Monday, May 13, 2019

Certifiable

Something has to change. MelissaKnits, and Eats Plants and Rants About it, and Does Yoga and Hikes in the Woods and Probably Very Soon will Kayak...

Today I finished my Certificate in Plant Based Nutrition through eCornell. I posted my last response on an optional activity just now, and wanted to share it here. I can become exuberant about a topic, believing I have found the new best thing, preaching to anyone who will listen, only to discover that maybe I didn't have all the information and maybe am not quite 100% right. It has taken me a long time to come to accept those missteps and misadventures as parts of a process - a path - that I trust will always lead me in the right direction - and they do - and in truth that path only enlightens me in deeper ways that allow me to see things as others do, which only gives me more tools to help them come to different and deeper understanding themselves. We learn from failing. I wish I knew then what I knew now, so that I could go back in time and rear my kids in this lifestyle - but maybe you can, and maybe you can learn from our story. For now, for me and for Gene, that path has placed us firmly in the whole food plant based camp, with a life goal of being fully vegan as we wear out and use up our animal clothing. This lifestyle seems to bring together all the aspects of the things that I hold nearest and dearest to my little heart - social justice, environmental justice, an end to cruel farming practices, a reduction in diseases of affluence and preventable death and disease...and it is so profoundly simple at the core that it boggles my mind. During the weeks of this course I have been exposed to reliable, data-driven evidence that our current eating habits (including the over-valuing of meat and dairy and the near absence of whole, unprocessed vegetables, fruits, legumes and grains) are, literally, killing us - and this information is neither novel nor unknown to the institutions and individuals that drive our food machine - and it is a big, dangerous, scary machine at that. 

This is our story, today:


I would not trade this process, although it has taken me nearly three decades to get here, for anything. I have gone through a lot of “phases” - vegetarian, pescatarian, low carb, grass fed, rearing and killing my own chickens for meat and eggs, home cow-milk dairying all in an attempt to find health and wellness, get my husband’s cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure in check, and stave off what I saw as the inevitable in myself - every woman in my family has died, so far, from hearth disease or cancer, and most younger than necessary. And while that process took time that I could consider “wasted”, it has left me with a profound sense of gratitude. I have a very rich  understanding of the complexity and confusion that even the best intentioned among us faces when trying to decipher and decode nutritional reality from the fairy tales spun around us by corporate agri-business giants, food scientists, our own government, and lobbyists.
click me, read me, love me
We have been Plant Based for 336 days, and Whole Food Plant Based for most of that time, probably around 300 days. Initially in order to ease the transition for my husband I used some “fake meat” products, mostly taco meat type crumbles and fake chicken strips. He also initially struggled with the absence of oil, and would wander into the kitchen during prep time asking if I needed to add some. He read package instructions and tried to correct me - “but the package says to use vegetable oil.”… I used these moments to begin to retrain his thinking around food preparation citing Drs Campbell and Dr Esselstyn, and encouraged him to take a more active role in cooking. It helped that my work schedule shifted to evenings, leaving him at home with a recipe to prepare for my return home in the late evening…this was a radical departure from our traditional roles, and it was good for both of us on many levels. Involve everyone in the household by sharing responsibility for meal prep and planning - it breeds a natural interest! 

By the time we made the change to plant based eating we had been in process for about a year, experimenting with various vegetarian meals, and were already consuming much more variety in veg than the average American, but most of that was roasted with a little oil. After reading “How to Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease” the oil went out the door. Still his desire to make the change for his health was at odds with his palate and I had a hard time eliminating the fake meat products. Then one day, about a month into our process, I pointed out the relative cost of legumes (canned even) and fake meat during a grocery shopping trip. He was shocked to discover exactly how much money was going toward those processed and refined substitutes. He agreed to give legumes a try, and after a couple weeks of adjustment he was “converted”. He now even has “favorite” legumes and grains! Take opportunities to effect change and educate whenever and wherever they present themselves - if saving money is what gets someone to make a change for the better, roll with it!

We (humans) tend to fetishize food and apply a “live to eat” philosophy to our consumption rather than eating to live. A lot of money has been spent developing foods and flavors that addict us. I’ve spent hours trying to create big thrills in the kitchen before finally realizing that instead of trying to beat them at their own game? I just needed to play a different game altogether. I have gradually removed the fussy, multi-step vegan recipes that had me trapped in the kitchen and replaced them with large containers of pre-cooked and prepped grains, legumes, fruit and veg. These can be quickly tossed in bowls and topped with some simple, fast oil-free sauces and dressings. That means that after 32 years of playing “home chef”, endlessly tied to the kitchen trying to please everyone, I get a break - I get to be free, more or less, from the daily grind of appeasing. 

The responsibility of preparation of the bulk of our meals - or the components of them - still falls predominantly on me. But gradually there has been a shift in that as well. It is important that my husband know what I do in the kitchen and why, so that he can replicate it in my absence and explain and share with others just how simple this lifestyle is after the initial adjustment phase. His weight loss and increased health were so profound and so obvious that he’s faced a lot of inquiry. He’s become a strong advocate for this lifestyle which piqued his interest. As a side benefit he has a glimpse into what I have been doing for the last nearly 30 years of our marriage on a daily basis in the kitchen. Our household labor has been divided neatly along traditional heteronormative gender roles for much of our marriage. That needs to change. Last time I checked there were two adults living here, and both of us have thumbs! 

We recently had one of those spousal heart to heart talks in which I asked him to openly share just how committed he was to this lifestyle. If, I asked, I died tomorrow, would he be at McDonald’s by evening? He says he will not. He says that this lifestyle has become important to him not just for health reasons, but for environmental and animal welfare reasons as well. Looking at our grandchildren he knows that he wants to be here for them for as long as possible, and knows too that he wants them to have clean air, clean water, clean soil that grows clean and healthy food. He wants them to live life, and someday join us in not eating death - not exploiting other animals by subjecting them to the horrific factory farm nightmare we relegate them to now. What began as an experiment for his physical health has become a way of life, a vision for the future, a mission that neither of us can imagine giving up. 

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Green Things

Sometimes I feel like one - like a hearty little green plant - endlessly growing regardless of substrate or rainfall, sometimes a little brown, sometimes struggling with fungus gnats, or root rot, but overall endlessly growing - like it or not. Call me kudzu. Unstoppable. Take your glyphosate and shove it.
I finish my eCornell Plant Based Nutrition certificate in a couple more weeks. I don't know what the direction is with this, but the concept of Lifestyle Medicine keeps cropping up. If that personality test thinks I should be a drill sergeant, and I am "stuck" as a nurse by education and circumstance, and I feel like an advocate down to my toes, and I need a "thing" that pulls together all the things that I care about - environmental issues, social justice and advocacy, health and wellness, and all the things nearest and dearest to my little heart, then...really Lifestyle Wellness Coach pops to the top. Heal the planet, heal your body, heal the babies, heal the world.
Eat plants. Move your body. Be mindful. And I can help you do all of that. One step at a time.
I was up this morning at 5:20. Not by choice, but by cat. Sometimes this makes me want to live cat-free. But today I was grateful - even if it took a little effort on my part to become so. Thank you, cats, for quiet space to meditate and do yoga before a busy day of errands and hiking. We have been putting off registering the cars here, waiting for some tax paper from NC that just never showed up. And there was banking that needed two signatures, and filing some paper at the registry of deeds.
But once that was done, we went to Superfresh! Organic Cafe in Brattleboro for lunch, then headed into the woods in Wendell State Forest. We are participating in the New England Trails Hike 50 Challenge this year, in part to ensure that we get out, and in part because I am a patch whore. I am hoping for 100 miles by the end of the season. This trail encompasses parts of the Metacomet Monadnock trail which we hiked extensively in the 1990's to early 2000's. It is odd for Mr. W to have a weekday free, but today he had one. And I think we maxed it out.
The hiking was beautiful, if chilly and less than sunny. It is nice to be back in native air, and surrounded by native flora and fauna. A little strange - we saw a couple of woodpeckers, but no other wildlife. Not a deer, bear, squirrel. Not a bird other than the woodpeckers. Two mosquitoes. That was it. I don't think we have ever been out and seen nothing - not even a scat. 
We have been listening to the Food Revolution Summit which we learned about last year and gained a huge amount of knowledge from. Each day they broadcast three interviews at 11am, 12pm and 1pm eastern standard time, then are available for 21 hours as replays on demand. Give it a look and a listen. I have learned a lot, and found a lot of things to think about and research. Plus? recipes! I made Heart Beet Hummus the other day. Delicious. Of course...you can't really do much wrong with hummus. But maybe that is just me. 

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Because Right is Right

A long time ago Ms. Oprah started saying "When you know better, you do better." I think I said this so often that my children wanted to duct tape my mouth shut...but it is true. And there are a lot of steps - and missteps - on the road to "knowing better".

Like...I believed that by eating locally and "humanely" raised meat I was helping the environment, reducing suffering, and making a good ethical choice. I now know this to be untrue - in fact, locally raised and grass fed animal products do MORE harm to the environment - the animals live longer to reach slaughter weight, which means more food consumed, more water to maintain them, more land that isn't growing food crops for our use, but instead crappy feed conversion ratios that benefit already heavily subsidized commodity crop growers - but misuse grains that could instead be fed to humans, thereby ELIMINATING hunger from the planet. Well...now I know that was nonsense. I took great care of my birds. And then I killed them. I took their lives quite literally with my own hands, and then consumed their bodies because "chicken tastes good". 

And...I believed that being vegan was complicated and expensive. This is simply not true. Our meatless lifestyle has already saved us a small fortune. When people complain about the high cost of being plant based, I ask them what they are eating. They list off processed, packaged foods and convenience foods, all of which do carry a hefty price tag. We don't touch those. The closest we get to processed is soy milk to make yogurt, poly bagged frozen vegetables, or for occasional diversity a bag of Beyond Beef crumbles or a block of tofu (I dearly love tofu). 

The truth is that beans, especially beans from dry, cost a really mere fraction of the cost of animal flesh products - and about half what eggs cost per serving. (The numbers above are slightly outdated, but are within the decade). Beans, brown rice and steel cut oats are bought in bulk when possible. Our grocery bill in the new world order is generally about half of what we spent when omnivorous. We shop deals, sales, and a place in Greenfield called The Barn where I have been scoring cheap stuff since 1988, and have no problem setting aside a couple of hours to blanch and freeze stuff that comes our way at a significant discount. For the average consumer, the time to freeze bulk produce might not be in your plan, which will bring that bill closer to 2/3 of your old expenses - but still, just by keeping it simple and avoiding processed and packaged foods, you will save a lot. If you put your faith in scientists like Dr. Campbell or Esselstyn (et al, and "al" is growing by leaps and bounds daily), then you know that the processed stuff is killing you almost as fast as the meat and dairy were and you shouldn't be eating it anyway. 

The question that follows on the heels of the money issue is the time issue - and I too fell for that initially. After all, how could I possibly find the time to make the rather complicated, multi-pan, super fancy recipes featured in Vegetarian Times or at various online sites? Well. We don't. On holidays we might dabble into the complex with a batch of Thanksgiving Meatless Loaf, garlic mashed potatoes, roasted butternut with sage, red onion and nutritional yeast "cheez", and maybe she rich and hearty vegan mushroom gravy. The rest of the time we live on "bowls". Bowls for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Bowls make me happy. Bowls are fulfilling, and can be fixed in the direction of whatever flavor profile you're in the mood for. To wit:
 Breakfast bowl #1 - this is mine - brown rice and red beans topped with tamari, a bit of sesame oil and flax meal, accompanied by a large pear.
Breakfast bowl #2 - Gene's - soybeans, oatmeal, homemade soy yogurt, cinnamon and flax meal, and...his own pear. 
Some days the fruit is in the bowl. Some days I have oats myself, other days I want savory. The basic ingredients list for both of these breakfasts are ready to go, at all times. How? INSTANT POT MAGIC! Batches of rice, oats and beans are made every 3-5 days and put in tupperware in the fridge. Soy yogurt is made once a week in a large batch in the Instant Pot. More about all that another day.

Lunch is generally a bowl of leftovers topped with hot sauce or tamari, or occasionally one of the sauces from How Not to Die Cookbook or How to Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease Cookbook. I've also pulled flavor profiles and ideas from Thug Kitchen and Cookie and Kate - although I am very very cautious about NO extra fat added in, and NO reliance on processed items like fake cheese or non-wheat pastas and regularly modify recipes that call for things like peanut butter, apple juice, or cooking oil. Whole. Food. Plant. Based. Although not technically diagnosed with heart disease, Gene was close enough that I consider it prudent to follow Dr. Esselstyn's advice (mostly). No nuts - nuts are a gateway drug in this house - and no processed oils. There is fat in fresh, unprocessed food, yes even veg. And we add flax meal for GLA, although the science is a little muddy on that. For now, better safe than sorry. That means the things we eat are not cooked in oil, not even a little. We add 2 ounces of avocado to dinner or a half ounce of flax at breakfast. That's it. 
The other day lunch was Chipotle - a salad with sofritas, fajita veg, a couple of salsas, and a shared tub of guac which we count as a fruit. No dressing, a little tabasco on top. We have fruit with lunch most days, although not at Chipotle - we get more than enough in those bowls!
And dinner - this was last night. Thai Red Curry veg (snap peas, peppers, onion, garlic and mushrooms) over rice and beans. No fish sauce or oil...umami comes from miso and tamari. Here some processed things sneak in - red curry paste, for example. Most nights are much less glamorous. Some days and nights are frozen bagged veg over plain brown rice and beans. And it's delicious, because now I can TASTE the food instead of all the crap on top of it. I roast a lot of vegetables in the oven without oil. Roasted cauliflower and Brussel's sprouts are big here. Kale and spinach, lightly steamed, are usually on the menu at least 4 nights a week

Which brings me to another point. We have been conditioned by marketing to believe that food needs to be sexy; that by virtue of our challenging and difficult lives (...?...) we "deserve" treats, ease, decadence. I don't buy this. I am pretty sure it's crap. And I am not saying we need to suffer. I am saying that the food we eat now bears no resemblance to the food we were designed and have evolved to eat, and the hyper palatable crap they're selling us is lethal. Yes, I said lethal, and I meant it. You want to stray off the reservation a couple of times a year with some red curry paste, or a bottle of wine? Fine. But that shouldn't be daily or even weekly. Not because you don't deserve it - on the contrary - you DESERVE to be well. You DESERVE to not eat a plate full of death. You DESERVE to not consume processed, damaged, damaging junk. You DESERVE to be healthy, to be happy, to be content, to be in a body that fits you, to not take five prescriptions to cover your body's misery at the poison the marketers and the government want you to consume. And YES you will stumble and make less than optimal choices - and that's ok because you are human. Just pick up where you were at the next opportunity - don't allow one moment of decision making to rule your head.

One of the things that rings over and over in my head is this - when confronted with the truth, physicians and nutritionists, diabetes educators, those involved directly with (allegedly) helping people to live healthier and longer lives will occasionally say things like "Oh, but people just can't stick to that sort of lifestyle. We have to make allowances to increase compliance."

Bullshit.

Tell people the truth and let them choose. But TELL. THEM. THE. TRUTH. Don't be like my mother's diabetes educator telling her she could have anything she wanted "in moderation". That crap is addictive. Would you tell a recovering cocain addict they can have a little coke, in moderation? Would you advice a recovering alcoholic to sip on that drink at that party so they don't rock the boat and make themselves stand out by declining? Then support and educate people about dietary choices the same way. Don't lie about "moderation" because for most of us when it comes to our achilles heel foods, moderation isn't an option. it simply doesn't exist. Educate them on things like how to shop, how to make food ahead (even without an instant pot), how to bring flavor into your life in new and exciting ways, how to be patient and know that in six weeks your tastebuds will regenerate and as long as you don't go kicking any sleeping dragons of desire by cheating, you really will survive just fine on beans, rice and vegetables. In times of stress or joy, you may find yourself looking toward the candy display at the register, or eyeing the peanut butter. Stop. Take a breath. Look the food in the eye and say "That is poison. That food will kill me. If I eat that, I will be putting myself at risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer." Most of the time as I am moving through my day I can avoid eye contact with the evil. I don't put myself in situations that might be "tempting". I try to control where I eat when out with friends, planning ahead what I will and will not have. I decline "bites" of other people's "better" (read standard American!) food. At this point, their food usually makes my stomach turn. 

And provide a way for people to come back from bad choices. This is a process; it is not overnight success for most people. I have had two 1-ounce pieces of chocolate in the last 9 months, both offered by people I did not want to offend, and in both instances I accepted my choice and then got right back on the wagon (so to speak). Sometimes we get wine, and usually regret it. Ethanol, regardless of the source, is a poison, and no amount of excuse will change that. We are not perfect, we are human. We are just conscious and aware of the choices we make, the effect they will have, and we think long and hard before making any trade-offs. What we don't do, ever, is hate on ourselves for being human. Forgiving yourself, if you need to call it that, allows you to get back on the whole food pony. Bashing yourself is useless, counter productive, and feeds into the lie that you are expected to be perfect all the time. Find a group; I highly recommend that if you need help with portions and sticking to plan you consider joining Bright Line Eating. I have never come across a more supportive, loving group of people - and I am NOT a member myself.  Once you join you will be placed in a sub group of like minded and supportive people who have been on this journey long enough to have great insight and advice. Worth every penny, and a great use of the leftover grocery money and prescription co-payments and OTC antacids you WON'T NEED ANY MORE!

Your doctor may have a small cow (no irony intended). Ironically although our doc in NC was in agreement that the food is killing us, he was adamant and positively paranoid about vitamin B-12 supplementation (we do take 1,000 mcg once a week which is the only supplement we take) in spite of both of us having normal levels of B-12. The new-to-me doctor here in MA, Gene's former primary, is also neurotic and blames anything he can on the vegan diet while at the same time giving lip service in support. He fussed over the B-12 in ways he didn't ever fuss over the piles of scripts - or the undesirable side effects of medications - he stuck in Gene's hands when we lived here before. He also was concerned about iron (we both have normal hematocrit and hemoglobin levels), and refused to believe that Gene's blood pressure is normal until I submitted a list of recent BP's. He wanted to know why Gene wasn't testing his blood sugar daily (well, because it was 89 and 87 and 92 and 85 for weeks and weeks...so we stopped!). 

So that's my good news rant. You have choices. There's science to back this all up (the peer reviewed kind, not the pseudo-stuff paid for by the people who are trying to sell you something). There's no controversy, really. There's people trying to lie. There's people trying to give you excuses. But there isn't any actual proof that a whole food plant based lifestyle does anything other than....well...save your life. And that, my friends, is the good news I said I had. 





Friday, March 08, 2019

FOOD

That "on this day" feature on Facebook can create a lot of introspection. Today there was a profile picture from a year ago featuring a slimmed down right-size-body "mostly vegan" me next to a still overweight omnivore Gene. It brought up a lot of feelings for me. We have been on this lifestyle journey for something like 276 days, combining the concepts of Bright Line Eating with a whole food, plant based lifestyle. We began BLE in a sort of last ditch attempt to get Gene back into some kind of healthy body. Reflecting back on the journey both before and after BLE and whole food, plant based eating entered into our lives has made me grateful. It has also made me very, very angry at my own actions, at the waste of my time and my life and extremely resentful of the American food system that is more concerned with money than with truth or health; disgusted with our government for allowing big ag interests to dictate guidelines that they know are not only false but downright deadly, and that continues to encourage and insist that consumption of foods KNOWN TO BE DANGEROUS are somehow "essential" to our health. From dairy to meat to processed foods - at the end of the day the science shows (and will continue to show) that the food is killing us. And our government not only allows this to occur. It PROMOTES the eating habits that will continue to lead us to our graves. Am I being dramatic? No. I would be if it wasn't the truth. We are sick, and we are dying, and the people who should protect and serve us are so thoroughly corrupted that they are standing by and watching it happen. Shit, they are digging the holes and slamming the coffins shut.

Food for me is a fraught issue and always has been. I grew up with a mother who was overweight and hated it, but seemed unable to get a handle on her body weight. She tried different approaches over the years, including a "keto" type diet that appeared to work - until it didn't any more and she ballooned back up to above her previous weight plus a bunch. Filled with self-loathing at her "failure", she drowned her pain in bowls of pasta and butter, and a not insignificant amount of Darvon and Valium. I knew food was dangerous. I watched it hurt people. And I struggled personally with weight and body image for all of my life. "You are chubby, but not fat. Yet." was what I heard. If I started to nudge up the scale, my fatness was noted, commented on, and I was taken to task by my mother and my grandmother. Exercise was what was needed, I was told. And "watch what you eat", a nearly impossible task when the world of food information is so corrupted, and the person buying the groceries has issues of her own. And it tasted good. It filled holes I didn't know I had. A nice baggie of thin sliced deli roast beef slathered with mayonnaise and salt (hole the bread), or a spoon and the Peter Pan peanut butter jar can go a long way toward comforting a hurting girl. Of course they will also make her fat, and kill her eventually, but hey. Meat is on the pyramid. So are peanuts. It's all good. Anorexia and bulimia take care of the rest, right?

Except it's not all good.

The addictive potential of foods is something that I suspect will be much more widely studied in the future - and is being studied now. The brain that evolved to keep us alive in the face of constant danger and constant lack has been glutted in recent time with all of the things it so desperately craves for survival. Fat and sugar are not just abundant in our modern world - they exist in quantities that are embarassingly wasteful. Already there is growing public awareness of the addictive potential of processed and refined foods, and some growing awareness of the addictiveness of dairy from casomorphins. When people ask about how we eat, and I respond that we do not consume meat or dairy, very little alcohol, and no processed or refined foods, cheese probably ranks as high as booze on the list of things people believe they cannot live without. 

The idea that we "deserve" to be happy, indulged and 'spoiled' with food and goods is a new one. Historically we didn't have the time or space for indulgence, and we were, in many ways, healthier for it. Now - now we are affluent in ways we don't even recognize, whining endlessly about our lack and our needs - while killing ourselves with a glut of the most dangerous and unhealthy foods on the planet. Meanwhile we are spreading our affluenza around the world as fast as we can. And in truth, the food we eat in the standard American diet actually encourages and causes auto-immune disease, depression, anxiety, obesity, cardiac disease, diabetes, cancer, and on and on and on. 

We're killing the planet, too. Animal agriculture is well documented as the leading cause of environmental devastation when taken as a whole - if you include "production" (that means raising animals in ethically intolerable ways, feeding them biologically incompatible foods, in numbers that blow your mind), slaughter (another word for that is killing), transportation, etc. And don't get me started on the oceans. We have fished them to the near-extinction of multiple species and show no indications of letting up. 

How dare I speak, right? I hear you. I mean a few years ago right here on this very blog I posted about raising and slaughtering chickens in my front yard. I held chickens hostage and stole their eggs for food. I sold those eggs at a profit so I could buy more feed and make more eggs and more chickens to kill for more meat. Get off your high horse, Melissa. Or "Here she goes again...".

Yup. Here she goes again. Because every step I have taken to this point has been a quest for knowledge and truth, a search for truth endlessly blockaded and stymied by fake and pseudo science, by big ag, by other people searching for truth who thought they, too had found the answers. So have I taken  lot of wrong turns? You better believe it. Would have been helpful if the people with the money hadn't been throwing blockades and banana peels all over my path. Bastards. 

If the big "they" had just told us the truth from the beginning, it wouldn't have taken so many wrong steps and broken paths to get to here. 

The truth is that no other mammal consumes milk after infancy, and none of them consume the milk of other animals (say, humans drinking the milk of cows for example). Nature gave us all perfect infant food in our own bodies - breast milk. Now I am not going to get into the politics of "breast is best", or the mom-bashing over formula that I see all the time, except to say this: we all make decisions based on the information we have at hand. If you are a working mother, and your pediatrician tells you that it's ok if you feed formula, you will believe them. If you are a poor mother and your pediatrician tells you that WIC can help you by providing supplemental food, and one of those foods offered is formula, you are going to take it. Again, greater forces are at work under those decisions than meets the eye. It is in the best interest of the dairy industry to addict your babies as soon as possible. It is in the best interests of formula manufacturers to sell their product by any means necessary. Individuals who make choices based on shitty information (also called lies) are not to blame. The government and large medical organizations who bow to lobby pressure however...that's a different story. 

The truth is that ALL refined sugar (that includes maple syrup and honey - which is food for bees, not people) is too high in calories for most humans to consume safely, and has addictive properties similar to those of cocaine. And artificial sweeteners are just...artificial. And have a host of problems from artificially jacking up blood sugars to damage to the nervous system to keeping the addiction to "sweet" going in our badly damaged brains.

The truth is that until very recently in human history the "gathering" made up the bulk of what went into your body. The "hunting" was wasteful of time and energy, didn't provide enough calories to feed the village, and was a supplement consumed irregularly and in very small quantities - a deer for a village, perhaps, or a rabbit for a family. (Not a rabbit EACH, roasted, with a pile of processed oil-rubbed potatoes and a teensy side of something that was once greenish.) The women, children and old people fed the village. The men went out and "hunted" - probably with beers and a group of like-minded men who were too lazy to pick berries and cut leaves and grasses. 

The truth is that we can change. If you had told me a year ago that Gene would be asking why we hadn't had soy milk yogurt in a while, and when could we have some again? I would have laughed in your face. If you had told me that he would not only no longer consume animal products, but express contentment and peace with that, I would have called you a crazy liar. And yet...here we are. If you see him, ask him yourself. I'm always the evangelical mouthpiece. But he will answer if asked, and his answers surprise the people who've known him longest.

I have one kid who says he isn't going to change his eating habits because after all, he's going to die anyway, may as well die happy, just ten years earlier. My mother said that a lot.

Yup. He is going to die. And maybe ten years earlier. But he is going to suffer. Maybe it will take a few more years to catch up with him, as it did with his father. But he is going to suffer - and if he continues down the path and still doesn't change? Well. Diabetes causes vascular damage. Diabetes lose fingers and toes, vision. They develop cardiovascular disease - strokes, heart attacks. They lose control of their bladders. They don't just up and die. They suffer for a long time first. So yeah, die ten years earlier, after twenty or thirty of misery. Or not. I am hoping for not myself. I am like that. I like to hope. 

It would be easy to wallow in anger - that the answers are so clear, so simple, and so EASY - and that I myself missed them and fell for the Atkins bullshit a decade or so ago really pisses me off. The answers are even CHEAP. And we are having trouble listening, because our ears and eyes - like mine were - are blocked up with addictive things that the government is going to keep encouraging at the risk of pissing off the big ag interests that give them so many dollars a year that they are scared to say no. And it goes beyond that, really, into some nefarious, sneaky mafia-like behaviors and scenarios that also make me sick. Why can't the National Geographic photographer photograph your confined feeding operation, Mr. Meat-Man? Why can't the people see inside your chicken sheds and your pig barns and your slaughterhouses? Why? Got something to hide? Scared, much? Afraid that if people see the misery and death and horror that they ingest daily, they might...oh...STOP? I am more afraid that they won't. 

This is rambling and ranting, I know - but you have to admit I am good at both. I don't care today because I am angry. Someday maybe I will make more sense and have an outline. Today I just wanted to rant. Tomorrow...well, tomorrow I'll talk about the good news. Because there really is good news. Cheap, easy, clear good news. 


Tuesday, October 16, 2018

(my)Passion

I think I was born hippie. Maybe it was the time (quite likely). Maybe it was the place (less likely).

When we moved here I thought I "knew" so much about race and inequality - and I was so wrong. It's much worse than I thought, and so deeply in us. We are so isolated in the north and surrounded by unrelenting whiteness, and so those of us who don't consider ourselves racist can pretend it's a thing somewhere, but after all rational people aren't like that and MOST people aren't like that. Right? And the problems in our own schools and lower income communities are simply about density and no jobs or...something. Right? Then you get here and the blinders get all ripped off - and this isn't even the deep south - and suddenly you're like "WHO ARE THESE HUMANS AND WHO THINKS LIKE THAT?" Then you dig deeper and discover the deeply entrenched social justice issues that affect everything from voting rights to schools - all aimed at keeping a group down, and keeping people riled up against one another - and...it's such a tangled mess. I'm living in a state with voting districts that are shaped like snakes and octopi. I am living in a state that's probably about to enact voter ID laws that will further marginalize the have-nots, regardless of skin color. I live in a state where a man can smoke a bowl, get out of his truck, and get killed; standing while black. I am looking to move back to a state that is deeply racist and pretends it isn't, which is super easy when your towns are 99.3% WHITE.

Then there's the planet. Poor thing. We get given this amazing gift and what do we do? Rape the ever loving crap out of it in a short-sighted gluttonous assault. We suddenly "need" meat three meals a day (not including snacks!) which is so destructive to the environment on so many levels from water use to land use for commodity feed crops that could be growing plant-based foods with 1/10th the water and land waste and we would be PERFECTLY HEALTHY - hell, we would be HEALTHIER!! But we continue to kill ourselves and the planet and the powers that be come up with new ways to compensate for those of us leaving the meat and dairy markets by touting Keto or Paleo as the new cure-all when the science clearly shows the exact opposite is true...the organism has subsisted on the planet for millennia with meat as a side dish, not a main course. And we are stuffing it with all this animal flesh and fat, while our cancer rates and heart disease rates continue to skyrocket. Sometimes in my more paranoid moments I think it's intentional - cut down on the population by killing 2/3 of us off with food. Last man standing, holding a carrot and a bunch of kale, wins.

Then there's the animals and the small humans - and I go back in my child-mind to the picture of Jesus from Sunday School, all white and blue-eyed, with his long hair and beard, surrounded by a rainbow of small children and small animals, dove of peace seated on his shoulder. "Suffer the little children to come unto me..." and "Whatsoever you do to the least of my brethren..." and ok yeah He didn't mention animals, but really. I have never been able to put the cow on my plate completely into a context that makes sense, and that's even harder now, having watched all these things...could we raise animals for consumption without ethical quandaries? Maybe. But that's not what we do now. What we do now are things that any ethical person, witnessing in person, would want to report to someone - immediately - to make it stop. BUT WE EAT THAT SHIT. And kids - talk about an abused group. Kids and old people - the groups we all say we care about, but never put our money where our mouths are.

And on it goes.

Trying to find "a passion" in all of this is like trying to choose which of your children to throw off the life boat first. "But I love the people and I love the planet and I love the babies and I love the animals and I love the snakes and the bugs and the birds and all the things and..." what do I do with all that?

Death and dying has been and continues to be very important to me, in the way birth is. The arrival and departure of a soul should be sacred; it should be an occasion marked not with solemnity, but with respect and awe. When we lose that we lose our humanity. Hell, we've lost our humanity.

I am not perfect. I fall, fail, make mistakes - but I keep open and willing to learn and grow and change. And I am seeking truth endlessly. I find nuggets and store them away, but hoarding does me no good - the nuggets MUST be shared. They must be spoken, they must be set free.

So what, then, is my passion, my calling, my "thing"? This has been a topic around here lately as we both wander through mid-life, coming to grips with the past, making sense of it, and moving into the future.

My kids, grown now, are still my passion - but in a different way. Now my focus needs to transition to their children. All I have learned, I can share with them. Make them all sugar free, flour free, and vegan, and get their parents breathing down my neck (insert evil laugh here). OK, maybe not - especially in a world where pizza and Pepsi are everywhere - but at least introduce them to the natural world in a way that creates awe and wonder and the reverence for all life that we lack - and if someday they chose to opt out of the animal-cruelty based food chain, then good for them. Teach them that all humans matter. Teach them that all animals matter. Teach them that THEY matter.

Outside of that, I feel like I need to find a crusade that brings all of my passion into play. Advocacy, which is ironic because that seed was first planted by the shrink last year, but I have not been able to find the path to it yet. I need....a foundation of my own, with an endless budget - I shall save the whole world! I suppose I also probably need to make enough money to feed myself, damned capitalist system. But I would so rather just give myself away to the things that ignite me. Who needs a paycheck when I am talking about restoring sanity and humanity?

For the time being, still lacking a clear direction, I want to get certified in plant-based nutrition (for which I require that green evil we all so depend on in the modern world). In my perfect world I would go back to school near-full-time, gain degrees in nursing, social justice, nutrition, education? I am not sure what best suits the rambling, incoherent path I seem to be on. Actually it isn't incoherent. I mean, at the core of all the things I am passionate about lies the same thing.

Monday, October 15, 2018

And an Update for Jacinda

Hi! We are well! This weekend we went to a Charlotte VegFest, which must be done again the next time one is near me, or maybe I will just get one up of my own, and a town called Gold Hill where it rained so much that we gave up and went to the mall, where we bought discounted organic tea from the clearance section of HomeGoods. Nothing cures dampness like retail.
At Charlotte VegFest we found:
Farmer's First Coffee Company - they aren't "just" fair trade. The coffee in this bag was grown by this farmer. He gets paid about 4x what conventional growers are paid, which allows him to pay his workers, provide healthcare for them and his own family, and send his daughter to university. If I could drink coffee like this every day, I would be very happy.
Hempe, which is tempeh made with garbanzos and hemp seeds. It was being sampled in a mock chicken salad. We came away with three boxes and a free cookbook. I have seen this at Whole Foods, but like tempeh it is a little out of the price range for proteins here. But as a splurge item, something different now and then, it can stay on the menu.
Dr. T. Colin Campbell - author of The China Study, father of Dr. Thomas Campbell MD, who is proving to be well worth his salt in the areas of nutrition and lifestyle, and my hero in many ways. At a time when the political machine was gathering steam to shove us all further and further along the path to increased animal protein consumption, this man stood with the science, and paid professionally for it I am sure. But truth is truth, and while many may run, hide, or play politics, this man has stood firm on the facts - animal products are bad for us and the earth.

Read some signage at this booth, I am not sure who's it was, but I am always game for a little buddhist thought inserted into my day. One of the reasons why it is harder and harder for me to identify as Christian is because there seems to be no built in awareness that hurting things and trashing the planet goes against the teachings of Christ, which to me seems to fundamental to the whole thing. I am discovering more and more teachers over the generations who have shared this conclusion with me. Unfortunately, they are all mostly dead. Say you are vegan or don't eat meat to the average person on the street who identifies as Christian, and you get some push back. Dare I say a lot of push back. Also hazing. And a lot of snark. SO very Christian. Jesus loves a good bully.
Found out about this potential place - Brother Wolf Animal Sanctuary near Asheville, which will be some 80+ acres of space dedicated to healing and homing animals and - at least for short visits - humans. I like to imagine a world in which we don't need a place like this.
Decals from Goods and Evil, and also a t-shirt. Decals remaining are for my car. My new/used car which replaces the one I totaled in August - and, because it is used, it gets stickered all to hell. Like my laptops have been for the last decade.
 Namaste. And I thought you would particularly enjoy the bee one.
See. My mother would be so annoyed by these. But they please me immensely.
I started making Pussyhats - late to the party, but then I haven't had the freedom to contemplate getting to a march so it wasn't like I needed them. I am making two. One for me and one for whoever comes along - could be Gene, could be you. I understand from MaryAlice that there are lots of marches and etc in the county...there are fewer here, and rarer. More in Charlotte, and always seeming to coincide with work.
And this is Gold Hill, NC. We had already visited Reed's Gold Mine, which is the site of the first documented gold find in the United States. But this place had popped up as part of the NC Thread Trail system, so we wandered out - it is a short 2.2 miles, flat, along an old rail bed. Unfortunately it was 1.) Sunday - everything is closed, all the cars at the church and 2.) it was raining and I had no hat and 3.) and this was really the corker for me I think, there were a lot of gunshots. I heard a shotgun clearly, and a smaller gun in the opposite direction. All were repeated firings, but not like a shooting range. Could have been someone plinking or shooting in their own yard, or could have been someone hunting in the area. It's just not something we think about, we silly northerners, where hunting is not allowed on Sunday in many areas (like MA).  So instead we looked at locked buildings and wandered into the ones that don't have doors.


Later we came home and ended up watching a stupid sports-ball thing until midnight. Something about Kansas and the Patriots. I don't care much about football, but I can be amused by a good game. And that was a good game. Yoshi, however, was not impressed. "Just PUT ME TO BED!"
See you soon (no really). Also whatever you do, do NOT watch the movie Earthlings. It will ruin your dinner. But do watch Vegan Everyday Stories which features, among other things, an 8 year old vegan activist. Reminded me of small Talitha saying she wasn't eating meat. Wise child.

(self)Compassion

All roads lead to where you are meant to be.

Martyrdom serves neither the martyr nor the community, most especially in the form we have come to know it. Once in a while a prophet comes along who's example shines a light on the path, but by and large the average attempt at martyrdom falls remarkably flat. All that sacrifice and self-flagellation... and nothing to show for it in the end except a wounded soul.

Self-compassion is a key element of Bright Line Eating (which is going really well, by the way). We will all at some point stray from the path of dietary perfection - this weekend for example surrounded by samples of assorted vegan things, we both succumbed to "tasting" - very verboten. The key to success is not allowing that moment of less than optimal choice to dominate and overrule your desire for health and well-being. So when a Bright Line Eater falls off the wagon (so to speak) the trick is to get immediately back on - not the next day, not the next week, not on Monday, but IMMEDIATELY. The problem is that we (women a lot, and men too) will castigate, brow-beat, and generally terrorize ourselves with so much negative self-talk that we crumble and believe we are undeserving, we have failed, we cannot possibly succeed, we suck, we will be forever in a wrong-sized body, captive to our addictions and gluttony...so what to do but grab another Milky Way. BLE, when experienced with self-compassion at its core means that instead of all that you gently silence the negative self-talk, reach out with all you have, and give yourself a giant internal hug. I do this with visualization in which I see myself as a child who has made an honest mistake and feels genuinely bad for it. She does not get spanked. She gets hugged, encouraged, and loved to pieces, until we wipe our eyes and remember that we can choose better.

Self-compassion really is also at the heart of many religions, although it is veiled in allegory (and even, in some cases, illustrated by symbols - no, I am not a Mason, but I have studied with one). This means that the heart of the religion or system of belief is wrapped in - and occasionally, I would argue, obscured by - stories with political and moral nuggets buried within them. And often, I would also argue, in Christianity which is the predominate religion of the west and the one with which most of us are most familiar, we miss the actual meaning of the tale by refusing to apply cultural relativity to the words in the book. If I view the bible's teachings from a 2018 western perspective and without learning the original meaning and intent of the words, I will surely fail to understand the moral of the story. Context is everything. I am sure this happens in most religions, but I am very certain that it happens with the Christian bible - read this book for a bare surface scratching on this issue.

Although Christian systems offer up Jesus as the literal lamb of sacrifice, the idea of self-compassion lies buried in there as well. If I can't forgive myself, then all the forgiving God does is without real effect in my life. God can let me off the hook, but I can keep myself there!

But this is not what I wanted to say today. I wander so easily. I blame middle age - oh wait! No! I embrace myself for my meanderings!

Self-compassion requires self-awareness first, I believe, for how can I forgive myself and love myself and embrace myself if I have no idea what it is that brings me back, time and again, to the same failings? And denial can be so strong as to overwhelm the discovery of truth. Self-compassion must be a process.

This means - I forgive myself for killing hundreds of chickens. I forgive myself for keeping laying hens. I forgive myself for myriad other things I have done to animals over my lifespan. I do this regardless of whether or not I possessed the right knowledge at the time to make better choices. Regardless of whether I knew, in the moment, right from wrong. Sometimes I did. Sometimes I did not. But I forgive myself. Now I can embrace myself, cry a little or a lot, and move forward with renewed commitment and an open mind - learning more as I go, working on the spots where I stumble, being open to knowledge and change.