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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Heifer Schmeifer

I wrote a letter to the editor of BUST Magazine yesterday and I decided to post it here on my blog as well. This is an issue I was planning on posting about in a few months but I decided to bump it up in priority since it may (hopefully) influence some of your holiday shopping plans...

November 20, 2007

Dear BUST,

I just discovered your awesome magazine a few months ago and am totally hooked. It’s so refreshing to find a magazine that is fun to read and reflects my values and beliefs. Given my obviously high opinion of your publication, I was surprised and sorely disappointed to see Heifer International listed in your ‘guide to giving gifts that give a damn’ [No Time Like the Present, Dec/Jan ‘08].

Despite its carefully crafted image, Heifer International is not the warm, fuzzy entity that it might seem at first glance. While I imagine the group has good intentions, and I’m certain we all can agree that ending hunger and caring for the earth are worthwhile pursuits, the fact is that logic and compassion are not on Heifer's side.

Not only are Heifer’s programs a horror story for the animals destined to become food, it also does no favors to the families it purports to help. There’s something fundamentally wrong with encouraging people to move away from a healthful, plant-based diet, and to instead embrace meat and dairy products, which contain artery-clogging saturated fat and cholesterol, and have been definitively linked to heart disease, diabetes, and many types of cancer.

Furthermore, it is estimated that two-thirds of non-Caucasians on the planet are lactose intolerant. Why encourage these people to consume animal flesh and excretions, which are so clearly detrimental to their health, when plant-based foods offer equal, or often superior, nutrients?

Besides being terrible for the animals and people in the program, Heifer’s assertion that animal-based agriculture is a viable solution to the world’s hunger problem is just plain wrong. In fact, the over consumption of meat, dairy, and eggs is one of the primary causes of world hunger. It takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce one pound of meat from a cow.

Of course, I’m not saying we should sit idly by and do nothing while every year 15 million children die of hunger. But programs that encourage plant based solutions are far better positioned to truly address the problem of hungry children and families on this planet. Fortunately, there are numerous groups that we can choose to support instead of Heifer International. These groups are seeking sustainable solutions that truly get at the root of the problem in ways that empowers people without harming animals or the environment.

  • Plenty International ( promotes appropriate and sustainable technologies in 15 countries on four continents focused on support of the world's native peoples and other disenfranchised people and our common environment.
  • Sustainable Harvest International ( helps farmers in Central America reverse rainforest destruction with sustainable land-use practices that allow them to take control of their environmental and economic destinies.
  • The Women’s Bean Project ( teaches job readiness and life skills for entry-level jobs through employment in their gourmet food production business.
  • The Fruit Tree Planting Foundation ( is dedicated to planting edible, fruitful trees and plants to benefit needy populations and improve the surrounding air, soil, and water.
  • Trees for Life ( helps people plant fruit trees in developing countries. Each tree protects the environment and provides a low-cost, self-renewing source of food for a large number of people.

For a comprehensive discussion of this issue, you can download the ‘Don’t Buy a Cow’ episode of the ‘Vegetarian Food for Thought’ podcast.


Tamara McFarland

I'm planning to revisit this topic at a later date (early 2008 sometime), when I will feature one of the above listed charities as my monthly Jewelry for Charity beneficiary. In the meantime, if any of you would like to express your dismay to BUST regarding their endorsement of Heifer's irresponsible programs, you can send your letters to

And for those of you who are interested in listening to the podcast I mentioned, you can find it at the Compassionate Cooks website, along with tons of other extremely informative and articulate podcast episodes on veganism and animal rights.


knitsteel said...

Although I am not a vegan or vegetarian, I do appreciate the links to other food plant based charitable organizations.

Anonymous said...

Terrific letter, Tamara, and thanks for the links to more organizations.
Doh/Miso Vegan