Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Another Disgruntled Vegan Alphabet, 2011 Edition

You know that I am a proud, happy vegan. I am always the first one to put a positive spin on vegan living because I am so overflowing with enthusiasm for it. Swimming against the current does have its annoyances, though. Not usually anything major but just petty things that leave you feeling frazzled or irritated. Of course I wouldn’t change who I am for anything in the world because I would rather be misunderstood any day than live in conflict with my values. We all need a chance to vent sometimes, though. Specifically, I like to publicly vent about once a year and then I am over it and can go back to being the happy tra-la-la vegan I am again. And with that, I present Another Disgruntled Vegan Alphabet.

A is for Anonymous. Oh, Anonymous, how you give me pause with your pithy comments like “You need to just eat a stake!!” or “veganz kill plantz” to any article that addresses cruelty to animals. Thank you, Anonymous, for your endlessly well-reasoned, penetrating insights.  

B is for Bacon. Bacon makes everything better. Bacon amuses. Bacon enthralls. Bacon makes your eyes glaze over with lust. Bacon-wrapped bacon with whipped bacon dip on the side served on a bed of bacon. Sentient creatures lived lives of misery and died horrific deaths to become edible punchlines. Ha. Bacon. Hilarious.

C is for Complicated, as in, “Hi, I’d like to order the Tofurky sandwich without the mayo. Unless you have Vegenaise. What? It’s soy mayonnaise. No? That’s okay. Also is your soy cheese vegan? Because sometimes it has casein in it. Casein. It’s a milk protein. I don’t know why they put casein in soy cheese. Yes, it’s stupid.”

D is for Dinner with the extended family. As in: “I looked at the menu at the crab house, and you can get the pasta without sauce or you can get the plain baked potato. They also have crackers. So you should be able to eat there perfectly fine.”

E is for arrive Early to the vegan potluck or all you’ll get to eat is hummus. Lots and lots of hummus.

F is for Flippant. You don’t mean to be but sometimes you just can’t help it.

G is for Ginnifer Goodwin and every other flaky celebrity who tries on the vegan lifestyle and then discards it like it’s last year’s fashion because it no longer holds their attention. Plus, laughing about enjoying delicious, delicious bacon a few months after making heartfelt videos on behalf of farmed animals is really showing some depth of conviction there.

H is for “Hello? I just picked up my order a few minutes ago and I asked for the pad Thai with tofu without eggs or chicken. It has no tofu but both eggs and chicken.”

I is for Intolerance. As in you bring a vegan dish to the office party, somebody says, “Oh, that looks good. Who brought it?” You say, all excited, “I did! It’s vegan manicotti.” The person says, “Oh,” turns pale, and quickly backs away from your dish like it suddenly spouted yellow eyeballs and a tail. Yes, vegan food is scary and dangerous.

J is for the “’Just joking!’ Defense,” which means that the people who say it can say whatever convoluted, illogical nonsense about veganism they want if they just follow it up with those two simple words. Instant immunity! It also means that they can imply that you have no sense of humor when you are simply expecting someone to make sense.

K is for the Knee-slappingly hilarious jab your uncle makes every year when he sees the pumpkin pie you brought for Thanksgiving. “What did you make it out of? Twigs and tree bark?” And grass. You made it out of twigs, tree bark, and grass.

L is for Late to the Thanksgiving dinner means you’ll be seated next to him again.

M is for the Meat-of-the-Month club catalogue from a previous tenant that still gets delivered to your apartment every month despite doing everything conceivable to get off the list.

N is for “No, Mom, I didn’t see PETA stripping on the news again. What does this have to do with me, anyway?!

P is for the Paranormal activity that leaves your cupboard void of dark chocolate when you most need it.

Q is for the Quaint little scarf you found at the neighborhood boutique, but, damn it, it’s a wool blend.

R is for “Right: You think that plants feel pain the same as animals. Even without a central nervous system? Even though they evolved without an apparent ability to escape predation? You think that pulling corn out of the ground is similar to separating baby animals from their mothers, caging them and slaughtering them? And vegans are the unrealistic ones? Really?”

S is for Stunt-eaters in the “snout-to-tail” movement because objectifying animals to the point where they are just isolated organs, viscera and parts to consume is so bad-ass and progressive.

T is for Thank you, I’ll pass.

U is for Unless you can find a place to hide your favorite skillet, your roommate will continue to cook meat in it. Get used to storing it under your bed.

V is for the Very, very horrible boiled vegetable plate you got at your cousin’s wedding that looked so terrible that you got looks of sheer pity from complete strangers.

W is for Whey, as in does this product really need to exist outside of Little Miss Muffet’s poem and why must it muck up something that looks perfectly good otherwise?

X is for if you were Xena, Warrior Princess, maybe people would just listen to you.

Y is for “You guys want to eat ‘family style’ when I can only eat one dish and then you want to split the check? So I am supposed to not eat and also subsidize your animal products? Somehow this seems to be violating the basic tenants of fairness.”

Z is for Zero: the number of original arguments you have heard against veganism in the last five years despite the fact that the person saying it always thinks that it is clever and thoughtful.

I'm over it already. See you next year!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

I Killed Kale: A Love Story...

What if kale were as idealized by vegans as backyard chickens are by locavores? 

What if the leafy greens conferred nobility, honor and a sense of purpose about us as much as the Michael Pollan's elite crowd derives from eating their "special" dairy, eggs, and meat?

This piece was inspired by those who pursue spiritual enlightenment through another being’s death, those who cherry pick ephemeral Native American sentiments when they are of benefit to them. After reading a disturbing article by a journalist who traumatizes her children regularly (while patting herself on the back for her good liberal values, of course) by having them watch animals get slaughtered for their table, and yet another website dedicated to the life-and-death cycle of a flock of backyard chickens, I wondered what it might sound like if someone growing kale employed the same hackneyed, self-aggrandizing and narcissistic language and mentality. 

This is what I came up with in response.

It seems unbelievable that this life-force a few feet in front of me, past its prime but still standing proud and tall in my garden on this gray early December day, came to me as improbably tiny seeds delivered to my home. As dark brown miniature pebbles, smooth to the touch, these seeds would have been easily dwarfed by the average peppercorn. I held the seeds, little pipsqueaks rolling around in my palm, almost slipping between my fingers, when they arrived in the mail one happy day a few weeks after I’d outlined their picture in a catalogue with a heart, and I beamed with a mother’s pride. “They’re perfect,” I thought, clutching them close to my chest. The delicate seeds held within them the promise that they might eventually blossom into full-grown, hearty and vibrant kale plants that would stretch toward the sun, and after glimpsing their cousins in the catalogue, I immediately knew that I was meant to have them in my own yard.

Over the years, my husband has seen me dive into projects with great gusto only to abandon them within a week or two, so he was understandably skeptical of my plans to take this on and apprehensive about giving over a significant part of our yard, valuable feet to urban dwellers, to any new lark of mine. In my attempts to become more self-reliant, though, I began to reject the idea of buying kale from the grocery store: denatured, limp and lifeless, grown by strangers in unknown conditions (were they overcrowded? Sprayed with chemicals?), plucked from the earth too soon and shipped from far away. I preferred to buy it at the local farmers market, but even with that, I began thinking that I didn’t want to ask anyone to do something I wasn’t willing to do myself.

I started the tiny seeds indoors in early spring: poking my finger into the soil, I let a few tumble into each hole, then gently covered them back up, like tucking them into bed. I reviewed the instructions on the seed packet daily as though it was my lifeline to them; I watered them enough but not too much, turned them to face the sun equally, kept them warm overnight. I checked on them whenever I thought of it, which was often, scrutinizing the soil many times every day for any signs of life.

One bright Saturday morning, it happened. I woke up and saw that skinny green sprouts had sprung up overnight, right on target with when the packet said that they should. I did a little happy dance and went racing through the house, waking up my husband and son. The sprouts were tiny and fragile but they were the first indisputable evidence of my diligent care. I could do this! These sprouts would eventually grow up into big, bushy plants. At the moment, though, their future was the last thing on my mind. I was just so enamored of these tender little babies, especially proud as they began to mature into hardier seedlings. I showed off their pictures to the friends who indulged me. I sang to the seedlings, gently caressed the soft leaves between my fingers, and every day they seemed to get farther and farther from the little dependent sprouts they’d started out as just a short time ago. They were thriving – heck, they were born - because of me.

When it was time to put them in the garden, I was anxious. The seedlings had been so nurtured and protected in the sunroom of our home. Couldn’t springtime’s violent windstorms break their delicate stems? What about marauding squirrels, mean birds that might yank them out of the earth just for the sport of it? I fretted over them, so vulnerable out in the elements. I knew, though, that I had to let the seedlings out on their own in the sun, fresh air and soil as nature intended or else they would get strangled by their own roots. As much as I worried about them, my husband gently reminded me to stop being so attached, that these plants were eventually for eating. I tried to ignore him as I planted them outside to flourish.

Flourish they did. The plants seemed to grow taller and more mature, more into their own, by the hour. After just two weeks outdoors, they were clearly no longer wispy little seedlings: they were fully realized plants now, beginning to grow tall and luxuriate in their sheer kaleness. These plants, hand-raised from seeds, were now the essence of healthy kale. It made me choke up whenever I thought of their cousins, raised in unnatural pseudo-farms, stacked one on top of the next in boxes on the produce truck and transported to far-flung destinations. My thriving, beautiful plants were in direct defiance to that sickening approach to vegetable husbandry.

That spring through fall, we enjoyed the chlorophyll-packed leaves we clipped off the mother plant: shredded as salads, in our breakfast scrambles. The kale seemed to grow heartier and bushier with every clipping. Our son was proud of the plants, eager to show them off to friends and to collect leaves for our meals. We planted so many – too many, probably – and they took over more of our yard than we planned. Even my husband didn’t mind, though. Looking out into the garden, seeing their happy leaves swaying in the breeze, basking in the gentle early summer’s sunshine and gulping the cooling rains of autumn, we knew that we were doing the right thing. The natural thing.

It had become clear by mid-November, though, that the kale plants lived their full life cycle. The leaves, once so full and crisp, were spotted with holes and barely hanging on. There were so many bare spots now, the plants so vulnerable to autumn’s deepening winds, and they swayed so intensely with them I thought they might snap right in half. They held on, though it was becoming clear that I would need to assist them on their passage in order to ready the yard for the new life of next spring. This was the natural order, I told myself. They had lived good, complete lives, reveling in their essential kaleness.

It was time. In my heart, I knew that it would eventually come to this. 

They had to die.

I steeled myself for the inevitable. They had given me and my family nourishment for months and now it was time for them to die a dignified death befitting such noble leafy greens. My son tried to dissuade me, tearfully asking if we couldn’t just bring them indoors for the winter. I repeated the mantra of what we had been talking about all summer: that living under the sky, their roots deep in the earth, was the natural life for kale. Living inside, they would have a shadow of their lives outdoors - austere, constrained, hermetic - far removed from their wild nature. We could keep them alive, but at what cost? His face wet with tears, my son reluctantly nodded, identifying with his child's mind how it feels to be a hemmed in rugged spirit, but he looked away, unable to look at me. I cried, too. Part of his innocence was lost.

Still, he wanted to be there when the kale inhaled its last bit of carbon dioxide. I wanted him there, too, to bear witness and so he could appreciate the life and death cycle that happened in our own back yard. My husband offered to sever the plants, to cut them from their lifeblood, the roots, but I insisted on seeing it through to the end. I was the one, after all, who had raised them from seed, who sang to them as seedlings, caressed them, admired them, watered them, plucked their mature leaves. Looking at them every day, I was filled with gratitude that I was able to give them this life and they in return gave us sustenance and me a sense of connection to the earth, a rootedness I had never felt before. No, I told my husband, I had to see this through from beginning to end for my own spiritual growth.

I took the knife that I knew would do the job the quickest and with a shaky hand, I held the plants once more, pulling them to me, and once again, they yielded to my touch, trusting. Why shouldn’t they? All they had ever known was gentleness and care. With a hand shaking so much I didn’t know if I could do the job, tears streaming down my face, I took a hiccuping deep breath. They trust you, a voice chided me from inside my head. How could you do this? I am doing it because I love them, I finally responded. With that, I pulled the knife across my first plant.

I can’t say that it was easier than I thought it would be. It was harder to cut through than I’d anticipated, gorier. They were once so alive and seconds later, they slumped to the ground, lifeless. No more vitality. My son gasped and sobbed into my husband’s chest. One after the next, the kale fell - flump - their roots exposed, their leaves, once so voluptuous, now dry and brittle with age. We stood over them for a few minutes, no one sure what to say, and then we silently began gathering them to take indoors. We would enjoy one last gift from our babies.

That night, we had kale salad, lovingly massaged with olive oil and seasoned just so, and we had a stew, full of their earthy, sweet nutrients. I set aside the stems to use in a stock that will keep nourishing us through the winter. The night of their death, we talked about our favorite memories, the first time they peeped out of the soil, the jaunty seedlings, the early leaves of spring, the powerful plants of autumn. We talked about how we covered them during the big hailstorm of June and we laughed as we remembered how I chased the squirrels away from them all summer. 

After dinner, we looked at pictures of them in all their bright verdant glory of early fall. Seeing them like that, my son and I sniffled a bit again, but we knew that our bodies were full of their natural goodness, fed by the sun and the rain and the ebb-and-flow of the seasons. Their death gave us life.

As I tucked my son into bed, we gave thanks again for the kale. Right after turning off the lights, he called me back into his room.

“Yes?” I asked.

“Mom,” he asked, his voice in the darkness of his bedroom, “could we grow more kale again in the spring?”

“Of course, my love.” 

Of course.

End-of-the-line Raw Kale Salad

1 bunch lacinto (dinosaur) kale, shredded and spines removed
½ tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

In a medium bowl, massage the kale and the olive oil between your fingers until the kale softens significantly, about three to four minutes long.

1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
1 teaspoon tamari
1 - 2 teaspoons lemon juice or vinegar of preference
1/8 teaspoon cayenne (opt.)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Add the rest of the ingredients to the kale and toss to mix. Very good with toasted, chopped cashews.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Top Fifty Things Bacon Will *Not* Make Better

Once in a while, inspiration comes from a most unlikely source. When it hits, though, it’s like finding gold. Or discovering the cell phone that is now out of charge so you cannot find it in the pocket of the coat you haven’t worn for five days. When lightning strikes, though, ding-ding-ding, you have to run with it. Today’s source of inspiration came to me from my Bacon-Loving Hipster’s Can Kiss My Vegan Ass page when a random troll who was wearing a shirt that said “meh” on it and referred to me as “bro” – yes, really - posted a picture that said “Bacon Makes Everything Better.” These bacon people, so unpredictable, they keep me on the edge of my seat with their originality. When one’s fundamental argument in favor of eating bacon is that a. it tastes good and/or b. it makes other things taste good, you can see why they cling to these shallow attempts at whimsy like people overboard would to an iceberg. Which is actually an apt metaphor because bacon consumption and our overall insistence on our so-called right to please our taste buds regardless of our affect on the planet or others could very well capsize after all.

I must address the core conceit, though. Bacon does not make everything better. In fact, bacon makes many things demonstrably worse. The following is my list of the top 50 things bacon does not make better in no particular order.

1.     The lives of pigs
2.     My mood
3.     The ozone layer
4.     Air and water quality
5.     Static cling
6.     The quality of network television programming
7.     Your chances of getting off cholesterol-lowering medication
8.     One’s credit rating
9.     Rush hour traffic
10.  The way you look in a bathing suit
11.  One’s yoga and/or meditation practice
12.  Your sexiness quotient as calculated by Cosmopolitan magazine
13.  Your lawn
14.  The fact that summer just flew by
15.  Your cat’s litter box habits
16.  The realization that you’ve forgotten your gloves on the train
17.  The fact that the new paint you used for your dining room dried in a lot more garish a color than you thought it would
18.  One’s ability to do math without crying
19.  Chocolate. Or cupcakes. If you claim that bacon makes either better, you have bad taste. Pork products will not improve this, either.
20.  My respect for my fellow humans
21.  Your odds of not needing a stent in an artery or coronary bypass surgery
22.  One’s penmanship
23.  That maddening itch between your shoulder blades
24.  Your quarterly review
25.  NPR’s pledge drive week
26.  Your breath
27.  Your appreciation of the great works of Western literature
28.  The fact that you’re not bilingual
29.  That your dog just peed on the floor like that was totally acceptable
30.  If your parents gave you a really unfortunate name
31.  Keys? Where are your keys?! Bacon does not make you less likely to lose your keys or make finding them easier.
32.  That alarming sound your car is making
33.  Taxes
34.  The fact that your new tights already have a rip in them
35.  That sinking feeling when you see police lights directly behind you in your rearview mirror
36.  The guy you’re sitting next to on the bus who is taking up way more of the seat than is reasonable
37.  That weird rash
38.  Realizing that you put your cell phone in the laundry
39.  Your annual prostate exam
40.  The likelihood that you’ll ever be able to do a perfect chin up
41.  Another tap recital
42.  Your chance of finding an apartment with its own washer and dryer
43.  The likelihood of rain
44.  Your slow but inevitable slide toward the grave
45.  Reflecting upon the notion of eternity at 3:00 in the morning
46.  Flossing your teeth
47.  Gah! Your overdue books. Why do you keep forgetting them?
48.  The amount of suffering in the world
49.  The growing distance between you and your partner
50.  The odds that Earth will have even a slim chance of survival if people don’t stop eating pigs like their flesh is just some stupid punch line to their asinine jokes and instead realize that the human addiction to meat is destroying the planet and its inhabitants.

This is just off the top of my head, but as you can see, there are many things that bacon just does not make better. Don’t believe the hype. Bacon makes a lot of things way, way worse. Given all this, I propose that we all just move on. I have not eaten bacon since I was a teenager and I promise you, eating it would not have made my life or anyone else’s life better. If you want savory, go caramelize some onions, for God’s sake. Seriously.