The Value of Empathy

Photo courtesy of ABC News, accessed 9/23/2016 http://abcnews.go.com/Lifestyle/AmazingAnimals/photos/animal-kingdoms-odd-couples-3381379/image-meet-incredible-dog-baby-monkeys-34659474

I read an article today by UCLA professor Dana Ellis Hunnes, Ph.D., that was sent out to everyone within the UCLA hospital community. The article was excellent and reminded me why I changed the way I eat, live, and treat others. It talked about how we as humans should learn from animals how to treat others with empathy.  I encourage you to read it. The article inspired me to write my own blog post again, so after a nearly one year hiatus, here I go!

In explaining my reasons for following a plant-based diet, I have noticed that people seem to place more value in certain ideas. The concern that animal farming is deleterious for the environment is understandable to people. Animal farming contributes more to greenhouse gas emissions than all the transportation in the world combined. It pollutes fresh water sources, oceans, and leads to deforestation and destruction of vital ecosystems.

People also understand the health advantages of following a plant-based diet. Animal products cause a cascade of inflammation in the body, which over time and with many insults can lead to multiple diseases. Modern Western diets are implicated in causing our modern Western diseases which drastically lower quality of life, lead to early deaths, and increase healthcare costs. Contrast this with plant-based products, which are generally anti-inflammatory and prevent and even reverse disease.

But when I mention animal rights, people seem to write me off quickly. They either “don’t want to know about it” because they love the taste of bacon, burgers, cheese, etc., or they don’t think it’s valid- why should an animal’s feelings interfere with a human’s diet?

I admit that there was a time when I barely gave a second thought to how the animal I was eating might have felt. The reasons were a combination of ignorance and disconnect between a suffering sentient living being with the delicious meat on my plate. I was guilty for a long time of choosing not to think about these things and ignoring any information I heard or read. Doing so indirectly led to the deaths and suffering of countless animals. I didn’t really think about empathizing with animals.

Empathy is one of the most valuable things I learned during my education. In middle school, I remember learning about the suffering of the poor and homeless. In high school I was exposed to my fellow students, people of color,  talking about navigating through systemic racism and facing discrimination in their daily lives. In college I learned about the killing of Southeast Asian and African people and the exploitation of their land by colonizing Europeans. I also learned about the rampant discrimination against people with AIDS, especially in the early years of the epidemic. In my Master of Public Health program, I studied the links between race, socioeconomic status, and physical and mental health. In medical school, treating indigent populations with poor access to healthcare in New Orleans showed me the extent of health inequalities and how to put another human’s needs above those of myself and my future family. Through these examples and many more, I learned about injustices in the world and how I could help, even if just a little, by educating myself, empathizing with others, and acting in accordance with my values.

Several years ago I realized that I needed to expand these principles to animals. Animals cannot speak our language, but that does not make them inferior or unworthy of our empathy.  Instead, they are more vulnerable to our actions. We share the earth with them, and our capacity for compassion should include them. Human power – our technology and our weapons – should not be used to harm others or our planet, but should be used to improve the earth and protect those without the same power. The definition of sentience, according to Wikipedia, is “the capacity to feel, perceive, or experience subjectively.” Animals have their own families, social structures, intelligence, and emotions. Many animals inherently trust us and would not harm us. So why love one (like my dog) and kill another? That animal did not want to die, be experimented on, or exploited for human gains. Better options always exist. I would rather not contribute to the suffering of my fellow earthly citizens. It does not jive with the virtue of empathy.

People wonder if I feel limited by a plant-based diet in terms of convenience. Sure, that happens, but the more people who join this movement, the more our preferences will become the norm. They wonder if it was hard to “give up meat.” Yes, at first it was hard, but I got used to it. When one empathizes with and helps others, positivity is both sent into the world and felt within. Practicing something makes one better at it, and the same goes for compassion. My greater inner peace and my increased capacity for empathy far outweigh any inconvenience I may encounter.

I encourage everyone to expand their empathy, especially toward the most defenseless populations. Not only will you be helping others, but you will find a new sense of inner fulfillment.

I wish health, peace, and love to all of you.

Image courtesy of Country Living, accessed 9/23/2016 http://www.countryliving.com/life/news/a35577/watch-a-cow-cuddle-with-the-rescuers-who-saved-her-from-the-slaughterhouse/
Image courtesy of Country Living, accessed 9/23/2016 http://www.countryliving.com/life/news/a35577/watch-a-cow-cuddle-with-the-rescuers-who-saved-her-from-the-slaughterhouse/

Processed meats like ham and bacon are a level 1 carcinogen according to the World Health Organization

source: http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/10/26/451211964/bad-day-for-bacon-processed-red-meats-cause-cancer-says-who

In a blow to the meat industry and meat lovers, today the World Health Organization’s International Agency of Research on Cancer Working Group published a paper in the Lancet outlining that processed red meat is a level 1 (definite) carcinogen, and red meat is a level 2A (probable) carcinogen.  To give you some perspective, other compounds in the level 1 carcinogen group include tobacco, asbestos, arsenic, and alcohol.

Curing meat produces N-nitroso compounds (NOC) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) that are carcinogenic.  The type of iron found in red meat, haem iron, helps NOC’s form in the digestive tract.  Cooking meat at high temperatures (like barbecue, grilling, or pan-frying) produces heterocyclic aromatic amines (HAA) and PAH, which are toxic to your DNA.  The working group analyzed studies from around the world looking at connections between meat consumption and cancer.  The most commonly studied cancer was colorectal cancer.  Overall, there was a 17% increased risk of colorectal cancer per 100 grams of red meat eaten per day and an 18% increased risk of colorectal cancer per 50 grams of processed meat eaten per day.  Positive associations were also found between processed meat and stomach cancer, and red meat and prostate and pancreatic cancer (which is one of the most deadly).

Of course, the meat industries are speaking out against the statement, very publicly.  In nearly every news article published today, there was some representative of the meat industry commenting.  Check it out:

-The industry body the Meat Advisory Panel said “avoiding red meat in the diet is not a protective strategy against cancer” and said the focus should be alcohol, smoking and body weight. –BBC

-“It was clear, sitting in the IARC meeting, that many of the panellists were aiming for a specific result despite old, weak, inconsistent, self-reported intake data,” said Betsy Booren, the institute’s vice-president of scientific affairs. “They tortured the data to ensure a specific outcome.” –The Guardian

-“Scientific evidence shows cancer is a complex disease not caused by single foods and that a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle choices are essential to good health,” writes Barry Carpenter, president of the North American Meat Institute, in a statement on the new WHO classification. –NPR

-“The North American Meat Institute scoffed at the report, saying it ignored “numerous” studies showing no link between meat and cancer. ‘Red and processed meat are among 940 agents reviewed by IARC and found to pose some level of theoretical ‘hazard,”  institute spokeswoman Betsy Booren said. “Only one substance, a chemical in yoga pants, has been declared by IARC not to cause cancer.'” –USA Today

Even the director of the IARC, Christopher Wild, Ph.D., said the findings support current public health recommendations to limit intake of meat but stressed that red meat has nutritional value – namely that it contains protein, iron, zinc, and B vitamins.  As Dr. Wild should know, plant-based foods contain these essential nutrients too, but without the risk of getting cancer or heart disease or diabetes – in fact, most are PROTECTIVE from cancer and heart disease and diabetes.  In medicine, there’s a saying about ordering additional studies sometimes that you don’t think are absolutely necessary but without them, you could lose a malpractice lawsuit – “cover your ass.” Do you think he’s trying to save his from the powerful meat industry?

I’ve written in earlier posts that vegetable-based protein is healthier for you and abundant, and you will get enough protein if you eat a well-balanced plant-based diet.  Plants contain iron too – spinach, nuts, seeds, beans, whole grains, tofu, dark chocolate – and not the haem iron that is linked with colorectal cancer. Zinc is present in lots of plant sources – spinach, flax seeds, kidney beans, lima beans, garlic, chickpeas, brown rice, mushrooms … the list goes on and on. As for Vitamin B12, so many foods are fortified with it these days, and you need about 3 micrograms per day, which can easily be obtained.

The nonprofit group Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (pcrm.org), published this infographic which illustrates the hazards of processed meat well:

Bouvard V, Loomis D, Guyton KZ, Grosse Y, El Ghissassi F, Benbrahim-Tallaa L, et al. Carcinogenicity of consumption of red and processed meat The Lancet Oncology, Published online 26 October 2015; http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S1470-2045(15)00444-1

http://www.pcrm.org/health/cancer-resources/diet-cancer/facts/bacon-causes-cancer

Chef Edwin Sander from Amsterdam Cooks Thai Green Curry

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of having my Dutch friend Milou (she helped create and writes for the blog http://www.ourground.nl), and her friend Edwin Sander stay with us.  Edwin is a professional chef (https://www.facebook.com/edwinsanderfoodcreativ) in Amsterdam, and we were thrilled and honored when he agreed to cook for us.  Imagine how excited I was when he said I could write down his recipe and take pictures of the food for my blog!  Edwin made us a delightful green curry which tastes way better than most restaurant versions I’ve had.

Curry contains chili, cilantro, and turmeric, which are so beneficial for your health.  Here’s why:

-The active molecule in chili, capsaicin, has been known to fight inflammation of the stomach, decrease high blood pressure, and reduce your body’s reaction to pain. A recent study has also shown that capsaicin decreases mortality from heart disease, cancer, and lung diseases.

-Cilantro, aka coriander, lowers blood pressure. The nitrates in cilantro directly relax the blood vessels in your body.

-Turmeric (curcumin) prevents cancer as an antioxidant, carcinogen-blocking, and antiproliferative substance.  This means that turmeric blocks transformation of normal cells to tumor cells and then prevents the growth of tumors and their spread to other parts of the body.  It is rare that compounds in food work as well as turmeric does in preventing cancer, so when you get the opportunity to use it, I highly suggest you do!

Thai Green Curry: serves 6

Prep: 15 minutes; Cook time 30 minutes

4 tablespoons coconut oil

2 onions, diced

2 cloves garlic, diced

100 g Vegan green curry paste
3 cans coconut milk
2 persian cucumbers
2 red bell peppers
1 head broccoli
1 cup of raw green beans
1 pineapple, cut into 1 inch chunks
3 limes for their juices and to make lime zest (about 2 tablespoonfuls total – tutorial video here: lime zest)
1/8 cup chopped cilantro
Optional: 1/8 cup chopped dill
Optional: 1 teaspoon of turmeric per person to add to the curry as it boils
Fresh steamed rice
4 pieces of Gardein chicken scaloppini
*To cook all the vegetables the same way through, cut them to the same size.
1. Saute garlic and onions with coconut oil for several minutes until onions turn opaque
2. Add 100 g curry paste (less if you don’t want it super spicy!) and stir for a minute.
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Then, add 3 cans coconut milk on heat medium high to bring to a boil. Reduce to low-medium heat and continue to simmer, uncovered, and stir occasionally for 20 minutes while it reaches the desired texture.
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Remember to add the turmeric if you want to make this super anti-cancer! Also, add 2 limes’ juice while it simmers.
3. Prep the rest of the vegetables at this time: Cut the ends off the green beans and cut to 1 inch long pieces, cut the broccoli into 1 inch florets, red peppers to 1 inch pieces, and cut cucumbers in half length-wise.
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5. Pan-fry the Gardein chicken in 2 tablespoons coconut oil, 5 minutes on each side. When it’s done cooking, chop into 1 inch pieces. Meanwhile…
6. Bring curry to a boil again. Add the green beans, let cook for 1 minute, followed by broccoli, cook for 2 minutes. Take the pan off the heat, then add the red peppers.
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7. In a bowl, arrange the cucumbers, pineapple, and “chicken” over rice.
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8. Pour your curry the ingredients.  Add the chopped cilantro, dill, and lime zest, as well as the juice of 1 lime spread over each bowl. And it’s time to serve!
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Edwin making sure our meal looked like it was created by a professional.
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Sources:

Lv et al. Consumption of spicy foods and total and cause specific mortality: population based cohort study. BMJ 2015;351:h3942

Oaklander, Mandy. The Intriguing link between spicy food and a longer life. Time Magazine; published August 4, 2015.  Accessed online 9/29/2015.

W. Park, A. R. M. R. Amin, Z. G. Chen, D. M. Shin. New perspectives of curcumin in cancer prevention. Cancer Prev Res (Phila) 2013 6(5):387 – 400.

Webb AJ, Patel N, Loukogeorgakis S, Okorie M, Aboud Z, Misra S, Rashid R, Miall P, Deanfield J, Benjamin N, MacAllister R, Hobbs AJ, Ahluwalia A. Acute blood pressure lowering, vasoprotective, and antiplatelet properties of dietary nitrate via bioconversion to nitrite. Hypertension. 2008 Mar;51(3):784-90. Epub 2008 Feb 4.

 

Making big changes, and meeting cows

I thought I’d write a bit about my own story.  What exactly prompted me to make my lifestyle changes?

Back in college, I decided I wanted to be a “pescetarian” – someone who eats fish, but no other meat.  I was inspired by my roommate Elsa, who was vegetarian.  I did it for health reasons, and because I felt I didn’t really need to eat meat to have good nutrition.

It took a bit of getting used to (“No more turkey sandwiches?! This is inconvenient! I’ll have to find something else to eat in my plentiful refrigerator and cupboards!”) but soon I was well on my way.  A few months later, I went to my primary doctor for menstrual cramps. I had a mild anemia, nothing serious, due to my period.  He recommended I start taking some iron supplements and specifically that I eat red meat for the iron.  My pescetarian streak was up.  “I can’t be a vegetarian,” I told myself. “I have anemia.”

In New Orleans for medical school, I ate just about everything.  I tried alligator, turtle soup, and duck, which were all very popular there.  One of my best friends, Meghan, was vegetarian, and I didn’t even think to ask her why.  Then my mom started talking to me about going to factory farms.  I’ll never forget the feelings of disbelief when I heard that animals were leading horrific lives.  In my mind, I had naively imagined cows hanging out in green pastures during the day, being taken into barns at night, living life with their fellow bovine friends and calves.  I probably had heard of factory farms, but in blissful ignorance completely dissociated that with the food I was eating.

It didn’t take long for me to associate that killing an animal that inherently wants to live and not suffer is wrong, and I can save their lives by not eating them.  I can try to imagine how awful it must be, to be that animal that will be killed.  But what’s wrong with eating dairy and eggs?

Did you know that cows, just like female humans, do not produce milk all the time?  That they need to be pregnant or recently have had a baby?  Oh!  So how do they get pregnant, and what happens to their babies?  Unfortunately, in our system, workers invasively (that means put a tube into their sensitive area) artificially inseminate cows to get them pregnant.

900px-Artificially-Inseminate-Cows-and-Heifers-Step-18(http://www.wikihow.com/Artificially-Inseminate-Cows-and-Heifers)

Then the cows go through pregnancy for 9 months, and finally, they have their babies.  Soon after they have their babies (I’m talking hours, not weeks), the baby is taken from its mother who just carried it for 9 months.

Does the cow fulfill her motherly instinct to lovingly dote and bond with her children and to raise them, like a human mother has the right to do?  No, we pull the baby and its mother apart. The male baby has the joy of going to slaughter to be sold in markets as “veal,” while the female baby is destined to become a dairy cow and live the life her mother lived.  The life of a dairy cow can therefore be summarized as cycles of insemination and pregnancy, followed by the anguish of humans stealing her babies, and getting her milk meant for her baby taken from her to be consumed by humans.

If you want an example of what it looks like, you can find any number of videos quite easily.  Here’s one:

As a person who wants to be a mother one day, I can’t imagine how much hurt we are creating in these animals as we tear families apart, just to consume their milk and milk products.  And by the way, would you drink human milk or eat human milk cheese?  What makes eating cows’ or goats’ or sheep’s milk cheese any less gross?  At least human milk is our same species.

(Don’t worry, I’ll cover eggs later! That’s enough sadness for one post!)

On a brighter note, I traveled to Norway this summer, and farm animals there are lucky enough to live as I originally imagined they did: on bright green fields, together with their friends (though I didn’t see any babies).  I asked several Norwegians if they had factory farms like we do in the U.S., and they replied, “Of course not!  Animals are meant to be in the fields, not in factories.”  I couldn’t have agreed more!  I haven’t met too many cows, but these ones were really friendly with me.  Looking into their eyes, I saw kindness and peacefulness.

Petting a cow
Petting a cow

They even made me laugh as they tried to lick my hands.

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I walked away and said bye, and they followed!
I walked away and said bye, and they followed!

I’d say that changing my diet has been an exercise in expanding my compassion.  As a doctor, that’s very important, and as a human citizen sharing this Earth with billions of humans and trillions of animals, it’s even more important.  I try to walk a mile in someone else’s paws/ hooves/ claws/ shoes way more often now, because compassion creates more compassion.  The more I practice it, the better I hope to become.  Changing my diet has also been an exercise in taking the initiative to educate myself, and being brave enough to change what I do to be more in line with how I truly feel.  Remember, making big changes doesn’t happen overnight.  It can take months to years to change your mindset, but once you start, you won’t look back.

Human Rights: Part I – Slavery in the Thai Fishing Industry

Animal rights are an obvious part of why it’s beneficial for the world to stop eating animals.  Did you know that human rights are also involved?  I hadn’t thought about that until I stumbled upon some articles, but it makes sense.  In order to provide the vast number of animals humans want to eat, industries must employ people to raise, catch, and kill the animals.  Would you want to work at a slaughterhouse or live on an industrial fishing boat, out at sea for years at a time?  When greedy and nefarious businesses in need of labor intersect with vulnerable populations in need of work, human rights violations can run rampant.

A few articles I read recently involve Thailand, a country that, according to the State Department, is among the worst in the world for human trafficking, and also supplies a large amount of the world’s seafood.  In the Thai fishing industry, migrant workers escaping their neighboring home countries for better opportunities end up living and working essentially as slaves.  Their labor in turn allows the industry to cheaply acquire lots of fish and has contributed to advancing Thailand’s $7.3 billion/year fish industry.  With the global demand for seafood increasing (haven’t we all heard the supposed benefits of eating fish?), the supply must keep up.

An estimated 200,000 unregistered people currently work on Thai fishing vessels, and many have died already – the count will never be known (http://edition.cnn.com/2015/05/11/asia/freedom-project-thailand-fishing-slave-ships/).  The industry has institutionalized lying, coercing, and even violently forcing people to work for them.  Once out at sea, the crews are at the mercy of the captains.  Over time, the vessels must travel further from land in search of fish, as overfishing depletes the fish in the Gulf of Thailand.  Crews may work 20 hours a day in dangerous conditions for years at a time, never returning to shore, risking their lives to infection, accidents, and violence, for meager to no compensation.  Migrants are trafficked and kept on tiny islands that have become open air prisons, so the fishing industry can use them as labor on fishing vessels.

The Thai government has vowed to crack down on human trafficking, and Western countries have tried to track the origins of seafood that they bring onto their grocery store shelves.  Despite these efforts, the problem is getting worse as global demand for seafood increases and overfishing worsens.

How can you help end this form of modern day slavery? If the fishing industry doesn’t have anybody willing to buy their fish, they and their cruel practices will sink.

Here are the articles I’ve read (all accessed 8/17/2015):

http://edition.cnn.com/2015/05/11/asia/freedom-project-thailand-fishing-slave-ships/

http://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/07/27/world/outlaw-ocean-thailand-fishing-sea-slaves-pets.html?emc=edit_na_20150727&nlid=56062739&ref=cta&_r=0&referrer=

http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/jul/20/thai-fishing-industry-implicated-enslavement-deaths-rohingya

Image: http://www.newsecuritybeat.org/2015/08/crossing-borders-defying-policing-abuses-thailands-fishing-industry-challenge-international-system/ accessed 8/18/15

Protein in plants

Lots of people ask me how I can get enough protein without eating animals. It’s actually very simple, and lots has been written about it already. Here’s a great blog post on plant protein. The author did some math that shows the concept quite well. Let’s start with consuming the recommended half a gram of protein per kilogram of lean body mass- the average for a grown man is 56 grams per day. If you eat a plant-based diet with 14% protein, in a 2000 calorie per day diet, that’s 280 calories of protein. Divide 280 by 4 (because there are 4 calories per gram of protein), and you get 70 grams of protein. That’s more than enough for an adult man, and it’s enough for a pregnant woman who needs more.

What is protein? Proteins are made up of amino acids, which is a fancy name given to a group of molecules held together by covalent bonds (bringing back the high school chemistry!) that all share a common backbone of nitrogen, carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen atoms. Different amino acids configured together make different proteins. Your body needs protein in order for your cells to function and to rebuild itself. Your body creates its own proteins all the time from amino acids it can make on its own. It also gets protein/amino acids from the food you eat. Some amino acids are called essential because these are the amino acids your body cannot create on its own. Out of the 22 amino acids, 9 are essential.

All food has protein; it is a myth that animal protein is somehow the best and you won’t get all your essential amino acids if you don’t eat animals. There’s a lot of food propaganda that equates animals to protein, and somehow leaves plants out of the mix. I’ve read on the internet that animal protein is the only complete protein. This is based on the fact that in one meal with animal protein you can get your essential amino acids. However, your body is smart enough to figure out how to get all the essential amino acids from plants, and you don’t need to eat all of the essential amino acids at every meal.

How much protein do you need, and how much is too much? Adult men need 50-70 grams of protein per day (average 56 grams/day), and adult women need 30-50 (average 46 grams/day) or 70 grams/day if they are pregnant. The average Western meat and dairy diet can give you much more. This can lead to weight gain (which can in turn lead to metabolic disturbances, including diabetes and heart disease), kidney strain and possibly later kidney disease, and dehydration.

If you do need extra protein – say you are an avid athlete who’s building muscles all the time, or pregnant and building another human – there are plenty of plant-based sources that give you more than most plants. Spinach, kale, tofu, hemp, chia seeds, beans, and legumes are all great sources. As always, talk to a dietitian or physician if you’re concerned. I’ve been eating a plant-based diet for the past two years, and I’ve never felt better! I have no more sluggishness, nor do I get that heavy pit feeling in my stomach after a meal that makes me have to lie down and recover. I have tons of energy and am more physically active, stronger, and leaner than I have been in my life.

My take home message is this: if you eat a plant-based diet, you will eat enough protein; and if you eat a variety of foods, you will get all of your essential amino acids.

Asian style tofu and vegetable stir fry

This was the first vegan meal I started making back when I was transitioning to eating vegan. It’s reliably delicious. We make it at least three times a month, and it’s enough to feed me and my husband dinner at least a couple of days. The colors are beautiful; you get the chance to eat a lot of healthy vegetables at once. It’s flexible, so you can incorporate any vegetables you like. I find that broccoli, peppers, and mushrooms work well, but I’ve also included eggplant, kale, and cauliflower before. Here’s some nutritional information:

-The bell peppers are a great source of antioxidants.

-The garlic, shallot, and broccoli have been shown in laboratory studies to stop growth of tumor cells.

-Broccoli induces your liver’s detoxification mechanisms – no juice cleanse needed! It has lots of vitamins and fiber, calcium, and more protein per calorie than beef.

-Mushrooms are high in vitamin D and B vitamins, manganese, and selenium.

Start with pan frying the tofu with garlic and shallots, then work in the vegetables. I usually cook a small pot of rice (and heat the rice with sesame oil first for a few minutes to bring out its flavor before adding water).

Servings: 4-6

Time: prep 15 minutes, cook 15-20 minutes

Tips:

-Squeeze the excess water out of the tofu over the sink, but not so excessively that you crumble it.

-Timing: Start cooking the rice (if you’re cooking rice) when you start cooking the tofu.

-The vegetables don’t have to be cut in a specific way, just make them comfortably bite sized.

-You can use commercially available sauces instead of mirin or soy sauce.

1 pound of tofu, cut up into slices

1 pound of broccoli

8 ounces mushrooms

3 bell peppers

1 shallot

4 cloves of garlic

4 tablespoons sesame oil

1/4 cup mirin (Japanese rice wine)

1/4 cup tamari or soy sauce, mixed with the mirin

Red pepper flakes or Sriracha sauce if desired

1/4 cup cilantro

Instructions:

1. Heat sesame oil on medium heat.  Add tofu, garlic, and shallots.

2. Allow tofu to cook 3-4 minutes on one side, then flip to the other side. Cook on the other side for 3 minutes. Tofu will turn a light brown.

3. Add slower cooking vegetables such as broccoli, cook for 2 minutes, then add the other vegetables and cook for another 2 minutes, rotating the vegetables and tofu around to evenly distribute heat.

4. Add the mirin/soy sauce mixture. Add the cilantro and pepper or sriracha. Cook for another few minutes, until the vegetables are cooked but not soft.

Serve immediately and enjoy!

Side dish: Green beans in a tomato sauce

These green beans are so good! I learned how to make them when I first started cooking, because this was one of my favorite appetizers growing up. It reminds me of hot summers spent in Turkey by the Aegean Sea and eating a light, refreshing lunch in the shade.  The  tomato, onion, and garlic sauce complements the green beans perfectly.  Cooking tomatoes increases the available lycopene in them, a potent antioxidant which may help with macular degeneration and heart disease. Tomatoes are also a good source of Vitamin C, A, and iron. Garlic and onion are a great source of antioxidants as well. Garlic lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Check out this website for more information on garlic.

Servings: 6

Time: 15 minutes of prep, 30 minutes of cooking

Ingredients:

1 pound green beans, ends cut

1 large or 2 medium onions, processed into a thick sauce or minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tomatoes

1 cup of water

3/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons raw sugar

1 teaspoon each salt and pepper or to taste

Directions:

1. Heat half of olive oil and all of the onions and garlic on medium heat, cooking until onions turn opaque.

2. Add tomatoes and cook for 2 minutes, tossing occasionally.

3. Add green beans, rest of olive oil, water, sugar, and salt and pepper. Heat to a boil, then cover and simmer for 30 minutes, until the green beans become soft.

This dish is traditionally served at room temperature, but we like it warm too.

Stuffed bell peppers

A classic Mediterranean dish, this version is vegan (duh) and delicious!  You can do all sorts of variations.  For example, add Gardein beefless ground to get a meaty texture.  I used barley to add protein and fiber, but the typical version uses rice.  Barley is a whole grain, which means it’s great for your heart and blood vessels. Studies have found that eating whole grains every day lowers systolic blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and could therefore reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack. Whole grains such as barley also decrease risk of type 2 diabetes and improve colon health. Bell peppers have vitamin C and antioxidant properties. Red bell peppers are actually more active against oxidation than green peppers. The currants could actually stop the progression of glaucoma and are also rich in antioxidants.

Tighe P, Duthie G, Vaughan N, Brittenden J, Simpson WG, Duthie S, Mutch W, Wahle K, Horgan G, Thies F. Effect of increased consumption of whole-grain foods on blood pressure and other cardiovascular risk markers in healthy middle-aged persons: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Oct;92(4):733-40.

Sun Q, Spiegelman D, van Dam RM, Holmes MD, Malik VS, Willett WC, Hu FB. White rice, brown rice, and risk of type 2 diabetes in US men and women. Arch Intern Med. 2010 Jun 14;170(11):961-9.

H. Ohguro, I. Ohguro, M. Katai, S. Tanaka. Two-year randomized, placebo-controlled study of black currant anthocyanins on visual field in glaucoma. Ophthalmologica. 2012 228(1):26 – 35.

Serves: 4

Time: 45 minutes to cook barley, 15 minutes to make stuffing, 30 minutes in oven = 90 minutes (mostly waiting, not very labor intensive)

4-6 green bell peppers, sliced width-wise at the top to create a “hat”, and seeds and white parts removed on inside

1 cup barley, cooked in 3 cups water for 45 minutes (yields about 3 1/2 cups of barley)

1/4 cup olive oil

1 red onion, chopped into small bits

1/4 cup pine nuts

1/2 cup black currants

1 tomato, chopped into 1 inch pieces

1/2 cup fresh mint, roughly chopped

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon allspice

2-3 pinches each salt and pepper

Directions:

1. Cook the barley until just finished, remove from heat before it gets soft

2. In a pan, combine olive oil and onions, and saute for 5 minutes or until onions turn opaque.

3. Add pine nuts, saute for another minute, then add barley and tomatoes.

4. Add cinnamon and allspice, cook for another couple of minutes, then add the mint, salt and pepper, and toss.

5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large oven pan, fill with water about an inch.

6. Stuff the peppers with the filling. Using a dessert spoon, put spoonfuls of the filling in and then pat down, to ensure that all the spaces are filled. Put the tops on.

7. Put peppers upright with tops on in the pan. Heat at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes, until the color of the peppers has darkened.

8. Remove from oven and serve.

In Turkey, they also serve this dish room temperature or cold, and drizzle olive oil and lemon on it. The choice is yours!

Once again, thanks to www.nutritionfacts.org for the helpful nutritional information!

A child’s perspective

I was walking through the grocery store the other day, when I saw an eye-opening interaction between a child, who appeared to be about four years old, and his father.  They were standing next to the fish display, and the child was staring at the rows of marine life organized on the ice. It went something like this:

Child: Daddy, why are all of those fish dead?

Dad: The fishermen killed them.

Child: Why did they do that?

Dad: Um… I don’t know…

Son: But they didn’t have to kill them, right, Dad?

Dad: They killed them so we can eat them.

Son: But killing is wrong.

Dad then steered his son away from the fish display.

This interaction reminded me of the simple purity of a child’s thoughts.  I’ve loved animals since I was little.  My first books all featured animals of various sorts, and I loved those characters; loving those characters in turn encouraged me to learn how to read.  Whenever I saw a real, live animal, it was a magical experience.  I wanted to get to know them, to touch their fur, to interact with them.  I had respect for them.

And yet, somehow, meatballs in soup with carrots and potatoes, chicken with rice, and various other animal-based meals appeared in front of me.  I was urged to eat them because eating them would make me stronger and help me grow.  The connection between loving animals and then turning around and eating them, was, I am sure, quickly reasoned to be just a matter of fact.  The conversations likely went something like, “Where does this meat come from? A cow? But I like cows. It was born and grew up to become meat for me to eat? I have to eat it or I won’t grow? Okay…”

I don’t blame anyone for conditioning me to eat meat.  I don’t blame people who are conditioned to eat meat for doing so.  However, we have options now.  I encourage you to think about what, or who, you are really eating.  When I started to do this, it felt like such a relief, to be rid of the dissonance between loving and respecting animals’ lives, and eating them too.

A cute video touched me recently.  I highly recommend watching it: