Sunday, January 22, 2012

i am

There is a great documentary out that I think everyone would like, even if you're not into documentaries. It was directed by Tom Shadyac, a name I was not familiar with. Yet the titles of his movies Ace Ventura, Liar Liar, The Nutty Professor, Patch Adams, Bruce Almighty, etc were all familiar to me.

I probably wouldn't have heard of this film if it weren't for my Netflix "suggestions for you" page. The trailer looked amazing so I put it on top of my queue. I was blown away after watching it and watched it again two days later. I hated to return it and have decided to buy it. It's a keeper of a movie.

The film centers on the result of a life-changing experience Tom Shadyac had. After a serious bicycle accident, he developed a form off post-concussion depression, making him question his whole life and taking away his will to live. One day the depression inexplicably left him and he decided to grab a crew of 4 people and scout the world for the greatest scientists and other great thinkers to find out "[w]hat is wrong with our world and what can we do about it." The result is I AM.

The initial part of the film (his great success is Hollywood, the accident, depression, etc) only takes about the first five minutes. The rest is dedicated to interviewing others. Some of the more recognizable names are Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, and Desmond Tutu.

Some of the themes he focuses on are the following: whether humans are, by nature, competitive or cooperative; how science has proven we are actually connected to others; and whether our hearts or brains are the real center of our selves.

It sounds a little heavy and/or New-Agey. It's not. In fact, it's quite entertaining and the viewer rides the movie like a surfer on a wave. It's all backed by science, which makes it all the more mind blowing. And it's just fun to watch! Can't beat that combo!

One of the amazing things that stuck with me was that our vagus nerve is what makes us connect to all other living things. If you've ever watched those videos of returning soldiers surprising their children with their return, you probably felt great emotion at watching them, quite possibly tearing up. (They make me cry every single time.) The vagus nerve makes us empathize with others and want to help them. The documentary shows many examples of people reaching out to others.

While it's not an animal rights movie, the evidence garnered from his talks with these great thinkers all point to a compassionate lifestyle. The vegus nerve, for example, would explain why so many people don't want to know where their meat comes from. Why people get distraught at even the mention of the conditions of animals farmed for their flesh or their skins. Because our very nature is to empathize with the pain of others, and we don't want to think that our actions cause this pain in others. So most of us avoid it altogether, viewing it as Pandora's Box. Because once it's open, you can't turn back. You can't stuff it away. You have to look at it and make new choices. And "new" to many people is scary and overwhelming. (If that's you, please see babysteps.)

A great quote from one of the interviewees (I forgot to write down who said it):

"All of life is our biological kin. To me, the most amazing thing about the Human Genome Project was that it turns out over 99% of the genes in a human being are identical to the genes in our nearest relatives, the Great Apes. That the vast majority of genes in ourselves are identical to the genes in our pet dogs and cats  ... They are our relatives."

As far as changing our world to treat animals the way we'd want to be treated, consider the words of Desmond Tutu, (delivered with that wide smile and wonderful, lilting voice)

"How does change happen? It happens because you are concerned. And you are concerned. And you are concerned. And you have a coordination that becomes this movement. And it overcomes apartheid."

Rollin Mccraty, who works at HeartMath, notes, "What we do at the individual level really does affect the global environment."

So here is the trailer for the film.

And here is an interview with Tom Shadyac on the making of the movie. And I'm not going to ruin the fun for you, but you MUST watch it, if only to see the yogurt experiment and what scientists discovered when they observed a herd of Red Deer.

After doing a little research for this post, I found that Oprah had done an interview with Tom when the film came out. You can read about that here.

I hope you treat yourselves soon and watch this! I'm told it's On Demand and also showing on OWN. And, as I mentioned before, you can get it on Netflix.

After you've seen it, I'd love to hear your thoughts below! Nobody I know (except for Ryan and my friend Jack and his fiance) have seen it and I'm just dying to talk about it with others! Enjoy!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Lorax and Someone Like You

I selected this post to be featured on Vegan Blogs. Please visit the site and vote for my blog!

Today on my Facebook feed, I was sent a link to one of my favorite videos that had made its way to a site called GodVine, which devotes itself to videos with a Christian theme. The video that shows the rescue of several beagles in Spain that were being used for animal testing. As I've mentioned before, I'm not of any particular religious denomination, though I lean towards Unitarianism and its non-dogmatic belief in the good in all people and in doing good in the world. It's a kind of religious free-for-all that my atheist Gramma was gung-ho about. (She on more than one occasion proudly pronounced that there was no God and that when you "dropped dead" that was it. Yet she loved hymns. Gotta love that.)

Anywho, I'm already zooming way off topic.

So I don't scout out Godvine, but occasionally a link will bring me there to some uplifting video. So I was not surprised that this video found its way to the site. Here is is below. (Very sweet -- not graphic at all.)

What really struck me though were the comments below the video. (I will say in GodVine's defense that their comments section is the only one I've come across where people had only positive things to say. It amazes me at times how vicious people can get on comment sections, saying things I would hope a person would never say to another face-to-face.) But what I found fascinating and troubling were the prayers to Jesus to stop such cruelty or the demands to arrest the people who had tested on the animals. Many people even seemed to think animal testing did not happen in our country.

But I did not see one comment that indicated that a person had reconsidered his or her using products that tested on animals.

That nobody saw the link between what we choose to spend our money on and what happens to these animals in laboratories was very troubling. It's great that people wanted to pray to God, if that's something that helps them in their spiritual growth. But what about making different (and super simple!) choices to effect change? And then spreading the word about companies that don't test to send the monetary message: We only spend our money on products that don't hurt anybody!

Would making changes be inconvenient? They might temporarily be a little work, finding products to replace our long-used favorites. It might possibly be more expensive. But to me it's worth it. (And I'll get more into how to do that further down.)

If experimentation on rabbits, mice, pigs, and monkeys doesn't bother you, experimentation on cats and dogs might. Stray/lost animals that are brought to shelters can be bought for animal experimentation: it's called "pound seizure." (Click here to see if pound seizure is legal in your state. You might be surprised.) In other words, your shampoo, soap, nailpolish, dishwashing liquid, or hair gel may be tested on people's lost pets, who want nothing more than to go home.

I'd love to think that prayer, wishes, or bemoaning the cruelty of animal testers will stop this, but I don't believe it will. We have to actually change things in our own lives to stop it. I think we sell ourselves short on what a difference one person can make.

Here's a great short video on making a difference by Colleen Patrick Goudreau.

I always loved the Dr. Seuss's book The Lorax. You may already be familiar with this wonderful story, which is narrated by the "Once-ler" who tells the tale of how greed and thoughtlessness destroyed a fictional land but leaves the reader with a seed and the powerful word "unless." The best quote, that I'm sure many will recognize, tells us,

"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, 
nothing is going to get better. 
It's not."

In one part of the book, the Lorax debates with the owner of a corporation on what ordinary people will buy:

The Lorax: I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues. And I'm asking you sir, at the top of my lungs - that thing! That horrible thing that I see! What's that thing you've made out of my truffula tree?
The Once-ler: Look, Lorax, calm down. There's no cause for alarm. I chopped just one tree, I'm doing no harm. This thing is most useful! This thing is a "thneed." A theed, a fine something-that-all-people-need! It's a shirt. It's a sock. It's a glove! It's a hat! But it has other uses, yes, far beyond that. You can use it for carpets, for pillows, for sheets, for curtains! Or covers for bicycle seats!
The Lorax: Sir, you're crazy. You're crazy with greed. There's no one on earth who will buy that fool thneed!
a man drives by, buys the thneed and pays the Once-ler]
The Once-ler: The birth of an industry, you poor, stupid guy! You're telling me what the public will buy? 

Hmm... Sound familiar?

Of course, by the end of the book, the Once-ler comes to deeply regret his decisions and implores a young boy to spread the news of what once was. (Much in the way Richard Harris's King Arthur told the tale of Camelot to a young boy at the end of the movie.... Oh heck. I can't resist. Here's the ending of Camelot.)

Much to my delight, I saw that The Lorax is going to be a movie this spring! (Starring Danny DeVito, Taylor Swift, Ed Helms, Betty White, and Zac Efron.) Here is the trailer:

So where does this leave us?

Don't be a person who wishes for change or just shakes their head sadly. Be someone who does something. Something simple! Just pick one product to replace (in a babysteps kind of way). Once you've found one, try another.  It might make a great New Year's Resolution: replacing one product per week/month! 

Here is a great link to PETA where you can get a Cruelty-Free Shopping Guide. As well, there is a search engine, where you can search for cruelty-free products. There's even a Be Nice to Bunnies Phone App that allows you to quickly find out if a product tests on animals or not.

Many of these products can be found at Whole Foods or online at Vegan Essentials. Whole Foods is phenomenal at taking returns if the product you buy isn't the right fit. I've returned many products there and they never question it. If you don't have a receipt, they will give you store credit.

So make a change for the Lorax. And the beagles. Because unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.

P.S. What are you favorite animal-friendly products?

PPS. A great place to adopt pets that were used in laboratory research is the Kindness Ranch.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Better Than Girl Scouts

And finally the whirlwind tour ends!

Christmas was a blast! We just got back from our one-week tour of the whole fam, starting at Cape Cod, then to Boston,  Virginia, Pennsylvania, and finally my old stomping grounds of Hanover. Along the way, I got some lovely animal-friendly gifts, including several cookbooks: Candle 79, Veganomicon, Eat, Drink, and Be Vegan, and Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar.  All spectacular!

Candle 79 is a cookbook from the New York restaurant of the same name. I am dying to go there someday and order the whole menu. The recipes are quite fancy -- perfect for having an impress-your-guests dinner. I sense I'll be using this one a lot this summer as all the lovely produce bursts forth from our garden. (Thank you, Mark and Chris!)

Ryan made a great jambalaya dish and the jalapeno cornbread from Veganomicon for the Byers/Fleming reunion in Virginia. (Thank you to one of my student's parents who gave me a bookstore gift certificate! Best gift you can give a teacher!) It's the second year that the family has held a cooking competition for the men. Each man present must make a dish and serve it to the family. They do this all at once, but luckily it's a big kitchen. Then afterward the votes are tallied. Sadly, Ryan did not win overall for his recipes (sigh...better luck next year, sweetie!) but the winner (my brother-in-law Brendan) won with a fabulous stew that he made vegan for us! (Everyone else had it with a dollop of cheese on top, but I'm telling you, it did not need it.) I'm hoping I can talk Brendan and his lovely darlin' wife Sara Anne into sharing this recipe with us and letting me share it with y'all.


Eat Drink, and Be Vegan is equally wonderful. (Thank you, Mary!) Yesterday, I made the Thai Corn Chowder and it was just delectable. (Made with coconut milk, ginger, garlic, lemongrass, limes, etc.) A happy happy thing for the mouth and tummy.

But the grandaddy of them all was the Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar. (Thank you, Spence!) I've only tried one recipe so far, but it is one of the most spectacular things I've ever made in my life. It was the Lazy Samoa cookie recipe, based on the Girl Scout cookie of the (almost) same name. But way way way better. (My enthusiasm got the better of me and I scared a good friend on the phone as I described them. "They're even better than Girl Scout cookies!" she quoted me later,  laughing, but upon eating them, she too was hooked and better understood my overzealous delirium.) I'll share the recipe with you here, as I've already received four requests for the recipe.


Lazy Samoas

2 C grated unsweetened coconut
1/3 C unrefined coconut oil (you can find this in the oils section of Whole Foods, in a jar)
3/4 C firmly packed brown sugar
1/3 C nondair, y milk
1 Tablespoon ground flax seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 C all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

For Decorating
1 C dark chocolate chips (I use Guittard)
2 Tablespoons unrefined coconut oil

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. Pour the grated coconut into a large heavy skillet and toast over medium-low heat. Stir occasionally and toast coconut to a light golden grown, about 8 to 10 minutes. Watch carefully to avoid burning. (It's true! Mine went immediately from white to light brown at about 10 minutes. So don't be wandering about doing other tasks, or it will surely burn.) Promptly remove the coconut from the heat and stir it occasionally as it cools. If the coconut continues to turn overly brown promptly pour from skillet into a large dish and spread around to help hasten cooling and stop cooking.

3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the coconut oil, brown sugar, non-dairy milk, flax seeds, and vanilla until well-blended and smooth. (Keep the coconut oil at room temperature. You may need to use your mixer for while to make sure it's totally blended.) Sift in the all-purpose flour, baking soda and salt, and mix to form a thick batter. Fold in the toasted coconut.

4. Scoop about 1 Tablespoon of dough 2 inches apart onto the baking sheets. Flatten each cookie with the back of a measuring cup and use your fingertip to work a small hold into each center. (Note: the measuring cup trick didn't work well for me. I just used my hands.) Bake for 8 minutes, until the edges of the cookies are golden. (I stopped mine at 8 minutes and didn't let them get golden - I tend to overcook cookies -- and they came out great.)

5. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer them to wire racks to cool completely. Transfer the cooled cookies onto waxed paper, then place them onto a cutting board or other firm surface that can be easily slid onto a refrigerator shelf. (I just put them on a cooled baking sheet.)

6. While cookies are cooling, melt chocolate chips in a microwave or double boiler (I used the microwave), then stir the coconut oil into the melted chocolate. Allow the chocolate to cool for 5 minutes to thicken slightly. Dip cookie bottoms into the chocolate and return them to the waxed paper. Now drizzle the remaining chocolate over the cookies, either by dipping a fork into the melted chocolate (I tried this and it worked great) or by pouring the chocolate into a pastry bag fitted with a very small round tip. Chill the cookies for at least 30 minutes to completely firm up the chocolate. Store the cookies in a loosely covered container in a very cool place.

The authors of Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar,  Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero, should get a Nobel Prize or something. You'll see why when you try them. If everybody ate these, the world would be at peace. Trust me on this one.


So that was some of my Christmas fun. Oh. And I got a Vitamix from Santa! More to come.

So I'm curious...what kind of animal-friendly goodies did Santa or Hannukah Harry give to you?