Saturday, December 22, 2007

The 100 mile mistletoe

My Christmas message is over on the cycling blog if anyone wants to see the snowman I made today!

I bought my brother-in-law a book by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon called The 100 Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating. I was leafing through it this morning, and came across a few interesting things:

One thing I learned was that the University of British Columbia, in downtown Vancouver, operates a community farm!
The Farm is a student-driven initiative where students, faculty, staff, and the local community have been working together to create a place where anyone can come to learn, live and value the connection between land, food and community.

The UBC Farm is a 24 hectare teaching, research, and community farm located on the University of British Columbia's Campus in Vancouver, Canada. As the only working farmland within the city of Vancouver, the UBC Farm is an urban agrarian gem, featuring a landscape of unique beauty.

That is so cool. I'm going to push for my university's new campus to have a community farm!!!

I also found a couple interesting facts about food industrialization: although it is ironic enough that industrial agriculture sprang out of World War Two military innovations, and while we know that, on many fronts, industrial agriculture is ruinous for the planet (especially the meat industry), did you more specifically know the following?
a) due to the industrial farm movement, and the "which crop will make me the most money?" thought-process, of the 463 varieties of radish indexed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the early 20th century, 436 of them are now extinct?!!?
b) Twenty species of plant account for 90% of the food consumed in the world!! (If you read this book though, and learn what we've done with soy and corn, this isn't actually that surprising).

Aside from those neat facts, there are some thoughts about being vegetarian while trying to eat locally, and what you do for protein when you can not find a supply of chick peas, lentils and tofu within a 100 mile radius. I won't tell you what answers they found to this problem, but I am going to repeat some of their reasons for being vegetarian - familiar enough to anyone reading this blog, but well enough written to bear repeating:

"The decision (to go veggie) was not rooted in any unusual squeamishness about killing animals. What we chose to reject was our species' capacity to disregard life... We never will accept the idea that animals can be treated like machines that produce meat, milk, and eggs. We are equally troubled by the fact that meat production monopolizes the world's scarce agricultural land. It takes fourteen pounds of corn for a cow to gain one pound of edible meat - a fattening technique developed by industrial feedlots that goes against cows' biology; they evolved to eat only grasses. Meanwhile, cows and other livestock hog half the corn grown in America, while 800 million people go hungry worldwide."

To everyone eating tofu and chick peas this holiday season, have a great Christmas!!!!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Sexual politics of meat substitutes

I was playing around in a phd database today, and found one called The Sexual Politics of Meat Substitutes by Gregory James Flail, who was at Georgia State University, and finishing his phd in 2006.

Gregory, I'm sorry if I mess this up, but I think this is how his work can be summarized:

Following Carol Adam's The Sexual Politics of Meat, Gregory decided to analyze veggie "meat" packaging, and advertisements, to see how the mass media portrays vegans, to see if "veggie" meat advertising was really any different from regular meat advertising, and to see if mass media representations of veggie meat did anything to fight the masculine "meat is power" stereotype common in society.

Here is the first sentence of his dissertation, which I think is the best start to a phd ever:
Lately, while cruising through Sevananda, my local health food store, I find myself thinking about sex toys, not for the usual reasons, but rather as cultural artifacts, because every few weeks I see ever-greater varieties of fake flesh adorning the shelves of the refrigerated aisle – much more imitation flesh than one would likely encounter at any of the local sex shops.

And here are some other good thoughts:

But, perhaps, vegetarians will be the eventual losers in the battle of image politics, as market ploys convince ever-increasing numbers of consumers that meat analogs are what you’re supposed to eat when becoming vegetarian. When accompanied by the familiar imagery of the meat-centered western meal, the terms “vegetarian” and “vegan” seem less radical, much less likely to call to mind the imagery of the slaughterhouse that makes them threatening to tradition in the first place. For the carnivorous shopper who happens upon products like Now & Zen’s UnSteak, whose mascot is a smiling cartoon cow, or The Wide World of Soy’s Tofurky, which boasts new features like imitation wish-sticks and pseudo giblet gravy, the meat analog seems designed specifically to override the negative connotation of vegetarian fare as that which wantonly lacks meat; and yet these products tend to suggest very little about why it might be beneficial to stop thinking of animals as tasty objects and start thinking of them as sentient beings with whom we share the planet. Meaty imagery serves to reassure carnivorous shoppers that their tastes are indeed correct and that all people, even those who avoid animal-based foods, are somehow biologically predisposed to preferring them. This carnivore-friendly conception of vegetarianism, which we might call veggie-lite, fails to address the issues that have inspired so many people to embrace diets that are not only delectable and delicious on their own terms, but also animalfriendly, environmentally-friendly, and nutritionally-complete.

Despite cranky vegetarian critiques like this one, manufacturers of meat analogs make huge profits from their depoliticized versions of vegetarianism, even as their companies get bought up by huge food conglomerates whose other product lines are anything but vegetarian-friendly. The increasing effectiveness of their advertising and the success of their meat analog products serves first to emphasize just how much our culture fetishizes animal-based foods, second how much consumers are beginning to realize that their continued health depends on finding alternatives to dominant dietary paradigms, and third how enduring our powers of denial can be when faced with the fact that our taste for meat analogs is derived almost entirely from our nostalgia for the belief that killing, dismembering, and eating animals is the healthiest, tastiest, and most natural course for all concerned. If meat analogs could somehow manage to displace animal-based foods as the focal point of the western diet, they just might end up doing as much for vegetarianism as the dildo does for lesbianism.

The fact is... some men are willing to try meatless meals. Furthermore, when they are represented as heterosexual, monogamous, and “family-oriented” men, the
suggestion is that carno-phallogocentrism can be revised at an infrastructural level. If fathers and husbands can be vegetarian or, gasp, even vegan, then the potential for entire families to follow such a diet is more easily realized. Such ads have some
serious implications for the sexual politics of meat because they not only suggest that men can go meatless, but also that vegetarian and vegan men are not necessarily gay, queer, or effeminate, and that, for all appearances, they have normative sexual relation with women. I’m not suggesting that male vegetarians and vegans should breed themselves into predominance, but, more simply, that the marketplace in trying to capitalize on a strange “new” foodway has inadvertently created a new stereotype: the vegetarian patriarch.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Lentils, stirred, not shaken

Jen very kindly asked me to be a contributor to Sporty Vegans, and I did my first post over there a little while ago. If the bunch of us ever met up and did a ride together I think I'd be the slowpoke of the bunch, but hopefully I'll be able to contribute some good posts over there.


My superstar partner flipped through How it all Vegan! and whipped off Auntie Bonnie's Lively Lentil Stew today. It's going down as a "Anna Really Likes" and "Chris Likes" in our grading system.


So we ate the lentil stew, and then played guitar a little bit, and then both wanted dessert, so Anna grabbed Joy of Vegan Baking: Compassionate cooks' traditional treats and sinful sweets. And we made Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes.


Joy of Vegan Baking also has some nice veggie jabs in it... i.e. the discussion of the calcium which is in milk. Calcium is a mineral which comes from the ground, and which cows get because they eat grass.
"Ah ha!" a veggie animal activist thinks - "how many cows eat grass anymore??" Good question, almost none of them do, instead they get that slurry of liquefied fat that the factory farms feed them, and the factory farms have to add artificial calcium to the feed to actually make the cow's milk have any calcium when it eventually gets sold to us.

Lesson? Eat the dark greens (broccoli etc) to get calcium yourself!


Ciao for now!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Wacky Belgian Psychologists

Life in Orillia has been pretty busy so far, and I haven't had much time to poke around looking for neat veggie studies in the journal databases I have access to - coming up with material like this.

I did find a slightly strange article in the International Journal of Psychology today though. (If you want the citation, it's 2007 42(3), pgs 158-165). The article is titled Implicit attitudes towards meat and vegetables in vegetarians and nonvegetarians and it was written by Jan De Houwer and Els De Bruycker from Ghent University in Belgium.

I'm going to VASTLY simplify the study which they conducted using 47 vegetarians and 49 nonvegetarians - a) because I don't really understand their full methods, and b) the more I try to explain what they did, the less amusing the study becomes, and so, rather than describe their research as an Implicit Association Test (IAT) run alongside an Extrinsic Affective Simon Task (EAST), I'll call their work the "YUCK!! GET THAT HAMBURGER AWAY FROM ME!!!!" study.

Basically, the participants were shown a bunch of pictures - happy babies, crying babies, sunsets, homeless life, vegetables and meat products etc - and were asked to press either a "negative" or a "positive" button depending on what sort of connotations the picture had for them. The two researchers were trying to provoke implicit attitudes towards meat - "Implicit attitudes can be defined as attitudes that are activated automatically, that is, when little time or process resources are available, when participants are unaware of the stimuli that activate the attitude."
So - although many vegetarians have logical reasons for their lifestyle... "Why don't you eat meat?" "Oh, you know, the animal cruelty thing is important to me, but it has also been well proven that meat farming is disastrous for the environment, and that vegetarians are much healthier than omnivores" - these guys were trying to zone in on instantaneous gut reactions towards pictures of meat.

Guess what the researchers found! "We demonstrated for the first time that vegetarians and nonvegetarians differ not only in their self-reported attitudes towards meat and vegetables, but also in their implicit attitudes towards these objects, that is, in the spontaneous, automatic affective reactions that these objects evoke.... the EAST results suggest that, compared to nonvegetarians, vegetarians have both a more negative implicit attitude towards meat and a more positive implicit attitude towards vegetables."

I just find this all amusing because I picture a bunch of vegetarians sitting at computers, seeing pictures of hamburgers and automatically associating the picture with a slaughtered cow, and hammering the negative "Dead Cow!! Dead Cow!!" button.

And actually, this study reminds me of the Joaquin Phoenix Veggie video on You Tube, where he stops dead in his tracks at the supermarket when he comes to the meat aisle.