Un-Processing Your Food

As part of our move to a healthier (and simpler) lifestyle, we are working on removing processed foods from our diet.

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Being vegan means we consume and wear nothing that is or comes from any other animal, but being vegan does not necessarily mean we are healthy. There is plenty of vegan junk food and highly processed vegan food. Our goal is to eat and enjoy real food, minimally processed, with minimal ingredients. We like quick, delicious, healthy meals. However, we also eat a lot of highly processed foods such as vegan “fake” meats, Daiya “cheese”, vegan ice cream, and various vegan milk replacements (soy, rice, almond, coconut, etc.).

Processed food is delicious but it is filled with mysterious ingredients and that bothers us. We cringe at unpronounceable ingredients and vague terms like, “natural flavors”, “artificial sweeteners”, or “may contain one or more of the following…”). Mystery ingredients are sometimes a way of masking undesirable ingredients, such as chemically enhanced colors or genetically modified foodstuffs or other things a company would basically not want to admit to putting in your food. Rather than taking an approach of transparency, it appears food labeling takes an approach of, “If it does not specifically say something is not there, then you should probably assume it is”.

For example, if a label says anything other than 100% Organic” (such as “Certified Organic” or “USDA Organic), then either the product itself or the constituent ingredients in the product are probably GMO-laden.

We generally avoid GMO food because we like that organic food has required special treatment and attention. As foodies, we want the best, most delicious, and most ethically chosen food available, GMO or otherwise.

Here is where we split, though. Michael is not opposed to GMO foods. Despite the paranoia driven by foodies with good intentions… the science, Michael says, has not shown any health risk, side effect, or reduction in quality compared to “natural” non-GMO foods. We use “natural” in quotes there because, truthfully, nearly all food is genetically modified. Since the dawn of agriculture, farmers have sought to modify the genes of crops by cross-pollinating, splicing, or otherwise creating hybrids or heirloom varieties to weed out the undesirable traits of the food they grow. If we ate the same corn as our great grandfathers’ great grandfathers’, we would find the taste nearly intolerable compared to the sweet, soft varieties carefully pushed forward until today.

Nicole believes there is a drastic difference between farmer’s genetically modifying food as grown on the farm compared to what happens in a lab. This is a point of contention between us so you should do your own homework or talk to us about your side (but don’t talk to Michael unless you have peer-reviewed literature from a credible source to back your claims).

The way we have approached our move to natural, whole foods is to stop replacing processed foods in the kitchen as we use them. As much as practical, we buy groceries from local farmer markets. This is surprisingly inexpensive and more fun than spending an hour zombie-walking through big-box stores. We enjoy seeing healthy, consciously driven people at the markets working their way from booth to booth of fresh, colorful fruits and vegetables and artisan gifts. We often make a lunch date of it, too. There are always a few food vendors with vegan options!

We do not have strict rules for what constitutes “processed” food. After all, even raw, shelled walnuts are technically processed (they were de-shelled). We do the best we can while being practical in a fast-paced city, and we do make some intentional exceptions (for example, Michael enjoys locally crafted root beer, which is obviously highly processed and we eat peanut butter, also processed–even the natural kind).

For now, we are mainly focusing on staying away from canned food and boxed food (except cereal… cereal is manna from heaven, it doesn’t count as processed).

For the last couple years, this plan has worked wonders for our health and peace of mind. We recommend creating your own process for un-processing your diet.

Better food for a better body; a better body for a better mind!

 

Or, put another way: If you care more about the quality of your car or clothes than the quality of what you put inside your body every day… then you are probably doing health wrong.

 

Why Should I Care About Eating Animals?

There are many ways people justify eating other animals and there is much misinformation around being vegan. It is sometimes difficult to wade through the morass of harmful perceptions, but today I will try, and try to do it concisely…

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I attempt to cut through the clutter of poor thinking and challenge conventional, broadly accepted ideas (the tagline of my blog used to be “Challenge convention; transform the world”) and reveal core truths using logic and rational consideration.

One of the big arguments for not going vegan comes down to some version of, “Why should I? Meat is delicious and change is hard.” Despite the myriad benefits to having healthier bodies, let’s appeal to our brains…

The best reason I can think of to be vegan is simple and profound:

Man is king of the Animal Kingdom.

Think about that. Whether we like it or accept it, we are the default rulers of this planet. We oversee the well-being of every living thing known in the universe. That is a profound responsibility, to say the least.

So ask yourself: what type of king (or queen) do you wish to be? Do you choose at every meal to be a cruel and merciless murderer of the very beings whose safe-keeping is (literally) in your hands? Or do you choose instead to be a benevolent ruler who demonstrates mercy, peace, and kinship with your entire kingdom?

The time may come when we are no longer the kings of the animal kingdom. What type of rulers would we want to be under the rule of?

Consider that the next time you move to swat a fly, put on a fur coat, or eat a burger.

I am not religious, but if I were, I would be frightened at the prospect that my Maker created me as one of the few animals on the planet who can choose not to kill for food. Why would He do that? My cat has no choice. She must eat meat or she will die; she is a carnivore. The mighty Brontosaurus had no choice, either; if the giant dinosaur ate only meat and dairy, it would die because it was a herbivore.

Humans are one of the select few omnivores to ever exist and we are unquestionably the only omnivores who can make a conscious, philosophical (or religious) decision about how we choose to live. No other creature in all of history or in the known universe has that distinction.

That is something to think about if you believe in a god or a judgment day. If you are Christian, even more scary because one of the cardinal ten rules God left for you was “Thou shalt not kill.” There is no asterisk after the commandment. It is unequivocal. It does not read, “Thou Shalt Not Kill*  (…*except on burger night or if bugs really bother you, or when driving mindlessly, etc.)”.

As one of the only creatures with the distinction of Choice, it is important to look at the choices we make and define our moral and ethical values. Food is such a crucial part of our lives. We are our own folly if we simply choose to do what feels comfortable and seems natural. Despite how it looks from our social training, do you think it is  natural to drink the milk of an entirely different species? Do you know of any other species that drinks milk past childhood, let alone milk designed for a completely different animal? Cow’s milk is made for a baby cow, not an adult human.

Whether we acknowledge our power and influence over the world as individuals or as a Human Race, there is no denying our place at the top of the food chain. Since the choice is ours to murder our fellow animals or allow them peaceful passage through our world to live as their inhuman nature dictates, what choice will we make to design a better future?

I choose Vegan. What’s your choice?

But I Only Murder Humanely

I reflect on each day to figure out what lesson life has taught me and then I share it on this blog. Here is what I thought about today…

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A local burger joint, Square 1, has a new billboard with a picture of a bespectacled smirking cow and the phrase, “humanely raised” plastered on it. This is a phrase I see often at burger bars, restaurants, and grocery stores (ironically, Square 1 offers a pretty delectable vegan patty, too).

Let’s be clear about something. There is no way to humanely raise anything with intent to murder. Being nice to someone before you kill them is not a justification for killing them. The phrase itself – “humanely raised” – is a contradiction in terms. To be “humane” requires, as a prerequisite, being “human”. Being human means being the only living being on the planet with both a conscience and the distinction of choice. We are not only the rulers of the entire Animal Kingdom but also we are the only species able to choose whether to live by murder, or thrive another way.

I do not grand-stand on my vegan soapbox often but the phrase “humanely raised” or “humanely farmed” or “humanely…” anything irks me in the worst way. If we choose not to live within a strong moral or ethical framework, that is our choice (as are the consequences of that choice), but at least let us not try to hide behind a blatantly hypocritical justification for living as a matter of our convenience.

If your character is so weak you simply can not keep yourself from murdering and eating burned animal skin and flesh, that’s your own weird problem. As an alternative, though, I recommend this: have a little self-respect. Our species can be better than a life of apologetically murdering for convenience.

Skipping a burger tonight won’t kill you.. or the cow. And that is actually being humane.

 

(And, hey, I know many people – including some of my family and friends – are going to make a crass joke here, “If God didn’t want us to eat burgers, then He wouldn’t have made them taste so good…” or some other juvenile justification, but it is not funny to me. I’ll laugh with you because I am polite and I am in the minority, but I really don’t see the humor.

Also, this is not a shot across the bow toward non-vegans. The shot across the bow was when people hypocritically started using “humanity” as an excuse for being anything but human, and directed that at vegans. Apologies for my directness. I don’t usually like to take a superior tone because I am not a perfect vegan, or a perfect person either. But I couldn’t stand by idly on this one. Rant over.)

How To Find Out If You Are A Bully

Before you get mad about bullies, you might want to take a look in the mirror.

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Rainee (my cat) has a habit–no, a ritual–of annoying me every night between 3:00 and 4:30am. She paws my face, walks across my body, and licks my ear lobes and eyelids until I give her attention. When she uses the litter box at night, she likes to announce it to the apartment by yowling and jumping on the bed. To top it off, she consistently wakes me up a half hour before my alarm so I can feed her.

Sometimes, I just ask her to leave me alone because I am trying to sleep (and, surprisingly, sometimes she does). Sometimes, though, I react instinctively. Something furry suddenly falls on my face–I swat at it! Often, she gets pushed or kicked off the bed for pestering.

Last night was no exception. I swatted her away out of half-sleep frustration but I heard a bad landing and instantly jolted awake, worried I had hurt her. She was fine, but I was not. I realized I could have hurt her (she is an older cat) for nothing more than annoying me and wanting to play.

I grabbed her and apologized (as if she could understand me) and invited her to lay back down next to me, which she did. After thinking about it today, though, it occurred to me that animals can give us particular insight into our selves. I bullied my cat. That is a fairly petty jerk-move, even if I was half-asleep.

The way we treat others–especially those with less power in a situation–is a clear reflection of our own self-actualization or folly. In other words, the best person you are is not who you are when you are at your best. The best person you are is the best person you can be when you are at your worst.

This might be a work in progress and take some patience but I will be sure to work on how I express or (suppress) power when I have more of it than someone who can do nothing about it, human or otherwise.

I hope you will, too.

No Pressure

Stress is relative but my life is not relative to yours.

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Over the last few months Nicole and I have uprooted our lives, leaving everything behind in Grand Rapids, MI and moving to Tampa, FL.

It has been an amazing adventure so far but not without obstacles and remarkable stress. In some ways, we are not even the same people who started the journey. We have a new home with new furniture and new surroundings, new jobs with new work commutes, new cities to navigate, new weather, new sleep patterns, even new clothes. Everything is different and presents new challenges.

The funny thing is, when I feel the pressure mounting I am also reminded we are living with much less stress than many, if not most, other couples. Many of our stresses are temporary and will subside over time (we will grow used to the city, our new work teams, our clothes, etc.). Not to mention we basically live on Vacation (meaning we live where most people go to get away from it all), with sunny weather almost every day, palm trees, and beaches at hand. We don’t have kids, or a mortgage, or even car payments to worry about (yet… we will probably upgrade our cars this year).

The point is, from the outside looking in, I suspect it looks like we moved to Paradise but we still find ways to stress out. There are people with much better social position under much greater stress.

I have learned stress is part of life, every life, and it is relative to the life being led. The trick, I think, is to remember it is all temporary, including the life being led.

Recognizing all things must pass, including both the moments on the beach and the moments wishing for the beach, means recognizing it is all part of the adventure and we should cherish the challenges as much as the beaches.

It’s Easier Than You Think

The hardest part of walking is taking the first step.

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Anything ever created that we can think of was impossible before it wasn’t. No one knew how to build a car until somebody tried and failed. The first two-story home (or hut) had to offer the terrifying aspect of walking across the just completed elevated floor, hoping no one fell through the ceiling of the room below. Then, the first 100-story building… how many two-story houses were built before someone tried to build toward the sky? The first plane, the first sports stadium, the first mp3, the first traffic system, etc… even the first person to adopt a fully vegan lifestyle… all those things were unimaginable for much more of human history than they were imaginable.

The thing is, somebody took the first step, probably knowing they would fail, maybe suspecting they would never even live long enough to see if their idea eve succeeded. But they did it. They said, “I don’t know what will come of this, exactly, but I will give it a try.”

What would the world look like if we all imagined what the unimaginable future looks like and then took the first step toward it?

(I know that is a paradox–that’s the point. No baby imagines a future where she can walk until she takes the first step.)

Football

Your feet play an important role in your health and happiness. Treat them well and listen when they talk to you.

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I bought a pair of Vibram five-fingered shoes–the kind with minimal padding and separate slots for each toe. The idea is to make it the next best thing to walking barefoot, with minimal protection and maximum flexibility. The shoes come with instructions that tell you not to wear them until you follow a two to three-week exercise regimen for your feet.

I doubt most people follow those instructions if they read them at all but I gave it a shot. The exercises are easy but there are a LOT of boring repetitions. Nonetheless, I have been sticking to it and at the same time reading up about foot health and learning how to walk and run better. Nicole has crazy physiological knowledge of muscles and bones so it helps to have someone I can ask questions about my feet.

Anyway, all the foot exercises and stretches have really made me aware of how much power my feet have over my mood, energy, and general well-being. I noticed when they ache (which was often), my usually good attitude diminishes as does my desire to move.

When you think about it, your feet are your primary connection to the earth and they are loaded with muscles and nerves that give you constant, immediate feedback. If you are like me, though, your feet are an afterthought at best. They just take you from one place to the next and sometimes they ache and sometimes they don’t.

Putting some effort into strengthening and lengthening all the muscles in my feet has definitely had a positive impact.

Here is a quick tip: when you are sitting at home, keep one of those rigid spiked plastic laundry balls under your desk or chair. Absent-mindedly roll it under your arch, heel, and between your toes while you type or watch a show. It is a great massage and provides light muscle work.

We should listen to our feet as much as we listen to other people. They speak to us more often and, let’s face it, our feet usually have more important things to discuss.

 

It’s the Little Things

If it is easy, makes you smile, and does not hurt others (people or animals), then rock it.

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We watched the dolphins for at least an hour. Every time one of the big, shiny gray fins and dull silver backs would roll above the waves, Nicole practically squealed with joy. The dolphins were fun to watch as they frolicked just a few yards from the boardwalk at John’s Pass. Nicole said, “I don’t know what it is about them but they just make me so happy!”

A couple of hours later my dad called me to chat about their visit next week. No joke, just before we hung up, he said, “Hey, is there somewhere we can see dolphins? I love watching them. They just make me happy.”

If it does not cause pain or suffering for you or others and it makes you smile, then you have met all criteria for happiness. Rinse, repeat often, and enjoy. 

 

Living Space

Thanks, Karl!

When in doubt, throw it out!

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Part of simplifying my life means ridding myself of non-essential things I carry around that do not contribute value to my life.

I tossed out my old journals along with a lot of bad poetry I have held onto since I was a kid. I did keep one or two good(-ish) pieces, though. Maybe I will tidy them up and share them later.

I also went through my library of books, which I already pared to my 50 or so “essentials”. Still, there were a lot of books I have not read for years. Some of them I have not read at all. I have been saving them for when I have time to pick them up. Of course, when I do make time to read, I choose other books anyway. I have merely been saving them for the sake of saving them, it seems. Same for audio books and music CD’s.

I can buy new books or buy again the old ones I meant to read but never have (and probably never will) and it will be cheaper than storing them for decades and lugging them around wherever I move. With CD’s, outside of a few rare singles, local artists, or hard-to-find albums, most of my music is available online (which means it does not have to take up space in my apartment–less cleaning, storing, and clutter to move around).

If I do actually miss anything, I can always buy it again, but I usually find I do not miss things that much. There is so much new music, new books, and new gizmos and gadgets produced that there is no need to hold onto things for the sake of holding onto them.

The less clutter you keep, the more space you create for living. That’s why we call it “living space” instead of “clutter space”.

Space For Living

When in doubt, throw it out!

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Part of simplifying my life means ridding myself of non-essential things I carry around that do not contribute value to my life.

I tossed out my old journals along with a lot of bad poetry I have held onto since I was a kid. I did keep one or two good(-ish) pieces, though. Maybe I will tidy them up and share them later.

I also went through my library of books, which I already pared to my 50 or so “essentials”. Still, there were a lot of books I have not read for years. Some of them I have not read at all. I have been saving them for when I have time to pick them up. Of course, when I do make time to read, I choose other books anyway. I have merely been saving them for the sake of saving them, it seems. Same for audio books and music CD’s.

I can buy new books or buy again the old ones I meant to read but never have (and probably never will) and it will be cheaper than storing them for decades and lugging them around wherever I move. With CD’s, outside of a few rare singles, local artists, or hard-to-find albums, most of my music is available online (which means it does not have to take up space in my apartment–less cleaning, storing, and clutter to move around).

If I do actually miss anything, I can always buy it again, but I usually find I do not miss things that much. There is so much new music, new books, and new gizmos and gadgets produced that there is no need to hold onto things for the sake of holding onto them.

The less clutter you keep, the more space you create for living. That’s why we call it “living space” instead of “clutter space”.