October 19, 2014
Hey vegan, why do you eat things that taste like meat?

"If you don’t eat meat then why eat things that taste like meat?" 

I never understand that question, but I do hear it come up a lot. A friend of mine posted the below graphic on Facebook and someone commented with that question.

I’ll share here the answer I responded with there, and expand on it a bit.

These things taste like what they taste like. They happen to be compared to bacon as that’s (unfortunately) a more commonly recognized flavor than any one of these things. Someone could just as easily say, “Hey, we found a way to prepare the flesh of a slaughtered pig in a way that makes it taste like sweet and savory maple tempeh!” I’ve tried to move entirely away from using names for foods that refer to animal flesh for that very reason.

I’ve never had much of a sweet tooth. Before I became vegan (see previous posts for that journey), I would often order the ‘farmer’s plate’, ‘charcuterie platter,’ etc. at restaurants. Plates of savory things like pickles, olives, cheese, salami, etc. That was my go to flavor profile. I could eat olives for dessert.

Once I learned more about the fact that meat, dairy and eggs are a speed train to heart disease, cancer and other things that will trash my quality of life and eventually end it early, I cut them out and became vegan. While eating vegan for purely health reasons, I started to learn more about the reasons to be vegan for moral, ethical and environmental reasons, and that actually trumps the health benefits for me at this point.

I still don’t have a sweet tooth and I still love savory things. I don’t understand why it’s a mystery that people who are choosing to eat a  cruelty-free, sustainable diet should suddenly have to forsake things that taste good. I think the opposite is actually true. The longer I’m vegan, the less I’m reliant on the blunt tools of sugar and fat to tell my brain that something tastes good and the more I’m able to discern and appreciate the subtle rainbow of flavors in the rich variety of healthy foods I’m constantly discovering and enjoying.

If strips of slaughtered animal flesh happen to taste like well-prepared, healthy veggies (and I’d argue the veggies taste far better and leave health and karma intact!), so be it.

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October 16, 2014
Research just out: Effects of 7 days on low-fat vegan diet

I often hear from people that not knowing is the worst part of being sick. Once the diagnosis is in, they feel better - even if it’s not good news.

The not knowing part has been over for a while - and it’s just been further reinforced by a new study out yesterday. The implications are huge.

This backs several other studies that have come to the same conclusion.

I won’t throw out a spoiler by sharing the results and conclusions, but here’s the background. The complete abstract is available (see link below) and the full article available to download for free in PDF format from that page.

Background
Epidemiologic evidence, reinforced by clinical and laboratory studies, shows that the rich Western diet is the major underlying cause of death and disability (eg, from cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes) in Western industrialized societies. The objective of this study is to document the effects that eating a low-fat (<=10% of calories), high-carbohydrate (~80% of calories), moderate-sodium, purely plant-based diet ad libitum for 7 days can have on the biomarkers of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Research: Effects of 7 days on an ad libitum low-fat vegan diet
http://www.nutritionj.com/content/13/1/99/abstract

October 15, 2014
From zero to pissed off in two years flat

[Part 4: Continued from, “Uh oh. Are we becoming those vegans?”]

There is no pillow so soft as a clear conscience.
- Anonymous

**********

I’m happier and healthier now than I’ve been at any point in my adult life. If it’s not clear by now, I’m also really, really pissed off.

I’m unabashedly pissed off about the slaughter of animals for food, sport and the production of products.

Don’t worry; I’ve had the same thought - and thought a lot about it:

"Steve, how can you have gone from a charcuterie board-loving omnivore to a kinda scary-sounding pissed-as-hell vegan in two short years? Didn’t you say you were becoming vegan for health reasons…? Don’t you think it’s fair for us to suggest you get off your high horse and chill the fuck out?"

I’ve struggled with that question myself. Some days I’d like to cut myself some slack.

First off, I regret every day I spent ignoring that tickle of my conscience telling me I should pull my head out of the sand and look into the facts I’d heard here and there over the years about animal flesh consumption and its effects on health and the environment — not to mention the animals themselves!

I attribute it to the highly-effective blinders of cognitive dissonance

In psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.

In short, I couldn’t be consuming meat, eggs and dairy and at the same time truly understand and believe the abundance of quantitative science and qualitative stories about the environmental, health and ethical problems with doing so. I had to either continue to deny the facts, or accept them and make the tough adjustments to bring my behavior into alignment with that acceptance. For most of my life, I did the former, while being careful not to expose myself to more pesky truth than I’d be able to process through my psychological Deny-o-Matic. I grew up in a religious, conservative home with a father who watched the Fox Propaganda Network, listened to Flush Limburger, and thought climate change was a left-wing hoax, so I think I inherited the genes for a pretty robust Deny-o-Matic.

The first twenty minutes of Forks Over Knives (which I talk about in Part 1 of this series) put a crack in my Deny-o-Matic.

My people-who-watched-this-also-watched-this health documentary binge blew out the motor.

Trusting that taking a giant leap in behavior change might lead to the intellectual, psychological and ethical change to make it stick blew it to pieces.

***************

Isn’t this just a hoot? I’m thinking about turning it into a stand up comedy act.

Tune in for my next installment in the next day or two.

Thanks for reading!

October 14, 2014
Uh oh. Are we becoming those vegans?

[Part 3, continued from, “Don’t worry; we won’t become those vegans.”]

 *******

My partner and I had many spirited discussions about this gradual progression from vegan-for-health-reasons to vegan-for-all-reasons. We weren’t always in lock stop in terms of where we were on the journey. It wasn’t until we attended the annual Portland VegFest for the first time in September 2014 that we seemed to fall fully into sync. There we talked with people from United Poultry Concerns, Out to Pasture, and Animal Legal Defense Fund - among many, many others - that we began to truly understand just how much we’d been living in various degrees of willful ignorance.

Through follow on research inspired by what we’d just learned, we began to understand the degree to which corporate interests were succeeding in winning the war against human health, animal welfare and the environment with not only direct marketing and advertising, but increasingly by buying out doctors, researchers and others perceived by the public as credible experts. I was shocked to learn how brazenly these experts are selling their credentials to the highest bidder, putting their names on more and more research reports that are little more than press releases for the fast food, junk food, meat and dairy industries.

Have you gone numb, yet?

It’s a paralyzingly depressing reality check. Which is why most of us end up either steering clear of this growing body of glaring evidence altogether or, after a small, but sobering dose of it, crawl back into the amniotic fluid of the Matrix and jack back in.

[CUTE ANIMAL PAUSE]

The following quote from the stellar movie Fed Up is referring primarily to sugar and fat, but I would argue that meat and dairy are a far greater threat (more on that in the next installment):

"If a foreign nation was causing our children to become obese… we’d probably go to war. We’d defend our families. So why do we accept this from our own country?"
 - Fed Up (Movie)

It’s Big Tobacco all over again - pre-warning labels and regulation - but with much more dire consequences. The vast majority of people in the United States and many other countries are doing the dietary equivalent of chain-smoking three packs a day. (I use that only as an analogy and not a scientifically accurate equivalent!) In this case, what’s being concealed and / or lied about not only contributes directly to the top 13 most deadly diseases by number of people they take out - it comes at the expense of the environment and billions of animals per year.

Is it a party up in here, yet, or what? Stay tuned for the next installment…

In the meantime, go get some temporary relief with a CUTE ANIMAL PAUSE!

October 13, 2014
Don’t worry; we won’t become those vegans

[Part 2 in the series that began with, “I accidentally took the red pill.”]

When we started eating vegan, we told our (understandably surprised) friends and families that we wanted to try it out - to see how we’d feel and how we’d like it. We were always quick to assure them that we weren’t going to get all self-righteous and judgy about it, and that we were doing it for health reasons rather than for ethical reasons.

"Don’t worry; we’re not going to become militant, proselytizing vegans."

That remains (largely) the truth, but it’s been an evolving journey and taken us to places we hadn’t seen on the radar. Early on, we couldn’t seem to take in enough documentaries, books and other information on the health benefits of a vegan diet. It was our new obsession-level hobby and we pursued it with zeal.

My partner loves to cook and is incredibly talented at taking whatever ingredients are on hand and turning them into something delicious. So getting to introduce a whole new set of exotic ingredients into our diet while cutting out some of the more familiar ones was a challenge that she embraced and worked magic with.

At the same time, we were careful to avoid, for the most part, documentaries, websites and other material that showed graphic video or images of abused animals, the horrors of intensive livestock production, etc. We certainly didn’t want to have our heads in the sand, but neither of us has much tolerance for that degree of grisly material.

We avoided material that seemed overzealous in painting veganism as the sole righteous path. It was something we were choosing to do, but we understood that didn’t make it something everyone else should do, too. When I lived in Japan, I would occasionally hear the saying, “There are many paths to the top of Mount Fuji.” The top of Mount Fuji is a metaphor for heaven or paradise or nirvana or wherever it is you want your spiritual path to take you. We felt that way about diets when we first started out, even though we started eating a vegan diet due to the scientific evidence we’d learned about in Forks Over Knives.

I don’t think either of us saw it coming, but as we passed the 18-month mark or so of being vegan, our ability to remain vegan for health reasons alone started to erode. Even without actively seeking out information on the moral and ethical implications of eating animals, our discussions and language we used in those discussions began to shift. I became aware that what had started out for me as an experiment in more healthful eating had become a core part of my moral code.

[Stay tuned for Part 3 in the series; I expect to post this in the next day or two.]

October 11, 2014
I accidentally took the red pill (Pt. 1)

This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill—the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill—you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I’m offering is the truth, nothing more.
 - Morpheus to Neo, The Matrix

My partner and I met through mutual friends. We’d been in the same circles and even at the same parties and events for years, but had never had a real conversation. The stars aligned and we both found ourselves single at the same time. We’d both created online dating profiles when we met. One of the things we had in common? We’d both set our filters to exclude vegans.

I knew what being vegan meant - but I couldn’t begin to fathom how anyone could pull it off and survive, let alone enjoy life. It just seemed like a fringe thing done by odd people wafting along in a pungent cloud of patchouli.

I’d tried vegetarianism once and was very stupid in how I went about it. I didn’t educate myself; I just cut out meat and replaced it with more cheese, bread, pasta, ice cream… Lots of browns and whites, not a lot of greens. What did I get for my trouble? The highest weight of my adult life (by a large margin) and a miserable feeling of lethargy and malaise. I wasn’t vegetarian at all; I was a meat-free carbotarian. No surprise, then, that I eventually realized it wasn’t for me and went back to my socially encouraged, cluelessly omnivorous ways.

Not long after my partner and I got together almost three years ago, something inspired us to watch Forks Over Knives. I think it was just our shared general interest in being healthier. We’d had success with a low carb diet to shed some unwanted weight and wanted to sustain a healthy diet. We only had time to watch the first 20 minutes or so of Forks Over Knives on our first sitting before we had to pause it and leave for an engagement. I’ve been mostly vegan ever since and am 100% vegan now.

We went on to finish that movie, and then go on a spree of watching documentaries about food and healthy eating: Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, Food, Inc., King Corn, etc. We couldn’t get enough.

It was a bizarre and at the same time thrilling experience. We wondered how so much scientifically conclusive evidence could have been out there for so long - with more coming in all the time - and all the while we and nearly everyone we knew blissfully eating ourselves toward varying degrees of poor health that was completely preventable. Collectively, we were actively contributing to a national health crisis and voting with our dollars for it to continue.

Even as I realized I had to make dramatic changes to my diet, I had no idea just how much of an awakening and transformation I was about to undergo.

[End of Part 1]