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Archive for December 2010

Downsize yourself in 2011: Go vegan

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Come gaze into my crystal ball and see what the new year will hold. I predict that early on, millions of people will resolve to lose weight, gyms will offer special membership rates, exercise equipment will be sold at half price and companies will peddle “miracle weight-loss pills” and discounted diet plans. Much of the nation will be excited about “downsizing.” 

But by spring, few people will be as “significantly reduced” as the price of a workout tape. Many will have forgotten their resolutions entirely by the time the ball drops in Times Square. Others will struggle to eat healthy for a few weeks, only to see their resolve stall in the McDonald’s drive-through by Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Mark my words: This will happen—or my name isn’t Carnac the Magnificent. 

OK, well my name isn’t Carnac. I don’t even own a crystal ball. But I’m confident about my predictions because the same phenomenon occurs year after year. Revelers ring in the new year by making resolutions to eat less and exercise more. For many, this just means switching from fried chicken to grilled chicken (in the mistaken belief that it’s a lot healthier) or forcing themselves to do crunches and eat cereal that tastes like cardboard before giving up and going to Sonic for a Footlong Quarter Pound Coney. Is it any wonder that their resolutions are doomed? If you’re serious about losing weight, take a cue from Biggest Loser trainer Bob Harper and try exercising regularly and eating a healthy vegan diet. 

A vegan diet isn’t actually a “diet” at all. It’s just easier to maintain a healthy weight if you eat plant-based foods rather than animal-based ones, because most plant-based foods are naturally low in fat and calories. They’re also high in fiber and complex carbohydrates, which help boost your metabolism, so you burn more calories. There are slim meat-eaters and heavy vegans, of course, but according to the American Dietetic Association, vegans are less likely to suffer from weight problems. Research even shows that vegans are a whopping nine times less likely to be obese than meat-eaters are. 

Of course, I’m not suggesting that everyone eat three square meals of salad a day. But you won’t lose weight if you slip into unhealthy patterns that include eating lots of fish sticks and chicken sandwiches or fall prey to commercials advertising extra-large, extra-cheese pizzas with eight types of cheese and cheese-stuffed crusts. 

If you want to lose weight—and save animals—try eating a variety of delicious plant-based meals, such as “beefless tips” sautéed with asparagus and onions; pasta with spicy marinara sauce; three-bean chili with (or without) ground “beef” crumbles; lentil and spinach soup with warm whole-grain bread; oatmeal with almond milk and blueberries; soy sausage, scrambled seasoned tofu and hash browns; bean burritos; and creamy mushroom risotto. 

As that long list of options shows, you don’t have to deprive yourself or resort to fad diets in order to lose weight. With so many vegan choices available, you can enjoy great-tasting foods and stay in shape without harming a soul. I foresee good things for those who go vegan this year: good karma, healthier hearts, lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure and a reduced risk of cancer, diabetes and other diseases. Your loved ones will likely see “less” of you in 2011 too—and that’s a good thing!

Heather Moore is a research specialist with the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.PETA.org.

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Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

December 30, 2010 at 9:58 pm

Time to rethink youth hunting

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By Paula Moore

In just one week recently, a 7-year-old boy was fatally shot by his 10-year-old brother as they were hunting deer with their father in Virginia and a 14-year-old was shot and killed during a squirrel-hunting trip in Wisconsin. Another teen was flown to the hospital after he was shot in the leg while deer hunting in West Virginia. Most people wouldn’t dream of handing a child a loaded gun and hoping for the best. Yet that seems to be exactly what some parents are doing when they encourage their children to hunt.

In an effort to revive this dying blood sport, states across the country are loosening hunting restrictions and putting loaded weapons into younger and younger hands. Last year, lawmakers in Wisconsin lowered the state’s hunting age from 12 to 10. Since 2004, more than a dozen other states have also changed their laws to allow younger children to hunt. In Texas, children as young as 9 can hunt by themselves. Many states do not even have a minimum hunting age.

But that doesn’t mean that parents should go along with it. Teaching children how to kill is inherently dangerous—and not just to Bambi and his friends.

In 2008, the Tulsa World in Oklahoma (a state with no minimum hunting age) analyzed reports compiled by the International Hunter Education Association of hunting-related injuries and fatalities. Of the more than 6,650 hunting accidents included in the group’s database since 1994, nearly 35 percent involved hunters who were 21 years old or younger. An analysis by Milwaukee’s Journal Sentinel found that young hunters were more than twice as likely to cause accidents as other hunters.

Psychologists and pediatricians warn that children are simply not mature enough to safely handle firearms, and several recent incidents seem to confirm this. In October, a 13-year-old boy accidentally shot and killed his father while they were squirrel hunting in Louisiana. Another squirrel-hunting trip, this one in Illinois, turned tragic when a 14-year-old shot and killed his 17-year-old friend. In April, an Ohio man was fatally shot by his 15-year-old son during a kids-only turkey hunt.

It’s almost impossible to imagine the devastating toll that such incidents will take on the young people involved as they are forced to spend the rest of their lives thinking about that split second when they accidentally killed a friend or loved one.

While these were clearly accidents, some young hunters have deliberately taken aim at other human beings. Numerous school shootings have generated headlines and caused enormous heartbreak, and in most cases, the student shooters were hunters. Samuel Hengel, the 15-year-old Wisconsin high school student who shot himself after holding classmates and a teacher hostage in November, enjoyed hunting and fishing. In 2009, an 11-year-old Pennsylvania boy allegedly shot and killed his father’s pregnant fiancée—apparently with the same youth-model 20-gauge shotgun that he had used to win a turkey shoot the week before.

Hunters will object, of course: Not every child who is taught to stalk and kill animals will stalk and kill a human being. But every person—regardless of age—who picks up a gun, aims it at another living being and fires must deaden a piece of his or her heart. The ultimate lesson of every hunting trip is that life is not valuable.

Many of the children involved in tragic hunting accidents are too young to have driven themselves to the hunting site. All are too young to legally drink. So why do we think that they are mature enough and responsible enough to be given a gun and taught how to kill? It’s time to stop this madness.

Paula Moore is a research specialist for The PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

December 10, 2010 at 7:57 pm

Holiday carriage rides: a tragic tradition

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By Jennifer O’Connor

Determined to get an early start on my holiday shopping, I headed to the mall with list in hand, but I never made it inside. I was stopped in my tracks upon seeing a tired, dispirited horse hitched to a carriage and trudging through the chaotic parking lot giving “festive” rides. The folks inside the carriage were bundled up in a blanket, but the horse’s legs were covered in slush and filth, and his head was hanging low to the ground. I watched as car after car jostled for a parking spot and barely missed hitting him.

Every year between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, malls, neighborhood associations and chambers of commerce offer horse-drawn carriage rides in a misguided effort to add an element of old-fashioned flavor to the season. Crowded mall parking lots and busy city streets are no place for horses any time of the year.

Horses are herd animals who like to live with large numbers of other horses, graze in meadows, trot great distances, play and court. Domestication has certainly not benefited horses, as they’ve long been exploited as beasts of burden and used as tools to make a profit. Horses are sensitive animals who tend to be skittish. Being in the middle of busy holiday traffic and exposed to startling noises such as car horns and charity bell-ringers can make them anxious and afraid. Horses and humans alike have been seriously hurt—some fatally—when horses have spooked and bolted or when collisions between cars and carriages have occurred.

Fourteen people on a holiday ride in Virginia last year were hurt when a car slammed into the carriage, ejecting the driver and causing the horses to run for 100 yards before hitting a pole. All 14 people were taken to the hospital, including one who had to be airlifted. At a 2008 Christmas tree–lighting ceremony in Wisconsin, two horses pulling a carriage bolted after being startled by the display and ran over a spectator, who had to be hospitalized.

In December 2001, a 4-year-old Indiana boy was killed when the horse pulling the carriage he was riding in during a city-sponsored Christmas party was spooked by a passing car and bolted. On Christmas Eve 1999 in Delaware, one person was partially paralyzed and two others injured after a truck ran into the horse-drawn carriage they were riding in. A week earlier in Sarnia, Ontario, a woman was killed when the horses she was using for Christmas carriage rides bolted and dragged her to her death. Many horses have also been killed.

Tragic incidents involving horse-drawn carriages routinely occur wherever these rides are allowed, not just during the holidays.

Many working horses suffer from lameness and hoof deterioration from walking on hard asphalt surfaces all day long. Horses’ noses are at “ground zero” for breathing in noxious exhaust fumes, which can cause severe lung damage, emphysema, cancer and accelerated aging. When tack rubs against a horse’s skin for hours on end, it can cause sores and abrasions that may be difficult to see when covered by harnesses.

Even the strongest horse will quickly become debilitated when forced to haul oversized loads in often treacherous conditions for hours and days on end. Once “retired,” these horses are often sold for meat. Take Chance, whose hooves had been worn away to nothing after a lifetime of pulling and who was hours away from being killed in a slaughterhouse. Chance got a second chance when a horse rescue group saved her, but most spent carriage horses aren’t so lucky.

This holiday season, please remember Chance and all the other horses like her. We can extend a compassionate hand to the horses who toil for the 12 Days of Christmas and beyond simply by refusing to patronize carriage rides.

Jennifer O’Connor is a research specialist with the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

December 3, 2010 at 7:05 pm