Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Dropping Links

July 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Some stuff I want to keep track of, and you might like to peruse, listen to, or watch…

  • NPR : Debate Over Whale Hunt Focuses On Japan – It looks like the whole idea of defending a ridiculous practice just for the principle is losing traction. Aired June 21, 2010.
  • NY Times Magazine: Tuna’s End by Paul Greenberg – Maybe the best summary I’ve seen on the plight of Bluefin, especially in recent times. Covers the CITES failure, the oil spill, and some great visuals that make the animal seem more real, and how they are caught. Published June 21, 2010.
  • On Point (NPR): Killer Whales: Tanks and Tensions with Tom Ashbrook. – A 47-minute radio program exploring whales in captivity, including Tilikum in Orlando.
  • Plants & Animals Denver – – the vegan advocacy group I help organize. We are currently working on a local Bluefin tuna campaign, and putting on vegan community dinners every month.

Methinks Someone at the Denver Post is on the Big Ag teat.

April 12, 2010 1 comment

This Denver Post editorial from today’s paper just smacks of Big Ag influence to me. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but come on: the editor is defending keeping pizza in school lunches (as an “example”). Has the mighty agriculture lobby resorted to paying off newspaper editors to influence public opinion before laws get to close to passing? It’s the only explanation to me for defending the need for “palatable” unhealthy choices in school cafeterias.

The article expresses concern over how far the new legislation (called the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010) could go. According to USA Today, it aims to “bolster the safety and nutritional value of school lunches.” The Post editors worry that

the potential that nutritional standards, yet to be developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, might be written so strictly they would effectively eliminate local control and individual choice.

The editors don’t seem to acknowledge the results of kids having that “individual choice.” Personally, I keep hearing about how kids tend to pick the tater tots, pizza, and Taco Bell when given the choice. Of course they do. Those things taste better to kids. Maybe they know they should be eating something healthier, and yeah, the idea of giving them a choice is nice and all, but I’m kind of a realist on this one: American kids don’t care about the healthy option. Some of them may have been hazed enough to know that they probably don’t want to be fat the rest of their lives, but what justification is there for slapping a burger and fries in front of them every day? They will eat it. The salt and fat will taste good to them, and they will continue to want that burger or pizza or taco every day.

Looking back at what I’ve written, I realize I am coming off as a bit of a totalitarian food Nazi- the children will eat what I say they will eat! But that’s not the case. I think kids should be allowed to eat food that tastes good to them. There are plenty of delicious nutritious options that I’m sure the lunch-ladies (and lunch-gentlemen) can handle cooking and serving. We need school lunch reform because the current options are lazy, underfunded, and bad for the kids. We need the bad-for-you stuff out because it keeps the kids hooked on the junk and headed towards obesity and diabetes. We need to present the message in our SCHOOLS (places of education!) that certain foods are healthy, and that we won’t subject our younglings to the food that will harm their bodies in the long run.

Here’s an analogy that probably most people will roll their eyes at: We do not put pornography in school libraries. We don’t because we believe our kids should not be subjected to certain things. We want the library to be a fascinating place that develops their love for reading, exploring, and imagination. We don’t want it to be the place where they are exposed to the seedy, sexualized world of adults. That would be bad for their development, their psyche, their health. So why do we still expose kids to unhealthy food in our school cafeterias? Because they’ll eat it? That’s the reason? We might not want to think so, but kids will look at porn if it’s sitting on the school bookshelf. They will. And they’ll eat the pizza if it is offered a-la-carte as a competitive food in the lunchroom.

Okay, so different stories, food and porn, I know. But am I that far off-base here?

Put burgers and pizza in schools, and kids will think: I am allowed to eat that. My prinicipal, lunchlady, and parents allow it to be there, so it can’t be so bad, right? I believe as much as anybody that proper nutritional education starts with the parents- they are the voice of reason, the ones who identify good and bad food. But why provide the mixed message of meat, cheese, and milk at every single lunchtime? Stay on-message, people!

I am not yet a parent, so you can take all of this with that grain of salt. But I care about our food system, and I see how corruption, corporate influnce, and poor governance have brought the National School Lunch Program to it’s current status: broken. It is an obvious symptom of the broader industrial-food system disease we have become accustomed to: one that has been warped by improper subsidies, lax regulation, corporate lobby, Wal-Mart-thrift-obsessivness, and our view of food items as tongue-masturbators. OK, eye-roller, that’s another unnecessary one, I know… But the food-porn hedonism I see in the U.S. these days is disgusting enough to me that I feel justified in using such language. If we look at food solely as a source of pleasure, we’re going to get a food system that reflects only that: cheap food that tastes good. Not healthy food that reflects our own personal values.

It starts when we’re kids. Do we want our children to make food choices on base flavor instincts (me want salt and fat!), or do we want them to think about where their food comes from, how it nourishes them, and  how their choices affect the world?

Radiolab: Animal Minds

March 2, 2010 Leave a comment

photo by The Marine Mammal Center

The Animal Minds episode of Radiolab explores what we often wonder about our pets and other animals: what are they thinking? Jad and Robert get into discussions about dog guilt, anthropomorphizing, and the most amazing story about a whale caught in a web of crabtraps. It’s an excellent hour of radio, and I definitely recommend checking it out. Considering the mind of an animal is a good thought experiment.

We often think animals may have thoughts and feelings similar to our own. This concept usually advances the pursuit of animal rights, as it helps us relate to them and thus show compassion. However, making comparisons between animal and human minds can also impede compassion towards animals. I say this because it is unfair to animals to make that comparison. Scientists really know so little about the brains of animals, let alone humans. When we try to think about whether an animal is as smart as a human, we too often look at the problem in the context of human intelligence: Do they use tools? Do they communicate with each other? And when we find that they are not very human-like, we tend to classify them as somehow sub-human. This tendency is what feeds the widespread belief that animals do not deserve the same rights as people. Thinking this way justifies zoos, validates factory farms, funds animal testing, distorts our own sense of morality.

 Consider the humpback whale. The evolution of a whale’s brain happened in a way that has been advantageous to its species’ survival, while the long process that led up to the (seemingly) exceptional human brain occurred under vastly different circumstances. Realizing this, we must acknowledge that our brains are not necessarily that special in the animal kingdom. Yes, our brains have given us the ability to create, imagine, dream, love, and all that, but that does not make the human brain superior, except by our own biased standards of what intelligence means. Who knows what a whale brain can do? They are incredibly complex creatures that we know very little about. Maybe a humpback freed of its entanglement by a friendly group of human divers is showing gratitude when it nuzzles them afterward, or maybe it is doing something we just cannot yet understand. That behavior is something though, I gotta say.

Kevin Rudd gets serious about whaling?

February 19, 2010 Leave a comment


Australia’s prime minister Kevin Rudd, and the country’s government, have been criticized repeatedly by activist groups like Sea Shepherd over the years for avoiding taking a strong stance against Japan’s whaling practices. Though it is the country nearest the Southern Ocean hunting grounds, where the whaling activity takes place, Australia has been reluctant to risk the friendly economic partnerships it has with Japan by showing any opposition to what most of the world views as illegal whaling.

According to a new story published today (which I noticed through the “whaling” trending link on Yahoo), Rudd is finally getting serious about the issue. He is apparently living up to one of his campaign promises from two years ago and threatening Japan with international court action if they do not respond to diplomatic talks on the issue. He promises to make progress with Japan or take them to court before the next whaling season starts (though the current season is still going).

Hopefully this gets us somewhere. It looks a bit like political posturing, but I’m happy to see a world leader addressing the issue of whaling. It gives anti-whaling activists a bit more legtimacy and maybe even some hope.

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As Smart as Us… or Smarter?

February 11, 2010 Leave a comment

Are they playing, or are they trying to spell S.O.S. to the dumb humans? Either way, you have to wonder how there are people in modern civilizations (Japan!) who see dolphins as beneath us. Please, everybody see The Cove.

BBC’s One Planet: Animals and Us

January 5, 2010 Leave a comment

One Planet is a weekly half-hour show on the BBC World Service. The producers always put together an interesting, thoughtful look at environmental issues around the world. The most recent episode touches on issues with animals. 

 Click here to listen to the podcast.

Here is the synopsis from the One Planet website:

It was 28 years ago that the documentary maker Victor Schonfeld produced The Animals Film about the way humans exploit other species. He returns to the subject in a two-part documentary to give a very personal view on what, if anything, has changed since then.

In the first programme he looks at the use of animals for food and turns to experts in fields such as psychology, history, language and neurology to find out why humans seem so attracted to eating meat.

Next week, he focuses on the scientific establishment’s attachment to using animals, and considers the future. Might social justice for other species actually benefit humans?

The Conversation is Ignored

December 3, 2009 Leave a comment

I’m not sure why I feel like posting this article; it is an op-ed in The Detroit News by some dude who works for one of Big Food’s lobby groups, the “Center for Consumer Freedom.” I guess I just find it funny. This is a person whose job entails protecting the status quo of the American industrial food system, and his editorial reads like a C high-schooler’s essay on why vegetarians are stupid. Read it if you want. You won’t get much out of it except maybe a chuckle and a reinforced sense of how weak the arguments against our lifestyle are. Don’t say I never look at the other side of things…