a feeling for all living things

It is odd that we have so little relationship with nature, with the insects and the leaping frog, and the owl that hoots among the hills calling for its mate. We never seem to have a feeling for all living things on the earth. If we could establish a deep, abiding relationship with nature, we would never kill an animal for our appetite, we would never harm, vivisect, a monkey, a dog, a guinea pig for our benefit. We would find other ways to heal our wounds, heal our bodies. But the healing of the mind is something totally different. That healing gradually takes place if you are with nature, with that orange on the tree, and the blade of grass that pushes through the cement, and the hills covered, hidden, by the clouds.

Jiddu Krishnamurti, Krishnamurti to Himself, p 10

sf trip: days three & four

Note: I apologize for the terrible quality of these photos. Most were taken with my cell phone, which doesn’t have a flash.

The fun mostly came to a close on Day Three, when the conference officially started. Suddenly I found myself trapped in a bland hotel meeting room for most of the day. Horrifying. The most exciting presentation I saw was given by Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive. If you don’t know about Brewster and the Archive, that link might warrant a look. They are doing important work over there. That’s all I’ll say about the conference, though, because I don’t think the majority of the content would be of interest to readers of this blog.

I snuck down to the Ferry Building on Day Three for more donuts. I just couldn’t help myself. Even though it was almost a 20-minute walk from the conference hotel, it was worth it. What can I say…I have a thing for donuts. And vegan donuts are not easy to come by, at least not where I live.

Goodbye, vegan donuts…

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Pepples Donuts, San Francisco, California

I ate at Loving Hut one more time, too. Even though it was in a mall…blech.

Goodbye Loving Hut…

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Loving Hut Restaurant, San Francisco, California

On the morning of Day Four, I had to check out of my hotel. The room was a bit small but it suited me fine. They also had free fair trade coffee every morning and a free wine happy hour every evening. The irritating thing was there was no free internet anywhere in the hotel, not even in the “business center.” But at least they printed our boarding passes for free.

Goodbye hotel lobby…

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Serrano Hotel lobby, San Francisco, California

We had to leave as soon as the conference ended and headed straight to the airport. As I stared out the car window at the hills, I didn’t feel ready to leave. There was so much more to explore! I knew I would have to return some day.

At the airport, I ate the only burrito of the trip, which was surprisingly good for airport food. I wasn’t looking forward to the redeye flight staring me down, so I consoled myself with a double espresso (on the company dime, of course!).

Goodbye California clouds…

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Sky above San Francisco International Airport

Once home, I consoled myself with a full day of birding on the weekend. The bright songs and flashy colors of the forest songbirds were the perfect salve for the vague unsettled feeling I usually get upon returning from a trip.

Hello green green park lands…

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Susquehanna State Park, Havre de Grace, Maryland

sf trip: day two

Good Morning, San Francisco Bay Bridge!

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, San Francisco Bay Bridge

Oh look, here comes a ferry.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, San Francisco Bay

It’s coming from the Ferry Building!

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Ferry Building, San Francisco, California

Inside the Ferry Building are vendors such as Pepples Donuts and Blue Bottle Coffee. Happiness is a vegan donut and a cup of drip coffee!

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Pepples vegan donut & Blue Bottle hand-drip coffee

While enjoying my coffee and donut, I came across the following tableau.

[Please excuse this egregious example of anthropomorphism]

Fred the Western Gull: Hmm…what do we have here? Why I do believe it’s a tasty crab!

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Western Gull finds crab

Bob the Western Gull: Hey Fred, whatcha got there, buddy?

Fred: Why, nothing, Bob. I have nothing at all.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Western Gulls with crab

Bob: Are ya sure there, Fred? ‘Cause it sure looks like ya got something in yer gob there, pal.

Fred: I have nothing, my good man. Now leave me be!

Bob: C’mon, Fred, just let me nibble a bit on that there crab. Dontcha ‘member me sharing my sea bass with ya last week?

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Western Gulls with crab

Fred: Oh, very well then. But just this once.

Bob: Thanks, Fred. Yer a real stand-up guy.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Western Gulls share crab

Obligatory Western Grebe photo, just to prove I saw one. They kept diving underwater just as I focused in. Taken with my point-and-shoot through binoculars, which is why it’s blurry.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Western Grebe, San Francisco Bay

Coit Tower, as seen from the waterfront. We were so close to it the day before and didn’t even realize it. Still a bit annoyed about that. I would’ve walked back up there if I’d had the time.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Coit Tower, San Francisco, California

A couple of shots from Chinatown. It’s the largest one in the Western Hemisphere!

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Chinatown entrance, San Francisco, California

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Chinatown, San Francisco, California

In late afternoon we took a tour of the Mechanics’ Institute Library with the other conference participants. This is a private membership-based library, and the librarian wouldn’t let us take photos inside the library, so as to “protect the privacy of our patrons.” Instead I took a shot of this spiral staircase in the building. After I took the photo I walked down the staircase and kept feeling like I was going to fall on my face. Vertigo!

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Staircase at Mechanics' Institute Library Building

Next time:  Goodbyes!

sf trip: day one

I arrived in San Francisco on a Sunday afternoon, having gained three hours. My boss (hereafter referred to as DD) and I trekked over Nob Hill, through Chinatown, and up Telegraph Hill. Here’s a cable car coming down Powell Street. I didn’t ride on one, thus missing out on a quintessential San Francisco experience. I don’t feel too bad about that.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Cable car cresting Powell Street into Lower Nob Hill, San Francisco, California

I found this interesting ivy-colored building on the edge of Chinatown. The street was otherwise devoid of greenery.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Ivy-covered house in Chinatown, San Francisco, California

We walked down Broadway where a man who may or may not have been schizophrenic made threats to anyone who met his roving gaze. I looked elsewhere and turned the corner to find City Lights Bookstore. I did not buy anything, although the selection was impressive. I prefer used bookstores. Still, this store is an important part of U.S. literary history so I figured it would be worth popping in for a visit.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco, California

From the bookstore we walked up Telegraph Hill, where I found a Lesser Goldfinch feeding in some exotic tree I’d never seen before. Here’s a view of San Francisco Bay from the hill. DD was likely cursing me on the inside at this point. Little did she know how many more hills still stood between us and the hotel!

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, San Francisco Bay as seen from Telegraph Hill

We finished the day at Millenium, where I had the Maple-Black Pepper Glazed Smoked Tempeh, with olive oil mashed potatoes & horseradish, sauteed spring onion, asparagus & baby carrots, Dijon-dill cashew cream, grilled lemon, parsley & radish salad. It looked like this:

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Maple-Black Pepper Glazed Smoked Tempeh at Millenium Restaurant, San Francisco, California

Dessert was Chocolate Almond Midnight: almond cashew crust, mocha chocolate filling, raspberry sauce, white chocolate mousse.

By then, the three hours I’d stolen earlier began to feel missing so I crashed for the night, a sleepy and satisfied vegan traveler.

Next time:  Vegan donuts at the waterfront, Western Gulls vs. The Crab, a stroll through Chinatown, and the only photo I was allowed to take at the Mechanics’ Institute Library.

texas trip

Unfortunately, Em El and I were sick with colds during part of our time in Texas, she for longer than me. They were not debilitating colds, but they were an inconvenience (and still are, as we continue to slog along through their end times). We still soaked up plenty of family time, and I even picked up three (!) new life birds, all within the Dallas city limits. Important lesson: never underestimate the value of urban birding! At White Rock Lake, I found an American White Pelican snoozing on a log and a flock of Franklin’s Gulls gathering overhead. These birds were just passing through during migration. The next day I observed a couple of Harris’s Sparrows feeding on seed outside the fantastic Trinity River Audubon Center. This bird is a winter resident in north Texas. None of these birds are easy to find in Maryland, as they are nonresidents and only rarely vagrant in the northeast U.S. during migration.

Other than occasional birding and lots of chilling with the family, Texas involved a lot of eating. Of course we had to sample the best of what the Dallas area has in the way of vegan fare! These included the always delicious Spiral Diner; the newly spruced-up under new ownership 100% vegan Asian buffet, Veggie Garden; a new one for me, Kalachandjis (Dallas’ longest serving vegetarian restaurant, which begs the question of why they never brought me here before!); and a new one for everyone, D’Vegan (specializing in vegan Vietnamese cuisine- soooo good). We also ate plenty of Mexican food naturally, including vegan migas from a new place in Dallas.

Here are a few photos. I took less than I thought. I blame the sickness. Or maybe I was just trying to live these moments, not document them.

The first few are from Trinity River Audubon Center. The wildflowers are Texas Paintbrush (Castilleja indivisa).

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Trinity River Audubon Center, Dallas, TX

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Texas Paintbrush, Trinity River Audubon Center, Dallas, TX

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Trinity River Audubon Center, Dallas, TX

Sign on the wall at Veggie Garden Restaurant in Richardson, TX:

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Sign at Veggie Garden Restaurant, Richardson, TX

Maneki Neko (“Beckoning Cat”) statue at D’Vegan Restaurant in Dallas, TX:

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Maneki Neko, D'Vegan Restaurant, Dallas, TX

critique of a book review

So, the other day I was trolling the Web for things to rant about, and I came upon this. As I read through this review, my blood heated up to its boiling point. The perspective from which Crispin writes is one that rankles me beyond any other of a myriad of vegetarian biases. I’m referring, of course, to the point of view of the “enlightened” meat eater. Oh, they know all about the cruelty of the food animal industry, the environmental havoc that it wreaks, and the health risks associated with over-consumption of mass-produced meat. But they are clever, and they’ve found a way to have their meat and eat it, too. Because they eat “grass-fed, locally raised, humanely slaughtered hamburger.” I’ve often wondered about the phrase “humanely slaughtered.” Why doesn’t anyone who uses that phrase see it as the oxymoron that it clearly is?

Many of these morally sound meat eaters, Ms. Crispin included, are former vegetarians. They think this gives them the necessary credibility to critique vegetarianism from an insider’s point of view. Not only is Crispin (who admirably lives car-free) better than “most of the vegetarians” she knows who drive cars, but she is obviously healthier, more fashionable and less ridiculous than all the vegans out there who she conveniently represents with the most hackneyed vegan stereotype of all: “the 85-pound hollowed-out girl wearing pleather sandals and a hemp skirt” who reprimands her for the use of honey in her tea. Seriously, can we get an updated vegan stereotype, please? Of the many vegans I know, none of them are even close to fitting this image.

After dismissing all vegans as malnourished whiny fashion disasters, Crispin goes on to describe her experience of cooking a meal for her friends using recipes from the recently published Veganomicon cookbook. Now, I will be the first to suggest that this cookbook is far from the holy grail that many vegans are making it out to be. Isa includes repeated quirks in many of her recipes, but an experienced cook can easily work around these and produce some fine dishes. As any good cook knows, a recipe is merely a loose outline to work from. Crispin, however, is clearly not a good cook. Her description of cooking a vegan meal for her friends is full of the usual snarky self-righteous criticisms of vegan food ingredients that so many meat-eaters revel in sharing with anyone willing to listen. I chalk the penchant for dispensing this criticism up to my secret theory that the real reason that ex-vegetarians renounce their vegetarianism is that they never learn to effectively cook without the crutches of their precious eggs, dairy, and meat. Crispin happily shares her friends’ negative comments about the meal she has prepared: “the texture is, um, interesting” and “hey, where’s your salt?” to which Crispin replies, “I already doubled the amount of salt in the recipe. I think that’s just the way it tastes.” Perhaps Crispin’s friends are too polite to suggest that part of the problem might be that she just doesn’t know how to cook. The conclusion she draws after this personal failure in vegan cooking is this: “Maybe one day vegans will get a master chef on their side who can create some food worth sacrificing for, but I’m guessing the movement does not attract people who feel passionately about food.” Hmm, well, maybe one day legions of meat eaters will feel passionately enough about the welfare of animals to put the effort into actually learning to effectively cook vegan food, a skill that can be easily learned if one cares enough to try. Many of my vegan friends are among the most passionate food lovers I know, and they also continuously amaze me with their culinary skills.

The thing is that I am not ignorant enough to think that vegan food is going to taste the same as non-vegan food. I have cooked, baked, and eaten both vegan and non-vegan food. I know that textures and flavors will differ. However, I also know that if you stick with veganism and actually try to become a better cook, you will be rewarded in spades. But you have to care enough to try. And obviously some people aren’t willing to make the extra effort.

Crispin concludes her review (yes, despite her varied ramblings, this was actually a book review) of The Compassionate Carnivore (another oxymoron) with a quote from the book:

“People who become complete vegetarians for the sake of animals are basically getting up from the table and leaving the room. Although they might work to help better animals’ lives through their words, those words won’t keep a sustainable farmer in business. Only dollars will. If you don’t buy from these farmers, they’ll go out of business, and you’ll have even fewer choices than you do now.”

This is one of the most ridiculous statements I’ve read on this subject. Last time I checked grains, legumes, and vegetables were also grown on farms, and these are the foods that form the basis of a complete vegetarian diet. They also require far less resources to produce than food animals do, and don’t generate massive amounts of waste. Earlier in her review, Crispin talks about how meat-eaters are the ones making a difference with their demand for organic farming, free-range eggs, and grass-fed beef. It’s their demand, she says, that is forcing a response from corporations. Well, what if there was no demand for any meat whatsoever? Would all the food corporations and food animal producers simply go out of business? No, they would respond to consumer demand like usual and offer a wide array of vegetarian foods on the market. It’s the same logic that The Compassionate Carnivore author Catherine Friend uses to make a case for continued consumption of meat.

I could go on and on in ripping apart these arguments. There is the point to consider of how many people actually visit the farms where their supposed free-range eggs and “humanely slaughtered” meat come from to make sure they approve of the way things are run. A few do, sure, but probably no more per geographic area than there are vegans in that area. So how much of a difference are these supposed compassionate carnivores making? Probably not much of one. You’d be better off going vegan and saving yourself a trip to the farm.

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