The election season from hell: check your privilege

This post will be short. It’s a Facebook status I posted just now in response to a very brief exchange I had with a differently-abled friend of mine.

An old friend of mine–an incredibly brave and confident individual who just so happens to be differently-abled than I– just made an amazing point… just when I was leaning toward Jill Stein and voting for the candidate who most aligned with my personal ethics, and as I assured myself that even if Trump were elected I would have been confident that my morals had not been undermined by my vote, I was reminded that the ability to vote for a third party and even risk Trump winning was a testament to my own privilege. This election would have significant repercussions for people of different races, ethnicities, beliefs, genders, sexual preferences, and abilities, etc. As a white woman from a middle-class family, my personal life would likely have minimal direct adverse impacts in a Trump presidency; whereas my black, brown, LGBTQ, differently-abled, etc. friends have so much more to lose.

I want a third party candidate to win. I believe in a third party candidate. And while I think there is a hopeful glimmer of a chance that we can change the system now and elect a third party candidate in 2016, I am more confident with the odds of Hillary winning the election than I am with the odds of Jill winning. Will the system still need to change? Absolutely. Can we work toward changing the system with a democratic president? Absolutely.

Checking my privilege right now and thinking about what’s best for all my brothers and sisters.

Carnism is NOT a Personal Choice

Being a carnist (i.e., eating flesh [aka, “meat”]) is not a personal choice; and it’s not your “right.”

Okay, so there are a number (and by “a number” I truly mean copious amounts…like, ridiculous amounts) of arguments as to why you should live a vegan lifestyle if you also aim to be an environmentalist (likewise, feminist or equalist). Today, however, I don’t want to talk about that. I want to talk about something that’s recently made me quite frustrated. And so this post is coming, largely, from the moral perspective rather than an environmental perspective.

That being said. Let’s get into what’s been eating at me.

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I went vegetarian almost 14 years ago now. I’ve been vegan for four (yay, me!). In all this time, I’ve typically been complimented—thanked for not being “like other vegans,” for not being “that militant vegan.” I believed that it was a testament to my compassion for all living things, both humans and non-humans.

But in 14 years of being the “nice vegan,” how many people had I convinced to become vegetarian or vegan? Maybe one (if that), and I’m not even sure I can take credit.

At this point, I know enough about the meat and dairy industries, and I know enough about the widespread impacts of carnism—from healthcare to hunger, to environmental destruction and my sacrifice for tax dollars spent on meat and dairy industries—to feel comfortable with my new-found, active and vocal stance. So what I’m about to say is really important, and it’s stuff I probably should have said years ago but I was too afraid to “offend” people with the facts.

But first, let me tell you a bit about my journey.

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Look at that! I I had a damn zoo-themed birthday party, I loved animals so much! And then look at me feeding that baby tiger and getting a kiss from a dolphin! So much love for the animals, right? Wrong. Absolutely wrong. I wish I knew then what I now know about the exploitation and abuse of animals for human entertainment.

I grew up an “animal lover.” I put that in quotes because, while I was an animal lover, I was at the same time participating in activities that generate extreme discomfort for animals. I had zoo-themed birthday parties, I nursed a baby tiger in captivity while at the fair, I swam with dolphins in a tiny enclosed area in the Bahamas. (Note: I am a privileged white cis-girl, and I am well-aware of that fact. That’s a topic for another day.)

But those were behaviors that, at best, did nothing to advocate on behalf of animals and, at worst, led to the discomfort and likely injury/demise of innocent beings. I might as well be tried as an accessory to murder, or charged with second-degree murder for my participation in animal-related entertainment.

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I was a definite pet lover. In addition to my best childhood friend—the family dog—I owned gerbils, mice, ferrets, guinea pigs, and a sun conure. (That last one was actually my brother’s, but I loved him nevertheless.)

If I have trouble saying I was an animal lover, I can at least say I was a pet lover. Prior to going vegan, I had some amazing animal friends and companions. And they played a huge role in shaping my life.

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Speciesism much?

But my contribution to speciesism continued, and I visited the zoo, and places like Disney where animals are exploited daily. Until I watched one influential movie…

Wait for it…

I watched Chicken Run.

If you’re thinking, “wait; but wasn’t that some claymation kids’ movie?” Why yes. Yes it was. And it’s not like it was the first time I had seen the movie, either. It was the second, or maybe even third time. It was the last week of class in my freshman year high school art class. As far as I’m concerned, that was Mel Gibson’s best cinematic performance. Because that shit hit me hard.

What the fuck was I thinking? (Pardon my language in this post, but I’m actually fucking furious about dealing with being vegan in a non-vegan society. And you need to know that.)

I told myself that day: I’m going to try to be vegetarian. That was it. I was just going to try. And I might have only been talking about chicken. I may have told myself that I was just going to try to not eat chicken for a week.

But then, after school, I told my friend (bless her heart) and she, by saying “you won’t make it a week,” turned it into a competition. In my stubbornness, I cut out all meat and became a lacto-ovo vegetarian (meaning I continued consuming dairy and eggs). And that was that.

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I became an environmental activist around the same time. But while I tried to show compassion towards all animals, I still made mistakes. Look at the frightened and miserable face of this lemur.

In learning about compassionate living, I also learned about the destruction of the planet. And so I became an environmental activist and tried to care for all living beings I encountered. But I wasn’t perfect. I slipped up and I still went to the zoo one final time. In the picture above (bottom right), you see the poor and terrified stare from this Coquerel sifaka, a rare breed of lemur, here held captive and bred at the Maryland Zoo. I was an idiot. Plain and simple. I knew it was wrong. I felt it was wrong being there, looking at the sad and miserable animals held in captivity. But I went. Oh, how I regret it. The zoo was not fun, it was torturous.

I’m sharing my history because I don’t want anyone to think that I’ve led a “perfect” veg-friendly life. I haven’t. I’m sharing it because, no matter where you are in your life right now, no matter what you’ve done, you can still change.

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My first time at the DC VegFest was a bit overwhelming, but amazing.

Then, I finally went vegan. I knew for years prior that it was something that I should do, that I needed to do. But I couldn’t do it. “I could never give up cheese.”

Famous.

Last.

Words.

I read an article in VegNews magazine about Ellen Degeneres and Portia de Rossi going vegan and the wheels started to turn more seriously. Two months later, I watched Forks Over Knives. The end.

But actually not; because there’s more.

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Today, I believe I am a true animal advocate.

Fast-forward to today, I am comfortable saying that I am a true animal advocate. I stop the car for injured animals. I support local animal rescues. I share about my veganism to friends and family.

The problem? It’s not enough.

Why am I mad? Despite living a compassionate and ethical lifestyle, I am still part of a system that supports, relies upon, and idolizes cruelty toward animals. And that’s not okay.

I find living in such a society is fundamentally, ethically, and morally wrong. Which is why it was so important for me to create a “safe space” at home—where I do not have to be surrounded by animal corpses in the way that I do around the office lunch table, through advertising, at the store, at dinner with family and friends, etc.

My husband, a carnivore, graciously agreed to keep a vegetarian home for me. To many, my request was offensive. Even my family and friends that have supported my veganism felt I was “going too far” in making such a request—that asking my husband to “sacrifice” so much for me was infringing on his choice to be a meat eater. (Side note: “sacrifice”? Really? That’s the word you choose?)

Meanwhile, I’m expected to accept decisions that are cruel while I’m constantly overwhelmed and offended by the sights, sounds, and other expressions of carnism every.single.day.

So no, your decision to eat meat and animal products is not a “personal choice.”

You have rights, but allow me to clarify. You have rights up to a pointYou have rights until your right to choose removes the right of another being to live. 

If that’s still not clear, this is what I mean: When a living thing must die or endure significant pain so you can have something, your choice is affecting that living thing.

When my tax dollars support animal agriculture, your choice is affecting me. When children and people are dying from cancer because of animal products, your choice is affecting other people. When grain that could end world hunger is fed to cattle raised for meat in wealthier societies, your choice is affecting the entirety of the Earth’s population. When methane from cattle pollutes the atmosphere…when runoff from CAFOs (google it) contaminate our waterways…when water is used in excess during times of drought because of intense animal agriculture…when the Rain Forests are being cleared to graze cattle…your choice is affecting the planet.

I could go on for hours. But I’ll spare you for now.

All that being said, here is one final point with which to end. You can be vegan. If you’re reading this blog, chances are you have the fortune of living in a society where you do not need animal products. (Some societies are still very much dependent on animal products, and I acknowledge that.)

We do not need animal products for proper nutrition. In fact, in most cases we are better off and healthier by eliminating animal products—which are linked to carcinogens, bad cholesterol, heart disease, etc.—from our diet. Bonus: we live during a time when vegan specialty items are both affordable and abundant. And here’s the ringer: vegan food is just food.

Have you ever had an apple before? You’ve eaten vegan food. There.

Listening to the Vegan Warrior Princesses Attack! Podcast the other day, I heard an interesting (and valid) point: Vegan food is the common denominator. Everyone can eat vegan food.

So what’s stopping you? Really? Be honest with yourself. Take a minute and really think about it, because “this is how I’ve always done it” is not an acceptable excuse. (Nor is “but I like it”…)

The last thing I want to say is this, my favorite quote:

“If we could live happy and healthy lives without harming others…why wouldn’t we?” ~Edgar’s Mission

(Oh, and for anyone all in a tizzy over this…I got over dairy-based cheese.)

Resources and Further Reading

But where do you get your protein?

But calcium?

Links for interested/new vegans:

Links about carnism:

Links about the economic impact of meat and dairy industries:

There are so many others but I am emotionally drained from writing this blog post. Be a smart and conscious consumer. Do your research. Remove your blinders. Absorb the wealth of knowledge out there. Go vegan.

The Challenges We Face

I’m here at work creating a list of the challenges we (our firm) face in our work. The next task: to create a list of the problems our clients face. Yet, I find it much easier to view Planet Earth as our client, and its challenges are indeed many.

While I list these threats—all very significant, all looming—I feel surprisingly less uneasy as I would have expected. In fact, I feel relieved; as if listing these massive problems will help me wrap my brain around them, and guide every action from this day forward in an effort to address, resolve, or at least pacify them somewhat.

They are, nevertheless, monumental. My list evolved:

  • Depleted resources
  • Social unrest
  • A changing climate
  • Extreme weather events
  • Global habitat destruction/loss and global species extinction
  • Pollution and contamination of all Earth’s ecosystems (including the omnipresence of trash)
  • Continued and potentially increasing violence, at many scales
  • Extreme population growth
  • Energy dependence (rather than self-reliance)
  • Loss of human interaction; society becomes a slave to technology
  • Worldwide hunger
  • Economic instability (on a national level) and poverty (on the individual level [albeit an issue tied to the entirety of society])
  • Globalization (including the spread of invasive, non-native species and the loss of culture and individuality)

Putting these worries to paper was therapeutic, but putting pen to paper is not a solution. The step, now, is to DO SOMETHING. And every person, no matter how small, has the ability to affect great change. This list will be in the back of my mind, a constant reminder of what I’m fighting for: a safer, healthier, inclusive, equitable, “greener,” cultural, and more sustainable and resilient Earth.

It’s no easy task, but I remain ever the optimist. With collaboration and a concerted effort, we can quell these noisy threats.

Favorite Vegan Products: Post #1, Milks

This post is going to be more “tree hugging” than “urbanism.”
Now, this isn’t a food blog—though, I do periodically post about food as I strongly believe that our diets play a significant role in shaping our environmental footprint. And I do intend to post in the future regarding this relationship. For starters, I’d like to help everyday people transition to a vegan lifestyle, and that begins by introducing familiar products. But also, as I prepare for the AICP, it’s nice to take a break from planning related stuff. So, without further ado…
I’m not the type of vegan that became so for health reasons—my decision was entirely ethical (the health benefits are just a bonus!). Now, the health conscious vegans try to avoid processed food in general, so they might recommend that you still to a whole food, plant based diet. And while I agree that’s a fantastic thing to strive for, many of us want to live a little and give our tastebuds a ride every time and again!
I also know that many transitioning vegans, especially those skipping over the vegetarian step stone, find veganism daunting and overwhelming. If that’s you right now, I assure you that it is easier than you expect, but you’re now adjusting to a life filled with so many wonderful, wholesome and fresh foods that you may have never imagined eating (but you’ll be glad when you finally do!). And when someone is in that zone–the newly vegan zone–they may yearn for something familiar.

Plant-based versus “Fake”

Vegans don’t eat “fake meat.” We eat meat–meaty, wholesome, plant-based meat! We also don’t eat “fake cheese.” We eat rich, flavorful, smooth and creamy plant-based cheeses! In fact, we don’t eat anything fake–no fake milk, no fake yogurts, no fake ice cream–it is all as authentic as it gets!
For lack of a better term, we eat alternatives; but that in no way is meant to suggest that what we eat is inferior to what your typical carnivore eats. It might seem weird at first, or even taste different, but you’ll soon find out that plant-based versions of the foods you used to love are both delicious and nutritious!
At the request of a few of my aunts, I’ll be taking some time over the coming weeks to describe my favorite plant-based products! I’ll start simple, and do keep in mind that I also have relatively simple tastes, and that there are sooo many options out there. My lists are just a start, but you’ll have to go out there and explore on your own!

 I’ll start with plant-based milks.

 My favorite is soy milk (and I wish to put your soy fears to rest, please look into The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine). I love Silk brand, I started with the sweetened, then transitioned to the unsweetened or original.
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Soy milk is not the only option, there are myriad plant-based milks to choose from—from nuts and seeds, to oats, to rice, and plenty more. Soy may just be the most widely available option.
Now, I don’t live in Austin, California, the Pacific Northwest, or Colorado, or any other famous vegan city, but I do live in a City, which tends to have more options. I can’t speak to any seriously rural areas, but in my traveling (which, to be fair, isn’t much), I have yet to find a place where I couldn’t find my plant-based milk!
Where I live, every conventional, full-service grocery store has plant-based milks in the refrigerated section alongside the dairy-based milks—in addition to groceries, I can find cold, plant-based milks at Target, Walmart, and other superstores, bulk wholesale places like SAM’s club, and (of course), in Natural Markets (I’ve yet to find a convenience store with this option; sans, perhaps, some in the more swanky parts of town).

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The refrigerated plant-based milk section at my local natural food market is so big, it requires two sections!
One of the reasons I love plant-based milks so is because you can stock up and keep them for months in your pantry. In addition to the refrigerated section, you can find plant-based milks in aseptic packs in your packaged good aisles, usually near other packaged beverages, but sometimes located in specialty food sections.
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You usually have more options here, in terms of non-soy milks. You can even find chocolate milks, seasonal milks (West Soy’s winter Peppermint Chocolate Soy Milk is my FAVORITE!! But you can also get iced coffee packs (see below)), and mini-packs for children’s (or adults) lunches.
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Research published in the ENRE Division Newsletter

July 2015 Newsletter for the Environment, Natural Resources, & Energy Division of the American Planning Association is out, and guess who’s in it! That’s right, me! As a result of my 2013-2014 Fellowship with the ENRE Division, my research has been published in their newsletter. You’ll have to become a division member to receive the publication, but here’s a snapshot of my page! ENRE Newsletter_July 2015 page

It may not be significant to some people, but this makes me extremely proud! Now, if only I could find more time to work on my research!

Baltimore Riots … Blame the Urban Planner?

Blame the Urban Planner

With my City in turmoil, I’ve been asking myself about the role of society, citizens, and my profession in contributing to, and then resolving, conflicts like this.

As a practicing Urban Planner who is relatively “fresh” out of grad school (one year, now), I have found myself wondering these past weeks (well, to be honest, my whole life, but especially in these last few weeks) what society must do to remedy tragic and unequal conditions in urban neighborhoods. As a minority majority member in a City whose population is 63% African American/Black, it becomes an issue about race whether you want it to or not (I know, we thought racial inequality ended decades ago…well it very certainly did not).

Being connected to many white people through facebook, posts this past week have created deep chasms between polar opposite viewpoints.

This presentation, which I gave yesterday morning to the Planning and Urban Design team at my office, talks about how structural racism has contributed to a cyclical and viscous inequality among Baltimore’s residents.

Despite its name, the presentation is not so much an attack on Urban Planners, but a criticism of society and urban policy as contributors to urban inequality and the resulting violence. However, the presentation is intended to be a call for action for urban planners and designers, and citizens alike.

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Why the Lack of Writing?

Well, I’ve been busy!

I started a new job in June at a Landscape Architecture firm that’s had my interest since my undergraduate studies; then, just two months later, my husband and I purchased our first home! Proud to say that I am FINALLY a Baltimore city-dweller (and my twitter handle—@theurbangranola—is now validated by my truly urban lifestyle :)).

Between those two major life events, I haven’t had much time for anything else!

I suspect I’ll have time once again soon, but I’m also preparing to take the AICP exam (the professional certification test for urban and regional planners) in May 2015. Thus, I’ll surely be spending a good deal of time studying. But maybe there’s a way to make my studying a writing component?

Stay tuned!

How to deal with all that CSA food?

I had 4 beets, 4 radishes, 6 kale leaves, spinach, lettuce and salad greens, garlic scapes, strawberries, and Swiss chard, and cilantro- here are some of my dishes from week 1!
I also made:
rainbow quinoa with Swiss chard and butternut squash,
Black beans with tofu, corn, cilantro, and garlic scapes
Lots of salads
Pasta with spinach and lemon juice

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On FernGully, Avatar, and Princess Mononoke: Why they are arguably the same movie (aka my favorite movie)

Someone once told me there are only so many “different” stories re-told in film; and really, the list of central themes seems to be capped at ten. From these ten story lines, we receive more than 600 feature films each year in the United States alone (610 in 2011, to be exact). Some of those themes are so common that we barely bat an eye when we see them repeated (think good v. evil, love conquers all, triumph over adversity, individual v. society…). Some, however, are told  somewhat less frequently, and when a story seems too similar, the viewers apparently get annoyed. This was the case when James Cameron’s film, Avatar, was released in 2009. If you saw the film, you either loved it or you hated it, but I think the general consensus was positive. The critics went crazy; those who opposed the film offered criticism with frustration over its repeated theme. At first, Avatar was compared to the story of Pocahontas, which was reasonable, but not until the similarities were drawn between it and the 1992 animated children’s movie, FernGully: The Last Rainforest, did the arguments really hit the nail on the head.

As a kid, FernGully was one of my favorite movies (along with another movie with a similar environmental agenda, Once Upon a Forest. But if you don’t remember FernGully, I doubt you’ll remember this one). While I watched Avatar, I recognized the similarities, but it didn’t frustrate me as much as it seemed to have frustrated others. As I see it, regardless of whether or not the two films have “identical” plots, there’s no doubt the message is a powerful one. Going on, an article on Script Lab defended the film industry by declaring, “It’s not the story itself, but the way the story is told that makes a movie great.” To be honest, I was just pleased to see this less common theme explored in a hugely successful film. Better yet, not only was it a major Hollywood film, aimed at an older audience, but it now holds the spot for highest worldwide grossing movie– earning $2.78 Billion overall- just above Cameron’s 1997 film, Titanic, which earned $2.19 Billion (James Cameron has an uncanny skill).

But getting back to the point; FernGully and Avatar aren’t the only movies which have explored this environmental theme, nor was Disney’s Pocahontas (also part of the list, I should probably include Dances with Wolves among many others). This story- as one Yahoo! article summarizes it: “a would-be tree-chopper discovers the hidden beauty of an environmental treasure and changes his mind about its destruction” – is actually, in my humble opinion, one of the most enjoyable, and the movies which retell it tend to rank high on my list of favorites.

I have never actually been able to compose a list of my favorite films but if I could, the list would certainly include the following 3 movies:

  1. Princess Mononoke
  2. Avatar
  3. FernGully: The Last Rainforest (actually, today, this might not top my list; as a kid, however, this film was without doubt ranked number 1)

Princess Mononoke, a Studio Ghibli (artist Hayao Miyazaki) animated film, tells the story of a village prince, Ashitaka, leaves his village to save his people, and avenge the death of the demon that cursed him (no, you read that right- avenge….not revenge- this is a monumental message in itself!). He seeks out the Forest Spirit for help, but in his journey encounters “Iron Town,” a nearby village which had effectively clear-cut the neighboring mountainsides and killed and corrupted the remaining species while developing violent technologies (firearms) which would further their mission of controlling nature. Ashitaka learns that the leader of Iron Town is also on a mission to kill the very same Forest Spirit which he is in search of- hoping its death will grant them wealth and power. The movie ends (spoilers) with Ashitaka saving the Forest Spirit (and thus the entire forest) while teaching the people of Iron Town the importance of respecting the nature around them. I cannot describe how much I love this movie. If it gives any indication, I am getting a tattoo of the Forest Spirit in a few hours, right next to a tattoo I currently have of one of Hayao Miyazaki’s other forest spirit creations: Totoro.

Sketch of Mononoke's Shishigami (Forest Spirit)

Sketch of Mononoke’s Shishigami (Forest Spirit)

The film follows an extremely obvious environmentalism/colonialism theme. Only slightly different is the story in FernGully.

The IMDB profile for FernGully describes the story as follows:

The magical inhabitants of a rainforest called FernGully fight to save their home that is threatened by logging and a polluting force of destruction called Hexxus.

That about sums it up. Now, what if we change just a few key words, 5 in all:

The Na’vi, magical inhabitants of a moon called Pandora, fight to save their home that is threatened by mining and a polluting force of destruction called Humans.

Well that sounds like Avatar! Okay, I’m also pretty sure some specific shots were near mirrors of the animations in FernGully; and then, of course, there’s the sappy underlying love story in both. But I don’t care! The point is, these were both great movies that tell the same story, essentially a warning of destruction of the environment. Part of what I really like about both FernGully and Avatar is that the protaganist was ultimately changed to see the opposite of himself. I really don’t think plagiarism is a valid argument (I’m interested to hear what the folks behind FernGully would have to say about this); I mean, Shakespeare doesn’t get his panties all in a bunch when variations of Romeo and Juliet are produced ad nauseum.

In addition to some of the themes I referenced in the first paragraph, there is man v. nature (apparently, there’s a man v. nature theme to almost everything, but I’ll explore the opposite of this theme in another post for Unit 4). All of the films mentioned in this post follow a similar theme, offer a similar cautionary tale, and plot a similar story. The takeaway is the value of the message being delivered.

All I know is that, from these movies, I am left with overwhelming optimism. Why, you ask? Because Nature always wins.

Inhabitat: Veganism and the Environment

I’ve always wanted to write a post that would go over these same numbers; but this infographic is perfect!

Veganism and the Environment Infographic Shows the Environmental Impact of Raising Animals for Food | Inhabitat – Sustainable Design Innovation, Eco Architecture, Green Building.

veganism, environment, food footprint, green diet, healthy eating, green lifestyle, sustainable lifestyle, sustainable foods, healthy food, vegetarian lifestyle, vegan lifestyle, sustainable food choices, co2 footprint