What we eat

“A man can live and be healthy without killing animals for food; therefore, if he eats meat, he participates in taking animal life merely for the sake of his appetite. And to act so is immoral.”
- Leo Tolstoy

We’ve all had days where we ate something that didn’t make us feel well. The phrase “something didn’t agree with me” has been part of our collective vernacular since we can remember.

Lucky for us, we have a choice in what we choose to put in our bodies. Cows, pigs, chickens, and other farm animals are not as fortunate – they have to eat what is offered to them.

According to two studies last year, our factory-farmed animals have mostly two choices on the menu each day, genetically modified organisms (GMO), and chicken poop.

What gets scooped up from the factory floor and into the feed bins is gross and harmful enough, so for today let’s just focus on something that, from the outset, seems harmless at first.

Turns out, much of these GMO crops never make it to our dinner table.  According to the first study “…the truth is that in the United States (the world’s foremost GMO producer and consumer) and in other major GMO producing countries, an overwhelming majority of the GMO crop is not even consumed directly by humans. In the U.S., livestock has been fed genetically engineered crops since these crops were first introduced in 1996 and each of the top 6 GMO crops (soy, cotton, corn, canola, sugar beet, and alfalfa) are heavily utilized by the U.S. and global animal feed market.”

So, what’s the problem, you say?

One correlation we can draw from our factory farm animals eating GMO crops is this: An overwhelming percentage of factory-farmed animals are given antibiotics in low doses to promote growth and prevent disease, and more important to note even healthy animals are given these drugs. Add on top of this GMO crops raised to be resistant to fungi, bacteria, viruses, nematodes, and other pathogens, and we have the potential to create more animals that become factories themselves – for even more powerful antibiotic-resistant bacteria than what they are producing today.

What then happens is that the antibiotics that we take when we’re sick stop working, because we have ingested food where these “superbugs” live. Certainly disagreeable.

Above and below

Snowy Egret

If the rain has to separate from itself
Does it say, “Pick out your cloud?”
Pick out your cloud

- Tori Amos, “Your Cloud”

Lyanda Lynn Haupt wrote in her book Crow Planet that “Many human activities are wholly ugly, working against the nature upon which we forget we depend. Still, we do not flip-flop back and forth, now in nature, now in culture, now feeling quite animal like, now wholly intellectual. We are, at all times, both at once. In this, humans may be unique, but we are not less natural. We are the human species, living in culture, bound by nature.”

Today we walked the dogs in Millbrae, just West of the San Francisco Airport, along the bay. To my right, small songbirds flit amongst the condoms, cigarettes, and tossed coffee cups, as tourists and business folk stand at the cement wall and watch the planes come in. We chat with whomever takes interest in our tall dogs. There is something easy about small talk, especially on a Sunday. We are all outside together.

To the East is the San Francisco Bay with its lovely shorebirds. Just down from the Benihana, in the marshes that make a cul de sac from bay water and the cement buttresses, stand three Snowy Egrets, one a parent and two fledglings. They are decidedly stoic, content to stand within the marshes and meditate, all the while silently preening. Then, the adult breeding Egret takes flight to most likely find fish for her loved ones.

I always wonder how the birds fair when situations aren’t idyllic. Each year, thousands of birds get tangled in our plastic bags or eat our trash, and most likely die slowly and silently. Also, in drought years, birds are forced to get creative about how to find water to drink. When someone wastes water washing their car, the crow down the street waits near the drain, and drinks it.

Though I couldn’t help but observe that our walk wasn’t absolutely beautiful it was what it was. The sky above, with its gulls, crows, and songbirds, and the ground below with the same, and egrets and grebes in the water. For me, those birds weren’t out there in nature…we were here together, sharing the same above and below. I maintain a sense of responsibility and respect among them. They are lucky — they don’t have to think or take action about the world and all its environmental tragedies, as the world changes around them they will either live or die.

References:

Alone

“Have you ever heard the wonderful silence just before the dawn? Or the quiet and calm just as a storm ends? Or perhaps you know the silence when you haven’t the answer to a question you’ve been asked, or the hush of a country road at night, or the expectant pause of a room full of people when someone is just about to speak, or, most beautiful of all, the moment after the door closes and you’re alone in the whole house? Each one is different, you know, and all very beautiful if you listen carefully.” – Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth

As a young child and teenager I used to escape into reading, to feel safe. It was my only window into the outside world, my only solace in a house where I suffered needlessly. Some days I wondered if I would eat, or be allowed the keys to the car. If I didn’t know the answer to either, I cowered in my room with a book. My world began to unravel in earnest when I turned eleven, and I became a more sensitive child, which has not changed to this day. All sensory inputs are overload, but what I’ve learned to do is acknowledge that I think my dog is judging me, note the internal impact, and move on.

I look and long for lonely hours. If my dogs wake me in the middle of the night for a break, though I am tired I look forward to standing outside in the cold for a brief moment, wrapped in my purple blanket. It’s the same view of the stars and Cirrocumulus clouds, through the dead branches and power lines, lightened by the moon. The blanket is so long it gets dragged through the dust and twigs, that I bring into the house with me, and that I find some mornings between the sheets.

I look for birds that are alone. Where is their flock, and where do they sleep, protected, if there are no leaves on the trees? What are they eating, and where do they get their water in this drought year? The gorgeous Common Raven, following me around the park, seems to recognize me. He jumps from trash can, to branch, to bench, chortling and cooing at me. I tell him “yes, I know, the people who pick up the trash came early today, and you slept in, too bad for you.” Or, “I am not the red-head that feeds you, that must be someone else.” We come to an understanding, and he lets me leave the park. Or, the Northern Mockingbird that peers into his reflection in my picture window, thinking “could it be someone, lonely, who is like me?”

The White Moth

“In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

The moth in my garden, I wish it would alight upon me. Instead it gaily moves like a beautiful snowflake, past me to land on the brilliant morning glory, which flourishes without attendance.

The white moth reminds me of singular beauty, the diamonds in nature that catch your eye, and urge you to dwell.

A search to identify my lonely friend turned up a plethora of images. Are you a blue copper or a nymph? I think you might just be a cabbage white. I wonder if you have wandered down with the monarchs during their autumn journey, but on further investigation I see you are the enemy of vegetable gardeners. Perhaps you have come to see there is nothing in my yard, or maybe you have spent time with my dwarf peach. I don’t know, but you are lovely, and thank you for visiting.

 

Dry

The moth don’t care if the flame is real
Cuz flame and moth got a sweetheart deal
-Aimee Mann, “The Moth”

Image

I’m waiting for the sun to go down. It’s windy in San Bruno, and it’s dry.

I’ve been sitting on the edge of writing for this while. And I’ve been sitting on edge, waiting for the weather to turn. Most people have been enjoying the sunny days, out and about, saying “isn’t this great?” To me, the mornings are gray, the days are hot, and the nights blow the dead leaves around, and kick up the dust. Around the country, we have seen startling extremes, from hurricanes in the extreme northeast to the suffering heat, country-wide, mid-July.

No backyard curb appeal for me. My yard is full of nettles, dead lawn, rotting planter boxes and a gazebo that slowly comes apart with every windstorm. The field mouse in the box where the nasturtium strives to thrive has long since abandoned it; it’s given up on me re-hanging a feeder. Sometimes I turn the hose on the plants not because anything is growing but I know a Bewick’s Wren or California Towhee might want the relief, and a sip. However, I feel guilty for every drop I use, and the local water and garbage co. have raised our rates. Who cares about native plants if one day I have no water to drink? That is probably sadly misinformed, but I am not a scientist.

According to the American Meterological Society (AMS), “2012 was the warmest on record, ranking either 8th or 9th, depending upon the dataset used. The United States and Argentina had their warmest year on record.” (you can read the full report here: http://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/state-climate-2012-highlights). Humans have the biggest impact on global warming, and according to the study, the least debated, of course, is greenhouse gases. However, our deforestation and the paving of our greenbelts means we are constantly impacting the Earth’s albedo, how much the Earth reflects sunlight. This is why areas with a lot of ice cover are melting faster.

The dryness and wind in the last six months has brought some interesting wildlife to my yard, though. My neighbor’s apricot tree created hundreds of apricots, feeding the local scrub jay and the eastern grey squirrel. The visitors so close to my bird room made for constant entertainment for my parrots, and very noisy days when the conures sounded the alarm “alas! what squirrel through yonder window plays!”

As the fruit rotted the dregs would be picked up by the skunks at night, and then the ants, bugs, and flies descended on my lawn, and their predator, the Black Phoebe.

I stand at the end of my dead lawn, at the beginning of the end. I’m keeping my eyes open as we go underwater to escape, or to return to our beginnings.

Present

As a Silicon Valley creature I’ve worked and dined with many a human animal in the last 25 years. And I had an epiphany today. I’ve actually had it a few times, but now it’s coming to fruition.

If I could get paid to stare into my yellow and white daisies, my camellia, and the freesia growing yearly through my rosemary I would. If I could get paid to spend my days napping in between foreign movies, I would. And if while I’m watching those movies if I could have a Greyhound in my lap, even better.

I am beyond the hoopla of the corporation. I only engage for survival, and for the one day I can retire to the daffodils and daily tea and poetry. As they say “it’s easy to make money, if that’s all you care about.”Image

 

 

Good Evening

I hope the leaving is joyful, and I hope never to return

~Frida Kahlo

I have spent very little time outside these days. It’s glimpses of seabirds in the morning heading west to the Pacific, and I mourn the loss of Vitamin D. The doctor says that I need to take a supplement, but it doesn’t help much. I need to be outside, really, hiking. Tomorrow it will rain, but I get to be home, inside, looking out, and there is some solace in that.

I have found time to read on BART going into SF for work, and I just finished Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson. She shares my love of animal rescue and taxidermy (mutually exclusive), and a more quirky way of looking at the world. I finally finished a book after many years, thank you public transportation. It’s a fun, easy read, check it out.

San Francisco has become my urban nature observation. I say hello to every pigeon I see like a crazy person, and watch people on streets on and on BART with a trained eye. I study their skin, their clothes, their disposition. The unshaven back of a man’s head, or the feathers we all wear…colorful scarves, wisps of hair falling from a beret, presence… and the smell of alcohol wafting up from the homeless man asleep in the back. I am among these wild, and I am the second witness.