Okay. I’ve written ad nauseum about being “anti-labels.” I feel it to my bones, this repellant feeling around labels. Yet I manage to feel, in the very same moment, the very same breath, deeply attracted to it as well. I think of it like a japanese fly trap. I know it will snap me up, but it’s so pretty I just want to see it up close. How could something so pretty be bad, be harmful? Just a little closer…
I have been on my holistic wellness journey for many years now. Some could say I was born into it, others could argue I’m here as a result of the trials and tribulations I’ve maneuvered thus far in my 25 years. An intuitive informed me I’ve spent several lives now as a healer, information which felt both illuminating and deeply true upon hearing it. It registered in my subtle body as yes, yes this is so without so much as a word uttered on my part. I regularly dream of Native Americans, snippets of their culture and scenes that are so vivid I wake to scrawl them sideways in the midnight dark of my bedroom, and am deeply aware of my past life as a Native American healer. I also suffered an acute eating disorder as a teenager. But even then, despite its severity, I clawed my way (slash was drug by the heels by my mother) out of the pit of anguish in just a year’s time. A short span of time to spend fighting a disease that escalated to a point that “many don’t return from,” in the words of my pediatrician. I managed to escape the jaws of anorexic death before I turned 18, nothing short of a miracle in the eyes of those who cared for me.
Now, as a studying holistic nutritionist, it is of deepest importance to me to present to beings everywhere (especially young girls) the picture of what eating for health truly is. I’m learning bucket loads and am eager to share my knowledge. But, I’m still human. I’m still on a journey. I still crave the safety of a little corner with a sign hanging over it telling me where I reside. I am in the school phase where, despite our best intentions, we all end up self-diagnosing and self-assessing our way through the curriculum. Fortunately, I’m in excellent company.
That being said, a fellow classmate brought up the topic that had been weighing heavily on most of our minds the past couple months. It was in a thread on our shared college Facebook page. Nine little words that sparked days worth of meaningful conversation. Nine little words that gave me the courage to listen to my instincts, to quit placing my warm palm over the honest whisper of my female intuition, smothering her kind advice with my adamance.
“Any other vegans starting to rethink things a bit?”
Ummm YES was my answer, to say the very least. What ensued was heartfelt discussion, each of us voicing our concerns and fears, coming face to face with what it would mean to change this core aspect of our personalities and lifestyles.
(*The irony of identifying with a diet is not lost on the yogini behind the computer screen here .)
As though making a pact to jump off the high dive together, hand in hand, the small group of us grew slowly determined. Slowly braver. Our pure intentions of living a cruelty-free lifestyle, of having clean and toxin-free bodies, of contributing to no suffering are all holy and wonderful and a part of us. But, in just the four months that we’ve so far spent training to be nutritionists, we’ve learned some frightening information in regards to our chosen lifestyle. We’ve learned that a diet void of any animal products can be incredibly dangerous if not approached with utmost mindfulness and caution.
(*Now I must say, please take no offense if you are vegan because I feel you. To my core. I’ve been drawn to this lifestyle for nearly 8 years and it resonates with me on a spiritual level as well as a physical level. I’m merely going to relay the facts that I have learned in my studies to be a nutritionist. Facts that have caused me to lose sleep at night wondering if I’m doing the right thing for my body and, ultimately, my mind.)
On a strictly plant-based diet, adequate B-12 is not available. The B-12 in fermented vegetables, blue-green algaes and even nutritional yeast are glorious, yes, but they are not intrinsic factor B-12 and therefore may be of no use to our human bodies. Additionally, Vitamin D and A are slim to none for many a vegan. Again, one can approach this diet with utmost mindfulness (as I myself have been for some time now) and get nearly everything the body needs. Except B-12. I’ve learned that “all vegans must supplement with B-12.” B-12 deficiency is ultimately fatal, by the way. Yes there are many bus stops before one dies of this deficiency, but most of these nerve-damaged, brain-damaged bus stops are not even visible until it’s too late and the damage is irreversible.
Talk about scary.
And this is not an anti-vegan rally I was attending. Not even CLOSE! We are a plant-based, holistic nutrition college, for goodness sake. This is school. Facts. Nutrition texts. Cold hard science.
I couldn’t help but hear a little voice deep within my being telling me that any diet that requires supplementation to survive couldn’t be fully optimal. It just couldn’t. Not for me at least. I’m of the mindset that human beings are meant to eat food, real food, to survive. This doesn’t mean a box of crackers. It doesn’t mean a pound of flour, even. It means the actual seeds, grains and nuts used to make those crackers and which are ground to make that flour. It means fruits and vegetables pulled straight from the earth; legumes, beans, roots; algae, herbs, spices. Real. Food. Food that has sustained our species for eons.
What really got me, though, more than all that…more than the gut sensation that, if my diet were optimal, I wouldn’t need to take any supplements…what really got me was a famous study conducted by a highly-recognized doctor and researcher (forgive me for not being able to recall his name). He spent many years looking into diets of human beings, throughout the world over the course of our history as homo sapien sapiens. The research concluded that, throughout the history of our species, many different diets existed. Many omnivorous diets prevailed, a vast number of cultures practiced a wide variety of vegetarian diets, and there were even some carnivorous peoples. What he did not find, not one single trace of, was a completely vegan culture. Not one.
That made my skin crawl. I swear my blood ran cold for a second. All this time I squashed fears and concerns with people have been living this way for how long and surviving just fine! Evidently not. I then learned that any diet less than 1,000 years old (any food, substance or supplement for that matter) is still considered an “experiment” in the world of health, nutrition and medicine. An EXPERIMENT! Oh my Patanjali!
I did not want to conduct an experiment on my body. I do not want to conduct an experiment on my sacred, only-get-one-of-these-suckers body. But I also don’t want to give up the lifestyle that makes me so happy. The lifestyle of compassion and ahimsa (yes, I fully realize omnivores can practice ahimsa to its very core; I’m referring to my adaptation of ahimsa). So I started to daydream about finding a happy farm that sold happy eggs from happy hens fed organic feed who were never slaughtered for meat. I began to wonder if a bit of organic goats dairy from happy goats who roamed pastures and soaked up the sunlight, grazing on nourishing food would help. I began to wonder if I could tolerate any organic, pastured cottage cheese, after seeing it appear at the top of the the prime sources for nearly ever amino acid (even above a lot of meat!). But still, I couldn’t bring myself to take the plunge. My “label” would be as good as torn off and ripped to shreds! What confused me most was this aforementioned reaction. Because I was certain, deep down, that I didn’t care for the label. I even hesitated to brand myself “vegan” because I believe in the medicinal use of raw honey, among other reasons. I just started to feel like my identity was in limbo and this was utterly traumatizing. I know to my very core that my “identity” has nothing to do with what I eat, what I look like, even what I think. I am a being of Light. I am eternal. I am an expression of the Divine. So why all this mucky confusion?
Well, with the support of my classmates, I took the plunge. I got myself a few happy, pastured eggs. I blessed my meals and enjoyed every single bite. I made a promise to myself, in this subtle shift from vegan to vegetarian, that I would never ever support factory farming or contribute to animal suffering. I would bless my food and offer utmost gratitude to everything I consume that’s both plant and animal-derived. I don’t see myself ever consuming animal flesh again, but I know better than to say “never.” Somehow, despite the off-putting nature of labels, I feel relieved to have moved out of veganism and into vegetarianism. Knowing I won’t be resupplying my strangely pink-colored B-12 supplement is a relief. Knowing I am managing to nourish my body on a cellular level while still upholding my ethical values is liberating. I may not be ordering eggs and dairy out at restaurants because I will be a stickler for only humane-certified, organic, pastured sources (and can’t wait to have my own hens!) and I will still be 90% plant-based, but even the subtlety of the shift is palpable. Most of all because I made the decision for myself, and for no one else.
I have always said that, to me, “plant-based” means just that: plant-based. Not entirely plants, per say, but the vast majority of one’s diet from plants and pure, unadulterated foods pulled straight from the earth and in their most natural form.
A word on factory farming and the standard production practices of the meat and dairy industry in this country…I abhor everything about it. Every smidge of it. I find it appalling and I will not support it. That being said, I think there’s a very important distinction to be made. If factory farmed meat and dairy is all one has access to, then by God a vegan diet is far superior, even with the need for supplementation. I think it’s imperative that we refuse to support this cruel, disgusting, inhuman industry. But such refusal takes commitment. It means not ordering animal products out at restaurants that don’t state “organic, pastured” and ideally even “local” on their menu next to dishes with ingredients of animal origin. It means spending the extra few dollars – okay, I won’t even play around with that “extra few dollars” business because it’s bologna, pun intended – it means spending up to double what you would in a regular chain grocery store on meat and dairy. It means possibly even forgoing the chain grocery store and seeking out a health food store, farmer’s market or actual farm/butcher/what-have-you. It means making your health and animal wellness top priority, simultaneously. The lovely aspect of that is it’s killing two birds with one stone. The downside is a lot of folks have families to feed and busy lives, and this extra step and expense can be stressful and downright impossible. Well, if I may be so bold as to make a suggestion…only consume animal products if you’re capable of providing yourself and your family the organic, pastured, humane-certified variety. You may be able to do that, you may not. I’m just suggesting it. It’s what I will always do.
Don’t be afraid to email companies, make phone calls, implore as to the details of how their animals are treated and how their products are made. Ideally a local farm is accessible for us all to get our food from. A lot of times there are CSA type deals including eggs, dairy, sometimes even meat from ranchers are offered in pick-up style situations (not being a meat eater I don’t know any more about this but have heard a great deal in school). It’s worth it. For us as well as for the animals. Because you know what? Meat and dairy not from such a source are often pumped full of antibiotics, hormones, are treated foully and don’t even provide adequate nutrition – the main reason most people eat them in the first place! True vitamin A and D come from animals who’ve grazed on real grass, who’ve roamed beneath the sun all day long, whose lives were low-stress and as close to natural as it would be for them in the wild. High stress, cruel treatment, unnatural living conditions and contamination with drugs makes for both deeply unhappy animals and highly toxic meat and dairy products. It just makes sense, doesn’t it?
“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated”
– Mahatma Gandhi
We have some serious work to do, America. Friends, I beg of you, please vote with your dollar. Be diligent. Put an end to factory farming. We can do this. The animals don’t deserve it and they don’t have voices to fight for themselves. And we, as human beings, deserve pure, high quality sustenance. Whether or not you consume dairy or meat, whether or not you care about animal welfare, whether or not you’re that terribly bothered by the quality of your own food (some people, you know, quantity trumps quality…), believe me…this is the time to care. This is the time to stand up and bring about change with action. Voting with our dollar is the most powerful way to make a stand as, we can all see, this nation seems to revolve around money. Money can be so evil but you know what? We can turn it around and use that to our advantage. By refusing to support the industry. Refusing to spend $1.99 on a dozen eggs (guaranteed those male chicks were tossed into a grinder and the females kept to be debeaked, crammed together and essentially tormented for the extent of their dear little lives); refusing to buy a cheap gallon of conventional milk made by cows artificially inseminated year round and kept in horrific circumstances, then pumped full of additives (aspartame is the latest being added to milk…like, seriously???); refusing to buy meat or seafood products that are the sick, malnourished (GMO feed does not a nourished animal make) carcasses of tortured animals. They don’t deserve that and neither do we.
Okay, wow, I just went on a rant…but this is important. It’s IMPORTANT. It’s up to us to design the kind of world we want to live in and I simply can’t stand by and pretend that this doesn’t go on, day after day, all around America (and other parts of the world as well, but our nation is truly awful in terms of this discussion).
That being said, I will pay top dollar to the local guy who sells his happy eggs (nutritious eggs should have deep yellowish orange yolks, by the way – a sure sign it was laid by a healthy, pastured hen). I will seek out humane certified, pastured sources of dairy. I will not eat meat, but I will also never say “never.” I can say fully that my heart and spirit deeply want to never have to eat meat for my health, and I say a prayer to the Divine Mother that my body be optimally nourished by a well thought out, plant-based diet with the inclusion of medicinal happy eggs and sporadic dairy. For me, that’s as far as I’m able to go. Nutritionally speaking, I know I’ll be doing my body a big favor by making this subtle shift. As far as labels go, I may be vegetarian now but one thing hasn’t changed: my commitment to a plant-based diet. So I suppose that’s the only label I’m really willing to rock proudly. The others make me cringe because, by nature, we all shift and change. Fortunately I have the evidence of a highly respected study toting the many vegetarian cultures who have thrived throughout human history to support my decision to abstain from animal flesh. But six months ago you’d have been hard-pressed to get me to even consider an egg so, things do change.
I guess that’s what scares me most. Change. Which has nothing to do with food, really. It has nothing to do with labels, in essence. It has everything to do with life. Living. Change is a constant. It’s the only constant. We are changing every single moment, on a cellular level. We are aging with every breath. That’s scary, am I right? It’s an unnatural concept to hold lightly and yet it’s the most natural action we do as human beings. We’re born, we grow, evolve, change, age, die, are reborn…it’s a cycle. So who’s to say our minds and bodies won’t go through the same cycle?
We are beings of Light. We are not these bodies and minds. But, for this time on earth, we must navigate the cosmic wonder that is existence in these bodies, burdened with these minds. But we can choose to see these bodies as gifts, tools, these minds as a power of influence. We can make this choice and instantly see our lives improve, feel our lives improve. We can accept that right now, in this moment, we may feel certain about who we are, what we think and how what we are doing is right. As right as anything has ever been…but we may change our minds. We may. We may not. We don’t know. By trying to set a theme for the rest of our existence we not only stress ourselves but we try to make possible the impossible. Just breathe. We are the best we can possibly be. I am the best I can possibly be. I choose to live my passion for animals but also to care for myself on a cellular, spiritual, emotional and physical level. I choose to find a compromise that suits us all. I choose to support harmony. I choose to bend, so as not to break.