Monthly Archives: February 2012

Workers’ Rights

Food processing came up in my basic Microeconomics course, of all places.  We were assigned to read an article called “To Make a Tender Chicken” by Barbara Goldoftas from 1989.  While we were supposed to be learning about how changes in labor, etc. can affect costs, I was focused on other aspects, such as the story of Mary Smith.  After working in a chicken processing plant for only seven months, the repetitive nature of her job had debilitated her hands so much that she now has difficulty holding items due to a newly developed carpal tunnel syndrome.  Also, the article discusses bullying tactics the plant bosses used to keep workers from seeking adequate medical treatment (such as firing those that do).

So how is it looking today?

Thinking back to when I first watched Food, Inc., I remember being horrified that meat companies would specifically advertise to immigrant workers.  I wasn’t horrified about the workers being immigrants, but rather that when immigration enforcement came through the facility, arresting and deporting the workers, the company simply restocked on new immigrant workers without a care in the world.

Even the United States Department of Labor can’t make working at a slaughterhouse sound appealing:

Butchers and meat cutters, poultry and fish cutters and trimmers, and slaughterers and meatpackers often work in cold, damp rooms where meat is kept to prevent spoiling. In addition, long periods of standing and repetitious physical tasks make the work tiring. Working with sharp knives on slippery floors makes butchers and meat cutters more susceptible to injury than almost all other workers in the economy; however, injury rates for the animal slaughtering and processing industry have been declining. Injuries include cuts and occasional amputations, which occur when knives, cleavers, or power tools are used improperly. Also, repetitive slicing and lifting often lead to cumulative trauma injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome and back strains.

– “Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition

Supporting human rights is one reason why someone might go vegetarian, and right now I’m glad that I am one.  I know that there is more I can do – buying local, for example, or researching the companies I buy from.  I’m making small steps, but I know I will get to a more sustainable lifestyle one day.

To read more about slaughterhouse workers:

An article from the Food Empowerment Project

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One for the Road – Working Out

“What matters most is your overall way of living and eating.  If you indulge yourself one day, then eat healthier the next.  If you forget to exercise or meditate one day, do more the next.  You get the idea.  It’s a very compassionate approach.” (26) Veganist: Lose Weight, Get Healthy, Change the World by Kathy Freston

***

Returning to college after a month of free time at home creates some challenges.  As I try to become more involved at school, my little pink agenda fills up very quickly.  And what gets cut?  Exercise.

Luckily, my conversion to a vegetarian coincided with my sudden decrease in exercise, so I did not gain any weight (as far as I can tell – I don’t keep a scale in my dorm room).  I definitely lost most of the tone and definition I had worked so hard on for months – how did it all vanish so quickly??  But I started exercising again these past few days, and I feel a lot better.  Now to just keep it up.

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Suitemate Surprises

Something I never expected happened this past Sunday night.  As I sat on the floor in my suitemate’s room eating tofu tacos with her, she asked “Why again do you think meat is bad?”

Speaking carefully so as not to alienate her, I explained, “It’s not that meat is bad; it does have protein.  But it also has cholesterol, saturated fat, and no fiber.  While the amount of fat in our meat has increased over the years because of the way we feed our factory-farmed animals, we’re eating much more of it than ever before.”

“Interesting,” she responded while looking away.  “You know that my Big* is vegetarian, so I’ve actually been thinking about this for a while, and now you’re a vegetarian…”

She definitely had my attention.

“I don’t really eat a lot of meat anyway,” she continued.  “Mostly chicken.  But I think I’m going to try going vegetarian.”

***

I am still really surprised by my suitemate’s decision, as it was never my intention to convert my friends to vegetarianism, etc.  She’s reading Skinny Bitch now, and although I haven’t read it, I’m excited that she’s learning more by reading.  I offered to watch Forks Over Knives with her, so we’ll see how it goes.

Further reading:
Harvard University’s summary of protein and our health

*She has a “Big” (like a big sister kind of deal) because she’s in a fraternity

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My New Lifestyle and the Environment

This just happened:

I throw out a plastic bag that, a few minutes ago, had been full of popcorn I saved from last night.

My roommate takes notice.

“You know you can wash those?  That’s like, really bad for the environment.”

I looked disdainfully at the trashcan.

“Well, it’s in the trash now, so I’m not going to take it out.”

“That’s really bad of you.”

I thought to myself about how often I use Tupperware and not plastic bags.  How I bring a reusable bag almost every time I go shopping.  And then I got a bit miffed.

“You know what’s the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide emissions and methane gases?”

My roommate threw me a nasty look.

“Factory farming.  Of animals.”

“Well I’m doing everything I can to help the environment,” she responded.

“So am I,” was my retort.

“If I went vegetarian, I wouldn’t be healthy.  I get my protein and fiber from meat.”

And I went off some more.

“Meat doesn’t have any fiber in it.  Most Americans get twice the protein they actually need, anyway.”

“I wouldn’t be a healthy vegetarian.”

We each put our headphones back into our ears.

***

From the book Forks Over Knives: The Plant-Based Way to Health by Gene Stone:

“The United Nations has determined that raising livestock for food purposes generates more climate-heating gases than do all carbon-dioxide-emitting vehicles combined—in other words, cows are worse than cars. Some startling figures: The livestock sector accounts for nearly 10 percent of human-induced carbon dioxide emissions, 37 percent of methane emissions (methane is about 23 times more powerful than CO2 as a greenhouse gas). It also produces 65 percent of nitrous oxide emissions (nitrous oxide is 296 times more powerful than CO2) and 64 percent of human-induced ammonia emissions, a significant contributor to acid rain.”

And

“A report in New Scientist estimated that driving a hybrid car could save about one ton of CO2 emissions per year but adopting a plant-based diet would save nearly one and a half tons over a comparable period.”

One more

“According to a 2006 University of Chicago study, the average American diet derives 47 percent of its calories from animal products. This amounts to a carbon “footprint” (i.e., impact) of 2.52 tons of CO2 emissions per person per year.”

***

There are plenty of other great quotes, but I’ll leave it at that.  I’m not frustrated with my roommate – I’m frustrated at the misinformation.  Why would we think that meat contains fiber?  I only know it doesn’t because of my research into vegetarian and vegan lifestyles.  But what about everyone else?

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Microwaves and Madras Lentils

I’m all about the instant meals.  I prefer meals that I can cook in one pot, or even better, on one plate in a microwave.  Today, I needed one of those meals.  Caught up in homework, I was too busy to realize that I was hungry.  And then the sucker punch of an empty stomach grabs my attention.

“Food,” my stomach whimpers.

I open my mini fridge/freezer combo and pull out a bag of frozen green beans.  Microwaving frozen vegetables is one of the easiest ways to make a healthy snack, and as a college student, I like that it’s space efficient and the food doesn’t go bad.  And while the bowl of green beans was delicious, my stomach insisted that it needed more food.

Cue Tasty Bite’s Madras Lentils, with a promise of “Ready in 90 Seconds” plastered on the front.  The lentil and bean mixture was a bit on the spicy side, but paired with a piece of bread, I wolfed it down.  I decided to then look at the package to see exactly why it was so good.

Thank you, Whole Foods.

The lentils take care of 40% of my daily “Dietary Fiber” and contain 14 grams of protein, although they are accompanied by 42% of my daily sodium intake.  I can’t say I was surprised by the amount of sodium – it was an instant meal after all.  Then I stopped myself and considered what else I would have eaten: ramen.  I do love my Top Ramen, but I’m careful to eat it sparingly.  Providing a whopping 76% of my daily sodium intake, along with a measly 16% of my dietary fiber, my ramen was no match for the Tasty Bite lentils.

Before going vegetarian, I would never have considered looking at Whole Foods for instant meals, or would have considered buying this type of a frozen meal.  This experience has again reminded me that, while my dietary preferences are still limited (something I’m working on), I appreciate the enlarged perspective I’ve gained about my food options.  A meal is no longer a piece of meat with some type of carb on the side, and, on a good day, some veggies.  Suddenly my meals are more dynamic and varied.  I’m excited to keep exploring, and I also can’t wait to bring all of these new meals back home to my family when I return for the summer.

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Positive Responses

Two nights ago at dinner, I commented on how delicious the kung pao tofu tasted.  My roommate has now started exploring the vegetarian section more often, and she had also put some on her plate.  Although she wasn’t a fan of this particular tofu seasoning (“Too spicy”), she offered some tofu to her boyfriend, who was dining with us.  He liked it.  And suddenly, without prompting, he shared that he has been eating less meat, and that he hasn’t had a steak in a long time.  He and my roommate began jockeying to speak about how each was trying to eat less meat.  I happily took it all in.

I was happy for a few reasons, mainly that my no-more-meat lifestyle was received positively and even supported by friends.  I was glad to introduce my friend to a new food, and the fact that we were even having a conversation about eating less meat reminded me that not all of my friends think I’m crazy.  Which is a nice feeling.

 ***

My second round of tofu tacos is almost gone, thanks to my hungry suitemates.  My roommate even wants to buy the tofu next time, and we’re going to mix it with rice to add extra texture in the next batch.

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