Sunday, February 24, 2013

This Week's Menu

Week's already under way, but here it is... (Weekly menu explained here.)

SATURDAY (b-day celebration)
Thai Coconut Corn Stew (double recipe) (Eat, Drink, and Be Vegan 102)
Rosemary Boule Bread from Whole Foods 
Toasted Coconut Cupcakes (Vegan Cupcakes Over the World 87)

Cocoa Coconut Chili (Eat Drink, and Be Vegan 94)
Rosemary Boule Bread from Whole Foods

Red Lentils
Berbere Kale

Mac and Trees (Appetite for Reduction 184)

Hottie Black-eyed Peas and Greens (Appetite for Reduction 119)

Broccoli Cashew Teriyaki Tofu Stir-fry (Eat, Drink, and Be Vegan 122)

Curried Chickpeas and Greens (Appetite for Reduction 228)

Have a good week, y'all!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Good Hodgkins

Here's a conversation that is becoming pretty common nowadays.
"I saw something on the news last night about what they do to those poor animals in factory farms."

"Oh, I know. It's awful. I can't even watch. That's why we buy humanely raised meat."

"Oh, so do we! Well, we do when we can. I just want to know that the animal had a good life, you know?"

"Exactly. At least it was happy. The humane stuff costs a bit more, but we buy less meat now, so it all works out and we're spending the same amount as before."

"Right? And it's a lot healthier too. All organic. No pesticides and no hormones."
I say this dialog is common because it's one I proudly took part in many times. And it's one I hear repeated.

To begin, I think it's interesting that we call the animals in question "it." It's much easier to purchase and eat an "it" than a "he" or "she," but that is exactly what we're buying. Beings. It brings to mind the chilling scene in Silence of the Lambs, when Buffalo Bill (the serial killer) lowers a bucket with lotion to young woman he's holding prisoner in a pit and says, "It rubs the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again." When she begs to be let go and cries that she misses her Mommy, he gets very affected for a moment, but he pulls himself back by telling her "It puts the lotion in the basket!" He even begins to make fun of her screams. We can do whatever we want to an It, and feel no remorse. We can even make jokes about its fate. But a He or She? That's completely different, isn't it? It makes sense why so many farmers refuse to name animals. (So often I'll see a picture of a pig posted in a non-food way on facebook and someone will always, and I mean always, comment, "Mmmm.. bacon!" It's chilling to me that people do that and also disappointing because it's so incredibly unoriginal. But often people's first reaction is to make fun of the animal by labeling it as an It to be eaten.)

The reason I bring up the outlined conversation above is that I heard it the other day between two women in the supermarket and it reminded me of something, but I couldn't quite remember what. Like it was on the edge of my brain but I couldn't bring it forth.  Some funny situation.

And then it came to me today. Factory farm animals vs. humanely raised animals.  It is just like that scene from Curb Your Enthusiasm with the "good" Hodgkins and the "bad" Hodgkins. If you haven't seen it, the main character on the show is just this outrageously obnoxious person who is a complete ... ninny. (There's another word, but I am striving to keep this blog PG.) Anyhow, in this scene he claims that there are two forms of the disease and that one is "good," in that the chances of survival are greater. Everyone keeps remarking to him that it's not really good, just slightly less bad. Take a peek below.

Is humanely raised meat better than factory farmed meat? Technically, I suppose, it is better in some ways, but just barely. Though a few things need to be cleared up about humanely raised animals. (I wrote a post about this word humane, because I find it so distasteful.) First, they all come to the same grisly end. Most are, in fact, sent to the same exact slaughterhouse as their factory farm brethren. Some of these animals, though, may have enjoyed a few more inches of space. A rare few enjoy that idyllic farm we all daydream about and which always seems to be plastered on all the humanely-raised meat labels. But overall, the animals still get treated very badly, and receive the same "standard practices." (Beaks, feet, tails, horns, testicles, ears, and teeth are cut off without anesthesia, for example.)

But just for fun, let's suppose for a minute that humanely raised animals all do get raised on beautiful farms. They have wonderful food. They get to go out to green pastures or peck for bugs in the warm sunshine. People affectionately clean them and name them. Ahhh... Heaven.

Then one day a truck comes to take them away to what we would all deem a living hell. Some may say that's alarmist talk. But what would you call it if it were you going to be slaughtered? I've seen a lot of footage of this and there is simply no other word for it. It's hell. (There goes my PG rating.)

I had one friend tell me they knew of a person who had a truck come and they did the slaughtering right there on the farm in the truck. As though that blew any theories about inhumane treatment out of the water. But to that I say, "That's humane?"

When I ate meat, I drew comfort from knowing that an air bullet thing went through the animals' skulls, which knocked them unconscious. "At least it's quick," I used to tell myself. The unfortunate truth is that when that air bullet is blown into some of the animals' brains, it very often doesn't do the job. The animal goes through processing alive. This is frighteningly common. (And for goodness sake, when is an air bullet going through one's brain good?)

If we were talking about slaughtering humans, would there be factory farm meat and humanely raised meat?
"This humanely-raised human had a great life. We fed it well and it had a safe place to sleep. We let it out during the day to enjoy the sun and the company of other humans. We protected it from harm so that its life was never threatened by predators. Sure it's sad that in the end we have to cut its throat, but that's the way of the world. It's a symbiotic relationship. We feed the lesser humans and protect them, and in exchange, they give their lives to us so we can continue to live. It's natural." (Creepy eh?)

This kind of argument I'm putting forth will certainly raise the hackles of some, who might shake their heads and say, "Well come on now, humans are different. These are animals! You can't make that comparison." But what is the difference really? Intelligence? There are many humans who have lower measured intelligence than some non-human animals due to different brains. Do we kill them? Are they less deserving of life?

Maybe it's that we're more moral than non-human animals. But again, turn on the news and I'm sure you'll find plenty of cases of people not being moral. (I find, actually, that non-human animals are much better examples or moral behavior, at least as I define moral.) So maybe moral behavior isn't how we distinguish who does and doesn't get eaten.

We all have the same or similar organs that serve the same functions. Eyes, ears, skin, feet, legs/fins, mouths, and reproductive organs. We all have nerve endings. We all experience fear and we all know the feelings of sadness and grief. What makes a non-human animal's fear or pain less than ours? Think about it. Why do we think we are so much more important or deserving? What's the damned difference? (PG-13)

Humane meat is a bunch a malarkey, just as is good Hodgkins. I invite you to ruminate on this. How would you feel having your leg hoisted up by a chain and then facing a knife? And why would a non-human animal's reaction be less deserving of sympathy than yours? Just think about it.

If you made it this far, thank you for doing so. And I hope -- boy do I hope -- it might make you think on humanely-raised animals differently. I hope that when/if you buy packaged meat, that you remind yourself that that animal was not an it. It was a he. Or a she.

And maybe you'll look into a non-human animal's eyes and realize that there is no difference in our collective desire to live.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

This Week's Menu

What an exciting week ahead!

Though nothing huge is planned, it's my February vacation from teaching AND it's my birthday week. I was blessed with never having to go to school on my birthday. That's a big life-long gift right there. Well done, parents. :)

I'm very taken with a new-to-me cookbook called Appetite for Reduction by the famous Isa Chandra Moskowitz, a prolific author who also runs the website Post Punk Kitchen. It's one of several cookbooks I bought all at once with a gift certificate given by a student's family. (Buying a stack of new cookbooks is one of the funnest, most luxurious feelings in the world.) Every single thing I've made from this cookbook is a winner. Better yet, the recipes are all relatively simple and quick to prepare. Ding ding! Jackpot!

While the book focuses on healthy low-fat food, I bought it when I'd heard the recipes were out-of-this-world delicious. The rumors were right. This gal knows her flavors.

So with my free schedule this week, I'm going full-tilt trying out recipes from the book I haven't attempted yet. I'll also be honing my new banjo skills, sketching, writing, and maybe going to see a movie or two. And I'll probably start planning some dates for things I want to do this summer. (Among those are visiting some of Newport's mansions, going back to Farm Sanctuary, visiting Woodstock Sanctuary, and going on a mega-family vacation to Lake Tahoe. I can hardly wait!)

For more info on "This Week's Menu," check out this short explanatory post. 

Red wine and Kalamata Tempeh (AFR 157)
Cauliflower Mashed Potatoes (AFR 54)
Berbere Kale

40-Clove Chickpeas and Broccoli (not really 40 cloves, but it's a good, catchy name) (AFR 125)

Caribbean Curried Black-eyed Peas with Plantains (AFR 129)
Brown Basmati Rice
Berbere Kale (I told you we eat a ton of this stuff. So good.)

Mac and Trees (AFR 184) (Basically, pasta, broccoli and a cheezy-sauce.)

Pasta de los Angeles (AFR 177) (It was described as "Mexican pasta." I'm intrigued.)
Berbere Kale (Once you make it, you'll understand how addictive it is.)

Going out somewhere for my big day! Maybe Red Lentil? Mmmm...

Black bean, zucchini, and olive tacos

I don't usually put desserts into my menus, as I only make them when inspiration hits. Which tends to be on Sunday afternoons, but you never know. So quick little trips to the market for any necessary items are allowed. You see, having chocolate chips just laying around the house is bad for me. Good, but bad.

So there may be desserts in my near-future, but I just don't know what they might be yet. Stay tuned! 

Monday, February 11, 2013

This Week's Menu

This may be a bad idea. It's something that I may ultimately leave by the wayside. But I thought it might be interesting to anyone considering leaving animals off the plate, whose main question was "But what would I eat, exactly?" It could also prove enlightening to anyone who thinks I live on tofu and sprouts.

My new goal has been to do my grocery shopping on Saturday morning, after a splendiferous yoga session at Mystic Fitness. (The name sounds all mystical and incensey but they're lovely and very down-to-earth. The perfect balance of centering yourself, getting a good workout, and not taking yourself too seriously.) So I'm going to aim to get my menu planning and shopping list done on Friday night after work.

It occurred to me to post my weekly menu. This may seem like a huge step for narcissism, and believe me I can see why it would appear to be so. On the other hand, it might prove helpful in showing that vegan food can be phenomenal. (It can be equally possible to have a super lame vegan food, but I love food far too much to settle for blah.)

This is just an experiment. If it sounds like the most boring of posts, well, you may be on to something. But as my mentor teacher told me years ago, if you're going to make mistakes, make them big, beautiful mistakes. Don't be shy about it.

So with that in mind, here is this week's menu of dinners. It's short, as I hope to normally post a week's worth on Friday nights or Saturday mornings and this week is already well under way. I've not mentioned lunches because they are always leftovers from the previous night's meal. All the meals are quick and easy. I'm often tired after a day of teaching and I like to keep my time in the kitchen to a minimum.

~Thai Coconut Corn Stew (Dreena Burton's Eat, Drink, and Be Vegan)
~Rosemary Boule Bread (I buy it half-baked at Whole Foods. Preheat your oven to 400, then pop the bread in for 10 minutes only. Gorgeous fresh baked bread comes out. You have to ask them for the half-baked at the counter; it's never displayed as it needs to be kept refrigerated.)

~Cocoa Coconut Chili (Dreena Burton's Eat, Drink, and Be Vegan)
~Rosemary Boule Bread

~Soy Chorizo Black Bean Stew (Kathy Hester's Vegan Slow Cooker)

~*Chickpea Piccata (Isa Chandra Moskowitz's Appetite for Reduction)
~Berbere Kale
~Quinoa flavored with a bouillon cube 

~Curried Chickpeas and Greens (Isa Chandra Moskowitz's Appetite for Reduction)
~Ginger Mashed Sweet Potatoes and Apples (Isa Chandra Moskowitz's Appetite for Reduction)

~Tortilla Soup (Isa Chandra Moskowitz's Appetite for Reduction)

* recipe I haven't tried yet! :)

Last night was the perfect night for Thai Coconut Corn Stew and fresh bread. It was my best batch yet, which may be due to shoveling and roof-raking our way out of a blizzard. Nothing like working hard outdoors in the cold to make food taste great.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Big Hair, Big Cars, or Big Ag? (oh my)

I walked the halls of Hanover High School in the age of big hair. The late eighties was a time when the female gender valiantly fought gravity with industrial-sized cans of Aqua-Net. I joined their ranks for a short while, sporting an embarrassing Joan Jett spiky hairdo in eighth grade that unfortunately didn't deliver the coolness factor I longed for. (Neither did the fluorescent-everything phase. Dang it!)

After a short while, I realized my new do was not bringing in the social riches I'd anticipated. Also, I had fine hair which didn't take well to onslaughts of hairspray. To use Eddie Izzard's words, it "collapsed like a flan in a cupboard."

Around this time, though, I learned that AquaNet was responsible for a mysterious, invisible hole in the ozone layer, so it was just as well. And I felt better, knowing I was no longer contributing to worldwide destruction through my stubbornly cornsilky bangs. By the time graduation rolled 'round, I was one of about four girls without big hair. I'm not making this up. My friend Nancy and went through our yearbook and counted.

As the years went by, though, it became apparent that it was not, in fact, Aqua-Net that was ruining the earth, but our big, bouncy, gas-guzzling cars. (Even so, the big hair went away. I think we all got tired from the effort. Plus we had our midriffs to start working on.)

In the last few years, though, the real culprit has been found. Transportation doesn't hold a candle to it. And hairspray quakes in its presence.

Animal agriculture is the worst contributor to climate change. Its effect on global warming is monumental. But we're not hearing a lot about it.

It's not because the research hasn't been done. Back in 2006 the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released a report that blew our worries about big cars right out the window. Or it should have. But most people never heard about it. I certainly didn't. It was entitled Livestock's Long Shadow. The report contrasted the environmental effects of transport against those of animal agriculture. There was no contest. Here is a telling excerpt:

Says Henning Steinfeld, Chief of FAO’s Livestock Information and Policy Branch and senior author of the report: “Livestock are one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems. Urgent action is required to remedy the situation.” 

Here and there, you'd hear little blips of information, but it was mostly done in a joking manner. I found out about it -- and I'm being completely serious -- through NPR's funny show Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me when one of their quiz's correct answers focused on the alarming amount of methane in, well, cow farts. Which is funny, when you think about it, but still. Why weren't we all curbing our animal-eating habits? Small and efficient cars became the new thing, both for the environment and for our collective wallet. Reducing or eliminating animal products on our plates would have had the same double-whammy effect, but most of us didn't change a thing.

Four short years later, the United Nations again pulled our attention to the catastrophic results of animal agriculture, this time insisting that a drastic change in our diets was necessary. (The United Nations for crying out loud!) The UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) released "Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production,"  a rather lengthy report that cautioned us to go to a more plant-centric diet in order to slow down the deleterious effects of global warming.

Food production is the most significant influence on land use and therefore habitat change, water use, overexploitation of fisheries and pollution with nitrogen and phosphorus. In poorer countries, it is also the most important cause of emissions of greenhouse gases (CH4 and N2O). Both emissions and land use depend strongly on diets. Animal products, both meat and dairy, in general require more resources and cause higher emissions than plant-based alternatives.

And further along the report: 

 “Impacts from agriculture are expected to increase substantially due to population growth increasing consumption of animal products. Unlike fossil fuels, it is difficult to look for alternatives: people have to eat. A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products."

Did you catch that on the news? Probably not. I don't know anyone who saw it. But that's a pretty big deal. If we were indeed focused on halting climate change, it should have been shouted from the rooftops. Instead we heard crickets.

Last month, President Obama was sworn into his second term. Among many things, he addressed climate change, which was heartening. Not surprisingly, though, animal agriculture was not even mentioned by the more renowned talking heads following the speech.  I didn't hear one word said, and believe me, I was on the ever-hopeful lookout.

If the United Nations has made such a big deal about the harmful effects of animal agriculture, why isn't it even being discussed? 

While I'm no Rachel Maddow, I can say this: the lobbyists for animal agriculture are very, very powerful. Look at Oprah, one of the most influential women of our time. She had the ex-rancher Howard Lyman on her show in 1996. When she learned that cows were eating other ground-up cows, making Mad Cow Disease possible, she stated, "It has just stopped me cold from eating another hamburger." She was subsequently hit with a suit for defamation from The Texas Beef Group. Though Oprah and Howard ultimately won two years later, it scared many people from saying "boo" about this nefarious industry. (They're just plain old creepy!)

There's more -- much much more -- to say on the subject, and I will be devoting a post to the devastating effect of fishing on our climate. But I did want to get this out there. Because most of us are completely unaware of it. And the fact that it is being hidden from us is, in my mind, downright criminal on several levels.

This ain't no fad. Even if one could argue that animals go through no suffering [they do], and even if one could prove that eating animal products is healthier than eating plant products [it's not], the stubborn fact is that our diet is well on its way to destroying the world we love. Sounds melodramatic. Even as I type this, I'm a little anguished, thinking, "How can I say this without sounding like a tree-hugging alarmist?"

The truth is, I'm not sure how to communicate it so that others will take heed and not dismiss it as simply interesting food for thought before they eat their meatloaf tonight. The facts are there, though, as much as we might wish them away. And as John Adams once said, "Facts are stubborn things." Global warming is not going to go away because big hair is out. It just isn't.