Thus far, we have talked about all of the ways that a vegan diet is superior for your health, compassionate toward animals and respectful of our planet. We have covered a lot of ground as we have reflected on many philosophical ideals and considered a multitude of undeniable, even brutal, facts. Now, it's time to ask the most important question of all:
What do I do now?
Once you've been exposed to all of the heartbreaking injustices and negative ramifications associated with the animal product-based diet and lifestyle, you will likely feel some combination of outraged and inspired. Many people feel compelled to do something, anything, to help themselves, help others, help the animals or help the planet. Fortunately, there are a variety of ways that we can proactively contribute to the perpetuation of the vegan cause. And while we often equate the various mediums of activism with "doing" things for this cause (which we will touch on in this section), I believe it is - first and foremost - all about our "being" that is truly at the root of our evolution. In other words, as we commit ourselves to "being" the most magnificent expression of enlightenment and compassion that we can be, then all of our "doing" actions will fall in alignment with this higher ideal. The food we eat, the clothes we wear, the products we buy and the activities we do and do not support all become offshoots of this. Then, as we continue to consistently make our daily statement through our actions, we find that we have quantifiable degrees of influence on those around us.
Beyond all of this philosophical stuff, though, many people wonder, quite simply, "So what can I eat?" This is a good question and, fortunately, one that is answered rather thoroughly in this section.
what we'll be covering in this What to Do
section (Click on the Go link to
skip ahead to that particular topic.):
One of the reoccurring areas of concern to many vegans who ponder the crushing presence of animal products in our world is, "What difference can I really make?" I'm here to tell you that your first tier of influence for the vegan cause is in all of the animals whose lives are saved just by your food choices. Consider this; The average American will consume the following astonishing number of animals in their lifetime:
Think about that! So even if you decided to live as a recluse up in the mountains some place where no one could be tangibly influenced by your vegan ways, hundreds of animals are dramatically affected just by your food choices.
For the rest of us not living as mountaintop recluses, there is another powerful tier that we must consider: influencing others. As we consistently abide by the principles of the vegan lifestyle, we affect change in the world on two basic levels; the tangible and the intangible, or the physical and the metaphysical. The physical has to do with our influencing those specific individuals who are directly exposed to our daily actions. Friends, acquaintances and family members might try some of our delicious vegan food and say, "Wow! That's pretty damn good. What is it again?" Some might gradually integrate some of the vegan ideas into their daily lives. Others might decide to really embrace the lifestyle and come aboard as a full-time vegan. These are not always high numbers, and many of these "converts" are not always purely vegan. This is not our concern. All we can do is live our life with integrity and consistency and let others garner from our example what they will, based on where they're at in their evolution.
And yet, I would encourage you to not underestimate the awesome power you wield in this context. There is a definite domino, or trickle down, effect that happens. You'll influence a handful of folks, then each of them will influence a handful, and so forth. You'll also find that you've influenced people, dietarily or otherwise, and not even known about it. This is particularly true when we take it upon ourselves to get involved with certain causes on a social level, either through writing letters of disapproval to companies that support animal testing, participating in public demonstrations that illuminate certain animal rights issues, or speaking out publicly in the appropriate forum about animal cruelty. All of these quantifiable areas of influence are what I would refer to as proponents of "physical" change.
"Metaphysical" change, on the other hand, occurs on a more invisible or spiritual realm, yet is still spurred on by your example. How? As human beings, it turns out that we are all connected on a deeper level than what we're able to see on the physical plane. We typically only perceive ourselves as these billions of individual beings who share space on the same planet. Yet, through a broader understanding of quantum physics, modern science has finally intersected with that profound universal truth that is the bedrock of most every form of spirituality:
We are One.
Literally. In the same way that individual cells comprise one human body, we are each individual cells in the body of humanity. Accordingly, everything we do and every thought we think expresses some form of energy, which, on some level, effects the whole. And it is on this level of creative thought and intent where, once enough of us embrace a particular concept or ideal, we reach what's referred to in scientific circles as "critical mass" and, suddenly, the whole is affected by a part.
Now keep in mind, this isn't some kind of airy-fairy, new agey kind of postulation. Our most brilliant sages, shamans, spiritual leaders and "metaphysicians" have all expressed this Truth in one way or another throughout our recorded history. Some of the key, governing principles of Buddhism, for example, have to do with cause and effect, karma, and reverence for all forms of life through the demonstration of non-violence and compassion. Even in Christianity, when the Master said, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, ye have done it unto me," He was speaking of an interconnectedness between all people; when you do something to another, it's just like doing it to yourself.
Additionally, well known, thoroughly sound scientific theories that support this concept have stood the scrutiny of time. Respected philosophies such as Carl Jung's Collective Consciousness theory suggest an infinite "oneness" of which we are all a part. And many other highly credible, progressive thinkers echo this philosophy, from the varied works of Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dyer, Marianne Williamson, Ken Keyes, Stuart Wilde and Gary Zukav, to many other notable books like "The Tao of Physics" by Fritjof Capra, "Quantum Reality" by Nick Herbert, and "A New Science of Life" by Rupert Sheldrake. In fact, the raw amount and variety of documentation on this Truth is astounding.
The 100th Monkey
One of the most poignant examples of this interconnectedness among species occurs in the famous "100th Monkey Syndrome." For years, monkeys were not able to eat a certain kind of sweet potato without getting sick. Then, finally, in an isolated case on a remote island off the coast of Japan, one monkey figured out that if you washed these potatoes off in the salt water, they were safe to eat. Once this new protocol was witnessed by the other monkeys on this island, they all started eating them this way. Shortly thereafter, other monkeys from other islands around the world - who had no visible exposure to the original group - started doing the same! So the theory went, that after the "100th monkey" on the original island began eating them this way, critical mass was reached and the overall collective consciousness of monkeys everywhere was affected.
The bottom line with the metaphysical perspective is, there is an invisible, yet quantifiable, wave of influence and evolution that happens when a certain number of people think like-mindedly...even if it only happens to be a smaller percentage of the population. This smaller, focused percentage seems to transmit a potent, synergistic message - subconsciously - to the larger, "influential" percentage. Again, regardless of your spiritual beliefs or orientation, this is hardcore science. When enough atoms align in a particular way within a molecule, critical mass is reached and the rest of the atoms follow suit and automatically line up the same way. (Physicists refer to this as "phase transition." ) So it is in this subtle way that we can affect change on a grander scale than we can imagine, simply by making our daily statement as we keep "putting it out there" in our personal lives.
Our primary responsibility to the cause, then, is to live with unflinching integrity and unwavering conviction about exemplifying a peaceful, vegan existence...even when no one is watching. Because in every moment of our lives, we are contributing energy to one side of the fence or the other.
"You must be the change you wish to see in the world."
Think about this famous quote: Do you think this was just some kind of talk show soundbite? No. Gandhi meant that literally. He knew that the power of cause and effect is so strong, we can literally manifest change in the whole machine, just by taking care of our seemingly small part. This is, in fact, a staple theme in any non-violence movement.
Once again, the food we eat, the clothing (and accessories) we wear, the consumer goods we use and the social events we attend and support all represent areas of our lives where we can choose to make powerful statements of reverence for our health, the animals and the planet. And with our dietary choices being the single most influential thing we can do in the perpetuation of these Veggie Zone ideas, let's start off by taking a closer look at the world of great food and easy-to-implement ideas that are available for you.
I'm happy to report that with a little bit of effort, you will discover that the world of vegan food is a very delicious one. Many of you will want to jump right in and totally revamp your eating regimens to accommodate these foods. Others may prefer to transition into this kind of regimen. Either way, let me assure you that, nowadays, the health food industry has expanded, improved and diversified in an impressive fashion. As we talked about in the Introduction, more companies are offering more and more products that are designed to replace the taste and texture of many of the (animal-based) products we might have gotten used to. And what of your favorite indulgences, whatever they may be? Don't worry. There is undoubtedly a healthier, animal-friendly version of it out there for you at your local health food market or grocery store. We'll also talk about how to effortlessly follow a healthy, vegan diet while on the road and in restaurants.
All Health Food Is Not Created Equal
An important point to consider when evaluating different brands of vegan food is this: There are an extremely diverse range of ingredients that might be used in any given product and, therefore, a real variance in how many of these foods taste. For example, if you go down to the corner market and look at candy bar wrappers, you'll notice that most of the ingredients from one brand to the next are the same: Milk chocolate, sugar, some kind of partially hydrogenated oil, etc. But in the world of health food candy bars, there are many variables. It could be carob, it could be pure, unsweetened chocolate, it could be made with wheat flour or oat flour, it could be sweetened with fruit juice, maple syrup, barley malt, evaporated cane juice, and so on. All of these things factor in where taste is concerned.
This is also the case with all of the available varieties of soy milk, veggie burgers, prepackaged soups, etc. In almost every instance, each brand tastes very different. So if you try one brand of soy milk and you have trouble choking it down, try a different brand next time. Overall, though, I think you'll be very surprised at how good many of these foods taste.
What in the Hell Can I Eat?
For Those Who Love To Cook...
I have great news. There are a surprising amount of excellent vegan cookbooks out there. As you will see, not much is different with many of the vegan dishes that are available or with how you might prepare them; you'll simply be substituting animal-based products with plant-based alternatives. That's it. And the taste of many of these dishes will astonish you.
A Few Recommended Cookbooks and Resources
Simply Vegan - Debra Wasserman
Incredibly Delicious - Gentle World
Vegan Handbook - Debra Wasserman and Reed Mangels Ph. D.
The Vegan Cookbook - Nicola Graimes
Vegan Meals for One or Two - Chef Nancy Berkoff R.D.
The Candle Cafe Cookbook - Joy Pierson and Bart Potenza with Barbara Scott-Goodman
Suggestions for the Vegan Kitchen
Naturally, anytime you can prepare your meals from scratch, using fresh ingredients like vegetables, grains, legumes, brown rice, fruit, olive oil, whole wheat or oat flour, nuts or seeds, your favorite herbs and spices, etc., this is always preferred to heating up something out of a box. However, you'll notice that many of the following suggestions are pre-prepared foods because, frankly, many of us don't have the time or inclination to prepare a meal from the ground up. So, I'll focus on many of the pre-prepared foods that are most readily available.
Note: Keep in mind that I have nothing to personally gain from recommending any of the following products. Many are listed strictly as examples that I happen to prefer.
Once the lettuce and spinach are ready to roll, I'll add at least one other vegetable. Think colors on this one; Red - tomatoes or peppers. Green - broccoli, celery or cucumbers. Purple - cabbage. Orange - carrots. White - Cauliflower. Yellow - corn or squash, and so forth. Obviously, the more variety, the better, since each veggie has its own special blend of nutrients and its own distinct flavor. They even have pre-prepared blends of regular and shredded veggies and regular and broccoli coleslaw. These are easily added to your salad. Top with a vegan dressing and you're all set.
If you want a larger salad as a complete meal, this is an excellent
choice. Simply add avocado, seeds, nuts, beans or peas to your salad
to bring in some caloric and protein density. You can also add some
veggie "chicken" strips (look for a brand of teriyaki soy
chicken from Veggie Patch called "I Can't Believe it's Not Chicken")
for a chicken salad vibe. Other veggie-style chicken strips and "cold
cuts" can be used, as well.
For many of these soups and chili's, try giving them a little kick with some added Tabasco (or similar) hot sauce. And if it's an Asian-style soup (as seen below), consider using some Bragg's ® Liquid Aminos as a healthier alternative to soy sauce.
Sandwiches - With whole grain bread, use either a spread, like a nut butter, eggless tofu salad or "Untuna," or vegetables, like an avocado, lettuce and tomato combo. You can also try one of several different tofu-based "cold cuts" and use mustard and/or tofu-style vegan mayonnaise as a condiment.
For a variation on the traditional sandwich, try using pita bread. These are round like a tortilla, but thicker. You can create an incredible variety of "pita pockets" just by throwing whatever combination of ingredients you like on top of the pita bread, then folding it in half or rolling it up like a burrito. One of my favorites includes combining several of the above-pictured "Turkey" slices with some avocado, tomato and mustard.
Veggie dogs & burgers - These make excellent featured dishes for quick meals. They even have multi-grain hot dog and hamburger buns that you can use, along with many of the usual toppings. And again, there are a lot of varieties out there. My personal favorites are Smart Dogs.
For veggie burgers, I still find the "Vegan Original" Boca Burgers (pictured a bit further down the page) to be among the best, although there are several other good ones, as well. Just be sure to read those labels. Many companies are still adding cheese to the actual patties.
The Ultimate Meal ® - This is a mostly raw and primarily organic powder, containing 25 of the most nutritious ingredients available, that you blend with a whole apple and water (or apple juice) and a banana to make a smoothie. I must point out that The Ultimate Meal has been an absolute staple in my diet since 1993, as I'll usually enjoy two of these smoothies a day.
Why am I such an Ultimate Meal fanatic? For three main reasons:
1) Potency - The optimal way to get all of your nutrients is through raw, organic, plant-based foods. But to get the full spectrum of nutrients through the diversity of food required can be logistically very difficult if you have an exceedingly active lifestyle and/or you do a lot of traveling. The Ultimate Meal is the only thing out there that I know of that contains ample amounts of all essential nutrients in one product. That's why it's not classified as a supplement but, rather, a complete meal. Plus, it's so nutritionally dense, it always feels as though every cell in my body is opening up to "drink" it in.
2) Convenience - No matter where I go, I have my blender, distilled or spring water, Ultimate Meal mix, and apples and bananas nearby so that, at any given moment, I can blend it all together for a killer smoothie. This includes the tour bus, backstage, in hotel rooms, at people's homes...anywhere!
3) Taste - Although many people would not mistake The Ultimate Meal for some kind of ultra-sweet milk shake or fruit smoothie, I find it to be absolutely delicious. And let's face it, if we don't like the way something tastes, we're not as apt to eat or drink it. Fortunately, I love it and look forward to drinking my two a day.
Me and my "Ultimate." Mmm, mmm, good, ladies and gentlemen!!!
Frozen & Canned Dinners - A wide variety of microwaveable entrees, "veggie pockets," burritos, chili, etc., are available at the health food market and many grocery stores. Be sure and read those ingredients. We'll want to avoid any kind of animal products, like milk, cheese, eggs, etc.
Gardenburger makes a few excellent frozen entrees.
Warning - Avoid their Buffalo Wings!
these Buffalo Wings taste really,
Health is Wealth also has a few great products to try. For a serious Buffalo Wings vibe, scope these:
These Health is Wealth vegan Buffalo Wings are delicious!
Here are a couple other excellent Health is Wealth products:
Note: Because we prefer the superior nutritional value of foods that are closest to their original source, try to limit your intake of these processed, frozen products to one serving per day. Comparatively speaking, of course, these foods are way healthier for you than any other "standard" kind of frozen entree. I just wouldn't advise living solely off of them.
Pasta - Whole wheat or a host of other egg-less types, with some kind of marinara;
you go with pasta, there are several meatless tomato sauces that will
Veggie Stir-Fry - Brown rice and sauteed veggies...always a safe bet. Top with Bragg's ® Liquid Aminos or soy sauce;
Burritos - Corn tortillas with refried beans (lardless, of course) and Spanish rice. Top off with chips and salsa or guacamole;
Homemade Pizza - With a whole wheat crust, add soy cheese (Soymage ® is among the only totally dairy-free kind), tomato sauce, garlic and all of your favorite vegetables;
Thanksgiving-style feast - Prepare a veggie loaf (from the health food market) or a turkey substitute like , "Unturkey" or "Tofurky," mashed potatoes (with soy milk), whole wheat, eggless stuffing, corn-on-the-cob, meatless, brown gravy, etc.
Pita Bread with Hummus - Here's a quick and delicious mini-meal. Simply dip your pita bread into a bowl of delicious hummus and enjoy anytime.
Fruit - Like apples, grapes, oranges, peaches, bananas, melon, etc. There are literally dozens of different fruits that you can choose from for a light, cleansing breakfast.;
Whole grain cereal - There are many varieties that emulate some of your favorites - like Corn Flakes, Fruit Loops, Sugar Smacks, Raisin Bran - but are devoid of refined sugar or processed grains or flours. Use with regular soy milk or, for a slighter sweeter vibe, vanilla soy milk.
Power Breakfast from Nature's Path
Hot cereal - Like oatmeal or Cream of Wheat, with nuts or raisins, sweetened with pure maple syrup, agave nectar or birch sugar;
Whole Grain Toast - The old standby, with 100% fruit jam, nut butter and/or veggie margarine;
Frozen Waffles - From whole wheat or oat flour, toasted and served with pure maple syrup and a vegan butter alternative;
Toast and Jammer ® "pop tarts" - Toasted, for the sweet tooth;
Fruit Juice - Freshly extracted from a juicer, if available;
Fruit Smoothie - Fruit juice blended with a frozen fruit like bananas, pineapple, or mangos;
Bran Muffins - Make sure there's no refined sugar or enriched flour. Oat or wheat are the ticket.
Whole Grain Pancakes - Made with whole wheat or buckwheat flour (with fruit like bananas or blueberries, if you wish), served with pure maple syrup and Spectrum Spread ® or similar veggie margarine;
Tofu Scrambler - An incredible egg substitute made with tofu and a special mix of spices, meant to replace scrambled eggs. You can serve with Gimme Lean ® or Smart Bacon ® (easily prepared sausage or bacon substitutes, respectfully) and toast, for a "lumberjack"-style breakfast;
the Gimme Lean breakfast "sausage" (pictured at bottom).
bacon substitute is not only great for a traditional-style breakfast,
Biscuits - Baked with whole wheat flour, soy margarine and soy milk;
Hash Browns - With grated potatoes and a touch of canola oil.
Snacks and Treats
Fruit - Eat some everyday! Fruit is very portable, making it easy to take along to school or work, and most kinds usually keep well if you're traveling. Plus, there are so many delicious varieties available. Just with apples alone, you can usually find at least a half-dozen different kind at most any grocery store.
Nuts or seeds - A few handfuls of almonds, pistachios, walnuts, sunflower or pumpkin seeds, etc., can really hit the spot as a nutritious snack whenever you're feeling hungry during the day.
Trail mix - There many varieties of trail mix available, with each type usually containing some combination of nuts, seeds, and/or dried fruit. This is another great anywhere/anytime snack.
Soy Protein Shake or Smoothie - With a quality soy-based protein powder on hand, there are a number of ways that you can put together a delicious protein drink. In each case, you would blend a scoop of the powder with soy milk (for a shake) or fruit juice ( for a smoothie) with:
Here are a couple of my favorite powders from Nature's Life:
Deli trey veggies: Carrot and celery sticks, broccoli, cucumbers, etc. - While many folks enjoy the texture and flavor of these raw veggies as is, try experimenting with different spreads (from the refrigerated section of the health food store) to dip them in.
Dried fruit - This could include apricot, mango, papaya, pineapple or, of course, raisins. Go for the brands of dried fruit that are free of added preservatives and refined sugar. No need to have to sweeten them any more than they naturally are!
Clif ® or Luna © Bars - These are some of my favorite - and some of the only - vegan snack bars.
Health Valley /Barbara's (or comparable) snack bars, fruit tarts or cookies - There are a world of these kind of things out there. Just be on the lookout for things like nonfat dry milk, whey or egg whites and avoid those products.
Organic Vegan Food Bar - From an ingredients, manufacturing and taste perspective, this is currently one of the best made vegan bars out there.
Pretzels - Another old stand-by. (I prefer them unsalted.) Here's my favorite grocery store brand.
Tropical Source ® organic chocolate bars - There are many varieties (Wild Rice Crisp is my favorite...it's similar to a Nestles Crunch bar.) These bars contain no refined sugar or dairy.
Organic potato or tortilla chips - The "health food" varieties typically use better ingredients and healthier oils. The difference in taste is virtually indistinguishable. They tend to be less greasy, though, which is a good thing.
Whole wheat crackers with almond or peanut butter - This is a very filling snack. And if you haven't tried almond butter before, be sure and check it out.
Soy milk - Delicious by the glass or right out of a small carton. You can find soy milk in two places in most any grocery or health food store. Unrefrigerated in an aisle, or refrigerated in the dairy section.
Soy and Silk are probably my favorites, with Sun Soy being a little
are some other brands that you might find in an isle.
Soy Delicious ©, Sweet Nothings ® (or similar) non-dairy frozen dessert - Get ready to freak out on this stuff! Soy Delicious is probably the most like conventional ice cream, whereas Sweet Nothings is much lighter, more like a sorbet (and also has FAR less fat and calories). There are a few other decent soy based ice creams, as well as some excellent ice cream sandwich-type treats. Scope out the frozen dessert section of your health food store for some nice surprises.
Delicious is my favorite vegan "ice cream." For the calorie
For the chocoholics of the world, scope out some of this
A Quick Dessert Idea:
Chocolate Mint Madness
Here's a quick dessert idea that you can throw together in minutes, just by combining three simple items from the health food market. If you like the ol' chocolate/mint combo (ala chocolate-mint Girl Scout cookies), you will love this vegan treat:
off with a bowl (two or three scoops) of Soy Delicious Purely Decadent
Put it all together, and prepare to trip out...but don't make a daily thing of it. There's a serious amount of fat and calories in this dessert!
Purified, spring or distilled water - I go through at least a gallon a day of clean drinking water. It's not only a mandatory component to a healthy existence, but by consistently satiating our thirst, we're less inclined to drink those unhealthy things.
Herbal Tea - Look for the decaffeinated brands, and enjoy either hot or cold. Sweeten with pure maple syrup or agave nectar.
Carbonated Soda - From the health food market, free of refined sugar or Nutrasweet, available in a wide variety of flavors.
Soy or rice milk - (See Snacks and Treats section above.)
100% pure juice - Although I prefer eating the whole fruit (as opposed to drinking just the juice of a fruit), it's always best to prepare your own in a juicer when possible. Otherwise, look for our beloved "organic" label when available and avoid those that come with added sugar.
Roma ® or similar coffee substitute - For a hot beverage that's similar to coffee, these are not bad.
One of the initial preconceived notions about embracing veganism is that dining out becomes all but impossible. This is simply not the case. Sure, you have to be a bit more selective and ask a few questions but, for the most part, there's always something to eat.
Your first choice should be the local health food/vegetarian restaurant or café, when available, which are becoming more prevalent around the country. (Check out our Veggie Links section for more info.) Sometimes you'll even find that certain health food markets have a restaurant and/or juice bar type of set-up where quality whole foods are served. These kind of places can be like the proverbial geyser of cool water in the middle of a desert to the health-minded traveler and I always support these establishments when possible.
Otherwise, you must seek out certain dishes at particular kinds of restaurants. It's really not that difficult. Most ethnic places can accommodate nicely. Here are a few suggestions:
Chinese - Get the rice and veggie stir-fry or vegetable chow mien.
Italian - Spaghetti with meatless marinara and a salad.
Indian - A variety of tasty rice, legume and vegetable-style dishes.
Mexican - Bean burritos with Spanish rice or veggie fajitas with guacamole.
These are all sound meals with plenty of energy-giving complex carbohydrates. Just be sure to avoid the fat-laden condiments and "hidden" ingredients: cheese, msg, most salad dressings and toppings like butter and sour cream.
dining in other such establishments where the prospect of a healthy
meal is grim (i.e. "The Hungry Heifer - Real Texas Barbecue"),
take a small plastic or paper bag and carry into the restaurant any
or all of the following:
Now, let's say you're at a Denny's or a truck stop. Order a large salad and a plain baked potato. Add sliced avocado and nuts or seeds to your salad then use your own dressing on the salad and the potato. Top the meal off with some crackers and you're set.
more of a breakfast occasion, bring in the following:
Simply mix these ingredients together in a bowl, add some hot water, and you'll have a delicious, healthy meal.
These are just a couple of ideas. As you continue to practice this healthier lifestyle, you'll be able to pick out those few acceptable items on most any most any menu or discover other food items to bring in for more variety.
What About Fast Food?
Unfortunately, there is very little nutritionally redeeming about any of our beloved fast food joints. And yet, sometimes we have no other option. Many hamburger places have at least an attempt at a salad or salad bar, and you can even get a plain baked potato in some of them.
Other options might be the veggie sub from Subway or bean burritos (without cheese) from Taco Bell or Del Taco. Many pizza places can make you a vegan pizza, using their tomato sauce and veggies on the crust, minus the cheese. Again, the options are slim, but you can usually find something vegan to get you by until you can eat some real food later.
A Few Dining Out Vegan Resources
Making the Transition
As I mentioned earlier, you could jump right in and start eating these "Food of the God's" right away, or gradually integrate them into your current eating regimen. Invariably, the word transition will come up when you're talking about significant dietary changes. It's been thought that people should work into such changes gradually, but it's not actually necessary. At worst, you may find that some of these kinds of foods temporarily produce a few undesirable effects such as headaches, fatigue, lack of energy, etc. and you might feel worse before you feel better. Don't worry! This is just your body's way of "cleaning house" as it utilizes these superior health foods to detoxify itself. If this happens, it's short-lived and, in the long run, definitely worth it. So hang in there...
Veganism extends to all areas of our life, giving us many opportunities to express a peaceful and compassionate lifestyle. In addition to the food we eat, the three other areas of our life that we have an opportunity to express the vegan way are clothing, consumer goods and social events. Let's take a look at each one and see what we can do to "veganize" some of these things and activities.
Clothing - Refuse to purchase or wear any clothing, shoes or accessories that have leather, fur, wool, silk or any animal byproducts. As for alternatives to leather goods, there are tons of different kinds of materials, like cotton, canvas, linen, hemp, and even synthetic. Many of these same materials are used as an alternative to heavier materials like fur and wool for coats and jackets. Alternatives to silk include rayon, nylon and polyester. All of these items are available at a wide range of specialty, high-end and designer stores, as well as many discount locations like Payless, Kinney's and virtually all department stores.
Consumer Goods - Refuse to purchase any consumer goods that either, 1) contain animal products and/or 2) are manufactured by companies that support animal testing, either through conducting their own tests or using ingredients in their products that have been a byproduct of testing. Yes, this may include many of the more well-known brands of cleaners, cosmetics, paper goods, etc. Proctor and Gamble, for example, manufactures and distributes a wide range of personal and household goods, from Crest toothpaste to Tide detergent. However, they are also one of the leading proponents of animal testing, directly responsible for the unspeakable torture and execution of thousands of rabbits, dogs, cats and monkeys (just to name a few) every year.
By purchasing their (or any other company's) products that support vivisection, you are not only funding these experiments, but you are sending a message of approval for them. You are basically saying, "I support the tests you are conducting in your laboratories. Here's more money for you guys to continue." And with regard to many of the animal products contained in some of these goods, you are saying, "I love your product. Here's more dough for you guys to buy more animal-based ingredients." Obviously, this is not the message of compassion that we want to send. (Be sure and check out Veggie Links for up-to-date listings on which companies are animal friendly and which are not.)
Social Events - Refuse to patronize any institution or activity that exploits, imprisons or harms animals in any way. As we touched on in the For the Animals section, there are still a number of prevalent social activities, like the rodeo, the zoos and marine parks, and the traditional circus, where animals are viewed as a source of our entertainment. We can make a powerful statement of peace and compassion to animals by not visiting these places and supporting them with our time or money.
Grass Roots Activism: Putting It Out There
Earlier in this section, we talked about both the Physical and Metaphysical approach to making a difference where veganism is concerned. We recognize veganism as an important component of the enlightened society. As such, we acknowledge the sanctity in every little thing we do to contribute to the cause and realize that every iota of energy that's extended on any level, brings our collective consciousness one step closer to critical mass where we, as a society, live in a way that's harmonious and considerate of all creation. So, beyond all that we do in our personal lives to walk the talk, let's look at a few things can we do to peacefully contribute to the expansion of the vegan principles to others.
Let me preface the following list of suggested actions by reminding you of a painfully overused cliché: every little bit helps. This is the truth. So often we do not take action because we feel like "Oh, what does it really matter? What difference will this one little action really make?" The answer is, a lot!
Think of it like you would any grass roots movement. As an example, look at the cause and effect from a marketing perspective that goes into a lot of national, regional or even local musical acts. We've seen it again and again throughout the years. A core group of fans align themselves with their favorite band. They go to all of the shows, buy the CDs, call the radio stations and pester them about playing their recordings, turn others onto the music, drag their friends to the shows, pass out flyers and hang up posters, etc. Sometimes the following expands one person at a time, sometimes a little more. But it expands, nonetheless, and suddenly the "core" fan base grows from 15 to 150 to 1500 to 15,000, etc.
With regard to any revolution, it almost always starts with a small, committed group, then grows exponentially from there. This is why it's important that we keep putting it out there all the same. A quick example: A few years ago, one of my favorite vegan snack bars (Clif) introduced an expanded line of flavors. Upon double-checking the label, I was stunned to find that they had included some dairy in these new bars. I was pissed! So, I called their 800 number and very politely said, "Listen, I've never called a consumer line to complain about something before, and maybe I'm the only one who's dismayed by this, yet I must tell you: I'm a huge Clif bar fan but, as a vegan, I was extremely disappointed to find that you guys elected to include dairy in your new flavors. So, just for the record, I wanted you all to know that it really matters to me and that, even though I know I might be the only one calling, I just wanted to let you guys know where I stood."
The operator said," Well, actually, we have had some calls about this, and we'll certainly register your complaint. Would you mind if I got some information, please," and then she took down my name and address. I didn't think much about it, but a short time later, I received a package from the Clif bar people saying that they had listened to my complaints and had decided to alter the recipe. Included in the package were several of these new flavors that said on the wrapper - Now Dairy Free! How cool is that? (Now, if we can just get them to make their new Mojo bars without honey, we would be all set!)
Granted, I know I wasn't the only one to register a complaint and receive one of these good will packages. But still, at which point was "critical mass" reached within the slew of customers who called? At which point did the Clif bar folks finally say amongst themselves, "Okay, okay...let's give these pain-in-the-ass vegans what they want." Would that point still have been reached if I hadn't called? We'll never know. The point is, though, that just when you think your measly phone call or letter won't matter, it could be the proverbial last straw.
Be a Peaceful Warrior
To coin the phrase from author Dan Millman, be a Peaceful Warrior. I personally feel like it's extremely important to always be patient, compassionate and friendly with these folks whether visiting, calling or writing them about your grievances. I definitely subscribe to the Gandhi school of defenselessness and Infinite understanding when dealing with people, especially on such a volatile and touchy subject as animal rights. And as disturbing as I personally find it to see someone parading around with the fur of a murdered animal on their back, I would never advocate spray painting or in any way defacing someone's personal property, as we hear about in the media from time to time. Nor would I advocate physically harming someone who, for example, was involved with animal testing. Responding to any of these animal rights issues with more violence not only defeats our purpose and dilutes our message, but it also discredits all of us involved with the movement, posturing us all as a bunch of fanatical, self-righteous vigilantes.
This doesn't mean, however, that you shouldn't be flamboyant in making your statement, if that's your style. I know that PETA, for example, has done a lot of creative and over-the-top things through the years to bring these issues to the public's attention. I think this is fine. After all, there is a tremendous amount of information and stimuli out there in the media, all vying for people's attention. To some degree, I suppose that if you want your message to be heard, you have a better chance if you can "package" it in something provocative. But again, this is a personal choice and you must feel like you're delivering your message in a way that's authentically you.
Now, no doubt, if we're talking outside the realm of activism and I were to encounter a situation first hand where an animal was being abused by someone then, yes, I would intervene and protect the animal - at any cost. But this would be more of a protective reflex and, even at that, I would try to resolve it without physical force if possible.
Take Action Now!
Okay...so we have talked about all of these issues in great detail and now you're feeling moved to play a role in the expansion of the vegan ideals. It's time for action, action, action! And yes, I have some suggestions for you that WILL make a difference. Pick one, pick three, pick 'em all, and do them! It's all about putting it out there. (Some of these ideas were inspired from PETA's "Animal Times" magazine - Winter 2000).
The Irrepressible Force of One
From the perspective of influencing others and expanding the movement, our walking the talk is perhaps most important when we are under the critical eye of those around us. Human nature is often such that, in an effort to justify one's resistance to embracing a new idea, folks will look to find fault or hypocrisy in those purveyors of the new idea...in this case - you. So, if the concept of vegetarianism strikes a chord of Truth with someone but they are resistant to change, the easiest way for them to justify NOT altering their lifestyle is to find a reason to dismiss a vegetarian as counterfeit, thereby giving themselves carte blanche to dismiss the message along with the messenger.
I've experienced many an attempt at this through the years. Someone hears that I'm a veggie, so they look at my shoes and belt to see if I'm wearing leather. When I pass that "test," then they scrutinize my food choices and ask me about any potentially hidden ingredients in whatever it is that they see me eating. Still no luck. From there, they'll often digress into hypothetical scenarios like, "If you were stuck alone on a deserted island with nothing to eat, but there was a cow there with you, would you kill it and eat it?" I assure them I would not. Eventually, some will even resort to the ol' weak-ass standby of "What about plants? Plants are living things and you kill them." To this I patiently explain that a plant-based food is not a sentient being, does not have a nervous system, nor does it feel pain. When asked how I know this, I say that Mother Nature, in her infinite wisdom, would never bestow upon a living creature the capacity to feel pain without also giving it the ability to engage in a fight or flight response to the imminent threat or actual experience of pain. I then mention that I've yet to see any irate celery stalks jump up from the cutting board and run out of my kitchen lately.
The point is, as we diligently stay on track with our convictions and refuse to falter, we accomplish two important things:
1) We demonstrate to others that the principles of veganism are not so out of reach, unreasonable or unrealistic.
2) We cause the naysayer to have to look within and say, "Well...they appear to be pulling it off. I suppose it is possible to live this way. Perhaps I should give some of these ideas a try, as well."
But this will generally only happen when we are rock-solid in our convictions. When we fall off the wagon and compromise our beliefs in the interest of convenience or the proverbial path of least resistance, we invite a chorus of "Ya see! I knew this wasn't possible"-type of responses and weaken our cause. So let's be strong and united for ourselves, our planet and our fellow creatures of the earth.
In the factory farm industry alone, there are currently 1,000,000 animals PER HOUR that are being killed. Yes, I said ONE MILLION per hour! We must take a stand against this. We can contemplate, commiserate and meditate on it all we want but, ultimately, it's that moment of truth that makes the difference: when you're in that restaurant and you ask if that certain dish contains any butter or cheese. When you look at the label of that prospective new jacket to see if any wool, down or leather has been used in its creation. When you're at the market and you look for that animal-friendly company logo on the back of the shampoo bottle. When you are asked to join friends or family at the zoo or circus. These are the moments, and they will come up virtually everyday. And when you politely decline to indulge and opt instead for that vegan dish at the restaurant, that animal-free jacket at the store, that product at the market that does not support animal cruelty, and that social activity that does not exploit or harm our fellow animal brothers and sisters, then you know you are truly contributing to this revolution of peace and compassion, and moving humanity one step closer to the more evolved model of enlightenment for which we are destined.
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