Why I’m Not "Going Pink"

Ahhh, October… there’s a crisp bite to the air, the leaves have begun to fall, there’s 50 pounds of apples in my refrigerator, and I’m once again bombarded by the nauseating pinkness of “National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.”

For years it has just been the ever increasing tide of pink consumer crap in the stores, and that has been bad enough. However, for the past two Octobers I’ve watched cutesy memes take over Facebook. Last year it was women coyly posting the color of their bras in their status updates. When it finally started to come out that bras, therefore, breasts, were the topic at hand I’m sure everyone rushed to donate to the Komen Foundation (more on them later). This year it is the suggestion that we post where we like to put our purses when we get home, e.g., “I like it on the table“.

Now, leaving aside my irritation at the assumptions that only women get breast cancer (they don’t) or that all women carry purses (they don’t), I’m just left with the annoyance that not only does this juvenile status update meme have absolutely nothing to due with breast cancer, but that it uses breast cancer as the reason to make some kind of sexualized joke. How does this puerile humor have anything at all to do with breast cancer? Once again, do you see this kind of nonsense and rush right out to buy something pink or donate money to Komen?

Yes, you might think that I’m being a stick in the mud about this. I mean shouldn’t I just lighten up and enjoy the whimsy? Isn’t this just a harmless joke used to raise awareness?

To those who might say I’m being shrill and a kill-joy, I say:

Really, is anyone in the western world not aware of breast cancer at this point? Seriously?

If there are people unaware, perhaps it because they are buried under the load of pink consumer crap and juvenile Internet memes that we’re bombarded with every October. So much money is spent on enticing us to buy pink M&Ms (yes, really) and BMWs (yes, really) that we’re hopefully distracted from the lack of funding that goes to understanding the causes of breast cancer and the utter disorganization of those efforts.

We’re so pinkwashed that we hopefully won’t notice that many of the companies with products directly related to causing breast cancer are funding our “awareness”. Those companies hope that we’ll be so charmed by all the pink and whimsy that we won’t ask them why the hell they’re still producing the crap that is killing us.

Keep in mind that the “National Breast Cancer Awareness Month” was created by a drug company that is now called AstraZeneca. Yes, that’s the same company that in addition to producing & hugely profiting off of breast cancer treatment drugs, also profited substantially off the sale of an herbicide known to cause cancer. That alone makes me question all of the happy, cheerful messages designed to raise my “awareness”.

I am bashing the Komen Foundation, that sacred pink cow of breast cancer activism, a little bit too. After all, Komen manages to blithely take in thousands in contributions from the very chemical companies who market products that cause breast cancer! They put on these hugely expensive races and events that push mammograms and say nothing about the causes or prevention. This is the very same organization that helps market pink cars while ignoring the powerful link between a chemical produced in the exhaust of cars, benzo(a)-pyrene, that is one of the most powerful carcinogens known and was connected directly to breast cancer by the Peralta Cancer Research Institute in the 1980s. Yeah, go Komen…

What can you do? Well, know your risk and make efforts to reduce it.

  • There is a lot of evidence that shows that maintaining a healthy weight, getting regular exercise, having moderate or no alcohol consumption, and following a diet of fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains is beneficial.
  • Buy organic if possible as many herbicides and pesticides have also been linked to breast and other types of cancer. I totally sympathize to the economic barriers to this suggestion and know this is not an option for a lot of people, but if you can, buy organic.
  • There are known links between r-GBH (recombinant bovine growth hormone – used on dairy cows) and breast cancer.
  • A healthy vegan diet has many benefits; reducing the risk of cancer is only one of them. Yes, this is one of the many reasons I am vegan.
  • Get your vitamin D level checked, particularly if you live in the Pacific Northwest like I do. There have been several studies linking low levels of vitamin D to cancer, particularly breast cancer. People in the Pacific Northwest are known for being chronically low in vitamin D.

Check out Breast Cancer Action, an organization I think is doing things right. They aren’t busy “going pink”, they are demanding action to reduce causes, educate people (not sell them pink crap), and find more effective, less toxic treatments.

BCA also created the fantastic “Think Before You Pink” campaign to educate people as to where the money goes when those pink Tic-Tacs are purchased.

All of this is said from my perspective as the daughter of a two-time breast cancer survivor. Yes, that puts me in a higher risk category and I take it very seriously.

Vegan Practice

This past Sunday CK and I met with two members of our sangha that are part of the Harmony Committee. It was exceedingly painful to open up to them about how I’m feeling excluded. Despite reassurances to the contrary, just trying to address it leaves me feeling as though I’m breaking the vow to not speak ill of the sangha. It was sobering and upsetting to acknowledge that the lack of respect I feel as a vegan is something that has kept me from feeling safe and included for the entire time I’ve been practicing with my community.

Monday evening one of my teachers phoned me at home. I found it a little ironic that he rang just as I got up from sitting zazen. He had wanted to touch base with me, having heard that I was experiencing a lot of unease lately.

We talked a little about my feelings of being excluded as a vegan in the community. He said to me that he felt it was important that our community feel very inclusive. He’d also commented about seeing the ethical choice I make being a vegan and that as a teacher he feels pleased to see a student exceed him in this area.

I believe it was the first time one of my teachers actually discussed my veganism with me. Acknowledging that it is an ethical choice that is the foundation of my practice. It was good to have it really seen as that important. Some part of it did feel painful, my wishing it could have been acknowledged this way, without my having to express how much suffering this has been causing me.

What has struck me the past few days are these thoughts:

Being vegan is not an allergy, but it feels like it is treated as such. This difference is accommodated but not celebrated as a deep expression of practice.

Our community is built upon a deep respect for people who’s sobriety is an essential part of their practice. I feel like

I feel terribly guilty for not having spoken up sooner. Had I vocalized these feelings to my Zen community sooner than perhaps the environment would be more inviting to CK now.

Although I am hurting tremendously about my Mom, it does not lessen the importance of addressing this. I am not the only vegan who’s felt excluded at times and it has been quite painful to me to see how this has impacted CK.

Although I appreciate that people in my community, including one of my teachers, seeing my veganism as being further along the path of compassion for all living beings, I don’t just want to feel complimented. I feel that some change in our community is important. Just compliments have left me feeling like I have been – left out.

I also appreciate the suggestions that I show people through cooking how easy making vegan food is. However, just making cupcakes hasn’t solved the problem. I’ve been doing this for years and although people appreciate my cupcakes, it hasn’t cultivated mindfulness around this being my practice. Those same people might very well bring a non-vegan dish to a practice group that has asked that vegan dishes be brought.

I also acknowledge that people in my community may not understand that the lack of options around vegan food is seen as alienating and disrespectful to me. At the same time I have to recognize that for now that alienation feels rather painful.

Through all the busyness and discomfort I am trying to find my way along the thin thread of practice.

Zen Vegan

I haven’t written a lot about the struggles in my practice with my Zen community around my veganism. Instead of writing about it publicly I’ve just reminded and reminded people about the need for vegan food, brought my own treats, and have practiced tolerance & patience when I feel hurt. When people engage me with questions I openly talk about the way in which I feel my veganism is intrinsically linked with my practice.

No group, no community is ever perfect. Everyone is unique, struggling, and trying to make their way. It is inevitable that we step on each others toes once in a while, so to speak. In this way Maezumi Roshi likened sangha to a bag a rocks. It is by rubbing and grating against one another that we are polished.

I’m feeling rather over-rubbed and raw right now about my sangha. I’ve spent over 4 and a half years facing the discomfort of trying to feel like I belong to a community at all. One of my extra-honed skills from surviving trauma is my ability to find nourishment even in environments that aren’t supportive or perhaps even toxic. I can adapt and find something that is beneficial almost all of the time. I have managed to do that when I’ve felt hurt by my community and in staying I’ve learned a lot that has helped me so far.

Around my veganism it has become increasingly tiring to stay, to smile and remind, to continuously make food because I can’t assume something will be there, and to patiently listen to comments I find insensitive, at best . I accept that being vegan is separating myself, stepping away from commonly held beliefs and emotions surrounding the use of animals and refusing to take part. I don’t feel that my veganism is an act of fear or anger, rather I see it as an act of deep compassion. Living peace, feeding peace for the sake of ALL living beings.

However, it is hard and draining to be out on the edge. I have found it increasingly hard in my Zen community because I feel that a spiritual community should strive toward inclusiveness. I often feel like my veganism might be accommodated (but not always, not reliably unless I remind), but I quite often do not feel included. I’ve written about this before, it was something I very strongly felt while attending a special function last summer and it hasn’t felt like it has improved much.

I also have been watching how this lack of inclusion has been hurting CK and it has affected me a lot. The lack of support in our community, from our teachers, around being vegan is painful to her. Honestly, it affects me a lot as I hate seeing her hurt. It makes me look at my tendency to dig in and find some, small hospitable corner for myself, despite an uncomfortable environment, and question it hard. Am I clinging to the parts of my community that I do find insightful because I afraid of exposing myself to something new and have worked too long at what little comfort I have? Am I ignoring the pain I feel because I don’t want to be judged as a bad student?

In the years I’ve been practicing I find that my sangha still must be reminded all the time if I am going to be attending something. If I forget to do this I will surely be left out of whatever special treat someone has brought. I’ve missed out on the special treats for teas, celebrations for teacher’s accomplishments, and the fancy desserts served on Sundays at the monastery. I’ve also heard countless jokes about people being addicted to cheese, how veganism is just too hard, and the like. Even more painful are the times when people refer to our teachers, including Dogen, as a reason why it is just fine to consume animal products. I hear these types of comments from every level in my community, from priests to lay people alike, and they are really quite painful to me.

When I’ve missed out on a treat I’ve spent a lot of time reminding myself that I don’t need a treat. That I’m trying to not gain back the 100+ pounds I once carried and a treat is just unnecessary calories. That only works a small portion of the time, if at all. Deep down, where it feels like the response of a small child, I hurt and feel unwelcome.

During retreat practice many of the most painful moments, times when I felt things went completely off the rails for me, have been triggered around not being included. Not having the same food at dinner, not being given very much of a specially set aside food, spending an entire week picking blackberries but the resulting pies contained animal products, and not getting a special treat with tea after a full day of meditation. I’ve learned, painfully, to bring treats I keep in the drawer by my bed. On some level they help, the 4-year-old who awakes with howls of fear and pain is somewhat comforted by the fact that there is a treat, but the pain of not being included weighs on me.

Despite my bringing my veganism up repeatedly to my teachers I don’t feel a lot of engagement from them about it. I talk about how it is the very foundation for my practice, how I feel compassion in nurtured, but feels like something that is just shrugged off. My weight loss has been looked at as this remarkable accomplishment, but the fact that it is tied to my veganism doesn’t feel to me as though it is regarded as important and is even brushed aside.

Tonight is a meeting with my practice cohort and I’m dreading it. Although one of the students who leads it now reminds people to bring a vegan dish, I am preparing myself to be calm when I see that someone has forgotten or brought an animal product anyway. Last month it was a bowl of cheese next to the salad. It honestly frustrated and pained me to see it there, like somehow the meal would be so incomplete if there wasn’t some kind of animal product there. Most likely there won’t be vegan cookies for tea unless I go to the market and buy some on the way there.

I was talking about my Zen practice a lot on Monday when I saw GM. I had burst out that some of my worst moments related to my PTSD, the most awful flashbacks and raw pain have shown up during meditation & retreat practice. How many of those moments have been triggered by not being included around food. I don’t think I’d ever told her this before. She shook her head at me in amazement and asked me why I keep going.

The painful answer was that right now what is keeping me going is a sense of responsibility and bad-student guilt. I am coordinating a much-needed community day next month, preparing a yoga workshop for August, and I volunteered to create a practice cohort for sangha members who identify as queer. It is a group that we lack and are very much needing, but it is hard to feel enthusiastic when I feel unsupported in what I consider the very foundation of my practice.

Gratitude

Today was a pretty rich day. On one hand it was somewhat frazzled feeling. It also had these amazing moments in them to remind me to be grateful for and appreciate my life.

This morning I received deep reminder about how grateful I am for my ability to make wise, compassionate choices in my life, particularly in choosing to be vegan. The world is full of people who have very few choices, particularly about what food they it. If they eat. Those people are as far away as the other side of the world and as near as your neighborhood.

I dished up a very nice salad, made from vegetables donated by local markets, for people at Blanchet House, a shelter downtown. This is the second time my team at work has done this, volunteering to help serve meals at lunch, and I was struck again at my good fortune.

I am in my own home, in good health, employed, share my life with a loving partner, have sufficient income to pay my bills, travel, and choose what I want to eat. This connection today to people who are depending upon benefits for food and find that they run out of what they do get too quickly, or people who are homeless – people for whom these meals are a lifeline, they get what is served to everyone. Like oryoki, the people there might not choose to eat all that is served, but everyone is served the same food.

Several times throughout the day, especially when back at my desk eating my meal of steamed broccoli, grilled tofu, steamed buns & salad, how grateful I am. How precious it is to choose what to eat. It feels to me that it is so very precious a gift that it cannot be squandered on food that comes from the suffering of other sentient beings.

Cooking miso, udon soup for us for dinner was a joy. Making food often is joyful or grounding, or both. It is very meditative for me and tonight it was such a gift. To touch the vegetables, the pots and pans, appreciate the aroma of the dashi I’d made last night and the rich tang of the locally crafted miso. Again, so precious to choose compassionately.

Later at the Dharma center I had the chance to connect with someone about sesshin practice, painful childhoods, and Zen. Another chance for me to openly talk about being hurt and thriving in spite of it. I also acknowledged the tremendously painful parts of my sesshin last April. I was open and honest about these things and once again, to my surprise, I didn’t explode. In fact there was connection and more gratitude. Positive reinforcement that telling is good.

And will all that gratitude I am off to a retreat this weekend with all-around amazing Zen scholar, artist, and translator, Kaz Tanahashi. My first event at Great Vow where speaking will be allowed and there will be art! Lessons in Zen calligraphy for the next three days. Another precious gift in my life.

The Luxury of Choice

I am deeply aware that being vegan is a luxury and I am profoundly appreciative for this great ability to make a choice about what I consume.

Most people don’t get the choice to make a decision about food based upon anything but scarcity. Food is food, when you manage to get enough of it. The desperate need to preserve life outweighs any ability to weigh the ethics of the fish you were lucky enough to catch for your family.

I am extremely privileged that I do not have to subsist from meal to meal, worrying about how many I will miss, resigned to need and hunger. Even when I was very young and my Mom was on public assistance, we had enough food. It is the dishes of beans and cornbread, those cheap but filling meals, that I often crave as comfort food now. When cornbread shows up while I’m in sesshin at Great Vow I always feel a happy warmth in my heart.

Often I point out to people that the diet I mostly eat, consisting of legumes, some grain or starch, and some veggies with a sauce, is the kind of meal eaten by many people all over the world. I say mostly because in Portland I also get the tremendous luxury of vegan bakeries, restaurants with everything from vegan grilled cheeze sandwiches to hearty quinoa pancakes. Not to mention my choice of cuisines from all over the world. Truly, I am spoiled by the vegan goodness all over Portland!

In America I am unusual in that I choose this vegan cornucopia of foods over the dominant culture that exhorts us that Beef is What’s For Dinner (unless you want The Other White Meat, chicken, fish or shellfish) and that I need to drink 8 glasses of milk a day in order to keep my body healthy. And I shouldn’t forget to pick up some ice cream on the way home.

“You work hard, you deserve the luxury of this diet of plenty”, suggests the radio.

It made me sick. I saw how it made all of the women in my family sick (heart disease, diabetes and strokes). I decided I didn’t want the luxury of sashimi, brie, Gorgonzola, or roast beef. I didn’t want to Have It My Way anymore. I wanted to go my own true way, not the way millions of marketing dollars told me I wanted to follow.

The ability to just enter a market and buy whatever you choose to is a huge luxury. That we also may consciously make choices that reduce suffering is astoundingly fortunate. This great fortune allows us to be mindful of our connection to all living beings when we are making purchases.

I am profoundly grateful that I have the luxury to choose vegan products. Having this choice in my life has deepened my compassion in ways I’d never have guessed. It also helps me cultivate a more peaceful mind with which I may greater benefit all living beings.

Revisiting the First Grave Precept

Affirm life. Do not kill.

I wrote about the First Grave Precept in December 2007. It caused me to reflect upon my yoga practice, the Yama of ahimsa, and how I related to my husband at the time as well as students and co-workers.

In the nearly two years that have past my practice with honoring, affirming life has lead me to a divorce. It seems strange writing that, but in re-reading how the I saw the precept as being important for fostering honesty and supporting each other wholeheartedly, that’s the truth of it. Staying married had not become a way for us to affirm who we are.

What has stayed constant, deepened, is my view of this precept as it relates to my decision to be a vegan. The first precept, to refrain from taking life and to affirm life whenever possible, is the foundation for how we work with all the other precepts. It directs how we interact in our life moment-by-moment, if we need any clarification we can always come back and ask ourselves questions directly related to this precept.

Is what I’m about to do going to harm another being, including myself, in any way? Is what I’m about to do something that will affirm the life of another being or myself?

Yes, I can look at honesty, intent to distract myself or others, generosity, anger, sexuality, gossip, self-aggrandizement, and speaking ill of other beings or the Three Treasures – in the end they all get held against the first precept. Am I harming or affirming life?

Following a vegan diet means that I am trying to nourish peace at a cellular level. After all, what I eat is what builds the very corporeal framework that lives this precept. Deciding that some suffering is acceptable to nourish myself with, turning a blind eye to the suffering of dairy cows so I can eat cheese isn’t alright nor is pretending that there are “happy chickens” producing the eggs at the grocery store. I cannot pretend that suffering is somehow OK because the animal isn’t actively being killed (at that moment) for the dairy or eggs. Yes, perhaps some chickens or cows suffer at a greater level than others, but I really don’t think any of them can be considered happy; especially when they stop being “good producers”.

I also choose not to split-hairs with non-vegan who insist on asking if I would change my mind if I owned and raised the chickens, etc. Even the arguing about the details detracts from the affirming, the honoring of life I am actively seeing. I am happy to explain why I choose to interpret the First Grave Precept as a reason for my veganism, I just don’t seek to debate it.

I’ve come to see that I really don’t need to sustain a healthy, peace-minded life by taking advantage of the fact that I can digest animal products. I’m easily capable of mindfully choosing a diet that translates to peace in every bite. From this place I know that I interact more compassionately to others. The peacefulness of my diet has helped me tremendously in learning to extend that same loving-kindness to myself. Even when I am frustrated I am more quickly capable of responding in a manner that seeks to actualize harmony because my life is fully nourished by the First Grave Precept.

Accomodate or Include?

Still processing the Founder’s Dinner. On one hand it was wildly successful and I am so grateful. Then there’s the other hand…

Yes, the chef was donating his time and ideas. Yes, we’d already asked him to prepare a vegetarian dinner. Yes, vegan meals had to be asked for towards the end of planning.

But like so many events the accommodation for a vegan was just leave dairy/eggs out of the vegetarian dishes, a couple of which had no option (I’m sure the fritters were lovely and we didn’t even try the chard from the garden). Dessert? Yes, a plate with a few of the strawberries in syrup that garnished the beautiful shortcakes served to everyone else. Shortcakes that our teacher used to guide everyone in a mindful eating practice.

Why is it that dessert always seems to be the bit that really sticks out? My first weekend at Great Vow, for a Beginner’s Mind retreat, I had no dessert options when it was time for tea. By the time I came for the women’s retreat that Sandy Boucher and Martha Boesing teach in the winter there was a scramble to serve me dried dates at tea. During Loving-Kindness I brought a package of store-bought cookies so there would always be something. Admittedly there was more than one tea where I struggled with the hurt child’s voice inside who couldn’t help but notice just now nice the cookies served to everyone else were.

I’ve been practicing with this voice, this hurt child who is me, for a few years now. She made a deafening howl at times during the Loving-Kindness sesshin. As far as being vegan goes, I have reasoned conversations with that child about how being vegan is so critically important to our practice of Peace, the practice that heals us. That our need to be literally nourished by a diet of peace is the very foundation of our Practice.

The Founder’s Dinner became another chance to practice with that voice unfortunately. I was already nervous at being all dressed up and helping as a Table Host (which meant talking to people, answering questions and asking for money). Instead of relaxing into the evening I practiced with that child’s disappointment and my concern for CK, who was having a rough time with the same issue.

I guess the word “accommodate” jumps right out. It doesn’t mean include. It does imply making something suitable or giving consideration to someone’s needs, which is important but it isn’t the same as including someone in a group. In the overall scheme of things it often a huge accomplishment to get a group, society to accommodate someone. Hell, I don’t need the State of Oregon or the whole of the United States to include me or make me welcome in everything, but I’d be elated if they would merely accommodate my right to marry the person I love.

But my spiritual home? This is the community I want to include me, not merely accommodate me. This is the essence of the article I wrote for our Sangha newsletter, Wisdom’s Heart Includes All. As vegans we are an extreme, although there is a precedent of a Zen teacher advocating a vegan diet (Thich Nhat Hanh), but I feel we are an important part of our Sangha. Inclusion means we gather in those extremes as well as the nice, comfortable, filled-out center.

What does this mean? I am not entirely sure yet. I know I am filled with gladness and gratitude that JQ, the tenzo at Great Vow, is using more vegan recipes, is excited by the cookbooks we sent, and I love talking to her about cooking. I am delighted to share recipes and ideas with my Sangha. I’d love to host some cooking classes! I want to hear about any special events in advance so either CK or I have the time to make something special to bring. Maybe, just maybe, the next time we have a fancy dinner planning for vegan members will be considered at the beginning, I hope that at least one dish will be entirely vegan for the whole group, and we’ll actually get a real dessert.

I do know with all my heart I want to be a part of the founding of the Heart of Wisdom Zen Temple, but at times it is painful, challenging practice to feel “accommodated”.

CK’s open letter she wrote in response to her feelings at the Founder’s Dinner is also online.

Cooking Fool (Open Source Bridge Prep for Vegans)

What does a vegan do when they are attending a conference with no plans for vegan food, no vegan food anywhere nearby (because no, I do not count french fries), and a partner who’s coordinating all volunteers who will need to eat.

Option A would be to bitch about it. Loudly and at great length. Thus perpetuating the “cranky vegan asshole” stereotype. No thank you. Option B would be to go hungry, have low blood sugar, and both CK & I cranky. Nope, pass. Option C would be to make tons of yummy stuff and bring it with us.

This evening’s yoga class had no students show up again, which is a little sad. I’d rushed out of a good-bye party to teach, which was too bad. Who knows if I’ll have students for real come July, hope so. It isn’t that I count on the money, but it is good practice for me to be teaching.

I went to New Seasons and grabbed a couple of things for the rest of the week then went home. I got the garbanzos going in the pressure cooker while I began chopping carrot & celery sticks, washing dishes, and slicing up some sweet onion. A pasta salad thingy sounded good, but the soba I’d hoped was good was stale (whoops), so I found some gemelli to use instead. Made a dressing with white miso, fresh peanut butter, ginger and a little rice milk so it would be creamier.

I was so in process on also making tofu salad that I finally made myself dish up some of the pasta when it was done and eat! Then a big batch of the tofu salad split in two parts. CK likes extra, extra yellow mustard in hers (I probably still could have put in more). I like a lot of Bubbie’s dill relish and a mix of yellow & dijon mustard in mine. Done and delicious!

CK was off at a PHP meeting while I was doing all this mad cooking. There was a part of me that questioned my pleasure at being home alone cooking while CK was out socializing with our peers. Some kind of strange gender role going on? While I finally ate I took a look at this and discarded the thoughts as silly and less than useful. I just like being at home and love cooking healthful food for us.

Little nervous about my 45 minute talk/class on yoga tomorrow evening. Part of me is sure no one will come, that everyone will be off to dinner & beer before I even go to my room. I think part of me is anxious about being at a conference. There’s so much going on, so many people, so much stimulation that I feel a bit overwhelmed at times.

I’m going to drive the car down, with our lunch & snack provisions in the morning. We decided it would be good to have the car there in case any urgent errands needed attending to. I am reminding myself that if I get overwhelmed I can always go sit a little zazen in the car!

The Honey Man

Today’s Moment in Veganism for you.

It has been threatening to rain all day so this evening CK & I nipped out to rake up the grass off the lawn. We purchased a reel mower (yes, this means it must be pushed to go) and it tends to get hung up on clumps of wet or drying grass. I was out raking up the long, thin strip that runs the length of our lot.

I heard the neighbor behind us talking to a guy who had stopped in the street. He was walking with a cooler and chatting. I heard my neighbor say something about “You might check with her.” I looked up and my neighbor called out to me, “Its great honey! We get it all the time.”

With that the man made his way down the street to where I was raking and asked me if I’d like to buy some honey or handmade beeswax candles. Here I made a decision to actually tell him why I didn’t want to buy his honey. I started out, “I’m sure it is very good honey but we don’t eat any animal products. We’re vegan.”

He blinked at me and proceeded to explain to me that bees aren’t animals, they are insects. “I know,” I replied, “but we don’t consume any products that use other living beings.”

Thus begins a short conversation about our not being able to eat! He asked what we had for dinner (black-eyed peas, red quinoa, braised kale and a ginger/yeast/miso dressing) and then pointed out how our dinner was made from living things! I then carefully restate to him, “We don’t consume products that come from any other living beings. No fish, no insects, no animals.”

With this he muttered something and continued walking down the street, shaking his head at us a couple of more times. CK called over to me and I explained about the honey conversation. She shook her head at the whole exchange and we finished up the raking.

Yeah, the vegan thing is hard sometimes. Totally random people on the street will argue with you and in the end walk away muttering about the crazy person. Sometimes it gets old.

I don’t get angry if someone accidentally feeds me a piece of pie that they were certain was “safe” but in the end contained some dairy because they didn’t know that “whey” listed in the ingredients means “dairy”. CK told me this week that the bagels we consumed most mornings at OSCON last year were most likely not vegan since the same catering company is doing OSBridge and informed them they didn’t have vegan bagels. Once in a while someone gives me something with honey in it, but I don’t get mad at them for trying hard to do something for me without realizing that bees count as other living beings.

Being a vegan is a choice I made because I believe it is the best way of living to support my practice. I don’t condone other people for not making this choice and I don’t try and talk people out of their “meat eating ways”. I just make this choice for myself with everything I put into my body. When people ask me questions (because complete strangers seem to think it is perfectly OK to grill me about where I get my* calcium, protein, iron, omega-3/6 fatty acids, etc.), I try to honestly, mindfully answer them without letting irritation arise. I prepare and share all kinds of delicious, vegan dishes.

Which is why I had a conversation with a complete stranger tonight about how I eat. Yes, I could have just told him that I didn’t want to buy any. That would have been truthful, but I guess I was trying to tell him that it wasn’t him or the quality of his honey, it was my decision about how I live my life.

By the bye, the answers are:

  • Calcium — found in lots of dark, leafy greens like kale, collards, & chard. Broccoli also has quite a lot as does tofu, tempeh and almonds.
  • Protein — Legumes and whole grains, like the quinoa we had for dinner (a total super-grain) are loaded in both protein and fiber!
  • Omega 3/6 Fatty Acids — Walnuts, I eat some most days. Also show up in tofu!
  • Iron — Legumes, legumes, legumes! Yes, they are the magical fruit!
  • I also take a vegan multi-vitamin most days. This rounds out anything I might be a bit low in on a given day as well as being certain I get enough B12 (although we do consume a lot of nutritional yeast, which is just packed with B12). Pretty much everyone, regardless of diet, does well to take a multi-vitamin daily, not just vegans.

A Vegan Way

It was in 2006, after being a vegetarian for a little over 5 years, I really decided to just switch to a vegan diet. Primarily I was making a final attempt to get my high cholesterol down. I also had started to seriously look at the way dairy cows are treated. It was bothering me.

When I started teaching yoga in October 2005 I also began to incorporate the other “limbs” into my practice. I started attending zazen, somewhat irregularly at first, with the Zen Community of Oregon. This helped me look closely at the cultivation of concentration, meditation, and wisdom. It was while I was taking a class on Life Vows from Hogen that I vowed to uphold the Yamas, the “Rules of Life” in yoga practice.

The first of the Yamas is ahimsa, non-harming. I’d read some things about the Buddhist Precepts at ZCO and found that the first Grave Precept is to not kill, but to affirm life. I also had spent a lot of time reflecting upon Thich Nhat Hahn’s book Anger which begins with a discussion of diet. He felt that it was important that we not consume, nourish these bodies which practice, with the panicked, dying, suffering energy of an animal slaughtered for food.

In the spring of 2006 those things came together for me after listening to Howard Lyman speak at the NW Veg VegFest. After spending a day listening to people talk about dairy I finally committed myself to doing what had been considering doing for months, I stopped eating all dairy products the next day. That was the last step, I became a vegan.

Because I live in Portland this was a fairly easy transition. I just became used to assuming that most places I went to, most gatherings I attended, would not have food I would eat. I would make dishes and bring them to share to be certain I would have something as well as show how tasty vegan food was. Most of the time it didn’t matter, sometimes it hurt to feel the way this choice put me even further outside of the mainstream.

My focus all along has been to improve my health. To avoid as many as the diseases that plagued the women in my family – diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart attacks, angina, and obesity. Once dairy was taken out of my diet I began to lose weight again, finally dropping the last 40 pounds to have my weight fall into the “healthy” range for my height.

The weight loss alone caused my doctor to shake his head and smile, but when my cholesterol started to drop dramatically he told me not to change anything I was doing. By 2008 my cholesterol had dropped 100 points and I was still losing a few pounds. I went in for a chemical stress test to get a clear picture of how my heart was doing and was told that people 10 years younger than me should have a heart working as well. This spring my doctor called me “skinny”.

I feel as though my commitment to changing my diet to improve my health has created space for me to appreciate the choice of being a vegan even more. Over the past several years I’ve moved more and more to trying to buy organic products, local ones where possible. I have never lost the lessons of the Outdoor School program, of the interconnectedness of everything on the planet and how the choices I make do matter. A vegan diet is an environmentally responsible one that makes a commitment to improving the health of the planet.

When I was at the Loving-Kindness sesshin this past April I had a lot of opportunity to think about this. Because the sesshin really awakened some emotions long buried during my childhood the feeling that I was not included was rather intense at times, especially on nights where during formal tea everyone else would be served a beautiful, fancy cookie while I was served the same store-bought ones I’d brought out to the monastery. One night there were steamed carrots, but only a very small portion without butter set aside for me and it brought up sad feelings.

Later that night, in the dark, cool zendo I would have time to breath through and comfort the child inside of me who felt left out, hurt. In my mind I talked with her about the importance of not having the fancy cookie, that the cookies I’d brought from the store were ones I liked and that I still got a cookie with everyone else. By the time I was served the same cookie I had most of the week that child inside of me and I were both OK with.

What had hit me through keenly feeling the separateness of my vegan diet was that I have been slowly moving my life towards peace. That is what the path of yoga and zen is for me. It is the cultivation of tranquility and calm-abiding. For me there is absolutely no question that the literal foundation must be nourished by food that supports this path. Since we are constantly in change, our cellular structure constantly going through the death/birth cycle, then the base components for that structure must nourish peace. This is how my practice is built, it begins with what I put into my body.

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