Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Snappy Retorts, Part One: Lions and Natives and Bacon, Oh My!

 “What about the antelopes? They eat plants.”

“So you model your habits around what a lion does or does not do? How does this carry over to the rest of your life? For example, would you also kill and cannibalize your young if they were sickly?”

“An adult lion also can sleep for 18 - 20 hours a day. Maybe you should go back to bed.”

“So that’s what you’re doing with that KFC bucket? Being a lion? I bow to your ferocity, Simba.”

“Chasing after an ice cream truck is probably not the same as running after an antelope, bro.”

“I am wondering which of the 562 tribes native to the United States you are referring to here. You wouldn’t possibly be painting all Native Americans cultures, communities, and traditions with the same broad brush, would you?”

“That sounds far more spiritually evolved than simply allowing others to live. Namaste. Oops, wrong culture but it probably doesn’t matter to you.”

“Do you also give thanks for climate change, water pollution, and rainforest destruction? Because you are actively playing a role in that, too.”

“Yes, I am sure they appreciate your supposed thankfulness far more than they would your empathy and compassion.”

“I understand how you feel. I gave thanks to the guy I just beat up and mugged for his iPhone and I’m sure he’ll be fine with that once he regains consciousness.”

“Mmm...heart disease. Mmm...stroke. Mmm...slaughter. Mmm...torture. Should I go on?”

“Touché and with those three syllables, you have destroyed any reasonable counter-argument to eating animals for ethical, health, and/or environmental reasons.”

“By ‘Mmm...bacon,’ what exactly do you mean? It is not a complete sentence. Could you explain what you are trying to convey? That bacon tastes good to you? Exactly how is that relevant to the topic at hand?”

“I will presume that you are being sarcastic because Homer Simpson was supposed to be a cautionary tale, not someone to emulate. Right? Right.”

“It’s been at least five minutes since a meat-eater said this to me, so kudos for sharing your highly original perspective on the joys of eating bacon as well as your rapier wit.”

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A Primer on Not Offending Anyone on Social Media Ever

Something that I was completely naive about before social media entered my life is how very much there is to be offended by in the world. It turns out that I'd been missing out on so many first-rate opportunities to be displeased or disgruntled, I almost want to do over my life. I've learned that even seemingly innocuous topics have dark and potentially scarring underbellies. With this new awareness, it can be difficult to know what to share that won’t upset the people who see it. Last week, for example, I shared a seemingly anodyne link to a video of some unbelievably cute baby sloths - who could find something wrong with that? - forgetting that there is always, always something to fret about. I was informed that videos like this are worrisome, potentially helping to fuel a new exotic pet trade of sloths. I realize that the intention is good; the person was expressing a legitimate concern. The fact is, though, that there is very little one can post today that is considerate of every unique sensitivity, concern, or bone of contention of each individual who might encounter it. Thus I have decided to create a list of all those things I will no longer share so as to best avoid offending or upsetting anyone. I hope this also helps others to create the most unoffensive and controversy-free posts as we venture bravely forth in social media. Onward!

1. I will post no more photos of pretty landscapes. What if someone is allergic to grass, trees, or sunlight, or is scared of the outdoors due to an insect phobia and has become a virtual shut-in? What if someone who works in an office sees the photo and decides that he hates being inside all day so he quits his job and then his whole family becomes destitute and homeless with his kids ending up in the foster care system? He would be justified in blaming me for breaking up his family by sharing a photo of a pretty landscape. 

2. I will post no more vegan food photos with anything potentially controversial in it because it might offend someone who has a dislike for that food, an allergy to it or simply is counter to that person’s dietary beliefs. I have learned that cilantro, eggplant, okra, mushrooms, soy, wheat, grains, oil, chocolate, sugar, and salt are among the problematic items, and not including enough greens in each food photo is also grounds for offending viewers. Nightshades, cooked foods, and anything that isn’t macrobiotic must also be barred so as to be the most inclusive possible. I will also no longer include images of plates, bowls, or cutlery to be more sensitive to those who have had to sell all their plates, bowls, and cutlery to pay their rent. I need to be more considerate of every variable that may have ever occurred in anyone’s life. 

3. Anything that’s funny, serious, uplifting, or neutral must be treated with the utmost care and consideration before posting, and ideally should be vetted first before a diverse counsel of advisers.

4. I will post no more cute photos or videos with puppies and/or kittens. Baby animals drive the breeding market. I should only share videos with adult dogs and cats because they are harder to adopt.

5. I will post no more cute photos or videos with adult dogs and/or cats. What if a cat scratched someone’s arm and it got infected and that person had to have it amputated or someone’s parents gave away her dog when she was a child and she has so many unresolved feelings around that? Also, what if someone who sees the image lives in an apartment where no companion animals are allowed and that person desperately wants a dog or a cat? It would make them feel sad and that would be all my fault.

6. I will not post anything about my son, a.k.a, the resource-swallowing, first world, arrogant, consuming machine who is the end result of my stubborn selfishness and vanity. Domestic and international adoption is also a risky topic. As is not having children. Let’s just pretend that children never existed, okay? 

7. I need to be more mindful of seemingly innocuous stories that might potentially trigger someone, for example, that recent trip to the grocery store: What if someone reading it was rear-ended in the parking lot last week while grocery shopping and I reactivated up his PTSD? What if the person seeing it tried a sample of watermelon at the grocery store and got food poisoning and was sick for three days and had to miss her son’s graduation? What if someone can’t reach the highest shelf and so the grocery store is a disempowering and frustrating experience for her? What someone who sees it ran into his daughter’s homeroom teacher at the grocery store recently and was coming from Hot Yoga so he looked and smelled kind of gross and my story reminded him of how he felt embarrassed, sending him off into a shame spiral? I should keep my stories to myself or tell them in person so I can monitor the emotional response of those around me with the utmost care.

8. I won’t post anything with videos, images, or text that might offend anyone. I also won’t post anything trivial that might seem superficial. I will walk that razor’s edge between being too intense and too mild and I will succeed in finding a squishy, semi-sweet middle that nearly everyone can agree is only mildly offensive or boring. 

9. Some of my omnivorous friends will be offended by my vegan posts because they will think that I am judging them. Some herbivorous friends will be offended by my vegan posts, depending on whether they are deemed too extreme or not radical enough. Sometimes the omnivores and the vegans can find common ground in rooting out the flaws of my advocacy and so there is something positive about that, I guess.

10. On that note, potentially thorny subjects I will avoid posting anything about to keep the peace include but are not limited to: civilization, history, politics, religion, atheism, family, music, books, television, movies, art, the weather, my favorite color, thrifting, the strange yellow bird I saw, gardening, my new workout, the best way to freeze ice cubes, my salad at lunch, fruit, the funny dream I had, the beach, condiments, the trip I’m planning, refrigeration, my middle name, names in general, my jade plant, and possible hiccup cures.

What’s left, you might ask? I think I can talk about the curtains my husband just hung in my office for a bit, though maybe that is offensive in case someone had a curtain rod fall on his head or someone else was awakened by the sun this morning before she was ready because she can’t afford curtains.

So, okay. I guess I’ve got nothing. 


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

In Our Capacity to Suffer, We Are All the Same...

Recently, I had a tooth abscess. As you can see, my life is as shot through with sexy glamor and sparkling razzle-dazzle as a Bob Fosse dance number. It was a week before my dentist was able to see me but this seemed okay at first because I wasn’t feeling much pain. I patted myself on the back for all that daily kale in my system, that week of raw foods before the abscess happened, believing that I was holding it all together through excellent nutrition. I was prevailing. As the week progressed, though, my condition worsened. My cheek began swelling up on one side like a pufferfish and I stared in the bathroom mirror each morning, fearful of what I might see as I cupped that tender and ever-ballooning side of my face. I kept my clove oil, arnica and oil of oregano nearby as I worked and had to take the strongest over-the-counter painkillers I could find before I went to bed if I had any hope of falling asleep. By the end of the week, I was feeling a throbbing pain in my gum under the tooth each time it pulsed. So, yes, it was a super-fun week. 

Of everything that I fear, from a call from the IRS to the phone ringing at three in the morning, I have to say that the threat of chronic pain or disease trumps them all. Isolated incidents aside, I have thus far been pretty damn blessed with great health, knocking on wood as I write this. I can’t remember the last time I even had the sniffles and whenever I am under the weather, it is mercifully short-lived. My first bout of food poisoning (due to a hot food bar, I believe) was last summer, and it was 24 hours of chills, a fever, and re-evaluating if I wanted to bring a high power into my life just to have someone to bargain with before the yuckiness lifted just as quickly as it had entered my world. This is not to say that I am a wuss, by the way. I am both stubborn and have a high threshold for pain, enduring two days of unmedicated labor with my son.

That being said, I know how much pain and disease can change us and perhaps that’s what frightens me most about it. My mother lived with us for the last three years of her life with very bad arthritis, Alzheimer’s and a neurological disease related to Parkinson’s. When you are as unwell as my mother was, your whole demeanor changes. It’s hard to be positive, it’s hard to think about anything other than your pain. We become very unhappily self-centered. As the French Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard explores in his excellent book Happiness, self-centeredness and suffering are tightly interwoven with one another. When we are not feeling well - emotionally, mentally, physically - we often cannot help but be self-centered because it is so very hard to escape ourselves: even when we are temporarily distracted from it, our discomfort returns us to our suffering again and again like a boomerang. My mother was an extremely generous person who thought of others first to a fault, but as her illnesses and deterioration progressed, she became a virtual prisoner to her bodily pain. As this happened, the selfless mother I knew became almost unavoidably self-centered. I am sure she would have loved to escape from the shackles of her physical self more than anything. The rare moments of levity and enjoyment she enjoyed happened only when her pain was managed somehow.

As my own week of the tooth abscess continued, whenever I would catch a glimpse of myself, I barely recognized the person who was reflected and not just because of my swollen cheek: my forehead was etched with reflexive scowl lines in it. It hurt too much to laugh or even smile much, even if I was so inclined. When the pain dissipated, it was hard to enjoy it because my mind, that feral bugaboo, anticipated and dreaded its return. Whenever my son saw my hand rubbing my cheek, he would say, without prompting, “I’m so sorry you don’t feel well.” Perhaps if I were a better Buddhist, I could ride the waves of pain, be with it, and let it dissolve instead of bracing myself, but I wasn’t able to do that. All I knew was that I was in pain and I wanted it to stop as soon as possible.

During that week, my thoughts also returned again and again to the animals living in captivity. This one tooth abscess chiseled away at the core of my happiness. I have a life that is comfortable and where all my needs are met, where I am loved and have the amazing privilege of being able to make my own decisions, but the constant reminder of pain was enough to undermine everything else I have in my favor, which is considerable. Imagine how the animals - scared, confused, denied their freedom, surrounded by stench, noise, aggression, and suffering - imagine how they must feel? The infected and painful areas where their tails have been docked, their beaks have been cut, they’ve been artificially inseminated, they’ve been castrated, they have mastitis (which I had once and is no joke), they’ve had teeth yanked out without anesthesia or painkillers: the sheer amount of suffering they live with day-in and day-out, most barely able to even stretch a limb, is incomprehensible. Just consider the animals being unable to break free from that pain, both as actual prisoners of a system and virtual prisoners of their own corporeal suffering. These beings who, to the best of our knowledge, mainly live in the present moment. I am staggered once again by the depth, breadth and scale of the cruelties we inflict because we enjoy maintaining our unnecessary habits. We have not only inflicted this suffering upon them but, with it, we have stolen their capacity for feeling joy.

This one little abscessed tooth will be fixed. I’ll get better and my life will go on. I have a life worth living to return to, too, full of small pleasures and great joys. There will be pain again, no doubt, fears, disappointments, and so on but the reality is that there is no other life I’d rather be living. How can we impose pain upon others when we know how shattering it is to suffer? When my mother struggled with the confusion and devastation of her diseases, at least she had a loving family, people who cared for her and tried to minimize her pain, and a safe place to live. The animals have committed no crime and they have nothing to mitigate the suffering we impose upon them.

I am vegan because no one deserves to have their joy stolen from them.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

No More Sacrificial Lambs: Passover, Veganism, and the Search for a Spiritual Home

“Not all those who wander are lost.” J.R.R. Tolkien

I was not raised in a religious home; we were “High Holiday” Jews, meaning we’d go to synagogue and celebrate the major holidays with our extended family but that was about as far as our observance went. (Also, there was no pork in the house, but, curiously, bacon was allowed -- don’t ask me, I didn’t do the shopping.) Even as someone who was not religious, Passover had a special place in my heart; it best captured the unique perspective that is just so distinctly and beautifully expressed in Jewish culture. Reading the Haggadah at our Passover Seder with a growling stomach, at least once a year, I felt less alone. At its core, Passover is about enduring hardship and injustice, and powering through to our liberation. It is the bitter and the sweet together that create a life. As someone doesn’t know what she believes but would probably best be described as Agnostic, it is inside the bittersweet kernel of feeling like an outsider that is so essentially Jewish to me. Not sitting in a synagogue but an inner-quality that is ephemeral and very difficult to describe other than being an outsider, embracing that role but also understanding the push-and-pull of it to be both a gift and a source of sadness. To me, that is the essence of being Jewish.

From my earliest memories, I have always felt like I didn’t quite belong anywhere and that the story of Passover described the experience of being castaway well. As the story goes, when the pharaoh refused to release the Jews from servitude, the Hebrew God unleashed ten devastating plagues upon the Egyptians, culminating in the killing of every firstborn son. Jewish households in Egypt marked the door frames of their households so the avenging angel responsible for the killing would “pass over” their threshold and the family would be spared the bloodshed. The homes marked for passing over were designated with the blood of a sacrificial lamb.

In the symbolism of the blood on the door frames, there is an innocent victim we don’t hear from at all, eternally silenced. In the killing of this lamb, sacrificed to human ends without consent, is a core reason why I cannot have a home in a religion that does not practice what I was raised to understand are the deepest values of the faith: compassion, justice, questioning the status quo and speaking out for the exploited despite any pressure to be silent. Today, the sacrificial lamb is largely symbolic, but so are the shank bone and the egg on the Passover Seder plate, yet they remain as both symbolic and real representations of our violence. It speaks plainly of our conceit that we believe that there is nothing immoral about the animals of the earth being born and killed for our purposes.

Being without a spiritual home at Passover each year, I feel something of a kinship with other castaways. The animals we eat, though most are far from roaming loose, are society’s ultimate castaways, facing something far worse than the lack of a spiritual home. Reading the Haggadah, reading of the abuse, persecution and liberation of the Israelites, it’s no wonder that I would grow up to feel very empathetic for the animals kept in servitude. This seems to be an obvious parallel to the Jewish experience but one that our human arrogance doesn’t like us to venture toward. It does make me wonder, though, why so many Jews, who should have an acute sensitivity to the cruelty of tyranny knowing our own history, would maintain this rather large blind spot about our participation in harming others and how it is especially not awakened during a holiday that encourages soul-searching.

It’s bittersweet - again, that word - this fissure between myself and the faith of my ancestors. It’s sad, yes, but if the alternative is accepting the unacceptable, of pretending to be okay with flagrant disparity, I am grateful to have this as an option. I am a wandering Jew and may well remain one for the rest of my life. I am in the company of so many others, though - those who are of faith, those who aren’t sure and those who are not - searching for that place that we can call home. We may never find our home in a society that tells us valuing some over others is perfectly acceptable. We need to be okay with this.

None deserve to be passed over, all deserve compassion, and knowing this may really be enough of a spiritual home for me.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Some Things You Should Know About Vegans

Because I am vegan...

It naturally follows that I really despise humanity. The sound of laughter is like nails scratching against the chalkboard of my soul.

Because I am vegan...

I spend my days carefully planning every item I will be eating or I may die of nutritional deprivation within moments. I carry an emergency supplementation backup kit just in case every meal I eat is not perfectly balanced.

Because I am vegan...

The plants in my garden tremble in fear when they know that I’m nearby. As difficult as it is, I try to not sentimentalize the plants because I know that the carrots, scallions, and kale know their rightful place in the food chain. I do not name them because I know I would get too attached.

Because I am vegan...

I carry buckets of red paint in my car at all times to throw on people in case I come across anyone wearing fur. Or leather. Or eating a hamburger. Or anyone who was at any point in their lives not vegan.

Because I am vegan...

I’ve taken a sworn oath to be an outspoken enemy of anything resembling merriment.

Because I am vegan...

I offer human sacrifices to my Ingrid Newkirk statuette every equinox and solstice.

Because I am vegan...

I wake up every morning with a renewed vigor to stick my nose into everyone’s business because I truly don’t have anything better to do.

Because I am vegan...

As I sleep, an  IV pumps soy isolate into my veins.

Because I am vegan...

I resent your entire existence.

Because I am vegan...

Whenever my angst level dips dangerously low, I can put on my wildly uncomfortable vinyl shoes to bring myself back into the safe zone of spirit-crushing despair.  

Because I am vegan...

Natural light hasn’t entered my home in years due to the dozens and dozens and dozens of feral cats I have blocking all the windows.

Because I am vegan...

I believe that accepted hygiene standards are a tool of the oppressor.

Because I am vegan...

Nothing you do will ever, ever be good enough.

Because I am vegan...

I am looking in your grocery cart and I am not pleased.

Because I am vegan...

I am counting the minutes until I can quit writing this so I can get back to plotting the violent overthrow of government, institutions, culture, community and family. 

Because I am vegan...

I really don’t like you.

Because I am vegan...

Look out your front door. Did you know I was protesting you?  

Because I am vegan...

Every day is a bit like April Fools’ Day. Or at least today is like it.

Because I am vegan...

There still may be one or two items that are a little close to the truth. I’m kidding.

(Or am I?)

Happy April Fools‘ Day!