Voices

Matt’s Traditional American Values: President Trump’s annual report card

As Saturday marked the end of the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency, I felt that now would be a good point to reflect on the first year of the administration to evaluate how we are doing and what could be done going forward.  To do this, I am going to give Donald Trump a grade on a variety of aspects of the presidency that will culminate in an ultimate presidential GPA.

Legislative Agenda: I have little to complain about in terms of President Trump’s legislative agenda.  He has pushed significant tax cuts and the repeal of Obamacare (which would also accomplish a major conservative goal in defunding Planned Parenthood).  The one criticism I do have is that he has been a little too anti-immigration for my tastes.  But, overall, he has done a solid job. A-

Legislative Success: Unfortunately, while the president’s overall legislative agenda has been strong and conservative, the results are not where they should be after Year 1.  It is a shame that Obamacare largely stands (apart from the individual mandate) and Planned Parenthood is still federally funded after an entire year of unified Republican government. However, his success rate began to improve towards the end of the year with tax reform getting done.  Two months ago, I might have given him a D, but tax reform gives me more optimism for 2018. C+

Executive Action: I am, generally speaking, not a fan of extensive executive action.  However, Donald Trump has done most of what he should do in this department, which is to overturn most of what President Obama implemented via executive action.  Federal agencies are also doing a strong job in fighting back on excessive regulation, and some terrible regulations (such as “Obama’s parting gift to Planned Parenthood”) have been repealed through the Congressional Review Act.  The only executive action that is a major negative for me is his decision to withdraw from the negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  Additionally, it should be a goal to make all of these changes permanent through legislation, so the next president cannot simply rescind them. A-

Judicial Appointments: In my opinion, judicial appointments wind up being the most important part of any President’s legacy because they can serve on federal benches long after the president leaves office.  Additionally, while the Supreme Court arguably has too much power, they often do represent the final say on numerous controversial issues.  The spotlight has been on President Trump’s appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, which has been a home run for conservatives; however, he is also filling other federal court vacancies at an incredible pace. A+

Cabinet and Advisors: Donald Trump has mostly done a good job of surrounding himself with principled conservatives who will lead him in the right direction (towards Reaganite conservatism and away from populism).  I would particularly highlight the work that Ambassador Nikki Haley has done at the United Nations.  While sometimes clashing with the president, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been excellent as well.  There were a few situations in which his advisors have had a negative influence on him, such as with Anthony Scaramucci and Steve Bannon.  General John Kelly has done a good job, since becoming Chief of Staff, of ensuring that only the right people will be in the President’s ear, but I still do worry about Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner’s perceived support of socially liberal policies. A-

Rhetoric and Style: Donald Trump may owe his career to his ability to “tell it as it is,” but that also threatens to be his downfall if he is not careful.  The President of the United States should not be saying every thought that enters his mind, and he needs to be more careful with his words.  His reaction to the violence in Charlottesville was an example of this, when his statements failed to sufficiently condemn the alt-right and white supremacy.  As for Twitter, I do like that it gives him a way to directly communicate with the American people (without having to go through the often unfair media), but he is prone to misusing it to pick pointless fights as well.  His style has earned him a loyal base, but it has also overshadowed some of the successes of the first year.  D+

Economy: Any president’s influence on the economy is limited because it largely has to do with somewhat apolitical macroeconomic cycles, but President Trump has done what he needs to do to maximize growth in good economic times- which is to restore the free market.  It has been a priority of the federal agencies to remove regulation and create an environment where business can invest and grow.  Tax reform was also immensely important to all levels of society.  Yes, it is great that the DOW has risen from $18,000 before the election to over $26,000 today (and seemingly setting weekly record closes).  But, it is also great that tax relief has allowed corporations such as Walmart to give their employees bonuses and raises.  A

Commitment to Life: As protecting the lives of the unborn is the most important issue in politics, I felt that it was necessary to give this its own category.  For someone who described himself as “very pro-choice” in 1999, Trump has been surprisingly strong on life in office.  Despite campaigning on being pro-life, I questioned how strong those convictions were (especially in the primary campaign).  From day one of this administration, it has been clear that Donald Trump would honor the commitment that won him my vote and the vote of the vast majority of my fellow Christians.  Not only did he appoint Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, but he has also reinstated (and expanded) the Mexico City Policy, repealed regulations requiring employers to provide birth control (including abortifacients), overturned “Obama’s parting gift to Planned Parenthood,” addressed the March for Life, protected religious freedom for doctors and nurses and countless more.  While there are still goals outstanding, including defunding Planned Parenthood, passing the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act and the ultimate goal of overturning Roe v. Wade, he has expressed willingness to sign any pro-life legislation that comes to his desk.  There is work to be done still, but he is following through on his commitment to the American people.  The only advice I would give him is to demand that the ultimate annual budget defund Planned Parenthood.  A

Effect on National Politics: Where Trump has not been as helpful is in his effect on the country as a whole.  Left-wing Democrats had a massive surge in enthusiasm in 2017 and saw nearly every off-year and special election swing massively in their favor.  Most dramatic was the Democrats gaining a Senate seat in Alabama, one of the reddest and least elastic states in the nation (to be fair Roy Moore’s controversies played a major role too there).  Some of this can be attributed to an enthusiasm gap in off-year, low-turnout elections (and the biggest Republican victory was in the relatively high-turnout race in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District), but there are worrying signs.  Normally, Republicans should be able to capitalize on a strong economy to avoid a damaging midterm election cycle.  That still may be the case (particularly as President Trump’s approval ratings have been rising over the last six weeks), especially in the Senate, where there are 10 Democratic incumbents up for re-election in red states (one of whom is my actually my second cousin once removed).  However, his style does ultimately threaten his successes. C-

Effect on the GOP: Likewise, there are a couple worrying trends in which the Republican Party is moving.  Simply put, we have become far too anti-immigration.  While I do not think it should be addressed in a government funding bill, it is a shame that we are even entertaining the idea of deporting the Dreamers.  We should focus on securing the border and deporting anyone who is a criminal, but we have a far better use of our resources than deporting 12 million people.  I hope we come to a compromise quickly in Year 2 so that we stop moving in the direction of being an anti-immigrant party.  On the other hand, it has not been all bad, as commitment to follow through on campaign promises has emboldened a lot of conservative activists, and even made some more willing to be vocal on their views.  Plus, his administration has showcased two potential great future conservative presidents: Mike Pence and Nikki Haley. B-

Overall GPA: 3.14 (B/B+).  If he can calm down on Twitter and refocus on the right priorities, President Trump may make Dean’s List in Year 2.  For Year 1, he will have to settle for “good academic standing.”

Let’s Talk About Sex, Vandy: Some barrier methods you might want to give a try

STIs are mostly transmitted when parts of our bodies come in contact with body fluids. Barriers help us limit that contact while still allowing us to engage in fun and safe activities. We all know about external condoms and why we should use them. They prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections at the same time when used correctly. Still, there are a lot of barrier devices out there that people don’t know about or don’t think are worth using, like dental dams and finger cots, which says a lot about what we think about oral and manual or digital sex. Many people believe that oral and digital sex are less intimate or less of a commitment than vaginal or anal sex. While that is a debate about values, ultimately a large risk is still being taken when you engage in these behaviors unprotected and without knowing your partner’s status. Dental dams and finger cots get a bad rap, but the more you know about them, the safer you can become.

Dental dams, or cunnilingus drapes as my friend likes to call them, are usually rectangular pieces of latex or polyurethane that limit contact between the mouth and the vulva or anus during oral sex. Because it completely covers the genital areas, dental dams are great at protecting against STIs like condoms when used properly. Still, dental dams can move out of place and accidental skin-to-skin contact or skin-to-fluid contact might occur so it is important to be careful and hold it with your hands while using it. Some might think that it limits the fun, but if you place a dental dam on your hand and blow it, you can still feel the sensation. Also, if lube is placed on the vagina or anus prior to the oral sex, that might help increase the sensation as well. Like condoms, dental dams also come in flavors, making it fun for all parties involved. If you don’t have a dental dam on hand or can’t find them in stores, you can always make one by cutting an unrolled condom lengthwise (those without spermicide) or by using a glove. Dental dams should not be reversed or reused and never should be flushed down the toilet just like condoms. Honestly, if you’d protect your genitals, why not protect your mouth?

Finger cots are basically like condoms for your fingers. They’re typically used if there are cuts or wounds on your fingers to prevent the spread of infections. While the risk of getting an STI from digital sex is much lower than that for oral, vaginal and anal sex, gloves and finger cots are still important to use and can make the experience all the more pleasurable. Vaginas and anuses are very sensitive and our fingers and nails can be rough or uncomfortable, especially when there are hangnails. Finger cots and gloves create a uniform surface that is smooth and won’t create any genital tears. They also can help you move from vagina to anus and vice versa by easily changing out the finger cots without the worry of having to wash hands in between. Finger cots can also cover small toys which is important when toys are being used between partners.

With a little practice and consistent use, barriers are usually easy to use! If you’re thinking about it too much, don’t feel experienced enough when using them or don’t know how to use them in ways that feel good just yet, they can seem pretty intimidating, but once we feel confident and capable using them, they become easy to learn to like. Keeping barrier methods around not only promotes safe and healthy sex, but protects our and our partner’s health, which is ultimately the most important.

Space Jam: Virgin Galactic

Last week, high above the Mojave Desert, a spacecraft known as the VSS Unity completed its eleventh test flight. Unity, currently considered one of the brightest potentials in private spaceflight, is owned and operated by Virgin Galactic.

To put that in context, Virgin Galactic is part of the larger Virgin Group, owned by Sir Richard Branson, a quintessential eccentric old Briton if ever there was one. Virgin is or has been involved in such disparate things as mobile phone coverage (Virgin Mobile), music (Virgin Records), retail (Virgin Megastores), British trains (Virgin Rail and Virgin Trains East Coast), air travel (Virgin Atlantic), cruises (Virgin Voyages) and even, briefly, Formula One (Virgin Racing). To wit, space tourism is simply another cell in a much larger keiretsu. And, considering Virgin’s remarkable strength in those other ventures, it might be expected that Virgin Galactic would also be a success.

So has it?

Virgin Galactic has been in existence since 2004. Initial signs were promising; it inherited the design of SpaceShipOne, which in 2004 had become the first private manned spacecraft to reach space. Virgin Galactic immediately set about commissioning a new craft: SpaceShipTwo. It was promised to be a breakthrough for private spaceflight.

In mid-2008, while building hype for SpaceShipTwo, Branson quite optimistically predicted that Virgin Galactic’s maiden space voyage would take place “in 18 months.”  By late 2009, that estimate had become “in 2011.” When 2011 came around, that estimate once again became “18 months from now.” In early 2013, Branson announced that he would personally be on the first public flight of SpaceShipTwo, on Christmas Day, 2013–a flight which, once again, did not actually materialise.

Still, the first SpaceShipTwo, named the VSS Enterprise, continued relentless test flights, achieving powered flight in 2013 and breaking the stratosphere. Alas, perhaps the most tragic setback of all came on the thirty-first of October, 2014, when the Enterprise broke up mid-flight, killing its co-pilot and severely injuring its pilot. Virgin Galactic quite rightfully temporarily halted operations in the aftermath.

That, however, left the VSS Unity as the second SpaceShipTwo, the successor to the Enterprise. Unity began test flights in 2016, its name chosen by Stephen Hawking. The aforementioned eleventh test flight has not even seen Unity fly under its power– although we’re promised that it will come close. It is probably worth pointing out that Branson in October 2017 said publicly that Unity could reach space “within three months.” Well, it’s been three months since then, and while there has undoubtedly been progress, Unity hasn’t done anything of the sort.

Virgin Galactic exemplifies some of the problems with private spaceflight. Virgin Galactic is explicitly a space tourism firm. Space tourism may be appealing as a means of shortening bucket lists for Earth’s wealthy, but in reality offers extremely little of scientific or technical value. Additionally, space travel historically has taken a concerted effort by entire countries to even be remotely possible. If an enterprising individual with all the resources and passion of Branson struggles to even show anything for over a decade of work, then the dozens of other Silicon Valley-inspired startups promising simple and clean colonisation of Mars are even less likely to be anywhere close to successful.


category: Featured, Space Jam, Voices

Talk Foodie to Me: A look at Nashville’s best kept food secrets

We hope you aren’t sick of food from the holidays, because we are bringing you a few of Nashville’s best kept food secrets. These places are too good to be kept under wraps, so check them out before the secret gets out.

  1. Rabbit Hole. This restaurant, opened by the chef of the Henley, is a one of a kind dining experience– if you can figure out how to get a reservation. To reserve a ticket customers have to scroll the Henley webpage until an icon of a rabbit pops up, which they chase around the screen and click to open the reservation page. The restaurant is hidden behind a secret door and boasts a 24 course tasting menu, and it is elevating the definition of fine dining in Nashville.
  2. Yeast Nashville. This East Nashville Bakery is best known for their Kolashes, a Danish breakfast staple consisting of a yeast dough with various sweet or savory fillings. The bakery makes their Kolaches fresh every morning, and there are plenty of things to pair with their signature item. We recommend the Tex-Czech!
  3. The Treehouse Restaurant. This restaurant and bar has something for everyone and has a surprisingly sophisticated feel despite being modeled like the interior of a treehouse. Their menu changes daily depending on which local vendors they are buying produce from, and they also offer beer on tap and great cocktails. Don’t miss out on their late night menu, available until 1 am!

We know you probably feel inspired to try new things this coming year, so add these three spots to your 2018 bucket list and check them off ASAP. You won’t regret it.

Happiest and Healthiest: #GirlsWhoLift

In the words of my Orangetheory trainers, “For all the ladies in the house, just a reminder: lifting weights won’t make you bulky; it’ll just make you stronger.”  To give you some context, Orangetheory offers workouts that vary by type throughout the week. Some days will be endurance days, some power, some strength and some that combine all three. This disclaimer, delivered fairly consistently on (you guessed it) strength days, always sticks with me, partially because I agree wholeheartedly — but mostly because I know that a lot of other women in the room do not. In fact, I used to be one of them.

Our brains, for better or worse, like to categorize things so we can better understand them. Good and bad, black and white, weak and strong. While these categorizations are not always inherently positive or negative, I believe that most would agree that strength is almost invariably a positive identifier in our world. We like our buildings, bridges and cell phones to be strong. When the road gets rocky, we tell ourselves and our loved ones to “be strong.” Ask anyone, female-identifying or not, this question: “Do you want to be weak, or do you want to be strong?” I guarantee just about everyone will answer “strong.” Now, ask women if they want to lift heavy. Suddenly, the answer is not so unanimous.

For a large part of my life, and most intensely during high school, I was self-conscious about my arms. Despite being a naturally thin person, I always thought my arms looked too large or “flabby” in sleeveless tops. I searched endlessly for solutions, workouts that would make my arms smaller. “Low weight, high reps, lots of cardio,” I read. “Don’t lift anything too heavy,” I read. And believe me, I tried. Like so many of us, I wanted to look like the women in the magazines. I wanted to look like the models who probably, pulling from one of my favorite That’s So Raven one-liners, don’t even look like their own photos. For some reason, I bought into the idea that having super-thin arms was the essence of femininity and that having muscles would place me in the opposite “category” of masculinity. That somehow, there was no space in the middle for me to exist.

Fast forward through years of lessons learned to now, and you’ll find me in the weight room (with some modest muscles) not giving a damn what my arms look like. Ironically, I love them all the more. At some point in my search for arms so small they didn’t exist, I simply gave up. At some point in the “giving up” period, I learned about CHAARG, joined CHAARG, became an exec and started lifting with 5 lb dumbbells. Slowly, at first with little more than a “why not?” attitude, 5 pounds became 10 pounds and 10 pounds became 15 pounds. Roughly around the 15 pound mark, I started noticing myself in the mirror in a way that was reactive instead of demanding. In other words, I saw the tiny muscles building and marveled at my body’s work instead of searching for the specific changes I was begging it to produce — an attitude that is certainly much more rewarding and realistic. Now, 15 pounds is becoming 20 pounds and I hope to start some barbell work soon.

To be clear, I do have more muscle definition than I’ve had in my whole life, but I am by no means “bulky.” Having lots of muscle requires impressive effort and tireless dedication to what is essentially the “art” of bodybuilding. Beyond lifting a lot of weight, workouts must be frequent and nutrition must be adjusted to provide the muscles exactly what they need to grow, creating a unique lifestyle that is shaped around bodybuilding. If you’re like me, eating what makes you feel good and lifting about two times per week is simply not going to make your arms rip out of your sleeves.

That said, having even a little more muscle will grant you countless other benefits in your daily life. Muscle tissue burns more calories than fat, even when your body is resting. Muscles protect your joints and prevent injury during both everyday activities and your cardio workouts. Above all, there is the basic function of muscles — to move your limbs and allow you to move other things! Life is a constant struggle of you vs. your packages from Station B, you vs. your ten grocery bags that you refuse to carry in two trips and, of course, you vs. your friend who’s having a better (or worse) night than you. At some point, life might be you vs. your child asleep in your arms or you vs. the weight of the patient who needs your help. When these tests come, you’ll want and need your body to work for you. When the aforementioned anonymous interviewer asks you, “Do you want to be strong,” you can answer, “I am.”

Some favorite quotes from my favorite people:

“The team focuses a lot on developing good form with whatever exercise we are doing to prevent injuries and practice better form for stunting — a lot of the same motions are involved. I personally think that the most important part of strength training is developing good life-long habits. Not only do you prevent injuries, but you make recovering from injuries easier, too.” – Courtney Bair, Vanderbilt Cheerleading

“I love lifting and the friends it brought me. Don’t be afraid to be a beginner. We all start somewhere and I promise that people are more than willing to point you in the right direction and give you tips. For most of us, this is a passion and we love to share with whoever will listen. And don’t ever let someone tell you, “You’re strong for a girl.” No, you are just strong. Period. Your gender doesn’t define you and you just have to refuse to let someone put you in their little box based on your gender alone.” – Alexis Smith, CHAARG Exec

Environmentality: How bike paths can improve Nashville’s environmental integrity

Nashville leads the country with a 1.8% annual population growth, over double the national average. With the influx of citizens comes the influx of new business and housing developments, both of which increase city expansion and density. These increases have many consequences, some of which are positive for the city, such as economic growth and increased employment, while others aren’t as beneficial, such as traffic congestion and pollution. As cities become larger, it’s important to make sure that their economic growth doesn’t damage the environment. Doing so undercuts city sustainability, limiting the city’s prosperity for the future. Therefore, when cities grow at a rate like Nashville’s, they must find ways to promote economic growth as well as environmental sustainability. As such, I propose that Nashville looks into adding specialized bike paths to promote greener forms of transportation and, consequently, city sustainability.

All too often cities are designed for the car. Doing so hurts the environment drastically by proliferating the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere. It’s my hope that Nashville puts an end to this trend by implementing environmentally friendly infrastructure while it continues to develop. Therefore, Nashville and other growing metropolises should place an emphasis on both walking and biking. Walking and biking cause no stress or harm to the environment, require much less energy, emit zero greenhouse gas emissions and even make for a healthier, fitter population. These benefits make for a sustainable and much more livable city. It would be a no-brainer to invest in this sustainable infrastructure.

The best way to implement infrastructure that promotes walking and biking is to add specialized bike paths. Specialized bike paths separate the biker from both the road and pedestrians using physical barriers. Typically, the roads get narrowed to decrease the appeal of driving and to accommodate the additional bike lane. Next to the road is a parking lane for automobiles and bikes. On the other side of the parking lane is a wide bike path and, lastly, next to that a wide pedestrian walkway. This layout enhances safety by creating a buffer between the roadway traveled by automobiles and the pathways used by pedestrians and cyclists.

Additional safety features are designed to enhance and encourage bike travel. For instance, bike paths are often elevated and painted a different color so that cyclists are more visible and more protected. The increased pedestrian travel forces drivers to become even more cautious and drive slower, reducing accidents and further increasing safety. Further, as navigating the narrow streets via automobiles becomes a more congested and frustrating option, drivers are all but forced to find other more efficient modes of transportation. Therefore, this design promotes sustainability by decreasing the use of polluting automobiles and making the use of greener transportation more appealing.

Specialized bike paths have already been proven effective in other areas. One of the most famous areas is Copenhagen, which has earned a spot as one of the most bicycle friendly cities in the world. By following the aforementioned design, Copenhagen’s bicycle culture is thriving and is an appealing option to all residents, including older citizens as well as women and children. In fact, 42% of all commuters bike in Copenhagen. Their success has influenced other areas to follow, including my hometown of St. Paul, Minnesota. There is no reason why Nashville should have trouble implementing this design.

Adding specialized bike paths would be beneficial on campus as well. Rather than traffic congestion being the main issue here, pedestrian traffic can be problematic on campus. I don’t know how many times I’ve almost been run over by a bike this year, but I can assure you it’s a lot. It’s not their fault, either. The paths are small and there are thousands of students and faculty members rushing to get to their classes just like I am. By putting in specialized bike paths, the congestion issues we face day-to-day would cease to exist. No longer would one need to hesitate before taking the turn by Stevenson Center and the bridge in fear of being mauled by a bike. Bikers would have their own designated path that would allow them to avoid pedestrians completely. Plus, everyone’s commute would decrease as efficiency of both forms of travel increases. It’s a win-win situation for both pedestrians and bikers and proves that these bike paths would be beneficial for the entirety of Nashville.

Each day, the city of Nashville gains more and more citizens. While it’s fantastic that new families and businesses are joining this wonderful community, it’s important that the city doesn’t lose its environmental integrity. Therefore, Nashville should look to install the series of specialized bike paths. Not only will it reduce congestion, diminish greenhouse gas emissions and make for a fitter population, but it will also help preserve and protect our world.

Pretty and Witty and Gay: On trans body positivity

If you’ve been around me for any length of time, you’ve probably heard me crack jokes about my own weight. I’m not particularly insecure about my weight; in fact, I’m mostly fine with the way my body looks.

This isn’t to say I’m not concerned about my own health, because like many other fat people, I am very aware of the risks associated with poor diet and little exercise. Frankly, it’s no one’s business but my own, but that’s beside the point.

Just like the unhealthy media portrayal of female body image, LGBTQ folks face unique body expectations. Who do you tend to associate with the word “gay?” Probably a cisgender, fit, able-bodied white man… which makes sense, considering the overwhelming media representation of that demographic. We know that there are plenty of gay people who don’t fit this description, but these people may feel the pressure to look like the glamorous and successful stereotype.

Transgender people, too, face these expectations, but in a slightly different sense. Many cisgender people believe that trans people are always trying to appear as the gender opposite of what they were assigned. When we meet a trans woman, we assume she either has or is pursuing a myriad of gender-affirming surgeries. When we meet a trans man, we assume his first goal is to start taking testosterone as soon as possible. Nonbinary folks get caught up in these assumptions, too: people suspect a name change, a pronoun change or a change in clothing style. While many trans people are pursuing some form of transition (whether it be medical or social), many trans people don’t want to. Many trans people simply do not have the adequate health or resources to transition. Pile on the pressures of achieving societal beauty standards (i.e. Eurocentric and therefore white) and actually attaining the “ideal” becomes nearly, if not entirely, impossible.

So the laundry list of expectations for my body goes as follows:

  • I am supposed to have had top surgery.
  • I am supposed to have had bottom surgery.
  • I am supposed to be fit.
  • I am supposed to appear masculine.
  • I am supposed to be white.
  • I am supposed to be able-bodied.
  • I am supposed to have broad shoulders.
  • I am supposed to have narrow hips.

I am privileged in that I am able to realistically pursue these expectations, but I also don’t want to pretend that said expectations don’t also weigh heavily (no pun intended) on me. I am tired of the idea that my body is too much or not enough. My beautiful, fat, transgender body is just right.

Across the Borders: How the new year connects us all

A new year signifies a fresh start, a clean slate, a time for rebirth and regrowth. All across the world, there are countless traditions associated with the new year that symbolize these themes. A deeper look at these traditions could even provide a glimpse into something deeper that connects us all.

In Spain, those celebrating stuff one grape for each chime of the clock at midnight into their mouths. This is to ward off bad luck for the new year. Every grape symbolizes each month of the year. If all 12 are not eaten at the stroke of midnight, it is considered bad luck.

In Siberia, professional divers brave the cold to plant trees underneath frozen lakes. The planting of the New Year tree, or yolka, symbolizes a new start.

In Denmark, the tradition is smashing glass to symbolize the shattering of problems from the previous year. Danes save up glassware throughout the year to have enough supply for the new year. It is also common to smash glass on the doorstep of friends and loved ones– the more glass on your doorstep, the more good luck the new year will bring.

In Colombia and Ecuador, people make dummies or scarecrows to burn as a way of leaving the bad behind for the new year. These effigies can resemble someone you dislike or someone who died in the previous year. The burning takes place on New Year’s Eve so people can start the year anew.

In Romania, they practice the “Dance of the Bear.” Dancers dress up as bears and gypsies “chain” the bear during the dance. The ritual is meant to ward off bad spirits and symbolize the end of the old year and start of the new.

In Korea, the new year typically starts with a ceremonial bowing to elders and deceased ancestors. Respect for elders and the importance of family is emphasized with this tradition. It is also common to eat rice cake soup. The rice cakes are white and meant to symbolize “a clean start and new beginning for the new year.”

As one can see, there are a variety of ways to ring in the new year from eating certain foods to dancing. These traditions are all done, however, for a similar purpose. It is to provide the best possible start for the New Year whether that be warding off bad luck from the previous year or paving a fresh beginning for the new one. Across the world, we look forward to the push that the new year brings. We welcome the new opportunities and collectively hope for a better year. We are connected through this aspiration so let us use this year to relate more to each other, to listen, to be an ally– for we are all hoping for the same thing.

Vegan at Vandy: Get your vegan starter pack

In the past two weeks, a handful of friends and some complete strangers have told me they’re on board with veganism, but don’t know where to start. If you’d consider yourself one of those people, today’s your lucky day. To those of you looking for recipes, inspiration, tips, tricks and plant-based motivation, you’ve got to check out Veganuary.com. Veganuary is a charity dedicated to making veganism easy and accessible for all. When you sign up for free on the website, you pledge to go vegan for 31 days alongside thousands of other curious, budding vegans. What you get in return, besides glowing health and a lighter conscience, is thousands of recipes from all over the world, grocery shopping guides, unique meal plans to fit your lifestyle, lists of accidentally vegan products (yes, there are more than just Oreos), baking how-to’s, instructions on how to eat out at places like Taco Bell and Starbucks, as well as links to the top rated vegan books, movies and speeches to check out if you’re curious.

As the website suggests, if you’re someone who likes to absorb information while plopped on the couch in front of Netflix, I’d suggest you watch What the Health. If you prefer snuggling up with a good book, get yourself a copy of How Not to Die by the incredible Dr. Michael Gregor. I got my newly-vegan dad a copy for Christmas, so you can discuss its contents with him if you need a reading buddy. If you’re more like me, and you prefer to absorb your information by scrolling through Instagram, here’s my advice: flood your feed with the posts of plant-based influencers and activists who inspire you. Follow all the people who post uplifting captions and take pictures of yummy food that make you suddenly starving. These people will help you feel like you’re surrounded by your own personal vegan community. Obviously, I’m here for you. But imagine if every time you opened up Instagram, you found yourself within a massive community of hundreds or thousands of vegans who make you excited about life. You’d never have a shortage of new recipes to try and you’d always be just a few taps away from getting advice from some super compassionate, expert vegans. Here’s a very brief list of some of the influencers who keep me inspired every day and who I absolutely encourage you to follow: @jiliciousjourney @stella.rae @naturallystefanie @veganfatkid @tessbegg @sweetpotatosoul @emmlaird @tringsby @tattedvegan @richroll @monamifrost @chakabars @jennymustard @avantgardevegan @jamesaspey @edynjacks @infinitewaters @veganbros.

Because I know you want them, here are my favorite vegan food porn accounts to bless your Insta feed with as well: @imhorngry_ @eatdrinkvegan @sixvegansisters @cinnamonsnail @nash_vegan @atlvegans @hotforfood @veganvee @cheaplazyvegan. You’re welcome. Go explore the plant-based world that’s waiting for you with open arms. Follow the people you’d be down to grab almond milk lattes with and DM them your questions. Just like me, they are willing and ready to help you become your greatest version this year.

Go to Top

Hit Counter provided by Email Lists