Tag: food

The Vegan Experience: Special Announcement

The intention in my work on behalf of animals and veganism has always been to guide people to live compassionately and healthfully with joy and confidence — and without deprivation. And that’s why I offer so many opportunities for you to join me in living joyfully, fully, abundantly, compassionately, intentionally, creatively, and consciously — in other words, to enjoy The Vegan Experience. 

Tissues vs. Handkerchiefs (Zero-Waste Journey)

I blow my nose a lot. I mean a lot. 

I don’t have allergies; I just have a runny nose in the morning. Every morning. My nose runs when I run (solidarity and all that). My nose runs when I hike. When I work out. When I watch Little House on the Prairie. (Seriously, instant waterworks within 5 minutes of an episode.)

Our bathroom wastebaskets are (were!) perpetually full of dirty tissues — one blow, one toss. Use once (maybe twice), forever in a landfill. 

Why? Because used tissues cannot be recycled, and apparently there are mixed opinions as to whether they can be composted (germs that may remain and all that). I imagine the mixed opinions have to do mostly with home compost systems (which we have) versus municipal compost systems (which we have), and I just found out that used tissues can indeed be tossed into our “green bin” — the same bin we can use for food scraps, yard scraps, and even most paper products. It took me all of 5 minutes to talk to a lovely gentleman at Waste Management in Oakland (CA) to confirm this, so I recommend calling your own city if they have a compost service you pay for. 

However, not only did I not realize that all these years I could have been composting my used tissues (self-flogging scheduled), I’ve already made a decision to stop using single-use paper tissues, and I’m sticking to it. I’m going to be using something I NEVER in a million years thought I’d use: reusable, washable handkerchiefs. Yup, the very thing I made fun of my father for using my entire life. 

After all, the problem with single-use products is not just what happens at the end of their use. The problem is how they are created in the first place. 

 

Before They Were Tissues, They Were Trees

Americans use upwards of 255,360,000,000 disposable facial tissues a year (yes, that is 255.3 billion).1 That doesn’t even include North Americans. Or South Americans. Just people who live in the United States. 

Trees: Whether the facial tissue is made from virgin or recycled paper pulp it’s still made from trees, which can take years or decades to grow. Logging practices can degrade forests thus contributing to global warming, cause loss of habitat for plants and animals, and pollute waterways. And even recycled paper can be re-recycled only a limited number of times. Plus, have you ever wiped your nose with a recycled tissue? Makes me cry just thinking about it! 

Production: Paper plants use huge amounts of water and electricity. They also pollute the air and water.  Add to that the bleaching that takes place for most tissues and the packaging that contains plastic (that never biodegrades).

Transportation: Of course, the raw materials as well as the finished tissues are transported to and from factories via CO2 emitting vehicles.

And so…as always, there is a better way, and — as is often the case — it’s a bit retro. Enter the hanky

It is by far the most Earth- and animal-friendly choice for your runny nose (or for removing makeup or wiping your hands). I know this idea might be unappealing to some, but for me, what is most unappealing is the unnecessary waste we’re creating. But look at it this way: as with most things from the past, there’s a certain quaintness attached to using a bit of fabric to dry our snouts, and there are other benefits as well. 

Costs in dollars

You might be asking, “isn’t it more expensive to buy handkerchiefs vs. single-use facial tissues?” The short answer is no. The long answer is … your own calculations will depend on how many handkerchiefs you will need to buy to replace the paper tissues you normally keep. (Historically, I’ve had a box of tissues in every room of my house. No exaggeration.) But as with so many lifestyle changes, this will most likely be a one-time investment. More than that, you can buy affordable vintage hankies from a thrift store — wash them in hot water when you get them home —or you make your own hankies from old sheets and pillowcases. And that’s free! (See below!)

But let’s do some math. (Well,  ZeroWasteBackPacker already did the math, so check it out if you’re interested.) In short, using washable, reusable hankies are far less expensive than buying single-use tissues.

Costs in non-renewable resources

You might be asking: doesn’t it take more resources to wash handkerchiefs? Again, someone else did the work for me so I didn’t have to, so if you’re interested, a thorough analysis and comparison of the problem was conducted by Greenlifestylemag and they concluded that when it comes to the water use, energy use, and waste, the humble hanky was hands down the more sustainable option.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: When you are buying brand-new hankies (not vintage ones), unbleached, organic cotton will be the best choice environmentally speaking. Better yet, just cut up old sheets you have lying around or head to the thrift store for old cotton sheets or vintage hankies.

Isn’t it …  gross to use handkerchiefs?

Last time I checked: tissues are pretty gross. Basically, if — like with tissues — you blow everything out of your schnoz into a hanky then shove it into your pocket and repeat several times (and then forget it’s in there), yeah, that’s gross. But if you’re just wiping your nose, it’s really not that different than wiping your nose on a tissue and putting it back into your pocket or purse. But for serious blows, just use a clean hanky!

How do you carry them around? How do you not forget them when you leave the house?

The same way that in the past I remembered to bring paper tissues with me. It’s just one of the things I make sure is in my pocket or purse. In fact, while I use the cut-up sheets as hankies for inside the house, I bought some pretty hankies for me to keep in my purse — like the ladies of yore did — and I use a beautiful little bag my friend bought me for Christmas to keep the used ones in. (I suppose this isn’t how all ladies of yore did it. I remember my paternal grandmother usually kept hers shoved in her bra strap. Whatever works.)  When I get home, I toss the used hankies in the hamper. 

But what about for house guests and visitors? What if they want a tissue?

I had a couple sets of sheets and pillowcases sitting in my linen closet that were clearly never going to get used. Recently, I spent a few minutes cutting them up into tissue-size hankies, and I refilled all of my cute little tissue holders with them. I put a note on the inside lid of each to let people know they are washable / re-usable.

But here’s the BEST PART: the cute little wastebaskets I have in our bathrooms…have now become cute little hampers!  

I. can’t. tell. you. how. happy. that. makes. me. My husband knows, because I gave him a giddy tour of our new system! So, guests…they’ll deal

How do you wash handkerchiefs?

You can just add them to a regular load, but I would use warm water for their cycle. If you’ve had a cold or flu, use hot water. You can also use mesh laundry bags. And no, it doesn’t take more resources to wash hankies. Remember the water use from our paper products? Way. More. Water.

Permission to pasturbate (in this case)

Like most everyone, I pasturbate. (That’s my term for over-romanticizing the past.) Sometimes pasturbating is good (like how much I love Little House on the Prairie), sometimes not (like when we romanticize how we used to eat animals, tested toxins on them, and made them ride bicycles to entertain us. Oh, wait, that’s not in the past — yet).

My point is: when it comes to hankies, pasturbating is a good thing. 

There was a time when people recognized that it doesn’t make sense to use something once, then throw it away. There was also a time when things were made to last…hence, my using a vintage handkerchief made 30 years ago or more. (There was also a time when dropping a handkerchief was a flirtatious act! I want to see you bring that back!)

Handkerchiefs had sentimental value, as well, and we can bring that back. When I got married, in the traditional manner of things, my mother gave me “something old,” and guess what it was? A handkerchief. I still have it today and think of her every time I use it. Prior to my zero-waste journey, I used it more as a doily; today, I use it the way it was meant to be used, and I think she would be proud. ? 

Where should I buy handkerchiefs?

  1. Ask your grandparents, parents, or an older friend if they still have some hankies at home. You might be surprised!
  2. Purchase new hankies (organic recommended) online or at a department store (usually stocked in the men’s section). Some folks like to get children’s hankies, which are usually 8×8; women’s hankies are usually 10×10 or 12×12; men’s hankies tend to be larger.   
  3. Purchase vintage hankies on eBay or Etsy or in local thrift or vintage stores. 
  4. Make your own. If you enjoy sewing or DIY, make them yourself out of an old sheet, t-shirt, or favorite fabric you have lying around. I have no patience for such things, which is why my homemade ones won’t be as pretty as yours, but they do the job! 

Resources

  1. Calculated based on 2012 facial tissue tonnage (399) from RISI – US Tissue Monthly Data, January 2013 multiplied by 20 (approximate number of facial tissues in one ounce).
  2. https://www.statista.com/statistics/284960/amount-of-facial-tissues-used-within-30-days-in-the-us-trend 

Plastic-Free Tea Thermos / / Zero Waste and Vegan

As I mentioned in my last post about Zero-Free On-The-Go / Travel, I was looking for a plastic-free tea thermos that has a strainer for tea, and I’m thrilled to have found two:

this tea thermos by NiftyCore (14 oz)

this tea thermos by Leaf Life (17 oz)

They both work beautifully, keep my tea hot, and of course both can be used for coffee, hot cocoa, or cold beverages as well. With 500 billion disposable coffee cups being produced and discarded each year, it’s the least we can do, don’t ya think?

Of the two versions, I like the larger size and warmer color of the Leaf Life thermos, but Nifty Core’s 14 ounces is also great when a smaller size is needed.

Charlie and Michiko approve, too! (Actually, they don’t really care, but they’re cute enough to justify their participation in this post!)

Get Your Own Tea Thermos (and Tea)!

Zero Waste and Vegan / / Beverages On the Go

Single-use cups and straws are wreaking environmental havoc, most of which are going into landfills or polluting the ocean and harming wildlife. About 30.9 billion disposable cups are thrown away along with 58 billion paper cups (not recycled) annually. 500 million straws are used in the U.S. every day. Having just returned from a trip I thought it would be a good time to share with you how I travel zero-waste, plastic-free, and vegan. I would never deny you your coffee, tea, or water while on the go, but we can make a huge difference by using reusables the moment we leave our house.

Water

I stopped buying single-use plastic bottles years ago — even before I officially started on my zero-waste / plastic-free venture. (The only time I’ve had to make an exception is while traveling is when the local water supply isn’t safe to drink.) So, whenever I leave my house, my reusable water bottle comes with me. I have a couple stainless steel Kleen Kanteen bottles I still use, but as they have plastic lids when and if the time comes to purchase a new one, I’d opt for the Kleen Kanteen bottle with a bamboo lid or Simple Modern bottles. The latter comes in many sizes for both hot and cold beverages and contain no plastic.

Tea

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a tea junkie who carries my favorite tea thermos everywhere I go. I was about to link to it since it’s one of the top questions I’m asked (“What is the tea thermos/infuser you use??” But in keeping with my plastic-free goal, I couldn’t in good conscious point you to it. HOWEVER, I’m THRILLED to share with you plastic-free tea thermos by NiftyCore. Now remember, there are plenty of plastic-free thermos options, but for infusing TEA, which is my priority here, the key is finding one with an infuser. (NOTE: This thermos can be used for coffee, too.)

Coffee

500 billion disposable coffee cups are produced every year.

I’m not a coffee drinker so I can’t personally recommend a favorite plastic-free coffee thermos or to-go cup; however, there are plenty out there including the thermos I recommended above, which can be used for coffee as well as tea (or a hot toddy)!

All Beverages  

Living plastic-free / zero-waste isn’t about buying new plastic-free items. It’s about using what is already available to us, being innovative, and checking out secondhand / gently used items at thrift stores. (Asking friends and neighbors is another great idea.) One way to enjoy beverages on the road is to just use Mason or Ball jars along with an EcoJarz lid that replaces the flats on jars with those that are secured with a rubber ring (if you need a lid). Glass jars won’t necessarily insulate hot or cold beverages, but if temperature isn’t an issue, they’re perfect — and tried and true. 

Beverages on Airplanes 

First, when traveling with your beverage container, be sure it’s empty before reaching the security line. There’s nothing more heartbreaking than seeing all of the un-drunk water bottles being tossed into the garbage. (There’s also nothing more heartbreaking than having to dump out your favorite tea because you forgot about security!) Once you’re through security, you can fill up your water at a filling station or water fountain. 

Second (for tea drinkers), head to the nearest cafe and ask them to fill up your thermos with hot water (FREE!). Add your own tea leaves. I usually have that part done before leaving my house, but I also carry my own tea with me. Second (for coffee drinkers), head to the nearest cafe and request your thermos or whatever your beverage container be filled with your favorite coffee (NOT FREE)! 

I drink a fair amount of tea, so whether or not I’ve gotten hot water for my tea thermos at the airport, I usually want more tea once I’m on the plane. During the beverage service, I simply ask the airline attendant to fill my tea thermos with hot water. HOWEVER, I have two things to say about this:

  1. Even though I have my tea thermos, in the past, I’ve also requested an empty hot cup to pour my tea into once it’s steeped because it’s just too hot to drink straight out of the thermos. (Plus, I don’t want the tea to oversteep). To avoid this in future, I’ll start traveling with a mason jar or small ceramic mug so I don’t need to request a disposable cup.
  2. This seems to vary according to the whims of the attendant, but occasionally I’ve been told that they’re “not permitted” to handle customers’ own cups in order to refill them. Most of the time, they refill them, but sometimes, they still grab a (most-likely-plastic-coated) hot cup to put my hot water into and then hand the cup to me to pour into my thermos. Grrrrr! I’ve noticed the easiest way to avoid this is to not ask for my hot water while seated during the beverage service but to go to the galley where the attendants are always happy to refill my thermos straight from the hot water tap. HOWEVER: Sometimes they still grab a disposable cup because it’s shorter than my thermos and easier to stick under the tap, but this is when my trusty jar/mug will come in! 

Zero-Waste Snacks, Drinks, and Comfort

 

Making an effort to be zero-waste / plastic-free means being mindful in ways you never thought possible. But just as I advise people who are looking to eat vegan/more healthfully, it’s just a matter of planning ahead, and truth be told: when we’re traveling, that’s what we’re doing already. It’s just a matter of adding a few extra things to your packing list. 

  • Bring your own snacks in their own containers rather than buy food on the plane. My favorite waste-free snacks are those that come in their own compostable packaging: fruits and veggies.
  • Apply what we’ve learned about being responsible campers/hikers: “pack it out.” Whether I’ve accumulated recyclable or compostable waste, I take it with me and dispose of it properly once I’m off the plane or at my destination. Yes, that means I always have a couple biodegradable compostable bags on me. 
  • Bring your own utensils. Truth be told, I’m not a fan of the bamboo utensils sold on many sustainable websites. Just get some stainless steel flatware from a thrift store or garage sale, wrap them in a cloth napkin, and keep them in your bag. 
  • Bring your own cloth napkins. 
  • Bring your own pillow/neck rest and blanket. Rather than open up the plastic-packaged blanket offered on some flights, I just bring my own blanket that folds down compactly in my bag. As for the pillow, apparently many are just thrown out after the flight, so just clip a travel pillow onto your backpack, and you’ll have a comfortable flight wherever you’re traveling!
  • Carry your own stainless steel straw! It’s rare that I ever feel compelled to drink through a straw, but we do have some at home for summer cocktails, and I’ve started carrying one around with me. Ya never know.

Straw-Free in Restaurants and Bars 

More and more restaurants are becoming aware of people requesting straw-free water (!), but it’s still too common and servers and bartenders are often too busy to stop and ask if you want a straw or they do it out of habit (or restaurant policy), so to preemptively avoid straws, it’s probably best just to say to the host who is seating you: “if water will be brought to us automatically, can you please ask them to not bring us straws? Thank you.” 

At bars and restaurants, now when I ask for water, I just add “no straw” at the same time: “Hi there. May I have a water — and please no straw. Thank you.” It’s rare, but I’ve also noticed that in some bars, cafes, restaurants — even though they have pint glasses all over the place, they still serve water in plastic cups, so just being even more conscious of this than ever before, when I ask for water, I also explicitly ask for it to be served in a glass. This is not an unreasonable expectation. (Yes, it means they have another dish to wash, but adding another glass to their dishwasher is far less destructive than putting another plastic cup — often made of petroleum-based virgin plastic — in a landfill. Period.)

YOU CAN DO THIS! Although it might feel uncomfortable at first, you’ll quickly get used to asking for something in a reusable container.(Plus, it always sparks a wonderful conversation!) Kudos to you for doing more than just declaring yourself a friend of the animals but for actually manifesting your values in your  behavior. After all, what’s the point of having values if you don’t stand up for them? 

Shop Summary

Stop Underestimating Compassion

Being compassionate doesn’t mean we get to be compassionate only to the people who agree with us or whose values we share. Compassion means being compassionate to everyone, even those who are not compassionate — even holding compassion for people who hurt animals or who contribute to animal cruelty. 
 
The animals need us to be more compassionate — not less — and spewing anger, hatred, vitriol, violence, judgment, and arrogance in the name of compassion just means we create more anger, hatred, vitriol, violence, judgment, and arrogance in the world. 
 
We don’t get a pass because we say we are on the side of the animals.
 
Compassion is not weakness. Compassion is not passive. Compassion does not condone cruelty. Compassion is strong. Compassion is fierce. Compassion can stand on its own and blot out bigotry and hate. It doesn’t need bigotry and hate to do so. 
 
Don’t underestimate compassion. It contains everything we need to create the world we all envision for animals — both human and non-human.

 

What Do Vegans Eat?

If you’re vegan and you’ve ever been asked, “what do you eat?”

If you’re not vegan, and you’ve ever asked, “what do vegans eat?”

There is a very simple answer.

[Tweet “Food. It’s What Vegans Eat.”]

Buying In or Selling Out? When Meat and Dairy Corporations Buy Vegan Companies

The animal-based meat, dairy, and egg companies are not committed to killing and hurting animals as much as they’re committed to making money. If the meat, dairy, & egg industries could make as much money NOT killing and hurting animals, they’ll do it. Buying into the success of vegan companies enables them to do that. Isn’t that what we want?

The plant-based foods market recently topped $3.1 billion in sales and is slated to reach over $5 billion in just a couple years. As a result, the animal-based meat, dairy, egg, and other large corporations see vegan companies and the plant-based products they make as competitors they should fear, emulate, learn from, collaborate with, invest in, or even purchase. They recognize they need to “buy into” the success, growth, and future of the plant-based market. Some, however, see it as vegan companies “selling out,” choosing profit over principles and betraying their loyal vegan customer base. On today’s episode, we explore the many perspectives of such business decisions and speculate about who the biggest winners are in the end.

How (and Why) to Celebrate A Vegan Thanksgiving

For those who have never met them, turkeys are magnificent animals, full of spunk and spark, each with individual personalities and concerns. I was amazed the first time I visited rescued turkeys at a sanctuary for farmed animals, birds who had been abused, whose beak tips had been cut off and whose toes had been mutilated, but who still displayed immense affection for humans. A special turkey lady climbed into my lap and cooed as she fell asleep in my arms, while I stroked her soft chest and beautiful feathers. The next year, a special turkey named Lydia became very famous for hugging anyone who squatted down and held out his or her arms. Extraordinary animals they are.

If we claim to be a compassionate society—a compassionate species—don’t we have a duty to foster solutions that do not harm others? The great humanitarian Albert Schweitzer certainly thought so when he wrote, “The thinking [person] must oppose all cruel customs no matter how deeply rooted in tradition and surrounded by a halo. When we have a choice, we must avoid bringing torment and injury into the life of another.”

Try a turkey-free Thanksgiving this year. It will be a Happy Turkey Day for Turkeys indeed. Take advantage of all of the audio and video resources below for lots of reasons and ideas for celebrating this holiday without turkeys. Oodles of recipes, of course, can be found in my cookbooks.

Why I Don’t Eat Meat

We each have a story. Here’s mine. 

I was raised in a typical American family eating the typical American fare: pretty much anything that had once walked, swum, or flew. I wore leather, wool, and fur; slept under down comforters; went to the zoo; attended the circus; and even tried my hand at fishing and falconry.

Nightly dinners in our Irish-Italian home consisted of a rotation of pork chops, lamb stew, meatloaf, veal cutlets, and ground beef, along with some token vegetables on the side, smeared with butter or covered in cream-based sauces. With a father who owned ice cream stores and who kept a separate freezer just for the gallons of frozen treats he brought home, desserts were a daily (sometimes twice-daily) staple for my sister and me. Milkshakes and hot chocolate flowed from our very own countertop machines, and a year-round supply of gelatin- and milk-laden candies filled our kitchen cabinets and bureau drawers. There was no dearth of animal products in our home, and I ate them all with fervor.

What I know now is that much of my bliss was due to my ignorance about what – and who – I was actually eating.  

Like most children, I cared deeply for animals and intervened whenever they needed aid. My affection for and connection with animals was fostered by my parents and the adults around me: I was dressed in clothing that featured images of baby animals; I had stuffed animals all over my bedroom; I sang songs, read books, watched movies, and played games that used animals not only to teach me how to be polite, generous, and kind, but – even more significantly – how to read, how to spell, and how to count. I was the child who saved injured birds, sheltered stray animals, and stayed up whole nights comforting my dog when she was a scared puppy or sick adult. My parents commended me for demonstrating such kindness, and they always supported my benevolent schemes, even when they were inconvenient or unreasonable. In every area of my life, I was given the message that animals played an integral role in the shaping of my identity and in the creation of my worldview. I was called an “animal-lover,” as so many are who share an affinity for animals, but I don’t think it is necessarily a fitting moniker. I don’t believe you have to love animals in order to not want to hurt them.   

[Tweet “You don’t have to love animals to not want to hurt them.”]

In fact, empathy for and kindness toward animals is one of the barometers we use to measure the emotional and mental health of both children and adults, and we’re justifiably concerned when someone is overtly unkind to – or derives pleasure from harming – an animal. It’s not that children don’t have to be taught that it hurts an animal when you pull his fur (they also have to be taught that it hurts Mommy when you pull her hair), but we shield children from participating in or witnessing animal suffering because we are aware of the trauma it causes – both to the victim as well as the onlooker.

Although I believe that all humans have the capacity to be violent and cruel, I believe also that we have the capacity to be fiercely compassionate, and I think most of us are inclined in the direction of the latter rather than the former. Not everyone necessarily has the desire to spend time in the company of animals – to “turn and live with the animals,” as Walt Whitman mused – but almost everyone has an aversion to animal cruelty, and we are wary of those who can look upon it – or partake in it – without empathy or remorse. In fact, lacking either is indicative of anti-social behavior.

Most of us can’t even look at a dead animal lying on the side of the road without turning away, and it’s not merely disgust that forces us to avert our eyes. It’s the awareness of potential suffering; and in those moments, we’re faced with the choice to either close our eyes and suppress our discomfort with (and sometimes our complicity in) animal suffering or face it full on and take responsibility. And so, when I was 19 years old, I made the connection between the animals and animal products I was consuming and the violence I was contributing to – and stopped eating them. But this desire to manifest in my behavior what I intuitively felt in my heart wasn’t love. I didn’t stop eating animals because I was an “animal lover.” It was much less sentimental than that. It also wasn’t altruism. It was something much deeper, something fundamental. It was compassion.

I had just read John Robbins’ groundbreaking book A Diet for a New America and faced for the first time the fact that I had been paying people to become desensitized to their own compassion as well as to the suffering of the animals they killed day in and day out. I stopped eating land animals, then all aquatic animals, and after several more years – and several more books – stopped buying, eating, or wearing anything that came off of or out of an animal or that in any way contributed to animal exploitation. I “became vegan.” I wasn’t looking for a club to join or a label to wear, and I certainly wasn’t looking for anyone’s approval, but I didn’t expect the negative reactions I elicited from society in general and my parents in particular. The praise and approval I had been given as a child was replaced with indignation and defensiveness, as if my compassion were a childish thing that should have been left behind with my toys and Barbie dolls. I was hurt and surprised but mostly confused given the fact that my motivation to become vegan sprang from the same source that motivated me to end suffering when I was a child.

[Tweet “My motivation to be vegan springs from the same source that motivates me to end suffering.”]

The compassion that compelled me to save an injured bluebird was the same compassion that compelled me to spare the hapless millions we call “food animals.” The compassion was the same. The only difference was the recipients to whom I extended that compassion. And then it hit me. That difference was not insignificant at all. That difference was a massive chasm between what I realized was the selective compassion I had been indoctrinated in and the unconditional compassion I had always been inclined toward (and was finally fully manifesting).  

Demonstrating kindness to dogs, cats, songbirds and other wild animals is acceptable in our culture, but extending that same compassion to the chickens, turkeys, pigs, cattle, and fish we kill and eat is viewed as an entirely different thing. And so we are taught – implicitly, of course – to temper our compassion and to compartmentalize animals into arbitrary categories of those we love and those we eat, those we live with and those we exploit, those worthy of our compassion and those undeserving of it simply because they happen to be of a particular species or bred for a particular use.

[Tweet “We divide animals into those we love & those we eat. Their capacity to suffer is the same.”]

Couched in the defensive reactions to my veganism was the message that the injured birds who were lucky enough to fall into my yard were worth saving, but the chickens and turkeys whose boneless, featherless bodies lay lifeless on my plate were valuable only in so far as their flesh was tender and juicy. Chickadees friends, chickens dinner. The consequences of this cognitive dissonance are certainly grave for the victims of our appetites, but I would argue – as so many have before me – that they’re equally grave for us. Going from innately compassionate children who identify deeply with animals to desensitized adults who justify our violence against them cannot but affect us at the most basic level – both individually and as a society. And in this thinking, I am certainly not unique.

Choosing not to eat animals out of compassion for them is an ancient response that harkens back thousands of years; only the words used to describe this impulse have changed. We tend to think of “veganism” as a new reactionary trend against what we call factory farming, but for millennia, men and women have been thinking about, writing about, and expressing distress over the violence inherent in killing animals for human use and consumption. My veganism is part of a long continuum of men and women – from ancient times until today – who stopped eating animals (and their eggs and milk) not because they witnessed a modern, mechanized, industrialized factory system but because they didn’t want to be part of the brutal and unnecessary process of turning sentient animals into butchered bodies.

Sixth-century philosopher Pythagoras abstained from the flesh of animals – and advised his followers to do the same – out of a sense of justice not only for ourselves and our ancestors (he fervently believed in the transmigration of souls) but also for the animals themselves. Though we have no primary written texts of Pythagoras, the Pythagorean doctrine has been well pieced together from secondary sources, including Ovid’s 9th-century poem “Metamorphoses” in which he tells us that Pythagoras urged his acolytes to eat “food that requires no bloodshed and no slaughter.” Pythagoras was the first of many secular philosophers to contend that the killing of animals for consumption desensitizes us to the suffering of both human and non-human animals. Greek historian and essayist Plutarch (c. 46 – 120 AD) saw no difference between sadistic cruelty and customary butchery, declaring that the person who “tortures a living creature is no worse than he who slaughters it outright.” Similarly, it wasn’t factory farms that 3rd-century Greek philosopher Porphyry had on his mind when he wrote about the “injustice of carnivorism” in his essay “On Abstinence from Animal Food.” Recognizing the fact that we have no physiological requirement for the flesh of animals, he lamented that we “deliver animals to be slaughtered and cooked, and thus be filled with murder, not for the sake of nutriment and satisfying the wants of nature, but making pleasure and gluttony the end of such conduct.”

[Tweet “Killing animals desensitizes us to the suffering of both human and non-human animals.”]

These anti-violence, pro-vegetarian sentiments did not preoccupy only our ancient predecessors. Modern Western figures have been equally disturbed by the slaughter and consumption of animals, from Renaissance scholars and Enlightenment philosophers to Romantic artists, 20th-century scientists, and 21st– century politicians.

All that is to say, it is not how we breed, keep, and kill animals for human consumption that has been the impetus for vegetarianism for thousands of years; it is that we kill animals for human consumption. Throughout the centuries, the common thread in the arguments against eating animals is the fact that since we have no nutritional requirement for the flesh or fluids of animals, killing them simply to satisfy our taste buds – or habits or customs – amounts to senseless slaughter, and senseless slaughter is no small thing. It takes quite a toll on our hearts and minds. Ethical vegetarianism – outside of religious doctrine – is not a newfangled, novel idea. At its core is compassion, a universal principle grounded in religions and secular philosophies, resonating with men, women, and children all around the world – all across the ages. The same compassion that penetrated Plutarch’s heart penetrates mine; it is different neither in substance nor degree.

[Tweet “THAT we breed & kill animals for meat has been the impetus for vegetarianism for centuries.”]

And so I recognized, as so many others have before and around me, that the most rational, merciful, and obvious way to reflect my compassion for animals was to not eat them. The only difference between me and my compassionate forebears is the word we use to describe our desire to avoid causing someone else to suffer when we have the power to do so.

The word “vegan” has gained traction in the public consciousness especially in recent years, but misunderstandings still prevail about what it actually means, particularly the misconception that being vegan is about striving to be perfect, as if there is such a thing as a 100%-pure certified vegan. I think one of the reasons people tend to equate veganism with perfection is that they’re operating under the mistaken idea that being vegan is an end in itself, and so you find non-vegans trying to catch vegans in all the ways they’re imperfect – stepping on insects while walking, driving a car whose tires contain animal products, wearing leather shoes leftover from their pre-vegan days – and vegans, too, beating themselves up for accidentally eating something that contains eggs or for not being able to afford to replace the leather couch they bought just before becoming vegan.

But all of this entirely misses the point about what it means to “be vegan.” Being vegan is not an end in itself; it’s a means to an end. And that end is compassion: doing our best to not contribute to violence against animals when it is possible and practical. Being vegan is a powerful and effective means toward attaining that end, but it is not the end itself.

[Tweet “Being vegan is not an end in itself; it’s a means to an end. And that end is compassion”]

Had I been asked before I was vegan if I considered myself a compassionate person, I would have answered with a definitive “yes!” I perceived myself to be a compassionate, empathetic, and nonviolent person. But looking back, my perception of myself was not in alignment with my actions, and my actions were not in alignment with my values. Paying people to do things to animals that I would never dream of doing myself was not a reflection of my compassion. Supporting an industry that is by definition violent was obviously not an expression of nonviolence. It’s not that there weren’t areas in my life where I displayed compassion; of course there were. But compassion when it’s convenient or prudent is not really compassion. True compassion doesn’t have boundaries or conditions. It is without prejudice and doesn’t play favorites according to who the recipients are.

In supporting an industry defined by killing, I simply wasn’t immersed in the fullness of my compassion. How could I have been? I was supporting the very things that are antithetical to my core ethics. When I became vegan, which is just a succinct way of saying that I removed the barriers to the compassion that had been inside me all along – unexpectedly, the guilt and hypocrisy I had experienced while I was reveling in the fat and flesh of animals just disappeared. No longer did I have to make excuses about who and what I ate, and any conflict I had felt about how I perceived myself and how I was actually living just melted away. My behavior became consistent with my values, and the sense of peace I experienced was palpable.

[Tweet “In supporting an industry defined by killing, I wasn’t immersed in the fullness of my compassion.”]

I’m tempted to say that I returned to the unconditional compassion of my childhood, but I don’t think that’s the entire truth of it. When I was a child, I acted compassionately without any thought – as if I didn’t know any better than to respond to those who needed my help. It just came naturally. As a conscious adult, I act compassionately with thought, and I regret only that the innocent kindness of a child is valued more than the informed kindness of an adult. It was only when I was willing to look at how I contributed to violence against animals that I became awake, and in doing so, I have not so much returned to the innocent compassion of my childhood but instead have found a deeper place – where my eyes and heart are open not because of what I don’t know but because of what I do know.

And what I know is that you don’t have to be Adolf Hitler to perpetrate violence, and you don’t have to be St. Francis to reflect and foster compassion. There’s so much we can do in our own individual lives to manifest compassion, and you don’t have to be a saint to do so.

What I know is that it is not the cages we need to make bigger and the slaughterhouse walls we need to make transparent. It’s our hearts. When we make compassion our barometer, we don’t settle for violence on a small scale. We aspire to kindness on a huge scale.

What I know is that the problems we have in this world are not because we have so much compassion we don’t know what to do with it. The problems we have in this world are because we are not living according to our own values of compassion and kindness. It’s one thing to say we’re against violence and cruelty. Most of us are. It’s quite another to manifest our values of kindness, justice, compassion, and nonviolence in our every day behavior.

Being vegan enables us to do just that: to reflect these values – our deepest values – in our daily choices. 

And so I do — as best as I can.

[Tweet “Being vegan enables us to reflect our deepest values in our daily choices. “]

~Excerpted from On Being Vegan.

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