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Book Review: Animal Rights Poetry: 25 Inspirational Animal Poems, Vol 1 by Jenny Moxham (Series, #1)

Drawng of a little girl hugging a pig next to a goose.Summary:
A collection of 25 poems focusing on a variety of animal rights issues by British animal rights activist Jenny Moxham.

Review:
I picked this up because one of the blogs I follow mentioned it was on sale (for 100% off), and I figured there had to be at least one poem in there that I would find inspirational.  Of course, there was.

The poems are mostly written in rhyme, a vibe that feels very similar to Mother Goose style children’s poetry.  Some of them worked better than others, but it’s certainly a fine style choice.  It’s easier to remember rhymes than almost any other sort of poetry.

Personally, I preferred the poems that contained solid arguments to use when debating animal rights issues.  My favorite, is this one:

FOOD FOR THOUGHT
I’ve often heard it said by folk
Who relish eating meat,
“The animals were put on Earth
For human beings to eat.”

Well if God made them just for us,
Explain it, if you can,
Why they arrived one hundred million
Years ahead of man

(location 95)

I was less of a fan of ones addressing particular events, because I think those would be less useful in more general animal rights work.  I also was surprised by how many of the poems were about Christmas.  Perhaps Christmas is a meatier affair in the UK, but in a book with only 25 poems, having five about one holiday felt like a bit much.

Overall, Moxham’s talent and passion do shine through, but a more varied and longer collection would have been more enjoyable.  Recommended to those with an interest in memorable phrases to use in animal rights work.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Book Review: Diet For a New America by John Robbins (Diet for a New America Reading Project, Book 1)

January 22, 2012 10 comments

Red white and blue book coverSummary:
John Robbins was born into one of the most powerful corporations in America–Baskin-Robbins.  A company based entirely on selling animal products.  Yet he took it upon himself to investigate the reality of animals products and their impact on Americans, American land, and the world overall.  This book summarizes his extensive research, including personal visits to factory farms.

Review/Discussion:
This is the first book in the Diet for a New America Reading Project 2012 I am hosting.  The project is focused on educating ourselves on the facts behind health and preventative medicine for the well-being of all Americans, an issue that I am sure we can all agree is a serious one.  If you join the project late, please feel free to come back to this post or the GoodReads group after you’ve finished the book to join in on the discussion.  And now, on to the book!

There are books that you read that are so incredibly powerful you are left almost speechless.  Simply wanting to hand out copies to everyone you know, everyone you meet and say, “Please, read this.”  I highlighted so much in my copy that I couldn’t even do my usual of posting all highlighted quotes to my tumblr.  I discovered I was practically illegally reproducing the book, hah.  😉  I thus will do my best to highlight precisely why I find this book trustworthy, why I feel inspired by John Robbins, and the most stunning facts I learned while reading the book.

Why You Should Trust This Book
As a medical librarian, I was very careful to check out Robbins’ resources for his facts, particularly for the health section, which is what this project is focused upon.  Robbins drew his research from vetted, peer-reviewed, well-respected scientific journals, including ones I routinely use in my own work, such as Journal of the American Medical Association, the British Journal of Medicine, and The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  He also cites the studies of such organizations as the FDA, the EPA, and the National Cancer Institute.  Additionally, he conducted personal interviews with real factory farmers and scientists.  Additionally, all of his citations are in order.  You may not like the facts he reports, but they are still scientifically backed-up facts.

The fact that John Robbins researched the effects of animal derived foods on the environment and people and decided that it is bad for everyone involved is remarkable when you consider the fact that he comes from a family whose business is based entirely on selling dairy to Americans.  If the man had an innate bias, it would absolutely be on the side of carnists/omnivores, but he astoundingly conducted the research and came down on the side veg*ism.  (His family reunions must really be something…)  This not only makes me respect him, but trust him.  Somebody must be truly convinced to convert away from a business that has made his family, and presumably himself if he had agreed to take over the business, extremely wealthy.

But enough about why this book is trustworthy.  Let’s move on to discuss the astounding scientific facts revealed in the three different sections: animal rights and factory farming, health consequences of eating animal based products, and environmental consequences of meat-based diets.

Animal Rights and Factory Farming
I definitely believe this knowledge is more widely spread than when this book was first published.  I have a hard time imagining growing up in America and not coming to understand the horrors of factory farming, but you never know.  Robbins talks about the psychiatric fact that children who grow up abusing animals are more likely to become criminals in later life.  This, of course, is a basic reason to not base an entire sector of the American economy around factory farms that treat animals horribly like cogs in a machine.  Of course there are more reasons to treat animals well, such as the fact that dogs’ EEG scans are identical to human’s or that dolphins routinely save humans and other animals in the ocean or that many species of animals mate for life showing a dedication most humans can’t pull off.

The horrors of factory farming are so extensive that it’s difficult to even list them.  I feel as if I could go on and on.  Perhaps the best way is to tell you to imagine being in the most crowded elevator possible.  Now imagine that 20 of the 24 hours you’re in there it’s dark.  You’re standing on a slanted, slatted, metal floor.  The food for everyone is all on one side and is dumped in all at once and you must shove and race to get to it.  Of course it’s difficult to even call this food.  It’s a mix of shit, paper, sawdust, chemicals, and antibiotics all spiked with yet another chemical to make it smell better to you.  If you are female, then a hand periodically reaches in and artificially inseminates you, only to rip your baby away from you the instant it is born and hitch machines up to your mammary glands instead of allowing your milk to go to your baby.  If you are male, you are castrated by placing a band around your testicles until they fall off after weeks of the circulation being cut off.

That is the reality for factory farmed animals.  Even if you can manage to ignore the fact that these animals are being pumped full of chemicals and artificial growth hormones that you will then ingest yourself when you eat them or their products, that is still a horrifying way to get your food.  These animals live in terror and pain and die in terror and pain.  There is nothing natural about a factory farm.  Animals were meant to live outside and graze and nurse their babies and maybe live in a herd or a flock.  Not be caged up in situations so unnatural that they literally go crazy and cannibalize each other when they are naturally herbivores.  That is the reality of what you are supporting when you buy factory-farmed animal products.

Human Health
Ok, so maybe now you don’t believe in factory farming, but what about eating animals in general?  We were raised to believe that a healthy diet involves meat, dairy, and eggs, right?  Surely if an animal is raised organically and humanely all will be well?  Well, the meat and dairy lobbyists have done a LOT of work to hide from you the scientific studies that show their products are unhealthy for you.  If you read only a portion of this book, read the health section.  It is impossible for me in this discussion and review to make as eloquent a point as Robbins does.  I will instead sum it up for you.

In scientific studies published in reputable scientific journals such as JAMA, vegetarians have drastically less occurrence of: heart disease, all cancers, strokes, osteoporosis, diabetes, hypoglycemia, multiple sclerosis, ulcers, IBS, arthritis, kidney stones, gallstones, hypertension, anemia, and asthma.  Those who still have any of the chronic diseases are distinctly less symptomatic than the meat-eaters.  Vegans (people who consume no animal products whatsoever) have even LOWER occurrences than vegetarians.  This is vetted by multiple different studies run by different scientists in multiple nations.  Even simply comparing the data of these diseases between countries following the standard American diet and those following a primarily plant-based diet backs these statistics up.

I am sure that those of you who read the book as I did were stunned to hear that these studies have been in the reputable journals since as early as the late 1960s and 1970s and yet we have not heard about them.  Who is to blame?  The meat and dairy lobbyists of course.  What would happen to their businesses if the American people suddenly stopped following the standard American diet?  The Dairy Council provides the nutritional packets at your kids’ schools.  Think about that.

The Environment
The environmental impact of a meat-based diet has started to crop up more often recently with the increased interest in the green movement.  Essentially, Robbins primarily reiterates what I believe most of us already know.  The chemicals necessary to factory farm are bad for the whole planet.  It takes more fossil-fuel energy, more water, and more acreage to feed one person a meat-based diet than a plant-based diet.  These are things that are definitely relevant, particularly to people who don’t believe in human population control.  What I personally found most interesting in this section though was the discovery that American imports meat from Central and South American nations who have been destroying rainforest to do so, and their people are still overwhelmingly on a meat-based diet.  Thus these nations are destroying their own ecologies to support Americans’ wasteful meat-based diets.  That is just disgusting and selfish on our parts.

My Conclusion
I am honestly a bit shocked at the extent of the facts that I didn’t know when I became a vegetarian in January of 2006.  I admit I mostly became one out of an empathy for animals that I have always strongly felt, but additionally the less meat I ate, the better I felt.  Becoming a vegetarian mostly eliminated the symptoms of my IBS as the scientific studies Robbins cites showed.  But….I have a hard time imagining anyone reading the facts like this and not drastically changing their eating habits.  So many of the economic and personal problems in the US today have to do with health.  So maybe you’ve read this book and you still don’t care about animals and you still believe humans are better than them.  But don’t you want to be as healthy as you can be for your lifetime?  Wouldn’t you rather be a happy, healthy grandparent than a stooped-over one on multiple heart medications or going through chemotherapy?  Even if you don’t care about that, don’t you want to leave a healthier planet for your children and your children’s children?  The facts unequivocally show that the fewer animal products you consume, the better all of these outcomes will be.

Once we become aware of the impact of our food choices, we can never really forget. (page 379)

Source: Better World Books

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Discussion Questions:

  • Robbins believes that the scientific studies reported in the medical journals aren’t well-known because of the meat and dairy lobbies.  Do you think this is the case?  Why or why not?
  • If you do think the facts aren’t known because of the meat and dairy lobbies, how can we combat this?
  • If you don’t think the lobbyists have anything to do with the lack of public knowledge of these issues, what do you think the true cause is?
  • Do you believe the fight for organic animal farming is doing anything to help the environmental and health issues cited in the book?
  • What do you think can be done to get the meat and dairy lobbyists out of our schools?
  • Would you be willing to change your diet knowing the facts about the diseases it can cause or do you think it’s not worth the effort?
  • Do you believe money is better spent on treating the disease or preventing the disease?
  • Do you think world hunger can be successfully combated with a change in the diets of those in the first world countries?

Book Review: Born Wild by Tony Fitzjohn

December 5, 2011 1 comment

Tony hugging a lion.Summary:
Tony Fitzjohn never quite fit in in England or the middle class existence he was adopted into at a young age.  By his early 20s, he was roaming around Africa, and eventually found a job with George–the elderly Englishman famous for his belief in reintroducing lions into the wild whose efforts were chronicled in Born Free.  In his biography, Tony accounts the steps in his life that led up to his assistantship with George, the two decades he spent learning from him in Kenya, and the efforts he himself has made in Tanzania’s parks.

Review:
This autobiography (memoir?) is an example of how you can not particularly like a person but still admire and respect the work they do.  I know I would never in a million years get along with Tony.  He’s hard-headed, stubborn, a womanizer (prior to getting married in his 40s), matured very late in his life, and can be remarkably short-sighted in how his actions affect others.  And yet.

And yet he has an incredible passion for animals and the environment.  He’s faced down poachers, corrupt government employees, and charging rhinos with frankly, balls of iron.  All for the love of not just the big cats like lions and leopards, but rhinos and wild dogs as well.  I find it fascinating how his love of adventure gradually showed him that animals are not ours to use and abuse.  I wish I had had the time to copy the quote exactly from the book before I had to return it to the library, but essentially he says that we are meant to be stewards of the land that all the rest of the non-human animals need to survive and do what they’re meant to do.  He talks at length about how rhinos often don’t get as much attention because they don’t form a bond, really, with their caretakers the way orphaned big cats do, but that’s not who they are!  Rhinos are aggressive, love fighting each other.  They fight and they mate and that’s what they do and that’s beautiful because that’s who they are.  Letting animals be who they are and do what they do–that’s our real role as humans.

Of course, the animal rights message doesn’t really come out until the end of the memoir.  The beginning is Tony reflecting on his childhood and early years in Africa.  He traveled all over the continent a lot, never really sticking to one country until he met George and stayed put in Kenya for quite a while at the Kora reserve.  At times the writing when he’s recounting his life can be a bit dull.  He seems more focused on naming everyone he ever came across than in telling a story.  This holds true up until the trust sends him to AA and after that he meets his now-wife Lucy.  From then on it is as if a haze is lifted and his passion for everyone around him, the animals, and his family comes through.  I have no doubt that this is at least in part due to his no longer drinking.  It is clear that there are swaths of the prior years that he does not recall.  He even recounts one story that a friend told him when staging his intervention of him getting into a bar fight that he doesn’t even remember happening.  All this is to say, the first half or so of the book is fun bits of lions mixed in between rather dull sections of him just getting the information through to the reader that will be important later.

But the elements with the lions that hold us over in the meantime are absolutely worth it.  It is evident that through all of Tony’s flaws, he has a natural ability to work with big cats and an innate understanding and love of them.  He does not doubt their ability to feel emotions or communicate with people.

Sheba [lioness] had been so fond of her brother that when he died, she had led George to the spot, watched him bury Suleiman [her brother], and then sat on the grave for days, refusing to leave him alone. (page 112)

He also has an understanding of human society and mores and how they affect the animal world that comes through abundantly clearly:

By pushing up the price of oil, Sheikh Yamani and his cohorts had multiplied the Yemeni GDP sevenfold. A rhino-horn dagger is a symbol of manhood in Yemen, so an entire species was all but wiped out in order that a load of newly oil-rich Yemenis could have fancy dagger handles. (page 76)

When he writes of the poachers and big game hunters fighting with the environmentalists for control of the land, I was aghast at the methods both groups used.  They often would kill a big cat, cut off its head and paws, then skin it and leave it right in the environmentalists’ path.  This level of cold-heartedness and cruelty baffles me.  Although one could possibly argue that the poachers saw this atrocity as the only way out of poverty, there is zero excuse for the wealthy, white big game hunters who just callously view it as sport.

I suppose some people may see Tony’s and other western people’s work in Africa for the animals as neocolonialist.  I don’t see it that way at all.  Tony by nature of his upbringing had the wealthy connections needed to fund projects working with the animals.  When Kenya and Tanzania were caught up in civil wars and reestablishing their nations, even wealthy Africans would most likely donate that money toward people, not animals.  Plus, Tony’s work has provided stable employment to Tanzanians and Kenyans for over 20 years, as well as bringing in more tourism.  Tony himself points out that a lot of the big animals were gone due to colonial big game hunters, and he views his work as a sort of retribution for the colonial period.  I perhaps wouldn’t take it that far, but I do see his point.

One thing I will say, though, is I do view it very hypocritical that Tony sends his own children away to a wealthy boarding school in Kenya rather then sending them to the school located in the park in Tanzania that his trust set up and runs.  If it’s good enough for the Tanzanian kids, why isn’t it good enough for his own?  That stung of elitism to me.

Although the book can be slow-moving at times, the good bits make up for it.  Tony and his work for animal rights are inspirational.  His life shows how much one person can accomplish by taking it one step at a time.

I pulled myself together and thought about what George would do. Of course I knew already. George would put his head down and keep going, one step at a time. It was the way he approached everything. (page 184)

Overall, I recommend this memoir to nonfiction lovers with a passion for Africa, environmentalism, or animal rights.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Public Library

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Friday Fun! (Raw Vegan “Cheese”)

September 16, 2011 5 comments

Hello my lovely readers and a special welcome to the new ones who’ve found me through The Real Help Reading Project!!  Be sure to follow my tumblr for quotes from the books as I read them (plus fitspo, veg stuff, items on the obesity epidemic, social justice, and cute kitties).

Earlier this week I tweeted about a raw vegan “cheese” recipe I made that tasted amazeballs, and a whole slew of you who follow me over there asked for the recipe. I am ever so happy to oblige, because a) it’s yummy and b) it’s healthy.  Win/win

Sour Cream Cheese
Season with garlic, chives, your fave spices and herbs. Experiment!

1 cup cashews
1/2 cup water
1.5 Tablespoons lemon juice
Sea salt, to taste
2 inches of a leek or 4 inches of green onion
1 Tablespoon fresh dill or 1 teaspoon dried dill
1 Tablespoon fresh basil or 1 teaspoon dried basil

Ready for what you do? It is literally this easy.

1.  Put all ingredients in blender or food processor.

2.  Blend.

3.  Refrigerate until chilled.

4.  Lasts up to 5 days in the fridge.

And you’re done.  Isn’t raw vegan food fun?

This recipe is from Raw Food: A Complete Guide for Every Meal of the Day by Erica Palmcrantz and Irmela Lilja.  I’d tell you the page number, but my kindle edition does not have page numbers, so….

Also, for the record, this is amazing on tacos. Amazing. Who needs shredded cheddar when you’ve got this?

Happy weekends all!!

Book Review: House of Stairs by William Sleator

June 30, 2010 2 comments

Children dancing on stairs.Summary:
Five sixteen year old orphans living in state institutions are called to their respective offices, blindfolded, and dropped off in a building that consists entirely of stairs and landings.  There appears to be no way out.  The toilet is precariously perched in the middle of a bridge, and they must drink from it as well.  To eat they must bow to the whims of a machine with odd voices and flashing lights.  It is starting to change them.  Will any of them fight it, or will they all give in?

Review:
This book was enthralling from the first scene, featuring Peter awakening on a landing intensely disoriented and frightened.  Showing a bunch of teenagers obviously in an experiment opens itself up to caricature and stereotype, but Sleator skillfully weaves depths and intricacies to them.

The writing is beautiful, smoothly switching viewpoints in various chapters from character to character.  Hints are dropped about the outside world, presumably future America, that indicate the teens are from a land ravaged by war and intense morality rules.  For instance, their state institutions were segregated by gender.  Sleator weaves these tiny details into the story in subtle ways that still manage to paint a clear framework for the type of cultural situation that would allow such an experiment to take place.

It is abundantly clear throughout the book that the teens are facing an inhumane experiment.  Yet what is not clear at first is what a beautiful allegory for the dangerous direction society could take this story is.  Not in the sense that a group of teens will be forcibly placed in a house of stairs, but that some more powerful person could mold our surroundings to make us do what they want us to do.  To remove our most basic humanity.  This is what makes for such a powerful story.

It’s also nice that friendship in lieu of romance is central to the plot.  Modern day YA often focuses intensely on romance.  Personally, my teen years were much more focused on friendship, and I enjoyed seeing that in this YA book.  I also like how much this humanizes the animals facing animal testing, and Sleator even dedicates the book to “the rats and pigeons who have already been there.”

House of Stairs, quite simply, beautifully weaves multiple social commentaries into one.  It is a fast-paced, engrossing read, and I highly recommend it to everyone.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Meatfree Recipe: Sweet Curry Chickpea Casserole

The Result:
A slightly spicy but simultaneously sweet curry that fills and warms your belly.  Be sure to serve with rice and maybe naan.  Once you have the spices in stock, it’s also quite cheap!

The Recipe:
Makes 4 servings
1 can or 2 1/2 to 3 cups cooked chickpeas
1 13.5 oz can light coconut milk (double this if you’re leaving it in a crockpot all day)
3/4 cup red onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups celery, chopped
1 to 1 1/2 cups sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped (approximately 1 medium-sized sweet potato)
1 to 1 1/2 cups Granny Smith apple, chopped (approximately 1 medium-sized apple)
3 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 Tablespoon freshly grated ginger or 1 1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
1 1/2 Tablespoon mild red curry paste
2 teaspoon mustard seed or 1/2 teaspoon ground mustard or 1/2 teaspoon mustard (the condiment)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds or 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon allspice

If you will be baking in the oven, preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a large, deep casserole dish, combine all the ingredients and stir until well-combined.  Cover and bake for 30 minutes.  Stir through, cover, and bake for another 30-40 minutes, until the veggies are tender.

If you will be using a slow cooker, combine all ingredients in the crockpot.  Set to low.  It will be ready in around 5 hours.  If you want to leave it all day, double the amount of coconut milk to 2 cans or put in one can and fill the can with water and add that to the crockpot as well.

Source: Tweaked from recipe sent to me by @InfoJennifer who in turn tweaked it from page 106 of Dreena Burton’s Vive le Vegan

Meatfree Recipe: Perfect Pizza Crust

People tend to not realize pizza’s versatility.  When it’s home-made, you can actually make sure it is quite healthy, including being low-fat and low-calorie.  It all comes down to what you put on it and what type of crust you make.  There’s red pizza (using marinara for sauce) white pizza (using olive oil and garlic for sauce) and pesto pizza (obviously using pesto for sauce).  You can put pretty much any veggie on top of pizza.  If it’s something that takes longer to cook, like broccoli, just quickly boil it for a couple of minutes to prep before slicing it up and putting it on the pizza.  Even carrots and potatoes can go on the pizza.  Just grate them up and put them on right after the sauce.  The super-thin slices couples with the sauce makes them cook by the time you take the pizza out of the oven.  Also, don’t be afraid to put beans on your pizza for extra protein!  I’ve put everything from chickpeas to black beans on mine.

It took much experimenting with many pizza crust recipes and a bit of tweaking on the one I finally found that was close to what I wanted.  The crust is the core of the pizza, so I present to you–the perfect pizza crust.

The Result:
A wonderful warm, slightly crunchy, slighty bready, tinged with rosemary crust that perfectly holds its own to however many or few toppings you want.  It works for thin or thick crust.  If you want thin crust, either roll it out super thin and use a large pizza pan or divide it into two and make two regular-sized pizzas.  For thicker crust, just roll it out to a regular pizza-size.

The Recipe:
1 cup warm water
1 packet yeast
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 Tablespoon dried rosemary
2 Tablespoons olive oil
pinch of sea salt
1 1/8 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/8 cup white flour
More flour for rolling out the dough

Put the water in a large bowl.  Add the yeast and the sugar.  Allow the yeast to work for about a minute.

Add in olive oil, rosemary, whole wheat flour, and white flour.

Mix.  I use a hand-held electric dough hook, but it works by hand or with a real electric mixer too.  If you’re using a dough hook, the dough is ready when it starts to climb up the hook.  If you’re doing it by hand, it’s when the dough is no longer watery but still kind of sticky.

Put the dough in an oiled bowl in a warm location.  I use my microwave, personally.  Allow to rise for 30 to 45 minutes.  45 minutes is better, but if you’re pressed for time, 30 minutes is ok.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Prep your toppings.

Spread out flour on a surface.  Flour your rolling pin.  Plop the dough on the surface.  Flip it a few times to spread out the flour.  Roll to your desired size.

Top with whatever toppings you want.

Cook for 15 to 25 minutes.  How long depends on how many toppings you put on/what your oven is like/what mood the dough is in.

Enjoy!

Source: Tweaked recipe from Emeril Lagasse