Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Shame And Writing

Another class I'm taking this semester, "Humiliation" (great name, isn't it?) deals with shame and humiliation in texts. As I've never before written publicly the way that I do on this blog, I thought it might be interesting to share my little experience as a person who writes blogs, in view of the theories and ideas presented in this class of mine. We read a text by Kristeva which was totally over my head and in which I found myself desolately alone, yet I seem to have taken something from it. The shame of the writer with her work.

Note to myself: I first wrote "his" and changed it to "her."

Each blog that I've here written I've at first felt violently adamant about, then decided to put into action, into words of action, then let simmer until all the juices pervaded each corner, and then, after some time, revisited my old flames and felt a pronounced feeling of shock at reading my very own personal words on a page visible to all. As my followers grow, so does my insecurity. A blog that has no followers is not much more than a journal to oneself. A blog, however, that has a following is more of a social consciousness, even if none read it, just to me. So I read my online-published work and I feel shame. I feel ashamed. My thoughts are here for you to read and I'm sure that in a few days time these words that I'm writing now will be the source of a new generation of shame. I'm generating shame.

Though this, on the surface, has no thing* to do with veganism or my movement towards it (I had a wonderfully not-so-vegan lunch that included free-range eggs, but like I stated before, that just happens to be where I draw my vegan line), a little below the surface the truth becomes slightly visible. Part of what shames me into a type of writers-abjection is the subject matter upon which I spew day in and day out. How relevant can eating non-dairy and non-meat products possibly be? How vain am I to believe that this which I heave into this rectangular text box is worthy of the time it'll take out of your life to digest, mentally (even if you don't want to chew the cud, you may be forced to, by exterior forces). Somehow publicly stating my aversion to cruelty to animals carries with it a sense of shame. Shame on me that I cannot turn a blind eye! Shame on me that I will not support that with which I do not agree. Shame on me, and shame on me, and shame I feel. Shame on me for being an island of change in my life. And this has been a wayward blog. And maybe there will be more born of the self same intent and intense-ity. And maybe there won't.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Vegan Camping

Hey everyone. So I just got back from a two-day (which was supposed to be three-day) weekend camping upstate for the Russian song festival "Garmoshka." It was a truly wonderful experience and if anyone speaks Russian (or has a translator), check out the website: Garmoshka. I think the pictures and videos from this weekend will be up in a month or so and you should check it out. It's an absolutely amazing experience!

As a vegan, it's always a challenge to go camping, especially when with meat eating family members, but it wasn't as bad as I expected. I didn't even have to pull out the eggplant-in-a-box that I brought with me. All in all it was amazing.

There is something about which I need to vent, just a little. I had my dog, Charlie, with me. He's a miniature poodle, about 23 pounds, neutered. He's generally pretty good with other dogs, recently has taken a marked disliking to pugs, but usually dog-savvy. There was a couple who had their tents near ours and they had a gorgeous brindle Bullmastiff with them, unneutered and just brilliant to look at. My mother told me that they had said he was generally friendly, but would be kept tethered to the table, just to make sure nothing happened, and that we shouldn't worry regarding our dog, or us. I thought it was a nice gesture, especially because they have a large and intimidating dog (I love large and intimidating dogs as much as I do smaller and less intimidating dogs, but I believe that when you have a dog that may very well scare less dog-savvy people, it's your prerogative to be responsible for upholding a good name for the breed and being a responsible dog owner. This, of course, also holds true for owners of smaller dogs, but is just that much more pressing for a large-breed dog owner). So generally, I had a good impression of these people, they had a beautiful dog, in great shape, and they seemed to be responsible caretakers. Later on that day, I was playing with Charlie and I heard a commotion over by the Bullmastiff table. They really weren't very far from us, and as I looked over, it seemed as though the dog had lunged or jumped or ran at something and knocked over the metal ring surrounding the fire pit in which there seemed to have been embers. The (male) owner of the dog proceeded to knock the dog in his face with his fist, repeatedly, smacked him, kicked him, shouted, yelled, cursed him, shoved him around. After all this, he went to fix the fire pit ring, and then went over to the dog again, who was submissively swaying his tail, ears back, whites of his eyes showing, and cowering. Then it seemed the dog was in some pain (apart from nearly having his head bashed in) from the fire pit and had burned a good part of his jowls. All of a sudden the emotionality attached to dog-owning kicked in and everyone (the female owner finally got involved) was fussing over the dog with paper towels and compresses, making sure that he wasn't hurt. This kind of attitude towards animals is what enrages me to no extent. I should have said something, I should have stormed over there and gave them a piece of my mind, but I didn't. All I could do was hold my own dog and promise him that he'd never be so abused at my own hand, or any hand.

I don't really know what else I can say regarding that Bullmastiff. It's a pity that men like his owner feel that they need to resort to violence with their pets.

On a lighter note, I found a pretty good breaded eggplant in the frozen section of my local supermarket which, unfortunately, has a poor selection of vegan options. I cooked it with some whole grain couscous for dinner and it was quite delicious. I need to buy some potatoes to make an old favorite -- fried mushrooms, onions, and potatoes. Yum!

Until next time, I hope fewer animals are harmed and we can do what we can to ensure we don't support anything or one that may cause harm to them!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Where to Draw The Line . . .

As a vegetarian, I would eat the rice or vegetables off a plate, even if it shared the plate with a piece of meat, because to me they are separate entities. I wouldn't normally freak out if the broccoli "touched" the chicken breast. What I've always had an issue with is if it's cooked with the meat. Generally, in something like a stew, that's a no-no for me, the fat from the meat is definitely absorbed by the vegetables or gratins and that's not OK with me. Where I am slightly confused is in a dish where, though the meat and rice/vegetables are cooked in the same pot, they don't mix until the cook mixes them post cooking time. Let's say the meat is at the very bottom, comprising 1/3 of the pot and the rice is on top, filling up the last 2/3 of the pot. The rice at the top (let's say 1/3 down from the rim) has really no contact at all with the meat. It's not a saucy dish (no puns intended) so there's no fat-filled gravy for the rice to be soaked in. Traditionally I will eat this rice. (As a side note, I don't actually make this dish myself, when I go camping with my family, who, incidentally, are not vegetarian in any respect, this is a popular dish that usually gets served and one that is construed with my eating habits in mind.) If I ever decide that this dish is now inappropriate for me, there will be, of course, consequences. Now that I'm trying to move towards veganism, however, I am becoming extremely vigilant of the food that I eat and this has come up for me because I am going camping with my family this weekend. I'll throw in some inevitably disgusting faux-chicken pieces from my local supermarket, grin, and bear it. Maybe we'll have some corn to roast.

And as an unrelated side-note, I found an absolutely amazing online social networking community geared towards the vegetarian/vegan population. It's a must-visit/join: Volentia.com

Happy conscious-minded eating!

Cleaning Out My Life

So what to do with the beautiful leather bag that my mother brought from Argentina years ago? The leather sneakers? The already-bought Boric Acid? The leather-bound journals? My leather watch band? The fact that my boyfriend eats meat and we have frozen fish in our freezer? The fact that we have two carnivorous dogs, whom we feed strictly raw meat? Can I buy anything, ever again, without intense research concerning its manufacturing and ingredients?

Ok, so I'll try to answer some of these. Maybe all.

The Argentinean bag? Normally I think I would say keep it, don't waste a perfectly good bag (obviously, don't buy any more leather, or accept leather gifts) but I'm adamant about not wasting and I don't think throwing it out would be the best idea. A problem I do encounter with it is that I've become hyper-aware of the feeling of the leather on my skin and I don't like it. Maybe I'll find someone to whom I can gift it . . . I have another bag, made mostly of nylon and cotton that's much larger than this leather bag and has a stomach strap so that the weight is distributed off of my shoulders. It's also got a special laptop sleeve inside, so I think I'm going to go with that one.

Leather sneakers. I think these will just get worn until they're worn out. And replaced with a non-leather option.

Boric Acid. I'm generally against killing insects, I usually try to trap them and release them outside of our apartment, but unfortunately my boyfriend is not of the same mind-frame, at all. Instead, I will do my part to evacuate whatever roaches I do find and compromise. The Boric Acid is actually not harmful to humans or pets unless ingested in quantities so large you'd have to have a death wish. Boric Acid study WARNING: This is the site I was writing about before that details the lab testing done on animals, be warned.

Leather-bound Journals. I have one huge black journal that is leather-bound, but soon to be finished, so it's not so much of a problem. The main problem is a journal cover that my mother gifted to me. It's beautiful, with Egyptian Hieroglyphs on the front in gold and it fits a scheduler that I use. I've used it over and over for a long time. I think that if I can find an appropriate journal cover I may gift this along with the Argentinean bag. I do, however, have some journals that I bought at Animal Rescue Site Store that are actually made in Southern India where a large part of the population is Sikh and vegetarian so they do not kill animals there. The journals, among other products, are made from the skins of animals that died of natural causes. This is, of course, still a type of exploitation of the animals, but a far cry from what goes on in the U.S. I don't think that I will buy anymore, simply because I want to distance myself from leather, but it's nice to know that there is an option for those who would like to explore it.

Watch band. I can get it changed very easily. It's old and beat up and probably needs a change anyway.

Carnivorous boyfriend. He's actually amazingly good about my non-meat habits and though I won't cook him a meat or fish dish, I don't think I mind that we have it in the freezer. If it'll help get his cholesterol down, all I can ask is for smarter choices.

Now for the dogs. For the past two years or so I've been sucked into the raw food for dogs mindset and I'm not sure that I can get myself out of it. For me, I know that meat in non-essential, so there is no harm in eating smartly and staying healthy. Dogs, on the other hand, are domesticated wolves. Wolves don't eat grass (well, they do sometimes, but it's definitely not a staple of their diet) and I cannot lie to myself and say that anything but a raw food diet will be healthy for my dog. Once I admit to myself that this is the scenario with which I am dealing, I have to make steps to make it the most humane raw meat diet that I can muster. At first I fed my dog mainly Murray's chicken. Murray's has an excellent reputation and even has farm tracking numbers on every chicken so you can see the family that raised the chicken you bought. It worked for a while, until my pockets started to get really, really light. Murray's chickens are about $10 a chicken. For my little poodle, it's not so bad, a whole chicken will last him a long time, but my boyfriend has a larger dog who eats a whole lot more, and it's not the most economically viable choice, but much better than going to the butcher. I then found the Yahoo! Groups site Raw Feeding on raw feeding. From there I got onto the Carnivore Supplier site, Carnivore Feed Supplier and posted a message regarding my need for locally sourced, pasture-raised meat in the NYC area. I found a wonderful woman, Donna, who gets me a great variety of meat, for my dog's nutrition, and the animals are raised on a variety of small farms, all pasture-raised. Her prices are manageable, too.

I would prefer if I didn't need to support a system, even the small farm system, that exploits and eventually kills animals, but in light of keeping my dog healthy and happy, it's something that I've realized I am willing to do. Ethically, I am in the midst of a conundrum. Is my dog on a morally elevated plane to the cows, sheep, chickens, buffalo, ducks, and turkeys that are killed for his benefit? No, but for me, I have an emotional attachment to him and the truth is that I don't see the animals that are killed for him. At the same time, if humans didn't intervene in nature the way we have, and he was still a wolf, he'd be killing his own deer and elk and the like. It's an argument that floats through my mind often. I've always had dogs in my life and I love having him with me, but if I cannot figure out this argument to sufficiently put my mind at ease, I don't know if I will have another dog after him.


I've just realized, after Googling the term, that "Conscious Eating" is an entire trend of which I was not aware. I need to point out that the title of my blog does not refer to this 'movement' and is, instead, geared towards being aware of the ecological and ethical impact of what you buy and then eat. On some level, the two ideas are joined, I just do not have the background information on the older, settled term and will proceed to read up on it. I don't want to disappoint or mislead anyone. Happy eating!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Welcome to My Journey!

Hi and welcome.

I'll start with a short introduction; I'm a graduate student at the CUNY Graduate Center, researching animal studies in the Liberal Studies Department. I've been a solid vegetarian for the past two years or so, eating eggs and dairy, but no forms of meat/flesh or fish of any kind. This semester I'm taking a class titled "The Animal Estate," which I thought would be right down my alley in terms of animal studies. I was always originally interested in 19th Century Women Writers (Eliot, Austen, the Brontes, Sand, etc.) in my studies, but drawn to animals in life outside academia (I worked at a boarding facility for 2 years or so), until via my mentor I found this niche. As soon as I discovered that such a topic existed in academia, I jumped right in and am neck deep in amazing discourses on animal ethics. For this class, our first read was Peter Singer's "Animal Liberation." For those of you who have not read his work, it's really a must-read. Though it's a bit dated, it's poignant like no other. Singer has an amazing capacity to distance himself emotionally from his work and display the plight of animals in our society in a fashion that is not dogmatic and is easily palatable by even, I believe, the harshest critics of the Animal Rights Movement. Singer uses the ability to suffer/feel pain as a foundation for the ethical framework which he uses to build his argument surrounding the moral status of animals. Interestingly, for me, last semester while I was an Undergraduate at Hunter college, I wrote a paper for a Medical Ethics class on the same premise, never having read Singer before, so his argument rang true and deep with me.

Singer goes on to demonstrate absolutely horrendous truths regarding laboratory animals in the U.S. The brilliant aspect of Singer's argument is that he uses information from the published journals of the scientists doing the studies. None of his examples include his own first-hand, biased accounts. I don't want to get into a nuanced explanation of his argument, you can read it for yourself, but needless to say, already having been on the animal rights end of the spectrum and generally conscious of what I buy, what I wear, where my money goes, who I support, and, of course, what I eat, my entire world view shifted just a little bit more. When my boyfriend wanted to put Boric Acid down to take care of our roach problem, and I researched it (we have two dogs and I was worried about the possible harmful effects of it laying around the house), I found links to a Federal web page that described, in detail, the effects of Boric Acid on laboratory animals in tests. I, personally, have an issue buying a product that is only now on the market after scientists tortured (hundreds? thousands?) animals to "ensure" the "safety" of the human population.

Moving away from that, Singer also went on to describe the conditions of factory farms and the lives of the animals condemned to that fate. Again, his sources were solely the magazines and journals of the factory farming community, those one would imagine would be quite generous towards the conditions. Again, the harm done to sentient, social beings is difficult to comprehend. Singer outlined the lives of chickens in battery cages raised for their meat and their eggs, dairy cows being used for utmost milk production, pigs in pens too small to move around in, anemic calves raised for veal, and the luckiest of the bunch, steer cattle raised for beef. Each one has it's horrific points, and I'm not sure that it's my place here to innumerate them, again, please read his book. I will say, however, that he convinced me sufficiently enough to want to make an even more drastic change in my life and move from vegetarianism towards veganism.

And so I finally come to the point of this blog and why I've decided to write publicly. Thinking back on my move to vegetarianism, I don't remember having much of a problem, the change wasn't too difficult, I've always loved cheese and I still had this great part of my palate. My current move towards veganism, however, is a quite different kind of change. Without dairy and eggs as a part of my diet, I really need to be more aware of what and how I eat. Though I've always been pretty aware, I do have a history of slacking on the veggies and fruits and opting for carbs; they taste good, they're easy to get, and they're familiar. Now I cannot do that. Now I am checking labels more than I ever have before. Contains milk or dairy? Sorry, not for me. The scope of what I can eat has drastically diminished, but it's also a kind of challenge. I've always been very fond of eating at home, it's much cheaper, I think the food tastes better, and though there are dishes and time spent cooking, it's satisfying. I've acquired a taste for soy milk, which I used to dislike, but Trader Joe's has Almond Milk, and even Quinoa Milk, which I'm interested in trying next time I stop by. I've also realized that I might very well consider eating eggs that are free-range or pasture-raised. I'm on the fence about simply cage-free. If I can find pasture-raised dairy cow-milk I would consider buying it, but I'm also lactose intolerant, and used to drink only Lactaid, and I doubt the small-scale farmers have the equipment to de-lactose their own milk. And like I said, I've grown accustomed to soy milk, so it's not so much of an issue. And really, when I really think about it, when I eat at home, my food intake is not so much of a problem. The true problem arises when I go out to eat. Will I be absolutely anal and scrutinize the ingredient list at a restaurant? Probably. Will I bombard the waiter with questions regarding the cooking of something in butter vs. oil? Maybe not. I think the point I'm trying to make, is that veganism and the ideology behind it should be something that does not create considerable distress in your life. I vow to try my utmost to eat cruelty-free. It does not mean that I won't slip up, and I don't expect myself not to. I think it will be a very bumpy journey as I figure out who I am as a vegan. I am still slowly fazing out dairy from my life. I am no longer buying any new dairy products, but have some cheese spreads leftover that I am slowly finishing so as not to throw them out (too wasteful for my tastes). So this is where I leave you tonight, my first night as a blogger and my first night as a public vegan: eat well, eat smart, eat consciously.