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Archive for the ‘vegetarian’ Category

Drawing the Line

I’ve been wanting to write this post for a long time.  It originally occurred me shortly after I became a vegan. One of the requirements of veganism is to become a serious label reader. Products you would never imagine contain dairy products or eggs, not to mention some of the other things that are used to add flavor/color (can you say beetle juice?).

So, I was reading the label on a box of cereal that I had been eating for a while (okay, I’ll admit it, it was TJs Maple & Brown Sugar Shredded Wheat), and discovered that not only was this cereal not vegan, it was not even vegetarian! Yes, that’s right. My favorite cereal contained gelatin (pause for gasp)! Gelatin is made from the collagen from cow’s or pig’s bones, hooves, and connective tissue. Ugh.

Now, to some, that may not be an issue. After all, you can find it in marshmallows and Jello, and many cosmetic and pharmaceutical items that we use every day also contain gelatin. It is used as a gelling agent. I, on the other hand was horrified. And it started me thinking.

As a vegetarian or vegan, at what point do you draw the line at what food you eat, what clothes you wear, what products you use?  Meat eaters, too, should ask themselves questions. Where did this food come from? How were the animals treated? As I started writing this post, my response got more and more complex. Drawing the line has so many implications beyond veganism. It can certainly relate to many or most aspects of our lives. You can see why it has taken me so long to write this.

Just a note before you go on. Everything that I say is this post is my feelings and opinions. What you choose to do is based on your feelings and opinions. I won’t judge you if you won’t judge me. I do hope that you will read this and ask questions, and spend some time thinking about your choices.

When I became a vegetarian a little over four years ago, it was really pretty simple. Alan decided to make the change with me, which was a huge help. We did what many new vegetarians do, using meat substitutes in old recipes to easily switch, then gradually adding more whole foods to our diet. At that time, I continued to eat dairy, though I was determined not to be one of those vegetarians that use cheese as their main protein source. I cut out eggs, although I still ate products that contained eggs. After a year, I developed a craving for eggs, which I gave into for a few months, then cut them out again. I stopped buying anything made with leather. I have posted here about my reasons for becoming a vegetarian.

Well, being vegetarian was better, for me, than eating animals, but I felt that it wasn’t enough. If my point was to avoid hurting or killing animals, how could I ignore the fact that the dairy business is one of the cruelest factory farming industries out there and directly contributes to the veal industry. Yes, that’s right, Biology 101: For the cow to give milk, she must have babies.  Once they are born, they are taken away (the milk is for us, after all). The females are raised to take their mother’s places. The males? Well, off to the veal crates, of course. And don’t get me started about the egg industry.

So, in February, 2010, I decided to eliminate all animal products from my diet. If the above paragraph isn’t enough for you, you can read about my becoming vegan here.

So, to clarify, in January, 2007 the line that I drew for myself prohibited eating dead animals or wearing their skin, but I still allowed myself to indulge in some of the products of those same animals. When I became vegan, I drew a new line. I truly believe that vegetarianism, like many things in life, is a process.  We live, we learn, we make the changes that are necessary for our new reality.

After becoming a food and clothing vegan, I had to ask myself more questions. Many household cleaners and cosmetics contain animal products and/or do testing on animals. Obviously, I could not continue to consciously use those items and still call myself vegan. So I started the process, which I am still continuing, of weeding those products out of my life. This is one resource, a list of cosmetic/personal care companies that do not test on animals (those that don’t contain any animal products are marked with an asterisk). On the flip side, this list will tell you the companies that do test on animals. As for cleaning products, there are a few companies out there that do not test on animals (another up-side is that these products are better for the environment too!).

Out with the old...

In with the new.

So yet another line is being drawn. Now, I understand that we all have lines that we won’t cross and gray areas, which I think of as undefined lines, where we may occasionally stray, because, well, we’re human. Yes, I’ve been changing to new, cruelty free products, but I still stubbornly cling to my old L’Oreal Haircolor (wow, that’s two admissions in one sentence!).  L’Oreal does test on animals (although they are supposedly going cruelty free in 2013), and I no longer use any of their other products, but, selfish me, I’m afraid to change.  So there is my gray area.

My gray area?

So, where do you draw the line? Like I said, I really don’t want to judge anybody. But I do want you to think. If you choose to eat meat, you should learn where your meat comes from and make a conscious decision to eat something that used to live and breathe. There seems to be a disconnect going on somewhere, like that juicy steak came from nowhere and just jumped on our plates. Most Americans agree that farm animals should be treated humanely, yet, time after time, hidden video after hidden video, after hidden video, after hidden video, it is proven that they are most definitely not. So what do we do? What should we do?

If you are eating less meat, that’s wonderful. If you are a vegetarian, that’s great. Eating less or no meat is taking a great stride forward, toward better health for you, and less death and cruelty for farm animals. Just keep reading, asking questions, educating yourself, so that you will know where to draw your line.

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As I was preparing this curry, I realized that almost all of the ingredients were white: Tofu, cauliflower, potato, onion, garlic, coconut milk. Yes, I used green curry paste, but I still planned to call this dish “White Curry.” When I realized I wanted a little more heat, I added jalapeno, and it became a “White and Green Curry.” Because I used a prepared curry paste, this was a very fast dish to prepare. You can serve it over rice, and use your favorite curry condiments (Alan likes chutney and raisins, I just love avocado slices).

Ingredients

2 Tablespoons vegetable or olive oil

One small onion, chopped

3 garlic cloves, diced

One jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced (more to your taste)

One cup cauliflower florets, broken into bite size pieces

2 medium potatoes, chopped into bite size pieces

One can light coconut milk

One Tablespoon green curry paste (more to your taste)

One cup vegetable broth or white wine

One package firm or extra firm tofu, cubed

1/4 cup roasted, unsalted peanuts (optional)

White pepper and salt to taste

Cilantro (for garnish)

Directions

In a large skillet or soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until soft. Add the pepper, cauliflower, and potatoes and cook for two more minutes. Add the coconut milk, broth, and curry paste. Increase the temperature  and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Add the tofu and peanuts. Reduce heat and simmer until the sauce thickens and the potatoes are cooked. Serve with rice and garnish with cilantro.

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I’ve been gone a while, I know. And I will be back, I promise. The only excuse, being busy, sounds empty. But, I have great intentions, even if we know where those lead.

In the meantime, I wanted to let you know that VegWeek is back! During the week of April 18 through 24, you can take the pledge to eat less (or no) meat. It is a great opportunity to explore the healthy and delicious choices that a vegetarian diet offers. When you sign up, you’ll receive recipes, tips, and resources in your area that will help you keep your pledge. If you are already vegetarian, why not try vegan for the week? Or spread the word to your omnivore friends.

In order to do my part, I pledge to get back to blogging. During VegWeek, I will post recipes, tips, restaurant reviews, and links to more information. I will also answer any questions you may have about going veg. (Like, where do you get your protein?)

Good luck and remember, I’m here to help.

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Saturday, after our first cross country meet of the season, Alan and I headed west, to Santa Monica for the rest of the weekend. He would be announcing the Santa Monica 5000 on Sunday, I would, well, read on and you will see.

One of the nice things, when Alan announces a race, is that they put us up at a hotel, usually the sponsor hotel, for the night.  This time, it was the Holiday Inn Santa Monica Beach-At the Pier. Just steps from the pier, beach, and all the action of the race.

Because we got a late start, it was getting close to 5:00 by the time we checked in. We decided to eat early, both to beat the Saturday night crowds and because Alan had to get going very early on Sunday morning. As a vegan, finding a restaurant in a new town can be a challenge. Of course, the Los Angeles area is one of the most veg-friendly in the country, but when you don’t know a local area the pickings can be slim.

Fortunately, Happy Cow is available! I use both the website and the Happy Cow Vegin’ Out Guide that I have on my Android phone. On the website, you enter the city and voila, a list of restaurants, either vegan, vegetarian, or veg-friendly, pops up. The mobile version uses GPS to guide you to local restaurants. Because I was going to be in the LA area, I also checked out quarrygirl.com. She has the most honest and reliable reviews, particularly of vegan restaurants in Los Angeles.

So, using all these sources, the restaurant I was most interested in trying was Real Food Daily. Although quarrygirl gave the West Hollywood restaurant a pretty bad review, word was that the Santa Monica restaurant was much better. Plus, it was walking distance from the hotel, so, there you go.

We got there early, before 6:00. There are actually two store fronts, side by side. The name over one is Real Food Daily, while the other says Real Food Daily Bakery Cafe. The hostess stand was situated in front of the former, so that is what we chose. There are about a dozen tables jammed into the relatively small space. Our hostess seated us at the one open table, literally two feet from the food pick-up area, which meant the servers were dashing by us all evening long.  Too bad they didn’t stop very often.

I snapped this shot over my shoulder from our tiny table 
(excuse the poor lighting, I didn’t want to be too obvious by using my flash)

After being seated, our server stopped by to see if we wanted a beverage. I tried to order wine, but I was told that due to licensing restrictions, we would have had to enter the restaurant through the other entrance, then be seated upstairs, in order to have wine. I wavered for a moment, but, not wanting to sound like a wino, I decided that we’d stay put. Since that not-so -simple choice probably clouded my whole RFD experience, I probably should have just gone for it and made the move. Oh well, with the overpriced wine list off the order, we definitely saved a few dollars on our meal.

I had heard good things about the club sandwich, so I ordered it “wrap style.” (I’d also heard the bread was excellent, but it looked huge so I stuck with the wrap.) It is made with seitan, tempeh bacon, avocado, tomato, and veganaise and is served with a small side salad. At $13.75 it is a little pricey, but it was definitely tasty.

Alan ordered the Caesar Wrap, blackened tempeh, avocado, capers, and Caesar dressing, which he enjoyed. Also served with a salad, it was a little more reasonable at $10.75.  Actually, since this was our dinner, the prices weren’t too bad, but if I was going to spend $14 for a sandwich at lunch, it had better be a special occasion.


We decided to order dessert, something that we rarely do, because the Chocolate Cream Cake sounded so luscious. We had finished our meal, the plates had been cleared, we saw our server rush past us many times. She finally slowed down long enough to give us a dessert menu. The we waited a while longer. Apparently she asked another server to take our order, but it did finally get taken. Then we waited a while longer. We never did see the second server again, but we finally caught our gal’s attention. Well, the Chocolate Cream Cake was close to being worth the wait. The picture below doesn’t do it justice. It was rich and light at the same time. Yummy.
 
The bottom line of Real Food Daily? The food was very good (especially our dessert), but a little overpriced. The service, while friendly, was slow. Would we go back? Yes, but I’d make my way to the upstairs section over the bakery. Everything is better when you have a glass of wine.
We had a plan for the next morning. Alan would get up very early, so that he could be at the start line of the race by about 5:30. The 5k was scheduled at 7:30, but he likes to get there early, get the crowd worked up into an appropriate frenzy, get the music going, etc. There was also a 10k plus a couple shorter, family oriented/kiddie races. He brought along our old mountain bike, so that once the 10k was off and running, he could head over to the finish line at the Santa Monica Pier, and welcome in the runners.
My plan was to get up a little later, run from the hotel to the start line, then back to the pier, hoping for a total of about six miles. It is a joy to be able to sleep in a little. In the desert, if you’re not running by 6:00 am, you’re pretty much not going to run (unless you do it on a treadmill, definitely not my cup of tea). So, I slept in. Then I slept in some more. By the time I woke up, it was about 7:40, and, boy, did I feel lazy. I did something I very rarely do. I canned the run. Completely. Yay me!
Instead, I eased out of bed, then decided to head over to the Starbucks that was a few blocks from the hotel for a little caffeine pick-me-up.  What I didn’t take into account was that the race had started, the roads around the hotel were closed, and the *$%@ing crossing guards doing street patrol wouldn’t allow me to run across the street during an opening between runners. Seriously, I’ve been racing a long time, the pack was thin, I could have easily crossed the street, without disturbing the racers. Instead, I was yelled at, told not to cross, then watched as the pack of runners got thicker and thicker, until there was no hope of crossing. After a few choice words to the bureaucrat crossing guard (remember, I hadn’t had my coffee yet), I headed off in the other direction. It’s Starbucks, after all. Surely there would be another one in almost any direction.
Well, there was. The problem was, it was about a mile away, ordinarily not a big deal. But I had planned to walk a few blocks, so I was wearing thongs, which ended up giving me a blister, right on the bottom of my heal. You can guess who I’m blaming for that one.
A half hour later, though, my mood greatly improved after coffee and oatmeal, I headed down to the beach to walk back toward the pier, where Alan would be finishing up. The weather was wonderfully cloudy and cool. Alan still had to finish up the awards ceremony, he was waiting on the finish line people to give him the results, so after wandering around snapping a few pics, I headed back to the hotel to wait for him.
 The Santa Monica Pier, where they held the post-race
party and awards ceremony
 
 
 Sometimes you have your camera ready at just the right time.
Ready for the awards ceremony

All in all a nice weekend in Santa Monica. And just so I didn’t feel too guilty about my lazy day, since I was taking Monday off of work, I not only ran three miles in the morning with my dogs, I rode 30 miles after the run. And finished it all by 8:30 in the morning. No more lazy days.

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>I’ve been on vacation for the last week. Without any travel plans, my goals were to: 1) Relax 2) Get in some serious house cleaning time 3) Relax 4) Get in some serious cycling/running time 5) Relax.

Now, I realize that items 1,3, & 5 may not mesh very well with items 2 and 4, but somehow, it all came together very nicely.  It helped that we took a quick one day trip to Encinitas, and that the weather this past weekend has cooled down to almost freaky temperatures (I mean, 93 degrees at 3:00 pm on August 29? That has to be a record of some kind!).

Anyway, it turned out to be a nice, relaxing, yet productive staycation. Here are some of the highlights:

Over the course of my 10 days off, I managed to get in four bike rides (plus tomorrow, I hope).  Nothing spectacular, just early morning rides, about 25-30 miles each, managing 43 miles yesterday because the weather was so much cooler. I mentioned how nice this weekend is, but just a few days ago the high temperature was almost 120. With relatively high humidity. In weather like that, I’m always afraid to get too far from home, knowing that by 8:00 it can shoot right up over 100 degrees.

I also managed to get in four runs. Most notably, I finally made it to the top of the Bump and Grind (I usually have to leave early to go to work). That was last Tuesday, the day that hit about 120 degrees. While I was running, at 6:00 am, it was only about 90. Of course, I’m not alone out there. In addition to about a million hikers, we have the cross country team training on those hills. They are in a lot better shape than I am, let me tell you. I’m sure that being a lot younger has nothing to do with it. We also got to run along the coast in Encinitas. That was wonderful: cool, damp, and foggy. I know they’re hating it at the coast, but Alan and I loved it.

Our last run up at Pinyon Pines–time for school to start and get down to real racing!

My turn around spot in Cardiff-love it!

Some of the kids before the run this morning. It was about 68 degrees, cold for us desert rats!

During my last few runs, I was noticing some knee pain.  Not good. I attributed it to the extra running that I was doing. In fact, my knees hurt during the entire six mile run in Encinitas. My coach’s brain finally kicked in though, and I realized that it was probably time for new running shoes. I don’t put in a lot of mileage anymore, so I don’t track my “shoe mileage” as closely as I used to, but after a little calculation, I realized that I was overdue for new shoes. Well, since we were in the San Diego area, and since I’m a lifetime Roadrunner VIP member, we opted to stop by Roadrunner Sports on our way home.

The nice thing about being a VIP member is that you get 10% off every purchase, free shipping (and you get it like almost the next day!), secret specials, etc.  The bad thing is, they can look you up and tell you how much you’ve spent on running shoes over the last 15 years. Yikes!

I was fortunate to find the deal of deals on my new shoes. I’ve been running in Asics Kayanos for years. At Roadrunner, you can usually pick up “last year’s model” or even an older version, for a significant discount. Which I did…Kayano XI for $70 a pair (buy two and receive $10 off). Nice. The latest, Kayano XVI, is going for $139. Score!

DEAL!

 
On Thursday, we drove to Encinitas. We really had the best of it all. The day was warm, sunny and clear. The beach was not too packed. For the first time in about four years, Alan and I hung out at the beach. It was great, although after a couple hours of sun, I was ready to check in to the hotel and shower off the sand.
In the old days (before we bought our bikes), Alan and I could be found 
on weekends right here, about 50 yards south of the lifeguard station.
 

For dinner that evening, we headed out to Roxy’s, a funky, little cafe/bar restaurant that has a lot of vegetarian and vegan options. I ordered the Falafel Plate and Alan had the Avocado Burrito. Both were delicious (and huge!).
 
While we were eating, we noticed huge crowds wandering along the Coast Highway. In fact, I’d never seen that many people in the evening in Encinitas, and I’ve been going there for a long time. It turned out that it was The Taste of Mainstreet, one of those events, really targeting locals (why it’s on a weeknight), where they pay so much and get to wander the streets and taste the samples from the participating restaurants. Nice deal (not so much for vegetarians, though, so we stayed where we were).
When we woke up the next morning, the weather had changed. As I mentioned above, it was cold and foggy, perfect for our run. Having no inclination to head back to the beach, we instead headed over to Nytro, followed by B & L, both bike/triathlon stores, for a little wishful dreaming (Cervelo P4 TT bike, only $10,999 at Nytro–or something like that).

Poor quality (phone photo), but it gives a good idea of the bike porn available at Nytro.
We had lunch at the Lotus Cafe, another veg friendly restaurant in Encinitas. I had some delicious lentil and vegetable soup, then went with the falafels again (none in years, then twice in two days, what’s up with that?). I didn’t get a picture this time, but it was good, although the sauce they served with it was not vegan. I made do with the hummus, though. They tell you all this on the menu, though, so it takes some of the hassle out of ordering. (In spite of all the falafel over the weekend, I still had a Middle Eastern craving when I got home, making my own “chicken” shawarma for dinner last night.  Yummy!)

Our timing back to the desert was perfect, with the cool down letting us be outdoors and enjoy the last weekend of my vacation even more. All in all, I accomplished almost all my goals over the course of my staycation:  I rode, I ran, I relaxed. And the cleaning?  Well, not so much. Oh, well, at least I had my priorities straight.

I’ll leave you with a video of one of our cross country runners.  His name is Chris and I am told that he is the best dancer in the school.  He gave us a little performance this morning after practice:

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>…but sometimes my food tastes so good I’ve just gotta write about it.

Now, you know I’ve been vegetarian for several years, vegan for just about four months. Alan gave up meat at the same time I did and he is working on getting all other animal products out of his diet. So I’ve had some experience cooking vegetarian, both with my own original recipes, other recipes that I’ve found through vegetarian cookbooks and blogs, and reworking old favorites, exchanging the meat and dairy for plant based ingredients.

I have noticed that my dinner menus have changed over the last few years.  In the beginning, I relied heavily on substitute meats, and I would create dishes that mirrored my pre-veggie meals. I used imitation chicken in many dishes, including curry, cacciatore,  marsala, burritos.  Interestingly, prior to my vegetarian diet, it had been so long since I’d eaten beef or pork, I had no desire for imitation steak or chops (with the possible exception of veggie burgers and “bac’n”).

My meals have been evolving over time, though. I began using different protein sources, like tofu, tempeh, and seitan. I’ve centered meals around protein rich grains like quinoa. I often skip imitation meats altogether, and toss in beans, seeds, and nuts, for extra flavor and nutrition.

My recipes for all this? Well, mostly I wing it with what I have in the fridge. I follow some amazing vegan cooking blogs (check “My Faves” at left). I rarely follow a recipe from beginning to end, but I have found some great ideas on these sites. Since I eat a lot of salads, a great find was this vegan ranch dressing from Health. Happy. Life. 

My point? Well, sometimes I amaze myself with how delicious my meals are. The downside, is that those dishes I create by chance? Well, since I don’t follow a recipe, and don’t write things down, chances are that the next time, for good or for bad, the meal won’t be quite the same.  Oh, well, cook on. Here are a few photos of my favorite creations (since I don’t do a food blog, I sometimes forget to photograph my results):

When I was still a meat eater, Alan and I used to go
to a little hole in the wall called the Pita House for their Chicken 
Shawarma. Once a week.  Every week. And bring the leftovers home for 
lunch the next day. One of the few dishes I’ve missed over the years, I
decided to make a vegan version the other night, using Gardein Chik’n and
Quinoa.  It was totally yummy!
This is a recreation from a Better Homes and Gardens recipe
“Potato Tornadoes.” I made the vegan version using a cheese sauce made
with Daiya cheese and soy milk. Totally delicious!
My spicy “chicken” salad, copied from a favorite restaurant version,
using the Daiya cheese, and Gardein chick’n
Vegetarian Chili – my secret:  Soyrizo
Very simple: Take a vegan meat, vegan cheese, vegan sauce, a 
few favorite veggies, wrap it in phyllo, bake and serve with
garlic roasted asparagus. Outstanding!
A salad: Use whatever is in the veggie crisper, toss in 
whatever type of beans are in the cupboard, roast some sunflower
and pumpkin seeds to toss in, and voila:  A perfect summer 
(or any time of the year) salad.
My go-to meal when I’m late, lazy, or just have the urge.
Pasta. Olive Oil. Garlic. Parsley.
Serve with a salad and you’re good to go!
I usually use whole wheat pasta, but for me, this dish,
plain, enriched, carb-laden penne. I just can’t help myself.


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>Becoming Vegan

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It has been more than three years since I became a vegetarian. I wrote about my reasons here.  For those who wonder, I do not eat fish.  If I did, I would not be a vegetarian. I do not eat anything that has been alive. I also stopped buying things made of leather (leather=dead animal, duh). I cut way back on dairy products and eggs, but didn’t completely stop eating them. And that bothered me.

As I wrote about in my previous post, I stopped eating animals because I could no longer bear the idea of killing a beautiful, living creature just for my selfish enjoyment. The horror of factory farms, their cruel treatment of animals, the overcrowding, the filthy conditions, not to mention the environmental consequences, only added to my determination to give up meat.

But, and this is a big but, I still ate dairy products. Oh, I gave up eggs for a while, until I found myself craving them occasionally. I needed my half and half in my coffee, and, oh, I loved cheese.

One can say, oh, it’s just dairy, at least they’re not killing the animals. Well, before you say that, watch this:

Yes, it is awful. Disgusting. Shocking. Disgraceful. Words can’t aptly describe the horrors in that video. Remember, that is a dairy farm. Just. a. dairy. farm.

Somehow, humans seem to disassociate, if that is the right word, our food from it’s source.  We know what happens at factory farms. We know that the majority of our beef, poultry and eggs, pork, and dairy products comes from factory farms. We know that labeling means next to nothing, that most of it is marketing to soothe our guilty souls, because there are few laws that regulate claims like ‘cage free,’ ‘grass fed,’ ‘free range,’ and other such terms. But still, knowing all that, we still sit down to our big juicy steak, baked potato smothered in fresh dairy butter and sour cream, and eat our ice cream for dessert.

Well, I finally reached my end point. My “aha” moment. Like when, about 20 years ago, after years of trying, I finally tossed out the cigarettes and never touched them again.  I was ready. To go vegan.

I decided to start with Lent. I’m not Catholic and I’ve never given up anything for Lent. But, this time, I decided, what the heck. I knew that if I was going to go vegan for 40 days, I could do it forever. Honestly, because I already followed a healthy, mostly plant-based, home cooked diet, it was not that much of a difference.  I have become an avid label reader. There are so many ingredients that made from milk.  And, believe it or not, they are not labeled “milk derived.” (insert sarcasm in that line)

It is a process. I make mistakes here and there. I discovered, for instance, that my favorite cold cereal, that I got from Trader Joe’s, contained gelatin! Gelatin is not only not vegan, it is not vegetarian. And I’m only beginning to examine the other products that I use, makeup, household cleansers, laundry products, etc., that either contain animal products or test on animals. I did find this list, from Caring Consumer.com, that is quite comprehensive in listing the hidden ingredients in the items that we use daily. There are many other resources, both online and in print to help me on my way.

I’ve got to say, I feel much better about myself, knowing that I’m not contributing to the cruelty.

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