Being a Vegan Emissary

Vegan and Plant-Based Diets Worsen Brain Health - Neuroscience News

Yesterday our new intern pulled me aside to ask me about going vegan. She seemed interested and eager to learn more since finding out that I was vegan a few months ago. She loves my vegan oat milk coffee creamer and told me she’s even started using it at home because she likes it so much. I was so happy that she felt she could come to me with questions, but at the same time I was immediately tense and anxious about how to respond.

This is not the first time that I’ve been in this uncomfortable situation. Many people have come to me for help when beginning their vegan/vegetarian journey. I thought I would get better at offering that help as I became more comfortable and confident in my own veganism, but it seems like it’s actually the reverse. I am so far removed from the normal meat-eater’s lifestyle that I no longer understand their questions half the time, let alone know what the most beneficial response would be. When people ask me things like: what do you eat? I can’t help but stare back dumbfounded for a few moments. What do you eat, I want to ask. I eat fruits, vegetables, grains, seeds, and nuts. You know… food. The bulk of what any reasonable diet should already consist of.

There is such chaos and turmoil inside of me when I find myself having to give vegan advice. Part of me is overjoyed, part of me is annoyed, part of me is panicked. Overjoyed because my veganism has influenced someone to try to live a more compassionate life. Annoyed because their questions remind me just how far the majority of society is from doing that. And panicked because of the pressure I feel to offer the perfect answers to their questions. I want to make veganism sound easy and appealing to them. I’m afraid my response could potentially prevent more animals from suffering but that I will fail those same animals if my response instead causes the person to turn away.

My mind starts racing, trying to decide what parts of the encyclopedia of information I have inside my head is the most important, useful, or impactful. I have so much knowledge to offer. To break it down into the most relevant and easily digestible pieces seems like an impossible task. After these random encounters, I always feel disappointed in myself. I kick myself thinking I should have done better somehow, even though I’m never sure exactly what “better” would have looked like. At this point it’s impossible for me to remember what would have been most helpful to me when I first became vegan.

I wanted to write this post today to address people on both sides of the aisle. To the aspiring vegan: Don’t expect the vegans in your life to take you by the hand and make this transition seamless and easy for you or expect them to have all the answers. To the vegan being asked for advice: Don’t be too hard on yourself. There is no perfect response that you can give to make someone else change their behavior. All you can do is try your best, be friendly, and be open.

With that said, here is what I would like to say to anyone interested in going vegan: It’s going to be a hard transition. Being vegan isn’t hard at all, but changing is. Especially when you are changing something so integral to your culture and day to day life. There is no amount of information you can gather or questions you can ask preemptively that will make this transition easy. If you’re waiting for it to be easy, you’re going to be waiting forever. Change is never easy. Learning how to live a new lifestyle is never easy. One way you can make it easier though is being gentle with yourself while you’re still learning. I think a lot of people either avoid or give up veganism because it’s too daunting to imagine never eating meat or dairy again. That’s a scary concept in the beginning. You find yourself thinking, what about all the traditional holiday foods I’ve enjoyed with my family my entire life? I can’t have turkey on Thanksgiving? I can’t have a Christmas ham? I can’t eat cake for birthdays? It seems like a huge sacrifice. And some militant vegans will say it’s something you’ve just got to accept and white-knuckle your way through. But I don’t think that’s necessarily true.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with identifying as a vegan or vegetarian and still making exceptions for yourself in the beginning. I also think it’s okay to essentially go vegan without adopting the label if that lets you feel less restricted. What matters is doing our best to cause as little harm to other beings as possible. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Even vegans can’t help but avoid doing harm entirely. It’s just about trying. So if the only thing holding you back from veganism is Thanksgiving dinner, let yourself not be vegan on the holidays. If you’re having a really hard day and you can’t resist one of your favorite comfort foods or don’t have time to cook and don’t have the time, energy, or accessibility to find a vegan alternative, you don’t have to cast the vegan lifestyle aside because you caved and ate meat. Just try again tomorrow.

You can also start slow. Try making a vegan dinner once a week. Make one meal a day a vegan meal. Test out some vegan menu options the next time you go out to eat. These small steps matter. They still have an impact. And if this is the best way for you to make the transition and feel confident and comfortable enough to stick with it, I think it’s an excellent way to do it. There is no one way to live a vegan lifestyle. It is going to take some time and experimentation to discover what works best for you. Your body and mind are going to need time to adjust. There are going to be days when you “screw up” and can’t live up to your own expectations and that’s perfectly okay. I still have those days over 10 years later. The important part is that you’re trying. That alone is a beautiful gift to the animals, your body, and the Earth. That alone is something to take pride in. And for that alone, I for one, thank you.

OPINION: Doctor Hits Back At 'Exaggerated' News Report On Vegan Diet

On Animal Abuse

I’m currently reading Neither Man Nor Beast by Carol J. Adams, a feminist and animal rights activist. She is best known for her ability to tie significant social justice issues together to show the intersectionality of all who remain oppressed in our society. I have also read one of her earlier, and perhaps more famous books, The Sexual Politics of Meat. Both of these books work to bring the animal and women’s rights movements together to see the similarities between the types of oppression they are fighting.

Among the many new things I’ve learned from reading Adams’ books, I learned the other day that hunters are more likely to be domestic abusers. While, this was no surprise to me, I was surprised that I hadn’t heard about this data before. I was also surprised when, upon telling people this somewhat obvious fact, there was a lot of hesitancy and discomfort in response. People are quick to say: Well, not every hunter hits their spouse and/or children. That’s true, but that wasn’t what I was asserting. The fact remains that it is a risk factor and a red-flag for women to look out for when finding a partner.

This new information and the reactions I got regarding it, led me to think more deeply about the ways in which our society categorizes animal abuse. I can’t think of anyone who would openly claim to support animal abuse, yet the vast majority of human beings take part in it every day. You might find yourself disagreeing at this point, and if so, I’d like to ask you how you define animal abuse. Wikipedia defines animal abuse as: the infliction by omission (neglect) or by commission by humans of suffering or harm upon any non-human animal. The Humane Society’s definition says animal abuse, “encompasses a range of behaviors harmful to animals, from neglect to malicious killing.” It goes on to clarify: Intentional cruelty can run the gamut from knowingly depriving an animal of food, water, shelter, socialization or veterinary care to maliciously torturing, maiming, mutilating or killing an animal.

You’ll notice that these definitions are broad and include the majority of interactions that the human race has with our animal brethren. (I am including the eating of animal flesh as interaction, although most people would not consciously consider eating a hamburger to be interacting with an animal.) Hunting certainly falls into the category of animal abuse by these definitions, does it not? Animal abuse definitions are not offering exceptions based on “intention” or “purpose” of the abuse. You’ll notice that there is no footnote indicating that these things are okay if we consume or display the carcass of the animal afterwards.

It never ceases to amaze me when the internet goes wild about the Yulin Dog Meat Festival, while in the same day, the same people will sit down to several meals of meat. How is a dog different than a pig or a cow? It’s not intelligence. It’s not friendliness. It’s not inherent value as a living being. It’s simply a difference in cultural brainwashing. Realizing this makes the opposition to another culture’s meat eating practices, while excluding our own, problematic if not outright racist.

However, getting back to the issue of animal abuse as a warning sign for violence towards other humans, I’d like to know how psychologists would explain this connection, given our culture’s general acceptance and inclusion of daily practices that cause harm and death to animals. It seems like most people know about the early warning signs of future serial killers, pychopaths, sociopaths, etc. One of the main ones is torturing or killing animals.

If the psychological issues that these warning signs reflect are lack of empathy, violence, aggression, lack of impulse control, and the like, I don’t know how we would be able to make distinctions between these random acts of animal abuse and culturally acceptable forms such as hunting and meat eating. If, on the other hand, the psychological problem that animal abuse in childhood reflects a disregard for socially unacceptable acts, then I can see that distinction making more sense. Although, I don’t believe that is the case.

Whether we realize it or not, I believe there is evidence for negative social outcomes in regard to all forms of animal abuse, even if it is condoned by our society. There is more and more data coming out every day about the detrimental mental health effects of working in a slaughterhouse. Many workers have even developed PTSD from these jobs. Slaughterhouse employees are also, unsurprisingly, more likely to commit acts of domestic violence. One researcher even discovered that towns with slaughterhouses have higher crime rates in general:

Amy Fitzgerald, a criminology professor at the University of Winsor in Canada, has found a strong correlation between the presence of a slaughterhouse and high crime rates in U.S. communities. One might object that a slaughterhouse town’s disproportionate population of poor, working-class males might be the real cause. But Fitzgerald controlled for that possibility by comparing her data to countries with comparable populations employed in factory-like operations. In her study from 2007, the abattoir stood out as the factory most likely to spike crime statistics. Slaughterhouse workers, in essence, were ‘desensitized,’ and their behavior outside of work reflected it.

The Green Star Project

Ultimately, the age old saying, “violence begets violence,” holds true. There is no way to escape this simple fact. Whether you choose to identify it as such, hunting animals, as well as purchasing their bodies from the grocery store, is violence. It will negatively affect you and our society regardless of how hard we try to blind ourselves to that truth. Karma has never appeared to me so clearly as with the results of eating animals. The human races’ mass scale animal abuse has and continues to contribute to all of humanity’s ailments whether they be illness such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, global warming, racism, misogyny, domestic violence, or crime overall.

We will never be able to accomplish world peace if we continue to sit down to dinners of corpses each night. Humanity supports itself through suffering, domination, and death. How then can we still wonder why there is so much hatred and violence in the world? It is there because we perpetuate it every day, because we have already closed our hearts to those most vulnerable.

Truth! #govegan #vegansofinstagram #mercyforanimals #loveanimals #repost  @pauline.dagonneau ・・・ For the animals ❤️

Advocacy vs. Activism

UK boards braced for new 'golden age of activism' in wake of Brexit and  pandemic - Financial News

The word “activism” is described as: the policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change. “Advocacy” is defined in a slightly different way: public support for or recommendation of a particular cause or policy. While these may seem like the same thing at first, I would argue that they are very different. Here are my definitions:

  • Activism: fighting against policies or practices that one considers harmful or unethical.
  • Advocacy: fighting for individuals or communities affected by harmful policies or practices.

I consider both of these to be valuable, necessary contributions to the betterment of society. However, that doesn’t mean we are all suited for them. Some of us may be more capable of handling the consequences, whether they be physical, emotional, or mental, of activism more so than advocacy or vise versa. For example, maybe someone finds it easier to go to protests and lobby their government than personally supporting victims. Perhaps they have a lot of passion for a given issue, but it is more painful to see the end result of those affected. This would be someone better suited for activism. As an advocate, I find it easier to support and care for the individual than to fight against what has harmed them. Then of course there are those that can’t bear the weight of either one, and that’s perfectly fine too. In order to make the most of our energy and make the biggest impact, I think it’s important that we honor these personal differences.

Today I wanted to take the time to offer some suggestions for those of you, like me, that find your energy is best spent doing advocacy work instead of activism. First, I think it needs to be reiterated that both of these are amazing and much needed. Regardless of what or how often you contribute, know that your efforts matter. I’m only focusing on advocacy because I feel it is the lesser understood of these forms of social justice. For organization sake, I am going to break down my suggestions for advocacy by issue. I also want to stress that whatever you do, no matter how small, is something for the world to be grateful for. Maybe you feel you can’t be vegan yourself, but support the vegan movement. You can still donate to sanctuaries, share information, foster shelter animals, etc. Maybe you’re too afraid to leave a toxic religious organization, but you want to support others who are. You can still help in creative, even clandestine ways. So don’t be discouraged by anyone who says it’s not enough. However much you feel you are able to give is enough. And maybe you don’t feel like you have anything to give at all, even then, you can share these resources with others who might be able to offer more. That too is a great help.

1. Feminism

  1. Volunteer Clinic Escort: I just recently discovered that this is something you can do at Planned Parenthood. Instead of arguing with misogynists online, trying to make a difference in the collective consciousness, why not make a guaranteed difference in at least one woman’s life? Rather than raise your voice to shout down the hateful, ignorant protesters outside these clinics, let your voice be the gentle one at a fearful woman’s side championing her onward and wiping away her tears.
  2. Abortion Fund Donation: If you’re able to more easily give money than time, try donating to the National Network of Abortion Funds. Their mission is “to remove financial and logistical barriers to abortion access by centering people who have abortions and organizing at the intersections of racial, economic, and reproductive justice.” Often the women that most desperately need to terminate a pregnancy are the ones least able to afford or access services. The procedure itself can be expensive, but now with abortion rights being threatened in more and more states, there can be added fees such as out of state travel or hotel stays. Donating to these funds is an excellent way to make sure that we are helping the most vulnerable maintain bodily autonomy and their human rights.

2. Religious Freedom (Freedom from Religion)

  1. Support Recovering From Religion: This organization offers people leaving religion dozens of resources to help them cope in this new phase of their life. It also offers supportive counseling for anyone who would like it. You can help by volunteering your time for this counseling and/or you can offer a monetary donation. Often when one leaves a very toxic religious group, it can be insanely difficult to adjust. Some churches completely cut you off from friends and family still involved with the church, leaving you with no support system at all. This is obviously an intimidation and manipulation tactic that organizations like Recovering From Religion help combat.

* I actually had a much more difficult time finding resources for this section than I imagined. Another great way for you to contribute would be by adding new resources. You might work to start a non profit or make your own fundraiser to support people leaving religion in various ways. Also if you know of any other organizations or sites offering help to people escaping from religious groups, leave them in the comments. I’m happy to update this post as often as needed to incorporate new resources.

3. Racism

  1. Black Lives Matter: At this point, I’m sure I don’t need to explain what this group is to anyone. However, even after hearing so much about this movement in the news, this is the first time I actually went to their website. There are a lot of amazing resources and information on there. You can sign up for their newsletter to stay updated on information and events. You can volunteer your time by helping to report misinformation on social media. And of course you can donate or purchase merchandise to help the group financially.
  2. Educate Yourself: One of the most important things that all of us can do is educate ourselves about the history of racism in our country. I think even one individual making an effort to absorb this knowledge is a step in the right direction. No matter how much I think I know about the oppression of black and brown people, it doesn’t take more than a few minutes of searching to find out about even more horrors. The more we know the better we will be able to support and show respect to our black friends and the black members of our community. Here is a list of resources you might find helpful in your pursuit for understanding. Just make sure that you are doing the work of educating yourself. Don’t burden you black friends/acquaintances with the job of educating you.
  3. Support Black Creators: I learned just the other day about the way social media algorithms actively suppress the voices of black creators. They are less likely to be recommended or broadcasted on the platform, therefor much less likely to be visible. If you use social media, you could make an effort to follow more black and brown accounts. You can also make the conscious choice to seek out movies, shows, books, etc. that were made by black people. In this way, we are not only offering financial support, but broadening our perspectives by exposing ourselves to more diverse content.

4. Veganism

  1. Vegan Outreach: This is one of my favorite vegan organizations. Founded in 1993, Vegan Outreach is a nonprofit organization working to end violence towards animals. They “seek a future when sentient animals are no longer exploited as commodities.” Their website offers a lot of different ways to get involved. You can join their vegan mentor program and give helpful advice to people just starting out of their vegan journey. You can assist them in offering vegan food to local communities during Covid-19. You can even do something as simple as reviewing vegan foods through an app called abillion. In doing so, the app will automatically donate $1 to Vegan Outreach for each review!
  2. Make Vegan Art: What is more prevalent in today’s day and age than memes? Why not try your hand at creating some new catchy vegan slogans or images to share online? Currently this is the route my vegan advocacy is taking. There is no need to share the art you create on your personal accounts if you’re trying to avoid confrontation. You can simply publish them on your blog or even in chatrooms. Who knows? Maybe one will go viral and make a huge impact!
  3. Donate to Sanctuaries: Farm animal sanctuaries are doing the important work of protecting animals that have been rescued. Obviously it takes a lot of money to house, feed, and care for these animals. Donations are a great way to ensure that they can keep doing so. You can even start your own fundraiser or volunteer at a sanctuary near you.
  4. Foster an Animal: Veganism isn’t only about helping farmed animals. It’s just as important to do our part for the various other types of animals in shelters around the world. You can always donate to your local non-kill shelter, or offer to foster animals until they are able to be adopted.
  5. Share Your Food/Recipes: This is a little bit trickier given the pandemic, but as long as you take the proper precautions, sharing your delicious vegan food with non-vegan friends and family can be a great way to bolster the vegan movement. One of the main things people fear about veganism is not knowing what they would be able to eat. Everyone loves good food. Even if sharing your recipes with others doesn’t make them go vegan, it can lessen that fear of the unknown. In addition, it may keep an animal off of their plate for at least one meal, which is a win in my book. Sharing my vegan creamer at work has led to our non-vegan intern switching to it at home!

I hope that you’ve found these suggestions helpful and that you’ll give some of them a try. There are many ways to make a difference, so don’t get discouraged if activism is a bit too damaging for your mental health. You can always find new, creative, peaceful ways to help a cause that you are passionate about. Again, as I stated earlier, please let me know of any other resources you think I should add to any of the sections above. I would love to pack this post with as many options as possible to get people involved.

How to Help Even When It Hurts

Vegan activism is something I deeply admire. Not only because of the time and effort it takes, but because of the pain one must endure to keep fighting this hopeless battle. In the early years of my veganism, I had never felt more energized to fight for a cause. The urgency, the immensity, the horror of it all was always with me. The only thing that shielded me from the grief I harbored for these precious animals, was the white hot rage I felt toward the people who refused to look at them. I wanted to scream. I wanted to stop the world. I wanted to save these animals more than I wanted to live. If I could have sacrificed myself to do so, I would have. And most likely, still would if given the choice.

Within a few years, I was hopeless and burnt out. I simply couldn’t bear to continue being confronted with the selfishness, the ignorance, the self righteousness of humanity. Although I felt monstrous for doing so, I largely gave up. I laid down the torch I had been carrying for these animals. It felt like I, myself, had been on fire. My soul was that torch and it had all but been extinguished. I had to turn away, despite the shame I felt for doing so.

Of course I didn’t stop being vegan. Nothing could make me go back to being a willing participant and sponsor of the animal agriculture industry. I simply couldn’t see the point in trying to convince anyone else to join me, or even acknowledge the atrocities being committed everyday. To constantly be thinking about the horrendous conditions billions of animals are currently trapped in was destroying me, which would have been okay if it was actually making a difference.

Since then, I’ve started to think of different ways that I might contribute to the animal rights movement. It came to me today as I sat in court with a family torn apart by child abuse. I really felt like I was making a difference, that I was a part of helping these amazing kids. But what exactly had I done to help fight child abuse? I certainly wasn’t participating in protests, writing articles, lobbying the government, or hunting down pedophiles. No, I get to be on the other end of the issue completely. Rather than fighting against the monsters hurting these children, I fight for the children themselves. I get to be there for them through the process. I get to offer loving kindness and support to people who, sometimes, have never experienced that before.

Realizing this inspired me to try again to add my voice to the vegan community. Instead of focusing on shining a light on the unimaginable conditions these animals face, why not shine a light on the joys of living as a vegan? By now I’ve realized that someone isn’t going to go vegan because of facts and data. You can’t force someone to make the connection, no matter how hard you try. All that I can do is support the people who are ready to make that change, the people standing on the edge, afraid to jump. I can offer advice. I can share all I’ve learned through my own experiences. I can help guide them on their journey.

I don’t believe that the world will ever go vegan. Perhaps if we had more time, but unfortunately we simply do not. What I do believe is that each individual animal matters enough to keep fighting anyway. If I can help even one person to become vegan, thousands of lives will be spared. It is estimated that the average person will kill and eat 7,000 animals during their lifetime. If I can save even one of those animals from suffering, all of my efforts will have been worth it. So from now on, I am going to try harder to keep up with this blog’s original purpose. I’m going to be posting more content to help people go and stay vegan.

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.

The Brain-Gut Connection

By now, most people know about the gut microbiome. Maybe not the term, but we have a vague understanding of things such as probiotics and antibiotics. It’s very trendy to drink kombucha and eat fermented foods like kimchi in an effort to nurture our gut bacteria. I mentioned in another post how wild it is to find out we are nearly equal parts human tissue cells and germ/bacteria cells. On my way to work this morning as I listened to a podcast episode all about the brain-gut connection, I found out some even more startling and fascinating information.

Every day science is learning more about the helpful bacteria in our digestive systems. It’s quite the complex subject, far more complicated than simply pro and anti biotics. I learned today that there are also things called prebiotics and postbiotics. Prebiotics are the fibrous material that the gut bacteria eats, and postbiotics are the waste materials that the bacteria excrete, which actually ends up being beneficial to our physical as well as our mental health.

I was shocked to discover what a huge role our gut microbiome plays in our mental health. Further research may even uncover that this is the root of all our mental illnesses. Of course, as a vegan, I was intrigued to learn what kind of a difference a plant based diet would have on all of this. I know that farmed animals are routinely given antibiotics to keep them “healthy” even in atrocious conditions. My initial instinct was to feel even more sorry for the animals themselves. Not only are they physically suffering, but god only know what those conditions, PLUS an obliterated gut biome is doing to them mentally. I hadn’t even considered the implications of this on human health. Not only does consuming meat fill us with carcinogens, growth and stress hormones, and cholesterol, it is also destroying our gut biome with the antibiotics absorbed in the flesh of the animals we consume.

Initially, I felt pretty smug about this. Just another reason veganism is the only healthy diet. However, I knew that my mental health, while much improved by a vegan diet, wasn’t completely cured by it. As the podcast continued on, it explained that while meat contains antibiotics, so do the fruit, vegetables, and grains that we eat. Apparently Raid was originally patented as an antibiotic! Raid is also something that, despite all the awful things we know about this poison, is still used on virtually all the crops commercially grown. I suppose organic crops may avoid this, but honestly I don’t know. Call me a skeptic, but I never believe things labeled as “organic” are actually grown organically.

Many of you may take away from this information that we need to balance out our antibiotic ridden diet with lots of healthy probiotics. However, it’s not so simple. Apparently probiotics, though still good for us, are not actually helpful in the ways we intend them to be. Instead, it’s more important for us to focus on consuming foods that are rich in prebiotics. This provides our gut bacteria with the fibers they need to flourish. These foods include things like chicory root, dandelion greens, garlic, onions, and bananas.

Perhaps even more interesting than all of that information is the link between the gut microbiome and hunger/cravings. Hunger seems pretty simple. When our stomachs are empty, this space sends a signal to the brain that we need to eat, right? Wrong. It’s actually the small friends (and foes) in our guts that are giving us these signals. In a study, subjects were told to fast for 14 days, only consuming water and a prebiotic solution. Despite consuming no actual food, the subjects reported having no hunger pains or cravings throughout the 14 day period. The gut bacteria was well-fed by the prebiotic solution, therefore no hunger signals were being sent to the brain.

In addition to this, what kinds of foods we crave can also be linked to our gut bacteria. Some bacteria like to eat very sugary, fatty foods. Rather than having anything to do with “willpower,” our ability to choose healthy foods has a lot to do with what types of bacteria we have in our gut. The good news is, that if we can manage to resist these impulses to eat sugary, processed foods for a few days, those pesky bacteria will die out, taking the cravings along with them.

I was so blown away by all of this information, that I’ve been sharing it with anyone who will listen. Of course that means I had to make a post about it. Considering I only heard about this stuff a few hours ago, I wouldn’t recommend you simply take my word for it. But I do encourage all of you to look into it for yourselves. I certainly plan to do lots more research on this topic myself. I may even order the book The Energy Paradox by Dr. Steven Grundy, who was the guest on the podcast I listened to today. I absolutely adore learning new, helpful information like this. The implications of this knowledge are potentially life-changing.

A scientist explores the mysteries of the gut-brain connection |

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.

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Vegan Jokes

After nearly a decade of being vegan, you get used to being the butt of the joke. My own father never misses an opportunity to make fun of me and my sister or wave meat in our faces at family gatherings. In my first years as a vegan this was far more infuriating, but after a while it becomes more boring and annoying instead. My boyfriend hasn’t been vegan quite as long as me though. Not to mention the jokes are a bit different when you’re a guy. Among the other things he’s not loving about his new job are the vegan jokes.

When I was telling a friend at work about Nate’s difficulties with that, she practically rolled her eyes and said, “they’re probably just busting his balls.” A nonsensical response to me. I often forget that I live in a different universe than meat-eaters. That is one of the reasons I gave up on getting mad about these kinds of jokes. It’s a lose lose situation. Most of these “jokes” are founded on a fundamental misunderstanding of veganism. If you get upset or try to educate the person making the joke, you are met with shock and more laughter. “We were just joking!” It’s pointless.

It reminds me of a transgender comedian that talked about transgender jokes. It’s not that certain subjects are necessarily off limits for comedy, but the jokes themselves must come from a place of understanding to actually be funny. Otherwise you are just being offensive. If you say something insensitive or offensive and upset someone, it’s not because they didn’t understand it was a “joke.” If you’re making fun of someone’s religion, for example, I don’t see how insisting you’re only joking makes it any better. We get that it’s a joke. It just isn’t funny.

The other aspect of “vegan jokes” that I find perplexing and fascinating is the way they have practically become their own genre of humor. Vegan jokes are everywhere. People post memes making fun of vegans out of the blue. People comment on a passionate vegan’s post about activism with, “Bacon, though.” Since when is making light of a serious issue someone is trying to raise awareness about funny? At a certain point the prevalence of these jokes starts to feel a bit pathological.

I do think there is some interesting psychological principal at play here. Perhaps it is some type of thinly veiled defense mechanism. Making light of vegans and veganism makes it easier to ignore the serious circumstances and reasoning behind the plant based movement. You don’t have to seriously confront what a vegan is saying when you can make a joke out of the person instead.

Like I said earlier, I’ve given up on getting angry or trying to make non vegan people in my life understand my point of view on the subject. If anything I just want this post to be a PSA for anyone reading this that may have vegan friends they like to “joke” with. We don’t like your jokes. We don’t find them cute or funny. And more than that, we find them painful. Not personally, make fun of me as an individual all you want. It’s painful because it’s a constant reminder that these serious, urgent issues are still just a joke to most people. It’s bad enough that friends and family won’t make the transition, but it’s gut wrenching to also have it thrown in our faces that something so important to us, so critical to who we are as a person, is just a joke to you.

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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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Five Years

It still feels surreal to me, but I officially have a boyfriend again after five years of being single. I feel ridiculous being so happy and giddy over something so commonplace, but I can’t help myself. I hadn’t even realized it had been five years until now. Time perception is such a wild and ever-changing thing. It’s crazy to think that when I was in school, a mere four years enveloped a huge, important chunk of my life (high school) and now the past five have just been a vague blur, hardly worth remembering. I suppose there were highlights within the past few years, but they don’t seem to stand out as much as similar things would have when I was younger. Maybe the structure of school just allowed for a more organized, and therefore more easily remembered, life.

Regardless of how long is seems, it has been five years. I’m 27 years old now, yet I definitely still feel 22 if not even younger when it comes to my emotional maturity. As someone who is quite proud of being more intelligent than most, it is quite a painful realization that my emotional intelligence is so stunted. It really has never been so obvious to me as it has in the last few weeks with my new partner. The littlest thing makes me tongue tied with embarrassment. Then that embarrassment is compounded again and again as I cringe at myself, embarrassed of being embarrassed. I’ve always felt that I am clueless and awkward when it comes to dating and romance, but it didn’t seem like that was all that uncommon for my age back when I met my first boyfriend. However, even though so much time has passed since then, I feel exactly the same as all those years ago. A far less acceptable place to be emotionally now that I’m no longer 16. Over a decade has passed with little to no progress in that arena.

I suppose I’m just being too hard on myself again though. I don’t have to be perfect to be worthy of love and affection. It’s okay to make mistakes and feel embarrassed. My new boyfriend doesn’t seem to be put off by it at least. I’m excited to learn and grow with someone by my side to support me again. Especially someone so considerate and kind as the one I’ve found. Although it does feel quite unfamiliar. I’m so used to being on my own now. It feels strange to tie myself to someone else, to not only have myself to consider or look out for anymore. Someone made a comment on one of my other posts about just waiting until I feel more emotionally developed or “ready” to start a relationship again. Definitely sounds like good advice. Unfortunately, I’ve already been doing that for half a decade! Remaining on my own seems to have only been making things worse, not better. Instead of growing as a person, I’ve remained in a stagnant cocoon, off in my own world. It’s only made it harder for me to be with others, not easier. Just like with most things, if you are waiting for the perfect moment, chances are you’ll be waiting forever.

This analytical, obsessive mind of mine just loves to get lost fixating on the details. I’m always stuck worrying about all of the unknowns ahead. For once I’d like to just enjoy the blissful happiness that I have in this moment. It’s time to let go of fear and to learn how to just trust, in myself, in my fellow humans, in this universe. All is well. I am healthy. I am happy. I am loved. I have found a beautiful, intelligent, kind, vegan boy who wants to be with me. And for the first time in a very long time, I desperately want to be with him as well.

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