You see, last summer I devoured Karen Joy Fowler's We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, only to reluctantly return it to the library after renewing it twice. I knew I would have to get my own copy someday (in itself telling as I rarely reread books), so was delighted when I won a signed copy from the ALDF book club a few weeks ago. Since I don't enjoy writing book reviews (and would prefer not to give away the storyline) I won't do one here, but if you MUST read a review first, you can read the excellent one (beware of spoiler!) posted at Our Hen House.
What I will say though is that reading this book left me severely conflicted -- race through it as quickly as I can because I can't wait to find out what happens next, or savour it slowly and delay finishing so that the pleasure lasts as long as possible? Usually what happens in this case is that I'll race along for three-quarters of the book, and then slow down to a crawl that can last for weeks on end.
What I will also say is that I found this book gripping, riveting, and suspenseful. And while this book made me angry at times (as it will anyone who cares about animals), what I wasn't as prepared for was feeling so bereft, drained, and utterly sad. Like many readers I cried at the end, although wept might be a better word, which surprised me a little as I'm generally not much of a crier or weeper. (If anything, frustration is more likely to get my tear-ducts going.) I also enjoyed the real-life case histories thrown in, and the scientific details woven throughout.
This book is also good for anyone who hasn't given much thought to animal use, but who might be scared off by books more overtly vegan. The author herself, sadly, isn't vegan, but don't let that stop you from reading or recommending this compelling tale. After all, it isn't other vegans we have to convince.
About Washoe [cross-fostered chimp 1965-2007], Roger Fouts has said, she taught him that in the phrase human being, the word being is much more important than the word human. p158
Confession: found this half-started post in my drafts folder dated 09/13, so if that ain't proof of laziness...
We all know that kale is good for us, right? But the stuff can taste a tad bitter, and worse, take a bit of work to prepare from scratch. And who wants to work just to eat? Well, many people don't seem to mind, but not this lazy vegan. So I thought I'd share the two ways yours truly gets her kale. And no, chips are not involved. ;)
The first tip is illustrated in the photo above, but before I start I want to tell you about a recent realization I find quite amusing: apparently I've been eating kale my whole life without even knowing it! You see, kale has been a staple of Dutch cuisine for, well, almost forever, but I never connected the Dutch name boerenkool (literally translated as "farmer's cabbage") to the English word kale until I started buying the canned version.
The dish in the photo is a variation of the traditional Dutch boerenkool stamppot recipe, without of course, cruelty to animals, and the easy lazy part is the canned kale. Yep, available in any Dutch store (oodles of them in Ontario, Canada), all you have to do is heat. No chopping, no washing, no rinsing, no resentment of the time involved, just heat and go. For the dish itself I just boil a whole bunch of potatoes, mash them using a bit of vegan Becel, mash in the warmed up can of kale, and vegan beef crumbles if I have them. Oh, add a bit of Bragg liquid soy seasoning for more flavour, and you're good to go. The nutrient label on the can indicates that per 1/2 cup you get 100% daily value of vitamin A, 45% daily value of vitamin C, 20% calcium and 8% iron. That's a lot of value methinks. Another way to add value is to make enough in one go so that you don't have to cook again for a few days. :)
The other easy lazy way I eat more kale is by adding it to a smoothie. Now I can hear you protesting already that you do that as well, but I bet you're not as lazy about it as I am. Remember those Dutch stores I mentioned? Well, the one I go to sells kale in dry form, so there's no muss and fuss in chopping your own. Sprinkle in as many flakes as you want, and presto, you're kaling yourself to better health.
Update #1: am reading a book right now called "Xenophobe's Guide to the Dutch: a frank and funny look at what makes the Dutch DUTCH" and have to admit that the author hit the nail on the head when he observed that:
The Belgians fry, the Germans pickle, the English boil, and the Dutch mash -- cabbages and potatoes especially, but also endives and peas all end up pounded together in a stolid stamppot. Usually greyish-white in hue, with green flecks and the consistency of partially set concrete.... Not even salads escape the masher. A Dutch salad is 90% potato and mayonnaise, and 10% something else that gives it a name rather than a flavour. pp. 56-7
Ha ha, guilty as charged! We Dutchies DO like to mash (but think how ready we'll be if all we can eat as incapacitated seniors is purees) and I myself have mashed in spinach, broccoli, endives, red cabbage, kale, and sauerkraut with pineapple. The latter this very week in fact.
Update #2: just found an even more sneering (but funny) take on the Dutch love affair with mashing, but all scoffing aside, it's a hearty and not too unhealthy way to get your veggies I say, so mash away!
p.s. I've noticed in the past year that many food stores now sell kale pre-chopped, so there's no excuse anymore for anyone to be kale-shy :)
Can't believe it's been nearly a year already since my dad passed away, and that he won't be around this Father's Day. Although, to be honest, he wasn't around much period while his five kids were growing up, and made no secret of the fact that he had zero interest in parenting. (In case you think I'm exaggerating, each one of my siblings grew up being told that he would leave as soon as they turned 16, and he finally made good on his promise when my turn as the youngest came around.) In spite of this, three of my siblings and I had made some sort of peace with him before he died, and accepted his lack of involvement in our lives as something that wasn't to be taken too personally. A good role model for being a father he wasn't, but it could have been worse.
So with Father's Day around the corner (tomorrow!), and my post on mothering just behind me, I thought I'd take some time and continue talking about parenting. If, as I argued in my previous post, mothering is a role we don't really value, then fathering is a role valued even less. Sure, we pay lip service to the idea of celebrating the role of fatherhood, but even the holiday itself isn't emphasized as much as its counterpart.
Understandable, as regrettably, raising the next generation is still often thought of as women's work. Consider again that most men won't have to figure out how they'll combine work with child rearing, won't get asked how they'll accomplish that feat, and won't have to deal with the consequences of taking time out of the labour force to raise their kids if that's their choice. But that career comes first for men is still a given for most.
As I also stated in the mothering post, the qualities of being a good parent -- nurturing, protecting, guiding, etc., are not, in my opinion, gender specific, and I think it's a shame that we've allowed outdated stereotypes to determine parenting roles. I've long felt that a mature and healthy adult is, for example, strong and sensitive, caring and assertive, rational and warm, empathetic and independent, and to label any of those traits as either masculine or feminine is both silly and limiting.
In that sense, I don't think a child needs both a mother and a father as claimed by those who champion traditional family values, as much as they need an adult in their lives who has the full range of qualities that every grown-up should have. Where it's helpful to have two adults involved in child-rearing is that it lessens the load, and hopefully provides a role model of what a positive relationship can look like. But whether those two adults are of the same gender or not is irrelevant, and I can tell you from personal experience that my own particular family would have been much better off if it had been "broken" far sooner.
And if mothering and fathering doesn't get the status it deserves among humans, then the industrial agricultural complex pretty much strips any status for other species. No respect is given to the natural bonds of motherhood and fatherhood, and parenthood is only valued if it benefits humans. Think puppy mills, zoos, aquariums, and of course all the victims considered food animals. A depressing thought indeed.
So once again I want to end with a reference to two of my favourite human dads, who daily give me hope, and who beautifully illustrate what fatherhood could and should be all about. :)
I miss you. I miss you terribly (it's been more than a month), and can't believe I haven't written in so long. You're my creative outlet, a place to collect my thoughts and discover how I really feel, a way to retain (and sometimes reclaim) my sanity, and perhaps in a tiny way a small contribution to vegan consciousness.
So why have I neglected you?
Time is part of the answer. My paid job, online shop, declining in physical health kitty, declining in physical and mental health mom, and those pesky never-ending chores of running a household all are guilty of stealing precious time. And sometimes I'm just too tired, or stressed, or too downbeat to let my fingers do the talking, and it becomes easier to flip on the TV or DVD player instead.
Another part of the answer is that writing sometimes feels frivolous, especially when almost all of your readers are part of the vegan choir. Because while I certainly identify as vegan, the term activist doesn't always seem to apply given the little action I actually do (which is why I try to donate financially when I can to those more worthy of the title), and you know what they say about action beating the crap out of words. Or something to that effect, snort.
Also, writing is more play than work for me, and the Calvinist work-before-play ethic drummed into me as a kid still rears its ugly head even when not applicable. Besides, why have such narrow definitions? Reading, for example, could also be considered play, but I've successfully convinced myself that reading is about on par with breathing, and that 30-60+ minutes of reading is an essential daily task. So, with the help of Leo Babauta's Zen Habits: Mastering the Art of Change, I'm going to try and implement blog writing (though not necessarily posting) as a daily habit.
In short, I hope to be back here (and visiting your blogs) much more often soon! :)
By age twelve I had already decided that motherhood wasn't for me, in part because I didn't want to risk subjecting a child to the same kind of screwed-up childhood I was experiencing myself. Imagine my surprise then when decades later I've ended up doing a form of mothering anyway, in a classic case of role reversal with my aging mom. And while there are challenges to taking care of a parent who didn't particularly take good care of you, there are rewards as well. These include closure, working through unresolved issues, grieving a relationship that never was, and providing the kind of nurturing and caring that my younger self craved but didn't receive enough of. And as odd as it may sound, providing this kind of care for someone else is self-nurturing too. I can even see how having had my own kids may have speeded up this healing process, although biologically it's too late for that now. Which isn't to glamorize or minimize any of the hard work involved in taking care of a living being, whether they're eight months old, or eighty-eight years.
But while today celebrates the role of mothering, I would argue that it's a role we don't really value. We don't define it particularly well, or even give much thought as to whether we should take it on. Folk who opt out of parenthood are often characterized as being selfish and shallow, whereas those who don't give it a second thought, who automatically assume that that's what people do, are lauded as being unselfish and giving. Never mind overpopulation and the various environmental implications. This isn't to say that no one should have kids, but that anyone contemplating having them ought to give serious thought as to the consequences, because not doing so is the actual selfish and shallow act. Parenting, in my view, should be thought of as a privilege rather than a right, and with rights come responsibilities.
Because what other enterprise in our society is as unregulated, unlicensed and unreviewed? Do anything else -- drive a car, buy a gun (in itself an insane act, in my opinion), or enter any number of professions -- and you'll likely need a licence or at least some form of training. But become a parent, and hey, no demonstration of skills or aptitude required. Parenting has to be one of the least paperless activities around, even though it's purported to be the most difficult task there is. Hmmm.
And as for value, what do we pay people to be parents? To prepare the next generation to become responsible and model citizens? What is this most important work worth? Then compare that to what we pay hockey players, basketball stars, actors, CEO's, and whatever redeeming title you can manage to come up with for anyone whose last name is Kardashian, and it boggles the mind.
What about all the shelters, programs and services set up for domestic abuse victims? Women and children mainly, although men fall prey as well at times. Take Back The Night has been around forever it seems, and the stats on sexual assault don't appear to be dropping either. So if we value the labour of women when it comes to raising kids so much, why don't we take the man out of the home and off of the street when violence occurs rather than forcing the woman to flee?
And what of this role called mothering? What does it mean to be a mother? We don't spell it out clearly enough methinks, but to my mind mothering involves nurturing, raising, protecting, teaching, guiding, caring, playing, helping, mentoring, setting a good example and being an effective role model.
What about fathering? Not a term we hear as often as mothering, but surely it also means protecting, raising, caring, guiding, nurturing, helping, setting a good example, teaching, playing and being an effective mentor and role model. Notice that all of these attributes are shared by both male and female parents, although unfortunately the onus is still on mothers to do the lion's share of raising kids. Because when are men ever asked, for example, how they'll combine childcare and work?
Notice too that all the qualities of being a good (or good enough) parent are not species-specific. If we really value mothering, shouldn't we recognize and respect the mother-child bond wherever it occurs? Take a look at any undercover footage of factory farming, and you'll see just how much we actually value mothering. Sadly, as with human mothering, not that much.
But veganism can change that. Does change that. And to end this post on a positive note, here's a video of a fabulous new mother, and a nod to two human dads who prove that nurturing, protecting and providing is everyone's job, although these two do it particularly well.
Hard to believe that Earth Day has been commemorated for 45 years now, and I have to admit that the more cynical part of me wonders how much we've really achieved in that time. Given the ongoing problems with global warming, pollution, oil spills, other environmental degradation, overpopulation, misuse of natural resources, species exploitation and extinction, the colossal disrespect human animals show towards this earth is overwhelming. Arrogance, greed, and an unwarranted superiority complex seem to trump common sense, decency and compassion when it comes to how humans interact with other species and Earth herself. So let's just hope we do better in the next 15 years, because 45 years from now it may well be too little, too late.
p.s. apparently, this is my 250th post :)
image credit: Patrick McDonnell's Mutts comic strip
Ha, spoke too soon. The paper published my letter after all! And apart from editing the first paragraph (they broke it up into three, and deleted the last sentence), they kept the rest intact and even put it in the featured letter spot thus improving its chances of being read. Have to admit I was pleasantly surprised, and even more so when I received a call the next day from a reader who had taken the time to look up my name in the phone book in order to thank me for writing it. No negative replies in the following edition either (which I half expected), although maybe that's still coming. All in all, a positive experience.
But reading Striking at the Root's chapter on letter writing before doing this again still stands, and I agree with Anne's comment on my post: I would not respond to his diatribe, nor defend us against his allegations about activists, but rather present clearly the facts surrounding beings captured for the sole purpose of our entertainment. It'sa good point, and something I didn't do, although hopefully would do next time.
It's a suggestion (using clear facts) SatR* made too, so I thought I'd take the opportunity here to outline a few of their other suggestions as well:
be concise and focus on the most important issue
be polite and professional
include information on how an issue will affect readers personally
respond to positive stories as well as negative ones
direct letters to readers and not the author of the piece you're responding to
don't assume readers already know about the issue you're referring to
tell them something they may not know
write in the affirmative and include positive suggestions for change
show how other animals have a wide range of emotions
be friendly and a good role model for animal activists
Oops, I clearly didn't read this chapter before writing my own letter, and the above suggestions would certainly have been good to follow, but I can't honestly say I regret my first attempt. And if one reader felt compelled enough to reach out to me, who knows how many others took some of the letter to heart? :)
* Mark Hawthorne, Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism pp. 35-37
p.s. I'm afraid I'll be MIA for a little while longer -- hope everyone's keeping well!
As I indicated on someone else's blog (sorry, I can't remember whose) quite a while ago, I think writing letters to the editor is a wonderful and worthwhile endeavour, but not something I want to do myself. Which is a bit odd given that I like writing, am opinionated enough and feel other animals need to be given a voice, yet am reluctant to do so.
Maybe it's because I live in a small conservative town and the opinions published thus far in our local papers tend to be the exact opposite of mine when it comes to reproductive freedom, gay rights, animal welfare, and well, just about everything else. In fact, some of the expressed opinions raised my ire so much that it caused me to stop reading the papers altogether. Maybe it's also because I'm employed in a Christian organization that doesn't share most of my political views, and while I would never lie about those views if asked, I don't go out of my way to share them. In short, I don't always feel like I have the freedom to publicly express whatever it is that I want without thinking about the potential consequences on both family (my mom and siblings all go to church weekly) and work.
So how did it get to be that I decided to do some scribbling anyway? Well, I stumbled across an opinion piece as I was cleaning my cat's litterbox (we're allowed to dispose of litter in newspaper in the compost bin here), and got annoyed enough to respond. And it took a certain amount of editing as I wanted to make sure it wasn't too reactive, too insulting, too inflammatory, too whatever. Imagine my disappointment then when it wasn't even published! To be fair though, I was a couple of weeks late, and there had been two other negative responses (here and here), so I can't really blame the editor. What galls me though is how this columnist gets to have his jerk-like opinions aired anyway, because this isn't the first time he's railed against "hippies" who care about animals.
In retrospect though, maybe it wasn't a bad thing to have my letter ignored. I don't think it was the best letter anyway as I WAS being reactive, was riled up when I wrote it, and it may not have served the best interests of those I was trying to represent. No, if I'm ever going to do this again, I should probably read the chapter and tips on letter writing in Mark Hawthorne's Striking at the Roots book first.
But because I did spend time on it (which I truly don't have enough of these days), and I can (within reason) say pretty much anything I want on a personal blog, I will let you read what I wrote, and perhaps you can let me know how to formulate it better next time for an audience that isn't my blog readership. Here goes:
Re. Lazy hippies have too much free time to troll online, Column, Feb. 12:
Ah James, you do think you’re clever, don’t you, what with all the cutesy capitalized names for folk who care about animal captivity and exploitation. But you might be surprised at the demographics of those you mock. Some of us are middle-aged or older, most of us are gainfully employed, more than a few of us are busy with child or elder care or both, and I would say that practically all of us wear deodorant. You see, what we’ve simply done is recognize that compassion can and should be extended to all living beings. (Even newspaper columnists, snort, so I apologize for those writing mean things to you on Twitter, although I can understand how a flippant and dismissive attitude such as yours would not inspire much friendliness.)
I’ve been vegan for almost seven years now, but in retrospect, I believe it was my first (and last) trip to Marineland as part of a school trip almost forty years ago that set me on this eventual path. Because watching the spectacle of magnificent beings reduced to performing silly circus tricks for humans struck me as sad and wrong, rather than fun. And while it took a long time for me to stop eating and wearing animals altogether (societal indoctrination supporting animal use is strong indeed), once I did, there was no going back.
Luckily, the number of people who believe that animals do matter (all animals, not just cats and dogs) is on the rise, and veganism is becoming more mainstream by the day. More specifically, the success of films like Blackfish indicates that it’s not just “hippies” who care about orcas and other captive animals. No, the writing is on the wall my friend, and one day archaic institutions like Marineland will become as extinct as the dinosaurs, and hallelujah to that I say.
So what's the verdict? Too personal? Too long? Not enough facts? Ah, at least no one can say I didn't try. :)
Is probably one of the most asinine set of words ever stringed together. If you're of a certain age you'll likely remember where this line came from, but if not, well, never mind. Suffice it to say that I tend to consider Valentine's Day just as senseless (as I do any holiday that celebrates something that ought to be recognized and validated more than once a year -- think Mother's Day, for example), but what the heck, let's take the kernel of this schmaltzy, sentimental, overly hyped, marketed, and commercialized day and do something useful with it. Let's look at love from a vegan perspective.
So what is love? I'm no expert, but thought I'd start a list. Feel free to add.
True vegan love means:
saying sorry whenever you've goofed up, which means you'll be saying sorry many more times than never (and if you're the exceptional human who rarely slips up, you could always say a general sorry on behalf of the rest of us)
respecting your animal companions (this means not declawing your cat, docking your dog's tail or ears, or any other number of practices that don't benefit other animal household members in the least)
extending your respect and compassion to sentient beings not viewed as companion animals (just because they don't happen to live in someone's home doesn't mean they shouldn't be present in your area of concern)
getting out of your comfort zone to assist other sentient beings in concrete and off-line ways
remembering that "other sentient beings" includes the human kind
not holding yourself or other vegans to impossibly perfect standards
not getting too hung up on what label (or non-label) other vegans use to describe their identity or advocacy if they're actually doing something helpful
being patient and kind with non-vegans even (or especially) in the moments when a part of your brain feels that violence could be a valid and useful tool
recognizing that love, respect and compassion towards all are supposed to be the cornerstones of being vegan
remembering those cornerstones when you're having difficulty feeling love, respect and compassion because someone or some group is pissing you off
seeing that "love" works better as a verb than a noun
preparing food that sustains rather than hurts (whether in sourcing or consuming)
accepting that you can only change yourself, provide information without demanding results, and lead by example
realizing that veganism is a means to an end, not an end in itself (the real end is for the need for veganism to become obsolete*), and ultimately about other animals and not ourselves
disagreeing without hurting and agreeing without competing (this, if I remember correctly, was a line -- I've roughly paraphrased it -- by Lee Hall that I saw referenced in one of veganelder's posts or comments a couple of years ago, and it stayed with me because it struck me as possibly one of the most difficult things for members and factions of the vegan movement to do)
remembering to take the time to take care of yourself
being willing to have an open mind when new information presents itself
being willing to have an open heart when new feelings present themselves
learning from other species who in some ways are much smarter than we are
showing gratitude for what you have and anything that IS going right
knowing that real change will likely take far more time than you'd like
pacing yourself for the long haul, and
did I mention being humble enough to say you're sorry? ;)
* obsolete in the sense that we longer need to convince folk to go vegan as animal use and consumption will be a thing of the past, hurrah!
When I saw the comic below (many moons ago now), I burst out laughing.
Funny thing is, it was posted on a decidedly non-vegan site whose author used this to illustrate the folly and error of vegan ways. Kinda backfired methinks, because when you show the absurdity of one concept (quick rule of thumb for the "but plants have feelings too!" folk -- if a carrot doesn't scream when you lop its top off, it likely can't feel pain), it can actually strengthen the argument for another. In this case, the idea of showing solidarity for farmed animals in the many animal walks now common in numerous cities and countries. Not quite sure if the illustrator was also trying to poke fun at us, but hey, we should all (vegans and non-vegans alike) be able to see the humour in whatever it is that we do. The stereotype though, that vegans are unable to do this, is one that's gotta go. Plus it's one of the cop-out ways to try and discredit a group or movement. Cuz you know, all those feminists don't have a sense of humour either. Or anyone who doesn't laugh at a rape joke. Humour can be a double-edged sword: used wisely it can educate while entertain, cutting through bullshit in mere seconds, but sadly can also be used to keep tired myths and progressive groups in place.
Something else that made me laugh a while back even though it maybe wasn't supposed to, was a comment made by a character on Coronation Street, the world's longest-running TV soap and one of the few shows I won't have interrupted. I can't quite remember the context (although I believe it was Kylie talking about food allergies), and I'm paraphrasing here, but basically the line went something like this: Some people can't eat cows, some can't eat pork, others can't eat shellfish, and don't even get me started on vegans. I'm not sure why this prompted a loud guffaw on my part, but I suspect it was the unexpected -- hearing the word "vegan" on a television show, even in a derogatory way, is still novel enough that it pleases me enormously. Veganism has become mainstream enough to be made fun of (remember that humour can be a defense mechanism and non-vegans have a lot to be defensive about), so like it or not, vegan jokes are here to stay. Until of course the tipping point is reached and what is currently considered a minority stance becomes a majority one. But until then, let 'em laugh, because you know the old saying, she who laughs last... ;)