caged birds sing

12 08 2007

As an animal rights activist, I’ve been recently blown away by this recent surge in passion for the movement. I went to City Bakery in New York the other day, fully expecting to resign myself to some iced tea and maybe a bagel, and they had three separate vegan cookie options (which cost and tasted on par with the non-vegan fare). The dining section of a recent Wednesday Times article chronicled (at 3000 words, no less!) the plights of different animal rights groups across the globe. And during a storm last Friday walking to work near Union Square and carrying a Food Fight canvas bag (Food Fight is a tiny, Portland-based vegan junk food mart), a complete stranger grabbed my shoulder and said, “Food Fight! Nice!”

I thought it was possible this was all sheer coincidence… until, that is, this morning at (vegan) brunch when a friend pulled out the front page of the Sunday Times displaying a color shot of chickens in a supposedly cage-free environment (shown)New York Times -- ; the corresponding article declaring, “The toy industry had its Tickle Me Elmo, the automakers the Prius and technology its iPhone. Now, the food world has its latest have-to-have-it product: the cage-free egg.”

It’s true, of course, that the demand for cage-free eggs is high. That’s good news. Cage-free eggs, though, as the story just touches on, really aren’t much of an improvement from their alternative (just check out the picture). Although I do remember the days in high school when I’d preach to crowds of six or seven fellow revolutionaries about the horrific eight-to-a-single-cage, de-beaked, de-feathered, diseased conditions caged chickens were doomed to. As the Paul Shapiro of the Humane Society concludes in the article, “While cage-free certainly does not mean cruelty-free, it’s a significant step in the right direction.”

While I’m thrilled at the awesome reality of the biggest newspaper in the United States running an animal rights story on the front page (I never thought I’d see the day, truth be told), I can’t help but think of lying in my room debating vegetarianism with a jaded ex-vegetarian roommate last semester, who aptly reminded me that veganism was an expensive, bourgeois cause. And while I bitterly fought with her, reminding her that a salad or mashed potatoes was exponentially cheaper than a sirloin, I couldn’t help but agree with her a little in my head.

And then there’s this little wish-it-weren’t-true tidbit in the Times article:

“There is a lot of talk about cage-free, but are people actually buying them?” said Gene Gregory, president of the United Egg Producers. “I think the consumer walking into the grocery store sees cage-free and they cost two or three times more, and they don’t buy them.”

Mr. Gregory is right. Sure, there are a lot of people buying cage-free eggs, and everyone would probably like to be buying cage-free eggs (except the truly heartless, but let’s exclude them from this discussion). Unfortunately, animal rights has become a cause that many well-meaning liberals view as in blatant conflict with many human rights. There are a lot of people who frankly don’t have the means to eat vegan, and that’s a really depressing reality.

Our food and agriculture system has grown to be such a divine mess that it’s time the government gets involved. And not in a paltry, ball-less way (The insult that is Nancy Pelosi’s farm bill 2007 doesn’t even come close). We have got to start looking out for the living things that call America home.

  • Countries all of the world have animal rights acts in place; Chicago has outlawed foie gras; it’s time for America to step it up and develop comprehensive standards that absolutely must be met so that we can all sleep at night knowing that animals in this country are treated with respect.
  • Fresh produce and local agriculture needs to be made available in lower-income urban areas.
  • In my mind, corporate farming should be illegal. Just imagine how many jobs and how much healthy food would result from a country running on privately-owned and operated farms.
  • We’ve gotta quit importing so much meat and fish. We don’t realize how destructive our eating habits are when their sources are thousands of miles away (also: carbon gas emissions, anyone?)
  • No one in America should starve. There’s enough money in the world for every human being to have a million dollars. I know I’m sounding annoyingly idealistic, here… but no one in this country should be starving. That soup kitchens and food pantries across the country are strapped for resources is downright wrong.

In the meantime, I’m grateful people are buying the “cage-free” eggs. It’s a good way to start my Sunday. Next time, though I hope the New York Times steps it up a notch and gets their fingers dirty. It’s time to start reporting about animal cruelty — the parts about it no one wants to read. Because then, maybe, they’ll really pay attention.


americans suck

21 07 2007

Check out my list of My 10 Least Favorite (Living) Americans…

by clicking here

like bike

11 07 2007

Sitting down in a neighborhood community-growth discussion group in south Chicago last year, someone mentioned a far-fetched and distant dream they had of loaning bicycles out to residents on faith that they would be returned. The room buzzed with laughter. “Yeah right,” someone muttered.

Trust is not something that runs freely in this country. With our conservative every-man-for-himself, dog-eat-dog collective mentality, a shared-bicycle program in a major metropolis is an idea for radical socialists whose minds are less grounded than runaway balloons.

But New York instigated just such a test-program only five days ago, setting up a station where people could borrow a bicycle — provided they showed photo ID and a credit card number for security reasons — for up to half an hour.

That said, the New York Times blog post on the subject is almost hilariously headlined, “Dozens Turn Out for Bike-Sharing Program.” Ooooh. Dozens. In a city of 8 million people, you’d think that more than 25 would snatch up the opportunity to ride a free bike around a big, bike-able city.

But the program (which was only in the testing stages, I must emphasize, and ends today until further decisions about instigating a permanent version can be made) is flawed. First, by mandating photo identification and a credit card, the program shuts out all those it should be encompassing. Those without the financial means to have a state-issued ID or a credit card would not be able to ride on the bicycles. Basically, the program is limited to the bourgeoisie who have a half hour to leisurely pedal through Central Park before their afternoon frappacino.

Second, the half-hour time limit is extremely restrictive — especially in a tangled, intimidating city like New York. A program like this shouldn’t just be available to people who know the area and want to take a short ride — bicycles are great for anyone trying to make a job interview or get to the subway on time. With only one drop-off station two of the days the program was working, biking free could be more trouble than it was worth.

And of course, if the bicycle group couldn’t trust the people to return their bicycles without a credit card number for security, how could they expect the people to give their credit card numbers without fear of unlawful distribution?

Similar programs have been successful in cities like Portland, Oregon and Austin, Texas. In Austin, particularly, the project (dubbed “The Yellow Bike Project”for the bright yellow bicycles that are distributed throughout the city) has flourished, offering not only free rides for those who need them, but also build-your-own bike classes for those who cannot afford their own bicycles, and bike distribution and donation to non-profits like Bikes Across Borders.

Basically, the Yellow Bike Project releases about 30 bright yellow bicycles — rebuilt from unusable and defunct old ones — around the city. Anyone can ride any bike at any time and leave it wherever she wants when she’s done using it.

The key here is that the Project doesn’t take the problem of stolen bikes too seriously. As Project Coordinator Marci Schneider put it:

“When we release them, they’re around for about a month or so, then they start to disappear.”

And that’s to be expected. Run on donations, volunteer hours and manpower, those who run the Project can’t expect its bicycles to stay out there forever. Nevertheless, the city is much better off, and the Yellow Bike Project has done a fabulous service.

New York has higher-grade offers being made by shady corporations like Clear Channel, JCDecaux and Cemusa, but they’ve got it all wrong. The city would be well off instigating a for-everyone program like Austin’s — only on a much larger scale.

Interest in programs like these speaks at great volume to the country’s increasing concern about carbon emissions and global warming. It won’t be long before major corporations attempt to make a profit from the nation’s legitimate apprehension. Frankly, I’m okay with that. But, as always, we must keep in mind those who can’t afford solar panels on their roofs or $2000 road bikes.

Global warming is a unique cause because it’s growing more and more non-partisan. With escalating scientific evidence, it’s growing near-to-impossible to deny the boundless reaches of its effects. The positive side of this, if we must find one, is that this cause may bind us as a common people in ways that have since been unknown. And if there’s any cause that must resist the shackles of grid-locked class divisions, this is the one.