Sunday, February 24, 2013

Reflections on a Year - A Vegan Rant

In three weeks, about, I will have been trying to maintain a vegan lifestyle for about a year. Although, I am not truly vegan, which is hard to explain. I have not thrown out all of my leather, or wool clothing. However, I do now try to purchase animal free products.  Other things such as lotions, face wash, etc, I found ridiculously expensive (vegan or traditional) so I now try to make my own.
Food, however, has been easy.  It seems weird to me that I ever ate any other way. I think the biggest surprise is how few choices there are for vegans. Well, that and the fact that people still feel the need to profess to me their undying love for bacon. But it doesn't bother me, it just sort of startles me that either they think they are the first to come up and say, "Ooooh, I could never give up bacon." Or they think it never gets old for them to share with me their addiction, passion, obsession, whatever the relationship is at the moment with this meat. Totally different from the people who will  come up and say, "Oh, I could never give up cheese." and then get this sort of dreamy look in their eyes. But on the whole I would have to say that people have been so super supportive.  I've realize how truly blessed I am to have such good friends. I want to thank them. The people who came with real questions, concerns and even advice. People who came with connections to others. And people who have gone out of their way to make my experiences with my choices easier for me. The greatest gift of this choice has been the realization of the wonderful people around me. And then there are some other people.
I try very hard not to be a bother with my eating choices. I'm not doing this to make a statement or to make others feel guilty. I'm not all that interested in what you are eating. This was my choice. So, I thought I would put together a list of reasons I didn't go vegan:
1. I didn't do this for you, to you, in spite of you. I did this to align my actions with my conscience. Which, yes, makes me feel better about myself but not better than you. I am actually very self centered - outside of my children - I tend to think about me. So really, I'm not thinking about you - more than likely I am wondering if I can do more or if everyone is staring at the grey hair on my head.
2. This isn't just about the animals. But it isn't not about the animals either. People are carnivores, I get that. However, to me, the impact on the planet, the cruelty to a living thing, the price to the small farmer as factory farms and fewer slaughter houses take over was just to high a price to pay to eat. So it is about the animals, but it is about so much more.
3. This isn't just about the environment. Although that is a motivating factor, it is not the largest factor. Because, as usual, it is the people with the least amount of power who reap the worst consequences. It is more about the people. The people who have no choice, or their choices are ninety-nine cent value meal, or some prepackaged junk from the cheapest supermarket - if they have a supermarket in the area.
4. I didn't do this so you could read the menu for me. I can still read, I haven't developed an allergy to meat, cheese, eggs, other dairy. This is my choice. I firmly believe that, for me, a person of limited means, my power remains with the choices I make. I can eat anything, the power is in the choice.
5. I didn't do this in the hopes you would go vegan. Really, I didn't. Although, let's face it, if enough people went vegan I would probably have greater choice as the mighty markets would have to respond. See? All about me.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Crumb Counter's and New Year's Resolutions

Isn't it funny how the things you aren't particularly proud of in yourself really annoy the hell out of you in others? One would think that we would have more empathy seeing our own foibles in others, and I know in the right time and circumstance I can. But often, it just sends me right out of my skull.
I am a crumb counter by nature. Maybe it is because I am the middle child in a large family, maybe it is just part of my DNA. Whatever the reason I often find myself with the sulky "It's not fair." drifting around in my mind.  When I see people of means, people who didn't have to pay for their own college (or aren't burdened by massive debt because of it) or can afford things I just can't. People who don't have to live paycheck to paycheck, I become petulant. I resent the fact that I seem to have so little compared to others. It is a very small feeling and one of which I am not particularly proud. There are times that I float around and never count the crumbs and other times I find myself so furious  at what I don't have, I forget to be grateful for the amazing life I do have. It seems during these times that I am a raging calculator out of control, with positives in every other life but my own.
I think some of this stems from the belief that part of my self worth comes from my standing in society. The more financially solvent I am, the further up the social ladder, the better I am. Obviously, right? I deserve to be here because I am better. So when I am feeling less financially, my mind seeks to buttress itself from the logical conclusion of this thinking: I am not good enough. If I were a better person, smarter, prettier, more practical, innately somehow deserving, I wouldn't live paycheck to paycheck. I would deserve to have more because I am better.  A little sick, isn't it?
Maybe that is why when I see so many Facebook posts complaining about what people may or may not buy with their government assistance it enrages me. Let's face it, it is crumb counting, just with a different group of people This prevalent thought that people can afford something I can't, but are somehow less deserving of it than I am. They obviously made the wrong choices, weren't smart enough, just weren't good enough to not need financial assistance. That's kind of the underlying logic, right? I work hard and you don't. Of course we don't really know these people, we may see a small window into their life at the super market, where we judge their groceries, their clothes, their electronics and sum up the group. Not fair! Why should they have an iPhone, expensive clothes, or potato chips? Undeserving.
I guess it makes me angry because I don't want to be judged for what I think I lack. I don't want to be judged for every choice I make, and I resent even an inkling that someone else feels they have the right to tell me how to live. But of course, it is just a different form of what I do, so I should be more understanding.
Originally, my New Year's Resolution was going to be nothing this year. This year I was going to accept myself as I am. It seemed like a great idea and lasted two weeks. Me being me, it just didn't work. I have to have something to work on. So this year I am working on not crumb counting. Instead of looking to others for what they are doing wrong, judging people I really don't know, and getting angry for what I don't have, I am going to try to be grateful for everything I do have. I am going to try to avoid comparing my life with others, or use a judgement of others to somehow justify my own place in this world.
Hopefully, I will be successful at least some of the time. Wish me luck!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Stranger In A Strange Land


“Here. Here. Here.” Rodney Glasgow’s words reached out to the audience, to the students and invited them into a space where they could be themselves. A space where they didn’t have to monitor their words, seek out clues or dial up the right code. A place where there isn’t a constant need to build credibility, to prove over and over again that you belong. A place where there wasn’t a need to do more and be better to be considered just as good and still considered the anomaly.  A place where there isn’t a need to combat every message perpetuated in the media, culture and the air that we breathe.  Here you could breathe.
But I was drowning.
Last week I was excited and nervous to attend the People ofColor Conference (POCC) in Houston. To be clear, the POCC is not a diversity conference; it is not a place for people of color to educate white people on their experiences, or to workshop race relations. It is space created within the independent school community for people of color to come together to network, support, learn, and share with each other. It is a safe space. It is not created by or for white people. It was the first time in my life I had ever been in such a space. Even when I was not in the majority, when I may have been one of a handful of white people in the room, the structure of the environment was created by people who looked like me for people who looked like me.  I always knew how to navigate the waters. For four days last week I was lost.
Really, it happened sort of slowly and beyond my consciousness that I was only minimally aware of the dynamic. But at the end of the day I was exhausted. I was tired of having to watch everything I said, lest I be outed as ignorant or a racist. I was tired of having to constantly re-establish my credibility my right to have a voice in the conversation.  I constantly remembered that I was a guest and worried that I was making a good impression.  I didn’t want to let my colleagues down.  I didn’t want to be exposed as just another white person who didn’t really get it. Although, I have often wondered how I can, being white.
It’s really important for me to acknowledge that even though I was the only white person attending from my cohort, I came with seven colleagues; they really worked to protect and care for me. They cared for me as though I was their child. I was not excluded or isolated in any way, except that I was. I couldn’t join in on the collective cultural experiences because they weren’t mine. The multiple cultures reflected back during these four days, for the first time ever, did not include my experiences or me. It was hard.
By the third day, I succumbed to the exhaustion and sought out my bed. I needed to be alone in my own head, in my own me. The tipping point was a brief, exchange at a workshop I had been most looking forward to. Rosetta Lee, an amazing speaker and facilitator was giving a workshop on how to guide conversations on race. I sat in a diverse group of people to brainstorm why these conversations are so difficult. Within seconds the African American woman sitting across from me, dismissed me. It wasn’t anything loud or dramatic but it was there. It was as though I didn’t exist in the group for her. I felt the anger flicker through my veins, almost making me shake. I wanted to scream at her, “How dare you! You don’t know me! You don’t know anything about me! How dare you dismiss me!” But of course I didn’t. I turned to the young Asian woman on my right and we had a pleasant and thoughtful conversation. But even with that, the wonderful experience I had with one woman of color, what stuck with me was the dismissal. I had enough. I was exhausted. I wanted to cry. I couldn’t breathe. I went to bed.
In the room next door my female colleagues had gathered for a sleepover, a kiki they called it. I could hear them laughing. I dug deeper under the covers, I was feeling pretty sorry for myself. I hurt. At some points I slept. A friend’s laughter drifted through the room and for some reason brought clarity. The words from the speakers of the last couple of days came to my head. “Here. Here. Here.” “White people don’t know, they just outed themselves.” “In order to build the identity of the slave you also have to build the identity of the slave master.”
I was tired of having to make my way in those days. Rosetta Lee uses the analogy of a fish out of water. A fish trying to make their way on land where everything is foreign and they can’t breathe. I was a land dwelling animal in the water, trying desperately to keep my head above the water with the waves constantly coming down. Sometimes softly and gently as when I was with my friends and sometimes rough and crashing, tossing me around. I was too tired to swim anymore.
This is what it is like every single day for people of color. Every day people of color have to build credibility, live within a culture that not only doesn’t reflect their experience but also takes the liberty of re-writing it. Every day worrying about what they say, how they say it. Every day making up for the images that continuously misrepresent their culture. Every day having to find a way to be true to themselves and still live in a place that wasn’t created for them. Every day people of color have to ask for entry into a white world. I only had to do this for four days. And I was so wrung out.
The thing is, if you would have asked me about this even the week before, I would have said that I already knew this. I could even have spoken at some length on why and how this happens. I knew this! Except I didn’t. I knew it the way I know my multiplication facts, or some science theory, or even an event in history. But I didn’t really know it. It was separate and outside of me, because I couldn’t really know it. I had never experienced what it was like to be other so how could I know? Until these four days in Houston. The most painful gift I think I have ever received.
So now I know. Now what?

Friday, April 27, 2012

Battle of the Banana Breads

So a couple of weeks ago we hosted the Battle of the Banana Breads at my house. The event was sparsely attended, only Katie and myself for most of it. Although Thomas did show up for the actual tasting of the bread. This was my first recipe to veganize, is that a word? Anyway, I chose it because it is one of my children's favorite desserts and it is a recipe from a low fat cookbook. I figured that this would make for less of a transition. The only animal products used in the original recipe are egg whites, yogurt and two tablespoons of melted butter. The only other change I made was vegan chocolate chips, which are indistinguishable in taste from non-vegan chips. Most semi-sweets don't list animal products as an ingredient but they do warn that they may contain milk. 

Photo 128
The eggs gave me pause. According to The Joy of Vegan Baking by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, applesauce and bananas can both be used in place of eggs. Since this recipe has bananas, I debated on whether to use the egg substitute or try the applesauce. Finally, I decided on the substitutes. Mostly because I had bought the damn box of powder and wanted to try it. Okay, I have to be honest that this is one of those places that I am conflicted. I understand not using animal products, especially from factory farms. However, since these were never going to be chickens - my eggs come from a Farm Share, I wonder if it is better to use powered egg substitute. Then again, I am realizing that my idea of humane may not agree with what my farmer considers humane. I know that sounds arrogant, but I have often heard that it is necessary to burn off the chicken's beaks so they don't peck at each other. However, I have since learned that chickens actually have a sophisticated social structure and when that structure is left in place, they don't peck at each other. It is only when we attempt to modernize by cramming the chickens in together that the pecking becomes a real problem. Still, it appears that the practice is fairly common. You can read more about this in Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Froer or on Wikipedia. I haven't worked up the courage to ask my farmer if they burn the beaks off their birds. I mean really, what would I say? It might be worse than the "Do you keep guns in your house? Because I don't want my kid to die." talk. Okay, not worse than that, but still not comfortable. 

Still using a substance with a long list of ingredients was not feeling too natural to me so I researched it. Here is some of what I found out when I decided I needed to learn more about what was in this box of egg wanna be's. Ener Ge Egg Replacer (the brand I bought) is made from  potato starch, tapioca flour, leavening (calcium lactate [non-dairy], calcium carbonate, citric acid), cellulose gum, carbohydrate gum. Calcium carbonate is the same stuff that is in antacids, like Tums. Calcium lactate is a mineral found in dairy products, red beans and rhubarb. It helps the body absorb calcium. Cellulose gum  is a thickener. It is derived from wood pulp and purified cotton cellulose. Check your yogurt and ice-cream. Chances are it has cellulose gum in it. If you want to learn more about cellulose gum you can do that here. Carbohydrate gum comes from pine trees or cotton and is modified to create a binding agent. When small amounts are put in water it forms a thick sticky liquid. And citric acid comes from, you guessed it citric fruit.  So there you have it, everything in the box. Although now at least I know a little more, I can't say that I am in love with the idea of using them. I will definitely be playing with egg substitutes. Still, I am not as tentative as I had been in the beginning. If you compare the ingredients to the ingredients in say Bryers Strawberry Yogurt (milk non-fat grade A pasturized, concentrate, gelatin kosher, flavor(s) natural, aspartame, acesulfame potassium, tricalcium phosphate, red40, blue 1, vitamin A palmitate, vitamin D3, contains yogurt cultures active including L acidophilus and bifidobacterium lactis) , it sort of puts it in perspective

So here is the original recipe:
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/2 cup fat-free or low-fat vanilla yogurt
  • 2 tbsp. butter, melted
  • 3 ripe bananas
  • 1/4 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
It's a simple recipe where you mash the bananas, melt the butter toss the dry ingredients in one bowl, mix the wet in another and then combine the two. This isn't one of those recipes where I ever worry about timing. It tosses together pretty quickly, add the mashed bananas and chips at the end and bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 50-55 minutes. Bing! Done! How easy is that? 
I only changed a few things. First, I obviously used the egg replacer. I chose to substitute for two eggs as I didn't know how to substitute for two egg whites. That meant three teaspoons of egg replacer mixed with four tablespoons of water. Second I used vanilla soy yogurt. By the way, I buy the yogurt (both soy and milk) in the personal sizes which are about six ounces. So both had more yogurt than the recipe called for. And I used Earth Balance in place of the butter. Also I used unbleached unbromated flour.  Flour is often bleached, and sometimes this process includes using animal bones in a charring process. Also, potassium bromate is added to flour to help age it so it performs more reliably when baking. It seems that when wheat is first ground, it forms lovely gluten but after a few weeks it stops. Aging allows the flour to settle down and again perform more reliably. Some smarty decided they could age the flour more quickly by adding the potassium bromate. Unfortunately it is also a carcinogen that has been banned in Europe as well as many other countries.  Who knew?  Finally, I used four bananas in the vegan bread as opposed to three. I did this because I had four bananas left that were banana bread material and I wanted to use them up. I did use the three larger bananas in the traditional banana bread in an effort to be fair. 

And the winner is..........
Photo 133 The vegan banana bread by a landslide. I kid you not. My children loved the texture more, which could have been the egg substitutes or the extra banana. And they said it tasted better. Since I didn't taste both it is hard for me to determine. However, the vegan bread was gone in two days, while I still have a piece or two frozen of the traditional banana bread. 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Micro Activisim

 The feeling of powerlessness has been a recurring theme in conversations in the past week or so. How can one person sort through the massive amounts of information and mis-information? How can one person effect change? How can we know, in our very busy lives, what is actually happening? And once we know, what then? The feeling of being overwhelmed and powerless is daunting. How do individuals make a difference? What does it mean to be active? How do we activate people to make change and is this even our right?
I have been thinking about this more and more as I reconnect with this part of myself. In some way, I have always been active. My sense of social injustice was lit early by teachers who were from the hippie genre, balanced by a side of nuns. Most of my teachers were young, socially minded individuals who taught at a Catholic school. They were missionaries who believed in saving the world. One video that stands out for me was shown in sixth grade by Sister Thomas ( I loved Sister Thomas). It was about a boy who envisioned himself doing all of these amazing acts. I vividly remember his one fantasy of standing in the dessert and feeding the poor (by the way, it is only now that I am realizing the innate racism in this since of course the poor were always people of color from a foreign country dressed in next to nothing.) Throughout the film, he has plenty of opportunities to share or make a small difference and he doesn't recognize them because they are not on a grand scale. At the end of the movie he does break up a fight. Whatever may not have stayed with me from my Catholic schooling, the ideas from this film and the strong prodding to go out and be a change in the world were planted deep in me.
Even as I grew up and began to question the Catholic church, my faith and what it meant to be a good person, the vestiges of my early experiences stayed with me. And the Categorical Imperative by Emmanual Kant became my road map or touchstone as I tried to make choices. I know some people - if anyone actually reads this - are  nodding with a that totally makes sense sort of nod. It should help to explain my concrete black and white mentality when it comes to what I hold myself accountable for. In a nutshell, the Categorical Imperative states that you do the right thing because it is the right thing to do. Not because you are trying to garner favor with God, or for the rewards you may receive. You make your choices based on an ethical stance,  simply because it is right. Period. Later as an undergrad in a theology class I explored the difference between justice and charity.  Justice is what is fair, and social justice is working to fix whatever is unfair. Charity is trying to supply immediate relief to the problem. It is not justice. This is an important distinction.
But as I grow older (just a tiny bit), I am beginning to pull away from these ideas, and rethink my philosophy on justice, activism and doing what it right. Social justice shouldn't be qualified as a subset of justice, to me it diminishes the reality of what justice is. Somehow "social justice" makes justice appear optional. Justice is; and the opposite is injustice. There can't be a social injustice that is somehow just. (Although we are constantly being told this in one form or another.) But I am also starting to really believe that justice can and will happen through small acts. It doesn't need to be on a grand sweeping scale. (Okay, I still fantasize about being able to make these huge amazing impacts. But lets face it that is more about vanity than justice.)  I really think that the world can be changed with many, many people making small changes and different choices. The emphasis is necessary because you have to really believe it before you start making the decision. Otherwise, you will continue to think that "it doesn't really matter, it's just a small thing." One person dropping a can of food into a food drive box isn't going to feed the world. But most people dropping a can in could make a huge impact. But you need that one. All of the ones. One person going vegan won't end factory farms, many people choosing to not buy meat from their grocery store and instead buy from local farms will help to eliminate these horrors. But you need that one.
And here is another small piece of the puzzle. The environment, poverty, human rights, animal rights, all of these violations of humanity are interconnected. So when you make a small impact in one, however tiny, it is destined to cause a small ripple throughout all. Even if you can't see the ripple or the connection. Although, if you continue to inform yourself, read, search out information you will begin to see how small acts create great change. Over time. Become aware and you are becoming involved.
Finally, feeling overwhelmed, like guilt, is useless. There is power in choice and we always have a choice. Whether it is searching out food from local farmers, putting money in a collection bin for the poor, adding to a food drive, turning off the water when you brush your teeth. There are no contributions to the greater good that are too small. So make all the tiny, seemingly too tiny to matter, choices that you can. They matter.  Celebrate yourself every time you make a great decision. The impact is greater than you think. And hold onto your other power. Hold onto your joy.

Friday, April 6, 2012

A Vegan Shopping Trip

So today I took the plunge and attempted a real vegan food shopping adventure. Since I still get meat and dairy from my farm share, for the rest of my family, I can basically bask in total veganism with my weekly shopping. So in I walk, all bright and shiny with my new vegan self and start looking for stuff. Previously, I spent quite a bit of time working my way through several vegan cookbooks to plan a week's menu and from there a shopping list. Normally when I do this, I find myself at the store wondering what I needed a particular ingredient for and was it really necessary? This happens during my second phase of sticker shock. The first phase is always, WTF! Are they Fing kidding me? What's in this shit anyway? But in person I tend not to speak text. No, going vegan did not clean up my language, but it is early there is still hope.
Anyway, I promised myself, in order to give myself the very best start, I would buy what was on the list. This meant actually spending five dollars for a small jar of vegan mayo, even though I didn't really eat mayo much in my pre-vegan existence. Well, I must need it for something right? And of course I had to buy organic. Most vegan products seem to be soy based. Soy is a market that is rife with GMO's which means supporting Monsanto. Since I swore off Monsanto long before I swore off meat, I need to buy organic soy, or products that are specifically marked non-gmo. I did post on Facebook a list of products that are non-gmo but I am freakish enough at the grocery store without Googling every single product to see if is is GMO. ( By the way, if you have an app for that, I'll take it. Specifically, if a product it is GMO or not.) The third phase of sticker shock is, "hmm, maybe I can just skip this ingredient."
If the highlight of my shopping trip was finding everything, I think,  on my list, (except for Braggs Amino Acid, what is that anyway?) the lowlight was walking past the cheese. And if you shop at Whole Foods or any other store that really has an extensive cheese selection, you understand how truly sad this moment was. I did buy some vegan cheddar but I really am not holding out too much hope for this. And I almost broke out into full blown sobbing when I walked by the brie en croute. I LOVE brie. To make myself feel better, I grabbed some fresh guacamole, something I wouldn't usually buy because it is too expensive, and it goes  black after it is opened for a time. And of course then there was the moment at the check out when the super pleasant and friendly register person (obviously I was at Whole Foods), held up one of my many bulk items I had forgotten to label and asked me what it was. Hmm, not a clue. I literally had no idea what was in the the little green baggy. The little brown circular suckers could have been anything. Which brings me to another problem. If you ever decide to go vegetarian or vegan, bring an experienced shopper with you. I wish I would have done this, but the only two or three I know were not available. Okay, and honestly I felt like a total loser saying, "Hey, could you help me go shopping? I have absolutely not idea what half of this stuff is, let alone where to find it. " But really, it is very good advice for any normal person who is thinking about adopting this life style. Bring a veteran. You will save yourself time, probably money, and funky exchanges at the register about the mystery product in the little green baggy. Sesame seeds. Those little suckers were sesame seeds.
Which brings me to my final thought. Here I sit with ten or so bags of vegan groceries overflowing in my kitchen shelves, fridge and somewhat in my freezer. (There aren't many frozen items for vegans, it seems). I have the food and the recipes. Now who is going to teach me how to cook?

So I feel I need to add that the links I added very much represent my own views. Except for the guacamole. That just is what it is. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Vegan : Desperation and Inspiration

I knew this was going to happen eventually. Trying to keep vegan suddenly became bumpy and I became cranky. I am hungry and I miss cheese. I feel unprepared, even though I thought I shopped for the right stuff. Suddenly, rice, vegetables and noodles don't seem to "hit the spot" and my eyes keep wandering to the cheese from my Farm Share. And there is something else happening, a weird sort of mourning process that is hard to explain. The idea of baking differently for the rest of my life leaves me feeling so sad. I like my whipped cream and our traditional birthday cakes, and around Christmas my oven really cranks. up. I don't know if I am ready to give all of that up. And yes there are substitutes, but so far I haven't tasted any vegan baking that I thought came close. Sort of like diet cake.  By late yesterday afternoon I was really cranky and feeling defeated. It was time to re-evaluate. To remember what made me start this and how I plan to continue. And to remember that it is always my decision. Each and every minute and each and every bite.
And so there it is: the choice. The choice that I have that so many don't. The choice that I don't have to participate in a system that systematically abuses animals, and the consumers of their product. A system that is destroying our land and our water. A system that continually uses its' power to drive small farms out of business. The accumulated knowledge of documentaries, books and conversations, holds my one hand and my own mirror holds the other. Because once you know, you can't really pretend you don't. But my hands aren't tied. I am free to choose, to the best of my knowledge and ability.
So there I am yesterday, sad and tired and hungry. And wanting to quit. I posted to Facebook and soon after went to bed. But not before reading more of the book Eating Animals. It helped me remember why I am doing what I am doing. And then when I woke up this morning, a bunch of friends posting back messages of support and suggestions. Not all of them vegan or vegetarian, but all helping to hold me up. And another friend, lending me cookbooks and some sound advice. That this is a new and different way of eating and I have to let go of the other. It is a change. But it can be a good change. It is probably going to get hard again. But there really are plenty of foods for me to eat. And I know that tastes do change. I use to drink my coffee with cream and sugar and now I drink it black. It just doesn't taste right the other way anymore.
So this is my transition phase and it is hard. But it is also inspiring. Because not only do I have choice, but I am also surrounded by so much love and support.