Tag Archives: choice of food

The Barriers We Confront

ImageInfrequently, I will receive an email that I feel is so far beyond comment that it should be discarded as merely written by detractors. But, it is this very type of correspondence that reminds me of the daunting task at hand, because similar to the person who contacted me with the email below, the vast majority of individuals in the world today have at least some barrier which impedes them from becoming aware and adopting the healthiest dietary regimen—consuming only plant based foods.

First let’s look at his comments posted on our Comfortably Unaware Facebook page as well as on my blog site:

John Wadford RD/PHD commented on Not Entirely Perfect in “The Land of Oz”.

“Actually Dairy and meat are healthy for us and not bad. Moderation is the key because if you over-eat thats when you get obese. No diseases are linked to meat or animal products. Thats a vegan lie and myth. Quit being a liar and saying meat and animal products are bad. I have taken numerous nutrition courses and I know whats good and bad. Limit carbs and junk food and fast food. You will be fine. Eat red meat twice a week and other days eat lean chicken and fish. Been proven very healthy. Eat veggies and fruits as sides/snacks.”

And my response:

I am pleased to see your correspondence, Dr. Wadford, because it brings to light interrelated issues for me along this journey. One is just how difficult my mission can be while disseminating information about the reality of our food choices. With your comments, we are witnessing a seemingly intelligent, learned individual such as yourself (“RD, PhD”), who somehow has missed the boat with the thousands of peer reviewed articles, studies, findings, and conclusions of scientists worldwide for the past 40 years as well as the position statements of every health organization in the world today that now recognize the benefits of a plant based diet.

Since you are an RD, and assuming that refers to a Registered Dietician (having, as you stated, “taken numerous nutrition courses” and “know what’s good and bad”), I thought I would provide you with the Position Statement of the American Dietetic Association, the governing body for licensing of at least one of your credentials, copied from their Journal published three years ago. This Position Statement is essentially the same statement they had initially made six years earlier that I’m sure you have seen, and one that every RD should certainly already be familiar with:

“It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Vegetarian diets are often associated with a number of health advantages, including lower blood cholesterol levels, lower risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure levels, and lower risk of hypertension and type 2 diabetes. Vegetarians tend to have a lower body mass index (BMI) and lower overall cancer rates. Vegetarian diets tend to be lower in saturated fat and cholesterol, and have higher levels of dietary fiber, magnesium and potassium, vitamins C and E, folate, carotenoids, flavonoids, and other phytochemicals. These nutritional differences may explain some of the health advantages of those following a varied, balanced vegetarian diet. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes. A vegetarian diet is defined as one that does not include meat (including fowl) or seafood, or products containing those foods.” J Am Diet Assoc. 2009;109:1266-1282.

Some of the many obvious questions and suggestions that arise for me following the reading of your comments are (with an honest attempt at subduing any sarcasm):

  1.  What educational institutions were you attending and what subjects were you studying to have information such as found in the above Position Statement overlooked?
  2.  It seems that before you would accuse a researcher such as me, as a “liar” and “spreading vegan myths”, and you make rash and blatantly false statements such as “no diseases are linked to meat or animal products” you should do some homework on the updated subject (although even in Plato’s era 2,000 to 3,000 years ago, it was known that eating only plant based foods was much healthier than the raising and killing of animals for their ‘Republic’).
  3.  Your comment to “eat red meat twice a week and other days eat lean chicken and fish. You’ll be fine. Been proven very healthy”, indicates to me that you and those with similar thoughts need to rethink how you are approaching your own eating habits let alone those of others, and make a solid attempt at enlightening yourselves to the origins of your food choices—and the ill effects on our planet, animals, and ourselves. This will obviously require a serious reconstructing of those factors that influence you and your decision-making—all those cultural or emotional hurdles that haven’t allowed you to see clearly or be open to what is in front of you (ie. reread the Oz blog now and try to view it more correctly as reality instead of propaganda and you will learn something valuable and meaningful).
  4.  Remember that it is not just human health that I am concerned about and therefore am conveying—it is the health of our planet, our resources, and all life we share this Earth with as well.

Even the overtly sluggish and highly political USDA has had to succumb to the preponderance of evidence of the many health benefits of a purely plant based diet. On June 2, 2011, they introduced a version of the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine’s vegan dietary guidelines with the Food Plate—leaving “dairy” off the plate, demoted to a small peripheral position, and completely replacing “meat and seafood” with the section called “protein” which more appropriately guides U.S. citizens toward healthier plant based alternatives.

Remember, Dr. Wadford, that the evidence had to be so overwhelming for the USDA to ignore its strong political ties to the meat, dairy, and fishing industries in order to recommend this new plant based food plate.

Yet, somewhere along the way, you and all other like minded registered dieticians, physicians, educators, authors, politicians, organizations, media, and general public have allowed some other form of influence—most likely cultural, social, and psychological—to suppress the overwhelming abundance of facts and findings that from a human health standpoint, eating animal products carries with it a significant risk of contracting any or all of the four most common diseases in our country (coronary heart disease, malignancies, cerebrovascular disease, and diabetes) as well as any one of the five most common cancers (colon, lung, breast, pancreatic, and prostate) as well as numerous other disease states and precursors such as hypertension and obesity.  Once again, this is not my opinion—it reflects the findings and opinions of every major health organization in the world.

The blog I posted about Dr. Oz that elicited your comments also made it clear that even if eating animals were healthy for us (which, obviously is a myth), it is not healthy at all for our environment—grass fed/pastured or not. It is also not healthy for the other species of living things lost along the way (livestock are implicated in over 50% of all lost biodiversity including 30,000 newly extinct animal species per year) or for the animals raised in the process.  Even if livestock are raised “humanely,” they are still slaughtered—which, for all but the anthropocentric, could only be considered entirely inhumane if not barbaric.

Since there are very few who understand the argument of how our demand to eat animals—whether in factory farm settings or not—adversely impacts our planet, it becomes more of the focal point of my lectures, blogs, and books. I happen to call it Global Depletion, but it is essentially about sustainability. Eating animals is simply not sustainable. I have recently introduced and am now advocating use of the term relative sustainability because raising, slaughtering, and eating billions animals factually uses resources, some irreversibly, that we can ill afford to lose—and there are many plant based options that are much kinder to our planet. So while I pointed out that Dr. Oz needs to reevaluate his advocating beef and fish from a human health standpoint, it was also from an ecological point of view that he has never favorably or correctly positioned in the equation. All the facts and figures related to Global Depletion can be found in my first book, Comfortably Unaware and in my lectures, found at www.ComfortablyUnaware.com, –which, once more, are factual reflections of the state of our planet—not simply my opinion.

And lastly to what can be seen as your lack of understanding or appreciation for the overall intent of the Dr. Oz blog, as being one component of the larger picture of my incentive to increase awareness. My objective with that particular blog and in general is quite simple—to provide a healthier and more peaceful food choice path for everyone. It is not about creating arguments or debates. However, it is also not about supporting an archaic animal based food production system purely because of universally found and culturally influenced myopia. Quite simply, eating animals IN ANY FASHION uses too much land, energy, and water, creates unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions, is responsible for a massive loss of biodiversity, plays a significant role in world hunger, and justifies the inhumane slaughtering of billions of animals annually—all while increasing the risk of contracting many disease states after consumption. This is not about generating debates where one faction is ill informed and emotionally driven, it’s about perpetuating a better way for all of us, including you, to eat and live.

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to further assess the barriers we confront while inspiring others to become aware.

Dr. O

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Bizarre Foods, Andrew Zimmern, and the Head of a Octopus

ImageKnowing I would have never seen it otherwise, someone asked me to watch an episode of Bizarre Foods, the wildly popular program hosted by Andrew Zimmern, whose professed creed is “if it looks good, eat it”—leaving one to wonder what his definition of “looks good” could possibly be based on.  In any event, this is what I observed from that episode:

Andrew begins by walking into a crowded, noisy restaurant in Japan sitting down between two people on a stool at a counter—behind which, the cooking is accomplished for all to see. Zimmern states that this is why he “loves restaurants in Japan” because of “their noise and also freshness of seafood.” The camera then, on cue from the “freshness” comment, turns to capture the chef pulling an octopus out of a pan on the floor. The octopus was, of course, very “fresh” and very alive as it gracefully and purposefully moved the tips of its eight legs, gently up and down the chef’s hands and arms as the animal tried to assimilate textures, colors, and temperatures, attempting to make sense out of its new surroundings. That’s what octopuses (or octopi) do. They are quite intelligent beings with a large cognitive brain and complex sensory input mechanisms that researchers have recently found to be able to problem solve. They can gather information, process it, and then implement well thought out functions. Female octopuses are very sensitive with a strong maternal instinct—so strong that they mandatorily give up their life in the process of having offspring and protecting them after birth.

The Bizarre Foods’ camera crew then moved back to Zimmern. The person sitting in the next stool put her hand on his baldhead and said “the octopus has a head like yours”, referring to Zimmern’s shiny, hairless scalp. A good laugh ensued while the camera focused on the chef pushing the octopus down with both his hands into a pot of boiling oil over a red-hot burner in order to kill and cook the poor unsuspecting octopus.

We weren’t allowed to see how the octopus reacted to being held in oil as it was being boiled to death—portions to be then later served for Zimmern to eat.  Imagine, for just a moment, what that octopus must have experienced as it went from attempting to carefully feel, see, interpret, and adapt to the chef’s hands with the thousands of sensory receptors on its legs—sending those inputs to an intelligent and quickly processing brain—to the next moment of being forcefully held in boiling oil, scalded to death. Actually, you can’t really imagine it, because you are not an octopus.

Although we are still learning about octopuses, (while killing 2.5 million tons of them and other cephalopods such as squid each year) it is has been quite well established that they are very sentient beings that feel and think in ways we do not understand. It can also be said that like all animals, octopuses only eat what they need to in order to survive. They kill only because they NEED to and without knowing that they are inflicting pain or suffering on any other living thing—quite unlike Andrew Zimmern and 98% of all other humans on this planet who kill because they WANT to kill, and then eat whatever it was that they just killed. All this, for no nutritional reason (there are many plant based foods that are infinitely healthier for us to consume). So, no, the person sitting next to Zimmern was not correct with her comment to him. The octopus does NOT have a “head” like his.

More About the Octopus:

The common octopus (vulgaris) is found in many oceans worldwide. Although found frequently in numerous sushi restaurants in the United States and elsewhere in the world, it would be rare to know exactly what species you are eating.  All octopus species are suffering from overfishing, especially in the fisheries of Mauritania, Vietnam, and Japan. All researchers agree that octopus is a poorly understood species with no fishery management and dwindling numbers. They are also caught in large numbers as bykill with long line and other fishing methods.

The majority of octopuses are caught by bottom trawling techniques, where (in addition to loss of octopus species) further damage is done to sea beds, other species, and interdependent ecosystems. Although little is known about octopus, much is known about the detrimental impact that bottom trawling inflicts on delicate and sensitive seafloor habitats. Isn’t that a curious but commonly seen combination of factors regarding what we decide to eat as a global society—we know very little about the species we are killing, knowingly ruin ecosystems and other wildlife in the process, in order to consume something we call food. This “food” though, is in reality, vastly inferior to plants that we could be eating, from a nutritional standpoint. The highly respected Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch (MBASW) places a “Good Alternative” recommendation for octopus, especially if they are captured from Hawaii or the Gulf of California, despite admitting in their Summary that octopus, “suffer from a lack of solid information and little or no fishery management.”

Given that this statement is accurate, it becomes just another frustrating example of the dichotomy created by guiding institutions that we consider to be leaders.

I am still waiting for the proper management of information to be accomplished and then disseminated by those in positions of informational power such as MBASW. Something along these lines would be nice to hear: “As with all sealife and consistent with other researchers, we at Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch admit to knowing very little about the octopus or the effects of our attempts at capturing them have on all the ecosystems and habitats involved. Therefore it is our humble opinion that we should stop all harvesting activities of octopus and any methods of fishing that affect them or their habitat such as trawling and long line operations that find them as bykill. Of course these fishing activities in pursuit of octopus are propelled by, and begin with, our demand to eat them—so it is our strong recommendation that the ordering and consumption of octopus ends.”

Yes, wouldn’t that be nice. And, appropriate.

More About Andrew Zimmern:

I need to somewhat apologize if this blog seems to weigh too heavily on the animal rights or animal sensitivity theme and if it appears to be too harsh towards Zimmern. However, he and his show are manifestations of our generalized lack of awareness and greater lack of compassion. This is more than worrisome to me. It’s time we convey the true sad state of our media—who it is that is awarded platforms and what they have to say about the food we eat. It is critical that we speak out about this imbalance of public information.

Zimmern is an award winning monthly columnist for magazines, a journalist with numerous national and international publications, spokesperson for large corporations, an acclaimed author of many books, and now has a highly popular television program for which he is the producer, writer, and host. In 2010, Zimmern even won the prestigious James Beard Award for ‘Outstanding Television Food Personality.’

With all those accolades comes the stark realization that we are a society of skewed virtues and archaic behavior, if not a collective intellectual void. I am struggling to find other ways to describe this.

Zimmern’s pilot show on November 1, 2006 (the ‘test’ show where it is either accepted as a potential hit or quickly discarded as another flop) was a solid indicator of what was to come. That first show highlighted Zimmern eating what he and the indigenous people considered ‘food’ from Japan, Malaysia, and Thailand. He proceeded to eat fish bladder, turtle (most likely an endangered species), frog ovary, and even the beating heart of a frog –sashimi (fresh). He revealed all of this in a positive, enthusiastically supportive manner as he does in all of his subsequent shows because this very first one was so successful, it served as the catalyst. In the next two episodes, Zimmern showed his growing audience how acceptable and enjoyable it was to eat lamb tongue and eye, soup made from a bull’s rectum and testicles, a pie made of pigeons, a calf’s brain and a cow’s heart, stuffed pig pancreas, more frog, and even balut—a duck embryo (pre hatched chick) that was boiled alive in its shell. Somewhere buried in each of these segments, he will throw in a brief comment about a unique fruit. For instance in the first three full episodes, he spent a conciliatory minute or so introducing the calamondin and durian.

I am writing this in complete amazement, utter disbelief, and true embarrassment of how we as a society can place this person and his work in such high esteem for not merely perpetuating, but essentially sensationalizing the gruesome, medieval act of torturing, slaughtering, and eating creatures that, if they had a choice, would certainly run, fly, or swim in the other direction—away from this predator. But, it is not Zimmern who is at fault here for doing anything wrong, it is clearly us. We are the ones condoning this and that are more interested in seeing the “bizarre” as it relates to killing and eating animals or body parts of animals than we are in perhaps learning about bizarre or unusual plants—plants that are not only unique (‘bizarre’) but also that are healthy to our planet or to us. Why can’t we be interested in hearing about plants such as the sacha inchi seed or acai berry that can be grown in the rainforests sustainably and provide some of the most powerful phytonutrients and healthy micronutrients found in the world, or how teff an ancient grain from the highlands of Ethiopia might be grown to help reduce world hunger and poverty in that region and elsewhere, or unique plants that can be eaten to cure diseases—but then, I almost forgot…this would be considered ‘educational’ instead of simply mindless entertainment and therefore most likely not tolerated or even accepted by the populace.  After all, Zimmern knows what the audience wants to watch and that’s why he is successful—at least from an economic and popularity standpoint. This fact, and of course the shows themselves (now that I’ve seen a one or two of them), make me so very sad on many levels. Please no offense to Andrew Zimmern himself, but my thought is that we, as an intelligent, compassionate society with a conscience—a society deeply concerned about all living things that we share this planet with—should have taken that very first Bizarre Foods ‘pilot’ show and buried it swiftly and deeply in a hole in the ground so as to not ever have to admit that one of our kind produced it.

Please stay tuned as we return to more topics of Comfortably Unaware soon, inspiring others to become aware—and compassionate!

Not Entirely Perfect in “The Land of Oz”

Mehmet Oz, “Dr. Oz” of current media fame and respected talk show host, has brought to light numerous important topics related to our health and medicine. For this, he is to be commended. However, because he and his show have reached such superstar status, it is imperative that the crucial message about what food we eat be truly accurate—on all counts. This, then, would mandate him giving equal time to the negative impact eating all animal products has on our health and that of our planet. This, unfortunately, has not been the case.

Just one of many examples of this informational imbalance was seen with Time magazine and its September 12, 2011 issue, where the front cover displayed the title, “What to Eat Now, uncovering the myths about food, by Dr. Oz.” As a “Special Nutrition Issue” and read by minimally 25 million people globally, I had hoped that full enlightenment and complete accuracy would be the objective.  At the onset, Dr. Oz stated, “You’ll like some of the insights, and you won’t like others. Unlike fads and fashions, the facts aren’t going anywhere soon.” With this introduction, he then proceeds to tell us “Want to get healthy, then tuck into some eggs, whole milk, salt, fat…”

Unfortunately, this is not true for our health, nor is it true for the environment. He stresses “moderation” with advice of consuming “two servings of dairy, 18 oz. of red meat” as being “healthy” but more than that, it will “deny you the benefits of getting more of your protein from fish.” Our food choices are inextricably connected to our planet’s resources and to ourselves. Discussions of any sort then, let alone with this scale of audience, should never separate what we eat from the comprehensiveness of its impact. So someone should remind Dr. Oz that all dairy products have been implicated in numerous disease states in addition to simply “weight gain” (the only effect he mentioned) and the same is true of all other animal products. Eating meat contributes to a 27% increase risk of obesity. (Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Diets High in Meat Consumption Associated With Obesity, September 2009, “International Journal of Obesity”: Meat Consumption is Associated With Obesity and Central Obesity among U.S. Adults: Youfa Wang, et. al. June 2009)

Additionally, the entire article missed the crucial point of the effect our food choices have on our resources. It really doesn’t matter what impact “18 oz. of red meat” will have on us if it is destroying the planet by way of land and water use, pollution, and loss of other species on earth, does it? And guiding readers from red meat to consuming fish for “getting more of your protein” because they are “rich in omega 3 fatty acids” is simply furthering the false belief that animal products are the only healthy source of protein—which, they are not even one “healthy” source of protein. By making these statements, Dr. Oz also is perpetuating the unnecessary continued ravaging of our oceans and their ecosystems. We do not need fish for their “protein”, and we do not need them for omega 3 fatty acids. On the other hand, we do need plants and microalgae for their protein, omega three fatty acids, phytonutrients, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and for their lack of saturated fat, cholesterol, and for not inflicting a detrimental impact on our oceans. With his television show and many public appearances, Dr. Oz has enlightened millions of viewers about health and medicine. For the most part, this has been a positive addition to what our entertainment driven (and influenced) culture offers. However, this recent and extremely visible article in Time magazine did little to move our country or the world in the correct and healthier direction toward a fully plant based diet. Let’s make sure the realities of our food choices are fully known—here, or in the Land of Oz.

Please read other examples of filtered information derived from those with public platforms in Chapter IX. “Tread Lightly” of my book Comfortably Unaware, and then inspire others to become aware!   Dr. O

INSPIRE AWARENESS NOW, the non-profit is launched!

ImageInspire Awareness Now is a non-profit organization committed to improving the health and well being of our country and planet by way of food choice—solving many interrelated issues along the way. Inspire Awareness NOW (IAN) will create awareness and initiate sustainable systems where food is involved, reducing Global Depletion on all fronts. With some initiatives, IAN will merely provide information and educational assistance to essentially facilitate and enhance those services and projects already undertaken by the particular institution we are working with, serving as a catalyst for proper change. Other initiatives will demand that IAN serves as the primary provider because it may be the first project of its kind. Inherent in this goal is to develop more accurate definitions of what can be considered sustainable and then create change based on these more accurate definitions. In doing so, IAN will provide educational assistance and network with other institutions that are committed to planetary health, on many levels.

Over $2.3 trillion are spent on health care in our country each year while minimally half of that can be attributed to what we eat. At the same time, we are using our natural resources at an unsustainable rate. Over 78% of all agricultural land and 50% of all fresh water used in our country is used to produce livestock, which then after consumption is the major contributor to our health care crises. Globally, raising livestock occupies 38% of the entire landmass on earth and is the primary cause of the rapid loss of biodiversity—plants, insects, animals—we are seeing on earth (30,000 animal species are becoming extinct each year). The meat, dairy, and fishing industries are also one of the largest sectors affecting climate change. It is common knowledge that the 70 billion animals raised each year emit more greenhouse gases than the entire transportation sector—all the cars, trucks, planes, and trains in the world, and yet global beef, pork, and chicken production and consumption are expected to continue to increase. One to two trillion fish are taken from our oceans each year, causing irreversible damage to vital ecosystems. Many researchers agree that it would require 1.5 to 2 full earths to sustain what we are currently taking from and doing to our planet.

There are 1 billion people suffering from hunger in the world with 6 million children dying from starvation each year. At the same time, over half of the grain produced in the world, nearly 1 billion tons, is fed to livestock. Global food security is not an issue of production—it’s an issue of where all the food produced is going. Last year (2011), 77% of all coarse grain produced globally (oats, corn/maize, barley, sorghum, rye, millet) was given to animals.

Inspire Awareness Now views these as serious disconnects in levels of awareness and policy. Therefore, we help correct or solve these problems by educating, advocating change, and administering services to transition our current meat and dairy farming as well as fishing systems into organic or biodynamic plant based operations, which will result in much more efficient use of our nation’s water and land, and food supply while drastically reducing pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and fossil fuel use. Importantly, this transition will result in the increase in many more job opportunities in skilled labor, management, and education—all of which span the academic and previous job experience spectrum. By providing more green jobs, our initiative will ultimately have a positive impact on the 9% unemployment rate and the current 3% “structural” component of those who are jobless in the U.S. The envisioned goal is for a healthier economy, healthier and more productive population, a truly more sustainable food production system, a healthier country, and ultimately a healthier and more peaceful planet.

There are several notable organizations and movements to create healthier food choices and implement food productions systems. Institutions and communities are beginning to rally around concepts such as Real Food, local, farm-to-table, farm-to-campus, organic, biodynamic, sustainable seafood, grass and pasture fed, free range, traceable, small family farms, CSAs (community supported) and urban agriculture, and humane—all of which are fueled by the desire to move away from agribusiness and the previous 50 years of industrialized, profit-driven food production systems. However, none of these concepts or movements will be accurately considered successful long term if they include raising, slaughtering, and eating animals or harvesting fish out of our oceans or on land. Beyond the primary reasons implicit to their effect on Global Depletion, nearly all of these movements have precepts embedded in misinformation and inaccuracy. While operating with inherently good intentions, the results of these movements and organizations will never be optimal.

Although there are many reasons for this, it is essentially an issue of definition. What entity has deemed a food or production system as “sustainable?” What food can really be constituted as “sustainable?” In the case of grass fed, for instance, it is not a sustainable practice in many geographical regions or on a collective global basis long term from a land and water use, contribution to anthropometric greenhouse gas production, food security, and human health standpoints. And, yet, there is that stamp of approval, made primarily by those stakeholders in the meat and dairy industries—the National Cattleman’s Association, National Dairy Council, AGA, and individuals such as Michael Pollan and others with large audiences serving as experts or advisors to many organizations but who consumes beef and tuna, and raises grass fed cows themselves. Therefore, IAN introduces the concept of ‘Relative’ sustainability—how could our land, air, water, and other resources be best used to obtain a ‘more’ sustainable food product.

It is time that the wealth and wellness of a country or nation are measured not simply by economic standards but by the health of its natural resources, its people, and by the fact that truly sustainable systems, particularly those for producing food and caring for biodiversity, are properly defined and in place.  This then becomes our civilization’s new metric of success.

Please find out more about this very important organization at: http://inspireawarenessnow.org/

Let’s continue inspiring others to become aware…NOW!

Assembly Bill 376, Shark Fins, and You

This is a bizarre story that connects the dots between three choices: food, behavior, and legislature. And, it begins with the demand for shark fin soup, weaving its way through indifference and lands on the table of a politician who, along with increasing public awareness on this subject, can begin to heal a wound. Although we are not discussing a cuddly animal like the Koala or baby seal, we are talking about another living thing on earth that is in trouble. And we are directly implicated in its demise. Worldwide, 73 million sharks are killed each year, which is causing nearly one third of all shark species to become seriously endangered and on the edge of extinction. How are we able to justify the killing of 73 million sharks or any other species?

The IUCN Red List concludes that 65% of the 181 shark species are threatened.  Most of the 73 million sharks slaughtered each year are due to a growing demand for shark fin soup although an unknown but nearly as high amount are also killed each year as bykill and simply out of hostility against the species by fishermen. The fin itself is of no nutritional value, tasteless, and is considered more of a garnish, a byproduct of cultural influence, which renders the soup as a food of celebration here and abroad. The usual method of killing all these sharks, “shark finning”, is by catching them, slicing their fin and tails off and then throwing the bleeding body overboard, still alive and unable to swim. I am always deeply saddened to learn of just one more of the many thoughtless and barbaric acts that we humans carry out under the guise of food.

Although shark finning is illegal in the U.S. and at least 60 other countries, monitoring and enforcement of the ban is essentially non-existent.
As predators, sharks have a responsibility and a position in the web of sea life.  From the oxygen producing phytoplankton through all other layers and species of life to the top of the chain, all species have unique and vital roles to play in maintaining the health of our planet. There is strong consensus among researchers that they only understand a fraction of the vast nature of sea life and by killing off an entire species, especially sharks, a ‘cascading’ effect will occur, changing forever the balance of ecosystems and production of oxygen.  Sharks have been on Earth for more than 400 million years, at the top of the oceanic food chain and with self-regulatory mechanisms for their own population numbers. For all those millions of years, nature has had a divine way of creating balance in all ecosystems. In the past 100 years, however, we have decided that within each of our own individualized and very brief few decades of life on this earth, all of the planet’s resources are apparently ours to take. This is, of course, irrespective of the effect on all other complex and intertwining ecosystems—or the effect on future generations of life on earth. And this approach, in its entirety, is generated by our inappropriate choice of foods. It may be considered a ‘sport’ or livelihood or even as gruesome entertainment by some, but the act of shark finning and fishing of all types, on all levels, is typically undertaken because of what we decide to eat and it is not a requirement. What a shame, considering there are an infinite amount of healthier and more peaceful alternatives from plant-based foods. There is an obvious need to increase global awareness of this terrible plight of sharks, just one more aspect of Global Depletion. We must spread the word regarding their unnecessary destruction and help Defenders of Wildlife and other organizations with their campaign on behalf of sharks, our oceans, our planet, and ourselves. Get involved, sign the petition below directed at Governor Jerry Brown of California for Assembly Bill 376. If it fails, as did the review process for granting endangered species status for the Blue Fin Tuna, then we need to begin this, or another process all over again, until we get it right. Let’s make a difference. It is our inherent duty.

Let Jerry Brown know you care:

http://www.therainforestsite.com/clickToGive/campaign.faces?siteId=4&campaign=DOW-SharkFinning&ThirdPartyClicks=ETE_061111_DOW-SharkFinning_F

And, become more aware:

http://www.sharkwater.com/education.htm

http://www.seashepherd.org/sharks/

The story behind the scenes: about Bluefin Tuna, about us.

Why should you care about this story? After all, we are just talking about a fish, right? I believe this is much more than a story about a fish or specifically the Bluefin tuna—it’s a relevant indicator of how far we possibly have fallen from a rational, caring, sensitive, and respectful society with regard to other living things that we share our planet with. This year, 30,000 different species of animals will become extinct (as well as numerous insects and plants). And, although pollution and poorly planned urban sprawl are factors, the largest single contributing force is your choice of foods as it involves animals—which creates pastured or grazing livestock on land and unsustainable fishing practices in our oceans. You most likely aren’t aware of these statistics or reasons because there has been suppression and mismanagement of information of this type as well as general indifference. I strongly believe, though, that it’s time to increase our collective understanding about topics such as this and begin to effect positive change.

It was announced last Friday (May 27) by the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), that Bluefin tuna would not be listed as endangered despite losing 90% of its numbers. This endangered status would have provided the much-needed legal protection in hope of recovery. The tragic decline of this beautiful fish is due to overfishing and illegal practices, poorly designed and ignored ‘quotas’ and false reporting, lack of understanding the species’ complex life, and of course our inappropriate choice of food and the demand for sushi. Even though numerous countries including the U.S. actively harvest Bluefin tuna, Japan purchases 80% of the world’s supply and vehemently opposes any ban or restrictions on tuna. This is a very sad day for these majestic fish, but even a sadder day for all of us in making this illogical decision as stewards of our planet. I, for one, am deeply embarrassed. Embarrassed on two levels. One is that we have relentlessly caught and killed Bluefin tuna to the point of near extinction, strictly because we want to eat them—essentially due to an unnecessary, acquired taste and habit. There is no ‘need’ anywhere in the equation here. And, second, without granting an “endangered” status, we have failed at an opportunity to right a wrong—oblivious and apathetic to what we are doing to another living species on Earth.

There are a couple of key aspects to understanding the full story. First, is a review of why there has been such a massive loss of Bluefin Tuna, and second is how we have managed the problem. Let’s look first, then, at why this fish species has all but disappeared. The story begins with the fact that humans enjoy eating fish, especially tuna. And, similar to many other stories regarding our eating habits as it involves animals, that “enjoyment” or demand creates a powerful economic motive, which then manifests itself in cultural, social, psychological reinforcement as a dietary “need.” This eventually creates skewed, and often illogical policy making to ensure that dietary demand is met with supply. These policies are typically tunnel visioned and multi national in nature because no one country could be seen stepping outside of the box of convention.

Bluefin Tuna grow up to 14 ft in length, weigh up to ½ ton, and can swim 50 mph for long distances, which is why their stocks are governed by an organization composed of many countries, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna, based in Spain. The tuna are managed as two stocks—the western Atlantic and eastern Atlantic which includes Mediterranean Bluefin tuna. For the past 40 years, Bluefin tuna have been caught and eaten without regard to potential extinction. Although many are harpooned and caught by big game fisherman, most commercial vessels catch them by using long line and purse seine techniques (dropping a mile long net and circling a large school of tuna with a boat, catching the entire school and all other sea life that happen to be present-dolphins, sea birds, endangered turtles, etc.). Many more Bluefin tuna have been killed each year than are reproduced—with up to 150,000 tons of total tuna killed in just one year alone. Annual cumulative ‘declared’ catch amounts by tuna fishing vessels from 2006 through 2009 ranged from 21,000 tons to 35,000 tons although the ICCAT admits now that “catches of Bluefin tuna have been seriously underreported” with catches in the Mediterranean area alone now being more realistically estimated at 61,000 tons per year.  The current recommended yearly “sustainable” catch rate by the ICCAT, is 13,500 tons, which is absurd, since there already has proven to be no accurate reporting methods and no enforcement protocols—thus leading to the decimation that is seen today. Committee members admit that “given the quantified uncertainties, the Bluefin tuna stock would not be expected to rebuild by 2019 even with no fishing”, and some scientists predict without protection, the species will become extinct in the Mediterranean by the end of next year (2012). They have already been fished to extinction in the Black and Caspian Seas. Most researchers without economic ties to the tuna fishing industry agree that they do not fully understand the complex life of the Bluefin and associated ecosystems. Many are concerned that their numbers are under further duress because of the BP oil spill and long line activity throughout the species’ spawning grounds in the Gulf of Mexico. Many long line fishing in that area use multi barbed nets that can extend up to 25 miles long catching blue fin tuna and other sea life as bykill. Despite all of the facts, the ICCAT and NOAA feel that this fish needs no protection—hence, the fateful decision last Friday. For the past few months, a review process had been established to help determine whether to grant an endangered species status to the Bluefin tuna. This review was conducted by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and then submitted to the NOAA for final determination. Much of the final decision was based on the result of interviews requested by the NMFS of the tuna fishing industry itself—those fishermen whose livelihood depend on catching these fish. Those who, no doubt, eat these fish themselves. The following is an excerpt taken directly from the formal correspondence to all commercial tuna fishermen, for a determination meeting about the Bluefin tuna:

Questions attendees may consider include the following: What are your general impressions of the abundance and distribution of Atlantic bluefin tuna over time? If you have experienced a decline or increase in bluefin tuna catches, what do you attribute this to (abundance, distribution, availability, gear changes, regulatory effects, etc.)? Are there particular areas where you typically encounter larger numbers of bluefin tuna? If so, where are they (e.g., inshore or offshore)? Do these areas change on an annual basis? What is the average size of bluefin tuna being caught by different gear types or fisheries? Written comments may also be sent to: National Marine Fisheries Service, Northeast Regional Office, Protected Resources Division, 55 Great Republic Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930.

Unbelievable, isn’t it? Let’s ask the Bluefin tuna fishermen a series of questions to see if they think what they catch everyday for their income and food, should be taken away from them. Brilliant.

One single Bluefin tuna—just one of these fish—may be sold for up to $50,000-$100,000. What can be said about a society or a world that facilitates and then condones extinctions because of greed? In the case of Bluefin tuna and most other endangered animals that we eat, there is no physiologic need whatsoever for us to consume and therefore kill them—it is a fabrication of our culture. The protein and omega three fatty acids everyone expects to get by eating sliced tissue from one of these great fish can easily be found in plant foods and without inflicting pain, suffering or devastation of a species or loss of other interrelated ecosystems. Chia seeds, ground flax seeds, spirulina, and chlorella all have more omega three content per ounce than fish. And, all plant foods will provide you with much-needed fiber and phytonutrients—neither of which can be found in any fish.  Also, every fish has unwanted cholesterol and saturated fat.

Rich Ruais, executive director of the American Bluefin Tuna Association stated, “There are over 5,000 commercial and 15,000 recreational tuna fishermen just in the U.S. stretching from Maine to Texas, and they are relieved NOAA didn’t give the fish an endangered status.” And in the event any one still wonders if politics ever play a role in decisions about food choice and eventual loss of biodiversity, I present the following: “Listing the Bluefin as threatened or endangered would have jeopardized the livelihood of tuna fishermen,” said Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine. What else needs to be said?

It’s time we increase the awareness of others, write our senators and members of congress, set up and sign petitions, align ourselves with organizations such as the Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace, and others that truly care about our planet and other living things—it’s time to make a difference! 

You and the 2012 Farm Bill: a new perspective

  For those unfamiliar with this Bill, here is a quick look at what’s happening via two of my most abbreviated definitions: 1. We are all giving an awful lot of money to our government for them to pay large businesses to produce food that we get sick on. That’s pretty much the existing Farm Bill.  2. We give even more money to our government all over again, for them to pay for the health bills of all those people who eat all that bad food—which explains our national health insurance plan, and both are now unfortunately intertwined. Why do you need to be concerned about the Farm Bill? There are a few reasons: One is that you are paying for it—that should be reason enough. Additionally, it is being vastly misrepresented to the public and redrafted as we speak. It will go into effect next year. Less than 2% of the current Farm Bill is used to support vegetables, fruit, and nuts, most of the rest of the money is given to the meat and dairy industries, in one form or another.  All of the major changes proposed for this bill are aimed at taking away economic support from factory farms and providing more to small farmers—thinking this will produce healthier foods. Sounds good, doesn’t it? No, it’s not so good. Essentially, it will be a shift of money away from large meat and dairy operations to small meat and dairy operations—which is not a proper solution. When you hear about “farm subsidies” and “commodities”, it is this Bill that they are talking about. The original Farm Bill, most likely was once a good idea with humble beginnings in 1933 to help prop up farmers battling their way out of the Great Depression, but now it has evolved into a new definition of being disconnected. The current Bill is a 5 yr, $280 billion plan with 15 categories or “titles”, each with its own set of funds. You are hearing mostly about the $42 billion given as direct farm subsidies (these are for “commodities” or corn, wheat, soybeans, and another crops) and also about the $40 billion for two other Titles that provide various types of support such as crop insurances and land set aside programs. These three are the grouping of funds that have supported industrial farming the most in a direct fashion. But, $190 billion or 70% of the entire Farm Bill, is given to 43 million people enrolled in the food stamp program—and that Title has issues as well, but you won’t hear about them because it is more insidious and slides along unnoticed. OK, so what about the other 11 Titles? No one knows much about these because, at a meager $2 billion, they are not considered a problem. But I consider them extremely important. These Titles pertain to such things as conservation and environment, forestry, renewable energy, and research. In fact, if our government would have devoted more of the previous Farm Bills, essentially more of our tax dollars, to just two of those ‘menial’ categories—like, say, to environment and research—they may have discovered decades ago that we are growing our food all wrong. In fact, they would have found out that we are not growing food at all—we are growing livestock, and now fish. In order to move forward with the redrafting of the Farm Bill, a few things need to be sorted out. I’ll review the most important three: First, the Food Stamp program has no proper nutrition education or monitoring system so the program itself, is essentially contributing to our national health care costs and the perpetuation of producing unhealthy food because $190 billion is being spent, by those enrolled, on the cheapest and most readily accessible food possible—food produced with empty calories and from the meat and dairy industries.  Since this will continue to be the largest part of the Bill, it needs to be corrected at least as much as the other subsidy issues. Second, despite what the NY Times and other authors are saying, it needs to be clearly understood that Government subsidies by themselves do not cause obesity or any other disease. Proper food is out there. You just have to find it and create the demand. If we all decided to stop eating Twinkies today, they wouldn’t be made. Again, it begins with education. It begins with awareness—and the Farm Bill (subsidies) need to provide this awareness, before it does anything else. Third, all government funding should be for only those foods that are the healthiest for our environment and for ourselves—organically grown, plant-based foods. Farmers that grow them should be heavily supported and obviously benefit the most. Doing these three things would create the right environment for healthier food to be produced and for proper choices to be made. I encourage everyone to get involved with this. You have a voice but carefully examine what is being proposed because the movement to restructure this Bill is well underway and is quite strong but not in the right direction as I have pointed out here. Since the 2012 Farm Bill will become a reality as a successor to previously enacted Bills, we certainly need to address it right now. However, I have another solution that which would get us on the right track much quicker, while the Farm Bill chugs along—called an eco and health risk tax—which will be for another blog, and can also be found  in Comfortably Unaware.