Monthly Archives: June 2011

You’d Notice…

A few nights ago I did a bad thing.  I consented to the killing of a spider.  Most people don’t consider this a “bad thing” but, killing spiders is not my thing. I’ve always felt guilty about killing spiders since the first time I ever got stoned when I was 14 and picked up a spider in the bathroom at my friend’s house (we bonded).  Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t like spiders per se though there are some I find useful and appreciate.  Regardless of this, I did consent to the killing of a spider that I did not recognize.  It was large, very large.  There has always been this web around the stairs, and I’d never seen a spider in it at all until this night.  I spotted it hanging around on my way to the bathroom and immediately called Kevin down to take a look.  I had never seen it before, and man, it was just, huge.  

It’s kind of scary, right? It’s sheer size and reluctance to move when we blew on it really freaked us both out.  And the fact we’d never seen it before made me assume that it spent most of its time roaming around trying to kill us.  Also, it has bands on its legs, which to the amateur spider connoisseur, signals danger, I think.  That was the thing, I had no idea.  I think bands on legs can sometimes mean you can die from just looking at it.  I didn’t know what to do, but Kevin did.  He said it was just too big, and we had to kill it.  We had to.  And so I averted my eyes and Kevin took a shoe to the little fella.  He happened to half miss and it lamely and quickly retreated under the stairwell where we assume it died as a result of its injuries.

I rushed up the stairs to begin my research.  And to what specie did this colossal human-eater belong? Pholcus phalangioides. That’s daddy long legs to the layperson.  I almost cried.  I killed a daddy long legs!?!?  The spider that for many years kept me company as an only child exploring my front yard as the sun set in the suburbs?  How could I do such a thing?  We both felt guilty.  It didn’t look like the daddy long legs I was used to (the Opiliones, or huntsman spider), you know that little ball of a body with awkward, inch long legs protruding out–walking around like it was on stilts.  But alas, my ignorance got the best of me (and the best of the spider).  In order to prevent further thoughtless tragedies, I’m going to do my best to inform the public about how awesome these little creatures are (as well as other common house spiders), and why they should not be killed.

How cool is that? Pholcidae are also known as vibrating spiders, because when they are frightened or hunting, they do this awesome thing in their web where they vibrate.  This is possibly to reduce their visibility so predators have a more difficult time finding them, or to confuse their prey.  Occasionally they will go into another spider’s web, and do this crazy dance so the spider thinks they have caught something tasty for dinner, when lo and behold, the daddy long legs pounces, and kills the other spider.  Pretty clever, huh?  Daddy long legs eat other, poisonous spiders (even those much larger than they are), mosquitos, woodlice and other insects.  They do not hurt humans except when threatened.  It is an urband legend that the daddy long legs are the most venomous spider in the world, but are harmless to humans because their mouth isn’t big enough to bite.  Neither of these statements are true.  They are not very venomous at all, and they are capable of biting humans, but only a slight stinging sensation occurs.  Looking back to my younger years, it is clear to me that it takes a lot to get one of these little friends to bite, because I handled them like crazy and never suffered a single injury.
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So here’s another one of my favorite little friends.

I first spotted one of these little ladies behind my toilet.  I had never, ever seen one before and I was taken aback by its beauty.  Very pretty yellow and red.  Very small, unassuming.  Given its color I figured it was exotic and dangerous.  I had hoped so at least.  But, days and many google searches later, I discovered it was merely known as the American House Spider.  Bummer.  Not poisonous, doesn’t leave its web, and won’t bite a human unless it is literally squeezed.  Oh well.  I decided at that moment that I wouldn’t be the spider killing type any more, and I’m proud to say one American House Spider lives in almost every corner of my basement area, protecting my closet, behind the toilet, the book case, and the little spaces near the bed side table.  I certainly am thrilled to have them around when I find one of these in a web, which is quite often and occasionally near the bed.  And they keep the ant population in check.  American House Spiders are just the best.  I even saw one eating my least favorite kind of spider the other day, it was awesome.  Don’t kill these spiders, they are pretty and beneficial.  I’d certainly rather have one hanging out in the corner than a centipede in my bed.  Wouldn’t you?
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Here’s another that I find particularly interesting, the “cat faced spider.”

It looks a little menacing, they’re about the size of a quarter but they are assuredly harmless to humans.  They typically live on the outside of houses in little orb webs and spend their time performing the thankless job of helping you in your garden.  They are the natural enemy of garden destroying insects.  If you love your garden, learn to love these.  Aside from being super cool looking, they are a big help and they don’t hurt people.
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Now this spider, I am very ambivalent about.

The Funnel Weaver.  They make those creepy little “funnel” webs in the corner.  These are the jerks you find in your bed, because they travel.  They move around in search of prey but will usually flee if threatened.  And, when threatened they will bite, but not always use venom.  Apparently the prefer to save their venom for their next meal.  Even so, I really dislike these.  They’re just ugly and scary and gross!  I still don’t like to kill them, but I tend to look the other way.  I have even allowed one of their little funnels to exist behind my hamper.  But, the good news is that I saw one of my favorites, the American House Spider, munching on one of these by my closet yesterday.  So lets hope that particular funnel is now vacant.

Anyhow, the moral of the story is that I get why people hate spiders, but I don’t think they should be wantonly killed out of ignorance.  They do a lot of good for the Earth, and if they were all gone, you’d notice.  Even though they appear to be everywhere, spiders are very much vulnerable to extinction.  And with spiders extinct, we’d see an exponential increase in insects which would then destroy our food supply.  Seriously.  They aren’t cute, but they play an important role in our ecosystem.  And you know what?  There is plenty of terrible shit in the world to be afraid of, so why are we afraid of these tiny, harmless bugs?  I was watching a really graphic documentary about the history of snuff films, and I thought to myself, “these people are real, they are out there, and I’m afraid of a spider?”  Really?  I mean, look at this little guy…

It’s the “smiley face” spider, it lives in Hawaii, harmless to humans, and it is endangered.  Sad face.
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All that being said, here’s a spider you should definitely kill.

The Loxosceles Reclusa, aka Brown Recluse, aka “fiddle back.”  These can be identified by the fiddle on their abdomen, and the absence of bands on its legs.  These can commonly be confused with the funnel weaver, but don’t be fooled.  They are crazy dangerous.  They can be found in Colorado, though they do not drive around in Subarus with a “Native” bumper sticker.  They are certainly not native, but have found their way here via hiding in luggage, lumber etc.  And this is what they can do to you:

That is fucked up.  And avoiding this is essential, regardless of the environmental damage caused by this spider’s death.

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Critiquing the Critic…

So here’s something that really pisses me off.  When people talk down to their server, or when people ask when one might get a “real” job.  Because servers/bussers/food runners aren’t real people, right?  I am sick to death of those in the service industry being treated like they are the lowliest members of society, and I haven’t even worked in the idustry very long. I can’t imagine the feelings of a life time server.

Regardless of my short time in this industry, I have a tendency to be sensitive to the idea of a server’s inferiority.  Very sensitive, apparently, because I took great offense to this article.  My curiosity was sparked by the title, “Is it O.K. to eat while texting?” My initial reaction was “Of course it is!”  And so I read the article, and much to my surprise, this article is not so much about ettiquite as it is a tutorial on how to blow off your server.  This article got me so heated that I felt the need to pick it apart here.  So, as we say in the service industry: please enjoy!

First off, the terrible article is authored by this guy, Josh Ozersky:

Now that's a food critic if I've ever seen one.

Surprise, surprise, he’s into meat.  According to Wikipedia, he’s known as “Mr. Cutlets” and writes books for the meat lover.  Something I most certainly am not.  Though, in his defense, I’m sure he prefers the better tasting meat of the fields, and not the cheap meat that comes from factories.  Anyhow, it has become apparent in my research that a lot of people think he’s a complete asshole.  Another shocker.  So let’s get into the article.

“Is there anything worse than being told, at the end of a big meal, that the place doesn’t take plastic and that you have to slink to an ATM? Restaurants like cash because it allows them to cheat the IRS, but that’s not your problem. If a restaurant wants to pull that move, they need to tell everyone up front when they sit down. You’re right to hate them if they don’t. And if they send a food runner who doesn’t speak fluent English and you can’t figure out what he’s saying, you have a right to ask your waiter to come over and explain it himself, which should have happened to begin with.”

What high class restaurant only accepts cash?  Really?  Aside from that, I most certainly take offense to the idea of the “food runner who doesn’t speak fluent English.”  Never in my life have I heard of a server passing off his or her responsibilities to a food runner who doesn’t speak English.  I am a busser and a food runner and I speak English extremely well, and if I were called upon to explain such a thing, I most certainly would with elegance.  Not that any of the servers I know have so little confidence that they would pawn an annoying task off to their assistant.  Another thing that really grinds me is the use of only “him”, “he” and “his”.  I hate that.  The minute I see this I instantly lose respect for the author.  I mean, is this the 1950’s?  Women do have jobs now, right?

“Restaurants where the waiters wear T-shirts and rock music blares from the speakers aren’t casual in the sense that you can take it easy there. Get that out of your mind right now. You still can’t put your feet up, relax at the table for 45 minutes after you get the check or talk on your phone.”

You’re damn right you can’t relax at the table for 45 minutes after you get the check.  Turning tables is how we make our money, how ever trivial you feel the profession is.  We don’t get paid to blast our opinions around on the internet like someone gives a shit (though that would be awesome, got my fingers crossed).  Servers and their assistants are hard working people, and every minute you are at that table longer than you should is a dollar we might have made.  This is not to say that in certain situations we mind, because most of the time I really don’t, as long as you remember to say thank you when the time comes.  And talking on the phone?  No one cares, unless you are disturbing other patrons.  Please step outside to use the phone, or keep your voice down, it’s just polite.  Try a slice of humble pie for dessert, no one is that important.

“The Waiter Is Not Your Friend: This is especially tricky, since so many waiters are so grotesquely unprofessional in the way they talk to you, and then get offended if you want them to shut up and go away… Reply to queries with friendly but short answers. If you are subjected to a pedantic lecture on the terroir of your mind, express impatience by looking away, saying ‘O.K.,’ ‘Oh,’ and so on, and if that doesn’t work, say, ‘Thanks a lot.’ Due to the evil of tip pooling, there’s no way to punish the person for ruining your meal, but the key is to be firm but friendly, as you would with a young person importuning you to sign a petition.”

This statement is wrong in so many ways.  First of all, most patrons want to talk, they want to tell you about their lives.  This is usually a problem for the server, more so than the patron.  We’re so grotesquely unprofessional?  Take a look in the mirror, pal.  You are food critic, you owe your livelihood to food service.  You are damn right we are offended if you want us to “shut up and go away” as any human being would be.  But, as I said, the fact is that most patrons do not want us to shut up and go away.  Like your conversation and dumb questions are so enthralling that we cannot peel ourselves away to attend to a full section and other looming and pressing responsibilities.  And you think it’s hard to get rid of us?  What a thrilling tutorial on how to make a person feel small.  The “pedantic lecture” is simply in place to see what you want, so you don’t order the veal when you are really in the mood for cod, preventing you from sending your dish back, and even further, making sure you enjoy your food.  Gasp! As though a server really cares… (we do.).  Due to tip-pooling, there is no way to punish a person for ruining your meal?  Are you freaking kidding me?  Ruin your meal?  Most diners can’t tell the trotters from the octopus, and you are saying the staff’s explanations are punishable?  You are insane!  Not to mention that tip-pooling is put in place to ensure that you receive great service. In fact, a lot of service people hate tip pooling. But thanks a lot for treating us like “a young person importuning you to sign a petition.”  That isn’t degrading at all.  There is nothing worse than a paternal, condescending attitude from a food critic trying to boost his or her ego.  A food critic!  Unbelievable!

Wave Off the Bread Man: Nobody wants more bread. Nobody wants to be interrupted. Wave him off before he even tries to speak. His bread isn’t even warm anyway.”

Does this statement really need to be picked apart?  This guy is an asshole based on this comment alone.  Wave him off before he even tries to speak.  Wow.

“A reservation is like a wedding vow, except more binding. If you make one and break it, you are stealing money from the restaurant; if they don’t honor it or make you sit at the bar for more than 10 minutes, they are stealing your time and killing your buzz, which in both cases means stealing your money.”

Hmm, if we don’t honor it or make you sit at the bar for more than 10 minutes we are stealing your money.  I would like to refer to this quote from the same article: “You still can’t put your feet up, relax at the table for 45 minutes after you get the check.”  Yeah.  Technically, it is that table that puts their feet up and relaxes for 45 minutes after they get the check that’s stealing your money.  We don’t want you to wait either, because inevitably you punish the server for this phenomena which is totally out of her or his control.

“One thing that has become annoying about modern restaurants is the use of the reservation line as a propaganda device: by claiming that there are no tables between 6 and 10 p.m., many restaurants hope to attain the popularity they claim, in an evil interpretation of Dale Carnegie’s positive-thinking program. Don’t allow them to do this. Never accept any reservation earlier than 7 or later than 9 unless you want it.”

The idea that restaurants use propaganda is laughable.  We will take any reservation we can get.  We want your money! No self-respecting restaurant does this.  It is this type of statement that sets the tone of this article, that it must be patron vs. restaurant, and the patron really has to be on their toes to avoid being taken advantage of! Give me a break.  We’re not an auto shop, we don’t barter, you see the prices right there, plain as day.  Never accept a reservation earlier than 7 and later than 9, huh?  Then don’t accept a reservation that night.  Empty threats get you no where, when we’re booked, we’re booked, and we go as far as clearing the wine table to give you a place to sit.  This guy must have really been burned a time or two to spit this garbage out.

“There’s a tug of war going on between you and the restaurant. It’s a battle of wills, and in such a battle the restaurant always wins. The most nakedly coercive form of control, of course, is the dreaded tasting menu, for which the chef sends out 11 tiny portions of food, each one carefully designed to not satisfy you, with the experience requiring less input from you than a nurse requires from an obliging spinal-trauma patient. Even when the issue is simply what’s on the menu; what sequence you can have it in; what, if any, substitutions you are allowed; how you may order the meat; or even so small a matter as having salt and pepper, it is an ongoing negotiation.”

The most nakedly coercive form of control, the tasting menu.  Well I agree with this portion of the article, because, frankly, I can’t tell you how many times a server has held a gun to my head and told me I must order the tasting menu, no requests, substitutions, salt, pepper or anything!  Anyone is free to order anything off the menu, at any time.  Period.  No one is forcing anyone to do anything. Jeeze.  Also, 11 courses, no matter how small should satisfy anyone with a healthy appetite.

“And every restaurant will, out of sheer terror and self-preservation, act on any warning about food allergies.”

Also, out of sheer humanity, we don’t want you to go into anaphylactic shock.  It might be difficult to ensure that not a single peanut touches your plate, but you bet your ass we will, not out of fear, but legitimate concern for your health.

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Here is my favorite quote about serving, from the movie Life is Beautiful (La Vita e Bella):

Guido(learning how to be a waiter) How far do I bow? I suppose I can even go 180 degrees.
Eliseo: Think of a sunflower, they bow to the sun. But if you see some that are bowed too far down, it means they’re dead. You’re here serving, you’re not a servant. Serving is the supreme art. God is the first of servants. God serves men, but he’s not a servant to men.

This is so true.  Food is a cultural gift, it is arguably the most important element of life, and it is reflective of our communities, who we are, and what we stand for.  Serving is a similar reflection.  I work at two restaurants, both families that I am so proud to be a part of.  The people I work with are some of the kindest, hardest working individuals I have ever met.  They work very hard to give each patron a good experience.  We work with integrity, and pride.  Sure, we want your cash, but further, we want to welcome you in to our establishment warmly, treat you like a guest in our own home, with the utmost hospitality, and have you leave satisfied with a full stomach and a smile on your face.  Every night when I come in to work I am amazed by the attention to detail given by every single employee, from the big boss to the dishwasher.  The meticulous placement of the truffle, smooth table cloths, spotless glasses, the perfect acidity of the tomato sauce, and the heavy and heavenly truffle cream sauce over fusilli noodles.  It’s a product we can stand behind.  The food is outstanding.  The service is outstanding.  There is no request too large, up to and including running down the block to feed your meter.  Service people talk a big game, but deep down, we all love to make you happy.  Truly.

All this is why I find this article so offensive. This is supposed to be a symbiotic relationship, your money+tip theoretically equals the cost of your food+experience.  The server and the patron are equal, there is no better or worse, no important and unimportant.  And both deserve the highest level of respect.  Restauranteering is a legitimate industry, we are not trying to rip you off, waste your time, or cut corners.  This may not be true of every restaurant, but even so, every person needs to be treated like a human being, not waved off like a servant, not ignored, not spoken down to.  You should treat us with care and kindness, we handle your food and water, the most essential elements to your existence (and no, no one will spit in it, we have a little more class than that).  The service industry is full of honest, hard working people making a living who, deep down, love to please.  So won’t you please come in and see, we’d love to have you.  And you’ll get the best damn service you’ve ever had in your life.  Please enjoy!

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Guilt Trip Part One Continued: Pigs.

Wanna hear something depressing? Despite all my effort to blog about social issues and be socially conscious, I realize that so far I have failed: a good number of my blog views come from people googling “webbed feet” or “foot tattoo,” referring back to my very first post about my freakish feet.  Really?  Now that’s just down right depressing.  Every day, I mean, every day, including today, someone views my blog via googling about freaky feet.  My post entitled “Feet…” was viewed three times today! Whatever!  I want to mention it now because I am about to talk about pigs, and by what ever means people see this post, I hope they read it.  I’ll write “webbed toes” at the end of every damn post if it’s all people care about.  Anyhow, down to business…

Pigs.  Baaaacon, yum…  Pigs are one of the most important discussion topics for someone trying to spread the word of vegetarianism.  The same people who cry foul at eating dogs, cats and dolphins are usually the very same people who cry “Bacon!” in their own defense of eating meat.  It’s so damn delicious.  I’ve heard of many people who are “vegetarian” except for bacon, a temptation they just can’t resist.  So let us learn about pigs, and why if torturing and eating pigs is okay, it is okay then to torture and eat dogs, cats and dolphins.

Free range pigs. Don't they look happy?

All species of pig are smarter than dogs, and capable of abstract representation. ‘They can hold an icon in their mind, and remember it at a later date,’ says Professor Stanley Curtis of Penn State University, who discovered that pigs dominate at video games with joy sticks. Curtis goes on to say, ‘Pigs are able to focus with an intensity I have never seen in a chimp.‘”

“Pigs are affectionate, inquisitive animals.  The film Babe was on solid scientific ground when it made its hero capable of doing everything a dog can do in the way of herding sheep.  In fact, Professor Stanley Curtis thinks that the sheepdog’s job would be a ‘pushover’ for pigs he has investigated.  Curtis is a hard-nosed scientist who worked for many years in the Department of Animal Sciences at the University of Illinois… He conceived the idea of making it possible for pigs to tell producers what kind of conditions they prefer, and to that end, trained them to operate joystick-controlled video games.  They learned quickly, and Curtis discovered that ‘there is much more going on in terms of thinking and observing by these pigs than we would ever have guessed.'” (Singer).

Other tests were done where the pigs were taught the meaning of simple words and phrases. Several years later, the instructions were repeated, and the pigs still remembered what to do. The same thing was done with different objects placed in front of them. They were taught to jump over, sit by, or retrieve the item. Three years later, they could distinguish between the items.

“Pigs communicate constantly with one another. More than 20 of their oinks, grunts, and squeals have been identified for different situations, from wooing their mates to expressing hunger. Newborn piglets learn to run to their mothers’ voices, and mother pigs sing to their young while nursing.”-PETA

“Even in domesticity, pigs have retained much of their foreboar’s smarts. Dr. Byrne attributes pig intelligence to the same evolutionary pressures that prompted cleverness in primates: social life and food. Wild pigs live in long-term social groups, keeping track of one another as individuals, the better to protect against predation. They also root around for difficult food sources, requiring a dexterity of the snout not unlike the handiness of a monkey.  Because monkeys had been shown to use mirrors to locate food, Donald M. Broom of the University of Cambridge and his colleagues decided to check for a similar sort of so-called assessment awareness in pigs. They began by exposing seven 4-to-8-week-old pigs to five-hour stints with a mirror and recording their reactions. The pigs were fascinated, pointing their snouts toward the mirror, hesitating, vocalizing, edging closer, walking up and nuzzling the surface, looking at their image from different angles, looking behind the mirror. When the mirror was placed in their pen a day later, the glass-savvy pigs greeted it with a big ho-hum.  Next, the researchers put the mirror in the enclosure, along with a bowl of food that could not be directly seen but whose image was reflected in the mirror. They then compared the responses of the mirror-experienced pigs with a group of mirror-naïve pigs. On spotting the virtual food in the mirror, the experienced pigs turned away and within an average of 23 seconds had found the food.” –New York Times

It is abundantly clear that pigs are one of the most intelligent species on the planet, right up there with chimps, dolphins, elephants and 3 year old children.  And, if you do some more research, you’ll see that pigs are also genetically similar to humans, more so than most other animals.  And yet, we still use the intelligence argument to justify our treatment of pigs and other animals that we eat.  Most people recoil in horror when they watch Animal Cops and see dogs kept in cages, or abused in any way.  People are appalled to hear that in Asia, dogs and cats are eaten on a regular basis after being tortured in ways similar to how we treat cows, pigs and chickens.  Why?  If you are okay with everything that happens to pigs, you should absolutely be okay with what happens to dogs and cats over seas.  Considering of course, that pigs are more intelligent than both dogs and cats.  So how do we treat them?

Pregnant sows in gestation crates.

“More than 90% of pigs raised for meat today are raised indoors in crowded pens of concrete and steel.  They never get to go outside or root around in pasture and don’t even have straw to bed down in.  The most tightly confined of all are the breeding sows.  Under the factory’s rigid production schedule, they are made to produce litter after litter as quickly as possible, which means that they are pregnant for most of their lives.  During their pregnancies, which last about 16 weeks, most American sows are confined in ‘gestation crates’– steel barred crates or stalls just a foot or so longer than their bodies, and so narrow that the sows cannot even turn around.  Of the 1.8 million sows used for breeding by America’s ten biggest pig producers, about 90% are kept in this manner.” (Singer).

This video was taken at Smithfield Farms, the largest producer of pork in the world.

“They cannot walk around or socialize with other sows.  All they can do is stand up or lie down on the bare concrete floor.  When the time comes to give birth, they are also confined in what producers call a farrowing crate.  The farrowing crate keeps the sow in position, with her teats always exposed to her piglets.  She is unable to roll over.” (Singer).

Many pigs die in this manner, because of unhealthy living conditions.

“Piglets are taken from their mothers when they are as young as 10 days old and packed into pens until they are separated to be raised for breeding or meat. They too are overcrowded and prone to stress-related behaviors, such as cannibalism and tail-biting.  Rather than give the animals more space and a better environment to prevent these problems, factory farmers chop off the piglets’ tails and often use pliers to break off the ends of their teeth. Factory farmers also rip chunks out of the young animals’ ears for identification purposes and rip out the males’ testicles to prevent them from producing sexual pheremones. All of these excruciating procedures are done without any use of painkillers.” –Mercy for Animals

And of course, as we’ve seen in my previous posts, those who work at these farms are desensitized to the suffering of animals.  This, of course, applies to pig producers, even so far as to include sexual abuse of pigs.  When you watch these videos, keep in mind what you now know of pig intelligence.  Imagine your dog in this situation.  What emotions would she be feeling?

If you are not a Golden Girls fan, please skip ahead of her PSA.  This video comes from the 3rd largest pig producer in the US.

“According to a November 10, 2002 article in the New York Times, ‘Sick pigs, being unproductive ‘production units’ are clubbed to death on the spot.’ Other common methods used to kill sick pigs include: ‘thumping’ (slamming animals’ heads against the floor until they die), drowning them with a hose, and standing on their necks.” –Mercy for Animals

It should be mentioned here that in previous posts I have given graphic descriptions of animal abuses, but for this post, I believe images/videos speak louder than words, and the screaming of these creatures certainly should as well.  So what of their slaughter?

Most pigs are slaughtered in a smilar way to cows, electric current followed by a good slit of the throat, and shortly after a nice scalding bath meant to burn off their hair and soften their skin (for which a lot of pigs are fully conscious).  But it is their lives that are the real travesty:

Now, a lot of people say to me that pigs owe their existance to factory farming.  Without it, most pigs would never be brought into existence.  Does this seem like a valid argument having just seen this video?  Is it very ethical to bring a sentient creature into this existence?  Or does this weak argument (which I will address in a later post) sound like it came from a bunch of selfish humans trying desperately to ignore the truth about a system that they pay into three times a day?

Think about this next Christmas.  Would Jesus want you to eat this ham?  On his birthday?!?  I doubt it. Everytime you eat a piece of bacon, think of your dog or your cat or a three year old child you know, that is what you are eating.  An animal that is capable of love, capable of loving you. If your dog tasted this way, would it be worth it to you to put that animal through this type of suffering for that piece of bacon?  For your dog’s sake I hope you say no.

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Damn, Spike, That Ain’t Right…

Last night I finally got around to watching Do the Right Thing, and I loved it.  Being that I have a vested interest in Sociology, there is almost nothing I love more than a comedy/drama piece on race relations.  Do the Right Thing is considered to be one of the best movies of all time, as well as one of the most controversial.  I realize some of these links don’t work on the blog, but please watch them on YouTube.

Philosophies of both Dr. Martin Luther King as well as Malcolm X are explored throughout the movie.  These themes are especially evident in the climax of the movie where Radio Raheem, a beloved black community member who is constantly blaring “Fight the Power” from his oversized boom box is killed unjustly by the police and Mookie proceeds to throw a trash can through the window of Sal’s Famous, where he worked.  It is questioned whether Mookie took Da Mayor’s advice and “did the right thing” in throwing the trash can, inciting the riot that led to the destruction of Sal’s Famous, an Italian owned pizzeria that had existed in the community for years with almost exclusively black patron-ship.  It was either an act of violence toward Sal, or an act of non-violence meant to direct the mob’s attention to the building, potentially saving Sal’s life.

Interestingly enough, Spike Lee claims that only white people question whether Mookie did the right thing, black people don’t.  This may stem from the valuation of the white man’s property over the life of the black man who died at the hands of a white police officer. Perhaps Mookie did the right thing in expressing his outrage, without inflicting violence on another human being, unlike Radio Raheem and Buggin’ Out, who began the confrontation violently as a reaction to Sal’s unwillingness to put up a photo of a black man on his wall of fame.  What do you think?  I highly encourage you to watch this film.

————

I especially love themes like this when they mix with poetry.  My initial interest in seeing this movie was sparked by the poet Adrian Matejka (Maa-tee-ka), and his book, Mixology.  I had the great pleasure of being present for this great poet’s visit to my poetry workshop.  His book is a mash-up, like he is.  He is a mixed race individual, half white, half black.  He explained that he has the unique ability to look like who ever is most hated at the moment.  He said as a child, there was no question he was black, when everyone began to hate Latinos, he began to hear Latino directed slurs, and after 9/11, he was continuously pulled aside for extra screening.  It was wonderful to hear his perspective.  And even better to hear his poetry.  The following poem nearly ruined Do the Right Thing for me.

Do The Right Thing

Spike Lee is so small I didn’t even
see him at first, surrounded

by Black Expo goers like a gumdrop
in a fist.  When i asked him to sign

my “Free South Africa” t-shirt,
he said, You didn’t buy that at this

booth. Fresh off seeing Do the Right
Thing,
I crowed: “What’s that got

to do with your movies?” His fans
laughed, so he edited me like my name

was Pino: Why you care? You
ain’t even black.
Someone behind

me said, Damn, Spike.  That ain’t
right.
But Spike’s shamed scribble

on my t-shirt didn’t change the missed
free throw feeling in my chest.

—————

This poem is fantastic.  Especially in relation to the film.  Does this poem change the way you felt about the film?  I asked Adrian Matejka about this poem, and he said his editor originally told him to take it out of the book, it was too controversial and he didn’t think it was good enough, but he decided to keep it, and he said it is the poem he is most asked about.  Here’s another one of my favorites from the book:

Pimp Limp
For Flava Flav, circa 1993

On Flavor of Love, you crowed:
Your man Flava Flav’s a pimp.
P-I-M-P!
from the balcony.
A cascade of kiss and tell
on the woman walking in weaved
shame past the pool: head bowed,
bra tucked in armpit, heels clicking
maestro quick as early morning
sunbathers peeped upward
from behind sunglasses wondering
who disguised a lawn jockey
in a silk robe.  It didn’t have
to be this way.  Fifteen years ago,
you took a jet-setting break once
a month to visit one of your girlfriends
in Bloomington.  Me and my boys
hating on you before there was a name
for hateration.  Before a football
player’s overtures finally pried
that woman loose from your clocked
embrace.  The time she cut you loose,
you came to town in a limousine
on a doughnut with a dented back
door.  It was sunny, and you got
out of that limping car
with a matching limp to the applause
of me and my boys laughing.
You put your Gazelles on,
kissed two jeweled peace fingers
and tossed them to the crowd.

————–

Amazing!

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Guilt Trip Part One Continued: Cows.

Oh cows, they are so delicious, aren’t they?

Free range cows, don't they look happy?

“Cows have strong emotional lives.  They form relationships with two, three, or four other cows, and if permitted, will spend most of their time together, often licking and grooming each other.  On the other hand, they can form dislikes to other cows and bear grudges for months or even years.  More remarkably still, cows can get excited when they solve intellectual challenges.  Donald Broom, professor of animal welfare at Cambridge University, set cows a problem–to work out how to open a door to get some food–while measuring their brainwave patterns.  When the cows solved the problem, Broom reported, ‘Their brainwaves showed their excitement; their heartbeat went up and some even jumped into the air.'” (Sanger).

“Animal behaviorists have found that cows interact in complex ways, developing friendships over time, sometimes holding grudges against cows who treat them badly and choosing leaders based upon intelligence. They have complex emotions as well and even have the ability to worry about the future.” –NZ Dairy Cruelty

“When they are separated from their families, friends, or human companions, cows grieve over the loss. Researchers report that cows become visibly distressed after even a brief separation from a loved one. Cows are especially dedicated to their young and the bond formed between a mother and her calf remains long after the baby has grown to adulthood. Separation causes them tremendous stress and agitation. If mother and calf are separated by a fence, the mother will wait for her calf, even through harsh conditions like intense heat or cold weather, hunger and thirst. Cows have even been known to break fences and walk miles to be reunited with calves that were sold at auction. One can imagine the trauma a dairy cow must feel when her calf is taken from her shortly after birth. It’s well known to farmers but rarely discussed that mother cows continue to frantically call and search for their babies for days after the calves have been sold off to veal farms.” –Global Action Network (Check out this link for other sweet facts about cows)

Like chickens, cows are emotional creatures, intelligent creatures, who we justify slaughtering because they just taste too good.  Cows are the second most farmed animal in the US after chickens.  For me, it’s not so much the fact of slaughter as the process.  It is natural for humans to eat meat, but the way we produce meat is not natural.  It’s really too bad.  Consider what you’ve just read about cows intelligence, or Google “cow intelligence” and see for yourself, it’s agreed upon.  But once again, we should ask ourselves, is intelligence what really matters?  Can this animal suffer?

“‘Cattle pens stretch to the horizon, each one home to 150 animals standing dully or lying around in a grayish mud that, it eventually dawns on you, isn’t mud at all…’ [Cows] now [eat] corn kernels, together with a daily dose of antibiotics to enable them to survive on this diet. Dr Mel Metzen, the staff veterinarian at Pokey Feeders, told Pollan that a great many of the health problems that he and his eight assistants have to deal with stem from the diet. ‘They’re made to eat forage… and we’re making them eat grain.’ Ruminant animals have a digestive system that has evolved to break down grass.  If they don’t get enough roughage, they develop lactic acid in their rumens, which creates gas and causes ‘feedlot bloat,’ a condition so severe that cattle can suffocate from it.  Liver abscesses are also frequent.  Putting cattle on a corn-based diet is like putting humans on a diet of candy bars.” (Singer).

“Researchers from the Department of Animal Science and Food Technology at Texas Tech University studied the use of shade in feedlots.  The study divided cattle into a group that had shade available and one that did not… The cattle with shade available ‘used the shade extensively’ from 9 AM to 5:30 PM, following the shade as the sun moved.  Cattle without shade were four times as aggressive to other cattle than those with shade.  But the research also noted that ‘In west Texas, shade is generally not used in commercial feedlots because it was not thought to be cost effective.'” (Singer).

Feedlot Cattle.

And their slaughter?

“Temple Grandin surveyed American slaughterhouses to find out what percentages of animals are rendered insensible by the first application of the stun-gun.  In her first survey, in 1996, only 36% of slaughterhouses were able to effectively stun at least 95% of animals on the first attempt.  Six years later, 94% were able to do so.  That is a dramatic improvement…despite the improvement, setting a standard of only 95% of animals being stunned on the first attempt ‘still indicates that hundreds of thousands of animals were not stunned on the first try.” (Singer).

“In theory, in kosher slaughter animals should be killed quickly and cleanly by having their throats cut with a single slash of a sharp knife.  Unconsciousness from loss of blood to the brain should follow within a few seconds.  In the video, however, cattle who have had their throats cut and their tracheas removed still thrash around for a long time before they die.  Some struggle to get to their feet–and even succeed in standing up.  While this happens, a worker waits for the animal to collapse so that he can tie a chain around its rear leg and hoist it off the ground.” (Singer).

Check out the video below.  It’s your responsibility.  And while doing so, recall the facts of their intelligence and emotional capabilities.

AgriProcessors is the world’s largest kosher slaughterhouse, and it’s owner has stated that ‘what you see on the video is not out of the ordinary.‘” (Singer).

Here’s another video which is also particularly gruesome taken at a Kosher slaughter house.  It is worth noting here that these slaughterhouses are held to a higher standard than the average slaughterhouse:

And what happens to cows who are too sick or weak or injured to move (considering their diet and shelter, this is not so rare)? The “downer cows”?

But cows don’t want to die.  In fact, there are many stories of cows committing daring escapes from slaughter houses.  They are intelligent enough to realize that what is happening to them isn’t right, and feel the urge to escape.  That is not a characteristic of a dumb, docile animal.  You can read about some of the tales here.  Or you can do your own light research.  Trust me, a simple Google search will supply enough information to last you the afternoon.

Thinking about cow intelligence, and their capacity to feel deep emotional as well as physical pain, do these videos have any affect on you?

It is probable that anyone who eats meat will, unknowingly, from time to time be eating meat that comes from an animal who died an agonizing death.” (Singer).

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Tasty Beats…

As it takes a considerable amount of research to produce a well thought out statement on animal welfare, I’m going to try to write posts in between on lighter topics.  Today’s light topic is yummy music.

Memorial Day Weekend I spent a good amount of time dancing.  I was lucky enough to catch some of my favorite tunes that I don’t hear too often at such venues.  For the greater part of my bar-hopping career, I lived in Boulder.  So as you can imagine, most of the music played was for the most part, raunchy, bottom of the barrel, club music.  Gross.  If I never hear a Lady Gaga song again it’ll be too soon.  So I am grateful whenever I am blessed with a weekend of great music.  Here’s some:

This song should be played at bars on a regular basis. It’s raunchy, but it’s art.  Thanks, Rockbar!

Yum.  I’ll admit it, I’m a bass cadet.  Hearing Bassnectar at a bar, with the prospect of the live show at Red Rocks in a few weeks was just plain exciting.  Thanks, Lipgloss!

This is an all time fav.  Really, is any song better?  I don’t care what anyone says about Rockbar, I don’t care how sticky the floor is, when I hear these songs I can’t control myself, and they know it.

 

 

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Factory Farming: Guilt Trip Part One…

Animal welfare is a cause very near and dear to my heart.  That being so, I really don’t know where to begin.  So I’ll begin with animals, who they are, what they’re like, and the terrible things that happen to them before they come to your plate.  Being that there is a well of information available on these topics, I have chosen one main source to derive most of my evidence.  I will reference Peter Singer’s book, The Ethics of What We Eat as my main source of information, as he has done quite a thorough investigation himself.  So this can also serve as a sort of summary of outstanding bits, since I know it’s so hard for people to actually read a book…

So often when I talk about these things, people respond in the typical way, “it’s just a pig.” Or, “humans are an intelligent species, pigs/chickens/cows are not.”  Animal consumption and poor treatment is all based on one of the most hurtful assumptions thrown around in our society, that intelligence equals worth.  This assumption is inherently flawed.  Even if it were true, who are we to say that intelligence does not exist in the animal world?  What does “intelligence” really mean?

Chickens:

Free range chickens. Don't they look happy?

In this guilt trip series, I’ve decided to begin with chickens. Slaughter of chickens and turkeys constitute a large majority of slaughtered animals in the U.S.  Chicken is the ultimate staple food today, but was once considered a luxury to eat.  That is absolutely laughable to most people considering how often chicken is eaten today.  This is a direct result of humanity being sacrificed for productivity, a concept we should all be familiar within this economic system.

Broilers (75% of the chicken we eat)

According to Peter Singer, “Chickens can recognize up to 90 other individual chickens and know whether each one is higher or lower in the pecking order than they are themselves.  Researchers have shown that if chickens get a small amount of food when they immediately peck at a colored button, but a larger amount if they wait 22 seconds, they can learn to wait before pecking… chickens still retain the ability to give and to understand distinct alarm calls depending on whether there is a threat from above, like a hawk, or from the ground, like a raccoon.  When scientists play back a recording of an ‘aerial’ alarm call, chickens respond differently than when they hear a recording of a ‘ground’ alarm call.”

“Chickens exist in stable social groups. They can recognize each other by their facial features. They have 24 distinct cries that communicate a wealth of information to one other, including separate alarm calls depending on whether a predator is traveling by land or sea. They are good at solving problems. ‘As a trick at conferences I sometimes list these attributes, without mentioning chickens, and people think I’m talking about monkeys.” -Dr. Chris Evans, Professor of Psychology at Macquarie University, Australia

That is intelligence.  But is that really what matters?  The question we should really be asking ourselves when we take a bite is not whether this animal is intelligent, but whether they can feel pain.  They most certainly can.

“One study found that 90 percent of broilers had detectable leg problems, while 26 percent suffered chronic pain as a result of bone disease… Sometimes vertebrae snap, causing paralysis.  Paralyzed birds or birds whose legs have collapsed cannot get to food or water, and–because the growers don’t bother to, or don’t have time to, check on individual birds–die of thirst or starvation.” (Singer).

“Broilers are the only livestock that are in chronic pain for the last 20% of their lives.  They don’t move around, not because they are overstocked, but because it hurts their joints so much… in both magnitude and severity, [industrial chicken production is] the single most severe, systematic example of man’s inhumanity to another sentient animal.” – Prof. John Webster, University of Bristol’s School of Vertinary Science.

This quote states that a chicken spends 20% of their lives in chronic pain.  Let’s say the average life span of a human is 80 years.  That’s 16 years of chronic pain.  Unbelievable.  Do you really want to participate in this system?

In conditions like those pictured above, you can imagine the smell.  But can you imagine living in it?  Or laying in it?

“High ammonia levels give the birds chronic respiratory disease, sores on their feet and hocks, and breast blisters.  It makes their eyes water, and when it is really bad, many birds go blind.  As the birds, bred for extremely rapid growth, get heavier, it hurts them to keep standing up, so they spend much of their time sitting on the excrement-filled litter–hence the breast blisters.”  (Singer).

And this is just how they live (not mentioning their constant state of starvation, see paragraph 3 of this link).  What about the slaughter house?  How do they get there?

Yep.  Pretty gruesome, huh?  I myself had had the unfortunate experience of seeing many of these trucks filled with turkeys awaiting death outside of a slaughter house.  Six of seven truckloads sitting in the 110 degree heat, being beaten with hot air by one large industrial fan each, for hours, until they were moved in to slaughter (I’d like to thank the Longmont turkey slaughter house for this unsavory, bi-weekly experience).

And their death?

“Today, a killing line typically moves at 90 birds a minute… can go as high as 120 birds a minute, or 7,200 an hour… As birds move down the killing line, still upside down, their heads are dipped into an electrified water bath… “the stunner.” But this is a misnomer… the type of electrical current used in the stunning procedure was not adequate to make the birds immediately unconscious.  Using a current that would produce immediate loss of consciousness, however, would risk damage to the quality of the meat… From the point of view of the slaughterhouse operator, inducing paralysis is as good as inducing unconsciousness, for it stops the birds from thrashing about and makes it easier to cut their throats.  Because of the fast line speed, even the throat-cutting that follows the electrified water bath misses some birds, and they then go alive and conscious into the next stage of the process, a tank of scalding water.”  (Singer).

“An undercover videotape made at a Tyson slaughterhouse at Heflin, Alabama, shows dozens of birds who have been mutilated by throat-cutting machines that were not working properly.  Workers rip the heads off live chickens that have been missed by the cutting blade.” (Singer).

These activities are not exceptions, they are THE NORM. And if all this isn’t bad enough, consider a human working at the slaughter house, and how they become desensitized to the suffering of animals. “In January 2003, Butler made a public statement describing workers pulling chickens apart, stomping on them, beating them, running over them on purpose with a fork-lift truck, and even blowing them up with dry ice ‘bombs… Workers had ripped off a bird’s head to write graffiti in blood, plucked feathers off live chickens to ‘make it snow,’ suffocated a chicken by tying a latex glove over its head, and squeezed birds like water balloons to psray feces over other birds.”  Don’t believe it?  This undercover video was taken at a KFC slaughter house.  Check it out, it’s your responsibility.

“Unable to dismiss the evidence of cruelty [shown in the video], Pilgrim’s Pride said it was ‘appalled.’ But neither Pilgrim’s Pride nor Tyson Foods, the two largest suppliers of chicken in America, have done anything to address the root cause of the problem: unskilled, low-paid workers doing dirty, blood work, often in stifling heat, under constant pressure to keep the killing lines moving no matter what so that they can slaughter up to 90,000 animals every shift.”

This post has been for the most part, about chickens.  But it is important to note that everything said of chickens and their slaughter also applies to turkey production.  Here’s undercover video of a turkey slaughter house, this video was taken at House of Raeford Farms, the 7th largest supplier of turkey in America.  Think about this on Thanksgiving.  Are you thankful for this?

Feel guilty yet?

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