Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Words of Wisdom from David Cain of Raptitude

(Who Had 7 Reasons He Never Went Vegan)

With a title like “7 Reasons I Never Went Vegan” there is no mystery as to why David Cain’s first piece exploring veganism caught my attention. His writing really spoke to me from the very start. We've all heard plenty of reasons why people choose to go vegan, but not many openly list the full and  honest truth about why they choose not to.  David did. Here’s some background: David's blog Raptitude is about self improvement and human nature. Put that way it that sounds stuffy and snobby but it really isn't. In his words “Raptitude is a blog about getting better at being human.” It is presented as a series of eloquent and honest articles that make you think about the little things you normally wouldn’t and builds on a big picture that the majority of people miss. 

On  Raptitude there are 13 experiments in which David has cast himself a guinea pig for.  They include challenges such as going 21 days without complaining, doing formal meditation for 30 minutes a day and the one that drew me in: trying veganism.  For 30 days. David began this experiment with listing all the reasons why he never went vegan. Many of his reasons resonated for me. They were the whisperings of the meaty-culture we’ve been grown on our whole lives. It was odd to hear them aloud.  And despite the reasons he never went vegan, this omnivorous explorer chose to see how veganism could impact his life.  Read his experiment log now, or see what we talked about after he chose to stay vegan. 

If you could magically inform everyone in the world one thing on the topic of veganism what would you say?

That almost everyone already agrees that it is wrong to inflict suffering on animals in order to pleasure oneself -- just ask them -- and that indulging in animal products is doing exactly that. It is normal in our culture to do so, and to most people that makes it feel okay. If we want to live our values then we have to be unusual in that regard.

What led you to try veganism?

When I turned 30 I realized I was starting to feel older and less healthy, so I wanted to do an experiment on a restrictive diet. I considered the paleo diet and also a totally plant-based diet. Paleo didn't appeal at all, so I went with the other one. I cut out all animal foods for a month and within a few days I felt much better physically and knew I wasn't going back. During that time I absorbed a lot of material on the ethics of using animals (for food and other things) and there was really no question about where to go from here. Eating that way felt right physically, but I also felt much more okay with myself psychologically than I ever had before. I guess I always knew it was wrong, or at least extremely iffy, and getting away from using animals finally let me see that clearly.

Which of your 7 reasons proved to be the biggest obstacle? 

Probably the "asking the waiter 50 questions" one, and the other instances of social awkwardness that it causes. It's really tiresome to have to be constantly explaining yourself, answering the same questions. I'm still learning to negotiate these. The biggest issue is actually not one of my seven reasons, it's an eighth one I never pictured: where to draw the line? When a friend asks me to get him a coffee while I'm at the cafe, do I refuse to ask them to put cream in it? When I am served an animal product my accident, what do I do with it? Having spoken to a lot of vegans now I see everyone has their own policies, and it's hard to know exactly why difference people settle in different places. I'm still trying to figure out my positions.

Which reason turned out to be the silliest worry?

Number 6 -- that the harvest of plants kills animals anyway, so that there's no way to avoid killing, so why bother. I really didn't understand what veganism meant, particularly that there is an enormous amount each of us can do within our own sphere of influence, and if we claim to have any sense or moral responsibility at all, we should be living our values to the extent that we can. None of my seven reasons were really meant to be good reasons. That was sort of the point -- when I tallied them all up, I really had no good reasons not to go vegan.

What resources did you find most useful during your venture?

Vegan readers who chimed in with tips and links and recipes. I was glad to see so many supportive people come out of the woodwork. I had some great cookbooks on hand, like Vegan Yum Yum and the Veganomicon. Sarah Kramer, the author of La Dolce Vegan, even emailed me and congratulated me. is a great group of people too, very helpful with questions from prospective vegans.
If people ask about your diet what is your typical response?

I say I don't eat animal products. If they ask why, I say, "ethical reasons." If they want me to elaborate, I do.

How “vegan friendly” is your community?

There is a local vegan meetup group here that I attend, but it's still definitely an extreme minority thing here. They are around, and I'm glad.

How are you currently finding the restaurant situation?

It's okay. There are three vegan-only restaurants in town, and one of them I don't really like. There are a few other places with certified vegan dishes, and that's about it. The vegan group I attend has a growing list of menu items around the city at non-vegan restaurants that are vegan, which is super helpful. I'm still surprised how most restaurants don't even offer a single animal-free dish.

How does your family and friends feel about your diet?

My family is great. I only have a few family members I see regularly, my mom and my sister's family. My mom is a strict vegetarian and doesn't eat animal products, and my sister has been vegetarian for most of her life. My brother in law is an omnivore but is very sensitive to dietary restrictions and would never give anyone a hard time. My friends have been mostly pretty good about it. A few of them sometimes give me a hard time, not sure why. Most of them seem to be uncomfortable bringing it up, and I guess I understand that. But the people in my life that know and respect me do respect my intelligence and my ability to make sensible decisions.

What are some of your staple meals?

I have always loved tofu and make use of it a lot. I'll typically have some tofu (or sometimes tempeh or seitan) lightly fried with a sauce (I like "Cheezy sauce" from the Veganomicon) plus a grain like quinoa, or maybe lentils, plus a vegetable (like asparagus, squash, broccoli or green beans) and some leafy greens with a homemade dressing. I also make pasta salads and bean salads a lot, avocado and tomato sandwiches, and and on weekends I'll usually pull out a cookbook and try something new.

Do you have any favorite vegan indulgences?

I'm not big on processed foods but now and then I buy a Tofurky frozen pizza and eat the whole thing.

Do you get enough calcium, B12, and protein and how?*

I get calcium from tofu, nuts, soy milk and other fortified foods. For b12 I eat a lot of nutritional yeast and I also take a B-multivitamin. Protein is very easy to get, it's in almost all whole foods in proportions greater than the proportion of calories you need from protein. So unless you eat only junk food or you just don't eat enough, it is difficult not to get enough protein.

I have found an unrelenting close-mindedness towards vegan diets (even when they are presented in the most non-judgemental ways possible) and I’m curious to what you feel may causes this.

Having been on the other side of the fence not long ago, I realize that it's just self-defense. When you're an omnivore, for someone to even mention that they are vegan feels like a direct challenge to your integrity. Just by talking to a vegan, it's hard for you not to infer that the other person thinks the way you live your life is immoral.

People just cannot be open to a viewpoint that threatens their most important belief: that they are an okay person. So they must either attack the contradictory viewpoints (veganism) with whatever arguments they can come up with, or actually consider in that moment that they have been doing something completely indefensible every single day, their entire lives. Nobody's going to do that, so the natural thing to do is be dismissive. We all do this. To even admit veganism is sensible is to admit that you engage in something atrocious. I think most vegans, when they have that revelation, have it in a private moment when they don't feel a need to defend themselves from what someone else is saying.

Probably the biggest revelation I've had from going vegan is that people generally don't live their beliefs. We talk as if it's just a given that all of our behavior is the result of carefully weighed moral thinking. But it's not that way at all. We fall into certain ways of life because of who we were around when we were learning to live. And when people challenge us on the way we live, only then do we come up with reasons for why our own way is justifiable. In other words, our behavior influences our beliefs much more strongly than our beliefs influence our behavior.
 *That's question I hate to ask because it's so tiresome. I do think it's essential though, to give insight on the way different vegans manage their health. 

One thing doing this interview taught me is that trying new things can help you learn things you never set out to learn in the first place. And these can be very valuable things. Here we are reading not only about how it's possible to live entirely off of plants but how that decision has led people to take a close look at their own behavior, and evaluate what determines their actions.

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