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Archive for March, 2010

I guess it was kind of obvious I was going to one day be un-vegan long before I even started eating cheese again. It was the boots, you see.

I’ve always had conflicts within the vegetarian thing. For the first couple years, I ate plenty of Morningstar and the rest of it, fake cheese even, before I started to wonder what the point was. I mean, part of the reason (actually most of the reason) I was vegetarian was to save the environment, and then here I was buying individually wrapped preservative laden fake chicken patties? What the hell is the sense in that?

So I stopped eating the processed meat stuff and eventually I stopped eating tofu except every once in a while to make fake ricotta for lasagna, and I guess sometimes when out at restaurants because fried tofu at Thai restaurants is pretty awesome. This became exceptionally easy once I moved here and had oodles of fresh vegetables at my fingertips. So many that I still to this day end up composting a lot because I can’t get through them fast enough (curses! living alone!).

Anyway there is not a lot of sense in veganism (from an environmental standpoint) other than that factory farming sucks and should stop, like, right at this second, and I don’t want to hear any excuses. But factory farming grain (which includes soybeans) to make tofu doesn’t make any sense either. Additionally, there are the boots. I wear boots. I love boots, I really do. But I also beat the shit out of any pair of shoes I wear. There was a time that I was going through one or two pairs of sandals every single summer because I wouldn’t buy the leather ones, given that they were made from dead cows, and was instead buying cheap plasticy faux leather ones that would fall apart by the end of the summer. These could not hold up to my persistent abuse.

It was the same with boots. It’s one thing to use plastic for boots that are obviously not intended for daily use, such as the pleather-ish knee high pair I have with the four inch heels. Those are fine to make with fake materials. But regular, I am tramping around in the mud and trying to keep my feet dry boots? It’s ridiculous to attempt to make that kind of boot with “vegan” materials. They would never last, and eventually you are given the choice between buying a new pair of plastic boots each year (and throwing the old ones away, to be incinerated or landfilled) or breaking down and buying leather.

I first cracked with my field boots. I rode horses, I was on the riding team, and no way could I be out there riding on a daily basis in fake leather field boots. Besides, all of the tack was leather. I conveniently ignored this fact and went about my business. But then I had to buy a good pair of riding boots, for competitions, and my snobby image obsessed coach required us to wear Ariats. For those of you who have never ventured into the riding world, this is like buying a really good car. I actually don’t know enough about cars to accurately make a comparison, but maybe like a good Mercedes or something but not the most expensive sports car that they carry. They’re really good boots, let’s just say that, and tailor made, and expensive as hell. They fit like a glove and you cannot pull them off single handedly, you need help. They are amazing. And if they were made in anything BUT leather, you would absolutely kill your calves. The leather protects against wear (from the saddle on the inside of your legs) and is still flexible enough to allow you to move properly in them. When I went to buy these boots, however, I balked. They were leather. They were very expensive leather. And I was a vegan. I was not supposed to wear leather. But I had to have these boots, or I wouldn’t be allowed on the team (or allowed to compete, to be specific).

And so I bought them. I still pull them out and try them on every once in a while, even though I don’t ride ever because I can’t afford it, but I am holding on to them because they aren’t going to fit anyone else as perfectly as they fit me and I am holding out hope that one day I will find a place to ride where I can do mending or something in exchange and therefore will be able to afford it (and will also have the time for it).

And now I have my Renn boots. I got these this past fall at the Renaissance Festival, where I annually work, because standing on your feet for ten hours a day does a number on your feet, and your legs, and your back, especially if you are wearing shitty shoes. So I got sturdy hardcore leather boots with a steel shank and OH MY GOD are they comfortable. I was wearing them this morning and enjoying the sound they made as I tramped around- something like wearing high heels, except they are big steel reinforced boots. And I was thinking, as I tramped around listening to the sound of my boots, and reflecting on how wonderful and comfortable they are, that leather is a really great thing to make boots out of. It just makes sense. And for me, sense will always win out over dogmatic insistence. My vegan-dom never stood a chance against the simple logic that boots should be made out of something that worked well with the purpose of the boot, and especially something that lasted just about forever.

Though then again, now that I’m thinking about it, maybe it was obvious that I was never going to stay vegan when I was riding horses. Wouldn’t that technically be against the vegan ethic? Using horses for human purposes? So maybe it wasn’t the boots after all. It was my love of riding, of being outside and the relationship you build with the horse.

And now I’m starting to realize you do the same thing with the cow that one day becomes your dinner, as strange as it may seem.

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We saw Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland this past weekend, and I have to say, it was disturbing. Not disturbing in the way most people probably thought it was disturbing. Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter flitting around being psychotic is no longer disturbing. What was disturbing was Anne Hathaway’s portrayal of the White Queen (though I suspect it was meant to be that way- the black lipstick was a give away). Supposedly the White Queen is supposed to be the ultimate of good: doesn’t kill, is sweet and kind, and everyone loves her. But she flits around like a flaming gay princess, her arms always up at an awkward angle, her fingers twinkling. Apparently this is supposed to demonstrate her apparent goodness. But instead she seems to have a bizarre fascination with death, taking delight in collecting blood and making concoctions of fingers and eyeballs and other dead things, even though her “vows” apparently keep her from causing any death herself. She just encourages other people to do it for her.

This is a common modern phenomenon, and I found it no less disturbing in the form of Anne Hathaway’s twinkle fingered “good” princess act. We deny death at every turn. We avoid thinking about it, we avoid dealing with it, we pretend it doesn’t happen to us. The thing is, Ms. Twinkle Fingers couldn’t possibly have clean hands. She may not have done the killing herself, but how ridiculous for her to claim it was against her vows to “hurt a fly” when she regularly commanded others to kill in her name. And what in heavens name was she eating?

Everything requires something else to die. In The Vegetarian Myth, Lierre Keith points out that vegetarians are doing the same thing. They aren’t preventing death. At best, they are passing the buck to someone else. Because when you get down to it, plants eat animals. If you were to walk out onto the fields around the shore right now, you would see either big piles of chicken manure or recently spread chicken manure. And this is not only manure: it’s also bits of chickens, the dead chickens that got thrown in the manure pile, as well as scraps and inedible bits like feet and heads. There are always vultures circling over these piles. And the corn plants eat what’s left.

Keith also pointed to a passage in the other book I’m always rambling about, The Apple Grower (Michael Phillips), that I had passed right over when I first read it. He tells the story of an apple tree planted over the graves of two people. When the graves were later dug up, the roots of the trees had grown in the shape of the skeletons, and there was nothing left of the human remains. I didn’t think twice about this when I read it in The Apple Grower, but what Keith pointed out was that the tree had eaten the people. Or, to be more accurate, bacteria in the soil had eaten the people and passed the nutrients to the roots of the trees, but this is also more or less what happens in our stomachs, so not all that different.

So plants eat animals, and then we eat the plants. Yup, I’d say that constitutes death by our hands. Even if a plant is raised on fossil fuel based fertilizers rather than bits of animals, well, fossil fuels are actually bits of animals. They’re just bits of really, really, dead animals. Everything is made up of bits of other dead things. The soil, the trees, the grass, cows, you. Everything. Nothing could survive if other things didn’t die. When vegetarians make the argument that they are vegetarian because they don’t want things to die, they are in denial. No matter what they eat, unless they can survive on air (which apparently some people are convinced they can do), something had to die first.

It’s something we all need to accept. I love this passage from The Vegetarian Myth:
“Where was I going to draw the line?… Mammals, fish, insects, plants, plankton, bacteria? Was the least of us going to be an “us”? And if “what” became “who,” then what would be left to eat?
“I have my answer, finally. I’m not going to draw a line. I’m going to draw a circle.
“It’s so simple… we need to be a part of the world to know it. And when we join, when we participate, we see that life and death can’t be separated any more than night and day. I will face what is dying to feed me and I will do my best to ensure it is individuals- cared for, respected- not entire species; that soil- the work of our grandparents for half a billion years- is built, not destroyed; that the rivers keep their waters and their wetlands and that the oil stays in the ground.”

That pretty much sums it up. The point is, you can’t not have an effect, and if you are in denial of that fact, you are no better than a child. Not even so aware as a child, in many cases. I think I had a pretty good grasp on the “part of everything” concept at a pretty early age. I just forgot about it for a while, taken in by the hope that there was some way out- a way which unfortunately involved denying the reality of the consequences of my actions on a daily basis. Now I insist on knowing: on looking the death that occurs for me, so I can live, straight in the face.

The only surefire way to make sure you have no effect on the world around you is to kill yourself- and even then, your decomposing body is going to have an effect, as will the emotional response of the people around you. Beyond that extreme, we all have to accept that death happens, and it is our fault, and that’s ok. But that always means we need to take responsibility for the death that occurs in our names. We need to look it straight in the face and decide if we can accept the terms, and if we’ve fulfilled our end of the bargain with what has died for us. We can’t just wiggle our fingers around and repeat over and over that we could never hurt anyone, because it’s just not true.

Death happens. And one day, it will even happen to you. And if you think about it, there’s nothing very disturbing about that.

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I spent the weekend lounging around the beach (indoors) and banging my way through Lierre Keith’s book, The Vegetarian Myth. I am about halfway through and wishing I was at home reading it still, especially as I am about to reach the chapter I am most interested in, on Nutritional Vegetarianism.

It has been an eye opener none the less, especially in light of the recent attack on Lierre Keith while reading at an anarchist book festival in San Francisco (SF Gate). She was hit in the face with several pies laced with cayenne pepper by rampant vegan activists.

Now this is an interesting- dilemma? I’m not sure what to call it, especially standing on this precipice (or so it seems to me) between veganism and whatever you call it. Eating. The vegans, one way or another, had no right to attack an undefended woman who was in the middle of giving a talk on the horrors of factory farming, something I think they can all agree on. And anyone who has read Ms. Keith’s book would know she has nothing but respect for the motivations behind vegetarian and veganism- wanting to save the planet, wanting a more just world, the whole deal. She talks about vegans with a lot of respect, as she was one herself for 20 years. But there’s no denying that the vegan perspective has some rather glaring flaws, and this is something I myself have been struggling with over the past years. Reading her book has got me trying to trace back the moments in my life that led me to that steak two weeks ago (and the bacon I had Saturday morning).

I know last year about this time I was still stalwartly refusing to eat meat, though I had caved on the cheese front some time earlier. I found myself arguing with a die hard vegan animal rights activist- me, of all people. The thing I kept hitting my head against was that he insisted that there was no reason EVER to kill animals for food. But this was impossible, I insisted. The very nature of living means you will kill animals. You will run over bugs on your bike on the way to buy your tofu at the health food store- and let’s talk about the packaging on the tofu and what’s behind THAT, and let’s talk about the animals that were displaced for that health food store to be there, and oh, while we’re at it, you’re riding a bike and that had to be mined

There seemed to be something glaring me in the face in this argument, only I couldn’t put my finger on it, not yet. At the same time, I was learning how agriculture actually worked. It’s destructive. I mean, most agriculture, and definitely just about all “conventional” agriculture, as they call it, is destructive. That’s why it’s so energy intensive, and why they need so many inputs to force things to grow. I remember being shown a Georgia Pacific tree farm for the first time. This is referred to, by the company, as a forest. They grow pine trees for paper (your office paper, toilet paper, paper towels, etc). But if you look at one of these, there is absolutely nothing resembling a forest- the trees are all in straight lines, and there is nothing, and I mean NOTHING, growing on the ground between the trees, even though it takes them about 16 years to reach the height needed to make it worthwhile to cut them down for paper. That is because they spray to keep the weeds down, just as they do on any other conventional farm. To grow any kind of monocrop, even happy local vegetables, you need enormous inputs and usually a lot of death sprays to keep the weeds and bugs away from your crop.

On top of that, you simply can’t grow some things in some places. This had occurred to me after reading Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma. When discussing vegetarianism (in another very respectful, open minded way, I should add), he points out that it is nearly impossible to grow certain crops in certain areas (New England is a great example) without huge inputs, usually fossil fuel based. The soil is rocky and poor. It’s COLD. And soy just really isn’t going to grow there- so where are all the vegans going to get their protein, if everyone in the world is going to be vegan? I’m a local food advocate- how can I reconcile that the best thing (environmentally) to grow in some places is not vegetarian? Are the Inuits all supposed to stop eating seals and start growing soy? I mean, seriously. That’s just ridiculous.

But I found this so hard to accept that I just ignored it. As I had been ignoring it for the entire length of time I was a vegetarian. But, as Lierre Keith states in her book, the problem with knowledge is that you can’t really help but get more of it, and eventually it gets to the point where you can no longer ignore what’s staring you in the face. Well, unless you’re narrow minded and dogmatic, and goodness knows there are a lot of those people running around.

As we drove back from the beach yesterday I looked out at all the fields covered in chicken manure and flipped off the Perdue corporate headquarters, as per usual, but found myself wondering what it would take to educate the farmers who are currently indentured to Perdue to pasture their chickens, instead, what the investment would be, whether Perdue would flip out and just refuse to take chickens that were raised on pasture. Probably, considering the current regulations. But the thing is, a year ago I would have been arguing that people should just stop eating chicken entirely. I get all red in the face whenever I think about this. Of course people should eat chickens. I mean, chickens aren’t ashamed of eating bugs, right? Chickens are happy as can be to live outdoors on most functional farms, eating bugs and food scraps and digging in the dirt. And if you don’t eat the chickens, you just end up with too many chickens. And then they starve, because there isn’t enough space or food to go around. And before anyone tries to argue that this isn’t fair because we’ve domesticated the chickens and that this wouldn’t happen in the wild, think about what you’re saying. If chickens were in the wild, they’d be doing the same thing, only MORE of them would be dying because the predators would just eat whatever chickens they could get. At least on the farm the chickens have a nice little house they can hide out in to protect them.

It’s a complex issue and I’m not trying to address it in just one blog. But as I’m starting to wake up and actually understand what’s going on around me, I can’t help but ask, for the nine millionth time, why no one else seems to notice, and what drives humans to be so damn blind all the time.

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You know, kind of like “maids a milking”. Consumers consuming. I don’t consider myself a consumer. Sometimes I consume- like when I inevitably end up at Target for some random household item I’ve decided that I need and that I don’t feel like taking the time to go to twenty second hand stores looking for.

But when it comes to my food, I’m not consuming. I’m eating. I like to draw a line between consumers and eaters. Consumers consume- they are making purchases, they are being marketed at and sold things based on how snazzy the box looks and how well they know the brand name. Consumers eat at McDonald’s, or any of the other fast food chains. Consumers buy something because it has a new exciting label on it. They are influenced by things like packaging and who has the better commercial.

Eaters, on the other hand, eat their food. They buy food based on, well, whether it’s food or not. They buy it based on whether it’s edible, which, let’s face it, most consumer products are not. Go-gurt? That is not a food. That’s a product. I went down to my neighbor’s farm for a quart of milk and made yogurt. THAT’S a food. Are you starting to see the difference? When an eater goes looking for food, they’re looking for food. Not for a product. Not for a gimmick, or a flashy label, or a brand name.

It may be a semantic thing, but I find that semantics can make rather a difference. When having conversations regarding local foods, I’ve found that I cringe every time someone calls me a consumer. I don’t want to be associated with that mindless pastime, consumption. It’s one of those things that got us in this mess.

I wanted to point out the difference, as in the future I am going to use the term “eater” when I am talking about regular old day to day eating, and “consumer” when I’m talking about people who are consuming all the manufactured products that exist out there for people to put in their mouths.

Hopefully we’ll have a lot more of the former in the future.

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I have been missing Germany like crazy. For those of you who don’t know, I usually go once a year to visit my good friends and my sister at heart, the delightful click clack gorilla, with whom I am blessed to share genetic material. I have been spending the day listening to her music and it is making me miss Germany even more. As are the weather and my ongoing cravings for German food and German beer.

I started the morning off today by drinking a Hansa while talking to my sister at heart over the internet. Hansa is pretty cheap beer in Germany, so the fact that they’ve taken the trouble to import it to the states kind of baffles me. But it’s available up at one of the big Delaware liquor stores and every so often I make a pilgrimage for more of the oversized bottles. It doesn’t taste quite the same as it does in Germany, but it’s close enough that I’m taken back to nights sitting up around a bonfire, listening to music and eating heaps of dumpstered vegan food off plates in our laps. I miss those nights, I miss the freedom of having nothing more pressing to do than eat and talk and sing, I miss sitting outside for every meal, and I miss the mosh of mismatched chairs that make up the dining areas of the wagenplatz where miss clack lives.

And I miss communal cooking. I didn’t think I would miss communal cooking, because I tend to get frustrated by other people’s tendencies to be kind of wishy washy about eating at a particular time, and even more wishy washy about cleaning up on any kind of regular basis, but I find I am really missing it. I think it’s because at this time of year, when I have run through pretty much all the food I’ve saved over the winter, and there’s not much in the way of food available from the ground, I am so bored with my own cooking that I am craving that variety, the surprise of wandering into the communal kitchen of an evening to see what someone has cooked up. I don’t remember ever not liking something someone made. And there was always food. Voku for lunch and leftovers or whatever could be gleaned from the cupboards and the drawers where the vegetables were stored.

I miss Knödel. I had them for the first time last summer and boy are they good. I miss weiss Spargel (god my spelling is getting awful), and those pancake things that a.t.’s mom made, and a.k.’s cooking, and breakfast every morning with a.r. (ok, I miss my girls, what can I say). Oh my god I miss the rolls. I miss having a bakery on every corner. I miss Brezel. And making giant concoctions of white bean whatever and eating them off bread and making a huge mess in the process.

And I miss the freedom. I realize that at this point in my life the freedom is only because I have worked hard all year and saved up the money to go ramble around Germany for a month, but one day I will have that freedom in my own life. The ability to say, you know what, today I really just do not feel like doing anything but sitting around all day writing and drinking mint iced tea and watching the plants grow. I know farming is technically the wrong career for that, but that’s why I want to run my own farm. There won’t be anyone to tell me off for sitting outside all day, thinking about food, except maybe the chickens.

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AOL News: Regulated or Not Nano Foods Coming to a Store Near You

As if we needed more reason not to eat food from the grocery store. Seriously. WHY WOULD YOU EAT FOOD WITHOUT KNOWING WHERE IT CAME FROM???? It is clear from this article that grocery stores don’t know what’s in the food anymore than you do, and that the FDA either doesn’t know or doesn’t care. So WHY WOULD YOU EAT IT?

God it’s just one of those things I can’t wrap my head around, even though I know I do it sometimes. I bought those canned artichokes the other day without knowing where they came from. I go out to restaurants, as if the people in the restaurants know what’s in the food. It’s just so easy.

In case you don’t take the time to read the whole article, it basically talks about how scientists are now putting nano particles in foods. They apparently serve a wide array of functions, from “improving” flavor, making the foods look more attractive (“shiny” or “better textured”), keeping ketchup from sticking to the inside of the bottle, or warding off microbes. Nano particles are teeny tiny bits of atoms. Like, ridiculously small. Atom sized. Manipulated to perform certain functions. And then placed in your food. And you’d never know! Because obviously you can’t see it.

The risk is that there have been hundreds of studies showing potential health risks to humans from consumption of nano particles- including such delights as DNA damage that would lead to cancer, heart and brain disease. Of course, the companies using the particles won’t release any information on what they may or may not be using, and what their studies may be showing, and so far (surprise!) the FDA isn’t demanding it. Chances are they are already in many foods in the store, and no one knows about it.

Actually, I think the thing that pisses me off the most about the whole thing is the casual reference to torture: “One of the few ingestion studies recently completed was a two-year-long examination of nano-titanium dioxide at UCLA, which showed that the compound caused DNA and chromosome damage after lab animals drank large quantities of the particles in their water. ”

I think we’re supposed to be horrified that this is a substance they are putting in food for sale to humans, but I am far more horrified that they have been causing severe DNA damage to lab animals who have no say in the matter. I suppose most humans don’t either, actually. It’s like a tremendous nationwide lab experiment, the stuff they put on grocery store shelves, and it’s only a matter of time before the results start getting back to us. Oh but wait! They already have! Everyone has cancer and diabetes and asthma and obesity and god only knows what else! Thanks so much, food companies.

I also want to comment on that last ditch effort at the end of the article to suggest maybe there are some useful applications for nano particles, namely, identifying pathogens in foods. Of course, they are talking about chickens, which wouldn’t have pathogens in the first place if they weren’t being run through the industrial food system, but who ever bothers to ask that question? No, it’s all about looking for band aid solutions to the problems we create, not solving the problem itself. ARGH.

I feel more and more justified in refusing to eat a single thing from the store, that’s for damn certain.

Oh, and here’s another: Amid Nanotech’s Dazzling Promise, Health Risks Grow

This one suggests that nanotech might, in the future, be used to produce food in the lab, without the need for a pesky farm. This has got to stop. It has got to stop, RIGHT NOW. It is already out of hand. There is no time to waste. The day has come.

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Mental Floss: Breast Milk Cheese, Anyone?

Um.

I am only posting this because I want to point out the reference to non-pasteurized milk. Have you ever thought about that? All those people out there rambling on about how pasteurization is so necessary, how we’d all die without pasteurization. What, are you going to start telling mother’s they have to pasteurize their breast milk? You know how many pathogens are in breast milk? And do you know WHY they’re in breast milk? It’s because they increase infant immunity. That’s the whole point. And that’s why they’re in cow’s milk. That’s why drinking unpasteurized cow’s boosts our own immunity. Duh.

Actually, it’s an interesting question to ponder. People ARE squeamish about eating breast milk cheese. I mean, I’m squeamish about eating breast milk cheese. And yet I’m perfectly happy eating breast milk cheese when then breast happened to be attached to a cow… I’m not sure why this is. Will have to ponder.

Here’s the original article: NY Post: Wife’s baby milk in chef’s cheese recipe

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