food, vegan

Introducing Bare Bones Baker!

bare bones baker

Last summer, my lovely friend Annalise threw a barbecue and made a bunch of vegan food. I was so excited, I took photos and planned to blog about it. Well, it might actually be a good thing that I procrastinated on posting about her food for months, because now she’s launched a cooking blog called Bare Bones Baker, which makes this the perfect time to hype her up!

bare bones baker

In addition to the vegan bruschetta shown in the first photo, she made a delicious vegan mac ‘n’ cheese for her barbecue last summer. I was suspicious because I hadn’t eaten much vegan “cheese” before that, but it was delicious!

bare bones baker

Finally, she made a very rich chocolate dessert that I ate too much of because I was blown away by how good it tasted. I’m really looking forward to trying out the gluten-free and dairy-free recipes Annalise comes up with for Bare Bones Baker and I hope you check it out. :)

food, health, labor, society

In defense of ethical consumerism

This post might be a bit redundant for those who regularly follow my blog (I’ve written about going sweatshop-free and conscious consumption in the past), but ethical consumerism is something that’s been on my mind in recent months. Like “conscious consumption,” “ethical consumerism” doesn’t have a hard definition, but, as the phrase implies, it essentially refers to shopping that is done with ethical considerations in mind. For me, it means first consuming consciously, becoming more aware of what I want to buy and why instead of purchasing mindlessly, then, when I do decide to continue with a purchase (many times I don’t because I realize I’m wanting to spend unnecessarily for dumb reasons), committing to seeking out brands that are not treating their employees like slaves and devastating the environment.

I’ve seen a lot of writers (you can google–I’m not linking any of them) brush off ethical consumerism as silly and ineffective, a luxury generally taken up by wealthy white women who want to feel good about themselves as they shop at Whole Foods for cage-free eggs and paraben-free lotion. I get it. To an extent, it is a luxury. Target sells yoga pants for $15 while prAna, a Fair Trade brand, sells them for $65+. At this point in time, sweatshop-free, cage-free, paraben-free, organic, ethical, eco-friendly, natural, Fair Trade–you name it, anything with a label indicating that the product was made in more ethical working conditions or has a lesser negative impact on the environment–is more expensive. That sucks for sure, but just because some people cannot buy ethically-made products right now doesn’t mean those who can shouldn’t.

At times, I have agreed with those who criticize ethical consumerism. My view of capitalism has vacillated over the years, and at more than one point in time I’ve considered myself Marxist (I do not currently). I subscribed to Adbusters for years (though, perhaps ironically given the subject of this post, stopped when they began selling shoes). I wanted people who give a fuck to revolt, not attempt to achieve change from within and ultimately fail. Capitalism was the enemy. The idea of shopping toward a better world sounded absurd, something that only someone who’d been deluded by “the system” could believe in.

Well, I’ve changed my mind. Whether you like capitalism or not, it isn’t going anywhere any time soon. No, I don’t think ethical consumerism will save the world, but it’s part of the puzzle. It’s a start. It’s a push in the right direction. People who want to engage in ethical consumerism are noticing a spark within themselves, an awareness that things aren’t quite right, a desire to change. Instead of blasting them for being only marginally effective in how they react to that spark, I want to encourage them. I want to respond with a “Yes, and” instead of a “No, but” (or, #wellactually) to steal lingo from improv (and twitter).

Shopping consciously is no substitute for voting, volunteering, donating, being politically active, etc., but it is an action that complements those other things. It’s clear cut, easy-to-understand, and does not involve much risk, sacrifice, or difficulty. For some people, it will be a first step toward becoming more aware of and involved in issues related to labor, inequality, public health, and the environment. Instead of criticizing and shutting down people who try to shop ethically, I think it’s better to support them and prompt them to dig deeper into whatever part of them felt motivated to take that step, to encourage them to think about what else they can do to get more involved and have even more of an impact.

Continuing to shop the way we as a society now shop is not only unsustainable, it’s horrible. Our current system is damaging first and foremost to the workers. In many instances, it’s also damaging to the consumers who buy the products and, finally, the earth and those living on it as a whole.

Joke about the culture and tastes of people who buy organic clothing all you want, but know that workers who farm non-organic cotton are dying from cancer caused by the pesticides used on that cotton. There is a difference between the two products and the effect their manufacturing has on those who make them. Joke about Fair Trade chocolate, coffee, and clothes, but know that there are still literal slaves in 2016 making items sold in stores all over the United States. If you have a problem with America’s history of slavery, it is only logical that you should have a problem with the current manufacturing industry.

I hate when people pit one social issue against another, which is something that seems to happen quite a bit when ethical consumerism comes up. The general implication is that the same people who put effort into shopping consciously do not put effort into other issues that are perhaps more visible here in the US–issues related to immigration, public health, segregation, police brutality, etc.

I’m not well-versed in feminism (planning on changing that), but I’ve heard enough to know of the term “intersectionality” (very basically, the concept that issues of race, class, and gender are not at odds, but rather intersect) and that I agree with it. I think the same mentality applies here. Again, it’s the “Yes, and” approach. If someone says they want to shop Fair Trade, that’s opening a doorway to help them recognize labor inequality and its effects in the US. It makes sense that anyone with that initial impetus to shop ethically in order to benefit workers in other countries would also care about domestic human rights issues.

If you don’t think there should be slaves making clothing in 2016, you probably also don’t think people should be getting shot in the street because of their skin color, I’d guess. If you don’t believe chickens should be pumped with hormones, smashed into crowded cages, and kept so fat they can’t walk, you probably also don’t think humans of skin colors different than yours should lack access to clean drinking water and adequate healthcare.

Corporations hold massive amounts of power. They spend massive amounts of money trying to get consumers’ attention. If enough people take their attention (and money) away from a company, that company will listen and begin to change. At this point, I’ve lost hope that the government will, on its own, require trade agreements to adhere to US labor or environmental standards. A multi-pronged approach is needed. Consumer action is a powerful tool, an important prong.

Right now, clothing, beauty products, and food items are those that are the easiest to research and find more ethical versions of. It’s not that hard to find organic food or jeans, Fair Trade chocolate or lipstick. Good luck, however, finding a sweatshop-free laptop, or Fair Trade car. (Spoiler: they don’t exist.) Since the clothing, beauty, and food industries are the ones beginning to undergo change, those are the areas in which I will focus. If you have any insights (additional information or constructive criticism only, please), I encourage you to share them.

Honestly, at times I feel very helpless and overwhelmed. Our world is full of violence, human rights violations, and inequality, much of which appears to be the direct result of consumerism, greed, and our current manufacturing system. I know that, at heart, most people do not want these horrible things to be happening, and they turn away from them, ignore them, because it’s easier than acknowledging that their own lifestyles and behavior is contributing to them. As a writer, I want to research and share clear, direct actions that I and others can take. Ethical consumerism is one of those actions.

food, health, migraine

How I got rid of chronic migraines

I’ll be a graduate student in the fall. It isn’t my first time. I was a Master student (and for a short while, PhD student) once before. The experience lead to serious burnout and chronic migraines that lasted over two years. I had “transformed migraine,” which basically meant some sort of headache at all times, even while sleeping. It was hell. Although I’m super excited to go back to school, I’ve noticed the voice of anxiety cropping up to remind me of these past experiences. “What if it happens again?” it whispers. “What if your body just can’t handle the additional stress?” “What if you ruin your life?”

I’m writing this post partially to help others who are dealing with migraine and looking for an answer–I credit my ability to manage migraine and become “normal” again to months and months of research, much of it shared by fellow migraine sufferers online–but mostly to remind myself that migraine wasn’t just a mystery affliction that came and went without explanation. I identified and altered many factors in my life in order to get better. It took work, but I went from getting migraines 2-5 times per week to getting them 1-2 times per year.

Without further ado, here is how I got rid of chronic migraines:

1. I tracked everything. I read everything.

I saw a few doctors and learned pretty quickly that they weren’t very helpful. Most doctors are in the habit of making diagnoses and writing prescriptions and not doing much beyond that. After reading horror stories about migraine meds initially helping but later making symptoms worse, or migraine meds being addictive, or migraine meds having horrible side effects, I didn’t want a migraine prescription. (That said, I know every situation is different and respect people who do choose to go the prescription route.)

I read everything there was to read. The most helpful book by far was Heal Your Headache by David Buchholz. It became my handbook.

Understanding migraine took a while, but it was necessary to grasping what was going on with my body. I’d previously thought the label “migraine” applied to any really painful headache, but I was wrong. A migraine headache is a very specific type of headache that not everyone gets (Mayo Clinic has a great, easy-to-understand migraine definition). “Migraine” is a neurological disorder that is passed on genetically (thanks, Mom!) and never goes away. Individual migraine headaches are brought on in people who have this disorder, in response to certain environmental triggers. A person’s sensitivity to these triggers varies based on many factors.

I worked both to reduce the migraine triggers I encountered and my sensitivity to those triggers. Because different “Migraineurs” are triggered by different things, it took a lot of investigating to identify what my triggers were and when I was more sensitive to them. A migraine can occur hours or days after the presence of a trigger, which is why tracking was so important.  For a while, I wrote down pretty much everything–what time I fell asleep, what time I woke up, how many hours I slept, how restful my sleep felt, what I ate and drank and at what time, when I exercised and for how long, details on my mood and energy levels, when I began and ended my period, and, of course, when I had headaches and what symptoms were present. I cannot overstate how important this was. I wouldn’t have known what changes to make without it.

2. I quit hormonal birth control.

In Heal Your Headache, David Buchholz names hormonal birth control as one of the major factors that sensitizes women to migraine triggers. I already knew that there was some sort of hormonal connection–my migraines were more intense and frequent around my period–so I believed him.

I’d already suspected birth control was a culprit since I’d been getting headaches and stomachaches more and more frequently after starting BC. Three doctors–a gynecologist, primary care physician, and pharmacist–had assured me, however, that the migraines were completely unrelated since they had gradually worsened over time and not started in full force immediately after I began taking the pill. I think those doctors were wrong, and did not fully understand the nature of migraine.

3. I quit caffeine. 

I resisted this majorly, but tried it because I was willing to try anything. I quit all forms of caffeine–coffee, pop, tea, chocolate, and caffeine-containing OTC migraine meds, like Excedrin. After a couple of weeks of tracking it was clear that this helped big time. A few months ago, I reintroduced caffeine into my diet in the form of one cup of green tea per day. It seems to be going fine. I will probably never drink coffee again.

4. I quit MSG.

Once I got off birth control and caffeine, I started seeing improvement and it became easier to identify which foods were triggering migraines since the headaches were spread farther apart in time. I was a vegetarian then and was shocked to find out that my “healthy” vegetarian food was a trigger. Yep, Boca burgers and Morningstar chik’n nuggets, soy milk, Zone bars, Bolthouse Farms protein drinks–all of the things I had felt good about eating–were triggering pain. I learned that “soy protein isolate” and any sort of “hydrolyzed protein” contain MSG. I started reading labels and found MSG under different names in my whole-wheat bread and vegetarian soup. I quit eating fast food altogether and became a more conscious grocery shopper.

I should note that I had already eliminated artificial sweeteners from my diet after noticing a connection between aspartame and anxiety.

5. I started sleeping 8 hours per night. The same 8 hours.

Well, I should say I started lying in bed for 8 hours per night. In the beginning I had serious insomnia. I followed the insomnia tips you find all over the internet even though I resented them and felt like a kid being told to mind her bedtime. Eventually it worked. I’d get in and out of bed at the same time, even if I didn’t feel tired (at night) or had the option to sleep in (in the morning). I stopped going online the hour or two before bed. I moved electronics out of my room or at least away from my bed. I bought an eye mask and earplugs to preemptively protect myself from potential sleep disturbances. Getting more and better sleep helped.

6. I quit drinking alcohol.

This was a gradual process. Alcohol was a major part of my social life so I resisted giving it up entirely. First I gave up red wine, an obvious migraine trigger. Then whiskey became an obvious trigger so I gave that up, too. Finally I had to admit that even beer was triggering headaches, so I gave it all up. Now, years later, I am able to tolerate clear alcohols like vodka and white wine without problem, but still avoid red wines, most beers, and dark liquors.

7. I quit perfume, scented candles, and air freshener.

I quit wearing perfume. That helped a little, but then I noticed other things had triggering smells, too. I gave up scented deodorant, hair spray, and fabric softener. I gave away my scented candles and begged my roommate to throw out her Glade Plug-in.

Now that I’m better, I’ve been able to reintroduce some scents into my life. I’ll never buy an air freshener and most regular perfumes still make me feel sick, but over the past year I’ve begun wearing the natural perfume brand Pacifica a minimal amount–I particularly like Island Vanilla.

8. I began taking vitamins and supplements.

Some worked, some didn’t. I believe Magnesium worked. After reading The Magnesium Miracle and The Magnesium Solution for Migraine Headaches I was eager to try it. I felt it made a difference and I took it daily for a year or two.

I also believe the Forever Well supplements worked for me. I was on them for two months. Click their link to read about the gut-brain connection. Seeing as how my diet and migraines were closely intertwined, the gut-brain idea makes a lot of sense to me. When I finished those, I started taking probiotics.

Supplements I tried that did not seem to have any effect  included Butterbur and Feverfew.

9. I began eating more often, and cut back on sugar.

I list these two together because I believe they were directly related. I was trapped in a cycle of forgetting to eat and then becoming so faint and weak that I needed an immediate quick fix. I’d eat sugar-laden food to gain energy. My tracking showed that often triggered a migraine.

I began carrying healthier snacks like apples and nuts in my backpack and ate them throughout the day in an effort to avoid that blood sugar crash and subsequent sugar cravings. Although I didn’t feel able to give up added sugar foods completely, I started eating them as desserts rather than meal substitutes.

10. I started doing low-impact exercise.

I already exercised prior to getting the headaches, but had cut back since beginning grad school. When I first tried to restart my previous exercise routine I was in for a big surprise–vigorous exercise now triggered a headache! Instead of aerobics or anything that involved running or bouncing around, I started walking, bicycling, and doing yoga. It helped with headache reduction, but even more than that, helped with reducing the anxiety and depression that tended to accompany the headaches and make me feel trapped and hopeless because of them.

11. I paid attention to my body and acted accordingly.

My way of dealing with the pain had been to ignore my body, and when I first started noticing it again, that involved becoming aware of even more pain. It was difficult, but necessary.

I started meditating at home. I started paying attention to my breathing and to my muscle tension throughout the day, trying to take deeper breaths and to relax my muscles. I noticed that the sun hurt my eyes almost any time I went outside, and it triggered headaches. I bought extra pairs of sunglasses and began carrying some at all times. I realized wearing a headband or my hair pulled back put tension on my head and would turn into a headache with time. I wore my hair down. Essentially, I began noticing low-level discomfort and alleviating it before it passed the point of no return.

12. I starting saying “no.”

First I dropped out of Spanish–an extra class unrelated to my grad program–in hopes of lightening my course load and freeing up time to sleep more. It was too little, too late, however, and I ended up dropping out of grad school altogether. It’d be oversimplifying to say this was entirely due to migraines–I had questioned my path of study since beginning it–but migraines played a major role.

I was an over-achiever plus I wanted to feel normal, so saying “no” to things I normally would’ve said “yes” to felt difficult and selfish at first. I realized that my health had to come first, however, and that anyone expecting me to do something that would compromise my health was the selfish one. I turned down volunteer and professional opportunities, social events, and family get-togethers when I felt they would be too taxing. It helped.

13. I received massage and Reiki treatments.

I didn’t believe Reiki treatments would work because I viewed them as mystical, but I enjoy getting massages so I accepted when someone offered to barter combination Reiki/massage treatments in exchange for grant writing. I had about 5-10 sessions and they worked. At that point I was down to about one migraine a week, and this seemed to be the final thing that ended them.


I don’t know that there is a conclusion, really. While I was successful in ridding myself of chronic migraines, I’m not going to pretend I never faced a health/pain problem again. I’ve also dealt with fibromyalgia, depression, anxiety, fatigue, and IBS symptoms on and off. Whenever I let healthy habits drop off in one area, symptoms of some sort pop up. It feels like a never-ending process of finding the optimal lifestyle.

I’m glad I wrote this post, though, because it reminds me that I’m much better off now than I was in 2007, when I had transformed migraine and dropped out of the PhD program. If I feel symptoms creep up once I’m a grad student again, I will spring into action by saying “no” to all but my required responsibilities, once again quitting alcohol and caffeine entirely, and engaging in other self-care efforts.

For people out there who are managing migraine (or fibromyalgia, or IBS, or depression, or anxiety), do major life changes like moving across the country and entering a grad program concern you? When you’re undergoing major life changes, do you hedge against a “relapse” in symptoms by engaging in protective behaviors? If so, which ones?