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Veganism Must Become a Political Movement

Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

Veganism must become a political movement. At the moment it is nowhere near that, anywhere in the world. And the fault lies with vegans themselves.

What is the current state. Capitalism has made it easy for every human to literally eat up the world. Every animal species, every forest, every ore in the ground  every fish in the sea, has been turned into trivial things to fuel an insatiable greed. And, as soon as one species becomes extinct we find another one. Our oceans are now full of jellyfish who have filled the emptiness caused by taking a billion fish out of the ocean every month. Hugely poisonous and of no edible value, 7 nations have, nevertheless, got together to see what they can turn jellyfish into. As mammals and birds dwindle, the food companies are promoting insects as the “new” protein.

What can a vegan do?

To begin with, stop buying. Everything you buy, vegetarian or non-vegetarian, has its consequences and impact. Forests are cut down to grow cotton for T Shirts and soyabean. Each death of a tree means the death of thousands of animals and birds. Cotton is grown with the worst pesticides in the world. Those destroy millions of lives annually, and poison the waters. So, what is ethical ? Wearing cotton ? Or not wearing silk because it boils thousands of silk worms alive ? Choices have to be made intelligently, and the best choice is to keep your wants to a bare minimum. You do not need more clothes, shoes, or cosmetics. You do not need facecream. Vegan- or non-vegan- consumer capitalism is responsible for the destruction of the entire natural world. Veganism means addressing all these issues. Less consumption—not more—should be part of every real vegan's mantra.

Not only are you creating more wealth for the wrong companies, but you are also adding to the burdens on the same earth you wish to save. Vegans who believe in eating/using/buying/exploring the exotic are simply another exploitative group. People who drop lipsticks made at home, to buy chia butter lipsticks, have not factored in how much it costs in terms of fuel to get the chia butter to the factory. And no one is checking whether pesticides and chemical fertilizers have been used to grow the chia. So, the halo that the vegans have put on their own heads is uncalled for. European companies have replaced chicken wings with jackfruit wings for vegans. But jackfruit goes all the way from Asia to England.

Vegans, who believe that backpacking to the wildernesses is about sustainability, are fooling themselves. Eating carrots while entering the last domain of animals and birds, defecating and urinating, spreading germs and clearing pathways for themselves- this is not veganism. This is consumerism.

Secondly, vegans must realize that they should not confuse veganism with all the other labels. Unfortunately, it is competing: not with meat, milk and leather, but with “organic” “locally sourced”. Most retailers say that they have stopped advertising “organic” and replaced it with “vegan”. It is hopelessly confused with healthy, raw food and gluten free. The advertising agencies are toying with your head, and making all the wrong mental associations, by providing completely unnecessary items with the vegan label. By making vegan products look young and vibrant , they have created an image that associates vegan with health. Social media blogs are about how pretty the food should be, rather than where it comes from. You cannot eat avocados from Mexico or Kenya, beans from Brazil, blueberries from the US and goji berries from China, and be vegan. Mexico makes more money from exporting avocado than it does from petroleum, and is cutting down its forests to make way for planting more avocado trees. So what did the vegan achieve? Veganism is not a casual consumer choice. Deciding to go vegan and choosing gluten-free bread are not the same thing. But it has degenerated into that.

Vegans must make political lobbies and compete with Carnism. Carnism, the capitalist philosophy of eating meat and using animals, has caused global warming, with 15% of greenhouse emissions coming from cattle farming alone. And then is the deforestation by clearing land for animal farming. The amount of food needed to raise cattle represents a massive waste of land and grain, with 80% of world soymeal used to feed animals. The world is in its end stage and it has taken us just 200 years of carnism to get there.

Veganism must be a form of boycott, with individuals/communities refusing to put money into harmful industries. You can no longer be a Jain who is vegetarian at home and has a factory that produces gelatine or plywood. Veganism, if it wishes to be environmentally useful, should hold these companies to account, by undermining their profits, and encouraging the development of entirely new sustainable food systems and agriculture.

The Vegan Community Needs Less Consumerism And More Compassion. It needs to put the animals first again. Don’t go shopping, support the building of forests, animal sanctuaries, liberate animals from exploitation - like not buying medicines that are needlessly tested on animals - don't go to zoos, vote for green politicians, refuse to let trees be cut for trains. Put activism over entrepreneurship. And don’t make the excuse that first you will earn money through producing vegan products, and then you will spend it on saving the world.

If vegans would merely replace animal-based production with a vegan market, without challenging the violent logic of capitalism. According to Peter Gelderloos the famous anarchist activist and writer “What if everyone or nearly everyone in wealthy countries adopted a vegan diet? The meat industry would collapse, but other industries and capitalism as a whole would continue, leaving us with the contradiction of a vegan society liberating animals in the limited sense understood by the critique of factory farming, but destroying the environment nonetheless, and all the animals with it”

 “…a world without slaughterhouses could still be a colonialist one, engaging in excessive consumerism that destroys the lives of non-captive animals through habitat destruction and pollution and other forms of environmental devastation.”

Forget focusing just on your own consumption practices, and get onto anti-speciesist politics. What do I mean? Don’t replace cow’s milk with soy or almond milk. Drop all three and put the money into a shelter and a march against the export of meat. The abolition of animal exploitation is part of a wider struggle for social justice.

Imagine if Mahatma Gandhi’s independence struggle had made the wearing of Khadi its sole purpose as a way to defeat the British. We would still have been labouring under British rule.

The struggle has to be a political one. You have no impact if you go the consumer route. The government doesn’t care which lipstick you buy. It will be a thousand years before you, as consumers, make any dent in the lipstick market which has not reduced the number of lipsticks that use beeswax and gelatine but expanded it to meet your lipstick needs. But if you were to make a group that votes determinedly for people who will stop meat export, and shut down slaughterhouses, and legislates on what lipsticks can be in the market, then your veganism would have some meaning.

While becoming vegan is important in the step towards saving the planet, the minute you go looking for "cruelty free underwear", you have lost the battle. You don't need more goods, vegan or otherwise, that deplete resources, pollute ecosystems, fill landfills, and kill free-living nonhumans — you need less of everything.

Veganism is about dismantling a system that depends on the enslavement and abuse of nonhuman lives. If you are to be vegan then be so in every capacity; reducing or eliminating your travel, your reproduction, consumption, waste. You need to be politically informed and active and engaging others, being willing to take a stand and speak out . And you need to rescue animals. 

To join the animal welfare movement contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , www.peopleforanimalsindia.org

  • Written by Denis Giles
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Is tuna what India needs on its plate ?

Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

Yellow fin tuna products sold in the U.S. are being recalled, through an order by the Food and Drug Administration, because they can cause a type of food poisoning called scombroid fish poisoning. This happens when people eat fish that's contaminated with high levels of histamine, a compound that causes allergy like symptoms.

The contamination occurs when the fish are not properly refrigerated and bacteria break down the fish's flesh, resulting in high levels of histamine. Symptoms of scombroid fish poisoning can include a tingling or burning sensation in the mouth, facial swelling, rash, hives and itchy skin, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea, flushing of the face, headache, faintness, sometimes with blurring vision, abdominal cramps, wheezing or other breathing problems, a tight feeling in the throat, or a metallic or peppery taste in the mouth. Symptoms of Scombroid poisoning typically begin within 5 to 30 minutes after eating the fish, and last a few hours. In some cases, symptoms can persist for a few days. Sometimes antihistamines can help. In severe cases, a trip to a hospital emergency room is necessary for care with IV fluids, oxygen or other medications and treatments. Histamine poisoning can be life-threatening in persons with conditions such as asthma and heart disease. Symptoms related to histamine poisoning can also be similar to those of coronary heart disease, increasing the possibility of an invasive medical intervention if misdiagnosed. There is insufficient knowledge about it in the medical community in India.

Some kinds of fish contain naturally high levels of the chemical histidine. This chemical is converted to histamine by bacteria. Unrefrigerated, or improperly transported, fish of the families Scombridae and Scomberesocidae (e.g. tuna, mackerel, bonito), are commonly implicated in incidents of histamine poisoning, which leads to the term, "scombroid fish poisoning", to describe this illness. However, certain non-scombroid fish, mahi-mahi, bluefish, and sardines, anchovy, herring when spoiled, are also implicated in histamine poisoning.

Histamine is a naturally occurring compound that helps regulate specific functions of your digestive, nervous, and immune systems. If you’ve ever experienced an allergic reaction, you’re probably familiar with common symptoms associated with elevated histamine levels, such as nasal congestion, itchy skin, headaches, and sneezing. You may also ingest histamine through your diet – it occurs in certain foods like cheese, wine, pickles, and smoked meats.

The Tuna samples, that have caused this recall, had histamine levels above the Food and Drug Administration regulatory level of 50 ppm (levels were between 213 and 3245 ppm). In most cases, the tuna used to prepare burgers and salads was frozen and thawed more than once before serving. Tuna ground for burgers and sandwiches can be susceptible to both, temperature fluctuations and bacterial contamination. Tuna is served raw as sushi , sandwich fillings and salad, and cooked as filets, steaks, burgers. Tuna is canned in oil, brine, water, and  sauces, and used for sandwiches and salads. Some parts of the meat are used as canned pet food. Canning retains any histamines that may have been produced by bacteria.

Tuna is brought to cities from both local and international waters. It is supposed to be refrigerated from the minute it is caught. But most Indian fishermen bring it in the hot sun to port only a few hours later. From there it is supposed to go in refrigerated trucks and this takes 7-14 days. The fish meat is put into freezer bags and stored in freezers for 2 to 4 days until served as salads, steaks, filets or burgers. It is taken out at intervals to be ground into patties, and restored in the cooler until cooked and served. This requires several freezing and thawing cycles. These food-handling practices are common to all restaurants that serve tuna. Inadequate refrigeration, dirty grinders, are some of the problems discovered in restaurants. Histamine poisoning from fish is probably the principal cause of morbidity from toxic fish consumption worldwide.

Histamine development is more likely to occur in raw, unfrozen fish. Because the fish might appear and smell normal, the consumer is unlikely to identify a problem before eating the fish. Once the bacteria have formed the enzyme histidine decarboxylase, histamine production can continue even if the bacteria are killed. The toxins produced are heat stable and, once formed, are not destroyed by cooking, smoking, or freezing.

Tuna are especially vulnerable to temperature fluctuations, because their average body temperature when caught tends to be several degrees warmer than that of other types of fish.  Thin pieces of fish, such as the belly meat used for ground tuna and salads, are more vulnerable to temperature fluctuations. Violation of storage and temperature controls are also more likely with tuna used for salads and burgers, because pieces are stored over a longer period than filets and exposed to multiple thawing and refreezing cycles. The grinding process, used to make tuna burgers, can contaminate the fish by either mixing histamine-forming bacteria into previously uncontaminated material or by increasing the temperature of the tuna through mechanical friction.

Currently, tuna are caught in gill nets, which causes the fish to get bruised and injured when they try to fight their way out. By the time the nets are hauled, and catch sorted, many hours pass after death and histamines build up.

Histamine levels should remain below 100 ppm, which is possible when tuna is frozen immediately after catching, but in tropical countries with poor freezing facilities, levels are known to rise above the acceptable threshold, even if the fish remains above 4 degrees Celsius for five minutes. In India, tuna are sold in the open, with no ice (along with seerfish and mackerel).

Tuna is now being pushed by this government. Till now, most of it was sold in Kerala and Goa and is not among the most preferred species in the domestic market, because it is not traditionally caught.  It is being promoted for domestic customers through the Ocean Partnerships for Sustainable Fisheries and Biodiversity Conservation, a World Bank/GEF-funded project, and  The Bay of Bengal Programme Inter-Governmental Organisation (BOBP-IGO), headquartered in Chennai. The Indian seas, according to the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute, have nine species of the fish. But the tuna that are brought in are not maintained well. Indian vessels are relatively small, do not use on-board refrigeration, and depend on ice, which limits the amount of fish that can be properly stored. This is being sought to be changed, so that more tuna can be caught. The object is to compete with the US and France.

But, is this the time to promote a fish that is considered dangerous to health?

Tuna is known for its mercury content. Many fish species carry high levels of the metal mercury — a dangerous contaminant that can affect the nervous system. Pollution has raised mercury levels in our oceans. This mercury is consumed by fish and converted to a toxin known as methylmercury. Fish, like tuna, are high on the food chain. They consume other contaminated fish, compounding their mercury levels.

Children are vulnerable, as their developing nervous systems are particularly vulnerable to mercury’s effects. In March 2004, the United States FDA issued guidelines recommending that pregnant women, nursing mothers, and children, limit their intake of tuna and other predatory fish.  A January 2008 report revealed potentially dangerous levels of mercury in certain varieties of sushi tuna, reporting levels "so high that the Food and Drug Administration could take legal action to remove the fish from the market."

While fish like bass, carp (rohu), cod (gobru), lobster, snapper, have moderate amounts of mercury and are advised to be eaten less than six times a month, and not by pregnant women and children, tuna ranges from medium (Canned Chunk light) to high (less than 3 servings a month) Tuna (Canned Albacore, Yellowfin) to highest mercury (avoid eating) : Shark, Swordfish, Tuna (Ahi). Among those calling for more warnings, about mercury in tuna, is the American Medical Association.

Environmentally tuna is about the worst fish to eat.

Dolphins swim beside several tuna species. Tuna schools associate themselves with dolphins for protection against sharks, which are tuna predators. Commercial fishing vessels exploit this association by searching for dolphin pods. Vessels encircle the pod with nets to catch the tuna. But the nets entangle dolphins, injuring or killing them. 1 million tonnes of tuna are caught annually, but the 'bycatch', which is fish that is discarded because it is not tuna, runs into millions of sharks, turtles and other oceanic fish.

According to the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation, Indian Ocean yellow fin tuna, Pacific Ocean bigeye tuna, and North Atlantic albacore tuna, are all overfished. A 2010 tuna fishery assessment report, released in January 2012 by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, supported this finding, recommended that all tuna fishing should be reduced. In 2010, Greenpeace International added the albacore, bigeye, bluefin and yellowfin tuna, to its seafood red list, which are fish in danger of becoming extinct. The bluefin, are now considered by IUCN as critically endangered.

Research shows that increasing ocean temperatures are taking a toll on tuna in the Indian Ocean, where rapid warming of the ocean has resulted in a reduction of marine phytoplankton.

Is tuna what India needs on its plate ? 

To join the animal welfare movement contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , www.peopleforanimalsindia.org

  • Written by Denis Giles
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The Vegan Movement

Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

A few months ago a Veganfest was held in Delhi. It was attended by hundreds of young, affluent, well read and enthusiastic people. The speakers were from all over the world. But each one represented a company that was making vegan products: mock meat, cosmetics etc. There were no philosophers, no one to define what veganism could and should be. It was a consumer event.

That is what worries me about the rapidly spreading vegan movement. It is simply about buying “something else”. It was meant to be transformative, something that would make the world a gentler, happier place, save animals and reduce suffering. Instead it is yet another fashion statement.

Let us look at the impact of veganism on the food industry. If 5% of the US and Britain are vegans then meat consumption should have dropped by that amount. Instead it has increased by 10%.

In fact, the meat industry has embraced veganism as another way to make a quick buck. All meat chains have added a few vegan items to their menus. No restaurant has lost any customers due to veganism (which they should have), they have added new ones. Vegans go to Mc Donald's and order a vegan burger – which helps keep Mac Donald’s profits rolling so that they can kill more animals and make more meat burgers. Look at the economics. Greggs is a meat sausage roll company. They started a vegan sausage roll and their profits went up by 58%.  But if customers were simply switching from the meat to the plant-based sausage roll, profits would have stayed the same. Has their meat production dropped? Not by one roll.

Papa John’s, the meat and dairy pizza chain, has also seen a boost from its vegan “sheese” range which it launched on the same day as its hotdog version.  “Our vegan customers like to share on social media how happy they are that we are catering for them.”

Every supermarket has opened a vegan section. But it is nothing compared to their meat, cheese and dairy sections. Ice cream giants have non dairy ice cream – but they also sell dairy ice cream. Burger King now has a vegan burger. Has this changed the people eating meat burgers ? No. Burger King customers continue to buy beef burgers. But now vegans and vegetarians come through the doors too. They have simply widened their customer base, not changed habits or spending choices. The vegan movement, that should be doing all it can to put animal killers out of business, is now handing over its money to them. Do Burger King, Mac Donald's and KFC have a special fund into which they put vegan money in order to rescue animals, or clean up the planet? No, the core business of these corporations is animal slaughter for food. By financially supporting them, all vegans do is fund their ability to continue their environmentally damaging meals. If a burger chain offers one vegan option, you are not 'flexing your vegan muscles' by giving them your money. You are falling into their capitalist trap. Likewise, giving money to leather boot companies that also have boots made of polyurethane plastic in every colour. The company that sells both has now doubled its sales in leather.

Vegans seem to believe that we can simply spend our way to animal liberation and saving the planet. All you have to do is descend on supermarkets and restaurant chains, stuff your trolleys and stomachs with vegan products and suddenly the world will become a better place for all species. But you don’t end exploitation by handing your money to exploiters. All you do is bankroll further exploitation. Vegans are not here to make the shopping aisles bigger, but to end exploitation. You cannot spend your way to paradise.

This emphasis on buying different versions of the same products, from the same companies, has led to masses of clever advertising jugglery by companies. All the things that were always vegan, now have a vegan label on them : vegan beer, vegan sofas, even a vegan massage. Something that was called a soya protein shake is now a vegan protein shake. More restaurants, more clothes, more brands of cosmetics. Basically, it is just “greenwashing”.

For instance, Body Shop is where rich vegans buy their cosmetics from. But Body Shop is owned by L'Oreal, one of the largest testers of animals in the cosmetic world. Body Shop is simply their outlet to capture the vegan consumer. Dairy-free ice-cream from Ben & Jerry's may sound good, but it is owned by Unilever, the villains of vivisection.

That vegans are being taken for a ride, on the “vegan consumer train”, is obvious. Last year Daiya, the maker of vegan cheeses, sold their company to a Japanese pharmaceutical company that tortures animals for "research." So many companies have built their business on veganism and then sold out to larger non-vegan conglomerates. Companies don’t care about the rights of animals, they care about the wallets of their owners. Corporations view the earth, nonhumans and humans, as capital to profit from and exploit.

Vegfests should not be simply about food, community and entertainment. Veganism is not a trendy lifestyle, or something that you can show off with to other people at social events. Today, vegan magazines are just about food recipes and advertisers: clothing, travel, cosmetics. Not a single magazine or even blog, undertakes to grapple with the real issues of veganism – education, government policies, critical thinking, speciesist language (you pig/dog/swine !) capitalism, non human rights, the animal industrial complex. Should our Indian exports be solely based on meat/eggs and milk ?

Veganism is now the 21st century version of California’s Haight –Ashbury hippie cult. Handled in an irresponsible style, and quickly seen as a drug fuelled protest, this serious anti war movement of the 60s was short lived. Veganism now is seen as a temporary fad adopted by youthful, rebellious, teenagers in search of “self expression”. Like all fads it, unfortunately, belongs to a teenage world and will be outgrown in adulthood.

Going vegan is one tool which can be used to undermine the huge impact commercial animal agriculture has on our planet’s health, climate and biodiversity. But the simple eating of vegan food alone isn’t necessarily going to undermine these practices. What we eat, how it is produced, and the amount we consume, all are questions that need to be answered as we transform food production. These questions are not answered when our dietary choices boil down to choosing the latest cool vegan option. Vegans needs to be wary about how the switch to plant-based diets can be easily incorporated into existing unsustainable food systems, making it not the lifestyle of ecological warriors but simply another mainstream consumer choice. 

To join the animal welfare movement contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , www.peopleforanimalsindia.org

  • Written by Denis Giles
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