Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Meat in the Vegetarian Argument

As part of October: Unprocessed, and leading up to my guest post on Eating Rules later this month, I thought it would be appropriate to re-post this piece, which details some of the issues of food as it relates to sustainability.

Re-Posted from the iPinion Syndicate

You may have heard that being vegetarian is green.  You may also have had a vegan activist tell you that meat is murder and you are killing the planet.  While there is definitely some truth to the argument that a vegetarian diet is a little more earth friendly, there is a little devil in the details.

The issues of food production are numerous, from health and humanity to environmental impact and sustainability.  Which issue is most important to you probably depends on a number of factors: your age, location, political views, etc.  By and large, however, beef does not fare well in any serious analysis of food issues.  At least, not conventional beef that is fattened in a concentrated feed lot.

If global warming and climate change are your primary concerns, you’ll be happy to hear that feed lot beef and dairy are the only things that you need to strike off your menu.  Chicken, fish and eggs are comparable to vegetables in green house gasses emitted during production and transport.  Speaking of fish, however, is opening a whole other can of worms.

If sustainability is what you are after, a lot of sea food is out: over fishing is stressing stocks all over the world, and aside from a few species that are managed responsibly (wild pacific salmon, e.g.) most edible fish populations are dropping at a staggering rate.  Seafood doesn’t fare well on the health test either; electronics, fluorescent bulbs and industrial practices have contaminated most seafood populations with levels of mercury that are dangerous for human consumption.

If you are a card carrying member of PETA, or sympathetic to their cause, chicken and eggs are back on the black list.  On the humanitarian scale, chicken production is much, much worse than just about anything else out there.  Feed lot beef is not much better.  If humanitarian concerns are foremost in your mind, you should probably explore expensive alternatives to conventional food at a specialty or kosher butcher shop.  If you can’t afford that, then meat is out.

If health is what you are thinking about, then a strictly vegetarian diet might not be a good idea at all.  Many people develop anemia, iron deficiency, or other issues when not eating meat, and careful management of protein and iron intake is essential for a healthy meatless diet.  Pescatarians (a word I am not entirely comfortable with, I’ll have you know) can get around this quite easily, as salmon and mollusks like clams provide massive doses of protein and iron in tiny portions.  But again, mercury is a real threat which much be considered constantly.  Farmed clams are better, but farmed salmon are terrible: they are fed other fish from depleting stocks and foul up coastal waters with concentrated waste.

Here is something that your vegan acquaintances will not be quick to point out, however: grass fed and grass finished cows are better in every way.  On the humanitarian angle, they are demonstrably healthier and ostensibly happier (in so far as we can tell these things).  They produce less methane (a green house gas) and foul up less water during their lives.  They are wildly healthier for you, with little saturated fat and more omega 3 fatty acids than salmon.  Finally, their waste is not concentrated like feed lot cows, which means that it can be absorbed naturally by the environment they are raised in.

In summation, if all of the issues in this article are important to you, you probably should be vegan.  However, if you are willing to do your food homework and buy the right products, you can put the vegan argument out to pasture with the grass fed cows.
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Sunday, October 10, 2010

To Dream of Less Stuff

Stuff, it sometimes seems, is who we are.  We produce it and measure our worth in its production.  We buy and sell it and measure our success in its exchange.  We own it, use it and replace it, and measure our happiness in its possession and acquisition.  We often confuse obtaining more stuff with bettering ourselves, so new stuff becomes equated with self-improvement.
And yet, if all that is true, we seem to be ignoring some important parts of ourselves.  What does it say, for example, that so much of our stuff is disposable?  Having no longevity, no staying power, sacrificing quality for convenience.

What does it say that we have so much stuff built for one and only one purpose?  Our kitchens and closets are cluttered with highly specialized gadgets, many of which are used only once a month, or even once a year. I don't doubt the convenience of a food processor, but do we need a blender, an immersion blender, a food processor, a juicer, a mortar and pestle, a mandolin, spice grinder, coffee grinder, and a Magic Bullet?  Every house has an oven, yet we feel the need to augment this with a toaster oven, microwave, bread maker, crock pot, and pressure cooker.  Any one of these items is perfectly reasonable, but is it reasonable to have all of them?

What does it say about us that we always want everything to be brand new?  As soon as something develops its first nick or mar, it begins to bother us, to weigh heavily on our subconscious as if the mar were a blemish on our very souls.  Nothing we own is allowed to have any history, any meaning beyond itself.  Nothing is allowed the taint of a previous owner, nor any significance beyond its immediate purpose.

In the last month, I have come to realize that it is exceedingly rare that we actually need new stuff.  When we challenge our selves just a little, we find that we can use things which are marred, we can fix things which are broken, we can buy things which have been owned by a stranger before us, and we can even make smoothies and pesto without a Magic Bullet.  Most amazing of all, when we challenge ourselves, we find that sometimes, we can even do without.

Just as I have been dreaming of less for so many other things, I have been dreaming of less stuff.  Less clutter, less trash, less hassle, less mess.  I have been dreaming of things which serve many purposes, eliminating the need for other stuff.

I have been dreaming of buying everything used which can be bought used.  I dream not just of less stuff in my home, but in the human world as a whole, and second hand goods eliminate the need for more new stuff.  In a sense, an item can be divided by the number of people who have owned it, so that I own 1/5 of a couch, 1/4 of a dining set, 1/3 of a coffee table, 1/6 of an armchair.

I have been dreaming, longingly, of storage spaces that are clearly organized, free of clutter, full without being stuffed.  I dream of all my spaces being clear of stuff, the surfaces in my house being almost empty when not in use.  I dream of having one of everything I need and none of anything I don't.

I dream of a life which is occupied by a small amount of highly useful, durable, beautiful stuff that I love to use, to look at, to care for.  I dream of meeting my every need with as little material as possible, and not coveting that which I do not need.  I dream of a home in which all of my stuff improves my quality of life, and anything which does not is banished forever from my home.

Courtney and I have been moving actively toward this dream for some time now, and after many purges of stuff followed by periods of buying nothing new, we have achieved a level of stuff which is well bellow average, but there is much work left to be done before we are living the dream that we are dreaming.  The journey, so far at least, has been liberating and joyous, and the less we use to meet our needs (both real and invented) the better we feel about our stuff.
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Saturday, October 2, 2010

Lane County Farmers' Market, FTW!

The Chanterelle, Oregon's state mushroom.Image via Wikipedia
Fall is special for many reasons here in the Pacific North West, but my favorite thing about fall is that I can finally make all of my LA friends jealous of the Farmers' Markets up here.  Sure, you get tomatoes year round, but you ain't got nothin' on North West Mushrooms.  That's right, it's mushroom season big time here in Oregon, and there is no better place to be when mushroom season rolls around.

Aside from the abundance of obvious, well known 'shrooms that grow wild all over the Willamette Valley (chanterelles, maitakes, and truffles, to name a few. . . ooooh truffles), the climate is also perfect for some lesser known and truly delicious delicacies.   Today I picked up a few, including the chicken of the woods, which believe or not actually tastes and has a texture similar to chicken.  Also, I grabbed a few lobster mushrooms, which aside from being red on the outside and white on the inside, actually have a distinct seafood flavor that lends them their name.

Chicken of the Forest - actually tastes like chicken

Lobster Mushroom - actually tastes like lobster

There was much talk today amongst strangers at the market about how best to cook these delectable fungi, sauteed in butter or tossed in a pasta e.g., but my favorite thing to do with just about any mushroom is make risotto, which I will surely be doing this weekend, as it fits nicely with the October: Unprocessed challenge.  For a basic risotto recipe, see my post on Wild Mushroom Risotto from last year.  The wonderful thing about this dish is that the risotto provides a rich creamy base that supports the mushroom flavor, lifts it to the fore and lets it shine.  The slight crunch of al dente rice is also a nice backdrop for the unique textures that the variety of wild mushrooms have to offer.  This is not a dish for the feint of heart, but for those with clear arteries and good exercise routines, it is the ultimate in sinful savory satisfaction.
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Nothing New except October: Unprocessed

As the sun sets on my Month of Nothing New, it dawns on October: Unprocessed.  The last month went by rather quickly and uneventfully in terms of my challenge, and after thinking it through, I have decided that one month of making no new purchases (excluding food and medicine) is just too easy.  It was not really a challenge at all.  There were a few minor hiccups, but not one real sense of sacrifice or brilliant solution to a difficult problem.  In short, it was not the fodder for good writing that I had hoped it would be.  All this has led me to the conclusion that I should extend the challenge, keep it going for perhaps six months.  In half a year, I am bound to run into a number of problems that force me to consider breaking the rules, and probably doing it at least once.

Take the Pledge!  Learn More Here.

In the next month, however, I will focus on the October: Unprocessed pledge, and so I will probably be writing a little more about food.  Two things cropped up in September, however, that I felt it would be inappropriate to post in my month of nothing new, so keep your eyes open this October for news about the Unprocessed Pledge and a special treat for my readers.  As I promised at the beginning of last month, the next installment of To Dream of Less will be out soon.  Also, if you don't know about October: Unprocessed, check it out!  Click on the logo above, take the pledge, you still can, join up any time in October and finish the month with Eating Rules, myself, and about 30 other bloggers who have taken the Pledge and agreed to write about it on Andrew Wilder's site.
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