We Can… Choose

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When we hear the word ‘adolescence,’ people typically think of the human stage of development, and likely, their own bittersweet memories of youth. In the world of psychology, adolescence is characterized by identity formation, discovery of one’s place in the world, separation from authority figures and power structures, risk-taking and rapid maturity.

It’s interesting to see some of these features of the human developmental stage manifest themselves in the development of groups and organizations though. Some people, based on their experience with different organizations, businesses, or groups, especially younger, less established ones, might recognize similar dynamics. It’s not uncommon for nascent groups to come to a point when they struggle with such questions as: Who are we? What are we doing? Where are we going? As a mental health provider, I find it fascinating to see some of these developmental dynamics associated with individuals manifest themselves in group development. The universality of these processes is intriguing.

A couple of weeks ago, I was preparing to be a guest on the Diabetes Social Media Advocacy podcast to discuss veganism. For anyone who needs some context, I used to be very active in diabetes social media advocacy, but for various reasons, I’ve drifted away. Recently, I started thinking more deeply about the connections between veganism and diabetes, wondering how to re-engage with the diabetes online community on this topic. Being a guest on the DSMA Live podcast was an important opportunity to reconnect with my peers, and hopefully, begin a conversation that I’m excited to have.

As I was thinking about the intersection of diabetes and veganism, I thought about the culture of the diabetes online community, in which bacon and cupcake jokes have become staples. In fact, at one in-person gathering several years ago, before veganism was even on my radar, we feasted on bacon cupcakes. It has been my experience and observation that when people with diabetes gather, they purposefully structure activities to include food that is decidedly unhealthy: bacon, cupcakes, hamburgers, fries, cheese, ice cream, donuts. Which is not to say I don’t eat vegan versions of these foods now, but I think it’s worth reconsidering our consumption of the animal-based versions. Without these animal-based foods, a PWD gathering is not considered a fitting party, and there’s grumbling about having “healthy” food imposed on us. Because people in the community come from all over, on the infrequent occasions we gather, quite understandably, everyone is in the mood to celebrate togetherness, but over the years, the junkiest of mostly animal-based foods have become an inherent part of the party. This is the culture.

For the outside observer, likely influenced by diabetes standards of care of yore, this likely sounds peculiar. I think some history is warranted here. Until 1921, type 1 diabetes was a death sentence. Insulin was discovered, and it was the only treatment, supplemented by diet and exercise programs. From the 1920’s until about the early 1990’s, give or take, most people with diabetes were prescribed a diet that generally forbid sweets, or at least, reluctantly suggested they be consumed infrequently and in small quantities. Then new insulins and new dietary management philosophies emerged that have become the standard of today. A person who takes insulin can generally eat whatever they want, but they count the carbohydrates, and based on that number, calculate an insulin dose to counteract the food’s effect on one’s blood sugar.

Most people who do not live with, or care for someone with diabetes, do not understand this. A lot of people with diabetes get frustrated that misconceptions based on older management techniques persist, often manifesting themselves as presumptive, seemingly intrusive comments about what someone with diabetes can and cannot eat. After years of being aggravated by such interactions, I’ve adopted a laid back approach to responding, reminding myself that people either don’t know or might be curious, but each PWD has their own level of patience and style of response for dealing with usually well-intended comments or questions.

This brings me back to adolescence, and the culture of eating heavily animal-based food that persists within the diabetes community, which is a barrier to receptivity to plant-based eating. I feel like the best way to understand the junk food party that typically unfolds at gatherings of people from the diabetes online community is to frame it as an adolescent-like group response to: (1) the decades of restrictive diets that were once a staple of diabetes management, and (2) the ongoing public misconceptions that such restrictive diets are still standard. , Within a developmental framework, the natural response from people with type 1 diabetes to prevalent misconceptions that amount to, “You can’t eat that,” is to say, “Don’t tell me what to do. Yes, I can. Watch me.”

The benefits, if you will, of the junk food parties are that people have fun, and it enhances a sense of community. Having participated in such parties, we revel in the hilarity and irony of a bunch of PWD standing in line at the cupcake shop. There’s something immensely gratifying to do exactly what people think you shouldn’t do, or wouldn’t expect you to do, without regard for the health consequences. Sounds a little adolescent, right? Then there’s the hangover from socially pressured impulsivity and overindulgence. We fuss with our insulin dosage to correct the fat and sugar overdose, but anyone who’s been there, done that, knows that there’s as much guesswork as science to adjusting insulin, so recovering from the cupcake (or burger or milkshake or donuts or…) often has consequences in the form of erratic blood sugars for hours afterwards. But consequences be damned, colluding with each other to have a good time and maintain the culture is what’s most important. We couldn’t possibly reconsider our culture, and the implications of our choices, right?

People want to have a good time, so what? There are health implications of these kinds of indulgences, but we get together very infrequently for the most part. Unfortunately, almost none my diabetes friends are vegan, so these junk food parties are within the larger context of regular animal product consumption, which is associated with vascular disease which kills most people with diabetes. Call me a worry wart, call me selfish, but I’m afraid of losing my friends with diabetes to complications they potentially could have prevented or managed with plant-based eating.

Looking again at the developmental framework, I’d love to see a change in diabetes culture, transitioning away from the adolescent-like stage, characterized by thinking about food in terms of “can” and “can’t,” and instead, taking a more mature approach, thinking about foods we “choose,” giving mindful consideration to why we choose or don’t choose to eat something. I believe part of this is learning more about the detrimental health effects of eating animal-based products (check out Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine for more information).

For decades, PWD were told they couldn’t eat like everyone else. Certainly, that’s how I grew up. Now, it seems we want to eat as poorly as everyone else, if not in our day-to-day lives, it certainly happens when PWD get together. Just because we have newer insulins, and we “can” eat a certain way, is that really what we want to choose for ourselves? Is the Standard American Diet (SAD) really our goal? Did we get away from the perpetual list of forbidden foods to embrace the diet that is contributing to epidemics of diseases? Is anyone willing to consider a third option?

Why aren’t we choosing foods in the interest of personal health that have been shown to be optimal for vascular health? We work so hard to manage our blood sugars, with the hope that we will live longer than the less-than-average lifespan predicted for PWD, but why are we aspiring to eat the SAD instead of choosing a way of eating that will protect the environment so we have a world in which to live? And lastly, as a group of people with a recognized disability (I intend to come back to this particular issue after I do some more reading), people who are marginalized, misunderstood, and maligned for having bodies that require insulin to survive, we should be collaborating to undermine systemic oppression in all its forms. Animals are also victims of oppression for not having certain abilities. What does it say about us that we are perpetrating oppression against them for being different, when we fight so hard to get our special needs met?

So, yes, we “can” eat what we want, but isn’t it time we aspire to something greater? Let’s choose with intention – for others, for the environment, for health.

My Story

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I started this blog with great plans, but it’s remained mostly untouched. I’ve been having some bloggy urges lately though, so going with it today. I’ll see where it goes beyond this.

I was just going to keep it to myself that today is the 5th anniversary of my father’s suicide. I couldn’t identify the value of sharing, and worried about how it might come across. I value birthdays and anniversaries of all kinds, but it’s easier to share a happy occasion or milestone, with the hope of friends celebrating with me, in spirit with well wishes. Sharing sad milestones is a different matter. It’s essentially asking friends to be sad with me, even for a passing moment, and a reminder to them that life is difficult, as if they don’t have enough of those reminders in their own lives. I relied heavily on my friends via social media in the weeks following my father’s suicide, and had this sense that I had already asked too much of people to be there for me.

There is also the issue I have had most years on this day: what is an appropriate, meaningful way to recognize this life-altering tragedy? The first year, I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to Texas from my home in New Jersey, to see my family and visit his grave. That is my favorite way to spend the day. My favorite? Most meaningful sounds better, but either way, you know what I mean. I think I did the Texas trip one other year, but after five years, I’m starting to lose track of what I’ve done each year. I couldn’t go this year because of my teaching schedule, so I’m at home with Husband. When I told him, he asked if I needed anything, if there was something I wanted to do, or if I needed to talk. I shrugged. I don’t know what I need, so I don’t know what to ask for… well, more accurately, what I need is for my father to not have committed suicide, but what is a suitable, more realistic second choice?

It was, by chance, a friend who posted a link to this article, “Getting Grief Right,” today. Timing is a funny thing. After I had decided to keep the anniversary of my father’s death off of Facebook, my go-to social media platform of choice, this article changed my mind.

As described in the article, after the weeks following a loss have passed, everyone who grieves with or for you moves on, so there’s a sense that it’s time for the bereaved person to also move on. In my case, the funeral was over, the metal grave place marker was replaced with a gravestone, his belongings were sorted and boxed. He was boxed. “The last casserole dish” was delivered. I had to move on, so I did, to the “new normal,” as people told me would happen.

This is my new normal. I still have moments of sadness, anger, regret, confusion, isolation, envy for people who have good, lasting relationships with their father, something I can’t exactly say I had. My basement is still loaded with boxes of his belongings… well, technically, my belongings now. We’re trying to declutter, so I want to get rid of a lot of it, but I’m scared of erasing him, so as time passes, there’s also fear. However, what most burdens me is this unbearable wish to go back in time for a do-over. It makes my heart hurt as intensely as it hurt during those first days and weeks. Searing pain, a tight chest, tears, lost breaths.

What good does it do to share it? The grief never goes away after all. Time changes it ever so slightly from one year to the next, but the narrative is essentially the same. It’s my narrative though. It’s my story. I need to keep telling it.

Glimpse of a Vegan Food Diary

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Patty Pan Squash Saute with Lentils
Patty Pan Squash Saute with Lentils

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…

Friday

    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.

Saturday

    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.
    Snack Earth 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.

Sunday

    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.
    Snack So 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.

Monday

    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.
    Snack Chocolove 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.

Tuesday

    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!

Wednesday

    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.

Thursday

    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.

Kale & Tomato, and Squash & Pepper Quesadllas
Kale & Tomato, and Squash & Pepper Quesadllas

Ode to Crystallized Ginger

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Crystallized ginger, zesty and sweet
Nature’s candy is a beloved treat
Candy counter staples have nothing on this munchy
Sprinkled sugar makes it slightly crunchy
Satisfying texture of soft, chewy bliss
A compassionate goody not to be missed
Unassuming form in shades of gold
Its scent is bright, its flavor bold
In baked goods, smoothies, or salad, it shines
Or enjoy a plain morsel for it’s divine
Share this simple dessert after a meal
Or on a road trip in the automobile
When you go for a hike, put some in your pack
Any time, any place, it’s a perfect snack
This ode is intended to convey my affection
For this earthy root transformed to confection

Ode to Crystallized Ginger
Ode to Crystallized Ginger

The Liminal Space

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“… 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

Untitled by Universallyspeaking
Untitled by Universallyspeaking

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.

Mothering

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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.

But.

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.

Mother's Love
Mother’s Love

Sad

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This is the third or maybe fourth time I’ve tried to write this post. I’m having difficulty finding the words, and this far in, my eyes are already tearing up. Maybe this will be clumsy, but I wouldn’t keep trying to express it if it didn’t need to be said. This is partly why I created this blog after all, the blog I’ve barely posted on because my emotions are messy, which muddles my thoughts.

Overall, being vegan makes me happy. I feel like I’m living the life I’m supposed to be living. I wake up every day with an intention to live peacefully in the world, and then I go out and do just that. I think part of the reason my emotions are so messy is because I’m happy living a vegan life, but I don’t have anyone with whom to share that joy, not anyone who gets it. Usually we associate bottled up emotions with sadness and anger, but suppressing excitement and joy for lack of an opportunity to openly celebrate it is a lonely experience.

I didn’t set out to write about how happy I am now that I’m vegan though. Loneliness isn’t only an outcome of not having anyone in my life with whom I can share joy. I’m lonely because I’m surrounded by family and friends, continuing their lives as carnists. I’m continuously pained to witness animals being harmed. It pains me to see people post pictures of meals made with a chicken, hamburgers, and milkshakes on Facebook. It pains me to read posts by people advocating paleo diets, talking about giving children dairy products, requesting egg recipes. I try to put these out of my head, but they linger, and I can’t help but imagine the animals suffering. It pains me to go to social events and watch people I care about, people who I’ve always known to be caring, eating the corpses and secretions of beings who deserved better. It pains me to sit politely and quietly as a group of friends makes jokes and laughs heartily about bacon, as if the pigs are nobodies, when I know they are somebodies. In my own home, I’ve offered several non-dairy yogurts to my husband, and after trying a few to appease me, he drew his line, and said he only wants the yogurt I used to buy, creamy cow suffering in 6-oz. plastic cups.

I’m the oddball, living according to my values of compassion and non-violence, but living amid acts of violence towards animals perpetuated by people I care about, acts of violence endorsed by society, wears me down at times. I guess I have to suck it up since divorcing Hubs, disowning family, and cutting ties with all my friends aren’t realistic solutions. I don’t know what to do about the pain I feel for the animals that are objectified and consumed around me at every turn though. I want people around me to feel inspired to make changes, but I don’t expect it. I don’t expect that at all. I’m making vegan connections online and in my area so I have some sense of community, and that’s helping, but in my day-to-day life, I’m alone, and I don’t know how to keep my grief for the animals from weighing on me as heavily as it does. I’m happy to no longer be contributing to death and suffering, but now that I’m aware, I see it all around me, and I’m sad.

Untitled by Y'amal
Untitled by Y’amal

Sprouting Seeds

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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.

"Emergence" by Mike Lewinski
“Emergence” by Mike Lewinski

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.

Broccoli Rice Cheese Casserole

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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
Vegan Broccoli Rice Cheese Casserole

Vegan Broccoli Rice Cheese Casserole

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

Cheese Sauce
1 stick Earth Balance margarine
1/2 cup flour
2 cups almond milk
1 teaspoon tamari
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 cups Daiya cheddar shreds

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.

Sauteed Veggies
Sauteed Veggies
Vegan Cheese Sauce
Vegan Cheese Sauce

Southwestern Spaghetti

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One of bigger challenges I have encountered since embracing veganism is the fact that Husband wants to continue eating animal products. Satisfying solutions aren’t always easy because I want to be fair and respectful to him, and I want to compromise because I value my marriage, but I also want to be fair and practice compassion towards animals. I have read some articles and discussions about managing this conflict of interests – some helpful, some less so because people can be really nasty about non-vegan spouses/partners. I’ve also listened to podcasts by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau that have addressed this issue for guidance and ideas. The most helpful kernels of wisdom that have emerged for me are to be patient, compassionate, remember that I too was a carnist (so I can identify with his current attitudes and beliefs), and that delicious food is my best advocacy tool.

One of our long-standing food habits has been eating frozen meals for weekday lunches. Since going vegan, I rarely eat these kinds of convenience foods anymore. I still keep one or two vegan frozen meals in the freezer, but usually I’ll have leftovers of something I’ve cooked, or a PBJ. Hubs has continued to rely on frozen meals for lunches though. The ones he likes all have meat, and I have continued to buy those for him. Naturally, I would prefer not to buy them, but I am trying to focus on the positive changes he has made, while I identify possible alternatives that will make us both happy.

One idea I had was to make more meals that could be portioned into single servings, frozen, and easily taken to work, since delicious food is the best advocacy tool. When I suggested this to him, he was receptive. Although he’s not making a conscious effort to reduce meat, he does want to eat more fruits and veggies, and fewer processed foods. This recipe for Southwestern Spaghetti was our trial recipe, and he really liked it. He took it for lunch a couple of days last week, and also had it for dinner a couple of times. We’re making this up as we go, and trying to figure out how to compromise on these new issues, but delicious food is something we can agree on.

Southwestern Spaghetti
Southwestern Spaghetti

Southwestern Spaghetti

2 tablespoons evoo
1 large onion, chopped
1 tablespoon garlic, crushed or minced
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 lb. zucchini, coarsely chopped
1 can diced chili peppers
1 can pinto beans
15 oz. can crushed tomatoes, fire-roasted
15 oz. can diced tomatoes, fire-roasted
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 package Upton’s Naturals Chorizo Seitan (or other vegan meat of choice)
10 oz. spaghetti
Daiya pepperjack shreds

1. Saute onion and bell peppers in evoo until vegetables begin to soften.
2. Add zucchini, and continue to cook until zucchini softens.
3. Add chili peppers, beans, tomatoes, spices and seitan. Allow to simmer for 20-30 minutes.
4. Cook spaghetti until al dente.
5. Remove vegetables from heat. Add spaghetti, and combine.
6. Serve with Daiya shreds.

* I was going to make this a casserole, mixing in cheese and baking as a last step, but the night I made it, it ended up being too late, so I didn’t bake it. We’ve been serving it with vegan cheese sprinkled on top and reheated. I think the cheese is much better when it’s melted.