Thursday, March 17, 2011

163. End the suffering; boycott veal

Veal has always tested the ethical boundaries of meat production, so much so that even many adamant meat-eaters will not consume it.

To tell the story once more, veal calves are the product of the dairy industry in which predominantly male calves are raised and slaughtered at a very young age for their meat. These calves are the offspring of dairy cows, which must be continuously bred in order to be lactating (produce milk). While the female calves often become dairy cows themselves, the males are usually destined for a short stay on a veal farm.

What is offensive to many consumers is not just the young age in which the claves are slaughtered (usually 16-20 weeks), but also how they live their short lives. Veal calves can live up to ten weeks of their lives in veal crates so small that they cannot even turn around. One reason this method is imposed is to restrict movement, so that muscle does not develop--keeping the meat tender. Amazingly, much of the public remained unaware of these conditions until the 1980s when pictures first surfaced showing veal calves tethered in crates. This awareness decreased consumption, but did not change the unethical treatment of calves.

In 2009, Ohio voters installed an Ohio Livestock Standards Care Board to "create state standards for the care and well-being of livestock in Ohio." As I have mentioned several times, this is a fallacy and the Board was in fact created to preempt animal welfare groups from setting humane farming standards--securing farming profits based on economical rather than the ethical treatment of farm animals. The plan failed when Ohioans for Humane Farms collected enough signatures to put potential anti-factory farming laws on the ballot. In response, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the Ohio Farm Bureau (OFB) settled on a number of standards to be jointly recommended to the Board.

The Board has adhered to all of the recommendations--until now. One of the recommendations made to the Board, and part of the joint agreement, was that veal crates would be banned by 2017. The Board, seemingly influenced by a small number of veal farmers, and despite a large amount of evidence to the contrary, has now provisionally voted 6-5 to ignore the agreement made by the HSUS and OFB and not ban the veal crates. Interestingly, the American Veal Association itself has announced that they plan to phase out the use of crates--recommending that the entire veal industry "convert to group housing methodology" by December 31, 2017. Something smells about this vote, and it is not just the cow dung.

The truth is that many animal advocates were not even incredibly pleased by the original agreement, because it does not help any veal calves born within the next seven years. It's like an agreement to end slavery in five years--it's great that the suffering will end, but what about those suffering now? And, it does not address the short lives of veal calves, or the despicable nature of the dairy industry.

Upon the provisional vote, the public was able to officially comment from March 2 to March 16. The final vote on the measure is scheduled for April 5-and many animal advocates will be making their way down to Columbus to express their displeasure with removing the ban on veal crates--and the disregard of the original agreement. The public can also comment directly to

However, the simpler solution-the one that does not involve meandering through the political and corporate backdrop of the Board or that does not rely on influencing an unelected Board who has no accountability to the public--is to simply stop purchasing veal. The public needs again to be made aware of what it is supporting when they purchase veal--because it only exists if we allow it to exist. If there are no consumers, there is no suffering.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

162. Tragedy shows good in people

We always hear how precious and fleeting life can be. While clichés run rampant, usually in regards to taking time to enjoy life and not to spend time worrying about the little things, when misfortune happens-the clichés suddenly seem somewhat insightful and not so ambiguous.

On February 8, my family was involved in the house fire that occurred in Sheffield Township. My wife and I purchased the house in 1998 and her family has lived there since then. In the fire, Tom, my brother-in-law died from smoke inhalation and my mother-in-law lost her home. Remarkably, her dog and four cats all survived and are all now snuggly living with my mother.

While we will never know what happened for sure, we believe that the fire started up in Tom's bedroom. Tom then ran downstairs to open the front door for the animals before going back upstairs to try to put out the fire. It's a natural reaction, and a mistake that many people make-one that I would probably make, especially if one of our animals were at risk. Unfortunately, smoke inhalation can be deadly. The fire investigator told us that he has seen people go back into the house for something as insignificant as a cell phone, only to be overcome by smoke.

For us, it was a normal Tuesday. I had just gone through a workout and then went to dinner with my wife. We came home, where I was hurrying to get to my on-line class when we got the message. The rest of the evening was surreal and several times my wife and I had to consider whether this was reality or just a bad dream.

When we arrived at the house, there were several fire departments and their personnel everywhere. The fire had already been put out and Tom had been taken to the hospital-where my mother-in-law was also. We did not know for sure, but all indications were that he did not survive. The Red Cross was on the scene and was very kind in letting us know how they could help. After speaking to the firefighters, who were brave and courteous, we got the dog and one of the cats and headed to the hospital. I'd have to return later in the dark frigid cold to find the other cats.

Unfortunately, the difficulties have not ended for my mother-in-law. On a trip to Aldi's with my mom, she fell on the ice and broke her wrist. Employed as a restaurant server, she cannot work with a broken wrist-and because she would not be able to work for four to six weeks, her employer promptly fired her. And, she's been in the hospital twice this month with pneumonia. In a month, my mother-in-law has lost her son, her house and her job-and nothing but time to sit around thinking about it. Can you imagine?

As a social critic, I often struggle with a world that I think could be much improved. However, my family and I were completely overwhelmed by the support we received from our families, friends and the local community. People donated time, money and food to my mother-in-law, who probably won't be back into her house for at least four months. Friends and family we haven't seen for years, you know, those friends you keep saying you're going to have dinner with, stopped what they were doing and reached out to us. We could not be more thankful.

We'll miss Tom and any number of life quotes seem applicable. We never know what tomorrow will bring. Tragedy can strike anyone on any day. It is important to plan for the future, but we should make a point to enjoy each and every day. It's true we sometimes take life for granted, and get bogged down worrying and arguing about the little things-those things that at the end of the day are meaningless. While some days in our lives will clearly be more important than others, we might want to steer clear of those routine days-the ones that have the potential to turn into years. In that respect, there's nothing wrong with getting an early start on that bucket list-just in case.