Vegan Pledge

Today, Monday, November 26, 2012 ,David and I are officially starting an entirely whole-foods, plant based diet. Yes, you might think this is a radical approach to cut meat, dairy, and all foods that “had a face or a mother at some point” from our diet, but I am excited for this endeavor.  It most definitely will not be easy.  David and I have grown accustomed to eating meat and are too addicted to mac n’cheese. In the one year since we married, we have each gained 10 pounds of what I like to call “comfy weight.”  But, really this means that while we try to cook home most nights, we often ditch our own kitchen for something more convenient out of doors. David in particular has been categorized/demonized as a carnivore extraordinaire. Just the very idea of David eating veggies over meat will have many family and friends scratching their heads. Isn’t he from the South? Doesn’t he love his ribs, chicken wings, steaks, and burgers? Does he even eat vegetables? Ah, but little do the naysayers know that in fact this “carnivore” is a herbivore at heart. I will not be taking David down the path to vegetarianism kicking and screaming.  Rather, he is coming willingly especially after a Thanksgiving weekend in which he ate as much meat as physically possible (just shy of getting meat sweats) before this sudden and abrupt halt starting today.

Why now?  Well, why not!  Perhaps we do not want to be totally cliche by making this into a New Year’s resolution that people will inevitably be expecting us to break two weeks into the new year. Or perhaps we know that if we don’t start today then tomorrow will just never come. There is no better day then today the old saying goes. On Friday night we watched the documentary Forks Over Knives and realized that we have a great deal of information at our fingertips that has pointed us to the same conclusions made in this film. We have seen countless other documentaries, read books, blogs, and have noted that most of our doctors are vegans or vegetarians. Dr. Oz is a vegetarian, my father’s cardiologist is a vegan and my doctor has often discussed with me taking the same pledge to plant based eating as each of the individuals. So here I am making it. For some reason the commitment feels more validated when I write about it on the blog. As though each one of you will help hold me accountable or at least my writing about it will hold me accountable to it. Gorging myself on Thanksgiving and feeling bloated, full, and tight in my clothes afterwards also helped with the decision!

Yesterday was our “last hurrah” in the animal protein world. We went out for a delicious post thanksgiving brunch. Eating those eggs hit the spot.  I have always loved eating brunch and devouring as much coffee, potatoes, and eggs benedict as humanly possible. This time though I thought I would be sad as I said good-bye to my delightful, full-fat and protein rick brunch but I wasn’t.  I was actually excited to get the meal over and to start on my new path with David to more wholesome and nutrient rich eating habits. And with the last swallow, the pledge began.

Of course sticking to this pledge will require a great deal of work: planning meals, educating ourselves on the nutrients we need, and just plain ignoring/changing our old eating habits. Thankfully, I am not doing this alone. David and I will “struggle” through this dietary shift together and hopefully be lean, green, fighting machines on the other side!

Here are some helpful blogs we will be using during the transition:

Smitten Kitchen
101 Cookbooks
Oh my veggies

guerrilla education

Education is buzzing with design thinking.  What this is can be difficult to define. Giving an elevator pitch on this style of teaching would be like trying to hit a moving target. Some educators describe design thinking as Project Based Learning, Challenged Based Learning, and/or Problem Based Learning. When I think of these words, I immediately envision ice cream.  The base ingredients of all ice creams include cream and sugar. As one branches into differing flavors and textures that suit the individual’s palette and desire more ingredients are tossed in delicately.  In the end, regardless of these additives, at its core it is still ice cream. Similarly, these education buzz words evoke a variety of responses as each is a shade different from the next, but each is still “ice cream.” The best way I can articulate this type of learning is to note that at the core each seeks to create an environment that values experiential learning and student ownership of their learning process. So while the approach may look differently if the starting point is Project Based Learning versus Design Thinking, the product may be quite similar as the student takes ownership over his or her creative process and attitude toward the assignment

This still is quite vague and will look different in each classroom. In my classroom this week I have attempted design thinking through an approach I will call guerrilla education. The word surprise or unexpected is a connotation for the word guerrilla.   After assigning this project, I have been surprised by their work and they are about to surprise the school with it. In attempting to wade into the waters of design thinking, I gave my students the following assignment:

Select:  An issue that a country faces
Do: Research on this issue
Brainstorm: Why is this issue significant? What are the possible solutions? What are the causes? What is already being done? What could be done? How can you create effective change? How can you reach the widest audience?  How do you inform people?
Create:  Either a product, policy, experience, or campaign that showcases/addresses this issue
Due: Friday or so…..

Their response has been overwhelmingly active.  Three of the projects seek to suddenly take hold of common and well trafficked lounge spaces at school in order to stage protests, host performative art, and engage students in activism. When I wrote these vague directions, I immediately thought this would blow up in my face as students asked for more specifics and cornered me into “telling them what to do.”  Instead, they brainstormed for an hour completely boxing me out of their exciting inspiration sessions. Given only peaks and glimpses into their early ideas, I was blown away by their creativity and interest. Of course, execution is a whole other beast.

I moved from group to group and asked them for a checklist and schedule for their projects and for them to list their targets.  Things are going smoothly right now and the project deadline is now this Thursday.  I am sure I will have an update then with what went wrong or could have been organized better; however, right now I find myself not holding the burden of the class at all.  The students have completely taken over their classroom experience and have used me as a sounding board and critic.  It is a very loose process which has felt scary each day but as someone who struggles to let go of the reins it is proving to be immensely rewarding…so far.

One group has selected to examine the Mexico-U.S. border control issues.  They are paying particular attention to young children who are brought over illegally into the U.S. and the Dream Act.  In order to raise awareness for these young children, they have made a video about the legal stakes these children face and while the video plays in the front entrance of the school, they have decided to sit silently behind fencing material in order to express the political, social, and economic limbo these individuals face once within the borders of the U.S.  A second group is examining the Ciudad Juárez where four hundred women have been killed.  These students have also created a video about the women, the city, and the response of the Mexican government.  While their awareness movie plays, they will be collecting over four hundred fingerprints in order to have students visualize the magnitude of this number.  The students will be taking hold of these public spaces on Thursday and surprising the student body not only with their work but with their message and creativity. I am truly looking forward to seeing the execution of these ideas and into rounding out my first attempt at curating creativity and guerrilla education in a History classroom.


My brother’s father-in-law posted this image on his facebook wall and it has stuck with me all day.


One of David’s favorite mantras is: humans are afraid to recognize they are merely animals.  Perhaps this is why this graphic stood out so much as I scrolled through the various messages this morning. Perhaps it is also because of placing more organic living front and center these last few days.  For whatever reason, however, the “eco” side of this graphic illustrates exactly what I am aiming for: a new mindset about life and how one participates in it.

After a long day in the yard toiling in the soil of our overgrown weeds, we finally sat down to relax and watch a documentary.  Tonight’s selection was Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead.  Surprisingly, this was not of my choosing.  Rather, David called to me from the living room as I tidied up from dinner and said, “Hey, I think this would be interesting.”  The documentary is not unlike many about food and Americans’ particularly bad relationship with highly processed foods and animal proteins.  Yet, what was most enjoyable was the story of the protagonist’s journey into creating a long lasting habit change.  The opposite of Super-Size Me, Joe transforms over the course of the film into a thinner, radiant, man who is unafraid to embrace exercise and who has shifted his primary food intake group from meat and processed items to vegetables and fruit.  His “food pyramid” has fruits and vegetables at its base.  What was impressive was not only how much weight he lost over the course of two months, but also how much healthier his skin and hair appeared and how much energy he demonstrated.  As a result of this quest he inspired many individuals who were at risk for heart attacks, skin conditions, migraines, and strokes to reboot their own eating and take ownership over their food choices.  One of my favorite moments in the film occurred when Joe asked average Americans who was to blame for their obesity or illness.  The unanimous response was: myself.

Since starting my own healthy journey this week, I am surprised by how much energy I have.  While I do know that I have only been organically focused for less than a week, I am encouraged to continue this journey and to continue to feel good and energetic.  I used to think it would be hard to break my habits.  And, in many ways, I do struggle against cravings and laziness, but I am also much more willing to get up and go than I was just three days ago and that is a measure of success in my book.

To help David and me continue with this momentum, I ordered a new “toy” for the kitchen.  That’s right, we are drinking the “kool-aid.”