What about the canary? Thirty years after a dream.

There are three things you should never discuss because they are boring: Traffic, the weather, and your dreams. A podcast told me that, and I agree. These are the low-hanging fruit of conversational smoothies. I’d argue that nostalgic reminiscence is a fourth. Allow me to violate each.

At 18, I discovered Strawberry Fields Forever. I played the song for my Uncle Rick, and he said something that changed my musical trajectory, and perhaps was indirectly responsible for my marriage*: That’s a Beatles cover.

(Candy Flip version of Strawberry Fields — the best.)

Kindly, he gave me some of his Beatles records, and I taped everything from Meet the Beatles to Abbey Road, singing to the tapes on the drive to college every day. But mostly, through John Lennon I found Yoko Ono. I read her biography. I bought Grapefruit. I attended her film Rape followed by a Q&A by phone with Yoko. I saw her perform at the Crocodile with Sean Lennon. My idea of love and art was forever Yokified, and I defended her at any opportunity if any misogynist or racist comments were made. (Or just, you now, anti-.)

Grapefruit, a series of instructional pieces

At 18, I had my first Cheesesteak on my first visit to Philly to see a good friend and former 10th grade classmate from my year in Greece.

Me and Bessie. Little did I know I’d live here 28 years later! And what’s with my obnoxious happy face shirt, worn completely unironically, no bullet in the face, no tear running down its cheek?

The dream

It was also 30 years ago that I lay my 18-year old head on a pillow and had the Dream that would forever transform the meat in my cheesesteaks to seitan. It was simple, not even graphic: I saw a seal in a cage.

Had I just read a book or seen a film like The Suffering Seals or The Seal who Keeled or Caged and Confused: The Seal? Was I a Sea World devotee? Did I frequent aquariums? No, no, no. And no.

I woke up that next morning and thought: I love animals. Why am I still eating them?

I was living with my Dad at the time, an avid non-vegetarian. Yet, he taught me to make my first dish: Steamed veggies and fish. (Despite the seal, I was a pescatarian my first year.) My Mom agreed it was a phase. I don’t blame them, I’ve been through several.

Motorcycle Phase. But this Honda Shadow 500 was the best.

That year, my family adjusted to my dream-decision. Aunt Sheryl gave me The Vegetarian Epicure. I plopped my first Tofurky in the family oven at Thanksgiving and received appropriate amounts of ribbing.

Years later, I created our own Thanksgiving party, celebrating in a way that I loved: Making a feast and inviting friends to bring their records and own creations and appetites. A decade ago, an article about it appeared in The Indy, and I happily worked to perfect my Jack Daniels Glazed Seitan Roast each year.

The traffic

I read Diet for a Small Planet around 1994 and discovered that going veg was not only good for the animals, but for the planet. I had no idea until Frances Moore Lappe shared many facts including it taking 1,800 gallons of water to grow a single pound of beef (compared with 255 gallons for a pound of tofu), and even if the numbers are off it makes sense to grow food for us, directly. Other studies on greenhouse gases and global warming were to follow, showing that going veg had a greater impact than driving a Prius and animal agriculture is worse for the environment than power generation.

Photos by Janine Goss, my Mom

The weather

My Mom lives in Seattle. A few days ago, she sent me a picture of her view. I am alarmed by what my family and friends are experiencing in California, Oregon, and Washington. Whether you believe it’s climate change (it is) or poor forest management (this is also true) the fires — the worst year by far — beg the question:

How many years do we have left in our world, in a state worth living?

Off-duty canary

Yesterday, I thought about the canary in the coalmine, a cliche so overused it should be added to the above list of prohibitive topics. What is the story of this bright yellow miner bird?

Mining foreman R. Thornburg shows a small cage with a canary used for testing carbon monoxide gas in 1928. (George McCaa, U.S. Bureau of Mines; via The Smithsonian)

Miners began taking the canary into coalmines in Great Britain in 1911. A scientist discovered they were more sensitive to carbon monoxide than humans, and since the gas has no odor miners would not notice the problem, but canaries would. If by “notice” we mean drop dead. When the canary stopped singing and keeled over (like the Seal in The Seal who Keeled!) miners knew to evacuate.  

If not the canary in the coal mine, what are the fires, the hurricanes, the melting ice, or the world decline of animal populations by 70% since 1970 telling us? 70%, did you see that? The same report advises:

“Experts recommend humans adopt a diet that consists of a balanced proportion of whole grains, fruits, nuts, vegetables, beans and pulses, with animal-derived products like fish, eggs, dairy and meat consumed in moderation.”

World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Report, 2020

The report writes that these changes are “non-negotiable” in order to “preserve human health, wealth and security.” (It does not clarify what “pulses” are. If you know, please enlighten me as I do not think I eat them, but do have one.)

After nearly 30 years, though, I’m really tired of talking about these reports. There are hundreds of reports — from scientists, Nobel prize winners even — that say the same thing. That have been saying the same thing, for decades. Eat plants.

And yet, we must be passed out from the carbon monoxide, because we don’t seem to be listening as a species.**

Even the gnomes aren’t listening.
Photo: Getty Images

So instead of linking to these countless articles, I’ve decided to ask a few questions to make this a YOp-Ed (Your-Opinion editorial).

The First YOP-Ed!

If there was something you could do directly, as in the next few hours, to reduce climate change, would you?  

Why, why not?

Who do you picture when you hear “vegan”? 

The cliche is true, I do love the trees.
Photo by Unsplash

Who is the fastest growing vegan demographic? 

I just know that’s soy or oat milk in there.
Photo by @ToluBamwo

Are you sad about losing forests? 

The majority of rainforests are destroyed for animal agriculture, not plant crops feeding humans directly.
Cattle graze with a burnt area in the background after a fire in the Amazon rainforest near Novo Progresso, Para state, Brazil, on August 25, 2019 – (Photo by Joao Laet / AFP)JOAO LAET/AFP/Getty Images

Would knowing the above make a difference in how this sadness is expressed? 

Do you think that eating meat is a “personal choice” as the Beef Magazine lays out here?

Is eating meat like wearing masks?  Or carrying a gun?

Masks, meat, and guns: My right

Today on another podcast, a best-selling author said that he had a personal connection with eels because he used to fish them. Would you describe your connection to your cat or dog this way?

How do you feel about violence? 

Does having a happy yard mean you would be okay with being eaten?

(OK, that last one was rather cheeky, wasn’t it? As the Brits would say?)

Are you responsible for what/who you eat?

Does your power to eat animals mean that you should?

OK, I’m back, yop-ed over. Did you find my questions annoying? This might explain why:

“Today’s climate advocates are eager to tackle the energy and social justice issues. But food is a sensitive subject: The main way most people interact with animals is by eating them.”

–The New Republic

Veganism is the elephant in the room. But maybe we shouldn’t call it veganism. Let’s call it what it is: Pro-survival. Survivalist.

Survival of yourself, due to statistically better health outcomes (avert your eyes from “The My Way” photo below). Of the animals not bred to be confined and killed. Of our planet.

Survivalism, the right way.

New forthcoming book by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. THIS is the way to go.

The my way.

Don’t do as I do. Do as I say? Photo by author. Treats by Vegan Treats.

Three cheers for the Survivalism diet. (Not to be confused with the end-of-the-world diet. This is the beginning of a new world diet. One in which you — and your children, should you choose to continue our species — can thrive.)

If we’re going to move forward, it must be together. Pointing fingers at the individuals and industry killing the canary only keeps us stuck. Where do we go from here?

Coal miner with the new carbon monoxide detecting device. Bye, bye, canary.
Photo: Mirrorpix via Getty images / Accessed via Forbes

On December 30th 1986, the practice of bringing canaries in coal mines to detect toxic gases before they hurt humans ended. Miners had mixed feelings. “They are so ingrained in the culture, miners report whistling to the birds and coaxing them as they worked, treating them as pets,”one BBC report stated.

The birds were replaced by detectors with digital readings. Pit ponies and other animals who helped haul coal were also phased out by technological advancements. Canaries did not reliably prevent deaths, anyway. By the time they died, the men were deep into the tunnels and unable to quickly evacuate.  

And indeed, technology — or applied knowledge over time — allows humanity to build things that free up other species (or our own) involvement. We already have products that replace animal meat without any “sacrifice” of taste: Beyond Meat and Impossible (burgers, sausages, breakfast patties); Gardein (chicken, fish); May Wah (any meat you want) and too many plant-rich milks and cheeses to even mention here.

Crispy vegan chicken drumsticks from May Wah (available online and in Asian grocers) – Photo by Daily Vegan Recipes

What is stopping us from using our power to put a dent in climate change and the immense suffering of other creatures? To create these new systems where workers and animals are not exploited?

Meat, overfishing, dairy, and eggs are not the ONLY problem facing the planet and our consciousness. And none of us including me — especially me — are perfect. Does this mean that we should ignore the problem, and carry on eating animals?

The other day, a friend asked what we would wish to end if we could. My answer sums up pretty well what I felt three decades ago: “I’d end the behaviors that lead us to caging human and non-human animals.”  

A couple of months ago, Rob and I almost adopted Neville (far left, and top — he looks like Syba, right?!) rescued by Jindo Love Rescue from the dog meat trade in South Korea. It was hard to see where he came from — in the dog meat truck above. Yet our practices raising animals for food in the US and globally are equally cruel.

It wasn’t that the seal was dead that bothered me in that dream 30 years ago, leading me to going pescatarian, vegetarian, vegan, then, as of 8 pm last night, Survivalist. In fact, the seal was very much alive. What bothered me was he was conscious and caged, a fate worse than death.

Can we talk about the canary?

Photo by Unsplash

Birthday request

For my birthday, and more significantly my Veg-a-Versary,*** could you do two things? First, please vote for Biden and Harris. I’m phone-banking every week and it’s so very close and that is terrifying.

Second, can you vote for animals and the future**** with your grocery list? If you need ideas, Google has got you, but I am here for you too in my Binge Cafe persona. Write me. Call me. Zoom me like our lives depend on it, because they do.

Post-article Explanations

Extra credit. Below is where all the stars live from above:

* In my “drummer available ad,” I wrote John Lennon as an influence. The singer, my brother-in-law, related to that, and I was phoned for the band audition. Rob was the guitarist.

** Except for Black Americans — More Black Americans are going vegan than their white counterparts. “In Gallup’s latest findings on consumers’ meat-eating changes, whites reported eating 10 percent less meat in the past 12 months while people of color reported eating 31 percent less.”

Related from the same Washington Post article: “Hip-hop vegan” playlist on Spotify

*** Technically I was pescatarian the first year, but 18 when my veg journey began. Most of us take a series of steps toward these kinds of awareness changes. The steps to the infamous SEAL DREAM were many (seeing how chickens were treated in Greece, petting a goat, etc).

**** I know, not all plant foods are perfect. Being alive and eating has an impact. Bugs die. If you have questions about any plant foods, please dm me. But not eating animals and their product is a very solid way to know you’re not contributing to their misery and taking a huge chunk out of worker suffering and planet catastrophe.