Friday, December 27, 2013

Not a diet, a lifestyle change!

We've all heard this. So what does it mean?

Diet

Your food choices must change for life (unless you mean to join the yo-yo club). And so your food choices must not only help you lose weight (plant-based diets are great for this) but also be healthy enough to do forever (again, plant-based diets get the tick).

+ Exercise

"You can't exercise off a bad diet" (I certainly spent enough years trying) and "80% diet, 20% exercise" is flooding the internet. Exercise is still a potent health weapon, and a Stanford study showed that changing both food and exercise habits at the same time had the greatest results. The National Weight Loss Registry confirms this.

= Lifestyle Change?

So: food and exercise. That's a lot of important change. Surely that's a lifestyle change?

Yes. And probably, no.

Adopting successful new food and exercise habits, with results you see and feel every day, is highly motivating. Why would you ever go back, when the change is so rewarding? Why indeed. Could it be there was a bigger reason for the bad habits?

Home. Friends. Family. Job. Hobbies. Money. Relationships. Mental health... the wider context for poor choices of all flavours. Fail to address your whole lifestyle and expect to reach the end of the honeymoon with your food/exercise successes. Expect to wonder why you can't do the right things anymore even though you know what they are.

Losing weight does not solve the problem of you working too much, or too little, or hating your job, or feeling unappreciated or lonely, or just plain wanting more from life. And if your coping strategies made you fat before, they can do it again.

The big picture

Losing weight through diet and exercise is hard. But a lifestyle change may be even harder.

Seeking the why of your stresses could lead you into deep waters. Your job, your home, your relationships...and like it or not, you may need professional help and crazy solutions if your familiar DIY approach leads you in ever-increasing circles.

Asking real questions and demanding better answers from yourself is key to a lifestyle change.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Why "Birth Rape" is rape

Samantha Thurlby-Brooks' controversial piece, Socially Accepted Violence Against Pregnant and Labouring Women was written for women just like me.

To add to her excellent discussion, I will address a comment she received, stating "The very real and troubling trend of violence and rape against women and the attempts to highlight it are not served well by calling everything rape and violence." Rape and justice in our society has been a hot topic recently. I salute all those who have shared their highly personal stories.

This commenter questioned the very idea of elevating some birth experiences to compare them with rape. This idea of "birth rape" is already very controversial.

This is my answer.

What happened to me?

This was sort of Part 2 of our horrific birth experience. Part 1 is too long to tell in full, but went from a planned home birth, to learning about our baby's abnormal status by hearing it shouted by the sonographer down the hall to the receptionist, to being told impatiently that catheterisation would be much easier if I would just relax, and going under the general anaesthetic for my caesarean in tears.

Part 2 is also too long to tell in full. My husband visited me in recovery to share that we had a boy, and he was doing all right, so I thought at least the worst was over. It seemed I could feel myself continue to bleed, but the nurses assured me everything was OK. Eventually, a sudden blood pressure drop confirmed I was hemorrhaging.

Someone (doctor, nurse, I don't know) tried to stop the bleeding using pressure. That means she stuck most of her hand up my vagina as far as my cervix while pushing very hard on my abdomen with the other hand to squeeze my uterus in between. Many times, removing and reinserting her hand. As my husband watched in horror, until he was hustled away. (Note: this was my stitched-up abdomen, and a vagina that had not experienced any labour stretching.)

When I finally screamed, a male doctor decided to put gauze in some forceps and push that up my vagina to my cervix instead. He thought this might be more comfortable, and seemed honestly taken aback when I screamed again.

This did not stop the bleeding. I truly believed I could die before seeing my first child, because they seemed to be doing their worst and yet I was still bleeding.

The rest of the story is more typically medical, with lots of needles desperately hunting veins, transfusions, and drugs, leading eventually to "a healthy mother and a healthy baby."

10 reasons this is rape

This is a horrifying story, and it was a horrifying experience, but how can I justify calling it rape? All I know about rape is what I've heard from others. So here's a little list.

1 This was intimate trauma involving sexual parts of my body, which is embarrassing to discuss While sharing trauma in a safe environment can be key to healing, there are few such safe environments
2 A story so personal and shocking that it makes most people uncomfortable and uncertain how to react and connect with me. As above. People often ask "how was the birth?" But I am discouraged from being "that woman" who tells her awful story around pregnant women, spreading bad energy.
3 Seeking understanding or justice requires reliving the trauma When I shared my perspective with the medical team, they were defensive against possible official action, not understanding. The harder I try to provide the details to make my point, the more painful it is each time.
4 The destruction of trust and birth of fear This experience colours all my medical experiences, and I have no way to fully trust a medical professional again.
5 Damage to future sexual relationships I could not have penetrative sex for more than a year
6 Damage to physical and emotional wellbeing, and the need to carry on with life regardless I needed extensive therapy for my PTSD, both after the birth and before my next birth. 8 years later, I still suffer physical symptoms of the trauma, like hyperreaction to being touched. And there was a very small baby that needed my care.
7 The desperate drive to know "Why did this happen to me?" It's natural to seek some measure of control by asking why, seeking answers, and placing (or accepting) blame. I did it, and so did many other people involved.
8 ... and the rest of the neverending post-mortem There is no end to it.
Why didn't I call for help if it was so bad? (I was in total shock and hoped it would all go away if I was still. Also, I didn't believe anybody could help.)
But it was done to save me and I signed a medical release form... (Complicity in my own rape.)
9 It happened a long time ago, so why should it still be an issue? "You are clinging to this." "It's time to move on." "It wasn't that bad." "At least you survived." "All that matters is that you have a healthy baby." "You should own your birth experience."
10 It happens more than we want to believe or accept Usually, what happens at the hospital stays at the hospital. But just ask Samantha Thurlby-Brooks, who has listened to women's experiences without the apologist filter on.


Any of that sound familiar?

Worse? Better? Different?

Clearly there are aspects of sexual-predator-rape which can't apply to my experience. There are also unique aspects to birth rape. Of course there are worse stories than mine - rape stories, birth stories - but let's not make it a competition.

In no way do I seek to distract attention from women who have suffered rape. I seek, like them, not to be trivialised or dismissed due to ignorance, discomfort, and silence.







Monday, October 7, 2013

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Chicken - it's the new veal

Thanks to animal activists, most of us know about the extreme industrial cruelty involved in turning calves into veal, or force-feeding geese and ducks to give them fatty livers for foie gras.

Also recently highlighted - the cruelty of battery cages for egg-laying hens. But why would anyone hold a vigil for broiler chickens?

Sound silly? In fact, chicken on the menu is as much an ethical nightmare as veal or foie gras.

7 ways chicken is like veal

Broiler chickens and veal calves are both:
  1. Taken from their mothers
  2. Kept inside all their lives with only artificial light to control eating and activity
  3. Live all their lives with very little room to move - therefore can't move or develop properly
  4. Fed specifically to meet market requirements rather than health
  5. Medicated to prevent diseases caused by their living conditions
  6. At high risk of dying even before before slaughter time
  7. Very young when killed (broiler chickens are only 5-7 weeks old at slaughter)
And a few extra horrors, just for the chicks
  1. Their sheds are not cleaned out in their entire lives, so they live in increasingly deep piles of toxic ammoniac chicken waste.
  2. They have been bred to put on so much weight, so quickly, that they cannot balance on their legs as they grow. So they spend twice as much time sitting in, and breathing, that waste pile.
  3. Since they often can't walk, they are grabbed in bunches and carried by their legs when they are gathered for slaughter. This often breaks their legs (if their legs are not already broken).
Care for a game of Tic-Tac-Toe?

“It is now clear that [chickens] have cognitive capacities equivalent to those of mammals, even primates.”
—Dr Lesley Rogers, professor of Neuroscience and Animal Behaviour, University of New England.

Chickens may not be your favourite animal. But any animal with enough brains to learn to play a tune or even a silly game deserves better than this. Follow a broiler chicken through his short life here...

Please enjoy your personal choice - use it well and kindly.

Substitutes for chicken

"What’s key is to remember to season any dish that contains a vegetarian chicken substitute. It is not the substitute but the seasonings that simulate the taste of chicken."




Thursday, August 29, 2013

In a vegan tomorrow, would vegans be happy?

Bad celebration picture. Fireworks aren't vegan.
Imagine it! Tomorrow - no animal farms torturing animals for profit. No enslaved mother cows and orphaned baby calves. No more animals being skinned alive for their fur. No more male chicks being ground up or smothered in plastic bags. No more reading labels for casein, whey, lard, gelatine...

Think of the vegan celebrations! Vegans worldwide would be so happy...

Maybe. For a little while, anyway.

Making a better world

Vegans would be happy if all the above happened. But it wouldn't be long before other targets arose. Because the only one who shares your exact vision is you. A vegan world, overnight or gradual, might still not grant your wishes.

Would a vegan world still have:
  • carnivorous companion animals
  • uncontrolled human population growth
  • abortion
  • pest control
  • religion
  • political parties
  • guns
  • nuclear power
  • wars
  • fake meat
  • junk food
  • economic divide
  • humans being stupid and selfish
etc?

Vegan wars are legendary. Many vegan activists would quickly move on to the next global problem, or argue that the world is not vegan enough yet.

Hypothetical, so who cares?

The world today is imperfect. But a vegan world would still be imperfect, with problems desperately needing solutions. (The house will never be clean, and the world will never be perfect.)

We absolutely, positively need people who work to make the world a better place. Humans are great problem-solvers.

But activist burnout is very real and dangerous to mental health. Every day, a vegan shares anger and despair over the billions of animals suffering right now, or the people responsible. Every day, even more vegans feel but don't share.The knowledge of the problems leads to a feeling of overwhelming responsibility. There is no end to the problems, and one human, or one group, can't encompass the solution.

So today, while we work for a better world, we also must make space every day to celebrate, personally, the good things about this one. If we forget to enjoy this world, how will we remember how to enjoy a better one?

What is one good thing about your world today?



Thursday, August 1, 2013

1 Simple Step to Say No to Plastic Shopping Bags (and still take out the rubbish)

We all know how bad plastic bags are for our earth.

Watch an orca calf and a dolphin experiencing the wonder of a plastic bag that could have been yours, for all you know. We all know that we should be taking reusable bags or boxes to the stores, and sometimes we even remember.

(For more motivation, check out the free film Addicted to Plastic.)

But it can be hard to turn down a free bag, and lots of us still find those plastic shopping bags useful around the house, especially as liners for messy kitchen rubbish bins. Even though I work hard to reduce my waste, so did I - until now.

One Simple Step - Attitude Adjustment

"Nom, nom....nom?"
Many foods already come in plastic packages. So now, your empty bags are not rubbish, they are rubbish bags.

In other words, don't use bags to throw away more bags.

How?

I buy several products in bulk, so this is simple for our house. When a bag of rice, pretzels or chips is empty, I trim off the top and put it under the sink near the kitchen bin.
  • They aren't 100% clean, but they won't stay there for too long anyway.
  • They aren't the perfect size, but remember the orcas and dolphins?
Even if you don't buy in bulk, you will probably have other moderate-size grocery items you can use. Regular cereal and chip bags can hold a good amount of messy mess.

Use your imagination; it is worth it. Orcas and dolphins and turtles and seals. I even use the bags that hold toilet paper - they're not very strong but they can still hold their share for long enough to get to the big bins.
"Does this scarf look good on me?"

It Really Works

I now really really hate to see new plastic shopping bags come into the house. "What am I going to do with that? My bag holder is totally full!"

And I still have several food bags waiting under the sink to hold the kitchen mess.

Another plastic reduction tip

Never put a half-empty plastic bag in the rubbish. When you're throwing stuff away in a plastic bag, and if you're not late for a visit to the Dalai Lama, take a few extra steps around your house and find other rubbish to fill up that bag.

No Such Thing as a Free Plastic Bag

Three cheers for those stores who now charge a small fee to help you think twice about getting a plastic bag!

"Squawk! Thank You!"


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

10 Skills to Avoid Going Crazy as an Internet Admin...I mean Parent. Whatever.

The legal age for a Facebook account is 13, but some days you wouldn't know it. Some days, anonymity, distance, and free access to a keyboard make a few people forget the manners their parents taught them.

Here are some positive tips for in-charge wranglers of all ages.  

  1. Have firm, simple ground rules. Repeat often.
  2. Remember that there will be arguments, and your best ground rules won't prevent this.
  3. Stay out of the arguments.
  4. Practice taking deep breaths and counting to 10 before responding. Or even walk away for a short time.
  5. Bite your tongue until it bleeds. Point-scoring is not a winning strategy.
  6. Remember there is always a reason behind freaky, confusing behaviour. Seek that reason instead of reacting to the behaviour.
  7. Let them repeat their mistakes, even though you will see it coming.
  8. Remember you can't please everybody.
  9. Nobody will agree on who started it - just finish it if you can.
  10. Keep your eye on the big picture
And good luck! You'll need it...

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Fit Quickies - who wants to get fit fast?

The book looks much nicer than the braces.
Lani Muelrath, I was so pleased to get my copy of Fit Quickies! (Lani and I both did Dr T Colin Campbell's Certificate of Plant-Based Nutrition...)

Introducing Lani and the Fit Quickies

The first two chapters cover the book's promises to you, Lani's history, and how the Fit Quickies were developed. Don't skip this, or you'll miss out on the three pillars of successful Body Transformation:
  • Exercise
  • Diet
  • Mind-set
Yes, this is an exercise how-to book that acknowledges that exercise can only ever be one part of the solution. It also celebrates your actions toward a healthier and more useful body.

This is Lani's special set of isolation exercises drawn from her dance training and conditioning classes, targeted at our least-used muscles.

Exercise

Lani tells us all about why exercise is essential to health. She covers the benefits and SMART goals for getting you on track. Next, a crucial discussion on how much exercise you need: to be healthy and have a strong cardiorespiratory system, strong muscles, and a flexible and coordinated body.  

She also takes a stand on sitting. Your body's health also suffers if you spend a lot of time sitting or lying down, even if you also do exercise on the same day! Are you an active couch potato? She provides some practical solutions for nonexercise activity to get you going.

Lastly, she talks about workout duration. Since we now know that many short workouts is as beneficial as one longer workout, we can now move onto the Fit Quickies.

Top Quickies 1, 2, 3!

Belly, inner thighs, and back of the upper arm. Definitely a familiar list for those of us after more toning.

In all of the Quickies, Lani gives us some background on the muscles involved in the problem area and the benefits of the exercise before setting out exactly how to do it for maximum effect.

I like this because it gives me some hints on how to work these muscles in everyday life even if I'm not doing a Fit Quickie routine. For example, if I'm walking, now I know I can swing my arms back straight and challenge that triceps muscle each time.

And at the end, we learn the perfect stretch for the muscles we just worked.

Fit Quickies Continues

Next, Lani gets to the bottom of, well, your bottom, and then moves on to the exercises all around your body: waist, thighs, upper body, etc.

The gluteal and waist exercises immediately and fondly reminded me of exercises from Callanetics, which I did back in the last millennium (and the exercises still work). The main difference is that with Callanetics, you are encouraged to do all the exercises in a single workout. With Fit Quickies, you can sneak them in here, there, and everywhere.

Fit Quickie Combos

Once she's shown us all the Fit Quickie exercises, there's a short chapter on willpower and how to get it before she suggests some routines of selected Fit Quickies to work particular areas of the body, or fuller workouts.

Nutrition

Fit Quickies are great, but they can't counteract the effects of a poor diet. This chapter outlines Lani's lifelong journey and struggles toward her current success with a whole-foods, plant-based, low-fat diet. We learn what hunger and satisfaction really mean at a physical level, and how we can use that to achieve our health goals.

She shares how she builds her meals, a typical day's menu and a food journal for a day. Then she addresses some common dietary information conflicts, including CARBS!

Getting Mental

She wraps up the story with some finishing chapters on motivation, mind-set, and moving forward. These recommendations are useful for any area of your life.

What I love about this book

The photos

Lani is in the photos demonstrating the exercise positions. And she looks like herself. She's healthy looking and fit, but there's no airbrushed model thing going on. She's a real person. I noticed that, and I love it.

Simplicity

Almost all the exercises need no special equipment. A chair or table, a playground ball, a towel... I'm happy that I already have an exercise ball (when the kids let me have a turn).


Wish List

Just a couple of little things!

The order

It's ordered by the Fit Quickie number, and I'm not already familiar with them. So I often can't find an exercise in the book quickly. The Quickies move all around the body areas.

Say it in pictures

There's a lot of valuable info with each Quickie. But this has ended up with lots of long descriptive paragraphs that I've found hard to study and absorb. I really want to learn these exercises by heart so I can use them whenever I'm at my standing desk or watching a movie or some other inactivity. But I'm still not there with all of them yet.

So I would love for each Quickie to start with a labelled diagram or photo showing as much as possible with short phrases and pointers to the part of the body that's going to be working out.

Learning the moves


Prevention recently consulted Lani on the "10 Most Useless Exercise Machines. Ditch these time wasters for moves that really matter." Fit Quickies is the book with all the moves that really matter.



Lani Muelrath (MA, CGFI, CPBN, FNS)
The Plant-Based Fitness Expert (www.lanimuelrath.com)

Lani is the Best-Selling Author of Fit Quickies:  5 Minute Targeted Body Shaping Workouts with plant-based diet and creator of Lani Muelrath's Plant-Based Blueprint. Lani specializes in helping people who struggle with health, weight and energy levels transform their bodies - and their lives - without going hungry or grueling, excessive exercise.

Lani Muelrath is presenter and celebrity coach for the 21-Day PCRM Vegan Kickstart and VegRun Programs, and fitness adviser for the Dr. John McDougall Health and Medical Center discussion boards.  A guest lecturer in Kinesiology at San Francisco State University, Lani Muelrath is a presenter for the Complete Health Improvement Project (CHIP) and associate professor in Kinesiology at Butte College


Recently featured on ABC TV, CBS TV and Huffington Post, Lani holds a Master's degree and several teaching credentials in Physical Education, and holds multiple fitness certifications including fitness Instructor from the American Council on Exercise, Yoga, and Pilates-based instruction from the PhysicalMind Institute, and over 30 years of experience as health educator and coach.   She is the health and fitness expert for Vegan Mainstream, contributing author for VegWorld Magazine, and Plant-based Fitness and Healthy Living Examiner Examiner.com. She is certified in Plant-Based Nutrition through Cornell University and holds a Fitness Nutrition Specialist Advanced Credential from the National Academy of Sports Medicine.
 

Lani created and starred in her own CBS TV show, "Lani's All-Heart Aerobics." Recipient of the Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Instruction, she regularly speaks and writes about healthy living, plant-based nutrition, weight loss, and fitness. She overcame her own lifetime struggle with weight over more than 15 years ago when she lost 50 pounds, which she has maintained easily with the tools that she uses to coach others to be successful with in weight loss, body shaping, and health.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Vegan Chocolate Crumb Brownies and 3 more frugal bread crust recipes

I love to transform food so it is appealing and doesn't go to waste.  

My family eats lots of bread, but not the ends. (Good luck with this trick to get rid of them. Let me know whether your kids are fooled.)

So we always have annoying frozen bread end collections. Here's how to use them up and enjoy it!

1. We're Bakin' Brownies!

I've totally transformed a brownie recipe so it's vegan, delicious, and uses up heaps of breadcrumbs...

  • 2/3 cup nondairy milk
  • 2 Tbsp nondairy margarine (opt)
  • 1 tsp vanilla (opt)
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 6 cups medium-fine soft bread crumbs (made in food processor, mine were quite chunky)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 3/4 cups brown sugar, packed (or 1 cup + 2Tbsp molasses + 1/8 tsp stevia)
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts or desiccated coconut (opt)
  • 1/2 cup vegan chocolate chips (opt)
  • 1 mashed ripe banana (opt)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon (opt)
  • 2 egg (replacer equivalent)
They go quickly - here's one left!
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F (175 C) and (if not nonstick) spray a 8-inch square baking pan or similar (I used a round cake pan).
  2. Melt nondairy milk and margarine and add sifted cocoa powder and vanilla - stir
  3. In large mixing bowl, combine bread crumbs, baking powder, sugar and nuts/optional extras.
  4. Stir in cocoa mixture and brown sugar; beat until combined.
  5. In separate bowl, prepare egg replacer.
  6. Combine with bread mixture until all ingredients are moistened. Add more nondairy milk or water if not moist enough to make smooth sticky batter (bread crumbs are hard to measure exactly).
  7. Spread evenly in prepared pan. Bake 30 minutes or until done. Cool completely on wire rack.
Loved by the whole family (the brownies...and me, of course)!

2. Dipping Toasties

These are much quicker than croutons and make soup night a bit more special.
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F (175 C)
  2. Cut at least 2 bread ends in half for each person eating
  3. Spread with your choice of:
  • Marmite or other yeast spread
  • Vegan margarine or olive oil
  • Refried beans
  • Salsa
  • Vegan cheese
  • Hummus
  • Herb/seasoned salt sprinkle
Place on oven tray and bake until just barely brown - keep careful watch as the edges can get burned easily

Serve with soup, spread with more goodies like guacomole....yum!

3. Vegan Fruit Pudding

This frugal pudding can be made with practically whatever you've got.
 

4. Vegan Stuffing

This savoury stuffing is great for the festive season or anytime it's chilly.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

G is for Gifted and that's good enough for me...

Thanks a million, Sesame Street!
...and now I want a cookie.

The G Word

The G Word (gifted) is very much on my mind right now.

I've just opened discussions within our local gifted group about our name: I would like the name to feature "gifted" more prominently, others have very valid concerns about the impact of such a change.

My personal experience with the label of giftedness started very early, with the introduction of a gifted program at my primary school.

The very real impact of gifted labelling and separation continues as a divisive issue throughout generations of our family.

As for our children, any bonuses they may score from being gifted must be weighed against the other attributes they inherit or must otherwise endure in a gifted family.

So, what are the Pros and Cons?

This isn't a new topic, so here are some discussions:
For me, being gifted is the true divider. Not the label - that's far less visible. So our children have enjoyed gifted educational programmes like Small Poppies and Gifted Kids, as well as the more social Explorers.

Owning Gifted

No doubt, there is a cringe factor out there for “gifted”. But what message do we send when we cringe too?  How will our gifted children feel if the word gifted is so awful we can barely say it?

Even more telling than the cringe factor is the public lack of understanding even of the basics of what gifted means...and what it doesn't. While happy to acknowledge levels in sporting prowess, the world is horribly and hypocritically cruel about differing intellectual capabilities. Consider the word "retarded," which is simply derived from a Latin word meaning "delayed" yet has been allowed to become an insult.

Today, when image means everything, can we afford not to say "gifted" as often as possible, with our message of choice attached? Can we own the word gifted instead of letting it be used against us?



This post has been written for the NZ Gifted Awareness Week Blog Tour. Check it all out!

Jessica Parsons is the mother of two gifted children and the president of Explorers, the Auckland branch of the NZ Association for Gifted Children.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Good vs evil: Join the Activist Fan Club

As my children get older, I have the perfect excuse to enjoy epic children's adventures - again, for Narnia or The Lord of the Rings or Star Wars - for the first time, with Harry Potter.

In real life, I'm scornful of the idea that anyone is better simply by birth, but discovering that grungy Aragorn is the Heir of Isildur, or that weedy Harry is actually a wizard, fires my imagination. Why?

It's always the same: the fight between good and evil. Imagining there are people who dedicate their lives and risk their own safety to stop bad people doing bad things...it's inspiring and compelling. And fans of these epics pour limitless energy into keeping the fantasy alive, all for the good feelings.

Making the magic real


What if some of that energy were used in the real world? In real life, a dark wizard rarely lives in a tower on a smoking volcano as a target for the good guys. But evil is out there. Or, if you don't like the word evil, there are people and groups in the world who are doing great harm for their own benefit. And there are people trying to stop them.

Millions eagerly watch Frodo toiling along with his hopeless task. Why aren't we equally excited for our real-life heroes who actually do dedicate their lives and risk their own safety to do the right thing?

Hen's Night is a short movie with no special effects. It shows real people working long and extremely hard to make one brief public statement simply because they hate how horribly animals suffer when they are farmed for food. They hope the truth will eventually make a difference.

Activists like Noam Chomsky and  Penny Bright spend their lives telling everybody about the corruption of the people in power over us. We know power corrupts; why aren't more of us cheering them on?

Maybe we need more special effects.

The power of the dark side

Real-life activists won't get encased in anything as cool as carbonite. Instead, they risk jailtime, fines, beatings, or even death, for saying out loud what those in charge want kept silent. (some victims: Judi Bari, Rachel Corrie, Mohamed al-Gendy, and more.)

This is exactly the sort of willing self-sacrifice worshipped in fiction. Yet most people roll their eyes, call them troublemakers or conspiracy theorists, or ignore them as time-wasters. If they get hurt, they asked for it.

Even nonviolent activists get called terrorists. The information they share is legally protected by "commercial sensitivity" to protect profits. The new Ag-Gag bills, making it illegal to record what actually happens in an animal farm, should alarm any animal-lover anywhere.

Activist Fan Club

When they rolled down the Ban Cages banner in Hen's Night, that was true magic in action.

I'm a big fan. Who's with me?

Monday, May 20, 2013

Normal Vegans? Are you for real?

Voracious readers and voracious vegans, we have a real problem. Most books aren't written by vegans.

So most stories will, without any warning, launch into lingering descriptions of animal-based meals.

Food in Fiction

Revisiting childhood favourites like the Narnia adventures or Little House on the Prairie can be especially jarring for me. Vegetarians or the health-conscious are usually relegated to being the weirdo minor character, a target for the main characters' mainstream contempt. Remember Eustace and family in Narnia?

It's a rare treat to find even one sympathic vegetarian character in a book (eg, the tough FBI agent Dillon Savich in Catherine Coulter's romantic thrillers).

(Hey. I bet I'm not the only one reading escapist fiction as counterbalance to heavy activism.)

What a thrill to read Sweetheart Deal and meet lead character Lilly, who is a vegetarian so health-aware that she travels with boxes of organic trail mix bars for emergencies. This is a semi-autobiographical character for the author, Claire Matturro, and I'm sure rings a bell for many of us too.

Stereotyping is alive and well

However, we soon discover that lawyer Lilly is not only a vegetarian health foodie but also certifiably neurotic. She's obsessive-compulsive about germs and dirt and fears flying. She is constantly finding similarities between herself and her dysfunctional mother.

So we've advanced from odd vegetarian bit players to a strong, sympathetic, but still very odd vegetarian heroine. "Disappointing and unfair!" I thought. Boo! Booooo!

Or... is it?

Truth Stranger than Fiction?

I'm not normal. I'll happily stand up for my many abnormal choices. And I'm struggling to think of any vegans I know whose only quirk is in their diet. Thinking...thinking...

Instead, the vegans I know would agree with this: 
It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society. (Krishnamurti)
Does a vegan consciousness go naturally hand-in-hand with other social misfittings? 

Stand up and be counted...

Anyone out there want to raise their hands as vegans who are basically normal in all other ways?

Also, please share any cool fiction about vegans. I've almost finished my book.


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Why your work is never done - it's just physics

Does it seem like no matter how hard you work to clean the house and feed everyone, it's always time to do it all over again? You're not imagining things.

You could blame the kids. Those little agents of chaos certainly mess up what you've tidied, devour what you've prepared, leave more mess than their entire body weight... But you're fighting a much bigger battle.

You cannot defy the laws of physics!

There's actually a physical law for mess. The second law of thermodynamics says the entropy (disorder) of the universe must always increase.

So the dirt is trying to take over your house. The toys on the shelves are trying to scramble themselves. The marbles simply love to roll to every corner of the room. And everything, absolutely everything wants to fall to the floor.

But humans are a complex species - we need order to exist. The only real work is our constant fight for that spot of order against this messy universe. And naturally, that is never done. Even while you are cleaning, more dust is settling.

Why bother?

You decide. Here are some abandoned houses, where nobody does what you do.
Photographer: Nathan Ross
See how important you are? You stand each day between your beloved home and natural disasters like these.

Even feeding everybody is part of the battle against impending chaos - as our bodies need fuel to renew the cells that are constantly dying. Creepy, but true. And you even have to prepare the food while it's still fresh - if you don't pay attention, the food wanders to the back of the refrigerator and forms a chaos puddle.


Thankless tasks

  • Cleaning
  • Organising
  • Growing, gathering, and preparing food
  • Teaching
  • Healing
  • ...

The payoff for these is not in completion, but in progress.

Work that can be defined with a beginning, middle, and end, with precise goals to be accomplished and therefore visibly finished and celebrated, is generally a modern invention with very little impact on the real world.

Woman's work?

"A man may work from sun til sun, but a woman's work is never done." This is not because men don't do real work. (No, really, they do.) But in traditional roles, women live in their workplace, and we are constantly faced with the undone work. Men's undone work is usually offsite.

What to do?

We can reduce our own chaos by reducing our belongings. But peace comes with the acceptance that undone work is universal. Literally.

And if anyone hassles you about the state of your house, you can now tell them about entropy and the second law of thermodynamics. They will never bother you again.



Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Ethics vs Health: Crossing the Great Vegan Divide

Photo from Farm Sanctuary
I just got my hands on a copy of The Vegan Sourcebook. It certainly earns its nickname of “The Vegan Bible” – it has a wealth of valuable information, recommendations, and history, and more than a few judgements from on high.

While presenting a vast range of reasons to be vegan, it also repeated how ethics is the strongest motivation and health the weakest, including a very memorable quote from Catherine Nimmo:
If we become vegans because we understand animals and feel great compassion for their sufferings, it is the easiest thing, and proves to be of the greatest benefit for ourselves too; but if we become vegans for health reasons, it seems full of worries based on fear, ignorance, and above all egocentric thinking.
...Read the rest as my guest blog on Josh Latham's My Vegan Cookbook. Trust me, it's worth clicking just to see the cool graphic his twin designed for this post.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

I'm still vegan. Cravings, health, and satisfaction

Oh dear. Another high-profile vegan goes public with her vegan failureAlex Jamieson is most famous as Morgan Spurlock's vegan girlfriend and inspiration in the iconic movie, Supersize Me.

Ravings on Cravings

I've heard plenty of much less famous people talk about craving animal food "after a while of not having any." But in 17 years without animal foods, I've never had these cravings. When I'm not near animal food, I don't even think about it.

When a smoker craves nicotine, it's a dangerous addiction. When an alcoholic craves just one drink, we recommend medication and support. When someone craves a sugar hit, we don't applaud their instincts and buy them chocolate.

But a craving for animal products is the body asking for what it naturally needs? Let's think again.

I have not yet reached vegan nirvana - I'm not disgusted by all animal products. I still enjoy the smell of cooking meat, eggs, or cheese. However, I have no drive to eat them, perhaps because I am already fully satisfied - not only with my awareness of cruel the animal industry is, but also all the evidence on how unhealthy animal products are for my body.

Even when I was clinically vitamin-B12-deficient and had a series of injections as treatment, I did not feel any craving for animal products with their B12 (and cholesterol, saturated fat, etc). Where were my body's "natural cravings" then?

Vegan Diet Satisfaction

Alex described her long struggles against her cravings. (Hint 1: if you're craving your friends' meat burgers, it might be time to eat with different friends.) But her weapons were apparently green juices and nuts, for extra nutrition. Here's 30BananasADay's reaction to her story.  

For any diet change to work, you must be nourished and satisfied. I stopped eating animals on the recommendations of Dr John McDougall, who supports a very low fat but satisfying starch-based diet with sound medical references and overwhelming clinical success.

The only limitations on starches are if you are trying to lose a lot of weight fast (which clearly, Alex did not need). Could this starch satisfaction be the reason I've never craved animals?

Veganism vs Your Health?

Most people won't stay vegan if they feel bad and only get worse. Of course not.

Alex believed she was an ethical vegan, but she changed because she felt bad and couldn't find the solution. She is not the first. Others complain of unwanted weight gain after going vegan.

Here's a true vegan health crisis story to admire. This woman was not just enduring a few cravings on her high-raw vegan diet, and she persisted until she found a vegan solution.

Given these stories, shouldn't vegans pay more attention to good health as a major and necessary support for the vegan cause? Instead, we hear that it's a nice benefit if it happens, but not the real reason to be vegan. Or worse, that health considerations hinder the vegan cause and damage vegan outreach.

If "veganism is not about health" because of its origins, isn't it time to accept that the vegan health horse has long since bolted and is not going to return quietly to the stable no matter how much we shout? We have to deal.

Let's promote sound vegan health information, instead of just distancing ourselves from the bad...even if only so that ethical vegans don't suffer health crises in public. It's not a good look.

I don't have all the answers, and I'm certainly not perfect. But I am still vegan.




Thursday, February 28, 2013

Beauty skin deep? 10 reasons for no makeup


This post is inspired by the popular Pinterest site, Don't Compare Yourself to Celebrities.

"To sell beauty products, advertisers must constantly convince you to fix, update, or conceal something about your natural look. This sends the message that the authentic you is repulsive. Problem is, the "perfection" in ads, catalogs, and movies is mostly computer-generated, always changing, and unrealistic...."


Check this site out; you'll learn a lot.

What I learned

Digital manipulation is insane and indefensible. We are being shown images that are not real, and deep inside our brain is filing away the data. But the photos I found most striking were the very few celebrities who were genuinely au natural - with no makeup.


Heidi Klum
Liv Tyler
Reese Witherspoon
Kerry Washington

They could be anybody on the street. They could be real people. Wow.

You're not stupid. You know Hollywood and the media are not real. But something inside you is probably still surprised to see it. You are constantly being shown images that are not real, and deep inside your brain is filing away the data.

Makeup is performing a low-tech version of the digital crime of airbrushing. It's a great reason to stay away from mass media, but it's been in everyday life for centuries too. We often don't want to accept that we look like that too. We are image-conscious - conscious of what we look like, captured in a media moment.

"fix, update, or conceal something about your natural look" "the authentic you is repulsive" 

  • Your skin is not good enough the way you woke up this morning - cover it to make it look smoother.
  • Your eyes are not big enough, add some colour to make them look bigger.
  • Your eyelashes are not long enough, extend them. 
  • Your eyebrows are not dark enough; shape and redraw them
  • Your lips are the wrong colour...
Just Good Grooming?

I welcome all comments on this anti-social idea, but one I expect to hear is:
There's nothing wrong with looking a bit better with a bit of makeup - it's just part of good grooming. 
We all understand what we expect to see when a woman is "making an effort" or "is really well-groomed." The image generally includes makeup.

Strangely though, men are able to be well-groomed in daily life by being clean and tidy. Even when their eyes look just the same size as when they had breakfast. When their skin looks like their skin, instead of polished porcelain or smooth brown acorns. When their lips are...lip-coloured. All day. That's what we expect. (Shaving? Good point, related but separate issue.)

It's a complex issue, but in our society, when men wear makeup, they're often considered gay or vain. So since it's not only acceptable, but an improvement, for women to wear makeup to look really good, does that mean being vain is considered part of womanhood?

Makeup challenge

Would you go makeup free for a week?  

If that's too shocking for you and the world, would you go with less each day until you faced the mirror and the world with no makeup, beautiful as you are?

You may have many reasons why not. Here are a few great reasons to do it. 

Why? 
  1. Save time
  2. Save money and packaging waste
  3. Save your skin - let it breathe
  4. Save water and avoid chemicals required to clean makeup off daily
  5. Save your clothes (and other people's) from makeup stains  
  6. Kiss your loved ones without worrying about "your look" 
  7. Live life actively - exercise, run and play with the kids - without worrying about "your look" 
  8. Set a good example to your daughters, or other people's, about really being happy with yourself as you are. Walk your talk.
  9. Set a good example to other women - don't raise the bar artificially on female beauty
  10. Help the animals - vegans and vegetarians constantly seek beauty products that don't harm animals, and they regularly find that their favourite brand was lying or has changed their policy.

True beauty habits

With the time (and money) you save on makeup, you could adopt a daily habit that would change your health and your look from within.
  1. Make and drink a green smoothie
  2. Eat a fresh fruit or vegetable
  3. Start some whole-grains cooking for later
  4. Do a Fit Quickie or some yoga 
  5. Meditate
  6. Sit with your family for a few minutes - hug or talk
  7. Just be on time instead of stressed and rushed... 
 That's a makeover you can keep.
 
Comfortable in your skin

When you are feeling confident, strong, happy, and engaged with your life, you are beautiful. The rest is just made up.