Imagine being removed from your mother’s care at birth. As you instinctively long for the nurture that only she can provide, you are instead deposited into a filthy plastic hutch and angrily force fed from a plastic bottle. And if you don’t drink, you are kicked in the face. This is the kind of brutality that was uncovered by the non-profit Animal Recovery Mission [ARM] at Indiana’s Fair Oaks Farms, the flagship dairy farm of Fairlife, a Coca-Cola subsidiary. In two videos released earlier this month, Fair Oaks employees are seen inflicting astonishing abuse on newborn animals and mother dairy cows. The two-part investigation — Operation Fair Oaks Farms Dairy Adventure and Operation Fairlife — is the largest ever conducted into the dairy industry and took place over the course of several months in 2018 and 2019.


Fair Oaks Farms has long billed itself as an industry leader in animal welfare. Here, they claimed, calves were “spoiled,” and employees were rigorously trained to provide “utmost respect” to cows. But ARM’s footage and subsequent 125-page report reflected how on a routine basis, calves were allowed to starve, denied medical attention, subjected to extreme temperatures, punched, thrown, slapped, and burned with hot branding irons by Fair Oaks employees. Mother cows were documented losing their voice from screaming for their offspring, left to suffer from broken tails inflicted by frustrated workers, being beaten for not entering a milking carousel and then getting caught in machinery.

An agritourism destination geared at families, where for $29 you can go on a Dairy Adventure tour and “enjoy” live birthing exhibits, 4D movies and even a rock-climbing wall, Fair Oaks Farms has always publicly denied that its male calves are killed for veal. However, the investigation revealed calves being crowded into trucks and transported to MidWest Veal.

Since being released, the horrific videos have been viewed by millions, shared by the likes of singer Billie Eilish, and received unprecedented media coverage. Protests have taken place in Chicago and Atlanta, pressuring Coca-Cola to drop Fairlife, with more scheduled. Three Fair Oaks workers have been charged by the Newton County Sheriff’s Office with a Class A misdemeanor; one has been arrested, and two are still at large. Four proposed class action lawsuits have been filed against Fairlife for engaging in consumer fraud, one of which names Coca-Cola as a co-defendant. Many grocery chains, including Jewel-Osco, have pulled Fairlife from shelves.

Fairlife dairy cruelty

At Fair Oaks Farms, calves are kept exposed to the elements, whether boiling heat or freezing cold. Here, ARM’s undercover investigator documents a temperature of 102 degrees Fahrenheit. There have been no plans made by Fair Oaks or Fairlife to eliminate this form of confinement, as that is “standard practice” in the dairy industry. (Video still courtesy of ARM)

Fair Oaks Farms, Fairlife and Coca-Cola have all put out statements promising various measures like imposing zero-tolerance animal cruelty policies and unannounced audits to ensure “there are no systemic animal welfare issues.” According to ARM, the Fair Oaks facilities were already equipped with their own surveillance which did not deter cruelty. LAIKA spoke with ARM’s founder Richard “Kudo” Couto about the impact of the investigation and why the dairy industry is by definition an animal welfare issue.

LAIKA: How would you describe your big picture outlook?
Richard Couto: As an investigator, I investigate to put the bad guy in jail or in prison. But with factory farm investigations, [the goal] is more towards educating the public on what’s really going on in the world of animal agriculture and what’s been hidden — the lies that people have been told for so long. Especially in the dairy industry. I’ve been lied to most of my life, and I feel betrayed. Which is why I’ve taken on the dairy industry the way I have. My plan is to end the dairy industry. And, listen, with ARM or without ARM, it’s around the corner. It’s an industry that’s failing. People are starting to understand the health implications, the environmental implications. And now, with ARM and other defense organizations’ investigations, people are understanding how the animals are treated, that there are no happy cows in dairies. It’s a fallacy. It’s a fictitious story made up by the industry.

“My plan is to end the dairy industry.”

Do we as a movement push for welfare reform and more humane conditions or direct our energy towards, like you said, just shutting the whole thing down?
There’s no welfare reform in a dairy operation. It doesn’t exist. I am a professional investigator. If I knew that there were ways to reform the dairy industry, I would be the first one to do it. Unfortunately, that is not reality. Just ripping a baby away from its mother — I don’t care what [animal] it is, a dog, a cat or a cow — puts that animal and that baby in jeopardy and is inherently cruel. And as many are starting to understand, that’s the real basis of the dairy industry. So how do you change that? You don’t, you can’t.

That’s the foundation of their business model.
Well it is. Yeah. My question to [Fair Oaks owner] Mike McCloskey was, ‘I’ve shown you behind the scenes of your own operations and the brutality and the jeopardy that you’re putting the newborn babies in. [Will] you keep the babies right when they’re born with their mothers, at least until they’re weaned which is about three or four months old?’ And he hasn’t responded to me and that’s why he hasn’t gone public in person or given interviews. Because he’s going to be asked questions that he just cannot answer as a dairyman.

What was your reaction to the video that McCloskey put out where he was on the verge of tears?
Mike McCloskey is a dairyman and has been all of his life. He knows exactly what transpires in a dairy. He knows how calves are loaded up for transport, how frustrated the workers become when the babies won’t eat. He knows many of the babies won’t eat. He knows the extreme temperatures in summer and winter that they’re dying from. What we have shown him, what we have shown the world, is nothing new to the dairy industry. As far as him tearing up, it was a show. Michael McCloskey has built a multimillion dollar company, and I know the guy is a genius businessman. He is in damage control mode right now. So he, I’m certain, is surrounded by PR companies, by his attorneys. It is so incredibly unprofessional and childish to address such an immense issue through a YouTube post. It’s laughable.

That behavior is emblematic of the dairy industry’s deception in many ways, isn’t it?
It’s a guilty party addressing the public is what it is. It’s someone that needs to make sure that the message is correct. Which is why it was edited and why they don’t want Q & A’s. Because [McCloskey] can’t properly answer them.

Some people might ask why not go public at the first instance of abuse. What’s your take on that?
The first investigation ended in November, but we had other investigations going on simultaneously and after. I don’t go public with any case until all of my investigators are out of the field if we’re investigating one company or one geographical area. I’m responsible for the safety of those investigators. Until everyone is finished, no one goes public. Our ID can’t be blown until I have all my guys out of the field. Our job as an investigator is to get to the root of the issue, to show [that it’s] not just one kick of an animal, but that it’s an ongoing issue. And it’s an industry issue, which is why we did more than one investigation at once on Fairlife.

You’ve called for charges to also be brought against McCloskey. Why is that important?
If you have a individual that is paying people, and they’re committing crimes against animals, and it’s not just one or two crimes, but it happens on a daily basis, on an hourly basis for months and months, then that owner should be charged legally. And, you know, of course it’s not gonna happen. Fair Oaks Farms basically controls the town of Newton County, Indiana. [Because of ] the connections that they have with [authorities], it would never happen.
From the editor: Since our interview with Couto, the Newton County prosecutor’s office has alleged that ARM “coerced” the violence they recorded. ARM categorically denies the claims and points to prosecutor Jeff Drinski’s conflict of interest (his daughter is a Fair Oaks employee, his family is a member of the “We Stand With Fair Oaks Farms” Facebook group, and Drinski himself is a partner in a beef cattle operation.)

Aside from the media coverage and the convictions, what is your hope for the outcome from the Fairlife investigation?
Knowing how easy it was for me to give up dairy and go plant-based — it was so easy, and I was such a big, big dairy consumer, I loved it — [it] is to see alternative dairy products skyrocket from this investigation. Your average family is now sitting back and saying, ‘Okay, this is a really bad investigation and that abuse was awful. But we’re also hearing that all the milk brands are awful, so maybe we should try almond milk this week.’ So [I want] for that really to radiate around the world. This investigation, [and] ARM, were specifically put together to get to your average American Joe and Jane. We are very relatable to those people because most of us are those people. We were big meat eaters and dairy consumers not too long ago. A lot of people don’t put themselves in that animal’s position. But I think once you do that, you get it, you know?

Story and interview by Julie Gueraseva

Go Dairy-Free

If you’re looking to eliminate dairy cheese, try these brands:
Miyoko’s Creamery, Follow Your Heart, Daiya, Kite Hill, So Delicious, Treeline, Violife.

If you’re looking to eliminate dairy milk, try these brands:
Oatly, Silk, Califia, Ripple, Edensoy, Elmhurst, So Delicious, Rice Dream.

Make this delicious vegan ice cream sandwich at home!


Vegan Los Angeles Food

Our vegan Los Angeles experts, Stephanie Lundstrom (left) and Jacky Wasserman.

The City of Angels’ vegan roots run deep. A century ago, the nation’s first raw vegan restaurant chain (The Eutropheon) opened up here. The historic Follow Your Heart Cafe has been around since 1970, and there are now more vegan and vegetarian eateries in California than in any other state. Options in Los Angeles are so plentiful that finding the choicest spots can get overwhelming. Sure, there’s the convenience of the ubiquitous Veggie Grill (which we love dearly, by the way). But what if you want to go beyond? To get an authentic feel for vegan Los Angeles, we sought out the wisdom of local experts. Stephanie Lundstrom edits videos at the West Hollywood-based animal rights organization Mercy for Animals and chronicles her food obsessions on Instagram as @sapling_vegan. Her partner Jacky Wasserman owns the cult vegan Los Angeles apparel brand BEETxBEET (pronounced “beat by beat” — she’s been DJing since the age of 16). Together, they can’t imagine living anywhere else. Whether you’re just visiting or are a newly-minted Angeleno, let Stephanie and Jacky show you where to eat and chill in LA. 


Let’s start with the obvious: Breakfast!

Stephanie: The Grain Cafe in Mid-City has my all time favorite breakfast dish — their egg and bacon bagel. It’s right by our house, making it extra temping to stop in since they serve breakfast all day! I don’t know how they cook the tofu (the egg) but it’s working, and whatever sauce they use is to die for. My other favorite breakfast item is the biscuit from Moby’s restaurant Little Pine in Silverlake. I love me a yummy carb and this one comes with maple butter and strawberry jam. Dogs are allowed on the patio so, like, why would anyone sit inside?

Jacky: I took my non-vegan dad to Little Pine when he was in town, and he wanted to go back the following weekend. Between the two visits, we shared the Lemon Poppyseed Pancakes, French Toast, Breakfast Scramble, Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup. Also, I’m a sucker for chai lattes and they’ve got one that hits the spot. All of their profits are donated to animal rights organizations. Another place on the Eastside would be Flore Vegan. They have a nice selection of breakfast items that don’t disappoint, like the Chicken & Waffles and Blueberry Pancakes.

Vegan Los Angeles Breakfast

The Chickn & Waffles at Flore (left). And the breakfast spread at little pine.


Which farmers markets should we hit up?

Stephanie: Jacky and I try to make it to the Larchmont Farmers Market every Sunday to get our fruit. Once we got berries from there and from Whole Foods to compare the taste and were blown away by how much more flavor the farmer’s market berries had. 

Jacky: At the Hollywood Farmers Market, the Ridiculous Baking Co sells all vegan pastries and breads. They usually make a sausage biscuit sandwich that sells out early. Dave’s, the only vegan Korean vendor I know of, is also there. India Sweets and Spices is a small grocery in Highland Park offering a plethora of hard to find Indian spices and products. They also have a great buffet that is super affordable and has a good selection of vegan dishes and sides.


Must-try grab & go?

Stephanie: M Cafe on Melrose is a full service restaurant with a little grab and go case of salads, wraps and treats. They have this macrobiotic tempeh wrap that I love. Pair it with a side of kale salad in peanut dressing and BOOM, you have a winning lunch.

Jacky: One of my favorite spots to have meetings or pop in for a quick bite is Green Table Cafe in Mid-City. One of my favorite things here is the Lasagna or the B…Loved Panini. And the Tiramisu and fruit tarts are a must! I also love Stamp Proper Foods in Loz Feliz which has lots of vegan options and delicious smoothies. My favorite is the Palm Springs Poolside — perfect after a hike in Griffith Park. Yeastie Boys Bagels food truck is usually posted up outside of Stumptown Coffee downtown during the week. They have a vegan bagel sandwich on an everything bagel with sprouts, red onion, and sun dried tomato spread called The Mishka. Its name is inspired by Greg Rivera, the vegan co-owner of the streetwear brand Mishka, which I think is rad!

Vegan Los Angeles Bagel

“The Mishka” from Yeasty Boys Bagels. Photo: Jacky Wasserman


We need nature and self-care. What’s our plan?

Jacky: One of my favorite hiking trails is Los Leones Canyon Trail in the Pacific Palisades. It’s a great workout and has a great view of the ocean. Not too far from that hike is Lake Shrine Meditation Garden where you can take in the gorgeous plant life as you stroll around the lake or sit quietly with your thoughts. I’m not the kinda gal who gets her nails done on the reg, but every now and then when I’m feeling a self-care moment coming on, I’ll hit up Base Coat because they are non-toxic and use vegan nail polish! The foot massage included in the service is a plus.

Stephanie: My friend Kate rides her bike everywhere and sees the city through a whole other lens. She has taken me on the most beautiful urban hikes and walks. One of most memorable was in Franklin Canyon Park, where we lingered until dark and found ourselves surrounded by the croaking of frogs.


Let’s pivot to pizza.

Stephanie: Oh pizza pizza pizza. I’m all about this perfect food, and if you think pineapples don’t belong on pizza, never talk to me or my dog again. Cruzer holds a special place in my heart. They are all vegan, never charge me for a side of ranch and are just plain yummy. They are mostly a take out place, so call it in and pick it up for the perfect Netflix and chill kinda night.

Jacky: Purgatory Pizza has a pie named after iconic lesbian group Tegan and Sara called “Vegan And Sara.” All of their vegan options have interesting toppings, and they have a punk rock vibe which is up my alley.


Most reliable dinner spot in town is…

Stephanie: My go to is usually Araya’s Place for Thai. I’m a Thai food freak, and they have the best Pad Thai. It’s super tiny inside, so I recommend a reservation. Also, Rahel Ethiopian Vegan Cuisine never lets me down and it’s great for large groups.

Jacky: If you’re looking for great date ambiance or a $20 CDB cocktail (worth it), then Gracias Madre is your place. Otherwise, Pura Vita is the new vegan Italian restaurant that will keep you coming back for more.


What about the sweet stuff?

Jacky: PBJLA has old fashioned Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches made with the crusts cut off in these delicate round pockets stuffed with love. They have interesting flavor combinations and make all their jams and butters from scratch! And everything is vegan. They’re located in Grand Central Market downtown, which is a fun place to walk around.

Stephanie: As a sugar addict, I feel qualified to speak on this topic. Magpies Soft Serve has some pretty unreal vegan flavors, my favorite being Pandan. They switch it up every month and always have anywhere from 4-6 vegan flavors at any given time. Also a new vegan donut place just opened in DTLA called Donatsu and they have some really exciting flavors like Creme Brûlée, Ube, and Samoa.

Vegan Ice Cream

Soft serve from Magpies. Photo by Jacky Wasserman.

Any fun happenings we should put on our calendar?

Stephanie: On Tuesday nights, York Blvd in Highland Park turns into a vegan’s dream. On the sidewalk between Donut Friend, a vegan build-your-own-doughnut shop, and a bar called Block Party, a handful of vegan vendors pop up for the night. You can usually find Cena Vegan with burritos and tacos, Señoreata serving up Cuban food, Madame Shugah with ice cream cookie sandwiches, along with a bunch of others. If you’re over 21, you can take your food into Block Party and play shuffle board on the back patio.

Jacky: Vegan Street Fair started up a weekly Sunday event with rotating vendors in North Hollywood, which I’ll be a part of throughout the year. There’s also Green Saturday, a small marketplace usually held in Long Beach.


Where’s can we eat really good Mexican food?

Jacky: I love the enchiladas at Un Solo Sol in Boyle Heights. They have a lot of vegan options and make the vegan food in a whole separate side of the kitchen!

Stephanie: Having lived in San Francisco for three years, where vegan burritos were half my diet, I found LA to really be lacking in this area. That is, until I discovered the massive burritos from Vegatinos. They pop up all over LA at different events. If you need a burrito fix, this is your place. And my heart belongs to all things Todo Verde. The owner, Jocelyn Ramirez, is focused on making healthy and amazingly flavorful food. I took my Mexican grandparents to try her cuisine, and they couldn’t get enough. My favorite is the Ceviche, made from heart of palm, but I also love her Jackfruit Tacos and mole. They just finished a massively successful crowd funding campaign to open a brick and mortar in south LA so they can share plant based food with folks who have not had much access to this way of eating and all its benefits. 


Which Los Angeles makers should we support?

Jacky: Thought you’d never ask! You can visit me at local vegan events around town — check out the listings on our site. Some other cool shops to support in Los Angeles are Vegan Scene (Female owned), MooShoes, Galerie.LA (Female and Black owned, but not all vegan just FYI). And markets and popups include Renegade Craft Fair, Unique LA, The Rose Bowl Flea Market, Melrose Flea Market, and Shepard Fairey’s art gallery Subliminal Projects .

Stephanie: Obvi I’m going to say my babe’s online shop She makes cool-kid vegan clothes that have a street wear vibe, and the screen printer she uses is owned by a couple of badass lesbian women in DTLA.


Time to donate our time. Where should we volunteer?

Stephanie: I suggest visiting Saving Grace, about an hour outside of Los Angeles. They have the cutest miniature ponies, two fluffy cows and lots of fancy chickens, goats with some serious sass and lots of other adorable animals. Make sure you ask to see Janet the Basset Hound — she’s a snuggler. The sanctuary is run by Erich and Kathy, a couple who used to volunteer at another sanctuary and wanted to open their own to dedicate their lives to caring for, and loving, animals in need.

Jacky: Burrito Project Los Angeles has different chapters around the city where you get together in a group and make vegan burritos to then pass out to the homeless as a team.

Keep up with Stephanie Lundstrom’s adventures at @sapling_vegan and follow BEETxBEET at @beetxbeet.

For more bonus vegan Los Angeles recommendations from Stephanie and Jacky, check out LAIKA’s Patreon page. 

Editing and photo collages by Julie Gueraseva. Photos courtesy of Jacky Wasserman and Stephanie Lundstrom.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

To Save the Earth, Lose the Meat

Cattle ranch on former Amazon land, known as the “lungs” of the Earth. Photo by Daniel Beltrá.

Humans make up only about 0.01 percent of all life on Earth. While our planet is 4.5 billion years old, we have been around for a mere speck — 200,000 years or so. Yet in our short time here, we have managed to set in motion the worst era of mass extinction since the dinosaurs. In the past 50 years alone, we have caused wildlife populations to decline by a catastrophic 60 percent.

Through entirely avoidable activities, we are destroying our planet’s complex ecosystem, upon which humanity itself depends for survival.

The biggest cause of wildlife loss is the destruction of natural habitats to create farmland, a staggering 83% of which is taken up by animal agriculture despite it providing only 18% of calories. Today we raise over 56 billion land animals worldwide in various forms of confinement (yes, vertical factory farms are now a thing), and Americans’ meat consumption is at an all time high of 218 pounds annually per person.

Factory Farm Earth Day

Pig gestation crate. Photo by JoAnne McArthur/WeAnimals.

All this flesh-eating comes at a high cost. The environmental footprint of animal agriculture is massive — it produces more CO2 emissions than all land transportation combined. The top three meat corporations – JBS, Cargill and Tyson – emitted more greenhouse gases in 2016 than all of France. And the nearly half a million dairy cows on factory farms in Tulare County, California, for example, produce five times as much waste as New York City and carry antibiotic resistant E. coli.

Humans have consumed natural resources at a colossal level. Global emissions have been accelerating like a “speeding train,” according to a recent study published by the Global Carbon Project. Average global temperatures have risen 1 °C above pre-industrial levels and are projected to reach 1.5 °C within two decades. The effects of that warming were evident last year across the United States, from the raging wildfires in California to the intensifying hurricanes and flooding in the Southeast.

Factory Farm Earth Day

Flooded factory farm after Hurricane Florence in North Carolina’s Duplin County. Photo by JoAnne McArthur/WeAnimals

Last October, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change rang the alarm: To avoid an unimaginable climate catastrophe, we must reduce CO2 emissions by 45 percent by 2030. That’s just 11 years from now. If we dare continue down the same destructive path, emissions would reach levels “beyond the planetary boundaries that define a safe operating space for humanity,” warned a recent study published by Nature.

In his new book The Uninhabitable Earth, journalist and climate columnist David Wallace-Wells paints a grim picture of the cataclysmic storms, droughts, heat deaths, plagues, migration in the hundreds of millions, wars and economic collapse that could await.“We have all the tools we need, today, to stop it all: a carbon tax and the political apparatus to aggressively phase out dirty energy, a new approach to agricultural practices and a shift away from beef and dairy in the global diet; and public investment in green energy and carbon capture,” writes Wallace-Wells.

Last year, the journal Science published the most extensive analysis on the impacts of animal agriculture to date. The study, led by University of Oxford’s Joseph Poore, concluded that even the very lowest impact meat and dairy products still cause much more environmental harm than the least sustainable vegetable farming.

Poore, who initially undertook the research in order to find out if sustainable animal agriculture was possible, eventually stopped eating animal products as a result of his findings. His research team’s final recommendation? Not reduction or “humane” alternatives, but an altogether elimination. “A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth,” Poore asserted.

Considering how animals raised, transported and killed for food are treated, this is a no-brainer.

So as you decide what to have for your next meal, or as you peruse grocery store aisles, know how much power your plate and your shopping cart holds. The steaks, pun intended, have never been higher. Make the conscious choice and omit animal products.

by Julie Gueraseva

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