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Most people don’t set out to harm animals or turn a blind eye to unimaginable cruelty, and we certainly don’t set out to give our children food that is substandard nutritionally and in fact may even do them harm.

But agribusiness is so powerful, it has blocked every effort to legislate humane and safe processing of meat, dairy and poultry products, and gets very scary when advocacy groups attempt to get the word out.

The siren call of doing what we’ve always done, of insisting on cheaper, more convenient foods is loud in this hassled, stressful, disjointed, lonely era.

The nutritional wisdom our parents gave us worked when we were growing up, and it is hard to shake. Heck, when I hear that someone has a respiratory or viral problem, my first plan is to make them chicken soup with lots of black pepper and garlic. That stuff really works!

But for the most part, the wisdom we grew up with no longer matches the reality of how our food is raised and made and therefore how healthy it is (isn’t) for us. Factory farming, treating meat, dairy and poultry animals as product instead of as living beings who suffer pain, disease, and inhumane living and slaughter conditions, takes a devastating toll on our bodies– mad cow disease, insane amounts of hormones, antibiotics, pesticides retained in the tissues of meat animals and in dairy products, and disease actually caused by improper feeding of the animals themselves. It takes a devastating toll on our environment — I am always so glad to trot out the statistic that factory farming of meat, dairy and poultry/eggs is harder on our environment than our gas guzzling, foreign oil dependent cars.

Wouldn’t it be cheaper to give up meat than to buy one of those fancy hybrid cars that still depend on unrenewable, expensive, and foreign petroleum based fuel to run?

Then there’s the medical evidence that the low level but constant toll on our immune system due to food intolerance– dairy, wheat, or food additives– can over time impair our immune systems or even cause them finally to attack our own bodies. We don’t know it until it’s too late though. If I could afford to drop out of my life, I would go to Naturopathic Medical School tomorrow to learn how to research these things and get the word out to our nation. (I should start a scholarship fund with a paypal link on here, huh!)

Then there’s the reality that if we used our grain production to feed humans instead of farmed animals… nobody on this earth would ever have to go hungry again.

I couldn’t bring myself to read all of Gene Baur’s Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds About Animals and Food. I knew the stories of the animals would break my heart. I already know enough, from many horrifying things I’ve seen myself, read in firsthand accounts, and read in my favorite book advocating for a vegan diet, Skinny Bitch. But I did read the section about what to do now that we know what’s wrong with meat. Here are some of the nuggets I gleaned from Farm Sanctuary.

According to a 2003 Gallup poll, nearly 2/3 of americans support stricter laws regarding the treatment of farm animals.

“A respected group of health professionals at the American Dietetic Association has this to say: ‘Well planned vegan and other types of vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including during pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence. Vegetarian diets offer a number of nutritional benefits, including lower levels of saturated fat, cholesterol, and animal protein as well as higher levels of carbohydrates, fiber, magnesium, potassium, folate and antioxidants such as vitamins C and E and phytochemicals.'” (219)

You might want to think twice about that foie gras…

Forcefeeding ducks and geese to make it leads to terrible injuries, impacted food in the animals’ intestines, immense pain, suffering and disease especially of the liver… is that a liver you really want to eat?

Whole Foods declined to sell foie gras when it saw the apalling conditions in which it was made. It made public its concern about egregious industrialized abuse of animals. Whole Foods has allowed animal rights activists to present the facts at shareholders’ meetings, in order to make informed decisions when choosing which products to sell.

On the other hand, the eggs sold under the Wegmans’ name are produced in the battery cages that 80% of veterinarians surveyed declared inhumane in a 2004 survey. The chain has ignored its customers’ requests to sell cage free eggs, and retailiated against investigators and animal rights activists by prosecuting.

Did you know that animal cruelty laws do not apply to farm animals? The meat, poultry, and dairy business can treat animals with as much cruelty as they want to, in the name of efficiency and production. But farm animals are 98% of the animals in this nation.

Legally, farm animals are essentially property and product. Conduct that would be considered cruelty to a dog or cat is perfectly acceptable for cattle, calves, chickens, pigs and any other animal farmed for meat or for milk and eggs.

“How could we come to accept that the massive institutional cruelty at the center of factory farming is normal?” asks Gene Baur. “Ironically…the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act requires, in theory anyway, that animals be rendered insensible to pain prior to being bled to death. But it excludes poultry, and even in the case of mammals it has not been properly enforced. Numerous investigations continue to document persistent violations of the act in the nation’s slaughterhouses.” (187)

In most states, farming exemptions protect farmers and slaughterers as long as what is being done to animals is ‘customary.’ (189)

Slavery, including murder, lynching, whipping and rape, and child labor including incredibly inhumane working conditions were once customary too.

So you call yourself a Christian? Here in the South, most of us do. We pray before meals. We pray before ball games. We pray before public meetings. We pray for our elected officials, who wear their Christianity upon their sleeves even as their private vices, missteps and dysfunctions leak out to the rest of us. And we eat a LOT of meat.

I have lived in the South for 24, almost 25 years. I learned quickly to adore sausage gravy biscuits, bacon, ham, chicken fried steak, big greasy burgers, chili dogs and fried chicken, macaroni slathered in cheese, rich delicious ice cream and a tall delicious glass of milk with my Oreos. But you know what? I also learned to love, truly be grateful for, dinners that were a plate full of black eyed peas, homegrown green beans, potatoes and corn.¬† I’ll never forget going home from college one nasty, impoverished winter to eat a wonderful meal including the tenderest greens and carrots that were still thriving under my parents’ cold frame in the back¬† yard.

If my baby asks me why I don’t eat meat, I tell her, in age appropriate terms… if she wants Chick Fil A, I still take her to get it. She’ll decide for herself when it’s right for her. That’s why I don’t get down on her or anyone else who is still eating meat and dairy. Sadly, their health will suffer for it, but some day maybe enough of us will be thinking this way and getting the word out that a societal change for the better can finally roll in.

Think good, humane, organically raised food is too expensive? Farmers are proud to note that we are spending less than 10% of our income on food. But what we are saving is lost due to the degradation of communities, the environment, loss of nutrition, and the skyrocketing cost of health care due to our horrible diet and the illness caused by the additives, chemicals, pesticides, disease, and hormones that enter our bodies through our staple foods.

If you continue eating meat eggs and milk and you care about animal welfare, Baur hopes you’ll avoid factory farmed meat, milk and eggs. (219) Ask questions about where your grocery store gets its wares. Evasive answers or reluctance to answer might make you think about shopping somewhere else. Think critically. Visit the farm where your eggs, milk and meat come from. Think hard about those giant greasy portions, more suited to an agricultural way of life where our meat, dairy, poultry, vegetables and grains were produced by backbreaking work. Eat enough to live, and to enjoy. Savor your food. Think about where it comes from. Visit Farm Sanctuary in New York or California.

We can do it. Each small thing that each individual does will eventually add up. Maybe it’s insisting on humanely produced (cage free) eggs and investigating where and how your meat is raised and slaughtered or how your dairy products are produced. Maybe it’s giving up meat. Maybe it’s purchasing meat from a small farmer who raises animals humanely and slaughters in ways that reduce suffering. Maybe it’s shopping at the farmer’s market to get local food (much, much more nutritious than food that has been shipped around the world), or even simply trying out and incorporating one vegetarian or vegan dish into your family’s menu each week until it gets easier to shop and cook vegetarian/vegan.

So what’s the holdup?

There’s help and support. Take a look at localharvest.org, happycow.net, vegdining.com, vegforlife.org and the USDA’s Alternative Farming Systems Information Center.

It’s taken me some time to get going on my vegan cooking. The first step was baking… I knew that if I could not bake delicious sweet treats the deal was off. But I bake cakes, cupcakes, cookies, and muffins that are just divine, and often very beautiful. After that, giving up dairy and eggs was a breeze.

The next step was trying many different recipes in hopes of finding foods that were delicious, cruelty free, and satisfying. Some vegan recipes are just ‘eh’ and I never use them again. But some are so delicious. The litmus test is my husband– he does not like foods that try to mimic meat and dairy dishes– hates soy meat, hates soy cheeses and sour creams and ice creams.

But if he says, I like this every bit as well as a Taco Bell taco, or this is so delicious I don’t even notice I’m doing without meat, I know it’s a keeper. Even my baby ate her lentil-filled tacos, her baked chimichanga, her Tofutti Cutie ice cream sandwiches and home made carrot cake mini-muffins (absolutely STUFFED with nutrition! So good I would consider them a legitimate substitute for dinner! and yummy!) and absolutely delicious home made vegan chocolate chip cookies with great gusto. I’m especially happy about the tofutti cuties, because I just found out my dad has an immune suppression problem caused by the nasty chemicals retained in dairy fat. And my baby LOOOOOOVES her some ice cream.

I’m glad to share the recipes that we’ve found to be so delicious that we dont’ feel like we’re missing out. Just write me at kimwilsonowen@hotmail.com.

And remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Do whatever little bit can do, and don’t sweat the rest. Implement slowly. Small things do add up.

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