Sunday, November 23, 2008

Veggie Tales: Journey to Vegetarianism Long and Winding

This is the third in a four-part series called "Veggie Tales." In their own words people write about their decision to become veg*an.

The journey for me from meat eater to vegetarian has been a long, winding one.

I think the concept of becoming vegetarian first entered my mind while I was still in high school and I became genuinely disgusted eating meat off a bone. KFC, for example: I'd be eating the chicken and I'd see what looked like hairs sticking up out of the skin. And then the gristle, the cartilage ... all of it. I suddenly could not eat KFC anymore, and that is when I first began to question what we eat and why.

But I just cut chicken out of my diet for a time ... on the bone. I learned of the wonderful world of boneless chicken and shoved the idea of what I was eating to the back of my mind again.

Yet I always knew in the back of my mind what I was eating was wrong. There was a period soon after high school ... and it wasn't a defining moment ... when I was determined to become vegetarian, but I had no idea what that would mean for me, what I'd eat (as I really don't like a lot of just plain vegetables or really know how to prepare some of them!) I was over at my sister's, and she was serving hamburgers off the grill. I was eating one, but I had to point out we were eating dead cow, as she was calling it hamburger, and I was just pointing out the reality of what we were eating. She got mad at me because suddenly her daughter didn't want to eat!

I did try going vegetarian during this period. But the grocery store in the small rural town I lived in at the time in Minnesota really didn't have vegetarian/vegan friendly options. And, as I said, I really had no idea what dishes with vegetables I might be interested in making, and I soon gave it up, which really disappointed some of my friends at the time who thought I supported the cause.

Yet, for some reason, I gave up eating pork. Oh, I'd still eat ham and bacon, but pork chops and such ... I gave them up because I heard horror stories of how sick people got off of eating pork. And I never ate a pork chop again.

I went off to college, where I sustained myself on a shoestring budget and didn't think about vegetarianism for years, eating eggs just about every day because that was mainly all I could afford to eat. In fact, in college, I wrote some papers AGAINST supporting animal rights. I read those papers today and see great, ncredible ignorance on my part.

After I got out of college, I decided red meat was something I wanted to avoid, so I cut beef out of my diet. I bought ground turkey, and I'd still eat chicken. So even though I flirted with the idea of becoming vegetarian, I was progressing slowly, ever so slowly, toward my goal by giving up certain meats along the way.

I got to the point I was eating vegetarian meals just to see how I'd like them. During my transition period in trying to become more healthy, I saw the growth hormones and the drugs they pump animals full of to be terribly bad for us, and I was determined to find a place that sold meats from animals that were not treated with the growth hormones, and took a bigger interest in organic foods. I discovered Whole Foods and discovered a whole wide range of things I could eat that did not contain meat at all. I'd buy enough to allow me to eat meat free for a week at a time just to see how I'd like it ... and I found I didn't miss it at all.

It wasn't until I read an article in Rolling Stone about factory pig farming that I decided that was it: I was going to be vegetarian. Reading of the atrocities in those farms made me realize I didn't want any part of it ... cutting out certain meats wasn't enough; I had to cut them ALL out. When I read this article, I had already gone through my personal Whole Foods meat-free meal challenges, so the transition to just stop buying meat at this point was much easier.

I do have to admit I haven't been able to 100% go vegan. My refrigerator and kitchen have vegan products in them, 100%, but I admit I struggle with the idea of giving up dairy because I do think that people are meant to consume dairy products in moderation (and when I say in moderation, I mean rarely, as in how they consume it in foreign cultures, not smothering things in cheese like most Americans do), and I
am not convinced that we should avoid products produced by bugs. I cannot, and probably never will, ascribe the same value to an insect as an animal. I realize that alienates me from a lot of vegans, but I just don't have that level of conviction. Maybe one day I will, but right now I don't. (Just to add that I don't eat honey, and I can't think of other foods I eat with bug by-products in them, but my choice not to eat honey is simply because I never really had a taste for it ... ever ... and I cut it out entirely because it's no big deal, not from a certain
conviction.)

But on dairy ... I don't have ANY dairy products in my home. And I wish restaurants would offer more dairy alternatives, but if I eat out and there is no alternative, I will resign to eating dairy in those rare times. I don't eat out too often.

Ultimately, what prompted my decisions was a belief that God makes us all, and that God never REALLY commanded us to eat meat the way we do. The commandments to eat meat all surrounded ANNUAL sacrifices, NOT commandments to eat meat every day, three times a day. And the animal sacrifices were done away with when Jesus died on the cross, so I'd say God is very concerned about animal rights and didn't like the animal sacrifices. It was just something that had to be done until He could sacrifice Himself as Jesus. So mainly my decisions leading up to me swearing off meat all together was for dietary purposes, and after the Rolling Stone article, moral beliefs took over for the rest of the decision.

It also helped that I have a dog ... a golden retriever ... and the idea of eating him would be unthinkable to me, and I realized that no other animal was less important than him, so why should I eat them?

Jeff S.
Kansas City, Missouri

(Photo of dog courtesy of GRREAT, Inc. This dog is not the author's.)



Saturday, November 22, 2008

Hypocrisy of Pardoning Turkeys

The political tradition of "pardoning" a turkey is ridiculous.

Most famously the U.S. president does it, but apparently so do governors. Most recently Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. And, no, this isn't going to be a rant about how much I dislike her. She just happens to be the elected official who was interviewed for a turkey-pardoning story while two turkeys were killed in the background. We see one of the birds struggling for its life, in fact, while Palin blathers on with her political rhetoric.



What crimes have turkeys committed that they need to be pardoned? These birds have been sentenced to death simply because they were born.

Politicians who "pardon" turkeys get a feel-good (at least for most Americans) story aired. They care nothing about the birds themselves. In fact, at the end of Palin's interview the reporter asks her what she's going to have for Thanksgiving. The answer, of course: a turkey.

The animal that has actually committed a crime is people. We're the ones who murder innocent beings for the sheer thrill we get when we eat them. Fortunately, though, we can be rehabilitated and can learn to treat other living beings with compassion and respect.

Please "pardon" your own turkey on Thanksgiving and opt for a vegetarian meal.



Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Celebrate Thanksgiving with Life, Not Death

No other holiday provokes such a fierce animal-rights feeling in me as Thanksgiving does. For no other holiday is as centered around a dead animal as Thanksgiving is.

Sure, Easter has its ham. The Fourth of July has its grilled animal parts. But those holidays also have egg hunts (ok, not so vegan) and fireworks, respectively. Thanksgiving, though, is all about dead turkeys. I even used to call it Turkey Day, not thinking that eating them doesn't exactly honor them.

My morning radio programs now have "turkey" experts on, advising listeners how best to cook the carcass.

Thanksgiving has long since ceased to be about giving thanks. Instead it's about gathering around a table with family -- all focused on a dead animal in the center.

Some animal-rights supporters now call this holiday ThanksLiving. For how can we truly be grateful for what we have if we kill an animal in the process of giving thanks? ThanksLiving implies that only by respecting others' lives can we truly express our gratitude for the blessings in our own lives.

Whether you call it Thanksgiving or ThanksLiving, please realize that thanks for your own life shouldn't come at the expense of another's.

(Photo courtesy of Encyclopaedia Britannica's Advocacy for Animals.)



Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Miscellaneous Roundup

I've been pretty MIA in the blogging world for the past few weeks -- both reading them and writing my own. Despite putting my request for veg*an stories on four veg message boards, only three people submitted theirs. So that was discouraging and prompted my hiatus, which may continue.

For now, though, I wanted to provide updates to past blogs. Barack Obama, of course, was elected president. Woo-hoo! Prop 2 (which phases out veal and gestation crates and battery cages in California) passed. Unfortunately, Prop 8 did, too, thereby banning same-sex marriage in California.

Massachusetts voters chose to ban greyhound racing (by 2010)! Illinois will not be getting a constitutional convention. And South Dakotans voted against a ban on abortion.

The U.S. Supreme Court has approved the Navy's use of sonar, despite the horrendous implications for whales and other marine life.



Monday, November 17, 2008

Veggie Tales: Veganism a Continual Process

This is the second in a four-part series called "Veggie Tales." In their own words people write about their decision to become veg*an.

My mother tells me that one day in 1982 I came home from school and announced that I didn't want to eat my friends anymore. I was 6 years old. Lucky for me, my mother decided vegetarianism was a good idea and so my family -- my mother, my younger sister and I -- began our transition to vegetarianism beginning that day. It took us a couple of years to finally stop eating all animals, including chickens and fishes, and in 1984 I took my last willful bite of an animal's flesh. But it took me until 2007 to stop ingesting animal secretions and go vegan.

I believe people are most likely to go vegan when they merge belief with experience. At least, that's how it was for me. I had very strong pro-animal beliefs since childhood, but those beliefs never successfully convinced me to go vegan. Truthfully, veganism can be tough sometimes, and those tough experiences clashed with my beliefs and ultimately kept me from going vegan for decades. Even though I
knew plenty of excellent reasons for veganism -- animal rights, environmental, health -- I never successfully stayed vegan. I was an ethical vegetarian for years. I never ate meat, I never wore fur or silk, and very, very rarely wore wool or leather (feeling guilty whenever I did).

In late 2006 my husband and I went "vegan at home." We ate as vegans when preparing our own food and even when ordering out. But we ate as lacto-ovo vegetarians when we went to restaurants. We weren't truly vegan until we went to Farm Sanctuary for a weekend.

The experience that turned me (and my husband) vegan isn't what you think. It wasn't meeting the animals or the people at Farm Sanctuary that helped "convert" me. It wasn't the educational materials in the "People Barn." It wasn't the books and other resources in the shop. It was the mere request that I go vegan that helped turn me vegan.

The sanctuary guest materials requested that we keep only vegan foods on the sanctuary premises during our visit. Easy enough since the cottages don't have kitchens. But we thought about it and decided, out of respect for the sanctuary, to be vegan for the entire weekend whether on sanctuary grounds or not. We figured they'd tell us where we could find vegan meals at restaurants. And if not, we said, "We're smart, resourceful people who can figure this out."

Indeed, the sanctuary provided me with my first tasty vegan muffin, which I ate in awe. I was amazed at how much had changed since I was a child. In fact, I couldn't believe the muffin was vegan, and I even told my husband I thought they must have some different definition of vegan than the one I knew because even the "cream cheese" was too much like the real thing not to contain some element of dairy. After a year of eating vegan, I say with certainty the excellent muffins at Farm Sanctuary are a good representation of vegan food.

We were right -- the sanctuary had plenty of restaurant recommendations. Despite the minor impediments of our companion travelers, my nephew and our dog, we found vegan food for the entire weekend. Though it was a bit inconvenient at first, we managed. Visiting the farm, meeting the animals, learning and finding more resources helped my commitment to animals grow.

My nephew, then not much older than I was in 1982, made a similar commitment to animals as I had at his age. On the drive home we were three converts: my husband and I from vegetarianism to veganism and my nephew from omnivorism to vegetarianism.

The critics of veganism who argue that it's too inconvenient have a point. Veganism is not super simple. But it gets easier every day. The new vegan learns more and more every day. And new, tasty products or restaurant meals are born all the time. Life for a vegan gets easier all the time. Veganism is like a good relationship: The commitment and comfort grow and grow.

Though it only took me eight years to go vegetarian, it took me 25 years to go vegan. I think it probably just took that long for my body to catch up with my mind.

Elaine Vigneault
Las Vegas
Visit Elaine's blog, "Read My Mind."

(Photo of Floyd and Elaine courtesy of "Read My Mind.")



Monday, November 10, 2008

Veggie Tales: Veganism Enlightening

This is the first in a four-part series called "Veggie Tales." In their own words people write about their decision to become veg*an.

I was a meat eater until my late 20s. I never gave thought to anything I ever ate until I was 27. I don't know why, but all of a sudden, it hit me: Why am I eating dead animals? This was December 1999. Within a month, I quit eating meat. All fine until I joined VeggieBoards in 2007. Remember, I had no guidance in being vegetarian this whole time. I did the best I could. All of a sudden, I almost felt crucified because I wasn't vegan (from some of the "Vegan Police"). So I asked questions on
the board like "why should I go vegan?" and "why do vegans dislike vegetarians?". After much education on the whole subject, I quickly switched to a vegan diet. It has been a little over a year for me now, and I'm glad I changed.

Going vegan isn't placing the tombstone on your grave, as many people seem to think. Rather, I think of it as enlightening. I now know a lot more about food than 99% of the people around me. Knowledge is power. My cooking skills have improved, and I appreciate the food I get to eat a lot more these days. The people I pity are the ones who can't stop stuffing crap into their mouths to try to feel some sense of satisfaction. They seek the kind of satisfaction I enjoy every day. However, my
satisfaction no longer hurts innocent animals.

I do not regret going vegan. I only wish I had someone to guide me sooner. If I had only one wish, it would be that the entire Earth would have been vegan since the beginning of time. Everything would be different now. I guarantee that.

Josh Dixon
Rock Hill, South Carolina

(Photo courtesy of Josh Dixon.)



Monday, November 3, 2008

Election '08: The Final Stretch

Tomorrow is the big day! I am so excited!

Previous blog posts have outlined why I feel strongly that people should vote for Barack Obama for president. Honestly, unless someone is so greedy that they don't care about the rest of the American people or unless they are truly so ignorant that they don't realize that John McCain doesn't care about the majority of the American people, I don't understand how anyone could vote for McCain.

I'm writing this knowing that someone very close to me did indeed vote for McCain. I also know someone else -- and to protect his privacy I won't describe him any further -- who always votes for Republicans because they don't tax him as much. He makes A LOT of money. I'm talking way more than the $250,000 that is Obama's cut-off in his tax plan. So under Obama this person stands to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars more in taxes than under McCain's plan. Yet this person voted (early) for Obama because he doesn't believe that, should something happen to McCain, Sarah Palin is qualified to be president.

Aside from the presidential race each state has significant other races. Below is a small collection of ballot initiatives in a few states:

California

California has two important initiatives on the ballot. One is Prop 2, a very modest measure that would phase out the use of gestation crates for pigs, veal crates for calves and battery cages for hens. The meat and dairy industries have collected money from across the country to try to defeat this measure. Meanwhile, Paul Shapiro from The Humane Society of the United States has worked his ass off for Prop 2. While I'm celebrating Obama's win, I want to picture Paul uncorking a bottle of champagne to toast his victory for the animals.

Vote "YES" for Prop 2.

The second ballot initiative is Prop 8, which, if passed, would ban same-sex marriage. If two consenting adults love each other and want to get married, who are we to stop them? How does gay marriage threaten your own marriage? It doesn't. It doesn't make your own marriage any less sacred. I view gay marriage as a modern-day interracial marriage. People just need to get over it. If two people love each other, how is that a bad thing?

Vote "NO" for Prop 8.

Illinois

Illinois' state Legislature is screwed up. That's putting it mildly. The governor no longer talks to the lieutenant governor, and the latter supports having a constitutional convention to insert a provision into the state constitution that would allow Illinoisans to recall elected officials (ie. the governor).

What interests me, though, about holding a constituational convention is that we could push for our constitution to allow for publicly derived ballot initiatives, like California's (and some other states) constitution allows. This measure may make it easier to enact laws to protect animals.

Vote "YES" to hold a constitutional convention.

Massachusetts

Ballot Question 3 would ban greyhound racing in Massachusetts.

According to state records more than 800 racing greyhounds have been injured since 2002, including dogs who suffered broken legs, paralysis, head trauma and even death from cardiac arrest. A greyhound is injured every three to four days in Massachusetts.
Vote "YES" to ban greyhound racing.

South Dakota

Initiated Measure 11 would ban abortion in South Dakota except in cases of rape, incest or serious threat to the woman's health. While this state has a small population, this measure could have serious consequences for the rest of the country. If this passes, it's expected that it would present a challenge to Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court.

Vote "NO" to Initiated Measure 11.

(Photo courtesy of Dogster's Dog Blog.)