Thoughts on food and resolutions…

30 Dec

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Well, first off I apologize for not having fancy professional-looking photos like other vegan bloggers. Maybe someday when I post more frequently than once a month. Anyway, this is a vegan omelette. Looks yummy, eh? I made it from this recipe, except that instead of sautéing the vegetables I folded in 2 heaping tablespoons of the kale slaw I made yesterday based on this Kris Carr recipe, which is also totally delicious on its own — I ate it (the non-pancaked kale slaw, that is) with leftover roasted fingerling potatoes and roasted broccoli I made the night before. The point of all this being that I sometimes use winter as an excuse to eat heavier foods and to overeat them, and also to make lots of vegan desserts (allegedly to disperse among friends though somehow most of them end up in my tummy!), but I made a point of replenishing my food supply with fresh veggies and all is back to normal. I forget how easy and fun it is to experiment with new recipes, and how imperative it becomes when you just stocked your fridge with perishables. Which brings me to my next point: the importance of having a well-stocked kitchen. Isa Chandra Moskowitz’ book Veganomicon is an excellent reference for information on what to stock in terms of both food and tools, though it goes above and beyond what most people need to get started. But the simplest rules are the easiest to follow, and I like this one: if you want good health eat healthy food, and if you want to healthy food keep it in your house. There, that was easy.

My New Years resolutions are do more yoga, make fewer desserts and eliminate animal products from my wardrobe. Happy New Year. Stay safe.

Winter Woes

31 Oct

As the weather grows colder here in the Northeast, I’ve been inventorying my collection of coats, hats, gloves and shoes.  As an “almost vegan” I’m distressed by the number of items I own that have been made from animal products, and sheepishly (no pun intended) admit that it’s only been recently that I gave much thought at all to what my coat is filled with or what my shoes are made of.  As I grow more committed to living a compassionate, ethical, humane and plant-based lifestyle, it makes sense to apply these principles to what I wear as much as to what I eat.

The use of material made from animals in the production of apparel and shoes is widespread and includes fur, skin, feathers and other body parts manufactured from cows, pigs, sheep, goats, alligators, ostriches, kangaroos, ducks, geese, rabbits, goats, silkworms, snakes and other species.  Even dogs and cats are commonly used to make leather and fur products exported from China.  Since leather products are not labeled by what animal they are made from so it is impossible to know what animal donated the leather your apparel is comprised of. According to PETA, animals used in the production of leather and fur are often alive and conscious when they are skinned, or are subjected to other horrific killing methods – including electrocution, bludgeoning, and hanging — while animals trapped in the wild can suffer from exposure, dehydration and blood loss.

Dogs being shipped to a fur farm in China

Dogs being shipped to a fur farm in China

Even the production of wool is fraught with vexing and ethically dubious practices.  Many people (I counted myself among them) assume that sheep need and want to be sheared and that they are neither killed nor hurt in the shearing process. However, non-domesticated sheep only grow as much as they need to keep them warm and shed excess hair on their own.  Furthermore, the wool industry facilitates a reality for sheep tantamount to that of cows used in dairy farming — it is not uncommon for sheep to have chunks of flesh removed in the shearing process.  Once discarded, sheep used by the wool industry are exported to Europe on crowded ships and ones that survive the voyage are taken to slaughter, often in countries with few slaughter regulations.

Down –or the feathers removed from geese and ducks and used as filler in many outerwear products – is often removed from birds when they are slaughtered.  However, many ducks and geese are plucked when they are alive and physically restrained, causing pain, distress and severe damage to their skin.

Plucked Geese

Plucked Geese

If this information has thoroughly depressed you, take heart in the fact that  you don’t need to continue supporting industries that commodify and objectify animals. There are many synthetic alternatives to animal-produced materials including nylon, polyester, tencel, rayon, cotton, linen and canvas.  Though I have struggled to find a “dressy” winter coat that does not contain wool or down, I’ve had less difficulty finding vegan shoes, as there is an ever-increasing number of manufacturers, such as Arcopedico and Sanuk, who make stylish, durable and animal-cruelty-free footwear.

Then there is the question of what to do with the myriad of leather, suede, wool and down-filled items I already own.  It seems unnecessary to stop using them altogether, since they no longer have the potential to harm additional animals, but if I think of myself as a “walking advertisement” for the adoption of a plant-based lifestyle, I am not living up to a very good example by trotting around town in them.  As I don’t have the budget to wholesale replace them, I think I will simply phase them out over time, replacing them with animal-cruelty-free products as they wear out.  What’s your plan?

For more info on animal free clothing see PETA’s Shopping Guide to Compassionate Clothing

Some difficult but important facts about the fur industry: Occupy for Animals

Why I never buy bottled dressing

30 Aug

Vinegar balsamico bottle isolated on white backgroundI stopped buying salad dressing a long time ago.  Well, except for that one bottle of Annie’s Goddess dressing that I read positive things about on a blog many months ago.  Like all the others, I found it lacking.  I used it once and it’s been sitting in my fridge ever since.   Besides the fact that they don’t taste very good, bottled dressings contain high amounts of trans fats, sugar, preservatives and, sometimes even carcinogens.  Seriously, read the label some time.

As is the case with many of the changes we can make to care for ourselves better, it is so easy to make salad dressing from scratch in your kitchen.  At the most basic level, you can just mix a plant-oil of your choice with some vinegar, and be done with it.  But for something a bit more tasty, add one or more of the following ingredients: dijon mustard, maple syrup, lemon juice, miso paste, salt, pepper, minced garlic, ginger, and some of your favorite spices. Sometimes I even sneak a smidgen of wheat grass or spirulina into mine.

My all-time favorite salad dressing is lemon-tahini (basic recipe here), which I make in my Vita-mix.  It takes a little more effort to blend and then clean the blender, but it’s so worth it.  If you would like something even creamier, cashews will do the trick.

It’s effort enough to make a salad – washing, chopping, mixing – so for the bit of extra time it takes to whip up a healthy and nutritious topping it seems like a no-brainer to make your own.  Do you have a favorite?

Why I don’t drink milk anymore….

14 Aug
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The author in Lowell, Vermont

When I was growing up in the 1970s, my 2nd oldest sister (I had 4) hitchhiked up to Vermont one year and without really trying (things just worked out that way for her), got a job working and living on a dairy farm, tending a herd of cows.  I would visit her there from time to time, and our family remained friendly with the farmers — the Hodgemans — until they died.  That’s me in the photo hugging a newborn calf in the barn — I swear its body is there somewhere!   The Hodgeman’s ran what would be considered by today’s standards a very small farm.  Their one barn had something like 20 or 30 cows max, and Thurston had a pasteurizer right there in the front of the barn that he used to process the milk before he sold it.  Of course, Joyce always kept a pitcher of ice cold, freshly milked milk in the fridge.  Everything seemed wonderful on the farm — the air smelled crisp and clean, the green hills stretched endlessly in all directions, and the cows, which were milked by hand, seemed like an extension of the family.

According to the USDA, there are 25% fewer dairy farms in the United States today than there were in the 1970s.  Midsized family farms are disappearing, increasingly being replaced by fewer but larger industrialized, or “factory” farms where livestock is concentrated and confined to small areas.  These animals do not graze for food, food is brought to them.  Most will never feel the warmth of the sun or breathe clean air.  They are deprived of exercise, fed drugs to make them fatter and are genetically altered to make them produce more. Calves (like the one I’m hugging above) are separated from their mothers at birth — males, which are of no use to dairy farmers, are sent to slaughterhouses to become veal, while females are raised to replace older dairy cows, which are then sent to slaughter. The abuses rendered on these animals is well-documented.  Far from the convenient marketing descriptions of “happy” and “laughing” cows, these animals are doomed to short, miserable lives of immeasurable suffering.  All while the small, family dairy farms struggle to keep up.

Then there is the question of whether we even need milk at all.  Research shows that a large number of adult humans are lactose intolerant.  Many children suffer from milk allergies.  Lots of people, including me, have reported that giving up dairy has reduced or even cured life-long gastrointestinal issues.  Long touted as an important source of calcium, milk is nevertheless not the only one — there are many plant-based sources too.  Green leafy vegetables like kale, broccoli, greens and parsley are excellent.  A single navel orange contains 60 mgs.  One ounce of sesame seeds has almost the same amount (280mgs) of calcium as a cup of milk!   Soybeans? 260 mgs per cup. Almonds, white beans, figs, tofu, sunflower seeds, and whole grains such as quinoa and amaranth, too, contain calcium.

Add to this the fact that there are so many substitutes for milk in your supermarket today, and it sure does seem possible that milk could be headed for obscurity.  Almond milk, soy milk, and rice milk are the most common and all can substitute for milk in baking. I personally am partial to hemp and coconut milk, myself, and use them both as a base for smoothies and on cereal.

If you are primarily plant-dominant, or moving in that direction, it’s important to realize that milk can “hide” in all sorts of products under different names, like lactose, casein and whey, so be vigilant and read labels.

“Now I can look at you in peace; I don’t eat you any more.” ― Franz Kafka

“No evil for the non-doer.”

4 Aug

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Tammy and Jim Shrier

“When Jim noticed that some pigs weren’t completely stunned before slaughter — some still fully conscious as they were hung upside down and bled out — he told his supervisor.” 

This statement is from a Change.org petition started by Tammy and Jim Shrier, slaughterhouse inspectors for the USDA.  Whether their claim — that Jim was punished for reporting inhumane conditions at a Tyson Foods slaughter house — is true or not, this petition shines light on the most important fact about how food is produced in the United States and elsewhere: it is barbaric.  As Paul McCartney once famously said, “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian.” 

You can read online, or watch on Youtube to learn more about the subject of animal rights, and if you have doubts about making a commitment to a plant-based diet, I would urge you to do so.   In a culture where we are conditioned to think of meat as a commodity and a meal rather than the involuntary sacrifice of a sentient being, it is easy  – even forgiveable — to be complacent.  But if you wish to lead a life in which you limit the amount of suffering you cause — in other words, if you are a basically good human being — it is essential to face the difficult facts and consequences of the choices we make.

In the words of the Buddha, “If there is no wound on one’s hand, one can handle poison. Poison has no effect where there is no wound. There is no evil for the non-doer.”

Related Link:
The Animal Kill Counter

Holy Wow!

29 Jul

…that’s the only name I can come up with for the smoothie I just made. The nectarines I bought at the farmers market Saturday were on their way out already, so I juiced ‘em, and then blended the juice in the Vitamix with some frozen papaya and pineapple. And there you have it. Holy. Wow.

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It’s so easy…

28 Jul

One of my intentions in starting this blog was is to emphasize that the barriers to a healthier diet are only in our minds. I have found this true time, and time again. Believe me when I say that I am no four star chef, but once I equipped my kitchen, fridge and pantry with a few simple tools and ingredients, it became effortless to eat well.

This morning I did most of this week’s produce shopping at my town’s local farmers market which was abundantly stocked with a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and herbs. I’m sure I spent more money than I would have at the supermarket, but everything I bought was fresh, organic and at peak nutritional value.

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When I got home I used the greens I’d bought to make a simple salad. My taste for bottled dressings has really diminished, but I find its quite simple and quick to whip up a vinaigrette, or when I’m feeling slightly more motivated, something creamier like my fave, lemon tahini dressing. Another bonus to making my dressing is that i can supplement it with a smidgen of wheatgrass powder or spirulina, or any other superfood supplement of my choosing.

While my salad and vinaigrette flavors were melding, I blended up a variation on the strawberry-cucumber smoothie in Julie Morris’ book Superfood Smoothies, which I highly recommend. Mine left out the mint (because I didn’t have any), used about half as many strawberries (because that was what I had) and substituted coconut water for water. Plus, I added my favorite smoothie addition, some avocado. Oh, and I left the skins on my cuke, mostly because I’d already chopped it when I realized the recipe said to peel it, but no matter. The result was pure delight — creamy, fresh-tasting, tangy and smooth and the perfect accompaniment to my salad.

All of this took about a half hour, cleanup was easy, and I was totally full and satisfied. Plus I have enough salad for a few more meals. So. Easy.

Aside 22 Jul

I really enjoyed reading this intereview with Jo Robinson, author of Eating on the Wild Side about phytonutrients — or polyphenols.  It contains some fascinating facts and myth-busters.

In her book, Robinson argues that today’s produce contains far fewer nutrients than the foods of our ancestors — funny, because just yesterday my sister and I were pondering the question of whether a visitor from the ancient past would recognize the vegetables and fruits we eat today either by sight or by taste!

But I digress.  Robinson’s practical advice describes how to navigate today’s grocery stores and farmer’s markets to find the most densely nutritious food.  For example, she advocates choosing leafy lettuces over head lettuces:  “When a lettuce variety forms a head, the leaves inside don’t have to produce phytonutrients to protect themselves from UV light.”  Makes sense, and better still, “if you go to these leafy ones—especially ones that contain some red color—some of them are equivalent to what you’d find foraging.”

She busts the myth that organic automatically means more nutritious, citing studies that suggest that the fertilizers used in conventional farming actually increase the phytonutrient content of some foods; and describes how quickly some of our most nutrient-rich vegetables — kale, broccoli, leaf lettuce and spinach, for example — lose much of their value through respiration by the time they get to the supermarket shelf.  Guess I better start get going on those kale chips while there’s still time!

Speaking of thyme (ahem), Robinson says it, along with oregano are two of the most nutritious herbs — and that parsley pesto is apparently even better for you than basil pesto!  (Extra bonus: it’s cheaper too!)

Finally, waiting 10 minutes after you chop your garlic before adding it to a recipe activates the chemical compound allicin, which is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-cancer.  I’ve known this fact for years, yet conveniently “forget” when I’m actually in the kitchen.

Antidote for a hot day

19 Jul

photo(4)I made a refreshing (and freshly juiced!) apple and lemon smoothie the other day, and used what was left over to make ice pops.  Since then, whenever I make juice or a smoothie, I save a little and pour it into a mold or two.  Voila!  Instant childhood memory come to life.

Urban farming

16 Jul

Today I made a lovely pesto made from basil (and kale!) I purchased at an urban farm in my city-in-the-country.

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This farm stand is open 3 afternoons a week and also sells chard, string beans, onions, leeks, broccoli, squash, cukes, just to name a few, plus a number of herbs, all harvested in a former parking lot:

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While I appreciate the abundant selection of farmer’s markets here in the Hudson Valley, there’s something extra special about getting your veggies, almost from your own backyard. To learn more about urban farming and its contributions to sustainable living, here’s one place to start.

resistance is fertile

living underground in the real world

Kirschner's Korner

Trying to make the world a more humane place

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