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.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Fighting the Bull

A few days ago, somebody I follow on Facebook posted a link to an article on bullfighting in the LA Times. A matador was seriously injured by a bull and is recovering from surgery.  There was no mention in the article of what happened to the bull; I am assuming that if the bull was healthy enough to keep using, he is still alive somewhere.

As I casually read through the FB comments -- many, understandably, along the lines of  "serves him right!" -- I ran across one that said, "Damn! He should have died.  That impotent animal abuser."

Now, I *really* think that bullfighting is a grotesque sport.  When I was a student in Spain, in 1988, this was a heated topic, with many young Spaniards agreeing that the sport should go.  We talked about it often and I, along with most of the Americans in my student group, chose not to go to a bullfight even though it is arguably something that is distinctly Spanish.

I didn't like bullfighting then and I don't now.

However, I do not think it's appropriate to wish that a bullfighter had died. 

I said as much in the thread. 

The responses I got were fascinating -- much in the same way that a train wreck is fascinating.  You can't stop looking because it's all so unbelievable.

""Normally I agree one shouldn't wish somebody to die, but with bullfighters I make an exception..."

"Given all the bulls this guy has tortured and killed, his death would be a blessing for animals.  Better luck next time."

"When this animal is bleeding to death from his injuries he is either left to die or they kill him...When the bull loses, he gets nothing...but when the man loses, he gets medical care and love. Mess with a bull and you get..the horns! It seems more than "low" to wish this man alive to hurt more animals! More than "naive" to think he will ever change! You keep waiting...I will fight for animal rights!"

I replied to this last charge -- that because I don't want a man to die, it must (implicitly) mean that I don't fight for animal rights.  I do.  Anybody who follows me (my personal page) on Facebook knows that I cross-post listings of animals needing homes, that I follow PETA and the Humane Society, and that I sign petitions to save whales, wild horses, elephants, etc.  I *do* care about animals; the quality of their lives matters!

The response?  A sarcastic, "That's wonderful that you don't wish for him to die. Kudos to you!"

Am I crazy to think that animal rights activists who publicly wish for the death of people they dislike might just have a hard time bringing more people to their cause?  Is it so hard to understand that this man is a product of his culture -- just as we ALL are products of our cultures?  Is it hard to understand that, in his case, he receives tremendous glory for his perceived bravery?  In fact, now that he has survived, he will probably be even more glorified.  Yes, he may continue to fight bulls.  And yes, I think that's wrong. 

Animal rights activists would do well to continue their work without wishing that the people making bad or immoral choices should die.  To do otherwise is, well, inhumane

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


I'm loving how adding that little Facebook badge to the right is actually making a difference -- maybe a lot of you were reading my blog all along and I didn't know it, but now I *do* and it makes my day!

So, thanks for taking the time to click that little "like" button, and for leaving comments either here or to me on Facebook

It's *really* good to have people to talk to who are attempting (or who have successfully accomplished) veganism

The promised "sufficiency" blog is almost done.  That is, it's almost sufficient.  :)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Need a Recipe for Your Non-Vegan Kids? This Worked

It's been, as I've said before, a HUGE challenge to change the kids' diets from, for lack of a better descriptor, "conventional" to vegan or "almost" vegan. We are a LONG way, still, from what I would consider ideal. But we're making progress.

I could mention here that the husband is an omnivore and has no intention of changing, so there's THAT. I take comfort in knowing that I am NOT alone in being in a mixed marriage. But certainly that sends mixed signals to the kids. No way around that. :)

But this week, I did find something that they will eat. And it's healthy. And raw. And of course, vegan.

A twitter friend (@veganRD) gave me a recipe for a green smoothie. The kids, as predicted, showed NO interest in tasting blended green veggies.

Frankly, at their age, I wouldn't have gone near it either. It *does not* look appetizing. And kids aren't known for their vegetable passion anyway.

But it occured to me that if I serve it as a dip, maybe -- just maybe -- they would go for it.

They did. I feel triumphant.

So, here's the recipe. Think "guacamole on steroids".

Smoothie/Dip Recipe (with nods to @veganRD)
1 smalll zucchini
1 tomato
1 celery stalk
1 green onion
1 t. lemon juice
1 garlic clove
1 c. spinach or chard
6 basil leaves
1/2 avocado
1/2 t. white miso


Blend (with some water to make a smoothie; without to make a dip).

Saturday, April 17, 2010

I will absolve thee of thy sins...

This blog is meant as a vegan confessional, a dialogue between me and my vegan or veganish or vegan-aspiring friends.

What "vegan sins" have you committed lately?

I'll start: on the way home from my daughter's soccer game, I was dying (yes, DYING) of thirst. The golden arches were right ahead. I approached the drive thru, fully intending to buy an innocent water.

I bought a small mocha frappe. Whipped cream and all.

And I totally enjoyed it.

OK. Now it's your turn. GO!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Skin Trade

A few weeks ago, I announced on both Twitter and Facebook that I had won a copy of the documentary, Skin Trade. A friend wrote back and said she hoped I'd blog about it after I watched it.

Well, here, Carol, is your blog. :)

First, the film is very well done. I'm a fan.

Second, it contains, basically, two messages: one, cruelty is an intrinsic, unavoidable part of the manufacture of fur (of both trapped animals and "farmed" ones), and two, consumers are the most powerful block against the fur trade. Change the demand side, change the supply side.

For those of you worried about watching a film on the fur trade, you should know that although some scenes are truly GRUESOME, those scenes do not take up the whole film. (You can hide behind your hands as I did during those scenes and still get a good deal out of the movie.)

Much of the film is hidden-camera footage of animals crowded, stressed and killed on fur farms; of women posing undercover as potential fur purchasers; and of interviews with celebrity activists, full-time politicians and activists, and fur-wearers on the streets of New York City.

While the film is not for kids, it is something that I think parents could (and perhaps should) watch with pre-teen and older children. Kids that age are old enough to learn about the aspects of our culture that, however "traditional," are worthy of change. "Tradition" or "heritage," as the film points out, are not sufficient excuses for torture or exploitation. They make the obvious comparison: slavery was once tradition, too.

I have to admit that, even before I watched the film, I was against fur. I've never owned a fur anything.

Well...I did have that rabbit's foot key chain when I was 10, and I'll admit I loved it, but I've never had fur *clothing* and to the best of my knowledge, neither has my sister, brother, mother or father. Fur wearing isn't something my family was into.

(Having stuffed trophies of my grandfather's hunted birds and deer in the dining room? Yes. My western hunting-and-farming-and-pioneer heritage is, though related to this movie, a topic for another blog.)

Anyway...it's true that the documentary didn't have to do much to convince me further that wearing fur is wrong.

However, *had* I been one of those people who thought that fur was a necessity ("it keeps me so warm," "it makes me feel so glamorous," "it's natural"), I'd like to think that watching this film would convince me otherwise.

The film cites research which shows that the R value of faux fur and real fur is the same -- both can keep you equally warm.

The film soundly criticizes the idea that anything should die just for our glamour. (Need I say more here?!)

And the film easily dismisses the current fur industry's attempts to say that it is a "green" industry.

The toxic chemicals required for processing skins and fur -- in order to prevent them from deteriorating -- are so numerous and plentiful that they pollute waterways and the earth. That fur coat, should you decide to toss it out the window and watch what happens, will likely still be there 10 years from now. Processed fur (and leather) is not so biodegradable as the fur retailers would like you to believe.

A key message of the film is that FUR AND LEATHER ARE NOT "GREEN".

The film shows footage of HUGE facilities where foxes and lynx cats and minks are farmed. The footage reminds me of the factory farm segments of the documentary, Food, Inc.

If you can look at the footage in either film and think that it's humane to raise animals like that (EVEN IF you eventually eat them), I do not understand how you think. AT. ALL.

There is footage of foxes, two in each of 187 cages, in a dark building. They are chewing on their cages (and sometimes each other). They have no water in their bowls and suffer from a variety of physical ailments (ear mites, sores, infected eyes or paws). Even before they are killed, they are, to quote Ingrid Newkirk, enduring "pain, fear, struggle and horror".

Or, to quote Jorja Fox, people involved in the fur trade are arguably "sadistic, sociopathic, soulless and disgusting".

Does that fur coat still appeal to you?

The film also highlights activist Peter Young, who went to jail for two years for breaking into mink farms and freeing over 8000 mink. Though I generally do not condone breaking into buildings or interfering with others' businesses, I would argue that his breaking the law was morally supportable.

The film delves briefly into international animal rights' issues. For instance, most faux fur comes from China, which is not long on legislation to protect animals. Studies have founds that about 96% of products marked "faux" actually have dog and cat fur in them.

If you think the Chinese got the dog and cat fur from what dogs and cats shed, you are delusional.

The producers managed to wrangle together a lengthy list of celebrities to appear in the film, all citing various reasons to shun fur. If you, like me, somewhat follow the "green" or "vegan" or "environmentally conscious" celebrity-activists, you won't be surprised to see who pops up in the film. Just to give you a teaser: PETA president Ingrid Newkirk and Sea Shepherd Captain Paul Watson do; so do politician Dennis Kucinich and actors Martin Sheen, Jorja Fox, William McNamara and Ed Begley (among others); author Rory Freedman (of "Skinny Bitch" fame) does too.

There is emphasis throughout the film on how "defrauded" consumers are by the fur industry. Secret filming of women shopping for fur coats and asking about cruelty shows that, time after time, the store personnel tell them that the animals are "put to sleep," "never electrocuted," and "treated humanely".

The footage in the film (also by hidden camera) shows animals screaming, being anally electrocuted, of having their heads bashed in, of experiencing tremendous suffering.

Humane methods, my ass.

Though the film easily solidified my view that fur-wearing is barbaric, I was left with a few questions.

First, how did the Native American process of handling furs and skins differ from contemporary methods? Presumably, they didn't have access to the chemicals that contemporary fur manufacturers use. Yet, a Native American man said in the film that his ancestors would pass skins and furs from generation to generation. What did they do to preserve those hides? Was it environmentally sustainable? If so, would the activists feel *better* about fur if fur manufacturers used those ancient methods?

Second, I suspect that people who are anti-fur would still be anti-fur EVEN IF the animals were trapped in the wild (rather than farmed and kept in cages) and even if they were euthanized (rather than anally electocuted or skinned alive or bashed against the ground). Many of the activists in the film are known vegans. I pretty much know their position without having seen the film. But, to be fair -- would the fur trade be more tolerable to most people (not just vegans) IF the animals were not farmed and were killed "more humanely"? Or, is it more honest to say that this film is not just against "inhumane killing" and "farming," but is against ALL fur use, even if done differently than currently? I suspect the latter, though somebody could come away from the film thinking that the activists are only against certain violent, unnatural and sadistic practices in the fur industry and not against FUR. PERIOD.

Third, there is much emphasis in the film on how great faux furs are. They look like the real thing; they're just as warm.

My sister once asked me why vegans and vegetarians want to eat fake meat if they don't want to eat real meat. It's a fair question, in a way -- if real meat grosses you out, why does tofurkey or soyrizo look so good to you?

I have the same question about fur -- if real fur looks "disgusting" or "dated" to you, why would you promote the fake stuff? Doesn't that *look* like cruelty too?

I admit that I don't understand the appeal of faux fur at all.

My cat watched the film with me, and has been sitting next to me purring while I type this.

Perhaps he's glad that I believe his fur coat looks best on him.

Skin Trade is directed by Shannon Keith (director of "Behind the Mask") and produced by Uncaged Films and ARME (Animal Rescue Media Education). The movie's website is skintradethemovie.com.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Appropriating Jesus for Veganism?

I NEVER thought this would be a topic for my blog, even though I'm Christian and even though I have a degree from Harvard Divinity School.

But never say never.

I've run across some *interesting* claims this week on various vegan blogs, all having to do with Easter, animal rights, Christianity and Jesus. The gist is the following: Christianity is about tolerance (that's certainly debatable!); Jesus was an accepting and caring person; Jesus would not have abused animals; Jesus preached against animal sacrifice.

The blogs then end with: AND THEREFORE...Christians shouldn't a) dye eggs, b) have pet bunnies, c) eat meat. One blog even claimed that Jesus was certainly a vegan.

(Aside: this is a quick thought piece, as were the other blogs I've read on this topic. Please don't vilify me for not quoting chapter and verse here.)

Here's the gist of what I know from living my life as a Christian and spending some quality time studying my own religion with some of the best scholars available.

1) From what we know of the historical Jesus, he was concerned with "reforming" his own religion, which he felt at the time was too controlled by one group of Jews (the Pharisees), thus excluding other groups. He also felt that the religion, as then taught by the Pharisees, had gotten away from what he perceived to be its most important tenants. (Much of the writings in the gospel of Matthew -- the oldest Gospel -- are so similar to rabbinic writings of the time that it is clear that, for instance, the Sermon on the Mount is basically a summary of widely-held rabbinic teachings that have been put into the mouth of Jesus. Jesus, at least in the eyes of his contemporary and first-century followers, was trying to get people to remember the tenants of the "true Judaism". Like all religions, there are debates then and now about what that is. Jesus didn't particularly like a legalistic interpretation of his religion, which was very much a Pharisaic view of it, but that does NOT mean that he didn't believe in the importance of good works. He did. And Christians worth their salt do too. Prayer is not enough.)

2) From what we know of the *church*, followers of Jesus had several agendas and, like all groups with agendas, worked through politics and accepted local belief systems to gain followers. Not all writings about Jesus ended up in the "canon;" what ended up in our Bibles is the result of POLITICAL (read: human) choice, not "God's pen". There is plenty of Greek influence in our religion; plenty of pagan and (obviously) Jewish influence too. Christianity didn't spring from God anymore than any other religion did. (Yeah, I know millions disagree with me. Sorry, but history shows that I'm right.)

3) Jesus was a product of his time. People ate meat. People sacrificed animals. People drank milk. People wore leather. People used honey for food and for medicinal purposes. People raised animals. People ate what was in season and what grew locally. Meat was important in order to get through those months when nothing much was growing. To think otherwise is pure fantasy.

4) The story of Jesus throwing over the tables in the temple (my kids refer to it as "Jesus' temper tantrum") is a story of Jesus' fury over people using a sacred space for profane activities (exchanging money). It is NOT about his desire to save the poor turtle doves from being sacrificed. (At the time, there were two main forms of tithing to the temple -- giving turtle doves or giving *I believe* Roman coins. The poorer people brought the animals; the wealthier people brought the coins. Jesus was upset with both groups, not just the ones bringing the animals, and his concern wasn't about the animals' welfare but about the propriety of exchanging money in a house of worship.) Some vegan blogs I've read like to say that what Jesus was really concerned with is the welfare of the animals.


I have no problem with, basically, a vegan worldview. I have no problem with criticisms of traditions that exploit animals or people. The world has changed since Jesus' time and it will continue to change. We can change. (Religions can change too, albeit they usually do so at glacial speed.) Frankly, the example of the rise of Christianity (or the rise of Islam or...) is a great example of how societies and worldviews change.

I *DO* have a problem with people propagating crazy interpretations of scripture and/or history. If there's EVIDENCE of Jesus being a vegan, I'm happy to hear of it. If it's just what somebody thinks we SHOULD believe about Jesus because he was so caring or so tolerant, that's a whole other ball of wax and hardly supportable with available historical or scriptural evidence.

And it really isn't why Christians "should" or "should not" dye eggs or eat meat.

Or have pet bunnies.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Cooking in An Almost Vegetarian Household with Three Kids

One of the challenges to becoming *totally* vegan, at least for me, boils down to one thing: cooking.

I've never been much of a cook. I *like* good food. I even *like* cooking, though I have absolutely no intuitive sense for it. I rely solely on recipes and pray like hell they've been written for non-cooks like me.

Cooking has never fit well with my life; left to my own devices, I'd probably eat a very monotonous diet and only cook twice a week. I love raw vegetables and fruit; I like bagels, brown rice and oatmeal just fine; I've been known to define microwaving a bocaburger as "cooking".

To cook really good meals takes time, and, especially in the evening, time is in short supply and kids' tempers are on a short fuse. (Admittedly, those tempers are generally dramatically improved by food.) I think the kids' diets (and mine) have suffered from my cooking (or lack thereof). This has been true for a long time, since before I went on this "vegan kick". I'm trying to correct that.

I have to remind myself, before I get going too far here, of what I have done right with the kids' diets: they have ALWAYS had fruit and vegetables every day. We've always limited sweets (though not as much as some parents). We don't drink soda except on special occasions. Juice is pretty much only served at breakfast. We've never encouraged milk drinking, figuring that they could do just fine with water and could just use milk on cereal. (That's still the case.)

I think I could have done a better job becoming vegan had I learned to cook BEFORE I had kids. Once I had kids, to be totally honest, cooking became what we did between 5 and 5:30 every evening in order to feed the kids SOMETHING that resembled dinner and in order to keep them on a kid-friendly schedule (i.e., in bed and bathed by 8 pm).

A typical meal here (then and now, since "almost veganism") is steamed brown rice and stir-fried vegetables (depending on who is eating it, with tofu or chicken or shrimp). Another typical dinner meal is tacos -- now we use fake ground beef, but the rest of the meal is what it always was (canned refries, chopped lettuce and tomatoes, hot sauce, avocado, hard shells, and for some, cheese). Neither meal takes more than 30 minutes to prepare.

I also admit that neither meal is very exciting and the kids are tired of both of those. So. Am. I.

Now that I work and two of my kids do sports, the evening meal is even more rushed and even more of a non-event. In theory, I think it's terribly important for a family to eat dinner together every night. But, for practical reasons, there are several nights a week where that does not happen. I also -- again, theoretically -- think that if you are driving your kid to soccer and getting McDonald's on the way home, that is, to quote Barbara Kingsolver, an "interesting" choice.

But I have to plead guilty to having done that every once in awhile (if you need statistics, I think once a month is honest). I've done this EVEN since becoming "almost vegan," even since having my consciousness raised as to the horrors of factory farming.

I have purchased "Happy Meals" for the kids on the busiest of our evenings, on days when the best laid plans have gone awry and I've already placated the kids with fruit and crackers and they are HUNGRY and it would be a form of cruelty to expect them to wait until 8 pm, when a homemade dinner would be available.

The irony of being almost vegan and doing this is not lost on me. But neither is the reality that fast food -- though overused by millions -- does exist for a reason. Alice doesn't live here. And neither does a homemaker. And, at least here, there is no vegan/vegetarian drive through that I know of (and the kids refuse to go for the salad options -- they're KIDS).

The slow food movement is an important one -- and one I like to think I'm now a part of -- but there are nights when I can't do slow food.

I regularly read several vegan blogs. Many of them emphasize how food, prepared with love and time, tastes better and is better for you. I don't doubt that. But it *seems* that many vegan writers are childless (or perhaps they never mention their children). It *seems* that they have lots of time to shop at a variety of farmers' markets and specialty grocery stores and that they have even more time to lovingly prepare their food.

I love days like that. I just don't have enough of them.

One of the vegan cookbooks I have even says that they (the writers) prefer "two hour recipes". (Admittedly, they do have many recipes marked with "45," indicating that, in theory, you should be able to prepare the whole thing in 45 minutes. The problem is that if you want to prepare two or three of these 45 minute recipes -- things that go together-- you're probably not going to get them all done in 45 minutes, and the next thing you know, you have been cooking for two hours and everybody is cranky as hell and SOMEBODY needs to be taken SOMEWHERE.)

I rarely have two hours to dedicate to dinner, at least not on school nights. I DEFINITELY don't have that time for breakfast or lunch.

Breakfast here is still frozen waffles and fruit, or boxed cereal and fruit, or oatmeal and fruit. Lunch here is still (for the kids) PB &J sandwiches or soup, and fruit or vegetables and crackers. An occasional yogurt finds its way into their lunches, too. (Sorry, vegan readers...)

We also eat a variety of frozen vegan things (various veggie burgers), and ramen noodles (are they vegan??). I worry, sometimes, that the vegan or vegetarian police will show up at my door and serve me some legal notice for giving my kids ramen, steamed broccoli, and cut up bananas and a fruit smoothie for dinner. Sure, the vegan lasagne with the homemade sauce, fake cheese and tofu ricotta would be better for them (if I could get them to eat it), but I only have time for that kind of recipe about twice a week.

I do think things are improving here. We all eat even more fruit and vegetables than we did before. Meat is served (to everyone else, not me) about three times a week (but only one meal a day). There's definitely less dairy consumption, though I suspect that won't disappear from this house entirely.

But slow cooking every day? I don't see that happening anytime soon.

Friday, April 2, 2010

My Droid, How I Love Thee

Dear Droid --

I. Love. You.

Well, kinda. Like any new relationship, we're having our issues. I'm sure you're aware.

First, Sir Droid, you are not as intuitive as you think. At least not to my admittedly 20th-century phone technology mind. I'm still thrilled by the idea that phones don't have to be wired into the wall. That is, at least, one step past my mother, who still marvels at push buttons rather than rotary dial.

I hate it when you talk to me. I know I'm supposed to love all those sweet nothings you whisper in my ear, but need I remind you I already have a husband? We have to keep our relationship on the down low. Hear that?

I don't need you to burp "droid" every time you think I need to know something. Yes, I put a whole lot of things in that calendar that you so nicely carry around for me. There's five people in my family and I'm responsible for all of us. I do depend on you, dear thing, to help me. And yes, I also made a lengthy to-do list and yes, I've received a few text messages (and written some myself!) and yes, I've even had (gasp!) a voice mail or two. And yes, I installed a twitter application should I feel the urgent need to check twitter when I'm *not* at home.

But that does not mean that you need to remind me, in your annoyingly robotic way, of every. little. thing. Honestly, I still have a brain and I've been told more than once that my memory is damn good. *I* have not yet forgotten a child at daycare. (We won't mention the husband here, OK?)

I cannot figure out how to shut you up.

It's pretty early in our relationship, Droid, for me to be saying that.

But you REALLY ticked me off the other day when I couldn't figure out how to turn off your alarm clock. I had planned, dear Droid, to get up early -- before the kids -- and have a civilized shower and cup of coffee before the morning mayhem. But YOU ruined that by not having an intuitive way to shut you up.

I contemplated throwing you against the wall. And then I remembered how much I had paid for you the day before. Your parents paid me to marry you; at least that's what they told you. The reality is much bleaker and detrimental to my economic reality, so we'll stick with the story that you only have me because I'm willing to take you on. Arranged marriages and all that...

There you go! Beeping at me again! Honestly! Annoying as hell. I don't do that to you -- why do you think it's OK to do that to me? Answer that, huh?!

Back to the other morning --

I did wake up immediately -- that was not the problem. You certainly are loud. You could wake the dead. Even. My. Mother.

Within minutes, all my children were in the bedroom, groaning for me to turn you off. You'd have thought the house alarm was going off and not just a silly bedside alarm clock.

It seems that my mistake was touching your face -- where, indeed, the "dismiss" icon shows up when your alarm goes off -- but I touched your face in the WRONG. PLACE. And then you, silly little thing, decided to hide the icon. I thought that was inconsiderate of you. Honestly, couldn't you have left it up until I saw it?

I still have no idea how I turned you off.

But at least I can say that once, just once, I did figure out how to shut you up.

Let's get this ironed out before I have to trade you in for the old model, who had the decency to stay quiet. I *do* know how to turn off the old alarm clock.

Hugs and kisses, Elaine