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The Threat of Pandemics (MLA13 Boston: Plenary 4: Laurie Garrett)

May 11, 2013 4 comments
A woman dressed in black standing at a podium in front of a white lighted circle stating One Health.

Laurie Garrett giving her presentation.

The final plenary, and indeed, the final non-CE class or tour event of MLA13 Boston, was on my list of events to blog for the official conference blog.  I summed up the entire presentation.  As stated previously, I can’t reproduce those posts here on my personal blog, so please go over and take a look at that summary before reading my responses to and thoughts on the presentation.

Got it? Good!

Ok, so, what was my reaction to this lecture?  Well, first, honestly I had a bit of a panic.  I felt frightened, unsafe, and like the world is doomed.  At first I thought that was just my anxious-prone self over-reacting to the presentation, but after discussing it with friends and colleagues who were also there, I realized that Garrett seems to have actually sought to pull out this fear in people.

Why?

In a presentation that ends with pleas for us to fight fear and panic, why did she spend so much time investing in frightening us and very little (if any) spent in reassuring us?  Why focus so much on pandemics just a single mistake away, germ warfare close at hand (although, not really since 3D printing of germs isn’t happening yet).  I don’t know.  I don’t know what would make Garrett think making people feel this way is a good thing.  Maybe she’s fallen prey to the idea that the only way to get people to pay attention to your cause is to frighten them.  I know people in various movements who use that tactic.  It’s not one I’m a fan of.  Maybe she didn’t intend to gloom and doom the people present.  But I think she did.  Given that her own speech pointed out the dangers of panic and unwarranted fear, I find it odd that this was her intent.  And yet there you have it.  A room full of frightened librarians.  Think I’m exaggerating?  Check out just a few of the tweets from during her presentation:

Screen shot of a tweet "Nothing like wrapping up a conference with a presentation that will haunt attendee dreams..."One Health? Garrett's doom-scenario suggests we're on course for One Ill-HealthLaurie Garrett is scaring us all to death about pandemics and biosynthesis and germs etc...@Laurie_Garrett is one of the best speakers I've seen in a long time.  Also one of the scariest.YES! RT @mandosally I'm feeling creeped out. Anyone else?I think I'm going to use a 3D printer to make a bubble house and never leave it...Everyone has their own style, and I certainly learned a lot from the presentation and wasn’t bored.  But.  I’m not a fan of nonfiction presentations (aka not horror plays or movies) inciting fear and panic in the audience.  I think it’s counter-productive when talking to a room full of intelligent, educated individuals.  Librarians aren’t 5 year olds who need to be told about icky germs in order to get us to wash our hands.  I’m sure there could have been a way to give this presentation with truths and realities that could be frightening without actually inciting this level of anxiety.  Even just a little positivity and more hope for the future would have been nice.  You don’t want a populace that is exerting all their energy preparing for Armageddon.

I should also mention that I stood up to ask a question of Garrett at the end.  With all the talk of synthetic biology, I wanted to know what her opinion was on GMOs.  I admit, this is not an issue I am yet clear-cut on myself.  I generally prefer organic, but I also understand the value of say rice that has been modified to have more vitamins in it for an at-risk population.  But on the other hand I get the concern of manipulating something at a genetic level and what that might do to our own bodies when we ingest it.  It’s something that just doesn’t have enough long-term studies yet to really show if it’s truly safe or not, and it concerns me that it’s mostly the poor, at-risk populations who are being used as guinea pigs eating it.

In any case, I asked Garrett at the public microphone about her stance on GMO foods and the movement to label them.  Given all of her doom and gloom talk about synthetic viruses, I was shocked at her answer.  She believes that GMO foods are necessary because as more of the world becomes middle class, more of the world is eating meat, and meat eating just cannot be sustained on the land we currently have available, so we must turn to eating synthetic foods.

Um, EXCUSE ME?!?!

So the lady who just spent over an hour and a half talking about how dangerous synthetic biology could turn out to be turns right around and says that meat eating isn’t sustainable to feed the entire globe (which it isn’t, see this article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition) turns right around and says that well we have to eat GMOs to feed everyone because people won’t just give up meat.  Right, ok, if someone is so concerned about the possible bad consequences of synthetic biology don’t you think she might possibly take this opportunity to espouse a vegetarian, vegan, or even just more plant-based diet to combat the global food crisis instead of relying exclusively on GMOs?  Apparently not.  Apparently it’s really great to fear-monger about pandemics and international relations but when it comes to what we eat, the basis of much of our health, that’s too controversial.

Well, at least it was an interesting final couple of hours of MLA13, although I can’t say I really feel that it was very useful to librarians or working to promote true global health.

Book Review: Animal Rights Poetry: 25 Inspirational Animal Poems, Vol 1 by Jenny Moxham (Series, #1)

August 7, 2012 Leave a comment

Drawng of a little girl hugging a pig next to a goose.Summary:
A collection of 25 poems focusing on a variety of animal rights issues by British animal rights activist Jenny Moxham.

Review:
I picked this up because one of the blogs I follow mentioned it was on sale (for 100% off), and I figured there had to be at least one poem in there that I would find inspirational.  Of course, there was.

The poems are mostly written in rhyme, a vibe that feels very similar to Mother Goose style children’s poetry.  Some of them worked better than others, but it’s certainly a fine style choice.  It’s easier to remember rhymes than almost any other sort of poetry.

Personally, I preferred the poems that contained solid arguments to use when debating animal rights issues.  My favorite, is this one:

FOOD FOR THOUGHT
I’ve often heard it said by folk
Who relish eating meat,
“The animals were put on Earth
For human beings to eat.”

Well if God made them just for us,
Explain it, if you can,
Why they arrived one hundred million
Years ahead of man

(location 95)

I was less of a fan of ones addressing particular events, because I think those would be less useful in more general animal rights work.  I also was surprised by how many of the poems were about Christmas.  Perhaps Christmas is a meatier affair in the UK, but in a book with only 25 poems, having five about one holiday felt like a bit much.

Overall, Moxham’s talent and passion do shine through, but a more varied and longer collection would have been more enjoyable.  Recommended to those with an interest in memorable phrases to use in animal rights work.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Cookbook Review: Veggie Burgers Every Which Way by Lukas Volger

July 19, 2012 2 comments

Colorful font reading "Veggie Burgers Every Which Way" alongside pictures of veggie burgers.Summary:
Far more than just your basic veggie burger, this cookbook offers up interesting varieties of veggie burgers plus veg*n versions of everything else you will need at your summer bbq.

Review:
This is such a pretty cookbook!  Beyond gorgeous full-color photographs of the food, the recipes themselves are colorful with the numbers in blue and the headings in red or green.  It’s not just readable and usable; it’s fun to do both.

This is a vegetarian cookbook, not a vegan one, but there are quite a few vegan recipes, and they are all clearly labeled with a green “V.”  There are also some gluten free recipes labeled with a green “GF.”  These labels are found in both the contents and on the recipes themselves.

The cookbook is divided into: Introduction, Veggie Burger Basics, Bean Grain and Nut Burgers, Vegetable Burgers, Tofu Seitan and TVP Burgers, Burger Buns, Sides: Salads and Fries, and Condiments and Toppings.  I have to say while I was pleased with the inclusion of sides, I was most impressed by the inclusion of the section on burger buns.  I also really appreciate the anti-processed food stance in the Introduction.  It’s a nice touch, particularly for people who follow a diet that often leaves us wallowing in processed foods at friends’ bbqs, and we can’t complain because, well, they bought us veggie burgers, didn’t they?

One drawback to the cookbook is quite a few of the recipes call for ingredients that are kind of hard to find like: chickpea flour, bulgur, roasted chestnuts, Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP), or arame.  If you’re pushing for people to do fresh, whole foods instead of processed, you shouldn’t make the ingredients list so complicated.

I found about three recipes that intrigued me enough to add to my “to try” collection.  So far I’ve tried one, Beet and Brown Rice Burgers on page 59.  It’s a fairly straight-forward recipe: combine shredded beets with cooked brown rice and mashed up beans, along with a few spices.  I made them all at once then froze them.  I also added in vital wheat gluten, which Volger oddly doesn’t use in a lot of his recipes in spite of its binding qualities and protein content.  I’m glad I did because the burger still had some issues staying together even with it in there.  However, the flavor and textures are different from other veggie burgers I’ve made, so it was definitely worth the effort.  I still think the recipes in the book in general need a bit of tweaking, particularly for flavor and stay-togetherness (shhh that is so a word).  The burger was good but not great. It’s almost there….I do intend to try it out again and tweak it a bit.

So….out of the whole book I found 3ish recipes, have made one, it was different and interesting but needs some tweaking.  Not exactly a result that would make me encourage others to purchase.  I do suggest you borrow it or check it out from a library if my review has intrigued you at all.  You may find it more useful than I did or perhaps enjoy the flavor combinations more or even just have more easily accessible oddball ingredients in your town.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Public Library

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Cookbook Review: Eat Vegan on $4.00 a Day by Ellen Jaffe Jones

July 18, 2012 7 comments

A couple of plates of food with the new of the cookbook on a banner over them.Summary:
This cookbook is a response to the myth that eating vegan must be expensive. Jones offers up recipes and a 7 day meal-plan where each day costs $4 or less.

Review:
The idea of this book is great, but the execution is poor, particularly compared to other eat cheap vegan cookbooks such as Vegan on the Cheap by Robin Robertson or The Happy Herbivore by Lindsay S. Nixon.  The recipes simply lack creativity and skimp on flavor.

The book features an interesting introduction on why veggies and fruits don’t get ad space, followed by chapters on financial planning for grocery shopping and veggie nutrition and cooking.  Both of these chapters are kind of common sense, but I am fully aware a lot of adults, particularly young adults, are completely lacking in this common sense, so these chapters are good to have.

The recipes are divided into: breakfasts, soups, salads, salad dressings, entrees, spreads and sides, and desserts and snacks. Now, I have nothing against soups or salads, but to have three chapters really devoted to those two things (I mean, a whole chapter of salad dressings? Come on!) is not offering up much variety or doing anything to dispel the myth that vegans just eat salad.  To top it off, the entree chapter  starts with a chili and a stew, which are basically chunkier soups.

I also feel that a lot of the recipes are pure common sense.  There is a recipe titled rice and beans. COME ON NOW. You make rice, stir-fry up some beans and veggies, boom, rice and beans.  If you’re offering up a book on eating vegan on the cheap, don’t offer up recipes that we all already know anyway and that are commonly thought of as a poor man’s food.  What a person looking at this cookbook wants is creative, cheap, delicious vegan recipes.  What we are offered is basic stir fries, basic pasta and sauce, basic salad, etc…  For instance, the salad “recipe” on page 50 just offers up a list of veggies and nuts then says “combine any five of these ingredients.”  Gee, thanks, I had no idea that a salad is made up of a combination of veggies. What a help!

Now, I did try making a recipe in the cookbook, “Sweet Potato Muffins” on page 35.  The pros: it was cheap and edible. The cons: it was barely edible and I felt like I was having hockey pucks for breakfast.  There has got to be a better way to make vegan sweet potato muffins. There just has to be.  And, side-note, I’ve been cooking long enough to know that when a recipe fails this badly, it is most likely not my fault. Particularly when I try it a second time, and it still fails.

So overall I suppose if you are an absolute complete beginner in cooking and wanting to eat plant-based, you might find this book moderately useful.  I’d recommend to you that you get Vegetarian Cooking For Dummies instead though. (Seriously, that’s what I used when I first went veg).

2 out of 5 stars

Source: Public Library

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Cookbook Review: Vegan Vittles by Joanne Stepaniak

June 21, 2012 3 comments

Image of a country kitchen.Summary:
A farm sanctuary is a farm whose sole purpose is to save animals from farm factories and slaughter.  The Farm Sanctuary in upstate New York was started in 1986.  In this cookbook, one of the proprietors has gathered vegan recipes inspired by farm life.  Think down-home cooking that is cruelty-free.

Review:
As a country girl, I was delighted to find a down-home cookbook free of animal products.  Everything about the cookbook hearkens back to classic American cookbooks from the layout to the simple black and white pictures at the beginning of each section to the layout of each of the recipes themselves to the sayings peppered throughout the book.  (The sayings are veganized versions of classic American ones).

The cookbook starts with an intro to the Farm Sanctuary, followed by a very personal explanation for her veganism by Stepaniak.   This is followed by the more scientific explanations for eating vegan and how to do it properly.  Substitutes and special ingredients are explained, and the intro is rounded out by a sample weekly menu.

The recipes themselves are divided into: tips and tails (hints and basics), beverages, breakfasts and breads, uncheeses butters and spreads, hearty soups and stews, salads and dressings, sandwiches, the main dish, sauces gravies and condiments, and happy endings (desserts).  Each section starts with a photo of one of the rescue animals and their story.  It’s a sweet, light-handed approach to veganism that I appreciate.

So what about the recipes?  They are definitely geared toward beginner plant-based cooks with a desire to replace their animal-based recipes with similar tasting ones.  There’s a plethora of traditional American recipes with the animal products simply switched out.  As a long-time vegetarian, I found this focus not quite my style, but I can see it being enjoyed by newbies or when hosting omni friends and family or to find that one thing you still really miss like bacon or meatloaf.  Personally, I found the dairy substitutes far more useful and interesting, since these can be expensive to buy, but are far healthier for you then the dairy norm.

I was able to find quite a few recipes of interest to me that I copied out.  So far I’ve only been able to try one, but it was amazing!  I tried Chuckwagon Stew on page 89. Seeking to replicate a hearty, country stew without the meat, the stew is built around tempeh.  The ingredients were easy to find (I got everything at Trader Joe’s), cheap, and the recipe was a quick one to make.  I fully admit I inhaled half of it that very evening.  I am eager to try the rest of the recipes, particularly the Crock Cheeze on page 74 and the Seitan Salami/Pepperoni on page 40.

Overall, this is a country style, omni-friendly vegan cookbook that lets the animals and recipes shine for themselves.  The recipes predominantly use grocery store ingredients, the exceptions being vital wheat gluten and nutritional yeast, which are easily ordered via Amazon.  They are also simple enough that any moderately skilled cook should be able to follow them with ease.  I highly recommend it to omnis and veg*ns alike, as the recipes are happy, healthy, and friendly.  Personally, this is definitely going on my to own wishlist.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Public Library

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Note that the second edition has a different subtitle and more recipes.

Friday Fun! (Musings On My IBS)

June 15, 2012 4 comments

Hello my lovely readers!

This week I haven’t seen much of my library since I’ve been participating in the Science Librarian Boot Camp.  I’ll be posting my notes from the Neuroscience section next week, since I think those were the most interesting (at least so far).  Perhaps the capstone this morning will be inspiring as well and make the grade too though. :-)

It’s been great to see some of my librarian friends this week, although the Boot Camp was a bit of a struggle.  I’ve been experimenting with eating less dairy for multiple reasons (primarily health).  I ate quite a bit of dairy on the first day of the conference and subsequently had a flare-up of my IBS.  Not pleasant, trust me. :-/  It was frustrating and frankly hard on me emotionally.  I’ve struggled with this syndrome for so many years and just when I think it’s mostly under control, something happens again.  Although I am passionate about heath, it is frankly sometimes difficult to have to be so incredibly strict on my diet, stress level, sleep amount, etc…. or pay the consequence of being physically ill almost immediately.  Trust me, I wish I could indulge in gluttony periodically with the only consequence being a few extra miles on the treadmill!  But I know in the grand scheme of things it’s a minor thing to have to deal with, and I am lucky that Boston is such a mecca of vegan food.  The key for me, I think, will be figuring out how much indulgence is acceptable to my body.  Nobody can be strict all the time!  In the meantime, FSM bless Boston for having indulgences like vegan cupcakes.

I also guess this just means I’m going to have to start requesting vegan food at the conferences.

This weekend I’m hoping to see one of my good friends, resume work on my next novel (tentacles, oh my!), and of course gym it.  Happy weekends!

 

 

Book Review: The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted And the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, And Long-term Health by T. Colin Campbell, PhD and Thomas M. Campbell II

April 15, 2012 3 comments

Blue and green text on white background.Summary:
Dr. Campbell spent the early part of his scientific career researching diseases of affluence such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.  When a study in rat livers demonstrated that a greater percentage of protein in the diet led to greater disease, Campbell became intrigued.  He designed the China Study to compare Chinese citizens with American citizens, since the Chinese have low rates of these diseases until they immigrate to the United States.  Through this and other studies, he believes he has the proof that most diseases of affluence are caused by the Standard American Diet.  In his book he presents these findings, as well as an insider’s look at the scientific, health, and government trifecta that vastly affects what Americans learn about health.

Review:
Clearly the most valuable part of this book is the chapter that explains Campbell’s China Study.  Since it’s generally not considered ethical to study humans and disease by injecting them with various substances, one of the better methods available is population studies.  You compare and contrast over a long period of time the differences between different populations and attempt to determine what aspects may cause bad health.  It is undeniable that the traditional Chinese rural population compared to Americans eat less animal products and move more.  Additionally they have less disease, particularly cancers, heart disease, and diabetes.  Campbell’s study establishes this easily observed fact into something that has been scientifically proven.  It is also interesting to note that those who emigrate to the US and adopt the Standard American Diet (SAD) change to the American rate of these diseases.  This is ground-breaking information, of course, but it is easy to gather this all from one chapter.  Campbell finds it necessary, for some reason, to devote a chapter to each illness, which frankly gets repetitive and tedious to read.

Beyond the study itself, which is interesting and good for people who aren’t already convinced of the health problems caused by animal products, I felt the rest of the presentation of these facts to be dull in comparison to Diet for a New America.  Where Campbell’s strength lies is in discussing his experiences as an insider in the American health and scientific industry, which frankly we all know is royally fucked up.  He addresses at length how these have become intertwined with the government and animal product lobbyists to the extent that for the sake of profit of animal product producers and those working in medicine, Americans are getting a severely watered down version of what scientists and health care workers know to be the facts.  Anytime anyone tries to tell Americans to eat less animal products, the lobbyists get all up in the way.  This is why people talk about how capitalism should not be involved in health.  It’s only natural that people who have spent decades learning cardiology might not want to suddenly have half the surgeries to perform because heart disease can be reversed by diet.  Or that people who own a dairy farm might not want American women to know that dairy consumption leads to osteoporosis.  But it does.  And Campbell illustrates why and how these facts are kept from the American public.

He also eloquently shows why we have constantly conflicting news stories on health.  Everyone knows the joke about how eggs were bad for you then good for you then bad for you (but only the yolks) all over again.  Campbell shows how this is the direct result of the conflict within the science and health industry.

I have come to the conclusion that when it comes to health, government is not for the people; it is for the food industry and the pharmaceutical industry at the expense of the people. It is a systemic problem where industry, academia and government combine to determine the health of this country. (page 318)

I have worked in the health field myself for years now, and I can tell you, the vast majority of the people who do genuinely care about you and your health.  But traditions are hard to break and even those within the system don’t know everything that goes on among the lobbyists and the top echelons.  I mean, they are still teaching medical students to utilize BMI to determine health in their patients, when multiple studies have shown it is not a reliable tool.  Why is this?  People want to believe what they’ve first learned, and especially in medicine, if a new idea comes along many many many studies must be done and obstinate people push for it before the method utilized will be changed.  This is meant to protect you from quacks, but unfortunately it can lead to the burying of ground-breaking information.

Plus, how would Americans react if tomorrow Mrs. Obama and her obesity prevention program came out and said everyone needs to go vegetarian or vegan?  Hell, the woman is taking flak for daring to suggest children play outside.  I think you can see my point.

Overall, this book definitely could have been shorter.  I believe it would have worked better if Campbell had presented his study and his insider’s knowledge as to why the health care and science industries seem so confused and conflicting half the time.  I hope this knowledge will convince more Americans to take direct control of their own health and conduct their own research to come to their own conclusions.  It’s worth a read for this knowledge, but if you are not interested in the politics of science and health and simply want the information, then I suggest you go with the more reader-friendly Diet for a New America.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Public Library

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