Friday, April 27, 2012

Why Not? Because You Don't Have To: Why It's Unethical to Eat Meat

After my entry was blown out of the water in Our Hen House's Why It's Unethical to Eat Meat contest, I decided to honor it on my own blog. I think we should all post our own take on it, no matter how poor you think your writing or persuasive skills are. If nothing else, you'll gain a deeper understanding of your own philosophy... I did! By the way, I will be posting real blog entries as soon as I graduate successfully next week.

Why Not? Because You Don't Have To
Humans regularly do a lot of things they falsely believe are necessary. Those of us who know better just shake our heads most of the time, because these habits are not harmful. Who cares if people buy things they don’t need, or avoid discussions that they arbitrarily find embarrassing, or get vaccines for diseases they can almost doubtlessly avoid? They are not really hurting themselves or anyone else.

But every once in a while, a harmful behavior somehow becomes universal. A good deal of drivers put others at risk by multitasking on the road. Many people frequently use words that are hurtful to certain groups of people. And at every meal of every day, most people put onto their plate the flesh of an animal that lived an unbearable life and was killed long before it would have died naturally.

Of course, nearly everyone agrees that killing and torturing animals is wrong unless it is unavoidable. Most can even agree that letting a human die, or eating one, would not be wrong in very dire situations. And so most of the world eats meat because of one simple fact: they have inherited the belief that it is necessary for life as they know it.

But deep down, everyone knows that it is not necessary, at least not in the time and place where we live. Today, nearly everyone in Western cultures knows at least one healthy vegetarian, and probably a vegan too. If someone were to check the vital records of many vegetarians and meat-eaters, they would find similar lifespans across both types of diets—in fact, vegetarians even live slightly longer. Contrary to popular belief, meat does not naturally contain any vital nutrients that are not also found in plant foods.

“Okay, it may be healthy,” a meat-eater might say, “but a world of vegetarians would require a complete overhaul of our society and lifestyle.” I can concede that a fast (albeit unlikely) global transition to a vegetarian diet would require a lot more farm sanctuaries than we have now. And if we stop farming animals, it’s possible we will have to give up the idea of owning cats as pets because we will not be able to feed them adequately. But I can guarantee that we will never lose what everyone is really afraid of losing—our ability to create those food-related memories that everyone treasures: hearty feasts with our families around the holidays; quick, delicious snacks at a sports game; or breakfast-for-dinner at the diner on a lazy summer night. We can still enjoy our food in all of those situations, and any others we don’t want to give up. And the food on the table will still look and taste good; it will simply be different, in a way where we can feel good about it.

The simple reason meat is unethical is that it causes animals to suffer. This would be a necessary evil if we could not avoid it. But in most parts of the world we certainly can avoid it without becoming sick or unhappy or anything else we fear. To me, this is what makes vegetarianism a moral imperative. Everything else—a farm animal’s cognitive capacity, the health and environmental bonuses, and anything else the meat industry would try to skew in its favor—only detract from that basic truth.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

An Over-Dramatic but Possibly Helpful Essay on Living by One's Values

Well, I haven't had as much time as I would have liked to cook and ponder about veganism to create fodder for this blog. However, a small bout of nausea today made my hypochondriac self imagine the possibility of my death. It led me to write a letter in my journal "to whom it may concern" to try to implore people to be more morally courageous and save my soul from judgment and--well, just read it. I promise there's a paragraph relevant to veganism in there somewhere.

I am partly posting this for amusement and partly so that it's out there just in case I really do die. Just kidding! ...kinda.

(By the way, this isn't as crazy as it sounds. Nearly all of my diary entries involve hypothetical or unsent letters, or other ridiculous mementos for my future self. And if you're lucky, I might get bored one day and post some other, far more amusing diary entries I've written that are tangentially related to veganism.)

To whom it may concern:

I'm sick. It may be that I neglected to protect myself from some infection or other, or it may be that my parents did when I was young, or this may just be a fluke. Either way, death at this young age of 21 years, 8 months, and 15 days would be utterly disappointing.

I'm not afraid of death in itself, not really. I'm afraid that I will die before I get a chance to have an impact on the world, die while everyone sees me as a morally mediocre academic vegan, a cold and aloof person whose soul no one really knows intimately. Although they may just be excuses now, if I never get the chance to prove myself, I want everyone to understand my hopes and dreams and what I am really trying to put forth in my daily life. I am hoping my words might at last have a chance to inspire, the way I hoped (possibly in vain) that my actions someday might.

Let's get one thing straight. Being a good person isn't about other people's impressions of you. It's not about being at your friends' constant beck and call or always being pleasant to be around, or even responding to every request for help that comes your way. The person everyone knows as "the friendliest they know" is not necessarily the best person. I've done a lot of exploring our society's problems and solutions, and I can clearly see what kinds of people are ideal for the world, and it's generally not the ones you'd think.

Being a good person requires courage that most friendly, likable people can't even fathom having. It requires the courage of heart to go into the dark alleys and locked private properties and drought-ridden villages and truly take in all the suffering in the world, the worst kind that makes you want to vomit, and never once turn away or say you don't want to know. To put it bluntly, you are a selfish coward when you say you don't want to know about the unbearable experiences of other people and animals. This can be true even if you carry bags for elderly people or teach children or donate to health campaigns and everyone thinks very highly of you. The people in your Western, middle class, relatively free neighborhood are not truly suffering in the most intense and chronic sense. And if you can't witness true suffering, you will never adequately be able to alleviate it, and you are not doing all you can for the world around you.

To be a good person, you must also have a high level of courage to withstand social pressures. It's human nature to defend with gross irrationality the status quo. Lots of things in the world are wrong, some more blatantly than others. But if it's common and/or benefiting those in power, you cannot speak out against it without being pronounced crazy, irrational, extremist, or treasonous. Sometimes your friends and family will turn against you and sometimes your whole life could even be at stake. But that doesn't mean your conscience can rest easy while you stay quiet. Who cares what happens to you--how can you stand to live in an unjust world? And how can you live with yourself knowing that you're engaging in abuse, or consenting through your silence that it's okay for others to do so? Here's a secret: if you know you're right but fear you're the only one, relax... you're not. Many people are fearing ostracism from speaking out, just like you. So be the brave one and, instead of becoming isolated, you'll gain the respect of amazing friends that come out of the woodwork. The guilt will dissipate and your life will become purposeful in a way that you never dreamed possible. It really opens up your mind to the beauty in the world and helps you overlook the ugliness.

I know--who am I to say all this when I haven't lived it? Yes, I'm far from perfect. I can't stand seeing suffering and sometimes this may have impeded my ability to make an impact. I've also caved under pressure in debating certain issues and kept wholly silent on many more, because I fear the reactions of others. Will they laugh? Will they become hostile and attack me--physically or mentally? Might they do excess harm just to spite me? But no. I was never right in these situations and deep down I knew that all along.

I may not be perfect but I've had tastes of the meaningful life. If you're not vegan, you have no idea how good it feels to move from the uncertainty of the quality of the life that ended up on your plate, to the tension of knowing the truth, to the relief and freedom of knowing that that part of your life is over. Other times, I've experienced the reward of someone telling me they've stopped using an offensive term or some other unkind activity because of something I said that made them think.

It's okay if you have no interest in this kind of life, but I do. Before you react dismissively, mockingly, or hostilely, think about this: Do you ever feel like your life is meaningless? This is the path I am taking to escape that feeling, and so far it's working. At least try it before you knock it!


Sunday, March 18, 2012

This Time I Mean It (And the Best Tofu Scramble Recipe Ever)

Okay, I am back for good this time. It was never the actual act of blogging that I couldn't do; it was the act of doing blog-worthy things in real life. But ever since getting pretty excited about life's simple pleasures over my winter break from school... I have really been impressing myself, if I may say so. I have been working towards a lot of goals I feared before--right now, I am doing an internship with a vegan organization as I finish up my BA. I am more in touch with my creative side, I feel more in touch with nature, and I have really been feeling motivated to eat a more natural, whole foods diet. I've even been spending time with much more positive people, and that has reinforced my ideals a lot!

Anyway, I was planning on entering a PhD program for psychology, but I didn't get into any. I would try again next year, but even before the interviews I had been thinking a career in academia probably isn't for me. Now, I don't know what is for me, so I will be doing some exploring. I have no idea what I will be doing after graduation, but I know what I WON'T be doing: working at a high-paying job! So I have a feeling that this blog will become ever more relevant as I work my way towards independence and a life that I can actually be proud of. I think blogging is a great way to interact with other people on the same journey, or who are further along and have something to share.

Now, without further ado, here is the best tofu scramble recipe I have ever tasted! (And I've had a lot! Still, your taste buds may vary.) Something was missing in my old recipe, so I referred to several other people's recipes for some possible improvements, especially this one, and here is what I came up with:

Makes 2-3 hearty servings

-1 package extra firm tofu
-1 package frozen spinach
-3-5 small mushrooms (depending on preference)
[Feel free to sub in, add, or omit different vegetables]
-3/4 tsp. turmeric
-1/2 tsp. onion powder
-1/2 tsp. garlic powder
-1/2 tsp. salt
-1/4 tsp. pepper
-1 tbsp. nutritional yeast (I like a nooch' flavor)
-A small splash of oil, optional

1.) For best results, drain/press your tofu before using. I usually do not do this, but I know that my food would taste better if I did.

2.) Steam your spinach before using. You actually don't need a steamer or even any water to do this, because I find that there is enough moisture in it. Make it in a regular pot on medium heat, with the lid open just a crack. Just make sure you keep your eye on it, stirring frequently (and flipping it over regularly while it's still frozen). When it's heated through (i.e. no frozen clumps), turn off the heat, separate the spinach as best you can with a fork, and leave it in the pot with the lid while you do everything else.

3.) Saute the mushrooms in hot water (just one very thin layer on the bottom of a pan), on medium heat. You can use oil, but it's really not necessary. Stir regularly. This should only take a couple of minutes, but wait until the mushrooms become fragrant and start to brown.

4.) Crumble the tofu over the mushrooms, and then add all remaining ingredients (besides the spinach) on top. The oil will improve the taste, but omitting it will not ruin the dish. Mix well.

5.) Turn the stove back onto medium heat and cook until heated through, stirring occasionally. This should take 4-5 minutes.

6.) Eat your masterpiece... but not in one sitting.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Super Easy Group Hummus & My First Potluck

I've been meaning to go to a vegan potluck for a while now. Yesterday I noticed that there was a potluck not too far from where I live happening today from the Montclair Vegans meetup group. I had no idea what to bring on such short notice... I've been eating so many prepackaged and frozen foods lately that I had little on hand. I did have a whole bunch of chickpeas, though. I decided to buy some chips and try my hand at homemade hummus.

I'm so glad I did! Everyone loved the dish, and they are some awesome people who make some good food themselves. I will definitely be trying to attend more of their meetups, and help them raise money by buying a whole bunch of sugary foods at their upcoming bake sale. (I have a sugar addiction, which I have recently decided I am no longer going to try to subdue.)

Anyway, if you ever happen to be in the same situation as me, where you have to contribute a dish for a whole bunch of people on short notice, try this easy and crowd-pleasing recipe. All the ingredients are available at mainstream stores, and this recipe easily serves about 16 people.

• 4 cans of chickpeas
• 8 cloves of garlic (less if you don't like garlic, more if you want garlic hummus)
• 2 teaspoons of salt
• 4 tablespoons of sesame oil (any oil will do, but you won't get the traditional tahini/sesame flavor)
• 4 teaspoons yellow mustard (or to taste)
• 4 teaspoons of lime or lemon juice (or to taste)
• 1 + 1/2 teaspoons of chili powder (or to taste)
• 1 teaspoon black pepper (or to taste)
• paprika for garnish (optional)

Reserve the liquid from the chickpeas. Mix all ingredients in a food processor. (You may want to put in the ingredients in small batches to make sure everything is mixed well.) The hummus will probably be dry and sticky, so add a little bit of cooking liquid at a time until it reaches your desired consistency... probably not more than a few tablespoons for the texture you would commonly find. Serve chilled or at room temperature, with chips or bread.

If anyone reading this has other potluck recipes, I would love to hear them. I don't want to get into a routine of bringing hummus to every gathering I attend!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Feel-Good Vegan Foods for When You're Sick

A few days ago, I actually really wanted to start blogging every day. But I started getting flu symptoms on Monday. I still don't know where they came from, but I'm feeling better today. I guess I did have a good rest, watching some documentaries and sleeping for hours at a time during the day. I didn't get sick when I ate, but I didn't have much of an appetite either (much less any energy to prepare food).

I've decided, what better time to write an entry giving my opinion about what foods make a sick person feel best?

DRINKS: Plain, black tea (preferably decaffeinated); juices high in Vitamin C for the immune system; carbonated water for stomach problems; and just plain water if you can't stomach anything else. (No matter what you have, hydration is always important. Dehydration is always a risk and drinking lots of fluids can really speed up your recovery.)

FOOD: Carbs are the best thing for an over-stressed body, because they are used for immediate energy. That's why you crave carbs when you feel overwhelmed. At the same time, sneaking in some vegetables and fruits for nutrients is also helpful.

Toast: The mainstay of sick people. Adding margarine is probably not the best thing. Peanut butter would be better, or possibly a natural fruit spread.

Vegetable soup: Some vegans will suggest mock chicken soup for when you're sick; why? I have always found both real and fake meats to be too heavy for me when I'm not feeling good. Vegetables, on the other hand, are light and packed with nutrients. A nice tomato broth and any vegetables on hand (preferably made by someone else you have to take care of you) will do the trick. If you're alone, canned soup is easier than anything.

Light snacks: I enjoy eating rice cakes and other light snacks (basically whatever low-calorie foods I have on hand).

Okay, so I guess my illness diet is very simple and I don't have TOO much experience. If anyone has any better ideas, let me know!

If you get hungry, you should definitely eat one of the above foods or something equally healthy and light. But if you're not hungry at all, you should just make sure you're drinking plenty of fluids. (And if it continues for a couple days, see a doctor!)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Recent Food Endeavors: Veggie Mac & Chreese, Creamy Raspberry-Banana Smoothie

I have been making a serious effort to eat healthier lately... to achieve all of my goals, really. Maybe it was turning 21, or the freedom of summer coming to a close, or working a temporary job--I don't know. But I've been trying new, cheap and easy ways to enjoy fruits and vegetables.

The very first night, I decided to slip some frozen vegetables into one of my favorite meals, Macaroni and Chreese! It's a very easy recipe!

Vegetable Mac & Chreese
(serves 2 as a full meal)

1 box macaroni and chreese
1/2 cup soy milk for chreese recipe
1 bag steam-in-a-bag vegetables
Extra nutritional yeast and soy milk to taste

1.) Cook macaroni and chreese as directed.
2.) Steam vegetables in the bag as directed.
3.) Add in more nooch' and soy milk as needed to create extra sauce.

Then the other day, I cut up and froze two bananas since I've been hearing such good things about that--smoothies and banana ice "cream." I'm still hoping to try the latter. Anyway, I finally dug out my little engine-that-could food processor after several months. (There will be a lot more [food processing] where this came from.) I was planning on doing a blueberry-banana smoothie until we went to a local farm for fruit. The only dessert fruit they had was raspberries. I decided that would do just as well--it would just be a pink smoothie rather than blue. It turned out veryyy tasty, creamy and refreshing. Another simpleton recipe...

Creamy Raspberry-Banana Smoothie
(serves 2 comfortably)

2 bananas, chopped and frozen
1 cup whole, farm-fresh raspberries
couple splashes of soy milk

1.) Blend together the raspberries and bananas.
2.) Add soy milk gradually, tasting to achieve desired creaminess.

Sorry I don't have photos! I really need to get more into the habit of food photography. I'm not great at it, but it can be fun and rewarding when people say, "Your cooking looks so good!"

Friday, August 19, 2011

Follow Your Values, But Don't Be a Martyr: How to Move Toward Fresh and Healthy in Baby Steps

Six months ago when I started this blog (and quickly lost steam), I wanted to transform all of my cooking and eating habits at once. My diet had already been established as vegan, but I was eating tons of junk food and I was almost always too lazy to cook. I would only occasionally buy fresh produce, but it would sit in the fridge or on the counter and stare at me for weeks until it was just too rotten to use.

In hindsight, I realize that one of the reasons I made so little improvement is that I wanted to do everything. I had my mind made up that I wouldn't be satisfied until my diet was 100% pure vegan, whole foods, organic, carbon-neutral, low-calorie, and delicious. What was I thinking?! I have since made very slow, minor improvements and am very pleased with myself--but not complacent. I know that I have a lot to learn and improve, but now it has become an adventure.

Before I say anything else, I just want to say that I was also going through a depression. Just in case this resonates with anyone else, I want to mention it. For a while, I didn't care at all about what I ate or how healthy I was. This can be dangerous for anyone, but especially for a vegan. I won't go into the details, but luckily I got snapped out of it one day when I saw how terrible I looked on top of how hopeless I felt. I went to the doctor and it turned out I had a big Vitamin D deficiency. I've been taking a supplement and trying to get more sunlight (I'm quite the indoor person). I have been feeling much better. I don't doubt that the deficiency was at least a partial contributor to my low spirits.

By the way, I just want to give a shout-out to Marisa of Vegan at Heart, who not only took the time to read a gigantic rant about how much I hated my life at the time, but also gave me sage advice and was kind enough to follow up too.

Anyway, enough with this talk of my troubles. I want to talk about how I got over my perfectionism and have been slowly incorporating vegetables into my diet. I've had to compromise on some preferences, but I've been healthier. More importantly, now that I've given myself permission not to do everything, I've actually been doing a lot more. Here are the main things I've learned about staying healthy and eating fresher:

1.) Eat fortified foods, especially soy milk (or other nondairy milk) and nutritional yeast. If you don't, you will almost certainly need to take supplements. It would be very foolish to avoid both, because many deficiencies (even minor ones) have no symptoms but can lead to irreversible, long-term damage. Many nutrients are absorbed better through food, and I personally find fortified foods simpler than supplements.

2.) Don't buy fresh if you're not ready for it. If you have ever bought a week's worth of fresh produce and had it rot away like I have, you shouldn't be buying fresh produce. If that's the only produce you buy, you're setting yourself up for failure. Buy frozen. Frozen vegetables tend to hold their flavor and nutrients (unlike canned), and they last a very long time. That gives you leeway to work out the courage and motivation to use them. When you learn to cook with produce regularly, you can gradually buy less frozen and more fresh (if you like).

3.) Make simple recipes the bulk of your to-make list. I don't know about everyone else, but my expectations of myself are far too high. Even though I have no experience in complicated cooking and very little experience in simple cooking, I expect to be able to do anything. I imagine myself waking up tomorrow and baking a four-course breakfast that is so good it will turn my entire family vegan. But I know homemade pancakes are a more appropriate challenge for my skill level. Recently, when I look through food blogs and websites, I have only been bookmarking the ones I think I can make. Of course, sometimes I save a really good-looking but insanely difficult recipe. But I know that it's going to remain a dream for a while. Expecting too much of yourself can really sap your motivation to do even small things, when those expectations are not met and you disappoint yourself.

4.) PLAN AHEAD. This should probably be higher up on the list. It is of the utmost importance that you plan your meals before you make them. Ideally, you should have everything planned out before you go shopping. But you can also make plans based on what you already have in your house. Design (or look up) some healthy, tasty recipes, and make your list. Then follow it. This way, you won't waste money (and sabotage yourself) by snacking all day or eating only frozen dinners because you can never figure out what to make. Planning can be annoying, but find five minutes of emptiness in your day and use it to plan. That's really all you need!

5.) Don't avoid processed or packaged foods if you are trying to achieve other food goals at the same time. I tried to give up processed and packaged foods when I wasn't even used to eating vegetables regularly. I failed miserably. Allow yourself to eat packaged hot and cold cereals, boxed foods, and jars of sauces and condiments. Don't rely on these items completely, but give yourself a break if you can't cook everything all the time. It's better to eat healthy foods that may not be 100% fresh, than to give up on your whole plan because the giant leap is too difficult to take. You can always wean yourself off processed foods later, when you're ready.

6.) Incorporate vegetables into your favorite foods, then gradually make the vegetables central. Even when I was doing almost no cooking, I loved making pizza from premade dough and quesadillas from packaged tortillas. I started out with Daiya cheese as the topping and a little bit of greens for garnish. Now I eat everything with kale, mushrooms, peppers, and whatever vegetables I find. I still like the Daiya, but only in small amounts now. It's also easy to do this with pasta dishes, and one day maybe you can replace the pasta with spaghetti squash or shredded zucchini if you're ready! Finally, this works well with mock meat sandwiches and burgers. You can top them with more and more vegetables, and eventually make it your goal to replace the fake meat with even more vegetables (or a fresh vegetable patty). Using mushrooms instead of fake meat works in most cases, and remember that tofu and tempeh are the least processed and healthiest foods commonly used as meat analogues.

Well, that's just my own experience so far and I'm still learning. I'm not sure how common my struggles are, but I thought I'd put it out there just in case. Even if most vegans don't have these issues, maybe it would help someone who has been struggling to make the transition to being vegan. Not everyone leaps head first into a new diet with no regard for their health like I did!