In Review: Eating Animals
Gearing up to watch a film about industrial animal agriculture isn’t easy. You know you’re going to see things you don’t really want to see, and be confronted with information you might rather avoid. But the new documentary Eating Animals — based on Jonathan Safran Foer’s 2009 book by the same name — is worth gearing up for. Yes, it contains gruesome video of sickly chickens and abused cows that remind us of the almost unbearable cost of industrial agriculture. But it also uplifts the small family farmer, and perhaps as a result, manages to avoid getting too preachy about, well, eating animals.
photo courtesy of IFC Films
If you’re well-informed about the many ills of animal agriculture, this documentary isn’t going to blow your mind. But it might provide a good refresher. The film covers all the major bases, including the egregious water pollution caused by massive agricultural operations; the truly awful conditions in which factory-farmed animals live out their lives and the brutal ways in which they are slaughtered; the vast quantity of antibiotics used on factory farm-raised animals; and much more.
By the end, if the film hasn’t convinced you to put down your hamburger mid-bite, it will almost certainly have made you think about the cow it came from and the farmer who raised it.
Eating Animals also includes some interesting, lesser-known tidbits, particularly when it comes to the history of factory farming in the United States.
As the narrator — vegan actress Natalie Portman — explains it, back in the early 1900s, a woman named Celia Steele more or less accidentally became the first factory farmer in the country. She had ordered 50 chicks, but for some reason or another, received 500 instead. Rather than send them back, she decided to take advantage of the mistake, and experimented with keeping the chicks indoors for the winter. The experiment worked — the birds didn’t see the light of day or have space to move, but they survived.
By 1923, Steele was keeping 10,000 birds, and in 1935, she had 250,000. By the mid-‘40s, Delaware’s Delmarva Peninsula, where she lived, had become the poultry capital of the world, and Steele had, as Portman remarks, had “perhaps unknowingly given birth to the modern poultry industry and begun the global creep of factory farming.”
From there, the film …more
How the arrival of beavers divided the small California city of Martinez
Heidi Perryman did not set out to change the fortunes of California’s beavers. When, back in 2007, the first pair began building in Alhambra Creek, she was simply delighted by the novelty. “They were adorable,” she told me, before revising her opinion. “Well, they were unusual. They were more unusual than adorable. Actually, they’re not really that adorable — but they were very cool.” Perryman was most enamored of the life that rode in on the beavers’ coattails: herons, otters, mink, muskrats. She and her husband Jon strolled daily down to the bridge that spans Alhambra Creek to film the frolicsome creatures. More than a decade later, she has external hard drives loaded with two terabytes of beaver footage — the equivalent of around a dozen MacBooks’ worth.
Photo by Yosemite Love / Flickr
The city of Martinez, however, was less enchanted. Alhambra Creek flows through downtown on its way to San Francisco Bay; during heavy winter rains, the stream is prone to rampaging through the streets. Although Martinez alleviated the problem with a ten-million-dollar flood control project in 2001, the specter of deluge still loomed large. The town wasn’t sure whether beavers represented a true threat, but creek-abutting business owners preemptively complained. The Martinez city council reassured its constituents that the beavers would be killed.
The announcement alarmed Perryman, who’d fallen head over heels. The beavers had recently birthed four kits, who actually were adorable, and who uttered the most beguiling squeaks and gurgles. “I remember thinking, do the people that want them killed even know about the sound that a baby beaver makes?” Perryman said, the silver beaver pendant on her necklace glinting in the sun. “And if I don’t do something, will I ever hear that sound again?”
At this point in our conversation, Perryman decided her story required a visual aid. “Jon!” she hollered toward the interior of the house. “Bring the scrapbook! Oh, and could we have more coffee? Some waitress you are.” A moment later, Jon, a genial fellow who wore a worth a dam tank top and his hair in a silver ponytail, emerged with a swollen scrapbook, its pages bursting with the paper trail of Perryman’s campaign. I leafed through the documentary evidence of her …more
Why Paul Erhlich's warning deserves a new and less hysterical hearing
“The battle to feed all of humanity is over,” Stanford biologist and ecologist Paul Erhlich declared on the first page of his 1968 best-seller, “The Population Bomb.” Because the “stork had passed the plow,” he predicted, “hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death.”
Photo by Kibae Park/Sipa Press
Ehrlich’s book identified dramatically accelerating world population growth as the central underlying cause of myriad problems, from a food crisis in India to the Vietnam War to smog and urban riots in the United States. It sold more than 2 million copies and went through 20 reprints by 1971. Ehrlich appeared more than 20 times on NBC’s “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” and became the first president of Zero Population Growth, a Washington DC–based advocacy organization, while remaining a professor at Stanford.
“The Population Bomb” created more space to hold radical views on population matters, but its impact was fleeting, and maybe even harmful to the population movement. By the early 1970s, many critics were savaging Ehrlich and the larger goal of achieving zero population growth. And the politics of “morning in America” in the 1980s successfully marginalized Erhlich as a doomsdayer.
A Malthusian Warning
Ehrlich drew on nearly 200 years of thinking inspired by British pastor and political economist Robert Thomas Malthus. In his 1798 study, “An Essay on the Principle of Population,” Malthus famously predicted that “geometric” population growth would overwhelm “arithmetic” gains in agricultural production, leading to wars, famines and societal collapse.
Fears of the potentially dangerous social and ecological effects of population growth intensified after World War II. Global population surged as public health improved greatly in developing nations, increasing life expectancy. At the same time, the new science of ecology demonstrated the fragility of Earth’s interconnected systems. And the Cold War promoted worries that population-induced poverty would breed communism.
Mainstream advocates of arresting population growth emphasized better access to family planning and education, but Ehrlich had no use for such baby steps. “Well-spaced children will starve, vaporize in thermonuclear war, or die of plague just as well as unplanned children,” he wrote.
However, as a historian who has studied debates about population growth throughout US history, I believe that Ehrlich’s warnings deserve a new and less hysterical hearing. While Ehrlich has acknowledged …more
Even protected areas aren't safe as some of Europe's largest primeval woodlands come under threat
Even after decades of rampant deforestation, Romania is still home to more than half of Europe's primeval woodlands, some 6.5 million hectares of old-growth temperate climate forests. As a result, some of the Old Continent's largest populations of brown bears, wolves, lynxes, and wildcats live in the country. Still, the Eastern European country is losing 62,000 hectares of this forest annually, or roughly 3 hectares per hour, much of it due illegal logging. Either as raw logs or as processed timber, nearly all of this wood somehow finds its way out of the country, to places like Northern Africa and Western Europe.
Photo by Carpathianland / Flickr
Romania has long faced illegal logging issues. Back in the 1800s, the country had 8.5 million hectares of woodland — 36 percent of its territory was forested. Between 1990 and 2011, however, Romania lost an estimated 366,000 hectares — some 2.8 billion cubic feet of timber — as a result of illegal logging. In recent years, illegal logging has ramped up, and today an estimated 26 percent of the country is forested.
Environmentalists blame the situation in large part on the corrupt sale of government-owned wooded areas to private citizens, politicians, and various corporate entities. Advocates say the extent of destruction of primeval forests in Romania far exceeds that in Poland, which has received significantly more international attention. Nowhere is safe from illegal logging, including the country’s protected forests and national parks. Only last year, in 2017, 124 acres of woodland were lost from the Semenic National Park, which lies in the southwestern part of Romania, bordering Serbia. The region has the largest virgin beech forests in Europe, with over 4,200 hectares, and was protected as a UNESCO world heritage site in, August 2017. Logging in the park is illegal.
Romania’s Ministry of Environment has pledged to investigate the illegal logging in Semenic National Park. However, many citizens and environmentalists aren't convinced that any real headway will be made.
"The Semenic Mountains shelter Europe's largest remaining virgin forests of beech in a single area," Gabriel Paun, founder of the environmental nonprofit Agent Green, said in a statement about illegal logging in the region. “This landscape is the last genuine example of how Europe used to look after the last …more
It's getting harder and harder to find clothes that don't pollute our oceans and drinking water
I was baking a Spanish olive oil cake a few weeks ago and ended up spilling a full cup of olive oil down the front of my favorite yoga pants, the Cecilia Knicker, a pair of hemp and organic cotton blend yoga pants from Prana which they no longer make. Unfortunately, I was so consumed with cooking that I didn’t try to wash the oil out immediately and the pants now have a massive oil stain that won't budge.
I went online to look for a pair of replacement yoga pants and I had one very simple requirement: the pants had to be made from 100 percent natural fibers. Why? I learned last year about how our synthetic clothing isn’t just making us stinky (compared to natural fibers that resist bacterial growth and can go longer in between washes) but far worse, synthetic fabrics are filling our oceans with plastic microfibers that wash out of our clothing made from polyester, nylon, acrylic, lycra, spandex, etc. Those fibers act like sponges for toxic chemicals like DDT and BPA and then end up in our seafood and water sources. If you're not familiar with this issue, check out this video from The Story of Stuff Project that explains the issue in very simple terms.
Back to my online shopping adventures … I thought this task of finding yoga pants would be simple. I went to Prana’s website, who I know use organic cotton and hemp in many of their items, and searched for yoga pants filtering down by Fabric = Organic Cotton. I was dismayed to learn that every single pair of yoga pants made with organic cotton had polyester or Lycra blended in. Several hours of online shopping later and I learned that you simply cannot find yoga pants without at least 5 percent Lycra or spandex. This was true even at companies advertising 100 percent organic cotton where their clothing were actually actually only 95 percent Organic Cotton and 5 percent Lycra / Spandex. I learned that when you see companies advertising 100 percent organic cotton, it often means that all of the cotton used was organic but not all of the fabric used in the garment is organic cotton.
Frustrated, I changed my search from yoga pants to drawstring capris. If I could not find yoga pants from all natural fibers, perhaps I could find some loose drawstring capris made from linen or cotton jersey, which would not require any …more
What if our conventional understandings about chimpanzee behavior are inaccurate?
At the edge of a forest clearing in western Africa, fresh tracks are embedded in the mud. Half of the tracks resemble hands. The other half resemble knuckles. They lead to the center of the clearing where they abruptly end at a large pool of blood. From there, droplets of blood replace the tracks and continue on towards the opposite end of the clearing.
Photo by Ronald Woan
Standing beside the pool of blood is a young chimpanzee of around four or five years of age. Examining the blood, the chimpanzee puts his face to the ground and deeply inhales. He sits up and looks in every direction. He stands up on two legs and surveys the edges of the clearing. Sensing danger, he crouches and scurries in the direction of the footprints. Several minutes later, the forest echoes with the vocalizations of a community of chimpanzees.
Five thousand miles away, another chimpanzee sits alone at a zoo in the United States. He stretches out his right hand into the distance, seemingly at nothing. After several seconds, he puts his hand down. He hunches forward with his legs outstretched in front of him. With his left hand, he digs through the ground. He picks up a handful of bark and hurls it forward. The bark is blocked midway through the air by a glass barrier. Smashing against the transparent wall, it falls to the ground. The chimpanzee stares motionless into the distance.
On the other side of the glass stands a student intern. She stares at the chimpanzee, stares at her watch, and writes down the event on her data sheet. The bark has left a trail of dirt on the already cloudy glass. It obscures her view a bit, but she’s able to peer around it and see inside the enclosure. She’s been at the zoo for the past hour, recording data on this particular chimpanzee. She’ll remain an hour longer, then go home.
Behind the intern, three children play. They run around in circles, shout, and pay very little attention to the chimpanzee on the other side of the glass wall. Their mother calls them over to a display containing photographs of chimpanzees living in …more
Former EPA administrator has left behind a trail of weakened environmental regulations and a demoralized agency
Scott Pruitt, who has finally stepped down as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency after a long-rumbling corruption scandal, rose to public prominence on the back of a series of increasingly outlandish ethical controversies.
Photo by Lorie Shaull
From lobbying the fast-food company Chick-fil-A on behalf of his wife, to demanding his staff acquire a mattress from a Trump Hotel — not to mention the millions of taxpayer dollars spent on security, first-class travel, and soundproof booths — Pruitt’s behavior clashed spectacularly with any pretense of Trump’s pledge to “drain the swamp” in Washington.
But the lasting legacy of the former Oklahoma attorney general — who was picked by Trump after crusading against what he called the EPA’s “activist agenda” — is likely to be felt in the systematic weakening of environmental regulations.
While not as eye-catching as, for example, his demand that his official vehicle use sirens so he could reach a French restaurant on time, Pruitt’s actions at the EPA have left behind a demoralized agency where staff fret that their ability to protect public health has been diminished.
A staunch ally of oil and gas companies, Pruitt stacked EPA advisory boards with industry representatives and sought to set aside whole troves of research that link pollution to various illnesses.
He oversaw the delay or destruction of dozens of clean air and water rules, sparking legal battles with states and environmental groups. The EPA’s record in court under Pruitt was patchy but his deregulatory zeal was enough to impress Trump, who said Pruitt was doing a “fantastic job” even as scandals that sparked more than a dozen different investigations swirled around him.
Pruitt became a trusted adviser to Trump, helping convince the president the US should withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. He also continued his pre-EPA work of dismantling the Obama-era clean power plan, but from within the agency. Vehicle emissions standards were shelved.