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A Vegan from the Midwest?

Never ever EVER would I have thought that I would have any reaction to veganism that didn’t involve scoffing and feelings of shock, disgust and disdain. I’m from Minnesota – meat was always the centerpiece of dinner, our rival NFL team wears blocks of cheese on their heads, when I was sick my dad would tell me that I was not drinking enough “moo juice”, and fishing is basically the state sport. Not necessarily a breeding ground for veganism. But then came Forks Over Knives…

Forks Over Knives is a documentary that explores the harm that animal proteins can do to our body. The movie centers around two doctors who are advocating plant-based diets – Dr. Campbell and Dr. Esselstyn (both grew up on dairy farms). Dr. Campbell while in the Philippines discovered that the wealthier populations that could afford to eat meat were much more likely to get liver cancer. This lead him to continue to explore the connection between animal proteins and cancer, conducting an extremely comprehensive study of China. Dr. Esselstyn, while looking into breast cancer, found that places in the world that consumed little or no animal-based proteins had incredibly low rates of cancer. Both doctors came to the conclusion that a plant-based diet can not only prevent cancer and other health issues, but can also REVERSE damage already done. This documentary is ridiculously interesting.

I don’t see myself going completely vegan anytime soon, but I think the documentary was very compelling and I have made small adjustments. Instead of Greek yogurt for breakfast I have a grapefruit and whole grain toast with peanut butter. My lunch is almost always some sort of salad that is a random mix of veggies. I’ve switched to almond milk and Ryan and I have seriously amped up the amount of vegetables for dinner. The main concern that we both had as people who like to exercise is can you get enough protein?

Plants have protein too

Plants have plenty of protein – beans, quinoa, spinach, etc. You can find other ways to get it. If you’re interested, here’s one of my favorite recipes that we’ve been having for dinner. I made it up so not really sure what to call it – let’s go with Awesome Bowl. Feel free to omit or add vegetables to suit your tastes.

Ingredients

  • Garlic cloves, minced (we use 2 large ones, but we like lots of garlic)
  • Habanero pepper, finely chopped (we use about 1/8 of the pepper in the dish, Ryan adds more to his because he is nuts) (optional but really gives it a nice flavor)
  • 1/2 shallot, finely chopped (optional)
  • 1/4 of an onion, finely chopped (optional)
  • 1/2 package of baby portobello mushrooms, diced
  • 1 orange bell pepper, diced
  • 1 can of organic black beans (less sodium in the organic)
  • 1 cup of quinoa
  • 2 cups vegetable stock (optional – can substitute with water)
  • 2 zucchinis, diced
  • 1 summer squash, diced
  • 2 tomatoes, diced
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 3 or 4 cups of spinach leaves
  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt, pepper, whatever seasonings you like

Directions

  • To start, put the black beans in a small pot on low. Periodically mash them to give them a more creamy consistency.
  • Start quinoa. I use a rice cooker and use the vegetable stock to cook it in. You could also cook it on the stove – see package instructions for this option.
  • In a large pot, heat some olive oil. Add the garlic, shallots and onions. Saute until translucent.
  • Add mushrooms. Let cook 3-5 minutes.
  • Add zucchini and summer squash. Add salt, pepper and whatever seasoning you like (I use Penzey’s Mural of Spices and thyme). Stir and let cook 5 minutes.
  • Add orange bell pepper. Stir and put top on. Let cook 5 minutes.
  • Add some tomatoes and hold some until the end
  • When the quinoa is finished cooking and the zucchini and summer squash are soft, add spinach leaves to the pot and mix in until spinach becomes wilted. Add remainder of tomatoes.
  • Add quinoa to pot and mix.
  • Add black beans to pot and mix.
  • Serve in a bowl with avocado on the top.

Delicious!

 
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Posted by on March 4, 2012 in Food and Drink

 

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Enhance Your Relaxation During Any Adventure

With the great and many joys that come along with traveling, there is one constant downside no matter where you go – the act of traveling puts your body in some awkward positions.  I’ve never flown first class, so I don’t know for certain, but I would think that even a first class flight leaves the body a little weary.  So, if you are jetting off to Tokyo from the US, so you can hop another plane to Bangkok, so that you can rest for the night and then take a smaller plane to the south of Thailand, you can probably expect that there will be some kinks in your muscles – even if your travel is without them.  But you’re on vacation right?  You aren’t going to bother with the gym or with caring about working out – what could be done anyways?

Yes, you are on vacation; but, you will enjoy it much much more if you aren’t being bothered by the weird crick in your neck that you gave yourself by awkwardly falling asleep with your head on a stranger’s shoulder while drooling.  Plus, just because you get to your destination, doesn’t mean you will suddenly be whisked away into luxury (well, maybe for some trips).  Most people don’t sleep that well outside of their own beds with their perfect concoction of bedding, numbers of pillows, pillow firmness, mattress pliability, etc.  Yes, the majority of us sleep like a princess – that is, the Princess and the Pea – when we are away from home.  Plus during the day you might be kayaking, hiking, mountain biking, or some other activity that may add to your aches.  Even if you are “just” sight-seeing, standing and walking around all day will take it’s toll too.  Let’s face it, we’re not all spring chickens anymore. But…

An easy solution to all of the muscle aches that go along with travel is yoga!  Yoga can be done in your room with little to no equipment (maybe some yoga paws – seriously, I want some of these!) and will help you stretch out your weary body.  Or get outside – you can do yoga on the beach, at your camp, on a mountain, wherever!

Yoga on a mountain: stretch out with a fantastic view

 Plus, you can do as much or as little as you think you need.  Even just a quick 10-15 minute session will have you feeling awesome and ready to start your new day of adventures.  Or you can do it at night as a way to unwind and relax.

Relax

If you are new to yoga, don’t be nervous.  There is yoga for all levels and most dvds will let you know of ways you can modify moves to make them a little easier.  And you do NOT need to be flexible – yoga will help you increase your flexibility.

You don't need to be able to do this to do yoga

In the context of yoga for traveling, it will help your body undo the feeling of being cramped in a tiny space for hours while en route to your latest destination, will take that weird kink out of your back, or ease your muscles after a bumpy ride down a mountain.

My favorite yoga dvds are the Gaiam dvds with Rodney Yee, but there are many dvds out there.  If you don’t know what you will want, check them out from the library, borrow from a friend or try them on Netflix.  There are also tons of yoga apps that you can download on your phone.

My advice is to find a yoga dvd that works for you and either pack it with you or write down the moves so that you can practice them on your own while you travel.  Again, just a few minutes a day goes a long, long way.  It will help you relax, re-group, re-align, and undo any damage that the trains, planes & automobiles may be doing to your body.  Seriously, I even do office yoga at my horrible cubicle to help keep my posture up and my muscles happy.

On a side note: last night I finally tried something I’ve been wanting to try for years now – bikram!  My friend Sheridan has been going to a bikram studio near my house and I tagged along with her to last nights 6PM session.  Bikram is a type of hot yoga done in a room heated to around 105 degrees Fahrenheit.  It’s 90 minutes long and is comprised of 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises.  Many of the poses I had done in other dvds before, but the addition of the heat is another ballgame!  You seriously sweat buckets.  I will say that it was both tiring and invigorating!  Perhaps a good way to detox when you come back from your next vacation…

Namaste

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2011 in Travel

 

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The Limits of Positive Thinking

It’s winter and with all of the traveling over the holidays, lots of people get sick.  All the recycled air on the planes, shared candy and nut dishes full of germs, heaters turned on for the first time kicking out tons of allergy-inducing dust particles, etc. start to pick people off.  All in all, it’s battle time for the immune system.  While I sit at my desk and watch co-worker after co-worker drop like flies with sniffly noses, sore throats, stomach bugs, etc. I happily just “will” myself not to get sick.  Generally, this mind over matter approach, combined with my immune system’s Herculean qualities, carries me through winter/holidays/flu season unscathed and feeling smug about my awesome ability to never be sick.  Literally, I have NEVER had the flu and usually don’t even get so much as a cold.

However, this year, I got an unexpected surprise.  Last week, virtually everyone in my office was sick.  I slowly felt myself getting a sore throat, so I immediately started to hit it with the power of positive thinking – I ignored it or thought to myself, I am not getting sick, that’s impossible.  That worked for a little while until this week when I woke up with a full blown sore throat and cough.  Ugh.  On Monday, I was still trying to will it away.  I woke up at 6AM and started my P90X core synergistics dvd.  Though I made it through the whole workout, it was NOT pretty.  Sniffling throughout, I actually had to hit pause to blow my nose three times.  The rest of the time was a pathetic scene of me struggling to eek out 10 push-ups on moves that I normally do 18.  All the while, I’m coughing and breathing like an obese man hiking Kilimanjaro.  So…maybe no more working out.  Still, I showered up, ate a good breakfast and even curled my hair in an effort to “look good, feel good.”  To no avail.

The last two mornings have not been an improvement.  Today was a carbon copy of yesterday:  hit snooze a gagillion times before finally making myself pull out of the warm cocoon of blankets at around 7:40 (I leave my house at 7:50).  Every effort is then made to put on some sort of outfit, brush my teeth, wash my face, and make an English Muffin with peanut butter for the road.  Then comes the moment I dread…the moment when I realize that maybe positive thinking can only bring you so far…medicine time.  For the next few minutes, I have an old Western-style showdown with the little plastic cup of Robitussin.  The saloon doors swing eerily, a tumbleweed rolls past and I stand transfixed on my foe, the 2 teaspoons of red liquid.  As I start to feel ridiculous because I am 25 years old and taking 3 minutes to will myself to drink a tiny bit of medicine, I realize that I lose.  Time to drink up!  As the syrupy liquid coats my throat, I think to myself, “this shit is just as nasty as I remember it being as a child.”  When I was younger, my mom would trick me into drinking it by barely waking me from a sound sleep.  I would take it without complaint and go back to bed.  But in the morning I always knew – that taste would be there, lingering in my mouth and I would be furious.  Why couldn’t everything taste like the prescription medicine that was pink and tasted like bubblegum?  Possibly the only thing worse than actual Robitussin is this song called The Tussin.

The disgusting ‘tussin is helping a little, but I’ve been sick for a few days now and I have had quite enough so I’m going full assault on this thing.  I have been sleeping around 10 hours a night and have been drinking an obscene amount of water.  My dad always told me that when I was sick it meant I wasn’t eating enough chocolate.  As a remedy, he would take my sister and I to the gas station to get a candy bar.  My mom was not impressed with his home remedies.  But, I always liked his idea, plus cold ice cream makes my throat feel better, so I’ve even gone to Potbelly’s to get a chocolate milkshake.  Finally, I bought myself some cherry cough drops so that I am not dying at my desk.  I was amused to see that even the good people at Halls embrace my positive thinking idea.  Each wrapper on the cough drops has inspirational sayings written on it.  Some of my favorites are: “Impress Yourself Today”, “Put Your Game Face On” and “Let’s hear your battle cry”.  Fantastic.

All the while, Ryan has been making me delicious dinners, including incredibly tasty homemade chicken noodle soup that I had for both dinner and lunch.  And still, I remain sick.  Well, at the end of this week I refuse to be sick.  One of my best friends from college is coming to town to stay with me and I will not be sick.  So….any other ideas?

 
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Posted by on January 12, 2011 in Life

 

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What Makes a Meal Happy?

San Francisco – Home to the Giants (this year’s World Series Champions!) and the Golden Gate Bridge.  Known for its activism and as a forward-thinking city.  But, on November 2nd, San Francisco earned a new notch on its “accomplishment” belt – the banning of happy meals.

Well, while it is being called the “Happy Meal Ban,” it actually does not ban the meals themselves, but states that any meal must meet nutritional guidelines in order to include a toy, thus attacking one of the fundamental elements of the happy mealThe New York Times reports that the bill’s sponsor, Eric Mar, was “horrified by his daughter’s collection of giveaway toys.”  My thought would be, stop bringing your child to McDonalds Mr. Mar.

I think that we can all agree that America overall has become too unhealthy.  Obesity is a major problem for children and adults alike.  The following are some statistics on obesity from a 2007-2008 study done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:   

  • 34% of adults age 20 and over are obese
  • 34% of adults age 20 and over are overweight (and not obese)
  • 18% of adolescents age 12-19 years are obese
  • 20% of children age 6-11 years are obese
  • 10% of children age 2-5 years are obese

Stemming from obesity, health costs increase due to the panoply of ailments and diseases that are much more common and likely when a person is overweight, eating poorly and being a slug.

Still, I dislike the idea of this ban.  First, think about why people go to McDonalds in the first place.  One reason is that its fast so if you are short on time, it’s the perfect answer.  Many of my fast food memories growing up were, ironically, in between softball games or volleyball matches when you only would have like an hour to drive around an unfamiliar place, get food and come back hopefully without having to eat so quickly that you will throw it all up during the next game.

Another reason some people would give is that it’s cheap.  Yes, I realize that it is only slightly more money to buy food at the grocery store if you are shopping the discounts and being smart with your choices.  However, for those who say that McDonalds or any other fast food is attractive because it’s cheap, the absence of a toy with the meal will not change this fact.

Then you have people like my dad who just like the taste.  It wouldn’t matter if he was a millionaire with all the time in the world, he simply enjoys going to McDonalds.  Is it unhealthy?  Of course.  And yes, I do try to get him to eat better.  Still, some people just like the taste of it.  Again, these people are not going to be deterred just because they don’t get the toy. 

Another point to consider is that if the kids really want the toy and its the draw for going, then the parents will likely pay a small sum for the toy.  I can remember only one time when I was younger when I wanted to go to McDonalds just because of the toy – the Beanie Baby craze.  And, when we would go, my parents would buy the toys there.  It didn’t matter if they were free with the meal or not.  It was just as if it was a toy at Toys R Us or Target.  I know that this is just my experience and I am not saying that the toy with the happy meal isn’t a gimmick.  I’m not saying that kids don’t like the toys and that the combination of toys and playplaces don’t make McDonalds seemingly more fun for a kid.  My point is, taking away the free toy is not going to prevent people from going to McDonalds and making unhealthy choices.

If we want to work on our health, kids need to learn about healthy eating in school; gym classes, recess and sports programs should remain in place; and PARENTS need to take a more active role in raising their own kids.  My parents were busy when I was growing up too, but when we did things as a family, we went camping, hiking, fishing, etc.  We were active, we played outside in the yard, etc.  Don’t bring your kid to McDonalds every day and they won’t eat McDonald’s every day.

Additionally, even if I agreed with the intent of this ban, it has major flaws.  People can just leave the city limits and get their happy meals with toys at a neighboring McDonalds.  McDonalds could also work around the ordinance by charging 25 cents for the toy with a purchase of the happy meal.  Also, you are not removing all of the incentives to go to McDonalds.  Finally, this ban is going about things in the wrong way.  Our country should be about freedom and choice, along with the necessary education and tools to make informed (and hopefully smart) decisions.  We shouldn’t go around banning anything that could be unhealthy.  Self control and moderation people!  Should Cheetos remove Chester the Cheetah from their bags?  Should the Keebler Elves come off of the cookie packages?  Maybe we should ban the sale of any candy, junk food, or fast food so that parents can’t buy these items for their kids…

 
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Posted by on November 5, 2010 in Food and Drink

 

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Get Your Mind Right World

In 2000, the United Nations put forth eight goals known as the Millennium Development Goals.   

  1. End Poverty and Hunger
  2. Universal Education
  3. Gender Equality
  4. Child Health
  5. Maternal Health
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS
  7. Environmental Sustainability
  8. Global Partnership

Within each goal there are varying numbers of targets, with 21 targets between all of the goals.  

This September, a summit was convened to examine the progress made thus far and to discuss how we can continue to strive toward the goals and what changes should be made.  As reported in  The New York Times, the United Nations says that only two of the targets seem to be on track to be met:  cutting in half the number of people who lack safe drinking water and halving the number of people who live on $1.25 or less daily.  Additionally, the number of people who have risen above the $1.25/day threshold is likely skewed due to the huge economic progress in China.

And of course, as what always seems to happen when a group of leaders convene, everyone wants to shuffle blame and talk about who should be doing more, giving more, etc.  Other people have complained that the goals are weak because there isn’t an entity holding the world accountable for reaching these goals and thus, there is no sense of responsibility or ownership over the progress and eventual success/failure of the goals.

First, I think that meeting two of the targets is fantastic and are big targets to have achieved.  I do agree that China’s success has probably skewed the numbers, but many other countries have made significant progress.  Plus, it’s still a good thing that the lives of all of those Chinese people have improved, even if it would be more ideal and more telling for the global efforts if the gains were widespread.

Additionally, even if the other targets do not look like they will be met, we can still work toward them as diligently as possible to achieve as much as we can.  Any amount of progress is positive and progress has been made toward each target.  Of course, this is not to say that we should just keep blindly forging ahead without discussion.  It is incredibly useful to analyze programs that have been successful in order to model new programs after them or modify existing programs.  It is also a good idea to analyze unsuccessful programs to see what may have gone wrong, so that adjustments can be made and so those mistakes can be avoided in future programs.  I think that the summit in September, and its media coverage, should have focused most of its attention on analysis of programs and trying to take positive steps forward to continue toward meeting the goals and targets.  Instead of focusing on the negative side of maybe only meeting two targets, successful programs could have been highlighted to motivate people to want to continue working toward achieving the goals.  

Also, I don’t think that it is worth discussing the lack of responsibility or consequences.  Just as answering to a boss doesn’t necessarily make all employees do their best work, the lack of a supervisor or someone you must “answer to” doesn’t mean that an employee will do substandard work.  It’s all about incentives, which can also involve social and moral incentives.  For example, in the book Freakonomics, a story is told about a boss who brings bagels into the office every week and then puts out a basket with the suggested price.  On average, 90% of the people paid the full price for the bagel.  Eventually the man decided to quit his job and become a bagel provider to the area businesses.  What he found was that on average, he was paid 87%.  The slight decline is likely attributable to the fact that his coworkers knew him and would feel bad about cheating him out of the money, whereas a stranger would not have that same concern.  Still, 87% is much higher than what most of his economist friends thought he would receive.  My point with this is that there doesn’t have to be someone watching in order for people to do the right thing. (Hint hint to all you hovering, overbearing bosses out there…you aren’t helping anything, you are just annoying people.)

As far as the Millennium Development Goals are concerned, I think that it is an especially dumb idea to worry over who the world will be accountable to if we don’t reach the goals and that the lack of accountability somehow depletes the desire to allocate the necessary resources.  Instead, if countries are not putting forth enough money, staff, supplies, intelligence, etc to reach the goals, then it is likely because of economic downturns–and subsequent loss of political will–and shifting aid to other areas such as recent natural disasters in Chile, Haiti, Indonesia, Pakistan, etc.

Overall, I just think it is a better use of time to focus on reaching the goals rather than focusing on what happens if we don’t reach them.  If we don’t, then we just keep working!

 
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Posted by on November 4, 2010 in Foreign Policy

 

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