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Week 16 in Review

Mmmmm. Sushi.

Mmmmm. Sushi.

My food experiment has encouraged a few others to try it out for a month and it’s been pretty interesting to see the changes over even that short a period. For my best friend and her guy, the transition back to all-you-can-eat sushi was rough, forcing her to scale back to being more or less vegetarian. Week 16 at our place marks the end of Mike* 30-day vegan challenge and he’s looking forward to starting an eating regimen that involves being a 9-5 vegan with a cheat day somewhere in the week.

Over the first two weeks he noticed a dramatic drop in weight. His clothes fit better, he moved better and the scale was showing numbers he hasn’t seen in a very long time. It’s encouraging when you lose weight without working out a ton. A simple change in diet can be the major boost you need to motivate you to make other healthy changes, like exercising and not thinking of Oreos as a basic nutrient.

The goal of this whole challenge was to encourage a shift away from thinking of meat protein as the main event, and I have to say that despite all my belly-aching I really believe that this has been accomplished way ahead of schedule.

Amount spent on groceries: Hundreds? Thousands?

The last two weeks have been embarrassingly high. Like, in the $350-$400 range. I was working a ton, he was working a ton and there wasn’t a lot of time leftover to cook so there was too much takeout. Guilt had us buying berries, which were on the cusp of going bad in the grocery store and only lasted a few days at home, so we bought more etc., etc. Looking back on the Excel sheet I notice that the less I work, the more time I have to think about food, and the less I end up spending. I think this is a pretty interesting co-relation.

Weight lost: 15 pounds.

It feesl great, especially with spring in the air, to be able to walk into a store and buy a dress size that I relate to. I’ve always gone through a cycle of picking the size I think I am, and then hitting a shame spiral when I realize I’m a size or two up.

Thoughts and Feelings?

Since first writing this post, Mike has had three meat meals and has reported feeling absolute crap afterwards. There was a question early on in his vegan journey about whether or not he would feel more tired without meat in his diet. A few coworkers of his who shifted away from veganism claimed that once they started eating meat again they felt a different kind of energetic that they felt they were missing before.

I’m here to tell you that based on one man’s report, this does not appear to be the case.

‘All I feel is sick,’ he tells me from the couch. ‘But I also want Doritos. I’m very confused.’

 

 

 

*Formerly known as ‘my man’ or ‘my guy’. I just realized that there really isn’t any reason to protect his identity online.

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India answers the question: what if vegetarian was the law.

An actual picture I took in actual India, of an actual pair of cows.

Well, not completely vegetarian – but according to the Guardian ‘Maharashtra, India’s second most populous state, extended a ban on the slaughter of cattle this month and other [Bharatiya Janata Party]-led states such as Jharkhand and Haryana have also tightened restrictions on trading beef.’

This effort to further protect cows is very likely well supported by Hindus (80% of the population), but as the article suggested ‘discriminate against Muslims, Christians and lower-caste Hindus, who rely on the cheap meat for protein, and fear they could pave the way to a nationwide ban that would threaten thousands of jobs.’

If the last few months have taught me anything it’s that cutting one thing out typically means a spike in something else. I’ve cut out dairy and meat, but probably upped my refined sugar intake. Switching to soy milk may help loosen the dairy lobbyist’s stronghold, but is it worth potentially devastating our last remaining forests to make room for soy agriculture?

And so it goes in India where they are noticing an increase in Buffalo meat since unfortunately, they are not considered sacred.

I was talking with someone about my year-long project who was literally on the edge of his seat waiting for me to tell him that we should abolish the meat industry. When I told him I was equally concerned about the unreasonable pressures and exploitation of contract farmers, he seems almost disappointed.  The problem isn’t that we want to eat meat, it’s that we seem to have this insatiable need to feed meat to millions, which forces us to rely on unnatural means to cultivate animal protein before their natural cycle.

While I am wholeheartedly against factory farming, and the conditions within for both beast and man, I am not entirely convinced that livestock farming should be eradicated*. One reason is because history shows us that the prohibition of anything only results in a pushing it into the black market (think prohibition, abortions, the booming drug trade). You think conditions are bad now…

A second reason is that I honestly don’t believe that the raising and slaughtering of animals should be kept hidden from public consciousness. I think we should be talking about it, and making educated decisions as a society about what is acceptable treatment. This is so difficult to accomplish now because it’s too easy to walk into the grocery store and pick up neatly butchered ambiguous meat chunks and walk away without thinking about anything more than potential wine pairings. I have more respect for someone who can discuss how the sausage is made (without relish) than someone who winces at the idea of dissecting a fetal pig in biology but orders a burger at lunch. It’s a question of ownership.

 

*This is why I will never be a level 5 vegan.


Breaking news: Gwenyth Paltrow unable to survive on limes and tortillas for a week.

Of course there's kale.You’ve no doubt heard about New York Food Bank’s challenge to survive on the amount provided by the U.S.’s SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or Food Stamps), and that Gwenyth Paltrow couldn’t make it four days. I should make it clear that Ms. Paltrow is not my spirit animal, but I did find the criticism that she was unable to stick to a $29 dollar a week diet for a week a bit harsh.

Because frankly there aren’t a ton of people who can. That’s the point. Twenty-nine dollars a week forces you to make some pretty limiting choices about your nutritional intake and when you factor in the fact that some of those dollars have to go toward rent or electricity (or in the U.S., healthcare) then you get food insecurity. The difference between Gwen (can I call you Gwen?) and the other millions of people is the former can delicately wipe her brow and chalk it up to an interesting learning experience.

Does this whole challenge stink a bit of ‘poverty voyeurism’? Sure. But I think more to the point the challenge doesn’t effectively represent how SNAP works. As Vox indicates:

‘SNAP benefits are handed out on a sliding scale — someone who earns more money gets a smaller benefit, and vice versa…So when the average person gets a little over [US]$4 a day in benefits, the SNAP formula assumes that person has other money to spend on food. The government doesn’t in fact expect people to live on [US]$4 a day.’

The point of the challenge wasn’t to show us how easy it is to live on even US$6.50 a day but rather to emphasize that this is a reality for millions. Yet here we are harping on Gwen for buying too many limes when we should be pissed about the fact that the majority can’t afford them.


Replanting trees on farmland – hay or nay?

Now imagine this as trees.

Now imagine this as trees.

B.C. farmers are a bit worried because of a recent shift to changing former agricultural land into forest. The article’s author suggest that this ‘[g]iven the massive drought in California and the uncertain future of food production everywhere due to climate change, it seems crazy to take valuable farmland out of production to grow trees’.

Except I thought deforestation was also a major problem, and the ‘uncertain future of food production’ is more an issue of unknown amount of food wastage as well as abysmal global distribution.

I do, however, reserve the right to remain dubious about the carbon credit incentive – replanting new forest doesn’t fully address the issue that the old forests are being cut down, and it’s possible that there isn’t enough thought going into how it should be replanted. For example farmland was ‘recently purchased by a company that planted pine, spruce and fir on a parcel that once grew fruit trees and alfalfa.’

It feels a bit strange to see outrage over reforestation. But I guess you can mismanage just about anything, even if it’s meant to be good.


Week 14 in Review

The upper limit.One, two, skip a few…

Write it down, ladies and gentlemen, Week 14 was the week I pushed my guy too far. After watching Just Eat It, I took a long hard look at our fridge. We’re actually not doing too badly, I love leftovers for lunch and we tend to only buy what we need for meals. I have to be better about trying to plan meals around what we’ve already got in the house, rather than what I feel like eating but there’s always room for improvement.

And then I saw the prepackaged romaine hearts. He introduced me to these as a quick and easy way to chop up a lot of salad. I loved them but now all I can see is the wasted romaine lettuce leaves that are probably left to rot in the fields, all because I don’t want to spin salad.  I suggested we consider dropping them in favour for the whole romaine lettuce head.

His eyes shut, his head dropped slightly and he heaved the heaviest sigh.

‘I’m on board,’ he gestured to our lives, ‘with all of this. But there’s some things – there’s just some things…I just can’t.’

It’s not that he doesn’t understand completely why we should stop buying prepackages lettuce. He understands the plastic, the waste, the everything that’s wrong with them, but I think I’ve finally hit his limit when it comes to the labour of food preparation.

I’m trying to get comfortable with a relatively empty fridge to bolster my food wastage awareness. When I went shopping today, I resisted buying something extra because it was on sale. And I made a vegan version this soup so that there’ll be leftovers for tomorrow.

So let’s get back on track with the numbers,

Amount spent on groceries: $213.50

We’ve been eating a lot of rice. This is the quantifiable difference when a family eats the same dinner three nights in a row. So stop trying to make something fresh every night and you’ll save money and food wastage!

Weight loss: 15 pounds

The thing I’m finding the most interesting about this journey is how easy it’s been to keep the weight off – despite the fact that I sometimes eat just popcorn for lunch.

Shut up. You do it, too.

Thought and feelings?

See above.

 


Don’t throw that out!

Coffee with a friend of mine reminded me that I needed to see this film. I was so excited because it’s Canadian and think that may have helped to emphasize the impact this film had. It’s harder to think ‘maybe it’s not that bad in Canada’ when you see dumpsters overfilled with the same President’s Choice hummus you’ve probably got in your fridge. I’ve always felt terribly when I have to (or feel like I have to) throw food away but now that the entire process has been laid out for me, the labour, the water and the almost incalculable number of rejected foods that don’t even make it to the grocery store, knowing that I willingly ignored that cucumber to the point of rot makes me feel a bit queasy.

This film has also made me question this obsession with filling food donations boxes with overprocessed, nutrient deficient, non-perishables. What is perishable? What is an expiration date? Are there loaves of bread and ten tons of hummus that could be put to better use?

It’s also forcing me to revisit (yet again) my initial dismissal of orthorexia. Part of the food waste problem is a result of our unreasonable expectation of food perfection. At first, the idea of living off food scraps made my lip curl, but when I saw how well stocked their kitchen became I realized that a couple of bruises on a peach isn’t reason enough to deny a farmer his or her wage. We can be so focused on only using the best ingredients because we’ve been whipped into a frenzy over all the unknowns in our food, we’re losing sight of what can still be considered good food.

We just have to eat it.


Food Security in Ontario

Impact of Food Insecurity The Ontario HIV Treatment Network (OHTN) recently published this handy infographic to show clearly how food insecurity impacts the health and overall well being of people living with HIV. People living with HIV are more likely to be food insecure if they are from a racialized community, women, have excessive housing costs or have ever used drugs. Food insecurity, in other words, is often associated with individuals that experience multiple layers of stigmatization.

This also means that the solution isn’t about better distribution of food, but about leveling out the playing field. How do we know this might work? Because the people living with HIV and aren’t experience food insecurity report experiencing better mental health related quality of life, fewer HIV symptoms, being more likely to take their prescribed medication and finally feeling less stigmatized because of their status.

Just another example of how food is pretty much everything.


You could say it was an EGGistential crisis.

Sunnyside up eggI’ve been doing some vegan soul searching the last few weeks because I still found myself really struggling with the diet. It’s only been three months but I can tell my sugar intake has gone way up and I’ve recently been craving eggs like crazy. Eggs, I’ve discovered, mean a lot to me because they are a primary ingredient for my favourite meal of the day: breakfast. It might sound pathetic, but three months without eggs for breakfast was sending me in a spin.

So there was much discussion about what I should do, introduce eggs and change the subtitle of the blog to ‘Almost Vegan for a Year’? Give up altogether? I decided to do a bit of reading to see if I could find some ex-vegans who struggled with the same thing and came across a couple of interesting open letters.

The first is an Interview with ex-vegan Jessica Pelkey. I found this article pretty interesting because it claims that vegans judge non-vegans probably more than we assume. She also admitted to having huge cravings for sugar and eggs, which is exactly where I’m at. I might be about fifteen pounds lighter, but I’m eating Oreos and cookies way more than before.

This next one ‘Why I’m transitioning away from veganism’ has actually made me rethink my initial snub of the term orthorexia nervosa. Here is the story of a woman that chose a diet so restrictive that it became anxiety inducing. I’m not saying that I am living with that extreme, but I am saying that the stress level associated with dinner isn’t easing up the way I thought it would.

The thing both these articles have in common is their need to apologize, and the huge identity crisis that went along with their decision to break their veganism. In the first, it meant being ostracized by her vegan community, and the second, well, scroll down to the comments.

There’s definitely something hardcore about telling people that you’re vegan. I was sick for a bit and when I went in for a check up the nurse told me to stay away from pork for the next little while. I sat up a bit straighter, tilted my head back and informed her of my diet.

‘Oh,’ she said. ‘Oh well, never mind then.’

That’s right, Dr Quinn Medicine woman, I’ve got this shit locked down.

Or I did. I’ve totally started eating eggs. And I offer zero apologies. Since eating them I’ve felt better and I willingly admit that this is likely psychosomatic since I’ve only been at this for a few months. But since giving myself a break I feel like a huge weight is lifted off my shoulders. I’m back to reading labels more carefully, I’m excited about new recipes and most of all: breakfast.

I am inherently suspicious of extremism. I think the reason why being an omnivore isn’t working for us is because there is a dangerous imbalance of nutrients, and meat protein remains the star of the show. This is what support factory farming and the degradation of our environment. But as we saw with soy and almonds, these have the capacity to cause damage as well.

So yes, I’ve fallen off the wagon – but I’ve found a new one to help me continue my journey.


Why reading this blog post is slowly killing you.

I came across a couple of interesting articles over the weekend that I thought might be relevant to my project. The first is asks whether Toronto should increase its minimum wage to compensate for cost of living in the city. Apparently ‘more than a dozen’ US cities have introduced local minimum wages. It makes sense to pay service workers a bit more, and cities can often afford it. There’s the obvious resistance from businesses to a mandated pay increase, but isn’t it always said that the more people make, the more they’re able to spend, making it better for the economy? Hoarding is not our friend.

I think a pay increase would also make it easier for people to move out of food insecurity. More money left over after paying bills and rent might mean more money to spend on a couple more pints of raspberries (or something). Whatever you’re spending it on, I think a couple extra dollars in your pocket means less stress and a greater willingness to consider what’s healthier.

Speaking of healthier: eggs are back on the menu?


Week 10 in Review

I like coming across articles* that ask whether or not veganism is all it’s hyped up to be. ‘Does being vegan really help animals?’ seemed like it would be address exactly that. And it does somewhat, by putting together some great replies from overachieving vegans (Bruce Friedrich) when they were asking whether they felt inspired by the lives they were saving as a result of their diet.

Each person was pretty clear that they knew that just because they ordered a chilled beet soup and not the burger a man in a factory didn’t make his way down the grated stairs to pull a terrified cow off the line. Being vegan as a reaction against the treatment of animals in factory farms is about removing yourself from the supply and demand cycle, not about saving individuals in the system.

And remember that this only removes you from the meat industry’s supply and demand cycle. Esquire, if you can believe it, has a pretty great piece on the demand for almonds and drought in California. After being linked to health benefits, almond consumption is up 200% since 2005. As a species, we’re a bit like that friend that keeps putting all their energy into the next big scheme, often to the detriment of others around us. I’m still pretty convinced that once this year is up, I’ll be switching to local, grass fed dairy.

Amount spent on groceries: $203.26

This is a record low (for real, this time), and we felt it. This whole week I feel like I’ve been scrambling to get food on the table. There were a lot of leftovers, a lot of rice, a lot of lentils. It was fine, nobody died, obviously, but I think this week I’ve got to get back into the swing of things.

Thoughts and feelings

The sun is shining, the snow is melting and people seem genuinely happier. I’m looking forward to farmer’s markets and fresh everything. Picnics and chilled drinks on patios.

*This article was actually sent to me, but I’ll take credit for the find anyway.