About Me

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My interests include veganism and vegetarianism, health, ethics, politics and culture, media, and the environment. I have three kids; I teach college part-time, study piano and attempt to garden. I knit. I blog on just about anything, but many posts are related to my somewhat pathetic quest to eat better, be more mindful of the environment, and be a more responsible news consumer. Sometimes I write about parenting, but, like so many Mommy bloggers, my kids have recently told me not to. :) Thanks for reading.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Swine Flu and You

Panic. Frankly, I've had enough of it. Media hype. Enough of that too.

Now, I don't want anybody to think I'm some sort of definitive source of info on H1N1. I am not. However, I've been doing some reading on the virus, and talking to my friends who are doctors and nurses, and also to my own doctor and my kids' pediatrician, and here's what I *think* I know.

1. The VAST majority of cases of H1N1 are actually quite mild. Now, of course, that is absolutely no comfort at all to you if you've been sick enough to be hospitalized with this, or if -- God forbid and God bless you -- somebody in your family has died from this. But, it still doesn't change the fact that most people recover from this virus with little more than ibuprofen, bed rest and plenty of fluids. MOST people need to take a gigantic chill pill, and do what they should have always been doing with any illness: stay home if you are sick. Wash your hands. Don't share cups and utensils or food from the same plate. Throw your used tissues in the garbage right away. Become a friend to Lysol and hand sanitizer. Drink plenty of fluids. Exercise. Eat healthy.

2. Flu has always been an illness with a known variable presentation. Some people are mildly ill; some are very ill. Those who are the most ill generally have some sort of underlying condition that compromises their immune system (obesity, by the way, can be one all by itself, because overweight people have a harder time moving their lungs). All of this is still true with H1N1.

3. HOWEVER, there have been alarming numbers of otherwise healthy young adults and children who have ended up hospitalized with this. My heart goes out to them. I hope "we" figure out soon why those who are usually the most resilient are somehow particularly vulnerable to this virus.

4. According to some research I read last week, this week is the peak week for infections in the United States. This means that more people will become infected this week than in previous weeks, and that slowly those numbers will fall in the coming weeks. Now, this is based on a mathematical model, but if true, the silver lining, at least as I see it, is this: we may be done with swine flu by Christmas. Now of course, that may mean that the regular flu will take over just about then. That's not such good news. But hey -- the regular flu vaccine is easier to get ahold of than the H1N1 one, so if you get vaccinated now, maybe you'll at least avoid the "regular" flu. As it turns out, getting the H1N1 vaccine may be a moot point, because many people will have already had the virus by the time the vaccine is available. (Ask your doctor anyway if you should get it, even if you have been sick.)

If you're one of those that doesn't "believe" in vaccines, I have a lovely bridge to sell ya'. Let me know how much you're willing to pay for it, 'kay? The science is overwhelming in its evidence that those who get flu vaccines are less likely to get the flu. And the risk of becoming autistic or brain-damaged from the vaccine (any vaccine) is about one in a million. End. Of. Story.

5. My kids' experiences with the virus are typical: 72 hours of a fever, cough, chills, body aches, congestion, followed by just the cough and the congestion. To be on the safe side, I kept each sick kid home for a full five days (48 hours PAST the end of the fever). Of course, they were not sick all at once, so I've been home an awful lot lately. Sigh.

6. Is it a "national emergency" as Obama has declared? Hmmm...it is indeed causing congestion in hospitals and clinics. There ARE a lot of sick people. (Over 22% of my child's school was out last Friday; one class was missing 17 kids and the teacher!) It IS an epidemic in the sense that so many people are infected (or will be). However...the percentage of people dying from this is actually identical to the percentage of people who die annually from the "regular" flu. So...yes, more people are infected, which logically explains why more flu cases than "normal" are in the hospital and why more deaths in actual NUMBERS are being reported. BUT, the overall percentage of people dying (among those infected) still remains about 1-2%.

If I told you that you have a 99% chance of surviving the swine flu, would you feel better? I hope so.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Why I Love CSI

Here's the blog I warned you about: the CSI one. So, if you don't give a rip about CSI, or TV in general, you can skip this one. Though, from a purely self-centered perspective, I hope you don't. And of course, I'd love your comments.

For the few of you who live under a rock (or don't own a TV or never read anything about it), CSI is, in the lingo of TV these days, a "scripted procedural." When it first debuted, in 2000, it was a new kind of program -- rather than being simply about crime or police officers or lawyers (standards of TV for a L-O-N-G time), it is about HOW crimes get solved, and all of its main characters are criminalists.

For me at least, it is a totally refreshing break from the ga-zillions of reality TV shows out there. Do I really need to know how one guy would fare with somebody else's wife? Or how much weight somebody lost last week? If I am going to park my ass on the couch in front of the TV for an entire hour, I want to be entertained and learn something, not watch somebody step on a scale, do a rotten job cooking the scallops, or fail to get their kids under control. I can see all those things in my own house anyway.

I didn't start watching CSI until somewhere in its 4th season, after my husband and my in-laws convinced me to give it a try. (They were -- and are -- avid fans as well.) Initially, the concept -- a show about gory crimes and lab work, full of autopsy scenes and realistic-looking corpses -- didn't appeal to me.

The truth is, not only do I generally not watch a whole lot of TV (or movies), the few shows and movies I do see are virtually never scary, depressing or terribly realistic. I love comedy. I love escapist plots. I love happy endings. I don't even mind predictable storylines. I do have space in my head for documentaries and historical dramas, but I never go for frightening, depressing, bloody stuff. So WHY, on God's green earth as my mother would say, would I EVER end up claiming that CSI is my favorite show?

WRITING. That's the answer. Not to minimize the actors' talents, but frankly, can even a great actor really do much with a bad script? I doubt it. The writing is fast, SMART, full of scientific trivia and double entendre. Fans know enough about each character to be attached to them, yet the focus is always on the case, and only rarely on a particular character. (Predictably, if you read fansites, you discover that fans of one actor argue with fans of another over who has been slighted or neglected in the writing and who has had "too much" air time. I don't take sides in that battle, and think that the evidence is pretty solid that the writers consistently focus on cases more than on characters. The CASE is the main character and that, in and of itself, makes the show unique, week after week.)

If you don't listen closely to the show, you'll miss something important. It's a fascinating take on a world (forensic science) that I knew nothing about prior to watching this show. The episodes also appear to be incredibly well-researched. It's not stupid TV. (I totally fantasize about being a researcher on the show. Maybe my next lifetime.)

And, as it turns out, there IS comedy in this show, though it would hardly be termed one. My favorite episodes, in fact, are the ones where the writers were quite intentionally comedic with their plots -- "Rashomama," "Lab Rats," abd "Fur and Loathing" come to mind. Particular scenes or lines, even in episodes that aren't funny at all, often make me laugh. From last week: "If the bullet is in his ass, then his ass is evidence." Or, a scene where a self-conscious, single, grey-haired lab tech is caught putting black marker in his hair. Realistic enough to be believable, funny enough to make me laugh out loud.

In case you're wondering, no, I don't know the titles of episodes from other TV shows. I don't remember lines from other shows. I've never liked a show enough to care. I surprise myself with the amount of CSI trivia currently in my brain.

The camera work and the special effects on this show are impressive too (shots of bullets making their way through bodies; slow-motion work of necks being snapped; blood spray on walls; corpses with removeable body parts, etc.). However, to be totally honest, I'm a fan who often spends a good part of every show with her face behind her hands, asing her husband, "Can I look yet?" I love Robert David Hall (who plays coroner Al Robbins), but I have to admit, I rarely watch his scenes. But I do listen to them.


The two most recent arguments, among CSI fans, are whether the return of Jorja Fox (who plays the super-intelligent,troubled, former foster child-turned-CSI Sara Sidle) and the addition of Laurence Fishburne (professor-turned-CSI Ray Langston) are overshadowing the cast members who have been there since the beginning. In addition, William Petersen's decision to leave the show and return to Chicago theater has left fans obsessively mourning the loss of his quirky, brilliant, socially awkward, Shakespeare-quoting forensic entomologist Gil Grissom. I've never seen another character ANYWHERE that is as original as Gil Grissom, and I bet it'll be a long time before I do. Emmy people -- Billy Petersen deserves one!! Get on the ball already.

The other actors -- notably, Marg Helgenberger (single mother, former drug addict and exotic dancer-turned-CSI Catherine Willows who also managed to survive a date rape attempt, rescue her child from a sinking car AND later from a kidnapping), George Eads (Texan, all-around good guy, former athlete, son of a judge, peanut butter-hating, almost buried alive Nick Stokes), Eric Szmanda (the rock-loving, Vegas history buff, sometimes kid-like CSI Greg Sanders), Marc Vann (the despicable but perfectly played lab head Conrad Ecklie), and Paul Guilfoyle (lovable, scruffy, divorced Dad with a drug-addicted daughter, police detective Jim Brass) -- hold their own on the show, week after week. I absolutely love every character -- even the ones I haven't mentioned. There simply is not a weak link in this cast. Frankly, I'd give 'em all an Emmy. But not before I gave the writers some of those statues first.

I intentionally gave you all just enough info about the main characters for you to be asking me, "Oh, come on! A former foster child becomes a CSI? And an exotic dancer as well?" Yes, I'm well aware of how statistically unlikely it is that, in real life, foster children and exotic dancers would end up pursuing enough education to end up as CSIs. It's a testament to the writing that I am consistently able to suspend disbelief while I watch the show.

I could go on and on...but I've said enough. If you haven't watched this show, you really should give it a try. It's worth your time; you might learn something, and you'll probably laugh as well.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

CSI, Seventh-Grade Style

CSI is my favorite TV show, so it's probably inevitable that I would dedicate an entire blog to it sometime. However, this blog is actually about my kid's 7th grade extra credit science project. The blog on the show itself will have to wait (but it is coming).

My daughter's science teacher requires kids to do TWO extra credit assignments each quarter if they want a chance at getting an A or a B. He is a one-man crusade against middle school grade inflation, and I respect him for it. (Surprisingly, he's still popular with the students.)

Despite that, so far, she has 100% in all assignments, that only gets her a C without the two extra assignments. So...among the options for earning A/B credit was to attend a four-hour seminar, hosted by the local PD, on crime prevention, one part of which was on forensic science.

Now, when I heard of this, *I* wanted to go. She did not. "You just want me to do this because you like that show," she told me. Well, yeah.

Since she wasn't interested, I basically forgot all about it until, in true 12-year-old form, she informed me the morning of (yesterday) that "of course" she was going. By then, I'd committed myself to taking our youngest to a gymnastics birthday party and meeting up with another mother, so my chance to hear a talk on forensics was out. So, while I watched four-year-olds bounce off walls and fly through the air on trapezes (literally), my husband had the joy of taking our oldest kid to the mini-CSI session. He signed her up, told her where to go, and took himself to a talk on burglary prevention.

She, however, ended up in the wrong class and was too shy to tell the police officer that she needed to leave and find the CSI class. So, she sat through a lecture on internet safety -- a topic that has been covered ad nauseum in school, so she learned very little. Not to mention, it also has zilch to do with science.

The deadline for handing in A/B assignments is tomorrow, so she started filling in the form her teacher had provided for her, without (of course) having heard the talk. Oooo...NO. "What kind of education would a person need to be a CSI?" Her answer: "At least a high school degree."

A bit of understatement, I'd say.

Can't wait to read the final report. :)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Getting My Goat; Having a Cow

A lot has been on my mind this week, much of it related to comments on my last blog, or to a conversation with a friend (in person) about the blog prior to that. I'm going to address each here. As such, this is a meandering thought piece. It's a blog, people, not an editorial. :)

My last blog ("Points of View") prompted a few responses -- most of them positive, but one of them from somebody who took some offense at what she interpreted was my doing nothing more than complaining about the predicament of parents needing childcare for those noisome half-days, no school days, furlough days, etc. In her response, she said two things (in particular) that really got my goat:

1) "Your friend may not be a parent, but as a teacher, has more experience with children than you do."
2) "When I became a parent, I accepted the reality that I was giving up any and all free time." This commentator then went on to say that she's sick of parents expecting the schools to raise their kids...

OK, so you probably do not have to have read my blog, or even know me in the least, to guess why those two statements might get under my skin. Let's examine each, shall we?

First, my blog was never about whether parents or teachers have more experience with children. Honestly, I don't have to say more than that. I could go into details about my background, however. For instance, I could tell her that I was RAISED in a house where a parent did in-home daycare; I've babysat more than any human being I know; I've taught Sunday School, Children's Choirs, and Church Youth Groups; I've been a godparent since I was 19; I studied Human Development in college and worked in a rehab center for disabled kids; I stayed home with my kids (using only part-time daycare) for over a decade; I even considered elementary school teaching as a career and was in an M.Ed. program for awhile before deciding it wasn't the career for me; I've struggled with a kid who has a mild disability and have worked with IEP committees, therapists, psychologists, occupational therapists, vision therapists, and tutors, among other specialists. I've even chosen a career that IS part-time (I said as much in the blog). But, saying all that makes me appear just a wee bit defensive, and in no way says anything about the considerable experience with kids that my friend also has as a teacher.

The POINT IS that comment was nothing more than a gratuitous low blow, completely irrelevant to the issue I had written about and it assumed a whole lot about me that she had no way of knowing was accurate. Bugged the hell out of me.

The second comment: does parenting really mean that parents give up all free time? Hmmm...boy, that is NOT the paradigm of parenthood that I've EVER worked with. In fact, I think it's terribly important that kids know that their parents' lives do NOT always revolve around them. I think it's important for kids to see that their parents enjoy their jobs (or at least feel very committed to them). I think it's important that parents have hobbies, friends, and interests that don't involve the kids. I'm all for saying, "I'm busy now, please go find something to do." My mother used to refer to proper parenting as involving (her words) "some benign neglect". We could debate the proper amounts of such neglect -- the point is, parents have lives separate from their children's, or at least that's the paradigm of parenthood I'm working with. After reading the comment on the blog, however, it makes me wonder if there's a dramatically different paradigm of parenthood that is assumed by the schools and/or some or most teachers. Is there? It would help if I knew that up front.

But, how does benign neglect -- or the opposite, no free time for parents whatsoever -- relate to the need for parents to have affordable and easy-to-access care for kids (particularly older kids) on no school days? I think, in my commentator's mind, parents aren't SUPPOSED to have free time -- or, apparently, a job that conflicts with kids' school schedules. Such parents would not "complain" about the no school days, because if they did, it must indicate that they expect the schools to "raise their kids." For the record, I've never heard a parent say that they expect that -- or even WANT that. But I've heard many parents express frustration over what schools appear to expect from parents in terms of job flexibility.

Enough on that blog. The previous blog (about the dairy industry, rumors and the internet) has also been on my mind. I had dinner the other night with a friend who was raised on a dairy farm. I asked him about his knowledge about cows. I learned a few things about cows, and these facts raise some interesting issues concerning our responsibility toward cows, regardless of whether or not we choose to consume dairy or beef.

1. Holsteins have been bred for the QUANTITY of their milk. By their nature, they are big milk producers, and since farmers keep careful records, they keep breeding the "good producers" such that now, the average Holstein produces enough milk a day to feed something like eight calves. All of Jon and Kate's kids, fed exclusively from Kate.

Now that you have that image in your mind...

2. Jerseys have been bred for the QUALITY of their milk. By their nature, they produce very rich milk. Over time, they have been bred in such a way that their milk is actually TOO RICH FOR THEIR OWN CALVES. How sick is this: a Jersey calf will die if it nurses from its own mother; the milk is literally too rich for it. So, to keep a Jersey calf alive, a farmer has to milk the mother, mix the milk with water, and then feed it to the calf.

I find that fact sickening, but no more than the well-publicized fact that most turkeys no longer know how to reproduce because farmers have been doing it for them for so long. Yes, you read that right. Turkeys no longer know how to have turkey sex. Don't you feel sorry for them? I do.

Seriously, these two facts about Holsteins and Jerseys make me consider the issue that's been nagging me for several months: EVEN IF PEOPLE STOP EATING MEAT AND DAIRY, most farm animals still depend on people for survival. It's part of the reality of being a domesticated animal. The cows NEED TO BE MILKED. Or, in the case of the Jerseys, the calves need to be hand-fed. So, what is the logical thing that vegans -- who care so much about animals, the environment and health -- should advocate be done with cows? If we don't milk them, they'll suffer (ever had mastitis?) and could die from infection. If we don't feed their calves, the calves will die. It's naive and terribly uninformed to think that the cows could all just be put out to pasture. What stand, logically, should vegans take on taking care of cows (or turkeys or goats or hens or other domesticated animals)?

I don't know the answer; I just know that human greed for milk has created animals that now depend on us for survival. Cows need us for their survival, even if, in reality, we need neither their milk, their meat, nor their hides for ours. Poor cows.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Points of View

This past week, I lectured on social science paradigms. (Don't worry, I'm not gonna do that here.) Paradigms are basically points of view -- and the point of telling you the obvious is that we are, as a college English teacher was fond of saying, "constrained by our biography."

That is, it isn't always easy to be aware of what we assume, or what other people assume about us, until we (often mistakenly) say or do something that really pisses somebody off. THEN we're REALLY aware of how we are coming from different places, or, in social science speak, operating from different paradigms.

What I did this week was (unintentionally) run my paradigm smack-dab into a friend's paradigm, unwittingly making her really furious. See, I'm a parent (of three kids, two school-age) and she's a teacher (of fourth graders). She isn't a parent, though if she were, she might still have a different opinion of what I was so incensed about, due to her professional point of view. That's normal.

Here's the deal: many of us parents (particularly parents who work outside the home) are increasingly irritated (the polite word) at the number of half-days, no-school days, and in-service days in our kids' school schedules. We already rely on a carefully-planned arrangement of aftercare and coordinated "it's-your-turn-to-get-the-kids-today" schedules as it is. The family schedule is in a precarious balance, but most days it works pretty well, as long as the schedule isn't changed.

But, when schools throw us these odd days (no matter how much in advance), it leaves us scrambling to arrange care that is often hard to find. Few people want to commit to taking care of your kids when the number of days is so few and so random that it isn't financially fruitful -- or logistically possible -- for them to do so. And, for reasons I absolutely do not understand, a frighteningly large number of parents are comfortable leaving their middle school-age kids alone at home all day. I'm not in that camp.

To be perfectly honest, not only do I wish schools had a more consistent schedule (like kids in school 8:30-3, M-F, most weeks except for a week in Dec and a week in the spring), I'm all for shorter summer breaks and fewer holidays too. Schools still run as if there is an available family member in the home, able to care for the kiddos when school is not in session. They also seem to assume we're all farmers, too. Why else do our kids have these ridiculously long summer breaks?!

There are an awful lot of us without nearby relatives(or nearby relatives who also do not work). We have no family within 100 miles, for example. And the two family members we have (the ones who live 100 miles away) are a) ill and b) work full time and have their own three kids. It's hard enough (and expensive enough) to pay for all that summer camp and regular aftercare, let alone these additional days. And I can't rely on family for help.

So, I mentioned on Facebook how irritated I was at this predicament. This month, for instance, I have a kid home EVERY Friday (the middle schools here have different no-school days than the elementary schools). To top it off, my district has early release Wednesdays EVERY Wednesday -- something I find annoying as hell and wish so they would get rid of. It means EVERY Wednesday I interrupt my class to make sure that my middle schooler got in the house, locked the door behind her, and is OK. If she were actually in school like a "regular" day, I'd be able to get home before her and wouldn't have to interrupt my class. Aggravation!

In addition to those October changes to the regular schedule, my other child's aftercare program has an inservice day on a Monday this month -- so no aftercare that day (his Dad will have to take the afternoon off, because I teach Monday afternoons). All in all, SIX of my work days this month involve trying to find alternative care and/or not work (theoretically, I work M, W, F). I think I have more than enough justification for being irritated at the public schools. It's doubly ironic, since schools (and aftercare programs) are largely staffed by working women.

But my venting my frustration made my friend mad. True, in hindsight, I wish I had been a bit more diplomatic in my wording. In my defense, we are talking about a Facebook status line here...a place well-known for inflammatory wording intended to get people to respond (and that it did).

Anywho...she felt that I was venting at her expense, that I was not supporting public schools. She said I should either send my kids to private schools or not complain. She went on to mention several things that, indeed, many parents are not sufficiently aware of: her lunch break is all of 30 minutes; she deals constantly with kids with pretty terrible problems; she spends her "free time" calling DYFS or helping kids with homework; she annually spends more than $1000 of her personal income for school supplies that are not provided by the district; she works 10-12 hour days. She DESERVES these (often unpaid) days without the kids, so that she can get caught up on the latest changes to the curriculum. Indeed, if we parents think the constant changing of curriculum and testing is nuts, think of trying to change your teaching style or lesson plans every year or so. Indeed, teachers are "on" more than most of us are, and they are confronted with a bucketful of problems (everything from social work to curriculum changes to credentialing) all while having to maintain a professional demeanor in front of our unruly children. Yep, it's job I wouldn't want. But I'm so glad other people love the work (as my friend does) and that they do it well.

But my concerns (needing the schools to be in session for more days, and longer days at that) are not hers (needing more breaks, more support from parents, fewer additions to her teaching expectations, fewer hoops to jump through, fewer kids with problems). Her assumption about my problem ("your child care problems are not the school's concern") and the proposed solution ("go find out what is available in the community, or get together with other parents and establish it yourself, either be part of the problem or part of the solution") belie her simplistic interpretation of what is involved (and an assumption that I haven't already been looking for options). Sure, I'd love to part of the solution, but, frankly, this is a large-scale STRUCTURAL problem with our public schools, and it's gonna take a lot more than an occasional backyard camp or jumbo craft session with my kids and their friends to solve it. Similarly, my "Parents work! for God's sake! Why not teachers!" was just stupid, but also indicative of how deeply in my own world (my "paradigm") I was at the moment I wrote that.

But the interaction gave me a great opportunity to think of how ironic it is that the interests of parents and teachers are often NOT in sync. How unfortunate, because the ultimate goal -- raising the competent, confident leaders of tomorrow -- is. Time to get us all at the same table and find a paradigm and a structural solution that can benefit us all. Wanna come to the meeting? I make great coffee. But you gotta find the childcare. :)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Rumors, the Dairy Industry, and the Internet

Cass Sustein has a new book out that I want to read, "Rumors." From a little blurb I read in Time magazine, I learned that it's about the internet, and the well-known fact that rumors spread like wildfire here and that an alarming number of people think they can learn what they need to know from Wikipedia, Facebook, Google, Twitter and MySpace. It's also about WHY we believe what we read. As a legal scholar, Sustein wants to toughen libel laws. I know NADA about that, but it sounds like a good idea.

I mention all of this because, as you all know, I'm rather fond of the internet (Facebook, The Huffington Post blog, the NYT website, a few friends' blogs, and even Twitter). I find myself inundated with "information," much of it contradictory, and I myself don't know WHAT to believe. If somebody with a couple of masters degrees and a Ph.D. is in this position, how much more likely will somebody with far less formal schooling be also?? I actually think, when it comes to all this information, that the gift my education gives me is the gift of doubt. But honestly, not much more.

One example: the dairy-is-so-bad-for-you-and-the-environment argument. As most of you know, I've been mulling over this one for about five months now.

This argument is usually supported by the following claims:

1) Dairy cows are mistreated, so buying dairy directly supports this animal abuse. This claim I by-and-large believe.

2) Dairy is linked to all sorts of human maladies, from cancer to diabetes to obesity. Actually, I've read some info that claims exactly the opposite -- that dairy may provide some protection against colon cancer, for instance. And of course, the well-publicized claim that milk "does a body good." For now, I'm on the fence as to whether I believe that milk definitely CAUSES things like cancer and diabetes and obesity. I'm also on the fence about whether milk definitely PROTECTS against any of those, too. My jury, for now, is OUT. I'm hedging my bets by consuming far less dairy than most Americans, but I still have a little every now and then. People have, after all, been consuming milk and cheese for a L-O-N-G time.

3) Factory farming contributes to environmental degradation. I believe this one. Lots of animal waste runs off into water supplies, for instance. ICK.

4) The world could feed more people by growing PLANTS for them to eat than by using land for animal grazing. I believe this claim, too.

5) Cows are repeatedly raped (with a mechanical device filled with sperm) in order to be kept pregnant. I also believe this one. In general, this procedure (and claim #1) falls into the well-known pattern of whenever-something-is-commercialized-the-dangers-of-abuses-rise. Dairy farmers want to produce a lot of milk, so they resort to "techniques" to ensure just that. If you had your own cow in your backyard, you probably wouldn't be doing this, and you'd probably just milk her until she didn't give milk anymore (I've read that the average cow can give milk, decreasing in quantity over time, for about 2-3 years). If you owned a cow, you'd probably milk her for 24 months, then let her go to pasture, get a younger cow and start the process all over again. But most of us don't have a cow conveniently located in our backyards. Pity.

6) Only pregnant and recently-birthed cows produce milk. Actually, there are some breeds that can produce milk WITHOUT being pregnant; they are actually known as "maiden milkers" and "virgin milkers." And some breeds of cow naturally are big milk-producers (they are usually the breeds on dairy farms -- Holstein and Jerseys). However, these two facts are conveniently left out of most anti-dairy writings, because telling the whole story would kind of mess up the conclusion the authors want to present. Bad science. But great for the rumor mill. This is what I teach my students in my methods class NOT to do.

7) Cows are given all sorts of medicines (steroids, antibiotics) to increase their milk production. This is true, plain and simple. And it SHOULD give us pause about what's in our milk, cheese, ice cream, butter, sour cream, cream and yogurt.

8) Not only do these meds make their way into milk products, potentially at the expense of human health, but being kept lactating is animal abuse. Yeah, I believe this, only because the sheer quantity of milk that dairy farms want to produce would, in and of itself, lead to animal abuse. There's not a easy way around this, short of stopping mass production of milk and dairy products.

9) People are the only species that a) drinks milk past, say, two years, and b) drinks another species' milk. Most anti-dairy writings then conclude with the following: why should people continue to do something that no other species does? The reasoning here is that it MUST be wrong because it's the exception, not the rule. While initially this line of reasoning made me pause, I have to say, it's not actually that great an argument. In many ways, people ARE exceptional, and it's unlikely that we're going to change our ways to be like other animals. For instance, people also tend to get rid of lice, whereas other species live with it. Should we stop doing that, because that makes us different from other species? People also keep other species as pets, but this isn't a common practice among other animal species. (The occasional story of the monkey with a pet cat does not prove the rule.) Should we stop that?

The dairy arguments leave me very aware of rhetoric, and how tempting it is to believe it (particularly if it's written in a OH-MY-GOD-YOU'D-BE-A-FOOL-TO-BELIEVE-IT way). The bottom line, from what I've read on both sides of this issue: farm animals are mistreated; there is an alarming cocktail of crap in our dairy products; consuming dairy *might* be bad for your health or it *might* have some benefits; you can definitely get calcium from other food sources; factory farming is bad for the environment. What makes sense is for people to consume far less dairy, to consume far more plant-based foods, and to put pressure on farmers to find more humane ways to raise animals (meaning less production of dairy and meat). Included in that last point is the following: maybe we should teach farmers how to raise plants instead.

In the meantime, be wary of rumors masquerading as science and at the same time, allow yourself to consider novel information. You can't always believe everything you read. You CAN sometimes learn something from the internet. You don't have to believe one and not the other. Both things are true; in methods class, that's what I call avoiding a false dilemma. And that's not a rumor.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Persian Soup (Kinda)

I had this wonderful Persian soup yesterday at this little vegan/vegetarian-friendly place in Eugene, Caspian's. I liked it so much I googled "Persian soup" and found some recipes.

So, since today is my day "off" (meaning the day I shop, cook and do laundry), I decided to make Persian soup. The recipe below is from Recipezaar.com. Totally vegan recipe.

Iranian Barley Soup

1 c. dried barley
1/2 c. dry lentils (any color)
6 c. water
2 medium onions, chopped
2 T. olive oil
1 T. dried mint or parsley (I used 3 T. fresh parsley)
1 t. turmeric
1/2 t. ground black pepper

1. Put everything in pot and bring to boil. Simmer for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally
2. Add 1 c. cooked chick peas or red kidney beans a few minutes before serving. (I used chick peas.)

Variation: fry onions in oil before putting in pot. (I did this and I recommend it.)

So that's the very simple recipe.

Here's what I did differently.

I used 1 large onion instead of two medium ones. I added FIVE cups extra water (that barley absorbs and absorbs and absorbs). I added 1 bunch chopped fresh spinach and 1 can of chickpeas at the end.

I tasted the soup. VERY lackluster. I was so disappointed.

So, I added a little lime juice and a little curry powder. Still lackluster. It LOOKED like the soup I had yesterday (minus red beans, which theirs had), but something beyond the red beans was missing.

I looked around my kitchen and scoured some cookbooks for middle eastern recipes. While many recipes were virtually identical to the one I'd found on the internet, one (from "Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant") included crushed garlic and lots of fresh tomatoes. And some bay leaves and tomato paste and well...a few other things.

I decided to just add the tomatoes and garlic. This year, my garden runneth over with tomatoes (I have, oh, 45 tomatoes sitting on my kitchen windowsill). So, I grabbed five small ones, diced them up and added them to my stew. And then I added yet more water. That barley really is something.

I crushed three cloves of garlic and added 3 heaping teaspoons of Vege-Base (vegetable soup base mix) to the brew. I tasted it. Voila! Now I have a soup I like. And it's totally vegan. And easy to make and healthy.

Some of the per-serving nutrition facts from the original recipe: 334 calories, 8 g of fat, 16.4 g of fiber, 23% of your daily iron and 25% of your daily protein. Also high in vitamin B6 and low in sodium. Of course, my soup is a little different from the original recipe, but the soup is still high in fiber, iron and protein.


Saturday, October 3, 2009


My youngest son was SO helpful today. He had, well, a "witto accident," and I only discovered it when I walked into his room, where he was playing, and was practically knocked out by the smell of poop.

"WHERE IS THE POOP?!" I was in full-blown interrogation mode. I. HATE. POOP.

He looked up at me and angelically said, "Oh, don't worry Mommy! I cleaned it with a towel!"

"WHERE IS THE TOWEL?!" Still in interrogation mode. The evidence was overwhelming and I needed to get rid of it. STAT.

"Oh, Mommy, it's in the bathroom, hanging up! I hung it up! Come Mommy! I show you!"

Off he trots, on his chubby short legs, to show me where he has hung up the soiled towel.

I grab it quickly, and throw it, along with other towels and washcloths that, honestly, probably never touched the poop, into the laundry basket.

Then I notice his clothes. Not the same ones he had on earlier.

"YOU CHANGED YOUR CLOTHES! WHERE ARE YOUR CLOTHES?!" This is far too important a crisis for me to lower the interrogation level. We're at the red level here. No mellow yellow or anxious orange for me. Crisis. National threat alert.

"Oh, I washed them and put them away! Come Mommy! I show you!"

Off we go back to his room, where he cheerfully shows me a pair of soaking wet underwear that he has "cleaned" and put back in his drawer "to dry." I grab that, and any clothing that has touched that, and toss those also into the laundry basket. Then, for good measure, I grab the towel hanging on his doorknob and the clothes lying on the floor. Again, probably never touched the poop. But one can never be too sure.


Army sergeants have nothing on me, that's for sure.

He cried a bit during the bath, insulted as he was that I did not think he'd cleaned well enough. But miraculously, he helped pick up and vacuum his room and clean the bathroom.

The whole scenario brought back memories of my other son, at about the same age, telling me that "he'd had an accident earlier," but not to worry, he'd "picked up the poop off the floor with a spoon!"


Blank stare?

"Did you put it in the garbage?"


"Did you put it in the sink?"


"Did you" -- long shot here -- "put it in the dishwasher?"

"NO! I put it in the drawer where the spoons go!"

That time, I sterilized every spoon, fork and knife in the drawer and the drawer too.

I hate poop. And kids are only "helpful" when you're not asking them to be.