About Me

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

Monday, May 31, 2010

Prejudiced Reviews

I should be preparing for company for Memorial Day, but instead I'm writing an admittedly half-thought-out and hurried post on books and reviews -- namely, that many books on veganism appear to be reviewed only by vegans.  As I write this, three children are whining for my attention, the laundry needs folded, the dishes need to be done, and it's pouring rain; my thoughts are interrupted constantly by what most people call "real life". 

But heck, I want to blog!  Real life, you'll just have to wait.

The prejudiced reviews are a real problem.  I want to read more books on the subject -- but I also want to read the good ones and one way, traditionally, to know which books are good is to look for reviews.  If all reviews come from people already committed to a vegan philosophy, then of course those books espousing veganism are touted as being the final argument, and there must be no need to say more.  There must be nothing to criticize.  There must be nothing wrong with veganism.  Or, to put it the other way, there must be everything wrong with non-veganism.

It troubles me that, for instance, a forthcoming book with a provocative title (Meat is for Pussies) appears only to have been reviewed by other vegans (who, judging by the reviews I've read, think the book is nothing but pure truth). 

I haven't read the book (but I plan to).  It may be, indeed, that it's wonderful.  The problem, however, is that without more "objective" reviewers, to outsiders (read:  non-vegans) it appears hopelessly prejudiced. 

I imagine that there are two predictable vegan responses to my concerns.  One, the mainstream media ignores us.  (Lately?  Not so much.)  Two, the only people who will read this and review it positively are committed vegans. (I'm not so sure; it seems to be that even non-vegans are starting to recognize that veganism has something to teach everyone, even if many many people will decide it goes too far.)

Vegans take hits from critics all the time for being extreme, utopian, unrealistic, judgmental.  Non-vegans take hits all the time for being selfish, speciesist, cruel, uncaring.  Both sets of labels are harsh and only contain, at best, kernels of truth.  Most vegetarians or almost vegans or plain old omnivores that I know are, if they have any expendable time or income, doing thoughtful things to lessen their impact on the environment, for instance -- including making new food choices on a regular basis.  And many vegans I've met are extremely sweet people who try very hard to appreciate where others are coming from.  However, some of the more vocal proponents of veganism take pride in mincing no words and they come across about as militant and evangelical as leaders of a movement can be.  That understandably closes the ears of many, many people.

I've been having an "argument" of sorts over on a google blog group called veganviews.  The argument is the typical one:  whether something short of veganism (like I espouse) is possible and whether vegans can even get their heads around it, given that they philosophically are opposed to use of animals for any type of human consumption.  (The answers, according to vegans, are no and no.)

It's obvious that veganism challenges some of the core assumptions of our collective cultures, most notably the idea that people are somehow "above" animals and can therefore raise, breed, and use them for our benefit.  (As you know, I take the position that limited and careful use should be OK -- but that to get to that place requires massive social changes; it falls short of the vegan ideal.) 

Can veganism be reviewed thoughtfully by a non-vegan?  I think it can.  Too bad that so many of the books written by thoughtful vegan researchers are not reviewed (so far as I can find) by non-vegans, and are reviewed only in small, alternative places unlikely to be known to most people (making it even less likely that a non-vegan will even know of them).

Do you know of books (other than Skinny Bitch and The China Study and Eating Animals) which espouse veganism AND have been reviewed (even critically!) by non-vegans, particularly in major presses or news outlets?

If so, I'd love some book recommendations and the names of the reviews that go with them. 

Sunday, May 23, 2010


I'm in the thick of the end-of-the-term madness and have little time right now to write a proper post.  But I thought I'd share my experience this evening eating out with my kids and my sister, her husband, and their three kids.

We went to Applebee's.  Family friendly.  Relatively affordable.  Relatively large menu.  We knew each of the kids (each picky in a different way) would actually eat something there. 

We discovered nearly immediately that the menu offers NOTHING vegan; not even anything vegetarian.  Unless you want a plain baked potato or just an order of fries, this restaurant caters exclusively to the meat-and-dairy-eating crowd.  Not a huge surprise, of course, but *most* restaurants these days have at least a pasta and vegetable option or a garden burger.  Not Applebees.

I sat there mulling my options:  cheat and eat something with dairy (as in a ceasar salad or a bowl of French onion soup) or just have a beverage and be REALLY hungry on the two-hour-long ride home.

Then I noticed the menu had a dijon chicken and portobello mushroom item that came with steamed veggies and potatoes.  Could, I wondered, they make that with more mushrooms and leave out the chicken?

I asked for that.  The cooks did a very good job and the presentation was, frankly, very attractive.   My sister, a committed omnivore eating a spinach and shrimp salad, looked over and said, "THAT looks good.  Next time I'm here, I'm ordering that, that way." 

A little vegan victory for this almost vegan.  :)

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Calorie Counting and Grade Grubbing

So, according to several vegan writers, if you go vegan you can skip calorie counting (Skinny Bitch is one of the books that proposes this).

I suppose that might be true if a) you NEVER "cheat," b) you NEVER consume sugar, and c) you NEVER crave something like that white flour-and white-sugar-high fructose corn syrup-filled pumpkin scone at Starbucks. 

It may also be true for people under 35 (the age when my metabolism decided to come to a grinding halt).

For us mere mortals, those three caveats are hard to stick to.  There is temptation everywhere and old habits are hard to break, particularly those lattes that gosh darn it! have too many calories and too much sugar in them.  (For the record, I rarely buy them anymore, though I still daily drink one or two cups of regular coffee that I make at home.)

I've discovered that if I want to lose weight EVEN WHILE eating a vegan diet, I have to count calories.

I've found a website, caloriecount.about.com, to be incredibly helpful.

It works just like you would imagine it would:  you keep a log of EVERYTHING you eat, paying particular attention to quantities, of course.  (It's amazing how much oatmeal I was eating before I learned to eat ONLY what is considered ONE serving.) You also keep a log of all activities. At the end of the day, you hope to have expended more calories than you consumed. 

I've quickly discovered two things.  One, I eat more than I thought I did.  I bet most people do.  Two, I do less than I thought I did.  Again, I bet that's true for most people. 


The website first asks you to give them basic information:  your current weight and height, your age, your desired weight, whether your lifestyle is sedentary or active, etc. 

It also asks you to measure your wrist, to give them an indication of your body build.  I always assumed I was "average," but, according to them, I have a large build.  Or, at least, my wrist (which looks thin to me) has a "large" circumference.

That is actually INCREDIBLY good news, as I have never been able to be as "thin" or as "light" as those guidelines suggest one my height could be (and still be healthy).  (If you have a heavier frame, you're allowed to be at the upper end of "normal" without any worry of being too heavy, as I'm sure you all know.  I just never realized I was actually one of those people.) 

According to their analysis of my diet, I am consistently high (that's good) in consuming vitamins A and C, and I do a darn good job managing my calories (now that I'm paying more attention to them).

But most days I am deficient in almost every other category they have, such as fats, protein, potassium, iron, carbs, and calcium (the calcium thing WAS easier when I was eating dairy...).  I'm also, according to them, not eating enough fiber, which makes NO sense to me whatsoever; I actually question their analysis here.  If you're eating between 7 and 10 servings of fruits and vegetables a day, how could you NOT be consuming enough fiber!!??

There's other evidence in my life that fiber is a non-issue.

I am also, according to the website, still eating too much sugar. 

Good lord.  I have cut back SO much; if *I* am still eating too much sugar then I guarantee 99% of the rest of America is eating too much sugar. 

Perhaps that's no big shocker.  But golly, sugar is clearly an American addiction!

So, I am making choices as I go.  If, for instance, after recording my breakfast, I see where I'm deficient, then I make sure the next snack or meal intentionally addresses one or more of the nutritional deficits.

I no longer just reach for bread and peanut butter when I'm in the mood for a snack.

I've never kept this kind of log before, but doing so is a good thing.  It's made me FAR more aware than ever of how even somebody who eats "well" intentionally can have some rather serious deficits in their diet. After all, choosing a mostly vegan diet in this culture is a VERY intentional choice.

It's made me aware of how being vegan IS harder than being an omnivore in terms of getting adequate nutrition (not, of course, meaning to infer that all omnivores eat well). 

It's not impossible, but it is harder.  Let's be honest!

The website grades your food choices and analyzes what you eat in a surprisingly complete way.

Overall, I consistently get a grade of "A" for my food choices.

God, I am SUCH a grade grubber.

But, some individual choices are still problematic. Use even a teaspoonful of sugar in your coffee and you get a "D" for that particular choice.

Geez.  That may be the first "D" I've ever earned. 

I've discovered that choosing molasses instead of white sugar earns me a B+.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Discounted Mother's Day!!

I woke up Sunday morning to find a hand-written card from my 10-year-old, in his best cursive.  It began with the typical overstated Mother's Day wishes:  "I appreciate your work SO much.  You are the idol of my life.  I would have no life without you..."

He went on to put in some more creative ways to show his appreciation:  "I couldn't have strong muscles without you".  (Is that a reference to my being vegan???)

He then lapsed into appreciation for my wallet:  "I love how you buy stuff for me."  Well, at least I know he has paid attention...

Then, just in case I didn't understand how appreciative he is, he wrote in capital letters:  READ UNDERLINED.  Then  he wrote.

1.  You are AWESOME.

2.  I LOVE you.

3.  You are my CARER. (Did he mean caretaker? Caregiver?  Career?)

Finally, he gave me "coupons" for Mother's Day.  He explained that his teacher had told the class they had to make their mothers some coupons.

Mine were:

Breakfast, .50
Dinner .20
3 massages .10 each for first three; .30 thereafter
LOVE:  Priceless

I wanted to laugh, because clearly what his teacher meant was that the coupons should be for things the kid will do for the Mom FOR FREE.  But my son, with his literal mind, thought coupons = discounts.  Of course, he's not wrong about that.

He may be the only person in the family with a head for business.

After all, how many kids do you know who have set up their Mother's Day gifts in such a way that they make money from them?!

He explained to me that he figured most of the coupons were "equal to about 60% off".  Generous, indeed.

My daughter attempted to make me vegan pancakes, a very thoughtful act!  (The, uh, execution was a little off and I ended up remaking them for her only to show her that VEGAN pancakes can, indeed, be tasty.  She was convinced it was the recipe.  I think the recipe would have been fine without the 1/4 cup of salt.)

My little guy gave me a Popsicle stick-and-shell picture frame with his picture in it.

My husband gave me my much wished-for bread maker and a very nice pair of earrings.

I suggest that next year, the teacher use the word "gift certificate".

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Diet Advice

Think of this post as a Dear Abby column, only you all are Abby.

I had my last child 5 1/2 years ago.  I lost most of the weight immediately (as I was lucky to do with the other two as well).  However, I'm still hauling around the last 10 pounds.

One of my totally selfish reasons for trying a vegan diet was the somewhat promised claim in Skinny Bitch (I still love the book) that going vegan = weight loss.

Nearly a year into the diet with very very few instances of cheating AND exercising most days (minimum 30 minutes, max 90) and I STILL weigh the same.

I'd like to think it's "all muscle," but one look in the mirror shows otherwise.   Three pregnancies = no waist to speak of.  Certain "assets" are smaller than ever.  The thighs are "too big".

I know part of it is my age (42).  Anybody who thinks you can maintain the body you had at 20 for the rest of your life is NUTS.  Metabolism slows down; muscle is harder to maintain.  Things get...soft.

Still, I harbor this dream that I *should* be able to lose these last 10 pounds (preferably all from my hips and thighs).

OK -- please advise!  :)

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Sufficiency and Veganism: Is "Almost" "Enough"?

Note:  This will be cross-posted at my friend Gina LaRoche's blog, Seven Stones Leadership.  The two blogs and their audiences are quite different, though Gina and I both think that the theme of sufficiency -- something she often writes about and something I've implicitly discussed in several blogs -- is a common thread.  For those of you already super familiar with veganism, much of what is here is not new.  For some of her readers, however, it might be.  

Even since I started this vegan "thing," I've had this nagging question in the back of my head:  is what I'm doing "enough"?

The hard-core vegans -- those who NEVER eat any dairy or meat, NEVER wear any leather or fur or silk, NEVER eat any honey, NEVER wear any wool -- those people adamantly believe that my "almost" veganism (I wear leather shoes that I've had forever, though I haven't bought new leather since going vegan, and I occasionally consume dairy and honey) isn't enough.

Consuming meat and dairy is normative in American (and indeed, *most*) cultures.  So is wearing wool, eating honey, wearing silk, wearing leather, and for some classes, wearing fur.  It's not surprising, given how "normal" all of that is, that many people think vegans are, well, a bit nuts.

At its core, veganism is about not using animals for human use (other than for pets).  Hence the bans on so many things that most people don't even think about.

When I first heard of veganism, back in the early 90s, I wasn't terribly impressed.  The gal I met hid behind her dyed jet-black hair and talked in imperceptible tones.  I didn't connect at all.  I was already "mostly" vegetarian, though more for economic reasons than for any sense of the environmental degredation caused by factory farming or the inherent cruelty involved in killing animals for food.  (If you want a lazy way to learn about the true horrors of factory farming and the (hopefully) unintended health consequences this kind of "farming" creates, just watch the excellent documentary Food, Inc. or see my post, "Overwhelmed".  Not a bad idea to re-read that book you skimmed in high school either-- Upton Sinclair's The Jungle.)

Most of us know that as a species, we’re destroying the planet, using up natural resources, putting ourselves and future generations in literal and figurative debt. It is HIGH TIME that we all think of sufficiency, rather than excess or abundance, as one of our goals. 

One way to think of sufficiency is to consider how our diet choices have far-reaching consequences for both the environment and the lives of others (human and non-human).

Among vegans, the idea of sufficiency is much less talked about than the goals of "being humane" or "promoting animal rights" because, by definition, they preach a no-animal-products-ever hard line, which obviously goes beyond the mere goal of “sufficiency”. I've seen discussions among vegans on the use of worms and ladybugs in home gardens (both should not be purchased, according to vegans). I've seen discussions of how important it is NOT to use manure as fertilizer because it is an animal product produced by the factory farm system. (Yet, in my own experience, nothing is better than a little poop to get those vegetables to grow!) I’ve seen discussions of vegan condoms (honestly, I'd never thought about condoms in terms of veganism). I've participated in discussions of whether or not it's ethical to sheer sheep and use their wool (see "The Wool, Our Eyes and 'Truth'" ).

If you're wondering if some of this vegan stuff is going a bit too far, you're not alone.

But this leaves me wondering:  What *is* enough? I’ve discovered that it’s impossible to have this conversation with hard-line vegans because their entire philosophy holds that human use of animals is immoral and should therefore be forbidden.   Sufficiency isn't a goal for them.  Though perhaps it's a more politcally palatable and attainable goal for the vast majority of us.

I'm left wondering whether it's enough to have eaten meat only once this past year (as I did)?  Or for the rest of my family to have taken a less drastic approach and simply cut their meat consumption by nearly 50%, and to have switched from conventionally raised meat to that which is organic, grass-fed and free-range?  Is it enough that I have nearly eliminated by dairy consumption by switching to non-dairy milks and flax seed egg replacers in my home, though I allow myself dairy when outside the house?

Behind most of the facts that vegans often espouse lies a simple one that bears repeating, often: EVERY thing we do has a consequence.

Some vegans counter my "almost veganism" with a rather depressing idiom:  "Every raindrop thinks it doesn't contribute to the flood."  This point of view, obviously, is an anti-sufficiency perspective.  Others quote the philosopher Peter Singer, who wrote that "If slaughterhouses had glass walls, we'd all be vegetarians."   Indeed, I have no doubt that a huge majority of people I know would rethink their meat consumption if they had to watch animals being slaughtered.   Others counter my almost veganism with a very true fact:  "Factory farming is neither sustainable nor humane." (If you watch Food, Inc., you'll KNOW, and this is why I've forced my family to choose different meats if they're going to continue to eat meat.)  Finally, other vegans put the reality quite bluntly:  "Meat is covered in poop."

OK, this last one is a *bit* overstated, but with all the E. coli outbreaks in the news -- look at the CDC website if you don't believe me -- we *should be* aware of how often our meat (and sometimes other food) is contaminated. The American value of efficiency -- getting the most bang for your dollar -- has led to unintended horrible health consequences.

Ursula K. LeGuin wrote that "to light a candle casts a shadow". To live is to affect the planet. That much is human. But to live as abundantly, as extravagantly, as most Americans do – privileging efficiency over sufficiency – is, by definition, to be terribly wasteful and poor stewards of our environment.

How often do we eat out when we could have chosen to eat in? How often are our portion sizes ridiculously too big (especially in restaurants)? How many of us are overweight?  (The official statistics suggest that more than 50% of Americans are overweight -- THAT is NOT just genetics!) How many of us have too many clothes largely because they’re cheap due to being made overseas by grossly underpaid workers? How many of us are convinced that we “need” a new cell phone every two years even though our current one works just fine?

When we think of sufficiency, we have to be prepared to say we don’t *need* something. We don’t need a new pair of sandals just because the press says that last year’s model is outdated. We don’t need a medium scoop of ice cream just because the price differential between small and medium makes the medium a “better value”.

Similarly, we don’t need to eat meat every day just because that’s normative or because it’s relatively cheap (due to US subsidies of the industry, by the way --- read Skinny Bitch, too, or Eating Animals).

Sufficiency. Most people can get their head around this goal.

What, however, is a sufficient change in our diet choices?  

I'm a big believer in:

"The good is not the enemy of the excellent."

"A journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step" (Chinese proverb).

I'd bet the planet and the animals and humans on it would all do better if people moved toward "almost vegetarianism". It's not veganism (arguably the "best" diet choice in terms of environmental impact and humane treatment of animals).  It's not even true vegetarianism.

But it’s probably politically more palatable and therefore more attainable.

And it may be sufficient.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

To Be Loved

I woke up early this morning -- before 6.  Usually, I am awakened by a boy -- either the 10-year-old one jumping in between us, wrapped in his favorite blue blanket, or the five-year-old one jumping on us, holding his nearly-worn-out pale blue blankey.  The 13-year-old (girl) now sleeps in and keeps all bedding in her room.  Thank the lord for teenage hormones.

I haven't used an alarm clock in 13 years.  No joke.

I nearly jumped out of bed.  I had a *chance* of having a cup of coffee before the kids came downstairs.

I made the bed (anal Virgo -- remember?) and walked to the coffee pot.

That's as far as I made it before I heard little feet behind me.

I turned to find my five-year-old, in his Spiderman pajamas, holding his little blue blankey.  God, he's cute in the morning.  "Hi Mommy!  Why aren't you in bed?  I wanted to cuddo wif you."  Geez.  I *almost* went back to bed.

Instead I made coffee, poured him a bowl of "bee cereal" (Honeynut Cheerios) and a glass of juice, and then said hi to my other son, who had appeared, true to form, in his underwear and his big blue blanket.

I proceeded to have another morning with everyone up with me.

Sigh.  One day -- or so I'm told by people whose kids are now out of the house -- I will miss this. 

Monday, May 3, 2010

Your Mother Doesn't Live Here (Oh, Wait, She Does)

I posted this picture of the bathroom chore chart on my  Facebook page today.  I am *so* sick of cleaning up after other people!  (This system, by the way, is only partially successful -- the kids don't actually have enough money to pay up every time they leave the bathroom a mess, but the reminder of the threat that I *will* collect generally works.  A copy of it is in each bathroom.) 

So, vegans or near vegans or whatevers -- what tricks do you have up your sleeves to  get your people to pick up?  Or have you miraculously raised paragons of virtue?  Or are you just really tight with mess and just live with it?  (I'm a Virgo, I can't go there.)