Guest Post! – Welcome to the H.O.V Lane

Dear reader, please enjoy this guest post, crafted by my friend A.M, all the way from the South (but we won’t hold that against him). 

That’s “Host Of Vegan”, for those who don’t know.  Which is probably most of you.  Since I think I made it up.

First things first.  My name is A.M., and I am a meatatarian.  I have been Kay’s friend for nigh unto 5 years, so I’ve known her pre- and post-veganism.  I am by no means a writer or a blogger, so I’ll thank you to lay off the critiques of my grammar and structure, though odds are it’s better than 95% of the bloggers out there.  I offered to write this as a backup for Kay in the event that life got in the way, at least she’d have something to post.  She accepted, though I assume it’s mostly to give her something to mock in the future.

Yeah, we have that type of friendship.  And it’s awesome.

And yeah, we had that type of friendship before she went vegan.  Nothing changed about our relationship.

You hear that?  Nothing.  That’s the point of this particular entry.  There are two sides to every friendship, and every choice that gets made within it that could affect it.  And it will only become an issue if you let it.

Kay made a decision a couple of years ago to go vegan.  Without any judgement, we asked why she was making this choice.  And once she explained her reasons, we asked if she’d still be hanging out with us even though we would not be joining her in veganism.  The unequivocal answer was “Yes.”

From that point forward, we all made changes.  Minor ones.  With this thing called the internet, which you are presumably using right this moment, the resources are nearly endless.  It was not very difficult to make small changes to side dishes and desserts to accommodate the new needs of our friend.  Kay usually provided her own entree to make things easier, but occasionally we cooked something that everyone would eat.

Now, mind you, I’m not talking about 3-4 people in total.  We would often have 10 or more people at these weekend gatherings, with many of them having no idea that most of the food there was vegan-friendly.  I can’t tell you how many times someone was busy plowing through a bowl of chips and dip, freaked out when Kay helped herself, freaked out more when they were told it was vegan, then shrugged and kept on going.  My wife still counts the vegan red velvet cupcakes that we made as one of the best (if not THE best) desserts she’s ever made.  And believe me, she’s made some incredible ones that were decidedly not vegan-friendly.

Kay, for her part, does not moralize to us.  She does not force her beliefs onto us.  She does not expect us to go out of the way to cater to her.  Some of the substitute ingredients are expensive, but she freely offers to provide them to us, so that we don’t need to purchase them solely for her benefit.

All friendships should be give and take.  I would venture to say that our friendship is stronger now than it was before, because now we have a major difference in philosophy.  But there’s no need for that to be a make or break proposition.  God forbid people attempt to understand and respect someone else’s point of view. (And yes, you can apply that statement to an awful lot of arguments out there these days.)

So if you’re having trouble convincing a friend that it’s not the end of the world that you’re going vegan, and you’re pretty sure you want to try to keep them as a friend, feel free to show this to them.  If they’re a good friend, this should be all the convincing they need.

Though if they’re a real friend, you shouldn’t have to show them this at all.


Oh, Grow Up

This article on Huffington Post about the flak that Michelle Obama is recieving for her revamped school lunch program really infuriates me. The article focuses on a Youtube video created by four Kansas high school students under the direcion of Linda O’Connor, one of their teachers. Their opinion is that the new 850 calorie limit on lunches served at school is not enough for a growing teenager, especially those involved in sports. They cite a statistic from that says “active teens require 2000 to 5000 calories per day to adequately meet their growth and energy needs.” There are parental groups who agree with this sentiment, and they’re calling for a return to the school lunch program that existed before Michelle Obama showed up with all of her zany notions about vegetables and healthy proteins. Bring back the french bread pizzas or our kids will starve!

I’m sorry, but where does it indicate that the majority of those calories need to come from lunch that the kids get at school, and from fatty, sodium-ridden food at that? If you eat an 850 calorie lunch, that still leaves 2,650 calories from breakfast, dinner and anything in between. Let’s consider that I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a high-school student without a Starbucks cup in their hand (510 calories). Or that an average family dinner of, oh, say lasagna, garlic bread and salad will add 483 calories to your count. And when’s the last time you saw a teenager only take one serving of something for dinner? 

Being inquisitive as I am, I actually visited to check out their research. While it’s true that they do recommend 2,000 to 5,000 calories a day for active and growing teens, they also recommend that parents review the lunch menu with their children, help them pick out healthier options and even bring their own lunches. Huh. Parental responsibility. Never heard of it.

Listen kids, I know that change sucks. I also know that it sucks to have people telling you what to do. And parents, it’s frustrating to get your kids to cooperate when you know that you’re helping them make the right choices. But seriously. Seriously? That’s what parents are there for. You have to be the bad guy sometimes, and that’s ok. You know what else kids don’t like? Homework. Are we going to abolish that next when some cranky high schoolers make a Youtube video about how much time it takes for them to get their homework done?

It’s sad that we are at the point where the government has to step in and take the Snickers bars out of the hands of our morbidly obese children, because the parents won’t. But the truth of the matter is that a 2010 University of Michigan study found that students who ate school lunches as they existed before the changes were 60% more likely to be overweight or obese, when compared with students who brought their lunches from home.

The onus here is not only on the schools to provide their students with lunches that meet their nutritional needs. It’s also on the parents to educate their kids and talk healthy food choices with them. If you have a child who is active, involved in sports or just needs more calories than the average kid, it’s your responsibilty as the parent to help them learn where they can get those calories without all the junk, not to lambaste a government program that’s trying to do exactly that. Instead of fighting about whose job it is to make sure that our kids are healthy, why don’t we all take a little bit of responsibility? Dear god, that would mean the kids would get a consistent message about a healthy diet!

Imagine that.

The Morality Of Meat

There IS NO morality in meat! End of discussion!

Just kidding. Wouldn’t it be weird if I were like that?

The inspiration for this post came from this New York Times article, asking people to submit their feelings on the issue of the morality of meat.

I loved pretty much every second of this article. But the main reason that I was drawn to its message was how author Ariel Kaminer set up the premise of the writing contest. Its purpose was “to encourage omnivores to do some of the same hard thinking that vegetarians and vegans have done.” I am so in love with that, it makes me want to cry.

You’ve heard me say over and over again that I don’t care whether or not you’re vegan. Hell, eat a pound of bacon for dinner, for all I care. As long as you have a solid reason for why you’re doing what you’re doing, I could care less.

I’ve referenced before the fact that my fiance, J, is not a vegan. In fact, when I went vegan, he made a solemn vow that, for every animal I did not eat, he would eat three, in order to restore balance to the universe. Now you may start to understand why I consider a sense of humor so crucial in myself and the people around me.

I can absolutely understand that there are some vegans who can’t even conceive of being in a relationship with someone who did not share their vegan ideals. It can be tough, especially when you’re considering spending the rest of your life with one person. I can hardly blame someone for not wanting to spend the rest of their time walking this planet, hating everything that the person they love makes for dinner.  Most of the time, when I look at the people around me who aren’t vegan, I want to just shake them until the Big Mac falls out of their mouths and scream “Do you even know what you’re doing to your body? To the planet? Wake the fuck up!” But not with J.

J is the type of omnivore who knows exactly where his food comes from. His slaughterhouse blind spot does not exist. He knows that his porkchops used to be pigs, and he’s ok with that. He has killed his own roosters & brought them camping to make rooster stew.

I can hear my fellow vegans throwing up in their mouths a little. Ok, a lot. But don’t count me among your ranks. The people with whom I take issue are the ones who continue to gorge themselves on double cheeseburgers without even bothering to think about where that greasy mouthful is coming from. It’s the ignorance and sheer unwillingness to examine one’s actions that make my blood boil.

J is the opposite. He has examinef the morality of meat as he sees it, and is confident that he’s making the right choice for himself. This is not the same interaction that most other vegans deal with on a daily basis. You know the one. Someone finds out that you’re vegan, and out come the 5,2893 Reasons I Could Never Be Vegan, including such top hits as “I love eggs way too much” and “My doctor says I need the protein from meat to survive” and, my personal favorite “I can’t imagine life without cheese.” J’s reasoning for continuing to eat animal products was made because, after having inquired into meat and animal-product production practices and having examined his own conscience, he decided that as long as he can get humanely raised meat and other animal products, that is a choice he is willing to keep making. He’s not someone who sticks his fingers in his ears and hums loudly whenever someone asks him to explore his reasoning behind his decisions. Some of the most passionate conversations I’ve had about veganism and animal welfare have been with him. How can you not respect that?

Ariel wraps up the article  by noting that “a great many readers prefaced their essays with the confession that they had never before given any thought to these matters, and that they were grateful for the invitation to do so.” So, for my omnivore readers (I assume that you exist), consider this your invitation. I officially invite you to examine your food choices and why you’re making them. And no, I will not accept “cuz I’ve always eaten meat” as an answer. Use the brains you have to come up with something better.

Meat Vs. “Meat”

You know what’s fun? Reading reviews of vegan-substitute products. Vegans can get pretty uppity when they want to, and it’s amusing to watch them self destruct over a veggie patty.

I typically find that, diet-wise, vegans fall into one of two categories:

The Substituter – This vegan is all about the convenience of products that don’t require extra steps and preparation. They’re also in favor of not having to give up the flavors of the omnivorous food they loved before deciding that they liked living, happy animals more. They’ll spend hours trolling the vegan food blogs, searching for that one alfredo sauce recipe that’ll fool their co-workers once and for all. Open this vegan’s fridge and you’ll be crushed by an avalanche of Boca nuggets, Gardein burgers, Chreese sauces and Silk coffee creamer. If it looks like an omni product, tastes like an omni product, but has 100% less animal suffering, this vegan will know about it.

The Meat-a-Phobe – There’s a very real possibility that this vegan became that way because they are really and truly grossed out by meat. They are the ones who will correct you when you call their creation a “burger”;  it’s actually a “patty,” and as far as they’re concerned, the chasm between these two distinctions is gargantuan. You will never find them clipping coupons for Field Roast. They certainly won’t brag about how their family couldn’t tell the difference between “real” spinach & artichoke dip and the one they brought to the last party. For this vegan, it’s veggies or bust.

And here’s the funny thing about these two sects of vegans: they hate each other. Not loathe. Not dispise. HATE. They hate each other the way Jennifer Aniston hates Angelina Jolie (is that still a thing?). They hate each other the way I hate piss-poor grammar. They hate each other the way my great-grandmother used to hate Murphy Brown and all her women’s lib nonsense.

I know people from both camps. The vegans who spend hours crafting dishes that resemble nothing in the omnivore world hate the microwave-veggie-burger vegans because they consider them “lazy.” They think “Why do you even call yourself a vegan, if you’re stuffing yourself with food that might as well be meat? Why be reminded that you could be eating cow?” I’ve even heard it insinuated that vegans who depend on meat alternatives as the basis for their dishes are pretty much just vegans for show. How else could they possibly stomach (tee hee, see what I did there?) the idea of putting something that so closely resembles meat into their mouths?

On the flip-side, the new-and-improved-substitute-happy vegans are wickedly irritated by the implication by the opposition that they are “less vegan” or “bad vegans.” As far as they’re concerned a vegan choice is a vegan choice, no matter how closely it resembles its bovine, ovine or avian counterpart. At the end of the day, they’re contributing just as little to the animal suffering in the world as the “No Boca for me, thank you” vegans, so why not just cut them some slack?

Personally, I fall more on the side of The Substituter. I love my Boca Spicy Chick’n Patties as much as the next girl (probably even more. Wanna fight about it?) and I relish the opportunity craft a dish that tricks people into realizing that they don’t have to give up the comfort foods that they love just to be a vegan. That being said, does it mean that I think meat-a-phobic vegans need to grow the hell up? Absolutely not. Does it mean that I’m less of a vegan because I’m known in my circle of friends for providing food that pleases anyone in the room, regardless of dietary choice? Hell no.

At the end of the day, we’re all doing our little part to say “thanks, but no thanks” to the system which makes it money on the suffering of other living creatures. Whatever way you choose to express that choice, be it a lovingly crafted lentil loaf or mac and cheese that even your venison-loving grandfather can’t turn down, what difference does it make?

No Room at the Inn

Great. So now we’ve got nothing better to write about then whether or not a well-established burger chain should expand their menu and include veggie burgers. This idea that vegetarian, vegan and omnivorous food has to be mutually exclusive to a specific dining establishment is really starting to get on my nerves for a number of reasons. What’s that? You want to know precisely what they are, and why? Well, ok then! I live to please!

1.) The Stigma – I’ve been doing my good-little-vegan best to bring down this idea that “vegan” holds the same meaning as “inedible tree bark.” Unfortunately it has not been having the intended effect.  People think that I can’t tell when you’re making barfy faces behind my back when I mention a delectable vegan dish or suggest a vegetarian restaurant. Surprise, motherfuckers! I can see every contorted face you’re pulling back there. Here’s a suggestion: grow the hell up and try something new. Turning up your nose at broccoli is, like, so 1985.

2.) The Unnecessary Drama  – The addition of a veggie burger to your favorite fast food chain does not unequivocally mean that you can’t have your triple bacon cheeseburger. It does mean, however, that maybe your friends who don’t eat meat can finally join you for a quick dinner at a restaurant that you like, without it having to be a major fucking production of figuring out which restaurant will cater to everyone’s needs. Imagine the utopia of everyone, regardless of dietary needs, being able to dine in harmony at the same establishment! Would looking up at the menu and seeing a vegetarian option listed really take that much away from your dining experience?

3.) The Stigma (From The Other Side) – I would like to hold my head high and proudly proclaim that the immature cry of “Ew, I’m not going there! That’s vegan!” is a sentiment that’s reserved solely for the omnivores. Unfortunately, I can’t do that, because all you militant vegan douchebags are ruining it for me. I have heard tell that there are vegans in this world who refuse to patronize establishments that are not exclusively vegan. If that’s your view, I have to come right out and say it; I’ve never heard of anything so asinine in my life. I get that your veganism is important to you. Being a vegan is important to me too. But it doesn’t prevent me from going into shops, restaurants or other merchants just because the people who run those establishments believe something different from what I believe. That’s a pretty lonely, exclusive way to live.

4.) The Fact That I’m Even Writing About This – An issue like this doesn’t need a moderator. It doesn’t need 1,330 comments arguing for one side or the other. And why is that? Because you’re never going to get 100% of people to agree to one option or the other. This is the reason that I don’t buy into the world-wide vegan utopia that so many of my brethren see in the future. There are almost 7 billion people on this planet, and if you think you’re going to get them to all agree on one eventuality, you’ve got some serious problems. Put a veggie burger on your menu. Don’t put a veggie burger on your menu. Do we really need to have debates and articles and discussions and disagreements and compromises about it?

Apparently we do.

Just In – This Season’s Hottest Blinders!

You know, they say that it’s a myth that ostriches stick their heads in the sand in times of conflict.

It might not be true for the majestic ostrich, but I’ve certainly observed it first hand from people.

I’ve had the oh-so-distinct pleasure of sharing meals with people who, inexplicably, associate the word “vegan” with the word “terrorist.” Whenever you sit down to a meal with these people or, god forbid, actually get into a conversation with them about dietary choices, they’re immediately on the defensive. And sometimes in a pretty intense and nearly violent way. People think I make this shit up, but I can assure you that I’m not that creative.

A few years ago, I took my mother out to dinner for her birthday. Being that we were celebrating the anniversary of her life, we kowtowed to her wishes and, with a group of her nearest and dearest friends, decided to dine at that most holy of American chains; the Olive Garden.

(I’d like to call off the defamation lawyers right now and say that I have nothing personally against the Olive Garden, although you could do a little bit better with options for those of us who don’t believe you have to coat the world with a thick layer of melted cheese.) 

 So anyway, I was discussing my potential meal choices with my incredibly friendly and helpful waiter. The husband of one of  my mother’s friends listened intently to this overtly polite and civilized exchange from across the table, watching with his piggy, hungry eyes for his moment to strike fear into the heart of what was clearly a plant-based mercenary sitting across from him. Once the server left, so did this dickcheese’s sense of personal decorum.

Clearly Diabetic Fatty Husband Of Friend: So, what? You got an allergy or something?

Meek and Innocent Vegan Minding Her Own Fucking Business: Uh, no. I don’t eat animal products.

CDFHOF: What? Why the hell not?

MAIVMHOFB: I just don’t like to, that’s all.

CDFHOF: Well that’s dumb. What the hell do you eat?

MAIVMHOFB: Anything that doesn’t have meat, dairy or eggs. Vegetables, fruit, grains, beans, nuts, seeds…

CDFHOF: Sounds gross. Next thing I know, you’re gonna be telling me I shouldn’t eat meat.

MAIVMHOFB: Not at all. Not eating animal based products is a personal choice, and we’re all free to make our own choices for ourselves.

CDFHOF: Well all I know is, if you start telling me that I shouldn’t eat what I want, we’re going to have a problem.

MAIVMHOFB: Excuse me?

CDFHOF: Just keep your nose outta my business, is all I’m saying.

Now, let the record reflect that CDFHOF instigated the conversation about my meal choice. I did not scoff at his lasagna. I did not chuckle self-righteously at the amount of cheese he added to the aforementioned lasagna. I didn’t even so much as suggest that his health could be drastically improved if he added a side salad to his cornucopia of meat and cheese! I had a civilized (and helpful!) discussion with my server about what menu items could easily be adapted to fit my specific dietary needs, and I was attacked. I’m not kidding. When CDFHOF told me we’d have a problem if I dared to suggest his life could be improved with fewer animal products, he pointed his butter knife at me. Let me repeat that, dear reader: he pointed his knife at me.

Now, whether or not he intended to make me his second course in order to prove a point, I cannot say with any sort of accuracy. What I can say is that, when confronted with the slightest hint that someone might be doing something differently than the way he conducts his life, he fucking flipped his shit. It was the whole package; raised voices, pointing of cutlery and threats of retribution.

I can say, with almost 100% certainty, that this reaction was fueled by fear. Because if I somehow managed to hypnotize him with my vegan superpowers (which have yet to arrive, I’m sorry to say), then he might have to think about his choices. And if he thought about his choices, and why he was making them, he might possibly, somehow, miraculously come to the conclusion that he was making his choices for the wrong reasons. 

God forbid. Lemme find you a sand dune in which to bury your fat, diabetic head.

Why Don’t I Feel Like Cheering?

Who are you, my mother?

This story out of Dallas, Texas, has been all over the vegan forums since it broke last month. And the response (at least from the vegan community) has been largely celebratory. Hooray! We’ve struck another blow against Big Ag and their unsustainable meat machine!

But, somehow, I don’t feel like celebrating. If this had been a federal bill regulating animal welfare standards and how consistently they’re enforced, or another one of those painted-whore celebrity chefs endorsing a Meatless Monday, then I might feel a little bit more cheerful. But it’s not. And don’t let them fool you; this is not a huge step forward for veganism, awareness, animal rights or any other cause in which you could dress this up.

This is a group of bandwagon administrators trying to abate the flood of heart disease and obesity by sticking their fingers in the proverbial pork dyke. Let’s poll the parents in he audience. Which is a better way to teach your children how to make good choices? Do you give them their options,  show them the benefits and drawbacks to each, and then allow them to rely on their own intelligence? Or do you say “Nope, you’re doing this, and that’s the end of it.” Well, when they’re younger, yes, you may be forced to make these kinds of judgement calls. This is why we don’t allow 14-year-olds to get tattoos.

But these are not first-graders we’re dealing with here. These are adults. The parents of these students have trusted them to leave home and live on their own. The administrators trust them to choose their own classes and their own majors. They can even leave school, enlist in the military and go off to a foreign place to willingly place themselves in the line of danger for their country, if they so choose. But god forbid someone at this college makes the choice that they want some bacon with their eggs.  The message they’re receiving here is that they can be trusted to live on their own and start to build their own lives, but they can’t be trusted to make the choices that aren’t going to kill them when they go to the dining hall. That’s nice and consistent.

Making someone’s choices for them is not the way to get them to make lasting changes in their life. It’s a great way to make them resent their choices, that’s for sure. But if someone is going to make a change that will truly last and affect their life in any sort of meaningful way, then that change needs to be made because the person wants it to be made, not because someone is making it for them, no matter how altruistic those intentions may be. Taking pork off the menu at Paul Quinn College is not a step forward for veganism or animal rights. It’s a step backwards for free will and personal choice.