Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Yearly Quest (for DumDums)

The season is upon us. Kids are rifling through their rooms, finding more props for their costumes. And parents are putting off buying the candy because, after all, if it's in the house we're going to eat it, right? It's a tough balance for the adults. Buy it too soon and you're going to make yourself sick eating candy that was meant for trick-or-treaters. Wait too long, and you have less selection to choose from. Oy.

While you ponder that dilemma, I'm here to let you know how you can very easily make this holiday a kind one to animals.

As a kid, I would be overwhelmed with the responsibility of the quest before me. Within those few hours that fall within the acceptable trick-or-treat time, it was open season to get all the candy in the world. The supply was endless. The real challenge, of course, was how to get as much as possible in that short space of time, while being able to keep one's costume looking good. Oh, the pressure! I was always something awkward and big, like a robot or a pack of cigarettes (you think I'm kidding?) so the quest was that much more difficult. I never opted for the cute-yet-sexy-kitty costume or the creepy I'm-a-sexy-baby-girl-in-pigtails-and-pajamas costume. (A big nod of thanks to my parents for pointing me in the right direction. The cigarettes, I should point out, said on one side of the enormous carton, "Don't smoke" with a skull and crossbones. I believed strongly in mixed messages, apparently.) So with building an awe-inspiring costume and mapping the ideal trick-or-treat route, kids have enough on their minds. They don't have the time or energy to devote to deciding which candies are friendly to the animals they love.

As the new generation of grownups -- can that be right? -- it's our job to make this momentous night even greater by selecting goodies that use ingredients that keep our animal friends safe. And I'm sure you agree. So I did the legwork for you!

The most obvious candy that uses animal products is milk chocolate. Milk is not an innocent product and results in the death of all the cows and calves that are part of that industry. (See this link to a past post to learn more -- don't worry, I explain it in a way that won't freak you out.) So empty the milk chocolate right out of that cheap plastic jack-o-lantern because...

Dark chocolate is A-OK! The cows will totally approve and will love you for it!

Less obvious are the products that use gelatin. Many people don't realize this, but gelatin is derived from the collagen in slaughtered animals' skin, bones, and connective tissues. "Ew" on so many counts. There are plenty of other ingredients that seem, on the surface, innocent, but in reality come from some part of an animal. (Even urea -- as in urine -- is used to brown some brands of pretzels. I mean really. Can't we come up with something a little better than that? I wished I'd been in the room when they'd brainstormed that one. Honestly.)

This year, I thought it might be challenging to find vegan candy, but I was wrong. Super easy. Sour patch kids and Swedish fish? Vegan. Not health food, mind you, but vegan. Smarties? Vegan. Doves dark chocolate, Jolly Ranchers, Hubba Bubba gum (oh the memories...), Twizzlers (oh the stomach aches...),  DumDums, Fireballs, and Airheads? All vegan. Here are two lists of other vegan candies you can buy. List one!  and List Two!

This year, we're getting Smarties, which actually has a whole webpage devoted to vegan candy. Hmm.... there must be a market for it lately! (Perhaps this is due to lots of kind people like you milling about?)

And we just bought two big bags of Yummy Earth lollipops. The food editor at the Today Show wrote, "The BEST lollipop I've ever tasted." I was given some to sample at the Maple Farm Sanctuary, and they were UNBELIEVABLE. These are the new generation of lollipops. You may just want to get some for yourself. To hell with the trick-or-treaters. We got ours at Whole Foods. I think it was $5.99 for a bag of 50. Check out the video below about how they make these tasty candies!

This video is a blast! The makers of Yummy Earth show us how their lollipops are made. It's like seeing real-life Willy Wonka Dads. You MUST see this!

(So how cute were they? That video totally makes me want to be a candy maker.)

Does it really make a difference? Will returning those Snickers bars and Mars bars in exchange for some Twizzlers truly change the life of animals? You bet! It's simple everyday choices like these that change the world. We tend to undermine our power. But money talks. Lordy it talks. So take this baby step and use your hard-earned cash to buy something that leaves animals off the plate. Even if you still eat meat and eggs and drink milk, just try this one thing. I think you'll be surprised at how good it makes you feel. 

And stock up on those lollipops. If there are leftovers, you'll be very pleased. :) Heck -- get some DumDums and give those away and save the Yummy Earth ones for you!

Happy Halloween!

P.S. Remember to keep your black kitties safe!

So -- what kind of treats will you be buying for your trick-or-treaters?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Black is the New Pink!

Our kitty Kaci, posing against Halloween colors. I adopted her twelve years ago, and she cuddles next to my head every night.


One of my students walked through the door of our third-grade classroom last Friday clutching her homework folder and wearing her usual so-shy-it-melts-your-heart smile. As well, she wore a long-sleeved black shirt with pink lettering that read, "Black is the new pink!"

Which is great on so many counts. But it was the perfect title for today's topic, which is black cats.  

Think of black cats, and most of us -- even if we have a black kitty companion ourselves -- think of the old wives' tale that warns that the black cat crossing our path will bring bad luck. These silly little sayings seem to stick into our brains like burrs on a sweater, even if we don't believe them. (It's the same way that the Smurfs theme gets caught in your head all day.  You're welcome.)

Sadly, though, many people do avoid black cats, even if subconsciously. 

A few months ago, I learned a very surprising fact. Our animal shelters are overflowing with black cats. Why? Partly because people still cling to this strange idea that these animals will bring bad tidings. Other people feel like their features are less interesting and/or are harder to read. Whatever the reason, it's unexpectedly odd. I challenge you to go to Petfinder (see below) and look up the cats available for adoption in your zip code. (It takes five seconds to do.) Notice how many black cats there are?

Even sadder, many of these places do not allow black cats to be adopted in the two weeks or even the month before the Halloween season because there have been many people who have adopted them merely as props for parties, haunted houses, etc. After October 31, they are either returned to the shelter or dumped. And there are some who do worse things.

Disturbing to say the least.

If you are looking for a new kitty companion, consider scouting out the black kitties. There are even adoption organizations that work on finding homes just for black cats! (Black Cat Rescue is one that is local to Boston.)

And if anyone makes a crack about your new black kitty and bad luck, just give them a confused stare and say, "Black is the new pink. Even a third-grader knows that."

This is Harry, who is at the Metrowest Humane Society in Ashland, Massachusetts. I found him by doing a random search on Petfinder. He, along with hundreds of other local animals, can be found on Petfinder.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

You Like Me! (aka, I Spent Way Too Much Time Figuring Out How to Add a "Like" Button)

I'm having a super-proud moment. I finally -- after over a month of sporadically trying to figure it out and failing repeatedly -- finally got a "like" button installed on the Suburban Snow White facebook page! Ta-dah!

And, if that weren't enough, I managed to get the button directly on this site!

So if you're feeling saucy, feel free to join the gang and "like" us over to the right.

Man. I feel like I just solved Fermat's Last Theorem. 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Lost? Have you tried Hare Krishna?

Are vegans like born-agains? Out to convert you to their way of thinking, with a list of rules in their sweaty little palms? 

Ha ha ha.....(wiping brow with back of hand)....That's funny.

Actually, yes, it's true. And, when you feel comfortable, you can sign over the deed to your house to our cause. And your first-born. And your Mustang. (Ryan's lusts after the older models.) Thank you.

In all seriousness, I initially feared that people would see my change of heart as a weird, religious, born-again experience. Not being the following type, I found this idea very off-putting. Often I'll hear the comment (always delivered very respectfully, actually,)  "Oh wait. You can't eat fish, can you?" or "Are you allowed to eat jello/wear leather/fill in the blank?" I know where the comment is coming from and always appreciate the intent, because the person is clearly trying to figure out how to attend to my needs and make me happy. And that's pretty sweet!

But I thought I'd address the idea of what being vegan is here, because I think these comments speak to a lot of misinformation in the air about what eating a plant-based diet is all about.

When you learn any aspect of what happens to animals at the hands of fellow humans, that seemingly solid wall of ignorance comes a'tumblin' down. And when the dust settles and you look about you, you see start to see everything that was behind that wall, carefully hidden from your eyes. The truth is that very few of us want to actually hurt an animal, regardless of species. I know a lot of people talk tough, making jokes about the food they're eating, ordering their steak rare, joking that "it should still be moo-ing!" But I've seen many of these same people crushed when their beloved pet died. So they get it -- animals have souls and personalities like we do.

In fact, our society is quite taken with animals. Think of those fascinating National Geographic episodes that give us a view of their lives in the wild. We pay good money to go on a whale-watch just for a glimpse of seeing one of those remarkable animals breech majestically out of the water. Most of us pick our companion animal at a shelter and our hearts ache for all the animals we see there who don't have homes yet. One item in so many bucket lists is to swim with dolphins -- we are all captivated by their playful and curious nature. We find a pathetic, barely-feathered baby bird in our yard, and we do all we can to insure that it's safe and back with its parents. Our hearts become fearful as our companion animals get old, knowing that too soon we're going to have to say goodbye. Our first childhood friends, in fact, are our soft, plush stuffed animals. And aside from becoming infuriated when we hear of somebody abusing an animal, we realize that there is something deeply wrong with that person to want to hurt a defenseless creature.

The only way for us to love these animals and consume others is to put up a wall and not think too closely on it. Actually, that is wrong. When we are new to this world, the wall is constructed unknowingly by our own families, when they feed us some animals and simultaneously encourage us to love others. (This isn't a stab at our parents -- they were entrenched in this system since birth as well.) The animal industries, on the other hand, continue to patch up any cracks in that wall that might appear. They know exactly what is behind that wall and they have a lot at stake, so keeping that wall up is one of their most important jobs. They rely on that wall being snugly in place or their business is doomed. As Paul McCartney once said, "If slaughterhouses had glass walls, all of us would be vegetarian."

When you do have the strength to look behind that wall, though, the whole damn thing falls down. (And looking behind it ain't rocket science. Just do a youtube search on "meat industry" or take a look at the intense videos to the right, second set down.) And the prospect of seeing what's behind the wall and then having a lifelong wall crumble is temporarily upsetting.  But I will tell you this -- within fifteen minutes of seeing such a video, I knew what I had to do to extricate myself from I saw happening and I immediately felt better. Better because I was empowered -- I could actually do something.

So that's what being vegan is really about. When you see animal abuse, you take yourself and your hard-earned dollars out of that system. Initially for me it was meat, dairy, and eggs. (The video I watched covered all these industries so I was done with all three immediately.) But then I learned about the leather industry, so I'm no longer buying leather. (And ever-so-slowly replacing the leather things I do have.) I found out that the down industry is unimaginably cruel, so I won't buy down again. (And when our down comforter no longer serves us, we'll replace it with something animal friendly.) The wool industry seems innocuous enough, yet when you look a little closer, you find it is just as awful as the others.  And so on.

There is no rulebook, therefore, that says someone who is eating a plant-based diet can't eat fish or any other creature. There is no cult declaring, "thou shalt not wear the skins of animals." It's just that I simply have no desire to do so. Do I enjoy the taste of some animal flesh? Yes I do. But I'm not even slightly tempted eat it anymore, because I know what happened to the animal that it came from. Maybe this metaphor will clarify...

Human flesh, like other animals' flesh, is edible. We are physically capable of eating and digesting it. And people who have eaten human flesh before (usually in rare cases of starvation) have said it tastes like a cross between chicken and pork. And chicken and pork are quite tasty, aren't they? As it stands, eating human flesh is illegal. (At least, I'm assuming it is! :)  ) But if it were legal, would most of us eat it, even though it's probably as tasty as other animal flesh? I'm guessing no. Let's imagine we gave human flesh a harmless name, the way we do to other animal flesh, and called it .... hork. What if someone said, "We're looking forward to having you over tonight, but I was thinking of cooking up some hork. I forget, can you eat that?" The answer of course is yes, we can eat it. But I would venture to guess that most of us would pass on the hork, not because of a weird set of rules or because we didn't think it would be tasty, but because the idea of eating it is abhorrent. If the gelatin in our jello and marshmallows was made from the bones, skin, and connective tissue of humans (as opposed to the bones, skin, and connective tissues of non-human animals) most of us would probably stay far far away from these goodies, despite our fun childhood memories of them. (Note: there are vegan marshmallows and they are delicious!)

Once you give up non-human animal flesh, it's the same thing. You can eat it. You might even like the taste of it. But you want to no part of it, not because it isn't allowed, but because it's as gruesome as eating human or your cat or dog. It's not "can't,"  but "I don't want to."

See the difference?

Human skin was once used to make books, but most of us would probably shy away from owning such artifacts, as it's -- well --- creepy. Delve a little into the leather industry, and you might look at your leather products differently.

Everything takes on a new hue when cruelty is involved.

So that's it in a nutshell. There's no "can" and "can't" eat items. There's no cult or rulebook. There is just the repugnance with the animal industries and what they (we) do to non-human animals. And a great desire to keep our dollars from supporting the system.

And as far as converting others? To me the word convert implies a change to a new faith. Being vegan isn't about faith. It's the knowledge that we're hurting other sentient beings who never did a thing to us. Beings who want to live their own life. It's the desire that other humans realize what we're doing as a whole to these remarkable creatures. It's the hope that we all make the simple (and healthy) decision to make the animal industries grind to a halt with nobody buying their products. It's simple economics. Supply and demand. No demand for animal products? No supply.

Sounds pretty nice, doesn't it?

For your enjoyment, Kermit discussing the merits of Hare Krishna