Friday, May 22, 2009

Raw Food Ruminations

Last weekend was our first experience with CSA--a colleague from the department was giving up her spot with this particular group, and we were more than happy to fill it. The basket was excellent: kale, chard, lettuce mix, radishes, bok choy, arugula, mustard greens, spinach--the woman who signed it over to us joked about the two of us not being able to finish off the produce in a week's time, but I don't foresee that problem. We have also recently discovered a fruit and vegetable market not too far away from where we live (the produce there is almost half the price of Kroger's); and although Kroger is closer, I foresee more trips to the other, more friendly place (which also has better produce). Thus, with summer almost upon us, and with this abundance of fruit and vegetables, I've been thinking more and more about eating raw.
Last summer, Matt and I ate raw for a week, with a juice fast in the middle of that week, and it was a good experience--at the end of the week, I was ravenous, and had an altogether different appreciation for food. I remember going to a farmer's market then, on the third day of the juice fast, and buying a loaf of sourdough dill bread, and holding it in my hands on the way home, smelling the bread through the plastic and holding it close to my face--how I loved that bread then, when I was hungry, and beyond that, I love good bread. Bread has been, without exaggeration, a cornerstone of my life: growing up in Tajikistan, I remember the naan-like bread we waited in line for; in Belarus--I was sent to the store (I was 7 years old!) for black bread, which I've missed so much here in the States.
It was only a year and a half ago that I started making my own bread. I had set a few goals for myself, in terms of baking, and have met them: successfully made a loaf of bread (for some reason, my loaves were sub-par for a long time), made marbled rye bread, then the green onion bread from a previous post. (I know, this is quite a digression from the subject, but yes, bread is important. Also, I don't quite know how to approach the subject, except in a round-about way.)

I've been looking at a few raw food blogs, and following Gena's blog more closely--and have been thinking about giving raw food a try--maybe for a week or two. I have the resources for it, and it will do the ol' body good. Moreover, eating raw makes people--both the ones doing it, and the ones who surround the person, friends and family--aware that food is a matter of choice, and that the choices made when it comes to food are important. This is what attracted me to veganism in the first place--the ethical implications, the fact that it was within my power to change not just myself, but something bigger as well. My transition to veganism was an easy one, both because I am in a relationship with a vegan, and because I was very ready to make the change, even before I knew anything about it. I only wish that I had become vegan sooner, rather than being stuck in a mode of thinking that is actually fairly common, I've come to find--the thinking that says, "Oh, but eating meat and dairy is what I've always done, therefore, I cannot imagine not doing it," or even better, "I am only one person, and anything I change about my diet won't have a big enough impact." Eating is an action with consequences beyond a single individual, and it should be a conscious decision with awareness of implications, with every meal. I think that's why I like Gena's blog, and especially the title of it--one doesn't just fall into veganism or eating raw; it is a choice, an active participation. Also, for me, eating raw and fasting is a way to remind myself of the choices I make the rest of the time--veganism has become pretty normative to me, and it's not something I want to take for granted.
I don't think, however, that eating raw all the time is a viable option for me--my relationship with bread is a strong one. I love bread, unapologetically. I think that there may be a follow-up to this post some time in the future, when I have my thoughts a bit more collected For now, I will go and put away the CSA goodies from this week.
(This is last week's basket, but this week's was pretty similar--a lot of greens, but with the added bonus of broccoli and garlic scapes!)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Vegans and vegetarians in literature: A brief introduction and case 1

As I work toward my dissertation, I often keep track of ideas for criticism that might prove to be fertile subjects.  One particular angle I've become interested in is the representation of vegetarians, vegans, and animal rights activists in literature.  Vegans and vegetarians are not widely depicted in literature, or in popular culture, but the representations are telling, as they often characterize vegans as malnourished, pitiable, mislead, or crazed.  The reason for this is obvious, it is easy to dismiss an idea once the individual is discredited -- compare this to the popular depiction of the feminist as "man-hating."  
Of course, not all of these representations are negative (I'll list a couple of positive and neutral representations below), but each of them bears investigation so that we know what we are up against.  For the majority of the population, and especially for those who do not know any vegans personally, the cartoonish depiction of vegans becomes a reality, making our lives more difficult.  
As a child, I remember an episode of the Cosby Show in which one of the daughters brought home a new boyfriend who was a vegetarian.  Of course, the boy arrived for dinner and told the family at the table that he was a vegetarian.  This situation is clearly meant to depict the vegetarian as someone who is rude and demanding (he didn't inform his host ahead of time and expected to be catered to) and ultimately the sort of person you wouldn't want your child to bring home.  This sort of representation, whether it was meant to denigrate vegetarians or not, confirms the idea that vegetarians are pushy people who expect everyone to conform to their own whims.  This is the attitude of entitlement and bigotry.  
Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close features a child protagonist, Oskar Schell, who describes himself as a vegan but makes exceptions for astronaut ice cream.  Overall, this depiction is neutral-to-positive although Oskar's veganism sometimes comes off as a childish caprice.  Because Oskar is a sympathetic character whose father died in the World Trade Center, the reader may overlook his veganism as just another personality quirk of an unfortunate young boy.  
Vegetarianism is represented in a much more ambiguous fashion in John Barth's Giles Goat-Boy.  In this novel, the main character was raised as a goat for the first 9 years of this life before he began to live as a human.  One of the hold-overs from his early upbringing is a vegetarian diet.  Throughout the book, George (the goat-boy) expresses disgust at the sight of others eating meat.  On the one hand, George's attitude is given moral weight, but the character is portrayed in such an absurd way overall, that the message is diluted.  Maybe vegetarianism is okay for a goat-boy, but it might still remain out of the realm of possibility for a 'real' human.  
The first case I want to discuss in greater depth is The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen.  There are two scenes in particular that I will describe and analyze, which deal with the issue at hand.  The novel itself is about a midwestern family (elderly parents, 3 grown children who have all moved to eastern cities) and their attempts to find harmony with themselves and each other.  The eldest, Gary, lives in Philadelphia with his wife and his own children.  In this scene, Gary's wife uses their sons as leverage against him; specifically, she encourages her sons to dump their dinner (a mixed grill Gary has prepared) down the disposall by example and then orders pizza for them later:  "Altogether maybe thirty dollars' worth of meat went into the sewer, but Gary, trying to keep his Factor 3 levels off the floor, succeeded pretty well in forgetting about the animals that had died for this purpose" (164).  In this narrative, and sadly for too many people, this sort of disregard is standard.  Gary's first concern is for money, next his personal well-being, and finally the animals.  However, he only cares about the animals to the extent that it affects him personally and not for their own sake.  The animals in question serve only as a vehicle for Gary's wife's passive-aggression -- a tool for her petty power play.  This passage confirms for the reader that selfish thoughts and emotions are acceptable, that the role of animals as food is standard and that their deaths are only 'tragic' when the meat goes to waste.  
Gary's younger sister, Denise, works as a chef in popular Philadelphia restaurants.  At one of the novel's turning points, she considers running away with the wife of the restaurant's owner, but pictures her life with another woman.  She imagines herself cooking vegetarian food, wearing dumpy clothing, and letting herself go with her mate.  The meaning here is more clear: vegetarianism is marginal and something that a respectable chef wouldn't touch.  Denise equates vegetarianism with settling for less. (419) 
There is one other toss-off line concerning vegans in this book as well, to the extent that veganism is a marker of extremism and radicalism.  A minor character becomes involved in underground anarchism in Philadelphia and his company places "minor vegan prophets" alongside "bomb-makers and Xeroxer, and zinesters and punks" (341).  This depiction is fairly standard, and one that most vegans must confront at some point in their lives.  The tactic is to throw the philosophy and ethical dimension of veganism out the window by creating an association with violence, fringe ideology, and implicitly, terrorism.  We are encouraged to view the vegan as the bomb-maker.  
The danger of these incidents is that they escape the notice of most readers on a conscious level.  While a reader would likely make note of a racist or sexist comment, s/he would likely not notice the speciesist commentary, but that commentary does subtly confirm their existing thoughts.  The real danger lies in reaffirming the normality of meat consumption and, conversely, the transgression of vegetarianism and veganism.  

The book is great and should not be judged for these few scenes.  In part, this analysis is meant to show that such ideology does occur in the books we read and in the popular culture that surrounds us.  We shouldn't use this as an excuse to barricade ourselves off from these outlets, but as a chance to inform ourselves.  Once we peel back the implicit arguments and identify the tools used to castigate vegans and belittle sentience issues, we stand a better chance of right the misinformation and projecting the true image of veganism.  

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Bread, and Farewell, Apartment

Although I wish I could spend more time writing a new post, I cannot, as tomorrow is the day we have to turn in the apartment keys--and lately, we've been treating the apartment as a large storage box: all the things left in it are odds and ends we haven't packed, but have lived quite well without for the last couple weeks (of course, the kitchen things were the first to move...). Thus! It will be a night of cleaning and packing and sleeping over at the bare apartment one last time. Maybe we'll watch some zombie movies on a laptop later, or maybe we'll fall exhausted to the floor and sleep like logs.
I give you this, the picture of the new kitchen, and a glimpse of the rather disorderly living room. For some strange reason, I was unnaturally drawn to the bright colors when we were picking up paint, and so our house is green, yellow, and light blue. This kitchen has already produced wonders--of course, I made Celine's banana nut chip muffins, and this great bread, among other things:
This was my first time making bread with a sponge or poolish, and it was wonderful--although the original recipe isn't vegan, the soy yogurt works in this. I actually used green onions we got at the farmer's market, and used that in place of the fresh dill, as done in the original recipe.

Well, that's all for now, and the cleaning begins!

A note on this blog

Veganism is one of the cornerstones of my life.  Over the years it has meant different things to me, and I'm happy that I can share it with Kat.  This blog, in part, is a way for us to continue to share with each other and with anyone else who cares to have a look.  Over the last few months, I've watched Kat follow many other blogs and I thought that we could use this as a forum to discuss what we think is important.  
I created this blog with the idea of writing on these three angles of life I find indispensable: food, literature, and philosophy.  We should always strive to incorporate each into the others by thinking equally about what we eat, read, and create.  We need to take responsibility for what we consume and not rely on convention, but always consider the rationale.  
This, then, is a space for those thoughts.  I'm sure it is also a space for discussion of other things, but it always helps to start with a focus.  I trust that we'll have many pictures of the great food that Kat and I make together, and we may even post some recipes.  

First post--New House, New Blog

Hello, all--after months of looking at others' vegan food blogs, and after much encouragement from Matt (my betrothed and other contributor) I am making the first post in this new blog of ours! As the title goes, some of the posts will be about food, some about literature, and some about philosophy: I will be posting about the former two, and Matt will probably post about all of those.

I want to begin with some before pictures of the (rented) house, and a picture or two of food. The pictures, just so you know, don't do the house justice--it was dirty, covered in cobwebs, and leaking from almost every place where it was connected to water. (Maybe in the next post or so, I'll post the after pictures.)
This is the living room. The "stained glass" on the door looks much better from the outside; the swirls, however, had to go, although I'm sure some previous tenant had a hell of a time painting them by hand on the flesh-colored walls.
Below is the kitchen, which makes up with the pantry for the inadequate cabinet space. Oh, how we scrubbed it and painted it--you'll see!

There are definitely more pictures, but--who needs them! We've cleaned the whole place thoroughly, and are rid of the cobwebs and most of the dirt; we've moved in furniture and painted it much happier colors.

Here is the food pictures, as I promised--this is from a meal before we moved.
This is pan-fried tofu with corn pudding and collard greens, all with BBQ sauce--a great meal, and one of my favorites, although before I was vegan, I refused to eat greens of any variety (what a fool I was!).
Well, we look forward to visitors to this, the little blog of ours. See you around!