Friday, June 27, 2008

Locavores and Vegetarians

I went to a meeting last night. (For some reason, having just rewatched Casablanca for the umpteenth time, I’m thinking “I’ve heard a lot of stories in my time. ... ‘Mister, I met a man once, they’d always begin.’”) This meeting was on the subject of the impact of food on one’s carbon footprint, and being a locavore.

At some point, the speaker referred to “vegetarians and animal rights people” as twisting statistics. When he was finished I asked, “As a vegetarian and animal rights person, I didn’t catch exactly what you’re disputing.” And honestly, I’m still not sure. I’m not very good at quick comprehension and intelligent conversation; I’m more of a reader and writer.

I think what he had in mind was the effect it would have on world greenhouse gases if Americans stopped eating meat. Or maybe just beef in particular since he mentioned the US only having 7% of the world’s cattle, and he is or was a beef producer (talk about an incentive to twist statistics!) Of course, the US imports and exports plenty of the stuff as well so the number of cattle who happen to live here seems irrelevant. And he may just have been talking about the amount of gas produced by the animals rather than how much energy is wasted producing a cow vs. feeding the grains directly to people.

I stopped by The Nature Conservancy’s website this morning to use their carbon footprint calculator again. I have an old friend who works for TNC who happens to be a vegetarian and animal rights person, but the organization is not by any means an AR group. In fact, they’re one of the most conservative environmental groups.

And yet, when I plug in “never” in reply to their question of how often I include meat in my diet, I drop 78% below the US average for carbon production in the food and diet category. Almost as much as my 81% below average in the driving/flying category. In fact almost 80% of my carbon footprint comes completely from average home energy use in the state I happen to live in. Though my total greenhouse gas emissions are substantially lower than the US average, they’re also three times the world average. So I think I can safely say I’m doing a better job at this than a meat-eating locavore, and that none of it really matters until the basic unsustainable American way of life collapses. At that point there will be a lot less people and eating locally will be the only option.

All of which has absolutely nothing to do with why I don’t eat animals. I don’t eat animals because of the feel of a pig snout on my hand and the look in the eye of a cow and the movement of the llama who knocked off my hat to smell my hair. I don’t eat animals because of the young raccoons and squirrels I’ve held while feeding them. I don’t eat animals because when I’m hiking I’d rather see a deer running or staring at me than find a pile of her entrails. I don’t eat animals because of the way the cat comes running into the bedroom in the morning when he hears the old futon frame creaking as I get up, and the way he’s waiting at the door when I come home. I don’t eat animals because I don’t need to, and because I choose not to be the type of person who abuses beings at my mercy.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Hiking in Duluth II

I’d planned again to finally finish writing that militarism/nationalism post today, but instead got outside early and decided to spend most of the day there. All of the more natural places I visited were looking lovely, but due to humans (I’m shocked!) there’s also some real ugliness going on.

Here in our little semi-urban semi-wilderness, this hiking day leaned more to the urban side. I entered the Lakewalk at 12th Avenue and headed northeast to the ledges, passing the Ledges and the other obscenities built in the past few years which blocked the view of the Lake while the city government either filled their pockets or mumbled in their sleep. Dozens of geese passed and flew ahead of me. Once on the rocks, I picked up as many cans and bottles from near the Lake as I could carry and left them in a pile up beside the paved trail. I told myself again to remember to bring along a bag when I go there.

After heading into Mansionville and a long wait to cross London Road, I headed uphill beside Tischer Creek, crossed Superior Street, and then descended into its magic world of bridges, cliffs, and waterfalls. The mostly old photos at might give you some idea of the area. The air was filled with a snowstorm of sorts coming from the trees though I couldn’t figure out which species. Among several flowering plants, I was happiest to see the large white flowers of the thimbleberry, as I anticipated its mushy tartness later in the summer. Butterflies included a lovely tiger swallowtail.

Looking up high to clifftop, this was a case when I would have been happy to see a majestic cougar highlighted against the sky and looking down at me. I’ve developed an on and off cougar paranoia in the past few years since reading The Beast in the Garden which has occasionally prevented me from fully enjoying my solo hikes. I realize it’s absurd, there have been no cougar-killed humans in the area or even attacks as far as I know, their local population is small enough that state officials prefer to say it doesn’t exist, in most cases a cougar won’t attack a human anyway and if s/he does the preferred method is from behind with a quick snap of the spine at the neck, I have no problem contemplating encounters with wolves or bears, this is what naturally happens to us animals as we get older and slower and culled from the pack, yep, yep, yep, I know all that. And I’d much prefer my dead body feed a cougar or any other wildlife than be embalmed and stuck in a box, or wasted in burning. But still, rationality has nothing to do with phobias, and the off chance of watching the cat tearing out my innards is unnerving.

On this day, the mosquitoes did me more damage. And only one sighting of that true bane of Duluth’s beautiful trail system: the unleashed dog. I have no real problem with people ignoring leash laws in a flat open area. But doing so on wooded curving narrow cliffside trails is completely irresponsible and unsafe. If you believe these humans, no dog ever bites and they’re all really friendly. Even if that were true, they harass wildlife and growl and bark and charge and startle and bang into people. Speak loudly and carry a big stick. Don’t be afraid to use it, though unfortunately you’re more likely to need to use it on the dog instead of on the human who really deserves it. It’s a long way down, for the human or the dog.

After coming out of the woods, I stopped at the best church parking lot in the country, with a great view of the Lake. Why anyone goes in their building looking for a god is beyond my comprehension. Just go to their parking lot.

After a stop at home for leftover stir-fry and a smoothie, it was back to the Lakewalk in the other direction to spend a couple hours with the peregrine falcons. The adults were hanging out providing good views today, and the nestling will be ready to fly within a week or so. I may just quit job-hunting until he does, on the off chance that someone might actually hire me and want me to start right away.

I planned to stop at the Brewhouse for happy hour and a wild rice burger, but unhappily talked myself out of spending the money. The beers might have helped me view the slaughter near home. A block away, Oliver Management (Spirit Mountain golf course, anyone?) has cut down well over a dozen large trees in front of their building and clearcut another area where a variety of smaller trees and shrubs used to live. All this on a hillside, and I envision the whole shebang sliding across the street in the next big rain. OK, now I’m angry enough again to write about the flagwavers. It’s that time of year; let’s all get drunk and play with explosives.

RIP George. "I look at it this way... For centuries now, man has done everything he can to destroy, defile, and interfere with nature: clear-cutting forests, strip-mining mountains, poisoning the atmosphere, over-fishing the oceans, polluting the rivers and lakes, destroying wetlands and aquifers... so when nature strikes back, and smacks him on the head and kicks him in the nuts, I enjoy that. I have absolutely no sympathy for human beings whatsoever. None. And no matter what kind of problem humans are facing, whether it's natural or man-made, I always hope it gets worse."

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Vegan Prisoners

Some good news of sorts from my home commonwealth where a federal judge has ruled that a prison must provide a vegan diet for a prisoner based on the Buddhist religious beliefs he developed in prison. Sixteen years ago, the man in question killed his son and beat the boy's mother.

I often read about the difficulty political prisoners have in getting jailers to serve them vegan food. Maybe this could be the first step toward all those nasty ecoterrorists (you know, the dangerous ones who haven't killed or beaten anyone, and declare their love of life rather than property) getting the food they need.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Birds, Blogs, and Books

For the past three years, I've enjoyed watching the peregrine falcons which use a nest box near the top of one of our tallest downtown buildings. Considering the usual high mortality rate, this pair (and it has been the same pair) have been quite successful in at least getting their young eyasses out of the nest and flying. All eight in total from the previous two years have made their way into the world. One died here in town, one is at a rehab center after breaking her wing, one was spotted here this spring, and the other unreported five at least got their chance.

It's been a tough year this time though. Once again four eggs were hatched but three have now died. Yesterday, a bander went over the side of building and removed the surviving youngster long enough to band him and took the body of his dead sibling. The on site check showed a symptom of frounce, a disease probably gotten from eating a sick pigeon. The body and a second body which was found earlier will be further examined. The surviving eyass was given some medicine by the banders and returned to the box.

It's no surprise that my ideas and values are very different from those of most people on the subjects of the natural world and other species. Hanging around for hours waiting for birds to fly, I hear a lot of comments. Some are inspiring, showing the enthusiasm people can get from observing nature. Many other comments I'd just as soon have missed. When it comes to these falcons, one of the most difficult things for me to understand is how enthusiastic people get when they learn that rock doves (pigeons) are the primary food source for the falcons. (As an aside, pigeon poisoning is apparently legal here and we wondered if that might be the cause of the falcons' deaths.) I don't have a problem with predation; I just find it fascinating (and repellent) that people think there are good and bad species. Replace pigeons with robins or hummingbirds as a primary food source, and the same people who love the falcons would hate them.

A couple months ago I added a tracker to this blog, not because I want to track people around the internet (I'm very opposed to that) but because I've seen other people list some very funny searches which people have done leading to their sites. And I wanted to see the FBI hits spike when I write ECO-TERRORIST! Clearly I don't write about sex and other bodily functions enough, because I haven't gotten any funny results. People seem fascinated by Lorri Bauston, the co-founder of Farm Sanctuary, who was mentioned in my post about the movie Peaceable Kingdom. Coming in second is interest in Sea Shepherd, and third is a very disappointed group looking up Zulu rituals (barely mentioned as the last entry in an encyclopedia--sorry, folks.) But the most important two searches were for squirrels with broken legs and I hope the links to wildlife rehabbers helped those squirrels out. That would make this blog worthwhile.

One of the blogs I added to my reading list recently is beginning a year-long book club on post-apocalypse subjects, one of my favorite genres. With a different theme each month and including both sci-fi and more literary titles, this could be a lot of fun. The introductory post and suggestions are here.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

My Few Bits

I've been busy dealing with life lately and since this blog was never intended to be about personal issues, I haven't had the urge to write here. If you didn't realize this was ever intended to be about anything, the original post provides the themes. On a somewhat related matter, I see that someone has started Green Tangle dot relation.

I hooked a ride from friends to the big city last week and was able to sell off six boxes of unneeded stuff (there's plenty of people who need used stuff here, but since they don't have the money to buy it, we don't have a store that sells it). While there, we took a hike along the Mississippi River and saw deer, herons, and egrets.

I haven't started reading it yet, but the June 9th issue of Newsweek has some cover stories on endangered species. Don't bother reading the comments which seem dominated by the deniers. Mildly amusing site about another endangered species...the great turtle race.

What I have started reading is The Last Campaign by Thurston Clarke about Robert Kennedy's run for the presidency which ended tragically just over forty years ago. I remember the assassination but not the train carrying his body from New York to DC...a description of that makes for a moving first chapter in a book about hope, and for many people, the end of both hope and an era.

Edited to add that I've just learned a couple weeks late of the death of Utah Phillips, who had been having heart problems for some years. A very funny, very caring, very political great old singer and storyteller I once chatted with in Harvard Square and will always remember. If you're not familiar with his recordings, you really owe it to yourself to check them out. RIP, Utah.