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.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

I'm SO glad I'm not in the dating world...

My friend sat in my kitchen last night, telling me of her *horrible* experiences in the dating world of 50-somethings.  She's a divorced, intelligent, funny, attractive woman with her child-raising years behind her (she started early).  She'd like an intelligent guy, with liberal politics, a decent career, and an ethical compass.  She also doesn't want to be saddled with child-rearing all over again.

"Are there NO decent men?"

Having been with the same guy since I was 18, I noted that I am *so* not the person to ask about dating.

She recently went to sell an antique church pew (she posted it online) and one guy told her he'd buy it from her if he could spend the night.

Seriously.  What CRAP.  She's supposed to put out in order to liquidate a piece of antique furniture?! (A piece of antique furniture from a church, no less?!)

Since she's been single, she's had dates with guys who:

**are married (but lied about it)
**are involved in long-term relationships (but lied about it)
**have children with special needs and basically want a woman to take care of them (but didn't divulge this information up front)
**have drinking problems (4 martinis in an hour?!)
**cannot be clear about what they *do* or about their past

She's starting to think that being single is for the best.

After watching from afar her experiences over the past year or so, I agree.

So, what do you think?  ARE there decent, single, 50-something men out there with brains, a good career, and an ethical compass?

Or, are the only proverbial fish left not worth catching?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

How to Steal From, and Lie To, Your Child

If you do, for heaven's sake, don't blog about it.  THAT just exposes your unethical behavior to the world.  Really, you should KEEP QUIET.

But IF you, say, steal a piece of candy from that tempting Halloween bucket of crap, and then don't fess up when asked about it, you might want to read this post.

Let's imagaine the scenario, shall we?

Your child comes home from school and asks to have ONE -- JUST ONE! -- piece of candy.  "As soon as you finish your homework," you say.  You expect a riot, but are surprised when your child obediently does his work and then goes to rifle through the meager remains of his Halloween loot.  He looks up, a bit forlorn, at finding only Jolly Ranchers and stale lollipops left.  "Uh, Mom, did you happen to take that last piece of Hersey's Dark Chocolate?"

"Oh, no, honey, you must have eaten it."


You think you're in the clear.  You're going to get away with it, even though you know that you shouldn't. But rationalizations abound:  your kid doesn't like dark chocolate as much as you; you've saved him from more sugar consumption; dark chocolate is really for adults, not kids.

Then, for reasons unknown to you, your kid goes to use your bathroom.  He emerges with a puzzled look.

"Mom, I think you MUST have eaten the candy, because I found the wrapper in your bathroom trash."


Lesson learned:  if you are going to steal from your child AND lie to the poor dear, at least have the good sense to take the wrapper outside to the garbage can.  Better yet, go stick it in the neighbor's trash can.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Handshake

Apparently a hullabaloo has ensued over a handshake. Michelle Obama extended her hand to a Muslim leader in Indonesia (a moderate Muslim country, but the leader in question practices a VERY conservative type of Islam which theoretically prevents him from having ANY contact with women not related to him).   He claims he didn't want to shake her hand but was "forced to".

There are times when my usual live-and-let-live, quite tolerant attitude toward religions is severely tested.

This is one of them.

What BULLSHIT.  So WHAT if she's female!  What century -- no, what millennium -- are we in?!  As far as I'm concerned, there is NO justification whatsoever to not shaking hands with a woman because she's a woman.  NONE.  I don't care what "beliefs" are involved; if they are that ridiculous and antiquated, they MUST be challenged.  They are simply intolerable.  

And to top that off, Michelle Obama is one of the most influential people -- not just among women but among men and women -- in the world.

But really, her status as the President's wife or as a representative of our country, or simply as a highly educated, very worldly woman shouldn't be what gets her past this guy's usual behavior.  This guy's behavior (and all others like him) has to be critiqued and called for what it is:  senseless, useless, ancient, repressive, sexist, abhorrent.

Am I too harsh?  Or not harsh enough?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

"You're Addicted"

Recently, I've found it hard to resist non-vegan food, particularly cheese.  Now, this is hardly unique; if the word-on-the-web is at all trustworthy -- which I'm not at all arguing that it necessarily is -- quite a few vegan types admit to missing cheese, finding it hard to pass up, and finding it the *key* stumbling block to being totally vegan.  

When I say that I've been craving it, I don't mean that I've gone all wide-eyed and prostitutional about it.  I just *miss* it and sometimes things with cheese (and to a lesser extent, eggs) look SO good.  A few days ago I was in a bakery where a Spanish tortilla was prominently displayed.  I REALLY wanted to eat it.


But I didn't.

Instead, I tweeted about it.

(When will I learn?!)

The responses I got back ranged from "you're addicted" to "remember the calf crying for its mother".  The suggestion that because I *wanted* to eat cheese was equivalent to the idea that I am *addicted* to cheese really intrigued me.  Not because I haven't heard such claims, but rather because there is quite a conceptual leap from craving something to being somehow pathologically addicted to it.

Like many medical terms with true meanings, this one has entered our popular culture and acquired a different meaning in the process.  We use it flippantly, the way we talk about active kids being "hyper" and a nervous friend being "neurotic" without really considering that kids who've been carefully evaluated for ADHD really DO stand out among their peers or that people who are truly neurotic are a tad more than just nervous.  The problem becomes when we start to believe that the "new" use of the term is as meaningful as the original.

The *medical* meaning of addiction can be found in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illness, the "bible" of psychiatry).  For somebody to be labeled "addicted" (most commonly to drugs or alcohol), they must have at least three of the following seven symptoms (Addictionsandrecovery.org):

1.  Tolerance. Has use of [in this case, dairy] increased over time?
2.  Withdrawal. When you stop using, have you ever experienced physical or emotional withdrawal? Have you had any of the following symptoms: irritability, anxiety, shakes, sweats, nausea, or vomiting?
3.  Difficulty controlling your use. Do you sometimes use more or for a longer time than you would like? 
4.  Negative consequences. Have you continued to use even though there have been negative consequences to your mood, self-esteem, health, job, or family?
5.  Neglecting or postponing activities. Have you ever put off or reduced social, recreational, work, or household activities because of your use.
6.  Spending significant time or emotional energy. Have you spent a significant amount of time obtaining, using, concealing, planning, or recovering from your use? Have you spend a lot of time thinking about using? Have you ever concealed or minimized your use? Have you ever thought of schemes to avoid getting caught?
7.  Desire to cut down. Have you sometimes thought about cutting down or controlling your use? Have you ever made unsuccessful attempts to cut down or control your use?

I would answer "no" to all these questions, though I spent some time thinking how writing a blog about not being addicted might somehow fall under symptom number six.  Yeah, I get the irony.  I do.

But I don't think I'm going out on a limb to say that at least according to the accepted medical criteria for "addiction,"  I do not qualify as being addicted to dairy.

What is interesting is *why* dairy has become something that, to some people, falls into the same maligned category as cigarettes, alcohol or drugs.

If I had said, for instance, that what I really craved was Tofurkey, nobody would have given me a lecture on the opiate response in the brain to tofu (though, if somebody REALLY loves something, their brain reacts in ways so pleasant that they want to repeat the experience...it *could* lead to "addiction," at least as the term is popularly used).  I'll discuss that in a minute.

In part, nobody would have given me a bad time about "craving" Tofurkey because *nobody really objects ethically to tofu*.  Cow's milk is offensive to some for primarily three reasons, which I've written about before.  To recap the highlights: it's from another species (why are humans drinking something designed for calves); it represents human use of animals which is ethically offensive; producing milk involves pain to the animals (both the cows through constant insemination in order to keep them lactating and to the calves who are removed from their mothers so that people can drink the milk).

People generally do not get criticized for being addicted to something unless their "addiction" somehow offends.   For example, cigarettes pollute the air for all of us and are considered a leading cause of lung cancer, so we tend to feel comfortable telling people they are addicted:  it'd be better for them AND US if they didn't smoke.  We also hear people say that they or their friends are "addicted to exercise," but we generally don't say this until we see that their commitment to (the noble goal of) exercise interferes with their relationships or becomes symptomatic of an eating disorder.

People who might think I'm "addicted" to dairy already have a problem with dairy.  Their claim about dairy addiction tells me more about their opinions  of dairy than it tells me (or them) about my actual patterns of dairy consumption or the behavior that I theoretically demonstrate when I cannot get some.

The strongest reason to give somebody in order to convince them NOT to consume dairy is the ethical one:  dairy involves true, verifiable pain to sentient animals.

One of the weakest reasons to give somebody in an attempt to convince them not to consume dairy is that dairy is addictive.  Using that reasoning, however, does highlight how accusing somebody of addiction is a form of socially acceptable shaming.  Theoretically, a person who learns they are addicted should be ashamed and want to change.

Brains produce endorphins when we exercise, when we laugh, when we have sex, when we eat chocolate.  Brains also release endorphins when we meditate.  In case you're wondering what endorphins "do":  they activate parts of the brain called opiate receptors.  In other words, endorphins make you feel good.

That last part is important; people who want to tell you you are addicted to something like to play the "opiate" card.  It sounds scary:  could eating cheese be as bad, for instance, as being hooked on a drug?  Could it be as *shameful*?

I've now heard many vegans claim that dairy is addictive, that it activates opiate receptors (which would be roughly equivalent, I think, to those receptors being activated via a good laugh or some good sex).  Curiously, when I googled "dairy addiction," I found lots of sites with this claim (but with no empirical data from trusted medical sources).  Both WebMD and JAMA had NO cites for any refereed journal articles on "milk addiction."  When I asked two doctor friends at church about the extension of the idea of addiction to dairy, they both laughed.  "There is a difference," they both said, "between really LIKING something and being addicted to it."

I found only ONE site that took the time to tease apart this claim and look at where it originated.

Guess what?  There is NO empirical evidence that dairy is proven to be addictive.  It *is* LOVED, culturally normative, widely consumed.  It *is* common from people to crave the very foods that affect them negatively (if you've ever tried to wean yourself from caffeine, you know what I mean).  It *is* also a common allergy and can contribute to health problems, particularly in sensitive people.

I'm not arguing that people should eat dairy, just that I'm not buying the don't-go-near-it-it's-addicting argument.   That isn't to say you cannot crave it, or obsess about it, or want it.  But craving and obsessing and wanting are distinct from being addicted.

I occasionally really want to eat cheese and eggs.  On occasion, I even do, in small quantities and usually when I'm not at home.

But I am NOT addicted.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Recipe Testing

You never know where a tweet will take you.

A few weeks ago, I tweeted that I'd like to be a recipe tester.

Now, *ideally* I'd not only like to be one, but I'd like to get paid for doing it.

A girl can dream...

Well....a few days after I sent that tweet, Vanessa Kimbell, who has a blog describing her upcoming cookbook, replied that I could test recipes for her though doing so would not involve money. 

That really is OK.  It's kinda fun to test somebody else's experiment.

We sent a few emails back and forth to each other, and after I told her that I'd prefer to test vegan recipes, she sent me one.  Turns out that her upcoming cookbook has many vegan recipes, so it should appeal to quite a broad audience. 

The recipe she had me test is Tomato and Garlic Pasta.   The recipe calls for "fresh Parmesan for serving," which my omnivore family members used.  I used a vegan version, Almesan, from Isa Moscowitz's Veganomicon (p. 207).   For copyright reasons I cannot describe that recipe to you, but it involves a lot of almonds and ends up tasting surprisingly like Parmesan. 

Back to the recipe I tested:  Vanessa is writing for a British (or at least broadly European) audience.  If you look at her recipe, you will see that it has metric quantities which Americans would need to convert. 

Aside:  I remember in second grade being told that we HAD to learn the metric system because by the time we grew up, the US would be using the metric system "just like every other country".  I guess I haven't grown up yet, because 35 years later, the US still uses a system brought over by the colonists!

Converting quantities really isn't so hard, except that the foods used (tomato puree, olive oil, spaghetti) do not readily come in the quantities requested, unless you go search for European imports at a specialty store.

I decided to make her recipe with quantities as close to those requested, but in the quantities that the products are most readily available in American supermarkets.  I used:

1 head of garlic
1 6 oz can tomato paste (known as "tomato puree" on the other side of the pond)
1/4 c. olive oil
1 lb spaghetti

You can look at her recipe to know how it's made; the only other change I made was to add a quarter cup of water to thin the sauce. 

The recipe was excellent and very cheap.  Garlic was on sale for 3 heads for $1, so the one head was about .33.  The spaghetti was .99 for one pound.  The tomato paste was .59.  Literally, for a little more than two dollars, I made a main dish that could serve six.  (Wine, bread, and a salad completed the meal.)

Here's a picture.  Though it's from her blog, I can attest that mine turned out to look just the same.


I look forward to testing more in the future!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Soccer Snacks

My youngest is now playing soccer, along with his older siblings.  It's adorable; the kids swarm around the field during their six five-minute three-on-three games like bumblebees.  They get very sweaty.  They have a lot of fun.  Some of them even seem to understand the basic rules.

But then comes the after-soccer "treat".  I'm used to this by now, since my oldest has been playing for nearly 10 years.  Most parents, even those who profess to be very concerned about health and particularly concerned that their kids stay fit, think that the after-soccer snack should be a "treat".

It's very ironic that such parents drag their kids from pill to post to make sure they get plenty of exercise and then hand them something like this:

Sorry the picture is small; that's a 10 oz. Nestle Juicy Juice Apple Juice and a Kraft Handisnacks Oreo Cookies 'n' Cream thing.

The juice has 140 calories and 33 grams of sugar.

The Kraft Handi-Snacks Cookies and Cream also has 140 calories and 13 grams of sugar (and 6 grams of fat).

According to this website, forty-six grams of sugar is equivalent to 3.8 tablespoons.  I measured that out; it looks something like this:

Anybody who reads this blog knows that I do not hold perfection up as the ultimate goal. But gosh darn it, we can do better than handing our kids 46 grams of sugar with next to NO nutritional value after a soccer game.

Irony?  I was debating folks yesterday at Consume This First about the benefits of bringing ice pops to soccer games.  (They were against; I was arguing they are hardly the worst choice.)  In fact, compared to what my kid got today, a popsicle looks positively healthy at 40 calories a pop and only 6.9 grams of sugar.  I agree that sliced oranges and water would be even better, but given the range of "bad" options, popsicles aren't so bad!

The Mom who is organizing the treats asked me if I wanted to participate.  She asked me this before I had even seen the treats for today.  Had I already known what was going to be offered, I might have phrased this differently, but I said:

"Sure!  I'd love to, but I have a bias in favor of healthy snacks and unprocessed food with no high fructose corn syrup."

She said, "Well...you can bring whatever you want to."

I said, "Well, I mean -- could we as parents kinda come to an agreement that we're ALL going to bring healthy snacks?  I mean, it's kind of ironic that we bring out kids out to play a sport and then sometimes feed them junk."

Her reply:  "If people already agree that they're going to put themselves out to bring a snack, we cannot tell them what then to bring."

There was a time in my life when I would have agreed with that. 

But now I no longer do.  Do you want your kid to be healthy?  Want to lower their risk of obesity and diabetes -- the former condition affecting up to 60% of US adults and the latter affecting up to 1 in 3 children born after 2000?  Step one might just be to stop feeding them so much sugar.

Whatever happened to after-dinner dessert being the only time during the day that people ate sugar?

Time to go back to the basics:  snacks are FOOD not processed junk.  And dessert is also FOOD and only once a day.

I'll be bringing the oranges and water.  We'll see what happens.

Friday, October 1, 2010


I'm pretty sure if I blogged about my days as often as other people do theirs, about 75% of my posts would be about cleaning.


It's not so much that I'm some fanatical person who needs everything just so.  I'm not Martha Stewart. 

Not at all.  I can put up with piles of paper here and there and shoes left askew in the entry hall.  I can live with the blind that needs repaired for a SCARY long time before I actually take it down and find a company that fixes blinds.  I can live with a broken shower door.  And I can tolerate (albeit with a good sigh or two) the sign on my daughter's bedroom door that reads, "My room was clean yesterday.  Sorry you missed it."

What I cannot put up with is literal horrible DIRT. 

But I have three kids.  Doing sports.  (Read:  There is a HELL of a lot of laundry and a lot of sticky surfaces.)

And a cat with an irritable bowel.
I'll spare you those details.

Anywho....I clean and scrub and pick up and organize and cook and shop and fold and iron. 


To help myself, I made the wonderful decision a few years ago to have somebody clean the house every other week.  (And the kids have chores, too and my husband *tries* though he is not, by nature, particularly aware of when things need to be cleaned.) 

Twice a month.  I can live with it, although I still twitch at the reality that I don't do *all* the housework the way, say, my mother did.

It feels fairly bourgeois and uncomfortable to admit.  But there it is.  I do have help.

Kind of. 

Said cleaning lady has now not shown up for FIVE scheduled cleanings (fortunately, not in a row). 

I've never fired somebody before.  But honestly, if you don't want the job or can no longer do it, is it too much to ask to just LET your employer know?

I waited around for her to show up.  She didn't.  I sent her a text.  She didn't reply.

She's gone.

So, I took off a whole day from my real work to clean today.

Benefit:  if you REALLY clean a house, top to bottom, there is *absolutely* no need to work out that day.  I was a sweaty mess when I was done (perhaps more so than usual because I also decided to clean out a cupboard or two AND I took apart the plumbing underneath my bathroom sink in order to take care of a clog myself). 

Today felt very productive.  The house looks pretty good.  The sink is draining beautifully.  Everybody has clean sheets on their beds and ALL the laundry is put away.

Unfortunately, something will need cleaned again tomorrow. :)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Bribery, A Mother's Best Friend

Some parents claim they never bribe.

I do.  I admit it, too.  I figure we all need to get paid and well, for kids, sometimes that is in a little cash (emphasis on "little") and sometimes it's a small treat (emphasis on "small").

My friends in sales might point out that parenting involves being a salesperson.  I argued the other day (in a private email to a friend who sells for a living) that I'm no good at it and that I'm more of a dictator than a salesperson as a parent.

Ew.  That sounds bad. 

But kinda true too.  I *hate* playing all those parenting games of incentives and sticker charts and "if you do this, I'll do that".  Just take a shower because I've explained 1000 times why it's important and frankly it's just socially normative -- it's what dirty people *do*.  Just take out the trash because you're a member of the family.  Just do your homework because it's expected and I want you to do well.  Reality.  That's the kind of Mother I am. 

Let's call me the Nike Mom.  Just. Do. It.

Turns out, however, I *do* occasionally try the sell tactic.

My sons have always hated haircuts and I have *hideous* stories of *atrocious* temper tantrums (one includes the kid vomiting) as evidence of their opinion of sitting still and being shorn.

The older one (now 10) outgrew that lovely phase quite some time ago and now *likes* getting his hair cut.  I think it has a lot to do with his impending pre-teen status and the fact that the girls who cut his hair (it's *always* a cute blond) chat with him and tell him he's so handsome.

The younger one, however (5) still acts as if getting a haircut is equivalent to undergoing chemo.  Honestly, he really acts up.  I've tried different places, different times of day, bribing with candy.  No go.  And it doesn't matter WHO says he's handsome.  He could not care less.

And the resulting professional haircuts have left quite a bit to be desired. (Nobody can cut well when the person is a constant target.)

Figuring that my own attempt could not POSSIBLY be worse that what we've seen before, I decided to bribe.  Big time.

I went out and bought a $24.99 hair cutting kit at CVS.  Seriously, in two haircuts the thing pays for itself.

I then sat the lad down for a talk.

"You like Star Wars Legos, right?"

"YES!"  Good, client is hooked.

"Well, if you sit real still and let Mommy cut your hair, I will let you buy a $5 Lego toy."


And he did it.  Holy moly, now I wonder if this would have worked say, two years ago.  (I doubt it; three-year-old boy self-control  or ability to postpone gratification aren't well-known phenomena.)

So we went to Target to purchase the bribe.

Oh, those Lego people.  They *know* how to get parents over a barrel.  Anything under $5 is so ridiculously small that it's really, well, ridiculous.  And the selection was horrible -- nothing Star Wars-related at all.

So we ended up purchasing a $10 Star Wars Lego toy.  Still less than the price of a professional haircut.

And we're both happy.  Here is the haircut.

 Here is the toy.

Successful sale. Satisfied client; satisfied salesperson.

But seriously, just go brush your damn teeth, OK?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Professional Mothers

I find it ironic that mothers who work outside the home (like me!) are sometimes referred to as "professional mothers" while mothers who work exclusively at home (not earning income  -- "just" being at home with their kids) earn the title, "stay-at-home-Mom".

Seems, actually that the latter category often presents themselves in such a way that THEY should be labeled "professional mothers".  Some of them not only do a *wonderful* job with their kids -- they do --  but they also have spotless yards, perfectly decorated homes, 2.5 pets, AND find time to volunteer, teach Sunday school, exercise AND get regular mani-pedis.  Some of them, in fact, have made staying home into such an elaborate job that they truly present themselves as professionals, with standards so high and schedules so tight that in fact they make the rest of us look a little.  bit.  bad. 

Or at least lazy.

Not that I resent them.  Oh, gosh, I wouldn't actually say that.

Who am I kidding?  Yes, sometimes I would.

Yesterday, at my son's kindergarten soccer practice, a few Moms -- who clearly are close friends -- show up, put up a tent, a portable table, chairs for the kids (aren't they playing a game?) and chairs for themselves and then proceed to lay out a spread of fresh fruit, water or juice, and home-baked cupcakes, complete with a fancy tiered cupcake tray.

Professional mothers, I tell you.  Very smart presentation.  Highly organized.  High client appeal.

Good lord.  OVER. THE. TOP.  If this is what they do for the second practice, what are they going to do at the end of the season?!

But then, sometimes I just "phone it in", or at least that's what I'm sure they would think of my just bringing a bottle of water for my kid and expecting him to wait until we get home to actually eat. 

The practice is 45 minutes, folks, and we all live within fifteen minutes of the field.

I do think, however, that THEY, not women like me, deserve the title, "professional mothers".

Perhaps I should take notes from their blackberries...

Monday, September 13, 2010


I am.

I admit it.

Yesterday, at my daughter's soccer game, I was visiting with some of the Moms (while trying to watch my daughter in front of me and my son in back of me; forgive me if I didn't take in *all* of the game).

I thanked one of the Moms -- I had just met her the day before -- for bringing my daughter home the previous day.  (Long story short:  my husband was out of town, the city-wide soccer jamboree was in full swing, and I was driving my daughter all weekend to her *six* games and driving my son to his *four*; this Mom was gracious enough to give my daughter a ride so that I didn't have to criss-cross the city *again* that day.  It goes without saying that OF COURSE the kids' games were nowhere near each other and overlapped in terms of time.)

She replied, "Oh, no problem!"  Then one of the other Moms asked where I live.

Mom #1's reply:  "She lives in that RICH neighborhood with the BIG houses."

Mom #2:  "Nice!"

Me:  "I still feel embarrassed admitting I live there."

Immediately I'm thinking (but not saying out loud):  Why should I apologize for where I live or for what kind of house I live in?  Isn't their discomfort *their* problem? Why am *I* uncomfortable?

Apparently, these women are uncomfortable with where I live, which makes me uncomfortable, too, because golly gee whiz, I don't want somebody to assume stuff about me or my personality based on the size or location of my house.  I feel compelled to tell them that my last house was WAY smaller (it was), and that the cost of living here compared to where I used to live made it possible for us to buy a house that we wouldn't have been able to afford back East (true). 

But should I feel that I *have* to offer them any justification at all?

I think not.

But I did (see above) because their discomfort went directly through my thin skin.

They hurt my feelings, essentially.

THEN today I take my son to Kindergarten.

My lovely, playful, charming son who was described by his preschool teacher as being in the "bottom third" of his class.  Well, another mother is there, talking about how her daughter (also in K) is swimming across the pool, riding her bike without training wheels, reading and "writing all the time".

Needless to say, my son is doing NONE of that.

Yes, I am thin-skinned and feeling very inadequate.

But I do have a great house. :)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


I've been 'almost vegan' long enough that eating vegan at home is easy.  But I still find doing so out of the house to be a challenge, particularly if I'm staying at somebody else's house.

I've just returned from a two-week trip to spend time with my East Coast family, during which we celebrated my in-laws' 50 years of marriage.  It was a lovely trip and my in-laws were very supportive of my dietary choices.

However...I had to make some concessions in my diet because a) I couldn't stock their pantry and fridge with my stuff and then drag it back to the other side of the country and b) I couldn't expect to use their kitchen every day.  I did go out and buy tofu, soy milk and tempeh.  I did not buy fake cheese, fake butter, fake ice cream, or any of the other vegan items (such as stevia or agave) that I generally use at home. 

Translation:  this "almost vegan" ate some dairy while on vacation.  I found it the most convenient compromise.  I did NOT, however, eat meat or eggs (though I suspect the one piece of anniversary cake may have had eggs in it). 

While at their house, I ate an incredibly boring diet of oatmeal in the mornings, coffee with soy milk (and white sugar), toast (with butter), brown rice and tofu and veggies (or tempeh) for dinner, and a tempeh and veggie sandwich and fruit every day for lunch.  It was all fine, but monotonous. 

I did cook for them twice:  pinto and plantain stew (from Veganomicon) and a veggie and tempeh stir fry (they added shrimp to their portions, though they said they liked the tempeh).  During the week I watched them eat lobster, veal, chicken, eggs, bacon, liverwurst, turkey and ham, cheese, yogurt, ice cream.  They also eat fairly big portions of fruit and veggies every day, but watching them eat made me aware AGAIN of how many animal products I am NOT eating anymore.  (For the record, I have NEVER had veal.) 

When we went out for their anniversary dinner -- at a very nice Italian place -- I asked the cook to prepare an eggplant dish without the smoked mozzarella (but GOD it looked so good!) and to just give me a side of pasta.  Done.  Vegan even while at a VERY non-vegan restaurant.

I did have a *little* ice cream and I did have that piece of their anniversary cake.  Should I feel terribly guilty? 

I don't particularly, though I know there are vegans who would never have made these concessions, even while on vacation, and even while living in somebody else's house. 

Would YOU have taken over somebody else's kitchen?  Why or why not?  What concessions, if any, do you make if you are staying in somebody else's house?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Then I Opened My Big Mouth...

So...I got myself elected/appointed "Parish Education Chair" at church.  I'll skip the story of how THAT happened and just say that technically, I'm kinda helping to oversee ALL education this year -- from preschool to adult.  This also means I'm now on church council.

Joy.  (They are very nice people, but the timing of the monthly meeting -- third Wednesdays at 5:30 -- is less than ideal, in fact WAY inconvenient.  What would be wrong with, say, 7:30?)

It's one of those things I cannot change -- there are other things that go on on Wednesday nights and really, other things that go on EVERY night and this is, well, the established time and theoretically the most convenient for the most people.  But not for me. 

I'll live.

Back to topic -- at the first meeting I mentioned that there were a few things on MY agenda that I think are relevant to parish education.  First?  Gender inclusive language to refer to God.  Get rid of "Lord," "He," "Father," "Kindgom," "King".  Replace with such phrases as "Our Loving Creator," "the Almighty" "Our Parent," "Realm," "Ruler".  In the last two churches I belonged two (the previous SEVENTEEN years prior to coming to this church), this was already done.  Prayers had been rewritten to get rid of patriarchal language; hymns and creeds as well. A statement as to WHY this was done was in EVERY bulletin, EVERY week, as well as in the church information available in every pew.  The reasoning?  God is NOT human, does NOT have any genitalia that we know of and continuing to refer to God as male continues a tradition of lifting men above women -- something *most* people these days think is wrong.  Whether or not this is explicitly stated is irrelevant -- when that which is MOST HIGH is referred to as male, people get the image that males are higher or better than females.  It's inherent in the structure of the concepts, which is precisely why the language should change.

So in the first meeting, I mentioned that at the very least, we should get the teachers to refrain from exclusively referring to God as "He" or "Father" in Sunday School classes. Get the kids to talk about various ways of imaging the divine and get the older kids to talk about the patriarchal culture that has dominated religion(s) and how that limits how we think of God.

Lead. Balloon.  One guy said that his daughter is not so insecure as to think that one must refer to God in gender neutral terms in order to feel good about herself.  He also said to me that "if you need a more liberal church, you should go to a more liberal church".

I'll get back to THAT in a minute.

Referring to God in gender neutral or gender inclusive terms is as "normal" to me as eating breakfast in the morning.  I don't think of God as human; I do recognize that Jesus was an historical  figure and a male one so I do not mind referring to *him* as *he*.  But not God.

So being in a church that does NOT use inclusive language (one pastor told me, when I discussed this with him briefly last year, "Well, THAT will never happen") is increasingly intolerable.  It's not enough that *I* generally change the terms when I recite the creeds or prayers or read in front of the congregation.  It really bugs me that so few in the church think as I do.  (If they do, they are mighty silent about it.)

A few weeks ago, I was the reader in church.  I changed words such as "kingdom" to "realm" and "He" to "God" and I also changed the traditional ending, "The word of the Lord" to "Here ends our lesson".  (To which the traditional response is "Thanks be to God," something that does not need changing.)  The one pastor for whom this is blasphemy pointed to me my "mistake".  Uh, no.  Not a mistake.  (The changes had been cleared, by the way, by the director of children's and family ministry and by the senior pastor, though it is entirely possible that the younger pastor did not know this.)

The point?  I don't know how much longer I can take this, yet here I am, appointed Parish Education Chair.

As if the whole rigmarole about inclusive language isn't enough (the senior pastor thinks of it as "optional," meaning that readers may change the words if they want to), I then had another "brilliant" idea.

Every year, our church has a Blessing of the Animals Sunday (Oct 3 this year).  Lovely tradition.  Everybody brings their pets (or pictures of their pets -- no horses have yet to show up at church) and each one receives a blessing and a treat.  The kids, in particular, LOVE this Sunday.  Pets (at least those unlikely to have an accident) are even allowed in the sanctuary.

So, it occurred to me that the previous Sunday (Sept. 26) would be good to have an animal theme for adult education hour.  I mentioned that one of the challenging issues of our time is animal rights and that it would be a thought-provoking discussion (NOT SERMON) to have and we could tie it back to two church traditions -- the Blessing of the Animals Sunday and the church task force, Caring for Creation (which has presented on such topics of supporting local farmers and reducing food-to-grocery-store-miles).  We could even briefly explore how the Genesis command of "have dominion over all" has perhaps led to some things we should re-think. 

Logical?  I think so.  Could I do it without proclaiming that everybody go vegan?  Yes, I could.  Am I willing to?  Again, yes, even though I think going vegan is the logical conclusion to the facts about animal suffering, HUMAN health, and environmental degradation.

So, what was the initial response?  A few people said yes (and by the way, I *do* have the blessing of the council to do the talk).  But two people were less than responsive -- one guy (who used to run the adult education hour) said that I have to "present the opposing side".  What is that?  As my (omnivore) husband joked, "the NRA".  Even the senior pastor (in a separate meeting) joked, "the opposite side is 'let's kill the animals!'".  (His daughter is vegan; I suspect that little fact makes him immediately see the ridiculousness of requiring the "opposing view".)

What REALLY gets me, though, is that I've NEVER seen any other speaker during adult education hour have to present anything other than what he or she is there to present (end of life decisions, archeology in Israel, missionary trips, history of Handel's Messiah, etc.).  WHY should *I* be required to do differently? 

It's a tough topic -- thinking that animals HAVE rights is revolutionary and I'm the first to admit that it still makes me a bit twitchy.  But it's a great topic BECAUSE it isn't easy.  It's also a great way to let people know what's involved in those eggs or meat or milk that they routinely purchase.

There is always a tension between fighting the good fight in a place that arguably isn't ready for it or joining those who have already fought it.  Once, back in Divinity School, I asked Professor Krister Stendahl (former Bishop of Sweden), whether or not one should bring up controversial topics in church or whether one should be more quiet about them.  He looked at me and said, 'Well, sister, some people fart on the inside and some fart on the outside.'  I *think* that means there's no clear answer and some people are destined to push the envelope and others are destined to walk away to a place that is more comfortable for them.

Holy Moly.  I am SO wishing I hadn't volunteered to do this talk.  And that guy who suggested maybe I should find another church?  Maybe he should know that idea isn't too far from my mind.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Gene Baur's Farm Sanctuary

Several weeks ago, I promised a blog on the books I've been reading on animal rights.  A few of you might be wondering when the *heck* I'm gonna write about those.

I've been, of necessity, reading about status and health, epidemics and stratification, medicalization of everyday conditions, cultural interpretations of symptoms and the history of medicalizing women's lives.  (My fall class is Sociology of Health and Medicine.)

In other words, I *still* haven't finished the pile of animal rights' books I've bought and been slowly reading. 

Rather than wait to write until I've finished *all* of them -- my original plan -- I've decided to write about each one separately.

I have now read Gene Baur's Farm Sanctuary (Touchstone Press, 2008).  I suspect I read it first because the picture of the pig on the cover is so darn cute.  I also LOVE autobiographies, and although this isn't billed as one, you learn an awful lot about who Gene Baur is as a person while reading it.

Who cannot get into the story of a guy, raised in Hollywood, who majored in sociology (!) and ended up being inspired by activists Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman?  A guy who worked as an intern for Ralph Nader and was equally inspired by a talk by Carl Sagan?  A guy who spent some time hitchhiking trying to figure out what to do with his life -- something that would "match [his] values"?  A guy who stayed in a hotel across the street from the New Holland (PA) stockyard and ended up rescuing a sheep who had been abandoned in the trash?  A guy who initially funded his sanctuary by selling vegetarian hot dogs at Grateful Dead concerts?  A guy who proves that "you can achieve amazing things even by the humblest means" (p. 41)?

Gene Baur is my kind of guy, and not just because he majored in sociology.

In some ways, the story of his journey starts on page 23: 

"One hot and humid Sunday in August 1986, as we walked by the dead pile, we saw
carcasses of a cow, a couple of pigs, and some sheep decaying in the heat
-- nothing unusual....  As we approached, something remarkable happened: 
the sheep lifted up her head and looked at us....
we knew we couldn't leave her on the dead pile to linger, possibly for days....
We didn't stop to think about what we were doing. 
This is how he and Lorri (then his wife) began rescuing animals discarded by the factory farming industry.  (The sheep lived, by the way.)  They established a sanctuary for animals in upstate NY (and another in CA) and when they were not rescuing animals, they were documenting inhumane conditions, illegal activities, and putting forth legislation to improve the lives of farmed animals.

The book is chock-full of statistics about factory farming, slaughtering practices, the evils of genetic modifications, environmental calamity, diseases, and the reality that animals are treated as simply objects for our use. I'm not going to reiterate all that here (except for detailing the problems with dairy and genetic engineering below), but I will say that if you've been living under a rock and *don't know* how bad the system is for animals, for the environment and FOR YOU, then you should read the book. 

If you *don't want to know* you should read it too.  Selective ignorance isn't attractive and it certainly isn't an excuse to think that it's OK to keep to traditions just because it's "culture" or "the norm". 

If after reading the book you still think that eating a vegan diet a few days a week isn't a reasonable compromise between an omnivore culture and a vegan one, then I'm not sure I can think you're a reasonable person.  Honestly.  The data is just too strong not to think otherwise.

Though he writes forcefully and convincingly, Baur advocates politeness and reasoned dialogue (p. 65) and a sensitivity to the farmers who, understandably, don't know what life they will go to if they give up what they know (p. 63).  Those are two other reasons why I love his book.  He is unfailingly polite and sensitive to how hard it is for people to change. But that doesn't mean change isn't possible, even against enormous odds.  He proves that it is.


Committed vegans know this, but for my readers who do not, it's worth a few paragraphs.

Few people fully realize why dairy is as inherently violent a food choice as meat.  Though I have blogged in the past that there is a distinction between use of animals that involves death (meat) and use of animals that allows them to live (honey, milk, wool), it's increasingly clear to me that, unfortunately, it isn't all that clear.  I wish that it were.

As Baur writes, there is NO use for a male calf on a dairy farm (pp. 99-110).  Most male calves are taken from their mothers within days of their birth, raised in crates so small they cannot turn around, and fed a liquid diet intentionally low in iron and fiber in order to keep their flesh pale. They are then slaughtered at 20 or 24 weeks.  Some are slaughtered even earlier and end up in TV dinners.

I've greatly summarized the story of veal here in order to make clear the same point Baur does:   DAIRY IS NOT INHERENTLY NON-VIOLENT.  It's a tough lesson, and one that depresses me greatly, not just because I love dairy (I DO!) but because in the days prior to factory farming one, arguably, could have milked one's cow in the backyard and, at least for several YEARS, given that cow and her calves good lives.  (Not a vegan position, but an acknowledgement that dairy coming from an old-fashioned family farm would have definitely involved less violence than dairy from ANY source today, including...drumroll please...organic farms.)

If you care about the treatment of calves, you shouldn't eat dairy.  It's not enough just to give up veal or meat.


A theme throughout the book is how often the animals at the farm sanctuary suffer from physical ailments.  Some of you who eat meat will undoubtedly be thinking "Well, that's why we kill them and eat them first, before they get old and suffer!"

(Clearing throat.)  NO, that's NOT the point. As Baur writes,

"People often comment on Opie's [steer rescued as a calf] size...
A few of [the steers whose mothers were dairy cows] weigh up to three thousand pounds. 
One reason the steers are so large is that the dairy industry has genetically bred cows
for more and more milk production, which has had
the unintended result of producing bigger animals..." (p. 68).

Need another statistic?  Dairy cows now produce 53 POUNDS OF MILK PER COW PER DAY -- three times as much milk as they produced only fifty years ago (p. 113).  It's impossible not to see that the cows are treated as machines, genetically modified for OUR -- certainly not THEIR -- benefit.

What about this?  Pigs and chickens (and cows and turkeys, too) are bred to grow to "such sizes so that their bodies provide more of the parts people like to eat" (p. 137, regarding pigs).  "[B]roilers have been selectively bred to grow twice as fast and twice as large as normal" (p. 149) and have been "genetically manipulated to develop extra-large breasts" (p. 151).  Turkeys routinely suffer fatal heart attacks and are commonly lame AND are so big and shaped so oddly that they cannot mount and breed naturally (p. 160). 

Because of these realities, pigs at the sanctuary are usually unable to live out their intended lifespan and usually have to be put down at 8 or 9 years old because they are so big that they have trouble moving around (p. 137). (Wild pigs can live much longer and move around just fine.) 

Baur writes that

"[b]ecause our society mainly eats the young,
Farm Sanctuary is one of the few places in the country where it is possible
to see the long-term effects of breeding for productivity and industrial confinement.
As they age, the animals need additional care. 
Genetic alterations and the industry's standard practices
have compromised their health in irreversible ways" (p. 230, emphasis mine).

Baur has profiles of rescued animals scattered throughout the book, and many of them end up receiving special care as they age.  Perhaps it is telling that three chickens, Tofutti Cutie, Taboo, and Milky Way (p. 175) -- rescued from the carnage of Hurricane Katrina -- only get one sentence instead of an entire profile.  I suspect that, due to extreme genetic engineering inherent in chicken farms, they led short lives characterized by difficulties walking (due to heavy breasts) and breathing (also due to genetic modifications).  The sentence,
 "[they] were able to enjoy the rest of their lives with
a degree of comfort denied to their fellow Buckeye layer hens" (p. 175)
suggests that I may be right.

How sad.  And all because people like to eat white meat and want it quicker.

Ultimately, Baur believes that vegan is the way to go because doing it is environmentally sustainable and because it removes one from the cycle of violence inherent in ALL farming (p. 218). 

No review would be complete without a few picky criticisms.

There are a few places in the book where I wish he would have cited better.  For example, on page 212, he writes,

"...In 2005, sales of organic foods in the United States were nearly $14 billion. 
That's about 2.5 percent of the total retail market for food,
still just a fraction of the astounding $894 billion Americans spent on food in 2005." 

I don't doubt that last number as much as I wish I knew were it came from.  If you divide that number  by the (July 2009) Census Bureau US population statistic of 306,861,871, you get an annual per capita food expenditure of $2913.36.  For a family of five, that would be $14,566 per year or about $8 per day per person. If you divide $14,566 by 12, you get an expenditure of $1200 per month -- that seems a bit high to me.  I wonder how people arrived at that statistic of how much Americans spend on food.  What does that number include?  Eating out? Groceries AND other stuff you get at the grocery store, such as pet food and cleaning supplies? 

It would be good to know, but the info isn't there.

Similarly, he writes that a "noted writer" for The Washington Post has written that the cause of compassion of farm animals is "the moral calling or our time" (p. 190) and that the Slow Food movement began in Italy in 1986 (p. 217).  I'd love to read the Post article and know who that author is and I'd love to know where Baur got the date of 1986.  Alas, I'll have to do my own sleuthing to figure it out.

When thos are the worst criticisms you can lay at the feet of an author, that is pretty darn high praise.

His sociology professors should be proud. :)

Sunday, August 1, 2010


My son has a new friend.  NICE kid.  Goofy sense of humor.  Polite and responsible.  Puts his dishes in the sink without being asked and takes off his shoes at the front door too.  Gets along well with all my kids.  I enjoy having him over. 

So, I was kinda taken aback when, out of the blue, he says "I shot a goose this morning for fun." 

The boys were playing a game on the computer in the kitchen while I was making PB&J sandwiches.  I spun around.  WHAT?!!!

"Well, not with a *real* gun," he tells me.  "Just an air gun."

Mind you I have *NO* guns in the house, other than two small squirt guns.  In my opinion, *any* gun more powerful than a supersoaker should not be in a house, and definitely not where a child could get their hands on it.

(I don't even know what the hell an air gun is.)

"Did you kill it?" I asked.

"No," he said, "but I did kinda hurt it."  He motioned with his arms, indicating that perhaps one wing was injured.

I didn't bother pointing out that if he hurt it, he might as well have killed it because it probably won't be able to defend itself or fly or might suffer a slow painful death.

I just asked, "Why, honey?  WHY?"

He suddenly looked sad.  As if that had never occurred to him.  "My parents told me I shouldn't do that again.  They were mad at me.  It just seemed fun."

"FUN"?  "Barbaric" is a better word.  But I'm also very sure that he's not the first boy (or girl) to think that shooting an animal is "fun".

I said, "Well, the goose probably didn't think it was 'fun'.  Next time, think of how the animal might feel."

"Yeah," he said.  He looked tearful, so I didn't say anything more.

This is not a deranged kid.  He's not being raised by crazy parents, either (Mom's a doctor; Dad's a nurse and they've both done medical stints in Africa).  These are GOOD, caring people. 

But for some reason, the parents have a gun in their house and their kids (at least the oldest) have access to it.

My kids will not be playing over there until I have assurances that a) all guns are LOCKED away, b) kids have no access to the keys to said locks, and c) ammunition is stored somewhere else.

Which means, of course, that my kid may never get to go over to their house.

I pray the goose died quickly.  :(

Saturday, July 31, 2010


Last night, I made a three bean salad (kind of a mix between the recipe my mother used to make and one from Freedman and Barnouin's Skinny Bitch in the Kitch).  With that, I served watermelon, pickles, tomato slices and "chik'n" gardenburgers on whole wheat buns.  And well, my husband did sneak in some non-vegan "Pirate Booty" as a side item.  (The boys were thrilled; I, of course, don't eat that.)

Miracle of miracles -- EVERYBODY was happy with the food.  If you've read very many of my family-oriented posts, you know getting four people (my daughter is away this weekend) to like the same food is indeed a miracle.  (To be fair, it's also a miracle when everybody is happy with a non-vegan meal, too.)

THEN, my 10-year-old announced he's vegetarian.  Now, this boy LOVES meat, so I'm not expecting that this vegetarian thing is going to be permanent (at least, I'm not expecting it to stick right away). 

Since I am very aware of the tendency for parental enthusiasm to backfire (that is, to cause the child to do a 180), I just kinda...shrugged.

"Oh!  Hm!  OK!  Uh...why?"

He was equally nonchalant.  (He's nothing if not perceptive...I'm sure he knew *exactly* why I was acting so uncharacteristically unimpressed by a declaration of vegetarianism.)  "Well," he said, taking his time to answer, "I just think I like the food."  He shrugged back at me and put yet more ketchup on his burger. 

Maybe Reagan was right that ketchup counts as a vegetable in the diets of children...they certainly eat far more that the recommended serving size.

My husband and I shared a conspiratorial wink across the table. 

I thought about all the things I could say -- animals that were (theoretically) alive because he wasn't eating meat, environments saved because he wasn't contributing to animal agriculture, improved health.

I kept quiet.  For now, it's enough if he decides he just....likes the food.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Sociologist and the Horse Wrangler

Though it's not a "vegan" thing to do, I love riding horses.  Once  a year, like clockwork, I ride a horse during my annual trip to scenic and largely unspoiled Central Oregon.  

I'm currently reading several books on animal rights and will blog about those later.  For now, the thought-provoking two-hour conversation I had with my trail guide is worthy of a post.

Rich, the trail guide, provided me insight into the worldview of somebody who a) works CLOSELY with animals daily (and has for his entire adult life) and b) is neither vegan nor vegetarian.  During the past 15 months, most of my conversations about veganism have been with other vegans, thus limiting my ability to explore veganism from any other perspective.  Riding with Rich brought me an opportunity to see the world through a different lens.

I was, of course, using a saddle and reins, both made of leather.  In a sense, not only was I sitting on top of a horse and expecting him (Bandana) to work for me, but I was indirectly sitting on top of a cow too.  The irony that an "almost vegan" was doing this (and thoroughly enjoying it) was not lost on me.

But that was only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Rich is a late middle-aged, spurs-sporting, chaps-wearing, leathery-skinned, skinny, hardworking, scrappy ol' cowboy if there ever was one.  He would look absolutely out of place pretty much anywhere but where he works (in a modern stable and in the spacious protected forest abutting a popular Central Oregon family resort).  Still, he's personable, funny and honest.  When asked about his way of life, he readily admitted that he was a dying breed, that "we're [cowboys] going extinct". 

That made me a little sad.  I'm nothing if not proud of my Western heritage and the spirit of exploration, hard work, and connection to the land and animals that goes along with that. 

A brief aside:  my grandparents grew up in South Dakota on a family farm and moved to Oregon when my mother was four.  My grandfather then ran a cement-laying business.  During the war, when meat rationing was occuring, my grandmother raised rabbits for food; from what I've heard it wouldn't be a stretch to call it a type of factory farming, though on a much smaller scale.  From a purely economic perspective, it was a smart decision:  rabbits multiply quickly, grow quickly, and are rather easily handled.  While Grandpa was sent off to war, Grandma raised the kids AND managed the rabbit-raising business.  Her father did the slaughtering.  She delivered the meat to her customers.  When few families had neither jobs nor meat, her family had both. 

Grandpa always yearned to get back to farming -- what he called REAL farming, not the kind where you simply raised a ton of animals for everybody else to eat.  So, after retirement, he bought a teeny ranch in Eastern Oregon and happily raised his horses, his cow and his chickens there.  It was really nothing more than hobby for him, but he had the space and the income to have a decent, though simple, ranch.  He worked himself to the bone, literally, taking care of his land and his animals, but as everyone in the family says, he absolutely LOVED it.  I never remember him coming to our house (in the city) without his cowboy hat or his cowboy boots.  He knew his animals like he knew his children and he knew the name of every plant he came across.  And yet he was never formally educated.

Rich reminded me a lot of my grandfather -- lean, suntanned, horse-loving, and knowledgeable about the landscape and the creatures that share it. During the ride, I learned about ponderosa pines (they can weather forest fires and if left alone, have periodic fires to clear out the underbrush every 15-35 years).  I learned about sage rats and chipmunks (they'll eat anything -- including over peppered hamburger helper, something Rich learned when he accidentally poured an entire jar of pepper in his dinner and left it aside, only to find, a half hour later, about 30 sage rats happily gobbling it up).  I learned about elk, badgers, deer, wolverines, raccoons, eagles and hawks.  Rich told some scary tales of vacationing parents encouraging their kids to go pet the deer; as Rich said, some people just should never be allowed in a forest.  (Deer will indeed attack...they are WILD creatures, even if usually beautifully docile.)  

Rich knows his surroundings in a way that few modern, city-bred people do.  Though his perspectives on many things differ wildly from mine, I admire his relationship with his environment and with his horses.  He criticizes modern clear-cutting and intentional forest fires, as he sees these as ruining the environment.  He criticizes factory farming, for it's "not how animals are supposed to live".  If it were not for his hunting, he'd actually fit quite well into the vegan "let it live" mantra.  How ironic, huh?

My grandfather would talk about his animals as if they were people --the horse that wouldn't let a child ride her and the one that would ONLY let children ride him.  The horse that only let my grandfather ride her, but nobody else.  The cow that, Grandpa claimed, was so stubborn that she reminded him of his headstrong sister, so he named the cow after her. 

Rich talked about the horses we were riding in a similar way.  For example, he described Bandana as a strong-willed, smart horse who tests his riders  to "see if you're higher than him or if he is higher than you". Despite having just been grazing prior to the ride (I saw that), Bandana tried to eat the ENTIRE ride and without warning would just start off running.  I asked Rich if he'd put me, a mother of three, on Bandana rather than either of the two young women with us (my daughter one of them).  "Absolutely," he said.  "YOU can handle Bandana."

I can attest that Bandana tried my nerves, my abilities, and my patience the entire ride.  It was, a little bit, like riding one of my stubborn, impulsive children.  But I think I passed Bandana's "test".  And I kept telling Bandana he was a "good" horse.  It felt like the right thing to do, much like telling a trying child that you still think he's OK.

Many have argued, and I heartily agree, that as factory farms have replaced family farms, the kind of *knowing* relationship between people and domesticated animals has been largely lost.  And that is sad.  Whether you eat meat or not, it's hard not to see this is a type of loss. It's probably the case that one of the few places left where one can meet a "real" cowboy, and get some appreciation for their unique knowledge base, is, indeed, at a resort where one of the recreational activities offered is guided horseback rides led by somebody whose knowledge and skills are useless in virtually all other modern environments.

If you were to see Rich on the street, you'd probably think of him as a "hick".  He dresses like one:  old jeans, threadbare button-down shirt, chaps, cowboy boots and hat.  His skin tells me that despite a job that requires him to be outdoors in the Oregon desert, he doesn't use sunscreen.  His teeth aren't that great and I don't think he uses a comb all that often.  He appears neither worldly nor bookish, though of course I didn't actually quiz him on his hobbies.  I learned that he basically lives off the land by hunting and fishing; to make some money, he works as a trail guide.  I doubt very much he has decent health coverage.  He explained to me that he lives at the edge of a protected forest where his backyard is, essentially, something like 500,000 acres of forest. 

His view of the world is, understandably, WAY different from somebody who lives, for instance, in NYC or even in one of the "big" cities in Oregon, or, really, anybody whose livelihood does NOT depend on knowing how to get along with, or work with, large animals both in relatively protected spaces (stables) and in the wild (the trails).  That doesn't mean he's right about everything, but he does KNOW something -- like, for instance, how to interpret a horse's behavior, how to help a new rider feel comfortable on top of a 1000 pound animal, or how to tell if a bear has been in the area or when the fish are plentiful or spawning.  I enjoyed talking to him because his "type" is one that I rarely run into in my academic, city life.  And he has a type of knowledge that is essentially lost in our modern, computer-driven, internet-reliant, tied-to-the-desk, sit-down, inside, world. 

I specifically wanted to talk to Rich about his lifestyle and his knowledge.  Since we were riding horses, I (naively) thought maybe he had heard of the recent Bureau of Land Management "program" for dealing with wild horses.  He had not.  He asked about it and I told him, "Well, they're using helicopters to drive horses off the land.  The horses are run for 10 or 12 miles over rough terrain; the pregnant mares often abort their fetuses and the smaller horses die.  Those that survive are wounded, dangerously dehydrated, and end up in pens.  And they're doing this because they claim that the horses are overpopulated and that they need the land for cattle grazing."

"Well," he said, "that's kinda right."  He went on to say, that the horses ARE seriously overpopulated and that they are not a native species to the US and have no natural predators.  Those two latter claims do make sense to me (though it doesn't follow that they should then be herded by helicopters and placed in pens).  I do not believe his first claim at all. 

He went on to claim that every year in Nevada, for instance, the younger wild horses are taken and trained "for programs such as these" (motioning to the horses we were on) but that you cannot do ANYTHING with the older ones -- "a ten year old wild horse will never be domesticated," he said.  I told him I didn't doubt that, but that shouldn't the wild horses just be left alone?  He reverted to the overpopulation theory and then opined that if only there were a bigger horse meat market, that would be one way to deal with them (kill them for meat). 

It was pretty darn obvious that his worldview was real different from mine.  And, on this particular issue, quite uninformed. 

After I challenged the idea that the horses were so overpopulated, since cattle vastly outnumber wild horses by something like 50 to 1, he said, "Well, the factory farms need to raise a lot of meat and it's far more efficient to do it their way than the old way."  He seemed to accept this as obvious (dumb city slicker me).  Rather than go with the full-blown animals rights perspective, I simply noted that free range is at least better for the animals, and then added that one of the primary reasons I eat a vegan diet is as a form of protest to factory farming.  He heartily agreed that free range is WAY better for animals, and that factory farming is cruel.  He then said that he prefers wild meat -- pheasant, grouse, duck, deer, elk.  Obviously, he hunts.

Did I say our worldviews differed?

He also went on to say that he's a carnivore not only because he likes meat but because he believes our bodies need it.

At this point, my daughter was turning around on her horse (she was in front of me) and shooting daggers at me, silently begging me to SHUT UP.

I totally avoided all the obvious rejoinders to the whole you-need-meat argument. 

We plodded along for a little while, and then he turned to me and asked, "Can you explain to me the difference between a vegetarian and a vegan?"  I did.  He nodded his head, surely thinking, "this chick is wack!" 

He then asked me what I do when vegan food isn't readily available.  I admitted that sometimes I will consume dairy, particularly in situations where not doing so results in having little to eat, or when a host has misunderstood what vegan means and has thoughtfully prepared a vegetarian meal.  He nodded his head, as if to say, 'that's reasonable'.   Of course, I don't *really* know what he was thinking.

I asked a lot about wildlife in the area -- I LOVE seeing wildlife, but of course had seen nothing wilder than deer during my week there.  He thought I was worried that we'd be attacked by a bear.  "Don't worry; that hardly ever happens and if it were to happen, I could handle it."  I assured him that wasn't actually what I was concerned about (and I didn't even ask what he would have done about it), but rather with whether or not the populations were healthy and not endangered.

He then took an unexpected turn (or was it expected?).  "Where are you from?"  he asked.  I said Oregon.  He then went on to criticize those "crazy Californians with their concerns about encroachment".  Presumably, if I had said I was from California, he would have refrained from this line of conversation. 

Why, I asked him, did he think their concerns with encroachment were crazy?  He said that the amount of land people use, compared to the amount available to animals, is minimal.  So we do not, he concluded, need to be so concerned about how much land we use -- the animals still have plenty.

Well, that is pretty much the opposite of everything I've ever heard about animals, people, and land.  But rather than argue with him, I took a different approach.  "Well," I said, "when you live out here, a good 40 minutes from the nearest city that isn't all that big to begin with, in a state that has more protected areas and more undeveloped areas than most other states, it's easy to think the animals have plenty of room.  But in California, the population is SO large and the sizes of the cities and suburbs so huge that they ARE using up their water resources, for instance, as well as the land that the animals need."

He nodded his head.  "Yes," he said, "that probably is true I guess.  Californians don't have as much space as we have here; they do have a lot of people and water problems.  Still, did you know that the cougar population is three times higher than it was 25 years ago?  They're no longer endangered!"

I told him I thought that was great.  He replied that he thought it signaled that they should be available to hunt again.  I should mention here that I have not done research to find out if he was actually *right*.  I went on to tell him that an increase in the cougar population is a good example of how a policy changed human behavior (hunting cougars) in order to benefit an animal one (cougars back to healthier population levels). 

It wasn't so much that I was necessarily right, as much as I found a way to get him to see the issue (human-animal-land relationship) in a way that KEPT HIM IN THE CONVERSATION.  This is a lesson that I feel most vegans could benefit from.

He did, however, then say something that I just chose to listen to, rather than challenge, even though there are about 100 ways to challenge it.  He said, "We humans encroach.  That's what we do. We ARE predators."  He then explained that the cougar population was up because the deer population was up and that was because of earlier restrictions on deer and cougar hunting.  I asked what the cougars' natural predators are.  He looked at me incredulously.

"Us!"  Dumb chick.  Us.

Well, I guess that makes sense.  Rarely have I thought of humans as predators (except in the negative sense that vegans would portray people as abusing and using and killing enslaved animals).  But if you consider relationships between animals AND the fact that people ARE animals, then doesn't it make sense, in a way, to think of us as predators -- dare I say even as natural predators?  Of course, at the extremes, it's very very ugly...certainly the predator argument could be used as an excuse for the worse possible "relationships" between people and animals. 

But his comment did get me thinking:  are we simply part of the prey-and-predator food chain and if so, is it so sensible to think that people should *not* eat meat? 

I'm not arguing for shooting cougar, and certainly not for forgoing veganism, just for considering the idea that arguably, veganism is a very UNNATURAL way for people to CHOOSE to live (not that that makes it wrong, mind you).

This cowboy, who in so many ways is an anathema of me, gave me some good things to think about.  In a nutshell, he made me consider the "nature" of human encroachment and the "nature" of humans as predators.  Of course, even if his simplistic portrayal of human nature has some truth to it, it's not a sufficient reason to forgo working against that very nature. 

Still, I enjoyed talking to him.

And I still like horseback riding.  A lot.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Favorite Vegan Cookbooks

One of the toughest things about switching one's diet is learning to cook new dishes.  I've written about this before; it's particularly challenging to go vegan if you were not particularly much of a cook to begin with.

Going vegan has MADE me learn to cook.  Or at the very least, to cook better and more often than I did before. And that is definitely a good thing.

Before veganism, I would have had to warn you "Forgo eating that and the life you save may be your own".  Gladly, I no longer feel compelled to prevent people from eating my cooking.

One of you asked if I'd write a quick post about my favorite vegan cookbooks.  Gladly!

I really like Isa Chandra Moscowitz and Terry Hope Romero's Veganomicon:  The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook.  Most things that call themselves the "ultimate" anything make me leery.  Really -- are you THAT good?

In this case, yes.  The title is well-deserved.  Do you (or did your mother) have Rombauer and Becker's The Joy of Cooking?  Well, if you're familiar with that title, you'll know that, seriously, no conventional kitchen should be without it.  (I have that cookbook too, and occasionally take recipes from it and "veganize" them by, for instance, substituting applesauce for eggs or Earth Balance margarine for butter.)

Moscowitz and Romero's book is the vegan equivalent of The Joy of Cooking

I like how they've organized the book.  I LOVE how complete their glossary is.  I love how they have sections for cooking idiots like me ("how to cook a vegetable," "how to cook a grain,"  "stocking the veganomicon pantry") and how they have recipes coded for those short on time (45 minutes or less), as well as for those looking for gluten-free, soy-free, low-fat, or my favorite, "supermarket friendly".

By "supermarket friendly," they mean you should be able to find the ingredients at an average market, rather than at some overpriced, out of the way, health food, organic crazy, specialist market.  (For the record, I also shop at those places, too.)  In any case, their "supermarket friendly" recipes do not call for, for instance, nutritional yeast, vital wheat gluten, or pink Himalayan sugar.  Not that there is anything wrong with recipes that do, mind you.  But if you're looking for something to cook that takes under 45 minutes AND whose ingredients should be readily available, all you need to do is look for the recipes marked with the grocery cart icon and "45".

They also have pithy, kinda perky little introductions before each recipe.  For instance, their "Mediterranean-Style Baked Lima Beans" (soy- and gluten-free, supermarket friendly) begins with "You may have lima bean baggage but this recipe will help you work through it".  (Technically, there's a typo in that sentence in my edition of the cookbook, but heck -- there's charm in typos too!) I love their attitude.  If you read the cookbook (I've been known to read cookbooks like other people read novels), you feel you *know* the authors by the end. 

I cannot claim I do, but it's nice to feel that way. 

The book has hundreds of recipes; I've loved all of the ones I've made ("Lower Fat Banana Bread," " Potato and Kale Enchiladas with Roasted Chile Sauce," "Almesan," "Quinoa Salad with Black Beans and Mango," "Sauteed Collards" and "Smoky Grilled Tempeh"). 

Another vegan cookbook I really like is Skinny Bitch in the Kitch, by (who else?) Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin.  If you've read their Skinny Bitch book, you already know about their legendary attitude.  These women don't mince words, but that's OK -- each recipe is pretty short and to the point, and they claim that if you eat their recipes you can "keep your SB standards and eat like a whale".  I haven't tried that approach, but as they say, "shit, yeah!" 

If you try eating vegan food "like a whale" and still remain skinny, let me know.  Then I might try. :)

From that cookbook, I've made tofu ricotta, which is surprisingly acceptable in a lasagne.  I've made their pancakes and used their basic fruit smoothie recipe.  I've made their lasagne and their fettuccine alfredo as well as the hummus, tempeh and cucumber wrap.  All the recipes were easy to make and GOOD. 

The only *slight* criticism of that book is that it doesn't lay open easily (the Veganomicon does).  Still, it's a small, very portable cookbook with, really, all the basic vegan versions of your favorite foods (lasagnes, sandwiches, pancakes, cookies, soups, salads, PMS foods).  It's good.

Finally, I really like Colleen Patrick-Goudreau's The Vegan Table.  It is arguably more gourmet than the other two.  The pictures alone are gorgeous (the Veganomicon has nice pictures, too).  Her book is organized by occasions ("Cozy Coupling," "Fun with Friends," " Honoring Traditions," etc.).  She has also organized, within each section, recipes by season.  Finally, she also has nutritional analysis of each recipe (per serving).  I LOVE THAT (the other two books do not provide this). Finally, each recipe tells you whether it is soy-, oil-, or gluten-free.

From her cookbook, I have made "Dark Leafy Greens with Sesame Miso Dressing," "Pasta and Green Beans with Peanut Sauce," "Aloo Gobi," "Soba Noodle Soup," and "Cuban Black Bean Soup".  All were delicious.

Although they are not cookbooks, I highly recommend the websites girliegirlarmy.com and postpunkkitchen.com (the latter is Moscowitz's site).  The website takebackthekitchen is also commendable (and funny!), though not specifically vegan (many of her recipes are, however).

What vegan cookbooks do you like? Where do you find your vegan recipes?  Or, how do you veganize your "traditional" ones?

Monday, June 28, 2010

Welcome Back, Mommy

So...last week I took a "Momcation".  I went away for a WHOLE WEEK without my kids or husband.  To pay credit where credit is due:  my husband did (as I expected) a great job with the kids and even planted about a dozen new plants in the yard while I was gone.  I thought I was going to be missed, but when I asked my youngest if he had missed me, he said, "No, I had the crazy flower".  The crazy flower is a *sprinkler*. 

OK...good to know.

I went to sunny Southern California to hang with two girlfriends; it's been a seriously rainy spring in Oregon (even by Oregon standards) and I needed to get outta here IN A MAJOR WAY.  I can only take so much rain.  (In true Murphy's Law form, the sun came out the day I left and has remained....summer has finally arrived in the Pacific Northwest.)

I LOVE Southern California.  I hate the traffic, but love pretty much everything else. I could happily live there.  At least at the beach.  (To be fair, I was never very far from the beach the whole time I was there.)  One friend lives in Carlsbad and well, what's not to love about Carlsbad, Encinitas, and Oceanside?  Cute little beach towns with cute little restaurants, nice piers, a relaxed attitude and surfers everywhere.  The other friend lives in Pasadena; I didn't go that far north (in fact, I never went more north than San Clemente), but she graciously drove down to hang with us in Carlsbad and San Clemente.

I took a surfing lesson while I was there (in La Jolla, with the lovely Surf Divas) and went kayaking.  When my grandchildren ask one day how often and how well I used to surf, I will, like all good grandparents, lie. 

I will say "all the time" and "very well".

Kayaking was more successful, though my friend and I agree that two control freaks should not be in the same kayak.  We both wanted to steer.  One control freak per kayak only.

We also went cheese-tasting in San Clemente at The Cellar (I didn't actually eat the cheese, but dined instead on wonderful almonds and figs).  I did taste one cheese-stuffed pepper, which was marvelously good and reminded me why giving up cheese is so damned hard.  My friend also ate crepes at a creperie in the same town (I had tea). She is a real foodie, though (obviously) not vegan.  I watched as she went practically orgasmic over her cheese, wine and crepes.  She claims that she loves cheese so much she'd have sex with it were that possible.  If that's not a statement that attests to how much people are attached to certain foods, I don't know what is.  And I *know* she is not alone in her love of cheese.  It's the hardest thing to give up being vegan.  Even Daiya, the most acceptable vegan cheese out there, doesn't stand a taste test against real gourmet cheeses.

I had thought, given what I see on the internet, that finding vegan food would be easier in Carlsbad and surrounding areas than it is in Oregon.  Not. True.  It *can* be found, for sure, but it's about equally likely there as here that you'll walk into a restaurant and be unable to find even one item that is animal products-free.  That surprised me.  Fortunately, when we ate out (we often ate in), restaurants accommodated me without any problems. 

My week away was a treat and I think should be required for Moms.  We NEED to get away.  Minimum once a year for a whole week.

I thought I'd come back with a cheery attitude and be totally into the Mom thing again.  Suffice to say that kids' squabbling and messes bother me just as much now as they did before I left.  Perhaps a week isn't enough to totally charge one's batteries after 13.5 years of parenting.

Still, I'm not complaining, only reporting.

I've been back 24 hours now and have had to clean up poo on the carpet (an accident nobody will claim, but which has only one likely suspect); I've had to wash my mattress because somebody came into my bed at night and had an accident (that one cannot be denied).  I've also had, curiously, to fish toys out of the toilet that NOBODY knows how they got there (again, only one likely suspect).

In other words, welcome back Mommy!