Before the Bush administration goes, its many assaults to basic decency will include putting cloned farm animals on the planet. On the 15 th of January, the Food and Drug Administration made the United States the first country to approve animal cloning for the retail food industry.
The European Union is poised to follow along, clearing the way for international trade to accept clone-derived flesh and dairy products. One day after the U.S. approval, the European Food Safety Authority announced, “[A]ssuming that unhealthy clones are removed from entering the food chain, it is very unlikely that any difference exists in terms of food safety between food products originating from clones and their progeny compared with those derived from conventionally bred animals.”
What are these people thinking?
The FDA is pushing this plan at the behest of a few heads of companies who promise replicas of animals most likely to be transformed into prime beef and bacon, or prolific milk producers. The dairy industry, which is already so prolific that taxpayers must buy surplus milk, has not championed the idea. Expecting to benefit most from the approval are the actual clonemakers, like Texas-based ViaGen, Inc., which is backed by a billionaire investor. ViaGen’s website boasts of cloning the “ legendary barrel racing champion Scamper” and shows “ calves cloned from Kung Fu, the mother of many famous rodeo bulls.”
The Federation of Animal Science Societies has run a PR campaign for cloning. “The entertainment industry has used the word ‘clone’ in a negative context,” said Jerry Baker, the group’s chief executive. “That’s a hard one for us to overcome, but we have to continue to try.” 1
While nonhuman cloning has always been legal in the United States, a voluntary moratorium on the sales of clones’ milk and flesh has applied since 2001. A 2002 National Academy of Science report concluded that products derived from cloned animals do not “present a food safety concern,” and the FDA gave a tentative approval in 2003, but retreated after its advisory panel reported a lack of consensus.
But they’ve gone and done it now.
“Meat and milk from cattle, swine and goat clones is as safe to eat as the food we eat every day,” said Stephen Sundlof, the FDA’s head vet. Sounds like the vet from Hell. C lones die from respiratory, digestive, circulatory, nervous, muscular, skeletal and placental abnormalities. Cows die trying to bear grotesquely oversized calves. Piglets have been born without anuses and tails — a fatal condition. Far more cloning attempts fail than succeed.2 A ll beside the point, Sundlof says. “There is just not anything there that is conceivably hazardous to the public health.”
So there we have it: Cows, pigs and goats, our species has spoken. You’re cleared for cloning.3 Far be it for this government to have spent its time on actually helpful ideas, like cleaning up some of those toxic lagoons streaming from the many millions of farm animals already existing.
Rock Stars of the Barnyard
This month has seen a revival of the human cloning debate in light of some startling events. Not only did the CEO of a small California biotech company put DNA from his own skin into a human egg to begin the process of making human clones;4 additionally, Britain’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has just cleared the way for cow-human hybrid embryos to be created for disease research.5
The United Nations’ Declaration on Human Cloning asks member states to “prohibit all forms of human cloning inasmuch as they are incompatible with human dignity and the protection of human life.” The dignity of nonhuman life attracts far less notice. A widely cited series of polls carried out by the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology reported that over 60 percent of U.S. consumers are uncomfortable with animal cloning, but only about 10 percent of those respondents saw the animals at the core of their discomfort.
The cloning companies dismiss their concerns with the most cavalier statements. “Cloning enhances animal wellbeing,” declares the Biotechnology Industry Organization; and Clonesafety.org, sponsored by cloning firms Cyagra, stART Licensing, and ViaGen, assures us: “In fact, clones are the ‘rock stars’ of the barnyard, and therefore are treated like royalty.”
With a strained informality, proponents speak of clones as later-born twins of their originals, and cloning as merely expanding the reproduction technology available to farmers since the 1950s.
Early last year, when a calf of a cloned cow was born in Britain, Simon Gee of the breeder’s group Holstein UK said the calf, Dundee Paradise, resulted from “conventional breeding technology” and was “born as the majority of the 220,000 animals that we register in the UK every year are born—as a result of artificial insemination.”6
But the majority of those registered animals don’t come from embryos imported from U.S. labs, as Dundee Paradise did.
Still, if domination and control is at the core of cloning, then the basis of the problem is the public’s willingness to consume animals in the first place. If animals can be bred, born and viewed as food items, virtually any manipulation will, sooner or later, be allowed. At a fundamental level, that’s why the statements from the Organic Consumers Association, or any other well-meaning group that declines to question the commodification of animals, lacks the power to stop this.
Cloners will even have the audacity to put on environmentalist airs. ViaGen, which currently charges $17,500 to clone a cow and $4,000 for a pig, and which, over the past few years, has provided more than 400 cloned animals to government scientists,7 has also mused about one day offering pro bono services to stave off extinctions. But any serious bid to protect vulnerable groups of animals would confront habitat degradation and other causes of accelerated extinction. And as scientists hope to soon routinely clone animals for agribusiness, they’re supporting the very industry that’s ruining habitats throughout the world.
Procedure Is Everything
Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski accused the U.S. government of acting “recklessly”; but Mikulski’s concern focused on the lack of labels to show which flesh and milk is which.8 The Biotechnology Industry Organization — which represents the cloning companies — said it would keep track of the animals. 9 Kind of. “The progeny of clones aren’t clones, so there’s really nothing to track anyway,” ViaGen’s CEO has said.10
The European Commission has vowed to consult consumers before its final ruling in May. British supermarket chains are rushing to voice their policies against stocking cloned products, but how they’d identify products from clones’ offspring is a mystery.
A group whose role actually allows ethics to be considered did officially weigh in. After several months (months!) of internal meetings, of discussions with experts, and of gathering public views through the Internet, the European Group on Ethics of science and new technologies presented its opinion to the EC.11
But the opinion of the ethics group mainly focuses on food safety. It does want “consumer rights and freedoms” respected even as it invokes the Amsterdam Treaty (which views animals as sentient beings) and the World Organisation for Animal Health’s “five freedoms” for animals: to behave normally and avoid malnutrition, fear, physical discomfort, injury and disease. Freedom from cloners didn’t make the list.
The ethics bureaucrats ask the Commission to say whether patents will apply, and to regulate it all through a “Code of Conduct on responsible farm animal breeding, including animal cloning.”
But a glimmer of hope remains, says the Daily Mail: The recently appointed environment secretary, Hilary Benn, is “a vegetarian who takes the suffering of farm animals particularly seriously.”12
Sort of. Benn duly pledged to “wholeheartedly support beef, pork and chicken farmers and the meat industry” after being named Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs last summer.”13
On the 19th of January, three days after the European Food Safety Authority gave its preliminary nod to cloned groceries, I visited Benn’s website, entered “cloning” into the search field, and watched the result appear.
“Sorry, but you are looking for something that isn’t here.”
- 1. As quoted by Karen Kaplan, “FDA Declares Cloned Meat, Milk Safe” – Los Angeles Times (16 Jan. 2008).
- 2. Moreover, experimenters test out the animal products from clones by forcing mice and other animals to ingest them . See Maggie Fox, “Cloned Animals Miserable, but Safe to Eat” – [ Australia] Herald Sun (16 Jan. 2008).
- 3. The U.S. Department of Agriculture “is encouraging the technology producers to maintain their voluntary moratorium on sending milk and meat from animal clones into the food supply during this transition time.” But suppliers aren’t expected to sell parts of cloned animals, who are seen as breeders. It’s the milk and meat from the cloned animals’ offspring that companies would be sending into the retail market.
- 4. Delthia Ricks, “ Scientists Make Human Embryo Clone” –[ New York] Newsday (18 Jan. 2008, describing the project reported from the laboratories of Stemagen Corp.) .
- 5. Clive Cookson, “ Go-ahead for Hybrid Embryo Work” – Financial Times (18 Jan. 2008; reporting on the approval made public the day before).
- 6. Similarly, Biotechnology Industry Organization chief Jim Greenwood has said, ” Animal cloning is the latest step in a long history of reproductive tools for farmers and ranchers, and can effectively help livestock producers deliver what consumers want: high-quality, safe, abundant and nutritious foods in a conscientious and consistent manner.” BIO press release: “FDA Announces Safety of Food Products from Cloned Animals and Their Offspring” (28 Dec. 2006).
- 7. FDA Declares Cloned Meat, Milk Safe” (note 1 above).
- 8. “ U.S. Authorities Approve Cloned Animal Foods” (Agence France-Presse; 15 Jan. 2008).
- 9. See Andrew Pollack, “ System to Track Cloned Animals Is Planned” – New York Times (19 Dec. 2007). ViaGen and Trans Ova Genetics of Iowa claim to have devised an electronic registry system to track cloned animals for a substantial fee.
- 10. “FDA Declares Cloned Meat, Milk Safe” (note 1 above; quoting ViaGen CEO Mark Walton).
- 11. In February 2007, following the FDA announcement concerning possible approval of products derived from cloned cattle, pigs and goats for the grocery market, European Commission p resident José Manuel Barroso requested the opinion . Press release : “European Group on Ethics adopts its opinion nr. 23 on ethical aspects of animal cloning for food supply” (16 Jan. 2008).
- 12. Sean Poulter, “EU Gives Green Light for Cloned Food to Go on Sale in UK shops” – Daily Mail ( 11 Jan. 2008).
- 13. Vegetarian Benn Takes Charge of Environment” – Telegraph ( 29 Jun. 2007).
I hope the bees can forgive me for intruding a bit into their private lives and sharing what I’ve found. Rest assured: No bees were disturbed in any way for this article. The truth is, bees like hedges. And flowers.
Bees have critical relationships with the plants surrounding them; they’ve evolved together. In the same way, we too are dependent on bees, for bees pollinate not only flowering plants but many of our popular foods as well, including tomatoes, berries, peppers, squashes and nuts. It’s been said that one of every three bites of our food was brought to us courtesy of animal pollinators such as bees.
But in recent decades, in the shadows of our burgeoning population and the advent of mass-scale agribusiness, flat fields have stretched over the habitable land on much of the earth, wiping out hedges and flowering shrubs. In an alarming trend, the large, social bees such as honey bees and bumble bees have faced “colony collapse disorder” — entire bee colonies dying suddenly. The bees are also affected by diseases as their communities are placed together and transported long distances by corporations to pollinate various crops.
The discovery of colony-collapse disorder has brought pollination to humanity’s attention. Varied reports of collapses have appeared out of about half of the United States, from the Mediterranean region, and from Britain, and are now emerging from China and Australia as well.
The “Mystery” of the Missing Bees
Professor Judith Halberstam noted how “Silence of the Bees,” produced as part of the PBS Nature series last October, brought television viewers all sorts of possible explanations for the disappearance of bees in various parts of the world: Could it be global warming? The use of fields to produce just one kind of crop for agribusiness? And so forth.1 The show brought up these various and interconnected reasons for the bees’ disappearance and yet ended up, as many of these shows do, treating the bees’ disappearance as some kind of mystery to scientists. Halberstam aptly observed that communicators would be better advised to be thinking about solutions, rather than just posing questions. Thinking about real solutions would implicate the viewers’ own lives, and television isn’t used to doing that. It should be.
The website offered by the Public Broadcasting Service to accompany the show has provided some advice: It recommends steering clear of pesticides — a good idea.2 It also encourages concerned viewers take up home beekeeping, although there are ways to support the bees’ survival that don’t involve trying to keep or manage them. One answer, for example, could be offered by gardeners, for g ardens play a critical role in offering habitat for bees.
Notably, beekeeping has actually comprised part of the problem bees face today. According to PBS, a big break in the case of the lost bees came when scientists used genetic testing to link colony collapse with a particular virus.3 That virus was discovered in 2004, the same year U.S. beekeepers started importing packaged bees from Australia.
Beekeeping is threatening other animals as well. Gorillas face urgent and ever-increasing threats from humans in Rwanda, Congo and Uganda — including more than 1,800 bee farmers who use the forestland of the Virunga Mountains to produce beeswax for candles and the cosmetic industry.4
Meanwhile, bee colony collapses are still being treated as scientific puzzles, and this has triggered a new area of vivisection. Government and Penn State researchers are planning complex experiments to learn whether the virus itself wipes out colonies or if instead the disorder is triggered by other pathogens and stresses. These researchers will “stress bees in certain ways and evaluate the effect on their health.”5 Israeli researchers think virus-resistant bees can be bred, and are doing still more experiments, injecting bees with viruses.
Already, beekeepers in 24 U.S. states report that perhaps 70 percent of their colonies have recently died off, threatening about $14 billion in agriculture.6 Dairy and other animal farmers are becoming concerned about their stores of feed, including alfalfa. Future losses of bees could even wipe out whole crops. Almonds, for example, completely depend on pollination by honey bees.
Meet the Pollinators
The earliest pollinators were insects such as beetles, but bees became specialized as more efficient pollinators than beetles, butterflies, pollen wasps, or any other pollinating insect. Bees’ ancestors are the wasps — predators of insects. Some wasps, commonly known as beewolves, prey on bees themselves in order to supply food to their carnivorous larvae. Thus, to some beekeepers, predator control means targeting wasps.
Beekeepers often use honey bees. The big, fuzzy bumble bees we see on garden flowers carry more pollen than honey bees do; but honey bee colonies have long been exploited as honey producers due to their large numbers. Unlike bumble bees, who typically form small colonies of 50 to a few hundred members, honey bees’ colonies can rise to include 30,000 or more.
Yet some bumble bees have long tongues, suited to flowers with long tubes, such as red clover. Bumble bees are known to fly in cooler air than many other bees, and to continue their movements after the daylight fades. When performing “buzz pollination,” required to produce tomatoes, bumble bees hold a flower while the vibration of their wings loosens and releases the pollen. And because bumble bees survive indoors they’ve been used extensively in the greenhouse industry.
Millions of colonies of bees are used in the worldwide production of honey, pollen, royal jelly, novelties such as propolis lollipops, mead or honey wine, beeswax candles and cosmetics, and venom for human uses. To obtain these products, beekeepers regularly disturb the hives, crushing some bees in the process. Beekeepers will replace the bees’ honey with high-fructose corn syrup or cheap, refined sugar, and may kill off the colonies to avoid maintaining the hives throughout the winter. Many beekeepers will clip the queen’s wings or use a “queen excluder” cage to keep the queen from relocating the hive; many will also kill the queen when the production of eggs visibly declines. They may use smoke to force the bees out of the hive so the honey can be harvested. Some beekeepers torch the entire colony when winter arrives.
In a natural environment the queen honey bee, not the beekeeper, would choose the hive’s location and the number of eggs produced. The bees would gather nectar and pollen to feed their own communities. Do the bees themselves care that they have lost control over their lives? They probably do. Not only do bees have brains; they also use those brains to form abstract concepts and to reach consensus. Joan Dunayer has described how “scouts (all of whom are sisters) search for a cavity of suitable location, dryness, and size” when planning their colonies. “A honey bee scout may advertise one site over a period of days,” adds Dunayer, but “[i]f a sister’s find proves more desirable than her own, the honey bee stops advocating her original choice and starts dancing in favor of the superior site. She’s capable of changing her mind and her ‘vote.’”7
Honey can contain bacterial spores which, according to Dr. Jay Hoecker of the Mayo Clinic, can cause botulism in human infants. And propolis, a gluey product of beehives, has caused allergic dermatitis in beekeepers and people who use it in cosmetics and self- treatment of various diseases.8 Nevertheless, apitherapy, or the health-related use of honey and pollen, propolis, royal jelly and bee venom, is promoted by some as an arthritis cure. The American Apitherapy Society, located in Centerport, N.Y. admits bee venom treatments haven’t been adequately evaluated in the United States, that no doctors use them, and that bee venom is only approved for desensitization of persons allergic to bee stings.
The AAS does, however, promote the 1935 “classic” Bee Venom Therapy: Bee Venom, Its Nature, and Its Effect on Arthritic and Rheumatoid Conditions, by Bodog F. Beck, M.D. In a foreword to a reprint of Beck’s book, Charles Mraz writes:
One of the first duties I assumed when I met Dr. Beck was to take charge of his beehive on the window sill of his office. He had a five-frame hive, covered with a wire screen. The bees had an entrance through the window so they could fly outside and gather a surprising amount of honey from Central Park during the spring and summer months. He had a small metal door on the screen which could be opened easily and the bees removed with long forceps and the bee applied to the patient's affected areas. This created a perpetual supply of a “self-activated, self-contained, sterile hypodermic needle.”
The usual course of treatment was to apply the bees every other day, three times a week over the areas with arthritic symptoms and the spine. The body would itch under hot swellings up to six inches in diameter; clients experienced pain and nausea. “During this reactive stage,” recounts Mraz, “the patient often felt worse and would become greatly discouraged about the treatment.” Mraz insists, though, that they would often later become well.
Bee venom therapy has also been researched by Glenn B. Warren, a retired vice president of General Electric. The experiments — many carried out using other animals — reportedly took place at the Walter Reed Army Institute for Research, the U.S. Navy Radiation Defense Laboratories, Pennsylvania State University and the New York University Hospital.9 An association called the North American Apiotherapy Society has been formed to stimulate further research and to promote the use of bee venom10. The venom has been fruitlessly tested on mice as a possible therapy for multiple sclerosis. In the 1990s, Vespa Laboratories and the ( U.S.) National Multiple Sclerosis Society gave a research grant to Fred D. Lublin, M.D. and colleagues at Allegheny University of the Health Sciences in Philadelphia to inject mice with doses replicating between four to 160 bee stings, then wait for symptoms such as limb paralysis. They reported no clinical benefit at any dosage level, but said the numbers of mice were too small, and went on to conduct additional studies.11
Flower Power for Bees
Some say avoiding bee products on moral principle could draw ridicule. Indeed there was, in the early days of the Vegan Society, debate surrounding this issue. Yet bees have a complex central nervous system, and many have intensely keen senses of sight and smell, and intricate methods of communication and nest architecture. They obviously experience their lives, avoid harm, and seek out what appeals to them and sustains them.
And vegans strive to avoid any form of exploitation or harm to animals — which, at essence, means respecting animals’ personal interests in living in their own ways. In practice, and by the definition accepted by the Vegan Society, this means adopting a diet free of all animal products, whether dairy, flesh, eggs or bee products.12
Still, it is possible to use the products of bee commerce without even being aware of it. Almond pollination represents half of the U.S. use of “honey bee pollination services” according to the Public Broadcasting Service.13
If you have garden space, you can help bees to flourish in their own ways. Bumble bees build their nests in grasses or in holes below the ground, such as abandoned mouse nests. To encourage bees to nest, let some of your garden stay undisturbed, and have a variety of plants that flourish throughout the season. Bumble bees get all their nutrients from flowers, so why not brighten your surroundings and sustain bees with flowering plants? Early spring flowers are particularly important to new colonies, and bees especially appreciate blue, purple, and yellow flowers, planted in clusters four feet or more in diameter.
Avoid show varieties; they may lack sufficient nectar or pollen for bees. Native plants are better adapted to your regional bees. These plants thrive in the local climate and soil, naturally resist diseases, and provide familiar food and shelter to match the life cycles of local animals. N ative plants can also provide key routes for animals, connecting them to nearby remaining wildlands.
U.S. residents may look to the federal agriculture department’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (available electronically at http://plants.usda.gov/index.html) for a list of native plants, and peruse their descriptions and pictures. Or check with a plant nursery, botanical society or native plant society in your state or province for information on finding plants compatible with your area. You might be advised, for example, to plant eastern waterleaf in the central or northeastern United States, where these herbs naturally bloom from May to August. For earlier blooms, gooseberry is a good choice. The American gooseberry is native to the northern areas of the United States and southern Canada. The graceful petals of camas lilies are perfect for bees in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia — but avoid the poisonous variety.
Large, lavender beardtongue is native to the North American prairie states, and blooms in May and June. Deciduous azaleas are native to both the eastern and western areas of the United States and flower in early summer. At least two species of deciduous azaleas and two species of rhododendrons are native to eastern Canada.
Purple prairie clover is indigenous to the North American Great Plains. White clover is native to Europe and Asia, but has become naturalized in much of North America, and if you’ve got it in the summer, it will be a smorgasbord for bees and moreover it’s an edible plant, eaten raw, cooked, baked, or used in teas for its nutritional value. From British Columbia across the prairies and into western Ontario and the adjacent states, the anise hyssop (liquorice mint) blooms all summer, and the flowers are also used in teas and in the traditional recipe for ani se hyssop tea bread.
Bee balm, native to the northeastern United States, will attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds when its light pink flowers appear in May and June. The fragrant, dusky-green leaves may too be used in teas. Joe-pye weed is a perennial native from Maine to Michigan, south to central Florida and Texas. Wild mint is native to both North America and Eurasia. Aster and goldenrod bloom in late summer; there are about 125 varieties of North American goldenrod, and asters are native to the northern United States as well as Canada from British Columbia to Newfoundland. The bees really like sedum, which blooms in the autumn, and is a popular choice for green roofs (a topic covered in our last issue). In the n ortheastern U.S., late October and early November is the time to collect milkweed seeds for planting in the spring.
A Free Bee Recipe: Ginger Lemonade
One of the most pleasing alternatives to honey for recipes is agave nectar, derived from the blue agave plant.14 The agave nectar differs in consistency from sugar syrup, and imparts a caramel-ginger essence. Ginger Lemonade is a refreshing choice from Friends of Animals’ cookbook, Dining With Friends: The Art of North American Vegan Cuisine. This drink was first inspired by a recipe in the Vegetarian Times magazine. Here’s how to make it:
Combine a 3-inch piece of peeled, fresh ginger, thinly sliced and crushed, with 1 cup agave nectar and 3/4 cup water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, and cook for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium.Simmer until ginger is aromatic and mixture is syrupy, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, let the juice cool, and discard the ginger.
Transfer it to a pitcher; stir in 1½ cups fresh lemon juice (6 to 8 lemons) and 4 cups of cold sparkling water. Add one thinly sliced lemon, and refrigerate until well chilled. To serve, fill glasses with ice cubes. Pour in lemonade, and garnish with mint sprigs. Serves 4 to 6.
- 1. “Bees, Bio-Pirates and the Queer Art of Cross- Pollination,” a keynote address at the 2007 Biocultures conference, held at the University of Illinois at Chicago on 16-17 Nov. 2007. Judith Halberstam is professor of English and director of The Center for Feminist Research at the University of Southern California.
- 2. “Silence of the Bees” on the Nature website http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/bees/ links a page called “How you can help the bees.” The page says: “Joining the ranks of backyard beekeepers can not only infuse the dying hobby with life, it can strengthen the bee gene pool by adding healthy local bees to the mix.” The PBS website does continue on to recommend leaving wild spaces in gardens and avoiding pesticides, and it counsels readers to “ put pressure on politicians to reinstate laws that used to prevent importing bees into the country and transporting them across state borders.” Yet the main concern of this page is the importance of bees to animal agribusiness rather than the bees themselves.
- 3. Update on Colony Collapse Disorder, at “Silence of the Bees” on the Nature website, ibid. The study was led by the U.S. and Pennsylvania departments of agriculture, Pennsylvania State University and Columbia University.
- 4. Michael McCarthy, “Invisible Fence That Can Help to Save Great Apes of Africa – Independent (12 Dec. 2007).
- 5. Update on Colony Collapse Disorder, ibid.
- 6. “Virus Seen in Bee Deaths” – New York Times (7 Sep. 2007).
- 7. Joan Dunayer, Speciesism (2004), at 103-04.
- 8. B. M. Hausen et al. summarized nearly 200 cases in “Propolis Allergy: Origin, properties, usage and literature review” in Contact Dermatitis (Sep. 1987) at 163-70.
- 9. See “Charles Mraz, “An Introduction to Bee Venom Therapy” (5 Jun. 1981), published electronically by the American Apitherapy Society.
- 10. Ibid.
- 11. Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada, “No Beneficial Effect of Bee Venom in Study Using Animal Model for MS”: Medical Update Memo (2 Jun. 1998).
- 12. “A vegan,” explained the BBC in the obituary for Vegan Society founder Donald Watson (1910-2005), “eats a plant-based diet free from all animal products including milk, eggs and honey. Most vegans wear no leather, wool or silk.” Obituary: Donald Watson – BBC News ( 18 Nov. 2005).
- 13. Update on Colony Collapse Disorder. Available: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/bees/update.html.
- 14. For organic agave in the U.S., Sweet Cactus Farms can be contacted for orders at 310.733.4343 or email@example.com. Sweet Cactus Farms certified organic agave nectar has a low glycemic index and is suitable for diabetics, according to its website: www.sweetcactusfarms.com
Anyone who purposefully avoids the products of animal agribusiness will hear the question: “Where do you get your protein?”
Do you know plants offer all the protein we need?
New York Times columnist Mark Bittman (who also authored How to Cook Everything Vegetarian) wrote a column that appeared in late January under the title “Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler.” Here’s a brief excerpt:
We each consume something like 110 grams of protein a day, about twice the federal government’s recommended allowance; of that, about 75 grams come from animal protein. (The recommended level is itself considered by many dietary experts to be higher than it needs to be.) It’s likely that most of us would do just fine on around 30 grams of protein a day, virtually all of it from plant sources.
John McDougall, a noted physician who promotes a low-fat, plant-based diet, agrees. In fact, Dr. McDougall shows that plant sources alone will cover all of our protein needs just fine. “The final tally, based on solid scientific research, is: Your total daily need for protein is about 20 to 30 grams,” writes McDougall, who warns that an overabundance of protein can be harmful.
Dr. Stephen Walsh, a research scientist and long-time nutritional consultant to the Vegan Society who authored Plant Based Nutrition and Health, recommends a slightly higher amount: between 49 grams and 60, which matches the recommendations of the American Dietetic Association and the federal recommendations Mark Bittman cites. As Bittman observes, vegetarians need not worry that they lack sufficient protein; people eating a typical omnivore’s diet are likely eating too much — several times over.
Myths abound about the nutrition value in the kind of protein one consumes, too. Don’t let anyone tell you plant protein is inferior. As the American Dietetic Association’s Position Paper on Vegetarian Diets shows us in detail, the nutritional science is clear: Plant protein meets all of our requirements.
And meeting our requirements doesn’t require excessive attention. Let me give you an example.
For breakfast, I usually have a regular-sized bowl of oatmeal topped with fresh berries, and a glass of orange juice. For lunch, I might enjoy a bowl of lentil soup and a spinach salad with avocado and carrot, sprinkled with almonds and pumpkin seeds. For dinner, I might make cauliflower risotto and braised Brussels sprouts with lemon, along with mashed butternut squash and sweet corn bread, all from our cookbook Dining With Friends: The Art of North American Vegan Cuisine. I’ll finish this off with a light fruit parfait. Without counting snacks, or adding any protein powders — actually, without even thinking about it — I have enjoyed a daily menu comprising approximately 54 grams of protein, matching the recommended daily range for an adult. Don’t obsess. It’s not rocket science.
Oatmeal with soy milk (8 g)
Fresh strawberries and blueberries (1 g)
Orange juice (2 g)
Total: 11 g
Lentil soup (8 g)
Spinach salad with avocado, carrots and nuts (17 g)
Total: 25 g
Cauliflower risotto (7 g)
Brussels sprouts (4 g)
Mashed butternut squash (2 g)
Sweet corn bread (4 g)
Fruit parfait (1 g)
Total: 18 g
Grand total: About 54 grams of protein.
The little elves at Friends of Animals are busy behind the scenes, launching a new website, “Vegan Means”. This site is designed to address the matter of how to opt out of animal agribusiness and animal use. It will explore everything from the connection between nutrition and advocacy to recipe tips and hidden animal ingredients. It will map out the urgent and profoundly important environmental issues involved. “Vegan Means” is intended to be a valuable resource for those who are just considering these ideas — perhaps Mark Bittman — as well as for the experienced vegetarian organizer. The website will even feature an interactive section where people can “Ask a Vegan.” We plan to keep the site up-to-date, fresh and comprehensive, and hope you’ll enjoy the journey with us.
And now, without further ado, a recipe for the above-mentioned cauliflower risotto. This version serves a table of four.
1 head cauliflower
½ Vidalia onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons vegan margarine
1 cup Arborio risotto rice
4 cups vegetable broth
½ cup dry white wine
4 or more tablespoons toasted bread crumbs (make your own, see below)
Separate the cauliflower florets from stalks. Chop florets into pieces one inch or less. Finely chop stalks. Keep stalks and florets separate.
In a large saucepan, sauté onion and garlic together with finely chopped cauliflower stalks in oil and margarine (mixed) for 5 minutes until softened.
Add the one cup of uncooked rice, stir and fry for 2 minutes, until opaque. Add the ½ cup white wine.
In another saucepan, bring broth to gentle boil and add the very small cauliflower florets.
Ladle just the broth — if possible avoiding the florets — onto the rice, one ladleful at a time, stirring frequently after each addition. Wait until each ladle of broth is almost fully absorbed before adding more both.
After about 10 minutes, when the rice is half done, add the cauliflower florets to the rice mixture and gently squash each floret into the rice as it is added.
After about 20 minutes in total, when all broth is absorbed, take the rice off the heat and let it sit without stirring for a minute.
Serve on plates and top with toasted bread crumbs made from whole grain bread that has been toasted in the toaster oven. (Tip: Look for simple breads without eggs or a long, hard-to-decipher ingredient list; most grocery stores and bakeries offer breads made from flour , yeast, water, and salt or herbs.)