Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Best Birthday Present Ever

As Facebook will tell you in a week, my birthday is on January 2. The best present would be a donation to One Step's maximum-harm-reduction work. One Step's matching donor only gives what we raise, no more, no less. So your contribution is truly doubled. Thanks for your consideration!

Photo by our friends at Vegans with Chickens

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Chocolate Crinkles!

These are the best cookies I make, but they take two days. Here is a much simpler version.

What is tough about these is that the original version is so very egg-intensive. That is why I have found using silken tofu to be necessary to supply the amount of bulk to them. Using that much banana changes the flavor, and things like ground flaxseed don't fill out the cookies enough. I do add ground flaxseeds to the cookies, though, just for the added nutrition. These cookies are thus a health food!   ;-)

Given that they are so intensive (relative to the amount of time I have for cooking), I double the below recipe. I make half one day, and the rest a week later (the dough keeps in the fridge just fine). Also, I have tried to bake the cookies the same day as I put the dough together, and they just don't come out as good. I don't know why refrigerating them overnight is important, but there you are.

  • 1/2 C vegetable oil (I use canola)
  • 4 squares (4 oz) unsweetened baking chocolate
  • 2 C sugar
  • 4 eggs worth of substitute (I use ~1/4 C soft silken tofu for each egg)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 C flour (not whole wheat)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 C powdered sugar

Soften (but don't completely melt) chocolate as you prefer (I put in a glass 2 C measuring cup and microwave on low until soft). Mix oil, vanilla, and egg substitute. Add in sugar and blend well. Mix flour, baking powder, and salt together. Mix that into the oil mixture. Chill dough overnight.

Heat oven to 350 degrees, and lightly oil cookie sheets (unless you have nonstick sheets). Take about a spoonful of dough, shape into a ball, and roll in the powdered sugar. Place about 2" apart on cookie sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes; they should spread out like in the picture above. Feed to non-vegans, and when they say how great they are, admit that the secret ingredient is tofu!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

How Thinking About Death Can Influence How We Live Our Lives

The introduction (the first seven minutes) to this Sam Harris podcast on death is extremely profound. It had a pretty significant impact on how Anne and I have been thinking about our choices and our near future, having to make decisions about our careers and money vs the rest of our lives and our time together.

Personally, I didn't find the interview itself very compelling. Given that we're so far behind on podcasts, we stopped listening 2/3rds through. But I strongly advise taking just seven minutes to listen to Sam's introduction. I have tears in my eyes just listening to it again.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

What is at stake

The bill to my health insurance company for the life-saving heart surgery I had last month was over $30,000. $30,000. Significantly more than Anne would net from a year teaching in the school district.

And yet Republicans are still trying to take health insurance away from millions upon millions of people.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

From Joe Espinosa

“25 years ago on this very evening, I attended my 3rd meeting of Students for Animal Rights at UIUC and let the group know that I had not eaten meat in 6 days, and did not think I ever could again. I realize that I am shall we say, a rather unusual person in going from an ag kid (learned dairy farming from my uncle age 6-13 and entered UIUC in the College of Ag) to dropping meat 21 days after seeing the number of suffering chickens and turkeys endure in modern farming.

 “Further evidence of the peculiarity is my volunteer work in animal protection, as no other volunteer has handed out 600,000 animal protection booklets. With that in mind, and the mountain of negative data to back up the rarity of someone going from meat eater to vegetarian or vegan very rapidly, and high recidivism if they do, we (Matt, Anne, Leslie and I) established One Step for Animals in 2014.

“One Step presents a more doable ask (avoiding bird flesh, even if replaced with the same amount of pig and cow flesh would still spare 25 of the 26 farmed land animals the average person eats each year) to current meat eaters. After spending hundreds of millions of dollars over the past 20 years animal protection has failed to increase the percentage of people who are vegetarian or vegan, nor more importantly decrease the number of animals raised and killed for food. Per person animal consumption is at an all time high.

“So let's take my 25 year vegeversary to reflect on the idea of doing the same thing and expecting different results, and perhaps try something new. One Step For Animals welcomes those who are serious about sparing animals rather than celebrating the word vegan. Be one of us.”

Monday, October 30, 2017

What We've Learned, Applied

As I mentioned in my previous post, over a decade ago, I gave a talk about how technology development on the supply side would be a prime driver for the end of factory farming.

Those of you who follow One Step For Animals know that we are driven by the cold hard fact that after decades of demand-side advocacy, per-capita consumption of animals is at an all-time high. To us, this demands that we take a new approach.

Given all this, I am beyond thrilled to announce that I'm starting a new job as a member of the communications team at The Good Food Institute.

Anyone who knows me knows that I'll have lots more to say about this over time. But for fans of One Step, rest assured: that work will continue forward! The One Step Team remains as dedicated as always to reducing as much suffering as possible.

Thanks so much to everyone! Your friendship and support over the years and decades have been more important than you'll ever know.

-Matt (& Personal Team)

Sunday, October 22, 2017

From 2006 – What Have We Learned?

More than a decade ago, Peter Singer invited me to be on a panel at Princeton with Jonathan Haidt. Professor Haidt gave the first presentation entitled, “Why Good Intentions Don’t Lead to Good Actions.” In this talk, Professor Haidt noted that whenever he was around Peter, he would decide to stop eating animals. But after he was home and into the routines of his life, he’d fall back into his old ways.

In my presentation, “Causing Good Actions Anyway,” I opened with why we should care (showing a brief clip of some of the cruelty farm animal face). Then I talked about how food technology will continue to advance such that people will eat whatever they want, but the products will be cruelty-free.

From 2006

I noted, “Compare a Boca burger today to one from 20 years ago, and just imagine how good a  veggie burger will be 20 years from now.”

From 2006

This very insightful new Vox article – “Ethical arguments won't end factory farming. Technology might.” – makes the same case Jonathan and I did in 2006. I would like to amplify several points here.

In the past, I’ve made statements similar to the Vox title, and I’ve always received pushback along the lines of “There is so much interest in veganism! It is growing by leaps and bounds – we have to keep pushing for [my exact personal view of ethical] veganism!”

But for most of the time since I stopped eating animals in the 80s, there has been no actual, bottom-line evidence of the growth of veganism or even vegetarianism. In fact, the percentage of people who don’t eat animals is more-or-less unchanged, even declining from 2012 to 2015 (but always within the margin of error).

There were a few years when the number of animals killed for food in the US went down, but that trend has reversed and per capita meat consumption is at an all-time high.

Yet I’m encouraged by two things. First is the current emphasis on and embrace of new food technologies.

I actually don’t think we need huge breakthroughs in tech to produce food that everyone will eat. I think the best plant-based foods out there now are good enough to satisfy most people most of the time. We can make plant-based food as satisfying and mouth-watering as what you would see on a TV commercial, but we often choose to go for hyper-healthy gourmet instead.

Will never be seen on a TV commercial.

That's more like it!

Unfortunately, products that are actually appealing aren’t all of equal quality, aren’t convenient, and aren’t quite cost competitive.

From 2006

I think convenience may be the biggest stumbling block.

If people could get a well-prepared Beyond Burger or something made with Tofurky strips as easily as anything else, many more people would choose more meat-free meals. But few people know the Impossible Burger even exists, let alone that they could cook with anything as amazing as Tofurky strips. All of those shortcomings – lack of awareness, convenience, and cost-competitiveness – is why The Good Food Institute's work is so essential.

The second thing that gives me hope is that many in the animal advocacy movement have grown beyond the dogma: “I have to stay true to myself and only advocate exactly what I want.” More and more advocates recognize the futility (at best) of an “all-or-nothing” approach, and now take a more realistic tact. We know there are many, many people like Dr. Haidt and Sean Illing (the interviewer in the Vox piece referenced above) – intelligent and thoughtful individuals who just won’t give up (animal) meat. Vox founder Ezra Klein makes the comparison to the Founding Fathers (minus Adams and Hamilton) who bemoaned the horrors of slavery, all while adding to their slave holdings.

Understanding this has led more and more groups and advocates to adopt incremental tactics and pursue realistic goals to reduce suffering (and drive up the cost of production). From abolishing cages to Meatless Mondays to slow-growth birds, more efforts are being put into actions that don’t (immediately) increase the number of vegans, but do actually impact many animals, and are able to reach new people.

Not surprisingly, I think One Step for Animals is the epitome of this pragmatic, harm-reduction trend in demand-side advocacy, as discussed here.

We know that many people who don’t think they can go veg would be willing (and are often eager) to make some change for the “better.” But the message that’s usually promoted – health, environment, animals – is almost always interpreted to apply first and primarily to mammals, leading to a lot more birds suffering. With One Step, the call for change will “do no harm,” and will prompt the most impactful realistic step anyone can take, no matter how much they love meat.

Postscript: At the meal after the Princeton talk, we were served a disgusting slab of undercooked tofu. It was as though the chef sought to mock my idea that plant-based foods could be tasty! Yet a week later, I received an email from Jonathan Haidt, saying that after my talk, he and his wife were really going to stop eating animals. This time, they really meant it!  :-)

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Sound Familiar?

“This is the mentality of a cult, in which fantastical beliefs are flaunted as proof of one’s piety. This mentality cannot coexist with an esteem for the truth.”
Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate

Friday, October 13, 2017

Even Vegans Die. But Not Today.

tl;dr – Kindness should be our baseline.

My good friend (and One Step advisor) Ginny Messina recently co-authored a book entitled Even Vegans Die. If you haven’t read the book, it is important for at least two reasons. The first is that because of our understandable anger, many vegans are simply cruel (1, 2, 3), especially regarding health issues (even to other vegans). The second is that not feeling healthy as a veg is the leading cause of recidivism. Many vegans oversell their diet as the cure-all; when meat-eaters go vegetarian and feel worse, they go back to eating animals. Furthermore, they tell all their friends and family about how terrible vegetarianism is. This is one of the main reasons the percentage of the population who are veg has basically not changed in decades, and, more importantly, that per-capita consumption of animals is at an all-time high.

Many if not most of my friends have learned to avoid the vegan fanatics online and elsewhere. In their book, Ginny and her co-authors give examples of the cruelty of many vegans, so I won’t go into depth here ... except for one story. Once a person attacked me for promoting this graph:

saying I would lead to more people getting Crohn’s disease by “promoting” dairy. Little did they know that I have had Crohn’s for decades, and had developed it well after being vegan. I know so many others who developed Crohn’s after going vegan that it is frightening. Sometimes, if I mention having Crohn’s, someone will come along and tell me I need to just go vegan. Some even imply I deserve the disease for not being vegan.

Now to my personal update.

Note: I had not planned to have any of the below known publicly. But for a variety of reasons, the story is creeping around, and I’d rather people hear it from me instead of as a rumor. Also, a wise person reminded me it is arrogant to try to do utilitarian calculations on one’s friends.

During track season at Pomona College in 2013, our kid EK (and lifelong vegan) developed costochondritis.

Thus, when I started having some discomfort in my chest upon running, I thought it was that. When I saw my new primary care physician, he did an EKG (all fine). Given my age (49), my 30+ years as a vegetarian, my fitness (regular vigorous exercise), and my low blood pressure (~110/70 on average), he was trying to figure out some skeletal-muscular explanation. That didn’t pan out, but again, my history and the EKG argued against anything to do with the heart. I went to the pulmonologist to see if there was anything going on with my oh-so-wonderful left lung after its multiple collapses. When the pulmonologists didn’t find anything, he sent me to a cardiologist.

The cardiologist scheduled a stress test for Sept 28. I failed that badly; they immediately scheduled me to go to the catheterization lab on Friday, Oct 6 at the local hospital. At that time, angioplasty with contrast would allow them to look inside the arteries and determine what was going on (below), and if I could get by with a stent (or stents) or if I needed open-heart surgery and bypass.

They also put me on beta blockers (which lowers the heart rate and blood pressure). The next day, Sept 29, I went back to the cardiologist’s for an echocardiogram. That was perfect – could not have been better: muscle strong, valves all in good shape, aorta looked perfect.

Side note back to my lead point about vegans: I asked a vegan medical professional what preparation advice they would have if someone might be having bypass surgery in a week. This person basically said not to have the surgery, but instead go vegan. I asked what to do if that wasn’t an option and I never heard back.

After a very stressful week, Anne and I got to the hospital at 4:45am on Friday the 6th for a 7am procedure. I watched the screen as the doctor did the angiogram and checked (with contrast) every aspect of the heart. One 8 mm section of a major vessel was 95+% blocked (occluded). This was entirely obvious even to my untrained eye – it was so bad I thought I must be misinterpreting what I was seeing.

Similar to mine. Yikes!

Given that only one tiny segment of an artery had any blockage at all, the doctor speculates that sometime in the past, somewhere in this small segment, there might have been some kind of injury (maybe a virus, maybe Crohn’s related) that caused it to accumulate deposits. A close (vegan) friend of mine had died in his sleep in his 30s and the autopsy showed his heart had been damaged by an infection when he had been a child. I’ve heard other bizarre stories as well.

But everything else was absolutely fine – no sign of disease anywhere in any of the other arteries. The entire occlusion was between arterial branches, so the doctor was able to stent it (so no open-heart surgery). I watched as he retested that artery after the stent, and blood flow was 100%. It was amazing (here is what it looks like in a broad view). The doctor then closely checked all the other coronary arteries again, and they were all perfectly clear. While I was still on the table, the nurse gave me a big dose of aspirin and Plavix, another blood thinner. I had also taken my beta blocker that morning (foreshadowing).

So at this point (about 9 am Friday, Oct 6), I was absolutely ecstatic. Heart was fine, muscle was strong, valves all good, and all arteries fixed or clear. I was discharged at 3 pm and Anne drove me home.

But of course, you know it doesn’t end like that.

At some point after we went to bed Friday night, I got up and walked into our bathroom. The next thing I knew, I was on the floor. I must have passed out. In retrospect, I should not have gotten up on my own, being on blood thinners and beta blockers (on top of low blood pressure to begin with). It just hadn’t occurred to me to worry about it – I had walked around fine during the day.

EK suggests I always wear one of these now.

I hit the back of my head (I have a contusion there) and utterly mangled my torso. A later CT scan showed I cracked one rib. It hurt to breathe and was agony to move at all. After I realized this wasn’t just a temporary injury, I had Anne take me to the Emergency Department, and we got there at 2:30am on Saturday morning.

Over the almost 8 hours we were there, they gave me morphine (did nothing), Fentanyl (helped a little), and, at the end, Dilaudid (also helped a little). I had a CT scan of my head and chest. That is where they found one cracked rib (I still can’t believe only one). The stent was still in place.

But of course, that’s still not enough. Here is the kicker: CT scan revealed a small pneumothorax in my lower left lung.

Yes, that’s right: a small section of my left lung is collapsed. Again. #3.

Yes, this is the lung they cut a portion out of after my second lung collapse in 2014. This is the lung they glued in place so it could never collapse again. They can’t tell if this pneumothorax was from the fall, or if it had been there before. Dealing with that is further down the road. I certainly couldn’t feel it (and still can’t) – the rest of my pain is just overwhelming.

I am still in a great deal of pain, but it is somewhat better day-by-day. Ultimately, though, the bottom-line take-away is good: like Crohn’s and never-ending lung collapses, the damage to this one tiny segment of my artery was just a fluke. Because of the miracles of modern medicine, it was found and fixed. Once I heal up from my fall, I can go back to hiking, running, and biking – there will be no lingering issues.

Again, I didn’t want to publicize this, because I think it creates more suffering for my friends than glee for those who loathe me and One Step. Saying all this is self-indulgent, and doesn’t help us help animals. But if you take one thing away from this story, though, please let it be that our baseline should be kindness. If you take away something else, realize that decades of veganism, healthy living, and relative youth won’t protect you from heart disease, lung collapses, Crohn’s, chronic back pain, or even tinnitus.

All the more reason to be kind to one another.

My deepest thanks to everyone who has supported me and Anne through all this, and everything else we’ve gone through since March 2014. As another long-time friend sent:

“I expect to pass through life but once. If therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.”
-William Penn