Wednesday, June 12, 2013

ARZone Podcast

Well hello there! 

Just thought I'd let you all know that I'm on the most recent ARZone podcast

Carolyn Bailey and Tim Gier asked me some really great questions about my essay in Confronting Animal Exploitation and about vegan parenting in general. I also give a really long answer to "The Ronnie Question," which basically lays out my entire vegan history. 

This is the second podcast I've been on now, and I actually quite enjoy it. I'm amazed again at how coherent and knowledgable I sound. Sure, I'd change some things if I could. But for the most part, I'm happy with how it turned out. It shouldn't go without saying that Tim's editing skills likely have a lot to do with how pleased I am at the result. 

So click here and then choose a way to listen to it. And let me know what you think! 

Also, if you've read my essay in Confronting Animal Exploitation, I'd love to hear any feedback you have. I'm so used to the internet where people can tell me if they like or dislike what I've written right after reading it. It feels odd to have put such a substantial piece of work out there and for people to have no direct and immediate way to let me know what they think of it. So humor me if you can, m'kay? 

Until next time...

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Bringing the Kids Along

The whole family volunteered at a street fair a couple weekends ago. Left to right is my wife Jen, Liam, Dallas (the program coordinator of Animal Rights Coalition, the organization we volunteer for), and Anna. We were handing out samples of Beyond Meat, telling people about it and explaining why and how one can go vegan. 


Dallas asked me if we would like to volunteer as a family and I told her I'd have to get back to her. I talked it over with Jen and the kids and they all agreed that it would be fun. When we got there, it was decided that Anna would tell people what the samples were made out of (she memorized some of the ingredients). While she did that, Liam would sort of sneak in and hand out a pamphlet about veganism. 

Which reminds me that I wrote something for my Vegan Parenting essay in Confronting Animal Exploitation that I never found a place for.

Parents as Activists - Bringing the Kids Along

Parents of all kinds find themselves with less time to do the things that are important to them. Raising our children becomes of the utmost importance, of course, but we all came into parenthood with passions, and those passions don’t evaporate when we start changing diapers.

Maybe you leafleted every weekend before you had kids. Maybe you were a rabble-rouser at community meetings. Maybe you spent all your free time doing online activism.

Regardless of what you did, you have less time for it after you take on the responsibility of raising a child or children. But this doesn’t mean you have to give up activism. While it’s tempting to get someone to babysit the kids so you can go out and do your adult-world volunteering, the reality is that there’s often no reason you can’t just pack the kids up along with your placards and pamphlets.

Plus, getting a sitter costs money. Just bring the kids along. As long as it’s safe, bring them along and then they can see what their parents are passionate about. And maybe they’ll ask to join in once they realize what you’re fighting for. Or maybe they’ll choose to sit and watch. Maybe they’ll be embarrassed beyond words. Doesn’t matter.

Maybe your friends and family will accuse you of using your kids to advance your cause. How do we respond to the idea that we’re using our kids to support a cause, instead of simply exposing them to that cause and letting them join in if they want? Fortunately, this judgment of parenting likely isn’t anything of the sort. It’s a veiled judgment of the ideology of animal rights.

I saw a lot of children at the protests leading up to the Iraq war and I thought the parents probably just brought them along because they (the parents) really wanted to go and didn't want to have to pay for a babysitter. Those parents also probably wanted to show the kids what community involvement can look like and that standing up for something you believe in is something worth doing. The kids may have held signs, but I doubt the parents were intentionally using them as props.

And more importantly, no one was accusing them of doing so. Anyone who did would rightfully be criticized as grasping at straws. Searching so hard for something to criticize that they set their sights on children. In addition to calling into question our parenting abilities on the face of it, the critics also negate our children’s obvious ability to grasp arguments and form opinions about issues. Yes, of course, very young children almost always believe what their parents believe, act how their parents act, do what their parents do. But for some reason, their ability to do even this is called into question when our kids are handing out a vegan pamphlet, or holding a sign critical of the pet trade. 

We may not bring them to the protest with the intention of them holding a sign, or maybe we do. But no one can make a child hold a sign. They choose to do it, and their choice should be recognized as just as valid as any other choice a child makes. 


Plus, how adorable is Liam handing out that literature? He doesn't look it, but he said he was a little nervous. I know the feeling. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Cancer

My friend Ryan has cancer.

You might remember Ryan from Midwest Vegan Radio. She and Dallas interviewed me and Anna for a podcast a while ago.

She has stage 3 breast cancer. She's 33. So far, expenses have surpassed $60,000 and she's had to miss quite a good deal of work because of chemo sessions and such.

At the end of the month, I'll be shaving my head to raise money for Ryan. If you can afford to donate, please do so at this medical fundraising site and write a note saying that you're sponsoring Al's not-yet-shaven head. Anything helps. If all of you reading this donated just a little bit, it would help a whole hell of a lot.

Plus, the head-shaver who raises the most money gets a prize. I'm not going to lie, I like prizes.

And since I'm shaving my head at the end of the month, I decided to take this opportunity to do something I've wanted to do for a long time: dye my hair blue.

First I had to bleach it (this photo was taken by Anna, by the way).


Then I turned it blue.


So there you go. I dyed my hair so that you would keep reading and see yet another link to go donate money to my friend who, in addition to having to deal with the horror of cancer, is also having to deal with the horror of paying for cancer.

Thank you in advance,

Al

Friday, March 15, 2013

Panda Club

During recess at school, Anna participates in something called Panda Club. It's something one of her friends came up with. The gist is this, according to Anna: Pandas are endangered because people are cutting down the forests. Panda Club helps the pandas. At the beginning of recess, they have a meeting and each kid comes up with ideas to help out the pandas. I asked Anna what one of her ideas was.

"Plant more trees," she said.

Liam was sitting with us when we were talking about this. He chimed in, "But then they'll keep cutting down the trees."

"But then we'll plant more trees," Anna said.

"But even those trees you growed," Liam said, "they'll cut down."

At which point Anna started ignoring Liam.

One of her friends had the idea that they could stop the people from cutting down the trees. I asked how they go about doing that.

"We tell them that we'll hurt them if they don't stop."

Yeah. I know. If that ain't some militant FBI-probe-inducing stuff right there, huh? I hope the FBI isn't reading this, because then they might have to issue a grand jury summons to Mrs. Jones' first grade class.

I asked Anna, in a one-on-one conversation, if she thought it was OK to actually hurt people who wanted to cut down the forest. She said she didn't think so. I told her that people have done things like slashing tires and doing other things to stop people from destroying habitats. She thought that sounded better. I agreed, but then asked her to think about the people who work for those companies that cut down forests and how the money they make from that job might feed their children. On the other hand, they could just get a different job. 

Then I explained how we try to see the world in black and white, but sometimes it's actually grey.

You know what they weren't doing in Panda Club though? They weren't capturing pandas and imprisoning them in zoos in order to preserve their species. That's just ridiculous. Stopping the habitat destruction makes way more sense, right? 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The One Where Anna Goes to a Zoo

Anna's class took a field trip to the Minnesota Zoo today.

We don't go to zoos, since we believe that animals have the right to live free from ownership and exploitation (if you want to read more of me moralizing and condemning zoos, read my post, One More Dead Wolf).

We told Anna that she could make her own decision of whether or not to go on this field trip. She chose to go. And honestly, I would be a bit concerned if she chose to stay home. She's a social kid and she wants to be with her friends and classmates. She knows that simply going to the zoo on a free field trip (at least free to her and us, since we didn't have to pay anything for it) isn't going to make those animals' lives any harder. And yeah, I'm rationalizing letting her go. But the way I see it, it wasn't my decision. It was hers and I respect her right to make it. (Letting go is a long process that starts with baby steps like this, right?)

Also, she was really excited to see penguins.

Sigh.

I can't help but sigh. Don't get me wrong, I would be excited to see penguins too! I totally get it. But I also get why zoos are sad, sad places and I want nothing to do with them.

I gave Anna a basic rundown of why zoos are sad, sad places. I didn't do this to make her feel guilty for wanting to go (she didn't) but to clue her in on things to look for and think about while she's there. My hope was that she wouldn't uncritically accept the notion that animals in a zoo are as happy if not happier than they would be in their natural habitat.

"They try to make it like their natural habitat," she said, repeating something she heard from her teacher. I asked her to think of how big the savannah is. Now think of how big a lion's cage in a zoo is. They recreate just an itty bitty tiny slice of their natural habitat, if that. Lions move from place to place. They run distances zoos are unable to accomodate. They hunt.

"I know, but I still want to go and see different animals."

Fair enough.

Last night, we read some of her Wild Animal Atlas book, and there was some info in there about emperor penguins in Antarctica. They can dive to depths of over a thousand feet. "The amount of water they have for penguins in a zoo," I couldn't help but adding, "would be like us going to a water park and there being just a small bath tub to sit in."

When Anna came home from school today, I asked how the zoo was. "I saw penguins!"

"What kind of penguins were they," I asked.

"I don't remember. I think they were the kind that build their nests out of rocks?"

"How much water did they have?" I asked.

"It was a pool. And it looked like there was an ocean in the back, but it was a painting."

"Like in Happy Feet? Remember when Mumble runs into the wall painting and then dives into the water and runs into the glass because the pool is so small?"

Yeah. She remembered.

Again, I didn't say this stuff to make her feel bad about going to the zoo. I said it so that she would know why I think zoos are sad, sad places. She gets this. She's also able to completely separate it from the fact that she actually got to see Real. Live. Penguins. That's understandable, I think.

I asked what other kinds of animals she saw. Some turtles and some bat rays, she said. She couldn't really tell me anything about the animals other than that she saw them. Nobody told her anything about the animals, according to her. She didn't read anything about them either. So, all in all, not really an educational trip to the zoo, which is one of those things zoos are always bragging about -- education.

After looking at some animals, they took a break for lunch. I had to pack a lunch for Anna because she was told in advance that there wouldn't be a sufficient amount of vegan food there for her. I asked what the other kids ate.

Hotdogs, she said. They ate hotdogs.

So much for having the animals' best interests in mind, huh zoos? Not only are hotdogs made from the flesh (among other parts) of tortured animals, but they're also a product of the meat industry, which is, according to the UN, “one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems." Problems, by the way, which negatively effect the natural habitats of members of the same species who you keep caged at the zoo because you claim to care about ... wait for it ... the survival of their species!

But fuck that, right zoos? Who the hell is going to come appreciate the wonder and beauty of imprisoned nature if they can't dine on the flesh of animals while they do it?

Ahem.

Anyway, Anna went to a zoo. So ... thoughts on that? Anyone else out there had to deal with non-vegan field trips? Care to share?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Living up to the Lessons We Teach our Children - an excerpt from Confronting Animal Exploitation

Here's another excerpt from my 23-page essay in Confronting Animal Exploitation, officially due out April 1st (though it looks like you can put it on a Kindle or a Nook right now if you wanted to).
The late Stanley Sapon, professor of psycholinguistics at the University of Rochester, said, “we typically raise children from birth to five or six years in a kind of fantasy-land of ideal behavior on the part of the world’s inhabitants … a ‘land of goodness and mercy,’ a land where the animals are our friends, and we are the friends of the animals.”

Children under a certain age are not taught that other-than-human animals are here for us to exploit and kill. Instead, representations of these beings are used in children’s media to illustrate life lessons, as in books like Chicken Little and The Three Billy Goats Gruff. Other stories also teach us that other-than-human animals should be spared suffering and death—as is the case in Bambie—and should live free from captivity and have their intrinsically valuable lives respected by others—a major theme of, for example, the children’s movies Free Willy and Rio.

Vegans parents take these lessons to their logical conclusions and teach their children to not only say that animals are our friends, but also act as if they are. It’s not enough to say, “Be nice to animals.” We need to actually be nice to all animals. Chicken dinner, steak on Fridays and eggs for breakfast run counter to this message.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Vegan Kids Rebelling Against Their Parents? - an excerpt from Confronting Animal Exploitation

April 1st! That's the official publication date of Confronting Animal Exploitation. To celebrate the impending release of this book, I'm posting an excerpt from my essay, Vegan Parenting: Navigating and Negating Speciesist Media, which appears in a section of the book titled Veganism in Action.

As the title suggests, my essay centers on speciesism in children's media. But the essay also includes a section that focuses on attitudes which undermine vegan parents and a section in which I outline some practical advice on how to talk to our kids about veganism and speciesism. This excerpt is from the section about attitudes intended to undermine vegan parents.

Another reason children of vegan parents will inevitably choose to eat non-vegan foods, according to some, is that they will rebel against their parents when they reach their teens. They will become ardent meat eaters, much to the joy of the meat-eating majority. It’s an interesting claim, but it’s one that doesn’t warrant much concern from vegan parents.

Vegan parents who are vegan for the reason of respecting the interests of other-than-human animals will likely pass that respect down to their children. An analogous example would be children who are raised as anti-racists. When a person learns from the get-go that oppression is wrong, it’s hard to lose that knowledge. If parents teach their children about the oppressive ideology of speciesism, the oppression of other-than-human animals, and sentience and the interest in living that it entails, then there’s no compelling reason to believe that the kids will someday unlearn that.

Of course, there is still a probability that children of vegan parents will decide that they shouldn’t respect other-than-human animals, or that respecting them means something other than being vegan. On the flip side, there’s also a chance that all the kids of non-vegans out there will come to veganism later in life. Parenting is full of unknowns. All parents need to make peace with that fact.

I'll be posting more excerpts as the publication date gets closer. I'm so excited for this book to come out and for all of you to buy it!

Want to know more about the book? Check out the descriptiontable of contents and author bios. And like it on Facebook

Friday, February 1, 2013

Apa's Nighttime Poem

Here's a Friday poem from Anna.

Apa's Nighttime Poem 
I love you in the morning
I love you when I'm at school
I love you in the afternoon
I love you in the evening
I'll always love you, Apa

Here's Apa. He's a flying bison. He's awesome.


Anna asked for and received a stuffed Apa for Christmas from her Grandpa Ned. She looooves him. So much so that he's started to eat breakfast with us:


And when he's done with breakfast, he plays with some Legos:


And she writes love poems to him.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Photos!

Guess what happened to my blog? Facebook, that's what!

This blog used to be the way I would communicate with my family and friends, in addition to the world at large. As such, I would put photos up from trips and holidays and all that. 

But now I'm connected with my family and friends on Facebook, so I put photos up there. And no offense world-at-large, but I just plain forget to put the photos up here, too. 

So my posts have been a bit more cerebral in nature as of late. And that's fine with me if it's fine with you. Actually, it's fine with me either way (again, no offense).

But I occasionally need to remind myself of why I started this blog in the first place. First and foremost, I wanted to show the world my healthy and happy vegan family. I wanted to show how we exist within and contribute to our culture while abstaining from certain aspects of that culture. I wanted to contribute to the normalization of veganism in general, and vegan families in specific. 

Because I do feel like part of a normal family. So normal, in fact, that the average blog reader may find us boring. Which may, in part, explain the lack of photos and posts about our familial exploits. 

Anyway, enough of that. Here's a bunch of photos taken within the last few months.

Liam with a sword.


Liam with Darth Maul's double-bladed light saber. The kids have been big into Star Wars as of late. 


Took a trip to Colorado to visit family for Thanksgiving. Here, Anna and Liam duel their older cousin Noah, who wields the double lightsaber with great skill.


First big snow of the year. Anna builds The Serpent's Pass from Avatar: The Last Airbender. That show is awesome. Jen and I loved watching it as much as the kids, if not more.


Liam bought Saesee Tiin's Starfighter with the money he got for Christmas. It was a pretty big set and he put together about 90% of it (with my help, but he put the pieces together by himself ... I just sort of directed him and helped him understand the directions).


Anna and Liam were pretending The Empire Strikes Back. Here's Anna's best "Han in carbonite" pose:


And some original lego creations. This one by Liam.


This one is Wolverine's House by Anna.


And one more by Liam. These are 100% their own creations. I love seeing what they come up with.


After a trip to the children's museum. According to Liam, one side of his face is Zuko from Avatar, and the other side is The Emperor from Star Wars. 


Anna put together one of Liam's birthday presents. That's an AT-RT.


Finally, we went to Minnehaha Falls last weekend. It was frozen and awesome. We tried getting behind the ice, because it's like Superman's fortress of solitude back there, but it was too dangerous. Maybe next time...



Hey, that wasn't so boring after all. We should do this more often!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Lego Birthday Party!

Liam's Lego birthday party, to be exact.

My newly four year old son loves Legos, and this is probably the last big themed party that we're going to do (actually, we never did a themed party for Anna ... Liam's Star Wars themed party last year was the first time for us, unless you count the hospital-themed birthday party they each had when they were born). So we went all out (or at least our version of "all out") and dove headlong into the theme. I've been a big fan of Legos for most of my life, so that may have something to do with my willingness to put in time and effort.

Here's a hot tip for Lego parties: Just buy yellow things and draw little smiley faces on them like this.


Kids' cups, gift bags, etc. Easy peasey.


We bought a couple lego molds online and had fun with them. The bricks on top of these cupcakes below (which are topped with the cookies and cream frosting from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World) look like plain chocolate, but I actually put a small layer of chocolate down in them, then a layer of crushed oreos and then another layer of chocolate. So basically, you have oreo candybars on top of a sugarbomb. We don't roll this way often, but when we do, we do it right.


And yeah, I need to perfect making candy with chocolate. I guess I need to learn how to temper chocolate?

We bought a minifigure mold, too. I made one batch of chocolate minifigures in it and then made the mistake of melting crayons in the mold (I didn't get a photo of them, but we sent two minifigure crayons home in each party bag), thinking I'd make more chocolate guys later. Well, after making the crayons, I couldn't get this white film off the mold, except for with Goo Gone, which then left a horrible orange smell (and probably toxic chemicals) on the mold. So yeah, no more edible minifigures coming out of of that mold. 


It was pretty easy to put a Lego twist on party games. This is Pin the Plunger. I built this on a baseplate, and the goal is to put a lego plunger (you know, those long skinny round pieces with a single round convex peg on the end of them? ... I really should have taken a picture of the plunger ... oh well) as close to the middle as possible. Blindfolded, of course. The winner got a little Lego set. 


Guess how many legos are in the jar. Spoiler alert: It was something like 152. Again, the winner got a little lego set or a minifigure. 


And that was it for games. Which is OK, because we brought a bunch of Legos for the kids to play with. And they did. (Megablocks for the little kids, regular Legos for the bigger kids.)


Even the utensil holder was made from blocks. Liam and I made this one together. 


The food spread. We did make-your-own bagels this year. In addition to veganizing the two recipes from here, we cut up some cucumbers and tomatoes and had some Tofurky slices. We also made a delicious Maritime Chickpea Salad (that's what I call it, since I dislike the phrase "mock tuna") from Yeah, That Vegan Shit (I smile every time I see that blog title). And some fruit, peanut butter and jelly, and babka from Breadsmith. 


What Liam looks like when everyone sings Happy Birthday to him:


What Liam looks like when he blows out all four candles from almost two feet away:


Like I said, I didn't get a photo of the party bag contents, but it was two minifigure crayons, a homemade Lego coloring book (do a google image search of "lego coloring pages" to get an idea of what was in there), and a mini Lego set.

So that was our Lego party. And now Liam's awash in new Legos and everyone's happy (including me ... because Legos are awesome). 






Um ... but with all that said, go check out this Birthdays Without Pressure page. As awesome as this party was, you really don't need to go stressing yourself all out in order to have a great time. [end of hypocritical PSA]