Archive for the ‘opinion’ Category

Favorite vegans from TV and Movies

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

The Simpsons pretty much defined my childhood. Though they haven’t had a good episode in probably 10 years, the first few seasons are gold. And who’s one of the most memorable characters? Apu.

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

Okay, I admit it — I really like Bones, and not just because vegan star Emily Deschanel is on it. Something about the relationship between the leads and the whole whodunnit thing are pretty fun.

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?

Viva la Vegan Revolution!

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.”


Does Peta help or hurt the vegan and animal rights movement?

Do Peta’s crackpot publicity stunts make all vegans look crazy?

Sensible vegans have criticized Peta for:

And I’m going to add my own: batshit crazyism.

Bizarre antics draw media attention, but I’m not convinced it’s the good kind. (No, I’m not a member of the Center for Consumer Freedom, and I don’t believe those sites that talk about how Peta kills babies or supports terrorism or whatever.)

Mainstream America tends to generalize and succumb to fear against ideologies it doesn’t understand — all Muslims are terrorists, right?

Just like 99.9% of all people wearing a hijab don’t want to blow up your airplane, most vegans don’t want to colonize Mars with vegans or build a vegan porn site like Peta has recently said they do.

This isn’t a case of “any publicity is good publicity.” If an ad for a product that we’ve never heard of is wacky, we want to experience that product regardless of our expectations. It could be good or it could be bad. If Lindsay Lohan does something nuts, we’ll go see her new movie or buy that magazine just to gawk at the trainwreck. Sentiment (positive or negative) is irrelevant: money is key.

Veganism is different. People know what it is already, and it goes against the established dietary norm and creates feelings of guilt for a number of Americans. Going vegan isn’t about making money, where any publicity is okay as long as it encourages folks to open their wallets — it’s about animals, environment and health.

When faced with a conflict surrounding harmful behavior, people make a decision and then rationalize it; if they did they right thing, they’re cool with it. If they did the wrong thing, they say they never wanted to do the right thing in the first place. Peta’s actions confirm preexisting beliefs: hot dogs are tasty and vegans are weird. Now where’s the issue? The closed-minded omnivores (definitely not saying all omni’s are closed-minded, but the ones who are) use Peta’s craziness as just another justification for eating meat.

Still, Peta ultimately does do very positive work for animals, and supporters claim that Peta’s craziness has elevated veganism and animal rights to the national conscious.

For example, many articles, such as this one from the Huffington Post, mention something about veganism or animal rights along with reporting on stunts, which may encourage certain members of the public to do more research and ultimately become vegan:

Instead of focusing on anti-fur, the porn site will raise awareness of veganism, said Rajt. “We really want to grab people’s attention, get them talking and to question the status quo and ultimately take action, because the best way we can help the greatest number of animals is simply by not eating them.”

An increasing number of groups are suggesting that eating less meat is better for your health, and certainly better for animals. PETA’s website describes life for animals on factory farms:

Chickens have their sensitive beaks seared off with a hot blade, and male cattle and pigs are castrated without any painkillers. Farmed chickens, turkeys, and pigs spend their brief lives in dark and crowded warehouses, many of them so cramped that they can’t even turn around or spread a single wing. They are mired in their own waste, and the stench of ammonia fills the air.

Therein lies my conflict with Peta. Perhaps encouraging celebrities (please — don’t even get me started on how much I hate it when actors and actresses go vegan to stay trim under the guise of loving animals) to strip raises public awareness while also raising annoyance?

Educate me: what are your thoughts? Does Peta help or hurt the vegan and animal rights movement?

Photo by Arturo de Albornoz via Creative Commons

Save King County buses!

This post is ostensibly off-topic, but definitely related to veganism since access to public transportation has social justice and environmental impacts. It’s also a subject near and dear to my heart.

As Seattle readers may know, King country proposes to cut services if they can’t come up with additional funds — this could eliminate 17% of routes. The alternative is to ask drivers to pay an extra $20 — less than a tank of gas — per year.

If you can’t afford an extra $20 a year, you would benefit from getting rid of your car and taking the bus.

According to Metro [PDF],

[The cuts] would affect up to 80 percent of bus riders. That means as many as four out of five people will have to walk further, wait longer, make an extra transfer, stand in the aisle, or stand on the curb and see fully loaded buses pass them by. And it will force tens of thousands of people back into cars, worsening congestion for everyone.

Fewer buses means more cars on the road.

More cars on the road mean more cyclists and pedestrians placed in unsafe conditions. Want to know why cyclists are so “angry”? It’s because cars are big and we’re small, and there are a lot of stupid drivers out there — tons of a$$holes on our roads don’t realize it’s not okay to cut off pedestrians when said pedestrians have the green walking man.

Fewer buses means that people who legitimately cannot afford a car or can’t drive because of age or medical reasons will be left with few options to get around.

I have a steady desk job and relatively cheap rent, and I definitely don’t have room in my budget for a car, insurance, gas and parking — I can’t imagine how the folks who make just above minimum wage could afford a motor vehicle.

I also live in Capitol Hill and can walk and bike to work in Pioneer Square. I don’t actually ride the bus on a daily basis. For the folks who live further from downtown, reduced bus routes become a serious issue.

Fewer buses mean fewer bus drivers. 17% of these folks will presumably be out of work. This is the same reason I voted against the proposed liquor store bills last year (yes, you can hate me for having to pay that slight increase in price of hard A — I’ll live): it will put government employees out of work.

Other people have more eloquent things to say on this than I:

Please, please submit written testimony on why King County should not cut service.

Heck, I don’t have a car, or even a driver’s license, but I’ll pay $20 to keep buses running.

Image by Keith D. Tyler via Creative Commons.

Why I have my dad to thank for becoming vegan

I definitely would not be vegan if it was not for my dad.

Sure, the man loves his meat, has eaten a bowl of ice cream nightly for as long as I’ve known him, and thinks tofu is weird (taking him to Garden Fresh was one of the biggest mistakes of my vegan life). But, he has some old-school thrifty, environmentally-conscious habits that really shaped the way I think about the world.

It was my attempt to live a more ecologically-aware lifestyle that led to my transition to veganism, and I have him to thank for laying this foundation.

My dad:

  • Prefers to ride his bike than to drive. He rode his bike to work nearly every day for ≈30 years, and still rides it around town now that he’s retired. He lives in California — it’s considered strange not to drive there.
  • Brought his own grocery bags to the store long, long before it was popular. As a kid, I was embarrassed, but now I’m proud.
  • Made his own lunch every morning from leftovers (if there was mold, he’d just cut it off) and carried it to work in repurposed bread bags.
  • Repairs tattered clothes rather than buy new ones.
  • Is super DIY: he did all the wiring in our house and laid the brick walkways and driveway (he’s a doctor by trade, not a contractor).
  • Grew native California wildflowers in our yard instead of grass until my mom made him put grass in — seeds, not sod. (Again: suburban California — not having a well-manicured lawn puts you in the ‘eccentric’ category).
  • Mows the lawn with a rusted push mower.
  • Used to can jam from the apricots growing in our yard and makes his own horseradish.
  • Does not wear deodorant — it’s pretty gross, but he prefers to be natural.
  • Would bathe me when I was a small child in an inch of water because we were in a draught and he didn’t want to natural waste resources.
  • Cares devotedly for the family turtle, originally destined to be soup, for whose aquarium he has totally pimped up with custom-made (by him) ledges and a fountain.

All of this makes him sound like some sort of crazy-pinko-commie-hippie, which I guess he is, but he’s also a professional, clean-cut man-of-few-words.

Happy Fathers Day, Dad!

Piercing cats is cruelty — as is docking, cropping and declawing

The Superior Court of Pennsylvania ruled today that piercing cats’ ears is considered animal cruelty.

This is fantastic.

However, animal mutilation for aesthetic purposes happens everyday — and is considered completely acceptable in our society.

Dogs have their ears docked and their tails cropped — amputated — because those traits are associated with their breeds.

Cats are declawed, which is the equivalent of chopping of a human finger at the first joint.

If you’re going to look down on Holly Crawford for her actions, you should also frown upon anyone who breeds or buys animals that have been surgically altered.

image by andrewk100 via Creative Commons

More like National Arsenic Council…

The AARP represents pensioners. NOW does a pretty good job having womens’ backs. But something tells me the National Chicken Council ain’t lookin out for the chickens’ best interests.

- Coworker, on the National Chicken Council’s priorities

Oh yeah: the New York Times reports that chicken may contain arsenic. Gross.

Nine Things Successful Vegans Do Differently

Harvard Business Review recently published an article on nine things successful people do differently from the rest of us.

It got me thinking about what it takes to be a successful vegan.

Anybody can be a vegan, and I think that after you’ve done it for a while, it really doesn’t take much — if any — discipline. Meat, dairy, eggs and other animal products are not food– there’s nothing “easy” or “hard” about being vegan. It just is.

However, for many of us, going vegan is a difficult transition, and doesn’t stick for everyone. Here’s my interpretation of how HBR’s rule of success apply to vegans.

1. Get specific. Why exactly do you want to be vegan? Don’t just say, “oh, it’s better for the planet” or “yeah, I don’t really like the idea of killing anything” or “it’s better for my health.” These are all great reasons, but they’re vague — even omnivores profess to dislike killing, global warming and unhealthiness. For example, you don’t just pass over a cheese plate at a party because “cheese is bad.” What is “bad” exactly? Cookies are “bad.” Naughty kittens are “bad.” James Dean was “bad.” There’s too much ambiguity with “bad.” Associate that cheese with a specific problem you want to solve.  Cheese is bad because the dairy industry houses animals in inhumane conditions, slaughters male offspring, produces toxic runoff and is contributing to the planet’s overall decay. Cheese is bad because it contributes to your high cholesterol or obesity. Therefore, cheese = death, not cheese = bad.

2. Seize the moment to act on your goals. No matter how busy you are, there is a quick vegan solution to almost anything. Just like you make time to go to the gym, make time for veganism. Make a PB&J instead of a turkey sandwich. Order a take-n-bake pizza without the cheese and add your own before baking. Order Thai takeout with tofu instead of shrimp. Whip up a stir-fry. Nuke a plate of Amy’s or Trader Joe’s black bean enchiladas. Buy non-leather shoes online on your lunch break. It’s not hard — you just need to change your mentality a bit.

3. Know exactly how far you have left to go. Maybe you’ve given up eating animal products, but can’t get over your fear of cooking tofu. Maybe you dream of bacon and are afraid you’ll cave. Maybe you’ve given up everything except for honey. Recognize where you are and where you want to be.

4. Be a realistic optimist. You may still find yourself pining for pepperoni long after you thought you’d be over it. Your body and brain are used to eating certain foods (like cheese, which may or may not be addictive) and meat, eggs and dairy consumption are culturally-ingrained for some of us — what’s more American than hamburgers and hot dogs, right? Don’t sweat it — it will probably be harder than you thought, but it’s not impossible.

5. Focus on getting better, rather than being good. You’re going to slip up every once in a while. It happens. Sometimes these lapses will be conscious (like taking a bite of your boyfriend’s ice cream cone) and sometimes they will be unconscious (like forgetting to check the label of a loaf of bread). Mistakes happen — let them go, don’t beat yourself up, and don’t repeat them.

6. Have grit. Commit to being vegan, even when it isn’t “easy.” Yes, there will be temptations. That first Thanksgiving, with the turkey and the mashed potatoes and the pecan pie, will test your resolve. Trips to red states will leave you with few non-lettuce dining options. Airports have barely any consumable food, period. But stick to it.

7. Build your willpower muscle. Sometimes it helps to go slowly. Give up meat. Then eggs. Then cheese. Readjust between doing so. Get used to not eating the things that you are accustomed to, then move on.

8. Don’t tempt fate. If you can’t resist the smell of pork products, don’t hang around Joe Blow’s BBQ joint. Walk around the bakery. Avoid the shoe department at Nordy’s. If it’s not there in front of you, you’re less likely to think about it.

9. Focus on what you will do, not what you won’t do. Instead of “what can’t I eat,” think about “what can I eat?” You can still eat cookies and cupcakes and guacamole and french fries and all sorts of delicious foods. Enjoy a nice Ethiopian dinner. Treat yourself to a vegan cupcake. Splurge on a Matt and Nat purse. Try foods you’ve never tasted before. Expand your horizons.

Is it ever okay for vegans to eat meat or wear leather?

I’ve noticed something recently: recycling animal corpses that have died of “natural” or accidental causes.

For one, discounted eco-fashion site Pure Citizen recently sold a passport case made from “cruelty free leather.”

Wait– what, what, what? No matter how nicely you kill a cow, slaughter (which is where leather usually comes from) is not by any definition cruelty free. However, this manufacturer apparently uses leather from cows that have “died naturally”:

Died naturally?  My guess is that the company does not have fields of pastureland stocked with cows that are allowed to live their life, undisturbed, until they die at the ripe old age of 90 (or whatever is old for a cow), after which they are lovingly skinned by their caretakers through through tears of sadness. Dairy cows that died “naturally” after an abbreviated lifetime of being milked seems more likely.

Second, Food Safety News published an article on eating roadkill. The author mentions:

The practice of eating roadkill is part of a waste-not, want-not philosophy that drives other people, some of them previously vegans, to scavenge meat in a fashion that is almost sanctioned by PETA…

I agree with this in theory– let nothing go to waste– but still cannot fathom the idea of eating meat. I remember in college when one of my BFFs hit a deer with his jeep (on his way back from a hunting trip– I guess he was a better hunter behind the wheel than with his gun, heh).

He took it back to his parents’ house, butchered it, and made some jerky.

I was a vegetarian then, and didn’t eat this homemade jerky. Other vegetarians did.

Now, I really don’t see anything wrong with eating flesh from an animal that you found on the side of the road (other than the health concerns that Food Safety News mentions) but since animal flesh is irrelevant, why bother?

It’s been eight years since I last consciously ate mammal meat (I did eat fish during a semester abroad in Russia in 2005), and I no longer even think of it as an edible substance.

It’s paying money for something of dubious origins that I have a proverbial beef with. Plus, I don’t like the idea that leather is ever acceptable, humane or not, since there is so much non-humane leather out there.

Ryan at This Dish is Veg has a good post on whether it’s okay to wear something like leather shoes or a wool coat that you bought during your pre-veg days. I agree that you shouldn’t throw out something perfectly functional (I still wear all the wool socks I bought when I lived in New England to keep my Reynaud’s-afflicted toesies warm), but it is important to consider what message that, say, a 100% real leather coat is sending to non-vegans.

Your thoughts?

How to kill a vegan brand

  1. Deceive a loyal audience by using photos that a) aren’t of the recipe they accompany and b) aren’t even vegan.
  2. Let discussion/anger snowball on the vegan Interwebz. Don’t respond or do anything for hours.

Last tweet from @VegNews as of writing this at ≈11:30 a.m.: yesterday at 4 p.m.

11:30 update: Wait, no, literally as I posted, they’ve issued a response [PDF].

12:30 update: They’ve tweeted “And now, for some good news! Bolivia passes landmark law to protect the environment:” — no responses or apparent social media triage to anyone who’s been dissing them.

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