Scaredy-Cats and Fraidy-Cats

 

The first rule of traveling with cats is: Don’t! at least not if you can avoid it. Unlike dogs, many of whom are not averse to travel as long as they are close to their human companion, cats in general do not like the experience no matter what. Before the traveling even begins, cats will balk at what they sense is an impending change in their routine and surroundings. For spayed and neutered cats who are well fed at home, there is no need to go on an adventure far from home, and there is limited appeal to wandering for the sake of wandering.

Cat on rear window car
The photographer’s cat rides next to the rear window in a car. Photo by Tangopaso. Even an extraordinarily calm cat should ride in a carrier of some kind within a moving vehicle.

 

The good news for those who must disturb their feline companions by taking them on a trip of any length is that in the past 20 years veterinary science and technology have conjured ways of calming cats without resorting to drugs. For hard cases, people can consult a veterinarian, who may advise them on administering over the counter antihistamines, but always with great care and starting with the minimum possible dosage. Antihistamines have a slight sedative effect on us, which is why the instructions warn against operating machinery, but a slight sedative effect on humans does not necessarily translate to a similar effect on cats when accounting for the difference in weight between humans and cats because there are differences in physiology as well.

For most cats at most times it is sufficient to use one of the many pheromone sprays, diffusers, or collars on the market, or some combination of them. There are also safe food treats that may have a calming effect, though results from cat to cat are highly variable. The pheromones and the treats are far safer than drugs, and experimenting with varying amounts and combinations is unlikely to result in unfortunate, unintended consequences for cats. There are also flower and herb remedies available, though people should make certain the labels explicitly state they are safe for cats. Citrus oils and essential oils, for instance, are poisonous to cats. Just because a product is advertised as “all natural” does not guarantee its safety for all creatures in all circumstances. A cat in nature would most likely have the good sense to avoid what is not healthy for it, and understand that “all natural” is merely a dubious marketing gimmick, not a guarantor of safety, and certainly not of efficacy.


 

An overlooked consideration in traveling with cats is how calmness or lack of it flows back and forth between cats and people. A calm cat can calm a person, and vice versa, though its most effective to solve the problem from the cat’s perspective. A human practicing Zen meditation while mindfully driving a motor vehicle will probably not go far toward calming a yowling, distressed cat riding in a carrier inside the same vehicle. A calm cat, on the other hand, can have a great effect toward reducing the stress of people sharing the vehicle on a road trip. First give that cat some things and some reasons to feel peacefully at ease, and then you can more easily feel peaceful and calm yourself as you tootle on down the road. Purr more, hiss less.
— Techly

 

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The Christmas Goose

 

When Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol and had it published in 1843, the Christmas goose was a traditional feast, and turkey was an uncommon replacement. Goose was relatively inexpensive and plentiful, and turkey was quite the opposite in Europe at least, where it was not native. After Scrooge, the rich man, has metamorphosed into a warm, charitable human being, he makes a gift of a turkey to the family of his clerk, Tom Cratchit. At the time, a gift of a turkey for Christmas dinner was considered quite an upgrade over goose.

Mixed Greylag & Canada Goose flock, Netherlands
A mixed Greylag and Canada geese flock in a farm field in The Netherlands in February 2011. Photo by Uwactieve. During winter, geese often feed in farmers’ fields, gleaning grain fallen among the stubble of the harvest.

 

Now the tables have turned, so to speak. Turkeys raised on factory farms have become cheap to buy for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, but since they have been bred for size and other characteristics, such as being able to withstand close quarters, flavor has been lost in the breeding. Roast goose, meanwhile, has been largely neglected in Western culture over the past 100 years. At the same time, Canada goose (Branta canadensis) numbers have exploded, to the point they are now nuisances in many urban and suburban areas across North America and even western Europe, where they have been both introduced by people and settled by way of natural migration in the past several centuries.

Canada goose populations have followed a curve similar to that of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), another once common North American animal that European settlers hunted to such low numbers by the early twentieth century that conservationists took measures to curtail hunting and preserve and protect both species. From that low point in the early twentieth century, Canada geese and white-tailed deer have rebounded to numbers higher perhaps than they were before Europeans migrated to North America. Both species have adapted so well to modern urban and suburban development, liking and even preferring some human-made habitats over undeveloped country, that many people now consider them pests, and even expanded hunting seasons cannot keep up with controlling their booming numbers.

Branta canadensis (35852362071)
Canada geese have found well-tended parks and golf courses with water features to be ideal habitats year round, making long migrations unnecessary. Photo by Marta Boroń.

Some municipalities in North America hire hunters to cull Canada geese and white-tailed deer, donating the meat to food banks. It’s an interesting development that in 150 years goose has once again become the roast meat at the center of holiday dinners for some poor folks like the Cratchits. They are perhaps eating some of the same Canada geese that have been pestering the rich folks on their golf courses, though naturally the municipalities paying to cull geese to help feed the poor would only do so on public lands, such as public golf courses and parks, and not on privately owned golf courses, since everyone knows rich people don’t believe in government assistance for anyone but themselves.
— Izzy

 

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Find a Better Way to Give

 

Animal shelters in Germany are imposing a ban on pet adoptions this Christmas in hopes of discouraging the poorly thought out and whimsical decision to give a pet as a gift. Animal shelters in Germany and in other countries celebrating Christmas have always had to cope with a surge in animal drop-offs after the holidays, as families come to grips with the realization their decision was poorly thought out and whimsical. As always, it is the animals who suffer. Don’t add to the problem this Christmas by giving a pet as a gift. A pet is not a gift to be returned after the novelty wears off, but a living being deserving of and requiring commitment to his or her care.

 

Perhaps animal shelters in other countries will follow the excellent example set by the German shelters. Unfortunately there are still pet shops and breeders who will sell animals to nearly anyone who has the money. It’s more likely that the kind of person who visits an animal shelter to adopt a pet is not the kind of person who is as cavalier about that pet’s well-being as someone who purchases an animal from a pet shop or breeder and considers the creature a commodity or toy. Animal shelters often charge to adopt a pet as well, but in their case the fee is not for profit but to help offset costs of running the shelter, and as a hurdle, however low, to impulse adoptions.

Otto Scholderer Kind mit Katze
Child with Cat, a painting by Otto Scholderer (1834-1902).

In a better world, there would be no pet shops and breeders selling animals. In a better world, the necessity for animal shelters would dwindle because responsible people would take care of the first priority in pet adoption and have their pet spayed or neutered. But until a better world comes into being, reconsider giving a pet as a Christmas gift and consider instead making a financial donation to an animal shelter. The youngster whose heart is set on adopting a pet can, with the help of an adult in the family, volunteer a few hours a week at an animal shelter to help with the care, feeding, and socialization of the animals. Once the youngster gets a real grasp on the commitment required, then it may be time to consider adoption as a responsible and giving way to bring a new member into the family, not as the equivalent of a toy under the tree on Christmas morning, without needs or feelings.
— Izzy

 

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Build Bridges, Not Walls

 

Anyone who has ever been driving and had a collision with a deer or other large animal knows just how devastating it can be for the animal as well as for the driver and any passengers, besides the damage to the vehicle. Every year millions of animals die in collisions with vehicles, though of course only estimates are available on that number, and damage to vehicles comes to over eight billion dollars. The best method for reducing both those numbers appears to lie in building ways for animals to cross roads safely.

 

France led the way in the 1950s, building overpasses and underpasses for animals to use in crossing busy highways. Other European nations followed, and then Canada and the United States. There is still much to be done in all those countries, and even more in the rest of the world. The animals have a hard enough time navigating a world dominated by people, and they should not also have to risk death in the simple act of trying to get from point A to point B. People do it every day without serious thought of not returning home safely from their journey, though all the other drivers on the roads don’t always make it easy on account of their distractions and reckless behavior.

Axis axis crossing the road
A spotted deer crosses a road near a “Wildlife crossing” sign in Nagarhole National Park in India. Photo by Chinmayisk.

25-Orient Beach State Park
Wildlife crossing warning signs portraying a deer, a fox, and a turtle, in Orient Beach State Park in Orient Point, New York. Throughout the country, signs like this are  often pockmarked by blasts from the firearms of people who pass themselves off as wits. Photo by DanTD.

It makes even more sense to build more safe wildlife crossings when considering it is in our own self interest. A high speed collision between your vehicle and a deer will kill the deer either instantly or harm the deer grievously enough it will die later in great pain, and the collision will also cause thousands of dollars of damage to your vehicle and possible injuries to yourself and passengers, if any, adding up to thousands of dollars in medical expenses, as well as psychological trauma which may make you justifiably jumpy behind the wheel of an automobile from that point on. All this is obvious, and old news really. Why then wouldn’t highway departments across the country do more to mitigate this kind of thing?

A certain kind of person might view a wildlife crossing, be it an overpass or an underpass, and think “Look at all the money the highway department threw away just to protect some stupid animals, probably because a bunch of animal loving tree huggers wouldn’t shut up about it until they built it.” No, the wildlife crossing isn’t there solely for the sake of the animals, and whether a group of people this certain kind of person is contemptuous of pushed for the project is besides the point. The wildlife crossing is there for everyone, for animals to use and for people of every political persuasion to admire as they motor along more safely than they did without it. It is there to save everyone’s lives, and in the case of people it is there to save the treasure they care very much about, possibly more than the well-being of other creatures on this Earth. It is way past time for that certain kind of person to ask who is really the stupid one when it comes to how we cope with animals crossing the road which, as we all know, they will do come what may.
— Izzy

 

 

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Bugged Out

 

The eastern half of the country has received copious rainfall this spring, and in the eastern seaboard states the rainfall has been excessive, leading to flooding in spots like Ellicott City, Maryland. The high rainfall amounts have led to a greater than usual amount of standing water, and because mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water there is a greater than usual mosquito count in the eastern United States. There was also a mild winter preceding this spring, and that has led to high counts of ticks and other insects. People who want to spend more time outdoors as the weather warms this year must be prepared to either defend themselves or succumb to getting their blood drawn by numerous insects, taking a chance consequently on coping with a disease for which the blood sucking insects are vectors.

There are the usual recommendations from experts to cover up when outdoors in the summer when insects are most active, but it’s awfully tough to take their advice when it’s 90 degrees and the humidity is very high. Long pants tucked into high socks? Long sleeves on shirts? In order to stay comfortable, many people won’t heed that advice. The advice to wear loose fitting, light colored clothes is welcome, however, because in addition to coping with insect attacks that advice helps the wearer cope with hot weather. Above all, in more ways than one, the most important item of clothing in summer is a broad brimmed hat.


Tanacetum cinerariifolium - Köhler–s Medizinal-Pflanzen-269
An illustration of Tanacetum cinerariifolium from the 1897 edition of Köhler’s Medizinal Pflanzen, a book on medicinal plants by Franz Eugen Köhler.

A good quality broad brimmed hat will serve to ward the sun off a person’s face, neck, and ears, as well as absorb sweat before it runs down from brow into eyes, and in addition will help keep insects away from one’s head. The last statement is based on nothing more than anecdotal evidence, but test it for yourself in the course of wearing a broad brimmed hat for all its other useful qualities. Insects seem reluctant to come up under the broad brim. Is it 100% effective? No, but then very few things are 100% effective in life. Toss away that useless baseball cap and try wearing a broad brimmed hat like a boonie hat. Bucket hats, the diminutive cousins of boonie hats, do not count.

Tanacetum coccineum - Köhler–s Medizinal-Pflanzen-037
An illustration of Tanacetum coccineum from the 1897 edition of Köhler’s Medizinal Pflanzen, a book on medicinal plants by Franz Eugen Köhler.

For those who would rather resort to what they believe are the more certain results yielded by chemical insect repellents, there are the usual products readily available at most stores. Try not to go overboard. Before buying those clothes soaked in permethrin, consider eating more garlic and onions as a systemic repellent to ooze out of your pores for a day or two at a time, scaring off bugs and people alike. Botanical repellents are generally less effective than their more renowned chemical cousins, but they also leave a lighter footprint on the environment and perhaps on the user.

One product that straddles the border is the permethrin mentioned earlier. Permethrin is derived from flowers related to chrysanthemums, and is not a repellent but an insecticide. When you use permethrin products, insects will land on you and may get an opportunity to suck blood before they die and drop off. A repellent, of course, wards off insects before they land on you. Permethrin is more effective than other botanicals, and is generally safer for the environment and the user than chemical repellents or insecticides. It is used in some flea treatments for dogs. It is not used in flea treatments for cats, however, because it is toxic, even deadly, for cats. People who have both cats and dogs in their homes should keep in mind if they apply permethrin flea treatment to the dogs but not the cats that the permethrin can still adversely affect the cats by secondary contact. For everyone, as tempting as it is to reach for the most highly effective treatment when battling insects which can transmit troubling diseases, or at least cause discomfort, try to maintain perspective so that the treatment doesn’t end up being worse than the affliction.
— Izzy

 

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Who Cares?

 

There appears to be no consensus among scientists about what pets do for people emotionally and how that affects our health. Some say pets have a calming effect and tend to stabilize the blood pressure of people who interact with them. Others say there is no evidence to support those assertions, and that having pets as we understand the practice today in western culture is a social interaction between people, with the pets considered as something like accessories. The truth most likely can be found within each person, and not universally for everyone.

 

It’s somewhat simpler for scientists to understand how people have changed animals as they domesticated them, eventually turning some of them into pets. Physical and emotional changes worked together to bring about the domesticated creatures we share our lives with today, with people intervening in their reproduction to secure preferred traits. Genetic predisposition of particular animals also played a part, as we see with the enormous variability in physical and temperamental characteristics of domesticated dogs. Compared to cats, the genetic malleability of dogs is enormous. It has made the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show a spectacle of great popular interest.

Chats wagner
Cats watching a dog through a window. Photo by Thierry Wagner.


Since scientists can’t agree on what pets do for us, however, it’s best to rely on personal experience, unscientific as that may be. Different people will have different feelings toward their pets, and that affects how the pet reacts to them and colors the entire relationship. For some people a pet is not a full-fledged part of the family, but an outlier who is expected to make do with accommodations outside in the yard. This type of relationship was the norm 100 years ago, and much less so now. People keep hunting dogs outside in kennels of varying degrees of comfort, and those people do not consider their dogs as pets. Much more the norm now is for people who consider their animals as pets to give them access to the house and treat them more or less as part of the family.

 

Cats and dog
Cats and a dog in sunshine by a door. Photo by Orlovic.

The main thing to understand about a relationship with a pet is that you get out of it what you put into it, and in that respect it is no different than any other relationship. The person who keeps a dog confined to a kennel outdoors in all kinds of weather merely to let the animal loose several times a year for hunting is not engaged in a loving relationship, and the very idea would strike that person as preposterous. For such a person, the dog is perhaps a step up in their regard from their pickup truck, but at bottom it remains a utilitarian relationship. A farmer who keeps fodder and corn to keep livestock looks upon barn cats the same way, since the cats are kept around mainly for dispatching rodents, and there is little if any affectionate interaction between the farmer and the cats.

For a depressed elderly person in a nursing home, a visit from a friendly dog or cat can be every bit as uplifting as a visit from a beloved grandchild. Whether some scientific studies say there’s nothing to that interaction is besides the point; what matters is how that person feels about it, and of course what they feel about the interaction is influenced by what they brought to it. Just about any animal is a good reflector of the behavior and attitude they get from people, a better and more honest reflection than what people can muster, because animals lack guile and the human talent for obfuscation. What you see is what you get. Not always, because mistakes in communication can happen, but most of the time, an animal, and especially a pet animal, knows your mood better than you do, and will care for you emotionally in equal measure to the care you give, and sometimes more than you deserve.
— Izzy

In the opening sequence from the 1958 French comedy Mon Oncle (My Uncle), by Jacques Tati, a pack of pampered pet dogs make their scavenging rounds of the neighborhood before returning to their separate homes.

 

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Letting Go

 

There’s a movie out recently starring Hugh Jackman as the 19th century impresario P.T. Barnum, and it’s called The Greatest Showman. The script appears to play fast and loose with history, for one thing imposing a modern sensibility about sideshow freaks on people like Barnum perhaps, and on many in Barnum’s audiences certainly, who would have found modern ideas about respect for diversity bizarre and laughable. We, of course, have come around to feeling the sensibilities of people in the past regarding respect for diversity and individual rights were bizarre and cruel. It’s not clear from a review alone if the movie takes the same anachronistic approach to respect for animal rights.

 

In the last year, after many years of criticism of it’s inclusion of animal entertainment acts in its circus, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus folded its tents for good and went out of business. The criticism led to steadily declining ticket sales as well as loss of revenue from being shut out entirely from some localities where legislation had been enacted to ban the kind of animal entertainment acts that had long been part of circuses, even before P.T. Barnum came along with his great showmanship.

Jacko и Bess, мандрилы на представлении в Olympia Circus в Лондоне. 31st December 1931
Jacko and Bess, two mandrill monkeys with the Olympia Circus in December 1931. Some people find this sort of thing entertaining. Note the leashes.

African elephant 0550 02
An African elephant at the Milwaukee County Zoo. Photo by Ronincmc.

Zoos may start closing in large numbers soon, after several of them around the world closed in the past decade, citing the hypocrisy of pretending zoos provided means for animal conservation and public education, when really they represent a more staid form of the entertainment seen in circus animal acts. Zoos have always dressed themselves up in a veneer of respectable science, often with little evidence to back it up. Zoos have played Dr. Jekyll to the Mr. Hyde played by the rest of humankind in its voracious appetite for resources and habitats, displacing and killing wildlife at will. It’s past time to go beyond trying to conserve wildlife from the rapaciousness of Mr. Hyde and to stand up to him and then relegate him to irrelevancy. Meanwhile, no one asked the animals what they wanted, but it’s clear from the more expressive of them that they are miserable in their zoo enclosures, however well disguised those are from steel cages.

These are steps in the right direction, and naturally it will take some time to redress the other wrongs against animals that people have perpetrated through malevolence, neglect, and a misguided sense of divinely bestowed dominion. At the same time that many people treat their pets, mostly dogs or cats, very well indeed, there is a whole revolting system of inhumane factory farming of animals for meat and other animal products that goes on largely ignored by the general public. Out of sight, out of mind. People will sometimes wonder how the Germans and the Poles could have turned blind eyes to the shipment by trains through their villages of millions of Jews bound for the gas chambers during the Holocaust. Surely they had to have noticed, and the claims by some of them that didn’t are self-serving lies. Maybe so; but then look what goes on across the United States and, increasingly, other parts of the world every day in order to feed the rising demand for meat with every meal. Or don’t look.

Lion Milwaukee County Zoo II
A lion at the Milwaukee County Zoo in June 2010. Photo by Antigrandiose.

Companionship with a pet is a fine thing, beneficial to human and animal alike when the animal is welcomed as part of the family. From that point on there is a sliding scale measuring the relationship of animals to humans, continuing past domesticated animal likes cows and pigs to partnerships like that with honey bees, and on to the last type of relationship, that with wildlife, which in its ideal state would be one of mutual respect and staying out of each others’ way. There used to be a television program sponsored by an insurance company called Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, in which the host and his trusty assistant were forever tranquilizing wild animals and then affixing a radio collar to them before letting them go. The people troubling the animals in this manner meant well, and they were doing it all in the interests of science and of the animals themselves, but another concept  seems to have never come up, namely leaving the animals be. There have been many other nature shows since, and thankfully some of them have grasped that concept: How about if we just back off, let these animals have the space any of us have a right to, and leave them the hell alone?
― Izzy

 

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Moles and Voles and Shrews – Oh, My!

 

It can be upsetting for a gardener or homeowner to see mounds of turned soil and sinuously trailing lumps in a lawn that has taken a lot of human care and maintenance over a long, hot summer. Tunneling moles! It can be hard to realize that the little critters, which in the eastern United States most likely go by the name Scalopus aquaticus, are in fact paying you a compliment by visiting your yard to partake of your tasty vittles. You apparently have grubs and earthworms in abundance, signs of a healthy lawn ecosystem, and the moles have appeared to take advantage of the situation.

 

When moles eat earthworms, they may not be doing you such a great favor since earthworms enhance soil fertility, but they definitely help out by eating the grubs which would otherwise be munching on the roots of your carefully tended grass. There is collateral damage certainly, such as some brown patches in the lawn where the moles have damaged grass roots in their zealous search for grubs, and also the unsightliness to human eyes of the lumps they raise in the lawn because of their tunneling. Rest easy, because the tunnels aerate the soil and will settle back in time.

Wind in the Willows pg 65
In Chapter 3 of The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, called “The Wild Wood”, timid Mole ventures out on his own into the woods and has a scary time. Illustration from the 1913 edition by Paul Bransom.

Lawn aerator attachment on a garden tiller
Lawn aerator attachment on a garden tiller. Photo by Lovesgreenlawn. Moles happily do the same work at no charge.

People attribute a lot of the damage they see in their plants and bulbs to moles, but really the damage is mostly the work of voles and shrews. Most moles are mostly insectivorous: they usually don’t eat plants. Voles and shrews, on the other hand, will eat just about anything given the chance, though they largely stick to a vegetarian diet. Voles and shrews will also take advantage of the tunnels that moles industriously create. This can make little difference to a gardener who notices a tunnel leading to a freshly planted tulip bed. Arguing before the court of that gardener’s censorious gaze that a mole excavated the tunnel in innocent pursuit of grubs, but it was the voles and shrews who exploited its proximity to the tulip beds to pad their own provisions, often makes no headway with the gardener, who declares war on the oblivious mole.

Traps, poisons, and medieval implements of execution are all pointless and expensive wastes of time and money. You have what moles want, and if after much effort and expense you manage to remove your nemesis from the premises, another will come along shortly to take his or her place. Taking away what the moles want, which means negating the naturally derived soil fertility that earthworms and grubs dig, would involve essentially turning your lawn into the soulless desert waste of a golf course. Green above by virtue of chemicals, but below, in the soil, the home of practically no creatures.

Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale, Jack Haley as The Tin Man, Ray Bolger as The Scarecrow, Bert Lahr as The Cowardly Lion, and Terry the dog, as Toto, in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz.

Let the moles be, and thank them for their service. Watch out for the voles and shrews, however, and do what you can to mitigate the damage they cause. Get a cat, if that is suitable for you and the cat, and the neighborhood you both live in. Meanwhile, keep mulch and, if possible, snow away from tree trunks, because that denies cover to those creatures while they gnaw at the bark. Clean up leaf litter and brush piles where it seems sensible that these are nesting places and cover for runways. Most of all, let the grass grow to 3 or 4 inches, which should keep the lawn healthier overall, and make those lumps in the lawn less noticeable and not worth fretting about.
― Izzy

 

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Don’t Look Now

 


National Ice Cream Day came and went on July 16, but in case you missed celebrating it, there are still plenty of opportunities to do so even if you are only a hot weather ice cream eater. In 1984, President Reagan set aside the third Sunday of every July for celebrating the frozen treat, timing it to occur smack in the middle of summer. By 1984, the ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s, founded by Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield in Vermont in 1978, was gaining traction regionally in New England and within a few more years would start opening ice cream parlors in the rest of the country and selling pints of its ice cream in stores nationwide.


Children's paintings-sculpture-prints, WPA poster, 1936-41
Works Progress Administration (WPA) poster, circa 1938, for the Federal Art Project, Art Teaching Division exhibition of children’s art in Brooklyn, New York, showing a child’s painting of a cow in a field.

 


By 2000, Ben & Jerry’s had become a publicly traded company, and when the multinational corporation Unilever made an attractive offer for the company, Mr. Cohen and Mr. Greenfield yielded to shareholders’ demands and sold the company. Since 2000, Unilever has retained the same look to the product packaging, and kept Cohen and Greenfield on the payroll as front men for the Ben & Jerry’s brand, though the two have limited input and no authority. Some loyal customers of the brand may still be unaware the company is no longer run by Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield; others may not care.


There is reason to care, however, on the part of those customers who continue buying Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in 2017 at least partly because of the reputation the former owners established in working for social justice and environmental causes. Unilever still allows their front men to put that kind of thing front and center when it comes to selling ice cream, but the multinational giant operates differently on the production end in how it treats cows and human workers who are the source if its business. To begin with, the phrase “All Natural” on the label means nothing. Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is not certified organic by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which is a label that would have some meaning to consumers concerned about healthy ingredients in their food, though it would not assure them that cows were being treated humanely in the production of milk for ice cream, or that workers were being treated well and paid fairly.

 


Ben & Jerry's truck
Truck from Ben & Jerry’s in Waterbury, Vermont, August 2006; photo by Hede2000.


Recent accounts of the production of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream under the stewardship of Unilever state that the company fails in all areas except continuing to charge a premium for the pint containers of its greenwashed product. People will pay a premium for high quality, to be sure, but some conscientious and health conscious individuals will also pay a premium for a product that is produced in a humane and environmentally sensitive way, among other things. Corporate executives have learned this and smelled profits in it. But hewing to those goody two-shoes methods can be expensive and appear costly on the fiscal quarter balance sheet. What to do? Produce the ice cream with low wage labor, even below minimum wage where you can get away with it, and subject the cows to factory farm confinement conditions. That keeps production costs low, while the price at the store stays high because of the goody two-shoes reputations of your front men. What’s that smell? Profits!


Cows on a farm - by Eric Dufresne
Cows on a farm; photo by Eric Dufresne.


Testing of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream has shown traces of Roundup in it. The amounts are within federal regulatory limits for supposedly safe consumer ingestion, but still this is Roundup (active ingredient – glyphosate) in a product that touts itself as environmentally and socially concerned. That is greenwashing. The happy cows depicted in pastures on the packaging bear no relationship to the reality of cows in confinement and fed grain from Roundup ready Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) instead of the pasture forage that is their natural diet. That is greenwashing. The company exploits human workers, too, despite the support of the founders for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and his progressive initiatives, one of which is the Fight for $15 (raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour). That also is greenwashing, and it stinks like hypocrisy for the sake of corporate profits.
― Izzy

 

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A Midsummer Night’s Flickering Lights

 

July 4th has passed, and all the loud, boisterous fireworks with it, to be supplanted as we settle into summer by the quiet, flickering lights of what are known as fireflies in some parts of the country, and lightning bugs in other parts. They don’t live long as adults, which is when they are putting on their light show as a mating display. They typically live only a few weeks at that stage, and since the time over which a given population turns into adults may be staggered over six to eight weeks, their activity on summer evenings over a particular area spans June and July, more or less.

Fireflies are beneficial to gardeners not only in the aesthetics of their adult displays, but also when they are larvae residing in leaf litter and other detritus, where they prey on snails and slugs. Firefly larvae also eat earthworms, which is not beneficial as far as gardeners are concerned, but two out of three ain’t bad, as the saying goes. Firefly larvae, like all of nature’s creatures, have concerns other than whether their lifestyle choices benefit human beings.


Hotarugari Mizuno Toshikata
Firefly Catching, an 1891 Japanese woodblock print by Mizuno Toshikata.

 

Like too many creatures in the modern world, firefly numbers appear to be declining. Habitat loss and collateral damage from pesticide use are the most likely culprits. Well, actually, the culprits is us, to paraphrase Pogo. In this case, our culpability is of the bull in a china shop variety. No one sets out to destroy fireflies, not even children who catch them in jars and then forgot about them. With fireflies, when they lose a habitat to human development, they don’t simply pack up and move elsewhere, but instead they die out in that place.

In the 1933 Marx Brothers’ film Duck Soup, Rufus T. Firefly, played by Groucho Marx, has some idiosyncratic views on how to woo wealthy widow Mrs. Gloria Teasdale, played by Margaret Dumont.

The fireflies children chase and capture are usually the ones out in the open, flying over an expanse of lawn. Those are the males, flashing their lights for the benefit of the females who, in most species, are incapable of flight and watch and wait from vantage points in the leaf litter and tall grass at the edge of wilder areas, sometimes flashing lights of their own in response. Those edge of the wild and wild areas are critical to the success of the firefly’s life cycle. We may notice only the fireflies flickering across our lawns on a summer evening, but mostly they spend their short lives in wilder areas where the grass grows tall and becomes meadow, and then past that where the trees become forest. Be careful where that pesticide spray drifts then, or better yet avoid using it as much as you can, and consider that the best light show of all on a warm summer’s evening doesn’t come with loud bangs and puffs of acrid smoke, but with an unassuming quiet beauty.
― Izzy

 

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