my vegan story
Somewhere in a London market
Many years ago I picked up a book in a market, somewhere in London. The subject of the book was animal cruelty in the food and fur industry. After reading that book, I would never buy a mink or fur (somewhat tongue and cheek, as financially and aesthetically I didn't have money to consider it). I have a fairly active imagination, so the images set forth in the book (who's name has been long forgotten), stuck with me. The book added a new dimension to eating plant based foods; previously for me eating plant based foods, was about health. My mother had passed away from an acute form of Leukemia when she was quite young and this pushed me to seek out alternative and familiar was to maintain good health. Now, I became more in tune with not wanting to contribute to the suffering of animals. I used to say if I didn't kill it, I don't want to eat it (because I knew, I wasn't about to purposely kill an animal)!
My consideration of animal products was mostly focused on meat and fur. Back then with PETA, that was mostly what I heard about. My first thanksgiving that I cooked for my friends, was vegan. It was complete with sweet potato pie and tofu whip cream. It was okay. I did make a mean Vegan Chili though. We know so much more about how to work with different seeds, nuts, fruits, etc. now though. I must say, due to my mother's strong influence, I had grown up very health conscious. She grew up on a farm, with 11 others in her family. As one can imagine, with that many mouths to feed, one didn't waste food. The day her pet pig became injured and showed up on the dinner table, began many years of a plant-based diet for her. Growing up we ate predominately vegetables, fish and chicken. "Red meat was for my father", was the take away I had as a little kid. I also understood that my mother did not like to eat it.
the community garden
My mother women-ed a community garden , on my grandmothers's vacant property, behind our house, which sadly now is grounds to two McMansions. She provided the garden with water from our outdoor faucet. The gardens yielded a large portion of our veggies during the warm months. I grew up in Northern California, so that was a good portion of the year. My mother supplemented with traded veggies from a few friends and neighbors. There was Percy, who had amazing greens, okra, shelled peas, beans and fruit. Then there was Mr. Yee, who owned a local BBQ shop and was the father of one of my brothers close friends. My mother and he enjoyed speaking about plants; both had amazing green thumbs. I tagged along as always and took in parts of their conversations, coupled with drifting off into an awestruck "wander" around his yard. He had an oasis in his backyard of fruit trees; he had grafted himself! Then there was my grandmother, who lived four houses away; she was always good for a years stock of plum and apricot-pineapple jams, and kept us stocked in lemons! The concept of paying for lemons was difficult for me when I moved to the East Coast. Typically, the community gardeners had excess, so there was always freebies to use up and often my mom would place a box by the sidewalk in front of our home, that said "Take These". Joggers, bikers and people walking their dogs in the morning, would pass by and snatch them up. Whatever we needed to fill in, the local Co-op provided.
My mother seemed to feel obligated to provide meat at the table, for my father. There was often a banter that went back and forth regarding meat. I always wanted to know why my dad always ate meat for dinner and I thought it was gross. From what my child mind could grasp, meat was for men, it was heavily equated with manhood and success. I think I grew up with the thought that men and women were designed differently, such that females did not need meat. During that period of my life, one did not eat a large amounts of meat though. Meat was expensive and plant-based products, unlike now, were extremely cheap. If you could afford meat regularly, in some circles it seems it was equate with having "made it". As my mother got older, she was pressed by doctors to increase her meat intake, as doctors did not know what we do now. In the end she was sort of warn down on and loosened her standards to embrace an omnivore lifestyle.
...to avoid this outcome
My mother died at 51, from a form of leukemia that was believed to be related to pesticides. Her doctors thought it had to do with the pesticides used in neighboring farms, where she grew up. When she died, I felt helpless. She died quickly (1 month). I remember, wishing that I had more time to research ways to help her. Could we change her diet? Macrobiotics were big then, infuse more laughter into our lives, massage, meditation, etc? I wanted nothing to do with ingesting synthetics. I didn't want to be dependent on modern medicine to save me. I wanted to discover what I could do to avoid (if at all possible ), this sort of outcome. I remember thinking that I wanted to know about massage, reflexology, herbology, etc, in a rootsie way like my mom and grandmother and friends, for the purpose of keeping my family and community healthy. I studied on my own about health and understood that when one eats the fat in meat, one is ingesting a concentrated version of all the toxins the animal has been exposed to and the chemical substances sprayed on plants that the animal has eaten that the animal has processed. Typically eating plant-based foods offered less concentrations of toxins. Several years later I worked for a heirloom, organic apple tree farmer in Berkeley, CA (the orchards were in Bolinas, CA.). He was at the forefront of the raw food movement. He ate raw fruits and veggies including fresh organic avocados and nuts and seeds. He would often blend combinations together and eat them over a bed of rice. The concept of Organics, became more concrete to me at this time. Most produce we ate was organic, but we did not label it as such, it had never been a consideration.
off to NY
Immediately following my mother's death, I moved to NYC to dance. During most of that period, I was without Medical Insurance. Health Insurance is important, but the silver lining in not having it, was that I got a break from doctor's offices. Even though most of my mother's doctors and nurses were amazingly sweet and attentive, the hospital never seemed like a place to go to get well. When I moved to New York, preventative medicine was everything to me. Chinese medicine embraces this same ideal; you pay the doctor a retainer when you are well and nothing when you are sick. I did a lot of reading, learning from spending time with others, a bit of trial and error and infused laughter into my life. Laughter is truly one of the best medicines. Eating is something that you do so much that attention really should be paid to it. For that reason, I celebrated the life giving properties of food and various lifestyles of eating, among them was Macrobiotics. I loved some of the philosophies, but the diet did not agree with my body and allergies that I had always had increased. I grew up eating lots of fruits, I was allergic to soy and I did not feel vibrant eating this lifestyle in the end.
a step back in California
I moved to Berkeley for a short time and lived in a vegetarian collective. This experience, coupled with the upbringing my mom provided me, helped me establish the bedrock of how I currently view community. Their were six people in the collective and we pooled together a monthly supplemental fee to cover food and sundries. We divided and rotated duties such that two people each week created a menu and cooked, two people shopped for the menu and purchased other grocery and sundry items and the final two people had a week of rest. I moved back to New York some time later and returned to a highly stressful life. I lived in an industrial area of Brooklyn, that was becoming publicized for its' pollution. My allergies were out of control. I was testing allergically reactive to most grains (except quinoa), nuts, soy and fruits except blackberries. At the suggestion of an allergist, I did an elimination diet. This was helpful and after many months, I was finally able to reintroduce many of those things back into my diet. Since I was allergic to nuts, soy and was vegan, I had a challenging time consuming the amount of protein I (at the time) believed I needed. I was a professional dancer. Veganism was not what it is now and most of the countries I toured in, could accommodate a vegetarian, but not a vegan. I began occasionally eating fish. As time moved on my focus became more about personal health than a disgust for the animal industry. I told myself to try to maintain 85% of my diet as healthy (whole grain, mostly vegetarian (not vegan). A good part of the "not vegan" part, by the way was originally homemade yogurt and then it transitioned into typically kefir and kefir cheese.
sugar as a pick-me-up
I worked too many hours for several years and was exhaused. Since I was working so many hours, I liked to stay up late doing me stuff to feel more satisfied with life. I was really trying to cheat time, which can't be done. I was really trying to cheat time, which can’t be done. I wasn't getting enough sleep, so by 1or 2 pm, I was struggling to stay awake. My solution was sugar! It worked, but I would crash by the time I got home! I understood the connection, but was not willing to change anything. Little by little, I got closer to changing things. Of course the change wasn’t sugar it was a greater lifestyle change. I made that change, by making myself get to bed earlier and eating veggies and fruit instead of candy. I do still eat processed sugar from time to time, but I’m so satisfied with the changes I have made!
Plenty of things to be a better steward
I gradually I got back to a point where I was eating mostly raw fruits and veggies during the day and would sit down with the fam and have a cooked meal for dinner, the cross-over was simple. During that time, I also ran across a Gary Yourofsky speech, which tipped the scales in vegan favor forever. Being a vegan is something that takes nothing out of me to commit to doing. There are plenty of things that I can do to be a better steward of the earth and there are many that are committed to other loving and helpful endeavors that I am not ready for, this one is just easy for me!