I make a lot of soup once the weather cools. Soup is warming, easy to make, and almost impossible to screw up. Typically, I toss whatever is on hand in the soup pot, without using a recipe, or sometimes, loosely following a recipe. Last week, I had looked at a slow-cooker recipe for pepper and corn soup that sounded interesting, so I bought a pile of bell peppers with the intention of following a recipe. The thing is, I didn’t get around to preparing the soup until it was way too late to use the slow-cooker. Also, the recipe called for blending to make a pureed soup, and Husband is not a fan of pureed soup. So when I started putting my soup together, I never gave the recipe that inspired me a second look. It’s a good thing I went off the rails with this though because I have to say, this is one of the best soups I can remember making. I’m really glad I noted the ingredients as I cooked too, because normally, I don’t. Thankfully, I have it posted here now, so I know where to find it, and can easily recreate it. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!
The ingredient list is long, but most of it includes pantry staples. The only effort is chopping the veggies. Everything else is easy measuring, and emptying cans, a carton and a bag.
This soup is mildly spicy. If you don’t care for spice, you can adjust the seasoning, or maybe eliminate the diced chilies.
1 T evoo
1 T garlic, minced
1 med-large onion, chopped
4 stalks of celery with tops, chopped
4 carrots, chopped
5 small red bell peppers, chopped
1 t black pepper
1/2 t ground red pepper
1/2 t cumin
1/2 t coriander
1 t oregano
1/2 t salt
1 32-oz carton vegetable broth
4 c water
1 can diced green chilis
1 14.5-oz can diced tomatoes
1 16-oz bag frozen corn
1 can beans of choice, drained & rinsed
1 c brown rice
1 c nondairy milk
1/2 c nooch
A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices. ― William James
The Indignity of Being Made Invisible
In April, I posted an essay describing the inherent problems of inviting Temple Grandin to be the keynote speaker at the American Art Therapy Association (AATA) 2015 conference which took place in Minneapolis earlier in July. The essence of my protest centered on the contradictions between Grandin’s longstanding career in animal agriculture, and values of the art therapy profession, such as facilitating healing, promoting wellness, and advancing social justice.
In short, animal agriculture is a steaming pile of interrelated institutionalized oppressions and structural violence, most notably, speciesism, carnism (Joy, 2012), racism, classism, sexism, ableism, consumerism, and environmental oppression. If you’re inclined to dig into that steaming pile, you’ll also find sizeism, ageism, lookism, heterosexism, colonialism, and nativism. Animal agriculture is based on oppressing others, so the surprise is less from the extent of the –isms, but more from the cultural conditioning that dissuades us from examining, challenging, and opposing it. It is worth emphasizing that these oppressions, as they manifest in animal agriculture, do not exist independently from how these oppressions exist elsewhere. For example, we cannot dismantle sexism as it is more commonly recognized (i.e. pay inequity, over representation of men in politics, regulating reproductive rights, sexual objectification of women, etc.), and declare society post-sexist, while animal agriculture depends on sexism to manipulate the reproduction of animals. As long as sexism exists in animal agriculture, sexism is culturally reinforced and will proliferate.
I know it’s a lot to take in, and “privilege resists self-examination” (Adams, 2010, p. 22). I fully disclose that becoming vegan turned my worldview upside down. I’m still trying to wrap my head around how I could be so oblivious to the devastating consequences of the roast chickens, salmon steaks, bacon cheeseburgers, and scrambled eggs I used to eat. I’m also still trying to wrap my head around the fact that I used to proudly, defiantly claim that I loved chicken too much to become vegetarian, but now joyfully share that I’m vegan because I love chickens too much. I was as much a victim of carnism as anyone. According to Joy (2012):
Carnism is the invisible belief system, or ideology, that conditions people to eat certain animals. Carnism is essentially the opposite of veganism; “carn” means “flesh” or “of the flesh” and “ism” denotes a belief system. Most people view eating animals as a given, rather than a choice; in meat-eating cultures around the world people typically don’t think about why they find the flesh of some animals disgusting and the flesh of other animals appetizing, or why they eat any animals at all. But when eating animals is not a necessity for survival, as is the case in much of the world today, it is a choice – and choices always stem from beliefs.
Despite the institutionalized “three Ns of Justification: eating animals is normal, natural, and necessary” (Joy, 2012), the fact remains that it is an ideological choice. However, it is not, as most people presume, a “personal choice” without consequences. As a point of comparison, whether you wear your hair short or long, or hang your toilet paper over or under are personal choices. All jokes aside about one’s toilet paper hanging preferences, these choices have negligible, if any, effect on others. When one chooses to eat animals and their products however, there are victims – human animals, nonhuman animals, and the environment. In fact, Joy (2015) asserts that one who consumes animals and their products is themselves a victim of carnism by not making choices aligned with commonly held values of compassion and not causing harm to others. They are also a victim of the systemic oppressions that are reinforced by engaging in the consumption of animals and their excretions, as well as a victim or potential victim of the negative health effects associated with such.
In addition to understanding how the selection of Grandin to speak at the AATA conference is a manifestation and reinforcement of carnism, which in turn, reinforces other systemic oppressions, the conflict between the values of art therapy and Grandin’s work in animal agriculture is evident when one recognizes that art therapy is used to address the psychosocial distress experienced by people with medical conditions associated with animal product consumption, mostnotablycancer. Art therapy is also a clinically relevant intervention for people affected by PTSD, domestic violence, and substance abuse. Not only does it become incoherent that Grandin, who is a leader in an industry linked to these biopsychosocial afflictions, was invited to speak to the professionals who have a responsibility to treat these conditions, but it is plausible to wonder if AATA unintentionally reinforced the system that contributes to the problems art therapists have a role in treating by implicitly endorsing Grandin.
Many questions emerge as I reflect on these multilayered contradictions, and the responses to my protests. How were the systemic oppressions that characterize animal agriculture reflected in the individual and organizational responses I received? With a good faith assumption that no one intended to reinforce the harms of animal agriculture by inviting Grandin, once they came to light, should the conference organizers be held accountable? Does an organization representing the art therapy profession have a responsibility to invite event speakers whose business practices and affiliations are not inherently harmful? If that is their responsibility, but they fail to fulfill it, do they have a responsibility to respond in the spirit of transformative justice, and if so, what does that look like? What does it mean when the culture of a profession that functions to make the invisible, visible, the indecipherable, translatable, systematically denies injustices perpetrated by its invited keynote speaker by denying the voice of one of its own, thus making them invisible, and reinforcing the invisibility of the victims of the keynote speaker?
By examining what transpired since I posted the essay in April, along with analysis and personal reflections, my intention is to get to the heart of these questions. I’m still trying to make sense of this situation, and expect its lessons will extend into the future, so I wouldn’t assert that I have clear answers. Furthermore, it would certainly be valuable to foster dialogue with others as a means of exploring answers. My experience engaging with others thus far has been quite mixed, but the more constructive instances leave me optimistic. In the remaining installments of this series, I will examine organizational and individual responses to illustrate how carnist bias manifested itself in microaggressions which I experienced as efforts to diffuse, silence, and ultimately invalidate my protests. This will inform a discussion of culture competency as it relates to veganism, which opens up a discussion about how social justice is conceptualized and embodied within the profession, and how inviting Grandin undermines intersectionality, with specific exploration of ableism. I will then offer some recommendations for moving forward, as well as parting thoughts about art and imagery as they relate to these complex issues.
My ultimate intention is to challenge colleagues to broaden their conceptualization of social justice to include animals and the environment because the unquestioned anthropocentric bias that underlies AATA’s decision to invite Grandin is at the root of the interconnected –isms that plague the world. It is imperative that the art therapy profession position itself to be part of the solution rather than the problem, but that requires a paradigm shift in how we frame our relationship to others – human animals, nonhuman animals, and the environment. In the interest of adopting a liberatory praxis, the art therapy community is urged to explore new, possibly challenging ideas about intersectional justice based on ecofeminism and critical animal theory, which requires an examination of power and privilege in order to expand our collective circle of compassion. Thus, the profession that uncritically endorsed Grandin, whose work is based on objectifying others, is encouraged to understand that its philosophical origins in anthropocentrist humanism which underlie this endorsement, present two ironies. According to Weitzenfeld and Joy (2014), the first is the:
Dogmatic, irrational adherence to human exceptionalism despite empirical evidence of a continuum and multitude of species capabilities. The second is the inhumane history of exclusionary violence arising from the ranking, ordering, and molding of humankind. What is called dehumanization is made possible by defining the essence of humanity over and against all other animals. The human-animal binary and hierarchy has historically produced and may continue to reproduce a bloody margin of subhumans, thus contradicting humanism’s premise of the universality of freedom and dignity. (p. 6)
It follows that if the art therapy culture remains dogmatically and irrationally committed to human exceptionalism, which the unquestioned commitment to Grandin suggests, then it will ultimately be undermining universal freedom and dignity. In the interest of advancing the profession to better meet the needs of a complex world in which freedom and dignity allude those with less power and privilege, it is time to more closely examine how the circumstances related to Grandin as this year’s keynote speaker are not in the art therapy profession’s best interest, and certainly not in the interest of those who enlist our services.
Due to its length, this essay will be posted as a multipart series.
Adams, C. J. (2010). The sexual politics of meat: A feminist-vegetarian critical theory (20th anniversary ed.). New York, NY: Continuum International Publishing Group.
Nocella, A. J., Bentley, J. K. C. & Duncan, J. M. (2012). Earth, animal, and disability liberation: The rise of the eco-ability movement. New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.
Weitzenfeld, A. & Joy, M. (2014). An overview of anthropocentrism, humanism, and speciesism in critical animal theory. In A. J. Nocella, J. Sorenson, K. Socha & A. Matsuoka (Eds.), Defining critical animal studies: An intersectional social justice approach for liberation (pp. 3-27). New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.
People with diabetes (PWD) are in a tizzy because Crossfit tweeted a disparaging joke about diabetes to promote its product. My Facebook feed has been filled with critical discussion and blog post links from people in the DOC who find the Coke bottle image offensive. The fact that I too am writing a blog post is not lost on me, but I’m not calling out Crossfit. I’m calling on PWD.
In my years of participating in the diabetes online community (DOC), I’ve seen this happen time and time again. A media entity – someone who’s famous, a business selling a product, a TV program, etc. – uses diabetes as a punchline. The DOC responds with angry tweets, blog posts, and online discussion via a variety of platforms. In most cases, nothing changes, and everyone goes back to business as usual until the next time diabetes is the punchline. Rinse. Repeat.
Here we are again. Since yesterday, I have seen countless posts about writing letters, blog links, video commentary, etc. People are angry because this image represents a misconception that PWD feel they are regularly trying to correct, the juggernaut of diabetes misconceptions: sugar causes diabetes. This is not to deny that lifestyle choices can be a contributing factor to a type 2 diabetes diagnosis in genetically susceptible individuals, but to misinterpret and distill that to “sugar causes diabetes” fails to capture the fact that diabetes is a physiologically complex disease, characterized by hyperglycemia, metabolic abnormalities, and marked risk for developing specific medical complications. Furthermore, pathogenesis varies depending on the type of diabetes, and as such, not all cases are known to be associated with lifestyle.
Thus, Crossfit falsely reduced diabetes to nothing more than a self-inflicted disease of overzealous soda consumption, so the image is indeed offensive, and the anger it has elicited is warranted. However, based on comparable past occurrences, I’m not convinced that this pattern of responding is effective in that it doesn’t lead to meaningful change. This social media response generates discussion within the DOC, offering the benefit of social support, which is valuable, but that’s an ancillary function. The presumed primary intention seems to be to educate the perpetrator, and in the process, the masses, so they will stop marginalizing PWD, but in light of the fact that this same dynamic is unfolding formulaically again, I’d like to suggest that this strategy is ineffective.
Instead of having the same old hashed and rehashed exchange about how PWD are victimized by misconceptions, can we have a discussion about how marginalizing people with disabilities is part of a larger oppressive system? The fact that we’re doing this yet again, the fact that previous incidents and the ensuing chorus of opposition from the DOC has not prevented this occurrence suggests that this is a systemic problem. As such, a systemic solution is in order.
First, let’s establish that the image tweeted by Crossfit is ableist, so it discriminates against people with a disability, in this case, diabetes. According to Withers (1), “disability is a social construct imposed upon some of us because we are considered unfit or less fit, unproductive or underproductive. Therefore disableism is a form of oppression, because of our social devaluation unrelated to who we actually are, or to our actual capabilities and incapacities as individuals.” I chose this particular quote specifically because Withers uses the term, fit, which under the circumstances, seemed apt. Also, for clarification, although Withers uses the term, disableism, I will use the term, ableism, which is considered synonymous.
Since we are no longer looking at this image as a single non-contextualized episode of disparaging PWD, but rather, indicative of the systemic problem, ableism, then let’s more broadly examine the perpetrator, Crossfit, to identify why they might use an image that is ableist. One could infer that the Crossfit culture, characterized by competition, which suggests domination, thrives on exploiting and marginalizing beings it frames as “less than,” or “unfit.” In fact, this inference proves true when a cursory web search reveals that Crossfit’s recommended diet is essentially a paleo diet, which, in its most popular form, relies on animal products (2). Thus, the CrossFit culture exploits animals through the paleo dietary regimen its adherents follow, so it’s not surprising that they are exploiting people with a disability. At least they’re consistent in applying a paradigm of domination and oppression.
How does naming this image as ableist, and contextualizing Crossfit’s ableism within a paradigm of domination that also creates animal victims change how we might respond? Instead of playing this never-ending game of whack-a-mole, perhaps we should consider closing the carnival where the game is open for business. In other words, by appealing to Crossfit to elevate its level of respect for PWD, PWD are engaging in a socially constructed game of assigning hierarchal value to beings. It’s inherent to the Crossfit culture to delineate who’s fit and who’s unfit, and instead of recognizing that everyone loses when beings are valued as fit or unfit, the current PWD response strategy presumes that PWD want to be recognized as fit. Responding to Crossfit with complaints is essentially saying, “We have value, place us higher on your culture’s hierarchy.” This completely overlooks that the hierarchy itself is a problem.
Is there value to responding to them? Obviously, I can’t say for certain, but I’m inclined to think not, partly because of the aforementioned point that ableism cannot be deconstructed by engaging in their game of assigning value to beings. Beyond that, there is the matter of how Crossfit representatives will respond, if they respond, to the complaints that are currently being directed against them. Like most cases of oppressed person(s) expressing opposition to being oppressed, I’m inclined to think that if the current deluge of complaints is on their radar, Crossfit representatives will roll their eyes, and come to the conclusion that PWD are too sensitive, and can’t take a joke, basically invalidating the opposition offered by PWD. It’s the same response that women receive when they point out sexism, and people of color receive when they point out racism. It’s the same dismissive, apathetic response directed at vegans who point out the systemic violence against animals, a response intended to silence and further marginalize an oppressed group and their allies/advocates. Publicly, maybe Crossfit representatives will completely ignore the complaints, which would be my guess. Maybe they’ll acknowledge a wrongdoing, but even in that best case, yet highly unlikely scenario, what has been accomplished? PWD are assigned value on the fit-unfit hierarchy, which reinforces ableism, and grants the Crossfit culture the privileged power to define who is fit or unfit? What kind of outcome is that?
It also seems that many PWD are now engaging in the seemingly never-ending type 1 diabetes (T1D) versus type 2 diabetes (T2D) debate, grounded in the current clinical assumptions that T1D has an environmental triggered autoimmune origin, while T2D has a combination genetic, lifestyle, and some research indicates, also autoimmune origin. Basically, the understanding of causal factors and pathogeneses is as clear as mud, which reflects the incessant mudslinging within the DOC. For anyone reading this who isn’t familiar with the DOC, let me assure you that this debate is as utterly exhaustive and unproductive as it sounds. That being said, as this debate pertains to the Crossfit image, PWT1D are more represented in the DOC, and as such, PWT1D have more power to control the debate about the Crossfit image, so some PWT1D take offense to the image because their diabetes wasn’t caused by drinking Coke. The implicit, and sometimes explicit suggestion is that Crossfit isn’t altogether wrong, but they should have specified T2D. Of course, this throws PWT2D under the bus by blaming them for a disease that, as much as it’s linked to lifestyle, is also linked to multiple systems of oppression – racism, classism, capitalism, consumerism, carnism, etc. which have intersected to create a society of food deserts, racial disparities in health care, government subsidized animal-based food products that have been linked to disease, as well as other societal problems contributing to the T2D epidemic. The end result is that PWT2D feel further victimized. Furthermore, this debate is also inherently ableist in its presupposition that one type of diabetes should be granted more privilege than another type, which only reinforces the very ableism everyone is blaming Crossfit for perpetrating. It’s a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black.
That being said, do PWD want to continue with these case-by-case responses that never result in substantive change, or do PWD want to change the self-reinforcing, interconnected systems of oppression that perpetuate ableism? The more constructive, yet challenging response to this instance of disparaging PWD is perhaps less satisfying in the short term, but intended to get to the root of the problem.
Instead of contributing to this wave of responses to Crossfit, I suggest learning about and discussing ableism, and how it’s interconnected to other systems of oppression, like sexism, racism, heterosexism, speciesism, etc. We can more effectively identify strategies for advancing social justice for all beings, including, but not limited to people with disabilities, by reconceptualizing what it means to have diabetes in an ableist society. Otherwise, we are participating in the system without fully recognizing the harms it inflicts, as is the case for all unexamined systems of oppression. Rather than using words and actions to better position ourselves on any given hierarchy, we can identify the hierarchies on which we’re positioned as privileged, and then use words and actions to deconstruct those hierarchies. We can be role models for the hard work of changing a system, not by pointing fingers at and engaging with a company that’s exploitative towards all “unfit” beings, but by living values of justice and compassion towards all beings. If we don’t want others being ableist towards us, we can practice not being ableist towards other beings, including animals, who are victimized in countless ways for being perceived as less able. The fact remains that while it’s easy to call out Crossfit for being ableist because we feel victimized, until we reflect on how we are victimizing others because we perceive them as less able, we are only reinforcing the very system we should be working to deconstruct.
1: Withers, A. J. (2012). Disableism within animal advocacy and environmentalism. In A. J. Nocella, J. K. C. Bentley & J. M. Duncan (Eds.), Earth, animal and disability liberation (pp. 111-125). New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.
2: There are vegans who adhere to a veganized paleo dietary regimen, but it’s my impression that Crossfit adherents can be quite committed to the conventional animal-based paleo regimen. In fact, when GustOrganics, a New York City restaurant that had been very popular with Crossfitters, switched to an all vegan menu, the restaurant actually received hate mail according to its owners.
I didn’t used to think much of smoothies, mostly because I imagined they were loaded with carbs from fruit and dairy. That’s not to say that I’m anti-carb. I’m decidedly pro-carb, but because I have type 1 diabetes, I’m mindful about emphasizing “higher quality” carbs, and balancing carbs with other nutrients, like plant-based proteins and fats. I felt like smoothies were essentially glasses of thick juice, and I only drink fruit juice to treat low blood sugar. As such, I thought they were more trouble than they were worth since they would presumably destroy my blood sugar.
Once I became vegan, and and started looking at recipes, I came across a number of smoothie recipes, so I began rethinking my reluctance towards them. As it turns out, there are all kinds of healthful ingredients that can be included in smoothies to enhance the flavor and texture without making it a big glorified glass of juice.
Admittedly, my smoothie recipe has a lot of ingredients, but on the mornings I have time, I enjoy the ritual of making them. I usually make enough for two or three, so I have them for consecutive mornings. This recipe is for a single serving though. I’ll add that I am a fan of food scales, so instead of dirtying a bunch of measuring spoons and cups – we don’t have an automatic dishwasher – I set the blender container on the scale, and weigh ingredients. This is especially great when baking, but I find it’s efficient for other recipes too.
I’m not fastidious about getting the weights exact, but for the sake of offering this recipe, I decided to be precise. I tend to vary the fruit, depending on what I have on hand that’s seasonal and ready to use, and I’m loose with quantities – a handful of that, one of those. Depending on the fruit(s) and the quantity, you might want to add a date for sweetness. I suggest tasting it prior to adding any dates. Sometimes I’ll add soft tofu, and/or chia seeds. After all, one of the great things about smoothies is their variability.
Favorite Breakfast Smoothie
13 g or 2 T flax meal
60 g or 1 celery, chunked
15 g or small handful of greens (spinach, kale, collards, etc.)
28 g or 1/4 walnuts
60 g or 1/2 avocado
100 g or 1 mango (frozen or fresh)
80 g or 1 small ripe banana (frozen or fresh)
180 g or 3/4 c plant milk
1 date (optional)
I spent my mid-30’s to age 40 wishing myself numb on Mother’s Day. All I saw was motherhood being equated to womanhood, and mothers being not merely honored, but elevated to superhuman goddess status, purportedly feeling love more deeply, and glorified as more generous, more selfless, more feminine, more nurturing, more complete. More, more, more. The implicit take-away for me was that women who aren’t moms, regardless of the circumstances, are less.
Yes, it’s true that not having children is a choice I made. Yes, it’s a choice I continue to make since technically, there are avenues for having children that remain open for me. Choosing one thing means not choosing another though. Sometimes I wonder what my life would be like if I had chosen differently – a different college, different career, different partner, different house, different city, or a child. There aren’t true do-overs, and life isn’t as tidy as the choose-your-own-adventure books that I enjoyed reading as a kid, which offered the option of starting over to see where the other choices took me, so I could decide which ending I liked best.
Every time I find myself wondering about the adventure I didn’t choose – the one that requires childproofing our home, a Diaper Genie, little league, Dora the Explorer birthday parties, and college saving accounts – I quickly remind myself of the many reasons I opted to not have children. Concerns about destabilizing my diabetes, possibly exacerbating health issues I’ve finally gotten managed, and putting my life and the life of a child at risk. Yes, I am well aware that women with type 1 have healthy pregnancies all the time, but I wasn’t comfortable with the risks, and that strongly factored into my decision. I also considered my reluctance to pass my disease-prone genetic material to another human. Having a child clearly contradicted my deep concerns about the effects of overpopulation on the environment and society. Even when considering adoption, I admit that my personality and priorities aren’t aligned with parenting. When I get the what-ifs, I review my reasons, and invariably end up at the same conclusion I made 11 years ago when I had my tubal.
Last year marked the first Mother’s Day when I felt at peace with my decision. As I described then, adopting a vegan lifestyle fulfills my longing to nurture, to feel connected to something beyond myself, and to leave a legacy. While I might not have children and grandchildren who will one day remember me fondly, I’m hopeful that humanity will evolve beyond its current consumerist ideology – consuming animals, consuming the Earth, consuming each other. I’m hopeful that Earth’s descendants will live harmoniously with each other and the environment, building on a foundation of conservation, justice, peace, and kindness towards all. I’m hopeful that by living these ideals and sharing these ideas, future generations will benefit. This is how I mother.
I would say that my feelings about Mother’s Day this year are essentially the same, but more integrated and familiar. I relish that I have found meaning in Mother’s Day that resonates in my heart. What I find most revelatory this year is the evolution of meaning, not just for me personally, but what I observe in others’ lives. I have friends who struggled with Mother’s Day in years past, but are currently expecting, or birthed, or adopted children in recent years, and now celebrate as moms or moms-to-be. I have friends who struggle because they’ve lost their mothers. Due to my own relationship with Mother’s Day though, I am especially linked to my female friends without children who are struggling today.
I didn’t really know where I was going with this when I started writing – I just knew I needed to record my thoughts – but I think I most want to make the observation that the meaning of Mother’s Day changes. That seems pretty obvious at first glance since Mother’s Day has a different meaning for people depending on age, gender identity, and life circumstances. However, during the years when Mother’s Day sent me into a tailspin of grief, I was convinced that’s all Mother’s Day would ever be for me. As our circumstances change – and circumstances always change – the meaning of Mother’s Day evolves though.
For anyone who is struggling today, I understand. Our circumstances differ, but I know what it’s like to hurt on Mother’s Day. I hope you get through this one with love, support and validation. I also want to suggest that the meaning of Mother’s Day will evolve for you. There might be years when it feels worse than it does today, although I hope not. There might be years when it feels better, perhaps tolerable. Depending on your circumstances and your journey, the day might come when you even feel good… and rightly so. Your love, nurturance, strength, and generosity towards the world are always valuable and desperately needed.
Grieve if you’re sad, but know that I am celebrating all that you do to mother this world because your nurturing spirit and loving actions deserve recognition. And if the day comes when Mother’s Day has a new meaning for you, meaning that brings peace to your heart, and a smile to your face, we can celebrate together. After all, if motherhood is the epitome of womanhood, let’s not just passively acknowledge the varied ways of being a mother in this world. Let’s explore those ways of mothering, and own them. Don’t let the Hallmark definition of Mother’s Day undermine or deter you. Let’s update its purpose, and give it new meaning, together. The world needs more women like us.
What do I eat? It’s a fair question from those who aren’t familiar with a vegan approach to eating. I grew up being culturally conditioned to the traditional four food group model: meat, dairy, grains, and fruits/veggies. Like other children, I learned school-based “health” lessons, developed by the USDA, which it turns out, is in cahoots with the meat, dairy and egg industries. “Healthy” meals were illustrated with images of plates of an animal’s flesh, a grain or potato, a green veggie, a piece of bread with a pat of oppression, and a glass of oppression… I mean butter made from cows’ milk and cows’ milk.
My retrospective summary is snarky, I know, but I’ve since learned that school-based nutrition lessons are an animal agribusiness funded campaign that destroys the environment, undermines humanity, and enslaves and kill animals. Considering how devastating the outcomes of such seemingly innocuous classroom lessons are, my snark is a healthy outlet for my rage.
The good news is that balanced eating from a vegan perspective is a whole new magically delicious world. The four food group model was abandoned by the USDA a number of years ago, but for those who like its simplicity, the vegan four food groups are: whole grains, legumes/nuts/seeds, fruits, and veggies. For those who like the food pyramid, there is also a vegan food pyramid (I found a couple different versions of the pyramid, but I like the one at the link). Either way, any of those graphics are just guides, but they can be useful in the beginning.
To the unaccustomed grocery shopper, cook, and diner, creating meals or an entire balanced diet using this framework can seem perplexing. When I was getting started, I had a lack of confidence stemming from my lack of experience and knowledge. I knew I could create a few simple meals – oatmeal, PBJ, entree salads, veggie burgers, and tofu dogs – but I recognized my repertoire was too limited to maintain long-term. I wondered how exactly one eats “just” plants all the time. It was a challenge for me, but I used my transition stage, during which I graduated from one vegan meal a day to eating completely vegan over the course of six months, to gather information and experiment in the kitchen.
I think the challenge of how to compose meals that will comprise a balanced vegan diet intimidates a lot of people from even trying. I was intimidated, but I was also motivated, and I like a good challenge. I’m still new to this, but as I’ve discovered what works for me, and found some simple solutions to meal planning, I’ve found it as easy as eating as a non-vegan was, but infinitely more enjoyable with great health benefits.
Before I get to the specifics, let me be really clear that I’m not one of those vegans who denounces oil, soy, cooked food, sugar, etc. I’m not picky, and I’m really fortunate that I don’t have any allergies or food sensitivities (something I will address in future posts), so as long as no animals are harmed, I’ll eat it… unless it’s olives. I don’t like olives. I try to limit the more processed foods, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with eating them as complements to a diet rich in whole foods. I also like my sweets, as you’ll see. Eating healthily doesn’t have to be restrictive or austere. Vegan eating takes consideration, but I prefer to be thoughtful about what I put in my body.
So here’s what a week in my vegan life looks like…
Breakfast I had an early appointment and errands to run, so breakfast was a portable Lara bar, cashew cookie flavor, and a single-serve carton of almond milk. I usually drink from larger cartons, but the single-serve cartons are handy when I’m on the go. Lunch PBJ. A classic vegan staple. Dinner Quesadillas. I had a ton of fresh veggies, and I was feeling inspired. I sautéed chopped grape tomatoes, kale, onion, garlic, black pepper, oregano, cumin & red pepper. Then I repeated the sauté with bell peppers and yellow squash. I folded two wrap-sized tortillas with Daiya pepper jack and the respective veggie mixes, and heated through to melt the cheese. I ate half of each with sliced avocado, vegan sour cream & jarred salsa.
Breakfast Sliced peach, flax flake cereal & almond milk. Lunch Leftover quesadillas from the previous evening. I also had a So Delicious coconut milk ice cream bar. SnackEarth Balance vegan cheese crackers. These are addictive. I recommend doling out a serving, and putting the box away before eating, rather than eating straight from the box. Dinner Pei Wei Thai Dynamite prepared with tofu and veggies, and Hubs and I split some edamame. Snack Wheat crackers with Kite Hill cheese. OMG… I am in love with Kite Hill cheese. Gawd, it wasn’t cheap, but I’ve cut the round into quarters, so at least I’m getting four servings out of its rich, creamy, positively heavenly deliciousness.
Breakfast Smoothie! In colder weather, I prefer oatmeal, but I love my breakfast smoothies in the summer. Today’s smoothie included: fresh strawberries, fresh peach, frozen banana, celery, soft tofu, collard greens, flax meal, and walnuts. Lunch We’re in the midst of lots of moving related chores, so we were out and stopped at Qdoba. I enjoyed a salad with corn & bean salsa, sautéed peppers & onions, sautéed summer squash, guacamole, black beans, and tomatillo salsa. SnackSo Delicious coconut milk ice cream sandwich. Dinner Leftovers. Kung Pao chickpeas that I made and froze several weeks ago. Roasted golden beets I made last week. Sautéed rainbow chard with sunflower seed butter and nutritional yeast (nooch), also leftover from last week. Small piece of cornbread, leftover from a couple of weeks ago (recipe from The Joy of Vegan Baking by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, who also does one of my two favorite podcasts). A package of Amella vegan gray sea salt caramel covered in dark chocolate that was just divine. Snack Lemon wafers (365 brand boxed cookies) and almond butter.
Breakfast Normally I’m very good about eating breakfast, but it just didn’t happen today. Lunch Leftover Pei Wei Thai Dynamite with tofu and veggies. SnackChocolove Peppermint in Dark Chocolate, 1/3 of a bar. This was my first time trying this flavor, and I love it! Dinner We went to the movies and shared some popcorn. Snack Sunflower seed butter, straight from the jar.
Wow… today has not been one of my nutritionally stellar days. Everyone has an occasional off day though.
Breakfast Smoothie! Strawberries, frozen banana, celery, avocado, kale, soft tofu, walnuts, flax meal. I made enough for 3 days. I need to simplify my smoothies, but at least I make big batches that last for several days. Lunch Leftovers. Polished off the last of the Kung Pao chick peas. Roasted potatoes, leftover from last week. Leftover sautéed rainbow chard. Chocolove Peppermint in Dark Chocolate, 1/3 bar. Dinner I cooked. I sautéed cubed patty pan squash with jarred roasted red peppers, a can of chick peas, onion, garlic, black pepper & Italian seasoning. Served the squash over lentils, cooked with bay leaf, drained, and tossed with olive oil. Lastly, I roasted carrots with parsley, and served that with a hunk of bread and Earth Balance spread. This was my first time cooking and eating patty pan, and it was a great success!
Breakfast More of Tuesday’s smoothie. Lunch Leftovers. Patty pan squash with lentils. Finished the last of the rainbow chard. Justin’s dark chocolate PB cups. Snack Small bowl of frozen watermelon cubes. A couple of weeks ago, I scooped out a melon into ice cube trays, and froze for use as snacks or in smoothies. Dinner Leftovers. I made quesadillas with the squash and pepper mix from Friday. Leftover roasted carrots from last night. Snack Mini chocolate-peanut butter cupcakes that I baked and froze a couple of months ago.
Breakfast The last of Tuesday’s smoothie. Lunch Whole Foods prepared food bar. I was out doing errands, so grabbed lunch there. Garlicky kale, portabella stuffed with guac and salsa (which was from the hot foods section, so I thought that might be weird – warm guac? – but it was actually really good), beet and apricot salad, spicy potato and pea samosa, herb-crusted tofu, and vegan pesto pasta. It sounds like a lot, but I get tiny servings of each so I can sample more options. I also had a few bites of a chocolate-PB square from their bakery. Dinner Leftovers. Patty pan saute with lentils. Leftover yellow squash and bell peppers that I had initially made as a quesadilla filling for a side dish. Toasted bread with Earth Balance.
Since this got lengthy, my next post will include some practical suggestions that have helped me incorporate variety, keep meals nutritious, and make the most of my time and effort.
“… It is when you have left the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else. It is when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer. If you are not trained in how to hold anxiety, how to live with ambiguity, how to entrust and wait, you will run …anything to flee this terrible cloud of unknowing.” - Richard Rohr
For years, I’ve been immersed in the Diabetes Online Community (DOC), primarily focused on raising awareness about mental health issues, and advocating for and implementing arts-based initiatives. My interest in the relationship between art and diabetes has been a passion since I was in graduate school in the late 90’s, and has steered my career as an art therapist. More recently, it prompted me to pursue my doctorate, which is currently in process. When I started my doctoral program in 2011, I was warned by my professors that doctoral study changes people. And so it has.
My doctoral experience has been a struggle at times, but remarkably fruitful thus far. Seeds have been scattered, and I’ve managed to cultivate a garden of ideas, connections, and revelations. Once I planted a garden, I became attune to seeds, plants, and horticultural possibilities everywhere, so not entirely inexplicable, but still surprising, and certainly delightful, veganism sprouted and thrived amid my academic oasis. If nothing else, I learned that taking a break from writing a research paper to relax and watch a documentary, Vegucated, can have life-altering consequences. Once veganism took root, I needed to learn how to tend to it, and the more attentively I cared for it, the stronger it grew. I’ve found that the history and philosophy of veganism appeal to my intellectual curiosity, but the ideals of kindness and compassion for animals, Earth and humanity resonated with me spritiually.
I had already been losing steam with diabetes, but since my vegan awakening, diabetes issues have faded into the background, losing the urgency they once held for me. Obviously, I still have to manage my diabetes, but professionally, I don’t know if diabetes is my path anymore. As such, I’m rethinking the direction of my research, which is a profound development, considering I’ve been steadfastly dedicated to developing a career in art therapy for people with diabetes for the last 15 years.
I think this change is good though. Diabetes has consumed my life for years, between day-to-day management and academic, clinical, advocacy, and volunteer pursuits, so following my heart in a different direction has been remarkably liberating. More personally, many of the psychological wounds that festered in my teens, 20’s and early 30’s as a result of diabetes – depression, anxiety, an eating disorder, and the loathsome burden of diabetes shame – feel truly healed.
Between making peace with diabetes, and my increased knowledge and understanding of the suffering of Earth and all her creatures, human and non-human alike, the passion I once had to raise awareness about diabetes has been subdued and usurped by the more pressing need to promote peace through vegan activism. I’m excited and terrified by my impulse to go in a new direction with my academic research as I formulate ideas about vegan activism, art therapy and theories of social justice.
My doctoral work has been at something of a standstill as I’ve contemplated my new visions. Just writing this post, articulating my intentions, and putting the words out there is a significant step in my process of venturing into new territory. On the surface I’ve been feeling stuck, and have no work to show for the last several months. To my advisers, I certainly look completely unproductive. A lot happens beneath the soil though, even when the garden appears dormant. I’m on the verge. The shoots are going to emerge through the soil. Something beautiful is going to spring forth. This is the liminal space.
As a childfree/childless-by-choice woman in my 40’s, emotions have run high and wild for me the last few years on Mother’s Day. I even feel conflicted about which term to use – childfree or childless – because one suggests freedom, and one suggests loss. My experience has proven to be something in-between.
I thought I wanted children when I was young because that’s what I was supposed to want. However, by the time I was about 20, I realized I could barely take care of myself, and had no business being a parent. As a sexually active young woman with type 1 diabetes, which I was more or less ignoring, I knew a baby would be bad news. I was committed to making sure a pregnancy would be carefully planned, inasmuch as such a thing can be planned of course. The flip side of that was that I was just as committed to making sure I didn’t become pregnant as long as I wasn’t ready. I used Norplant, an implantable dummy-proof and highly effective birth control device that lasted for five years, starting at age 20. When it expired, I happily got another Norplant. I figured I’d get a new Norplant every five years until I decided to have a baby, or my biological clock expired, whichever came first
Those plans didn’t last for long though. By the time I was 30, Norplant had been taken off the market because some women had issues with it, class action lawsuits were filed, blah, blah, blah. I was SOL without a comparable replacement form of birth control. I reluctantly switched to the Depo-Provera shot, but that was horrible. Whereas on the implant-it-and-forget-it Norplant, I would literally go years without getting a period (yay!), the shot caused me to get my period every 2-3 weeks (boo…), and required quarterly visits to the doctor to get re-injected.
After a year of that inconvenience, I decided I needed something different, but had few choices. I was married by then, and having had some oopsie-the-condom-broke scares in the past, I wasn’t going to rely on condoms. The pill was contraindicated because of my diabetes and associated heart risks. After ruling out a few other miscellaneous options, I decided to get my tubes tied. At 31, my ambivalence about having children was holding steady, and in the end, none of the birth control options met my personal needs. Thanks everyone who colluded to take Norplant off the market. Yes, I’m still mildly bitter about that.
Through my 30’s, I struggled with my decision, despite having plenty of sound reasons to not have children. My confidence in my capacity to parent was low for a myriad of reasons. I had career and education aspirations that were more important to me than changing diapers. After nearly two decades of mismanaging my diabetes, I’d already experienced complications, and while I’d finally made peace with my diabetes, becoming the proverbial model patient, I didn’t want to undermine my health any further than I already had. Long before veganism even occurred to me, I worried about overpopulation, the resources required to raise children, and the future of the planet – environmentally, politically, socially. The world seems unkind most days, and I wasn’t keen on purposefully bringing another being into humanity’s destructive shit storm.
All around me, people were having babies throughout my 30’s. Not just any people either. My peers, friends, acquaintances, people my age. Constant reminders that this is what people my age do. Some days, my FB feed overwhelms me with photos of people’s children, birth announcements, ultrasound images, baby shower photos, and the phrase that makes my head spin with rage, “starting a family.” It’s been hard to feel completely secure with my choice when I naturally wonder what those experiences are like, when my story doesn’t align with the narrative, when I observe how women are enthusiastically welcomed into the inner sanctum of the mommy realm, and people implicitly suggest that Hubs and I aren’t a family. Anne Lamott beautifully articulates how women without children, for whatever reason, are devalued because “Mother’s Day celebrates a huge lie about the value of women: that mothers are superior beings, that they have done more with their lives and chosen a more difficult path.”
Changing my mind and having biological offspring was off the table, unless I went out of my way to undo a procedure performed by a surgeon I had specifically instructed to burn the hell out of my Fallopian tubes. In theory, adopting was an option, and I’ve thought about it, but Hubs isn’t interested, and inevitably, I come back to some of the reasons I decided to not have children; I don’t think parenting suits my personality, and I have other things I want to do in life.
That doesn’t mean I haven’t felt sad though. I wouldn’t say I regret my decision, but there have been tearful moments of wondering what it’s like. I get that motherhood, as an identity, responsibility, and gift, is canonized, but the implication is that the rest of us women are a bunch of second class nobodies. From this side of the OB/GYN waiting room, it invariably seems like womanhood is equated with motherhood, especially on Mother’s Day. As such, for the last several years, as I’ve reflected on the ramifications of my choice, I’ve loathed Mother’s Day. As a side note, if I actually got to see my mom or mother-in-law, the day would be more meaningful, but since they live elsewhere, we don’t do anything. The absence of celebration reinforces the message I get from the world around me, the message I’m trying my hardest not to internalize, the message that I’m not a real woman, that I don’t know true love, that I don’t know life’s purest joy.
Mother’s Day at ages 39 and 40 hit me hard. I was pretty fucking miserable. It was an understandable response to the natural tendency to reflect as I approached and then turned 40 years old. In light of how miserable I was, if you’d asked me how I would prefer to feel on Mother’s Day, I would have hoped to think of it as any other Sunday. I would have been content to not feel like an unused uterus, dry nipples, and a trainee vagina, with a forever unfulfilled potential to truly love. If you’d asked me a year ago what my lofty aspiration for Mother’s Day 2014 was, my response would have been to not give a fuck.
Now, the day is here. This year I’m 41. This time I’m vegan. I had hoped to feel indifferent, but I don’t. I do feel different though. Being vegan has allowed me to reframe what it means to be loving and compassionate. Being vegan has expanded my vision of how to be a mother in this world, to this world. Being vegan has shown me that blooms of injustice and brunches of suffering do a disservice to the notion of mothering. Being vegan has opened my eyes to abuses against our animal friend mothers, particularly those in the meat, dairy and egg industries. Being vegan has helped me become the person I’m supposed to be, loving, caring, protective mother to this precious Earth, her resources, and the non-human animals among us. This is my identity, my responsibility, the gift that has been given to me that has infused Mother’s Day with new meaning and purpose.
Happy Mother’s Day to all women who have opted not to parent a human child, but instead, have embraced their role as mother to animals and the Earth. You are not alone today, you are not forgotten. I am one of you. We are mothers.
As of yesterday, I’ve been vegan for two months. That’s all. It’s not much, I know. To those who know me, it probably feels a bit longer because I started actively transitioning last summer, but it took those six months to fully understand what I needed to do. In some ways, this change seems abrupt, but ultimately, I think it was an inevitability – not a question of if, but when. As it turns out, when was January 26, 2014.
The seeds of veganism have been scattered throughout my life, but like most people who unknowingly subscribes to carnist ideology, I was too oblivious to properly nurture the seeds. For instance, I’ve enjoyed cooking since I was a kid, but I have always loathed touching raw meat. In retrospect, it’s hard to overlook the absurdity of feeling viscerally disgusted by flesh that I would then cook, and put in my mouth. Why would an otherwise insightful person put something that completely grossed them out into their mouth? I suppose I thought there was something wrong with me for feeling disgusted, not something wrong with buying, cooking, and eating parts of an animal. Carnist ideology makes for rather infertile soil.
Finally though, last July, the seeds began to sprout. I had the realization that there was something about veganism that resonated with me. I embarked on my journey, away from complicity and conflict, towards greater compassion and kindness. During those months, I learned, I listened, I reflected, and I was mostly vegan. However, in January, I came to the unavoidable conclusion that I needed to embrace and live my values in order to feel joy and peace. I committed to being vegan.
I started this blog because I needed a new dedicated outlet for sharing and exploring my experiences. So far, it’s been hard for me to find the words though, so I’ve mostly posted recipes. Delicious food is pretty concrete – ingredients, instructions, mediocre photo of the results (yes, I need to work on that). In contrast, my thoughts and emotions continuously vacillate, and more often than not, feel like a slippery blob that evades definition and description. There are moments when I feel liberated and so full of joy because my choices are more aligned with my values of nonviolence and compassion. I’m no longer just living in this world; I’m living with this world, making more conscious choices to foster this interconnection.
All the emotions and awareness that have been stifled for most of my life, that I had to deny and suppress in order to eat meat, are rising to the surface, like I’m living 40 years of emotions in just one breath. Now that I have the clarity that escaped me for so long, sometimes I feel overwhelmed with grief and hopelessness, imagining the suffering of animals, victims of the world’s ambivalence and apathy. It becomes a circular train of thought… I want to save them all. I can’t save them all. I can only save the ones I spare. I can encourage others to join me. So many people don’t want to change. So many animals suffer. I want to save them all. Optimism and hope tangle with sadness and loss. It drives me mad, but compels me forward.
In addition to trying to reconcile these thoughts and emotions, I’m also trying to reconcile the life I was living and who I was with the life I aspire to live and who I am becoming. Granted, we are always becoming new versions of ourselves – learning, integrating, changing – but going from carnist to vegan has been transformational. Needless to say, I’m still the same person, but I’m closer to the person I want to be. I have new priorities, and see many possibilities and directions ahead of me that weren’t apparent until I opened my eyes. When I finally looked, really looked, I saw that the familiar had become abhorrent, but I also saw that I was empowered to take action against the injustice I saw.
So, no, two months isn’t much, especially within the context of my 41 years, but it’s been a rich two months. I’ve learned about myself and our world, I’ve gained clarity on how to live according to my values, I’ve experienced joy from practicing compassion, I’ve eaten the most delicious food that has nourished my body and spirit, and I’ve lived in peace with the animals. Vegan for two months, vegan for life.
My quest to find or create vegan recipes that Husband likes, and could potentially take to work for weekday lunches in lieu of conventional frozen meals continues. The last recipe I shared, Southwestern Spaghetti, was intended to be a casserole, but it was delicious without the final baking step I initially envisioned. For whatever inexplicable reason, I had casserole on the brain though, so in order to satisfy this admittedly peculiar desire, I turned to the familiar favorites of broccoli, rice and cheese.
I scoped out several different recipes, and then developed my own version. The final verdict is that we both liked it. It ended up being very cheesy, more than I expected, but I love cheese, so I was pleased. Husband was less enthusiastic about the extra cheesiness, but he’s never been a fan of too much cheese, regardless of the dish. His feedback was essentially that he liked it, but it was too cheesy to be a main dish. He has been eating it as a side dish for the last couple of days. I’m happy with it as a main dish though, and have been eating it as such.
Vegan Broccoli Rice Cheese Casserole
2 tablespoons evoo
1 large onion, chopped
2 tablespoons garlic, minced or crushed
1 green pepper, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 small zucchini, diced
2 broccoli bunches, chopped into bite-sized pieces
3 ounces sundried tomatoes, diced
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or to taste)
1 teaspoon black pepper (or to taste)
3 cups cooked brown rice
1/2-1 cup breadcrumbs
1. Saute onion, garlic and green pepper, stirring occasionally, until softened.
2. Add celery, zucchini, broccoli, sundried tomatoes, red pepper flakes and black pepper. Saute on low heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened. Make cheese sauce while vegetables are cooking.
3. Melt margarine in separate saucepan. Whisk in flour. Add milk, tamari, black pepper, and garlic powder. Whisk to combine.
4. Add Daiya shreds to milk, and stir until thoroughly combined on medium heat. Mixture should be smooth, so increase heat if shreds aren’t melting into sauce.
5. Add rice to vegetables, stir to combine.
5. Add cheese sauce to vegetables and rice. Stir to combine.
6. Pour vegetable-rice-cheese mixture into large 3-quart casserole dish. Sprinkle bread crumbs on top.
7. Bake for 25-35 minutes. Casserole should be bubbly, and breadcrumbs lightly toasted.