Saturday, July 2, 2016

The Road To Compassion.

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries.   
Without them, humanity cannot survive    -   Dalai Lama

For those of us that decide we have had enough, the path is different.  It’s different for each of us.  One day you are leading a life enjoyed by the majority of people, eating steak, chicken fingers, lots of dipping sauce, fast food almost daily for lunch and telling yourself a salad at dinner with your pasta is putting the cap on a somewhat healthy day of food.   Meanwhile, America gets fatter, unhealthier, and people come into an operating room weighing 300 pounds, on 10 different medications for high blood pressure, cholesterol and type 2 diabetes, yet their relative’s cant understand why they are dropping dead.  They demand autopsies, they demand explanations and they even start praying for help.  All a waste of time.

My own journey began about 10 years ago.  I was like most people.  My favorite food was anything with chicken.  I hated veggies, and I do mean hated them!!!!  Greens?  No thanks.  But, I was an animal lover.  Ok, I thought I was an animal lover.  I had a dog that I loved.  One day, I was at a party at a major hospital here in Phoenix.  It was a Winter Holiday party.  My husband was chatting with his work counter parts and I wound up talking with the wives.  We all seem to hit it off and even though I didn’t know any of them personally, they talked with me like they knew me their whole life.  That’s definitely a perk of being a gay man around a bunch of ladies.  They share!

A few days later my husband comes home and hands me a pamphlet that one of the women had given her husband at the hospital to give to me.  It was about how animals are treated before they are slaughtered.  I didn’t put much though into it.  I am not really interested in all that crazy stuff that people try and convince you of.  Well I had to use the toilet so I grabbed that pamphlet so I would have something to read.  Yes my epiphany in life was experienced right there on the throne.  I started reading.  Very quickly, I realized how completely clueless I was to what was going on in the world of livestock and animal cruelty. 

This particular pamphlet talked about how pigs are kept their whole lives in cages so small, they can’t move at all.  Their hoofs get diseased and 75 percent of pigs go mentally insane before they are ever slaughtered.  How the hell is this possible?  In my mind pigs had a lovely life, with kids visiting them and mud to play in and then one day they get really old and they get put to sleep humanly until its time to cut up the body and make food of it.  That’s how it was supposed to work in my mind.  There was a lot more to the article about cows being shot in the head with screw guns and it went on and on.  I was crying.  I was shaking.  I was part of something that was absolutely horrible and it was wrong.  I knew it and I knew that I could not continue on the same path.  I was still sitting on the toilet when I came to the realization that I was now a vegetarian.  Why the heck did that lady send that pamphlet to me? What could I have possibly said to her to lead her to think I wanted to be a vegetarian?  UGH! Somehow, she knew it when she met me.

My first questions was, how was I going to stay a vegetarian for more than 20 minutes?  I had no idea.   For the rest of that day I did not eat anything.  I was still so hurt.  I went to the store, looked at the fresh vegetables and was lost.  I don’t even like veggies.  This isn’t going to work.  Although I never went back to eating meat, I spent the next weeks, month and most of the year eating just side dishes.  When we went to a restaurant, which was almost daily, I just got the side dishes, minus bacon or any obvious meat items.  I was still so clueless but I was making changes.  I thought it was going well until on the 4th of July, during a pool party at my house, I served Jell-O to our friends, one of who is a vegetarian.  I had spent hours on this Jell-O.  It was three different layers in the colors of red, white and blue for the holiday.  The red Jell-O was the first layer.  The white whipped cream was the second layer and the blueberries on top were the third layer.  I started handing it out.  Everyone was amazed and commented on how good it was.  I got to my vegetarian friend and he said “Ill Pass”.  I asked him why he was passing and he said its because he’s a vegetarian.  I was stunned.  I said “Its Jell-O, There is no meat in this”.  He then very nicely told me about gelatin.  How it’s made, and well if you are a plant based eater, you know the rest.  It’s made form the bones of animals.  In fact, anything with gelatin in it is made that way.  I got on the Internet and of course, he was right.  I told him I was sorry and I put the last two of them back in the fridge.  He felt bad because I decided not to eat mine either, but I couldn’t do it after all that I had accomplished.   So, being a vegetarian meant not only passing on the meat, but also now giving up Jell-O, marshmallows, s’mores, some candies, and lots more.  Holy smoke, I had no idea.  Why the hell are there animal parts in Jell-O!! I thought it was just sugar and water.

As the years went on, I learned to make sure that the refried beans I ordered at restaurants didn’t have lard in them, I learned to ask if the vegetable soup is made with chicken broth or vegetable broth and I learned to ask if the baked potatoes are rubbed with animal fat to make the tastier.  The list goes on and on but learning to eat a meat free life goes so much further than not chewing on flesh.  I had to almost completely give up fast food.  Taco bell has some non-meat items but the big names in fast food are not vegetarian friendly.

As time went on, something amazing happened.  I started to reach for more vegetable at meals.  I was still eating side dishes only when I was at a restaurant with my family and they had only meat main courses.  But, I started to acquire a taste for avocados, spinach, salads, sweet potatoes, kale and all sorts of stuff that I never liked before.  I thought I would be happy knowing that after about 7 years now, my palate had adjusted and the food choices in front of me was much broader.  Then, I started watching movies on Netflix.   There are lots of them on there but they really broke my vegetarian heart.  Here I was thinking I was saving animals by being a vegetarian. Sure, I was making a difference in the world by not choosing meat, but I had no idea cows are kept pregnant their whole lives so they can produce milk.  I had no idea that chickens are basically kept on top of each other and not roaming free in the grass like I pictured in my mind.  I also had no idea how disgusting the process of pasteurizing milk is.   I still ate a lot of cheese and milk.  It was the base of my meals.  Now, I find out that I am part of the problem for what those animals go through even though I am not eating their hide.   And the photos of the pus from the processing of milk were just too much for me to go back to.

So, I started the conversion to vegan plant based eating.  How the heck do I give up cheese and dairy?  I started with Soymilk.  I had to stop drinking dairy milk immediately.  I discovered that you really don’t taste the milk in cereal or most of the foods you put it on.  When I went to soymilk, there was little change from diary milk as far as taste.  Since then, I stopped eating anything soy and its now almond milk.  It only took me a few days to get off dairy milk and its now been a few years since I had any of it.  Getting off the cheese is a much different story.   I know there are cheese substitutes so I started trying them.  I was not happy with them.  I just eventually came to the conclusion that Pizza is never going to be the same again.  And it’s never been.  But, it has been better at times.  I learned to eat pizza with BBQ sauce on it (home made) and with just a slight layer of substitute cheese that tastes half way decent (Follow Your Heart) and its fantastic.  I add pineapples too. So, I had to change the way I eat pizza, but didn’t have to give up pizza.  I was ok with that.

10 years have gone by.  Now, not only do I not eat anything to do with animals, but I also make almost all my own food.  There is nothing in my house that is processed. I prepare food on the weekends for the coming week.  That includes all my vegetable soups, my cashew based dips, my vegan burger patties made with almonds and quinoa, and usually some vegan pancakes for during the week.  My kid loves the vegan chocolate chip cookies because he can eat the dough raw and my family loves my tossed salads with romaine lettuce, avocado, dried corn, seeds, walnuts and home made dressings.  Becoming a plant-based eater was originally about the animals for me.  In the end, it became about health.  Not only did I not want processed animals on my plate, I no longer wanted processed anything on my plate.  My fridge is filled with organic fruits and veggies, washed and in clear glass containers ready to eat.  I never feel like I have nothing to eat. 

The clincher to all this, and the reason I write this story is that 10 years ago, there were no vegan or vegetarian restaurants in Phoenix, AZ.  Today, you can eat vegan anywhere from the local trendy vegan restaurants to basically any Mexican restaurant by asking them to give you their beans (black beans or whole pinto if no lard is in them) potato and avocado in a tortilla or corn shell depending on how they’re made.  There are multiple pizzerias in the area that have a whole section of their food made vegan.  The choices are plentiful.   Of course you will be eating processed food at restaurants to some degree but you can still rest assured that you are making a difference in the animal world.  If every one of us stopped ordering meat, it would no longer be stocked by the stores and restaurants.

Ignorance is bliss.  I get that, and I know we can all agree on that.  It’s the decisions you make after that bliss is over that really define who you are and where you are going.  I knew sitting on that toilet 10 years ago that I had to make a change.  I didn’t know what that change was going to be or how to get there.  I had to keep learning every day and keep asking others who were on the journey too.   But, at 51 years old, I am in great health, am not on any medications and every time there is a new meat based virus scare in the news, I just smile and think, not be baby. Not today.  You can make the journey too and today, its easier than it ever has been.  Just ask.

07/02/2016 - Regular Joe

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