Friday, May 27, 2011

The Magic of Quinoa

Quinoa (pronounced "KEEN-wah") is an amazing little superfood that I'm trying to incorporate more into my diet. I always want to think it's a type of pasta, because it reminds me of risotto, but it is actually a gluten-free seed with a mild, slightly nutty flavor.

Quinoa is perfect for non-meat eaters because it is a complete protein in itself, meaning it provides all eight essential amino acids without needing to combine it with another source of protein, such as legumes, nuts or another type of grain. And it is very versatile. You can eat it as a side dish, a main dish, sprinkled on cereal or in salads, soups, chili, burritos, etc. Quinoa is also a great source of iron, dietary fiber and B vitamins.

I've had a package of organic Nature's Earthly Choice Premium 100% Whole Grain Quinoa hanging out in my kitchen cabinet for a few weeks now. Yesterday afternoon, while I was walking home in the brisk, late-spring air and watching the sunlight spark off Lake Superior, I had the inspiration to make quinoa salad for dinner. We have a ton of spinach and lettuce at my house right now, as well as other fixings for great salads, so my original idea was just to cook and season some quinoa to put on top of a bed of greens.

When I got out the package of quinoa, I saw a simple recipe for Quinoa Pilaf on the back, so I decided to make that instead of just cooking the quinoa plain. I had everything the recipe called for except walnuts and fresh parsley, so I used the recipe as a base and improvised off that.

First, I heated up a tablespoon of olive oil in a saucepan at medium high heat. Then I cooked half a cup of chopped onion in the oil for about five minutes. The Pilaf recipe I was using didn't call for any seasonings, but I added some of my favorite spices to the onion and oil mixture: turmeric, curry powder, a little coriander, cayenne pepper, and ginger. Then I added carrots and a little more olive oil and cooked for about another four minutes. (The recipe called for two medium carrots, chopped, but I just used baby carrots since that's all we had.) After I added the carrots, which by nature are pretty sweet, the mixture smelled like it was missing a little bit of the bite it had originally, so I threw in a pinch of white pepper.

Next came a cup of the uncooked quinoa and two cups of vegetable broth. Then I brought it to a boil, covered it, and simmered for about fifteen minutes. The end result was a wonderfully flavorful, home-y concoction that made the kitchen smell like Thanksgiving. It actually tasted kind of chicken-y. I think it was the combination of the vegetable broth, carrots and ginger that did it.

I made a bed of green leaf lettuce, spinach, sprouts and a little bit of kale and spooned the quinoa pilaf over it, then sprinkled sunflower seeds on top. It was hugely satisfying, incredibly tasty, and one of those meals that just make you feel good while you're eating it. One helping not only filled me up, but also provided me with good, clean energy for the rest of the evening.

As I said, I plan to increase my quinoa consumption considerably, so there will be more quinoa recipes to come. I'm quite happy with the way this particular dish turned out. In fact, I think I am going to make another salad with the leftovers for my lunch right now!

Sunday, May 22, 2011


Hello, friends. I know it's been a while since I posted, and I also haven't delivered the Easter dinner blog I promised. I still will, I'm just having trouble getting the pictures of the meal to post. So, in the meantime, I want to write just a quick post to catch up.

The semester is over, but I'm still vegan, and still loving it. I have an energy and zest for life that I haven’t felt in years. In addition to a vegan diet, I've been doing yoga, riding my bike and/or walking long distance every day, and my body is responding so well to all the activity and fresh air and good food. I'm getting stronger, I’m feeling good, and it shows.  

I’ve found that after being vegan for a few months, my body is in tune with itself once more, and therefore much more sensitive to certain substances, especially any kind of stimulant. They just kinda make me feel like I’m going to die. Hence, I am having trouble enjoying one of my former favorite beverages: coffee. I can't drink it anymore. It makes me far too anxious and sick. Interestingly enough, my friend Kara, who is also vegan, is experiencing this same problem with coffee lately, even though she's been vegan for years and has been fine with coffee until now. So we've been drinking decaf chai to fill the void, and though we miss coffee, chai suffices. Especially first thing in the morning when you just want a hot beverage to start your day. 

Kara and her vegetarian husband Orion are both fantastic cooks, and they provide me with wonderful homemade meals on a regular basis. Kara is a whiz at concocting delicious, hearty soups out of whatever she has on hand. Last Friday she made an exquisite lentil, rice and vegetable stew flavored with dill that she fed me when I was sick, and it just might have been what cured me. (That or the ginger/licorice root/turmeric tea she made me.) Kara also makes amazing vegan pumpkin cookies, which she adapted from her grandmother’s recipe, so between those and Newman-O's, I haven’t been suffering on the baked good front either.

Eating with Kara and Orion inspires me in my own cooking as well. Last week was the first time I made a vegan meal based on something from my own head, rather than from a recipe. I wanted something Thai-inspired, so I boiled some brown rice noodles, then I made a sauce based on the one the vegan pot pie I make calls for, with cornstarch, soy sauce and coconut milk. I added water chestnuts, bean sprouts, lots of spices and other veggies we had in the fridge: corn, a little bit of broccoli, and some snap peas. Then I sprinkled crushed peanuts on the top. It really hit the spot!

One thing that is nice about being vegan is the fact that the people around you end up eating that way sometimes too, and realizing it's not so bad. Last week was my friend Karleen’s birthday and we had a couple vegans (myself and Kara) in the crowd at my mom’s house. So, for Karleen’s birthday cake, my sister made the same chocolate cake we made for our Easter meal, only this one was a double layer and she improvised a frosting out of coconut milk and powdered sugar. It was DELICIOUS and just as good as any non –vegan cake I’ve ever had. And it met with the approval of all the non-vegans—my brother Daniel, Orion, my mother and my sister—in the crowd. Success!

I have a tendency to ramble, since I have so much to say, but I promised I’d keep this short, and so I shall. I will make it a priority to post more regularly, however, because this blog is still important to me and I miss writing it. Until then, adios!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

You Little Meat

I recently saw The Texas Chainsaw Massacre for the first time. It is a masterpiece of the horror genre that I recommend to anyone who can appreciate it. This blog post contains some spoilers, so I'm giving you fair warning right now. I'm not going to describe the whole plot or anything, but I will be revealing some key points. The movie will still be worth your time to watch despite these revelations of mine, though, believe me. 

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (spoiler alert) is about a family of cannibals who live out in Bumfuck Nowhere, Texas. They exist on the fringe of society, and enjoy harvesting and eating human beings. The whole movie was a commentary on meat-eating in general, which was obvious right from the beginning, when they describe the grisly goings-on in the local slaughterhouse in one of the very first scenes. This is where it occurred to me that this film was going to be much easier to take as a vegan. 

A lot of the horror in the movie comes from the fact that these backwoods psychotic hicks are capturing, killing, cooking and eating people, the same way we kill and eat cows, pigs and chickens. There are shots of human meat being roasted in the stove, stuff like that. The thing is, the stuff I've been reading about that goes on in slaughterhouses was just the same as, and many times even worse than, the shit that went on in the movie. If, in a horror film, we showed a human being being skinned alive or having their legs cut off while they're still kicking, it would be gory and disturbing as hell. But when it happens to cows and pigs in slaughterhouses every day, it's just a normal part of what goes into our dinner. For some, this reality is easier to ignore than for others. I respect The Texas Chainsaw Massacre for pointing out the crazy irony of eating meat, and in particular, the irony of eating some kinds of meat but not others. It highlights the twisted, roundabout logic we have to take in our own minds in order to make eating meat okay for ourselves.

There's a part in the movie where the killer, Leatherface, impales a girl on a meathook, fully alive and conscious, to wait her turn for slaughter, while he chops up her friend right in front of her. It's definitely horrifying, but Jesus, this is what they do to pigs and cows every day. Animals know what's going on, when they're in the slaughterhouse. They can hear the squeals, they can smell the carnage. They know what it means when the man in the bloody apron comes into the pen and removes them one by one, never to return. It fucking freaks them out, just as it would freak you out if it happened to you. In all the footage I've ever seen of animals being slaughtered, you can see the sheer panic and terror in their eyes. It's the same terror that was in the eyes of the girl Leatherface impaled. Animals are not humans, but they still know what's up. Don't kid yourself. 

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre points out the fact that, essentially, there really is no difference between slaughtering humans for meat and slaughtering other animals for meat. I know animals don’t have the same type of intelligence as us humans do, but I truly believe that that in no way diminishes the value of the intelligence that they do have. To think otherwise is what is called anthropocentrism:

-Anthropocentrism describes the tendency for human beings to regard themselves as the central and most significant entities in the universe, or the assessment of reality through an exclusively human perspective.-

This is the view most of society takes nowadays, most notably when it comes to eating meat, and it is a dangerous one. Ironically, a human-centered view of reality ultimately leads to a loss of our humanity. Animals are still sentient beings. They still understand and feel pain. They are still deserving of fair and respectful treatment, just like any other intelligent, living, conscious beings in this world. Anthropocentrism is all about denying this fact.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that eating animals makes you a cannibal, but in a way, to me, on a personal level, it kind of does. I've written before about the fellowship I feel with all living beings now that I am not eating any of them, which may sound like a lot of hippie bullshit to some, but I am completely sincere. Abstaining from flesh, eggs, and cheese makes it easier for me to relate animals to myself. This is the problem most people have, in that they don't think of animals this way. They don't give them the respect they deserve.

It feels unnatural to me to eat meat now, which is weird, because at first, it feels so unnatural to give it up. But it is possible to "kick the meat habit," as PETA says. That's all it really is, is a habit. At least nowadays it is. I don't pretend to know any of the evolutionary or biological science that goes into whether or not human beings are wired to be carnivores. It doesn't really matter to me. All I know is that if it is not necessary for one to eat meat to survive, then I'm not going to do it. 

I am reminded of the vegetarian rancher’s wife I read about in Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals. She and her husband raise cows and pigs for slaughter. Their farm is healthily and humanely run, and she believes wholeheartedly in the work she's doing, but still, she can not bring herself to eat meat. I can’t remember her exact quote, and I don’t have the book next to me right now to verify it, but basically, she said she doesn’t eat meat because she knows that it’s not necessary. That’s what I'm talking about. It truly is not necessary, and the modern age of factory farming has highlighted the wasteful and surreal nature of eating animals more than ever.

The texture of a hamburger in my mouth has always felt wrong to me. I first meditated on this when I was thirteen. I still remember the specific journal entry, scrawled in my silvery journal, where I first articulated my feelings about eating meat. I wrote about how it made me feel sick, weighted down, heavy, and how it just didn't seem right. I remember going downstairs and announcing to my mom that I wanted to be a vegetarian. One of the first things she asked me was if I planned to remain a vegetarian my whole life. Kind of a funny question to ask a thirteen-year-old who didn't even know how to begin to consider the rest of her life, but I understand where she was coming from. That question was impossible to answer at the time, however. As strong as my vegetarian convictions were at the time, giving up meat is really rough at first, especially when you're young and the only one in your house who's doing it. As I've said before, I eventually went back to eating meat for a while, but the seed had been planted. I had discovered that I don't like eating corpses.

That's really what it boils down to: when we eat animals, we're eating corpses, just like the family in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Yeah, it was disturbing to see it happening to humans in the film, but since the question of eating meat has been on my mind lately, it wasn’t as bothersome as it would have been during other times in my life, when I was still participating in our nationwide tradition of eating corpses. Not participating in what I perceive as this twisted cycle frees up my mind, makes me more clear. I no longer struggle with tremendous guilt at every meal, now that I am not eating once living beings. At times, now, such a notion seems beyond strange to me. The world is brutal and gory enough. If you have the chance to not cause or contribute to anyone's or any thing's pain in this world, you should take it. That's how I feel, anyway.

It's interesting to me that often, in art, the consuming of flesh is often associated with evil. This isn't surprising; eating flesh is pretty barbaric by nature. There's just no way to get around that. There's a part in another one of the greatest horror movies ever made, Rosemary's Baby, where Rosemary, who is sickly pregnant with a demon child, finds herself compelled by the evil inside her to eat a raw chicken liver (or maybe it was a heart. I think it was the liver though.). Mia Farrow, who played Rosemary, was a committed vegetarian at the time, but she ate the liver for Roman (Polanski, the director of the film). It's one of the most horrifying instances in the film--one of the moments where the Devil is truly overtaking her--and it is horrifying for no other reason than she is eating another animal's raw liver. Of course, that's fucking gross, but really, what is the difference between eating a chicken's liver and eating its breast meat or drumsticks, other than the fact that we are used to that scenario and not the other?

The bizarre juxtaposition of acceptable edible and non-edible animals and animal parts is just so obvious to me now. I was looking at dog treats with my mom yesterday in the grocery store, and she got grossed out by the pig ears and such. So did I, but again, I have to ask: what is the difference between eating the ears and eating the rump, which us humans do all the time, with joy? We eat pork chops, and give other parts of the pig to our dogs to chew, but there is really no difference between our and our dog's consumption of the animal's parts. It's just a matter of what you're used to. After all, they eat raw, still quivering cow flesh over in Ethopia, and drink raw cow's blood all the time. We don't do that, but we do grill up hamburgers and steaks daily. I'm not trying to sound preachy about this at all. To each their own. It's just that the longer I stay away from eating meat, the weirder it seems to me.

I've taken to affectionately referring to my pets as meat, as in "You little meat!" This is because Master Shake says this to Meatwad in the episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force where he sells him to the circus. Shake tries to entice Meatwad to jump into a paper bag by telling him he's taking him to computer camp. "Come on, you little meat!" he says. I think it's hilarious, which is really why I say it, but it's also a good way to keep the eating of animals in perspective, I think. My dogs and cats are meat. So are you. So am I. I'm not being "gross" by referring to them as such. That is what they are. That fact is easier for me to deal with now that I'm not consuming meat anymore.

Meat is one of those words that just sounds like what it is. Meat. It sounds red, squirmy, wet and weighty. I always get an image of entrails. The fact is that some people eat cows, some people eat dogs, and sometimes, as depicted in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, people eat people. I choose not to eat any of it, and I feel really good about that decision. 

The back of the dvd case for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre said, "It does for eating meat what Psycho did for taking showers!" I definitely would say that this is so. Regardless of your stance on eating meat, I think it's something everyone needs to at least be aware of and truly consider for themselves, responsibly. People should carefully consider their decisions in life, especially ones that make such a big, irreparable impact on ourselves and the world, like eating meat. The goal is not to just blindly go through life like sheep, or like cows being led to the slaughter. Really assess the circumstances for yourself, and think about the consequences. Try to discover for yourself how you actually feel about it. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre will help you to consider this. I've personally found that I prefer not to sustain myself on dead flesh, especially when it's not necessary to survive. And make no mistake, it's not.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Vegan Fellowship

I recently made friends with a really cool vegan chick, Kara, and her really cool vegetarian husband, Orion. This is a great new development in my life.  On Sunday night, they provided me with a lovely, home-cooked dinner of baba ghanoush, foccacia and green pepper slices. For those who don't know, baba ghanoush is an Arab dish of mashed eggplant, mixed with various seasonings. It's usually eaten as a dip. Orion made fantastic foccacia bread to go with it, so we dipped that and crisp, fresh green pepper slices in the ghanoush. It was heaven. 

"Kara, this baba ghanoush is better than the Rubaiyat's," I told her shortly after the meal began. And anyone who has ever read or heard me gush about the Rubaiyat knows I wouldn't say this unless it was absolutely true. But it was. The baba ghanoush at the Rubaiyat is a little watery and tends to separate, but Kara's was blended to a perfect consistency: creamy, smooth and wonderful. The green pepper was wonderfully fresh and snapped when I bit it, releasing a flood of juicy goodness into my mouth to mingle with the garlicky eggplant. It was amazing. And sharing a meal with friends always make it taste that much better, of course. Hanging out with vegans is freaking awesome.

No honey is still killing me a little bit. At the beginning of class, I wrote about the crushing realization that I could no longer have honey in my oatmeal, and how it made me die a little inside. And I still miss it. I miss big blobs of honey in my green tea. I went to have a bowl of Kashi cereal the other day at my mom's house, but was stopped in my tracks when I saw "honey" a  little way down on the ingredient list. Damn. So I guess I have to say that the animal byproducts I miss the most are the ones you get from bees: honey and beeswax.

But, like I've said before, I have a mental clarity now that I've never had before in my life, and have always longed for. I am grateful every day for all the wonderful things veganism has brought into my life. It's made it easier for me to be myself, and to seek out those things and people that fit best with me, specifically. This has been such a wonderful experience for me, and I'm so glad I embarked on it. 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Bye-Bye, Burt

This is what might bother me the most so far about being vegan: no Burt's Bees.

Going meatless is no problem for me. I'm fine without meat. I actually prefer life without meat, and I'm glad to have definitively learned this about myself through this project. But I am a lip balm addict, and Burt's Bees is my drug of choice. But, since Burt's Bees lip balm (and many other of their fine products) are made with beeswax, they are not vegan-friendly. Meaning I, as a new vegan, can no longer use them. Me. This is a problem.

I am known in my family as the Burt's Bees queen. Everyone always gets me Burt's Bees products as presents for Christmas and my birthday. It's part of my personality. Dan (my brother) loves classic Looney Tunes and Bo Diddley, Melissa (my sister) loves psychology and cooking, and I, Jess, love the paranormal and Burt's Bees.

The realization that vegans can't use Burt's Bees didn't hit me until I ran out of my old tube of Burt's Bees a month or so ago and went to the Co-Op to pick up some more. However, the Co-Op stopped carrying Burt's Bees products a while ago because they are not totally organic anymore now that they've been bought by the Clorox Company. I keep forgetting about that. So, I was browsing among the different lip balms the Co-Op did have, when I came across one that said "100% Vegan" on it. "Oh, shit," I thought. "That's right. I can't get Burt's Bees at all anymore. I have to make sure my lip balm is vegan now too."

I will expound all day upon the perils of ingesting animal protein and by-products and how bad they are for the body as a whole. But! I happen to be a big believer in the healing properties of beeswax for chapped lips. I am really sad that I can't use beeswax, or royal jelly, anymore in my beauty regimen. I love Burt's royal jelly eye cream, and Burt's lip balm is one of my favorite things I've ever discovered in life, but I can't use either of them anymore. It's a big adjustment.

They only offer one vegan lip balm at the Co-Op right now, at least that I saw. It's The Merry Hempsters brand Vegan Hemp Balm, orange-flavored. It works pretty well, but orange is not very soothing to sore lips. In my previous, non-vegan life, I would never have picked an orange-flavored lip balm in a million years. I feel the same way about fruit-flavored lip balm as I do about candles scented like baked goods: I just, for whatever reason, don't think it's right. I've had problems with chapped lips my whole life, and let me tell you, the only way to truly soothe them is with a minty, cooling, preferably medicated balm, not some fruity crap. The Merry Hempsters Orange Hemp Balm is fairly soothing, but that citrus doesn't feel nearly as good to put on sore lips as cooling mint does. Oh well. I can't do anything about it except suck it up and use it, which is what I've been doing. And it works pretty well, honestly. It's just not what I prefer. My lips miss Burt.  

Anyway. On the food and digestive front: I've had major stomach issues for the past few days. I must accidentally have eaten something with dairy or egg in it. I often order wraps or flatbread sandwiches with no meat, cheese or mayo when I go out to a restaurant, but sometimes I get sick as hell afterward, so I imagine they must not be totally vegan. There's probably some dairy in the bread or sauce or something.  My veganism is affecting my tolerance for fried foods now too. I get terrible stomach cramps and nausea whenever I have french fries or onion rings now. It's like the more my body adjusts to health, the more it rejects any bad crap I try to feed it. It's okay. I need to get away from eating that kind of stuff anyway, hopefully altogether someday. I also haven't been cooking very much lately; I'm still kind of catching up from having my respiratory infection and then going on spring break, then coming back and having midterms. I need to get back in the swing of things.

One great thing about this project is that it forces me to do all sorts of things I never thought I could do. I've noticed that I get the same reaction from people when I tell them about my vegan project: they are interested and oftentimes agree that eating meat is wrong, but they say they could never do it themselves. "I could never give up dairy. I could never give up hamburgers," they say. And I completely understand where they're coming from because, before I started my project, I felt the same way. I never thought I could give up sour cream and onion chips, cheese or Burt's Bees lip balm, until I did. And guess what? I did it! Life has gone on. I'm still here. I'm living without things I never thought I could live without, and it is incredibly freeing. Going vegan, paying all this new, careful attention to the foods you eat and the products you buy, has a great way of putting your priorities into perspective. You learn what you can and can't do without, and you become aware that there are always alternatives. And, for me at least, this leads to being aware that there is always light at the end of the tunnel. Always. It's there even if you can't see it.

So, with that said, I'm confident I'll be able to find a minty vegan lip balm at some point in my life (or make one). But for now, I must make do with this orange hemp nonsense. Bye-bye, Burt. I'll never forget you. My lips thank you for every moment of cool, minty, bee-balm-bliss.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Saturday Night Musings

By the way, I didn't mean to sound preachy in my last post. No one has told me that I did, it's just that sounding preachy is one of my greatest fears when it comes to writing about issues that are important to me. I am passionate, but I don't want to come off as unlikeable, difficult or militant. (The fact that I even feel the need to apologize for appearing unattractive while expressing my own opinions on my own blog is likely due to the conditioning that I, as a female, have had to endure over the course of my life. But, that is a different subject, for a different time. Perhaps for a different blog.)

Going vegan is hard. I miss sour cream and cheese a lot. Every day, pretty much. I miss coffee and danishes (I can still have the coffee, but there's really no satisfying vegan substitute for a cream cheese danish). I do miss meat sometimes, but only during moments when I'm really hungry and wish I could order my old favorite comfort food meals at restaurants. However, like I said in my last post, the longer I abstain from eating flesh, the grosser such a notion seems to me.

I don't know if I would have been able to stick with veganism this long if it weren't a school project. In fact, in the broken-down state I was in at the start of this semester, I guarantee that I wouldn't have been able to. I wasn't even able to start, even though I've been thinking about going vegan for over a year now. This is not to say that I've been perfect during the duration of this project. I've had quite a few slip-ups since beginning my vegan experiment, some unknowingly, some willingly. I ate onion rings at Vango's even though the batter had milk in it, because I really wanted onion rings. Once, I ate a piece of Dominos pizza with a smattering of cheese and their dairy-infused white sauce, because it was the middle of the night and I had the munchies and the vegan pizza I'd ordered for myself was a mess. I have never slipped on meat though, not once, and I honestly can't imagine ever eating it again at this point.

I have learned from a couple slip-ups. For instance, even if you order French Sourdough toast for breakfast at the Sweet Water Cafe, it's not vegan unless you specify that you would like it dry. Otherwise, the bread will indeed be vegan, but it will come to you slathered in melted butter. It just occurred to me now that I could have sent the toast back on that occasion and asked for dry, but I don't want to be fussy in a restaurant and I didn't want to waste it. I was afraid they would just throw the toast away if I sent it back, and to me it felt less wicked to eat the toast even though it had butter than to throw away perfectly good food. And today, I ordered a Gourmet Burrito from Border Grill with black beans instead of meat (so it would form a complete protein with the rice in the burrito), and I specified that I wanted no cheese. Well, it was cheeseless, but I forgot that Gourmet Burritos also come with sour cream on them, even though it doesn't say that in the menu (at least, not that I saw). I ate half of it (because, again, I didn't want to waste it), and my stomach has been upset ever since.

Every time I accidentally eat dairy or egg in something, my system immediately lets me know in a horrible, unpleasant fashion, involving severe cramps, fatigue, and frequent, uncomfortable trips to the bathroom. It's enough to make me want to shun dairy and meat for the rest of my life just based on how awful it's going to feel to introduce them back into my system after this long! That's one of the (many) reasons I am glad I did this project. If I weren't inspired by my project for school to keep the veganism going, I would never have gotten to this point, and I would never have learned all the things I have learned about life, the world and myself in these past couple months.

Sometimes I get these overwhelming rushes, these feeling-floods, of pure relief, just, like, in the middle of the day, when I'm driving down Washington towards home or when I'm sitting on my mom's couch watching "Family Guy." I mentioned this sort of thing in the blog entry before last, I think, these moments of joy that Alicia Silverstone talks about having in The Kind Diet. For me, it's a feeling of profound relief and gratitude that I've made it this far in life, and that I've actually reached a point where I'm grateful for my particular life, pain and grief included, and how glad I am to still be alive. Not that there was ever a severe danger that I wouldn't be alive, it's just that it's nice to wholly feel like I want to be alive again. Wow, even writing that makes me realize how depressed I was. For many months in a row, I went through every day not even sure if I wanted to live. I could never see the hope on the other side of the abyss, though my faith (in life, the universe and everything) and the advice of my psychologist assured me that good things were ahead. I waded through endless months and muck of uncertainty and nightmare to get to this place, and I believe going vegan has helped me to truly, finally get here. Ridding my body of animal protein, no longer ingesting the poisoned, tortured, adrenaline-and-stress-hormone-infused corpses of my animal friends has mellowed me out, mentally, physically and spiritually. Going vegan has helped me to understand, as Alicia says, "how joyful and peaceful life really is." That alone is enough to convince me to continue with this diet for the rest of my life.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Eating Animals

My friend Emily, who is a vegetarian, recently lent me the book Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. It is devastating, illuminating, enlightening, heartbreaking, and Important with a capital I. In my opinion, everybody who eats food in America ought to read it. Everyone deserves to know the true story behind the food they consume every day (after all, you are what you eat). Unfortunately for meat-eaters, that true story is not pretty. But make no mistake, it is the truth.

The horror of factory farms is too nightmarish to even contemplate. Really. Imagine the worst abuse you've ever seen anybody take in the worst, most violent, disgusting, degrading, twisted horror movie you've ever seen, and I guarantee you that shit, and more, gets done to the vast majority of animals raised for food in this country every day. (Including the shit that happens in Takashi Miike's movies, which are the most violent and disturbing horror movies I've ever seen.) Pregnant pigs get metal rods jammed up their vaginas and anuses, for no reason other than cruelty. They are forced to spend their entire pregnancies in crates so small they can't even turn around in them, stewing in their own shit. Chickens are pissed on by factory workers, who also spit tobacco and spray paint in their eyes, and dragged through electrical baths that are 'intended' to knock them unconscious, but only serve to electrocute them and prolong their suffering for absolutely no reason other than cruelty. And this is just some of the tamer stuff.

I'm not even sure if I'm making sense anymore or flowing well in my writing, I have a hard time being articulate when it comes to this subject.  I just don't understand why stuff like this needs to happen.

Reading Eating Animals has solidified my conviction never to eat meat again. And that is a conviction that I was very doubtful I would ever truly have again. When I first started my vegan project for this class, it was under the pretense that I would be able to eat a cheeseburger again at the end of the two months. My love of cheeseburgers was part of the reason why I fell off the vegetarian bandwagon years ago. I just didn't have the emotional maturity it takes to actually give burgers up. Now, I believe I really do.

One nice thing about Safran Foer is that he doesn't shy away from the fact that it is a sacrifice to give up one's favorite meat-y meals. It is not comfortable, fun or easy. I'm glad he says this, because I'm discovering I feel the same way. No matter how repugnant eating meat seems to me now, I still miss cheeseburgers, sushi, and bacon. I don't want to consume animal flesh (by the way, it seems so weird to me now to eat a corpse, after going without for so long. What am I, a zombie?), but I miss the taste and the fuller feeling you get from meat, (although I prefer the lighter, clean-burning energy I get from plants). It's just an emotional thing. Safran Foer says it's a real sacrifice to go the rest of your life without burgers, and it's hard, and it hurts sometimes, but you have to ask yourself: Do I care more about eating meat, or about my health and the health of the world? Do I care more about being able to have fried chicken whenever I want it, or about being a moral, ethical, and socially responsible citizen of Earth? (By the way, going vegetarian is the single most important step you can take towards helping the environment. Just sayin'.)

It's astonishing that factory farming has gone on this long, and continues to. Well, it's not astonishing, really. It all comes down to money. (And greed. And power.) It's the same reason why we are the only country in the Western world that doesn't provide free universal health care to its citizens, although we definitely have the means. The meat and dairy industry work hand in hand with the pharmaceutical companies to pump our food animals full of unnecessary antibiotics (unnecessary because they are administered even when the animal isn't sick, just in case, since most food animals nowadays are genetically-altered mutated abominations of nature who couldn't even survive on their own in the normal world. They can't walk. They can't even have sex. The birds don't even have beaks, for Christ's sake.), which are then passed on to us, which lower our resistance to antibiotics and other medicines given to us by our doctors (which we have to pay up the ass for, even though most medicines cost next to nothing to manufacture) so we have to take even more medicine, which is even worse for our systems, all while consuming food that is killing us slowly but surely. Countries that don't eat nearly as much meat and dairy as we do have much lower rates of cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis (even though the powers that be claim eating dairy helps to prevent this: it actually causes it), etc., and also are not suffering from an obesity epidemic of mammoth proportions (no pun intended. Well, maybe a little bit.).

I think the most punk (punkest?) thing you can do in this country today is go vegan. It makes me feel like some sort of subversive. It's made out to be such a big deal. When you tell people you're vegan, it freaks them out and immediately puts them on the defensive, because deep down, they know eating meat is wrong. At least, eating the meat that we get from the factories and slaughterhouses that provide over 99% of our meat in this country is wrong. It's easier to go with the flow, be a sheep, swallow whatever they give you to swallow (literally). The only way anything will ever change in this country, and the world, is if people stand up for themselves and decide that they really are not going to take it anymore. A life and a country sustained by factory farming isn't what life should be, for both our country's citizens and its animals. It is, I will say again, a nightmare.

I mentioned in my last blog that abstaining from animal flesh has made me feel closer to the animals in my own life. After I wrote that, I read this very interesting anecdote about Franz Kafka in Eating Animals. Foer begins by discussing Kafka's work in general:

"Among many other things we could say about his wide-ranging explorations of literature, Walter Benjamin was the most penetrating interpreter of Franz Kafka's animal tales.
"Shame is crucial in Benjamin's reading of Kafka and is imagined as a unique moral sensibility. Shame is both intimate--felt in the depths of our inner lives--and. at the same time, social--something we feel strictly before others. For Kafka, shame is a response and a responsibility before invisible others--before 'unknown family,' to use a phrase from Kafka's Diaries. It is the core experience of the ethical.
"Benjamin emphasizes that Kafka's ancestors--his unknown family--includes animals. Animals are part of the community in front of which Kafka might blush, a way of saying that they are within Kafka's sphere of moral concern. Benjamin also tells us that Kafka's animals are 'receptacles of forgetting,' a remark that is, at first, puzzling.
"I mention these details here to frame a small story about Kafka's glance falling upon some fish in a Berlin aquarium. As told by Kafka's close friend Max Brod:

"'Suddenly he began to speak to the fish in their illuminated tanks. 'Now, at last I can look at you in peace, I don't eat you anymore.' It was the time that he turned strict vegetarian. If you have never heard Kafka saying things of this sort with his own lips, it is difficult to imagine how simply and easily, without any affectation, without the least sentimentality--which was something almost completely foreign to him--he brought them out.'"

Foer goes on to say: "Shame is the work of memory against forgetting. Shame is what we feel when we almost entirely--yet not entirely--forget social expectations and our obligations to others in favor of our immediate gratification." (Let me just interject here and point this out: what would be our word for somebody in our human society who forgets social and moral obligations in favor of their own immediate gratification? An animal. Kind of ironic, don't you think?) Foer is speaking specifically about fish in this paragraph, in light of the Kafka anecdote, but I think his words here are worth quoting and remembering every time we think of eating meat: "We do not, so to speak, blush with shame before fish. We can recognize parts of ourselves in fish--spines, nociceptors (pain receptors), endorphins (that relieve pain), all of the familiar pain responses--but then deny important parts of our humanity. What we forget about animals we begin to forget about ourselves."

With those few words that Kafka spoke to the fish in the aquarium--"At last I can look at you in peace, I don't eat you anymore"--he was able to sum up and articulate for me a lot of what I was trying to say in my last post. That's just it, I can look at animals in peace now. There is not something held up between me and them anymore, no "work of memory against forgetting," no shame. I do not feel guilty cuddling my cats now that I know I am not turning around and eating their brethren. This is a profound shift in perception that I did not expect when I became vegan, but again, it is one I am eternally grateful for, and happy to explore in my daily life.

It seems like every time I've been reading Eating Animals, I've been accompanied by an animal of some sort: either my own cats, Cinder and Kai, my mom's dogs, Indy and Saira, or my friend's roommate's dog, Peaches (that was just this afternoon). I guess I just fraternize with a lot of animals, which is the way I like it, but it also seems like it's the universe trying to drive the point of this book home to me. I'll read about a cow who broke out of her pen in the slaughterhouse and ran miles and miles away, as far as her stocky cow legs could carry her (and cows don't like to run; she was desperate), and when she reached a river, she didn't stop even though she was exhausted; she swam all the way across, right to where the owner of the slaughterhouse was waiting on the other side to take her back. I'll put down the book to have a moment of silence and send some waves of compassion into the universe for any animal who has had, is currently, or will have to suffer such a fate in the future, and my own cat will crawl up on me to give me hugs and kisses around my neck. It seems like the universe is saying to me, through my kitty, Look, there's no difference between your cute cat here and all those thousands of cows, pigs, chickens and fish who have to suffer this brutality every day. Every one is a sentient, intelligent being and therefore deserving of love, respect and fair treatment. I hate the thought of my own pets in peril, but this is what I do think of to remind myself of the immediacy of the suffering of all these other animals, who are tortured daily in the name of human consumption. It serves as a good reminder of how much I don't want to participate in that cycle of pain.

As I type this, I can smell my neighbors' dinner cooking downstairs. It's a yummy, distinctly pork-y odor; it may even be cudighi, my favorite. But I know the spiced, sizzling flesh on their stove top was once part of a pig who was as smart as, if not smarter than, your dog; a pig who had just as much personality, compassion, and capacity for feeling as anyone, human or not. Sure, that flesh smells great, and the sensory pleasure of biting into a flavorful piece of meat cannot be denied, but there are more important things at stake here. At least, that's the way I feel.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Happy, Healthy Vegan

Throughout The Kind Diet, Alicia Silverstone talks about these crazy surges of energy and rushes of ecstasy you start to get when you sustain yourself only on plant sources. She talks about feeling giddy and head over heels in love with life all the time. And to be honest, she can be a little corny about it. She uses phrases like "groovy" and "peace out," and, in the section on dairy cows, she refers to them "our cow girlfriends." But as much as I sometimes roll my eyes at her word choices, she's so positive and sunny about the whole thing that my heart can't help but feel warmed. Come to think of it, that's probably why she uses such language in the first place: to help balance out the grim and graphic nature of some of her more gruesome subject matter.

On page 10 of The Kind Diet, Alicia talks about the beginning of her own journey into veganism: "I noticed that my whole body felt lighter. I was more vibrant and spunky. I felt like my heart had sort of opened a bit and my shoulders could relax, as if an overall softening had taken place. I no longer carried heavy animal protein in my body, which takes tons of energy to digest. Plus, I didn't have the heaviness of the suffering in me; frightened animals produce lots of cortisol and adrenaline right before slaughter, and we can become stressed from eating their meat.

"Something seemed to be happening on a deeper level as well. The decision to be vegan was one I made purely for me, an expression of my truest self and deepest beliefs. It was the first time I'd stood up and said a definitive "NO!" My real self began to emerge. It was powerful."

When I first read this passage, I found it completely inspiring. I often thought about these words of hers during times when being vegan just seemed really hard and depressing, like, say, when I had a craving for a milkshake or something. (No Shamrock Shakes for me this St. Patty's Day season.) I liked believing that I had the good feelings she described coming to me by sticking with the vegan diet, although, to be honest, it was hard for me to picture actually feeling that good about myself, since I never have before. 

Then, when I was sick last week, I felt really down in the dumps, both physically and mentally. I was exhausted and felt like five kinds of shit no matter how much I rested. I couldn't laugh or talk without going into a major coughing fit. All this physical discomfort made me depressed as well. And having to stay home from school for a week, on doctor's orders, really got to me.

Being sick for an extended period of time like that always gets me down. And even though I know that it always happens, I can never seem to prevent it from happening. So last week, I was, as beloved cartoon cat Garfield would say, in a deep blue funk, and I knew I could expect to stay there for at least as long as my illness lasted. I just had to wait it out until my antibiotics kicked in and did their job.

When they did and I finally returned to health (which, for the record, took place approximately two days ago), the happiness and relief I felt was awesome. I mean, I feel really good. The positive attitude that I beat myself up all the time for not having is finally just there without me having to work so hard at it, and it feels great! It's never been so easy for me to feel this hopeful. This change in me has been so profound, I have become convinced that it has to do with the way I've been eating for the past month, and not just due to the absence of my respiratory infection.

I honestly feel as if there has been a huge weight lifted off of me, both physically and metaphysically. Like Alicia said, I'm no longer lugging animal protein around in my body, tiring out my natural mechanisms. Trying to digest animal flesh and by-products is notoriously hard on one's body, and contributes to many health problems such as premature aging, cancer and heart disease. Studies have shown over and over that when you switch to a plant-based diet, your risk of suffering from these health problems decreases significantly and dramatically. I do honestly feel lighter now that I am free from the grip of "nasty foods," which is Alicia's term for meat, dairy, and white sugar and flour. She says right on page one of The Kind Diet, "When you begin to eat whole grains and abstain from crazy-making foods like white sugar, you will see how amazing and joyous and peaceful life really is." And corny as it may sound, I'm discovering that it really is true.

And, I'm not eating pain anymore. As Alicia says, animals secrete stress hormones when they are slaughtered, which make us stressed and anxious when we eat them. At one point in The Kind Diet, Alicia muses, "Maybe it's time to ask the questions: Is consuming all this pain and terror hurting us on levels we can't perceive? Is it cutting us off from the compassion deep within us? By not only condoning cruelty but literally consuming it, have we become desensitized to violence--against not only animals but ourselves and one another?" I definitely feel that abstaining from eating poor animals' pain, suffering and fear has changed my life for the better. After all, you are what you eat.

I feel genuinely good about life for the first time in, I think, ever. I'm not trying to sound dramatic. My anxiety level has drastically decreased, my energy is up. I feel good about myself, my life and what I'm doing with it. And a lot of the credit for these positive changes in my life goes to not eating animal protein. I know it does. Because I've never felt myself operating at this level of positive mental health before, and I have never completely cut animal protein and products out of my life before, until now. I feel there has to be a connection. If I were a detective or a scientist, I would definitely latch onto that as the answer.

I'm treating myself well and this results in me expecting the same from others, as well as me treating them the way I want to be treated. This includes animals. It might sound funny, but I do feel an improved relationship and closer bond with my pet animals now that I am not eating any other animals. And I can honestly say that the compassion that comes from practicing veganism has helped me in my relationships with my fellow humans.I feel like we on this planet, both humans and animals (humans are animals too, of course, but we tend to separate ourselves from them in our heads), are all one big happy family, and I feel better as a family member by not eating any other members of my family. (Now who's being corny?)

You hear it all the time: Happiness is a choice. I've learned that for me, it is a choice that is easier to remember to make while vegan. I want to use today's blog post to commemorate this sentiment. I don't want to ever forget how good I feel on this day, or how alive abstaining from dead flesh has made me feel.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sick Vegan

I haven't written so far this week because I've been laid up with a severe respiratory infection that keeps me coughing and hacking half the time, and too exhausted to move the other half of the time. Needless to say, I haven't been doing much cooking this week. Luckily, I made lentil stew last weekend before I got sick, so that's been lasting a while. I've also been relying on pizzas with thin crust, no cheese, and vegetable toppings, which, although they are convenient, are not the healthiest and also contain next to no protein.

I did have a delicious vegan lunch at Border Grill on Wednesday after I went to the doctor, while I was waiting for my prescriptions to be filled at Shopko across the street. I had a vegetarian burrito with no cheese in a spinach wrap, and a bowl of their Black Bean Wheat Berry Chili. May have been a little too much food for me at the time, but damn was it good.

When I first got sick this week, I was afraid that perhaps it was due to my diet, that maybe I wasn't getting enough of something I needed and that my body was rebelling. I didn't have a chance to bring this concern up to my doctor, but she did tell me that this sort of infection is going around like crazy right now, so that made me feel better. I was concerned that I wasn't getting enough protein because I've been so tired all the time, but she assured me that this fatigue is just part of the infection. I can't wait for it to go away. It's been almost a week now, but I still can't stay awake for more than a few hours at a time. Very frustrating.

Well, I'm going to go now so I can rest up for class tomorrow. Sorry I've been slacking on my blog duties this week. I have a lot of stuff stored up in my mind to write about, but don't have the energy to get it all out right now.

One last thing. When I e-mailed my teacher Jen this week to let her know that I was sick and wouldn't be able to attend class, she joked with me by asking if antibiotics are vegan. This made me laugh because I had the same exact thought while sitting in the doctor's office! My doctor wrote out a bunch of prescriptions for me and slid the pile of slips across the desk to me, saying, "I know this looks like a lot of medicine, but: you're really sick." I nodded wearily, since I hate having to take medicine in any form, especially antibiotics. In answer to Jen's question, I'm pretty sure that antibiotics are not vegan, but unfortunately I have no choice in the matter. Such is the plight of an infected vegan.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sweet Water & Rubaiyat Love

Last Friday night, my boyfriend Sean and I went out for dinner at the Rubaiyat, and I had a burger and fries. Here's the best part: it was vegan!

For those of you who aren't familiar, the Rubaiyat is a beautiful Indian/Mediterranean restaurant sandwiched between the Marquette Food Co-Op and the Children's Museum on Baraga Ave. The Rubaiyat has always been one of my favorite restaurants, but now that I'm vegan, I have a whole new appreciation for it, since it's one of the only places in town where one can get delicious and truly satisfying vegan meals. (Basically, it comes down to the Rubaiyat and the Sweet Water Cafe. Third St. Bagel makes a pretty good vegan Middle Eastern bagel sandwich, too.)

At the Rubaiyat, I ordered the Taj Mahal, which is described on the menu as follows: "Curried black bean burger served with chutney, red onion, lettuce, and tomato on house focaccia." It was accompanied by Greek fries, which are a combination of white and sweet potatoes tossed with the Rubaiyat's house seasoning. I dumped malt vinegar all over them, dipped them in ketchup, and was in french fry heaven. The burger itself was wonderfully spiced, black bean-y and filling, and the chutney was excellent. The focaccia bread was, of course, incredible, as focaccia always is in my experience.

I'm so glad that pita bread, or naan, and focaccia are generally vegan, because they have always been my favorite kinds of bread. I also love sourdough. The Sweet Water Cafe sells loaves of their homemade vegan bread, with their ingredients listed right out on the glass display case so you know exactly what you're eating. I really appreciate that. Their Three-Seed and French Sourdough breads have been staples in my kitchen ever since we went to the Sweet Water for breakfast the week before last. 

We also went to the Rubaiyat back during my first week of veganism, and I had the House Salad with Lemon Tahini dressing. That dressing is so good, I don't even know how to describe it to you. It's an experience. You just have to try it. When I raved about it to our waitress, she answered, "Oh, I know! Good thing it's good for you, because I eat it on everything!" For dinner that night, I had the Kath Katha Curry, which is spinach, carrots, sweet potatoes, peppers and cabbage in a "highly spiced coconut curry sauce," served over basamati rice. This meal was hearty, flavorful, and just made me feel good about life. It was also a huge serving, so I even had leftovers for two more meals after that.

The Rubaiyat offers many yummy vegan appetizers as well. They make what is quite possibly the best hummus in town, although you can't really ever go wrong with hummus and pita. Last Friday, I also tried the Babaganouj, which is a word that I've always heard but never known what it is. Apparently, it's "pureed roasted eggplant dip with garlic, tahini, lemon juice and olive oil." I am a sucker for anything that includes garlic, tahini, lemon juice, or olive oil, so I automatically knew I would like it. And I did, but not quite as much as the hummus. It's definitely worth trying, though.

That about wraps it up for tonight. Keep checking back for more tales of my experiences in the veganning. :)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Death of a Friend

This morning, my boyfriend Sean got a call from his mother telling him that one of their family's three beloved golden retrievers has begun to take leave of her life. She's the oldest one, Samantha. Sam or Sammie for short. She has beautiful red wavy hair and a very sweet face, where the fur has begun to go snowy white in her old age. She lives downstate with Sean's parents and their other two retrievers, Casey and Abigail.

All three of these dogs are huge sweethearts. Sean's family used to breed golden retrievers when he was a kid, and these are the dogs that are left over from that time in their lives. Sam is mother to both Casey and Abigail, though they have different fathers.

Abigail is basically a ten-year-old puppy. She's the youngest of the brood and remains in a perpetual puppy state, which is the role she's always held in the family. She loves attention! She will headbutt you and try to get in your way while you pet the other dogs until you pet her too. She has beautiful red hair like her mother and is very energetic and earnest.

Casey has beautiful, soft white-blond fur and is much more reserved than her sister. She was used for breeding purposes and once lost an entire litter of puppies, and has never been the same since. She now thinks any little pet or stuffed animal (or slipper, or pillow, etc.) is her "baby." The first time I went downstate with Sean to visit his family, he brought his ferrets, Walter and Perry, and set them up in a pen in the basement of his parents' house. Casey was so excited to see them. When she settled down by their pen to be near them, Sean's mother remarked, "Oh, she thinks they're her babies." That was the first time I saw her exhibit this behavior. I later saw that she always carries a stuffed animal, toy, or other object around with her in her mouth, and cuddles with it, bathes it and drapes herself protectively around it in her sleep like its her newborn pup. It breaks my heart to think that she carries this grief over her lost children with her always, even if it is subconsciously.

Sam is the wise old mother of these two lovely ladies. She is patient and quiet, and her family refers to her as the "Mama Dog." She has slowed down quite a bit in recent years. From what I've seen, she mostly lays underneath the table or next to the couch and lets Casey and Abigail run the show until you come over to pet her. She is a sweet soul who is secure in her role as Mama Dog and happy with her human family and doggy daughters.

Sammie is almost twenty years old now and has begun to exhibit signs of a dog shutting down. She's arthritic; she's gone blind. When she began to have trouble with her mobility, Sean's family still held out hope for a while that she could get better. But when Sean's mother talked to him this morning, she told him that Sam is actually getting worse. She can no longer walk at all, and has to bark whenever she needs to go potty. Sean's mother then has to carry her outside to do her business and carry her back in. Sean's parents haven't made any final decisions about whether or not they will have to put her down, but the inevitability of her passing has become an immediate reality. 

Of course, Sean was extremely upset and sad about this news. No matter how prepared you think you are for a loved one's death, it still comes as a terrible blow when it actually happens. Sean's family got Sam when he was eight years old, and he is 26 now, so he really has grown up with her. He told me he wishes he could see her one more time, to tell her how much he loves her. I know nothing can take away the pain of not being able to be with a loved one during their last few days on Earth, but I tried to make him feel better by telling him I think Sam already knows how much her family loves her. And I do. Pets know stuff like that.

After talking about Sam for a while, Sean decided he didn't want to call her a "pet" anymore, now that she was dying. He thinks it seems like the wrong word. I know what he means. Anyone who has ever loved a pet and watched it die knows that it is very serious business. To call this animal who you love like your own family a "pet" seems kind of undignified. "Pet" starts to seem like too demeaning and small of a word to call these beings who bring so much to our lives. Each individual animal enriches your life in their own unique way, and can never be replaced. The pain of losing them is great, but whenever it happens to me, I try to refer to the old adage, "It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all."

As I sat with Sean this morning after his mother's phone call, I couldn't help but think of the strange juxtaposition of the animals we keep as pets and the animals we eat. The differences between the two groups seem pretty arbitrary to me. As one of my fellow classmates pointed out in her blog, they still cook and eat dogs in many places in the world such as China, Vietnam and the Philippines. Over here, we would never think of eating a dog, and yet we eat cows every day of the week. Indians, on the other hand, consider cows to be sacred animals and would never eat them. Deciding which animals are appropriate to eat and which ones aren't really just seems to come down to the cultural context in which one was raised, rather than any specific characteristics of the animals themselves.

I believe each animal, pet or no, has their own distinct personality and essence, just like humans do. It's natural and necessary to mourn the deaths of the pets we've known and loved, of course, but who mourns for the thousands (millions?) of innocent animals who are slaughtered every day in the name of human consumption? I believe, even though we don't get the chance to get to know these animals the way we get to know our pets, that their lives are just as worthy of being remembered, their deaths just as worthy of being mourned, and their existences just as worthy of being honored as those of our pets.

When Sean learned of the trouble Sammie was having with her legs, he wanted to be sure she was not suffering. He had always hoped she would go before she lost the ability to move on her own, but since it didn't turn out that way, he wanted her to at least be comfortable during her last days. "She's so good," he kept saying. "She doesn't want to die."

It's hard to watch or know about an animal suffering when you know you can't do anything about it. When I mourn for an animal who is suffering from natural causes such as illness or old age, I can't help but think of all the animals who needlessly suffer from such atrocities as abuse, neglect, or brutalization in a slaughterhouse every day. By nature, most animals are trusting and defenseless, which makes it that much more cruel for humans to mistreat them so horribly. An animal could never do anything bad enough to deserve the punishment some of them get in this world.

By not consuming any animals or animal by-products, I know I am not contributing to any poor innocent animal's suffering. That alone makes me feel a lot better about my life and who I am. Lately, now that I've finished reading The Kind Life and am not confronted with gruesome facts about animal death every day, the suffering of innocent animals and the damage done to the environment by the meat and dairy industries is easier for me to drown out when faced with food that looks delicious. There are times, for example, when I really want a bite of whatever happens to be around me, either of that amazing-looking Domino's pizza with extra cheese and white sauce, or the turkey, avocado and bacon sandwich, or that bowl of delectable macaroni and cheese from Doncker's. It was my choice to go vegan though, so I never do take that bite, even though I think about it really, really hard sometimes. I try not to forget why I was so passionate about veganism in the first place. As Alicia says in The Kind Diet, you need to get past the fleeting sensory pleasure of eating animal flesh and by-products and think about that animal who gave its life so you could eat, and whose suffering and death you are contributing to by eating that meal.

Sean argues that killing happens out in the wild, so that by eating other animals we're just participating in that natural cycle, the food chain. I understand that, but I would argue that there is nothing really natural about the way we genetically-modify, medicate, kill and mass-produce all the animals we do. I've said before that I don't think there's anything wrong with eating organic, cruelty- and toxin-free meat, eggs, and dairy, if that is your choice, but I feel there is no excuse for continuing to support industries and practices that you would consider unethical.  If everyone decides to turn a blind eye, how is anything supposed to change?

When it comes to the actual killing of an animal, Sean pointed out to me that there can and should be a mutually respectful relationship between hunter and prey. For example, the Native Americans knew that to be respectful to the animal who gave its life for their use, they needed to use every part of the animal. He's right about that, but we both know that the mass production and slaughter of animals in the dairy and meat industries today is about as far from this respectful view of taking lives as you could possibly get. Every life passing deserves recognition and respect, and to ignore this fact is to ignore our sense of humanity. 

If I am ever tempted to eat a hamburger, I just think of our cat Cinder, who, when Sean pets him, goes slack-jawed with happiness. Or my kitty Kai, who cuddles by putting his little arms around my neck and giving me kisses. There's really no difference between them and a cow, and I wouldn't eat them, so by virtue of that fact, I feel I shouldn't eat the cow either. This thought helps me get through my meat cravings, even if it's for something as little as one bite of a sandwich with meat. Even if it's just one bite, with that bite I will still have consumed part of what is, really, a corpse; a part of the body of what was once a living, breathing being with a consciousness and a personality all its own. I don't mean to sound like a hippie, but that's a pretty heavy cosmic burden to bear, if you ask me. One I can do without in my life.

Coda (A.J. Jacobs style): In the midst of writing this post, I discovered from Sean's sister's Facebook page that Sam has indeed passed on. We were sad to hear this, of course, but Sean did most of his grieving this morning, and he's okay. We take comfort in knowing that she is at peace now. R.I.P., Sammie. You will not be forgotten.