Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Vegans and Lent

Nicky exploring our church
Ah, it's that time a year again where Catholics make Lenten promises that don't last a week and  suddenly every Catholic decides to eat fish on Fridays. Well, did you know that it used to be tradition that EVERY Catholic, not just those crazy Eastern Catholics, did not eat meat on Fridays? Also, did you know that Bl. Pope Paul VI said that when that requirement was removed that the intention was for Catholics to decide on their own reparation on Fridays and were encouraged to abstain from meat anyways? In a culture where we find meat on our tables for three meals a day, and sometimes snacks, that seems quite foolish.
Now, because I'm vegan, that means that I don't have to worry about Fridays, right? Wrong! Every Friday especially during Lent must remain solemn. People like going out on Friday nights to celebrate the end of the week, but maybe it's best to wait until Saturday night, especially during Lent. A tradition I wish to begin during this Lent and to carry on throughout the year is to do the Divine Mercy Chaplet at 3 PM with Nicky. The Divine Mercy Chaplet was given to St. Faustina, a Polish nun, during her many visions of Christ regarding Divine Mercy. On Good Friday, I also enjoy reflecting on the Way of the Cross with my family, a tradition which began with the ever famous St. Francis of Assisi. On the market are so many versions of the Way of the Cross that I'm sure anybody can find a version they like. This can easily be done throughout Lent as well and Fridays during the year.
Prayer is all well and good, so does that mean I don't need to make any physical sacrifices during Lent? No! As Catholics, we should make all kinds of sacrifices for we are creatures of body and spirit. Christ saved us through the sacrifice of his body, so it is good to sacrifice our body for Christ even if with deprivation rather than death. During Lent we are called to pray, fast, and give alms. Prayer is sacrificing your spirit, fasting is sacrificing your body, and alms giving is sacrificing your resources. I'm using the CRS Rice Bowl app to pledge one of my sacrifices every day during Lent and to pray.
It is unhealthy for me to fast during Lent even before I became pregnant with my first. I also already abstain from all animal products on a daily basis. What, then is left? In the Eastern Church, part of our history is also sacrificing wine and oil during times of fasting and abstinence. This encouraged me to try other sacrifices. For example, alcohol. That does not work perfectly though because while breastfeeding and being pregnant I don't drink alcohol anyways. That leaves caffeine. This is perfect! Even while pregnant and breastfeeding, I drink small amounts of caffeine daily either as coffee or tea. During Lent, then, I can offer up my morning caffeine kick. Sometimes I miss it and sometimes I don't. I then use the CRS Rice Bowl app to pledge the cost of my daily cup of tea.
So, by doing a daily reading as my spiritual adviser suggested either on my CRS Rice Bowl app or  in my Lenten booklet, by abstaining from caffeine, and by pledging the cost of that coffee, I am able to fully experience Lent. I hope everyone has examined what they can fast from. Another thing I'm trying to fast from is some of my more habitual sins. I of course encourage everyone to try vegan at least on Fridays, but few can handle that. It's never too late to start participating in Lent.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Love, Lust, or Run and the Importance of Modesty and Beauty

This is not my most beautiful look, but in High school, I got really into dressing well after being mistaken for a boy too many times. I loved this outfit and my hair looks great. I started feeling a lot better about myself. If only that smile in this picture could reveal my inner beauty.
Tonight is a new episode of the brand new TLC show Love, Lust, or Run. Stacy London spent a decade transforming the lives of countless women on TLC's What Not to Wear. Her new show focuses more on the transformation rather than the shopping. She also takes women who dress more extreme than on What Not to Wear. I was inspired to do this post after last week's episode about a 20-year-old young lady named Jessie who wanted to be a New York City police officer, a very noble profession. She dressed, however, like a hooker. She honestly did. I was also shocked when the show said that she was 20 because she looked 25 with all that make-up and very adult outfit and accessories.
The first part of the show after Stacy gets to know the young women, is stripping the ladies bare: removing all clothing, accessories, and make-up. After this, Jessie actually looked her age. Stacy then shows the ladies what kind of make-up looks flattering on them and takes them shopping. Often, there is a struggle but when they trust Stacy to find clothes they like, there's usually a win. The show ends with the transformation which is always shocking. These women finally look beautiful because they look themselves.
The show's title comes from the part of the show where they go out on the street with photographs of these ladies in their favorite outfits. Each person is asked if they love the look, if they lust it, or if they want to run from it. Jessie's original look had only lust responses.  This was the kind of attention she was aiming for with her dress, but she realized it was not the kind of attention she really wanted. She wanted to be respected. Well, after the transformation is revealed, Stacy shows Jessie the responses to her new look. All but two loves. The other two were lust. After the transformation, if there are still "lust" responses, one can clearly know that it has not to do with the young lady's appearance but with the heart of the person looking at her. That person is doing something wrong because he has no respect for any person's dignity, especially women's.
As Christians, it can quite often be a struggle to ask ourselves, why does dressing well matter? Clearly, we should not dress like hookers. Does that mean that the alternative is to dress in ill-fitting jeans and boxy t-shirts? We would not feel very attractive doing that would we. Looking attractive doesn't necessarily mean one is attracting a new mate, it simply is attracting others' attention and respect. On What Not to Wear, often times people who ended up on the show put dress last because of their charity work. Their boss at the charity, however, wanted them to dress better to be a representative of the company. Why? Because when you're trying to bring attention to a cause or raise money, people are more likely to respect what you say when you have a presence, including appearance, that demands attention and respect. Sometimes, then, if you work for a charity, you would be helping the charity you work for by dressing well.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church addresses modesty in dress and may surprise some people. It says, "The forms taken by modesty vary from one culture to another. Everywhere, however, modesty exists as an intuition of the spiritual dignity proper to man. It is born with the awakening consciousness of being a subject. Teaching modesty to children and adolescents means awakening in them respect for the human person (CCC 2524)." First off, because it is appropriate in our society to wear skirts that hit the knee, it is not immodest to wear anything that hits above the ankle. It is also appropriate to bare our legs and knees. It's not about specific clothes, it's about dignity. We must not only dress modestly, we must also behave modestly which requires respecting the human person for his or her God-given dignity. And teaching modesty does not mean teaching our children how to dress, but how to approach themselves and their fellow man. This will then influence their dress decisions.
So why does it matter if the image we present of ourselves is of physical beauty? Obviously if our interior beauty needs a makeover, that comes first. But if that is taken care of, then shouldn't our outer beauty reflect our inner beauty? If we are beautiful on the inside, but nobody knows because our beauty is hidden beneath bad clothes and imperfections, don't we as individuals and God as our creator deserve for the world to see who we truly are? Don't we deserve to for people to see our true beauty?
It can be difficult to distinguish between materialism and what I'm describing. One thing I have always taken away from What Not to Wear and what a person can very easily take away from Love, Lust, or Run is that beauty is not about buying the most trendy, most expensive items of clothing. As long as you have a foundational wardrobe, preferably by buying a few expensive pieces and a few less expensive ones, then dressing well will actually come without thinking. All you will need to do is grab a bottom, top, and completer piece. Materialism says you have to go shopping every week to get the latest look. Beauty is dressing in clothes that you actually like and that actually look good on you. Modesty is showing the world your God-given beauty and dignity in both actions and appearance.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Milk: an Essential Nutrient?

What a busy last couple weeks! My husband finally handed off the application to me for the priesthood, and Nicky decided to stop napping. This means I no longer had time to sit and write anything really, and I only had two weeks to write it all. Last week, my mom came for an awesome visit which both kept me from working and helped me work at the same time. Finally, everything was completed and turned in on Saturday. Nicky even went down for a nap yesterday and today to give me time to write this.
The dairy industry is a very powerful organization of farmers they pull a lot of money and have major influence in public opinion and and politics. Everyone remembers the "Got Milk" campaign of the 90s. Images of strong athletes and celebrities with milk mustaches encouraged children to enjoy white milk. The industry had some push-back particularly because chocolate milk became so prevalent in school lunches. On Jamie Oliver's show Food Revolution, he posed the question of why we must offer chocolate milk to our children. The defense was to get children to drink milk and more milk because they would not do so if it was not chocolate. Jamie Oliver asked "Can't we do better?" My mother and I asked, "How much milk do children really need?"
When I was pregnant, my doctor gave me a nutrition pamphlet. I read through the pamphlet and saw how many references there were to milk and other dairy products saying how essential it was that pregnant women drink milk. I found the suspicious, so I looked on the back and the pamphlet was produced by the Dairy Council of California. I promptly threw the pamphlet in the trash.
A few months ago I read that the milk companies we're trying to re-brand they were launching a campaign to make people aware of milk; make it a lifestyle. Yesterday on the VegNews website I read that the Milk Processor Education Program are launching a new campaign on social media. (Hey! Look what I found. http://milktruth.com/ Kinda creepy if you ask me.) They will be flooding Twitter and Facebook with information about the benefits of milk and and express suspicions of almond milk. Once again we need to ask ourselves how much milk do people really need if any at all.
Popularity of nondairy milk has risen over the last 20 years due to lactose intolerance, nutrition awareness, and the rise of veganism. I would say though that our falling population may have a small contribution to that drop however it is true that nondairy milk is growing in popularity. At our home, we drink almond milk mostly because my husband prefers the taste of almond milk instead of soy milk. I would say soymilk is more nutritious for you than almond milk but is perfectly fine to consume. (just watch out for those sneaky sweeteners.)
If milk is so good for us, what nutrients in milk make it the center for a balanced diet? According to the website of the Dairy Council of California, milk provides calcium, protein, vitamins D, A, and B12, potassium, magnesium, and riboflavin. I will demonstrate non-dairy alternatives to each of these nutrients proving definitively that as long as someone has a well-balanced plant-based diet, even a nursing mother has no need of milk.
First up, the most well-known benefit is calcium. Calcium is essential for bone health, teeth health, and nerve health. According to Health magazine website, there are 12 other foods that vegans and non-vegans can use to take in this essential nutrient. They include: collard greens, broccoli, broccoli rabe, the infamous kale, edamame, bok choy, figs, oranges, white beans, okra, tofu, and finally almonds (also almond milk). Clearly, if a person consumes a good amount of these various foods, one should receive enough calcium without the dairy or cholesterol. (Fun fact! I took a calcium quiz on the Dairy Council of California website to check my calcium intake, and I exceed it without a single dairy product. Pwnd, dairy!)
The most common question a vegan or vegetarian is asked is, "Where do you get your protein?" Would you be surprised if I told you that all plants have protein? They do! Some have more than others, but even if I eat a bowl of steel cut oatmeal, I will receive as much protein as eating an egg. Nobody needs to drink milk in order to consume enough protein, especially if a person eats a diet rich in whole grains rather than refined grains.
I'm not even going to talk much about vitamin D because the only ways to receive vitamin D is to either be out in the sun, take a supplement, or consume a product fortified with vitamin D which plenty of vegan food is. Many doctors are concerned about peoples' vitamin D intake because we need sunscreen to protect our skin from the thinning ozone, but the sunscreen also blocks our vitamin D intake. Fortunately for me, I do not burn easily so a 20 minute walk around Disneyland with my son is enough for me to get vitamin D naturally.
Vitamin A is essential for eye, immunity, and reproductive health, according to Health magazine online. The highest concentration of Vitamin A is found in the beta carotene sweet potatoes. Baked sweet potato fries for everybody! Hooray! (Sweet potato fries are my fav.) It can also be found in carrots, winter squash, and spinach. I'd rather have sweet potatoes than milk any day, even before I was vegan.
Vitamin B12 is a little trickier for us vegans. I will admit that the best source of vitamin B12 is animal products, however, pretty much any animal product may be used to attain this vital nutrient, including but not limited to milk. Vegans get their B12 from nutritional yeast, algae, vegan yogurt, and supplements. Bacteria in meat products is how we humans get our vitamin B12, so vegans get their vitamin B12 from the source. B12 is essential for the formation of DNA and red blood cells and is important to guard against anemia. I took a blood test just before I got pregnant two and a half years ago, and I had healthy levels of vitamin B12, without a supplement.
Potassium is an electrolyte to regulate your body's energy. This and the protein is what makes milk a good post-workout beverage. I would say that chocolate soy protein drink is probably just as good for you. (And quite delicious.) Potassium can be found in sweet potatoes (whoo hoo! another nutrient for sweet potatoes), tomato paste, beets, greens, and regular potatoes. Who would have known that greens have so many nutrients that make milk so good for you. With fewer calories too!
Health magazine describes magnesium as a versatile nutrient that the body uses for more than 300 biochemical reactions including "maintaining muscle and nerve function, keeping heart rhythm steady, and keeping bones strong." Magnesium can be found in wheat bran, almonds, cashews, and green veggies such as spinach. Look at that, almonds and green veggies provide both magnesium and calcium. Who would have thought that plants were so good for you!
According to the Dieticians of Canada, riboflavin is a B2 that is essential for your cells to convert fat, carbs, and protein into energy. Nobody needs to consume more than 2 milligrams a day. Some foods for vegans that contain magnesium are mushrooms, spinach, corn flakes, muesli, pasta, soy milk (which actually has almost as much as dairy milk), tempeh (which does have more per serving than milk), almonds, soy nuts, and Vegemite. Plenty of sources of magnesium outside of dairy.
When you seen an ad for milk, ask yourself, does spinach need ads? What about almonds? (yes, I know there are ads for almond milk and soy milk) And when you hear somebody preaching the dairy gospel, ask yourself, what is their source of information? Ask yourself, do I really need milk with breakfast, cheese for lunch, and yogurt for dessert? Probably not. Ask yourself, should the people who have a financial stake in my consumption of milk be deciding what is necessary for good health? I encourage you to do your own research and decide for yourself what is best for you and your family. Just beware the scary dairy propaganda!

VegNews: http://vegnews.com/articles/page.do?pageId=6630&catId=1
Health Magazine: http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20845429,00.html, http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20660118_1,00.html
Dairy Council of California: http://www.healthyeating.org/Healthy-Eating/All-Star-Foods/Milk-Dairy.aspx
Dietitians of Canada: http://www.dietitians.ca/Nutrition-Resources-A-Z/Factsheets/Vitamins/Food-Sources-of-Riboflavin-%28Vitamin-B2%29.aspx