Why Should I Care About Eating Animals?

There are many ways people justify eating other animals and there is much misinformation around being vegan. It is sometimes difficult to wade through the morass of harmful perceptions, but today I will try, and try to do it concisely…

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I attempt to cut through the clutter of poor thinking and challenge conventional, broadly accepted ideas (the tagline of my blog used to be “Challenge convention; transform the world”) and reveal core truths using logic and rational consideration.

One of the big arguments for not going vegan comes down to some version of, “Why should I? Meat is delicious and change is hard.” Despite the myriad benefits to having healthier bodies, let’s appeal to our brains…

The best reason I can think of to be vegan is simple and profound:

Man is king of the Animal Kingdom.

Think about that. Whether we like it or accept it, we are the default rulers of this planet. We oversee the well-being of every living thing known in the universe. That is a profound responsibility, to say the least.

So ask yourself: what type of king (or queen) do you wish to be? Do you choose at every meal to be a cruel and merciless murderer of the very beings whose safe-keeping is (literally) in your hands? Or do you choose instead to be a benevolent ruler who demonstrates mercy, peace, and kinship with your entire kingdom?

The time may come when we are no longer the kings of the animal kingdom. What type of rulers would we want to be under the rule of?

Consider that the next time you move to swat a fly, put on a fur coat, or eat a burger.

I am not religious, but if I were, I would be frightened at the prospect that my Maker created me as one of the few animals on the planet who can choose not to kill for food. Why would He do that? My cat has no choice. She must eat meat or she will die; she is a carnivore. The mighty Brontosaurus had no choice, either; if the giant dinosaur ate only meat and dairy, it would die because it was a herbivore.

Humans are one of the select few omnivores to ever exist and we are unquestionably the only omnivores who can make a conscious, philosophical (or religious) decision about how we choose to live. No other creature in all of history or in the known universe has that distinction.

That is something to think about if you believe in a god or a judgment day. If you are Christian, even more scary because one of the cardinal ten rules God left for you was “Thou shalt not kill.” There is no asterisk after the commandment. It is unequivocal. It does not read, “Thou Shalt Not Kill*  (…*except on burger night or if bugs really bother you, or when driving mindlessly, etc.)”.

As one of the only creatures with the distinction of Choice, it is important to look at the choices we make and define our moral and ethical values. Food is such a crucial part of our lives. We are our own folly if we simply choose to do what feels comfortable and seems natural. Despite how it looks from our social training, do you think it is  natural to drink the milk of an entirely different species? Do you know of any other species that drinks milk past childhood, let alone milk designed for a completely different animal? Cow’s milk is made for a baby cow, not an adult human.

Whether we acknowledge our power and influence over the world as individuals or as a Human Race, there is no denying our place at the top of the food chain. Since the choice is ours to murder our fellow animals or allow them peaceful passage through our world to live as their inhuman nature dictates, what choice will we make to design a better future?

I choose Vegan. What’s your choice?

 

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3 Ways For Local Learning

Each day I look back and figure out what lesson I learned from the day. Then I share it on this blog, so you can learn with me!

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When I first moved to Tampa, Florida from Grand Rapids, Michigan I knew I there would be a lot to learn. For example, I did not know what creepy-crawly things I needed to avoid or what ocean safety tips I needed to know as a local. I did not know where the good vegan food is or what neighborhoods I should stay away from at night.

No matter where I live, there are a few resources I gravitate to for learning about the area around me. Whether you have recently moved or if you have lived in the same place all your life, you might find these helpful in exploring and learning about the area around you.

1.  The Library. What?!? How OLD am I, right? I know libraries are old school but they do not just have dusty books anymore. Most local libraries remain relevant by hosting events held by local entrepreneurs or artists. It is a great way to learn about what is going on, what the local talent is like, and what types of activities your city embraces. Oh, and you can borrow old, dusty books, too.

2.  State Parks. I always buy a State Park parking pass each year, even if I do not get a ton of use from it (I always do, though). It is an easy way to help protect green spaces for when you need some relaxing nature time. Many parks have tours of local ecology (it is good to know which snakes will send you to the hospital) and fun facts about the area’s history. Oh, and you can grill stuff there, too.

  3.  Podcasts. I am a big fan of podcasts. When I am driving or doing chores, there is almost always a podcast playing in the background. For me, podcasts are an entertaining (and free) way of learning and thinking about interesting topics or pop culture trends. Nicole reminded me, though, that I just as easily search for local podcasts by just looking up “Tampa” or whatever hobbies we are into (such as “SUP” or “Yoga” or “Bicycling”). What do you know? Now I have 3 or 4 local podcasts to find out about cool things to do and how to do those things better! Oh, and I can listen to old radio plays, too.

Here is a bonus tool, also: MeetUp. We have found local open mics, walking groups, history tours, vegan gatherings, and paddle-board excursions through this often over-looked free app and website. There are plenty of tools to help you explore locally (FaceBook, Google Now, Groupon, Field Trip, AroundMe, etc.) but MeetUp is my favorite because of its easy navigation and big population of users.

Whatever tools or apps you use, go explore. There is so much cool stuff waiting out there waiting for you, so many adventures. All you have to do is pick a direction and go. Explore.

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One Easy Way to Get Your Veggies!

Today’s Lesson: Eat your veggies, however that works for you.

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Nicole is spearheading a new experiment for us. We have begun ordering vegetables online. Every week we pay about $57 to have fresh, organic fruits and vegetables show up on our doorstep. (We are going through Tampa Bay Organics but there are many services that do this near most populated areas.)

At first, it seemed like a risky waste of money. We have a tendency to let veggies go to waste because we are too busy to cook them. Plus, $57 per week?!?

We spend about $120 per week on groceries (our grocery bill definitely went up when we moved to Tampa, by quite a bit, which seems counter intuitive since much of the fruits and veggies in the U.S. comes from Florida). We were worried breaking out the veggies this way would end up driving the bill higher. We are only on week two but so far it hasn’t.

It turns out, since all of our fruits and veggies are covered for the week, we spend less time browsing at the grocery store and only grab the stuff that isn’t delivered.

Another unexpected benefit is by breaking the bill out, we focus more on ensuring we are eating what we paid for (isn’t that odd?). I took a nectarine for lunch, snacked on an avocado and kiwi fruit, and we have fresh kale for our orzo instead of boxed spinach.

So far, it has been a smart move, and I like the way it works. They send us a list of what they will be dropping off each week and we can plan around it or trade some items (like disgusting okra or eggplant–the antidote for taste buds) for other items (like delicious beets or extra bananas). We can save our preferences, too, so I never even have to worry about seeing gross, hairy, slimy Hulk-colored okra on our list.

I am not sure this approach is for everyone but if you have been on the fence about having fresh food dropped off at your door, I encourage you to give it a shot. If it doesn’t work out, the worst that happens is you have more food than you need, but at least it is healthy food.

 

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Your Local Art Needs You.

Watching talented local artists perform is something I enjoy, whether it is local street musicians, burlesque dancers, theater troupes, or professional statues (that’s really a thing).

Last night, I was reminded how powerful and important it is to show up at the places I wish would continue to make my town great. If I love theater, then I should be sure to go to plays or other productions in my town.

Last night, Nicole and I went to a burlesque show (for the second time–two different shows and two completely different approaches to the art). Then we went out for local vegan chili dogs after midnight. It was a strange night… we hopped out of our normal routine and enjoyed a little adventure.

It was the owner of the Danger Damsels Burlesque show that reminded to support local art and she was not necessarily advocating that I support her local art. I do not have to support what I don’t like, of course, but if I wish there more great local blues bands, for example, then the best way to make that happen is to try to show up at every local blues band event I can (or at least until I find the bands I most enjoy, then be sure to support them).

There are a lot of great local gems near me–from art to zen centers–and spending more time on the scenes I enjoy is a good thing for me and the artists and businesses I generously support.

Where are the hidden treasures in your town? What new thing did you try this week in your own backyard and what is the one thing in your town you hope never goes away? (Whatever it is, it needs you.)

 

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Today’s Lesson: How Hard Is It To Be Vegan? [141016]

The question I am asked probably more than any other is, “Is it hard to be vegan?”

There are many reasons to choose a vegan lifestyle. Many people make the choice not to eat or wear other animals because it is a healthier way to live. Some people are animal rights advocates and choose to be vegan to show solidarity, of sorts, with our animal friends.

I am vegan because it is logical, and I value rational self-interest very highly.

I am ambivalent about the idea of eating animals out of necessity. If I were stuck on a deserted island with only a cow for sustenance, I would eat the cow.  However, I am not stuck on a deserted island, there is no scarcity of any food in my country, and I have no need to eat other animals to survive. I can be perfectly healthy without eating meat or dairy products with absolutely zero side effects and many bonuses (such as weight loss, mental acuity, needing less sleep, higher self-esteem, more energy, etc.). Even better, I can enjoy these benefits without bringing harm to anything that feels pain. It is a win-win.

In the 21st century, if you can be perfectly healthy without murdering or causing suffering, then why on earth wouldn’t you? It is an easy decision in my mind. I am glad that we no longer have to live like barbarians; I only wish more people would choose not to.

I like being vegan because I have found many new favorite foods and new ways of eating my old favorites. I can anticipate enjoying a better and longer life, and I sleep well knowing I have helped the environment and my body without causing pain to others. It makes me feel lighter both in body and spirit.

The way I see it… vegan is not the only choice, but it is the only logical choice.

 

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Today’s Lesson: Local Treasures Lost And Found [140919]

Some people prefer to live in their comfort zone, no matter where they are. When on vacation, they stick to what they know. They shop at Walmart, eat at McDonald’s or Applebee’s, and grab coffee from Starbucks no matter where they go.

 

I suppose there is nothing wrong with always sticking to what you know you like but, oh man, are they missing out! I might never have found some of the best food I have ever had if I always stuck in my comfort zone. There are local treasures everywhere! When I visit Chicago, I don’t want Mickey D’s; I want Native Foods or The Chicago Diner! Amazing places with food you can’t pronounce but you know will knock your socks off!

 

When I visit Savannah, I don’t want Starbucks (though I do love Starbucks!). I want The Sentient Bean–I had a Cardamom cookie there that is almost worth driving 18 hours back for! I want Watercress in Denver, and right here in Grand Rapids I don’t want Walmart. I want West Michigan Clothing, The Mad Dogz, Kava House, Stella’s, Salon Re:, Bartertown, Brick Road, Peninsula Trading, Love’s, Mad Cap, Under The Vine, The Mitten, Spoonlickers, and Tacos El Cunado! I want the best of the best–not the standard vanilla I can have anywhere across the nation. Not only are the names more fun but the local people who run those places have a vested interest in the quality and heart that goes into whatever they do.

 

Wherever you are, go off the beaten path. Find the really good stuff.

 

 

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Today’s Lesson: Is Everything Cooler Than It Used To Be? [140905]


Have you noticed all the new gadgets, gizmos, and inventions available everywhere, lately? I don’t mean the usual “As Seen On TV” schlock, but the really cool stuff that is so simple, or complex, or downright clever that you pause to marvel?

 

I think idea engines like Kickstarter, Etsy, and Indiegogo are transforming the world quietly. These websites, and others, give wannabe entrepreneurs, savvy tinkerers, and locally grown artists a platform to reach the world. Never have we seen an array of fitness trackers like the Misfit Shine, Basis, and Amiigo driving better innovation across the industry. “The Coolest” is a crazy party animal’s dream… that probably would not have come true for another fifty years when people finally start abandoning boring variations of a Styrofoam cooler.

 

If you have a great idea, it has simply never been easier for you to run with it and take your shot at success. The barrier for entry is as low as it ever will get.

 

Today’s lesson: If you are an inventor or entrepreneur at heart, RUN. You have permission to create, to experiment, and to profit. If you are a connoisseur at heart, RELISH. You have permission to invest time, money, or both and to enjoy the crazy new world by embracing or supporting all the cool ideas and results out there!

 

 

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Ruling Your Food

 

 

As a minimalist and vegan, I like to keep things simple, so here are my rules for eating right:

1. Do not eat anything that does not want to be eaten. You could rephrase this as “Don’t eat anything that feels pain” if you like, but the overall point is to avoid causing suffering. Most vegans make this distinction by not eating anything that has a central nervous system (the clearest indicator that something can feel and respond to pain). Put even more simply, “Don’t eat or wear animals”.

2. If it has more than five ingredients, do not eat it. It is an arbitrary number, but once you pass three to five ingredients, you almost certainly are eating junk mass-produced processed “foodstuff”. Bread requires nothing more than “(Whole Wheat) Flour, water, yeast, salt”. Think about that the next time you pick up a popular brand and scan the ingredient list.

3. Do not eat any ingredient you can not pronounce (or is not immediately obvious what it is by name alone). Monodiglyci-what? High Fructose Corn Syrup? Is that different than regular corn syrup? If you know what “high fructose” or other common lab ingredient names mean, it is probably because a scientist explained it to a reporter who wrote an article about it that you read once. There are so many (intentionally) obscure names for ingredients, either because they come from a lab or because marketers know you would never eat something if you knew what it actually was. “Cochineal”, for example, is that nice purple-red dye that colors many candies (like Nerds)… and is derived from the crushed shells of the insect by the same name, also sometimes called “Carmine”. Would you feed your kids a handful of crushed beetles? Would you eat them if you knew what they were?

4. If an ingredient has more than 3 syllables, don’t eat it. Pretty much the same rationale as rules #2 and 3. If it takes longer to read the list of ingredients than it does to eat the food, then this is probably a highly processed nightmare. In fact, you can really break down my rules 2, 3, and 4 into one easy rule: “Eat Simply.”

5. Leave something on the plate. This is the rule I admittedly struggle most with, but I overeat sometimes simply because I was taught to always “clean my plate”. However, if I cook when I am really hungry, or anytime I go to a restaurant, I always have more than I need on my plate. If you are eating at a restaurant, challenge yourself to always take something home. Most single restaurant meals are plenty for two people or two single meals.

 

One of my favorite food-books is Michael Pollan‘s “Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual“, which offers up many easy rules to help us navigate the complex multitude of food and food-like products in the world. One of my favorite examples is “Don’t eat anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food”. Matt Frazier from No Meat Athlete shared his “Rules for Navigating Vegan Life in a Non-Vegan World” which reminded me I have several rules for eating, as well. Hope they help you eat right, feel right, and live right!

 

 

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How “Vegan” Is Vegan?

I am sometimes asked if I ever cheat on my vegan diet. Of course I do; it is nearly impossible to be 100% vegan 100% of the time. There are animal products in the vast majority of things humans eat and wear. My goal is to be as close to 100% vegan as I reasonably can, but even that is challenging at times.

For example, when I visit a restaurant, I make a reasonable effort to ensure my meal is vegan (“Do you know if the refried beans are made with lard? Do you happen to know if the rice was made with chicken stock? Can I have that with no mayo, no cheese, and no sour cream please?”). Often, the servers, and even the cooks, do not know how their food is made (“I’m not sure; it’s pre-cooked and shipped to us; we just heat it up. I think the beans are vegetarian. That bun was toasted with butter before we put the veggie patty on; were you trying to avoid all dairy?”).

Unless I grow the ingredients in my garden and make the meal from scratch myself, I do not assume any meal is 100% vegan.

The important thing is, to as close as possible, live up to my values and reasons for being vegan. For new vegans, I tell them, “If you cut meat and dairy from your diet and stop wearing leather, then you are 99% vegan. Everything else is just arguing over the last inch.”

That last inch can be debatable. Some vegans choose not to eat honey because it is made by bees. Insects are animals, too, and store-bought honey is mass-produced, causing the bees to work beyond exhaustion and suffer terribly. A few vegans refuse to eat broccoli because they believe it has a central nervous system. If it has nerves and a way to transmit the information collected by those nerves, then broccoli can theoretically feel pain. The ability to suffer or feel pain is one way many vegans determine what they will not eat. Ironically, there is no evidence I am aware of to support the claim of broccoli having a nervous system, so apparently, we vegans have our old wives’ tales, too.

On the other hand, oysters definitely do not have a central nervous system (since they are mollusks) and theoretically can not feel pain, yet I have never met a vegan who thinks oysters are not animals.

Another example of the fine line between vegans and omnivores is one of my favorite comfort foods. I love french fries. I avoid places that are known to use beef fat or other cheap, animal-sourced oil to fry their food, like McDonald’s.

Still, I know pretty much anywhere I order fries, they will be fried in the same oil as meaty foods like chicken nuggets, fish, or cheese sticks. It is highly unlikely any fast food or homestyle cooking restaurant can (or will) offer completely vegan french fries. Some places even batter their fries or other foods (like beer-battered mushrooms and onion rings) in animal products before dipping them in oil.

Some restaurants offer veggie burgers but fail to mention the patty is held together with egg or cheese, or that the bun has whey (a milk derivative).

I try to avoid the obvious pitfalls but I am not too hard on myself for ordering french fries when I am out with work friends and there are no better options available, or if I go to a restaurant and stupidly forget to ask the server if the guacamole is made with sour cream. Of course, I am much more strict when I am doing the cooking.

If you are a new vegan, vegan-curious, or a seasoned veteran who struggles with identifying what is or is not vegan and whether you should order a meal or send one back angrily (a HUGE pet peeve of mine, by the way–if you choose to be vegan, then you give up your right to be mad when others do not understand exactly what that means or follow your explicit instructions–the solution is to make your own food or keep your mouth shut when you go to a restaurant–literally), keep in mind it is okay to give yourself a little slack.

That does not mean treat yourself to a steak now and then (of course that is an option but I would say it disqualifies you from the vegan club…). I mean it is okay to recognize the world is not built to meet our specifications.

Easy guidelines (even if you are not committed to a vegan lifestyle):

Be the best vegan you can be.
Cause as little suffering (both to yourself and others) as possible.
Live to your potential a little more each day.

If you do that, then you will be fine. You don’t have to give up your life to be vegan; you just have to give up taking others’.

 

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How Can We Fight For Real Food?

How can we stand against a genetically modified industrial and political food complex?

I posted a snarky comment on FaceBook that sparked discussion about how to fight for real food. My friend Sharon was kind enough to ask what I think we can do about the situation. Here is what I think:

There are lots of ways we can take action. The best thing I think we can do is support local Farmers Markets and vegan, organic, and farm-to-table restaurants.

Here is something else: for the past few years, I have curtailed my support of multiple charities in favor of one or two I care deeply about. Shopping local helps me avoid some of the “forced charity” I already rail against (Big Box stores and brands should not dictate how much charity I give to which organizations). Rather than giving a dollar to the Salvation Army cup and a few cents in the cash register change cups for children with cancer or spare change for breast cancer, a quarter for people with MS, etc… I combine all my giving for maximum impact on one or two charities or projects I care deeply about and gave BIG donations to them. Last year, for example, it was to help make one of my favorite stores, Tree Huggers (a local vegan bulk grocery store that promotes zero waste), and Cult Pizza (a local vegan pizza restaurant being pioneered by Ryan Cappelletti who also started Bartertown, another vegan local produce restaurant).

Kickstarter is a great way to find or create local projects to support. You can contribute as little or as much as you want. In my opinion, I have more impact by making one or two large donations to one or two causes I am passionate about rather than donating to many small causes distributed across many venues.

Finally, I focus on living a minimal lifestyle with less consumer goods so more of my money can be used to enjoy organic and locally produced food. I don’t need a huge stereo system, multiple gaming consoles, and jewelry. Those are not things that truly enrich my life or my health. Food and experiences shared with friends and family are far more beneficial. I can’t tell you about the video games I played in 2005, and none of them were really important, but I will never forget the trip to Lebanon I took with my father or the meal we ate high up in the mountains, surrounded by pine trees. That was a much better return on my investment in both time and money than my X-box was.

So that’s a start, but it is also important to recognize we have a misconception about food. As Michael Pollan has pointed out eloquently in his books, many people wonder why eating organic or buying from Farmers Markets is SO expensive. That is the wrong question. We should be wondering instead, how on earth a burger from McDonald’s can be so cheap. A fast food burger is assembled from meat imported from many countries. A typical McDonald’s burger has more than 40 ingredients in it (follow the link–I counted them), including the bun, pickles, ketchup, mustard, meat, plus assembly, transportation to the restaurant, storage, and the overhead of the restaurant itself–lights, rent, utilities, wages, benefits, etc… How is it possible McDonald’s can afford to charge a DOLLAR for that, and still make a profit? What, exactly, are you eating when you are not eating local, organic, and real food? Yikes.

Maybe Monsanto and similar companies have a place in the world, though it is debatable. They may seem evil from where we are looking but they have an opportunity to create “food” through bio-technology that can end hunger in the world. If we can show Monsanto, Cargill, and others through conversation and action that they do not have a market or profit margin in the U.S. big enough to warrant their mono-culture take-over, then we might be able to persuade them to find other ways to generate revenue with absurdly cheap “sort-of” nutrition in places where it might be considered a boon. Perhaps then we can all win. Technology and Politics are not inherently evil; it is what we do with them that matters.

But, you know… it takes action and conversations with and through our senators and local artisans and farmers to make significant transformation happen. As with any major change–personal, political, local, or global, it can be done. We just have to be willing to do the work.

 

 

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