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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Wedding Dress Fitting -- Round 2

Shortly before my 30th birthday, my mom came into town to go for my first wedding dress fitting.

I chose to wear my mom’s wedding dress which has only been worn by one other person besides my mom (which is more wear than most wedding dresses get).

What makes this chapter of the wedding dress different is that I am getting it drastically altered. My main desire to alter the dress comes simply from the change and evolution of fashion.

My second-cousin Karen -- who wore the dress shortly after my mom’s wedding -- chose not to alter the high turtle neck and puffy chiffon sleeves. And at
the time, this style was very much in fashion. Today it is not.

When I first brought the dress to
Ginger Root Design, the co-owners and designers/tailors, planned out a scoop neck, and a low back.

Here is the original dress before getting it altered. I was so proud and content to be wearing my mom’s dress that day.

So, without further adieu, here are the latest pictures!

Scoop neck instead of high turtle neck; puffy chiffon sleeves removed.

With my Nyka, Anne Marie and my mom!

The low back view. A lot of the material will be pulled in. I kinda wish I had an original picture of the back, but imagine a high turtle neck.

Side-view with Erin, the fabulous designer!

I still have one or two more fittings to go. Along with my mom, my friends Nyka and Anne Marie came for the second fitting. A huge thank you to them for being amazing friends!

Stay tuned for the next fitting!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Dehumanizing work

This week, Tom Philpott, Grist Magazine's senior food and agriculture writer, covered the latest Mercy for Animals (MFA) video to surface from an undercover investigator working at a cattle farm --- this time at a Texas calving operation for the dairy industry.

The video shows in gross and intolerable detail the unspeakable cruelty to baby cows. Philpott aptly observes that
MFA and the Humane Society's constant coverage of these types of operations demonstrates that "...animal abuse is a feature, not a bug, of factory farming."

My question is why is this cruelty a feature and not a bug? What makes people abuse these animals in unspeakable ways? Surely the factory farming industry doesn't seek out people who have "enjoy abusing animals" listed under their hobbies right next to "crossword puzzles" on their resumes. So what is it?

This is where my background in genocide studies comes in handy.

While receiving my
Masters in Genocide Studies, one of the issues I was interested in was why do normally good people do terrible things (ie: the Rwandan neighbor who becomes a murderer in the midst of a genocide)? Or why does a perceived-evil person save lives (ie: the reformed Nazi Oskar Schindler)?

Throughout my studies, I read a lot of materials from seasoned sociologists, psychologists and historians on how people "become evil." One of the best answers I could find was in an experiment where "normal" Americans were put in a situation and essentially assumed the role they were given. The infamous
Zimbardo Prison Experiment attempted to examine prison life, and what was supposed to last two weeks, had to end after only six days due to sadistic behavior from the participants who were expected to play the role of the "prison guards." If this sounds familiar, it is because the photos from this scary scenario look just like those taken in real life at Abu Ghraib.

Other examples I found compelling were the memoirs and accounts I read and heard from survivors of genocides (not just victims, but perpetrators and bystanders as well). Once upstanding and civic-minded Jews in Europe were confined to a ghetto, they took on criminal behaviors that were the result of starvation and humiliation. Likewise, young men enlisted into the police battalion were ordered to kill innocent civilians during the war and they did so.

Were these people born to kill? Were they born sadistic? Numerous studies demonstrate that they were not. Rather, they became killers, criminals, or sadistic individuals as a result of surrounding events and their circumstances.

So what is it about factory farms and consolidated slaughterhouses that cause ordinarily good people to commit such horrible abuses of animals? (Please note that many slaughterhouse and factory farm workers in the U.S. are immigrants who came from their homes in other countries to work in the United States.)

I think the cruel behavior of factory farm and slaughterhouse workers comes from a combination of the above-listed examples. In The Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan writes,

"...Slaughter is dehumanizing work if you have to do it every day." Temple
Grandin, the animal-handling expert who's helped design many slaughterhouses,
has written that it is not uncommon for full-time slaughterhouse workers to
become sadistic.

The fact that workers are exposed to mass death every day, coupled with the very nature of their job, leads to a cruel and demoralizing situation.

According to a
Reuters article that highlights the research and work from Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser, these jobs are often, but not always, performed by illegal immigrants who don't have access to health care or legal advocates. And because many workers don't speak the same language, and turnover is roughly 100 percent annually, unionizing is nearly impossible. Injuries are prevalent due to the pressure to produce more food at lower cost, while the workers are actually making less.

And a 2004 report by
Human Right Watch, Blood Sweat and Tears, found that:

Because many of the workers are undocumented or have family members who are
undocumented, fear of drawing attention to their immigration status prevents
workers from seeking protection for their rights as workers from government

Meat and poultry industry employers take advantage of
these fears to keep workers
in abusive conditions that violate basic human
rights and labor rights.

I often asked myself during my studies if I could be capable of killing. While I repeatedly told myself I wouldn't and couldn't, numerous sociologists and psychologists say otherwise. And I was talking about people. Imagine if it were animals.

Are these workers evil? Are the USDA Inspectors who watch, inspect and ultimately approve of this cruelty also evil?

I don't think so, but I know the system is. And until we start giving the people the rights, respect and compensation they deserve for taking a life to feed others, they will continue to do unto others as they have done unto them.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Big Cheese Truck: Comfort food for the humane eater

Last weekend, I went to Popapalooza, a Spring kick-off that featured Pleasant Pops (hence the name), music and games (yes... Alex, Winston and I manned the Plinko board).

Another food truck was also there:
the Big Cheese Truck, a totally vegetarian grilled cheese food truck. Ordinarily, I avoid cheesy goodness when eating out, because most of the time it is factory farmed cheesy goodness.

Not so this time. It turns out that the Big Cheese Truck gets all their cheese from
Cowgirl Creamery near Metro Center in DC (Cowgirl only sells either artisan cheeses from the U.S. and Europe or cheese from small organic farms).

You can even look up specific cheeses the Big Cheese Truck uses for each sandwich on their website, and find out about the cheese and the farm. Or you can just ask them at the truck, like I did.

The Big Cheese Truck gets their bread from
Lyon, a local bakery in South West DC.

As I write this now, I really want one of their delicious grilled cheeses. At Popapalooza, I had their
"Barely Buzzed" which is cheddar on sourdough. Also as I write this, I realize how foolish it was to do so during Passover.

Maybe this is how I will celebrate leavened bread next week?

Be sure to follow the Big Cheese Truck on
Twitter and Facebook and try them for yourself!

Logo Courtesy of the Big Cheese Truck's website

Friday, April 15, 2011

These animals are making us sick

A groundbreaking study today reveals that Staphylococcus aureus (or staph) has been found in 47% of the meat and poultry tested in a national assessment conducted by the Translational Genomics Research Institute. The study was supported by a grant from the stellar Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming.

Highlights from the release on the study states:

...Drug-resistant strains of Staphylococcus aureus, a bacteria linked to a wide range of human diseases, are present in meat and poultry from U.S. grocery stores at unexpectedly high rates... Nearly half of the meat and poultry samples — 47 percent were contaminated with S. aureus, and more than half of those bacteria — 52 percent were resistant to at least three classes of antibiotics... Researchers collected and analyzed 136 samples — covering 80 brands — of beef, chicken, pork and turkey from 26 retail grocery stores in five U.S. cities: Los Angeles, Chicago, Fort Lauderdale, Flagstaff and Washington, D.C. ...

I encourage you to read the entire release here:

The Translational Genomics Research Institute is a non-profit center focusing on an array of human diseases, including Alzheimer's, Autism, Parkinson's, Diabetes and cancer. One can deduce that they looked into this case because staph infections lead to a number of human diseases, such as pneumonia, endocarditis and sepsis.

This study, while groundbreaking, is not new news.

The 2011 CDC findings estimate that "roughly 1 out of 6 Americans (or 48 million people) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases."

And every few months an event (usually in the form of a recall --- remember when half a billion eggs were recalled last year for salmonella poisoning? ) will occur that reminds us how dangerous and unhealthy our food is when it is raised or harvested on factory farms.

The question is, when will it happen so frequently that we will finally say, "Enough!"?