Sunday, January 31, 2010

Musings on a Meat Free Year

Last year, I decided to give up meat for Lent. This February marks one year of my being meat-free. I admit, because I was never a big meat-eater (I mostly ate chicken and an occasional hamburger) I didn't think it would be that difficult. It was, actually, tougher than I thought. Anytime you tell yourself you CAN'T have something, of course, makes you want it more. I've been craving a Swenson's burger from day one!

My reasons for the decision were personal, and when someone would ask, I would share those reasons. But I have tried hard not to come off as preachy, or cause-driven at the least, or judgmental at the worst.

I've eaten meat for 50 years. In the past 2 years, however, I have learned through reading books, articles and watching documentaries on PBS and HBO that like many big businesses there is a great deal of corruption in the factory farming industry in general and the meat industry in particular. So I hope if you decide to read on, you will know that I do not have a problem with people who still choose to eat meat, but just want to share what I have learned because there has been more and more publicity on this subject of late. In fact, this past week, Oprah aired a program on where our meat comes from, and several of my friends said "wow, the stuff exposed on this show is what you have been talking about!".

Like so many industries, the meat industry has gotten very big--Walmart big, and has not had the right kind of regulation. Too much regulation would put restrictions on these companies that would cause a profit loss. So, the big corporations behind these huge factory farms use their money get the lobbyists keep the laws and restrictions light. As this country has witnessed, big business with little regulation can certainly lead to corruption as we've seen in our financial, pharmaceutical, and other industries. For the purpose of profit, livestock has turned into a mass-production business. Problem is, we are eating the results of this mass production, and the results are causing major health issues. Back in the day, cattle used to graze on grass on acres of land. Hens and chickens were cage free. Pigs lived on farms with room to eat and grow. It takes a few years for an animal to grow to an adult so they can be slaughtered for food, and factory farms have found a more profitable way of producing more livestock to grow more quickly.

Many researchers believe (although the stories are squashed) that the reason our young girls are developing breasts and going through puberty as early as 8 years old is due to the hormones in our meat and poultry supply, added to spur quick growth. The antibiotics injected into these animals is adding to the crisis of resistance to disease. There are many studies linking the additives in our food supply, even in the insecticides and pesticides used to grow vegetables inside factory farms, to causing so much of the cancer and autism rates we've seen in the past 10 years.

And INSIDE is the key word. On so many of these farms, calves, cattle, pigs and poultry never see the sun. They never see the outside of a pen. They are born, raised and slaughtered indoors. The same is true for so many of our vegetables. The red, green and yellow peppers that looks so perfect in our stores are artificially colored, and grow inside, under UV lights with additives some researchers say take away their nutritional value.

And if you are still reading, the living conditions of living feeling creatures inside so many (not all) of these farms is heartbreaking, and the slaughter technique used by many big business farms is horrific. There are ways to do a clean kill that are not being practiced. Pigs (one of the most intelligent animals next to humans and chimps) are often thrown into vats alive, to have their hair removed as are many calves. It takes too much time to kill them first. The cattle experience their horns being cut off, multiple brandings, and tagging of ears with staple guns; while pigs have their tails removed, which is excruciating as it is their pain mechanism, so they won't move in their pens for the time they are grown.

I never knew, never wanted to know where the meat I ate came from. I'd go to the grocery store, buy it, cook it and eat it. But now that I know, my passion on the subject, both for the cause of our health, and for animal welfare makes me want to speak out. I am mostly alone in my meat-free lifestyle. There are only 3 other people in my life who do not eat meat. So I am not suggesting no one eat meat anymore. I am suggesting that with a little research, (made easy with the Internet) you can find local farms that raise their animals and grow their produce the old-fashioned way. Supporting those farmers will be healthier for everyone. And you can feel better that the animals were treated humanely and lived a good life.

I know some believe it isn't appropriate to post cause-related subjects or information on a social networking site like Facebook; and that it should only be used for connecting with friends. While I keep learning lessons about how to use new media technology, and I know it has its blessings and curses, overall I believe social networking can be used to foster positive change because it can get information out to so many so quickly. And there are some causes I do believe are worth sharing. When I have posted links and information on animal welfare, or on the controversial Issue 2 last fall, the postings on my wall got intense and a few people were offended. I am sorry about that. And I learned a few lessons. A friend of mine who explained the benefits of Issue 2 (which passed by the way) assures me that its passing will actually help put a stop to some of the abuses in Ohio that were happening. I hope she is right.

I hope social networking can be used for the good, in that useful and thought-provoking information can be shared in a positive, informative, productive and not mean-spirited way. And I will work toward that goal in my future posts.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Communication Advice... from Mom

I recall a piece of advice my mom gave me years ago, when I was in grade school school. After a crackdown on note writing in class where teachers would catch note passers and read notes aloud she said "don't ever write anything down on a piece of paper you wouldn't want read in front of the whole class." In this age of digital communication and Instant-everything, from texts to Facebook posts, Tweets, Snapchats, and email (which is almost old-school) the advice rings truer than ever, but now its "don't post anything  you don't want read across the world in an instant.",

Innocent notes passed in class in 6th grade have turned into "sexting".  Facebook,  Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat has kids who don't have the maturity to understand the consequence of their words and digital actions has them making mistakes that could follow them a lifetime. Online bullying is at an all time high with consequences that often end in life-change, or life-ending results. Anyone in IT will you delete doesn't really mean delete. Once is posted, tweeted or sent, it's out there forever, and can come back to haunt you. If its profound and good, all the better, but if its not... well,  ask any number of celebrities and politicians who have gotten caught with their pants down (so to speak).

So what to do when you have a thought, an opinion, a frustration that you just have to vent?

I have a technique I've shared with my kids and others others that has worked for me and it's cheaper than therapy. When I was young, I found that whenever I was extremely passionate about something...whether I was working through a decision, was very upset or sad, or especially angry with someone, I would express it by writing it down. On paper. Most of the time, I would vent, cry, and rant and then, I'd go outside and light the paper I wrote everything on and watch it burn. The negativity would go up in smoke and I would mentally let it go. It now seems rather Zen-like. Hmmm maybe I was ahead of my time!

I believe its a technique that still works, although through the years I've adapted it to the computer. When I'm making a difficult decision I write down the pros and a word document--not online or in an email or a post. Whether it relates to a job, a money issue, or more importantly, how to talk to someone about a difficult issue; personal or professional--writing your thoughts down gives you the chance to state your entire thought process with no interruption or argument. Then,  walk away from the document. Wait on it. Mediate on it. Pray on it. Maybe for an hour, maybe 24.

I often find when I re-read  my words, I can see how they may be taken if I was the recipient. I can edit your my message, see how often I repeat my point (something I am guilty of) and I see clearly the way I handle myself when upset, angry or struggling through something.  Sometimes I read what I've written and think "wow" I came off like a jerk and I'm so glad I didn't have that conversation then! If it was a purchase I was considering, I often don't want it the next day, or, conversely, I still do, and feel better it wasn't an impulse. Often, a good night sleep changes the way I look at something, and 24 hours later, it  just doesn't seem that important.

In this age of instant communication we need to slow down and work through it. Giving your thoughts more time can prevent a lot of damage.  To ourselves, our relationships, maybe even our finances. Maybe there are some things that were better about the way Mom use to do it.