White People Wednesday: A Vegan Expat Shares Her Feelings

March 6, 2013
Picture 5Do you own Vegan Cooking for Dummies? No refunds!

The confession letter I would have preferred from vegan expat author Alexandra Jamieson:

•I'm no longer vegan.

•I believe in the good of veganism but I've decided to oblige my cravings for meat.

•The values I have preached can not be reconciled with the violence required to take the life of an animal on my behalf.

•I accept the contradiction.

•I will be donating the royalties from Vegan...for Dummies to Farm Sanctuary in perpetuity.

Instead, her letter hit me with—this is the only description I have—a tsunami of whiteness. A boatload of faux-spiritual, pop psychobabble about her "truth" and happiness, along with an "it's-not-me, it's-my-body" argument to displace any agency in the matter. It's Manifest Destiny, it's eugenics, it's fundamentalist religion—everyone's got God on their side. Except those being preyed upon.

I accept that some people desert. I don't accept the justification. Even if you want to, you can't die on a diet of nutrient-dense natural foods. It can't be the protein or the texture of meat that Jamieson missed—because by all measures those can be replicated and placeboed—I suspect it was the idea, "normal" food culture, and the "forbidden" that was nagging at her.

If, in the wake of her cravings, she had written a public letter in which she confessed her cravings for meat, asked for ideas, or promoted ways to deal, she would have been overwhelmed by the support and compassion she implies her now-critics lack. That level of candidness would have been a better qualifier of the "honesty" Jamieson is being lauded for now. But she didn't decide to keep it real during her cravings for a reason—she really didn't want any advice or encouragement to stay vegan. She wanted to do what she wanted without interference. Same story from dominant classes throughout history—and no amount of soft-spoken, aha-moment, self-congratulatory rhetoric hides it. "Lose the Cravings" by giving in to them?

Food Fighters: Organic Farmer Janet Brown

July 27, 2012

Janet Brown, Allstar Organics

As farmers market geeks, we hit up as many as we can, recently Marin County's Sunday morning market at the Civic Center. I got to chat it up with the regal Janet Brown, co-owner of AllStar Organics, which produces heirloom tomatoes, antique roses, herbs, salts (OMG, the best!!!), and now a line of organic hydrosols and essential oils.

Most flavorful, aromatic salt EVER.

AllStar Organics Hydrosols, www.allstarorganics.com

In Marin, Janet is a pioneer food-fighter—a founding board member of the area's first organic marketing association, Marin Organic, Chair of the Marin Food Policy Council, and former Program Officer for the Center for Ecoliteracy. She was one of few growers who hosted a visit from sustainable agriculture advocate Prince Charles in 2005. Basically, she knows what's up, from the inside out. Whenever I am lucky enough to come into contact with people like her, I dig for the truths the public never gets to hear.

There are various, long-existing organic certification programs. How did the standards of organic certification change when the USDA implemented the national standard in the 1990s?
The USDA National Standard superseded all previous existing organic standards. Today, there is only one, unified, USDA National Organic Rule that covers all aspects of organic production and distribution. All organic certifiers certify to the same standards. The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) is charged with reviewing the current organic rule, and recommending changes and upgrades when necessary. The goal of the USDA Organic Program is to protect and maintain the integrity of United States organic standards to the benefit of the organic farmers, organic consumers, and the USDA Organic Program itself.

May a farmer exceed the USDA standard? What standard does AllStar Organics hold itself up to?
An organic farmer is free to farm in any way that at least meets the standards of the USDA Program. For many, the USDA rule is a floor, not a ceiling. Many organic farmers are operating organic systems that are extraordinarily sophisticated, elegant, smart and mature. Based on their own body of knowledge about crops they farm, their own special conditions, and their own sense of design and aesthetics, their entire enterprise may exceed any formal requirement of the USDA program. Farming is a means of self-expression for the farmer. Examples of this are: returning optimum amounts of organic matter to the soil each year, having a regular mineralization program, improving soil biotic life, using more heirloom and open-pollinated varieties or crops, leaving hedgerows and flowering borders as nectar sources, conserving water whenever possible, diversifying the farming operation, selling more of the harvest directly, opening the farm to the public, etc. Allstar meets the USDA requirements for certification, and, like most organic farmers, we also work hard on those things that we care about, whether or not the rule requires it.

When we see non-certified stands with signs that read "No pesticides" or "No spray, no chemical fertilizers," might their food be as clean as certified organic products, or is this a claim used to distract buyers from other detrimental practices they may be utilizing?
Certified organic farmers go through inspections, pay multiple fees, fill out quite a bit of paperwork, and go through multiple more inspections to prove that they are meeting the USDA requirements in order to be able to call themselves organic. There is no other organic certification. Signs that say, "Certified delicious," "Certified California Grown," "Certified Clean" are attempts to cash in on the obvious value of the organic enterprise. They're really distractions—claims without weight—and end up confusing the shopper at the market. If it matters to you, the organic label is your only real assurance that the food you buy does not contain chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, germination accelerators, waxes, GMOs, irradiation, reconditioned sewage sludge, fungicides, and other contaminates.

What are the most important questions to ask growers to ensure we're buying from the cleanest, most sustainable stands possible?
The organic grower should have a certification document displayed on their stand at the market. You can ask how far away the farm is from you. You can ask about diversity and variety. Taste is always a good indicator of something being done well. Fresh is a critical component to nutrition.

Some people complain that organics are "too expensive" (but we notice they get their nails done every week). Can you explain why purchasing organic products is such a worthy investment?
When you buy organic products, you are supporting a system of production that is designed to avoid harm to the environment. That's good for the food you eat, but also for the air you breathe, the water you drink, and the world you live in. It is possible to eat your values. Simply seek out and choose the food that is produced consistent with the values and ideals you say you support. You can build the food system you want one mouthful at a time. Americans have become accustomed to the price of cheap, subsidized food. The small increase in price for organic represents the true cost of producing the food and bringing it to market. It is an unsubsidized system that is one of the most admirable joint enterprises I know of. The organic system was built between the organic farmers and the eating public, and it is sustainable. NOTE: If you care about organics and GMO-labeling, please support and follow the progress of California's Prop 37, the Right To Know Initiative (Nov. 2012), which will require the labeling of genetically modified foods. If it wins, California will be the first U.S. state to set this precedent...and maybe your state is next?

My 30th Birthday and a Decade of Veganism

June 27, 2012

Image: © Jill Greenberg; www.jillgreenberg.com

Today is my 30th birthday. Let me be honest. It comes on the tail-end of a week which included an unstoppable (though quiet) public meltdown I had at the farmer's market, a good cry at an osteopath's office, the researching of Big Ag plans to bio-wreck Africa, a viewing of One Nation Under Dog, petitioning against military testing in the oceans, and yet one last cry sesh yesterday morning on the last day of my 20s (awesome week for Justin).

But don't feel sorry—the week also included new work, a photo shoot for a new vegan mag, two invitations to speak at large veg fests next year, sunshine, and lots of fresh figs, hummus, peaches, cherries, and zhatar-topped greens. Isn't that life, though, all wonderful and horrible at the same time?

When I think of the lives of my late grandparents who survived the Holocaust, my life is incredibly safe and full of good. The crying is just a release of things I absorb, hold onto, or am polite about when I really want to break glass (if you've seen any of my media clips from the last few months, you probably shouted at your monitors for me). One thing I've learned: as activists, I think it's especially crucial to take time to manage and release all the negative things we read, hear, and see, so that we do not manifestly become the things we are combatting (note to self).

I am deep-down-thankful for this life. I mean it when I say I don't take any of my comforts and joys for granted. It truly occurs to me to feel glad that relatively clean water comes out of the faucet when I turn the handle. There is so much to celebrate and do. And on that tip, this day also marks my embarking on a tenth year of veganism—a little health experiment which began when I was twenty. What essentially started as a dare by my love, Justin (vegan 16 years), has been the greatest and most activating discovery of my life—a gift I'm aware of every day.

Not only has veganism provided me a high-quality of health—true wealth, it has become the basis of a meaningful career (I was never comfortable creating art solely for art's sake), it has pointed me to some of the greatest minds and leaders of our time, and has granted me the company of people with truly golden hearts. Sometimes I can't even believe how good people can be. Most drastically, though, veganism has provided me a clarity about the public realm; it has taught me the profound meaning of political freedom. I feel safeguarded in mind and body against the invisible forces that shape public thinking and behavior. That's power. It is worth it to me to absorb often horrendous realities so that I can more effectively be an agent of change. I owe that to my grandparents.

When I am down—be it for physical, personal, or professional reasons—I keep the animals in mind. We can change our lives any time we want to. We can leave anytime we want to. A cow, a sow, a shelter dog, a rabbit in a pillory can not. Their lives consist of moment-to-moment tormented frustration. Though the social hostility can be burdensome, and change can never come fast enough, I feel privileged to be at work introducing the mainstream to veganism. I believe this movement is affecting every major industry and every corner of the world as we speak and that introducing kids to the idea veganism will eventually revolutionize all aspects of society.

Another thing I've learned: never waste any valuable energy on in-fighting. It's a surefire way to divide and sabotage our own movement. Let's be good to each other as we work. At this point in history, we're all fighting on the same side.

To celebrate my 30th birthday, I am recommitting to my inner Tank Girl, my punk rock idol since adolescence. She's a tank-riding anti-heroine whose mission, along with her posse of animal toys and mutant Kangaroo boyfriend, is to destroy mega-corporations. If this were the Wild West, what a gang we'd all make up, right?!

And since I prefer not to be the center of attention if not for the good of animals, Justin and I will just celebrate just the two of us by going to a respected rabbi's talk on moral psychology—always inspiring, and then drive to Santa Monica for a raw food lunch and a stop at the beach. It seems the right place to set intentions and goals...like if you tell the ocean, then it's for real, you'd better keep your word. After that, back to work—professional and personal. Thank you for believing in me and for being part of the Wild West posse I imagine has my back. I've got yours. Stay tuned, more to come.