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Today, more or less, marks my 10 year anniversary of becoming vegetarian (not vegan — just vegetarian), more or less.
This is a vegan blog (and everyone knows vegans hate vegetarians — jk! jk!) but I still think it’s a pretty significant step to my current dietary stance.
Many of my friends in college were Franco-American Catholics who, at 18, still celebrated lent. (This would change in a few years as they all replaced God with booze. Much more fun.)
My friends gave up sweets and chocolate and trashy magazines on our first Ash Wednesday together, and (college being a time of experimentation and all — I grew up without religion), I decided to use Lent to indulge an idea I had been toying with for a while: give up meat.
I originally was going to just give it up for 40 days, but I haven’t consciously consumed the flesh of anything that walks or flies since then.
I’ve had a few slip ups (ordering pepperoni pizza out of habit in the first few months) and eating fish for “convenience” (basically, being terrified of telling my parents that college had turned me into a communist that first summer home and then during my semester abroad in Russia in 2005), but I still count Ash Wednesday as my vegiversary, especially since I can’t remember when I officially made the transition from vegetarian to vegan four or five or so years ago.
In giving meat up, I’ve actually gained. I eat a more diverse variety of food, appreciate cooking for myself, and have built connections with like-minded people, not to mention the huge benefit of just feeling better about my impact on the planet and its living creatures.
The 10-year anniversary gift is traditionally tin or aluminum. I’m going to go buy myself some canned beets.
image by shazam791 via Creative Commons.
Mighty-O Donuts dunked in coffee with fancy coconut creamer made a nice breakfast, Veggie Grill served a very, very tasty lunch (wouldn’t have expected anything less!), and Pacific Northwest Kale Chips provided afternoon sustenance — they’re my new favorite snack, for sure. I really like the nutty, spicy Stumptown Original.
I took/Instagrammed some pictures:
Yep, I’m a glutton.
“Our god is kale” – Dawn
Fooled me all day.
I won this! OMG OMG OMG! #beernerd
how’d that get in there?
As usual, the people were the best part of the day!
- I FINALLY, after about a year and a half of Twittering with her, met Ty of Cameraphone Vegan.
- I also met Roxanne Cooke, a very talented photographer and friend of Dawn’s.
- And I met Barb Troyer!
This was a great opportunity, one Dawn and I are so grateful to have been given, and so much fun.
Many thanks to Jess, Janessa, and Michele for organizing!
Casa Diablo in Portland, OR, is the world’s first vegan strip club. Or something like that.
I visited recently.
Now, I’m kinda a prude (example: when a male friend knowingly told me to bring lots of ones on my trip to Portland, I thought, “but I’m bringing my bike — I won’t need bills for the MAX!”) and had never been to a nudie bar or had any desire to visit one, but felt compelled to go to Casa Diablo because it’s, you know, a vegan strip club. And I’m vegan, so I belong anywhere that’s vegan, right?
So I went to Casa Diablo. By myself.
I sorta thought it would be like the strip club in that episode of Parks and Rec, where they take Tom to a strip club to cheer him up after his divorce and there’s a buffet and Ron Swanson eats lots of shrimp (only sub “shrimp” for “vegan mac and cheese”).
Yeah, that’s totally what I thought a strip club would be like. I was wrong. There was no vegan mac and cheese.
A handwritten sign on the bar advertised a Southwestern tofu scramble, but all I saw were titties, titties, titties, and even a bit of vadge. I was the only girl in the room wearing a shirt, so I drank half a PBR and texted awkwardly with a friend before heading out.
The other girls left me alone, though I really wanted to have a frank conversation with each them — ask them how they got on the pole and whether they were happy stripping. Like a sister, or a mom, and all. (8.29.12 edit: I don’t mean this in a judgmental way. I’m just legitimately curious about their profession.)
The moral of the story is this. As vegans, we can be so excited to be vegan that we want to support each and every vegan business or product just because it’s a vegan business or product. We sometimes eat vegan foods that we don’t need to or want to eat just because they’re vegan and there, or get excited about products that aren’t very good just because they’re vegan, or become caught up in movements just because they seem like the thing to do.
But we don’t need to do this. We have choices.
We can so desperately want to support our movement, to find commonalities, to no longer be the weird kids, that we can lose sight of ourselves as individuals. Just because something is vegan doesn’t mean it’s good for us on an individual basis, and being super-duper pumped for something bad or weird isn’t doing the movement any favors.
Be true to yourself. Don’t feel obligated to support a business, product or movement just because it’s vegan.
You don’t need to take a second helping just because you’re at a vegan restaurant, unless you are still hungry. You don’t need a vegan tattoo, unless you want one. And you certainly don’t need to watch topless girls fondle themselves for male enjoyment, unless you want to.
Just support the things you like and forget the rest. Veganism isn’t yet mainstream, but we have options. Don’t settle or feel obligated to do anything you aren’t comfortable with doing.
The Stroum school of Jewish Studies at UW (“Jew Dub”) hosted a thought-provoking panel called “What is religion’s role in food politics?” on Thursday, February 23. Nigel Savage, Executive Director of Hazon, and UW PoliSci Professor Karen Litfin led the evening.
While a better title would have been “what is Judaism’s role in food politics?” — I had flashbacks to being the lone blonde girl playing Book of Ruth Around the World at my best friend’s Synagogue in grade school — the experience ultimately was the same as it was as a child at Temple Beth Israel: a pleasant and welcoming one, despite my being a gentile.
My first thought when I first heard of this event (lifelong non-believer that I am) was, bah — religion’s role in food politics should be the same as in other politics: none.
I entered with a contrary attitude.
However, the panelists brought up an interesting point: change in food policy (the session didn’t really focus on actual politics, like the Farm Act or subsidies, but more on the sustainable food movement) needs to be at the grassroots level. Our government is not going to stop subsidizing corn or allowing CAFOs to get away with horrible practices because of the lucrative cash flow involved.
And, because the majority of Americans identify as non-secular, religious organizations already play a large role in their lives, so these groups have the opportunity to influence many areas that need change.
Plus, food is already deeply tied in with religion, making the connection even more natural. Islam and Judaism have dietary codes (halal and kosher), many Buddhists are vegetarian, Hindus do not eat cows, Catholics give up fish on Fridays and consume wafers and wine at mass, Seventh Day Adventists are flexitarians, Pastafarians worship a giant plate of Spaghetti (juuust kidding), and so on. Therefore, it is natural for religion and food to come together.
(As an aside, it’s interesting to note that “kosher” means “is this fit for me to eat?” Ethical veganism asks a similar question: is the food I am eating fit to be food or does it have a greater level of consciousness? We — vegans, Jews, and others following a dietary code — don’t eat what we eat to be annoying to others. We do it because our inner sense of morality tells us it is best.)
Of course, food is also inextricably linked to the very essence of humanity, not just religion: we need to eat to live, and thus this has become ritualized and fetishized, even in secular circles. As professor Liftin said, “food is the part of the environment that we eat” and the most likely area for overcoming differences between cultures — everyone eats. This is where I think veganism grates on non-vegans: by separating ourselves from the mainstream and placing judgement (be it real or perceived) upon them, we alienate ourselves.
Nigel used the phrase I refer to in the title, “lifting the cellophane veil” to explain how raising greater awareness about where what we eat actually comes from helps us to really understand our decisions. As an example, he asked how many of the audience of 100 or so ate meat but wouldn’t if they had to kill it themselves. A few hands raised. Next, he asked how many were vegetarian or vegan but would eat meat if they killed it themselves. A few more hands raised.
Nigel then told an anecdote about killing three goats; his organization had decided to slaughter animals from a local farm to teach parishioners to question their food choices. He asked the same questions to a similar group of 100 people, with similar responses as we experienced, then killed and dismembered the goats in front of them.
His group prepared the flesh in a banquet. Of that group, around 40 of the meat eaters decided not to eat the meat, while 20 or so vegetarians did.
This was the “cellophane veil.” Some people think of meat just as food, not about the animal from which it came, because it comes wrapped in plastic on a slab of Styrofoam. Others know where meat comes from, but elect not to eat if because of the negative conditions the meat industry creates for animals, humans, and the environment. Putting the responsibility for an animal’s welfare onto the consumer allows them to step back and examine their decisions.
While I do not support the killing of animals by any method (my decision has been made), this was interesting in thinking about how to get people to reduce their meat consumption.
The act of showing some people brutal violence can get them to change their tune. Nigel also noted that the Jewish version of PETA contacted him to express their disgust; his point was that his inviting people to watch goats being slaughtered was much more effective than just sending emails, like this vegetarian organization did, in reducing meat consumption.
We vegans focus a lot on sharing pictures of happy cows, though clearly the mainstream has no problem eating — and even romanticizing the killing of — happy cows because “they lived good lives.” Maybe it’s time to start leafleting pictures of meat industry carnage? As Lenin said, “You cannot make a revolution in white gloves.”
On a final note, Professor Liftin mentioned that secular organizations can have religious elements to them. I would never say that veganism is a religion (it’s a lifestyle), but there is some overlap. I haven’t felt as much community as I felt tonight since Vida Vegan Con, just in the magnitude of people with the same ethics and values together in one room. This made me crave interaction with like-minded individuals.
image by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com via Creative Commons
I want to start by saying that I am a lifelong athiest non-believer, and do not support the dogma of any religion.
However, I went vegetarian during my freshman year of college for the Christian season of Lent. I did not understand then (and still do not understand now) the religious significance of this period, but my friends at the time were mostly Franco-American Mainers — practicing Catholics — and were all forgoing sweets, trashy magazines, and other vices.
I decided this would be a good opportunity to take the plunge into something I had been considering giving up for a while: meat.
Not to be outdone by my pious peers, I stuck with it. By the end of 46 days, I was firmly passing on burgers and chicken in the cafeteria and heading to the salad, pasta, or vegan bar (yes, my school was awesome enough to have a vegan bar). I decided to continue, and other than a few accidents and that shameful pescaterian semester in Russia, I haven’t eaten meat in 9 years.
Basically, if you’ve been thinking about going vegan or vegetarian but haven’t been able to commit, Lent is a comfortable time to do so — other people you know are may also making lifestyle changes, so you have a support network.
Lent gives you a set date to start, and the option to end — which is perfect if you’re a commitment-phobe. If you’ve been considering going veg but keep putting it off because you’re afraid to set a deadline for yourself, Ash Wednesday is as good of a date as any.
Having an end date reduces the temptation to give up when you first feel frustrated, allowing you to understand that it’s not actually that challenging to work through the first initial cravings. All of my New Years’ resolutions fail because there is no set end, making challenging new commitments seem frighteningly permanent. Knowing I can opt out if I want after a couple of months means I’m less likely to just give up after a week.
The 46 days of Lent are a long enough period to start getting into the habit of eating meatless, so even though you know you can stop at the end, you’re motivated to continue. It takes anywhere between 18 and 254 days to build a habit (with an average of 66), though this varies on the task and the person. While 46 days may not be sufficient to eliminate meat, eggs and dairy from meals completely by routine, it’s long enough to get a good scope of the vegan diet.
So, even if you (like me) aren’t a practicing Christian, if you’re thinking about going vegetarian or vegan, Wednesday is as good a start date as any — maybe even better.
An episode of This American Life from August, 2011 covers gossip.
The first act discusses how gossip is important in Malawi for AIDS prevention. People don’t really get tested, so knowing who slept with whom is critical.
Over the course of the program, the narrator brings up an attractive woman who has intimate relations with men despite being HIV-positive: a “one-woman pandemic.”
In America, obesity (and its related illnesses) is our biggest health concern, yet we continue to eat crap, as evidenced by the popularity of television personalities like Paula Deen.
It’s recently been revealed that Paula Deen has type-2 diabetes, the form of the illness typically caused by obesity. She’s made a fortune encouraging others to eat her meaty, buttery, deep-fried recipes, even publishing a terribly unhealthy cookbook for children, and this is killing her. And us.
Even Anthony Bourdain, who has made his living off of other forms of indulgence, has called her,
“the worst, most dangerous person to America.”
Further perpetuating Bourdain’s notion is that she’s been knowingly living with the disease, the consequences of her lifestyle, for 3 years. She’s been encouraging others to follow suit, knowing that her baconballs are ticking time bombs for those genetically predisposed to diabetes, for 3 years. She’s been placing the loaded gun of culinary Russian roulette to America’s head and asking them to pull the trigger for 3 years.
If I could think of another weapon-based metaphor for what she’s been doing to America for 3 years, I would include it.
There’s denial, there’s ignorance, and then there’s the conscious decision to push something you know will harm others just to make money. Despicable.
So, does this make Paula Deen a “one-woman pandemic”? I’d say that continuing to peddle dangerous food in full knowledge of the outcome makes her a public health threat indeed.
She’s not alone in this, of course. The Food Network is obviously also a culprit for airing Paula Deen — she’s popular, she makes money, and she makes money for them. They aren’t blameless, but they also didn’t know she had the disease. She hid it from her bosses.
Sure, people can choose what they eat, but people can also choose who they sleep with — many people in the US are uneducated about the consequences of unhealthy foods just like people in areas with high HIV rates may rely on superstition to stay safe. At some point, even the smartest people just give up and accept what they think is inevitable: they will get AIDS, or they will get fat.
So, now that the woman with the butter-clogged arteries is sick because of lifelong bad decision-making, she’s promoting a diabetes drug — why should anyone trust her pharmaceutical recommendations? Clearly she doesn’t know how to keep herself healthy.
As Catherine Aird said,
If you can’t be a good example, then you’ll just have to be a horrible warning.
May Paula Deen be this horrible warning.
I hope that this whole incident will encourage the American public the think about what they put into their mouths, and that public consideration of food will lead to greater awareness of the food production system as a whole. If this could ultimately push people towards veganism, that would be great, but just a healthier population would be a nice start.
I came across this slick video from the World Wildlife Fund on how our methods of food production tie into our growing population.
The video shares some grim statistics, and talks about how we need to get more out of what land we have.
This ultimately comes down to reducing our dependence on animal agriculture, though the video does not mention this.
Livestock use 30% of the earth’s surface. According to Cornell University, the US could feed 880 million people with the grain that livestock eat:
…beef cattle production requires an energy input to protein output ratio of 54:1(Lamb meat production is nearly as inefficient at 50:1, according to the ecologist’s analysis of U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics. Other ratios range from 13:1 for turkey meat and 14:1 for milk protein to 17:1 for pork and 26:1 for eggs.)
The solution is not finding more efficient crops — it’s to stop wasting land that could be used for food sources that are more calorie-efficient than meat, eggs, and dairy.
I got to thinking recently: how many people on TV and in movies are vegan? And how many of those are likable? (I’m talking to you, Katie Holmes’ character in The Extra Man.)
So, I made a list.
I’m (mostly) not counting bit characters here, though Jesse the treehugger has given me some of my favorite quotes of all time.
Apu Nahasapeemapetilon from The Simpsons
Apu may run the Qwikimart, home of hot dogs marinated in their own grease, but he himself subsists mainly on “chickpeas, lentils and rice.” When Lisa becomes vegetarian in season 7, he tells her, though he thinks she’s terrible for eating cheese, “the way to get people to change is through tolerance and understanding.”
Dr. Clark Edison from Bones
I also love that it has a proud vegan character. Instead of being pale and wimpy, Dr. Clark Edison is intelligent, professional, and repeatedly referred to by other characters as “sexy,” — and is dating a hot, smart vegan too.
Peggy from Year of the Dog
I think a lot of vegans credit their pet for turning them vegan — if I can feel this much love for fluffy or fido, could I feel the same way about a chicken? Aren’t pigs smarter than my dog? Why am I eating cow but not cat?
Peggy is a ordinary office worker who goes vegan after her beloved dog Pencil dies. She’s a bit crazy (but what characters played by Molly Shannon aren’t? Superstar!!), and a lot of people (both on screen and off) find her irritating, but I like her. She’s sweet and genuine, and not afraid to bring vegan cupcakes into work.
You go, girlfriend!
The Vegan Police from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
These guys are a relatively minor part, but rather hilarious and not at all pale or sickly. “It’s milk and eggs, bitch.”
And I totally want one of those shirts.
Do you have a favorite vegan on TV or in the movies?
How is the current popularity of sushi similar to the Tunisian revolution, and can this be applied to veganism?
According to a recent article in the Atlantic, in order for a minority to sway a majority, a few conditions must be met.
Scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Network Science and Technology Center… found that three conditions are key: a majority that is flexible with their views, a minority that is intractable, and a critical threshold wherein about a tenth of the population advocate the minority opinion.
Vegans are definitely “intractable” (stubborn or unable to be bent), and I believe that the majority of Americans could be flexible with what they eat, given the circumstance.
However, with vegans at about one two-hundredth of the American population (o.5%), we have a long ways to go before reaching that critical threshold required to convince the other 90%.
Just to give a little context of what a tenth of the population looks like: Mormons (who seem to be freakin’ everywhere) amount for 2% of the population, people of Asian heritage account for 4.8% of the population and left handers make up 10% of the population. So, substitute every lefty you know for vegan, and now we’re talking, numbers-wise.
Fortunately, the article has advice on how to reach a critical mass.
“It’s important to point out the minimal ingredients that may originate a given phenomenon, with no pretension to claim that this is necessarily how things go,” [Andrea Baronchelli, a complex-systems scientist in Barcelona's Universitat Polit`ecnica de Catalunya] says. “This suggests that the minority should convince new people to join them before worrying about convincing the whole world. Once they reach the critical size, the [network] dynamics will do the rest.”
Essentially, we need to start at the grassroots level, with friends instead of billboards. Bring vegan cookies into work. Give a buddy a copy of a healthful, gorgeous vegan cookbook, like Blissful Bites, for their birthday. Show those you know that vegans aren’t weird or malnourished or weak.
I think we can do it, and here’s why.
Let’s look at the claims the article makes about sushi’s rise from disgusting to delicacy. [The difference being that sushi a way to prepare fish, while veganism is an ethos that rejects consumption of fish (and animal products in general).]
Back in the day, people only ate fish grilled, broiled, sauteed in butter, etc. — cooked. Then, Japanese citizens increased their migration to the United States, and over time, with the right conditions met, raw fish rolled in rice and seaweed became trendy.
“Based on my research, there were many factors and variables that affected the adoption of sushi in the U.S.,” [Trevor Corson, the author of The Story of Sushi] says, noting that entrepreneurial chefs from Japan, Hollywood stars, and government dietary recommendations also played a part. “I’d hesitate to reduce the spread of sushi in America to a mathematical formula.”
Though Corson is hesitant to turn sushi into an algorithm, I see a great parallel between sushi’s rise to fame and veganism.
Vegan chefs like Chloe Coscarelli and Tal Ronnen are reaching national acclaim. Hollywood stars like Ellen Degeneres, Emily Deschanel, and Alicia Silverstone are making veganism glamorous (yet not eating disorderly). The government recently updated their dietary reqirements to account for protein in general, not just meat, and to account for more fruits and veggies.
So how do we make the final leap?
Though an animal rights and environmental vegan myself, I firmly believe that the only way to convince that other 9.5% to convert to a plant-based diet and abandon use of animal products is through health — personal gain is the only way to get people to change on a large scale.
The best class I took in college was called “Comparing modern revolutions.” Essentially, this class taught that societies revolt because of the promise of a better life when certain combinations of criteria (social inequality, economic instability and lack of food) and favorable conditions are met.
America revolted for freedom. The French revolted for bread. The Bolsheviks revolted for land and equality. Vast generalizations, but you get the point — personal gain.
Most people already know that meat is dead flesh, yet happily munch bacon and steak. They recognize that leather is skin, but don’t flinch at wearing leather shoes. They realize that cheap meat comes from factory farms, yet turn a blind eye to save a few bucks.
Putting veganism in terms of the animals clearly doesn’t work on a large scale, and gets us vegans branded as softies, kooks and extremists.
Instead, convince mainstream America that going vegan will lower its collective cholesterol, prevent heart disease, help it get to a healthy weight, alleviate congestion and sinus problems, and reduce the risk of diabetes, facts that directly effect the consumer, not the product, and suddenly, you have an audience.
“Meat is poison” is a lot more convincing than “meat is murder.”
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