Why I became a Vegetarian

The probability of a SRI investor being a vegetarian is higher than for non-SRI investors.  How much higher, I don’t know.  But it seems logical that SRI investors that are more aware of the bigger society and negative derivative effects from large farm factories, etc. would be inclined to abstain from eating animals.

Below is a transcript from a speech I gave at a local Toastmaster’s club:

Good evening fellow Toastmasters’ and guests.  Tonight, I’m going to talk to you, perhaps convinceyou, or even better, inspire you to become a vegetarian. 
In my personal experience, people are extremely sensitive about what they eat so I wasn’t sure about speaking about this.  I’d add “eating habits” to the list of taboo topics to bring up at a dinner party, like politics, religion and money.
But wait a minute…..EVERYONE lately seems to be talking about Trump, so then maybe I can talk about my eating habits.
As a background, let me give you a brief definition of a vegetarian and derivations of that:
·      Vegans:  don’t eat ANY animal products including dairy products
·      Pescetarian:  eat fish but no other meat
·      Ovo-Lacto:  don’t eat meat but eat eggs & dairy (that’s me)
·      Fruitarians: only eat fruits and nuts.  These are the hippies of the world
·      Also, some vegetarians don’t use animal byproducts (e.g., leather)
I started being aware of vegetarianism when I was dating a girl who was one.  For me, vegetarians were like other-worldly religions.  I knew that they were out there, but I never had to think about it.  My girlfriend was kind of preachy about it and her anti-American antics. 
One time we were on vacation in Poitou-Charentes, which is a beautiful region on the west coast of France that’s known for its oysters and mussels.  So while restauranting, I did my proper duty and ordered a plate of oysters.  As I was enjoying my freshly shucked oysters my girlfriend critically noted how if I looked closely I could still see them wiggling.  Needless to say, it was years later until I became a full fledged vegetarian (2010).  (Reminder:  Nobody likes being preached too!)
The process of becoming a vegetarian was easier than I expected.  What’s helped me become disciplined in many aspects of life is not becoming hung-up or guilty if I had wanted to eat meat on some days. 
Here is a list of pros/cons of why I am a vegetarian.
·      You are saving countless lives of animals
o  When I first realized, as a young boy, that my dinner was once a living breathing animal, like our family cat.   I rationalized that they lived tranquil lives on pastoral farms, but in fact they lived in prisons called factory-farms.
o  I will not show you any gruesome photos.  That, my friends, is only a Google search away.
·      Your energy footprint declines substantially.  Here are some key facts from vegetarian.procon.org:
o  Over 10 pounds of plant protein are used to produce 1 pound of beef protein
o  It takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef and it takes only 220 gallons of water to make a pound of tofu.
o  Did you know that the livestock industry produces 18% of all greenhouse gases?  That’s more than all forms of transportation COMBINED.
·      You are more accepting and empathetic of others’ dietary restrictions
·      May prevent certain diseases
·       Helps keep down your body weight
·      Your skin even starts to look more “glowy”.  I’m starting to sound like a TV commercial…
·      TMI Alert:   Pooping becomes a lot easier and an overall smoother process
·      You give up fast-food almost instantly.  Few fast-food restaurants have veggie options.
Some drawbacks:
·      Everyone and their mother asks why you don’t eat meat
·      You come across as thinking that you are better than everyone else
·      Vegetarian restaurants can be pricey
·      There are some detrimental health effects if you don’t get enough B12 or protein
·      Choosing what to buy is a lot of work, but this burden is what it’s all about
o  When I good food shopping I have to read the labels carefully.  The same thing goes when dining.  I can’t simply order a French Onion soup because after doing some research I discovered it’s not just Onion and cheese.  It has a beef broth base.
·      People may view you as “not normal”
o  Definition of normal:  conforming to a standard, or the common type (“commoner”)
o  Noun: the average or mean
o  In Mathematics:  being at a right angle
Some of you may remember my first speech, the icebreaker, in which I described growing up in a “parochial” “small town” in the Bronx.  There, parochial wasn’t just the name of the catholic school I attended but a way of thinking.
I rarely questioned anything and was taught to be highly obedient to authority.  But then something magical happened when I became a vegetarian…  I starting thinking because I had to !
The process of identifying vegetarian ingredients in cookbooks, reading labels etc.., grew into questioning every page of my life.  It was like Peeling an onion to find the truth.  Since then, I’ve never looked back.  When I delve into an issue, I don’t just look at it from a right angle.  Instead, I look at it from all sides including secondary and tertiary affects.
Hmm…maybe I should have changed the title of this speech from Why I became a vegetarian to How becoming a vegetarian changed my life.

The next battleground for Socially Responsible Investing: PALM OIL


Previously, I wrote about all the successes, both historical and modern, of SRI.  These included aiding the end of Apartheid in South Africa as well as shareholder activism that has been able to “nip in the bud” company wrong-doings before they became huge issues.  

Going forward, I believe the damage to jungles related to ever expanding Palm-Oil plantations is a large and growing challenge for SRI investors.

The Next Battleground:
The Palm tree is a beautiful, elegant species. Palm oil is made by extracting the oil from its fruit. Palm oil is considered more healthy than cooking (and baking) oils (and butter) that are commonly called “trans fats”, but not as healthy as certain vegetable oils. However, it’s much cheaper than other cooking oils and can also be used as a biofuel, lubricant and soap products. The Palm oil industry is growing rapidly and is said to be over $44bn. It may double by 2020 and triple by 2050 according to the FAO (United Nations).

The main issue is that countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand) are cutting down rain forests to plant palm trees. This has a three-fold effect by:

  • endangering Orangutangs (and tigers) that live in the jungle. In the last 10 years, their population dropped 50% !
  • increasing Green House Gases
  • some of the lands have been used without consulting or compensating indigenous peoples
  • some owners have also utilized weak employment practices including child-labor


It has been difficult for investors to assess companies’ use of palm oil due to:

  • Palm oil does not need to be labeled
  • Certified Sustainable Palm Oil is expensive and demand is lacking
  • While most food companies use Palm Oil they are not required to disclose whether their oil is 100% certified sustainable.

A Wall Street Journal story highlighted  a 22 year old man from Bangladesh who was told that for $2,000 he could travel on a boat to Malaysia with good meals and drinks. He was conned by human smugglers that were essentially running a slave-trade.  Food was scarce, several migrants died from starvation, disease and beatings. The deceased stomachs’ were slashed so they couldn’t float, and they were thrown overboard. He was then sent to camps to work on the huge plantations of Felda for no wages. Felda is the leading member of certified Sustainable Palm Oil!  Hence, this will be an uphill battle!

What can you do:
You can, as I have, sign petitions supporting rain forests, as well as encouraging companies to disclose not only their use of palm oil, but their largest ingredients. Another practical approach is to eat whole foods, and shop at environmentally friendly stores such as Trader Joe’s.

I’ll leave you with some wise words from Mohandas Gandhi:

You must be the change you wish to see in the world.  It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.” 

Christmas Trees: What Would Jesus Do?

– by Maryann Khinda
 We are republishing this piece given the Christmas Season…

Is sacrificing trees for decoration rather than consumption ethically and morally responsible?  Is this act frivolous and wasteful?  Would Jesus approve?  Or are there hidden merits to cutting down Christmas trees?

In light of our socially responsible efforts, we would like to explore the pros and cons of purchasing a real vs. artificial Christmas tree this holiday season to see where the pine needles lead us.

 There are many views and thoughts on having a “real” Christmas tree. Besides the beautiful décor and terrific nostalgic smell, freshly cut Christmas trees provide additional oxygen and consume carbon dioxide in the immediate air of their surroundings.  As per Green America, Tree farms typically use barren un-farmable or rocky land to raise their Christmas trees and grow two trees to every one tree cut.  This is a sustainable method of using the land and a true benefit to having a “real” tree.

Ah, but the cons outweigh the pros.  Why do any trees need to be cut?  We are killing trees, living specimens, for a tradition…?  Here lies nothing but selfish human gain in the act of cutting down trees.  We bring these trees into our homes for a few weeks, decorate them and then use additional electricity to light them.  This is absolutely wasteful!  And not socially responsible?  After the holidays are over, the trees typically wind-up in landfills.  Most Christmas trees are brought from these mass tree farms that use pesticides.  These pesticides are in the air in your home.  If your pet drinks from the tree’s bowl, it could get sick.  Trees even breed mold, which is unhealthy to breathe and creates allergies.

We are not asking you to give up your tradition.  There are alternatives: the United Kingdom has found a unique method which we approve and give two thumbs up for as 100% sustainable – renting potted Christmas trees.  During the holiday season, customers can rent a potted freshly pruned and trimmed Christmas tree.  When the season is over, the tree will be returned and replanted until the next season.  Brilliant!  No waste!
There are also SERFs, Socially and Environmentally Responsible Farms, which raise organic Christmas trees.  Organic trees are free of harmful pesticides.  At this time SERFs are only common in the Northwest.  Please see their sitefor further details.

 If you must have a “real” Christmas tree this season, we strongly urge you to adhere to the many recycling efforts available.  Most local governments and municipalities participate in tree curbside pickups for compost and mulching.  If this is not available, there are other great ideas that are sustainable. Using your tree for firewood has mixed reviews – please make sure you do this correctly as you could ruin your chimney (see this page for details on the dangers).  There is always the easy option of throwing the tree into your backyard for your own composting.  This will, in time, improve your own garden.  Mother Earth News gives a few great suggestions:  in the winter, you can use the tree branches to protect your delicate garden and use the trunk as a post or bench.  You could also throw the tree in your lake or pond – the wildlife will thrive.

The other option is buying an “artificial” or plastic Christmas tree.  Artificial trees can be reused year after year, without waste as a whole, but these trees cannot be recycled further due to their iron and plastic structure (though there are other materials used, e.g., aluminum).  Also they contain PVC (polyvinyl chloride) and the production process may use a small amount of lead.  While the risk of lead poisoning is low, it increases as trees age. Though recent regulations have made trees safer.

In conclusion, we find freshly cut Christmas trees not to be as socially responsible as some of the alternatives, such as renting or purchasing potted or artificial Christmas trees.   As we like to present other opinions, Justmeans, a Sustainability website, did a write-up (Sustainability and Christmas Trees: Let’s Get Real) not too long ago stating real trees are the way to go.  If you must have a freshly cut tree, please utilize one of the recycling methods above to retain some sustainability.  Happy Holidays!

SRI, Socially Responsible trees, sustainability, Green Christmas trees. 

How Socially Responsible Investing Changed the World

Source: Nick Ut at the Associated Press

Recently a smug investor asked me, “What’s SRI good for other than making one feel less guilty about living a fancy lifestyle.” After hearing that remark, I was really angry repeating it over and over in my mind.

After several weeks I got to thinking, “maybe he’s got a point.  I’m a limousine liberal not having really dirtied my hands in any good cause.”

But first, a brief history and explanation.  SRI stands for Socially Responsible Investing.  SRI has had many names including:

  • Ethical Investing
  • Impact Investing

Historically, SRI was mostly about avoiding “sin stocks”, companies that are involved with alcohol, gambling, pornography, tobacco and (nuclear) weapons.   But today’s SRI isn’t just about avoiding certain industries, but about investing in companies that are doing positive practices and having specific attributes (i.e., “best in class”). These practices fall under three areas, called ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance). Here, SRI has made substantial progress.

So, I started wondering, reading books, watching interviews and keeping up with headline news to determine if SRI was in fact doing some good in society.

Usually when an issue captures our minds, we contemplate supporting or opposing it through voting, how we act as customers (e.g., buy), or how we act as employees (e.g., strikes, unions).  Seldom do we think of our roles as investors.  The fact is, while we are intrigued by certain investments in companies like Tesla, most of us invest indirectly via mutual funds. So the link between companies and ourselves is broken.

I came up with a list of three important successes going back to the first example of modern-day SRI:

  • In 1758, the Religious Society of Friends (aka “Quakers”) prohibited its members from participating in the “slave trade.”  Another religious order, the Methodists was highly influenced by John Wesley whose sermons said that your business shouldn’t harm its workers or its neighbors.
  • In 1972, the country was outraged by the photo of a 9 year old girl that had just been burned by Napalm, which is a burning agent.  This ignited a protest, placing pressure on its sole maker, Dow Chemical, to stop producing the chemical-agent. Napalm was only 1% of its revenues, as the company was known for Saran Wrap. While the company refused to stop making Napalm talent veered away from Dow and the company was vilified for years. The pictures also prompted Dr. Martin Luther King to go public with his opposition to the Vietnam War.
  • In the 1990s, the world was appalled by Apartheid in South Africa. The movement against Apartheid actually began in 1960 after the Sharpeville massacre. In 1976, the UN imposed an arms embargo to the country. By the late 1980s and 1990s, investors including large institutions, divested all their investments in South Africa. That prompted businesses operating in South Africa to draft a charter to end Apartheid. And you all know the result…
  • 2015: Modern SRI is quite different than in the past. There has been a huge increase in the quality of Governance at most corporations. This has given investors the ability to monitor corporate behavior almost “real-time”.  This is done through proxy voting, oral dialogue, letter-writing, filing shareholder resolutions (usually a last resort) etc…At first glance, it appears that SRI hasn’t had any “big-wins” since the 1990s, but in fact, investor activism has been so strong that few companies get to the point where there is a big issue to topple.

2015 – 2020: The Next Battleground:
The Palm tree is a beautiful, elegant species and Palm oil is supposed to be a healthier oil compared to trans fats. However, ever expanding plantations are endangering Orangutangs, increasing Green House Gases as well as taken advantage of hungry workers.

In the next article, I will dig deeper into these issues.  But for now, I’ll leave you with some wise words from Mohandas Gandhi:

 You must be the change you wish to see in the world.  

 It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.” 

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