Vegetarian Summerfest 2017: Workshops I’m Offering

Summer season’s greetings to all! I’m counting down the days to the North American Vegetarian Society’s annual Summerfest, happening Wednesday-Sunday 5-9 July at the University of Pittsburgh – Johnstown campus. This is the closest thing to a “vacation” I do all year. And it’s soul-refreshing to be around vegans who have become supportive and dear friends over the years. 
The full timetable with all of the session descriptions is now available. Below are my three sessions. Should thoughts come to your mind on these topics. . . Please do share what comes to you.
The first one I’m ethically compelled to present: the diet-climate link. The second will be something I’ve never presented before, on an issue most of us face daily. The third brings to Summerfest something we don’t consider nearly enough in the vegan community: Veganism Defined. The brief, beautiful piece from 1951 is prescient, urgently relevant. Its call to stop thwarting evolution couldn’t be more vital, in light of stuff like the Trump administration’s removal of Endangered Species Act protection from the Yellowstone grizzlies, allowing people to stalk and kill them.
Yours for Liberation,
Lee.

If You Can’t Stand the Heat, Get (Animal Products) Out of the Kitchen 

THURSDAY 6 JULY, 10.00 AM

Campus Room

Why do experts disagree on the proportion of climate impact from animal farming? Are any governments or international bodies taking action on meat and dairy, given its climate impact? Do our personal dietary commitments having any significant impact? As an environmental law specialist, I’ll offer an up-to-date analysis, and talk about what our community can do.

I’m Vegan. My Job Is Not. How Do I Reconcile This? 

FRIDAY 7 JULY, 10.00 AM

Campus Room

In a perfect world we could all have vegan careers. In this world, so few of us do. How do we cope with the day-to-day reality? Are there any silver linings in this reality (or any drawbacks to working in vegan environments)? Can a vegan employment sector be stimulated? This will be a brief presentation followed by interactive discussion.

Vegan Dot Connecting – Why It’s So Much More Than a Diet 

SATURDAY 8 JULY, 2.00 PM

University Room

Defining “vegan” through the Vegetarian World Forum in Spring 1951, the Vegan Society in England declared that through the vegan commitment “A great and historic wrong, whose effect upon the course of evolution must have been stupendous, would be righted.” I’ll facilitate a discussion of the broad and deep view of what veganism stands for. 


An eco-friendly tip for those attending Summerfest: Amtrak’s “Pennsylvanian” route goes to Johnstown, PA, and there’s a free, student-driven van service to and from the University of Pittsburgh campus. Please travel by train when you can.

Climate and Vegetarian Summerfest 2016

On Thursday 7 July in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, I’ll be offering a talk named Climate Change: How the Public Conversation Is Shifting and How Vegetarian Voices Can Be Heard. (The North American Vegetarian Society presentation summary includes a description: “This session will provide updates on farming and climate, and also involve some easy, memorable, and valid points to raise—whether in ordinary conversations or at the policy level. Attorney Lee Hall holds a specialist’s degree in environmental law with a focus on climate change, and will facilitate discussion, including new findings and vital points not raised in most discussions of climate and diet.”)

Some VeganPlace readers might ask: Wait—vegetarian voices should be heard? Don’t vegetarians consume cow products, which are obviously connected to methane and general climate-wrecking?

No. Real vegetarians don’t eat dairy. The ovo-lacto take on vegetarianism has been ruled out by the North American Vegetarian Society for twenty years. The five-day menu at Summerfest is not ovo-lacto-; it’s pure vegetarian. Sometimes vegans rail against the shortfalls of vegetarians, but in my opinion the vegan movement needs to tip its hat to vegetarians taking their mission seriously. Respect to NAVS for encouraging its membership to strive for an authentic vegetarianism and to learn why animal agribusiness is not climate-friendly.

And now, yes, the public conversation about climate change has shifted. It has to. We’re not stronger than the climate system. It’s having the last word in every debate. No lifestyle, no matter how rich or famous, is exempt.

Nor is any place on Earth untouched; we now know that levels of Antarctic CO2 have reached 400 parts per million. For the first time in 4 million years.

The roadways on which we burn so much fossil-fuel energy seem to be bucking us off.

And yet a poll six months ago showed half of U.S. society thinking climate change isn’t a very serious problem.

2014-summerfest-patreon-cropNothing could be more serious. Everything depends on climate. Plants are losing the conditions that support them. By 2100, some tropical regions are predicted to have 200 fewer growing days a year. Let that sink in.

And then think about what is happening to untamed animal communities when native plants stop growing where they live.

We keep on releasing stored carbon dioxide (by burning oil and gas) and disrupting Earth’s capacity to store it (by cutting down trees). We’re releasing methane into the atmosphere from our landfills, through fracking, and from domesticated animals, mostly cows. We’re polluting the atmosphere with nitrous oxide through our use of manure too.

And getting our proteins though animals raises costs. If your shopping bag is loaded with flesh products, including the bodies of marine animals, your receipt total is going to come out pretty high, compared to that of the shopper with a bag full of horseradish hummus, red and green cabbage, red pepper and ciabatta, sweet potatoes, etc. When we use cows, pigs, goats, rabbits, birds and other animals to funnel our protein through, we are not advancing culture so much as advancing business. I will use the term animal agribusiness when talking about animal farming and its attendant feed industries, and reserve the word agriculture for the growers who produce food.

Free-range is really another form of sprawl

It’s been ten years since the United Nations published Livestock’s Long Shadow, explaining the enormity of damage done through animal agribusiness. But the U.N. never suggested we stop farming animals or consuming the products (which many of us could do overnight). Its key recommendation? Greater intensification. In other words, consolidate and contain animals into high-volume operations. In situations of intense confinement, animals (along with their emissions and waste) can be more strictly contained; and with animals not moving as much, less feed is consumed.

What we learn from environmental science does not lead us to support any of this:Slide44

The above scenes are evidence of a spreading-out of the environmental problems we need to move beyond.

And the warmer the planet gets, the more intensively animals will be raised, for reasons such as temperature control. Overheated dairy cows aren’t efficient producers of milk. When the Union of Concerned Scientists, in their booklet Climate Change in Pennsylvania: Impacts and Solutions for the Keystone State, say that cows are going to need fans and water sprays to cool them as the hot days multiply (cows drink four times as much liquid as they produce in summertime), they too are indicating that factory-style farming is the way of the future. (Look at page 8 in this PDF.)

Nowadays it’s popular to say that “factory farming” is inhumane. Yet we have environmental scientists communicating some important realities about how “cage-free” systems just spread the emissions around and use up more feed to raise roaming animals. With animal agribusiness, you can’t win.

A better recommendation comes Vegan Environmental Party of Ontario when it calls on the government to divest from animal agribusiness by halting the subsidies.

Consider that we reserve about 20 million acres of land for alfalfa alone. (And it must be irrigated.) Virtually all of it is used as feed.

That is in addition to the imposition of the domesticated animals themselves on the land. We need not continue this overbearing way of living on our planet.

For reasons that are many and interconnected, we need to be creating animal-free meals. Seekers of pure vegetarian cuisine miss nothing and conserve so much.

Make reservations at Vedge in Philadelphia or Plant in Asheville if you want to go gourmet. Most cities now have such offerings. Want to learn to prepare food like a pro in your own kitchen? You can learn. Try a subscription to a home delivery service with recipes and instructions from a professional chef such as Trish Sebben-Krupka at VegTable.

“But I just eat fish!”

That’s another sector of animal agribusiness, and not a sustainable one. The people at Greenpeace say “sustainable seafood” is within reach. They want us to demand better labels on the bodies of marine animals in the grocery aisle so we can tell if codfish are being scraped off the Norwegian Arctic seafloor with massive trawlers. Why do they take this position when they could do better? If we can afford to get food from a grocery store, we can get pure vegetarian food and make it great. And for the climate’s sake, we should.

The personal and political 

Recently a study was published in the journal Climatic Change involving 60,000 “meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians, and vegans” in Britain. Remarkably, the study found dietary greenhouse gas emissions from the participating omnivores about twice as high as those from vegans. If we have the power to bring our emissions down so low, but we decline to use it, aren’t we committing malpractice as human beings?

By being vegan we can also alleviate social stress. The 2007-2010 Syrian drought, which forced rural people to move in droves to urban areas, culminating in one of the most severe conflicts of today, for example, was driven by climate factors.

What’s to come? We all know, if we read the papers, that 2016 has already shown record global temperatures, month after month after month. The New York Times offers regular reports on this, accompanied by  simplistic, incomplete advice. The Times acknowledges that the problem is complex and can feel overwhelming: “We get it.” 

But they don’t.

They mention “reducing meat” as one item in a list of things to do. They do point to animal agribusiness as the worst segment of agribusiness for the climate. The science would back the Times up on that one.  Slide36

The Times tells us in particular that “some methods of cattle production” demand a lot of land. Now, wait. “Some”? All of it does, and all cows create manure and methane, whether out on the range or within walls.

The Times urges “switching from beef to pork and chicken” and suggests that chicken farming is the least harmful kind.

Let’s not even get into the harmful health ramifications of the “eat pork” advice. Pig manure is still manure and what the world needs now isn’t more of it. And you don’t help the climate even by buying local eggs and chicken or pig flesh. To do so means you’re really relying on a massive feed industry—a serious fuel guzzler. “Local” animal farming isn’t local—because animal feed is routinely shipped many miles for mixing and packaging, and shipped again in distribution.

The huge feed requirements arise in fish farming too. Farmed fish really are “chickens of the sea”; aquaculture is tied into the global grain and feed market and it’s expected to double in size by 2050. Why contribute to that?

Instead, groups such as WWF should be funding vegan festivals.

Slide40

 

WWF’s so-called sustainable seafood standards are pressing small, family businesses, which once used by-products as feed, to enter the global feed market.

Before the pressure to adopt environmental standards like those of WWF’s Aquaculture Stewardship Council, catfish farmers used home-made feeds that included farm by-products. No more. Now the local farmers of the world have to vie for the labels that the affluent populations want to see in the grocery store.

Slide42Is it the height of irony that WWF would expose the “hidden soy” in animal products after pushing this same market?

People listen to the WWF and the New York Times when what they really need is no-nonsense information, and a key part of that information needs to come from those of us who’ve already divested from animal agribusiness in our own lives and can help others to do it.

This is not to say that being vegan is all we need to do. I’m starting to notice a lot of people picking out one kind of change that they like and claiming it as their part. I’ve heard people who bring their own bags back to the supermarket overstate the goodness of this good deed by claiming to be “saving the world, one bag at a time” (regardless of what products are in their re-used bags). Vegans need to be careful that we don’t fall into the trap of thinking we’re doing so much by being vegan that we ourselves needn’t make deep changes in our mindsets and actions.

I’ll also talk about the influence of religious doctrine and of education on people’s attitudes and understanding of climate change. I expect a lot of informed comments and feedback at Summerfest on Thursday the 7th. Join us in the Scholar’s Room if you can.

Meanwhile I’d like to conclude with a thought question. Should we use “the war on” language when we talk about climate? This language is meant to indicate a serious approach to climate change, which of course is well past due.

Slide50

But are we really in combat?

And should we be “arming” ourselves against the hordes of invaders coming in when climatic zones shift because of our own conduct?

Is warring against a natural system’s response to overload what we need to be doing? Is this the best mindset for the work we must do to put ourselves in good stead with our planet?

Let’s talk about this.

Vegetarianism Is Fertile!

I post this as I’m about to go off to see 600 or so other Vegetable People at the North American Vegetarian Society’s annual Summerfest.

I love being part of the vegetarian movement. Vegan comprises the beginning and ending letters of vegetarian. The vegans have always been around the movement, insisting that it apply its principle consistently.  In 1944, a few members the Vegetarian Society in England went out on a limb and publicly objected to the confusion in the wider Vegetarian Society membership about the use of animal milk. They formed the vegan offshoot expressly to bring vegetarianism to its logical conclusion.

The vegans weren’t discussing “food choices”; they were talking about commitment. They aspired to a society in which no one would think of oppressing or not as a choice. They refused to take a seat on the throne over all creation. They rejected our identity as Earth’s grand apex predator—a role that has never belonged to us.

John Wesley, vegetarian founder of Methodism, articulated the vegetarians’ rejection of all forms of human-privileged bullying:

I am persuaded you are not insensible to the pain given to every Christian, every human heart, by those savage diversions, bull-baiting, cock-fighting, horse racing, and hunting. Can any of these irrational and unnatural sports appear otherwise than cruel, unless through early prejudice, or entire want of consideration and reflection?

Readers interested in a broad-brush yet brief history of the vegetarians can take a look at the overview I wrote a few years back for the Encyclopedia of Activism and Social Justice.

2014_LargeSummerfestBannerSo this week, in keeping with the best of vegetarian thinking, the North American Vegetarian Society’s annual Summerfest, a five-day conference in Johnstown, Pennsylvnia which draws upwards of 600 people, expressly dedicates itself to helping vegans and aspiring vegans find friendship and support.  I’m giving several presentations this week, and two will be audio-visual. Below, two brief summaries. Looking forward to seeing some of you. Whether or not you come to Johnstown, please feel welcome to comment here.

Love and liberation,

Lee.

Farms and Fish: Is “Organic, Sustainable” a “Step”?Summerfest classroom

Thursday 3 July at 10.00 a.m.

Everyone’s talking about reducing  their “footprint” (or “foodprint”). “Local” and “sustainable” are the buzzwords of the day.  But what changes are actually occurring; and are they meaningful? Turns out the changes are often meaningful, but not in a good way.

Half of people questioned in a survey said they are willing to pay more for “sustainable” labels—quite a few of these folks were willing to pay a 20% markup. So companies want to get in on the action, and this sector, which is supported by charity heavyweights, has actually displaced old methods and is driving a damaging global market for fish feed crops, as fish farming is poised to double by the middle of the century.  I’ll explain the difference between, on one hand, buying “sustainable seafood” and “local” or “free-range”  or “grassfed” or “organic” animal products, and, on the other hand, opting out in terms of real effects. This presentation will show the effects of our decisions with the varnish of corporate hogwash removed.

Vegetarian Responses to Climate Change, and How to Explain Them in Ordinary Conversations

Saturday 5 July at 10.00 a.m.

Completing a second law degree, this time in environmental law, has informed me intensively on climate change.  Being vegan has also informed me; the first climate talk I gave at Summerfest was a plenary ten years ago. Now, to put all this together, with up-to-the-moment climate knowledge, for a one-hour session (including participants’ questions and feedback)!

Climate is a big subject. But we can focus it with a few key insights and ideas. In this session I’ll provide some easy-to-remember conversation points, and bring the latest knowledge into a format useful for everyday decisions. This session will also include a discussion of why the main purported solutions—whether high technology, cutting back, or eating “local”—aren’t cutting it at all, and what kind of grassroots leadership is needed and possible at this point.

 

Thanks to Robin Lane of the London Vegan Festival for unearthing John Wesley’s quote, which comes from WORKS: Rev. J. Wesley’s Journal (1756) at page 612. Photo credit: Jason Pompilius.

 

Radically Kind: Rynn Berry

On the 29th of December 2013, a jogger collapsed in New York City, without identification, and lay in intensive care for a week as a photo was circulated with hopes that someone would recognize a face obstructed by a lattice of tubes.

“Sad update,” tweeted Leslie Albrecht of DNAinfo.com in New York City — ‏@ReporterLeslie on Twitter. “Rynn Berry, the #vegan author who collapsed while jogging in Prospect Park, has died.”

Rynn at Summerfest 2012

Rynn at Summerfest 2012

It’s hard to believe it was really Rynn.

There’s one redeeming element in it all: Rynn left happily, gently, jogging in the park. Rynn loved to run and had finished a marathon.

Yet trying, as human nature invariably prompts, to make sense of it all, I recalled those geese, targeted as municipal enemies and rounded up from Prospect Park, never to return, and imagined Rynn having gone to find them.

I can’t imagine the North American Vegetarian Society’s Summerfest without Rynn’s talks. Or lunchtime without the chance to sit down and go over ideas and PowerPoint features—three years ago, we both joined the century and started creating slideshows. Rynn would ask about people I’d seen recently: what they were writing, and how various people’s ideas differed or coalesced. Rynn had a sense of where discourse fit into a greater scheme, was fully present during conversations, and, in one-to-one discussions, listened more than talked.

Rynn Berry. Source: Veggie Pride Parade, New York City

Rynn Berry in New York City. Flickr: Veggie Pride Parade.

But Rynn did speak out, and embraced the role of a public activist. Many thousands of people heard Rynn speak in New York and other cities. And hundreds will miss Rynn on a personal level.

Vegan-organic advocate Harold Brown called Rynn “one of the most outstanding examples of kindness I have had the pleasure of experiencing.”

It’s true.  Rynn Berry carried great intelligence with ease and a quiet grace, and demonstrated the full measure of a human being which surfaces in support for others.

Hitler banned vegetarian groups in Germany and occupied territory.

Hitler banned vegetarian groups in Germany and occupied territory.

In conference workshops, Rynn could revive the thoughts of Leonardo DaVinci, the Buddha, or Pythagoras by offering scripts and inviting people to play their roles, so that within minutes, one really got a feel for the various ways they applied ethics within and beyond humanity. Questions would be answered in fabulous detail, for Rynn knew the languages of original works; thus, for example, when examining a biblical word, Rynn could explain its sense in Aramaic. Rynn’s love of languages came from an abiding interest in uncovering the truth of things. An author or contributor to several books, Rynn is perhaps best known for writing Hitler: Neither Vegetarian Nor Animal Lover (Pythagorean Books, 2004; introduction by Martin Rowe), which revealed that particular image of Hitler as propaganda.

Rynn died in the early afternoon of Thursday, 9 January.

Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.

Rynn would have been 69 on the 31st of this month.

A brief addition on 16 January 2014: Bob LeRoy, R.D., Nutrition Advisor to the North American Vegetarian Society and founder of the Plant-based Prevention Of Disease (P-POD) project, wrote a note on Rynn’s public obituary that speaks to me with special strength about Rynn, and with Bob’s permission, I post it here.

Our colleague & friend Rynn Berry taught us all a great deal about Ahimsa via how he conducted himself & communicated. His demeanor was always humble & gracious, & he never sought out the limelight. He continually throughout his lifetime built upon his unusually broad range & depth of scholarly knowledge as a historian. Though he very generously shared that fairly unique expertise on countless occasions, there was never a moment when he conveyed any sense of proud self-importance. His passing is a profoundly sad loss, & his kindness, activism & teaching will truly be missed by our extended community.

— Bob LeRoy, Asheville, North Carolina, January 2014

Book jacket source: VegSource.com. For Veggie Pride, see link. Quoted poem: William Cullen Bryant, ThanatopsisCorrection note:  This piece originally stated that Rynn collapsed on the last day of 2013. Chris Suzuki has pointed out that some reporters incorrectly provided that date.