Assimilation and commodification

[Image: A baked spaghetti squash, cut open to show the flesh, seeds, and pulp.]

Last night I baked that spaghetti squash (pictured above) that I mentioned buying for the first time this weekend. I tried it plain first, and found it crunchy and a bit bland, so I added a chopped tomato. Ziggy enjoyed his with jarred tomato sauce.

I admit I was hesitant to try this particular squash because I didn’t want to see it as a pasta substitute. I’ve long steered clear of the low-carb and gluten-free trends, always preferring a high-carbohydrate diet and never having a problem digesting gluten myself. My preferred pasta consists entirely of organic durum wheat, which I consider a perfectly healthy choice. But I see squash as even better, both nutritionally and environmentally as there’s no packaging and I can compost the rind, pulp, and seeds (which could also be eaten).

I’m realizing that a lot of what we consider “normal” meals are habits adopted from our parents and friends, dictated by a 40 hour work week, and backed by the constant, insidious push of commercial interests and their government lobbyists. There’s no reason that the morning has to start out with cereal and milk, pancakes and orange juice, or toast and coffee. After a short run this morning I indulged in a delicious mango, and would have had a second if we’d had one (I don’t want to get in the habit of buying expensive tropical fruits). Normally I would have started the day with black tea with sugar and soy milk, then had a second cup with oatmeal, but for now I’m quite satisfied with fruit.

Fruits and vegetables are not much of a priority for advertisers, unless they can package them in a way to maximize profit. Want the nutritional power of kale, but don’t want to take the time to prepare it? Here, eat our dehydrated kale chips! Know you should eat your veggies, but don’t want to? Here, drink our vegetable juice blend! Love fruit, but on the go? Here, eat our convenient fruit and nut bars! Etc.

Every dietary trend that comes along is similarly packaged and commodified. Low-glycemic? Gluten-free? Here, buy these special breads and pastas! Subscribe to this diet plan! Raw? Buy this dehydrator! Buy this cookbook!

Aside from the pressures from advertisers and the challenges of getting through the work or school week, eating differently from everyone else can be a serious social challenge. Peer pressure is very strong. I never would have started drinking if it weren’t for that, as I never liked alcohol; I stopped drinking completely six years ago and haven’t missed it. Children can be teased relentlessly if they eat different foods, and parents are often scolded for supposedly harming their children by withholding animal products from them.

Many ethical vegans counsel activists not to make vegans “look weird” by eating food that’s “too healthy”; they emphasize that vegans can eat pizza, hot dogs, burgers, and junk food just like anyone else. While this is true, and I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with eating plant-based versions of flesh and dairy products, I don’t like the idea that we have to assimilate in order to spread our message effectively. Animal liberation should sell itself if presented strongly and consistently as a position against violence and speciesism. What the vegan activist presenting the message chooses to eat shouldn’t even be a part of the conversation, unless the listener brings it up.

Another concern is that vegan messaging that emphasizes healthy foods can lead to fat-shaming. This is a valid concern, as I’ve seen a lot of fat-shaming by health-oriented vegans. My position is that besides myself and my partner, no one’s weight is any of my business. While I do value fitness and prefer to stay slim myself, I no longer give anyone advice on weight loss (or gain) unless someone asks me about it directly. Once again, my strategy is to avoid talking about diet when advocating for animal liberation, unless I’m asked specific questions about nutrition.

Ultimately, we all have to craft a diet that works for us within our financial and practical means. I currently have the freedom to eat without worrying about structured meal times, eating on the go, or social pressures. If eating a meal of just bananas or just baked sweet potatoes makes me weird or eccentric, while eating a burger, fries, and milkshake (whether vegan or not) is considered “normal,” so be it.

Healthy hermit

[Image: A Russet potato, a red potato, and a sweet potato.]

For the last week I’ve been eating a diet consisting solely of fruits, vegetables, tubers (potatoes and sweet potatoes), and a small amount of herbs and spices. And loving it. I think sweet potatoes – in particular, the orange-fleshed variety marketed in the USA as “yams” – might just have replaced oatmeal as my favorite food.

I came up with this meal plan myself, for a number of reasons. As I mentioned previously, I wanted to revisit the sugar/salt/oil-free diet that I tried last year, as I’d been slipping into eating more processed, nutrient-deprived foods. I was feeling increasingly sluggish and congested, and gaining weight. I wanted to simplify cooking and shopping. I also wanted to use as little packaging as possible.

My working title for this way of eating is the “Healthy Hermit diet,” because I’ve been quite a hermit lately. Having the freedom to stay home for meals makes it a lot easier to stick to this diet. Though I now feel I should commit to going to farmers markets twice a week to get seasonal organic produce.

Yesterday I went to the Fort Mason Center Farmers Market for the first time in over a year. I’d stopped going there when my volunteer work at the Free Farm Stand conflicted, but I stopped that work some months ago. The stands had a large variety of organic produce. It’s a privilege to live in an area with year-round farmers markets, and to be able to afford organic groceries. I might as well take advantage of it.

I picked up some squashes I’d not tried before: Delicata and spaghetti. I’m looking forward to baking them this week. I wanted a greater variety of starches than just potatoes and sweet potatoes, as much as I love the latter.

It’s sad that a lot of people probably think this diet is extreme. As I posted before, eating large amounts of fresh produce shouldn’t be a luxury. A fast food meal shouldn’t be cheaper than a couple of pounds of organic fruit. And people shouldn’t have to work so hard that they have no time or energy to cook. (Though a lot of my cooking is now done in the oven, with little prep time on my part.)

Whatever anyone’s opinion, my own well-being will be the best test of this diet. Increasing exercise as my energy levels improve will also be crucial to my health. I look forward to a healthier body.

Unplugging from Facebook

I’ve been avoiding Facebook for about ten days now, and am in no hurry to go back. In that week and a half, I’ve been continually prodded by Facebook to return. When the system first realized I’d been inactive for more than a day, it e-mailed me status updates from people on my friendslist. Then it sent me a list of “people I may know.” There was at least one other similar, unsolicited notification.

I opted out of those lists, but chose to keep having event invitations and messages sent to my e-mail in case anything really important came up. Though I posted publicly on September 23 that I was going to be away from Facebook for a bit and that people could e-mail me with anything urgent, I realized that most people would assume I’m still checking my Facebook messages.

I really don’t like how ubiquitous Facebook has become, replacing e-mail and text messaging for so many people. E-mail has been my preferred form of communication since I first started using it back in 1989 or thereabouts. I’ve never felt good about trusting something so important to me to a “free” service, especially one like Facebook.  I do use Google’s services for my calendar and contact list, I’ll admit, as I enjoy the seamless syncing to my Android phone. But my e-mail and web sites have been hosted by pair Networks, a company I’ve found very trustworthy and reliable, since 2003.

As for text messaging, I use that primarily for very short communications with my spouse, along the lines of “on my way home” or “do you need anything from the store.” I definitely prefer texting and e-mails over phone calls, but neither need nor want any Facebook apps installed on my phone for these purposes. I have a great plan with Ting where I only pay for the texts, data, and minutes that I actually use. If I became unable to afford the ~$20-$30/month I’ve been paying for Ting, I’d be more likely to turn to Google Voice than Facebook for my texts and voice calling needs.

This isn’t to say that I think Google is the harmless company they’ve advertised themselves to be either. I’ve been avoiding Google Plus for much longer than Facebook; I really don’t like Google’s forced integration of that site into their other products. I’ve also been using DuckDuckGo rather than Google for most of my web searching. But at least Google doesn’t enforce a “real names” policy like Facebook continues to do.

In any case, I’d been spending entirely too much time on Facebook, getting into long discussions  that were sometimes productive and enlightening, but too often contentious and stressful. I started this blog specifically because I prefer longer-form writing rather than the quick blurbs that Facebook encourages. I’ve found Medium to be a better fit in that regard, but I still prefer my own blog, as I am solely responsible for the content here.

Unfortunately, since I haven’t been posting new blog entries to my Facebook profile, my visitors here have dropped off. I expected this, and while disappointing, it’s OK, because I am not depending on this blog for my livelihood (though I do accept tips). I’ve resisted making a dedicated Facebook page for this blog specifically because I am a person, not a product or brand. I’m co-manager of several Facebook pages that are in various stages of dereliction, and I’m constantly getting prompted to update them and to buy ads. I realize that’s just part of the deal for getting unlimited use of a “free” service, but I don’t have to buy it.

I’m not deleting my Facebook account, and I fully expect to resume posting there eventually. But not yet. This unplugging is a good thing. Facebook does not own me or my content; I work only for myself.

Eating our roots

[Image: A basket of purslane, with a sign reading “Hecka local produce picked from nearby gardens or trees & the Free Farm.”]

I’ve been thinking lately about how terrible our food system is in this country. I’m not just talking about fast food and I’m not just talking about animal agriculture. I’m talking about the price of fresh fruits and vegetables being so expensive that they are seen by many as luxuries, while we simultaneously throw away enormous amounts of unsold produce.

When I did volunteer work in food justice, I saw firsthand how much abundance comes from the Earth. At Alemany Farm in San Francisco, one of my jobs was to harvest purslane (pictured at the top of this post). This hardy, nutritious plant grows everywhere, even in the cracks of sidewalks. It’s considered a “beneficial weed.”

We gave away purslane at the Free Farm Stand, along with lots of unsold produce from farmers markets that would have otherwise gone to waste. Boxes and boxes of perfectly good food.

Eggplants at the Free Farm Stand[Image: A box of purple eggplants.]

While more year-round variety of produce is available here in San Francisco than in many places, the fact is that there is enough abundance to feed everyone directly from the Earth. We can create a society that provides affordable whole foods to everyone if we’re willing to make radical changes.

The word “radical,” by the way, means “going to the root.” I’ve been eating  lots of literal roots myself lately, in the form of sweet potatoes. I’m rediscovering the taste of whole foods, unaltered by sugar, oil, or salt (SOS). I tried going SOS-free for about a month last year for VeganMoFo, and it worked well, so I’m giving it another go, but focusing primarily on fresh fruit and tubers rather than beans and grains.

In order for everyone to have the opportunity to eat healthy foods, we need to create economic and social changes that will replace food deserts with community gardens. This morning, Sistah Vegan Project posted this great video by vegan hip-hop artist DJ CaveM:

This is wonderful. Community gardens are for everyone. Farmers markets shouldn’t be seen as destinations for privileged people. Healthy eating is in our roots.