February 2006 Archives

Clarification: I'm not preaching

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I apologize if anyone took my comments as being preacherous or self righteous - that's absolutely not the intention behind changing my lifestyle. I don't intend to say or suggest that my decisions are better than anyone elses - in fact, it's quite the opposite.

I realize I couldn't kill my own food - there's absoutely no way I could do it. And I realize I couldn't work in a slaughterhouse nor could I even work in a butcher shop, and as a result, I can't feel guilt-free about buying factory-farmed meat.

I'm not going vegan, nor am I an extremist. In fact, I went to lunch with friends today to a steakhouse. They all ordered hamburgers and chicken; I ordered a grilled Portobello platter. Some of the people asked why I didn't order a burger, and I said that I was going to cut back on my consumption of meat. I didn't go into a whole big thing about it - I just said I wasn't comfortable with eating meat right now, and they didn't think twice about it. Nor should you.

I just emptied my feelings on the blog last night. Shared 100% of my thoughts, opinions and observations. But I still stand by my feelings that we're doing unnatural things to animals in an attempt to satsify our extraordinary desire to have "more" of everything.

20 years ago, broiler chickens weighed less than half of what they weigh today. And they weigh more faster- I was wrong in my post from yesterday... chickens aren't 6-7 months old when they're slaughtered - they're 6-7 weeks old. At birth, they have their beaks and feet clipped so that they can't injure each other in the chicken coops. They're given huge amounts of growth hormones in an attempt to get them to be as big as possible. Why do we need to pump them full of steroids? Why do we need to crowd them in such unnatural conditions?

Because the companies that raise them need to make a big profit (Tyson foods is worth how many billions?), and consumers demand "more" for their money. Do I really need to be able to order a 48-ounce steak? Or a 1-lb chicken burrito for $0.99 at Taco Bell? Probably not. But I never thought twice about it until last week. I used to think, "Wow -that's a great value - 1-lb of burrito for a buck? Cool!"

Nearly 10 billion (that's billion with a "B") chickens are hatched in the US each year. Think about that. 10 billion. 10,000,000,000 chickens. With $10,000,000,000, you could pay yourself 100 million dollars per year for 100 years. That's a lot of chickens...

But I don't mean to get off-track... And, again, I'm not talking down to anyone. I'm not saying someone is "bad" for going to McDonald's or eating a steak at a restaurant. I'm not saying that anyone is bad for enjoying any kind of meat. I'm just sharing feelings - having seen all those young chickens stuffed in crates and having read about what happens to them makes me feel bad. And as a result, I changed a part of my eating habits.

I'll still wear leather shoes, but I don't buy 10 pairs of them at a time and only wear 1 pair and throw away the other 9 pair... which is basically what I've seen myself do with meat - I'd order a 22-lb turkey, eat the 8-9 lbs of white meat and then throw away the rest.

I want to consume only what I need when it comes to animal products. And right now, I don't think I need to eat commercially farmed meats. You're more than welcome to, though - and there's no hard feelings on my part. Amy had a hamburger the other night while I had a mushroom pizza, and we didn't think twice about it. To each their own - no harm, no foul, no hard feelings.

It's [quite] easy being green

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Last week I made a decision to quit eating meat. So far, so good. We've gone out to dinner a few times, and I've not had much difficulty finding alternatives to meats - I had a veggie omelet for breakfast at IHOP, a Gardenburger at Red Robin, and an incredible mushroom and basil pizza at Hog Haus (I'd argue that the pizza was the best I've ever had - it was absolutely phenomenal).

Why this change?

We live in the backyard of some of the world's largest companies - Wal-Mart (aka Chinatown), and Tyson Foods (aka Chickenville); as a result, almost every day, I follow semi trucks that are carrying hundreds of chickens to their deaths. The chickens are sitting in tiny little cages, stuffed in there as tight as can be; I sat behind a chicken truck the other morning, and I watched the chickens - they were trying to move around, but they couldn't. There were 3-4 chickens in a cage that had to measure 12"x12"x6". And the cages were stacked at least 8 feet high, because I counted 16 cages to a column. And after seeing that, I thought about the chicken fajitas that I had for lunch the other day. I thought about the chicken breast that I had for dinner. I thought about the chicken stock that I use for gravy. And I felt bad. I felt really guilty - those chickens, while only probably 6-7 months old (and puffed up huge from all of the steroids they're given), have had a miserable life. Crammed in chicken coops, and then crammed into cages and driven in the cold weather at 70mph in an open environment, on their way to their deaths.

I just felt bad. And then I heard the undercover documentary "Dealing Dogs" on HBO, about the miserable SOB named CC Baird who made a living selling dogs and cats to animal testing labs... he'd steal, breed, buy, and deliver dogs to these labs -- the cruelty was unreal -- and eventually he was "caught" by the USDA, but his penalty is nothing compared to the evil that he bestowed upon tens of thousands of animals. I say that I "heard" it because I couldn't watch it -- Amy watched it, but I couldn't handle it.

I don't know how she does it - she's surrounded by terrible cases of animal negelect, cruelty, and lack of caring; she deals with idiots who think of dogs and cats as objects or appliances rather than living creatures; she deals with death, when animals come in DOA or have to be euthanized for whatever reason (the BVAS is a low, low, low kill shelter - less than 10%, which is amazing, given their small size); and then she's able to stomach a horrible show like Dealing Dogs. It's absolutely maddening to me that so many people have such a lasiez fare attitude toward pets (and animals in general). Many don't think twice about a dog that's tied to a backyard tree via a ten-foot chain - "It's just a dog," they say. And that makes my blood boil.

So I started to put two and two together. It's easy to eat meat if you don't think about where it comes from and how we get it. It's easy to eat meat when you think of it as a commodity rather than a creature.

It's easy to sit down at a restaurant and have someone bring you a big plate of chicken breast or steak or pork. It's easy to look at the menu and complain that a hamburger costs $6, but it's an entirely different thing when you consider that some poor animal was raised in a crummy environment, and then killed rather cruely (cows are shot in the head with a metal slug right after they're stunned with a high voltage electric shock, for example), just so we can order a massive plate of food (a portion of which we usually waste) all the while ignoring that the flesh was once a living creature.

I guess I also feel bad because in the same pasture near my office where we have a dozen beautiful horses, we also have a massive "long horn" bull. He's gorgeous. His horns have to be 6 feet apart; his body is toned and sculpted. He minds his own business, just eating grass and walking around in this large field. And some day, he'll be on someone's plate, and they'll take it for granted. They'll never think of him as this majestic creature that was beautiful to look at and enjoy as a living being - they'll just cut into pieces of his muscle, or wear parts of him as a jacket, and they'll probably complain that his meat was 'tough' or his skin had an imperfection.

So, that's why I decided to stop eating meat. I realize it won't change the world, but hopefully it will make me feel a little better. And the next time I'm stuck behind a chicken truck full of condemned chickens, I'll still feel bad, but at least I won't be eating those poor guys at some dirty Mexican restaurant or some commercial fast food chain.

There are plenty of alternatives - I always have a protein shake for breakfast, so that won't change. For lunch I can have a veggie pizza, or a veggie omelet, or a Boca burger. For dinner, more of the same, or some pasta with tomato sauce and veggies, or macaroni & cheese. I realize that if I were truly committed, I'd quit dairy and eggs; and I might... but I'll take baby steps for now. Amy's boss raises free range chickens for their eggs, and I may buy eggs from her - I'll see if she has any to spare.

Anyway, I always thought vegetarians were "crazy" or "weird," but now I know why some of them do what they do. Had I not really thought about where our meat comes from, I probably wouldn't have cared as much as I do now - and I'd encourage you to do some research on the web about animal cruelty, commercial farming, and animal testing. Perhaps if you stop to think about the price that some creatures pay just so that we can eat or live conveniently, you might be enticed to try vegetarian lifestyles as well.

Geeky out.

PS: I realize that it's somewhat ironic that I've featured pictures of turkey, chicken, beef, and what have you on my blog. But I think that further proves my point - I never gave a second thought to where that 22-lb turkey came from - that it once had a head and heart - that it once may have roamed a field, pecking at the ground, eating and breathing. I just thought of it as "a turkey from the grocery store." The word "turkey" didn't mean "animal" or "creature" -- it meant "food," and that meaning was diluted because we've sanitized the entire animal slaughtering process.

Could you, at this very minute, raise a cow from calf to adult, watch it grow up from a vulnerable little creature to a 1200-lb cow, and then kill it, skin it, carve it up, and eat it? I couldn't. But I can walk in to any butcher shop, browse the cuts of beef, and without thinking twice order a few pounds of beef. I couldn't do the same to a chicken, a turkey, or even a fish. Heck, I can't stand putting a worm on a hook, so how can I eat pounds and pounds of beef/pork/chicken/fish each and every week? Probably because I don't have to do the "dirty work."

When I met with Alton Brown a year ago, he mentioned that he was doing a show about Gyros, and that it would be difficult for him to show what he wanted to show; Gyros are made primarily from lamb meat, and he said something to the effect of, "The FCC won't allow you to show a lamb and then show a lamb chop - Americans freak out over it." And I never gave that a second thought... but now it's clear - when we associate a cute, cuddly face with that slab of flesh, suddenly we're upset. We don't want to think about Bambi being slaughtered and processed, yet cows, chickens, and pigs aren't much different from a fluffy little lamb...

Anyway, enough soapboxing. Sorry for the sermon.

Didn't see the horses

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Spent the day in Louisville, KY today - for a business trip. Took the company jet, along with a few other folks. Had a nice flight - very smooth, very fast, and best of all - no dealing with the TSA or idiot airport staff. Private jet is definitely the way to travel. :-)

We went 602 miles in 1 hour and 15 minutes. I could get used to that... Although, we also burned through 2000-lbs of jet fuel each way - and if a gallon of fuel weighs 10-lbs, that's 200 gallons, at $3/gallon. I guess I can't complain about the Tahoe and Element getting poor fuel mileage.

Here are a few photos:

7:00am at the airport. The jet holds 6 people; I understand we may be buying a larger one soon.

Landing in Louisville - it was sunny but cold (mid 30's).

View during take-off.

It's amazing how quickly that plane accelerates and takes off. Too bad jets cost so much, or I could see myself owning one - would make weekend trips to WI quite easy, although I'm not sure how well the dogs would like it.