Sunday, December 25, 2005

venezuela: i will be in you in a handful of months

Lately my wife and I have been so enamored with Hugo Chavez and his Bolivarian government that we decided to plan a trip to Venezuela to see for ourselves what's going on. We'll most likely be down there around May or June of 2006, and we'll have absolutely no idea what to eat. I plan to bring large amounts of peanut butter, and I imagine we'll eat a good deal of rice and beans, but I wonder if anyone has any ideas/advice for us?

I just checked in with site meter and saw that someone from Buenos Aires, Argentina was reading the blog, but I also know that sometimes people stumble on from another blog and don't necessarily intend to be here. All the same, I say bienvenidos a todas personas de sudamerica.

chicago: i will soon be in you.

true enough. the surly vegan can't stay in one place (or speak in the first person) for very long, so next weekend we're taking this operation on the road and spending new year's in chicago, my home away from home. here are some food-related items that i am especially looking forward to (in no particular order):

1) spinach pies from middle east bakery
2) falafel from taste of lebanon (cute little falafel tubes, i've never seen them like this anywhere else) and also their wonderful french fries
3) just about anything from the chicago diner, where they really do some wonderful things with seitan and vegan milkshakes (separately, of course).
4) blind faith's seitan fajitas and lemon seitan (okay, technically this is evanston, not chicago, but you'll forgive me, won't you?)
5) samosas from that dingy indian place on sheffield in wrigleyville.
7) vegetarian burritos from mr. salsa sin queso y sin crema tambien, although i have a sneaking suspicion that a) they use lard in their beans and/or b) they use chicken stock in their rice...but then why is it called vegetarian? i love mr. salsa, please don't take it away from me.
8) giant avocado burritos from garcia's in lincoln square
9) (if i have a little extra money in my pocket...) veggie mousaka from andies in andersonville. expensive but luxurious.
10) berry pancakes from the pick me up cafe. this is a great spot to eat right away when arriving in chicago early in the morning, as i often do.

i am also a great fan of binny's liquor stores.

CHICAGOANS: are you out there? do you have your own lists? feel free to blow up my comments section.

i should also give honorable mention to earwax in wicker park. i never went there enough to miss it or look forward to it, so that's why it didn't make the list, but it's a pretty great place nonetheless. they were nice enough to deliver to pilsen for us sometimes when we lived there, although one time a very strange delivery guy had us order pizza for him from a local pizza place that he used to work at and had been blackballed from or something like that, so that was weird.

Monday, December 19, 2005


1) sorry to have dropped the ball on the ongoing conversation, the one where we tell nathan how to eat. my mother-in-law is in town, this was finals week, etc. etc. you don't really care anyway.

2) a colleague made fun of me for blogging, which i expect, but also for the small font of my blog. is it small? do you have trouble reading it? i want to be accomodating, you know, but i do have a bit of a darwinian streak. like the bumper sticker says, if it's too small, you're too old.

3) this same colleague, recently exposed as a zen priest (and thus earning big points with yours truly), dropped a couple pegs in my popularity poll by mispronouncing the word vegan. or did he? i always opt for VEE-gun, but he said VAY-gun twice, something i've heard before, although never from a vegan. so i wonder, what is the correct pronunciation of vegan?

4) go see Brokeback Mountain. it is hands down the most beautiful love story put to film thus far.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

comments section comes alive!

I can count the number of faithful readers of this blog on one hand, and that's fine, it gives me something to do (the counting, that is, not the blogging). Here's what Sui Generis had to say regarding the current conversation that seems to be happening here (as usual, my blowhard response follows):

"Since we got a dialogue goin'...

I think the post was well written. The question of necessity is the crucial one, along with the question of choice. Carnivorous animals don't choose to kill and devour other animals--they simply do so because of their instincts and the training they received from their parents.

There is no moral decision made by the animals wherein they weigh the pros and cons of a carnivorous diet. But we, as humans, are capable of making up our own minds. We don't have to follow blindly what we have been taught and once we see that we don't have to eat animals, or don't want to eat animals, then we have the ability to actually STOP eating animals.

That is an important distinction that sets us apart from other animals--such as a starving bear. If you are starving and see a fat, meaty bear, then you have a decision to make. If a starving bear stumbles across you, on the other hand, it has no such moral qualms! (side note: at this point, an attempt to explain to the bear that humans are at the "top of the food chain" will likely be irrefutably denied by the bear.)"

Well put. I guess it comes down to what I've been saying all along - upbringing. Let's face it, most of our friends that walk on all fours come from bad home situations. If their parents would just invest a little bit more...

Okay, just kidding, and I realize that my sarcasm may have sounded like a personal attack, which it is most definitely not intended to be, I just saw an opportunity there regarding "the training they receive from their parents."

There's a lot I don't understand about how humans ended up the way we did, and I'm certainly no scientist. At times I can really buy into the idea that we are the most evolved, and at other times we seem by far to be the most ridiculous, evil species ever to slither across the planet.

I'm not sure what that has to do with anything, but maybe if we can develop that argument and translate it into bear, some of us will stand a chance.

If I'm honest, though, I'd probably eat the bear if I was starving and came across one, although, if I'm that hungry, killing a bear might be rather difficult. Just between me and the internet, I don't hold heat.

by the way, the other two participants in this conversation, nathan and sui generis, are also nerdy blogger types, which is probably how they found their way here.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

st. paul had it all when we called

What I envisioned for this blog all along is more of a dialogue and less of my big mouth. If I knew anything about HTML, I'd quit this blogging game and set up a real deal webpage, something a bit more egalitarian and less one-sided. I'd better quiet down with that shit, though, before Blogger drops my ass. Here's more from Nathan from St. Paul, with my reply below:

"Hey, thanks for sharing. Good point about how even "good" farms would have to do something with the male animals.

Not that you asked but since we're sort of having a conversation here... I don't have moral objections to killing animals for food but I do think they need to be treated well while they're alive. Our moving away from meat is due mainly to environmental and health reasons. If it were up to me we'd buy only organic meat and dairy for the sake of the animals' quality-of-life as well as our health but I just make the money, I don't buy the groceries or deal with our budget.

One thing I figure, too, is that animals eat animals so what's the difference with us? Shoot, even our worst butchering techiques are no worse than how some animals "butcher" their prey. So, while I hope/want/expect us to do better than even the "best" animal carnivore, you do too - really you're just further down the line than me. I'd love to hear more about why you're further down the line but I don't want it all to get irritating or unpleasant for you. Maybe you've got a link to direct me to?

Oh - yeah, St Paul."

Second draft: The first didn't make a lot of sense.

I think for me it comes down to necessity. That sounds rather simple, and maybe it is, but I'm not really well-versed in philosophy. When I stopped eating animals, it was basically because I realized I didn't need to.

My wife tells me that Peter Singer argues in one of her philosophy texts that eating an animal can only be justified if it is a matter of survival. I haven't yet read that article, so I'll have to get back to you, but it does raise some questions for me. If I am going to starve to death, I get to kill a bear and eat it, that way I don't die. Fair enough, but if I starve to death, the bear gets to live. I have trouble discerning a difference morally. I understand that every creature is instinctually wired for survival, but would that make it somehow immoral for one to sacrifice oneself for the sake of the bear?

Don't ask me, I've been killing houseflies and yelling "vegan power" quite a bit lately. Besides, I'm way off topic.

I do like Singer's idea apart from that, however, or what little I understand of it. The idea, as explained to me, is that we would have to allow for a starving bear to eat a human as well, without passing moral judegement on the bear (read: hunting it down and killing it for revenge). Further, it allows for certain people groups to continue to rely on local meat, something that has always seemed a tricky issue for veganism to contend with, and one I'm glad someone else thought enough about to create a philosophy about that I can get behind. That was one of my more convoluted sentences. You should have seen the first draft.

I can understand how one might come into the "the animals are doing it, so why can't we?" mindset, but I think it's a dangerous argument. Kids often use this line of thinking: "She's not doing her chores, so why do I have to?" Sounds good, but often there's more to the story, like "Because she didn't put Play-Doh in the gas tank of the lawnmower."

Finally, I'd like to add that while it might be totally possible to buy free-range/organic animal products for at home and then eat vegan in restaurants (because they aren't likely to have free-range/organic stuff at most places), it isn't a likely scenario. Once we get into certain eating habits, they tend to be rather hard to get out of -- if I start eating free-range meat at home I'm going to want steak fajitas at my favorite Mexican restuarant, and I might not be able to source that meat, and then pretty soon I'm eating anything. I've seen that happen a lot of times before.

Further finally, I'm not further down the line than anyone, I promise. I don't do the budget either.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

apparently, i'm not all that bright

I just discovered yesterday that vellum is made from calf skins. For those not in the know, vellum is a rather beautiful paper. If you look closely, you can kind of get the idea here, although it's difficult to really capture its beauty in a photograph.

The kicker is that my wife and I used vellum stock in our wedding invitations, made by the very able Jay Ryan and his Bird Machine Industries, and while Jay is a hell of a guy, he could have said something.

Or not. Because how was he to know? First of all, it's not his job to be watching out for the vegans, it was on us to know what was what. Not only that, but I think that our society is so far removed from the production of most things that we are fairly clueless about how abhorrent a process it can be a lot of times, even when no animals are involved at all.

So I don't know, it's still pretty paper, much like human skin might make a nice lampshade, or it smells good when I pass a steakhouse, etc.

Friday, December 02, 2005

now interactive!

I'm going to take the time to respond to a comment i received as it seems worthwhile and since most people probably don't read the comments section in a blog. Or maybe they do. I don't know; I don't really read blogs myself. Isn't that funny?

Anyway, nathan in St. Paul had this to say about the last post (you are from st. paul, right?):

"That is one cute doggie. I was sort-of laughing to myself when you said you were ordering a jacket for her even though I can totally understand why a wispy thing such as your Greta would need one. But my laughing ceased when you mentioned the lightning bolt - sweet!

FWIW, we have cut back quite a bit on meat. We don't buy any beef any more and we eat a lot more beans and sweet potato soup and fruity stuff like that.

While we're talking about it, what's the reasoning behind your veganism? I can understand(!) wanting to avoid animal cruelty but then you started wondering about silk and I got lost. And, you obviously have a pet so isn't it "okay" to eat cheese from a well-kept dairy cow? Or eggs from well-kept chickens? (I really want to raise chickens in my back yard and would if it weren't for my big-baby wife. ;) Is it just that you can't know how an animal is treated with commercial products or is there more to it? If so, couldn't one just find a "good" farm and just buy from there?

Sorry for rambling there."

Have you noticed that there are a lot of Nathans out there? I have. It can get confusing sometimes.

I guess the first thing that I want to say is that it isn't my intention for anyone to feel as though they have to be on the defensive regarding their diet, as I'm certainly not about to get all self-righteous and start wheatpasting "GO VEGAN OR DIE" all over town. I'm just not. In an ironic twist, however, I'll congratulate you on your move away from meat. Beans have been a staple of many different societies forever, and sweet potatoes, in my opinion, are totally under-utilized. Sweet potatoes and black beans go together well in gringo-ass mexican food.

I came to veganism as an ethical decision. I always loved meat, burgers especially, and as a Minnesotan I might as well admit that my mom cooked a mean ham and cheese casserole. So taste wasn't the issue; I'd eat anything.

This gets tricky now, because I do have my deeply rooted opinions, but beyond that I also feel a need to respect each person's autonomy, so for that reason I have to take issue with the idea of it being "okay" or "not okay" to eat certain foods. The reason that gets tricky, of course, is that I think we'd all agree that rape is "not okay", and that's where my deeply rooted opinions come in (i.e. I hope for a day when we can all decide that it is "not okay" to eat animals or animal products, however impossible that dream might be).

I guess what I'm saying (and possibly overstating) is that while I might enjoy imposing my opinons on others within the comforts of my own head, in practice I tend to be more of a live and let live kind of a guy.

Taking that to an insane degree (which is pretty much my M.O.) means caring about silkworms, too, and according to, "Slaughtering silkworms for their silk is done by boiling, baking, or steaming the live worm directly in its cocoon. When the worm is in this chrysalis stage it is not dead; it is transforming. Therefore, we must believe on faith that its sentience remains intact. To assume otherwise would be unconscionable." Not knowing much about the process myself, I have to trust their information and agree with their moralizing. Besides, worms notwithstanding, silk kind of creeps me out, so it wasn't much of a sacrifice to exclude it from my life.

One could just find a "good" farm and buy from there, and I guess I do believe that they exist, although I'm sure some vegans would disagree. I guess for me it's more an issue of necessity, land management (use of resources - water and food given to an animal could have been given to the land for a higher yield), which then gets into human rights, etc. etc.

Cows, like humans and other animals, don't lactate indefinitely; they must be impregnated and then continuously suckled or whathaveyou, the latter part of which, according to my friends who are mothers, can be rather painful. What does the good farm do with the calves? Do they, too, become dairy cows? What if they are bulls? Family pet? I'd like to think so, but in the end, my guess is that they would be slaughtered for the table, and that's something I can't sign on to.

I don't know enough about chickens to be able to comment on egg production and what all goes into that. Is that basically a menstrual cycle (I'm serious now), or must they, too, be impregnated first? I'm probably just embarrassing myself now. Why did I ask?

So those are my thoughts, reasons, etc. Again, I don't know that I think there should be a vegan bible or anything like that, but my guess is that if each of made an honest effort to tread as lightly as possible (to borrow a hippy-ass phrase), we'd be a hell of a lot better off than we are now in a lot of ways, and it wouldn't really matter whether we had the labels right.

Labels are nice for tattoos, I suppose, but for the most part I find it's best to leave that shit for high school.

I really need to start making sense.