Friday, March 20, 2009

Its over. I know it didn't last long but i'm DONE fighting all the urges that come with this vegan diet damnit!

After 2 months or so since first starting to ease my way into this vegan diet, I have to tell you that I am done. I'm done fighting. I'm done fighting everything that goes along with this diet goddamn it. I'm done with all the resisting of urges, the wondering if I can do it, and the guilty thoughts like "hmmm, I could just sneak a taste of that cheese, I mean christ the moo-er is dead already." The thoughts of "oh who's going to know if I snap up that piece of sesame chicken that she left on her plate, no one's looking!!". Done I tell you. Done.

Done with those thoughts because they don't come up anymore... Done fighting the diet because it no longer feels like a fight! Not done with the diet silly, done with the fight!. Because there is no fight anymore, Its easy!!!


heheh. sorry if i scared ya, that was all for dramatic effect people :).

Here's what's been happening.

• Those 10lbs I lost over the course of a two week period have remained off and no further significant weight loss or gain has occurred. Many people have said to me "but eric you didn't NEED to lose 10lbs". Well that's kind of you folks. I do feel much better without them.

• My appetite has remained markedly reduced. I love being able to actually stop eating when I feel like it. I did some searching online and found that this is a side effect that many vegans feel. One example can be found in this blog/video, where famous vegan Ellen Degeneres says to gorgeous vegan "House" star Olivia Wilde,

“But you fill up more with vegan stuff, don’t you find? So you can’t eat as much.”

Amazing, because I had thought I was just a dude with an insatiable appetite, but no longer. The truth is probably something more to do with dairy (or the hormones, pesticides or whatever other crap is in dairy)... I say that because I have been vegetarian before, but it had no effect on my appetite. The most drastic change in my new diet is the removal of dairy and so I believe that is probably what is causing my appetite to return to "normal".

The other thing that has been going on, as I implied in my opening paragraph, is that the diet is no longer hard for me. I'm finding it easy. I don't miss dairy or eggs or meat. I can't say that will be true for others. I would not have believed it would be true for me. It is true for me.

In today's blog i'm going to talk about the concept of "Karma". Some might be thinking, "ok eric, yeah yeah yeah, I know, you're gonna give me some new age crap about how eating animals is somehow giving me 'bad karma energy'. Dude, how far over the edge have you gone?". Ok, well yes, granted i'm a nutter. But i'm still a scientist at heart. (for those who don't know me so well, I was a bio major in college, worked at Cornell performing gene therapy in a research lab as my first job out of school, and through the years if you had asked me if there is a god, I would probably have said "yeah. science is god. or nature"). Ok, mr. "scientist", so how is "Karma" coming into play here? Well first let's define the word.


/ˈkɑr/ [kahr-muh]
1. Action, seen as bringing upon oneself inevitable results, good or bad, either in this life or in a reincarnation.

Ok mr. "scientist", so how could eating meat possibly bring "inevitable bad results" upon me in this this life? (lets drop the idea of reincarnation for now). Well, as a starting point, lets examine what "bad things" occur when one does eat meat:
• 70% of crops grown in this country go directly toward feeding cows (not even getting into pigs and chickens). Yes, go back and re-read that one. 70% of every plant grown here goes to feeding cows.
• Partly as a result of this, cattle are responsible for 18% of greenhouse gases in the world, more than cars, planes and all other forms of transport put together!!!
• The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) has warned people that if you eat 50g of processed meat; the equivalent of just one small burger a day then your risk of bowel cancer is increased by 20 per cent.
• There are numerous studies that show that veggie diets can cut the risk of heart disease, stroke and certain cancers. Some of the most impressive data arises from a study of close to 2000 vegetarians over 21 years by the German Cancer Research Center (Deutsche Krebsforschungszentrum). The study's results: vegetarian men reduced their risk of early death by 50%! Women vegetarians benefit from a 30% reduction! 30% and 50% are quite impressive statements for those of you familiar with scientific studies of this sort.
• There are many other "bad" things that occur as a result of eating meat (i.e., it is often said that world hunger could be ended if the world reduced their meat intake by even a small amount because all those crops going to cows could go to people) but i'm going to stop here for now.

Ok so there are some bad things that result from meat eating without even mentioning the ethical issue of whether it is right to cause animals such suffering. Can we come up with some "inevitable good results" that come from eating meat?: I've been racking my brain for a while, and the only thing I can come up with is pleasure. Can you think of something else that doesn't ultimately boil down to pleasure? I can't. Not that pleasure isn't important. Of course it is. Some might say "what about nutrition?" and that is a myth. We don't have to eat meat as humans, and if we do (like if you would argue that we need that miniscule amount of B12 from meat even though it is available from vegan sources) we certainly don't need to eat very much of it. So long as we have a diet of varied fruits and vegetables, we will get the nutrition we need. So it comes down to pleasure. I love pleasure as much as the next guy, but it does seem like, at least to a degree, we're sacrificing our own health and the health of our planet for pleasure. And this is without even going into the ethics of whether it is right to allow animals to suffer so much.

So there's that. That's karma as I see it. You make a "bad" action, and inevitable "bad" things result. Don't even have to get into mystic voodoo shit.

And now, to get a little more "new age-y" and "out there" as a further argument for the "bad karma" of eating meat... In my last blog I spoke a bit about how when you get into certain philosophies or get into meditation you become better able to exist with the mad rush of thoughts that so often dominate our minds and often make us unhappy. And I also spoke of how when that mad rush is not such a focus, that the natural human compassion that is in us all perhaps is more free to come forth. I'm not saying you sit down for 5 minutes and become mother theresa, no. Perhaps its much more subtle than that, but something happens. This has been my experience. I'm just much happier overall for having gotten into the stuff. And so maybe I started taking a little more time to empathize, and put myself in the "shoes" of a factory farm animal. When we are not allowing our compassion to come forth, perhaps our compassion gets a little blocked up. A little atrophied. If we are not allowing ourselves to feel compassion for an animal, then who else are we not feeling compassion for? If we cannot take a moment to try and imagine ourselves as an animal, existing in a hell zone, then who else can we not imagine as ourselves in a hell zone? If our compassion is not being exercised, could it also be that maybe we aren't allowing ourselves the compassion for our neighbor, or god forbid our enemies? How about compassion for ourselves? As we live in this era of such war and ruinous greed, it makes me wonder. It makes me wonder if this "bad karma" that might result from turning a blind eye to our own innate compassion isn't a very real thing. This innate compassion that I believe anyone would experience if they would allow themselves to watch a video of a "behind the scenes" at a factory farm and actually allow themselves to imagine what it might feel like to be that animal. It makes me wonder if there aren't some "inevitable bad things" that result from this shunning of our own compassion. From this "lack of exercise" of our compassion. I'm not saying this is true, i'm just saying I wonder... Sometimes when I tell someone that the movie "Fresh" played a big role in my becoming vegan they say "oh, god no, I don't want to see that film!" as they smile and shudder. As if to say they don't want to see the horror show they assume it must be, but would you please pass the chicken wings?. This says to me that we are shunning our compassion. That we know we won't like what we see, so we turn away from it and choose to ignore our own truth for the sake of grasping to and preserving our pleasures. At what cost?

Again, I'm not saying that we should all be vegetarians necessarily. I think it would be great to simply eat less meat, and to support meat that was raised and slaghtered humanely. Perhaps the "bad karma" comes simply from the excess of it. I don't know.

After writing this paragraph, I discovered some quotes from Albert Einstein that speak to this issue:

"Besides agreeing with the aims of vegetarianism for aesthetic and moral reasons, it is my view that a vegetarian manner of living by its purely physical effect on the human temperament would most beneficially influence the lot of mankind." - Albert Einstein

Could Einstein be referring to "human temperment" in the same way I am referring to our compassion? (yes I just compared my own thoughts to Einstein's :)

and pythagoras, math god and the father of greek philosophy...

“For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love." -- Pythagoras

and finally Einstein again,

"A human being is a part of the whole, called by us the 'Universe', a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest - a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security." - Albert Einstein

So yes, bacon does taste good. It is up to us to decide how good. I would argue that we might make that decision having first allowed ourselves to fully witness all the facts.

I'll finish up with a video a friend sent. Now this video is NOT a horror show. Its a short, touching, cute story that takes place on the streets of our fair new york city not long ago. I recommend you watch! :)

Much love,

“Truly man is the king of beasts, for his brutality exceeds theirs. We live by the death of others: we are burial places! I have from an early age abjured the use of meat, and the time will come when men such as I will look on the murder of animals as they now look on the murder of men.” --- Leonardo da Vinci

“People often say that humans have always eaten animals, as if this is a justification for continuing the practice. According to this logic, we should not try to prevent people from murdering other people, since this has also been done since the earliest of times. “
-- Isaac Bashevis Singer

"All the arguments to prove human superiority cannot shatter this hard fact: in suffering, animals are our equals."-- Peter Singer

The photo in today's blog is ©2009 Eric M

Saturday, March 14, 2009

E's Gone Vegan

I've had a number of people say to me something to the effect of, "Eric, you're nuts. Why are you on a vegan diet?". Well, I thought i'd try and explain that here. I'll also try to answer the other question i've been getting which is, "Eric. What exactly do you eat???". Some people ask because they are curious, and others are asking because they want to try the diet themselves, even if only on a partial basis. If you'd like to just see what i'm eating then feel free to just jump to the bottom. Ok, so here goes:

For the first 15 years of my life, vegetables were things that I did not understand. Mostly, I did not understand why people ate them. Pithy, grainy, bitter... Yucky, I believe was the term I would have used back then. Out of the vast cornucopia that is the modern day supermarket there were 4 vegetables that I would so much as touch as a child. Potatoes, iceberg lettuce, ketchup (yes i'm counting ketchup as a vegetable), and an occasional can of del monte canned green beans. But ONLY the canned stuff. You couldn't buy me enough video games to make me touch a fresh green bean. And NOT mashed potatoes. Mostly just french fries. And even many fruits were blackballed. The foods I would eat were basically threefold: salami sandwiches, steak, and burger king. Yes, it was a limited list, but to me it was more than enough. I saw no reason for anything else. What more could one need? Some of the items I refused to eat (and this is no exaggeration) included: any non-iceberg lettuce, strawberries, peaches, nectarines, berries of all types, SPAGHETTI (who's italian?), seafood of any kind, avocados, PEANUT BUTTER, jelly, olives, tomatoes (besides ketchup), SOUP, CORN... CORN!!!??!!? Yes I was a jewish mother's nightmare. (plus, I not only didn't want to be a doctor, I wanted to be a mechanic like my hero the Fonz).

My wonderful parents, however, cannot be faulted here. They tried. I refused. Adamantly. Until I was 15!!!! They would diligently make sure there was one of the big three or little 4 at the dinner table while everyone else ate what was for dinner. When I hit 15, I was at summer camp one day when I found myself piling a small scoop of spaghetti on my plate after watching everyone else in my bunk do the same for zillionth time. I drew a forkful to my lips. "Hm. Not so bad..." I thought. Soon after came corn, soup, tuna, and others. Before long, my aversions began giving way to passion. Through college I found myself becoming adventurous even. As school progressed there soon seemed to be nothing I wouldn't eat (I won't go into details of what I agreed to eat while pledging old AEPi). I had done such a 180 that I became a human garbage can of sorts who basically liked everything! (though I was still very much meat focused).

When my dear older brother Daniel died at age 26 after a long battle with cancer, I decided that perhaps my unrefined eating habits could use a makeover. I felt that having lived all those years on basically meat and meat by-products alone, my health might do well with an equally stringent few years of veggie only living. And also, I hoped it would open up my palate to a new focus. I slipped into it rather easily. I found myself a bit of a "cheese and potatoes" vegetarian, but also I found myself slowly awakening to the wonders of the vegetable. Spinach with garlic... who knew? Eggplant! Mushrooms! Squash! I lasted for about 2 years. I cheated a bunch. There is an "infamous" story I don't tell where at a pool party I ingested a dangerously large combination of Captain Morgan and Nicorette. (Ok, I hated cigarettes, but wanted to know what all the fuss over nicotine was about). Drunk (yet strangely relaxed?) I could not stop myself from eating about 10 hotdogs as my friends taunted me for breaking my veggie vows. I then proceeded to throw up captain morgan, nicorette and hotdogs all over some poor stranger's bathrooom. Not long after, I gave up the vow for good. However, the 2 years of veggie living had served to fully open me up to love for my veggie friends and I had become well acquainted with their various incarnations. I would describe my eating habits as "veggie focused" since then. Basically this means that I would usually eat vegetarian but was not too strict. My reasons for the focus were still health related. I found the reduced animal cruelty I was supporting a nice, but quaint side-effect. Though I had never owned a pet in my life, I had had the usual contact with the neighborhood dog, and the best friend's cat. I believed that animals felt pain and fear and had rights, and so it seemed nice to not be hurting such folk, but I don't think I really thought about it much more than that. I think I just imagined that the animals lived relatively happy lives, maybe on a large farm somewhere and had a moment of pain at their demise and basically didn't know any better, so what's the big deal? Its especially easy to gloss over when there's a side of bacon looking up at you.

Flash forward to 2008/2009 when three things converged to inspire the jump from being "veggie focused" to vegan. The first was my new experience of living with an animal. Actually 4 animals in a 1 bedroom NYC walk-up. The first being my girlfriend Faith's cat Isabel, followed soon after by the three 1-day old kittens she found abandoned and on death's doorstep along the side of a road. The kittens were supposed to stay a month or 2 tops and then be given away (4 cats in a 1 bedroom? come on!). We're going on 7 months now and I am deeply in love with all of them. They have made me remember how much animals are like ourselves. I'm sure other dog or cat owners relate. I don't feel like animals that are socially acceptable to eat, like cows or pigs or chickens, are terribly different. They may exhibit different behaviors, just like a cat exhibits drastically different behaviors from a dog, but they all feel pain and fear, and love for their children.

The second thing that I believe had an impact, was my interest in recent years in meditation and buddhist flavored philosophies. People often assume that buddhism has a "rule" that you must be vegetarian. Not so. The buddha himself would eat meat if he knew that the meat was not prepared specifically for him. Its really more that vegetarianism follows naturally from the buddhist's practice. Buddhism, or meditative practices in general are really about one thing. Paying attention. Retraining your mind to stay aware of what's going on around you and not get lost following the rush hour of thoughts that race through our minds. Sounds simple, but its not. In fact, not paying attention is why I believe I found it so easy to gloss over thinking about where that side of bacon came from. As you pay attention more, a natural side effect is more compassion. Compassion for people, your noisy neighbor, yourself, your boss, your parents, and yes animals. It seems to me that when a mind isn't so busy moving on to the next, and keeping up with whatever its keeping up with, the human compassion that is naturally in us all finally gets a chance to focus on what's in front of it. Just happens, ya don't even have to try. Also, when you're in a state where you're not having many thoughts, I think its easier to catch a glimpse of what its like to be an animal, because presumably this is more like what its like for them. Their brains are wired incredibly similarly to our own, minus some of the higher thought centers. I think it must be so that animals feel pain and fear exactly as we do. And when I say exactly, I really mean exactly. As we all learn in biology, pain and fear arise in our "reptilian" brain. This is the primitive part of our brain that is called "reptilian" because it has not changed or evolved much since then and most vertebrates have the same structures. Thus, it seems that the actual way it feels to be afraid and under stress and pain as an animal should not feel any different than it does for us. Our bonus is that we also get to stress and think thoughts ABOUT the pain. Like, "oh shit that hurts! Is that going to leave a mark? Well great, won't a bruise go just perfect with my big ass and varicose veins." and so on ad infinitum...

The third of the three convergent factors was the kicker that put me over the top. I started working on a documentary called "Fresh" which I sometimes like to call "Omnivore's Dilemma: The Movie" (for those of you familiar with Michael Pollan's masterful book and exposé on our nation's agricultural practices of the same title). In fact, Michael Pollan is one of the talking heads in the film. "Fresh" is not a film about veganism by any stretch. But it does show the underbelly of the livestock industry (actually, the industry is really mostly underbelly, there's not much else to it). It juxtaposes the harsh realities of the industry with a few pioneers who skillful demonstrate the way things COULD be done. It demonstrates how these pioneers are able to raise animals for slaughter in a much more humane, really beautiful way. It shows us how it can be both more profitable and relatively simple to adopt such a system and the wonders it could do for our environment, our pocketbooks, our health, and animal welfare. And it shows that the reason we're not adopting these practices is at least partially due to the influence of 3 mega corporations and their lobbyists protecting their interests. The thing that really hit me in the heart, and how it came to be that I decided to go vegan while watching a film that still was about killing animals (albeit humanely), was this gorgeous scene on one of the "good" farms. A pig had just birthed a litter of piglets that morning and they were all running around freely and happy and were just the most innocent, curious, cutest things. They truly reminded me of my kittens, and it made me cry each time I saw it to think of all the piglets born into the hell that is the factory farm. Being confused and unaware and subject to such a life of torture. On a factory farm, pigs and chicken and cows live out their entire brief life in cages often just big enough for a single animal to fit in, unable to even turn around. Tails are chopped off (or beaks if you're a chicken) without anesthesia to prevent animals from damaging each other under the stressed conditions. Pigs are neutered while wide awake, also without anesthesia. Babies are separated from their mothers at birth. This is just the beginning of it. Its horrifying really. Anyway, as an editor, you need to watch a film a few thousand times over the course of a project and by the second week, I just felt I didn't want to support our backward system anymore in any way. I also learned that eggs and milk producers treat the animals no better than they do animals raised for meat (and they are eventually all used for meat anyway). And, I found that the "free range", "grassfed" or even organic labeling when it comes to meat or dairy products is basically a load of chickenshit (pun intended) and is marginally better than a factory farm if at all when talking about animal cruelty. So, I slowly started trying to avoid milk and eggs. I've been doing it for maybe a month or 2 now where i've been slowly phasing them out and trying out alternatives. For a little over 2 weeks now i've been able to be completely vegan. Its feels great and now I see its totally something I can do. I gotta say, its not so hard! I'm not saying i'll never eat meat or dairy or eggs again (especially if more humane meat becomes more widely available). I don't think being able to "say" you're 100% vegan is the point. The point is to do what we can. If that means taking one meal a week where you focus on eating less meat, then wonderful! If that means eating less meat whenever the thought, "well, I could get the ceasar salad without the chicken strips..." pops into our mind then wonderful! Mark Bittman, award winning chef / author of "How to Cook Everything" and NYTimes columnist has recently found supreme benefit in being a "Vegan till 6" (or in other words, being vegan until dinner, and then eating whatever he wants).
Just seeing before and after pictures of the guy could turn a person vegan.

The things I have found so far from being on the Vegan diet (after just two weeks)
• Lost the love handles real quick.
• Appetite in general has been reduced in half. Thus I am able to eat smaller portions which I have always found incredibly difficult. Ok, which I have always found impossible :).
• Feel great. Mentally and physically.

Also people have many misconceptions about getting proper nutrition as a vegetarian. Mostly about the need for protein. Google it. Its a myth. American's eat so much meat that they get over twice their protein needs (which can have bad health side effects in itself). The truth is that if you eat a diet with a variety of vegetables, then you'll get all the protein you'll ever need. Really. The only thing thing that I've found to be of perhaps legitimate concern while on a vegan diet (though the jury is still out) is vitamin B12. This is found mostly in meat we eat, but only because its made by bacteria that are found in the gut of the animals (so it actually has a vegan source). Its also made in our own gut, but its not clear if we absorb enough of it on our own. Our bodies require a incredibly minuscule amount of it and its actually been found to be the vitamin that we require the least of out of them all. Symptoms of a deficiency take 5-20 years to show up if they show up at all and can then be easily reversed (though if left untreated, serious damage can result). Its often fortified into vegan foods anyway, or you can take a weekly supplement. If you eat any kind of meat or dairy on a regular basis you'll be more than covered as I understand. Please don't take my word for it. Google it. (funny how google became the gospel isn't it?). And always consult your doctor before starting any kind of diet or exercise regimen. (that one I just threw in there because I thought it might be fun to say. It was kinda fun).

Ok, now info on what i've been eating and some tips about things that get me through the day:
I'm no gourmet and no foodie, much as I love to eat, I don't discriminate. I also don't have much time to cook these days (though i'm looking to change that). So this is what I do, but someone who does have time to cook can have a vastly wider range of options than what i will present (which you may still consider pretty wide).

Keys here are my milk and butter replacements.
• Butter - Earth Balance buttery spread. So yummy. Tastes like butter to me. This lets me have bagels or toast whenever I want. Also there are some good cream cheeses, but i haven't tried them yet.
• Milk - Not a fan of Silk or any soy milk. Yuck, but great if you are. I thought this might be a big problem early on, but Mark Bittman introduced me to other milks. I tried Pacific Oat milk. Bingo. Milk-like, mildly sweet, no weird aftertaste. Now I can have cereal too! Almond milk is also great.

Lunch - I work right next to Whole Foods, so this makes lunch a no brainer. Lunches there are exquisite. Elaborate vegetable dishes of many varieties are always available and always changing. I get a big lunch plate for maybe $8. Usually can't even finish it and so I save it for later, and its delicious. Also they have a hot salad bar with several vegan choices including indian food and veggie sushi. Can't go wrong.

Dinner - Often i'll make a big salad with fresh veggies and nuts and raisins etc. Yum. I'm good. However, if someone had told me that's what i'd be eating, I would have been like, "um. no." Also sometimes I'll have tofu dogs (key is a nice hot dog bun and condiments. I like Smart Dogs or Yves brand dogs). Also found a vegan cheese that I like a lot called Follow Your Heart Vegan Gourmet Cheese. I've only tried the mozzarella so far. Butter up some bread slices with Earth balance, and fry yourself up a grilled cheese. YumYum! Then there also local fare. My local pizza place Freddie and Peppers makes an incredible soy cheese slice, and the local hummus place("The Hummus Place") is bar none the best hummus i've had. And chinese food is always an option with lots of choices. I'll be coming up with more dinner options as I get further into it i'm sure. Any suggestions are welcome!

DESSERT! - Toffuti Cuties. These are little mini ice cream sandwiches. All vegan. I don't like the chocolate kind. I do like the vanilla kind. I LOVE the key lime pie flavor. It will hold its own against any key lime bar vegan or otherwise.
Uncle Eddies Vegan Cookies. Love these guys as well. Especially the chocolate chip ones. Amazing. Will hold its own against any cookie vegan or otherwise. I realize thats a bold statement. Ok, maybe its too bold. I'm just saying they're good damnit! Chocolate - If you like dark chocolate I like Tropical Source brand a lot. Haven't tried their other varieties.

So ya see folks, it ain't so bad. And living in NYC sure helps when you are unable to cook much. I've only barely touched on it in this entry, but you can help the planet, your health, your weight, your pocketbook, and spare some furry cuties from hellish oblivion through the simple act of reducing your meat intake. I could also certainly see people doing this diet for the money savings, weight loss and reduced appetite alone.

Hope that was of help, and lots of Love,

p.s. for those interested, "Fresh" is a movie directed by Ana Sofia Joanes, and will be released soon. Info to follow as it arrives.

The photo in today's blog is ©2009 Eric M