Greetings from Austin! This final VVC has been a bittersweet journey so far — full of good food and good friends (as always), but tinged with the knowledge that it’s the last conference of its kind. I’m hopeful that something a lot like it will emerge before too long.
In the meantime, I’ve had a wonderful time attending panels. Big themes this year have been feminism, social media/marketing, and how the vegan community deals with health information and the phenomenon of ex-vegans. Ginny Messina and Matt Ruscigno have both had great things to say about how important it is for the vegan community to embrace and promote sound, sensible science and nutrition information so that we can dispel unrealistic expectations of what vegan diets have to offer and help to keep ourselves healthy and well nourished. Really necessary and important advice.
The other major highlight of the weekend was exploring Austin with my friend Reed. Reed was a fellow Georgetown post-bacc student, and he and I became close friends right away, bonding over the fact that we were just a wee bit older than most of the other students (the 30+ post-bacc club, we liked to call it) and the fact that were both still adjusting to major career changes. We’ve remained close, in spite of the fact that he’s about to start med school in Texas and I’m in NYC. Reed knows Austin well, so he was an able and enthusiastic tour guide, driving me to several neighborhoods so that we could wander, dip into antiques shops, and scope out food trucks and eateries. This is a great city, and I’m glad I got to see it through the eyes of someone who loves it.
And now, I’m spending a little quiet time in my room to catch up on articles and scope out some tasty eats. Here’s what I’ve got for you.
First, a recipe that’s making me wish I had access to a real grill: Liz’s grilled romaine salad with avocado and corn from Floating Kitchen. So many of my favorite summer ingredients here, and I have no doubt that the grilling brings out the natural sweetness of the romaine. Yum.
Can one ever have enough chana masala recipes? In a word, no. This one, from Jessica of Garden Fresh Foodie, is particularly enticing at the moment.
I think I’ve finally started to master the art of veggie burgers, but I can’t say I’ve had much success with fritters that don’t crumble. These broccoli fritters from Michelle of Healthier Steps is making me believe it’s possible.
Finally, these chia morning muffins with rhubarb and roasted strawberries from the ladies at Vigor and Sage are making me eager to get back to New York so that I can bake. Yum!
1. I’m not sure how many of you saw Andrew Solomon’s article about depression and pregnancy this week in the New York Times Magazine, but I wanted to be sure to mention it. Solomon is the author of The Noonday Demon, a leviathan history and examination of depression (which was informed by his own struggle with it). He’s also the author of Far from the Tree, a book that I enjoyed very much: it looks at both inherited traits (what Solomon calls “vertical identities,” things that trickle down the family tree) and unshared differences in identity (“horizontal identities”) in families. It covers a huge variety of identity differences, from sexual orientation to autism to being a prodigy. What I liked about the book–and Solomon’s writing in general–is his emphasis on plurality, his refusal to embrace normativity as a marker of value.
I saw this emphasis at work in the pregnancy article. In many was, the article is cut-and-dry science journalism, an investigation of the difficulties and complications of navigating the choice of whether or not a woman should go off anti-depressants in pregnancy. There are risks for women who do, and their fetuses and babies, just as their are risks for fetuses and babies when women choose to stay on their medications. But what struck me is Solomon’s effort to describe the emotional complexity of pregnancy, to challenge the idea that pregnancy is or should be greeted as a euphoric time in the life of every woman. He writes,
We still have retrograde ideas about how pregnant women should feel, and we need to revise them — not only for depressed women but for all women. Pregnancy is portrayed and talked about almost exclusively as a time of rapture and fulfillment. But it involves a major shift in identity, a whole new conception of self that can lead to depression and anxiety. Change — even positive change — is stressful, and in this way pregnancy can constitute a kind of elective trauma. An abrupt transition into selflessness is not immediately appealing to everyone. Pregnant women long given to self-doubt may question their ability to take care of the child. A society that glorifies motherhood while resisting basic accommodations like guaranteed extended maternity leave makes the identity shift more frightening and abrupt than it needs to be. People given to anxiety now have a harrowing array of new anxieties to grapple with. As one woman I interviewed observed, “The things that make motherhood joyful also make it terrifying.” We should strive for a more pluralistic idea of pregnancy — for one that accommodates a wide range of moods and attitudes.
My mother had a smooth and happy pregnancy, from what I understand, right up until her somewhat complicated delivery (which resulted in a C-section for me, but everything turned out fine). When I was a little girl, I’d see pictures of my mother during her pregnancy; she was radiant and beautiful and smiled peacefully in each and every image. She conformed almost perfectly to all of the things I’d heard about how women feel when they’re pregnant. I remember feeling, even at a young age, a sense of fear and anxiety about the idea of being pregnant. I have struggled historically (and will probably always struggle with) the idea of my body as an entity that is capable of changes outside of my control. I think this is something I felt even before my anorexia. To me, the idea of pregnancy sounded mildly horrifying, a kind of usurping of the body by a foreign entity–hardly the kind of symbiosis and oneness that is associated with pregnancy in our culture. And even as a little girl, I valued autonomy fiercely. I wondered how it could be so easy for so many women to seemingly surrender their own freedoms and self-determined identities in order to become parents.
Years later, when I told my mom about these feelings, she told me that my grandmother had been hilariously frank about how little she enjoyed the experience of being pregnant (both times–my uncle and my mom). She also described feelings of struggle as a young mother, when her kids were so attached to her for all of their needs (she told my mother about this later in life, and described it in her journal). My grandmother was a loving and wonderful parent, and even if she’d been born in an era where it was more common for women to choose not to have kids, I doubt she’d have taken back her choices. But it was clearly a struggle for her at times.
I remember the tremendous relief I felt when I heard this. It made me realize that the transition to motherhood is not always easy or simple or without conflict for all women. More and more, I realize how vital it is that we as a society continue to lift stigmas and encourage awareness of the fact that human experience is varied. Too many health struggles are heightened by shame, resulting from prevailing social stigmas about what is and is not “normal,” and loneliness. Depression and anxiety surrounding pregnancy (or heightened as a result of pregnancy) is one of them, and I’m glad that Solomon has raised the issue.
2. Big news this week in the intersection of animal rights and law. In December 2013, the Nonhuman Rights Project filed lawsuits in the New York Supreme Court on behalf of four privately owned chimpanzees, considered property in the eyes of the law. The lawsuits sought to have the chimps moved to a florida chimp sanctuary and declared legal persons, not with full human rights but with the basic right to not be caged.
Since then, there has been debate about whether a court could issue writs of habeas corpus calling upon the chimpanzees’ owners to justify their captivity. If they can’t justify it, the prisoners have to be released—a process set in motion Monday by Justice Barbara Jaffe. She issued the writs on behalf of Hercules and Leo, the Stony Brook chimps. According to Wired magazine, “It’s the first time habeas corpus, historically used to free slaves and people wrongly imprisoned, has ever been extended to a species other than Homo sapiens.”
This may be an isolated and unusual story, but to me, this sounds like a big deal, a legal acknowledgment of non-human animals’ selfhood. Wired has covered the case pretty closely, and this past week, it asked Natalie Prosin, a lawyer for the nonhuman rights project, philosopher Peter Singer, and biologist John Marzluff to weigh in on the issue. They each made a good case for why the chimps should indeed be free, but what strikes me as the most exciting part of this is that a dialog about nonhuman rights is getting this kind of coverage at all.
“The voicemail message was like so many others from my mom,” he writes. “‘Hi, it’s mom,’ she began, then chatted on, full Jewish mother in her distinctive gravelly timbre. ‘There’s a storm coming your way…Please drive very carefully….Love you. Bye.'”
It’s the type of message I normally didn’t pay much attention to, quickly deleting it after I listened. But three weeks after my mom, Harriet Ornstein, uttered those words, she died at a hospital outside Detroit. I unearthed this message and others from her while plumbing my iPhone’s cache of deleted messages, amazed and grateful by this unexpected ability to preserve her voice.
I have many treasured memories of my mom, who died in January 2013. I have serving platters, wine glasses, birthday cards she sent me, and photos of her as a girl and with my children. I have videos of her and my dad at my Bar Mitzvah and wedding. But somehow, oddly, the voicemails—those unscripted moments of everyday life—are the ones I turn to most often when I’m feeling sad.
When my mom and I were cleaning out my grandmother’s apartment after she passed, I was amazed by the tiny details that touched me: the odd piece of jewelry, the perfume bottles, the little photographs of her grandkids that she’d clipped and taped to her bedroom mirror. The plastic flower in a small vase that lived near her bed. It’s interesting and poignant to think about the ways in which technology is changing the memories and tokens we keep. A lovely story.
4. My friend Nat has written an article for Vice about a gruesome and devastating epidemic affecting starfish populations. I want to offer the warning to my readers that the article profiles scientists who study and are working to save the starfish populations, which means lots of details of starfish kept captive in labs. I found this tough to read, and you may feel the same. But I think it’s also important to call attention to this mysterious plague. I also appreciated Nat’s saddening words about the alarm that many biological scientists must feel upon watching species go extinct so quickly in our modern world:
Scientists are increasingly being made into investigators, as the world they study has come to resemble a crime scene. We are witnessing the greatest loss of life in planetary history, what scientists have dubbed the Sixth Extinction. Unlike the previous five extinctions, this one is caused not by vast natural processes but by human behavior. The current rate of extinction across all species is approximately a thousand times faster than the historical average. The reasons are various but most prominently include the warming of the atmosphere and the scrambling of ecosystems caused by human activities, which enable the infiltration of invasive species, the spread of disease, and the dwindling of natural habitats. Most of the species we lose expire without our noticing. For every Martha—the last surviving passenger pigeon, which died in a cage at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914—there are thousands of other species that vanish anonymously, far from human view, their extinction only noted by human beings belatedly, species like the Liverpool pigeon, the Alaotra grebe, the Mexican grizzly bear, the Texas wolf, and many others that we did not even identify until they were gone for good. But those who devote their lives to examining the natural world notice this loss. Nobody knows their beats better than they do. They are the first to the scene and are the most highly equipped to understand the threats that face the animals they study. In the cases of many species, they are the only ones who care.
5. Finally, an excellent article in the New York Review of Books about how teaching hospitals–once the bastions of hope for medical training–are being transformed, usually to the detriment of the teaching process and the educational experience of young doctors. An important read for aspiring physicians, and anyone who’s interested in medical training.
I hope you all enjoy the reads, and that you’ve had nice weekends. I look forward to sharing some new recipes this week–as well as a very exciting giveaway on Friday! Speaking of that, don’t miss my giveaway of Megan Gilmore’s new cookbook or of a set of cooking tools from Crisp Cooking. And if you haven’t seen my post on eating differently since last week, but you liked the dialog, check it out again–there have been some really great and thoughtful comments.
Love to you all on this Sunday.