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).

An English Major at the Movies

My wife and I had a date tonight.  We went out to the movies for the first time in about a year.

It’s not that we don’t love the movies.  We enjoy the entire experience, from the popcorn to the previews.  For the past three years, however, we have been living in a remote area of the Sonoran Desert where a trip to the movies involved driving three hours round-trip.  There actually was a two-screen movie theater in our little town when we first moved there, but it went out of business just a few weeks after our arrival.

In discussing this tonight, my wife and I tried to remember our last excursion to the movies.  We decided that it must have been during a long weekend in Laughlin, Nevada in 2012 when we saw The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in one of the casinos.  Now that we’ve returned to “civilization” in northern California, we hope to get back in the swing of attending the cinema.

Tonight we saw Saving Mr. Banks and we both loved it.  I particularly enjoyed the period sets that did such a good job of depicting early 1960s Los Angeles.  My only complaint was that the frequent flashbacks to Travers’ childhood in rural Australia, while an effective plot device, tended to make the film drag.  The repeated shots of palm trees in Queensland seemed to parallel the palm-lined boulevards of L.A. and, for Travers, must have been a trigger for childhood memories.  This would also help make sense of Travers’ remarks about preferring rain (typical of her London residence) to the Los Angeles (and Queensland) sunshine.  The California climate, coupled with reminders of childhood in the form of Disney stuffed animals and figurines, combined to bring powerful, unpleasant memories to the surface that nearly torpedoed the Mary Poppins project that was the subject of the film.

I know, I should just enjoy the film without being so analytical.  This, however, is one of the hazards of having been a college English major.  Regardless of the number of years that have gone by since my days on campus, some things stick with you.

Another example of my English major ways reared its head during a recent visit to my parents.  They had borrowed a DVD copy of Life of Pi from the public library and enjoyed it so much that they wanted to see it again with us.  Although I had not read the Yann Martel novel upon which the film is based, I found myself providing my wife with a running commentary on subtext and symbolism.

Did you notice that the tiger was originally named Thirsty and that when Pi snuck into the Catholic church and drank the holy water on a dare, the priest said “you must be Thirsty?”  Talk about identification between two characters!

Did you notice that Pi, a starving vegetarian, was forced to eat a fish, while the tiger, a starving carnivore, was forced to eat the biscuit rations that Pi shared with him?  Role reversal!  And what about the fact that the vegetarian tried to avoid being eaten by the carnivore while the carnivore depended on the vegetarian for food?  This symbiosis seemed to be reflected in Pi’s Hindu beliefs.  (Despite dabbling in many faiths, he attributes being saved from starvation to the appearance of the Hindu god Vishnu in the form of a fish.)

Did you notice that Pi was named for a swimming pool (water imagery) and was thrown into one by his father so that he’d learn how to swim, while later Pi was “thrown” into the ocean and similarly had to learn to fend for himself?

By this time, I think my wife had had quite enough of my literary explanations.

Then my niece, a college student, came over to visit and remarked upon how much she enjoyed the movie Pay It Forward.

Did you notice that the teacher was broken in body but whole in spirit while his girlfriend was whole in body but broken in spirit?

Did you notice the Christ imagery in the innocent, pure-hearted boy becoming a sacrificial lamb at the end of the film?  Remember the Bible verse about “a little child shall lead them?”

And what of the effort to create a chain of good deeds without end in the midst of the city of sin, painted in broad strokes in the depiction of the tawdry side of the Las Vegas entertainment industry?

I’m telling you, we English majors can be insufferable bores.  We should never be allowed into a movie theater.