Monthly Archives: August 2012

P-Town, the Joy of Soy, and the Honorable Shell

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My (self mandated) extra long weekend was made pleasant by loved ones and the adventurous diners that I got to break pita with.  The Vegetable Chili that I made was delicious even though it would be more appropriately labeled as Vegetable Chili-Stew. Check it out under the recipes tab!  We hit up Provincetown and walked for hours (even took a break from the heat in the shelter of the Public Library) and finally made it to our vegan restaurant destination- Karoo Kafe.  Never having had South African food- it was very interesting even just to see all of the options they had available.  I ordered a cup of the Peanut Curry Soup that they had on special (which was one of the two vegan soups that they had for the day) we all shared the Hummus, and for my meal I got the Tabbouleh Salad.  The menu had clearly labeled vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free options which took the annoying guess-work right out of the equation.  I even liked the style of the restaurant with the order-at-the-counter-and-they-bring-the-food-out-to-you-on-funky-paper-plates thing they have going on.  Friendly staff made the experience that much more pleasurable.  I am definitely glad that we stopped in! (See picture above for the view from the deck looking in)

In later news… my SoyaJoy G3 and 25 pounds of Soy Beans finally arrived late last week and although I didn’t have any time to use my new toy before I left for my mini-vaca I  wasted no time upon my return!  After soaking the soy beans for the allotted 8 hours (the waiting part is going to be the only challenging part of this whole thing) I was finally ready to get milkin’!  The most shocking thing (shocking in a good way) is the amount of milk just a tiny bit of the soy beans yield.  I had bought a bunch of mason jars to use for the milk and I was able to fill 2 up even though I had filled the water line up to the lower fill line just in case.  When I fill it to the max fill line I should be getting around 6 cups of milk for only about 1/2 cup of dried soy beans.  After the SoyaJoy had run through it’s cycle and it beeped out to me for attention, I strained out the Okara and voila!  The milk is extremely hot when it first comes out (I have not tried the raw setting yet but that’s next- the beans and water are not heated up in the raw process so the milk will be room temperature.  I couldn’t help but wonder how nice it’s going to be on a fall day when I put the warm milk right into a nice big bowl of granola hot off the press.  The recipe book it came with promises many great treats to try and I look forward to the milks of my future.

But more about this Okara stuff that I was talking about.  After being strained out, the stuff that’s left over (the Okara- literally meaning ‘honorable shell’) looks a lot like mashed potatoes and the texture is very similar also.  I started thinking about what I could use this mystery substance that I had never encountered before for.  In my research, I came across many histories, cheap staple recipes and then there are always those courageous bloggers forging their way through projects of their own.  As I kept reading, I found out that all of this stuff left behind isn’t garbage, its (as Just Hungry put it very plainly)  “a nutritional powerhouse, containing soluble and non-soluble fiber, protein, calcium and other minerals.”  I learned that many bakers use it in their baked goods and even as a parmesan cheese substitution! At the time (and because it was getting late last night and I didn’t want to waste a single ounce of the stuff) I smeared it on a cookie sheet and left it in the oven for about 15 minutes re-smearing on the cookie sheet every now and then to ensure even drying.  After it was crumbly I put it in the food processor and chopped away.   The nutty smell and flavor was amazing and it even had a bread-crumby texture to it.  Having said that, I’m sure that I could bread any number of things and have a tasty meal on my hands but I’m thinking I may need to make a few more batches of soy milk to create anything substantial (for now, it waits dried in my refrigerator in one of my fancy Mason jars until I figure it out).  At any rate this should be a really nice adventure especially considering I know exactly what’s going into the milk and better yet what’s not.  Cheers!

Kibbles and Bits… Of What?

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So naturally, after obsessing about my own diet and that of my live-in boyfriend’s, I turned to obsessing about my mother’s diet and my friends and so on and so on.  But there’s only so much I can control (and quite frankly that I want to control- and what’s more is what people will let me control).  The point being that there are a couple of furry friends that I managed to leave out of this spiral of (healthy?) obsession that I’ve been circling in on.  THE CATS!  It made me squirm when I learned the truth about the birds and the bees- why should I expect this to be any different? 

What are those little pellets that we feed our spotted loved ones anyway?  Where does it come from and how is it made?  I see a vast array of labels and packaging in the store everything from “Lamb and Rice” and “Salmon Fillet” even “Turkey with Gravy.”  Like the pilgrims right?  Probably not…  So I checked out a couple of different labels online to (for the first time) actually look at what I was feeding my tiny friends.  Some labels noted that their New and Improved Recipe was protein rich for lean muscles, had natural fibers and reduced fat to help maintain a healthy weight. What more could the consumer (you) possibly be looking for?  Although I’m fairly confident that you can put those three points on just about any food product (and maybe even non-food products) in the supermarket and it would sell.  But WHAT IS IT? 

In a PETA report on Meatless Meals for Dogs and Cats it is noted that “supermarket pet foods are often composed of ground-up parts of animals that U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors have deemed unfit for human consumption. The flesh of animals who fall into one of the categories of the four D’s—dead, dying, diseased, or disabled—is what often goes into pet food. One Food and Drug Administration (FDA) specialist says that the unrendered protein in food may come from heads, feet, viscera, and other animal parts. Many of these animals have died of infections and other diseases. Pet food has also been recalled during mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), outbreaks because of the risk that contaminated meat might have been processed into the food. One deputy commissioner states that cats in particular “are susceptible to BSE.”  Oh, and did I mention cats and dogs are also eating euthanized animals from shelters and otherwise.?  Mike Sagman’e eye opening article, The Shocking Truth About Commercial Dog Food, is a downright disturbing account of what goes into dog food and quite a laundry list of ingredients not without “dead dogs and cats; heads and hooves from cattle, sheep, pigs and horses; whole skunks; rats and raccoons…”  Hmmm… so now it seems a little hypocritical of me to ward off the evil spirits of the factory farm for my own body and systematically train myself to forget about it when I reach for the cat food 2+ times a day.   

This isn’t just a conversation that explores what (wo)man’s best friend eats… this can just as easily turn into a conversation about what the meat you eat consumes as well.  Because guess what… they’re eating euthanized cats and dogs from shelters too.  So logically it makes sense that if you don’t care about what the animals you are going to eat have eaten… then why care about what what Buttons eats right?  Think about it.  For a more satirical account, check out (what’s now) an excerpt from Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals.

Back to my original point.  There is evidence stacked on both sides of this argument.  I check out one source that swears by a certain product and just as quickly read about how much harm I could be doing to my poor little ones.  As part of my investigation, I found that cats cannot exist solely on a vegan diet without supplements; they need Taurine which is found naturally in meat and seafood or they can get really sick and even die. 

I did find this website that had enriched formulas for cats and dogs but I’m obviously very freaked out that a moral stance that I take could seriously harm my cats.  This isn’t a decision to be taken lightly and I’m still torn on the issue.  I plan to talk to my vet about it and maybe print out the ingredients from a couple of the foods on the site to bring along with me (I’m not due to go back there for a little while).  I know that I said from the beginning that this transformation would take a while and I think that this is something that will come in time for me.  I was (for the mean time) at least able to find brands of food that do not test on animals.

I hate leaving things open ended but I suppose it’s better to leave it open for a little while than to have never opened it at all.  I feel a little discouraged at the moment but am hopeful.

Cambridge Offerings and Sunkissed Mountains

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Another marvelous weekend filled with new places, great adventure, and (of course) food!!  Saturday was our trip to Boston to find out what kind of veggie treats they had to offer us in the Cambridge area.  After our photo opps in Harvard I was able to snag a nice earth toned fair trade hemp purse from The Hempest.  With the thrill of the purchase still fresh in my mind, we decided an earlier dinner would be best (mainly because we had walked by the restaurant earlier and we couldn’t wait to check it out) and went down a cobblestone ally toward Veggie Planet. (Not to be confused with the also-in-Cambridge diner and bakery cousin Veggie Galaxy which we have to try next time). This adorable below-side-walk-level restaurant had a partially opened kitchen with a room to the side for seating complete with a little stage for performers.  The walls were covered in pictures from past shows and the tables were small and numerous encouraging the push-together for bigger parties.  With clearly labeled vegan options, and a choice to have any entree on a pizza, brown rice, or coconut rice, I was in heaven.  I got the Oddlot on brown rice but there were so many selections that I wish I could fit more!  (By the way I was so inspired by the “tofu mash”  that I’ll be giving my own version a go tonight for dinner- yes it is marinating in my fridge as we speak so keep your eyes peeled for it under recipes in the coming days).  It occured to us (after the fact and inspired by a group next to us) that it would be a great idea to order small pizza versions of some dishes and share!  A great reason to return!  Overall it was a really nice experience- the atmosphere and the food made for a great time. 

A hike up the great Mount Wachusett with an old friend filled up a beautiful Sunday afternoon.  We were able to power up the mountain and back down again in only an hour and a half (which is suprising considering all of the chatting we were doing).  We took the Balance Rock Trail to Indian Trail all the way to the top.  The view was breathtaking and it was nice to relax and catch our breath once we hauled up there. 
 
I’ve been going strong as far as excersize goes and am on my 3 mile week having found great success in the 2 mile minimum 6 days last week.  This morning was tough (because I had to wake up ever so slightly earlier to get a head start on the run) but I felt alive to run as the sun was rising and the cool temperature was a treat.   
 
Plucking out pieces of my non-vegan past:  It’s sad to think that the last time that I got my eyebrows waxed will be the last time that I ever get them waxed considering that most of the wax used is made from bees wax and/or honey (it’s only sad because I’m horrible at doing my own eyebrows).  I’ve been doing a pretty good job keeping up with them, however, I know there will come a time when I let them get away from me unintentionally.  Enter: the wonderful world of threading.
 
“Patiently” Waiting:  It’s been three days since the online purchase of my Soyajoy G3 Milk Maker and I had every intention of waiting until it came in and I tried it before posting about it but I’m just too excited to wait.  Amazon couldn’t have made this any easier because along with it, right from the comfort of my computer, I also ordered  25lbs. of organic soybeans shipping from Living Whole Foods.  The reviews all looked good and I’m excited that I’ll be able to make both raw and cooked milks from different nuts, beans hemp and other grains!! Merry Christmas to me!

(Un)Fair Trad(ers)

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Fair Trade.  It’s a phrase that most of us have heard and are intimidated to look any further into than absolutely necessary (because quite frankly and in the name of everything convenient- wouldn’t it be nice to just leave well enough alone and go with the flow) but since we’re delving anyway- let’s give it a shot. 

I went into this investigation pretty much blind, only having heard rants from one college roommate in particular about the tragedies of companies that mislabel and mislead their customers into believing that they care about the world because that’s what the trendy yuppie that overpays for their coffee wants to believe.  They want to believe that somewhere out there in Columbia there there’s a happy farmer getting fair pay for their life’s work.  The very thought almost makes me want to go out there and be a coffee farmer myself.  How magical… and to not have to worry about waking up in the morning must be a major relief!  Soy milk and unrefined beet sugar in that (of course) please.

I started with a Google search.  I thought that the link bringing me to the Fair Trade Federation might be a good place to begin.  There I was informed that “to become a Fair Trade Federation member, businesses undergo a rigorous screening process that evaluates their practice of all nine Fair Trade Principles. These fair trade principles are based on the internationally accepted principles of the World Fair Trade Organization, which grew out of a global consensus. They are considered the gold standard in fair trade.”  Sounds great.

More information on the site includes the history behind the vision of fair trade all the way back to 1946 with Edna Ruth Byler and her work with Puerto Rican women and their lace.  A truly noble tale.  But times they are a changin’ right Bob?

It appears that both Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts made it to Fair Trade USA’s  list of fair trade partners (although I did notice a name or two missing from this list so I wonder when the last time it was updated).   I also noticed that only one coffee brand came up under each of them when I clicked… apparently being Fair Trade Certified doesn’t mean you have to pay a “fair” price for everything you buy. 

In a NY times article, A Question of Fairness by William Neuman it became increasingly obvious that just like anything else, the Fair Trade issue is not without it’s flaws, in fact, it is riddled with the imperfections that come with big business.  It seems that Fair Trade USA, “the movement’s leading advocate in the United States” is proposing to place its seal on products with as little as 10 percent fair trade ingredients, compared with a minimum of 20 percent required in other countries.”  And once again, those small farmers that this program was originally meant to support and protect are falling to the wayside as big plantations sign on to be fair trade certified. 

More in this article, “Starbucks, Green Mountain and other coffee companies will be able to become 100 percent fair trade not because they’ve changed their business practices one iota but because Fair Trade USA has changed the rules of the game,” said Dean Cycon, founder of the Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee Company, in Orange, Mass.  (He was the one that inspired the conversations on fair trade in my college house when he came to speak to the business school about fair trade our senior year).  

And what’s easier than going to Starbucks for a quick cup of coffee?  I even took the liberty of looking up some vegan friendly treats  that I could enjoy right from the PETA website which boasted their morals.  It seems wrong to bash Starbucks right now but it’s kind of difficult not to when considering that only “about 8% of the coffee used in its global operations came from fair trade farms in 2010.”

It’s just hard to swallow that fair trade doesn’t mean what I thought it meant.  Nothing is 100% but 8%… come on.  So here I am once again stuck somewhere between my morals, convenience, and my wallet.  I can be sure that what I brew at home will be a safe choice because I’m not a huge company that purchases many different coffees at one time and tried to turn a profit.  Hell at the end of the month I’m lucky if I break even. I took the liberty of finding a little list made by Annie Bell Muzaurieta  for everyone in case they were interested but as always, read and ask questions and write to the company!  They’ll be happy to gain or retain a customer.

My plan is to go into my local health food store and ask some questions about the coffee I see in their bulk bins.  I think that the most important take away is the many layers that this issue has (and I’ve only spoken about coffee here although fair trade applies to many different things from clothing to jewelry and even chocolate!) and how important it is to ask questions instead of blindly accept things.  I think that may even be a layer that I’ve peeled away on myself.  As exhausted as this topic makes me, I think I’ll wait until I get home to have a brew. 

Veg Heads in Upstate NY, Goals, and Farm Stands in the City

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We got a head start on the weekend this past week and enjoyed a really nice trip down to upstate NY visiting with my mother.  Through our travels, we made a point to stop at Emmanuel’s Market Place in Stone Ridge which proved to be a friendly small grocery with plenty of fresh produce and a nice small health food section.  (We stocked up on quinoa and made some tasty creations that I posted under recipes).  I was also happy to see that New Paltz remains to be a funky little town with funky little vegan friendly restaurants.  My favorite all throughout highschool (although my menu selections have changed since then) is the Main Street Bistro.  With clearly labeled “dairy free” options available, this place has cemented itself as one of my favorites.  One place that I’d like to check out the next time I’m out there- Rock da Pasta.  A Vegan Friendly sign that hung in their window caught my eye and I was pleased to learn that 85% of their menu can be made vegan, vegetarian, or gluten free- not bad for a pasta place.   

I’ve been thinking about goals lately and what I have to be looking forward to.  Today officially begins my 100% no meat, no dairy diet (although I’ve been moving in that direction progressively over the course of a couple of weeks). The girl in me needed an anniversary date so August 13 it is (penciled on my notebook with a heart around it of course).  More about goals; reading countless accounts on how much energy my plant-based diet will be giving me, and how many athletes have harnessed this power (not to mention that I really feel like I have more oomph and my recovery time after working out is awesome) has me wondering if I’m just in my own head about these things or if I’m starting to believe them because I read that they happen to other people.  At any rate, I’m willing to put it to the test and take my research out for a spin on dry land or at least the good ol’ rocky road.  A 10 mile run is my next goal.  Not necessarily to be able to run it in any amount of time, just that I can clock that kind of mileage in a day would be satisfactory enough for me at this point.  So this morning I started my “training” (which really just means that I woke up at 5:30AM and went for a 2 mile run).  I usually go to group exercise classes at the gym after work so I’m going to see if I can work up the courage to talk to someone about my goal there and see what they suggest as far as a program.  At any rate, this should prove to be an adventure all in itself.  I’m the kind of person that does well with small goals and I can use the added pressure of putting it up here in writing.  Running’s always been kind of a funny thing to me.  Time and again it proves to be the hardest in the beginning (impossible even) but once I get going- I want more.  Here’s to goals.

Also, on the to-do list this week will be going through my shoes and seeing what I’m going to keep and what will be discarded (given to people I know will wear them or donating them) as part of the cruelty-free lifestyle I’m working toward.   I think that starting in the shoe section of my closet will be a step in the right direction. 

A noteworthy discovery: After accidentally finding a farm stand while driving right on Grafton Street last week, I made a point to stop by yesterday.  I definitely recommend for fresh produce at a reasonable price.  1059 Grafton Street, Worcester

A special thank you to my mother and boyfriend for what an easy transition they’ve made this process.  Both of them being open to this shift has made it (and this weekend) that much easier.  All three of us were dairy-free this weekend!

Organic Panic at the Disco!

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What a lovely weekend.  The hot weather proved to be an added challenge to the 4 mile run on Sunday morning but I’m finding that the hotter days only make the hot days easier so I don’t mind as much (and it also makes crashing the pools of long time friends that much more fun).  My “Meat and Dairy Free 2 Meals a Day” clock has finally struck midnight and Vegan Cinderella is in the building.  Although I have cut out meat completely, I have been moving towards the elimination of dairy in small steps.  I will reset the clock for a week from today for all food and drink (see below for some shocking news) to be dairy free as well- here goes nothin! 

Friday night we went to a friend’s house that was preparing a big bunch of dairy free appetizers (I really am lucky to have friends that are being so supportive)- also see the my Black Bean Cilantro Lime Salsa recipe to get a little taste of what we munched on.  I had brought a bottle of wine.  Seemed harmless, until I discovered that not all wine, beer, vodka, etc is vegan!  Animal products in alcohol- blasphemy!  In my research I found that producers may include animal products directly, or in the filtration process (the most common animal ingredients are isinglass (a form of gelatin from sturgeon fish bladders) gelatin (extracted from boiled cow/pig hooves and sinews), egg whites and caseins (a protein from milk) sometimes even blood!  Quickly looking up all my favorites to make sure they were in the clear, I came across a nifty guide with a search tool that made looking things up simple.  For some FAQs on Vegan Wine, I found the EcoVine to be very helpful.

I’m finding the definition of organic to be an entirely different study in itself.  It seems that the term has undergone an evolution of meanings.  Dictionary definitions  will say that it is “noting or pertaining to a class of chemincal compounds that formerly comprised only those existing in or derived from plants or animals, but that now includes all other compounds of carbon.”  All of the definitions sound pretty technical.  Okay… so that really just means that anything alive or that used to be alive, or that is carbon/carbon compound based is organic?  The fact of the matter is… organic just sounds better.  I hardly think the trying-like-hell-to-be-environmentally-and-socially-conscious single mother thinks that she’s making the wrong decision for her family when she chooses the organic label over the store brand… right?  (I strongly recommend watching Robert Kenner’s Food, Inc.  for this point in particular).  The labels that you are looking at in the supermarket are all made up and what’s even more frightening is just a few factory farms/mega chains own everything that you see.  The industry term’s positive connotation has led the consumer astray as they continue to think on terms like organic and free range as things that are ecologically and morally sound instead of entirely destructive.  Genius marketing scheme… if they can manage to live with themselves (which they seem to be doing quite comfortably might I add). 

I found the USDA’s site to be quite interesting regarding the National Organic Program and the overseeing of these products deemed organic.   According to them,  “Organic is a labeling term that indicates that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods.” But as you may have guessed… the system is not without serious flaws.  In a NY Times Article  that I found regarding the violations that took place prior to 2010 revealed some shocking statistics and noted that at a time when the market for organic products was (and still is) blowing up in a huge way, the NOP neglected much of the regulation that was supposed to go along with these organic claims and make them legitimate.  The article highlighted that,  “Since the Obama administration came into office, we have taken numerous steps to improve the integrity of the program,” Rayne Pegg, Agricultural Marketing Service Administrator said. “The integrity of the organic label depends largely upon effective enforcement and oversight of the many accredited certifying agents responsible for reviewing organic operations.” Well… yes, but shouldn’t that have been a given? 

So let’s call a mislabeled organic spade a pesticide ridden spade here and compare what the term organic means to us, and what it means to the people who are saying it in the first place- the disparity here is noteworthy.

Hey Cape Cod- Where the Vegans At?

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Having been on lovely Cape Cod since late Monday night I thought I would take the opportunity to catch up on my reading and explore my surroundings (and see what sort of Vegan splendors they had around here for a gal like me).  Sadly, I found that there were no 100% Vegan restaurants around, some cafes that boasted “vegan friendly” on their websites, but I needed more of a… dinner. 

So after much investigation I was thrilled when I found a little Middle Eastern restaurant only a minute away from where I was staying in Hyannis- Ardeo.  For an appetizer, I ordered the Middle East Mezza that came with Baba Ghannouj, Hommus, Tabouleh, and a chick pea salad (that normally comes with cucumber yogurt but they were happy to give me the chick peas without the yogurt when I asked).  For dinner, I went with a nice big salad called Greens, Fruit and Nuts that was a delicious combination of dried apricots, cranberries, figs and mixed nuts and came with a tasty balsamic dressing (again they were happy to make the salad without the cheese when I inquired).  With an extensive specialty drink menu, I have to say that I was very happy with my choice- a Pear Martini to wash it all down!

As for last night, I allowed my internet browsing stumble upon a tapas and martini bar- again right in Hyannis.  Embargo had a lovely patio (that was too full to sit on) but I didn’t mind at all.  The comfortable seating and the romantic lighting allowed for an easy and fun time!  The waiter informed me of how it typically works- that he would leave me a menu and that I could order a little at a time until I was full.  Again, for an appetizer I went with the hommus- this time with lemon juice and tabouli salad that was all mixed together.  It appeared to be blended with some roasted red pepper which gave it a beautiful color.  For my main coarse I had a vegetable sushi that featured a happy meld of carrot, avacado and rice in a seaweed wrap.  (I went with the 4 piece instead of the 8 piece and I was happy for it because of how much food it ended up being).  And what to drink but the Hot and Dirty Martini!  This twist on my regular dirty martini with just a splash of hot sauce really did the trick (and I have a feeling that they will be a staple at my dinner parties from now on).

Overall, both places were wonderful- but it did get me thinking.  Is the vegetarian/vegan demographic so small that there are hardly any dinner options on Cape Cod that don’t include fish or meat?  I understand that the fishing industry accounts for a huge part of the economy (especially in the small fishing towns that have fishermen that go back for 6 generations or more).  But these traditions come at a price even if they are financially stable.  Without getting into the gorey details about a trade off between their financial stability and the moral responsibility we have on this planet (not to mention the health benefits of a vegan lifestyle), I still find it mind boggling that I had to search high and low to find only 2 places to eat where I could easily modify their selections to make them vegan. 

I searched around the internet for some Vegan Stats- surprisingly difficult to come by.  Some of the results that I found were a little useful, although outdated.  I also found some numbers put out by the Vegetarian Resource Group  in 2011 that found 5% of Americans polled to be vegetarian and about half of that number to be vegan . According to these, by not having vegetarian/vegan options on your menu, you are alienating around 5% of the population right?  Wrong.

 I can tell you one thing, if I was with a group of people and we were going out to eat- you better believe that part of that decision would be made based on whether or not I would be able to eat at all.  So in fact, you are not just losing the business of that 5%, but you are actually losing the business of the omnivores they’re eating with as well- they’ll all simply go someplace else.  From a pure business standpoint- it doesn’t make sense.

I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal that noted some bakeries are frightened that a vegan proclaimation might even scare away customers.  Sales for some of these stores actually increased when they took down vegan labels.  Crazy world.

I love beach towns.  I love the ocean and the sand- the sun-bleached buildings and the salty air.  I would love to live in a place like this (not necessarily the Cape but one of the many beach towns that litter the coast would be nice).  However, it’s becoming abundantly clear that I may have to open up a little restaurant so that my closest vegan converts and I can have something to eat while we drink our fancy martinis.