Mom, Mom, Mom #28

My editor Julia Park Tracey over at The Alameda Sun said that this one has a new, edgier tone. What do you think?

And, after you read this post, please go and buy Relentless Pursuit:  A Year in the Trenches with Teach for America, by Donna Foote. It’s well written and an interesting comment on the current quandary in US education. 

This is scheduled to run in the May 22, 2008 issue of the Alameda Sun.

Relentless Pursuits

Since the heat wave hit Alameda last week, I spent most of the weekend fighting a losing battle against an army of uncompromising and relentless enemies:  ants. With kids and animals in and out of the house on a regular basis, I refrain from using Raid (though it works so well) and maniacally spray Windex everywhere, though I am not sure it’s any healthier than the Raid. 

I consistently lose against the ants. I have tried paprika, cinnamon and baby powder (all so messy); I have stakes outside the house. Sometimes I just squish each and every one of the little bugs individually, which gives me an uncharacteristic amount of pleasure. I am fighting the good fight and losing the battle everyday.

Lately, this conflict has grown increasingly personal since I have been actively working on the notion of becoming vegan. Well, sort of—I’ve actually been actively eating as a near vegan. For a most simplistic definition, being vegan means that you don’t eat the meat or any by-products of animals—like eggs, dairy, even honey. Vegans don’t wear leather or fur. Near vegans aren’t as strict, wearing leather and maybe eating honey.

Vegans usually live by a certain life-respecting code. According to the book, Becoming Vegan by Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina, the Vegan Society has a six-pillar credo for living “the compassionate way,” one of which is “harmlessness with reverence for life.” Thus, the conundrum of my ant war. As I stood at the kitchen counter, gleefully squirting blue poison on each and every ant, using my thumbs to smoosh the errant soldiers, a realization came over me:  I am killing. It’s a definite no-no in the vegan world. What’s a near vegan to do when the kitchen is crawling with ants?

My near-veganism has been building over the past few months. It all started in January, when one of my teenage twins watched me prepare to roast a pork loin for dinner one night. A nice winter meal, I thought, Little did I know that it would be the catalyst to drastically change this little family’s life.

“What’s that?” she asked.

“It’s a pork roast,” I answered.

“No. What is it? You know, like what is pork?” she pursued.

“Oh, it’s pig,” I slowly replied. Until this point, I did not like to think about where my food came from. If it wasn’t looking up at me, it was fine for me to dive in, carve up and chew. I had to pass on a dinner 20 years ago on a vacation with friends in the Bahamas, when six plates of fish (completely untouched, from head to fin, with eyes gaping up in frozen terror) made me run from the table.

The words “it’s pig” slapped my daughter in the face. “Oink, oink,” she said, slowly realizing aloud: “and chicken is cluck, cluck and beef is moo.” Her distress was palpable. She immediately turned to the font of all knowledge, the Internet, to get some advice. She couldn’t eat the roast for dinner that night and has not eaten a morsel of animal meat since.

I followed her lead and tracked her progress through the Web, first reading about vegetarianism, next watching horrible videos about meat production and the treatment of animals and, well, you get the idea. When my youngest arrived home from her Catholic school a few weeks later announcing that she was going to be meatless for Lent, the dye was cast. Further confirmation for focusing on a plant-based diet came after reading the fabulous Skinny Bitch, by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin, and Michael Pollen’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

But, back to the ants. The Vegan Society advises the paprika approach, or some herbal oils. Maybe I will try the oils (less residuals), but I’m thinking I need to work on the aspect of me that found a certain joy in the killing of the tiny creatures. Even being a near vegan is about more than just the food.

Another relentless pursuit is a book written by a friend and family member, Relentless Pursuit:  A Year in the Trenches with Teach for America, by Donna Foote. In the face of the proposed Measure H, it’s a timely and interesting look at the state of education in poorer districts, but you can’t help applying some of the distressing facts about the state of education right here in Alameda. More about that next month.




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