Weekly newspaper of Three Rivers, California, and Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks

LIFE WITHOUT: A Recap

By Sarah Elliott 

“Life Without” is a project that I embarked upon where, throughout the next year, I will be eliminating something from my life. 

Everything I give up will be for my health and longevity or for the betterment of the planet. So far, I am enjoying challenging myself to learn more about the implications of all I do (or don’t do) in my life.

Month 1:

Life Without Sitting

Standing during my workday as opposed to sitting all day has improved my overall quality of life. I’m glad it’s working out since I invested in a stand-up desk. 

I have only had to lower the desk to a sitting height once. The day we returned from our winter vacation last month; I was exhausted from too much airline travel and the time adjustment.

To all the desk jockeys out there: What do you do to mitigate the hours of sitting? I would enjoy hearing any creative solutions being used to combat the dreaded sitting disease.

 

Month 2:

Life Without Plastic

This challenge has boiled down to never again using single-use plastic or Styrofoam items such as cutlery, cups, restaurant containers for leftovers or takeout, and individual water bottles. 

Who thinks twice about using disposable water bottles? Has anyone recently begun carrying a reusable bottle brought from home?

 

Month 3:

Life Without Eating Animals

This is a lifestyle change that will stick, for my health and as a protest of the cruelty inflicted upon animals that are the innocent victims of industrialized farming. 

I have been a vegetarian for most of my adult life, so basically I am now giving up dairy products and eggs. Honestly, it’s not as hard as I had envisioned.

Off the radar— I have always made a special effort to be a polite vegetarian and, now, a good vegan. When I originally wrote this article (December 13, 2013), I quipped to John, “I guess we won’t be getting any dinner invitations this weekend.” Actually, we got two.

I never expect people to provide a food option for me. I cook my own dishes to share at parties and potlucks, eat beforehand, or enjoy the side dishes immensely. 

I never comment on what my friends are eating or about what I’m not eating. I have never been in the habit of telling people about my lifestyle unless asked.

I’m aware that I am the minority. I don’t expect people to change for me.

But, please, don’t ask how I get my protein unless you also ask your friend chowing down on a Western Bacon Six Dollar Thickburger (thank you so much for that, Carl’s Jr.) how they get their antioxidants, vitamins, and fiber.

An inquiring mind wants to know— A letter to the editor received after this article was published asked several questions about how to live life without eating animals. It began with the writer reminding me that I gave up plastic so how would I be able to drink milk anyway (since milk typically comes in plastic containers)?

A rhetorical question, for sure, but I’ll bite. Why humans think they need milk for health is one of the greatest marketing ploys ever. When a child is weaned from his/her mother's breast milk, why is it we think they need the milk from another species? It doesn't make biological sense. I consume homemade nut milk, but there are plenty of plant-based milk choices on supermarket shelves.

Question: Doesn’t it cause cows pain to not be milked? 

Answer: Yes, but a cow's milk is intended for its baby. But cows are big business, especially in Tulare County, the number-one milk-producing region in the world. Industrial dairy cows are impregnated via artificial insemination so they may continue to produce milk as long as they are able, usually about five years (a cow's natural lifespan is 20 years or more). And cows are not “put out to pasture” when they become non-producing; their reward for providing you milk all those years is to be slaughtered, where they then become your hamburger). Since the milk is for humans and not for their own babies, the dairy cows’ offspring are taken away from them at birth. The mother cow and her calf suffer terribly from being separated. A calf’s gender determines its fate: females are put into servitude as dairy cows; male calves are confined in crates and chains, then slaughtered in 18 to 20 weeks to arrive on your plate as veal. The veal industry was created as a byproduct of the dairy industry to make a profit on the abundant supply of male calves. 

Question: Should a hen’s eggs be wasted?

Answer: A hen will lay eggs, whether fertilized or unfertilized. And humans can eat those eggs, whether the eggs may or may not become a chick. Refrigeration stops the embryo in a fertilized egg from developing.

Egg-producing hens on factory farms are kept in such close, inhumane quarters that they cannot stretch their legs or wings, walk around, or participate in normal social behaviors. Their feed may contain questionable ingredients as well. Most hens have their beaks chopped off or cauterized (with no painkillers or anesthesia_ to avoid causing injury to the other birds due to the cramped conditions.

Question: Is it okay to eat eggs from a friend’s chickens?

Answer: Healthy and benevolent are my priorities when selecting food. At least a backyard chicken has the opportunity to engage in natural behaviors during its lifetime. But just like a cow's milk is intended for its own baby, there is a reason that chickens have unfertilized eggs. It's the same reason women do.

Question: In your concern for animal welfare, have you chosen to wear no leather products?

Answer: I am not omnipotent nor did I intend to come across as such. That cancels out the importance of the message

This is a work in progress and, no, my entire household or lifestyle is not yet vegan. But I am working toward mindfulness, conscientiousness, and educating myself on all consumer purchases in an effort to ensure no human or animal suffered for my comfort or indulgence.

Question: What about wool?

Answer: I’m a hiker, so my equipment arsenal includes Smartwool socks. Pendleton blankets? Yep. But because I have made this commitment, I have done my research on sheep-shearing, so I will be thoughtful in my future purchases. 

If they were left alone and not genetically manipulated, sheep would grow just enough wool to protect themselves from temperature extremes. The fleece provides them with effective insulation against both cold and heat.

The shearers of factory-farmed sheep are paid by the animal, not by the hour, so it is not a slow or empathetic process. The sheep are a living assembly line and often punched and dragged so they submit and receive cuts, open wounds, and subsequent infections as a result of the shearing process.

Voters say no to animal cruelty—  In 2008, California voters approved a ballot initiative by an overwhelming margin (63%-37%) that requires egg-laying hens, pigs, and calves to be raised with enough space to allow the animals to lie down, stand up, turn around, and fully extend their limbs. In 2010, California legislators expanded the law to ban the sale of eggs from any (out-of-state) hens that were not raised in compliance with these new animal care standards. Farm animals are still suffering in undersized cages as the law won’t take effect until 2015, but it’s obvious that the majority of the population does not approve of the inhumane treatment of farm animals once informed.

Further research— If interested in learning more about the plight of industrially farmed animals and the effects on human health, there are many documentaries and books available. Personally, I learned much from the films Forks Over Knives (which has a companion cookbook) and Vegucated. Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals is an eye-opening book about where industrial meat comes from, how it is produced, and the economic, social, and environmental effects of eating meat. Gene Baur’s Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds About Animals and Food discusses how the author came to found an organization dedicated to the rescue, care, and protection of farm animals.

The book that caused me to think seriously about the implications of where my food dollar goes was Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser, which I read over a decade ago and have never set foot in a corporate fast-food restaurant since.

And, parents, something I learned since raising my two children is that how they eat as adults is directly tied to what their relationship to food was in the household while growing up. My 23-year-old and 25-year-old are also both vegan. Your kids are watching you, and they are the change we want to see in the world.

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