Food Choices for Healthy People and a Healthy Planet

All posts in Animal Cruelty


Suppose we could get all the protein and leather-like fabric to satisfy the world’s population – without ranches and slaughterhouses? Sounds like a dream to anyone who is concerned about animals and the environment.

Tofu and TVP satisfies a lot of us BUT you can’t wear them. Enter, stage right, a man named Andras Forgacs, an entrepreneur whose experience in tissue engineering includes making materials for pharmaceutical research and replacing damaged human tissues. (You’re probably seen pictures of the human ears that can be grown in a lab).

In his TED talk, Forgacs outlines the virtues of what he calls a “Humane, sustainable new industry.” A biopsy is used to acquire the initial cells, which are then grown in some sort of medium. (We’d need to know what that medium is made of). Then the “biofabrication” factory would work it into collagen, form sheets, make layers, design it for various qualities, and use less chemicals than in the traditional tanning process. End result? “Cultured leather” made with no waste and, best of all (I hope) no tormented animals.

Forgacs acknowledges that it would be wise to start with leather, as people would be more willing to try it. We could have our experiment without eating it. As an opponent of GMO, I would need some convincing. Forgacs’s description of biofabrication sounds different from GMO – the product is grown in a cell medium, not engineered at the DNA level. At any rate, I share Forgacs’s vision of a world, unlike today, when we do NOT keep and kill 60 billion land animals for meat, dairy, eggs, and leather, as we do now. Given the immense environmental destruction caused by livestock worldwide, he adds, “What’s crazy is what we do today.”

Related links:
Biofabrication: a 21st century manufacturing paradigm
Biofabrication – IOPscience

Raising chickens at your own home is a hot trend. It’s part of the urban farming movement highlighted in a recent New York Times article, and being adopted by people who are avoiding chemicals and people who are appalled at the horrors of factory farming. One Texan who keeps hens in her back yard was profiled. “Her roommates are all vegetarian or vegan, she said, but even the vegans eat the house-raised eggs because they know that the birds are healthy and well cared for. ‘They are like pets who happen to bring us breakfast,’ she said.”

In Lafayette (CA), John Kiefer, who has raised chickens for decades, is now teaching other people how to create a home-based chicken ranch, where you can keep hens in safe, humane housing you built yourself. In the last few years, John has held half a dozen workshops, and they’re always sold out.

It’s only fair to warn you, though, that in addition to organic eggs (of course you’d give them organic food to eat), chickens produce what let us delicately call “waste.” For those who have two or three birds in their back yard, not much of a problem. But those horrible factory farms I mentioned are polluting the nation’s waterways.

A report from the Pew Environment Group sums up the depressing picture:

  • “In less than 60 years, the number of broiler chickens raised yearly has skyrocketed 1,400 percent, from 580 million in the 1950s to nearly nine billion today.
  • Over the same period, the number of producers has plummeted by 98 percent, from 1.6 million to just over 27,000 and concentrated in just 15 states.
  • The size of individual operations has grown dramatically. Today, the typical broiler chicken comes from a facility that raises more than 600,000 birds a year.”

The Pew report recommends restrictions on factory farming – but I wish they would simply be outlawed. It’s cruel to the animals to stuff them by the thousands into huge warehouses – and dangerous, since operators, knowing that thousands of chickens would die of the conditions, dose them with antibiotics. Tom Philpott, a great Mother Jones blogger, recently summarized some studies showing how common salmonella is in factory farms and how resistant to antibiotics (because of the excess precautionary dosing). Yuck!

If you eat eggs and don’t have time to raise your own chickens (humanely and organically, natch), try to find someone near you who is. According to the New York Times article mentioned earlier, he or she has plenty of eggs to give away.

Last month I wrote about a California bill passed by both houses of the legislature that would outlaw the trade in shark fins. These are used in some Asian cuisines and are procured by cutting fins off living sharks and throwing them back into the ocean to die a slow death.

Today I’m pleased to help spread the news that indeed, yesterday Governor Brown did sign the bill. Sharks are not cuddly like cheetah kittens, or cute like pandas, or necessary to life like bees, but they play an important role in ocean life. And don’t you think that the killing of 73 million of them a year should stop?

In other good news, a sanctuary for sharks was announced this week in and around the Marshall Islands, which are located in the central Pacific. “Sanctuary” in this case means that commercial fishing of sharks is now prohibited in over 750,000 square miles of ocean.

The Pew Environment Group is helping with shark conservation. Its shark conservation director Matt Rand said, “The Marshall Islands have joined Palau, the MaldivesHonduras, the Bahamas and Tokelau in delivering the gold standard of protection for ensuring shark survival,” Rand said. “We look forward to helping other countries enlist in this cause.”

The Environmental Working Group has released a new report. Working with CleanMetrics, they assessed the rates of greenhouse gases emitted by 20 types of proteins (meat, fish, dairy, and vegetable sources). Here’s the take-home message  : “Lamb, beef, pork and cheese generate the most greenhouse gases. They also tend to be high in fat and have the worst environmental impacts.”

I love it when experts not only give you the worrisome news, they show you practical steps you can take to respond. From EWG’s exhortation to “Eat ‘greener’ meat when you do eat it,” I’ve condensed some key recommendations:

For your health:
Avoid highly processed meats like lunchmeats, hot dogs, and smoked meats.
Choose leaner cuts, which may have fewer toxins than fatty ones

For the animals:
Choose certified humanely raised. You don’t want to participate in the torture perpetrated by factory farms! Niman Ranch, which began forty years ago north of San Francisco, has grown to partner with over 650 independent ranchers and states that all its animals are raised humanely.

For the environment:
Avoid farmed and airfreighted fish. Well, we in the Bay Area have access to local fish, so the air freight has less relevance here. But what about endangered species? What about. Monterey Bay Aquarium has a list here.

And of course, the most powerful recommendation of all is, “Eat less meat and dairy.”

This report and its website version are goldmines of information. For instance, you can find out which part of the life cycle of a given product made the heaviest environmental impact. Weird fact: “Roughly 20 percent of all meat sold in the U.S. winds up in the trash. That makes the pesticides, fertilizer, fuel and water used to produce and process it, as well as the resulting greenhouse gases and environmental damage, unnecessary and preventable.”

For the full report, go here.

At last! One of the holdouts against humane treatment of egg-laying chickens (United Egg Producers) has agreed to work with (instead of against) the Humane Society of the United States to advocate for laws governing the egg industry.

You would never treat an animal the way the biggest egg producers do (cramped living, amputation of beaks, ammonia in henhouses, starvation). In California, we passed hen welfare Proposition 2 in 2008, but it doesn’t go into effect until 2015. In the meantime, if you eat eggs you could look for organic or humanely raised ones, watching out for meaningless terms like “free-range,” which may or may not mean the chickens really have access to outdoors.

Or you could even keep a few chickens yourself! These days, it’s not unusual for urban or suburban households to keep a few chickens.  You can learn a lot here ( or here ( The Institute for Animal Husbandry in Oakland ( also offers classes – check their website for the next one.

Hen and chick

Of course, that doesn’t mean your eggs would be free. You’ll have to set up fences to protect the hens from raccoons and foxes, not to mention your own pets, and to provide some food in addition to your table scraps. Check your town’s ordinances to see whether it’s legal where you live.

Nine survivors of shark attacks are now campaigning to save the species that terrify most people. But the truth is that humans are a greater danger to sharks than they are to us – we kill 100 million of them a year, while the Florida Museum of Natural History estimates that fewer than a dozen people a year are killed by sharks (see statistics here). Many shark species are threatened with extinction, partly due to human beings’ appetite for them.  Asians, for instance, consider shark fin soup a delicacy. To get the main ingredient, 73 million sharks a year are killed for this dish. After their fins are cut off, they are dumped back into the ocean to drown or bleed to death.

This is unacceptable to many people – including these nine survivors. Twenty-nine-year-old Achmat Hassiem was attacked during practice for his lifeguard duties – but even though he lost his foot, he hopes to save sharks. Australian navy diver Paul de Gelder, who lost his right hand and lower leg to a shark, agrees. “Regardless of what an animal does according to its basic instincts of survival, it has its place in our world.” (See news story here)

Peter Benchley, the author of the novel Jaws,belatedly realized this and later in life became a protector of sharks, campaigning to educate people about them. An annual award is given in his name by the Shark Research Institute to the person or group that makes outstanding contributions to shark conservation.

What can you do to help? Don’t order shark fin soup.

*This story is also found on the