Category Archives: mostly vegan

On Feeding Our Son Food.

Callum with garden beets

This is Callum. He’s 1 year and 8 months old. He likes birds, buses, water, dancing, pushing things with wheels, reading books, especially ones with monkeys, stacking canned food, throwing rocks at the beach, petting his dog-sisters, and roaming around the yard. He also loves food. Avocados, Yams, refried beans, tofu, goji berries, strawberries, kale, tempeh, zuccinni, lentils, brown rice, crackers, peaches, yogurt, blueberries, apples, raisins, spicy things, coconut milk, sunflower seed butter, garbanzo beans, watermelon, garden tomatoes, indian food, thai food, vietnamese food, peanut butter, toast, noodles, calzones, oatmeal, farmers market fresh apple juice, grapes,   (I could go on).

In addition to breastmilk, Callum thrives on whole foods. Fresh foods. Garden foods. Foods high in protein, rich in vitamins, filled with fiber, minerals, and good complex carbs. We supplement his diet with a children’s multivitamin, a vitamin B-12 supplement (he loves it when we spray it right into his mouth)  kiddo probiotics, and plant-sourced vitamin D and DHA. He has an exceptionally healthy digestive system, and he’s never been sick. Runs a fever or gets a runny nose occasionally when he’s cutting a tooth, but that’s about it. He’s exceptionally well-engaged with the world, a keen observer, experimenter, risk-taker, and adventurer. He’s self-sufficient, sweet, creative, and unbearably cute.

He’s also vegan. His poppa is vegan. His momma is mostly-vegan. When I tell people we are a vegan family, it tends to make them uncomfortable. Some ask questions, like “is your son getting enough protein and good fats?” Others change the subject. Rarely does anyone ask why. Of course, I’m not in the habit of asking people why they eat meat, dairy, or eggs. I’ve never asked another parent if they think their children are getting enough complex carbs, fiber, or leafy greens, or if they’re possibly getting too much protein, transfats, or meat- and milk-borne antibiotics and hormones. I assume that they’re educating themselves about their children’s nutrition in the best way they know how.

By their questions and comments, not a few people have made it clear to me they assume we are undereducated about nutrition, or that we’ve chosen a path of deprivation for political or far-left ideals.  Many people clearly believe its one thing for us to “do this” to ourselves, but another thing entirely to subject our son to our beliefs.  Leaving aside the fact that they’re overlooking the superb nutrition that takes place in our home, they miss a fundamental point: every parent “subjects” their children to their beliefs.  Every parent raises their children the best way they know how, based on what they know about the world and what matters to them.

I’ll tell you what though…. Our table is hardly a place of deprivation.  We use our cookbooks like other people use facebook. We season, sautee, bake, experiment, and savor daily. We love flavor, we love spice, we love to eat, we love to share good food with friends. We embrace dessert with gusto.  And we enjoy our food all the more because we know that the choices we make in our kitchen are in line with our most deeply held values.

compassion. health. stewardship and sustainability. community.

compassion.
Ryan and I believe that if we can eat delicious, filling, sustainable, and nourishing foods without causing suffering, then that’s what we want to do. We don’t judge other meat eaters, and we understand that humans and other animals have been eating meat for millennia. What hasn’t been happening for millennia is the factory farming industry, which causes horrific suffering for chickens, pigs, cows, and other animals, for the entirety of their lives. They do not experience the “humane,” painless deaths we would like to believe, and their bodies are flooded with terror and pain and adrenaline as they are slaughtered. That’s just not something we want to eat, and its definitely not something we want to feed our son. The meat, dairy, and egg industries have gotten savvy to the fact that people are disturbed by these realities, so they market things like “cage free eggs” and “happy meat.” Both of these labels are words used in an effort to sell products. They very rarely reflect reality.

I have a great love for cheese, and my periodic indulgence in it is what makes me refrain from calling myself a vegan. I am not oblivious to the suffering that indulgence necessitates. The cow that gave the milk for the cheese I love didn’t give up her life for my smoked gouda, but her male calf did. To get milk from a cow, you need to get that cow pregnant, then take away her baby so you can take the milk for cheese. Male calves aren’t worth much now that veal is unpopular, so they’re not kept alive. In Tillamook County, Oregon, there are so many of these throwaway calves they’re talking about using their bodies for biofuel. Which takes the edge off my cheese craving. Going through the intense, demanding, exhausting, and often painful physical processes of pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding also put a dent in my desire for queso. I did these things out of love, and they were hard. I shudder to imagine doing those things under coercion. Sometimes I still eat cheese. But it just doesn’t hold the appeal it once did.

health

Healthy eating habits are learned in childhood.  My parents and Ryan’s parents raised us on balanced meals, and the love which with they prepared the food we ate as children set the stage for our choices as adults.  We want to do the same thing for Callum.  If we can start him off with a craving for kale, an appetite for whole grains, a passion for fruits, and a love for legumes, than by golly, that’s what we’re going to do.

There is a literal epidemic of obesity and childhood diabetes in America. The leading causes of death in the United States are heart disease and cancer.    One of the most effective ways to maintain a healthy weight and reduce your risk or heart disease and cancer is to eat a plant-based diet.  The vast majority of animal products in the United States are filled with hormones, to make the animals grow bigger faster (to achieve maximum profit) and antibiotics, to prevent the animals from succumbing to disease in the severely overcrowded and filthy conditions in which they live (again, to achieve maximum profit). If you consume food with growth hormones and antibiotics, you are incorporating those substances into your body also.  Numerous studies have found that animal products consistently arrive on grocery store shelves contaminated with fecal matter and foodborne illnesses like salmonella.  No thanks.

Thanks to our decades-old habit of using the oceans as a dumping ground for garbage, toxic waste, and the radioactive effluence of nuclear power production, seafood is extremely high in nasty crap like heavy metals. Being at the top of the food chain has its price—small amounts of toxins absorbed by plankton become concentrated in greater amounts in the flesh of the fish that eat that plankton. And so on, in the bodies of the humans that catch and consume that fish. Its called bioaccumulation. That means that if I feed my twenty-four pound son fish, he’s consuming a significant quantity of heavy metals.  That’s a lot of work for tiny kidneys—and our son was born with only one kidney. So we’re not messing around.

stewardship and sustainability.

I was raised to be gentle with the earth, and to consider how my choices impact the air, water, and overall health of the world around me. Animal products exact a severe toll on the environment.  Agribusiness has a vested interest in keeping this toll off the front pages, so you don’t tend to read too much about it.  Two trillion pounds of animal waste are produced by the livestock industry in the United States every year.  It has to go somewhere, and it usually ends up sitting in poorly managed holding ponds (from which it evaporates!) or running into waterways.   It takes more than 11 times as much fossil fuel to make one calorie from animal protein as it does to make one calorie from plant protein.  It also takes roughly sixteen pounds of grain feed to produce a pound of meat.  That same amount of grain could feed a lot more people than that pound of meat.  There’s a lot of people on this planet, and less and less space left to produce viable food crops.  Meat just doesn’t make much sense.

community.

Yes, there are farmers out there raising meat, milk, and eggs who are dedicated to compassion, health, stewardship and sustainability.  If you eat meat, milk, or eggs, seek them out.   They are doing something difficult and noble and their product is worth every penny they are asking for it.  Unfortunately, they produce only a teeny, tiny fraction of the meat, milk, and eggs (something like 1%) consumed in the United States.   Most communities that host meat, milk, or egg production have a long list of chronic health problems, thanks in large part to their exposure to toxic watershed and air pollution.  Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) are breeding grounds for infectious disease (think bird flu and swine flu) which can of course spread far from the “farm” on the flesh of animal products).  Slaughterhouse workers have one of the highest rates of occupational injury of any industry in the country.   Animal product production is bad for communities.

When its time to sit down to eat…

We don’t think of our meals as “vegan.”  We think of them as food. We are feeding our son food.  Varied, nutritious, ethical, delicious, plant-based food.   We are not alone in believing this is healthful.  “It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that 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. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes. “
We are not alone in believing this is delicious either.  We would love to have you over for dinner. If you live far away, I will mail you cookies.

I’m going to keep feeding my son food.  And I’m going to send him out into the world knowing how to ask questions, think critically, and stand by his decisions—no matter what they may be.

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Filed under coexistence, community, culture.society.anthropology., Family, Farm Sanctuary, Food, Garden, healthcare, mostly vegan, motherhood, Peace, Vegan Recipes, violence

Coexistence

images

I’ve been particularly attuned to the weather for the last few weeks, because I planted my autumn/winter garden seeds at the beginning of September. Walking to work on nice days, I’ve been guessing at the heat of the light and the number of hours its been landing on the garden, warming the seeds. We had lots of days like that, interspersed with gentle September rainbursts, which I gloried in, imagining the droplets seeping down through warm soil to nourish emerging seeds. It was the perfect weather for starting a cool-season garden.

autumn in the garden 1: ripening tomato

autumn in the garden 1: ripening tomato

Witnessing vegetables sprout from seeds is one of my favorite things, so I watch my garden like a hawk in the days after I plant it. When they’ve had enough time to germinate, I start checking every few hours, increasingly giddy and paranoid. Giddy because I know tiny green shoots will appear at any moment. Paranoid because I know as soon as the shoots appear, the snails will come. They decimated my spring starts, migrating into my garden under cover of darkness by the hundreds and chomping the plants down to the dirt. So, as I took satisfaction in the garden-friendly September weather, I also because increasingly neurotic, imagining hordes of gastropods converging on my garden to destroy everything I’d planted and yearned for.

Autumn in the garden 2: pumpkins

Autumn in the garden 2: pumpkins

As the day neared when the seeds would sprout into the daylight, I became increasingly obsessed with tactics to protect them. I could use poison to keep the snails out. Or something less toxic; say a beer trap for them to slime into and drown. I could even follow the example of New Zealand grandmother Oriole Parker-Rhodes, who decided to one-up the helix aspersa by harvesting them right along with her garden veggies and serving them up in butter and garlic.

Oriole Parker-Rhodes

Oriole Parker-Rhodes

But weirdly enough, even though the snails destroy something I love SO much… I can’t bring myself to kill them. For a couple reasons.

First: its hard for me to kill anything, honestly, which is part of the reason why I am mostly vegan. [I eat fish maybe once a month, cheese once a week or so, and meat once or twice a year. Every meal I cook at home is vegan.]

Second: I’ve come to realize that each of my actions—particularly those that involve consumption—have far reaching consequences. I recently discovered that, in addition to creating a carbon footprint, I am also creating a water footprint. Josh Harkinson recently published a fantastic article on the subject in Mother Jones. Chew on this:

[Farmer] Shawn Coburn, turned toward me and demanded if I knew how much water it took to grow one almond, a cantaloupe, or a pound of tomato paste. (I didn’t. Turns out it’s 1 gallon, 25 gallons, and 55 gallons, respectively.) “The people in the city, they don’t know what their footprint on nature is,” he scoffed. “They sit there in an ivory tower and don’t realize what it takes to keep them alive.”

autumn in the garden 3: peppers

autumn in the garden 3: peppers

Farmer Shawn is right. We have no idea what it takes to keep us alive. After reading Harkinson’s article, I did some research and discovered that being mostly-vegan also enables me to reduce my water footprint by nearly TWO TONS every year. Once I learned that, I became obsessed with my two tons of not-wasted water. Where was it? I started imagining a tiny, two-ton alpine lake, ringed with talus slopes and huckleberry plants. Every day in the year I abstain from consuming animal products, the lake gets a little deeper. If I’m dawdling in the shower, I picture my lake-level dropping, and I turn the water off. I try to only water my garden at night or in the early morning, and if a dry spell goes on for too long, I will stop watering altogether and let my garden die until the rains come again.

I suspect that, akin to the imaginary lake filled with water I have Not wasted, there is an unseen ecological consequence of all the snails I have Not killed.

I’m not against using scare tactics. The other day, while helping me rake leaves and fill holes our dogs had dug in the yard, my friend Gretchen picked up a snail to study it more closely. Her chocolate lab puppy Butters darted up and licked the snail, top to bottom.

Butters, prior to snail-attack, in bottom left.

Butters, prior to snail-attack, in bottom left.

Gretchen turned the snail to face her and informed it seriously: “Tell all your friends. This is what we do to snails around here.” Then she tucked it safely in an empty potting container, from whence I deposited it in the (covered) compost cone later that day, to live out its snail-life in a paradise of rotting vegetable matter.

I’m too lazy and squeamish to pick them off my garden at night with a flashlight, like Thich Naht Hahn does at Plum Village. Some online gardeners suggest lining your garden with hair clippings, but I don’t have any at the moment. I have lots of dog hair, but I’m sure it would blow away. Eggshells are also supposed to dissuade snails from crossing into your garden, but being a predominantly vegan household, we don’t generate any eggshells. Copper is also rumored to dissuade snails and slugs via a tiny shock to their tender bellies (vaguely Guantanamo, but still non-lethal), so I tried lining my garden with pennies. It seemed to be working, but then they started getting knocked off the edge of the bed by unshocked and/or braver snails, clearing a path for their legions of followers.

By the time I’d pulled together a little extra cash to buy copper wire to wrap around my 36 foot garden perimeter, it was too late. The snails had made short work of my babies. Six rows of winter greens, chomped all the way down to the root. And despite all those hours of obsessing over my seeds, weather patterns, and non-lethal slug aversion techniques, I wasn’t angry at first. Just sad and frustrated.

I comforted myself with the concept of coexistence. I thought of a conversation I had last week with Dharma teacher and organic gardener Dan Peterson, who reflected thoughtfully that the snails probably enjoyed eating his garden just as much as he did. Staring ruefully at my decimated garden, I thought about Aldo Leopold, who noted in the Sand County Almanac, that humans are simply “plain members of the biotic community.” Who’s to say those snails’ pleasure is any less important than mine? I’ve identified philosophically with deep ecology since my early twenties romance with the writings of Gary Snyder. I agree with deep ecology’s founder Arne Næss, who wrote in 1973: “The right of all forms [of life] to live is a universal right which cannot be quantified. No single species of living being has more of this particular right to live and unfold than any other species.”

Still, this was MY garden! Those winter greens belonged to Ryan and I. We were going to use the kale in soups, as and bake it in olive oil and salt. The spinach was going to get drowned in peanut sauce and served up with tofu, and the rainbow chard was destined for hundreds of breakfast scrambles. I clambered into the garden and knelt down, searching in vain for any surviving green. There was none. Now I was mad. I shouted at the alley, and retreated into the house.

Later, I listened to a recording of a talk Dan Peterson had given at the Seattle Shambhala Center on mind terma, the treasures of Buddhist teaching passed from teacher to student through the generations. I’m not a practicing Buddhist, and I have trouble sitting still, so a lot of Buddhist teachings sail straight over my head. But Dan tells great stories, and his talk pulled me in. He talked about “how we wake up, moment by moment.” I thought of all those days I’d taken note of the weather and the light, and all the times I’d knelt by the edge of the garden to watch for the tiny miracle of green sprouts pushing their way up through the dirt. Moment after moment of awakening to my surroundings, to the intimate process of growing food. The moment of discovering decimation by snails contained an equal amount of awe— awe at destruction, not creation. But in that destruction, the snails thrived, and something else was created. Dan told a story from his own garden:

In the morning I go out into the garden in my barefeet to water, and I had the experience of stepping barefoot on a slug. It felt like electricity. It was a sentient being! So I would gather the slugs in a plastic container and carry them to my compost heap. I kept it moist, and they were fine there. Later, I found literally fifty to eighty slugs coming out of the compost heap, and they were all lined up in the same direction, going back to the garden! Our regard for what we call slugs can be east. We can be facing east when we look at a slug. There’s no enemy.

By facing east, Dan was referring to a Shambhala chant. “Radiating confidence, peaceful, illuminating the way of discipline, Eternal Ruler of the Three Worlds, may the Great Eastern Sun be victorious.” He explained:

The East represents richness, brilliance, and is the quality of unconditional experience… Peaceful means that there’s no aggression, which means there’s no territory. There’s complete openness. With no territory, there is primordial confidence. There’s nothing to defend, no enemy. This is a lot of conceptual load to put onto the simplicity of direct experience, but I think its helpful to point out that’s what happening. There’s no enemy… Radiating confidence, peaceful, is east.

I tried facing east. Watching snails destroy my planting, after all those weeks of tending and watching and waiting, was an opportunity. A pile of direct experience to wade into and consider.

There is no territory. The garden Ryan and I built belongs no more to me than it does to the snails. The land the garden sits on belongs no more to my landlord than it does to me. We are all of us only dwelling here for a little while. Here, in my decimated garden, was my deep ecology philosophy made real. How could I be angry? There was no enemy. I took deep breaths. Felt peaceful.

A couple brussel sprout plants were large enough to survived the snails, so today I planted some company for them. Stopped by the West Seattle Nursery and picked up small starts of red cabbage, kale, broccoli, winter greens mix, and some onion and garlic bulbs, all big enough to (hopefully) survive the oncoming snails and frosts.

starting over.

starting over.

It begins again.

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Filed under Aldo Leopold, Arne Næss, autumn weather, coexistence, Dan Peterson, Deep Ecology, facing east, Food, Garden, Gary Snyder, mostly vegan, Sand County Almanac, september in seattle, Shambhala Buddhism, snails in the garden, water footprint, West Seattle Nursery, winter garden