Tuesday, November 09, 2010

A Life Connected ... with your values

Do you have time for a cup of tea? If so, please go pour yourself one, sit back, and take in this video. I think you will find it eye opening.

Don't worry. I'll wait. ... Great, welcome back.

Did you watch the movie yet? Go ahead. Really, I'll wait ;-)

So I want to tell you a little story about my own adventure in this direction. It came to me in different stages, and I find it interesting as I look back on it now, how I came to these realizations.

First, the power of intention became clear to me. I realized that if we wish to change our behavior, especially if these might be deep-seated habits or cultural biases (aka, indoctrination), we need to tap into the power of intention. In fact, I posted a short blog entry on just this topic.

I applied this idea to myself. I made the decision, and then explicitly considered it my intention not to personally kill any sentient being (animal, insect, etc). I did this when I observed myself indiscriminately killing a house fly once because it was "bothering me", and wondered, "what gives me the (moral) right to do so?" What I found was not that I immediately stopped killing (for habits and conditioning die hard), but at least I now noticed it when I did it. And slowly, but surely, there became a small gap between the stimulus (a buzzing fly) and the response (slapping my hand). Eventually, this enabled my brain to be rewired (yes, neuroplasticity is real, and an awesome tool).

Now somewhere in this process I came to realize that by eating meat, I was indirectly causing animals to be killed. But wow, by the time I grilled up that hamburger, or swallowed that sushi, the animal was already dead, and my decision to forego that food was not going to bring it back, right? (Isn't it amazing how we can deceive ourselves?) Of course I was directly contributing to the demand for these animals to be killed. And finally, I read something that pushed me over the edge. It was about a woman named Peace Pilgrim and that aspect of her life story just resonated with me. I just knew it was time to give up eating meat of any kind (beef, pork, chicken, fish, etc.)

When I told one of my intellectual friends about my change, her first rejoinder was something like "you know, the only logical conclusion of such a step is to become Vegan." I politely told her I was not ready to go that far, and that I believed this partial step was better than no step at all. Such arguments (you are not going all the way) become the excuse to make no change at all, and thankfully, I wasn't falling for that trap.

I found it very easy to go Vegetarian. And thankfully, without any pushiness on my part, my wife (who is the cook in our family) decided to cook Vegetarian at home. For a while, she would still eat meat when we ate out, since Vegetarian choices can be rather limited, depending on the restaurant. I encouraged her to order whatever she wanted, so she didn't feel "trapped" by my decision. But then one day, after getting her hair done and having a chat with her hairdresser (who was also Vegetarian), she had her own epiphany and made the (moral) choice to not be responsible for unnecessarily ending the life of an animal.

Somewhere over the last two years, I had mentioned the idea of "going Vegan". And she said to me ... that is just too far to go. We regularly ate eggs and cheese, and drank milk, and frankly thought being Vegan was just too impractical.

Then, my wife was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), which for those who don't know, is generally accepted to be an autoimmune disease, which is incurable, and will get progressively worse, eventually resulting in severely impaired functionality (with a corresponding reduction in quality of life). To make matters worse, doctors do not know what causes RA, and therefore, how to prevent or cure the disease. At best, they can only treat the symptoms, and generally speaking, use powerful drugs that can have serious side affects. In short, my wife was pretty worried after conducting her on-line research about her recent diagnosis.

My first reaction was ... let's look for an alternative treatment. Either something from Eastern medicine, or perhaps something based upon diet. So I started researching as well. I came across a very interesting book: The China Study, by Dr. T. Colin Campbell. I commend it to your reading list. I think it is a great wake-up call on the standard Western diet. It also raised the alarm on the possible negative consequences of consuming animal protein (including dairy). And also postulated a theory of how animal proteins might cause auto-immune diseases by a process of molecular mimicry and gut leakage. I was pretty hungry for a potential cause and effect, and this seemed plausible.

And exactly what would be the downside? Carol was planning to continue her doctor's prescribed medication so we weren't risking unnecessary disease progression. Furthermore, based on continued research, I also came across the website and videos of Dr. John McDougall. It looked likely that a Vegan diet might well contribute to weight loss and improved health in general, and may well reduce the need for certain pharmaceuticals.

So Carol and I gave this some serious thought and read quite a few books (and many more on-line resources). We had already started to make changes in our diet -- specifically eliminating processed foods and buying organic products whenever possible. But what about all the dairy and eggs that we were eating? On one of our shopping trips, we picked up a liter of soy milk, rice milk, and soy yogurt, and put them in the refrigerator. After a week or two, I decided to give them a taste. I really expected them to be rather undesirable -- and I was very pleasantly surprised. So was Carol. We realized we could easily substitute these into our diet, and eliminate cow's milk products.

It took us longer (over here in Germany) to find soy or rice alternatives for cheese, but we are now finding some (and they are also quite tasty). Update [11/19/2010]: Funny story -- we found something called Reissen Käse. And boy was it yummy! We thought that was "Rice Cheese" (oops); really that translates to "Shredded Cheese", Ha! No wonder it was so tasty. We finally found some Soy Cheese, but it was truly unedible. We are still on the lookout. We have yet to find an egg replacement, but have enough alternatives for breakfast, that we are not finding that to be a big problem.

So now, after about 3 weeks, I am happy to report ... we are Vegans.

And here's a very interesting, unexpected, and as yet, unexplained benefit. Both Carol and I have noticed our sugar cravings have significantly dropped off. This is big news for me. I have been a candy addict for probably 45 years. We're talking rot-your-teeth addiction in my case. I have tried and failed to will myself to give up sugar and candy before, many times, and failed miserably. The eventual craving makes me cave in and usually gorge myself on an entire (big) bag of candy.

But now, it is virtually gone. Still a little craving after dinner (habitual), but easily an order-of-magnitude less than it was just 3 weeks ago. Wow. What an unexpected blessing.

Well, I've rambled on and on. I guess I just wanted to show how the decision to become Vegan can evolve over time, is not really that radical an idea, and can be rooted by many motivations (animal welfare, social justice, resource management, physical health and longevity), or in our case the final push came in a desire to search for a cure for a complex disease process. The results of Carol's personal trial will surely take time to observe; but in the meantime, we are gaining first-hand experience with what it means to be a Vegan.

Oh, and one more really important point. There are thousands of Vegan recipes out there, and the food tastes wonderful. In all seriousness, the food we are eating now is more varied, interesting, and better tasting that our previous diet. And much better for our health. I can heartily recommend two books for great recipes and to help cover some of the important aspects about a Vegan lifestyle: 1000 Vegan Recipes and The Kind Diet. If you are considering becoming Vegan, they are well worth the money.

Enjoy the food! Love the lifestyle! Live your values! And get healthy!

(p.s., just to be clear, I receive nothing from any of these links or recommendations -- I just highly recommend them each.)

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