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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanksgiving Winners

It is Sunday evening of thanksgiving weekend, which means the fun is just about over, but this has been a truly lovely thanksgiving break. Thanksgiving started with Gnasher and I taking a nice 45 min. run through a delightfully quiet and seemingly empty Kirtland AFB. Gnash now knows that if the park is empty when we get there, he gets to run off leash, which is pretty much his favorite thing. Holiday luck shined on him and he got a full mile of off leash frolicking. I then went to a holiday yoga class at Nishtha yoga. Dharmashakti, my teacher from teacher training, did an amazing job crafting a creative class that challenged everyone; it was impressive how he was able to cater to such a diverse group of students. He even provided chair yoga modifications for one participant. When I got home, the cooking began. I made a vegan apple crisp, my tofurkey, and vegan mashed potatoes. Jamie made pumpkin pie and stuffing. A fried of ours also worked in our kitchen and made his own stuffing and mashed potatoes.

My tofurkey was absolutely a winner (meaning it was better than last year's). The texture and taste of the Trader Joe's tofurkey was noticeably superior to the brand name tofurkey, but the vegetables and herbs I had access to through my CSA this year were also of much higher quality than the veggies I have used in years passed. I helped grow the turnips, carrots, and garlic on the farm and my herbs, celery, and sweet potatoes came from regional organic growers that participate in our CSA. I really think that local, fresh, organic vegetables taste better. And the response to my roasted vegetables was even more enthusiastic this year. There was so much food at the party we went to, it was a little overwhelming. There were 4 dishes of stuffing and something like 6 pumpkin pies. We ate buffet style and found a place to sit and eat, which was not at a table for most. I missed the thanksgiving tradition of eating at a table and passing around dishes. I also missed some of my favorite thanksgiving foods, like pilsbury crescent rolls, but I certainly did not go hungry. Not everyone was inclined to try the tofurkey (there were 2 turkeys, 2 hams, and several ducks also available), but several people did sample it and at the end of the evening all of the roasted veggies had been scooped up, leaving a lonely half tofurkey in the roasting tin to be taken home for leftovers.

One thing to note about TJ's tofurkey: the included gravy is downright gross, If I had sampled it, I would have tried to make my own vegan gravy.

Another thanksgiving winner was the apple crisp, for which I deserve very little credit. I used Isa Chandra's recipe from the Post Punk Kitchen web site ( I tried not to change anything, although I did use fuji apples instead of roma, because the local orchard that provides tree fruit to the CSA gave fuji apples in the box this week. The apples tasted fine, actually fine is an understatement, so for future crisps, know that fuji apples are an admirable stand-in. Pretty much every recipe of Isa's that I have tried has always been amazingly delicious and this apple crisp stays true to that track-record. If you like to cook vegan, but have not yet learned of the post punk kitchen and the several books that they have published, hop right on board, you won't be disappointed.

Food always plays an important part in thanksgiving weekend, but having time off and doing what I enjoy is just as important. On Saturday, I jumped from 10,000ft and practiced 180's and 360's and then had my first stand-up landing without coaching. Today, a friend and I went to a full primary series class and then met up with Jamie and her boyfriend at The Grove, for the best breakfast ever. Jamie and I just got back from seeing Lincoln, which was hugely entertaining. As someone that generally gets bored in movies, this movie held my interest from beginning to end. And now that I have a full belly of thanksgiving leftovers, I will be going to bed thinking about returning to the classroom tomorrow. I am thankful for this thanksgiving weekend and am already looking forward to next years (a little).

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

How to make a Tofurkey taste good!

I have been unwilling to eat conventional meat for many years; my struggle with meat products began when I was in 8th grade. So, finding happy thanksgiving foods has always been an adventure, especially when I also stopped eating dairy products five years ago. My parents are amazingly accommodating, and they made many dairy-free sides for me like butter-free corn and potatoes, smashed turnips, pilsbury croissants, and other delights, but they did not prepare any imitation meat for me. I am sure that if I requested it, my mom would have obliged, but it became my thanksgiving contribution to prepare the Tofurkey. The first year I brought home a Tofurkey from Trader Joes, I diligently followed the instructions on the box, and honestly it did not taste very good. I think the honest truth is that actual tofurkey, the textured vegetable protein that the stuffing filled ball is sculpted out of, just is not delicious. But, anything can be dressed up for a special occasion and tofurkey can too! In the years following that first tofurkey thanksgiving, I perfected my tofurkey preparation procedure, and my tofurkies now taste very, very delicious. Last year, my carnivorous husband enjoyed the tofurkey I made for thanksgiving so much that he suggested we purchase a second one after the holidays and have it for dinner on a random regular night. This is a true story and I am going to share my secrets for a tofurkey so good even the non-vegetarians at your table will have no choice but to compliment you.

Your basic Tofurkey roast can be purchased almost anywhere these days, but surefire sellers are whole foods and local organic chains like Sprouts here in the Southwest. The baste and the vegetable bed are key for making a delicious Tofurkey.

First, prepare the baste:
1/2 cup olive oil
The Juice from a whole lemon
4 garlic cloves pressed (more if they are small)
Salt and Pepper (be generous)
Fresh Sage, Oregano, Thyme, and Rosemary torn

Next, cut your selected root veggies into 1" cubes. I suggest turnips, sweet potatoes, small red potatoes, carrots, parsnips, and onions. The turnips and parsnips really add a lot of flavor, it is best if they are included!

Toss the veggies in the baste and then arrange in a roasting pan or a corningware dish.
Rub the remaining baste all over the torfurkey (thawed and metal ends removed) and then place the tofurkey on its bed of veggies.
Pour any remaining baste over the tofurkey and then lay sprigs of fresh herbs over the torfurkey.
Cover with aluminum foil or glass dish cover.
Cook at 350F for 1hr 15 minutes.

The box says to slice it thin and they are serious! The thinner you slice your tofurkey, the better it will taste.
The gravy that comes in the box is a yummy addition, but the best part of this dish is the stuffing and the roasted veggies.

Also, tofurkey leftovers may be even better than 1st day tofurkey!

All that being said, today I went to Trader Joe's today to pick up my tofurkey for this thanksgiving, but TJ's has developed their own tofurkey and was not selling the brand name product. Rather than shopping around, I bought the TJ "tofurkey" and am going to prepare it the same way I would a real tofurkey. I will report back as to which one was better!

Also, if anyone has any vegetarian thanksgiving tips, please share!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

On Farming

My internship at Skarsgard Organic Farm is wrapping up and my final week starts on Monday. I have been fortunate to have many new experiences while working on the farm and I have a new-found appreciation for how hard farming really is. I also feel much more connected to my food, having nurtured and cared for the plants that I eat, from seed to my plate. As I move on, and I am no longer farming everyday, I think the connectedness to my food will linger. I feel like I now know these plants and even if I did not plant the kale that I am eating, I know every step of growing kale and the other vegetables that I have cared for over the last four months.

I have thought about farming like a deep stretch in yoga. In the beginning, an intense pose is uncomfortable and I naturally resist it, maybe by tensing opposing muscles or by thinking negatively about the pose, but if practiced enough, eventually I can relax into the pose, surrendering to it, and that is when I can finally find comfort and attain the benefits of the pose. At first farming was really, really hard - harder than I ever expected. For the first two months, I was often limping by the end of the day and when I got home, I was exhausted and in a lot of pain. In order to get through it, I took more ibu profen than I have since I had a stress fracture in my foot, soaked in epsom salt baths, and rubbed arnica gel on my lower back every chance I got. Despite all my home remedies, my lower back hurt too much to do many of the things I usually love doing. I was too sore and tired to run or go to yoga. I was pretty much in too much pain and too tired to do anything but eat, sleep, and then get up and go back to the farm. I resented the farm because the work was sapping joy away from other parts of my life. I felt angry when I was at work because I was hurting; I was not able to focus on the meditativeness of the work or enjoy being outside because all I could think of was my lower back. Whenever I heard that we were headed to the green chile field, I cringed and mentally prepared for a long day of misery. There are some tasks on the farm that are not actually farming, like picking up the milk order from the local dairy and driving it to the warehouse or spending the day filling 1lb. bags of roasted green chile, that I looked forward to as a welcome reprieve from bending to harvest or plant. For a while, I only looked forward to time spent away from the farm.

Sometime in the last two months, either the work got a lot easier or my body finally adjusted to farming and I started enjoying my time at the farm. It is true that the harvest changed; we are harvesting beets, carrots, turnips, kale, chard, kohlrabi, radishes, and lettuce now instead of tomatoes, eggplant, bell peppers, and green chile. The root vegetables and leafy greens need to be washed, so usually we will harvest for half a day and then spend the other half of the day washing veggies at the warehouse. The tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers did not need to be washed, so we would harvest for almost a full eight hours and then send a truck full of vegetables up to the warehouse at the last minute to be covered and put in the walk-in cooler. So, perhaps the shift in my feelings toward the farm is due to more variety in the tasks and less strenuous harvesting, but I think I have also experienced deeper change in mind and body. I am much stronger now; I can lift things I never could before and my biceps have a strange new density to them that I haven't felt before. As the painful ache in my back has receded, I have been able to happily run after work again and no longer feel like the farm is stealing from other parts of my life. I have begun to feel very lucky while I am at the farm. Sometimes I look around at the open sky and can't imagine working inside again. I feel so happy when I eat something that I know I started from seed and cared for along the way. I feel like I am part of something good, I am producing healthy food for people.

I feel a certain sense of sadness as I prepare for my departure from the farm. I often experience this same type of sadness when leaving a position; I find that I am just starting to settle in and beginning to feel comfortable, like I finally have the hang of it, right when it is time to leave. I felt this way when teaching outdoor environmental education on Orcas Island and even with teaching middle school science last year. I have a sense that if I just had a little more time, I could be really good at what I am doing. Some of the jobs that I have not had enough time in, like on Orcas, were my choice to leave, but others have not been my choice. I was unable to sign a yearlong contract with the Middle School this year because we were supposed to move to a new base in December (we aren't anymore). And, I knew the farming internship would end at the end of November when I accepted the position. No matter why I leave, I am always left with an incomplete feeling, like I am leaving something unfinished.

I am going to continue to work-share on the farm so that I am able to keep working for my food and stay connected to the farm. A work-share can be 2.5 or 5 hours a week and awards the work-share participant with either a half price or complementary medium sized CSA box.

Monday, November 5, 2012

On "Eating Animals"

I have just finished reading Jonathon Safron Foer's, "Eating Animals," and it has stirred up quite a few emotions and thoughts. The book is essentially a manifesto against factory farming and considers two possible moral solutions to the issue: selective omnivory or vegetarianism. I have participated in both of these eating philosophies in my lifetime. For a long time I was vegan, not because I felt that all animal products should necessarily be avoided, but that the good choices were so few and far between that it was easier to just say no to everything. This was especially true when eating at others' homes; it is much easier to say, "I eat vegan" than to say "your meat or eggs are not good enough for me." Recently, I have been much more of a selective omnivore; I have eaten New England lobster (one of the most sustainable fisheries in the U.S.), I have eaten local goat cheese, I have eaten a local chicken that I killed and butchered myself, and I am thinking about buying live turkeys for thanksgiving from a friend of the organic farm where I work. Foer argues that selective omnivory is romantic, unrealistic for most, not likely to change the current system, and still cruel in many ways. Obviously, Foer believes that vegetarianism is the only way to truly combat the factory farming system, but I am not sure that I agree with him. Despite doubting the necessity for strict vegetarianism, I agree with many of the points made throughout the book and the book has reinvigorated my commitment to obtaining food from reliable sources.

One point that Foer makes over and over again is best summed up in this excerpt: "Perhaps in the back of our minds we already understand... that something terribly wrong is happening. Our sustenance now comes from misery. We know that if someone offers to show us a film on how our meat is produced, it will be a horror film. We perhaps know more than we care to admit, keeping it down in the dark places of our memory - disavowed. When we eat factory-farmed meat we live, literally, on tortured flesh." When I read this I was reminded of many people's responses to me acclaiming "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and "Food, Inc.," which generally sounded like this "Is it another gross story that will make me not want to eat meat?" and while the answer is sort-of, the point is that they knew already. Most people really don't want to know where the food comes from (even though they already do), they just want to enjoy their bacon. And yes, bacon tastes really, really good, but is our culinary delight worth the effects it is having on animals and the environment and deep down, our conscience?

In the yoga community, vegetarianism is often seen as something that good or true yogis partake in. This belief is generally based on the teaching of "ahimsa" which means non-violence and gentleness and vegetarianism is believed to be a manifestation of ahimsa since one is not supporting the slaughter of animals. Personally, I feel that choosing vegetarianism alone does not mean that one is in the practice of ahimsa and that one must be non-violent and gentle in every aspect of their life to be honest in their claims of practicing ahimsa. For example, many people who are vegetarian consume a huge amount of soy products in the form of meat and dairy substitutes and processed foods; soy is planted as a monoculture in the U.S. and is destroying natural grasslands, using a large amount of fossil fuel based fertilizers and pesticides, and is contributing to the dead-zone in the Gulf of Mexico, which is greatly harming marine life. So, therefore, I would argue that this type of vegetarianism is violent towards the environment and has effects that spiral out through ecosystems near and far. In addition, I think it is a bit of a cop-out for most yogis to be vegetarians, believe they are practicing ahimsa, and then not think about it anymore. If you are a vegetarian but are not friendly to people you interact with, or litter, or do not take care of yourself (lack of exercise, smoking, drinking, excessive sugar intake), or drive a gas-guzzling vehicle, or eat non-organic foods shipped from far away, are you really being gentle and non-violent in all parts of your life? What if you ate animals you met, that you knew had a good life, ate vegetables that were grown organically, nearby, and were seasonal, if you made healthy choices, treated others well, and cared about the extended impact of your choices, would you be practicing ahimsa? Maybe and I would argue yes.

I presented this argument at my yoga teacher training this spring and my yoga instructor, who eats meat, responded with a story from his own teacher training. In trying to convince the students in his training that eating animals is cruel and violent, the instructors sat down the students and showed them a film of cows being killed in a large-scale slaughterhouse. It is common knowledge that cows are often abused in these facilities and sometimes are not unconscious at the beginning of the butchering process. The thought of cows being violated with electrified sticks or being skinned alive is jarring to think about and even more upsetting to see; but, we all know it happens, we just would rather not think about it or see it. My yoga instructor felt that his instructors were violating ahimsa and were being violent towards him by forcing him to watch this unsettling film. He felt offended and was obviously not converted to vegetarianism by the experience. When I first heard this story, I agreed that the instructors were being violent by forcing this experience on the students, but after reading "Eating Animals," I am reconsidering my opinion. I still believe that vegetarianism does not equal ahimsa, but perhaps my yoga teachers response was so defensive because he knew the cruelty was true and wrong, but he really wanted to keep eating meat. I think this is true for most people. They know that the meat bought in the grocery store cannot be consumed with a clear conscience, but they really want to eat it, so they deny the truth or pretend that they do not know it.

While reading the book, I often felt offended and upset by things described in the pages. The author continuously conjured up images of extreme cruelty that are disgusting and frighteningly sadistic. The treatment of pigs described in the book made me cringe and take a break from reading. I felt that the detailed descriptions were not necessary and were sensationalist. By responding in this way, I was essentially proving Foer's point. I did not want to think about the slaughterhouses. I did not want to think about the cruelty. I did not want to picture pigs noses being smashed in. And, I don't even eat meat from factory farms. I have, however, been eatings "organic" eggs that are not from small-scale local farms recently. Eggs are really one of my favorite foods and as soon as I can have my own chickens, I will, but right now my eggs are coming in my CSA from an organic cooperative called "Organic Valley." Organic does not mean that the chickens are treated well, and I am unable to see the conditions. Organic Valley seems like a good company based on their website, but I can't really know.

So, having considered this book, what should I do? What should anyone do. Foer says you must be a strict vegetarian. I understand his argument and I subscribed to it for a long time. It is easier to just say no to all animal food products than to pick and choose. And, once you start eating meat sometimes, you will inevitably eat some factory farmed meat at some point. Also, you don't eat alone; other people see your food choices and are affected by them and I have had friends say that they tried vegetarianism because I inspired them. If others see you making poor food choices occasionally, it is doubtful that you will be seen as inspirational. Foer also believes that there is not enough small well-run farms to provide meat for all at the volume we are used to consuming it, and certainly not at the price we are used to. Many people do not have access to good meat, or can't afford it. I certainly couldn't afford to eat quality meat three times a day. But, maybe that is a good thing too. What if instead of withholding our support, we supported family farmers that shared our values. They would be paid a fair wage and would be able to produce fewer animals, better. We would only be able to afford meat once or twice a week, and our health and the health of the planet would grow exponentially. Whether one chooses vegetarianism or selectively supporting animal farmers, it is important that we do not make the choice in secret. One vegetarian or selective omnivore will not affect the system; we need to share our feelings and opinions with others. The cruelty and repulsiveness of factory farms cannot be a taboo topic as to not offend our company eating bacon cheeseburgers, we need to acknowledge and respond to the tragedy. And then we need to make honest decisions based on that acknowledgement that we can personally make with a clear conscience.