Friday, April 20, 2012

Photos: Okeeheelee Nature Center, WPB

While on my little field trip with the Audubon folks, I mentioned that I'd never seen a painted bunting. Immediately, my host Linda started giving me directions for a nature center that was on my way home. I found it easily enough, and this is what I saw:


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Bad Reporting Alert: NYT article asserts veganism is a bad choice for children

In the New York Times' Room for Debate feature on veganism, lard-advocate Nina Planck (not kidding - it's in her bio) asserts that veganism is "A Choice with Definite Risks" for infants and children.

Anjali Sareen does an excellent job of debunking the bad science in Planck's piece in a rebuttal article on Intellectualyst.So I'd simply like to address the heart of Planck's argument - that a vegan diet requires supplementation to meet all dietary needs, and that supplementation is inferior to nutrients obtained from food.

She begins her argument by saying:
The American Dietetic Association asserts that a “well-planned” vegan diet — by which the experts mean one with many synthetic supplements — can be adequate for babies; I disagree.
And concludes with:
Some things cannot be replaced. Real food is one.
Well, first of all, that the experts define "well-planned" as "must include supplements" is patently false. The ADA position statement says this (emphasis added):

It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes. A vegetarian diet is defined as one that does not include meat (including fowl) or seafood, or products containing those foods. This article reviews the current data related to key nutrients for vegetarians including protein, n-3 fatty acids, iron, zinc, iodine, calcium, and vitamins D and B-12. A vegetarian diet can meet current recommendations for all of these nutrients. In some cases, supplements or fortified foods can provide useful amounts of important nutrients. An evidence-based review showed that vegetarian diets can be nutritionally adequate in pregnancy and result in positive maternal and infant health outcomes. 
So the ADA clearly states that all nutritional needs can be met through a vegan diet. It states that supplementation may be useful, but not that it's necessary or even specifically recommended. In other words, all dietary needs for mother and child can be acquired through "real food." Since Planck seems aware of the ADA's position statement, I can only conclude this was intentionally misleading to support her pro-meat position.

But let's assume she's sincere in her anti-supplementation stance regarding pregnancy, lactation, and early childhood years. I'd be curious to see what the March of Dimes (who recommend supplementing folic acid for all potential moms-to-be) or the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (who recommend a prenatal vitamin for "most women", meaning those who aren't in danger of having too much of certain potentially harmful vitamins by doing so), or the Centers for Disease Control (who recommend vitamin D supplements for all breastfed children) have to say about that. The idea that pregnant or nursing mothers shouldn't supplement is contrary to all conventional medical advice.

I'm going to take a leap and assume that Planck is not opposed to all supplementing of vitamins during pregnancy and early childhood. I bet she'd be right on board with taking folic acid to prevent birth defects. So why is it okay for meat-eating mothers, but not okay for vegan mothers?

Vitamin deficiencies are fairly common in the general population. According to a CDC report, one in 10   Americans has a vitamin deficiency, the most common being B6, D, and iron. Who today has a doctor who hasn't told them to take a multivitamin daily, or checked their vitamin D and iron levels? If you do, it's time to get a new doctor. The fact is that vitamin deficiency is not a vegan issue, it's a human issue.

This isn't to say that there aren't genuine issues that vegans need to be aware of when it comes to their own nutrition and that of their child. But what do we do about those types of issues with meat-eating moms? Like the March of Dimes, the CDC, and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, we educate. We get the information out there, we make people aware.

So why the choice to call for all hands to abandon the vegan ship, instead of educating folks to right the course? Because Planck's real concern is not health, but a pro-meat justification.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Photos: STA-1E with Audubon of the Everglades

I had the opportunity to visit a storm treatment area that's usually closed to the public with the Audubon of the Everglades group. If you're not familiar, storm treatment areas (STAs) are huge impounds designed to clean run-off water from local agriculture before it goes into the aquifer or the Everglades. This 6,500 acre compound is a haven for birds and other wildlife. 

Juvenile gator

Turkey vulture

Osprey with fish

One of the impounds - it's quite pretty.

Black-bellied whistling ducks

Great blue heron

Black skimmer skimming for fish

Roseate spoonbills
A flock of skimmers takes flight

Roseate spoonbill and a black-necked stilt

Photos: Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

Merritt Island NWR surrounds NASA's Kennedy Space Center. From certain places within the refuge, you can glimpse the tall platforms used for launches. But most of the island is the untouched beauty of natural Florida.

On the Scrub Ridge Trail:

I love how vultures seem to prefer skeletal trees. Something fitting about that.

The endangered Florida scrub jay.

From the Haulover Canal manatee viewing area:

Monday, April 2, 2012

Bad Reporting: Grist says we should "shut up and drink" bug juice

In an article today on, Why you should be glad there are bugs in your Frappuccino, Jess Zimmerman asserts that "vegans, corporation-haters, and bloggers who like writing about gross things you just put in your mouth" should "get off your high horse" and "shut up and drink your bug juice." Zimmerman bases these bold statements on three points:

1. the completely false assertion, copped from an entomologist, that the only viable alternative to cochineal is a petroleum-based food dye.

2. the fact that the production of cochineal provides income in impoverished areas

3. that the product in which the colorant is used is "not food" - i.e. unhealthy.

So let's look at the ways this is nonsense.

1. The fact that Starbucks made the change because they wanted to get away from artificial dyes automatically takes Red 40 out of the equation. You therefore cannot defend the change by saying it's better than Red 40 because the entire point was to choose a natural alternative to Red 40. As stated in the petition that moved Starbucks to reconsider their use of cochineal,

While it’s commendable to move away from artificial ingredients, there are other natural means to achieve the red coloring. Red beet, black carrot, purple sweet potato and paprika are all-natural alternatives to artificial dyes and safe for those with dietary restrictions. (And those who don’t want crushed bugs in their designer drink.)

If you're going to choose a natural alternative to Red 40, you don't choose the one with the highest potential for causing severe allergies, and which violates vegetarian, vegan, and possibly Kosher guidelines without telling your clientele.

2. Does cochineal provide income to impoverished areas? So would beet farming.

Yes, I'm being glib, but to suggest that the only solution to poverty is crushing bugs is spurious reasoning. Loss of jobs is propaganda often used against veganism, but food and dyes still need to be produced. We only want to see them produced from non-animal ingredients.

3. I am so tired of the 'throw the baby out with the bathwater' approach. This is an absurd justification. Because other ingredients aren't healthy, we should not care about one that can cause severe allergic reactions and violates the ethics of 10% of the US population (vegetarians and vegans) being introduced with no warning?

So as if it wasn't bad enough that Jess Zimmerman's article was offensive and rude, it's also complete bunk.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Messing with the maternal instinct: a new dairy cruelty

This is one of my most painful memories: I woke up from general anesthesia after an emergency C-section and immediately pressed the call button for the nurse. "Where is my baby?" I demanded.

"He's fine," the nurse assured me. "He's in the nursery; they're giving him a bottle."

"But I'm going to breastfeed. I want my baby."

The nurse patiently explained that because I'd been out for so long, they'd had to feed my son formula and they would bring him to me as soon as I was moved to a room.

After that, I was in an out of consciousness for a while, but pervading every waking minute was a sense of desperation. Every time I saw a nurse, I asked what was taking so long. When my husband was allowed into the recovery, I begged him for information. He assured me he'd been to the nursery and our baby was fine, but it made no difference to me. The maternal instinct demanded that I see my child.

When I was moved to a room, I was so relieved. I waited eagerly for them to bring my baby. And waited. And waited. The desperation grew, not because I believed anything was wrong - I knew my son was healthy and in capable hands. No, because of the biological imperative, the primal instinct, of a mother to care for her child. I have honestly never known a stronger drive in my life - no mere emotional response compares. I was just about to try to get out of bed and drag myself to the nursery - giant incision, morphine drip, and all - when they finally brought him to me.

My son will have his 20th birthday in 2012, and the pain and rage over those hours he was withheld from me after his birth are still as real to me as they were in 1992. Maternal instinct is, quite literally, a force of nature.

My friend Peter from Ready for Plan B pointed out an article to me today. From the ironically named Progressive Dairy site, the relevant point was this:

Q: What is one unique thing you’ve tried?
A: Calf sounds.

"We are playing hungry baby cow sounds in the robot stall," said Jones. "It releases oxytocin in their brain and we had some research done by a high school student that it increased milk production by a pound at first and causes them to release their milk faster."

What fresh horror is this?

We know that cows have a maternal instinct. Regardless of whether you believe they can think or feel, this much is known: a defining trait of mammals is that the females nurse their young; therefore, that they have a maternal instinct is self-evident. (If they didn't, they'd abandon their young and the species would die out.) Simply put, a cow's instinct demands she care for her baby, the same as my instinct demanded I care for mine. The dairy industry robs her of the ability to act on that instinct, which is cruel enough. But then to prolong the suffering indefinitely by piping in the sound of her baby's cries?

Imagine being a mother whose child is taken away from her, yet every day, someone plays you a recording of your child crying out for you. Setting aside the emotional aspect, how long do you think it would take for that maternal imperative to fade? How long until your child's cries no longer make you want to react? And you are able to process the child's absence intellectually and choose to tamp down your instinctual reaction. Though I do think they're intelligent creatures, I doubt cows are able to rationalize on that level. No, they're just in a perpetual state of biological drive, with no outlet for that instinct, and the only end in sight is when their milk dries up. After that they're forcibly impregnated and the whole cycle starts again.

To twist and misuse the maternal instinct this way is an affront to nature, and to all mothers everywhere.