When I arrived home from work on Friday evening, my wife, Pastor Mom and I relaxed by watching the indie film Vegucated on Netflix (click here to see it on YouTube). This documentary follows the journey of three meat-eaters who volunteer to go vegan for three weeks. They learn about the factory farms where most of our meat comes from, the horrific cruelty inflicted upon the birds, cows and pigs that become our food, and the epidemic of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer that could be greatly reduced by eliminating animal products from our diets and embracing the eating of vegetables, legumes, fruit and other plant-based food.
I was delighted by the film’s opening sequence, taken from what appears to be a 1950s-era newsreel for school children, featuring Bossie, the happy cow giving us milk and kids petting the cute baby chicks on the farm. The pneumatic bolt guns used to drive steel through the brains of cattle prior to slitting their throats is discussed later in the film, but not shown.
I had to laugh at the interviews conducted on location in what looks to me like Times Square in Manhattan, particularly the guy who refuses offers to go vegan first for $10,000 and then for $100,000. The point that Americans love their hamburger was well illustrated.
I highly recommend taking a look at this film and learning what happens to the California dude, the young Latina and the hipster psychiatrist/stand-up comic. Along the way, you’ll learn about what vegans eat and some of the motivations for adopting this type of diet.
Although this film is about five years old now, I learned about it at a propitious time. That’s because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a vegan and what responsibilities I have to share my experiences with others. One hears the phrase “change the world” quite a bit in vegan circles, yet I feel confident that the practice of killing and eating animals will always be with us. I can’t say that I truly feel that what I’ve been doing for the past year and a half will change the world. I have long believed that we have no control of what others do; we only have control over our own actions. This, however, may be enough, as being a living example of right actions remains the most powerful way to influence others.
I have never been one to proselytize or in any way push my beliefs on others. Still, I often find myself having to rein in my disgust with what others put in their mouths and bellies. Ultimately, each person has to do what he or she thinks is right. The prevailing notion among Americans seems to be “if it tastes good, eat it.” Just where that food came from doesn’t seem to factor into the equation. Yet I am somewhat reluctant to educate others on this subject, particularly since it seems that many would prefer not to know. Perhaps ignorance really is bliss.
Some see vegans as ascetics, crazy (a little creepy, even) hippie throwbacks who foolishly choose to deprive themselves of the finer things in life. I try not to point out that I don’t deprive myself of eggplant, chick peas and cashews, which I happen to view as some of the finer things in life.
It’s interesting to hear the questions I’m asked when folks learn that I follow a vegan diet. Aside from the usual “Goodness, you can’t eat anything! How do you survive?” I typically get questions such as “Why on earth would anyone want to do such a thing?” and, of course, “Don’t you ever miss having a hamburger?” Uh, no, actually I don’t. Although I must admit that I’ve become rather fond of my vegan Boca patties.
Many view a vegan diet as something that one can try for a while as an experiment, but certainly not as something sustainable for a lifetime. They might be surprised to learn how many of us have been vegans for decades. A vegan diet has been shown to lower blood pressure, cholesterol and weight. Although I haven’t eaten meat in about a quarter of a century, ditching the dairy products allowed me to lose about 70 pounds in the first year alone.
A big temptation for new vegans is to get through the meat and dairy withdrawals by relying heavily on refined carbohydrates — lots of potatoes, chips, pretzels and cookies. Indeed, after all this time, potatoes remain my downfall. As a Type II diabetic, I have to keep reminding myself that our bodies turn those carbs straight into sugar. I have been working on this particular problem by making sure to consume less starchy vegetables such as carrots, spinach and tomatoes along with my spuds. And I’ve been substituting some of my potato-based meals with garbanzo beans. They also contain some starch, but at least they are high in protein.
To say that tofu is my friend isn’t too much of an exaggeration. Because this pure soy protein is essentially flavorless, it can be added to anything and spiced up at will. Then there is the “soy meat” like my favorite Gardein and Tofurky products. There is fake chicken, fake beef, fake fish, fake cheese, fake hot dogs, you name it. Most of it is made from flavored soy and textured vegetable protein (TVP). I can’t begin to describe how delicious this stuff is. You’ll just have to take my word for it. Or better yet, try it for yourself and be surprised.
My dinner this evening: Baked yam, Boca patty, rice and garbanzos (seasoned with soy sauce and garlic powder).