29 August 2012

Why eating meat is irresponsible

In Eating Animals Jonathan Safron Foer wrote, "We see farmed animals so rarely today, it becomes easy to forget all of this. Earlier generations were more familiar than we are with the personalities of farmed animals and the violence done to them. They would have known that pigs are playful, smart, and curious (we would say "like dogs"), and that they have complex social relationships." This is the description of our lives. Through either inundation or lack of participation we become desensitized to the world around us. We don't notice the volume of music or the amount of violence on television; we become blind to the people present while we text and talk to people on our mobile phones.

Surrounded by violence, we shun compassion and write off empathy as weakness. Submerged in pornographic imagery, we neglect commitment and love.

Yet in order to be caring human beings we must challenge ourselves not to forget and not to allow sensory overload to be our excuse for harming the planet and our fellow animals.

Today millions of animals are tortured and slaughtered so that some people can devour filet mignon for lunch and dinner.

According to PETA, "it takes more than 2,400 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of meat, while growing 1 pound of wheat only requires 25 gallons." And, "it takes up to 16 pounds of grain to produce just 1 pound of meat, and even fish on fish farms must be fed up to 5 pounds of wild-caught fish to produce 1 pound of farmed fish flesh."

The US Geological Survey supports Peta's figures and adds that, "Estimates vary a lot due to different conditions of raising cows and to the extent of the production chain of water that is used. It takes a lot of water to grow grain, forage, and roughage to feed a cow, as well as water to drink and to service the cow." The numbers the USGS provides are in order to make a hamburger (it doesn't list the weight). According to their figures 4,000-18,000 gallons of water are required to produce a hamburger. Compare that to wheat, which requires about 110 gallons of water.

In the very near future, the great crises that face our planet, lack of fossil fuels, global warming, poverty, will be upon us. Perhaps the greatest challenge will be access to fresh water; this challenge will affect all of us, as opposed to what it is today, mostly people in impoverished areas. If we don't take our water consumption seriously now, we will face dire consequences in the future.

As for the amount of grain needed for 1 pound of beef, consider the numbers from the UW Extension.
There are reasons why you have heard many numbers because it depends a bit on production practices and your definition of a pound of beef. An old rule of thumb is that it requires 50 bushels of corn to finish an animal for our U.S. desired endpoint (USDA choice grade; USDA yield grade 2 or 3; approximately 28% body fat). There are 56 pounds of corn in a bushel, so you will need around 2,800 pounds of corn to produce an animal that weighs 1,250 to 1,350 pounds. This equates to 2.07 to 2.24 pounds of corn per pound of finished animal. The reason you have numbers that are much higher than that may be due to many factors. Cattle convert (pounds of feed per pounds of gain) at around 5.5 to 6.5 in the feedlot. That means you need to feed about 5.5 to 6.5 pounds of diet (assuming normal finishing diet) for an animal to gain 1 pound. However, they do not enter the feedlot until they already weigh 600 to 900 pounds. During that time, they consume mostly forage prior to entering the feedlot (most producers use forage because it is cheaper and a good use of fiber that would otherwise not be harvested). So, it is misleading to say that it takes 6 pounds of corn to make 1 pound of beef. The reason you may have heard 20 pounds of corn is because not all the 1,250 to 1,350 pounds of live animal is consumed (as beef anyway).
According to UW Extension, the amount of feed required depends on the definition of use of an animal. If we limit the definition to beef then the amount of grain per pound is very high. But if we include all of the products created such as leather then the amount of grain per pound decreases. Either way, it does take a lot of grain to produce a pound of meat. Is this grain that people could consume and could it be used more effectively?

If Safron Foer's Eating Animals isn't convincing enough nor are the statistics about amounts of grain and water used to create meat, then watch the videos below. Follow that up with Food, Inc. and you may find yourself questioning the reasons for continuing to eat meat.

If we lose our compassion, we lose hope.

"We can't plead ignorance, only indifference. Those alive today are the generations that came to know better. We have the burden and the opportunity of living in the moment when the critique of factory farming broke into the popular consciousness. We are the ones of whom it will be fairly asked, 'What did you do when you learned the truth about eating animals?'"

Links of interest:

NPR's A Nation of Meat Eaters: See how it all Adds up

Ms. Portman's a vegetarian, how about you?

Review of Eating Animals

Is it ethical to eat meat?

Interview with JSF

Meat-Free Meals

Cases in Point: Arguments for Foregoing Meat
The Crisis of Water
Consumption today

17 August 2012

What the hell is this election about? Why can't we make amends with Iran? and How the hell did we come to this?

Thus far the pundits, the candidates, the press, the spinsters, and the activists on the far right and left have been shouting from the mountains their definitions of what the Romney versus Obama campaign is all about.  Is it about the economy, taxes, the future, the vision of America?

Probably not.  The differences between the two camps are not large enough for that.

The most striking quality about the Romney ticket is that both Rep. Ryan and Mr. Romney epitomize all that seems broken in a capitalist system.  Both are extremely wealthy.  Both are extremely out of touch with working-class Americans.  Both favor trickle-down economics.

As for Pres. Obama, he seems woefully out of touch with working class Americans and seems content to rail against the rich without actually having to make any actual policy or recommendation other than raising their taxes.  Raising taxes will not solve our budget problems nor will it solve the more fundamental problems in American society.

America faces a massive divide between the poor, working class and the extremely rich.  Because of this epic divide there are vast gaps in educational attainments, imprisonment rates, employment rates, foreclosure rates, investment opportunities, housing possibilities, foreclosure rates, and on and on.

Neither Pres. Obama nor Mr. Romney has a plan to fix what ails America today.

But Romney's plans will magnify our problems and worsen the economic woes.  Already today jobs are scarce while corporations are sitting on trillions of dollars.  Rich dudes like Romney and Ryan hide heaps of cash in the Cayman Islands and the Bahamas, while most of us try to tread water on less than a eight hundred dollars a month.  Those that run out of energy drown.

Some of the recent federal investments have been directed at helping underwater homeowners bail out through refinancing with major lenders without closing costs.  The federal government picks up the closing costs, the homeowner stays in her home.  But it has been underutilized as banks are far less eager to pass out cash at lower rates to folks with mediocre credit records.

Foreclosures are still stacking up.  Who's to blame for this mess?  Republicans are quick to blame the Obama administration but the economy has been in a tailspin since the Bush administration led us into two endless wars.

Pres. Obama and the Democrats can be accused of not doing enough.  They spent nearly the first two years trying to reform the health care system, eventually settling on the weak Affordable Care Act but not accomplishing much more.  While admitting that the war on drugs had failed, Mr. Obama introduced no new approach, and while promising transparency in 2004, Mr. Obama resorted to covert tactics.  Yet, it took a ton of wriggling and wagering just to get a Republican healthcare reform proposal passed without Republican approval.

While Democrats can be blamed for not doing enough, Republicans ought to be blamed for doing nothing but making matters worse.

Cuts to programs that assist the working poor have exaggerated struggles.  Republican governors have refused to initiate health care reforms as mandated by the ACA designed to insure a majority of the uninsured Americans and proposed cuts to effective programs like BadgerCare in Wisconsin will leave millions more without insurance creating a wider gulf between the haves and have nots.

Mr. Romney and Rep. Ryan propose to continue with failed voodoo economics that favor the already extremely wealthy like themselves and mire the poor in abject poverty.

It's time the American people determine what this election should be about not the talking heads.  We don't need to hear more about cutting taxes for the so called job creators - they haven't created many living wage jobs and are still loaded with cash - and we don't need to hear more about whose vision of America is more reflective of what America is supposed to be.  What we really need is some real policy change in this country.  Republicans don't seem willing to do that besides cutting funding and taxes.  A policy that makes no sense whatsoever.

If the campaign continues the way it's going, the really revealing story will be how many Americans are buffoon enough to vote for Republicans.  There is just no feasible way Republican policies will lead to anything but further economic hardship for the struggling working class.  Their policies will lead to more inequality as the top reaps and the bottom is cast to sow.

The only hope is that the Democrats will grow a pair and start proposing some real reform; a story line that seems as remote as Mars at best.

Unbelievably Democrats think that they still have to be tougher than Republicans when it comes to foreign policy.  Today there is nothing Mr. Romney can do to get to the right of Mr. Obama.  Even the amicable and amiable Herb Kohl  has decided to toe the hard line.

I am referring to the government's lack of diplomacy with Iran.  The anti-Iranian rhetoric and draconian sanctions persist and will carry through the elections and possibly next year.  It is a fundamental flaw in Washington's philosophy that severe sanctions and veiled threats of war will discourage Iran from nuclear advancements.

The most bizarre aspect of the Iranian situation is that the rhetoric from Washington hasn't changed for 30 years.  Doesn't that seem odd that no matter which party held the office of President America failed to make headway in negotiations with the Persians?

Perhaps the best opportunity in the last thirty years for some reconciliation between the US and Iran was during the Khatami and Clinton eras but Clinton seemingly refused to meet with Khatami.  When GW Bush was elected all reasonable thoughts of any conciliatory effort evaporated when Bush II lumped Iran in with North Korea as part of the Axis of Evil.  That probably was not the most effective way to bury the hatchet of distrust.

In 2004, The Atlantic ran a piece on the repercussions of a war with Iran.  The first presumption James Fallows made in the article was that Iran was three years away from a nuclear bomb.  The second presumption was that if Iran were to construct a nuclear bomb, they may use it against Israel.  Both of these presumptions could be false, in fact the first has been proven to be.  Iran has, according to the Iranian government, not developed nuclear weapons.

As a part of Fallows' presumptions, he enlisted a group of "experts" to conduct a series of war games.  The result of the war games illustrated very clearly that "as a tool to slow or stop Iran's progress toward nuclear weaponry - the available military options are all likely to fail."

So why are so many people in the US talking up war with Iran?  Empty threats will only demean us.  Americans need to urge Pres. Obama and members of congress to open diplomatic talks with Iranian officials.  It's time to end the charade and work toward peace.  There is some recent hope.  In the last year America loosened restrictions on multiple entry Visas for Iranian students.  That's a sign of loosened tentions, perhaps.  Secondly in the wake of the devastating earthquakes that have killed hundreds in and around Tabriz, Iran has accepted foreign aid.  It could prove to be a vital breakthrough.  Sometimes it takes great tragedy to bring people together - a lesson GW Bush could have used after Sept. 11, 2001. 

The result of the failed war on drugs:

According to Harper's Index, June 2012 edition:
Number of inmates in federal prison for drug convictions, per 100,000 US adults, in 1987: 6.8
Number of inmates in federal prison for drug convictions, per 100,000 US adults, in 2011: 38.7
The cost of incarceration per inmate per year in a federal prison according to the Bureau of Prisons: ~$27,000