Posts by Jacqueline Fein-Zachary

Jackie Fein-Zachary is a feminist, foodie, educator and activist, currently writing a novel and maintaining a 10,000 a-day “step” average.

Gratitude

I’m feeling especially grateful these days. Grateful that I am safe at home and did not have to endure the recent brutality and murder of friends, family or country members by ISIS (aka Daesh). I grieve for those people still in mourning.

I am reminded how lucky I am to have been born into a middle-class, loving family. To have had a yard to play in, even a stream to sit by as my ten, twelve and fourteen year old selves tried to figure out where I fit in. I never had to deal with the ravages of poverty or be taught how to kill. My teenage angst was cured by time, love and ok, a little therapy.

I am especially grateful to my wife, my family and my wonderful friends. These people are the true treasures of my life. Over the years we have learned to be patient (some occasions being harder than others), but always, always we love and support one another. I love you all.

I am grateful every single day to be healthy and have access to fresh food and clean water. I do not take even my teeth, hair, skin or limbs for granted. I need only walk a few blocks to Boylston St. (a main thoroughfare in Boston) to find someone homeless, in a wheelchair or missing teeth.

I love my country – with all its problems and challenges. We can vote, we have laws, we can make a difference. Ours is not a perfect union. None exist. I recognize there are racists, bigots, corporate thieves (and the list goes on) among us. But I also believe there are more people who are tolerant and fair, who truly believe in justice and opportunity for all. I choose to look at the upside.

I am even grateful for my advancing age. Oh, yes, there are days when I look at the gray overtaking my wavy, brown locks and cringe because I know it means I have less time but … as I say at each birthday celebration: look at what I’ve seen and done! Because I work part-time, I see a lot of young people coming to work after being all day at a first job. I smile at their taut skin but I’ll take my wrinkles and be grateful for the extra time I have to pursue my passion for writing (a novel) and all things vegan (compassion for animals, commitment to the environment, plant-based diet).

I think the key is to look at what you have instead of what you don’t.

This Thanksgiving, I want to thank YOU for reading my blog and giving me the continued opportunity to grow.

May your gratitude list, too, be long and sustainable.

GMO’s: Our Right to Know

I’ll tell you right now that I loathe Monsanto. Just hearing the name of the company makes me cringe. But don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against corporations – or Big Government, for that matter – in general, EXCEPT when they do more harm than good. Then my stomach rolls.

If you don’t know Monsanto’s involvement in GMO’s (genetically modified organisms), you probably know one of their most successful products, Roundup, which uses the herbicide glyphosate to kill those pesky weeds. It’s easy to use and it works. But I’ll repeat, it does more harm than good. The World Health Organization has classified glyphosate, as a “probable human carcinogen.”

Agent Orange also once seemed like a good idea. So did DDT, PCB’s and saccharin. All Monsanto creations.

But mostly I just don’t like bullies … and people who say they are doing something “for my own good.” I know of too many cases where self-proclaimed tough guys torment, just for laughs, vulnerable gays and lesbians. Fortunately there are now laws against this behavior. A few republicans come to mind next. But my biggest bully? Monsanto. Since the 80’s, they have taken advantage of their enormous resources, and specifically their legal team, to bully farmers into giving up their own seeds and becoming part of the Roundup Ready worldwide network of farmers. Today Roundup Ready crops are more than 90% of the soybeans planted (used mainly as a food crop for animals) and 70% of the corn. My problem with that, beside a loss of a variety of crops and the loss of generations of small farmers, is how these same pesticide-laden, subsidized crops end up on our tables. I am sure you already know there are hundreds of products developed from corn alone (sweeteners, cornstarch, yogurt, crayons, medications, ethanol, batteries, etc).

But my real, real problem is the genetic tampering with Nature “for our own good.” Genetically engineered plants are those that have been changed by taking genes from one species and inserting them into another, altering its DNA. This is beyond natural cross-breeding or anything nature has done since the beginning of time. The safety tests that are done for the new crops are done by the corporations that create the crops. Right now federal regulators, under the “generally recognized as safe” provision, approve anything that looks and acts like a non-GMO version of the original product.

nongmoproject image

The manufacturers and the folks who sell us these products do not want us to know that they contain GMO’s. Yet look in every aisle of the grocery store and at home, these products are part of our daily lives. The companies would have us believe these products are “good for us” and “healthy”: General Mills cereals (Chex, Lucky Charms, yikes, the Cheerios I just found in my own kitchen), Similac, Canola Oil (another yikes for me), Campbell soups, Nature Valley, Kashi, Gerber, Doritos, Tostitos, MorningStar Turk’y Burger (advertised as 100% vegetarian, cholesterol free, etc., i.e. “good for you”) and dozens more. Don’t we have a right to know what’s in all these foods? It is my strong belief that the increase chemical intake from pesticides as well as the increase in our diets of all these GMO’s is behind the majority of major health and behavioral problems.

I am compelled to write this post (instead of something fun!!!) because there is now a bill in Massachusetts to mandate the labeling of GMO’s. It is H.3242. Please take a look at MArighttoknow.com and talk to your representatives and senators about it. CT and ME are already onboard. But bigger and worse is a federal bill which its detractors are calling “Monsanto’s Dream Bill.” How this got so quickly filed on the federal level is another subject. This bill would PROHIBIT states from requiring the labeling of genetically engineered foods. This bill, pushed by Monsanto’s team of lobbyists, of course, and the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association is all about making money for the companies and keeping us from knowing what’s in our food. It is being referred to as the Deny Americans the Right to Know (or DARK) Act. The House version has already passed and now it will go to the Senate. Fortunately for us, both Senators Warren and Markley have already spoken against it, but I am sure they would love your support. If you are talking to them, urge them also to support Senate Bill 511 witch would require mandatory labeling for GMO’s!!

That’s it for my preaching and politics. The good news is that the power for change truly rests in our pocketbooks (i.e., the food we buy). The fact that Walmart now sells more organic products than Whole Foods tells us the tide is changing. Just yesterday I saw in my local grocery store a brand new “natural and organic” aisle. (Beware of the “natural” label, however. That’s more often a sham because the FDA has not defined this word, allowing manufacturers to use it to deceive people into thinking this product is not only better but does not contain GMO’s. Not true). Consumers really do have the first and last word.

Knowledge is power. Watch the documentaries, “Food, Inc”  and “The Future of Food.” For more information and to easily contact your US senator, go to FoodandWaterWatch.org. It takes more time but I can’t help but plug eating as much whole and unprocessed food as possible. Those GMO’s in the long run are deadly. Monsanto’s headquarters, by the way, are in Creve Coeur, Missouri. The French verb “crever” means to work to death. In slang, it means to kick the bucket, die. Either way, it translates as lethal.

The Real Culprit

I used to think that sitting down to a meal was to satisfy my hunger or, as is often the case, to celebrate an occasion with friends. Now I know it to be a political act as well.

In the abstract entitled A Framework for Assessing Effects of the Food System discussed on PlantBasedResearch.org, it is noted: “How we produce and consume food has a bigger impact on American’s well-being than any other human activity. The food industry is the largest sector of our economy: food touches everything from our heath to the environment, climate change, economic inequality, and the federal budget.”

So much for just sitting down to lunch. Two things have happened since my last blog entry. One, my brother and sister-in-law from California came to visit and we had lots of conversations about the hot weather and water restrictions there. And two, I finally received a copy of my favorite magazine, VegNews. In an article entitled Truth or Drought, Mark Hawthorne asked why we aren’t talking more about the largest contributor to the water crisis in California: animal agriculture and specifically the meat, dairy and egg industries? There has been a lot of media attention in California about the amount of water used to produce almonds – almonds!? – and about reducing residential and commercial lawn water use. I think this is a smokescreen. Nobody wants to talk about the real culprit.

My money is on politics. And behind politics, of course, is money.

I have other family out in California: cousins, a nephew, a very dear aunt. They are all very socially conscious and, I am sure, watch their water consumption. Most of us now know it takes less water to shower than to take a bath (42 gallons of water for a ten minute shower vs 70 gallons for a bath) and most of us are careful about our water use while brushing our teeth and doing the dishes. It makes us feel like we are doing something, right? In an article entitled Drought by the Numbers: Where does California Water Go?, D.J. Waldie wrote that “about 14% [of water] is poured into bathtubs, toilets, and washing machines or sprayed over residential lawns.” But home water consumption is not the real problem.

I’ve spent days reading statistics. From #imagreenmonster, I learned that on average a family of four uses about 450 gallons of water doing such things as showering, dishes and laundry, watering their plants. But if they were to go out to eat and buy four cheeseburgers, they would up their water consumption to 7,000 gallons! Yes, that’s “virtual” water, meaning the amount of water scientists and statisticians have figured out it takes to grow the food to feed the animals, hydrate them and keep the factory farming facilities and slaughterhouses clean.

Ninety-nine (99) percent of all farmed animals are now raised in a factory farm situation. Very few picturesque, old-fashioned farms where animals roam outside, exist anymore.

In California, alone, according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the total water use for all agriculture is 80%, of which animal agriculture is more than half at 47%. The beef, dairy and egg business is huge – HUGE- and very politically savvy. They want us to think that almonds are the culprit.

Look at these comparisons, again from VegNews:
It takes about:
14 gallons of water to produce a pound of carrots
36 gallons of water to produce a pound of kale
But 47 gallons of water to produce just 2 large eggs
145 gallons of water to produce a pound of avocados
And, yes, 304 gallons of water to produce a pound of almonds
But 660 gallons of water to produce a pound of pig flesh
And 1,062 gallons of water to produce one 10-ounce steak

California is experiencing a formidable drought but the drought is not just in California. It’s in Australia, China, India, Iran, Brazil, Thailand, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Tanzania and Uganda. We now live in a global world. We already learned that what we do in the US, affects others (the global financial crisis of 2007-08, for example). The same is true about what we eat. According to Mark Hawthorne, Californians use more water to grow alfalfa than any other crop (even my personal favorite, grapes!) and “alfalfa is grown to feed farmed animals worldwide.” That means Californians are using up a lot of its water to export grain worldwide.

California is not the only state using its precious water supplies to feed animals. John Robbins wrote in The Food Revolution that “half of the water used in all of the US goes to raising animals for food.”

It’s unsustainable. California is now resorting to using the water from their aquifers. It takes thousands of years to fill these aquifers. Without the snowmelt and rain, they cannot even be replenished. Todd C. Frankel wrote in The Washington Post that “twenty-one of the world’s 37 largest aquifers — in locations from India and China to the United States and France — have passed their sustainability tipping points, meaning more water was removed than replaced.”

We have to start talking about the real culprit. The use of land and water for animal agriculture is a worldwide problem. It makes a lot of money for a lot of people. We won’t change their minds but we can reduce or eliminate our consumption of meat and other animal products. I think that is the solution. And it may just save our planet.

When I see steaks wrapped neatly in plastic wrap in the grocery stores or look at all the ice cream for sale in the dairy aisles, I thank every vegan and vegetarian for their personal and political choice not to support these industries. Who knew a plant-based meal could be such a radical act?

10 Reasons to Buy Locally Grown

I picked up a 2015 Local Food Guide at the rec center where I do Zumba. It’s a great booklet celebrating and featuring all the local farms, ocean harvesters, artisan foods, markets and restaurants. On the back cover, they gave these 10 reasons to buy locally grown. I had to share them. These reasons work for your area as well.

1. LOCALLY GROWN TASTES AND LOOKS BETTER. The products are usually picked at their peak and sold within 24 hours (as opposed to imported from afar and transported in trucks or planes and stored first in warehouses)

2. LOCAL FOOD SUPPORTS LOCAL FAMILIES. That’s great. Some of them may even be your neighbors or someone you know.

3. LOCAL FOOD BUILDS TRUST. There’s not a question of food safety when you can look your farmer in the eye and see his or her products.

4. LOCAL FOOD BUILDS COMMUNITY. I know this one from my parents who were local retailers. Getting to know the folks who grow your food is important. You might be surprised who the farmers are. I would suggest even a trip to the farm to see how the food is grown. You’ll never look at a zucchini the same way again.

5. LOCAL FOOD PRESERVES OPEN SPACE. We need the air and the green. We have plenty of city space.

6. LOCAL FOOD KEEPS TAXES DOWN. According to this Buy Fresh Buy Local Cape Cod guide ([email protected]barnstablecounty.org) several studies show farms contribute more in taxes than they require in services (the opposite of residential developments).

7. LOCAL FOOD BENEFITS THE ENVIRONMENT AND WILDLIFE. Imagine a patchwork of farms with fields, meadows, woods, streams and ponds. That’s priceless for the wildlife and our eco system.

8. LOCAL FOOD MAKES A LIGHTER CARBON FOOTPRINT. We’ve heard a lot about that. The average non local food travels about 1500 miles from farm to plate.

9. LOCAL FOOD PRESERVES GENETIC DIVERSITY. Remember the actual taste of a tomato and smell of a rose? Industrial agriculture is bred for uniformity and to survive harvesting and transport. I want taste and flavor and good nutrition.

10. LOCAL FOOD IS AN INVESTMENT IN YOUR COMMUNITY’S FUTURE. Yep, buying local supports, preserves and strengthens the character of the community for the next generation of farmers. And for us.

A summer’s end cold

It’s the last day of August, 2015. It took me quite a while to set up my blog site, to write my bio and first entry. The second entry actually came quickly. I was on a roll. Then … though I thought I was armored up, I got hit over the head with DOUBT and let the whole thing drop. It was easy enough: the glorious summertime arrived, with stupendous weather and the corn and tomatoes and summer veggies I had been waiting for all year, not to mention loads of family and friends visiting. It was a great distraction. But what happened to wanting to make a difference? To being bold and speaking out against abuse? It was easier to let it drop and go to the beach.

But an adorable five year old nephew was here a couple weeks ago with his family. I just had to hold and kiss him, even while he coughed into his sleeve. He had some little cold but I was buff and strong and fueled with the powerful vitamins and nutrients of the local bounty. It wouldn’t get to me. Ha. The germs eventually found me. And so here I sit, nursing a sore throat with mint tea and lemon, determined more than ever to get back to good health and help others do the same.

The writing lapse time forced me to realize that everything we do is as much psychological as anything else. The kids going off to school for the first time – or tenth or seventieth – have to be strong and get past their home comfort zones. I will tell you right here and now that I am a Hillary supporter and we all are watching the attacks she is facing. Yet she goes on. I could add a hundred other examples. You supply your own. The bottom line is this is who I am and I have this one, short life to live. Anyone who doesn’t like reading my blog, doesn’t have to read it. That’s the beauty of a blog. Writers share their passion, their knowledge, their experience and opinions with those who subscribe to the same interests and who hope to gain some new insight, fact or validation. I get it now. That’s all it is. I am not THE answer (nor is this THE question), I am just me.

And so I will pass on twice a month, the things I want to share. I hope it enriches your world. I know each day what I learn changes mine. As always, I welcome your comments.

Speaking of chickpeas …

OMG, I just created my first recipe! Vegan recipe, that is. In my old carnivore days, I would plop a chicken breast (sorry, dead chicken) on the grill, add a few spices, cook a vegetable and some sort of potato and call it dinner. I had many variations of that dinner, switching up the chicken for salmon, the potato for pasta, one vegetable for another. Looking back on it, it was pretty boring, but it did the trick every evening.

Now admittedly I have my new vegan go-to meals and snacks. But today I was looking for something different. It was lunchtime and I was hungry. I closed my laptop and walked into the kitchen. I knew I hadn’t gone shopping in a while so I had to rely on whatever was in the refrigerator or in my “pantry.” Hint, keep these well stocked with basics. In the vegetable bin I had a single red pepper, one cucumber and a red onion. Yikes. I checked my caned goods and found my favorite Eden organic garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas). I love these little roundish balls of protein. I rinsed them in a colander and put them aside. Next I chopped off the top of the pepper, pulled out the ribs inside and cut the pepper left around the stem into slivers. I don’t usually eat onions raw but I was feeling daring. I gave the onion and cucumber a good chop. And that was it. I threw the chopped veggies into a bowl with the chick peas and added some vegenaise (my healthy substitute for mayonnaise). But then came the most important part: I had to make it tasty. Taste and crunch and color, I knew, would be the key. I gave my spice rack a spin and picked out fennel and dill. Don’t ask me why. I like those two and thought they’d made a good fit. I added a touch of salt and some fresh black pepper and voilà, I was done. But would it good? I’ve tried throwing things together in the past, and have a fifty-fifty record. I mixed it all together and spooned it into the red pepper. But before I tasted the pepper-bean combo, I had to try the new mixture by itself. Would it be any good or would it be just a stuffing for a pretty and crunchy outside? I scooped up a mouthful and excitedly put it into my mouth.

It was delicious!! Yahoo!!

So I brought my creation to the table and sat down, ever so proud of myself.

The fennel and the onion gave it a good kick. The crunch of the pepper was very satisfying. I think I remember learning to “stuff” a pepper back in my Weight Watcher days. So why is this so exciting? Because now I am over the 50% status and this was my best and most unique creation yet. I love food and eat at least three times a day and usually add on a late-afternoon snack. Since I eat what I want, I want what I eat to be good.

There are a few secrets to not having a weight or eating problem. One of them is to eat whatever one wants BUT stop as soon as that craving has been satisfied. Our body will tell us when that is. It does not mean when we are stuffed or even necessarily when we’ve finished everything on our plate. That way I eat a lot, whatever I want, a little at a time. Yes, I have my indulgences but that, for sure, is a blog for another time. Here’s the photo of my first creation:

IMG_4738

If you want to try it, you’ll need (but remember I’m not a chef, so please adjust at will):

  • A can of chick peas (garbanzo beans), rinsed
  • A red pepper, cap off
  • Part of a small red onion, chopped
  • About a quarter of a cucumber, peeled and chopped
  • Vegenaise – a tablespoon or less
  • Slivers of the red pepper from the cap
  • A smidgen of salt and black pepper
  • About 1/4 teaspoon dill
  • A generous 1/2 teaspoon of fennel

Mix and toss into the red pepper (or eat on a bed of some nutritious “green”).

Hello, World

My friend, Diane, turned to me last Saturday night, and pointed down at the chocolate dessert that had just been placed in front of her. It had a fluff of whipped cream on top and a slice of white chocolate on the edge. “See that, Jackie,” she said, “that’s why I could never be vegan.” I looked over at her and smiled, but didn’t say anything. I went back to my fruit plate, perfectly content.

I felt so great that evening, dessert really wasn’t an issue.  I was sitting at a table with my wife and ten wonderful friends. I had even bought a black, ruffly top to wear on top of my pants, pants that had once been too tight. We were attending the 24th annual Women’s Dinner Party to raise money (and have a good time) for Boston’s Fenway Health. I turned back toward the stage, reveling being in the midst of fellow activists, luxuriating in my good health and grateful to the max for my good genes. For three years now I’ve been a vegan and working hard to stay fit. It was all paying off.

What we eat every day makes a difference. It makes a difference in how we feel, how we feel about ourselves, and certainly in our health. I’ve stayed a vegan because I know how the growing of food affects our environment – for its detriment or for its continued evolution. I also stopped eating meat to protest the sickening abuse of animals in factory farming. Eating is a political act as well.

I think about food all the time: what to eat for my next meal, do I need to shop, who’s growing the food, where is it from, what’s in it? I read vegan recipes like they are treasured works of art. What else am I passionate about? Women, strong women who dare to make a difference. It’s always hard to challenge the status quo, to do things differently. I adore good wine. The combination of a great meal with a perfectly paired wine is heaven. I love to read, especially novels. And now I, too, am working on my first novel. I use to think running marathons was tough. Writing is definitely more challenging. But oh, those moments when a great idea for the story comes to me, when I find the exact work I was searching for or finish a pivotal scene … that’s pure writing bliss.

This morning I was looking through a cookbook, Wild About Greens by Nava Atlas, to find something I could do with the collard greens I had just bought. I found a recipe for a “Green Velvet Smoothie with Banana & Avocado.” Now that made my “greens” fun and filling! Before I returned to my computer, I flipped open to the middle section of the book, the part with all the photos. “Curried  Sweet Potatoes with Chard and Chickpeas” caught my eye. I am always looking for new recipes that are tasty, yes, but also rich in vitamins, antioxidants, ingredients that are good for me.  I am not the most inventive in the kitchen but cookbooks, blogs and finding delicious food out at restaurants keeps me going.  With my weight where I want it to be, my stomach flat, I can do anything! Silly, isn’t it? But true. I feel strong. Invincible.

I’ll find that perfect vegan chocolate dessert for Diane. Meanwhile I have so many recipes, blog sites, books, facts and, hopefully, wisdom to share. Please join me. I’d love the feedback.