Saturday, January 28, 2012

How Some Chinese Dogs and Mexican Pigs Turned  Me into a Vegetarian

Facebook post: “Just want to let the animals (pigs, chickens and cows) know that you don't have to worry about me eating you now, at least for a while. Fish and shrimp, however, should still keep an eye open.

There was a news article recently about a truckload of over 1,000 dehydrated and hungry dogs that were packed cruelly into small cages in a truck that was bound for a large restaurant, where they were to be killed and used for meat. The truck was intercepted by an animal rights advocate, and people all over the world were joyful that they were saved, disgusted that this was happening , and horrified that it is probably a fairly common occurrence. I felt the same as the rest of those people.  But, an hour earlier I was driving home and saw a large truck with pigs packed into it on their way to the local slaughterhouse. My first thought was, “Poor pigs”. My second thought was, “Yummm”. 

I have been a meat eater all my life. I could eat chicken every day. I never got tired of it. A really good rare steak was a beautiful thing to me, and a rare rack of lamb with mint sauce was a favorite meal.

I have had thoughts of being a vegetarian before, but never really made any effort to do it. I have always liked almost all foods, and especially salads and other vegetables, so I was not one of those people who eats chicken nuggets every day. I have always appreciated good, fresh, healthy foods, but always supplemented with generous portions of chicken, beef of pork.

After seeing the story about the Chinese dogs, and then recalling the truckload of Mexican pigs, I started thinking about why those dogs bothered me so much, and why I was repulsed about the thought  of them being killed and eaten, when I wasn’t that worried about the pigs. Dogs, I thought, are cute and furry and we keep them as pets. Well, some people have pigs as pets, and I had read Charlotte’s Web. What make dogs more special than pigs? Is it only our close relationship to dogs, and that we don’t have many pig friends? That wasn’t good enough. Pigs are fairly intelligent for four legged creatures. They love their young and they can become attached to people. They feel compassion. Okay, I won’t eat pigs either. What about chickens? 

I remembered reading a study that determined that chickens feel empathy for one another, which leads to compassion. It was long thought that humans were the only animals to possess this trait, so we could justify the killing of animals for the purpose of nourishing ourselves, and since they could not feel empathy, we were not required to either. Now we know that is not true at all, so maybe we should have some more empathy and compassion for animals, even the ones we want to eat, even the ones that we wouldn’t let sleep on the couch. Really, what is the difference between a sweet kitten and a cute cow? So, I reasoned, if I am going to be repulsed by the thought of some Chinese people eating dogs, then what right do I have to eat a cow or a chicken or a pig? NONE.

Since that day I have not eaten any meat of a four legged animal. I have had some fish and shrimp, but that is another step in my evolutionary process that may or may not come. 

Coincidentally, the same day I was making some samples of vegetarian sausages for a local Hot Dog house, so my meals for that day were taken care of with lots of good protein. Since then I have decided to start a line of non meat meat-like products, sausages and patties, etc. I have been working on recipes and formulas and will probably be coming out with a few flavors soon. Then I will have to work on packaging and marketing. I know it is not a huge market, but I feel like it is the right thing to do. Also, I have tried some of the meat substitutes available in local stores, and they range from pretty okay to really awful, so there must be a few people out there looking for this stuff. I can hope.

I don’t know if this will be a lifelong change or if it’s a phase, but I am happy to know that I have probably saved a couple of chickens and some parts of pigs and cows in the last 2 weeks that otherwise would have been eaten. That makes me feel good.

When I see meat in the store now, all packaged up and ready to cook, I think yeah, I could eat that, but I don’t want to. I think first of the live animal and then the dead animal being chopped into pieces and I think no, I really don’t want to be a part of that.

Some people would argue that humans are made to eat meat. We have incisors and that proves it. Well, I do believe that we were made to be able to eat meat, but only what we could catch and eat ourselves, or what our friends or family would catch and share with us. If we lived like that now I don’t think we would be eating much meat at all, and we would probably be much healthier for it. I don’t think we were meant to have meat mass produced for us and available at any moment. Yes, if I was very hungry and meat was the only thing available I would eat it. And if I was at a big party with a Mexican family and meat was served I might have a little. I don’t want to go all fanatical. I just want to be as good as I can, without being crazy about it. 

No one can be truly vegetarian or avoid harming all beings. Even if all you eat is salad, you are also eating several small animals, some microscopic and some a little larger. Also, when the fields are plowed to grow our food, many small animals are killed incidentally, and others are displaced from their homes. That does not make us monsters. We are just animals trying to survive, and I would like to manage my survival  in the most compassionate way that I can.

Friday, January 6, 2012

My conviction to stand up for myself has been reinforced today. Also, I am reminded to always check at the gas pumps that they start in 0, and that the end number is what I asked and paid for. Pay attention. I know it’s just money, but as I told the manager: I don't have extra money to give to my own kids, let alone giving it to some stranger.

Last Friday night, my daughter, Maia, and I stopped on our way home for gas. I asked for $200 pesos worth of “verde”. I also asked for air in the left rear tire, as I could see that it was low. I paid and left a tip and drove off toward home.

When we pulled up in front of the house, I noticed that the tank was still almost empty, almost exactly where it had been before I stopped for gas. I told Maia that I was going straight back to the gas station to get my gas. She elected not to go, even after I asked her to come and be my witness, and even when I reminded her that she didn’t have a key to get in the house. “No way”, she said. “I’m not going. It’s embarrassing when you do that. I’ll just wait outside for you to get back”.

So back I went, pulling up to the same pump with the same attendant. I explained the situation, and I mentioned that it was possible that he got distracted by the air in the tire and forgot to put the gas in, but he insisted that he had put in the gas, and a female attendant joined the conversation and she suggested that my gauge was faulty. So I said, okay, “Let’s put in $100 pesos and see what happens”. So we did and I gave him another $100 pesos. Sure enough, the needle went up to about a quarter of a tank. That was proof enough for me, but the two of them were not convinced, even though only about 10 minutes had passed since the first time I pulled in there. If there had been $300 pesos in the tank, it would now register about three quarters full, but that logic could not make its way into their heads. He continued to insist, even though the evidence said otherwise.

So, I asked for the manager, who wasn’t there. So I asked for his phone number, and no one knew it. I asked, “What if there was a fire here? Who would you call?”

“That’s a good question”, he replied, scratching his head.

I was beginning to realize that I would get nowhere with these two, so I asked for the attendant’s name. It was Jorge. I was waiting for him to think about the situation and come around to the side of reason and admit that he had made a mistake, but it just wasn’t happening. He suggested that I come back the next morning at seven, when the manager would be there. That was not possible for me, as I had Saturday Market early the next morning, and after that I would be rushing to get to Yelapa for the New Year celebrations and wouldn’t be back for a few days.

Then I drew a little diagram of the gas gauge, indicating where the needle was when we started, and after the gas was allegedly put in the tank, and then where it was after we added the $100 pesos. I asked for the attendant’s name and I signed the paper with the time and date, and asked him to sign it too, which he did. I drove home, thinking, “Well, at least I tried”.

This morning, five days later, I decided to go and find the manager, not really expecting a good outcome. I thought they would just tell me that too much time has passed and there’s no proof, and so sorry, but there’s nothing we can do.

I was admitted to the inner office via an intercom and two electronically controlled doors, where I met the manager of that gas station and a few others. I told my story, including the possibility that it was a case of distraction and not blatant dishonesty, but I could tell that he was pretty sure that it was the second possibility that was more real. I was surprised and relieved to know that he believed me, and I could tell that he was genuinely sorry and saddened. He is a manager who realizes what neglectful or dishonest service can do to business. He UNDERSTOOD! Then he called the shift manager into the office and introduced us, gave me his card and encouraged me to call him anytime if I ever have another problem at his station. Then he gave instructions to the manager to put the gas in my car and also to find Jorge and reprimand him and charge him the $200 pesos.

I wish that more managers were like this one. It is so easy to see that keeping customers happy will keep them coming back to your establishment. I left there feeling like justice had been done, and that I do have some power when I’m on the “right” side, and I also left with a good feeling about that business and the people who run it.

So, the moral of the story is: Until you get to a point where you can afford to just hand out money to strangers, continue to stand up for what is right, even if it does horrify your kids (and keep an eye on the pumps and receipts!).

Friday, December 30, 2011

Ohhhh, I see it has been a long time since my last post... September! I have been busy. Soon I will get busy with more writing.
Here is something for now. This was originally published in 2005, but it is fitting for this week.

New Year Food Traditions

Most countries and cultures have some traditional foods that are eaten on New Year’s eve or New Year’s day. Most of the foods somehow symbolize prosperity or luck for the coming year. Here is a list of some of those traditional foods. I suppose if we wanted to be really lucky and really rich we could try all of them.

Japan, Buddhist temples: Eat noodles at midnight
Germany: Cabbage and sausages on New Year’s day for good luck
Denmark: Boiled cod
Greece: Bread with a coin baked into it. The person who gets the coin has good luck for the coming year (that is if he doesn’t bite the coin, in which case he might be spending a lot of money at the dentist, which is NOT good luck)
Italy: They also play the “hide something in the bread” game, but it is a bean.
Germany and Poland: The first bite of the New Year should be pickled herring for a lucky year.
Cuba and Mexico and probably some other latin countries: Twelve grapes are eaten at midnight to symbolize the last 12 months.
Southern United States: Black eyed peas for luck and greens (collard, mustard, kale, cabbage, spinach) for money. Cornbread also brings money
Phillipines: It is important to have food on the table at midnight to insure abundance for the coming year.

I would like to wish all of you a very happy 2012, complete with good health, love, beauty, laughter, music and all other good things!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Getting a Driver’s License for the First Time in Puerto Vallarta

I have been living here in Mexico for nearly 17 years now, and up until this time I had just renewed my Washington license when I was in Seattle. That was back in the good old days when I went every summer. The last time I was there I was going to take care of it, as my license was, I thought, about to expire. I took my daughter with me. I like to have a partner along for potentially long and painful situations. I took a number, and as my number was about 137 higher than the number that was just called, we decided to go across the street to a strip mall and have some Teriyaki, my little Mexican daughter’s favorite food on that trip. We had a leisurely lunch and crossed the street to wait. 

We didn’t have to wait long, as my number came up within five minutes. I went to the counter and produced my current license and said I would like to renew it. The counter guy looked the license over and asked me, “Do you have any physical or mental conditions which might impair your driving?”

“No”, I replied succinctly (official people like direct answers).

“Are you sure?” he persisted.

“Yes, pretty sure…why?” I answered, feeling a little less confident and wondering if he knew me better than I thought he did.
He looked at me with a gentle smirk, holding the card out toward me at a mocking angle and said, 

“Well, this license doesn’t expire until next year”.

Not really believing this, since I had it in my head for months that I would have to be renewing my license on this particular trip, I snatched the license and looked at it and sure enough, one more year on that damn thing. I burst out laughing and so did he. Then I begged him to please not tell anyone until I got to my car.

That Washington license finally did expire, and I’m not going up there this year, so it was finally time to get a license here in Mexico. I, like everyone, had heard stories of people taking days and several trips to get their first license (renewals are easier), but I was ready for whatever I had to do.

I went one afternoon to the Government of Jalisco Building in Fluvial. It is the big white thing. You really can’t miss it. I found the correct reception desk (straight in the front door, to the back and to the left) and asked for instructions for a new license for a foreigner. I was given a list of what to bring, and they instructed me to come back the next day at 10:30.

To get your license you will need to take the class. It is scheduled to begin at 10:30 am Monday through Friday, so you can go any week day.

What you need to bring:
▪ Current Passport
▪ FM3 or FM2
▪ Proof of Residence in your name (Telmex bill is the best)
▪ One copy of each of the above documents

You also need to be 18 years of age or over and know your blood type (they will ask).

You will also have to pass a written driving knowledge test. Here is a website where you can find the 103 possible questions in English and Spanish, but the test will be in Spanish on a computer and consists of 20 questions randomly chosen from the possible 103.

This was very helpful. I looked at the questions in English and Spanish, but took my practice test in Spanish. I’m pretty sure the average person can pass with a little preparation.

Here’s how it all went down:

10:10 My arrival

Went to reception desk and was sent to another desk where a man looked briefly at the documents I had to confirm that they were complete, and then he gave me a little piece of paper and asked what kind of license I want. If you are just a regular driver you want “Automovilista”. The fee is $420 pesos.
I stood in line to pay, and was given a receipt, very official looking.

10:20 Payment accomplished. Directed to sit and wait

10:37 About ten people were called to go to the informational class, in a small conference room, where we watched some video and slides (with only a slight delay for human technical deficiencies) on a large flat screen TV.

11:24 We were directed back to the waiting area

11:45 My name was called and the required documents were requested (actually, only the copies. Originals were not requested, but I would bring them anyway just in case). They took an electronic fingerprint of the right index finger and I was asked to sign on an electronic tablet with a stylus pen. Then a photo was taken.

11:53 A little more waiting

12:00 I was called  to take the test. It is 20 questions taken from the above mentioned document. I got 85% (there was a trick question) but passed anyway.

12:35 Brand new shiny official license delivered into my hand and I was out of there!

Note: I was not required to take a vision test or an actual driving test, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t ever happen. It’s just the way it was on this day.

Total time: 2 hours, 25 minutes. Not bad!

Everyone was very nice and it was a pleasant experience that I would not hesitate to repeat four years from now!


Saturday, September 10, 2011

Just Because You Can....Doesn't Mean That You Should

Please stop doing this. The smear looks like a puppy had an accident and the foam looks like a spit bug got into the meat.

I do not see the charm in the "Smearing" of sauce on a plate. It reminds me of other kinds of smears that are not supposed to have anything to do with food, or like when a dog drags his...oh, never mind. And foam sauces...please, that was like ten years ago and it wasn't good then. Sauces are for adding concentrated flavor and color, not for adding diluted flavor with puffy airiness. That's my opinion
and I'm sticking to it!

What do you think?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Beans, Beans, Beans, and more Beans...

Some Black Beans with the Rocks that Came From One Kilo of Beans

Beans, Beans, the Magical Fruit…

Actually, I have never been really fond of beans. I will eat them, yes, but they are sort of like filler to me. If there is anything else on the plate, I would rather eat that. Beans just don’t seem to be very interesting. Maybe it’s the color. Most beans after cooking turn to a kind of dull brown that is not very appealing. Or maybe it’s the squishy, almost grainy texture of them that turns me off. Whatever it is, I am trying to get over it. Let’s face it. Beans are good food, good nutrition, and inexpensive. They are an excellent source of protein, and when combined with grains, such as rice, they combine to form complete protein, which means you will need very little or no meat.

One bean that I do enjoy is soy. You can boil the whole beans for as long as you like, and they never get soft and mushy. They will remain firm and with a slight crunch even if you cook the hell out of them. They are great in salads as a yummy protein boost. Also, they make great snacks. Boil them and drain well, and enjoy.  Or, you can fry them in hot oil until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Salt them while they are still hot, and you will have a very pleasing, high protein snack.

How to Cook Beans

Most beans are packaged directly from the field. They are not processed, sanitized and hermetically sealed. They are real food from real dirt. They need to be cleaned before cooking. I like to imagine sitting in a rocking chair with a big bowl in my lap, cleaning the beans like grandma used to do while gossiping with the girls, but usually I just put them in something big and flat and, leaning over the counter I go through them carefully, removing all sticks and rocks and funky looking beans. If you omit this step in the process, chances are you will only do it once. A big dentist bill to repair a broken tooth can be a fantastic learning tool.

The different bean varieties are really pretty similar. There are different shapes, colors and slight variations in texture, but all of the kidney shaped beans are interchangeable for most bean recipes.
These instructions will work for Black, Kidney, Pinto and several other beans that are available in Mexico.

After the cleaning, put the beans in a colander and rinse well. Put them in a heavy pot with enough water to cover them and then some more. You can also add a chopped onion, garlic, tomato, celery, carrot, or a combination of any of them. This will add a lot of flavor. Turn on high heat until they begin to boil and then turn to low. Put a lid on the pan, but leave it tilted a bit to avoid the dreaded boil-over. Once the beans begin to soften it is a good time to add salt. About one teaspoon for every cup of beans is a good guideline. You will need to check the pot throughout the cooking to make sure there is enough water. The worst smell in the food world is probably rotten potatoes. A close runner up might be burnt beans. You can add more water anytime.

After the beans become tender, the fun begins. Remove the vegetables that you added for the primary cooking. Their work is done now. Its time to add flavor in the way of herbs, spices and flavor, which, to be honest, beans don’t have much of. Cook for another 30 minutes or so with the flavorings added. Here are a few ideas for adding to your beans:

Bean Enhancement Suggestions:

Mexi-Beans: Cumin, ancho chile powder, cilantro and oregano, diced tomatoes, diced onion, garlic

Asian Style: Soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger and garlic (for this one omit the salt in the cooking process). Sprinkle with sliced green onion.

French, Oh – So - Sophisticated Beans: Thyme, marjoram, sautéed minced shallots and parsley

Country Boy Beans: Liquid Smoke (very little), catsup, dried mustard, brown sugar, sautéed onions, a bit of apple cider vinegar

Yankee Style: Maple syrup, butter

...So Enjoy Your Beans with Every Meal!

Here is a link for more great bean information:

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Two Things that Caught My Eye in Walmart Today

 Hello, Food Service Workers...

    If you are going to rock this look, then you need to cover all of the holes on your face. Otherwise you might as well just put on some lipstick and go as yourself. 

Okay, I am not posting this out of meanness, but out of awe... What you don't see the are 4 inch butterfly earrings and the rainbow wrist cuffs, which were truly awesome, I swear....