The amazing Sulphur-crested Cockatoo

By Midge Raymond,

When we were in Australia this fall, we were thrilled to encounter this pair of Sulphur-crested cockatoos while walking around in Manly.

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We were especially happy to see these birds in the wild after having previously met them only in fiction in Love and Ordinary Creatures, Gwyn Hyman Rubio’s gorgeous novel about a Sulphur-crested cockatoo named Caruso. In Gwyn’s novel, Caruso had been captured from the wild and sold as a pet (fortunately, this is no longer legal; the novel is set in the early 1990s when this was still happening to exotic birds); having the opportunity in Australia to watch them in their natural habitat, foraging for food, staying close to their mates, and cawing loudly wherever they go, was wonderful.

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It also reminded us what an important book Love and Ordinary Creatures is, for giving voice to a species of animal that is so often misunderstood. Gwyn captures this helplessness, longing, and angst so well in this novel, a love story that transcends species.

Love and Ordinary Creatures was inspired by Gwyn’s own journey to Australia with her husband more than fifteen years ago.

We were eating lunch in a delicatessen when a young Australian woman with long, tanned legs and tousled blond hair pedaled up and stopped in front of the deli window. A Sulphur-crested Cockatoo was perched on the handlebars of her bike. Dismounting, she walked over to the parrot and learned toward him with puckered lips. Simultaneously, he lengthened his neck and raised his beak. Much to my amazement, they kissed— after which she came inside to pick up her order. While she was gone, the cockatoo kept his eyes on her. Not once did he look away. Not once did he try to fly off, even though his legs, I noticed, were untethered. A few minutes later, food in hand, the young woman left the deli, the cockatoo fluttering his wings and squawking with delight as she approached. “Now, that’s a bird in love,” I said to my husband when the two of them cycled off.

Learn more about Love and Ordinary Creatures here, and check out the novel’s book club kit for more insights.

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Dining well in Sydney, Australia, part three

By Midge Raymond,

When we needed to pick up some takeaway before a long hike from Sydney to Manly, we were thrilled to discover the all-vegan Iku Whole Food in downtown Sydney.

Iku Whole Food has several locations, and the one we went to was in the Westfield Mall on Pitt Street, upstairs in the food court.

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We were there early in the day and needed food that packed easily, so we didn’t try any of the delicious-looking soups or big salads on the menu.

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Instead, we got easy-to-travel-with wraps, which were wonderful — whole-wheat tortillas stuffed with brown rice, tofu, and veggies.

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We also got several raw desserts to go — the peanut butter and chocolate cookies were our favorites.

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It is so great to see a place like this — healthy, beautiful, and delicious vegan food — not only in general but especially in a shopping mall food court. Don’t miss this place for anything you need while traveling through Sydney.

  Category: On travel, Vegan
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Dining well in Sydney, Australia, part two

By Midge Raymond,

After our Writing about Animals seminar at the University of Sydney, we went to Vegan’s Choice in Sydney’s Newtown neighborhood.

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This small, cozy restaurant features myriad Asian dishes using mock meats, which are delicious if a bit awkward (it’s hard to order “vegetarian shark fin soup” even when you know it’s vegan).

We began with spinach dumplings, which were nothing short of amazing.

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The crispy chick’n was gorgeous with lovely spices.

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And the wonton soup, brimming with vegetables and vegan wontons, was delicious and filling.

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We also sampled a wanton soup that included tofu and just about every mock meat on the menu, from chick’n to vegan squid.

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Our only mistake was not saving room for dessert! Vegan’s Choice has several flavors of ice cream, as well as a beautiful assortment of pastries and tarts. (We will not make this mistake next time.)

Not only was this a wonderful meal for vegans, but it’s the perfect restaurant to visit with omnivores, who won’t miss anything at all with all the offerings on this menu.

Dining well in Sydney, Australia

By Midge Raymond,

Unfortunately, the new president-elect of the United States does not believe in climate change. The good news is that those of us who do can help the planet in so many ways — and eating plants is one of them.

Animal agriculture is responsible for nearly 20 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than all methods of transportation combined. (Learn more about why being an environmentalist means not eating animals or animal products.)

And the very good news is that there are, worldwide, so many incredibly delicious places to eat plant-based foods (saving the planet is delicious!). Among them is a place we discovered in Sydney, Australia — the all-vegan restaurant Bodhi is a great treasure, not only for Sydney but for the planet.

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We stopped in for a late lunch one beautiful afternoon, and we got a seat by the window to enjoy the warm air and lovely breezes. The restaurant’s lovely inside was empty thanks to the gorgeous day…

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…but the patio was bustling.

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Lunch at Bodhi is vegan yum cha, and the menu varies daily. We began with fried wontons, which were perfect: fried to perfection and served with a lovely dipping sauce.

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We followed the wontons with Australian field mushroom dumplings, also scrumptious.

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It was nearly impossible to choose among all the delicious offerings, but next we went for the spicy konyaku noodles with carrots. This was a cold dish and delectably spicy.

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Next we had buns filled with “pork,” an old favorite of mine from when I used to live in Asia — but I haven’t had a vegan version and was thrilled to be able to enjoy them again. The buns are thick, soft, and slightly sweet, and the faux pork is tender and spicy.

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One of our favorite dishes was the fried tofu in rice noodle folds.

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And next (can you believe we are still eating at this point?), we sampled the tofu pockets with sprouts, mint, and carrots served with peanut sauce — these were terrific.

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Finally, though there was so much more we’d have loved to try, we called it a day and ordered dessert — blueberry doughnuts. These are Asian-style doughnuts, which have a distinctive flavor and are not at all like the typical American doughnut — these are less sweet, from the bread to the filling (but the powdered sugar makes up for this).

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Whenever you find yourself in Sydney, don’t miss this amazing restaurant; everything about it — the location, setting, and food — is just about perfect. It’s a beautiful place to be in the afternoon, and in the evening, with the garden lights and full bar, it’s even more festive.

An interview with Among Animals 2 contributor Claire Ibarra

By Midge Raymond,

An interview with Among Animals 2 contributor Claire Ibarra about her story “Vivarium”

Q: What inspired you to write this story?

A: I was living in South Florida at the time, and as common as cockroaches are there, I could never get used to them. I couldn’t help my reaction. I’d scream, dash across the room, climb onto furniture. The palmetto bug is especially hideous because it flies, and getting hit in the face by one is completely unnerving. In the spirit of Kafka’s “Metamorphosis,” I began to wonder about what humans might share in common with these bugs. In the story of Gregor Samsa, he wakes up a bug and becomes completely alienated, whereas Eva begins to connect with others and gain confidence through her solidarity with Chico.

Q: What was your writing/research process?

A: Once an idea for a story comes to me, I tend to dive in and try to get as much as I can down on paper, but of course, I get stuck with lots of questions. I didn’t know anything about cockroaches, and since Wikipedia was such a helpful, quick source, I decided to incorporate it into the story. Eva needed to do her own research, as well. That doesn’t mean that I normally recommend Wikipedia for research. Luckily it’s easy nowadays to access information – Google is such a gift to writers.

Q: Which writers inspire you the most?

A: That’s always a hard question to answer. There are so many inspirational works and authors. As I mentioned, Kafka inspired this story. But I just read My Antonia by Willa Cather for the first time, and I immediately wanted to visit Nebraska. I never thought I’d be inspired to visit Nebraska! Now it seems like to most magical and interesting place in the world.

Q: Why did you choose a cockroach as the animal that allows Eva to step beyond her fears?

A: I guess I was thinking about the most ugly creature imaginable, especially for a person struggling like Eva, juxtaposed with empowerment and transformation. I think I may have encountered a cockroach in my house that day, and it got me thinking about our human struggles, from the most profound to the mundane. What might be the outcome when we face our fears up close, and so intimately?

Q: Where do you see Eva in the weeks and years past the story’s ending?

A: I see Eva in a position to help people. She is on her way to becoming a clinical counselor or therapist. Her family’s dysfunction was her first classroom. She just needs to gain confidence, and maybe she’ll always struggle with OCD, but she’ll make a great therapist. I imagine that she’ll start having more fun!

Q: What do you hope readers will take away from your story?

A: I am continually struck by the intelligence of animals, and their ability to display compassion. Interspecies friendship – the actual affection and love between animals – is one of the most beautiful things to witness. I would like readers to consider the possibility that all living creatures are capable of such affection. Also, we must nurture that kind of compassion and caring within ourselves to make the world more tolerable.

 Q: What do you imagine will be Chico’s fate?

A: I think once Eva decides she doesn’t need his companionship anymore, she finds a creative way to set him free into the wilderness of the Miami streets, where more adventures are in store for him.

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