Friday, February 24, 2012

Recipe: Pina Colada 'Ice Cream'

Delicious, creamy, and dairy-free!

When I created the recipe for Mighty Fruity Ice Cream-y, I wondered if I could make it easier (and lower on the glycemic index) by replacing the sugar syrup with agave. Well, if you were wondering that too, wonder no more! It works like a charm.

The other thing I wondered was if I could make it creamier - "milkier," if you will - with coconut milk. This also worked like a charm! Thus, pina colada vegan ice cream was born.

1 8.5 oz can Cream of Coconut
1 cup coconut milk (not coconut water - the thick stuff)
1 cup pure pineapple juice
1 cup agave

1/3 to 2/3 cup of crushed pineapple, depending on how chunky you like it.

Combine first four ingredients in a freezer-safe container and cover tightly. Freeze, scraping the edges and stirring every 30 minutes for the next 4-6 hours until it has an evenly slushy consistency. Add crushed pineapple and stir. Let freeze until firm (4-12 hours depending on freezer and container), stirring once more after it's mostly firm. Serve or store in freezer.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Roast-a-thon: Roasted Beet and Kale Salad with Agave Mustard Vinaigrette

This one was an experiment. Having never had a cooked beet in my life, I really wasn't sure what to expect. While I'd read they'd be sweeter, I think roasting them also brings out more of the earthy flavor.

Roasted Golden Beets
1 bunch of small beets
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 F. Place whole, unpeeled beets on aluminum foil and drizzle with olive oil. Fold foil into a packet. Bake for 50 - 70 minutes, until easily pierced with a fork.

Let cool for 15-20 minutes. Peel the skin off the beets with your hands, or by rubbing skins off with a paper towel.

Slice and serve warm, with salt, pepper, and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

The earthy flavor of the beets made me want other earthy flavors (like kale and mustard) combined with something sweet (agave and sweet onions). Or, y'know, whatever was in my fridge. Which happened to be... those things.

Kale and Roasted Beet Salad with Agave Mustard Vinaigrette
Sweet onion
Roasted beet

1 part white balsamic vinegar
2 parts agave syrup
2 parts yellow mustard
salt and pepper to taste

Rinse and tear the kale. Top with thin shaved onions and sliced beets. Wisk the dressing ingredients together with a fork and serve.

How gorgeous is that salad? It was SO delicious!

How to Be Kind on Purpose

Last week, I was waiting at a traffic light when I noticed the gas tank on the car in front of me was hanging open and the gas cap was hanging down. I popped out of my car to tell the driver and ask her if I could close it for her. (I didn't want to freak her out by just wandering up to the side of the car without explaining myself, but it was raining and there was no sense in two of us getting wet.) I got back in my car just as the light changed, and thought to myself, "Well, there's my random act of kindness for the day."

Suddenly I found myself laughing. Wait a second, I thought, what was random about it? I didn't do it by accident! That's when it hit me how silly a phrase that is. Random is defined as "done without method or conscious decision." I certainly made a conscious decision, and the method I employed is "see someone in need of help, assist them."

What exactly would a 'random' act of kindness be? I wondered. I ran through a dozen ideas trying to find a way to perform an act of kindness randomly. While I can see how you could perform an act of kindness without method (for example, handing the a random person who you pass on the street a five dollar bill), I cannot see a way that you can perform an act of kindness without conscious decision. Basically, the conclusion I came to is that all kindness is, to some degree, shown with intention.

That led me to question whether you should show kindness without method. Is it wise to hand that five dollar bill to just anyone when you could employ the "see someone in need of help, assist them" method? How will you feel about the kindness you've shown if the next person you pass on the street and give that five dollars to is wearing Armani, and as you walk away you see a homeless man?

Then I started to get a little ticked about the whole idea of kindness being random. Isn't a great big problem in our society that people think kindness is optional? That they think they have no social or moral obligation to be kind? BLERGH.

Yes, this was the point at which I reined myself in. There's no point in getting bent out of shape about it, but I do believe that "random acts of kindness" is a poorly-named initiative. The goal, according to the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation website, is inspiring people to practice kindness (which sounds conscious to me) and passing it on to others (which requires method). Unsurprisingly, most of their kindness ideas would require both.

That's great, because when kindness does have both method and consciousness, two people benefit - the recipient and the person who intentionally showed kindness. Research shows it is the consciousness of having performed a kindness that influences happiness. So if that's the case - if being kind brings on happiness - it makes sense that we should be trying to make it more conscious, more purposeful, not less.

All of this is my way of encouraging you to be kind on purpose. Here's a list of ten ways to add a little kindness to your life:

1. Smile. I'll never forget the time I looked up and smiled at a woman passing me in the store and she stopped to tell me that was the first time she'd seen anyone smile all day. You just never know who may really need to see a friendly face.

2. Volunteer. I work in the nonprofit field and I can tell you with certainty, there is a charity in your neighborhood that needs your skills, whatever those skills are.

3. Give a genuine compliment. So many messages that come at us each day tear us down; combat that by building someone up.

4. Be patient with someone who needs it. You know that guy at the office who just drives you crazy because you have to explain everything twice? Or that old lady in the drug store who holds up the line trying to sort out her coupons and dig the cash out of her giant purse? How many times a day do you think someone gets irritated with them? Be the one to cut them some slack today.

5. Say thank you to everyone who assists you. On a daily basis, we're served by others. Whether it's the cashier at the grocery store, the postal carrier, the administrative assistant, the bank teller, or (yes, even) the clerk at the DMV, stop to say thanks. Your life would be harder without them.

6. Listen to someone most people ignore. There are three groups of people who typically don't get listened to: children, the elderly, and annoying people. But all of these people have the same need to be heard that you do, the same longing for a voice. Depending on your level of tolerance, choose the group you can have the most patience with and give them your ear once in a while. I've seen time and time again that it can do amazing things for their self-esteem. And believe it or not, it can help the annoying folks to be less annoying, just knowing someone respects them enough to hear them out.

7. Clean out your closets. We live in a culture of abundance. I can 100% guarantee there's something in your house you will not use or do not need. Give it to someone who does, or to a charity thrift shop.

8. Forgive someone. I'm not talking about mending fences or rebuilding broken relationships - that's a whole other level. I'm just talking about showing kindness in the moment. When someone knows they screwed up and you're about to take it out on them, skip the chastising and move on to the forgiveness. You'll save both parties a lot of stress.

9. Consider a kinder diet. Surprise! Didn't see this coming did you? Yes, unless you got here from a random link and managed to miss the name of the blog, you knew this was in the list, I'm sure. Let's be frank: most people who eat meat, dairy, and other animal products are conflicted about their diet. We all know that suffering and death are inherent in an omnivorous diet, no matter how much we'd love to overlook it. If you're not ready to give it up, at least cut back. And if you're already eating a kind or kinder diet, there are probably still ways you can improve, such as avoiding palm oil (which results in the destruction of critical habitat for endangered species) or chocolate that isn't fair-trade (as conventional cocoa is plagued by child slavery).

10. Be kind to yourself. This is probably the most overlooked form of kindness. Giving yourself  a thank you, listening to your own needs, paying yourself a compliment, or being patient with yourself is just as helpful as it is to do those things for others.

I'd love to hear from anyone who reads this about what intentional acts of kindness you practice, and the effect you've observed. Any suggestions for more ways to incorporate kindness?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Kasey's Killer Enchiladas

The picture doesn't do these justice. I've got to work on my food photography. The problem, of course, is that I'm usually starving by the time I get around to cooking and don't want to take the time to compose a shot.

Anyway, picture notwithstanding, this is one of my favorite recipe creations yet. My older son - an amateur chef and very tough critic - said they were better than any restaurant enchiladas he'd ever had. My younger son just said "More, please!"


2 cans black beans (one of them drained)
1 bag frozen steam-in-bag corn kernels, thawed (or microwaved for 3 minutes)
1 can Rotel diced tomatoes and chilis
2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, diced
1/2 medium white onion, diced
1 tsp each chili powder and cumin
1 tbsp fresh culantro or cilantro, chopped

12 small whole wheat tortillas
2 cans enchilada sauce
1/2 can sliced black olives
1 cup Daiya pepper jack shreds

Heat oven to 400 F. Mix all filling ingredients in a sauce pain and simmer for 10 min. Spread a little enchilada sauce over the bottom of a 13x9 pan, just enough to cover. Wrap filling in tortillas, close and place in pan, seam side down. Cover filled tortillas with sauce, black olives and cheese. Bake 20 min, broiling for 2 extra minutes if necessary until cheese is bubbly.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

How did I not notice this before? Revisiting PCRM's body-shaming ads

I was writing an article on a related topic and the one key thing that I missed in discussing PCRM's recent body-shaming ads hit me like a lightning bolt. Take a look:

Here is the key point: There's absolutely no mention of health.

Dr. Barnard insisted that the ad was not body-shaming, but only made the connection between cheese and obesity. And it does do that, but in what context? In the context of appearance, not health.

In an email to me, the good doctor said this:
Our ads are designed, not as any sort of “shaming” or falsified depiction of obesity, but rather simply as a view of ordinary obesity exactly as it is. If you thought “fat is beautiful,” as some cultures have in the past, you would probably find the images attractive. Take another look, and you’ll see what I mean. There isn’t anything derogatory about them; they are exactly what millions of people see in the mirror every morning. However, the text links obesity to cheese, and is so starkly simple that it calls up whatever the viewer feels about those subjects.
This bothered me at the time, but I couldn't put my finger on why. Now that I see there's no mention of or reference to health at all, I get it. Of course this was meant to be derogatory. If they didn't mean it that way, well then, they aren't very good at developing effective campaigns, are they? If they felt that woman's thighs weren't going to scare people off of cheese, what was the point of the ad?

No, they were counting on the image being viewed as undesirable - shameful - and to say otherwise was extremely disingenuous. Calling up "whatever the viewer feels about those subjects" is code for playing on the well-established weight shame in American culture.

I'm upset with myself for not seeing it sooner. So simple, so plain. These ads are not about health at all, they're about appearance, but I let PCRM's reputation for caring about public health and Dr. Barnard's apparent openness to discussion of the issue derail my concerns over their tactics.

It's really disappointing that PCRM has not publicly backed off this campaign. All I can hope at this point is that they will think twice before adopting future campaigns, keeping their reputation of responsible health information in tact. I respect Dr. Barnard and PCRM for the many wonderful things they have accomplished, but another campaign like this one will have me reconsidering which organization I support.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Roast-a-thon: Roasted rainbow carrot and potato hash

This is another edition of the Roast-a-thon I couldn't wait to post. I almost stopped eating to write down the recipe. Almost. It was just too good to set down.

Roasted Rainbow Carrot & Potato Hash

1 medium white onion
1/2 bag Honey Gold baby potatoes
1 bunch (6-8 medium) rainbow carrots
2 tbsp olive oil
Course ground salt and pepper

I used the Honey Gold baby potatoes, but any baby/fingerling potato of your choosing should do. My bunch of carrots had 2 yellow, 2 purple, 1 deep orange, and 2  regular carrots. Of course, you could use regular old carrots, too.

Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Slice carrots and potatoes in rounds of even thickness. Cut onion into wedges. Toss veggies with olive olive oil. Spread in a single layer on baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and parsley. Bake for 45 - 55 minutes, turning once until potatoes are crispy and carrots are soft.

My kids ate theirs as a side dish, but tossed on a bed of prepared wild mushroom couscous, this was my meal. And it was so sweet, crispy, and flavorful, it deserves a second photo!


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Roast-a-thon: Asparagus, Kale

In this installment of the Roast-a-thon, we only have instructions for roasting two different vegetables. I wanted to provide you with a bonus recipe for the asparagus, but there was one problem. It was so good, we couldn't wait to eat it! The hubby and I ate a pound of asparagus in five minutes flat.

Roasted Asparagus

Olive oil
Coarse-ground salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Snap the woody ends off the asparagus. Place stalks in a freezer bag, drizzle with oil and toss to coat. (Add oil 1/2 tbsp at a time and toss, until you have enough to coat the amount of asparagus you're using.) Spread on a baking sheet in a single layer and sprinkle with salt and pepper. (I recommend coarse ground, because it's easy to over-season.) Bake for 20 - 30 minutes, depending on the thickness of the stalks. When the stalks begin to shrivel and the tips brown and crisp, it's done.

Let stand five minutes before serving for full flavor.

Roasted Kale (a.k.a. Kale Chips)

1 bunch of kale (I use the flat-leaf Lacinato variety)
2 tbsp olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 F. Tear or cut the greens off the spine, and into pieces about 2 inches by 2 inches. In a bowl or freezer bag, toss with oil to coat. With your hands, carefully spread the leaves onto 2 baking sheets in a single layer, with as little overlap as possible. Sprinkle with salt.

Cook for ten minutes, then remove from the oven and turn pieces over. Spread them out again, avoiding overlap. Return to oven and cook until evenly crisp, about another ten minutes. Serve immediately, adding more salt if needed.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Roast-a-thon: Green Beans + Pesto with Roasted Green Beans and Walnuts

In this installment of the Roast-a-thon, we learn to turn the ordinary green bean into a elegant treat worthy of Mudd's Women-style glow-lighting.

I grew up never having tasted a green bean that didn't come from a can. Understandably, I didn't much care for them. Then one day, my mother-in-law served up fresh green beans simmered with onions and garlic. What an eye-opener! Green beans didn't have to be mushy and salty!

But just recently, an even greater revelation in green-beanery occurred. I grabbed a pound or so on sale at the organic farmer's market and roasted them. It was like a beam of light coming down from the heavens onto my plate! Rich taste, a perfect bite... An ideal snack or side, but crying for a delicious recipe too. Tonight, Pesto Pasta with Roasted Green Beans and Toasted Walnuts was born.

Roasted Green Beans

Any amount of green beans
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Trim the ends of the green beans with kitchen shears. In a bowl or freezer bag, add the oil and toss. (For one pound of green beans, I used 1 tbsp of olive oil. Adjust accordingly.) Spread in a single layer on baking sheet(s), and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 25-30 minutes, until browned and crisping on the edges, turning once. (You can't exactly turn them, so I just shake them all loose with a spatula, then spread them out again.)

A bonus recipe for your delicious green beans:

Pesto Pasta with Roasted Green Beans and Toasted Walnuts

1 lb green beans
1/3 cup of walnut pieces
1 8 oz jar of prepared vegan pesto
1 box (12 or 16 oz) of tricolor fettuccine
Olive oil as needed
1 cup of torn kale, wilted (optional)

Roast the green beans as above, adding the walnut pieces for the last five minutes of cooking to toast. Meanwhile, prepare fettuccine al dente according to package directions. Drain, return to the warm pot (off the heat) and add the pesto. Toss until coated, adding a little olive oil if needed thin. Add roasted green beans and toasted walnuts. Garnish with wilted kale, if desired.


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Roast-a-thon: Summer Squashes and Roasted Veggie Pizza

Over the next few weeks, I'll be posting a series of recipes for roasted vegetables, because I'm addicted to them. I love the way roasting brings out the natural sweetness of veggies, and I'm crazy in love with the crispy browned edges. Welcome to the Roast-a-thon!

This first Roast-a-thon post is a recipe that comes with a vocabulary lesson!

What is a summer squash? It's any type of squash that is picked while immature, meaning when the rind and seeds are still soft. The name "summer" squash is not actually a reference to the growing period at all. Rather, it was simply to distinguish them from "winter" squashes - so named in a time before modern refrigeration because they could be stored throughout the winter without going bad.

The most common summer squashes are yellow squash (crook-neck or straight-neck) and zuchinni (green or gold). Outside the U.S., zuchinni is often called courgette.

Also included in this recipe is guinea squash, which is not actually a squash at all. It is a member of the nightshade family, related to tomatoes. You may know it as an aubergine, or eggplant. But it cooks like a squash, so I'm counting it.


Roasted Summer Squash

Any amount of zuchinni, yellow squash, and eggplant
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

For the amount pictured on the right, I used 3 small green zuchinni, one large gold zuchinni, 2 medium yellow crookneck squash, and one small Italian eggplant. That was two baking-sheets worth.

Preheat oven to 425 F. Slice the squash on the bias (diagonally).

For the recipe pictured, I sliced it fairly thin because I was using it on pizza. As a side dish, I'd have made it 1/2 inch slices.

Place the squash in a gallon storage bag, and drizzle with a tablespoon or two of olive oil (depending on how much squash you cut). Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then seal the bag and knead it gently with your hands to toss and coat all the squash evenly. Add a bit more olive oil if needed to lightly coat.

Spread the squash in a single later on a baking sheet. If you've sliced it thin, bake for 30 minutes or until it begins to brown and crisp on the thinner edges. If you've sliced it thick, bake for 15 minutes, turn over each piece, then bake for another 15 - 25 minutes until the edges begin to brown.

A bonus recipe for your squashes...

Roasted Veggie Pizza

1 prepared pizza crust
1 4-oz can of tomato sauce
1/2 cup roasted eggplant, zuchinni, and squash
2 baby bella mushroom slices
1/4 cup roasted red pepper
1/4 cup marinated artichoke hearts
2 tbsp shredded onion
2 tbsp black olive rings
4 spinach or basil leaves, torn.
garlic powder
Italian seasoning
Olive oil cooking spray.

Preheat oven according to crust instructions. Spray the edges of the crust with cooking spray. Cover crust with tomato sauce. Sprinkle sauce with garlic powder, salt, and Italian seasoning to taste. Top with roasted vegetables, mushtrooms, artichokes, onions, spinach or basil, and black olives. Bake according to crust instructions. Broil for one minute if mushrooms and onions are not cooked through.


Monday, February 6, 2012

Recipe: Mightee Fruity Ice-Creamy

So this is the long-promised vegan ice cream recipe, except that there's a bit of dispute over whether I can really call it ice cream. The consistency is milkier than sorbet, but icier than ice cream, and more substantial than sherbet. Rather than call it ice sorshercream, I'm just calling it ice-cream-ish... Ice-creamy.

There are five things you should know about this recipe:

1. This is not a health food. There's plenty of sugar and a bit of fat in it. But with only 4-5 ingredients, you know exactly what you're getting.
2. There is no special equipment required; anyone can make it at home with a pot, a bowl, and a spoon. 
3. It's incredibly delicious.
4. While the work involved is minimal, it does take a whole day to freeze. Believe me, it's worth the wait.

Tangerine and mixed berry flavors are modifications I've tried. See the end note.

Mightee Fruity Ice-Creamy Recipe

2 cups fresh squeezed citrus juice plus 1 tsp zest
1 can (8.5 oz) cream of coconut
1.5 cups demerara sugar (or other vegan sugar)
1.5 cups water

Juice and zest citrus. Combine 2 cups juice, zest, and cream of coconut. Set aside.

Bring 1.5 cups of water to a boil. Add sugar .5 cups at a time and stir until dissolved. Boil for fifteen minutes over medium to medium heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and let stand for about 15 minutes until it becomes syrupy but doesn’t harden. (If it cools too much and hardens, simply put it back on the heat until it softens again.)

Combine with juice mixture in a freezer-safe container and cover tightly. Freeze, scraping the edges and stirring every 30 minutes for the next 4-6 hours until it has an evenly slushy consistency. Let freeze until firm (4-12 hours depending on freezer and container), stirring once more after it's mostly firm. Serve or store in freezer.

Note: I first made this with fresh squeezed lemon juice. I love lemons, but for some people that might be too tart. Even I could only eat it in very small servings. I next tried tangerines, which gave a milder flavor but were also delicious. Finally, I decided to try mixed berry, using two cups of 100% juice berry smoothie (about 50% berry and banana puree and 50% juice) and omitting the citrus zest. All of these worked well, but unanimously we liked the tangerine best.

Note to Floridians: This is an excellent use of the extra citrus on the tree in your yard, or your neighbor's yard, or your coworker's yard that got foisted off on you because they didn't want to see another [lemon, key lime, grapefruit, orange] this year.

If you make this and try a different flavor, let me know how it turns out!

The Superbowl: Not so super from a compassion perspective

I refrained from posting this yesterday because I didn't want to rain on anyone's good time. But I was truly surprised to see how many vegan and/or Christian friends were stoked about the Superbowl. A few people were indifferent and one mentioned some negative feeling toward it, but by and large, people were in party mode.

Don't get me wrong: I understand the appeal of football. In the early 90s and 00s, any given Sunday you'd have found me in front of the game, pigging out on chili and screaming myself hoarse. Before NFL Sunday Ticket, I'd go to sports bars with my husband every weekend, even though I don't care to drink and the smoke made me ill. I shelled out hundreds of dollars to go sit in the stands in the sweltering 98 degree heat for a game I knew we were bound to lose. I never went so far as face painting, but I'd wear my team shirt and paint my nails team colors - even though I didn't root on the hometown team and was risking arguments with drunken idiots. And if an argument came, I wasn't backing down - I knew my stuff and I loved the game. On the Rabid Fan Scale, I'd have fallen just below "foaming at the mouth."

So what changed? I went to a pee-wee football game to support my neighbor's kid.

Stepping back a bit, for years my husband had been telling me about the conflicted feelings he had about football. He'd played from the time he was five until he was in his teens and had a real love for the game. But he'd quit after he crippled another boy during a game, accidentally breaking the opposing player's neck with an awkward tackle. For a long time after that, he didn't so much as watch football on TV. When he did start watching it again, the moral implications of supporting the game bothered him. Should we be paying young men to cripple themselves?

Make no mistake: that's what we're doing by supporting football. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Spinal injuries. Crippling arthritis. Pain-killer dependency. Dementia, sleep apnea, and Lord knows what else. (There's a fairly thorough study of self-reports of NFL retirees as compared to the general populous here, if you're the type who likes to read dozens of pages of stats. Of particular interest is the self-rated health status chart on page 28.) The NFL is aware of and trying to address these problems for its retirees, but by then the damage has already been done.

I rationalized it, as I imagine most fans do, by suggesting that the obscene wages pro football players make (a moral argument against football in itself) were offsetting the risk. Basically, my reasoning was that these men were being paid in advance for their future medical care, like hazard pay for soldiers. And it's true that retired football players are, on average, somewhat financially better off than the general population. But not as much as you might think, and a surprising number are dependent on family and friends for support. Yes, there are some retired players living like Trump, but there are also some living below the poverty level. (This is covered in the aforementioned ridiculously long study.)

But I don't think these are the things that bothered my husband. It wasn't as much what the game did to the players that troubled him, but what it did to us, the viewers. He saw football as essentially small-scale war for the entertainment of the masses - armored warriors engaging in hand-to-hand combat to gain or protect territory. And though removed from the action, we somehow consider ourselves participants. We cheer the crushing tackles with blood-lust. We rage at the refs, the opposing team, our own team for losing. I don't think anyone - player or spectator - considers football a peace-creating activity. But does the war-like energy extend past the game itself?

There's definitely something to this. One study showed that in cases of upset losses in football games, incidents of domestic violence rise. And what fan hasn't been in an argument with someone about the game, developed hard feelings towards a certain team or their fans, or been stressed out and angry just reading the sports pages? If we've "put away anger" (Col 3:8), why are we bringing it back out again every Sunday?

As Christian pacifists - those who've chosen to 'lay down our swords for plowshares and make war no more' - or as vegans who have committed to a life of compassion for all living beings, shouldn't all of this prick our consciences?  To object to violence and not object to people dishing out physical harm for pay seems illogical. To object to bullfighting and not object to sacking the quarterback makes little sense. (And this is saying nothing about the fact that 3,000+ cow hides are used each year to make the regulation footballs for the NFL.)

This was what convinced me: the boy next door - a friend of my son - asked us to come watch his first away game in a nearby city. We went out to support him. During the game, these 12- and 13-year-old boys who were playing their hearts out were constantly screamed at, belittled, and pushed by their own parents. The coaches received even worse treatment. I thought it was appalling, but what really got me was when a mother walked away from yelling at the coach with tears in her eyes and said to her companion, "If my boy doesn't make the NFL, I don't know what chance he'll have."

This mom, desperately worried about her child's future, wasn't fighting for his education, wasn't fighting for his safety... No, she was fighting for his medical bills to be paid for in advance, so after a few years of small-scale war, he could retire to a life of chronic pain and possible dementia. That's not what I wanted for that 12-year-old boy, or my neighbor, or any of the kids on that field. We can rationalize all we want and say these pro football players know what they're getting into, but do they really? When they first put on a youth football uniform at age 8 or 9, and begin pinning all their hopes and all their family's hopes on a future in the NFL, do they know a thing about chronic traumatic encephalopathy? Or do they only know they want to be a warrior on a televised battlefield, receiving the adulation of millions of fans if they're strong enough to pull out a win?

If our lives are about building peace, compassion, and harmony, it just seems to me that brutal sports like football are out of step with that practice.

TDIV Q&A: Why is wool a vegan no-no?

Q. Why is wool a vegan no-no?

A. Much like the production of meat today, the production of wool is mythologized in our society as a benign activity where kindly old Farmer McDonald gently shears the sheep on his family farm, with a baa baa here and a baa baa there. Unfortunately, that’s not the reality.

But, you may ask, don’t sheep need to be sheared? Yes and no. Natural sheep do not need to be sheared. They shed, as most mammals do, on a yearly cycle. They grow enough wool to keep warm in the winter, and shed in the warmth of spring to stay cool in the summer. However, certain types of sheep have been manipulated through breeding to produce more wool, and these sheep are no longer capable of shedding. So these unnatural breeds do need to be sheared. Of course, if there were no demand for their wool, these altered animals would no longer be bred and would no longer live with the side effects of what has been done to them.

Merino sheep, the most common sheep used in the production of wool today, have been bred to have extremely wrinkly skin, providing more surface area for wool to grow. Unfortunately, this tinkering has caused problems. The wrinkles in their skin collect moisture, which attracts flies. The flies lay eggs on the sheep and the hatched maggots will literally eat the sheep alive. To decrease the risk of this condition, sheep farmers practice “mulesing” - cutting off large strips of flesh from the sheep’s hindquarters without any anesthetic.

But this isn’t the only cruelty farmed sheep endure. Lambs have their tails docked, holes punched in their ears, and male lambs are castrated - all with no anesthetic. Increasingly, sheep are kept confined indoors to produce the more highly prized “super fine” merino - a softer grade of wool that results from a lack of exposure to the elements, but which prohibits sheep from having anything resembling a natural life.  

The shearing itself is far from the caring image of Old McDonald with his sheep. Shearers, paid by volume instead of an hourly wage, are in a rush to shear as many sheep as possible. The sheep are handled roughly, the shearing done with little care for their well-being. Sheep are frequently injured and develop infections from cuts and abrasions caused during the shearing process. Also harmful, the shearing is done before the time the animals would naturally shed. Many sheep, sheared too early, die of exposure each year.

Those that survive injury, infection, and exposure don’t have a happy retirement. Eventually, a sheep’s wool production declines and it’s sold for meat. This means being crammed into overcrowded pens in feedlots awaiting slaughter, or transported by truck or by boat, often for weeks at a time. Many animals die in transport, from illness, starvation, or stress.

We must also consider the environmental impact. Just like other forms of factory farming, sheep farming involves clearing large areas of land, killing competing wildlife, and disposal of massive quantities of animal waste. Australia, which produces the largest percentage of wool of any country globally, sees an estimated 5 million kangaroos killed each year as a result of wool farming. And the country’s yellow-footed rock wallaby has become endangered due to sheep farming, because the sheep have devoured its food supply.

Today, there are many humane alternatives to wool for keeping warm and cozy during the winter months. Synthetic fabrics, such as polyester fleece, nylon, acrylic, and cotton flannel cost less, wash easily, and don’t contribute to cruelty.

(Authored by me, originally published at

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Kasey's Rules for Achieving World Peace

Everyone wants to be open-minded. This trait, defined as "a receptiveness to new ideas or the opinions of others," is essential to discourse when people disagree - without the ability to receive new ideas, no understanding can be reached. Yet, it is one of the most misused, misunderstood terms in the English language. A mistaken belief that one is open-minded can be a profound hindrance to meaningful interaction with others, and is certainly damaging to advocacy efforts.

Having an open mind does not mean believing that another person's position may be equally valid with your own. If that were the case, being "open-minded" would be as good as having no convictions at all. If you don't confidently believe your position is the right one, then you should be doing the necessary research to find the facts of the matter. When I talk to someone about my religious belief, my vegan ideology, or the right way to make a cup of tea, I believe what I'm saying is correct because I've examined that belief and determined it to be so.

To be open-minded is not to adopt a "to each their own" mentality and refuse to engage in discourse. That benefits neither you, nor the person with whom you disagree, which is contrary to the point of advocacy and in some cases could be quite harmful. If people had said 'to each their own' about the harm caused by smoking cigarrettes, for example, how many more people would be dying from their harmful effects today?

So what is an open mind? Simply put, it is the ability to accept that not everyone sees as you see, feels as you feel, believes as you believe, and still treat them with respect. And perhaps more importantly, not to judge them on the basis of your differences. 

Belief is as individual as a fingerprint. Select two random people who share any belief system and question them, and you'll see the differences emerge. Perhaps what they believe is the same, but why they believe it, how they feel about it, how they approach it, what about it is most important to them, this may be different. All beliefs are unique to the person, because belief is universally informed by frame of reference. The great assemblage of circumstances that brought you to a given belief is yours and yours alone.

What this means in practice is that to be open-minded, you cannot judge a person by the things that they believe in, even if you believe those things are wrong. To be open-minded is to evaluate the person's frame of reference, learn why they believe as they do, and accept them as they are - whether or not you are able to convince them of their "error." To accept does not mean to like, approve, or agree - simply to acknowledge what is.

Unfortunately, many of the people who consider themselves open-minded, tolerant, liberal thinkers are as likely to make judgments based on belief as the people who do not. I can't even number the many times people have assumed, based on the fact that I'm Christian, that I'm uneducated, uninformed, anti-science, dogmatic, hate-mongering, or a host of other religious stereotypes. This is no different than the many times, based on the fact that I'm vegan, that people have assumed I'm judgmental, angry, off-kilter, and hungry. I'm not talking about jeering loudmouths on the street making these assumptions. I'm talking about the same rational, progressive-thinking groups of people who would be appalled by a racist or homophobic remark. I'm talking about people who pride themselves on being tolerant. So why do we not see this as intolerance?

The fact is, there are certain groups of people our society says its okay to judge, and often who those groups are depend on which side of the line you stand on. Christians openly judge non-believers; non-believers openly judge Christians. Carnists judge vegans; vegans judge carnists. We have seen how productive this sort of adversarial relationship is, which is to say not productive at all. To be open-minded is to refrain from judgement. To be open-minded is to view each person as an individual, and even if you abhor some belief of theirs, to recognize that their belief does not define the whole person.

Only in this way, by letting each person tell their own story of belief, by examining their frame of reference and motives, can we ever hope to create change.

All of this philosophizing is simply an introduction to Kasey's Rules.

Here are the things I won't do to you:
1. I won't trust other people's negative opinions of you. I'll find out for myself what you are like.
2. I won't judge you because I don't agree with your beliefs, or the choices you make, or your relationships.
3. If I don't care enough to really get to know you, I will be careful not to influence the way others view you.
4. I won't make up my mind about who you are and refuse to see you any differently. People grow.
5. I will not fill in the blanks about your life with worst-case scenarios or experiences I've had with others.
6. I won't let your flaws define my picture of you.
7. I won't look down on you, condescend to you, or scorn you - that would show I think too much of myself.
8. I won't ask you to live by my standards, only to live up to your own.
9. I won't stereotype, pigeonhole, or dismiss you based on the labels that are applied to you.
10. I will not allow differences in our values to devalue you as a person in my eyes.

And the things I will do:
1. I will try to understand your frame of reference, your standards, your priorities.
2. Whether I like you or dislike you, I will treat you with courtesy and kindness.
3. I will make allowances for your flaws, and praise your good qualities.
4. I will speak to you and of you with patience.
5. I will tactfully discuss my concerns with you, confronting things like an adult.
6. I will be open-minded and listen.
7. I will take you at your word, unless I have powerful reasons not to do so.
8. I will be honest with you about my feelings, but accept your right to make your own decisions, and either support you or step quietly aside.
9. I will accept that every person in a group will have a different view of a situation, and strive to make the complete picture out of the varying points of view, rather than accepting one as false and one as true.
10. I will apply these same principles in dealing with the people you love.

I've posted these rules in every blog I've had over the years, and shared them with many people individually. They define my approach to open-mindedness, tolerance, fairness, and compassion. I do my best to apply them in every circumstance, every personal interaction. I will apply them to you, any time you choose to interact with me - through comments, tweets, email, etc. I'd appreciate if you would try to reciprocate. Only with open-mindedness can we hope to achieve accord.