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Wednesday, March 10, 2010


IE 교직원식당
IE School-employment-person-eating-place
IE Faculty Cafeteria

My daily schedule leaves me a ginormous lunch break - from 11 until 1 - each day that I'm at work. Initially I thought this meant that I'd be able to go home, whip myself up some awesome vegan concoction, enjoy a relaxing munch, and come back to work. But it's been quite chilly lately (we even had about 4 inches of snow the other night), so I've been opting for the more convenient...options.

There's a subway (restaurant) downstairs in my office building, which I am totally boycotting in favor of the 敎職員食堂, which serves up a pretty nice buffet full of Korean food every day for less than two dollars. In addition to rice and kimchi, there are usually 3 dishes, a soup, and some fruit all laid out at the buffet, and it's always at least 75% vegetarian and 50% vegan. Not for any particular reason. It's just that Korean meals generally include 5 to 10 different dishes, and back in the days when Korean cooking was taking shape, I suppose it was easier to procure lots of different vegetables than it was to get meat.

I've been trying to convince my coworkers, who have the same lunch break, to join me at mealtime, both because I want some company and because I think the wrapping-free food in the cafeteria is less taxing on the environment than the heavily wrapped and bagged stuff served at Subway. I also have an inkling that the cafeteria stuff is more likely to be local, but it's mostly unsubstantiated.

Anyhow, my peeps tend not to go with me (4 solo lunches this week!) because they don't know the menu in advance and don't want to wind up being forced to eat something fishy. Thus, I've procured the week's menu (in English) in advance in an attempt to make my officemates come up with yet another excuse. Presented below are some of the tastier translations:

Bean paste soup w/ styela clava
Hard-boiled fish paste in pepper paste
Hord boiled yellow corvina
Maximowiczia Chinensis
Salted viscera
Stir-fried seaweed stem
Multi grain powder slush
Roasted hairtail w/ curry
Stir-fried wiener & cultivated mushroom
Winter-sown greens
Sliced-jelly soup
Stuffed derma
Seasoned dropwrot

So now that they can see the menu in advance, what excuse could they possibly have for not going with me?

Sunday, March 07, 2010

A little thought experiment

Say you had one duck egg and one chicken egg. You remove them both from their respective nests (do ducks even make nests??) and allow them to hatch and grow up together. They never see any animals other than the other; that is, the chicken never sees any animal other than the one duck, and vice versa. Will the chicken be "aware" that it is a chicken rather than a duck? If you insert the chicken into a duck family, will it try to fit in before they reject it (assuming they do)? Or if you introduce the chicken to a community of ducks and chickens, whom will the chicken choose to chill with? Will it identify with the ducks because it's used to them? Or does something inside it tell it that it's a chicken and allow it to recognize members of its own species? What if the chicken went to join the ducks while the duck went to join the chickens? WHAT THEN?

I feel like there must be some obvious answer I'm overlooking, like the time I asked my stepdad (NASA chemist) why we don't just put our trash and nuclear waste on rockets and shoot them into the sun*. Please help. If nobody answers to my satisfaction, I may be compelled to spend $600 registering my new pets with the authorities (so as not to violate my contract's pet clause) in order that I may attempt a non-vegan experiment.

*Shamefully, I was probably about 15 at the time and had been proudly nursing the idea for at least 5 years. Not my most brilliant moment, I admit. Slightly more brilliant, perhaps, than my plan to put little wind turbines on car roofs and grills and sideview mirrors to generate electricity. [I'm still convinced there may be a way to pull this off].

What Captain Planet Probably Eats for Breakfast

Too often, our simple desire to do good by the planet gets wrapped up in a whole storm of painful emotions - guilt at taking more than one's share, scorn for others who do the same, shame before others who do better, a sense of impotence due to our inability to effect change where it will matter most (India and China), frustration at the endless and tedious process of altering our own habits, contempt for our "need" for comfort and convenience, and loneliness once one begins to try to leave such false needs behind. Not to mention all of the defensive reactions and rationalizations we come up with so quickly - others are worse, I can't help where and when and into what sort of society I was born, I'm generally a good person, I deserve some slack, I have other and more immediate concerns. On top of this, we tend to think of doing good in terms of sacrificing: giving up meat, using fewer appliances and gizmos, buying smaller vehicles and taking shorter trips. Thus, it's not surprising that environmentalists are occasionally associated with ascetics and heretics and radicals, all of whom challenge our certainties and complacencies in different ways, often threatening us in precisely those places where we most feel the need for security, stability, and justification. Nor is it surprising that so many people, rather than dealing with all these assaults and condemnations, simply shut themselves off, refusing to think about the meanings and impacts of their lifestyles and daily choices.

It seems obvious, then - and I am far from the first to have said this - that in order for the various "green" movements and initiatives to continue gaining traction, wannabe environmentalists such as myself ought to do their utmost to highlight the pleasures of a lifestyle approaching, or at least doing progressing towards, responsibility and equity and sustainability. I don't just mean the freedom from all of the above baggage (which, as I said above, can be achieved simply by refusing to care), but also the myriad joys that spring up in places both expected and unexpected. A (for lack of a more precise phrase) deeper sense of connection with animals, other people, and nature; an appreciation for the work that goes into things we take for granted; the expansion of our palates; a less atomized way of interpreting our lives and our bodies and our selves.

I realize this all may sound a bit vague and wishy-washy. Some part of me can hardly believe I believe it (no typo). Nevertheless. The point I'm trying to get around to making in my own self-absorbed circuitous way is that there are indeed green choices that we can make that, rather than requiring sacrifice, are pleasant and enjoyable in ways both tangible and intangible. There are a few we all know, and I would love to hear more, but the reason I'm writing this post is to share one tidbit that I recently learned. Behold, I deliver unto y'all some truly glorious gospel, good news that I hope is heard 'round the world:


Find yourself dubitating this indubitable claim? Well, according to the book "The End of Food," which I highly endorse and was fortunate enough to find in the Sadhana library, breakfast cereal can take up to thirty times more energy/fuel/resources to produce than pancakes. (I don't think it was stated whether this is a per-serving or per-gram figure, so it's hard to be completely sure what to make of it in terms of fullness-factor). I suppose this has to do with both the number of ingredients (you can make pancakes with as few as two, and it's not uncommon for breakfast cereals to have twenty) and what kind of ingredients they are, i.e. how much they're processed (milling and grinding wheat into flour takes much less work, I assume, than forming flakes and extracting syrup from corn and developing colors and flavors and isolating and then injecting vitamins and minerals). This is before taking into account the difference in the packaging of the products, which is often more environmentally costly than the production process itself. Furthermore, if I were zealously determined not to miss any hidden costs, I might point out that cereals generally require high amounts of advertising, which itself requires various amounts of various resources depending on the medium used. Nor does this take into account that cereal, at least in the'Merica, is generally eaten with milk, which is itself a highly resource-intensive product. (Though this may be a moot point [no pun intended], since pancakes are more often than not {though not necessarily} also made with milk, eggs, and butter).

Of course, some cereals are better than others, and some pancakes are better than others, and some (Organic and not-too-processed) cereals may even be better than some (refined white flour, egg and dairy heavy, or, god forbid, packaged mix) pancakes. But by and large, grandma's humble homestyle hotcakes pretty much spank Kellogg's when it comes to sustainability, and if you make them right, they're probably also better for you. Plus, what's more enjoyable, sifting and mixing and whisking and sizzling and flipping, or tearing open a bag made of some space-age material and pouring its contents into a bowl?

I guess this is actually a fairly standard example of the ways in which cooking with and eating minimally processed, close-to-whole food can be more entertaining, rewarding, and responsible than eating something prepackaged off the shelf. That's a post for another day, or maybe even another blogger, though. Like I (more or less) said earlier, I want to highlight something we can do that is both good for the environment and happy-inducing for us, something that helps to free us from the sustainability-is-a-burden mindset. So:

Flapjacks. For your belly. For the children. For the human race. For the future. For life as we know it.

&EPILOGUE: Oh man, something just occurred to me - I bet you could top your flapjacks with Durian. Hot damn!