Posts Tagged ‘decisions’

At the moment our human world is based on the suffering and destruction of millions of non-humans. To perceive this and to do something to change it in personal and public ways is to undergo a change of perception akin to a religious conversion. Nothing can ever be seen in quite the same way again because once you have admitted the terror and pain of other species you will, unless you resist conversion, be always aware of the endless permutations of suffering that support our society.
~Arthur Conan Doyle

This quote kind of says it all, but because I’m a loud mouth, I’ll happily add my own two cents to it!

People often ask me why I made the decision to go vegan.   I can point to certain events leading up to that moment that are helpful in explaining how I got here, but at the same time, when I really think about it, it’s almost as if it wasn’t a choice at all. Of course I wasn’t forced to be vegan – that’s not what I mean. What I mean is that it was almost like I had been asleep before and suddenly I woke up and saw the cruelty and suffering around me; being vegan seemed like something I simply had to do. I couldn’t ignore the fact that I had been contributing to animal suffering for 26+ years. I couldn’t look the other way anymore and continue to act as though I hadn’t just had a complete change in perception.

One of my favorite parts of Doyle’s comment is when he states that “nothing can ever be seen in quite the same way again”. We all experience awakenings throughout our lives, whether it’s because we fall in love or get our hearts broken, find religion, have children or any number of other major life events. These things change us permanently and profoundly–just as my awakening changed me. You see, I had always considered myself to be an animal lover, and yet I ate some animal or animal product every single day. What I really was was a dog and cat lover. Then, somehow I opened up my eyes to the beauty and wonder of all non-human animals; I forced myself to imagine the pain and suffering that farmed animals must experience every single day on factory farms, how excruciating each day must be for them… For me, it was virtually impossible not to have a complete change in perception.

I believe that most humans have the capacity to connect with non-human animals, but that we are discouraged from doing so from a very young age. We are taught that dogs and cats are companions, and cows, chickens, pigs, sheep, turkeys, etc. are for eating and/or using in some other way.  It isn’t always easy and it can be scary (as change often is), but if you can open your heart up to the joy and beauty of other non-human animals, you will realize that they are not here to serve human purposes, and they most certainly are not here to endure senseless pain and cruelty only to be brutally killed for our dinner. They are here for their own reasons: to play in wide open pastures, to forage for food to nourish their own bodies, to create and nurture their families, and just to enjoy life. Who are we to take that from them?

My hope is that more people will allow themselves to see animals for the amazing individuals that they are; that more people will have their very own vegan awakening.

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First of all, Happy New Year!   My apologies for being such a terrible blogger as of late. I went on vacation and then the holidays hit and I got lazy, what can I say?!  I’ve definitely had some things to blog about though, so here we go:

Over Christmas I went home to my family’s farm in North Dakota.  I usually bring some food along when I know I’ll be there for that long (5 days), but this time I didn’t bring much because I had been sick and didn’t do the greatest job of preparing for the trip.  I figured I’d be able to find something to eat, even if it wasn’t ideal.

One night in particular I decided to make some black bean tacos.  I made enough for my parents to eat as well, because I think cooking good vegan food for people is one of the best ways to show them what veganism is all about – that we still eat great food, it just doesn’t have animal products in it.  Anyway, I cooked this meal but ended up eating alone – in this case, mostly just because my parents weren’t hungry.  But over the holidays I felt sort of left out whenever we sat down to eat.  I had my own “special” food, which was nice and all, but I couldn’t participate in the food traditions I grew up with, and it sort of made me feel isolated.  Sure, I was still there celebrating with my family, but it just wasn’t the same.  It made me realize how lonely it can feel sometimes to be vegan.

Lonely or not, though, I wouldn’t change my decision.  I don’t WANT to eat our traditional foods anymore: creamed corn, smoked sheep meat, beef meatballs, buttered potatoes, etc.  They make me nostalgic on the one hand, but basically just gross me out on the other.

I don’t have any major insight on this, really, I just was thinking about how even though being vegan can feel isolating or lonely sometimes, I still know it’s the right thing for me to do.  I guess that’s why they say doing the right thing is rarely the easy thing.  Plus, on the flip side of that loneliness is the fact that I’ve met a lot of really great, fun people because of my veganism. The community I’ve built here is great and feels anything but lonely!

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About 7 years ago, a girlfriend of mine surprised me with a 1 year old cat she had adopted from the Humane Society as a gift for my birthday. While in general I think giving pet as gifts is a terrible idea, in this case it actually worked out. I was thrilled to have my new kitty.  I had always been a cat person and had loved having cats on our farm growing up, but this cat, who I named Kisa, was my first pet as an adult.  She is now 8 years old and has been a near perfect little companion.  (I say “near” because I have never met a cat who talks as much or as loudly as she does – it’s kind of insane. But hey, I guess she has a lot to say!)

Anyway, a few years later, I got my little doggy, Otis.  He was about 15 months old, and looked so pathetic on the Humane Society’s website that I had to go look at him – “just to look”. I wasn’t going to adopt him, obviously, but I had to go LOOK at him. Because that’s always a good idea, right?  Well, upon arrival I knew I was a goner.  He looked at me with these sad, sad eyes, head slightly bowed, and back rounded, and I just knew I couldn’t leave him there.  So I took him home, and he won his way into my heart by pooping in the house, chewing on my shoes, and waking me up several times a night.  He has since learned his manners (for the most part).

So what does this have to do with veganism?  Well, it’s funny, but I think it took living with these 2 furballs for a while for me to realize that they were really no different from other animals–namely, “food” animals.  Someone said to me one day, “For how much you love animals, I’m surprised you eat them.”  That really kind of hit home.  How could I know with all my heart that Otis & Kisa had these big personalities, desires to do things like get treats, go for walks, spend time outside, and so forth, but deny that pigs and cows and chickens have those same desires?  It didn’t make sense anymore.

In some countries, humans eat dogs and cats. Americans find that to be repulsive, and yet what makes cats and dogs so different from other animals?  Something to think about….

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I found this article and had to share it. Sorry I’ve been a little MIA lately – I was in a wedding this weekend up in my hometown. Doggy pictures forthcoming…

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I promised I would tell you more about The Midwest Animal Advocacy Conference at the University of Minnesota that took place from June 6th-8th. It’s time to make good on that promise.

I’d like to talk a little bit more about some of the things Colleen Patrick-Goudreau discussed in her “Being a Joyful Vegan” speech, and it’s especially relevant to me at the moment because someone recently asked me if I would compromise what I eat in order to be polite. Specifically, let’s say I’m at a wedding: would I eat what the couple served to avoid being an inconvenience? I didn’t even have to think about the answer: no. Does that mean I’m going to throw a big fit about it? No. I would just quietly excuse myself and find something more suitable to eat and/or plan ahead and bring something with me that I could eat. I don’t really care if people notice or if they think it’s rude. This brings me to what Colleen said (I’m paraphrasing here): “Don’t apologize for your values just to avoid making someone else uncomfortable. How people react to your values isn’t your problem, and someone else’s comfort level isn’t more important than your principles.” Sooooo true.

All I can control are my own actions, and the way I choose to live my life. I cannot control how others react to my choices. Living in a constant state of worry over how someone will perceive me or feel about my choices – my choices that don’t hurt anyone, to be exact – doesn’t seem like a very healthy way to go about life. I admit that I do sometimes worry about people having to accommodate me, and I try not to be a total pain in the butt, but at the same time, I know that I would sooner inconvenience other people than compromise my values.

Bottom line: stick to your guns! As Colleen said: There are no neutral actions. Kind of scary, isn’t it? Scary, but also incredibly powerful if you just stop and think about that for a minute.

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Creatures of Habit

Today on Minnesota Public Radio, they did a piece on breaking habits and making new ones. It was full of a lot of science-y talk, which is not exactly my forte, but it got me thinking. The guest, M.J. Ryan, was talking about how difficult it is to break a habit and form a new one, because our brains get sort of “hard-wired” to follow those habits. In order to change that, we have to do something different long enough to create new “wiring”. To be more scientific: “…brain researchers have discovered that when we consciously develop new habits, we create parallel synaptic paths, and even entirely new brain cells, that can jump our trains of thought onto new, innovative tracks.”* While the show was actually referencing new habits primarily as they pertain to one’s career, I think the idea is easily applied to our eating habits as well. Let’s face it: most people eat without thinking a thing about it. You eat a chicken sandwich because you always eat chicken sandwiches, or you order steak at restaurants because that’s what you’ve always ordered at restaurants. You’re following habits, not really making choices.

Now it’s time for the vegan propaganda! Almost a year ago, I made a conscious decision to stop eating meat – a choice. It wasn’t easy to break 27 years of habit, but it also wasn’t impossible. Months later I again made a decision to stop eating dairy products and eggs in an effort minimize my contribution to animal suffering. Again, was it easy? Not entirely – but it was a choice I felt I needed to make, and I’m glad that I did. As it turns out, trying new things and creating new habits makes us more likely to continue to do so, which makes sense when you think about it. I found this to be very true when it comes to food: I now eat a LOT of foods I never even knew existed before. And guess what? I like them. It’s weird, but true. It’s almost like my taste buds have changed.

At any rate, apparently the great 80s band Chicago had it right about habits being hard to break–hard, but not impossible. Go veg and you’ll see what I mean!

* Rae-Dupree, Janet. “Can You Become a Creature of New Habits?” NYTimes, 4 May 2008.

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Lately I’ve been thinking about how differently I viewed the world only 2 years ago. I have always, always loved my dog and my cat and other people’s pets and therefore considered myself an animal lover, but at the same time, I never really thought much about farmed animals. I ate them and I wore them, but I never really thought about the real-life animal that the food on my plate and leather on my shoes once was.

My boyfriend a while back was not much of an animal person at all, but when he saw how much I loved my pets, he said to me, “I am surprised that you eat animals with how much you love them.” That got the ball rolling. He had a point. Still, I continued to eat them, putting cats and dogs into a different category than sheep, pigs, cows, and chickens.

I honestly don’t really know what else it was that prompted me to really, really think about farmed animals. I know I had some down time at work and would sometimes peruse various websites about animal welfare issues, and I suppose that kept nagging at me, but I can’t point to one specific event that made me flip the switch to become an animal rights person.

Yesterday, I spent much of the afternoon reading Tom Regan’s book Empty Cages: Facing the Challenge of Animal Rights. It is one of the most influential books of the animal rights movement, and being only a third of the way through, I can already see why. One chapter of the book is titled “How did you get that way?” and reading it kind of made everything come together for me; I now realize that I’m really not THAT weird –at least not when it comes to making the transition from omnivore to vegan, or from pet lover to animal rights activist.

According to Regan, there are 3 primary ways people come to the movement:

1. They are born with an animal consciousness, meaning they just kind of “get” animals from an early age. They can empathize with them, understand when they’re upset or happy, and they form bonds with animals that most other people can’t or just don’t. He calls these people Davincians.

2. Damascans, on the other hand, have a change in perception at some point in their lives, usually triggered by a noteworthy event–many times that event is witnessing a particularly brutal act toward a helpless animal. “One minute [Damascans] accept the cultural paradigm; the next minute they do not” (Regan, 2004, p 24).

3. Lastly, and most commonly, there are the Muddlers. “…Most people who become [Animal Rights Activists] just muddle along in life, first learning one thing, then another; experiencing this, then that; asking some questions, finding some answers; making one decision, then a second, then a third” (Regan, 2004, p. 25).

This all made a lot of sense to me, and when I look at who I’ve become, I think I am a mixture of a Davincian and a Muddler. I think I’ve always had a powerfully compassionate side to me. When I was a kid, I loved animals so much. Not just that, but I assigned emotions and personalities to my dolls and could play with them for hours on end. To this day, I still sort of imagine that my plush toys have feelings – because, really, what 27 year old woman doesn’t still imagine that? Right? No? Oh…

At any rate, I fully admit that I lost my Davincian ways over the years, and came to the movement as a Muddler. I struggled a lot with making the changes I made in my diet and other consumption patterns – rejecting 27 years of such cultural norms isn’t easy, I know that. It was almost like I just got to a point (much like Regan says he did) where I had no choice anymore: There I was, an animal rights activist, in all my glory and confusion. Looking back over the whole process, I don’t think I’d change a thing. I mean, sure, I wish I had come to this place earlier in life, but at the same time, I think we all need to do it when it’s right for us. I sure am glad I did, because I know now that it’s the right decision – no second guesses, no doubt – and that’s a pretty good feeling.

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A little less than a year ago, I made the decision to become a vegetarian.  Bored at work, I had started reading articles online about the horrible animal cruelty that has become so prevalent on America’s factory farms.  Having grown up on a small farm in the Midwest, my idea of a cattle farm was vastly different from the ones I read about on animal welfare websites.  I couldn’t believe the types of abuses that were commonplace on these large, industrialized farms.  It broke my heart. 

For almost 27 years I ignored it.  I ignored the fact that the meat on my plate was once a living, breathing animal – a sentient being capable of love, joy, fear, curiosity, frustration and especially, pain.  The more I read, the more I knew I couldn’t ignore it anymore.  The choice to go vegetarian was something I contemplated for what seemed like a long time.  I knew that for me it was the right thing to do, given my views on animal treatment, but at the same time I had so many questions: 

Will one person going vegetarian actually make a difference anyway?

What will my (omnivore) family and friends think?

Where will I get my protein if I don’t eat meat?

How will this affect my life?

Can I even do it?

In short, despite my convictions, it wasn’t an easy decision, but one day I decided to commit to it.  I haven’t looked back.  In fact, I just continued to look forward.

Almost immediately after going vegetarian, I got involved with a local animal rights organization and started contemplating veganism.  I knew I didn’t want to contribute to animal suffering, and the more I learned about the abuses that are so common in the egg and dairy industries, the more I felt like becoming a vegan was the right thing for me to do.  However, the same questions presented themselves.  As a lifelong lover of cheese and milk chocolate, I wasn’t quite sure I could do it.  I mean, I really, REALLY loved cheese and chocolate.

I’m happy to report, however, that I finally did bite the bullet and commit to veganism, and I have to say I’m pretty proud of myself for it.  I finally feel like I’m living my values.  I’m doing something that’s good for my body, good for the environment, and most of all, good for animals.   One person does make a difference, and even if you proved to me that it didn’t, I’d still be vegan because living what I believe in makes me feel good.

So, that’s my story.  Stay posted for more info on factory farming, the animal rights movement (past and present), and veganism!

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