it.

When Foer talked about how many animals a single person will eat in their lifetime …21,000!  I couldn’t believe it! there are so many diseases in meat and then there is tuna … I don’t know if I can ever eat tuna again.  Then I feel so bad for pigs, my stomach and heart and throat all dropped as I felt like I was going to be sick.

Then the SHIT section:

This was interesting because many of the facts I was unaware of.  Then I did some research into it and couldn’t believe how much manure is produced by different factory farms! This is a really good article that explores things factory farms are doing to keep the animal cruelty a secrete.

would you rather eat this?

or this

I really think that this book opened my eyes to a number of problems in the food industry.  These are problems that many people have no knowledge of because it isn’t open to the public without doing research.  This should be common knowledge and many people just don’t know or understand the way these animals are being farmed just to be cheap.

arn't they cute


Readings: Eating Animals

October 26, 2011

I must say that I am glad to be done reading this book! In other words, this book was a horror-read and the author’s compelling questions coupled with emotion made it difficult for me to keep going. I never induce a lot of emotion into reading or watching movies because I feel it is just one perspective, but this one does not let me escape without guilt. The author, I give in, is extremely smart to end the book with “If nothing matters, there’s nothing to save.”

This makes it impossible for me to just think of the book as a good read. “No reader of this book would tolerate someone swinging a pickax at a dog’s face” (31). This line really touched me for two reasons. One, this gave the book a personalized touch in the sense that the author assumes certain factors, unlike most academic books these days and other reason being that I quickly understood what the author was getting at and why we should care! It was a good start-up to make us understand why we kill fish in such atrocious ways. Now thinking about it, the logic seems really simple. We would obviously find it hard to kill someone who we know and associate with. Our meat eating habits are driven by the fact that we don’t know what the meat undergoes before it gets to our plate. I also agree with the author that we need to change our nostalgic images of farming and come to terms with reality. This is in fact, the first step towards understanding our meat. I remember an incident that once occurred to me while reading this book. We had gone to a restaurant where I ordered baby chicken curry (the special delicacy on the menu). The dish literally had a baby chick which was cooked in gravy on the plate! In other words, it was uncut, so I realized probably for the first time in my life, that chicken is really a living creature. Whenever I eat chicken, I realized I do not look at it as a creature, but simple as pieces of food that I eat – because chicken is never necessarily served as an entire whole. I just could not eat the chick on that day! Another thing that freaked me out is that we have modified the genetics of animals to an unimaginable extent. We control their day, we control their night, we control their ability to reproduce, to just name a few! Thinking from the viewpoint of an animal, we are their gods! I cannot digest the fact that we have brought down the lifetime of chickens from an average of 15 years to 6 months! Even, eggs for that matter, we have made chickens lay eggs at a rate which is thrice their natural capacity. Henry Ford’s idea of making one person do one thing in an assembly line for a long time is highly criticized now. Think about what animals must be going through! I would in fact, prefer not to think nor imagine any of this!

“If I misuse a corporation’s logo, I could potentially be put in jail; if a corporation abuses a billion birds, the law will protect not the birds, but the corporation’s right to do what it wants” (93). Another authoritative line in the book. It talks about a lot of paradoxes that we face in out every day life. The most important one that I can think of is: A terrorist kills four hundred people in a bomb blast, but when it comes to prosecuting him, international human rights organizations claim about protecting his rights as a “human.” The sad part about reading this book is that it will be very tough in real life to make a difference. The author talks about collective will which has been emerging around the world on treatment of animals. I believe that the best place to start would be right here in this class. From today onwards. We don’t have to sacrifice our lunch and dinner, but spread the awareness and let people know what is really on their plate. This is enough to make a difference. I must also say that the author’s research and guts to write this book is very commendable. Especially, when he visits a strangers farm with “C” to get a feel of a factory farm – considering there were bull guards there! Also, the letter that the author wrote to factory farms requesting an appointment and opportunity to visit their farms was interesting. I especially appreciate his patience in writing multiple letters and being able to turn his disappointment of not receiving replies into a book that is sure to make a difference in the lives of its readers.

PETA was an interesting part of this book. Almost in a way like the environmental extremists such as the Earth Liberation Front that we read about earlier. While talking to a friend, he claimed that PETA was better described as People Eating Tasty Animal! Wikipedia claims that they are under the FBI scanner for being agents of domestic violence and their euthanizing strategy has been criticized widely. However, the author seems to give me an impression that they have made a difference. It would be interesting to discuss their role in the animal rights movement in detail in class.

The million dollar question is will I stop eating meat? Probably not, but at this point something does not feel right. I have never felt guilt when I eat meat and the most important issue that is raised in the book is that we don’t feel guilty because we don’t know where and how it comes to our plate. I am still thinking. It will be interesting to see my final decision.

The Exotic Creature called Sea Horse

 

Would you eat that? :-!


Reading: Eating Animals

October 26, 2011

While reading Eating Animals by Foer, there were many times I cringed and had to put the book down. Many of the passages had very descriptive details of inhumane practices that occurred in the factory farms he went to. Foer tries to address how food is viewed in the United States, but also responsible insights on food consumption. This book definitely exposes large scale factory farms and explains problems with them. Factory farms can cause problems with human health, the environment and are inhumane. Foer does not beg everyone to become a vegetarian or vegan, but looks through a fairly objective lens on most issues. He incorporates different perspective from all sides of the argument.

One point Foer brought up was the use of hormones and antibiotics in livestock animals. The use of these practices do not only harm the animal, but can harm the consumer over time. Many antibiotics used for pigs are very similar to antibiotics used for humans, and this can lead to higher rates of bacterial resistance. The more we expose and antibiotic to animals and humans, the more likely bacteria will build a stronger resistance. In many of these factory farms the animals are given antibiotics everyday, so a diese cannot wipe out the whole herd. The animals are so tightly packed together that if one gets sick than all of the animals are more than likely to get sick. I know there has always been an ongoing debate about the use of hormones in animals and the effects this can have on humans. I feel like a general rule of thumb is adding unnecessary  hormones to the body is always a questionable move. To learn more about growth hormones in food go to hormones

Foer talks about how we need to be a responsible consumer when eating meat. He does not demand that everyone should stop eating meat, but rather have a connection to your food. When I eat a piece of meat for dinner I have absolutely no clue where my meat came from. I do not know how sanitary the slaughter house is and I have no connection to the food on my plate. Meat should not be on a factory farm scale and the animals should be thought of more than a product. However, the consumer is more to blame than anyone else for this problem because many of us want to eat meat everyday, but at a cheap price. The meat industry has managed to produce extremely cheap meat products, but many ethical and health boundaries were crossed in the process. Foer describes many gruesome events of horrible animal cruelty and it is sickening to read. The meat industry has a pretty big stronghold in the government and it does not seem like anything will change in the near future.

Another good point Foer made was discussing how we decide which animals are acceptable to eat and which ones are not. He talks about how people in the United States are repulsed by the idea of eating a dog, but have no problem digging into a hamburger. Something that is very taboo for our culture may not be in other cultures, and that is always interesting to think about. However, even if I went to a country where eating dog was encouraged I still do not think I would try it. Dog Meat


Reading: Eating: Animals

October 26, 2011

You see that?  This is exactly what Eating Animals is talking about.  I honestly had no idea live chickens were transported in such a manner until I passed a semi of the little punks on 71 two weeks ago.  (I have no love of birds.  I was attacked by one too many of them as a small child.)

Interesting book, sorta has a textbook feel, but it’s one of those textbooks from a professor who knows textbooks are boring so he or she adds some personality to it.  The textbook feel is probably because of the terms he has listed, and I’m not complaining about that.

One section seemed really illogical to me.  The section where he slits turkey throats in order to spare them a painful death.  WHAT?  If you were to slit my throat right now, it would take me roughly two minutes to bleed out (I just looked this up).  That is two minutes of lying in your own blood in pain, and as humans we have the added pain of knowing we will die.  Can you imagine how much pain this dude was in?  How is taking such a long route to kill merciful?  I’d rather have my head cut off.  The most merciful way I’ve ever seen factory farm animals killed was at a veal farm in Mexico.  The calves  were lined up into a narrow alley.  A man with a sledgehammer stood above them at the end of the alley.  Calf would walk up;  man would swing hammer down and into side of calf’s head.  Quick, easy, much less painless than slit throats, but gruesome and not exactly humane.

Descriptions in this book were at times difficult to stomach.  It didn’t get me to stop eating meat, and I ate a chicken sandwich after finishing the book, so it wasn’t devastatingly nasty.  That’s part of being an American though, we don’t want to know where are stuff came from or who had to be hurt to get our stuff (think diamonds).  People would stop eating meat (or at least demand better standards) if they read this book.  It’s a modern day The Jungle.  The book operates on the old adage “you are what you eat.”  Serious health concerns are brought up for both worker and consumer by this book (swine flu).  Chemicals and hormones are injected into what we eat, and for all we know those hormones could cause cancer or cause health problems for children inside a womb.  Why do you think nations in Europe wanted to ban genetically altered corn?  It’s not natural.  Our treatment of our food is reflective of our treatment of ourselves.