3 Principles for Living Better (Part 3- “Do” or “Have”?)

As I shared in part one and part two of this post, being vegan is about more than food. It’s about living better. For me, that means embracing minimalism, living peacefully, and “doing” more instead of “having” more. Of course, none of that is easy but it is about the journey, not the destination.

I am sharing these three principles in hopes you might find value in them along your own journey.

 

“Do” More versus “Have” More

We work so hard so we can buy things so those things can provide a better life for us, but what if we have it backwards? What if we are actually being trained to buy more things so we have to work harder to have a better life? Clearly, that is a terrible recipe. Working harder and harder for incremental improvements in your life… sucks.

Try this instead…

Focus on “doing” more instead of “having” more. My favorite example of this is the smart phone. I am a tech junkie and there is no device I love more than my smart phone. I always opt for the top of the line device regardless of price or features. At roughly $800 a pop every 18 months or so, it adds up quick, especially when you tack on all the accessories to make my device flashy and practical–the case, the screen protector, the extended battery, extra cords, new, faster car charger, better headphones, etc.

A problem with this is I can probably get by with a much lower-tech device. I don’t play video games or do graphic design on-the-fly so I don’t need the most powerful processor out there. I store my pictures and videos in the cloud so I don’t need the most memory. I am not even sure why I keep buying screen protectors. The only time my phone is not in my pocket, it is in my hand. I have never scratched a screen.

Those are minor issues, though. The big problem is this… I can’t tell you what phone I had four years ago. Whatever it was, it is obsolete now. It doesn’t matter. I will never reminisce about the features or apps I used to have three or four phones ago. What a waste of money. You know what I will remember, though? Almost for sure, I will never forget the vacation I took with my family to Punta Cana. For the cost of 2 forgettable toys, I have memories that will never fade.

I will never forget the first trip to Savannah Nicole and I made. I won’t remember or care about what television shows I watched the week before that, but I will always remember the fried creamed corn nuggets we had and our many walks through Forsyth Park.

Everything we do with our hard-earned money is a compromise. Every time you choose to “have” or “own” something, you are choosing not to “do” or “be” something. In other words, if you choose to buy a big screen TV, then you are choosing to forego putting that money toward learning a new sport, taking a vacation, or paying for yoga classes. If you learn yoga, you will always have it and it will always pay dividends. That TV, though, you won’t even remember what brand it was 20 years from now.

When you have the choice to “Do” something or to “Have” something, consider which one will bring more value to your life. Despite what commercials and media would have you believe, sometimes being a “have-not” pays better.

 

I hope the 3 Principles for Living Better gave you something to think about or encouraged you to stay on track. Don’t forget to subscribe to our blog, share a post with your friends, or talk about this stuff with your loved ones (please and thanks!).

3 Principles for Better Living (Part 2- Peace Out)

As I shared in part one of this post, being vegan, for Nicole and I, is about more than food. It’s about living better. That means embracing minimalism, living peacefully, and “doing” more instead of “having” more. We struggle with all that, at times, but we grow closer to living our way with each day. As we know already, it is about the journey and not so much the destination.

I am sharing the value of these three principles in hopes it might help you along your own journey.

 

Living Peacefully

This sounds like a lofty “Gandhi” wanna’ be goal, but it is actually a simple, practical tool for us. Nicole knows guns and is quite a marksman. I have a black belt and I’m pretty comfortable with stick-fighting. So Nicole and I are not afraid of conflict and we don’t shy away from trouble. We can handle ourselves in most situations, BUT… we like not fighting with each other (or with other people). It’s just easier to live that way.

It is logical to live peacefully, too. That is why we choose veganism. I love a good Philly steak sub and Shish Kabob hot off the grill but I choose not to eat them. There are plenty of other delicious things I can eat instead and if I can have all my vitamins, minerals, and nutrients without killing or harming another animal… then I’m okay with that. Just because I know martial arts does not mean I have to beat up anybody who irritates me (plus I would die of old age still fighting people). By the same token, just because I like the taste of burgers does not mean I have to eat any that someone sets in front of me.

Living peacefully goes beyond being vegan, though. It also means learning to control the rage inside of us–the stuff we keep bottled up from past wrongs or current troubles. As a culture, we are particularly terrible at dealing with emotional pain. Just think of the advice you get when you break up with someone. “There are plenty of other fish in the sea,” people tell you, “You were too good for him,” or “I never thought she was good for you, anyway”. We are taught over and over to do anything except acknowledge the pain as necessary and heal through it.

Emotional pain works the same as physical pain. It is physical pain. It happens in your body. When you are physically hurt, you know there is no shortcut. You can’t just trade in the cut on your arm for a younger, hotter arm. You have no choice but to let the cut heal, over time, and sometimes there are scars. You live with them and learn powerful lessons. They hurt a lot at first, but over time, you make peace with your bumps and bruises–accept them as part of life–and eventually they get better.

Living peacefully, then, means respecting life. Respecting that other people have their own kinds of pain to deal with, that other animals live in fear of slaughter, that we do not always put our best foot forward… but we can always try. We can try to do what is right. When we fail, we can try to make it right. Most of all, we can acknowledge that if we stop trying, we can never expect to get it right. That means, if we keep trying, then we will eventually get it right.

Whether it is a burger, a conversation, or a car crash, living peacefully means respecting yourself and accepting that you have the power to affect the world around you–and so, respecting the world around you as well.

 

In my next post, I will share the last of my three principle for living better: “Do More instead of Have More”. Don’t forget to subscribe to A Couple Vegans if you enjoy our blog. Until next time… forget about your inner peace. Find the Outer Peace–the peace you can bring to the world around you–and run with that. 

 

3 Principles for Living Better (Pt 1- Bath Time)

Being vegan, for Nicole and I, is about much more than food. It’s about living better. For us, that means embracing minimalism, living peacefully, and “doing” more things instead of “having” more things. The truth is, we struggle with all of those things, at times, but we grow closer to living the way we want to every day. To borrow the old cliché, it is, of course, about the journey and not the destination.

I want to share with you the value of those three principles, as I see it. You might find it helps you along your own journey.

Embracing Minimalism

Being a minimalist is trendy now, but we have been moving that direction for a long time. We started by donating or discarding three things for every new thing we acquired. Eventually, we brought that down to two things for every new thing, and now it is a happy (but tough) one-to-one ratio. We have always lived in a 2-bedroom, 2 bathroom apartment together but our lease is almost up. I like having lots of space with minimal stuff to fill it but we really do not need the space. Giving up the second bathroom, though, has always stopped me from downsizing our dwelling. I like having my own private area without girlie stuff cluttering it up, and without being rushed because someone needs in.

For the last few weeks, though, we have been experimenting with sharing only one bathroom, and it is actually working fine. By downsizing our next apartment to a one-bed, one-bath we can save hundreds of dollars per month. That means an extra vacation or bigger retirement savings, or both. That’s the beauty of Minimalism. When you cut the excess from your life, you learn two things. The first is you have a LOT of excess that you do not actually need. The second is you can live MUCH better with less. For everything you give up, you gain freedom from that thing. By giving up a second bathroom, for example, we gain freedom over money, time, and togetherness.

It turns out not having a second bathroom means I try to be more efficient with my bathroom time, to be respectful of others. That means I inadvertently have more time (that I am not wasting, alone, in the bathroom). Living in a smaller, one-bathroom apartment means more money in our pockets or bank, of course. Having more money to spend on things we love to do together (like taking a paddle board vacation in the Keys–coming up!) means having more time… well… together.

The second principle is “living peacefully” and I’ll explore what that means to me, in my next post.

 

Don’t forget to subscribe if you enjoy our blog, and you will have each post delivered straight to your inbox when it goes live. Until next time… challenge your space. Maybe you only need one bathroom, too. 

Why I Left Social Media Behind

This is not a vegan-related post, but we thought it was relevant to share on this blog, since some of you follow us on social media, and Michael runs half of it, which will definitely affect our presence there. Also, it might give you some pause to consider your own social media consumption, which does tie in to health and wellness–things we vegans tend to care about!

This is from Michael’s blog, The Thought Full Leader:

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I am dropping off Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Snapchat, and most other social media platforms.

I know many people will not only relate to my reasons, but they might even applaud my decision (if only silently). I hope this experiment gives you some thought to the impact of social media and what value it brings to your life.

I am calling out Facebook here because it is easier than listing every platform, and it is the one I use most, as well as the biggest, easiest target. Think of “Facebook” as any social media service, though. I am talking about all of them.

Around 2005, I left cable television (hold on–this relates to the social media thing, I promise).

Watching TV stole months from my life. Time slipped away while I sat and watched it go each day. TV became my way of turning my brain off instead of engaging with the world. I found myself sitting to watch a show, and then channel surfing between shows, and then, before I knew it, half a day was gone. I didn’t even watch anything all the way through. That time was wasted. I learned nothing. I thought nothing. I did nothing. I might as well have been nothing, invisible to the world for the time spent staring mindlessly at a screen.

Dropping cable in favor of curated content from the internet or no content at all was a great decision. When I watch TV now, it is only when I actively choose to do so and I am engaged in the content. TV is no longer background noise to all my conversations. Instead, I listen to the person speaking rather than divide my attention between the person and commercials designed to steal my attention.

Facebook has slowly filled the gap cable television left. It has become the thing I do to avoid thinking when I am bored, scrolling mindlessly through my feed.

There are 5 real reasons I use Facebook and other social media and, except for one, they are all reasons I should reconsider…

1. Distribute my blog. This is the main reason I am on social media. Most of my readers find this blog and A Couple Vegans (which I write with Nicole) through Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Moving away from social media means damaging my audience size and reach. That is scary. I have built this blog over roughly 10 years to amass around 4,000 subscribers. Admittedly, not much compared to bigger brands or names, but I never chased an audience or marketed this blog. Still, only about 200 readers consistently visit MichaelSalamey.com (maybe the rest are subscribed via email but–how many email subscriptions do you actually read each week?). A Couple Vegans is only a few months old and only has a handful of subscribers itself (about a hundred so far–also with no marketing other than word of mouth).

So… for you 300 or so people consistently visiting my blog(s), you might be the only people I am writing to in the future. Thanks for subscribing, by the way, and for sharing the posts you like. You are my only advertising.

2. I use social media to have meaningless relationships with people I do not want to have actual contact with in real life. That sounds bad but it is not a bad thing. Facebook allows me to exist on the periphery of the lives of people I almost care about… but not enough to actually engage with face-to-face. For someone like me, this is of great benefit.

As a slightly sociopathic but high-functioning ambivert, I am friendly to everybody… but, to be honest, I do not relate to most people. I am not even sure I like most people. In fact, only one or two people have open access to my time. Other than Nicole, nobody hangs out with me regularly.

Socially speaking, maybe that is pathetic. It is not you, though. It’s me.

At the risk of sounding (more) egotistical, perhaps I am that rare thing everyone believes themselves to be, but almost no one is… a man who thinks for himself.

My values, philosophy, beliefs, moral code, and system of ethics rarely integrate with those of others. Actually… never, so far. But I suspect that is why people read my blog–you can expect a unique view of things. In my personal life, I have been told no one can live up to my standards. So maybe it is not that I do not like most people. Maybe it is that I have yet to meet people who are more like me.

Living a life where the common ground I have with most people amounts to polite tolerance of each other, honestly, is lonely for me. I wish I could be dumber or smarter, instead of in this middle ground between average and almost-greatness… floating in some purgatory, unable to feel part of either mass popularity or eccentric genius.

Woe is me. First World problems. The point is, Facebook is a great way for some people to feel involved in the world without actually having to BE involved in the world. That is a mostly good thing but it is something I can use less of.

3. I stalk people and popular news stories. The same curiosity that drives people to the zoo drives me to keep up on news and social circles. We visit the zoo expecting to see elephants in their natural habitat, but instead see morbidly depressed animals slowly pacing or pooping. Part of us yearns to hear the elephant’s trumpet or watch a lion charge across the plains. Similarly, Facebook delivers less on its promise and more on the mundanity of our lives.

Social media updates are about what someone ate, aspirational quotes the posters have never incorporated into their lives, open displays of the obscure relationship some people have with their faith and binge-drinking. People check-in from whenever they are standing in line, or spout the bizarrely irrational political or dogmatic views they have. Some people insist on sharing their ignorance with the world. It’s confounding, but I am also probably one of them.

Still, I am too often disappointed when I see someone’s Facebook feed. I liked them before knowing their goofball endorsements of products or illogical values. It was better when I could assume they were, on most levels, rational.

4. To learn about local events. Social media is helpful for this. Nicole and I do a lot of cool things because of events posted on Facebook. Another plus of leaving it behind, though, is I might save money by not knowing about most events.

5. I use social media to pass time and avoid human interaction. It is easier–preferable, even–to avoid engaging strangers while standing in line or waiting for food. Instead, I can pretend that scanning short, mostly irrelevant articles or updates is extraordinarily important right at that moment. While waiting to have my groceries scanned, I stare at my phone like I am reading my secret agent mission dossier or studying up on quantum physics. I’m actually just looking at Caturday memes.

We like to think that “catching up on Facebook” is the same as “catching up with friends” but it is not the same. I must have an investment in someone’s life to “catch up” on their life. People share superficial thoughts, vague requests for prayers about problems I don’t understand for people I do not know (I love the term for this: “Vaguebooking”). We share memes and sensationalized news stories. That is not catching up with friends. That is walking through conversations at a dinner party… except without dinner or a party, or anywhere to go.

What will I do when I am bored now?

Those 5 things are not contributing enough to me, so I am leaving social media behind. My phrasing is important, by the way. I did not say “I am leaving social media”. I am saying, “I am leaving social media behind.” I am moving on, not away. I am going to find something better. However, I do not know what that is yet, exactly.

I guess I will write, think, speak to people, and read more books. Maybe I will just be present, observing and appreciating the world around me. Maybe I will engage my creative side and take time to daydream. Whatever I do to fill the time Facebook sucked away, I doubt I will look back and think, “I wish I spent less time enjoying the breeze on my face and more time staring at my phone, scrolling through dumb articles and avoiding my life.”

That being said, this is still an experiment. I am not deleting my accounts. I might change my mind on all of this, or I might want to try again with a different approach. What I plan to do is log out of my accounts and uninstall the apps from my phone.

That means my blog will still post on my social media streams for now, but nothing else will, and I won’t be sharing my posts on my personal Facebook feed, where most people see them.

Some people actually might miss me on social media. Well, at least I like to think that, but I suspect most people will never know I left. It’s like quietly slipping away from a party. Maybe one or two people will notice they have not seen me in a while, but they will move on in a few minutes.

The fact is, I am not as important as I like to think I am.

If you want to know what I am up to or how I am doing, though, then you will have to do something scary. You will have to choose if you want me in your life, how much time you would like me to spend there, and then connect with me directly. I might reject you. You might reject me. Or we might build a real, legitimate friendship in the real world. I know. Scary, right?

There are some apps I am keeping, at least for now. I will stay on WhatsApp because I can create specific social circles with people I care about (like my brothers and parents) where we can have conversations in small groups that matter, where every word counts. I am keeping Hangouts for texting–again, direct one-to-one conversations, and I plan to stay on other direct message platforms like GroupMe and Slack.

Of course, you will be able to text me, instant message me on Hangouts, email me (MichaelSalamey@gmail.com) or reach me through one of my blogs.

Honestly, you probably won’t know I’m gone, but if you miss me, don’t be a stranger… or at least no stranger than me. Hopefully, not seeing me on Facebook will help you wonder what I am up to, and what you could be up to if you were not on Facebook.

Good luck either way. Maybe I’ll see you later… in the real world!

Oh, You’re Vegan?

For several years after I chose a vegan lifestyle, I went out of my way to hide my aversion for eating or wearing animal products from strangers.

When I would meet work friends at lunch, for example, I would order food nonchalantly, explaining as little as possible. “I’ll have a veggie sub, toasted, no cheese. Thanks.” Unless people hung out with me enough to see a pattern to my meal habits, almost nobody picked up on my being vegan. I didn’t wear hemp clothing or comment on anybody’s diet or animal welfare. In fact, except with people who I kept a close relationship with, I would avoid the question if it came up. If somebody asked point-blank,”You always order the Veggie sub. Are you a vegetarian?”, I would laugh and dodge the topic, “I guess I am today. Did you hear about that thing in the news?”

I liked it that way but I decided to be more open with people in 2011, so I began sharing I am vegan if it came up naturally in conversation. Once I shared it the first time, though, it came up often.

There are plenty of internet memes and jokes poking fun at vegans with snide phrases like, “How do you know if someone is vegan? Don’t worry. They’ll tell you.” The thing is, for most vegans, it feels like the opposite is true. “How does everybody know you’re vegan? Don’t worry. The first time you order quinoa, someone will ask.”

Sure, there are the PETA people–the vegans and vegetarians exclaiming their borderline psychologically troubling love for other species every chance they get, to anyone who will listen. Associating the nutters with all vegans, though, is like assuming all white people are just like Fred Phelps.

Most vegans do not launch blogs and picket outside McDonald’s. Personally, I am glad that some do (I’m not a PETA fan but I am glad there are people trying to do well and taking up a fight for such an important philosophical distinction). Most vegans, though, do not care if anyone knows they are vegan. They do not care if you are worried about their protein (don’t worry–they are probably getting more protein than you are). They do not care what you think about being vegan anymore than you care what vegans think about the Chicago Bears being called “bears”.

Most vegans are not trying to scare you, harm you, blame you, or shame you. Most non-vegans seem to do that to themselves. Vegans do not care if you know they are vegan, I promise. The vegans I know just want to enjoy great food that didn’t cause any pain in the world. Not even to your ego.

And maybe that’s worth bragging about , but we try not to.

 

How Do I Go Vegan?

“I think the only thing that’s keeping me from being vegan is not knowing how!” Somebody said this to me (Michael) recently and I am sure I said something like that when I first committed myself to an animal-free lifestyle and diet.

After being vegan for nearly two decades now, I can offer five simple tips to help you get started (or help you help someone else get started), and make it stick. Here are five things that worked for me…

 

     1.  You do not have to go vegan all at once. It’s not an all or nothing game when you start. Just replace one thing at a time. For example, olive oil can replace butter, no matter how you use it—even on toast (it’s actually better-tasting!). So one night, put olive oil on your corn cob instead of butter. You’ll find you can totally survive it. When it’s time to replace one pair of your shoes, choose a new pair with no leather uppers. Baby steps.

 

     2. EVERY meal is already vegan—if you just take out one or two things. The irony of being vegan is that people think vegans eat nothing but salad. “I could never go vegan!” they exclaim, but they are already vegan. Everybody already eats what vegans eat (we would of malnutrition if we didn’t eat vegan foods). Vegans eat salad, sure, but it is more appropriate to say vegans eat an extra helping of salad–not “just” salad. If your dinner is steak with a side of green beans and a side salad, all you have to do is have an extra helping of salad or green beans instead of the steak. Congratulations, you’re vegan.

 

     3. Find the stuff you don’t have to give up that is already “accidentally” vegan. Oreo cookies, Fritos chips, Cracker Jack, Pepsi, Spaghetti Marinara, Black Bean Soup, most bagels, and a bunch of other stuff is vegan by default so you don’t have to give it up! Being vegan does not mean “never eating anything you love”. It means finding new things you love to eat on top of the vegan things you already eat!

 

     4. Don’t beat yourself up. I tried to go vegan three times before it finally stuck. The best advice I heard when that helped me finally break through my meat and cheese coma was this: “It’s okay to miss the food you love.” I felt so much guilt when I would drive by an Outback Steak House and secretly enjoy the smell. I would hate myself for wanting a hot dog at a family cookout, trying to admonish thoughts of enjoying the smell or taste of charred animal flesh. When I realized, “It’s okay to miss the food you love,” I also realized my helpful vegan friend used the present tense: “love”, not “loved”. It hit me, then, that it’s okay to pine after the smell of barbecue or pizza. But sometimes you have to give up food you love even if you are not vegan. Diabetics, for example, have to give up certain things, but we don’t even have to go to medical choices. Sometimes you don’t have room for dessert or you don’t want your breath to stink before a date so you pass on your mom’s lasagna. Being vegan is similar. You don’t have to feel guilty about everything you are missing—and it’s okay to miss it. After all, being vegan is simply a choice you make at each meal.

 

     5. It’s your choice. The real trick to how I have stayed vegan for 20 years is simple. I don’t look at it like something I have doomed myself to for the rest of my life. It is just a decision I make when I eat. “I think I’m going to skip the cheesecake this time,” is probably something I say to myself at least once a week! Being vegan is not a prison sentence. It is just a decision you get to make at every meal. Maybe one day in the future I will decide not to be vegan, but so far, it is a decision that feels pretty good, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Plus, if it did, we would have to change the name of our blog!

 

 

If you are struggling with being (or becoming) vegan, hope those five tips help. If you are a long-time pro vegan and you have a tip or two to add to first-timers, let us know in the comments. If you find value in our little blog, be sure to share it. Thanks!

 

Stop People Abuse!

Vegans hate animal cruelty. Like, really hate it. It is probably the number one reason most vegans become vegan–because they watched an internet video, or saw a documentary, or read a book detailing the many follies of factory farming.

In protest of animal cruelty and protection of animal rights, some of us begin the very difficult journey of abstaining from eating or wearing anything that is, or comes from, any animal. Some vegans even begin treating animals better than humans. They become militant. These vegans take up the war cry for animal rights and putting an end to cruelty. They begin shaming their friends and posting general rants on social media extolling the virtues of their life decision while pointing out the worst in human behavior.

For me, that is a problem (this is Michael, by the way). I think it is not only ineffective for helping animals but it is also not a good way to invite other people to become curious about veganism.

Militant vegans, though filled with good intentions, hurt the movement. 

It is certainly frustrating to see story after story about animal suffering and I sometimes feel a swell of anger at the world for not understanding basic cause and effect relationships. Nonetheless, I remind myself to share the anger with my closest friends if I need to, but keep the conversation going with those who are not aligned with the values of their better angels yet.

I can’t say I have found the secret formula or perfect argument to make every person I meet become vegan, but I know what worked for me… and what didn’t. I also know by following three simple principles, I have been able to grow curiosity about veganism in more non-vegans than I ever would have thought possible. People tentatively approach the subject when they meet me but then use me as a resource as they take one step at a time closer to an animal-friendly world.

Maybe it’s slow (probably no slower than any other approach), but it works… and no one gets hurt. I hope some of my militant vegan friends will adopt the same easy principles in their conversations and postings, and maybe… just maybe… we can add a few more vegans to the roster instead of pushing some people away altogether.

Here are my three guidelines:

1.  Do not judge non-vegans. Everyone has a choice to make and I was well into my twenties when I decided to live a more peaceful life with respect to my fellow creatures. There are probably many other bad decisions I need to correct, as well–most of which I am probably unaware of. That is why I do not judge others for their bad choices… or at least I keep my judgments to myself, unless invited to share my opinion.

I didn’t know I should be vegan until I did the homework myself. More importantly, people like me (and probably you) are the exception. Most people do not do much research into factory farming, animal cruelty, or ethical health choices. It’s not on their radar. It isn’t taught in school. There are no commercials for going vegan. They do not know what you might know. You were them just a little while ago and if somebody gave you the “Don’t you know how veal is made and where milk comes from?!?” rant, you would likely not be swayed. In fact, the first time you heard that rant, you probably did not believe it or were not that concerned about it. Eventually, you looked into it.

2.  Avoid blaming and shaming. This is probably the worst thing I see well-meaning, passionate vegans do. If your post or rant starts with “You”, “You people”, or “Why don’t people just…”, start over. It’s not Us versus Them. The people you are trying to reach are just as human as you are. If they are having a bad day already, the last thing they need to see in their social media feed is their judgy-vegan friend going off on them about their life choices. Instead of venting your anger vaguely at the people you supposedly love, try sharing about YOUR journey. Rather than, “When will people start understanding the suffering of animals? I can’t believe it’s 2016 and we still eat meat!”, try “I remember the moment when I understood why I could not eat meat anymore. It was when…”. Tell YOUR story rather than try to change everyone else’s.

3.  If no one asked your opinion, don’t assume they want it. I do not tell people I am vegan unless it comes up naturally in conversation. For me, it is not a bragging right. It is a life-choice. I don’t tell people I am a non-smoker, either. It’s just part of who I am. There is nothing wrong with being proud of your commitment to non-cruelty but most of the rest of the world just don’t care about your choices or opinions. If you want an audience, start a blog. If you want people to listen to you, create a podcast and find people who care enough to tune in. But your non-vegan mother, cousin, or work mate really doesn’t care to hear about baby seals being bludgeoned or seeing videos of how hamburgers are made. Only PETA does, and they probably don’t care what your opinion is on it, either, because–like your mother–they already made their choice. Pointing out how wrong or right it is doesn’t matter to them.

 

As a long time vegan advocate, I can tell you the biggest trap I see passionate vegans fall into is this: they believe in stopping cruelty and animal suffering… but they forget humans are animals, too.

 

If you like what I said here, I would like to recommend this article from Kolene Allen as well, one of our friends at VeganGR. It’s excellent.

But What KIND of Vegan?

“You eat honey! You’re not vegan.”

We’ve heard that before. Vegans debate if honey qualifies as being “vegan”. After all, honey comes from bees, and bees are animals, and vegans do not consume or wear anything that is, or comes from, animals. There is debate whether bees have rights and if eating honey is contributing to speciesism and enslavement, etc. It sounds crazy to non-vegans, but preferring honey to agave nectar can cause a vegan meltdown.

There are other kinds of vegans, too.

Some vegans eat bi-valve crustaceans such as oysters, mollusks, or clams. Are shellfish vegan? Are “Bi-Valve Vegans” vegan? This one is even more complicated than bees.

Vegans usually choose what is edible with a simple rule: “if it can suffer or feel pain, don’t eat it”. Bi-valve creatures do not have a high-functioning brain or central nervous system which makes it unlikely they can feel pain (at least in any human sense). It is also questionable if they experience suffering. We think of suffering as an emotional response to pain. To have emotions, you must have a (fairly complex) brain.

Still, crustaceans are clearly alive and avoid death. Clams, for example, flap their shells to escape predators. Mollusks detach themselves from their homes and reattach somewhere else to avoid danger. Should clams, oysters, and mollusks get a pass as being off-limits for vegans or be tossed in with other living, but edible, things that do not feel pain, such as yeast?

Here is another vegan moral conundrum… our vegan friends swat flies, squash spiders, and otherwise kill insects mercilessly. Nicole and I try to escort bugs off the premises but if pressed for time or facing a prolifically reproductive insect like a cockroach, or if caught by surprise, etc. I will make exceptions to the house “no kill” rule.

Yet, it is not an ethical quandary whether vegans should eat insects. Even despite the “yuck” factor, the answer is an unequivocal “No”. Insects are living, thinking creatures that feel pain, have brains, and avoid death.

We are not aware of any vegans who eat insects. BUT… what about lobsters?

Lobsters, it turns out, are essentially enormous ancient insects. In fact, a lobster has a little more brain power than an octopus and a little less brain power than a fruit fly, yet vegans cringe at the thought of boiling lobsters but do not hesitate to rid their households of pesky fruit flies.

Nature does not draw convenient and obvious boundaries between Class, Genus, or Species. Even the casual vegan murders millions of living creatures every day–dust mites, for example. Nicole and I have not met a vegan who would hesitate to rid their home of bed bugs or termites but we also do not know a vegan who would voluntarily eat dark-chocolate covered crickets.

And let’s not even get started on lab-grown meat…

Clearly, there are no easy answers when it comes to defining what it means to be vegan. The lines are blurred between animal and vegetable just as they are between land and ocean (at what which grain of sand does the beach stop and the water begin?).

As a 20-year veteran vegan, I do not fret about these things. After giving up meat and dairy, arguing over the last inch of being vegan could easily consume my life and I would die still having  no conclusions. I find that newer vegans and the “PETA people” (meaning people who are vegan emotionally, irrationally, militantly, and judgmentally) try to make black-and-white arguments but the fact is no vegan is 100% vegan and no omnivore is 100% carnivore (or they would just be a carnivore).

The point, for me, is to move the needle toward ethical and conscious choices that align with our moral values.

Humans have done something unprecedented by removing ourselves from the food chain. We have no natural predator and we absolutely rule the entire planet. Nothing on this earth–including Earth itself–lives without our consent and approval. The only question, then, is what kind of rulers do we want to be? Kind and benevolent or cruel and merciless? (If you are inclined to choose the latter, let me just point out how well that has worked in the past with dictators, wars, slavery, feudal kingdoms, Rome, etc… it never ends well for the kings.)

I would not hate you for eating a lobster and I would not praise you for saving a mosquito, but I would definitely ask you to consider the morality and repercussions of both.

And if you want to know… Nicole and I do not eat oysters or lobsters, and try not to kill mosquitoes but I have no qualms about defending myself from them and I live in an apartment that sprays for bugs regularly. I guess no one is perfect.

 

 

Our Ancestors Ate Animals? Gross!

Being vegan is increasingly mainstream. It is easier than ever (in major cities), to find vegan options at most restaurants. Vegan clothes are easy to find and order. Vegan niche stores and cafes are popping up. Even Ben and Jerry’s ice cream has vegan options now!

It is a good time to be vegan or veg-curious. When I decided to go vegan almost two decades ago (this is Michael, by the way), the options were nothing like they are now.

It got me thinking (and others are thinking, too)… as a modern society, we look at some choices from–say, just 50 years ago–as relatively unconscionable, if not barbaric. Segregation, for example, or gender stereotyping, or spousal abuse.

What are the things we will look at 50 years from now and find nearly unbelievable that we accepted, as a society?

Will your grandchildren grow up saying, “Can you believe people used to actually carry around a hand-held computer all day and type out messages to each other? It must have taken them forever to get anything done that way!”

“Our ancestors used to kill animals to eat them for food? That’s horrible! Why couldn’t they just use molecular generators to grow meat instead of live like cavemen?”

Maybe it is a pipe dream but I think we are heading that way, and faster than ever. We are growing more environmentally conscious, ecologically conscious, and ethically conscious.

Factory farming, industrialized heavily processed food, and captive animal cruelty are all things receiving greater attention (and outrage) today than they were just a few years ago, let alone half a century ago. Factory farming, I think, will be as senseless and brutal sounding in the near future as ancient gladiator matches seem now.

I don’t know about you… but I hope two or three generations from now, I am seen as a pioneer instead of an embarrassing relic of some family’s history.

What do you want the future say about you?

 

Give Up The Sponge (but not the bath)!

In my mission to live with less (and have more), I came across an unexpected pleasure… me.

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Okay, bring your mind out of the gutter for a minute and follow me down this path; it’s actually a LOT cleaner than you might expect.

I (this is Michael, by the way) used to use a washcloth, loofah, or one of those plastic spongy things to shower with. I would lather the sponge and scrub myself from head to toe as if I was trying to power sand an art deco textured wall.

I do not have a job or hobby that gets me so dirty I need to scrub a layer of skin off, so I thought I would try a week of just using my hands and a bar of soap, 1970’s hippie style.

After a few days of  washing with my hands instead of a piece of cloth or plastic, I began re-learning the shape of my body. I am not a well-chiseled muscular guy, but I must admit it was fascinating to  feel where my muscles are–I never check them out and most of them I didn’t even know were there (I had no idea how muscular the back of my calves are, for example). It was also interesting (and maybe a bit disheartening) to find the not so muscular areas that used to be thin but are now… well, let’s just say “padded”.  Re-learning the contours of my adult face and those hard-to-reach areas of my back, I felt like I was meeting my adult self for the first time.

Skipping the sponge is also an opportunity to feel the areas I want to improve and gently remind myself to treat my body with respect and support the changes I expect from myself.

When I treat my body respectfully, it tends to respond in kind. When I grow ignorant of my body, it pays no attention to me either.

If I want to lose weight, for example, I might find the simple act of showering without a sponge to be an easy way of measuring progress or reminding myself what areas to exercise.

The Greeks had it right: “Mens sana in corpore sano” (“A healthy mind in a healthy body”). 

These things–mind and body–it seems to me, are not mutually exclusive. If I value my mind (that is, my intellectual capacity and ability to think sharply, quickly, and clearly) then I must acknowledge the mind’s resting place is not in an intellectual ether but rather in the body surrounding it.

My body, like any machinery, requires regular maintenance and upkeep. The quality of the maintenance also determines the life expectancy and performance of the machine–eating vegan and exercising intentionally is like running on high-octane and never missing an oil change.

Don’t take my word for it, though. Give it a try. As part of your regular physical maintenance, toss out your washcloth. Try it for a week and see what happens when you shower or bathe while paying attention to your body. I think you will find your body also pays attention to you.

Oh, and remember to keep it clean.