My 39th Birthday

In a few hours I will be turning 39, which happens to also be the same day as my parent’s 40th anniversary (yes, I was born on their first anniversary).

This year I’m a little bummed out because I’m likely going to be stuck at home recovering from a stomach bug but I’m also feeling good about this birthday as it comes in the midst of major changes going on in my life… I am reorganizing my professional and educational life and focusing more on my family life and on my relationship with my wife. These changes are a work in progress and sometimes are difficult but these days is feeling easier and easier.

Two parts of my life right now are especially filled with joy. The first is my experience of being a dad. The last few weeks have been a really a powerful time of growing closer to my step-son, and I’m very excited about all of the adventures he and I will be doing this summer.

The second especially joyful part has been my experience of more fully embracing bicycling as a lifestyle. My BikeforConscience bike tour is off to a good start (59 miles down, 208 to go) and I think I’m seeing more and more every day both how important bicycling is to me, but also how much making it a priority is improving my life.

Life is really good right now. I know I sometimes dwell too much on the negative but this is a day in which I want to celebrate the good stuff.

On a related note, for any friends or family who are thinking about giving me a gift for my birthday, one easy option is to make a donation for the Bike Tour. The first $400 raised will go to pay my expenses for the rest of my riding all of Route 66 in Oklahoma this year, with the rest going to support the important work of the Center for Conscience in Action.

To find out more about this campaign, please go to or click on the GoFundMe button below…

My thoughts on the NLG’s New Food Justice Policy

This is my response to the National Lawyers Guild’s recently released NLG Food Justice Guidelines. I wrote an earlier version of it for some of the NLG email discussion groups but thought it might be helpful to rewrite it a bit and share it more widely.

With all due respect for my comrades who hold to different convictions on these issues, I would argue that two of the planks in this statement contradict themselves in our local context in Oklahoma and for many other parts of the USA.

The two planks in question are:

1. “That all the food served at all of our National Conventions be entirely vegan, free of any animal products such as meat, dairy, including eggs and other animal byproducts;”

2. “Encouraging the National Conventions strive to use locally sourced, organic food when possible and to purchase from businesses owned or run by marginalized communities and which have good labor practices;;”

In the prairie regions of the USA, the most sustainable form of agriculture is raising 100% grass-fed animals, since it enables for food to be produced without plowing the ground (with its resulting issues of erosion), and instead transforming grass (which humans can’t eat thanks to our inability to digest cellulose) into meat. Certainly other forms of agriculture can be done (including growing fruits and veggies, as well as grains) but these other forms of agriculture are fairly seasonal in nature and require tilling the earth which has environmental costs.

A healthy vegan diet by definition is difficult to pull off but is doable. I have several friends locally who are vegan and I know they do well at it. But they can’t eat vegan, healthy and local at the same time for all of the year. My vegan friends probably see this as a trade-off but one that is worthwhile to avoid the abuse of animals.

I believe that the current NLG Food Justice Guidelines is out of touch with local reality. A vegan diet might be both sustainable and local in coastal areas with mild climates, but it can’t be both sustainable and local in our local context. And given this reality, why weren’t the local chapters of the Guild consulted on these guidelines?

And why is veganism now the stated no-compromises position of the Guild at the national level, while “locally sourced, organic food…from businesses owned or run by marginalized communities and which have good labor practices” only an encouraged position?

All of this said… I am very encouraged to see these issues coming to the forefront of discussion in the Guild. How we eat is of critical importance. I’m just not sure that dictates from the NEC is going to further this conversation, but rather is more likely to stop the conversation and move towards outright hostility.

James M. Branum
Oklahoma NLG Local chapter Chair
MLTF Co-Chair