Saturday, September 22, 2012

Linear Vegetariana

You could spend all day looking
at Giambologna's works; they are
interesting from every angle.
I had the great fortune to give a talk at a CECAM conference in Lugano, where I had a chance to catch up with some old science friends and give what people said was a good talk. My super-awesome boss suggested I spend a few days in Florence with her family before the meeting, a roommate from the big green house came up for a few days, and all together I had such a good time.

Art or food. Which was better? The art of course, but not by a whole lot. M__ and I saw David and the Prisoners at the Accademia Gallery, and I could spend hours just looking at the sculptures outside the Uffizi. And since we only had a vague plan, it was great fun to just wander around finding beautiful, magical things around almost every corner.

For the very first time I found a piece of moving Christian religious art. Most Christian art feels's hard for me to explain...domesticated? lifeless? Like both the artist and the observers, rather than living life are in some sort of holding pattern--just waiting to die and go to heaven. I'm doing a bad job of explaining, and maybe I just don't get it because I'm a nonbeliever. But anyways...on a whim I wandered into the Bargello and found--in a room that used to house soon-to-be executed prisoners--the Crucifix Gallino, controversially attributed to Michelangelo. There is nothing domesticated or lifeless about this piece even though its subject is a dead guy on a cross. It's location, including Mary peering over his left shoulder, just adds to the sensation. Her eyes don't show up in my meager photo, but she's looking straight at you (there was no 'no photo' sign :).

Food. I admit, I was worried. Europe is not exactly a vegan/veggie paradise--too many rich white folks. Yellow or brown people tend to make foods much more suitable for nonlinear peasant vegans. So as is usual for my foreign travels, I was just a sloppy vegetarian.

Crucifix Gallino
But the food here was just fabulous. The best was the pizza shown below, with some truffley-based sauce, porcini mushrooms, Mozzarella di Bufala (made from what domesticated water buffalo milk), and a gluten-free crust. More than a few people told me gluten sensitivity is becoming more of a problem in Italy, and it was shockingly easy to find foods senza glutine.

There are a handful of vegetarian restaurants in both Florence and Lugano, and we checked out Il Vegetariano and Il Radicchio. They were OK, nothing as magical as  Real Food Daily, but OK. You really do need to go to the American west coast for the pinnacle of health-concious veggie food. :)

One unusual thing: I was feeling like I was getting sick in Lugano, and we thought maybe I was just nervous about my talk. But on the final leg of the flight home my poor little eustachian tubes were too swollen to function properly, so every time the plane changed altitude I was in serious pain. Once or twice I actually screamed out loud. Scared the crap out of the people around me--I'm sure they thought there was some crazy terrorist activity. Yesterday my right eardrum ruptured (probably just a tiny hole; I can still hear and stuff), which means I'm no longer in pain because the built up fluid can drain out. But, ya know, yuck.

Best thing I've eaten in a long time.
Before I was vegan I had ear infections like this at least once a year. But this was in the days before the internets (yeah, I'm that old), so we just thought this was my special little pain in the butt to deal with. A little modern-day goggling suggests a correlation between milk allergy and ear infections. And so I have this problem again, after seriously overindulging in gelato and chocolate. Curious.

Some people say I have all these strange food sensitivities because I wasn't breast fed as an infant, other people say I'm just a hypochondriac. I think I'm just another natural-born paleo-eque vegan. :-D.

Just in time to recover from my vino rosso week overseas, I'm doing the Whole Life Challenge, and training for Oktoberfest Obliteration. I'll be sure to write some meaningless drivel about that sometime soon too.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

What I've been missing

Oh yes, that's my fork digging
into some mozzarella.
So vegan is just this thing I do. These days my main motivation is simply that it works for me--I feel good, strong, energetic, happy, etc. But when I'm overseas, I break the rules a bit. Partially to be polite and experience other cultures, and partially just for fun.

So last week, while I was in Austria for a conference, I ate real ice cream, various cheeses, real yogurt, and probably some eggy and buttery things here or there. My general thoughts? "Meh."

Some folks are all about the real cream and cheese, believing it's the best thing ever. And before my vegan days I remember really liking these things. Although that free government cheese we ate as kids was foul enough to make a vegan out of anyone!

The deep south could learn a thing
or two about hospitality from
the Austrians.
But now? Cheese? Cream? Meh.

Some people, who shall remain nameless, think I have no appreciation for decadence, which is patently untrue. For example, each year here in Texas, you can go to the farmers' markets and buy fresh persimmons. Fresh persimmons are wonderful. Orgasmically wonderful. Like seriously. I buy $5 worth of them, to eat in one sitting, which leaves me with a tiny belly ache. :-P.

So why does the richness of dairy products no longer hold such an allure? My current theory is the bacteria argument. In terms of numbers of cells, we're more bacteria than human. It is becoming more established that our diets affect our gut bacteria, which then go on to affect our health.

In addition some folks think these little communities affect our cravings and favorite foods. The logic--which I think is not (yet?) supported by actual science--is the bacteria you cultivate like the stuff you normally eat and therefore encourage you to do more of the same. I'm not sure how much I believe that. However my experience does suggest that whatever bacteria help us digest heavy cream don't populate my gut. One week later my digestive system is still feeling a little out of sorts. :(

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

My cheat meal is tofu.

Drs. Cordain & Rohrdanz at P3 CrossFit
Last summer I spent 3 months in LA, and while my tastes in clothescars, and music aren't even accidentally trendy, when it comes to the latest workouts and nutrion info, I'm all over that. So living in the city on the bleeding edge of the fitness industry got me a liiiittttle sucked into the whole CrossFit / Paleo thing. (Having of course started crossfit prior to the LA trip with Rice University Power Fitness. Love those folks!)

The problem of course: I stopped eating animals back when Poppy Bush was in the White House. My brain and body don't recognize meat as 'food' anymore. But as usual, I'm not alone! There are lots of crossfitting vegans going paleo!

Ditching the sugar-laden soy milks and all those creepy fake meat things? No problem.

Ditching grains? Easy. Also probably a great idea for most all y'all.

Ditching legumes? A bit more of a challenge for some of them, see below, but I can kinda live w/o peanuts.

Edamame? Tofu? Yeah, I still eat this stuff, quite a bit of it actually. I genuinely love it.

The occasional dark chocolatey goodness? Yeah, not giving that up any time soon either.

The projector knows how to scale its workout in order
to achieve its personal fitness goals. 
So I've been calling myself quasi-paleo for the last 9 months or so. But last week, Loren Cordain, the guy who wrote the book on paleo, gave a talk at our box, and I learned about 'cheat meals'. The idea being you eat clean 85% of the time. The other 15%? Whatever!

So heck, if the hunter portion of the hunter-gatherer folks can call themselves 'paleo' with 15% of their calories coming from pizza and beer, this gatherer can call herself paleo and still have some tofu. :)

Incidentally Loren Cordain is kinda vilified by some in the vegan community--he's said some disparaging words about vegans.

But many of us veggie folks never believed humans were 'meant to be vegan.' Many of us are vegan because we think factory farming is completely inexcusable and don't want to be anywhere near it--much less put the results of it into our bodies.

Of course I could go and buy humanely raised meats, wild game, etc. But back at age 15 avoiding meat all together seemed much more delightfully rebellious than looking for ethically produced beef. :)

Happy Oregonian Sheep
Along those lines, at a few points during Cordain's lecture, I had the sensation of being at an animal welfare meeting.

He made the argument that factory farmed animals are in terrible health, and eating them puts your health at risk too. The animal welfare movement makes some of the same points--these animals are fed crappy food, live in their own feces, and (in the States at least) are injected with hormones and antibiotics.

His arguments against dairy are some of the exact same ones PETA and their pals at the PCRM have been making for years.

So, I've no serious problems with Loren Cordain. Sure, his popular diet book is full of the sorts of silly catch phrases that popular diet books are full of, and he does make some comments about protein, e.g. "it revs up your metabolism", that are technically true but practically useless. But for the most part, I think if you followed the ideas in his popular book you'd probably be in good shape.

But of course, don't take my nutritional advice; my Ph.D. in is Chemistry, and I can't even synthesize aspirin.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Good To Have Data

Ya know what being single means? It means less elaborate cooking at home. The logic is: I could spend time cooking this super fun meal at home....or I could eat some steamed veggies and then go rock climbing. :).

So while my foods have been as healthy as ever, raw walnuts and steamed carrots are much less exciting to blog about than other things.

I did happen to visit the doctor for a checkup, a Texan doctor, who wanted to test me for every possible thing a vegan might be lacking, in addition to the usual lady stuff, STDs, etc. I think about a pint of blood was needed for all these tests.

The net result? I'm crazy healthy. No deficiencies, no diseases. I'm not surprised--I feel great, better than great most of the time. I've been vegetarian for 21 years, and vegan for 13. If there were a big problem, I think it would have caught up to me by now. :)

Since I've been running into lots of folks out there on the internet machines who seem to think vegans are going to die from some deficiency or are some of the highlights...

Total blood protein levels:
  6.8 g/dL  (normal range: 6.2 - 8.3 g/dL)
  4.6 g/dL (normal range: 3.6 - 5.1 g/dL)
  2.2 g/dL (normal range: 2.2 - 3.9 g/dL)
Vitamin B12 levels:
  988 pg/mL (normal range: 200 - 1100 pg/mL)
Folate levels:
  > 24.0 ng/mL (normal: > 5.4 ng/mL)
  9.1 mg/dL (normal: 8.6 - 10.2 mg/dL)
  19 ng/mL (normal: 10-154 ng/mL)

I also talked to the good doctor about my perceived problems with gluten. She said there isn't really any good tests for this, and that if my gluten-free living is working for me, then keep doing it. She did do a couple of tests for general inflammation. These don't actually tell us anything about if I have an auto-immune response to gluten though, because I've been avoiding it for a year or so now.

Sed rate:
  10 mm/h (acceptable range: < 20 mm/h

Since most of the women in my family are diabetic, and lots of people have problems with cholesterol and such, these tests were done as well. Like really? You think I have high triglycerides? But whatever, it's good to have data. :)

Total Cholesterol:
  156 mg/dL (normal: 125 - 200 mg/dL)
HDL Cholesterol:
  65 mg/dL (normal: > 46 mg/dL)
LDL Cholesterol:
  79 mg/dL (normal: < 130 mg/dL)
  59 mg/dL (normal: < 150 mg/dL)
Glucose (fasting):
  86 mg/dL (normal: 65 - 99 mg/dL)

Also, I'm doing the CrossFit open! While I'm not at the top of the leader board, I'm sure there are lots of bacon chomping paleo folks behind me on the list :).

Sunday, January 8, 2012

9th-level vegan

I just discovered Instagram.
I love it.
Aside from the occasional Justin's Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups, most of my meals are probably something only a 9th-level vegan could love. Dinner today was steamed veggies and tofu, drizzled with flax oil and sprinkled with nutritional yeast. Mmmmm. Not forgetting the cherries for dessert. More mmmmm.

I spent last weekend with a collection of very polite and tolerant 9th-level carnivores. (I wonder, do they have special powers too?*) For the first time in a long time I had people--lots of people--asking me "But, where do you get your protein?" I assumed by now the general public had gotten the message that being vegan doesn't mean being a scrawny protein-starved weakling. Maybe this information just hasn't trickled down to Texas yet?

I understand all this might be easier for me because I happen to be a little neurotic about nutrition and keep tabs on what I eat, but do people really still think vegans can't get enough protein? Today I consumed about 130 g of protein, which I personally think is a little high. The aforementioned totally non-paleo peanut butter cups contributed 4 g, but much of the rest came from the also non-paleo tofu and nutritional yeast (I love that shit. Protein, B vitamins, good stuff. It's probably a 9th-level-vegan food).
Instagram-filtererd foods. Does it look like the 1970's to you?

For the record, I average between 70 and 80 g of protein a day. Depending on how you google, that's either too way much or way too little or just about right. It seems to work for my body chemistry and activity level. Everyone's different.

Of course it's easy to not get enough protein on a vegan diet, and it's easy to be an unhealthy vegan. Especially these days as more and more vegan processed crap shows up on grocery store shelves.

It's also easy to be an unhealthy omnivore. I think I'm going to start countering the "But, where do you get your protein?" with "But, how do you get enough omega-3 fatty acids with all that corn-feed beef and high fructose corn syrup your eating?" :)

*I really need to see that Scott Pilgrim vs. the World movie; Michael Cera cracks me up.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Hunting widow dinner party

Not shown: our consummate hostess V_.
Last weekend my friend V_'s hubby was out hunting, and so us ladies got together for some tasty foods and raunchy girl talk. Whenever I go to a potluck with non-vegan, non-paleo folks I'm absolutely terrified--my palate is not at all like theirs. Stuff I think is the best thing ever they think is totally gross, and vice versa.

At such times I turn to my dog-eared, duct-taped copy of Moosewood, make something I've made lots of times before, and hope for the best. A favorite old standard is Sri Wasano's Infamous Indonesian Rice Salad. This works even if you leave out a random handful of ingredients that you don't have around or simply don't like. You may be tempted to skip the toasted sesame oil, because it's a pricey little bottle of golden goodness, but you simply cannot; it's the ingredient that makes the magic happen. You can't even use the non-toasted version. If you don't have toasted sesame oil, just make something else. Hot red pepper flakes or chili powder also go well to add some heat.
Bacon chocolate chip cookies, with
chocolate pie in the background

I also made Elana's pantry chocolate pie, and it turned out well! I used vegan semi-sweet chocolate chips, and substituted cornstarch for arrowroot powder. This falls into the "foods that should not exist" category, and after enjoying more than my fair share, there was some extra cardio and the executive decision to NOT make dessert when I visit the family next week. They can enjoy all the non-vegan non-gluten-free desserts they want; I've had enough treat foods for a good while.
Moose the dog!

The menu was vegetarian in the French sense, i.e. there was some bacon (my foods were vegan and gluten free of course, although not even slightly paleo). A few of the highlights: maple-bacon chocolate chip cookies, mushroom pie, apple blue cheese salad, brussel sprouts (avec bacon), curried eggplant (my favorite!), quinoa salad, hot spinach-artichoke dip, and of course, wine.

Another treat: Moosifer the puppy dog. Dogs are just the best. :)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Skinny Bitch.

Of course I'm not a skinny bitch, nor do I want to be one (although, two jobs ago, I think my co-workers thought of me as such). I did read the book a year or so ago, and it's a fast, funny, useful read. I recommend it next time you're on a plane and too tired to do work.
Lunchy goodness

I don't think the diet they suggest is quit appropriate for someone who does the sort of physical training I do, but one of several things I took away from the book is an appreciation of salads for lunch.

I like to include bright vegetables, flax oil, and some walnuts in mine--gotta love their favorable omega-3/omega-6 ratio. The notion of omega-3 fatty acids as treatment for osteoarthritis actually came up in Rice University's chemistry seminar yesterday. I love it when my obsession with nutrition overlaps with my research interests. At some point I might actually grow up and have my own research group, and it will probably have some applications in health and nutrition. :)