A few months ago, I thought my car was breaking down and put myself on a severe budget to save money to buy a new one. I had to figure out which expenses to cut and how, but food was not one of the things I was willing to skimp on. I did some research, asked some friends, and picked up a few things on my own, and eventually I started to figure it out. People will tell you that it’s impossible, but you don’t have to spend a lot of money to still eat vegan and healthy, and you don’t have to spends hours a day slaving in your kitchen to stay on a tight budget. Here’s a few tips and tricks I learned that can help you out. Read the rest of this entry →
Archive for the ‘Opinion’Category
With Christmakwanzakah having come and gone, and Valentine’s Day just around the corner, perhaps you’ve seen ads or news articles highlighting “alternative” gifts.
I’m all for making a charitable donation in a loved one’s name instead of buying them something they don’t want and won’t use, but not all gifts to nonprofits are created equal. Heifer International is one organization that is problematic not only from an abolitionist vegan perspective but from an environmental and human rights perspective as well. The organization is well known and well funded and since 1944 has given farmed animals to millions of families all over the world. (Funnily enough, 1944 was also the year that Donald Watson coined the term “vegan.”)
Heifer’s mission is supposedly to “work with communities to end hunger and poverty and care for the earth” but as Colleen Patrick-Goudreau helpfully explains, promoting animal agriculture abroad is not a sensible or compassionate way to accomplish that goal. This isn’t the place to get into a lengthy “why vegan?” discussion (because there are so many reasons to go vegan!) but the systematic exportation of environmental degradation, poor human health, and exploitative violence against farmed animals seems like a poor use of charitable dollars. Yes, a community may collectively decide that farmed animals are the best use of their resources, but they are better equipped to make that assessment than some nice folks in Little Rock, AR.
Heifer knows about their “vegan problem” and has tried to address it through this unpolished blog post about transitioning to vegetarianism and supposedly vegan-friendly listings in their gift catalog including trees, water, or women’s empowerment. According to charity evaluator GiveWell, though, these listings are “donor illusions” because all donations support the broad general mission rather than any specific agricultural project. GiveWell also discusses why they don’t recommend Heifer despite its popularity, and why giving livestock is generally a bad idea even if it makes a slick marketing campaign.
If you are interested in reducing the inefficiencies and awkwardness associated with unwanted material gifts by encouraging donations to nonprofits, fabulous! But for everyone’s sake be sure to communicate your preferences ahead of time. Luckily, there are many resources available to help donors decide where to give, including my favorite and aforementioned GiveWell, which thoroughly evaluates organizations and highlights those that have the greatest impact. Gifts of support to animal sanctuaries or shelters such as Peaceful Prairie, Kindness Ranch, or MaxFund are a wonderful way to honor a friend by protecting non-human animals instead of “giving” them away. You could donate to Plants & Animals, of course, or check out GivingFirst for a directory of hundreds of Colorado charities.
Most importantly, be sure to ask what to give! Perhaps your vegan friend or family member has some favorite issue you don’t know about. Non-human animal advocacy may be an important activity in which ethical vegans participate, but our identities and interests are complex and multifaceted. Someone who understands themself as participating in a global ecosystem incorporating animal, environmental, cultural, and economic elements may choose to contribute in a multitude of ways.
Lately, there have been some strongly worded articles implying that vegans don’t think about the global economics of quinoa because we care more about non-human animals than Andean subsistence farmers who grow this ancient grain.
It’s a fair question for people who strive not to value one species over another. Can Coloradans (vegan, and otherwise) have our quinoa and eat it too? The short answer: yes.
Quinoa is heady stuff. It boasts a hefty 15% protein and a complete amino acid profile. It’s naturally free of the eight common allergens and cooks in a mere 15 minutes. It’s versatile and (in my opinion) delicious; I’ve used in everything from tabbouleh to hot morning cereal.
Vegans are not automatically excused from all food-related ethical issues. We choose to eliminate animal products but still need to be conscious of what we are eating instead. Yes, one could technically survive on a “plant-based” diet eating only fried doughnuts and produce from the moon, but I would not recommend such an unhealthy and unsustainable life decision. Occasionally we might need to make tough choices (“Palm oil or non-organic?”) but for the most part we should not view organic/in season/local/etc. foods as at odds with one another.
So we return to the issue at hand. The growing popularity of quinoa in wealthy countries over the past few years has profoundly impacted the Andean farming communities that grow this grain. Quinoa price spikes have prompted land disputes and environmental problems, and dietary problems are on the rise because quinoa farmers are eating less of the crop themselves. What to do? Quinoa is grown in North America, including by Colorado’s White Mountain Farm, so we can start by supporting our local economies and reducing the distance our food travels.
This issue is larger than quinoa, though. Plant-based foods can and should be a part of solving the global hunger crisis.
It does not make sense to use one-third of our arable land to produce animal feed when eating animal foods has a much greater environmental impact. Because eating animal foods is such an inefficient use of resources, veganism is a food justice and human rights issue. In fact, water scientists estimate that if current diet and population trends continue, the world may be forced to adopt vegetarianism by the year 2050, which would be a radical transition but fine by me.
Concern for human welfare and international food security are a key part of why I live the way I do. A vegan life does not offer an easy escape from critical thinking and global consciousness. Rather, it’s an invitation to examine the impact of all of our choices and to show compassion for the entire world.
Mile High on the Cheap (MHOTC) blogs about free stuff and deals happening in the Denver area. They are a good resource for people on a budget. However, this recent post nearly gave me a heart attack. McDonald’s is having a “Back-to-School Sale” tomorrow. You could pay for the cost of one burger and feed the rest of your beloved family members for one literal penny each. I guess that’s how little someone’s well-being is worth.
In addition to being angry at McDonald’s (nothing new there), I’m also ticked off at the way MHOTC is talking about this event: “McDonald’s is starting the school year off right for us, budget minded families…There’s no limit, so grab your change jar and live it up.”
Okay, here’s my government-subsidized beef with this promo:
1. The true cost of a burger is over $200, not 1¢, and that’s a conservative estimate excluding costs of human health and animal welfare. Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Eating Animals, does a great job explaining the externalities here, and advocating for a vegetarian diet as a cheap and healthy alternative.
2. This is really framed as a back-to-school sale? You are advocating “food” for children that has 563 calories per serving, at a time when over one-third of kids are overweight or obese. And let’s not forget about the hearty dose of fat (esp. saturated and trans), cholesterol, and sodium thrown in. Or the fact that kids who are obese are at higher risk for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and a host of other health problems.
3. McDonald’s, great job targeting low and middle-income families! Typical. Since I can’t imagine making a profit off a one-cent burger, I guess the point of this promo is to get more people addicted to your shitty “food.”
Well played, McDonald’s, well played.
Some of you may have heard that Urban Decay, one of my favourite vegan-friendly cosmetics companies and one of the biggest opponents of animal testing, announced a month ago that they would be expanding their business into China. Sounds like a good business move, right? Except for that it means more than just that. In China, animal testing for cosmetics is required, which would mean that Urban Decay would no longer be selling cruelty-free products. This, of course, caused quite an uproar in the vegancommunity, meriting a response from PETA and a Change.org petition (which I personally signed).
Well, it seems as though it works, because Urban Decay announced this weekend that they have rethought this business expansion and decided to not sell their products in China, therefore keeping their products cruelty-free. According to the press release on their website, “ultimately [they] did not feel [they] could comply with current regulations in China and remain true to [their] core principles.” They go on to state that “Urban Decay does not test its finished products on animals, nor do we allow others to test on our behalf,
and we require our suppliers to certify that the raw materials used in the manufacture of our products are not tested on animals. Urban Decay is proud to be 100% cruelty-free.” Urban Decay does use some animal products in some of their cosmetics, so just look for the paw-print (right) to tell if it’s totally vegan.
Win for us, right? Kind of. We get our cruelty-free Urban Decay makeup back, but what is the real issue at hand? The fact that China requires animal testing for cosmetics. Yeah, we can keep our cruelty-free products, but that door is closed in China. So how can we stop animal testing in China so that they can have their cruelty-free cosmetics too? I’m not sure, and it won’t be easy, but it is definitely necessary.
In other cruelty-free makeup news, Lush has announced that they are expanding into makeup. Their new Emotional Brilliance line comes out July 21st. Who wants to go stake out with me?
I was recently at a Fourth of July BBQ at a former professor’s house. She wanted to make sure that I and the other vegetarian felt comfortable and welcome, so she bought a brand-new grill to dedicate to vegan burgers and dogs. She said that though she had been to many BBQs with vegan options available, they had always been prepared on the same surface as the meat burgers, which she thought was silly. I might not be directly contributing to animal suffering by eating a plant-based-but-bloody burger, but it still grosses me out, so I found this move very sweet.
Besides that, there was delicious vegan chili. I was touched and impressed, both my the deliciousness of the food (couldn’t have done better myself) and the very thoughtful hospitality. I imagine that many of you have been the vegan in the room (or in this case, backyard) who didn’t have anything to eat besides salad and potato chips. It is wonderfully validating to be served a delicious vegan entrée by a non-vegan host, and I hope that you all can experience such kindness! As a reminder, we can encourage our non-vegan friends by enthusiastically thanking them for their efforts, and by bringing delicious, hearty vegan foods to potluck situations. (Given the choice, I will bring an entrée instead of a side, because entrées are less familiar to folks.) Who knows – maybe the combo of vegan deliciousness and enthusiasm will get your omni friends to start noodling over animal-free options.
Oh, and all of this was topped off playing with rescued baby kittens. It was a good day.
I am taking a basic nutrition class at the Community College of Denver as a pre-requisite for nursing school. Each week we reflect on what we learned the week prior (yes, kind of high-schooly). My professor is a naturopathic doctor (ND) so generally plant-centered, but she was on vacation so we had a guest lecturer (Dr. Daly). My last note to my professor follows, with comments in brackets.
Last week was our first week of class with Dr. Daly. As a vegan, it is interesting but occasionally frustrating to absorb mainstream nutritional information because it does not always fit with my worldview. I vented some of my angst over this issue with some of my vegan friends last week as we prepared for a big public dinner [CHOMP]. While I recognize that it is important to get nutritional information from multiple sources in order to ensure a balanced “information diet,” I must ensure for the sake of my learning that I can build this knowledge in a way that meshes with my veganism. Vegan diets are still far from mainstream. I was thinking about this especially as I reflected on the many iterations of the Food Pyramid, which is now My Plate, a dish divided into four sections (fruits, grains, vegetables, and protein) with a place at the corner for dairy. In class, I asked Dr. Daly what components of dairy were beneficial and how someone who doesn’t drink dairy might meet those requirements. As an older, Caucasian person, it is understandable that Dr. Daly wouldn’t challenge the setup of My Plate, but in other ethnic/cultural groups such as Chinese people, or vegetarian Buddhists, eating dairy or large amounts of meat might not make as much sense. I searched for an alternate My Plate and found the following, vegan version, which explicitly names protein as “legumes” so that users will understand well that adequate protein can be gotten from plant sources. The dairy at the corner is replaced with water, because calcium can be gotten from leafy green vegetables.
Dr. Daly introduced the concept of nutrient density, which is the idea that foods with more nutrients per calorie should be favored in our diets. She gave us an assignment to plot the relative nutritive value of four of our favorite foods relative to their calorie content. I chose blueberries, kale, sweet potatoes, and chia seeds. According to SELF Nutrition Data, which boasts a wealth of information for thousands of foods (depicted in a visually pleasing and understandable way) these foods excelled for various vitamins and minerals. I was glad to learn this, but I think that these nutrient charts can be misleading. First of all, because a usable nutrient chart can only include five or perhaps ten nutrients, the selection of those particular vitamins and minerals will have an enormous influence on foods deemed “nutrient dense,” because every food has a different composition. Furthermore, because the nutrition field is still developing, we may not know to measure various beneficial components that may be present in whole foods but that we may not have the tools to measure or recognize. On the whole, though, I think the nutrient density concept is a useful one, and if I had more courage, I would show Dr. Daly the following “nutritarian” Food Pyramid by Dr. Joel Fuhrman.
I will be sure to bring in the Color Me Vegan book that I was telling you about, that is so focused on eating whole, colorful plant foods to increase phytochemical intake and improve health. It is important for me to get a dose of mainstream nutritional information, so I have a sense of generally accepted knowledge, but this experience reaffirms that general health, rather than nutrition, is the field for me. I think that devoting myself to nutrition would be too frustrating, but it is good background to have. A full-time vegan diet may not be feasible for many people, but my knowing this information will help me counsel vegans on how to include more plants in their diets. After all, in the words of the American Dietetic Association, “appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.”
I’m a podcast fiend. One favorite is Freakonomics. Their most recent episode discussed the carbon footprint of our diets. Their conclusion? To help the environment, rather than going local, “cut out cow products.” Molecule-for-molecule, cow farts are 20x more brutal a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. No news to vegan environmentalists, but good to see non-vegan media outlets talking about this.
They also said that we should start eating kangaroo burgers, since they’re not ruminants and therefore don’t give off methane. I don’t know about that. I’d roo the day somebody served me such a magnificent macropod.
Gestation (pregnancy) crates are miserable both in concept and practice. This is real:
Imagine you are a sow, a female pig. You weigh hundreds of pounds, but are confined to a metal stall measuring 2 feet by 7 feet. It is so narrow that you cannot turn around. When you become exhausted from standing on the cold concrete floor, you collapse into a pile of your own waste. Infected, oozing abscesses and sores appear on your skin because you cannot escape the filth. You have lived this way since you were seven months old, so do not know anything better, but something about this place seems instinctually wrong. You are so bored you chew on the bars of your cage to try and keep from going totally mad. It doesn’t help. If you were free, you would root in the soil with your delicate nose, sink into a mud bath to cool during summer time, and spend time with your family. It’s not to be. You will undergo, continuously, cycles of artificial insemination and birth, and produce more than 20 piglets per year. Your young will be taken away, and like you, will be crowded into pens with metal bars and concrete floors. When you have had three litters, your body will be too stressed to produce more. Deemed worthless, you will be slaughtered. You died not knowing that had you been born in the European Union, or one of eight U.S. states (including CA, OH, and MI), this would be illegal. Nor did you know that everyday citizens put such pressure on McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s to end this brutal but routine practices that the fast food giants agreed.
It’s strange to think that industry and not government might lead the way in bettering the lives of animals raised for food. These improvements are a step along the way to that far-off vegan world we strive for. Join us in petitioning meat processor Tyson Foods’ use of gestation crates in the supply chain. A flood of angry individuals will hopefully make the company sit up and take notice.
On a happier note, pigs are pretty fascinating! And joyous! According to the Chinese Zodiac, people born in the year of the pig are happy and honest. Which is pretty much true – if you allow them an interesting and clean place to live, and don’t mess with their young, they won’t mess with you. I’m going to make it out to Peaceful Prairie Animal Sanctuary to hang out with some piggies as soon as I possibly can.