Sunday, June 12, 2011

Fired Up

 I was browsing through some of my favorite blogs on my bookmark tab this afternoon when I read something really disturbing.

 It was from a girl's blog who I have peeked in on from time to time. She originally caught my eye when she decided to do a 21-day vegan "cleanse", so I thought I would follow along and occasionally leave encouraging comments. She documented each day with pictures of green smoothies, salads, and, well, basically those two things. On day 6 she gave up and literally could not wait to put chicken and dairy into her mouth. Her words were: "I couldn't handle it anymore. I could feel my body yerning for something. Something more than vegetables... I needed substance, meat, and happiness. I first felt so guilty, but after receiving a few comments from you guys, I realized that my happiness is all that matters."

 I'm not one to pick fights. I usually don't like to confront people unless I am really, truly fired up about something that has bothered me to the core. I'm not trying to single this girl out, but rather using this as an example of how people in our country and generation tend to think, and exactly what I am trying to raise awareness about! Reading those words was like a literal knife to my side, and I absolutely cannot sit silent about it. 

 We are in the midst of a global crisis caused by insatiable human greed. Real needs are not wrong; wants, on the other hand, can be problematic. The more we have, the more we want. Many of us have become so out of touch with ourselves that we can't tell the difference between a need or a want. We say things like "I need a new car" and "I need to buy some clothes" and "I need a drink", as if we would die without these things. Vegans, (and I mostly speak for myself and the vegans I know, since we know there are always exceptions to the rule), attempt to take only what they truly need and not jeopardize other living things lives for our own selfish desires. 

 For example, no one "needs" to eat meat, they just prefer to. . . Life is sustainable on a plant-based diet, we all know that. It is by choice that we eat the flesh of others. As an example of how we confuse wants with needs, look at the quote from the girl's blog above. She confused her needs with wants when she said "I need substance", sure we all need substance, but eating meat becomes a want when you decide to get your substance through dead animals. So "I need to eat meat" should be spoken as "I want to eat meat" since your life does not depend on it. 

 The whole heart and soul of veganism is that the world does not revolve around ourself. The world does not equate to if we are happy today and who we can hurt to make ourselves temporarily happy. There is suffering going on all around us, and we don't even realize that we are the ones causing it! We do things to alleviate this suffering in our hearts such as volunteering at a soup kitchen or donating to the Goodwill, hoping for some temporary satisfaction that makes us feel as if we are a "good person" and then the next morning we wake up and realize we are still unhappy, miserable, and suffering.  The choice to eat a vegan diet will do more to revolutionize our bodies and minds and bring about world peace than any single other act, because it powerfully effects change in the outside world through the change that is happening within our own bodies. It raises awareness that what you do to others is a direct reflection of yourself; it raises awareness that there is more to life than just our own happiness. There are things such as the happiness of others, the love that you can extend to all living creatures, and the compassion that you choose to show them. 

 In her book Yoga and Vegetarianism, Sharon Gannon writes "The relationship of humans to the Earth is mostly exploitative, opportunisitic, and violent. We see the results of this all around us: slavery, sexism, speciesism, and extinction.  There is an alternative: live so that your live enhances, rather than destroys, the lives of others. This is not a new message. It is an ancient message with a new-found meaning for the crisis we face today."

 In our society today we are taught and told since we are little that "as long as you are happy" and to "do whatever makes you happy" and in the words of the girl above, "I realized that my happiness is all that matters."  So if her happiness is all that matters to her, and my happiness is all that matters to me, and your happiness is all that matters to you, who cares about each other and anything other than themselves? No one. Who breaks this vicious cycle of selfishness and gluttony?

 Veganism, to me, means thinking about something other than myself, because I have realized that what I do to others is a direct reflection of my own self esteem and self worth. Thinking about something other than myself means saying, "Yes, that chicken might taste good. It might smell good. But there is more to living than pleasing just myself".  There is more to life than jumping from one task or opportunity to the next, satisfying my palate and feeling temporarily satisfied.

  That being said, I don't "give up" these things and walk around semi-sad, wishing I could eat meat but priding myself on doing the "right thing". I do not feel restricted, I do not feel like I am missing out, and I have never felt like something was missing in my vegan choices or in my diet. If, by chance, someone tries a "vegan cleanse" and feels like they are "restricting themselves", I only have to say open your mind and heart to new opportunities! There is enough delicious, healthy food to feed the whole world round, yet we choose to single-mindedly focus on eating animals who have been killed out of violence and greed?  Why is this? 

 This is such a broad, passionate and emotional topic for me as well as many others. Rational arguments could go on forever about this. I'm not trying to start an argument, and I don't have anything personally against the girl in the above blog; rather, I am trying use this as an example of how destructive and incomplete our lives have become. I'm trying to appeal to the hearts of my readers, to challenge you to step outside of yourself for a day, an hour, even a minute. To realize that that piece of meat on your plate had a life, and the kindness you extend to that animal is more than just saying "I'm not eating meat today", it's a step towards compassion for all living things and a step outside of our selfish, lonely world and into one where you actually feel connected to other people and other beings. For some, eating a vegan diet is only about feeling sexy, losing weight, or being healthy. In essence, this kind of veganism is still for selfish motives. I think real and true veganism has little to do with diet and all to do with the matters of the heart. Once you realize you don't want to steal, hurt, kill, or harm others, you will end up not eating them, and thus a vegan diet is born. But like I said, the core of veganism isn't really about the food, it's first and foremost about extending others the simple treatment you would want for yourself. It's about living simple so others may simply live.

"Whatever joy there is in this world all comes from desiring others to be happy, and whatever suffering there is in this world all comes from desiring myself to be happy" - Shantideva


Alessandra said...

I understand what you mean. Unfortunately many people start vegetarian and vegan diets (experiments?) without much thought on how to prepare food properly. They lack variety and information and most cannot cook anyway.

Chucky said...

Hi Michelle. "Happiness at anothers expense." Yeah... this seems to be a most human attribute.

I have come to believe that the human being is somewhat a "sub-species". Supposedly we possess the unique ability to think, deduct and have brain power beyond any living creature. Yet... we kill one another, sit passively by as others suffer, destroy planet Earth for temporary satisfaction, and so on and so on.

From a realistic standpoint, did you really want a hypocritical vegan touting the virtues of becoming a vegan?

I did not become a vegetarian for animal ethic reasons but have become enlightened on the added bonus of my decision. It has helped guide me along the pathway of vegetarianism. Perhaps one day I might find myself crossing your path on the vegan trail. Mine was a start, a positive start.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It has served the purpose to make at least one person think... me.

Allysia said...

Hey Michelle,

The thing that bugs me about this is treating veganism as a "cleanse". It's not just veganism that someone tries, then, but a super healthy, super restrictive variation of it. And then they go back because they "need" meat.

I think someone would be much more likely to find success with eating plants if they made some hearty comfort food too - or else they'll associate veganism with just salads and that's so not how most of us eat. What about pizzas/pastas/burgers/burritos, etc? And cookies and cake? I think it'd be hard feeling restricted eating food like that. :)

Michele said...

I completely agree. I was going to do a whole paragraph about that very thing, but thought it would sound too attacking on the girl who wrote it. But I do have the same thoughts on that- why is being vegan a "cleanse?" there are unhealthy vegans, ones who aren't cleansing. and I don't consider myself to be "cleansing" my body. Its a vegan lifestyle, or a vegan way of eating... but if you go into it thinking its a cleanse, no wonder you feel like you cant eat anything other than some lettuce. I know many people who simply can't make it past a few days of eating vegan, and my point wasn't to attack them for "not making it" , but to point out how selfish we have become to say and think things like "i need meat" and "my happiness is all that matters"

Allysia said...

I usually click the "email follow-up comments" button so I can catch replies, but I think I forgot to this time. Whoops.

And as for your sentiments on "needing meat", well of course no one NEEDS meat, but I hear variations on that riff all the time. I think it's just a habit thing - you grow up eating it 2-3 times a day, so of course it seems agonizing to be without it. But I think all that's required is getting into new habits. Learn to cook with no meat one day a week, then two, etc. Then suddenly it isn't so hard to be without it.

And yeah, people place so much emphasis on "I just want to be happy", but can you ever truly be happy if your happiness depends on the suffering of others? That seems rather fragmented to me. Isn't happiness found in compassion toward others, instead of in selfish desire? Food for thought.

simplynutritiouskate said...

great post its sad to see how dependent our society is on meat if people would just try to cut back it would make a huge impact unfortunately americans are selfish!

Serena said...

I can completely relate to you on this post. It used to (and still sometimes does) really irk me when people would scoff at me and tell me - no, not ask, but tell me - that what I eat is "just rabbit food". Um, no?
The thing is, this person (like many others) could just be ignorant. If I tried to scrap by on a few un-seasoned raw veggies and green shakes each day, I would want something more substantial, too! (Not dissing the raw food movement here - I love me my green shakes & raw food), but if I were to jump into raw foodism or veganism without doing a lot of planning/ researching first, I wouldn't know what to make, either!
That said, I think people do need to do way more research, because I feel like there is a lot of anti-vegan sentiment floating about from people who've "been there, done that" (but not really) - ie. people who tried to be vegan and had to give it up ("had" to) because they just didn't know what to make.
Vegan food doesn't have to be healthy, nor does it have to be low fat or low cal or unsatisfying! It can go either way. Me? I love healthy & satisfying vegan fare... ;)

Michelle said...

Hey Michelle! Long time no see (or shall I say talk too) :o) Sorry it's been so long. I love what you said in this post and totally agree with you 100%!

Get Skinny, Go Vegan. said...

Great post. While I am not super anti a "Cleanse" or pro "Cleanse" I think people need to know you can eat normal food & be vegan. I know that lots of people equated Kathy Freston's Cleanse, her first time on Oprah for Vegan stuff, as cutting out wine, gluten, and everything "fun". But part of it is just marketing. Yeah,it totally irks me when someone is drinking just smoothies and eating uber healthy & then has to go back to a normal meat diet because they haven't even tried a "normal" vegan diet of whole grain pastas, breads, nuts, vegan waffles, whatever. Just heavier food. Veganism is hitting mainstream so many different ways though, so while a "Cleanse" or whatever isn't what it is about, I think some people might give something a try for a couple of weeks. I know Kathy talked about losing weight, etc...the first time she was on Oprah, and stayed away from animal issues. I think this was because it was a major deal for her to even be on, that she was getting her foot through the door. And also, I am so jaded, but I think people are a little selfish and might be more likely to do something if it makes their butt smaller than if it leaves a smaller impact on the planet.

It's also funny that people say "I want to kill people who hurt animals" on dog rescue group webpages, yet eat animals. Major disconnect.

Anyway, great post & completely agree. I went vegan for the animals and I would never go back. It was just in the last 5 years that I became much more aware of all of the health benefits. But I am so grateful for all of the people educating people in every segment of society, about the benefits of at the very least, reducing meat & dairy.