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America the meatless—we’re one step closer

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By Heather Moore

America just got a little bit greener. Earlier this month, Aspen, Colo.—John Denver’s “sweet Rocky Mountain paradise”—became the first city in the U.S. to launch a comprehensive Meatless Monday campaign. Local restaurants, schools, hospitals, charities and businesses, including the Aspen Valley Hospital, the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Aspen Elementary School, have signed on to promote plant-based meals on Mondays.

For our own health and the health of the planet, the rest of us should go meat-free as well—at least for one day a week.

According to Dawn Shepard, who is heading Aspen’s Meatless Monday campaign, Aspen is a very health-conscious community, and residents are also concerned about the environmental costs of meat production. A 2010 United Nations report revealed that meat and dairy products require more resources and cause higher greenhouse-gas emissions than do plant-based foods.

Shepard says that if everyone stopped eating meat one day each week, it would reduce carbon emissions as much as would taking 25 million cars off the road for a year. Chris Weber, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Pennsylvania’s Carnegie Melon University, has pointed out that not eating meat and dairy products for one day a week has an even bigger impact on the environment than buying local foods every single day of the year.

In an effort to save the environment and animals, a growing number of people—not just in Aspen but across the country—are swearing off meat, at least on Mondays. A May 23 FGI Research study shows that 50 percent of Americans have heard of the nationwide Meatless Monday movement, which was started in 2003 by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. That’s up from 30 percent just six months ago. At least 27 percent of consumers who know about the campaign have opted to eat less meat as a result, and a significant percentage of people would like to see Meatless Mondays promoted in restaurants, fast-food chains, supermarkets and cafeterias.

At the rate things are going, they may soon get their wish. This month, the board of commissioners in Durham County, N.C., officially proclaimed Mondays as “Meatless Mondays.” Last year, officials in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., passed resolutions urging people in those cities to choose plant-based meals on Mondays. City schools in Baltimore have been observing “Meatless Mondays” since 2009, and in February 2010, Manhattan borough president Scott Stringer proposed that all New York City public schools follow suit. Several schools have followed his recommendation.

This January, Sodexo, a leading food-service provider, began offering a weekly plant-based entrée option to the 900 hospitals and 2,000 corporate and government clients that it serves in North America. Vegetarian Day observations and activities are also taking place in Israel, Australia, the U.K., Finland, Belgium and other parts of the world.

We’re off to a good start—especially in Aspen—but the Meatless Monday campaign needs to keep on snowballing throughout the country. Americans eat twice as much meat as the average person worldwide. Not surprisingly, we spend more money on health care than does any other nation. Unlike vegan foods, which are cholesterol-free and generally low in fat and calories, meat is high in saturated fat and cholesterol and contributes to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.

While going vegan is the best way to save the planet and to save lives—our own and those of animals—people who aren’t yet willing to stop eating meat entirely can still help by not eating meat for at least one day a week.

If you’re already observing Meatless Mondays, try extending your efforts to Tuesdays too. Or help Meatless Monday campaigners reach even more people by telling everyone you know about the initiative. It will help bring us all a bit closer to that “sweet Rocky Mountain paradise.”

Heather Moore is a staff writer for the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510;


Foie gras a faux pas

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By Alisa Mullins

In January, food service giant ARAMARK agreed not to include foie gras in any of the more than 2 billion meals that it serves in 22 countries every year after PETA sent company representatives undercover video footage of foie gras farms. A couple of weeks before that, the organizers of Ottawa’s annual winter festival, Winterlude, bowed to animal rights activists’ request to leave foie gras off the menu. “We all agreed that we’d be able to offer that experience without foie gras,” said Winterlude spokesperson Lucie Caron. And Hawaiian state legislators introduced a bill that seeks to prohibit the sale of foie gras in Hawaii.

Why has foie gras become a faux pas? Perhaps because it is the only widely available food that is produced by intentionally inflicting an illness on an animal. Birds raised for foie gras are force-fed up to 4 pounds of grain and fat every day via a pneumatic tube that is shoved down their throats. This causes the birds’ livers to expand to as much as 12 times their normal size, resulting in a disease known as “hepatic steatosis.”

The birds often suffer from internal hemorrhaging, fungal and bacterial infections and hepatic encephalopathy, a brain disease that occurs when their livers fail. They can become so debilitated that they can only move by pushing themselves along the ground with their wings.

Undercover video footage recently shot inside foie gras farms in France—which exports foie gras all over the world—shows the almost unimaginable suffering endured by these birds. Most ducks are just a few months old when they are crammed individually into small iron maiden–like cages that are barely larger than their own bodies. Their heads and necks protrude through a small opening for ease of force-feeding. The ducks are confined in this way—unable even to stretch a wing or take a single step in any direction—for 24 hours a day.

The birds’ feathers are lank and dirty, their eyes are dull and lifeless, their breathing is labored and many are too ill to lift their heads. Many don’t survive the ordeal—an average of 20 percent of ducks on foie gras farms die before slaughter. (This is 10 to 20 times the average death rate on a regular duck farm.)

Believe it or not, foie gras has its apologists—namely “gourmets” who want to fool themselves into thinking that force-feeding birds until their livers balloon to the size of a small football isn’t really all that bad. One recent visitor to a foie gras farm in New York seemed to be pleasantly surprised that he encountered “only” one dead bird on his prearranged, escorted tour. 

But force-feeding birds has been denounced by every expert in the field of poultry welfare. Dr. Christine Nicol, a tenured poultry husbandry professor at the University of Bristol, believes that foie gras production “causes unacceptable suffering to these animals. … It causes pain during and as a consequence of the force feeding, feelings of malaise as the body struggles to cope with extreme nutrient imbalance, and distress due to the forceful handling.”

The scientific consensus is so strong that foie gras production has been banned in more than a dozen countries, including Israel, the U.K., Germany, Norway, Poland, Sweden and Switzerland, and it will be outlawed throughout the European Union by 2020. A California ban on the production and sale of foie gras goes into effect next year. Prince Charles refuses to allow it on Royal menus, and celebrity chefs Wolfgang Puck and Charlie Trotter refuse to serve it.

Until foie gras is off restaurant menus and store shelves for good, consumers can make a difference by refusing to touch the stuff with a 10-foot feeding tube.

Alisa Mullins is a senior writer for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510;

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

February 3, 2011 at 4:20 pm