Tuesday, 25 September 2012

People for the Damning of PETA

I am not PETA's biggest fan. I wrote a post earlier this year criticising one of their ads. A lot of what they do is a bit too extreme for my taste. But they have a use; they do good. I was researching recently a scheme they had going on in which they were offering to subsidise Virtual Frog Dissection software in Indian schools. I think this is a really admirable scheme. But somehow people take issue with PETA because they are PETA. Yes, the text in the last panel is 100% genuine. You can find the article here.


Saturday, 9 June 2012

Bart Jansen's Catcopter: Not suitable for omnivores

I expect that a lot of my readers heard the news this week of Bart Jansen’s dead-cat-helicopter. http://gu.com/p/3848z

Jansen’s piece has incited repulsion in so many, whereas others consider it a legitimate piece of art. After reading the comments on one news site – often the most interesting part – I was not surprised to see so many condemning this man as ‘sick’ and questioning the integrity of his work. Although I expect that this type of news attracts the attention of some angry vegetarians I would guess that the majority of these people were not that way inclined. So why the outcry?

The use of taxidermy in art is not an original idea with artists such as Polly Morgan, Les Deux Garcons, and Claire Morgan using animals on a much larger scale than Jansen but without such exposure. It is of course no news that the average Briton has an attachment to the familiar; most of us have been exposed to some form of traditional taxidermy in museums and in many cases these animals have been hunted. Orville the cat was hit by a car. It would seem that the repulsion is provoked by the absurdity of the art rather than any moral issue. I do not believe that a nation of omnivores could be so concerned for one artist’s beloved pet. The concern stems from the unfamiliarity of it. 

This lack of perspective is symptomatic of a culture with a meat industry that can sell poorly kept, slaughtered chickens as ‘free-range’ without much resistance. When I discussed the issue with a friend of mine, who works with humane taxidermy in her own art (second-hand or from animals who were not hunted or slaughtered), she commented that ‘so many animals are dying and suffering all the time and these people are complaining about someone making fun art from a pet he loved that inevitably died naturally.’ Ask a vegetarian or a vegan and they will have a much more levelled opinion on the issue for they know what a suffering animal looks like.


P.S. thank you to Fiona Jones for the taxidermy artist information.

Monday, 23 April 2012

100 Foods To Eat Before You Die (vegan friendly)

Lists are fun. Read (or watch) High Fidelity. I’m 124 films into the 1001 movies to watch before you die. Lists are fun because we can tick things off and scribble things out. Last week I filled out ‘The Food List Challenge’ on Facebook, and was pleasantly surprised by the amount of vegan, or potentially vegan foods on there. Still, I felt we could easily compile a list with the title ‘100 Vegan Foods to Eat Before You Die.’ This title, however, would be somewhat misleading as a lot of the foods I list here just happen to vegan; this isn’t a list of terrible cheese substitutes.

The first 45 are taken from the original 100; they are the already vegan and the potentially vegan. I am certain that some will disagree with my decision to include vegan caviar, but what I have tried to keep in mind is the experience. If I was eating my seaweed caviar on toast-points accompanied with some champagne and dressed in a dinner-jacket, then does it really matter that it’s not fish-eggs? This philosophy led me to include some other foods such as English chips from the paper and birthday cake. Of course the experience isn’t everything. Not everybody is going to be able to take a quick trip to Murray’s Bagels, NY. But I kept it in mind.

Also, I must confess that I haven’t eaten everything on this list. I’ve never even had tempeh, but it pops up on lots of other foodie lists. Besides, I bet not many of you have ever sampled sufu (aka ‘chinese cheese’) - truly a unique experience.

All of the vegan alternative recipes are easy to find online.

1. Absinthe
2. Baba Ghanoush
3. Baklava
4. Bellini
5. Biscuits & Gravy
6. Black Truffle
7. Borscht
8. Caviar - http://www.beverlyhillscaviar.com/specialty-seaweedcaviar/vegan-caviar/
9. Cheese Fondue
10. Chicken Tikka Masala
11. Chile Relleno
12. Churros
13. Clam Chowder (Isa Chandra Mosckowitz has a recipe for a delicious Glam Chowder in her book ‘Appetite for Reduction’)
14. Cognac
15. Dandelion Wine
16. Dulce De Leche
17. Durian
18. Fresh Spring Rolls
19. Fried Green Tomatoes
20. Fried Plantain
21. Frito Pie
22. Funnel Cake
23. Gazpacho
24. Goulash
25. Gumbo
26. Heirloom Tomatoes
27. Honeycomb (easily made with golden syrup)
28. Key Lime Pie
29. Lassi
30. Mimosa
31. Morel Mushrooms
32. Nettle Tea
33. Paella
34. Phaal
35. Pho
36. Pistachio Ice Cream
37. Polenta
38. Prickly Pear
39. Root Beer Float
40. Sauerkraut
41. Som Tam
42. Sweet Potato Fries
43. Umeboshi
44. Wasabi Peas
45. Zucchini Flowers
46. Quinoa
47. Tabouleh
48. Falafel
49.  Dried Mango
50. Dried Dates
51. Agave Nectar
52. Scrambled Tofu
53. Sufu
54. Guacamole from scratch
55. Physalis
56. Vegan Sushi
57. Tarka Dhal
58. Dolmades
59. Bean Chilli
60. Seitan
61. Tempeh
62. Vegan Macaroni and Cheese
63. Mojito
64. Bloody Mary
65. Miso Soup
66. Pistachios
67. Candy Floss
68. Figs
69. Refried Beans
70. Artichokes
71. Lychees
72. Chanterelle Mushrooms
73. Roast Potatoes
74. Arable Pie (Vegan Cottage Pie)
75. Canarian Potatoes with Mojo Sauce
76. Ginger Beer
77. Jelly and Ice Cream
78. Marmite
79. Vegan Chop Suey
80. Sangria
81. Deep Fried Tofu
82. NY Bagel with Vegan Cream Cheese
83. Peanut Brittle
84. English chips from the paper
85. Wedding Cake
86. Christmas Cake
87. Birthday Cake
88. Pina Colada
89. Coconut Water
90. Real Ale
91. Champagne
92. Chilli Jam
93. Mai Tai
94. Hummus
95. Cornbread
96. Grits
97. Naga Chilli Sauce
98. Maple Syrup
99. Vegan Yuk Sung
100. Thai Green Curry

We are familiar with the myth that a vegan diet cannot be diverse and exciting, but this collection, which had to be cut down, shows how varied it can be. Many may point out the obvious: ‘vegans just can’t eat as many foods’ but in many cases I think the vegan is prompted to try a wider variety of dishes that are sometimes overlooked. 

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

PETA's obesity poster

Today my attention was drawn to an article on the BBC website concerning a billboard created by PETA.

 A billboard, created by Peta
(image taken from the BBC website http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-gloucestershire-17665260)

The poster was displayed in Gloucester near to where a mortuary has recently been built to accommodate obese bodies. Many vegetarians and vegans that I know have a conflicted attitude toward PETA, appreciating in some ways their dedication to animal rights but in many other ways despairing at their militancy. In short, they give us a bad name. But perhaps it’s unavoidable.

The poster has been criticised for its insensitive and irrelevant placement (Gloucester is one of the less obese counties in England), but reading through some of the readers responses on various news websites there also appears to be other criticisms. Some have suggested that the billboard proves that not eating meat makes you stupid; others have expressed their opinion that the poster is simply inaccurate (they followed a vegetarian diet and gained weight). 

So what is it that is so controversial about this poster aside from its location? This blogger thinks that the controversy lies somewhere between the suggestion that if one follows a vegan diet one will not be obese, and the confusion as to why someone should GO VEGAN. As one commenter aptly stated, a vegan diet does necessarily equate to a healthy diet, and equally a meat diet does not necessarily equate to an unhealthy diet. So the PETA’s demand ‘FIGHT OBESITY. GO VEGAN’ is already a misleading and misguided one. What the group is also guilty of is alienating the act of going vegan from the reasoning behind it. This is not to suggest that one person should not go vegan simply for health reasons, but rather that PETA, an animal rights organisation, should not be confusing the issues in this way. Please try and keep animal rights and healthy eating separate, PETA.


Saturday, 7 April 2012

The Vegan Label Part 1: Tesco Free-From

At the end of my last blog I promised that I’d be discussing the vegan label in supermarkets, during my research however I stumbled upon a new range at Tesco: Tesco Free-From (see: http://www.tescorealfood.com/our-food/tesco-free-from.html) and I feel it demands some attention. The new range is very exciting and means another step toward more variety for vegans, but what are the implications of the free-from/vegan label?
            This week I have tried three items from the range: coconut milk, dairy-free cheese spread and the crème caramel. The coconut milk is delicious, the dairy-free cheese spread is tasty if a bit bland, and the crème caramel is practically the real thing. My enthusiasm for the new range is, however, shadowed slightly by my awareness that the vegan label has not been adopted on every Tesco product. The range was pointed out to me when I complained to my mum that Tesco don’t label foods as ‘Vegan’. It is possible that this is simply an oversight; however, I have begun to consider what else might lie behind the vegan label.
            Would it be too expensive to change the packaging? After working in retail I am aware that a change of packaging is likely to be a big and expensive operation. It could well be that Tesco have planned to add the little green ‘V’ but consider it too costly. It could simply be that the process is a slow one.
            It might be the case that, due to strict regulations, any product that is produced in factory that handles milk and egg cannot be labelled as vegan even if the recipe itself is dairy and egg free. It is my opinion that a product with a vegan recipe is still vegan even if this is the case because it does create demand. I do appreciate, however, that it is a complicated situation when one considers allergy and intolerance sufferers.
            My final thought is that the vegan label might be bad advertising. When a non-vegan sees the vegan label on their doughnuts they might avoid them without realising that they were probably vegan anyway. I have been in tongue-biting situations involving people who declared that they preferred the normal roast-potatoes which were in fact vegan anyway. I do believe some non-vegans have a bias against food that is labelled as vegan. So could it be that Tesco’s avoidance of the vegan label is a tactical manoeuvre?
            As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, I have been doing some research into the little green ‘V’ in Britain’s biggest supermarkets. My research is currently incomplete but I thought I’d share for now my list of vegan-friendly shops (based on labelling.)

The big four
TESCO – NO LABELS (Except on Free-From range)

The rest

In my next blog I shall be concluding the labelling issue and be suggesting ways to bring attention to the issue (although finding out who is best to contact is more difficult than I expected.)


Friday, 23 March 2012

An answer to Tibor R Machan’s question ‘Should Animals have human rights?’

Of course not. They should have animal rights, right?

In his short article, entitled ‘Should Animals Have Human Rights?’ in this week’s The Big Issue (no. 992, March 19-25 2012) Tibor R Machan argues his case as to whether ‘human-style rights for animals should exist’ His main argument is that we humans have a moral dimension in our lives, whereas animals do not, and that because of this they are not entitled to rights (specifically, human-rights): ‘Any careful observation of the rest of nature will make it evident that applying moral criteria to how non-human animals live is an error... Ascribing rights to animals is misguided, just as it would be to ascribe guilt to them when they carry out their killings in the wild.’ Machan mixes his terms. Of course animals should not have human rights, they are not human, but animals still deserve rights.

            Machan suggests that because animals seem to have no sense of morality, human empathy for animals is not a sufficient reason to act in the interest of animal rights. He attacks the vegan lifestyle explaining that ‘vegans want everyone to act as vegans choose to, namely to refrain from killing and other wise using animals (exactly why it’s okay to kill fruits and vegetables is a complicated story told by them).’ His portrait of the militant vegan, as the slaughterers of carrots and apples, is misguided. The story is not a complicated one: vegans harvest and eat fruit and vegetables. No pain. No slavery.

 ‘Whatever may be wrong with the way some animals are treated by many human beings, it cannot be accounted for by reference to the rights of animals.’ What is wrong with the way that many animals are treated by many human beings can certainly be accounted for by reference to the rights of animals. Machan admits that humans have a sense of morality. We are capable of moral thought. Then why should we not exercise this sense of morality fully?

I implore Machan to reconsider his perception of animal rights not as based on human rights, but rather a legitimate form of empathy. 


Monday, 27 June 2011

Non-Sweatshop Running Shoes? (UK)

I’ve been back in my hometown for a month now and naturally this diet of home-cooking has invited some extra padding on my middle section. There is a simple solution – ‘let’s start jogging’. There is also a not-so-simple problem – I’m a complete stranger to sports. Don’t get me wrong, I walk almost everywhere, and stay generally active, but I haven’t bought a pair of trainers in six years. So I began my research into cheap and reliable trainers. Then I remind myself – sweatshop. It’s a vague word – most of us have an image in our heads of what a ‘sweatshop’ might look like inside, or how much sweatshop employees might be paid, or the conditions under which said employees work, but the politics of ‘the sweatshop’ is quite complex, as I have come to discover.

I’m not sure why sweatshop became my concern when researching trainers specifically. I had no issue buying two work-shirts from H&M earlier this month. Perhaps I’m just delaying my exercise. Perhaps it’s just that my Citizenship lessons at secondary school have led me to believe that a pair of Nike trainers is the single most unethical purchase one can make. Nonetheless, I had started my mission to find the most ‘ethical’ purchase.

Beginning with a simple online search – ‘non sweatshop trainers’ - the majority of what I was presented with was simply forums of people asking the same question I was: ‘Where can I buy non-sweatshop athletic shoes?’ There are plenty of places offering ethically made formal and casual shoes, but for some reason, there is no alternative for the (both determined and not so determined) athletes out there. A few companies names came up: Brooks make their shoes in the USA (great – but I’m looking for companies in the UK); Loco Shoes are based in New Hampshire but made in Asia; Vegetarian shoes (British) don’t make running shoes. One company that was mentioned more frequently than others was New Balance who produces many shoes that are ‘Made In The USA/UK’. This seemed to be exactly what I was looking for; however, on these forums I met a few comments concerning the futility of boycotting companies that employ sweatshop manufacturing. It is an interesting argument – by boycotting sweatshop am I doing a disservice to the sweatshop labourers? Is sweatshop work actually the best option for these workers? A whole new debate had been opened up to me – in some ways this did seem like a logical argument but in others it seemed to be admitting defeat. I eventually decided not to submit. I was adamant: ‘Sourcing my footwear locally is a step in the right direction! I can diminish my carbon footprint whilst helping to make my country more self sufficient!’

My next move was to do some research into New Balance and their ‘Made in England’ title (http://bit.ly/l1u4iU) which I approached with an open mind and a sense of hope but also an awareness that sometimes these phrases mean nothing (I needn’t go into the ‘free-range’, ‘organic’, and ‘fair-trade’ spiel right now.)

‘Currently New Balance, which employs over 210 people at its site in Flimby, Cumbria, and produces over 28,000 pairs of shoes a week, derives nearly 90% of sales revenues from exports, with 40% of all footwear sold going to European markets.’

I encourage you to give the whole statement a read because I have only provided a short extract. Upon reading, it seemed very sensible, progressive but also too good to be true. A little extra clarification was required. I needed to find out which New Balance shoes were made in England and where the materials were sourced. After perusing the FAQs I decided to go in for the kill and e-mail them directly. Asking the questions: How many of the New Balance trainer designs are produced in England? How can I be sure that the design I am buying is produced here? And are the shoes 100% produced in England? Can I be certain that the shoes aren't partially produced abroad and then finished in England? Where are the materials sourced? Unfortunately I am not allowed to post their response word-for-word but I can let you all know that despite the good intentions of the ‘Made in England’ title, these shoes are manufactured abroad and assembled in the UK. I made a second enquiry, asking for some more details but was told that this was difficult to answer as each design varies and that they withhold some levels of information from the public.

I gave a final response, letting them know that I think ‘Made in England’ was a good start, but at the moment it means I will not be purchasing their products, because, after all, what’s the use of a boycott if you don’t let the company know why you are boycotting their products. Don’t feel scared to do this. Don’t feel you are making a personal attacks on anybody. 

‘Back to square one’ I was tempted to believe. But this was not true; I was a little bit wiser on the topic and, being a creative sort of guy, I was simply required to look into different options. I will skip my cognitions and get right to my conclusion. The buzzword today is ‘Second-hand’. It seems to me that I can avoid the guilt of purchasing a new pair of trainers by simply buying ‘barely-used’, ‘good-as-new’ trainers from eBay. It’s recycling (which is always nice) and, most importantly, it does not create demand for sweatshop trainers. This is by no means a solution to the problem. I must stress that this is just a means of getting hold of a product without creating a demand. The product already exists, it is a perfectly useable product, and I am giving it a new home. I will be signing anti-sweatshop petitions and continuing my boycott – it is in this way that I will try to help the progression towards more sensibly manufactured products.

Please be aware that this is just my best advice on the topic. I am very open to debate if anybody wishes to persuade me into another way of thinking. But for now my advice remains: BUY SECOND-HAND!