Thursday, January 3, 2013

Getting 'Vegucated.'

I laughed. I cried. Well, I mostly cried.

The documentary "Vegucated" (find it on Netflix) is one woman's quest to educate three, diverse, meat-eating New Yorkers on the ways of veganism over a 6-week period.

The three folks mostly obliged because of the weightloss factor (the filmmaker lost 15 pounds in the first 6 weeks of becoming vegan), and they were happy with the results. Turns out, nixing dairy and meat dropped them down 5-15 pounds, dropped their blood pressure, and ticked down their bad cholesterol an average of 18 points each.

But that wasn't the reason these three, steak-chewing lad and lassies rode out the 6 weeks without so much as a cheat day. For them, it was seeing how factory farms and feedlots treat their animals - and that government guidelines allow them to do so.

Feedlot cattle are castrated without anesthesia in a brutal procedure. Dairy cows, who only produce when they are moms, are routinely artificially inseminated and live as slaves to a lifetime of pregnancy, birth, and engorged udders. Their babies are ripped away from them; females likely raised as dairy cows, and males typically sold off as veal or cattle. If they go the veal route, they'll spend their short life in a tiny cage with little light and air, until they are killed. And the moms? When their fertility runs out - ground beef, here they come. Even "organic" dairy and cattle could have gone through all of this. Not to mention feedlots' affect on the environment: It's crazy the amount of water and transportation it takes to get the grain to feed them, then the transportation it takes to get the cattle to slaughterhouses
**Learn about a local rancher who's going against the grain and aiming to protect the environment through raising pasture-bound, grass-fed cattle (which apparently produce meat higher in Omega 3s and have a third fewer calories than grain-fed).

Pigs, known to be more intelligent than dogs and highly social, are confined for life in a tiny cage, even as they bulge with meat, or milk for their babies. They're wrangled into groups, then killed one by one by a stun gun, terrifying the other pigs before it's their turn for a bloody death. Immediately, the pigs are hooked and dragged to a pot of scalding hot water. The documentary quotes reports that have witnessed pigs still alive being hooked and dragged...then trying to swim in the skin-peeling water.

There are no laws protecting the treatment of chickens. As chicks, they're dumped on a conveyer belt, where the females get sorted out to a life in an uncomfortable wire cage, and the males, many times, get sorted alive into a grinder and used for feed. Or just discarded - often alive, and left to starve to death. The females who survive the crushing sorting process endure their beaks getting seared nearly totally off - without painkillers, as well as their head comb axed sans-anesthesia. Laying eggs in such uncomfortable cages often produces irritation, infections, and even eggs that get fused to the mother and cause death. The scary thing is, the eggs you buy can be "organic and hormone-free," but that does not mean they have avoided these conditions. Look for eggs that say "free range," but even then, the chickens may have gone through some of these ordeals. I would either have your own egg-laying chicken, or get them from a local farmer you trust.

Most factory poultry go through the same beak and wing cutting - sans-painkillers - as egg-laying chickens, and then get pumped full of hormones. This enlarges their breasts so much that walking is painful, if not impossible, and many die on the coop floor. Transportation of these birds is just as brutal, as they can be slammed and crammed without regulation. And their fate at the slaughterhouse? They're hung upside-down in shackles on a conveyer belt that runs their necks over a blade. But some miss the blade, so they drown in scalding hot water waiting afterward.

Fishing has become as industrialized as raising livestock. 80% of the world's fish stock is depleted, same with over 90% of the ocean's large predatory animals. Many fishing corporations throw nets that are large, and not only ruin the ecosystem of the ocean floor, but also pick up fish they didn't mean to catch (the film quotes 25% of the fish caught are discarded as waste, or turned into fish food for inland fish farms, signifying that even fish farms exploit the ocean stock). Coral and endangered animals are also victims in the overfishing crisis. Not to mention how painful it is for the fish to change pressures from the bottom of the ocean to the top - it implodes a fishes insides.

So what if you read this, but can't break up with eating animal flesh? At least look for labels HFAC/Certified Humane and Animal Welfare Approved, 
the two most comprehensive advocates for meat when it comes to animal treatment.

But the filmmaker concluded that we really don't need to eat meat at all. We can get all the protein we need from amino acids in plants, nuts and seeds. Just ask the vegan bodybuilder she interviewed, who bulks up with spirulina, an amino acid-packed algae.

And the argument that we've "evolved" to eat meat, so we should, is outdated. A professor in the film said that when humans started moving to colder, harsher terrains where plants weren't available year-round, they started to hunt, and develop appropriate teeth. And those haven't gone away, because evolutionarily, humans want to be prepared to handle as many food options as possible, in the event of climate or food availability.

Not only can we survive with a plant-based diet, but we can be healthier. You saw the three New Yorker's final stats above. In just 6 weeks! I believe the studies that say the more meat and dairy you eat, the higher your risk of heart disease and other quick-killers.

But don't take my word for it. Try plant-based for 6 weeks, and see how you feel! I, for one, am definitely  renewing my pledge to be happy, healthy and HUMANE when it comes to my daily meals.


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