Monday, January 17, 2011

No Blue Monday Here

I had a fun weekend helping out Derrick with the Dion Frontenac Park Snowshoe Race. On Saturday it snowed all day, and in the afternoon we went up to the park to stomp down and flag the course. There was a section that we changed our minds about after it was all flagged, so Derrick raced against nightfall to unflag it and reset an alternative section. Besides not bringing headlamps, we didn't bring any water or food either, so in our hurry to get home we didn't bother changing out of our wet clothes. The heater going full blast delayed the chill setting in, but it was good to get home and get ourselves looked after! All in a day's fun; what weirdos we must be.

Race morning was a blur of last-minute frenzied activity, then it was time for Jack, Brennan and I to head off to our places on the course. Those two had the important job of marshalling the most critical intersections of the course, and I was setting up an aid station at the half way point. It was a perfect day, and we were glad to have snowshoes to make the going a little easier. I found a little patch of sunlight by Big Salmon Lake and stomped out a square in the deep snow beside the snowshoe track. I had fun setting up cups in the snow - water on one side, Gu Brew on the other - and then in no time the racers started running by.

It was so fun seeing everyone, and as usual it was very inspiring. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, despite the soft snow which made the going very tough. I love the park so much, so I enjoyed seeing other people appreciate it. It was very pretty in the new snow - everything was so pristine. Right after they left my spot, the runners had the biggest hill of the race to negotiate. I tried to tell people to 'Recover Up the Hill', which is something I always tell myself to do in a race. It doesn't make any sense, but if you believe it hard enough, it actually works.

Once everyone was through, Taylor came by on his cool down lap, picking up flags. We ran for a bit together (me setting the pace, which was Taylor's walking speed, or maybe not quite even!) and then I suggested he go at his own pace to not miss the awards. He ended up removing most of the flags - thank you!

I heard on the radio that today is Blue Monday, the official 'most depressing day of the year'. (Who comes up with these things?) No Blue Monday for me, I haven't felt so happy in weeks and weeks. I desperately needed a good dose of fresh air, being in the woods, and exercise. And of course, when you need it the most is when you least feel like doing it, so it worked out well that the race was this weekend.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Day by day

On Dec 3 I wrote on my blog that I was just over a nasty cold, but since I usually get one in December, it was at least nice to have it out of the way.

I also wrote that I plan to race sometime in January, before my 30's were over.

On Dec 23 I wrote that I was going to run a million miles over the holidays.

On Dec 24 I got a wicked cold, then bronchitis, injured my rib muscles (or something) from coughing, and practically poisoned myself from too many cough remedies. I ran maybe two miles over the holidays, am still recovering from the ribs, won't be racing in January, and never want to see Buckley's again.

I know, things could be a lot worse. I'm just thinking that maybe it's a bad idea to write what I'm "going to do".

Siku showing off her snose. You can tell just by looking that she is a much smarter person than I am.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Book Review: Eating Animals

Books about industrialized factory farms make me sad, ashamed, angry. Horrified. Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer made me all of those things, but it also made me laugh, entertained me, and in the end it gave me a number of reasons to hope that things will change.

The book is generating a big buzz, and I strongly recommend it. If you eat meat, love eating meat, and want to continue eating meat, I'd especially recommend it because it is stuff you particularly should know, both for yourself and the world. (If I’ve lost you already and you read no further, it all boils down to what we all are re-awakening to: support your local farmers.)

What Foer does so effectively is bridge the gap between meat eater and veg-head by showing the full impact of industrial-scale farming. He goes beyond animal welfare to our own health and the health of the planet. The effects of this scale of farming are of equal importance regardless of your dietary choices. He discusses, among other things: the origin of avian and swine flu from factory farms; how the meat is from stressed, sick, medicated animals (it is less profitable to raise healthy animals); the shockingly unsustainable levels of pollution (just one company, leading U.S. pork producer Smithfield, produces the same waste every day as does all of New York and California’s populations – and of course it isn't treated); and greenhouse gas producing emissions (animal agriculture makes a 40% greater contribution to global warming than all transportation in the world combined).

So, even if you don’t give a pig’s curly tail about animal welfare, there is much else to be concerned about.

Eating Animals is a provocative title. It plainly expresses the truth underlying what we prefer to state as “eating meat”. The animal part, the part that was once alive and could look us in the eyes, we might not think of at all, or we might take comfort in assuming the animal had a good life, a happy, comfortable life, and a swift end. That's what farms used to provide, up until very recently. They still exist, of course, but in such diminishing numbers that in the United States, according to Foer, 99% of meat eaten is now industrially farmed. (I don’t know the corresponding stat for Canada, but suspect and hope it is lower.) Increasingly we know that the image we have in our heads of an idyllic farm is a far cry from the reality that the majority of farm animals now live. As Foer puts it, "We know that if someone offers to show us a film on how our meat is produced, it will be a horror film."

Farms like we imagine them to be - which are ethical, sustainable, and proud of the quality of life they provide to their animals - would welcome you seeing their facilities and animals. I live in a region with a lot of small farms like this and I hope it stays that way. In contrast, the majority of meat comes from ridiculously high-volume facilities that are locked up like Fort Knox because they don't want you to see the show, and that's telling.

Until I was about twelve, I lived on our family farm, and our animals had a good life. I talked to them, scratched their heads, gave them names. And then we ate a lot of them. I hid when it was time to kill the chickens. My chickens, as I thought of them. I couldn't face it then, and I can't face it now. But at the same time - and this is important to me - I greatly respect my father for having the courage to do the dirty work of killing, motivated by love for us, to get them on our plates. He tells me now how awful he found it, how he dreaded it for days leading up to it. I realized on some level very early on that to match his integrity, for me it would have to be in the opposite way - by not eating what I couldn't face.

Even so, it took me years to go from occasional meat eater who didn't want to refuse anyone's dinner offerings, to vegetarian. Then, of course, because nothing is ever that simple, about five seconds later I realized that all the reasons I didn't want to eat meat applied just as much to non-meat animal products like eggs and dairy. These choices I make, my votes in how to live my life, feel right to me, and are an ongoing journey. I face my own inconsistencies when I eat cheese, when I feed our pets, or when I smuck a bunny into oblivion on my way to pick up a veggie pizza.

I'm not even entirely comfortable with the labels of vegetarian or vegan, because to me they are trumped by the fact that I will always remain an omnivore. More to the point, many veggies, in their passion, have done a disservice by painting it as an all-or-nothing proposition. (Case in point: Foer’s runaway bestseller is likely to create more change than any other single person is possible to accomplish, yet I’ve read reviews that blast him for not being vegan. Boot to the head!) Foer contrasts this with people’s actions towards other eco-friendly initiatives. No one is an all-or-nothing environmentalist; we just try to do our part and our best to improve. In any movement, ten people who change by half are far more impactful than one who is pure and perfect.

Meat eater and vegetarian respecting each other's choices, like my Dad and I do, is the necessary bedrock of the solution that this book offers. If all farms were like we all want them to be and used to be, then the story would end there. If you can look a pig in the eye and then enjoy it on your plate, I have nothing to say to that. But if you assume the pig had a certain kind of life in making that transaction palatable, then you are likely being horribly misled. Killing animals for food isn’t pretty, but most people accept it when it is done in a certain way. But are these factories - where suffering is offered in place of a healthy life, and so many unsustainable and damaging costs arise from the “cheap” meat they produce - acceptable?

One of the first things you find out when you stop eating meat is that many people will give you "advice". For the piles I’ve received, I feel justified in offering some back: Find out more about where your food comes from, and based on what you find, support what feels right to you. This book goes a long way to providing the motivation to do that.