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Memento Mori (or: why I still have spots) October 7, 2010

Posted by tuimeltje in food-related, rant.

As much as I love being vegan and can enjoy a bit of vegan community, there’s a thing about the vegan community that tends to bug the hell out of me.
Here one recent example, the one time I bothered bothering. I don’t intend it to be a one-off thing. Hardly the only one, just the one I can write about fairly easily because it’s recent and it involves me.

So here’s the story.
Tuesday evening I read the Vegan Hope Facebook page, one I’ve come to rather like since that $21 challenge.
What I found that day was this:

Wishes more people would stop thinking pink and start thinking GREENS. If we are serious about stopping *most* breast cancers we must become serious about the way we eat.

Quite a bold statement, that.
Prevent or cure* most breast cancers? Reading that had me wanting some information about how one would come to such a conclusion, especially after my most recent dip into that subject (admittedly, that was a good few months ago) had me under the impression that diet hadn’t been shown to have much of an influence on breast cancer risk, with the closest I could find being excess alcohol use and obesity.

So I asked for references to back up this claim, which is the sensible thing to do in those kinds of situations. I was thinking I’d be getting something along the lines of a recent article, maybe some link for a cancer society or a recent blog post, something about a recent discovery. Something we could discuss and pick apart to see if the data supported that statement.

What I got, however, was a long list of books and DVDs, with The China Study mentioned twice. I’ve read that book and while a good read, I was was somewhat uncomfortable with it mainly going on about a somewhat simplistic One True/Main Cause for really rather complex conditions.
I am not the only one with doubts, and as a reader of the Science Based Medicine blogs, I’ve enjoyed these two blog posts which did a little critical reading (and was happy I was eating plants for the ethics).
I mentioned one in my comment after the few that gave me a reading list rather than an answer, along with an ACS link and an NCI link about breast cancer and diet.**
If I don’t get an answer, I’d better look for one myself.
I also clarified that I would prefer PubMed info to books and probably some other thing, but I don’t fully remember.

You see, when I’d gotten to my computer the next morning, my messages had been deleted and, judging by the inviting “like” button, I was no longer a follower of that particular page.
Rather bad form, that.
It also means I’m working from memory. So while I know there was another link I put there, one with a list of cancers and and possible dietary risk factors, I was unable to find that link again.

Because I’d not expected that and am not used to such things, I’d not made any screen caps. I made some this morning, which may no longer show my posts but do show someone else mentioning me as proof that I was, at one point, there.

See here:
Where did I go?

(yeah, crappy and small. This one is marginally better)

Deletion like this is very annoying and *so* not the way to deal such a situation.
The proper course of action when asked to back up a clearly*** defined statement with evidence? One brings evidence (and no, an avalanche of books will not do. I’ll get to that in a sec). Following that, the evidence will be discussed to see if the statement is supported.
It is *not* shutting down the conversation when it turns out not everyone wants to pat your back for speaking “truth” and then delete the bits that question that “truth”.

I’m pretty easy, really. If you don’t want to discuss it, you can tell me. If I’m honest, I would be disappointed because I think making sloppy claims hurts veganism and the public perception of vegans and veganism and there’s some issues to the statement I’ll get into below, but I’d respect your wishes and be content to take it no further. People made curious by my statements would know where to find me.

However, this act of silencing, apart from being rather rude, makes me very uncomfortable. Stifling anything that comes close to dissent, discouraging actual debate and critical thinking, deleting the bits you don’t like, show only the bits that agree with you, makes the whole thing a very groupthinky affair and it all gets a little too close to cultishness for me.
This does not help veganism.
These kinds of instances creep me out and are among the main reasons I prefer hanging out with vegans rather than being part of some vegan community.†

Apart from the deletions, there’s another thing that bugged me.
The huge reading/viewing list.

I have no idea if it was intended like that, but it felt like it was a way to tell me to “stop being contrary, shut up until you’ve read this, be convinced, then come back and play nice”. As if asking for clarification or substantiation of a claim made me the thick kid who didn’t quite get the awesomeness of plant-based living, like not having read all of those books made it so I was clearly not in possession of all the information needed to participate in this conversation, and could I go fix that please, before taking to my keyboard again.
Conveniently, fixing that would take a good amount of my time and more money than I’m willing to spend on books, so would be a nice, polite, non-confrontational way of getting me to shut up indefinitely which means that, for the time being, you can take your fingers out of your ears and stop saying silly things in a sing-song voice because I won’t be around to ask you to defend whatever you might say next.

It also reframes the argument somewhat. While the only thing I wanted was some information on the basis for that specific claim, I now have a whole list of books, no doubt filled with too many claims to check, to go through and dissect. Or accept at face-value, if I can’t be bothered to be thorough and kind of like what they’re saying and want to remain part of the group.

And really, there was no need for all of this. I’m not exactly hostile to veganism, or Vegan Hope specifically. Like I said, I rather like the blog and thought the $21 challenge was a great way to create awareness. Thing is, debate me, and you have a chance to hone your argument, get a clearer idea of what statements you can defend in a debate with non-vegans who know their stuff (and believe me, there are plenty of those), all with someone who is keen on veganism and seeing it represented well to the rest of the world.
Missed chance, really.

There’s more.

It’s not just the silencing that bothers me. We’ve not yet gone into why I’m bothered by the actual statement.
This part of the rant goes beyond what happened on Facebook and is more generalised. While the Vegan Hope example was hardly the most bothersome one I’d ever come across, it was bothersome nonetheless so deserves mention and it is, at the moment, topical for me.
Just so you know this isn’t me trying to attack Vegan Hope personally.

What bugs me about people going on about how veganism, or a whole foods plant-based diet (I get the feeling two tend to be used interchangeably in these kinds of debates) is a cure-all, a prevent-all, and the way to immortality, so everyone would be perfectly fine if they’d just get with the programme already.
The claims tend to be rather grand, often grander than the evidence warrants.
Yes, there is evidence that certain lifestyle factors increase or decrease one’s chance of getting certain diseases and healthy habits should be encouraged at every turn, but even with that, we’ll still get ill, we’ll still die. Claiming otherwise, making bigger claims than the evidence supports, does no one any favours.
Beyond that, this “all” kind of thinking tends deny that and have an unspoken undercurrent of victim-blaming that makes me very uncomfortable.

Ill? Well, since eating just plants would have prevented that, you must have done something wrong. Here, let me educate you.
Not getting better after you’ve mended your wicked ways? I bet you cheated or didn’t find quite the right way to go about it.

It allows you to accept neat, understandable, and above all, avoidable reasons to explain how other people got themselves in some rather unenviable position, and feel smug about how *you* are not doing that and managed to kill your fears of becoming ill by knowing that *your* actions will spare you such a fate. A rather judgmental attitude that neatly gets in the way of actually being compassionate and helpful to people who could really use it.
It’s the sort of thing that makes my blood boil, especially when combined with disparaging remarks regarding modern medicine and medical professionals.

As an aside, this also very much goes for parents who have a child born with (a) congenital defect(s). Most of the time, there are no known (avoidable) risk factors, nothing they could’ve done differently to prevent their child from being born like that.
If you discuss what they might’ve done wrong or shun them because only dodgy parents get defective kids, I’ll not be pleased and I *will* call you on it.

The idea that people are fully in control of their own (or unborn baby’s) health, go on as if the most natural state of the human body is “healthy” and therefore living “naturally” or “healthy” will restore your body to that supposed baseline, makes me really, really punchy. Apart from there being a whole lot of genetics, uncontrollable factors, unknowns, and simple bad luck involved with health that such an ideology refuses to account for, there’s also some iffy classicist implications.
Those rich people living longer and more healthily? They totally deserve that! Those lazy poor slobs should just take better care of themselves.
Ben Goldacre wrote it better than me here (scroll down a bit, though the whole thing is well worth a read).

The fact of the matter is, veganism doesn’t actually need any of this. It’s a perfectly nice ethical concept which is mostly easy to implement in one’s daily life. Few people, especially few doctors and researchers, question the healthfulness of eating plenty of plants. There’s ample evidence to back that up.
There’s nothing wrong with mentioning that evidence. Just know the limits and stick to what’s known rather than what you’d like to be true.
It’s not as if, when you find out that the main risk factor for some disease isn’t diet-related, the whole exercise is pointless. Veganism is, above all, an ethical view from which certain dietary practices follow.
It not curing/preventig all ills does not mean that the improvements you made through dietary change are irrelevant or illusory.
Nuance. Subtley. Shades of grey. They matter. Learn to love them.

Oh, and by the way, I still get spots. PETA pretty damn near promised me going vegan would give me a skin free of blemishes.
Guess they were wrong.
Good thing there are actual good arguments in favour of veganism, isn’t it?

If you’ve read this far, you might interested in learning more about critical thinking and skepticism. If so, check out something skeptical. Say, one of the many podcasts or blogs. If you’ve found one or two, it’ll take you no time at all to find more than you can keep up with. That’s how I got started.
As for blogs, I already mentioned two in this post (by the way, be sure to also check out Ben Goldacre’s book), as for podcasts, my firsts were Hunting Humbug 101 and Skepticality, I’ve a strong love for the Quack Cast, and just today I was listening to Righteous Indignation podcast.

If I get around to it, next post will be a bit more cheerful and should involve the carrot my girlfriend gave me for World Animal Day.

* Initially I took the statement to be about prevention, but after rereading, I realised it could just as easily, if not more easily, be about curing breast cancer. I mentioned this in my last comment, but never got an answer.

** Want PubMed links? Here’s one. Want more? Go to PubMed.com and search for something along the lines of “breast cancer diet” or “breast cancer risk factors”. Have fun!

*** Well, sorta. See *

† This is not limited to the vegan community but is something I can find to some degree in many communities.


Mite August 9, 2009

Posted by tuimeltje in food, review, snack, travel.
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I’ve just come back from the annual UK trip with the band (though no Sinead this year, unfortunately). This year was the 250th anniversary of the battle of Minden (big parade, unfortunately without Brigadier Coutts), so some Dutch re-enactors of KOSB-ness were sharing the barracks with us. It’s always amusing to expose new people to something like pb&kale sammiches.

While doing my usual enthusiastic grocery shopping I came across something so British I would’ve bought it even if I loathed the stuff.
The things I came across? Marmite rice cakes and Marmite breadsticks.

Luckily I’m rather fond of the stuff so I didn’t just buy it for the novelty value. While it’s not, as far as I know, particularly popular in the Netherlands, I’ve always had access to it. Not sure if my parents liked it (though they might have. My mum used to eat that smelly green Swiss powdered cheese. People eating that might eat anything), but my grandma always had it (should’ve bought here a bag too, perhaps…). I doubt I much cared for it until I went vegetarian or even vegan, but now? Good stuff.
So the idea of rice cakes and breadsticks, two foods my mum gave me as snacks when I was a kid, with Marmite, a food which is, to me, both very British and very family? Made me quite happy indeed.

The rice cakes were most tasty. Properly Marmite-y but not so much Marmite that the taste is overwhelming. The breadsticks, however, I didn’t like quite as much. They weren’t bad, just not as Marmite-y as I would have liked. They were kind of bland, only slightly more flavourful than your basic plain breadsticks. Shame, really. If they still exist next time I have the opportunity to buy me some I’ll stick to the rice cakes.


– – –

The day after we came home, we had a barbeque.
I’m not very good at barbeques. It’s not a social event that played a big part of my upbringing or something I have particularly fond memories of, and after going vegan, spending an evening watching dead bits get cooked is not exactly my idea of a fun time.
However, this one would be attended by some people who’d been unable to come along on the trip, two of whom had gotten some very good news while we were away and I really needed to hug one of them, and it’s just a lot of fun spending some non-musical social time with these people. They’re a good bunch.
So I went.
I had intended on making some fancy stuff to show that vegans can have great barbeque food, but I was too tired and lazy to even look up something about vegan barbequeing, so I ended up simply stopping by the supermarked I passed on the way to pick up some basics that would feed me well enough.
Being: A courgette, a box of cherry tomatoes, a baguette, two portabello mushrooms, and a bag of mixed green veg.

Using the courgette, the tomatoes, the host’s garlic and the host’s cool home-made skewers, I made more vegetable skewers than I would be able to eat that evening (sharing time!). The mushrooms I just oiled and roasted.

Before roast:

After roast, with additions.
Vegan BBQ - after

While fairly average food (portabellos could probably do with something more than just olive oil) and a lot of exposure to dead bits, I do like to count the barbeque evening as a success. I had a great time and my omni mates were positive about my food. They needed my urgings to eat some too more as an okay to eat “my” food rather than a bit of a push to eat the freaky, way too healthy stuff, which made me happy.
Of course, if they’d have framed courgette, tomato and garlic as something weird and freaky, only to be eaten on a dare or to cultivate their culinary edgy will-eat-anything image, I would have denied them the permission to ever eat Italian food again, so it was in their own best interest.

– – –

I’m still not entirely sure what Irn Bru reminds me of, but I’ve narrowed it down to something purple. Probably. Maybe brown.
Should match nicely with the orange, yeah.
Also? Walkers changed their crisps so now only the basic salty ones are vegan. Bastards. I don’t actually really like crisps, but I quite like having some Salt & Vinegar ones when in the UK just because they’re not available here and they have this sharp and rather acidic flavour which, while not wholly pleasing, is quite interesting.
The only portion-packaged S&V crisps not containing something obviously animal-derived were the McCoy ones, if I recall correctly, but they had a few things listed that I didn’t bother to try to pronounce even in my head, so I decided to just forgo crisps this year.
Luckily I found the Marmite stuff. Much better!

ETA: One thing that amused me terribly, for no other reason than the fact that it had a kangaroo on it and smuggling kangaroos into the UK makes me think of bouncy hijinks, is this DEFRA poster or what have you.


No More Rube April 24, 2009

Posted by tuimeltje in home grown.
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There’s more rhubarb. Unprocessed as of yet, but there’s more rhubarb.
My grandma gave me some again when we went to visit her again this week.

This time however, we didn’t visit to celebrate.

This time we visited because my granddad had died.

I again took my grandma out to see the garden. Not to let her show me around but so she could see the apple trees.

My granddad had been asking if they were blossoming yet. but as she’d not gone outside during those last few days, she had been unable to tell him.

They were blossoming.


Falafel Again July 9, 2008

Posted by tuimeltje in breakfast, eating out, food, review.

Last week I took this little exam that I should’ve passed a few years back. This time, despite not actually having physically practiced some of the skills for at least a year, I passed. Go me! (And everyone else, since the other students taking the exam that day all passed as well)
I thought this called for a little celebration and I figured I might as well feel a little more festive about the Maoz falafel I’d promised myself after Bonnie mentioned something about aubergines.

So yesterday I figured I might as well go, since I had the day off and waiting any longer would make the exam results-link a bit fuzzy. Again this falafel ended up being effectively what I had for breakfast even though it was technically speaking early in the afternoon.

My Maoz aubergine with lots of stuff on:
Maoz Falafel

It was very tasty. While the aubergine taste wasn’t very obvious, it was this slight difference, mixed with the falafel, that made the whole thing better. I’m very glad I learned about this option.

It’s been a while since I last visited De Falafel, so I’m not sure I can make a proper comparison but I’m going to try anyway.

-I think the price is about the same at both places. There might be some differences, but nothing huge.

-Both places have green olives as part of their salad bar. However, the Maoz ones still have the stones, which is a little inconvenient.

-The rest of the salad bars are quite similar, with similar veg and similar sauces, though there are some minor differences. I think De Falafel has sauerkraut and that yellow sauce, and Maoz has some salad that looks like it has mayo on it and an extra chili sauce on top of that other red, peppery-looking sauce.

-Maoz, however, has more variety. You can have your falafel with added hummus, aubergine, feta (not vegan, but still. It’s an option), and avocado, and you can have large and small Maoz. They also sell chips. The pictures suggested fresh juice was sold, but all I saw was your basic cooler with bottled crap. Apart from getting those things on their own, you can get one of their menus.
De Falafel is just falafel. You can buy some bottled drinks and choose between white pita or wholemeal pita, but that’s it.

-I think both have both while and wholemeal pitas available, though I didn’t know this about Maoz until the surly guy asked the customer after me what kind of pita he wanted. I’d have gone for wholemeal if I’d known…

-When I visited, both places were staffed by a slightly surly and not particularly inviting guy. I suspect the students work weekends and possibly some afternoons, because I know that, at De Falafel, at least, I’ve usually had generally friendly people serving. Next time I might try visiting during the weekend or something.

Last time I visited De Falafel, things were a bit messy there.

-I have no clue about the labour practices and working conditions in either place, though I know Maoz is one of those franchise chains. As I’ve only seen one of De Falafel, I suspect that one isn’t. I’m not sure it makes much of a difference to me or the workers, though.

-I’m not entirely sure, but I think both places have their hours tied to shop hours so if you want falafel after 6-ish (9-ish on Fridays), you’ll probably have to go elsewhere.

-De Falafel has been too long ago to accurately compare flavour, so I can’t say too much about that.

At this point, I’ll probably divide my falafel-buying between the two, but if De Falafel continues to be somewhat messy or I find that Maoz is actually tastier, this may well change. At the moment the main things De Falafel has going for it is not looking like its part of a chain and my habit of walking in that direction, and I’m not actually sure those things are all that relevant.

Evaluate June 24, 2008

Posted by tuimeltje in food, review.
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I’ve been meaning to post this sooner, but it’s been a crazy few days and I’ve not had much time.

It’s time for an evaluation of 13 days of more-or-less gluten-free living. Yay!

All-in-all it was pretty easy, though eating lots of veg for lunch at work helped a lot. A normal Dutch lunch is a few slices of bread, and me not having to worry about thinking up a lunch in addition to a dinner was most convenient.

However, I was probably not quite as strict as someone with coeliac disease would be (certainly not about the work veg, I’m pretty sure half the food there contains shoyu), so it’d probably be a bit more effort if I’d really needed to avoid gluten.

I have tried a few gluten-free snack subs which weren’t bad, but weren’t that great either. The Garbo bread was better than I’d expected, though. Some time ago I tried Garbo’s cinnamon buns and they were a little dense and gummy and didn’t have much flavour beyond sweetly cinnamon.I’ve read the same often goes for gluten-free bread, so was pleasnatly surprised with this loaf. It wasn’t gummy at all and while it was a little different from the bread I’m used to, it wasn’t bad. Certainly not as icky as the thing I once tried at the restaurant where I worked some years ago.

While I probably won’t go totally gluten-free unless a pressing reason to do so ever comes up (I do love seitan), I will probably make eating the stuff an exception rather than a rule. At least when I’m in charge of the food.

I didn’t feel much difference to my general well-being during the project. The only thing I noticed was the bit about the subtle craving and the more (or less, depending on how you frame it) mindless eating, but that really was fairly subtle and kind of odd and I’m not sure what to make of it.
The first gluten-again day I had a quick bread snack at work, and I did get that “want more!” feeling. It was a bit odd. It felt so normal, and not very strong. Just like it’s absolutely the most natural thing to want more and more and more of that totally yummy food. However, when I had bready food later on, I didn’t notice that feeling.
I’m not sure I get that more-for-the-sake-of-just-more feeling for other foods when I’m not actually that peckish. Even with chocolate I can just have one cube and leave the rest for later these days. I enjoy it, and wouldn’t object to more, but unless I should really be having a proper meal, I don’t particularly care if I get more or not.

Basically, further study and more data required.

Now that I’m back to gluten-y food, I’m not really noticing that much of a difference, though a busy few days of little sleep and lots of social is probably not one where I’ll get a good idea of my general well-being.

In short, it was a fun project which got me thinking about my food differently and got me something to further explore.