Friday, April 30, 2010

My Thoughts About Austin

A couple of weeks ago Keith and I took a trip to Austin. Here's a quick rundown of my thoughts.

We stayed at a bed and breakfast off South Congress Avenue, a hip part of town that illustrates the motto "Keep Austin Weird."

Soon after landing we had lunch there at the Snack Bar. The name is deceiving, as it's a sit-down restaurant with lots to choose from, including a lot of vegan items. I had biscuits and gravy, and it was excellent. Keith had barbecue seitan, which was not good at all. It tasted like cleaning detergent.

We ate at the outdoor patio. The weather was beautiful, and I felt so at home in this area. It reminded me of my vegan meetups in Chicago, where all sorts of people get together -- older, younger, inked and pierced and not. Where people care more about the inside of people than the outside. Dogs were also commonly seen at other outdoor cafes along that street.

While our bed and breakfast was near busy South Congress, it was quiet. As the name suggests, Park Lane Guest House has guest houses for people to stay in. But Keith and I stayed in the main house. We had a little wing to ourselves, with a bedroom and separate bathroom. The two women who own the B&B also live in the main house but at the other end. They have two dogs -- a Pomeranian and a Havanese (I think) -- who are so cute. I missed our dogs, so it was nice to be able to play with Layla and Olevia.

Every restaurant we ate at was vegetarian-friendly, but vegan-friendly was harder to come by. At least harder than I had thought it'd be. I did have vegan chocolate ice cream at a shop near the University of Texas called Toy Joy. I wasn't crazy about the shop, though, which was filled with cheesy little toys for sale. They also served the ice cream in a plastic cup, which they didn't reuse or recycle.

We had delicious meals at Taste of Ethiopia in an Austin suburb and at Curra's Grill in South Austin. At the latter restaurant I had tacos with nopalitos, the pads of the prickly pear cactus. They were great. The tacos also came with soy chorizo, and I got to choose between three types of beans -- all without lard. (The next time you get refried beans in a restaurant, ask if they contain lard. Most do. Look for refried beans labeled "vegetarian" in your grocery store. These don't contain lard.)

What struck me the most about Austin were all the trees. Even more than I'm used to up north. They were beautiful.

I was most disappointed by the Austin airport, as it was not vegan-friendly at all. I could have ordered some kind of animal flesh called brisket at 7 in the morning, but when I asked if I could have a baked potato, two women at separate restaurants looked at me like I was crazy. They don't serve those during breakfast.

(Photos of the Austin skyline and of the bed and breakfast courtesy of Keith Means.)

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Dairy Dear to Dietitian

I've been catching up on posts at and just came across one with a familiar name in it: Keri Gans.

As spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, she was recently quoted in a New York Daily News story about how veganism may be bad for kids.
"You can meet a child's nutritional needs with a vegan diet, but it is very difficult," says Keri Gans, RD, MS, CDN, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "When you take away dairy food, you have to worry about how the child will get calcium and vitamin D."

And while it's possible to ensure that a child gets these nutrients from other sources, it's hard - unless your kid absolutely loves vegetables. To get the calcium in one cup of milk, a child would need to consume four cups of broccoli, Gans points out.
Evidently Gans has never glanced at the nutritional label for orange juice or soymilk. Plenty of calcium.

Erik Marcus of wondered if Gans was perhaps misquoted. He's being too kind.

Gans first came on my radar in 2008 when, as the president of the New York State Dietetic Association, she wrote a letter to the editor of The headline is "Yes, dairy does have a place in a healthy diet."
As president of the New York State Dietetic Association, an organization advocating science-based nutrition research, I'd like to suggest to your readers to be cautious about following advice that requires eliminating whole categories of food from their diets.


In contrast, dairy's role in a healthy diet has long been established by the nutrition and science community, including the National Osteoporosis Foundation, the Surgeon General, and the National Institutes of Health.

The 2005 Dietary Guidelines recognize that people who eat dairy foods have better overall diets, consume more nutrients and have improved bone health.

When it comes to nutrition information, people should listen to health and nutritional professionals, not animal rights-activists.
Gans is clearly still biased against veganism despite the ADA's 2009 position on vegetarian and vegan diets.
It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.
The ADA position goes on to list the many health benefits of a plant-based diet.

Gans isn't the only dietitian who has touted the benefits of dairy. Barbara Baron was president of the New York State Dietetic Association from 2006-2007. In 2007 she worked for the American Dairy Association & Dairy Council, Inc.

Fortunately not all dietitians turn a blind eye to the facts. For the scoop on veganism and health, check out registered dietitian Ginny Messina's blog at

(Image courtesy of

Back From Hiatus

I want to thank all my readers who have encouraged me throughout the two-month hiatus of "Digging Through the Dirt."

The time away has helped me pursue another project, and, while I'm not anywhere near finished with it, I am at a point where I can return to my blog.

As my project advances, I'll share the specifics with you.

For now, though, I want to say, "Welcome back to 'Digging'!"

Crying Over Soymilk

The dairy industry wants only milk from animals to be labeled as milk. It wants all plant-based milks -- soy, rice, almond, hemp -- to be called something else.

If this sounds familiar, it's because the industry tried this 10 years ago.
"Soy-based beverages are attempting to directly compete with dairy products and are inappropriately taking advantage of the familiarity and positive image of dairy terminology in their labeling," said Rob Byrne, the milk federation's vice president of regulatory affairs. "We don't want them using milk's good name for their product."
Byrne said this in 2000, but if milk actually had such a good name, people wouldn't have been seeking out alternatives to cow's milk.

The FDA never responded to the request.

So now the National Milk Producers Federation is trying again. And they're using social media to help the effort. The group has launched a Facebook page called "They Don't Got Milk."

I don't know about that, but I do know that plant-based milk doesn't contain pus, blood, antibiotics, bovine growth hormone or cholesterol.

The dairy industry feels threatened and rightly so.
With an increase in those who perceive plant-derived products as healthier and a growing Asian population accustomed to soymilk, the market for non-dairy "milk" products as well as non-dairy cheeses, yogurts and ice creams also is on the increase.
I started drinking soymilk years before I went vegetarian. I lived alone, and my cow's milk got old before I had time to consume it all. So I switched to soy, which stays good a lot longer.

If you're still consuming milk from an animal, ask yourself this: Would you drink the breast milk from a stranger? Then why drink it from a cow? Cow's milk is for calves.

(Image courtesy of Viva.)