the first rule of being vegan

I don't exactly walk around preaching veganism, or making a big deal about it. If it comes up over a meal, so be it, and I'm more than happy to answer questions about my choices or things I've learned in the process. I've had some interesting experiences as a result - people reacting funny or connecting with other vegans - but ultimately it's taught me a lot about mindfulness. We all eventually come to realize that life doesn't come with a rule book (D'oh!). Most of us write our own or spend our lives searching for some philosophy we can stomach. Still, rules don't generally jive with the ebb and flow of life. Life is dynamic; rules are rigid and static. So while I set certain ethical guidelines for myself to follow, it takes constant evaluation and consideration to know if what I'm doing is best. And in the end, you never really know, you can just guess and hope that not too much harm was done in the creation of your grand experiment.

When people challenge me on my dietary boundaries, I encourage it with curiosity. Is honey vegan? I don't know. Most people would say no, but I don't have any data to support cruelty to bees (it's what they do, no? make honey?) or that it's bad for the environment or that the industry is corrupt. If I learned about some horrible part of the honey-making process, I'd stop eating it. The point isn't to make yourself a slave, or a victim. The point is to make decisions in your life that uphold what's important to you and that help you fall asleep at night with a smile on your face.

The reason I'm talking about being vegan is because it's something pretty common that I think is often misunderstood. I feel like it exemplifies an oversimplification of ethics that is so prevalent in our culture. People deem things "good" or "bad" with no evaluation, and then they build up a bunch of fears and rules around it. Choosing to not eat animal products is a step in the right direction, sure, but it by no means makes you an ethical or "good" person. I've seen animal activists act extremely violently and even, sadly, destroy their own message through their anti-humanitarian behavior.

In veganism, as in life, things aren't black or white. There are always questions and considerations and my hope is that these continue on beyond the adoption of some trendy label. In promoting veganism, I would like to promote thinking and evaluation above any sort of special treatment of animals. Because I believe if we thought more, considered more, and connected to our true nature and values, we would treat animals better anyway. I mean, why not?

So... the first rule of being vegan? Don't make it a rule.

montreal, je t'aime

All of a sudden I have a whole bunch of things I want to write about, but it wouldn't be right if I didn't catch up on my convention escapades first... I actually wrote about my trip to Montreal on my way to the NY Comic Con, so here it goes: Time for another convention download! I better hurry or I’m going to crash my hard drive - my brain’s hard drive that is - as I’m headed to another convention this weekend... I had a great time in Montreal. The convention was quaint and community oriented; in other words, very small. It's always nice, though, because you get to have closer interactions with the fans and overall it’s just more relaxed. Like most small conventions, it seemed the people shared a history and the convention served as a reunion of sorts. I enjoyed the dysfunctional-family-dinner feel and felt very much welcomed by everyone there. Fortunately, I wasn't forced to unleash my neglected French, though I did escape a few tourists asking for directions with a convincing, "Je ne sais pas." But anyway, since my time spent at the actual con didn't go beyond my two Q & A's and a few hours signing, I had the luxury of wandering around Montreal, checking out some live music, taking a yoga class and eating at some awesome vegan restaurants. Here are some random photos of my trip.

Other discoveries I made in Montreal include:

  • Diamond Rings (walked into a performance randomly and have been smitten ever since. his new album came out today! yay!)
  • Aux Vivres (excellent vegan fare and fun atmosphere)
  • Bixi bikes (worked off the vegan chili with a little cruise around town on a rental bike. a little intimidating in traffic, but totally worth it. i hope the rest of the world catches on soon)
  • No right turns on a red light! Say whaaaaat?

eating animals

The subject of eating animals has often been a topic of heavy debate in this little mind of mine. Not so much whether to eat them or not – I’ve been a vegetarian since I was twelve – but what it means to treat a living thing as an object or a vehicle for satiation; also, how to be ethical in a system that uses animal products for so many things. I thought it would be pertinent to write about this since I just read an article in the New Yorker about Jonathan Safran Foer’s new book (non-fiction this time) named, aptly, “Eating Animals.” Well, and with it being Thanksgiving and all, I suppose it's somewhat relevant.  I have yet to finish the 352 page foray into the well-traveled world of omnivorous ethical dilemmas, but I already have the sense he takes a slightly different approach than most. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed his previous novels, “Everything is Illuminated” and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.” The latter of which I devoured audiobook-style during my first drive/move to LA from Vancouver; I made it all the way to Sacramento, compelled by the humble and engaging characters, unable to put them to rest. This time, his characters are living, both internally and externally, sharing both insightful investigations and factual fodder. Inspired by the birth of his son, and the desire for a consistent and informed moral foundation, his journey takes him far beyond the reaches of a writer’s study, into factory farms, slaughter houses, and even the sensual smells of his Grandmother’s kitchen. Despite the obvious soapbox trap, his voice remains, like his fiction, compelling, humble, insightful and humorous. Since I was 9 years old, when I realized the stuff inside my McDonald’s hamburger was the same stuff that amounted to my hamster, guinea pig, and rabbit, I felt conflicted about ingesting this mysterious, yet delicious, substance. For a few years, I went back and forth, often swayed by my school's “hamburger day” or an exciting Thanksgiving feast; following the norm was also just easier. Eating the lasagna my friend’s mom made for dinner, shoving the pangs of guilt into the pocket of my Guess jeans, was much easier to swallow than thought of causing trouble with my pickiness. But after a particular, some might say spiritual, experience when I was twelve, I never (knowingly) ate another animal. One misty autumn afternoon I was running along the dyke near my house and stopped at the one farm left in our newly developed neighborhood. By the fence, solemnly, stood a lone cow - not eating, not mooing not even walking, just staring... at me. I stared back, and with the earnestness and intensity only a twelve year old can come by honestly, said simply, “I can’t eat you.” As sentimental as it may seem, my decision grew more from the discomfort with my logical inconsistency than a heartfelt emotional reaction, however that was probably what pushed me over the edge. For as long as I can remember I’ve loved animals, even my stuffed ones were deserving of my affection at one time. Growing up, our house was rarely rendered petless. So I asked myself, how could I love and nurture animals of all shapes and sizes, and yet support their slaughter and consumption for nothing more than human enjoyment. (I say enjoyment because I don’t believe humans need to eat meat to survive, at least not in our technologically advanced society.) I could possibly produce a similarly sized publication as Foer’s if I were to knead out the complexities of my ongoing internal struggle, the issue is far from black or white, but overall I’ve come to terms with the fact that it involves a constant evaluation and re-evaluation of my values. I’ve never been one to preach about my choices and for some reason this particular one is something I've felt solid about ever since I made the decision to stop eating meat, but I do think it’s important for people to at least ask themselves how they feel about it and why. Aside from the effects on the earth and the animals themselves, I think by the worst effect is the destruction of our own humanity that results from objectifying living beings. The disconnect between our actions and our values, when left unexplored, leaves an ever-widening gap in our experience of ourselves.

I encourage you to explore your own feelings on the subject, or even check out Foer’s if it interests you. Here are what some other reviewers and essayists have to say...

‘You Know That Chicken Is Chicken, Right?’ by Michiko Kakutani

'Mau-Mauing the Flesh Eaters' By Jennifer Schuessler