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Saturday, August 03, 2002

Hungry For Vegetarian: Vegan Lifestyle Satisfying

Food sales suggest more people are embracing what this family has long known: Meals without meat can be satisfying.

It's almost dinnertime and 2-year-old Joey Dimambro is showing his hunger in fits of whining, screaming and occasional rolls on the kitchen floor.

Once the food is on the table, the tested toddler is scooping seared tofu, steamed seaweed and adzuki beans into his smiling face and topping it off with a soy milk mustache.

It's Friday night at the Dimambro home on Detroit's east side, and in this houseful of vegans -- Dean, Julie, Nina, Joey and Pickles the beagle -- that means a favorite family meal is on the table and not a single animal or anything it produces has gone into the making of it.

Although they may be seen as extreme -- they neither wear nor use anything derived from or tested on an animal, as dictated by veganism -- their choice of foods is appealing to more and more mainstream taste buds.

"Natural and organic foods are the fastest-growing food category," says Dr. Jonathan Seltzer, a food trend watcher and consultant to grocery retailers and distributors.

"Vegetable consumption is way up, and there is a proliferation of vegetarian products," says Seltzer, who is also project manager for the Retail Food Industry Center at the University of Minnesota.

A January report by Mintel Consumer Intelligence predicted the vegetarian food market will grow 100 percent to 125 percent over the next five years. Vegetarian food sales, driven by all-out and occasional vegetarians, topped $1.25 billion in 2001, according to Mintel.

Colleges are adding courses in vegetarian nutrition. Magazines and TV shows for teens are reflecting the younger generation's interest in meatless eating. As vegetarian and vegan restaurants celebrate 10- and 20-year anniversaries, other establishments featuring vegetarian fare like sprouts and raw foods are in their infancy.

Over the last several years, grocers' shelves and freezer cases have made room for formerly hard-to-find products with clever names such as Soymage, a cheese substitute; Stripples, a bacon substitute; Slice of Life vegan chicken; and TVP, or textured vegetable protein, a meat substitute.

Even such bodacious beacons for beefeaters as Burger King and McDonald's have affirmed the popularity of vegetarian eating. Burger King began selling its Veggie Burger earlier this year, and McDonald's settled a class-action lawsuit by removing beef fat from its french fries.

Depending on the survey, between 2.5 percent and 4 percent of the U.S. population considers itself vegetarian, meaning about 7 million to 12 million people.

Within the vegetarian movement are several subgroups. They are divided by their level of strictness. Some eat only fruit. Others consume mostly grains.

Contributing to the vegetarian market explosion are occasional vegetarians who won't abandon animal flesh but do want what goes with it to be more healthful. And vegetarian groups believe that they have been joined by meat lovers who jumped ship because of meat recalls and reports of illnesses caused by tainted meat.

"Consumers are more sophisticated. They're asking more questions about what they're eating, and they're demanding more choices. It used to be milk was milk. Now it's, 'I want milk without hormones or fat or with more calcium,' " Seltzer says.

Be kind to animals

The Dimambros began gradually eliminating animal products -- milk, meat, eggs, silk and wool -- from their lives almost 12 years ago.

"In our opinion, if you're a true animal lover, you're going to extend that into your eating practices," Dean says. "And then you're going to extend it into every part of your life."

The desire to be kind to animals, avoid illness and eliminate chemical-laden, processed foods from diets has boosted sales of organic foods by 16 percent over the last eight years, says Fred Marx of the Blooming Prairie Natural Food Cooperative in Iowa City, Iowa.

As consumers' eating awareness has risen, so has the medical establishment's debate over the merits of a vegetarian diet.

Numerous studies have shown high vegetable consumption can stave off risks associated with cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Yet cutting out all meat, chicken and fish can deprive the body of much-needed fatty acids, protein and vitamin B12. Dairy avoiders are deprived of calcium.

Missed nutrients can be replaced by other sources or by eating fortified foods, but it takes knowledge and creativity to do it right.

Julie breast-feeds Joey and did the same with Nina, providing them with the crucial nutrients they need. She stirs nutritional yeast into foods to add B12, always seasons with sesame sea salt for calcium and buys fortified foods.

What's gotten easier for her, thanks to booming interest in vegetarian food, is the task of grocery shopping.

"It's half and half now. You can go to Kroger and Farmer Jack and get a lot of what you need," she says. The rest comes from specialty stores such as Healy's Health Hut and the Sprout House in Grosse Pointe Park.

Ron Margulis, spokesman for the National Grocers' Association, says retailers are trying to keep up with the demand for foods that are good-tasting, healthful and, to some, socially conscious.

Vegan and vegetarian foods and so-called nutriceuticals, which are marketed as beneficialto health, were the focus of this year's annual food retailers' convention in Las Vegas. The gathering was bathed in the scent of Boca burgers, Margulis says.

It's no longer alternative. You're seeing more and more big companies, Kraft and ConAgra, addressing this population," Margulis says.

The growth in competition has improved the taste of foods that once hinted at plastic or cardboard and often required getting used to.

Not necessarily bland

Bad taste isn't a problem for the Dimambros, who are enjoying tofu sauteed in onions, garlic and oils along with brown rice. Kale, which Julie says the kids eat like candy, is going fast. Plum vinegar is among the condiments on the table. It adds flavor and aids in digestion. A red pepper sauce provides extra zip.

"The food can be bland, but not if it's done right," says Dean, the instigator of this lifestyle, which is among the most extreme forms of vegetarianism. "We eat a lot of food. Not because we're hungry, but because we love food."

Learning to prepare meals that please the Dimambro family palate called for years of classes, a collection of specialty cookbooks, recipe adjustments and an uncountable number of bad food experiments that ended up being eaten by the kitchen sink.

Julie says the food got better when her cooking philosophy changed.

"Don't fall into the trap of trying to replace a meat product," she says. "You'll never get there."

And giving up meat can be as tough as a burned steak at times.

"You know when it kills me is the summertime. This is barbecue city. But I come in and put on a vegetarian burger, and I'm happy." For Dean, the meat temptation is never there. "If people knew more about what happens in factory farms and how they damage the environment and what happens to the animals and what it does to health, they would be vegan, too," he says.

The Dimambro kids aren't as concerned with the moral argument as they are with filling up.

Nina, 7, replenishes her supply of seaweed.

"Ooooohh," she slurps.

That's a good "ooh," as in delicious. It's not to be confused with the bad "ooh" she gives to steak.

"I could never eat an animal," she says with a shiver and crinkle of her nose.

The Kale Farmers of America might consider hiring her as a pitch girl.

"I don't think anyone in the whole school knows about kale, and they should. It's soooooooo good," she says with the excitement of a child justthrough the gates of an amusement park.

"The water goes into the kale when you cook it, and when you eat into it, it ruuuuuuns down your face. I love it! It's great!"

Pickles the beagle is happy to lap up the uh-ohs from the floor, and she isn't above snatching a morsel from Dean's plate. Her vegan dog food is in the cupboard, but right now she's focused on people food.

But she'll be getting none of the chocolate cake (no eggs) and ice cream (soy milk, not cow) for dessert.

Julie had doubts when the eggless cake recipe was passed on to her and she was told it tasted like "the real thing."

"I said, 'Yeah, right.' But it is so good and so easy," she says.

Easy would be the last word to describe being vegan.

What they eat, or don't eat, has invited ribbing, if not ridicule, from friends and family. They noticed a decline in party invitations from hosts who deem them too difficult to serve. Dean's coworkers at the GM Tech Center in Warren like to rib him about his animal-free lunches.

The lifestyle has even tested their relationship and their parenting decisions.

It's hard to forbid those childhood favorites such as Jell-O, made from animal tendons and bones, and marshmallows, which also contain animal by-products. But there are replacements. Agar-Agar is a gelatin, and there are candy recipes that mimic marshmallows.

Dean and Julie hope the children will maintain the vegan lifestyle in adulthood, something pollsters have found is very likely, judging by the number of young kids who abhor eating furry friends.

"We're laying the foundation for them," he says. "We can't control what they do later."

In the meantime, Joey wants more tofu.

By Kim North Shine, Detroit Free Press

Posted by Richard
8/03/2002 12:32:05 PM | PermaLink

Friday, August 02, 2002

The Issue That Just Won't Go Away -- Senate Catering to Forestry Industries

Speaking of issues that won't go away, did you know that House Republicans are geering up again to re-introduce the idea of drilling in Alaska? Look for this in the next few months, as Bush toys with military interventions into Iraq and the rhetoric is flaunted that the U.S. needs to pressure Iraqi oil power by finding additional reserves within its own borders. Of course, this line of argument was already floated once and lost unconvincingly...but war with an "evil" enemy has a way of convincing even relatively intelligent people of the dumbest of ideas.

The issue of the moment, however, is wildfires and with Sen. Tom Daschle's recent attempt to secretly tiptoe into bed with the logging interests of South Dakota, another prominent Dem. (Sen. Dianne Feinstein) is now also jumping in, along with eleven other Republican colleagues. Following Daschle's plan, these senators -- many, like Feinstein -- sit on key governmental committees like the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and/or hold posts as leaders of subcommittees that directly regulate policy on our nation's forests. Many of these senators like Gordon Smith (Oregon) and Larry Craig (Idaho) represent the key voices for the Forestry Industries in government. Others like Pete Domenici (New Mexico) or Frank Murkowski (Alaska) additionally represent oil lobbies, and are in a key position to make political alliances now for others later (e.g. Alaskan drilling).

Feinstein should be ashamed of the language she uses to justify her intervention into this group, and Reuters once again proves untrustworthy on the issue -- this time coughing up an article that reads like pure propaganda for Daschle, in particular. Reuters' idea of "bi-partisan" is apparently one Democrat on a group of 13. Also, read for the spin that suggests that taking the legal means away from people being able to challenge federal policies that open up old-growth forests to logging (the Daschle maneuver) is helpful and efficient:
Under the deal reached among South Dakota lawmakers, the timber industry, and environmental groups, the bill would expedite thinning in the Black Hills Forest by avoiding time-consuming lawsuits and protecting area residents and wildlife.
Western senators look to reduce fire risk (08/02/02) Salem Statesman Journal

Can Wildfires be Prevented? (08/02/02) Oregon Public Broadcasting

Brush-clearing costs doubled, forester warns (08/02/02) Sacramento Bee

Flames chase Illinois Valley residents (08/02/02) Salem Statesman Journal

Weather works in favor as crews strengthen Oregon fire lines (08/02/02) Seattle P-I

Senators vow to ease U.S. rules to snuff forest fires (08/02/02) Reuters

Posted by Richard
8/02/2002 11:57:49 AM | PermaLink

Hurrah! More Money to Shoot Wolves Dead Found For Minnesota!

Some governmental "reprogramming" is done by Minnesota reps. Oberstar and Peterson to keep the business of wolf-killing going strong in the state -- a solid 100 killed so far this year! This article is a joke for its biased coverage that attempts to document how "even environmentalists have praised the federal kill program." Nonsense. Praise has been given to the program of wolf introduction, and compromise has been accepted by environmental groups that problem wolves could be killed in the name of preventing the sort of widespread license to kill being opened up in Idaho. However, the facts are that the government's bureaucracy that has been created around wolf-killing, and its catering to certain agro-interest groups that would like a wide definition of "problem wolf" enforced, has come under staunch critique from many. Where was Paul Wellstone on this, I wonder?
The federal program that traps problem wolves in northern Minnesota was on the verge of shutting down Thursday until lawmakers found emergency funding.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's wolf trapping program was halting trapping in Minnesota until U.S. Reps. Jim Oberstar and Collin Peterson intervened. The lawmakers convinced USDA officials Thursday morning to find an extra $20,000 from other programs to cover August and September costs. The 2003 budget begins Oct. 1.

"We did call over to Ag and encourage them to do some reprogramming,'' said Mary Kerr, Oberstar's spokeswoman.

The program's shutdown would have been bad news for farmers and rural residents who are losing livestock and pets to wolves, which have expanded in number and range in Minnesota. It also would have been bad news for wolves.

The federal program acts as a social and biological safety valve for the protected animals, removing problem wolves to prevent widespread illegal killing of the animals. Even ardent wolf supporters have praised the program's focused approach at wolf control.

Wolves are protected federally in Minnesota and can't be shot or trapped by the public.

"We were pulling traps off the farms. But they have found some money now, $20,000, and we'll be able to keep going,'' said Bill Paul, assistant state director of the federal wolf program in Minnesota.

Federal trappers for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services program, based in Grand Rapids, roam the wolf range in Minnesota, responding to complaints if sheep, cattle or poultry appear to have been killed by the predators.

If the federal agents and state conservation officers confirm a wolf killed the animal, the federal trappers capture the suspect wolves and destroy the adults.

So far this year, 150 complaints of with wolf attacks have been verified at 68 locations, mostly on farms but also some rural homes, where wolves attacked pets.

Federal trappers have captured 114 wolves, killing 100 adults and releasing 14 pups.

The program has run short of cash in years past, but this is the first time that trapping was shutting down, officials said.

There are about 2,600 wolves in Minnesota, stretching from International Falls to Mora and from Thief River Falls to Grand Portage. That's up from as few as 500 wolves just 30 years ago. Wolf numbers have been increasing since trapping and poisoning were banned and since a state bounty was discontinued.

Although wolf numbers have increased, the trapping program's budget stalled. With about $237,000 annually, the budget is about the same as it was a decade ago.

"It's a huge area now. The wolf range keeps expanding. We have to drive more miles. The cost of trucks keeps going up. The cost of gas is much higher. Salaries are going up. Yet we haven't had any real increase in funding since 1992,'' Paul said.

To help prevent the continuing budget problems, federal lawmakers have earmarked increased funding for the wolf program in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan for 2003.

The House Agriculture Appropriations bill includes $750,000 earmarked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services division for use only in Great Lakes states. That would more than double the federal government's wolf-control efforts in the region.

Horribly written by John Myers, Duluth News Tribune

Posted by Richard
8/02/2002 11:19:02 AM | PermaLink

The Difficult Case of Zimbabwe's Famine

It makes all the sense in the world, take the GM corn seeds -- the very seeds that are ready and waiting to be planted but which sit on shelves due to the unresolved controversies surrounding their use -- and send them abroad to be used as humanitarian charity for starving nations like Zimbabwe.

But while many drought-ridden nations in the African and Asian sub-continent are only too happy to take US Aid's genetically modified corn, some like the Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe are consistently rejecting the thousands of metric tons of corn seed and sending it elsewhere.

His reason: the future of his country (and the future of his control of the same).

Historians and sociologists will generally point out that one of the ways in which dictators remain in power is by creating a large under-class within society and then repeatedly repressing it. But in this case, continuing to starve the Zimbabwean people (as the United States contends he is doing) probably has less to do with the immediate goals of widespread social repression and more to do with making sure that a small number of foreign corporations (those involved in the creation of GM food) don't become the dictators of food politics in the region.

For while biotech giants like Monsanto are quick to tout the US line that GM food is "safe and effective" for use and a real answer to world drought and famine, many ecologists and academics who have looked into the matter are not so sure. This has led to the European Union, who represent a major importer of a great deal of Zimbabwe's corn and corn-fed livestock in normal years, outlawing the importation of GM food and livestock because it insists that GM crop seeds can quickly pollinate themselves, outproduce native stocks, and colonize agricultural sectors in a manner beyond anyone's control.

Mugabe, himself, points to the future and highlights that if GM crops transplanted themselves throughout the country, it would have the political effect of having allowed American charity to displace Zimbabwe's economic sovereignty by removing the EU marketplace from Zimbabwe's list of buyers. By destabilizing the agricultural sector in this manner, Mugabe thinks, the US-led food corporations will have essentially produced a non-military takeover of the African nation, a regime switch which could allow corporate GM food to be the weapon that allows for US political hegemony to spread throughout sub-Sahara.

It goes without saying that if such an outcome were to arise, Mugabe's own dictatorial power would be jeapordized and (were he even to remain at Zimbabwe's helm) he could survive as little more than a figure-head for the new powerbrokers.

Meanwhile, millions continue to starve in dire conditions as they await to see how the politics of introducing GM food to Africa play out.

Critics of the US policy have pointed out that the matter could be quickly settled if the GM corn seed that is being delivered was first milled, thereby preventing it from being used in the fields. They insist that a major reason that the US remains unwilling to mill the seed is because, as was shown at the World Food Summit in June, the United States is actively shopping GM food throughout the world and is consciously engaged in the attempt to control the patent on other nation's food stuffs and increase its corporate potentials.

Answering this criticism, US Aid has argued that milling the corn would be prohibitively expensive when the idea here is charity and not the business of feeding poor nations. Besides, they have argued, why would any nation that is starving use corn seeds for planting rather than eating? As one US delegate in the Indian region put it when similar controversy erupted there around GM corn, "Beggars can't be choosers."

This sort of hard-line feudal politics appears to be the new diplomatic game for the trans-national United States -- intervene in desperate regions, with humanitarian aid taking any number of military and corporate forms, and then demand the reigns that control the people's future there in return. It may be, for a people deeply repressed by their own regime, that such a bargain is their best option. But even so, for the United States to talk of "charity" in such situations is demeaning to the very oppressed peoples at which US rhetoric appears aimed.

"Beggars can't be choosers" is not an order per se, but an order to choose that amounts to little more than the theiving Devil's bargain of "Your money or your life." One can always choose to die, and it appears that in the difficult case of Mugabe's stranglehold on a dying land, the egotistical leader may in fact choose to be strangled slowly rather than relinquish the power he craves to foreign interests.

Posted by Richard
8/02/2002 09:35:02 AM | PermaLink

Thursday, August 01, 2002

How Polluted are You?

Go plug in your zip code and get your environmental Scorecard.

Find out who are the big contaminators in your county, the breakdown on what pollutants are putting you at risk and why, view maps that are plotted around the data and more.

The first step to a more sustainable planet must begin at home.

Posted by Richard
8/01/2002 08:31:45 AM | PermaLink

The Ethics of Eating, Part 1: Food: An Overview

This first part of a three part expose in the National Catholic Reporter is worth a read for people just beginning to raise their awareness about the politics of food due to its broad look into issues such as GM crops, Social Justice, Animal Rights, and the Corporatizing of agrobusiness. For those whose sophistication with these issues is more advanced, it's also interesting to see how these issues have filtered into the consciousness of being Catholic.

The end of the article attempts to document the changing practices Catholic diocese are implementing around food issues. Part II goes on to look at what's happened to the "family farm". That and other articles of interest can be viewed from the Table of Contents.

It's interesting to see the Catholic Left at work...decidedly not mainstream coverage, though a yearly award winner for its journalism.

Posted by Richard
8/01/2002 07:08:48 AM | PermaLink

Wednesday, July 31, 2002

Investigations Begin into Chronic Wasting Disease as Cause of Hunters' Demise

It looks like Wisconson may be finally taking up the cause to properly evaluate and acknowledge that C.W.D. (like Mad Cow) is capable of being passed from infected animals to humans. Three avid hunters who knew one another all died of rare brain ailments in the 1990's. Now, medical experts are clueing in that Chronic Wasting Disease may have played a factor in their deaths and autopsies are being ordered.

But don't hold your breath waiting for the announcement of what common sense should already tell you. Scientific studies of the issue may take over a decade to be thoroughly completed, and as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention notes below, there are those pesky "economic consequences" of the findings.
Wausau, Wis. (AP) - The deaths of three outdoorsmen from brain-destroying illnesses are under investigation by medical experts who want to know whether chronic wasting disease has crossed from animals into humans, just as mad cow disease did in Europe.

The men knew one another and ate elk and deer meat at wild game feasts hosted by one of them in Wisconsin during the 1980s and '90s. All three died in the 1990s.

Investigators want to know whether the deaths were just a coincidence or whether the men contracted their diseases from the meat of infected game.

There has never been a documented case of a person contracting a brain-destroying illness from eating wild animals with chronic wasting disease.

"We are not saying it absolutely can't happen. We know that it's a mistake to say that," said Dr. Larry Schonberger, a specialist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. "It gets a lot of people scared and it has economic consequences and everything, so we need to check it out."
The article is here.

Posted by Richard
7/31/2002 12:36:26 PM | PermaLink

Mysterious Permit Granted by Top Dioxin Polluting Oil Company After Large Donation to Gov. Davis

State officials allowed one of California's largest polluters to increase toxic discharges into San Francisco Bay shortly after the company donated $70,500 to Gov. Gray Davis, a San Jose Mercury News investigation has found. The decision by a key state water board in June 2000 came just four months after the board had refused to relax the pollution permit at Tosco's Avon refinery east of Martinez. It allowed Tosco to increase discharges of dioxin into the bay by nearly fivefold. [Read more]

By Paul Rogers, San Jose Mercury News

Posted by Richard
7/31/2002 11:59:16 AM | PermaLink

Elk Ranchers File Suit Over Disease They May Have Helped Start

In the Denver Post, Elk ranchers are seeking $10 million from state for losses sustained during the recent outbreak of chronic wasting disease.

While it is understandable that these ranchers may have a claim to be worked out with the state in this matter, there is also something bizarrely bureaucratic in the logic of what is happening here. For, as experts like John Stauber have pointed out, it may very well be that a primary cause of this disease lies in the ranchers' practices of feeding rendered food containing the necessary prions back to their own elk herds. Thus, that ranchers like Craig McConnell, whose Elk Echo Ranch was targeted as the epicenter of the outbreak, are now filing for damages of over $2 million can only make sense in a nation where morality is interpreted by the ethics of the corporate legal team.

What's next: Bush and Cheney filing suit over character defamation?

Posted by Richard
7/31/2002 11:49:09 AM | PermaLink

The Green Machine

Expensive and exclusive, green housing is too often reserved for those in the middle-age, high-income bracket. Fortunately for the rest of us, there is Andy Thomson, an architecture graduate hell-bent on making off-the-grid housing accessible to the masses. Yes, insists Andy, it is possible to save your pennies and the planet. For almost a year, Andy, his wife Reagan, and their two-year-old daughter Arkela have lived full-time, in and around Vancouver, in a 108 sq ft step van named "VanZilla." After nearly a decade conducting eco-housing experiments, Andy's latest project is sunshine-guzzling proof that urban off-the-grid living is not only ecologically viable, but financially affordable, even for a young family. At: THIS Magazine

Posted by Richard
7/31/2002 11:17:46 AM | PermaLink

Tuesday, July 30, 2002

Poison Recommended for Snakeheads

Beware, northern snakehead. They've picked your poison.

A panel of scientists and fish experts yesterday recommended the state use rotenone to clear a Crofton pond infested with the voracious Chinese fish.

The 15-member advisory committee tentatively chose the popular fish management poison during its first meeting in Annapolis.

At the time, however, members didn't know if rotenone would kill the bizarre air-breathing fish, or how much to use.

Chairman Donald Boesch said it was possible the snakehead could avoid the effects of the poison by gasping breaths of air at the water's surface until the rotenone dissipated days later.

Tests at the Paul S. Sarbanes Cooperative Laboratory in Oxford this week proved otherwise.

"Most of the fish died in the first hour," Mr. Boesch said.

State wildlife officials believe the fish poses a great threat to Maryland's ecology.

Natural Resources Police have said a Maryland man bought two of the fish two years ago in New York and later dropped them into the pond behind the Route 3 Shopping Center. The fish are believed to have curative powers.

The two fish have since spawned, and there could be thousands in the pond now.

Snakeheads can grow to be 40 inches long, live up to three days out of water and crawl or slither short distances on its fins in wet conditions.

Biologists fear the fish could make its way over to the Little Patuxent River 75 yards away from the pond. That river flows into the Patuxent River, where the freshwater fish has 20 miles to eat every other fish in sight until the water gets too salty.

In its report to the Department of Natural Resources, the panel recommended the state start out by using an herbicide to rid the 9-acre pond of its vegetation.

It suggested spraying glyphosate on the floating vegetation and, if needed, injecting diquat dibromide into the water for the submerged plants.
The panel then called for spraying of the rotenone on the pond's surface and injecting it underwater a week later to kill off the fish.

State officials should monitor the pond over the next two years, the panel said, then restock the pond with native fish.

DNR spokesman John Surrick said Secretary Chuck Fox is expected to decide by the end of next week whether to follow the recommendations. DNR could also come up with its own plan.

One way or the other, the snakehead's days are numbered.

On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton banned the importation and sale of the fish into the United States and across state lines.

DNR officials will reassemble its panel next month to discuss potential legislation about the introduction of non-native species in Maryland.

The panel's recommendation can be viewed online at Comments can be made via e-mail from the site or by calling 410-260-8327.

By Scott Burke, The Capitol (Annapolis, MD)

Posted by Richard
7/30/2002 10:59:04 AM | PermaLink

Snakeheads Doomed to Die, But Why?

The Snakehead story is interesting for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the media fascination. Is it that the story plays into the old genre of American invasion and colonization by evil outsiders? -- if this is the case, the fact that it is a Chinese fish only helps -- wherein the evil Snakehead takes its place alongside the Africanized honey-bee (the "Killer" bee), the South American "Fire" ant, and the British bio-tech Gypsy moth. Or perhaps the media has given this story so much play because it evokes the genre of monstrous nature...lurking in the depths is something so evil, etc. Maybe the media justs wants an environmental story that is guaranteed to gain a wide audience and not polarize the readership (e.g. like stories on wildfires are prone to do).

But this raises another interesting point surrounding the Snakehead story that is not being widely mentioned (if at all). For while the CNN-ization of the Snakehead has lead to the popular myth of giant baby-eating fish that are capable of walking into backyards, climbing trees when necessary and snatching beloved family pets and members seemingly at will, in the end, the doomed fish is just that: a fish. Moreso, its a fantastically UNIQUE fish -- one of a handful of species capable of surviving long periods out of water and maneuvering across land! One would think that such qualities might automatically be reason to treasure such a fish, not slaughter it at all costs -- but apparently not.

Ecologists have not spoken out much in the name of the Snakehead because it is the ecologists themselves who have proselytized about the tenuous nature of habitat equilibrium and it is the ecologists who have worked very hard to prevent invading species from otherwise colonizing, outproducing, and ultimately destroying pristene habitats (and biodiversity). It is exactly this line of theory and practice that is involved in the important fight by ecologists against genetically-modified food crops. With this in mind, then, no ecologist in their right mind would take a stand against the invading Snakehead species, the fish that seems biologically determined to eat its way through every lake and river.

The idea that the Snakehead is capable of eating up its competitor fish is also the same rhetoric being used by Fish and Wildlife services and other local governmental agencies in the name of killing it off quick; and in a time when the economy is riddled with the talk of corruption and profit sag, anti-competitive rhetoric is sure to be a democratic win for whoever uses it.

But isn't it notable that most communities and Fish and Game departments don't have too much to say when the talk is about introducing bass, trout, and other voracious game fish into lakes and streams around the nation? Though, historically, many ecologists have had much to say against this practice, which is great for bringing in fishing tourists and raising community esteem by producing trophy waters (and money in the local economy), governmental agencies have always downplayed the affects that large, competitive fish can have on a region. Why, then, the sudden rush to kill the Snakehead? Is it because the average fisherman would much rather land and hang a rainbow trout on his wall than a three-foot long, fanged, puddle-jumper? Or perhaps its because the Snakehead's success may lead to the demise of the governmental fisheries industry, a decline in fishing licenses as game fish stocks decline, and so thusly an overall drop in state and national revenues?

I have lived on waters in which stocks of game fish have been introduced by the state and I have seen the devastating effects that species like bass and trout can have on the populations of native fish there. I do not doubt for a second that the Snakehead (no matter what its numbers) poses a serious risk to the habitats which it invades.

Yet, as an animal rights activist I also feel compelled to speak out for the Snakehead (even if such words comprise little more than a requiem). The Snakehead, no matter its qualities, is a creature of the planet like any other. If it is not an ideal animal for modern suburban townships, it does not mean that it is the incarnation of absolute evil. It is a fish attempting to do what any other creature does, enjoy its life and continue its kind.

Surrounding the Snakehead right now in America is the rhetoric of a lynch mob and there is little opportunity to debate the issue. This seems to be the new American line post-9/11. Now, it may be that the best thing for everyone in this scenario is to sacrifice the Chinese fish in the name of environmental health, but my point here is simply to demand that the Snakehead, in its death, at least be given the opportunity to raise the dialogue and awareness about the larger issues into which it has unfortunately trespassed.

If states are involved in the role of habitat eugenics, what comprises a healthy habitat for the state? If it is not Snakeheads, why is it game fish and motor boats? If the media are truly interested in exposing the damage to the environment posed by the outbreak of invasive kinds, where is their like-minded coverage of GM crops, the animal trade, and bio-warfare? If people engaged in the struggle for animal rights believe in the sanctity of a species's right to exist free of human instrumental controls, where are they on the Snakehead issue? Though it may breathe the air of day, does it deserve to die like a dog?

Finally, to the people proliferating the popular myth and sustaining the hysteria to kill at all costs: where does this energy come from and why the strong reaction now? Ask yourself this, "Have I ever even seen a picture of the Snakehead? What do I really know about it? If it threatens waters, is it the only species posing such a serious threat? How does the threat to human and fish populations posed by the Snakehead compare with the same threat posed by humans themselves?"

Engaging in this type of socratic mindfulness won't do much for the fish no one likes -- it's a "terrorist" fish and no one likes terrorists in present-day America: the law itself prevents it. But it may mean that, in death, the fish provides meaning and so helps to better define for us just who we are, who we want to be, and where we are headed. For the individual Snakehead that probably doesn't mean much, but it may for the individual citizen. Sadly, however, the popular mind seems shrouded in the propaganda of "Kill or be killed." Unable to articulate our real hopes and fears, and unnable to acknowedge difference when confronted with it, the nation appears deeply involved in the business of striking out wherever it feels threatened. The real question remains then, "How far will we go in order to eradicate those deemed our enemy?"

Posted by Richard
7/30/2002 10:56:20 AM | PermaLink

Monday, July 29, 2002

The Idea of Thinning Forests Can Cut Across Political Lines

I've written this past month (in response to the Sequoia, Arizona and Colorado wildfires) about the right-wing forest thinning strategy that speaks of "underbrush management" as a euphemism for outright logging.

Unshockingly, it turns out that there are a handful of right-wing blog pundits out there who have been covering the story too -- though I won't link them here b/c while they are each vehement in their denunciations of environmentalists (one says: "get off my planet"), they are short on evidence and argument. As any Logic 101 class will teach, arguments ad hominem, while sometimes rhetorically persuasive, do not constitute support for one's conclusions. Neither, for that matter, does linking another blog pundit with equally loud but dubious claims. On the other hand, one may object to my defense of environmentalists and the attack upon the logging industry and its supporters issued here, but at least I have provided a semblance of argument. It can be checked and verified and proven right.

Anyhow, as ludicrous as these right-wing bloggers are, one actually had a story that I had missed from the Washington Times that documents how Democratic leader Tom Daschle managed to sneak in a clause that allows the loggers to move in on his state (again: in the name of "firefighting").

In as much, I'll allow myself to stand corrected -- while the governmental logging interests tend to be to the right, I should have known better than to have drawn the line in the sand that clearly. It turns out that the leadership of both parties would love to stand up and speak for trees as the 1000 year old timber comes falling down.

Posted by Richard
7/29/2002 12:00:35 PM | PermaLink

Sunday, July 28, 2002

Do We Have A Minor Hit?

I can't predict where the blog will rank by the time you read this but I want to take a minute to thank everyone who has voted highly for the Vegan Blog at Bloghop during the recent weeks...for as of 6:30 pm today, Vegan Blog made it to the front page and was ranked in the Top 20 blogs (#20) of nearly 11,000!

Exposure, exposure, exposure -- for a radical vegan blog: one has to be tickled.

Posted by Richard
7/28/2002 06:54:07 PM | PermaLink

Globalization-from-below Struggles Onward

The ongoing series of widely organized events and protests surrounding the G-8, IMF, World Bank, and related institutions roles on in the name of a planet released from the impulses of capitalist domination and exploitation. Organization is now underway for what may be another giant statement in Washington D.C., at the end of September, when the IMF and World Bank convene there.

Whatever the outcome of these protests, there can be little argument that they represent a real challenge to the globalization-from-above of trans-national corporate status-quodom and that they appear to have meaningfully energized a political consciousness amongst a wide demographic of people (including a significant youth movement) seemingly out of nowhere. Seattle, the begetter of much of the cultural anti-capital of the 1990s appears to have left its most ambitious legacy, not in the SubPop of Mudhoney, the millenial despair of Kurt Cobain, or the industry rock of grunge and dark coffee, but rather in the anti-globalization movements that are 1999's children. The nihilist "No" that arose out of the city earlier in the decade has been newly transformed and re-envisioned as a Nietzschean-inspired "Yes to life" that carries with it a profound nay-saying to those deemed life-deniers and the "Battle for Seattle" now appears regularly in major urban centers worldwide whenever leaders would congress secretly.

One wonders how the White House will react to this contemporary freedom march -- by denying it, suppressing it? Can we truly expect the deeply wounded corporate Bush regime to welcome the anti-capitalists with open arms? It will be interesting to watch the various media portrayals -- typically, US mainstream media have attempted to represent anti-globalization protesters as violent anarchists with a penchant for lawlessness and chaos. However, as seen recently at demonstrations in Ottawa and Calgary, the large mass of demonstrators tend in fact to be forcefully peaceful in getting the message across, resorting to black brigade tactics only if the police first instigate measures of violence upon the march.

This particular protest in D.C. should be specially interesting as it (by chance) will take place right around the time that the Bush administration has apparently calendared for the mass-invasion of Iraq. Already, apparently in an attempt to evade the protests, the IMF has rescheduled its talks by moving them up to late September from its initial October date. Surely, a story to follow if plans continue unabated on all sides.

Posted by Richard
7/28/2002 03:12:40 PM | PermaLink