Thursday, June 23, 2011

Oprah, Martha, Ellen?

It's true. Many major players on the tube are now either vegan (Ellen) or leaning towards veganism (Oprah and Martha.) Why is this movement becoming so huge all of a sudden? Ah. Where to start ... So many reasons, but a big one is taste. There are a plethora of products out there that taste exactly like meat, but are plant-based. This makes the transition to a plant-based diet more appealing to those who really enjoy the taste of meat.

One big name out there you may have heard of is Kathy Freston, who recently wrote Veganist. She's  been a guest with Oprah, Martha, and Ellen. Below is an excerpt of her wowing the hosts of Good Morning America with tasty treats. What I really like about her style is her idea of leaning, as she puts it,  into this new way of eating by tweaking some of your favorite recipes. (I did this a while back with tacos and found the new version to be much tastier than the old!) She's gotten some flack from some folks for promoting processed foods that taste like meat as opposed to an all whole foods diet. While the latter is the ideal, I think Kathy really bridges the divide that, until recently, felt uncrossable for those who grew up enjoying the taste of meat but who felt bad about having animals killed for their own tastebuds. If we're being respectful to animals (and getting healthier!), I honestly don't see what the big deal is.

And here she is on The Talk...

In addition to taste, another reason plant-based food has become big is the health benefits. In July 2009, the American Dietetic Association  claimed the following about vegetarianism:

An evidence-based review showed that vegetarian diets can be nutritionally adequate in pregnancy and result in positive maternal and infant health outcomes. The results of an evidence-based review showed that a vegetarian diet is associated with a lower risk of death from ischemic heart disease. Vegetarians also appear to have lower low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and lower rates of hypertension and type 2 diabetes than nonvegetarians. Furthermore, vegetarians tend to have a lower body mass index and lower overall cancer rates. Features of a vegetarian diet that may reduce risk of chronic disease include lower intakes of saturated fat and cholesterol and higher intakes of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, soy products, fiber, and phytochemicals.

So I brought up the Oprah-Martha-Ellen star factor not so that we can emulate what Hollywood says or does, but because it shows how mainstream veganism is becoming. It also helps to nix the stereotype of the hippy-vegan when you see pretty-pretty plant-eating people who look amazing!

I'll be posting some amazing recipes soon that made me swoon. I swear I wasn't trying to rhyme that.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Kale Chips ~ Sounds gross, but astonishingly good

I'd heard rave reviews about kale chips on various websites and cookbooks and, honestly, it never sounded too appealing. I do like kale, but I've always liked it "dressed up" a bit with some other flavors.  I finally decided on Thursday, though, to just give it a shot, figuring that if I didn't like it, I'd only be out a couple of bucks.

The recipes said to preheat the oven to 350. Then you wash a bunch of kale (curly kale is best) and you dry it in the salad spinner (or with towels). Cut out the tough stems and discard, and cut the kale into strips/pieces/whatever you want. Then toss them about in a bowl with about 1 Tbs olive oil and salt to taste until the kale is equally coated. Finally you throw them on a parchment-paper-lined cookie sheet for about 20 minutes or so until they have a dry and crunchy chip-quality to them. (But don't let them burn!)

I realized I was out of parchment paper so I just went a little liberal with the oil. Just 1 Tbs. didn't seem like it would be enough anyway.  Ends up 1 Tbs. would have been perfect. The chips were really really good, though later my tummy felt a little overwhelmed by the oil content, so next time I'll stick with the recommended amount. Plus I think they would have still been fine without the parchment paper.

I threw the chips into a medium-sized bowl and found myself returning to the bowl all evening, in an addict kind of way.  Yes -- the rumors are true. These things are really good. Ryan even liked them, and he's none too keen on kale or most dark leafy greens. So it was kind of a "Mikey" moment for  us. :)

There's a variation on this I want to try, where you add about 1/4 teaspoon of paprika and a pinch of cayenne (in addition to the salt and oil) when you're tossing the kale in the bowl. This particular recipe I found online says to cook for 12 minutes then flip the kale on the baking sheet, and cook for another 5 minutes. Then put the cooked chips on some paper towels to soak up any excess oil and sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon of sugar. So I'll have to try that too! It sounds intriguing with the spice and sugar.

I've read that kids go nuts for kale chips, which thrills parents to no end, because kale is ridiculously nutritious. Here's an excerpt from Wikipedia: 

Kale is considered to be the most nutritious vegetable in the world with extremely powerful antioxidant properties; kale is considered to be anti-inflammatory.[1]
Kale is very high in beta carotene, vitamin K, vitamin C, lutein, zeaxanthin, and reasonably rich in calcium. Kale, as with broccoli and other brassicas, contains sulforaphane (particularly when chopped or minced), a chemical believed to have potent anti-cancer properties.[citation needed] Boiling decreases the level of the anti-cancer compounds; however, steaming, microwaving, or stir frying do not result in significant loss.[2] Along with other brassica vegetables, kale is also a source of indole-3-carbinol, a chemical which boosts DNA repair in cells and appears to block the growth of cancer cells.[3][4] Kale is also a good source of carotenoids.

 So try it and let me know how it goes! I'll be curious to know if you become addicted. :)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

"I could never give up cheese..."

This is one of the most frequent reasons people state why they could never give up dairy. It was certainly one of the reasons I thought I could never go vegan. I remember when I went down to Virginia to spend my first holiday with my future mother-in-law's family several years ago. The whole extended family were huge cheese eaters, and were very approving of my great love of the smelliest, most intense cheeses money could buy. We whipped up some of the tastiest fondues and ate ourselves into a happy holiday coma. Ahh...the food coma. But it ends up there may be something to that delightful -- though sometimes uncomfortable --  feeling.

Many scientists believe that people are actually addicted to cheese. In the animal milk that makes the cheese is a protein called casein. Sounds harmless enough, right? It's in all mammals' milk, including human milk. When we drink the milk, however, this protein is broken into peptides called casomorphines, which are opiates that contain 1/10 of the strength of morphine. The casomorphines give us a sense of well-being, similar to what heroin or morphine does. As they were intended for babies of the species that gives the milk, this makes sense; it allows the baby to relax and to drink more of the nourishing food, and it helps foster the mother-baby bond.

Cheese, however, has the water, lactose, and whey taken out, so the casein is much more concentrated. The effect of the casein, once it has been ingested and breaks down into casomorphines, is therefore much stronger. (It seems strongest in the "mold cheeses," such as Brie.) If the brain becomes accustomed to casomorphines flowing through the body, it's pretty psyched. And it's downright annoyed if its supply goes away. Thus the addiction.

To be honest, I didn't feel any symptoms of withdrawal when I gave up dairy. (And I've had caffeine withdrawal before so I have an inkling of what it might feel like.) In fact, one week after giving up dairy, my brother- and sister-in-law came over with some of my favorite cheeses to share, and I had no problem politely declining.  (So sweet of them, though!) Many people, however, claim to feel very depressed, sick, or lethargic after right after giving up cheese/dairy. It does make that commonly heard statement, "I could never give up cheese," look a little different, no?

If it's true that cheese is addictive, that's pretty great news for the cheese industry, wouldn't you say?  Makes one think...

In an earlier post, How Now, Brown Cow? I shared my ethical reasons for quitting dairy. But there have been studies, most famously The China Study, which have directly linked the consumption of animal protein to a number of cancers, among other diseases. Casein has also been shown to exacerbate the symptoms of autism.

Anyhow, I'm aiming to keep this short, as I'm behind on laundry and my keyboard's space bar is acting up.  But I encourage you to check out some of this information on your own. The movie Forks Over Knives (which I have yet to see, but plan on seeing) illustrates a lot of the damage animal protein is creating in our bodies.

As the king in Amadeus famously said, "Well...There it is."

Friday, June 10, 2011

"Don't you speak American?"

So this has been on my mind since we went to the wonderful Maple Farm Animal Sanctuary Farm Fest last weekend.  The farm does a fundraiser once a year to help pay the costs of caring for the animals who have been rescued and brought to them. It's a remarkable place run by remarkable people. (The link below is a movie that has the couple that run it. They are the couple you see with the goats.)

We were really excited to go, mainly to see all the animals and hear about their stories, but also to meet other like-minded folk. What struck us both when we got there was how very earthy-crunchy it was. Which isn't to imply that there is anything wrong with earthy-crunchy. I grew up in a commune and couldn't imagine a cooler way to experience the world as a kid. All the adults were such fun -- there was always an adult around to play with or draw pictures with! I became a lifelong fan of molasses, and I'd heard the whole Lord of the Rings series at bedtime by the time I was five. Top that!

But -- both Ryan and I talked about this afterward -- it was really hard to connect to a lot of people there because the majority of the fair stands there were New-Agey, which I find interesting, but it's not quite my thing. I do yoga, yes. I've had acupuncture done and was amazed at what I felt during my sessions. I'm crazy about the Beatles and love-love-love Rubber Soul and the White Album. But I have no unusual piercings, tattoos, tie-dye, etc. Patchouli's not my favorite scent. I had a pair of Birkenstocks about ten years ago when they went a bit mainstream, but that's about as hippy as I've gone.

I'm still sorting all this out in my mind, so forgive me if this all comes out wrong. I mean no harm. But I kept thinking, "No wonder people think veganism is weird. These people are the only folks that meat-eaters probably notice as plant-eaters." Which is, to me, a pity. If folks saw that this diet change as something do-able by ordinary folks -- and yes, I'm lumping myself in there. Feel free to make jokes and comment. I'm walking right into this one -- then maybe it wouldn't seem so fringe and out-there to some people. It definitely used to seem very extreme and unhealthy to me and I dismissed it as a activist-tiedye-thing. But my perception changed when I started noticing ordinary-looking people adopting that food lifestyle and I wondered if there was more to it. It suddenly seemed interesting and worthy of checking out, though I still truthfully never thought I'd actually go there. But the majority of meat-eaters (I can't think of a more original term) don't notice the ordinary veg*ns, because the folks with the dreadlocks are much more visible.

I should note too that there were indeed middle-of-the-road people there at the Farm Fest, but they were harder to notice amongst the bell-lined skirts and lip-rings and a few starry-eyed folks who were most definitely on something.

It was similar to my experience living in France years back. I was in a small city with relatively few English-speakers. All of us students tried to blend in and fit in and get to know the French culture. (We didn't actually blend in, I'm sure, but we did try!) Months later, I went to Paris to pick up a friend and all I could see around me were those ugly Americans that make the chill-Americans cringe. The ones who walk up to people loudly and yell, "Do you speak American?!?" and complain about everything and insult the French way of doing things.  "No wonder they say Americans are obnoxious!" I realized. I hadn't understood it until that moment. But the loud people were the only ones that stood out. In truth, there were very cool Americans all around, but you just didn't notice them because you couldn't take your eyes off the loud ones.

So I guess I'm comparing the earthy-crunchy folks to loud Americans. Boy -- I'm getting myself into heaps of trouble. Dig deeper. But it's unfortunately the best analogy I can come up with right now.

Another thing I noticed -- and this was just one person so it is by no means a generalization of all the people who were there -- was this one woman who gave Ryan a look when he made a funny and very benign joke. There were a bunch of llamas there by the fence where we were standing, and Ryan and I were discussing with a fellow our age whether the llamas liked to be patted. Ryan quipped, "I think they like very sudden movements!"  Clearly it was just a light-hearted joke. But this woman turned around and glared at him (he had his back to her so he didn't notice) and all I could think of was "Come on, lady! He wasn't joking about eating the llama, for crying out loud!"  I kept my thoughts to myself, because I've heard it's in bad taste to start a fistfight at a festival based on compassion. I know that what some of these animals have endured is serious stuff, but giving people the vibe never makes them open to your way of thinking.

So my point? I think we middle-of-the-road veg*n folk need to be more vocal. Not necessarily in your face. (Though that can have its place certainly ... well behaved women/people rarely make history, after all.) But just be proud of the choice to abstain from eating animals and their secretions and more willing to talk about it with a sense of humor. I've already had a few people come up to me and say, "It's not something I think I could do myself, but I'm really curious ... " I think those conversations are fabulous. Even if those people never give up eating animals or lessen their consumption, it might change their perception of animals and, at the very least, be food for thought, pun intended. I've always loved it when someone can make me look at something "normal" in a whole new way. If nothing else, it's a great workout for your brain!

So are hippies bad? Of course not. I love 'em. Don't always understand them, but I love them. They are not ugly Americans. I think you follow me here, right? I think we all need to speak up for what we believe in, be open to listening to others, and to have a sense of humor. And learn some frickin' French.

Peaceful eating!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

How Now, Brown Cow?

NOTE: I’ve tried to design this blog in such a way that you can see what you are comfortable seeing. Thus the videos to the right are organized in such a way that you are not “tricked” into seeing a video you are not ready to handle yet. The inspiring ones are --  to me anyway -- inspiring. The intense ones are indeed intense and only you know if you can handle them at this point. I don’t say that in a patronizing way. Rather, I avoided these issues for most of my life because I was afraid of what I would see and learn. Which is a pity, because had I walked in the water slowly at my own pace, I would have been swimming in an animal-friendly waters a long time ago instead of being scared I’d get purposely splashed with icy cold water by someone yelling “Come on in, the water’s great!” (Don’t you hate that? I usually end up loving the water temperature once I’m in it, but I HATE being splashed before I’m ready to dunk myself under.) I hope that metaphor makes sense.

Anyhow, please know that I will not try to “splash” you, particularly since I know many people are exploring this for the first time. My goal is to be respectful to you and your own journey while putting information out there. What I’m going to describe below is what happens in the dairy industry, but I’m attempting to do it in a way that is “handle-able.” There’s definitely more in-depth information out there about the abuses going on, and I’m sure you’ll seek them out if you want to know more, or you can watch some of the “intense” videos.

So a lot of people sort-of get vegetarianism , but veganism?  I’ll admit, I used to think a plant-based diet very strange and extreme, not to mention unhealthy. My motto was always “everything in moderation.” All vegans are kind of sickly looking (not getting enough protein and iron of course) and angry, right? I can’t even remember where I got that idea, but it was planted firmly in my head for some reason. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most vegans, in fact, have what is termed “the vegan glow” and are generally a very happy, healthy, energetic and peaceful bunch. Except when we – I – play Scrabble or Boggle. Then watch out.

One thing I love about getting older is that I am constantly surprised. I think when we’re young, we think we’ll finish our schooling and then we’ll pretty much have it together and know what we need to know. But life giggles at us  -- or sometimes shakes her head sadly --  and kindly says, “I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way, sweetie...” So, just as I did in so many ways in my twenties and thirties, I entered a huge learning curve yet again and found myself on a happy new plane of life that was honestly (and I’m not trying to sound all born-again on you) blissful. I felt like I could finally exhale.

So why give up milk and cheese? (I’ll talk about eggs another day.) I liked cheese, milk, cream, half-and-half, yoghurt, and butter and could not fathom giving them up. Life without butter? No thanks! (I'll explain on another day why we perceive dairy as being so difficult to give up. Ends up a lot of us are literally addicted to it. Fascinating stuff.)

It ended up that there are so many, many reasons to give up dairy, but the main reason for me was the animals. I learned what happened to them and did not want to have any part in what was going on, once I knew.

Cows that are milked are kept constantly pregnant. This is the only way to get them to produce milk.  They are continually milked and their udders, as one would expect, get raw and infected. (Believe it or not, there’s quite a bit of pus in milk because of their infected udders. How gross is that?) But that’s not the bad part.(Again, I'll go easy on you, so fear not!)

When the babies are born, they have 24 hours to be with their mothers to get the colostrum from her milk, which will help their immune systems. This is not done out of kindness to the cow and her baby, but to try to keep as many of the babies alive for the next phase. Then the baby is taken from the cow. What would you do if your baby were taken from you right after it was born? The cow react the same way a human mother would act. People who have witnessed this have said that the calls of the cows trying to get to their babies is more excruciating to hear than the sounds of animals slaughtered. Then she is impregnated again (painful) and the cycle starts again. After about 5 years, her milk production begins to wane and her body starts to break down. Her own bones are leached of calcium to do the constant “nursing” to the machines. At this point, she is "spent" and is sent off (there are videos showing them being dragged by ropes, they are so weakened) to slaughter, a horrific death. A healthy cow can normally live to about 25 years of age. Most of our hamburger comes from spent dairy cows.

So back to the babies. If the baby was born a male, he is destined to be veal. For 16 weeks, he is fed an iron-deficient diet and is not allowed to move. This makes his flesh extra tender. The conditions are more horrific than you can imagine. Then he is killed. If the baby was a female, she is sent off to a small enclosure to see if she survives to adulthood. (Many do not.) If she does, then she becomes a milking cow for about 5 years and then is killed.

So in the end, they are all killed. Did you know that?  I never gave it much thought, though I think I always intuitively knew in my gut there was something amiss but it was much easier to ignore that feeling.  It’s oh-so-easy to ignore because everyone ignores it. It’s like a well-understood and unspoken rule to share our heads sadly and then change the subject.

Further, the veal industry was born from the dairy industry. The dairy industry found a way to make more money and it worked like a charm. So all those times I shuddered when someone had the audacity to order veal? It was my glass of chocolate milk that was the cause of the veal on that person’s plate. Below is a non-intense video by John Robbins (who write Diet for New America and who walked away from his family business, Baskin Robbins) on how Julia Child gave up veal. (Feel free to ignore the DVD advertisement at the end.) So interesting!

So this cycle is the same for all milk, organic milk included. It doesn’t matter how it is labeled. There is no organic kind slaughterhouse. All the animals, organically fed or otherwise, are sent to the same place. I would buy my organic milk every week, thinking I was supporting a real mom and pop farm that treated its cows well. But it’s all business and a business doesn’t survive by putting retired cows out to pasture. It just wouldn't make financial sense.

Aside from all this, there is additional unspeakable cruelty going on towards these cows. Things I literally could not even imagine people doing to animals. Things that kept me shaking for a few days from shock.  Again, I’ll leave it to you to decide if you want to know more. (And you are not bad or weak if you don’t want to know. There are some well-known animal activists out there who don’t watch the footage, as they don’t need to watch it. I felt compelled to watch it for my own sake and for the animals’ sake because I knew that that was what it would take to make the reality sink in and I knew in my soul I had to watch it. Once you see what happens, you just don’t go back to your omnivorous ways.)

Apart from the animal cruelty, our bodies not only don’t require milk, they are being damaged from milk. Someone presented it to me this way and I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it before: we are the only species that not only drinks milk as adults, but drinks the milk of another species. I’ve read figures that have stated that something like 70 to 80 % of humans are “lactose intolerant” and it’s viewed as some disorder. But in fact, it is normal for our bodies to reject milk  after weaning (never mind another species milk), because it is not good for our bodies and our bodies are sending us not-so-subtle messages to quit it.

Humans need calcium; that is a fact. But the calcium in milk (which is given to the cow in supplement form in her feed because she isn’t allowed to get it naturally from the grass) doesn’t help our bones because all the protein in the milk leaches calcium from our bones. You’re thinking “No way. That’s not true,” right? I balked at that fact at first and found it hard to believe. But the famous China Study found that people who consumed no dairy and little to no meat, had no osteoporosis in their population. It just wasn't an issue. Populations who consume dairy and meat have high rates of osteoporosis. I heard the analogy once that drinking milk for calcium is like someone handing you $1000 and then driving off with your brand-new BMW. It seems like you’re getting a good deal at first, but you’re losing big time. The dairy industry has done an amazing job of convincing us that we need milk for calcium. "It does a body good." They have a stellar advertising crew. But, to be blunt, they do not give a crap about our health. They are a business, and if telling us milk will make our bones strong and healthy, so be it.

It ends up that getting calcium as a vegan is super easy. And it doesn’t get leached out of your bones! How great is that?

I knew this was going to be a long entry, but it’s such a huge issue and I’ve barely scratched the surface. Dairy and meat are the main causes for so many diseases, including heart disease and cancer. (There are other causes, of course, such as environment, but science is showing that dairy and meat are the main causes.) There’s a new movie, Forks Over Knives, that illustrates a lot of this. The trailer below (inspiring, not intense) gives you an idea...

And, Bill Clinton decided to give up dairy as an experiment to reverse his heart damage ....

Anyhow, I hope this helps you understand why I and so many others have given up dairy. I haven’t gone into how amazing my body feels now, but I’ll leave that for another day ....

Peaceful Eating! (and drinking!)

PS. If you are in the area, don't forget about the Farm Fest tomorrow! 

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Sweetness Abounds this Sunday!


I am so excited about this Sunday. Nope -- ain't goin' to church. It's the Maple Farm Sanctuary's Farm Fest on June 4 from 12 - 4 pm! It's going to be a free admission, with farm tours, games, face-painting, raffles, food, and kids crafts. All the proceeds will go towards supporting the animals in their care. I'm just looking forward to hanging with all the sweet animals.

Maple Farm is a forever home to creatures (mostly farm animals) that were abused, abandoned, and unwanted. Some of them were on their way to slaughter and were brought to Maple Farm instead. I went there a few weeks ago to check it out and it's a remarkable place. The goats were too cute to be believed! The residents there have some incredible stories and I can hardly wait to meet their new baby goat, Bentley... (see below)

If you're in Massachusetts, please consider going! The weather is supposed to be great, it's an incredible cause, and you'll have a blast, I promise. If you're not in the area, there are amazing sanctuaries all over the United States, and many abroad, I'm sure, though I haven't had a chance to check that out yet. They're very happy places and can lighten your heart instantly. (California seems to have a huge number of them!)

Anywho, I hope you all get a chance to treat yourself to one of these incredible places ...

Peaceful Eating!