August 24, 2007

I’ve been quiet: a few good things.

Posted in happiness, real life at 12:41 am by nevavegan

I had a conversation about veganism in the locker room tonight, sparked by wearing my vegan shirt. So that’s a good thing. The two women I talked to seemed interested in trying some vegan foods I suggested. Everything is always kind of awkward and rushed in the locker room so we didn’t get too in depth.

Liam and Squeaker are well, so that’s in the positive column. Liam is usually so scared of people, he cringes if I reach out to touch him. No, I wasn’t mean to him, it’s just a feral thing. Anyway, since I took care of him when he was sick he’s been coming to cuddle with me sometimes. Of course he wakes me up at like 4:00 AM by kneading on me with his claws. But I’m just so happy he’s better I can’t complain.

I really, really love this stuff I got. It’s a hemp/avocado/olive body oil in vanilla bean fragrance by Althaea herbals. I have really dry skin so a lot of lotions just aren’t enough, but at the same time I have sensitive skin and most skin oils irritate my skin. This stuff is incredible, my skin is insanely soft.

I ate mujadara for lunch for day. So awesome!

Walking the dogs today I saw something that I thought were little bits of white plastic by a hole in the sand, I looked closer and realized that they were the shells from turtle eggs and the baby turtles had hatched and pushed on out of the sand. Which is a great thing to think about, though unfortunately I didn’t get to see any baby turtles.

The gas company came and finally fixed the leaking gas pipes on our street and didn’t even have to hurt our tree, which I’d been worried about. And yay hopefully no more overwhelming gas smell and houses blowing up (that didn’t happen in our neighborhood but in District Heights). But we’d been calling the gas company for the longest time.


June 5, 2007

A Vegan Deed for the Day

Posted in cake, happiness, vegan, veganism at 6:56 pm by nevavegan

I passed around vegan birthday cake at work, a little late but better than never, though sadly to only four co-workers. They came back later demanding the truth, they just knew it couldn’t be vegan. You can’t make a good, moisty carrot cake with cream cheese frosting and not use cheese, and eggs, and butter! No, indeed, it is in fact vegan. 100%. Thank my good pal Tofutti non-hydrogenated “Cream Cheese” (really soy based) and using apple sauce instead of eggs, and grating in fresh carrots and loading it up with walnuts, and ginger and cinnamon.

Happiness abounds.

BTW, I have added an email me button to my profile. I might have to remove it if it results in out of control spam, but… When I started this blog I figured that people would leave comments, and that a lot of people reading had my email address anyway. Then I discovered I’d been getting emails on an old address I don’t really use anymore. Soooo, it seemed prudent to make a way for people to contact me. But fear of spam was the reason I didn’t do it in the first place, so we’ll see.

But for what it’s worth, seriously, you can leave a comment disagreeing with me if you like!!

April 28, 2007

Fetishization of the Artist: Nonvegan post

Posted in art, happiness, recovery at 3:04 pm by nevavegan

I had this really cool discussion with the ever honest and daring Angie Reed Garner (full time artist) about her recent trip to the outsider artist show. For those of you outside the outsider artist scene, outsider art is roughly defined as art by people without formal art training, often encompassing various types of folk art, as well as art by the mentally, terminally ill, disabled, etc.

When Angie talked about the fetishization of the artist, she spoke of a situation where a collector may take more pride in the stories surrounding the artist than in a particular work of art. So in fact they are not collecting art as much as they’re collecting artists in a symbolic manner. This becomes especially true with the more unfortunate stories. This leaves with some sort of creepy vision of some shadowy figure rubbing his hands together saying “Mmmm, child abuse and cancer? I’ll take it!”

While it’s impossible to know what people will do with or think of our art after it leaves our hands, I imagine most artists want people to buy or collect their art because they love it. My ideal situation would be someone buying my art because they think it’s beautiful or it speaks to them. They would display it lovingly and develop their own stories around it through the years. My worst nightmare is someone getting a painting of mine only to toss it out with the garbage a year later because they changed the colors in their living room. But that’s a different entry.

Buying and collecting original art is a practice something apart from interior decorating. Anyone can buy a print, in fact a lot of discount stores are full of framed, matted, very lovely prints of well-known art. So what motivates someone to buy original art? For me the most obvious motivation is a desire to support and encourage creativity and originality. We invest in the world we want to live in, so if you want people to keep painting, pay them to do it. The second obvious reason people buy original art is as a unique keepsake of a time and place—this is the reason why people who are more the framed and matted print type buy an original watercolor from a street artist while on their honeymoon. They want a reminder of that time and place that is solely theirs, not the standard souvenir. People buy original art because they love it too of course. They see an image that speaks to them and are willing to pay for it. Some people prefer to decorate only with originals because, while they probably love each image, they prefer their decor to be unique. Some people buy original art as an investment too, hoping they’re one of the first buyers from someone whose work will later be worth a fortune.

But I don’t think that we can deny fetishization of the artist as a motive. When I think about myself and some of the criticisms that have been leveled at my work, I have to wonder if that’s a particular issue with my work. I keep this blog apart from my art blog for several reasons and prime among them is that I don’t want people reading what I have to say here about abuse and violence in particular and viewing my art through that lens. Which is strange, because why shouldn’t they? It just bothers me on some level.

The stupidest thing is that all through school I was accused of making art that was “too pretty” or “too cute” (and was even referred to as “neo Rococo” which is only an insult if you understand Rococo, the ‘90’s art scene and the point of reference of everyone in the room). For Ms Reed Garner the assumptions are all opposite—she refuses to compromise her aesthetic and her message just to make images that please others. I admire that, but I’m actually not compromising my aesthetic or message either.

I never set out to do anything like that, I just do what I do and I let the chips fall where they may. In my opinion it works out to roughly 9 out of 10 things I make are going to be cute or pretty or whatever, and 1 out of 10 will be deeply disturbing, if you really think about it, and if you don’t think about it, you can lump it in with the “pretty.” But the catch is, that’s really honestly who I am. I’m a hippy who really does run barefoot through fields of flowers and hugs trees. I like to wear lacey dresses with my hair down and hug baby animals. I don’t think if my heart screams “cute” I need to stifle that so I can also appear serious to others. Of course I actually am serious, dead serious in what I do, but the other aspects of my personality always come through as well.

As I said in a previous post, much of my art is about joy in so many ways, that being vegan makes me really happy, that seeing animals and being nice to animals makes me happy, that love and sharing and togetherness and dancing make me happy. It’s not a bad message in my opinion.

So what happens when that message gets all tangled up in someone else’s stereotype of who I am, what I’ve been through, where I’ve been, and what they feel I ought to be? Who out there sees me as little girl lost, in need of rescue? Who is thrilled by picturing me being hurt? Strangeness all of it, and so the two blogs remain apart.

April 12, 2007

My own pin-hole camera on the world

Posted in art, happiness, stupid me, vegan at 1:55 pm by nevavegan

It has come to my attention that a link to my blog was posted on a list of commentaries about the Marcus/Francione debate podcast. This was sort of an “uh oh” moment for me. I didn’t try to editorialize the entire debate because it seemed to me that many other people had done that sufficiently elsewhere. For what it’s worth I felt the Erik Marcus was ill-prepared for the debate, failed to respond to most of Gary Francione’s points, and I was shocked that Marcus admitted that he didn’t read Francione’s books because he “disagreed with them.” But those points were all made in many other blogs and forums, and made pretty well.

My two blog entries were just fairly personal comments regarding just one comment Gary Francione made and my response to that comment.

I sometimes think it’s relevant though in the way that for me the personal is always relevant. I think it’s worthwhile to consider how our words (not just our intentions) affect others. But sometimes I wonder if I have anything to say worth saying.

I get these days of intense self doubt sometimes. I don’t post because I don’t trust my own voice. I become so aware that I’m only seeing the world through this tiny little pin-hole of my own perception. Suddenly everything seems so much bigger than I am. I wonder if I’m even entitled to speak up.

It helps in times like these to remember that while life is tenuous, it is also forgiving. I have every right to make a complete idiot out of myself if so choose. I don’t have to be perfect every second.

The topic on the survivors forum this week was flaws: how our abusers used pointing out our flaws (real or imagined) to control or subdue us. Essentially to convince us we had no right to our own voices.

But everyone has a right to their voice. You don’t have to be clever. I hope you will be kind, but it’s actually not required, as evidenced all around us.

Now, of course you knew I’d eventually bring this back to veganism, right?

People who don’t want to hear about veganism use fault-finding as excuse to not listen, in fact to shut us down and shut out our voices. There is the nit-picking over and over on certain facts. The afore-mentioned “I knew a rude vegan” tactic, or accusing us of attacking tradition. How many times has someone accused me of not doing enough for human issues when I say I’m vegan?

But I don’t have to be right about everything, that’s the fallacy. I can be wrong about nearly everything; I can be offensive, I can be stupid, and I can still be right about veganism being the best way to try to live in this world of ours.

When someone disputes the total number of animals slaughtered in the US, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a dizzyingly large, completely incomprehensible number. Wondering if the diet of cavemen was really primarily meat doesn’t change the situation we face today.

I don’t think I’m so good with theory or philosophy. Maybe my brain just doesn’t bend that way. I tend to think in practicalities; which for me is different from utilitarianism. I’m not following the teachings of Singer. I just want to take things apart, figure out how they work, and then make them work better.

When I talk about the limits of my own perspective, there is the undercurrent where I’m always pushing for decent research. Because research could presumably help all of us get around the issue of putting too much emphasis on our personal experience. This means finding out what kinds of outreach on veganism get the most favorable results. What messages resonate with the public, what gets people thinking and more importantly acting?

Until I have the research in hand, I’m forced to just weigh stuff in my own head, against my own experience. It’s what everyone does, but of course it’s limiting.

I’m dismayed by so much I see around me, and I try to think of what I have to offer in response to it. So much of my life has been filled with people telling me I’m not good enough. That’s my fear, the thing that keeps me quiet so much of the time. Maybe I’m just a moron spouting off things that make no sense. Maybe I am just hopelessly self-indulgent and self-centered. I try to remind myself that the world is full of idiots, so maybe there isn’t that much harm in my being my own special brand of idiot.

So what do I offer up? I offer up that I’m a flawed person coming from a flawed place with a messed up background, and I’m still a vegan and I do ok with that. I offer up that I’ve been through some things and some days it seems to take tremendous energy on my part just to be normal (whatever normal means) and I still have energy to be vegan. I offer up that I care about many things, and I still care about veganism. I offer up that I’m an artist (I don’t have to be a good artist to claim that), and my art isn’t just pretty pictures, it’s a message of the joy and beauty in life and all that is good, and I still find and see those things even though I don’t eat bacon. Seriously, becoming vegan didn’t turn me into a dour humorless person. I offer up that I’ve made some mistakes and really bad decisions and after all these years I still look on becoming vegan as one of the best decisions I ever managed to make.

Yeah, it ain’t theory. I don’t know what you can do with all that. It’s what I have at the moment and it’s what I want to share.

February 9, 2007

Tradition vs. Veganism

Posted in family, happiness, vegan at 1:38 pm by nevavegan

In many ways I feel strangely qualified to address the issue of how we can honor and uphold family traditions while still being vegan. I grew up in a family with farming roots, my father and grandfather hunted. My great grandfather made his original money, the seed money for his hardware store, off of cock fighting. Which in a way makes my very existence now dependent on cruel cock fights that took place 90 years ago or more.

When I first decided that I had to become a vegetarian my mother felt I was turning my back on my heritage. Much moaning and wailing ensued. Apparently she felt I was rejecting her values and giving up everything that made our family unique. I’ve heard similar statements from others, like “I would go vegan, but I’m descended from farmers; it’s part of who I am.”

Another weird logical trap I’ve seen people fall into is the “I wouldn’t be here” trap. For example, “if it weren’t for dairy farming, my grandparents would have starved, and I would never have been born. So it can’t be wrong.” But the wonderful thing about becoming vegan today is that it is only a commitment from this day forward to try to live with compassion toward animals and practice a more environmentally sound diet. I don’t own a time machine and I’m not going back in time to wipe your grandparents or mine off the face of the earth. I’m only talking about the choices we make right now, today, and how those choices affect the world around us.

I don’t want to take a revisionist view of history; I’m not going condemn my departed family members for having eaten meat. I like to think that if they’d been exposed to the idea of veganism they would have tried it, but I don’t know that for certain. What I can know is that while what I choose to eat is an important ethical decision for me, for my ancestors it was largely a matter of convenience and availability, not an issue of conscience. This gives me a lot of wiggle room to honor tradition and keep in touch with my heritage while still being vegan. I just pick and choose the traditions to keep. Amazingly, I’ve realized that’s what everyone does, vegan or not.

For example, I cook and eat black eyed peas and collard greens every year for New Year’s day. This is a long standing tradition in my family and in most families from the Southern United States. It is a tradition about abundance, simple foods, warmth and sharing, and it encompasses our hopes for the coming year. My great grandmother cooked hers with bacon grease, I cook mine with olive oil and herbs, but still every year when I cook them I think of her and my great uncles as I stir the pot.

I was closest to one of my great uncles and I’ve found a couple of important traditions that I can honor in his memory. First of all, he loved dogs and never had less than ten dogs at any given time as far as I know. Many of his dogs simply showed up at his door begging for food and stayed. He wasn’t wealthy, but since there were never any puppies or any fights, it seems he got them all altered. One of his dogs he found trapped in a leghold trap while hiking in the woods. He freed her and carried her home and from then on she was the most pampered of his dogs. So even though my great uncle would never have thought to protest anything, when I protest or write letter against leghold traps I’m honoring his belief that they were cruel and should be outlawed. When I rescue homeless animals I’m honoring his compassion and generosity. When I educate people on companion animal care or push for spay/neuter programs I’m honoring his devotion to canines.

But you don’t have to have a leghold trap-hating great uncle to honor family traditions. For most of us our compassion for non-human animals didn’t come out of thin air. We had family members who liked cats or dogs for example, or a nature-loving aunt, or whatever. We simply built on the values expressed by those family members and took them to the logical conclusion given the world we live in, that exploitation must end and compassion is the ultimate goal.

Like I said, everyone picks and choose the family traditions they follow. My very own mother, who thought my veganism was turning away from my heritage, hid from me the fact that many of my older relatives were avid tarot card readers. That was a tradition my mother didn’t like, but it sits fine with me. A lot of my ancestors made their way through prison at one time or another, a tradition that my parents, grandparents, and my siblings and I have all turned away from. Though my parents felt hunting was a great family tradition, nobody was proud of the cockfighting done by my great grandfather; they considered it low class and degrading. When it comes to food though, I think my grandfather said it best of all.

“When I was little my momma would send me down to the creek with a bucket of pig intestines, cause she didn’t want to wash them by the house. It was awful. I had to wash and wash them in the creek, all the while trying to keep the sand out of them. I’ll never forget that smell. Finally I’d take them home and she’d put them in a pot with seasoning and cook them all day long to make chitlins. When I grew up I moved out of the South and joined the Air Force and I’m never going to have to eat chitlins again in my life and nobody can make me eat them.”

Interestingly enough though, chitlins were not a favorite, cherished recipe carried here from the old country. They were an effort by our ancestors to not waste anything and to make use of every resource available to them, even if it was distasteful. Perhaps the tradition to honor is this case is the frugality and creativity that led our forbearers to make this Southern dish, and not the dish itself. As we’re faced with unprecedented strains on our environment, maybe the take home message is “make do with less and waste nothing.”

We all pick the traditions we’d like to keep; it’s not so hard to pick the compassionate ones to honor and keep.

January 15, 2007

Posted in happiness, recovery at 1:50 pm by nevavegan

Micro and Macro Happiness

In talking about recovering authentic self I spoke of what will and won’t make a person happy.

I’d like to take this a step further and discuss the concepts of micro (self) and macro (community) happiness.

Most of us think we know what it would take to make us happy, and most of us are probably wrong.

A few years back I was down in the dumps about stuff going on in my life and I thought about what it would take to make me happy. First off I needed a better job and with it, more money. I needed to dig myself out of the financial hole I’d managed to get into. I needed enough money to take some vacations with my husband and have some in savings. We needed an emergency vet fund for our animals, and a bigger home to hold the many animals we’d rescued…

But I was deeply dissatisfied on a whole different level as well. I was waiting for my actual life to begin. I thought I needed to lose some weight before I could look for better clothes to wear.

Part of me felt a little hopeless about that any way, because I could lose the weight and I’d still have the same face, the same hair, the same enormous feet. I’d been telling myself that earning more money was going to make me happy, but how could it when I didn’t like the person I was.

For what it’s worth, I never lost the weight. I kept bobbing between 145 and 150. 145 was my all time high weight in college when I was in recovery and decided that recovery meant eating whatever I liked any time it appealed to me (so long as it was vegetarian—I wasn’t yet vegan then), plus my metabolism was completely wrecked. At 145 both of my parents told me I’d gotten way too fat. I came home to choruses of “you’re too big to wear pants like that.” “you can’t wear shorter skirts when your hips are so large.” Never mind that most of my male friends were always telling me I looked great—all I heard was that I was fat. After that I lost about 20 pounds not through trying but just by not having a car and living a good distance from public transportation. I walked everywhere and carried groceries home for over a mile.

But after I got married and got a desk job and lived in an area where driving was the only real option for me, well those pounds came back and settled in for the long haul. I went to the gym and lifted weights to help my bones. I walked my dogs, but the number on the scale stuck stubbornly at 145, and danced up to 150 for no apparent reason from time to time. So there I was waiting to lose 20 pounds before I could try to be happy, before life could begin.

So I thought I knew what I needed, but I was wrong. What I needed to be happy was encouragement, isolating myself from the negative voices that made me feel ashamed of who I was and how I looked, and I needed to stop the negative self-talk I’d developed. I needed to treat myself like a friend, not like an enemy. I needed a sense of community, I needed to find ways to express my creativity. I needed that thing I’m calling authentic self; because I needed to stop trying to be what everyone else wanted and just start to be myself.

Micro happiness is not so much about changing the circumstances as it is about changing the internal dialogue we have about ourselves. Think I’m wrong? There’s someone out there who has more money than you do, a better job, three healthy kids, vacations in exotic locations each year and is still miserable. There’s someone out there living in a trailer park, barely scraping by and he or she is happy. There’s someone who weighs a lot more than I do and she wears cool clothes and looks good and feels good about herself. I needed to stop listening to everyone else’s opinion and start forming my own positive views.

Case in point: In a jewelry making group we were once talking about our jobs. One by one we all said we pretty much hated our jobs, they made us miserable but were a necessary evil to pay the bills. Then one woman said she loved her job. She worked at K-Mart. She said she loved setting up the store displays, she loved people so she enjoyed helping all the customers that came in. She felt incredibly satisfied if someone came in looking sad or stressed and she helped them with a smile on her face and then they left happier than when they came in. I’m pretty sure I would not enjoy working at K-Mart, but apparently it’s all about the mind set.

When it comes to macro happiness though, the US may be at a disadvantage. Studies show lower rates of depression among the Chicano population in the US, and while there are many theories most center around the idea that Mexican American have more sense of community and tighter family bonds than the rest of us. This may or may not be true, but there’s no doubt that individuals in mainstream US culture are becoming more and more socially isolated.

This past year I anxiously awaited the arrival of my cousins, finally emigrating to the US from Peru after all these years. They had their paperwork in order, jobs lined up already, they were packing up their belongings. Then out of nowhere they suddenly changed their minds. They just could not leave Peru. Sure it was not very safe there and they worried about what jobs their children might eventually find, but they couldn’t leave the beauty of their country, the happiness they found in community and culture. The US was simply too depressing and they couldn’t face it.

Our sense of community, our bonds to others are healing both mentally and physically, but what are we to do when culturally those bonds are discouraged. I remember being in junior high school and being obsessed with my tight little group of female friends. I wanted to spend every free minute with Natalie, Stephanie, and Kim. My mother, in an angry mood, told me I was wasting my time. Friendships don’t last, she told me, these people won’t stand by you in the long run. My father backed her up: friendships don’t matter, people betray you the first chance they have. Cowed by these discouraging words I allowed my mother to decree I could have no more contact with Kim and when I went to a different school than Stephanie I lost touch with her.

Now, so many years down the road, who do I have in my life? I have Natalie, who accepts me just as I am, who has been my confidant and companion since sixth grade, who believed in me and believes in me even when my own family has not. Natalie and I don’t always agree on everything, in fact in many ways we’re polar opposites, but this is friendship formed in childhood that has sustained me through the years. I look at the happy people I know and I see that they have lives full of lasting relationships. I wish I had been encouraged to form those bonds.

Even more so as adults we are deterred from forming relationships. We are transient and more recently deeply and bitterly divided as a nation. We generally don’t know our neighbors and if we do we often find we have little in common. We’re distrustful. Levels of rudeness seem to have sky-rocketed since we no longer need to face our neighbors socially, and since most don’t stick around too long anyway. Rude and aggressive driving have almost become the norm. The news reports on neighborhood disputes between otherwise normal-appearing adults that have turned deadly.

I don’t have much solution to offer. I’m as polarized as anyone. I could not sit down to dinner with bigots and tolerate their hateful views. If someone opposes gay marriage (in the civil sense) then they are not welcome in my home. I am estranged from my family for reasons I do not consider my fault. I know this is nothing new in the history of humanity. People travel to new places, they lose touch with old friends and family. So it’s up to me to keep in touch with the friends I have and build new relationships. Apparently relationships are particularly important to women with research indicating women with stronger social ties experience better health and less depression.

January 14, 2007

Recovering My Authentic Self

Posted in happiness, recovery, vegan at 1:47 pm by nevavegan

Recovering My Authentic Self
(Or why everyone might as well become vegan today)

Due to some recent tragedies my thoughts lately have centered on childhood memories, trying to sort out what is meaningful from what’s not.

My earliest memories involve awe and wonder, staring at butterflies, marveling at the vastness of the night sky. This is important because for years my parents told me that I was born happy. They said I almost never cried as a baby. They claimed I was sick a lot but just kept smiling through each illness. That is until about age three when they claimed my personality took a drastic change for the worse; I started to cry all the time according to them. I complained and whined; I didn’t like the food they gave me. I became ungrateful.

Looking back there seemed to be some really important things going on. When I was three my brother went to school and I was alone all day long in an unhappy house, or at least that’s how it felt. I also know now as an adult that I have and likely had then, some food allergies and asthma, which were never taken seriously or treated by my parents. But whatever the cause, and however much I shake my head at the concept of parents who wouldn’t seek medical attention for what they claimed was a dramatic change in their child’s personality (or for that matter ever consider the fact that their ridicule helped nothing), this essay isn’t about childhood injustice. I intend instead to write about happiness and authentic self.

After going through a period of really deep depression recently I find myself clinging to this mythic image of me as being born happy. It tells me that somewhere inside me is the potential for happiness.

This is important because a recent study demonstrated that for most people happiness is reliant on internal factors, not external ones. The study showed that lottery winners were no happier after a year than anyone else. It also showed that people who’d been paralyzed in accidents were no more depressed after a year than people in the general population. Instead people returned to a level of happiness or depression that they’d had prior to the life changing events.

Hence my subtitle. I’ve had a lot of people tell me that they could never become vegan because they’d miss their favorite food too much, it would be too hard, or they’d be depressed if they didn’t have meat every day. But the study seems to indicate that you could become vegan today and after some initial turmoil of adjusting you’d be just as happy, or not happy, by next year as you are today. Both encouraging and discouraging.

But we might have reason to believe that becoming vegan might actually increase levels of happiness at least initially. I mean for the person; it goes without saying that adopting a vegan life style will greatly increase the happiness of the animals. What I mean is that by taking a really positive action for the animals and environment, anyone who is vegan should have something to feel good about every single day.

I’ve always said that being vegan has given me a lot more than I’ve ever given to the cause. It’s not the reason I went vegan in the first place. But more than a decade on I find that there are more benefits and fewer drawbacks than I ever dreamed of. Becoming vegan lead me away from a lifestyle of violence, it forced me to reconsider assumptions that were harmful to me, it opened me up to learning about other cultures, other cuisines, and other philosophies.

When I decided to give vegetarianism a try when I was in high school my mind set was one of worry (I didn’t want to inconvenience anyone), fear (how was I going to make this work), hope (here I was finally trying to make a stand for my beliefs), and not a little resistance (I felt compelled, but did I really want to disrupt my entire life like this).

I was a kid who cooked. By and large I got positive feedback on my cooking. It was a source of some self esteem. What did I cook? Lemon chicken, ham, butter-laden pastries, big slabs of beef, and cakes, pies and cookies made with eggs, butter, and milk.

It was tough to go from someone who made food that others wanted to eat to sitting there in the kitchen with a big bag of brown rice and a big bag of split peas wondering what the heck to do. For the first time I was making dismal failures that nobody wanted to eat. Then I started college. With my own kitchen and my own time I decided to start learning and trying new things. Some were awful, some were wonderful, and I actually feel like I’m a better cook today for being vegan than if I’d rested on my early laurels and made nothing but coq au vin for the rest of my life.

Again, that’s not a reason to become vegan. It’s not about ethics, it’s all about me. Still, it’s a good reason to not turn away from veganism if it appeals to you. Because it’s all about that basic premise—we go through drastic change and end up more or less where we started. I wanted to be a wonderful cook, and if I do say so myself, I think I am.

Also happily I retrained myself from loving foods dripping in butter and wrapped in bacon to eating more fresh veggies and more wholesome choices. A sort of side effect, much to my benefit.

But back to the story at hand. If I consider my authentic self as intrinsically happy and look for ways to recover my authentic self, I have to think about what factors make most human beings happy. We all say it, money can’t buy happiness, but do we really understand it? Money won’t make you happy, food won’t make you happy, stuff won’t make you happy, but changing the way you think can make you happy, doing good things can make you happy… Finding your authentic self, the one that saw the world with wonder and kindness can make you happy.

When my aunt was dying and I went to see her for one final visit she was unrelentingly cheerful. Confined to a wheelchair with gauze wrapped around stage four bed sores, she went shopping, did crafts, and spent time with her loved ones. We all pasted pained happy faces on, determined to keep up the charade for her sake. But inside we were thinking “Doesn’t she understand? It’s not going to get better this time.” But now I understand. It’s not that she didn’t know she was dying, but that she saw the path in front of her and knew she was going that way with a smile or with weeping, but time wasn’t stopping for her. You can’t always change the circumstances but you can try to do the best with the time you do have.

And why does happiness matter? I mean other than this vision I have that happiness is my authentic self? Because first and foremost I’m no good to anyone, let alone myself if I’m hoping to get run over by a truck every day. Because happiness is a gift we bring to the world and it’s contagious. It costs nothing, uses no resources, releases no green house gasses, and yet I can bring some small bit of it to anyone who is open. I can take my happiness and use it to help animals, to help people. I can show people that a non-violent approach to life can be fulfilling and joyful.