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Jul. 2nd, 2015 04:08 pm New blog host [sticky post]

After nearly twelve years on LiveJournal, I've decided to move my primary blog hosting to my own site, funcrunch.org. I'm not deleting my LJ account, and I'll link to new entries from here, at least for the time being. But you might want to bookmark the new site, and/or plug it into your favorite RSS feed reader for convenience.

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Jul. 2nd, 2015 04:12 pm the funcrunch files: Welcome, and thoughts on marriage equality

The first post on my new blog is about the recent Supreme Court decision on marriage equality. Please leave comments there, thanks!


Jun. 19th, 2015 05:13 pm Pope Francis is no ally of mine

by Pax Ahimsa Gethen

It seems every time Pope Francis, the current head of the Catholic Church, suggests that we might not want to torture or outright kill people who don't look or act like us, progressives fall all over each other to embrace him as an ally. Saying "If someone is gay and seeks the Lord with good will, who am I to judge?" landed him on the cover of The Advocate as "Person of the Year". And now, saying "It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly" has garnered the praise of animal rights organizations, and even the "Abolitionist Approach" vegan anti-welfarist Gary Francione.

Let's look behind the curtain at what this man is really about. As head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis supports equal rights for one and only one category of people: Straight cisgender monogamous human males. He does not support reproductive rights for women (or anyone with a female-assigned reproductive system). He does not support same-sex marriage. He does not support gender transition. He does not support anyone other than straight cisgender men taking leadership roles in the Catholic Church.

In these regards, he is no different from any other Pope before him. Many individual Catholics feel differently, but it is the Pope specifically who is being praised by LGB and animal rights organizations. And as a queer trans person, I cannot tolerate this hypocrisy. This Pope, like all other Popes before him, is unapologetically sexist, heterosexist, cissexist, and speciesist.

I chose the words "heterosexist" and "cissexist" rather than the more familiar "homophobic" and "transphobic" to highlight that I don't necessarily believe Pope Francis hates or is afraid of LGBT people. But whether he loves us or hates us is irrelevant; he is oppressing us. He makes theism, celibacy (in the case of gays and lesbians), and non-transition (in the case of trans people) prerequisites to his acceptance of us as worthy humans. Having compassion for someone and not outright condemning them is not allyship. If the Pope - or anyone else - does not support full and equal rights for all people regardless of gender or sexual orientation, he is not an ally.

In animal rights terms, the Pope's language about "needless" suffering and dying is a welfarist smokescreen unless he follows it with a clear declaration that animals are not property for humans to enslave and kill for their flesh, eggs, milk, or any other purpose. Again here, it does not matter whether or not the Pope truly loves animals. I disagree with those who say that you cannot simultaneously love animals and be non-vegan. It is entirely possible, sadly, for someone to love an animal and still believe it is OK to enslave and kill them, because we live in a deeply speciesist society.

What matters is the perspective of the victim: The animal who is suffering and dying. And all farmed animals suffer and die needlessly, regardless of whether they are imprisoned in a factory farm or a backyard. As long as animals are considered the property of humans, this will not change, no matter how many encyclicals the Catholic Church releases talking about the value of animals in the eyes of the Lord. It is lip service, it is political, it is empty. "Humane" farming is the ultimate betrayal, visible in the terrified eyes of every fish, pig, chicken, calf, and lamb whose throat is slit for their flesh, skin, eggs, milk, or wool. Animal farming itself is, indeed, "needless". But you won't hear that from the Vatican.

I don't want to hear about baby steps. Humans who make purchasing decisions are adults, not babies, and don't need a religious figurehead to decide for them whether or not to enslave and kill animals for their meals, clothing, and entertainment. As a queer black trans human who seeks total animal liberation, the Pope is no ally of mine.

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Jun. 15th, 2015 01:27 pm Why gender is not black and white

by Pax Ahimsa Gethen

Since Caitlyn Jenner revealed her new name and appearance on the cover of Vanity Fair two weeks ago, the Internet has been teeming with conversations about gender. And now, with the revelation that a white woman named Rachel Dolezal has been masquerading as black and heading a local NAACP chapter, people are asking why, if a person can be transgender, there can't be "transracial" people as well.

As a black trans person, these conversations - and the accompanying cissexism, racism, and transmisogyny - have given me no end of grief. But I can't just shut off the Internet to avoid this issue, because being black and trans is my life. And I feel obliged to weigh in on the conversation, which is being dominated by cisgender and white voices. (Though one of the best responses I have seen thus far is from a black trans woman, Kat Blaque; I encourage you to watch it. Text transcript included.)

Like Barack Obama, I have one black parent and one white parent. When given the space and opportunity, I do mention that I am mixed-race. But like our president and many, if not most, other US-American folks in my situation, I normally simply identify as black. Why not white?

I have brown skin. I was born with it, and I will die with it. This is not something I can change, nor do I wish to.

It isn't a matter of identifying with black culture or history in my case. It is recognizing that every time I show my face, I am seen as a person of color. Though not always black; given my facial features and hair texture, I have been mistaken for Latin@ or other ethnicities on occasion. But it is clear to most viewers that I am not white.

This matters because of racial profiling. Whether I go shopping at a department store, or go for a job interview, or even post a photo on an online dating site, people are going to look at my skin and make decisions about me, whether they're conscious of it or not. And those decisions are going to affect my life and well-being.

Let's contrast that with my gender. I was not born female. I was born a baby, and assigned a sex of female. This means that someone at the hospital looked between my legs and wrote "F" on my birth certificate, based on what they saw.

The hospital where I was born did not likely inspect my body for a uterus or ovaries. They did not likely do a genetic test to see whether I had XX or XY chromosomes. They assigned me female, and thus implicitly declared that I would grow up to be a woman, solely based on the presence of a vulva and the absence of testes and a suitably-long penis. (The penis and clitoris form from the same tissue. The difference between an intersex* baby getting to keep their genitals intact versus being submitted to nonconsensual surgery can be a matter of millimeters.)

While my skin color has not and will not change**, I will not die in the same body I was born in. None of us will. No one is born with visible breasts, facial hair, a deep voice, or any of the other secondary sex characteristics that may or may not develop at puberty. No one is born with a propensity to wear dresses or makeup, to talk over others or take up more space, or any of the other myriad clothing choices, mannerisms, and hobbies that make up the nebulous, multi-dimensional space we refer to as "gender".

It took me over forty years to realize that I was not a woman, because when I was growing up I had no transmasculine or non-binary role models. I thought that you were either a man or a woman, boy or girl, and that was it. I was dimly aware of the existence of trans women, but thought that to be one meant getting surgery and dressing and acting in a stereotypically-feminine way. And so I thought being a trans man, once I became aware that such people even existed, meant top surgery or breast binding, dressing in button-down shirts and ties, and adopting all the problematic mannerisms and attitudes associated with stereotypical masculinity.

I had no frame of reference for being what I now realize that I am: A person who identifies with no gender, yet desires the primary sex characteristics associated with maleness. If I could trade my vulva for a "fully functional" penis without expensive, risky surgery, I would do so in a heartbeat. I may someday have my uterus and ovaries removed, but for now I am content with testosterone therapy.

A transgender person does not actually change their gender. They may change any or all of their name, preferred pronouns, and appearance to better conform with their internal sense of self. Yet a transgender person who does none of these things is still trans, as long as they do not identify with the gender corresponding with the binary sex they were assigned at birth.

Just as trans women do not transition to female in order to take over (cis) women's spaces, I did not transition to male in order to gain male privilege. Transitioning is revealing our authentic selves. It is taking control of our own identities in a world that insists on linking behavior, preferences, and even intelligence to body parts. A world that ignores that people of all genders have breasts. A world that ignores the substantial amount of variation in sex chromosomes. A world that sees nothing but M and F, X and Y.

A world that links Rachel Dolezal to Caitlyn Jenner isn't much evolved from the world I grew up in as a child of the 70s and 80s, recognizing only one narrative of transness: A male-assigned person transitioning into a conventionally feminine-presenting woman. And thus the "transracial" controversy is falsely reduced to one comparing privilege: White vs black, male vs female. It's a false equivalence because, apart from interracial adoptions (the original, valid origin of the term "transracial"), the folks claiming this "transracial" identity are almost invariably white.

Rachel Dolezal was not born with brown skin, or curly/kinky hair, nor did she grow up with those racial identifiers. She can revert to her white skin and straight hair at any time. Dolezal's expression of affinity for black culture does not make her black identity valid, any more than a white person dressing in a kimono and doing a traditional dance can claim to be Japanese. This is not identity, this is cultural appropriation.

The real harm of this story is that it's distracting from really important issues facing black and trans people alike. Police violence, suicides, poverty, health care, job discrimination - all swept aside by a conversation about one white woman heading a local NAACP chapter and another white woman on the cover of a magazine. Can we please stop talking about Rachel Dolezal and Caitlyn Jenner, and work on actually fixing society?


* I am not, to my knowledge, intersex. I include this information because the cisnormative narrative that there are exactly two "opposite" sexes dominates and excludes a substantial percentage of humans.

** Unless I contract a condition like vitiligo, which Michael Jackson suffered from. Please don't cite this black man - who never claimed to be anything else - as an example of someone "transitioning to white".

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Feb. 2nd, 2015 04:32 pm Race report: Kaiser Permanente Half Marathon

It seems I only use LiveJournal for blogging about racing nowadays. I've been much more active (too active, really) on Facebook on other topics.

My work at the Free Farm Stand still takes priority on Sundays, but occasionally I will take a day off for a race. We had a hiatus in late December - early January so I did a couple of races then. I already wrote about the 10K. The 5K was on January 11 and went well; though I didn't (quite) set a PR, I came in at 29:28 (9:29 min/mi) which is my fastest DSE 5K to date. I still count the Run Evan In virtual as my 5K PR (28:35) even though it was a solo effort.

So sometime after Beat the Blerch I decided to sign up for another half marathon. I'd last run Kaiser on my 43rd birthday, two years ago. Ziggy was out of town then. This time we decided to run it together. He'd already run another half marathon in the interim as well as a sprint triathlon, eclipsing my own athletic skills quickly.

I'd been suffering from recurring illness and fatigue for a month starting on Christmas, so I barely trained for this race. I almost canceled, but after managing a nine mile run a week before the race, figured I could struggle through it. I certainly wasn't planning on a PR though.

So yesterday (Feb 1) we arrived at Golden Gate Park in plenty of time for the 8 a.m. start. It was a cool morning, mid 50s. I wore a tank top, long-sleeved shirt (from the 2013 Kaiser race), shorts, gloves, and a jacket which I took off just before the start. I set my watch for 5 min/1 min run/walk intervals. My calf was tight and I was tired, but I still managed to run the first mile in 10:40 without a great deal of effort. I knew I couldn't maintain that pace, but still managed to run the next four miles at around 11 min each and mile six in under 10.

I noticed soon that my watch was announcing the mile markers a good distance before I got to them. I figured I was weaving around people on the road too much, and tried to stay closer to the right side. We got out to the Great Highway and I tried to watch for Ziggy coming the other way (knowing he'd be well ahead of me), but eventually gave up and enjoyed the ocean view. The sun had come out by then, but I was not overheating (though glad I had decided to wear shorts rather than long pants). Ziggy did eventually call out to me and I waved.

I was slowing down, and by mile 10 running out of steam, not surprising as I had not trained beyond nine miles. (Normally I prefer to get up to at least the race distance two weeks before the event.) I remembered that I had not eaten any of the dates I brought with me, and had one to try to get my energy up. I was still on pace to set a PR, as incredible as that seemed given my lack of training, but I now have typically-male testosterone levels and I can really tell the difference.

The last mile was the hardest. I knew it would be close. My left leg was hurting and I was really getting tired, but I knew how disappointed I'd be if I missed setting a PR by just a few seconds. I stopped looking at my watch after it sounded mile 13 and just hoped for the best. I did not even have the energy to do my usual finishing sprint, just maintained pace as best I could.

And I did it! I crossed the finish line in 2:22:48, for a pace of 10:55 min/mile, beating my previous PR (set at Beat the Blerch in September) by nearly two minutes. With proper training I bet I could have shaved even more time off, but I was just happy to be finished, as that was the hardest final mile in recent memory. Ziggy also set a PR, coming in at 2:09:40.

We had a delicious dinner at Sanctuary Bistro to celebrate. I'm still tired and sore today, but happy I made the effort.

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Dec. 31st, 2014 03:14 pm Year in review - 2014

Starting on testosterone therapy and subsequently getting a legal change of name and gender were my most important events of 2014 (and indeed, probably of my life to date). As for the rest, I'll follow the same format I've used in previous year-end summaries.

Work

I decided this year (with the support and agreement of boyziggy) to devote my life to volunteer work in food justice, and not return to paid employment. Accordingly, I increased my volunteer duties at the Free Farm Stand, taking over the responsibility for leading setup on Sunday mornings, creating and hosting a vegan information table, and beginning to contribute to the blog on our web site. I also began volunteering at the nearby All In Common Garden and at Alemany Farm.

Related to social justice, I began volunteering with Direct Action Everywhere (also known as DxE) this year. While primarily working for animal liberation, DxE is an intersectional, grass-roots organization which speaks out on behalf of all oppressed. I've taken photographs at DxE demonstrations, attended and presented at meetings, and have contributed several essays to the blog, The Liberationist. I'll write more about DxE in a future entry.

I did no paid photography work this year and made virtually no sales, and am still deciding whether or not to formally shut down Funcrunch Photo as a business.

Music

In January I sang for a fun project, a 45-person collaborative song written by Jonathan Mann: On The Internet. That month I also started a cover-song-a-week project to monitor changes to my voice on testosterone, but unfortunately abandoned this in March, which is too bad as this year saw significant changes to my vocal range.

I sang in four concerts with the Lesbian/Gay Chorus of San Francisco. For our "Love Bites" Valentine's Day cabaret, I staged "This Plum Is Too Ripe" from The Fantastiks and sang a male lead part for the first time. In April and June I got to sing great jazz classics with a big band for our "Swing Break" concert and outreach gig. In June I sang in our Annual Pride Concert which featured the world premiere of a tribute to Nelson Mandela, and the West Coast premiere of a wonderful piece based on an interview with Maurice Sendak, "I Am In Love With The World".

I left the chorus in June, and my singing voice deteriorated soon after. I'm considering re-starting private voice lessons to get the middle part of my range (marked in red on this screenshot) back. I haven't played piano or bass much since leaving the chorus either, unfortunately.

Health/Fitness

I've now been on testosterone nearly a full year, and have suffered few side effects. I've been reasonably healthy, other than my traditional nasty December cold which I've been suffering from for the past week. My weight and waistline began and ended the year at 119 lbs (BMI 20.4) and approximately 27 inches, respectively, with very little fluctuation in-between.

I haven't been consistent with my formal workouts this year, though I've been getting some additional exercise through my volunteer gardening work. I did run two 5Ks (one with DSE, one virtual), one 10K, and one half-marathon this year, and set PRs at all of these distances. This marked the first year that I officially began racing as male.

Social

I've made numerous new friends from my involvement in animal liberation, especially through DxE as they're headquartered in Oakland. I haven't sought any new intimate relationships and have done very little dating this year, though I did start a new OKCupid profile to see what it was like to date as a queer trans male. (In keeping with the policy I established last year, I won't write about any relationships with people other than boyziggy, even friendslocked.)

Looking forward

Except for Spanish (which I have been more diligent about studying this year, thanks to DuoLingo), I can pretty much copy and paste my words from last year's write-up:


I once again failed to accomplish my Big Three goals I've had for the last two years: "Making music every day, working out on a regular basis, and (re-)learning Spanish." (Well, I was definitely working out on a regular basis through June at least.) And I didn't even come close to my goal of getting rid of at least a third of my stuff. Gender angst almost completely took over my brain from Spring onward [...]


Fortunately, I have made some recent breakthroughs in therapy that might help me get through this slump. Regardless, I'm not making any new resolutions for next year as my goals remain the same. Here's hoping for a more productive 2015.

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Dec. 21st, 2014 12:45 pm Race report: DSE Aquatic Park 10K

It seems that since VeganMofo 2014 ended I haven't been interested in blogging here much. I have been quite active on Facebook and have been blogging for the Free Farm Stand and Direct Action Everywhere, which I'll write about separately. But for now, here's a race report.

Despite my previous entry extolling the virtues of running, I haven't been running much lately. Holiday blues and distractions have left me listless and fatigued. But boyziggy really wanted to do another race together, and as the Free Farm Stand is on hiatus for a few weeks, I have a few free Sundays. Today's DSE 10K at Aquatic Park fit the bill perfectly, as it was within easy walking distance and I didn't have to do any serious training for that distance.

Unfortunately I did virtually no training, went to bed in a bad mood and didn't fall asleep until after 2 a.m. So when Ziggy got up at 7 I initially told him I didn't think I could do the race. But by 7:30 I was out of bed, doing my morning stretches and hungry enough for breakfast, so I figured I might as well get out and run. Ziggy left early to get in a swim as part of an informal triathlon effort. I followed later, arriving around 8:40 for the 9 a.m. start.

I was nervous upon approaching the registration desk, as this would be my first DSE race officially signed up as male. Previous attempts to race without specifying my sex convinced me that I should consent to be binary for racing purposes, especially now that I've been on testosterone for nearly a full year. As I signed my name on the waiver sheet, the volunteer handed me a white (male) tag and then took a closer look at me and started to apologize and take it back. I said, emphatically, "No, white is correct." But I felt extremely self-conscious, as even dressed in a jacket I felt my breasts were screaming "female" to all those assembled, especially those who knew me pre-transition.

As it turned out, only a couple of club members (including the day's race director) recognized me, and I didn't strike up many conversations. I was glad when we took off. The weather was cool and overcast, and though it wasn't raining, there were many large puddles which I tried to avoid, as I was wearing my open-mesh shoes. I told Ziggy he'd probably finish at least 15 minutes ahead of me, as I was under-trained and sleep-deprived. I figured I was running at about 11 minute pace, somewhat faster than my usual six-mile route which normally has a lot of traffic stops. But I completed mile one in 10:17.

Assuming I wouldn't get anywhere near a PR, I continued cruising along, surprising myself every time I looked down at my watch and saw that I was exceeding 10 minute pace, and passing people. I really didn't feel like I was putting in much effort at all. This was consistent with my latest 5K race experience; running a full minute faster per mile with no noticeable increase in effort. Thank you, testosterone!

On this flat, scenic course, I tried to keep my mind off my various troubling thoughts and my eyes on the scenery rather than on the puddles and my watch. I was rewarded with the rare sight of an enormous pelican, preening her feathers. I didn't see too many other birds, unfortunately.

The last mile featured a short uphill climb, so I tried to make up for it by running faster down the hill near the finish, but the pavement was wet so I checked my speed, afraid of skidding and falling. I still managed a sprint to the finish line, passing another runner with just a few meters to go. I finished with an unofficial time of 1:01:34, which I realized right away, and confirmed later, was a new PR. Wow! Ziggy also set a PR of 52:58, even more impressive as he had just done a half-mile swim in the cold water (and soon after the race, took off on a bike ride).



Really glad I dragged myself out of bed for this race; great way to end the season (the Winter Solstice is a couple of hours from now). I miss racing, and wish my volunteer work didn't conflict, but it's just too important to miss. I'll just have to push myself to greater achievements on my everyday runs.

ETA Dec 23: My official finishing time was 1:01:33, but the official race distance was only 6.1 miles (short of a 10K by .1 mile). I think I can still count it as a PR as my mile pace was faster (by a second per mile) than my previous 10K PR. Though being another DSE race, that was also not a certified distance so may have been either shorter or longer than 6.2 miles also. *shrug*

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Nov. 3rd, 2014 11:12 am Running for love, running to live

I posted in September about my great experience at the Beat the Blerch half-marathon. What I didn't post about, and didn't find out about until days later, is that a young, apparently healthy man, Evan Sebenius, died running the half-marathon on the second day of this event. Often when this sort of tragedy occurs, an undiagnosed heart condition is to blame. The family hasn't released autopsy results, but did note that Evan had prepared diligently for the event, even hiring a personal trainer.

The running community rallied and created a fundraiser to cover funeral expenses. Within hours, the initial target had been well exceeded, including a $10,000 donation from the race creator, Matthew Inman aka The Oatmeal. The grateful family announced that they would use the funds to finish building a family orchard, and donate the produce to local food banks. I had already contributed a few dollars before hearing this, but was very happy to learn of these plans.

A 5K memorial run in Evan's honor was also set up for Sunday, November 2. I ran it virtually, along the Embarcadero in San Francisco. I had posted about it to the event page, but didn't really expect anyone to join me, given the conflict with the US Half Marathon and the fact that I needed to start at 7:30 in order to get to my regular volunteer shift in time. Despite having spent the entire previous week at home with a bad cold, I gave it my all, and finished with a personal record: 28:35, running the third mile in 8:59, another milestone. Running nine-minute miles now feels like running ten-minute miles used to. Certainly the testosterone helps, but I wouldn't be able to run that fast without training.

Running is a necessity to me. It isn't a chore that I do reluctantly like washing the dishes or paying bills. Challenging my heart and lungs and legs while exposed to the elements makes me feel alive. I could never get this feeling on a treadmill in front of a TV monitor. Inman writes about this in his book, The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances, which I highly recommend. No one has to run an ultra-marathon or even a 10K to get a runner's high, but if you hate running and you've never run more than a mile, you haven't really given it a fair chance.

Of course, some people have orthopedic injuries or live in dangerous areas or have other perfectly valid reasons to work out on specialized equipment. Brisk walking on a treadmill is certainly better than no exercise at all. Regardless, being sedentary is far more of a risk than the very remote possibility that you'll drop dead of a heart attack at mile 12 of a 13 mile race. All of us who rallied for Evan understood this. We love to run, we run to live.

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Sep. 30th, 2014 10:14 am VeganMofo 2014 #20 - Let our garden grow



We've come to the end of another VeganMofo. I haven't been as enthused about participating this year because I think my goals, diet, and attitude are too different from those of the organizers and the majority of the participants. The daily round-up posts and giveaways have focused largely on vegan versions of animal-based foods, especially cheeses, and packaged products.

As I've mentioned previously, I don't think there's anything inherently unethical about eating plant-based substitutes for dairy and flesh, but they are not my focus. Many are expensive, not widely available, and not particularly healthy. And even some "naturally" vegan products, like dark chocolate and palm oil, may be produced in ways that are particularly damaging to farm workers, animals, and the environment.

I love my volunteer work in gardening because I get to see and interact directly with the bounty of the Earth in its natural state. At the 23rd Street Garden, the first thing I do when I arrive is walk around under the trees looking for avocados. This Saturday I found 30 of them! And those were just the completely undamaged ones; there are always more that aren't quite good enough to hand out to our garden visitors or Free Farm Stand guests, but still have edible parts.



In addition to our trees bearing avocados, chestnuts, pears, apples, and persimmons, we're growing potatoes, greens, and lots of herbs. And then there are the raspberry bushes. It's a treasure trove of beauty and color.



One favorite tradition we've carried over from the Free Farm, which closed in December, is having a free vegan lunch for our volunteers. We often join hands in a circle and go around and say our names, express gratitude, then pass around bowls of homemade soup, stew, pasta, rice and beans, or other simple, hearty food. There's always a salad (usually not as fancy as the one above) featuring produce from local gardens and/or Alemany Farm, and often bread and fruit as well. I would seriously rather sit outside sharing this food with like-minded people than eat at a fancy vegan restaurant. Even if the latter were also free.

Not everyone has the space or time to plant a garden, but we really encourage more people to get directly involved with their food, even if it's just growing herbs in a pot on a windowsill. Many cities have community gardens, and many small farms offer produce through CSA - community supported agriculture - boxes you can pick up or have delivered to your home.

When it comes down to it, for me at least, ethical veganism is not a diet. It's a commitment to ending the exploitation of the vulnerable, human and non-human alike. Food is only a part of that mission, but it is an important part. My food justice work is a means to bring plant-based food, plus knowledge of vegan nutrition and cooking, to everyone. For more work in that area, I highly recommend checking out the Food Empowerment Project.

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Sep. 29th, 2014 10:04 am VeganMofo 2014 #19 - "Fried" rice, and a lesson in label reading



"Fried" rice, made with vegetables sauteed in vegetable broth rather than oil, is a staple meal at my home. I always make large amounts of brown rice at a time so that I have leftovers available for this and other dishes. I got the original recipe from The McDougall Quick and Easy Cookbook, which calls for either instant or leftover brown rice, plus soy sauce, fresh ginger, garlic, and vegetables. I usually include broccoli and add either cashews or diced extra-firm tofu. In the dish pictured above, I used homemade tempeh gifted to me from a friend, and the same brown and wild rice blend I used in the Jeffburgers I posted previously.

For years, I've used reduced-sodium tamari instead of soy sauce. This condiment is not low in sodium, however, containing 700 mg per serving. I decided this had no place in an SOS-free diet, so tried Bragg's liquid aminos, which are salt-free, as a replacement. I was concerned that Bragg's wasn't organic, meaning that the soybeans might be GMO, but figured I'd use up what I had until I figured out a better replacement.

Upon further reading of the label however, I realized that these aminos, despite being salt-free, are even higher in sodium than the tamari I was using. The amount of sodium listed is 160 mg per serving, but a serving size is only 1/2 teaspoon. The 700 mg per serving of reduced-sodium tamari is for one tablespoon. Very sneaky! It would be quite easy to be fooled into thinking this is a low-sodium alternative when it is clearly not.

This called to mind a great video featuring Jeff Novick, which exposes the lie of "fat-free" oil sprays, which are 100% fat and have a serving size of "1/3 second spray". While searching for that video, I happened to come across another one by him that says exactly what I just wrote about soy sauce above.



Read those labels, folks!

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Sep. 26th, 2014 08:34 pm VeganMofo 2014 #18 - Jeffburgers



As I mentioned in a previous entry, I've never been a fan of traditional veggie burgers. That's why I like the bean patties pictured above, made by nutritionist Jeff Novick. They're a healthy and satisfying blend of kidney beans, rolled oats, brown rice, salsa (or ketchup or BBQ sauce), and spices.

This dish is one of a selection of simple recipes that Jeff has published on his Facebook page. He probably has posted them on the McDougall forums somewhere too, so non-Facebook users can find them. They are all designed to be very inexpensive and quick to make, as well as nutritious and low in salt and sugar (none contain oil).

The ingredient lists and instructions for some of these recipes may frustrate some with their imprecision. These burgers, for example, don't specify what seasoning to use or how long to cook them. As I'm becoming a better cook, I find that I like the flexibility of choosing to make the recipe a little different each time. This time I used a Cajun seasoning blend from the Everyday Happy Herbivore cookbook, a blend of brown and wild rices, and homemade ketchup from Straight Up Food (as I said in my last burgers and fries post, I was looking for an excuse to use it again!).

After chilling overnight as instructed, I baked them in the toaster oven at 350F for 10 minutes on each side, and later reheated them in the microwave for about a minute. As with the previous burgers, I simply ate these with a fork, as patties, with a vegetable side (broccoli in this case). boyziggy really likes these burgers, so I'll probably be making them more often.

This kind of food isn't fancy or terribly exciting. But per The Pleasure Trap, we shouldn't expect every meal to be an amazing taste sensation. Healthy, hearty, inexpensive grains and beans are the foundation for feeding a hungry world.

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Sep. 25th, 2014 06:32 pm VeganMofo 2014 #17 - Colcannon



From Happy Herbivore Abroad, a traditional Irish dish of mashed potatoes and cabbage. The author, Lindsay, adds parsley, mustard, and nondairy milk (I used soy).

The first time I made this dish, with green cabbage, it was delicious, and boyziggy and I snarfed it down quickly. The second time I made it, with purple-red cabbage (pictured), it didn't taste nearly as good. But I believe it's because I didn't steam the cabbage long enough; the texture was way too crunchy. (The color of cabbage wasn't specified in this recipe.)

Cabbage is a vegetable that I want to include a lot more of in my diet: It's cheap, tasty, nutritious, and versatile. In addition to this dish, I've made a couple of great SOS-free recipes from Straight Up Food using cabbage. I'll post one soon.

ETA 9/29 - since it's near the end of VeganMofo and I haven't gotten to all the recipe posts I'd planned, here are quick links to the SOS-free cabbage recipes from Straight Up Food: Creamy Coleslaw and Cabbage Salad with Dijon-Lime Dressing.

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Sep. 24th, 2014 09:29 am VeganMofo 2014 #16 - Vegan in Seattle



I'm behind in my VeganMofo blogging as we were out of town for a few days, and I was trying to spend more time away from the computer than in front of it. (The unreliable WiFi at our hotel helped in that regard.) This post will deviate from my SOS-free theme to talk about the food boyziggy and I had in the very vegan-friendly city of Seattle.

I'd already visited Seattle several times, so knew that there were numerous vegan-friendly restaurants. What I hadn't realized is how many 100% vegan restaurants the city now featured. We went to five vegan restaurants and a vegan grocery store, and there are even more vegan restaurants that we didn't visit on this trip.

First up, though, was a vegetarian (not vegan) restaurant that I've been to on every trip to Seattle, with and without Ziggy: Cyber-Dogs. This tiny Internet cafe has veggie dogs (all can be made vegan) and lots of vintage posters and kitsch. I had a chili dog, which ended up being too spicy for me. But it was still fun, and I enjoyed beating Ziggy at the tabletop Ms. Pac-Man.

Then we went to Whole Foods to get breakfast items and snacks, as our hotel had a kitchenette (mini-frig not stocked with booze, sink, and microwave). Here's the one place I mostly stuck to being SOS-free, as I got plain oatmeal, peanut butter, bananas, dates, and unsweetened almond milk. But I did end up going back to drinking black tea (with sugar) for this trip unfortunately, as I got no sleep the first night and little the second, and had an important race. (We switched hotel rooms after the first night to get away from the noisy street level.)

The next day we went to Wayward Vegan Cafe, which a local resident had noted was not only all vegan but vegan-operated as well. (We got into a lengthy discussion about this on Facebook, as he insisted a vegan restaurant should only hire vegans. Ziggy and I, and others, strongly disagreed.) The food was excellent; I had the biscuits and gravy, pictured above.

This café appeared to be in a vegan-centric part of the city (University district), as just across the street was another vegan restaurant, Pizza Pi, and a vegan grocery store, Vegan Haven. If I'd known about the latter, I would have stocked up on groceries there instead of Whole Foods for sure. We still bought a bunch of snacks and other things, including beeswax-free lip balm which I'd been looking for for awhile. I also had to pick up a copy of this magazine (free) from the pig sanctuary that Vegan Haven benefits; the issue featured Ziggy's namesake on the cover.



From Pizza Pi, we got vegan pizza for dinner, and had leftovers for lunch the following day.



Another great place we visited was Black Coffee Vegan Co-op, which definitely seems oriented toward counter-culture and revolutionary types. Lots of books, board games, and zines. I got a strawberry-peach scone and a pumpkin spice chai.



We also visited Plum Cafe, which was close walking distance from our hotel. I got a kale salad (which was large enough for two meals) and brownie, but didn't take a photo. We'd planned to go to the full-service restaurant, Plum Bistro, as well, but they didn't take reservations for two people and the waiting time on a Saturday night was too long. We went to Veggie Grill instead, where we also got take-out to eat at the airport on the way back.

Finally, I took the opportunity to leave some business cards and bookmarks from The Abolitionist Vegan Society at several of the restaurants we visited, including the vegan-friendly Plant Café at SFO where we ate at the beginning and end of our trip.



It was great to see all the vegan restaurants in Seattle. I hope we can have more of these, and even better, a vegan grocery store, in San Francisco.

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Sep. 21st, 2014 08:31 am Race report: Beat the Blerch half marathon



This week, boyziggy and I traveled to Seattle to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary (a week early) by running our first half-marathon together: Beat the Blerch. We scheduled two days on either side of the race day, Saturday, to relax and enjoy the area. (I'll write more about the rest of the trip in a future entry.)

Friday we went to Road Runner Sports to pick up our race packets and get an autographed book from Matthew Inman, aka The Oatmeal. We arrived mid-afternoon and were able to get our race packets immediately, but the line for autographs was extremely long. We weren't in a hurry, so Ziggy shopped and did test runs in shoes while I stood in line. I had a great conversation with the woman behind me, a local who was also a running enthusiast and the same age as me.

After 2 1/2 hours (!) I reached the front of the line. Matt not only signed my book but drew a quick picture! I assume he did that for everyone, and must have had hand cramps by the end. Not only that but he would be racing on both Saturday and Sunday, and signing merchandise there as well!

Race day arrived, and we left early for the 40-minute drive (in a Zipcar) from Seattle to Carnation. It was foggy and in the 50s, but the weather forecast said the sun would emerge and the temperature soar later, so I didn't want to over-dress. I wore shorts, an undershirt, and my No Meat Athlete tech tee, and didn't bother with a jacket. Ziggy forgot his jacket, and was most freezing and quite unconvinced at my assurances that he would be quickly warm up.



We started right on time, 9:30 a.m. (quite late for a race, but befitting fans of The Oatmeal). The marathon runners had already started at 9 a.m. I'd lined up in the back (there were pace signs, but the slowest was 9 min/mile), as I didn't expect to run a fast race. I had no time goal, but thought it would be nice to at least average 12 min/mile. I vaguely remembered my half-marathon PR, at my birthday race last year, being 2:26-something, but had no expectation of beating that as I hadn't been training that hard. Ziggy had never done a race of this length, and we agreed to run separately so we could each go at our own pace.

The going was slow in the beginning, as the path wasn't that wide and I had trouble passing people. I also had trouble getting to the right side of the road and out of people's way for my walking break (I did my usual 5 min run, 1 min walk intervals). I finished the first mile in 11:44. But I was grateful for the slow pace so that I could enjoy the beautiful scenery. The race went through a forest on a trail, which had a few rocky places in the first mile but otherwise was quite smooth and flat, an ideal running surface.

The race featured several people dressed up as "the blerch", a fat cherubic creature taunting us with demotivational phrases. Slow down, walk, have some cake... There was also a sasquatch hanging out at the mile three aid station. He was behind a tree when I first saw him; on the way back, he was sitting on a couch posing with people for photos. Each aid station also featured Nutella and birthday cake, neither of which I ate (being vegan, and also not wanting to throw up). I stuck to Medjool dates and water.

I so enjoyed this run, I was going faster in the second half of the race than in the first. I had some soreness in my left hip but no other pain. In the last couple of miles I really picked up speed. I had only looked at my pace at each mile marker, but after mile 12 I saw that I was at 2:14:05 and realized I might actually be able to get a PR. So I cut out the walking breaks and just ran. I actually ran mile 13 in 9:15, which for me is almost unheard of. Of course, I haven't done much fast running since going on testosterone, so that's certainly a factor, but the ideal race conditions really helped.



I sprinted to the finish and indeed got my PR, by a full two minutes, finishing in 2:24:36. Even more surprising, I ended up in the middle of the pack: 400 out of 949 overall, 193 out of 344 males, 36 out of 70 for males 40-49. I expected to fare much worse in my first race signed up as a male, but Oatmeal fans are not really known for their athletic prowess. It's also possible more of the fast people ended up in Sunday's race, which is identical to Saturday's (Sunday was the original race day, but he added a second day of events when it sold out in under 30 minutes).

(ETA, Sep 22: Official results have now been posted. My finishing time is unchanged, but the field of official finishers is smaller and thus my place in the pack is a bit lower, which makes sense.)

Ziggy finished in 2:04:16, really great for his first half-marathon. We were both very happy with this race, and hope to run more destination races together.

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Sep. 19th, 2014 09:16 pm VeganMofo 2014 #15 - PB banana rollups



I mentioned in my previous entry that I've been attempting to use corn tortillas as an SOS-free bread substitute. Here's one example. A snack I've been enjoying very frequently in recent years is an open-faced peanut butter and banana sandwich. Normally I'd simply spread peanut butter on a slice of whole wheat bread, top with banana slices, sprinkle with cinnamon, and add a small squirt of agave.

When I started going SOS-free, at first I left out the agave and switched to salt-free peanut butter. But the few SOS-free breads I found were not at all tasty. I thought I'd have to give up my favorite snack. Then I decided to try warming a corn tortilla (or actually two halves of one, as my whole bag of tortillas managed to split in the middle) and roll up the bananas, peanut butter, and cinnamon that way.

It was... not bad. I actually imagined someone who was not SOS-free could try inserting a popsicle stick and deep-frying these. Or maybe they would need to roll the bananas in corn masa batter first. Sort of vegan banana corn dogs? Not to give anyone ideas....

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Sep. 18th, 2014 10:03 am VeganMofo 2014 #14 - Burgers and fries



I've never been much of a fan of veggie burgers. I ate burgers all the time before I went vegetarian (and later vegan), but the taste of the beef itself was never the big selling factor. As with hot dogs, I liked the form factor: A patty on a bun, convenient and fun to eat. As I found more and more tasty foods that did not resemble animal products either in taste or visual appearance, I gravitated to those. I now generally avoid anything that tastes too much like animal flesh, which I haven't eaten in over 22 years.

I do occasionally make something resembling a veggie burger at home. This recipe, Kidney Bean and Peach Patties, is from Conveniently Vegan by Debra Wasserman. While this cookbook focuses on packaged products, I usually buy fresh and make my own. So I used fresh peaches (from the Free Farm Stand where I volunteer) and home-cooked kidney beans instead of the canned equivalents. I also substituted oat flour (rolled oats ground in a blender) for wheat flour.

Since I've pretty much given up on finding any tasty SOS-free breads, I had no buns to put these on. I had one on a corn tortilla and another just on lettuce. I'm trying to use corn tortillas basically as a bread replacement, but they don't work well with all foods. The patties were tasty, regardless.



As for fries, I sometimes eat some when I go out with a friend, but try not to eat too many because of the oil. When we make them at home, we bake them, oil-free. I found a delicious recipe for salt-free ketchup and baked fries on the Straight Up Food web site. This ketchup is so good, it's totally spoiled me and I doubt I'll be going back to using a bottled version. I don't even use ketchup that often, and now I want to find more recipes that use it as an excuse to make this again!

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Sep. 17th, 2014 11:27 am VeganMofo 2014 #13 - Baked apple and pear dessert



Another very simple and sweet dessert, this one from the McDougall Newsletter. Though all of the McDougall recipes are oil-free, many contain small amounts of salt and sugar, so it's nice to see one that is SOS-free by design. This dessert consists of apple, pear, yam, applesauce, and cinnamon.

For this recipe I used a pear from a tree at the 23rd Street Garden and an apple from Alemany Farm, two places where I do volunteer work. Pears can be frustrating because they can take forever to ripen, and then once they are ripe quickly go rotten. Glad I got the timing just right!

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Sep. 16th, 2014 05:35 pm VeganMofo 2014 #12 - Sweet yam pudding



As promised in my previous sweet potato entry - a simple and delicious dessert from The Health Promoting Cookbook. Baked yams blended with orange juice and spices. Perfectly sweet, absolutely no sugar or other added sweeteners needed.

I recommend using garnet yams, with the deep orange flesh, for this recipe. I had some of this pudding warm, and some cold the next day. By then it had set into a firm custard and was even more delicious. Highly recommended.

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Sep. 15th, 2014 10:40 am VeganMofo 2014 #11 - That old chestnut



At the 23rd Street Garden, a block away from the Free Farm Stand, we've been harvesting chestnuts for the last several weeks. Until just this year I had no idea that chestnuts come inside green spiky pods. And I do mean spiky; the spines pierced right through my gardening gloves. Tree taught us to step on the pods and roll them gently until the chestnuts emerge.

Here's one volunteer doing that while another volunteer knocks down chestnuts from the tree. Tree planted these trees on the sidewalk outside the garden in 1982. They were only three feet tall then!



Not all pods contain a good-sized chestnut, but we did manage to harvest a fair number of them.



Tree told me that a couple of people walking by while he was harvesting said that it looked like a terrible mess and that he should just cut the trees down. He had to explain that this was actual food! We give the chestnuts away at the farm stand on Sundays. I was also happy to explain this to curious neighbors and garden visitors. It's wonderful to be able to connect to the food we eat in such a direct way.

Connecting with neighbors and helping with food security is what this project is all about. One man who walked by stopped to talk about how he moved here from El Salvador decades ago, barely spoke any English, commuted and worked and went to school for 18 hours a day so that he could make his way in the world. He now has his own business just around the corner, and does some free work to help poor clients. I gave him an avocado from the garden and he offered to donate a hammock to us.

Since we didn't have a lot of chestnuts I didn't take any for myself, but I wanted to make something with chestnuts. So I took some old ones I had bought over a year ago, hoping they were still good (they were packaged and hadn't passed the expiration date). I found a recipe in the Forks Over Knives cookbook for a soup that used chestnut puree. I found a recipe for chestnut puree online. (I used almond milk instead of dairy milk.) Unfortunately after I boiled the chestnuts I couldn't get all of the peels off, and the puree and soup ended up tasting bitter. It also looked unappetizing, so I didn't take a photo.

Oh well, I'll try again sometime. Roasting chestnuts will be lovely once the weather turns cooler.

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Sep. 12th, 2014 06:51 pm VeganMofo 2014 #10 - Sweet potato dal



This is probably my favorite savory dish of all time: Sweet Potato Dal from Everyday Happy Herbivore. I know I posted about it in VeganMofo 2012, and two years later I'm still making it all the time. The combination of greens (I usually use kale instead of spinach in this dish), sweet potatoes, and lentils is so tasty and filling, and the garam masala spicing - which I never used before getting the Happy Herbivore cookbooks - is just perfect.

Speaking of greens, we harvested over 56 pounds of chard at Alemany Farm today! I'm cooking some up tonight, with potatoes... and I have another delicious sweet potato dish which I'll blog about next week.

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