Red Meat and Cancer

By now you’ve probably heard the piece of news stirring up controversy on every corner of the web. But just in case you haven’t, I’ll gladly share the memo with you: the World Health Organization just classified red meat as carcinogenic. You read that right. One of the most powerful international health agencies just placed eating red meat in the same cancer-causing level as asbestos and smoking tobacco.

If you’re a resident of a Western hemisphere, you know that this news is probably not going to be received well by most of our meat-loving friends and family. Lest they counter with the notion that animal consumption is a hallmark of the developed world, the U.S. government also affirmed the benefits of a plant-based diet earlier this year.

I’m thrilled that these influential organizations have used their platforms to promote plant-based eating. Food is indeed fuel for our bodies. But it’s also one of the very best ways to protect our health and safeguard the Planet each and every day. So thank you, WHO and other agencies, for disrupting and renegotiating the way we think about food.

Pura Vida: 3 Reasons Costa Rica is Leading the Global Environmental Movement

I was lucky enough to spend a semester abroad in Costa Rica my junior year of college. The friendliness of everyone I met—from my host family to street vendors immediately took me aback. The fresh fruits were unlike anything I found at home. And it was also in this most bio-diverse country, among the cloud forests and active volcanoes, where I experienced an environmental re-awakening.

Costa Rica has proven to be at the forefront of solving national environmental challenges, setting an example not just for developing countries, but for industrial nations as well. Here are three recent efforts that remind me of what I loved the most about Costa Rica—it’s commitment to celebrating and protecting our precious planet:

1. Clean Energy During the first 75 days of 2015, the country used 100% sustainable sources of energy. Even now, Costa Rica relies on wind turbines, solar panels and geothermal sources for more than two-thirds of its energy needs.

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Time.com

2. Ban on Hunting for Sport Costa Rica is the first country in Latin America to place a ban on hunting for sport. In light of the recent outrage over the killing of Cecil the Lion, organizations all over the world are taking steps to defend animals and their right to live.

3. Promoting Eco-Tourism Forget spending your precious vacation days shopping for more knickknacks. You probably don’t have room in your suitcase for them, either! Costa Rica is a phenomenal place to be an eco-tourist. You can relax in thermal waters heated by volcanoes, zip line through the rainforest, watch sea turtles nest on the bay, or hike along a national park while monkeys play in the canopy above.

Which countries do you think are doing a good job in protecting the planet?

Tuesday 2Go: Product Review

Desperate for a quick on-the-go dinner, I ran to Safeway with hopes they had something healthy and cheap that would hold me over for my evening class. I first spotted the cooler by the prepared foods but had no luck there. Every single prepared salad bowl was made with either chicken, turkey, or fish. Disappointed but not yet defeated, I scurried over to the produce section thinking I could grab a few veggies and make my own salad when something caught my eye.

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Earthbound Farm Organics Powermeals! I noticed three different varieties—and each was suitable for veg*ns. I had heard about these but never found one in store until my run to Safeway. It was as if Earthbound had heard my pleas for help.

The three available options were: Asian Noodle, Southwest, and Spinach Quinoa. They each came with a $0.55 off coupon. As veg*ns we are hardly privy to choices and it took me a while to decide which one to try first. I ended up getting the Spinach Quinoa bowl to satisfy a spinach craving I had earlier.

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My immediate concern with these bowls was that each only contains around 200 calories. While perfect for a quick in-between meal or snack, I knew that I needed a few more calories to keep me going and so I grabbed a can of garbanzo beans to toss in with the bowl.

The contents of the salad were packaged well—each item was individually wrapped to presumably allow us to mix in toppings to our liking. I also read on the package that the dressing contained cheese and was high in sodium, so I decided to toss it aside. If you don’t eat dairy and are watching sodium, you probably know to read labels, but just wanted to make it a point.

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The quinoa was stuck together in clumps when it came out of the package, but after tossing it around with the spinach and the other toppings of sunflower seeds and dried blueberries, it broke up a little more. I mixed in a serving of garbanzo beans at the end for some extra protein (not pictured).

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I really enjoyed the flavors of this salad and am grateful Earthbound had the idea to create these bowls. They are perfect for on-the-go eating and you can’t beat the price for an organic, ready to eat salad. My only suggestion is that perhaps Earthbound could include a larger serving of protein for those of us who intend to eat these salads as a main meal. It’s easy to supplement though, with a can of your favorite beans. I’m looking forward to trying the other two bowls and sharing my thoughts with you.

I purchased this product on my own and did not receive any compensation from Earthbound for this review. All opinions are always my own.

Traveling like an Eco-Tourist

Last weekend I visited California with my parents for Independence Day. It’s been a while since I’ve spent time on the west coast, but I remembered quickly that California is a great place to visit as an eco-tourist–the beaches, mountains, deserts, all offer boundless opportunities to explore nature’s beauty.

Eco-tourism? What’s that? You might be wondering.

Eco-tourism asks us to visit new places in a way that celebrates the natural environment. Rather than making consumerism the focus of a vacation, you make it a priority to visit a local botanical garden, state park, or simply lounge on the beach.

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Sounds easy, right? I’ll be the first to admit that the allure of the local mall was too powerful for me to resist. I spent two hours roaming around various shops. Roaming around same stores we have in DC. Do you know how much I bought that day? Exactly nothing! While mindlessly looking through racks of clothes, it donned on me. I traveled all the way across the country only to waste my precious few days of vacation shopping for clothes I didn’t need? Right then, I decided that I wanted to spend the rest of my time taking in everything that makes California special: its outdoors.

My parents and I traveled to Catalina Island the next day. We walked around the island and watched deer playing in the trees. We splashed in the ocean and polished off scoops of homemade ice cream on the shoreline. And that truly felt like what a vacation should be: a time to relax and refresh. To spend time catching up with friends and family if you’re together. If you’re alone, a vacation should inspire you to invoke dreams lost in the quotidian.

And what better place to do so than in nature? Countless studies have shown us that spending time in nature increases our well-being. The novelty of spending time outdoors in a new place exponentially improves our happiness. You are far more likely to reminisce on that time you conquered (or got lost hiking) San Jacinto Mountain than you will remembering the pair of shoes you bought in the city.

The next time you travel this summer, or whenever it may be, travel like an eco-tourist. Take pleasure in the cacti or trees that surround you and you’ll be sure to have an unforgettable vacation.

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The Pros and Cons of Canned vs. Dry Beans

This post is inspired from the many insightful comments you shared with me on a recent post where I thought about what it is that drives people’s decisions to eat a plant-based diet. One idea I hadn’t considered but that several readers brought up was that perhaps eating veg*n is cheaper than a diet heavy in animal products. Cost-effectiveness is an important factor when thinking about daily meals.

Delving deeper into this idea of budget eating, I thought I’d write about beans—a vital source of vegan protein—available in different forms for different prices.

Canned Beans

I’d say the strongest argument in favor of using canned beans is convenience. After a long day at work, the last thing you want to think about is preparing a healthy and filling meal to satiate your growling tummy. Having canned beans in your pantry means that dinner can be ready in 10 minutes—open a can, rinse your beans, and add fresh or frozen veggies. You’ve got a meal ready for the table!

On the other hand, you pay a premium for prepared beans. I live on the east coast in a very urban city, and I’d say the average can of beans costs around $1. For $1, you get 3-4 servings—we’ll say 3 since beans are generally a main source of protein in our meals. At 33 cents per serving, canned beans are most likely cheaper than animal-based sources of protein (we’ll save that comparison for another post!) but not as cheap as making beans yourself from scratch.

One thing that worries me about canned beans is the potential threat of BPA and aluminum lining in the cans these beans are sold in. We need more research to determine exactly how much of the lining cooked beans actually absorb, but some people worry about aluminum because of its link to Alzheimer’s disease, and BPA because it’s been shown to have some effect on the brain and other organs. You’d probably have to consume a lot of canned products, including beans, to truly be concerned. I just wanted to throw this fact out there because some people actively avoid canned food for this reason.

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Dry Beans

Dried beans require advanced preparation before you’re ready to eat. Cooking time can vary, depending on how much you make at once, but you should expect to cook yours on high in the crockpot for 4 hours or on low for 8 hours. Preparing to cook them requires virtually no effort on my part—I simply place my rinsed beans in a crockpot, add in the water, and forget about them until they’re done. You have to remember think about your dinner plans in the morning, before leaving for the day.

The best part about dry beans is how cheap they are! One pound of beans in my area generally runs for $2, when there isn’t a sale. Each pound will yield about 9-10 servings. At that price, you only pay around 20 cents per serving! The cost difference between canned and dry may seem marginal on a per serving basis, but I’d say the savings definitely add up considering that beans are a staple in the veg*n diet.

If you want the convenience factor of canned beans, you can make a bigger batch of dry beans at once, and pour the cooked and cooled beans into small, serving-sized containers to freeze for later use. These cooked and frozen beans will last for up to one month.

That’s a lot about beans! I certainly have both types of beans readily available in my kitchen. For those days I’ve been out and about all day, a can of beans saves me from working up a sweat about wondering what to eat. Though there’s certainly nothing that beats coming home to a pot of fresh beans when I’ve remembered to cook them in the morning.

Which do you use; canned or cooked? Why do you prefer one type to the other?

The Herbivore’s Ethos

My formal training in economics means that I’m a data lover at heart. Even more, I especially love making use of market design and analysis background in understanding what it is that leads people to make the decisions they make.

The other day, I read an interesting paper on various experimental methods that researchers hoped would lead to lower rates of tax evasion. It turns out, that appealing to people’s ethos– the moral obligation to pay one’s taxes as a civic duty—does nothing to increase tax payer participation.

This study got me thinking. What is it that drives people to make decisions about eating a plant-based diet? Is it a moral obligation to do our part in mitigating climate change? Along this larger-than-ourselves argument, maybe it is an ethical belief to value the lives of living beings as equal to our own. Perhaps the horrors of factory farming and the merciless slaughtering of animals who feel pain, happiness, and life the same we do leave us with no other choice but to follow a plant-based diet?

On the other hand, it could be all about us. The desire to be healthier and to lose weight is also an oft-cited reason in people’s decisions to turn to a veg*n diet. Animal and planet welfare is just a secondary concern, if one at all, in one’s desire to cut out meat on the path towards a slimmer figure. Juice based diets, after all, leave little room for consuming full meals. Especially filling animal products.

Surely some (like myself) are born-and-raised vegetarians who either carry on the plant-based diet out of tradition or a conscious decision to do so in adulthood. Speaking for myself, it was a combination of both.

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Plants and I are still friends today

I question plant-based eaters’ motives because surely it must have an impact on one’s long-term adoption of a veg*n diet. Once we arrive at our decision, what determines how long we’ll give up meat and/or dairy? Does the dieter, who, after witnessing unsatisfactory results in her weight loss goal switch readily to a diet less full of sugary fruit and carb-laden starches? Indeed, a paleo diet rich in meat might be the key in reaching weight-loss goals. In the veg-dieter model, eating a plant-based diet is only a means to an end.

Surely, we give up meat at a cost. When our friends insist on trying out the local hamburger joint or enjoying a fine dining experience at a steak house, we show up as the veg head ordering a salad. But we hold steady in our commitment to animals and the planet because we see no other option. The price we pay in the form of side-eyes and strange looks dwarfs in comparison to the strength we find in acting on what we believe to be fundamentally true.

Could it be true that the ethos affirming we are part of something more than ourselves be the sole driver of a devoted plant-based eater?

What do you think? If you follow a plant-based diet, what are your motivations behind doing so? What about others you know who don’t eat meat?