Mixing food with Kiva

My life is pretty simple, no scratch that, completely simple these days. I have a low-wage job that I carry out on weekdays. I have some fun things that I can do in my free time, such as going to the beach to surf or marvel at the sunset and the zooming kitesurfers; and watching crime shows and the tribulations of the US presidential election nominees. I have time aplenty to miaow to the cats and act stupid with the dog, and what’s more to hug them lots too. I do get bored on occasion, a little more brain food would be great. For the most part I really appreciate having the time and space to indulge in the pleasures of home and family.

Cooking is one such pleasure of home that I have taken to in recent times. The first trigger came a little over a month ago when I first proposed to my mum that we make one night a week expressly “vegetarian night”. The first reason for doing so was that I felt like we had got into a routine of a steady, daily diet of meat and in the interest of health wanted to mix it up further. Coming a not-too-distant second as a reason was that I’d had a curiosity and interest in vegetarian cooking lying dormant inside me for a fair while already. I wanted to find out more about how to make tasty vegetarian food because I’ve tended to assume that the tastiness of food derives primarily from meat. Easy umami! Vegetables were simply the supporting cast necessary to lovingly cradle and thereby showcase their protein superstar. However I don’t like it whenever I start to see some aspect of living in such limited terms, so a rebound away from the worship of meat was something of an inevitability. Knowing that maintaining livestock places a large demand on the environment as well provided a third reason for reducing our reliance on meat.

Why no moral or ethical reasons? I didn’t take them into consideration in making this decision because although I am a lover of animals and a supporter of various animal welfare issues, I have always loved eating meat. In my first year of university I actually did make an attempt at vegetarianism, following personal reasoning that i), animals being killed unnecessarily or for the sake of fuelling wanton human consumption is not cool and ii), although killing an animal to eat it is not frivolous to my mind, if a person truly cared about this matter and had the money and the time to figure out a good non-meat diet, then they would have to turn vegetarian.

I can’t remember exactly how long I lasted but I think it was at least a month. It’s quite amazing that I plugged on for that long, as my shoddy version of vegetarianism threw the door wide open to anaemia. I never did plan out how I would compensate for what I lacked in my diet without meat. Which I suspect was itself a consequence of acting on an academically-reasoned ideal rather than a genuine, gut-level drive to change. There was no entering into a new lifestyle, I simply cut out meat and left the hole there. Every day I woke up tired, ate food never coming away full or happy, exercised my mind and body without feeling any reason for it, and basically discovered that running at 50% made me joyless, lifeless and vampire-complected. I guess I had turned myself into a benign vampire without realising it. Amazingly, I continued ignoring these signs believing I was simply paying a necessary penance (yeah I know, I know) until the day I was rejected as a blood donor for my inadequate iron levels. I was shocked. Giving blood is something that I try to do as much as I can and can remember to because I appreciate the priviledge, the ability to be able to safely give my blood away and not have to miss it. It felt really bad to not be able to give blood – I have no problems with needles, I had done it a number of times before, and I had so much desire to contribute. After being told to try again in 3 months I made a beeline to Burgerfuel for one of their massive burgers.

I can’t hide it, I love meat. My family loves meat. But meat is not everything and it’s not smart. There are many reasons to eat less meat.

So my mum agreed to the “vegetarian night” scheme. Three weeks later and I had only done it once. I can’t explain it but I still wasn’t motivated enough. I had good reasons… I knew in my head they were good reasons… but there was still no “push” to change. Not necessarily no push to do something different, but no push to expressly stop the old habit of coasting along. The difficulty with change seems to be less about embracing the new thing than it is about lifting oneself out of the easy old.

Thus after 3 weeks of “mmm, maybe I’ll do later in the week” my mum turned the tables and made me a proposal. If I cooked one vegetarian dinner a week, she would donate $15 towards microfinance – i.e. she would give $15 to serve as a loan to a small business in a developing country, that would ordinarily have difficulty gathering together enough capital to run and grow their business otherwise. We lend them money which is a sum that isn’t any great loss to us, they put it to their business so that they can earn a living for themselves, and they eventually pay back the loan at an interest rate lower than what they would face with an unscrupulous loan shark. My mum had it all worked out… she even knew how we were going to do this: online through an organisation called Kiva (www.kiva.org). Kiva is a non-profit service that displays information on individuals and groups in developing countries seeking a loan, enables lenders to transfer money for the entrepreneur of their choice through Paypal, and then gives the money to the local microfinance organisation that the entrepreneur registered with. How it works out for us is that after 2 weeks (or 2 instances of “vegetarian night” a week) I get $40 to put in the bank, shortly thereafter I go onto Kiva and select a group or a person to give a USD$25 loan to. (Note – my mum had originally pitched $15 per vege meal but it really turns out to be $20 to account for the NZD – USD exchange rate.) Now USD$25 is not much but together the small contributions of many lenders from around the world accrue to fund a project, which could ask from USD$250 to USD$4000. Once the borrower has repaid the loan, the lender can then take the money back for themselves or lend it to another project.

It’s been working so far, we’ve already lent to one individual in Peru and one group in Cambodia. Now I’m really expecting myself to do at least one a week and I make a good go of it. I feel not only more motivated to cook vegetarian meals but to cook more in general. And god bless the web for personal food blogs 🙂 , for that’s where ingenuity is to be found. It’s apparently possible to thicken soup with silken tofu instead of cream (haven’t tried this yet and am not going to go to the extent of veganism but would be keen to see how effective this trick is); and last week I made a lasagna that absolutely tasted hearty even without the meat. Interesting times 🙂 , fingers crossed for my continued progress!

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