Beef-Eating Vegan

Today’s Lesson: Know why you make your choices.

*****

Imagine beef grown by cultivating live cow tissue, lab-grown but not “fake” meat, not “cloned” meat, real beef in every way. Even better, no animals were harmed in the making of this meat, and it is perfect beef–all the right enzymes and proteins, and the perfect amount of fat for taste and health.

If there was an abundant supply of meat to feed the world and you could have the perfect-tasting steak or burger with every bite, would you do it (because we are probably closer than you think)?

Does it matter where the beef came from? Do you know where your beef comes from now? As long as the steak shows up on your plate and tastes delicious, what is the difference?

Would you eat cultured beef? I am not sure but I think I would. That might come as a shock, as I have been vegan nearly two decades. Pardon the pun, but my “beef” with not eating animals is not a problem I have with being an omnivore. Unlike nearly all other animals, humans are able to eat both plants and animals and are able to be absolutely perfectly healthy on a purely plant-based diet.

The problem I have with eating other animals is that we have to harvest them and kill them and we do so with impunity. My problem is with our being bad stewards of the planet and thinking we do not have to live up to the ethics and morals we value among each other when it comes to the rest of the world–indeed, to the rest of all known life.

But a healthy burger without the factory farming, killing, causing pain, or creating environmental havoc? Sure, count me in.

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What Is Food?

Today’s Lesson: What happens to any battery that is constantly overcharged?

*****

Apple iPhone 3GS li-on battery (Wikipedia)

Peter Diamandis is a BIG thinker with a rare ability to explain complex concepts in plain language. While answering a fan question on the Tim Ferriss show, he said something that struck me:

“Food is just a mechanism for turning sunlight energy into (biomechanical) energy.”

That got me thinking. Although we have many emotional, physical, and chemical reactions to food, at its base food is simply fuel. Our bodies are essentially machines designed to transport and protect our brains the way our cars are machines designed to transport and protect our bodies. That means bad things can happen if we over-fuel, under-fuel, or use the wrong fuel to run our body machines.

Over-fueling provides more energy than can be effectively burned off, causing energy storage units to bloat, stagnate, and corrode (all the problems that come with being overweight). Under-fueling means the machine can not run effectively and may lead to premature engine wear and seldom used parts deteriorating and breaking down when needed most (all the problems with not having enough nutrition). Using the wrong fuel is probably the worst, leading to physical, sometimes irreparable, damage. Drug abuse, for example, is like putting hi-octane fuel into a car that requires regular unleaded. It will burn fast, backfire, and possibly ruin the engine altogether.

As with any machine, years of continued abuse will contribute to faster wear and tear, breakdowns, and eventual self-destruction.

If you think of food as simply the mechanism we have to convert sunlight energy into physical energy, it takes away the emotional attachment. Think about what type of fuel, and how much of it you are putting in your tank (I mean, body) the next time you stop to refuel (I mean, have dinner).

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Why You’re Fat

Today’s Lesson: Mmph. Can’t typef. eating.

*****

As I shoveled another forkful of Five Guys fries covered in vegan chili and Daiya cheese into my mouth and followed it with a drink of Squirt soda, which is basically carbonated sugar, I wondered why my pants felt so tight.

I really try to convince myself I am active and physically fit, but I eat a little too much. It is true, being vegan, I eat, on par, healthier food than most people. At the end of the meal, though, it is still a simple equation: Calories In versus Calories Out.

I walk every day, I ride my bicycle every few weeks, I have a Stand-Up Paddleboard now. I get exercise. I just like to follow it up with Peanut Butter and Chocolate Banana-based ice cream and chili cheese fries with soda.

It is true I sit on my butt about 13 hours a day (of the 16 I am awake) but I feel like I should be a lot thinner…almost as much as I feel like having a donut. 2 donuts.

Anyway, I realize I have 3 options here.

1. Do nothing. Just be fat and pretend like I accept myself just the way I am because I am beautiful and people have all kinds of blah-blah-blah–tell it to the mirror.

2. Do something. Sneak in exercise–like, the legitimate, calorie-burning kind, everywhere I can. Give up a little more sleep and hit the gym. Except I hate the gym, so go for a walk or jog or do push-ups or just jump in place. Anything.

3. Do something else. I know it is simple math. I love sugary foods–lattes, an occasional soda, donuts, ice cream, chips, cereal, etc. All vegan, but still loaded with sugar or cane juice or high-fructose corn syrup, or just plain sugar. I can eat less, or different, foods. Calories In must equal less than Calories Out.

Maybe I will try a little of each (I think that’s a Freudian-diet slip). I do not mind being overweight, by the way. I’m older, I’m healthy, I work a lot, I earned it. I just like the way I look and feel more when I am not so heavy.

If it makes you feel better, I did follow the chili cheese fries and soda with a salad covered in vegan Bac-O’s and Ranch dressing. Hey… I had to start somewhere.

 

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There Is No Goal

Today’s Lesson: You will never reach your health goals, but keep trying.

*****

I have been enjoying my Garmin Vivosmart fitness tracker. Well, mostly enjoying. Okay, maybe “enjoying” is too strong. “Hating”, I think, is the right word. I hate it. It is like having JK Simmons from Whiplash as a fitness coach.

Every time I meet a goal, it sets it higher. There is no end. I walk SO much, now. I walk to the fridge, to my desk, to my car, to the bathroom, to the fridge… sometimes I will just walk randomly, like around the block, without any expectation of food at the end of the walk! I know. Crazy, right? That’s what the stupid Vivosmart does to you. It lets you know you can never walk enough.

I am beginning to get the point, though. Even if I set a weight goal and reached it (which I have not done), I would not be satisfied. I will always want to maintain or walk off that nagging last inch of waistband, or… lift some weights or some other insanity.

I am doomed to walk for the rest of my life.

We all are, because health, unfortunately, does not stop at the fridge. Health is an ongoing cycle, a motor that requires regular maintenance (walking and eating well) to keep running (figuratively and literally). Health is a never-ending quest for self-improvement and self-care. It is clearly one of the primary goals of living well and feeling good.

Stupid health.

I’m going for a walk.

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Before You Move to Tampa

Today’s Lesson: Come prepared.

*****

Tony Robbins called Tampa “America’s best secret” and I think he is right. Moving here from Michigan is one of the best things Nicole and I ever did. On the other hand, there were a few things no one prepared me for and I did not find ahead of time on the interwebs. If you are considering a move from the North to the Tampa Bay area (which is a great move!), these tips might help you plan ahead (or at least decide how far you should plan ahead).

Here are 10 things I would have found helpful to know before we moved to Tampa:

1. When shopping for apartments, “luxury” is just part of the name, not a description. Nearly every apartment we looked at was called “luxury” and some were, but most of them just use the word as a place holder. “Luxury Apartments” is the same in Tampa as saying, “Apartment Homes”. On that note, even if it costs an extra trip to Tampa before you move, do NOT buy any apartment home based on the website or reviews. The diversity of apartments here is insane. Take a weekend and hit as many as you can. Every one is completely different.

2. Get a water filter. Maybe we were spoiled by the super clean water of the Great Lakes, but the tap water in Tampa tastes the way I imagine licking my cat’s butt would taste (but my cat seems to like licking her butt so, I don’t know, maybe cat butt tastes like cheesecake–if you try it, let us know). The city tap is not quite hard-water like from a well, but it is definitely not soft water. We bought a big Berkey. It was expensive (about $250) but worth every single penny–a necessity. I recommend this one. It is more than enough for a family of three or four and easy to maintain. Just pour the cat-butt tap water in and perfect water comes out. Additionally, you will want a $25 water filter for each shower head. Your skin will thank you for it. (Don’t get me wrong, by the way, the water is clean here, and drinkable, but it just tastes bad and stains all your glasses and dishes–too much iron maybe?)

3. Life is cheaper. Goods are more expensive. It is cheaper to live here–no city or state taxes, for example, but goods are priced higher. Our average grocery bill in Grand Rapids (for two yuppie vegans) went from about $100 per week to about $200 per week–yikes! You would think produce would be surprisingly cheap here since it does not have to travel far to get here, but you would be wrong. When you first move here, though, there are some crazy fees. Plan to have a few grand to cover outrageous license transfer fees (at $400+ each!), endless toll fees (buy a Sun Pass as soon as you get here), and other goofy fees (State parks, apartment pet fees, application fees, etc.).

4. Save up now for your new hobbies. It’s Tampa! You are coming here for the beaches and endless summer, and all the rumors and fantasies are true. It is amazing! Of course, that means you will pick up some new hobbies. No matter what they are, they will run you about $5,000 (for two). 2 decent Stand-Up Paddleboards with paddles, gear, and transport? $5,000. 2 Kayaks and all the needed accessories? $5,000. Scuba gear for 2? $5,000. A decent jet ski? $5,000. An entry-level sailboat? $55,000! Come on, $5,000? You wish. But you get the idea.

5. Everything is 40 minutes away. No matter where you live in the Tampa area, it will take you 40 minutes in regular traffic to get anywhere, even across the street. It is some weird effect or Relativity or something, but whether it is 5 miles away or 35 miles away, it will take you 40 minutes to get there.

6. Google Maps is wrong. Everything is 40 minutes away. Whatever Google Maps tells you, there is no algorithm to account for Tampa traffic (because of that Relativity thing, I think). In Michigan, if Google Maps says you will arrive at your destination in 25 minutes, you know exactly where you will be in 25 minutes. In Tampa, if Google Maps says you will arrive at your destination in 25 minutes, it is a filthy liar. Add 15 minutes to any time it gives you. Everything is 40 minutes away.

7. Get used to showering, like, a lot. Tampa requires two showers per day. Your usual shower and the one after sweating for the next 13 hours. If you happen to stay in air conditioning a lot, still plan for two showers. You will need your normal one and the one after the beach, anyway. Be sure to get that shower head water filter!

8. There are no “bad” areas to live. Maybe this is a relic from growing up near Detroit, but there are really no bad areas in the Tampa Bay area if you are apartment shopping. Stay within a 15-mile radius of Downtown and you will be good. We live in the “Westchase” area. I work in Brandon, Nicole works in Oldsmar, our favorite restaurants are in St. Pete, our favorite walking path is downtown Tampa, our favorite coffee shop is in Ybor City, and our favorite beach is Honeymoon Island, so we get around quite a bit. It is all nice. The one piece of advice I would warn you about, though, is to look up the hurricane evacuation zones for whatever county you are planning to move to. If you are too close to the beach, you might find yourself having to find a back-up place to stay for a few nights now and then (we are barely outside of it in Westchase).

9. Fuel efficiency matters. Remember, everything is 40 minutes away in regular traffic and when it is tourist season and you are headed to the beach, you can easily double that. Regardless, you will spend a LOT of time in traffic. We shelled out a lot of money for each of us to have a Prius but by the time the cars are paid off, we will have saved half the cost in what we estimated we would pay in gas (if gas prices never went up, which of course, they do).

10. You have to move here to work here. When we decided to move here, we job-hunted for nearly 6 months (which was fine, we were building up savings during that time anyway) but we heard over and over, “This is Tampa. Everybody outside of the state says they want to move here. No employer will take you seriously or pony up the money to bring you here when they can literally pick anybody. If you want a job here, you must have a local address no matter what.” We took a big risk and Nicole moved ahead of me with 6 months of savings, hoping she would find a job in that time. Once she had a local address, she was employed in less than 3 weeks and I was following her down here way sooner than expected!

 

If you are thinking about making the move, I hope that helps. If you happen to be vegan, be sure to look me up on FaceBook (or whatever social media you use) and Nicole and I will tell you where the best food is!

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My Vitamin Regimen

Today’s Lesson: Eat your veggies (but still take a vitamin).

*****

As a long-time vegan (I do not eat or wear anything that comes from another animal), I am often asked how I get my… well, choose your vitamin: protein, Vitamin D, B-vitamins, Iron, etc…

I like to keep my life simple and that includes my vitamin regimen. Here is my strategy and thoughts on why (and, by the way, I recently had a full run of blood-work completed and all my vitamin and mineral levels are perfectly fine).

My strategy, in sum, is: I take a cheap vegan multi-vitamin every morning during the week and I skip taking vitamins on the weekend.

Let’s break that down:

Why take a vitamin at all if being vegan is so healthy (even a cheap one)?

I probably do not need to take vitamins. It is mainly for peace of mind. Vegan or not, I love food and tend to eat a wide variety of colors and types. I love grains, fruits, vegetables, pasta, legumes, you name it… (just don’t name okra or eggplant–so gross!).

I have not found any credible, peer-reviewed evidence showing that taking vitamins (even for non-vegans) offers any benefit for people who generally eat well and spend moderate time outdoors anyway (taking vitamins does, however, make your pee turn funny colors and I guess that’s cool). Also, despite the claims of certain health stores and vitamin chains, there is no scientifically accepted, peer-reviewed double-blind studies showing that any vitamin in any form has better absorption rate in the body than any other. In short, paying $60 for a pack of vitamins or powders will deliver the same effect as paying $4 for a pack of vitamins or powders.

That is why I buy the cheapest vegan multivitamin I can (I am fond of Deva brand because I can usually find the 90-packs of mini-pills at a cheap price on Amazon).

Why take the weekends off?

Again, mostly for peace of mind. Many vitamins, like Vitamin C, are water-soluble. If you get more Vitamin C than you need, your body will usually flush the excess out (which is why vitamins make your pee turn funny colors). That is probably why Vitamin C is pushed so hard as a cold-remedy. There is no credible evidence I am aware of to support its effectiveness at preventing illness, but if you take way too much, marketers know you will likely urinate the rest–all you lost, besides Vitamin C, is money.

(I should mention it is still possible to have too much water-soluble vitamins. It is just difficult to make it happen without overdosing on supplements.)

There are some vitamins, however, that are not water-soluble (vitamins A, D, E, and K). That means if you take too much of these, your body will not flush the excess and you will likely suffer from vitamin toxicity, which can create all kinds of health issues. Non-water-soluble vitamins are stored in fat and used only as needed. The excess is not usually flushed.

I feel better knowing I let my body flush or pull vitamins from storage for a couple days each week. I do not actually know if this is an effective strategy (I said I do it for peace of mind) but all I can tell you is I have never been diagnosed with a vitamin deficiency after close to two decades of being vegan.

Do vegans need special vitamins?

To be clear: there is no vitamin, mineral, or nutrient that exists in animal form that can not also be found in a plant-based form (where do you think the animals get their vitamins?), with one exception, and it is not protein, which can be found in peanut butter, spinach, beans, and just about everything else.

Only vitamin B12 is elusive for vegans but for an interesting reason: our society is too clean. B12 is normally found in soil and would normally be ingested by eating fresh fruit, for example (traces of soil would be on the skin of the fruit). With our modern highly industrialized and sanitized food system, it is difficult for vegans to get enough B12 naturally. However, it is found in almost every vegan product–most alternative milks are fortified with B12, as well as Orange Juice, tofu, veggie burgers, soy cheese, etc.

A cheap vegan multivitamin is a perfect solution.

What makes a vitamin vegan, anyway?

Not all packaged vitamins are vegan. Gel caps are usually made with gelatin, which comes from animals. The smooth coating on a vitamin (or any pill) is sometimes created from animal-based glycerin or gelatin. Sometimes, even the source of the vitamins themselves can be animal-based. For example, if there are Omega-3 fatty acids in the multivitamin, they are almost certainly fish-based. If it is cheaper for a vitamin manufacturer to source some or all of their product from dead animal meat factory waste, then you better believe that is where it will come from (enjoy those $60 GNC pills made of $3 hot dogs).

In other words, in the case of vitamins, make sure the product is actually labeled “vegan”.

Incidentally, you do not have to be vegan to take vegan multi-vitamins. They are the same vitamins, except the vegan ones do not require any murder of anything that feels pain.

 

That is my vegan vitamin regimen in all its glorious detail. In a nutshell: Take a vegan multivitamin five days per week.

Hope that helps. Here’s to your health (and weekends off)!

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One Easy Way to Get Your Veggies!

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

*****

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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Oh What A Feeling…

Today’s Lesson: It’s okay to pay for the brand that gets you.

*****

The Prius 4 is not a cheap car to our pocketbook, but Nicole and I just bought one each. Of course, we are spitefully cute because we have matching cars now and we are dirty hippies because we don’t kill animals and we drive Priuses. Or Priai. Or Pris. Or whatever the plural of “Prius” is. Maybe it’s still Prius–like “deer”.

Anyway, there are three things that have already made owning a Prius the best car experience I have ever had. I am blown away by what Toyota has done right and stunned that other, particularly American-based, car companies have not followed suit.

1. The car leverages technology. The Prius comes with a suite of applications that pair up with my smartphone and come with full-blown subscriptions to popular services like Slacker and Pandora radio–no ads for as long as I own the Prius. Of course, it has hands-free calling and navigation included in the car, with a crazy floating heads-up display that only the driver can see. The locks and ignition are remote so I never even have to take a key out of my pocket to open, lock, or start the car, and that is just the beginning.

2. The savings on fuel is unbeatable. In its price range, I was unable to find a car to even come close to what a Prius obtains on gas mileage. Before we bought ours, Nicole and I rented a Prius and drove from Grand Rapids, MI to Savannah, GA and back. Our average miles per gallon was 55, well over the reported 48 on the sticker. I have already driven 80 miles and my fuel gauge has barely budged. I was spending about $80 per week on fuel; I expect that to be cut in half or better.

3. The customer service is unreal. This was the knock-out punch for me. Toyota takes care of their Prius owners like no company I have yet experienced. I will not pay a dime on service or maintenance on my car for the next seven years. Toyota will take care of everything, including oil changes, fluid top-offs, tires and tire pressure, dings, dents, roadside assistance, towing, everything. All I have to do is take it to any Toyota dealership anywhere every 6 months or 5,000 miles. Parts and labor is included.

4. (Bonus point, not for everyone) Toyota knows their target audience. In the Prius brochure, they show you how to use the cargo net to hold groceries. Prominently placed in the picture is a yoga mat. I had to smile. They know exactly who they are catering to. When we were looking at options, our sales rep (Brandon, who was great) showed us the “leather” upgrade option. We shrugged and explained we are vegan and he said, “I am so glad you said that. We call it ‘leather’ because it has that look and feel to most people, but it is actually a proprietary material called Softex that uses no animal ingredients. It is a synthetic ‘leather’ that is vegan!”

Toyota’s website not only confirms that but also explains the environmental benefits of this fabric over conventional synthetic leather.

 

Readers of this blog know I am well-versed in both Marketing and Salesmanship. It makes me practically giddy to see both done well. I have never blogged about a car but this one totally won me over. Looking forward to many years of driving. Also, I do not make recommendations lightly and because this blog is a labor of love running on my dime, I think it is important to note when I do it is because I was genuinely moved to do so of my accord. I do not get any perks for saying this, but if you are in the Tampa area and looking for a Prius, I can not recommend highly enough our salesperson Brandon Bailey at Stadium Toyota.

He did a remarkable job respecting our needs, helping us balance our wants and genuinely giving us a few laughs along the way.

You already know this but, you get what you pay for, so it is better to pay for people or brands that get you

 

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Don’t Worry About the Starving Kids In Africa

Today’s Lesson: Throwing food out is not a crime.

*****

Almond milk, it turns out, is not Nicole’s favorite addition to a latte. She tried one today, and drank about half of it.

She debated over throwing it out because it didn’t taste great but it was not a cheap cup of coffee either.

I understood. I often finish meals because I don’t want something to go to waste (especially if it was expensive). If you think about it, though, it is probably better (for most of us) to throw away an unfinished meal than it is to try and stuff ourselves (assuming for some reason we can not take home leftovers), in an attempt to get our money’s worth.

I would rather pay six dollars not to eat an additional 450 calories than to force myself to eat an extra 450 calories I will never burn off. I would rather lose a few bucks instead of trying to lose a few inches.

Nicole tossed the latte and we headed to the beach. Good trade off.

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The V.E.G.A.N. Leader

Today’s Lesson: Someone is thinking about you, but don’t feel creeped out by it.

*****

At a staff meeting, the owner of a company I am working for introduced their new culture initiative. He spoke at length about the importance of each step and asked that we consider each step when we bring new team members on-board.

In fact, he tasked me with creating the structure to on-board new team members based on the five tenets he proposed. It took me until the last letter to see the acronym he had created to help us remember the steps. When I realized it, I burst into laughter and, I think, for maybe the first time in my life, actually blushed. Here is what he laid out:

 

(Vision): Share the vision of the company… where we came from and where we are going.

E (Expectations): Explain how we will get there.

G (Goals): Agree on Reality and work toward results that exist in Time and Space.

A (Accountability): Review progress toward our goals and (re)align strategies with our core values.

N (Needs): Provide ALL the tools needed to succeed, and then some.

Vision. Expectations. Goals. Accountability. Needs. V.E.G.A.N.!

 

At the risk of sounding biased (and vain), I love the V.E.G.A.N. method and it has made building an on-boarding process easy and, well honestly, joyful, for me. The steps work.

The acronym is obviously tongue-in-cheek and the owner is not vegan. He was having a bit of a laugh with me when he created the acronym and really enjoyed my surprise when he revealed the final letter. The steps, though, were not for laughs. He was serious about the strategy, and so am I.

The real lesson for me, though, is not in the principles here. It is that I made a big enough impact on someone they thought about me and my values when considering the shape of their company’s future.

Wow.

That’s powerful. And moving. And humbling. And kind of hilarious, right? Can you imagine me sitting in front of the executive staff on my third week working with them and seeing that? Uplifting and embarrassing at the same time. I couldn’t help but smile and laugh the rest of the day!

Here is the thing. We all have power and impact, like pebbles skipped from the shore of the ocean. We skim the surface as we hop from one place to the next, lucky to catch the ripples resonating across the water behind us, but mostly focused on where we are headed next. What we forget is ripples resonate in all directions, even below the surface, reaching where we can not always see. Occasionally, we are lucky enough to glimpse how deep our ripples actually extend when we touch people.

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