Meat-Free Monday: Why Vegan?

Animal_Abuse_Battery_Cage_01 CC Compassion Over Killing

So why vegan and not vegetarian?

Well there’s two answers to this, three actually.

First, I’m supposed to be off the dairy for my health anyway. If I’m eating steak I don’t need butter on it. If I’m eating a burger I don’t need cheese on it. I need to be off dairy. Full stop. And that’s the hardest part of going vegan by a long shot. I can’t tell you how much cheese I used to eat on a daily basis.

Now, on to eggs and meat. Eggs are healthy enough, but factory farming conditions for chickens are heinous. We’ve seen the trucks taking the chickens to the the chicken factory just north of Hattiesburg, Sanderson Farms. It doesn’t look like a farm, it looks like really nasty factory, and it smells like it too.

The chickens in the truck were so cramped and packed together and each one was in a box that would barely hold six bagels. The Huffington Post calls eggs from battery-caged chickens “The Cruelest of all Factory Farm Products.” So, why would I participate in that if I’m giving up dairy? Why would I leave eggs in?

On the same point, the lives of dairy cows are even worse than the lives of beef cows, and once they run out of milk, they’re killed just like beef cows.

So it came down to a matter of health and ethics. And then there’s point number three:

I’m terrible at moderation. For years I’ve tried to “eat less meat and more veggies.” I’ve given up dairy a half-dozen times, only to backslide. I know I couldn’t half-do this. I knew I couldn’t give up some animal products without giving in and eating them all. If I was going to do this at all, I need to go “all in.”

Now, I’m only two weeks “all in,” so I can’t comment on my long-term success. And I’m certainly in no position to criticize (for example) someone who’s been a vegetarian for many years and still eats eggs and dairy. But “all in” is the only route I haven’t tried already and failed. It’s the only chance I have to succeed, realistically. So it’s what I’m going to do.

 

Meat-Free Monday: The Journey Begins

I’m moving toward becoming vegan.

So you may ask why I would do such a thing, given my lifelong predilection towards eating meat, loving cheese, and the whole 9 yards. You might also ask what chance I have of actually successfully riding this out, given my short-lived, idealistic attempts at any number of other eating plans in the past: South Beach, staying clear of dairy (which I’ve done several times for various health-related reasons … first because of sinus, then because of actual lactose intolerance), Weight Watchers, and some vaguely bean and greens based diet with lots of protein and nutritional faddish vitamins and stuff.

Well, my reasons actually go back a while. As you may recall, some time ago (September 2012, actually) I tried to give up on factory farmed meat eggs and dairy. The problem with this was that I still wanted to eat meat eggs and dairy in the same proportions as I did before (which never works, but I’ll talk about that more later). Free range anything is going to be twice as expensive, and free range is not a very well-regulated term so it doesn’t necessarily mean anything.

As so many other things did this came to an end, due to “something.” In this case, the “something” was pretty big: a tornado hit my house, and 12 days later my daughter was born. In this case, I can be excused from falling off whatever wagon I was teetering upon at the time.

However, I am a flake, so if it wasn’t a tornado and a childbirth, it probably would’ve been some other “something.”

I could say that the reason I did this or started this I haven’t done it yet was as I looked at the scale and saw that it read 375. I’m a tall guy (6’7” – that’s 2 meters for y’all in the rest of the world), but 375 pounds is about 170 kg. It’s a lot. My BMI and my age are running neck and neck, and they’re about to catch up with Douglas Adams’ favorite number (Not that the BMI is a reliable or valid measurement of health, but goodness!)

Honestly, I got over the sticker shock of 375 pounds a long time before I ever thought of reducing animal intake.

In fact, I talked about even going on diets, which I don’t really believe in due to the medical evidence and of extremely high failure rates over a five-year period, and the medical evidence of the damage that weight cycling does to a person’s metabolism and their body overall. I’ve done a lot of reading, and the only things that work for major sustainable weight loss are gastric bypass or a major shift of consciousness that causes the person to start over in their entire relationship to food, exercise and activity, and their whole mind-body connection. So in short, it’s either cut out part of your stomach, or give your entire mindset major surgery.

What really put me back on this path was having lunch with Sally Jane Black, who you might know from Letterboxd, where she is the best film critic of her generation, or if you’re really lucky from role-playing gaming where she is the best GM I’ve ever encountered of any generation. And yes, I’m name dropping. Sally Jane has been a vegetarian for as long as I’ve known her, since she was a teenager I think. And Katherine and I had talked about reducing our animal intake, making more vegetable dishes, just trying to eat a little bit more healthfully since we know that the average American eats too much meat and dairy on an average yearly basis. So Katherine asked her what she cook how did she eat. That just sort of started my mind rolling.

That afternoon, we went to the Audubon zoo. After several hours there, we stopped to get some refreshments. Katherine and the little one got ice cream, but I was leery about getting anything so heavily dairy when I was in New Orleans, a city not well known for easy bathroom access. We would be doing a lot of walking that day to lots of different places, and I wanted to be ‘normal’ for it. But then I saw that the concession stand at the zoo where they were getting their ice cream had sorbet. I bought the mango, and said after one taste, “If I can get sorbet half this good, I’ll never want to eat ice cream again.” And I meant it. If you have access to Häagen-Dazs mango sorbet, try it.

In addition to being a tasty treat, it was an eye-opening moment. I enjoyed that mango sorbet as much or more than I’ve ever enjoyed any ice cream I’ve ever had. Maybe the heat of the day and the fun of touring a zoo with a three year old made it taste sweeter, but in my mind, I realized I didn’t have to suffer to do this. For the first time, I really believed it.

So within a week of that trip I stumbled across Main Street Vegan, a book about going vegan when you don’t live in New York City , LA, or Portland, when you don’t make six figures, when you don’t have a Whole Foods and a market right at your doorstep. It’s a book about going vegan when you have a family that may not also want to do that, when you have kids, so you can’t spend an hour and a half fixing a massive multi-ingredient delicate foodie type recipe, even if you wanted to, which I have never in my life wanted to do that – I’ll eat a meal it’s been prepared with that kind of love and attention to detail, and I will complement the chef profusely, but I’ve never felt deserved the desire to actually do that. I write, I sing well enough for three-year-old audience, and I like to do visually artsy type things though again I’m about good enough for three-year-old audience.

So started reading Main Street Vegan, and I was pretty well convinced by the time I got to the sample material that I was going to buy the book, and I was sure is gonna make some kind of go of it.

Since then I’ve spent some time online, and I found out that not every vegan lives in a major city or even a progressive area, and not every vegan is a foodie. Monique, the “Brown Vegan,” has a lot of practical information for those of us who don’t secretly wish to attend the Culinary Institute.  Some vegans prefer raw foods, which are great because they don’t take that much time and they are generally hard to screw up, which is really good for me.

Although I am not sure how people make all of those smoothies. Every time I make a smoothie and ends up just kind of okay, but certainly not worth the extensive cleanup that comes afterwards. Only takes five minutes to make a smoothie, and an hour to clean the blender. Well, I’d rather eat my food rather than drink it anyway, so even if I never solve that particular riddle, I’ll be fine.

To make a long story short, I did the research and came to believe I could actually do this.

And here’s my final reason: the little one is getting old enough to ask questions. She watches a lot of cartoons about animals, like A Turtle’s Tale (the first one is very educational, and has a great sense of timing, pausing to let the viewer feel the wonder of the oceans or witness the devastation wrought by pollution like an oil spill) or the various Land Before Time sequels.

And inevitably, the biggest fear the protagonists have is predation. Nobody wants to be eaten.

So, what am I going to say when she asks me “why do we eat animals?”

I can’t tell her we need to do it to survive.

I can’t tell her it’s nature’s way. We choose our path. We don’t just follow instincts.

Previously, I’d have to tell her “Because people have eaten animals for a long time, and we don’t care enough to ask if we still need to. But mostly, because they taste good.”

And I don’t want to be the kind of person who tells his daughter that concern for animals is stupid, that empathy is a liability, if the animal tastes good.

But now, if I succeed at this, when she asks “why do we eat animals?” I can say “Daddy doesn’t.”

And that’s an answer I can live with.

 

 

Factory Farming (Wrestling with the god of the Gut)

 

Pigs Confined in Gestation Crates

Pigs Confined in Gestation Crates

I started this blog to talk about the questions, about wrestling with the angels, struggling with things I don’t know and things I do know, but don’t quite want to accept.

I’ve gotten a little off-course here.  I’ve been distracted by some important things going on: Emily Maynard’s post about modesty and the controversy that followed, including my two posts (here and here), Mark Driscoll’s slut-shaming of Esther, Hurricane Isaac, and more.

Well, during this month a new struggle has begun within me, a struggle with cruelty to animals … specifically, the animals that make up such a large part of my daily diet.  Kurt Willems’s “God of the Gut” article sent my mind down paths my belly really wished it hadn’t.   Greg Boyd’s “Compassionate Dominion and Factory Farms” sealed the deal. Modern American factory farming is not humane. It just isn’t.  (Warning, the videos are not for the faint of heart).

Let me say that I’m neither a vegetarian nor even a pacifist right now.  I have no problem whatsoever killing and eating animals.  I even hunt a couple of times a year with my uncle.  Any animal living in the wild has to worry about getting eaten.  Herbivores have to worry about predation, and even predators have to worry about being eaten from the inside out by disease or parasites.  So the death of an animal for food is not a problem in my mind.

But I will not abide torture.  And the practices in factory farms, where animals are held in tiny crates (sometimes for their entire lives), are castrated or de-toothed without anesthesia, and are slaughtered sloppily, leaving some alive for the slaughtering process?  That’s torture.

This isn’t an example of something I’m not sure about.  I wouldn’t treat my dogs like that, and pigs are roughly as intelligent as dogs.  I know, I’m not planning to eat my dogs.  But I wouldn’t treat a deer like that, either.

Every hunter has ethical standards, trying to take only shots that are sure, that will kill quickly, that won’t make the animal suffer unnecessarily.  Yet, when it comes to factory farming, there are no such considerations.  Like so much in corporate America, the bottom line is king.

So like I said, I’m not struggling with whether this is right for me to do.  I’m struggling with what a deep-seated pain in the neck it is. I can’t back-check restaurants, so guess who’s a pescetarian when he eats out?  And guess who used to be head-over-heels in love with Rosie’s Barbecue, Strick’s Barbecue, Mug Shots Burgers, and just about any version of chili cheese fries?  Guess who’s got to convince his wife to pay twice as much for meat and 50% for eggs?  Thankfully, she’s been very supportive.

Essentially, my struggle is to not be a wimp.  I’ve read the horror stories.  I know what I have to do.  Now, the struggle is to do it.  Funny how that goes.