Category Archives: miscellaneous

Hair.

I never realized how concerned I was about the appearance of my hair until it started falling out. I’ve since spent a lot of time thinking about it.

When I was young my hair was a gorgeous auburn red. I often got comments from strangers about how beautiful it was. One of my friends nicknamed me “pretty hair” after a little girl remarked that the friend’s mane was not as nice as mine.

Then I got older, and unbeknown to me it started to turn more towards brown. I never really realized it was happening, until I got a comment about my brown hair from a coworker. I compared to earlier pics and determined that it was indeed getting darker. I was a bit dismayed, but not concerned enough to color it. It still looked nice. My dad helped me feel better about it by telling me it was just starting to look more like my mom’s color.

Our son was born with amazing red hair, even brighter red than mine had been. We get a lot of comments about it, including many asking where he gets it. It’s frustrating people can’t tell it’s in part because mine used to be red, not far off that shade, but I can see why it might be hard to tell.

About six months ago, my hair started falling out. It seemed I was getting more on my comb, but it wasn’t that noticeable. Then the shedding increased to where every time I comb it, I get a handful. Since my hair is really thick, it still hasn’t been that noticeable. Now it’s finally getting to the point where I can see that it’s thinning. When I noticed this, it really upset me. I got my hair cut shortly thereafter, and even though the person did an amazing job, I just wanted to cry.

It took a while for me to get over it, but now I’ve made peace with it (at least somewhat). There are people that lose their hair all the time, some temporarily, others permanently but usually in worse circumstances than I am facing. Out of all the things in the world to worry about! It’s just hair.

Cats, dogs, & allergies. Oh my!

As I was growing up there were a lot of pets around, cats in particular. While I wasn’t allowed to have a pet at our house (other than a few brief forays into fish ownership) I had near daily interaction with cats and kittens at my grandparent’s house. I also kept ducks for a while and sometimes helped with the chickens.

When I got a bit older, I started volunteering for the local animal rescue group. I managed their website and Petfinder listings, took pictures, and occasionally transported animals. I was even the group’s Vice President for a short while. My husband and I permanently adopted four cats and moved them with us from house to house. We even made our home purchasing decisions in part on having a suitable space for the cats to play and enjoy the sun while we were away at work.

Our son came along and the cats became slightly less important in our lives but were still a part of the family. We saw them through some major illnesses and eventually one of the four died, succumbing to a lifetime of respiratory problems.

And then our son developed pet-induced asthma.

It was miserable to contemplate giving up our companions of 10+ years, but even more miserable what the pet exposure was doing to him. We had to visit the ER and give him medicine for the first time. He fought the inhaler with all of his strength, pretty traumatic on everyone. Our luck was no better with the nebulizer. We quickly made the the tough decision to seek new homes for our cats. Finding the right places was hard, giving them up was harder still. Around the same time we also found out that our son gets massive hives when dogs lick him, making dogs something we were then trying to avoid too.

Over time I noticed my opinions about cats and dogs starting to change. I still felt passionate about animal rights issues and helping animals find forever homes, but began to see most companion animals as a nuisance. I got irritated when there were dogs in public places (even places where they should be allowed) because it meant we had to safeguard my son from getting licked. The fact that family members had cats (included that same grandparent’s house from my childhood) was a major hassle and at times made visiting them near impossible. He could no longer stay over night at his grandma’s house. We now needed to check in advance if friends had pets. Etc. Etc.

I’ve now realized the pendulum may have swung a bit too far in the anti-pet direction. This really hit home earlier this week when my son told me he is somewhat afraid of dogs. He said he thinks they don’t like him. :( Is it any wonder given we’ve spent so much effort trying to avoid them? We clearly need to find a better way, some balance. His allergies are not extremely severe and do not need to be treated as such. We can probably take more liberal precautions and still avoid bad reactions.

I’d love for my son to grow up with an appreciation and love for animals like I have, in part because I believe it to be a foundational piece for veganism. Understanding that animals are sentient beings that feel pain, love and other human emotions makes it easier to extend them compassion. People that have empathy for animals are less likely to eat/wear/hunt/use them. Will this love still manifest if he has no animal interactions? Perhaps. But I’d like to hedge the bets.

The corporate vegan

Being a vegan in the corporate world can be difficult, especially if you live in an area where plant-based diets and respect for animals are not the norm.

Where I work, company lunches, potlucks and other opportunities to eat together, are not only common but are often used as motivation or given as a reward for a job well done. Yet for me, they are little other than a point of stress and I sometimes find myself looking for an excuse to avoid the event all together!

Since I’ve been with the same company for years now, my coworkers all know that I don’t eat meat, and some even know that I’m a vegan. Most are quite courteous in trying to choose restaurants with food they think I can order and they often try to make menu suggestions. But quite often the places chosen have nothing suitable to eat, which just makes for an uncomfortable situation.

If you are a vegan, it’s likely that you too will at some be put into a position where it’s necessary to eat with your workmates. If you find yourself facing an upcoming lunch or event, perhaps you can deploy some of these tactics that have worked well for me in past:

  • Check with the meeting organizer in advance to get the scoop on the meal situation. Will it be catered in? Box lunches? Dining out?
  • If you know you’ll be eating at a restaurant, ask for the menu is advance or find it online. That way you can take as much time as necessary to figure out what to order without holding up the order for the rest of the group and will know in advance if there’s not a good option.
  • If the meal will be brought in, bring your own food to eat at the same time.
  • Consider if there are likely to be snacks served (candy, cookies, etc. are common for all-day meetings) and bring something yummy for yourself plus enough to share with others.
  • If the event starts with lunch and the program or activity will follow, ask if you can join the group after the meal has already been served.
  • Use techniques one would normally employ at inhospitable restaurants such as ordering just a drink, appetizer, or other sides off the menu in place of an entree.
  • Consider asking if you can place a special order, especially good to do if they have something explicit on the menu saying they welcome alternate requests. Note that this may not be a good idea if everyone is in a rush, since special orders often take more time.
  • Make sure to have some non-perishable food with you, such as a piece of fruit or a packaged bar, in case things don’t go as expected. Sometimes even the best laid plans fall short.

While it would often be easier just to skip out all together, it is good to make an effort to participate in some fashion. Otherwise you may be branded as “not a team player” or miss out on some crucial bit of information. A lot gets discussed over lunch!

I am lucky to have had supportive and considerate supervisors during my time as a corporate vegan. If you are the manager of a vegetarian or vegan employee I’d extend the following tips to you:

  • Don’t make a big deal out of the issue, broadcast an announcement or bring it up as a major discussion topic for the team.
  • Understand your employee’s dietary preferences so you can make informed choices when choosing a location, restaurant or caterer for team meetings. Consider asking your employee for their input.
  • If you are not making the choice, coordinate with the meeting organizer to determine the meal plan and give input if possible. This will save your employee some work and stop them from always having to feel like they are always the only ones asking questions or demanding special favors.
  • When you are the one bringing the snacks, make sure to offer something that all your employees can eat. (It’s not as hard as you might think! Lots of junk food such as Oreos and Twizzlers are accidentally vegan, and you can always bring obviously vegan things like plain fruit or nuts.)
  • Be conscious of the fact that people may adopt the veg lifestyle for wildly different reasons. Don’t presume you know your employee’s reason.
  • Note that ethical vegans often hold deep-seated beliefs that extend to areas of animal welfare other than just food. You might consider this belief similar to that of a religious position in that it is a choice, but not one made lightly or to be discarded. In this vein, be aware of peripheral issues and things that may offend such as giving leather as gifts or wishing them a Happy Turkey Day.
  • Appreciate the diversity their veganism brings to your team! Variety of thought is always a good thing.

And to add in a lofty and random request here for facilities managers too, please try to make sure there’s at least one vegan thing in the vending machine!! Since packages  can’t show both front and back at the same time, Im thinking a vegan sticker or printed slide-in icon to go next to the price would be a great addition. :-)

For any readers that might be out there, what’s your experience been like? Any additional tips to share?

Unsheeply’s Law?

I’ve observed a phenomena that I think deserves a new adage, similar to Godwin’s Law. If you’re not familiar, that’s the idea that given enough time any online discussion – regardless of topic or scope – will eventually involve comparison of a poster’s point to the beliefs held by Hitler and the Nazis.

Similarly, it seems that that any online discussion that involves animal rights, vegan or vegetarian diets will eventually include comments by someone asserting that they are going to go eat a steak or hamburger right now, usually in someone’s honor.

To those posters I say, I get it. You eat meat and you like it. There’s no need to claim you’re going to rush out right now to stuff your face, or pretend that the discussion has provoked you into doing it. And there’s really no need to graphically describe the animal parts you intend to consume. Just not necessary and does not add to the discussion.

But it is inflammatory, and that’s probably the point. It might serve as a diversion from any other more logical arguments in progress, drawing people away from the truth. And for whatever reason, trolling veg forums seems to be a popular topic among a small portion of the meat eating public.

In the same way that Godwin’s law can be cited to reduce the incidence of inappropriate hyperbolic comparisons, my attempt at pointing this out is in the hope that it will reduce the incidence of such nonconstructive comments. Additionally, this law could be used to serve an automatic FAIL to win the argument on the person making the claim.

I’d love to see this on this list of adages named after people or things. So what do you say? Unsheeply’s Law? ;-)

High fructose corn syrup rebranding as corn sugar

According to a story by the Associated Press, “The Corn Refiners Association wants to use “corn sugar” as an alternative name for the widely used liquid sweetener currently labeled as high fructose corn syrup” and have petitioned for a name change. In the meantime, the FDA has cautioned them to stop using the term prematurely, as they haven’t yet received approval and are already including it on promotional materials such as their web sites.

This reminds me of Aspartame’s re-brand as AminoSweet that I discussed awhile back. It’s not difficult to see why they’d want to change away from the term high fructose corn syrup (HCFS) as more and more people are turning against their product.

A representative for the group says they don’t believe consumers will be misled by the new terminology though, saying, “We do not believe that anyone could be confused or believe that the statements regarding ‘corn sugar’ on the websites refer to anything other than high fructose corn syrup.”

So what exactly would be the purpose for making the change, if not to lose the negative association? If it’s not to re-brand your product as something more appealing to consumers, then why bother?

According to this New York Times piece, it’s because they believe corn syrup is a confusing term and that corn sugar better communicates about the calories and sweetness of the ingredient. They say consumers wrongly believe it has more sugar than what we’d traditionally consider table sugar (the granular white stuff) and are avoiding it for that reason.

It seems they haven’t quite agreed on consistent messaging internally. Corn sugar is either a term that will be seen as equivalent to HCFS in the minds of consumers (doubtful, IMO) or else a term than more accurately describes a form of liquid sugar that is nutritionally similar to table sugar (presumes consumers care about and are making nutritional decisions based sugar type comparison, also doubtful). If they’re going to choose a new label because it brings clarity to consumers, they’re not going to choose one that is seen as equivalent to their current term.

In my head, it’s nothing more than an attempt to re-brand in attempt to slow or stop the declining use of their product as manufacturers switch to more “natural” forms of sugar in response to consumer demand — as seen with the introduction of products like Pepsi Natural and Mountain Dew Throwback. And consumers are likely demanding this not due to research into the nutritional profiles of varying types of sugar, but because the media and others have painted HCFS as a bad guy, accurate or not. Also, because the pursuit towards more natural products is a popular trend.

In fact, scientists are somewhat split over whether HFCS is any more damaging to consumers than other sugars. According to the Mayo Clinic, research studies have yielded mixed results. HFCS is chemically similar to table sugar, but the thought is that your body may react differently since it’s processed. There’s insufficient evidence at this point to say that this is true, but studies continue to look a the potential effects, including potential links to cancer. Where there is no argument is that we should all be consuming less sweetener, no matter what the source.

So what do you think? Does a switch to the name corn sugar provide any nutritional clarity to you as a consumer? Do you shy away from HFCS in particular or is sugar of any kind treated the same?

McD’s and the mom bloggers

I have to admit, this NPR story made me bristle when I heard it. And not because McDonald’s is using social media to it’s advantage (because any smart company is these days), or even because their so-called healthy improvements are not really that grand (a few less french fries, peeled apple slices and cow’s milk). It’s that they’re courting bloggers with high readership and specifically that those bloggers are responding positively.

Many good bloggers cultivate an intimate relationship with their followers. They share their lives in great detail so the reader really gets to know, like and trust them. Of course this is exactly what makes them useful to McDonald’s. They know that their followers will likely place great stock in what the bloggers say about their company. As the McD’s spokesperson says in the piece, “Moms listen to other moms more than they listen to other folks”.

It made me wonder, are followers of mom blogs, or blog readers in general, really that gullible? Do readers not notice, or not care that this is basically a paid endorsement? After all, bloggers are obligated to say when they’re being compensated.

I know that on at least one blog I frequent (not a mom blog), many participants eagerly emulate the site owners, clamor for their advice, and buy things they recommend. So it’s not a stretch for me to see that all those things could be true for mom bloggers too, but why? Why are people so willing to trust the advice of strangers, just because they’re similar to them in some way? Is it because they feel like they know them?

At a gut level, I think what bothers me is that it seems the bloggers are selling out. I wonder what motivates them to participate. Are the perks and/or pay really that good? Are they just curious? Do some think they can maintain their objectivity and perhaps even stick it to McDs? It seems like it could destroy their credibility, that they’d have more to lose than to gain. But maybe it depends on why they’re blogging in the first place.

Also wondering, does this really work out that well for McDonald’s? I’m thinking it must do if they’re picking up steam on the program and are event touting their efforts to a nationwide radio audience. I know pay per post/review is a growing industry, with lots of businesses (large and small) hopping on board and reporting good results, so the ROI must be there.

Kids are people too (crazy, eh?)

Lately I’ve been noticing something more and more and it’s really starting to bother me. Many people don’t seen to think of young children, even their own kids, as people! You know, human beings with their own feelings, views and desires?

I think this awareness has grown out of my participation in the online unschooling community and has been emphasized by recent interactions I’ve had with other parents on Facebook. Now I’m seeing it everywhere I look!

Children are often treated like some lesser, second class. Their opinions and desires are ignored. Their behavior is seen as unacceptable even when the same thing done by an adult is OK. They’re criticized for things beyond their control. Things they say are dismissed out of hand as childish or silly. Their motivations for acting as they are aren’t even contemplated, let alone seriously considered. Sincere attempts are laughed at and mocked as cute.

I see it in the those who trivialize and/or dismiss a kid’s feelings. The ones that use their size advantage to physically control or intimidate a child into doing what they want or to punish them for doing what they don’t. Those that pull rank and demand they be respected as authority solely due to their age.  It’s pervasive in our culture and many people do these things all the time, and without question.

As mentioned in past posts, children reflect the behavior they receive. So what does it tell our kids when we treat others this way, especially those closest to us? That it’s OK ignore, dismiss or bully others when we feel superior?

Where’s the understanding?  Is it really that much of a stretch to put yourself in a kid’s shoes, think about whether they might be having a bad day, wonder if there’s a reason why they’re crying, consider that they could be in pain or that their motivation is not malicious?  Where’s the tolerance for those who are just starting to experiment and learn about the world? Largely non-existent.

In my head this extends beyond paternalism or a general intolerance of children. In part, it’s due to a lack of empathy, something that seems to be deficient in our society as a whole. For some it’s just habit, do what you know. But there’s also a cultural aspect at play that I can’t really explain.

I am certainly not claiming to be a perfect parent, nor am I saying kids should be treated as if they were exactly like adults. I don’t always treat my son as a partner. I sometimes put my needs before his, or insist that we do things my way despite his protests or try to convince him of my point of view. But it’s really no different than how I’d interact with my husband or sister. Sometimes experience wins out.

Fundamentally though, I respect that our kid is a person with his own interests, thoughts and motivations, and accept that they may not always match my own. From what I’ve observed in others lately, this perspective does not seem to be the norm. I feel lucky I was afforded this respect  growing up and  can see it extended to my son.

Earnings vs. income

Lifestyle seems to grow to accommodate the income available. For most people that means that as your paycheck goes up, what you expect to be able to buy or do keeps pace as well, resulting in a new norm that closely matches current earning capability.

Newly middle class people choose middle class cars, houses and name brand clothes. Why is this? Why don’t they stick with the same types of things they had and did before their income grew, often things less extravagant? Why not keep shopping in thrift stores, driving that older car and getting inexpensive haircuts?

Instead of paying off debt, investing or saving, many will choose to commit the extra funds towards purchasing a big ticket item such as an automobile or a house, perhaps one they’d consider more suited to their new position in life. My family fits into this category (though I wish I could say we didn’t).  Somehow, we got along just fine when we had a much lower income. Our house had as much square footage as our current accommodation, at a lower mortgage cost. But then we decided we needed to trade up. We had some legitimate reasons for seeking a new place, and had a lot of housing options available to us that fit our general criterion for size and location. We could have found some something around our same mortgage rate and still have gotten all the major things we wanted.

So why’d we instead choose one that was quite a bit more expensive? Why do most people? Because they can. We saw something and liked it. We could do it, so we did. Hardly rational or long term thinking at work, or at least that’s how it appears in hindsight.  (Though I am very grateful we didn’t borrow as much as the bank was offering to lend us at the time!)

A family of four could choose to live in a three bedroom apartment within walking distance to a park, or alternatively a three-bedroom house with well landscaped yard, both within the same neighborhood and school district. The impact on the number of friends their kids make, what the family eats or hobbies they take up should be minor, but the decision will make a huge difference to their overall financial outlook, especially when considered over the course of a lifetime.

This difference could easily be enough to finance a round-the-world vacation, private school, early retirement, or some other dream. However if asked, most would say they can’t afford those kinds of things, and don’t really feel like they have a choice in the matter.

Most likely their spending has grown to match their earnings, and they don’t see the choices there anymore because they’ve settled in with the new norm. And this shift just seems to happen gradually, without much thought going into the matter.

One thing that keeps getting brought up over and over in conversations about our economy is that less than 1% of the US population controls almost 40% of the country’s wealth.  It’s also often pointed out that the gap between the rich and the poor is widening, not only in America but across the world.  While the poor often struggle to get enough good food to eat, or keep roofs over their heads, those in the middle (and sometimes the top, too) struggle to keep what they’ve got and hold on to their mortgages. But would they still be struggling if they hadn’t extended beyond what they really need? Had they gone for an adequate 1500 square feet instead of an extravagant 4500 would so many still be facing foreclosure?

People elsewhere in the world manage to live on a few dollars a week. So why do we need hundreds or thousands just to pay for our existence? Don’t kid yourself that our quality of life is so much better, or that we’re happier, because it’s simply not true.  If you look at anything that measures global happiness and wellbeing, we’re up there, but nowhere near #1.

In the US we’re obsessed with wealth. We imitate those above us, get jealous of what they have and hope to win the lottery so we can join their club. I’ve decided this is not something I want to care about anymore.

My family is working hard this year to eliminate debt to help further our long term plans, plans that ultimately do not focus on how much money we can earn, or what kind of stuff we can buy, but rather on the experience and enjoyment of life and what we want to do with our time.

Unfortunately, this means that in the short term we have to focus on money more than ever in order to dig ourselves out of this debt as quickly as possible. We’ve made the conscious decision to focus on short term inconvenience for long term gain.

Look for more posts to come on the topic of lifestyle design, a term that basically means taking charge of your life, figuring out what you want it to look like and making it happen. There are a lot of great authors and bloggers out there focusing on this topic, and much of what they say makes a lot of sense to me so far. I’ve just scratched the surface, but I’m eager to learn more. Anyone have any recommendations?

It’s time to make some changes and we’re already on our way.

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Say cheese!?

I’ve learned this week, due to some great reporting by Michael Moss for the New York Times, there is a marketing group called Dairy Management that’s responsible for promoting dairy to the American public and for overseas export. This organization is a subset of the US Department of Agriculture, an agency also tasked with promoting nutritional responsibility, presenting an obvious conflict of interest between the two groups.  Specifically, Dairy Management promotes cheese consumption and works with major national brands to increase the amount used in their products.

So why the conflicting goals between different branches of the USDA, and how is this allowed? The NY Times piece says, the USDA leaves it up to Dairy Management to decide how to “bolster farmers and rural economies” and isn’t in the business of controlling how this occurs. And according to a story on NPR, the USDA is OK with promoting cheese consumption in particular because Americans need the calcium, especially as they”re drinking less milk.  Still, I’m not sure this fully explains the dichotomy.

Marion Nestle, author of the book Food Politics and this recent blog entry says, “So why is USDA in bed with dairy lobbying groups? That’s its job. From its beginnings in the 1860s, USDA’s role was to promote U.S. agricultural production and sales, with the full support of what was then a largely agricultural Congress. Only in the 1970s, did USDA pick up all those pesky food assistance programs and capture the “lead federal agency” role in providing dietary advice to the public.”

Interestingly, the side of the USDA responsible for nutrition policy is under funded compared to Dairy Management, the side that’s pushing cheese. According to this Boston Globe piece, “While the USDA budgets $6.5 million to promote nutrition policy, Dairy Management had more than $140 million to play with last year, mostly through government fees on the dairy industry, but also with $5.3 million from USDA itself to promote overseas exports.”

Just like many other things the USDA promotes, I take issue with our government endorsing large scale animal agriculture, and thus animal cruelty. However, in this case I find it even more reprehensible that taxpayers are funding even a portion of the budget for a group whose sole job is to promote cheese consumption. It’s true that the majority of the work done by Dairy Management group is paid by the dairy industry itself. However, we’re still on the line for over $5 million dollars, and that’s in addition to the collective millions US dairy farmers receive in government subsidies every year.

While we hear again and again how America is in the throws of an obesity epidemic, here we have a government group whose job is to get even more cheese into our food supply.  Even if you don’t share my ethical concerns about the dairy industry, it’s not hard to see why this might be an issue. This increase in cheese consumption means hundreds and thousands of extra calories for American consumers, as well as an increased intake of sodium and fat. Americans take in an average of 33 pounds of cheese a year now, and Dairy Management hopes this will increase. Thankfully, the Center for Nutritional Policy and Promotion is not singing the same tune.

If there was ever a government program that deserves to be cut, it’s Dairy Management.   There is no legitimate reason to continue funding this group with taxpayer dollars.  I can only hope lawmakers take note.

___

P.S. – When going vegan, cheese was one of the harder things for me to give up. I hear the same thing again and again from other vegetarians; I just can’t give up cheese. Until recently, there weren’t very many good cheese substitutes. Now, thanks to Daiya and other brands, it’s much easier to replace cow milk based cheese with something less cruel that also tastes good.

Animal compassion

There were two sad stories in the news today about bad things happening to animals. In India, seven elephants were killed by a train. Meanwhile, dozens of whales are stranded on a beach in New Zealand.  However, both stories had something in common that to me was uplifting despite the loss of life. In both instances, the animals were trying to help their fellow beings.

It’s the same thing I saw when I watched hunters kill a whole flock of geese a few years back, something I am reminded of each fall as I see the birds start to migrate and the orange vests come out. The animals see or sense that the others are in trouble and reach out to help, sometimes losing their lives in the process.  This may seem like stupid behavior to some, ignoring what’s happening to the others at your own peril. However, it also illustrates a selfless attempt to help family and friends.

When we’re not seeing much compassion in the human world, it’s good to know at least the animals have each others interests at heart.