VegFest 2021

Today was my first time going to a local vegan festival called VegFest. Even though I’ve been vegan for nearly a decade now, I somehow never managed to make it out there. I’m so glad I finally went though. It was so much busier than I could have ever anticipated. There had to be thousands of people crammed into the span of a few blocks. There were over 40 local vendors selling all kinds of things from plants and art to baked goods and bourbon. I don’t even want to calculate how much money I spent. There were a lot of things I wasn’t even able to try because the lines were too long or they sold out before I had a chance to stop.

I highly recommend attending any vegan festivities in your area. New vegans could definitely benefit from discovering what type of vegan options there are in their area. Experienced vegans can benefit from the uplifting atmosphere of being surrounded by like-minded people and seeing just how much support the vegan movement actually has. Even in more vegan-friendly areas, it can feel like a lost cause at times. There is nothing more inspiring than gathering together with your community to celebrate.

It’s really crazy for me to think about how far veganism has come in just my small area. There used to be hardly any options for me in the grocery stores or at restaurants. If I wanted to eat a dish that was even moderately tasty I had to put in all the time and effort to make it myself. Now being vegan is easier than ever.

I used to get it when I was first transitioning if people told me veganism was just too difficult for them. It was a big adjustment in a society that catered to carnism alone. Now I’m shocked that anyone can still use that excuse. With the Impossible Burger at Burger King, dozens of different vegan ice creams in the supermarket, and hundreds if not thousands of other perfectly incredible replacements for anything you could possibly desire, how could you still ask a vegan, “so what do you eat?” or “I could never give up x or y.” Hell, even the dinky little road side ice cream shop in the middle of nowhere has nondairy options now!

Even though I can no longer hold out hope that veganism will save the earth, it can still save the animals from enduring unnecessary suffering in the short time that we have left here with them. I am so grateful to be have been reminded today that there are so many other people in this world that are fighting to end that senseless pain.

Vegans & Parties

This weekend I went to two different summer parties with the people I work with. One was with my coworkers from the Child Advocacy Center and one was with my yoga studio friends. It used to be a bigger deal to go out to restaurants and parties and other social events when I was first finding me vegan footing. Now I don’t really give it a second thought. I’m used to either ordering a garden salad or bringing my own party favors when I go out. What I did find interesting was the distinctly different experiences I had at these two parties this weekend.

Since I began working at my new job, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how accepting and considerate of my veganism my coworkers have been. Despite the popular trope that vegans “love to tell you they’re vegan” I actually usually keep it hidden from new people I meet for as long as I can. It’s not that I’m ashamed of it or anything. Talking about it just usually ends up turning into an invitation for all the age old vegan questions. “Where do you get your protein? What do you eat? Can you eat eggs? Do you eat fish?” Etc. etc. It’s quite exhausting. I quickly got tired of dispelling common myths and teaching everyone I met about my diet. But when my friends at work found out, they didn’t seem shocked and horrified like most people. They were great. They were respectful and a lot of them even told me how great it was that I was vegan.

At my work party, I came with a bag of food to eat and share, assuming I wouldn’t have much available there. It was a fondue party after all. However, I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived. There were two giants vegan dishes (pasta salad & a quinoa dish) as well as hummus. All were labeled very clearly too! It honestly nearly brought tears to my eyes. I had never felt so respected and well taken care of at a party before. (Plus I made chocolate chip cookies that everyone ate up immediately, not even noticing they were vegan.)

Now I must have gotten a little cocky after that party on Saturday. I didn’t really expect my veganism to even come up at the annual studio picnic I went to yesterday. I’ve known these people for years now and I thought we’d gotten past the question and answer stage. Unfortunately it was immediately brought up when I offered tabouli to everyone. To be fair I guess that’s not an ideal dish to offer since not many people even know what it is. I only know because I’m Greek and my grandmother used to make it, not because I’m vegan. Anyway, I digress, it seemed like quite a bit of my time there was just spend explaining veganism and nutrition to everyone. I got all the classics. “Where do you get your protein?” That one always kills me. I also had people acting upset that the impossible burger wasn’t “healthy.” Well yea, neither is a regular burger. It’s a junk food replacement, not a health food. Someone even told me, “It’s great being vegan works for your body. I don’t think it would work for my body.” What the hell does that even mean? Haven’t heard that excuse before.

I was so disappointed that my fellow yogis were the ones that made me spend my time at this party lecturing and justifying my lifestyle. They all seemed to be much more defensive than my work friends. It’s interesting to observe the way different people react to my veganism. It says a lot about a person. What I’ve seemed to notice is that the more in line with vegan principles someone already is, the more threatened they seem to be by me. Not always, but a lot. Ahimsa or non-harming is one of the main principles of a yogic lifestyle. Of course that can be interpreted different ways by different people, but obviously veganism is the way I interpret it. I think veganism is quite threatening to some people. They hear you saying you’re better than them even when you’re not. They feel attacked and become hostile towards you. It’s a visceral reaction brought on by the cognitive dissonance within their own minds. They see the value in veganism and know that it aligns with their beliefs, yet they aren’t ready to give up their current habits. The discomfort that creates is then a problem that the vegan catalyst is blamed for subconsciously.

Whatever you opinions of veganism are, I just want to point out that it’s not polite to put a vegan on the spot with endless questions, especially at a party. I went there to have fun, not to answer questions that are quite frankly boring and irritating to me at this point. I used to think that it was a great opportunity to educate people and even though I didn’t really enjoy doing so, I tried my best to answer everything adequately. After being vegan for nearly a decade now and hearing the same questions from the same people again and again, I see it a bit differently. I don’t think most people really care what your answers are. They are just asking questions to make conversation. If they truly had any interest in the answers to those questions, they could have just googled it and gotten a much more comprehensive and helpful explanation.

One of the questions I always get is: “what do you miss most?” They are expecting it to be a “food.” But honestly I miss fitting in better, being able to blend into the crowd. The social ostracizing it the hardest part. It’s practically the only difficulty that still has stayed with me after all these years as a vegan.

24 garden party ideas to transform your backyard for celebrations | Real  Homes

Conflicting Ideals

My office is somewhat out in the countryside. Most of the road there is lined with rolling fields with cows grazing. This morning as I was driving to work, I saw one of the cows wading chest deep into this little pond. It made me so happy. What a little goof, I thought to myself. I really enjoy watching them everyday when I’m commuting to and from the office or when we take walks during our lunch break. Sometimes there are even curious babies that approach the fence to watch us as we pass by.

Knowing that my friends at work also enjoy our cow neighbors, I was excited to talk about what I saw this morning. I was quite shocked and caught off guard by the reply I received though. Instead of smiling and laughing at what a silly cow I saw earlier, my friend sadly commented on how he thought the cows were starving. I asked him what he meant, since I hadn’t noticed them looking particularly unhealthy or anything. He told me that he could see their ribs. While this made me very sad, it also made me confused and curious. He seemed awfully upset and sad about it. I almost asked him why he cared.

Obviously I care, and I think it’s right and natural to care about other living beings. That’s why I’m a vegan and don’t include these sentient beings in my diet. But my friend at work is not a vegan or even a vegetarian. Therefore this strange disconnect always intrigues me. It’s amazing how rarely human beings follow their thoughts and beliefs to their logical conclusion. Clearly he cares for these cows and doesn’t want to see them suffer. Yet the suffering that he pays for and ingests at each and every meal is far more gruesome than merely going hungry. If underfed cows could cause him so much sadness, why does he perpetuate far greater abuses?

I’m not trying to blame him or even shame him for the way he lives his life. I am just fascinated by the psychology behind this common hypocrisy. Even though I was once a part of the exact same mindset (animal lover/animal eater) it still doesn’t make any sense to me. But I want to understand how I overcame that mental block. I want to find a way to get other people to make the same connection that I finally made nearly a decade ago.

People often look at others in small religious sects, cults, political parties, or those who subscribe to other ideologies in general and wonder how on earth they could believe the things they do. We tend to think there is just something wrong with those people. Unfortunately we are all susceptible to these oversights in judgement. I would even go so far as to say we all participate in actions that conflict with our personal beliefs. A lot of the time we can recognize these inconsistencies, but feel unable to reconcile them. But there are probably still quite a few that each of us have that we don’t even acknowledge. I, for one, am very concerned about the ones that may exist within my own mind.

I’d like to think I would be grateful if someone were to point these hypocritical behaviors to me so that I could work towards becoming a more consistent and principled person. Yet I don’t know how I would actually feel were I confronted in this way. Most people tend to just get angry and think you are a jerk. This is why, despite my feelings, I don’t bring these types of things up to people anymore. It never seems to help the situation, only hurt our relationship. The mind is truly a fascinating thing. I hope to someday understand it better so that I may use that understanding to help myself, my fellow humans, and the other beings that we brutalize every day.

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Moderation

When I first learned about yoga philosophy, I became convinced that by following the Yamas and the Niyamas, it would be possible to truly find peace and happiness in this life. The only trouble is, these principles, while simple and straightforward, are very difficult for me to adhere to. The Yamas and Niyamas are similar to the ten commandments, the eightfold path, or other religious guidelines. Like most others, they include principles like not stealing, not lying, not killing, etc. Every now and then I’ll be reminded how important it is for me to practice these ways of living.

One of the Yamas I always consider my favorite is ahimsa, which means “non-harming.” In the beginning I liked to imagine that I had been living in this way for years given that I am a vegan and don’t cause any harm or suffering in order to feed myself like most humans do. However, this was foolish of me. Instead of casting judgment on others, I should have been looking more deeply at my own life. While I may not contribute to the unimaginable suffering of farming and eating animals, I still cause plenty of harm to myself and those around me in other ways. In the end ahimsa could cover all of the other Yamas. After all why avoid lying and stealing? Well partially because they cause harm to others or even yourself.

For a few months I tried to practice Satya, non-lying. It really opened my eyes to how often I lie. I didn’t really think I lied very much at all before trying this. After all, I’m not one to make up tall tails or be untruthful about important issues. However, what I came to realize is that I lie almost without thinking every day in very small, seemingly insignificant ways. Maybe I’ll make up an excuse for why I was ten minutes late for work. Or tell a friend I’m busy rather than being honest about why I’d rather not hangout that evening. Just little “white lies” that I’m sure all of us tell from time to time, more out of convenience than malice.

Despite the importance of these two Yamas I won’t be focusing on them today or the other two I’ve yet to mention (asteya – non stealing & aparigraha – non attachment.) Today I wanted to focus on the fourth Yama, brahmacharya. A lot of people throughout history have interpreted this Yama to mean sexual abstinence. However, now it is often translated more broadly as moderation. The purpose of this Yama is to remind us that more isn’t always better.

I’ve been confronted with that simple truth a lot recently. I love coffee, yet when I get carried away and drink too much it makes me incredibly anxious rather than energized. I also love exercise. It it a wonderful stress reliever for me. However, I tend to overdo that as well which ends up causing stress instead of eliminating it. I’ve even begun to get carried away with how much kratom I use, adding more and more powder to every glass when it actually works just as well or even better when I use less.

Moderation has always been a very difficult concept for me. It always seems to be all or nothing, never a healthy balance. Perhaps I am just too careless to be bothered to pay attention to my body and listen for it’s cues telling me when enough is enough. My tendency to be rigid in my routines doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room for the natural fluctuations within me to be honored and addressed. That is one of the most difficult parts of this Yama for me. There is no one else that can tell me what moderation means to me. I have to discover the right balance for my own life. And in order to do that, I have to be open, curious, willing to experiment, and practice listening to my intuition. Brahmacharya requires looking inward. It requires me to be honest with myself, to trust myself, to respect my own needs and limits. Sometimes I’d even prefer to interpret it as abstinence. Not having sex is much more straight-forward and easy for me. (I’ve been doing it for years without trying!)

Moderation becomes a more and more complex concept the longer I think about it. I’ve spent so much of my life living in excess that I don’t even know where to start. I want to start regardless though. Someday I hope to be able to live my life in accordance with all of the Yamas and Niyamas. I have been blessed with this wisdom from ancient yogis passed down to me through countless generations. I am so grateful for their guidance. But now it’s up to me to apply this sacred knowledge to my own life in order to finally live in a way I can be proud of.

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Testing My Compassion

I’ve written about my trouble with moths in my house on here before. Thankfully, I was able to pretty successfully get rid of them by placing lavender scented cotton balls throughout my cabinets, closets, and drawers. But now there is another plague upon my house: ladybugs.

My grandmother would often complain about ladybugs being in her house. I can remember seeing a few on a windowsill when I was a kid. I’ve also had a little trouble with them myself since I’ve lived here, but nothing too terrible. I’m not sure what has changed this year. Maybe it’s the weather or perhaps catching and releasing a jar full of stinkbugs from my room made more space for them, but they have absolutely taken over my home. I can’t walk through a room without seeing at least one. I brush four or five off of my kitchen counter and put them outside every time I try to cook. They crawl all over the windows. Dead ladybug bodies are scattered around the floor again a day after I’ve vacuumed.

I am really at a loss about what to do. And it isn’t just an annoyance. For me, it’s also a moral dilemma. At first, like the stinkbugs, I just found them silly, a mild inconvenience. But it’s really been out of control this year. I’ve started to look at them with anger and disgust. I feel hatred towards them. I have started to lose sight of the fact that they are living things. And I’m so ashamed of that.

I don’t want to feel this hatred. They don’t deserve my fury. They are just small beings doing their best to survive in this bizarre world. Just like I am. This has really been a trial of compassion. A test to see if I can maintain my connection with my heart as I move through my own home that’s been invaded. A test to see if I can show compassion to the very beings that have invaded it.

I have not intentionally squashed any of them and I don’t even plan on it. I simply couldn’t. Even if they do make me angry. I still feel guilty collecting them up to put them outside. They will most likely not be able to survive in the snow. But what am I to do? I know that in time, just like in the years before, they will dwindle and disappear again. I just need to be patient and cultivate my compassion until then.

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Vegan 2020

Check out this documentary and find out how the vegan movement has advanced in 2020. Fascinating information about the role animal agriculture has on pandemics. An educational film for nonvegans and an inspiring look at how far we’ve come for those who are already vegan.

Anger and Fear

I have a very anxious rescue dog named Sybil. Because I know her so well, I see her behavior differently than most people probably do. To them she probably seems aggressive or even dangerous. She barks at everyone and everything. She’ll even snap at other dogs or people if they get too close. This behavior, as you might imagine, doesn’t garner much sympathy. I am constantly having to apologize for her. I try to explain to people that while she may seem like she’s just being a brat, her behavior is based in fear.

Sybil has actually taught me a lot about myself. Before her, I never really made the connection between my own anxiety and aggression. While not as bad as it once was, I still have a short temper overall. I am especially irritable on days when I feel the most anxious.

From an evolutionary perspective, I guess it makes sense. If you are feeling threatened, a natural response is to try to defend yourself. Throughout most of human history this probably meant through some form of physical action. Fast forward to the present, and our fears and the solutions to them are not so simple or similar. Yet overall our internal wiring remains the same. Just as it does within our animal brethren.

My anger is one of my least favorite qualities. It causes me to act in ways I always regret later. However, because I dislike this side of myself so much, I end up getting angry at myself for getting angry. Which is obviously quite self-defeating. So rather than react to the anger itself, sometimes I am able to remember to look past it. I look for the fear hiding in the shadow of that anger instead.

I find it quite astonishing actually. There is always something I am afraid of when I search for the roots my anger is stemming from. And while looking at the anger makes me more angry, looking at the fear underneath allows me to feel compassion for myself. I see the frightened child behind the school bully. I see the sweet fearful dog behind the violent bite.

Then I have a much better chance of calming myself down rather than try to argue with myself about whether or not my anger is justified. The latter strategy never works. When I am angry I am great at rationalizing why I have the right to be. I rile myself up even more combing through the minutia of other people’s errors. But whether or not a have the right to feel angry isn’t the point. We all have the right to get angry sometimes. Especially when we have been genuinely wronged. However, the real question isn’t whether it’s warranted, it’s whether we want to feel that way. And I don’t know many people that want to feel angry.

For me, it’s easier to address the fear instead. Then I have an opportunity to comfort myself. To give myself what I am truly needing in those moments. I don’t need more violence or turmoil. I need softness and reassurance. Which are usually pretty easily to supply myself with once I know what I’m afraid of. The fear itself is usually exaggerated or unfounded. And once it is addressed, there is no more anger either.

So the next time you feel yourself getting angry, think about Sybil. Remember that you might just be scared. Take a moment to ponder what it is that you are afraid of in that moment. Hopefully doing so will be able to provide you with more peace. It has certainly been helpful for me.

Asking the Wrong Questions

As a vegan, I am endlessly asked questions about my lifestyle. Even though I find them aggravating and tedious to answer over and over again, I always try to stay friendly and informative. After all, while I’ve answered these questions a million times, it may be the first time the person I’m talking to has had the chance to ask anyone.

For example, a coworker asked me roughly, “Isn’t it difficult to be vegan?” Frankly, the answer is no. It might be somewhat challenging to adjust to at first, as any lifestyle change would be. But after a few months it is ridiculously easy. It’s not even something I have to think about. Especially now when there are so very many vegan options available. Even without those “fake” meats and replacement foods, you simply learn about all the naturally vegan dishes other cultures have been enjoying without even thinking to label them “vegan.” It’s just food. People seem to forget that the majority of everyone’s diet, vegan or not, should be mainly fruits, grains, and vegetables anyway.

After getting flustered and anxiously trying to express all of this in a clear concise way, it dawned on my just how irrelevant this question and it’s answer really are. Whether the answer is yes or no ultimately does not matter. The right question is whether or not it’s worth it. No one ever asks that.

I think from now on I am going to start redirecting those who question me toward the more important questions rather than directly answering the ones they ask. Even if veganism was hard, I’d still choose to be vegan. I mean, like I said, it was hard in the beginning and I wasn’t aware back then that it’d get easier. Whether or not it’d be easy had no bearing on my decision to change my life. I changed because it was the right thing to do. It was the only way for me to live in accordance with my morals and core beliefs. It was the only peaceful, compassionate path forward.

How ludicrous it seems to imagine justifying the continued abuse and slaughter of animals because it’s just easier that way. Human beings are always so focused on themselves. It is hard for most non-vegans to wrap their heads around the idea that I would happily “inconvenience” myself, completely change myself and my way of life, in order to save the life of another or even just relieve some their suffering. That’s an easy choice. I’d be vegan even if it only helped a single animal.

Some people even falsely assert, “Those animals are already dead. It won’t change anything whether I order a burger or not.” This also baffles me. Besides being disingenuous (most people understand supply and demand), it simply doesn’t matter if it truly changes the world or not. For instance, just because you don’t abuse children, doesn’t make child abuse disappear. Does that make it okay for me to abuse a child? Even if that particular child will be abused by someone else anyway? Of course not! There are many horrors that exist in our society and in our world. That does not make those horrors acceptable or morally okay.

I could go on to dissect all of the common questions we vegans know so well. In the end, we get so distracted by answering the question, trying to defend our beliefs, making veganism look appealing, and dispelling misconceptions, that we don’t even realize how irrelevant the question and it’s answer really are. In the future I am going to try my hardest to remember this when asked these questions. Rather than rattling off facts and figures that, let’s be honest, are pretty much ignored, I am going to ask my own questions in return.

I hope by doing this, I’ll actually be able to spark some genuine contemplation on the topic. I know my past responses haven’t been making the impact I have hoped. Besides, it’ll be much more interesting for me than repeating the same facts, which fall on deaf ears, again and again.

I’ve never been able to understand why knowing that animals suffer and die isn’t enough for people to be inspired to end that, to stop participating in such cruelty, such violence. It’s really that simple. Suffering, violence, and death are awful. Producing meat and dairy requires violence, suffering, and death. We do not need to consume these things to live or be healthy. That should be all anyone needs to know. That’s all that truly matters.

Ahimsa

One of the principles in yoga philosophy that I hold dear is called ahimsa. It is roughly translated to non-harming. When I first learned that this was a part of yoga, I assumed that all true yogis, especially the teachers, would all be at least vegetarians, if not vegans. I was quite disappointed to learn that was far from the case. Just like with most things, people tend to interpret ahimsa in their own ways.

No one wants to believe that they have been living wrong. Or that their life-style has been causing suffering. No one wants to have to change. These principles are therefore perceived to (conveniently) not require any actually adjustments from the person professing to follow them. Another good example of this phenomenon is the biblical commandment of thou shalt not kill. A sacred rule I’m sure all Christians would claim to follow while simultaneously preparing a dead animal for their family dinner.

I am not bringing this up to cast blame or criticize others. Today I just wanted to talk about the way ahimsa influences my own life. Even as a vegan there are grey areas that each person handles differently. I know vegans that, while claiming to value all life, still kill insects. And that is specifically what I wanted to talk about today.

Recently my house has been overrun with small moths. It is quite irritating and I won’t lie and say it hasn’t crossed my mind to squash them or buy sticky tape to get rid of them. It’s difficult to remember that they are living beings when we have been conditioned our entire lives to view them as insignificant pests. It has taken me years to finally overcome that mindset.

While these tiny creatures may just seem like irritations to us, to them it is their life. They are just as capable of suffering as any one of us. Who decides that a human life matters more than a moth’s? It would be quite biased for me or other humans to determine that. I have trained my heart to view these pests as precious beings that deserve my respect.

So while it may be much easier for me to kill these moths and protect my clothing from their hungry nibbles, I absolutely refuse to do so. Instead I have looked up natural ways to make them leave on their own. My favorite solution was lavender. Apparently these little darlings hate the scent of lavender. So yesterday I strategically placed cotton balls with lavender essential oil all throughout my house.

I have yet to see if this will actually be successful, but I have already been rewarded for this humane effort. Both my clothing and home smell absolutely lovely today. And I am reminded of my kind intention with every whiff of that soothing scent. I am hopeful that I will start to notice my small uninvited guests leaving soon, but even if this doesn’t work, I will not resort to taking their lives. It seems monstrous to me to take a life simply to make my life slightly more convenient. If necessary, I will take the time to capture each moth and put them safely outdoors myself.

Ahimsa is something that we must remind ourselves of with everything we do. Even if it isn’t easy. Even if most of the world can disregard it. I will continue to strive to honor and value ALL life. No matter how small (or annoying.) Even if I am laughed at and seem crazy for doing so. I hope the next time you find a small being “in your way” you will take a moment to acknowledge the light inside of them that we all share and choose to allow them the precious life they were given. A life that holds as much meaning to them as ours do to us.