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Finding Food Without Death
"Veganism" is to never eat animals or use anything derived directly from animals. [Veganism is different from "lacto-ovo vegetarianism", which allows for dairy and eggs.] Having started at the beginning of 2012, I have been "vegan" for almost 8 years now. It is not a subject that I talk about much, as I recognize that what we eat is usually a personal choice with many variables involved. To give a couple of examples:
• some people follow a particular diet for health reasons and/or at the recommendation of their doctor, nutritionist, personal trainer, etc.
• some people plan out their meals based upon their financial situation and/or the foods that are available to them wherever they live
...and so on.
While it may be founded in a true caring, screaming at someone "YOU'RE A MURDERER BECAUSE YOU EAT ANIMALS!" is more likely to induce annoyance rather than inspire change. "Moral superiority" is unpalatable in any form. Instead, I would like to share with you why I personally became a vegan, how I do it, and the effects that it has had upon me, both "good" and "bad". More importantly, I would also like to share some general ideas about food that I sincerely hope can be useful to you whatever you choose to eat, vegan or not, ways in which we All might be able to have "food without death". [Links with extra information are given throughout. Please note that this is not necessarily an endorsement of all of their contents, nor is any of this to be construed as medical advice! Please consult with caring professionals whenever necessary.]
My Personal Experience
One night I read an article about the intelligence of chickens. I'm not exactly sure how I came across it, but I found it fascinating. It had no vegan "slant" to it and was more along the lines of scientific literature. It noted their keen ability to memorize, to recognize faces, to communicate.
Upon reading it, a strong feeling arose from deep inside of me, "You cannot eat animals anymore." I stopped immediately the next day and never went back. All in, cold turkey. *Gobble gobble*
The first week was a bit challenging as I did not have many options, so I fasted most of that time. The next week, the substitutions came. The usual meals were switched out for homemade salads and vegetable stews, the secretion of cows for almond "milk". I also got rid of most of my leather, silk, and woolen goods in a symbolic gesture of dedication. My empathy for insects, animals, and those who grow and prepare food increased.
Throughout the first month, I had recurring dreams of my mother making me an egg and cheese sandwich. It always played out the same way. I would take a single bite and then start crying in a sad mixture of longing and guilt. ☺ As serious as they seemed to my dream self at the time, I find these nightmares hilarious. They eventually went away and it is rare that I have any similar kinds of dreams. Other changes happened too...
One thing that immediately became clear is how rapidly vegetables move through one's digestive system in contrast to things like meat and dairy. Within a couple of months, my intestines started to feel "cleaner" in a sense. Perhaps this was a natural sort of detox?
I also became acutely aware of how strongly foods can alter mood. I had noticed a similar change when I stopped drinking soda and energy drinks years before. (I was never a coffee drinker, but I would imagine that the withdrawal would be similar.) Foods and drinks that act like stimulants (from their large amounts of sugar, caffine, etc.) have a tendency to make me feel sick now, like my body no longer confuses their over-stimulation as "energy" and rejects them.
Over time, this seems to have subtly changed my mental-emotional baseline. I feel more peaceful and less "animal" in my reactions. In addition to helping one to regulate their cravings and to show compassion towards other lifeforms, many spiritual teachings probably have dietary restrictions for this reason. For example, Christianity encourages intermittent fasting and Buddhism suggests that one refrain from eating meat entirely.
All-in-all, there are only a couple of "drawbacks" that I have encountered. I will attempt to describe each of them in turn, and to give a few ideas on how one can alleviate them...
Drawback #1: I sometimes feel that I do not get enough nutrients. However, I want to emphasize that I don't believe this is from following "veganism", but is most likely due to my own negligence. Unless your diet is significantly limited by allergies or conditions like celiac, getting a wide variety of foods (such as vegetables, tree nuts, legumes, fruits, seeds, fungi, grains), and taking supplements whenever necessary, can be helpful. A useful "rule of thumb" that I have heard before is to "make your plate a rainbow".
Some people also teach how to get more nutrient-dense foods to complement their meals by "sprouting" (i.e.: growing fresh vegetable seedlings in open jars). This is a simple process, but one must be careful to NOT let the sprouts become spoiled as they are growing. One time I got food poisoning from doing this improperly and it was excruciatingly painful!
Getting the proper amount of nutrients does not have to be overly complicated or dangerous though. We just need to pay close attention to how we feel and what we ingest.
A few examples:
• If my teeth are feeling weak, then I will increase my intake of almond milk and supplement with vitamin K2 to retain calcium.
• If my vision seems cloudy, then I will have some apple juice mixed with carrot juice (the malic acid in the apple aids the absorbtion of the β-carotene in the carrot to help repair the retina).
• If my mind seems foggy, then I will eat something that contains algal oil or supplement with Omega-3 (as the fatty acids help to build up brain tissue).
• If my muscles feel fatigued, then I will eat quinoa (as it has all of the essential amino acids).
• If I have sweated a lot, then I will drink some coconut water (as it helps with electrolyte balance).
[As an aside, using "food as medicine" like this can sometimes carry over into more extreme cases, such as preventing and/or regulating malignant cancers. Examples: 1, 2]
Still hungry? Depending on what we eat, we may get hungry again right away. Chances are high that our meals are lacking in the nutrients that we need if we can eat until we are physically full, but still seem to have a lingering "hunger" [...excluding other factors, such as psychological triggers, "hyperpalatable" (i.e.: addictive) foods, stress, dehydration, "leptin" (i.e.: satiety hormones) getting out of wack, and the residual effects of "crash dieting"].
This may sound strange, but to be 100% honest, food is mostly functional to me. While I savor what I eat and I am sincerely grateful for it, I try not to eat merely for the sake of eating. Because of this, I have a tendency to skip meals or to be somewhat lazy in my meal preparation. A method that helps to remedy this situation is to plan out and prepare well-balanced meals beforehand. If it requires cooking, make one large batch and slowly chip away at it throughout the week.
Drawback #2: While this is not really a problem now, when I first started, I noticed that certain foods lead to incredibly painful gas. One might expect this from increasing particular foods (such as beans), but some raw vegetables (like broccoli crowns) can also cause this.
Getting "probiotics" (or beneficial intestinal bacteria) can contribute to our overall health and instantly relive this sort of pain. Probiotics are contained within many foods and drinks created through the process of "fermentation". With some safety precautions, we can make them at home. Although, many grocery stores now stock items like "vegan yogurts" and "kombucha" if you are hesitant to try it out. Either way, just don't overdo it; too much fermented food and drink can often cause diarrhea and irritation to your throat!
[Just to be clear, fermentation is the same process that is used to produce alcoholic beverages. Therefore, some dietary products made with fermentation contain minute amounts of alcohol, usually on the order of fractions of a percent. Unless we ate or drank a truckload, it is not enough to get one "inebriated" (or drunk), but I thought that I should mention it. The microbes involved in fermentation are a rich field of study unto themselves, and they can sometimes produce intriguing effects all on their own.]
There are two questions that I am constantly asked:
1. "Isn't it boring? Eating only vegetables is bland!"
This is probably due to me having such a plain diet, but it doesn't have to be "boring" for you. There are many spices (e.g.: "Cajun" and "Italian" mixes), sauces (e.g.: "Teriyaki" and "BBQ"), methods of preparation, and food combinations that can easily make a dish more exciting. As an added bonus, old standards like ketchup, mustard, table salt, pepper, chili flakes, onion powder, "taco seasoning", etc. are usually pretty cheap!
2. "Don't you ever miss eating [blank]?"
No. My tastes have changed, and if you do anything long enough, yours probably will too. I had once mistaken some things which are excessively sweet as "delicious", but could only recognize it after excluding them from my meals for awhile.
For those that are concerned about missing out, there are a lot of recipes and store-bought products nowadays that can simulate just about any kind of flavor or consistency that one is searching for. Of course, they can vary in quality, but some can be quite tasty. Be sure to look for a recipe before buying an expensive pre-made option, as they are often much cheaper to make. Also, some old recipes can be made "vegan" with a few simple substitutions.
The Consequences of Meat?
Throughout my life, many questions have arisen in my mind in regards to the topic of eating meat...
• Are the means of killing animals for food without causing them excess suffering commonly practiced?
• Does the stress induced in the animal right before it is killed negatively affect the quality of the meat and the health of the person consuming it?
• Is there are correlation between desensitization to violence, abuse, and working at slaughterhouses?
There is a lot of information out there that can help each person to draw their own conclusions, but generally:
• Slaughterhouse workers often face extreme dangers, both physically and mentally-emotionally
[Examples: 1, 2]
• Animals often undergo ill treatment, even when they are killed for food. [Examples: 1, 2]
• There are negative health effects linked to excessive meat intake. [Examples: 1, 2]
• If it is planned out well, it seems possible to get enough nutrition in one's diet from plants alone. Protein included [Examples: 1, 2]. There are even vegan and vegetarian bodybuilders!
For those who feel that they cannot give up meat entirely, the general health recommendations are to:
• Eat only small portions of meat (~3 oz. servings) a couple of times a week.
• Stick with leaner / healthier meats, "fish and fowl" (e.g.: seafood, chicken, turkey, etc.), instead of the "red meats" (e.g.: cow, pig, etc.).
• Make sure those meats are...
1. free from contaminants (e.g.: mercury)
2. organic (e.g.: do not have growth hormones that can disrupt your endocrine system)
3. free range
This last stipulation may seem trivial, but it has a practical purpose. For example, "hock-burns", the small black marks that show up on some drumsticks, are from chickens being packed into close quarters and forced to stand in their own fecal matter. Not only will you receive a cleaner piece of meat, but also a higher-quality one, as animals that are allowed to roam around are usually more muscular.
Ultimately, while we can obtain useful resources from animals, that does not mean that they should be mistreated (e.g.: abused in their preparation as food, killed only for "sport", wasting the resources obtained from them, etc.). It does not matter if they are considered a "pet" or not. Likewise, we should respect the slaughterhouse workers, farmers, and others who provide everyone with food. There are also many scientists working towards more sustainable agriculture and "growing" meat to completely remove the killing of animals from the equation of food and material production.
Transforming The Body-Mind
Much of the above information can be helpful for those attempting to reach a particular health goal, like gaining control of their weight. For many people, significant weight loss can be had with just a few simple changes (such as replacing all drinks with water, not eating late, and/or using natural appetite suppressants to mitigate hunger). In general, it is important to integrate constructive changes into one's lifestyle in a way that is effortless. We want the formation of a habit to be joyful and easy, not a painful struggle that tends towards relapse.
Transforming the body can lead to a transforming of the mind, and vice versa. Our thoughts, feelings, and actions are all interconnected. While we might not often think about it, what we eat becomes a part of us and influences the expression of our consciousness. There has been a lot of interesting research behind how changes in nutrition can significantly alter behavior.
This is probably not too surprising as there is a deep link between the brain within our head, and the "Enteric Nervous System", the brain within our stomach.
To what extent this connection may be utilized to bring about healing is an exciting field of study! For example, can we possibly reduce seizures for those who suffer from epilepsy and other kinds of illnesses? Or can we help treat psychological ailments with regular food and drink?
I have come across stories of people relieving and controlling symptoms of depression with a combination of music, modalities like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and supplementation, particularly:
All of these affect the levels of serotonin, dopamine, and other neurochemicals within the brain. Some of these chemicals are also within different foods and herbs (e.g.: bananas, green tea, tomatoes, chamomile, valerian root, etc.) if you are hesitant of getting them only from supplements.
Generally, there is a whole class of substances that help our bodies learn to safely cope with stress without drug-like effects. They are referred to as "adaptogens".
Unifying With The Planet Mind
While it may seem mundane, food and drink can become a means of uniting the pragmatic with the philosophical, the scientific with the spiritual, and the personal with the universal.
I believe that a careful balance is necessary within the diet, and should be accomplished in a manner that is beneficial towards ALL (the environment and other beings within Nature's kingdoms, mineral-vegetable-insect-animal included). Humankind is not separate from Nature, and has evolved a sense of self-awareness, self-responsibility, and compassion towards other selves for a reason. Morality is not an abstract notion, but intrinsic to our ability to communicate and cooperate with one another and with Nature itself. Our personal evolution is inextricably connected to the minerals that we mine, the crops that we cultivate, the insects that we direct, the animals that we domesticate, and each other. How can we live this out?
The book The Way of Herbs by Michael Tierra has a lot of beautiful advice on how to show respect towards Nature (and the plants, insects, animals, and other human beings that comprise it). To give a couple of examples...
It is a mistake to view herbology only as a science studying the therapeutic properties of plants. More than this, the path of the herbalist is a cultivated attitude towards nature and all of creation. I remember the time that I spent with the Karok Indians of northern California - whenever I presented one of them with an unfamilar plant, the inevitable question was "What's it good for?" Certainly the Indians love nature as their home, but rather than merely holding an aesthetic viewpoint about it they combine a sincere appreciation for its beauty with a functional attitude based on the idea of "use, not abuse." This is also the attitude of the herbalist towards nature. It is in contrast to the lack of appreciation demonstrated by those who retreat in the wilderness to dump all of their repressed desires symbolized by the beer cans, pop bottles and other debris left in their wake. The view of the herbalist is also in contrast to the many pseudo-ecologists who make futile attempts to maintain natural environments as aesthetic monuments with no functional purpose, leaving signs saying "do not touch," "do not pick the plants," etc. (pg. xix)
When you are gathering herbs, take time, make your peace with the environment and its life as well as with the living plants that pass their life cycle there. Avoid the tendency to plunder and pluck about unconsciously. Before taking an herb, offer a prayer of thanksgiving or a good thought of appreciation. Herbs have feelings not at all dissimilar in many respects to our own, and we and they can both be persuaded to give more of ourselves and our energy if we can be genuinely persuaded to feel good about the process. In any case, never take more than a third of the foliage of a plant. Never strip the bark around the entire circumference of a tree unless you deliberately intend to kill it. Bits and pieces can be taken from various parts of one tree and from various trees, and each tree can still heal itself over. (pg. xxvii)
Some spiritual teachings, like Jainism, even go so far as to exclude root vegetables from their diet to avoid killing the plant, or harm the insects and microorganisms interacting with it. All of this might seem excessive. That is ok!
Whether or not one accepts the idea of prayer as being anything more than a personal affirmation, or that there is such a thing as plant perception, it not unreasonable to believe that we are a living being embedded within a living environment. The question is, how does it all relate?
Thank you for reading! ♥