On December 13, I attended a public hearing to stop the World’s Largest Fracked Gas to Methanol Refinery, proposed in Kalama, WA.
I haven’t been involved in Fracked Gas activism before, but one of my Climate friends made a really good point. Rather than just work on lowering existing carbon emissions, it is vital that we stop new fossil fuel sources from starting.
If built, the refinery would consume more fracked gas than all the PNW cities combined, require new fracked gas pipelines across the region, pollute the air with cancer-causing toxins, and endanger our dwindling salmon and orca populations.
A similar proposal was introduced in Tacoma by NWIW, but was blocked by community opposition.
The opponents to the proposal wore red and included environmental groups such as The Sierra Club, Columbia Riverkeepers, Power Past Fracked Gas and more. Those in support had a white scarf with NWIW logo embroidered on it. There were definitely a huge number of people in red in attendance. We all signed in and were given the option to sign up for a chance to speak (tickets drawn randomly in a lottery). I listened for 3 hours while people spoke in 2 minute increments.
The mediator insisted that there be no audible cheering, booing, etc and that only silent gestures of support or opposition be shown (thumbs up, thumbs down). For Americans used to constantly clapping or yelling, it proved a challenge.
There were so many people signed up to speak that they extended the hearing an additional hour to 10pm. I left at 9pm, and at that point there had been overwhelming opposition voiced. The reasons were very diverse and from the viewpoints of scientists, nurses, grandparents, young people, local community members, and even political experts.
Those in favor of the pipeline were many elected officials (but notably NOT the mayor of Kalama who is opposed), local union members, and business people. Not all Kalama locals, workers or businesses were in favor. I did not hear anyone in the health industry speak in favor of the pipeline. The first speakers were all in support of the pipeline and it felt as though their arguments were being green-washed. One man made a statement how since China was already so polluted we should take this on so that they wouldn’t suffer, otherwise we were being racist.
I definitely sympathized with the local Union members who insisted that they needed this pipeline to help their economy and provide jobs. Yet, it felt like everyone focused on the money was looking only at short-term benefits. Their children would have jobs! Sadly, they may also have cancer too. Pipelines have known risks.
The company stressed how safe the pipeline would be, held to the strictest regulations. If it isn’t built here, it will be built elsewhere with less high standards. Well, we are now watching the government dismantle EPA regulations to the point that methane leaks don’t have a short time window to fix, water may not be monitored, etc. They could be complying with legal Federal standards and it could still be a disaster environmentally. Not to mention, the Pacific NW is at high risk for earthquakes (and overdue for a major one) already which would cause major destruction beyond anyone’s control.
Many locals had a lot of scorn for the “Environmentalists” who drove from Portland or elsewhere to get involved in their business. There were snide comments made about how we use cars and cellphones and yet are hypocrites to oppose the production which allows their manufacturing. Portlanders and surrounding communities are also affected by their decision as we share water and air that are not limited to borders.
We face a crisis of needing to cut carbon emissions drastically in the next 12 years to have a livable planet, and building new infrastructure to support fossil fuels is the wrong direction at this point. We don’t have time.
“Why is fracked gas such a big deal? It is mostly methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. The methane leaks from fracking wells and gas pipelines are so severe that scientists found that fracked gas can be as bad for our climate as coal. Thus far, the methanol company has not explained how the Northwest’s limited gas pipeline system could supply the methanol refinery. Gas companies could propose a major new pipeline into the Northwest to supply the methanol refinery.”
“Aside from the financial cost, NWIW also poses significant environmental risks, according to Riverkeeper. In a report that it prepared about the refinery, Riverkeeper identifies hazards related to extracting fracked gas from across North America, storing millions of gallons of highly combustible methanol in one location, and transporting toxic chemicals via the Columbia River, which people rely on for water, food, and recreation.”
Yes, they need jobs, but there are jobs in renewables. Will the trade-off be worth the 200 permanent jobs? Until we stop opening new sources of carbon emissions, we won’t transition quickly enough away from fossil fuels. It is an unfortunate fact that climate change will impact those in the poorest areas first, and by promising short-term profits, they will be impacted the worst either way. It’s a complex problem that we will also need to address by a drastic change in our consumption in order to reduce the need for these types of refineries.
The report issued this month by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) should be the top news. IPPC was established in 1988 as an international organization that reviews and assesses the most recent information around climate change from scientists and research from all over the world. This is a strictly reviewed and objective assessment. It affects our children, animals, social justice, health, food systems, people in the US, and all over the world.
We basically have 12 years to keep this planet from warming to unmanageable levels which will no longer sustain life as we know it by the end of this century. The children alive now will face the worst of this. We’re already seeing the effects in increased heat waves, stronger intense storms, more floods, droughts and wildfire. This will get exponentially worse, and fast.
I’ve been giving a few presentations locally about climate change after completing Climate Reality Leadership Training. The idea is if we go into our communities and talk face to face about what is happening, why it is happening, and what the solutions are, we can work together for our future.
In the main two States I have lived in, Oregon and Washington, we have initiatives on our ballot to work towards decreasing our reliance on fossil fuels. Are they perfect? Possibly not yet, but they are our best chance to start moving in the right direction and moving faster towards lowering carbon emissions before it gets worse. And we’ve been seeing it get worse in front of our eyes in this region too. The main arguments against making change seem to be based around economy. Coal miners will lose jobs, gas prices will rise. Well, our economy will be shifting now or later, regardless. We can embrace renewables and clean energy and lower our costs now. Or, we can continue to pay rising costs of natural disasters, health issues from pollution and diseases like Zika which are spreading in a warmer climate, and pay more as crops decline from drought and dwindling water resources. Think about who really profits from our dependence on fossil fuels. Solar and wind energy are available to us and the prices keep coming down, which is not profitable to those who have been reaping the rewards of polluting our planet without paying. Our current leadership is full of people directly linked to these fossil fuel industries and they have a financial interest in keeping the public from taking action.
Climate deniers like to say that the climate is always changing, that there is nothing to be done, and that we are alarmists. The proof is here, we were told 30 years ago this was happening, and now we are witnessing it. Trump has now moved from saying it is a hoax made up from the Chinese, to something that it goes “back and forth”, is not caused by us, and might harm the economy. We’ve been told not to make the message too scary, but fear seems to motivate about half our country. And we still have hope and solutions available if we can understand how urgent and massive our challenges are, so we can stop stalling. I would say one of our biggest challenges is our political division, and that environmental protection is only embraced by one party. If there is one uniting issue, it should be clean air, water and a livable future for our children.
Mobilization against this climate crisis is now being compared to World War 2 as far as the type of wide-scale and global efforts needed. We need to radically shift to lower carbon on a federal, state, city and even individual level. We can have the motivation to work for something so much larger and more important than ourselves. When you look at history, there have been times when people have been faced with ethical choices such as in Nazi Germany and the Civil Rights Movement, for just a couple of examples. They could resist, they could go along with the mainstream, or they could ignore it. Since facing extinction is a pretty heavy concept for us to really think about, it feels better to ignore it and think someone else will fix this. That hasn’t happened in the last 30 years, and at this point we have a government intent on rolling back our EPA regulations and creating more fossil fuels for very short-term benefit. My theory is that the very wealthy think they can be protected from the worst since they can afford to move, have bunkers, etc. This planet is our home, and if we destroy our environment, the economy will be the least of our problems. If you aren’t part of the solution, you are part of the problem.
I have been talking more about climate change than food lately, but moving to a plant-based diet actually makes a very large difference. We won’t be able to reach our carbon goals without factoring the animal agriculture industry into this. It’s important to do whatever we can to push with our marketing power towards sustainable food, packaging, minimizing waste, and choosing the most green transportation, energy sources and building options. The market will respond to this, and is already. It’s not Option A, B or C, it’s Option A + B + C
We can’t fix this with only individual lifestyle changes while the biggest polluters continue to spew carbon, but we can move the needle using our purchasing power. Most importantly, we need to realize the power that each of us has, both inherently, and as part of a democracy, and use your vote! This is our time in history to step up to this challenge and choose which side we will take.
What will we tell our children? When they are faced with the effects of climate change gone unchecked?
We were worried it would hurt the economy. We didn’t want to change the way we travel, eat or live. We didn’t think it would actually happen — even though we had all the evidence needed, by scientist and directly witnessing storms growing more intense, record-breaking heat temperatures for the last 4 years, coral reefs and wildlife dying, drought and more wildfires.
The children being born now, they don’t even get a chance to make a difference. But we still can. This is not a Republican/Democrat issue, this challenge has no boundaries between countries, and it requires immediate action. This is our generation’s crisis.
I spend a lot of time researching and working on this issue because it affects us all. By addressing Climate Change we help social justice issues, animals, health, really any issue we face just gets intensified as Climate Change gets worse. We need to make Climate Change the biggest priority because without it- black lives, standing for the flag, abortion, LGBQT, women’s rights, all of that won’t even matter. We can still care about these issues, but put Climate Change first as a central mobilizing cause for which we can all unite.
I’m already quite worried that my young teenagers don’t have the hope and potential we all had. But I will be able to face them and tell them I did know, and I did not ignore this.
Whether or not you have children, how can we let the future generation inherit a future so bleak? How can we let all the amazing animals who share our planet go extinct when we can do something? Let’s take drastic measures and prolong what may be inevitable, but doesn’t need to be sped up.
We have to stop talking about what will happen if we take action on climate change, and start talking about what will happen if we don’t.
Since I returned from LA, I have been on fire. Something ignited in me, and all the pieces of the past 6 years or so have come together in a pretty profound way.
There was a lot leading up to this culminating event: focusing on animal cruelty and factory farming, sustainability work in schools on Eco projects, personal advocacy, and a lot of research and education. What I was missing was clear direction and purpose. I wasn’t sure what to do with the disparate parts of my life and personality. I care about animals, the planet, I am good at strategy, branding, illustration and really enjoy ongoing learning around social media.
After my trip to Japan last April I also realized that I really love being part of a team, the structure, the collaboration and interactions.
The trip to LA showed me that this huge challenge we face must be tackled en masse. It’s okay to have different groups and varying agendas but we have a common goal. And I felt a sense of belonging to this group of dedicated and authentic people in a way that I haven’t always felt in other groups.
What I did not mention in my last post (part one), was a physical sense of dread, almost nausea I had right before going to this conference where I knew absolutely no one and would have to shmooze and network for 3 days with strangers. I even had the cliché nightmare, where I suddenly found myself walking through the convention ballroom with all the round tables completely naked! However, I also believe in say yes to opportunities and knowing that the primitive inner voice is often just trying to keep us “safe” from the unknown adventures in life.
I’m so thankful I did take that chance because I learned a lot about what needs to be done on a personal and political level and how to achieve this. One thing Al Gore said that really stuck with me was, “Money doesn’t vote, people do.” It feels like the large corporations and wealthy individuals have all the power, but that is not how America’s democracy was intended. And when the former Vice President tells you this change is indeed possible, he has had the ultimate inside view on how everything works for decades. When I returned home, I joined Citizens’ Climate Lobby and our Portland Chapter of Climate Reality (open to all by the way). I’ve met many wonderful new people and am working with them to do everything we can to protect our future.
This network has aligned my heart and mind and I can’t wait to take this to the next level and find a way to work on environmental issues full-time. I believe my branding and marketing background can be an asset to this movement, but more importantly my willingness to commit fully and with passion to the most important cause — sustainable life on our planet. Although I have been committed to this for years, I felt alone, fearful, often hopeless, and lacked focus. Now, I’m just really energized… and not nervous. Let’s do this!
I just returned from a week in Branson, Missouri where we had a large family reunion. We stayed in two large houses in a nice area near Silver Dollar City called StoneBridge Resort. There were about 30 of us total. It was a wonderful gift from one of my aunts, providing lodging and airfare to a central location to celebrate some big milestones of other family members.
The trip itself was a fantastic experience overall of re-connecting with all the families who were coming from Missouri, New York area, Washington State and Oregon. Young cousins who barely knew each other became best buddies. We reminisced about childhood memories and played games.
This post isn’t about the personal family experience though, it is about how important it is to leave your city- especially if you live in a very liberal area, and see what is happening in other parts of the country. Branson may be particular in that it appears to be mainly a tourist destination. Think of a religious, child-friendly Las Vegas. It is in the Ozarks – a beautiful wooded area surrounded by lakes. The natural setting is lovely, and we saw deer and turtles during our visit.
As you wind through hills, there are signs for “Vigilante Watchtower Zipline” located on Shepherd of the Hills street. A little further on, and there is a very long strip of buildings featuring attractions like Dolly Parton Stampede, Tribute Concerts, Go Karts, Water Parks, museums and more. Funky buildings like a replica of half the Titanic complete with fake iceberg, a giant meatball restaurant, a huge King Kong statue perched on a building are lining both sides of the street.
The largest grocery store option is Walmart Super Center. At the Walmart, there is no counter space at checkout for bagging groceries into reusable bags, simply a carousel of plastic bags that rotates allowing the cashier to put a few items into each small bag. Every time a group of us went to the store, we returned with at least 8 bags.
The most popular dining options feature BBQ and Pork tenderloins. At the main BBQ restaurant: Danna’s BBQ, all the food was provided with styrofoam cups and plastic utensils, and most people also got styrofoam containers for the inevitable leftovers due to the huge portions of meat. Their t-shirts proclaimed proudly, “Go Pig or Go Home”, a clear directive to the vegetarians in our group. The vegan option was a salad without the added chicken. In most restaurants that was the only option.
Our resort had no recycling options- just dumpsters. So, all bottles, cans and recyclables for our large group for a week went directly into land fill.
It was very disheartening to see how most people rely on plastic water bottles and throw everything away without a care. In Portland, OR we are used to having a veggie burger substitute option even at the meatiest of restaurants, reusable cups are a given, and every residential home has curbside compost and recycling. This trip made me realize how easy it is for us to be environmental here, and how much work is left to be done. Sustainability is a non-partisan issue that all of us must embrace, or our children will pay the price.
At one point during our trip to Silver Dollar City, my teenage son and I spent a lot of time around the water blaster ride. You basically ride down a water path on a boat equipped with blasters while people on the shore of the ride blast you with their water guns, and you blast them back- or hit unsuspecting people strolling in the area. You are mostly a sitting target getting hit from both sides. Seeing grown men who were clearly on the opposite political spectrum exchange blasts with my kid made me realize that no matter how divided we are as a country — we both willingly put those issues aside to just have fun. When face to face in a fun setting, we all want to enjoy life. It is just behind the anonymity and distance of the screens of our computers and phones, or when lines are clearly drawn at protests we feel free to hate on each other.
If we can all just agree that we all want the best for our kids and their future, we can put down the hateful rhetoric and work towards solutions that benefit all of us.
If you live in the comfort of a bubble that conforms to your ideals, you are living in a false reality. If you surround yourself with an echo chamber, you aren’t getting the full picture. Sometimes you have to go to places that make you uncomfortable to get a better understanding of what challenges we face. Then you can come home to appreciate your own city with its unique bubble of veg options, cannabis, and environmental focus that you realize is just as bizarre in its own way as the biblical Vegas you left behind.
I just realized that I had my 6th veg-anniversary. In February 2012, I planned to try a vegan diet for one month., but just kept going. Although I am not always perfect, I have remained consistent to the ethics and philosophy. I don’t want to contribute to the horror that is CAFO (factory farming) and how it affects animals, people and the earth. I vote with my money for a more compassionate world. It’s not just about what is humane, it also makes sense in a scientific, factual way based on resources, antibiotics, pollution, carbon and health.
In all honesty, I wasn’t sure I would be able to stick with this. For the first year I wondered if I would just lapse, as is somewhat common. The biggest hurdle has always been the social one for me. It isn’t comfortable to go against the mainstream, and when dining with others have specific requests that are not always simple. In the last 6 years there have been big changes. It has become easier and easier to get good vegan food almost anywhere in Portland (plus, my food drawings have improved). The vegan restaurants are amazing and plentiful. I really appreciate the friends and family who have gone out of their way to make vegan-friendly options.
In the last few years I have become more depressed and hopeless about climate change. It is the most important issue to me because it will impact everything, including the animals. The animals in this case keep me motivated to continue to speak up for them. My socially awkward issues are nothing compared to the torment they endure at our hands. As we approach Easter and Passover, please consider that lambs are innocent baby animals taken from their mothers. And that egg production on a large scale involves killing all the male baby chicks, while crowding the egg-layers in cages. This is just the tip of the iceberg. I try to post positive images, but it’s important to acknowledge the reality, and possibly it will help others think about these animals as more than products.
We have the worst administration to help these issues right now as they care about profit over anything and refuse to acknowledge facts about climate change (despite the rest of the world moving away from fossil fuels). Please know that even as they roll back the small amount of humane laws that existed, you still have some control. You can make sure these companies adhere to higher standards than the law mandates by affecting their bottom line. I know that no one would want the suffering that is happening, which is hidden from the consumers with advertising and lobbyists. I can’t believe I went through decades not knowing what is happening. In fact, even the humane farmers talk about “harvesting” animals to avoid the reality of slaughter.
The good news is that it has never been easier to move away from animal products. There are more and more products in the market every month. There were no vegan yogurts at Fred Meyer 6 years ago, not there are 3 or 4 different brands! The alternative milks is the easiest switch to make, so many delicious choices. Socially, the more people who want a plant-based option, the easier that has become as well. I have found it helpful just to be involved in planning events and volunteering so that I can make sure that there are vegan options available for everyone.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how doing the most earth-friendly, healthy thing is often a bit more “inconvenient” than just maintaining status quo. Like remembering to bring your bags to the store, making a dinner from scratch rather than processed or take out, dealing with recycling and composting… things like that.
When you think about what our grandparents (or parents depending on your age) had to do during the depression or war times, it is just laughable. We throw away items all the time that they would have been saved or mended. Even foil would have been washed and saved and reused. It’s time to get back to that mentality. People could get behind it in the past because they felt their efforts were helping with the war, or they had to do it out of no other option. We have the luxury right now, or choosing to do what is best and of making that inconvenient choice. And the more times you make that choice, it becomes less inconvenient.
I’ve been watching the Middle School kids during lunch a couple of weeks ago as we rolled out the composting and real silverware instead of disposable plastic. It’s added a little extra work for them to not just dump everything into the garbage, but instead take a few seconds to drop their silverware off, dump just the food waste into one bin, recycle any cans, and finally throw all garbage into the last one. It’s annoying. I can see it in their faces as they have to think about where to put everything. There is also a place to leave any unopened food items and fruit. I’m not even sure this will work without an adult monitoring it every day. I’ll post more about this soon.
We have to do the right thing, simply because it’s the right thing to do. Not because someone makes us or watches us.
We are actually at war. It’s an inconvenient war that doesn’t want to be acknowledged. We are going to run out of resources for our population and our planet at our current rate of consumption.
I’ve had some discouraging times during the last few years where it felt like my efforts towards encouraging veganism and sustainability efforts have made very little impact. I stopped drawing for awhile, and writing. When things matter so much to you, but you see your dog’s instagram get more notice, it can be demoralizing!
I did have something extremely positive happen that I’ll share. When my youngest son started middle school, I was able to work from home and had some ideas of creating an Eco club at his school. I imagined having an after school group with amazing kids wanting to make a difference in their school and families. I talked to the Principal, Sun coordinator, art teacher and science teacher. I created a t-shirt design and monthly project plan. Then I tried to find someone to do the project with me. And I tried to find kids who would be interested. Not even my own son and his friends wanted to do it.
The next year I talked to the interim Principal, it wasn’t a big priority to her understandably. I wasn’t clear on my vision or next steps. And then this last year, I tried once again (a little sheepishly) with the new Principal and the Green team Science teacher. This time though, I had a plan. It wasn’t as exciting or fun as I initially imagined with kids being involved. But, it had solid actionable ideas and a plan. And this time, progress was made.
A lot of this was due to connecting with Eco School Network. A local organization founded by the Center for Earth Leadership to create change leaders in the community by providing them a community of parents, tools, resources and training. Jeanne Roy and her team led the course which took place over 4 evenings, with about 18 parents. Every meeting was very organized and gave us an opportunity to learn and ask questions. We had a mentor to check in with, and a partner as well.
The other parents inspired me, while at the same time I realized some of the reasons that I wasn’t succeeding. I was the only parent attending from a Middle School. Elementary school parents tend to be more involved in volunteering. Middle School parents are less likely to even enter the school and many have gone back to work full-time, or burned out on volunteering by that point. Also Middle School is only 3 years here, so there is less time. At my son’s Elementary school he was there 7 years (one year was preK) and I walked him into that building and hung our often after school on the playground.
We chose goals as part of the training, and I picked the simplest one: renewing the Oregon Green School certification that had lapsed 3 years ago. As part of the application, we would stop using single-use plastic silverware. A secondary goal was composting, although that sounded more complicated.
It sounds small, but when I thought about how all that plastic was being thrown away every single day for the last 2.5 years while I dithered about what to do, it seemed critical not to lose another moment. Composting was needed as during one single lunch observation, I saw kids throwing away multiple pieces of whole, unpeeled fruit into the garbage.
We now have collected over 800 forks and spoons (most of those actually donated from the Eco Network), ordered compost bags and bins, conducted a waste audit, and have the 8th grade science team creating training materials for all the students to follow.
I realized all it really takes is one person to start a ripple effect. There are others who can help you and make this happen such as:
Our amazing green team science teacher who had accomplished the initial Oregon Green School certification
Supportive Principal, cafeteria and custodial staff.
PPS’ Americorps volunteer
Parents and kids who donated silverware and made posters
The amazing local Eco School Network who answered every question and even supplied silverware when we came up short.
My biggest concern now is finding parents to take over the green school efforts, and hopefully do even bigger and better ideas. I want to take this experience and keep doing what I can, no matter how small it seems, to create a better world for the kids and the animals. As one of my favorite inspirational people, Colleen Patrick-Goudreau says, “Don’t do nothing because you can’t do everything. Do something. Anything.”
So, Happy Spring! I haven’t posted here for a few months for several reasons (although I do share interesting articles I find on Eat4theFuture’s Facebook page). Here are the top three…
First: Our political situation. It’s like a train wreck and for the first 30 days more like a roller coaster wreck. I can’t believe some of the things happening, and from signing petitions, protests, and calls, we are trying to make sure this so-called President does not overwhelm us. I was told by a conservative relative today that I was too negative. For me, it’s like watching Hitler come into power, while people say to give him a chance. I am not trying to alienate those who don’t agree, and would like to find some common ground… like we both want clean air and water perhaps?
Second: I became very busy with work. Since December I have had so much design work, and that is great and I have no complaints about that. But it has cut into my blogging time. (-;
One of my projects involves creating illustrations for The Vegan Strategist, which I am very excited to share with you all soon.
Third: My recipes and food ideas hit a plateau. I celebrated my 5th veganniversary in March and I just ran out of creative ideas. I think it will come back, but for awhile I couldn’t wait to try all the new recipes, Indian food and more. I posted about my food plan, and I still follow that mostly. But, for example, instead of trying new cookies, I am making my favorite cookie recipe every time. I think running out of new ideas or getting tired of cooking happens to everyone.
Lastly, we got a dog! He is a 4 year-old rescue basset/pit bull mix. I love him more than I thought possible. I’ll write more about him later. he’s on Instagram along with Spring flowers.
I would really love a little motivation and push. So, please follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, and I will post more blogs. Also, let me know what interests you! I’m willing to try recipes, in fact, eggplant bacon will be coming soon. Also, if you want to see more food illustrations, let me know.
2016 had some really great moments. It also had some really awful moments, personally many of us suffered losses and for a majority, we had an unpleasant end with the election.
Thinking back on some of the good times, I never wrote about my trip to Europe in October, so in an effort to focus on one of the very positive weeks of 2016, I’ll write a bit about that. This may be more personal than my other posts, but I will throw in some veg info at the end.
This trip had been on my “bucket list” for at least 5 years. My love affair with Europe began in the early 90s on my first trip there. Every country had different currency, I was 21, and had a crazy time hitting way too many countries in one month with a large backpack as my constant companion. There were overnight trips to Portugal where I “slept” on the floor of the train, and youth hostels with feral cats. I traveled for most of the time with a college friend, but we parted ways during that trip.
I caught the travel bug there, and especially love being somewhat lost, and decided to save my money and return alone the following year. During that solo trip I used my 3 weeks in Europe Rick Steve’s Guide and safely traveled from Amsterdam to Italy and back. I felt so confident and proud of myself for managing that trip alone. It wasn’t easy, but there was a freedom in making all those decisions myself that I really enjoyed. That trip changed me fundamentally.
I returned a couple of years later to experience life there in a different way. I didn’t want the tourist experience, but wanted to live there, and becoming a jeune fille au pair was the simplest solution at that time. That year was one of my most defining years looking back in many ways. I had never been more than a few hours away from my family before, and it was humbling to be almost unable to communicate in the first few months. I gained a new perspective on my country once I left it.
Since that very first trip overseas, I made my vacations a priority. Even when I earned very little, I saved enough to travel to other countries. I may not have had a couch in my apartment, but that was okay. Even now, I’m not interested in spending money on skiing, concerts, fancy restaurants or any luxury items. I just want to wander around and experience a new culture.
All that is to say, since having kids and owning a business, it had been 13 years since I last went to Europe. Yes, First World Problems, but that is a very long time for me and my favorite hobby. As a designer, getting fresh inspiration is very important to me, and seeing if I could dust off my French that I spent so much time learning was my goal.
We had saved up enough credit card miles that I had more than enough for a round trip ticket to Paris. My husband wasn’t interested in revisiting the places I wanted to go, and someone had to hold down the fort with kids, pets, and work. I planned my solo trip, but was with friends pretty much the whole time, and was kindly hosted the entire trip. I want to clearly thank them for this since I didn’t have to spend money that we really don’t have right now.
It allowed me to have a little breathing space from stress, and a chance to recharge and feel like an individual again. If you are married with kids, you will know what I am talking about. I stayed with my original host family in Lyon for about 5 days, reminiscing and having deep conversations. I feel like that time really renewed and strengthened our friendship. I had to laugh when I heard the host father, Janek, refer to me as his “ancienne fille au pair“. My host mother Sylvie has a wonderful sense of humor and I loved talking to her about my life now, and “our” kids (who are now in their late 20’s and early 30’s). Staying in the same city where I had walked so many kilometers in my early 20s was a wonderful transition. Things had changed, but I always knew where I was.
From there, I took the train to Italy and spent a week with one of my very best friends in the world. We have known each other probably 25 years, and have always kept in touch. It is one of those friendships that even if you haven’t spoken for a year, it is like no time has passed when you finally do talk. Stefania stayed with us for a few months in Portland a couple of years ago and after all our years of friendship, she is a part of our family… literally. We joke that she is my parent’s Italian daughter. I have never met anyone who doesn’t fall in love with her spirit and personality. We have gone through ups and downs in our separate lives, but we have always been there for each other no matter the distance.
Italy is my favorite country, just barely over France. Mostly because I like a little chaos, I prefer their food, and I love the warmth of the Italian people. We spent many hours with her Italian neighbor, a kind and cool grandmother who made us homemade pasta and delicious meals while talking nonstop in her sparkly cardigan and apron. She served me ancient homemade liqueurs and simple, delicious vegetable and pasta dishes. We spent time with Stefania’s family who were as welcoming as when I met them decades ago, and in fact seemed mostly unchanged.
After a difficult goodbye and even worse trip back to France (my one bad travel day), I had a too short stay with my former boyfriend and his family. I was worried when he invited me to stay with him that he was exaggerating when he said his wife (who I’d never met) was “cool” with it. I did not have enough time to stay with them because of timing issues, also my trip back from Italy took way too long (the bad day). It ended up that I really wished I had more time with them, and feel like his wife, Sophie, is MY new friend. She made a delicious meal with Denis’ parents, invited me to her exercise class, we had a fondue party with their good friends, went shopping together, I rode on a motorcycle for the first (and last time), and I got to meet their sweet kids. We have a funny parallel with our lives where we each have kids the same age, sex, and similar names but completely by chance. It was during the stay with them, and seeing their family life, I started to get homesick. I’m really hoping they will come visit us in the USA!
Luckily, by that time, I was near the end of my trip. Up to that point I had been completely fine with not having the kids with me as I imagined their complaints as I logged 8-10 miles/day on my FitBit, and just all the not kid-friendly aspects of the trip. Although there were times the kids would really have enjoyed things, this wasn’t the trip for them. I did have Denis capture some French Pokemon which was a great gift for my son.
My last portion of the trip was exploring a new place. After almost 2 weeks in familiar areas, I was excited to travel to Belgium and visit Tobias and Melanie in the town of Gent (Ghent). I had met Tobias originally online through his blog The Vegan Strategist. He has a philosophy and pragmatic approach that really resonated with me. We explored some work collaboration for a book he is writing and branding, and had kept in touch for about a year. When Melanie and Tobias traveled to LA last July for the Animal Rights Conference, it factored heavily into my decision to go. They had invited me to come to Ghent, and since they are European, I felt like they might actually mean it. I still felt a bit awkward since I didn’t know them that well, but decided to take a chance. Not only do I like them both personally very much, they are both doing great things for animals and are leaders in the animal rights movement. Tobias is the original co-founder of Belgium’s largest vegetarian group EVA, and started the world’s first official meatless day movement in Ghent. He is now consulting and training vegan advocates and organizations with the new group he formed with business partner Melanie Joy, CEVA, while his girlfriend Melanie works with EVA as well as volunteering with animal adoption.
Of course, it was so worthwhile and memorable. Even though they are very busy, and I came at a time when they had a lot going on, they made time to show me their city. We each cooked dinners for each other, and I got to meet all their permanent and foster animals. They even loaned me a cat buddy to sleep with in their wonderful Air BnB on the lower level of their home. Ghent is an incredibly charming city with historic architecture and youthful vibe. It was just perfect for walking with a castle right in the center of town. I spent one day exploring on my own, and then headed back to Paris for my plane ride home. It was incredibly generous of Tobias and Melanie to invite me into their home, and I look forward to hosting them in Portland some day soon.
I loved being in people’s home, having conversations, eating traditional foods, and experiencing their life. I skipped the most popular touristic destinations, spending the majority of my time in Lyon, Modena, and Ghent. We took day trips into nearby small cities, like Annecy and the Italian countryside.
Now for the food portion. This was the first time I had traveled to Europe since becoming vegan. Our family visited Japan in 2013 but I apparently did not write about it. Let’s just say it wasn’t the easiest and we were all pretty sick of udon by the end!
So, let’s talk about veganism in France. Not that popular in Lyon, a city known for it’s meat-centric cuisine. I found a few bio grocery stores which offered some very interesting French twists to their cuisine- Tofu a la Provencale and such.
When I lived in France in 1994-95, I was not making enough money to eat at fancy restaurants, and probably ate more at the local kebab stands than anywhere else, if I even ate out. Mostly I had meals with the family where I had a wide experience. I enjoyed their wine, breads, cheese and desserts very much. They tried introducing me to cuisses de grenouilles (frog legs), boudin (black sausage), escargot, andouille, and one memorable day, tiny little whole birds.
Looking back, I now realize I was a closet vegetarian my entire life. I would only nibble a sample of these specialty items, and in the case of the birds I had to excuse myself completely. The kids complained bitterly about the way I cooked their bifteck haché (ground beef patties) until they were very well-done with no blood rather than the very rare meat they preferred. I didn’t want my food to have association with animals- no blood, bones or veins, no fish, shrimp or birds with heads especially! I know there are people who change to veganism who didn’t have these issues, but for me, I did not want any close associations with animals when eating meat.
During my trip, I did the best I could. I found one strictly vegan restaurant in Lyon, and it was mostly deserted. Our vegan food in Portland is so good and plentiful, it seemed to be more difficult to me, just because it is usually so easy.
In Italy, it was a lot easier to find vegan food, and their meals were more naturally able to be vegan. My friend doesn’t eat parmesan, so we had a lot of delicious pasta and vegetables. Most restaurants there had vegan food too.
In Belgium, Ghent is one of the most veg-friendly cities in Europe, and since I stayed with vegans, it was no problem.
There were a few times in people’s homes or at a train station, I had a vegetarian option. I know that the conversations about veganism that I had with my friends in France were more worthwhile than my personal purity. They went out of their way to accommodate me, and I did my best to make that not too onerous. The interesting thing about having some dairy and egg, was that I didn’t feel like, “I have missed this so much”. My taste buds have changed so much that it just isn’t something I want to eat anymore. If I wanted to eat it often, I would become vegetarian.
The Vegan Society, the oldest society formed in 1944 by Donald Watson defines veganism as “…a way of living that seeks to exclude, as far as possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing and any other purpose.” I think the definition of possible and practicable are up for interpretation, and I feel that I follow this.
I came back to Portland excited to see my family. I had renewed bonds with my new and old European friends who I treasure, and a comforting sense that even though I am not 24, I can still walk all over the city and navigate foreign cities alone. After almost two decades of leaning on my husband to navigate and give input, it was nice to know I can be independent too. Conversely, this trip actually would not have been possible without my husband’s support. He had to manage everything in my absence including two pets that needed veterinary care.
As I returned in the plane, stopping in Iceland on the way back, it felt incredibly indulgent to take this types of pleasure trip. Along with my fellow travelers, some who fly more often and stay a shorter time it has become something we don’t necessarily consider a huge privilege or luxury. I’m glad I took that trip, but at the same time felt quite guilty about the environmental impact. Especially thinking about how it cost me nothing for that flight that was the biggest carbon footprint for my year. It reminded me of the idea of the collective concept around veganism, and also societal acceptance: “Why shouldn’t I fly, everyone else does”, or “It won’t make a difference if I don’t take the plane, it will fly regardless”. Why shouldn’t I eat meat, everyone else does”. “It won’t make a difference if I stop eating animals”. I don’t know the answer, but being aware and thoughtful about the impact of our choices, trying to balance our actions, and lightening the burden when possible will cause some change. Ultimately, I think economic pressure will be the deciding factor in both animal products as well as travel. If you can’t fly across the country for $300, or halfway around the world for free, you will make changes.
Wow, I am all over the place with this post. I need to wrap up the ramblings. 2016, you were a crazy, memorable year for sure! Thank you for the great moments, and let’s hope 2017 will be even better. Keep your minds and hearts open. Happy New Year!