Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Cross-Country Road Trip - Part 4, Los Angeles

My final stop in the US before arriving at the final destination of San Francisco was Los Angeles, California.  I have a cousin there and I heard there were a lot of good places to eat.  So I headed to my cousin's apartment in Culver City.

I hadn't actually seen my cousin Eric in many years, but he's grown up to be just delightful.  He's so incredibly funny, I must have spent the entire evening when I arrived cracking up.  Remember that, in Omaha, my host Tim gave me a loaf of French bread?  Well, I never quite got around to eating it.  Sitting with Eric, I remembered about it and said, "Oh my gosh, I have a loaf of French bread in my car that's probably pretty stale now!"  Eric looks at me with a straight face and goes, "Why are we still sitting here?"  We retrieved it from my car and he made like Hulk and broke it into parts that were small enough to fit into the toaster oven and we cooked it and ate it with hummus.  I talked with him a lot and I do believe I've convinced him to give veganism a "college try."  I bought him The 30-Day Vegan Challenge, but I don't know if he's started it at all at this point.  Hopefully!  His mom had read The China Study and was leaning plant-based the last time I saw her but I don't know if she's still doing it.  I sure do wish I could spread the joy of being vegan to my whole family, as I do believe that I, despite not having been born a very happy or positive person, have only been able to achieve happiness, positivity, and health as a result of my everyday decision to live compassionately.  We'll see what happens with my family.

It was actually Eric's birthday (when I was in Las Vegas, it was Daryl's birthday, too, and in Omaha, Tim's birthday had been just a week earlier), so he had plans to go to a casino with his friends the day after I arrived.  I guess he's big on gambling.  He says his friends keep him in check and stop him from making bad decisions, but, of course, I cannot help but worry because, as I mentioned in my last post, I really don't approve of gambling.  I would have loved to hang out more with my blood relation, but it was not to be on this particular trip.  No big deal, though, I woke up early in the morning and decided to go to LA Vegan Crepe, a fairly new entirely-vegan creperie.

Even though I had every intention of getting, you know, a crepe from the creperie, I failed in that because I got all distracted by them having a croissant sandwich.  Pre-vegan, I LOVED me a croissant.  Many times, I've thought about making them myself, but I have never done it because even if I use Earth Balance, there is just nothing healthy about these light, buttery, crispy rolled breads.  There's a part of me that feels pretty "Good riddance to you, croissants!" about them.  Still, there it was on the breakfast menu: Tofu & Cheese Croissant.  I got it with added "bac'on."  I don't know why "bacon" is spelled like that, but maybe it's because the owner of the place is French and has a thick accent and seems confused about some stuff (more on that soon).
I enjoyed this breakfast, but I would not say the croissant was quite up to par.  There's a part of me that really believes I could do better myself.  This was just a little too hard, not light and buttery enough.   As tempting as it was to get this croissant, I maybe should have gone for the Veggie Lovers dinner crepe.  It's a creperie, after all.

The owner was quite chatty, and I said something about my being diabetic and he told me I could cure that by going vegan.  Arrrrrrrrgh!!!  That's what you say to me if you want to piss me off.  I explained that I am, indeed, vegan, and that I do not have type 2 diabetes, which is curable with diet, but type 1, which would require some sort of cell regeneration combined with immune system-suppressing drugs to cure. No one has reversed their type 1 diabetes, not even those people who eat only raw food but no fruit or other carb-heavy raw food who do not give themselves insulin.  They may not be injecting insulin, but if they ate any carbs, you better believe they'd still need to give themselves insulin for it.  He told me that his wife is a holistic health practitioner, or something, and she said it was curable, and I got prettttttty sick of listening to him and went back to chewing angrily.

I do believe that being vegan will help with various medical conditions, especially if you eat a diet of varied veggies, fruit, and whole grains while eating very low in fat.  I recommend it for the health of anyone.  And although I do believe it is easier to control my blood sugars as a result of eating vegan, my blood sugars still require constant attention through testing my blood multiple times a day and responding to everything I eat with an injection of insulin.  It's true that if you eat a very low calorie diet of raw low or no-carb vegan foods like greens and other veggies and nuts, you can reduce your insulin injected to very little.  That is, in fact, how type 1 diabetes was generally treated before anyone even knew there was such a thing as insulin.  No doubt, should there be some sort of catastrophic world event and I managed to survive but was unable to obtain insulin, I'd switch to the starvation diet that type 1 diabetics in the days before insulin used to do to extend their lives.  Right now, though, I have insulin and I don't want to be any skinnier than I already am and I want to eat fruit and grains and enjoy life, so I'll eat and give myself insulin, just like non-diabetics do naturally. 

A bit later, I met up with my friend Kedar to go to The Veggie Grill, which is surely the most important restaurant chain there has ever been.  They have 16 locations along the west coast of the US (although none yet in the Bay Area) and, judging by how crowded the Santa Monica location where I met my friend was, I'd say this entirely-vegan restaurant is very popular with omnivores.  Why?  Because it's fast food!  Except that it's delicious vegan fare that is far better for you than eating at Quiznos or wherever else omnis usually go for a fast meal.  It's got the same appeal as, say, Panera Bread, in that it's fast but fresh food that is relatively inexpensive, and although I enjoy Panera's Mediterranean Veggie Sandwich and their veggie soup, this is way better because it's ALL vegan and there are just so many choices.  Kedar and I got three things to share.  They all involved vegan meats, so if you don't like that, this is probably not the best place for you.  But it's pretty great for people who think there's no replacement for animal meat!  It's not something I eat a lot, but I enjoyed this meal.
Here was the Thai Chickin' Wrap with a side of their Mac-n-Cheese.
This was the Santa Fe Crispy Chickin', which I understand is maybe the most popular item on the menu.  On the side is the Cauli-Mashed Potatoes + Gravy.  And, last, we got:
The Crispy Chickin' Wings, buffalo style, with really excellent ranch dressing.

Even though we'd eaten SOOOOOO much (and I took quite a bit of it with me for the road), Kedar thought we should make room in our tummies to go down the street to this small place called Interim Cafe for their homemade, organic, sugar-free, vegan soft-serve ice cream.

I'd been hesitant, all like, "I don't know if I can fit that into my belly right now!" but when I saw that sign, I could not resist.  What's a little 3oz serving?  Well, probably about 2 units of Humalog insulin, but what of it?
This was truly excellent!  I definitely recommend it, even though the restaurant itself is not even vegetarian and serves fish.  I'm glad they have all these vegan and gluten-free options, but I still cannot help but feel a bit upset when I see sea food on a menu, as it's so incredibly destructive to catch fish.  But still, pretty damn vegan-friendly.  No disrespect.

After that, I drove to San Francisco.  My car is still fithy from the drive, despite SF's "rainy season."  The rainy season here is akin to Pittsburgh's dry season, but still, my little car with a bumper sticker that says "Love People, Cook Them Tasty Food" appears to have been washed with dirt.  I'm so excited to get back to my usual style of blogging, which is about the food I make myself.  Every day, when I eat the healthy, vegetable-heavy food I've cooked, I feel so happy and energized.  My little sister's kitchen is now stocked with all my cooking gear that I brought in my car from Pittsburgh.  I took my spices, my Costco bags of grains, and anything else I could fit.  This is the start of a new life for me.  I just have to find a damn job!  I will, though, I just know it.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Cross-Country Road Trip - Part 3, Las Vegas

In Las Vegas, I was staying with a man named Daryl who I found by searching for the word "vegan" on Couchsurfing.  Daryl is a Couchsurfing host extraordinaire.  He has a large house but lives alone, and hosts many, many people.  The only thing he really requires out of his guests is that they not bring animal meat or secretions into his home.  He's been a vegan for close to 35 years, and an entirely raw vegan for the last couple.  On Couchsurfing, his "current mission" is "Contribute towards a progressive, just society." (On mine, it's "I'm sure this sounds really weird, but my main mission is to prevent all sea life from going extinct.")

Daryl works out of his home as a trader (whatever that means) but really only wants to  raise money to put it to use toward vegan causes and resources.  He's been involved with animal rights since he was a young man. He's almost 60 now, but I don't think it will surprise anyone to learn that this long-time raw vegan looks about 20 years younger.  Even though he's this progressive person who has worked to eliminate animal agriculture and environmental destruction for many years, dude's actually pretty uptight!  That's something I can relate with quite a bit.  Animals don't actually move him personally and he doesn't seem to have had many close relationships with them.  Like me, he came to veganism from a sustainability angle first, though, unlike me, it didn't awaken in him a deep love for non-human animals later.  But that's OK.  In fact, that seems to indicate that he is a man who is deeply committed to his principles without any sentimentality.
Daryl showed me all the activist posters he'd saved over the years.  Here's an anti-vivisection one. I wish I could show you all the different ones I took pictures of that he had!
As soon as he'd accepted my couch request, he responded to me with a very long, detailed list of places to go and things to see in Las Vegas -- things other than gambling, of course.  He and I talked a lot during the two days I stayed with him, and I told him that I believe that gambling is a scourge for individuals and on societies, and I actually have fairly strong feelings in opposition to it.  Daryl agreed with me about that, and said that it was one of the reasons he hosts so many people in his home: he does not want the casinos to automatically get their claws into people the way they do when folks stay in hotels there.

We spent a long time at Red Rock Canyon, a place Daryl regularly takes couch surfers.  We actually went there once each day I stayed!  He's incredibly devoted to efficiency in all different aspects of his life, and he clearly knew which spots were best and which were avoidable.  We did a lot of easy climbing and he took pictures of me standing among all these awesome rocks.
We were quite high up when this picture was taken!
Red Rock Canyon is made up of sedimentary rocks, which means that they were formed by minerals that built up in water.  This whole area was once part of the sea, and these incredible rocks were once simply sand dunes.  Makes you think about how old Earth is, huh?
There are so many different types of rocks, all formed of different materials, represented in this one canyon.
I look pretty cool here, don't I?
Yeah, I crawled into a cave.
So, Daryl went raw for different reasons that most people do.  Most do it for the health and healing benefits, and although he does believe it has those positive effects, that is incidental to his driving reason for raw living.  What made him go raw was that he learned that 40% of the energy expended in food production is used during the final step of food preparation -- cooking.  He does not own a dehydrator, which consumes electricity for the many hours it must be left on, but he does have a high-speed blender he uses to make smoothies.  Even with the blender, I must say I agree with him that using a blender for 30 seconds does not consume nearly the amount of power that, say, roasting or sauteing a bunch of veggies does.  He does enjoy eating out at raw restaurants, and will purchase dehydrated flax crackers and so forth, but even so, I think that his decision to eat entirely raw shows an enormous amount of commitment to sustainability and living simply.  It's downright admirable, and although I am not personally prepared at this point to give up cooking, it certainly did get me thinking, and wanting to eat raw more regularly.

You may recall from a past posts that I love raw food!  My favorite restaurant in Pittsburgh is Eden, which was where I had my very first raw meal and learned how full I get from eating it even though it barely raises my blood sugar, a clear benefit.  Daryl took me to his favorite regular restaurant, Go Raw Cafe, which has an incredibly expansive menu and gives you just amazingly huge portions.  We ordered and shared three things.

First, we got a HALF ORDER of the house salad and split it between us and it was still lots and lots of salad.  Plus, it's seriously the greatest salad I've ever eaten.  I want your house dressing, Go Raw, please tell me what it's made out of, I want to make it every day of my life!

We also got the "Salmon" Sushi, which was good, but the worst of the three things.  I liked those crazy enoki mushrooms you can see over on the right.  I would have liked this better if it had pickled ginger to put on it, but maybe picked ginger is somehow not raw?  Some regular old raw ginger diced up would have been fine as well.  Still, we ate all of it, no problem.  What you see in this picture is only half the plate!  They had quite large portions, as I mentioned.

We also got a half order of the Mexi Wrap.  That's right, what you're looking at is a half order.  Plus, the best flax crackers I've ever had.

Care to see the inside of the wrap a bit better, with its mysterious and delicious mixture of "nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices"?  Sure you do.

What an electrifying, energy-promoting, real-food-delicious meal!  I loved every bite.  Was it any wonder that, later on, when Daryl took me to go see the famous Las Vegas strip, a place neither of us would really belong or enjoy but we both agreed I ought to check out, that I was full to the brim with goofy energy?
This picture is me basically going, "Las Vegas, what IS this shit, it's craaaaazy!"  Seriously, what a sad, weird place.  I suppose it's a cliche to think so, but it's truly a lowest common denominator type place.  Only, it wouldn't seem that I'm divisible by it, so either it's not so common or I'm just not an integer like everyone else.

Because Daryl takes people here all the time, he knows a couple places people can go that are free and kinda neat.  For instance, there's this outdoor tank filled with two species of tuna and also some sharks.  The tuna go around and around and around the circular tank and I don't think they can possibly have a satisfying life in there.  However, I also know that tuna are hunted so thoroughly and ruthlessly that their extinction is imminent.  So, as is often the case for vegans, I felt both a deep shame for the way humans treat non-human animals and thrilled that I got the chance to look at them.

Anyway, there was one tuna in there who was clearly the tank's elder.  Tuna have very long lives if they're not hunted while they're still juveniles, and they only become more and more fecund, or fertile, as they age, which is why it is so important to stop hunting them so thoroughly and give them the chance to age and reproduce strong offspring to stop their inevitable extinction.  Is it possible that old age also gives tuna wisdom, as in humans?  I only wonder this because this one fish in the tank, who was clearly larger and older, was the only one who chose not to swim around in relentless circles, but instead looked out at us looking at her (or him).  She looks grumpy and I both love and pity her.  Who knows how long she's been on this planet and where she was born and what all she's seen?  Was she bred in captivity or captured in the wild?  Does she have many offspring?  Maybe she just looks out at the people with curiosity, but there's a part of me that believes she's angry about the limitations imposed on her.

Another free, weird thing we did was go take our picture in front of a million dollars in cash.  I thought this was pretty hilariously vapid, so I insisted that Daryl get into the picture with me (he's pretty averse to being photographed) and then I put on my best, "Money, biatch!" face and had a go.  I'm thrilled with the result -- both my absurd posturing and Daryl's straight-faced uncomfortableness.

So that was Las Vegas!  Next, LA, vegan Mecca.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Fish Populations: My Response to an Article in Science Daily

I've decided that, in addition to my regular posts, I want to consistently post about different articles I find that are related to environmental issues, and, in particular, about declining marine populations.  If you want to see everything I've written on the topic of fish and marine life, scroll down to my tag "fish" on the right and click on that, or simply click here.

I took this image from the Vegetarian Network of Victoria's site (http://www.vnv.org.au/Articles/Fish.htm)
Here is an article on the site Science Daily called Using Fish Caught as Measure of Fisheries Health is Misleading. It actually recounts a point/counterpoint editorial that apparently appeared in this week's issue of the journal Nature.

Although the article is correct in that there needs to be a great investment by all countries to seriously and scientifically count marine populations, I also feel it misses a lot of the key reasons as to why that is the case.  In fact, it only points out the ways in which reliance on catch levels to determine population makes us believe that there are fewer fish left than there really are, and not the many ways that using those numbers makes us think there are more fish left than there really are.  In other words, it biases readers into believing that everything is fine and good in the world's seas and there are still plenty of fish in them.  In my opinion, it is dangerous to this planet to spread that false message, even if it's done in the subtle (and somewhat confusing) way this article does it.

The point/counterpoint seems to be set up like this: Daniel Pauly says that catch numbers are a good measure of fish populations, while Ray Hilborn and Trevor Branch believe that catch numbers are a bad measure of fish populations because it makes the population of fish seem lower than it actually is.  But what about a viewpoint that explains how catch numbers make people think that fish populations are higher than they actually are?  Granted, I cannot read the original Nature article without paying over $30, but that's how the Science Daily article describes it.

Fishing vessels often will catch fish that they are not allowed to bring to shore due to fishing limits, so they'll simply throw them back in the water, dead or dying from the change in pressure or from the time out-of-water.  On one hand, that means that there are more of those fish in the sea than we're counting, because only what is brought to shore is counted, so we may think the populations are lower than they really are.  On the other hand, it means that far more fish are being caught and killed than are being counted.  

I have to assume that when scientists base a population count off of a catch count, they take catch limits into account, and add more to the projected population of that particular fish, since, obviously, fishers are only not catching those fish because they're not allowed to, not because those fish aren't there to be caught.  That's just common sense.  If they are adding numbers to counts based on catch to adjust for effect of catch limits, then the population projections are inaccurately high -- that is, far more fish are being killed than we're counting.  But if they're not adding numbers to the population projections because of catch limits, as this article implies, then the numbers may be somewhat close to the truth.  Counters may think from lower catches that there are fewer fish, and there actually are fewer fish because they were caught and released dead, so it might even itself out.

Obviously, this is a crazy way to count fish populations, and more accurate ways are necessary, as the article concludes, although they conclude it for misleading reasons.

One of the many vital reforms that must be made to preserve marine populations is that nothing should ever be thrown back dead and dying. Every fish that is captured should be brought to shore and counted.  The point of catch limits is to prevent extinction of the fish being caught.  That's important, and there should certainly be catch limits.  But those limits are meaningless if it only causes fishers to allow killed fish to go uncounted.  To have more accurate numbers, all fish caught should be legally required to be brought to shore and part of the count.

The article also fails to mention that fishing methods have become so high-tech that numbers have been able to stay the same, decrease only slightly, or even increase, despite lower populations.  Fish have nowhere to hide anymore.  Now, fishers use radar to locate groups of fish and go after them.  Obviously, this is not a sustainable practice, and it needs to be outlawed immediately.  These high-tech methods distort the catch numbers by making people believe that fish are plentiful because we're still catching high numbers of them.  But make no mistake, we're catching the last of them.

Hilborn and Branch claim that "fishers might choose to fish less when the price of fish is low and the price of fuel is high," which, in their view, means that fish counts are higher than we're projecting.  But let's think about that for a moment.  This basically says that the fish are so few that it's impossible to catch enough to make the fuel profitable.  As far as this claim that the price of fish is "too low," I have not been able to locate any confirmation of there being wild fish that go for such a low price that fishers are not catching them despite them being plentiful.  I've read about fish farmers complaining that the price of fish is too low for their production costs and I've read articles from the early and mid-1900's about fishers switching to the destructive trawling method in order catch more fish because the cost of fish was too low to pay crews without bringing in more fish.  But nowadays?  I read about fish literally every day and have not encountered a story about low-cost wild marine life, with the exception of complaints about the dropping price of lobsters, which happened because we killed off all their predator fish, so their population increased (meanwhile, the price of the small wild fish used as bait has increased, due to their overfishing).

Ultimately, the article is correct in that there needs to be a great investment by countries to seriously count marine populations. It's difficult because there are so few fish now, and it's hard to count something that's hard to find because it's not there. Still, this needs to be done so that people cannot continue in their denial about the rapidly decreasing biodiversity of the sea, which is due mainly to fishing (and the destruction of ocean habitats from destructive fishing methods) and secondarily because of environmental changes.

Cross-Country Road Trip - Part 2, Denver

I headed on to Denver, Colorado, where I'd be staying with a friend of many of my Pittsburgh friends.  Driving through Colorado was really very beautiful.  The fog finally cleared up and I got to see lovely North America, though mostly through my windshield.

At one point, I'm pretty sure I saw a dog in the median, looking out into the road.  I thought about how scared he must be, and I wondered if someone had abandoned him there, and I thought about how hopeless a human would feel if he found himself alone on a highway median, and a dog has even fewer resources and knowledge and ability to communicate.  I wanted to stop and take him into my car, but I literally had no space for him.  The passenger seat was completely filled, as was every other space in my car.  And then I spent a while crying.  It made my vegan heart ache to think of his confused suffering.  As I'm sure it would make anyone's heart ache, which once again reinforces my belief that most people, if they were true to their own moral convictions, would become vegan.  Still, I don't know what I should have done.  I felt powerless about it.  I'm happy to have a soft heart because sensitivity and compassion go hand in hand, but it's terrible when you cannot come up with a way to help.

It's hard to write about driving.  So much of my trip's time was spent driving, and those long stretches of time could really be unpleasant both to describe and to read about.  It was really not all that unpleasant to experience, however.  I listened to a lot of music and podcasts.  Colleen Patrick-Goudreau's incredible vegan podcast got me through many a long stretches of time.  I especially love the ones where she reads stories others have written, although every episode is so life-affirming and interesting and helpful, I cannot more highly recommend it for anyone who is vegetarian, who is a new OR long-time vegan, who leans vegan, who wants to eat veg more, or who loves animals.

I also listened to a lot of music.  See, I used to have over 1200 CD's.  I've collected them since I was a child.  But the time for CD's has come and gone, and for this move, it was just necessary to get rid of them all.  I sold many directly to Amazon.com, others to Amazon.com customers, a couple on eBay, and what remained, I sold to this guy in Pittsburgh who was obsessed with me who I think thought I would think he was cool if he wanted my CD's. I didn't think he was cool, but I sold him all the ones that weren't worth much (some 300 disks, I'd say) for $40.  I put everything I once owned on plastic into my iPod.  So during my drive, when I'd shuffle, I'd hear tons of stuff I hadn't put on in years.  Some of it was crazily appropriate.  I heard the song "Expected" by The White Stripes (a song that describes a woman expecting the narrator to drive to Toledo, Ohio for her) as I drove past Toledo.  I heard the song "Chicago at Night" by Spoon as I decided to bypass Chicago for the night and head straight to Iowa.  A song from Bruce Springsteen's album Nebraska came on soon after I entered that state.  The Counting Crows song "Omaha" came on shuffle, but I must admit it was a few days after I'd left, and the Phil Ochs song "The World Began in Eden and Ended in Los Angeles" came on a few days before I got to the titular "city of tomorrow."

By the time I got to Denver, it was late and I was exhausted.  I had a room to myself at my friends' friend Meghan's house, and she also had this adorable elderly dog Lucy with whom to cuddle.
Sweet girl, that Lucy.

The next morning, I went to the vegetarian restaurant City o' City, which was quite a nice place.  They were playing the band Caribou inside and I was like, sweet!  I ordered the Sardou, which was scrambled tofu (or chicken's eggs), grilled artichoke, spinach, and some potatoes.  It was delicious, and it looked lovely on the plate.
It really hit the proverbial spot.  At home, I eat scrambled tofu all the time for breakfast, so I was feeling a little hot breakfast deprived.

My next drive would be the very longest of the trip, to Las Vegas, so I thought I'd drop by the new vegan grocery store in Denver called Nooch (cute, right?) to stock up for the road.
It's a small place, but cool.  Really nice folks work there.  They had a bowl of the new Earth Balance brand vegan white cheddar popcorn to sample, and it was delicious.  It tastes exactly like SmartFood popcorn, sans suffering.  I told them I was on the road, and they recommended I pick up one of their Denver Seitan Wraps, so I did.  I also got a bag of baby carrots and some hummus.

Driving out of Denver through the snowy mountains in my two-door manual transmission vehicle was certainly one of the most frightening things I've ever experienced.  My car was really not having it.  The hills, the altitude, the unclear roads.  There was no moving faster than 20 mph for a very long time.  It was beautiful, please do not get me wrong.  Mountains are humbling and inspiring.  If I hadn't feared for my life so intensely, I would have taken some pictures, but alas, I chose safety.  I guess this is why I'd be a bad war reporter. 

Once I was safely in Utah, though, I stopped frequently at the view points that are along the road.  Utah is a gorgeous place. I know, I know, Utah -- Mormons, conservatives, Mitt Romney.  But it's truly lovely there.
I stopped often.  Being diabetic makes driving for a long time rather tricky.  You just have to stop and test your blood sugar and adjust your insulin and food accordingly often.  So I did, and I drank up many lovely sights.  And I ate the wrap I got from Nooch!  Here it is mostly-eaten, so you can truly see the inside.
It's nothing really fancy, just some seitan, greens, and vegan mayo. But I must report it was incredibly delicious.  I think I ate it in about 45 seconds, for I am a glutton.

The most interesting part of the trip will be in the next post.  In Las Vegas, I stayed with a man who has been vegan for over 30 years, and a raw vegan for the last few.  I'm extremely excited to tell you all about the two days I spent there!  Tune in tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Cross-Country Road Trip - Part 1, Des Moine and Omaha

Here's a story you may have heard before: vegan blogger moves across the country, has adventures and eats a lot of good food, takes pictures to post on the blog, and then has technical difficulties to such an extreme that she has no choice but to be extremely late in reporting on her travels.

There's a part of me that wants to claim I have terrible luck.  But then I remember that I'm smart and healthy (except for the type 1 diabetes) and I have a great family and I'm pretty cute.  Still, what the f*cking f*ck is with me and computers?  My computer was under 6 months old and the hard drive got corrupted and it could no longer load an operating system.  I may or may not be able to retrieve the data by running an OS off an Ubuntu disk, and I even have an external hard drive, but the USB chord that would connect the hard drive to the computer doesn't work, so I need to get a new one (I mean, WHAT?).  I went back to using my crappy old computer, and got it to run OK with Linux (in Windows, every time I opened any sort of explorer to look at what files I had, it would say it had done something bad and needed to shut everything down), but then one day I downloaded the updates and went to restart but then it would not load an OS (seeing a pattern here?).  I ran Ubuntu off a disk and tried to install a boot repair.  It took a really long time, but eventually, the computer buzzed louder and louder, then just turned off, never to turn back on again.  My little sister let me use her old computer, but it just would randomly shut down, constantly.  Also, the memory card in my camera is corrupted, and as soon as I get the photos off it, it needs to be reformatted.

But, look, I'm actually lucky, because now I have a new computer, and even though it's currently running the really-not-made-for-desktop-computers-but-rather-for-phones-and-tablets OS Windows 8, which is so infested with advertising that I feel sure it is very susceptible to viruses, and I don't have a CD drive in this new computer to use my Linux disk instead, and I also don't have a good memory card to install it with a flash drive, I can now update my blog.  And I really could not be happier about that.

This is just the first of my road trip posts.  I think there will be four total. 

Getting rid of all my stuff in Pittsburgh was difficult.  I sold a lot of stuff for very low prices on Craigslist but in the last day or two before I left, I ended up giving a lot of things away.  I took some food I didn't want to buy again when I reached San Francisco in my car, but I ended up giving away lots and lots of food to my friends and also to some guy who I think was trying to build a hide-out shelter in his basement or something.  My little 2-door vehicle was packed in such a way that literally every space was filled.  No rear view mirror -- sides only.  It was hard to keep my stick shift clear enough to be able to drive.  But I managed.  I didn't bring a lot of food to eat, but I had a pack of juice boxes and glucose tabs to combat hypoglycemia and a giant bag of all the last of my nuts and dried fruit to combat hunger.

Originally, I was going to stop in Chicago, but the weather wasn't having it.  Icy rain.  It would have been fun to stay with my friend there, but we both agreed it was unwise to stop there and I should just keep going west.  So, of all places and things, after my first full day driving, I ended up staying in a Motel 6 in Davenport, Iowa.

The next morning, I headed out to Omaha, Nebraska.  But, with some help from Happy Cow, I decided to make a stop in Des Moines, Iowa to go to one of the very few fully vegan restaurants in the middle of the country, a place called The New World Cafe.  Do visit their site I've just linked because it's a pretty cool place.  It's staffed mostly by volunteers, is involved with social justice causes, uses organic ingredients, composts their scraps, and has a menu to make any veg-respecting city proud.
I got the Roasted Root Vegetable and Apple Sandwich because it sounded a little different from things I usually see on menus.  It came with a nice little side salad.

It has a spread on it that's made from roasted butternut squash and yams, as well as beets, apples, kale, and mustard.  This is really an excellent combination, and I do believe I'll try to imitate it myself, although I'll use better bread than they do.  Their bread comes from an Iowa bakery, but I did not think it was right for the sandwich -- it's insubstantial and not fluffy.  Still, it hit the spot.
I asked a guy working/volunteering  there what he thought of Des Moines, and he told me that, "It's the greatest city in the world."  You hear that, world?  Des Moines, Iowa, everyone.  Anywhere you go, people love the city where they live.

Even though I never get this, I decided to also pick up the New Mac & Cheese to go.  It was pretty good -- smoky.  I'm not picky about nutritional yeast mac, but I know a lot of people are.  It's my not-pickiness about it that makes me not usually order it.  It's just so easy to make a decent one at home.  But I wasn't home, and I wanted something for the road to Omaha.

It was crazily foggy during this leg of the trip.  There was an other-worldly, Stephen King-esque fog.  Des Moines has a very beautiful capital building, and I stopped to take a picture of it in the fog.
Frankly, I was lucky to be able to see it.  By the time I got to Omaha, the fog was so thick that it was just impossible to sight-see.  Everything looked like this:

In Omaha, I was staying with a very nice young man named Tim who I was hooked up with through the great web site Couchsurfing.  Omaha is such a small town that everyone knows someone who knows everyone else there.  For instance, Tim, who was not a vegan, knew a guy who was doing some work with Isa Chandra Moskowitz, famous author of Vegan With a Vengeance and more.  A few times, he'd met Conor Oberst, otherwise known as musician Bright Eyes, and a former vegan who now eats fish (noooooo!).

Frankly, although I don't think it's a good reason to stop being vegan or vegetarian, there is barely anywhere to eat vegan in Omaha.  It's a bit shocking.  There are no entirely vegetarian restaurants (even Pittsburgh has some of those!), so I ended up getting some vegan food from veg-friendly pan-Asian restaurant Crystal Jade.  All the locals rave about this place, but it's really just a normal Asian restaurant that has higher prices than most Asian restaurants in the US.  I didn't even take a picture of what I got.  It was, you know, rice with some peanut butter-glazed vegan meat.  Isa, people like you need to take this city to a higher level!  Gotta veg up Omaha!  Still, Crystal Jade was fine, and at least they were very careful and aware of people's different food needs/desires.  They all clearly knew and understood what "vegan" means.  Also, I got this fortune:
I guess Tim wasn't the alien since he'd appeared to me prior to my opening the fortune cookie.  That's how that works, right?

The fog was gone by the time I left the next morning and Tim gave me a loaf of French bread from the bakery where he works before I left.  It was the only vegan thing they sold! Aye aye aye.  Still, awesome bread, and he gave me coffee also, and they had soy milk.
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