Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Cora and the Turkeys

The Vegan/Vegetarian Thing

I've wanted to write about this subject for a while. What's kept me from actually doing so is that I've been experiencing many changes diet-wise over the last months while volunteering at the farm. These changes have been coming very quickly. So quickly that the whole picture has been difficult to frame. Right now I'm taking a break from the farm and consequently have some time to step back, put some thoughts together, and finally write this.

Am going to guess that we all know what a Vegetarian is, but maybe the word "Vegan" might be as unfamiliar to you as it was to me when I started volunteering at the farm.

Here's what Wikipedia has to say:

"Veganism (also known as strict vegetarianism or pure vegetarianism) is a philosophy and lifestyle that avoids using animals and animal products for food, clothing and other purposes. In practice, a vegan (an adherent of veganism) commits to the abstention from consumption or use of animal products, including meat, fish, and poultry, animal gelatin, honey, eggs and dairy products, as well as articles made of silk, fur, wool, bone, leather, feathers, pearls, nacre, coral, sponges and other materials of animal origin. Most vegans also avoid products that have been tested on animals. People become vegans for a variety of reasons, including ethical concerns for animal rights, welfare, and/or concern for the environment. Other reasons are the perceived health benefits and/or spiritual or religious concerns."

This description doesn't mention medical "procedures" (which I need to address later). Additionally, someone who is Vegan might want to add some thoughts to this description but it contains enough information for this writing. I believe that most everyone found at the farm on a regular or frequent basis is Vegan. As far as I know (I do not ask) I'm the sole volunteer who is an Omnivore. But I appear to now be on a ladder regarding that.

Here's a good place to start: I absolutely love sweet Italian sausage with peppers and onions. It's right there for me just down the street from sex, the ocean, and the right chord change. The bread, peppers and onions, fennel seeds, other spices, and the sausage itself mixed and layered with all of the above into something that for that moment is the best thing on the planet.

And it runs deeper than that.

While living in Bedford Hills I developed an almost yearly ritual every June going by myself to the Katonah Fireman's Carnival for the sole purpose of buying a real carnival sausage and pepper wedge. I'd weasel for a parking spot, enter the fair, find the sausage guy, buy two sausage with pepper and onion wedges and a coke big enough to take all the paint off a Chrysler- and then leave. It was all I wanted from the carnival.

It also runs over-the-top.

I even once asked someone at work who I knew was going to the Goshen County Fair to bring me back a sausage with peppers and onions. The following morning she brought it into work and even though it sat in a paper bag all night I ate it on the spot like I might never see another one.

I love the taste of sweet Italian sausage with peppers and onions. And that has enormously contributed to my now being on this Vegan/Vegetarian "ladder".

The thing is, I love the taste of sweet Italian sausage with peppers and onions but that's the beginning, middle, and end of the story. It "tastes good". Period. I eat it for no other reason. And that's that. Now though, it "tastes good" is becoming not a good enough reason to eat one. Since being at the farm and spending time around the animals I'm losing my taste for meat and dairy in general. (Not a bad spot to say that I still do eat meat and dairy. More to follow.) Oddly though, the thought of leaving meat and dairy behind seems to be only partly a conscious decision. Mostly it just seems to be falling away on it's own. I'm just not pursing it in most places in my life. It seems to be a process. I think I like that aspect of it. I pick up a sausage with peppers and onions wedge now and it isn't the same. It doesn't feel right. It's taste now carries bad baggage. I still did eat one this past Summer while at a carnival.

So, do I "WANT" to become a Vegetarian? Yes, I'd like to try. The alternative is losing it's appeal. Eating sausage, other meat, or dairy products hasn't felt like either the moral or logical high ground for a while now. I wish to exit the scene and see what I find. These days I don't ever find myself wishing for a sausage wedge with pepper and onion and I haven't made one at home since some time last Spring.

Here's where I think I am for the immediate future: I need to develop logistical and behavioral answers to being Vegetarian in order to move on this ladder. In terms of logistics that means finding ways to eat a little bit throughout the day without resorting to animal products. It also means developing a network of places that carry a selection of Vegetarian choices where I can just "run in and grab something". "Convenience" is presently a large obstacle for me. If I could wave the proverbial magic wand and have every possible Vegetarian option at my fingertips throughout the day there would be little remaining issue. As mentioned though, behavioral answers are also required here and are addressed below. Here's what I need to answer both logistically and behaviorally:

* Sugar issue: A few years ago I became slightly hypoglycemic and need to eat small amounts of food throughout the day to maintain the right sugar level. Sometimes I need a blast of sugar when physical exertion is involved such as at work or at the farm. If I'm not carrying enough snacks from home, the vending machine always looms at work and the average deli that I stop at stock few Vegetarian answers. I am building a network though deli-wise. The sugar issue will be solved when I work out a way to keep a sufficient variety of snackstuff with me. I do this at work between my locker and my bag, but I need to up the selection. Also, new postal regulations limit the size of a personal bag that an employee can bring to work. I'm going to challenge the postmaster on this after the next few weeks.

* Convenience/Accessibility: As above, see "locker", "bag", and "network". Between commuting to work, being at work itself, driving to and from the farm, and just plain being out of the house, I spend a large amount of time on the road. Convenience and accessibility are crucial issues.

* Time: While I like to cook when I'm with someone else, I have little time for it otherwise. There's too much I'd rather be doing so I put only a small amount of time into preparing food to eat for dinner, or to stock up and polish off over a few days. A little prep or occasional cooking is okay but mostly I just "grab and go". Discovery of different foods that need little or no prep should blunt the time issue. And I need to just flat out make more time. The busy season at work is now over. Will give it a go.

* Financial cost: Companies/stores that sell Vegan soap, shampoo, and other products are at the economic mercy of the number of their consumers. There just aren't enough of these consumers so prices tend to be high for these items. For now, I can't pay several dollars for a bar of soap or $20.00 for a jar of refrigerated sunflower seed butter. I'm sure there are answers to this but I need to discover them.

* "Comfort Food" Factor: We all have our comfort foods and after 46 years of Omnivorism mine are mostly not Vegetarian. Though as with the example of sausage with peppers and onions, I can now see these falling away with time. I haven't eaten veal since I was somewhere in high school. Today, I couldn't tell you what it tastes like. Pizza is probably my single favorite thing to eat and I've already discovered that pizza with soy-based cheese (and an extra dash of salt) is just fine and does not leave me wishing I had mozzarella instead. I wish though that I could find a pizza place along my work commute that regularly carried Vegetarian pizza. It must be there. In the end, I'm not afraid of losing older comfort foods. I've already adapted some and newer ones will take their place. The other week, having driven Sheila to Newark airport for her trip back to Scotland, she flung (20 feet!) me a plastic wrapped Vegan chocolate chip cookie while standing on the international security check-in line. Neither of us were hauled off by INTERPOL and a new food with a cool story was born.

* Craving: Any food that I find myself craving seems to involve one of the following three factors: 1 Sweet. 2 Salt. 3 Spice (but not hot). I already have answers to these when I'm home. Example: Grab a tomato. Add whatever spice(s) I want. Done. I tend to now use more spices on things than ever before. They're cheap, convenient, and they answer the craving so it all works well. I think sweet, salt, and spice cravings are firmly linked with convenience and accessibility as above. Basically, when I get a craving for something I need to have a ready answer for it.

A craving that I think (but am not sure) that I've had for a while now is for Iron. I think it may have something to do with my craving for meat such as at lunchtime while at work. I still do not eat enough (practically none) green leafy vegetables. Broccoli is downright evil stuff and possession of Cauliflower should be a felony. Answering the Iron question is just a matter of learning a few things though.

* Rituals: What!? You mean watching a movie without popcorn and extra butter!? Are you effing kidding!? I became a Yankee fan because my cousin Joe made the best buttersloshed popcorn while we watched Mickey Mantle and a rookie banger named Reggie Jackson on WPIX. Incredible, but I'm not missing it. I have upped the salt though. I also have this theory that a fine spray (it would have to be a spray) of olive oil might taste good.

Do I "WANT" to be Vegan? No, right now I can't imagine that happening. While the time may come where I would be Vegan in diet, clothing, household products usage and other lifestyle choices, what would prevent me from fully accepting Veganism would be in terms of medical answers. Faced with illness, pain, or in need surgery, I cannot imagine I would decline a medical resolution to a problem based on the resolution's history of animal testing. If an animal testing-wise choice is available between certain medicines or medical procedures then the answer would be clear. If no choice is available the answer would also be clear. For now, I have no idea how to beat the medical question and I don't know how others have come to terms with it. Medical issues aside, I've seen that one can live well with an infinitely lighter footprint on the backs of farm (and other) animals. I'd like to do that.

At present I probably intake a pound of meat a week. Call it two pounds a week factoring in animal products found in cookies, milk for road coffee, etc. and factoring in holidays. Add to that my use of non-Vegan soap, shampoo, etc. and I think it would be a fair estimate that roughly three goat-sized animals have to die each year in order for me to live as I do now. I don't like that number. I'd like to get that number down to one goat this time next year (an odd way to term it I know, but please go with me here). After next year is too far to call.

With that in mind, I need to step up a rung here.


* Anything pig-related including sausage with peppers and onions- I'm done. I have this feeling big chunks of Portobello mushroom simmered in olive oil with rosemary to replace the sausage would be interesting to try.

* Anything chicken, turkey, or bird-related- nearly done. Today I bought a jar of chicken bouillon cubes which I'll bring to work. I'd like to see if drinking a cup of chicken broth before I leave for the road might help the urge to buy a sandwich at the deli and instead just get the cucumber and tomato salad.

* Lamb. Done.

* Pastrami and corned beef. Done. I probably haven't had either of these in a few years and it would be a good time to drop them.

* Fish of any kind with the exception of clams and mussels. Done. This is partly an ecological decision. Our oceans are dieing as fast as we can kill them. For the time being I will continue to eat clams and mussels and see what happens down the road.

* Honey. I don't eat many things with Honey to begin with but will do so if there is no other alternative but to eat a dairy product baked good. Other than that, I can't see myself eating anything with Honey.

Diet (Miscellaneous and Conclusion)

I believe this removes all meat from my diet with the exception of beef, chicken in bouillon form, clams, mussels, and Honey. My present dairy intake is limited to milk with coffee while on the road when soymilk is not available, and I rarely eat ice cream anymore so that can be easily crossed off. Vegan substitutes for ice cream, mayo, parmesan and mozzarella taste just fine. I've never liked eggs so that's not a give-up. I don't eat any so called "exotic" meat so that's not a give-up either. I still eat chocolate chip cookies. In terms of all of the above, I'll need to stay away from restaurants for a while so if you and I don't meet at a diner to chat please humor me for a bit. There's always Starbucks. I will have to continue to spend money at McDonalds (drive-thru) for the foreseeable future in terms of their salads. I'm not in a position yet to ignore the convenience of their salads as they are located, well, everywhere. I need to consider McDonalds salads as a "bridge" on this "ladder". I'm also presently going to leave the door open to other fast-food places if the item they offer is right. Wendys sells baked potatoes and both McDonalds and Dunkin Doughnuts sell iced coffee in the morning which is when I need it. I can think of no reason to visit a Burger King or a Kentucky Fried Chicken. I'm sure there are things on both sides of the plate that aren't coming to mind with all of this but this should give a good indication where I'm at. If you're interested in talking about anything mentioned or not mentioned here feel free to knock.

Home and Personal Care Products

* The two Mother Earth stores on rte. 9 stock all kinds of things in these two categories. I always look but have yet to buy. Whatever I choose to buy over the coming year will be determined solely by price. I simply cannot afford to spend $3.00-$5.00 on a bar of soap or $20.00 for a jar of refrigerated sunflower seed butter. Today I bought 15 bars of Irish Spring soap for $5.00 total. To buy the equivalent Vegan alternative would cost a minimum of $45.00. I wish I could do that but I cannot. I'll look again in the Mother Earth store and try to choose a single category of these products to pursue.


* Leather belt. Gone. An easy give-up. Not sure why I've only thought of this now and not 8 months ago.

* Leather wallet gone as soon as I find ANYWHERE that sells non-leather wallets! No joke! I've so far been to K-Mart, Target, TJ Maxx, and the Dollar Store without finding a single non-leather wallet!

* Down jacket. Gone.

* Leather farm gloves. Will put one more year at the farm on the pair I have and then be done with them. I don't own any other leather clothing except shoes (see below).

* I don't think I've ever owned anything made from silk and I don't like wool anymore. Anyway, I don't own either now and have no need to change that.

* Unless one resides and makes a non-exploitive living on the Arctic ice pack, wearing Fur is for human oxygen wasters.

* I do not own a case for my cell phone. I renewed last June and to this day I cannot find a non-leather case to go with the phone anywhere at any price. It's scratched up pretty good but that's okay. I've stopped looking for a non-leather case.

* My Ipod will be history in another 6 months and the leather case will go with it.

* I wear leather shoes and boots. I do not see that changing in the near future. Again, this is a ladder.

I'm comfortable with everything above as a meaningful ladder rung.

Some additional thoughts (OMG have you gotten this far?!)

* Extremism: If you know me, you probably know that I'm not given to extremism in any form. I run from it. I don't look at this decision as an extreme one. I'm looking to replace a percentage of things in my life with different things. I haven't changed. You and I haven't changed. There, that sounds okay.

* Anger and Rebellion: The "culture of slaughter" that exists in the food industry today is fucking dreadful and I feel the need to respond to it. Removing myself from participation is feeling right.

* A "Word": At Christmas, my mother, who limits her meat intake to fish and her animal products intake to milk and egg used in a limited number of baked goods, told me something that helps her avoid most animal products. She uses the word "Hysteria" to herself and it enables her to pass on whatever she might be offered in terms of meat, milk, cheese, or eggs. This floored me. I've become aware of the value of the word "Hysteria" from the farm but it hadn't occurred to me to keep the word with me. I immediately started using it and I think it'll be around for a while. As mentioned, if you're someone from the farm reading this you already know the value of this word. However, if you're not from the farm and aren't familiar with the context of the word, and you think you might want to ask me what's so significant about the word "Hysteria", do feel free to ask. I promise a far shorter answer than this blog entry. Or even this paragraph. (Seriously.)

Why am I telling all this to you?

There are several reasons. I feel I owe this blog entry to people at the farm such as Jen, Doug, Robin, Anthony, and now Sheila who each in a very good natured way occasionally ask where and why I stand on a certain diet-related issue. I've been telling them for months that "I'll have to put it in the blog. There's no easy answer to just whip off." So, here it is. Finally!

If you're, well, anyone, consider this entry a part of this blog's running thread on "Transition" since leaving Westchester. The blog will be ending in the next few weeks and something I plan on having a lot of fun with will take it's place in two-three months.

I'm also writing this for myself. I've needed to write this out to help give some structure to what's been going on with this part of my life the past months. Placing it in public view adds a good dimension to it for me. I've never been one to keep a journal but entries such as this, and other blog entries, have been a great help in terms of thought structure.

And if you're still awake, all the better.