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.

 

 

Support Local, but also Support National

Don’t buy your vegan products from Target because you can find better quality products for just a couple dollars more at your local market or store.

Don’t support big chains like Starbucks or Chipotle because there are local farmers and restaurants offering great vegan food right here in town!

Except when there isn’t. Except when you are traveling to another town. Except when you want convenience or just to save a couple dollars once in a while.

There is such a huge push to support local businesses now that we often forget why we like big chains in the first place. Before you barrage us with emails, comments, or FaceBook posts, we know big corporations are evil, tax breaks, Starbucks is the devil, etc.  Really, we do. We read Free Lunch by David Cay Johnston and we saw The Corporation.

All things being equal, we always favor local and ethically run businesses. We also go on vacation and travel once in a while. Knowing we can find a Starbucks and grab a soy latte without doing a half-hour of research, visiting websites, calling for hours, looking up menus, and reading reviews helps our vacation remain a vacation instead of a research project. It is great finding local niche restaurants (it is actually one of our favorite things to do) but just grabbing some tasty Sofritas at Chipotle and moving on is pretty good, too.

In a foreign land, having the dependability of quality and a menu you know can be a comfort in itself for some people.

Supporting local does not have to mean condemning national. Big box retailers certainly should change for the better but they still have a place in the world. Maybe just not as big a one.

Why not favor local, but support both?

REVIEW: THAI TERRACE (RESTAURANT)

RATING: B-

WHATThai Terrace

WHERE: 2055 N. Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa

PRICE: Around $50 which includes a Singha Beer, 2 “egg” rolls (not made with eggs–vegan), veggie coconut milk soup, tofu Tom Yum soup, veggie Pineapple Lake Curry (originally Pad Thai but the sauce had a fish base), and Veggie Red Curry.

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HOW VEGAN IS IT?

We told the waitress know we were vegan and she knew what that meant (definitely a good sign). She let the kitchen know but there was nothing marked “vegan” on the menu. I (Nicole) ordered the Pad Thai and waitress let me know it was not vegan because the pre-made sauce was fish-based.

 

ATMOSPHERE:

We found Thai Terrace through the Happy Cow app, which noted the restaurant was attached to a hotel lobby. We found it connected to a Howard Johnson’s in a run down strip mall next to a strip club on Dale Mabry (the neighborhood doesn’t bother us, but we thought you might like to know). We also found other inconsistencies from Happy Cow, detailed in the review below.

 

THE GOOD:

We haven’t had Thai since before we moved to Tampa over a year ago, and it was really good to have Thai food again.

The service was quick and the portion sizes were decent.  After the appetizer and soup, I took home most of my entrée.  The egg roll was one of the best vegan rolls we have had anywhere.

 

THE BAD:

No acceptable outdoor seating.  There was one old, rickety table facing Dale Mabry (the restaurant is near Target, Home Depot, and 275, where Dale Mabry is non-stop). The interior decor was mainly wood, like you might find in a 1970’s motel.  There was wood-paneled walls, wooden chairs, counter, room divider, window frames and even the ceiling had wood strips. It was a little too much, in my opinion.

Here is the big bad though.  Happy Cow gave this four stars.  They said Thai Terrace offers vegan choices including ones not listed on the website menu. According to the Happy Cow reviews, the menu explicitly states no chicken broth or fish sauce is used in any of the dishes and oyster sauce is not used in the vegetarian dishes. The reviews said food is made to order so there is a slightly above average wait time, and everything is fresh, including the sauce. Needless to say, we had high expectations and when this wasn’t our experience, we were disappointed. None of those facts are currently true (as of April, 2016).

Happy Cow reviews are, of course, no fault of Thai Terrace, but we did send feedback to Happy Cow, notifying them of the corrections they might want to make.  The last time we checked, it looks like Thai Terrace has been removed from Happy Cow (that wasn’t our intention–we just wanted them to update the information appropriately).

 

THE SUMMARY:

Overall, Thai Terrace gets a B- from us.  It was disappointing because the information on Happy Cow set our expectations high.  This wasn’t Thai Terrace’s fault and we don’t blame them, and our rating was not impacted by that. As far as we could tell, Thai Terrace is vegan-friendly but it is not an intentionally vegan restaurant with legitimate, easily identifiable vegan options on their menu.

 

 

How our reviews work:

We accept no sponsors or advertisements so we can give honest reviews of everything we try. We are regular customers (but we don’t try to hide what we are doing–they can see us taking notes and pictures). If approached, we will explain ourselves and ask probing questions. We share our thoughts about the experience with each other and then each of us gives a letter grade (A to F). We take the average of both grades to create our rating and share our notes with you!

Is Your Dog Vegan?

Our puppy, Oliver, is 8 months old and our cat, Rainee, is about 15 years old (this post was written in April of 2016). Nicole and I are both long-time vegans so it stands to reason our pets would be vegan, too. Many vegans, because of their personal philosophical choice, anthropomorphize their values on their pets. We are not those types of vegans.

I like to think of myself (perhaps a bit narcissistically) as an “intellectual” vegan. I made my choice based on my personal moral values and a lot of learning about food, nutrition, and the science of being healthy. After I went vegan, I started to wonder if pet food was roughly equivalent in nutrition and chemical adulteration as highly processed human food. Turns out it is. I make conscious choices about what my pets eat now, too. The difference is, that I do not make philosophical choices for my pets. I do not think it is right to assume the values of my pets inherently reflect my own. Oliver and Rainee are (and I’m not trying to be insulting here) simply too dumb to understand the complicated choices we make on their behalf. Oliver, for example, happily eats carpet and has no problem licking the butt of any dog he just met. I am just saying maybe he is not the brightest star in the sky when it comes to complex decision-making.

Obviously, some important decisions about Oliver’s well-being and safety in a world dominated by the human species is best left to humans (because we know how to read labels and use can openers, for example). Outside of practical decisions, though, I would no more try to impose my philosophy of living on Oliver than I would try to teach a two-year old human baby the virtues of Capitalism. It is outside their scope of knowledge.

 

Some words in this post you might not be familiar with, loosely defined:

Carnivore: must eat meat to have proper nutrition (a tiger, for example).

Herbivore: must eat fruits and vegetables for proper nutrition (an elephant, for example).

Omnivore: can eat either meat or vegetables, or both, and be nutritionally sound (a human, for example).

Vegan: someone who chooses NOT to consume or wear anything that is, or comes from, an animal.

Narcissist: someone who is in love with himself or herself, to a fault.

Anthropomorphize: projecting human thoughts and feelings onto another animal (like Bugs Bunny or your dog).

Adulteration: adding bad stuff (like chemicals) to good stuff (like fruit) to make something unfit for consumption (like Froot Loops, which are delicious, nonetheless).

 

A dog can certainly survive on a vegan diet, but should your dog be vegan because you are?

This is a debatable topic in the vegan community but I am not sure why. On the surface, it is debatable if dogs are omnivores at all, though many veg-friendly sites claim dogs are omnivores “by nature”. There is conflicting evidence about that, but there is no debate that most species within the dog family (Canis Familiaris and their wolf ancestors, Canis Lupus) subsist mostly through hunting and eating other animals. Personally, I think there is a clear, obvious, and striking difference between most omnivores or herbivores and dogs–look at their teeth and eating patterns. Dogs eat competitively and in packs, suggesting the hunting and bringing home of prey rather than individually scavenging for fruits and vegetables.

There is no legitimate scientific debate around cats, as far as I can tell. They are considered strictly carnivores and scientists generally agree cats are unable to thrive without meat in their diet, despite weak anecdotal support from some pet owners.

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So, I will dismiss Rainee from the debate altogether. Regardless if Oliver can survive on a vegan diet (again, debatable), let alone thrive on one (also debatable but certainly possible with strict attention to dietary supplements and fortified foods), I need do no more than look at his teeth to see it is a bad choice to make him vegan.

Canine teeth are clearly designed for ripping, tearing, shredding, and gnashing (like a tiger, wolf, or vampire from Fright Night). Human teeth, by contrast, are flatter and better suited for grinding and chewing (like a cow or horse). Even if dogs are technically omnivores, they have clearly evolved mostly as carnivores, unlike humans, and if left to their own choices, dogs will not deviate from a carnivorous diet (Oliver, for example, will not pass an opportunity to slurp up a lizard if he catches one, much to Nicole’s dismay). In other words, there might be a debate among humans whether dogs are, or should be, considered strictly carnivores, but there is certainly no ambiguity among dogs–if given the opportunity, they will not hesitate to eat meat.

To me, it is a minor act of cruelty to make your pets vegan. As far as we humans can tell, it is not what dogs want or need, and it very likely robs them of key nutrients unless you are a vegan supernerd food scientist who knows vegan dog nutrition inside and out. I don’t even know human food and nutrition inside and out, let alone the nutritional requirements of another species. Forcing my dog to be vegan would likely, and unnecessarily, shorten his lifespan in the name of my moral ignorance.

All that being said, Nicole is grossed out by pet food and treats and will avoid touching it if possible. That leaves the dirty business of feeding them to me. I won’t lie. As a vegan, it is tough some days to smell and handle canned meat, or dog bones, or treats, or to clean up Rainee’s salmon-laced hairballs. It is a moral conundrum, as well, because of course, I don’t like buying meat or having non-vegan items in the house. I understand why vegans make ill choices for their pets, but my primary responsibility to the pet, as I see it, is to the pet’s health and well-being before my own personal politics come into play.

When it comes to choosing vegan for your dog, consider two things…

  1. Maybe you shouldn’t have a dog. Borrow your friend’s dog, or volunteer at a shelter to fill that need, or get a rabbit.
  2. Does the dog want to be vegan? Is it the best choice for the dog or just the best choice to satisfy your conscience?

Nothing about pet ownership is easy and our responsibility does not stop at rescuing or purchasing an animal companion. I am glad the debate over ethical choices for pets is happening (including the debate over pet ownership itself), but when it comes to diet, I think the right thing to do for my dog is not necessarily always the thing that leaves the best taste in my mouth.

 

Feel differently? Agree wholeheartedly? Have questions? Let us know in the comments below!

REVIEW: FALAFEL INN MEDITERRANEAN GRILL (RESTAURANT)

RATING: B+

WHAT: Falafel Inn Mediterranean Grill

WHERE: 777 N. Ashley Dr., Suite B, Downtown Tampa

PRICE: Under $30 for a large taboule, two falafel sandwiches, a Pepsi and a bottle of water. Just enough for a lite-ish meal before a little Yoga in the Park.

Falafel Inn Wrap

HOW VEGAN IS IT?

As with most Mediterranean restaurants, there are several vegan options. Falafel Inn may have slightly fewer options than others, but it is still more than most chain restaurants.

ATMOSPHERE:

The atmosphere is upscale yet casual. We call this combination “Downtown Chic”.  The furniture and decor are modern and upscale.  The chairs were white with nice clean lines.  The decoration was simple but elegant.  When you walk in there is a counter which I mistook for a hostess stand but is actually where you order and when the food was delivered, the plates and table ware was disposable. You clean the table.

THE GOOD:

There are several good things about this place. It was clean with a good amount of outdoor seating. Portion sizes are decent, and the Falafel Sandwich was packed pretty good with lettuce, tomatoes, onion, cucumber, and tahini– not just patty and sauce like some places.

THE BAD:

Overall this was a nice place and we had a nice experience, but to have a thorough review, we have to add a few things. There was a TV playing sports on the wall.  We prefer the quieter setting with no distractions of TVs. The grape leaves are not vegan.  Grape leaves are one of my favorites (this is Nicole) so it is a bad thing when they are not an option. The Taboule tasted good but it was not the freshest. They probably made it the day before or early that morning so not “old” but not being chopped while we waited, either. On the front door was a “Restrooms are for customers only” sign which is a pet peeve of Michael’s. Bad marketing. Why alienate a potential customer?

THE SUMMARY:

Falafel Inn Mediterranean Grill was good and we would go back. We probably wouldn’t go Downtown just for them, though, dealing with traffic and parking, but if we find ourselves Downtown and hungry, we would visit again.

 

How our reviews work:

We accept no sponsors or advertisements so we can give honest reviews of everything we try. We are regular customers (but we don’t try to hide what we are doing–they can see us taking notes and pictures). If approached, we will explain ourselves and ask probing questions. We share our thoughts about the experience with each other and then each of us gives a letter grade (A to F). We take the average of both grades to create our rating and share our notes with you!

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?

 

REVIEW: COMMUNITY CAFE (RESTAURANT)

RATING: A

WHATCommunity Cafe

WHERE: 2444 Central Ave, St. Petersburg

PRICE: About $50 for two, including tip. We had a big meal that included french toast, two tofu scramble burritos, beer, kombucha, and a milkshake. You could definitely get away with ordering less and leave full, but we wanted to indulge a little.

HOW VEGAN IS IT?

Community Cafe is very vegan-friendly. There are options for both meatheads and veg-heads, but there are plenty of clearly labeled vegan choices in every category.

ATMOSPHERE:

Artsy urban featuring local art.  Clean interior with board games and scrapbooking to keep you busy.

THE GOOD:

Great vegan options, including desserts! Local beer options (no draft). Great hours–open late! Regular events like a Tuesday game night, social group gatherings. Friendly staff. LGBT friendly, too, if that’s your thing.

THE BAD:

A little pricey, not outrageous, though, considering what we got. I think the amount of food received for the price is a bit lacking, but the food is delicious. Minimal outdoor seating. The Oreo milkshake was a little runny for my taste. Not bad, but no Ethos.

THE SUMMARY:

Community Cafe is one of our favorites.  We don’t get there often because it is out of the way for us.  The portion sizes could also be a little bigger, but there are lots of vegan options including desserts, so we give it an A.

How our reviews work:

We accept no sponsors or advertisements so we can give honest reviews of everything we try. We are regular customers (but we don’t try to hide what we are doing–they can see us taking notes and pictures). If approached, we will explain ourselves and ask probing questions. We share our thoughts about the experience with each other and then each of us gives a letter grade (A to F). We take the average of both grades to create our rating and share our notes with you!

REVIEW: Falafel Cafe (Restaurant)

RATING: B

WHAT: Falafel Cafe

WHERE: Clearwater, just off US 19

PRICE: $26 for 2 people, including tip.

2 Falafel Platters (sandwich with 2 sides), including 2 cups of lentil soup, fries, soup, and salad. 1 canned Pepsi and 1 bottled water.

ATMOSPHERE:

Falafel Cafe is a small restaurant in a strip mall. It has outdoor seating but we don’t recommend it. It’s the mall parking lot, facing the highway. The space itself is about the size of a small Subway sandwich shop and there are 2 televisions (one on each wall). When we visited, they were too loud for such a small space–one was playing sports and the other an Arabic channel. The tables were covered with cheap plastic liners but the restaurant itself was clean.

HOW VEGAN IS IT?:

Middle Eastern food typically has many unintentionally vegan options and this place is no different. If you like Lebanese food, you can’t go wrong here. Hummus, salad, soup, and at least a couple sandwiches are all vegan. One note, though… Falafel is a deep-fried chick-pea based batter. Middle Eastern restaurants almost always fry in vegetable or corn oil, but we didn’t ask. Also, whenever you are eating restaurant fried food, we think it is only fair to assume the fries (or falafel) were fried in the same oil as the chicken tenders, fish, and everything else. So, if you order something fried, you take your chances or accept that it is probably not 100% vegan.

THE GOOD:

Like any good Lebanese restaurant, they had Pepsi! Michael is not a fan of Coke and is always excited to find Pepsi when we eat out. The amount of food was surprising for the price. We left stuffed. They gave us a complimentary hummus appetizer to start, complete with pickled beets!

The staff consisted of one person running the store. Our server was also our chef, our host, and our cashier. The place was obviously family owned because the only other guests were his family. He was very friendly and the service was very good.

The food was made fresh to order, so if you go, expect a bit of a wait for your meal.

We have to offer a disclaimer here: Michael comes from a Lebanese family of restaurateurs so he is a harsh critic of Middle Eastern food and has very particular opinions about how Arabic restaurant food should taste. That being said, Michael thought this place was “good”.

The falafel was very good and it was served as described… on a platter! The fries were crinkle cut and hearty. The salad was a bit simple as far as ingredients go, but it was spiced well.

 

THE BAD:

Nicole would have liked to have seen more of the traditional vegan options that Arabic/ Middle Eastern restaurants usually offer (such as grape leaves, fattoush, or tabbouleh). They did have ful (sometimes spelled “foul” but pronounced more like “fool”), though, which makes for a great breakfast option.

This is not necessarily bad but the lentil soup was creamed (meaning “blended” not “made with cream”). Traditional lentil soup is a bit more chunky whereas this was closer to a baby food consistency. We weren’t fans of the consistency but you might be, and the taste was fine.

 

THE SUMMARY:

Falafel Cafe is a good spot for a hearty lunch if you have a bit of time to kill. We definitely received our money’s worth and the owner was friendly. We could have done without the TV’s but that is just our preference. Next time, it might be a carry-out order. The restaurant is small, clean, and convenient if you are in the area shopping. Worth a visit, especially if you love Falafel!

 

REVIEW: Mellow Mushroom (Restaurant)

RATING: B

WHAT: Mellow Mushroom

WHERE: There are three locations in the area; 11955 Sheldon Rd, Tampa; 10959 Causeway Blvd, Brandon; and 2630 Gulf Bay Blvd, Clearwater. We have been to all three and as with most chain restaurants, the food is identical.

PRICE: About $50 for a 14-inch medium pizza with 5 toppings, a side of 3 pretzels (half order), an order of roasted potatoes and a mixed drink. We brought enough home with us to have another meal for two. If you drop the $8.50 mixed drink and the potatoes, you still have plenty of food for two, so our price is on the high side of what you might normally order.

ATMOSPHERE: Mellow has a fun atmosphere with a late 60’s hippie vibe. Each location has unique decor. Most locations also have a patio which we tend to enjoy.

HOW VEGAN IS IT?

They have vegan options on their menu, but they also have non-vegan options, so make sure you clarify with the wait staff.  Their staff seems to know what vegan is and how to modify things or will happily check to see if something can be modified.

THE GOOD:

They have several legitimate pizza options for vegans, including Daiya cheese as a topping, as well as both tofu and tempeh. Their pretzels are vegan if ordered without butter and now they have herb roasted potatoes as an appetizer as well. You can also have them modify the bruschetta without much fuss. Just ask for it vegan. Aside from pizza, you can order calzones. The pretzels are always a win. Served fresh and warm, we order them plain with a side of red sauce and mustard for dipping.

THE BAD:

The potatoes, at least on this outing, were dry and not very flavorful. Nicole liked them. Michael wouldn’t recommend them but they weren’t bad. Stay away from the new veggie burger. It is verified not vegan by the company, which is a disheartening turn for an otherwise generally vegan-friendly chain.

THE SUMMARY:

Mellow Mushroom is one of the chain restaurants that supports vegans. While we don’t always like chain restaurants, this one seems to be in the rotation often. In our opinion, the price is reasonable for the amount of food you get and it is a fun atmosphere.

 

How our reviews work:
We accept no sponsors or advertisements so we can give honest reviews of everything we try. We are regular customers (but we don’t try to hide what we are doing–they can see us taking notes and pictures). If approached, we will explain ourselves and ask probing questions. We share our thoughts about the experience with each other and then each of us gives a letter grade (A to F). We take the average of both grades to create our rating and share our notes with 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.