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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Unexpected Side Effects of the Red Pill

Remember in the Matrix, when Neo was shown the red pill and the blue pill? You remember: if he chose the blue one, he could live in blissful ignorance; if he chose the red one, he would have to face the depressing, stark reality of the matrix.

As vegans, that's what we all did. We took the red pill.

Now we live in a highly conscious state. And as most of you know, it didn't just stop with your choice of food. Suddenly, you were conscious of other things too. Quickly, you realized - if you didn't from the beginning - that your clothes and product choices were also important. Not only did most of them contain animal products some of them were tested on animals or contained insane amounts of chemicals that could hurt you or the environment.

Other words began to seep into your daily life: natural, fair trade, organic, sustainable, etc.

Before you know it, your entire perspective on consumerism changed. If you were like me, previous to swallowing the red pill, you spent money la-di-dah, not thinking about it at all. Now each purchase seems crucial, sometimes requiring research. Shampoo? Not as easy as it once was. If you don't have much money or access to a health food store, you might find yourself online trying to find a mainstream brand that is cheap as well as both cruelty-free and natural. (White Rain is the answer to that puzzle, by the way) The once mindless choice, of which the most difficult aspect was picking the one that smells the best, now becomes an agonizing, time-consuming ordeal that could require research and an internal struggle.

Not to say that any of this is bad. In fact, it's good. More people should take that red pill and think about what they are buying. The world would be a better place.

It just becomes a little tiring is all, or more appropriately, it becomes a little overwhelming. It seems like the world is so full of injustices. It almost makes you want to give away everything you own, go live naked in the woods, and eat nuts and berries so you don't contribute to additional suffering.

This morning, I was reading VegNews, not expecting the red pill that awaited me. I started reading the article "Food, Inc.," and was smacked in the face with news that the banana I ate this morning as probably stained with the blood of South Americans; the chocolate bar I recently bought might have been brought to me by child labor in Africa; and the jasmine rice I'll be eating at lunch today might be tainted by the cruel rice market in Asia.

Needless to say, I was horrified.

The answer, of course, is to look for the fair trade symbol and be more conscious of what I'm buying: all of which I will do to the best of my ability, and most of which I already do for the most part.

All of us have to take things one thing at a time, moment by moment. It is imperative to be informed, but it is overwhelming to sit at my computer and think of the injustices in South America, Asia, and Africa. Not only is it overwhelming, it's counterproductive because it makes me feel so helpless. It's not quite as overwhelming to choose the fair trade chocolate, or (cringe) no chocolate, when I'm at the grocery store. I think it's also important to remember that we can only do the best we can. Our choices make an impact and it's up to us what that impact is. Hopefully, the choices I make will make that red pill go down easier.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Vegan Awesome Person of the Year

Oprah Winfrey as PETA's Person of the Year? Seriously? I mean, no disrespect to the philanthropic icon, but she's not a vegetarian. Sure she brought notoriety to a cleansing diet that happened to be vegan, but let's not forget that she steered away from this diet and has resumed her carcass-eating ways.

I respect Oprah in all that she does and I believe that she does a lot of good in this world. Should any other organization, publication, or random person name her to be Person of the Year in any give time frame, I wouldn't bat an eye. But PETA? PETA which stands for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals? To me, being at least vegetarian if not vegan should be a pre-requisite for the honor. I realize that publicity is all the rage, but may I suggest an alternate personality? Might I recommend someone who has recently made that switch to veganism and is arguably as beloved by people around the nation? Or maybe I'll just give an award for Vegan Awesome Person of the Year.... drum roll please...

The 2008 Vegan Awesome Person of the Year is... Ellen DeGeneres!!!

Yes, the lovable, dancing, freak-freaking, gorgeous-actress-marrying, animal-loving, 50-year-old-turning, utterly hilarious Ellen DeGenerous is my choice for person of the year. For years people have been telling me that Ellen loves animals, and even prior to my decision to go veg about a year and a half ago, I thought that slightly odd, since I couldn't find her name listed among known vegetarians. This year, Ellen made it known that she has elected to go vegan, and I couldn't possibly be more excited. From having PCRM President Neal Barnard, M.D. on the show, to having a vegan wedding, Ellen has demonstrated vegan awesomeness in everything she's done. Being vegan isn't the only thing that makes her awesome, but the fact that she is so awesome AND a vegan is the reason why she deserves this honored distinction.

Hats off to Ellen and may her viewers see her for the Vegan Awesome person she truly is!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Sweet Potato for Awesomeness

My work place is remarkably varied. It consists mostly of women, but from all ethnic backgrounds and from all over the nation. Yet, I still live in a fairly small city in the south. So, I tread carefully when it comes to politics and my veganism. I'm naturally a little reserved anyway when it comes to talking about that stuff. You can just chalk it up to me being un-confrontational. I just don't like to argue about things, especially those kinds of things that lead to serious arguments, like not eating meat. I don't want to be known as that crazy, vegan girl who won't shut up. I'm dedicated to the idea of being vegan awesome.

And yet, no matter how hard you try not to talk about it or draw attention to it, it comes up.

As you are standing at the community microwave, the inevitable questions begin, "What's that? Is that tofu? Are you one of those healthy eaters?"

Or, "Do you want to grab a burger?"
Me: "Oh, no thanks."
"What? Are you a vegetarian or something?"

Somehow you are forced to answer. Then it spreads like wildfire. You have people coming up to you and conspiratorially whispering things like, "I try not to eat very much red meat," or "I don't think I could live without cheese."

And that is how it happened to me. I told one person and suddenly my whole office was aware that I eschewed all animal products.

There were various reactions. Some were confused, others wary. Yet, strangely, most were supportive.

One lady in particular - the loudest, most southern of them all - who I had heard say things like "towelhead," was the most interested.

One day, out of nowhere, she brought me a sweet potato.

Yes, a single sweet potato.

It was like a white flag. It was a sign of support, and maybe even of solidarity.

She came to my desk and said gruffly, "Here you go." She thrust a medium sized sweet potato towards me. "My husband deals with produce all day and had some extra of these. I know you can eat them."

I was strangely and deeply touched.

It was the beginning of an unexpected and extremely nice effort on her part to make me more comfortable in the office when it came to food. She asked me questions about dairy and appeared to be interested in the answers. She only brought things I could eat to office functions. She even bought vegan butter just so she could make me cinnamon apples.

Although I can't place all the credit on being awesome, since most of it belongs to her open-mindedness, I believe that my quietness and unobtrusiveness brought out in her a motherly notion to protect me and provide options for me. It is a perfect example of how, by simply being there, you can change someone's perspective forever.

And in case you are wondering, I used the sweet potato in a delicious vegan stew.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

What is Vegan Awesome?

Obviously, one would assume that vegan awesome is simply a person projecting a favorable opinion of veganism. This is a justifiable assumption when the phrase "vegan awesome" is all in lower case letters, but what of the concept itself? The concept "Vegan Awesome" in it's title form and full of wonder can be summed up by further advancing the vegan lifestyle choice, into a free-thinking version of simple awesomeness. What do I mean? I mean that merely being vegan does not make you Vegan Awesome, but rather there must be further lifestyle choices that propel you to that status.

Take for instance activism. Activism certainly has it's place in the animal rights sector, as well as for other noteworthy causes (environment, politics, etc.) However, not everyone is swayed by activism. While one person may be fully convinced that the fur industry is wrong after an encounter with flour or paint, another may decide to wear more fur, purely out of spite. Additionally, seeing a video on the horrors of factory farming might convince a large percentage of the population to go vegan, while others may be more influenced by learning the health hazards of what can be referred to as "a westernized diet." The point of this is purely marketing. From a realist perspective, many angles should be taken on the issues involving animal rights and dietary preferences. Keep PETA, PCRM, and all the other organizations which address different angles of animal rights. Keep the protests and activism that has brought so many people to the cause and raised awareness of these key issues. Continue discussing the big three reasons for going vegan: ethics, environment, health. All of these things are valuable marketing devises and important cogs in the machine of progression. Like these other concepts, Vegan Awesome is just one small part of it all; one small way to help people make kinder, healthier choices.

All vegans and vegetarians are displaying an alternate lifestyle to that of the average person, especially Americans. Whether we like it or not, we are flagships for our cause and we are viewed as such by our peers. For some reason, people spend a great deal of time noticing, discussing, and inquiring about food and the eating habits of others. We experience this at lunchtime with our coworkers, hearing voices of "what's that?" and "eeewww." We experience this in the grocery store when the checkout person has never heard of rice milk, scoffs at tofu, and gives you a puzzling look when you ask if something is made from organic sugar. We get to be the "difficult one" on trips and the black sheep of the family during holidays. No matter what we do, our simple dietary preferences and our kind lifestyle choices define the way we are seen by those around us. Much like a famous figure, we represent something larger than ourselves... at least to those around us.

When someone who doesn't know anything about the National Football League (NFL) hears the phrase football, oftentimes the first thing that comes to their head is Michael Vick and his horrible treatment of animals. Other people think of Pacman Jones and his famous strip club fight. Obviously, those who follow the sport don't isolate these two people, so they have a better opinion of the sport and probably of athletes as a whole. The same concept can be applied to vegans and vegetarians. For many of us, we are one of very few vegans that our peers know, and in some cases we are the only vegan in their life. Therefore, their impression of vegans and vegetarians tends to derive strictly from us and perhaps whenever PETA makes the news. This has led to an unfortunate brand of stereotyping and we all face an uphill battle meeting new omnivores because of it. Often we're seen as elitist, preachy, and just plain weird before we even get to know the people. This is the nature of humanity and we know this going into it.

So how can we get back to square one with the omnivores of the world? How can we let them know that not every vegan is extremely serious, preachy and angry all the time? How can we let them know that we are not as difficult or strange as they seem to think? The concept of Vegan Awesome is that if they change their opinions of the vegans and vegetarians that they know, then they'll gradually change their opinions of vegans and vegetarians as a whole.

Being Vegan Awesome is cognitively deciding that you are going to be a vegan, and you are going to show people how awesome being vegan is, purely by being awesome yourself. If you become "that awesome vegan" they know, then they'll have a better opinion of veganism in general. Once they form a better opinion of veganism as a whole, they'll be more open to incorporating vegan choices in their life. Maybe it's a big difference and someone will go veg. Maybe it's something more subtle like switching to rice milk or simply reducing their meat intake. I do believe though that by being Vegan Awesome, you'll have some impact (big or small) on those around you. And remember, good and healthy habits are "in" this year.