Monday, August 31, 2009

T-minus 8 days….

I’m getting excited! And not for our wedding reception either, because all this planning and cleaning is making me wish we didn’t like our families and friends enough to throw them a huge party after we already did the hard work of getting hitched. No, I’m getting jazzed for PCRM’s 21-day vegan kickstart! YAY vegan immersion! It’s just like learning another language, only tastier and without goofy accent marks.

“It’s all well and good for you to be excited,” you might be thinking, “but what about the poor husband that you’ve coerced into this, you vegan minx?” Well, fear not. I coerced him about as much as I’m coercing you right now. Red has made noises off and on about going vegetarian, or more vegetarian, etc. He gave it a shot back in January, but faceplanted pretty quickly—I think because he didn’t really have a game plan in place, he reverted back to ordering lunch at work and his good intentions went downhill from there. He’s pretty much vegetarian at home. He keeps cheese in the fridge, but happily eats whatever I cook. (Aside: last night was yellow squash-corn fritters, adapted from 30-Minute Vegan. Awesome with Tofutti sour cream.)

As you can see, he’s been taking tentative steps towards this for a while. When PCRM sent me an email about the 21-day challenge, I forwarded it to my family and double-dared them to try it. (‘Cuz everyone knows you can’t turn down a double-dare.) Well, Red mentioned it to his coworkers. When one scoffed, “Yeah, I bet you couldn’t do that,” it was ON LIKE DONKEY KONG. His coworkers are also way harsher than I am: I was willing to give him a dispensation during our reception, since it’s been planned for months, but the Grand High Council of Cubicle Inquisitors has declared that his mouth will be a no-fly zone that day. Damn, coworkers, that’s cold even for me. Upside: we’re no longer having cheese trays at the reception.

Red has asked me to do it with him, so I can have access to the message boards and recipes as well. We’re active on the PCRM’s forum already, meeting new people and shoring up support for when the challenge begins on September 8th. I’m holding myself out as reassuring vegan earth-mother, brimming with encouragement for the newbies taking the plunge. (Ego much?) I shared this post from Vegan Freak after someone bemoaned the difficulty of giving up cheese, and she said it helped her avoid the temptation to indulge in a cheese-fest. So maybe this earth-mothering thing will help a few people after all.

Red’s stubborn streak will serve him well during his three-week vegan odyssey. Not only is he determined to succeed, he’s also determined to exact tribute from his doubting colleagues. (Last I checked, his prize for completing the challenge is a lunch of his choosing. Whether this lunch will be vegan remains to be seen, but I’m hopeful.) He’s also said that he won’t be giving up cheese once the challenge is over, because it would invalidate his Italian card. We’ll see how my attempts at cultivating patience work out, because living with an omni grumpy because he can’t have cheese or milk chocolate and is sick of reading labels might strain my nerves. I’m already reminding myself that it will be the cheese withdrawal talking. Rest assured, there will be plenty of updates as we navigate this new cheese-less territory!

The famed casu marzu, maggot cheese of Sardinia. Still want cheese?

Friday, August 28, 2009

If heaven exists, it will have avocados.

I’m suffering from severe end-of-week burnout (shocker!), and so I have no thoughtful ramblings to contribute today. Really looking forward to trying some new recipes this weekend. Dinner last night was pedestrian in the extreme, random leftover vegetables (diced onion, yellow squash, a handful of kale) sautéed with half a jar of pasta sauce and plopped onto a pile of whole-wheat rotini. However, another box of rotini found its ultimate calling in my mom’s avocado-basil pasta salad (earmarked for brunch tomorrow, so I can’t eat it all tonight). There is a real recipe, but I sort of just wing it because all that really matters is how you want it to taste. Here it is, minus the bacon and grated cheese of the original:

16 oz. rotini pasta, or whatever shape you like (the original recipe was for 8 oz., but come on, that’s just not enough)
4 ripe avocados, diced (or, if you’re me, just smush them up in a bowl)
3-4 T. lemon juice
2 T. olive oil
6-8 cloves of garlic, diced/smashed/whatever
A whole bunch of fresh basil, chiffonaded all fancy-like. Like half a cup or more if you can swing it. (I never have that much, and it comes out fine.)
Salt and pepper

Are you ready for this? Really ready? Are you sure? Because this, my friends, requires high-octane kitchen prowess:

Put all that crap in a big bowl and mix it until it’s all mixed up. My large silicone spatula is perfect for the job, but you can use a wooden spoon or whatever you have. A toddler would probably be most helpful, but I don’t have any of those.

Then: try not to eat it all at once. Seriously, my mouth has never been so happy. It’s a divine combination of rich, silky avocado, al dente pasta, tangy lemon juice and garlic, and the extra kick of basil. If you want to mess with perfection, you can add fake bacon bits, but I did that once and they turned the pasta pink.

There’s no photo because it just looks like a bowl full of slimy, greenish pasta, which I realize does not sound appetizing in the least and is a major reason why I will never author my own cookbook. The other reasons are a profound lack of motivation and my aversion to using exact quantities, except when baking.

For your edification: in researching the noble avocado, I learned that its name comes from the Nahuatl word āhuacatl, which means testicle. In their flower phase, they can also switch sexes, opening as female in the morning and then reopening as male the next day. Kinky, kinky avocados.

Delicious avocado photo ripped from Raw Food Nation.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Fish are friends, not food.

From the WTF File: Baltimore’s National Aquarium is hosting a sustainable seafood dining series. After enjoying the bodies of oysters and other marine life, guests are invited to tour the Aquarium. You know, to meet the relatives of their dinner.

Is it just me, or is this shades of the Humane Society of Missouri, which recently held a (non-vegan) fundraising barbecue and polo match? The cognitive disconnects that we are capable of astound me. “Greetings, honored donors: here we have our rescued cows, and the buffet is right over there. Try the ribs.” Aaaaarrrrrggghhhh.

Oh, Aquarium. I used to love the Aquarium. It was a place of magic and wonder: the fantastic dolphin show (I never minded getting splashed), the rain forest with its resident sloth, all the millions of species of fish and other creatures. The Australia exhibit was full of the most amazing animals I’ve ever seen. And the seals! I could watch them for hours. Always a water child (I’m a Cancer), I wanted so badly to swim with them. I’m so sad to realize that they don’t have the happy lives I thought they did. They’re bored and penned-in, unable to swim freely and find their own food. Having a dead fish tossed to you must be a pale imitation of the real thing. And the sharks, used to ranging across their territory for miles—a tank, no matter how large and interesting, can’t compare.

I appreciate the conservation and rehabilitation work the Aquarium does. But our oceans are so depleted: why host events where the very creatures you’re trying to save are the main course? (Here, someone will argue that Chesapeake oysters are fine, since the moratorium gave them time to recover their numbers. Good luck with that, oysters.) It’s okay to eat fish, but not dolphins or seals or sea turtles? They’re harmed by fishing too. They’re caught in nets and their food sources are stolen. I’m sad because most people don’t think of sea creatures when they decide to give up meat. Want to rile me up? Tell me you’re a vegetarian who eats fish. I’ll understand, because I was there once, but I’ll make sure you know you’re not a vegetarian.

I think I’m saddest because there are so few ways for people, especially kids, to really interact with animals without those animals being exploited. Farm sanctuaries are wonderful, and I look forward to taking my kids there (you know, once I have them). Then I’ll have to explain why we can’t go to the zoo or the circus or the aquarium—and I know I’ll be conflicted because I’ll want so much for my children to meet a dolphin or a monkey or a giraffe, to experience their sheer awesomeness face-to-face. It’s ironic that because we love animals so much and want to ensure their ethical treatment, we can’t always interact with them in the ways that society tells us we can. Having a conscience sucks sometimes. Red calls it falling down the rabbit hole. I just wish there was a foolproof way to make people acknowledge the connections.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Please don’t feed the stereotypes.

As you know, I’m a newbie blogger. I was excited to actually get off my lazy vegan ass and write about my convictions, but I know myself well enough to realize that I might give up after a week or so. I’ve pleasantly surprised myself, and my readership is slowly expanding. (Bring your friends!) In pursuit of said readership, I posted a link on Facebook once I had enough content to warrant luring people to my new digital realm.

In true Facebook fashion, most people ignored it. A few expressed interest, and one FLIPPED HER SHIT. Turns out that she had met a vegan once, a rabid girl who had positively traumatized her by…I don’t know, exactly. I asked, but she wouldn’t tell me. I don’t know if she had explicit slaughterhouse pictures shoved in her face, or was simply told that meat is murder. At any rate, the encounter left her feeling like she killed babies for fun (her words). She described herself as “just one of those people who likes meat” and confessed that meals don’t feel complete without it. She did let me email her two of my favorite easy recipes to prove that vegan meals can be nutritionally complete as well as delicious. I haven’t heard back from her, but I hope she tries them. I struggled to be as gentle and compassionate as possible, because it was obvious that she’d been very upset by her first conversation with a vegan. Incidentally, that is a vegan who, some days, I would like to throttle.

Anonymous Hardcore Vegan Girl, you definitely made my life a little harder. I’m not denigrating your approach, but it doesn’t work for me. For all I know, you weren’t even that aggro and my friend’s perception is just warped. But I’ve found that shaming people into changing their habits doesn’t work (thanks, PETA). Scolding them only makes them retreat into their ingrained patterns of behavior. Screaming, “You eat BABIES!” at someone, while probably true, is not likely to engage him or her in a sensible dialogue about eating habits and oppression. It’s going to send that person running straight back to Burger King for a Whopper and a mega-rant about that nutty vegan bitch. Then, later on, someone like me has the unenviable task of repairing that damage. There is a time and a place for direct, in-your-face action—and we need more such times and places. But in my experience, alienating someone rarely does more good than harm.

Anonymous Hardcore Vegan Girl, you and I would probably be friends if we met. I would love the chance to stand next to you at an action or a protest, because I haven’t had that in-the-trenches experience. My activism is almost exclusively on a personal level, because that’s what fits my attitude and my lifestyle. I think I could learn a lot from your anger, your refusal to dampen your message to make it more palatable to the masses. We need that kind of anger. But we also need people to listen when we speak, and they can’t do that if we’re always shouting at them.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Letting my freak flag fly.

Over the weekend, I posted Stephanie’s piece about what eventually happens to pregnant dairy cows (and their calves) on my Facebook page. I didn’t watch it, because I don’t feel the need to. I’ve seen enough slaughterhouse and CAFO photos and videos to last me the rest of my life. Still, I was feeling a little aggro and posted it to let people know what, exactly, is wrong with dairy. It’s a question that vegans never seem to be able to escape, right up there with, “But wheeeeere do you get your proooootein?”

So. Yes. Disturbing slaughterhouse video documenting an all-too-common atrocity. Watch it if you will. Red did not watch it, but he did ask me if all dairy cows are treated in such a way. I admitted that I didn’t know for sure, but that I expected that the vast majority of them are, given that the industry isn’t going to let unproductive mama cows settle down in a nice pasture somewhere to give birth, then live out their remaining years (did you know that a cow’s natural lifespan is about 20 years?) in peace. It’s just not done. They’re viewed as commodities, not living beings. When a commodity is no longer useful, it’s disposed of. End of story, end of life.

Red was frustrated and felt that by Stephanie’s logic (and that of many vegans), he is evil for loving cheese and ice cream. “What am I supposed to do?” he asked in exasperation. Here, I sighed. *sigh* It’s never my intention to upset him or make him feel less than I am simply because I’m vegan and he’s omni. I am over-the-moon excited that he’s taking PCRM’s 21-day vegan challenge next month, and he’s not doing it for me, either. (I dared him, then his co-workers really dared him, and that sealed the deal. Vegan for 21 days he shall be.) I’m thrilled that not only is he willing to give it a shot, but that he’s committed to succeeding. Look for both of us to blog about it extensively! We bought an awesome new cookbook, 30-Minute Vegan, in preparation for the challenge. Last week he decided to quit eating beef after learning from Jenn’s thoughtful post that it takes 2,500 gallons of water to make a single pound of beef. He says he’ll go back to eating other animal products after the challenge is over, and maybe he will. What am I gonna do, stop loving my husband because he’s addicted to cheese? I married a guy, not a pizza. It’s hard to make this change. He’s gotten flak from coworkers and family members already, and he hasn’t even started yet. People are threatened by others who are willfully different.

That’s never been such a big deal for me, but it is huge for Red. Once I got to college, I grew to be comfortable with myself—the weird, artsy girl with short hair, glasses and a pierced nose whom everyone assumed was a lesbian. (Sorry, ladies.) Adding “vegan” to the list of other-nesses was not a big trauma as far as my identity was concerned. Red has always been happiest when comfortably integrated into a group. It’s made him very perceptive to the needs of others, but it’s also making his life more difficult as he tries to move away, however experimentally, from the dominant meat-eating culture. I have to remind myself of this whenever I feel impatient. I am very much okay with letting my freak flag fly, if you will. Call me crazy, stupid, anarchist, tree-hugger, whatever you got, and it rolls off me. I know it’s just your defense mechanism talking, and I’m not losing any sleep over it. It’s a frightening new experience for him, however. He doesn’t want to be seen as alien.

Can I just take a break here to reiterate that he isn’t even vegan yet? All he’s committed to is a three-week vegan immersion. You can bet that no one would be disparaging him if he was going on Atkins for three weeks. It’s really brought home to me just how threatening even the idea of veganism is. I must seem like Osama bin Laden with an artichoke grenade. Jesus.

Obviously I’ll need to do a follow-up post. I just remembered that I want to address Bob Torres’ “Vegan Isn’t a Dirty Word,” which deals with the freak-flag issue head-on. In the meantime, I am learning about patience, Red is counting down the days to his Vegan-palooza, and we are both tinkering with new recipes.

Awww, we got maaaaarried.

Monday, August 24, 2009

PETA scraps billboard, still sucks.

UPDATE! For an activist's-eye view of the protest that greeted Ingrid Newkirk's appearance in Portland, check out ERFette's powerful blog:

Standing Up to Fat Phobia, PETA Style
Standing Up to Fat Phobia, PETA Style: Chapter 2

It's heartbreaking, ballsy stuff. I dare you to read it and then tell me you're still convinced of Newkirk's and PETA's compassion.


Dear PETA,

Nice try. You think replacing that heinous "Save the Whales" billboard with some self-referential nonsense about vegetarians losing weight is gonna get you back into my pants (or my in-box)? Well, suck it. I can guaran-goddamn-tee you that no one who saw that thing, either in person or through the almighty power of the Internet, said two words about animal rights or veganism. You talk shit about stirring things up and bemoan the fact that some people felt the need to "shoot the messenger," but now you're patting yourselves on the back about all the positive feedback you've gotten from people pledging to take your 30-day vegan challenge. And yet? What's that I hear? An apology for your crass fat-hating, woman-hating tactics? Nope. Must be my imagination.

fuck off for good,

P.S. Stephanie over at's Animal Rights blog thinks you suck too, but she's more eloquent about it than I am.

Badass billboard by Kelly of


This weekend I was lucky enough to participate in a Jivamukti yoga workshop. I’d been curious about it, as it’s the only style of yoga that overtly advocates a vegan lifestyle, but there are no Jivamukti teachers where we live. (The closest is in D.C., and I don’t go to D.C. unless there’s a truly above-and-beyond reason. D.C., I hate you and your pointless layout and horrible traffic.) It’s a relatively new style, developed by Sharon Gannon and David Life in 1984. Jivamukti translates as “liberation while living,” and as Gannon writes:

The first step in Patanjali's system of Yoga is Ahimsa, which means the practice of non-harming and nonviolence. This is the reason vegetarianism is a main tenet of Yoga. You simply cannot eat another being without harming them first. The practices of Yoga are meant to be practices, meaning you work toward the attainment of perfection, knowing that perfection may never come.
As long as we are living in physical bodies we will continue to cause some harm to others on this planet. So the practice of Ahimsa becomes one of trying to cause the least amount of harm. Everyone knows that eating a vegetarian diet uses up the least amount of natural resources and so causes the least amount of harm to the whole planet.
As you get better at Ahimsa, you get closer to the realization of your True being as that which is Peaceful and free of debilitating internal conflicts. Many people have difficulty with accepting a vegetarian lifestyle as intrinsic to the practice of yoga asana. Perhaps we can clarify that by examining the Sanskrit word "asana". It means "seat." Seat means connection to the Earth. Earth means all things: animals, plants, minerals, all existence. To practice asana really means to practice your relationship to Earth and all of her manifestations.
In my own practice, I try to keep ahimsa in the forefront of my mind as I walk my vegan path. (I did not display much ahimsa when I flipped off that idiot driver on Saturday, but….) I loved the idea of vegan yoga! Anyway, I received an email from the yoga studio where I occasionally take classes advertising this two-hour Jivamukti master class. It sounded amazing, but master class? I gulped. I love yoga and practice when I can, but masterful I am certainly not. Red assured me that I would be fine, that no one would be criticizing my Downward-Facing Dog or ability to kick up into Headstand (an ability which is wholly absent). I felt some anxiety as I drove to the studio, but reminded myself that pushing out of my comfort zone from time to time is one of the best ways to learn.

The class started off with a short session of chanting and sitting meditation, which is always a challenge for me. I hate sitting still, and I knew that at least one of my legs would fall asleep, but I tried anyway. I was surprised at how well I was able to calm my mind and actually sit still without fidgeting—as I closed my eyes and focused on my breath, I swear I actually started to fall asleep. I jerked back to full consciousness, then continued sitting with my eyes open. And yes, my right leg did fall asleep, but it woke up as we went right from sitting to asana practice. I had never tried to do Downward-Facing Dog with a numb foot, but it worked.

The practice itself was vigorous, but it felt good to move in and out of the rhythmic asanas, with Allison (the visiting instructor) counting inhalations and exhalations. The studio was almost uncomfortably warm—not as warm as it would have been during a hot yoga class, but warm enough to have all of us soaked with sweat in less than half an hour. She walked around the room, rubbing eucalyptus cream into our necks and shoulders. It’s always weird to have another person touching me, even a yoga instructor, but the cream brought a cooling tingle and smelled divine. Must find eucalyptus cream, I said to myself while huffing from Downward Dog into Plank. (Aside: weight training with Red seems to be working! My arms and shoulders definitely feel stronger.) The asana series wasn’t all that different from what I’m used to, but I enjoyed it and was definitely challenged. It’s fascinating to watch my body as I move into different asanas—how my shoulders feel rolled back, for example, instead of hunched, and how much easier it is to hold Downward Dog when I press my fingers into the mat instead of only my palms.

After two hours and an abortive Headstand attempt, I was a puddle of exhausted, sweaty vegan. I felt awesome. I was completely wrung out—and so was my headband, which didn’t do a very good job of keeping the sweat out of my eyes, but that’s okay, headband. Today, two days later, I’m ridiculously sore, but in a satisfying way. Allison didn’t talk about Jivamukti’s focus on veganism, as I’d been hoping she would, and I was too tired to ask her about it personally. Still, I’m very glad to have finally experienced Jivamukti yoga. Whether or not I ever get to study it regularly, I know that I can find my own vegan asana wherever I am.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Vegan, American-style.

I can be incredibly dense sometimes. Since I went vegetarian and then vegan, I’ve gravitated towards the kinds of recipes that are easiest to prepare. This makes sense to me, because even though I like cooking, I don’t really like to spend all that much time eating. Once dinner’s ready, I eat like I’ve been locked in a dungeon with nothing but cat food for a week. Then I go do something else. Weird, I know.

This means I usually make things that involve as few pots and pans as possible. Stir-fries, curries, casseroles, pasta dishes—you get the picture. The stereotypical American layout—meat, starch, vegetable—all but vanished from my repertoire. It was too much work! Too many dishes to wash! Really, why do all that when you can just as easily throw it all together in one delicious mélange? Add in the fact that many ethnic dishes, which are already vegan, use the one-pot formula. All was well.

And all continued to be well during the first year I lived with Red House. I'd only ever cooked for myself, and he liked what I made, so I didn't think to do anything different. I cooked (or we cooked, as he is quite the dab hand in the kitchen, especially when I need an onion chopped), we ate, and we were happy. Recently, upon the happy occasion of our marriage, he confessed that he (gasp!) missed the Standard American Platescape. How did I did not realize this? Was he crying a little inside every time I unveiled another chana masala or risotto? He still liked my cooking, he assured me, but the meat-starch-veg trio had yet to give up its hold on his palate. As he wrote the other day, our dinner of brown rice, fresh green beans with butter and dill, and Trader Joe’s Vegetable Masala burgers is more his speed. (Cue Offspring’s “Keep ‘Em Separated.”)

I balked at first, because dammit, I didn’t want to do more work in the kitchen! But then I realized that this might be the case for lots of people considering a more vegan life. It can be tough to abandon the foodways you love and start over with a steaming cauldron of weird colorful something that smells funny. (It’s the cumin, baby.) Lots of people, when they think of a vegan meal, mentally subtract the meat from that Standard American Platescape and have no idea what to replace it with. For Red, it’s easier to do it gradually. He loves veggie burgers, and while I have never felt such devotion towards those hockey-puck conglomerates of protein, I’m glad he’s found an animal-friendly substitute. Another favorite is BBQ tofu, paired with cornbread or polenta and green beans or broccoli. I am justifiably proud of my cornbread, and he would eat BBQ tofu every day if he could.

So I’m going to try to make more of an effort to put meals together in pieces, rather than falling back onto a one-pot solution. It’s interesting to see what goes well together, and how it looks arranged on a plate (something else that never concerned me). It might take a little more planning, but luckily, he’s around to help me. And to do the dishes.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

My husband outed me as a good influence.

It's official. My dark reign of burnt-out terror is over. Even worse, he made me sound like a saint. Oh, strike me dead now, before I’m revealed as a complete and utter fraud.

Go read his blog. G’head, it’s okay (as long as you come back). It was our blog, but we never bothered to update it, so I started this one. That seemed to flip his blogging switch, and he got to posting. Which is fabulous, except when he credits me with saying things like, “Of course I want a cheeseburger sometimes, but I stand on my principles and resist temptation.” *blushes fiercely*

Did I actually say something that inane? He maintains I did, so it’s probably true. Not gonna lie: burgers smell good. So does pretty much anything else on a grill, and bacon. Yes, BACON. What else can you think of that smells as awesome as bacon? I thought so. And yeah, I miss it sometimes. Burgers and hot dogs can be faked with reliable vegan precision, but there is not yet a suitable replacement for bacon.

I gave it up anyway. You might say that there is a tiny, bacon-shaped hole in my subconscious.

Ironically, it is this occasional-but-still-craven desire that lends my convictions greater credence with my husband. (Aside: For blog purposes, I think I’ll start calling him Red House. Or maybe just Red. Like Hellboy.) I could hop up on a soapbox and declare that meat smells foul, that I will never again think longingly of dead animal flesh roasted or grilled to perfection. But I’d be a liar. I used to relish steak, and omelets, and milkshakes—and yes, bacon. When I decided that I wouldn’t eat them anymore, I didn’t automatically shut off that part of my brain that remembered them as tasty. That’s part of what makes us human: recognizing that something is desirable, but avoiding it anyway.

In one of his VegNews columns, Dan Piraro offered a list of responses to the reasons people frequently give for dismissing veganism. “Oh, I couldn’t possibly give up meat,” is a favorite excuse. His comeback? “Yeah, I used to feel the same way about high-school cheerleaders.” ZING!

Bottom line: It’s a one-day-at-a-time sort of thing. Every morning, I wake up and re-commit to compassion. Some days it’s easier than others (nibbling stale rolls and limp, overcooked vegetables at wedding receptions is super), but luckily, the days add up.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Oh my God, PETA.

That’s it. I’m breaking up with you. You’ve seen this coming for a while—too many Lettuce Ladies and not enough substance. The sea kittens were groovy, but it’ll take more than that to win me back. Lately, your track record has been abysmal. Euthanize the Vick dogs? Man, you had to eat that one. General wingnuttery? I’ve had all I can take. I admit I’ve found you a useful resource before, even tolerated the sexist bullshit (which is far from a rare occurrence), but now I’m done. Really and fucking truly. Take your return address labels and leave.

NO. That is NOT cool. That’s exactly the kind of sexist, sizeist, left-fucking-field idiocy that has alienated many compassionate, thinking people from your corner of the activism world. Do you think we’re not smart enough to respond to subtler campaigns? I’m not saying you should be all warm and fuzzy about it, because God knows I’m not, but there’s a line between shocking people into awareness and so crudely assaulting them that they dismiss you out of hand. That line’s pretty damn wide, and you marched right over it. The sad part is, you also marched over a whole lot of people who might have taken a closer look at animal rights and veganism had you only thought to temper your approach.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Forgiving Michael Vick. Or, you know, not.

I watched his 60 Minutes interview last night. I was conflicted, but I did it, without any expectations. Clarification: the only expectation I had was that 60 Minutes would actually start on time. Thanks, PGA Championship.

Expectations or not, I was unimpressed. The interview was sterile, coached, boring. No deep, probing questions or insights. Vick expressed no emotion, paying lip service to his remorse—which mostly appeared to be for his incarceration and the loss of his career, not the torture and murder of his dogs.

This morning, Salon ran a really thoughtful piece on forgiving Vick. I won’t parse it here, but I do respect his right to play football again. I don’t care much for football either way, but as the law stands, he’s eligible to be reinstated. I’m glad he has Tony Dungy mentoring him (for all my apathy towards the NFL, I do recognize Dungy as a class act), and I look forward to seeing if Wayne Pacelle’s gamble on Vick pays off for the HSUS. Pacelle raises an interesting point when he refers to himself as a “participating skeptic”: he’s willing to engage with Vick and give him a chance to redeem himself, but he’s not invested in Vick’s motivation and hasn’t forgiven him. I think I feel the same way: I want nothing to do with Vick, but I won’t expend any more energy towards despising him, either. His conduct was disgusting and reprehensible, and I wouldn’t want to be around him (or have my dog around him, either), but I don’t need the negativity that hating him brings. As psychotherapist Jeanne Safer explains, “We don’t have a word in the language for healthy nonforgiveness.” It’s a concept worth exploring. I believe in second chances, even if I don’t agree with said chances including multi-million dollar contracts.

Michael Vick, I wash my hands of you. One day, I hope to meet one of the dogs you brutalized, to scratch her ears and look in her eyes and recognize a soul who has been transformed thanks to a truly lifesaving second chance.

Little Red, one of Michael Vick's former bait dogs, snuggles with a buddy. Photo by Molly Wald, courtesy of Best Friends Animal Sanctuary.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Thanks, Philly.

So, Michael Vick signed with the Eagles. (Sigh of relief.)

The buzz here in Baltimore had been that the Ravens were considering him—or at least, they hadn't ruled him out. I know everyone's got an opinion on whether Vick should be allowed back in the NFL at all, but suffice it to say I'm thrilled the Ravens didn't sign him. Baltimore has a dogfighting problem that is, how shall we say, considerable. Our own sweet Lucy was rescued as a puppy from a fighting operation. To bring Vick to a city plagued with the cruelty he bankrolled and perpetrated would have been an insult. Worse still, several of the dogs he tormented are being fostered here via Recycled Love, the rescue that brought us together with Lucy. Philly, you can have him.

This beautiful girl is either Sweet Jasmine or Sweet Pea (I think it's Jasmine). Far from the horrors of Vick's kennel, she's loving life with her new family in Baltimore. Photo courtesy of The Sun.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Your daily delusion.

Oh, Blake Hurst. You’re a farmer after my own heart.

With a bloody steak knife.

I know your essay “The Omnivore’s Delusion: Against Agri-Intellectuals” ran on July 30, which in Internet time means approximately six months ago. But had the venerable NYT not name-checked you yesterday in its “Idea of the Day,” I might never have had the pleasure of your rationalizations.

I’m not going to address your take on nitrogen, or corn, or Michael Pollan. I tried to read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, but it didn’t grab me. And I’m only going to barely brush organic vs. industrial farming. Your essay is well considered, and I thank you for it. But I’d like to comment on few points.

The most delicious irony is this: the parts of farming that are the most “industrial” are the most likely to be owned by the kind of family farmers that elicit such a positive response from the consumer. Corn farms are almost all owned and managed by small family farmers. But corn farmers salivate at the thought of one more biotech breakthrough, use vast amounts of energy to increase production, and raise large quantities of an indistinguishable commodity to sell to huge corporations that turn that corn into thousands of industrial products.
“Industrial products”? You mean livestock. One “indistinguishable commodity” becomes another, because the vast majority of the grain cultivated in this country goes to feed animals that will later be slaughtered. Corn isn’t even part of the natural diet for cows, but it sure does fatten them up quickly. If more of that grain was diverted to feed people directly, instead of being filtered through animals, the energy expenditure would be decreased and fewer people would go hungry.

[C]onsumers benefit from cheap food. If you think they don’t, just remember the headlines after food prices began increasing in 2007 and 2008, including the study by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations announcing that 50 million additional people are now hungry because of increasing food prices. Only “industrial farming” can possibly meet the demands of an increasing population and increased demand for food as a result of growing incomes.
Mr. Hurst. Your food is “cheap” because we’ve already paid for it. My taxes = your government subsidies, thankyouverymuch. When people complain to me that organic food is so much more expensive, I explain that it only appears that way because organic farmers don’t receive the subsidies that enable them to seemingly undercut the competition. If your subsidies suddenly vanished, that price gap wouldn’t be nearly so vast.

Like most young people in my part of the world, I was a 4-H member. Raising cattle and hogs, showing them at the county fair, and then sending to slaughter those animals that we had spent the summer feeding, washing, and training. We would then tour the packing house, where our friend was hung on a rail, with his loin eye measured and his carcass evaluated. We farm kids got an early start on dulling our moral sensibilities. I'm still proud of my win in the Atchison County Carcass competition of 1969, as it is the only trophy I have ever received.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the origins of cognitive dissonance. Does anyone else think it’s a point of pride that Mr. Hurst and his fellow “farm kids got an early start on dulling [their] moral sensibilities”? How far does such dulling extend? Farm kid or not, 4-H or not (and I was, though I was more the sewing-and-baking type), I don’t think I could have ever seen an animal I love slaughtered, then gazed upon its prize-winning carcass with a cool, detached eye.

Farmers do not cage their hogs because of sadism, but because dead pigs are a drag on the profit margin, and because being crushed by your mother really is an awful way to go. As is being eaten by your mother, which I've seen sows do to newborn pigs as well.
I would think that a dead pig is a drag for the pig as well, coincidentally. And I’ve no doubt that some sows do kill their piglets, for whatever reason. Besides, weren’t you going to take her piglets away regardless? If confining and denying freedom of movement to an animal that you will later kill for your own pleasure (gustatory or financial) isn’t sadistic, I need a new dictionary.

By the way, what’s with your condescending use of “agri-intellectual”? Where I come from, “intellectual” is a good thing. Can a farmer not be intellectual, or an educated person farm? I could go on for hours, but I’d be exhausted and blind from squinting at my monitor. I appreciate your desire to “leave [your] grandchildren a prosperous and productive farm”—I just hope they’ll be more enlightened than you are.

love and tofu,

Photo of Petey the piglet by Debora Durant, courtesy of debiguity's Flickr photostream.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

How I went vegan.

I don't remember.

Isn't that insane? I truly don't. I remember, about 6ish years ago, starting to cut meat out of my diet. My best friend gave up beef when her brother dared her to go a month without it—14 years ago. Her journey progressed from there. Another friend was taking an Animal Ethics class where Meet Your Meat was screened, and that did it for her. As for me...I had assumed that because of my tendencies toward anemia and hypoglycemia, I needed animal products. Yet, I started to learn. The Internet became my best friend.

I slowly transitioned to vegetarianism over the next year or so. When I moved away to grad school in the hippie center of the Mountain West, it was easier, because I could cook for myself and shy away from meat without feeling like a freak. I learned how to cook tofu, and while it still surprises me with its wily, stubborn tendencies, my tofu can make omnivores weep with pleasure. So can my sweet potato fries. Don't get me started on the biscotti.

When did I become vegan? It happened so slowly, I have no idea. I hear about all these people having traumatic conversion experiences and commemorating their veganversaries. I don't have one. Slowly, like growing, it happened. "Last carton of eggs," I said one day. Soymilk replaced cow's milk, hamburgers were shoved aside for veggie burgers, and cheese—well, science is still working on a foolproof vegan cheese, but we'll get there.

Even after I considered myself vegan, I realized that the non-dairy creamer I stirred into my coffee contained casein (cursed stuff), and my favorite frozen waffles contained eggs. "Fuck," I said to myself. "Bitch, weren't you reading the labels?" Evidently, I needed to read harder. So long, tasty frozen waffles. Once I realized I could kick the powdered creamer habit (did you know it's flammable?), I learned to like soymilk in my coffee. I still huff at having to squint at the tiny print on the label of a can of soup or whatever, but I do it. If I'm in your way in the grocery store, move around me.

You could say I'm vegan because it makes sense. I'm not perfect. None of us can completely escape the animal products integrated into the things we consume, buy, and use. But I do my best. A lot of the time, I don't think my best is good enough. ("Be more vegan!" the nasty part of my psyche rages.) But once I came to the awareness that I could no longer live in ignorant bliss while so many fellow creatures suffered, I don't think I had a choice.

Fair warning.

Like a puppy, this blog followed me home. Or, like a puppy, I've followed so many fascinating blogs that the entitled part of my inner child thinks I might have something to offer as well. I have no discipline (ask my husband), so if this devolves into an exercise in self-adoration or I neglect it altogether, you've been warned.

What I do have is a passion for food, animals, and our planet. Which I guess boils down to a passion for everything, in the cosmic sense. That's me. Cosmically passionate. So passionate I occasionally fall over with the weight of it and when I get up again, there's a small pile of ashes where a corner of my idealism used to be.