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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

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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?

“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.

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.

The Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary

8 Jul

The Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary is located a short drive from me in Willow, NY. I attended their July Jamboree yesterday and met some pretty fetching fellows, like this guy:

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Lambs having lunch. Well, except this very patient one.

The sanctuary rescues and rehabilitates animals that are used for food, and allows them to live out their lives in a cradle of compassion and respect. This bull was rescued from a local veal operation when he was six months old, and about the size of a dog. Today he weighs 1800 pounds. I’m not sure but I think he was flirting with me.

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Dylan

The farm is also home to about a dozen goats. These animals are torn from their mothers as infants so that we can consume goat’s milk and about one million goats a year are killed for their meat in the United States alone.

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Resting goat.

One of the pivotal moments for me on my journey towards an animal product-free existence was footage from the movie Vegucated captured in a meat processing plant. It showed such extreme mistreatment of pigs on their way to slaughter that I spontaneously wept at the sight. It was therefore a true gift to observe the absolute serenity of these two gentle souls. Now that I’ve seen it, I’m not sure there’s anything cuter than a pig napping in a mud pool.

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Mud bath snooze

I just love the fact that each of the animals at WFAS gets a name — reminding visitors that they are individuals, sentient and worthy of lives of dignity. There are many ways to give back to WFAS for the wonderful work they do. All gift will be matched through the end of this month.

Happy 4th of July!

4 Jul

 

I’ve got some kale crisping in the oven, some raw, vegan brownie bites setting in the fridge and I’m heading out to buy some hamburger buns for the veggie burgers I’m bringing along with these other delicacies to a potluck BBQ.  We’ve been getting a ton of rain here on the East Coast lately so I”m grateful for sunny skies!

Almost Vegan

1 Jul

Quinoa SaladI am not a vegan, but i eat a mostly vegan diet. I like to say that I am 95% vegan, 98% vegetarian and 2% whatever I want. Becoming “more vegan” has been a gradual — very gradual — process. When I was in my 20s I was what I like to call a junk-food vegetarian. I didn’t eat meat, but I wasn’t very strict about it, and I ate very little in the way of plant-based foods. In fact, I think my diet consisted mostly of pasta, pizza and chocolate chip cookie dough. I also didn’t have a very clear idea about why I was a vegetarian. Health was only a weak motivator since I had little regard for my well-being. I had a vague understanding of the environmental impacts and societal consequences of industrialized farming, but I wouldn’t have been able to speak very clearly about it. In short, my motivations were a mystery, even to me.

After I moved to New York City in my late 20s I adopted a diet consisting largely of takeout food. I switched back to eating meat because I was sick and I didn’t know why and I hypothesized that perhaps I wasn’t getting enough protein from my junk-food diet. (In fact I was sick because I had an undiagnosed medical condition, but I’ll save that story for another post). My weight (and my self-esteem along with it) yo-yo’d. Periodically I would embrace a diet or lifestyle craze. Fit For Life helped me lose 30 pounds though I gained it back because I couldn’t maintain its strict combining rules. I tried Atkins, consuming mostly hamburgers and cottage cheese but it didn’t work for me. I would periodically get into juicing, then burn out, or get really into working out at the gym, then stop abruptly.

Eventually…and I’m really jumping ahead here, like 10 years ahead, I started to adopt a healthier way of life. I use the phrase “way of life” very intentionally, because I stopped dieting altogether and just began to embrace foods and styles of cooking I had shunned previously. Last summer (the summer of 2012) I decided I would experiment with going completely vegan from Memorial Day through Labor Day, and it was a revelation. I discovered exciting kitchen appliances like the Vitamix which I used to make non-dairy rice milk and salad dressings, in addition to a wide variety of green (and other-colored) smoothies. I found quinoa to be an excellent substitute for pasta and a wonderful companion to lentils and other beans and legumes. I learned it is possible to make cookies — delicious cookies — without using milk or eggs. And most importantly, I learned that a vegan diet is not in any way austere or ascetic, and that I could live this way without feeling even the slightest bit deprived. In fact, I felt more fulfilled than ever, and I lost 15 pounds effortlessly.

At the end of that summer my nephew got married and I used the opportunity to take a week off to travel to Virginia for the wedding and some vacation time. Of course, I rewarded myself for surviving my vegan summer by eating anything I wanted while I was away — and I got sick. Very sick. When I returned I went to a gastroenterologist convinced that I had stomach cancer. Several months later – after an endoscopy, a CAT scan and lots of blood work that provided no explanation for my deterioriating condition, it occurred to me that maybe I needed to go back to the vegan diet I’d embraced, and felt good on, over the summer. I did, and I began to feel better immediately. Bye-bye gastroenterologist.

Examples of times when I am not vegan include the following:

  • occasionally I indulge myself by putting cream in my coffee
  • if I am at a social gathering I do not inquire as to whether there is dairy in the birthday cake – I just eat it
  • sometimes when I’m at a Japanese restaurant I get fish sushi instead of vegetarian sushi
  • when I dine out on special occasions I give myself carte blanche to get whatever’s on the menu
  • Also, i can’t imagine a life completely devoid of pizza. Not yet, anyway. Progress, not perfection.

    Hello from the Hudson Valley

    30 Jun
    Duck Pond, at the Mohonk Preserve, New Paltz, NY

    Duck Pond, at the Mohonk Preserve, New Paltz, NY

    This is my first blog post on what I hope will be a source of information, enthusiasm, and inspiration for those who are interested in eating well, or at least better.  My journey to healthy living has been a long and challenging one, impacted by illness, alcoholism & addiction, and life-long aversion to taking care of myself.  Over time I’ve adopted new habits, discovered new foods, learned to enjoy cooking, and found that being healthy can be not only easy and enjoyable, but also fulfilling spiritually and emotionally.  I do not diet, I eat — healthfully, and happily.

    Kirschner's Korner

    Let's make the world a more humane place