Friday, November 16, 2012

Tour of Chicken Run Rescue

This is how time has been going for me lately. In August I wrote a review of the book City Chickens. At the end of that review, I said,
Coming soon: Photos and a re-cap of the VegKins tour of Chicken Run Rescue on July 21st. SPOILER ALERT: It will contain photos of adorable chickens and humans.
Well here we are in mid-November and I have yet to post that re-cap. Better late than never, I guess! Here are some photos (I didn't get as many as I would have liked because I was too busy managing my kids and petting chickens):

First up, our gracious host, Mary. Chicken Run Rescue is literally her and her husband's basement and back yard. The amount of good that they do with that square footage is awe inspiring and humbling.

Anna wondering if this chicken would let her pick her up.

She was unsure at first (they both were).

Anna and Liam with a couple VegKins friends. VegKins (our vegan family group that meets up monthly) has blown up in the last year or so, largely because of events like this and our annual Halloween party and Spring (plastic) Egg Hunt.

Your's truly. What a rare thing it is for me to post a photo of myself on this blog.

Holy crap, here's another one of me! That's a six or seven year old Herbivore shirt that I'm wearing, by the way.

Anna eventually grew more comfortable with the chickens.


Liam never really warmed up though. Maybe next time...

All in all, it was a nourishing day. All four of us met and held chickens for the first time in our lives (Liam held one briefly, but I didn't get a photo).

I know on an intellectual level why I'm vegan. My kids know why we're raising them vegan. Meeting these birds though, really drove home a different aspect of veganism. It's one thing to say that the principle of equal consideration dictates that all sentient beings should have the right to live free from unnecessary harm and death, but it's quite another to hold a living, breathing, thinking, feeling being in your arms, stroke her feathers and scratch her head, apologize on behalf of your species, recommit yourself to never participating in the exploitation of beings like (and not like) her ... and to know that as long as you breathe you will be vegan because it matters as much as something can matter.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Curried Squash Tomato Bisque

It's that time of year when my dad realizes that he planted waaaaay too much squash, and so he pawns it off on his more-than-willing children. Or maybe that's why he plants so much. Either way, I always get a ton of squash from my dad's garden around this time of year and I've found the perfect recipe for using a bunch of it. 

My mom made a vegan tomato squash soup a few years back for Christmas and it was delicious (yeah, my mom rocks). If I remember correctly, it was tomatoes and squash pureed together with some vegetable broth and then sauteed onions were added to it (or maybe the onions were blended in, I can't remember). She gave me the recipe and the first time I made it I taste-tested it and it wasn't as good as my mom's. Not a big surprise there. I let it sit for a while there on my stove and pondered my inadequacy. 

But instead of coming to terms with my failure in the kitchen, I decided to make the soup my own. I added a can of coconut milk to it and some curry powder, garam masala and cumin and BAM! It became something very different and very delicious. The recipe has been tweaked since then, of course. I took garam masala out of it because I ran out and didn't feel like buying more. I'm sure you could put a little in and it wouldn't hurt. And I found that it doesn't need veggie broth, though I'm sure it wouldn't hurt to have some in there if you wanted more leftovers. 

It eats like a meal. And it goes great with saltines or some good crusty bread. 

It's not every year I post an original recipe on this blog. So enjoy, dear readers:

Curried Squash Tomato Bisque

4 cups of butternut squash pulp (other kinds of squash work, too, but probably not every kind)
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion chopped
1 tsp cumin seeds (or 1/2 tsp ground cumin)
28 oz can whole tomatoes with juice
15 oz can of of coconut milk
1 tsp. curry powder (start with 1, add more to taste)
1 tsp. salt
¼ tsp fresh ground pepper
1/8 tsp garlic powder
2 bay leaves

Bake squash (cut in half the long way, place in 1/4 inch of water in a casserole dish, bake at 375 until easily pierced with fork) until tender. Scrape it all out.

Heat oil on med/high heat, add cumin seeds and let them sizzle and/or pop for 30 seconds or so. Add onion and sauté until browned.

Put Tomatoes (with juice) in processor. Blend.

Add squash and onions, process until smooth (the cumin seeds won't blend up and that's fine). If you have an immersion blender, you can blend everything in the pot, but I like to used a food processor and then an immersion blender later if needed. I think it's easier to get a smoother texture that way.

Put that all in a pot, add the coconut milk and heat it up. Add curry powder, salt, pepper and garlic powder (and ground cumin if you didn't use cumin seeds back when you fried the onions). Taste and add more of any of these spices as needed. Add bay leaves and simmer for as long as you want, stirring occasionally.

I'd post a photo, but it's just orange. Close your eyes and imagine the color orange. There you go. That's what the soup looks like. 

OK fine, I'll take a quick photo with my webcam. 

See. Orange. And now you know I have a Maytag stove. 

Reheats wonderfully. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Veganism and Woo

Here's the third part of my veganism and religion essay series (parts 1 and 2 are here and here): 

What is Scientology? A cult? Religion? Despite what one wants to call Scientology, there’s no real appreciable doubt among the majority of society that it’s something rooted in an irrational, illogical, non-scientific, fantastical view of the world.

Scientologists who are vegan—people may be tempted to refer to them as vegan Scientologists—may have a “VEGAN” bumper sticker on their car alongside a “SCIENTOLOGY” bumper sticker. Will this result in non-vegan-non-Scientologists thinking that Scientology is something that vegans do, or that veganism is something that Scientologists do?

Both Scientology and veganism are on the fringe, as defined by dominant culture. Whether or not it’s true in any individual case, people who aren’t vegan will associate the other fringe aspect of a vegan’s life with veganism.

When someone voices two distinct marginalized views in a society that is indifferent or hostile toward those views, they tend to get lumped together. It’s the bumper sticker effect. It may be that veganism or the other fringe element is seen to be the dominant element about a person—one may think, “Oh, being vegan is just something Scientologists do,” or, “Oh, Scientology is just something that vegans do.” Either way, it’s a lose/lose for veganism.

It could be rightly said that I’m unfairly picking on Scientology by using them as an example. Other examples could be used, of course. I’m writing specifically about marginal systems of irrational belief here—marginal in the sense that they have a small numbers of adherents—as opposed to mainstream, culturally dominant religions. I'm not saying here that mainstream religions have some greater claim to supernatural truth than do these marginal beliefs.[1]

I focus on marginal belief systems here because they are viewed by dominant culture as on the fringe, far beyond what the average person would believe.

Given this, lumping veganism in with marginal belief systems hurts veganism. It may well be the case that the inverse is true, that the lumping hurts the marginal belief system, but that’s not my concern here. I wish to see veganism, an ethic of justice for all sentient beings, to proliferate beyond the fringe. As such, I desire to see veganism associated with the mainstream values it already reinforces. I’m not arguing that vegans should instead hitch the vegan wagon onto major religions, but that vegans shouldn’t hitch the wagon of veganism onto anything other than the idea that we should not cause the suffering and death of other-than-human animals when we don’t need to. Nothing else is required.

This argument also goes for the bumper sticker effect that is observed when raw food and other dietary restrictions, myriad new age beliefs, and “woo” are lumped in with veganism.

Regarding the extraneous dietary restrictions that get associated with veganism when vegans advocate them, vegan and registered dietitian Ginny Messina writes:
Advocating diets that incorporate unnecessary nutrition-related restrictions makes it harder for people to go vegan. That goes for fat-free, soy-free, and raw foods diets. Sometimes these variations on veganism are perceived as steps in the same dietary evolution. They aren’t. Veganism is an ethical choice and it’s a diet that is healthful and appropriate at all stages of the lifecycle. Raw foodism is a fad diet that is appropriate only for adults and is based on shaky scientific principles at best. Fatfree veganism is a therapeutic diet for adults with health problems—and as I’ve noted before, it’s not necessarily the ideal approach.
An example of someone who utilizes “woo,” which Wikipedia defines as, “a term used by scientific skeptics for pseudoscience, alternative medicine and New Age beliefs,” is advocate and author of The World Peace Diet, Will Tuttle.

Tuttle co-founded Circle of Compassion, which runs a prayer circle website. On the site, an essay Tuttle authored with co-founder Judy Carman says, “Those of us who saw the film What the Bleep Do We Know? learned, or probably already knew, that our thoughts create energy fields that can affect matter in powerful ways.”

This is what is meant by “woo.” Aside from utilizing junk science and selectively interpreting good science in order to propagate a spiritual worldview, What the Bleep Do We Know? has intractable ties to a sect which believes that a woman, Judy “JZ” Knight, channels a 35,000 warrior named Ramtha.

The claims made in the movie are not supported by science.

Tuttle and Carman continue,
What we are proposing is that we all increase the power of these [animal advocacy] actions exponentially by uniting our focused thoughts on this single phrase at least once a day: “Compassion encircles the earth for all beings everywhere.” Imagine this phrase—this vision—being brought into the minds and hearts of millions of people each and every day and thus generating an energy field of compassion around the world.

I have to wonder why, if this sort of thing works, Tuttle and Carman don’t ask people to focus their thoughts on this phrase multiple times per day, or perhaps focus their thoughts on nothing but this phrase all day long. (I know that Tuttle does not do this, himself. He's a tireless advocate for peace, touring all over the place in order to spread the message of radical inclusiveness detailed in his book, The World Peace Diet.)

This concept that Tuttle and Carman put forth is, of course, similar to the Christian concept of the power of prayer: Pray, and Jesus will answer. Again, I’m not claiming that one way is closer or less close to the “right way.” That’s not the point I’m making here.

The Catholic concept of a wafer magically turning into the flesh of a god because an ordained man in a robe says some words to it is pretty darn out there when you step back and look at it. But the fact remains that Catholics are a respected demographic in our culture. One can’t simply say, when trying to determine how best to advocate on behalf of other-than-human animals, that since the majority of society believes in an all-powerful spiritual being or beings, then statements like the ones Tuttle and others make in regard to vegan advocacy should be treated as just another way of viewing our spiritual relation to reality.

Put another way, in the public relations fight between Jesus and Ramtha, Jesus is winning by a lot, and his odds are great to keep on winning for the foreseeable future. I happen to think that vegans shouldn’t bet on either of them, but if you do bet on the one who has little to no odds of winning, maybe just … keep it to yourself while advocating for other-than-human animals?

Carman and Tuttle write that their books, “can help you educate people about how activism and spiritual work are inextricably linked with animal rights issues. For example, world peace and personal inner peace cannot be attained among human beings as long as we are violently dominating, exploiting, and eating our animal kin.”

I agree with the second sentence, but I wonder what inner and world peace have to do with spiritual work. Spirituality is the belief in non-physical things. Inner peace and world peace are real, physical matters. I need no spiritual belief in order to advocate on behalf of animals and I take offense at the claim that I do.[2]

Veganism requires no more faith than is required when we see a dog yelping in pain and say, “That dog is in pain.”[3] There’s a preponderance of scientific evidence to back up that claim of pain. On the other hand, there’s a poverty of scientific evidence to suggest that merely thinking about something can change it, or that a woman can channel a 35,000 year old warrior, or that raw foods are always healthier than cooked foods, or that oil has no place in healthy diets.

Vegans may do well to keep a large gap between their advocacy of veganism and their advocacy of other fringe beliefs and actions, especially when those beliefs and actions are supported neither by the culture at large or by anything close to the scientific evidence which supports veganism.

[1] For what it’s worth, if I were to make a claim at all in this regard, I would claim that all supernatural claims are equally, patently false.
[2] I am aware of the humor of this statement, considering that it appears within a piece sure to offend many people.
[3] Substitute any animal you want for “dog” in this statement, including “human.”

Monday, November 12, 2012

Coming Soon: Confronting Animal Exploitation -- and another Deleted Scene

The book which contains my essay on vegan parenting is almost published. Confronting Animal Exploitation: Grassroots Essays on Liberation and Veganism should be out from McFarland Books early next year. 

I'm really excited for this book to drop. I've read most of the essays contained within and their awesomeness is matched only by their diversity. Some essays are heavy and ground-shifting while others are personal and contemplative. Here's a description of the book from McFarland
As animal exploitation increases, animal liberation issues are of growing concern, as seen through the rise of veganism, academic disciplines devoted to animal issues, and mainstream critiques of factory farms. Yet as the dialogues, debates and books continue to grow, the voices of "street level" activists--not academics, journalists or vegan chefs--are rarely heard on a national level. 
This volume broadens animal liberation dialogues by offering the arguments, challenges, inspiration and narratives of grassroots activists. The essays show what animal advocacy looks like from a collective of individuals living in and around Minnesota’s Twin Cities; the essayists, however, write of issues, both personal and political, that resound on a global scale. This collection provides a platform for rank and file activists to explain why and how they dedicate their time and what is being done for animals on a local level that can translate to global efforts to end animal exploitation.
Pretty cool, huh?

I'm going to start posting more snippets that I've cut out of my parenting essay on here, which I'm calling "deleted scenes" because it has a better ring to it than "essay cuts." Though these scenes won't be published, they should give you a decent idea of the sorts of themes I touch on in my essay.

In the essay, I use books and other media as examples of the barrage of speciesism our children face. Thankfully, not all books perpetuate speciesism on a readily apparent level:
Wild Talk: How Animals Talk to Each Other details the many ways that other-than-human animals communicate among one another. From the booming howels of howler monkeys to the songs of humpback whales and blinks of fireflies, the book presents conscious communication as just that. In addition to taking communication at face value, all animals in the book are either gendered or referred to as the plural “they,” as opposed to the genderless, deindividualizing "it."

Wild Talk is not an animal rights book. It doesn’t give us any guidance on how to treat animals. And there are slight improvements that would make it even more animal rights-friendly. For example, after a section in the beginning that details how we humans talk to each other, the book says, “Animals have a lot to say to each other, too.” It should, of course, say, “Other animals…” because we humans are definitely animals as well. Also, referring to the animals in the book as “wild” lumps them in an artificial category that serves to further the perceived divide between humans and other animals. But aside from those qualms, this book is a great, neutral (in that it doesn’t take a stance on any contentious issues) treatment of how other-than-human animals communicate with one another.
Just a note on the "wild animal" critique that I make there. I prefer the term suggested by Joan Dunayer, which is "free-living animal." The word "wild" reinforces the perceived normalcy and rightness of domestication in all of its forms. Free-living animals aren't wild, they're just animals, freely living in their natural habitats. By creating a category for animals who live in their natural state, we suggest that that state is just as benign and normal as the state we created for them - the domesticated and/or caged state.

And yes, I realize that "free-living" is a category in a similar way that "wild" is. The difference is that it more accurately and objectively describes the individuals we're talking about. There's a fog that needs to be cleared here and the phrase "free-living" helps in that effort.