Thursday, February 26, 2009

Yummy dip

(originally posted at McFarland Designs' blog)

I tweaked Bella's original apple dip recipe today and I like the results... give it a try!
Creamy Peanut Butter Dip

1 block firm silken tofu (I used 'lite')
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Blend all ingredients in a food processor or blender. Cover, chill, and serve with sliced apples for dipping. Enjoy!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Making Responsible Food Choices, Part Four

(originally posted at McFarland Designs' blog)

Here it is, the fourth and final post in my 'Making Responsible Food Choices' series. I hope I've been able to shed some light on the ethical problems that go along with some common vegan foods, as well as provide some solutions. In case you missed them, feel free to check out parts one, two, and three.

Today I'm going to discuss palm oil, a substance often found in crackers, pastries, cereals, and microwave popcorn. Keebler, Oreo, Mrs. Fields, Pepperidge Farm and other companies use palm oil in some of their cookies. Of particular interest to vegans, palm oil is a major ingredient in our beloved Earth Balance buttery spread.

According to a report by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), "Though not as unhealthy as partially hydrogenated oil, palm oil still promotes heart disease." Going beyond palm oil's consequences at the individual health level, the cultivation of oil palm is a major factor in the destruction of the rainforests in Southeast Asia. These rapidly shrinking forests are home to the Sumatran tiger, Sumatran and Bornean orangutans, Asian elephant, and Sumatran rhinoceros. CSPI reports "Each of those species is endangered, with the three eponymous Sumatran species critically endangered. They once flourished in precisely those areas where rainforests have since been cleared for oil palm."

Dr. Birute Mary Galdikas has been studying orangutans in Indonesia for nearly forty years. According to a recent AP report, "the red apes she studies in Indonesia are on the verge of extinction because forests are being clear-cut and burned to make way for lucrative palm oil plantations." Galdikas has established a non-profit to help protect these threatened animals - Orangutan Foundation International - and has published an autobiography detailing her many years working with these amazing creatures.

Unfortunately, I'm not aware of any fair-trade, environmentally-friendly versions of palm oil, so the best solutions I can think of are as follows:

1. Contact companies whose products contain palm oil and let them know that you support the elimination of palm oil from their food lineup. (You can start with Earth Balance!)

2. Reduce or eliminate your use of palm oil. Personally, since coming across this disturbing information, I've been able to drastically reduce my consumption of Earth Balance (probably a good thing for my figure too!) - there are a lot of ways I used to use it that were easy to give up... jam instead of butter on toast, always using olive or canola oil for sauteing rather than Earth Balance, and choosing recipes for baked goods that call for non-palm-oil fats, to name a few (be careful though, and be sure to actually check the label - the other day I thought, 'oh, I'll use non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening instead of EB for these cookies,' but when I checked the shortening label, it was 100% palm oil!!! Eek.)

If anyone else has suggestions for ways that we can advocate to end the habitat destruction currently taking place for the sake of our collective palates, please post 'em here!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Making Responsible Food Choices, Part Three

(originally posted at McFarland Designs' blog)

This here is the third installment in my four-part series* examining the ethical issues surrounding a few vegetarian diet staples. Today's subject is rice.

* In case you missed them, you might want to read part one and part two first.

While most of the white and brown rice we eat in the US is grown domestically, the majority of the aromatics, such as basmati and jasmine, are grown in Thailand, India, and Pakistan. It is mainly harvested by hand on small farms in rural communities. These small-scale growers are at the mercy of a volatile market and are often exploited by middle merchants, who frequently underpay the farmers.

In addition, profits for these small family farmers are diminishing due to the use of expensive chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which are also, not surprisingly, adversely affecting workers' health as well as polluting the water and eroding the topsoil of these rural communities.

If this topic interests you and you'd like to learn more, you can read more about the issues surrounding fair trade rice here.

So as I mentioned before in the case of bananas and chocolate, the solution to these problems lies in supporting the growing fair trade market. You can buy fair trade rice online or find it at your local natural foods store.

I'd like to take a moment to discuss what you can do if your local store doesn't carry the fair trade products you seek, so this applies equally to rice, chocolate, bananas, and a whole score of products with growing fair trade availability. Personally, I spend a fair amount of time (and money) at our local natural foods store, and I make an effort to be friendly with the people who work there. They are generally a nice bunch of people who care, like I do, about eating responsibly, and in my experience, they are very open to stocking new products to meet customer demand. The key is to take the legwork out of it for them; find the product you want them to carry (the specific product, brand and all, not just a general idea), print out the name of the product and the details of how the store can contact the company who distributes the product, then pass this information on to a manager at the store, either in person or with a hand-written note explaining why you would like to see it in their store. Only through customer requests like these will stores learn what is important to us, and by helping to bring these fair trade options to the grocery store shelves, we can expose many other shoppers to the choices that exist for eating in a way that supports humane ways of life on this earth.

This post wraps up the information I wanted to share from the 'Food, Inc.' article in the Jan-Feb '09 issue of VegNews magazine. This is an excellent article that goes into more detail than I have provided here, so if it's something you care about, I highly recommend getting your hands on this magazine, or better yet, subscribing. (They just added a tree-free subscription option, so you can get all the good stuff without wasting paper - hooray!)

Stay tuned for one final installment in this series on making responsible food choices within the framework of a veg*n diet...

Monday, February 2, 2009

Introduction meme-style!

Hi there! My name is Amanda and I'll also be contributing to this blog here and there. I recently responded to a meme that I thought might serve as a fun introduction. So, without further ado, here are 22 factoids about me:

1. I live in Eureka. I moved here from southern California less than a year ago and I love it.

2. I made the transition to veganism in 1998 for moral reasons, but my health has thanked me for it (with the occasional grumble over the sometimes-irresistable ‘junk’- Yay vegan Doritos! Boo vegan Doritos!).

3. When I was really young (under 10) I lived with quite a few non-human animal friends. One of those friends was a chicken named Henrietta. The night that Henrietta died my father made a joke to the effect of ‘guess who we’re having for dinner tonight?’. Not too many years after that I stopped eating certain creatures and continued on that path until I arrived at veganism. I found out later that we weren’t actually eating Henrietta, but it opened my eyes.

4. Higher education has taken all the joy out of writing for me. I used to LOVE expressing myself through stream-of-consciousness writing; it was so liberating to let go and write whatever I needed to write in whatever way I wanted to (agrammar and all). Experiencing over-and-over a formulaic critique based on (in my opinion) dogmatic/prescriptive notions and having to alter my writing in order to fit within those prescriptions has driven me writing-crazy. It actually got to the point where I would experience intense anxiety whenever I had to write a paper. This would cause major procrastination, which in turn prompted hurried/under-developed papers, which in turn prompted lower grades, which in turn prompted anxiety, which in turn prompted procrastination…well, you get the picture. I’m currently trying to reclaim the joy that institutionalized prescriptions took away (part of why I’m contributing to this blog). Yay for college!

5. I’m considering several graduate programs right now. Perhaps I’m a glutton for punishment?

6. I think language can be a powerful tool and a powerful oppressor. I think it’s an amazing fosterer of communication and I think it’s inherently dishonest.

7. I love neologisms.

8. I’m a closet (no longer!) fan of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer tv show (see #7).

9. I was on Romper Room as a wee lass (I wasn't allowed to be a wee lad, so I did what I could- damnable gender normativity!). What I mostly recall from the experience was being incredibly uncomfortable about the cameras and not having a toy/item for the 'show-and-tell' portion of the you might guess, this didn't help with my overall discomfort.

10. On the topic of gender normativity, I remember when I was younger that I sometimes felt a bit like a 'boy' inside. Not because I wanted to be male- I'm actually quite content with my gender- but because I associated certain aspects of personhood with boyness; the roles that I understood girls were supposed to play didn't give me enough room to be all that I understood myself to be. I find this to be a very unfortunate statement about what our culture continues to teach those not lucky enough to be the recipients of certain sorts of privilege…and I think this is very pertinent to the non-human animal rights movement as well as every rights movement.

11. I had an organ removed last year. Mind you, it wasn’t a vital one, but it was powerful enough to bestow plenty of grief. After a number of years of intense pain after consuming fatty foods and subsequent weight loss, cancer fears, ulcer fears, and general unhappiness, my gallbladder and I parted ways. Turned out it was chock full o’ gallstones. Alas, I still can’t really eat fatty foods (*sigh* Doritos).

12. I kept the stones. They actually look like stones. Considering what they’re made of, I think that’s pretty amazing. They’re people-pearls.

13. I’m considering making a ‘pearl’ necklace out of them just so I can tell people I made it...’No, I mean I REALLY made it.’

14. During Fall/Winter I often go extended periods of time without shaving my legs. I like to pretend I’m one of those awesome womyn who are unconditionally accepting of their own body…but really I’m just lazy.

15. I love the color green, in every shade. It means trees and grass and leaves and growth and it makes me happy.

16. I’ve been called a “hippy-goth.” I just think that’s too funny.

17. I don’t really like labels. I think they have merit and are functional, but I think over-reliance on them can be conducive to over-simplification and can ultimately contribute to unhappy-making, exclusionary things.

18. I’m very misanthropic, but also very hopeful. I don’t believe people are ever ‘bad,’ but I think they can (and do) do a lot of damage. I also think they can be really beautiful, inspiring beings. I dislike them en-masse, but like individuals.

19. I think my husband was intentionally created in a lab 1,000 years in the future and sent back to teach us about our species’ potential. He’s by far the most loving, empathetic, compassionate, creative, sensitive, nurturing, brilliant being I’ve ever met. He’s a big part of the reason I can say I’m a HOPEFUL misanthrope and I plan to love him forever and ever.

20. He’s also one of my oldest friends. We met when I was 16.

21. Sometimes when I look at my kitty-friend, Cookie, she doesn’t look like a kitty to me. She just looks like a furry baby-friend I love.

22. I think love can be transformational.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Making Responsible Food Choices, Part Two (aka, 'Oh No, Cocoa?')

(originally posted at McFarland Designs' blog)

Yep, that's right. This second installment in my four-part series* focuses on our beloved chocolate. But wait - before you cover your eyes and run screaming from the computer - calm down. Sit, relax, and read. Don't worry, I'll show you how you can enjoy this delicious confection with a clear conscience.

* In case you missed it, you might want to read part one first.

Consumers in the United States alone spend $13 billion per year on chocolate, an understandable indulgence given its luscious flavor and its unique power to calm many of us in times of crisis. :-) But what are the hidden costs of our love affair with chocolate? Let's take a closer look.

70% of the world's cocoa is supplied by West Africa, a country where poverty is widespread and child slavery and labor abuses are rampant. A major contributing factor to these horrible problems are the low prices farm workers are paid by companies like M&M/Mars, the largest chocolate company in the world.

West African cocoa plantation laborers are paid between $30 and $108 per year; these astonishingly low wages, combined with the lack of human-rights standards enforced by the large chocolate companies, has resulted in a huge exploitation and abuse problem for the most vulnerable workers - the children.

According to the US State Department, there are currently 284,000 children in abusive child-labor conditions in West Africa. Thousands of these children have been trafficked into the area and live in slavery.

What can you do to help? Well, the answer is the same as for bananas; money talks, so be sure that your hard-earned dollars are only being spent on fair trade certified cocoa and chocolate products.

(made right here in lil' old Humboldt County)

"The key to Fair-Trade-Certified cocoa is that it is grown by small farmers, enabling them to build a better future for their families," says Adrienne Fitch-Frankel, Fair Trade Campaign Director of Global Exchange. "The Fair Trade system gives [workers] the pride and dignity of being independent, sustaining their own farms. This is a quantum leap from being a worker on a plantation."

According to TransFair USA, Fair Trade Certification assures that the following responsible, sustainable business practices are in place:
  • Fair wages
  • Better labor conditions (safer conditions, no enforced child labor)
  • Direct trade, eliminating exploitative middlemen
  • Democratic and transparent organizations
  • Community development
  • Environmental sustainability
Beyond reflecting your ideals through your dollars, there are lots of other ways to get involved, and with Valentine's Day quickly approaching, this is the perfect time of year to educate friends and family about the importance of fair trade chocolate. And while you're at it, why don't you make sure that chocolate you're eating and gifting is vegan? After all, cows don't deserve to be slaves either!

Once again, the information in this post came from the Jan-Feb '09 issue of VegNews magazine (see Food, Inc., beginning on page 40).