Friday, January 30, 2009

Up From Slavery, or Michael Vick's Dogs

April 25, 2007, was Emancipation Day for the 51 dogs at Michael Vick's notorious Bad Newz Kennels. In its December 29, 2008, Sports Illustrated summarized their lives since then.

The article is well worth reading in its entirety, but the most illuminating (and encouraging) fact is this: of the 51 dogs taken, 14 are in permanent homes, 33 in foster care, and only four are deceased. Of those four, two died while in shelter care, one was euthanized for medical reasons, and one -- just ONE -- was destroyed because it was too violent.

Not bad for a breed once demonized as inherently violent and banned in Prince George's County, Maryland.

The lesson is clear: abuse from people can make dogs bad. But almost every dog -- even those most abused -- can be rehabilitated.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Re-Educating Your Palate

People sometimes ask me if I miss the taste of meat.

The short answer is no. I've been a vegetarian for over 30 years. I couldn't deny myself meat for that long if I craved it.

But it is also true that I once ate fried chicken with gusto. It's just that, over the years, I have re-educated my palate. I don't crave tastes I once enjoyed.

Neal D. Barnard, the physician who founded the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, described this concept on a book tour some years ago. He claimed that re-educating your palate can take as little as 30 days.

Dr. Barnard gave the example of switching from whole milk to skim milk, a dietary adjustment many have made. Was it hard at first? he asked ("very" was the answer). But, he pointed out, if you stuck with skim for 30 days, and then tried whole milk again, what did you think?

A woman in the audience gave the answer for all of us: "It was like drinking cream. Switching back to whole milk would have been as painful as switching to skim was in the first place."

Lesson learned: It is possible to re-educate your palate. It may take longer than 30 days, though this number appears often in book titles. But whatever the exact number of days -- 21, 30, 45 -- the point is that cravings disappear in time.

Of course, some cravings will persist longer than others, depending on your commitment, amount of exposure, and other factors. For me, giving up meat, fish, and poultry was easy. Milk, eggs, and cheese were harder. And chocolate? Did I hear someone say I should give up chocolate? I have to draw the line some place.

Next: Michael Vick's Dogs