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A Vegan Independence Day

Although (veggie) burgers and beers most likely weren’t on the menu in 1776, Americans nonetheless will gather this Wednesday to celebrate our Independence Day around the grill with friends, family and fireworks.  While many of us grew up with hot dogs, hamburgers and other animal foods around our 4th of July table, there has never been a better time to challenge the status quo, re-write traditions, and retell stories that include animals as friends not food.

Long gone are the days of tasteless veggie hot dogs and boring vegetable sides. We are entering an era where vegan cuisine is all the rage, and it’s proving itself to be an endless journey into exotic flavors and unique dishes. Vegan diets open your eyes to an amazing variety of grains (quinoa anyone?), vegetables (kale salads!), fruit, legumes and more.  And luckily with brands like Field Roast (run and try their apple and sage sausage now) and Tofurky you now can fool the most avid meat eater with barely any cooking at all.

We encourage you to leave animals off the menu this 4th of July and begin new traditions. We can celebrate our Independence and at the same time show our support and hope for the day the animals celebrate theirs.

Some recipes to help you and your family celebrate a compassionate 4th of July:

Grilled Portobello Mushrooms with Basil Sauce (Courtesy of Meatout Mondays)

Creamy Avocado Potato Salad (Courtesy of Post Punk Kitchen)

Cole Slaw (Courtesy of Happy Healthy Life Blog)

Beet and Tofu Burger (Courtesy of Fat Free Vegan Kitchen)

Vegan Apple Pie (Courtesy of Baking with Lisa)

Philip Wollen’s Blazing Speech

Philip Wollen opens with a quote from King Leer and you are instantly hooked: “How do you see the world? I see it feelingly.” The venue at which he is speaking is The Wheeler Center in Australia and the debate was entitled, “Should Animals Be Off The Menu?” On the pro side is animal rights philosopher Peter Singer, food writer Veronica Ridge and Mr. Wollen, former VP of Citibank turned ultra activist. This compelling speech has been spreading quickly through the internet and drives home points about animals and our imperative to treat them with kindness and give them equal moral consideration.

Mr. Wollen leaves out nothing in his 10 minute speech. From the environmental damage caused by our current factory farming system, to the lifestyle diseases inflicted by diets high in meat and other animal  products, as well as the detrimental affect our taste for meat has on the increasing daily hunger battles all over the world.

The opposition although (mostly) thoughtful and polite, by no means grip at your heart or your humanity quite like Mr. Wollen. He reminds us that vegetarians and vegans are a powerful new and up and coming demographic with the power to change the world. We urge everyone to watch this debate and join the conversation.

You can view the debate in it’s entirety here.

“All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come.”– Victor Hugo

Ethical Meat Essay Contest Full of Hot Air?

A recent NYT essay contest sparked a lot of controversy. The paper asked readers to write in and give their account on why eating meat is ethical.  Dissecting our disappointment with this topic could span several blog posts, we would rather showcase how this contest encouraged one of the judges, Mark Bittman, to write a great blog piece not on the ethics of eating meat per se, but on the reality of the consequences of that choice.

The focus of Bittman’s blog is not ethical or theoretical but pragmatic: eating meat is detrimental to our planet and its finite resources.  Research from both the United Nations and World Watch Magazine conclude that livestock account for more greenhouse gases than ALL transportation combined. Depending on the timeline and what’s counted, the livestock industry could be responsible for 51% of human-caused GHG emissions.

It’s true there has been some debate over the exact number, but according to Bittman that number doesn’t matter:

“What does is that few people take the role of livestock in producing greenhouse gases seriously enough. Even most climate change experts focus on new forms of energy — which cannot possibly be effective quickly enough or produced on a broad enough scale to avert what may be the coming catastrophe — and often ignore the much easier fix of adjusting our eating habits.”

Bittman also invokes China’s eating habits which tends to displace blame, especially because Americans still eat twice as much per person.  As Americans, we set standards that are often emulated, and with regards to our poor eating habits can have devastating consequences far graver than our expanding waistlines.

Because of our heavy taste for meat we are depleting our water supply, land is being cleared to grow animal feed (Bittman’s number is 45% of land is used by the livestock industry), and our clean air supply is being compromised.

“Here’s the thing: It’s seldom that such enormous problems have such simple solutions.”

By decreasing our meat consumption, regardless off our ethical position on meat, we could be, as Bittman notes, heroes. Heroes to the next generation, to those who go hungry, and heroes to the animals.

U.S. Veg Week 2012

Today marks the beginning of the fourth annual VegWeek celebration. If you’ve thought about eating more vegetarian or vegan foods but aren’t sure where to start, today is the perfect week to start experimenting.

Yesterday was Earth Day which aims to get individuals around the US thinking about ways in which their diets and food choices impact the planet. Today, VegWeek seeks to continue that trend and highlight the many benefits of vegetarian eating as well as encourage trying new vegetarian recipes and restaurants.

Join the thousands of people nationwide—including elected officials and community leaders—by pledging to choose vegetarian foods for seven days.

It’s easy: simply pledge today and you’ll get a free Vegetarian Starter Guide, including recipes and product coupons. Each day of VegWeek you’ll also receive an e-mail with even more meal ideas, nutritional information, product recommendations, and motivational tips.  You can follow VegWeek on Facebook and Twitter, too!

Jacaranda and Wings

By guest blogger and Brighter Green Executive Director, Mia MacDonald.

I read about it before I actually saw it: the first East African outpost of an American fast food chain, a KFC in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. Media reports said that a throng of Kenyans had lined up to get in on opening day, filing past the yellow external facade and a huge plastic image of Colonel Sanders’ goateed face, red apron and Southern U.S. string tie. Many had eaten at KFC or other U.S. fast food outlets while traveling or living outside Kenya, like one of KFC’s first customers in Nairobi, Zahir Lalji. “We’re really happy it’s here,” he told the Associated Press. “We’re hoping McDonald’s will come in too.”

Not everyone in Nairobi felt that way. This first KFC (there’s now another one) is located in a popular shopping center, Nakumatt Junction, along with a Nakumatt supermarket, clothing and electronics stores, a health food shop, and a branch of Java House, a Kenyan chain coffee bar and cafe that, somewhat improbably, always stocks soy milk.

“I was amazed one day as we were driving into Junction. On the outside was a big KFC sign with the bucket,” a colleague wrote when I asked her about the KFC. “It looked really misplaced. It was bad enough to have the South African fried chicken bunch [Nando’s] in Kenya, but now this…you can only project our quality of life index! Sedentary and KFC!” KFC in Kenya also has South African roots: it’s the brainchild of a South African entrepreneur, who bought the franchise license and trained many of the Nairobi KFC managers in South Africa.

A few months after the opening, I too, got to gawk at the jarring sight of Nairobi’s first KFC, or at least the exterior, since I was at Nakumatt Junction early in the day, before KFC had opened. The only activity I saw was a KFC employee wiping down the large, street-facing windows. The promotion staff must also be busy: this KFC has its own Facebook page, with nearly 2,500 “likes.”

“KFC?” Jau, a Nairobi taxi driver I know, parried when I asked him what he thought about the fast food chain’s being in Nairobi as we drove past the second KFC (at least two more are set to open this year), also in an upscale mall. “It’s expensive, you know,” he added. Did he want to go? “Not really,” he replied. “I can get a better-tasting chicken for less money elsewhere.” Another taxi driver, less prosperous than Jau, was more intrigued. “If I get the money…” he told me.

What made KFC’s entry into the Kenyan market possible was securing a reliable supply chain. That is, finding a producer of chicken that could ensure consistency to KFC’s specifications, meet demand, and provide refrigeration and traceability from “farm to fork” as Kenchic, the largest poultry integrator in east and central Africa defines it. Kenchic, which runs hatcheries, “farms,” slaughterhouses, and processing plants, as well as its own quick serve restaurant chain in Kenya, “Kenchic Inn,” fit the bill. The company’s tag line is “We are ‘kuku’ about chicken.” Kuku is Swahili for chicken; in English, the spoken word conveys an almost loopy enthusiasm.

As in other countries where U.S. fast food corporations are expanding rapidly—there are 3,000 KFCs and counting in China; 70 already in India—factory farm operations are central to the supply chain.

Kenchic’s chickens are kept in facilities akin to U.S.-style “broiler sheds:” a set of large buildings set back from a major road in Mlonlongo, near Nairobi’s international airport (a Kenchic Inn operates nearby), which I saw from a distance last year.

What makes KFC in Kenya so jarring? I’ve been visiting the country for years and while there’s not a dearth of “home-grown” informal eateries featuring Western-style burger and chicken meals, fast food culture is not widespread, and Nairobi—thankfully—doesn’t have the Western chains that often dominate cities in Asia and Latin America. But it does have a growing middle class for whom Western brands have a certain glamour—and those brands want to reach new markets.

In Nairobi, KFC is still a novelty. In South Africa, though, where it’s operated for 40 years, it is, according to the KFC website, a national “institution.”  Five hundred KFCs populate southern Africa, a majority in South Africa, where I can attest that they are hard to avoid. I saw more KFCs than I see even in the U.S. when I attended the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s 17th “conference of parties” (or COP 17) meeting in Durban late last year.

Colonel Sanders’ elderly white male visage as a backdrop of sorts for a climate change summit—in South Africa, no less—was surreal. So was watching some of my Kenyan colleagues also attending COP 17 (none of whom had eaten at Nairobi’s new KFCs), getting a late night meal at an obligingly open Durban McDonald’s, one of many. No McDonald’s yet operates in Nairobi, but that may change soon—a story, I think, for another day.

Mia MacDonald is the executive director of public policy action tank Brighter Green which is documenting the intersections between climate change and globalization of intensive animal agriculture. 




Invisible Costs of Factory Farms

A recent report from the Rodale Institute took the time to summarize Daniel Imhoff’s book: CAFO: The Tragedy of Industrial Animal Factories, in which the truth of modern animal agriculture is described in a series of essays.  Contributors include Wendell Berry, Wenonah Hauter, Fred Kirschenmann, Anna Lappé, Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser.

There are three main lies perpetuated by the agriculture industry that this book succeeds in exposing:  Lie #1: Industrial Food Is Cheap, Lie #2: Industrial Food Is Efficient, Lie #3: Industrial Food Is Healthy.

Lie # 1: Industrial Food Is Cheap: The “cheap” price of animal products fails to reveal many hidden costs. The retail prices overtly omit the price paid to the environment, public health and animal welfare.

The environmental destruction caused by factory farms is at a dangerous level. For example, in order to grow feed for livestock, the soil and water are routinely treated with pesticides. Second, our water bodies are compromised with animal waste. Lastly, the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions emitted from the livestock industry have been cited as greater than all transportation combined.

It is increasingly becoming common knowledge that diets high in animal based foods are resulting in several serious illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and several cancers. Annual costs for these diseases in the United States alone exceed $33 billion. In addition, because animals are routinely treated with antibiotics in order to combat their unnatural living conditions, we are facing a serious public health issue of antibiotic resistance.

The biggest invisible cost is in the form of animal suffering. The animals on factory farms face unimaginable living conditions. See our page on Factory Farms for an outline of what animals raised for food endure.

Lie #2: Industrial Food Is Efficient: Indeed CAFO’s produce a large quantity of “products” for a relatively “cheap” cost. However, it is commonly misconstrued that a high level of productivity equates to efficiency.  A quick glance at the output of milk, meat and eggs may help inflate the illusion of efficiency, but a closer look reveals a startling reality.  Regarding protein output, eating animals is highly inefficient.  Animals consume many more calories than they produce. For example, pigs convert 5.9 pounds of feed into a pound of pork. Cattle require 13 pounds of feed per pound of beef, though some estimates range much higher. To supplement that feed, one-third of the world’s ocean fish catch is ground up and added to rations for pigs, broiler chickens, and farmed fish. Adding to their inefficiency is the contribution factory farms make to pollution, waste, and public health scares such as E. coli and salmonella, which are funded by public tax money in the form of grain subsidies.

Lie #3: Industrial Food Is Healthy: Death and illness relating to diets based in animal foods is at an all time high. According to the Center for a Livable Future at Johns Hopkins University, meat and dairy foods contribute all of the cholesterol and are the primary source of saturated fat in the typical American diet. We are facing staggering statistics on obesity and high blood pressure which often leads to a larger incidence of heart disease (currently the leading cause of death in the U.S.).  Another hidden factor of our reliance on animal foods is the affect our consumption and lifestyle has on the global community.  We are a window to many developing countries, and they are starting to emulate our destructive habits.

These reasons and more are why A Well-Fed World promotes plant-based solutions for health, hunger and environmental concerns, creating a healthy, well-fed world for all.

PB&J Day–April 2nd

We are one week away from our first official PB&J Day! The PB&J Campaign started as a grant recipient and now is a full-time program. We are very excited for this new campaign as it is an easy and accessible way to reach people about the benefits of a plant-based diet.

Why PB&J?

Familiarity- Who doesn’t enjoy a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? It is a timeless classic that resonates with individuals from all walks of life. The recognizability of this sandwich really draws people in and offers activists a great jumping off point for a conversation about sustainable food.

Inspire- This campaign is an effective way to get individuals to realize how their food choices impact the planet and the animals. Often consumers don’t realize they are already choosing a plant-based, gentle meal. This notion may inspire them to think beyond a PB&J.

Easy Activism- Slice up some PB&J’s and hit the streets for an easy feed-in.  A passerby will surely recognize a PB&J and great conversations about food and the environment are sure to follow.  Contact us for some free literature and other supplies to set up your own PB&J Day on April 2nd or any day!

Pledge- Discover how much water, land and greenhouse gas emissions you can save by eating different numbers of plant-based meals per week and then set a target you think you can achieve.

Get the Merchandise- AWFW has some great new PB&J Campaign shirts as well as hot off the presses literature to help spread the word!

Save the Date- April 2nd is National PB&J day.  Get online and spread the word to your friends and family about the benefits of PB&J and all plant-based meals.

Great feedback from PB&J Supporter, Dael:

“My favorite discovery is PB&J oatmeal. Just add 2 T of peanut butter to a bowl of oatmeal, plus some of your favorite jam or agave. It’s easy to make raw, too, with soaked oats or chia seeds and almond butter with agave or fruit puree. This hearty breakfast will keep you satisfied for so long you might forget to eat lunch.”