June 2007-The first Whole Foods Market is opening in London. Lee Hall explores what it means for British consumers, for small and local companies, and for people committed to eating in a way that respects animals and the planet.
Home of the Kensington Palace and Gardens, Hyde Park, and the Royal Albert Hall, High Street Kensington once also hosted several of London’s massive and traditional department stores. The last of them, Barkers, closed its doors in January 2006. The famous site was acquired by John Mackey, founder and CEO of Whole Foods Market .
This summer’s opening of Mackey’s upmarket grocery chain in England will not exactly involve a British tradition, but rather a Texas-based entrepreneur who boasts of bringing in the world’s biggest organic department store and the largest food retailer in all of London. Reports about the new store have mentioned champagne, sushi, and sake bars, a pub and three restaurants in addition to the vast retail space.1
In 2004, John Mackey spent around $40 million to take over a British organic food chain, Fresh & Wild. That chain’s sites are currently being converted into Whole Foods Market stores. The plan is to keep the chain spreading across Britain — Mackey names Edinburgh, Bristol, Cambridge and Oxford as prized locales — and then into continental Europe.
What will it all mean for British consumers, for small and local companies … and for people committed to eating in a way that respects animals and the planet?
A tour of the company’s website indicates an emphasis on pricey cheeses and fancy fish displays. N otably, the firm owns several fish processing plants, and says “seafood is really something special at Whole Foods Market .” And many of the North American branches feature full-service meat departments where customers are offered free samples, custom cuts, and personal recommendations. The store talks of “working with our knowledgeable and passionate meat and poultry providers” to lead the natural meat industry. The London site will feature an oyster bar.2 As for supporting local trade, Whole Foods’ public relations officer, Fred Shank, told the British newspaper The Independent last year, “Let's be honest. Great Britain can't feed itself.”
The company does offset energy use by purchasing credits from a company that produces wind power. But it’s no stranger to long-distance transport, and certainly not to the promotion of luxury goods. And although Mackey donates substantial amounts to charities, including animal-welfare groups, the store’s obvious profit-makers involve the elaborate displays of cheeses, the unusual array of fish, and the butcher’s section. The organic chicken sausages, venison burgers, and organic pork mint, cumin, and coriander sausages are packaged as natural and additive-free, with photos of the chickens in groups, the deer on a sunny field, and a pigs walking on flowering grass.3 The chain claims to “give shoppers peace of mind” when buying the bodies that once belonged to individuals like those pictured on the labels.
New Ways of Relating to Animals?
A little over two years ago, as our members and regular readers know, a number of animal-advocacy groups endorsed John Mackey’s promise to integrate “Animal Compassion” standards into the chain’s meat cases. Such promotions are popular because both sides — advocates and agribusiness — can claim to have orchestrated humane victories. But when one reads that the success of the company’s Animal Compassion Foundation will be “measured by feedback from livestock producers,” Catharine MacKinnon’s haunting question comes to mind: Who asked the animals?4
Beginning in 2003, when we first heard about this plan, we asked activists and the public to question Whole Foods Market’s portrayal of shopping for meat as meeting a definition of compassion. Our vigils took place in five North American cities when the company marked its 25th year by promising 5% of a day’s sales to the new foundation — resulting in over half a million dollars being collected for this form of meat promotion. That early Global 5% Day became part of the splashy advertising of the company’s new site in London.
“Whole Foods Market is pioneering an entirely new way for people to relate to farm animals,” says John Mackey, “with the animals’ welfare becoming the most important goal.” With that, Whole Foods began fundraising so university scientists could conduct research on animals and invent “more compassionate animal raising techniques.” Mackey calls it part of being a responsible tenant of the planet. This definition of “responsible” is no better than the company’s definition of compassion. Much of the planet’s precious water and half its grain is going to animals bred into existence for humans to eat, and that’s neither necessary nor sustainable.
Let’s call the arrival of Whole Foods Market in Europe what it is: a triumph for profit. It is hardly a milestone in sustainability or responsibility. And it’s certainly no triumph for compassion.
- 1. “ Unfiltered: Two good reasons to live in England, one way to invest in wine and lots of winery cats” – Wine Spectator Online (23 Aug. 2006).
- 2. See Wine Spectator Online (note 1 above).
- 3. These products were all observed by the author in March 2007 in a London branch of Fresh & Wild, now being converted into the Whole Foods Market chain.
- 4. See Catharine A. MacKinnon, “Of Mice and Men: A Feminist Fragment on Animal Rights,” in Animal Rights: Current Debates and New Directions (Cass R. Sunstein and Martha C. Nussbaum, eds., 2004) at 270.
Michael Klaper, M.D. is a staunch advocate of the vegan diet and lifestyle, read in the broadest way. As Dr. Klaper explains:
Frequently, situations arise where our actions make a statement about our true feelings towards life. What we order in a restaurant to eat, from what material the shoes, belts and wallets we choose to buy are made, what soap we buy to wash our hands – all these actions make statements about how much we care about life.
The vegan person says,
“It does matter what I do.”
“It matters how much harm I create or do not create.”
“It matters how much healing I can bring into the world around me”.
It is from such a vegan ideal that the healing of the world can come.1
It’s refreshing to see this level of openness from a medical professional. And while some might argue that this position might open a challenge to the credibility of a scientist, perhaps we should allow our ethical considerations to provide some guidelines in science. If a dietary commitment increases peace and respect, is it not the hallmark of a true professional to research this and ensure that it can be followed without risk to health, or perhaps even demonstrate that it has much to offer?
In 2005, Dr. Klaper, who specializes in vegan nutrition, published the preliminary results of the Vegan Health Study, which followed over 900 vegans through questionnaires, as well as testing blood and urine samples of some of the participants. The results of the study were positive, suggesting that a properly balanced, vegan diet, based on whole foods and with special attention to the supplements discussed here, can offer many health benefits. Klaper’s list of benefits includes relief from, or even prevention of, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers, as well as some kidney disorders, immune-inflammatory diseases, toxin exposure, gastrointestinal diseases and eye disorders.
Dr. Klaper has shown that a low-fat vegan diet can, remarkably, reverse heart disease. Not just slow it down, or halt progression, but actually encourage your body to heal the damage, and return to a healthier state. Becoming vegan prior to the time of highest susceptibility to cardiovascular disease is also an excellent way to prevent this condition.
Of course, being vegan doesn’t render one immune to conditions such as cardiovascular disease, particularly if one doesn’t follow popular advice such as limiting sodium, avoiding cigarettes, and staying physically active. And the benefits apply most strongly to those who maximize the amount of whole foods in their diet. If one is mainly replacing animal products with highly processed faux meat and dairy alternatives, the benefits aren’t as great.
Klaper also discovered that certain cancers have been shown to appear less in vegans than in non-vegans. The chances of developing prostate cancer are probably lower in vegans than in those who eat the typical omnivorous diet, “due to the reduced intake of meat and dairy products, and the increased intake of protective phytochemicals” – meaning eat your vegetables and fruits, says Klaper. Get plenty of fiber to help prevent colorectal cancers.
Special Dietary Concerns
Every week, it seems, a new report connects diet and cancer, but it’s rare to see one promoting any animal products as healthful, and almost all suggest eating less animal products. For example, the BBC reported recently that red meat has been shown to increase rates of breast cancer: Older women who ate one 2-ounce portion a day (57 grams) had a 56% increased risk compared with those who ate none.2 That’s just a few mouthfuls, the size of a common candy bar. Doubtless many people commonly eat much more meat than this daily.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and National Cancer Institute indicate that around a third of all cancers are diet-related, and being vegan can significantly reduce cause for concern greatly. The vegan diet can also help people with Type 2 diabetes, or even prevent or reverse the onset of it. This disease is a growing concern for many, but rarely seen in the vegan population. As Dr. Klaper explains, that’s likely due to the extra fiber, plant sterols and soy protein, and the reduced intakes of total fats and refined carbohydrates. So there is a common theme here: Fiber appears good for health, as do other nutrients found in plants, and the proteins and fats found in animal products create risk.
Dr. Klaper’s studies show that protein — often the focus of concern for people considering the vegan diet — appears in a plant-based diet in adequate amounts. Klaper described the amino acid status as “sub-optimal” in some cases, but a varied diet takes care of this. (Readers may recall learning about this in my previous column; see the last issue of ActionLine or our Web site for more details.) In fact, advice to vary one’s diet is given to everyone, not just vegans. So another theme here is that meeting your requirements will not pose more of a burden to the vegan than to omnivores.
That said, Dr. Klaper’s study was also helpful in pointing out key areas that vegans would do well to pay attention to. Although many nutritional requirements were easily met in the vegan population, some deficiencies were common across the board. Levels of vitamin B12, vitamin D and iodine were low in many of the vegans sampled. These nutrients are less common in vegan foods, and the study confirmed absolutely that vegans require B12 supplementation, though this is easily remedied with a daily or weekly tablet. Supplementation is best found in a vitamin supplement of 10 micrograms a day, or a 2000 microgram sublingual tablet once a week.3 Other sources include s ome plant-based milks and breakfast cereals which are fortified with B12, or B12 Fortified Red Star Nutritional Yeast (this can be used as a mild seasoning; make sure it’s fortified).
Vitamin D (vegans take D2, not D3) can be found in fortified foods, such as soy milk. Many nutritionists recommend (25 micrograms – that’s 1,000 IUs, or International Units — each day, especially for those who don’t get sun exposure.
Getting your daily requirement of 150 micrograms of iodine means enjoying your sea vegetables (such as the seaweed found in vegan sushi or miso soup); iodine also appears in iodized salt.4
We at Friends of Animals extend heartfelt gratitude to Dr. Klaper for continuing the Vegan Health Study, and ensuring that we’re supplied with the best nutritional information possible to obtain. Readers are invited to participate in Dr. Klaper’s study, available electronically at www.veganhealthstudy.org.
Nutrition and Lifestyle Recommendations from the Vegan Health Study Clinical Summary
1. Make whole plant foods the foundation of your diet.
Emphasize (non-genetically modified, organically grown) whole foods daily. Enjoy a variety of fresh, colorful vegetables, including green leafy vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, seeds and whole grains.
2. Minimize refined carbohydrates – both sugars and starches.
Refined sugars such as white sugar, brown sugar, syrups, candy and sodas, as well as refined starches, such as white flour products and white rice products, crowd out foods that nourish and protect us, and contribute to a variety of health problems, including damage to tissues, elevated blood sugar levels, adverse effects to blood lipids (particularly triglycerides), and increased risk for Type 2 (adult-onset) diabetes, as well as cardiovascular diseases and gastro-intestinal disorders.
3. Include a healthful intake and balance of essential fatty acids.
Omega 3 levels are also worthy of consideration, as most people (whether vegan or omnivorous) far surpass the ideal ratio of four-to-one Omega 6 to Omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3 is an essential fatty acid, meaning one that’s essential to consume because our body cannot produce it by itself. Flax oil is the most popular source for vegans, and nowadays flax waffles are easy to find in grocers’ freezers. Walnuts, hemp seeds, cold-pressed canola, and green vegetables also contain this nutrient.
Alternatively, consider taking an algae-derived DHA supplement (300 mg. a day, in “vegi-caps”), available at natural food stores. This is particularly important for pregnant or lactating people or those with diabetes or hypertension.
4. Assure an adequate protein intake (approximately 60 to 90 grams each day for vegan adults.)
This is easily done if you choose beans (such as pinto or kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas, tempeh or tofu), nuts, seeds, and foods made from them.
[Please note that Dr. Klaper’s recommendation for daily protein is at the high end of the recommended range. Click here for more information.]
5. Assure an adequate supply of trace minerals.
Don’t skimp on the dark green, leafy vegetables, root vegetables or fruits. It is not enough to eat the minerals; you must absorb them. So break up the plant fibers by chewing your foods well or using food preparations methods such as grinding, juicing, grating or pureeing for soups and stews.
6. Insure a reliable source of vitamin B12.
Reliable sources include fortified foods and supplements. Fortified foods such as non-dairy beverages (rice-based and soy-based drinks), Red Star nutritional yeast (Vegetarian Support Formula), and some cereals are good choices. Select at least two servings of these foods each day. If there is any doubt that your intake of B-12 may not be sufficient (for example, if you are a long-term vegan), then a vitamin B12 supplement is advised.
7. Control your sodium intake.
Use flavored vinegars, lemon juice and other low-sodium taste enhancers, rather than soy sauce and other salty seasonings.5
8. Eliminate hydrogenated vegetable oil
Avoid processed foods containing “hydrogenated vegetable oil,” “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” or shortening. Don’t gamble with the risk of artery disease, Type 2 diabetes, or possibly some cancers. Again, minimize processed foods and emphasize fresh, whole foods.
9. Consider taking a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement.
If there is any question of adequate intake of any given vitamin, mineral or essential fat, consider a vegetarian multivitamin-mineral preparation (tablet or liquid or powder) daily, or approximately two to three times per week.
10. Be sure to get a consistent reliable source of vitamin D.
Consult a medical professional to determine your optimal source for vitamin D. If you’re avoiding sunlight or live in a cooler climate, then sunshine, a natural source of vegan vitamin D, will not cover your needs during the winter months, and you will need to rely on fortified foods such as fortified non-dairy beverages or vitamin D-2 supplements.
11. Try to get 20 to 30 minutes of active, weight-bearing exercise at least every other day.
Include a balance of cardiovascular, flexibility and strength exercises. This will help you to prevent osteoporosis and it contributes to overall health.
12. For optimal health, says Dr. Klaper, a positive mental and emotional state is essential – and possibly more important than nutritional intake:
“Life is about more than avoiding disease and death. Get as much love, laughter and meaningful service into your daily life as possible. Make your life a reflection of your hopes, dreams and joys.”
- 1. Michael Klaper, MD, “Vision of a Gentler World” – Vegan Views (Winter 1993-94).
- 2. “Red Meat ‘Ups Breast Cancer Risk’” – BBC Health News (3 Apr. 2007).
- 3. When using large amounts of B-12 at once, only .5 to 1% will be absorbed, so high intakes are required.
- 4. The recommended amount of iodine for adults is about 150 micrograms per day. Children need between 70 and 150 micrograms of iodine per day, while pregnant women need 175 micrograms per day, and lactating women need 200 micrograms per day. A typical salt intake is 5 to 20 grams per day, so people who use iodized salt easily meet iodine needs. Even when sodium intake is limited to the recommended 2 grams per day, iodine needs are easily met.
- 5. Keep your sodium intake to not more than 2400 mg per day, and preferably around 1800 mg per day. Athletes, especially those living in warm climates, may require higher amounts of sodium in their diets.
Vegetarians, it would seem, are being welcomed and catered to everywhere. It’s possible for animal-friendly eaters to travel virtually anywhere in the world these days without worrying about enduring an unintentional fast. When relaxation and a stress-free getaway are what you desire, a vegan bed-and-breakfast is the perfect place to recharge and have some fun, stay healthy, and leave your “what will I eat?” concerns at home. Here are some popular picks.
Called the “sister inn” to the Sweet Onion is the Sweet Thyme Inn, is located in rural Green Bank, W V, and run by Patricia Merithew and Chuck Merithew. Book ahead to save one of the four cozy guest rooms in this restored Southern classic homestead. The serene location is a picture-perfect place to unwind from a fast-paced life. It’s also a nature-lover’s delight; surrounded as it is by the Allegheny Mountains and Monongahela National Forest. Guests can explore the surrounding wilderness areas over hiking trails, with their scenic beauty at every turn. Numerous area attractions abound as well.
Nearby Snowshoe Mountain Resort offers skiing in winter and mountain biking once the snow is gone. Organic and hearty vegan meals are served at breakfast and dinner, prepared from scratch with an emphasis on seasonal produce.
For those looking for a truly uncommon B&B experience, The White Pig Bed & Breakfast in Schuyler , Va. , at Briar Creek Farm holds the unique distinction of also being an animal sanctuary. Twelve pot-bellied pigs, all rescued by innkeepers Dina Brigish and Hal Brigish , reside on the 170-acre farm. So do three dogs and four cats. The White Pig bills itself as a “Vegan Oasis in Blue Ridge Mountains of Central Virginia,” and serves as a protected sanctuary for the free-living animals inhabiting the land.
The restored folk Victorian farmhouse, named after Hal and Dina’s first potbellied pig, Norman, has t wo guestrooms with a private bath and a guest suite with a private bath. The pig theme appears in the collection of antiques throughout the house.
If gourmet meals are what you crave, The White Pig is the place to be. Organic, vegan meals are served daily for breakfast, in addition to afternoon snacks, dinner on Saturday nights and bagged lunches upon request. Innkeeper and resident chef Dina graduated from New York City’s Natural Gourmet Cookery School and also completed an internship at the Millennium Restaurant in San Francisco.
Visitors can explore the city of Charlottesville in addition to meandering over the farm’s hiking trails, watching birds, and enjoying the hot-spring spa.
The Lodge, in Grenada, is a vegan tropical oasis with sumptuous surroundings of rain forests and mountains in the glistening southeastern Caribbean . Mark Hardy and Mary Hardy run this eco-conscious guesthouse just outside Grenada’s capital town of St. George's. Guests occupy two double en-suite bedrooms, each with private balconies and breathtaking ocean and sunset views. Both rooms are billed as “honeymoon suites” and are fittingly well-appointed and romantic. Gourmet, organic and vegan, the international cuisine is served three times a day.
Grenada is a small island; nothing is out of reach. The world-renowned Grand Anse Beach is only a short distance from the B&B. Biking is a popular way to get around, and eco-friendly. If you’re ready to be swept away by the island allure at the Caribbean’s only dedicated vegan travel destination, head for the Lodge in Grenada.
Northwest Holistic Spa
The Annapurna Center for Self Healing , located in Port Townsend, Wa., is a beautiful seaside retreat center for the mind, body and spirit. Located two hours from Seattle, the Victorian Seaport village of Port Townsend is a lovely setting for an assortment of therapies and treatments. Annapurna is the “Goddess of Plentitude who is full of real nutritional healing,” and visitors will find this a fitting name for this sanctuary devoted to self-betterment and transformation.
Founder Robin Sharan has devoted her life to healing, and her long list of certifications and credentials attest to this. Robin seeks to restore and rejuvenate guests through a process of deep purification using “real food, real water, and human touch,” including massage, reflexology, gall bladder flushes, colon hydrotherapy, Turkish steam baths, Far-infrared sauna, cranial/sacral therapy, yoga classes and meditation. Seven rooms are available in the 1881 Victorian house also accommodate the massages and therapies offered. Guests have a choice of a private room with bath or a shared room with a semi-private bath. There is a two-night minimum for all rooms, and all rates include access to their spa and an Organic Alive breakfast. Lush gardens brimming with fruits, vegetables and herbs provide a sensory delight amidst the natural surrounding beauty.
All meals served at Annapurna are billed as “Organic Live Cuisine,” and are totally vegan, and raw (live). Robin teaches people that “you must be vegan in order to heal,” and the inventive, gourmet live food served at Annapurna is just one part of the process that Robin hopes will allow guests to reach their optimal health.
For whatever ails you, a trip to the Annapurna is sure to be a transformative experience.
Conscientious travel is not only possible; it’s breathtakingly beautiful at these five bed-and-breakfasts that are as equally dedicated to ethical tourism as they are to providing a unique experience for each and every guest.
Sweet Thyme Inn
Route 92/28, P.O. Box 85,
Green Bank, W V 24944
The White Pig Bed & Breakfast
5120 Irish Road
Schuyler , VA 22969
P.O. Box 3540 , St. George's, Grenada
Phone and fax: (+1 473) 440 2330
Annapurna Center for Self Healing
538 Adams Street, Port Townsend, WA 98368
Phone: 360.385.2909; Toll Free: 1.800.868.ANNA
What’s green, promotes health and safety in communities, and helps bring beauty to the world? The answer … community gardens!
What is a Community Garden?
Community gardens are outdoor spaces on public or private lands where neighbors meet to grow and care for vegetables, flowers and native plant species. The gardeners are responsible for organizing, maintaining and managing the garden area, and, like the gardeners themselves, each community garden is unique. They come in many shapes, sizes and locations. They’re found beside railway tracks, in city centres, and even on rooftops. Many have raised beds so as to be accessible to people of all physical abilities.
Gardeners usually have their own plots to tend, but it’s also possible for everyone to share the work and harvest. The gardeners themselves decide how to run the garden.
An Important Tradition
Community agriculture has a long history. In many parts of the world, it’s still an integral part of a healthy community. During and after both world wars, community gardens increased the food supplies from local sources, especially during the Great Depression, when city lands were made available to the unemployed for food production.
In prosperous times, a quick, convenient food supply may take over the role that community agriculture once filled. This can alienate us from our food sources, reducing our knowledge and even the quality and safety of our food. To reverse this, and to address the environmental effects of agriculture, many people now desire a closer connection to the cultivation and harvest of food. Hence, the North American return to farmers’ markets, local growers, and backyard vegetable plots.
Cultivation in the City
Many cities have come to realize the connection between community gardens and safe, vibrant urban areas. The South Central Farm in Los Angeles was a stunning example of how community gardening can grow more than just vegetables. It was once an abandoned lot, slated to become a solid waste incinerator site. But after the Rodney King riots, the city gave the L.A. Regional Food Bank a revocable permit to convert the land into community gardens.
These gardens brought 350 growers together. On fourteen acres, they cultivated pesticide-free crops for many living below the official poverty line. In addition to food, the farm hosted social events, cultivating connections and stability in the community. In an open letter to the mayor of Los Angeles, Devon Peña, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Washington, wrote that the farm exemplified “a self-reliant and community-based approach to control drug-use and gang membership among the youth without the violence unleashed by the police.”
Unfortunately, in June of 2006, the members of the farm were forcibly evicted, in the midst of protest by gardeners and their supporters, including a large celebrity contingent. Between the bulldozers and sheriffs’ deputies, the supporters were eventually removed from the land. Some were arrested. Developer Ralph Horowitz, one of the original owners before the land was transferred to the city in the late 1980s, sued for it and sold it for development.
Today, a year later, supporters continue to band together in an effort to recreate the urban paradise they once cultivated. They continue to use the law and non-violent protest to counter what they feel was an unjust business transaction while finding balance by hosting community celebrations of solidarity. Although it’s no longer producing food, the South Central Farm reminds us of the benefits gardens can bring to urban areas, and the activism of its supporters demonstrates the strength such gardens can generate.
As we’ve seen, cultivating a community garden involves challenges far larger than those presented by rocks and caterpillars. It often takes a great deal of convincing to explain why a patch of cabbages and carrots can be as valuable a development as a condo or a throughway.
In 1990, horticulturists came together to establish the Plant-People Council (PPC), and developed a database of scientific studies highlighting the individual and community benefits of plants and greening activities. Whether through a forest, a park or a garden, exposure to plant life is good for us. Researchers from a wide array of disciplines, ranging from psychology and economics to sociology and medicine, have reported powerful demonstrations of the importance of our connection to plants. Living in this fast-paced, high-tech age, people need plants for more than just food, and green space for more than just pleasure.
Quiet, plant-filled environments reduce stress and offer relief from the noise, movement and complexity of our lives. Studies have shown that simply looking at a plant can reduce stress, fear and anger, and lower blood pressure and muscle tension. In addition, by acting as filters and natural barriers, plants help control temperature, noise, and pollution.
On the more obvious level, a vegetable plot is an economical way to ensure healthful, organic produce. The gardener chooses veganic gardening methods, which are sensitive to our own health and to the interests of other animals, and the health of the planet’s ecology. Local gardening immensely reduces the fossil fuel consumption required to transport produce long distances. Home food waste — husks and seeds and unused leaves — can be composted and used to enhance soil, rather than sent to the landfills.
On a societal level, green spaces help create a positive community image for residents and visitors. Notably, the City of Toronto Community Gardens Program found that instances of graffiti on nearby walls diminished when garden spaces were created.
Want to Start Your Own Community Garden?
If there are no community gardens in your area and you’re interested in starting one up, begin by asking whether you have the energy, commitment and resources. Creating a community garden requires a serious effort, although the rewards are substantial. A good way to start is by visiting nearby gardens and talking with the organizers to get a sense of what’s involved. From there, you can find many valuable resources through the computer or at the library that will give you direction and support. Here are some of the most widely cited resources to get you growing:
How Does Our Garden Grow? A Guide to Community Gardening Success
by Laura Berman
Published by FoodShare.
This manual, published by FoodShare with a grant from the Ontario Ministry of Health, covers such topics as group committee structures, leadership, effective meeting strategies, fund-raising and community relations, vandalism and safety, and gardening for people with disabilities. It also includes an extensive list of seed companies, reference books, master gardener groups, and community food advisor groups.
To order (Visa cards accepted) by email: email@example.com
By phone: 416.392.1629
A Handbook of Community Gardening
by Boston Urban Gardeners, edited by Susan Naimark. Published by Charles Scribner's Sons; ISBN 0-684-17466-9.
This book includes the basic steps of organizing a garden and finding resources.
Food Not Lawns: How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden and Your Neighborhood into a Community
by Heather C. Flores. Published by Chelsea Garden; ISBN 978-1933392073
The author — both an activist and urban gardener — shares a nine-step permaculture design to help growers build fertile soil, promote biodiversity, and increase natural habitat. A useful resource once you’ve got the groundwork for your community garden in place and need a hand with the ecological design.
Vegan Organic Network: www.veganorganic.net
Promotes animal-free cultivation and farming. Aims to reduce the use of artificial chemicals, livestock manures and animal remains as fertiliser. Based in England, with international branches and a magazine, Growing Green International. Especially recommended for its emphasis on animal interests. Why not help them start a local chapter?
City Farmer: http://www.cityfarmer.org/
Comprehensive site on the Internet about urban agriculture, community gardening and sustainable agriculture, and all the latest news. Based in Vancouver.
Do badgers plan funerals? Why do zebras have stripes? Altruistic Armadillos, Zenlike Zebras: A Menagerie of 100 Favorite Animals (Ballantine, 2006) puts a creative twist on the traditional encyclopedia concept by discussing such questions in a conversational tone rather than the language of scientific certainty. Here we find a rare glimpse of the insights we could have had about other beings’ lives had we not diverted so much of our energies into controlling them.
Notably, Masson thinks we might regain such insights, and elsewhere has written:
I believe that in 500 years (maybe less) people will look back on us and wonder about many things. No doubt behavior we consider normal today will inspire horror in our more enlightened successors. War, for example. But I also think they may believe our disdain of insects is incomprehensible. Perhaps they will marvel that we could so easily cut down trees and perhaps even flowers.1
Altruistic Armadillos considers animals in groups — by species — and yet manages to convey a sense of their individuality, as the author deliberately sets out to counter the tradition in which experts impart information, but not feelings. And what other encyclopedia has ever mentioned, let alone explored, a beetle’s right to existence? In an alphabetically formatted tour that that would intrigue and delight all but the most cynical of readers, Masson gets up to the nests and down to the burrows, supplying anecdotes to illustrate the psychological experiences of other animals. Just as intriguing, if not more so, are the author’s sensitive interpretations of these anecdotes. Throughout the work, Masson’s own feelings come through, and with them come candid descriptions of personal growth.
The book’s gentleness in describing other beings suggests that it’s impossible to really represent them, and that it’s best to discover how to let them represent themselves. Masson declares a feeling of “complete respect” for bald eagles, whom we have utterly failed to understand. To talk wisely of other animals is a paradoxical task, Masson explains, for knowing them as individuals has historically involved their habituation to our presence. And we have to learn, says Masson, to leave other species alone: “I don’t see anything we can give a free-living animal that could possibly replace the life evolution designed.”
The armadillos, we learn, can’t be forced to breed in captivity. Oddly enough they’ve been forced to perform in races; Masson wryly notes the lack of evidence that the armadillos share our enthusiasm for such sport.
Speaking of Australian magpies, Masson writes, “I long ago decided that buying birds and keeping them in a cage was not something I wanted to do.” Caged birds, writes Masson, live “as diminished prisoners in an alien world.” Regarding birds enlisted to hunt, Masson writes that the birds, taken to the site masked, “are not cooperating–they have no choice–and the training invariably involves food rewards.”
The factual information selected for this book is exquisite. Bats, we learn, can hear an insect walking on a leaf. Prairie dogs have distinct calls to warn of various dangers, including one call when a human is approaching, and another call when a human approaches with a gun.
By the time we get to “bison,” the book’s theme is clear: Valuing others without desiring to use or have them is the hardest thing for humans to learn. Bison have been wiped out by the same “curious hatred” that decimated pre-colonial peoples. But then there was the pet buffalo who killed the Idaho rancher who owned and rode the animal. Recounting the story, Masson reflects critically on our quest to make other animals like us and to transform them into our companions.
In a detailed chapter on silk production, Masson reports the silkworm breeder’s claim to treat these caterpillars as “royalty” — not due to any affection for them, observes Masson, but because they are a valuable commodity. The extraction of pearls from oysters is explained in vivid detail; we also learn that Masson’s father was a pearl merchant.
Altruistic Armadillos, Zenlike Zebras is the perfect pick for a budding animal-rights activist or those who enjoy linguistics and creative questions. The seasoned activist too will find this book valuable, because it sustains so gracefully the theme that’s surely the core of animal rights theory. For the real point of animal rights is not the end of animal suffering; and the challenges we face would be only partly resolved by declining to consider animals our property. The positive core of animal rights is the interest of other animals in simply being permitted to live unmolested.
I contacted Jeffrey Masson to ask, now that the book has been out several months, what discussions have arisen. Has the book’s message been universally understood?
If so, not all readers have wanted to accept it.
“Some readers have been infuriated by the book,” Masson said. “They have objected to what they call the book’s ‘animal rights slant,’ finding it positively astonishing that I would ask that animals be left alone to live the lives for which they have evolved. They were particularly appalled that I would make these comments about pearl oysters and silk worms — for god’s sake, as they put it, as if they were living creatures worthy of our concern!”
“I find it equally astonishing,” said Masson, “that anyone who has ever observed these animals could think otherwise.”
And this is precisely why Altruistic Armadillos, Zenlike Zebras is so important. It shows much richer our lives and thoughts could be if we would consciously strive to acknowledge other animals as having value on their own terms.