Friday, July 25, 2008

Thinking about the ethics of eating

The other day I was reading a message board I frequent and came across a link for this blog entry about the palm oil that is used in Earth Balance buttery spread. For vegan cooking and baking, Earth Balance is the quintessential replacement for butter. It produces a soft, chewy cookie and, a flaky pie crust and a fluffy, creamy icing for cakes and fillings. It is completely vegan (plant-based) so it has no cholesterol yet it tastes and behaves surprisingly similar to real butter. In terms of taste and texture, it is superior to all other buttery spreads currently on the market. And, in light of recent news that suggests that trans-fatty acids produced during the hydrogenation of liquid fats are actually deleterious to our health, it's comforting to know that Earth Balance is not hydrogenated. What keeps it solid at room temperature, though, is palm oil, also marketed as "vegan shortening".

I remember growing up and watching my mother cook with palm oil, which was a deep red oil that separated into a thick solid mass at the bottom and a thin oil at the top. She used it to cook most every traditional Igbo meal most notably egusi soup. Egusi is melon seed. My mom would shell the seeds and then grind them. She would then fry them in palm oil and that would be the base for the soup to which she would add a maggi cube, onions, stock fish, chicken and a green leafy vegetable and serve alongside pounded yam (fufu). Goodness, my mouth waters just thinking about it. I was surprised to see the popularity of palm oil skyrocket when hydrogenated oils fell out our good graces. First off, palm oil had such a pungent scent, such a deep color, and such a strong taste that I didn't know how they could be using it so liberally without it creating some weird smelling, off colored, awful tasting products. Through reading, I found that heating it through will eliminate the smell, color and taste. Wonderful stuff for the world of food manufacturing.

Anyway, the gist of the article is that in Malaysia and Indonesia, the farming of palm oil is destroying the delicate rain forest and driving many species of animals to extinction. Now, I didn't become vegan for any ethical reasons (I was what you call a strict vegetarian as the truest meaning of vegan is one who completely eschews all animal products and by-products for ethical reasons). I wasn't motivated by my desire to save the earth or a feeling of camaraderie with chimpanzees and cows. What I was interested in when I made that drastic change almost 6 years ago was healing myself of debilitating allergies, poor eyesight, problematic skin and excruciating menstrual cramps. Interestingly enough, becoming vegan did not heal any of these issues but rather saddled me with a new set of problems. I digress. Now that I'm not vegan anymore (it seems though that for me, a little animal protein seems to do my body good and so I struggle with trying to find sources of ethically produced eggs which is almost impossible if you live in an "inner city area," i.e. "the hood" and sources of the purest forms of cod liver oil that do minimal harm to the habitats of the cod), it's interesting that I'm actually more interested in the environmental impact of our diet. As a matter of fact, in my opinion and experience, the environmental benefits of veganism trump the health benefits.

When I first became vegan, I tried so many different buttery spreads and Earth Balance won in every aspect. I've been using it faithfully for years now. I can't say I'm willing to stop either. And I can't help but feel a little guilty. I'm really trying these days to at least be conscious of how my actions affect the Earth and it seems like something as minute as eliminating Earth Balance from our list of acceptable foods is relatively easy in the scope of things. But my "cold turkey" conversion to vegetarianism six years ago and the fact that I did not achieve what I set out to achieve by converting has given me a real psychological resistance to any other changes despite the fact that sluggish digestion and serious intestinal issues suggest that it is indeed necessary to completely revamp my diet (and I'm not quite sure in which direction this revamping will go although I will say that meat doesn't even appeal to me anymore and I'm trying to kind of make peace with eating a little fish--poor fish). But I've been trying very hard to let go of things. I've given up on products with hidden MSG and things like agave nectar that I'm not entirely sure of. I'm just not ready to give up the Earth Balance. I keep thinking of broccoli florets without Earth Balance and toast without Earth Balance. Well, what about freshly baked muffins and breads without Earth Balance!?! It is really part and parcel of our daily eating (and enjoyment).

Of course, I talked about this with the hubby and he said, "Please don't get on another runaway train." He's talking, of course, about my habit of finding out information and running with it and eliminating all these things that he actually likes. I was telling him about the rain forest and palm oil and Earth Balance and he interrupts me to say, "Wait, the rain forest isn't gone yet? They've been talking about its destruction since I was 4 years old!" Of course, he was being facetious but he is a firm believer that the Earth won't let us destroy it before it destroys us. In my heart of hearts, I agree.

Right now, it's chic to be "green" and hip to be "eco-friendly". It's also expensive and oftentimes more difficult to be these things. As a woman of color, it's ironic that all these crusades to save the Earth are usually championed by wealthy, White folks who can afford to do the "green thing". I've started to get the vibe that those who can't afford to be "eco-friendly" are the ones harming the Earth but those who can afford to buy $5 reusable bags from Whole Paycheck (but drive ginormous SUVs) are the ones who really care. I try not to generalize and I try not to be biased on these things but . . . really and truly, it's White people (not all White folks, of course, and maybe not even the majority) who've gone all over the world, raped and pillaged, destroyed whole eco-systems harvesting raw materials, devastating traditional economies and setting the people on a straight-course to grinding, inescapable poverty. It's actually offensive to see some of these same folks advocating and motivating the "green movement". Especially when you peel back a few layers to discover that it's just another way to make money; another way to get people to buy more stuff, albeit "eco-friendly" stuff.

Still, I wonder if there is truly any way to eat sustainably and ethically, though. It seems that the only true option to achieve this lofty goal is to grow your own food and (if you do use animal products) raise your own animals on a very small scale where everything is composted, recycled, and reused and very little waste is produced and disposed of responsibly.

I find products like Earth Balance to be a friendly introduction into the world of more conscious eating, though, and it's just so darn sad to learn that something called "Earth Balance" may actually be doing the opposite.

Maybe I'm just uptight

But I think it's so rude for ya'll to be playing music LOUDLY at 10:15pm. I'm all for having parties and having a good time. It's your right. But when your right to have fun encroaches on my right to put my kids to sleep peacefully, it's a real issue. Your music is so loud, I can't even tell where it's coming from. It's bouncing off the concrete and ricocheting around. Shoot, I thought 2 parties were going on. I don't want to have to come ask ya'll to shut it down or at least lower the volume because I ain't sure if ya'll'll take to that kindly. I don't want to have to call the cops on ya'll because you know how I feel about law enforcement. I just really wish ya'll could or would exercise some common courtesy.

It's now 10:20 and there's no end in sight.

The joys of living in the 'hood.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


The first election I was eligible to vote in was the one Bush stole. As an 18 year old back then, I still wholeheartedly believed in the process and thought that it was actually "we the people" who decided who would be our president. This despite the fact that I had a much more than average knowledge of the political process here in the U.S. having taken advanced placement U.S. History (and scoring a perfect score, on the exam). But I still held out hope that the system still worked and that our elected officials were actually chosen by and representative of us. In college after having that first negative political experience, I became very active politically (more so after leaving the academically intense, stifling and frustrating 7-year B.S./M.D. program I was in), fighting to undo the wrongs and make them right. I was quick to participate in one demonstration or another, always loved to debate politics, loved the "Black conscious" poetry scene (and the corresponding persona of a Black conscious sista) and wrote for my school's newspaper. I stopped wearing my hair in braid extensions (I had long since given up on relaxers that just made my hair weak and caused massive breakage but I was still not comfortable with my own natural, highly textured hair) and started to wear it out in an afro. Eventually, I let my hair lock. I stopped wearing my bootie hugging jeans and shirts with plunging necklines and exchanged my "hoochie mama", South Bronx girl look for one that I thought was more befitting an African queen--long skirts, daishikis, and cowry shells. I stopped eating meat and eliminated all animal products from my diet after reading books like Nutricide and becoming convinced that the poisonous food-like substance Black people were eating were actually killing us. Eventually, my politics merged with my spirituality and I started down the path of RastafarI. I wore my headwrap high and could usually be seen with some kind of pin or button declaring my newfound overstanding (understanding) and consciousness. I wanted to repatriate to Africa as soon as possible and leave Babylon to burn.

I wore my politics on my sleeve. I was a rebel and happy to be. It suited me and annoyed and worried the hell out of my parents.

Since leaving college and especially since getting married and having children, I thought I'd become extremely apathetic to politics. I look back at all the posts to this blog and I realize that so very few posts tackle any political issues. When I got married almost five years ago and relocated, I didn't even bother to re-register to vote. Back in college, I may have looked down on this version of Chi-Chi who is not really doing anything to bring about revolution and instead wastes her time blogging. That Chi-Chi would ask, "What about the novel that was to be written by the age of 25 that would be as ground-breaking and provocative as Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart?" She'd ask, " What about repatriation? Shouldn't you already have had a free school built in some remote part of Africa single handedly healing the pain of slavery and colonization?" How is breastfeeding and cloth diapering revolutionary?" she'd sneer, looking down her self-righteous nose and wondering just how, just how did I fall so far out of the struggle? "You ain't even representin' right now . . . where's your headwrap? Where's your red, black and green flag and all your corresponding paraphernalia?" I'd wonder. "You look like an ordinary brainwashed Black person," I'd say, shaking my head in shame and disappointment.

Time (growing up) and the reality of living life has hit and hit hard. Very hard.

But I realize something that has made me feel a lot better about where I am. I'm still not significantly interested in election politics. I don't believe that my vote actually counts on the presidential level and I'm still undecided on if it counts locally. I wasn't registered to vote when my fellow townspeople twice voted down a school budget that would have increased property taxes 8% but that would have also kept interscholastic sports--I'm not sure my vote would have counted to pass the vote as it seems the overwhelming majority voted against it. I can't say I blame them for voting against it either because times are indeed hard and it seems like every day I see a newly boarded house. People are really struggling. What I did realize was that I am intensely interested in the politics that affect women and children, especially women and children of color, on a smaller, day-to-day scale. I've been fortunate to find a few blogs that inform me and and allow me to engage in dialog which as a stay-at-home mom is invaluable. It's often hard to stay current and intellectually sitimulated. when chasing around a 3 year old and a very active 7 month old (hey, the doctor just told me my heart rate is slow which is something they usually see in very athletic people--since I'm the antithesis of an athlete, I must be doing a heck of a lot of running around) and it's even harder to stay intellectually stimulated (I spent about 5 minutes the other day trying to convince Z1 that the orange popsicle was really just as good as the red one and another 2 minutes today trying to convince him to not put his pants on backwards which he did anyway). It's really great to read, learn and feel connected again even if I'm not a visible, outspoken Revolutionary and even if I'm in a sleep-deprived place where I cannot formulate heady, educated, thought-provoking responses to topics that are put forth.

I no longer feel that the revolution is going to be this grand scale event. It's going to happen on a very small scale and may even go unnoticed by those who have willfully blinded their third eye. Gil Scott Heron said it first: The Revolution will not be televised and I posit that you probably won't get an e-mail about it or find it posted about on your favorite message board/blog. The first and most important revolution, after all, begins inside. I feel like my work mothering and being a wife is indeed revolutionary. I'm grateful for these resources that support that.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Where you pee coming from?

So we went to the beach today which Z1 and Z2 absolutely loved. Z1 really enjoys playing with sand and once he got comfortable in the ocean, really enjoyed that too. We had a blast! So much so that both Z1 and Z2 passed out on the way home (around 5 o'clock in the evening) and stayed asleep till 7 AM the next day! Z1 didn't even get up to eat dinner! We were shocked! Now I know what to do if I need a break: wear the boys out by taking them to the beach!

Anyway, Z1 now realizes that he's a boy and is not ashamed to talk about his penis. In public. Luckily he pronounces it "peanuts" so most folks have no idea. He's still allowed in the bathroom with me when I'm showering or dressing and the other day he asked me where my penis was. I told him I don't have one. So we were getting ready to leave the beach and I took him with me so I could wash him up, let him pee and dress him and myself. I had to pee too and did so. He got the most quizzical look on his face and asked me "Where you pee pee coming from, Nam? You butt?" Oh my god . . . I almost fell over! He was so serious too and wanted an answer. I said, "No sweetheart, it comes from my urethra." "Uwetha?" "Yes, darling."

I love having children.
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