OFFICE LUNCHES TO DIE FOR

For all the Vegans out there, having to lunch/dine with non-Vegans is one of the most challenging moments of being an Ethical Vegan. Health based Vegans might not mind seeing animal carcasses on other people’s plates but Ethical Vegans would hardly ignore it.

I was faced with such dilemma last Friday as I was coerced (not asked) into attending an office lunch at the 4 Seasons Star Hotel in Beverly Hills. « Wow, chic hotel », you may think. Yes, it was definitely a beautiful place. The toilets even have their own sink with cotton towelettes to dry your pretty hands and you don’t need to share the sink with someone else (sic). So far so good, there is a little bit of eco-friendliness to the place. The restaurant was Italian and, lucky for me, made it therefore easy to get something Vegan. This was the easy part. I didn’t want to go but I didn’t want to lose a vacation day either (so many of these in the USA, right?).

So what is an ethical Vegan to do when confronted with this situation? I would like to point out that the day before, my boss came to me and told me what wines we were gonna have for the lunch (he likes to provide the wine himself being a connoisseur). I confirmed they were all Vegan! I must say that he tries very hard to accommodate my lifestyle and that is very appreciated. I don’t know of many employers who would bother. However, as you all know, a non-Vegan doesn’t « get » why eating with them is uncomfortable. As Vegans, we don’t see food, we see a being who has been mutilated, tortured, poisoned with antibiotics and other unpleasant substances and lived the most miserable life before being butchered without mercy to just end up satisfying someone’s palate for a brief moment (and we know that it is not needed). We have made that connection. They have not. They find the sight of animal carcasses perfectly normal as they are totally disconnected from the reality of what and WHO they eat. Each time I tried to explain this to my office manager, she quickly changed the subject after 1 minute once I started telling her about the intelligence of pigs. I can tell that she is disturbed by that truth and she chooses denial. She always had and the majority of people, when confronted with looking at what their food is, are. Once I had a postcard from an animal group laying around which said « Which one do you eat, and which one do you pet? and why? » (with a cat and a pig). She picked it up, intrigued, and started reading it astonished at what it said about the pig. So for a short time, she made some connection. But quickly went back into denial mode later. It is important to realize that some people may make the connection but don’t want to accept the truth and may never do so. And short of forcing them to watch Earthlings, we can only continue to plants seeds (and some even continue the denial after seeing Earthlings as the conditioning is so strong).

I probably drank too much for that lunch but was lucky not to have to smell it or see it too much. In the end, it was a mostly smooth drive. I should consider myself lucky. When I was at the Animal Rights Conference last year, I went to a discussion about how to deal with non-Vegans in the family and workplace. I heard some really tough stories of people who have a difficult time to make others accept their choices. I tried to offer ideas of how I have managed the small victories I have in my workplace. I truly felt for all of them. I don’t have a family to be accountable to, just my job. And for the most part, they are mostly tolerant. They even got me a Vegan birthday cake for my birthday!

How does anyone feel about eating with non-Vegans? How do you handle it? I would love to hear your thoughts on this and read your comments.

LIVING AMONG MEAT EATERS by Carol J. Adams

I previously read Carol J. Adams’ classic The Sexual Politics of Meat but didn’t review it (something I should correct!) and I consider it one of the best books ever. Carol J. Adams was justly inducted in the Animal Rights Hall of Fame at the Animal Rights Conference in 2011. I was there and that made me extremely happy.  So I went ahead and digged out a less known treasure she wrote a few years ago. The edition I have borrowed from my public library is from 2001.

One of the struggles of anyone going vegetarian/vegan for the first time (the author addresses both but with emphasis on vegans) has to do with dealing with peers. Parents, family, friends, co-workers, etc… have all known us for being… well.. « us » for so long that they suddenly have to face this new « us » which comes with new « conditions ». Thanksgiving is not the same anymore because we don’t want to eat the dead bird anymore, lunch with co-workers is done with them looking weirdly at the kale on our plate, etc… As the new « you » comes into play, also comes other peoples’ bad sides as they have to be faced with you not wanting to fit anymore. So how do you handle this new paradigm? For a lot of Vegans, making the shift makes us realize the suffering we never saw before. It makes us angry. Suddenly, we want to go out there and fight the good fight. We get angry at people who don’t « get it » and we forget that we were once in their shoes. That anger, for most of us, calms down and becomes transmuted into positive activism. For some, it is very hard to get past. What remains is the difficulty to deal with people who are judgmental, aggressive, and pretty much think we are freaks and to whom we have to deal with on a daily basis. So how do we do that? Well, that is when this terrific book from Carol J. Adams can be useful.

I must admit to having read it with great pleasure. It gave me new ideas, tools I had not though about in terms of relating intelligently with people who are not Vegans. As a (soon to be) Health Coach, it is also a valuable tool as it will help me take people on a journey towards their health by progressively going Vegans and open raise their consciousness to become more compassionate as well. My favorite point in the book is what she calls Being at peace and repairing the hole in our conscience. It is reminiscent of what Will Tuttle describes in his book The World Peace Diet regarding the conditioning we all have received since birth. Carol Adams explains that every non Vegan lives with a hole in his conscience because he misses that part of him/herself that relates to animals and compassion. Repairing the hole in the conscience means making the connection and wake up to the Vegan and animal lover within (i am paraphrasing). For us Vegans, it is vital to be at peace with our diet and not apologize for it. Who needs to apologize? meat eaters, not you. You are following your conscience. It doesn’t mean that you have to hurt them by being nasty and say things like « you’re a selfish meat head » even if we sometimes secretly desire to say so. One excellent reasoning (extract from the book) is this one:

« If you are at peace, maybe they, too, could be at peace living without meat.

If you are not at peace, why should they try?

Are you at peace?

If you are, how do you communicate that sense of peace?

If you aren’t, what is needed to discover a sense of peace? »

These arguments are all valid, I experienced them. I used to feel that I was on a mission to convert my co-workers (and the planet!) to Veganism in an agressive way, therefore taking the angry Vegan approach of pointing out how they ate dead carcasses at each meal. And even though the argument is true, it does not work. People get turned off. Being the example, being the motivator is what makes people ask questions. When I changed my attitude and became comfortable with being this real « me », people also changed a bit around me. People reflect what is in you. What is within, is outside too. For instance, an ex-collegue of mine suddenly got interested in my diet and started asking questions. So I loaned her the documentary « A Delicate Balance » (which I recommend by the way) and « Got the Facts on Milk » (another good one). She later told me that she actually went ahead and bought Kris Carr’s book « Crazy Sexy Diet » (Crazy Sexy Diet: Eat Your Veggies, Ignite Your Spark, and Live Like You Mean It! ) which kicks ass in terms of diet and what Kris thinks of animals. Another one sees me drink a big juice (freshly done with my juicer at home) at work each day. Once again, don’t push, let them come and they will ask. She said I was inspiring her to get healthy. So who knows? that may be a good sign (and her diet is McDonald’s). I get asked about what I eat almost each day and even though they may not change to Veganims soon, I am planting seeds which is a lot more efficient than being in their face with agressive words. As Carol Adams says, they are all « blocked Vegetarians » (Will Tuttle uses the term Pre-Vegan which is another variant on the meaning).

The biggest challenge of most Vegans is social, not being an activist. We are activists the moment we stop eating animals and their secretions. But it doesn’t stop there obviously. The way we relate to other people is what determine our effectiveness at spreading the message that Veganism is the way to free animals and ourselves. Carol quotes Mary Midgley at the beginning of her book. This quote sums up a lot of what we face on a daily basis:

« The symbolism of meat-eating is never neutral. To himself, the meat-eater seems to be eating life. To the Vegetarian, he seems to be eating death. There is a kind of gestalt-shift between the two positions which makes it hard to change, and hard to raise questions on the matter at all without becoming embattled. »

So it is a big point. Once again mirroring the fact that people are conditioned, they are also seeing the world in what seems upside down to us. We see them eat death and we try to open their eyes to that fact just to fall on deaf ears. What is the matter with them? Why don’t they get it? One way to cope with this is once again to see meat eaters as blocked vegetarians. « This person has a problem with my vegetarianism. It is their problem, not mine ». Think that way, and you will be more at peace. Vegans make meat eaters uneasy, that is inevitable as we appeal to their inner compassionate selves, the part of themselves that wants to remain comfortable and not disturbed. As the author points out, the mere fact of being in the room with non-vegans is already disturbing (if they are aware that you are vegetarians/vegans). She says it well: « People have many explanations for eating meat; vegetarians have heard all of them. If their explanations sound hollow, it may be because they are. For some people, their predicament is not so much that they choose to eat meat as that they have chosen not to change. As a result, interactions are often really about the nature of change – or, more precisely, not changing. » That is very true.

While Vegans can manifest their just anger for the suffering of animals, it is probably harder for them to deal with the anger they generate by being « different ». Look at this quoted Bumper Sticker in Texas: « Eat low on the food chaing. Barbecue a vegetarian. » or this one: « Vegetarians welcome… to watch us eat steak » (from a Minnesota Steak House). These are pure examples of blocked vegetarians, nihilists and people denying themselves. They have a Hole in their conciousness. There is not much we can do for these type but I have seen examples of what seems impossible. An episode of « 30 days » was about a hunter being asked to spend 30 days of his life among PETA Vegan activists and adopt their lifestyles. He accepts the challenge determined to not change and go home a happy meat eating hunter. During the process, he goes to PETA protests, helps rescue a calf (and nurtures him) and works in a Farm Animal sanctuary and get exposed to the animals. What is remarkable is how he transforms unwillingly during the 30 days of his new temporary life. By the time this is over, he still wants to go back hunting (sounded more like macho bravado than real desire to do so) but WE know he is not the same anymore. We SEE how he is transformed. That is the power of the truth. Another great example is the excellent documentary « Vegucated » which I highly recommend to show to non-Vegans. I agree with Carol that the people who are the most aggressive with you are probably the ones most susceptible to change. Their feelings are, as she points out, the most on the surface than people who casually dismiss Vegans as just freaks but don’t really bother them (or so they think). The more defensive the person, the more he or she feels guilty deep down and the more that person may change in the future. I see the defensiveness as a challenge, but a welcome one. That is hopeful.

The rest of Carol J. Adams’ book is filled with tips and good things to say in every situations from work to your sharing of the home kitchen. She goes into every aspects of the daily life, from raising kids, dealing with co-workers to living/loving a non-Vegan. You will not regret getting this book. It is a wonderful practical tool.

Healthy at 100 by John ROBBINS

Bestselling author John Robbins (author of Diet For a New America) continues his beautiful work of helping people change the way they live with this no less beautiful book: Healthy at 100: The Scientifically Proven Secrets of The World’s Healthiest and Longest-Lived Peoples. By analysing the mysterious cultures of Abkhasia in the Caucasus, Vilcabamba, Hunza and the Okinawans in Japans, John Robbins demonstrates the similarities of lifestyles and social connections. How can we not be struck by the beauty of each of these communities, the simplicity in which they live and the loving relationships demonstrated in each of them.

Based on that, the author presents several chapters showing each of the aspects of what makes these cultures unique: diet, fitness, social structures. He then takes the lessons learned from these people and show how we can apply their age old wisdoms to our daily lives. Nowhere does he preach to give up our modern ways but to reclaim what we have lost, our sense of community, our sense of what makes a good meal and our vision of what old age is supposed to be. He shows us the power of love, long ridiculed by « modern » medicine but embraced by these healthy old people.

But the striking difference between these cultures and ours is how they treat their elders. They are valued, respected, listened to. We put ours in retirement home and spend thousands of dollars on trying to stay young and keeping them alive. They embrace old age. And they embrace it well considering that they age without all the ailments that we suffer from in the western world. We lose our « marbles » as John Robbins say in our modern world, they keep theirs until they die, well into their 100th year. They can walk for hours and faster than us. So what makes them different?

Well, as indicated above, there is the factor of how they live with each other and how they see old age. But there is also what they eat. They don’t stuff themselves on processed foods, and tons of animal flesh. They actually barely ever eat any of that. Their diet consist of mostly whole foods, sometimes just picked raw with very little or not animal foods like milk and rarely meat. You could say they are near vegans, which is now proven to be the healthiest diet on earth. But diet alone does not explains their extraordinary healthy longevity. They also have a very active lifestyle consisting of physical work and long walks. Therefore, they are also very fit starting in youth and they carry it all the way to their late years. The book describe instances of visitors not being able to keep up with these people who were 40 years older than them!

Their connection to each other seemed to me being the major factor creating the difference. Diet and exercise of course make a huge difference but if you have loving and respectful relationships between the generations, your quality of life is proven to improve dramatically. John Robbins shows how major studies in the western world are now proving the importance of « love » between people and how that affect health in the short and long terms. Until recent years, it was considered unrelated and generally ridiculed.

There is clearly something that needs to be learned from these cultures. How backward really is our view of aging when all is considered is up to us. We are wiping out these people’s cultures by invading them with our western ways. I am just sad thinking about what is being lost. In Okinawa, for example, younger people have adopted the western diet and habits. They are dying younger and faster than their elders who have kept their old ways. How sad!

So please read this book, it will bring you a new perspective on age and also point you to what needs to be done to save ourselves from this misery.

healthy at 100

© Copyright October 2010 – All Rights Reserved

BREAKING THE FOOD SEDUCTION by Dr. Neal Barnard

In this important book, Dr. Barnard (founder of the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine) deconstructs food addictions for us in a concise, easy to understand format. You won’t find boring scientific explanations in this book. On the contrary, this is a page turner! Not bad for a health book. Not only does Dr. Barnard tells you why certain foods are addictive and what they do to your body but he helps us break free of them with simple methods. I thought this book was a great complement to Alicia Silverstone’s « The Kind Diet » which I reviewed previously and coincidently.

But Dr. Barnard’s book also contains a lot of recipes to keep you happy and mouth watering. I can’t wait to try these as well. But more important is the wealth of information i have acquired in this great book. Thank you Dr. Barnard for everything you do to raise awareness about the benefits of a balanced vegan diet.

THE KIND DIET By Alicia Silverstone

What a joy it is to have picked up this book. It is pretty, elegant and even classy. The book is well organized into various sections for ease of use. Alicia’s pictures of life at home and of various gourmet dishes are delectable. Her writing is thoughtful and witty. She doesn’t preach, she encourages and is the first, to my knowledge, to point out that our bodies are designed for a plant based diet and not an animal based one! Finally! I am sure she is not the only one but she explains it in a short but to the point paragraph and, once again, without preaching.

Alicia Silverstone’s recipes look so yummy, i want to eat them all. She organized them in three sections: Flirting, Vegan and Superhero (I love the choice of words!). And reading this sections made me realize that i was still flirting as in still replacing former meat centered dishes with vegan versions instead of the revamp that she talks about in the « vegan » section. The « superhero » section is for the die hard committed vegans wanting to get into macrobiotic as well. Strangely enough, it seems easier to me than the « vegan » section but more demanding than the « flirting » section.

So go ahead and explore this book as either a vegan or not. Anyone will appreciate this book’s very approachable style. My only critic of it is that Alicia uses a lot of « exotic » ingredients which might throw off some people. I admit to not be familiar with a lot of them but being willing to learn and discover new things. Whatever approach you choose in picking up this book, there is something for every one in there. And yes, I still want to try all the recipes. hehe

 

© Copyright July 2010 – All Rights Reserved. Printing by permission only.

EATING ANIMALS By Jonathan Safran Foer

I picked up this book based on outstanding reviews in VegNews Magazine and other sources. I was in fact taken by the writing from the very first page. The author draws you into his life and conflict about eating animals in a very personal way which i have enjoyed. But i can’t help feeling that he tries very hard to find excuses for the meat industry, although he makes none for the factory farming, thank God.

My favorite chapter of the book is the one devoted to the idea of eating dogs! Yes, it may shock a lot of westerners to read this chapter but it is really the author’s way of showing the absurdity of most people’s way of treating some animals as pets and others as just merely food. He makes a good point of showing that millions of companion animals are being killed in the appalling US shelter system and that these dead animals could feed thousands of people. He demonstrates the weirdness of the distinctions we make between species of animals and the absurdity of our food systems as it is presently. There are in fact entire sections of the book dedicated to graphic descriptions and testimonies on how animals are being killed in the most horrific ways just to satisfy our dietary habits.

What annoys me with this book, however, is the tendency the author has to point out that he is a vegetarian and at the same time somehow approves of the way the animals are treated in systems other than factory farming (which is near nonexistent). He points out that it is still a cruel system in some respect but gets too deep into the friendliness he feels for these farmers, however well intentioned towards the animals they may be. The one testimony that actually made me breathe a bit better in all of this is the one from the vegan woman from PETA when she points out the not really answered question in this book: Why eat meat in the first place?

I still have not found many books pointing out the absurdity of eating meat (aka animal flesh) at all. I am still waiting for the person (except maybe with Skinny Bitch!) that will point out that we DON’T NEED MEAT TO SURVIVE, that our bodies are healthier without it (hence the fact that we are natural herbivores and just made the choice of being omnivores). The fact that the author shows up in « humane » slaughterhouses to show a « better » way of treating the animals does not impress me at all. In the end, these poor creatures are still being castrated (which he points out), and killed. His reaction to seeing and almost petting a live animal and knowing it is going to die a minute later is proof that we are not natural meat eaters. A real carnivore wouldn’t get squeamish at the idea of blood and death. In fact, in nature, carnivores are attracted to blood and flesh and they have the teeth to tear it apart! We are not them! And if someone pretends otherwise, he must seek a doctor right away.

In the end, the author makes a valid point for vegetarianism versus eating animals. But his motivations, no matter how well founded, are not strong enough if he still somehow defends the killing of animals in some parts of his mind. On the other hand, i loved his de-construction of some parts of Michael Pollan’s book « The Omnivore’s Dilemma » and how he counters the arguments presented in that book. This is a book in fact that i couldn’t finish as it made me angry. Michael Pollan is an apologist for the meat-centered, global warming causing, disease prone, diet. There is no place for meat eating in the global warming century, which Jonathan Safran Foer points out very well.