What I Want For My Birthday

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Tomorrow is my birthday, and the thought of that makes me smile.

 I’ve always loved my birthday.  There was always something about it being the one day that was “mine”.  When I was younger, I enjoyed being showered with attention and presents.  When I was raising my three children I celebrated my birthday by shifting attention to myself and doing exactly what I wanted to do.  Sometimes that meant celebrating with my family, and sometimes it didn’t.  The freedom was the real gift.  As I’ve gotten older, I still have some of that feeling that November 5 is qualitatively different for me than every other day of the year, however, what I enjoy most is getting birthday wishes from my kids, friends and family.  It warms my heart to know I am remembered.  I don’t need gifts although I am touched when someone chooses to give me one.  Bottom line?  I have enough stuff.

This morning, when David asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday, I realized that things feel a little different this year.  Just about a year ago (the actual date was October 24) we went vegan, and this past year was different than any of the previous 55 in ways I could never have expected.  I have had many “momentous” years in my life.  Getting married (twice) and the births of my three amazing children created shifts that I could not have anticipated, in terms of both struggle and pain and intense love and joy.

At this point though, I am passionate about something outside of myself.  I learned about the suffering and violence inflicted on billions of animals used for food, clothing and entertainment.  I learned about the relationship between animal agriculture and the destruction of the earth and oceans.  I learned that eating animals is related to the nightmarish state of our collective health.  I vowed to stop eating and using animals for all of these reasons, and I decided to dedicate myself to educating others about these issues and provide support to those who want to also make changes in their own lives.

As any animal activist will tell you, this is quite an uphill battle, one that can feel isolating and discouraging.  For me, the most difficult part of this activist journey is that the vast majority of people simply do not want to learn or be challenged to look at themselves in any way and this makes healthy, substantive discussion very difficult.  I feel like I know so very little about how other people see this issue because it seems that only the vegans are willing to talk about it!  I understand the psychological goings-on better than most, but I never get used to how little people “wonder” about their motivations and their behavior.  And what I know is that “wondering” is the precursor to change.  Wondering if something is true.  Wondering if we are culpable or hypocritical or doing the best we can.  Wondering if there’s another way.  Going vegan doesn’t mean I stop wondering.  What is my role in the defensiveness?  How can I say things better?  How can I be more compassionate?  Am I being realistic?  Am I being true to myself and is that always the most important thing?  I don’t have answers to all these questions but I’m working on it.

So what I want for my birthday is for people to start wondering.  I believe that most people are kind, decent and compassionate, and there are defensive walls and blind spots that get in the way of people acting in a way that is truly in line with their values.  It’s all about connecting the dots.  Here are some questions that might get your “wondering” juices going:

–  If I believe that it is wrong to torture and kill animals for pleasure can I be true to this belief while continuing to eat animals?

-Can I be an environmentalist while ignoring the issue of animal agriculture?

-Do I believe that I need to take responsibility for my own health and wellness?

If you’re wondering up a storm and want to talk about it, please leave a message and let’s get a discussion going.  If you don’t want to engage with these questions, I can accept that too.  After all, even in grown-up birthday world, we can’t always get what we want 🙂

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Veganism–Simple, Not Easy

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I’ve spent a bit of time lately trying to decide on a name for my vegan coaching business.  Aside from having to deal with details like searching for availability of domain names (you’d be shocked what names are actually already taken!) I’ve really had to think about what I want to communicate to the public about both what I can do and what being vegan is about.  I think I’ve settled on something, but I’ll share that in a later post when I’m a little further along in my branding.

As I considered dozens of names and tag lines I wanted to be authentic in how see veganism and what aspects of this lifestyle I wanted to highlight and communicate to others.  As I went through this process the words “simple” and “easy” came up in conversation many times. That makes sense, right?  After all, suggesting that being vegan is difficult is hardly a way to induce others to sign on and give it a try.

Years ago, when I was training to be a community mental health counselor I remember working with clients for the first time, and they often lamented that making changes in their lives was not easy.  While no two situations were the same, it became clear to me that the changes people were trying to make in their lives were often simple yet seldom easy.   For a person suffering from depression, for example, the “simple” act of taking a daily walk could, in practice, be quite difficult.   As I thought about the transition to veganism I realized that it is helpful again to consider the difference between what is “simple” and what is “easy”.  And I’ve come to the conclusion that going vegan is indeed simple, yet seldom  easy.

I can sum up in just a few sentences how to be vegan.  For me, it means eliminating the use of all animal products from my life–for food, clothing, personal care, and entertainment.  It also means promoting alternatives to these things so that others can learn from my example and start to consider how to live without exploiting animals.   Once I decided to go vegan,  living this way became a pretty black and white thing.   If the food contains animals products, no thank you.  If the clothing has leather or wool or silk or down, it’s not for me.  If the product was tested on animals, I’ll pass .  No to rodeos, zoos, circuses and aquariums.  Not so complicated.

Aside from having to read labels and do a little internet research as I phased out some products and replaced them with others, the “how-to” of it all has been pretty straight forward and simple.  As I’ve become more and more educated about all the excellent alternatives to animal-based products it’s become even more simple.  And if David and I lived  in our own vegan bubble and never ventured out I would say that nothing could be easier.  That is not, however, where we live, and neither does any other vegan that I know.

I can say that what feels “not easy” about being vegan usually involves some combination of the emotional and the practical.  Here are examples of some “not easy” experiences I had just over the past few days:

-My favorite (mostly) vegan restaurant just closed.  There are very few vegan restaurants in Tucson, and The Food for Ascension Cafe downtown was the place where David and I celebrated our birthdays, brought friends and relatives and went weekly to unwind.  The calm, relaxing environment was unique among the other veg offerings in town.  We are sad, both because they could not make it work economically and also because we are really left with no comparable options where we live.  Unfortunately, for those of us who do not live in a major metropolitan area, this is all too common.  Let’s face it, for non-vegans there’s always “another place”, for us not so much.   This can feel limiting and not so easy.

-I was catching up with my friend, Diana (from Main Street Vegan Academy)on the phone yesterday and we were commenting that no one we talk to ever asks us anything about veganism.  Ever.  At all.  We wondered if this is because people fear being lectured to or simply because our veganism is too disconcerting for other people to discuss given their own food choices.  I can’t answer that one but the reality of the situation can feel stressful.   I am interested in the lives of others and like to think that I’m curious about what’s important to my friends and family.  It is the rare non-vegan who can be truly interested in my passion (veganism/animal rights) and not feel defensive, consequently I usually feel like I’m censoring myself in one way or another in most social situations.  This may be necessary for peaceful relationships, but it’s not an easy trade-off and it isn’t very interesting for me.

-Following the horrible story of Cecil, the lion, Delta Airlines decided to stop transporting dead trophy animals in their planes.  While that sounds great, my mind goes immediately to the dead animals being served for meals on that plane, because I know that each of the animals raised and killed for food suffered far more than poor Cecil. I encounter this kind of moral schizophrenia daily as it is truly everywhere and a deeply entrenched part of our culture.    I am more acutely aware of this and other forms of hypocrisy and injustice than I ever have been before.  It comes with the territory, but it’s not easy.

OK, so maybe with these examples I’m making a good case that going vegan is simple but not easy.  So what?  Why point out these difficulties?   Well, I think it’s important to be honest with others about our experience because this is the real story.  It takes commitment, perseverance, courage and a thick skin to navigate these kinds of situations.  That being said, I don’t doubt for a moment that a person committed to living a vegan lifestyle can handle them.  The transition brings about changes in our relationships with other beings (human and non-human) and sometimes these changes are challenging or painful.

Yet even with all this said, I don’t know a single person who regrets the decision to go vegan, and I think that’s because the most important changes that happen when we go vegan are the ones that happen within us as we begin to live our values.  As we live our belief in justice and compassion for animals we deepen our belief in justice and compassion for all beings including ourselves.  As our health improves we feel a desire to help others as well as the earth to heal.  Life becomes full of possibility, and we find the courage to face our own fears and step boldly forward.   We become aware of the interconnectedness of all things. This is the stuff that transcends convenience, comfort and “ease”.    And for me, that’s what makes life worth living.

 

Nobody Says It Better Than Gary Francione

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This morning I am stuck in my house because the air conditioning guy is here doing a check up on my system.  This ends up taking hours because we have three different oldish AC units, and it’s never really just a simple check up. You know how that goes.  In order to pass the time, I decided to watch a video of animal rights activist/abolistionist, Gary Francione debating about why animals have rights.  Once again I am blown away by his brilliance and uncompromising moral stance.

I became vegan after watching movies (Vegucated, Speciesism) and hearing Howard Lyman (The Mad Cowboy) speak here in Tucson.  Shortly thereafter I began immersing myself in many books on the subject of ethical veganism, and this strengthened my resolve to stop supporting animal exploitation in any way I could.  But no single person or book had quite the impact on me that Gary Francione’s “Eat Like You Care” had and continues to have.

While watching Gary debate (you can watch it here), I am reminded of the simple clarity that underlies Gary’s “veganism as a moral baseline” position.   In this debate, he suggests that if we believe that it is immoral to torture and/or kill animals for our pleasure then we ought not to be eating or otherwise using animals. Billions of animals are tortured and killed annually simply because we like the taste of animals.  We know now that it is not only possible to live healthfully without animal products, but there is ample evidence to suggest that eliminating animal products from our diets will do much to improve our health.

Gary Francione illustrates his position by talking often about Michael Vick, the NFL player who was convicted of running a dog-fighting operation.  The American public went wild around this issue, understandably vilifying Vick for torturing and killing animals for his pleasure.  The name Michael Vick became synonymous with dog-fighting and torture, and the public will probably never forgive him even though he paid his debt to society and expressed remorse.  I, and everyone I know, was sickened by the images that emerged from this story.  It was truly overwhelming that anyone could inflict this kind of torture on innocent animals for entertainment.

Yet isn’t this what happens when we eat meat, dairy and eggs?  There is at least as much suffering inflicted on farmed animals (factory-farmed or “happy”) as there was in Vick’s dog-fighting operation.  These are all sentient beings.  Any distinction we make between the dogs and the cows, chickens or pigs is speciesist and self-serving. And there’s no comparison when it comes to the scale of the torture and death.  Admittedly, when we eat animals we are usually paying other people to do the torturing and killing for us, but as we know from the law, there is no moral distinction between murdering someone and paying someone else to do it for us.  As Gary says, “we are all Michael Vick”.  In 2009 Gary wrote an Op-Ed entitled “We’re All Michael Vick” and you can read his compelling words here.

Gary Francione is a passionate, outspoken champion for the rights of animals yet he is often seen as a polarizing figure because he actively campaigns against single issue welfare campaigns (SICs).  His belief is that our time, energy and money are better spent educating people about veganism.  I happen to agree with this which is why I choose to take my advocacy in that same direction.  In addition, Gary is against any effort on the part of activists to promote “happy” animal products, because a) he doesn’t believe there is such a thing and b) he believes it enables people who might otherwise be vegan to continue to consume meat, dairy and eggs without feeling guilty.  I agree with him on this point as well.  To me, the term “humane slaughter” is a complete oxymoron.

As I continue to educate myself on all the issues pertaining to veganism (in order to be a more effective vegan coach), I often find myself mired in details surrounding nutrition facts and cooking techniques.  I anticipate that many people I work with will be going vegan “for health”, and being a resource for all of this information is certainly important.  I happen to believe that a plant-based whole foods diet is optimal for health, but it’s not difficult to find staunch proponents of other ways of eating to optimize health.  We can always find our own “expert” willing to tell us exactly what we want to hear, and at a certain point, when it comes to nutrition it’s all about who we choose to believe.

Yet this is not the case with ethics, and spending this morning online watching Gary Francione provided a much-needed and timely reminder that I do this for the animals.  If you are someone who cares about animals I strongly recommend that you read Gary’s work.  I believe it will change your life. You can get started by visiting his website here.

Thank you Gary, for speaking the words in the just the way I need to hear them.

Recipe of the Week

Rigatoni Bolognese!

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This recipe is just fantastic.  But before I talk about the food I want to talk about this beautiful book:

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Gene Baur, head of Farm Sanctuary, is the face of the animal welfare movement.  There are three Farm Sanctuary locations in the US, and this organization does so much, not only to save hundreds of animals who might otherwise be slaughtered or abandoned, but to help us understand that when we kill animals for food or clothing we are killing someone, not something. You may have seen Gene Baur recently on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and if you haven’t you can see his interview here.  Great stuff.

It takes a lot to get me to buy a hardcover book, but as soon as I saw this one I knew I wanted it on my shelf.  The subtitle says it all:

The Ultimate Guide to Eating Mindfully, Living Longer and Feeling Better Every Day

“Living the Farm Sanctuary Life” makes a case for veganism by educating the reader about all the usual things (animals, environment, health) but through the stunning photographs and stories of animals being rescued from hellacious circumstances (i.e. factory farming) we come to know the individual animals and their personalities.  These stories help us see  that there is no difference between dogs and cats and cows, sheep, turkeys, chickens and pigs.  We arbitrarily create these distinctions so that we can continue eating animals that would very likely be our friends and companions in other circumstances.  As we start to understand this about our culture and ourselves it becomes more difficult to participate in the enslavement and torture of any animals.  This book beautifully illustrates that truth.

This book also contains scores of mouth-watering recipes by some of the best known vegan chefs around.  This recipe uses Gardein meatless crumbles which I had never tried before and I was delighted with how it worked out.  I actually couldn’t find the Gardein brand so I used Beyond Meat crumbles.  This recipe is a classic bolognese full of carrots, celery, onion and garlic.  I couldn’t find the exact recipe from the book online but I did find a similar version here.  Of course, I encourage you to get this book and enjoy all it has to offer, including this wonderful recipe.

As I continue to share recipes and other aspects of my vegan journey, I hope that it is becoming clear that veganism is about abundance, and not deprivation.  Yes, I eat very, very well, but I benefit mostly from knowing that the choices I make every day are consistent with what I believe.   If you love and have a deep respect for all animals, both human and non-human, and you are not vegan, please consider giving it a try.  Living our values is a beautiful and fulfilling experience.

Vegan in Phoenix

David and I spent the last few days up in Phoenix.  He was busy with  continuing education courses all day, so I decided to visit with my sons, hike in the gorgeous Phoenix Mountain Preserve and check out the vegan eats.   I did a little advance research (thanks happycow.net) and we had some great meals.  I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to be vegan in Phoenix.

We were staying at the Hyatt Regency downtown which has its own Einstein Bagels.  Bagels with peanut butter and soy lattes for breakfast.  Okay so it was a little white flour/sugar-laden but we were just glad that we didn’t have to wander out at 6 am to find something to eat.  Never mind, it was delish.

When I lived in Scottsdale, downtown Phoenix was in a bit of a sorry state foodwise.  In recent years though, ASU has moved several of its schools to the downtown campus and restaurants are opening all over the place.  There was a totally different vibe.  I met David for lunch on the first day at a casual salad place called “Bowl of Greens”:

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As you might expect, a place like this has lots of vegan options as well as a juice bar.  We ordered up some green juice (to offset the bagel and Jif breakfast), and I had a falafel wrap and David had a mediterranean platter with the usual assortment of falafel, hummus and baba ganoush.  Tasty and filling. Their website is here.

For dinner we scoped out a tapas place on the “waterfront” (canal actually) near Old Town Scottsdale called “Tapas Papa Frita”, (website here) and Michael met us there.  I checked out the menu in advance and was pretty sure we could piece together enough small plates for dinner.  It was a gorgeous evening and we sat out on the lovely patio:

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Michael chose a few non-veg items, but we all shared chipotle hummus with toast, mushrooms in sherry sauce, eggplant, pepper and tomato over toast, chickpea and spinach dip and veggie paella.  Except for the noise of the flamenco dancers inside (what a racket!) it was really delightful.  Our two bottles of Malbec made for a pricey dinner but the food was good and the company was great.  I would recommend it.

On day two, I headed out to hike with Sam and Deacon (the granddog).  We had a great time, and the mountain preserve was in full bloom and gorgeous.  After the hike, with dog in tow, we headed over to Chipotle (is that ever not a good idea when you’re vegan?) and I chowed down on my favorite, the Sofritas (spicy braised tofu) salad.  Yum.

For dinner, David and I returned to an entirely vegan place called “Green”:

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I love when I am able to order anything on a menu ( The vegan folks out there definitely know what I mean!). We started with hummus and spring rolls. David had a Kung Pao bowl and I had a tofu peanut salad.  This place is very casual and the food is tasty. You can take at look at their menu here.

But our favorite vegan find of the weekend had to be the “Pomegranate Cafe”. This fantastic vegan restaurant was conveniently located on our drive home to Tucson, right off the I-10.  The drive from Phoenix to Tucson is pretty much a  vegan wasteland (i.e. have those Lara Bars handy) so we were thrilled to discover this restaurant just 20 minutes south of downtown Phoenix.  Pomegranate Cafe is located in a strip mall (like most things in Phoenix) and here’s a photo of the outside:
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This cafe has a huge menu of juices, smoothies, sandwiches, wraps, bowls and salads.  The place was hopping, and there was a really diverse crowd.  We sat inside and opted for waiter service (you can order at the counter).  We started with green juice, then I ordered the “Athena bowl” (kale, hummus, falafel and other crisp veggies) and David tried the jackfruit sliders which were delicious.  We had been meaning to try jackfruit which is a common ingredient in vegan shredded barbecue sandwiches.     I’m definitely going  to track down some cans of jackfruit and try making this dish myself.

We travel frequently from Tucson to Phoenix, and I’m thrilled that we found this fantastic eatery en route.  If you want to read more about the Pomegranate Cafe you can check out their website here.

Unlike our last trip to Las Vegas, this visit to Phoenix was full of good times and good vegan eating.  Another reason to love Arizona 🙂

Plant Pure Nation- Let’s Go!

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For too long, the people and organizations profiting from our poor health have controlled the information given to the public. Most people have no idea of the enormous control they have over their health. The only way to reach these people in an environment controlled by special interests is through a grassroots, bottom-up approach.

The above quote is taken from the Plant Pure Nation website.

I just donated to my first ever kickstarter campaign and I was proud to do it.  The amazing folks who created this documentary are looking for additional funding to expand their film’s release in the United States.   We’ve known for a long time that a whole foods, plant-based diet is the optimal choice for good health.  The movie, “Forks Over Knives” showed how a plant-based, whole foods diet can reverse heart disease and eliminate a host of  “lifestyle” diseases that are rampant in our society.  If you haven’t seen Forks Over Knives you can download it here.

If such compelling evidence exists, why haven’t we heard about it?  Such important information should be front page news and part of every discussion with health care providers.  Yet it is not.  Plant Pure Nation addresses this extremely important issue.

I agree that a “grassroots, bottom-up approach” is the only way to make significant change. Please go to the Plant Pure Nation  website, read about their mission and consider contributing to the kickstarter campaign.  You can link to it all here.

Let’s start raising awareness together.

Some Good News

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As an ethical vegan living in our world, I can feel very stressed and sad.   Once I got to a place of believing that breeding animals for the purpose of killing them for our own pleasure was morally wrong, I’ve been on a journey of figuring out how to live comfortably in our society with others who feel differently than I do.  Trips to the mall and restaurants, watching television and visiting with friends and family all have the potential to make me feel sad and frustrated with the enormity of the changes that need to happen in order to help the animals, the planet and ourselves.

According to Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, an animal advocate and author of many books about veganism, there are “stages” of being vegan, and feeling outrage, sadness and isolation are typical steps in the journey.  Colleen is a role model for me.  She is a compassionate truth teller who is a force for positive change.  She has found a way to unapologetically communicate what she believes and at the same time bring compassion to every interaction she has.  If you’d also like to be inspired by Colleen, you can visit her website here.

For me, meditation, hiking in nature and seeking out like-minded people all mitigate the “vegan in a non-vegan world” stress I can feel.  But recently I discovered another way to find balance, and that is to not only pay attention to all the bad news out there, but also to pay attention to the good news.  The seeds of change are all around us.

Today I’d like to call your attention to an article from the Washington Post online that David forwarded to me a few days ago.  The title is

Can This Company Do Better Than The Egg?

The article is about the California-based company, Hampton Creek (their logo is pictured above).  The mission of the three enterprising vegan owners is to create a plant-based egg substitute.  If the name of this company sounds familiar to you it’s because they already produce “better than egg” products like these:

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What’s I find so compelling about this company is that their intention is to compete for a major piece of the mainstream food services industry. Their ultimate goal is not to create a successful niche business, but to work with large companies that might be open to replacing eggs in their products.  As we all know, if companies like Kraft and General Mills can make their products more cheaply without compromising taste they will do it.  I’m intrigued by how these guys are trying to use free market economics to further their vegan agenda.  It’s such a bold strategy. There is much about what these entrepreneurs are doing that is exciting, and if their vision becomes a reality, it could have a large negative impact on the demand for eggs which will help both the chickens and the environment.  To read the entire Washington Post article, click here.

I know many people who are very conscious about where they buy their eggs and I even know some folks who raise their own chickens. I see this as a positive step, certainly when compared to factory farming situations, but what happens when these same folks buy snack foods or eat out?  The eggs (factory-farmed to be sure) are absolutely everywhere.  I know, because I spend a lot of time reading labels these days.  The idea that there’s a product in the pipeline that might change all this is indeed very good news.

I will continue to keep a look out for inspiring and encouraging news from the vegan world and share it with my readers.  But I’d also love to hear from you.

Do you have any good news to share?