Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Be aware, eat aware.

On my second visit to the City Market in Nairobi, I made my way to the far side where meat is butchered and packaged for sale. The scene is chaotic, with small stands every few feet surrounded by crates containing the carcasses of animals. Fresh cuts of meat flew from block to bag to buyer while prices were haggled in loud voices, so to be heard over the ceaseless whop whop whop of the cleaver on the butcher block.  I left footprints on the bloody pavement as I walked from one stand to another and watched the craftsmen skin goats, gut fish, and entreat me to buy pig's feet.

I was shocked and somewhat sickened, as I imagine many Americans would be.  Especially for those of us who live in urban areas, the sight of meat in that intermediate state - no longer roaming the pastures, but not yet wrapped in cellophane at the grocery store - is unfamiliar and unsettling. We understand intellectually that steaks come from cows, but are not accustomed to the blood and skin and stench that accompanies the killing of an animal. We are no longer connected to the creatures we consume. 

This is problematic in several ways, but primarily because our detachment has allowed the meat industry in the United States to run amok. I highly recommend you click over and read this interview with Michael Pollan, who writes for the New York Times and is the author of several books examining the social and scientific consequences of our modern food industries.  It overwhelms me to consider the colossal impact of the meat industry on the environment and our health.  Beef production alone requires diverting land to grow immense quantities of grain, shutting cattle into feed lots where they are denied free movement, and pumping them full of antibiotics when this unnatural corn-based diet inevitably makes them ill.

I am not ethically opposed to eating meat.  Beef, chicken, fish, pork, lamb, and goat are consumed on the regular in the Ojo house. In my view, for an animal to be born, enjoy life until it's prime, and go on to become part of another life?  It's almost poetic, in a way.  Sacred.  Many cultures in the past understood this, and had strict rules governing how an animal was slaughtered, who could eat the meat, and various ceremonial rights to be performed when meat was consumed.  The animal died, but it's life was not taken for granted. 

The hypocrisy is apparent.  Many American urbanites view it as primitive, inhumane, or just plain disgusting to slaughter an animal with their own hands.  They are unable to fathom the actual killing and dressing of an animal for consumption.  And yet, we are indirectly responsible for more killing than ever before - for example, Americans are now eating an average of 58 pounds of chicken and 57 pounds of beef per year (source). 

I do not plan on cutting out meat, but I hope to gradually change my family's approach to consumption.  We have started eating smaller quantities of meat, and not with every meal.  Since we are eating less, we can afford to spend a little more on quality animal products.  Whenever possible, we buy grass-fed beef and meat from animals not treated with antibiotics and artificial hormones (if you are in the Inland Empire, Clark's Nutrition is a great place to find these products).  We do not take an all-or-nothing approach to health. Little changes are easier in the short term, sustainable in the long term, and add up to make a big difference.

Sometimes I miss the sights and smells of the open air meat markets, visceral though they may be.  The experience of walking through Nairobi's hectic shops gave me an opportunity to think about the origins of my food.  Few supermarket meat counters in America, with their cases full of bloodless, scentless meat garnished with plastic parsley, bely any relation to the feedlots and slaughterhouses that keep our supply chain humming.  There is power in knowing where your food comes from, in understanding what you put in your body and the affect it has on your health and the health of the environment.  The truth is raw, it stinks, but there's no avoiding it.  Empower yourself.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Lately in the Ojo house.


.... I'm halfway done with this quarter of grad school, and it feels so good.  I need to map out the rest of the year, but I'm pretty sure my MBA will be complete in 2014.  This is both a wonderful (free time!) and terrifying (student loans in repayment) prospect.

.... because I don't have nearly enough projects going right now (har har) I bought myself an 800 page guide to Adobe Photoshop and have started teaching myself that ridiculously complex program.  I'm excited!  I love making pretty things.

... I have cold, thanks again Daycare.  It's settled in my sinuses which is NOT a nice feeling and hopefully won't turn into an infection.  Meanwhile I am still running, because I've discovered that I can't not run while on a training plan.  6 miles on tap for Friday, and 13 Sunday.  Gulp.

... Amaliya's vocabulary has exploded in the last few weeks.  I sat down to take a count today, and realize that she knows over 40 words!  Her pronunciation is rough of course ("pah" can either mean pants, puppy, potty, or yogurt melts, depending on the context) but we understand her for the most part.  Just the ability to exchange a few words with her has made communication so so so much easier.  I can tell she's really proud of herself when she says something and we understand it.

... President's Day weekend was lovely.  I made a hearty lamb stew with dates and apricots that was the bomb.  Recipe here. We cleaned, and cleaned some more. I ran 10 miles. We went to breakfast at our favorite place and chased Amaliya around the park for a while.  Lots of quality time with my little family = bliss.

I'll leave you with a few pictures from our jaunt around the park.  It was a gorgeous sunny day and I could have stayed there all morning.  Screaming toddler in need of a nap thought otherwise, but it was magical while it lasted.

Looking so grown up.

Watching the ducks

Daddy's shades.
Making piles at the sand woodchip box

Did you have a nice long weekend?  Or did you have to work (sadface)?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Why I run.

The first time I ran was 03/09/2005, and it was an act of pure anger and frustration.  I was overly committed to school and extra curricular activities and working three (3!) part-time jobs for a total of 60-70 hours per week.  I was desperately unhealthy, hardly slept, never cooked, ate fast food practically every single day and washed it down with a 20oz Dr. Pepper, and stayed up drinking with my friends and roommates a few nights a week.  It was the typical college student's lifestyle, really, and I was a very sheltered 19-year-old living on her own for the first time.  I did not know or understand myself at all, I was unaware of what I was doing to my body or mind by letting things get so out of hand.

I forget exactly what set me off, but I believe it was a conflict I had with a good friend at the time.  I remember sitting in my car and being so overwhelmed with anxiety and anger than I literally did not know what to do.  A couple months earlier I had started making some positive changes in my life - I stopped eating meat, cut out soda entirely, and started teaching myself to cook (George Foreman did most of the work for me at first).  As I sat there, feeling like my brain was about to implode, an idea came to me.  I would go to the gym. 

Mind you, I had joined this gym the year before and, aside from one sad attempt at a yoga class, had never worked out there (my lack of financial management skills was also a problem back then, obviously).  I walked in and, in what became my gym-going tradition, immediately stepped onto the scale.  I was hoping hard that I would be under 200lbs, so the number I saw absolutely floored me. 


It really was a life changing moment.  I realized in a flash how ridiculous my life had become, how I had let everything get out of control.  It was also a liberating moment, though.  I understood that my body was not something that was handed to me, a burden for me to carry.  The number on the scale was not something that "happened to me."  I brought it on myself, through a lifelong series of poor choices.  So I walked over to the treadmill, still in jeans and a t-shirt, pushed a few buttons, and started running.  I clocked three miles that day.  That feeling afterwards - of exhaustion, accomplishment, control, pride - is what kept me going back almost every day for the next four months, until I left San Diego and moved to Kenya.

Health is not a state of being - it is a choice you make every day.  2005 was a pivotal year, in that I realized that I needed to make better choices.  The process of losing weight, learning to cook, eating healthier, becoming active - all of it - is ongoing.  I learn more every day, and am always trying to figure out how to apply what I've learned in a way that works for my body and circumstances.  I can't say that it gets easier - I go on plenty of runs that feel just as hard as that first one.  But, somewhere out there on the road, running stopped being something I had to do.  It stopped being an escape, or a necessary evil.  It became essential, joyful, a daily reminder to treat myself well and be present in the moment.  I want, I need, to run.  As silly as I was, as much as I would like to jump in a time machine, go back 10 years, and slap some sense into my teenaged self, I can't help but be thankful for that low point in my life.  I would be here, running happy, without it.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Big hair.

We used to joke, my husband and I, long before we even thought about marriage and kids, that if we were to have a baby together, that baby would have one epic head of hair.  Years later, I reclined on the ultrasound table, and saw that I would be having a little girl.  The thoughts that ran through my head, in order, were, "A girl!  I can't believe it!" "My mom will be so happy!" and, "Oh my god... the hair."

The hair, indeed.

My trepidation sprang from two sources.  First of all, I am not a girly sort of girl.  I have a haircut right now that requires blow-drying and straightening, and it's almost too much for me to deal with.  I'm a brush-and-go sort of person.  No cute up-dos.  No french braids.  I still, to this day, cannot figure out how bobby pins work.  The thought of having a little girl whose mane I would be responsible for taming for the next decade or so was a little bit scary.

And also... can we get real for a second here?  I'm a caucasian mama with a biracial baby.  Not only is her hair texture completely new to me, it's requirements for upkeep a mystery and a challenge, but the responsibility of caring for her hair weighs on me.  Isn't that silly?  It's just hair, for goodness sake.  There are worse things in life than having a scruffy head of hair.  Those class pictures where you're frizzed out and your part is uneven (or, in my case, rocking the 5-years-too-late side-ponytail) build character, right?  They give us something to look back on and laugh about.

I don't want that for my girl, though.  She draws enough attention already, just for existing.  She's going to be asked, "What are you?"  and "Is that your mom?"  Innocent enough questions tossed out by kids every day, but how will they make her feel?  How would that make YOU feel, knowing that you drew attention everywhere you went?  You'd be less inclined to throw on flip flops over your socks and run to the grocery store in sweatpants if you knew that people were actually paying attention to you, right? That's the reality my daughter will be facing.  I don't think I'm being paranoid here.  I FEEL like I'm being paranoid, but that's from the perspective of a white American who has always been cloaked in the liberating anonymity of being part of the majority.  I remember my time in Kenya though, when eyes were always on me, and people thought it was acceptable to touch me without asking, stroke my hair, tell me I need to lose weight, point out my whiteness as if I wasn't constantly, painfully aware of it.  It was exhausting, to be reminded every single day that I was different.  I was the other

If there's one thing I learned from that experience (and from a life of being a little bit different in other ways) it's that confidence and a strong sense of identity are essential, to everyone, but especially those who will go through life facing additional scrutiny for things beyond their control.  I want my daughter to take care of herself, put her best face forward, and tackle the curiosity and ignorance that the world throws at her with grace and love and acceptance.

And I want her hair to look good.  I want it to kink and curl and shine and spring from her head in wild tendrils.  If someone comments that her hair is "weird" or "different" I want her to tell him or her, "yeah, that's because its so beautiful," without a second thought or shred of doubt.  I don't want her to feel bad that her blonde friends can brush their hair and be out the door in 5 minutes in the morning, while her hair requires hours of conditioning, oiling, detangling, braiding.  I want her to be proud of her hair.  It's tightly curled like her father's but soft like mine.  Dark like his indoors, but lit up with my brown highlights in the sun.  She's a perfect blend of us.  She is perfect.

And I'm going to make sure she never doubts that fact.  Even if that means learning to braid and cornrow and use a few different kinds of combs.  All I can do is my best, and hope that my pride in her eventually translates to an uncompromising pride in herself.