My Vegan Journey #2

The top two questions people ask me when they learn about my vegan diet is, “why are you doing this”? and “how do you get enough proteins”? Today, my post is about these questions in relation to the Danes’ consumption of pork.

Why Do We Eat Meat?

I find it intriguing that so many people want to know how I get my proteins. I would even go as far as to say that people are somewhat obsessed with how I get proteins, so much that they never consider that their own meat diet is related to certain health risks (such as diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure etc.). I started investigating the connection between meat and proteins, which led me to different scientific discussions on human evolution up till today’s dieticians’ expert advice on how to eat. I have to admit that I felt a little overwhelmed. I’m not an expert nor do I have an education in nutrition. Instead, I will write about how food is tied to cultural behaviours and deep-rooted habits.

Danes Relationship with the Popular Pig

In Nordic Mythology there’s a creature, Sæhrímnir, whose body feeds the fallen warriors in Valhalla. Every night Sæhrímnir is slaughtered only to be resurrected the next day—just to be slaughtered again. Snorri Sturluson mentions Sæhrímnir in the Prose (Younger) Edda, however, the scholars—to some extent—disagree on what the creature Sæhrímnir might be. If you Google Sæhrímnir, the beast is mostly depicted as a wild boar. I mention Sæhrímnir because, in Denmark, the beast is related to Danish food culture. In fact, pork is, according to Danish food-historian, Else-Marie Boyhus, something Danes have been eating for at least the past 6000 years (madhistorie). With the agriculture advance 10,000 years ago it’s easy to imagine how Danes’ relation to pigs has grown—fuelled by the Norse myth about the eternal life circle of the creature Sæhrímnir—to the pig’s life-giving body.

Fast forwarding to the wonders of industrialisation. In Denmark, it wasn’t until after the second Danish-Prussian war (1864) that we began our industrialised production of pork (dr.dk). The new working culture meant that families weren’t producing meat for their own consumption; instead, farmers collaborated and began their successful adventure: Exporting bacon to Britain and selling pork to the Danes (slagtehuse.dk).

Later, and more specifically, in the 1970s, the public distanced themselves from the old, Danish pork tradition. The public’s attention towards factory farming aka the living conditions for the pigs as well as a new public awareness that the pigs were giving doses of antibiotics made the public questioning what they were eating (kristlig-dagblad.dk). In 1978, the Danish artist, Mikael Witte, gave the discussion a creative spark with his poster of a pig saying: Danish pigs are healthy – they thrive on penicillin.

Witte’s poster wasn’t too popular with the Danish pig slaughterhouses and through legal proceeding they sued Witte (jyllands-posten.dk).

Today, people seem to have forgotten about pork’s bad reputation. In 2015 there were 12,7 million pigs in Denmark (dst.dk). The NGO, Dyrenens Beskyttelse (Denmark’s Animal Protectors), states that roughly 39 million pigs are born each year in Denmark. About 10 million pigs are exported to other European countries, and 19 million are exported after they’re slaughtered (dyrenesbeskyttelse.dk). Here are a few other numbers I found (dr.dk)

  • We produce 4,500 tons pork per day
  • On average, we eat 9 kg. pork per year
  • We slaughter about 20 million pigs per year

The numbers here prove that the ethical concerns toward animal agriculture, not to mention the (again) rising concern for the use of antibiotics haven’t stopped our consumption. Although the organisation Danske svineproducenter (Danish Pig Producers) write that they have managed to reduce the use of antibiotics (danskesvineproducenter.dk) the threat to our health has not reduced. Danish Crown (leading Danish Pig Slaughter Organisation) is now trying to produce pigs without antibiotics; however, they claim that this new production will make pork more expensive (politikken.dk). The magazine, videnskab.dk (science.dk), states that if you’re concerned about eating antibiotic stuffed pork that we should choose pork produced with little to no antibiotic (logically, I would say), which means we should eat organically (videnskab.dk).

Depending on which sources you find on the Internet, they will promote eating pork because of the high protein intake, not to mention B12—this vitamin is a key problem for vegetarians and vegans. This source recommends eating pork tenderloin.

Pork Tenderloin (not stated how much)

  • Calories: 96 calories
  • Total Fat: 3 gr.
  • Saturated Fat: 1 gr.
  • Cholesterol: 48 milligr.
  • Protein: 18 gr.
  • Iron 6%
  • Thiamin 45%
  • Niacin 30%
  • B6 27%
  • B12 6%

Perhaps it’s the long lasting relationship with pigs, e.g. in our myths, collective narrative of Danishness, cultural, eating habits, and the beneficial economical export to other countries that make us believe that meat is the only source of protein? Whatever the cause might be for people asking where I get my proteins, the real issue seems to be that people are unaware, uninformed or perhaps just plain ignorant to the fact that proteins are found in many food sources, and not just from a meat diet. The real question is perhaps whether you want to eat meat and therefore accept to various degrees how farm animals are treated and thus (and hopefully) are buying locally, and organically.

If you cannot accept these terms, you seek out alternatives because of the ethical concerns you have that we humans, in fact, kill intelligent animals for our own benefits. I grew up on a traditional Danish diet (meaning meat almost every day alongside potatoes and gravy), and I have been one of these ignorant people who never thought about where my meat came from, or how the animals were treated. For me, it was a growing awareness, partly because my sister has been a vegetarian for more than twenty years and partly because of a philosophy course (in ethical thinking) I took in upper high school. Still, it took me thirty-five years to become a vegetarian and thirty-eight to become vegan. I’m not saying that we should all become vegan (although it would certainly help our planet), but to reflect on why we think proteins only can be found in meat, and reflect on how the food we eat is related to cultural history, and lastly, reflect on how our health is tied to our eating habits.

Meat Free Proteins

The grain crop, Quinoa (from South America), is according to this source high in protein and fibre.

This is the nutrient content in 1 cup (185 gr.)

  • Protein: 8 gr.
  • Fibre: 5 gr.
  • Manganese: 58% of the RDA.
  • Magnesium: 30% of the RDA.
  • Phosphorus: 28% of the RDA.
  • Folate: 19% of the RDA.
  • Copper: 18% of the RDA.
  • Iron: 15% of the RDA.
  • Zinc: 13% of the RDA.
  • Potassium: 9% of the RDA.
  • Over 10% of the RDA for vitamins B1, B2 and B6.

Small amounts of calcium, B3 (niacin), and vitamin E.

Quinoa is also the only grain variation that has all the essential amino acids we need, which makes Quinoa a source for what is called a “complete protein” (similar to meat) (source). Other protein sources:

  • Lentils, such as red lentils
  • Veggies, such as kale, peas, spinach, broccoli
  • Beans, such as black beans, chickpeas
  • Soy, soy milk, tofu
  • Grains, such as the good old fashioned oatmeal
  • Nuts, such as almonds, tahini

Further Reading

An English blog about a visit to a Danish slaughterhouse (images are disturbing)

Finding My Feet at Ulslev Beach

When I drove home to Ulslev Beach, I was thinking about one of the most important lessons I took with me from my studies in Indigenous literatures and theory. All my theorists emphasized the ways in which you connect to a place–either by growing up in a specific area–or where you currently live. While writing my thesis (Reading Practices for Indigenous Literatures: Exploring Impossible Moments in Works by Richard Wagamese and Lee Maracle) I went out upon the land to listen–in the ways my literature guided me. I did so, because of my two most important theorists, Marie Battiste (Mi’kmaq) and James (Sa’ke’j) Youngblood Henderson (Chickasaw) say:

Indigenous knowledge needs to be learned and understood and interpreted based on form and manifestation as understood by Indigenous peoples (134).

I took Richard Wagamese’s Keeper ‘n Me (read more here) under my arm and went out upon the land, to observe the trees, and the birds to better understand the importance of connecting to all living things. I also kept thinking back to the land that I grew up upon and to my surprise, I felt mostly connected to the water and not the land. After returning home from Canada, I decided to visit one of the beaches I feel connected to, Ulslev Beach.

Here’s a few pics from the day I visited the beach. I was lucky because I came quite early so the sun was still working its way up from the horizon. I had two hours of this beautiful sunny morning before the clouds worked their way across the sky.

All pics are shot with my iPhone 5 (mainly because I forgot the battery for my Nikon D3100…)

Works Cited:

Battiste, Marie, and James [Sa’ke’j] Youngblood Henderson. Protecting Indigenous  Knowledge and Heritage. Saskatoon: Purich, 2003.

The First Steps of My Vegan Journey

My first blog about why I chose a vegan diet.

Waking up

It was mid-August this year (2016), and I had just finished writing my almost hundred-page thesis about reading strategies for Indigenous literatures in Canada. Let’s just say my head was a little tired after the long hours of writing, from the time pressure, and from the constant worry of whether or not my thesis would go through the final approval. I desperately needed a break, so for some reason, I decided to watch the documentary, Cowspiracy. If you really need to watch something mindless, Cowspiracy is definitely not the right choice! Instead, I got completely invested in the narrator, Kip Anderson’s, journey towards figuring out animal agriculture’s climate impact. Normally, I don’t make comments when I watch movies and documentaries, but what Anderson revealed was mind-blowing to me and I kept saying “what?”

Here’s the deal: As long as I can remember, I have been concerned about how we humans treat the planet and animals, and I especially remember the oil spill in the Mexican Gulf (2010) as being the turning point for me! In the past, I’ve supported environmental organizations, such as Greenpeace and WWF, however, during my studies and due to some unforeseen economical problems, I had to prioritize my money differently. This was in 2012 and since then I’ve felt I’ve been standing on the sideline watching our growing consumption, the polar bears’ habitus disappearing, the disappearing of bees, butterflies, well, the list is never-ending (or so it seems).

I also knew that some environmentalists were killed in the Amazons as well as I knew about the deforesting in the Amazons (however, I did not know the main cause). I knew that the diary industry a while back publicly announced that our consumption wasn’t sustainable. I knew about the gas discharge of methane from cattle. Let’s just say that I thought I knew about the main cause for the climate changes we’re facing, however, Cowspiracy helped me identify a larger pattern of human habits that I was unaware impacted our planet more than fossil fuels. What truly got stuck in my mind was when the animal rights activist Howard Lyman explicitly states, “you can’t be an environmentalist and eat animal products!” I paused the documentary and looked out the window. How could I, who live with a constant tension in my belly for what we’re doing to the planet and animals, how could I call myself an environmentalist while at the same time participate in the destruction of our planet through my diet habits?

The Turn to Veganism

As many others watching Cowspiracy I turned vegan immediately. I was already eating mostly a vegetarian diet, so avoiding meat was not really a problem, and luckily, I lived in Hamilton, Canada where there were a variety of vegan options, so my transition was actually pretty easy. At the end of September, I finished my studies and found myself back in Denmark. Now, I live in a city where veganism is thought of as “strange.” However, the limited options here made me realize that being vegan is not just about an ethical cause; it’s also learning about food nutrition, and about how I take care of myself and my body.

Before becoming a vegan, I hated cooking, I hated grocery shopping (I still do to some extend), but now I’m turning into quite a culinary artist—and I love it! I’ve discovered that I truly love my vegan lifestyle, and that this particular lifestyle does not end with just deciding to eat a vegan diet, but that I’m walking down a more consciously and ethically aware path that has opened my eyes tremendously. That’s why I’ve decided to blog about my vegan journey so that I can explore what it means to be vegan—but also to be critical and raise questions about my new vegan life and diet choices.

If you want to know more:

http://www.cowspiracy.com

 

 

Finding My Feet in this New Life

Transitions are never easy. One day I’m saying goodbye to loved friends in Hamilton, the next I’m embraced by my partner and parents in Copenhagen Airport. Leaving Canada feels like leaving a piece of myself behind, which made me think about what I have left behind, or said goodbye to—throughout my life.

A few days after arriving back in Denmark, I went through some old photos. While looking at these frozen moments of my life, I suddenly realized how many people I’ve shared my life, my thoughts and my experiences with. My beloved grandparents smiled at me and with them their dog, Havana, Kiki, Totte and Tiger (our family cats), the horses (Kasper, Picon, and Sonny), my beloved horse, Robin, and Charlotte (my friend). I saw faces of school friends from primary school, from high school, from my occupational therapy education—so many people, animals, indeed—loved friends and family—looked out upon me through the frame of these photos.

I looked at this fragile material that somehow represented the path I had walked, moments of different times, of different places, and of a different, younger, and less knowledgeable me. The photos reminded me of how rarely I stop up and breathe, and of how rarely I take the time to reflect before moving forward again. I have been so busy with my life that I forgot that I am actually living… while living. I see it with my friends now. The busy life, earning money, kids—following an express highway that was laid out by our parents, their parents, and their grandparents—not to mention laid out by the constructs of society.

What is it about this busyness of life that acquires our attention more than just being present in life? I learned to crawl, learned to walk, learned to run, and now my life is all about running through it, to some goal, but instead of feeling satisfied I feel like Sisyphus—eternally condemned to push the stone up, and up, and up again.

These last seven years of studying in both Copenhagen and Hamilton have shown me so much; yet, I still feel like I’ve been running and running through this educational, knowledge seeking Sisyphus task, and I’m tired of running. I love my studies. I love learning. But I’m tired of running; I’m tired of moving from one moment to the next. What happened to just being?

Next step in life is to breathe. I need to find my feet on Danish soil after all this running. I need to stop up and give thanks to my grandparents (bless their souls), to all the people, to Havana, to the beloved cats and horses, to the land, the trees, the ocean, and to the full moons that have touch my life, shaped me—to give thanks and then move (slowly) forward with all that is me.

My Danish Home

Looking down the street where I grew up

Down to Guldborgsund

As my eyes slowly drift back

I see my childhood home

Oh, is that my father?!

 

Walking

Opening the door

Here is the garden I use to play

So small it has become

With my grown up eyes

 

Now at the beach

Sildestrup, but also Marielyst

Here I learned to swim

Here I found myself each summer

When I was a child

 

The Danish landscape

Carved from the last ice age

It is a typical Danish summer day

Road trip with tea and possibly cake

 

Copenhagen – Oh, I love this city

Nyhavn with all its noise and people

Amalienborg, home of the Queen

Yet, Downtown is the best

I love the colours of the buildings and how

They lean on each other

This is my Danish home

My Story of Remembrance

December fifth has for the last three yeas become a day of reflection. In general, 2012 was a turbulent year, and on the fifth the year ended with a mocking fanfare; I lost everything. Well, at least it felt that way.

At the age of six, all I ever wanted was a horse. I bugged my parents, probably drove them insane with my questions. I would look in horse magazines and point out horses for sale. I didn’t know how expensive it was to have a horse. It was just my dream. I was also pretty quick to tell my mom that she wouldn’t get any grandchildren from me; children were just not for me.

October six 2006 my dream came true. I looked into these brown eyes, and I knew he was going to be mine. Little did I know that Robin was already a traumatized brown monster. For six years, I tried to help him. I learned horsemanship, and what I don’t know about horse food, hoofs, back pain, you name it. I just wanted to help him. Six years later I ran out of options. This time, he had been sick almost a year. All I could do was to say goodbye. So I did.

It wasn’t just Robin who died. It was me, and my dream. Being with horses has always been my home. Where I felt safe. Where I felt like me. Just before my veterinarian came, I had a brief moment, where I took Robin’s head and looked into his brown eyes. Beyond the realm of words, I felt something, a connection. When I took him outside, and just before the veterinarian put him to sleep, I felt the same connection. It was an overwhelming feeling of love and trust. It was so deep that words cannot explain it. Then he died. He didn’t die pretty, and believe me; I’ve seen plenty of horses die. No, Robin didn’t land on the side. He twisted around as if his legs wouldn’t give in. He fell on top of a low trailer, his whole body spasm. There was blood in the snow, on my shoes. We had to pull him down from the trailer. But his body wouldn’t move. When he finally lay still in the snow, something explored inside me. My whole life went into pieces. If there were ever a moment you could undo, this would be that moment for me.

I’ve never felt a pain quite like that. I’ve never felt so homeless and helpless. I had nowhere to go since my safe place was gone. Losing a horse is apparently not on the top five list of loss of loved ones. And it’s not okay to say that Robin was my child. Why is it we measure pain? Isn’t pain an individual feeling? I felt, and I still feel that my pain is not appropriate. I felt my pain silenced when people either wouldn’t acknowledge it or would measure it. But that doesn’t remove the pain, the helplessness, the complete loss of you best friend – it just dig deeper. What haunted me – and still keeps me awake at night was the connection between Robin and I. Robin trusted me, and I killed him. He gave himself completely to me, and I took his life.

I had a choice of either stop moving or move forward. For once in my life I chose to move forward. I got a job as a film reviewer. Whenever I watch a movie, I would forget my life. However, as soon as the film ended, the pain returned so fast, I couldn’t breathe. Three months before Robin died, I applied for an exchange abroad. Luckily, I flew to Canada eight months later. I needed to get away from my surroundings. My city only reminded me of my loss, it still does.

Moving forward also means that I close my eyes and hope for the best. A little over three months ago I returned to Canada. Admittedly, I wanted to pursue my studies. But I’ve also found people here who are I like me. The other day, I had a conversation with a new grad friend. Her love for animals is like mine. When she said that to me, it released some of the silence I’ve carried for so long. We just don’t have that hierarchical thinking of animals, nature, and humans. Love is love, regardless!

Here in Hamilton, I live fairly close to the nature area Princess Point. I’ve been a few meters from red-tailed hawks, seen young bald eagles, deer, woodpeckers, squirrels, and chipmunks. Even the trees are alive. I was standing out there, and for the first time in three years I felt connected. It amazes me, how much the Canadian nature and its people give. With everything that happened here – and is still happening, nature and its people are so generous. They allow me to heal.

I once thought that I had to pick up the pieces of my old life that got shattered three years ago. Although, I think I’ve finally realized that I can never return to that life. I’m not picking up pieces; I’m creating new dreams and new opportunities. I don’t know where I’m going, only that I’m moving forward. Sometimes a life event is so destructive; it will change you forever.

Today is about remembering my pony. Without him, I wouldn’t have experienced that deep love. If it weren’t for his death, I wouldn’t have gotten my film review job, I wouldn’t have been traveling to Canada, or moved back. I guess both the love and loss and what I’ve found in Canada is now defining me. So thanks to my little brown monster. I will light a candle for him today, and perhaps you reader, will light a candle too, for everything you have lost and found and what you now treasure in your heart.

Emotional Roller Coaster Grad Life

Not too long ago, I decided it would help my literary career to go back to Canada to study a second master in literature. Well, here I am – seven weeks later, tired, beyond tired – already. Grad life at Mac is truly an emotional roller coaster ride full of joys and imposter feelings. I came to Hamilton with a feeling of accomplishment. The first dissertation was done; I had celebrated with my family and I was possible smart enough to go through grad school – again! Maybe I am – but the other students, their highly articulated academic language, honestly, I have been drowning in English vocabulary! Yet, despite these discouraged experiences, I decided to write a second dissertation, especially because I am in Canada and actually is surrounded by people with the knowledge to supervise me. And I must admit, though, it’s probably a bit nerdy – but I am quite happy about my decision.

Since I arrived, my Canadian life has been hectic. I had one lovely day at an outdoor pool, got sunburned, but what a day! Two days later, I threw away my glasses. Now that my eyes suddenly dry out the moment I try to read or write, well, let’s just say I was ready to turn around and fly home! Luckily, my new grad insurance almost covered a new pair – I danced happily when I got them! But since that beautiful sunny pool day, I’ve been busy studying, busy with lectures; busy prepping for my tutorials, prep for thesis draft, prep, prep, prep. My private roller coaster was just spinning faster and faster. Suddenly, I was a teaching assistant, a student, and a thesis writer, not to mention my investment in The Student Caucus, a creative writing group, and an extra grammar course. I’ve slowed down (a bit). This year Mac has ‘launched’ a reading week. One week off: time to re-read and read forward! I’ve done my first essay marking; I think I actually like teaching and marking. I learn a lot too, and I am grateful for the learning experience even though it’s a bit hairy at times.

My Canadian lifestyle is not all studying and sleeping. My renewed friendship with Canadian friends is the best! Hiking in fall coloured surroundings; drinking coffee, or Friday after the last tutorial at 4:30 pm is now a beer day! My landladies welcomed me into their family, and I had my first Thanksgiving Dinner, and I’m invited for Christmas – clearly, they haven’t seen through me yet! And then I went to my first Indigenous literary conference! It was remarkable! Listening to these researchers words, words I’ve only read, and now I was surrounded by them! It was three days of learning, listening, thinking, reflecting, and digesting the words of knowledge. If I came back for a reason – this conference was definitely part of that reason!

This roller coaster life is now mine, still trying to adjust, still tired, but also happy and thankful for being here, regardless of my ups and downs.

Canadian Fall Colours

My fall hike in Dundas, Canada – what a beautiful sight!