What Is Food?

Today’s Lesson: What happens to any battery that is constantly overcharged?

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Apple iPhone 3GS li-on battery (Wikipedia)

Peter Diamandis is a BIG thinker with a rare ability to explain complex concepts in plain language. While answering a fan question on the Tim Ferriss show, he said something that struck me:

“Food is just a mechanism for turning sunlight energy into (biomechanical) energy.”

That got me thinking. Although we have many emotional, physical, and chemical reactions to food, at its base food is simply fuel. Our bodies are essentially machines designed to transport and protect our brains the way our cars are machines designed to transport and protect our bodies. That means bad things can happen if we over-fuel, under-fuel, or use the wrong fuel to run our body machines.

Over-fueling provides more energy than can be effectively burned off, causing energy storage units to bloat, stagnate, and corrode (all the problems that come with being overweight). Under-fueling means the machine can not run effectively and may lead to premature engine wear and seldom used parts deteriorating and breaking down when needed most (all the problems with not having enough nutrition). Using the wrong fuel is probably the worst, leading to physical, sometimes irreparable, damage. Drug abuse, for example, is like putting hi-octane fuel into a car that requires regular unleaded. It will burn fast, backfire, and possibly ruin the engine altogether.

As with any machine, years of continued abuse will contribute to faster wear and tear, breakdowns, and eventual self-destruction.

If you think of food as simply the mechanism we have to convert sunlight energy into physical energy, it takes away the emotional attachment. Think about what type of fuel, and how much of it you are putting in your tank (I mean, body) the next time you stop to refuel (I mean, have dinner).

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One Easy Way to Get Your Veggies!

Today’s Lesson: Eat your veggies, however that works for you.

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Nicole is spearheading a new experiment for us. We have begun ordering vegetables online. Every week we pay about $57 to have fresh, organic fruits and vegetables show up on our doorstep. (We are going through Tampa Bay Organics but there are many services that do this near most populated areas.)

At first, it seemed like a risky waste of money. We have a tendency to let veggies go to waste because we are too busy to cook them. Plus, $57 per week?!?

We spend about $120 per week on groceries (our grocery bill definitely went up when we moved to Tampa, by quite a bit, which seems counter intuitive since much of the fruits and veggies in the U.S. comes from Florida). We were worried breaking out the veggies this way would end up driving the bill higher. We are only on week two but so far it hasn’t.

It turns out, since all of our fruits and veggies are covered for the week, we spend less time browsing at the grocery store and only grab the stuff that isn’t delivered.

Another unexpected benefit is by breaking the bill out, we focus more on ensuring we are eating what we paid for (isn’t that odd?). I took a nectarine for lunch, snacked on an avocado and kiwi fruit, and we have fresh kale for our orzo instead of boxed spinach.

So far, it has been a smart move, and I like the way it works. They send us a list of what they will be dropping off each week and we can plan around it or trade some items (like disgusting okra or eggplant–the antidote for taste buds) for other items (like delicious beets or extra bananas). We can save our preferences, too, so I never even have to worry about seeing gross, hairy, slimy Hulk-colored okra on our list.

I am not sure this approach is for everyone but if you have been on the fence about having fresh food dropped off at your door, I encourage you to give it a shot. If it doesn’t work out, the worst that happens is you have more food than you need, but at least it is healthy food.

 

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Don’t Worry About the Starving Kids In Africa

Today’s Lesson: Throwing food out is not a crime.

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Almond milk, it turns out, is not Nicole’s favorite addition to a latte. She tried one today, and drank about half of it.

She debated over throwing it out because it didn’t taste great but it was not a cheap cup of coffee either.

I understood. I often finish meals because I don’t want something to go to waste (especially if it was expensive). If you think about it, though, it is probably better (for most of us) to throw away an unfinished meal than it is to try and stuff ourselves (assuming for some reason we can not take home leftovers), in an attempt to get our money’s worth.

I would rather pay six dollars not to eat an additional 450 calories than to force myself to eat an extra 450 calories I will never burn off. I would rather lose a few bucks instead of trying to lose a few inches.

Nicole tossed the latte and we headed to the beach. Good trade off.

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5 Surprising Foods Vegans Don’t Have to Give Up!

Today’s Lesson: “Vegan” does not mean “never eating anything I know and love again”.

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PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), if you have not heard of them, is a vegan organization that is an embarrassment to many vegans because of their borderline insane views and extraordinarily misleading and outrageous marketing campaigns.

Nonetheless, PETA remains the biggest and one of the best resources for vegan information, including a surprisingly comprehensive list of accidentally vegan items like the five I am about to list. They have many more than I have listed and their list is worth checking out (just ignore any crazy or sensational stuff they happen to be pushing on the sidebars). Check it out here.

Here is a list of 5 of my favorite foods I was surprised to learn are vegan when I began my journey into dead or tortured animal-free living:

 

1. Oreos and Nutter Butters!
I loved Oreos before going vegan but they are even better when dipped in a big glass of Coconut Milk. Nutter Butters make one of the best pie crusts you could ever want. Just blend or crush half a package, then mix with olive oil (about half a cup) to create a mixture you can press into a pie pan (I like to use my fingers) and cook it with the pie!

 

2. Cinnamon Life and Cap’n Crunch Peanut Butter Crunch!
I love cereal and I am just crazy enough to mix both of these for Cinnamon Peanut Butter Crunch Life! Best with Almond-Coconut blend milk.

 

3. Laffy Taffy and Junior Mints!
Most taffy is not vegan but good old Laffy Taffy is, even in the non-banana flavors! I am not a fan of Junior Mints, personally, but in most theaters, they are one of the few vegan choices (along with original red Twizzlers and Swedish Fish).
4. Bagels and English Muffins!
Be sure to double-check the ingredients but almost every plain, blueberry, and cinnamon raisin bagel should be vegan (no eggs or butter are needed to make bagels but, obviously, an Asiago cheese covered bagel probably has… well, cheese). Thomas’ original English muffins (the original and best if you ask me) have always happened to be vegan. Great toasted and topped with a little olive oil, cinnamon, and sugar!
5. Manwich Sauce!
Hunt’s Sloppy Joe and Manwich sauces are vegan. That’s right. Vegans can enjoy gross, messy, strangely colored orange brown saucy burgers, too! Heat with either Tempeh or ground tofu. If you can’t find vegan hamburger buns, use English muffins!

Being vegan does not mean never enjoying many foods you already know and love. A lot of heavily processed foods are “accidentally” vegan, meaning it is simply cheaper to produce them without animal ingredients. It is a wholly different conversation around morality and your personal commitment and reasons for being vegan to decide if you should be supporting these companies and accidentally vegan products. Still, it is good to know (especially when you first adopt a vegan lifestyle) that when you need your cookie or Sloppy Joe fix, you’re covered.

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5 Common (Hidden) Animal Ingredients

Today’s Lesson: We are what we eat. Maybe we should care a little more about both.

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Here are 5 common animal-based ingredients I wish I knew about when I first went vegan. Unless you are a food scientist, you would not recognize the names without doing research. There are far too many “secret” animal ingredients to list (and other people have done a great job of it–just search for “vegan ingredients”). I will try to save you time with this short list of common animal ingredients, the names of which are really just another way of saying, “the gross parts of animals we could not sell you directly as food”:

1. Gelatin. Crushed up animal bones and throwaway animal material that can not be consumed otherwise (like hooves, bones, skin, cartilage, etc.). Gelatin is in Jell-O. It creates the gummy texture in marshmallows and “Gummi Bears” but also shows up in many cosmetics and cereals like Lucky Charms (the marshmallow bits). There are great vegan substitutes such as Agar-Agar or Arrowroot powder but it is much cheaper to feed your kids yummy horse hooves.

2. Whey. Basically, milk powder. This is the same stuff you hear weightlifters talk about for bulking up (rice protein would do the same thing without torturing animals) and it turns up in many places you would not suspect, such as “Non-Dairy” Creamers. Ironically, “non-dairy” creamer absolutely contains dairy. Look at the fine print below the ingredient list and see for yourself. Watch for whey in sauces, powders, and breads.

3. Glycerin. Also known as “glycerol”, this can be made from vegetable oil but it is usually more economical to produce it from animal fat. Because it is a sweet, colorless liquid it shows up in a lot of desserts and dairy-based foods like yogurt. It also helps add moisture to skin so you will find it in most soaps (who doesn’t like to rub a little animal fat all over their body?) and many pharmaceuticals (including the “casing” around vitamins). If the label does not specifically say, “vegetable glycerin”, it almost certainly is animal-derived.

4. Casein. This is another milk protein, like whey. It shows up mostly in cheese, butter, ice cream, and other dairy-based products. Just for kicks, it is also used in many adhesives and paints. Casein is also a tricky one for new vegans because it shows up in a lot of “vegetarian” products you might assume are vegan, such as soy-based cheese.

5. “Natural” Flavors. This is the worst of the worst, in my opinion. It is like listing “stuff” as an ingredient. Listing “natural flavors” is a way to help protect a company’s recipe from being reverse-engineered, but it does not help the consumer. The problem is, the phrase is so loosely defined by the FDA that it essentially means, “anything”. From the Code of Federal Regulations (Title 21, Section 101, part 22, revised April 1st, 2014):

(3) The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.

Blecch! What the hell is natural about that?!? 

If we are what we eat, I suggest we care a little more about both.

New vegans or pro vegans can still be caught by vague, misleading, or downright deceptive ingredient names. Remember, the food manufacturers interest is to sell us food, not ensure we are healthy or taking care of our fellow creatures and the environment. That is not a stab at food manufacturers. I am only saying it is our responsibility as individuals to take care of our bodies and world (though it would be nice if the manufacturers employed more ethically conscious people to help with that).

In an increasingly complex food system, another piece of old, traditional advice from grandma still holds true: “watch what you eat.” (Because no one else is going to.)

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The Truth About Why I Went Vegan

There is a documentary being made about how regular vegans live regular lives and why they decided to stop eating animals and animal products in the first place. I shared my story with them and I thought the vegans (or veg-curious) people I know might like to hear it, too…

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I became vegan mainly for religious reasons. I am not religious now but about 20 years ago I remember reading the Ten Commandments and noticing there was no asterisk after the statement, “Thou Shalt Not Kill”.

It got me thinking. Murder is obviously condoned in the Bible (blood of sheep over doors, “an eye for an eye”, Sodom and Gomorrah, etc.) but I noticed it was always done by men and never with God’s explicit instruction. It was always based on hearsay. Somebody said that God said… The only 10 irrefutable rules God provides in the Bible directly are His Commandments (and not for nothing, but He calls them “Commandments”, not “guidelines”, “recommendations”, or “good ideas”).

I could not help but wonder if God intentionally did not have any asterisks there. The First Commandment does not say, “Thou Shalt Not Kill***” with a footnote elsewhere that reads… ***except on burger night or if a fly is really annoying you, or if there is clear DNA evidence to support it. Other restrictions may apply.

He just says, “Thou Shalt Not Kill.” Period. End of line. There is no way to dispute the commandment, no loophole, no misinterpreting it, no ambiguous double meaning. This is one of the few places the Bible and God’s demands are crystal clear and irrefutable: Thou Shalt Not Kill.

I thought also, how interesting that of all animals on earth, God chose only one–only humans–to give both free will and the choice of whether or not to murder for food. Maybe it was a test, I began thinking. Maybe God really is watching and placing a tick-mark for every one of His flies that we swat, each spider we squish, or cow that we chop to pieces and grind up into bloody patties.

The animals themselves seem to be warning us. A fly avoids a fly swatter. You have to sneak up on the fly because it clearly does not want to die. A spider jumps away from the swipe of a hand. A cow fights and tries to flee just as a human would when it smells the blood and gore of the slaughterhouse and senses imminent doom.

To put it plainly, there is no merciful way to murder something that chooses NOT to die.

Of all creatures on Earth, only humans are burdened with the responsibility of choosing and living with their actions. Interesting.

So that is how my vegan journey began.

I have since traded my Faith for Reason and Logic but the conclusion on being vegan is the same. I remain vegan for one simple reason: I have not come across a good enough reason not to be. No one has yet presented a single valid, logical argument for murder or eating dead things.

There is no vitamin, mineral, or nutrient that comes from other animals that I can not find from plants, fruits, vegetables, legumes, or other plant-based sources (even B12–the toughest of the vegan vitamins to obtain, I can easily get without killing animals). There are not too many animals on the planet. We do not need to “cull the herd” (but we do need to cull the factory farming of herds). There is no environmental reason to support a carnivorous diet. There is just no reason to avoid being vegan.

Think about this. We humans are burdened with the responsibility of being kings and keepers of the Animal Kingdom, whether we like it or not. To say we are at the top of the food chain is an understatement. We have removed ourselves from the food chain. We have no predators. We do not live in fear of being hunted and eaten. This also means, however, we are the default stewards for the safekeeping of this planet. Because we are the only ones with choice, we are also the only ones with responsibility for our choices. We are the kings of the world.

What kind of kings should we be, then? Benevolent and kind or brutal and merciless? How well has the “brutal and merciless” approach worked for any king so quick to end the lives of his subjects throughout all of history?

Unlike plants, animals have a brain and nervous system; they experience pain and emotions and do not wish to die. It is not the same for plants. They have automated defense systems against pests but their very design is to be food. When you pick an apple from a tree, you do not murder the tree. In fact, the tree is counting on you to help spread its seeds and grow more apple trees. The same is true of nearly all plants and non-animals. Our relationship is symbiotic with them.

Moreover, there are clear health benefits for being vegan, and arguably environmental benefits as well (you can Google those–to keep this post from becoming a book, I will just leave it at that–as always, though, check your sources and only accept actual peer-reviewed literature as worthy to base your opinion on).

The bottom line is, going (or being) vegan is a win-win.

 

Today’s Lesson: If I can choose my diet and be perfectly healthy without killing or causing pain to other animals, then… why wouldn’t I? 

 

P.S. If you want to support or share your vegan superhero origin story with the Vegan Movie people, visit this link.

 

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When Will We Be Food Again?

Humans have not been hunted in more than a century. What would happen if we suddenly had to fend for our lives like herd animals again?

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Comedian Louis CK was referenced by The Reality Check (one of my favorite shows) for one of his bits about animal suffering. The show was paraphrasing what he said and I am too lazy to listen to all of Louis CK’s material to find the exact quote… but the gist of it is, “Humans have basically removed themselves from the food chain and isn’t that great? Can you imagine if, when you left home to go to your office each morning, you had to immediately start running for your life because there are animals out to get you?”

Humor aside, it is a fascinating and astounding achievement that we humans (who are not the strongest, fastest, or most aggressive creatures on the planet) have all but eliminated the worry of being eaten by other predators.

What if that does not remain the case, however? What if a civilization from another world arrived and suddenly we found ourselves back as a potential dinner plate item and no longer at the top of the food chain?

 

Today’s Lesson: A simple, cautionary tale… nothing lasts forever. 

 

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“Sooo… I’m About 75% Vegan After All!”

Veganism is not a weird religion or cult philosophy. It is just choosing what to eat at the next meal.

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The title of this post was a kind-hearted comment to a FaceBook post. I shared a list of 100 Easy Vegan Foods to help people eat (a little) better (hat tip to Vegan.com for the list).

The crazy vegan fare listed included “bagels, margarine, oatmeal, Pillsbury Original Crescents, guacamole, ketchup, and Nutter Butters”–basically, a list of typical vegan items you can find most anywhere.

Remember, “vegan” just means “no animal products”. Vegan does not mean “crazy hippie soybean burgers”. My friend’s comment was good-natured but also a legitimate fact. Most of us are 50-75% vegan. That number would be naturally higher if more people understood how many products (food and other) sneak animal waste and by-products into our diet and lifestyles. Either way, though, vegetarian is our default diet, not meat and dairy.

You do not have to take my word for it. Think about this… a good, home-cooked American dinner might be a T-bone steak, steamed carrots with a dollop of butter on them, skillet-fried red potatoes, and a side salad, right? Guess what? Replace the butter with a little olive oil or margarine and everything but the steak is vegan–more than 75% there!

A vegan meal is just a normal meal with an extra helping of vegetables instead of meat, butter, or cheese.

Being vegan really is not radical. It is just healthier (usually) and does not involve killing or torturing anything to fill your belly. That seems like a good deal to me. Now, I am not a bleeding-heart vegan who will guilt you into making a healthier choice. I do not care what you eat or how you die. I am only responsible for my life but for people who are vegan-curious or just want to eat a little healthier, think about what it really means to be vegan (or a little more vegan). No dramatic life-changes are required. Just eat more plants when you have the choice.

One last thing to consider for those who believe or insist on forwarding misinformation about meat and dairy eating being natural… this is not true or even logical. Biologically speaking, we are much closer to vegetarianism or veganism than to being carnivores. If you think about it, catching and killing animals throughout most of human history was extraordinarily difficult. We did not always have guns, crossbows, or even machine-balanced and sharpened spears. Most animals are faster and better at camouflage than we are.

Even with all the tools and technology at our disposal today, most of us could not catch, let alone kill, skin, and properly prepare the meat of any animal. As a society, we are much smarter and better killers than our ancestors who first had to come up with the idea of a spear before actually figuring out how to use one.

Through most of human history, we only caged animals for dairy or killed them for meat out of necessity. Most of the time trees, berries, roots, and nuts were far easier to obtain. We simply are not meat-centric creatures and never have been.

I so loved the comment, “I am about 75% vegan after all!” Yep! Most of us really are close to 75% vegan. Do not buy into the idea that vegan is special or out of the ordinary. Vegans just do not have the marketing machine the big meat and dairy industries have (but we are getting better and you are seeing the word pop up a lot more than you used to… I think that is a good thing).

By the way, 75% is great but it is still just a “C” grade. Can we make the world just a bit better for us and the creatures we share it with by nudging that to a “B”? Maybe consider going for the extra helping of carrots or potatoes tonight instead of the extra helping of steak. It won’t kill you… and I mean that.

 

Today’s Lesson: Sometimes we are doing the right thing or heading the right direction and don’t even know it.

 

(A side note: I will never forget the morning my dad explained to me that he could never be vegan, not realizing we just happened to be eating a 100% vegan breakfast at that moment! I could not help but smile inside.)

 

 

 

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Food Boobs

I’m thinking about changing my blog title from simply my name to “Sexy Celebrity Who Knows Everything You Can’t Figure Out For Yourself”. What do you think?

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If you are at all interested in the debate over healthy eating, then you have probably heard of the “Food Babe“.

She is the latest in a long line of conspiracy theorists and uninformed non-scientific critics trying to lambaste vaguely identified corporate entities.

(If you do not know where to point a finger when it comes to food, just say “Monsanto” in an accusing way and you will sound like an informed advocate on the side of would-be underdogs who believe they are defending food… because they saw some documentaries. As we know, that’s pretty much the same as becoming an actual scientist and Hollywood can always be trusted.)

The problem I have with people like Vani Hari (the “Food Babe”), Dave Asprey (“Bulletproof Coffee” and now also the “Bulletproof Diet”), and Loren Cordain (“Paleo Diet“) is they prey on fear. They exploit the ignorance of others and spread bad information to create panic for profit.

Here is the real deal. I have been vegan and studying the food debate for more than a decade and I can tell you, unequivocally, there are no good answers, no easy answers, and no shortcuts to health. Genetically Modified Food has never been proven unsafe or less nutritious in any rigorous scientific study, whether you choose to eat it or not (I choose not, usually, but not because I pretend to understand the intricacies of the science and agendas on either side of the debate). The base of corporate conspiracies falls apart at the doorstep of any company. Monsanto is comprised of normal working people, just like you and I, paid to do their jobs, just like you and I. No one I have ever met goes to work at any company with the intention of destroying the world. It is, on its face, ludicrous.

Just consider the base logic of nearly all of the anti-food / pro-fear arguments. They advocate eating like we did centuries ago. They say if we go back to eating the way we did more than a hundred years ago, then we will live longer and be healthier. The only problem is, just a hundred years ago our lifespans were shorter, our access to food was more limited, and our understanding of how food works was a hundred years behind today’s knowledge. Would you drive a hundred year old car and expect it to run better, faster, and with fewer emissions than one made today? Food has advanced and improved like nearly everything else. It is not a singular exception to society’s movement forward.

Farmers have always selected for the best food genes, cross-breeding and splicing plants to create better breeds, since the dawn of agriculture. Genetically Modified Food used to just be called “food”. We likely would find the corn our ancestors consumed virtually inedible. Through generations of selection, we now have sweet corn that can be eaten plain and is delicious!

The worst part with conspiracy celebrities like the Food Babe is, they are smart. Vani Hari understands marketing and social media. She has a degree in computer science. She may have good intentions, too, but well-meaning charlatans are still charlatans.

Again, the Food Babe has a computer science degree, not a food science degree, not a degree in nutrition, not even a Chemistry degree. She (and people like her) rely on gullible sycophants to support them, not on their earned credibility in the field they are advocating for or against. These predators are becoming increasingly easy to spot, too, and I encourage you to consider a simple fact before buying into their scare tactics… Associated with all their “miracle cures”, “breakthrough” diets, and generous sharing of information is always, inevitably, a product, service, or subscription they want you to buy.

Shockingly, the Food Babe has a book (and a second one on the way) that she wants you to buy, so she can keep working from home and paying for travel and the costs of maintaining fame and celebrity by finding an ever-increasing (and ever-profitable) audience to fund new panic-invoking articles, interviews, media events, and “research”. The Food Babe relies on two essential things to make a living: her boobs and your fear (she was not given the moniker “Food Babe” by her audience–she gave it to herself).

Actually learning the science of food, studying peer-reviewed literature, and talking to actual scientists who are actually informed does not help her pocketbook or her agenda. Talking to Good Morning America, staying in the news, and finding a way to reach Oprah’s audience does.

It saddens and frustrates me when people, trying to make good decisions, are held captive by sensational marketers, fear-mongering, and exploitation of their own ignorance. No one has the time to study every facet of food production, food science, or even to learn how to discern the hype from the known facts. Sadly, it is at our own peril if we do not start making the time to learn how to think and make decisions on more than a recommendation from a celebrity.

Today’s lesson: Marketers are too good at manipulation now and, for better or worse, your brain is the main tool you have to navigate ethics, morality, and Reality. Do not rely on blogs (not even mine), television, social media, or celebrities to do your thinking or live your life for you. Raise your sleeves and get to work finding out how to think skeptically, how to trace information to its sources, or just how to understand the basics of living a logical life. Be in the driver’s seat of your life. Don’t let these idiots get behind the wheel.

 

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10 Food Lessons I Learned From My Cat

I learn a lot of lessons from my one-eyed cat, Rainee, about life, patience, and being a good person. This is not really one of them.

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I am a little overweight but my cat is looking rather svelte. I have been carefully observing her eating habits to see if there is something I can learn and adapt to my diet. Here are the 10 most powerful food lessons I have learned from my (quite spoiled) domesticated, house cat:

 

  1. Never prepare your own food. Someone will eventually do it for you. 
  2. If the person preparing your food is not moving fast enough, yell at them. Dancing will sometimes help as well. 
  3. Never trust whoever prepared your food. When they set a bowl in front of you, sniff whatever is in it, and just walk away. See if they seem alarmingly interested in you eating it. It could be poison this time. You never know.
  4. Every three days, barf up everything you have eaten. Barf on random furniture or on the floor at least 3 times, in 3 different places, as loudly and productive-sounding as possible. Also, three o’clock in the morning is the best time for barfing.
  5. If you see a glass of water no one is drinking from at the moment, go ahead and test it for cooties by dipping your hand into it and then lick your palm. If it seems legit, proceed to try and fit your whole head into the glass. It is best to drink it that way.
  6. To make meal time fun, push about half your food out of the bowl and just leave it wherever. This is not wasteful. The people that put it there can give it to starving cats in Africa if they want. They just don’t want to. 
  7. If there is no tuna in it, then it is not food of any kind and not meant for consumption. Make someone put tuna in it or wait until they bring you tuna.
  8. But randomly hate tuna. Tuna doesn’t own you.
  9. Eat lint and tinsel whenever you can find it. Especially if someone looks like they might want to take it from you. They probably want that sweet lint for themselves. They can get their own lint. You eat that lint as fast as you can.
  10. Never eat lint. It’s gross. Tinsel is still awesome, though. Lint is pretty good, too.

 

Today’s lesson: Consider the source. (Also, dancing will sometimes help.)

 

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