Happy Milk

A vegetarians now has a modern challenge of finding milk and eggs that are compatible with an ethical vegetarian philosophy.  The other two common reasons for being a vegetarian– environmental and health impacts.  A vegetarian diet eschews food that requires killing for food, especially sentient beings.  If we are to be ethically consistent, then we should find out how our dairy is being produced:

From an ethical standpoint,

What happens to the excess calves?  What happens to old cows?
What is the quality of life for the cows? Are the in tiny pens or fields?

Do the cows eat their normal diet they would eat were they wild?

From an environmental stand point,

Does it require feeding large amounts of pesticide treated food to the cows?

How much pollution is created in creating and shipping milk?

And from a health standpoint,

What are the scientific facts about rBST?

Milk has always been a tricky product to get from cow to table without bacterial contamination: who performs best– organic, small, medium or large dairies?

Existing Movements
Organic:  This means the cow ate organic food.  The could could have been raised in inhumane conditions or fed grain, which isn’t what makes for healthy happy cows.

rBST Free: This is a very limited filter and means that the cow didn’t get hormones to increase milk production.
Local:  Food shouldn’t be shipped from far away. Often local also means “small farms” and “traditional farming methods” as opposed to factory farming, but not necessarily.

Vegan: This is something of an animal liberation ideology– that animals shouldn’t be part of the human economy.

Family Owned Farm: May mean that the farm is able to take in consideration non-market criteria in choice about production, where as a share holder owned farm is likely to choose inhumane farming techniques as long as it cuts costs, raises output more than any expected losses in sales from customer outrage.
Grass Fed.  Cows don’t like eating grain. It’s bad for their health and makes them get fat rapidly.
The Future
Certified Humane. This program looks new. At the store I’ve only seen certified humane eggs, nothing for milk yet.

Vegetarianism: Let’s not link it to too many irrelevant issues

There are dozens of issues about which I feel passionate about.  I don’t think any pair of them should be linked to each other by advocacy groups, even if I agree with both.

I was having a discussion today about vegetarianism and someone thought it was linked to zero population growth and extinctionalist ideologies.

It’s two unrelated issues. I vehemently disagree with the binding of these two issues.  Vegetarianism and veganism as a general movement in the US is mostly stalled.  What signs for  optimism there is, is that many people see vegetarianism as an avenue to better health and longer life.  There is a scientific basis for this: diets with more plant matter, less cholesterol and saturated fat, few total calories reduce the risk of diseases like heart disease and diabetes.

Why would someone want to become a vegetarian– a choice that requires re-evaluating your cooking plans, patterns of socializing around food, sometimes ones tastes and preferences for food and add to that an expectation to follow the ideologies of some current vegetarians?

The Environment. Diet has an environmental impact, that can’t be denied.  Farming is the largest single modification that man has made to the planet.  Factory farming and farming the extra acres needed to support animal husbandry make matters worse.  All in all, each person that become a vegetarian, for what ever reasons, and regardless to what other decisions that person makes, will be improving the state of the world’s environment.  Why should we only welcome people to the vegetarian club if they promise to check their aspirations for family at the door?

Zero Population Growth on its own merits.  ZPG  is the idea that people are the problem and fewer are better.  How many fewer?  Should we try to get back to the population of medieval Europe?  1940?  The time of cro-mangon man, say 40,000 humans world wide?  Exactly what it is today?  This decision can’t have a moral answer.  The populations of the various countries of the world are growing at different rates.  What races, religions, tribes shall  we suppress to achieve ZPG?  Given that Western Europe and the US already have declining populations, ZPG represents unexamined racisim and xenophobia.  If we really do have an excess of people, if we really are over the carrying limit of the earth’s ecosystem, then who can choose who will stop having children, whose populations shall be supressed?

ZPG as a voluntary or involuntary action.  The idea of ZPG is limited to western intellectuals and third world countries with governments influence by ZPG ideas.  The forced sterilization programs of India not only where atrocities against human rights, but grossly underestimate the fecundity of those who escape sterilization.  Humans can have more children than can possibly be offset by a force sterilization program. 

How about voluntarily not having children?  Well, again, this is an idea that is popular among college educated intellectuals of the west.  All in all, they probably represent a few hundred thousand people.  The voluntary sterilization and extirpation of the all left leaning US citizens may be music to the ears of conservatives– but if it worked, it would spell the end to the progressive movement in the US.  And to what end?  A few hundred thousand fewer progressives in a world that if we are to believe ZPG ideology, is over populated by billions of people.

Neo-shaker progressive are the problem not the solution.

Adoption.  Children should have parents– I fully support empty orphanages.  I don’t support the idea of economic midwifery.  When upper middle class women talk about adoption as a morally progressive personal action, they are not talking about adopting crack babies in the US or children ravaged by fetal alcohol syndrome in Russia or kinds from Afganistan who’ve lost their legs to land mines.  They are talking about adopting healthy children.

The demand for healthy children up for adoption far exceeds the supply and the market is responding.  It is morally repugnant that educated upperclass women would rather that poor, economically disadvantaged women of China and South-East Asia.  Adoption brokers in the hunt for healthy babies are inadvertently creating a market for babies.  The market trade in humans is repugnant.  The idea that we privileged few of the west who already contract out the nasty jobs of working with toxic glues for making shoes, are also contracting out the dangerous job of having babies.  Worse, the pre-natal and neo-natal care that can expected in a third world country would be considered criminal neglect in the suburban hospitals of America. 

I urge my readers, all 15 or so of them, to consider vegetarianism, children, family and adoption on their own individual merits– not as a package of seemly related beliefs.  These problems are so important to address, that we should address them in a way that will encourage people to take action– not in a take-it-all or leave-it-all fashion that ultimately leads to complete inaction.

Vegetarian alternatives to Cheetos

There is some controversy on the internet if Cheetos are vegetarian or not.  In fact, there is some controversy if Cheetos have pork in them or notThis 2002 post says Frito Lay said Cheetos were/are vegetarian (except for one unusal variety).

Now aside from the fact that humane (not cruel) milk has mostly disappeared from the market and been replaced with factory farm milk, I have tracked down a vegetarian option: Bearitos Baked Crunchitos.  I just got an email from Hain:

Thank you for taking the time to contact us regarding our Baked
Crunchitos.  We strive to maintain the highest quality products and
appreciate your patronage.

The enzyme in this product is from a vegetable source.  There are also dairy ingredients in this product.”

All of this confusion could be avoided if food sellers would label the source of enzymes used to make the cheese in their products.

Vegetarianism: Animal Welfare and Happy Meat

[This post was inspired by someone mad at Katzen, a cookbook author, who used to be vegetarian but switched to eating Organic Meat, aka happy meat.]

There are three main arguments in favor of a vegetarian diet. Two arguments for vegetarianism and veganism are unrelated to animal welfare: environmental concerns and health.

The third is mighty complex. Killing sentient beings is unethical. But so is cruelty and inhumanity, if only for the brutal state of mind it evokes in those who practice it.

On an ethical basis, vegetarianism rules out food derived from killing animals. This leaves edge cases such as insects, animals that die of old age or other natural causes, and products that don’t require the immediate death of an animal, such as honey, milk, eggs.

Except for Jains who favor not killing anything, insects are little sympathy, especially termites, mosquitos, flies, and other pests. Viruses, yeast and bacteria, likewise, are generally considered insentient, and fair game for breakfast.

Milk on the other hand, has evolved into factory farming. The cattle industry in the US is not like the one in India, where cows are sacred and generally not killed at all. The economics of milk encourage farmers to be inhumane to the cows and to kill the extra calves. An ethical vegetarian can’t leave these issues alone.

The story is similar for chickens. In egg production, old chickens, roosters are extra and will likely be killed, again, economics encourages farmers to overcrowd chickens and raise them in appalling food factory conditions.

There is also a few more edge cases relevant for vegans. The farming of nuts, a vegetarian and vegan staple, usually involves shooting, trapping and killing squirrels, chipmunks. O-L-P vegetarians who do mind killing highly evolved an intelligent mammals, but don’t mind eating fish, also have to remember that net caught fish often entails the death of bycatch, which can include dolphins, porpoises, turtles and other marine life at least as evolved an sentient as their landbased counterparts.

What can be done?

Organic Milk and Eggs. The Organic label doesn’t necessarily require humane farming, but often as a side effect, organic milk comes from cows raised in more humane conditions, where they are more likely to be in a field instead of a factory.

Organic Meat.

If anything, the state of farm animal welfare has gone backwards in the last 200 years. The pragmatic vegetarian should be encouraging their non-vegetarian friends to switch to fish, beef, chicken, and pork that puts animal welfare and the environment first. No one is served by the hog farms that turn entire counties into stinking cess pools, no one is served by gratuitous cruelty to animals, slow & painful deaths, no one is served by fishing stocks until the fisheries collapse. Vegetarians, who are often the most interested party in animal welfare, need to be engaged in the discussion on happy meat and not attack it as a rationalization for back sliding vegetarians or as a sign of insincerity.

If vegetarians exit the discussion on happy meat, the condition of farm animals will continue to deteriorate, even if vegetarian movement in the US could double or triple in size, which is rather unlikely.

Can’t we all get along?

Vegans, I supposes, could and maybe do begrudge the vegetarians their milk, eggs and honey. However, vegetarians begrudging the omnivores organic or happy meat helps factory farmers much more than the vegetarian movement. Without a happy meat movement, there is no economic pressure on the farm industry do do anything but to make the extraction of calories from animals more cost effective, regardless to pain, cruelty and inhumanity.

to be continued….

Veganism/Vegetarianism: Edge Cases

Everyone everyone in awhile acts like they think I’m unprincipled on account of my quirky decisions on what is consistent with being a vegetarian and what isn’t. The general principle of vegetarianism is don’t eat animals. The general principle of veganism is don’t use animals, at least not in a manner that harms or kills the animal.

I believe there are many clear cases. Eating beef is clearly inconsistent with veganism or vegetarianism. Wearing leather shoes is clearly inconsistent with veganism. Also I believe the existence of edge cases doesn’t invalidate the clear cases. The fact that morality is not as crisp and well defined as algebra doesn’t mean moral systems are empty.

Vegan Movies. “No animals were harmed during the filming of this movie” Even if that is the case, there are a lot of movies I’ve seen with falling horses, which worries me about how they got the film shots– if they used a stuffed horse, that horse probably didn’t die of old age. If they are using living horses, the fall risks breaking the horses leg leaving them good as dead.

Vegan Music. Violins are strung with cat gut and that isn’t a fanciful name. It is about impossible to know what the artist was using from available information.

Vegan Information. Many crimes have been committed against animals to learn interesting and sometimes useful facts. For example, I read some of the basic research on the physiology of salt was performed on de-cerebrated ducks. A strict vegan principle would say we should try to ignore tainted information. That seems a bit pointless, since using existing information doesn’t cause further harm. I believe that such information tainted by inhumane animal experiments probably should be grandfathered in, but no more should be produced.

Vegan Driving, Vegan Transportation. Airplanes tend to kill a certain number of birds in landing and taking off. A certain percent of the time driving will result in the death of an animal.

Vegan Economics. Veganism takes on direct consumption of animal products, but not indirect consumption of animal products. For example, most people would consider a product to be vegan if it contained no leather, even if the tools to make it were leather. Similarly, in the entire economy, almost all industries take inputs from almost all other industries– so indirectly, almost the entire economy is tainted by the trade in animal products, more so now than ever now that animal farm products are being refined to use as industrial chemicals.

Vegan Housing and Buildings. Wildlife animal welfare is a matter of habitat. Habitat means forest. Single family houses and living out where wildlife is means less habitat and the death of animals.

Solutions. There isn’t an easy solution to these questions. Intentionality matters. The actual impact of your consumption decision matters. Consuming products that used animal inputs may weigh on your conscience, but foregoing them may not have a significant impact on the market. Other forms of activism, like say letter writing campaigns, might be more effective, hence the more moral act.


I did it! I finished writing the first iteration of SocialAnimalsDC.com, a social event aggregator for vegetarians, vegans, animal rights, animal welfare, and wildlife conservation.

What problem does it solve? To get a complete calendar of events in this (or any, you’d have to visit about two dozen websites. Most of these sites don’t have an easy way to subscribe to updates. Some are seriously irregularly updated and are just waiting to be re-activated. Some of these special interest calendar sites are national, which isn’t too handy if you are stranded in DC and surrounding counties.

How does it compare to Meetup.com or the like? Many organizations large and small won’t discover Meetup.com for years. My site serves the same role as the community newspaper, except the events in the local newspapers for some reason are dominated by for fee spectator events.

How do I do it? I use RSS readers and page watchers to gather the information, then I manually republish the information. The audience can either read the event listings or subscribe to them with an RSS reader.

What features are in the works? I want people to be able to easily import the events into calendaring software, like Outlook or Google Calendars. I also hope to create some membership features like commenting, tagging, user event submission.

Why’d I do it? Issue advocacy in the US is mostly about writing checks to lobbyist groups and other impersonal communications. I want to redirect my issue advocacy towards actions that involve human contact. A social events aggregator that aggregates similar but different groups exemplifies engaged compassion–staying involved with the community rather than sticking within one’s comfort zone with people who already agree with you on most issues.

Why the name? I was originally going to call it CompassionEvents but decided that that name was too serious sounding for a recreational social events site. SocialAnimals.com was taken, which was fine, since I wanted the domain name to reflect the fact that the site is strictly for MD/DC/VA. SocialAnimalsDC.com sound like a sober party animal with a mission in mind.

What are some future challenges? The biggest challenge will be keeping the content quality high over the next five years. Calendaring data becomes stale after about a week or two, so every week I’ll have an opportunity to lose my audience.

Diet for a Small Mind

Dietary advice is a mixture of fad diets, science, tradition and market driven commerce. Fortunately, Matthew Martin, middle class non-professional nutritionist is here to sort things out for everyone. Sit back and let me over simplify things for you.

Eating too many calories will make you fat. What “too many” means depends on how much you exercise. Now how do you need to modify your life style and diet so you don’t have an uncontrollable urge to eat too many calories? Jury is out on that one.

Eating too few calories will make you lose weight. This is usually not a problem, but studies of large populations show that taller heavier people do better than shorter skinnier people.

There is an optimal weight. Add the two facts above and we find out there is an optimal weight to height ratio, which works out to be a BMI in the low 20s.

Losing Weight. Diet will keep you from gaining weight further, but exercise is what gets rid of the excess weight you have now. Keep in mind that once weight is put on, it goes away slow, maybe 2 pound a week at best. Also, people tend to overestimate the impact of exercise–the human is a very fuel efficient machine.

Macro Nutrients.

The jury is out on the optimal mix of fat, protein and carbohydrates in the diet. If the life extension research is true for humans (as it is true for mice), then the mere act of eat any calorie tends to wear out the body. On the other hand, eating extremely low calorie life extending diets means your body switches to a low temperature, low activity metabolism that wouldn’t make life much fun.

The key finding in current macronutrient research is that the mix of macronutrients you eat affect the ‘mode of metabolism’ you body is in. It appears depending on the food we are eating, we switch to fat burning mode, fat accumulation mode, starvation mode, etc. The macronutrient mix also affects how powerful our desire to eat will be. Furthermore, the predominant macronutrient we eat will put different strains on different systems. Low fat diets stress out the pancreas, high fat diets stress out the arteries, high protein diets put stress on the kidneys. Something is going to break- no one know if we are better off wrecking our pancreas in the effort to live longer or if it is better to wreck our arteries to live longer.

Protein is extremely good if you are doing any activities that require it, such as being pregnant or weight lifting. Extremely high protein diets mean your body has to take extra steps to turn that excess protein into fuel. So there is an optimum amount of protein to eat.

Fats can be ordered from bad to very bad. This is not very useful advice, especially now that carbohydrates are getting a bad reputation. If we don’t eat fat, carbohydrates and only an optimal amount of protein, we don’t get enough calories. What gives? Well, at best the macronutrient research can tell us what types of fat and carbohydrates we should try to eliminate all together, and which we should disproportionately favor.

Dietary cholesterol is either bad or neutral, so on average animal fats aren’t helping any.

Saturated fats (those solid at room temperature) are bad, but not deadly bad. On the other hand transfats, fats that are made solid by bubbling hydrogen through them are poison.

Low saturated vegetable oils are not as bad as the other fats. That said, be less bad than the other doesn’t mean they are good, like I said, the jury is out on that.

Transfats are poison. ’nuff said. Don’t even eat trace amounts of transfats if you can help it.

Carbohydrates can be ordered from bad to very bad. Refine starch and sugars are bad. Whole grains are not as bad. Fructose and the other simple sugars are not as bad as sucrose, but being not as a bad as sucrose doesn’t mean it’s good. In fact, gratuitous simple sugars in the diet appear to be wrecking our pancreases.

Animals. Jury is out on the effect of eating animals, milk and eggs. Vegetarians typically do a better job of controlling weight, which is supposed to be good for preventing or deferring degenerative disease. Also, just like diets that target one macronutrient over another, a vegetarian diet has powerful incentives involved. Many vegetarians stick to their diet because they have strong political, environmental and ethical reasons for sticking to their diet. Compare this to a low fat or low carb diet, where there is no similar consequences to abandoning the diet.

Diverse Diet. Eating a little bit of everything is a good idea.

Vitamins. Not getting enough is catastrophic. Getting extra vitamins appears to be a wash–no dramatic benefit or harm. Consider vitamins to be an insurance policy against accidentally eating an undiversified diet.

Single factors. No single behavioral or nutrition factor explains health or lack of it. We know that dropping transfats and dietary cholesterol is good, but other factors– like how many well-patient visits you make to your doctor might out weight all those factors. Also, focusing on easy to measure single factors, like oat-bran, grams of carbohydrates will distract us from possibly more important things, like exercise, smoking, alcohol, risky behaviors and many other issues whose presence can swamp the effect of a single factor behavior like eating more oat bran.

Appropriate skepticism. Be skeptical of brand new claims. Back in the day when bleeding was the state of the art treatment for microbial diseases, people would have been better of with no medical care at all, but if people had rejected all medical care would have been worse off, as even medieval medicine sometimes helped!

We are in a new age where things are more complicated. The low fat and the low carb diets are probably both right and probably both wrong depending on how future research pans out. There is a correlation between certain components of fats, such as transfats and certain types of cholesterol and heart disease. Similarly, there is a correlation between carbs and diabetes. And both carbs and fats have calories which are correlated to weight which is correlated to diseases. Holding an idea as tentatively true and acting on it is difficult, but we have no other choice if we are to progress in a scientific manner.

Vegetarianism: My advice for new vegetarians

Get enough calories, especially if one decides go go vegan. Ounce for ounce, vegetarian and vegan fare has fewer calories. This good if one is trying to lose weight, otherwise not. Iceburg salads don’t count as a substantial vegetarian meal.

Fake meat and fake milk are optional. The quality–in terms of taste–of fake foods is hit or miss. I suspect many people are discourage from becoming vegetarian because they figure they’ll have to eat fake meat to make up for the absence of real meat. Tofu is highly overrated in this regard. I find it easier to cook with seitan instead. The best ‘fake’ foods are homemade recipes which don’t try very hard to replicate the real thing, but do try to be good to eat.

Getting enough protein can be done by accident, but getting lots of vegetarian protein takes planning, say for pregnant women or weightlifters. Ounce for ounce, vegetarian and vegan fare really does have less protein. Somewhere in this blog I have a post about strategies for eating lots of vegetarian protein, but I’m too lazy to look & link it.

Beware of dietary perfectionism and isolationism. Having a strategy for staying socially engaged with the non-vegetarian world is probably as important as learning the new recipes. Flexitarianism, a word I’ve just invented maybe, is eating vegan when it is convenient to do so, vegetarian when being vegan is to difficult, and eating low on the hierarchy of sentient beings when it isn’t possible to be a vegetarian. Being flexible may sound unprincipled, but making no effort what so ever to consider the impact of diet one’s health and the surrounding world is doubly unprincipled.

[this started out as a comment on another blog that got too long]

Vegetarian Protein and Strength Training

I’ve written on this before, somewhere, so I probably will end up repeating myself.

Seitan is my favorite source of vegetarian protein. Invented by Chinese monks, the modern recipe is flour with all the carbohydrates rinsed out of it, leaving just protein. The Japanese recipe, hence the Japanese name, has some soy sauce added to it. It pretty much works as a substitute for chicken and shredded beef. It barbeques and bakes a lot like the real thing. It is low fat, almost entirely protein. It costs $6 a pound which is about the same price as the better cuts of chicken at Whole Foods. Considering that meat is up to 80% fat by calories and Seitan is almost all protein by calories, I think seitan is the cheaper source of protein gram for gram.
The next best way to get more protein in the diet is by comparing and picking the higher of the two. I’m calling these secondary protein sources. You are going to be eating a variety of foods including some foods that are not exactly high protein foods, like say soup. When you have the choice between split pea or tomato soup, check the grams of protein per 100 and pick the higher. Same for potato chips, bread, etc. This is an effortless way to pickup a dozen grams of protein without resorting to the beans.

I recently tried this and discovered that in the chips aisle, most chips are 2 grams of protein per 30, and the most was 3 per 30, in a corn and black bean chip. Salsa has zero protein, bean dip had 3 per 30. Cereals with wheat gluten powder or soy flour had the most protein, cereal with peanut butter themes came in second. Lentil and split pea soup had the most protein, the rest of soups had much less.
Just getting enough calories helps. If you don’t get a full 2000+ calories a day, the protein you eat will probably be burn as fuel.

Protein is most useful just before and just after going to a gym when doing strength training. If there isn’t any protein in your blood stream, the protein will be burned as fuel. The most practical way to get a measured amount of protein in your blood stream just before a workout is to use powders. In no particular order:

Rice. Taste good, also vegan.
Soy. Vegan, but probably causes gas.
Egg White. Can’t remember if I’ve tried it before, but some professional vegetarian body builders make egg white their primary source of protein. I make my scrambled eggs with egg whites in any case.
Spirulina. The brand I tried was ok, although many other spirulina containing products can be down right inedible. It may be a few years before the world learns how to cook with single cell seaweed.
Whey. The Whole Foods Brand 365 I’m choking down right now is pretty disgustipating, but it is vegetarian.

Dairy works great as long as you have European ancestry and aren’t lactose intollerant. Fat free milk and yogurt are cool because both can be eaten straight or mixed with protein powders. Fat free dairy, on a gram per gram basis is one of the cheapest sources of vegetarian protein, at least at Whole Foods in Clarendon.

Almonds are the best source of protein among the nuts. Peanuts are technically a bean, but I’ll lump ‘em with the nuts. Peanuts definately are a cheaper source of protein than tree nuts.

Pumpkin seeds are the highest protein seeds.

Bottom on my list are the beans. There is lots of protein to be had, but eat enough beans and you’ll get gas. Chickpeas are one of the best non-soy beans, although the difference is more pronounced when looking at chickpea flour than comparing two cans of cooked beans. I’ve never seen Lupine or Chana Dal in a store, but both are top of the bean category for protein.

Soy is controversial. They science isn’t good enough to convince me to stop eating soybeans all together, after all, I suspect that house paint, house hold cleaning agents and other chemicals are probably doing me more harm than phytoestrogens. When there is a measurable epidemic among tofu eaters, I’ll start to worry. When I do buy soy products, like soy milk or tempeh (compressed soy cakes), I try to get the multigrain version when it exists. Likewise, fake meats, like fake

Still further down the list are mycoproteins (controversial and seems like they are only sold by one brand and whole foods)

Note on chart reading: You can arrive at very different opinions by how you read a chart. Peanuts are high in protein, but are also so rich, you’re unlikely to eat more than a serving, so the grams of protein in a serving can be more important than the grams of protein per 100, per cup, or per some other arbitrary measure. Eggs whites are another good example, liquid egg whites are much lower in protein than dried, but once the water is added back and the egg whites are used in a recipe, the statistics are the same again. Compare like to like and you can’t go too far wrong in picking the higher protein food.

I think an even better statistic would be calories of protein per 100. If you ate only one food, you’d get more protein by eating foods of a high protein percentage because we can only eat so many calories. In otherwords, if a hypothetical food was 20 grams of protein and 80 grams of water, and another was 20 grams of protein and 80 grams of fat and carbohydrates, you’d be able to eat more of the former before hitting your budgeted number of calories for the day.

More talk about vegetarian protein.

Feeding Vegetarians, a guide for restaurants

Vegetarians are very loyal to restaurants with lots of vegetarian options or restaurants with an unusual vegetarian option. Otherwise, vegetarians face a sea of restaurants with only 1 vegetarian option, many times the same option, over and over and over.

Vegetarians are generally willing to pay just as much as anyone for lunch, but for some reason restaurants charge us less for the vegetarian option. I think the real reason that the vegetarian option is cheaper is because it is the unimaginative option as I just noted, most restaurants pick the same vegetarian option.

So restaurants: are there any options other than cheese sandwiches and pasta primavera?