Out with the Old

Happy New Year everyone!  I hope each of you have had a safe and enjoyable holiday so far.  Like last year, it was another snow-less Christmas here in Toronto, that is until Monday night when we got our first snowstorm of the season.  Too bad it was three days too late to have a white Christmas but at least the lack of snow on Christmas Day meant safer travelling for everyone.

Over the holidays, I re-watched a great lecture given by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, the author of several books including, The 30-Day Vegan Challenge.  A renowned speaker as well, Patrick-Goudreau approaches her teaching as a “how-to” for many people.  As she explains in her lecture called The Rise of the Excuse-itarian, there’s a lot of information on why people are vegan but her mission is to help people do the how – to guide people into making the transition from eating meat and dairy to plants and, “to do it joyfully, healthfully, and to do it confidently.”  

The informal lecture is just over 35 minutes long, plus about 15 minutes of Q & A at the end; both are well worth a listen to. She touches on her own journey of becoming vegan and how she believes that many people do want to live more compassionately but either don’t know how or end up making excuses not to, for a variety of reasons.  One of those reasons/excuses is our culture and how we’ve been raised to behave in it.  For this post, I’d like to highlight some of the points she makes from her lecture, trusting it will pique your interest enough to listen to the whole thing, especially as we enter a new year.  All of the quotes have been transcribed verbatim except where I edited a few words here and there to make the reading of it a little easier. The italics are my words to help clarify what she is referring to:

“With our culture, the way it’s set up, there are so many myths and misconceptions about living compassionately and living healthfully and those myths become legends for people. Although I think people really are concerned about certain things (e.g., animal suffering), these myths also wind up becoming excuses….we end up using these as blocks that actually stop us from making the changes we want to make.

Some of those “myths” Patrick-Goudreau focuses on are around nutrition, food and societal expectations. Nutrition myths like, “Where do vegans get their protein?”, a question that speaks to the “legend” we’ve all been raised to believe that it must come primarily from meat and dairy. Or, as P-G puts it:

“The problem is not where vegans are getting their protein.  The problem is that we’ve all been taught that we need to go through an animal to get to the nutrients that are in the plants that the animals are eating and that we’re trying to get when we eat the animal.  In other words, the nutrients we need are plant-based.  The nutrients we need are not animal-based.”

She gives great examples for several nutrients and minerals, like calcium:

If I were to ask you where we’re supposed to get – where we’re taught we’re supposed to get – our calcium from, you would say, “cow’s milk.”

Omega-3 fatty acids:

If I were to ask you where we’re taught we should get our omega-3 fatty acids from, you would say, “fish”.  And protein? From “meat, eggs, and other animal products.”

Of course, with animal products come all the extras we’re not encouraged to consider: saturated fat, dietary cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol), excess animal protein, lactose and reprehensible cruelty to animals.  But we’ve not been taught that so much. In fact, it’s pretty much glossed over most of the time, particularly in the interest of selling products.

Patrick-Goudreau goes on to talk about our mythical language around animals as food, using cows as one example:

We’re not taught to think that cows have to be pregnant in order to lactate.  Our language doesn’t even support that – we say cows “give” milk, like they come into this world ready to bestow upon us their nutritional gifts. We certainly don’t say we take their milk.  We don’t even say they produce milk.  We don’t say they lactate.  We say they “give” milk so we already have this notion that they’re here for us.

Can you start to see just how conditioned we’ve all become?  I saw my former self in a lot of this – this was certainly how I thought prior to going vegan.  I was also one of those people who was once convinced that I “craved” meat.  Here’s P-G’s response when people say this to her, which I’ve condensed somewhat from her lecture:

You are not craving meat.  You are not craving the flesh of an animal. We are not obligate carnivores.  We do not see animals grazing on the side of the road and start salivating. We crave fat, we crave salt, texture, familiarity, flavour, we crave a feeling of fullness. These are all legitimate cravings and all of these can be met in plant food. The problem is that our habits have made us go right to the things that we’ve all been taught to go to: meat, dairy and eggs, as opposed to thinking about the craving (Am I craving salt? Creaminess? Texture?) and then meeting the craving rather than the habit.

There are so many gems in her lecture, I could break it down into ten posts.  I especially love how she responds when people ask her if being vegan can really create change, if people really can make a difference.

To this she says:

My answer is no. I don’t think people can make a difference. I know people do make a difference. Everything we do, everything we buy, everything we eat has an impact on someone or something else.  We don’t get to decide whether we can make a difference or not. We only get to decide if the difference we inevitably make is negative or positive. That’s it.  Those are our only two choices.  There are no neutral actions.

She wraps up her talk with this:

All I ask of people is to never say never.  Just be open and embrace the journey that comes with being human, the journey that encourages us to make new choices, to try new things, to make better choices, more compassionate choices once we know better. Because what I know for sure is the problems we have in this world are not because there is too much compassion. The problem is that people are not living according to their own values of compassion and kindness.  Most people say these are values they have.  The question is are they reflecting these values in their everyday behaviour?  That is my hope.  My hope is that we will live each day and in all of our choices reflect our deepest values and know that we have the power to create the world we say we want to have and to be the people we say we want to be.

Wow.  In a thousand posts, I could not have said that better.

I have said this many times before but here it is again: I never thought I would be a vegan.  I used to believe all the stereotypes about vegans, animals and the myths around food.  I think on some level I even thought that being vegan required some special form of willpower or personality – as though it were something only certain people could do but not me.  It wasn’t until I stopped saying “never” that I was introduced to a world I had long misunderstood and maligned.  I’ve now been on both sides of the fence so believe me when I say, whichever side you’re on, I get it.  I really do.  I get the hesitation, the defensiveness, the not-wanting-to-know. It can be scary and being different is not something people generally seek out to be. But with struggle comes liberation.  You literally liberate animals every time you choose not to eat them. You liberate your body from toxic “food” it doesn’t need and can’t use. You liberate the planet from using excessive natural resources like land and water, two things being depleted at a terrifying rate thanks to animal agriculture.  You have a choice, one that makes a far bigger impact than you think.

So.  What are you doing New Year’s Eve?  How about starting it by listening to this lecture?  Listen to it while you get ready to go out tonight!  It’s a New Year.  Out with the old, I say.  The old habits. The old excuses. The old traditions.  Let’s try something new, shall we?  For yourself.  For each other.  For the animals.

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