Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A taste so sweet

One thing I love as summer approaches is the availability of Texas peaches, especially the ones from the Hill Country. This past weekend, my wife and I drove to Uvalde and managed to get a couple of bags of peaches. They didn't last. They were so sweet, and the flavor and fragrance of these peaches bring you to an almost culinary orgasm. Since being a vegan, I've eaten more in season than ever before. Like most fruits and vegetables, I'll only eat the Texas peaches when they are available locally. Come December, I'm not going to the grocery store and buying an abomination of a peach from some other country, or even California, if I can help it. Peaches that have traveled far are mealy and nearly flavorless. A peach that has been allowed to ripen longer on the tree emits enticing fragrances from several feet away. One picked too early can not develop the adequate amount of flavor or sweetness. A good peach won't last long. It degrades quickly and is soft to the touch. That's what makes them difficult to transport to faraway places. I've got my own peach tree in the ground. Hopefully when it starts to produce, I'd be happy if its peaches were half as flavorful as the Texas peaches available in the stores and roadside fruit stands right now.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Back to normal

As you can tell from my blog, I've spent a week hyperventilating about the tragic injustice to journalism that The New York Times perpetuated when it printed the recent slurs about veganism by Nina Planck. I could easily slip back into ranting because it upsets me so much, but I know I have to move on. Over the Memorial Day weekend, my wife and I drove to Uvalde, which is about six to seven hours from here. My parents own some property there along the Nueces River. I hadn't been there since the mid-80s, and we couldn't find it despite the directions we got. We called the person my mother bought the property from to help. He is in his 80s now. Despite his help, we couldn't locate the property. It was getting dark, so I asked him if he could drive out there to show us where it was in the morning. He said he would have his son show us, and we bid good night. We checked into a hotel since we couldn't camp on the property. Right after I had check in, the nice old man called and invited us to stay over at his place for the night. I told him about the hotel and declined and thanked him. It occurred to me that if we had taken the old man up on his offer to sleep over, we would have had one of those uncomfortable vegan moments. He probably would have offered us some food at one point. How rude it would have felt to decline after he was so generous. We would have declined any food, of course, but it would have been really uncomfortable. These old-time Texans can be insistent and can take insult when their niceties are rebuffed. Anyway, the property was truly gorgeous. My parents hadn't been there in 14 years, and the neglect did wanders for this land. I'll write more on that in my other blog.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Biased op-ed writer tries to justify work

Vegan hater Nina Planck, author of the completely unsourced, undocumented op-ed "Death by Veganism" that somehow slipped by the editors of The New York Times, is now trying to justify her complete bypassing of journalistic standards in the work. On her Web site, she says she does have a source for her work, anecdotal information from a single family practitioner. She says she had many sources, but the only one she lists is the family practitioner. First of all, we all know that Planck does not have a nutrition degree of any kind, so we can not trust the declarative statements she makes about nutrition. We also know that medical doctors get little if any nutrition training in medical school. This family doctor, who was unnamed, could talk about tests he has performed and demonstrated the results of those, but he can not actually talk about nutrition. He does, however, make a serious accusation: "I have seen cases of severe anemia and protein deficiency in vegan infants resulting in hospitalization and blood transfusion." Now, if this is true, it speaks poorly of those particular vegan parents, but because one doctor may have seen something that he is assuming has to do with veganism doesn't mean he can extrapolate that to make assumptions about all vegans. Why isn't this doctor (I hope he is basing his information on actual tests he performed.) documenting these cases and presenting his findings in a peer reviewed journal if he is so concerned about what veganism can mean for all vegan infants? I'm guessing he doesn't have the evidence to back him up. There is plenty of information out there about raising vegan children and plenty of documented evidence that infants can be raised in a healthy manner on a vegan diet, but any person (including meat-eaters) who gets pregnant needs to become informed about the child's nutrition needs. I'd say a vegan has the advantage over the average person because she has read up on nutrition for herself and is always checking out labels in grocery stores. Anyone who wants to find out more about vegan parenting can visit Veg Source, which has actual nutritionists commenting on veganism using actual scientific studies. I'd trust them any day over a lady who says children are made of "fish oil." Need I say more?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The New York Times shows poor judgment in printing of "Death by Veganism"

NOTE: This is a letter I wrote early this morning to the New York Times' public editor concerning Monday's "Death by Veganism" column:

Dear Mr. Clark Hoyt:

Like many in the community I consider myself a part of, I was shocked and dismayed at the completely factless op-ed piece called "Death by Veganism" written by Nina Planck and printed on Monday, May 21, 2007. The column, because it appeared in such a highly respected and well-read newspaper, trashed vegans so thoroughly that it did more damage than all of the positive efforts vegans have made through the years to educate other people about what veganism is all about. I understand the column was printed on the opinion page, but I have issue with the Times allowing columns containing such gross factual errors to appear in print. Nina Planck is not a nutritionist and she does not cite any sources either from either nutritionists or dietitians or from actual studies on veganism in her column. Yet, over and over, she makes unsubstantiated statements about the deleterious health effects of veganism. She crosses the line from opinion to simply fantasy, and she hurt a lot of people in what she did, including myself. The Times failed to fact-check, failed to write a prompt correction or retraction, failed to print an op-ed rebuttal (I offered one on Monday, the day the column appeared in the Times, and I attached it to this e-mail as a Microsoft Word document) and failed to print letters to the editor in a timely fashion. I have been a newspaper journalist for eight years, including a supervisor of reporters, and I understand the value of printing opinions in the newspaper and getting different viewpoints, but the newspaper must hold the columnists to the same standard as reporters in the printing of facts. Columnists should be allowed to express their opinions, but they should not be allowed to change what is factual. Imagine if one of the Times' columnists said President Bush had invaded Australia. It wouldn't be factual and shouldn't be printed. That is different than weighing in on something that is factual, like the war in Iraq. The consensus of the scientific community is that a vegan diet is healthy. Both the Journal of the American Dietetic Association in June 2003 and the Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research in its summer 2003 issue both printed the following statement: “Well-planned vegan and other types of vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of the life-cycle including during pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence.” Dr. John McDougall, a highly respected physician and nutrition expert, illustrates very well many of the incorrect points Planck made in his column. I pasted Dr. McDougall's piece from http://www.drmcdougall.com/response_to_ny_times.htm:

Nina Planck writes: “You cannot create and nourish a robust baby merely on foods from plants.”

The scientific truth is: Babies at 6 weeks of age require human breast milk and any other diet means malnutrition. Imagine if the exact opposite approach killed an infant with a formula made of pulverized beef and cow’s milk, would this have received similar worldwide press? I believe the case would have been properly considered child neglect (intentional or not) and have gone unnoticed except for those intimately involved. “People love to hear good news about their bad habits” so the tragedy of the death of an infant caused by misguided parents who fed their infant apple juice and soy milk for the first 6 weeks of life has been used to justify eating meat and drinking cow’s milk.

Nina Planck writes: Protein deficiency is one danger of a vegan diet for babies. Nutritionists used to speak of proteins as “first class” (from meat, fish, eggs and milk) and “second class” (from plants), but today this is considered denigrating to vegetarians.

The scientific truth is: Confusion about our protein needs came from studies of the nutritional needs of animals. Mendel and Osborne in 1913 reported rats grew better on animal, than on vegetable, sources of protein. A direct consequence of their studies resulted in meat, eggs, and dairy foods being classified as superior, or “Class A” protein sources and vegetable proteins designated as inferior, or “Class B” proteins. Seems no one considered that rats are not people. One obvious difference in their nutritional needs is rat milk is 11 times more concentrated in protein than is human breast milk. The extra protein supports this animal’s rapid growth to adult size in 5 months; while humans take 17 years to fully mature. The world’s authority on human protein needs, Prof. Joseph Millward, wrote the following: “Contrary to general opinion, the distinction between diet ary protein sources in terms of the nutritional superiority of animal over plant proteins is much more difficult to demonstrate and less relevant in human nutrition.” (References in my April 2007 newsletter.)

Nina Planck writes: The fact remains, though, that humans prefer animal proteins and fats to cereals and tubers, because they contain all the essential amino acids needed for life in the right ratio. This is not true of plant proteins, which are inferior in quantity and quality — even soy.

The scientific truth is: Proteins function as structural materials which build the scaffoldings that maintain cell shapes, enzymes which catalyze biochemical reactions, and hormones which signal messages between cells—to name only a few of their vital roles. Since plants are made up of structurally sound cells with enzymes and hormones, they are by nature rich sources of proteins. In fact, so rich are plants that they can meet the protein needs of the earth’s largest animals: elephants, hippopotamuses, giraffes, and cows. You would be correct to deduce that the protein needs of relatively small humans can easily be met by plants. (References in my April 2007 newsletter.)

Nina Planck writes: Yet even a breast-fed baby is at risk. Studies show that vegan breast milk lacks enough docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, the omega-3 fat found in fatty fish.

The scientific truth is: Only plants can synthesize essential fats. Any DHA found in animals had its origin from a plant (as alpha linolenic acid). The human body has no difficulty converting plant-derived omega-3 fat, alpha linolenic acid, into DHA or other n-3 fatty acids, supplying our needs even during gestation and infancy.

Reference: Langdon JH. Has an aquatic diet been necessary for hominin brain evolution and functional development? Br J Nutr. 2006 Jul;96(1):7-17.

Mothers who eat the Western diet pass dangerous loads of environmental contaminants through their breast milk to their infants. Meat, dairy and fish in her diet are the source of 80% to 90% of these toxic chemicals. The cleanest and healthiest milk is made by mothers eating a starch-based vegan diet.

Nina Planck writes: A vegan diet is equally dangerous for weaned babies and toddlers, who need plenty of protein and calcium.

The scientific truth is: Infants should be exclusively breast fed until age 6 months and then partially breast fed until approximately 2 years of age. Starches, fruits, and vegetables should be added after the age of 6 months. The addition of cow’s milk causes problems as common as constipation and as devastating as type-1 diabetes. (See my May 2003 newsletter on Marketing Milk and Disease.) Adding meat to an infant’s diet is one of the main reasons all children raised on the Western diet have the beginnings of atherosclerosis by the age of 2 years.

Nina Planck writes: “An adult who was well-nourished in utero and in infancy may choose to get by on a vegan diet, but babies are built from protein, calcium, cholesterol and fish oil.”
The scientific truth is: Babies are ideally built from mother’s breast milk initially and then from whole foods. Hopefully, parents will realize that the healthiest diet for the entire family (after weaning) is based on starches with the addition of fruits and vegetables. (Vitamin B12 is added to the diet of pregnant or nursing mothers and after 3 years of following a plant-based diet strictly.)

Nina Planck has been allowed by the New York Times to exploit the tragedy of a family and to spread commonly held, but scientifically incorrect, information on human nutrition. The author and the newspaper should be held accountable. Hopefully, the end result will be that people desiring the truth will take the trouble to look at the evidence. If this were to be the case, then this New York Times article could be the beginning of long overdue changes in the ways people eat. Write and tell everyone you know that the New York Times has done a sloppy job, and damage to the public, by allowing harmful lies to be spread—especially when you consider that Planck’s message promotes a diet known to cause obesity, type-2 diabetes, heart disease, and major cancers.

The fact is, Mr. Hoyt, that Nina Planck has not only hurt vegans and what we stand for, but she has hurt the credibility of a newspaper I respect very much. I hope you can address some of these issues I made and the fact-checking that Dr. McDougall made. How should the opinion editor know when to reject a column submission? Editors on the opinion desk need to be more alert. I appreciate your time and hope you can help with these matters.

Sincerely,

Andrew ---,
Harlingen, Texas

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Response to The New York Times' trashing of vegans

NOTE: I offered this as an op-ed submission to The New York Times yesterday afternoon. As much as I love and cherish the Times, I was greatly disappointed about an op-ed they ran on veganism, and now it looks like they are sinking to new lows by not allowing a timely response to the outright lies they printed.

Heart-wrenching cases of children starving to death come up every once in a while.
Reasons why parents starve their children are hard to understand, but rarely does the diet of the parents get reported unless they themselves are starving, or they are vegans.
Meat-eaters’ disgust for all things vegan was clearly illustrated in the op-ed piece, “Death by Veganism,” written by Nina Planck and printed in The New York Times on Monday, May 21, 2007.
Frankly, I found Planck’s work disgusting, irresponsible and certainly ignorant.
She was basically reacting to the trial earlier this month of a couple who starved their child and who were sentenced to life in prison for it. Unfortunately, it’s easy to see why Planck would rant against veganism.
News coverage of the parents’ trial was laced with bias. Headlines for the story about the parents’ sentencing screamed “vegan couple” all across the United States, and the text of the story was periodically peppered with “vegan couple,” as well.
We are forgetting one thing here though: The couple’s 6-week-old child died of starvation, not veganism, and the testimony reflected that.
Were a child to be starved to death by a meat-eating couple (It does happen), I’m willing to bet the headline would not start with “meat-eating couple.”
The 6-week-old child who died was fed primarily a diet of apple juice and soy milk. What does that have to do with veganism besides not containing any meat?
I’m not aware of any vegans who support malnourishment.
If the couple only fed the child pulverized steaks and water, I’m certain it wouldn’t take long for the child to die of starvation.
Whether you are a vegan or a meat-eater, you need to eat a balanced diet for optimum health.
Vegan diets for both children and adults are healthy. Don’t take my word on this. It is both the position of the American Dietetic Association and the Dietitians of Canada and countless nutritionists throughout the world.
Both the Journal of the American Dietetic Association in June 2003 and the Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research in its summer 2003 issue both printed the following statement: “Well-planned vegan and other types of vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of the life-cycle including during pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence.”
This is the consensus of American and Canadian experts in nutrition.
How many nutrition degrees does Planck have? I’m guessing none from looking at her official Web site. She is not an expert in the science of food, and for her not to cite scientific sources or even actual nutritionists in her trashing of veganism is simply loony.
For the prestigious New York Times to print such trash is equally irresponsible. Printing opinion is fine, but Planck attempted to pass off expert advice when she had none to offer. Our nation’s paper of record should hold high standards for its columnists and not let them get away with complete fallacies.
Planck pretends that it is politically incorrect to criticize vegans and alludes to that being the reason why vegans are being allowed to have children with no one standing up to them about their diet.
Let me ask you, when haven’t vegans been criticized? Vegans get ostracized because of what they don’t eat by their families, their friends, by the people they work with and by the community at large.
Speaking from personal experience, it’s not fashionable to be vegan, and it’s not fun being an outcast.
Considering the well-documented positive impact that veganism has on people’s health and on the environment and its advantage in not contributing to our society’s outrageous exploitation of animals, both my wife and I find it morally unacceptable to be anything other than a vegan.
If we ever decided to have a child, we would raise it vegan, and I wouldn’t for a second be any more worried about its health than any other parent.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Veganism and Mexican tradition

Many people in South Texas, once they find out what a vegan is, are likely to say that veganism isn't compatible with the Mexican culture. Look at the food. Some of the main meat dishes include menudo, barbacoa, carnitas, cabrito, tripas, fajitas, carne asada and chorizo. There's also chicharrones, queso fresco, migas, frijoles charros, tamales, chili rellano, nopales, arroz mexicano, quesadilla, refried beans, pepitas and many more. Some of the Mexican classics, such as menudo and tripas, came from less-than-desirable cuts of meat. My friend, who was raised by a Mexican immigrant who was a butcher, said poor families utilized what they could afford. The less-than-desirable cuts of meat were the cheapest. The higher quality cuts of meat where reserved for holidays and other special occasions. So, things like cow stomach and intestines were being made palatable by enterprising cooks. To me, Mexican food is not about the obscure cuts of meat you may get. It centers itself around its spices. It's the limes, the chilies, oregano, epozote, cumin and even chocolate. The exact flavor of menudo can be achieved by using the same spices normally used to season it. The tripe provides an unpleasant odor that turns off many people. Leaving it out would only make many happy. Fajitas can be made by frying strips of tofu and seasoning it the same way you would the meat. My father-in-law had some difficulty coming to terms that there was no meat in the fajitas I made because the flavor he associated with fajitas was the spices, not the meat. Lard, chicken stock and pork fat are examples of products that extract the most out of slaughtered animals. These can overwhelm the flavor of what they are cooked with. Frijoles charros, or cowboy beans, are made with leftover scraps of fatty pork. Something as nutritious and tasty as beans is turned into something that is far from being healthy. In my opinion, if you like beans, don't eat frijoles charros. It's really a pork dish. It would be easy for chefs making tamales to leave out pork filling and lard. I use extra amounts of lime in the masa, and my wife makes bean fillings with lots of Mexican spices. Not only are they more healthy for you, meat-eaters are even grabbing for seconds. Arroz mexicano, or Mexican rice, doesn't need chicken stock added to it. Vegetable stock is more than an adequate replacement for the chicken stock. Mexico has a wonderful tradition of food, and much of it isn't meat, such as corn, chili peppers, pumpkin seeds, tortillas, masa, citrus, avocados, potatoes, tomatoes, salsas, many moles, mangoes, plantains and tomatillas. The flavors and richness of Mexican food are only enhanced, not brought down, when you leave out the animal ingredients, which can take over the flavor of a meal. The Rio Grande Valley and much of Mexico is suffering from many diseases connected to the consumption of meat, such as diabetes. Giving up the meat doesn't mean a sacrifice of Mexican traditions, but what it does mean is a longer, healthier life.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Giving veganism a bad name

Veganism has once again been given a black eye. The media continues to sensationalize the word "vegan" and to use it out of context. We've all probably heard by now about the couple sentenced to life in prison for starving their 6-week-old child to death in Georgia. The primary food the child received was apple juice and soy milk. Is the story not sensational enough that a couple starved their child to death? Oh no. The word "vegan" is mentioned over and over. The headline for The Associated Press story dated May 10 was: "Vegan couple sentenced in baby's starvation death." The lead sentence of the story was: "A vegan couple were sentenced Wednesday to life in prison for the death of their malnourished 6-week-old baby boy, who was fed a diet consisting largely of soy milk and apple juice." If it was a case of a meat-eating family starving their child to death, I'm guessing there would be no mention that they were "meat-eaters." The crime is starving a child to death and doing harm to another human. Veganism has nothing to do with the crime. The truth is the media was excited to put "vegan" in a bad light. The first word used in the headline and the second in the lead sentence was "vegan." You should have seen cable news drool over "vegan" and twist and distort the story. Being a vegan can be as healthy or more so than any other diet, and I take offence with the media saying special care must be taken for people on vegan diets. This is nonsense. Anyone who eats needs to eat a varied diet or runs the risk of developing certain diseases. If all you eat is steak, you will die. If all you eat is apples, you die. As a journalist myself, I'm telling the rest of my irresponsible profession to bite me.

Monday, May 14, 2007

A Vegan Nightmare

It must be the beginning of barbecuing season. On Mother's Day yesterday, at least two of my immediate neighbors had their grills out torturing this poor vegan and his wife. The fathers must have been doing the cooking for their wives. I tried working in the garden, but I kept gagging on the smells. I've never understood this country's obsession with grilling. I'm really not complaining about people cooking meat as much as I am about them using grills. The smoke goes everywhere, and if you are in the wrong spot, you get a mouth full of second-hand smoke. I would have loved to have opened the windows in my house like I do on most evenings, but I couldn't unless I wanted a house full of smoke. As far as I'm concerned, this practice of grilling needs to be banned, unless they can figure out a way not to intrude upon others. I have just as much a right to be in my garden as my neighbors have in being in theirs, but when they grill, I have to flee. In essence, they are taking my property rights and holding on to them until they finish their feasting on another animal's carcass. Thanks.

Friday, May 11, 2007

You're a vegan. What do you eat?

We've all heard this question before. Meat-eaters don't realize that most vegans eat a more varied diet when they give up meat. It is eating meat and eggs and cheese and milk that is the restrictive diet. These are the ingredients that American meat-eaters feel they need in just about every meal. How does that open up a person to trying new foods? Perhaps, the meat-eater gets a little curious with sauces and side dishes, but that is nothing like the transformation that a vegan undergoes when removing herself from the exploitation and waste of animal agriculture. She has to learn how to eat all over again. It takes some time to learn what's out there and which products to avoid, but once that happens, a whole new adventure in eating opens up. My wife and I do not turn our noses up at foods we never had before. We venture right in with an open mind. We try to keep to the spirit of the Japanese saying about gaining months to our lives for every new food we try. We don't eat many processed foods and don't go out to eat very often. We cook a lot and use whole ingredients. We make a range of foods from Italian to Mexican to Thai to Japanese. There are a handful of staple dishes that we have. I usually make a stir fry with vegetables we get from the CSA. The dish varies according to what we are getting. Right now, it is beets, carrots, collard greens, onions and a few radishes. I'll make one of two sauces, a peanut butter-garlic miso or a ginger miso, and we'll eat it with either buckwheat soba noodles or brown rice. I usually pan fry some cubed tofu to go with it. I like making Pad Thai, and I'll occasionally make a marinara sauce from scratch. Reduced tomatoes with garlic, salt and pepper with olive oil on whole wheat noodles is simply fantastic. I also like making cabbage and sweet potato tacos with onions in a corn tortilla. "Yummo," as the most hated Rachel Ray would say. I like to make burritos with whole wheat tortillas and pinto beans, onions, garlic, spices and potatoes or bits of other leftover vegetables like zucchini or jicama. Anita likes to make our Friday night treat of sweet potato and potato French fries baked in the oven with some olive oil. It's great. She makes at least two great cold pastas, one Italian style, the other of an Asian bent. She uses lots of raw ingredients, and those ingredients actually get mellowed by the vinegars she uses. She makes an interesting taco salad that she invented that has an thousand island type of dressing. She makes several great Indian dishes that are quite spicy, and she'll make some wonderful weekend breakfasts of French toast (made with garbanzo bean flour) or buckwheat flour pancakes. The list goes on and on. When we feel like we've gotten in a rut, we'll get some inspiration and make a new dish or we'll pop out a cookbook and find something that we never had before. When I was a meat-eater, I was content in my limited diet, and I know other meat-eaters are the same way. Don't ask me what I eat. Look at your own plate before criticising mine.

What I eat


Here's a pasta dish that I ate for lunch yesterday at work. It was leftovers of a meal Anita made. It had a simple sherry-type sauce with basil and oregano, and it had olives, tomatoes from our garden, zucchini, kale, capers and onions with a whole wheat fettuccine. I loved it.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Go vegan and exercise. I did.

There are so many reasons to go vegan, from animal ethics to concern about the environment to the sheer disgust of eating the flesh of another animal. I suppose the reason I counted on least was for the health benefit. Yes, I had heard that not eating red meat was supposed to be good for me. Since being vegan, I learned about many long-term benefits to expect, but when I became a vegan about five years ago, the effect on my body was immediate. I just felt better. I would no longer get acid reflux like I did when I ate meat. I haven't had a cold since I've been vegan. I felt germs attack my body as people coughed and wheezed around me, but nothing ever stuck. Interestingly enough, I started regularly exercising on a stationary bike about nine weeks ago. I knew my body would start feeling better, which it has, but I didn't expect the exercise to have an impact on my mind. I have felt more focused since exercising, and my mind feels like my body did when I became vegan, just better. We really are creatures designed to eat plant-based diets and move around a lot. I've got a body full of evidence to prove it.

Plant kingdom showing off


I thought I'd share this beautiful image of a manfreda blooming in my garden. I told you I was a plant nut.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

To silence a voice

Every night and morning this time of year, the song of the white-wing doves fills the air. "Oooh, oooh, oooh." I'm sure I'm not doing their sounds much justice. Ole Petey Mesquitey from Tuscon, Ariz., on his radio show says they sound like, "Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you?" That is really close. It really is beautiful. It makes you feel like nature has come into your house. It reminds us humans that we are a part of the animal kingdom no matter how much we try to deny it. I feel like this when the red wing blackbirds perch in our backyard tree or the cicadas, too. In North Carolina, I remember when the song of the frogs would almost overwhelm me. I've heard the Atwater prairie chicken, now critically endangered but once numbered in the millions, would literally take over the prairie with their loud booms. How I would love to hear their call. Now, our supposedly "conservative" leaders in this country are forging ahead with their bigoted security wall with Mexico. I have serious problems with Michael Chertoff waiving the Endangered Species Act and other environmental protections in the name of throwing up a border wall as quickly as possible. Conserving should be a conservative value. The wall, really two fences and a road that can handle speeds of up to 50 mph, will take up an enormous amount of land with a 150-foot-wide easement needed. Since I presume, they are not going to be following the contour of the Rio Grande, they really are taking more than 150 feet. They are also taking whatever is behind the wall along the riverbanks. In the Rio Grande Valley, farming has been king for hundreds of years, and with modern development, less than 5 percent of wild lands remain here. A lot of them are hugging the Rio Grande. That includes Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge, Texas Nature Conservancy's Southmost Preserve and the Sabal Palms Audubon Center. These are tiny places, and the government wants to rip a wall through them without for a second considering the impact it will have. So many of our rare plants will be lost, and so much critically needed habitat will be lost. Why? Simply because we rushing to build this security wall. There are ways to make a security wall less harmful to wildlife. Small openings that humans can't get through, for instance, would be helpful. If we took our time building this wall of hate (You know that is what it is. We are friends with Mexico.), we could mitigate the loss of habitat by expanding these preserves and transplanting many of the plant species. We could build a wall to the rear of the preserves and have a border checkpoint opening during the day allowing people through to visit the parks. Then, nothing would be destroyed but farm land, and the government could reach their cherished goal of banning Mexicans. Meat-eaters in this county revel in their ignorance every time they shove another mouthful of meat into their mouths. The same goes for this border wall. It is plain ignorance to rush ahead with something like this. What is the rush? Are Mexicans going to somehow do something to us in the interim? Please. Remember the rush to go to war with Iraq? A little patience would have been a virtue there. Building walls does not bring peace. Only taking them down does. Remember, Republicans what Ronald Reagan said at the Berlin Wall, "Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" This was a shout for peace, and as much as I hated Reagan, he deserved credit for his stance. We should be working on opening the border, not making it tighter. Look at Europe. It is achieving greater peace than ever by taking down the borders between Germany, France, Poland and the rest of the countries there. Once, Poland was the Mexico to Germany. Now, the Germans appreciate the Polish so much more because they don't look at them over a closed border anymore. Our country wants world trade, but our leaders want to live in a box. Go figure. Our obsession with a border wall is threatening some of the last precious wild space where I live. It is not right that the government is acting so rashly. Will we not be satisfied until all of nature has been obliterated? Which animals' voices will we silence next?

Monday, May 7, 2007

Some ramblings

Being vegan can make you feel isolated and alone. You are in a world, at least a country, that is overwhelmingly full of mostly ignorant meat-eaters. Local vegetarian societies really help like-minded individuals find each other. We had a Cochehua Vegetarian Collective vegan potluck on Saturday in San Benito, and everyone brought such delicious food. Ruby made some to-die-for Spanish rice made with garbanzo beans of all things. They really worked well with the rice. Of course, Hortencia and Nathan were gracious enough to open up their home to the potluck. They even provided a piƱata to get everyone in a lighter spirit. Not everyone at the potluck was a vegan, and at least one person was not even a vegetarian. Hopefully, the potluck showed them that vegan food is tasty and not restrictive at all. Of course, another thing that helps us feel part of a community is the Internet (or Internets as our most ineloquent president puts it). The Web makes the world a much smaller place and can puts vegan from all over in touch with each other. If you live in a really bad place, you could even order some food items from the Internet. I usually get unfiltered olive oil in 1 gallon containers from Greece, but that has more to do with me being an obnoxious foodie, rather than a vegan. The olive oil is simply good beyond my ability to describe it. It pains me as an environmentalist ordering something from such a far off place, but I haven't found anything close by that satisfies the palate as of yet. There is the Bella Vista Ranch in Central Texas, but it is young and has not yet found its terrior. Blogs are wonderful because you can actually read what other people are experiencing, such as myself and the others I have listed here. One of the best things, I have found, are these veggie podcasts. Among the best is Vegan Freak Radio. They air listener voice comments and read their e-mails. It is great. I really don't feel all that alone as a vegan. When the nasty meat-eaters surround me and make feel small, I can feel peace that a lovely vegan awaits me back at home.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Cruelty on the job

At work, I don't understand why people eat meals at their desks. Meals in the office are simply rude, and for me, I find the smell of meat especially offensive. I don't even like the smell of meat when I'm prepared for it, such as when I go to a restaurant with friend or family member, but at least I know I have to be ready for it. In the office, however, I'm always aware that the smells coming from the food I'm eating might distract and bother people who are trying to get work done. I expect other people to treat me with the same kind of respect. I eat my lunch in the break room. I eat my breakfast at home or sometimes in my car on the way to work. I do, however, occasionally have an apple or another piece of fruit at my desk, but if I can't eat the apple without the crunch bothering people around me, I won't eat it. Fruit at the desk certainly isn't the same as a heated meal giving off its various cooked smells -- in the case of meat, giving off the repugnant odor of heated flesh. I'm expected to sit at my desk and do my job to the best of my ability, but I shouldn't have to endure someone ripping into the mutilated carcass of a cruelly raised animal while I'm trying to get some work done.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Say what?

What do you call a person who eats meat? A vegetarian, according to the June/July issue of Plenty magazine. The article, "Vegetarian with benefits," starts off with: "Not so long ago, fish-eating vegans and bacon-loving vegetarians would have found it difficult to explain their preferences to potential dinner-party hosts -- let alone maintain their street cred with other ecophile foodies. These days, though, it's common to meet people whose dietary regimens fall outside traditional categories like vegetarian, vegan and omnivore." Before I comment on these statements, let me applaud anyone who reduces the amount of meat she eats. I think that's wonderful. But, you should probably go vegan because it's the best way to live as ethically, healthfully and environmentally friendly as possible. What about definitions? Do we care so little about what words mean? If you eat meat and plant products, you are an omnivore. If you don't eat any meat, including fish, but still consume dairy products and/or eggs, you are a vegetarian. If you forego all animal products, you are a vegan. It is that simple. Please don't mess with the meaning of words. You are only hurting the cause of vegetarianism by misusing "vegan" and "vegetarian." There is already so much misinformation out there about us. I can't tell you how many times I've been asked if I eat fish. A fish is an animal with flesh. I don't eat it. How would you like it if people started calling themselves doctors even though they haven't graduated from an approved medical school? What if they offered their medical services to you? It'd make you darn right nervous if you knew the truth, I'm guessing. You trust someone to use the definition of the word "doctor" properly. Words have meanings. These meanings are not flexible. If the meaning does not match, find a word that fits it. And if you are going to call yourself a vegan, please to not order the porter steak.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

A compassionate moment

If you've never seen a painted bunting song bird, you don't know what you are missing. They are certainly one of the most beautiful birds you'll ever see, at least the most colorful. The secretary for the building where I work was shocked when she heard a loud thud on the window beside her desk yesterday. A painted bunting flew right into the window, knocking itself out. The administrative assistant, most definitely a meat-eater, gently picked up the bird and put it in an empty, but very large, pot to keep any wild cats from coming to attack it. She then called university staff to see if anyone would come take care of the bird. Of course, their answer was, "Call the zoo." The others in the building came to look at the bird to give their view on the bird's health. When I got there, the bird was coming to, and by the time another employee went down the stairs to see the little creature, he had recovered and flew away. I was impressed with how everyone reacted to this animal getting wounded. The point of my story is that meat-eaters can show great compassion when confronted with animal suffering when they personally see what a creature is enduring. They can't see the suffering animals are enduring each and every day in our agricultural system. They don't want to be told where their meat comes from. They want to ignore it. If you told me (as a vegan) about the origin of my food at the dinner table, I would be fascinated by the tale of the farmer's labors. If you told a meat-eater about the source of her food at the dinner table, you would like get kicked out of the house and told to never come back. I have no problem going into the garden to pick a tomato or yanking up an onion for my dinner. I'm certain a large number of meat-eaters would have problem snapping a chicken's neck and plucking its feathers or cutting a cow's throat and disemboweling it. I'm tired of the ignorance I see around me. I wish people would open their minds a little and expose themselves to a little more information. If you don't want to be told about the origin of your food at the dinner table, don't you think there's something wrong with the food that you are about to shove into your mouth?

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

A sugar rush

I'm trying my best to eat more healthily. We don't use refined grains when we cook. We gave up alcohol except for birthdays or anniversaries. We subscribe to a CSA and eat all the wonderful organic produce they grow. When cooking, we add less oil or sugar than recipes call for. We don't use white sugar, preferring sucanat, an unrefined form of sugarcane. Despite all of these healthy habits, I still find myself poking my head in cabinets, looking for sweets. It's not that I don't enjoy what I eat. I think my wife and I make some fantastic meals. I just think somehow I haven't dropped that lifelong addiction to sweets. True, sweets in moderation are not a bad thing. It's just that I've never figured out this moderation thing. When I drank alcohol regularly, I didn't think anything about downing three beers a night. Of course, I realized it was a bad thing, that it was pickling my liver and adding countless calories to my diet. I just didn't know how to break myself of the cycle. It wasn't until I came up with the no alcohol unless it was a birthday or anniversary rule that the cycle was broken. Even on one of those days, my wife and I only share one bottle of wine and no more. It has been working really well, and I certainly don't miss the regular beers. Ah, but sweets. What may have been to the advantage of humans of yesteryear to figure out what's edible and what's poisonous, the sweet tooth has been the bane of modern humankind, especially this human. It's about time I stop throwing prepackaged sweets into my shopping cart and give a fond farewell to the beloved stoopwafle. Perhaps if I gave up the convenience sweets, it would go a long way to curing me of the 500-plus calorie "snacks." I hope so.