Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Eighth Annual Disgruntled Vegan Alphabet...

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Yeah, it’s that time. I’ll be honest: 2016 has kicked our collective asses and set the whole ass-mess on fire and poured gasoline over the top so I was a little hesitant to add to the negative vibes with my Eighth Annual Disgruntled Vegan Alphabet but, yeah, who am I kidding? Clearly, I love to vent and complain. Here goes!

A is for “Ach-oo!” Better not sneeze around certain people or they will blame your cold as well as everything from the dry patch on your hand to your weird baby toenail on the fact that you are vegan.
B is for the Bohemian “influencers” on Instagram who embrace veganism with great fanfare one week and publicly ditch it as soon as they decide it’s less cool/quirky a week later. B is also for Buh-bye.
C is for the Challenge of hearing someone go on about how he “met a vegan once and she got really sick,” and doing your best to not roll your eyes.
D is for, “Did you know Hitler was a vegetarian?” Um, nice try but he was a meat-eater, just like Stalin, Pol Pot and Idi Amin. Hitler was not a vegetarian; neither am I. So why are you bringing this up?  
E is for the Evil eye you shoot at the omnivores who chow down on the single vegan dish at your office's catered holiday buffet and then ultimately have to resort to physically blocking them because they are impervious to the subtle nuances of your death glare.
F is for Farmers markets being overtaken with purveyors of animal carcasses and the smell of cooked animal carcasses hanging in the air.
G is for the Gushing from your foodie friend about how tender her chicken is and WHY DOES SHE THINK YOU WANT TO HEAR THIS??? WHY???
is for Hosts who tell you not to bring any food to their party because there will be plenty of food for vegans and you discover that plenty = you're lucky if there's a bowl of tortilla chips and some pickles.
I is for Is it possible to die of irritation? Like should I be worried about this?
J is for Journalists who insist on inserting unoriginal and predictable snark to their stories about veganism, whether it fits the tone or not. GAH!
K is for Karma, as in, you’d better hope there is not such a thing as it but I am crossing my fingers for it so nah-nah.
L is for being Lumped in with flaky dietary faddists in the public view and the vegans who reinforce this with their random food rules that have nothing to do with veganism.
M is for the Mail that brings you a catalog from Heifer International. How did you get on their damn mailing list?!
N is for Naively not checking your pick-up order before you left the restaurant with it and coming home to discover animal flesh in it.
O is for Oh, my flipping God, he’s really president…
P is for the People in your life who send you every link that crosses their eyes that paints veganism in a negative light.
Q is for Questionable credentials of the guy in your office who considers himself an expert on nutrition (or agriculture, climate change, cruelty to animals, etc.) and sees it as a personal mission to try to "educate" you whenever possible.
R is for Roasting in your car in the summer as you eat the lunch you packed along because the amusement part has nothing for you to eat and they don’t allow outside food.
S is for Sitting next to the paleo enthusiast at the annual animal charity benefit, that, you know, also serves meat so as to not alienate anyone and YOU ARE AN ANIMAL CHARITY, DAMN IT. What letter was this? There is so much to complain about.
T is for Trying to get the kale out from between your teeth when you dine out with friends but you can tell it’s still there and they are all looking at you like “???” because you keep swishing water in your mouth and doing weird things with your tongue and you will never be invited out again because of kale and when will you remember to take dental floss along with you?
U is for Until lions decide to go vegan, a sizeable segment of the population will cling to their bizarre excuse for eating animals.
V is for Vacillating between wanting to be the vegan who indulges inane questions, predictable jokes, bigoted opinions, inconsiderate behavior and more with patience and trying that for five seconds before you want to explode in an angry fusillade of really bad behavior.
W is for Waiting for the server to take a breath in describing the meat-, cheese- and egg-laden specials of the night so you can say, yeah, nope, vegan.
X is for Xeno, as in thank goodness for the Scientologists because as long as they’re around, there will be a population the public wants to avoid even more than they want to avoid vegans.
Y is for YouTubers who happen to be vegan and obnoxious and embarrass you to death.
Z is for the Zen state of peace you feel when you block a troll on Facebook that gets punctured 20 seconds later when a new troll announces his arrival with an "Mmm...bacon," comment to your link about cruelty to animals.  

It’s out of my system now. Toodles until next year’s grievance session!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstar with Jeffrey Cohan...


Hanukkah starts December 24 this year so what better time to talk to Jeffrey Cohan, Executive Director of Jewish Veg? With a background in journalism and Jewish communal service, Jeffrey is a longtime vegetarian and has been vegan since 2010. As blogger behind The Beet-Eating Heeb, Jeffrey explores the spiritual basis of veganism with humor, honesty and insight. Under Jeffrey’s leadership since 2012, Jewish Veg, once known as Jewish Vegetarians of North America, has shifted their focus to a vegan message and they have lots of events coming up, including a college speaking tour in the Spring (dates are still to be announced but you can see last year’s tour) and a free, Jewish-themed vegan starter guide. In October, Jewish Veg posted a video of their sponsored talk in New York, Alex Hershaft’s powerfully moving “From the Warsaw Ghetto to a Lifetime of Compassion,” speech. According to Jeffrey, Jewish Veg has become the fastest-growing vegan advocacy organization in the United States and it clearly shows no signs of slowing down. I am honored that Jeffrey is this week’s Vegan Rockstar.

1. First of all, we’d love to hear your “vegan evolution” story. How did you start out? Did you have any early influences or experiences as a young person that in retrospect helped to pave your path?

I was a big-time carnivore, regrettably, until the age of 41. That’s when, as a Jew, I first encountered Genesis 1:29, where God commands us to eat a vegan diet. I went vegetarian that day and, about three years later, went vegan after reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s book, Eating Animals.

2. Imagine that you are pre-vegan again: how could someone have talked to you and what could they have said or shown you that could have been the most effective way to have a positive influence on you moving toward veganism?

I’d like to think that if someone had educated me about what’s happening to farmed animals, I would have gone vegan on the spot. I also would have been open to the compelling evidence that a healthy vegan diet is the only diet proven to reverse heart disease.

3. What have you found to be the most effective way to communicate your message as a vegan? For example, humor, passion, images, etc.?

The most effective mediums are live presentations and personal interactions. The power of live, in-person, human-to-human communication is unmatched. Within those mediums, humor and authentic passion are an effective mix. In my blog, The Beet-Eating Heeb, and in my live presentations, I try to incorporate both. We need humor to get people’s guard down and passion to crack into their hearts.

4. What do you think are the biggest strengths of the vegan movement?

Two things come to mind.

One is that our arrow is pointing up. We definitely have momentum. There are many indicators of that, none more obvious than the proliferation of vegan products on grocery-store shelves. A lot of very smart, hard-working people in our movement have helped make this happen.

The second is that we have the facts squarely on our side, whether you’re talking about ethics, health, the environment, or, in our case, Judaism. We do and will win the debate with carnivores every time.

5. What do you think are our biggest hindrances to getting the word out effectively?

Again, two things come to mind.

The first is, our opposition might not have the facts on their side, but they have a massive marketing budget, tradition, and majority opinion on their side. Did I mention a massive marketing budget? The fact that we’ve made such progress despite these enormous obstacles is pretty impressive.

Secondly, the animal-rights movement is very divided and is sending out conflicting messages to the public. To a certain extent, some degree of fracturing is inevitable in growing social movements. In some cases, a variety of approaches can be productive. However, in the United States, the animal-welfare message has become a little too dominant. I hope the funding community will recognize this imbalance and offer greater support to the vegan-advocacy movement.

6. All of us need a “why vegan” elevator pitch. We’d love to hear yours.

There is no change you can make today that will have such a powerfully positive effect on animals, on the planet, on your health and on your soul. And today, it’s easier than ever before to make that change.

7. Who are the people and what are the books, films, websites and organizations that have had the greatest influence on your veganism and your continuing evolution?

I love to read, so books have had a big influence of me. Reading Eating Animals instantly transformed me from a vegetarian into a vegan.

The Bible, or what we call the Torah, has been a big influence as well. At Jewish Veg, we are bringing to light religious teachings that have been variously ignored, suppressed or misinterpreted. The Jewish Bible establishes a plant-based diet as the ideal, frames meat-eating as the manifestation of human gluttony, and mandates that we treat animals with exquisite compassion.

It’s amazing, when you think about it, that the authors of the Bible knew 3,000 years ago that killing animals for food was wrong and that eating plants was best for our souls and our health. This was 2,900 years before the creation of the first factory farm.

8. Burn-out is so common among vegans: what do you do to unwind, recharge and inspire yourself?

Shabbat. My job, as executive director of Jewish Veg, is very demanding, which is a good thing. But if not for Shabbat, I would have burned out a long time ago. I don’t work on Saturdays unless I’m speaking at a synagogue. I absolutely love my job, but knowing that I have a 24-hour respite every week enables to me work harder and longer on the other six days.

I also try to do some form of exercise at least four times a week. And I meditate daily.

9. What is the issue nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like others to know more about?

Here is what I would like everyone to know: The word “dominion” in the Bible absolutely does NOT give us permission to kill animals for food – or to mistreat them, period.

The famous “dominion” verse (Genesis 1:26) is part of the same, uninterrupted conversation in which God tells us to eat plants and only plants (Genesis 1:29).

Furthermore, Genesis 1:26 is where we also find the statement that humans beings are made in God’s image. This means we’re supposed to exercise dominion over animals in the same fashion as God exercises dominion over people. And in Jewish thought, there is no debate that God’s primary attributes are mercy and compassion.

So the English word “dominion” is really an unfortunate translation. “Compassionate stewardship” would be far more accurate.

10. Please finish this sentence: “To me, being vegan is...”

… a spiritual awakening.” No one told me this would happen, but I’ve since found out that it’s a common experience for vegans. I feel a much deeper connection to the Universe.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Why Strong Emotions Are a Rational Response to Tyranny

Yes, we’re emotional. No, we’re not irrational. These things are different. I’ll tell you why.

I should say that to write about this subject, I am going to have to use terms and broad generalizations that some people don’t appreciate, including myself. For example, the word “liberal” and its flabby, namby-pamby associations are proverbial fingernails on the chalkboard to me. I don’t relate to the word or the wimpy associations with liberalism at all. I will, however, accept that the word a person might come up with to describe me or someone like me is liberal. Yes, I just shuddered. I accept, though, that language is as subjective as it is imprecise and our understanding of one another, especially when we are strangers, is quite limited, so I can live with being labeled as a “liberal” for the purposes of this essay. Just for now, though.

I bring this up because a common refrain I am hearing these days from conservative circles - yes, sometimes I am close enough to safely eavesdrop - in the weeks after the presidential election is that the left, a.k.a., liberals, a.k.a., people like me, are so damn emotional about everything. As a vegan, I’ve heard this one-note assessment of our temperament for years but it has become especially noticeable lately as it gets thickly applied to the left as a whole. There are many who will dismiss vegans as overwrought tree-huggers despite the abundant, verifiable proof we supply of the widespread harm and brutality of animal agribusiness; it’s been interesting to see this broad and condescending assessment applied to so many on the left now.

Maybe there is some truth to the accusation of being emotional. From my observation post, conservatives do seem to be able to disagree and argue, often vigorously, but at the end of the day, be able to move on and not take it personally. It seemingly rolls off them like water off a duck’s back. People on the left, however, do not seem to be able to do the same. The common conservative take on it is…

People on the left take things personally.

People on the left get angry and upset.

People on the left get emotional.

In conservative dog-whistle terms, it is that liberals are irrational.

[I want to submit that perhaps *cough*likely*cough* there is also an unspoken subtext of those on the left not being in possession of ostensibly “masculine” characteristics like rationality, self-control and cool-headedness and instead, being guided by the equally baselessly-assigned “feminine” traits of irrationality, hysteria and melodramatics but that’s a different subject for a different day.]

I will be the first to admit that much of this accusation is true in my case: I do take things personally, especially with this last election where there is so much to lose, even though the actual personal stakes are not that high. Many other “liberals” do the same. Why is this? We have this internal mechanism called empathy. What matters to us expands beyond the immediate parameters of our own skin because we empathize and because we feel a sense of interconnectedness, which means that we also feel a responsibility to try to reduce tyranny and injustice against others. This is not a spectator sport where we sit on the sidelines watching as we idly toss popcorn into our mouths. I can understand how strange our response must look to someone who is relatively untouched by oppression and who is more or less immune to the real-world consequences of systemic bigotry. In order to recognize and understand one’s own advantages in any significant way, it takes an awareness that is rooted in empathy for those who have had experiences outside of one’s own limited worldview, especially those who have been born with fewer advantages.

So, yes, I do get angry and upset when others are oppressed and I believe rightfully so: injustice matters to me, and it should matter to all of us. Racism matters to me, even if I am unscathed by it personally. Misogyny matters to me even if I am no longer worried about my own reproductive rights. Mocking the disabled matters to me even if I am not disabled. Again, this is not a spectator sport to some of us: This is all contact. The tackles, the punches, the body slams: They might not land on me but the assaults on others are felt and they are felt viscerally. I am not going to apologize for caring about the welfare of others. No one should apologize for that.

Here is where I will disagree, though, with the assumption of irrationality being a necessary consequence of strong emotions, in particular the emotions of those who are not ambivalent about bigotry and injustice. Emotions and rationality clearly diverge here because this is what is not rational: Believing that those who make racially problematic (to say the least) comments and engage in discriminatory practices can represent the interests of our citizenry in a fair and equitable way. That is not rational. It is also not rational to think that a man who boasts of his capacity to sexually assault women is someone who respects females. Further, it is irrational to think that those who are not heterosexual will be safe under the administration of someone who is filling his cabinet (as well as his Vice President position) with notoriously anti-LBGTQ appointments. It is irrational to think that someone who is not transparent about his considerable worldwide financial conflicts of interest might not be operating with the best interests of the nation guiding his policies and decision-making. It is not rational to think that someone who rage-tweets at Saturday Night Live in the middle of the night and re-tweets random bigots has the gravitas and temperament to be President of the United States. This is tip o’ the iceberg stuff. It is deeply irrational to be expected to suspend reason and fact to isolate the words and actions of an individual and reclassify it as something other than what the evidence continually supports.

Here is what is rational: To expect that a man who is continually digging himself deeper into a hole in terms of bigotry might just be, well, bigoted. And that someone who is as slippery about divulging and divesting his financial interests as Donald Trump might not have the best interests of the nation as his priority. And that someone who regularly tantrums and bullies from his Twitter pulpit in the middle of the night may just not be of the temperament needed to preside over the United States. In fact, holding these views would be highly rational as they are reflective of documentable reality: We have seen consistent examples of actions, behaviors and statements that lead us to believe that Donald Trump, his policies and his administration will be harmful for people of color, women, the LBGTQ and our national best interests yet we are being told to disregard and ignore what we have seen because, I don’t know, magic? 

That is irrational.

So, yes, I am emotional, but, no, I am not irrational. I am emotional and I am highly rational. These two states are not necessarily antagonistic to each other and, in a post-November 8, 2016 world, co-exist together more easily than ever. Can you be emotional and irrational? Of course. Indifference to tyranny and oppression, though, does not equal rationality. In fact, in some cases, it couldn't be further from it. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstar with Jackie Day

I could not even come close to describing the impressive (to say the least) accomplishments of Jackie Day of the popular blog, My Vegan Journal. After reading her bio, I wanted to simultaneously take a nap and roll up my sleeves to get to work. Jackie is a long-time vegan, an award-winning educator, a children’s health advocate, a health policy innovator, an animal activist and more. As a well-known blogger, Jackie is able to bring her joyful message of health and compassion to a wide audience, empowering people to become educated on important issues and take a stand on what matters. A true grassroots organizer, Jackie doesn’t just maintain an online presence: she is out on the streets, creating positive change in her community and around the world.

Now Jackie is out with her first beautiful book, The Vegan Way: 21-Days to a Happier, Healthier Plant-Based Lifestyle that Will Transform Your Home, Your Diet and You, published by St. Martin’s Press. A generous and engaging guide for leaning into how and why to make a vegan transition, Jackie offers an inclusive road map for anyone. From switching out dairy to finding cruelty-free cosmetics, removing toxic cleaning products to educating about animals in entertainment, each chapter offers an attainable goal and is written in a breezy, accessible but honest way, removing roadblocks and myths as she goes. (Review coming soon!) I am excited to feature Jackie today as our Vegan Rock Star and happy to help get the word out about her fabulousness.

1. First of all, we’d love to hear your “vegan evolution” story. How did you start out? Did you have any early influences or experiences as a young person that in retrospect helped to pave your path?

There’s actually an entire chapter in my book entitled “My Road To Vegan,” which describes my journey, but in a nutshell my path involved a unique combo of a frozen TV dinner, the act of feeding our dog scraps of “meat” under the table, and a fortuitous encounter with a stranger who needed a ride home.

2. Imagine that you are pre-vegan again: how could someone have talked to you and what could they have said or shown you that could have been the most effective way to have a positive influence on you moving toward veganism?

Fortunately, all my brain needed was the information; the simple truth. My heart was open, and my mind was a sponge. I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

3. What have you found to be the most effective way to communicate your message as a vegan? For example, humor, passion, images, etc.?

It all depends on the audience. When speaking to someone one on one, I think it’s wise to put ourselves in the shoes of the person who we’re trying to inspire; look through their eyes, as best as we can, and go from there. After all, we’ve all traveled on different paths with different experiences that can taint our perception of the truth, and our willingness to embrace change.

As an author, I tend to write in an upbeat fashion, that’s positive and hopeful, but I don’t skirt the truth.  I paint a picture with words to get the point across, but never leave readers feeling helpless or hopeless. We can make a difference with every bite we eat, and every dollar we spend – and we are, in a very big way!

4. What do you think are the biggest strengths of the vegan movement?

The biggest strength of the vegan movement is this: we’re inspiring others to move towards the inevitable. As I explain in great detail in The Vegan Way, history is on our side.  We’re in the midst of a paradigm shift; everyone is going vegan.  It’s simply impossible for our species to survive without transitioning to a plant-based way of living.

5. What do you think are our biggest hindrances to getting the word out effectively?

I actually think all forms of non-violent activism can be effective as long as you’re targeting your audience wisely. Everything from a little humor (the talented cartoonist, Dan Piraro comes to mind) - or a gentle nudge to try a vegan cupcake - to large protests with graphic photos, can be effective.  We’re all so very different when it comes to being inspired. What works for one person, might not work for someone else.  We’re all in this together, and I’m grateful for all advocates who are trying to make the world a better place.

As for roadblocks, the fact that so many pro Big Ag folks wind up having power in the government, coupled with politicians serving as paid advisors to Big Ag folks once they’re done in D.C. is certainly cause for concern. Those creating legislation and regulations shouldn’t be so ensnarled in the promotion of cholesterol laden, saturated fat-filled, antibiotic and hormone infested animal products. It’s a conflict of interest, and the world suffers greatly because of it.

6. All of us need a “why vegan” elevator pitch. We’d love to hear yours.

Whether it’s for your health, the animals, the environment or a combo of all three, going vegan makes good sense! It’s easy, affordable, tasty and fun! And since you have to get off at this floor - and we can chat no more - check out my book, The Vegan Way: 21 Days To A Happier, Healthier, Plant-Based Lifestyle That Will Transform Your Home, Your Diet, And You! Ciao!

7. Who are the people and what are the books, films, websites and organizations that have had the greatest influence on your veganism and your continuing evolution?
Oh, gosh, there are so many! Diet for a New America by John Robbins was immensely helpful to me in the late 80’s, and if we flash forward to today, I’m currently enjoying learning new plant-based nutrition facts from Dr. Michael Greger’s New York Times Best Seller, How Not To Die. The first animal rights pamphlets I recall reading in the early 80’s were from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals which provided ample food for thought and inspiration. And I’m delighted to see a surge in animal friendly books for kids, such as Ruby Roth’s Vegan is Love, and Santa’s First Vegan Christmas by Robin Raven and Kara-Maria Schunk, both of which nurture compassion.

8. Burn-out is so common among vegans: what do you do to unwind, recharge and inspire yourself?

Every few months or so, I enjoy a social media cleanse and detach from Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. for a few days, or even a few weeks. It’s not easy; sometimes I even have my husband change my password on my accounts because I’m so drawn to social media these days, but the break is well worth it. I also find that spending time outdoors gardening, bike riding, or hiking relieves stress, or in the winter months, knitting, baking, writing, and cuddling with our kitties, helps too. I also like to unwind by surrounding myself with things that smell good: lavender oil, herbal teas, and candles that smell like sweet treats.

Helping others also provides fuel for inspiration. I launched my book at Barnes and Noble last night and was overwhelmed with the enthusiasm of folks who want to know how they can make the world a better place right now; it’s so energizing to plant seeds of compassion, and watch them grow.

9. What is the issue nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like others to know more about?

All issues that concern needless suffering are important.  I encourage folks to learn more about an issue that’s dear to their heart, and then gradually increase their circle of compassion to include everyone else.

10. Please finish this sentence: “To me, being vegan is...”
living a lifestyle where your brain follows your heart; it’s easy, tasty and lots of fun, too!