Recent media appearances June 2013

Just a quick note before I post my followup to the Oyster and Mussels blog.


I never realized before how much I talk with my hands

Last week was a pretty big media week for me. On Sunday, June 2nd I was on BBC1’s “The Big Questions”“Has man’s dominion been good for the planet?”. My major contribution on The Big Questions was meant to address the idea that humans are the “pinnacle” of evolution. I argued that intelligence is a somewhat arbitrary criteria by which to judge superiority and if we were to judge species, say, by their ability to pick up objects with their noses we would instead say elephants were the pinnacle of evolution (and here is me gesturing like I have an elephant nose, for your amusement).

On Tuesday June 4th I was on “Your Call” Radio 5 Live “Should we go vegetarian to save the planet?”. In both these appearances I mostly made an argument that preventing suffering is what is important rather than more abstract (and potentially less effective) actions such as recycling or saving endangered species (more on this in a followup blog). On Radio 5 Live I said that just like environmentalists strive to reduce their carbon footprint we should all be trying to reduce our”suffering footprint” by not consuming animal products. Turns out I had converged on a term used by Matt Ball of Vegan Outreach.

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The ethical case for eating oysters and mussels

It was five years ago this month that I became vegan, or…well, ostrovegan. In this blog I oystersofficially come out of the closet, err, shell.  I am almost sure that cultivated mussels and oysters are ethical to eat. I argue eating these animals is completely consistent with the spirit if not the letter of ethical veganism and the tenet of causing less harm with our consumer choices 1. This blog is on bivalve sentience/ability to suffer; for further arguments, including nutrition arguments, see my second blog.

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That awkward moment when I have the cognition of a fish

betta fish

The mirror test is used to gauge self consciousness by ascertaining whether an organism can identify itself in the mirror. Usually, the experimenter puts some kind of ink or marking in a spot that can’t be seen without a mirror and then observes the animal. Examining or touching the spot or marking indicates that the animal knows the image is, in fact, not another individual but a reflection. Richard Byrne spoke about the mirror test last week at his talk at Portsmouth and showed us that elephants can recognize themselves in a mirror (or at least one elephant can, the other apparently showed no interest). He also told us that dogs and cats cannot recognize themselves in the mirror but eventually acclimate to having an intruder around all the time who they cannot smell.

When I was last in the States I was at a pet store and saw the betta fish display. Bettas, otherwise known as “Siamese fighting fish”, are colorful, aggressive, territorial fish that will display when put in proximity to other fish. Like many territorial species the males will size each other up with aggressive displays and it’s in both males’ interests if they can figure out who would win without actually fighting. Many places that sell Bettas put these fish close together where they will display all day to one another ultimately stressing them out and potentially reducing their longevity. Often Bettas will be put in front of mirrors which will get them really geared up as they prepare to fight a rival who is equally matched on all dimensions of strength, size, vigor, and display.

I know how the fish feel.

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Suicide food and sexual cannibalism

“Good evening,” it lowed and sat back heavily on its Sausage Suicide Foodhaunches, “I am the main Dish of the Day. May I interest you in parts of my body?” -Douglas Adams “The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”

Nonhuman animals raised for meat have been domesticated for thousands of years. Some characteristics that have been artificially selected for are  earlier maturation,  tolerance for crowding,  reduced exploratory behavior and docility including an almost across the board decrease in brain size (and arguably intelligence, compared to their wild cousins).

As much as we have changed the behavior and responses of animals bred to be eaten we have not been able to breed out of them the desire to carry on living.  What if animals could be bred who had no preferences about existing and who wanted to be eaten?

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Understanding evolution made me vegan

Ahh, the good old days

Photo credit: Richard Kock‘s talk at Wellcome

I’m very often sent news stories that come out showing that meat (or other calorie dense foods seldom mentioned), helped expand human brain growth and reduce the interbirth interval in our species (enabling us to outcompete other nonhuman primates) or that the skeleton of a boy was found who died of apparent b-12 deficiency (because his mama was feeding him vegan, obviously). If eating meat is something humans evolved to do how can I argue against it from an evolutionary perspective? Here’s are my abbreviated arguments for being vegan with many of the finer points to be fleshed out in later blogs.

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The Vegan Option: Blogs and Extended Interviews

Since September 2011 I was cohost and blogger at the Vegan Option but left fairly recently. Since many of the posts I plan to put on this blog are going to derive from blogs and interviews I did for the Vegan Option, many of the blogs I wrote including a short description as well as all the interview are after the jump. To see all the blogs and shows I produced there just click this link.

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