South by Southwest Interactive is one of the most amazing conferences I’ve been to. Every year I’ve gone I’ve been shocked to become hopeful again about the future after attending. Last year I went to so many panels about sustainability and community that I started to believe a future where we are all peaceful and happy is possible. One thing missing from all the talk about creating a better world was our attitudes towards animals and last year it was the darkest spot for me. I truly believe that if people really understand how animals are treated in our society change is possible. A couple of years ago Laura Beck from Vegansaurus & Jezebel and I did a talk at SXSW about Internet Activism. We had a great conversation with vegans from all over the world and we have learned a ton since then. We are hoping to do a full on presentation this year! I know it’s a pain to vote for things but we would love a thumbs up or a comment on our proposal to make it happen. Our plan is to present original research on what kind of activism campaigns are the most effective and which ones are huge failures. It’s not just about likes! Except for when it is….as in right now…voting for us. So please take a second and DO IT.
Our SXSW reunion won’t be as great as the following story, but it will be pretty damn great.
A couple of weeks ago I was contemplating the vegan stance on aquariums after a trip to Monterrey California. I only recently learned about the bay at of Monterrey and how it is full of so much marine life including blue, grey, humpback, and killer whales that people refer to it as the Serengeti of the sea. Or that’s what I read anyway, I certainly didn’t hear anyone call it that! As I researched more I learned that the bay used to be a disaster. First fur hunters came and killed all the baby sea otters which lead to the sea urchins multiplying rapidly and ate all the kelp. Hunters came through and killed the larger marine animals. With no predators the sardines flourished. Tons of canneries moved in overfishing the sardines and dumping their refuse and fish guts until all that was left was a bunch of the muck of a destroyed eco-system and one of the most polluted places on the Pacific coasts. Then, local activists started to turn things around. Through the MBARI (Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute) they were able to learn how to help. The funding of visitors to the aquarium led to the ability to completely transform the bay from a wasteland to wonderland where I recently got to see 10 humpback whales jumping for joy.
So I started to think a lot about the vegan stance after this trip. Abolitionist vegans believe that you should never exploit animals but putting them in a cage and I can certainly see that point. But I love seeing animals. Sticking my face underwater and seeing corals filled with fish and sea turtles gracefully lumbering by is maybe my favorite activity on this planet. Watching whales and dolphins frolic in the open sea is as close as I will come to a religious epiphany. A humanist epiphany! So if aquariums and zoos can protect the animals that I love maybe I do want to support them.
But of course that isn’t the typical story. As usual in our society there is more often a money grubbing dark side. After reading all about what good can come out of aquariums I am deeply saddened to learn about the plans to build an Austin Aquarium. This is no research institution. In fact, their educational partners have pulled out after the controversy around the Covino family came to light here in Austin. These people already have a couple of for-profit aquariums and the one in Portland has been under fire ever since The Oregonian uncovered a death log that showed all the ways animals had been killed at the aquarium. The animals died while the aquarium was operating without a veterinarian since the vet had left. The Oregonian reported
“The exotic animals veterinarian who left in February, Mike Corcoran, blames the animal deaths on a variety of cost-cutting measures, particularly improper quarantine procedures.
“I feel those animals were subject to undue pain and suffering to save money,” he told the Oregonian.”
You’ve read the bad press about the planned Austin Aquarium. They sound like criminals. They don’t care about animals, they don’t respect the law. Let’s stop them!
Here’s what we know about Vince and Ammon Covino, owner’s of the planned aquarium, so far.
– In a 3-month period this spring, 200 aquatic species died at their Oregon aquarium (The Oregonian, Aug. 19, 2013)
– Ammon was indicted in Florida under federal law in November 2012, for illegally obtaining aquatic species for their aquariums in Oregon and Idaho.
– While out on bond for the above charge, Ammon attempted to illegally purchase 4 nurse sharks from Florida, in violation of state and federal law.
– The former vet at their Oregon aquarium has spoken out against the brother’s treatment of their aquatic species.
– Neither of the brother’s two aquariums in Boise, Idaho and Portland, Oregon are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums
– The Covino Brothers have started construction on their aquarium in Austin despite having no building permits from the city’s Planning and Development Review Department. (No construction of any kind is allowed without building permits from the city.)
– The Covino Brothers are storing aquatic species at their proposed Austin Aquarium despite having no permits to do so.
– Officials with Austin’s Code Compliance office have issued two notices of violation to the Covino Brothers for failing to have occupancy permits at their proposed aquarium.
– The aquariums website states that the facility will have sea otters and sea turtles, both species protected by federal law but guess what? They have no permits for these animals.
– The Covino Brothers have no federal license to exhibit the one lone kinkajou they have, a violation of federal law.
There is no evidence that the Covino Brothers will responsibly care for all or any of the aquatic animals at their proposed aquarium. There is no evidence that the Covino Brothers will follow any of the state and federal laws required obtain or care for any of their animals. There is no evidence that the Covino Brothers will follow city laws required to safely and legally open their aquarium. Let’s stop them before they kill more animals. And, let’s send a strong message that Austin will not tolerate this type of lawlessness and criminal activity.
We will have signs available at the rally but you may bring your own. Please keep them simple (like billboards) and with BIG BOLD LETTERS.
So please join the rally this Saturday! The animals need your help. Places like this are what happens when people exploit animals for profit and together we can stop them. It’s this Saturday, from noon to 1:30 at 13,530 N Highway 183. And please invite your friends!
NOT VEGAN! Not even vegetarian… Shame on you Whole Foods
If there is one thing that makes me happy in this life it is breakfast tacos and now that love has been UTTERLY BETRAYED by a giant corporation. And I know, I should know better than to trust a freaking corporation that serves meat, hates fat people, and is anti-union. But when the flagship Whole Foods opened on Lamar a few years back I couldn’t help but become a regular. I work down the street and the miles of vegan food stuffs, the coffee bar with soy & coconut creamer, and most importantly, their cheap, delicious and extremely vegan friendly breakfast taco bar. OR SO I THOUGHT!
This is a taco bar that seems to do everything right, they have the tofu scramble, the vegan chorizo, and vegan cheese all in the back so they won’t cross contaminate when they inevitably drop things in when reaching across. Since I go there all the time I sometimes forget and just order cheese, and they say “vegan cheese?” or “vegan chorizo”, “oh yes thank you” I say. They have several salsas and I know which ones aren’t vegan because the employees made sure I knew. The taco bar has free kale, vegetables, two kinds of vegan cheese, and more options for a vegan breakfast tacos than just about anywhere in town. I go there so often that I set my phone to say “does anyone want anything from Whole Foods” by just typing WFrun into my phone when I’m texting my coworkers in the morning. I’ve probably blogged about them a hundred times because they are my favorite way to start the day.
And now I learn they have been serving me potatoes cooked in meat.
I’m not vegan, I’m not even close! 30% of my diet is Whole Foods tacos!
It’s one thing to accidentally eat something cooked in meat at a small town family owned restaurant or even a taco stand where people don’t speak a lot of English. But for the flagship Whole Foods, a store that LABELS THE FUCK out of every little thing to knowingly serve the zillion vegetarians that patronize the taco stand potatoes cooked in meat is shameful and insulting.
I am completely disgusted with myself and with them. I never even thought I could feel betrayed by a restaurant but there it is.
I don’t even know if I will be able to drive down Lamar anymore.
I don’t even know if I can live in Austin anymore!
This is a living nightmare.
UPDATE 8/27 Whole Foods confirmed the post below in the comments.
I’m sorry to hear about any verbal miscommunication about the potatoes at Whole Foods Market taco bar. Because they are cooked in the same oil with meat, they are not vegan.
Even though the potatoes aren’t labeled vegan, nothing on the taco bar is and I find it very deceptive to the many many vegetarian customers to not be more upfront about their meaty potatoes.
UPDATE 9/27 I learned that it is a shared fryer situation not a cooked in meat fat situation so I am not as mad as when I wrote this post. I still think they should be explicit on the taco bar about what is and isn’t vegan
Don’t forget to support local business during August, with the students gone and the mercury peaking it can be really tough for our small vegan businesses and they need you to stay open. And make sure you keep your pets hydrated and out of parked cars. Heat Stroke is no joke.