Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Marching for Peace and Principles

I originally wrote this editorial for the February/March 2008 issue of Our Voice with a few revisions to bring it up to date. I found myself contemplating this topic again after taking part in a number of actions over the weekend.

I spend a lot of time on Facebook. As a politically involved person, I take an interest in seeing what people list as their political beliefs on their profiles. I am astonished at how many people put “apathetic” as their response. As far as I am concerned, “apathetic” is pathetic.

In particular, I am talking about involvement in the antiwar movement. When it comes to working for peace, complacency is simply not an option. Our government’s foreign policy affects so many things, from where our tax money is going, to the basic immorality of imposing our standards and values on the people of another country (otherwise known as imperialism).

Sometimes, upon further probing, some of these “apathetic” people actually sympathize with the peace movement, but find it futile to get involved. In no particular order, here are some of the reactions I get from others when I tell them about my involvement with the peace movement:

Your actions won’t make a difference.
The 60s are over.
Why put yourself up for such ridicule?

Even amongst some peace people, complacency has replaced idealism. Some of the older folks who protested in earlier decades felt that their actions achieved nothing, and so they decided there was no point in continuing down the same path.

Wrong, wrong wrong.

A fundamental principle of life that hopefully we all should share is that it is important to stand up for what we believe in. Thus, it follows that if we believe in peace, we should make a stand. After all, people flock by the hundreds to attend the “Red Friday” pro-war rallies that are periodically held in Churchill Square. We, as antiwar people, should not be afraid to take as bold of a stand.

One way to take such a visible stand is by taking part in a peace march or rally. Major peace events are generally held in Edmonton twice a year -- in the Fall coinciding with the date that Canada invaded Afghanistan, and in the Spring when the U.S. invaded Iraq. Sometimes emergency actions spring up at other times, depending what is going on in different parts of the world.

However, the number of people in Edmonton who attend such events is rather small, likely for many of the same arguments mentioned previously. To the position that peace marches accomplish little, look at it this way: a peace march is visible resistance to war. It is a very public demonstration of one’s convictions, and sends a message to the government in a very “in your face” kind of way.

Other, quieter ways to protest against war include signing petitions, which nowadays is quick and easy since many of them are online. You can write letters to your Member of Parliament, or even to the Prime Minister himself. Postage costs nothing on letters send to the federal government.

Who is to say we are accomplishing nothing? Each individual has enough of a sphere of influence to make tangible changes in he world around him or her. I am pretty confident that I have gotten friends and acquaintances to reevaluate their positions, or at least think about certain issues a bit more than they normally would.

Pics'n'Vids: End the Wars of Occupation

End the Wars of Occupation
An antiwar rally organized by the Edmonton Coalition Against War and Racism on the seventh anniversary of the invasion and war on Iraq. This event called for an end to all wars of occupation including Afghanistan, Haiti, and Palestine.

The Raging Grannies
Linda Duncan, MP
Paula Kirman (that's me - musical performance)
Peggy Morton, ECAWAR
Dr. Tony Simmons, Athbasca University
Fatiyeh Muwais, Past President, Palestinian Women's Association of Edmonton
Join Together Alberta
Students, NGOs, unions, and citizens concerned about cuts to public services marched to the Legislature on March 20 demanding that the cuts end.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

What Can I Do?

Activism is about the power of one and the power of many.

Individuals who are plagued with a sense of hopelessness about the world sometimes feel that their own contribution is not enough. Whether they feel deficient in time, intellect, resources, or ability, the main underlying thought is, “What can I do?”

If you even have that thought running through your head, that is the first start. The desire to want to make the world a better place for all often carries with it feelings of hopelessness and frustration. That doesn’t sound very positive, but it is just a reminder that one person can’t do it all.

Still, one person can do a lot. Each of us has a sphere of influence that includes our families, friends, co-workers, and numerous other social networks in which we engage. We can motivate others and lead by example in the lifestyle choices we make.

Community is an important part of activism, and while we strive towards our goals as individuals, we also need to seek each other for support, the pooling of ideas, and, of course, to organize. Social networking websites like Facebook makes staying in touch easy, but we have to remember to hold on to our ideals even when we are by ourselves and the computer has been turned off.

Every movement starts with the individual decision to get involved. If we all sat around believing that we can’t make a difference then nothing would ever get off the ground. Never underestimate the power of one.

After all, activism is not an event, an organization, or a specific cause. It is a way of life, complete with both joys and disappointments. Not every rally or action has the results we want or intend. But being there and helping out sends a message to our own social circles and society as a whole. All we have to do is show up.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Issues Behind the Issues

Poverty and homelessness continue to be pervasive local social issues. There are numerous organizations engaging in important actions to try to deal with the needs of those affected. Many of the homeless or working poor in the city rely upon the meals, clothing, and shelter provided by these agencies.

However, most of these organizations – worthy though they may be – treat the symptoms of the problem, and not the underlying causes. A meal or place to sleep may serve someone’s immediate needs, but not in the long term. Those individuals who are mentally ill or dealing with addiction need to get the treatment they need in order to live stable lives. True, in these cases it is a two-way street: the person must be willing to make the commitment in addition to having access to the necessary services.

Yet this commitment comes with a cost. It is difficult to afford medication when one doesn’t have enough money to buy food. It is difficult to stay clean and sober when not having a place to live forces one to associate with their drinking or using buddies for support.

Then, there are those who are “working poor” – they have jobs that simply do not earn them enough to pay for all the necessities of life. We live in a city with no rent controls, have a minimum wage that no person could ever afford to live on, and are in a province experiencing a so-called “boom” that is resulting in increased housing prices due to the migration of so many workers here in search of a supposed better life.

Bandage solutions work for the moment, but as a society we need to work towards solutions that are more permanent. This can only be achieved by dealing with the root causes. Otherwise, poverty and homelessness will continue to rise and service organizations will be overly burdened beyond their capacity to handle the demand.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Access to Mental Health Care in Crisis

Although this first appeared in the October 2005 issue of Our Voice (a street newspaper in Edmonton), it is every bit as relevant five years later, especially as closure of beds at Alberta Hospital are on the horizon and have been widely protested. The cost to see a psychologist mentioned in this article has been adjusted to reflect current rates.

It was a Sunday afternoon, and my friend ran out of his medication he uses for clinical depression. Although he has a full-time job, he was lacking the funds to purchase more, and too proud to tell anyone. Thus, he went about his business until Tuesday morning, when he felt a psychotic episode coming on. He headed to his doctor’s office, where after explaining his situation (with the hope that his doctor could give him some samples to tide him through), he was told he would have to return for an appointment in the afternoon.

With what was left of his good senses, my friend knew he did not have until the afternoon to wait, and went to the Emergency room of the nearest hospital. After explaining himself to yet another front desk person, he was informed it would be up to two hours before he would be able to see a doctor.

That was the final straw. A combination of frustration and deprivation of his meds led my friend to lay himself down on a grassy area outside of the hospital, and do some funky things to his wrists with a pocket knife. Ultimately, he was found by police, who, in essence, temporarily committed him by depositing him back inside the same emergency room -- probably saving his life. He was treated for his wounds, physically and mentally, and later released. The knife was confiscated.

Welcome to the land of universal health care. Mental health is part of this, yet appears to be far less universal. I guess the people he dealt with did not understand that a mentally ill person without his meds is a ticking time bomb. He did the responsible thing by seeking help, but it was only when he became a clear danger to himself that anyone took him seriously.

If my friend had gone to emergency with a broken leg or in the process of a heart attack, he probably would have received swift and immediate attention. But because he was not in obviously physical pain, nor going to immediately expire in front of everyone, he would have to wait his turn, along with people who come to emergency with trivial matters that can be dealt with as well at a walk-in medial clinic.

Access to mental health services can be difficult, not only for the low-income person, but just about anyone in need of affordable services. Although covered by Alberta Health, it can take up to three months to see a psychiatrist, like just about any medical specialist these days, especially for an initial appointment. Psychologists are easier to access physically, but financially out of the budget for all but the wealthy – the standard rate for an individual is $150 per 50-minute session ($160 for couples), according to the Psychologist’s Association of Alberta. Even those who operate using a sliding scale do not slide far enough down for low-income clients, especially those who require services on an ongoing basis.

Then there are services like The Support Network that offer walk-in help, but only for short-term intervention. Crisis lines are excellent places for people to vent, as long as they are not put on hold, which can happen due to high numbers of callers and low numbers of volunteers. Have you ever heard the joke about the person who calls the suicide hotline and is put on hold? It’s really not funny, and it happens in real life.

Mental health consumers need to be taken seriously when they turn up at hospital emergency rooms, let alone in their own doctor’s offices. Often, they are breakdowns waiting to happen, and there is nowhere else for them to turn. My friend, despite the cuts on his wrist, was lucky. How many aren’t?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Pens Give Power to the People

A friend of mine online was having an argument with a very politically conservative American woman. When told she was not getting the full extent of the stories behind issues such as the war in Iraq, she gave a response that sent us both into hysterical fits of laughter. “Of course I get more than one perspective,” she said, totally serious. “I watch CNN and Fox!”

It’s a sad state of affairs when people think they actually have a choice, when that choice consists of essentially the same political and cultural view. Corporate media, or mainstream media as it is sometimes called, is part of our everyday way of life as we are inundated with major daily newspaper, television stations owned by media gurus, and radio that plays either top hits or the same tired songs over and over.

Community and alternative media provides another voice in society – often that of the people themselves. As the editor of a community newspaper, I encourage people to tell their own stories and report on local news and issues that are important to them. This is called ‘citizen journalism,’ and it puts the media into the hands of the people. By becoming the media, so to speak, individuals can offer a first-hand perspective and both express themselves creatively, while informing others.

'Community media' is not just a form of communication; it is a form of activism. When mainstream media covers activist events, for example – if they even show up, that is – often the reporters come early, leave early, and then report that there was hardly anyone in the crowd. When media is owned by corporations, or people intrinsically tied to corporations, there is only one perspective that can be told – that which is in the best interest of advertisers or the people pulling the purse strings. So when community media springs up in the form of blogs, zines, alternative newspapers, and even street magazines like the one you are holding right now, it automatically has an air of ‘subversive’ about it.

There are many ways in which people can become the media. Writing letters to the editors of local newspapers is a start, but often they will not print ones that provide a radically different viewpoint to the dominant one supported by the publication. Find a community newspaper in your area, and offer to contribute – for instance, we here at Our Voice are always looking for submissions.

Get online and start a blog, and comment about the issues that compel you. Take pictures, shoot video – the Internet provides inexpensive and easy ways to publish your work. When I saw the lack of coverage progressive and activist events were getting in terms of airtime, I started RaiseMyVoice.com, an independent, local media resource documenting these events in photographs and video.

Make a zine – a small, independent publication. It can be about politics, a poetry collection, or anything you can think of. Some zines are as simple as a few photocopied pages, stapled together. Others use desktop publishing software and are professionally printed. This is a great project where one can team up with others to share skills. You’ll be limited only by your creativity – and your budget.

While it may seem intimidating at first to get involved in community media, you don’t have to be a professional writer or photographer – besides, skills develop when they are used. So pick up a pen, and give yourself power. Become the media.

Originally published in the August/September 2007 issue of Our Voice, a street newspaper in Edmonton.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Disability Issues Affect Us All

Originally published in Our Voice, a street newspaper in Edmonton, in the June/July 2007 issue.

Issues of access for persons with disabilities are something that should be of concern to everyone in society. Contrary to what some may think, accessibility issues do not just affect one segment of society. It affects all of us. Here are just some of the reasons why.

We are losing out on the voices of the disabled. When people are not able to access work, public forums, or other kinds of gatherings, we are missing out on the opinions and contributions of an entire group of intelligent, productive citizens.

We are putting money before compassion. We supposedly live in a technologically advanced, enlightened society, yet progress in accessibility has been slow and plodding. The reason is most likely the bottom line. Making all buses and buildings accessible costs money, possibly making costs exceed yearly budgets. However, access should be factored into these budgets in the first place. If the bottom line is more important to businesses and organizations than making sure everyone has access to goods and services, it makes us all look bad. We should be lobbying for accessibility - all of us.

Disability is more common than we may think. Between physical and mental conditions, I'm willing to wager just about everyone is related to, or at least knows someone who deals with a disability on a daily basis. As a result, this isn't an issue that is restricted to a very specific demographic. It's personal. And it can become even more personal at different times in life. Just ask anyone who has found his or herself in the role of caregiver for an aging and ailing parent. Accessibility issues affect caregivers also.

Disability can strike at any time. Life is fragile and can change in an instant. Accidents. Development of chronic illnesses (both physical and mental). Sure, everything may be all right now, but who knows what can happen ten, twenty years from now, or even tomorrow. Working for the rights of the disabled is not only the responsibility of everyone, it is also ensuring security for the futures of those who do not yet need these services, but eventually will.

I have heard of high school students taking certain life skills-type classes doing something called "disability for a day." They spend a day in the role of someone with a disability, by doing things like wearing a blindfold, putting duct tape over their mouths, or wheeling themselves around all day in a wheelchair. However, at the end of the day, they can take off the blindfold, rip off the tape (ouch!), or get up from the wheelchair - most likely with greater empathy for people who deal with these issues on a daily basis.

On a more positive note, according to an Edmonton Journal article published in April of 2007, employers are more eager to hire people with disabilities because of the labour shortage caused by the current oil boom. Hopefully, this will pave the way for employers to focus on the abilities rather than the disabilities, and encourage more workplaces and other locations to improve their access and facilities. In the meantime, everyone needs to be an advocate for disability issues.

Paula E. Kirman is a freelance writer, editor, and photographer in Edmonton. You can reach her at: starvingwriter@hotmail.com.

MEC Protest/More Music/Muttart

The final event of Edmonton's second annual Israeli Apartheid Week took place last Saturday with an information picket outside of Mountain Equipment Co-op concerning the company's sourcing of goods from Israel. This is a very controversial topic as MEC has an ethical sourcing policy and is a popular retail outlet amongst activists. Here are some photos and a video explaining the views of the protesters, as well as the company's (written) response.

I keep forgetting to blog that I performed a few songs last month during the University of Alberta's International Week. Each noon hour in the Student's Union Building featured song and dance from around the world. My set consisted of a few songs from Argentina in both English and Spanish by the renowned singer/songwriter León Gieco: "The Land of Freedom/En El Pais de la Libertad", "Tema De Los Mosquitos", and "Solo Le Pido a Dios". As well, I also sang "Walls," a song that I wrote about the situation in Israel/Palestine.

Finally, in non-activism/journalism related news, I took a quick trip to the Muttart Conservatory last week to do some photography. I focused on taking as many close-ups of flowers and plants as possible. Have a look.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Finding Freedom

Originally published in the May 2006 issue of Our Voice, a street newspaper in Edmonton.

Living in a (supposedly) democratic, prosperous society we sometimes take certain things for granted. Freedom is one of them. We have freedom of speech, the press, the right to assemble, the ability to choose our own paths in life: career, family, religion. Freedom means choices, and requires personal responsibility to make those choices.

For one, we need to be responsible and informed citizens. Why vote a certain way just because our families lean in that direction? I get shocked and amazed at anyone who does not keep up with what the serious issues of our society are, both locally and globally. We’re surrounded with so much media it’s a wonder we don’t get overwhelmed with information. But don’t limit yourselves to the major dailies and news broadcasts. Advertising-driven mainstream media may not be telling you the whole story. Research alternative news sources online – there is a plethora of magazines, radio broadcasts, and blogs -- we may be surprised at what we learn.

People have a tendency to participate in a specific faith just because we happened to be born into a particular religion. Even within major faith traditions, the way in which spirituality is expressed can differ greatly. Look at Catholics and Protestants – I’ve had people express to me that they cannot understand why these two groups are so theologically at odds since they are both “Christian.” All of us should read our Holy Books, whatever they may be, with new eyes. We should attend the services of other faiths, if for no other reason than to learn about why they believe as they do. We all need to find a way to express our spiritual selves that reflects your beliefs, even if they begin to divert from what we were taught in Sunday School.

Freedom is often discussed on a large, global scale in terms of the political system of a nation. But each of us can struggle with freedom in the smaller spectrum of our own lives. Think about the person who cannot read or write. Is that person truly free? Accessing the resources to become literate opens another door towards freedom and the chance to fully participate in society.

Those of us who are in bondage to an abusive relationship or family situation are also one step away from true freedom. Through a solid support network and access to community services someone can break those invisible, yet binding chains. Sometimes fear is the biggest barrier. People who are addicted also need support and help, yet many find that their lifestyle leads them to be alienated and abandoned. Often addicts do not have the resources to access treatment on their own.

Struggling with a major physical or mental illness can put stumbling blocks into one’s path. With a well-funded, functioning public health system, there is no reason why anyone should have to live a reduced quality of life just because of ill health. Access to doctors and treatment should be a basic human right. How sad it is that our provincial government wants to introduce legislation allowing for these essential services to be privatized. In this case, choice does not equal freedom – it equals repression for those who cannot afford to pay for a private system.

And then there are the “little things” including a child’s first words or steps; graduating from high school; falling in love for the first time; and learning how to drive. There are so many personal triumphs in life that we take for granted as being normal developmental stages that we fail to celebrate them or even connect them to the higher state of freedom.

Each one of us should find ways to enjoy life’s daily triumphs and help others who are stumbling along the road to freedom. We cannot confine ourselves to a world of predetermined thought patterns or ideologies. The cost of freedom is high; the cost of ignorance is even higher.

Paula E. Kirman is a freelance writer, editor, photographer, and website designer. For her, freedom includes bike riding, music, and pursuing interests of social concern. You can reach her at: starvingwriter@hotmail.com.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The Making of Milestones

From the July 2006 issue of the street newspaper Our Voice.

How we define success for ourselves, personally and professionally, often determines our direction in life. Our careers, attitudes towards material wealth, and general priorities all revolve around the goals we set.

When it comes to goal setting and reaching, it’s really easy to just think of major events like graduation or landing a good job. While either of these examples of admirable, they are merely the end result of a bunch of sequential actions and accomplishments which led to them. The difference is that this forward motion – “baby steps” one might say – is often ignored on the way to the big prize.

Most people who can ride a bike remember when the training wheels came off for the first time. Likely, this move towards independence was celebrated with kudos from relatives. Maybe a picture or two were snapped as you rode down the street on two wheels for the first time. Something so important in our growth, but also a common experience amongst children. Yet much hoopla surrounds it.

And then as we get older, things change. We’re no longer cute little kids looking up to the adults in our lives with our tooth-missing smiles. The little triumphs we experience start to become less of a big deal. So we start to eye loftier goals, in the hopes of winning the almighty approval from our parents, peer groups, and ultimately from society. Sorts trophies, getting into university, and eventually making it in the corporate world become the end goals of a competitive world.

Here is where a level of marginalization occurs. There are many who have challenges making it difficult for one to attain a higher education, great job, nice home, and all the trappings that come with middle class life. In other words, people who are already marginalized due to social class, mental and physical challenges, and economic circumstances, at some point come to the realization that they cannot keep up with what they perceive is expected of them. These are people with a lot to offer, but it is too often overlooked.

On the flip side, sometimes people walk away from a comfortable life to pursue what they consider to be more important goals. These are the ones who go into humanitarian work, social activism, or even just living a scaled-back lifestyle at a slower pace for enjoyment and health, rather than the pursuit of money and power. Unfortunately, growing one’s own food, organizing an anti-war demonstration, or working for a charitable organization just isn’t held in as high esteem as being the CEO of a corporation and living in a luxury condo.

Milestones don’t have to equal money or achievement. They can be simple things, like making someone else smile. They can be personal – one does not always advertise that they have made it for a month without taking a drink. Or, they can be moments shared with important people in our lives. Birthdays and anniversaries don’t really matter to anyone outside of one’s immediate social circle anyways.

It isn’t wrong to want to “make it,” whatever making it means to you. Celebrate everything that life has to offer. Make a journal of your journey, so you can at least record your daily steps to read back at a later time in order to judge your progress. Sure, there will be big moments to share. But don’t ignore everything that happens along the way. Our “training wheels” will have to come off at many points in life, under various circumstances. Celebrate these moments and milestones.

Paula E. Kirman learned how to ride a bicycle as a teenager. You can reach her at: starvingwriter@hotmail.com.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Living As A Woman

In honour of International Women's Day I present this editorial I wrote for the April/May 2007 edition of Our Voice, a street newspaper in Edmonton.

I’ve never been one for pity parties over getting a raw deal over things I cannot control The fact is, others who have a prejudiced mindset will find anything to use against someone else, be it their race, religion, sexual orientation, or gender.

However, on that last point about gender, there are some definite challenges that women face in society, both historically and in the modern day. I should know – I have a lot of first-hand experience living as a woman. So, let me give you an overview of a few of the realities of female life.

It’s Expensive. Sanitary products and other hygiene items cost a bundle over the course of a year, let alone a lifetime. Plus, we have to pay GST on all these goodies, which are mostly necessities. Please, donate tampons, pads, and other women’s sanitary products to a shelter – they are desperately needed. As well, women are the victims of deadbeat fathers as much as their children, since most of those out-of-pocket expenses of raising kids now has to be borne by mothers. Poverty affects women and children in deep and far-reaching ways.

It’s Painful. I’ll say three little letters with which I am sure you are all familiar: PMS. In fact, women are more likely to have a host of other uncomfortable conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and various endocrine disorders because of our complicated hormone systems, like Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). Come to think of it, us gals can cover just about every letter in the alphabet with our medical woes. Oh, and let us not forget nine months of pregnancy followed by childbirth. Enough said.

It’s Not Fair. Women in many jobs and professions are still not earning as much as their male counterparts, for the same work. Plus, childcare, which is often not subsidized, and its associated costs take another bite out of that paycheque.

It’s Dangerous. From domestic abuse to sexual assault, women are far more likely to be the victim of a violent crime than men. Most attacks are perpetrated by someone the woman knows, and many occur in the woman’s own home.

It’s Depressing. More and more women are being medicated for mental illness and psychological problems, particularly depression. If you are wondering why, just take a look at all the reasons I have listed above. Combine that with trying to live up to society’s unrealistic expectations of beauty, of being a superwoman who easily balances home life with a career, and just dealing with the stresses of day to day life; and you have a recipe for burnout or worse.

Being a woman has many positive and enjoyable points as well. I am also not trying to elicit pity for myself or my female counterparts. But we need to look at society and all of the elements within through realistic eyes. And the reality is, women have a lot of challenges to deal with that are uniquely ours.

Paula E. Kirman is a freelance writer and editor. She has nothing against men, honestly. You can reach her at: starvingwriter@hotmail.com.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Food for Thought

This originally appeared in the October/November issue of Our Voice, a street newspaper in Edmonton.

“Water is life” as the saying goes, but food is pretty important also. We depend on it for strength, sustenance, and in many cases, personal enjoyment. Cooking and eating can be very social activities. The relationship between food and health is not a new one; for years we’ve been bombarded in the media by reports of “good fats” versus “bad fats,” the benefits and drawbacks of various fad diets, and ways to prevent food poisoning.

However, there are other aspects to smart and healthy eating that is sometimes overlooked. In particular, where our food comes from and how it is produced can have an effect not only upon our physical health, but that of the food producers at the source. Farms are not always paid a fair price for their crops, and in some cases large seed corporations get dominion over the market of certain kinds of crops. Major chain restaurants (usually those of the fast food variety) employ cruel factory farming practises and unsafe slaughterhouses, where the animals not only die a horrible death, but employees risk life and limb. And now, our food, particularly produce, is being genetically modified into new creations, a process that calls into question bioethics and safety.

We can make choices about what we consume, based upon its impact on our health, the environment, and social justice. Here are some suggestions to bear in mind the next time you go shopping or dining out.

*Look for the TransFair logo when you purchase food items such as coffee and chocolate. Products certified by TransFair ensure that the farmers and workers have received a fair price for their products, and are also produced under environmentally-sound conditions. In fact, when you go out for coffee, ask your server for Fair Trade coffee. More and more cafés are serving at least one Fair Trade option -- if your favourite java spot doesn’t, ask them why. Ask them to provide a Fair Trade option.

*Purchase locally grown produce, wherever possible. Farmer’s Markets are excellent sources, and the produce tends to be organic (grown without the use of chemicals or pesticides). If you are a meat eater, you can often find locally raised, organic meat at Farmer’s Markets as well – animals that have been raised without the use of steroids.

*Speaking of meat, perhaps you should consider becoming a vegetarian. A vegetable-based diet has a lot less of a negative impact on the Earth, since it takes less energy to raise and harvest produce. As well, if done properly, a vegetarian diet can be more healthy because it has less transfat and you don’t end up ingesting all those hormones that were injected into the animal to make it plump and juicy.

*When you eat out, try to patronize local, independent restaurants, rather than big-name, fast food franchises. Fast food chains are some of the biggest offenders of utilizing factory farmed animals. Besides which, the food preparation is often unhealthy, full of salt and sugar and fat, designed to make one addicted. If you read Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser or Mad Cowboy by Howard Lyman (the “former cattle-rancher who won’t eat meat”), or see the movie Supersize Me, you may decide to never eat fast food again.

Bon appetit!

Paula E. Kirman is a freelance writer, editor, and photographer who has vegetarian inclinations.