Saturday, June 28, 2008

every little bit counts

I read something on a vegan blog a couple of days ago, and it has really been bothering me. It’s not something new – it’s a rather common sentiment among vegans. But it’s a part of why I almost *didn’t* become a vegan. And, at the possible expense of alienating myself from the very people that share my lifestyle, I’d like to share my feelings about this.

This particular author was commenting on people who say they are vegan except when they eat out, or when they are on vacation, etc., and how he felt that this was a bit of a cop-out. He, and other vegan writers, have said that “if you can be vegan some of the time, you can be vegan all of the time”. Sure, it’s not always convenient, but just suck it up, and do what you have to.

I have a problem with this – not with the idea of being vegan “all of the time”, but the idea that it’s “all or nothing”. This somehow implies that anyone who does “a little” is wasting their time, or isn’t good enough, or isn’t worthy.

My feeling is that every little bit counts. And I’m not just talking about being a vegan. In fact, that’s my whole point. There will always be people that do more than us, or do it better than us – doctors who save lives, teachers that inspire the children who are our future, every-day heroes that change the world.

And then there are the rest of us.

Maybe you adopted a cat or dog. Maybe you dropped some coins in the bucket for a charity. Maybe you sent someone a “Get Well” card. Maybe you were there when a family member needed you. Maybe you paid a friend a compliment. Or maybe you just gave a total stranger a smile today. A smile can work miracles. Who knows – maybe that smile was just the encouragement that person needed, to do something incredible that would change the course of history. Or maybe it just made someone feel good - a truly worthy goal, in itself.

I sometimes hold back from trying new things, because I feel like I'm not good enough, or I have nothing new to offer. Or, sometimes I know that I can't embrace something completely, and perhaps "a little bit" isn't enough, so why bother? I'm trying not to do that any more.

No one is perfect. Life shouldn't be an "all or nothing" venture. Every little bit counts.

Have you given someone a smile today? :-)

Sunday, June 8, 2008

a bashful vegan eats out...

Well, okay, *this* vegan doesn't eat out very often. But to be honest, that's only partly due to the vegan thing. It probably has more to do with me being a homebody.

But sometimes even this vegan finds herself out-and-about, and hungry. So I thought I'd share some of my experiences. First, let me mention that vacations are a whole 'nother ballgame, and definitely deserve their own post, so that's something I will address (probably in HUGE detail, as it's one of my favorite subjects) at a later date.

Whenever I go out to run errands, I almost always take a snack bar with me. I love Clif bars, though I've cut way back, simply because they're not all that low on calories. Even if I don't need it, it's nice to know it's there. As I mentioned, I don't eat out much, and sometimes a snack bar is all it will take to tide me over until mealtime at home. But sometimes that's not an option.

For those "on the run" meals, there are actually a few fast food places that can accommodate a vegan. There's a site I found that has information about a handful of places: I also have a guide I bought a few years ago that lists helpful info like that. You can order it at: The Vegetarian Resource Group.

A few standby meals for me include: bagels at Panera Bread. They aren't all vegan, but a few are. You can find all the ingredients on their website at Taco Bell has a couple of safe items, if you modify them (and so far, I've never encountered a problem doing that). I usually just get a bean burrito, no cheese. It's not very exciting, but with a little hot sauce, it's not too bad - it's filling, and a good source of protein. Wendy's has baked potatoes. You need to order it "plain, dry", but it will keep you from starving (salt and pepper helps). Actually, if "healthy" isn't your issue, then Wendy's fries are vegan, too. (They're actually one of the few that is.)

And then there are those occasional invitations to eat out. Those are the worst, because either I don't have any say in where we eat, which can be disastrous, or they *do* ask for my opinion, which is even worse, because I hate being a bother, and I know full well that my first choice is almost never anyone else's.

One of my tools is a little business card I carry in my wallet. I use this to give to servers and/or chefs at restaurants, whenever I get that blank stare that tells me they really don't know what a vegan is:Happily, I am using this less and less, as the word is getting out about just what we are, but it's a nice little thing to have, anyway - especially if you're too bashful to say anything.

Some restaurants are really great - they ask questions and genuinely want to accommodate you. Others aren't so great. Olive Garden falls into this second catagory. Company policy prohibits them from sharing recipes, and in turn, ingredients. Now, I don't have a problem with that, as long as they will assure me that a particular dish is actually free of everything on that little card. However, they feel the need to take this policy to the extreme, and will not "guarantee" any item on the menu as vegan. (Wouldn't you know it... my hubby's family loves this place.)

I have found, with experience, that the more ideas *I* have, the better I will eat. This has been a very hard-learned lesson for me, because I've always been the type to say "I'll have what they're having", or "whatever you have is fine", etc. This doesn't work so well as a vegan. Out of desperation, I have eaten a lot of salads "minus cheese, minus bacon bits, minus croƻtons, with vinegar and oil dressing, or lemon, or no dressing" as it seemed to be safe. (For the record, Italian dressing is usually safe, but you do have to ask as some places add cheese.) I have also eaten a lot of plain, dry baked potatoes. All this, because I was too bashful to explain my situation. (Usually, the servers just assume that I'm watching my weight.)

I'm getting better, though. Most sit-down restaurants have the ability to prepare a nice plate of steamed veggies, sometimes with seasoning, if you ask. (You do have to be clear, though, about your needs, or most likely they will add butter.) Pasta is another good option. You have to make sure there's no egg in the pasta (fresh usually has eggs, dried usually does not, so in this case, the fancier restaurants are actually a worse choice). As for pasta sauce, often the tomato sauces are vegan - but you have to ask.

If I have the opportunity, I will call ahead and ask to speak with a chef. It's still difficult for me, but it's easier than speaking up when we get there. Sometimes this works, sometimes not. Most places appreciate the extra notice, so they aren't caught off guard.

The best tip I have for bashful diners, though, is SMILE. If you are nice to them, often they will be nice right back at you. Isn't it wonderful how that works?

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

why i'm a vegan...

The big question. I actually debated about whether or not to answer it here, but somehow, it's seems important to clarify it at least a little, before I move on with this blog.

There are a number of reasons that people go vegan: health & diet, environmental issues, compassion for animals... My primary reason is the animals - but saving the planet and being healthier are nice little fringe benefits.

For me, veganism is a spiritual thing - I can't separate my spirituality from my veganism - it all fits together. Pocohontas explains it so well in the song "Colors of the Wind": "Ev'ry rock and tree and creature has a life, has a spirit, has a name." I believe that this world and everything in it are sacred, and that everyone and everything is connected. When we harm one, we harm all, and we harm ourselves. I look to do as little harm as possible - to myself, to others, to the planet in general.

I have heard the arguement that the animals were placed on this earth for us to "use". I see it a little differently, but I have a strong respect for others' beliefs. I don't claim to have all the answers. I'm just trying to live my life the best way I know how, for me. I can't make decisions for others. I respect that as serious as I am about this lifestyle, others feel as strongly about theirs. This makes me a lousy activist, which is okay. I have a lot of respect for those who do fight for the animals, and try to teach the world, but I just don't believe that path is meant for me. And yes, this actually tends to make me unpopular with other vegans. It's something I am learning to live with. When going vegan, it helps to have a thick skin (which I don't, so this is a challenge for me).

There's some question as to whether or not a vegan diet is "natural" for humans. Again, I won't argue one way or the other. What I do believe is that it is *possible* for a human to be healthy on a vegan diet (as well as a non-vegan diet). There are healthy vegans, and there are not-so-healthy non-vegans. Yes, there are a few crucial nutrients not commonly found in a vegan diet, so you do have to be careful. I did a lot of research before I made this lifestyle change - and I strongly caution anyone considering it to learn as much as they can, and speak with their doctor. I take a good vegan multi-vitamin and other suppliments every single day (B vitamins and Omega-3's are two big things to look for). I really pay attention to making sure I have a well-balanced diet, and that my body is getting what it needs.

Being vegan is very important to me. It's truly a part of who I am. I would love it if someday my life, in some way, inspired someone else to do something positive with their life. But I won't condemn anyone for living a different way. Right and wrong are rarely black-and-white - life is full of grey areas. I don't know what is right for you, only what I feel is right for me. I understand that even this next comment will offend some, but I truly believe that we each have our own path to follow, and that no one can find or choose it for another. May you find your path, and follow it with joy.