The “choice” to eat meat, dairy, & eggs: knowledge, awareness & choice (part 2)

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What goes into the choices that we make around food? Are they what we think they are? Do we really have a choice at all? Those are some of the questions I’m asking in this 3-part series about what it means to choose to eat – or not eat – meat, dairy, & eggs. Society-at-large is still largely unaccepting of the choice to be vegan, often based on a fundamental lack of knowledge about the effects of animal products on both the human body and the earth.

One of the most common ways people respond to vegan activism is to propose that everyone has the right to choose; if vegans want to choose the life of an ascetic outcast weakling that’s fine, but they’ve chosen to consume animal products. To each his own, and we should all be able to accept each other.

But have they really chosen to consume animal products? For most people the answer is no. Most people were raised consuming animal products and, except, perhaps, in the case of lactose intolerance, many a child has been made to eat/drink animal products even when they didn’t want to. It happened in my own family (I hated the taste of cow’s milk and I didn’t want to eat the meat from the lambs I’d bottle-fed and played with), and many other families besides mine. I’m not suggesting that no child enjoys animal products – many of them taste good, but that’s not the point. Children aren’t given information and a choice. They’re given a plate full of chicken nuggets and a glass of milk. And told it’s good for them, even though it’s not.

Those children become adults – you and me – who one day hear about this strange lifestyle called veganism, and we then have two options: turn away and ignore new information, content to rely on tradition, or engage and learn. If we opt to learn, then we have the building blocks of a true choice between veganism and carnism. So long as we are not aware of the consequences of our behaviors for the health & well-being of ourselves & our global family, the earth, and the other creatures on it – so long as we remain in the dark – we are not making a choice, but blindly fumbling along.

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watch the clip here

It reminds of a scene from Labyrinth (yes, the awesome 1986 movie with David Bowie & Jennifer Connelly) – when Sarah first enters the Labyrinth on her quest for the castle at its center, she meets a worm who helps her find an invisible doorway. She goes through, and trots off to the left. The worm calls out after her “Hang on! … Don’t go that way! Never go that way!” Sarah thanks him, turns around, and leaves. The worm then lets the audience know that “if she’d’a kept on going down that way, she’d have gone straight to the castle.” She accepts his advice without question, when she would clearly have taken the path on the left had she but known. I know it’s totally naive, but I can’t help but think that, if people truly understood the consequences of eating meat, dairy, & eggs, most would choose veganism with little or no hesitation.

I think this generation has the same responsibility as every other: to progress, both scientifically and morally. Most vegans, myself included, are people who turned away from the truth for some period of time, understanding somewhere deep down that once we knew, we would have to change in order to be in keeping with our own moral standards and, eventually, we did. I think it’s safe to say most of us wish we had made the change sooner. Don’t be afraid to bear witness. It’s one of the most powerful things you can do to increase your knowledge, awareness, and connection with the rest of the world. Allow yourself to see the truth.

So, what are the actual consequences of our collective carnism? They are manifold! Such that they require a whole separate post. Part 3 coming soon.

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The “choice” to eat meat, dairy, & eggs: Forcing children to be vegan (part 1)

crossroads-997123_1280Eating meat, dairy, & eggs is status quo. Virtually all of us grow up eating some version of an omnivorous diet. Animal products are so easily accessible that they’re taken for granted, even difficult to avoid. Living in a society – actually, a world – in which consuming animal products is well-accepted, nay advocated for, means that people who adopt a vegan lifestyle are total outsiders, on the less-trodden trail. But nothing happens in a vacuum, right? So, what happens when these vegans interact with society-at-large? In this multi-part series, I want to take a look at what goes into our choices around food. Are our choices what we think they are? Do we really have a choice at all?

A common accusation levied against vegan parents is that they force their children to be vegan. The underlying assumption is that children have the right to make that choice for themselves. I’m always amazed, and a little infuriated, at how little thought process goes into this accusation. I guarantee you not a single person who has ever accused a vegan of forcing their children to be vegan has asked their own children whether they want to eat animal products or not. More often, and I’ve seen this first-hand too many times, people try to make kids eat animals products even when they don’t want to. Not out of some desire to inflict pain & suffering, but for the same reasons that vegans don’t give their children the very same products. The desire to do what’s best for the child.

The problem here is obvious – those people who believe vegans shouldn’t “force” their children to adopt a vegan lifestyle, at the same time forcing their children to eat & drink animal products, don’t understand/haven’t yet learned that veganism is the best possible choice, ethically, sustainability-wise, and in terms of their children’s long-term health. They’re thinking of veganism in the negative – those poor kids are being denied the simple pleasures in life – a life without cream- and egg-filled desserts isn’t worth living – it’s some ascetic nightmare. How could you force that on your children? And many people still believe that it’s more difficult for vegans to get enough protein & calcium, so they worry about vegan children. It’s totally valid to have those concerns – but they must be taught (and willing to learn!) the truth. What is the truth? Vegans eat dessert. And vegans get plenty of protein & calcium.

conventionThey don’t understand (yet, hopefully) that the situation is quite the opposite of what they think – they’re forcing their children to consume animal products, which is devastating to their own health and is a major contributor to that clear and present danger: climate change, never mind causing slaughterhouse workers psychological problems like PTSD, and animals untold amounts of suffering. Why force that on your children? It’s past time to rethink how we understand our choices when it comes to food. Blindly following alimentary norms is not a choice at all. It is the absence of choice.

Another way in which I take issue with the accusation that vegan parents are “forcing” their children to be vegan is that all parents force their children to do certain things (e.g., clean their room) and behave in certain ways (e.g., discuss problems rather than throwing a temper tantrum). Why? As parents, we have a responsibility to do the best we know how for our children in order to prepare them for their future in this world, which includes being a member of society who knows how to make decisions that are in line with their ethics, to seek out new information to use in making those decisions, and to be a member of this global population that is capable of leaving the world a better place than they found it. But that also means first informing ourselves of how to do those things. To stop eating animal products is one of the single most effective things we can do for sustainability, and our health.

crossing-801713_640Vegans would be seriously remiss in their duties if they didn’t teach their children that! Imagine not teaching your children to look both ways before they cross the street. That’s what it would feel like for a vegan not to teach their children that it’s harmful to consume animal products. For me personally, every time I see a child eating a sausage, it’s like watching that child smoke a cigarette – because it’s the same in terms of cancer risk! And that is the reason we try to keep children away from cigarettes, is it not? So then why give them sausages?? Now that we know how carcinogenic they are, we have a responsibility to accept that we need to change our behavior. But it even goes beyond that.

hand-644145_640Now that we know how devastating animal agriculture is for the environment, we have a responsibility to our children, for the sake of their own future survival on this planet, to teach them how to save it. Since we’ve done such an abysmal job of saving it ourselves, the least we can do is pass on a little bit of knowledge before making them responsible for cleaning up the titanic mess we’ve managed to create in just a few ignorance-filled generations – if, that is, it isn’t already too late. And that is why this issue is so important. We have got to turn this boat around. Urgently.

Raising environmentally and socially conscious vegan children is an excellent way to do that.

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My top 5 vegan cooking resources

With all the jaw-droppingly beautiful and mind-bogglingly delicious vegan food out there, you never need to feel like you’re missing out on anything by going vegan. Below, in no particular order, are my favorite 5 vegan cooking resources. If they were books, they’d be completely worn out by now. Vegan for the win!


Minimalist Baker

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image by Minimalist Baker

This blog is simply awesome. The only problem is that there are just too many recipes on it that I can’t wait to try!

My partner is a chocolate fiend – me, not so much – so I was in uncharted territory when I was searching for a vegan brownie recipe. There are very few other cooks out there who I trust enough to lead me down the path of Black Bean Brownies. They were awesome, like every other recipe I’ve tried from this blog!

Next on my list? I’m excited to try the Pumpkin Cornbread Waffles! And the Sun-Dried Tomato Chickpea Burgers! And…I’d better just stop now.


Oh She Glows

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my partner’s possibly overly-ambitious burger tower

For like 6 months, this was pretty much the only vegan cooking blog I used. It had everything I needed, and I never failed to find an utterly delicious recipe here.

 

Plus, there are several recipes that make great impressions on non-vegans for dinner parties, like these seriously amazing Next Level Vegan Enchiladas. Wow! Or these Jumbo Stuffed Shells, which I made for my partner’s birthday last year, to everyone’s delight.

My favorite recipe, though, hands-down, is Our Perfect Veggie Burger. This is dinner every Friday night in my house. The name doesn’t lie. They are actually perfect.


the Vegan Corner

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screenshot from the Vegan Cornerr

The Vegan Corner is a more recent discovery for me. I was looking for options to replace cooking cream in pasta dishes. The onion cream was one I’d never encountered before, and it was just thing I needed!

 

The thing I really like about this website, aside from having so many simple but fabulous dishes, is that they include not only the usual nutritional information, but also the caloric breakdown of the dish.

As you can see in the image (Linguine with pepper & leek cream), they also have video tutorials for many of their recipes – helpful for less experienced cooks.


the Kitchn

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screenshot from the Kitchn’s Surprising Ideas collection

Loads of vegan recipes is just the beginning at the Kitchn.

They are also well-known for their great how-to posts and surprising(ly awesome) ideas. What first brought me to them was 5 Ways to Prepare Tempeh. I really needed this advice as a new vegan!

But you don’t have to take my word for it – try out something from 17 of the Most Delicious Vegan Recipes We Know.


Post Punk Kitchen

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image by PPK – BLT Mac & Cheeze

To me, PPK screams comfort food, and no wonder – there are 5 different vegan mac & cheese recipes to sample from!

And I know that, as soon as autumn hits, I’m going to be craving this Mushroom Hot Pot.


Eat like every bite counts

One more thing. I’m just going to shamelessly plug my own food blog. In fact, it’s not meant to show you beautiful food or inventive vegan recipes, so, in that sense, it doesn’t compete at all with the 5 above, but has a completely different purpose. It’s meant to be a resource for people who are interested in following Dr. Michael Greger’s evidence-based advice on how to eat on a daily basis for optimum health. He developed a “Daily Dozen” checklist of what we should try to eat every day, and my goal with Eat like every bite counts is to create daily meal plans that check off every single box. When I use recipes like our perfect veggie burger, I calculate how many boxes you can check (you can see that particular breakdown here). If you’d like to find out how a particular recipe fits into Dr. Greger’s Daily Dozen, let me know. I’ll see what I can do! 


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Is veganism an eating disorder?

comic-characters-1297866_640My friend went vegan and now her hair’s falling out and her period stopped.

I don’t know how many times I’ve read something similar in the comment section of a blog post or a video on youtube. I want to talk about this because it’s a topic that touches on serious mental health issues, but also a sadly mistaken view of the vegan community as a whole. If you know someone who fits that description they may be using veganism to mask an eating disorder.

This is a challenging discussion as there’s very little to be said that can be applied to everyone, and each person can only know the truth about their own motivations for choosing a vegan lifestyle, and not everyone is honest with themselves, which muddies the waters. If you know someone who is vegan and you’re legitimately concerned about their mental health vis-a-vis their diet, you may want to put some extra time into really trying to understand the difference between an eating disorder and being passionate about vegan advocacy & caring deeply about maintaining a vegan lifestyle.

Orthorexia: the vegan eating disorder?

The main eating disorder that I want to discuss is orthorexia nervosa. The reason I’m limiting my discussion to this particular eating disorder is because it offers the most opportunity for confusion, and for people to mistakenly pinpoint vegans as having an eating disorder.

I have a real problem with the official definition of orthorexia.

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no-smoking-907087_640It seems impossible not to include vegans within this definition. No wonder people are confused! I systematically avoid foods that cause irreparable harm to myself, the planet, and trillions of animals – meat, dairy & eggs. And I also almost never eat very sugary things, like candy and chocolate. Does that make me orthorexic? Certainly not – I’m just a vegan who has never had much of a sweet tooth, even when I was a kid. Anyone who systematically avoids cigarettes and cigarette smoke or someone who is lactose intolerant systematically avoiding dairy products doesn’t have mental health problems any more than vegans do.

Veganism can be an attractive lifestyle to young girls and boys with a penchant for eating disorders and who want to be super skinny because it naturally eliminates many of the sources of dietary fat – animal products. A good sign to look for if you’re worried about someone who’s vegan having an eating disorder is the avoidance of ANY fat at all, even healthy fats like those found in avocado and nuts. But be sure that you’re aware of what actually constitutes a healthy fat. If someone is avoiding no oiloils (olive oil, canola oil, coconut oil, etc.) and products made with them (such as potato chips, margarine, etc.), that is not necessarily a warning sign! Plant-based doctors, such as Dr. Esselstyn and Dr. McDougall warn against consuming any oil at all because it clogs arteries and can lead to heart attacks. Nuts, seeds, avocados, olives, soybeans & soy products are all healthy whole-food sources of fat.

To omnivores, my diet sounds very restrictive, but in fact I eat bountifully as a vegan, so keep in mind there is a matter of perspective to account for. Having said that, if a person only eats 5 different foods, that’s objectively extreme and a clear warning sign.

Another warning sign, as mentioned at the start of this post, is hair & period loss (on any diet, by the way). Anyone experiencing this should look at the calorie density of their food. If you consistently eat food with low calorie density, then it will be difficult to eat enough calories in any given day and, if your weight falls below a healthy level, then bye-bye hair and period. It’s a natural consequence of being underweight, and an important warning sign.

Another by-product of a failure to consume a sufficient amount of calories is being nutritionally deficient. If you’re worried, get a blood test to find out if you’re getting enough vitamins & minerals.

The Bratman test for orthorexia

I believe that it’s important to look at each individual person within their own context when it comes to figuring out if they might have orthorexia. I’m going to use the Bratman test for orthorexia to show you why. It’s a series of questions to assist in self-diagnosis.

  1. Do you spend more than 3 hours a day thinking about your diet?
  2. Do you plan your meals several days ahead?
  3. Is the nutritional value of your meal more important than the pleasure of eating it?
  4. Has the quality of your life decreased as the quality of your diet has increased?
  5. Have you become stricter with yourself lately?
  6. Does your self-esteem get a boost from eating healthily?
  7. Have you given up foods you used to enjoy in order to eat the ‘right’ foods?
  8. Does your diet make it difficult for you to eat out, distancing you from family and friends?
  9. Do you feel guilty when you stray from your diet?
  10. Do you feel at peace with yourself and in total control when you eat healthily?

“Yes to 4 or 5 of the above questions means it is time to relax more about food. Yes to all of them means a full-blown obsession with eating healthy food.” (source).

I answered yes to 1,2,3,5,7,8,10. That’s a shocking 7 out of 10! And yes to 4 or 5 means that I’m supposed to “relax more about food”? Why on God’s green earth should I “relax” about food when animal agriculture is literally destroying the planet and human health? For each question to which I answered yes, I’m going to explain why, so that you know how I can feel so certain about not having orthorexia myself, and so you can see why new, more pointed, questions are needed to test for this eating disorder.

brainstorming-413156_6401. Do you spend more than 3 hours a day thinking about your diet? YES. Not only am I  a vegan who prepares virtually all the meals in my household, but I also love to cook, and am always searching for new and interesting ways to substitute for things like cream (my latest discovery is onion cream, which I now use in pasta dishes). In addition, I have 2 blogs which both focus on veganism. The other one is specifically about healthy meal planning in accordance with Dr. Greger’s recommended daily dozen. I also have a large garden, and I devote time to thinking about what I can grow that will offer the most nutritional yield for my hard work, and will also be the most cost- and space-efficient. When I’m harvesting, I like to think about meals that I can make with the food I’m gathering. This all comes back to veganism, and so, yes, I’m sure I spend far more than 3 hours each day thinking about my ‘diet’.

2. Do you plan your meals several days ahead? YES. We go grocery shopping once a week. I go with a prepared list of what I need for the week’s meals. I like trying new things, so I don’t just buy the same things every week, which means I need to plan meals and prepare a list in advance or I’ll never remember everything I need. 

horizontal-1155878_6403. Is the nutritional value of your meal more important than the pleasure of eating it? YES. Though I really enjoy cooking and love love love good food, I always start by finding something that is nutritious. If I go to a dinner party and the extent of the effort that the hosts went to to accommodate me was to cut up a few raw vegetables, well, then, that’s what I’m eating even though I’m certainly not going to get all that much pleasure out of it. It’s definitely a bummer when that happens, but I won’t compromise my health & principles just because someone doesn’t know how to use Google. But, to be fair, it’s not just about nutrition for me. I’m an ethical vegan as well, so I guess I can sort of give this a semi-yes. I’ve always made sure that I maintained healthy eating habits, and not fallen into a rut of eating lots of fatty or sugary foods. In that sense, even before I was vegan, my first priority was health & nutrition.

5. Have you become stricter with yourself lately? YES. It’s very recently that I found out that refined oil is as bad for your body as animal products, so I’ve been working to eliminate oil from my diet. I use aquafaba to replace oil in hummus and pesto and salad dressings, etc. I don’t like water-sauteed onions, though, so if anyone has suggestions for me about that, I’d be happy to hear them. 

7. Have you given up foods you used to enjoy in order to eat the ‘right’ foods? Uh. Hello. Cheese. Bacon. I even had to give up my favorite dish detergent because it has whey in it.

gossip-1385797_6408. Does your diet make it difficult for you to eat out, distancing you from family and friends? YES. I don’t let it prevent me from going where I’m invited, but I think some people don’t invite me over for dinner because it’s scary for them to try to cook vegan. When it definitely distances me from people is when they behave like asses and make fun of me, or ignorantly declare total disapproval of my ‘sissy’ ethics, ‘sickly’ diet, and ‘high-horse’ lifestyle. Yeah, whatever. Sometimes I cry a little, but then I get over it. It’s their problem, not mine. And, no matter how rude people have been, I’ve never regretted my decision to be vegan for a single second.

10. Do you feel at peace with yourself and in total control when you eat healthily? YES. Of course I feel at peace and in control of myself when I healthily. Not only am I living my ethics, but I know I’m doing as much to be in control of my own future health, well-being and healthcare costs as I know how to do, which is a good feeling. And that’s NORMAL! 

While orthorexia is as serious as any other eating disorder, and there are some orthorexic vegans out there who do need the people in their lives to lovingly and compassionately try to get them help, most vegans are not orthorexic. They are individuals who have opened their eyes to the truth of the damage that is caused by consuming animal products – the damage to the planet, to the animals, and to our own bodies, and they are acting completely rationally in the face of that information. I would argue MORE rationally than people who flatly refuse to consider veganism.

If a vegan is orthorexic, they can recover from their eating disorder while still being vegan. Here is a good discussion of that possibility.

Lastly, mainstream media sometimes uses the idea of orthorexia to try to scare people out of becoming vegan (I’m looking at you, BBC). It’s utterly ridiculous, and it needs to stop because they are doing actual harm. Don’t be afraid to:

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Is a vegan diet less sustainable than an omnivorous diet?

References to one particular study on diet and land use requirements keep popping up around the web, from various blogs and news organizations.

rude-151093_640Most of them have been quick to jump on this study because it seems to offer them an opportunity to thumb their noses and blow raspberries at the vegan community, for example, “Sorry vegans: Sticking to a meat-free, dairy-free diet is NOT as good for the planet as you might think”. Many of them start with some kind of elbow to the rib, something about how we like to think we’re better than everybody else or some such nonsense. Some are more respectful.

What all of them have in common is a serious lack of understanding of the specific point made by the authors, and even the authors themselves seem to miss the forest for the trees. I’ll explain.

First, here’s a link to the specious article under discussion: Peters et al. 2016. It’s licensed under the CC attribution license and available for everyone to read for free (yay!).

salad-1570673_640The key measure under investigation was the carrying capacity of U.S. agricultural land – basically, the annual per capita land requirements vs. amount of land available for food production when that food is in keeping with different diets. More simply, how many people can be fed with the amount of land that we have? The authors look at various levels of omnivorous diets, lacto-ovo and lacto-vegetarian, and vegan, as well as 2 variants of current consumption.

They begin with 2 fundamental assumptions: there is a relationship between diet and sustainability, specifically, “dietary change is essential for meeting future human food needs”. Agreed. Second: “sparing land from conversion to agriculture may be important for protecting biodiversity”, so it’s vitally important to understand how dietary patterns impact land use. So far, so good.

cows-1029077_640The authors caution against simplistic thinking because, though animal agriculture is the most land-intensive, the largest fraction of land it uses is for foraging and grazing, often on non-arable land – land that can’t be used to grow any crops for human consumption, though grasses and other ‘weeds’ will grow which the animals eat. So, as they point out, eliminating animal agriculture does not necessarily mean turning all its land over to cultivation.

So, I can definitely see where they’re coming from. It’s a logical argument. If we want to make the most of our land for food production purposes, then we need to use it for what it’s good for. Attempting to make non-arable land supportive of crops causes environmental devastation (just look at the Aral Sea crisis). And it’s clear from the numbers in Peters et al. (2016) that the most efficient use of land for food would include using non-arable land for animal agriculture.

There are 2 implicit assumptions the authors are making which are simply untrue. First, that there is such a thing as an omnivorous diet that is healthy. Nope. Not only is the ingestion of animal products devastating to human health, but the killing and handling of dead animals causes psychological disorders in the people who do that kind of work, and passes unknown numbers of diseases on to anyone who handles raw meat, producers & consumers alike.

Second, that the most efficient diet in terms of land use is the most sustainable diet. Efficiency does not equal sustainability, and animal agriculture is far too devastating to the environment to be considered as part of the future of a sustainable food supply. The following information and more is available on the Cowspiracy website’s fact sheet.

  • ocean dead zones, water pollution, & habitat destruction are largely driven by animal agricultureclean-1223168_640
  • livestock and their byproducts account for 51% of global greenhouse gas emissions
  • animal agriculture is the leading driver of desertification
  • the U.S. could feed 800 million people with just the grain that is currently fed to livestock (that’s more than double the current U.S. population and slightly more than the total number of starving people in the world, according to United Nations World Food Program statistics)
  • more than 80% of the world’s starving children live in countries who export their grain to feed livestock, which are then consumed by people in wealthier countries – an absolute crime against humanity

What I’m trying to say is that it doesn’t actually matter what the most efficient use of land is, because any animal agriculture at all does more harm than good and, if we turn over all the currently arable land to cultivation for human consumption, we could easily feed the global population with room to grow, and if we eventually do outgrow it, we can still work with what we’ve got and use our technology to find better solutions like vertical farming.

Something I often hear vegans say, and see in vegan blog posts is that we don’t need to consume animals and their products to be healthy and happy, but we can make a much stronger statement than that – because it’s true – consuming animals and their products at the rate we currently do is not only antithetical to human health & happiness, but even to our survival as a species.

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Vegan heroes

I would like to congratulate The Guardian. I don’t know who wrote this article because I couldn’t find the name of the author, but congrats to her/him as well.

A story about an Italian baby who was malnourished by his parents has been the source of so much negative press from big media, and even independent media is struggling to cover it from an unbiased, fact-driven perspective, because the parents happen to be vegan.

The Young Turks kind of tried, but fell way short. (Cenk Uygur seems close to getting it, but he’s obviously blocking himself from having to make this massive shift. I know he could make the connection if he wanted to because I was once exactly where he is right now.)

The reason I’m impressed with this writer for The Guardian is that it’s so much easier, at this point in time, to go with a sensationalist headline  – something about vegan parents = child abuse – than to write a positive piece about the health and nutritional benefits of raising children vegan.

And major kudos to the mothers who were willing to share their stories with the press at  a time when they might legitimately fear negative backlash. They are today’s heroes!

Leaving the Land of Nod: a vegan perspective on the Garden of Eden

How do you feel about knowledge?

It’s generally a good thing, right? Important, a worthy pursuit, advances civilization, and all that jazz? Yes, of course.

creation-47473_640That’s why I never really got the Bible story about Adam & Eve & the Garden of Eden. They were cast out of the garden for eating from the Tree of Knowledge. I couldn’t quite connect with the idea that knowledge was somehow a bad thing. I’m apparently not the only one because I’ve seen interpretations of this story saying that the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge had the power to fill man with the desire for both good and evil. But I don’t buy that interpretation. It doesn’t seem to be what was intended by the story, which speaks only of the knowledge of good and evil.

Now that I have a different perspective on the eating habits of humanity, it suddenly dawned on me to look at this story with new eyes, and I found that I have, for the first time, an answer to this riddle that works for me.

Humankind is the only species that, as far as we know, has knowledge of good and evil; in other words – we’re the only non-innocent animal in an ethical sense, meaning that we make decisions based on a thought process including the weighing of our actions against a moral backdrop rather than simply following instinct with no ethical culpability, as the other creatures on this earth.

We’re also the only species to consistently subsist on a diet that is neither natural nor healthy for us because we have the technology to go against nature. Here’s something interesting which, to me, shows that the ethic of veganism is part of our consciousness no matter how deep our culture is trying to bury it: in the Garden of Eden – the perfect paradise – animals simply exist side-by-side with man – they are not used for food or labor. But then, after being cast out of paradise, the first two “jobs” that humans engaged in (according to this story, anyway) were plant and animal agriculture. The sons of Adam & Eve were a shepherd and a farmer.

donkey-534906_640So, as we lost the innocence that goes along with ignorance, our entire relationship with the animal kingdom changed. It was no longer one of harmony, but became one of subjugation when we lost our paradise. That says to me that we have always known, in our heart of hearts, even 3500 years ago when the stories in Genesis were first written, that our relationship with the other animals with whom we share this planet is just not right. It represents a deviation from our original purpose.

book-2869_640Another word about knowledge: you’ve heard the expression “ignorance is bliss”, I’m sure. It’s easy enough to see why this is a truism, especially in this context. But what about “a little learning is a dangerous thing” (Alexander Pope)? Well, just look at us! The path we’re on is clearly destructive to ourselves, to other species, and to the planet as a whole. We’re ruining everything (I know that might sound hyperbolic, but it’s literally true) with our “knowledge” because we don’t have enough of it – you can never have enough of it. Once you’ve entered that rabbit-hole, there’s no coming out. We now have the duty of constantly trying to gain knowledge and understanding because the more we have, the less dangerous our knowledge becomes.

Simple example:

Common knowledge: protein is an essential macronutrient.

Not common knowledge: if we get our protein mostly from animal products, we’re doing ourselves more harm than good.

Not common knowledge: we can get plenty of protein from eating plants (after all, that’s where most other animals get it from).

I do have a caveat – it’s only true based on the assumption that, as humanity advances, we will also continue to grow spiritually & ethically – that personal qualities like empathy and detachment will be cultivated and will continue to spread. I see this in the vegan movement, and I used the two specific examples of empathy and detachment because they are both key qualities of successful (meaning long-term) ethical vegans. These are people who have expanded their circle of empathy, a prerequisite for compassion, as wide as they can. It’s more than that, though – developing the quality of detachment is necessary to let go of all the animal products that our society tells us we should fear being without. I assure you, there was a day when I was afraid to let go of cheese. I expressed that feeling in the following way: “I could never give up cheese!” Sound familiar? It seems silly to me now, because I don’t eat cheese and I don’t feel a sense of deprivation, but it’s normal for people to be afraid of that feeling. And it’s only after letting go that you can come to realize that your life and your food are just as interesting as they ever were. Getting to that point, though, requires detachment. While we still have the fear of letting go, we hold ourselves back from being standard-bearers of the advancement of society, and from participating in a meaningful way in literally saving the planet.

Expand your circle of empathy;

Detach yourself from what’s holding you back;

& Go Vegan. It’s worth it.

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** A note about the title, for those who are curious. I chose the “Land of Nod” for its double entendre. By leaving the land of nod I mean both waking up to the truth, and leaving exile to regain paradise.

 

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