a simple thing

Somewhere along the line of my vegan/spiritual journey, I came across a short, affirmative prayer for compassion:

Compassion encircles the earth for all beings everywhere.

The prayer is uttered every day by people like me who have discovered it through the Circle of Compassion website here, or the World Peace Diet website here, or perhaps by meeting someone from whom they learned it. The idea is that every day at noon, we take a moment to stop and mindfully repeat this prayer.

Compassion encircles the earth for all beings everywhere.

Turns out, I find myself saying it almost every time I am out on a walk or a run. Invariably, I will see a squirrel or a bird or deer tracks or a butterfly or a dog, and the prayer comes to my lips. Sometimes, it is a person crossing my path that brings the prayer up in my heart. I usually say it four or five times in English, and then I say it as many times again in French. 

Compassion encircles the earth for all beings everywhere.

It changes things. It changes me. In the years that I have been saying this simple prayer, and visualizing compassion encircling the earth, it has helped me to rediscover and feel the depths of my own compassion. It has helped me to feel my own connection with other beings. And those feelings change how I travel through life.

Such a simple thing.  

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still walking the path

Some years ago, I became vegan. It happened incrementally over a period of many years, until it became a conscious decision. That decision was a way point along a much longer and larger spiritual journey. I did not realize at the time that it was a choice that would facilitate my capacity to continue deeper on that journey, to walk a path of compassion.

Lately, I have been pondering the spiritual metamorphosis that continues to blossom in ever more amazing ways in my life. 

Even as all the church buildings were shuttered last year, I suspect the ensuing months were very spiritual ones for many folks. With so much on our minds, the constant fear peddling, loss, and our limited in-person contacts, who could help but be introspective, reflective about what actually matters? 

Now, as we attempt to reclaim our freedom and ways of life, the spiritual self cannot be ignored. The spiritual self is integral to all facets of the way forward. Rather than be corralled into an ever-smaller world of fear-driven mindsets, protocols, and division, the spiritual self expands and aspires to wisdom in the broadest spectrum.

It seems we are at one of those classic forks in the road. We stand at a moment of opportunity to reach toward a much more whole and healthy kind of society. 

The spiritual self points to the path of compassion, to love not fear. 

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collared cows

Collar-free, so far

Lately I stumbled across some information about a company that makes collars for animals in agricultural operations. The solar-powered collars are used to manage the animals wearing them: everything from creating virtual fences to tracking the animal’s location and providing health information right down to when it’s coming into heat. The collars are also used to drive the animals to different locations, using auditory and sensory cues.

While all this seems to be right there on the leading edge of technology in animal agriculture, I find this application distressing. Animal agriculture is distressing to begin with, but amping the whole thing up in such simultaneously intimate and impersonal ways has very disturbing implications in my mind. Where, ultimately, does this lead?

“What we do to the animals, we do to ourselves,” writes Will Tuttle, in his book, The World Peace Diet. He describes the “boomerang effect” – the notion that “as we sow, so shall we reap.”

Tuttle carefully details numerous ways in which this plays out, demonstrating the connections between our oppressive, exploitative practices with animals and related human issues like obesity, rape culture, disease, drug use, stress, confinement, lack of privacy, and so much more. I was astonished at the parallels when I first read the book years ago, but easily saw the truth in it.

And now here we are in 2021, in our pandemic-altered world, where we have had a taste firsthand of just how easy it is for humans to be labeled, branded, herded, confined, medicated, and tracked like collared cows. The only difference is that we just voluntarily carry our devices – and pay for them – instead of wearing them around our necks. 

While technology and medicine can do awesome things, everyone should be deeply concerned about the capacity to overtly or covertly exercise impersonal control over individuals and populations in very personal ways (whether bovine or human), who it is that would presume to exercise such a capacity, and why.

I mean, just look at what happens to cows.

Despite or because of the immensely powerful scientific tools we are now capable of wielding, it is imperative we find our way forward with compassion and connection.

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you change the world

be kind to yourself, others, animals, earth – go plant-based

The United Nations Environment Programme yesterday released a report that looks at the role human activity plays in giving rise to zoonotic diseases. These are diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans, as COVID-19 is supposed to have originated.

The report calls out seven “human-mediated factors … most likely driving the emergence of zoonotic diseases.” They cite seven “disease drivers”:

1) increasing human demand for animal protein; 2) unsustainable agricultural intensification;
3) increased use and exploitation of wildlife; 4) unsustainable utilization of natural resources accelerated by urbanization, land use change and extractive industries; 5) increased travel and transportation; 6) changes in food supply; and 7) climate change.

No big surprises here. It’s the usual culprits for so many of the things ailing us, particularly the impoverished citizens of the globe.

Given all that we know, it’s still startling how little we’re actually doing about any of it. As the report mentions, these negative impact factors are actually increasing or intensifying.

Human demand for animal protein is just one of them. It’s startling to realize that even though it is common knowledge that our insatiable demand for meat and dairy directly contributes to profound health and environmental issues, it remains on the increase.

Data from the Global Meat & Poultry Trends report released by Packaged Facts in February of this year shows that:

“Meat consumption worldwide is expected to increase 1.4% per year through 2023…”

It predicts that “…global meat and poultry consumption will reach 313 million metric tons in 2023. Global per capita consumption will rise slightly to 39 kilograms per year.” That’s roughly 86 pounds per person — globally.

USDA data cited by the The National Chicken Council shows that in the United States, per capita meat consumption (including beef, pork, and poultry) in 1960 was 167.2 pounds. In 2019 that number was 224.3. Although a slight dip to 220.2 pounds is predicted in 2020, meat consumption is forecast to be on the increase again, up to 223.5 pounds in 2021.

That is a lot of dead animals. And repercussions.

While plenty of folks are being religious about wearing masks and social distancing, the UNEP report underscores that there are other truly meaningful things we could be doing to help the world both now and in the future relative to pandemics and beyond. Just look at that list of seven things above. There is no doubt in my mind that there are at least several that each of us, personally, can directly impact. Reducing meat consumption is just one of them. 

Don’t wait for the powers that be to tell you how they’re gonna change the world (and then figure out if you can like it). YOU change the world.

considering the food on our plates

These two won’t be food, thank goodness.

We don’t like to think about it very much. We are pretty good at avoiding thinking about the lives and deaths of the animals that we eat or use for food. It is indeed a difficult subject to contemplate, and yet it is an absolute, inescapable fact due to our choice to use animals, on a grand scale, for food.

Maybe we have seen the large trucks rumbling down the highway, and perhaps noticed the eyes and snouts of the animals packed inside. They are on their way to the slaughterhouse, but we probably never get that far in our thoughts. We just notice a truck full of pigs, never processing what that ride must be like for those beings, or exactly where it is they are headed.

As the trucks arrive at the slaughterhouse, it sometimes happens that there is a group of animal activists there. They are there to bear witness. They are awake to the fact that these are animals just like us. 

Just like us, the animals feel fear, they feel pain. They are sentient: conscious, aware, feeling.

So the activists bear witness to these last moments of these animals’ lives by speaking tenderly to them, by giving them some water to drink, by perhaps giving the animals the only real show of compassion and respect that they have ever known from humans — all while the animals are still crowded inside the transport truck. 

The animals were born trapped into a system that profits by their death. And it is all about the profit. These animals have never known freedom on this earth: born, living, and dying to serve another species’ market.

The protest also serves as an attempt to raise awareness of this cruel industry and our part in it. Rest assured, there would be no industry if not for our part in it.

On June 19, just a few days ago, such a protest took place in Burlington, Ontario. There was an additional impetus for this protest due to the fact that Canada, like its neighbor to the south, had just passed an ag gag law, Bill 156. Such laws are designed to further protect the animal agriculture industry, make it easier to keep its practices concealed, and insulate it from scrutiny or protest.

That day, one of the protestors in the Toronto Pig Save group was a 65-year-old woman named Regan Russell, a longtime advocate for animals and for other social causes. But at this particular protest, by the time all was said and done, Russell was dead, having been run over by a slaughterhouse truck.

It is my hope that even one person will stop and think about the meat on their plate, and decide to say no. In saying no, we reject a vast, cruel system of exploitation, one that abuses the animals, the planet, and, indeed, the consumers for profit. In saying no, we choose kindness and love and we help to open the world to more of that.

In the memory of Regan Russell, please give a moment to consider the food on your plate.

fear culture: not a marker for good health

As we go back to ‘normal’, whatever that was (scratching head), it turns out there’s nothing normal at all. 

Everyone is skittish and leery of each other. All of our cultural activities, aside from protesting, are gone. It’s no fun to eat out with all the crazy protocols, even if you’re brave enough to go. There’s no singing together, no music events, even outdoors. No hugs, no pats on the back except at home. I can’t imagine who’s going to theaters and how that’s going to be done. Schools – I cannot fathom what we are thinking about doing to kids by placing them in what will be such unnatural environments. Doing anything where other people are around is a production. 

And the masks, everywhere the masks.

I can’t help but ask, what exactly is healthy about all this? I think more and more that what we’ve done is to actually create a very unhealthy environment. The constant drumming of fear along with the lack of community and culture are health detractors. For some people, it can be a killer. 

The people most at risk for COVID-19, we are told, are folks with underlying conditions. Just yesterday, I noticed articles mentioning that obesity is a big risk factor. Certain commonly prescribed drugs also seem to play a role. Heart disease, diabetes, the list goes on. Wouldn’t it make sense, rather than enforcing mask rules, strange protocols, and surveillance on everyone, to instead focus on getting and living healthy in the first place?

When I go to the grocery store, I can’t help but notice what’s promoted in the aisles and what people are putting in their carts. And it’s. not. healthy. How can we be surprised when it turns out there’s lots of people with underlying problems?

I don’t blame people. We have been rigorously trained via education and media to adopt unhealthy lifestyles. People are also victims of class problems that create unhealthy ways of living. Our health industry compounds the problems by pushing us toward drugs and procedures rather than working to create actual good health. No, the culpability rests at the door of government and the corporations making bank on all of our ‘normal’ woes. We do, however, have individual responsibility to ask questions, seek truth, and demand peace and justice at every level including our physical health.

If we’re going to rise above this crazy time, as we seek better lives for everyone, we can make the simple choice to live healthy and to help other people live healthy. 

The obvious first step is to go vegan, or at least to head in that direction. I know it’s a bitter pill for some people, but it really doesn’t have to be that way. Moving away from an animal-centric diet not only directly impacts one’s individual health in a positive way, it also supports the elimination of one of the biggest potential disease-spreading industries out there. Plus, it’s good for the animals and the earth, big time.

Pesticides. Herbicides. GMO. Antibiotics. Water contamination. That’s before you even get to excess fat. It’s kind of a no-brainer when you think about underlying conditions, isn’t it?

There may be a scary illness going around, but what we’ve done in response to it is terrifying and unnatural. Let’s back out of the fear culture. Let’s take responsibility for ourselves and get healthy. Going vegan is a great first step. 

simple changes for a healthy life and world

veru2_13_19-e1550060900590.jpgI was happy to see a recent video in which Mic. the Vegan interviewed Dr. Dean Ornish.

Mic. the Vegan always offers fun and informative presentations on all things vegan. His forte is delving into actual research to substantiate what we know about the vegan lifestyle. Be sure and check out his channel here.

I’ve appreciated Dr. Ornish since way back when he first published Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease. Everything in there made sense to me then, back in 1990, and it still does.

Ornish has a new book, Undo It, written with his wife, Anne.  The idea is that most chronic diseases can be reversed through simple lifestyle changes.

In Mic.’s interview, Ornish boiled the themes of the book down to a handful of maxims:

EAT WELL.

MOVE MORE.

STRESS LESS.

LOVE MORE.

Eating well translates to a plant-based diet. Ornish encourages vegan – the book includes recipes, too. Moving more means exercise. Stressing less involves things like meditation and yoga. Loving more means healthy, loving relationships in our lives, including connectedness with friends and community.

Sounds simple enough, eh? 

Mic. quizzed Ornish about a variety of topics. One that they spent some time on was the prevalence of depression and loneliness, and the impact on health – hence, the “Love more” part of the mix – which Ornish singled out as a high priority. In fact, in 1998 he wrote an entire book on that subject alone: Love & Survival.

Needless to say, Ornish’s latest book is on my reading list. It would be great to see us all take Ornish’s four simple maxims to heart: Eat well, move more, stress less, love more. If we did that, we would all be a lot healthier.

Not only that, adhering to those maxims as a culture has the potential to change the world and our collective future in very positive ways – from protecting our endangered planet to improving the very structure of our society.

Works for me. It’s simple steps each one of us can do to take care of ourselves and each other. Let’s “be the change we wish to see.” 

coming around to a planetary health diet

veru1_17_19

It’s old news for at least some folks. A recently-released report, researched and written by scientists, suggests that our animal-centered diet is unhealthy and it’s bad for the environment in a big way.

“Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems” proposes the “planetary health diet” as a major part of the solution to our health and environment concerns. They assert such a diet would help us to avert climate change while preventing millions of deaths and improving health around the globe.

At the crux of the proposed diet? Globally significant reductions in foods like meat and sugar (by more than half), and doubled consumption of vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts – you know, plants.

Surprised? I thought not.

At the same time, we’re awfully slow and tentative in our embrace of a way of eating that holds the promise of so much positive outcome. Those outcomes go well beyond the commission’s vision, too.

Back in 2005, Dr. Will Tuttle beautifully and painstakingly explored the roots and impacts of our animal-based diet here in the US, and he proposed a happy alternative in his book The World Peace Diet: Eating for Spiritual Health and Social Harmony. When you grasp the picture Tuttle paints, you realize the wild extremes of the startling damage our animal-centric diet inflicts on us, the very way we think, our relationships, on others with whom we share our earth, and on the world.

Tuttle’s answer to that is pretty simple, logical, and indeed doable. It certainly jives with the EAT-Lancet Commission’s conclusion. From their summary report:

The global adoption of healthy diets from sustainable food systems would safeguard our planet and improve the health of billions.

World Peace? Healthy life? Planetary Health? Hell, yeah!

And yet, here we are still simply romancing the concepts. They look good from a distance, but folks remain reluctant to get close. We continue to be wooed by the old, abusive amour, and thus our unhealthy addictions continue with only minor concessions to our better judgment.

It’s time. It’s time to step up. Take care of yourself. Take care of your kids. Take care of our earth. It’s right there in your kitchen. It’s one thing you can actually control – at least for now.

Even if you can’t make it to vegan yet, move in that direction. Do it with full intent, with purpose, with a plan to ultimately go full bore. There are plenty of books, blogs, and vlogs out there to help you find your way, but, honestly, it’s not complicated. We make it complicated for ourselves by our extreme dependence on all things animal and processed and advertised.

Start now. A few things to shoot for:

  1. Reduce your animal consumption, at least by half. Start reading labels and be astonished by how huge a role animals play in your food beyond that burger on your plate.
  2. Eat more plants and a wide variety. The less processed, the better. Greens and beans are your friends.
  3. Support each other. Let’s move past the snide comments about rabbit food and work compassionately together for the better.

It’s your health and our planet we’re talking about here. 

Okay, then. One. Two. Three. Go! Enjoy!

a bigger picture

veru12_13_18.jpg

As a vegan, it is my policy to tread gently with others. I have been where they are – for most of my life. I understand that the concept can feel weird, uncomfortable, and threatening.

At the same time, I feel no reason at all to be apologetic for my own perfectly valid, considered, non-harmful lifestyle choices.

So, recently, when the topic of bacon came up during a casual conversation with a friend, it took an interesting turn.

Now, I understand how deeply committed to bacon many folks are. I get that this is a love affair.

Thus, when the topic was introduced by my friend, I innocently and with a chuckle observed that all that bacon eating might not be such a healthy thing. I did not launch into an impassioned vegan rant, I was just making conversation.

Nevertheless, one thing led to another with an increasing level of challenge and defensiveness on my friend’s part – despite the fact I was not challenging them for their choices.

To my dismay, in the space of about ten sentences – it was a brief discussion – my friend managed to become all upset and wanted to know why I would choose to distress them.

And then I was distressed. I had no intention to distress my friend, nor was I judging them. Neither did I feel good about being challenged and judged for own my personal, reasoned choices.

Inasmuch as someone else can unabashedly proclaim their love of bacon, how can it be somehow inappropriate for another to gently demonstrate their thoughtful abstinence of it?

And how in the world is it that those who choose to quietly act on compassion for animals should be ridiculed or judged negatively for that?

But I have observed this phenomenon before.

It comes from a gut knowing that causes an uncomfortable dissonance in a person. They don’t like to confront the conflict – the conflict within themselves. It is inherent compassion coming up against known cruelty – and not being able to reconcile that. 

Most of the time it’s not a problem, because we simply keep it hidden from ourselves.

There is no blame in this. Our culture demands this dissonance of us. It tamps it down by normalizing everything and hiding the evidence.

Every now and then, though, it can rise to the surface and we see it for what it is. And that doesn’t feel so good.

Those are the moments that offer possibilities, though – ones that ask us to look at the world with a broader perspective – opening our eyes not only to difficult practices in our culture and our world, but to the beautiful depths of our own compassion. The implications go way beyond food.

I am grateful to my friend for reminding me of all this, for reminding me of my why, for helping me to keep my eyes open and to look at the bigger picture. Maybe my friend is seeing it, too.

winter challenges: food and running

veru12_7_18-e1544183475255.jpgAll summer long, salad sat at the center of my eating patterns. I mean, you can pretty much throw anything in a salad, after all, and it works. It’s nutritious and tastes great.

Summer did not involve a whole lot of effort going into cooking anything, except for pasta, grains, and the occasional veggie burger.

Then, snow and ice arrived, and it seemed that my whole palate changed.

When I came in from outside, all bundled up and still cold, the thought of making a salad made me shiver. I just wanted to warm up.

The greens began to wither in the fridge as my food thoughts ranged to all things warm, like the vegan meatloaf  I wrote about here – the perfect winter comfort fix.

Chili quickly became a go-to meal. Vegan mac and cheese became an imperative. Lasagne became compelling.

Comforting, filling food took center stage. I wanted stuff I could cook ahead, too, since all I wanted to do at the close of the shockingly short daylight hours was curl up in a blanket.

That whole shorter day thing turned out to be problematic in other ways, too. Along with the snow and ice, it quickly became harder to make myself get out there for my runs. After breaking my shoulder a couple of years ago, I found myself very reluctant to run in the dark, and it’s pretty hard to find time during the day.

veru12_7_18bSo I was into this winter mode of operation – slowing down and filling up – just long enough to notice how it makes me feel different. I don’t like it, either.

I’ve been feeling kind of sluggish and full and sleepy and uncomfortable and like being a couch potato. This is not my style.

Worse, this whole winter thing is just barely getting started. We’ve got months to go.

As I sat and listened to an acquaintance the other day discussing his two heart attacks, diabetes, and various hospitalizations, it occurred to me that I need to be proactive about my unhealthy winter stagnation and feeding tendencies.

The first thing I did was bring salad back. I need my salads. I missed my salads. Comfort food is great in small doses, but salad has to be the main dish for me.

I also did a reset on my hydration, which I realized had become reduced to pretty much anything warm – coffee, tea. I’m back to drinking water in more summerish quantities.

Running is more problematic. I am an outside runner – that is how I get zen. Nevertheless, I may have to resort to using the local indoor track if it’s too frickin’ cold or messy or dark out. This is hard for me to do.

On the weekends, I can make my outdoor runs work – or at least walks or hikes, which is fine if that’s all I manage. The point is to keep moving all through the winter.

I’d like to remain on the move at least five days a week, even if it’s shorter distances than I’m used to.

Since my running is hampered, I can give more love to core and strength exercises. Something to shoot for anyway. Maybe even break down and return to yoga.

Given my current couch potato frame of mind, this is actually a pretty challenging agenda. It’s so important, though, for my physical as well as my mental/emotional well-being.

Wish me luck. Brrrr.