Monday, February 20, 2012

Let's grow plants that we eat

To add to all the exciting activities going on at The Free Farm as described in Tree’s posting below, I hope this posting about Conscious Eating inspires more people to not only eat plants, but to come grow with us as well!
I wore this shirt this past Saturday when I played hooky from The Free Farm to attend Conscious Eating conference ( at UC Berkeley. While I look forward to our Saturday volunteer days at The Free Farm, I can’t seem to resist events that refer to eating :-) and the conference invitation read: “Experts in the field of sustainable agriculture and eating will speak on a truly stable global and local food system where we all have access to healthy food, where all are treated with compassion, and where all are well fed.” Lofty agenda, plus breakfast and lunch were included so I just needed to show up :-)
Cinnamon rolls for breakfast or dessert? Julia Ross, author of The Diet Cure and The Mood Cure books (excerpt at, suggests breakfast with at least 20 grams of protein to counter sugar/fat cravings. Do saturated fats (found in animals and tropical oils) or refined sugars cause heart disease and diabetes? UCSF’s Robert Lustig declares sugar is toxic at
The first presenter was Karen Davis, President and Founder of United Poultry Concerns (, who showed a graphic video of how chickens are mistreated (debeaked, crammed in filthy wire cages in semi-darkness, semi-starvation diets, etc.), and then violently slaughtered. In contrast, her table exhibited these happy free-range, pastured chickens rescued from industrial farms.
James McWilliams (, historian and author of Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly, presented “The Alternative to the Alternatives: Veganism as a Response to Industrial Agriculture.” His main argument was that the factory farm alternative remains a form of moral schizophrenia—though raising animals more humanely, it’s the same game when the owner’s ultimate goal is to end an animal’s life because there’s a market for it. He wants to reach an audience interested in sustainable food because their consciousness has already been raised so he can “try to flip the switch to a better direction”—veganism.

Eating animals is environmentally unsustainable: over half the water in the U.S. goes to raising animals for food; 80% of agricultural land in the U.S. is used to raise animals; 70% of the grains grown in the U.S. are fed to livestock. Globally, as more people from developing countries like China and India create a demand for animal meat, rainforests are destroyed to make pasture for grazing cattle.
LabelGMOs - It's Our Right to Know: Help ensure the safety of food for Californians. Let's get labeling of genetically modified foods on the Ballot for 2012!
Food Empowerment Project ( conducted study on Access to Healthy Foods in Santa Clara County’s Communities of Color and Low-Income Communities noting the lack of meat and dairy alternatives such as meatless burgers/bacon/deli slices/sausage, soy hot dogs, soy cheese, etc.—highly processed convenience foods that aren’t healthy whole foods.
Darina and Jon of Justice for Animals ( staffed VegFund's table, offering $2 to anyone willing to watch graphic video of animals tortured for food production. It was upsetting to watch so I ended up donating $2 for their outreach efforts. More videos at
Sailesh Rao, executive director of Climate Healers (, wrote book Carbon Dharma. He writes of our need to transform from destructive Caterpillars to healing Butterflies, stating “I believe the most effective step that I can take in an urban setting to promote the Butterfly culture is to switch to an organic, vegan diet.”

Making the case for eating mostly plants

Since I knew many of the attendees (including The Free Farm volunteer Julia who’s back from Taiwan!), it was like the presenters were preaching to the choir – and there was quite a bit of advocacy going on. I’m totally comfortable being around earnest, thoughtful and peaceable people who don’t harm living creatures. But I was really uncomfortable with the gory visuals of animal torture and wondered if they were intended to provoke guilt over eating animal flesh. I sorta came for the food, but I was really losing my appetite from viewing and listening on this topic. (Proper digestion requires that we eat in parasympathetic or relaxed mode so we produce watery saliva, which contains digestive enzymes and moistens our food. When stressed, our saliva is thicker and contains fewer enzymes; we release less stomach acid, less blood flow to the stomach; muscle contraction slows, etc.)

It’s not that I’m a Pollyanna or Candide, but I don’t like feeling “stuck” with tragedy (save animals by not eating them) so I feel like following up with something more constructive or hopeful. The conference was about sustainable food choices—getting nutrients directly from plants rather than animals—but the presenters had little to say about growing our own and actually eating plants as a pleasurable alternative. I favor agroecology, which supports crop/animal integration, and I’ve lived on "self-sufficient" farms with pastured chickens for manure and eggs, goats for manure and milk, bees for pollination and honey—without intentional killing of these farm animals (but predators like wild dogs might eat chickens).
Neighbors Opposed to Backyard Slaughter ( supports plant-based agriculture but wants to leave animals out of it.

Mark Zuckerberg said, “I've basically become a vegetarian since the only meat I'm eating is from animals I've killed myself. So far, this has been a good experience. I'm eating a lot healthier foods and I've learned a lot about sustainable farming and raising of animals.” ( Wonder whether he grows the vegetarian foods that he eats?

Conscious Eating conference seemed to focus on avoiding animals for food, but not so much on avoiding industrial food products. But if people want to consciously transition away from the Standard American Diet (SAD) with animal meat as their prime protein source (along with white starch potato/bread and high-sugar refined flour cakes/cookies), go for whole plant foods like classic whole grains + legumes – instead of substitutes like faux meats made of highly processed wheat gluten + soy proteins and “edible food-like substances” passing as vegan butter.

To be sustainable, a veg*n diet has to support one’s health—though one decides to become veg*n for reasons other than health, such as sustaining the environment, animal welfare, or even religion. Most healthy people can make the transition to a vegetarian-whole foods diet, but others with food allergies/sensitivities or compromised health should consult with a health care practitioner trained in nutrition before making dietary changes.

Merely eliminating animal foods, without replacing them with high-quality plant foods, doesn’t make a vegetarian diet healthier. When I transitioned to a vegetarian diet, my work involved a lot of travel and I often ordered my meals vegetarian at restaurants in places not as veg-friendly like SF. For example, when I asked for a Chicken Caesar Salad to be made vegetarian, I would be served Caesar Salad without the chicken, and no protein alternative like tempeh. As a result, I was hungry and ate often—snacking on nuts/seeds.

A vegan diet (which eliminates all animal products like eggs, dairy and honey) is more challenging without supplementation or fortified foods to get needed nutrients. Check out this wonderful post, which includes “Food Guide 4 Vegans,” by Ginny Messina, RD, at And here’s a post about preparing plant foods in traditional ways to maximize nutrition at An awesome local resource for information and support is SF Vegetarian Society (, which hosts monthly potluck lectures and annual Meat Out (March 18, 2012 featuring Jack Norris, RD, who co-wrote Vegan for Life with Messina) and World Veg Festival (October 6-7, 2012) events.
Flacos delivered yummy lunch of mixed greens, rice, black beans and tamales.

“A falling leaf returns to its roots” (Chinese proverb)
Magnolia leaves at SF Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park
My own journey to a plant-based diet began as a child in my family’s own kitchen garden in Hawaii so we always had year-round access to lots of fresh produce. And I loved playing with vibrant colors found in fruits and veggies, while animal meats were kinda dull looking! My parents always reminded me of people starving in China and other developing countries so I was always grateful for food and ate whatever was served, including bitter melon.

As a teenager, I ran away from home to attend college in the Bay Area. But I didn’t try a vegetarian diet until my study abroad at Peking (Beijing) and Fudan (Shanghai) Universities in China because the foreign students canteen was limited to mostly vegetarian fare: braised veggies, peanuts, grains (rice, noodle) with some “mystery meat” (perhaps wheat gluten or soybean?) sauce, and fresh fruit after each meal. I also got drunk on lung ching (dragonwell) tea like the locals! Since I didn’t like spending much time over squat toilets, I found lots of fiber and hydration provided by plants was great for healthy bowel movements :-)! (Vegetables and fruits are often more than 90% water; grains and legumes are more than 80% water when cooked.)

Newly vegan Bill Clinton mentioned being influenced by T. Colin Campbell, who led The China Study, finding that Chinese who ate just 5% animal protein had very low rates of disease. Traditional Chinese view that 5% animal qi energetic as part of a balanced diet, while vegetarian diets are suitable for monks who lead sedentary and stress-free lives. But it’s worth noting that some of the largest and strongest animals are herbivores: gorillas, giraffes, elephants, bulls, rhinoceroses, etc. Humans are omnivores so we can consciously choose what to eat.

Before I became vegetarian, I ate some fish—even catching them from the Pacific Ocean. As a child who went fishing with my dad, I questioned the morality of killing fish to eat, but Pop explained that if we humans didn’t, then larger predatory fish would end up eating the smaller fish so same fate. I actually was troubled hearing this because I was the youngest and smallest in my family so I developed a tendency to root for the underdog. But I was already guilty of killing our goldfish, which I loved to watch while feeding until they bloated and then floated—dead of obesity :-(. Anyway, after learning more about the toxins in polluted waters that accumulate in fish, I began losing my appetite for fish. When I gave up fish, I found myself a vegetarian.

“Let us cultivate our garden” said Candide

"all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds"

Well, if we’re gonna eat mostly plants, we ought to grow them too! In response to my posting with veg groups to encourage growing our own greens, John Kohler of Growing Your Greens wrote the following:

I would encourage for all living and raw foodists on this list to grow your own greens and other fruits and vegetables. It’s one of the components to a successful living foods diet that MOST people miss. Even if you live in an apartment, you can grow your own food.

Here is the correct link to the video at the Free Farm, which gives away free produce and even will give you some free plant starts to help you get your garden growing. In addition, they will TEACH you how to grow your food if you have never done it. It’s fun, easy and rewarding.

Even if you don’t have space for an outdoor garden, you can grow a garden in a wine barrel on your patio or walkway. Here is a video where I show what I’m growing over winter in my wine barrels:

and here is a video that shows you how to set one up:

If you don’t have the space, you can always grow sprouts in your kitchen, here is a video I am growing sprouts inside a warehouse, you can easily grow wheat grass, pea greens, buckwheat greens, sunflower greens in this same manner.

Keep on Growing and Eating Living Foods!
Raised veg bed collects overflow from rainwater catchment system
Terence, Hannah, Mike and Liz weigh produce for The Free Farm stand

Hope to see you soon at The Free Farm, where we can grow plants that we eat!

Public Service Announcements:

Wed., Feb. 22, 2012, 1-2 pm, Do Not Destroy: Trees, Art, and Jewish Thought Lecture
Jewish Community Center of SF, 3200 California St., SF
The symbol of the tree appears throughout the Torah and rabbinical literature and is used as a metaphor, the tree of knowledge, for the Torah itself. This talk highlights how artists and emerging Jewish environmental groups, incorporating reclaimed wood into their projects, examine and celebrate the tree in today’s culture. The exhibition includes an interactive project; a survey of work by international contemporary artists, and the Dorothy Saxe Invitational, a series of commissioned artworks by local and national artists in response to the Jewish holiday Tu Bishvat, a “New Year” for the trees.

Wed., Feb. 22, 2012, 6-7:30 pm, California Native Plants in a Managed Landscape
Koret Auditorium, SF Main Public Library, 100 Larkin St., SF
A multimedia presentation about California Native Plants and the best operating practices for a managed landscape, which you may even be able to use to help sprout the gardens around your own homes and businesses. Reservations: This is a free event. As seating is limited, please call 415-379-8000 to reserve a space. Sponsored by the Stegner Environmental Center and the California Academy of Sciences. This is a Green Stacks Program.

Wed., Feb. 22, 2012, 7-9 pm Bay Area Foraging
Ecology Center, 2530 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley
Kevin Feinstein, coauthor of the new book, The Bay Area Forager, will speak at the Ecology Center about local foraging and share stories of writing the book. The talk will be followed by Q&A and book signing. Kevin Feinstein is a Bay Area writer, teacher, and researcher of plants, food, sustainability, and natural health. There will be roasted bay nut samples!

Mon., Feb. 27, 2012 Global Day of Action: Occupy Our Food Supply
Join the Occupy, sustainable farming, food justice, buy local, slow food, and environmental movements for a global day of action. Inspired by the theme of CREATE/RESIST, thousands will come together to creatively confront corporate control of our food supply and take action to build healthy, accessible food systems for all.

No comments:

Post a Comment