Our Southern Vacation Part I: New Orleans

Saturday, August 25, 2018
Going on a real summer vacation was highly anticipated and much needed this year.  I went on a vacation during Christmas, but it's always so busy that time of year with so many engagements and then I ended up sick on my birthday and it didn't really feel like a vacation.  So when my vacation for summer rolled around, I knew that we would have to make it count.

Normally during the summer, we take a trip to my grandma's house in Greensboro, GA.  If you read this blog regularly, or follow me on social media, you'll know that my grandma passed in February, the day after Valentine's Day.  I know this is a silly thing to say, and I'm not a religious or spiritual person at all, but I still very much feel her presence with me and thinking of her and her impact on my life doesn't at all make me sad - it actually makes me incredibly happy.  Which is why I knew that we were still going to carry on our tradition of going to her house for the summer.

 My favorite thing about the South is the food.  That was also one of my favorite things about visiting my grandmother's house in the summer. I still follow her example of keeping things simple and perfecting a few dishes to keep on permanent rotation.  If it's good, you can never get bored with it. 

Before we made our way to Greensboro, we stopped for a day in New Orleans.  I had never been before, and I think I fell in love.  It has been on my list of places to see for so long, and I was not disappointed.  I felt so at home there and everyone was so friendly.  And food was not at ALL hard to find for a picky vegan.  There were so many options here and in Georgia, that it really goes to show how easy it is to be vegan these days (no reason not to be if you ask me). I had a vegan crabcake po boy that I almost died over.  We spent the whole day just walking around and admiring the scenery, wandering into stores and stumbling upon some really incredible historical sites and attractions.

Our first night there, we immediately went to eat at 13 Monaghan on Frenchman Street.  Alex and I got the BBQ tofu sandwich and the herb tofu sandwich and split them both.  They were both so simple, but delicious. The place was adorable as well, and a little divey which I loved. Cute murals on the walls and our waiter was such a sweetheart.  I was very impressed with the service here and it's going to be a staple for every trip to NOLA that we make. 

We then hit Bourbon Street (like you do...) and the rest of the night is a bit of a blur (not necessarily from alcohol, but from excitement!).  We went to a bar that had a live band that played some Rush cover songs, then we headed to an absinthe bar (absinthe is crazy strong and I couldn't finish it).  The end of the night took us to a bar called "The Swamp" with a live band that played Heart covers and I was instantly hooked.  We ended up parking it at that bar for the rest of the night and watching the Australian college kids who were taking a US tour.  One of them even bought us a round of drinks! (Thanks man!!)
I don't know what bar this was from...

The next day we got up and went straight to the French Market for and early lunch (we slept in...it's vacation).  We ate at Meals from the Heart, which has some amazing vegan options as well as meat friendly ones. Again, everyone here was so sweet and I was SO impressed (I guess people in LA are just rude compared to everywhere else). We took our time here, and even though it was hot and we ate outside, I was just excited to be there. 

Vegan crabcake po boy...omg.

But ok...so we all know I'm a crazy history freak, so we had to stop by the 1850 House.  This place made me dream of living in 19th century Louisiana and just sitting around being fabulous in my Parisian-inspired home with beautiful Victorian dresses.  There I go again, romanticizing things again.  Anyway, it was beautiful and a must-see if you're nearby.

For dinner, we went to Carmo. This place kind of a tropical, Carribean, South American spot and I was BLOWN AWAY.  Plenty of vegan options and the atmosphere is so relaxing.  Again, fantastic service and everything was delicious and came out so fast.  We got the vegan ceviche and I had the daily rice and beans with vegan sausage. Pretty much everything I ate in Louisiana was super simple and not at all fancy, but it was some of the best food I've ever had, vegan or not.

I am so in love with New Orleans and I can't wait to go back.  It really is one of those places that you build up so much in your mind and when you finally get there, it is just how you pictured it.  Ok, ok so maybe I'm idealizing it a little bit, but I was on vacation for the first time in a while, I had no obligations to anything and could literally do whatever I wanted when I wanted.  Plus, I was in a beautiful place with great architecture and my favorite person.  What else could you really ask for?

 Stay tuned for Part II of our vacation in Greensboro, and a special recipe for Broccoli and Cheddar casserole that was dreamed up by Alex, inspired by my Grandma's southern cookbooks, and put together by me!


Is "Zero Waste" REALLY Necessary...?

Monday, August 20, 2018
I first discovered the Zero Waste trend on Pinterest.  I was immediately sucked into the rabbit whole of reusables, compost bins, mason jars with a year's worth of waste in it, super minimalist homes, living walls, and elaborate apartment balcony gardens that grow everything from basil to strawberries to tomatoes and back again.  I was hooked immediate.

"*shouting from next room* Okay."

The more I delved into it, the more my enthusiasm turned to guilt.  I made a post about swapping out commonly used disposable plastic items for reusable, sustainable items and yes, I actually do own and use all of the items in my post.  But I could get rid of everything, and I felt like I was a bad person because of it.  I was still buying soy milk at the grocery store, tofu in packages, and I would sometimes forget my reusable bags when I went to the grocery store.  We did switch to buying produce from the Farmer's Market, but our vegetable seller packaged some of their stuff with twist ties.  I always felt like no matter what I was doing, it was never enough.

If you're feeling like this, KNOCK IT OFF.  Anything you're doing to help the environment is something.  Plus, I'm vegan, which is a HUGE help to the environment in itself and one of the best things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint (high five for my vegan pals!). By using all of the items from my plastic swaps post, I am for SURE reduced a ton of waste that would end up in the oceans and landfills. And people are giving Starbucks shit for replacing plastic straws with new cup tops (that also happen to be made from plastic) but straws are on of the biggest contributors to plastic waste, so...why not modify a cup lid that would have been use in addition to the straw anyway, and eliminate the straw...? Makes sense to me.

Then I stumbled upon this blog post. Blogger Renee Peters gets down to the bottom of what it REALLY takes to be "Zero Waste" - Privilege.  Privilege is something that people are talking a lot about these days, and it's honestly not an inherently bad thing, it just depends on what you do with it. One thing I noticed about a lot of these "Zero Waste" blogs is that they have an abundance of time.  They make their own hummus (something that Renee talks about in her post), they make all of their own sauces and condiments from scratch, they live in houses with yards that are perfect for composting and growing food...But hey, I don't have any of those things.  I work a full time job at an art gallery.  It is incredibly demanding (though rewarding) and it is not uncommon for me to roll in early, stay exceptionally late, and sometimes to work without days off at all.  That's what it takes to be in my chosen industry (and I'm not complaining, just stating facts), but it leaves me very little time to tend to an apartment balcony garden being as I'm gone most of the daylight hours and essentially catatonic when I get home at the end of the day (I'm exaggerating...).  But that's another thing...I'm young, unmarried, and live in a big city. I'm also a "millennial" (as much as everyone HATES that word, I was born in 1985 and qualify as one) and it is widely known that we have money troubles and will probably never own a home.  I have crippling student debt, a car payment, and a credit card payment, and rent an apartment from a guy who is obsessed with the band Rush and do not live in a home with a sprawling backyard.  There are limits to what I can grow and compost.

Photos from Bea Johnson's blog, "Zero Waste Home"
Now, I'm still privileged and have very little time to do the things one must in order to be truly "zero waste."  Think about a single mom or a single dad who works two jobs.  What if you live below the poverty line?  What if you're doing your damned best, but live alone and have no family or friends nearby to help you out when things get tough and it is simply not a priority for you to put all of your waste from 2018 in a teeny mason jar?

Being concerned about the environment is necessary, don't get me wrong.  But I think that there are other things we can do about it, than worry about how living up to picture perfect zero waste standards.  Here are some simple and exceptionally impactful things you can do to help the environment:

1. Stop buying fast fashion.  This will help not only the environment (most of this poor quality clothing ends up in landfills very quickly), but you will also be making choices to empower people who make your clothing.  A lot of fast fashion is made overseas in factories that have very little regulations on working conditions and compensation.

2.  Buy a goddamn aluminum water bottle, ya nerd.  Quit using plastic water bottles.  Just STOP.

3. When ordering in, tell the delivery person to skip the utensils.  Buy reusable bamboo chopsticks, so you don't have to use disposable ones with paper or plastic wrapping.

4. Buy a bamboo toothbrush.  I guarantee you don't need that plastic one that lasts maybe a month before it gets disgusting.

5.  VOTE.  Betcha didn't think of this one, did you? Especially in local elections, voting is how we pass environmental bills to stop a lot of waste before it happens.  Remember when California banned single-use plastic bags in 2014 (thanks Prop 67!)? Voters did that!

6. Go VEGAN!!!
By skipping animal products alone, you can save about a thousand gallons of water a day, and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 1.5 tons a year!  It is also easier to buy vegetables without plastic packaging, than it is to get meat without plastic packaging (unless you go to the butcher, or buy local, but most Americans are not sourcing their meat this way...).  It is also really important to make sure that your produce is LOCAL.

The takeaway from this is that we shouldn't beat ourselves up because we aren't perfect, and that's essentially my life motto.  I'm not a perfect vegan, a perfect lifestyle blogger, and I'm not living perfectly zero waste. But I am taking a lot of steps to make the world a better place long after I'm gone, and I think that's a great place to start.  I'll never be minimalist or ZERO waste, but I can produce much less waste and consume the right amount of things for me and my lifestyle.


Vegan in the 90's - a Trip to Saved by the Max!

Friday, August 10, 2018
When I was a kid, my sister and I were Saved by the Bell OBSESSED.  I watched it every Saturday morning, and it aired in the daytime in the summer and we would make sure to park it in front of the TV for the 2 hour block that would air on TBS, and then 2 more episodes on WGN.  Yeah, I know.  Living in LA has many perks.  We get a lot of cool stuff here and I've lived in a lot of places that don't get cool stuff.  One of the cool things is the Saved by the Bell themed diner, Saved by the Max! that popped up here a few months ago.  The place was instantly booked solid, and Alex and I booked our reservation months ago. 

I was honestly not prepared for what I would feel while setting food inside the actual Max.  Now, I'm an adult and I'm aware of this.  But I'm also a pop culture FREAK and a sucker for period clothing and nostalgia. It was like a childhood dream come true. In fact, I may have been so excited, so excited....and so scared. The level of accuracy in this place was insane, down to the cups and stickers on the payphone.  But wait....would they have a vegan option on the menu?! No one on the show was vegan!!!

Well, the answer is YES.  While the vegan options weren't plentiful (it was option...singular) they did right with what they had. With your ticket ($40 a person...not including drinks) you get an appetizer and an entree. The appetizer was a salad, that was pretty basic and nothing special, but honestly it's salad.  The entree was an Impossible Burger, and lord knows I love Impossible meat.  The burger was perfectly great for a themed diner, and the only thing that would have made it better was a slice of cheese (listen guys, I'll buy you a few packs at Whole Foods, I guarantee you won't go through it all).  We emailed when we made our reservations to let them know we were vegan, and they were so accommodating and the waiter even knew we were vegan when he first came to our table and let us know what our options were.  The drinks were a little expensive, but creative and damn good.

All in all, it was a great experience. And I think that it was definitely worth the money, if you like early 90s nostalgia at all. Plus, a lot of people were dress in early 90s clothes and character costumes and it was adorable.  The place is also an Instagram madhouse, so the lighting is a little funny while you're hanging out (but the photos come out great...).

The Era of Self-Care as a Commodity

Saturday, August 4, 2018

I don't know about you guys, but it seems to me like in the past few years the term "self care," which I had never actually heard before has been omnipresent.  Instagram girls are posting photos of their knees in a bath with candles lit and #selfcare.  Self care seems to be anything from having a glass of wine after work and watching The Bachelor to going on a silent retreat in Joshua Tree.  Self care is doing things for yourself that make you feel good just for the heck of it, and in the Trump era and when the news is awful every single day, it sounds like a great thing.  And honestly, it is.  I've discovered a few self care rituals myself (which are mostly just me playing Tomb Raider on PS4 for 3 hours or reading in the bedroom for an hour before bed while Alex plays FIFA in the living room...which is probably his self care).  While self care is helpful and maybe a bit necessary, we are also living in the age of capitalizing on EVERYTHING.

Bloggers will pitch you anything if they think you'll spend money on it.  And let's face it, millennials would rather do just about anything other than work a 9-5 office job.  We saw feminism become commodity when everything was marketed as "feminist" in 2016.  People were manufacturing Trump protest shirts and pussy hats and they were flying off the damn shelves.  How many people did you see wearing a reproduction of the Labyris bookstore (the first women's book store in New York that opened in 1972) "The Future is Female" T-Shirt.  Online quirky retail supergiant ModCloth sold this shirt for $50 a pop.  It seemed like all you had to do was buy a t-shirt or cute new "Feminist Sex Toy" and pow, you're part of the new wave of feminism!  All it takes is retailers to notice a trend, and figure out how they can sell you that trend so that you'll buy it.  And like, how gross is it that feminism was a "trend?"

That's just one example of many, and now it looks like self care and self help are big time trends that a lot of people have figured out to sell to you.  Spoiler, you don't need to spend a lot of money for self care of even self help....

One thing that jumped out at me during my research for this post was the concept of "manifestation." I actually stumbled upon a manifestation "guru" Lacy Phillips, who has made it her job to offer web classes and real life classes where people (mostly women) gather and learn how to manifest their goals.  Funny thing, I actually went to elementary and Jr. High School with this woman.  She began her career as a holistic chef and posts photos of herself on Instagram in linen trousers with french market bags full of fresh vegetables. She has long, shiny brown hair and perfect, makeup-less skin. She's essentially a younger, hipper Gwyneth Paltrow, and the stuff she offers on her website raise just as many red flags as GP's $900 manifestation loofa (for real...).  On Lacy's website, "Free and Native" you can purchase classes, read her blog, and watch free content (one is called "Am I Unblocked Enough to Manifest a Partner?).

I began following her, because honestly who doesn't want their life to look like that?  She appears to have it all.  I actually bought one of her classes (the "cheap" one, for $40) but ceased using it when every single day I was supposed to just sit and breathe and journal (I can do that for free, thanks).  But I honestly gave it my best effort, and really tried to give it an honest try.  I tried to buy into the crunchy, new age vibe of her website and really see if I could "unblock" and "manifest" things that I wanted. I tried the "deep imaginings" that were marketed to me as a way to visualize what I really want.  But the more I tried, the more I felt completely ridiculous, and the more I began to think about the bigger picture here - there are so many people who can't just "manifest" a better life for themselves...and that's not their fault.

I read an article a while back about another self help guru who managed to capitalize on this trend.  Her name is Gala Darling and she has apparently made millions teaching young girls to use a technique called "Radical Self Love" in order to overcome their depression and anxiety, and live better lives.  On her website, you can buy similar classes to Lacy's, including a guide to feeling wealthy which costs $88, and a guide to get over your ex for good, which is only $33.  Gala Darling has also published books on Radical Self Love that include helpful information like wearing a fake mustache all day to feel better.  I'm being sarcastic, but in all honesty it makes me really sad that people like Gala and Lacy are (maybe unknowingly) preying on a generation of women who are vastly insecure about things like money and love.

Our culture has put immense pressure on women, and that's why things like this are marketed to us and we are actually buying it.  We are crushed under crippling student debt, we are underemployed and underpaid, we are undervalued for our work,  we are finding it hard to find a partner and get married because of all these things, and we have no idea what to do about it.  So I understand why it's tempting to want to shell out almost $200 for a web class that promised to help you make it better.

I honestly was a little on board with Lacy's methods when I first discovered her blog.  But then, in the midst of the Trump hysteria and a few months after the inauguration, she posted an article that really made me think about her angle.  It's all about labels, and how they stop you from manifesting.  In this article, Lacy tells us that when we label ourselves we are blocking our manifesting energy.  She tells us that calling yourself a feminist is harmful, that by giving yourself labels you are putting yourself in a box that will prohibit you from manifesting what you truly want.  We are not supposed to be feminists, we are not supposed to be liberal, we are not supposed to be victims, or label our sexuality. Yeah! Wait....what? Upon first glance, this ain't so bad.  But when you really think about it, it's a lot like Gala Darling's harmful and dangerous claims that you can turn your whole life around and beat depression with positive thoughts.  It puts too much pressure on us, and sounds a lot like "if you just worked harder, you wouldn't be poor" and THAT I have a problem with.

Lacy Phillips and Gala Darling are beautiful white women.  Lacy lives in Los Angeles, was an actress, and went to a great elementary school that set you up for academic success (I went to that school, it was in a "rich" neighborhood that I was out of district for).  I don't claim to know what hardships she had to endure and I don't know what her grades were, or how she may have struggled in her life.  But I do know that she's never had to deal with systemic racism or transphobia.  That she has most likely never been afraid that she would be deported or that she would be denied a job because she has another job and 2 kids. Lacy does talk about how she grew up poor, so she does have some idea about struggle and hardship.  And it really is great that she managed to come out of that and make a great life for herself.  But what about all of the people who aren't able to do that?  Should they just be manifesting harder?

See, this is the problem with this kind of thinking.  Putting so much pressure on people to just "think positive" and "put in the work" and when it isn't working for them possibly because of factors they have no control over, you tell them they aren't doing it right, or hard enough, or that they are labeling themselves.  Telling someone that they are depressed because they aren't wearing a fake mustache or thinking positively enough is dangerous and really irresponsible.  In this same article,  Lacy acknowledges her privilege, which should be a great start, I don't discount any hard work that she has done to get where she is.  I think it's great that a girl who grew up poor managed to work hard and achieve her goals, but I do think that it's flawed to think that "manifesting" is what got her to where she is now, and that if we buy her classes we can do the same thing.

Lacy claims that her classes and methods are rooted in neuroscience and physchology, and honestly the psychology part is kind of true.  But she is using basic PSYCH101 knowledge and peppering it with spirituality (which is all the rage right now, and something that people latch onto), and that's kind of it.  I think a lot of what makes Lacy popular is that she's...popular. She's cool, she's pretty, she drinks whiskey and she knows enough about what she's talking about and how to spin it so that she sounds like an expert.  You trust her, you want to be her...wait...this sounds an awful lot like Gwyneth Paltrow in this widely read New York Times article, right? I think we can draw a lot of parallels between "GP" and Lacy.  They both have that cool, nonchalant, je ne sais quoi that makes them someone you want to be.  And because you want to be them, you want to buy their shit.  They are both beautiful, white women, who are selling an aspirational lifestyle.  When you buy Lacy's classes, what you are actually buying is her brand.  You are hoping that you're buying a little bit of what makes her so cool.  You are buying the photos on her website of her dressed in white linen and wicker, and a perfectly curated life.  You are buying the notion that if you "manifest" then your life can be as perfect as these pictures.  You are buying this whole idea that comes from the Instagram influencer generation that your life has to be as pretty as a picture in order to be fulfilling, and for nearly 70 bucks a class your life can look like that too.

I was part of her Manifestation Secret Society on Facebook, and what I saw were a lot of women like me.  Women who are mostly white, middle-class, and educated who are just kind of in a rut.  We are in our late 20's and 30's and we don't really know what we are supposed to be doing, and a lot of us are looking for anyone who seems to know what they are talking about.  This kind of thinking is marketed to us specifically, and not those who have "problems" that stem from things they have no control over.  We are privileged in so many ways, but still feel that blankness.  So what is the answer? I don't think the answer is buying more stuff, or giving your money to someone who guides you in meditation. I don't claim to know the answers to these questions in fact, but what I do know is that we don't need to be sold false hope that what is ailing us can be cured by positive thinking or visualizing what you want.  And maybe the answer doesn't even really lie with helping ourselves get what we think we want.  Maybe we shouldn't be focusing on how to manifest a partner or more money.  Maybe we should be focusing on those who don't have as much privilege as us and using our privilege to lift others up, instead of ourselves.  I would much rather put my time and money into causes that help others than giving my time and money to someone who's job it is to capitalize on the collective depression that a lot of us are feeling in the late 2010's.

Further reading:

Throw Way Your Vision Board by Neil Farber M.D, Ph.D., CLC, CPT

How to Protect Yourself against Bad Self-Help, by Maia Szalavitz

Pursuing Self-Improvement, at the Risk of Self-Acceptance, by Alina Tugend