Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Let's Travel with Erika: Omaha

I just got back from a three-day trip to Omaha and I have a lot to tell you!

First of all - I was featured on twice this week! Thank you Finding Vegan and to all the people who found this blog!

We left on Monday morning and I packed a cooler full of food to bring. I ate the last of the Split Pea Soup for breakfast and packed the pasta salad, more mac 'n cheese (I had extra sauce so I just boiled up more pasta), and a salad for me and one for my dad and step-mom. I was really trying to use up all our produce so we wouldn't come home to a wilty, sad refrigerator mess. I think I did a pretty good job!

My salad had mixed greens, radishes, green onions, tomatoes, carrots, celery, beans, red pepper, and sprouts. I nixed the pepper and beans for my parents' salad and they got chopped up leftover Field Roast Meatloaf, instead.

After settling in, we went for a walk around our hotel and around the Old Town. We stayed at the Embassy Suites, which is known for its luscious indoor garden. It was a great setup because baby brother had his own space and we didn't all have to go to sleep at the same time, plus we had a fridge and a microwave. Here's the hotel from our 7th floor vantage point.

I am embarrassed to admit that I didn't take any pictures of Omaha's Old Town... and I don't think my dad did, either. It's very pretty, with brick buildings and cobblestone streets. I wanted to call it "Pit-stop to the West" because it really does seem like some place people wagoned through in the 1800's on their way out to the Wild West... and some people stayed and hung on, like plaque in an artery.

For dinner my dad and step-mom were nice enough to take me to the one restaurant with rave reviews on HappyCow: McFoster's Natural Kind Cafe. McFoster's is a mostly vegetarian restaurant with some fish and chicken dishes and lots of well-marked vegan food. Just look out for honey - they use a lot of it.

I was overwhelmed by all the options but I just wanted something simple and veggie-ful so I got the curry vegetables.

My dad and step-mom split an avocado-tempeh sandwich, a fruit salad, and a pasta marinara that was also for baby bro.

It's a pretty cool-looking building, nice and hippy-ish. The second one shows my dad taking a picture.

The food was delicious. I loved my meal and it was not oily at all. I can't speak for the sandwich because it had cheese on it, but my dad said it was really good. The menu was definitely cool because they're very explicit about their ingredients and their food philosophy. If you're in Omaha, go to McFosters fo' real.

Then we went back to the hotel and I went down to check out the gym while the parents put the baby to bed. I had planned on working out on the elliptical for 30-45 minutes but each elliptical has its own little TV and mine had somehow hacked into someone's Pay-Per-View and the movie "Get Him to the Greek" had just started. I ended up running on the elliptical for an hour and a half so I could watch the whole thing! It was hilarious and it was good I was the only one in the workout room because I was cracking up.

The next morning we ate complimentary breakfast at the hotel. They have the usual non-vegan hotel fare, but they did have oatmeal made with only water. I was in a fruity mood, though, so I got this big ole plate of cantaloupe and pineapple.

I didn't eat it all, so I put it in a Tupperware for later.

After breakfast I went and lifted weights in the workout room and then we all went swimming and relaxing in the hot tub.

In the afternoon, we went to...
The Zoo.

I wasn't sure whether I wanted to blog about this, because it's kind of a heavy topic and honestly, I'm kind of ashamed of going. I know that I have readers of very different moral backgrounds so some people are probably wondering why I'm making a big deal out of this and others will probably be mad at me for going. Let me explain.

To put it simply, zoos are not vegan. Collecting animals and putting them in cages for people to stare at is not a part of the vegan way of life. I do not believe that animals are ours to use. They deserve to live their own lives. So I feel very uneasy about zoos, and wouldn't choose to go to one on my own. I would certainly never go to a circus. But I'm here to spend time with my family and I couldn't stand to just stay in the hotel while they spent time together. Plus, I'm still working through my feelings on zoos. The meat, dairy, egg, leather, and wool industries bring nothing positive to this world, to people, and certainly not to animals. But zoos are slightly different because I think they can have some benefit. I realize I probably am conflating zoos and refuges to some extent, but I'm just using the knowledge I have.

I loved zoos as a kid and I think they can provide an important connection with animals. If we lived in nature, we would see and interact with animals all the time but in our modern and especially urban world, many people seldom interact with animals, and almost never with animals who aren't domesticated cats or dogs. The only other animals they see are on their plate, and they fail to make the connection between their processed meat and dairy products and the living, breathing, feeling animals who were killed for them. Having more exposure to animals can make people more connected and compassionate. (I know that many people's answer for this would be animal sanctuaries, and I totally agree. Unfortunately, they are not as common - I have never been to one, though I certainly would like to). I did see some incredible things at the zoo yesterday, mostly involving animal babies. I saw a week-old Francois Langur monkey and got to see how his parents protected him, usually sandwiching him between two of their bodies.

I also saw a month-old tiger cub and her momma. The cub was so playful and the mom was sweet, playing with her cub even though she clearly doesn't find those games fun anymore.

I think it's important to see these kind of interactions to realize how similar humans and other animals really are.

And unfortunately, sometimes zoos are necessary refuges for animals whose habitats have been destroyed, who are too sick or injured to survive in the wild, who are being hunted to extinction, etc. But there are also still so many animals who are forcibly taken out of their natural environments in order to be put in cages and gawked at by humans.

I was sad a lot of the time. Most of the habitats just seemed too small, and it was clear that the animals were out on display. And I'm sure many of them were lonely. Animals often aren't put together in zoos because the human zookeepers don't really want them to interact because animals fight each other and have sex with each other and we want to determine their actions and not let them do it themselves.

So I would support zoos if they were completely different - if they were focused around the animals and not around the people. This is how I wish zoos would be:
* If the animals really got to live in a natural-feeling habitat, with enough space.
* If the animals got to pursue their natural activities.
* If the animals got to have relationships with others of their species.
* If the animals got to determine the course of their own lives, by using their natural social behavior, picking mates, etc.

And people could walk around, learn about them, look for them, and learn to respect them.

So, that's how I feel about zoos right now.

Moving on.

After the zoo, we went to Night Flight pizza. I had heard about this place on Happy Cow and I was trying to find a restaurant that would make my dad and step-mom happy. Apparently Night Flight is vegan-owned, serves vegan soy cheese (Follow Your Heart) and several vegan faux-meat products, and cooks all its vegan food in a separate area of the kitchen. My family got icky meat and dairy pizzas and ordered beef toasted ravioli for the baby brother. This really makes me sad. Kids don't have control over what their parents feed them and most kids love animals and I know they would be horrified if they knew what they were really eating. It just breaks my heart that my brother is so young and perfect and beautiful and already he's a part of suffering and killing. Ugh. Raising a kid as a meat-eater takes away their choice, and they have no choice but to contribute to the horrendous plight of animals in this world. I can't tell you how sad it makes me.

Uh sorry. Downer again. Anyway, on to my food, which was way way way better.

I got a thin-crust personal pizza with onions, garlic, broccoli, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, and tomatoes. It was very average. The garlic was minced from a jar, the broccoli had been frozen, and the mushrooms were also from a jar. I really had been hoping for some fresh vegetables. But it really was pretty good and I was not complaining. I ate all of the veggies and about half of the crust. The sauce was tasty, even though it was definitely from a jar, too.

After dinner we went back to the hotel, put baby to bed, watched some TV, and conked out. I read Luna Nueva, which is the second book in the Twilight series in Spanish. I read the first book in German - Biss zum Morgengrauen. I read about 80 pages of Luna Nueva on this trip and I'm really enjoying it!

This morning we got more hotel breakfast, and I got the same plate of fruit as yesterday. After checkout we went to the Riverwalk. My dad has a few pictures on his camera that I'll probably put up in my next post.

We spent the majority of our day at the Strategic Air Command Air and Space Museum. Both of my parents love air and space museums, so I have been to a million. If there's an SR-71 Blackbird, we're there. I've even been to Dayton, Ohio a couple of times and to Huntsville, Alabama just for their air and space museums. And you want to guess what these (blurry) pictures signify?

That's right! Baby brother learned to walk. He actually took his first steps in the hotel on Monday and has been zooming around ever since.

So that was my trip to Omaha. I had a good time and mostly I just had fun being with my family. I'm going back to LA on Friday and I'll be really sad to leave them. Once I get the pictures from my dad's camera I'll put up a few more pictures from the trip (but this post is definitely long enough already!)

Good Links of the Day: - If you haven't seen this site before, look at it. It has good vegan fashion stories, some recipes, random articles, and more. I like it. - Gena's vegan story. Me gusta mucho.

SO. How do you feel about zoos? Similarly to me? Any moral quandaries you've had to face lately?


  1. I love your whole post, Erika. So full of detail, explanation, and real feeling. To add to your comments about zoos, I find it interesting how my perspective on so much has changed since I went vegan.

    To sum it up nicely, a colleague I spoke with a few days ago upon learning I am vegan asked me a very intriguing question: "What's the best change that's happened in your life as a result of going vegan?" I thought for a moment and answered honestly: "My whole life is now more aligned with my personal values."

    Yes it's true that giving up animal products brings a lot of great changes into our lives -- better health and energy and many new tasty foods are the immediate changes. But the best of all is knowing that I make choices several times a day that lead to less suffering for animals and the planet. It's such a win-win way to live.

    Not every choice we make is as clear cut as the choice to stop eating animals, and you've pointed out a good dilemma for us to consider in the prevalence of zoos. I feel as you do that I don't like them, but I see how the exploitation of a few animals may end up saving thousands as people develop empathy for animals by interacting with them. In a world without zoos, kids would only see animals as characters in books, movies, and video games; they would fail to see the real and personal lives each animal experiences.

    So until refuges take the place of zoos, I think we should keep them and keep improving them to the benefit of the animals who live there.

    Thanks again for a thoughtful, enjoyable post.

  2. i'm very mixed about zoos. when i went to s. africa a few years ago i was so affected i became vegetarian but have had to since give them up for other reasons. but i haven't been to a zoo since, though i admit i used to really love them.

  3. And that is one good thing zoos can do - they put you in close proximity of animals and can cause you to re-examine how you treat them, and make you recognize the face on your plate...

  4. BTW, I listened to every episode of Actors Off so I'm pretty thrilled you commented =)

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