Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My Eight Most Encouraging Signs of Vegan Expansion in 2013

Every year, there are things to whine about and there are also signs of hope. Keeping in mind the very massive shift of consciousness we are trying to usher in and all the ingrained habits we are trying to move the world past, these may seem like pretty puny examples of positive growth. Everything has to start somewhere, though, and the outward indications of our once easily ignored social justice movement are starting to become undeniable. Here were some of the most encouraging signs to me in 2013 that we are moving to the next level of growth, influence and maturity. 

Beyond Animal Products

Cruelty-free replacements for flesh and animal-based products are nothing new; wheat gluten and tofu were developed thousands of years ago as a plant-sourced protein for vegetarian Buddhists. What is new, though, is the interest in plant-based replacements for ecological and social justice reasons. Citing concerns about feeding a growing population and the disastrous footprint animal foods wreak on the environment, civic-minded philanthropists and food scientists are throwing their support behind Hampton Creek, a San Francisco start-up which seeks to make eggs, often produced in such unhygienic, cruel and polluting environments, obsolete. With chickens comprising the largest percentage of animals in confinement, the fact that people are beginning to recognize the need to start moving away from eggs is a huge leap forward and will potentially have a very a positive effect on everything from world hunger to environmental protection. (Please, no lectures on genetic engineering here: I have done my research on the topic and am simply talking about gains for the animals in 2013.)

Artful Cheese

The upscale vegan cheese movement has been afoot for a while, ushered in with great anticipation in 2012 by pioneering restaurateur and cookbook author Miyoko Schinner with her stereotype-shattering cookbook Artisan Vegan Cheese, allowing a maturing movement of real food lovers to create creamy, sharp, tangy and uncannily dairy-esque productions in their own kitchens. Ever since, it seems there are always some nuts soaking on vegan kitchen counters: people has been soaking cashews, macadamia nuts, etc. and more, delving into vegan cheese gastronomy to great effect, using natural ingredients, real cultures and ingenuity. Also, there is at least one more vegan cheese cookbook, the Non-Dairy Formulary (which I have heard excellent reviews for but haven't purchased yet) as well as a growing market of different varieties of artisan-crafted dairy-free cheeses in stores that will impress the most discriminating palates, such as Ste. Martaen, Kite Hill, Dr. Cow, Treeline Cheese, Door 86 Vegan Cheese, Punk Rawk Labs and more. Remember when there was one vegan cheese on the market and it was basically Play-Doh wrapped in plastic? Well, I do.

The Rise of Exclusively Vegan Grocery Stores

While the growth of animal-free items in both conventional and high-end grocery stores is exciting and we see more of it every year, this has been a rising growth sector for a while. What I noticed more this year was the viability and ascent of exclusively vegan grocery stores. From the Veganz chain in Europe (opening their first location in London in 2014 after several in Germany), to markets like Food Fight! in Portland, and the recently opened Everything Vegan in Adelaide, South Australia, Nooch Vegan Market in Denver and Viva La Vegan in Rancho Cucamonga, CA, we are seeing an increased demand for purchasing from businesses that research, curate and sell goods with integrity. How soon before there is a cruelty-free market in every city? I don’t know but it can’t come soon enough. 

Provocative Documentaries

2013 was the year when two powerful documentaries were able to grab the public’s attention, bringing audiences to think about our relationship to animals in a more expansive, challenging and compassionate way. Blackfish, the documentary that follows the tragic life of Tilikum, an orca captured in 1983 at the age of two in the wild near Iceland and kept in captivity as a performing and breeding killer whale ever since, having resided at SeaWorld Orlando since 1992. While Tilikum is the focus of the film, Blackfish also delves into the lives of other captive orcas, and how their complex emotional, cognitive and social needs are deeply frustrated by captivity, resulting in not only their profound suffering but the endangerment of those in close contact with them. (Three individuals have been killed by Tilikum alone, something SeaWorld and their lawyers were shameless in their haste to assign blame elsewhere.) Blackfish garnered a lot of critical acclaim and even aired on CNN; it is shortlisted as a best feature documentary for the Oscars. The other film, The Ghosts in Our Machine, presents more challenging material, material where the director and protagonist have pulled back the curtains so audiences can see that humans have declared an unprovoked war on animals: from animals imprisoned by the fur trade to animals in agriculture, the cruelty is weaved so invisibly into our society that we carry on without a second thought about the lives we have violently stolen. As I said, this is a much more challenging subject for mainstream audiences so it hasn’t gotten the distribution of Blackfish but it has garnered some excellent reviews and it is still on its ascent. Both films made 2013 a year when mainstream audiences were challenged to think about their privileges. (Check out our review of Ghosts and interview with director Liz Marshall.

The Response to Ag-Gag Bills

The wildly overreaching, deeply flawed anti-whistleblower Ag-Gag laws, which seek to criminalize the exposing of animal cruelty, poor working conditions and more in agribusiness, have not passed in any of the eleven states where they were introduced in 2013. Also in overreaching, the Ag-Gag proponents have inadvertently helped to foster support between various alliances beyond animal advocacy, forging coalitions with free speech and anti-fracking activists, for example, mobilizing our growing movement and exposing the very cruelties they had sought to conceal. What started out as a tyrannical threat to free speech and justice has emerged as something that can be a net gain for the animals if we stay active and a crushing embarrassment to the interests that benefit from animal exploitation. Please check out Green is the New Red for developments in this fascinating sphere.

More Varied Insights Into the Long Shadow of Animal Agriculture

We have been exploring the myriad ways that food production, specifically animal agriculture, inflicts horrific cruelties upon the sentient beings trapped in the system at least since Ruth Harrison’s Animal Machines was published in 1964 but this year brought some fresh, penetrating insights regarding other spheres in which we feel the repercussions of the industry as well as exposing how it is propped up. Specifically, Meatonomics: How the Rigged Economics of Meat and Dairy Make You Consume Too Much by David Robinson Simon and Food Choice and Sustainability: Why Buying Local, Eating Less Meat, and Taking Baby Steps Won’t Work by Dr. Richard Oppenlander come to mind as serious, important books that could potentially bring science-minded people, often skeptical of veganism and anything that smacks of emotional“bunny-hugging,” into the fold. Apparently former Vice President and environmental champion Al Gore apparently stopped eating animals and animal products in 2013...could he have finally run out of excuses? Anyone who studies animal agriculture realizes that these books, important as they are, are just the beginning. We need to keep shining a light at the dark, often hidden but massive consequences of this industry and we have barely begun.

Rally for Animals Around the World

Nothing prepared me for the images coming out of Israel after their August march for the animals in Tel Aviv. Thousands of people took to the streets in peaceful protest in solidarity with the oppressed and to raise their voices against cruelty to animals. After the march in Tel Aviv, animal advocates in more than 40 cities and 17 counties also rallied on behalf of the animals. Will anything come of it? It’s impossible to say but we have to start somewhere.

Vegan Street!

Well, this is important to me, anyway. My husband and I revived Vegan Street, the website we started way back in 1998 and had been dormant for more than ten years. We have reemerged to an exciting new vegan world, one we scarcely could have imagined back in the day. There is so much to say about Vegan Street and our goals but I am very sleepy, but I will say that we have huge plans. Please join us at Vegan Street (you can sign up there to get our newsletter and a free copy of my e-Book) and our Facebook page, where we share a new, original meme aimed at expanding vegan awareness every weekday. Seriously...it’s very exciting.

What were your signs of hope for the animals in 2013?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Everyday Heroes

Over the weekend, I saw the most recent Lord of the Rings film with my guys. I pretty much feel like the world’s most long-suffering, persecuted martyr each time one of these Hobbit Ring things is released (soooo many times and, true story, I even chewed some scenery as Gollum in my camp play but it’s still unmitigated torture to me). I try to hide my disdain for the sake of my son, who cannot imagine anything involving dragons, battle scenes and highly improbable near-death experiences right before even more improbable escape sequences to be anything but cinema at its finest. (He’s an 11-year-old boy, it makes sense.) This is probably my own shortcoming, but there is something about special effects that annoys me and something about Middle Earth that reminds me of a Renaissance Faire with a bigger budget and fewer drunk guys in codpieces puking behind ye olde backdrops. But I do it because it’s something for the family to do together and it’s the holiday season and I don’t want to be dismissive of what my son enjoys and he’s gone to more than a few things with me (craft fairs!) that have probably bored him to tears. Still, sitting there in the movie theater, between creating sarcastic dialogue in my mind and nabbing a short, British Isles-accented nap, it was hard to not keep returning to thoughts of this guy pictured below. He was safe at our home after his own harrowing journey.

His name was Money when I first learned of him. He appeared in my Facebook feed Wednesday night and his picture gripped me right away. He was a 15-year-old unneutered dog surrendered by his human to a hell for animals in Chicago: Animal Care and Control. No reason was given for his surrender, none was needed, he was just let go. Unwanted. He had possibly the saddest, most scared eyes I have ever seen. Those eyes seared into me on a visceral level, seemed to be looking right at me, made my whole body react. I shared his photo and within minutes, a plan had come together. From the first person who took his photo, to the people who shared it, to the friend who helped to grease the wheels for his quick release, to another friend (the lovely Little Fox, Ashlee Piper) who would help with his eventual placement, we devised that my family would foster Money and he would be out of there. Within minutes, we created a chain of support that would bring this very vulnerable boy to safety, like a team of bodies linking arms and pulling up someone from the crevice of an abyss. Each of us alone might not have been able to rescue him but all of us together, with just a little effort, could. By Thursday night, less than 24 hours after sharing his photo, we were able to pick him up.

He is now named Monty (from me) Sprinkles (from Ashlee). He is hard of hearing and can’t see well. He had one of the worst odors I have ever inhaled, like he was doused in a month’s worth of urine. He got right into my car, though, without the need for any coaxing. He came into our home, ate his bowl of food, went for a walk (he doesn’t know how to walk on a leash) and got a bath that he really did not appreciate but we did very much. He also met the other animals, shoving his nose indelicately into private doggie parts and he slept through the night on a blanket that he pushed around into a nest with his skinny little paws. In the morning when I came downstairs, so worried that he wouldn’t adjust, that the cat would eviscerate him, that we would be outed as foster failures, Monty greeted me with a tiny wag from his docked tail. He may have never known kindness, he was just given up like a piece of unwanted furniture, and despite this, he still wagged when he saw me. I sat on the floor with him and my dandelion tea and he placed his greying muzzle in my hand, turning it to get the best scratching angles. His cloudy eyes were wary but they still met mine despite the disappointments and the reasons to be suspicious. I sat on the floor with him for two hours that morning, kissing and scratching that wizened face and unexpectedly velvety neck. He was so tender. 

This is how it always happens when I adopt and apparently also when I foster. I fall in love. Whenever I’m not with them, they are all I can think about at first. I race home to be near them, smile at the thought of them, find myself wondering if she would like this toy, if he would like to visit this park. It is always a matter of my heart bursting with embarrassing purple prose, skipping to a new rhythm, fully embracing a kindred spirit I didn’t know even a day or two before but can’t imagine living without.

It alters us for the better.

So while I was sitting in that theater, bored silly by the elves and screaming intensity and swords and stage blood, I drifted away and thought of Monty, as I often do these days. This dog has seen a lot in his long life. He has been most likely treated as an thing to reproduce and earn money and his worth was based on that. But now here he was, sleeping in our home, sighing in his sleep, accepting our affection - yes, cautiously at first but then seeking it out - claiming the new life that I can only presume is a world apart from how he had lived even a few days before. Adapting to it, thriving in it, completely and gracefully transforming because of it. In just one night, those ears, once behind his head, stood confidently up. His tail came out from being tucked under and wagged. His eyes - frightened and suspicious from a lifetime of what he saw - now had a different quality, a different spark: one of release, of trust. In just one night, he had begun a remarkable transformation of the spirit, the kind it might take a person years to accomplish, if ever.

Is Monty’s transformation any less of a hero’s journey than Bilbo Baggins’s because he wasn’t threatened by Orcs and deadly dragons? Maybe he didn’t outrun fireballs and manage to survive a column collapsing on him, but what he did endure and survive was every bit as threatening to his well-being. He came out on the other side, too, scarred and shaken but still believing in his innate self-worth enough to graciously accept it when his new life arrived. He is sleeping on the couch now as if this has always been his comfortable life because dogs are amazingly adaptive beings who live in the moment but also because he has arrived at a place of trust and acceptance. Why do our stories have to be so convoluted and out of reach? Can’t a hero’s story be this quietly brave, loving and tender? Can’t an inspiring story be within reach but every bit as audacious and inspiring as the fantasies we construct? I also think that learning to trust is as courageous as anything we do.  This dog, this being who has been treated like an object and discarded when he was no longer useful, can forgive and trust. He will nudge my hand with his sweet snout to keep me from writing because he wants my affection. That is heroic, too. 

I dedicate this piece to Monty, a boy who has taught me again and again in his short time in my life that transformation is so complex and yet so accessible; it involves communities and our own tenacity of spirit. Monty will be going to his rest-of-his-life home soon where he will live out his days in contentment and love. Our home will be open again for fosters (yes, it will, John). He has touched a place in my heart forever, though. You are a hero, Monty. Thank you for letting me be a part of your journey. You don’t need sword battles and pyrotechnics. You are as brave and as bold as they come.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Fifth Annual Disgruntled Alphabet for Vegans

Ah, the annual chance to get it all out of my system so I can be the shiny, happy vegan you all know and love for the rest of the year. Oh, there’s only a couple of weeks left in the year? Well, that’s better than nothing. I love being vegan, please don’t misunderstand, but people, sigh, people will make you a little nutty sometimes. Let’s get to it, shall we?

A is for Angry, because if I am vegan, is necessarily follows that I am angry. Right? While knowing about the unnecessary mass slaughter of sensitive beings for no reason other than satisfying a temporary pleasure doesn’t exactly make me feel like skipping through a meadow like I am in a feminine hygiene commercial circa 1977, I think characterizing  vegans as universally “angry” is a little simplistic and reductive. We’re happy, sad, irritated, exuberant and, yes, angry at times. You know...human.

B is for “But can’t you just eat around the turkey bits in the stuffing? Oh, and you don’t eat chicken broth either? I give up. You really are impossible.”

C is for the Cold boiled vegetables with some squiggle of green (liquified grass?) that is apparently the standard vegan plate at the catered office holiday party. You will find us by our desk scarfing our ProFit bars and locating the best decent post-meal meal via the handy HappyCow app.

D is for Despite possessing neither a central nervous system nor a brain, exhibiting no obvious or even subtle signs of suffering, there are still going to be people who assert that “plants feel pain”? And somehow they are still be able to tie their shoes in the morning? That’s actually kind of impressive. 

E is for Effing leave me alone about the new sausage-of-the-month club you just joined. What part of my “Ask Me Why I’m Vegan” button makes you think I want to hear about something called freaking blutworst? And, oh, yeah - thanks for compelling us to Google that grotesqueness.

F is for Former vegans, often meaning someone who, curiously, was never vegan or was between breakfast and their mid-morning snack one day in 1996, but is still taken as the final word of authority on Why Veganism Doesn’t Work. Guess what: I am a failed omnivore. I just couldn’t keep doing it; it was too gross. I didn’t feel well. ‘Kay?

G is for Guilt, in that, when someone is grasping at every possible random excuse at his or her disposal for eating animals (“Plants-feel-pain-animals-kill-other-animals-I-honor-the-animals-like-the-Native-Americans-what-about-the-Inuit-it-is-part-of-the-cycle-of-life-and-death-Hitler-was-a-vegetarian-oh-he-wasn’t-well-I-don’t-really-care-vegans-are-still-meanies”), couldn’t guilt just be admitted to so we can both move on?

H is for Humane meat. How can babies be taken from their mothers humanely? How can females be forcibly impregnated, males be castrated without anesthesia, and so on? How can a knife sever the jugular vein in a humane fashion? You can gussy up the fairy tale scenario however you like - the animals can dine on fields of organic, tender mesclun mix, they can enjoy massages while Michael Pollan reads them selections from The Omnivore’s Dilemma, they can frolic in the flowers like Bambi and Thumper all the live-long day - if they are being killed for unnecessary food, it ain’t humane. Why is this so hard to understand? 

I is for If you eat that tuna fish sandwich at your desk in the same office as me again, it is my right to open the window, pinch my nose while gagging and wave a folder to disperse the air and, no, I am not being passive-aggressive. It really is that putrid.

J is for Joel Salatin, the “rebel/hero” of the organic meat community, the farmer who was seen serenely slitting a chicken’s presumably grateful throat in “Food, Inc.,” and who honestly tried to argue that mitochondria and bacteria have the same capacity to feel and suffer as animals: this is the best you’ve got, humane meat world? This is your best and your brightest? Oy vey. Please get it through your head that diversionary tactics aimed at exposing us as hypocrites and attempting to minimize our sincere efforts at harm reduction remains just that: obvious diversionary tactics. (By the way, his ass was handed to him in that debate.)

K is for Kid, in that you can kid me about eating sticks and leaves but the second I mention the words “ovum” and “carcasses,” you get upset. Sure, that seems fair.

L is for Let me get this right: In order to "prove" that vegans are hypocrites, I am supposed to accept your hypothetical scenarios about being stranded on a deserted island and speculation that plants experience pain but you can’t even visit the reality we live in? Oh, yes. That seems reasonable. I hope you’re happy in your special fairytale land. Ohhh, look! A sparkly unicorn!

M is for Maintaining my enviable blood pressure despite society’s best attempts to make me irate because I’m vegan, man. At least I’ve got that.

N is for Nutritional yeast, which we have to say when we are asked by the repair person at the Apple store about what all that flaky yellow powder is under our keyboard.

O is for Omm...I'm effing serene, damn it.

P is for the Personal choice to eat animals, spoken by those who defend their consumption habits with the same air of conviction as Clarence Darrow in a courtroom, but, somehow, not realizing that their right to impose a “personal choice” requiring the suffering and/or death of another is not ethically sound. Does a mugger have a “personal choice” to relieve a victim or his or her wallet because he really wants that wallet? Does an arsonist have a “personal choice” to set buildings on fire because he really enjoys that activity? No. Stop using this stupid phrase, seriously. It is the fingernails on the chalkboard of my soul and it doesn’t make you sound smart. 

Q is for Quirky, in that, I know I’m strange but there’s something about eating a corpse that no longer appeals to me. I know! Quirky!

R is for the Recipe for eggs and bacon that I didn’t ask to hear but you still felt compelled to tell me about anyway in nauseating detail. Why???

S is for Salad because that’s all we eat, right? And, oh yes, Snark, because some of us gorge on a big bowl of that every day, too.  

is for the Take-out that you forgot to check before you left the restaurant and now you are hungry and you have just opened a container of pad Thai with chicken and eggs and you will have a wait 45 minutes before you can get the right one and you should have just cooked dinner and the guy on the phone repeated back the order and why does the world have to be so stupid??

U is for Ugh because sometimes, just ugh.

V is for Vegetarian: is anyone really one of those anymore? 

W is for Water, in that, yes, sure, I’ll be perfectly content just nursing that glass of water at the annual dinner out with the extended family. I was thinking about fasting anyway, I may as well start now when everyone else is eating their dinner. You mean I can have some iceberg lettuce with lemon, too?! Wow, you really went out of your way to make me feel welcomed. Thank you.

X is for the X I am marking on my calendar for the days until I can justify drinking chocolate mint nog season starts again as a seasonal mood improvement aid. (It starts the week before Thanksgiving).

Y is for Yes, I’d love for you to tell me the story of the one lady you know who’s second cousin got married to someone whose childhood babysitter was vegan and she got really sick, her hair fell out and she died of veganism. Because that sounds very legit. 

Z is for zoning out. Can you blame us?

All better! Onward until next year's disgruntled alphabet!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Veganism Ruined My Life!

I tried going vegan and it didn’t work out for me. Here is my story.

One morning I decided to go vegan and I was thinking about recipes when walking through a crowd at the train station on my way to work. 

While I was thinking, I stubbed my toe.  

Because I was distracted after stubbing my toe, I walked into the revolving door and broke my nose.

I got blood all over my favorite sweater.

At the hospital emergency room, I was exposed to two hours of really horrible morning TV and countless viruses while I waited for a doctor to see me.

I blame veganism.

During this time, my phone lost its charge.

Because my phone had lost its charge, I was unable to call in to work and was written up by my supervisor. 

On the train home, my wallet got stolen. Probably because I was so weak from being vegan, I didn’t even notice.

The prescription for my painkillers was in my wallet, so that got stolen, too.  

I had to go home without a working phone and wait for it to charge before I could get the hospital to send my painkiller prescription to the pharmacy.  

I found some money in an old coat pocket to pay for the painkillers. While looking through pockets, I tore the lining of my coat.

None of this would have happened if I hadn’t gone vegan.

Once my phone was charged, I saw that my boyfriend sent me a text. He broke up with me. 

I also got a text from my best friend telling me that we needed to talk. 

She and my ex-boyfriend ran away together to Province.  

Veganism is soul-crushing.

On my way to picking up my prescription, it started to rain.

Or I thought it was rain, but a bird actually pooped on top of my head.

I went into a public restroom at Macy’s to clean my hair. As I was leaving, the alarm went off and my bag needed to be searched by a security guard to check if I was stealing. 

My old high school rival happened to be walking through right at that moment with her new baby. 

I shouted, “I wasn’t stealing!” but by then she had hurried off. Everyone was staring at me. 

Veganism made me look really bad.

I finally got to the pharmacy. After waiting to be seen for ten minutes, I was informed that they hadn’t received the prescription.

They called the hospital. I waited another ten minutes to be told they didn’t couldn’t fill the prescription because they were out of the painkillers.  

I had to go to a different location across town with my throbbing nose. 

They had the painkillers. I would have taken the train home but I didn’t have any money left and no cards, either.

Veganism is really, really inconvenient.

So I had to walk home in the rain. I couldn’t buy an umbrella so the rain just ran down my sad, vegan body.

By the time I got home 45 minutes later, I was soaked and chilled. 

I had almost no groceries at home.

I had no money.

I ate plain rice for dinner.

I went to bed hungry because of veganism.

A fire alarm went off in my apartment building and brought the fire department out at 2:00 in the morning.

We all had to stand out in the cold until they located the source of the smoke.

“We located the source of the smoke,” a the fireman finally announced. “It was a rice cooker in apartment 609.”

Everyone looked at me. I’d forgotten to unplug my rice cooker. I think I had a severe nutritional deficiency because of my veganism.

My landlord and fellow tenants now hate me.

Going vegan was the worst decision I ever made.

The next morning, I woke up with a cold and a fever.

I had to call in sick to work. I didn’t realize I was on probation at work.

I lost my job.

I was hungry, penniless and sick.

My boyfriend broke up with me.

My life was spiraling out of  control.

I hit rock bottom the second morning I was a vegan.

Veganism ruined my life.

I know you might say that I didn’t give veganism my all, but you are wrong. I did.

It just didn’t work for me. If you would like to be unemployed, hungry, penniless and dumped by a boyfriend who is now dating your best friend, by all means, go for it. That was not for me, though. 

After two days of subjecting myself to this miserable diet, I am happy to say that I am no longer vegan.

I am also happy to say that I have gotten my life back on track.

I credit eating animals to this.

Now I have a job, I have money in my bank account, I have a boyfriend, I am no longer as hungry as I was when I was vegan, and I haven’t caused the fire department to come out in the middle of the night. Everything is so much better, thank God.

Going vegan ruined my life and stopping being vegan fixed it.

Don’t make the same mistake I made. Let me be your cautionary tale. 

If you go vegan, you could break your nose, lose your job, get your wallet stolen, go hungry and more.

My two days of being vegan brought indescribable suffering and pain into my life.

Don’t let it happen to you.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

On Judgment...

"Truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it." - Flannery O'Connor

We’ve all heard it before: You vegans are just so judgmental. The accusation of judgement can have a potent silencing effect, one that I have seen effectively employed countless times. How can we express what is happening to animals and what is happening to our planet in honest, plain terms without raising the hackles of those who feel judged when many are going to feel that way regardless of our messaging due to their own complicity? That is a deeper question of strategy to tackle another day, but for now, I will just focus on one aspect of this issue that we face and rhetorically ask again what I have been rhetorically asking for years: which is the greater crime, to “judge” or to continue the habits that cause actual harm, suffering and death?

If I were to shout to get the attention of someone who is about to open a car door on me while I am on my bike, should I risk sounding judgmental? If I were ask my neighbor to please not toss litter in my yard, would that be overly judgmental? If I were to tell someone who is mistreating me that cruelty is not acceptable, would that be too judgmental? What about on a much larger scale, where so many feeling beings are brutally, fatally punished for being born in a form other than human, and where the cost of our collective demand for their “product” is irreversible harm to our planet and the lives of future generations? Is it okay to point this out? Does it matter if egos are bruised in the process?

To me, the answer is clear. We need to be smart and effective with our communications but we should not allow ourselves to be silenced simply because speaking truthfully makes someone uncomfortable. In this case, when we are told to maintain a lie because speaking honestly upsets the ones causing the damage, we are asked to maintain a code of silence around harm and that is always an abusive power structure.

I have some experience with this.

I was raised in a home where the elephant in the room was never addressed. The elephant was usually drunk. The elephant tossed over tables, raged at us and behaved as if no one else mattered but we had to pretend not to see what we saw. In short, he created a terrifying environment that we were expected to adjust ourselves to somehow. Instead of being allowed to acknowledge his damaging behavior, the message I got was that speaking about what was plainly obvious was a flagrant violation of an unspoken but obvious rule in the house. As this behavior worsened, we were pressured into taking turns at assuming blame. We were expected to tiptoe around what was glaringly apparent to avoid “provoking” more behavior of the same. The very worst offense was to speak of it with candor. Having escaped that environment, I have a very low threshold for being pressured into maintaining appearances for the sake of not upsetting anyone.  

At a certain point, we need to step aside from that egotistical lens and be able to look at things from a bigger, more inclusive framework. If my skin is so thin that I cannot even hear of anything that undermines what I see as my place in the world, that is the narcissistic mentality of an abuser. A deeply pervasive message we get in society reinforces such self-centeredness, maintaining that animals are for us use we wish and to speak of it in ethical terms is to violate a tacit arrangement, one in which we’ve conveniently been rendered unimpeachable. This is not to say that I believe that people who eat animals are abusers because I don’t think that - the intentionality is very different. However, that abusive power dynamic comes into play when people don’t want the existing structure challenged, questioned or sometimes even mentioned. When this happens, I am reminded of the unfairness of being asked to be complicit in a lie. I am reminded of being a girl and seeing what was plainly obvious but being forbidden to speak honestly of it or risk hurting someone’s pride. Again, I am not saying that people who consume animals are abusers, I am saying that the power structure of telling someone not to speak of what she sees is an abusive one. There are greater wrongs in the world than bruising an ego.

When we find ourselves holding back and not speaking our truth because it might offend someone’s sensibilities, we have to really examine what we have agreed to do: we have agreed to play a part in a charade, in a dance of denial, and the consequences are devastating to us personally and to the future of the world. I have observed the silencing ripple effect this fear of sounding judgmental has on people and it is eerily familiar. There are certain things we need to admit to and one is that killing others for unnecessary and temporary pleasures is not consistent with our highest values of compassion and justice. Should we pretend that it is in order to protect someone’s ego? Billions of animals are brutalized every year in the most unfathomably cruel ways and our habits are also leading to ecological disaster, yet it’s frowned upon for us to be so “judgmental” as to point this out? I refuse to participate in this delusion and believe that asking someone to do this is the perpetuation of an abusive dynamic. I opt out.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Vegan Street World Vegan Month Tip #28

 More than 65,000,000,000 land animals are killed worldwide to produce the meat, eggs and dairy people consume and many more aquatic animals (not recorded as numbers but as pounds). The single greatest thing you can do to reduce your contribution to cruelty, suffering and environmental destruction in the world is to stop eating animals and animal products. It has never been easier or more accessible. Please join us on Vegan Street for support and inspiration every day of the year!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Vegan Street World Vegan Month Tip #27

Want to get more cooking ideas? Simply go on YouTube and type in "vegan cooking videos." You will find over a million videos, featuring everything from raw foods and gluten-free options to comfort foods and ethnic dishes. It couldn't be easier!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Vegan Street World Vegan Month Tip #26

Laugh a little. Seriously, no animals will be harmed if you laugh a little.

If I had been born a turkey...

If I had been born a turkey, an incubator would have been my source of warmth before I’d been born.

If I had been born a turkey, I would have vocalized for my mother while still in my egg but not heard her voice in response.

If I had been born a turkey, after pecking my way out of my shell, I would have been in an artificial, industrial setting.

If I had been born a turkey, I would have never known my mother and the comfort of her wings around me as I slept.

If I had been born a turkey, I’d have never felt the sun on my feathers or the dirt between my toes.

If I had been born a turkey, part of my beak would have been seared off without anesthesia with a hot blade. My toes, too.

If I had been born a turkey, I would have been genetically programmed to grow so big, so fast, I couldn’t fly like my wild cousins.

If I’d have been born a turkey, I would have likely had a heart attack or organ failure by six months of age.

If I had been born a turkey, I wouldn’t have lived that long, though.

If I had been born a turkey, I would have been crammed together with thousands of others in a giant shed.

If I had been born a turkey and a female, I would have been roughly inseminated by hypodermic syringe. If I had been born a turkey and a male, my semen would be removed by a “phallus manipulating team.”

If I had been born a breeding turkey, my eggs would be taken from me.

If I had been born a breeding turkey, my chicks wouldn’t have heard my calls, just as I couldn’t hear my own mother.

If I had been born a turkey, I would be kicked by hard boots to get out of the way.

If I had been born a turkey, my brittle skeleton would strain and struggle under my weight.

If I had been born a turkey, my eyes would burn from the ammonia from all the concentrated waste around me.

If I had been born a turkey, my legs would have been grabbed by quick hands and I’d be tossed into a crate in a truck.

If I had been born a turkey, sitting in a crate on a crowded truck would present my first and last opportunity to breathe fresh air.

If I had been born a turkey, when I got to my destination, I would be hung upside-down by my ulcerated feet in shackles and sent down a metal rack.

If I had been born a turkey, I would likely be electric shocked and/or stunned and have my jugular vein slit.

If I had been born a turkey, I would have lived and died this way.

If I had been born a turkey, I would have had no legal protection.

If I had been born a turkey, my organs would be removed and stuffing would be inserted into the cavity.

If I had been born a turkey, millions would say grace over my corpse at Thanksgiving.

But I wasn’t born a turkey.

I wasn’t born a turkey, so I can decide to not participate and if you are reading this, you weren’t born a turkey, either, so you can decide, too. Be grateful for this. I am.

Turkeys are majestic, inquisitive, affectionate creatures if given half a chance to thrive; forcing them into not only becoming meat machines but into the disabled and chronically suffering birds is the ultimate brutality we inflict upon them. For what? So we can maintain our traditions and temporary pleasures. Was there ever a more empty justification for cruelty?

The beauty of living today is that we can stop. We can not only opt out of violence but opt into abundance and the joy that comes from living in harmony with our core values. What an amazing gift. I will not trade this exquisite opportunity for an ingrained custom or fleeting pleasure; I wouldn’t trade it for anything. When we can help people understand that the profound gratification that comes from self-alignment is far more delicious, tantalizing and worthwhile than anything that can be consumed, digested and forgotten, we will be there.

This is no sacrifice. This is no hardship. This is joy and abundance. We can decide today to not intentionally harm them or any other beings. This Thanksgiving and every day of the year, I am grateful for that. I was born a person who can decide for myself and I have decided to celebrate the spirit of Thanksgiving every day without harming another. I give sincere thanks for this.

Please remember that this is speaking to the 96% of turkeys in the U.S. who are born into concentrated feeding operations. If you think that this doesn’t apply to the "free-range" turkey you purchased, please check out this article and remember that no matter the treatment before the birds are needlessly killed, they are still needlessly killed and that is not reconcilable with compassionate living.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Vegan Street World Vegan Month Tip #25

Organize a potluck! Especially during the winter months, people can feel isolated and needing more personal contact. Using Facebook, why not organize a festive vegan potluck in your community? Try to find another friend or two to help with the details, find a location, and then start inviting people. Potlucks are a great chance to socialize while enjoying a great meal.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Vegan Street World Vegan Month Tip #24

Many people are overwhelmed with cooking for the week as it is and feel utterly lost trying to figure out what to eat as vegans. Here is what I suggest to everyone: write a weekly menu. Go through your cookbooks, look online, or just plain brainstorm ideas. While you're writing the menu, you can also make your grocery list. It's efficient, it can save money (especially if you don't allow yourself any impulse purchases off your list) and it can be a healthier way to live when you plan what to eat. Simplify: make a weekly menu!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Vegan Street World Vegan Month Tip #23

Sadly, many cosmetics, personal care products and household cleaners still contain animal ingredients or were tested on animals. Please check out Leaping Bunny for up-to-date information on cruelty-free products and companies. In addition to the information on the website, you can also download the app for convenience when shopping. Also, check out The Vegan Peach for completely vegan referrals.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Vegan Street World Vegan Month Tip #22

Just because you're vegan, it doesn't mean that you have to miss out on the wine and spirits. While many alcoholic drinks are filtered using isinglass (from fish bladder,) gelatin, egg whites, and sea shells, among other things, avoiding them is easy. Check out Barnivore for lots of up-to-date listings. Cheers!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Vegan Street World Vegan Month Tip #21

Craft your vegan elevator "pitch." This way if someone asks you why you are vegan, you won't need to feel put on the spot or stumble through a long explanation. How can you explain succinctly why you are vegan? Saying something like, "I try to live without harming others and today, being vegan is easier and more accessible than ever," is one approach. What is your compelling but succinct explanation for why you are vegan? Be sure to let the person who asked know that you are also more than happy to discuss the reasons behind your veganism at greater length and detail, too.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Vegan Street World Vegan Month Tip #20

Soups! Especially this time of year, soups are a nourishing way to fill ourselves up with a delicious and enriching meal. For creamy soups, try coconut milk, pureed potatoes or cashew cream; for vegetable soups, make or use a vegetable stock and fill it with all kinds of goodies. Soups are also great to improvise: add pasta, frozen peas or corn, rice or barley, sauteed vegetables, beans, fresh herbs, tempeh "croutons" and more. Sometimes a good bowl of soup is the very best thing in the world!

A Call to the Butterball Hotline

“Turkey Talk-line. This is Lucy. How may I help you?”

“Oh, hi, Lucy. This is Butterball hotline, right?”

“Yes. How may I help you?”

“So my understanding is that you help people with questions they have about turkeys?”

“That is what we do. Do you have a question, ma’am?”

“Well, yes, I do. I was wondering...I’m afraid that this is going to sound strange.”

(Laughs.) “Go ahead. You’d be surprised. I get lots of questions.”

“I’m sure you do. This is it: I was wondering how the turkeys lived.”

“I’m sorry -- how they lived?”

“Yes, I mean, what kind of lives they lived.”

“The turkeys?”

“Yes, the turkeys. This is the turkey hotline, right?”

“I’m sorry. Your question? I - I’m not sure -?”

“See, I’m wondering what kind of lives the Butterball turkeys have? Had. You know? What were their lives like?”

“I still am not understanding...”

“I mean, the quality of their lives, the turkey’s lives.”

(Pause, throat clearing...) “Well, I think they were good lives.”

“Oh, that’s nice to hear but by ‘good lives’, what do you mean?”

“Well, I do know that Butterball maintains the highest standards of care for our birds. We don’t tolerate anything less than the best care for our turkeys.”

“See, I am just wondering about that.”


“Like how is that possible that they have good lives?”


“I just read that people in the United States eat 46 million turkeys every year for Thanksgiving. Forty-six million and that’s just Thanksgiving. Butterball is pretty much synonymous with the Thanksgiving turkey so I thought you’d be the ones to ask. How can the turkeys be treated with the ‘highest standards of care’ given everything?”

“Ma’am, you are aware that this is a cooking help line, right? You might be better served by our media department. Let me transfer -”

“No, wait. I’m not from the media. I don’t want to talk to a public relations person. On your website it says, and I quote, ‘Ready and waiting, our Turkey Talk-Line experts can answer all your turkey questions - no matter how challenging.’ I don’t think I’m in the wrong place.”


“So my question is how could they have lived good lives?”

“I don’t -”

“This might fall under the category of ‘challenging’ but I have been assured that you can answer my questions.”

“Well, I know that they have good lives because I know that the standards of care are the best for Butterball birds.”

“But, see, that is what I am not understanding. How can that many turkeys be raised and slaughtered without cruelty? Do the turkeys just sort of die on their own time? I don’t think so. And then Butterball processes the corpses and people eat them, which, well, gross but...”


“I know that they get their throats slit when they’re slaughtered and that can’t exactly be gentle. And before that, the babies are separated from their mothers, they’re crammed together, they get their beaks cut, they’re artificially inseminated -”

“Ma’am, this topic doesn’t fall within my area of expertise.”

“Here’s the thing, though: I’ve met turkeys before. They are really cool birds. And on the Butterball website, again, it says that you can answer ALL turkey questions - no matter -”

“I know what it says.”

“ - how challenging. Anyway, I’ve met turkeys at sanctuaries before, and they will walk right up to you.”


“Yeah, I know! If you sit on the ground, they will walk right up to you and look you in the eye. They seem to have a lot of curiosity. Really friendly, too. They like to be petted.”

“I did not know that.”

“And, so, it’s understandable that it makes me pretty sad what we do to them and all the other animals.”

“I’m really not sure what to say. Did you have a question? I mean, one that I can answer?”

“I’m just wondering if it feels all right to you to eat turkeys knowing what we know about them. Does that seem fair?”

“These are turkeys we’re talking about. Simple creatures.”

“But even if they were, which I don’t believe is true, does that make our treatment of them justifiable?”

“I am still not sure why I am the one you want to talk to about this. I can tell you about basting, about cooking temperatures, food safety -”

“You know, for our Thanksgiving, we can chop and chop and chop and not worry about cross contamination. Isn’t that cool?”

“ - but I am really going to have to go so I can answer others‘ calls.”

“Okay, I am sorry for taking up your time. You know something so coincidental, though?”

“What’s that?”

“I’m looking at this website for a sanctuary and they have a turkey I can sponsor named Lucy. That’s your name, too, right? Isn’t that a funny coincidence?”

(Pause.) “It is. But Lucy is kind of a common name.”

“Well, yes, but I still think it’s an interesting coincidence. You know what I am going to do? I’m going to sponsor Lucy the turkey.”


“She’s so cute. It says that she was rescued after falling off a transport truck and that she loves cranberries and scratches on the back.”

“That’s funny. I love cranberries and back scratches, too.”

“Small world. So I just want you to remember that there is a beautiful turkey named Lucy out there and she is one of the few lucky ones. No one will hurt her.”

“I’m glad to hear that.”

“Lucy will get to live out her life with people who love her and care about her. She’ll get to eat cranberries and get all the back scratches she wants. She gets to enjoy the dirt and the sunshine.”

“I’m not sure what to say. I’m very happy to hear that.”

“Well, I hope you have a great day, Lucy.”

“You, too. Happy Thanksgiving. Oh, wait -"


"What was the name of that sanctuary? I think I want to sponsor Lucy, too.”

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Vegan Street World Vegan Month Tip #19

Just because you're traveling, it doesn't mean you have to compromise your vegan diet or aspirations. Not only are there amazing vegan options the world over, but you can plan meals out through apps like the iPhone app, VegOut, as well as websites like HappyCow, VegDining, and a variety that are dedicated to the vegan scene in different cities. Just simple online searches with a town's name and the word "vegan" can uncover lots of options.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Vegan Street World Vegan Month Tip #18

If you are looking for a worthy cause to donate to this holiday season, consider giving to your local animal shelter. Many do the best they can on very tight budgets and could use support. If your money is limited, contact your shelter and ask for a list of tangible items they need: you can often help out just by donating gently used towels and blankets or shampoo, brushes and nail clippers. Most important, consider giving the gift of your time. Becoming a volunteer is so rewarding: you can bathe dogs, walk them, groom and socialize dogs and cats. This time from you makes them more adoptable.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Vegan Street World Vegan Month Tip #17

One of the best ways to learn more about vegan living is to read books on it and one of your very best resources is the public library. From cookbooks to informative books, you can "test drive" a book without any money down by checking it out from your local library. (And then buy the ones you like because we must support the good work of our hardworking vegan authors!)

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Vegan Street World Vegan Month Tip #16

Laugh. I'm not even kidding. Laugh whenever you can because otherwise, this stuff will rip you up inside and then not only will you be miserable, you'll be useless. Rent a movie, call your best friend, think of a funny memory...just laugh.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Vegan Street World Vegan Month Tip #15

Instead of worrying whether cleaning products contain animal ingredients or were tested on them, why not make your own natural cleaning products? This is also a great way to save money AND reduce plastic waste. We have a number listed on our website and more all the time.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Vegan Street World Vegan Month Tip #14

Creating a weekly menu and shopping list can take a lot of stress and guesswork out of your meals. Instead of wondering what to cook at the last minute and grabbing something to go, you will have it all figured out ahead of time, and, ideally, you will have everything you need. Not only does creating a weekly menu save you time and money, you will eat more healthfully, too, because you'll be able to see where you should be adding more vegetables.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Vegan Street World Vegan Month Tip #13

Speak up for yourself and your needs while dining out with others. So often, vegans try so hard to be accommodating and not be a nuisance that we are expected to eat the iceberg lettuce salad without dressing or plain baked potato. If no vegan or easily adapted recipes are on a restaurant's website, call ahead and ask if anything can be made for your needs. If not, diplomatically suggest another restaurant option for your group. No one should be expected to have their needs neglected and there is a way to assert yourself without offending. If people do get offended and you've been polite, that is their problem. Stand up for yourself!

On Free Birds and Free Spirits

Recently, there was a story written from a parent’s perspective about the new children’s film, Free Birds. On the surface, it was about a father’s desire for his young daughters to not complicate his family’s holiday meal by becoming so moved by the heroes of the film - which tells the story of turkeys who go back in time to the original Thanksgiving in order to end the mass slaughter of their species for the holiday - that they refuse to eat the customary roasted bird. On a deeper level, though, the piece revealed so much more. I believe the most telling material was found in the surprising candor with which the author expressed his hopes for his children to grow up as compassionately engaged, critical thinkers as long it doesn’t stretch his own comfort zone.

I understand this urge to not rock the boat, to keep things as they are. Okay, I’m lying. I really don’t get it.

An essential job of any good parent is to encourage and reinforce the best in our children, even when it is in conflict with our desire for things to remain predictable and convenient for us. When a child expresses a deepening empathy and feeling of interconnectedness, as parents, we have something to celebrate: how much of the world is a mess because we don’t care enough about one another or connect to something beyond our immediate desires? This is an endlessly interesting subject to me, the distance between our stated values and our actual habits. In films and literature, we cheer on the scrappy fighters, the ones who swim against the current, to live their truth. From Jane Eyre and Oliver Twist to Norma Rae and Harry Potter, we love these feisty characters and their messy, triumphant stories. What is it like in real life, though, when someone attempts to live their own authentic life? I can’t speak for everyone, but I know that vegans, by and large, are often treated as if we were pains in the ass. Our culture loves these inspiring story arcs as long as the heroic protagonists remain fictional and not at actual dinner tables, because otherwise, even if not a single word is exchanged, we are a reminder of this lack of integration between one’s stated values and his or her actions.

“Part of me knows that even though I am not a vegetarian, there are way more great reasons to be a vegetarian than there are to be a meat-eater. That is to say, I wish I was a vegetarian, but I lack the self-discipline. It’s certainly better for you, and it solves the ethical dilemmas eating meat poses.”

At the risk of sounding superior (yeah, I know, I waltz across that threshold daily), why would we hope for complacency when growth is possible, even when it conflicts our own preference for ease? Especially with children, how does their burgeoning awareness and sincere desire to create more good in the world not make a parent almost combust with pride? Whenever my son shows an expanded consideration of others, I have learned to act blasé so he doesn’t get scared off by my admittedly wild-eyed enthusiasm. Internally, though, I am still doing cartwheels.

This cynical notion that having ideals is one thing but adapting one’s life to them is something else is stitched throughout the piece even if it on the surface it sounds like a father’s wish for things to remain consistent and easy for him. On the surface, this sounds familiar, like a suburban father’s lament in the 1950s, sitting on his living room chair, wishing that his wife would learn fold his socks like his mother did, that his son wouldn’t grow his hair so long. Instead, though, this is a father of today acknowledging the values and benefits of compassionate living and what these convictions would say about his daughters’ ethics while still hoping against hope that it doesn’t go “that far” in his own household. Fascinatingly, the author did not attempt to offer a pretense of a noble reason for it; the father admits that he does not want his daughters to see this film because he doesn’t want the status quo of his home life to change.

Given that his conclusion is to not take his daughters to see the film, to not have them potentially influenced away from eating meat, this is very revealing material. Once again, I feel like I don’t quite get “the way things are” in this world, like I’m some chameleonic alien who can pass for a human but whose core instincts are so far removed from the species. I cannot for a moment imagine being anything less than thrilled if my son were to care deeply about another, especially in a deeply personal way where he was inspired to change his behavior so as to be more kind. I cannot imagine this being a negative.

When we raise our children to believe that their values are adorable and endearing but ultimately burdensome and naive, we impose upon them cynical notion that is as much a fallacy as it is profoundly unfair. We do the same thing to ourselves and each other when we are so frightened of change and the unknown that we limit ourselves and one another to these tiny little boxes. Why should it be like this? Compassionate living is expansive and empowering. Should we really practice our values but only to the degree that we are not bothering those around us? Is that fair to ask of someone? This is why we need to be modeling every day that we can live joyful, abundant lives as people guided by principles, that it is not at all a sacrifice, so we can help to empower those who are intimidated by the idea of change. Yes, there are growing pains when we venture outside of our comfort zone, but a life hemmed in for fear of expansion is one that is far more painful. We need to tell the world that there is nothing to be afraid of when we choose to live in alignment. Don’t settle for or encourage anything less. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Vegan Street World Vegan Month Tip #12

Simplify breakfast. Breakfast can often be the most challenging meal of the day and just as often the most neglected. Trying green smoothies, overnight oats, or even slow cooker oatmeal made with Irish oats is a great way to ensure that a simple, nourishing meal is available to you without much challenge in the rush of the morning.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Vegan Street World Vegan Month Tip #11

Leave vegan magazines behind at your gym as a way to have a positive influence for the animals. Mercy For Animals, Friends of Animals, VegNews Magazine and more all offer publications with great tips, articles and recipes.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Vegan Street World Vegan Month Tip #10

Figuring out shortcuts in the kitchen is a great strategy for success and makes a fresh, whole foods diet more within reach. Keeping things like certain frozen items (like peas and corn) on hand means that we can always make a soup or jazz up some pasta; throwing potatoes in the oven when something else is cooking means that we will have those ready for a future meal and we're not wasting as much gas.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Vegan Street World Vegan Month Tip #9

Give yourself time to reconnect with nature. Sometimes we can become so involved our important work that we forget to re-charge ourselves with this amazing source of meditation and inspiration. Even a twenty minute walk can be all you need to nourish your spirit.

Vegan Street World Vegan Month Tip #8

(I posted this on Facebook yesterday but forgot to repost here. oops!) A simple way to build a good deed into your regular day is when you go to the thrift store, pick up some towels and blankets that are in good condition to donate to your local animal shelter. Maybe donate some cruelty-free laundry detergent, too. For not much money and effort, you can do a lot of good.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Vegan Street World Vegan Month Tip #7

Think of your advocacy time as planting seeds rather than having an expectation of creating immediate transformations. We can only present our message in the most compelling way possible; it is up to those who receive our message to process it according to where they are on their own path. Expecting people to change because of us is about our ego; people are not marks we should check off as accomplishments and no one likes to feel like they've got a target on them. If we focus instead on being considerate, engaged and engaging communicators and listeners, we will be far more effective advocates for the animals.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

World Vegan Month Tip #6

Find community. An essential key to successful long-term veganism seems to be creating a supportive community around yourself. As most of us don't have families that understand or often even support our values, it is important for us to have a community that does understand and support us. Finding camaraderie through Facebook groups, local vegan meet-ups and potlucks can help us to feel less lonely and more connected.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

30 Things That Won’t Happen Just Because You Went Vegan

No promises, though. 

1. You won’t fall over and die, at least not because you went vegan.

2. You won’t live forever, either.

3. You won’t suddenly become a supermodel if you weren’t one before you went vegan.

4. You won’t become a misanthrope. Probably. If you keep aggravating us, though, there are no promises.

5. You won’t get a vegan police badge.

6. Unless you do. It’s completely optional.

7. You won’t suddenly start wearing lettuce leaves for clothing.

8. Oh, god. I swear, this is not required.

9. You won’t face off against the Paleos, snapping your fingers and doing dramatic dance moves a la the Jets vs. the Sharks from West Side Story. It’s fun to imagine this, though.

10. You won’t lose your sense of humor, I promise.

11. You won’t get fat.

12. You won’t get skinny.

13. You won’t force omnis to try your cashew cheese and stand over them with a creepy smile until they tell you they like it. At least, you’ll try to not smile creepily.

14. You won’t transform your vehicle into a mobile bumper sticker display unit.

15. Unless you do just that.

16. You won’t have daydreams about Ted Nugent going hunting with a tipsy, trigger-happy, near-sighted Dick Cheney. Necessarily.

17. You won’t roll your eyes reflexively every time you discover that someone who calls himself a vegan eats fish “occasionally.” You will just never associate with him again.

18. You won’t develop Gummy Mouth Syndrome from eating nutritional yeast straight out of the tub. Necessarily.

19. You won’t walk around the farmers market trying to find shots that will be the most impressive with the vintage-y filter on Instagram. Necessarily.

20. You won’t stamp a vegan message on all your dollars.

21. You won’t because it’s just as easy and more personal to write it out by hand.

22. You won’t strike up conversations with random strangers at the tofu-tempeh-seitan section of the grocery store. You will strike up conversations in the produce section, the bulk aisle, the check-out aisle and the tofu-tempeh-seitan section. Oh, sometimes the meat counter, too, when you’re feeling feisty.

23. You won’t necessarily have your LDL/HDL ratio and blood pressure committed to memory in case you have the occasion to bring them up in a debate. You may just have it written down somewhere you can easily access at any time.

24. You won’t plan your vacations around food. You will plan your whole life around it.

25. You won’t get all excited when you find out that a celebrity is vegan. You know that you are only setting yourself up for crushing disappointment if you do.

26. You won’t sit out your family’s Thanksgiving meal in protest. You will go so they can look at you in the face as they shove body parts, mammary secretions and ovum into their faces.

27. You won’t dress in potato sacks and hemp sandals.

28. Unless you really want to do that.

29. You won’t have a constant bowl of cashews soaking. I mean, if you have a nut allergy you won’t.

30 You won’t have a panic attack when the only bananas at the grocery store are phosphorescent green. You won’t because you already have three bunches of back-up bananas in various stages of ripeness at home, not counting the ones that are already in the freezer.

 Who runs out of bananas? Amateurs.

World Vegan Month Tip #5

Give yourself permission to take "time outs" when you are starting to feel overwhelmed. Being aware of the needless suffering and slaughter done to billions of innocent animals each year can be very painful and overwhelming to know about, which can lead to burn out. Better yet, vow to take care of yourself before burn out begins by always feeding your spirit with the things that nourish you: see movies, take time to walk in nature, meet a friend for dinner, revisit some old hobbies. We cannot help the animals if we become so overwhelmed that we disengage. Take care of yourself! You are important and you deserve it.

Monday, November 4, 2013

World Vegan Month Tip #4

Framing veganism as a lifestyle of deficiency or denying oneself is not a good long-term success plan and it doesn't acknowledge the amazing abundance and countless positive benefits available to us. The next time you find yourself saying, "I can't eat this," or "I can't go there," think about how you are communicating veganism to yourself and to the world. We are so fortunate to be able to live in a time when we can live according to our values. We get to eat amazing, health-promoting, harmless food, we get to decide how we want to spend our money and time. Isn't that an incredible opportunity? Successful and effective long-term veganism happens when we no longer look at the world through the lens of lack and denial but through a clear-eyed perspective of gratitude, abundance and acknowledgement of this rare opportunity we have.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

World Vegan Month Tip #3

Don't leave yourself in the lurch! One of the best ways that you can ensure you can maintain your vegan aspirations is to make it easy for yourself. A simple strategy for this is to keep your kitchen well-stocked with items that can be used any time for making a quick meal, like pasta, soups, and so on.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

World Vegan Month Tip #2

Give your taste buds some time to adapt to healthier habits. "The longer we eat healthier foods, the better they taste," says Dr. Michael Greger in this short but informative video and the research backs up this claim. Many people claim to not like vegan food, but have they really given it a try?

World Vegan Month Tip #1

November is World Vegan Month so for the entire month, Vegan Street will be posting a new daily tip to help make veganism easier and more accessible to all. Daily tip #1 (sorry we missed yesterday): Be gentle with yourself while setting concrete goals. If your goal is to reduce consumption of animal products, figure out easy replacements, for example, almond milk in the place of cow's milk in your cereal. Keep finding ways to decrease or eliminate animal products and increase vegan foods. Setting realistic, specific goals rather than aspiring to something vague will get you closer to tangible results.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

On Owning Language

Some people really hate labels. I am not one of those people. 

I know that I should shun labels. I am an open-minded, artistic, rebellious type. (Oh wait, those are actually more labels.) But labels are for cans of soup, right? On the surface, yes, but on a level  deeper than that, labels can actually help people to flesh out what was once two-dimensional and inaccessible to them. If you are “out” as someone who identifies with certain so-called labels, it helps those who meet you to understand the richness and complexities of human nature more, not less, and actually see you in a much more expansive way than it would seem that a label would allow.

At a university surrounded by cornfields, I was happy and honored to be able to embrace the label of feminist. Why wouldn’t I be? Feminists were powerful and independent and not taking any nonsense from anyone. It wasn’t long, though, before I learned that it was not so cut-and-dried for the many other young women who made it crystal clear that they did not self-identify as feminists. Even if they were going to college to develop marketable skills and knowledge for professional careers upon graduation, or as a stepping stone to the advanced degrees denied their female forebears, they weren’t feminists, no way, no how. In talking with people, what I learned was largely that they had conflicts with the image and perception of what they thought it meant to be a feminist. To many who disassociated themselves from feminism, it often seemed motivated by a conflict between the image of themselves they were trying to project and feminism.

The same outdated notions prevalent in 1970 were still alarmingly entrenched in 1990. This was what I learned: Feminists don’t shave. Feminists hate men. Feminists don’t wear bras. Feminists are ugly. Sadly, in 2013, all these years later, there is still such a powerful grip the negative associations of feminism has on the word that many women continue to reject the word even as they personally benefit from the advances early feminists fought for years before. In thinking about it, I have to conclude that the universal cultural pressure to be considered attractive might be as powerfully motivating as they come. 

Over the years, I have noticed a growing reticence around the word “vegan” by my fellow herbivores and it also seems to be largely motivated by some similar negative perceptions the dominant culture has attached to us. Vegans are angry. Vegans are busybodies. Vegans are judgmental. Vegans hate people. It’s disappointing to me, as someone who is a proud vegan, to see so many who could be out there creating positive change and challenging perceptions in the world remove their association with the word altogether. I fear that feminism is so full of baggage at this point that I don’t know if we’ll ever rid ourselves of the negative associations attached to it, and I don’t want to see the same thing happen to veganism.

Given the pressing importance of spreading our message of compassionate living, I have to ask this: Whom do we want to control the language and messaging around veganism? Do we want to hand it over to big advertising? Do we want the media to dictate it? Do we want the powers that be, the ones who have everything to lose if veganism takes hold, to control the terms and messaging of it?

I embrace the label “vegan” partly because I am so very grateful to be living at a time and in a place where I can live by my values. This is an extraordinary privilege and it is unique to our age. In embracing the label, we humanize it and then, paradoxically, it becomes less of a label and more of a simple descriptor. If we can live as complex, individual, dynamic and creative vegans, we take the one-size-fits-all label off of us and we create something altogether new and real out of it. This more fleshed out understanding of who vegans are then flows out when we interact in the world so the public will have a more complete understanding, which will help them to reject the shallow clichés that have been tacked onto us. Further, when we take an active role in broaden the public perception of veganism, the people we interact with can begin to imagine themselves as vegans.

I believe that we need to own the language and, yes, the label, because through that, we will expand perceptions and I believe that this will ultimately ripple out to have a positive net effect for the animals. We can’t give up the messaging around veganism to those who barely understand it or want to see it fail: we need to be out there as individuals, showing the world what it means to us to live as vegans. Our beliefs about equality and justice spring from something much richer and more deep than the lazy cultural identifiers the people who don’t understand veganism assign to it so we need to own the word. Allowing others to define who we are will be our ruin and it will ultimately lead to the continued dismissal of the vegan message.

So here is my challenge to you if you don’t like the public perception of veganism: Practice owning the word. Be an out and proud and unapologetically fabulous vegan. Society being able to see us - as artists, entrepreneurs, students, grandparents, scientists, activists, neighbors and everything in between - as unique representatives of veganism is what is going to be the game changer here.

Are you ready?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

My Vegan Haunted House

This year, I’ve decided I wanted to create my own vegan haunted house. It’s not the sort of thing that will scare vegans, though, because just navigating through life, we already deal with plenty of frights. (The annual catered holiday meal with the office; driving through parts of the country without a mention on the Happy Cow app.) Instead, my haunted house will be for omnivores and I won’t even show anyone the scariest parts, the blood and gore of animal agriculture. My haunted house may look like an ordinary home from the outside but it is certain to make an omnivores arms prickle with goose bumps. It is a house of horrors. Consider me your personal tour guide. 

Upon entering this seemingly normal house, intrepid visitors will be brought to the kitchen. What’s so alarming about the kitchen? Look inside the freezer, the cupboards: There are no chicken nuggets, no Chips Ahoy. What kind of insane asylum of deprivation is this?! The worst kind: It’s a vegan one. If that weren’t chilling enough, what on earth is that terrifying bright green liquid in the glass on the counter? Nuclear waste run-off? Primordial sludge? Worse: It’s a green smoothie. And what is this mysterious yellow powder in the container? Ground up witches’ teeth? Flaked off skin from the kneecaps of an ogre with psoriasis? It says “nutritional yeast” on the container. Have two words ever sounded scarier together?

Now, I will take you to the first of our staged rooms. This one is where you will get to time-travel and visit with a cardiologist ten years in the future. Men, you will also get the results of your future prostate exam. Before we exit, you will get to dip your hands in a disgusting substance that mimics the sticky plaque of clogged arteries. Squeeze it between your fingers. Who’s saying, “Mmm...bacon....” now, hmm? 

From here, it is only natural to go to the pharmaceutical rep room, where sample pills for heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and more are dispensed. Wait: do you need a stent? It’ll just take a minute -- do you want to schedule an appointment to discuss that now?

Scared yet? Now we will go into the subsidies room, where the door will be locked and you'll be forced to learn about the true cost of hamburgers, McMuffins, chicken and Ben & Jerry’s. While you sit there, you will learn the cost to our environment and health care system and YOU CAN’T ESCAPE until it's over.

Next up, we will walk down the hall and the creepy advertising agency executive zombies will wildly grab at you, trying to stuff coupon circulars into your hands, and stare at you with their hungry, cold, dead eyes.  If that weren’t bad enough, fast food executives will be shouting their dollar menu listings into your ears. Want to supersize it?

Ah, now we will enter one of the worst features at my house of horrors: the olfactory room, where you have to experience what it smells like at a factory farm, a slaughterhouse and a fecal lagoon. Could you stand it for even a minute? 

Next, we will visit the food-born illness room: walk through it and try to avoid the creepy-crawly e. coli, the pernicious salmonella, the menacing campylobacter. They will jump on you no matter how much you try evade them. Did you pick up any antibiotics in the pharmaceutical rep room? No? Meh, they probably won’t work anyway due to antibiotic resistance. Oh, well. Hope for the best!

For our next stop, you will be brought to the argument room, where vegans will dismiss any and all arguments used to justify eating animals without even breaking a sweat. “Plants feel pain?” “Look at my ‘canine’ teeth?” Seriously, you don’t want them to laugh right in your face, do you? Our vegans won’t physically harm you but they may really damage your ego.

Finally, we will bring you to the animals room. Remember how I promised that you wouldn’t see any gore? I am keeping my promise. In the animals room, you will put on headphones and listen to the sounds of animals in captivity, crying to get out, driven mad, screaming. How long can you take it?

You may walk into my house of horrors and walk out a completely new person. What do you think? Want to give it a try?