Wednesday, June 29, 2011

I'd Like to Be Vegan ... But I Just Can't Seem to Give up Dairy!

After I give a lecture, the number one comment people make to me is, “I’ve been vegetarian for years, but I just can’t seem to give up dairy!”  If this sounds like you, read on. 

I always joke that, before becoming vegan, my four food groups were Swiss, Havarti, Cheddar and Chocolate.  As soon as I went to college and began making my own food choices, I naturally gravitated to all things dairy – Melted Cheese Hoagies, Grilled Cheese Sandwiches, Macaroni and Cheese, Fettucine Alfredo, Frozen Yogurt with M&Ms on top…  I know how much you love your dairy!

Yet when you face the reality of what dairy cows must go through to produce dairy products, it becomes hard to look yourself in the mirror and still eat them.  Many vegetarians explain their dairy consumption by saying, “Well, the cow didn’t have to die to give me this cheese.”  However, if you think about it, at least a beef cow has a short life before it is slaughtered in terror; the dairy cow lives about 5 long years of misery and pain in inhumane conditions … and then she is slaughtered in terror. If she had a conscious choice, I expect a dairy cow would prefer to be slaughtered early than to live out her days in such pain.

Others try to justify their dairy consumption by saying, “It’s just a small amount of creamer for my coffee,” or “It’s just a little sprinkling of cheese,” but the fact remains that we vote with our wallets:  Every time we choose a small amount of creamer or a little sprinkling of cheese we are directly responsible for the pain and misery of these animals.

Laurelee Blanchard is very familiar with the atrocities that happen in factory farms, dairy farms and egg farms.  As the founder of Leilani Farm Sanctuary, she has made it her life’s mission to teach people about farmed animals, and encourage them to start loving the animals and stop eating them.  She has kindly provided most of the following information on dairy cows. 

Dairy cows on large factory farms are typically housed indoors or on dry feedlots year round and lactating cows are often kept restrained in tie stalls or stanchions. Most dairy calves are removed from their mothers immediately after birth. The males are mainly sold for veal or castrated and raised for beef. “Bob veal” calves are killed as soon as a few days after birth; those used to produce “special-fed veal” are typically kept tethered in individual stalls until they’re slaughtered at about 16 to 20 weeks of age. The female calves are commonly subjected to tail docking, dehorning, and the removal of “extra” teats. Although they don’t reach mature size until at least 4 years old, dairy cows first give birth at about 2 years of age and are continually bred again beginning about 60 days after each birth. Each year, approximately one quarter of the cows who survive the farms are sent to slaughter, most often due to reproductive problems or mastitis. Cows can live more than 20 years; however, they’re usually killed at about 5 years of age, after roughly 2.5 lactations.

If the anti-cruelty laws that protect pets were applied to farmed animals, many of the most routine U.S. farming practices would be illegal in all 50 states. Disregard for farmed animals persists because few people realize the ways in which these individuals are mistreated, and even fewer actually witness the abuse. Once aware, most people are appalled.

I think we don’t want to face the cruelty of the dairy industry because we don’t want to give up our favorite foods.  Once you realize that most of those foods are still available to you under new brand names, you will realize what all vegans do:  Being vegan is actually easy!  Shifting away from dairy products and toward healthier, cruelty-free foods is easy – and tasty – with so many amazing alternatives available today.  I defy any skeptic to make a grilled cheese sandwich using Daiya brand cheese with Earth Balance buttery spread, or scoop up a helping of Coconut Bliss Ice Cream for dessert. 

Look for these types of vegan products and more at your local health food store.  I highly recommend going to a good health food store (as opposed to a national grocery chain with a health food section) and asking the staff there what the best-selling vegan products are.  They will be happy to steer you toward the brands that customers and staff rave about.

If you are vegetarian and would like to go vegan, but feel overwhelmed, I offer you a challenge:  Commit to being vegan for just 30 days.  During that time, you will find vegan dairy substitutes, learn to ask for vegan entrees at restaurants, and learn to pack your own food if you need to.  For more assistance, you can look for my book, Vegan in 30 Days, which will step you through the process day by day.  Once 30 days has passed, you’ll realize – like the rest of us – that being vegan really is easy!  Yes, you can be vegan!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Eggs - What's the Big Deal?

Those of you who know my story know that I, like many of you, went vegan overnight after reading John Robbin’s book, Diet for a New America.  As an animal lover, my husband knows to pull the car over instantly if a cute dog is sitting on the sidewalk that looks like it needs a good petting (they all do!)  But after reading Diet for a New America, I had to ask myself, “Other than my personal familiarity with them, what distinguishes a dog from a chicken?  A cat from a cow?”  In looking at photos like the one below, with egg-laying chickens crammed into cages for their entire lives, poop falling on them from chickens above, stepping in their own excrement and fighting with their cagemates, I had to ask myself, “If these were puppies instead of chickens, we’d be outraged!  Why aren’t we outraged for the chickens?”

It is, of course, a matter of familiarity, cultural norms, and probably, the “cuddle-factor” of puppies.  But none of these arguments really holds up against the ultimate question:  Does not every animal (and human) deserve to live its life out under natural conditions, free from pain and suffering at the hands of others?

To me the answer is clearly “yes.”  I may not feel as strong a connection to chickens as I do to puppies, but that doesn’t make them less worthy of love or more worthy to be abused.

Laurelee Blanchard is a compassionate woman who has dedicated her life to rescuing farm animals that were either destined to become dinner, or were in other abusive situations.  Running Leilani Farm Sanctuary on Maui, she provides tours to locals and tourists alike, teaching them that all animals - not just our house pets - have personalities and intelligence, and all creatures deserve our love and protection.  

Laurelee has offered to provide information for our blog on farm animals, for which we are very grateful.  If you are moved by what you read, please visit Leilani Farm Sanctuary's website!


People who know chickens as friends know that chickens are not “all alike.” They know that, like all species with certain traits in common, chickens have individual personalities, distinctive identities, and unique ways of expressing themselves.

Chickens have memory and emotions, and a keenly developed consciousness of one another and of their surroundings. Researchers have recently published findings on chicken intelligence that have challenged old notions about avian cognitive abilities. For instance, scientists have found that chickens clearly understand cause-and-effect relationships, an advanced comprehension skill that puts their intellect beyond that of dogs. In the book The Development of Brain and Behavior in the Chicken, Dr. Lesley Rogers, a professor of neuroscience and animal behavior, concludes, “It is now clear that birds have cognitive capacities equivalent to those of mammals, even primates.”

More than half a billion eggs originating from two factory farms were recalled earlier this year because of salmonella outbreak.  Eggs are our number-one cause of salmonella poisoning, not surprising given the conditions in which they’re produced.  Egg factory farms consist of a series of warehouse-like sheds that house 200,000 or more birds in each windowless building. Inside, hens are crammed into thousands of wire battery cages, stacked several tiers high and extending in rows for the length of the building. The stacked cages force chickens to live in the bacteria-breeding excrement of those above them—causing ammonia burn to their eyes, which can lead to blindness.

Within the cages, each hen has about 67 square inches of space, less than a sheet of paper; not even enough space to spread her wings. Many hens raised under these conditions die of stress or disease.  Since only female chickens produce eggs, about 280 million male chicks per year are shoved into plastic bags to suffocate, or are ground up alive.

But what about free range eggs?  No government laws regulate the use of terms like "free-range" on egg cartons, so some "free-range" eggs may actually be produced by hens who spend their lives in small, conventional battery cages. Often "free-range" hens, though uncaged, are confined in crowded sheds, with little or no access to the outdoors. Once their egg production wanes, “free-range,” “cage-free,” and “organic” hens are slaughtered, the same as factory-farmed hens.

Healthy and humane alternatives to eggs are available at natural food stores, including powdered egg substitute for baking, tofu scrambler, and eggless mayonnaise.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Vegan Leadership

One of the potlucks I went to a couple of weeks ago on Maui was at the amazing Spirit of Aloha Oceanfront Botanical Gardens.  The owner, Frederic Honig, is a dedicated vegan, and called together top vegan leaders on Maui for a vegan strategy meeting to help promote veganism on Maui.  Held on 11 acres of gorgeous oceanfront property, representatives from raw food retreats, a farm sanctuary, locally renowned vegan cooking teachersvegan/raw authors, and others – all gathered to discuss ways to maximize veganism on Maui.  Topics included:

·     How to spread the word about veganism on Maui
·     How to promote local vegan and raw businesses
·     How to encourage all restaurants on the island to offer vegan options
·     How to bring conscious eating to local schools
·     How to help local Hawaiians adopt a vegan diet, and
·     How to help people connect their food choices with the animals. 

As I sat at this auspicious meeting of incredible leaders in the vegan community, I looked out over the ocean and thought, “Where else are people doing this?  Where, across this country and across this world, are people actively meeting in an effort to reduce the suffering of animals, the destruction of our environment and the health of our communities?”  There are state vegetarian and vegan societies, meetup groups, and others who are planning similar meetings. Have you investigated where those meetings are taking place near you? Have you been to one?  If none are close by, perhaps it’s your turn to step up and be a leader!  The power of one is mighty, but the power of a dedicated and passionate group has no limits.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Maui Vegan Potlucks

As new homeowners on Maui, I have come to know and love the island, and especially the North Shore for its amazing vegan community.  One of my very favorite things that I have learned there is the value of potlucks.  If potlucks don’t get you excited, stay with me – this is something that really could change your life!

What I love most about Maui, but especially Haiku, is the strong sense of community.  In less than a year, I feel like a have friends there that I can truly call family.  I think people who move to Maui are very unique:  Not only do they have the courage to up and leave everything they know and love on the mainland, but they also leave all of their friends and family an entire ocean away.  I have a theory that, because so many Maui residents have left their loved ones on the mainland, they end up creating a second family amongst their friends on the island.  The sense of community is like no other place I have ever been.

One of the ways in which people in Haiku become as close as family is by having regular potlucks at each others’ homes.  And I mean regular!  It’s not uncommon to be invited to 3 or 4 potlucks every week – many, if not most of them, vegetarian or vegan!  Potlucks are a huge part of the culture on Maui.  The great thing about this is that you get to choose from so much delicious vegan food while you get to connect with your “family.”  Just like in a large family gathering, food is everywhere, and everyone is chatting and laughing, so happy to see each other. 

In Washington, potlucks are rare amongst my friends, but I plan to change that!  One of the many things I’ve learned from the people on Maui is that our connection with one another is more important than anything.  Therefore, instead of slaving over the kitchen twice a year to host the perfect four course meal, I’ll be more likely to loosen up, and just tell everyone to show up once a month with a vegan dish.  Because it will be so easy, I can host dinners many times a year without feeling any pressure that my meal has to be perfect or impressive.  After all, do my friends really care?  Hopefully, they just want to share my company, as I do with them. 

If you yearn for a closer connection to your friends, neighbors, colleagues or family, take a lesson from Maui – make your relationships stronger easily, by inviting people over for a vegan potluck.  Your hassle time is extremely low, but the paybacks are great.  And the food … delicious!