Monday, November 29, 2010

Coast to Cote Week 35 plus extras



Pang: A great little place called the Source just recently opened up in our town. It's a place in town to recycle, buy locally made goods and organic foods. Lacey came over during her break the other day and we went over to check it out. This little honey bottle and the logo caught both of our eyes. I couldn't get over how cute it was so I ended up making the purchase. It's a local honey from the next town over. We were both wondering why the color was much lighter than the other bottle sitting next to it. I finally Google'd it this morning and found out that it must have been harvested in the Spring time when bees collect nectar from flowers. Now I know why it was also in a smaller bottle. I love how Google can help in answer my life's questions. Thanks!

Lacey: So about a month ago I started volunteering at the animal shelter in Frederick and I would send pictures of the dogs to my dad. He kept giving me a hard time - saying I shouldn't send pictures because he is weak and will want one (duh, that's why I sent them) - but I really got his attention with the two weenie dogs that came into the shelter. I sent him links from Petfinder so he could read up about the dogs and even though those two weenies got adopted before Dad could make a move, it set off a craze in him to find one and before I knew it he was sending me links of dogs from Petfinder too. This dog - who was named Miss Sugar - was one I saw when we first started browsing Petfinder but then she dissapeared. She popped up again this week and when Dad found out she would be in the area he just had to go see her. And now she is ours! She has had a sad little life but we plan to change that. Miss Sugar - now Pocahontas (keeping with the Disney princess theme - we had an Ariel and a Jasmine previously) was a puppy mill mom. Before she had even reached the age of two she had already had 4 litters of puppies (incredible because she is soooo tiny). Once she got rescued from that unhappy situation she bounced from foster to foster and then was adopted by a family who brought her back. They had a hamster in the house that ran loose and Miss Sugar liked to terrorize it. Luckily for Miss Sugar my dad is a sucker for weenie dogs and now she's ours. She's super sweet and hopefully she will warm up to us all soon. She looks a little nervy huh?



Coast to Cote Week 34



Pang: I had another photo shoot with the Slough's for their fall family portraits over the weekend. The weather couldn't have been more perfect really. In between shots, Haiden stretched out his hands towards me as i snapped a quick photo. Kids are so cute!

Lacey: This past weekend I went to New York for the weekend with my old room-mate Brittney. We've done a bit of a traveling together and I feel like maybe we are getting better at balancing each other's moods and itineraries. Our activities for the weekend centered mostly around museums and food. The first day we went to the MET and checked out the Roman statues and the Egyptian exhibit. We ate at Candle 79 that night (which you must check out!) and were rewarded with amazing food, free drinks and Alicia Silverstone in the building! The second day we went to the Natural History Museum to see the butterfly exhibit (they were flying so close to my head, I was a little creeped out) and then that evening before jumping (or rather pushing and shoving our way) back onto the bus we stopped at Babycakes - an all vegan bakery around the corner from the bustop in Chinatown. Alicia Silverstone's book had tipped me off to this place as well and we were not at all dissapointed. The treats were great, Morrissey was playing and the girls were dressed as pin up 50's girls with their hair up in scarves and their lips painted red.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Eating Animals: A Book Review



I bought this book on a whim during my lunch break months ago and even though I was excited to read it at the time I somehow let it sit until now. I suppose in a way I thought I already knew what would be in it - what it would be about. I've been reading animal activism, vegan revolution, and vegetarian theory books almost non-stop recently, and this book, with its simple title and well known, vegetarian, novelist writing author just seemed predictable. Turns out, it wasn't what I had expected.

Foer begins his story by giving us a little history on himself - his childhood memories of his grandmother's peculiar relationship with food brought about by her experience with starvation during the war, his flip-flopping vegetarian college life and his strengthening commitment to vegetarianism when he and his wife got married. But even then he said, they still ate meat on occasion. At the time he thought "I assumed we'd maintain a diet of conscientious inconsistency. Why should eating be different from any of the other ethical realms of our lives? We were honest people who occasionally told lies, careful friends who sometimes acted clumsily. We were vegetarians who from time to time ate meat." This was something that resonated with me. Indeed! Why should it be different? Few or perhaps no religious people can say they have lived life to the book - to their God's highest standards. Everyone has slipped up somewhere and had to ask for forgiveness - but despite the mistake were still considered a Christian or a Jew or a Muslim. Yet it seems that with things like vegetarianism - or really just anything that isn't mainstream, something you chose but didn't necessarily grown up with (westerners becoming Buddhist is another example) seems to be scrutinized without remorse. Vegetarians are taunted by meat eating friends (I remember teasing my vegetarian friends myself back in high school) and whenever one of us "falls" and rejoins the mainstream, those friends are there to say "I told you so" and pat themselves on the back for calling your bluff. Now I'm not promoting that vegetarians start eating meat once in a while, but I agree with Foer that we are human, and no part of our life can be perfect, ethical or otherwise. So that was his stance - I'm a vegetarian but when I feel like it, I might eat meat.

But all that changed when Foer and his wife had a baby. Foer writes "Feeding my child is not like feeding myself: it matters more. It matters because food matters (his physical health matters, the pleasure of eating matters), and because the stories that are served with food matters. These stories bind our family together, and bind our family to others. Stories about food are stories about us - our history and our values... We need to explain that the parsley on the plate is for decoration, that pasta is not a "breakfast food," why we eat wings but not eyes, cows but not dogs. Stories establish narratives, and stories establish rules."

And so Foer spends the next three years researching and studying the concept of eating animals. What will he feed his son? How will he explain his food choices to him? Will he be prepared with honest information for all his son's questions? These are his concerns.

The next part of the book I found really interesting is his section entitled "A Case For Eating Dogs." Foer admits that he "spent the first twenty-six years of my life disliking animals. I thought of them as bothersome, dirty, unapproachably foreign, frighteningly unpredictable, and plain old unnecessary. I had a particular lack of enthusiasm for dogs." Doesn't sound like your typical vegetarian huh? But then he fell in love with a stray puppy on the street. He still finds her foreign, he doesn't claim that she has all the same emotions as him though he can tell that she does have emotions even if he doesn't understand them - but he starts to question the idea of food taboo. Specifically dogs being taboo to eat. He tells the reader "I wouldn't eat George, because she's mine. But why wouldn't I eat a dog I'd never met? Or more to the point, what justification might I have for sparing dogs but eating other animals?" And so he decides to develop a case for eating dogs (which is legal in 45 states). And, while obviously, this case is horrifying to us and disgusting even for non-vegetarians, it can't be denied that he makes a strong case. Dog meat is just as healthy as any other meat - there is nothing nutritionally wrong with eating dog meat. Eating dog meat is actually more a part of human history than NOT eating dog meat (the Romans, the Hawaiians, the Dakota Indians, Asian cultures, Indian culture, the Aztecs). The argument of his that I like best - it's local and environmentally conscious. Think of all the stray animals that get picked up in our cities and then euthanized in our shelters and then what? Why not eat them? They had a painless death. Little to no shipping would be involved. Nothing would be wasted. So for all the yuppies that flock to Whole Foods to get their environmentally friendly chicken dinner - why not a stray dog Foer asks. Now obviously he is not actually suggesting this but he's making a point - one that won't go unnoticed.

Next Foer goes into a whole discovery process of the words we use for our food, our relationship with animals, and that the farming industry uses for the practices they use. Alphabetically he defines words. Words like anthropocentrism, comfort food, battery cage, CAFO and so on. Some of his definitions are al little surprising - mostly because in general Foer doesn't use the tone or language of your typical vegetarian (or "animal people" if you're talking to Pollan). But occasionally he busts out with things like this:

BULLSHIT:
1) The shit of a bull (see also environmentalism)
2) Misleading or false language and statements such as:

BYCATCH
Perhaps the quintessential example of bullshit, bycatch refers to sea creatures caught by accident - except not really "by accident," since bycatch has been consciously built into contemporary fishing methods...

And from there he goes on to destroy American's image of fish and seafood as being somehow more humane food to eat - pescatarians take note. Like when he lists all 145 other species of sea animals that are killed (caught in nets or on lines, dragged behind the ship until they die, and are then pulled up, sorted, and dumped back into the ocean dead or dying) while fishing for tuna. While I already knew that fishing for seafood was by no way humane (in fact it made sense to me without having to read any vegetarian propoganda that sea animals may suffer the longest, worst death of all the animals we eat) I somehow was surprised to learn the sheer number of animals that are caught and then thrown back overboard while trying to fish just one species. It does make sense though. The ocean is full of life - how can commercial fishermen charged with the task of serving up our favorite cuts of sushi or our "healthy" steaks of fish possibly bait and catch just one type of fish. Of course other animals would find their way into nets - or be forced into nets such as the trawling nets used to catch shrimp - a miniscule animals that can't be caught any other financially viable way.

But lest you think he spent all his time looking up words online and adding his own witty commentary to what he could safely find from the comforts of his office - the rest of the book proves rather interesting. Throughout the rest of the book he meets with people on both sides of the meat issue and even some people who strangely don't quite fit into either. He joins a young girl who routinely breaks into factory farms on a rescue mission, he includes a letter of a factory farmers defending his lifestyle, he visits a farm where the rancher is a vegetarian, and he spends time on a heritage turkey farm where a vegan is designing plans for a slaughterhouse. Crazy right? Throughout the book he lets these story characters speak to the audience in their own words, publishing their letters to him in each chapter.

In these chapters he examines much of the same area that Michael Pollan did in The Omnivore's Dillema - though I was disappointed to see that both authors spent little to no time talking about dairy farms, the inextricably way in which it is connected to the veal industry (male offspring of diary cows ARE veal) and the way that milk and cheese products (cheese isn't even vegetarian technically) are pushed on americans by our government and their advertising support for the farms. One thing that was interesting though is that he published a letter from the turkey farmer Frank Reese in which Reese points out some interesting things about Polyface Farms - the farm that Pollan so admires and talks up in the Om's D. Reese points out that those animals on Polyface are pretty much the exact same as the animals in factory farms. The chickens on Polyface are bred to develop quicker than normal - meaning they HAVE to be slaughtered sooner than they usually would (usual being how farming was before factory farms and us messing with the DNA of the animals) before they lose the ability to walk when they get top heavy. "Everyone is saying buy fresh, buy local. It's a sham. It's all the same kind of bird, and the suffering is in their genes...So he puts them on pasture. It makes no difference. It's like putting a broken down Honda on the Autobahn and saying it's a Porsche. KFC chickens are almost always killed in thirty-nine days. They're babies. That's how rapidly they're grown. Salatin's organic free-range chicken is killed in forty-two days. 'Cause it's still the same chicken. It can't be allowed to live any longer because it's genetics are so screwed up. Stop and think about that: a bird that you simply CAN'T let live out of it's adolescence."

So what he's saying is - and what I hadn't really thought about before - is that even if we buy free-range organic chicken (which in our heads we think is good and humane and all that) put aside the fact that the animal is killed in the end and the ethical jumbled mess that comes with that, just as an animal, even being free-range and organically raised - the animals starts out its life already messed up. Already bred for meat. Oh and also...they can't sexually reproduce anymore. Not possible. We artificially inseminate our chickens. How many American's know that? Not many I'm willing to bet and how did we even get to this point where animals can't live past a certain age? Foer gets into some interesting history and reveals the humble and naive beginnings of the factory farm and the modern broiler chicken.

During Foer's break-in to a poultry farm he speaks about something that I have been thinking about a lot lately. He writes "everyone has a mental image of a farm, and to most it probably includes fields, barns, tractors, and animals, or at least one of the above. I doubt there's anyone on earth not involved in farming whose mind would conjure what I'm now looking at. And yet before me is the kind of farm that produces roughly 99 percent of the animals consumed in America." What I have been thinking lately is...where are these factory farms? Take a drive in almost any direction from where I live and you will see farm after farm of cows and goats and horses out on the pasture - big silos and barns and gorgeous old farm houses. But they only produce 1 percent of the nation's meat. So where are the factory farms and would I even know it if I saw one? So I googled Factory Farm Maryland. Turns out there are factory farms in Maryland -Perdue Chicken at least and they have a pretty bad rap. The point is the pretty little picture we have floating around in our heads when we think of a chicken just isn't true any longer. In place of the big red barn and the chickens happily pecking at the grass stand mutant chickens with their beaks and toes cut off packed into a building so tight that they can hardly move. But sadder still is that even on farms that offer the chickens a more humane and "chicken-like" life - they are still mutant chickens. It's worthwhile to consider what we have lost in gaining such efficiency in raising and slaughtering animals.

Another topic Foer covers in the book - one that was a welcome surprise to me - is the link between animals on factory farms and the epidemics and possible future pandemics such as swine flu and bird flu that have been moving through the population. In 1918 the Spanish flu ripped through the world sickening an estimated one quarter (50million to 100 million dead) of the world's population. If you want to flip your shit - flip to the part of the book where Foer tells us about the World Health Organizations prediction for our future as far as Influenza is concerned. "Recent history has averaged a pandemic every twenty-seven and a half years, and it's now been over forty years since the last one." Perhaps you are thinking - well that's because we are so advanced now and stuff.... " The director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO) has said simply, 'We know another pandemic is inevitable...It is coming.'" Very end of the world sounding and for someone who just watched 2012 (yeah I know it came out a while ago but whatev) and is currently reading books about Colony Collapse Disorder and the coming demise of our agricultural system - this is all coming as a bit of an overload, scary movie, better travel the world and see the sights before we all die, shock to me.

Much of the rest of the book is split between visiting slaughterhouses and visiting what Foer believes to be good examples of farms and the raising of animals for slaughter.At some point I became aware while reading this book that Foer is not doing what I thought he would be doing. He's not making a case for cutting animal products out of our lives. Foer tells us in the beginning of his book that "a straight forward case for vegetarianism is worth writing, but it's not what I've written here." But even after reading that, I still expected it to be a case for vegetarianism. Well...he actually comes to a conclusion that I had been mulling around in my head since reading the Omnivore's Dillema. A conclusion that put things in the right words and with the right tone so that no one would feel slighted or judged (I'm looking at you Pollan). His conclusion is actually much the same as Pollan's conclusion.

There are good farms out there. It's not realistic to believe that all the world will one day be vegan or vegetarian. It's not logical to hold firmly to a viewpoint that the only thing we should fight for as animal lovers is the abolition of eating animals. There will always be meat eaters. In the end of the book Foer talks about his son's first Thanksgiving in which he will participate and eat with the family. It will be a vegetarian Thanksgiving. After 3 years of research and writing Foer decides to remain firm in his vegetarianism and to pass that on to his son - but he also expresses a huge amount of respect and admiration for the "characters" in his story who showed him that having a title such as vegetarian, rancher, vegan, slaughterhouse designer, doesn't firmly plant you into one camp or another.

The day before I finished this book Pang sent me a message offering me a photography job that she wasn't sure she would be able to take. An old high school friend of her's was opening a butchering shop for deer and wanted her to photograph scenes of butchering and meat. Pang offered the job to me. I struggled with the decision. One would think that given my lifestyle choice it would have been an easy decision but it wasn't for several reasons. One consideration was just that there aren't that many jobs around. Turning down a job almost seemed reckless. But a more bothersome idea floating around in my head was that in a way - I wanted to help this project. After reading about Frank Reese's farm and reading Ben Goldsmith's reasoning behind being a vegan who is helping Reese build a slaughterhouse - I started to feel that just being a vegan or vegetarian isn't enough. As Nicolette of Niman Ranch said " I used to think that being a vegetarian exempted me from spending time trying to change how farm animals are treated. I felt that by abstaining from meat eating, I was doing my part. That seems silly to me now. The meat industry affects everybody in the sense that we are, all of us, living in a society in which food production is based on factory farming. Being a vegetarian does not relieve me from a responsibility for how our nation raises animals - especially at a time when total meat consumption is increasing both nationally and globally." This quote came back to me when I got the text from Pang about the job. In a way - it's a great thing that this person is opening a independently owned butchering shop. The fact that they are opening it either means they see a need in their community for such an establishment or that they are simply passionate about the lifestyle that they have chosen. In either case it is a step away from the direction of factory farming - and that's a good thing. In the end I did turn the job down. I felt that the shoot would be too gruesome for me to complete and still remain composed and professional.

I guess what I got out of this book is that - yes - an animal free lifestyle is for me. It feels right and I can't see myself turning back now - not with all I know and not with the way my compassion for animals has grown since becoming vegetarian. But in the very back of the book - in the Reading Group Guide - Foer talks a little about the difference between animal rights and animal welfare - and I, like him, am not sure exactly where I stand. I think I stand in the middle somewhere.

Anyone else who read the book (or not) want to comment?

The next book I will talk about (I don't know when my blog became a book review site and not a recipe and foodie blog but there you have it) will be:

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Coast to Cote Week 33



Im not sure what is going on with the weird quality on my picture here...sorry!

Pang: Let's get nostalgic, shall we? I went over to my grandparents the other day with my new roommates and showed them around the property. We came upon the little swing that used to be a part of the old swing set we had growing up. For some reason it stuck around and was finally bolted down onto this tree branch. Now the little ones use it...well, some of us grown up grandchildren still use it to this day. Seeing it in this light brought back memories of my cousins and I using it in our tree houses, wrapping the chain around the tree branches...makes me wish I was a kid again.

Me: This past weekend I had the pleasure of photographing Heather and Josh's wedding reception. My arms were aching by the end of it but I actually had a blast watching everyone dance and have a good time and eat candy and cupcakes (they had a candy table set up and a million cupcakes instead of a cake). Now I just have lots of editing in front of me.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Coast to Cote Week 32




Pang: This week has been kinda blah for me. I’ve been stressing about my move, which turned out to be fine. Subsequently, I’m now stressed out about the unpacking process. I HAVE SO MUCH STUFF. Too much stuff for just one person some might say. I havent been feeling like myself lately, but luckily, I have some great friends and family. My new roommate Meghan gave me a smiley face cookie to brighten up my day.

Me: I managed to swindle Ryan into going to the pumpkin patch with me this past week. He wasn't super enthused and I ended up picking his pumpkin but I'm glad we went - even if we still haven't found the time to carve them or make pumpkin seeds.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Coast to Cote Week 31



Sorry this is so late folks

Pang: Last week I stumbled upon a super easy recipe for mini pear pies. If you know me well, you know I love all things small, mini, tiny, you name it. I suddenly had the urge and so I went for it. It was SUPER easy cause I didn't manage to mess it up somehow. I did cheat a little and used store bought crust as our stomachs were telling us we didn't have time to wait.

Me: During the summer one thing I love to eat is pasta salads. For whatever reason, this summer, I didn't make ONE pasta salad. So I decided to do it the other day because I had some leftover pasta and kidney beans laying around. I threw in some tomatoes, avocado, shelled edamame and then topped it with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and some italian dressing. I don't know why I waited so long!

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Great Oom: Book Review



Well...unsurprisingly (since the exact same thing happened last time I tried to start a book club) the first book I picked for a group of people to read turned out to be a dud of a book. When I saw this book at the library and read the tag line of the title "The Improbable Birth of Yoga in America" - I assumed - wrongly, that this book was about yoga. Welllllllllll...it's not. It's actually about this dude - The Great Oom, who went by Pierre Bernard. It's a biography and it spends more time talking about the Vanderbilts and Pierre Bernard's groupies than it does yoga. The book mentions the occasional headstand and gets into the rumors of the groups (who called themselves the Tantriks) wild orgies and secret doings. There are some interesting aspects to the book - it's one of the those "self made man" stories that makes you feel like if only you were more motivated you could make things happen. It IS interesting to see how he swindles millionaires out of their money and builds himself an empire of cars and property and circus animals and pretty girls. Also the stories about Bernard being able to control his breath to the point where he could "put himself under" and literally have a needle passed through his cheek and tongue without the least amount of pain. What wasn't interesting...most of the book. A lot of the book seems to revolve around who was interested in who, who gets married to who, what kind of scandals the group was involved in or reputed to be involved in. So on a scale of enjoy to hate - what did I think of this book? I stopped reading after more than 200 pages. I invested myself into 3/4ths (!!) of the book and yet still decided to put it down. I got bored. Towards the end there were only sparse mentions of yoga - most of the talk centered on parties and circuses. I skipped to the last chapter hoping to read some revelatory last few pages about how he went on to found some incredibly well known yoga group that defined modern yoga as we American's know it. The last chapter is entitled: Family Man. I gave up and moved on. Sorry group - I should have done a little more research before suggesting this book.

This next book SHOULD be more of a success - it has been getting rave reviews and to at least two of the "group", it's a topic we can show some enthusiasm for. The next book I would like to propose to read and discuss is Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer - who also wrote Everything is Illuminated.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Breast Cancer/Animal Awareness Month

Everywhere I looked these past few weeks I couldn't help but notice the pink ribbon. Being somewhat of a hermit and perhaps more than a little out of touch with society, it didn't hit me until...well today actually. It's Breast Cancer Awareness Month. A few weeks back my mom was telling me about how a local tattoo shop is giving out free pink ribbon tattoos - and well now that makes sense. The weird conga line of people wearing glowstick headbands and pink ribbon shirts in the park last week - makes sense. The teller at the grocery store asking me if I wanted to round up my change to support breast cancer research....duh.

So now that I am "in the know" - only 20 days after the fact - I would like to participate a little in this awareness process. For a pretty long time now I have had breast cancer awareness. Both my paternal and my maternal grandmothers had breast cancer, and my mom (who thankfully hasn't had it) has always been pretty into those pink ribbon magnets and bumper stickers and may even be getting a tattoo now. I am aware of breast cancer. I am aware of what I should be doing (at least somewhat aware) to prevent it and check for it. I am aware there is no cure and that there are tons of organizations throwing money at scientists diligently working towards that goal. But until quite recently, I wasn't at all aware of the part the animals have to play in this disease and it's cure.

According to Pinkribbon.org, breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women right behind skin cancer, so chances are most of us has known someone who has had breast cancer. The devastation it can cause to a woman and her family are immense and widespread and organizations like the Pink Ribbon and the Susan G Komen Breast Cancer Foundation have kept the issue in the public eye - helping raise money "for the cure." But...what exactly does that mean? Where is that money going? The awareness that I would like to bring this month is that perhaps we should look a little closer at what it is we support and fund. We tend (and I am so guilty of this myself) to look at just the big picture. Breast Cancer = BAD. Finding the Cure = GOOD. So in extension, any group pledging to help find the cure is filed into our mental GOOD folder and we can guiltlessly sign over checks to help in the cause. Lets look a little deeper shall we.

While reading Karen Dawn's "Thanking the Monkey" (Im starting to feel like her personal spokeswoman) I was a little surprised to learn that according to FDA law, "no drug is allowed onto the market until it has been put through a battery of animal tests." In the case of breast cancer the animal of choice is usually mice but can also include monkeys, rats, rabbits, cats, and dogs. The debate between whether or not animal testing is necessary or accurate is a hot one. Tons of examples can be found on both sides - from the people at Pro Test to the passionate, if sometimes a little bit nutty, PETA. In looking at the people who are for animal testing I have come across a pattern. Their stance (and I pulled this one from Pro Test, but some others were similar) is that, "without animal research, medicine as we know it today wouldn't exist. Animal research has enabled us to find treatments for cancer, antibiotics for infections, vaccines to prevent some of the most deadly and debilitating viruses and surgery for injuries, illnesses and deformities." Sounds like all you need to know right? Animal testing got us where we are today. It's true. I won't deny that.

But here is what the other side of the issue has to say: Animal testing is not that affective and we have new, more current, animal free ways of testing medicines. As I already mentioned, mice are the animal most commonly used to test breast cancer drugs. PETA quotes the former National Cancer Institute Director Dr. Richard Klausner saying, "The history of cancer research has been the history of curing cancer in the mouse. We have cured mice of cancer for decades, and it simply didn't work in humans." In other words we have successfully learned how to induce and then cure breast cancer in rodents, but can those findings help humans? Medications and treatments that are successful in mice are then moved to human trials. Dawn quotes this from a New York Times report on human trials that were successful in mice, "One in 20 prospective cancer cures used in human tests reaches markets, the worst record of any medical category. Among those that gained approval in the last 20 years, fewer than one in five have been shown to extend lives, life extensions usually measuring in weeks or months, not years." The publication Nature (also quoted in Dawn's book) says that "' Of the potential anticancer drugs that give promising results in tests on mice with cancer, only about 11 percent are ever approved for use in people.'" Doesn't seem like very good odds.

But what makes us think animals are so close to us that we can test them for cures to our illnesses, but yet so far from us that testing on them isn't somehow morally wrong? And what makes us think that a positive or adverse reaction to tests will mean anything for us? As Dawn points out, "aspirin causes birth defects in mice and rates. Ibuprofen causes kidney failure in dogs - even at very low doses," and "at the high doses employed in animal tests- sometimes staggeringly high doses that are necessary because of the dissimilarity in the ways different species process chemicals - penicillin kills guinea pigs." Does this mean we may have found the cure for cancer along the way - then tested it on a monkey or a rat who didn't show any positive reactions - so we chucked it out the window? We won't know the answer to that because unless the drug in question is tested and receives positive results in animals, its worthless as far as the FDA is concerned.

But there are newer methods out there to run tests that don't involve animals. Dr Neal D. Bernard of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine or PCRM writes in his article A Look At Cancer Research about some of the alternatives that are being found. He writes that scientists at the National Cancer Institute were concerned by the "phenomenally low yields" of possible treatments making it to human trials and started to explore the idea that perhaps mice and humans just don't deal with cancer in the same way. Bernard writes that " a new method uses cultures of human cancer cells. These cells are obtained from biopsies or surgeries. In an automated method developed by Robert Shoemaker and Michael Boyd of the NCI, colon cancer cells, breast cancer cells, and many other cell types can be kept alive in test tubes. Substances are applied to these cells, and the results are checked and entered into a computer. Using this method, tens of thousands of potential anti-cancer drugs can be screened." But they won't be allowed to be marketed to humans until they are tested on animals so they can be approved by the FDA.

Well this leads us to an even bigger problem - how do we get the FDA to change it's policy? Well that's a whole 'nother can of worms and honestly Im no authority on any sort of legal, governement blah blah blah action. But, what I do know is that we can give our money to groups and non-profits that pledge to "find the cure" without torturing animals. And yeah - the animals get a pretty sour deal out of this whole "find the cure" business. The companies that test cancer drugs don't run around looking for abandoned dogs with breast cancer or sewer rats with a terrible case of colon cancer - they GIVE cancer to the animals they test. And then they try to take it away - and the animal either dies in trials or is killed at the end of the test.

But lucky for us animal lovers there are plenty or organizations who have received the Human Charity Seal of Approval run by the PCRM who are searching for the cure to breast cancer (just type breast cancer into the search box and you will get the whole list of approved and unapproved charities). Organizations like Pink Ribbon Girls who help young women with breast cancer and the American Breast Cancer Foundation who have cool fundraisers like Yoga For Life. One that I was particularly interested in was the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation where I learned about the Army of Women, a program set up by the Dr. Susan Love RF and the Avon Foundation for Women in which they propose" To recruit one million healthy women of every age and ethnicity, including breast cancer survivors and women at high-risk for the disease, to partner with breast cancer researchers and directly participate in the research that will eradicate breast cancer once and for all." And "To challenge the scientific community to expand its current focus to include breast cancer prevention research conducted on healthy women." To learn more about the project check out their website and be sure to read the FAQ. Organizations like these realize that what we have been doing for the past 25 plus years isn't working. They realize that, yes, American's are AWARE. But we need more than that. We need to try something new. It's sad to think that huge foundations like Susan G. Komen are bringing in money to fund animal testing, but its also comforting to know that there are other groups working towards something new and exciting.

I would also advocate that we all try the Think Before You Pink advice given here by Breast Cancer Action. It's tempting to assume that the pink ribbon you buy from a store is your little contribution to the cure but perhaps it's not having as much of an impact as you had hoped, and perhaps there are even better things you could be doing that support the cure while protecting millions of animals from unnecessary testing.

If anyone has comments to add, opinions, or by all means if you have more expertise in this matter than me (I certainly don't claim to know everything) - please please share your thoughts.

Coast to Cote Week 30




Pang: I promise no more pottery/firing talk from this point on, but i couldn't help but choose this photo. I went back to the firing on the second night to try to get more shots and check out the pot luck (we all know I love food!). While stoking the fire on the first night, we didn't have to use too many precautions, but on the second night, on top of wearing gloves, when the fire reached it's highest temperature, we had to wear goggles (to protect our retinas), a face mask, and made sure our shirt/jackets were 100% cotton (if not, we risked catching on fire even if a little spark were to fly out). I got to help feed the fire and had to put on a cotton flannel shirt and felt an immense difference in the temperature of the fire. I felt like my face was going to melt off if I stood in front of the open kiln door any longer. When the fire is at this stage, the potteries in the kiln are almost at a liquid state (although they retain the shape). Joy's husband mentioned that if we were to poke a pot with a rod, it would go right through. They put out the fire around 1 am, but even with that, it takes four days for the pots to cure and become solid again. Tomorrow is the big unveiling where the kiln doors will be disassembled (they had to build it shut for the firing) and the pieces will be ready.

Lacey: This week on a lazy Saturday we went to Wonderbook in Frederick to rent some movies and peruse the books. I came across the children's book Nos Enfants by Anantole France. The book is sadly falling apart and was wrapped up in plastic but in fact, this is actually perfect because I have been looking for a falling apart book with awesome illustrations (this one was illustrated by MB de Monvel - who may just inspire another tattoo in the future because his little girl drawings are just my taste) because I would really loved to have framed storybook pages decorating my (future) apartment. These are especially perfect because they are in French and they are already literally detached from the spine. I have a really hard time bringing myself to rip or destroy a book - but if it's already falling apart its ok right? In any case I spent more than I usually would, but I'm super excited to see the finished product one day.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Club: The Great Oom



So it seems that there are some interested parties in starting a book club of sorts. This is the book I am currently reading, The Great Oom, just came out at the library. If you want to, read it too and we can chit-chat about it when we're done. If this club idea fleshes out and enough people are interested we can have a rotation of who picks the books and writes the main review? I dunno. We will figure it out - until then - get reading!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Coast to Cote Week 29



For some reason Pang's links don't copy over so visit her site to click on the links that should be in this blurb below

Pang: I was on assignment for a local newspaper on Monday to visit a couple of pottery studios. These two studios are a part of Over the Mountain Studio Tour. Our first stop was Sycamore Pottery, where I met Ren and Pam, and our second was Joy Bridy Pottery, where I met Joy who designed and built her own wood burning kiln. This shot (my favorite) was actually my last from the first stop. On my way out of the studio, Ren showed me their propane burning kiln that was situated on a trolley. The light seeped in so perfectly and I loved that Ren was perfectly included.

Me: At the Thai and Japanese restaurant where I work we have a new sushi chef. Communication with him can be frustrating at times, but one things for sure - people are loving his new rolls. Kazu, the owner, asked me to take some pictures for the website and for the menu. It's been a little frustrating taking pictures because they will only allow me to take pictures when people order the roll - and I'm also working as a server at the same time - but I'm hoping to get some good stuff out of it. Here is a shot from the first day - the dragon roll.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Omnivore's Dilemma



Before I go into way too much detail about this book and how I feel about it - just wondering, just throwing this out there - would anyone like to start a book club? I know I tried this already with Pang and it was only kinda....ok not really successful - but I think it would be really cool to have a dialogue going - more than me just yammering. It can be informal to start. I will just start announcing what books I will be reading/reviewing next. If you wana get the book and read it too so we can chat, great! If not I will just keep ranting on my own. I think the next book I plan to read and review is The Great Oom: The Improbable Birth of Yoga in America by Robert Love. It's brand new in the library and it looks pretty interesting. Now on to the current book!

The Omnivore's Dilemma. It's certainly an interesting book, a well written book - but one I feel a little....ambivalent towards, an ambivalence that has grown and stretched and now threatens to schizophrenically dictate this review. I will try to hold it together but...well I have a dilemma! Im really really not sure how I feel about this book. Perhaps it's because some of the topics covered in this book are becoming increasingly nearer and dearer to my little heart, and it's as if I can see us on opposite sides of the line, and he's just staring me down, "pitying" the poor vegetarian who is in" denial of reality." Or perhaps I'm upset that it's not the happy ending I had hoped for - that in spite of all he witnesses and even participates in - he's pretty much just as close minded and stuck in his ways as when he started the journey. Perhaps I'm torn between the fact that I did indeed learn tons of interesting facts from this book (like yeast can be harvested in your own backyard!) but that at the same time Pollan almost blatantly overlooks going into a deeper exploration of what would support what he might call a "sentimental" or "animal people" lifestyle.

Pollan's book follows, to a certain extent, four meals. The industrial agricultural meal of corn to Mcnugget,the two different kinds of organic - the industrial Whole Foods bought meal and the "local" Polyface farms meal, and the foraged and hunted meal he cobbles together from the general surrounding area of Berkeley California.

The first part of the book I really dug. It was interesting! He explains how corn has become such a huge huge crop in the United States and how it has found its way into so many of our foods - becoming the building blocks of the bulk of our processed food (yogurt, ketchup, candy, cheez whiz - the list goes on) to the point that its almost impossible to eat a packaged food that doesn't contain corn! And it doesn't end at just food, corn is a part of "disposable diapers, trash bags, cleansers, charcoal briquettes, matches, batteries, right down to the shine on the cover of the magazine." He even reveals the identity of the elusive and mysterious Xanthan Gum. He digs into the mystery of why corn has been grown and used so widely.

He then starts talking about how corn is used in the meat industry as feedstock for the animals. I was surprised to learn (I'm not sure why really because it does kinda make sense) that cows cannot digest corn. Ruminants, which are animals that have rumens (cows, llamas, deer, sheep, giraffe, camels, ect) are grass eaters by nature. What happens when you feed ruminants grain? They get sick. Pollan says that "virtually all of them [feedlot cattle] to one degree or another, according to several animal scientists I talked to - are simply sick." Bloat is a concern for ruminants eating grains and is described as " a layer of foamy slime [which] forms in the rumen and can trap gas. The rumen inflates like a balloon until it presses against the animal's lungs. Unless action is taken promptly to relieve the pressure (usually forcing a hose down the animals' esophagus), the animal suffocates." Another common side effect of the animals diet is acidosis. The basic symptom of acidosis is "bovine heartburn that in some cases can kill the animal" or cause the animal to "pant and salivate excessively, paw and scratch their bellies, and eat dirt. The condition leads to diarrhea, ulcers, bloat, ruminates, liver disease and a general weakening of the immune system." I've always heard that cows (and industrial livestock in general) were pumped full of antibiotics but I didn't fully know why until reading this part of the book. Pollan also inspects the other aspects of the cow's diets and finds...well cows. The cows on the farm he is exploring are fed "blood products and fat," or in other words the steer that Pollan bought and is following through it's life is being fed "beef tallow recycled from the very slaughterhouse he's headed to in June." Also in cattle feed are "feather meal and chicken litter (that is, bedding, feces, and discarded bits of feed) " as well as "chicken, fish and pig meal. Wait these herbivores are eating animals and animal waste and even their own species?!

I found this particular meal - from corn to McDonald's to be pretty fascinating. Pollan artfully lays out the history behind the present state of things (the over-production of corn and soy and the mass production of animals for slaughter) and makes links to our current bulging waistlines, all while setting up things for the next two chapters. He accuses (rightfully) American's of being out of touch with their food (a sentiment I assume he handled heavily in his other book In Defense of Food, which I haven't read but have read reviews on, so I know the general punch-line) and says that if we are what we eat, then Americans are unknowingly walking, talking bundles of corn and petroleum (petroleum being the fertilizer, the harvester, the processor, the transporter, and even some of the ingredients of our food).

Pollan is far from the first person to attempt to turn American's off to fast food - but I feel like he does a thorough job of creating a story with which to bind his message in. Not only do we learn about the weird list of ingredients that goes into a chicken nugget but we also learn about the struggle of the corn and soybean farmer who no longer have the option of playing by the "supply and demand" rule we all remember memorizing for our Econ101 classes. Up through this point, I'm pretty pleased with the book. I'm enjoying reading it and I'm looking forward to more.

Next Pollan goes into the organic meal - but as he is soon to find out, organic has different meaning to different farmer and consumers and so he is forced to break down the term a little bit and he explores the industrial organic farm and then a more small scale organic farm.

For the industrial organic farm he compiles his meal from the vast array of organic and natural treats at a Whole Foods supermarket. He describes the shopping as a "literary experience." Marketers in the food business have a tough job - how do they get us to spend more money on items that may look and taste exactly alike? How can they assure us that the organic chicken breast we are buying is more nutritious, more ethical, or more tasty? Pollan wittily names this sort of writing - the work of the food marketer- as "Supermarket Pastoral," and the questions he draws, while walking through the Whole Foods reading pamphlets and labels and comparing organic products that boast different but both alluring aspects (he cites two organic jugs of milk, one ultra pasteurized - touting its long shelf life - the other company said no to ultrapasteurizing and claims they have a fresher, less processed product because of it) exemplifies just how confusing and slippery shopping can be. The recent trend in the United States it to buy natural, organic, and local foods - but Pollan points out that those words are defined differently by different companies and its hard to know, as the consumer, just what you are buying.

So he goes back to the source - the farms - and tries to discover where his chicken (Rosie is her name according to the package) actually came from, and if her described living conditions matched his expectations. I wont ruin all the surprises for you in this book but suffice it to say that the label "free range" didn't quite mean what we would all expect. Something interesting I learned from this little section - the life of a chicken on the Petaluma Poultry farm is only 7 weeks long. Only 7 weeks to produce big juicy breasts of meat. Surprisingly short really!

In this section Pollan also talks about little farms who made it big - like Earthbound Farms who pretty much have a monopoly on organic baby greens - which perfectly segways into his next section - the little organic farms.

Pollan spends a little less than a week on Joel Salatin's Polyface Farm in Virginia to find out what this self professed "grass farmer" is all about. Salatin, and a small group of hired hands and family members, run a pretty fascinating and well orchestrated choreography of animals at Polyface based on Pollan's description. This is what people think of when they think of "free range" or "humanely raised" animals. Salatin's secret to success: letting the animals do what they do best while working within the cycles of the grass. The cows are moved around the pasture to systematically eat the grass, the chickens move three days behind the cows to pick the insects out of the cowpaties, the pigs turn the stacked cowpoop from the winter shed into rich compost. Salatin has all kinds of little inventions and time tested rules that make this dance run on schedule. It's obvious from the way Pollan writes about this farm that he is pretty impressed by it, but at the same time he paints Salatin in an occasional condescending light. I get the feeling in this chapter that Pollan is really looking for a finished meat product that is "good to think" - meaning he can still eat the meat without feeling bad about killing an animal for it.

The chickens at Polyface are killed and prepared and bought right on the farm - and Pollan describes his experience working at the "killing station" and the evisceration part of the job. For the average American, this is not a process we are at all familiar with. Part of what makes Polyface so special is that the slaughter is done out in the open. Salatin encourages his buyers to come witness the process and even participate if they choose. Pollan admits to a fair amount of disgust at the whole process and wonders if he will be able to cook and eat one of the birds he just helped turn from a living animal into a brined chicken carcass. He writes in several parts of the book for the need to have more connection with our food and the processes they go through. He says that if the raising and slaughtering of animals was as accessible and transparent as the process at Polyface people would either stop eating meat or would demand more humane practices. While I can get behind this statement (although for me it wouldn't matter if it was "more humane" or not - it goes beyond that for me, so I still wouldn't eat it) I was disappointed that Pollan didn't spend a bit more time talking about the pigs on Polyface. What kind of life do they lead? How does he feel about animals that are raised in a more humane situation like this but still go to the same slaughterhouses as industrially raised animals?

Pollan's meal from the Polyface farm is shared with some friends nearby (he considered taking it back to California but thought that might tarnish the local sustainability value of it) and both he and the guests proclaimed it to be more chickeny flavored than most chickens. Everyone except one of the son's "Mathew, who's fifteen and currently a vegetarian." Here is where I flinch a little bit. Why currently? Is Pollan suggesting that Mathew is part of some fad - as if he is currently wearing the latest jeans - and his choice (a pretty important and mature choice to even consider at a young age) shouldn't be taken seriously? Turns out that's exactly what he is insinuating as he makes more clear in the last chapter of his book - the self made meal.

In Pollan's last meal he decides to shoot a pig, harvest mushrooms (sounds like hard work but could be fun too!) capture his own yeast, and collect salt. Before shooting a pig Pollan decides (after reading Animal Liberation while eating a steak) that he has to examine his feelings about taking an animal life and the only way he can do so is to become a "reluctant," and "fervently hoped, temporary vegetarian." It's in this section - The Vegetarian's Dilemma - that he start referring to vegetarians and vegans as "animal people." He says that in the first month of eating vegetarian he is still feeling reluctant. "I find making a satisfying vegetarian dinner takes a lot more thought and work (chopping work in particular); eating meat is simply more convenient." What really really irks me about this sentence is that it's just exactly what non-vegetarian's want to hear to pat themselves soothingly on the back and say - see, it's just not realistic. Eating meat is convenient and therefore ok to do. Also, why doesn't he describe any of his vegetarian meals? He goes at length to describe the Polface chicken: "The skin had turned the color of mahogany and the texture of parchment, almost like Pekind duck, and the meat itself was moist, dense, and almost shockingly flavorful. I could taste the brine of the apple wood..." Not one single description of a vegetarian meal. I am forced to believe (not only because of this, but because of the obvious disdain he has for the experiment as well as the practicers of the lifestyle) that he didn't really take this "challenge" from Peter Singer seriously.

He talks a bit about animal suffering too - and says the idea is vexing to him because "in a certain sense it is impossible to know what goes on in the mind of a cow or pig or ape." Sounds like a copout to me. Oh well its impossible to know what animals are feeling so can we really say they are suffering? Nope - lets eat steak. Yet in another place in the book he talks about how pigs are shown to be just as intelligent as some breeds of dogs and he questions why most dogs in America are given Christmas presents yet no thought is given to the pig served as Christmas dinner. He doesn't take it to the next step though - why don't we eat our dogs after they die? Because they are intelligent and sensitive creatures with emotions and bonding abilities? So are pigs but we don't give them that chance. While Pollan admits that animals do feel pain he says that it is not equal to human suffering and should not be viewed as such because their pain is not "amplified by distinctly human emotions such as regret, self-pity, shame, humiliation, and dread."

This I just don't buy as an excuse to eat animals. So I looked to see what others were saying about animal feelings. I came across Arran Stibbe's article Dignity Beyond the Human World of the Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies group. Stibbe write this:

Undoubtedly there are situations where animals feel emotions similar to humans feelings of humiliation, but it seems anthropomorphic to assume that other animals experience dignity and its loss in the same way that humans do. Perhaps, in many cases, the animal in question is feeling pain and distress rather than a loss of dignity.
However, looking at the other side, the human side, it is clear that strategic attempts to humiliate another party differ little whether that party is human or not. It is the same cultural script found throughout the human world: words and actions are used to systematically lower the social status of one party in order to feed the other party's desire for superiority. The mastery and control of animals, demonstrated through confining them, distorting their bodies, or making them perform unnatural feats, delivers at best a very fragile sense of self worth. The fragility occurs because the very act of having to humiliate another in order to gain a sense of self-worth simultaneously reveals deep insecurity.

And here is something I can agree with. Ok Pollan - so humans and animals don't experience the world in the same way - I will give you that. But does that mean we should take advantage of them? That we should inflict pain on them just because their experience of pain is different from ours? Stibbe's article also made me realize what I was trying to grasp as I read Pollan's "arguments" against Peter Singer's points and while I gritted my teeth through Pollan's admission that he "pities" vegetarians. Pollan is insecure. Really insecure obviously. He goes so far as to taunt vegans in the section The Vegan Utopian by saying "the farmer would point out to the vegan that even she has a 'serious clash of interests' with other animals. The grain that the vegan eats is harvested with a combine that shreds field mice, while the farmer's tractor wheel crushes woodchucks in their burrows and his pesticides drop songbirds from the sky." Really Pollan? Really? So it's all or nothing is it? Are you suggesting we adopt the "no shadow" diet now if we really want to be vegan? And why is the vegan a "she"? Is that to underline the opinion that you have that "animal people" are sentimental and out of touch with reality? He goes on to say that "if our goal is to kill as few animals as possible people should probably try to eat the largest possible animal that can live on a the least cultivated land: grass-finished steaks for everyone." Oh how convenient seeing as though you obviously love eating steak. I don't think you really thought this one out. You just let your stomach do the thinking.

Unsurprisingly he decides to go through with the pig hunt and finds in the end a mixed bag of pride, shame, elation, and disgust. But not so much disgust that when he smells the leg of pig roasting that he can't bring himself to eat it.

The most disappointing part of this book. There is no conclusion. He doesn't give us much of anything. He lamely closes out the book with a description of his last meal and thanks the people that made it possible and ....that's it. For as many times throughout the book as he urges us to look at, really look at what we are eating, Pollan fails to see the meal in front of him for what it is, the rotting decomposing corpse of another living species. Or I suppose he does - but chooses to accept that and keep on chewing.

So what are we left to think? He admits that both the McDonald's meal in the beginning of the book and the hunted boar meal at the end of his book are unrealistic - and should perhaps only be indulged once a year. His disdain for the vegetarian diet certainly doesn't lead me to believe that he would promote that option. So we are left with the Whole Foods option and the grass fed animals. Now maybe I'm wrong about this but I'm willing to bet that those two options are the foods that Pollan was probably already eating given the fact that he admits to shopping at Whole Foods and lives in Berkeley, which is known for its foody, local, natural, somewhat elitist cuisine. Unfortunately - American's interested in the subject, perhaps questioning their impact on the environment, their relationship to the animals they eat - will learn a good deal of information about this book. But at the end they will be able to reassure themselves that no one is asking them to give up anything really. No one is trying to "trick" them into thinking vegetarianism or even just eating a heck of a lot less meat can still lend itself to delicious and varied food (I eat a wider variety of food now, with animal products stripped out, than i ever did before). And worst of all, they will probably walk around parroting Pollan talking about how out of touch vegetarians are and may even go so far to say they too pity us.

As you can see, Im confused about this book. Pollan is a masterful storyteller. His writing style is enjoyable. He does quite a bit of research on both sides of the issue. But, for me, I can't get myself behind a book written by someone so insecure that they attack others who are doing someone that he obviously just doesn't have the selflessness or the courage to do. He's too concerned with being ostracized at a dinner party to really look at all the information he has gathered and follow it to it's logical conclusion.

Coast to Cote Week 28




Pang: In it's second year, Freedom's Run Marathon has attracted so many people that they had to close the registration. Over 2500 people (I don't actually know the number but this was what I was told by locals and business owners) flocked into our little town over the weekend and ran their hearts out. C's mom participated in the 5K for the first time so I was on full babysitting duty. She finished under her goal and we were all so very proud of her accomplishment. later in the morning C, his sister, and I ran in the 1 mile Fun Run aimed towards kids. He was so shy and didn't want to run at first, but we definitely finished the race looking like real marathoners.

Me: Im going to be completely honest with you all. I cheated. I didn't take this picture this week. In fact...I didn't take ANY pictures this week. I was lazy and spent all my free time cooking or with my nose shoved in a book. Next week I will try to redeem myself.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Coast to Cote Week 27




Pang: Every year, Jefferson County holds a fall arts and crafts festival (Mountain Heritage Arts & Crafts Festival). There were lots of great handmade goods, like animal masks (photos later!) that I wish I could afford, but some really affordable things items too. I got a pair of vintage owl earrings as an early Christmas gift from Meghan. This was the bust displayed at that very booth, filled with vintage buttons!

Me: Gone are the days of tasteless terrible cookies. Ever since I have started making vegan cookies I have had no more problems with my cookies coming out too airy or too just blah. This week I made oatmeal chocolate chip cookies - and while they were not my all time favorite cookie (I love shortbread best!) they came out pretty well. I brought some over to Pang but she wasn't home so it was just me, Remy and some cookies. I saved one or two for her - just because Im a nice friend.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Kind Diet: A Book Review



As I mentioned in my last book review, I have a whole pile of vegan lifestyle books waiting for me to tackle, so after Thanking the Monkey I moved right on to Alicia Silverstone's book, The Kind Diet. I had seen this book online before when someone had posted her recipe for Mochi Waffles (pictured below) so I had always wanted to get my hands on it and check it out for myself.

The checking out has been done - and Im even preparing to make one of the recipes from her book today - and I must say.....hmmmm. Yeah. Let me just say before I get into this that I did read the book the whole way through AND I checked out her blog/website AND I watched several videos on youtube of the making of the book, her food adventures in NYC and her little video welcome to the Kind Life.

Alright lemme break this book down for you. The book starts with a short preface written by Paul McCartney - who yes, is an animal lover and longtime vegetarian, but, does not actually display the characteristics Alicia Silverstone is trying to convince you will save your life and the planet. He's not vegan - but - he is a celebrity. Now this isn't me getting up on a high horse and saying "Hey, he's not good enough because he's a vegetarian," Im just pointing out that rather than choose perhaps a less famous vegan, Alicia decided to go for the star factor here and choose a way famous vegetarian. Lets keep this in mind as I go through the rest of the book.

Her first chapter is called Kind Versus Nasty. In this chapter she starts by telling us about how her own "journey" began as a child who one day connected her lamb chop dinner with its animal counterpart. Being only 8 years old, her conviction to go vegetarian was, while heartfelt, unsuccessful. It wasn't until her twenties when she decided to go vegan, after bringing home 11 dogs in one day, all of whom had been scheduled to be euthanized. She then describes how the decision to eat vegan changed her life. She talks about how in just two weeks people were commenting on how great she looked, how energetic and spunky she felt and how she felt her heart opening and felt more in touch with her "truest self and deepest beliefs." She then shifts gears and starts talking about how she and her husband went to see a macrobiotic counselor who pointed out that Alicia still had rampant acne and would benefit from a macrobiotic diet with better skin and more energy. She talks about how she overhauled her diet to include grains and whole foods rather than sweeteners, processed food and white flours and pastas. She even claimed that this helped her "feel things more acutely and sense [her] intuition." While most of this I was able to easily digest (despite the fact that it seemed a little contradictory that her friends all noticed she was looking so great on a vegan diet, yet still had the acne problem), the more talking she did about feeling at peace and calm in her body on this new diet, the more I started to question how much of this she could back up with any kind of research and how much of this was just new age enlightened spirit talk.

She then moves on to outlining the downfalls and hidden cruelty of the meat, fish and dairy industry. For those of us who know something about this already, Alicia wont give you any new information. In fact, she will give you skimpier versions of what you already know. For example she sites an Australian behavioral ecologist's experiments that prove that fish "have longer memories than we assumed, the capacity to learn, and they transmit knowledge to other members of the school." Cool. This is good to know - but why not tell us more specifics on the experiment? I can guarantee you that if I tell my dad that Dr. so and so did "experiments" to prove that fish have the capacity to learn things and remember the things they learn for longer than we thought, he wont get much out of that. Now if I can explain to him the actual experiments "hey Dad, this Dr. did a test where he passed a net through a tank with a small hole in it. After 5 times through the fish had figured out where the hole was and could successfully find the hole each time the net passed through. Then 11 months later the same test was done with the same fish, who hadn't seen the net in those 11 months, and they could still find the hole every time. Crazy right? That information, by the way, came from Thanking the Monkey. Both Dawn and Silverstone's message was the same: fish are in fact intelligent, but Dawn's was not only more convincing to me, but it also armed me with concrete material to share with others rather than just, "well i read in Alicia Silverstone's book that fish are actually able to learn and remember things."

But perhaps I am being too harsh on Alicia Silverstone. In reading her book you can definitely tell that her focus is more about the relationship between the body and the food, not the animal and the food. It's a diet book. Oh...and its also a diet book that seems to be specifically branded for young, twenty something, hip girls. Let's discuss the language Silverstone uses in the book. In the beginning of the book when she is welcoming us to her creation she ends her little preface by signing it: Peace out, Alicia. Ok, I think to myself, she's a fun loving, hippy. Not a big deal. But then she starts talking about food, and words like "naughty, magical, nasty, and sexy," start popping up left and right. In fact, based on the amount of times each of these words shows up, I'm lead to believe these are her absolute favorite words and are the sole words which comprise the scale of descriptions of quality. The words naughty and sexy especially irked me. She uses these words when talking about resisting temptation to eat animal products, and while I commend her for being honest about "nick[ing] a piece of sushi off a friend's plate right at the end of the meal," because this clearly reminds us that she is in fact human and prone to weakness and error, her vocabulary makes me simultaneously believe that she's a eccentric fairy princess writing to us from some utopian far off land. Its ironic because this type of vocabulary, while I'm sure it was meant to be fresh and youthful, was actually kinda alienating and almost a little insulting - and Im only 23 years old.

Never-the-less I read through the rest of the book, looking forward to the recipes at the end. The next few chapters did hold some interesting information. While I felt her chapter on animal cruelty was a bit lackluster, she presents a pretty good chunk of writing dedicated to explaining food. Well...most of it. While she does go into some explanations of tempeh and seitan, which are very useful to people who don't know much about them, she pretty much leaves out information about other ingredients that many of us have no exposure to. For example she has mirin in several of her recipes - but never bothers to tell us what mirin is. Turns out (I googled it) its a rice wine similar to saki thats used for cooking. I work in a Japanese restaurant. I didn't know what this was. I also could have used some descriptions or pictures of hijiki, arame, wakame, and kombu. She also refers to shoyu several times in her book before she decides to define it. What is it...turns out she's talking about soy sauce. She tells us that in fact shoyu "is how most soy sauce is labeled in the health food worlds these days." The health food world or the LA world? I checked my health food store, and even the bottles we have in the restaurant and the bottles of private stuff the chef uses to cook his own meals. No mention of shoyu. Now I am all for recipes that make me try new things or have me exploring my local ethnic markets, but come on, it's not some random recipe I found online, you have a whole book to explain these ingredients! Not to mention - some of these things are expensive. I asked Kazu, the Japanese owner of the restaruant where I work if she could get me some black soybeans (part of a stew recipe in the Kind Diet) at the Asian market. First of all, Kazu didn't even know if they would have black soybeans because she had never used them before and wasn't even familiar with the idea of them, and secondly, when she did find them there, they came in a tiny, expensive package all in Japanese. Now how was I supposed to find that if even my Japanese boss had some trouble? This failure to fully explain the ingredients she was introducing (and she does acknowledge the fact that most of these things will be totally new for a lot of people) just added to the alienation I felt when reading this book.

Plus...doesn't she say we should be eating local foods? Part of the macrobiotic diet is to avoid foods that don't come from your area. For example eating a pineapple in the middie of winter makes no sense for me, according to this diet, because that food is designed to hydrate my body and cool it down, when thats not really what i need. Plus its shipped from far away which means lots and lots of energy and fossil fuels go into that pineapple getting to me. But skim through one of her recipe and you will see all kinds of Japanese ingredients that really don't qualify as local. Perhaps they feel more local to those living in LA who share an ocean with Japan - but even that is quite a stretch.

She says in the beginning of this book that this diet is for everyone. Not just celebrities. I don't feel like she does a great job of convincing the reader of this. From her obvious target audience (throughout the book she cites ways in which this diet will help with your menstrual cramps or ward off breast cancer, she even has a page of "cute vegan boys") to her expensive and complicated ingredients list, Im not completely sure this is a diet for everyone. But she does convince me of several things. I need more grains and veggies in my diet. I could do with less processed vegan substitutes. And, I could certainly switch to sweeteners that don't spike my blood sugar to such a crazy extent.

She also does something I totally love her for. She hired Victoria Pearson to photograph her food. The food looks amazing and delcious and healthy and Alicia and her husband look vibrant and young and happy. Im absolutely a sucker for beautiful photography and this book certainly packs some in.

And while I was a little peeved about Alicia not explaining all the food she suggests we adopt into our lifestyles, I am going to seek out some of them and try the recipes. In fact, I look a break from writing this and made her Fried Udon noodles with cabbage and onions and it was pretty darn good. In closing - Im willing to give these recipes a fair shot. Im even a little excited to find out what this "magical" umboshi vinegar tastes like. Would I recommend this book to others. Hmmm...it would have to be the right situation. If it was a guy - no. If it was my grandma - no. If it was my hippy minded peace loving friend - maybe. If it was someone I knew who already knew lots about animal cruelty and just wanted some recipes to try being healthier and vegan - yes.

All that being said I think her blog is actually a good resource and worth checking out! Also, I would like to add, that in giving this book a somewhat unfavorable review, I don't at all mean that to detract from Alicia Silverstone as a vegan or animal lover. I think its great that she felt so moved to write this book and that her celebrity status will perhaps get it into the hands of more readers. I do think more thought could have gone into certain aspects of the book, as I've already covered. In watching her youtube videos where she is running around NYC (with wild crazy untamed hair - which she comments on in the video) I DO realize that the way she talks in the book is pretty much the way she talks in real life. She does in fact say groovy. She's cute, she's vivacious, and she's thrilled to death by food. I still don't lover her book, but I actually do think I would like her as a person if we were to meet.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Coast to Cote Week 26




Pang: Our first stop on Sunday was Hudson River Park. It was beautiful and the weather couldn't have been more perfect. this park is the largest park constructed in the city since Central Park and this area used to be piers were ships would dock to unload cargo to the trains. this pile of metal, used to be one of those piers...or so I was told.

Lacey: Its been a pretty mellow week here. Ryan has been sick and now I feel the creepy crawlies in my throat and the coughing has started. Fall is right around the corner (technically it's here) and all I can think to myself is I want to curl up in bed, not be sick, and feel the warm sun coming through the window, because soon the sun wont be so warm, and then there will hardly be a sun at all till spring. Lets enjoy it!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Thanking the Monkey: A book review



I read a lot of books. But sadly I have a very poor memory for details. Ask me the names of the characters from a book I read a few months ago, heck even last month, its likely I can't tell you. But I love to read. So I do it almost compulsively. I power through books in days but always manage to have a healthy stack of "in the future" books waiting for me. I tend to get stuck on certain topics or specific writers and amass a collection of work to tackle as soon as the current book is finished. My current stack is on the topic of animal rights combined with vegan lifestyle and diet. I've got books from the library waiting, books I bought at the bookstore, and books I ordered from Amazon. I'm set for the next few weeks.

I picked up this book, Thanking the Monday, the other day at the library because one of Ryan's friends at work is interested in learning about vegetarianism and animal cruelty and as Ryan put it "I figured you would have some books to recommend since you know more about this stuff than I even do at this point. I've created a monster." While he may be right that he's created a "monster" as I get more and more into the cruelty free lifestyle and my list of "to read asap" books gets higher and higher - I realized I had no books to recommend that I personally had read other than Skinny Bitch (which was interesting and while it was recommended to me by a dude, I couldn't really see one of Ryan's dude friends going out and buying it).

So I went to the library and searched the animal rights section and came upon Thanking the Monkey: Rethinking The Way We Treat Animals. I came home and immediately started reading the book and now 3 days later I am pretty much ready to hand this book out to anyone and everyone for Christmas. Realistically I can't afford that, and also I don't want to push the issue on people who just aren't ready - but what I will do, and am currently doing, is give this book as much endorsement as possible.

Here is why I thought this book was great: To many people veganism is scary, extreme, and somewhat elitist. Karen Dawn presents a different perspective. A more realistic perspective. Instead of bashing us over the head with her intended purpose from the word go (which is absolutely to convince readers that a vegan lifestyle is not only the morally correct choice but also the healthiest diet option) she begins her book by tackling the broadest topic involved: animal rights. Animal whats? Rights....oh right...they don't have any. At least not the animals who contribute to what you eat, wear, or put on your skin or use in your household. Dawn starts her look at the world of animal cruelty by addressing the questions vegetarians and vegans face on a regular basis from others. Questions like: why do you work so hard for animal rights when there is so much human suffering in the world? Shouldn't that come first? Or: Don't animal rights activists prefer animals to people? She addresses these common questions and tries to put the misconceptions to rest by fully explaining what we mean by the term animal rights and why its so important to be the voice of beings that can't contribute their own voice.

Next she moves to a topic we can all show some interest in: pets. She addresses topics in this chapter such as: what exactly is in your pets food, the practices of animal shelters, keeping wild animals as pets, debunking the myth that fish are unintelligent (really interesting studies she quotes), animals as part of a family unit (and how the government doesn't consider them so, leaving them open to abandonment when disasters like Katrina happen and survivors are forbidden to bring animals to shelters) breeding and the ethical questions that come along with that like tail docking, selective breeding that is detrimental to the breed (think the smashed faces of pugs, adorable, but absolutely detrimental to the species) and puppy mills.

From here she moves into animals in the entertainment industry. From circuses (the elephant stories are heartbreaking and amazing) to zoos to the animals that perform and die making the movies we pay so much (too much man, theaters are so expensive these days. When I was young.....ok I'll stop) to see. This section get me thinking about animal rights and animal cruelty in a way I had never even considered. So wait... the animals that play in the movies sometimes die making it? And if they don't die they can be sold to laboratories or slaughterhouses? What kinda thanks is that for a part well learned?

The rest of the book gets into the things you pretty much expect. The issues with fur, leather, wool, and silk. The absolutely inhumane way we raise and slaughter animals. And the pointless tests we run on animals to proves things like: consuming alcohol and smoking cigarettes while pregnant can damage fetuses.....did you really need to test thousands of animals to prove something we already have lots and lots and lots of concrete human evidence on? These three sections of the book: fashion, diet, and testing presented me with a lot of squirmy information. I remember shirking away from PETA volunteers and their gruesome brochures or looking the other way when those terrible commercials about abused animals would come on the tv. These sections, while reaffirming my choice to go cruelty free, brought back those familiar queasy emotions I always tried so hard to avoid. It was a tough read. Ryan would come home from work the last few days, take one look at my face, and say "you making yourself sad again?" But some of it was completely new information for me. Completely heartbreaking but necessary for me to ingest, process, and hopefully one day share with others who are curious about how we treat animals.

This book is gruesome. Really gruesome. She spares no details. But she also acknowledges the fact that we don't want to sit through a book that makes us feel terrible the entire time. She tries to lighten the mood (while still being absolutely serious mind you) by using ironic titles for sections like: Confining Nemo, Going Clubbing, Finger Lickin Bad For You, The Right to Arm Bears? and All the Worlds a Cage. She also includes loads of cartoons pulled from newspapers, quotes and photos from vegan and vegetarian celebrities, and artwork on pretty much every page. Another thing that hooked me with this book is that she pulls her information from real, recognizable stories. This isn't a book full of finger wagging and "lets just do the right thing because its what I believe is the right thing" kinda talk. Every topic she puts forward in the book is supported by studies, news reports, newspaper articles or interviews. She cites newspapers like the New York Times, Reader's Digest, the Los Angeles Times, and surprisingly several publications geared towards farmers and hunters. In her last chapter she also explains how having a real relationship with our media can have a surprising impact. Letters to the editor, calls to radio stations, and praise for stories well reported and represented can mean future stories and follow-up stories that might otherwise be canceled due to networks fear that the information is too sensitive or gruesome for the American public.

At the end of the book you will leave with your head swimming full of information. Both heartening and disheartening. You will be itching to tell people things you learned, like: Did you know that bees have the second most complex language of any species (ours is most complex of course). Or: Did you know that male chicks born on hatching farms are considered practically worthless and most of them are ground into pet food? Im probably driving Ryan crazy doing all this "fun fact" sharing.

For those of you who are already vegetarians or vegans, go ahead and pat yourself on the back or give yourself a gold star and just feel warm and fuzzy after reading this, knowing that although millions of animals are out there suffer, YOU aren't contributing and hopefully you are even working against it. You'll come away from this book with a bit more knowledge and a few more facts to share with curious non-veg friends and family, while simultaneously reaffirming your life choice.

For those of you who are still eating the carnivorous Western diet most of us were raised on: After you've spent a good half an hour rocking yourself back and forth, tightly rolled into a ball, in the corner of your house that gets you furthest away from the bacon staring you down from the fridge, while clutching your fuzzy little cat or your yappy little dog to your chest, promising that HE wont ever be abandoned or abused or sold to a lab for testing or fed ground up baby male chicks....well, once you've recovered from that. Let me welcome you to the club. If you really read this book all the way through you should be fully on your way towards an animal friendly lifestyle. You wont regret your choice.

Dawn chooses to close out the book by letting her readers in on a little secret. She's a vegan - but she sometimes bends the rules when she feels its acceptable. She gives the example of going out to dinner with non-vegan friends and ordering the veggie burger, even if it may contain traces of eggs or dairy, to show her friends that making kinder choices isn't as impossible as it seems, and to show the restaurant that there are in fact customers who will choose the veggie burger over the beef burger. She reminds her readers that lifestyle is a personal choice. If what you feel you can contribute is not wearing leather, not visiting zoos and cutting out eggs from your diet, well great. You ARE making a difference. If you want to cut all animal products from your life and adopt a dog. Awesome! The point is: being animal friendly doesn't need to be scary or extreme or elitist. Anyone can do it and we are all free to choose at what level we commit ourselves to the cause.

In closing: I heartily recommend this book.