Real Numbers!

By: Cait D.

We have seen the effects of pesticides on the human body, and we know that eating organically is the healthier lifestyle; however, is there any way to truly measure your body’s pesticide ingestion?

Pesticides are found on even products labeled as “natural”, or “made with organic ingredients”. If it’s not USDA Organic Approved, it most likely contains pesticides. It may be a minute amount, but overtime these tiny amounts can add up.

Local organic food chain Organic Valley has added a pesticide calculatoror to their company website. Customers can view the average pesticide count on the products they typically buy, and can view the total number of pesticides avoided by buying 100% organic products.

The online calculator entitled “Organic Counts”, shows that ‘Organic Valley farmers and consumers kept a collective 89.5 million pounds of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer and 1.25 million pounds of synthetic pesticides and herbicides from America’s soil and water from 1988 to 2008.’*

Customers can use this interactive calculator to choose items that they would normally buy at their local Organic Valley food stores and drag them into a virtual grocery basket. When they are finished, the system calculates the amount of pesticides a customer avoided by purchasing organic products.

The numbers are shocking, and if that’s not enough to kick start the organic movement, I’m not sure what is.

Intrigued? Take a look how many pesticides are in your shopping cart.

http://www.organicvalley.coop/organiccounts/

*Information attained from www.organicvalley.coop

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Vegetarian Food-Fast!

By: Cait D.

As rewarding as vegetarianism is, the truth is, it can be a pain. Preparing vegetarian meals at home is no problem, but dining out can be just plain difficult.

I watched as my friend bit her lip at our company dinner at the Outback Steakhouse trying to decide if she should order a side of vegetables or opt for a dessert as her meal. (It seems that even the side salads contain at least a half pound of meat.)

She has struggled for the past year on becoming what she calls a “flexitarian”, where people choose to eat mostly vegetarian meals, but do not refuse meals containing meat in certain situations, or in my friend’s case, when offered to her by the very Italian mother of her new boyfriend.

“The look on her face was pure disappointment when I passed on the chicken parmesan and opted for spaghetti, without the meat sauce”, she explained in complete frustration.

While I’m not sure if I can help those with an Italian boyfriend, I would like to help those stuck at  chain restaurants, ordering a glass of water and a side of broccoli.

Check out this link, http://www.vegetarian-restaurants.net/OtherInfo/FastFoodRest.htm

It has almost every chain restaurant you can think of, and can tell you what menu items are vegan, vegetarian, and even what oils are used in some restaurants. An awesome resource for the struggling vegetarian!

As for my friend, I say stick to Caesar salad.

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Farm Aid 2010 —> Check it Out!

By: Cait D

Farm Aid, an organization working to support the existence of small farms in the United States, is putting on their annual Farm Aid concert in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This day-long event scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 2nd, is said to have over 25 artists performing, including the founders of the Farm Aid organizations Willie Nelson, John Melloncamp and Neil Young. The Farm Aid organization began in 1985 through the hard work of the three recording artists and was later joined by Grammy-winning singer/songwriter Dave Matthews, who also runs and operates a small farm in Virginia.

I feel strongly that supporting our local family farms not only strengthen our communities but our economy as well. Many of these local farms use organic soil and minimum to no pesticides, making the food on our table healthier, purer, and more delicious!

Family farmers have suffered the most during this fiscal crisis and thousands of farmers are forced off their land year after year. Larger, factory farms are making smaller family farms virtually extinct, not to mention threatening the environment with their use of mass-pesticides.

Farm Aid came to my home state of Massachusetts two years ago and I attended out of curiosity and a love for Dave Matthews Band. Aside from the amazing live performances but on by some of the largest names in music history, the festival was phenomenal too.

The camaraderie between farmers and the bustling of commerce left a buzz of excitement around the venue. Instead of selling hot dogs and fried dough there was corn on the cob and seasoned vegetables, and replacing $9 dollar beer carts were donation tables surrounded by people from children to elders ready to give and support their local small farms.

All in all, if your in the area, or feel like making a road trip, this festival is a must-see! Great food, great music, and a fantastic cause!

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Organic, or not Organic…That is the question.

The vegetarian lifestyle has been around for centuries, but the recent green movement has certainly played a large role in the lifestyle choice today. We now have the technology to see the effects of food on our body overtime, and can see that the many of the popular foods our generation consumed such as processed foods, trans fats, and refined sugars, can lead to several health risks. We’ve recently discovered the link between pesticides found on vegetables and certain types of cancers and illnesses. Diets rich in vegetables have always been the healthiest route, but are vegetarians now at a larger risk for these pesticide-linked illnesses? Is it better to go organic?

The Green train is on the move, and vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike are jumping on board. Pesticide-free farms are better for the environment, but do they really make that much of a difference when it comes to our health, or are we throwing money out the window?

Is it worth the extra dollars?

It has been tested and documented that the amount of pesticide residue that lies on our fruits and vegetables in the stores of our conventional food markets is insignificant and  causes no harm to one’s health. Still, studies have shown that when examining the lifestyles of patients with certain types of cancers and leukemia, there was a stronger correlation between those without organic lifestyles than those with.

Any other benefits?

Aside from the peace in knowing our fruits and vegetables have not been previously contaminated in pesticides before being brought into the homes of our families for our children to eat, the quality of organic food is unlike anything bought from a corner-cutting supermarket. The fruit juices are sweeter, the vegetables taste fresher and the milk is richer. Many people have said that after living an organic lifestyle for a few months, they wake up earlier, feel less tired, and feel their immune system is twice as strong.

It remains a personal (or economical) choice. What’s your opinion?

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Limit Things so that You Can Explore the Universe of Them More Completely

As undergraduate art students are taught, it is necessary to limit the scope of the work they are doing in order to be able to accomplish a reasonably well finished piece of art.  To start out with the idea of making a painting is too overwhelming.  A painter needs to start out at least with an idea of the type of painting he or she wants to make, in order to limit the number of choices to be made during the painting.  Is the painting to be representational, or abstract?  Should it be of a small detail, or of a grand view?  From life, or from the artist’s imagination?  The number of options can be daunting.  Thus it is helpful for an artist to limit his or her scope before beginning so as to be able to explore a theme, such as abstraction or life drawings, more fully.

So, too, with cooking.  The minimalist food writer Mark Bittman, author of “How to Cook Everything,” has published a new cookbook entitled “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.”  When asked how whether or not it was too limiting for him to cook only with vegetables, he replied by quoting a vegan Japanese chef with whom he knew.  “It’s like pen and ink; You limit things so that you can explore the universe of them more completely,” he explained were words that inspired him and described his vegetarian cooking experiences.  Once he limited himself to cooking vegetables, Bittman said that he was surprised at the range of things he could make, and the new ways he found for eating certain foods.  “What really freaked me out was how many things I could do with whole grains,” he said.

To cook only vegetarian food can be a limitation, especially if one is used to cooking meat.  The majority of cook books on the market include meat.  However, according to Bittman, we can find a new universe of food and eating if we take the step of limiting ourselves to vegetables and grains.  So, it is helpful to look at vegetarian cooking as an interesting experiment, and one that is better for us and for our environment.

It is also, when compared with meat cooking, something like an art.  For many people, meat makes everything taste good.  It is more of a challenge to cook without meat because of this.  However, sometimes in cooking, as in art, limitations can actually expand our ability to do work and be creative.  With all ingredients on the table, to come up with something creative is harder when the variety of ingredients is greater.  Some of the most innovative and delicious recipes are also the simplest.  By getting rid of meat, we open ourselves up to the possibility of creating some truly delicious dishes, rather than meals that simply satisfy our basic desires for fat and protein.  We also have good reason to take on this kind of limitation, as Bittman points out, because when we actually pay attention the industrial method of raising meat is so disgusting when.

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Carnivorous Plants and Vegetarian People

If even plants are not vegetarian, then how can people refuse to eat meat?  The question really isn’t how, but why.  Actually, the problem extends much beyond carnivorous plants.  Many animals eat each other.  Cats and dogs are fuzzy and cute, but make no mistake that they are killers.  Their ancestors, anyway, actually hunted, killed, and ate other animals to feed themselves.  Most of our ancestors, for that matter, killed animals for food.  So why do so many people make the choice to give up something that so many other animals do instinctively?

Given these facts, and given the fact that we seem naturally inclined to like animal flesh, there would seem to be no reason in nature for giving up the eating of other animals.  However, most people recoil in horror at the idea of eating other people, when in reality, other people are no fundamentally, physically different from other animals.  Humans are made of the same organic compounds, the same proteins, minerals, and molecules as are the bodies of other animals.  And it strikes many people as perfectly normal to eat a cow’s or a pig’s flesh even though that flesh side by side with human flesh is nearly identical.

If cows or pigs looked like humans, it seems doubtful whether people would still feel so inclined to eat them.  So, why do people continue to consume animals when they really are so similar to us?

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How Knowing that We Are Animals Helps Us Feel Less Lonely

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

© Mary Oliver.

This poem is about how one can feel less lonely as an individual on the planet.  Mary Oliver is writing about ego and about the fact that it is not as hard as we think to let go of our egos.  All one has to do is “let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

The philosopher Socrates, as transcribed by Plato, claimed not to be a thinker, or one who produces thoughts.  He stated that he was merely a midwife of ideas, bringing them into this world.  To him, the thoughts that he had – and his were quite refined – were not even really his.  He was not even the mother of the ideas, but just the one who helped the mother, whoever she may be, let the ideas out.

One could interpret this to mean that he saw himself as the midwife to other people’s thoughts, because, in Plato’s dialogues, Socrates was the devil’s advocate, interlocutor, and instigator of other people’s thoughts.  However, it is also possible to interpret this utterance as referring to Socrates’ own thoughts as well.  He, the thinker of his thoughts, was not even the mother of his own ideas.

By calling himself the midwife, Socrates put himself to the side of the thinking process, and the end of this maneuver was not humility before other people.  He was not hiding or denigrating his brilliance from other people.  His purpose was to illuminate a new way of looking at our thoughts; to introduce a detachment from the thinking process in order to free us from the constraints of our egos.

The effect of Socrates’ analogy today is to remind us that we are not alone with our thoughts in a world of others who cannot or will not share our ideas.  We are part of a process that is larger than the individual, which goes beyond ourselves.  Like the great philosopher Socrates, we let our minds bring forth ideas like a midwife assists the birthing of children, and like the subject of Mary Oliver’s poem, Geese, our bodies love what they do apart from our direction, like animals acting on mysterious motives.

With this conception of our bodies – of desire, fear, hunger, and even love – we can have compassion for ourselves, for our emotions, as we would for a soft, wayward animal.  When we think of ourselves as midwives of ideas, we can separate from the fear of being wrong, and from the need to convince others that we are right.  Reminding ourselves that our bodies, our emotions, are animals, soft and vulnerable, helps us to have compassion for our hurt feelings, our lonely feelings, and the feelings that we cannot control.  It reminds us to give ourselves and our feelings the protection that we need.

When we detach in this way, we can not only learn to care for ourselves, and to think freely and without fear; we are reminded that we are both less critically important and greater than we had ever thought.  We are not alone, but, “in a family of things.”  Yet our thoughts and our feelings come from something other than our own will, the thing we think of as “I,” our egos.  They happen to us, or through us, as the birthing of a child; as does love.   These things that we had always thought of as the qualities that define us, that make us who we are as solitary individuals in the world, are just as much parts of that world as they are of us.  Every time we think or feel, we are performing an act that connects us with the totality of existence.  Our thoughts and feelings give us a place in “the family of things,” just as a fox has a place in a food chain, and a plant is dependent on weather, other plants, and invisible microbes for its existence.

When we remember to think of ourselves as animals, we can learn to feel safer in our places in the world, and to have compassion for ourselves, which are just as much ours as they are like soft animals, which do not come from us, and do not answer to us.

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Indian Cuisine is the Brahmin of Vegetarian Cooking

I have been a vegetarian off and on for years and I have often struggled to find ways to prepare food that is healthy, vegetarian, and delicious.  It is not easy to find cooking methods that accomplish all of the above.  Most European cooking uses meat to some degree, even if it is just little bits for flavor, or if it forms the basis of a stock or broth.  I have tried to duplicate a lot of European dishes without using the meat, with varying results.  Pasta can be made quite tasty without meat, although I don’t want to eat too much pasta because I don’t think it’s that healthy.  I know people who have developed type II diabetes, and pasta is one of the foods that they need to avoid, since it is so rich in carbohydrates.  I try to add lots of vegetables to the sauce, so that I’m not eating so much pasta.  Then again, I can only eat so much pasta before I get tired of it!

Soup and stew are good options to incorporate other grains and beans.  Traditionally these things are made with meat, or with stock made from bones, which add richness and flavor.  Cooking vegetables for a long time, and adding fresh herbs at the end of cooking can increase the flavor of vegetarian dishes.  I usually don’t think that these preparations stand up to traditional meat stews and soups.  Besides, in the middle of summer I don’t want to spend that much time cooking a soup, and I don’t even really want to eat soup when the weather is hot.

I have experimented with many different types of cooking, from Chinese to Mexican, and a lot of the non-European cuisines have something to offer in terms of flavor.  However, none comes close to the variety and depth of flavor that Indian cooking achieves.  Indians have been blessed with a long history of agriculture and trade, and by the fact that the Indian sub-continent seems to have produced an astounding array of edible plants, including a barrage of spices and flavorings.  What’s more, Indians have a long tradition of vegetarianism, and so have developed a number of techniques for developing flavor without meat.

The sheer variety of spices alone accounts for a wide range of possible flavors using only vegetables, grains, and beans.  Among the techniques used by Indian cooks regarding spices are frying, roasting, using whole spices, and adding raw spices at the end of cooking.  If spices, such as cumin and black mustard seeds, are fried before other ingredients are added to the oil, their flavor increases dramatically.  They also develop nutty, caramelized flavors, similar to flavors that come from searing meat in European cooking.  Spices can also be dry roasted by swirling or stirring them in a small pot or pan over medium to medium-low heat until they have darkened and release their aromas.  This is the technique used to make spice mixes like garam masala.  It is for this reason that I have found that the garam masala I make at home has a much better flavor than store-bought, packaged garam masala.  Usually, commercially produced spice mixes are not roasted.  Once roasted, spices can be added to foods at the end of cooking, and their flavor will still be intense.  Another method that Indian cooking uses to create strong flavors from spices is by mixing ground spices with water, adding this paste to hot oil, and cooking the spices.  This way, the spices do not get as hot, so the flavors are not as intense.  On the other hand, it is easier to keep the spices from burning.

There are many other ingredients used in Indian cooking that make it unique and delicious.  Without the base of spices Indian cooking would not be nearly what it is.  One thing that is helpful with regard to Indian cooking is that, since the flavors are strong and there are so many ingredients, it is possible to incorporate many different types of vegetables and grains into Indian recipes.  Indian cuisine is very acquisitive.  After all, some of the most common ingredients of Indian cooking, such as tomatoes, potatoes, and chili peppers, are not native to Asia at all, but only arrived through exploration of the Americas.  It is apparent that Indian cuisine and recipes are open to new additions and to experimentation, making it ideal for people who like to cook vegetarian, but don’t want to simply subtract the meat from traditional meat recipes.

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Single Vegetarians

Hey guys and gals! I just found this completely free site for vegan and vegetarian dating called Single Vegetarians.com. They also have local restaurant reviews where you can add your own opinion.

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