Four hundred and eight

“There is nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”  – Ernest Hemingway

When I read a book, I get so involved with how the characters are feeling I start to take that emotion out into my real life.  I feel so much for the character, I can’t shake it when I’m not reading the book, so I either have to abandon the book, or get it finished as quickly as possible so I can let it go.  Many years ago there was a book in Oprah’s book club that I won’t name, but it was about a girl who just had bad thing after bad thing happen to her (bullying, molestation, rape, painful relationships, people dying, etc) and she became a little crazy, ended up being mean to the people in her life, nothing ever got better and then it just ended.  I was given the book by a girl I met in a hostel in London when I first moved there because it was so much her favourite book in the world she brought two copies traveling with her just in case she lost one or wanted to give one away (who has that much extra luggage space?!).  I was the ‘lucky’ recipient.  I kept reading it because I figured the main character’s life had to get better – that there had to be some redeeming quality about her or that she would learn a lesson or any glimpse of something positive.  There was nothing.  It was just depressing all the way through.  So for the whole time I was a mess, trying really hard to break from the book when I wasn’t reading it.   However, no matter what I did, there was still this tiny depressing thought in the back of my mind of this horrible woman going through horrible things.

I have discovered recently that this also happens when I’m writing about depressing things – especially when it’s already happened to me.  I’m trying to get the book done for September, so I’m finishing a section (i.e. Extreme Couponing, 30 Days of Art, etc) every two weeks.  Right now I’m reliving the depressing time last year when it all began and I was trying to figure out my life.  It’s making me a little crazy!  My boyfriend was a little afraid of me the other day because I managed to flip through every emotion possible in the space of a half an hour.  Trying to reconcile how great I feel now with how confused I felt then has created this ever changing flood of emotions coming out of me.  I’m trying my best to not take it out on anyone and to channel it into my writing.  I’ve done ok so far (except that one moment of insanity with my boyfriend, but we just laughed about it afterwards), but I’m a little afraid of how I will react when I start writing about date month!  I’m apologizing in advanced to my family and friends.

On a side note, I’ve been mentioned on the fabulous and supportive blogger Pink Ninjabi‘s blog.  It has to do with blogger awards to support each other within the community and direct readers to other blogs of interest.  Very fun, but there’s lots of rules and it will take some work to prepare a response, so Pink – thank you so much and I will be posting about it more next week.

Now I’m off to the doctor’s office to have my yearly physical.  It’ll be interesting to see how changing my eating habits (originally vegan, now just without red meat, pork and dairy) has affected my health.  I had blood work done two weeks ago, so we should be discussing the results today.

Two hundred and forty-two

Raw Vegan Food Diet

Raw food is defined as food with temperatures not above 118 degrees Fahrenheit.  Someone practicing a raw food diet would generally eat above 75% by weight of their food intake raw.

Last night I went to a lecture by renowned author, registered dietician and nutritionist Vesanto Melina at the University of Toronto on “Raw Food Diets: What’s True?  What’s Not?”  Being vegan for this month has been fascinating, but I’m not sure I’m ready for a complete raw diet.  It would be hard in the cold winter months to give up hot comfort foods.  And how healthy is it, really?  Are there higher chances of food poisoning?  Can you get enough nutrients?  And what about taste?  Do I have to sacrifice taste for a healthy diet?  I sat down at the beginning of the lecture wary, but open to learning and hearing what this co-author of what the gentleman from the Toronto Vegetarian Society who introduced her called the “bible” for vegetarians (Becoming Vegetarian, Becoming Vegan, and now Becoming Raw) has to say.

I am so glad I went.  There were some really interesting things I learned about raw and cooked foods and what choices to make to keep food as healthy as possible (with as many vitamins, nutrients, minerals and enzymes intact).  Vesanto Melina is a very knowledgeable woman, who wasn’t there to preach or convince anyone that one way is right.  She was rather explaining different choices you can make, telling you the facts, helping you in whatever stage of nutrition you are at, and then leaving it up to you to come to your own conclusions.

There was tons of information, but here are a few things all of us should know, meat-eaters or not (all from scientific studies and research – see her website for more details, nutrispeak.com):

  • Cooking food destroys enzymes that help in the digestion process, reduces nutrients and phytochemicals, and reduces some of the protective effects of food.
  • Steaming vegetables briefly (and keep the leftover water for stock because it is full of the nutrients lost in the steaming) results in a loss of under 30% of enzymes, so still helps in your digestion.
  • Boiling (in soups, stews) also keeps a lot of the nutrients in the broth and is healthier for you than bbq, baking, grilling or frying.
  • Cooking muscle meat, including beef, pork, fish or poultry, at high temperatures (such as frying or grilling on an open flame/bbq) causes heterocyclic amines (HCAs) to form.  Exposure to high levels of HCAs could cause cancer. (more at cancer.gov)
  • Browning of food (when an amino acid reacts with a reducing sugar, usually requiring heat) such as roast beef or seared steak causes advanced glycation end-products (AGEs), which have been linked to diabetes (one of many studies here).
  • Good news, though – cooked tomatoes, for example ketchup, has been proven to help prevent prostate cancer.
  • Not all raw food is good for you, though.  Raw button mushrooms contain agaritine which is toxic to your liver and raw shitake mushrooms contain formaldehyde.  Cook six minutes and it reduces these harmful toxins greatly, or marinate and dehydrate.  Buckwheat greens contain fagopyrin which is toxic to humans and can cause hypersensitivity to sunlight, skin irritation, swelling, and dizziness.
  • Many sea vegetables, like kelp and hijiki have been found to have high heavy metal content, as a result of the pollution found in our oceans.  Arsenic and mercury have been found in high quantities in hijiki and should be avoided.
  • If you decide to become a raw foodist (or even a vegan) you need to take supplements of B12 and Vitamin D (if no exposure to the sun – for example in winter) and make sure to eat Omega-3 fatty acids (walnuts, flax seed oil).
  • Raw foods have been found to benefit arthritis, fibromyalgia, obesity, type 1 and 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer.  Raw foods have anti-inflammatory properties that will help with anyone who has problems in their joints.  The high amount of fiber binds and carries out carcinogens from your body.
I don’t think I will become a complete raw foodist any time soon.  However, I will be thinking about my cooking (or choosing not to cook) choices to help maximize their health benefits.  More raw foods will be finding their way into my diet.  Although I still think you’re giving up a lot of taste in exchange for health!  But our health is pretty damn important…

Two hundred and thirty

Mid-month check-in

“Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.” -Albert Einstein

I’m half way through my month of being vegan – sixteen days of no animal products.  I’ve gotten a lot of “why on earth would you do that?” and “you know not everything vegan is healthy” comments.  I’ve resisted the smell of bacon and eggs cooking and someone trying to put a delicious-looking vanilla cupcake into my mouth when I wasn’t paying attention.  I’ve tried to balance my diet with enough protein, fruit, vegetables, carbohydrates and the occasional treats.  I’m managed to choose vegan (or as close to vegan as I can get) at very non-veggie restaurants.  I’ve cooked and had people cook for me.  I’ve found some great places to eat out in Toronto that offer delicious animal-free dishes.  I’ve also learned about hidden animal products in our beverages and our skin care (more on this tomorrow).

Everyone asks me how I’m feeling and whether I feel a difference since I’ve become vegan.  The answer is a definite “yes”.  My skin feels and looks better.  I feel better about what I’m putting in my body.  I read labels and know the ingredients.  I feel in control of my eating habits.  I don’t binge on something unhealthy because it tastes so good – not to say that vegan stuff doesn’t taste good, but I just don’t need as much of it anymore.  My cravings are minimal.  One piece of dark chocolate is enough, instead of a whole chocolate bar.  I don’t turn to food to fill an emotional need (a habit I unfortunately can fall into at times).  My digestive system is better because of all the fiber (I won’t go into any more detail than that, but you get my drift…).  My mental state is better – I feel more centered and deal with things calmly (the yoga is helping with this as well).  And I’ve lost about eight  pounds (not that I’m counting).

It’s not all perfect, though.  I used to take such pleasure in food and now I feel like I’m lacking that richness in my life.  I miss the simplicity of being able to eat everything.  I get embarrassed asking so many questions at restaurants, or having people make special food just for me when I eat at their house.  I miss eggs for breakfast and chicken sandwiches.  I miss not having to scrutinize every label (although I know this is a good habit to get in to).  I miss real ice cream.

But my body and mind feel great.  I’m still trying to figure out which wins – feeling healthy and in control, or the pleasures of amazing food.  More research on the environmental and animal rights issues to do with veganism might sway me towards one or the other…

Two hundred and twenty-six

Yesterday I stopped at Hero Burger to have a veggie burger on my way to work.  It’s funny how most “vegan” burgers tend to be served on egg buns.  They’re not really vegan, then are they… In any case, I had a big discussion with the guy at the counter (yep, I’ve now become that person who asks a billion questions before ordering) and we figured I could have their whole wheat flatbread instead.  When I got my burger, it was on the egg bun, so I had to go back up to the front and ask if I could have it on the whole wheat version instead like we talked about.  It was sort of embarrassing and annoying.  I hate being ‘that person’, but I guess if we all asked a lot of questions about what we are consuming, we’d be healthier and more knowledgeable about the substances (chemicals, animal by-products) we put in our body and where they came from.  On that note, these are the reasons why people choose veganism:

The reasons to become vegan

There are three reasons why people generally become vegan: their health, the environment and to prevent animal cruelty.  Some people do it for one of the reasons, some for all.  Today I’m going to touch on these three topics and give a brief outline of what is the information behind them, then later in the month go into more detail.

Health

Consuming animal products – proteins and fats in particular – are linked to many diseases and health problems in humans: heart disease, diabetes, colon and lung cancer, osteoporosis, obesity, kidney disease, and hypertension, to name a few.  Eggs are high in cholesterol, being a factor in cardiovascular disease.

You can get all you need of protein, calcium, fiber, and nutrients from plant-based sources.  They are also low in fat, with no cholesterol.

Environment

Animal agriculture has taken a toll on the planet.  The need for higher yield crops to feed the animals has led to topsoil erosion and less productive crops.  Animal waste from factory farms is the top cause of pollution in our groundwater and rivers.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has linked animal agriculture to a number of other environmental problems, including: contamination of aquatic ecosystems, soil, and drinking water by manure, pesticides, and fertilizers; acid rain from ammonia emissions; greenhouse gas production; and depletion of aquifers for irrigation. (vegan.org)

The United Nations also reported that a vegan diet can feed more people than a animal-based diet, helping with our world’s increasing population and poverty.

Animals

This is probably the number one reason people become vegan.  It’s a huge topic that I will touch on briefly now, but go into more details later in the month.  I plan on watching all those animal cruelty videos and sharing what I learn.  (Aren’t you excited?)

Commercially-raised animals live their short lives in small cages, drugged, and mutilated.  Even chickens who produce “free range” eggs or cows who produce milk are slaughtered when their production of eggs or milk declines, cutting short their life (a chicken is usually killed after two years, despite being able to live up to 15 years and dairy cows are killed after five years, despite a lifespan of 25).  Males chicks are killed because hatcheries have no use for them and male cows are sent to veal farms to be deprived of food and exercise and killed young.

There are so many horror stories about what happens to these animals and even if you say you don’t care about the animals, just think about the sick, drugged meat you are putting in your body.  Gross.

Information from:

Vegan Action – vegan.org. (see the different sections of the website for their sources – studies, reports, etc)