Wednesday, March 31, 2010

It's a Beautiful Day!!

I'm sitting outside right now enjoying the warm spring weather and just being thankful for how great everything is right now! There are always things we wish we could change, or improve, but sometimes it's good to just sit back and think about all of the great things in life. I'm healthy, my kids are healthy, we have food to eat and a roof over our heads. What more could we ask for?

I live in a pretty small apartment with basically no yard. I also kill any plant that comes near me. But, this year in an effort to save some money on my new lifestyle I decided I was going to try very hard to grow some vegetables in containers on my porch. My local Rec department also has a community garden where for $30 you get a tilled plot and access to water. I sent an e-mail to the director to see if there was any space available and was told there was a wait list. Yesterday I got an e-mail letting me know that someone had dropped out and now I get a plot!! I'm so excited, but I'm also really nervous. There are a good many rules about maintaining the space, and I've only had a garden one other time in my life and my ex-husband pretty much handled that, so I have no clue what I'm getting into. I'm not going to get fancy though. I'm going to buy already started plants so I know what I'm working with and just go from there. My friend Diane has offered to help and so I'm hoping she knows more than I do, so that together we will be able to reap the benefits of some produce grown by our own hands. Any suggestions would be welcome!

Last night I finished reading Mad Cowboy by Howard Lyman. Talk about an eye-opening book. If you are not familiar with him, he is a former cattle rancher who owned a massive commercial farm. He is now a vegan and food safety advocate. If you have heard of him it is probably because he was the man sued along with Oprah by the Texas cattle ranchers for her statements about beef. I know that people often say that you can't really be informed if you haven't experienced something first hand. Well, the way I see it, if you can operate a large scale farm that practices the same methods of farming as other commercial farms all over the country and then go vegan because of that, then you have walked the walk, and can now talk the talk. He knows what he did, he knows what his friends and fellow farms do to raise their animals and so if anyone should know whether or not our food is safe, it's him. He doesn't think it is.
      This book is very easy to read, he's a pretty no nonsense kind of guy and doesn't bog you down with a lot of facts or terms that are hard to understand. But he is very blunt and if you really want to continue a life of eating meat then you probably shouldn't read this book. It's not quite as gross as some of the other books I've read on the subject (although there was one part about putting things back in a cow that weren't supposed to come out) but he gets the message across very well. If you can read this and not at least consider what you're eating and how it impacts your health and the environment then there's something a little off in your brain.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

No More Beatings

So I think I'm a little over two weeks into this foray and while I'm not doing well on the dairy side of things, being a vegetarian is quite easy. Vegan is still going to be a difficult, if attainable, goal for me.

I have learned a few things during this beginning part of the process. The first is that shockingly (at least to me) it is much easier to eat out at local restaurants than at chains if you are a vegetarian. I know that my local restaurants cater to a wide variety of people, but given that this is a big farming area and that pretty much everyone I know loves meat, I didn't expect to see as many vegetarian options as I have.

In the past month I've eaten out a bit more than I normally do. Part of this is because my birthday falls in this month and so I was either taken out, or treated myself to a meal out. I went with my mother to a chain restaurant while we were in another town shopping a few weeks back. This was before I decided that I had to make a clear start if I was ever going to do this, and I ended up eating meat because I couldn't figure out a better choice. We went to this particular place because they have a Weight Watchers friendly menu and we are both on the plan. I looked at every item on the menu and was hard pressed to find something without meat. I also couldn't figure out what I could order that would still be a real meal without the meat and not kill me with the other stuff. So I went with the safety net of the WW chicken. You would think that chain restaurants would be all about catering to the special diets given that they are much more likely to be sued by someone for not having something on their menu that they could order. I'd never consider suing because there was no vegetarian option, but we are a sue happy country.

Since that meal, I've eaten meals at two different local restaurants and was very pleased to find vegetarian entrees clearly labeled as such. They were also amazing! So once again, eating local wins out and I'll be going back to support local businesses who support my eating habits!

I also learned (and here's where the post title comes in) that meat and dairy in some form are in EVERYTHING!!! Seriously, it is very hard to avoid some variant of meat or dairy product in any processed food. Even things you wouldn't really think to look for them in. I'm trying to avoid processed foods as much as possible, but some pretty simple things I'm used to being able to use have meat or dairy in them. I noticed that I had started to become a little obsessed with reading labels to check for these hidden things and that I was feeling bad when I found them in something I thought would be safe. So last night I decided that I won't beat myself up over those things. I'm only two weeks in for starters and this is a major life change for me. I also have a pretty limited range of stores to shop in here and so my ability to find some of the better versions of common items is not that easy. So, I'm just going to keep doing the best I can. I realize that simply cutting the actual meat itself is a huge step and helps the environment and my body. Hopefully as time goes on I will learn more substitutions and find new things to enjoy that help me move away from the things that I was beating myself up over naturally.

Monday, March 22, 2010

I'm In Love With Jamie Oliver

It's been a long time since I've felt this way about a man and I'm just ticked that he's married.

Seriously though, did you watch the sneak preview of his new show called Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution? In the pilot episode he went to an elementary school in Huntington West Virginia to see if he could not only make over the way the children were eating in school, but at home as well. Huntington was recently voted the fattest city in America which is saying something because we're the fattest country in the world! I have family near this area of WV and my cousin spent a lot of time in a hospital in Huntington when she was born, so I thought it was pretty interesting to watch a show so close to home so to speak.

I was prepared for how bad the food situation would be. I was NOT prepared for how much of a fight Jamie was going to have or how terribly nasty people would be to him about this. What shocked me the most was the cafeteria staff and how down on the whole idea they were. I mean I guess I could see feeling a little threatened by some stranger coming in and messing with your system, but I could not believe how strongly they defended what they served!! You would have thought he had walked into their homes and criticized their cooking. Funny thing, is that he actually did go into the home of one family and told the mother how horrible the food was that she was feeding her family and she thanked him! Not these women though! They did nothing to help him, nothing to support what he was trying to do and before all was said and done he was in tears!

I won't spoil the whole show in case you haven't seen it. If you want to watch it, you can find the full episode here. The season premiere is Friday March 26 and I hope that they get on board with him fast!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Is It Official?

So when are you an official vegetarian? How long do you have to abstain from eating meat before you can call yourself a vegetarian to others? I guess it has technically only been a week since I've eaten any meat. I ate on campus last Saturday and due to the very limited choices I had a little bit of sausage gravy. I'm not sure there was actually any sausage in it...but I believe the essence of meat still counts as meat.

The only remaining meat in the house is some of my oldest son's deer bologna and some soup that contains meat. I don't anticipate eating either of those things myself, but they are here. I still haven't given up dairy. I am using up the last of my cow's milk and it won't be replaced. I still have a lot of laughing cow cheese wedges and sour cream and I'm still not sure what I'm going to do without those. My youngest loves sour cream and so I doubt it will be banished from the house. I'm giving myself a lot more time on the vegan conversion though. Funny how I thought I didn't like dairy that much, but there are those few items that I just seem to have to have.

If I had any internal debate about becoming a vegetarian it was gone quickly when I read a few more chapters of Mad Cowboy by Howard Lyman the other night. His description of his practices on his factory farm sealed the deal for me. I won't go into any details since you might be eating and reading, but it involved putting some items back into the cow that never should have come out to begin with. So, while I may have a slip up from time to time, I think I can call myself a vegetarian. Perhaps just saying it out loud will help me avoid the slip ups all together.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Politics - I'm Over Them

I used to really enjoy politics. I liked the excitement of an election and learning about the different candidates. I have almost always been on the losing side considering I'm a very liberal person in a very conservative area. I have my opinions like everyone else, but I feel like I give them pretty respectively most of the time. I can't say that I've never been disrespectful, but I do try to watch what I say. I think I'm more aware of this because I have so many conservative friends. It comes with the territory. I was even married to a conservative man. You just can't avoid them here ;)

So, yes, I voted for Obama and no, I'm not sorry I did. He still represents what I believe in and I still think he has the ability to bring us back from a horrible time. But, I am so over politics. Being on the "winning" side this time has made me loathe it. During the eight years we had Bush I just listened to the conservatives around me and most of the time I kept my mouth shut. I didn't like it, but making my friends mad wasn't the way to change anything. They have their beliefs and I have mine. He was the President of the United States and I respected his office. I didn't put foul bumper stickers on my car and I didn't join any anti-Bush Facebook groups until he left office.

I don't know how my conservative friends felt when they saw anti-Bush sentiments from their liberal friends. I hope that I never made them feel bad. But, I can tell you how it makes me feel. It makes me wonder why you are my friend? When you say nasty things (and I don't just mean disagree with him, I mean nasty) about the President that I voted for, or the causes that I truly believe in then it makes me wonder why you like me at all. This is part of who I am! I have spent years respecting and being friends with a lot of conservatives and while I may have disagreed with them, I don't feel like I slapped them in the face. So, if you feel so strongly that liberals are the devil and that we will be the ruination of this country, then you are essentially saying that I'm a horrible person who doesn't care about the US or its people.

I am very far from being a conservative, but if I felt like my conservative friends had nothing valuable to offer this country and were just a waste of oxygen, then I wouldn't be friends with them. So, why are you friends with me?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Heaven in a Pan!!

I've been reading a blog called Green and Crunchy. This woman is amazing! She feeds a family of seven an entirely vegan, and mostly raw diet. I just read in awe! But, I got bold and decided to make one of the recipes she posted because it just looked so amazing. I tried out my hand at making these chocolate covered energy bars. I didn't have exactly the same ingredients, but everything was similar. They were very easy to make and didn't take long at all. My only mistake was having the pan sitting on my warm stove. It caused the coconut oil to separate from the rest of the mixture a little resulting in a slightly greasy bar. But putting them in the freezer for a few minutes like she suggested anyway almost took care of that problem entirely.

Let me just say that these things are SO incredibly good that I could eat the whole pan!! I won't always put the chocolate on them (she doesn't either) but they will be a great replacement to the bars that I normally buy for the boys.

Friday, March 12, 2010

FoodMatters and My Thyroid

I watched FoodMatters last night. I enjoyed it and found it very informative. I also visited the website associated with the film and found a few things I don't care for. I don't believe in colonics. I'm sorry if you do, but I've watched enough Dr. Oz and The Drs. to believe that it's just not necessary or even safe to have a procedure like that performed. Aside from that, I though there was a lot of very good information in the film.

The thing I found most interesting was one of the teachers talking about how the body heals. She said that you can't cure heart disease in a person and not cure other ailments they may have. She didn't mean, of course, through procedures designed for one specific ailment. She meant (I assume) that when we heal our bodies through proper diet and exercise and other healing methods, then our body is healed. You can't pick and choose healing. I thought that was a very interesting idea.

I've been on thyroid medication for an under active thyroid since tenth grade. It's hard to tell how long I'd really had the problem, but this is when it was finally found. Over the years I've noticed that the level of medication that I need is very much dependent on my weight. The heavier I am, the higher dosage I need. As soon as I start to lose weight, I have to come down in dosage. The last time I had blood drawn for my thyroid test I had lost close to 20 pounds. My doctor called and said they needed to lower my dosage. I figured they would because I'd noticed my hair had started to fall out more than normal. So, I switched does. Now I've lost over 30 pounds and I can tell that the medicine is still not right. I'm tired all the time despite all of the exercise I am getting and how much better I'm eating. I have to go back in and have another test. I'm very curious to see what he will say this time.

So now I'm thinking, am I curing this? Is it possible that as I eat better, exercise more, and lose more weight I won't need the medication anymore? I've been told, and read in a variety of places that my type of thyroid condition is not a curable version. Some people are able to go off medication, but I've always been told that I will be on it for the rest of my life. I'm starting to think that's not the case and looking forward to seeing if this will go away as I heal my body through proper diet and exercise.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

This Isn't Going to Be Cheap

I'm still in the beginning phases of this shift to vegetarian/vegan so I'm learning a lot. It's weird that I would pick something to care so much about, since I hate to cook and have a kitchen that isn't too friendly. But it is what it is. I've been going through recipes and looking for common ingredients so I know what I should have on hand. I have been to every grocery store and health food store in town and even one out of town to collect what I need. Now, I'm aware that some of the things I'm buying like flours and oils won't be bought on a very regular basis, but I can already tell that this is going to be a very expensive lifestyle.

I was aware that there would be an increase in cost. Real food costs money and this country would be in much better health if we spent more money on food. I keep telling myself that while I'm looking for these special ingredients and finding their huge price tags. I'm a bargain shopper, so this isn't easy for me. I think vegetarian is a little less expensive than vegan though. Finding things without dairy in a small meat loving town is really hard. I do think that as time goes on it will get easier and I will learn to make more things by hand. But for right now, I am looking for good job suggestions!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A Fabulous Birthday

Today is my 30th birthday! I have to say it was probably one of the best birthday's I've ever had!

I went to Weight Watchers with the hopes of having lost enough to hit my 30 pound loss. I only needed .4 pounds and I lost 3!! I was shocked to say the least. So as of my 30th birthday I have lost 32.6 pounds. I'm so excited! After the meeting my dear friend Diane took me out for a veggie sub at Subway. I then went and bought some vegetarian friendly (not quite vegan friendly) items at the store. Then I went and spent WAY too much money at Kohl's buying the much lusted after Kitchenaid stand mixer. Swoon!!!!

My darling little boys got of the bus with cards that they made for me and we had dinner at Chick-Fil-A. Now, I'm not really a Chick-Fil-A fan for a variety of reasons, but it was a fundraiser night for their school, so we went. It was kind of funny because I noticed that once we had our food we had almost no chicken on the tray. We had salads, fruit, some waffle fries (it's my birthday come on!) and the chicken noodle soup. So the soup was all the chicken we had and it was barely touched. We did indulge in the brownies though.

After our meal we went to Barnes & Noble for a play that my youngest was acting in. Very cute and he did very well. It was comical to look around during the play because the majority of the adult members of the audience were from his family. My ex and his wife were there, the ex's mom and dad, the step-mom's mother and her friend, my mom, me, and it just happens that the ex's cousin has children at the same school so they were there too.

We spent another unmentionable sum of money on books and came home to my gift from the boys. With the help of their step-mom they picked out an adorable dog that says "I love you" when you squeeze him. He's for when they aren't with me.

Tomorrow the ex and his wife and the boys are taking me out for Ethiopian food!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Challenge of Vegan

As I mentioned before, I'm not a huge fan of dairy. I used to eat a lot of cereal with milk and a lot of ice cream, but that was prior to Weight Watchers. However, what I do eat, I'm pretty attached to and I believe that along with all of the things dairy hides in, these will be my biggest challenges. If you happen to know of some delicious vegan alternative that would be great! There is vegan chocolate right?

  • Sour cream - I LOVE sour cream. I put it on everything!
  • Laughing cow cheese wedges - These are my only condiment on sandwiches.
  • Yogurt - I don't eat a lot of it, but enough that I'll miss it.
  • Ice cream - There are a few WW friendly ice cream bars that I really like. I think I can make some vegan alternatives to satisfy this though.


I did some shopping today at stores I NEVER go to. I'm a huge bargain hunter and these are bargain stores, but they are just out of my way.

First up was Sharp Shopper which tons of people I know swear by. I got some good stuff, but I'm still not all that impressed. I buy a lot of the same things, so I know what I pay for them and I can get a lot of the same things cheaper other places. I did find canned fruit in its own juice which is hard to find. Some organic applesauce, and Bare Naked granola for only $1.99! I also got a huge bag of frozen organic green beans for $2.99. Nothing spectacular, but not too bad either.

Then to Goodwill. I'm always hoping to find treasures here, but I always just find junk. Did get two books.

Next was Ollie's. Again, I'm not impressed, but got some organic tea for my tea loving son, a book and a pizza cutter.

Finally it was Save & Prosper. There are two in town and this one was by Ollie's. Total DUMP! I did get some tea, but I'll never go back.

I was very careful while shopping to look at the labels. I was remembering Michael Pollan talking about the number of ingredients on a label. Most of the things I bought had two to three things at most. This morning I cleaned out the freezer and gave my mom a bunch of frozen fish. She's not going to jump on my veg bandwagon, so the food shouldn't go to waste. Tomorrow is trash day and some other stuff is going to go to the dump. No one needs Crunch n' Munch so it's going.

So not a total waste of my time, but not a terribly exciting way to spend my last day as a 29-year-old.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The UPS Man Cometh

And he brought two things I've been looking forward to getting my hands on!

I'm going to use this to make some yummy things I've seen on other blogs, and to keep some of the fresh fruits like apples and bananas from going to waste because we don't eat them fast enough. If you have any suggestions please let me know!

I bought No More Bull and read it before I realized he had another book, so now I have to read it too!

Vegetarian FAIL!

So I haven't really set any dates for my transition from a meat eater, to vegetarian to vegan. I figured I'd just take it slow and ease into it. My birthday is Thursday and my ex-husband and his wife are taking me out for dinner on Friday. Since I'm not sure where we are going I don't want to put any limitations on myself until after that meal. Eating with others (which I don't do too often) will be one of the challenges to this. This is a personal choice, but I know there will be questions and I don't want my answers to make people feel bad.

Anyway, this morning I was making breakfast for the boys and found myself stealing bites of the sausage I was warming up for them. FAIL! To my credit, it came from T&E Meat Market so I feel a little better about it, but clearly this is going to be harder than I thought. My meals rarely contain a lot of meat, but it is going to be bites of things here and there that trip me up. It's a process though. I'm not going to beat myself up over it.

I didn't want to go into too much detail in my other post about the way this will all go down because it had already become very long. My children will likely not become vegetarians with me unless they make that choice on their own. They live with their dad and step-mom half the time and me half the time and so they will still have plenty of meat in their diet. My oldest is already a deer hunter so he will be eating his kills. They are certainly old enough to make that choice for themselves though, so if they were to decided to go with me on this journey, then I think everyone would support that. Over time I hope to eliminate the meat from my house, so they'll only be getting it at some meals. It will be interesting to see how their own personal tastes develop in all of this as well as mine.

Monday, March 1, 2010

My Cause is Food

We all have a cause. Most of us probably have a lot of them in fact. Things that we feel strongly about, read about, perhaps even contribute our time or money to. But, in all of the things we care about, there is usually one thing that stands out above the others. That's not to say that the others aren't important, just that there is usually one that we spend a little more time learning about, or thinking about than the others.

For me that cause is Food.

I like food, and it has shown on my body for many years. As I approach my 30th birthday, I'm approaching 30 pounds of weight loss with the help of Weight Watchers. The program has changed my life for the better. But, there is still a lot of work to be done. I do eat better than I ever have, but my diet could be so much healthier and so could the diets of my children.

On top of my struggle with my weight, I've gradually become aware of how incredibly unsafe our food supply is, and what a horrible business feeding American's has become. Truth be told, the majority of us eat more chemicals than we eat actual food. The majority of the health problems in this country come from our horrible diets. There are countless other issues that show up during election season and so many of those issues can be traced back to the business of food.

It started with watching the documentary SuperSize Me by Morgan Spurlock. If you haven't watched it, then you really should. Of all of the books and movies I've watched on the subject of food, this one is the easiest to digest (pun intended). It's funny, but it's real and it's scary. I wouldn't say I ate in chain fast food restaurants all that much prior to watching this, but I cut them out completely for a long time after first watching it. But, gradually I went back. Then I read Fast Food Nation and WOW! The ground beef sitting in my refrigerator went in the trash. It was so disturbing and so disgusting that it made me look at everything I ate in a different light. It also changed the way I looked at some cultural icons, and the issue of illegal immigration.

Next came Food Inc. another powerful documentary with some uplifting scenes and conversations with a local farmer who is doing things the way they should be done. I already loved Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser so it was great to watch them in action together.

Finally there is Howard Lyman. It's less likely that you have heard of him, but he's what I call the horse's mouth. You probably remember Oprah being sued by the Texas cattle ranchers for what she said on her show about mad cow disease. Well, the guest on that show was Howard Lyman and he was sued along with her. Lyman is a former cattle rancher. He turned his father's organic farm to a factory farm that used an enormous amount of chemicals. He ended up with a giant tumor on his spine that could have left him paralyzed and vowed to undo what he had done to his father's legacy. He's now a vegan and a food safety advocate.

When someone who has made a living from farming animals turns need to pay attention!

He's got my attention. I'm going to make every effort to change my eating patterns. I would like to move from the Standard American Diet to a vegetarian diet, and hopefully a vegan diet at some point down the road. No, I'm not joining PETA. They have some good ideas, but their batshit crazy behavior ruins any good they do. It's not just about the animals. Sure, I love animals and so thinking about how they live and how they are killed is one piece of all of this. My primary reason for making this change is because of children like Kevin Kowalcyk. This beautiful child died from eating a hamburger that was tainted with E. coli O157:H7. A happy meal should not KILL our children.

Sure, a car accident probably kills more people. Sure, there are other things I could worry about...and I do. I do realize that many recent instances of E. coli O157:H7 have been in plant foods. But, the reason for that can often be traced back to factory farming and animal waste. There are also ways to get around those instances, such as buying local produce.

In a developed country we should not have to worry about whether or not the food we eat is going to kill us. The food we eat should nourish us, sustain us, give us energy for our day. It should not turn our brains into mush until we die without the ability to remember who the faces of the people in front of us belong to.

So that's it. That's my cause. I plan to attempt a major shift in my diet and the diet of my children. I also plan to look into ways to help make our food safer and healthier for our children. I will do my best to chronicle my progress here.