Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Eight Habits of Highly Effective Vegans

What does it mean to be an effective vegan? For the purposes of this article, I mean long-lasting. Ultimately, though, if we are effective vegans, it also means that we are influential to others, helping to spread the message of compassionate living farther than we would as ineffective ones. 

1. Highly effective vegans manage to enjoy life. Simply said, life can be full of sorrow for those who are aware of the horrific violence and suffering that we needlessly inflict upon the animals. It is truly appalling and heartbreaking. I believe that many of us feel that we shouldn’t be allowed to enjoy life given the tremendous suffering of others, and I understand this thinking. It’s akin to a form of “survivor’s guilt.” There is no amount of anguish that we can administer to ourselves, though, that will relieve anyone else’s suffering. By imposing suffering upon ourselves, we will not lessen their agony. By doing this, though, we could become less effective, far-reaching advocates. If our message to the public is that a vegan life is one that is full of anguish, grief, anger and despair, it is unlikely we will appeal to people who might otherwise explore veganism. If we resolve to lighten up a little, to smile, enjoy life, laugh and occasionally even have fun, we will be making far more progress toward cultivating a persuasive influence than we would as people who are always in despair. So the things that bring you joy - playing with your dog, tae kwon do, painting, meeting a friend for tea - please continue to do them. Causing yourself to suffer is not lessening anyone else’s pain and it’s not effective.

2. Highly effective vegans take care of themselves. This is related to the first habit but one addressing things on another realm. Many people have been taught that taking care of their own well-being is “selfish.” One thing I have learned, though, is if you don’t take care of yourself, you will soon have nothing left to give anyone else. Think of it this way: if you’ve been neglecting yourself, eating processed foods, not maintaining healthy habits and you get sick, how are you going to be able to be an effective advocate for anyone else? Also, value yourself enough to prioritize your well-being because you deserve it and also because you will be a good example to the public. Eat well. Stay hydrated. Rest when needed. Exercise. Value your physical and emotional well-being. Say no to things when you are overwhelmed. Speak up for yourself. Be as committed to taking care of yourself as you would a dog or a cow. You matter. Show up for yourself.

3. Highly effective vegans diversify. By this I mean they maintain myriad interests, hobbies and friends that are not necessarily connected to animal advocacy. A well-rounded person is someone who is less likely to burn out or feel helpless when things seem futile or overwhelming. If you have all your eggplants in one basket - meaning almost all of your interests, your spare time and your relationships centered around this one passion - you will likely become imbalanced and lose perspective; as a result, you will be less effective. You’ll be at risk of becoming That Vegan no one wants to be around, not even other nutty vegans. Not only is it better for your longevity, but imagine how much more impressive you will be as you hang out at the annual summer block party grilling meatless beer brats and you can also shuffle in trivia about the history of Tibet, comic books of the 1950s and the early films of Jean-Luc Godard as well as the compelling reasons to go vegan.

4. Highly effective vegans see the big picture. As people who want to create the least harm, it is very, very easy to become, well, obsessive and lose perspective. The fact is, though, that even those of us with the best intentions and the biggest hearts still live in a world that is built upon the oppression and enslavement of animals. When you become aware of this, it’s hard to not see the widespread and pervasive consequences of cruelty wherever you look. It seems virtually impossible to divest ourselves of this because it is virtually everywhere: in our car tires, in the glue that binds our books, in the treasured old photos of our grandparents. This isn’t our fault: we are trying to be part of the solution. The “either/or” mentality (“Either I’m perfect or I’m a failure”) that many new vegans adopt is not sustainable or realistic. It is important to remember that veganism is a journey to create the most good whenever possible, and if we keep our minds towards progress rather than perfection, we will be far more likely to be successful in integrating our values. This isn’t a sprint to the finish: it’s living your convictions every day in the best way you can. Remember, too, as new vegans to not live too far in the future; make it through one day successfully, then the next and then the next. Before you know it, things will be much easier. In my experience, it is great to be prepared, but anticipating hardships and hurdles at every turn breaks our spirit and sends a message to the public that veganism is arduous and unappealing. If you go to a wedding and the caterers forgot to make your meal vegan, that is lousy, but relax by knowing that you can eat in a couple of hours. You will be fine. Big picture. (Oh, and packing along a protein bar is never a bad idea.)

5. Highly effective vegans don’t take things so personally. Seriously, seriously, people will drive you bonkers sometimes. When they’re not vacillating between trying to figure out if you’re a hypocrite (you try not to be) or think you’re so perfect (you don’t) - and - hey, guess what - you lose either way! - they’re telling you that they used to be vegan (they weren’t) until they almost died from “deficiencies” (they didn’t) but now they only eat humane meat (it doesn’t exist and they don’t even if it did), ay yi yi, people will work that last nerve like they are using a jackhammer on it sometimes. Take a deep breath. I’m not trying to put any pressure on you, but, come are our public face. Live in the now. Let go, let dog. In with love, out with anger. Be peace. Gather up whatever Oprah-ism you can grasp to get into your happy place and remember, their antagonism isn’t about you, it's about about them. If all else fails, turn your brain into a movie theater and watch kittens frolic, turtles eat strawberries, pug puppies snore any time you want: whatever it takes. Don’t take things so personally. You will be much happier for it.

6. Highly effective vegans find community. Why be lonely if you don’t need to be? Whether community means a bunch of close friends who understand your values or just a couple, life becomes a lot more enjoyable when we have people in our lives who understand and appreciate us. At the end of the day, it’s so important to have supportive friends we don’t need to explain ourselves to and who can empathize with our life experiences. Humans are social animals. We don’t thrive without some personal connection. Some people find community online; others are able to find it near where they live. Ideally we are able to have both. That sense of being understood and accepted is just so key to our sense of belonging and well-being, but its often undervalued; too often, when we become vegan, we can become socially isolated. When we become isolated, we often become depressed, lose perspective and feel helpless. When this happens, we also are much more vulnerable to burning out. It’s just not necessary. Consider creating community an act of self-care you can do that will also expand your effectiveness.

7. Highly effective vegans know how to cook and grocery shop.
Not every meal has to be worthy of a full on Instagram treatment but you should know the basics of how to cook the food you like if you want to be a long-lasting vegan. If you don’t know how to cook and stock a vegan kitchen, you will be more likely to reach for take out menus, spend too much money buying prepared foods or even be tempted to eat the things that under the right circumstances, you normally wouldn’t touch. Hunger can make us desperate and sound decisions rarely come from this desperate place. Stock your kitchen with your staples, find some recipes that are simple to prepare but delicious, experiment with adapting old favorites (easier now than ever) and have fun. You may even find that you actually enjoy cooking. Trust that your tastes will change over time and you will be able to really enjoy vegan food on its own merit the more you are exposed to it.

8. Highly effective vegans embrace their inner-rebels.
This is completely unscientific, but I have found that long-term vegans tend to be people who care less about fitting in or being approved of by others. Whether this comes naturally to you or not, it is best to cultivate a resilience about the social aspects of being different. I place a high priority on being considerate and polite, but I would never, ever sacrifice my values because the way that I live makes someone else uncomfortable or feel inconvenienced. Highly effective vegans are simply vegan, that’s all, and if people are put out by that, that is their own issue. Of course, always make it easy on hosts by offering to bring food to a party, by gently educating people about what you can eat, and so on, but you will simply have to learn that you don’t need anyone else’s approval to maintain your core convictions. As soon as you get comfortable with this, you will find that others will as well. Being anything less than who you are is a disservice to everyone.

What are your tips for being a highly effective vegan?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Looking at Life Through the Vegan Lens

“It's not what you're looking at that matters, it's what you see.” - Henry David Thoreau

For most of my life, I have walked around in a comfortably fuzzy world; it’s a misty place with blurred, dull edges, and I love it here for the most part. Acclimated to my astigmatism and poor eyesight, I still prefer it this way. I recently got glasses, though, and suddenly everything is so very sharp and crisp. I am noticing faces in a way that I didn’t before but this new clarity of vision also means that the dirt on the floor is much more pronounced to me as well. There is comfort in the blurred edges and sometimes the laser-sharp clarity of the world I can see so much better now has me longing to retreat to that old hazy landscape. It’s better to be able to see but it’s not without its challenges. 

I believe that the same could be said about those of us who have altered the lens through which we see the world. This is what happens when you go vegan. I think that once you can truly see life from this new, radically different framework, the lens through which you view the world is likely to be altered forever. For some of us, when the old lens shatters, it becomes obsolete, useless to us. We can no longer pretend to see things the way we did before so we can not go back to living as we did before. Others do what they can to tape the broken lens back together, a piece of tape here, some glue there, in order to not have to discard it. A successfully transformed perspective from a shattered and replaced lens is one that rearranges how we see our place in the world; though it is unsettling to suddenly see things that our culture doesn’t want us to see, things that are pervasive and disturbing, we can remedy that disharmony by changing our lives to accommodate our new vision. Whether it was because of a searing epiphany or a more gradual toppling of the excuses we clung to, the end result is that we are not the same as we once were. We are changed in fundamental ways that are often invisible but no less tangible, and this altered perspective can often make us incompatible with accepting what we once did as “the way things are.”  We are vegan.

A fundamental aspect of being vegan means that we now see the world in new ways: we see dead cows where others see hamburgers, we see tortured birds where others see omelets, we understand that we are equals in suffering. It’s not because we necessarily want to see this way but because we often cannot “un-see” it. It is our new lens no matter the challenges because living with a clarity of vision is so essential to us.

As vegans, we are often told that we are insipid or melodramatic for seeing things the way we do, and, implicitly or explicitly, we are asked to stop making life uncomfortable for those who want to continue eating animals unabated. How can we do that, though? Simply by existing and often without words, as vegans, we represent the elephant in the room and the truth about the violence we inflict needlessly. Most would prefer not to see this. We are provocative simply by existing and we can’t help that. The dissonance between what we see and what we are asked to pretend not to see is a bizarre tension vegans are expected to simply accept as an unspoken condition of adapting to life.

Needless to say, this is hard to accept.

We are being asked to not see (or to behave as if we don’t see) something that would be obvious to anyone who wasn’t complicit in maintaining the avoidance of this, and something that we see nakedly, without artifice and without trying. That we see violence and we see killing isn’t necessarily a judgment, it is a statement of fact: we see this because this is what is happening. We’re not supposed to say, think or even see this, though. When vegans, approximately 2% of the population, are told that we are oppressing others because we speak, think and simply see the truth about the horrors that are inflicted on animals, a dysfunctional dynamic is in place. We are being asked to maintain a lie about something when we cannot avoid seeing the truth.

We are looking at the world through a different lens and this lens changes everything. It makes life challenging at times but being able to clearly see and then act on what we see is an incredible honor and privilege. How fortunate we are to have this rare vision. What a responsibility, too. That we could spend a fraction of our lives letting people know what we are able to see and perhaps help them to develop a new lens is a blessing beyond measure.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Ten Sure Signs That The Vegan Revolution Is Imminent

You’d better believe it is happening, suckas. Lead, follow or get out of the way because no matter what you choose, the vegan revolution is upon us, so it’s best to just accept that fact. Doubt me? Let’s look at ten rock solid facts that prove that the vegan revolution is imminent.  
  1. We see your wall of laxatives and we raise you fiber. Walk into any drugstore and you will find row after row of products designed to make your bowels do what they are supposed to do naturally. Do you know what you are not doing when you are sitting on the potty, trying to go to the bathroom? You are not moving up the corporate ladder, you are not creating great works of art, you are not changing the world. You may be getting caught up with your new Pottery Barn catalog but is this how you envisioned spending your time? You know who is not wasting time in the bathroom? Vegans. Seriously, we are in and out. Bim-bam. We’re not in there counting bathroom tiles. Also, omnivores spend not only excessive time in the bathroom but money on laxatives, antacids, aids for lactose intolerance, heart disease and cholesterol-lowering drugs. You know what we take? B-12. 
  2. We’re adaptive and flexible. Despite the public perception of us being a bunch of impossibly rigid doctrinaires, we’re like the MacGyvers of food, masters of improvisation, capable of turning millet, some frozen peas, a half a lemon, a quickly ripening avocado, an onion and nutritional yeast into not only a meal but one worthy of blogging about. The same goes for eating out: Seriously, once I was stuck in rural Illinois and I made a pretty decent meal at a toll plaza with what I could find at a Chinese restaurant (rice), a Middle Eastern place (hummus) and a Mexican restaurant (hot sauce). Veganism is expensive? You guys crack me up.  
  3. We’re a bunch of well-rounded smarties. Simply by living as vegans in society, we are often called upon to be adroit at discussing and debating world religion, evolution, history, human physiology, philosophy, nutrition, ecology, logic and more. We’ve had to research, craft and hone persuasive arguments and defend them at the drop of a hat. Who else is expected to have such a wide breadth of knowledge? Tennis players? Furniture makers? Seriously, anyone who walks into a debate with a vegan and expects an easy-breezy time of it is in for a rude awakening. The revolution is ours! 
  4. Our entrepreneurs are totally working it. Craving chicken without wanting to contribute to animal cruelty or global warming? Got it covered. Want to grill a brat without eating a tortured cow? Yeah, you can have that, too. Want to live in style while doing it? No sweat. Oh, and Bill Gates, the nerd-king of philanthropy-minded entrepreneurialism, kind of thinks we’re on to something so I’m going to run with it.
  5. We can read labels at warp speed and with incredible accuracy. Whey is not going to slip past our laser-focused, squint-eyed scrutiny, let alone freaking carmine. I’m not sure what this particular skill has to do with the revolution, but it has to count for something. At the very least, those unaccustomed to scrutinizing labels will not get the cushy jobs after the revolution, that much is certain. 
  6. We’re early adopters. Who do you see leading the way to the future, the namby-pamby ones who just sort of aimlessly wander about like wind-up toys or the ones with real foresight? For example, vegans were waaaaaaay ahead of the curve in terms of being all over kale’s business. We worshipped those dark leafy greens when everyone else was still scrunching up their noses and going, “EW! What’s that?” Okay, so we occasionally border on fetishizing kale. There are worse things. 
  7. We’re faster. Not only do we not have animal products squeezing plaque in our arteries like toothpaste, making our tummies revolt and forcing us to hang out in the bathroom (see #1), but we’ve had to learn to move fast on our feet because we know if we are even five minutes late to the vegan potluck, we may only get the last torn dregs of a salad and some broken tortilla chips. The new world order will smile most favorably upon the upon the speediest revolutionaries. 
  8. We’ve got thick skins. Yeah, we kind of have the unfortunate reputation as the sensitive, mopey types, weeping over our already tear-stained Morrissey lyrics, but we are made of surprisingly resilient stuff. We’re used to being the elephant in the room so we can take whatever you toss our way. Did we ruin the family’s Thanksgiving celebration just by showing up? Been there. Did we get blamed when Aunt Betty’s birthday at the steak house is less enjoyable because people feel guilty when they looked at us with our iceberg lettuce salad? Done that. Were we accused of being judgmental, ungracious, rude, holier-than-thou and misanthropic simply for existing as vegans? Yes, of course, a million times, you bet, yeppers. Do we enjoy being called names for following our ethics? No. Can we handle it? Yes. We are a stronger breed of people. 
  9. We’re thrifty. Has the price of meat, eggs and dairy and free-range unicorn hooves got you down? You won’t catch the vegans whining because we know how to kick it like the least affluent people around the globe: grains, legumes, seasonal produce, herbs, growing our own, and so on. Wastefulness is not a quality of revolutionaries. 
  10. MILK. Just milk. Have you seen the dazzling array of non-dairy milks lately? Hazelnut, cashew, flax, oat, horchata, vanilla hemp, chocolate almond, coconut-rainbow-magick-sunbeam milk?! Who the heck buys cow’s milk anymore? Seriously. Boring, average people who will soon be steamrollered over by the revolutionary tanks of vegan love, that’s who.  
It’s happening. It’s time to accept the inevitable.