Tagged: Vegan

Vegan Moral Superiority and Other Misunderstandings

Since moving to Portland 4 years ago, I have only traveled back to California once to spend Thanksgiving with my family. There are many factors that go in to my decision to stay in Portland for the holiday: the hassle and expense of travel, the possibility that weather negatively impact travel, having to be away from my community here, the typical stress that comes with the holidays and family, and my desire to participate in an all-vegan Thanksgiving.

Every year, Sherri and I thoughtfully consider what we will do for Thanksgiving: stay in Portland, or go see my family in Sacramento. I don’t see my family a lot, so each year this is a tough decision. Mostly due to some other family circumstances, we briefly decided to spend this year’s holiday with my family. We discussed the negative feelings that would arise from participating in a non-vegan Thanksgiving. We decided that we’d bring enough vegan items from Portland (rolls and pies from Sweetpea), and would cook some of our favorite dishes so that we had plenty to eat. This seemed like a reasonable coping strategy.

However, as we got closer to Thanksgiving week, I realized I was not looking forward to our trip at all and that it had everything to do with our having to celebrate with a dead turkey and dead pig at the family table, amongst other non-vegan items. I realized it was just not possible for me to celebrate, or even to feel fully connected and present under those circumstances. I talked with Sherri about this and she agreed. I called my mother shortly afterwards and told her we’d be staying in Portland to celebrate a vegan Thanksgiving with friends. At the time, she seemed to understand.

Up until now, I had always assumed that my family understood and respected why I was vegan, even if they are not themselves vegan. When I visit, my mother makes sure to buy things I can eat and makes vegan meals. If we go out as a family, we go to a restaurant where there will be plenty I can eat. Between this and never having been interrogated about my veganism, I assumed that my family understood where I was coming from.

But conversations I’ve had with family members since telling them I couldn’t enjoy or, in good conscience, participate in a non-vegan Thanksgiving have left me feeling like they don’t understand at all, and really don’t respect or value my veganism as I would like.

As I’ve mention before on this blog, being vegan is an essential part of my moral, ethical and spiritual life. It is a necessary part of my commitment to the five precepts of not harming, lying, stealing, misusing sexuality or intoxicants. Being vegan is part of what makes me a whole, integral person. It is not a lifestyle choice any more than choosing not to murder or be violent towards humans is a lifestyle choice. It is not something I choose to turn off when it is inconvenient.

Being vegan, in and of itself, has been very easy for me. I am fortunate enough to live in a Western, industrialized and highly affluent society where whole grains, legumes, nuts, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables are abundant. I can easily find shoes and other clothing items that do not use animal-derived materials. There are times when I am directed by my doctors to take a medicine that is probably not purely vegan (as this is impossible given how pharmaceutical r&d works). I make exceptions here, when alternatives aren’t available and when my health is at risk. Luckily, these circumstances do not arise that often.

In talking with my family this week, a few things came up that really bothered me. I want to address those issues here, because they have come up in my conversations with other people as well, and I think they are representative of common misunderstandings between vegans and omnivores.

Misunderstanding #1: Vegans are judgmental of omnivores’ decisions. They feel morally superior to omnivores.

I have no doubt that some vegans feel this way about omnivores (and non-smokers about smokers, and non-drinkers about drinkers, etc.). But, by and large, the vegans I know, including myself, do not. The process of how to behave in our world is a highly complex, intimate and individual thing. I don’t ever pretend to understand all the issues that a single person has to contend with in navigating their own life. The decision to be vegan, like any other fundamental belief, has to be made from within. I don’t expect anyone to become vegan because I am, or because of something I say.

That being said, I do not believe veganism is a matter of opinion and I do believe it to be a moral issue. Do I believe it’s wrong to treat animals as property, raising and killing them for food? Yes, I do. Do I believe the world would be better off if more people were vegan? Absolutely. There really isn’t a question about that. It would be better for human health, for our environment, and certainly for the animals themselves.

Having beliefs and being consistent in my actions around them does not automatically constitute me judging those who do not share those beliefs. I also feel the world would be better off if no one misused tobacco, or alcohol, or heroin, or cocaine. But it doesn’t mean that I find users of any of those substances to be bad people.

The goodness of a person is the sum total of their life experiences and decisions and it isn’t something I can ever know or judge and I don’t even try.

Misunderstanding #2: We’re not forcing you to eat non-vegan food, so why should it bother you to be part of a meal where other people are eating non-vegan food?

There are a couple of parts to this.

The first is logistical. It’s annoying to be at a party where you can’t eat everything. Not sure what this is like? Next time you’re at a party or potluck, pick one or two dishes at random and limit yourself to eating only those. Most of the time, that’s what it’s like for vegans, if we’re lucky. And if we’re really lucky, both dishes are something we actually would like to eat. It gets annoying very quickly to have extremely limited food options and to always have to vet every dish before you eat it. When it comes to Thanksgiving, I want to be able to fully partake in the feast and enjoy a bit of *every* dish.

The second has to do with feeling like an outsider. When I sit down to a meal that includes non-vegan items I immediately feel like the odd man out. I am the weird one with the weird diet rules and I can’t fully participate. This can be compounded by how often the other guests will talk about how delicious the non-vegan food is, or otherwise draw attention to it. I cannot possibly share in this experience and I can’t possibly ignore it either. If you are someone who has had other experiences where you feel like an outsider (e.g., you’re part of another minority group, you feel like the black sheep in your family, etc.) these feelings of otherness and exclusion can be further compounded.

The third has to do with the physical and emotional discomfort that arises during shared non-vegan meals. The odor of cooked flesh and of dairy milk and cheese is unpleasant to me. The sight of cooked flesh is upsetting. Whereas an omnivore might see cooked flesh and think “yum, delicious,” I can only think about a life that’s been unwillingly sacrificed. For reasons I am still trying to figure out, the magnitude of this discomfort is proportional to the significance of the shared meal.

Misunderstanding #3: You’re letting your veganism get in the way of connecting with family and friends.

This one really baffles me.

First off, why is it never phrased as “you’re letting your omnivorism get in the way of connecting with family and friends”? Because of their minority status, vegans are assigned all of the responsibility for any disconnect that is created between themselves and their non-vegan relatives and friends. I don’t think this is fair and I would like to see more omnivores examine what they can do to make the vegans in their life more comfortable. If you have a vegan relative in your life and you’ve never considered having an all-vegan Thanksgiving for them, I think you should.

Secondly, I have plenty of both vegan and non-vegan friends with whom I related very well. The omnivore friends that I get along with well understand and respect my veganism. They do this by never asking us to compromise on having non-vegan items in our home (even when we host). They understand when we don’t accept invitations to events where non-vegan items will be celebrated. Most of all, they are confident enough in their decision to remain omnivores that they don’t feel threaten or judged by my being unequivocally vegan.

Misunderstanding #4: Other vegans I know are not so stringent, why are you?

This is an impossible question to answer since I can’t know the minds and hearts of other vegans as if they were my own. But I can take some guesses as to what’s going on.

For the purposes of this exploration, I will assume that the vegans of which you speak are truly committed vegans (e.g. not just when it’s convenient), that they are vegan in more than just diet and that they are vegan because of their desire to recognize that animals are deserving of rights. This is the kind of vegan I am, so it’s really the only situation to which I can speak.

The first thing that comes to mind is that these vegans are not yet confident in their understanding and their ability to talk about the moral foundations of veganism. It is a complex topic, and a minority view at that. It is not easy to talk about to a mainstream audience, one which is often to be hostile towards the idea of veganism from the start.

The second thing that comes to mind is that the person may not want to make themselves a target for ridicule, ostracism or interrogation. Vegans are often asked all manner of questions about their diet, what they do and don’t eat and how they get proper nutrition. These questions can be invasive, and even when they are not, it gets tedious to field the same questions over and over again, often from those who are largely ignorant about nutrition. The questions frequently feel judgmental rather than exploratory. Moreover, we live in a culture where vegans are regularly made fun of in the media and pop culture and this is often in our minds when we make the decision whether or not to identify ourselves as vegan and committed ones at that.

The third, and more serious issue that comes to mind is that people act in ways that are contrary to their personal beliefs all of the time. History is rife with examples of this. I don’t quite understand why this is, but it happens enough that it’s clearly a part of human nature. I recently read something in Slate about the Penn State sex abuse scandal that shed some light on this particular issue, so I’ll share it here:

“[non-action/non-reporting is] a reflection of a universal human tendency to look out for oneself, and to preserve hierarchical institutions about which one cares and upon which one is dependent. It’s also a reflection of the nearly boundless capacity to ignore inconvenient facts and to make excuses for those within our own circle.”

It takes a whole lot of energy and moral courage to be vegan in the first place and even more so to disrupt the institutions upon which we rely. I can understand why many vegans are not yet ready to go this far and may appear to be okay with living in a non-vegan world.

Conclusions and Further Reading

I feel a bit better getting that off my shoulders. I hope that my family (and others) will read what I’ve written and understand a bit better where I’m coming from.

One last thing I want to say is that while more and more omnivores are thinking critically about where their food comes from, I don’t think many have bothered to read up on animal rights in order to understand what motivates the vegans in their life. I certainly hadn’t done this before I was vegan. Consider reading up on the issues if you really want to understand what makes your vegan tick. Here are some good starting points:

P.S. I’d also love to hear from other vegans who have gone through similar situations with your family and friends. How do you cope with shared non-vegan meals. Do it bother you? Why? If it doesn’t bother you, why not? How did you communicate to your loved ones about your veganism and it’s importance in your life?

Veganism Isn’t a Buddhist Teaching (Yet)

I’ve written here before about my struggles being a vegan in a non-vegan sangha. It’s been so painful of a process that I’ve taken several months off of sanga activities, including weekly group meditation. Recently I’ve had a breakthough on the subject that I wanted to share.

What I realized, and it seems so simple to me as I’m writing this, is that veganism isn’t actually a Buddhist teaching. At least not directly.

For me, veganism and spiritual practice are inexorably linked. I came to veganism because for the five precepts. I took it to heart the they should apply to all sentient beings, animals and humans alike. For me, the link is clear and obvious: skillful application of the precepts necessitates being vegan. And I think in a sense, I’ve really been holding it against my fellow practitioners for not having this same view.

Here’s the thing, though: Veganism as a concept is in its infancy. It’s less than a hundred years old. Buddhism is over two thousand years old. Talking about veganism in the context of human life as it was 2500 years ago doesn’t make a lot of sense. It particularly doesn’t make a lot of sense as differentiated from vegetarianism, for which there is conflicting directives about within the Buddhist cannon (in so much as there isn’t an overwhelming agreement that there is evidence that vegetarianism was mandated by the Buddha).

Today, however, 56 billion (land) animals a year are breed and killed for use as food. This number doesn’t include the scores of marine life we also kill for food, and animals we kill for clothing, lab experiments, etc. The animal products we consume as food are not required to thrive, but consumed for pleasure and convenience. Unfortunately for us, this pleasure and convenience is also killing us (read Eat to Live and the China Study if you are unclear about this).

It is important to distinguish strict vegetarianism (vegan) from non-strict vegetarianism now (as opposed to during the Buddha’s time) because the way we treat animals today is nothing like how animals were treated when the Buddha was alive. Under our system of industrialized animal agriculture, meat, cheese, eggs and other animal products are indistinguishable from one another in terms of the amount of suffering they inflict. I firmly believe that if the Buddha were around today, he would teach veganism. Some Buddhist teachers, like Thich Nhat Hanh, already have switched to being vegan and are encouraging their students to do likewise.

However, Buddhism can’t be separated from the cultures in which it is practiced. In reality, a great number of Buddhists are vegetarians, but many are not and even fewer are vegan. And this has been the case for a very long time. Some Buddhist traditions, like Chan, are more vegetarian-leaning than others. Practitioners in my lineage (Zen) are particularly known for being omnivores.

My point is that I can’t really expect anything more from my Sangha, including my teachers, than what is clear and present in Buddhist teachings and traditions. And, unfortunately, veganism isn’t one of those things. What I now understand is that a practitioner can be wise, compassionate, and mindful and be an omnivore as well.

Am I still saddened that I don’t know a lot of Buddhist teachers who are vegan? Yes, I am. Do I wish more Buddhist practitioners would include all sentient beings in their skillful application of the precepts and thereby practice veganism? Yes, I do. Do I think that people, Buddhist and otherwise could be even more compassionate by practicing veganism? Yes. But I no longer expect this simply because someone is Buddhist. And I feel less anger and resentment towards Buddhists who are not vegan.

But I have also recognized that because veganism is at the foundation of my spiritual life, I need a spiritual guide who is herself vegan. So, I will continue my search for one. In the meantime, I feel better at the idea of practicing again with my mostly non-vegan sangha. Though, I think I will still avoid shared meals (particularly ones of celebration).

I do think that Western Buddhism, as young a veganism itself, has a tremendous opportunity to bring greater compassion to the world through veganism. I look forward to spreading vegan education to my sangha members (far and near, Buddhist and otherwise).

A Lonely Vegan in the Sangha

I have to start getting this out of my system: I’m vegan. I’m Buddhist. And I’m awfully lonely in my Sangha.

I became vegan just over two years ago as a direct result of my starting to study and practice Buddhism. I had been a vegetarian (who made exceptions for sushi and sashimi) a few years prior to that. My reasons for being vegetarian did not have a strong ethical foundation. I stopped eating meat in order to have a healthier diet and to reduce my own environmental impact.

Now, you could say that maintaining good health and treating the planet well are ethical actions, and I suppose they are. So what I mean when I say that my vegetarianism did not have an ethical foundation is that I did not take into account the ethical problems of using and killing animals for our own pleasure and convenience. I did not consider it wrong to do these things. I did not recognize the moral personhood of my fellow beings.

Fast forward a few years.

I now study and practice Buddhism whole-heartedly. It is the foundation of my spiritual and ethical life. The more that I look at the precepts of not killing, not misusing sexuality and not stealing, the more I know from the bottom of my heart that these precepts must guide my interactions with all sentient beings, not just humans. I am a committed vegan.

Unfortunately vegans are a rarity in our sangha. Sherri and I are the only two that I know of, though I am sure there are a few others.

Now, we (the Sangha) do require that meals be vegetarian at both our Downtown practice center and at our monastery. But we do not require that meals be vegan. And, in fact, some offerings make quite heavy use of butter, eggs and cheese (as a lot of vegetarian, but not vegan food is ought to do).

At first the lack of vegan meals bothered me only a little. Mostly it was sad to be left out. Sherri and I are good about bringing vegan meals or preparing vegan treats for special occasions. But we aren’t always told ahead of time that there’s a special occasion and we aren’t always able to prepare food just for us. Last year I recall the time a few surprised our teacher (and the rest of the sangha) with special treats to celebrate the 40th anniversary of him starting Buddhist practice. We didn’t know about the occasion and no one had thought to bring something that was vegan so we couldn’t partake in the sharing of the sweets.

The trepidation and estrangement I feel around sangha isn’t so much about not being able to have a cookie when everyone else is. Rather, it’s about the ethical divide that I feel between myself and my spiritual community, especially regarding our relationship to food, all the sentient beings of the world and our interpretation of the precepts.

A great deal of our practice together revolves around a set of ethical principles, the precepts, that we are supposed to have in common. We recognize these precepts in nearly everything that we do as a group. We vow together to uphold them. And yet, there are fundamental disagreements about what these precepts mean and how we manifest them via our actions.

It is no secret that there is great debate over whether or not Buddhists are required to be vegetarian, let along vegan. Some point to ambiguity in Buddhist scriptures as ethical justification to eat meat/dairy/eggs. (For more on what the Buddha actually taught regarding this issue, I highly recommend checking out Norm Phelps’ The Great Compassion: Buddhism and Animal Rights.) Many famous buddhist teachers, including the Dalai Lama, continue to eat meat, further confusing the issue.

Personally, I think that when one really examines the heart of the precepts and relinquishes their own attachments to the habits and convenience of consuming animal products, it’s very clear that to practice Buddhism one should really adhere to veganism.

However, I’m willing to accept that not all Buddhists will come to the same conclusion that I do on this matter, even if I don’t like that fact. What I take issue with is that as a community we have made a choice that is not the most compassionate one we can make. We aren’t setting the best example that we could. We have a tremendous opportunity to provide a container of shared practice that is most compassionate and we don’t. Out of habit. Or ignorance. Or something; I’m not sure of the reasons.

When this topic comes up in my practice circles, abstention from animal products is often compared to abstention from alchohol. I think this comparison is raised to indicate that while there is some prohibition against causing harm to sentient beings (as is required in the consumption of animal products) and misusing alchohol, that ultimately it’s up to the individual practitioner to determine his level of abstention from each activity.

I take great issue with this comparison. First, I do not think that occasional and moderated use of intoxicants (a definition to which many, many things can apply) is akin to the killing and/or causing suffering to an animal merely for the sake of convenience and desire. However, the validity of this comparison is immaterial to the discussion at hand.

My point in mentioning the alcohol-vegan comparison is that my Sangha has a very clear policy that no alcohol be served at community functions. I’ve never asked why this policy is in place (though I think I will now). But, I imagine that it is in place to support those who are in recovery, and to support those who take the precepts to mean that one should refrain from alcohol and other intoxicants. In any case, it’s clear that the use of alcohol is morally questionable and so we do not allow it at community events or in our residential training center.

Why, then, do we not follow the same logic with our meal choices? I can only fathom that we have yet to overcome the inertia of habit, and of living in a society that is not vegan.

This saddens me greatly and it’s becoming more and more difficult to share a meal whole-heartedly with my community.

Sherri and I try to attend the public serve at Great Vow whenever possible. We enjoy practicing at the monastery and sharing a meal with our community afterwards. However, I’m starting to dread these meals.

Some Sunday lunches are more vegan than others. Sometimes we are able to partake in the main meal (occasionally having to leave off a non-vegan condiment or topping). When the main dish cannot be made vegan, a seperate dish is placed out for the few vegans in attendance. The same procedure is followed for others who have unique nutritional requirements such as gluten-free, hypoglycemia, etc. (Once again, it hurts to have my ethical choices be relegated to another “special diet.” But I digress.)

During my most recent meal at the monastery a wave of pain and grief hit me while we were performing the meal chant. Chant cards had been handed out and as we were about to start, I looked down to see that a small bowl of food had been set aside and labeled ‘Vegan Daal.’ I immediately thought to myself, “there’s no reason, other than lack of foresight and effort, that a vegetarian daal can’t be made vegan.” Rather than feeling happy that Sherri and I had been accommodated, I felt deeply unsettled. Tears came to my eyes. After the chant I excused myself for a while and sat in the car by myself until I could regain some composure.

I felt that by being there I was saying it was okay that everyone else was eating milk and butter. But it’s not okay. Milk and butter are products stolen from a cow, a mother, for which she did not give her consent and for which she undoubtedly suffered. I felt complicity to this suffering. It’s hard for me to feel cameraderie or good will in my community under these circumstances. How can a community that is supposed to share the same values as me, or at least very similar ones, disagree on something so fundamental?

I will pause here to say that I do have compassion for my fellow non-vegan practitioners. I know that change takes time and that making the switch from omnivore or vegetarian is challenging for some. I don’t think that non-vegans are intrinsically bad people. Veganism, for me, is not about us, or you or me. It’s about the animals who suffer because the world isn’t vegan.

I have tried to direct my energy around veganism and the precepts into positive, non-judgmental education and outreach. For the most part I think I have done a good job, and will continue to engage in vegan-related advocacy projects and conversation.

But I don’t know what to do with the pain that I feel around shared Sangha meals. They are now triggering to me in a way that I find nearly debilitating. I shouldn’t have to endure panic attacks in order to partake in the community hearth.

I’m not sure what to do. Do I take a break from Sangha activities? Do I request that all meals be vegan? What do I do if the answer is ‘no’? Do I seek out another sangha, one that is vegan?

Are there any vegan buddhists out there who have worked through a similar situation with their own Sangha? What did you do?

Our meal chant has been floating through my mind while writing this post, so I’m including it here:

We reflect on the effort that brought us this food

We reflect on our virtue and practice and whether we are worthy of this offering

We regard it as essential to keep the mind free from excesses such as greed.

We regard this food as good medicine to sustain our life.

For the sake of enlightenment we now receive this food.

Vegan is More than a Strange Diet: An Open Letter to My (Buddhist) Community and Beyond

I recently attended a fundraising dinner for the Heart of Wisdom Zen Temple, which will become my Buddhist community’s downtown center. We currently offer a program in Portland in a space we rent from another Zen group. We have grown sufficiently over the last couple of years such that it’s time to purchase a building of our own. During that time, we’ve produced a number of fundraising events, including classes, guest speakers and workshops. The latest of these activities was a dinner hosted by a new, hip restaurant and prepared by a well-known local chef who donated his time to our cause.

The dinner went incredibly well. The food was well-received. The decor was elegant. We raised a lot of money (an impressive amount, actually).

But as the night went on, I became increasingly uncomfortable with the fact that the meal served was not vegan (it was vegetarian). In fact, at first my partner and I were informed that there wasn’t going to be a vegan option available at the dinner. At the last minute, the organizers we able to work something out and we were accommodated with vegan-ize versions of the meals served to everyone. For the entree, this meant risotto prepared without the cheese and butter. For dessert we received a plate of berries in syrup without the shortcake and whipped cream that accompanied everyone else’s meal.

While I appreciate the effort that went in to the preparation of the meal, and to the event as a whole, it was actually disheartening to me that we were “accommodated” in the manner that we were. There’s no reason we needed to be accommodated at all. The meal we were served could have been prepared, with marginal extra effort, entirely vegan. It simply wasn’t considered or asked for until we raised the issue (too close to the event, I suspect, for an entire vegan meal to be planned for and prepared).

Being vegan for me isn’t a strange or special diet. It’s a way of living. It’s deeply rooted in my spirituality and ethics. It’s integral to how I mindfully uphold the precepts. In fact, to me, eating meat, dairy and eggs, as well as consuming other animal products goes directly against the first three precepts (not harming, not stealing, not misusing sexuality).

So, as the meal went on, it was increasingly difficult for me to participate whole-heartedly given the dairy and eggs we were being served. Our teacher led us in two mindful eating exercises during the meal. One was to focus on an ingredient in the food in front of us and imagine the complete journey of how that ingredient came to be on our plate. I couldn’t stop thinking about the cows who provided the milk for the whipped cream. I couldn’t help but think that we’re having this meal to fund our new Zen temple and that it will be in part founded upon preventable, needless abuse and suffering.

There should always be a vegan option at these community gatherings. In fact, there is no good reason why all meals served by my Buddhist community shouldn’t be vegan. There is precedent for this. A visiting teacher recently hosted a retreat at our monastery and requested that meals be vegan. The monastery was able to provide these meals. It was simply a matter of being required to do so.

In 2007, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh directed the monasteries and practice centers of his order to become vegan, saying:

“Being vegetarian here also means that we do not consume dairy and egg products, because they are products of the meat industry.”

(You can read the entire letter on the Plum Village site.)

Yes, dairy and eggs are products of the meat industry. In terms of the suffering and abuse of animals, you cannot distinguish between meat and eggs/dairy. Dairy cows are sold for meat after they stop producing. They repeatedly give birth to calves who are stolen away from them and either slaughtered for meat or raised for further dairy production. I could go on and on, but there are better resources out there to explain horrors and unethical practices of the dairy/egg industries.

Because they cannot talk to us in language we can readily understand, it may be difficult to contemplate that animals are indeed sentient. But they are. Anyone who has cared for a companion animal knows that they experience sensation. A cow, chicken or goat is no different than your family cat or dog in this regard. Think of the last time you cringed when someone mentioning dog or cat being prepared for food in Vietnam.

Once we accept animals as sentient beings, we Buddhists must use the precepts as a guide in our relationship with animals.

The first precept of non-harming says:

“I will be mindful and reverential with all life, I will not be violent nor will I kill.
Avoid killing or harming any living being.
I undertake the precept to refrain from destroying living creatures.
I shall endeavor to protect and take care of all living creatures.
Do not do harm to other beings.”

In this precept it’s obvious that we shouldn’t eat meat. Meat requires the killing of animals. But so does the consumption of dairy and eggs given the structure of our agriculture and food distribution system.

The second precept of not stealing says:

“I will respect the property of others, I will not steal.
Avoid stealing. Do not take what is not yours to take.
I undertake the precept to refrain from taking that which is not given.
Live simply and frugally.”

Animals do not give us milk and eggs. We take these things from them. Under normal and typical circumstances we do not need eggs or dairy to live. They are a decadence take at the great expense and harm of other creatures.

The third precept of not misusing sexuality says:

“I will be conscious and loving in my relationships, I will not give way to lust.
Avoid sexual irresponsibility.
I undertake the precept to refrain from improper sexual activity.
Do not engage in sexual misconduct.”

This precept does not normally arise in the discussions of whether or not one should be vegan. But I think it’s essential. Dairy and egg production necessitates the abuse of the sexuality of other creatures. For example, to produce milk, cows are kept in an artificial state of pregnancy and are forced to reproduce over and over again.

On top of all the ethical reasons listed above, meat and dairy production is incredible harmful to the environment. 18% of greenhouse gasses are produced via cattle production. Every year tons and tons of grain is fed to livestock when it could be distrubuted to needy and hungry families across the globe.

Plus eating meat and dairy is just plain bad for you. The two countries with the highest dairy consumption (US and Sweden) also have the greatest occurrence of osteoporosis. Preventable cardiavascular disease acquired through the consumption of animal products is a leading cause of death and also a tremendous burden on our healthcare system.

Becoming vegan isn’t inherently difficult. It’s simply of recognizing our ingrained habits and vowing to break those habits. There’s absolutely no reason delicious, nutritious meals, including baked goods and pastries can’t be prepared without animal ingredients. Medically, there are minuscule, if any reasons why someone could not sustain a healthful vegan diet. Hypoglycemia, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, different allergies, and many other special health needs can all be supported by a vegan diet. If you don’t know how, you can find a vegan nutritionist.

The greatest obstacle to becoming vegan is that it isn’t mainstream. This means that you’ll have to explain your dietary decisions to people. You might have to refrain from eating treats at a group celebration. You will have to make choices about where you eat out. Sometimes you will be left out of a celebration.

But you know what? If everyone were vegan, or even half, none of the above problems would exist. Vegan diets would be normal and perfectly included.

So I’m issuing a challenge to my Buddhist community and beyond: Go vegan today.

That’s right, just do it. Stop eating meat, cheese, other dairy and eggs. Right now. If you need help, let me know and I’ll be more than happy to lend a hand. I’ll even cook you dinner. I’ll lend you cookbooks and send you recipes.

First Tattoo

I finally went and did it — I got a tattoo.

For a handful of years now I’ve been considering a tattoo. But I never quite worked up the gumption to go and have one done. When ever I thought about a needle puncturing my skin over and over again I’d cringe and put the idea off for another day.

However, earlier this week Scapegoat tattoo announced they were doing a fundraiser for the Let Live conference: $30 flash tattoos, all with vegan themes. Sherri re-tweeted the announcement and I didn’t give it much thought at first. While we were planning our day over breakfast on Saturday, Sherri reminded me of the fundraiser and it suddenly hit me that I was ready. It was for a good cause and, I thought, a good way to honor and celebrate Atari’s life as well as my commitment to veganism.

So off we headed to Scapegoat, with a quick errand before hand. It turns out we were lucky to only have a quick errand before stopping by Scapegoat. We were the last ones to be accepted on the list. And, as it was, we didn’t start getting our tattoos until at least 9:45pm. John, the tattoo artist was wonderful. He didn’t bat an eye when I nearly chickened out and talked me through the whole process. It actually hurt less than I’d imagined in my mind. My friend Amy said it was similar to someone poking you over and over again with the tip of a sharp mechanical pencil. I think that’s pretty accurate, though some spots definitely hurt more than others. And don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t want to endure that feeling longer than necessary. But it was manageable. Towards the end, I started to feel a bit faint, but I think more due to nerves than anything else.

Here it is:

Vegan Heart

A few more photos, including of Sherri’s tattoos are on the flickr set here.

How I Became Vegan

I recently joined the Vegan Freak forum and in order to be a full member there you are required to post an introduction stating why you are (or are very close to becoming) vegan. Here’s what I wrote (the intro bit about where I live and my hobbies has been left out).

It’s actually my practice of yoga and Zen that brought me to veganism. I had been a “vegetarian” for environmental reasons since 2005. I put “vegetarian” in quotes because I occasionally ate fish. I just couldn’t give up my sashimi and my tuna melts. That reasoning seems so silly to me now, but at the time I was ignorant about animal rights issues and wasn’t ready give up something that seemed important at the time. Even the form of “vegetarianism” that I practiced was quite a stretch for me at the time. I had a rather turbulent upbringing and it took me a while to recognize the inherent value of my own life, let alone the life of another non-human creature. In college I had a bumper sticker that said “I Eat Vegans.” It’sembarrassing to think about that now, but I think it’s important to recognize just how far I’ve come in my own journey. When I run into acquaintances who knew me back then, they are usually shocked that I am vegan.

A couple of years after becoming “vegetarian” I moved to Portland and met my current partner. She was already a vegan (for five+ years) and apractitioner of yoga and Zen. This was exciting and intriguing to me as I had been wanting to learn more about the two for some time, but didn’t quite know how to get started. I asked her lots of questions and we talked a lot about Zen and yoga. After a bit of time we started doing yoga together and I started sitting with her Zen group, which has now become my Zen group as well.

During this time, the meals we shared together were always vegan. My partner is a wonderful cook. The MacGuyver kind who can whip up amazing dinner when you think there aren’t any usable ingredients in the house. After a short while sharing these meals, it occurred me that a nutritious, healthful and delicious vegan diet was not only very possible but not difficult at all It simply required an extra bit of mindfulness and sometimes a bit more planning (e.g. to make sure you bring vegan food to an event that isunlikely to provide it).

For those who don’t know, both Zen and yoga have ethical guidelines. In Zen they are called “precepts” and in yoga they are called “yamas.” The first precept/yama is that of non-harm and non-killing. I have seen the precept worded as such:

“I will be mindful and reverential with all life, I will not be violent nor will I kill.”

And as a further directive:

“Avoid killing or harming any living being.
I undertake the precept to refrain from destroying living creatures.
I shall endeavor to protect and take care of all living creatures.
Do not do harm to other beings.”

So, with small foundation of these two practices under my belt, I started to realize that my version of vegetarianism simply wasn’t consistent with my values or my practice. I now knew that being vegan was possible and healthful, as I had been eating vegan 98% of the time for the last few months. I knew it was time to commit to being vegan. This was April of 2008. Now,veganism is an essential, inexorable part of my daily practice.

Since then I have been exploring the specific animal rights issues in more depth. I’ve been listening to VeganFreak Radio and acquiring and slowly reading through the seminal books on animal rights (Singer, Sustein, etc.). I’ve been reaching out to my Zen and tech communities (neither of which are vegan and both of which have vegan minorities) about vegan issues. I hope to growveganism within these communities. At times it is discouraging, but I do think change is possible.