Tuesday, February 21, 2012

I can't believe I have to do laundry on my birthday.

Today is my forty-first birthday. I'm fine with my age -- though forty was tough for many reasons -- and I'm fine with where I am in my life right now. Like so many people, though, I find that my heart really isn't into the day so much. There are such high expectations for one's one-day-per-year, that I find myself feeling a little like I should be doing something more, to really live it up and fulfill those hard-to-escape ideals. (And to give you a giggle, below is a great illustration of that by Jim Gaffigan. I sent this video last night to my amazing big brother Mark, who ALSO has a birthday today! Fun, no?)

I can't believe I have to do laundry on my birthday.

So I thought about what I would want if I could have anything or do anything for my big momentous day. And all that I could come up with was this: I would like every single person to watch the much-talked-about movie Earthlings. And then watch Forks over Knives.

Which is a tall order. There are a lot of people in the world.

So I guess for now I'd settle for the people I know. You have to start somewhere, right?

Last summer, a well-known person in the world of animal rights lost her dear vegan friend during a routine surgery. Many of his friends honored him by going vegan for a month. It was an amazing tribute to his memory and to the animals whose welfare he cared so much about. And yet I wonder why we don't pay tribute to each other while we're still alive? I've been asking myself this a lot lately. I wonder if there are things I could do or say now to the people I love, rather than waiting for their death to lament unsaid words or actions. I find myself lacking on this front and have resolved to change it.

Meanwhile, I'm just going to gently blow my birthday wish out into the air right now .... There it goes! Kind of a blueish color with bits of glittery stuff in it, because who can resist glitter? (I know you think you're all grown up, but we were all in second grade once.) And now it's growing and spreading in a friendly and hopeful way. And each person that is touched by it gets a sort of inexplicable happy feeling surge in their toes and a desire to watch one or both of those movies. And who knows what might happen then?

Stranger things have happened.

Anyway, that's the best wish I can imagine for now. 

So thanks for reading. And now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go fold laundry.

Trailer (no gore) for Earthlings

Trailer for Forks over Knives

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Far Wall

Warning: This is a venting post. :) While I outline some graphic things in paragraph eight, it's quick. Like pulling off a bandaid.

Last Friday, we took our three third-grade classes to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, as the culmination of a interdisciplinary study of artist biographies. It was a wonderful trip, pulled together by our astonishingly dedicated art teacher, who inspires our students to such a degree that they rattle off the names of famous artists and their well-known works, not with the dull flat tones of memorization, but with real adoration and love in their voices.

I was shadowing one of our chaperoned groups around, and noticed that towards the end of our time  the kids were starting to get tired and hungry. We only had about ten more minutes to go, so I decided to distract them a bit with a fun exercise. I led three of the students towards a large painting and asked them what it was.  They remarked that it was a bunch of different colored circles in a kind of modern design. I asked them to turn their backs to the painting and to walk seven big steps away from it towards the opposite wall. They did so and turned around. "Hey!" one of them said, surprised, "It looks like a man's head!" We took seven more steps away and then seven more and by the time we reached the opposite wall, they were delighted to see that the painting from far away was a very detailed image of a bespectacled man. So detailed and clear, in fact, that it looked like a photograph.

Which leads to my topic/rant today, though you'll have to stay with me to the end to see the connection. :)

So I'm just going to lay this on the table, as it's something I've been butting up against a lot lately. As positive and happy as I am to be vegan (and astonished at how easy it really is) I do have days when I get completely frustrated with people. It's not the questions I mind -- I welcome those with open arms, as people who ask questions are genuinely very curious and want to know more. I actually love engaging in dialog and welcome a respectful debate any time.

But I feel that as much as I want people to see veganism as a positive, wonderful way to live (which it it has been for me and so many others), there are hard moments. These moments have nothing to do with any cravings for meat, dairy, or eggs (don't miss 'em at all.) And eating out isn't a bother; there are plenty of wonderful restaurants that have a wide breadth of mouthwatering vegan food. 

It's the eye-rolling about veganism and the declarations of how extreme it is that really really rub me the wrong way. It's almost viewed by some as a bland way of life, led by militant, humorless hippies. Usually, I'm very understanding, knowing that only one year ago, I was unaware of the plight of what so many animals go through. But I guess it's that word "extreme" that is so casually touted that bugs me. While I never thought I'd go vegan, I never made fun of vegans or vegetarians. I was kind of fascinated by them and very curious. I was one of those incessant-question-askers, wondering what it was like to eat that way and wary of how one could get an adequate supply of protein and nutrients.

And now I've come to see that veganism is not extreme. It's just a way of eating that hurts as few beings as possible. The food is delicious and you end up feeling better. You might need to do a little homework to learn some new tricks in the kitchen, but it's really quite uncomplicated once you get started. Now that I use flax seed in baking, for example, I could never fathom going back to eggs, with their slimy texture and limited shelf-life. (One never forgets cracking open a rotten egg. Ugh.)  Even if drinking cows' milk did not hurt cows, I'd never go back to it. Almond milk (and other plant-based milks) last so much longer and I don't have to constantly sniff them to make sure they haven't gone sour.

What is extreme to me is what happens to the animals who are killed for our food: how they are dismembered often while they are still alive and kicking. It is extreme to see them watch their own legs being cut off of them and their skin pulled off. (I know it's tough to read that, but this is what lies behind the neat, shrink-wrapped cuts of meat that you find waiting for you in the supermarket.) It is extreme to see what happens to the sheep who have their wool and skins (hello Uggs) harvested and who make a ridiculously awful trip from Australia to Middle Eastern countries by ship to be slaughtered. It is extreme to see that down does not typically come from dead birds but is pulled from the skins of birds who are alive, as it makes for higher quality feathers. Pigs swimming in scalding hot water, when they are supposed to already be dead? Extreme. And common.

And it is extreme to me that most people can make jokes about animals being killed and can laugh about veganism, and yet be the first ones to hold up their hands and say huffily that they "don't want to know about it." The denial of not wanting to know where our food comes from is extreme. Recently, I rewatched a television special by a comic I admire, Jim Gaffigan, and was really taken aback when he made jokes about eating animals. I had not noticed it in my first viewing, when I was eating meat. He states, "Don't get me wrong. I love animals. I just love eating them more." I'd be willing to bet he'd pass on watching what actually happens to the animal before it gets to his plate. Most people would.

Being in that much denial seems very extreme to me.

I don't see myself as a lily-white example of a perfect and well-informed person. I understand the denial, having tried to convince myself for years that consuming organic milk, cage-free eggs, and humanely-raised meat from Whole Foods was doing the animals a favor.

But this strange way of detaching myself from what was really going on didn't hit home with me until I walked far enough away that I could see the big picture properly from a distance. From close up, we can't see how weird we've gotten with our relationship to animals. But as you slowly back away, you start to see things come into focus. That drinking the food meant for a calf is bizarre. That adoring your dog but declaring your undying love for bacon (and yet not wanting to hear or see what that pig went through to get to your plate) is so subjective and disturbing. That, wow, I never thought about what happened to the male chicks in hatcheries, but it seems like a glaring omission on our view of these pastoral "cage-free" farms. Of course they are killed. And ruthlessly.

I've been vegan now for about ten months and am now standing at that far wall, looking back and thinking "How could I have missed all this?"

So when somebody eats their cheeseburger or takes a slice of Thanksgiving turkey and looks at me sideways, saying, "Isn't veganism a bit extreme?" it makes me sad. Not for me. (Well, maybe for me a tiny bit. The need to feel like one belongs is strong.) But for all the animals who are conveniently hidden away and who are treated in the extreme with cruelty. I wish the people who make those remarks would be willing to take just seven steps from that wall and actually see the reality and not the illusion. I wish they would be willing to look at things in a different way. And perhaps be brave enough to go to the opposite wall and see things as they really are, crystal clear.

I know we'll get there someday. In the past year alone, many abuses of animals have come to light and people are starting to wake up. And I often feel guilty when I get frustrated, both because I was very recently a person in denial and because the frustration I occasionally feel is nothing compared to what these animals endure.

Social change is never neat and tidy. And the people who initiate it are often viewed as extreme, when later generations ponder, "What were those other people thinking??"

I guess, when I think about it, that's what this blog is really all about. Teacher that I am at heart, I want to gently guide others to the other side of the wall so that they can actually see what is happening. And then make the change.

So to leave this ranting post on a positive note, I'll end with a very uplifting song/video: Michael Jackson's song, Man in the Mirror.

Thanks for reading/listening. Sometimes you just gotta' rant.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

For the love of Jake

Today I got back from an amazing morning Bikram Yoga session at a terrific studio that is right on my road, five minutes from my house!! Anyhow, I was basking in the glow of warmed and used muscles when the phone rang with Ryan's telltale ring. (It's a groovy tune, to let me know a groovy guy is on the other end.)  He said, "I found a dog." A very cute dog (Lab/Boxer/mutt mix maybe?) had run across the busy road towards Stop and Shop and Ry had just missed hitting him.

Ryan said his initial thought was, "Well the dog is okay, and he'd probably run if I went back to check on him." But he decided to go back to the parking lot anyway and the dog, who was indeed still there, approached him warily. Ryan checked his collar and IDs and saw his name was Jake. When he said, "Hey Jake," the dog started wagging his tail, and clamoring for affection. Ryan opened the car door and Jake cheerfully jumped right in, no prompting needed. Ry called both numbers on the tags and got no response, but left messages. "I'm not sure what to do now," he confessed. Having the dog stay with us until we found his home would not work. Even if we kept him away from our kitties, the stress would undo them. (And we'd have a lot of cat poop on our floor, gracias a Kaci, whose digestive system suffers under any stress or change.) So I said, "Why don't you come home and we'll take him to the vet together and see if he has one of those microchips."

When he arrived, I ran out to the driveway to join him and the sweet pup, who sat in the back seat, quite thrilled with all this adventure. I'd assumed Jake would be a bit nervous and whiny, pining for home, but no. He was having a ball, sticking his head out the window in smiling bliss. He was, in fact, so happy, that we had a growing "lipstick" situation. Ew. Luckily I was in the front seat, so said lipstick did not get too close for comfort.

Looking more closely at the tags, we saw that there was an address and promptly drove him home. I knocked on the door of the house and the fellow that was there was very kind and hadn't even realized Jake was gone. Apparently, Jake made a habit of escaping and the man could not figure out how he was getting out of the enclosed fence.

So it all ended well.

It reminded me of a Thanksgiving Eve about 10 or so years ago, after I had moved back to Massachusetts from Indiana. It was an exceptionally cold winter. I was coming home late and found a big, fluffy, orange, well-taken-care-of cat on the front porch of my apartment. It was well below zero that night, and even though I had Sergio and Kaci, I couldn't fathom leaving that meowing kitty out. The cold was so intense, it was hard to breathe and I had lost feeling in my legs on the walk home from the busstop. Mr. Fluffy wasn't even shy, as most cats are with strangers, but seemed desperate to go indoors, and snaked around my ankles, trying to sweet-talk me into letting him come in. I brought him upstairs and woke one of my roommates to see if he could stay in her room, which she was fine with. (I didn't want to chance having all the cats meet up and fight, which almost all cats do when they meet.)

He was a very sweet kitty. I brought him to a vet the next day, but he did not have a microchip, which would have allowed us to find his address. So my roommates and I put up signs all over the neighborhood, and, as an afterthought, I called the Boston Globe to see if I could place an ad. I was delighted to find they did not charge for found animals ads. One day later, I got a call from the owner, who had checked the Globe as a last resort, not thinking there would actually be an ad there. Hooray! The kitty had belonged to a little boy and one of his siblings had left the door open by accident. It was amazing to see the reunion!

I bring these stories up, not to pat ourselves on the back, but as a reminder that we need to be advocates for animals, even though it might be inconvenient. Our kitties have both escaped on occasion, and while we found them immediately, I would love to believe that anyone who saw one of our sweet puddies would do their best to catch them and read their id collars or, if the id collars broke (which they are meant to do to avoid strangulation on branches and such) take them to the vet to see if they have a microchip (which they do.)

So keep your eyes out for other animals who appear lost, sick, or hurt. It's so easy to turn away and reason that they are probably fine. But they get hungry, sick, tired, scared, and homesick, just like we do. Going out of our busy way can make a tremendous difference. 

Do you have any stories of finding lost friends?