September 10, 2007

Hunting Stories

Posted in animal advocacy, animal rights, real life at 7:13 pm by nevavegan

A little while back I made a statement that I was going to try to get more into the narrative, and that answers and theories live within the narrative. So that’s where I’m going today.

I grew up in a family that hunted. I can’t tell you how many dead animals of various types were stacked up in our kitchen, or hung in bunches in our car port. Later, when I was vegan and rescuing abandoned rabbits, my mother liked to remind me many times that I ate rabbits as a child, as if this was some moral failing on my part. She said that she herself couldn’t bear to eat them, but she cooked them and fed them to us. It makes me sad actually, to think of eating animals that I later learned were so intelligent and loving. But at the same time, I feel terrible for having eaten chickens and ducks that I raised and loved. And one animal death that I felt horrible about strangley enough was when my father killed a very large rattlesnake. He pulled the dead snake out from the underbrush to show him off, and he was huge, five feet or longer and fat. I just sat there thinking how long that snake must have lived to get to be that size and how quickly his life ended just because he crossed the wrong person’s path one afternoon. My great uncle always told me about the ancient wisdom snakes carried and I hated to see one so old die for nothing like that.

All through all this hunting and carnage I held on to certain myths. The first myth was the idea of a perfect life and quick painless death, that these things made it ok for us to kill young animals for our own purposes.

The second myth is that hunting maintains some kind of natural order, controlling population and ensuring the health of the herd. Only much later did I realize that human hunting runs counter to “survival of the fittest.” Human hunters use guns or bows to kill the healthiest and strongest animals because they make the best trophies. Nobody killed the weak or sick animals. I also finally figured out that human hunting doesn’t control populations. For one thing, the hunters tried to only kill male animals, again for trophies I suppose. But leaving all the females meant that the populations actually continued to grow, which hunters like because it means they get to claim that deer over-population is a problem to justify longer hunting seasons or relaxing the limits on how many animals they can kill.

When my father killed a buck with impressive antlers (I don’t remember the exact number of points) he brought the dead deer into our kitchen and set him on the floor. I sat next to him, petting his fur, holding his head. He seemed so perfect because my father had killed him with one shot, and the wound was facing downward, so I couldn’t understand why this animal was dead. I begged my father to just let him go, but of course it was too late.

My father told this story of killing the buck. He said he was sitting out in the woods, enjoying the crisp fall weather, when the buck stepped into a clearing. My father said that he was at first frozen in admiration of the magnificent deer. Then the deer turned and looked at him. My father is big into the idea of psychic connections and empaths, so he explained it this way: the deer felt my father’s admiration and love for him, and so he felt safe and showed off, tossing his antlers, which gave my father time to raise his gun and shoot him through the heart. This made me so sad because the lesson I took away from it was that some people see beauty and long to destroy it.

Because my father had such a high sharpshooter rating in Vietnam, he always bragged that he never had to shoot an animal more than once. He said he never even attempted a shot unless he knew it would be instantly fatal. This was at the heart of the idea that hunting is “a gentleman’s sport.” That is the second myth. While I have no doubt that there are some hunters that try to be good people, my experience has largely been that hunters drink a great deal, are violent over all, and are not exactly law-abiding or kind. In fact, practicing violence year after year likely hardens them to the suffering of others.

Hunters used to over-run my great uncle’s property and the adjoining park, illegally hunting bears and deer. It was illegal to hunt in the park, and my great uncle posted his land all over with “no trespassing” and “no hunting” signs. However, the hunters did not care about the law, and sometimes if my father found them illegally hunting on our land, it came down to armed confrontations. We had gotten to the point that if we thought a person was on our land my father would not leave the house without his gun, that’s how rough these individuals were. I think we frightened a number of campers who drifted over from the park or day trippers who took a wrong turn though.

One of my hunter encounters which still chills me to this day happened one afternoon when I had my friend from school over. She got bored playing near our house and insisted we walk over to the pond which was on my great uncle’s property. I told her my parents would never give us permission to go that far alone, but she convinced me to go with her, and she, I, and my dog Khaki set out for the pond. It was a nice fall day and I was proudly wearing my new plaid poncho my aunt had just given me. The poncho was huge on me and the plaid was in shades of olive green and rust brown, matching the fall foliage.

My friend started singing and I happily joined in, and so we were singing pretty loudly when we neared the pond. Unfortunately there was a group of illegal hunters at the pond, waiting to shoot deer when they came to drink. We were just one turn away from the pond when I heard a man’s voice echoing up “Do you hear that? Girls! Let’s get them!” And then I heard the engines of their ATVs starting up.

I started running, but I looked back and my friend was stumbling along slowly, so I had to turn around and grab her and drag her into the woods. My dog stayed with me. I knew we didn’t have much time, but then I saw a tree surrounded by fallen leaves with a slight hollow in the roots on the Southern side. I shoved my friend down into the hollow, then my dog. I threw my poncho over them and began heaping leaves on top, and finally slipped under it myself.

For fifteen minutes we huddled there while the hunters drove their ATVs up and down the road shouting to each other “Where are they?” and “They couldn’t get far!” So easily they switched gears from hunting deer to hunting little girls. Finally they became convinced that we must have gotten much further down the road. One shouted “It’s how sound is up high like this, it carries a long ways, I bet they’re down near the church!” So they turned their ATVs and raced toward the church. Only when they were completely out of sight did we start trying to get home. I made sure we didn’t walk along any roads or large paths, so we picked our way through thorns and trees, keeping under cover the whole way.

Things like that made me understand why the old couple that maintained the church hid whenever a car or truck went by. We could go to services and they’d be friendly as anything, but drive by on a weekday when they were out weeding the cemetery and they’d dive behind a headstone and keep down.

Other than that encounter my family found slaughtered animals so often. Heaps of deer that had been shot and then only their antlers sawed off, etc. When there was a story in the news about a hunter who killed animals on his remote property until he got bored and started kidnapping women, raping and torturing them, then setting them loose on his land so he could hunt them down and kill them, it didn’t surprise me. I’ve seen it. I heard it in the voices of those hunters on the ATVs. That is not to say that all hunters hurt people. But I do believe that hurting and killing animals as a form of entertainment makes it easier to hurt people. I do believe that people who like to hurt people often also hurt animals. I think in a kind culture we have an aversion to bloodshed, but hunting teaches that bloodshed is admirable. In a kind culture we feel the shock of empathy when someone is hurt right in front of us. For a moment we envision the pain they feel, it’s what spurs us to rush in and help them, because we identify with their pain and know it is not right to turn away from them. Hunting teaches people to take pleasure in the suffering and death of other living feeling beings. Is it such a jump from there to not caring about others at all, or to being able to hurt people?

I do have to note also that all the hunters in my family were war veterans. These were men who had been trained to kill other people and in some cases had actually had to use that training and take human life. Some managed to kill their human enemies from a distance. Others had to fight at close range and watch their friends and enemies alike die terrible deaths. Once someone has reached a point where they’re able to do that easily, I can understand how they could easily hunt and kill animals. But I’d prefer to live in a culture where all life is valued.


September 4, 2007

A Few Days Off

Posted in real life at 12:47 pm by nevavegan

Last week I took Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday off. It’s been a long time since I’ve really had any time off (except for having bronchitis in January), so it was nice to have a little time. I had big plans of everything I’d get done, but then I really didn’t end up accomplishing much.

Wednesday I got up early and took the dogs to Greenbelt Park, and then went to the store, and didn’t get much else done.

Thursday morning I went out for Vegan Outreach. All together we handed out 2400 pamphlets. Jon Camp handed out 1200 of those. I believe I came in second though as I got there an hour before Susan joined us and I’m getting to be a pro at it.

Thursday late afternoon I took the dogs to our nearby local park, but that didn’t go so well. I came out of the woods into the sunlight and there were so many ticks crawling up my pant leg and arm, just on the left side. I had to scrape them off, it was terrible.

Friday, I took the dogs back to Greenbelt (I was not going into tick central again) which meant that I got in miles and miles of walking during my time off, not to mention that leafleting, especially when I move around so much is very tiring.

Then Saturday I started getting supplies and preparing for our Labor Day party, which I’m calling Sandwich Fest. This was the second annual Sandwich Fest, so I set out to beat the first Sandwich Fest.

Saturday and Sunday were all cleaning and preparation. Sandwich Fest went very well, which is probably an entry all by itself.

Here’s what I made for Sandwich Fest:

Tofurky Club (with fake bacon)
Avocado with white wine and balsamic marinated mushrooms
“chicken” salad
Soysage, “egg,” n’cheeze on English muffins
Beer battered fried tofu with tartar sauce

Potato salad
(a green salad but I forgot to serve it…)

My cinnamon rolls (I bake them from scratch)
A tofu strawberry cheeze cake

But I think we’ll be eating left over sandwiches all week and maybe into next week. In some weird twist of fate most of the really big eaters ended up not making it and so I over-cooked. My friend Jessica took some pictures so hopefully she’ll email them to me and I can post Sandwich Fest pictures in a day or two.

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.

August 18, 2007

Picture Day

Posted in real life at 8:29 pm by nevavegan

By the way, I’m thrilled to know that other people also sing silly songs to their companion animals. I knew I couldn’t be the only one, but now I have confirmation.

I don’t really feel up to philosophizing today, so if there’s any point to this post it’s that vegans do fun stuff sometimes, and we’re silly, oh, and vegans look young… I don’t know if that last one is actually true, but I do think healthy living can help. I don’t know, but here goes.

I am still tired today because I got up bright and early so Sean and I could go the arboretum and have our pictures taken. I accidentally met a photographer/filmmaker because he was making a short film on proper bunny housing, and Sean has created the ultimate bunny palace. Said photographer agreed to take our pictures and give us “mates rates.” So that was just such a stroke of luck!

Anyway, long story short, Sean and I really have no pictures of us together since we didn’t have a wedding and any pictures of us have been taken by other hikers as we happen upon them on trails. Needless to say I’m always drenched in sweat, bright red, and have my eyes shut in such hiking pictures. And sometimes showing such pictures is like “here I am about to pass out and this is the thumb of some hiker we don’t know.” Not very romantic.

This might sound entirely self-indulgent, but I also kind of feel like I were to die tomorrow people would have trouble remembering what I look like because there would be no decent pictures. Plus people seem to have trouble remembering what I look like anyway. Sean and I ran into the father of one of his old friends recently and later the friend asked her father “Was Sean with his wife when you saw him?” The father said “No, he was with some redhead.” The friend said “The redhead IS his wife!” I’m thinking redhead? Who? No, I don’t think so.

Also the acquiring of a picture would be nice because Sean previously had one that he liked that he took himself in his office and he recently removed it. He said too many clients were asking “Is that your daughter?” and then acting weird when he said “No, that’s my wife.” I feel somehow like Dorian Grey in reverse where I’m aging in real life but still appear to be a petulant pre-adolescent in photographs. So it would be nice if Sean could actually have a picture of me in his office without people wondering where he went to get around age of consent laws.

Also, when we did get married we asked the J.P. to snap a picture of us. But I have camera-fear which just translated as fear in the picture, so it kind of looked like someone was holding me at gunpoint to take my picture. It was bad, horrible really. I used to have it in my office but too many people were asking “Awww, is that you at your prom? You look so nervous!” Sigh.

In any case the cats are recovering well. Liam is really completely back to his old self and you’d never know there was anything wrong except for his shaved ankle where the iv was. Squeaker is still not eating like I would like, and getting her back to eating is difficult, so I’m still putting some food directly into her mouth to make her eat. She doesn’t seem to mind one bit actually, and it’s made giving her the antibiotics much easier because she knows something really yummy is coming next, but eventually she’s going to have to go back to eating on her own.

Other than this I’ve mainly been working on silver for a while now and I’m pretty much pleased with the results though certainly there have been some hitches. I hope to start selling some soon to both offset my massively breath-stealing vet bills, but also to contribute to some worthy causes, so stay tuned.

Here’s a sneak peak. These are a double-sided dangly pendants I’ve been working on. I put a dime in for scale. I use this stuff called PMC/ACS that is silver particles recycled out of old film or things like that combined with a wood putty so I can shape it. Then I fire it and all the wood burns out leaving essentially pure silver behind, but it gives me huge flexibility with what I do. Each of these pendants have two sides, one I painted and then used water etching to make it 3-D, the other side I cut out the silver like I do with my paper cutting art to make the design. The bird is a bird on both sides, the deer is a deer on both sides. I used sterling findings and glass crystals, plus amethyst on the deer and green flourite for the bird. Oh, and I treated them with sulfur to give them a nice patina.

The painted sides

And the cut out sides

And just for the sake of complete self indulgence here is a picture of me looking much younger than I actually am standing in front of the National Cathedral, just to illustrate the problem.

August 14, 2007

Apologies and all

Posted in companion animals, real life at 1:55 pm by nevavegan

I’ve continued to be missing and when I have posted it’s been tossed together with possible grammar and spelling errors. This is because I’ve been sleep deprived due to care for ailing cats.

I’m also sorry I haven’t responded to all of your wonderful thoughtful comments. I really will, I just need to get my head on straight first.

As I posted previously Liam got very sick. We were never even able to completely explain what happened to him. The vet theorized that he was suffering a bacterial infection, but no tests were completely conclusive, and our focus turned just to keeping him alive.

After Liam came home from the ICU, I spent a good number of nights getting up at all hours to medicate him, and sit with him, and just search for any sign of improvement.

As Liam slowly recovered, Squeaker, one of our older cats also fell ill, with similar but less severe symptoms. The vet said she was definitely suffering a bacterial infection and she’s on antibiotics too. Though she didn’t get as sick as Liam did, her recovery has been slow. Her appetite was never the most voracious anyway, and being sick and on antibiotics seems to have killed it completely. We’ve been trying for days to get her to eat. I can persuade her to eat a little if I sit by her and brush her the entire time (Squeaker is semi-feral, she loves to be brushed with a hairbrush, but hates to be touched with human hands).

Late yesterday Squeaker seemed to start improving and I hope that continues. I’ve really been a wreck all this time.

I know it sounds like we are bad cat parents, but these are indoor only cats. We can’t determine what they could have been exposed to, and we’ve searched the house. Sadly the only thing we can say is that the cats had their check ups at the vet shortly before they got sick, and also they may have eaten some treats that were meant for the dogs. Neither one of those things stands out as a likely source of illness, but we can’t find many other common factors.

I’ve been a nut case, bothering Liam every five minutes to make sure he’s still alive, but he’s very much improved. Now we just hope Squeaker will continue to get better too.

August 7, 2007


Posted in real life at 3:11 pm by nevavegan

Sorry I’ve been missing in action for a little while. I’ve got a number of things partially written up and will get to them shortly.

I’ve been away because Liam got very sick. He actually wound up in the ICU over night, but he’s home now and recovering.

Get well soon Liam!

July 25, 2007

Trying Again: 8 Silly Things

Posted in meme, real life, stupid me at 7:01 pm by nevavegan

Sean tells me that I did a very poor job on my eight true things meme. He says there are other aspects of my personality that are less expected than what I listed.

Around the same time it seems a lot of people were telling me I was too angry. My response was “What? Me? Angry?” So clearly the other side of my personality isn’t coming through in what I type.

So without further ado, Eight True and Truly Stupid Silly Things About Me

1. I like stupid humor. I liked “Austin Powers.” All someone has to say to me is “friggin’ sharks with laser beams on their heads” and I’m doubled over in laughter. I also really liked Dave Chapelle before he decided to quit. Not that that’s stupid humor, he’s actually wickedly funny, it’s just so inappropriate. But it’s just not something most people would expect of me.

2. I sing really badly but I like to sing to my companion animals while I do things. I usually like to take really dumb pop songs and rework the lyrics to be about my animals. As an example I might be playing with Kyra (the dog) with her rope tuggy toy and I’ll sing “Bite it Kyra, one more time!” Sometimes I sing better songs to them, for example there’s this Damien Rice song and the only part I really know is “Mmmm, mmmm, girl who does yoga, when we come over…” So when I give Kyra and Nikita their puppy massages (I really rub them down, they’re athletic dogs, so they get sore muscles like anyone) I’ll sing to them “mmmm, mmmm, dog who does yoga, time to turn over…”

Hmm, does the fact that I massage my dogs and call that “puppy massage” qualify as a whole separate silly thing?

3. Small stuff can make me really happy sometimes. The other day I took the dogs to the park and we found a few ripe wild raspberries the birds hadn’t gotten yet. It was something simple but really nice. It was like the trip to the park was already a big gift and the raspberries were the great big bow on top. We also saw a really cute green frog on that walk.

4. As a child I collected pin cushions. I had a pin cushion I made using some lace my great grandmother had hand tatted. I kept these pin cushions until one day while I was at work Kyra went on a rampage and tore apart all of my pin cushions, the handmade ones, the store-bought ones… But when I’d say that I was sad because my dog ruined my pin cushions nobody really understood. They’d say “huh? Pin cushions?” It was a tragic loss to me. Of course everyone wants to know if Kyra was ok. Of course she was, she didn’t eat any pins, just shredded the pin cushions.

5. Before I moved in with Sean I wasn’t sure I wanted to live with cats. Though I had companion cats as a child, I was afraid that Sean’s cats would bully my small rabbit Ivan. Instead it turned out to be the other way around and Ivan chased the cats and terrorized them. After moving in with Sean’s cats I came to adore cats. People often ask me with wonder “You have cats and rabbits? Don’t the cats try to eat the rabbits?” But I know the truth now.

6. I didn’t learn to drive really before I moved in with Sean. My parents never really taught me, and though I drove a couple times after I got my license, I then lived without a car and walked everywhere for about a decade. When I moved in with Sean I wound up in an area with less reliable public transportation, so Sean taught me how to drive. I’m still incredibly nervous about driving and it wears me out. I mostly only drive short distances.

7. I started eating really spicy foods pretty young and I love them to this day. I think many family members always liked spicy foods, but my grandparents were also stationed in Holland for a while where they were exposed to lots of Indonesian foods. It took me a long time to realize that not every spicy sauce or dip is called “sambal.” My grandparents still call every hot sauce “sambal” though, whether it really is sambal or it’s just chilli oil or if it’s Mexican salsa. When it comes down to spicy foods I far prefer my hot peppers freshly chopped to the kind of sour, oily, smelly stuff you get in a true sambal. My grandparents used to have their friends in Holland ship it to them because they couldn’t get it here. Also many sambals aren’t vegan or even vegetarian and may contain fermented fish or other gross stuff. Eet smakelijk!

8. I’m having so much trouble coming up with another one. This is hard. Sean thinks I need to repeat again for the record that I went naked for Peta before. So mea culpa!

July 23, 2007

Think Of The Animals We Don’t Protect

Posted in animal advocacy, family, real life, vegan at 8:23 pm by nevavegan

With all the attention on Michael Vick and his dog fighting and dog killing activities, many of us, myself included, forgot momentarily that far worse than this goes on day after day, hour after hour, year after year, on farms and in slaughterhouses all over the country.

As a nation we tend to divide ourselves into distinct categories, and choose beliefs and traditions meant to define us culturally and ethically. I wrote before that animal fighting was a tradition in my family, and in fact my great grandfather won the seed money to open his hardware store from running cock fights. His children though distanced themselves from animal fighting, preferring the image that went along with owning and store and a house, to that of the opportunistic vagabond who blew in on the west wind to gamble, sleep in gutters, and fight animals. They only touched birds who were cooked and served on plates. They didn’t gather and place bets in dark alleys. Of course they saw nothing wrong with hunting or farming though, occupations that they saw as denoting a higher social class.

I am not proud of this family history, but I find it informative. This tangible connection from me through a generation still living, to more blood thirsty traditions. Traditions that are looked down on by most of society. It’s easy to cry out against practices done by the few, conducted underground, that smack of backwardness and open cruelty. But meanwhile we don’t often question where our food comes from. We deplore obvious blood lust, but tolerate covert cruelty done for our convenience.

As horrorific as I find dog fighting and cock fighting, I have to remember that the torture behind all those neatly packaged Styrofoam trays of flesh in the grocery store is equally terrible. That the suffering of animals kept alive to produce milk and eggs, only to be killed when their production drops, is much like the suffering of dogs bred and forced to fight, and killed when they lose. Intensive confinement, painful tail and ear docking (as well as debeaking and amputation of toes), electric shocks, open wounds, all of these are found in animal agriculture. Rape racks are not an invention of dog fighting rings, they are part of animal agriculture, designed to force reproduction on animals so traumatized and deprived that they would no longer reproduce on their own. Even on small family farms, reproduction is not the choice of the farmed animals, but is carefully planned and implemented to maximize profit for the farmers.

We don’t want to legislate dog fighting to make it more humane or less lethal. Instead we want it stopped entirely. Maybe we should start thinking about other animals, equally innocent but totally unprotected, in the same terms.

July 20, 2007

Second Attempt at Eight True Things

Posted in meme, real life at 4:57 pm by nevavegan

I was tagged before by Pattrice, but I started feeling like I was revealing way too much information so I buried my response. Now I’ve been tagged again by Animal Rights Malta (how cool is that? Tagged twice). So I will try again.

I’m not going to post the rules or tag anyone else to complete this one. If you think it’s cool, by all means, consider yourself tagged. The goal is to write Eight True Things about yourself.

The stupid thing about this exercise is that I’m really not all that interesting, so I keep trying to write stuff and then thinking “gee, this is boring.” So then I delete it and sit around trying to think of something less dull.

1. I used to make and sell nativity sets. I stopped because I got so, so tired of making the same kind of thing over and over, even though I tried to make each set unique with tiny little details. Mainly the ones that sold best were the really small ones with just Joseph, Mary, the baby Jesus and no animals. I liked making animals… Plus it’s hard to keep up with nativity-making when you’re working full time. I only started making nativity sets because I was making small animals and human figures and people kept asking for nativity sets.

2. As a child I cooked and baked on a real honest wood stove. It’s strange to do because you check the temperature and if it’s low you add more wood, but if it’s too hot, you adjust this gadget that lets less oxygen into the fire drawer and wait. Everything always seemed to taste great from a wood stove though and bread, cakes, and pies were always fine, though you’d think they’d mess up. We didn’t have an electric coffeemaker; we made the coffee on the wood stove too, with a percolator. It was the best coffee ever—I’d grind the beans in this silly little hand grinder and then put the percolator on top of the stove. I’ve since read that coffee made like this tastes good because all the bad stuff is extra concentrated in it.

3. Speaking of coffee I began my life long coffee habit when I was about five, maybe younger. Very early I started showing a preference for strong black coffee. I’ve quit several times in my life, a few times I’ve quit for more than a year at a stretch, but just the smell of it sparks such intense cravings in me that it’s hard to stay away from it. I guess because my mother spent several years of her childhood and teens in France she just thought all kids were supposed to drink coffee.

4. When I took sculpture classes my teacher told me that at heart I was an “object maker.” I did really well in that class and in 3-D design (2-D design was my nemesis). My sculpture teacher wanted me to pursue a Masters in sculpture, but that’s ultimately not the direction I took. I liked the class because it was the only time in my life I’ve had the space and opportunity to make sculptures that were 8 feet tall. Unfortunately they wouldn’t fit out the doors of the studio and had to be scrapped after I got my grade. Not that I had space to take home an single 8 foot tall paper mache bird, much less four of them.

5. When I talk about trying to do better for animals, ending animal enslavement, and promoting a vegan lifestyle I’m speaking out about things that for the most part I once participated in or was connected to somehow. I come from a family of hunters and farmers. As a child I went fishing. As a child I probably at some point ate almost any animal imaginable, even those animals that ordinary non-vegans would find distasteful to eat. My family had roots in animal fighting and all kinds of back-woods animal abuse. So when I speak out against this kind of stuff, I’m not speaking from an ivory tower, I’m talking about ending things I know and understand first hand.

6. My absolute favorite food in the whole world are vegan burritos with guacamole and really hot salsa. It’s almost an obsession. I am in love with the avocado, but even more in love with it when it’s mixed up with tomatoes, hot peppers, lime juice, and fresh cilantro. In fact, that’s what I’m eating tonight.

7. I lift weights but you’d never guess it from looking at me.

8. Not so much about me, but I seem to be having this problem with my internet browser lately where I can’t seem to comment on other people’s blogs or reply to comments on my own blog. Sometimes it works but other times it just keeps giving me this “security warning” that there are both secure and not secure areas on the commenting page, and then it won’t let me type. So that’s why I haven’t responded to your comments. I’m really sorry!

July 5, 2007

"My Doctor Told Me I Can’t Be Vegan"

Posted in health, real life, veganism at 7:44 pm by nevavegan

The first time I considered becoming vegan my doctor talked me out of it. I was a young vegetarian and at constant war with my mother over it. I was not getting enough calories in general since my mother “wouldn’t prepare any special meals” and sabotaged things like vegetables and rice and potatoes by adding broth or bacon. I was considering transitioning into veganism, without a real understanding of what that meant. My mother marched me off to the doctor so he would tell me I couldn’t be vegetarian. Instead he told me it was perfectly healthy to be vegetarian, but because of my special health considerations I would have to eat an egg and some dairy every single day. I completely believed him.

I’m actually allergic to milk and eggs, but because my allergy isn’t life-threatening (just itchy and annoying) he encouraged me to consume them anyway, but that’s another story for another time. I’ve been vegan now for more than 13 years and it hasn’t killed me yet!

A lot of times my vegetarian friends will tell me that their doctors have told them they can’t be vegan. Some have even quit being vegetarian because their doctors have told them that their specific health conditions require them to eat meat.

I think I’ve heard them all at this point. “The doctor says people with rheumatoid arthritis need red meat every day.” “My doctor said it isn’t safe for women with fibroids to be vegetarian.” “Because I have lupus all the experts agree I can never be vegan.” And so on. I’m waiting for “The doctor said that because I have big feet I need to eat eggs.”

I don’t mean to make light of chronic health conditions. Obviously that’s a lot to deal with, and I can’t blame people for being frightened and depending on the advice of experts. The problem is that even if those doctors are experts on arthritis or auto-immune disorders, most aren’t experts on nutrition. They might not even understand veganism. They might picture you subsisting on a diet of white rice and iceberg lettuce. There are actually ways to get the nutrients you need on a vegan diet, the trick is figuring out what you need, and what foods work best for you.

In my case I was born with a minor heart defect that at times during my life has appeared to doctors to be better or to be worse. At one point they felt it was quite severe. Most experts agree that my type of heart defect, mitral valve prolapse, can cause changes in the nervous system as the body attempts to deal with the less efficient workings of the heart. This creates a kind of syndrome. For me I have a tendency to develop anemia, I have fatigue, and some other weird symptoms. My doctor felt that I would not get the iron or other nutrients I needed on a vegan diet and this might worsen the heart problems. Worsening the heart problems could lead to sudden cardiac arrest. Better not take any chances, he told me.

I admit that when I finally did throw caution to the wind and become vegan, I was not the most careful vegan. I didn’t really take my vitamins, I ate the same foods day after day. The truth was that I was sick of listening to doctors. I was sick of heart sonograms and various restrictions. I was sick of doctors making that “oooh” noise when they listened to the clicking sound my heart made, but never offering me any real guidance of how to live with it. When I began having chest pains in junior high school during gym class the doctor diagnosed a worsening of my prolapse and a note was sent to school that I shouldn’t run, since putting too much pressure on my heart might have disastrous results. I hated feeling singled out in that way as much as I hated the chest pains. As a new vegan I went running whenever I felt like it. I loved to run. I loved my vegan food. I felt ok because I didn’t suddenly get worse as a vegan. But I also wanted to do what was right for the animals no matter what. I wish someone had been able to reassure me then, during that uncertain time.

But there was another reason I decided to just go ahead and become vegan and just go ahead and run. Both of my cousins who I’d grown up with (I have another much younger cousin, different story) died as a result of their minor heart defects. They didn’t run. They weren’t vegetarian, much less vegan. They’d gone to the doctor. Then one day Patti fell over dead. A couple years later, at a convention for her work, right in the lobby of a fancy hotel, Chrissy fell onto the floor and was dead before anyone could even dial 911. This is what I’d always been warned about, sudden heart failure. Now, seeing both of my cousins felled by it, I couldn’t help but think it was somehow unavoidable. Why not just live my conscience and celebrate the time I had? So I did.

Every now and then over the next few years a little nagging voice would pop up in my head and remind me that it’s foolish to disregard doctors’ advice. So I didn’t go to the doctor. Nah nah, nah nah, I can’t hear you!

Fast forward many years later. I started having some health issues, related actually to years of ignoring my asthma, so off I went to the doctor. After going through everything else and getting a new inhaler, I asked about the heart thing. The doctor observed that she couldn’t even hear it (my murmur used to be so audible that doctors got panicky, hence the sonograms), my heart seemed to be doing fine. At every check since then they’ve sort of marveled “I can barely hear it now.” I know that just not hearing the little click doesn’t mean it’s gone, but I do know the doctors worry more when it’s more pronounced.

I’m now older than either one of my cousins were when they died.

I try to take my iron now. I try to eat sensibly and eat enough (ok, I like some foods that really aren’t sensible and I eat a little too much). I try to exercise and take care of myself. I know that this thing might come back and cause me problems some day, but I find a certain comfort in knowing all those dire predictions didn’t come true for me and they probably won’t come true for others.

So how do we know what we should be eating if our doctors don’t know?

Some general guidelines I use, though mileage might vary are:

1. If your doctor is saying that your medical condition requires a certain nutrient that a vegan diet won’t provide, do a little research on your own. A vegan diet really can provide enough protein, enough iron, and many other nutrients. If you need extra B12, try fortified soymilk or supplements.

2. Go to forums and discuss diet with other people with your condition. Some of them will be as uninformed as your doctor, but you might find some that are vegan themselves who can give you tips. Or go on a vegan forum and ask if anyone else has the same condition and wants to form a support group. After meeting a lot of vegans I’ve found that for every friend who told me his or her medical condition made it impossible to be vegan, I seem to have met a vegan who had the same condition and swore that symptoms improved after becoming vegan.

3. Concentrate on being healthy overall, which means exercise, and not just being vegan, but eating healthy foods and avoiding junk food. Try to stay away from transfats for example. Being as healthy as possible will help your body deal with other health conditions. Oh, and keep hydrated–my chest pains might have been the result of dehydration rather than physical exertion. It’s strange how we forget that one.

4. Look at the effect of stress. Many chronic health problems are exacerbated by stress. We can’t eliminate all stress from our lives, but we can try to find ways to lessen it and handle it a little better.

5. Keep expectations realistic. Many people with chronic health conditions do feel better on vegan diets. However, it’s not an instant cure for everything. It’s hard to judge how you would feel at any given time if you weren’t vegan. You might have good days and bad days which seem completely unconnected to your diet. I’m not promising being vegan will cure everything. I’m just saying that if you want to live your ethics but are worried about your health, it will be ok. Lot’s of us are navigating it too and we’re all ok. I think sometimes when people expect that going vegan will immediately cure a chronic condition they get frustrated and give up too soon. I can’t say I felt better the day I became vegan, or even in that first year. I do however believe that all things considered I’m far healthier today than I would have been if I’d never gone vegan.

6. Eat a wide variety of foods. You might think that veganism is a very limited diet, but I eat more varied foods now than I ever did as an omnivore or even as an ovo-lacto vegetarian. It’s not uncommon for someone (cough, cough, my father) to fall into a pattern of eating a piece of dead cow, a side of rice, and a side of broccoli every single night. As a vegan I found and enjoyed a wider variety of fruits and vegetables than I ever knew existed. I’ve also learned about how different substances in these fruits and vegetables help my body and how they aren’t easy to duplicate in supplements.

7. Find a doctor that understands and supports your decision to be vegan. It might take a bunch of phone calls, but it’s really worth it. When I found a supportive doctor (he isn’t vegan himself sadly, but he also thinks it’s ok that I am) he made some suggestions for me like trying to get some flax seed oil into my diet, and herbs that ease inflammation. If your conversation with your doctor just shuts down because he/she doesn’t think you should be vegan then that’s going to rule out a lot of open and important discussion. Seriously, you’re paying for your medical care, so try to find someone who can help you get the support and information you need.

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