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We Ate a Lot of Hearts, Because You Could Get Them for Nothing

June 4, 2013

When I watched hens dumped into trash bins to be gassed at A&L Poultry last year, I distinctly remember thinking, “Well, isn’t that appropriate…this is exactly how the egg industry sees unwanted hens. They’re trash to them.” It was such a powerful visual metaphor.

The title of this article is a partial quote from a recent Smithsonian article, a sit-down conversation between two food critics – Ruth Reichl and Michael Pollan.

The full quote from Reichl, “We ate a lot of hearts of every kind because you get them for nothing.”

The heart, that incredible muscle beating, pumping to keep living beings alive diminished to nothing. How can we move forward with cherishing life if we demean that most powerful muscle? The value of a heart – nothing.

Of course those of us who feel other animals are not here for us to eat, wear, or exploit beg to differ. Reichl does not advocate we stop suffering, in fact, through this flippant statement, she enables the suffering of billions, the violent cessation of so many hearts.

Later in the piece, Pollan talks about how empowering food choices are, that they are one of the decisions we make in which we have complete control. He’s absolutely right. The food choices we make have an impact on our friends, family, colleagues and social peers. They also have an impact on other animals, the environment, our health, and the welfare of workers employed/exploited in various food industries.

Afterwards, he shares a story about a pig he raised who ended up dying during a poorly executed introduction between two pigs. He could not eat that pig (Kosher) but goes on to say, “I think now I could raise a pig and kill a pig for food. I didn’t feel a sense of attachment. Clearly a pig is a very intelligent animal, but I think I could probably do that.”

It’s true, pigs are smart. They can learn to turn on heaters when they are cold and turn them off when they get warm. They have learned to play simplified video games. I love telling visitors about the intelligence of pigs, because few people think of pigs in terms of their cognitive abilities.  Even if pigs were not smart, though, they have an inherent right to be free of exploitation and harm. Intelligence should never be a determining factor in whether we violently end the life of another being.


Pollan’s description of farmed animals gets worse, though (bold faced my own, for emphasis). “I raised chickens, and worried that I wouldn’t be able to kill them, but by the time they were mature, I couldn’t wait to kill them. They were ruining my garden, abusing one another, making a tremendous mess. Meat birds are not like hens. Their brains have been bred right out of them, they’re really nasty and stupid. And every other critter for miles around was coming after them. … In the end, I couldn’t wait to do the deed, because otherwise, somebody else was going to get the meat.”

When people say these things outloud, I can’t help but wonder if they actually spent any meaningful time with the nonhumans they so despise.

I mean, first of all, “meat birds are not like hens” is simply factually inaccurate. The types of birds raised for their flesh are male and female. This means that some are in fact hens (female chickens).

That’s minor, compared to his next statement, “Their brains have been bred right out of them, they’re really nasty and stupid.”

My visceral reaction was “Geez, what a jerk!” because I and other chicken lovers have spent time with Cornish crosses (the “type” of bird raised for their flesh) and haven’t had this experience.

Upon further reflection, though, the statement is a common method employed by those in power to further dis-empower, disenfranchise, blame, and demean those not in power. It is classic victim-blaming. Because it does not matter if chickens are really nasty and stupid, they still exist for their own purposes, desires, and wants. By calling chickens nasty and stupid, Pollan enables others to continue abusing and consuming chickens. It’s a lot easier to slaughter and eat the flesh of a nonhuman you believe is “stupid” and “nasty”…very pejorative terms.

Of course the experience Pollan had and the experiences I’ve had are very different. My knowledge of “meat birds” is through the lens of a sanctuary where nonhumans live out their lives. The Cornish crosses I have met have been engaging, inquisitive surveyors of their world.


It’s true they have been artificially selected by humans to be voracious eaters. That is not their fault. At the sanctuary, we provide them with ample space to forage and fillers to keep them as satiated as possible. But they are always edgy around food, always.

I could wax poetic about Cornish crosses and their awesomeness. But that is just as meaningless, on some level, as Pollan’s vituperative statements about chickens. Whether these birds are nasty, stupid, sweet crooners, or gentle is moot. They want to live. They experience emotions and pain, joy. They have desires outside of our palate preferences. Ending their lives violently for no other reason than a moment of gustatory pleasure? That seems to be a far nastier act than trouncing a garden bed.

-Marji Beach

I Like Them Standing Up

June 3, 2013

A simple conversation between a mother and child. Children can be wonderful teachers.

Are We Reading the Same Article?

July 9, 2012

According to the Dairy Herd Network, milk remains the “gold standard” for calcium intake.They claim that “studies have linked calcium supplements to a higher risk of heart attacks and kidney stones.”

They base their claim on an article in The Wall Street Journal, “Dutifully Taking Your Calcium Pill? It May Be Too Much.”

Let me preface by stating that I am not a nutritionist, but I can read.

None of the studies attributed DAIRY MILK consumption with a decreased risk of heart attack or kidney stone. Nor did any of the studies claim that the only source of calcium can be obtained from the milk of another species. At no point did the WSJ state that milk is the “gold standard” for calcium intake.

The premise of the article is that excess calcium supplements, especially exceeding 2,000 mg a day, may increase the risk of kidney stones and heart attacks. Even though that is the premise, the journalist acknowledges that the studies are conflicting.

According to the Institute of Medicine, most adults only need around 1,000 mg of calcium each day. In the United Kingdom, the recommended daily allowance is suggested at 700-1000 mg/day.

You can obtain calcium in food other than dairy milk. Dairy products have been touted as good sources of calcium, but the truth is that no one needs dairy to reach their daily calcium intake.

Vitamin D plays a role in how well calcium is absorbed, so make sure to eat foods with vitamin D! Or, spend 15-20 minutes in the sun (season permitting) without sunscreen each day. The article did not suggest there was any issue with a vitamin D supplement, so perhaps consider that over a calcium supplement.

Sources of calcium (Note: Dark leafy greens contain oxalic acid which can limit calcium absorption. This is not a problem for healthy teenagers and adult, but can pose a risk for those with kidney or gallbladder stone problems. There are plenty of other plant-based calcium sources). The following list was obtained here.

Bok choy (cooked) – 330 mg
Kale – 180mg
Bean sprouts – 320 mg
Spinach (cooked) – 250 mg
Collard greens (cooked) – 260 mg
Mustard greens (cooked) – 100 mg
Turnip greens (cooked) – 200 mg
Swiss chard (cooked) – 100 mg
Seaweed (Wakame) – 120mg
Okra – 130 mg
Broccoli – 45 mg
Fennel – 45 mg
Artichoke – 55 mg
Celery – 40 mg
Leeks – 55 mg

Almonds (1/4 cup) – 95 mg
Brazil nuts (1/4 cup) – 55 mg
Hazelnuts (1/4 cup) – 55 mg
Almond butter (1 tbsp) – 43 mg
Sesame seeds (1 tbsp) – 63 mg
Tahini (1 tbsp) – 65 mg

Amaranth (cooked, ½ cup) – 135 mg
Brown rice (cooked, 1 cup) – 50 mg
Quinoa (cooked, 1 cup) – 80 mg

Chickpeas (cooked, 1 cup) – 80 mg
Pinto beans (cooked, 1 cup) – 75 mg
Soy beans (cooked, 1 cup) – 200 mg
Tofu (soft or firm, 4 oz) – 120 – 400mg
Tempeh (1 cup) – 150 mg
Navy beans (1 cup) – 110 mg
White beans (cooked, 1 cup) – 140 mg

Figs (dried) – 300 mg
Apricots (dried) – 75mg
Kiwi – 60mg
Rhubarb (cooked) – 350 mg
Orange – 70 mg
Prunes – 75 mg
Blackberries – 40 mg

Blackstrap molasses (1 tbsp) – 135 mg

Review: The Adventures of Vivian Sharpe, Vegan Superhero by Marla Rose

April 2, 2012

Disclaimer: I purchased this book myself, this review was not requested by anyone, and I receive no compensation for writing this review.

vivian sharpe coverThis book engaged me right from the start, as Vivian Sharpe, the 15 year old hero of the story, experiences something that creates an awareness of what (and specifically, who) the food she’d been eating really was. Though the development of that awareness was unusual – a dream in which she experiences the end of a life of a pig through his eyes, followed by a conversation with his spirit – the overall experience of the awakening is one that we can all relate to.

Most impressive to me in that opening scene was the brilliance in the way it was handled. I’ve talked quite a bit here about the use of graphic images, and my discomfort with them. Marla managed to paint an evocative picture with suggestion, but no gory details. Instead, she capitalized the fact that our imaginations are more than enough to form the picture ourselves. She simply set the scene, and pointed her readers’ minds in that direction, knowing we would do the rest.

I found this brilliant because, obviously, I had absolutely no wish to read another description of these things myself. But also, thinking about the potential “unawakened” readers, I wondered if this would reach them more effectively than if it had been described in horrible detail. If that opening passage had been handled differently I probably wouldn’t have continued reading, and I think Marla knew many would feel that way.

Throughout the book, Marla brings up difficult issues. Vivian learns first-hand about the impact environmental devastation has on animals, and she learns the power of taking action. She also learns second-hand the cascading impact of that same environmental devastation on humans. She deals with the reactions of her family and people in her school to the changes she’s made in her life, and later she deals with the reactions of the people in her town to the choices she made.
Read more…


December 25, 2011

Miwok and CheyenneIt is so much fun watching the rescued turkeys enjoy their outdoor pasture, acting like their wild cousins.

This is Miwok and Cheyenne. They are two of five turkeys who were dropped off at the sanctuary a couple weeks before Thanksgiving.

After their quarantine, the four boys (the girl is with the female turkeys) were released into their new enclosure.

The boys spend their time roaming the meadow, perusing the grass for edibles. Sometimes they perch up on the boulders, looking pleased with their new vantage point. There will come a time when such a feat will prove difficult, if not impossible as they will weigh too much.

Plus, when they see you enter their territory, they come running over. Sit down, and they are all over you. They love freckles and hair bands. Creek loves it when you scratch his chest. Miwok will stand still and start preening himself if you rub his belly. Dakota is shy, while Cheyenne loves to walk on your leg.

Read more…

Florida Senator Reintroduces Ag-Gag Bill

December 23, 2011

Best friends Lilac and DaisyFlorida Senator Jim Norman believes that accessing farms and taking video or still photographs is almost like terrorism. At the behest of an egg farmer, Norman introduced legislation (SB 1184) that would criminalize the act of taking photography on farms.

The nonhumans on these farms experience actual terrorism in their daily lives. Accessing farms in order to document animal welfare violations and cruel treatment is not terrorism. Considering undercover investigations that cause no harm to another living being acts of terrorism is insulting, at best.

You can read more over at Green is the New Red

If you live in Florida, contact your Senator: This link takes you to a form letter you can edit while this link takes you directly to the Florida Senate website. Ask them to oppose SB 1184

Hugs All Around

October 26, 2011

Douglas Gets Hugged

Douglas gets a big hug from our animal care manager at the sanctuary. He loves hugs, although these days he and his brother Linus consider themselves big boys and avoid physical contact with people at all costs. They’ll get over this, as all growing calves do, and we will welcome them back with open arms.