Tuesday, April 14, 2009

How to make yourself feel talented


Thursday, January 22, 2009


I have been reading a lot of literature recently about food, including the Omnivore's Dilemma and Animal Liberation, and it's been sort of nagging at me that I want to try to pay more attention to what I eat. It's clear that I can't be entirely connected with everything I eat and still have time for other interesting activities, nor do I want to be full-on vegetarian because I enjoy eating meat; a simple compromise seemed to be to spend some time only eating meat that I was aware was humanely (funny term - treated like a human) raised.

At the end of last year, my girlfriend and I decided to try to do this, along with some extra stuff which made the diet a little more difficult. We decided on a timespan of 2 months, where we'd heed 4 rules:
  • No meat that we don't know or approve of the source of: This means wild caught fish only, pastured pork and chicken and grass-fed beef. Shellfish are OK based on Peter Singer's point of view on animal nervous systems and capacity for suffering. I'm dubbing this "Source-Itarianism" unless someone else gives me a better name.
  • No fried foods: Basically no deep fried foods. This was inserted mainly as a challenge for me because I LOVE fried food, and will always order it when given the opportunity. Renee is also something of a french fry junkie. 1 exception - tortilla chips.
  • No soda: Standard thing for me to try to avoid. It seems I always come back to it, though
  • No Desserts: This one was for Renee. She wants Amy's Ice Cream every day, so she wanted to try to avoid it for a few months.
We also allowed for a few days when we could break the diet, namely Renee's birthday, our 3 year anniversary, and Valentine's day.
So we've been doing this for a couple of weeks - here are some tidbits:

1. One of the major benefits so far has been a huge increase in the variety of food I eat. I now have to seek out the menu items that conform to the diet, and they're always different. It's a lot of fun going to the same restaurants you always go to but getting completely different things.

2. In order to pull off a diet like this, you have to schedule in times when you can break it, and here's why. We went out to Hut's Hamburgers last night and got hamburgers and fries and cokes. It made us feel TERRIBLE - your food just isn't that heavy when you're not eating fried foods, and it's really noticeable. Walking to the car, we were like 'I'm excited to go back to the diet'. If we didn't have that break scheduled in there, we would've just craved french fries the whole time, remember how awesome they taste.

3. The net effect of the source-itarianism portion of the diet is that we only eat meat from home (we have a freezer full of grass-fed beef and hunted pork).

4. The diet would be much more difficult without this book: Super Natural Cooking. It's fantastic - it teaches you all about cooking with whole ingredients, and emphasizes feel over robotic instruction-following. There is so much good, easy-to-make vegetarian stuff in there that I don't feel like I'm missing anything by not eating as much meat.

5. Ordering dishes that don't have meat is MUCH cheaper. I'm sure this is well documented, but I concur. Meat is almost always the most expensive thing you're eating. Avoiding it means a lot of cost savings, though I'm not sure how much. At least 2 dollars per meal out, and probably closer to 5 or 6 for meals you cook at home.

6. Vegetarian cooking is EASY! It seems like meat is always the thing that takes the most time, and is at the most risk of going horribly, noticeably wrong. Vegetables are delicious at most every stage of cookedness, notably including raw. Vegetarian cooking is fast - no 3 hour braises, etc.

7. It isn't that hard to stick to. I did't find myself craving any of the food I had to avoid after about the 4th day.

Riding the Bus: The hits just keep on coming

I have a lot of flexibility with my job. I can come and go pretty much as I please. I really appreciate the flexibility but it has its drawbacks; mainly, it's very easy for me to rationalize why I need to leave at 3 and finish the day at home. While I do work when I get home, the distractions at home and task switching overhead make the whole thing really inefficient, and lead to me feeling unhappy. Also I find myself unable to clearly delineate work and the rest of my life since I always feel like I should've done more that day.

I think I've been riding the bus for almost a month now, and it took about that long for me to realize something pretty interesting. I was sitting in my office the other day at about 3 PM and got the standard 'I want to go home' feeling, so I went to start packing up my stuff. Then I realized that I didn't drive, so I'd better check to see when the next bus was going to come, which was not for another 38 minutes. 38 minutes?! I wasn't going to wait outside for 38 minutes, so I went back to my previous task and finished it, distraction averted.

Do you see what happened? It is now more difficult to act on a whim and ride home then it is to stay and do my work until I should actually leave! Some people have more self control than this, but I'm just developing it, so having a way to stack the odds in favor of me accomplishing something makes me very happy.

Another side affect: After this realization, I have been able to take advantage of this new-found inability to give in to laziness. If I'm going to stay this long, I thought, I'm going to make sure I know how productive I'm being. I started taking some extra time during the day to track my activities, and then spend the last few minutes of every day figuring out what I'm going to do the following day. This last part means that when I leave work, I am DONE until I arrive the next day, and it's guilt-free because I know how much I accomplished. There is no lingering 'but I should've...'.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Connecting the dots on the food chain

After reading Omnivore's dilemma, which is a book that anyone interested in food should read, it became a glaring moral imperative to me that I connect the dots in the chain from "animal in the field" to "thing I cook". I had never seen an animal alive that I later made a meal of, or really faced up to the fact that something with a nervous system and capacity for pain very similar to mine had to experience death for me to eat meat. I wanted to take some amount of responsibility for the animals that enable my carnivorous ways, and see what impacts it had on my attitudes and behavior.

Several of my friends have been hunting this season, and I finally found a date that I could tag along. We went out for the hunt and returned the following day having been responsible for the deaths of a 200 pound feral hog and a 100 pound wild boar. I'll spare the details, except for a few items that I think are interesting.

First, I was alone for my first shot for over an hour, during which time I was given an opportunity to through all twelve stages of the pre-first-shot moral dilemma. I considered all the ways I could lie and not kill anything - shoot at nothing and say I missed or say I never saw anything. It was a circuitous mental journey that finally brought me to the conclusion that I went there to connect the dots, so I would have to shoot if given the opportunity.

Second, when the boars finally came into view, I didn't turn into a shaky spazz that wasn't able to pull off a shot. I became intensely focused, which is quite a feat if you know me. I was so focused on a steady aim tracking to the movements of the boar that I don't even remember hearing the gun go off. This was a great surprise to me, and it gives me the impression that I have a mode of operation that's wired into my DNA that is specifically for tracking food.

Third, it wasn't nearly as awkward to "process" the animal as I thought it would be; the term "processing", for the record, is a feat in euphemistic artistry - it was nasty. I thought the act would be difficult to complete for reasons of intestinal fortitude, but I was able to get through this part with a minimum of revulsion - once the animal had died, I instinctively no longer associated it strongly with a living being.

At this point, I'd recommend the experience to anyone who realizes that they may be taking their food for granted. Now I'm going to wait a month and see if I feel like anything has changed in the way I think about meat or eating.