This Land Was Made for You and Me

This is Blog 4 in a 365 day series!

Click HERE to start from the beginning!

March 30, 2016

Today was a day of social realization. A day that saddened me significantly and left yet another imprint on my sociocultural conscious. And it’s all because of a 5 pound box of strawberries… Let me start from the beginning.

 

It’s March 19th and I am roughly 2.5 months into my beef-free lifestyle and 12 days being 94% vegan.

 

Whaaaat?!?

 

Yes. You heard me right. Vegan. It happened… or, it’s happening, I should say. However, I’m saving that for a different blog on a different day. Today is about strawberries.

 

Let me try this again…

 

It’s March 19th and today I ventured to the grocery store, per usual. And per usual, I spent the majority of my time in produce seeking out local and in season organics, and the rest of my time hunting down flavors fit for cultural recreation, adaption and (sometimes) experimentation. King Soopers calls these isles “Hispanic Foods” and “Asian Foods.” The selection is somewhat laughable in comparison to the local mercado or thai market (should you be able to find them), but these isles do meet my short on time, high on flavor-needs. Speaking of flavor, I will say that the biggest challenge I have faced in transitioning to a whole foods, plant-based diet was my fear of losing flavor… yes, all the glorious flavors in nachos, lasagna, stir fry, pizza, cheese… Mmm, cheese. My nemesis. I dream of cheese and sour cream. The way it lay so unassuming on my taco, creamy or shredded, glistening under the kitchen lights. As I think about the various ways to enjoy milk products I hear Divinyls ringing in my ears… That’s not right.

 

Anyway, I digress. Today is not about my daily struggle with dairy. Today is about the grocery store and the very real lives of those around me in these everyday situations, those that I think no more than once about in any given moment but whose lives are very much important…

 

As I went through the check out line I watched as the cashier rang in each colorful item and I felt proud of the choices I had made for my family. Beet root, leafy greens, radish, eggplant, cabbage, asparagus, ginger root, fresh basil and dill, fruit… so much fruit!… potatoes, beans, quinoa… all the beautiful colors with distinctly beautiful flavors. I watched as I thought of each meal I would make for the week. Do I start with green chili stew? Coconut curry? Tikka masala or potato jalfrezi? Tofu tacos? Portabella-chiladas? Spinach salads or veggie wraps? Eggrolls! I mean… eggrolls? (I try not to automatically settle on the unhealthy option that crosses my mind, though I must admit… if it’s deep fried, I’m gonna eat it). The inside of my mouth began to salivate and I felt excited to get home and start on a new creation when the young girl bagging my groceries said, “these strawberries smell good.” I could hear the depth in the statement. The deep breath as she smelled the air. So genuine.

 

“Oh god, I know!” I replied.

 

“But they’re so expensive.” She returned.

 

My heart sunk, momentarily. The girl was young. High school. I know this because the cashier had asked her to fetch a carton of smokes for the previous customer and she declined because she wasn’t 18.

 

I, for some reason, tried to quickly (yet casually) explain away the strawberries, agreeing that they were expensive and noting that I always try to get them when they are on sale.

 

“I forget how much they were marked. I always look for them cheap. I think they were 5 bucks…”

 

I hated my response. I hated that I wanted to say, without thinking, “but it’s worth it.” I’m glad I didn’t. She smiled and was sweet in her eyes, though some vague sadness loomed in them. It was a strange and strong feeling that stuck with me that day. It stuck with me because I was reminded that it can be a privilege to eat strawberries. Something I take for granted, yet something she acknowledged with desire.

 

“When was the last time you had one?” I thought to myself.

 

“How stuck up do I look secretly beaming over my fruits and veggies?” Shit. This isn’t right. Strawberries shouldn’t be reserved for the privileged. The food from the land should not feel unattainable.

 

This speaks to the nature of the food industry… poverty… education and advertisement… cost of living and corporate exploitation of the American people. Our society is flooded with images and messages and advertisements promoting Value Menus and isles 2-10 at the grocery store because when you are living paycheck-to-paycheck (like most Americans seem to do these days), it’s easier to seek out calories over quality calories… and it is a hell of a lot easier to feed your family with processed and frozen foods than it is to feed your family on raw, whole foods. That’s become the state of our “fast food nation,” as it’s been called. We’re told that processed foods are cheaper, regardless of the fact that there is well documented, scientific proof that you can eat well for less in this country. The problem is, people don’t know it. And in extreme cases, people don’t have access to it… whether it be due to lack of transportation, low income, sugar addiction, limited access to health education, or, in extreme cases, living in a food desert - a geographical situation intentionally created in poor communities for corporate profit. Bastards.

.  .  .

 

I don’t know where I am going with this. I’m just angry over the way we’ve lost control over our food and aspects of our lives. Angry that there aren’t any seasons in our super markets. That we have tomatoes year round because they’ve been picked green, shipped across the world and ripened with ethylene gas. Frustrated with myself for feeding into the bullshit even as I make more informed, healthy decisions. Because, at the end of the day, I’m buying those damn tomatoes year round. I’m not traveling to the Farmer’s Market and I’m not growing my own produce. I wish I were, but I’m not.

 

Our vegetables are mass produced just as our meat is factory farmed. We’re all in this shit storm together.

 

Deep breath… as usual. For now, until I am in a economically privileged position to truly transform every aspect of my life, I must be satisfied with what it is I can reasonable do. I must be satisfied with myself, and my family, for not supporting cruelty… for not automatically buying into the various regulatory and judicial bias that controls the food industry… and thus, our health. My morality does not want to be tied to their lies. And my decisions do not want to be based on convenience.

 

One day at a time.

Culture Shock

This is Blog 3 in a 365 day series!

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February 24, 2016

Phase one of the experience: frustration. But not the frustration I anticipated, surprisingly enough. I anticipated colliding with frustration through cravings. Through wanting that hamburger so damn bad that I snuck one from McDonalds on my way home from work. Through dreaming about steak fajitas. Through questioning my decision to so boldly announce a desire for a plant strong diet. But no, actually, my frustration has been caused by culture shock. It’s been roughly 60 days of a no-beef, vegetables-with-a-side-of-meat lifestyle and people keep asking me, somewhat condescendingly, how it’s going. “Not terrible, but not great,” has been my response. One thing is for certain, I have learned a lot in this short period of time about our culture. . . or, at least, the culture portrayed by the various bodies around me. This is what I have learned:

 

1. Diets but not lifestyle.

This has been most glaring. Atkins, Mediterranean, Weight Watchers, Low-Carb, No-Carb, All-Carb, Sugar-Free, Gluten-Free, Low-Fat, No-Fat, Juice Cleanse, Teatox, Whole30, South Beach, Nutrisystem, Dukan, Dash, Fasting, Zoning. . . holy shit, pick your 30 day torture device. These fads are painful, not only because they rest on the idea that dietary success occurs through the immediate denial of enjoyable foods and liquids that your body has become accustomed to consuming daily, but because they are not sustainable. But who cares about dietary sustainability, right? Once you reach sustainability, you reach lifestyle. And the #1 thing I have learned? Adopting a lifestyle not the American norm is an affront to those around you. They become angry. Some criticize aggressively, others criticize passive-aggressively. But all, thus far, have criticized with offense, as though my decision to decrease the amount of animal protein I consume weekly some how insults their own being to the core. A 2 or 3 oz cut of meat versus 14? Obscene. Exploring plant based diets, at all? Blasphemy.

 

2. Lose weight but not cholesterol.

We are always trying to lose weight, aren’t we? Lord knows I’ve been trying to lose 10 pounds for years, which is difficult for someone who is somewhat over indulgent and lifts heavy weights as her exercise of choice. So, I get it. We all want to be our own image of perfection (an image often influenced by the entertainment industry in all of its unrealistic, eating disordered glory). Hell, it was only 6 months ago that I accepted my weight and frame for what it was. So, I get it. I get it. I get it.

 

But I do need help understanding why wanting to lose weight receives a sympathetic and tolerant nod but changing the way you eat to live longer and stronger is somehow ignorant and ill-informed. Pre-diabetic? High cholesterol? Hypertension? Here, take these pills and continue on your merry way. Eat more vegetables and less red meat? You’re the f@#%ing anti-christ.

 

Nevermind research. Nevermind 150 year analyses of trends and change. Welcome to America and American, corporate influenced, government-backed consumerism.

 

3. Aesthetics but never morals.

On second thought, maybe I don’t need help understanding society’s obsession with weight loss. We all just want to look good naked, right? (A generalization, I’m aware). But is it or isn’t it the overall purpose of dieting? It’s acceptable to want the body of your (or your spouses) dreams but it’s strange to acknowledge the devastating impact of global agribusiness. Change yourself to be some conventional, heteronormative definition of aesthetically pleasing, but don’t change yourself to decrease environmental impact.  Fool.  I find this interesting in a country of people that pride themselves on their moral supremacy.

 

4. I want what I want and I want it now, at any cost.

At the end of the day, one thing I have realized with many of the quick-to-speak, slow-to-think nay sayers is that they just don’t want to give up the things they enjoy. Not even in the slightest. Period. And the mere mention of someone they know giving up something they once enjoyed whether it be for health or environment is a slap in the face. Is it intended to be a slap in the face? No. Does that matter? No. Is it frustrating? I think the tone of this blog in comparison to the rest should answer that question well on its own.

 

But then, here I sit, I take a deep breath and I think about the tradition/s of cooking. I think about the power that cooking has to transform us as a people. I think about the love that is expressed in the food that I cook for my family. It has become social and cultural fact that few people in this country cook at all nevermind cooking real, raw, fresh foods. This feels unfortunate.

 

I think about the beauty in flavor. . . flavors I didn’t know existed because I relied so heavily on the flavor of meat. Really, it has been fun. New recipes, new perspectives and a fresh look at my connection to the earth. The best part? My boys. They have yet to question anything I’ve served little meat, no meat or mostly meat. Yesterday we had BBQ pork roast with coleslaw. Tonight we had vegetarian enchiladas. I didn’t even tell the 10 year old that it was vegetarian and he went back for seconds. It warmed my heart and made me realize that this is easier than I even thought. I can. . .  we can. . .  be in control of our health if only we so choose. And only if we are privileged enough to do so, but that is a social injustice for another day.

 

Agri-Shock

This is Blog 2 in a 365 day series!

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January 29, 2016

Today I reminisce on January 4, 2016. The day my social conscious met my environmental conscious. I call this moment Agri-Shock. A phrase not meant in the traditional sense which is actually the name of an electric cattle prod (ironic, in a way) rather I mean it in the sense that I was awakened to the horrors of corporate farming, of agribusiness. Maybe I should title this blog Who Killed the World? (yes, a Mad Max reference. . . Im not very original). At any rate, on January 4, 2016 my eventually-soon-to-be and I watched Cowspiracy immediately following a meal of something incredibly meaty (and delicious). I cant for the life of me remember what it was, but I do remember eating an animal because halfway through the film I felt nauseous. . .both in stomach and mind. This moment of inspired vegetarianism ended in shameful failure as I met an old college friend for sushi without delay. Lets call this person Legal Regal.

 

Legal Regal and I met in undergrad. Two socially responsible feminists fighting injustice on campus but being met with patriarchic resistance routinely. We were self-proclaimed revolutionaries. We were transcendentalists. We were unapologetically enthusiastic in a dry humor, we curse a lot sort of way. And we eventually graduated, sharing hearts and some minor indiscretions to which we will not speak we were young 20-somethings, after all. Anyway, she ultimately flew far, far away for law school living a higher-class, movie-like lifestyle filled with stories of ostentatiously rich (sometimes pompous, but always handsome) law boys with promise of taking over mommy and daddy’s firm; always entertaining stories. I, on the other hand, flew nowhere but did drive about an hour away to pursue a Masters degree in social justice. Thats right, I have a Masters degree in Social Work. And now I’m finding any excuse to take my mind off of it. Is that wrong?

 

I love my job. I do. Working with children and families, advocating for the overlooked, believing in the goodness in people. . . it fuels me. But it also depletes me. Thats the honest truth that the strong, selfless “change agent” in me does not always want to admit. I deplete. But this is why I sought an outlet. Food makes me feel alive in a carefree sort of way. In a I want to do nothing but travel and eat and cook and write, sort of way. But believe me, I’m nothing fancy, as my recipes will reveal. Otherwise I would have gone to culinary school. Shit. . . I wonder if I should have gone to culinary school.

 

Anyway, back to my long overdue reunion with Legal Regal. We sat at my favorite sushi spot and my mind fought itself in a ridiculous tug-of-war. Order a Dynamite Roll. Don’t order a Dynamite Roll! Order more sake. Order more sake! (no tug-of-war there). One tiny roll. . .but we are fishing out our oceans! Fishless oceans by 2048! Order more sake.

 

I ordered a Dynamite Roll.

 

It was phenomenal.

 

Shame.

 

Ultimately, I decided to confide in Legal Regal about my new found, environmentally conscious vegetarianism. I was nervous and I found this strange. . . I was nervous to admit that I didn’t want to eat meat anymore. . . and more nervous to admit that I had a complete and utter lack of self control. I’m worse than a part-time environmentalist, I’m a fraudulent environmentalist. I’m the Milli Vanilli of environmentalists.

 

Shame.

 

But to my surprise, Legal Regal did not flinch. In fact, this person that I care so much about used to be vegetarian. . . apparently for a long time, too. Now I’m really embarrassed. How did I not know this? Either our conversations rarely veered from feminism and alcohol, or I’m also the Milli Vanilli of friends. I need to double check my active listening skills.

 

Her and I talked about the relief I felt by her reaction (or lack of reaction). We talked about my fear of judgement. . . because this decision isn’t meant to be a fad and it isn’t meant to be a statement. Its personal. But at the same time, I feel the need to talk about it. What’s that about?

 

My biggest takeaway from this conversation with Legal Regal was that people are going to criticize. People are going to question. People will scoff. Their faces will turn in disgust and confusion when you tell them you are changing your habits. When you tell them that you are no longer eating beef, they will say, well, what about the chickens? Its normal. Its going to happen. You’ll want to explain that this is but one small step leading to a series of leaps. You’ll want to explain that you are well aware of the way all creatures are suffering and the devastating impact of agribusiness. . . that you do feel guilt and shame when eating pork or salmon or turkey. That you do feel somewhat immoral for not becoming vegan with one snap of the finger. You’ll want to say a lot of things. . . but you wont, because &#%$ them. It’s normal. I can’t let that keep me from making the change and I certainly can’t let that keep me from blogging about it.

 

Let’s just leave it at this, and leave it at this for good, because this blog is not intended for repetitive preaching: Cowspiracy changed my perspective. . . on everything. Added a new frame of reference. Roused me. So, while we are not yet vegetarian, we are going 365 days without beef. I want to chronicle the experience the social, physical, psychological (likely frustrating), experience. These entries will be my record. 365 days of behavior change. Whats your thing? I like that.

 

It’s My Birthday and So It Begins

This is Blog 1 in a 365 day series!

January 11, 2016

Its my birthday. 7:22pm on a Monday night and I am trying to figure out how to start a blog. . . A newly inspired blogger with writers block. What a joke.

 

My name is Erica and today I am 29.

 

I started this journey (todays journey, the 7:22pm on January 11th journey) googling the best way to introduce yourself in a blog. The suggestions are bland. “Who are you? What are you about? Why your blog?”. . . Why my blog? Being asked this question feels assumptive. Answering it feels narcissistic. And for this reason, I provide none. No answer, that is. What I can do, however, is explain my relationship with words. Bear with me.

 

Writing was once an instrument of melodramatic release in my life- a ravine with no end, just an infinite exploration of the mind and soul. No end was necessary because writing was my mechanism of choice, used to feed my teen angst and help me feel connected to the world’s emotions or, perhaps, it was just my emotions that needed connecting. I was, after all, as self-absorbed in my agony as any other stereotype of a 14 year old dressed in all black. Eventually, the general foreboding of my juvenility passed and I entered a world where the artistic brain was throttled into hibernation and a life of analytics took the reins. What are the psychosocial implications of physical versus emotional abuse in childhood? How does power and privilege color worldview? Discuss the social psychology of sexuality in regards to gender-based inequality. . . I could write about these things for days. Actually, I have written about these things for days. Did I mention that I’m a social worker? Well, I’m a social worker.

 

But now, now, I just want to blog about food. So, while an end remains unnecessary, depth may remain unnecessary, as well. Then, why the struggle? I have been toiling with the idea of even starting a blog for exactly 7 days (…though, in all honesty, a slightly less intense version of blog toiling has been happening for years, the thought just never advanced beyond fleet. . . so, 7 days it is). Anyway, now that I finally begin, I feel somewhat blank. Somewhat disoriented. Somewhat like I am rambling. Have I introduced myself, yet? My name is Erica and today I am 29.

 

Today I am 29. Today I am 29. Today I am 29.

 

* * * *

 

It’s now 9:31pm on January 11th. A lot has happened since my eventually-soon-to-be husband talked me into taking a break so that I may go at [this] with fresh eyes. And I do feel inclined to note that this phrase I like to use, my-eventually-soon-to-be, is not arrogance. Though it does have an air of arrogance. . . and assumption. . . Assumptive arrogance, if you will the best kind of arrogance. The kind of arrogance that lacks any reasonable acknowledgment of curve balls. Oh, does life like to throw curve balls. At any rate, this phrase represents fact should nothing unforeseen disrupt our plan. We are 5.5 years strong and I couldn’t be happier.

 

Anyway, What happened? you may find yourself asking.

 

I almost accidentally ate a beef samosa, I may find myself answering.

 

Let me explain.

 

Tonight I purchased a vegetable samosa from the local grocery store. It reveled in its own deep-friend, golden beauty from behind the deli glass. I was excited to eat this as a late night indulgence on my birthday. But at 8:21pm, upon baking and carefully cutting this flakey slice of heaven in two (because sharing is caring), my heart sank. My heart sank because inside lay beef. . . beef! Vegetable samosa my ass. On any other day of the week I would have rejoiced, What wonderful thing did I do to deserve this beefy surprise? I would have asked myself. But not today. And this is why:

 

Sometime in November I very randomly decided to go vegan. Don’t ask me why. I got bored. But this lasted all of one college football Saturday to which I bought a ton of tofu in a ton of variation and then failed miserably thereafter (because fake meat, no matter how seasoned or dressed, tastes awful to a through-and-through carnivore with unrefined dietary morals). A couple of weeks later, in the early days of December, my eventually-soon-to-be watched a documentary titled, Racing Extinction. He was enthralled, so I was intrigued. I only caught the final 30 minutes but I must admit it was eye-opening in its brevity. What’s your thing? I liked that ending. It spoke to me we then decided as a collective of two to turn our table into a primarily vegetarian spread. Minor fails with good intentions.

 

Soon following, the Big C crept into the background, and then into the foreground, of our reality. Friends and family were finding themselves ill. Quickly. Fatally. And at a movie-like pace as if the universe were saying specifically to us Wake the $%&# up. My eventually-soon-to-be became particularly afraid of this fate as research had been glaring us all in the face alongside surgeries and funerals. We talked. We agreed. We need to eat less beef. . . after Christmas, of course (you know, those damn unrefined morals like to cloak themselves in immoderacy). But then, THEN, on January 4, 2016 we finally watched “Cowspiracy” and both felt struck in the heart and in the conscious. We are done eating beef. And if possible, we are done eating factory farmed meat. We are done.

 

More minor fails, but those are for later.

 

For now I will say No, you did not stumble upon a vegan blog, nor a vegetarian cookbook. I am a normal ass person that enjoys good ass food that has made a tough ass decision to make a change for a healthier and more environmentally conscious lifestyle. . . but to not fault myself for taking it slow. This is a blog about my journey and these are the recipes that make to my table.