Sep 03

The internet is buzzing this week over secret video footage that shows baby chicks being ground up alive in an egg-laying chicken hatchery in Iowa. The video was produced and released by Mercy for Animals, an animal rights activist organization that equipped an employee with a secret camera to document the treatment of chicks in the egg-laying breed hatchery, which is reportedly the world’s largest. Mercy for Animals estimates that 200 million baby male chicks are systematically destroyed each year by the egg industry, mostly using horrific methods like the grinder shown in this video.

This is one reason why millions of people around the world are choosing to become vegans.

A vegan is someone who does not consume any foods that are animal-based. This doesn’t just mean that they don’t eat meat, fish, or poultry like vegetarians, it also means that they don’t eat products produced by animals, like milk, cheese, butter, and eggs. For some vegans, the “Hatchery Horrors” video is the latest documentation of farm animal atrocities which motivates their dietary choices. For others, veganism is simply a matter of good health.

A recent Georgetown University study concluded that a vegan diet may be able to completely cure Type 2 diabetes. It’s the high-fiber and low-fat qualities of the vegan diet that proved to be highly beneficial to diabetics in the study. Also, the elimination of meat from the diet lowered the cholesterol in the Georgetown study participants and helped them to lose a significant amount of weight.

Another reason many Americans are turning away from meat is because they are losing faith in the safety of the American food supply system. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that one in four Americans will be sickened by food-borne illnesses this year. E-coli and salmonella infections are the most dangerous food-related illnesses, and are most commonly contracted from eating meat and meat products that are unknowingly contaminated.

Even though the health benefits of a vegan diet are well-documented, many people still resist eating vegan because it seems radical and tasteless. “What most people usually picture is unappetizing steamed vegetables, a pile of beans with a sprig of parsley on top, and a block of wobbly tofu,” says Lauren Ulm, who writes a popular vegan blog, VeganYumYum.com. “They either haven’t had any experience with vegan food or the experience they had wasn’t a good one,” Lauren says.

Lauren shares her recipes on her blog because she wants to help people who are like she was when she first started eating vegan – clueless. She found herself standing in front of her refrigerator filled with vegan ingredients that she didn’t know how to use to construct any kind of dish or meal. With a lot of experimentation Lauren found that she could make just about anything vegan.

“I was totally amazed that .. with a little imagination and a few swaps, you could make decadent things like doughnuts, cupcakes, and a macaroni and cheese that rivaled my mom’s and weren’t just pathetic vegan stand-ins for the ‘real’ versions,” Lauren says.

Lauren’s way of combining healthy ingredients with good taste has revealed a growing trend in the way American’s are changing their eating habits. Her unknown blog became a popular blog, then an award-winning blog, and now a published cookbook by the same name, “Vegan Yum Yum” which was released in bookstores this week. When Lauren was invited to be a guest on the Martha Stewart Show, it proved just how popular vegan and vegetarian cooking are becoming.

Veggie enthusiasts are popping up everywhere. Paul McCartney is actively promoting “Meatless Mondays” around the world. The documentary, “Food, Inc.” has been playing in movie theaters across the country this summer. There are 200 separate accounts and 50,000 followers who tweet about eating vegan on Twitter every day.

Vegans are no longer just fanatics obsessed with animal rights, contaminated food supplies, or extreme eating habits. These days many people are eating vegan just because it’s cool. There are multiple iPhone apps made just for vegans now. Which just goes to show that vegans do wear shoes, hold jobs, and know how to operate modern electronic gadgets.

One of those vegan iPhone apps comes from Lauren, who wants her particular style of cooking to be appealing and accessible to vegans and non-vegans alike. “I wanted non-vegans to see my food and think, ‘Yum, I could really go for that!’ as opposed to,’Ugh, vegans.’”

Comparing a video of how to make Vegan Graham Cracker S’mores and a video of hatchery workers carelessly tossing live animals into a shredder, it’s becoming increasingly clear to people which is the “yum” and which is the “ugh.”

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Aug 12

This month the court of Morrow County, Oregon received a request to declare a West Nile virus state of emergency due to a sudden appearance of infected mosquitos there. West Nile is a pathogen that is native to Uganda, and can be transmitted to humans with a single mosquito bite.

Morrow county is a place that is near to the hometown of author, Emily Smucker. But West Nile virus is a disease that is not so dear to her heart, after she lost her senior year in high school to it.

In her newly released book, Smucker gives a detailed account of her struggle to survive the potentially deadly West Nile virus after she contracted it at the age of 17. What was thought at first to be just another “Emily flu,” turned into a serious chronic illness that the teenager is still struggling to overcome two years later.

While most people will experience no symptoms or mild effect after being bitten by West Nile infected mosquitos, others will experience severe and long-lasting effects which can include encephalitis, meningitis, and permanent damage to the central nervous system. If the virus spreads to the brain, death is a possibility as well.

Considering the worst possibilities of the virus, the severe fevers, headaches, and debilitating weakness that incapacitated Smucker were not the worst things that could have happened to her. Being isolated from her friends, missing every aspect of her senior year, and not being able to graduate, however, made it feel to Emily that the worst things that could have happened had actually happened. She was still a teenager, after all.

“Sometimes it feels like I’ll never be able to do anything in life, to go anywhere in life, because I’m sick all the time” Smucker wrote in her book. “And other times it feels like I am missing a huge chunk of life, and in place of that missing chunk is sickness.”

Smucker’s experiences with battling West Nile virus were documented on her blog while she was living through them. Her book is a memoir of sorts which gives readers an intimate look at the emotional, spiritual, and identity crises that chronic illness can create. The author provided more insights about the experiences documented in her book during an open web conference this month, which has been viewed by more than 1,000 people. The teen fielded about 300 questions and comments from participants during that event.

“The world would be an easier place if everyone I knew had gotten West Nile in their past, that way I wouldn’t have to spend so much time explaining to people what it was like,” Smucker wrote in her book. “So maybe someday someone else will have the same thing, and I’ll make their life a little easier, because I’ll know how to empathize.”

With the outbreak in Oregon this week, and other major West Nile outbreaks reported in California, Alberta, Canada, and even the Galapagos Islands this summer, unfortunately, Smucker may have to see that wish come true.

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