Thursday, March 4, 2010

Animal Factory -- Factory Farming and Its Impact on All of Us

Tonight I attended a reading at Borders Bookstore at the Time Warner Center in NYC by David Kirby, author of the bestselling Evidence of Harm and the sure to be bestseller Animal Factory. Animal Factory was released only a few days ago but the buzz it is generating is HOT! The book is an incredibly well-researched and timely look at the factory farming dilemma in the United States, from a very human perspective.

In discussing the book, reading 3 excerpts to the standing-room-only crowd, and fielding many questions, David eloquently discussed the very real looming crisis facing the U.S. as a result of huge CAFOs ("Consolidated Animal Feeding Operations"), a term that itself, quite frankly, makes me feel kind of disgusting - a feeling exacerbated as I learned more about them. As David said, when you dissect the acronym, "Operation" is kind of innocuous, "Animal" is, well, animal, that's OK, I love animals as a general rule -- it is the "Consolidated" and "Feeding" aspects that are problematic. CAFOs are huge operations in which thousands of animals may be housed in inhumane conditions and fed things they were not meant to eat (grains, corn, soybeans for cows for example, instead of grass). Moreover, the waste created by these facilities is highly toxic, likely to be poorly stored, and, if leaked or spread (as does happen) creates the potential for catastrophic health and environmental consequences. David described the consequences of poorly run CAFOs (and there are some that he found, though few, that are responsibly administered) and we should ALL be worried. The unwillingness and/or inability of federal, state and local government to address the issues raised by CAFOs is disheartening and worrisome.

In New York City, people often feel disconnected from their food sources. This book should serve as a real wake up call to many, and teach NYers -- and others -- about really examining where their food comes from and the consequences of their choices. For example, David pointed out that many CAFO cows actually eat other cows as part of their diets in several ways. This was very disturbing and, as he elaborated on, creates a real risk for the spread of "mad cow disease."

I grew up in suburban Cleveland a short drive from my great uncle's dairy farm outside of Erie, Pennsylvania, a small operation with dairy cows as well as some pigs and chickens (creating a lifelong fear of chickens because these were pastured chickens that roamed free and pecked me!). The cows were treated well, went outside, and had spacious accommodations in a barn. The aforementioned chickens roamed around, free to terrorize me! The pigs were outside in a sty. Well not an expert by an stretch, I know what a small family farm -- one that has sustained a few generations -- looks like. Contrast that to a thousand pigs in a huge enclosure where, if the power goes out completely, the fumes from their waste will kill the pigs in very short order.

While I gave up it up recently, the rest of my family still eats meat. However, we try to eat whatever we choose responsibly. Our CSA, about which I have written before, allows us to purchase humanely and responsibly treated meat and dairy products as well as organic fruits and vegetables - and the meat and dairy is available year-round. We can obtain grass-fed and grass-finished meat (the "finished" part is harder to find for most people, yet critical to maintaining nutrient levels in beef -- it means that animals were not feed-fed at a lot before slaughter, which often happens even to animals grass-fed on the farm). I consider myself pretty "aware" but I learned a lot tonight that reinforced my gut instincts about factory farming.

Many kudos to David for bringing attention to this subject.

Animal Factory, like Evidence of Harm, is available from all major booksellers as well as many local independent bookstores.

Monday, March 1, 2010

We have Moxie! Canine Therapy for Special Needs

I have had the pleasure of recently getting to know Barbara Wolf-Dorlester, PhD. Barbara is a therapist with many years of experience working with special needs children as a therapist and reading specialist. Barbara is adding a new wrinkle to her practice, incorporating her own dog, Moxie, into sessions. Henry has spent some time with Moxie lately and it is so refreshing to see him reading with a level of comfort he does not have when the focus is on reading to an adult. No matter how hard we try, it is difficult to not make some comments that, while seemingly innocuous, carry some judgment (even correcting misread words). Moxie delivers a judgment-free audience! Henry wants to make sure Moxie is paying attention (a little projection there???).

For children who are comfortable with dogs, canine therapy opens many doors. Henry loves dogs (having overcome a big fear of them as a toddler) and has embraced reading to Moxie with great enthusiasm. The last time we saw Moxie, he asked Barbara about scheduling a time to come back!

The use of canines in therapy shows great potential. Dogs can be certified to participate in therapy and can serve many functions - they help facilitate social interactions, language production, self-regulation, and relatedness. Their non-judgmental interactions provide a level of comfort to children and relieve some of the stress they may feel in interacting with and meeting the expectations of peers and adults.

On an independent but related note, dogs can also serve a great function as service dogs to children on the spectrum. The NY Times recently featured my friend Claire's family... read about their tremendous experience here.

Bent on Learning - New Yorker of the Week!

I just had to give a shout out to Bent on Learning. My friend Jennifer Ford is one of the founders of this fabulous organization, which was recently recognized by NY1 as "New Yorker of the Week." Watch the video here and see how Bent on Learning brings yoga practice into the NYC public school system, particularly into many schools that could not otherwise afford to share with their students the wonderful physical, emotional and educational benefits that yoga provides. Of particular interest to special needs parents in NYC - Bent on Learning also is hoping to soon bring yoga to students with special needs. Yeah - we can't wait!

Having just begun to dip my toes into yoga again after a really long hiatus (thanks Jennifer for helping set me up!) I can attest to how good it feels - physically and emotionally - and how its benefits extend far beyond a yoga session itself. I hope to continue to make it a more integral part of my life and to bring it more into Henry's life too! I shared with my instructor this week how, when I was in law school, I found yoga so beneficial to maintaining balance. The trick now is to give it a wedge into my current chaotic life to bring some of that balance back. Reiki has gone a long way to helping bring a centering and calmness when chaos seems to reign and yoga helps me there as well. I can only imagine how our kids, who are bombarded by stimulation and information from all directions all the time, can benefit from this practice - and for special needs kids, who often have even more trouble processing sensory stimuli and regulating and attending, the possibilities are truly endless.

Many thanks to Bent on Learning for all you do! Your kudos from NY1 are an honor well-deserved.