Friday, 9 January 2015

Foie Gras




On January 7, a federal district court judge invalidated California's ban on the sale of foie gras, a ban that thousands of dedicated individuals, including myself, worked to get passed in 2004.  The judge improperly ruled that an unrelated federal law, the Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA) preempts the California foie gras ban.  

I, and many others, believe that the judge decided this case incorrectly.  The PPIA regulates only poultry slaughter, labeling, and ingredients, and not cruel farming practices.  The judge ruled that force feeding of geese and ducks constitutes an "ingredient", which of course is absurd.  Force feeding is clearly not an ingredient.  It is a cruel farming practice that is not supported by a majority of Californians, and is precisely the reason the initiative passed in 2004 to protect geese and ducks.

Many people can argue that eating animals of any kind is cruel and unnecessary because animals are held, transported and slaughtered in brutal conditions, but this modest protection of geese and ducks from force feeding only regulates the fact that they can not be tortured, before they are killed.

The recent federal district court ruling means that foie gras, a product of egregious cruelty to farm animals, which would be a felony if inflicted on dogs and cats, will now be sold in California restaurants.  In spite of this, I am still hopeful in our human compassion for animals and I encourage you to express your own compassion.  Please urge restaurants with foie gras on their menus to stop selling this diseased product and to sell one of the many delicious vegan pates instead.    


John Merryfield 

Friday, 1 August 2014

Big Blue



   Its a jouney, not a destination.  That's what I keep reminding myself, every time I look at Lake Tahoe, or as some of my friends refer to Lake Tahoe as, Big Blue... really Big Blue!  As I write this, I'm looking out at the lake and I'm reflecting about my up coming circumnavigation of Big Blue and I'm thinking, "That's a huge lake"!  This is the 6th year I will Stand Up Paddle the 72 miles around the lake in one day, paddling all day and all night, and every year, my mind tells me that I can't do it; that I should take a short cut, take a nap, hide in the bushes, sleep at a friend's house, drink a cup of tea, anything other than to paddle the entire circumference of Big Blue in one day.  As I've said, this will be the 6th year to attempt the circumnavigation in one day and the previous years' successful experiences help calm the negative mental chatter.


   Every year its same the deal.  Look at the lake, feel overwhelmed.  But a funny thing happens when I actually put the board in the water and stand on it.  I feel the motion with the paddle and I relax and enjoy the moment.  I see the beauty of my surroundings and I realize that its an adventure!  Will I make it around the lake?.... Who knows and who cares!  I put the blade of the paddle into the water, pulling on the paddle, stroke after stroke, as I scrutinize my paddle technique.  I notice the texture of the water.  I see the shadow of my board against the bottom of the lake.  I see the moon, as a cloud moves past. I hear the lake birds and water lapping the shoreline, and I am catapulted instantly into the moment, where I have energy and I feel hopeful.  Inevitably, I will again start thinking about the finish, and gently I remind myself to stay in the moment, as I chuckle at my minds' coy ability to distract, again noticing the details of my surroundings, bringing myself back to the moment, and so it goes, 72 miles around Lake Tahoe.

   

The process I go through paddling around the lake is hardly different than other people's process that I speak to, as they may consider the transition to a compassionate, healthier, plant based diet, moving away from meat, dairy and eggs.  I have yet to meet one person who says that they support animal cruelty, indifferent to the intense confinement that animals experience on factory farms and the brutal conditions in slaughterhouses.  And when I explain how going vegan is a viable option, and choosing to eat plants instead of animals is a simple and effective alternative to the inherent cruelties of the meat industry, blah blah blah, all they can see in their mind's eye (with glazed over eyes) is Big Blue.  A large anonymous lake where they will toil, paddling in perpetuity, while eating grass clippings.  While only half of that image is accurate (if you're like me and you drink wheat grass juice), a life caring about others, the environment, and our health, is hardly a life of deprivation.  En el contrario!  But you will have a hard time telling that to a certain SUP paddler while he stands on the shore, looking at the enormity of the Lake Tahoe.  


   In other words, its a journey not a destination.  Go ahead, jump in the water!  Remove just one unhealthy food from your diet and replace it with a healthier plant based alternative.  Try it.  Experiment.  Have a Meatless Monday once a week.  Living vegan is a path of kindness, not a path of perfection.  You don't have to drink my green smoothies or wheat grass juice, or paddle around Lake Tahoe in one day, but to use the words of my college Psychology professor speaking about the nature of apathy, "Do something, anything".


Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Another lap around the lake!




On August 10th, on the evening of the full moon and for the 6th consecutive year, I will embark on a solo, non-stop stand up paddle (SUP) around the entirety of Lake Tahoe in one day.  I will paddle all day and all night powered by a plant based diet and my committment to speak out for factory farmed animals with the Vegan 1 Day Project.

The Vegan 1 Day Project is a grass roots effort to encourage the public to adopt a vegan diet for at least one day out of the year, for health, the environment and the animals.  

Many people mistakenly think that committing to a vegan diet is restrictive and difficult, when in reality, a whole food plant based diet is healthy, compassionate and easy.  Striving to accomplish something very difficult by paddling alone, non-stop around Lake Tahoe in less than 24 hours, is an act of support for those wanting to make a positive change, even if just for one day.

I've been a lifelong surfer and an elite SUP paddle racer, competing in international competitions, but the one day paddle around Lake Tahoe is not a race.  It's a fun way of showing people that we can be strong AND compassionate while eating plants instead of animals.  I've adhered to a plant based diet for over 30 years and I've heard practically every false notion about how vegans are weak and somehow nutrient deficient.  

In fact, last year at an SUP race competition, while standing in the racers queue for the after race lunch, I asked the race organizer if there were any vegan options available.  The race organizer kindly announced that vegan, veggie wraps were available.  Some of the racers behind me overheard the exchange, and quipped, "you can't paddle fast on a veggie wrap"!  With an agreeable smile, I turned to ask what their time was in the race.  And as it turns out, they finished 3 minutes behind me, so I playfully suggested the veggie wrap to them for lunch.

Public interest in vegan foods has gained enormous momentum in recent years, but there still remains misinformation and perceived obstacles.  Paddling alone all day and night, 72 miles around Tahoe for the Vegan 1 Day Project is difficult, but pales in comparison to what animals experience on factory farms and in slaughterhouses; like chickens in battery cages or pigs in metal crates, which are crammed in so tight they can't turn around for most of their lives. 

 Humans can get all of the protein and nutrition needed in a whole food, plant based diet, and going vegan for even just one day has a positive effect on our consciousness, setting a powerful intention for better health and a more compassionate world.

It has been enormously rewarding to see that in the last several years, the Lake Tahoe paddle has grown in popularity and has prompted other groups of plant powered athletes to be a part of the Vegan 1 Day Project with their own endurance events, including long distance running and cycling to inspire others with their physical strength and determination.

To use the words of Martin Luther King Jr., "The arc of the moral universe is long, but bends towards justice".   And for me, the arc bends 72 miles around the circumference of Lake Tahoe, on a stand up paddle board.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Foods for Health and Compassion


OATS
Oats are an excellent breakfast choice because of their high amount of complex carbs which provide sustained energy.  Oats are between 10% - 15% protein and provide a good source of fiber as well as a mixture of B Vitamins. It’s a good idea for active vegans to supplement with a B complex vitamin because they support a healthy nervous system, support the adrenal glands and assist in managing stress and weight loss.  B Vitamins are also known for their mood-boosting properties.
BEANS & CHICKPEAS
Beans are a staple in the vegan diet and a perfect combination of protein and starch.  They are low in calories, low in fat, a good complex carb and high in fiber. They are also an inexpensive protein source, at an average $3 per pound compared to eggs at $6 per pound and meat at $12 per pound.  Who said being vegan was more expensive?
TEMPEH & TOFU 
Tofu is an excellent source of vegan protein but I try to always eat the organic kinds because the soybean (the source of tofu) is considered to be very genetically modified.  Consuming GMOs (genetically modified organisms) can create health complications.  Tofu is also best consumed in moderation for vegan body builders especially because it contains a lot of estrogen which can make “hard” muscle appear softer.  For this, I consume a lot of organic tempeh instead.  Tempeh is also made from soybeans but fermented therefore provides considerably higher quality nutrition.
YAMS & SQUASH
Squash is an amazing source of vegan superpower! It's high in complex carbs and fiber, and the winter varieties are high in Vitamin A, Vitamin C and potassium (an essential mineral especially important for those with a high activity level.)
Yams are also high in vitamin C, dietary fiber, Vitamin B6 and potassium, while being low in saturated fat and sodium.  Yams are crucial to a low carb diet because they provide a nice, slow-burning, sustained form of energy, while providing beneficial nutrient dense carbohydrates.
PROTEIN POWDER
Plant-based protein powder is an excellent way to increase your intake of muscle-supporting protein.  Protein isolates tend to be heavily processed, so if you find an increase in farting and bloating, processing could be the issue. Some of the more preferred varieties are hemp (also very high in fiber), brown rice and yellow pea protein, a fave among one of our heroes, Brendan Brazier!
QUINOA & BROWN RICE
Quinoa is not only a fantastic complex carb source but it’s very high in protein too.  Quinoa is considered a whole plant protein and includes lysine, an essential amino acid which helps convert fat into energy.
Brown rice is far superior to white rice in terms of nutrition.  Another great complex carb, it has high levels of manganese, selenium and magnesium (a mineral which acts as a co-factor for more than 300 enzymes) as well as high fiber content. It's a quick staple that can be kept in the fridge for easy preparation, and provides sustainable energy for workouts.
SPINACH
Spinach is an excellent source of Vitamin C, fiber, iron and protein.  It’s low in calories so if you’re going to pig out on any meal, make a giant salad as big as you want with plenty of spinach.  It’s also such a versatile vegetable.  It tastes great in salads, smoothies, steamed, sautéed, in wraps or sandwiches—the possibilities are endless!
APPLE CIDER VINEGAR & BALSAMIC VINEGAR
In the holistic health realm, one of ACV's primary uses is as a digestive aid. It can help to boost digestive juices in the stomach, and claims have been made that it increases fat burning.  Apple cider vinegar helps your stomach in the breaking down and absorption of essential protein and nutrients.  It also helps to alkalize the body.
According to NutritionData.com, balsamic vinegar is a source of calcium, iron, manganese and potassium, which improve the body's functioning and weight loss abilities.  As with all foods, make sure you check ingredients, as some balsamics contain corn syrup and nasty flavourings which can negate any benefits. 
GRAPEFRUIT
Grapefruits are used in many diets to reduce the appetite and to help digestion and utilization of foods.  They are low in calories, and are considered an excellent weight loss food. They are high in antioxidants, especially Vitamin C, which will help to boost your immunity during times of heavy training; times that are known to tax the system.
LEMONS & LIMES
Lemons and limes are another great, natural digestive aid.  Like all citrus fruits, they’re also jam-packed full of antioxidants, Vitamin C and limonene, which is thought to inhibit breast cancer.  Lemon or lime juice adds a fresh, sharp flavour to anything—a definite staple ingredient in competition diets.


Sunday, 26 May 2013

Ag-gag Laws Hide Animal Cruelty




This past April, the California Bill AB-343, known as the ag-gag bill,
which was scheduled for a vote by the California State Assembly
was withdrawn from consideration.  This ag-gag bill would have made it
illegal to video tape animal cruelty on factory farms and in
slaughterhouses.

In recent years, video evidence obtained by animal welfare
investigators have uncovered shocking and widespread animal abuse.
Thus, the industrial animal industry would want to make video taping
of the animal cruelty a crime, NOT the cruelty itself.
The ag-gag laws, still in place in some states other than California,
are a desperate move by the industrial animal industry to keep the
everyday violence against animals and work-place conditions for workers
from the public view. This underscores how important concealment is to their continued
operations and product.

Over the last 10 years, countless video evidence obtained by
investigators shows slaughter plant workers displaying complete
disregard for the pain and misery they inflicted as they repeatedly
attempted to force "downed" animals onto their feet and into the human food chain.

Workers are seen kicking cows, ramming them with the
blades of a forklift, jabbing them in the eyes, and even torturing them
with a hose and water in attempts to force sick or injured animals to walk to slaughter.
Last year,  a video showed workers at an Iowa egg hatchery tossing male
chicks into a grinder. Industry groups said such instantaneous
euthanasia was a common practice because male chicks can't lay eggs or
be raised quickly enough to be sold for meat. And recently, Federal workers
closed a California slaughterhouse after a video showed terrible abuse of dairy
cows that were electrocuted and even shot multiple times before they were slaughtered
at the Central Valley Meat Co., according to the USDA.

Undercover investigations at factory farms and slaughter plants have
lead to some of the largest meat recalls in our nation's history.  They
have also helped to inform public policy, leading to the elimination of
the sale and production of foie gras in California, as well as motivating
many food producers to phase out gestation crates (for pigs), battery cages
(for chickens), and veal crates (for baby cows), all due to their inherent cruelty.

A majority of people do not support animal cruelty and
desire transparency in the food system.  Some people,
"want to believe" that those animals in the food chain are treated well
and perhaps those same people, only buy organic or free range products.
Unfortunately, slaughterhouses do not discriminate, and some of these
undercover investigations involved animals from "family farms",
such as the recent case of abuse at the Central Valley Meat Co.

When the fictional narrative the animal agri-business attempts to sell
us, doesn't meet reality, we are obligated to act on behalf of our
compassionate nature, to choose a better world.  The ag-gag laws are an indiscriminate
assault on our fundamental values of kindness and freedom.  They work against
animal welfare, worker rights, food safety and ultimately, the quality of democratic
deliberation in the United States.

John Merryfield

Friday, 15 February 2013


If You Love Animals, Boycott Plastic Bags. ~ John Merryfield



“Go vegan and nobody gets hurt!”

Great slogan, not entirely true. Some of us vegans like to distinguish ourselves as super human crusaders, in a competition to cause the least harm to animals.
I will be the first to say, ‘Put me in coach, I’m ready to play!’ But our lives on this beautiful planet earth are not a competition and viewing our choice to not eat animals and animal products as the highest form of service we can provide to animals (including wildlife) can deter us from looking elsewhere for how our other actions affect animals, humans and biosystems.
My wife and I live part of the year in Baja California, Mexico where I surf and generally live like a marine mammal. Here in Baja, there seems to be more suguaro cactus and loose plastic bags blowing in the hot dusty environment, than there are people.
Even if I stop at the market for two whole avocados, by the time those avocados get to the other side of the cajero (cashier) an eager, smiling Mexican kid has los dos aguacates in double ply plastic bags ready to go! These ubiquitous plastic bags easily find their way out of people’s hands, trash bins, or landfills and eventually find their way into the ocean.

Once in the ocean, they have a needlessly adverse effect is on coral reefs, sea turtles, whales, dolphin and all marine life.

It’s easy to get tunnel vision. The image of ourselves standing alone, with each of our choices seemingly separate from our other actions is a universal, ego based pitfall.
The contemporary vegan movement is founded on loving-kindness and mindfulness of others; based on the principles of nonviolence and the interconnectedness of all things. I like the word ‘Interbeing’ coined by the Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hahn.

As if a verb, in motion, living life in unity of all things.

Our interconnection is deeply beautiful and at the same time, perplexingly troublesome; all of our thoughts and actions matter, in a sometimes unseen, web of connection. Birds, mice and rats are killed in the production of our grains. Marine life are affected by shoreline development. Untold numbers of animal species are affected in the production of fossil fuels for our energy needs…ad infinitum.
More and more cities and states in the United States are banning plastic bags; the entire state of Hawaii and even small mountain towns like Truckee, California, have voted to ban plastic bags and there is revived legislation in California to ban plastic bags statewide.

I’m thrilled to report that there is progress being made in Baja California, Mexico, because of grass-root groups like AICMMARH A.C. and Costa Salvaje, educating a new generation to protect ocean life.

Living “interbeing” is not as simple as just passing on the carne asada tacos. It might also mean juggling two avocados, a stack of fresh tortillas, a can of beans and a papaya in our two hands, with the inside of our elbows and our lowered, determined chins as we leave the market because we forgot our reusable shopping bags and won’t use the market’s plastic bags.
So, if you love animals, boycott plastic bags…oh yeah…and go vegan!

Friday, 14 December 2012

The Dark Side of Animal "Gifts"


It’s the Christmas season, a giving time of year.

Now, imagine a single mother in the third world with two small children, both of whom are starving. Naturally, you want to help. Many people generously give during Christmas to organizations likeHeifer International, an organization that claims to work against world hunger, by donating animals to families in developing countries.
Heifer International’s catalog portrays beautiful children holding cute animals in seemingly humane circumstances. The idea is to help feed the poor and hungry by providing them with an animal that will provide milk and meat. What the marketing brochure for Heifer International does not show, are the animals being transported, their living and slaughter conditions, or the erosion, pollution, and water use caused by the introduction of the animals and their offspring.
By definition, animals raised for food are exploited in a variety of ways. A large percentage of the families receiving animals from Heifer International are struggling to provide for themselves and cannot ensure adequate living conditions, nutrition, and medical care for animals they have been given. The animals shipped to developing countries are often subject to water and food shortages; cruel procedures without pain killers; lack of veterinary care resulting in extended suffering when illness or injury occur; and brutal conditions in slaughter.
Photo: Joanne McArthur

To make matters worse, animal agriculture causes much more harm to the environment than plant-based agriculture.

The fragile land in many of the regions where Heifer International is sending the animals cannot support animal agriculture. Although they say they encourage cut and carry feeding of the animals to avoid erosion, the reality is often quite different.
While it may seem humane and sustainable to provide just one or two dairy cows here or there, the long term consequences are: an increased dependence on animal agriculture for survival, causing a less sustainable environment, and more animal suffering in the world.  Also, it cannot be overlooked that 35 percent of all grain production in the world is fed to livestock, not humans.

There is an alternative.

While adopting a plant-based diet can have a positive global effect, there are other international organizations working to end hunger, and the causes of hunger, without exploiting animals.
We cannot deny the existence of hunger in our world. It’s a reality that challenges us, and stirs our deepest compassion.  Our own lives can be our greatest vehicles for change in the world. This Christmas, work to end world hunger; eat plants instead of animals.
John Merryfield