Veganism in a Nutshell' By Bruce Friedrich
"Let's face it: animals suffer and they die, just like we do. They are made of the same stuff that we are. Eating them is an act of gluttony and disregard for our own health, it is an act of disregard for the environment and for the global poor, and most of all, it is an act of disregard for our fellow animals."
-- Bruce Friedrich
With "Veganism in a Nutshell," a 67-minute recording, available on CD or cassette, by Bruce Friedrich, director of PETA's Vegan Outreach Program, educators, activists, and vegans have a powerful new persuasive tool and information source.
Friedrich is a familiar name among vegan advocates, for he has debated the opposition in major electronic and print media throughout the world. He led a successful campaign to reform some of the cruelest practices of factory farms and slaughterhouses that are suppliers to fast food giants such as McDonalds, Burger King, and Wendy's, and he has spearheaded this drive toward supermarkets such as Safeway and Albertson's stores. When the history books of the modern animal rights movement are written, Friedrich's name should be featured prominently in the struggle to endow farmed animals with moral and legal status. In the words of Peter Singer, PETA's campaigns have been "the biggest step forward for farmed animals in America since 1975, when [Singer's groundbreaking book] Animal Liberation was published."
Before he came to PETA in 1996, Bruce Friedrich was active in various groups that focused on feeding the homeless. With compassion toward the downtrodden, and having learned to care about animals early in his life, he was well positioned to hear the social and moral message of veganism and animal rights. Friedrich began his own odyssey toward veganism in the late 1980s. After reading books such as Francis Moore Lappe's Diet for a Small Planet, he saw the contradiction between caring for the poor, the homeless, and the environment and eating meat. He realized that he needed to go vegan to be ethically consistent and socially and environmentally responsible. When he made the shift, he saw his health, energy, and happiness levels dramatically improve. Dr. Andrew Linzey's work alerted him to the complexity of animal feelings and intelligence, and Peter Singer's Animal Liberation compelled him to shift his activist focus to what he felt was the more urgent cause of animal exploitation. Over time, he increasingly deepened his understanding of the profound relation between human and animal rights.
"Veganism in a Nutshell" is a product of Friedrich's expert learning and considerable activist experience. The recording presents the standard arguments for veganism , health, animal welfare and rights, and the environment , but Friedrich advances his case in an extremely compelling manner, as he draws all the pieces of the puzzle together into an amazingly convincing tapestry and advances a big vision of the importance of veganism and animal rights in the moral evolution of human beings.
Indeed, Friedrich helps us to see they may not be much of a future unless we radically alter our food choices and our relation to animals and the earth. Throughout the recording, Friedrich speaks in strong, assured tones, and is often bitingly ironic and wickedly humorous as he exposes the fallacies and flaccid justifications for the violent slaughter of animals for food. There is much information here for the novice, and plenty to pique the interest of experienced animal rights activists and vegans. Crucially, Friedrich issues a strong challenge to vegetarians to overcome the limitations and inconsistencies involved in professed concern for health, animals, and the environment while consuming eggs and dairy. The advice pitched to many listeners can be summed up in three short phrases: go vegan, go vegan, and go vegan.
For Friedrich, veganism is the only diet choice consistent with the well being of animals, humans, and the environment, and it is time to become informed, stop making excuses, and do what is right for the planet and its life forms. Friedrich begins his sustained argument by laying out the immense health risks of a meat-based diet. He debunks the common myth that we are natural meat eaters, observing that our teeth, jaws, digestive enzymes and tracts, and arteries are not designed for eating meat. Nor are our behaviors. In his wry style, Friedrich asks: "How many of us salivate at the idea of chasing a small animal, ripping her limb from limb, and then devouring her, blood and all?"
Citing health experts such as T. Colin Campbell, Dr, Dean Ornish, and Dr. John McDougall, Friedrich describes how the vast majority of degenerative diseases such as cancer and atherosclerosis can be prevented by a purely plant based diet. According to Friedrich's figures, the average cholesterol for a meat eater is 210, for a vegetarian is 161, and for a vegan, 133. Vegetarians and vegans have a 50-65% lower risk of developing cancer than omnivores. Vegetarians are 1/3 as likely to be as obese like meat eaters, and vegans are 1/10 as likely; vegans on average 10-20% lighter than meat-eaters. Friedrich notes that meat and diary products have two distinct killers wrapped into one: the fat and cholesterol cause heart disease, while the animal protein itself causes cancer.
After hearing Friedrich, novices will never see fish as a "healthy alternative" to eating beef or pork. Fish is still a flesh food, not a swimming vegetable, and as such it is devoid of fiber and carbohydrates, packed with cholesterol, laden with heavy metals and other contaminants from the water, replete with high mercury levels, and rife with bacteria. If women are advised not to eat fish during pregnancy because of the serious harm its toxins can inflict on a growing fetus, Friedrich asks, how can it be healthy for anyone?
Friedrich argues that the best thing one can do for the environment is to adopt a vegan diet. Meat consumption is an incredible waste of resources such as water, land, grains, and energy. Friedrich underscores the irrationality of pouring so many resources into animal and getting so little "food" in return. What one gets, mainly, is waste and pollution. Animal agriculture releases enormous amounts of waste and fertilizers into waterways. One dairy cow produces over 100 pounds of excrement a day; all farmed animals produce over 130 times the excrement of the entire human population of the U.S., and this toxic slop is contaminated with concentrated pollutants. More than 1/3 of fossil fuels produced in the U.S. are used to transform animals into food, and animal agriculture requires as much water as all other water uses combined. It requires 14 times as much water as to feed a vegan.
Not only the land, but also the oceans are being wrecked senselessly to satiate carnivorous appetites. Current technology of harvesting fish with super trawlers the length of a football field can harvest 800,000 pounds of fish in a single massive scoop, thereby rapidly depleting the world's fish stocks and wreaking damage on the coral reefs and ocean floors. As fish numbers dwindle alarmingly, aquaculture is becoming increasingly prevalent. But this too is a disaster. Fish are tightly packed into tubs or enclosed areas and drugged with antibiotics. It takes 4 pounds of wild fish to get one pound of farmed fish.
In sum: "The choice is clear: We can show our environmental values every time se sit down to eat to a vegan diet, or we can stomp over the earth in combat boots by eating meat, dairy, and eggs." Instant karma gets us as we reap the environmental damage of what we sow with prodigious global appetites for meat and dairy products. Friedrich deftly grasps the multiple connections between what human beings do to animals and what happens in return to them. Precious resources are wasted, yet every year over 40 million people die of starvation related causes. In Latin America, two thirds of agriculturally productive land goes to raising farmed animals that will be exported or consumed by a wealthy elite. Animals of course are tortured and butchered in slaughterhouses, but nonhuman animals suffer too in industries such as slaughterhouses, where one finds high turnover, low-paying, supremely dangerous jobs, typically taken by illegal immigrant workers who have no course of appeal to protect their rights.
From a moral perspective, we ought to avoid eating animals not for the sake of our health, but rather for the benefit of the animals. In grisly, chilling detail Friedrich outlines how farmed animals are confined, shipped, and slaughtered. To best manage the "animal machines," as they are viewed by their exploiters, industrial farmers dehorn and brand cattle; slice the ears, tails, and testicles of pigs; and sear off the beaks of baby chicks with a hat blade. In conditions of factory farming, animal bodies are intensively confined and managed for maximal growth, a growth so excessive that they suffer lung collapse, heart failure, and crippling leg deformities. Each year, when farmed animals finally arrive at the slaughterhouses, 100,000 cattle and 400,000 pigs are so sick they have to be dragged off the trucks. Animals suffocate, are overheated in the summer, or are frozen to the sides of the truck during winter. In the deregulated, industry-friendly conditions of the U.S., the killing lines move 3-6 times faster than in Europe, such that animals routinely are killed while fully aware: "their throats are slit, their limbs are hacked off, and their skin is torn from their bodies while they are still conscious."
Mercilessly dissecting the inadequacies of vegetarianism, Friedrich reminds us that there is "a hunk of veal in every glass of milk." For the male calves of dairy cows go straight to the crates and killing machines of the veal industry. Jacked up on genetically engineered growth hormones, dairy cows give 4 times as much milk as they did years ago, their udders are overloaded and inflamed, requiring massive amounts of antibiotics to control, and oozing pus and blood into the milk. After being debeaked and pumped full of drugs, chickens are jammed packed in battery cages and abused in the most obscene manner.
As he winds down his spellbinding soliloquy, Friedrich qualifies the bad news with the good news that there is a growing appreciation of animal sentience and emotional, psychological, and social complexity. This new consciousness is the foundation for the momentous historical struggle to grant animals moral and legal rights. The paradigm shift turns on a rejection of speciesism, the bias of the human species against all other species, as another form of unjust and arbitrary discrimination that must be rejected by an evolving, progressive society. "Prejudice is prejudice," Friedrich says, no matter which individuals or animals are its victims. Just 150 years ago, Friedrich reminds us, women, children, and people of color had no rights. Moral change can happen very quickly, as it is now unfolding in our relations with our food choices and our fellow species.
So long as human beings mistreat animals, the primitive might is right model of behavior is still firmly entrenched in our ethics and must be rejected in every form. "Causing pain to an animal is the moral equivalent of causing pain to a human being." Our power over animals becomes not a reason to exploit them, but rather our responsibility to become their guardians. Hand in hand with animal rights, veganism advances the moral consciousness of the human species. Thus, Tolstoy recognized that "vegetarianism is the taproot of humanitarianism," and Einstein believed "Nothing would benefit humanity more than the general adoption of a vegetarian diet." Ultimately, the choice to become vegan is not about what tastes good or what is good for one's own body, but what is right for our own species, for all other species, for the environment, and for the cause moral evolution. For without continued rapid evolution of our thinking and values in relation to the natural world, human beings will become their own executioners and, unfortunately, they will take many other species out with them.
The facts are squarely on the side of Friedrich, and he is profoundly correct when he says: "The only diet for environments, animal lovers, and people who care for their health is a vegan one." Moral absolutism and dogmatism? No, just the best reasoned conclusion from the quarters of nutritional science, the facts of the environmental crisis, and a stance of compassion for life. Friedrich does not attempt to dictate what people eat, but nor does he timidly tolerate the choice to eat meat and dairy products, whereby one implicates other people, animals, and the environment in tastes that most assuredly are not "personal."
Not everything of course is said that needs to be said , issues such as genetic engineering are left out , but in a 67-minute "nutshell" recording, Friedrich presents a powerfully condensed message that unfolds as a sustained argument in favor of veganism. Some might find Friedrich's intensity unsettling, but others will find the passion and conviction refreshing and inspiring. One particularly enlightening section of the recording is the ending which presents Friedrich's responses to the questions vegans hear ad naseum, such as "Where do you get your protein, calcium, and other essential nutrients?", "Aren't you killing plants?", and "Do you care about animals more than people?" Of course, no collection of exasperating questions would be complete without "Didn't God give us dominion over the animals?" In every case, Friedrich presents devastating rebuttals to arguments against veganism.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated that in a period of great change, it is imperative people remain awake and involved. We undoubtedly are in such a turbulent period in our relation to animals, as the old social contracts of exploitation are being shredded and new creeds of species equality emerge. Friedrich's recording undoubtedly will help to awaken the somnambulant from the nightmare of consuming suffering in order to live a life of joy and compassion in action.